The allegations are sickeningly familiar: A previously respected member of the community committed unspeakable acts against boys, while other men in positions of power looked the other way.
Jerry Sandusky is charged with repeatedly using his position to abuse eight boys over a dozen years. A longtime defensive coordinator for Pennsylvania State University's storied football program, he founded an organization that is supposed to help vulnerable youths.
Two of his superiors, Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, are charged with lying to a state grand jury and failing to involve police after another staff member reported in 2002 that he saw the retired coach raping a boy in the shower of an athletic complex on the main campus.
Attorneys for all three men say they are innocent. Although Penn State's head football coach, Joe Paterno, has not been charged in the scandal, he reportedly is on his way out.
Last Saturday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly announced that Mr. Sandusky was charged with using The Second Mile program, which he started in 1977, as a source of boys to abuse. At first, school officials defended Mr. Curley and Mr. Schultz. Colleagues said they could not believe the charges.
By Monday, the two administrators had been removed from their positions, at least temporarily. Some on campus spoke of "rumors" that had circulated about Mr. Sandusky in recent years.
The grand jury's presentment details numerous opportunities that might have stopped the alleged abuse sooner. But too many adults in positions of responsibility at Penn State appeared to have suffered from an appalling lack of curiosity.
A graduate assistant allegedly witnessed in 2002 what he called the brutal rape of a boy who appeared to be about 10. Mike McQueary, now a team assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, told Coach Paterno the next day. In turn, Mr. Paterno told Mr. Curley, who met with Mr. McQueary and Mr. Schultz.
Mr. Sandusky's keys to the locker room were taken away and school officials notified The Second Mile, but he continued to have access to Penn State facilities and the charity's boys. It seems no one asked what happened to the child.
In 1998, campus police investigated another incident involving Mr. Sandusky and a boy in a shower. In 2000, a campus janitor said he saw Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulting another boy.
Penn State officials must answer for a culture that cowed so many people to look the other way rather than help the boys involved. Only action taken by officials in a school district and the mother of an alleged victim caused the grand jury to begin its investigation.
Penn State now must explain fully what was known, what was done, and what wasn't. The criminal charges are not the final word, and Mr. Sandusky could prove investigators wrong. If he does, his case will be an unfair capstone to a career as a coach and a mentor.
But if he does not, this case will offer yet another example of a trusted adult taking advantage of a trusting child, and of other adults who dismiss claims of abuse as horseplay, as Mr. Curley told the grand jury, or "not that serious," as Mr. Schultz put it.
The true horror is a reality that remains too raw and disturbing for many of us to confront. Child abusers are not shadowy bogeymen who lurk where most of us would never tread, waiting to grab unsuspecting strangers as they pass.
Instead, the vast majority of child sex abuse cases involve a trusted adult, very often a relative, a close family friend, or another authority figure.
Mr. Sandusky and the other defendants ask us to withhold judgment. His alleged victims, and anyone else who makes a claim of abuse, deserve the same consideration.
When we hear a child or an adult witness make an allegation of abuse -- before we leap to conclusions of innocence about our relatives, friends, and coworkers -- we must listen carefully to the boys and girls who say they have been violated. Then we must do something about it.
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