Penn State failures were widespread
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – While the grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse at Penn State revealed that university authorities had knowledge of crimes allegedly committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, it also showed that others knew, too, and didn’t call police.
Much attention has focused on officials who have in the past week left the university, including head football coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier, who were dismissed by the board of trustees earlier this week.
But the grand jury presentment shows that janitors, teachers and parents had direct or indirect knowledge of Sandusky’s alleged crimes. As the investigation goes on it is likely to emerge that still others had at least some inkling.
“It’s so easy and tempting to vilify a handful of wrongdoers when there are almost always many more who deserve blame,” said David Clohessy, the director of SNAP, a network of survivors of sexual abuse by priests. “One or two or three officials knew, but many more suspected abuse, and virtually none took action.”
For example, the grand jury presentment said that a janitor allegedly saw Sandusky performing oral sex on a boy in the shower area of a campus football building in the fall of 2000. The janitor, Jim Calhoun, told at least two other people what he saw, including a fellow janitor and a supervisor.
The supervisor, Jay Witherite, described Calhoun as “very distraught” by what he witnessed. Witherite testified that he calmed Calhoun and advised him on how to report the incident, if he chose to. Neither man, however, reported what Calhoun saw, according to the grand jury testimony.
Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said that even if reporting abuse was the right thing to do, these witnesses were simply looking out for their own interests. The janitors likely feared for their jobs if they reported what they saw, and likely worried that no one would believe them because Sandusky was a powerful figure.
“They were probably thinking of their kids, and where their next meal was coming from,” he said. “Who could say how we would act if it affected our job?”