I’m not sure they got it right…

Today, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison (a maximum of 60) for the convictions on all but one count of charges relating to the sexual abuse of young boys.  He used his position as a Penn State assistant football coach, the incredibly popular football team and the Second Mile charity to lure victims into submitting to these incredulous acts.

And to the fault of the Pennsylvania justice system, I don’t think that the message sent was clear enough.

When it comes to sexual assault – especially of young people who will live with those scars their entire lives – it really doesn’t matter how it happens.  We’ve all heard of the unfortunate acts that predators take when luring their victims.  According to the National Institute of Justice, 9 out of 10 victims knew the person that sexually victimized them.  But this case was different.  This was a man who was in line to become the next head coach of one of the most visible football programs in the country.  More people in Pennsylvania knew Jerry Sandusky’s name than they knew the name of the Lieutenant Governor.

This wasn’t an isolated incident in a small town no one has ever heard of.  This was a predator that leveraged an incredible amount of trust – probably more than anyone outside of a major government office can accrue – and used it to commit these deplorable acts.  Sandusky isn’t a neighbor in a small Pennsylvania town or someone the victims only saw at church.  He earned the trust of Joe Paterno, one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.  He earned the trust of the Pennsylvania State University community to the point that he was depicted on a college mural as one of the great ambassadors of the university.  He helped define one of the great college football legacies of all time.  He was a hero among men.  What Jerry Sandusky did was not just a crime against several young boys (including, allegedly his own adopted son), it was a series of acts done with the trust of an entire state at his side.  He did not betray the trust of several young boys, he betrayed the trust of one of the largest fan bases in the country.

Jerry Sanduksy will be able to apply for parole in 30 years – when he is 98 years old – which means that there is still a chance that this man could walk free.

While the scars of Sandusky’s actions will last for decades beyond the length of his minimum sentence, I assert that the message sent by the judge to persons in powerful positions was clear:

Jerry Sandusky has the opportunity, if not the option, to walk free again and the victims he traumatized over a 19 year period, the university he used for its popularity and a charity he formed which attracted young people will never be free of his actions.

A prison sentence will never solve the problem of sexual abuse, but this particular punishment does not do justice for a powerful man who manipulated a system, a society and a culture for his own carnal pleasure.  He took advantage of every position given him and the power that came with it and demonstratively set out a path to deceive the people of Pennsylvania and Penn State University.  He victimized one of the greatest universities in the world.  He tortured young boys for 19 years.

And now we are all left with that undeniable sense that 30 years down the line, the final chapter in this story has not been written.

That was the judge’s biggest mistake.

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October 2012

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