Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Some thoughts on the worst act imaginable.

Most of my stories are attempts at pointing out the silliness, the absurdity, of the human condition; my usual goal is to amuse and hopefully make you chuckle a bit.

This is not one of those posts.

We've all witnessed events in which we are required to make moral decisions. I suppose that's why we're referred to as adults. And our actions in response to these decisions, when examined in the aggregate, plot a highly accurate map of our character.

These behaviors can be as seemingly inconsequential as yelling for the driver to stop the bus while an approaching commuter sprints up from the rear, or as serious as confronting a drunken fraternity brother before he can further force himself onto an unwilling and distressed girl.

Sometimes we do act. Others, we're left feeling the punctures of those emotional daggers, materializing themselves into phrases like, "I should have said something. I should have called someone. I should have done something."

By now, most of us have familiarized ourselves with the chilling events surrounding the Penn State football program. Long time assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, has been  charged with forty counts of child sexual abuse which allegedly occurred over a fifteen-year period.

His victims purportedly were young boys whom Sandusky had met in his capacity as founder of Second Mile, a charity dedicated to helping children with absent or dysfunctional families. Now sixty-seven, Sandusky has pleaded innocent to all charges, despite some damning eyewitness accounts of his crimes.

Most notable among the first-hand narratives was the testimony of a graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, who, during March of 2002, had stopped by the Penn State locker room during the later evening to drop off some gym shoes. Alerted by sounds emanating from the shower area at such an odd hour, McQueary discovered a naked Sandusky raping a boy who appeared to have been around ten years old.

What did the twenty-eight-year-old McQueary do upon uncovering such a horrific scene? Did the former record-setting Penn State quarterback physically intervene to remove the child from harm's way? Did he immediately notify campus police? Did he even ask Sandusky what the hell was going on?

No, no and no. He walked away.

Mike McQueary left the locker room and notified his father. Did the elder McQueary advise his son to promptly contact authorities or, at the very minimum, head football coach Joe Paterno?

Again, no. McQueary, the younger, informed his coach the following morning. Paterno, the revered eighty-four-year-old Nittany Lion King, passed along the information to his athletic director, Tim Curley, and proceeded to cleanse his arthritic hands of the unsavory information.

Oh, yes, and then Curley, with frenzied abandon...also did nothing.

According to my calculations, at this point in 2002, four employees who possess knowledge of the sexual abuse of a child, and who are lawfully mandated to report said knowledge, had done nothing to alert law enforcement. They likely discussed it among themselves and probably either railed to each other about Sandusky's abhorrent behavior or conveniently rationalized it to protect the program.

Yet zero times four continues to equal zero.

Nearly ten years and countless additional victims later, the ball has finally dropped...on a man staring at seventy years old, who may serve at best ten percent of his life in prison. Such cold comfort.

I'd like to relate an experience which occurred in February of 2009. Since I share a sizable chunk of my life in this forum, I've occasionally been tempted to discuss it, since it godsmacked my existence to the marrow, but the time never felt right...until now.

I served as Juror Number One in the trial of a man accused of one count of first degree rape of a five-year-old girl, in addition to three counts of child molestation and seven counts of possession of child pornography.

If I could describe this three-work ordeal in one word, it would be "damage"—profound damage to the sweetest little girl you can imagine (who was the same age as my younger daughter), damage to victim's family, the accused's family and damage to judge, jury and everyone in the courtroom.

"Trial" is another apt word. I can't and won't describe the levels of depravity to which that child was subjected or the images and testimony which caused illness for some and tears for many.

I'm sure the trial didn't end for most of us after the gavel slammed down a verdict of guilty on all counts. Nearly three years later, I still think about it every day. For the first year, I had dreams...lots of them. But I can't wrap my brain around the permanent emotional trauma suffered by the young victim, how she will search for the pieces of a lost innocence and attempt to place them where they once fit together perfectly.

They're our children. Nothing is more precious. Nothing.

These predators are not shadowy figures who lurk behind the laurel hedge. They are our friends and relatives, our teachers and clergy.

Do the right thing.

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