How Do We Help Unhealthy Adults Who Abuse Children?

Until now, I have focused the majority of my research on the “who, what, when, why and how” of child molesters. Recently, I was reading Game Over, written by Bill Moushey and Bob Dvorchak, when I stumbled upon the chapter titled “Sandusky Speaks”. The entire chapter is an account of a series of interviews that Jerry Sandusky did shortly after he was arrested on November 5, 2011 for forty counts of abuse against eight children from 1994-2009 (Sandusky was later charged with an additional eight counts in December 2011). As I was reading through the chapter I began to ask myself why Sandusky whole-heartedly believed that he was completely innocent. Did he truly believe his own words? Did he really think that he could convince everyone (or anyone, for that matter) that he had not knowingly committed the crimes that he was arrested for?

Was Jerry Sandusky really that foolish?

Bob Costas, right, talks on the phone with Jerry Sandusky during this NBC interview on November 14,2011. To Costas’ left is Sandusky’s lawyer, Joseph Amendola.

Below read various highlights from a November 14, 2011 interview on NBC with host Bob Costas, Jerry Sandusky, and his lawyer, Joseph Amendola. It is important at this point to note that normally criminal defense lawyers do not render much information on their clients before trial, but Amendola wanted to direct a “public frontal assault” against the prosecutors and the accusers who brought the charges against Sandusky. Only minutes before the interview was slated to begin, Amendola revealed to Costas that some of the young men listed in the grand jury presentment would testify that Sandusky had not violated them. Then he surprisingly asked Costas if he would like to interview Jerry Sandusky. This all happened so close to airtime that NBC didn’t have much time to promote the interview.

Costas opens the interview bluntly:

“Mr. Sandusky, there’s a forty-count indictment. The Grand Jury report contains specific detail. There are multiple accusers, multiple eyewitnesses to various aspects of the abuse. A reasonable person says where there’s this much smoke, there must be plenty of fire. What do you say?”

Sandusky replied, also bluntly: “I say that I am innocent of those charges.”

Later, Costas asks: “Are you denying that you had any inappropriate sexual contact with any of these underage boys?”

Sandusky: “(After a bit of hesitation) I, yes, yes, I am.”

Of the 2002 incident from the shower of the Lasch Football Building at Penn State, Costas asks: “What did happen in the shower the night that Mike McQueary happened upon you and the young boy?”

Sandusky’s less than confident response was: “Okay, we-we were showering and-and horsing around. And he actually turned all the showers on and was-actually sliding-across the-floor. And we were-as I recall possibly like snapping a towel, horseplay.”

Later in the interview, Sandusky has denied all of the counts of abuse that Costas has brought up for conversation, so Costas pressed on and asked: “It seems that if all of these accusations are false, you are the unluckiest and most persecuted man that any of us has ever heard about.”

Sandusky laughed and said that these hadn’t been the best days of his life, “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

Sandusky took a break and Costas turned his attention to Amendola, asking (and challenging) him if he would ever allow his own children to be alone with Sandusky. Amendola answered without hesitation: “Absolutely. I believe in Jerry’s innocence.” Costas then asked Sandusky if Joe Paterno had ever spoken to him about the allegations regarding his behavior and Jerry said he [Paterno] never had.

Costas pressed Sandusky a bit harder, asking him about his involvement in the unfolding scandal, saying: “Do you feel guilty? Do you feel as if it’s your fault?”

Sandusky replied: “Guilty? No, I don’t think it’s my fault. I obviously played a part in this.” He then said: “… I-you know, I shouldn’t have showered with those kids. You know.”

When Costas flat out asked Sandusky if he was a pedophile Sandusky simply replied no. But, when Costas asked Sandusky if he was sexually attracted to young boys, to underage boys, Sandusky’s reply was: “Sexually attracted, you know, I enjoy young people. I love to be around them. But no, I’m not sexually attracted to young people.”

The interview ended and immediately the internet and social media blew up with people wondering why in the world Amendola would allow Sandusky to take and answer unprepared questions related to the allegations against him on national television. Consequently, the most puzzling part of the interview was why it took Sandusky so long to answer the question about sexually desiring young boys. When asked during a New York Times interview two weeks later why he did not quickly and directly answer the question, Sandusky responded: “I’m sitting there saying, ‘What in the world is this question?’ If I say, ‘No, I’m not attracted to boys,’ that’s not the truth, because I’m attracted to young people-boys, girls.” To which Amendola chimed in: “Yeah, but not sexually,”

I think the basis of me writing this piece and pointing out key parts of the NBC interview can be best summed by Marci Hamilton, CEO and Academic Director at CHILD USA, whom is also a lawyer and expert in child abuse cases:

“The beauty of this was the once he began talking about taking showers with children, anyone who listened would see he doesn’t get it, that’s he’s so deeply involved in the world of child abuse and his own narcissism that he has an inability to understand how his message plays out with healthy adults. It is very typical [of child predators].”

I have already uncovered that Jerry Sandusky liked himself a lot and thought very highly of his abilities; so being called a narcissist by Ms. Hamilton did not really surprise me. But, could that personality trait really have shaded his ability to recognize that his behavior towards children was unhealthy?

I began to ask myself another question: Is it possible, once identified, to help unhealthy adults and stop them from committing acts of crime against children before getting to extreme that the Jerry Sandusky case did? From my prior research, we already know how difficult it actually is to identify a child molester — both in terms of the general public and for the purpose of presenting charges in a criminal investigation. But, my hope is that the general public is becoming more educated than ever before in identifying potential child molesters. In a best case scenario, these individuals would be identified, and even if charges could not yet be done for whatever reason, they could still be mandated to some type of counseling to help their condition.

I think all of the cases that I have studied show a similar pattern: Because of how long investigations take to complete and then execute, the accused child molester has been given the opportunity to live their lives almost fully uninterrupted and, thus, almost always has the opportunity to keep committing crimes. How, as a society, do we find the middle-ground where we can continue to investigate and look for clues to strengthen the case, but also try and help the individuals who so badly need it, yet fail to recognize there is anything wrong with them in the first place?

I am not sure there is an easy answer to this or any of the questions I’ve presented today. I do hope to come up with solutions to examine in the future. I find it hard to believe I am the only person who has ever asked these questions before.

We can make our homes and communities safer for our children, but we are going to have to work for it, otherwise the child molesters will continue to outwork us and commit these horrible crimes.