Whatever the circumstances, Sophia Sadinsky writes, dealing with sexual violence should be a collective effort.
Jerry Sandusky’s acts of sexual violence and the silence that was collectively maintained throughout create a disturbing portrait of the lengths stakeholders will go to uphold the institutions that sustain them. As is often the case, this is a story not simply about sexual abuse, but also of the familiar entanglement of politics and masculinity, sports, and power. Recognizing this recurring web is not meant to diminish the unique violence of Sandusky, nor to suggest that acknowledging the interplay between structures and individuals does anything to help Sandusky’s victims heal. But identifying familiar tropes enables us to package these violent stories and wrestle with them as cultural phenomena, which is perhaps less painful than admitting that we cannot predict when real people, often men, will behave violently.
In fact, this kind of story is most familiar to those who face the threat of violence regularly and often devote a dismaying amount of time working to steel themselves against it. As a result, the loudest reactions have come from men for whom the daily threat of violence—particularly sexual violence—may not be a reality, and they have taken many forms. There are those, like the anonymous professor from Penn State, who tried to understand this violence in the context of community and communal identity, to articulate the deep and unexpected sense of betrayal that Sandusky’s actions evoked. There are others, like the predominantly male Penn State students who rallied in outrage over Paterno’s ousting, who have somehow managed to make this story about loyalty and football, rather than violent abuse.
Even the readers’ comments on many of the mainstream news pieces are primarily those of men, communicating their shock, disbelief, outrage (for various reasons), and disgust. There are several, complex explanations for this unprecedented outpouring from men in response to this story of violence, but one of them is that when it comes to sexual assault, men have the privilege of distance. There are of course particular communities of male-identified people for whom sexual assault is not simply a distant possibility, but for most white, heterosexual men (as many of the Penn State rioters appear to be), the reality of sexual violence is unwelcome news. It threatens an intact and deeply-beloved establishment, it forces them to consider an experience from which most of them previously enjoyed a comfortable removedness.
This is not meant to trivialize men’s outrage, to suggest that most such expressions are born out of an unwavering commitment to football, or to reduce a story of child abuse to an analysis of masculinities. But one of the many dynamics at play in this case that is important to acknowledge is that most of the time, women are left to talk with other women about sexual violence. Men’s voices in this dialogue are welcome, and important—and rare. Dealing with violence should always be a collective effort, regardless of the players involved or the powerful institutions at stake.
The GMP on Penn State:
Paterno and Pedestals, Julie Gillis
When the Game Becomes Religion, Gary Percesepe
Male Lust Arrives in Happy Valley, Tom Matlack
Destroying a Young Boy’s Soul, Ken Solin
Power Is at the Core of Sexual Harassment, Mervyn Kaufman
Men, Monsters, and the Media, Nicole Johnson
Loyalty and Responsibility at Penn State, Andrew Smiler
Jerry Sandusky and Penn State: A Familiar Story, Sophia Sadinsky
I Failed, Rick Morris
Sandusky-ed, Tim Green