Saturday, November 19, 2011

Just Wondering ... About Penn State

     I'm one of those people who sees the world in shades of gray, not in black and white, and I (almost) always believe that there are two sides to every story, that it takes two to tango, that nobody has a monopoly on the truth.

     However, I also tend to think that people are mostly responsible for their own behavior. The person does the crime; the mother of the person doesn't do the crime, nor does the lack of affection someone might have experienced as a child cause the crime. The person takes the drink or the drug; society doesn't make him do it. The smoker lights his own cigarette; the overweight person feeds himself. The sexual abuser is the one who unzips his own zipper -- nobody does it for him.

     But, I keep wondering about those shades of gray. It's more understandable, if not more excusable, for the black kid who suffers with a dysfunctional family, who has no access to a quality education, to rob a liquor store to put food on the table or even to buy himself a better TV, than it is for the upper-middle-class financial counselor to steal money form an old lady's retirement account.

     Social pressure vs. individual responsibility. Or is it a  disease? I used to smoke, back when it was cool. I know social pressure can exert enormous influence on people, leading them to do things that are self-destructive. And I know how hard it is to quit, which I eventually did. But I also know, deep in my heart, when and if I ever get lung cancer I'll have no one to blame but myself.

     I blame Jerry Sandusky for his horrible sex crimes (That's assuming he is guilty, as everyone seems to think he is, but we should still agree that he's innocent until proven guilty. There have been various reports -- check here for an update -- but all we know for certain is that somebody is lying, and that so far Sandusky's wife hasn't said a thing.)

     Yet I can't help but wonder, if the people who are so "shocked" and "revolted" over these allegations have ever considered whether the liberalization of our sexual attitudes and practices have helped to create an environment where this kind of abuse is more likely to occur. Research has demonstrated that it is easier for people to step over the line from ethical to unethical behavior when there is a gradual erosion of moral values and principles.

     Who cares, you might say. Even if our sexual attitudes have become more tolerant, that's no excuse for his behavior -- again, assuming he really did what they say. Everyone knows that no matter how casual we are about sex, you just don't force children, or manipulate children, into engaging in sexual activities. Probably, for most people it's not an issue -- they're not attracted to ten year olds. But even if someone is, they know it's out of bounds.

     If we do have sexual fantasies that involve illegal activities -- and perhaps many of us have -- we know that they are fantasies. We don't even consider trying to act them out.

     Yet I can't help but wonder, when people see those clothing ads featuring young teen girls in makeup and sexy dresses, and shirtless teenage boys, does it somehow blur the issue a little bit? Does the sexualizing of children in the media introduce the notion into people's minds, when otherwise it just wouldn't be there? Does it make the line between fantasy and reality a little bit fuzzy?

     Now there's a coach at Syracuse accused of "inappropriately touching two boys." He denies it. But people who are responsible for kids -- teachers, coaches, ministers, priests, camp counselors -- have an extra responsibility to be careful about what they do and how they present themselves. And we should know by now that the very people who are most likely to sexually abuse a kid are the ones who probably seek out those jobs -- either with intent and forethought, or possibly even subconsciously. People who, like Willie Sutton who robbed banks because that's where the money is, take jobs as coaches and counselors because that's where the kids are. So don't the people who hire and manage coaches have an extra responsibility to be absolutely sure that their assistants are law-abiding people who have a genuine interest in helping children, not in using them for their own selfish purposes?

     But I wonder what the people who condemn Joe Paterno and the Penn State administrators would have done in their situation. Would they have jeopardized their job to report the incidents? I'd like to think that I would have. But we do realize, don't we, that we all think we have better moral values than we really do; we are all quick to find fault with others while making excuses for our own behavior.

