The impact of a verdict reached last month is still resonating in the town of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania and the college football community at large. Gerald Sandusky, 68, former football coach at Penn State was found guilty on 45 of the 48 counts of child sexual abuse against him.
Sandusky spent most of his 30 year career at Penn State under head coach Joe Paterno, and it was his outstanding reputation that gave the university its “Linebacker U” nickname. Praised by the community and rewarded by politicians such as Mitt Romney and former President Bush (Sr.) as well as celebrities like Mark Wahlberg, Sandusky was seen as a saint for building his charity, The Second Mile. Along with his wife Dottie, Jerry founded The Second Mile as a channel to mentor underprivileged, at-risk youth in Pennsylvania. Since the first charges against Sandusky began pouring in, the charity began to cease its operations in November, 2011.
There has been an expected mixed reaction to Sandusky’s investigation and verdict. For some justice was served, lessons were learnt and it’s time to move on, but for others, justice came too late. The very first allegation against the coach came in 1998 when a mother of an alleged victim reported her son had been molested by Sandusky in the locker room showers. The investigation did not gain much momentum as President of Penn State, Graham Spanier and head coach Joe Paterno took little action in order to protect Sandusky and a football culture that is highly revered at Penn State. The obvious inaction by Paterno, Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former SVP, Gary Schultz was investigated in a report by former FBI director, Louis Freeh. Freeh has compiled a telling report on the correspondence of these four men and their conscious inability to comply with the Clery Act. Even the highest levels of authority at Penn State had failed their community and the mother of an accuser sums up these emotions very well: “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost”.
However, there are milestones, no matter how small, that have been reached as a result of this trial and should not be ignored. The verdict and the courageous, forthcoming victims throughout the trial have been an inspiration for thousands of sexual assault survivors. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) noted a record demand for their hotline services during the Sandusky trial. RAINN is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization that has created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotlines in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across America. When the scandal was first exposed in November 2011 the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline recognized a 50% increase in calls. Hotline director Jennifer Marsh, said,
“We’re seeing an outpouring of people reaching out for help — women and men, boys and girls — many of whom have been encouraged to get help for the first time as a result of this tragedy.”
A majority of interviews taken outside the courthouse are calling June 22, the day of the verdict, a landmark day for sexual abuse survivors. As the pre-trial interviews progressed three more men came forth stating they were abused by Sandusky in the 70’s and 80’s. And of course the most shocking revelation came not too long before the verdict: Matt Sandusky, foster child of Jerry Sandusky, identified himself as one of Sandusky’s victims. Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of RAINN has sought the positive aspects of this devastating trial,
“If something positive can come out of this, it is that the strength of the survivors who testified has already encouraged thousands of survivors nationwide to take the first steps towards recovery”.
Statements made by the State Attorney General and the family of Joe Paterno commending the brave victims of Sandusky have been echoed by survivor support groups and the general public. While there are many lessons to be learnt through the Sandusky trial and verdict, there is also unwavering hope to be had by sexual assault survivors.
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