(NOTE: Clohessy will attend Sandusky’s sentencing Tuesday morning and will hold a news conference on the Centre County Courthouse steps on Monday at 2 p.m.)
Now is no time to be complacent. Yes, one child predator, Jerry Sandusky, is behind bars and will likely stay there for the rest of his life. But many more child predators still walk free. And there are still plenty of schools and institutions that still seem to value their own reputations over the safety of their students or members. There’s still a climate of denial in which adults often rally around accused child predators and disbelieve their victims.
Sandusky is imprisoned because of two factors: the courage of survivors, who broke their silence and reported their abuse, and the dedication of law enforcement officials, who pursued him. Both deserve our praise and our gratitude.
However, the full truth of exactly who ignored and concealed Sandusky’s crimes isn't yet known. Other secrets must be uncovered. The Freeh report was just a start. Taxpayers, parents, alums, students, staff and – above all – Sandusky’s victims need and deserve to know as much as possible about those complicit individuals who chose to protect themselves, and their employer instead of protecting the kids and their families.
And those wrongdoers must suffer consequences. So far, really, only one wrongdoing has been punished. Other officials must also be punished. Why? Because that’s the best way to prevent such callousness, recklessness and deceit in the future.
So now is not the time for any of us to turn away. Assuming that ‘all is well now’ at Penn State is irresponsible. Some positive steps have been taken. But it’s way too premature for anyone to become complacent.
Specifically, here’s what we in SNAP believe should happen now.
First, we urge everyone who has seen or suspected child sex crimes at Penn State to immediately call law enforcement. We can’t assume that the ex-Penn State staffers now facing criminal charges will be convicted. Nor can we assume that everyone who turned a blind eye to Sandusky’s crimes is already being charged.
Second, we urge prosecutors to continue to vigorously going after every single Penn State employee, student or staffer who ignored or concealed Sandusky's crimes.
Third, we urge Penn State staff, alums and students to continue pushing for real reforms and prevention steps that will uncover the truth about the horrors that have happened there and will help deter future horrors from happening there.
Any reforms at Penn State have happened, in large part, because of external pressure. We can hope that, with the new administration, these reforms will turn out to be effective. But we cannot assume that they will be once the national spotlight has shifted elsewhere.
It’s not, however, just current and former Penn State staff who have an obligation to do more.
Fourth, Pennsylvania lawmakers have a crucial role here too: to reform Pennsylvania's archaic and predator friendly statute of limitations. A temporary civil window is the best way for protecting children right now, not just in the future. Eliminating the rigid, dangerously restrictive statute of limitations is the cheapest, quickest way to expose dangerous child predators that are preying on kids right now. We urge legislators to ignore the pressure from insurance executives and Catholic bishops, and adopt this common sense reform that will make it harder for many child molesters to commit and harder for supervisors to conceal heinous child sex crimes.
Sixth, other Sandusky's victims must continue stepping forward, getting help, calling police, exposing crimes, protecting others and seeking justice.
Seventh victims who have filed civil suits must hang in there and not give up, no matter how tough defense lawyers may fight. Civil justice – like criminal prosecution - will help unearth the cover up and deter future cover ups.
Eighth, every Pennsylvania citizen must immediately report any information about or suspicions of child sex abuse to police, not bosses or co-workers. When this isn’t done, every citizen must push prosecutors to charge those who selfishly and callously and timidly refused to call the police and safeguard the vulnerable.
Finally, both Penn State and the NCAA in must take steps to prevent the inexcusable campus riots and rallies supporting Joe Paterno that were so extraordinarily hurtful. These events no doubt intimidated more victims and whistleblowers into staying silent. And they could have been prevented or reduced, if only officials would have taught students how to appropriately respond when school staffers are accused of crimes.
Penn State and the NCAA can and must institute a broad-reaching educational program instructing college staff and students on how to deal with cases of abuse. Riots are not appropriate. Rallies for alleged criminals hurt everyone – victims, witnesses, whistleblowers and law enforcement.
Students and staff must be taught that it’s crucial, when child sex allegations are made, to
--withhold judgments of guilt or innocence,
--avoid public statements or actions that might intimidate victims, witnesses or whistleblowers, and
--express support for the accused in quiet, private ways (visits, calls, cards, etc.)
We urge Penn State and the NCAA to teach these simple but helpful principles now to avoid such harmful incidents in the future.
The bottom line: what’s needed here is continued vigilance from everyone involved, at the university (students, staff and alums), in law enforcement and at the state capitol. Child sex crimes are widespread, cover ups are commonplace, and kids are precious – so vigilance is needed and complacency is irresponsible.
There have been major strides forward because of the Penn State scandal, but pressure must be kept up in order to prevent any slides backward.
Nothing can bring back the shattered childhoods of Sandusky’s brave victims. But we owe it to them, and to all children, to respond to this scandal with vigorous preventative actions, not premature complacency or soothing platitudes or short term ‘fixes’ that don’t truly make children safer.