Tag: child abuse

Rationalizing Bad Behavior Away

Warning: This is a graphic post about the Penn State child abuse scandal.  May not be appropriate for the office.

I’ve been following the Penn State/Jerry Sandusky story really closely for the past two weeks. I’m completely shocked by how the entire story has played out.  Each day, it gets worse.  The entire episode is a complete disgrace.  If you haven’t been following, check out the NY Times coverage.

According to the grand jury indictements, Sandusky was a popular Penn State Defensive Coordinator who raped boys as young as 10.  Another Penn State assistant saw him in the act, stopped the act somehow, then reported it to his father, the university president, the athletic director, the head coach and a few others.  Sandusky “retired” to work on his charity for young boys, called The Second Mile, which he used as a platform to meet and victimize young boys.

News reports claim that multiple people knew or heard about Sandusky’s proclivities, but didn’t do anything to stop him.  The entire episode is a complete disgrace and make me physically sick to my stomach.  After having some time to reflect, I’m very interested in how each person, who could have potentially stepped in and stopped this monster, rationalized their inaction.  Or even worse, in some cases rationalized their actions to coverup these rapes.

Humans have an amazing ability to rationalize away bad behavior.  Sometimes its their own bad behavior, sometimes its the bad behavior of others.  They think “everyone’s doing it, it wasn’t THAT bad, maybe we misunderstood, oh he wont do it again, if i just keep my head down, it will blow over” or in other cases “how will the affect me, what will others think?”  It’s the same phenomenon that allows massive corporate fraud, domestic abuse and the Sandusky case.  It’s the same phenomenon that caused the Catholic Church to cover up rampant sex abuse by priests.  Taken to the extreme, its the same phenomonen that allows genocide and the Holocaust to happen.

Let’s look at the timeline.  A Penn State assistant coach, McQueary, walks into the shower and sees a 55 year old man raping a 10 year old boy.  He claims he made sure it stopped, then called his father.  His father told him to report the incident to his boss, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno.  The assistant claims he told Paterno in no uncertain terms what he saw.  Here’s how the story got watered down as it moved through the chain of command:

  • Assistant Coach McQueary: Eye witness report of anal rape of a 10 year old in a University shower
  • Head Coach Joe Paterno: something of a sexual nature.
  • Penn State Senior VP of Finance Schultz: inappropriately grabbing of the young boy’s genitals.
  • Athletic Director Curley: inappropriate conduct or horsing around.
  • University President Spanier: conduct that made someone uncomfortable.
  • Second Mile President Raykovitz: a ban on bringing kids to the locker room.

Everyone in this case did the wrong thing.  They rationalized the behavior away, or just flat out covered it up.  McQuery did his legal duty by reporting the rape to his superiors, but not his moral duty, which would be the call the police immediately and keep contacting the authorities until something was done.  Two years earlier, multiple Janitors saw Sandusky “performing oral sex on a young boy” but did nothing to stop it, nor reported it to police.

Paterno and the university officials rationalized the conduct, either because they didn’t believe it, didn’t want to believe it or wanted to protect their institution.  All the while, more kids continued to be raped.  The university, other coaches, Penn State players and people in the community heard rumors, but never did anything to follow up.  It was always someone else’s problem or it was rationalized away.

I truly believe that when the full story comes out, it’s going to be worse than anything we could imagine.  I think that people who knew about Sandusky’s “proclivities” will number in the 100s.  Yet nothing happened until ten years later, when Sandusky assaulted another young boy, who told his mother, who immediately called the police, sparking the current investigation.

So many people could have put an end to Sandusky’s pedophelia, but “didn’t want to rock the boat” or thought “it wasn’t that bad” or wanted to “protect themselves or their school.”  I truly hope that this horrible situation pushes more people to act when they witness criminal behavior.  These excuses should go out the window.  Do the right thing.  Anything less is morally reprehensible.  Remember, all it takes is one person doing the right thing and a horrible situation like this comes to an end much earlier.