Complicit Wives

By Bennett, Jessica; Bernstein, Jacob | Newsweek, December 12, 2011 | Go to article overview

Complicit Wives


Bennett, Jessica, Bernstein, Jacob, Newsweek


Byline: Jessica Bennett and Jacob Bernstein

How could Dottie Sandusky not have known? As new sex-abuse scandals break, you have to wonder.

Rick was a businessman from a well-to-do family. He ran an Internet company in Jacksonville, Fla., and coached a children's soccer team. He was devoted to the couple's two young boys. Life for the family couldn't have been more normal.

Then, one day, Jane got a call from Rick (names have been changed)--from jail. He had been arrested, she says, for setting up a meeting with a girl he believed to be 12 or 13. The "girl" was an FBI agent.

It didn't take long for the whispering to start. A friend called to tell Jane that people were assuming the worst: that she must have known, that perhaps she'd even enabled him, covered it up. "They wondered if I knew, what I knew, what I could have done to stop him sooner," she says. "I had no idea."

In the aftermath of the Penn State sex-abuse scandal--and newer allegations against former Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine--some of the most perplexing questions to arise have been about the women who shared the alleged molesters' beds while it was all happening. How on earth could they not have known? Does it take a certain kind of woman to live this kind of lie?

One somehow suspects that the story of Laurie Fine--who was recorded on tape admitting she knew of the abuse (and may have slept with one of her husband's victims)--could be typical, a nightmare version of a pedophile's complicit wife. And, yes, it seems hard to imagine that Dottie, the churchgoing, soft-spoken wife of Penn State's former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, could really not have known that her husband was allegedly conducting bedtime rituals with young boys that included "back cracking," kissing, and oral sex. They are reported to have happened in the basement of the couple's home.

Yet researchers say that cluelessness is typical: pedophiles' wives are usually in the dark. What seems to fool the women over and over, says University of Arizona psychologist Judith Becker, is that the abusers are usually charismatic and popular--not creepy loners like the one who lives with his mom in the movie Little Children. "They don't come across as angry or aggressive," says Becker, who has evaluated more than 1,000 of these men. "And they tend to be kind and loving around children. …

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