I bet that is the scariest title to a post that you have ever seen.
There is this great article from The New Yorker that was written in September of 2012, almost a full year after Jerry Sandusky was arrested. Sandusky was a former defensive coordinator at Penn State and had run The Second Mile since 1977, which was a charity that helped at-risk kids. After his arrest, America was (once again) introduced to the world of pedophiles and all the ugliness that comes with them.
Malcolm Gladwell’s depiction of the mind of a pedophile is as much interesting as it is haunting. It was after reading this post from Gladwell that I really began to question my own sense of the situation involving Sandusky. I also began to question how the situation was being displayed by the media, up to that point.
I very quickly realized that there was plenty I did not know.
As I began reading Gladwell’s article I was immediately taken aback by the caution used by many of the people involved in the story of a young Canadian physical education teacher. The quick of the story: Three boys confessed to their parents that the man addressed as Jeffery Clay had touched them under their pants. What came next? Not much, except extreme caution from everyone, including a mother of one of the boys who said:
“We were all still trying to protect Mr. Clay’s reputation, and the possibility this was all blown up out of proportion and there was a mistake.”
Later, after learning of a previous complaint made against Clay, the families then took to the superintendent of their school district. Amazingly, he, too, advised caution, saying:
“If allegations do not clearly indicate sexual abuse, a gray area exists,”
As I was reading along I kept asking myself the same question: Why? I fully understood the initial intent of many people to be cautious when it came to declaring Clay to be a pedophile of some sort, but I couldn’t understand why, after multiple complaints from different children, he seemed to be treated with the same caution as he was whenever that first complaint came to light.
Furthermore, I was trying to understand why it mattered that the stories were all vague? Or that there was indiscretion? After all, these were young children who had somehow mustered up the courage to tell their parents that a man much older than them was touching them — at the very least — in inappropriate places.
Come on now! Think back to when you were a child. How hard was it to admit anything to your parents when you thought would get you in to some sort of trouble? The window you broke? The homework assignment you forgot to do and you had to have a parent signature the next day at school? The time you let your little brother get lost at the park? That same window you broke, again?! It was terrifying to tell our parents some of these things, which in comparison to molestation make them seem extremely silly.
Then I read the line that talked about protecting the image and “professional integrity” of the other teachers in Clay’s school district. I was enraged! But, I was hooked. Much like the more recent Jerry Sandusky saga has shown us, there really are two sides to a story — even the ones as disgusting and heartbreaking as these.
You could probably guess yourself that Clay kept his job after initial investigating was completed. It is at that point where the story gets really interesting.
After a new complaint surfaced, Clay, himself, resigned from his position and began to seek therapy for his behavior. I literally shook my head after writing that last line because the story should have ended right there. That is how ridiculous this story is about to get.
In a bizarre plot twist, after himself resigning and admitting he needed to seek professional help for his behavior, Clay somehow ends up getting the upper hand. The community was outraged when Clay resigned, and their feelings were only made stronger after prosecutors deemed the information they had on Clay was not enough to convict. Many teachers thought Clay was innocent. Clay’s glowing reputation alone was beginning to win him the hearts of an entire community and he then threatened to sue the parents of the three young children.
The case was completely dropped.
Clay was set free to roam and continue his behavior at the expense of countless young children, and later he even got his teaching certificate reactivated.
It is this specific story that brings light to the assumption that people of authority should be able to identify and catch predators. Clay reminds us that a pedophile:
“is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving, and charming the adults responsible for those children.”
That quote from Clay is exactly why I believe it is so important to educate ourselves when it comes to identifying predators and protecting children. Pedophiles make things so much more than only black-and-white. They are the very definition of why there is a “gray area” because, according to the law, simply touching children does not mean an individual is a pedophile. For that specific reason it is extremely difficult to gather evidence of sexual abuse.
Pedophiles, in short, seem harmless. They endear themselves to countless individuals. If it was so easy to identify a pedophile, don’t you think somebody would have let us all in on the secret by now?
The sad truth is that there is no secret, and it is extremely difficult to identify these monsters. But it is possible, although Gladwell reminds us that:
“The pedophile is often imagined as the disheveled old man baldly offering candy to preschoolers. But the truth is that most of the time we have no clue what we are dealing with.”
Gladwell’s post cites numerous pedophiles and their processes, proving that this is more of a deranged epidemic than it is controlled with a few random instances. When it comes to identifying pedophiles we need to be more aware of warning signs, and less accepting of protecting ourselves at the expense of children. We do need to continue to use caution when declaring a person of being a pedophile because livelihoods are at stake, but we must use less caution when we get multiple complaints. If we use that approach we may begin to really zero in on a terrible situation that is staring us right in the face.
No matter how hard this is to do. No matter how hard this is to talk about. No matter how long it takes to get it right. We need to come up with a better and more effective system for identifying child molesters.
That is why we are here. To become better educated and because we care about protecting children.