Elizabeth Yore was special counsel to Harpo Inc., Oprah Winfrey’s production company. She also served as child protection counsel on a range of matters, including at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in South Africa. Yore was general counsel of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. She served as the general counsel and director of the International Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Virginia. She consults on child protection issues with corporations, non profits and international child abuse cases and issues.
This past week the country has been spellbound by the gut-wrenching testimony emanating from the Sandusky child sex-abuse trial courtroom, leaving spectators and jurors in tears. While Jerry Sandusky is presumed innocent, the lurid and detailed account of his alleged abuse should not come as a surprise.
The steady stream of victims relate Sandusky’s classic grooming and seduction techniques. The calculating and manipulating Penn State defensive coordinator chose his victims carefully; victims were either foster children or from single family homes and all from the Second Mile Charity founded by Sandusky. These were high-risk children and Sandusky played high-risk stakes with their lives.
Why did this go on for over a decade? Why didn’t someone think it strange that Sandusky was always surrounded with young boys? Were the adults waiting for the children to disclose the abuse? Sandusky’s alleged victims, like most victims of sexual abuse, were threatened by him to stay silent.
In 1998, two boys did disclose his sexual abuse. Yet, no one reported their allegations about Sandusky to local or state law enforcement. The boys’ voices were muffled to protect the powerful Penn State institution.
Surely, the adults on campus and in the football program were suspicious of Sandusky’s behavior. The court testimony, as well as the grand jury report, paint the same picture: Sandusky was always surrounded by young boys, in coaches’ meetings, on the sidelines, at out-of-state Bowl games, in the locker room showers. Did everyone look the other way because he was the prominent defensive coordinator and exposing him would bring scandal to the storied Penn State football program?
Of all the grueling testimony, one witness provided the reason that Sandusky was able roam free and abuse so many boys for so many years.
John McQueary, father of Mike McQueary, testified that after the shower incident witnessed by his son, he met with Gary Schultz, then vice president of Penn State. In the meeting, Schultz told McQueary that he had heard “noise” about Sandusky, even before McQueary’s report.
Oh, how flippant of you, Schultz.
There is an African proverb, “Much silence makes a powerful noise.”
Surely, the “noise” about Sandusky’s strange and troubling behavior reached a fever pitch, yet no one at Penn State reported him to law enforcement.
The noise was drowned out by silence.
When adults remain silent in the face of child abuse, a powerful noise will eventually emerge in the cries of adults who have silently suffered through abuse as children. The country is now listening to the voices of the victims of Sandusky. The noise is deafening.
As children, they were threatened into silence by the powerful Sandusky. As adults, their words now overshadow the once prestigious Penn State football program. As adult victims of childhood abuse, their voices drown out the roar of the Nittany Lions.
Oh, what a powerful noise from the courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa.
The jury will not be silent.