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Monday, November 14, 2011

PSU Abuse Allegations Raise Question, ‘Why Didn’t Anyone Call The Cops?’

People gather in front of the Old Main building for a candlelight vigil in support of child abuse victims on the Penn State campus on Friday, in State College, PA.

People gather in front of the Old Main building for a candlelight vigil in support of child abuse victims on the Penn State campus on Friday, in State College, PA.

The cases of alleged abuse at Penn State University have many asking why someone didn’t act to put an end to the practice. In particular, if someone witnessed a rape of a young child, why wouldn’t they immediately call police?

Assistant coach Mike McQueary is being vilified for witnessing what he said was the rape of a child, and not stopping it, or calling the police. Penn State points out that McQueary did what he was required to do by state law: he told his boss coach, Joe Paterno. But why didn’t McQueary do more?

Psychologists say the “bystander effect” may be at play.

As Time Magazine reports, it’s a twist on the coping mechanism of denial:

In McQueary’s case… there seems to have been another type of denial at play, which [psychologist Stanley Cohen] labeled “interpretative.” “You don’t deny that something happened, but try to transform the meaning of it,” says [social psychologist Mark Levine] explaining that a witness might minimize the significance of a crime or try to see it as something other than it was.

McQueary may well have been psychologically unable to accept that a man like Sandusky, someone he admired, had actually committed the abhorrent crime he witnessed. Research suggests that when people are faced with situations that threaten their view of the world as relatively fair and decent, rather than revising their own perspective, they often create accounts that deny reality, blame the victim or otherwise rationalize the situation.


  • David Clohessy, executive director of SNAP

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  • Andrew

    The failure to involve the police earlier was less due to “bystander effect” than due to society’s tendency to view Sandusky as a coach first, member of the university second, and member of society last.  That skewed view is what led to McQueary (following his father’s advice) contacting Paterno, to Paterno contacting Curley and Schultz, but none of them contacting the police.  That skewed view is why Paterno’s actions are given greater scrutiny and condemnation than McQuery’s even though McQuery is the one who actually witnessed the crime.
    Who should be contacted depends on the violation, not what institution the perpetrator belongs to.   A violation against society requires that the police be contacted, not the football team, not the university, not the church (as in the clergy sex abuse cases), etc.
    Until we correctly prioritize our view of people’s roles, the wrong institutions will continue to be notified when such crimes occur and more children will suffer.

    • Ann4216

      So well said & couldn’t agree more!

  • Tisbea

    I once saw a woman abusing a child on a subway platform. She was poking the child, about 4 years old, in her face with her fingernail; the child fell on the platform screaming and the mother then knelt near the child and continued. No one else seemed affected by it, but I intervened and told her that she should not hit the child like that. The woman stood up and said: I could even hit you. Then dealt me a blow on my face, so hard that I could not chew for a few days; my face black and blue. I tried to hit her back, but the crowd–who did not try to protect the child, intervened, and the police came running to the scene. They led me to believe that they would follow up with an assault charge etc. since a witness had given her phone number. The police never contacted me and I shudder to think what has been happening to the child since. It made me think twice about doing anything of that sort again.

  • Dave

    I am not sure I have all the information.  It is said repetingly that these were children.  Now, I am not saying that the activities were justified, but are these not college students…so presumably at least 18 years of age.  Again, I don’t condone or justify the activities, however…this could lead some who may have seen something to think these were two consenting adults. at least in the moment….not that any coach or teacher should ever take advantage of such a situation.

  • Kev

    McQeary did report the incident to his highest authority, Joe Paterno.  In college football, head-coach is  God.  Paterno has more power than the President of Penn State.  In any organization who ever brings in the most money has the ultimate power.  Anyone in Penn State could bring in $50 millions a year beside of Paterno ?

  • Robin

    Dave, I’ll just jump in here to address your question and not let your assumption (tho understandable) stand.

    The allegations against Sandusky, and the two eyewitness attacks in the grand jury testimony, involve children “around 10″.  No possible legality there. 


