As I wrote in a column that you probably don't remember, I have a different perspective of the Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno as a former victim of molestation (though, sadly, this is by no means unique). As the recent Freeh report has brought to life, the breadth and depth of the shear willingness upon the part of four powerful, ostensibly responsible adults to ignore or not believe or even delude themselves into ignoring persistent child molestation that appears now to have occurred as far back as the 70s. Much of the talk has moved from how much of a terrible person Jerry Sandusky is — and, well, that's almost a given — to how pathologically Joe Paterno wanted to win, what he was willing to brush aside in order to avoid the scrutiny and poor image that the word "child molestation" brings to everything it touches even slightly. The common question is "should there still be a statue of Joe Paterno in Happy Valley?" The answer seems obvious: of course. I am usually all for institutions wearing their warts, uh, where they lie, but come on. Far more interesting to me than people searching for those ancillary talking points so that the news "Oh dear god there was a child molester preying on children" doesn't seem too repetitive is how people talk about the victims of child molestation.
I was returning from my vacation the morning the Freeh report was released, and was struck by how whatever blowhard on ESPN Radio was reacting to the realization that Mr. Paterno actively covered up the actions of Mr. Sandusky. I remember him saying something to the effect that the tragedy of the cover up was that it ignored (and I am paraphrasing here) the "worst possible thing that could happen."
Now, before I continue, let me say that I can easily see why someone would say this. Child molestation is the unspoken crime, one that is almost universally spoken about at least one remove from the act. Much of the discussion, it occurs to me, is really referring to the responsibility of adults to protect children; in other words, what happened at Penn State was "the worst thing an adult could allow to happen to a child." But I can think of a long list of things that are easily worse than child molestation; death, for instance, comes to mind. And I am not being facetious in saying that.
You can see, even above, that I don't like considering myself as a "victim" of child molestation. Don't get me wrong: I would rather not have that in my Rolodex of experiences. But there are many ways in which I am no more a victim of molestation than a tree is victim to the vicissitudes of nature that determine its shape (by the way: I hate myself for thinking of words like "vicissitude" and then being incapable of thinking of other, less pretentious words). Whatever damage molestation did to me happened so long ago that it has neutralized into something more benign and even intrinsic to who I am now. While there were in those wrongs done against me the potential for poisonous wrong, there was also a change whose result is indistinguishable from the others that have resulted in who I am now. Unless I am very wrong, I don't think who I am is something to be ashamed of; if the result turned out to be neutral at worse, then I cannot say anything like "that was the worst possible thing that could have happened."
Don't misunderstand me: I am not saying that molestation is anything good. But I wonder if we forget that by defining something as the "worst possible crime" we are also telling thousands of children and even adults that what happened to them was the worst possible event that could have happened to them. While the effects of this are probably insignificant relative to the feeling of sheer violation, I do think that the sheer vitriol thrown at child molesters is something like a doctor repeating "oh man, that's a lot of blood, wow, you might not make it through this one," to a gunshot victim. Molestation, to its victims, is something very much processed in the aftermath. While I am all for attacking depraved individuals for committing such depraved acts, I do wonder if it might not be better to consider Jerry Sandusky as an especially failed adult rather than see his actions as especially terrible.
— Gregory Bearringer is a graduate student in Medieval Studies. He can be reached at email@example.com.