Now that the trial is over, the satellite trucks have all returned home and new headlines have replaced the story that was Jerry Sandusky. Penn State has indicated a desire to settle the lawsuits as quickly as possible because that is the only way they can salvage what’s left of their reputation. And without it, you can be sure that all those generous donors of Penn State’s past are going to be finding elsewhere to build their legacy and leave their dollars.
Speaking of legacies, Joe Paterno spent a lifetime building a career as one of the most successful and beloved coaches of all time. But one critical lapse in judgment has forever cast him as the man who failed: “He now passes to eternity less as a legendary coach than as that guy from Penn State who let pedophile Jerry Sandusky keep abusing kids,” the San Jose Mercury News rightly noted.
Another week or so and most people will stop talking about Sandusky at all. The masses will move along to the next trending topic on Twitter. Oh, they might share photos of Sandusky shuffling about in chains. And, no doubt, rude people across America will be swapping off-color jokes about Sandusky getting what’s coming to him inside the jailhouse. But for the most part, the entire mess that was Jerry Sandusky will be pushed to the outer rim of our consciousness, just another unpleasantness we’d just soon forget.
Sandusky’s victims will be alone once more, alone with their memories and their nightmares as constant companions. No longer will the Morning News Shows call all hours of the day and night seeking some titillating detail. All those cable channels will soon follow suit. Oh, sure, there may be the odd reality TV show offer, because let’s face it — reality TV is the porn of America’s viewing audience, the freakier the better.
And what, pray tell, is more freaky than the sex abuse of a child? As some of Sandusky’s victims testified to, they enjoyed the attention they got from him. Abusers often make children feel loved. It’s part of the grooming process. Victims are then left with an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Some will turn to substance abuse in an effort to deal with that. Others will simply internalize the pain in more silent ways.
It is not true that silence speaks when words can’t. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is hurt denied. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is responsibility deafened. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is shame misplaced. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is evil granted access.
Everyone said it, and it’s true, one of the most difficult things to comprehend about the abuse perpetuated by Jerry Sandusky is how all those good-hearted people, including Joe Paterno, could have remained so silent for so long?
But questions still linger now that Jerry Sandusky is behind bars: What lessons have the rest of us learned from all of this? And what will we do about the silence that continues to threaten our nation’s children?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder. MacAdam/Cage.