  • Andrew

    The notion that McQuery’s highest authority was Paterno is part of the problem.  What McQuery witnessed was not merely a football or university issue, it was a crime against society.  The authority for such criminal matters is not a football coach, it’s the police.

  • Sectleatherman

    From kindergarten through 8th grade I was beat up almost daily on the playground by other kids.  One day I was beat up while sitting behind the bus driver.  I changed school systems in high school and found that it was the mentally handicapped kids who got beat up and teased.  I found I did nothing because I didn’t want to cause any waves with my new friends.  I see that same thinking when something bad happens with others I have known.  Another story is one day while running , I saw a group of kids beating up another kid.  I was in my 30s ath the time .  The kid who was getting beaten told me to not stand up for him.  I understand he  knew that it would only be worse for him tomorrow.

  • “Sally”

    Thank you for the topic today. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, the news about these events have been incredibly hard to hear. My heart breaks for these children because I know how much it affects the rest of your life. For years I couldn’t admit it happened, but I’m trying to come to terms with it. Everything your guest is talking about is what I’ve gone through. I’m still afraid to tell because the abuser was my cousin and I don’t know if I can deal with the possibility that they won’t believe me. I will always feel the weight of the possibility that he hurt other kids because I didn’t say anything. I hope that those survivors will get the justice that I don’t think I will ever receive.

  • Solange

    As a country we need to do something about this. There is no excuse for what happen. I think we should be talking about what’s wrong with us that nobody did anything! 

    • Susieblv

      >>> I think we should be talking about what’s wrong with us that nobody did anything! <<<    Please don't say "us," when speaking of the people who were criminal themselves in not reporting it to the police. Many of us would most certainly have contacted the police; you are correct to the extent that some would not have done so. But to include everyone in such a category is an example of the kind of "group think" rampant now in America, which blames the actions of such people on all of society, rather than on their individual, corrupt values in rationalizing their immorality in defense of their jobs, image, or whatever they use as an excuse.


    Please report the actual magnitude of sexual abuse: 1 in 3 girls and 2 in 5 boys. The next time you’re in a crowd, look around and visualize those numbers.Recollections of Sexual Abuse: Treatment Principles and Guidelines / Edition 1by Christine A. Courtois

  • Ann4216

    Thank you for today’s show & guest speaker.  Mr Closhessy brought up many valid points about “why” – I’m in no way minimizing or excusing the events that took place, but as the mother of a son who was unmercifully bullied since 7th grade w/a degrading/humiliating hazing (possibly involving sodomy) his 9th grade yr in high school while the freshman class stood & watched & did nothing – experienced 1st hand the bystander effect in addition to the attitudes of the parents – as long as it wasn’t their child, “it didn’t happen” .   To make matters worse, the perpetrators (there were 3 against 1), were not punished in any way w/the principal saying that it happened outside of school – it was a mandatory football camp prior to school starting!  Why does our society protect the bullies & perpetrators & treat them as if they are the victims?!  The emotional damage & scars from that event, run deep, as I can only imagine a sexually and/or physically abused child has to deal with.  It changed who my son was & not for the better – he lost his self esteem as well as his confidence & led to him acting out in negative ways – he had PTSD among other pyschological/emotional trauma.  He is just now starting to regain some confidence in himself & rebuild his life.

  • Lpvgv

    This topic has so many facets and I hope Here and Now will continue to explore this.

    I can’t help thinking that with the prevalence of cell phones, getting a picture of what is going on will get easier.

    Always the welfare of the children should come first, but having seen accusations of sexual abuse used frivously, I am wondering what safeguards are being put into the law so that this law is not used for the wrong reasons. If you witness something happening, then it seems appropriate to call the police, but when it is after the fact, would it be better to call a Social Services agency?  I believe in MAssachusetts that health care personnell are required by law to report evidence of child abuse, but I don’t think they “call the police.” IS there clear understanding of what steps to take base don what level of information yoiu have?

