The Grand Jury indictment handed down against Jerry Sandusky for sexual assault and rape against 8 child victims shows a pattern and practice of deception, cover up and lies at Penn State, an institution of higher education, all the way up to the President’s office. Penn State known for its athletics and particularly its historical winning football coaching record by Coach Joe Petrano will now be known for its deception, cover up and lies to shield the school from adverse publicity against Sandusky. Now 15 years later and at least 8 victims and perhaps many more, the truth comes to light and it is more than ugly. The allegations make the perfect trifecta along with the Boys Scouts and Catholic Church sex abuse scandals. What makes the whole thing ironic is that a higher learning institution, like the church and Boy Scouts, is supposed to teach students to do the right thing. And yet the adults who were in charge at Penn State did anything but do the right thing. Charges and sexual accounts stem all the way back to incidents in 1998, according to the Grand Jury findings.
Every child is vulnerable but the children seduced and preyed upon by Sandusky were from disadvantaged and often dysfunctional backgrounds. Sandusky groomed these vulnerable and at risk boys, and prepared them to trust him while waiting to lure them to sexual acts. Sandusky offered these children gifts, tickets to sporting events, sleep overs, athletic shoes in exchange for his deviant sexual acts with them. As a former prosecutor of these types of cases, I know these cases unfortunately usually involve family members, friends of family, neighbors or other persons in a position of trust. And in the words of an ESPN sports commentator and Penn State alum, if we cannot provide our children a safe haven, “we as a society are pathetic”.
And through all of this, Penn State has not addressed the concerns of the victims. It’s more concerned still about its football image. Who will speak for the victims? The criminal case is only the beginning. These victims have every right to file a civil lawsuit against Penn State and all of those in the chain from the now former president to everyone in a position of authority that shielded Sandusky and allowed these deviant acts to be perpetrated on these boys. And the acts alleged in the indictment make for a perfect case of negligence and punitive damages. Punitive damages are for willful, wanton and egregious acts and to deter them from happening in the future. All of these Penn State officials conspired to hide the truth and failed to report to authorities. They can be and should be sued individually along with Penn State.
My hope is that all the boys now young adults who came into some type of deviant contact with Sandusky will come forward to press charges and then file a civil lawsuit against all involved in this sick game of hide and hope no one will seek.
Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, former prosecutor and legal commentator regularly appearing in national and local media including CNN, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, XM Sirius radio, NBC , ABC and CBS -Washington, DC affiliates, NPR, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post.