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Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 11:16 am

Organizations at fault when pedophiles play

Although I am a Brit, I have lived very nearly half of my life in the United Sates. Having links to both sides of “The Pond” it is often a joy to see controversial issues and how they are analyzed and discussed in landscapes, Great Britain and the United States, that share a common language, have a multitude of similarities and yet become scrutinized with different cultural stethoscopes.

A horrifying chain of events in 2011 compressed that vast Atlantic Ocean and tossed us up two human beings as jetsam garbage, in the shape of Jerry Sandusky (one-time Pennsylvania State University football coach and founder of a charitable foundation designed to help disadvantaged youth) and Jimmy Savile (an iconic British Broadcasting Corporation disc jockey – a buffoon-like version of Dick Clark – who won over hearts and minds with a clowning demeanor tempered by a gift for raising vast amounts of money for philanthropic causes). These were two very unusual characters with professional careers as polar opposites. Yet their shared legacy is all about brutal abuses of trust and confidence. Sandusky and Savile used their privileged positions of celebrity power to sexually exploit and psychologically destroy significant numbers of fans, admirers and vulnerable young people.

In June 2011 Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant coach to the legendary Joe Paterno, stood in an American court pleading his innocence. He had faced 40 counts of sexual assault and preying on eight boys from 1994 to 2009. Gut-wrenching testimony from Sandusky’s victims played a key role in the former defensive coordinator’s conviction on 45 of 48 counts. What is, essentially, a life sentence in prison for Sandusky does little to heal over what S. L. Price described in Sports Illustrated as a “parade of horrors.”

Jimmy Savile is not a household name in the United States. In Great Britain, Savile, although frequently ridiculed for dying his hair and wearing clothes that you would more associate with a circus clown, established an extraordinary presence as a media personality and a television presenter. His major claim to fame was hosting (1975-1994) a BBC children’s program called Jim’ll Fix It. The focus of the program was to magically grant children’s wishes. He smoked Cuban cigars, ran marathons and liked to show off his silver Rolls Royce convertible. He died in the fall of 2011 at age 84.

Just weeks ago an Independent Television documentary in Great Britain revealed that Savile had been a lifelong pedophile and that hundreds of victims suffered sexual abuse. A Scotland Yard investigation, spanning 60 years of Savile’s life, categorized him as a “predatory sex offender.”

The Sandusky/Savile saga on one level is about depraved and bad people who by guile, craft and charisma show extraordinary skills in disguising their sexual proclivities. The second level, and the more troubling issue, is the manner in which pedophiles immersed themselves in a culture so snugly that surrounding figures shrugged off the alleged abuses as idle gossip, or looked in a different direction. The thought was, anyone who has the heft to raise more than $60 million for charity cannot be all bad!

Authorities who investigated the university chain of command that supervised Sandusky stated categorically that the supervisors had failed. Former Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz will appear in court on the grounds of not coming forward with suspicions regarding child abuse.

In England, the “Savile affair,” as it is now known, continues to shake up the BBC.  While there were suspicions about Savile and child abuse, it is only in the last year that these allegations have been widely publicized.

A BBC investigation into Savile carried out by an investigative program called Newsnight was suddenly sidelined, and dropped, in December 2011. Why? Was the BBC not eager to delve into a Pandora’s box that threatened to besmirch an institution known for its excellence, integrity and gravitas?

Yvonne Vissing, an international consultant in child advocacy, noted recently, “Child molestation is not new; perpetrators have been identified and penalized for decades. But what is new is the understanding that child abuse is not committed only by individuals, but also by organizations, and that their leaders may be held culpable.”

Dr. Scott A.G.M. Crawford is professor emeritus in the College of Education and Professional Studies, Eastern Illinois University at Charleston.
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