    At some point I would like to have a discussion on how prevalent this sort of thing is. We all act so shocked when something comes public, but then when people talk, it sounds as though it is not that unusual. What causes it to be so common? A gene? Upbringing? Why can’t we get to the source?

    • Lrduffsb

      As an abuse survivor who has been dealing with the effects and the healing process for decades, it is clearly, as most in the field of recovery have stated, a cycle that gets repeated over generations. The perpetrator is not responsible for having the impulse,  desire, or tendency in the first place, but is, or should be for not acting on it. Most, if not all perpetrators were abused themselves which creates the need to act that out in one form or another.

      The cycle can only be broken by all of us first coming out of denial that it happens, and making it a priority to put the protection of children first, which will possibly result in some mistaken accusations, unfortunately. And there needs to be accountability for the perpetrators regardless of social status. But, I have seen in my family (as the only victim who spoke out as an adult about childhood abuse), even with a sister who is a therapist (or especially), that the need to protect the perpetrator is a very powerful thing, even when it means abandoning and making wrong the victim, sometimes or often as a previous survivor posted, losing the larger family, in my case, for some years. But, once the perpetrator is being monitored with boundaries that will no longer allow them to act out, they need to be treated with compassion for their wounds that created the need to perpetrate in the first place. We’re still in the infant stages of dealing with this issue.

      I would also highly recommend, as a survivor, finding a 12 step support group for incest/sex abuse survivors as well as a good therapist. Most if not all survivors inevitably have other compulsions/addictions (overeating, alcohol, sex addiciton, etc.) that is their way of coping with the pain they carry, that also need addressing with the appropriate 12 step group.

      I also was very fortunate to find the means of directly addressing the pain I was carrying (body memories) in the form of direct emotional release in a safe setting. This has saved my life and given me much relief and healing, along with the other things I mentioned, most importantly, finding a connection with a loving Higher Power (not the false, human created, fear based god of my upbringing). It is not an easy thing to go through but really works if it goes beyond ‘getting out feelings’ (hitting a pillow or mattress, screaming, etc.), which can be helpful, but is limited and doesn’t go directly to the source, and sometimes leaves one feeling unresolved. By that I mean, letting go completely, surrendering to allow the feeling to be expressed in an undirected, unhindered way. The body and spirit know how much we can process at a given time and will allow the feeling to dissipate when we’ve felt as much as we are able.

      It’s a difficult path but worth walking through to find the hope and recovery. Awareness, choosing to come out of denial, and more and more people doing these things will break the cycle.

  • Celarth

    Imagine the child in the locker room, just praying that someone would save him. I can’t see any way to rationalize McQuery’s leaving the boy in the locker room or at least calling 911 that day.  Going home to talk things over with his father before reporting Sanduskey the next day! I hold him more responsible that Paterno for the choices he made.
    As someone who has reported abuse, I can tell you one reason people don’t like to be involved. I lost 5 vacation days that summer, when the court rescheduled and rescheduled the trial. Then they just stopped scheduling it at all. 
    Another point I haven’t heard discussed is the issue of colleges trying to be their own police and courts. This has been a problem for years, as campus police don’t seem to work with Llcal police. This may be an explanation of why the reporting hierarchy was set up in this manner.

  • Rose Hague

    As an abuse suvivor at my father’s hand, I am triggered everytime these institution abuse issues get so much press coverage. Everyday…. everyday, some child is abused by a family member and  it never makes the news. We (those of us abused by people not associated with an institutional abuse scandal) feel marginalized by thesel reports. There is money involved if you were “lucky” enough to be abused by someone “sueable”.  Joe Paterno will probably get sued. Penn state will get sued. Money…. There was no money for me. I have spent fortunes on therapy. I have a father who is alive but I really have no father because I cannot risk my children.
    Yet, I am acutely aware that all of these victims would gladly trade all of the money for never having had to go through what they went through. And I know no amount of money would ever make up for the sex abuse. I am 56 years old and still have tears and anxiety about what happened.
    I was a very devout catholic until the priest sex abuse scandal. I cannot attend church, I suspect everyone. Because of abuse I no longer have a God to believe in. I won’t give the church a penny anymore. I will not go to church and have my sacarments touched by men who have perpetrated or were associated with the abuse. This pope says it isn’t that bad.
    That’s what my father said when I confronted him as an adult. “it wasn’t really anything” were his words.

