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On Parenting
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 11/11/2011

Penn State: What if the victims had been girls?


Former Penn State football coachJoe Paterno (Matthew Stockman - GETTY IMAGES)

Update, 9:32 a.m.: Mike MQueary will not coach this weekend.

Original post: So many questions are swirling around the Penn state case and its bewildering aftermath (rioting for Joe Paterno. Really?) including a few that have emerged today that are bigger than the ugly scene playing on campus.

1) Would the situation have been different if a woman was in the chain of command that heard of the complaints?

2) Would the official reactions been different had the victims been not boys, but girls?

The first one is intriguing, but ultimately unanswerable. At its heart is the cultural assumption that a woman’s natural instincts might have been more attuned to the victimized child.

Reading the grand jury report on Jerry Sandusky, it is difficult to quell ferocious anger at the men – all men – in the Penn State chain that minimized evidence of child rape and other monstrous behaviors.

It’s impossible to say what would have been different if a woman had been involved. It is possible, though, to extrapolate what might have been different had more mothers been involved. Because one was.

That mother, a mother of one of the boys that Sandusky allegedly fondled, seemed to be the single person to hold Sandusky accountable when she reported his suspicious behavior and then followed up with police to document his admissions.

The irony is that because that mother acted quickly and appropriately — sparing her son more harm — the one person who confronted him had no involvement with the case as it unfolded for several more years.

The second question about the gender of the victims was raised by a reader of the earlier On Parenting post on Penn State. He wrote to me in an e-mail:

“My theory on it is that many people in America are so anti-gay that they blame the victims. Yes even 10-year-old-boys. People are going to judge them as willing participants who would eventually just be gay adults. I hate to say these things, but this is what I have observed and this is why predators continue to target children who are easy to manipulate … and target victims whom people are not going to be sympathetic to.”

This is a question that especially hangs over one of the key episodes. It’s the case of the graduate assistant who witnessed Sandusky raping a boy. The graduate student -- who has been identified as a current Penn State football receivers coach Mike McQueary — saw the rape in progress. He told the grand jury that Sandusky and the boy saw him, but he did not intervene.

That lack of action is hard to justify and McQueary is now being criticized (But not so much, as it seems he will still be coaching for the team, including in a game this weekend.)

Now imagine this: What if the scene witnessed had been a man raping a young girl?

Would that witness still have walked away?

Stay with me here.

If that witness still decided to walk away from a man raping a girl, and his inaction was later exposed, would the witness today be the subject of only criticism? Would he be allowed to continue his career at Penn State?

Let’s move to the esteemed coach. Let’s say the witness reported to the coach that he saw one of his staff raping a girl. Would that coach have as easily downplayed it?

For the benefit of argument, let’s say he did. Let’s say that this esteemed coach followed the exact same protocol as Joe Paterno did in real life. Let’s say he heard that one of his staff was raping a girl in the showers, and he downplayed it to his own higher-ups and then moved on.

That leads to the last question: When years later, that esteemed coach’s failure to report the rape of a young girl was exposed, would hundreds of college students have rioted in his honor? Would they have felt as proud to chant “We want Joe! We want Joe!”?

Much of the egregious behavior here has been attributed to protecting legacies and damage control (backfire much?) But is there also cultural bias at play? Were those involved and their supporters making assumptions about the victims? Or were they — are they — just not thinking about those kids at all?

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 11/11/2011

Tags:  child abuse, Penn State, children and sex abuse

 
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