November 18, 2011

It didn’t take long for discussions about the Penn State scandal to stray beyond the horror of vile and evil abuse of boys.

Since the scandal broke two weeks ago, the media has provided near-daily accounts of the woes and agony suffered by Penn State wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, who told a Pennsylvania grand jury that he witnessed former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky raping a boy, possibly 10 years old, in a university shower in 2002.

McQueary’s trials and tribulations have been awful, what with the nasty calls and death threats he reportedly has received. He says he told the police about what he had witnessed. They say they have no record of him contacting them. Poor McQueary can’t catch a break.

Closer to home, WTOP, a District radio station, asked listeners whether just-fired head football coach Joe Paterno should be allowed to collect his pension.

The other day, a cable news show reported breathlessly that Graham Spanier, fired as Penn State’s president, was still living in his university-supplied mansion.

For goodness’ sake, this is so beside the point.

One would think. But then came this week’s full-throated cry from author Katha Pollitt, calling for the cancellation of Penn State’s football season. “Maybe cancel college football too,” she added, citing the Penn State scandal as a message about “masculine privilege.” Off track?

Not so, according to Pollitt. “If Sandusky had abused little girls, let alone teenage or adult women, would he be in trouble today? Or would we say, like the neighbors of an 11-year-old gang-raped in Cleveland, Texas, that she was asking for it?” she wrote.

This is not a war between the sexes. Neither should this become a pity party for McQueary or Paterno.

Whether McQueary should feel good, or bad, about himself and his role in exposing the alleged actions of Sandusky ought not to be at the top of our concerns. I will not lose any sleep over ­JoePa’s retirement plans. Nor will I watch to see when the moving vans pull up in front of the former university president’s digs.

The focus should remain on those boys who were apparently harmed years ago: the 8-to-10-year-old who told investigators he was “forced to put his hand on Sandusky’s erection,” according to the New York Times; the boy whom McQueary says he saw being raped in the shower; the boys Sandusky allegedly groped in his car and in the basement of his home.

This story is also about boys who have never set foot in the Keystone State but who have experienced horrors like those visited upon the youths Sandusky is accused of harming.

Because, in truth, there are sexual predators across the length and breadth of this country.

Look no further than the pages of Thursday’s Metro section, where you will find this: “Ex-kindergarten aide charged with sexual abuse.” The Post reports about a man, who had worked as a kindergarten aide, library secretary and coach at a Manassas elementary school, getting arrested this week and charged with four counts of sexually abusing a male student in the mid-1990s. Law enforcement officials said the abuse started when the boy was in fourth grade, in 1993, and lasted until 1997. The alleged victim, now 29, came forward after seeing news reports about the Penn State abuses. Virginia authorities are now looking for other possible victims.

Predators find and groom children in schools, churches, camps and anywhere else they can find them. Sadly, abusers can be almost anyone, the unsavory and the upstanding.

In Sandusky’s case, investigators told the Times, he made his first approach when boys were about 8 to 12, choosing those from homes where there was no father, the paper reported, or some difficulty in the family.

The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry says that about 80,000 child sex-abuse cases are reported annually, but that many more go unreported because children are afraid to tell anyone what happened.

But parents and guardians aren’t helpless. Neither should their kids be.

The academy offers excellent advice on ways parents can lessen the chances of children being sexually abused, including what to do if it happens and ways to get help.

This is where our focus belongs.

kingc@washpost.com