The Sex Abuse Scandal at Penn State Is Making Pedophilia Part of the National Conversation. How Should Psychiatrists Process This Case as It Unfolds?

By Fink, Paul J. | Clinical Psychiatry News, January 2012 | Go to article overview

The Sex Abuse Scandal at Penn State Is Making Pedophilia Part of the National Conversation. How Should Psychiatrists Process This Case as It Unfolds?


Fink, Paul J., Clinical Psychiatry News


The scandal involving Jerry Sandusky and Penn State University has been all over the news for weeks and unrelenting in its complexity. After reading the grand jury report, I was taken aback by the enormity of the crisis, the obfuscations, euphemisms, and cover-ups by so many people in Pennsylvania.

The grand jury heard from eight alleged victims and many other witnesses. I realize that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. For that reason, I will use the term "alleged victims" in this piece, unless I am referring to the grand jury report. Clearly, however, if the allegations in the report are true, there is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky was/is a pedophile.

I know that the former assistant football coach has referred to his activities with young boys as "horsing around," but there is nothing jocular about his alleged transgressions. He consistently put his hand on the left thigh of the person referred to as Victim 7 while they were driving, the report says. Victim 3 testified that Sandusky had an erection when the coach bear-hugged him from behind.

In a face-to-face confrontation with the mother of Victim 6, who confronted Sandusky about showering naked with her son and hugging him in the shower, Sandusky acknowledged: "I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I wish I were dead."

Victim 1 told the grand jury that Sandusky indecently fondled him and had oral sex with him numerous times, and had "Victim 1 perform oral sex on him" at least once. Victim 1 was so uncomfortable with the contact that he sometimes tried to hide to avoid Sandusky.

Perhaps the most damning allegation involved the person described in the grand jury report as Victim 2. In this incident, a Penn State graduate assistant "entered the locker room at the Lasch Football Building on the University Park Campus" on March 1,2002, and "heard rhythmic, slapping sounds." When the graduate assistant looked into the shower, he saw "a naked boy. ... whose age he estimated to be 10 years old, with his hands up against the wall, being subjected to anal intercourse by a naked Sandusky."

The graduate assistant "went to his office and called his father, reporting to him what he had seen. His father told him to leave the building and come to his home." They reportedly decided to go talk to Joe Paterno, not the police or any higher authority in the university.

Ultimately, no one wanted to begin disturbing the sacred cow - the Penn State football team - from the university president, who was subsequently fired, to the university's janitorial staff.

The grand jury report is extremely revealing. Having eight young men describe Sandusky's behavior, his seductions, his grooming of them with gifts, and his inability to control his passions make it clear that his behavior was rooted in pedophilia.

Sadly, Sandusky continues to drag out the horror in interviews with the mainstream media. In these interviews, he trivializes what happened. In one, he explained the incident reported by the assistant coach as horse play. The sounds the graduate assistant heard were simply "snapping a towel," he said.

As of this writing, Sandusky, 67, has been charged with more than 50 counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, and endangerment, against 10 boys (2 more young men came forward after the release of the grand jury report) over a 15-year period. The grand jury report says Sandusky's charity, the Second Mile, gave him "access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations." He has waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is under house arrest.

Mental Health Sequelae

I am concerned about the impact of these events on the overall mental health of the boys - who are now young men. As Dr. Robert F Anda of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and coinvestigator with Dr. Vincent J. Felitti on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study has said: "The importance of scientific studies demonstrates that the effective child abuse and ACEs on the developing brains of our children is a leading contributor to mental illness, substance abuse, behavioral disorders, further violence and victimization, suicide, crime, broken family, social disorder, and many of the leading causes of death. …

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