In yet another instance of child abuse victims being inspired to go public by the case against Jerry Sandusky, three women and a man have come forward to say that they were molested by Bill Conlin, a Philadelphia Daily News columnist and Hall of Fame baseball writer. The alleged abuse occured in the '70s, but they say they want to tell their stories now because the Sandusky case is bringing up painful memories, and they hope to draw attention to the consequences of putting a statue of limitations on sex crimes. Conlin can't be prosecuted because the incidents were never reported at the time, but after being confronted with the accusations yesterday but, as our brothers at Deadspin predicted, Conlin immediately resigned from his position at the Daily News.
Kelley Blanchet, Conlin's neice, led the effort to expose the abuse, convincing other victims to go to the police last year and now to share their stories with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Blanchet, who is now a prosecutor, says that when she was about 7, Conlin assaulted her in her New Jersey home while her parents were out of town. The paper reports that he, "put his hand between her legs, touched her genitals, and penetrated her with his fingers, stopping only when her brother Ted walked in." Ted told their parents, and Blanchet's father says that when he confronted Conlin, "He swore to me that he just touched her leg. Then all of a sudden, he started crying ... He said, 'I swear to God, I just touched her leg.'"
The family decided to stay away from Conlin, but didn't report the incident. For 30 years Kelley Blanchet had almost no contact with his side of the family, but when she attended Conlin's wife's funeral in 2009, she learned he had grandchildren and started to worry. She decided to tell a few family members that she'd been abused, and a female relative told her that Conlin had molested her and her brother, as well as three of his children's female friends. That led Blanchet to Karen Healey and two women who chose to remain anonymous, as well as Karen's brother Kevin, who was also molested.
Almost all of the children, who were between 7 and 12 at the time of the abuse, told their parents, and Conlin was confronted by furious parents on numerous occasions, but in what may be a sign of the times, every family chose to simply cut off contact with Conlin and forget about what happened. Karen Healey, who is now a 44-year-old corporate sales executive with three children, says she's shocked by how adults reacted at the time. "Nobody called the cops," she said. "Everyone went back to living their lives ... It's never talked about. None of the kids are offered therapy. We all go on with our lives."
Even as adults, when Blanchet suggested they go to the police, several of the alleged victims refused, saying they'd tried to put the incidents behind them and couldn't handle reliving them. Last year Blanchet, Karen and Kevin Healey, and another woman gave authorities videotaped testimony about the abuse, hoping that they could press charges because New Jersey has no statute of limitations on sex crimes. However, they learned that the law was only put into place in 1996, so any crime that occured prior to that would have had to be reported within five years.
In a recent column that's rather sickening in retrospect, Conlin admonished those who say they would have behaved differently if they saw Sandusky raping a boy, writing:
Everybody says he will do the right thing, get involved, put his own ass on the line before or after the fact. But the moment itself has a cruel way of suspending our fearless intentions.
However, the new allegations against Conlin show just how much things have changed in the past 40 years. Blanchet's father only learned exactly what Conlin did recently, and he says, "Back then, I would never even think that anyone could ever do what she said he did." Part of the reason the parents reacted like they did was that child abuse wasn't widely understood or discussed at the time. With so many abuse survivors coming forward in the wake of the Sandusky case, hopefully people are becoming even less inclined to keep a molester's crimes a secret.