“We would prefer he have some kind of trait,” former FBI agent Ken Lanning says. “That he be ugly or pockmarked so we can say, ‘Oooh, look out for him.’”
Make no mistake, there is deep guilt to be assigned at Penn State, and we will get to that in a minute, to the utterly negligent behavior of university president Graham Spanier and his underlings Gary Schultz and Tim Curley. But first we have to realize that we all have trouble believing that mentors could be molesters.
According to Lanning, who spent 35 years profiling pedophiles, a hallmark of “acquaintance molesters” is that they tend to be deeply trusted and even beloved. They are not strangers, but “one of us.” They are expert at seducing children and are almost as expert at seducing adults, including parents, into believing in them.
“How do we say to kids, ‘The only way these people differ is, they will be nicer to you than most adults?’” Lanning says. “They will listen to you, and shower you with attention and kindness, and so I want you to watch out for this evil bastard.’”
Until we rid ourselves of the myth of the “predator” in the raincoat preying on angelic victims, our discernment will continue to be clouded, says Lanning, who wrote a Justice Department-sponsored manual, “Child Molesters: A Behavioral Analysis.” And so will our judgment.
With that in mind, now let’s start again. If Sandusky is guilty of molesting, how do we parcel out the responsibility and decide what was preventable? Who should have recognized him, and how?
“Whether it’s the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, USA Swimming, or Little League, you look at these groups and say, why do they keep screwing this up?” Lanning asks.
According to the “acquaintance molester” profile, it’s probably a mistake to place all of the blame on Paterno personally. Paterno was perhaps in the worst position to see or judge the alleged behavior, because Sandusky was his valued assistant from 1966-1999.
“It’s hard to identify those people close to you as a potential molester, because you know them so well,” Lanning says. No one wants to believe such a thing of a friend.
Which is exactly why someone at Penn State’s institutional level should have done better. It was the responsibility of Paterno’s more dispassionate superiors Spanier, Schultz and Curley to take a much colder-eyed, distanced organizational view of Sandusky’s alleged behavior. Instead, they failed all along the line.