It was sickening to read accounts of eight men who were abused as boys by the recently convicted Jerry Sandusky. Even after the former Penn State assistant football coach was found guilty of sexually assaulting 10 boys, his legacy of manipulation and violence against minors continues to unfold. After the trial it was reported that the perpetrator’s own adopted son Matt Sandusky offered to testify how he himself had been abused, this according to his lawyers Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici.
It also came to light that over the years, as the molestation of the other boys was happening, there were eyewitnesses to some of the assaults. I was deeply disturbed with what that handful of people, who saw or knew of his actions, did about it: they remained silent. Sandusky’s victims are not included on this point, because I can’t imagine the confusion, shame and terror those young boys felt when they contemplated telling someone about their ordeal.
Regarding adults who know things but don’t tell, it’s ironic. I used to associate ‘snitching,’ or rather not snitching, only within the context of today’s youth. Snitching, according to my laptop’s dictionary, is ‘telling somebody in authority about another person's wrongdoing.’ Many kids believe snitching is a grave, some say unforgivable, offense. As a result, a whole lot of trouble – everything from street crimes to school bullying – goes largely unreported.
When I first became aware of this culture of silence, I was dumbfounded. The obvious source to blame for this ridiculous mentality, which to my mind is akin to cutting off your nose to spite your face, was street thugs and drug dealers. They were my prime suspects for saddling this destructive mindset among our children. Then I thought a little deeper and came up with other culprits, some that were a lot closer to home.
‘Polite’ society explicitly trumpets the values of truth, justice and doing the right thing. At the same time, we embrace our own culture of secrets regarding a whole lot of misdeeds. Among them: domestic violence, family member substance abuse and of course, child abuse. There are other systematic transgressions to which we claim moral offense, including sexism, racism, sexual orientation prejudice and more. We also look with disfavor on various forms of white collar crime. (By the way, snitching in the business world is more commonly referred to as whistle blowing.)
Deepening the irony is the fact that as often as not, remaining silent ‘for the greater good’ eventually results in people getting hurt – sometimes fatally. This begs the question: what’s worse, the one who knows and tells, or the one who knows and tells not? The answer seems obvious, yet in many cases what we end up doing (or rather not doing) suggests otherwise. Why is it so hard to do what everyone agrees is the right thing? Might it have something to do with what people think about themselves inside that makes them act contrary to what they believe?
Some say folks who don’t do the right thing are in denial. That’s the speculation around Sandusky’s wife who lived in the same house where her son said her husband molested him for years, yet she emphatically denies knowing anything. Really?
One thing is certain to my mind and it’s summed up in a variation on a popular adage: all that is necessary for injustice to prevail is for people of good conscience to do nothing. That said, what are you doing?