    • “Sally”

      You’ve said what I was too afraid to come right out and say in my earlier comment. I’m jealous of these kids in a way (as horrible as that sounds) because even if it comes years too late, someone is actually paying attention to them. There is an additional layer of complication when the perpetrator is your blood, someone you’re supposed to be able to rely on and trust. Speaking out can mean losing your larger family. I agree with you on every point.

      Maybe Here & Now (or any NPR program) should talk about the larger problem we face as a society. The events of Penn State are an example of our culture’s attitude of ignorance towards sexual violence (both against children and adults).

  • Squarepeg58

    The ending comment that if mandatory reporting laws were extended to include ALL adults who witness abuse, “hot lines might be overwhelmed” is not a concern with any basis in fact. I am a mental health provider who is mandated by law in all 50 states to report to the police as well as child protection agencies ANY suspected abuse or neglect of a child. In Nevada, that mandate extends to all adults, and far from overwhelming the hot lines, there is (as in all other states) an extreme under-reporting of child abuse of all kinds, but in particular sexual abuse. 

    The guest was correct: This is a societal issue of perception, of being willing to protect children and not being too worried about “getting involved,” as well as a cultural issue of acceptance of this kind of abuse. Far too many in our society believe that as parents/adults/caretakers there is an ownership of children, almost like property. While we may often be willing to call the authorities if we think a child is being beaten, we are so hesitant to make a false allegation that sexual abuse is not reported even when there is clear evidence or indicators. 

    Can this change? I believe that little by little, with incidents such as these, it is changing. Ultimately, each of us as individuals need to be willing to step up and make calls, speak up when a situation is ongoing, and be willing to risk embarrassment or negative responses when we see a child (or anyone vulnerable such as elderly or otherwise handicapped person) being abused in any way.

  • http://www.MediaRodzina.com.pl Robert Gamble

    I’m a regular podcast listener in Poznan, Poland, a Bostonian who has become a publisher here.  And we’ve published several translations on the sexual abuse topic.  Author Anna Salter is great.  Maybe interview her! 
       A special problem.  Predators are really good at presenting themselves as nice guys, great with children.  How to separate them from the genuine article?  Best clue:  Predators will keep finding reasons to be ALONE with a potential victim.  Healthy men responding helpfully to kids won’t have this need.     Here in Poznan, there was an assistant conductor of a boys’ choir, who became in charge when the founder died.  When accusations of abuse became official, at first many parents came out and  demonstrated, claiming that “this was political!”     I realized the irony: Kids who don’t have healthy affection at home are the best potential victims.  A double injustice life hands them.     With the kids from healthy homes, the guy knew that with THEM the thing was to be nice, polite, warm, perfectly fine.  So at first those parents couldn’t believe the accusations.  Kids who especially needed attention, warmth from an adult were the ones he could prey on.  It fits with what happened with Sandusky.Robert Gamble

  • Angela

    So sorry but I think your guests are off the mark on why know one came foward. I believe people came forward and we are getting wind of this more and more as this story unfolds … know one who could ACTED responsibility to complaints and that is because Penn State has a pristine reputation to uphold … to all Penn States and any other institute, remember that all truth will come to light.

  • Beez

    Of course the abuse of the children is the larger, critical issue, but the publicity this case is getting shows how completely obsessed we are with sports in this society. It’s disgusting, and more acutely, pathetic. Maybe people should take some time bettering themselves instead of obsessing over the “Sawks” and Tom Brady’s haircut. I’m a former collegiate athlete and I have lost much of my interest in sports as a spectator. Part of it is just growing up and having more important things to do and think about, but another part is the media coverage and aforementioned obsession by a good percentage of the (local) population.

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