     I remember once, quite a while ago, having a discussion with a friend of mine. There had been a case in the news of some guy exposing himself to school children in a parking lot. And I recall being flummoxed by the whole thing. I could understand the usual kinds of inappropriate sexual behavior. I wouldn't condone it, but I could understand how guys might be sexually aroused by someone, or some situation, and they would try to have their way because they were selfish, or had poor impulse control, or for a host of other reasons. But I just couldn't understand what would motivate a guy to expose himself. What's the sexual charge? What kind of response could he possibly expect? I just didn't get it. My friend simply looked at me and said, "Well, that's because you're not a pervert."

     So I'm not a pervert, and I don't know what goes through a pervert's mind. I'm not a psychologist, either. I'm just asking some questions, possibly some of them not politically correct, but in addition to being "shocked" and "revolted" shouldn't we try to understand why this goes on if we're going to try to stop it?

     I wonder if our increasing acceptance -- possibly even encouragement, at least in the media -- of homosexuality somehow bleeds into people's minds. If homosexuals know that they are gay, even when they're six or eight years old, as they tell us, then doesn't that make them, in the minds of some people, sexual beings? Otherwise, how would they know? Maybe it's somehow more acceptable for a grown man to have sex with a young boy than it is with a young girl. I'm not saying it is. I'm just wondering, perhaps some people might follow that train of thought and get themselves and others into trouble.

     Coaches and others should examine their own motivations for doing what they do. They should be very clear in their minds about what behavior is acceptable, and what is not. And people should watch out for those who have sexual issues, who intentionally or not put themselves in a position to commit a sexual crime.

     Honestly, I really don't know what my point is here. I guess I can understand why people want to pursue their pleasures, why they want to fulfill their desires, even without regard to future consequences or to other people. What I don't understand is how anyone can get pleasure out of hurting someone else, how they can inflict pain, make them bleed, cause horrible psychological nightmares -- and still enjoy it and convince themselves that they're not doing anything wrong.

     But I wonder, how has the increased accessibility of pornography affected people's attitudes toward sex? When you can check into a perfectly respectable hotel and watch porn on TV (you pick, gay or straight) or subscribe to porn on TV in the comfort of your home (you pick, young or mature), or download pretty much any kind of shocking and revolting sexual activity onto your computer -- does this make sex about as common and everyday and no-big-deal as ... oh, say, throwing a football around with the guys?

     In my admittedly limited experience, I've never actually seen this problem. I've never run into a teacher or coach who didn't have the best interests of the kids at heart, who didn't genuinely want to help the kids. The problem is, I'm guessing, quite rare, at least on a percentage basis.

     Everyone knows -- don't they? -- that it's a crime to sexually abuse anyone, male or female, and it's especially heinous to sexually abuse kids. The line may be blurred in some respects, but with kids the line is pretty clear, no matter how people rationalize their own actions or make excuses for themselves.

     "We were just taking a shower." Yeah, sure.


Stephen Hayes said...

Lots of food for thought here. Someone recently asked me why there was a rise in these sorts of perversions and I didn't have an answer. Is there? Or is it just harder for these people to do their terrible thing without getting caught. So many of these abuses, and I'm thinking about the problems with Catholic priests, have been going on forever and are just coming to light now. Painful as it is, this a a good thing. Society must do a better job of protecting innocence.

#1Nana said...

I live in a small town and we've had several cases of teachers having inappropriate relationships, including sex, with students in the past few years in my town and a neighboring district. I don't have tolerance for these behaviors. I used to think I wasn't in favor of the death penalty, but I've been rethinking that position!

Douglas said...

Great post! You show the "shades of gray" very well. Do you remember Caryl Chessman? He was, I believe, the last person to be executed for the crime of rape. That was in 1960. Child molestation also was punishable by execution at one time (it changed around the same time as Chessman's case). While I do not believe the death penalty is a deterrent to anyone other than the executee (he/she will never be able to repeat the crime), it does seem to reflect a general degree of distaste by society for the behavior. But something else bothers me. As you mentioned about gays and lesbians "knowing" they were gay at an early, prepubescent, age which is used to bolster the belief that gays are "born that way", that it is not a learned behavior and so they cannot be "cured" of homosexuality. Does it then follow that pedophiles also might "know" of their desires at an early age? And that the behavior in inherent, not learned?

