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Op-ed: Why Don’t Male Children Matter?

Op-ed: Why Don’t Male Children Matter?


On Wednesday, Michael Pilato, creator of the huge Penn State University sports mural on the State College campus, was painting again. But rather than adding something new to the grand, blocks-long work, he was painting something out: Jerry Sandusky, former defensive coach for the legendary Nittany Lions football team and heir apparent to Joe "JoePa" Paterno, the longest-serving coach in college football history. It had long been presumed Sandusky would replace the 84-year-old JoePa when he retired.

After a three-year grand jury investigation, Sandusky was arrested Saturday and charged with 40 counts of child sexual abuse, with more charges pending. Also arrested were athletic director Tim Curley and university vice-president Gary Schultz. They were charged with lying to the grand jury and having covered up Sandusky's alleged years-long predatory child-rape spree at Penn State.

The story has made headlines since the grand jury report was released last week. Yet what has led the news hasn't been the vast array of alleged crimes -- euphemistically termed "sexual abuse" -- that were perpetrated against vulnerable young boys from dysfunctional families in Pennsylvania, but the crushing blow to the legacy of head coach JoePa, who was fired late yesterday evening by the university board of trustees. Also fired was Penn State's longtime president, Graham Spanier.

Both men testified to the grand jury that they had known about at least one against Sandusky but did not contact authorities. In this instance, a graduate student had said he witnessed the anal rape of a 10-year-old boy by Sandusky in the Penn State locker room showers in 2002.

Details of victim testimony in the grand jury report are harrowing. A boy Sandusky had allegedly been raping since the boy, now 15, was 10 years old, had complained to authorities, launching the investigation that subsequently revealed the cover-up by the hierarchy at Penn State.

News reports have routinely emphasized the crime against Paterno's legacy while barely mentioning the actual victims. But Paterno should have resigned after his grand jury testimony last year in which he described how a distraught graduate assistant came to him saying he had witnessed a naked 58-year-old Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy in the athletic showers.

No effort was made by anyone -- not the grad student, who is still employed by Penn State, Paterno, nor the other men -- to either rescue the boy or contact police. For nine more years Sandusky was free to continue raping other boys.

The grand jury report describes Sandusky, a married father of six, as a serial predator, wooing his victims (who ranged in age from 7 to 13) with computers, trips, football games, and other gifts, and using his role at Penn State to manipulate the boys. Sandusky, an assistant coach at the university for 32 years, was a professor emeritus with his own office, phone, and free range of the athletic department. He also started his own charity for troubled boys called the Second Mile. It is from there that Sandusky culled many of his alleged victims. (This morning talk show host Mark Madden told Dennis & Callahan Morning Show listeners that Second Mile was being investigated for possibly "pimping out young boys to rich donors.")

Girls are most often the victims of child sexual assault. When boys are assaulted, it is likely by men like Sandusky--mentors who prey on their vulnerability and to whom they feel loyal and thus unable to tell anyone what is happening to them. Because boys are considered less vulnerable than girls, when they do dare complain of abuse, often the assaults are minimized or dismissed. In the case of older children, there is a presumption that they are complicit in the assaults because of their budding sexuality, much like adult women are often portrayed as complicit when they have been raped. These cases are often represented as he said/he said and in the hyper-masculine world of sports, the victims lose.

The Penn State case typifies this minimizing of sexual assault of boys. Would anyone have ignored an adult man raping a little girl in a shower? Why was this young child left defenseless and undefended? No one came to his aid.

Victim testimony stated that Sandusky would woo these children, giving them gifts and taking them to sporting events. Sandusky would initiate touching in car rides to the games. Some of the boys' mothers testified that they were glad their sons had a strong male mentor in their lives. But one of the victims testified that he asked his mother not to accept Sandusky's calls any more.

Sandusky invited boys to his home, where they stayed overnight in a basement bedroom. He had a nighttime ritual of lying under the boys and fondling them. According to the grand jury, this progressed to rubbing his genitals on the child's face, then ejaculating on their faces while inserting his fingers into the child's anus. The report says other boys were taken to the Penn State campus for athletic training that ended in anal rape in the showers. In another instance, according to the grand jury, Sandusky, volunteering at a Pennsylvania high school, was caught by a wrestling coach lying face to face with a young boy. Sandusky claimed he was just showing the boy wrestling moves, but the coach reported the incident.

The accused offenders in the Penn State case have either been fired, arrested or both. There will be no new child victims of Sandusky. Yet those involved in the cover-up still seem unable to comprehend the fact that they were complicit in the rape of children.

Thousands of Penn State students converged on the Old Main building near midnight Wednesday, after the announcement of Paterno's firing, outraged and angry. By 1 a.m. riot police were needed to intervene. A news van was overturned and trashed, light poles were pulled down, bottles and cans were thrown at police who had to employ riot gear and tear gas. Another protest is planned for the game against Nebraska this Saturday.

Why don't these students understand the firing? Why doesn't Paterno? Why has he been portrayed as the victim in this story, when at least a dozen children were allegedly raped by Sandusky?

Boys who have been raped deserve protection, compassion, and justice, just like girls. But for now, the focus remains on Paterno and his 61-year career, ended unfairly, he and his supporters say. And those nameless victims of Sandusky's alleged violence and Paterno's silence? They are more invisible than ever.
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