Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison on Tuesday, a life sentence for the 68-year-old former Penn State assistant coach and convicted child molester.
Sandusky persisted in maintaining his innocence in the face of his well-documented and witnessed abuse of several boys over the course of several years. A statement that he had previously recorded from his jail cell was played on Penn State radio Monday night. In it he cries injustice and conspiracy and paints himself the victim.
“A young man who was dramatic, a veteran accuser, and always sought attention, started everything. He was joined by a well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers. They won,” Sandusky’s taped voice recites.
One point, only one, in the delusional statement may turn out to be true. It’s this:
“Some vulnerable children who could be abused might not be as a result of all the publicity.”
Though most of us are more than ready to turn away from the Sandusky spectacle, advocates for abused children say that publicity has convinced other victims to come forward and has crucially raised public awareness about the urgency of the issue.
The number of people who signed up for and took sexual abuse prevention training skyrocketed at Safe Shores — The DC Children’s Advocacy Center, for instance. According to officials there, 158 were trained in the year before the Sandusky scandal and 608 in the year after.
Scott Berkowitz, president and founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, said that, since the story broke last year, the use of RAINN’s online hotline has spiked 47 percent.
“Now that Sandusky will be locked up and unable to harm more children, our hope is that even more survivors will take their first steps towards recovery — with the confidence that their family, friends and community will believe them and support them,” Berkowitz said in a statement.
The Penn State Justice Center for Research, meanwhile, has seen a crush of interest in a conference on the subject of child abuse. Seats for the public conference, set for later this month and hosting such speakers as former abuse victims Elizabeth Smart and Sugar Ray Leonard, were all snapped up within a month, officials said.
Penn State researcher conference co-organizer Kate Staley said the wait list has grown so long that officials decided to live stream many of the sessions for those who can’t get a seat.
Staley said the conference was inspired by the reported and casual misinformation she and her colleagues heard after Sandusky was publicly accused. The gathering is intended to, among other things, spread the word that it’s not just underprivileged children who are at risk, and that pedophiles are often not easily identifiable.
“The bottom line is that we all need to learn more about the need to better protect our children and how to do this. This conference is one place to start,” Staley said.
The word “start” is key here.
Advocates are quick to also say that as the attention on Sandusky fades, the attention on the issue could fade along with it.
“For all that is disturbing about this case and all the pain caused to those Sandusky preyed upon, there is the potential for good,” said Michele Booth Cole, executive director of Safe Shores.
“Our conversations, awareness and vigilance mustn’t end.”
Has the Sandusky scandal changed your awareness level about abuse?