I don't know the answers to these questions either. I suspect no one does.

Olga said...

we are all quick to find fault with others while making excuses for our own behavior.

Now, to me, that just about says it all.

fiftyodd said...

I agree with Nana. I've been re-thinking my position on the death penalty. AT least it removes these perverts permanently so they can't abuse again.

Linda Myers said...

I'm thinking it's no more common now than when we were kids - only there's so much more exposure to possibilities.

I can remember smoking for years even though my dad had died at 57 of emphysema. I guess I couldn't help myself. Maybe it's like that with these people.

I have no sympathy whatever, though. years ago a fellow was interested in my middle schooler. I turned him in. I wonder if he's still coaching Little League.

schmidleysscribblins, said...

If he did the crime, he should do the time. I have zero tolerance for abusers. No tolerance, no how, no way. Dianne

Kay Dennison said...

Interesting post!!! I am, for reasons I won't address, opposed to such behavior anytime, any place, anywhere. What bugs me about Penn State is how long this has been going on!!!!!

June said...

One clarification, first, I think:
Homosexuality does not equal pedophilia.

I think there's a whiff of sexuality in many human transactions, particularly when any kind of emotion is involved . . . such as coach/student, mentor/protege. The idea of childhood lasting all the way into the late teens and early twenties is a very recent attitude. In the olden days, twelve or thirteen was old enough.
I don't believe that this "shocking and revolting" behavior is any more common now than it ever was; I think we hear it about it more now than we ever did. We all read about it and seek out the latest updates just the way we slow down to look for blood at an auto accident.

Dick Klade said...

Agree with June that child sexual abuse probably is no more or less prevalent than in the past.

Agree with Diane that it is intolerable anywhere, anytime.

In my opinion, Joe Paterno had a special obligation here. He was in charge of the program within which the alleged wrongful act occurred in 2002. He got the first report from a low-level assistant who claimed to be an eye witness.

Paterno should have checked things out quickly and taken responsibility to notify law endorcement. It would have been appropriate for him to wait just a bit to consult with superiors, but if they declined to act, he should have. His dismissal was a light punishment. He now is drawing retirement payments of $500,000 a year from Penn State.

Anonymous said...

Thank you June. There is nothing that gets me riled up more than when someone puts homosexuality in the same sentence as pedophile. Being born this way is who I am, taking the straight road and having children was a choice. However that is not the point here.

I agree with so many comments that yes I beleive that statically there may be cases of child molestation coming out into the media (thank God) but it has been going on for centuries. Now our children have champions. As for being charged, convicted and thrown into prison... I say lock em up until we can be absolutely sure, they will not touch another child in their lifetime.

Perhaps not the fairest response,however it is mine.

Lucie said...

Oops... somehow I came out as anonymous. I am still working out the kinks of responding, the above comment is mine

Sightings said...

June & Lucie, I didn't say that homosexuality equals pedophilia, and I hope I didn't imply it, either. If I did, I made a mistake -- I don't think homosexuality equals pedophilia any more than heterosexuality equals pedophilia.
And I don't think anybody really knows if it's more or less common than it used to be.

I balk at the death penalty, though. If you don't believe in the death penalty for murder, you wouldn't be in favor of it for rape, even of a child. I think everyone would agree that murder is the absolute worst crime, wouldn't they? Sure is in my book. Rapists should go to jail, no doubt, and probably get some kind of treatment as well.

Lucie said...

Yes I agree murder is the worst crime and I am all for rehabilitation and treatment. However pedophiles, or ones who have abused an individual sexually have layers of control/esteem/sexual confusion that must be "fixed" and will be offered this in prison.

Sadly the victims often are not offered the same financial resources to mend what has been broken by these perpetrators.

So I tend to waffle when it comes to punishment as you can see, it is a bit of a hot button issue for me.

It's a great post.