Is Jerry Sandusky Delusional For Maintaining His Innocence?

jerry sandusky penn stateJerry Sandusky

Photo: AP Images

Last night, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted on 45 of 48 counts in a child sex abuse trial that has captivated the public since his indictment back on November 4, 2011.  After the verdict was delivered, Sandusky’s attorney, Joe Amendola, appeared on CNN. He said that a plea deal was never an option for his client.

“Jerry always maintained his innocence and that’s important for us to understand,” he said. “None of us were there when these things happened.”

The number of victims, the similar pattern of the attacks (befriending boys through his Second Mile charity), the detailed account from witnesses like Mike McQueary and the decades of abuse revealed in the discovery make it difficult for anyone to understand how Sandusky still maintains his innocence.

Last year in pursuing my master’s, I spent five months examining whether there was such a thing as successful treatment for pedophiles. I spoke with forensic psychologists, pyschiatrists and researchers who specialize in treating pedophiles and dealing with sex offenders in the U.S. and Canada, the New York Office of Mental Health, and a convicted child molester who asked to be called Joe. 

I first encountered Joe when I put in a call to NAMBLA (North American Man Boy Love Assocation), notorious for its stance that society is in the wrong for its narrow views on romantic and sexual relationships between adult males and young boys. I was hoping to discuss NAMBLA’s views, if any, on treatment. 

Joe, a member of NAMBLA’s steering committee, answered the phone and began telling me, in what turned into an hour-long conversation, his story. Back in the Eighties, he served a year in jail for the abuse of a minor. He met his victim, who was 12, when Joe was 27 at a pinball arcade in the Bay Area. 

He maintains, more than 30 years later, that this boy was the love of his life and the only sexual partner he’d ever had. 

“We were both looking for someone to be friends with,” Joe said. “I gave him experiences that he would not otherwise have had and instilled in him a joy in life that seemed to be a bit lacking.”

The way he talked about the abuse and his insistence on the romantic facets of the relationships are reminiscent of the six love letters Sandusky wrote to Victim 4.  

After I spoke with Joe, my head was spinning. He was an intelligent man whose worldview seemed rational on its own terms—but just did not hold up to reality.

“Why is an attraction to one particular age inherently less valid than an attraction to another range of age?” Joe said. “Do we say to the people who are always chasing after 18 to 25-year-olds that they’re intrinsically evil?”

He told me that it’s suitable to have a relationship with a five-year-old because a sexual relationship can encompass things like cuddling and hugging. He also disagreed with the notion that minors can’t give consent. He claimed that children exercise decision-making autonomy every day, for instance when a two-year-old doesn’t want to eat his vegetables.

Through my reporting, I learned that psychologists categorize pedophiles into two different groups. A “true” pedophile is sexually aroused by prepubescent children, generally 13 or younger. An “opportunistic” pedophile may abuse a child because he lacks social skills, cannot relate to adults, finds children to be a convenient sexual outlet in times of distress, or has no control over his behaviour.

Given the age of Sandusky’s victims, as young as nine or 10, he most likely fits into the first category. 

It’s been estimated that more than 40 per cent of child molesters have themselves been abused. That figure could be much higher, but many perpretrators don’t disclose abuse since they often view it as normal sexual contact. 

One of the most compelling explanations I’ve found for how an adult male could normalize sex with a child is in the 2006 documentary “Deliver Us From Evil.” The film tells the story of Catholic priest Father Oliver O’Grady who was moved from parish to parish as he continued to rape dozens of children in the Seventies.

O’Grady had a horrifically abusive (both physically and sexually) childhood. A psychologist in the film explained that with many children who are abused, their psycho-sexual development stops at the age of their first traumatic sexual encounter. Instead of adolescents who begin to see their teenage peers as sexual objects during puberty, a child molester who was abused is stuck viewing a child, what’s become his sexual peer, as the object of his desire.

I have not found reports that Sandusky himself was abused as a child but the psychology behind it is instructive. It’s likely that Sandusky maintains his innocence because in his world, having sex with a child is not wrong.

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