This is a risky topic to address, and it's probably easier to just say nothing. I might even change my mind and delete this halfway through. Before flaming, I encourage readers to read the entire argument. Wordy, but important.
Emails have been released by CNN (see relevant thread) regarding the failure of PSU administrators to intervene in the Jerry Sandusky case. There could be and likely will be new information that will increase our understanding of the terrible choices they made. It is clear that they had information to act upon and chose not to act on it.
The reaction on this board and in other venues has been understandably strong. The choices made by the involved administrators, up to and including the president of the University, resulted in a predator being allowed to continue preying upon vulnerable children. They may be and, facts permitting, should be held legally responsible for this.
But I have a question for the people doubling down on character assasination of them and the labelling of them as "conspirators" or people who deliberately helped a man rape children. Do you want to prevent these sorts of things from happening in the future?
Because if one actually wants to protect themselves and others from such terrible behavior, demonizing those who failed to stop the activity is extremely counter-productive. Here's why:
By painting them as genuinely evil people who deliberately consented to and abetted the rape of children to protect their interests, we create a comfortable picture of evil that is, conveniently, impossible for us as "good" people to ever approach. This fits with our common cultural narratives that most people are good but that there are a few villainous, evil people who perpetrate most of the bad things that happen in society. Darth Spanier and Brotherhood of Evil Administrators become classic movie villains, diabolically plotting how best to hurt others and help their own interests. We lump them in with Lex Luthor, Osama Bin Laden, and Adolf Hitler. And we comfort ourselves knowing that we will never be that bad.
But in many of these cases, and quite possibly this one, the events are much more complex; in truth, virtually everybody believes they are good people who generally try to do the right thing. This appears to be true for the Brotherhood of Evil Administrators: the emails that I've seen use words like "Humane" and "Right thing to do."
My recollection is that evidence from the trial suggests that Mike McQueary's report of what he saw in the shower got softened with each retelling up the chain. What was rape became "horseplay" and "inappropriate touching." Now, they should have known that there was something afoot (especially with previous allegations regarding Sandusky). However, as they thought about it--someone they knew and (wrongly) respected, allegations that weren't proof, and the danger of forever ruining the reputation of a man they believed could still be innocent--they talked themselves out of aggressive steps for what they thought were good, humane reasons. And, frankly, they must have had a hard time comprehending that something so evil could be occurring.
And as a result they did nothing.
Here's the problem: men with information about criminal activity took "steps" that they believed were good, smart, and even right steps. It took some mental gymnastics, but those were easier than assuming the alternative. In their realm of experience they could not comprehend what they were dealing with, and defaulted to a rose-colored view of the situation. It is unlikely that they made a conscious choice to allow such behavior to remain un-addressed for their own personal ends; it is far more likely that in their own minds they talked themselves into believing that they were doing something "right."
And that's what is dangerous about this: If one believes that only truly evil people could allow such things to happen, then one becomes vulnerable to allowing it him or herself. Because we can tell ourselves, "I'm not an enabler or a conspirator like those terrible PSU administrators." We don't believe we know anyone as awful as Sandusky, because everyone we know is a pretty decent person.
This is an important matter to me because, as a person in the ministry, I am a mandatory reporter and I have a responsibility to be vigilant about this sort of thing. We have a number of strong safeguards in our church to protect ourselves and the children involved in our ministry from harm or even the appearance of harm. And I can never afford to believe that because so-and-so is a nice guy that nothing could ever happen, nor that since I am well-meaning and "dealing with the issue" that it must be okay and can't possibly be as bad as the Sandusky situation.
And neither can you. The situation could be marginal; it could involve a good person. It might "probably be okay." And we tell ourselves that we're good people so we can't possibly be getting it that wrong.
Maybe it's not child molestation. Maybe it's a friend who drives home a bit loaded but you think he'll be okay. Maybe it's a guy who you think probably roughs up his girlfriend when he's angry. Or any number of other things. The consequences of intervention are so incomprehensible (lost friendship, court, prison) that we find excuses not to do it, and since we're not wearing Joker make-up we figure we're not doing badly.
And evil people continue to do evil.
When evil people are abetted it is usually not by third parties who want them to continue; it is usually by good people who never make a conscious choice to do wrong.
What the PSU administrators did was reprehensible; and it is quite possible that it was reprehensible despite them never endorsing Sandusky's behavior.
As you consider your thoughts regarding the Penn State administration (and let me again be clear, they are not the perpetrators, but they had a responsibility to address what they knew and failed to do so. I am not and will not defend them) remember that if you were ever to be in that situation, and you might, the choices you have to make will not be clear-cut. They will be hard. The right choice may actually be the harder one, and you may have good reasons not to make it; make it anyway.