The jury found Jerry Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 criminal counts last week, and Sandusky was remanded to custody to await sentencing. The defense team has already announced it would appeal (not surprising), and Sandusky has continued to insist that he is "innocent" (also not surprising). What follows is a couple of more lessons to be learned from this high profile case.
In contrast to most cases of child abuse perpetrated by fathers who are NOT sexual predators, Sandusky is clearly a sexual predator. Sandusky's continuing denial of his guilt, and in fact, his reportedly adamant insistence that he is innocent in the face of the overwhelming evidence of his guilt that he witnessed during the trial is another hallmark of a sexual predator: lack of remorse and empathy. Very few people truly understand that Sandusky really believes that he is innocent of any crime, regardless of the testimony of all the witnesses and the jury's verdict. It is this fundamental flaw, the inability to recognize that his actions were wrong and damaging to his victims, that makes the Jerry Sanduskys of the world so dangerous for children.
In contrast to the predators, who are a small but malignant minority of the population of child abusers, I have evaluated and treated many perpetrators of sexual abuse (and their victims). What is striking about so many of these men is that they are emotionally needy and immature, and that at some point, during treatment, they will (usually) acknowledge their own behavior and tearfully admit that they knew it was wrong but felt compelled to commit the abuse. The rationalizations (it was loving or she needed it) for the abuse generally do NOT last long once treatment has uncovered the the underlying motivation (usually unmet needs to be loved, believe it or not). These men know what they did was wrong, and are able to acknowledge that what they did was harmful to the child. A combination of substance abuse, stressors like marital discord and financial difficulties, job loss or physical disability all combine to create the circumstances where normal boundaries disappear and normal self control evaporates. The abuse is an unhealthy and damaging reaction to a series of stressful events. These guys are not charismatic, nor smooth, nor seen by the community at large as "saints". These men are child abusers,certainly, but they are not predators.
It is the lack of empathy (and remorse), the hallmarks of psychopathy, that make these sexual predators so dangerous to children. Regardless of the outward appearance of selfless concern for kids, these men don't do anything out of a sense of altruism. Everything they do is designed to get them what they want, and what sexual predators want is easy access to children that they can groom to be their victims, opportunities to exploit the children without danger of being caught, and enough perceived power and authority to make the threats needed to keep the kids quiet afterwards have some real and lasting effect. When interviewed, these predators are smart enough to know that what they did was illegal, but they don't really believe it was wrong. That's the first lesson: not all abusers are sexual predators, and the two groups are NOT the same.
Lesson number two: the testimony of the wife of a sexual predator about his character has almost no probative value. These men are incapable of genuine intimacy, and NEVER let anyone get close to them, let alone get to truly know them. Spouses hold no special status for a psychopath, and are actually just part of the "window dressing" in their PR campaign to appear to be normal. Spouses of these men frequently "fill in the blanks" and make assumptions about their husband's behaviors and motivations, based on their own naive view of the world, and completely miss or ignore the signals that would indicate something amiss. Many of these women have been victims of abuse or neglect themselves, and have a huge "blind spot" when it comes to signals indicating abuse. It is precisely that blind spot that made them good choices as spouses for the predators, because they recognize that their wives are incapable of "ratting them out". So when these spouses testify that they never saw anything suspicious, it really doesn't mean what it would if a normal wife testified about her husband's character. These wives are unwitting accomplices to their husband's crimes.
The good news is that the Sandusky trial has raised the level of awareness of sexual predators, especially for those who run large organizations that deal with children, and could lead to greater protection for children who could be potential victims. As I said in my last post, we all need to pay attention when vulnerable children have just a little too much private time with any adult who is not a loving parent.