The two events occurred almost simultaneously, across the world from one another
yet fashioned from the same mold. The final conviction of former president Moshe
Katsav, and the sweeping indictment of Penn State’s athletic hierarchy – both
for sexual misdeeds – are stark reminders of the danger that lies in the abuse
of power, the weakness of mortal man and the lack of moral clarity that crosses
all ethnic and religious lines.
On the surface, the two cases seem
different. Katsav, sentenced to seven years in jail for his crimes, was a
perpetrator. He was found guilty of rape, sexual harassment and forcing himself
upon numerous female victims. Most of the principles at Penn State – football
coach Joe Paterno, university president Graham Spanier, athletic director Tim
Curley and vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz did not,
themselves, engage in deviant sexual acts. That was the sin of Jerry Sandusky,
former defensive coordinator of the football program, who is charged with 40
counts of sexual impropriety over the course of the past 15 years.
sexual abuse, if you’ll pardon the expression, is a team effort. It includes not
only the initiator, but also those who enable the crime, those who turn away
rather than turn the abuser into the authorities.
It also involves those
who know damn well that something wrong is going on, but refuse to get involved
because it may complicate their lives or take up too much of their
Sandusky allegedly has a long history of abusing young
Not ironically, he founded the Second Mile charity in 1977,
ostensibly to help kids from troubled or dysfunctional families who “would
benefit from positive human interaction.” The fox always hangs out at the
henhouse, and Sandusky purportedly used his foundation and his influence to
impose his own brand of sinister “interaction” on his young and vulnerable
Finally, in 2002, he was observed by a graduate assistant
committing an act of sodomy on a 10-year old boy in the showers at Penn State’s
athletic offices. The graduate assistant informed Coach Paterno, who in turn let
his superiors know. They took the matter to their superiors.
Sandusky’s keys to the locker room were confiscated, no other action against him
was ever taken. It seems that university or local police were never notified, no
social services were ever informed of the crime, and Sandusky continued to have
access to the university and athletic facilities.
Worst of all, perhaps,
is that no one ever inquired as to the welfare of the abused child.
KATSAV’S case, there were numerous reports of the man being a “serial womanizer”
who had trouble keeping his hands to himself around female employees in the
Tourism Ministry, which he headed, and later in the office of the
While witnesses to specific acts are always hard to come by,
it was an “open secret” that the president was a “touchy-feely” kind of guy who
made others around him feel uncomfortable.
Yet it takes a great deal of
courage to step up and confront men in positions of power – be they presidents
or exalted sports heroes – and no one wanted to get involved or jeopardize their
jobs, so the acts continued until they finally eventuated into rape.
rabbis tell us that “there is no absolute guardianship over sexual
Individuals will jeopardize their prized positions, they will
destroy their families, they will shame their country, even, because they wield
influence over everything but their own deviant acts. There is, most
psychologists tell me, no complete cure for this illness; at best, it may be
controlled through proper medication and intense therapy. But at the end of the
day, it takes a concerted effort by the public at large to guard against such
predators, to prevent their access to victims and to immediately report their
crimes to the authorities – and then for the authorities to act.
long witnessed the failure of the Church to halt sexual abuse within their
religious community, and to come to the aid of the victimized.
systematically engaged in what has been called “willful forgetfulness,” turning
the other cheek and assiduously hiding the abuse. For their actions, and
inactions, they deserve a dismal grade of “D:” Denial, Deflection and
Destruction of innumerable lives.
Sad to say, our own Jewish community is
far from invulnerable or innocent. The statistics in the Western world say that
one-sixth of boys will be abused or improperly touched by age 16, and a quarter
of girls by age 14. While those numbers may not exactly apply in our own
circles, there certainly is an (un)healthy amount of sexual misconduct taking
place, and we are dismally deficient in our response to it.
routinely are shoved under the rug and unreported. Rabbis, teachers, principals
and relatives engage in sexual misconduct and are neither reprimanded nor
removed from their positions. And often, when they are confronted, they are told
that if they relocate, no mention will be made of their crimes. I know of
several instances where deviant teachers and rabbis were sent packing from their
Diaspora communities, only to end up here in Israel – a favorite destination for
such miscreants – where they could continue their crimes with fresh
In rare cases, Jewish leaders do step forward and act. The
Baruch Lanner case is one such example, where a charismatic youth leader preyed
upon his charges for more than a decade, while officials of his supervising
agency failed to act. It was only the courageous intervention of editor Gary
Rosenblatt, who broke the story, and Rabbi Yosef Blau (my former principal, who
demanded that Lanner be removed from his position) that Lanner was finally
dismissed, arrested and jailed for his crimes.
Sadly, both the newsman
and the rabbi received considerable criticism from “establishment” Jews for
their outspoken activism, rather than the accolades they deserved.
these kinds of responses need to become the norm, not the exception.
do no one any good – not the perp, not the community and certainly not the
victim – when we hide the facts and turn away. The victims, in particular, need
our care and concern. They question themselves for having been abused. They fear
society, and its ability to act against them with impunity. For many of them,
our failure to come to their cause is the “39th blow” which completely shatters
their faith in humanity.
The obscenely misplaced demonstrations by Penn
State students in defense of their “beloved” JoePa following his dismissal must
have been a cruel turning of the knife in the backs of Sandusky’s victims. That
is equally true for the ignorant letters – which appear from time to time in
this newspaper as well – blaming women for their own abuse because of the
“provocative” clothes they wear to work.
The Talmud teaches us that even
the most productive, successful, celebrated person can “lose his eternity in a
moment” due to an outlandish act he performs. But the truth is, when we fail to
do our share to stem the tragedy, our own eternity is no less at
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.