Allegations that former Penn State Defensive Coordinator Jerry Sandusky victimized eight young boys for more than a decade while university officials turned a blind eye have been met with widespread public outrage. No one in a position of any consequence is defending the actions of Sandusky. Three top university officials, including the University President, have been compelled to step down. Legendary football head coach Joe Paterno announced today that this will be his last season along the Nittany Lions' sidelines. Believing en masse that what happened is totally and completely fucked up and calling for the heads of those involved is the appropriate reaction to child abuse. If the victims or perpetrator had been female, however, it's hard to pretend the response would have been the same.
Jerry Sandusky stands charged with 40 counts related abusing young boys he met through the at-risk youth charity he ran, called The Second Mile. According to a horrifying document compiled at the end of a three year investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General, he would start by inviting boys served by the charity over for "sleepovers," eventually escalating their encounters to sexual abuse. The report details multiple occasions when Penn State University officials were made aware of Sandusky's behavior— including one instance where a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky anally raping a child in the football facilities' showers and reported it to higher-ups, but received minimal response; ultimately, Sandusky was barred from bringing children to campus, but no law enforcement was informed of what happened. The graduate assistant continued working for the team.
After details of the Penn State case broke on Friday, response was swift and certain. Joe Paterno must resign. The University President must step down. Everyone involved in protecting a child rapist for the sake of a football team needed to be purged from the University's ranks.
A sexual abuse case of this magnitude should always be taken this seriously, but sexual abuse is simply not taken as seriously when the victims or victimizers are female.
If Jerry Sandusky had victimized little girls, right now discussion of the case would be decidedly different. There would undoubtedly be a vocal public contingent that placed some of the blame on the victims. What were they wearing? Did they, like the 11-year-old who was gang raped in Texas, "dress older" than their age and try to "talk ghetto?" Did the victims act "slutty"? Were they virgins? Maybe the rapes of young sexually advanced tweens was actually just poor hapless Sandusky misreading cues, maybe the rapist was actually not a rapist at all, but a "Clumsy Don Juan" just trying to find some romance when "sex was in the air." Maybe they'd say that what he did was okay, that he deserved to be exonerated because he's a good football coach, kind of the Roman Polanski of defensive coordinating.
If Sandusky's victims were girls, people might doubt the assaults took place at all, as many female victims of sexual abuse are doubted. Whispers would suggest that the girls were being paid by a rival school to sabotage Penn State's recruitment efforts by seducing the coach. Intrepid sports bloggers would dig relentlessly to uncover the identities of the girls and attempt to find something, anything, that would validate their theory that they somehow tempted their beloved defensive wizard. There's be a horrible nickname for one of the victims involving the word "honeypot." If a young girl were victimized by a giant in the world of college football, would she even have the courage to come forward, knowing what sort of scrutiny and character assassination awaited her?
And what if Jerry Sandusky had been a woman who victimized boys? Late night hosts would be wagging their eyebrows and yukking it up with their onstage sycophants, morning radio DJ's would play wolf whistle sound effects and make "cougar" jokes. Your most obnoxious friend would point out that he would have loved to get laid at age 11 by a sexy older chick in the locker room showers. The columnist who writes for your local newspaper who thinks he's Dane Cook would write a piece that contained the sentence "Let's face it: the Penn State scandal is totally hot."
If both Sandusky and the victims had been female, there would already be a porn about it.
Abuse is abuse, no matter the gender of the victims or perpetrator. No child can consent to sex, and no victim asks to be victimized. Period. However, the world we inhabit is not ideal, and the difference in response to male versus female victims of sexual abuse leaves a disturbing, but nagging question unanswered: Does the Penn State case resonate so dramatically with the public because of a fear of homosexual male aggression, or because the public is actually horrified over the sexual victimization of children? And when will we take allegations of abuse of little girls as seriously as we should?