Last Updated:November 30 @ 05:13 pm

Chavez: Do the Right Thing

By Linda Chavez

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh has now issued his final report on the scandal at Penn State University, but the question remains: How could so many decent people fail to act when presented with an eyewitness account of sexual abuse of a child?

Jerry Sandusky, assistant coach at Penn State for 32 years, was convicted in June of 45 counts of child sex abuse. For at least 15 years, Sandusky used his position at Penn State to prey on victims, setting up a charitable foundation that recruited at-risk boys, many of whom he would abuse on campus and on team road trips as well as at his home.

But Sandusky's colleagues and supervisors turned a blind eye to what should have been suspicious behavior. Worse, they did nothing to try to protect the actual victims when a then-graduate assistant in the program, Mike McQueary, told them he'd seen Sandusky abusing a child in a campus locker room. In the Freeh report's words, university officials demonstrated "total disregard for the safety and welfare of the victims."

The report attributed this indifference to a desire "to avoid the consequences of bad publicity" on the part of the most powerful officials at Penn State. Even the college's beloved head coach, Joe Paterno, came in for scathing criticism. Paterno, who was fired soon after the accusations against Sandusky became public and who died of cancer in January, learned of Sandusky's behavior from McQueary. But the Freeh report noted that Paterno initially delayed passing on what McQuery told him because he didn't "want to interfere" with anyone's weekend plans.

It would be simple to lay the blame for what occurred on the culture of college football, where winning means everything, not just to the team and its players but to the schools as well. But the Penn State scandal is no different than similar scandals involving sexual abuse of children by authority figures in institutions as wide-ranging as the Catholic Church, state mental hospitals, youth detention centers, and the Boy Scouts. And in many of these cases, the guilty parties are not only the perpetrators but those who looked away or, worse, tried to cover up what they knew was happening.

The pattern seems to be more the rule than the exception. Confronted with evidence that a colleague, employee, or supervisor is abusing vulnerable children, too many people fail to intervene.

Is it the sexual nature of these crimes that paralyzes people? Maybe, but many people walk away even when witnessing the crime is less fraught with embarrassment -- it's common enough for bystanders to ignore when a victim is being beaten, robbed, raped, or murdered. There are a few Good Samaritans out there, but not nearly enough.

The fear of getting involved seems to be paramount in discouraging people to intervene, even when they know they should. Has it always been so? It's tempting to think we used to be better about doing what is right, but it's not clear that is so.

Almost 50 years ago in New York, Kitty Genovese, a young woman, was raped and murdered as some people watching from nearby apartment windows ignored her screams. And mob lynchings in the United States -- complete with crowds egging the murderers on -- were shockingly common in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, occurring as late as 1964.

What this says about human behavior is sobering. Edmund Burke is often credited with saying, "The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Certainly the good men at Penn State did far too little to protect children. Each of us should remember this the next time we see something happening we know is wrong. It often takes only one person to do the right thing for others to follow. But each of us, individually, has to assume the responsibility to be that one person when the occasion arises.


Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal."


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  1. DudleyComment by Dudley
    July 13, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

    “but the question remains: How could so many decent people fail to act when presented with an eyewitness account of sexual abuse of a child?”

    Because these are not decent people.

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    • floridahankComment by floridahank
      July 14, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

      While I don’t want to get into any “preaching”, I’ve been doing serious reading of the Holy Bible, and it clearly explains what is going on and what is coming.
      Human nature is “weak and sinful” to begin with. With the continuing movement towards less morality in every avenue of our life — TV, entertainment, magazines, porno sites, church corruption, political lying, etc. — could go on for an hour.
      There’s a growing atmosphere of lowering morals in every aspect of our society. So for people to not be shocked and do the right thing in child abuse is not news to me. It’ll get worse in time and I’m so glad to be a strong Christian and understand wickedness is to be expected. Not much will change over this incidence and I’m certain it’s going on in many other schools and agencies.

