Sandusky trial testimony of boys without fathers in their lives strikes nerve on Father's Day

By By Mike Dawson

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, June 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky arrives for the fourth day of his trial at the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., Thursday, June 14, 2012. The prosecution's case in Sandusky's sex abuse trial neared its conclusion on Thursday after just four days of testimony, with three more accusers taking the witness stand, including a young man who said the former Penn State assistant football coach raped him as a teen guest in Sandusky's home.

Nabil K. Mark, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky used to make the 25-minute drive to Wingate, Pa., to pick up a 12-year-old boy from school and take him back to his house near Lemont, Pa.

They’d go to Penn State football games and sometimes go out for dinner, and the teen would stay overnight at Sandusky’s house.

“He was like a father to me,” the young man said during his testimony Thursday in Sandusky’s trial on charges of sexually abusing 10 boys.

This young man, known as alleged victim No. 3, doesn’t remember the last time he saw his own dad. And like other young men who alleged they were abused by Sandusky, he ended up trusting the former Penn State assistant football coach.

“He made me feel like I was part of something, like a family,” the young man testified.

The testimony of the young men last week strikes an emotional nerve with the trial serving as a bookend to the Father’s Day weekend.

The young men told of not having father figures in their lives, and experts said the vulnerabilities of children, such as alleged victim No. 3, make them easy targets for child abuse perpetrators.

“What we have pretty good evidence of is that children that grow up in families where there’s fewer caretakers, less supervision, that they’re at greater risk at being targeted by sexual predators,” said David Lisak, a Boston psychologist and forensic consultant who has evaluated sexual offenders. “There’s no question that these offenders become quite adept at identifying kids who are living in situations that they’re not being as carefully watched or supervised."

But experts say the blame can’t be placed on the shoulders of a single parent, forced to work to provide for his or her family. With that goes dividing the love, care and attention of one adult among his or her children instead of having two parents or caretakers handle those duties.

“Any parent on the planet will tell you this is the most challenging thing in your life,” Lisak said.

So when someone comes along and offers that single parent a respite by taking a kid to do something meaningful, there’s a sigh of relief.

“It’s no fault of theirs. It’s just one of the unfortunate things no matter who’s the single parent,” Lisak said.

The young men who testified last week said Sandusky started out by taking them to work out on Penn State’s campus and that their mothers gave their permission, thinking it’d be good for their sons to spend some time with a man who was well-respected in the community as both an activist for kids through The Second Mile and a popular defensive coach for the Nittany Lions.

Experts say predators work to groom the families of their victims as much as they work to groom their victims for abuse.

“These single mothers, these parents, were essentially conditioned to believe that they were making good parenting decisions by turning their children over to The Second Mile and Jerry,” said State College attorney Andrew Shubin, who is representing alleged victims No. 3 and No. 7 with another local attorney, Justine Andronici.

The 28-year-old alleged victim No. 4 got a photo with Sandusky the first time the older man picked him up to go hang out, he testified. The prosecution showed this to the jury as one of many photos they are hoping will drive home the notion Sandusky had formed relationships with the boys.

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