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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

See No Evil, Hear No Evil

After we hear about civil wars in Egypt and Syria, the next item on the national news is Jerry Sandusky’s trial. How painful it is to listen to descriptions of the victims’ testimony. And even more so to the testimony of the adults who turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the abuse. 

Yesterday Dottie Sandusky reportedly testified she saw and heard no evil. And that her husband, the former Penn State assistant football coach, “just liked helping boys.” Today the defense rested and Sandusky’s fate will soon be in the hands of the jury. 

David Brooks’ argued in the New York Times when this controversy was still fresh, that after the atrocity of Jerry Sandusky’s alleged crimes comes the vanity of condemnation: 

The vanity is the outraged reaction of a zillion commentators over the past week, whose indignation is based on the assumption that if they had been in Joe Paterno’s shoes, or assistant coach Mike McQueary’s shoes, they would have behaved better. They would have taken action and stopped any sexual assaults.

I agree if you have not had to face what you would do when confronted by evil you can’t know for sure what you will do.  I have not seen a child sexually abused so I can’t say for sure what I would have done.  

I can say first hand what it is like when the evil is shrouded in silence.   

I was five years old.  One of the first times I was allowed to go along with my brother up the block to play with the neighbor kids at their house.  The rest of the kids went inside.  For some reason I remained outside playing. 

I hadn’t noticed or didn’t think anything of the fact the neighbor kids’ grandfather also stayed outside too.  After I got away from him I ran home.  I had no words to describe what he had done to me.  So I showed my Mother.   

I had no expectation of what my Mother would do.  I had no knowledge that it was a crime.  I just knew he had hurt and frightened me. 

My Mother’s first words were not of outrage or even disbelief.  Instead she began to tell me what she was not going to do.  She was not going to tell anyone.  And neither would I.  For over fifty years. 

She said talking about it would create a big “to do” in the neighborhood.  The neighbors would no longer like us.  My brother would not be allowed to play with his friends up the street.  

I don’t know if my Mother told my Dad or anyone else.  But my Mother did arm me with advice.  She told me to never go back to that neighbor’s house to play if their grandfather was visiting.  She also warned me, as many mothers of the day warned their daughters, to never be alone with a man other than my father or brother.  If I was ever alone with a man, she said, everyone would believe whatever happened was my fault.

My Mother used the two tools she had available at the time to protect me: silence and fear.  My experience with the “silence and fear” approach occurred in the 1950’s when many things about sex were taboo.  But surely times have changed.   

Nevertheless, utilizing pseudo-psychology, people like David Brooks still tries to excuse the silent approach.  According to Brooks, the experts say people don’t always see what they see.  Similarly, Cal Thomas writing in the Courier Journal also tried to find someone to blame other than the abuser and those who kept silent.  Thomas argued that the permissive society of the 60’s with its free love is responsible for these boogeymen who come out into society and feel free to act.  

To use one of my Mother’s terms, Brooks and Thomas are full of hogwash.  We should not buy Brooks’ excuse for people who keep silent.  Nor should we accuse our permissive society as Thomas urges.  That is merely a form of excusing the silence.  The boogeymen are out there in part because of the understandable silence and fear of the victims and the not so understandable silence of adults who are aware of the evil. 

Surely we have come beyond the belief of a half century ago that a female who did not protect herself should be held responsible for whatever happened to her.  A belief shared by some Middle East societies that demand their women leave their houses only in the company of their father or brother. What is the rationale: men are unable to control their basest instincts? And so women and children are responsible for the evil done to them? 

But to the question: what would I have done if I had seen a child being abused, I like to think I would call 911 immediately.  Because if one of my children had come to tell me what I told my Mother, the police would have needed to protect the abusing adult from me and my Louisville Slugger. 

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