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  2. wedeyComment by wedey
    July 13, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

    anyone who would put kids well-being to a bad image of a football program of a school above every thing else is not a decent person.

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  3. effwingerComment by effwinger
    July 13, 2012 @ 6:01 pm

    To keep quiet of a crime is as bad as the crime itself. Everyone involved should be arrested and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law….

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  4. middlegroundComment by middleground
    July 13, 2012 @ 6:21 pm

    This is a very good time to ask the simple question: “What is the purpose of higher education?” The role and mission statements of most major research universities state they have three objectives, namely teaching, research and service. The teaching objective is to pass the knowledge and skills of humankind on to the next generation. The research objective is to add to humankind’s collected knowledge and/or organize it so that it may be applied to new situations. The third objective is service to improve industry and society. These three objectives were essentially formed by the 1862 Law creating Land Grant Colleges to teach the military, industrial and agricultural arts and stood as the dynamic force behind our citizen army and our massive improvements in industry and agriculture. They were so successful in Land Grant Colleges that even long established universities were forced to change their approach to education.

    In the last 50 years universities have been forced away from their three major objectives toward political objectives, and you are viewing the impact of one of those changes in the Penn State scandal. Football by law is required to raise the money to support between 15 and 30 money-losing sports, most of them women’s sports. The government and the courts say it is not acceptable for a women’s sport to have to live within their budget by playing local teams, instead they must have money to spend equivalent to that of football and basketball and they do this by traveling all over the world. This requirement set in motion escalating costs that can only be generated by the money obtained from a winning football program and associated TV contracts. We can all condemn Penn State for burying a scandal, but the real culprit in the entire higher education mess is the federal government and its desire to cater to certain special interest groups, including those who like watching football.

    The cost for me to attend a major state university in the 1950s was about $3.00 a credit hour for both undergraduate and graduate education, but at that time all the head coaches were members of the faculty and were paid the same as a full professor. All taught classes – some extremely well. Now coaches and members of the athletic establishment have little to do with the academic part of the university except that the athletes attend classes and try to balance the demands of two occupations.

    Most college presidents are now selected because they will fulfill the demands of Political Correctness dictated by outside interests and PSU’s president, Graham Spanier, is a classic example. As an example of PC, not only does Title IX require women’s sports to have equal funding even though they generate almost no income, but Title IX also demands that women be hired as faculty in any department where they are not the majority. Lord only knows how many other bright ideas have been forced on universities, but striped to the bare essentials, this intrusion of politics into education has substantially altered the three objectives of higher education and driven costs beyond the pocketbooks of most Middle Class families. It has also degraded the quality of education and created huge areas of waste and duplication. Eliminating tenure is the chant of many recent college presidents, but look at their own creative history, and many of them couldn’t qualify for tenure in their own department, yet they are making long term decisions on their institution’s future. In the military it was once necessary for a commander to have had combat experience to command troops in combat, but universities have not necessarily required their leaders to have qualified for tenure in some academic department or to have teaching and research experience.

    To me diversity in a university should be intellectual diversity rather than PC diversity. Basically, intellectual diversity exposes the student to a spectrum of humankind’s knowledge from the sciences to the humanities and it makes absolutely no difference what the ethnic background the teacher brings to the class because chemists regardless of their background bring to the student a certain viewpoint, philosophers a different view and humanities and the arts still different views.

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    • swanComment by swan
      July 14, 2012 @ 11:06 am

      Thank you for stating that so well.

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  5. newrepublicanComment by newrepublican
    July 16, 2012 @ 8:55 am

    The Federal Government further corrupted the higher education system by underwriting loans to students and parents. In the past say a year of college costs $10K, which most people coule afford by working part time during the school year and full time during the summer. Then the government steps in and provides loans for $10K. The university raises the tuition to $20K and build palaces and fitness centers luring more high scholl student into their debt trap. The university will give a few scholarships away to the very poor but the MIDDLE CLASS once again is screwed.

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