Will the Sandusky trial provide a better future or will it just feed voyeurism?
The Sandusky sexual abuse trial is about to begin and the saga will unfold on the Internet, mainstream news and in the tabloids. Many stories will be told, exposed and exploited even with the restrictions on photography, texting, video, etc., imposed by the court. The witnesses will be put to credibility and reliability tests, memories will be challenged, and the accused will sit in the courtroom confronted by his victim/accusers.
We have been here before. The McMartin nursery school sexual abuse in Manhattan Beach, California in 1984 comes to mind. The McMartin case did not result in any convictions after seven years of investigations and trials, but a major positive outcome of that trial was the complete revamping of how child sexual abuse victims were interviewed.
What greater good can come from this trial and subsequent information and news cycles? Can there be positive impacts and outcomes that allow a waking up to the challenges that the intervention and prevention of sexual abuse present? I am particularly thinking about breaking down the barriers of institutional blindness. Many people allege that they were suspicious of abuse and indeed did report. The mother of Victim One reported her suspicions that her son was being sexually abused by Sandusky to her son’s high school principal. The principal in turn reported to child welfare services. The Penn State police investigated for 3 years and uncovered allegations that Sandusky molested nine other boys. No actions were taken during that entire period.
This trial will be as high profile as they come. After all, this is the world of college sports. Both prosecutors and the defense attorneys will use aggressive tactics and we can expect coverage akin to a champion sporting match. Beyond winners and losers in a court case, what good can we expect from this experience? Is there the possibility of some good outcomes and dare we raise our expectations?
Will the myopic and insular actions of university officials be exposed in such a way as to influence better policies, training and behaviors at institutions of higher learning? Will the victim/accusers/survivors feel any sense of justice after making public their voices? Will the public’s capacity for compassion be increased or eroded into another round of compassion fatigue? Will there be lessons learned and questions formulated for everyone about the challenges in preventing child sexual abuse? Will communities come together to tackle this issue so that child sexual abuse and all forms of sexual violence do not go underground again until the next shocking scandal or front-page exposé?
What good can come out of the Sandusky sexual abuse trial of 2012?
Let’s pay attention carefully and keep our expectations high.
Patti Giggans is the Executive Director of Peace Over Violence. Peace Over Violence is dedicated to building healthy relationships, families and communities free from sexual, domestic and interpersonal violence. She is also the Vice-President of the Board of Directors for1in6.
Photo credit: Flickr / Paul Lowry