Yesterday I watched the full 50 minute Dottie Sandusky interview. Dottie maintains her husband Jerry’s full innocence. Many people were outraged by what she had to say. Admittedly, I wasn’t too pleased myself and I think she did a lot to revictimize Jerry’s victims. But instead of having a knee jerk reaction, I want to offer a perspective from someone whose father is a pedophile and who was, ironically, sentenced the same week of Jerry Sandusky’s trial in 2012. Stranger yet, dad was transferred from Camp Hill to Bellefonte the same exact day that Jerry Sandusky was transferred from Bellefonte to Camp Hill.
First of all, I get asked the question a lot. . . “Did anyone in the family know that your dad was sexually abusing little children?” I can assure you that none of us had any idea whatsoever. We all had a very close relationship with dad, yet we had no idea that he was sexually assaulting children. Had any of us known, he would have been reported immediately. I can also assure you firsthand that it is extremely easy for sex offenders to abuse children for years right under the nose of others and get away with it. Dr. Gene Abel estimates that child molesters only have a 3% chance of getting caught for any one instance of abuse. Let’s flip that number. This means that 97% of the time, a perpetrator successfully violates a child without anyone ever knowing about it. I asked Dr. Anna Salter, a top sex crimes expert, about this. She has interviewed and counseled sex offenders for over 20 years. She said, “In my experience, 3% is probably high. They just don’t get caught.”
Second, I want to sate that I firmly believe (1) that Jerry Sandusky is guilty of sex crimes against children and (2) I believe that Dottie is fully convinced in her own mind that Jerry is innocent. In other words, she’s not delusional–she just doesn’t know how pedophiles think and therefore is easily manipulated by her husband. I want to offer some commentary on a few key points of the Dottie Sandusky interview that I believe will be helpful for most people who read this. Dottie’s perspective is not unique. I don’t know an exact number off hand, but there are studies that show a significant number of victims are never believed. Subsequently, the idea of someone actually being a pedophile is quickly dismissed, enabling them to continue to abuse children unhindered. Here are just a few key points in the interview that jumped out at me:
“He would have admitted to this if he had done it.”
Both Dottie and John Ziegler were adamant about this in the interview. In fact, Ziegler said, “If he did this, why no confession? The closest thing I got to a confession from Jerry was, ‘I may have crossed some boundaries.'” This premise is to assume two things–(1)that pedophiles are truthful and (2) that they would admit that what they did was wrong. The foundations of abuse are secrecy, deception (lies), and misdirection (grooming). Assuming that Jerry would all of a sudden feel remorse and be honest about abusing kids is a dangerous assumption. In fact, Dr. Salter recalled this conversation when she was counseling a convicted pedophile: “You don’t get this, Anna, do you?. . .You think that when I’m asked, ‘Did I do it?’ that’s when I lie. But I’ve been lying every day for the past twenty-five years.” (Salter 42) We also know that Jerry admitted to showering with boys, wrestling with them nude, and having soap battles (throwing balls of liquid soap at the kids then rubbing the soap all over their bodies). It may well be that Jerry is a child molester in denial. Drs. Gene Abel and Judith Becker did an extensive five year study on a sub-group of child molesters–people who had sexual fantasies of children but never offended. In a city of 7 million, they finally found only 8 who fit this category. This is what Abel says, “However, when I talked with these men, I found that all of them were actual child molesters. . . These men made up their own private definition of child molestation. Some would say they had never molested a child because they only sexually fondled a child. As fantastic as it may seem, a few even claimed that, although they had vaginal or anal sex with a child, they had never molested the child because they had not used force” (Abel & Harlow, 97). Assuming that Jerry would have confessed or admitted to the crimes if he had actually done it just does not work.
“Jerry viewed him as a son and that’s why he was showering with him. . . he’s not someone Jerry viewed as a stranger.”
Dottie insisted several times that yes, Jerry showered repeatedly with minors but “that’s the generation he grew up in.” I’ve encountered hundreds of men from “Jerry’s generation” in my life. Anyone want to have a stab at how many of them insisted on showering with me? You guessed it! NONE! It’s not normal. Period. I’ve read a few hundred pages of court transcripts from the trial. Here’s part of an interview with “Victim #4,” who was 13-14 at the time of the abuse.
Q–“Can you tell the ladies and gentlemen of the jury approximately how many times the defendant in either the East Area Locker Room or the Lasch Building shower or the Lasch Building sauna put his penis in your mouth?”
A–“It would have to be 40 times at least”
Q–“Did you want him to do it–”
Q–“–On any of those occasions?”
Dottie’s insistence that Jerry showered with these boys only because he knew them and loved them assumes the “stranger danger” myth–that sexual predators abuse strangers, not people they know. In fact, just the opposite is true. Around 90% or more of victims are known by their perpetrator (Snyder, 2000).
“Our son Matt is a liar. He stole from us. . .sold Jerry’s rings. . .he flat-out lied. Money was a motive”
Professionals in this field will tell you that underprivileged children are often hand selected by perpetrators precisely because they are starved for love and attention and they have a history of not being believed. Put another way, kids from bad homes often lie and get into trouble. When a perpetrator is questioned, a typical response is, “Who are you going to believe? Me or that kid who constantly lies about everything?” It’s a grooming technique that, unfortunately, works really well. Is their son Matt a liar? Did he steal from them? Was he, or is he troubled? I don’t know him, but it’s quite possible. But that doesn’t mean he made up the abuse.
It’s hard to believe that all of these people came forward and fabricated elaborate stories with great detail of the abuse. I’ve read manuscripts. The techniques that Jerry allegedly used are so common to pedophiles that they’re downright predictable. . . blowing on their bare stomachs, giving inappropriate back massages, putting his hand on their thighs and caressing the genitals while driving his car, showering with them, oral sex, etc. The detail that the victims gave under oath could not have been fabricated by someone who is not intimate with the patterns of pedophiles. And what would they have to gain by subjecting themselves to this kind of public shame?
I could write a lot more on Dottie’s interview, but I will stop here. It’s easy to deceive and be deceived. I only write this because my family and I were, for our entire lives, deceived. Fortunately, dad confessed and did not force his victims to stand trial. I hope to raise awareness in people who are approached by children who disclose abuse. The first thing you should do is, despite what your “gut” tells you, believe the child. Report the alleged abuse and allow professional investigators find out who is telling the truth. Never assume that children are lying or just misinterpreted a physical encounter.
And don’t assume that, just because someone waits until they are an adult to disclose abuse, that the abuse didn’t happen. It is more common than not for someone to disclose the abuse for the first time as an adult. Feel free to watch the interview and let me know what your thoughts are.