A season for scandal

Moshe Katsav and Jerry Sandusky both had colleagues who failed to report their abuse.

Katsav in court for appeal 311 R (photo credit:  REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Katsav in court for appeal 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
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.
But 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 time.
Sandusky allegedly has a long history of abusing young boys.
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 victims.
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.
While 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.
IN 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 president.
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.
The rabbis tell us that “there is no absolute guardianship over sexual behavior.”
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.
We have long witnessed the failure of the Church to halt sexual abuse within their religious community, and to come to the aid of the victimized.
They have 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.
Incidents 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 victims.
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.
But these kinds of responses need to become the norm, not the exception.
We 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 risk.
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana.