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.
The lead investigator in the case testified that he noticed alleged victim No. 4 in a video clip from the Alamo Bowl in 1999 that a local TV station ran when they reported Sandusky’s arrest in November. The boy was on the sidelines in a Penn State jersey and had gone to San Antonio with the Sandusky family.
During that trip, the man testified, Sandusky tried to force him perform oral sex in the bathroom of their hotel room only to be interrupted by Dottie Sandusky. The coach’s wife had come into the hotel room, calling out for her husband, he testified.
“I kind of looked at Jerry as a father figure,” alleged victim No. 4 said. “He was nice to me — other than those instances."
Sandusky worked to maintain that appearance as a father figure, too, according to the man’s testimony and evidence the prosecution presented.
Sandusky referred alleged victim No. 4 to a golf mentoring program, and on the referral form, Sandusky wrote he should be the boy’s emergency contact.
The boy appeared in a Sports Illustrated article about Sandusky, in Sandusky’s autobiography “Touched” and even in a photo in this newspaper more than a decade ago.
“He treated me like a son in front of other people. Outside of that, he’s treating me like his girlfriend,” the man testified.
Most of the young men who testified said they never told anybody about the alleged abuse. Some said they were ashamed of it.
“How do you tell your mom something like that?” said an emotional 18-year-old from Mifflin County after testifying about how Sandusky indecently touched and abused him.
He told the jury he coped with it by himself, and it wasn’t until investigators woke him up one morning that he started to talk about the alleged abuse.
“They want to speak out and tell someone, but they don’t know who to turn to, and if the abuser is the only person in their life who is giving them any form of positive attention, oftentimes the options appear to the child to be put up with the pain, or walk away and suffer even worse deprivation and loneliness,” said Chris Anderson, the executive director of the sex abuse survivor advocacy organization Male Survivor.
For others, they didn’t want to get Sandusky in trouble — they said he’d done so much for them, such as taking them to football games, and getting them gifts that included golf clubs, hockey gear, clothes, a snowboard.
“In truth, the giving up of gifts like T-shirts and golf clubs is the last thing a survivor really cares about, but it’s a lot easier to talk about not wanting to lose physical things,” Anderson said. “What a victim is really scared of losing is (the) only person who seems to care about them."
When alleged victim No. 4 said he started to pull away from Sandusky, he still faced resistance from his grandmother, whose house is where he lived a good bit growing up.
“My grandmother felt this is my obligation because this guy is doing nice things for me,” alleged victim No. 4 testified.
In November, a few weeks after Sandusky was arrested, the satirical newspaper called The Onion published one of its trademark made-up stories and mocked a 2001 shower incident seen by then-grad assistant Mike McQueary, who had not called the police. The Onion’s story — purely fictional — said a bunch of 10-year-olds held a news conference outside Beaver Stadium to remind people to call police if they discover someone sexually abusing a child.
Kristen Houser, a vice president with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said the article was funny in that it punctuated the absurdity of where the conversation was about preventing abuse.
“We focus so much on Mike McQueary,” she said. “The reality is most people don’t ever and never will literally walk in and watch a child being sexually abused. We don’t need to put our focus there."
Instead, the focus should be on what they call “primary prevention,” which seeks to teach adults to recognize signs of grooming behavior, intervention, and indicators that children are being abused.
“It’s ineffective to try to protect kids when we’re only focused on risk reduction,” Houser said.
She encourages caretakers, whether it’s both or the single parent in a household to take measures such as letting children set their own boundaries and giving their children the proper words for their private parts so they wouldn’t think it is taboo to talk about.
For the 23-year-old known as alleged victim No. 3, he testified Sandusky fondled him when he was 12 and the older man’s body reacted by becoming aroused. But he never said anything until police contact him, and he reluctantly began opening up, he said.
But long before that, he testified he lost touch with Sandusky after being placed in foster care. He was hopeful that Sandusky would call him or find a way to adopt him and wondered how Sandusky could just forget about him.
“He formed relationships with these young boys that made them feel special,” said Andronici, one of the civil attorneys representing the young men who are alleged victims in the case. “He told them they were family. This emotional bond was extremely important."
But now, the young man testified, he’s angry and hurt about the alleged abuse.
He said feels betrayed.
“I loved him,” the young man said.Comment on this story
©2012 Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.)
Visit the Centre Daily Times (State College, Pa.) at www.centredaily.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services