He probably won’t take it, but this is why Sandusky will receive a plea offer

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When Jerry Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing last Tuesday, I could only think of one good reason: plea deal. Which is one of the worst things that can happen to a case like this.

It’s also one of the best. Before I tell you what that is, let’s go back to Tuesday for a minute.

There are a few reasons to waive a prelim, but having more evidence released to the public is one of the biggest ones defendants take this step. Some people have speculated that was indeed the reason Sandusky waived his rights. Within seconds after that major announcement, came whispers of a plea deal. I’ve read so much about this case that I can’t remember where I read it, but I did see something about that myself.

It’s quite common for prosecutors to spare victims of sex crimes by offering up the defendant a plea bargain on a platter, since it saves victims from reliving their abuse all over again. But what follows is my take on why a plea deal might be struck in this particular case.

For the last six weeks, as the world has weighed in on the biggest U.S. sporting scandal ever—one that was about anything but sports—I’ve had a nagging thought in the back of my mind as I’ve listened and read about the Penn State sex abuse tragedy: What are people going to do when they learn the victims willingly took part in their own abuse?

That’s because I did the same thing, when I was their age. I was no different than the youngsters targeted by The Second Mile, who was started to help children who “need additional support and who would benefit from positive human contact.” Being reared in a single-parent, low-income household automatically qualifies one as “vulnerable,” or “disadvantaged”—the two other adjectives used to describe the alleged victims of Penn State coach and Second Mile founder Jerry Sandusky.

News of the scandal broke when the public learned of the former defensive coordinator’s arrest and molestation charges in early November. About the same time, the school’s vice president and its athletic director were charged with failing to report the suspected abuse, and for lying to the grand jury. The biggest news to come from this scandal, though, is the firing of Penn State’s legendary head coach Joe Paterno. In fact, other than details revealed in the grand jury transcript, news about the eight (and now nine) alleged victims has been predictably scant.

Paterno has captured the headlines more than anyone, save perhaps Mike McQueary, who told the grand jury he walked into a locker room and saw Sandusky raping a boy of 10. McQueary, now an assistant Penn State coach—but then a 28-year-old grad assistant—has since been placed on administrative leave and is believed to be in protective custody.

When it comes to disadvantaged homes, society probably understands that coming from one means the financial or familial perspective: resources are stretched thin, leaving the children on their own, or money isn’t plentiful, meaning basics like new tennis shoes are out of the question.

But I doubt it understands what being one of these youth means from an emotional aspect: having one parent in the home—as is true in 34-percent of households in this country—means the children don’t get as much attention, affection and love from that parent.

A man who knows more about this topic than most law enforcement officers put together is Ken Lanning. He wrote the foreword for my first book, Sister of Silence. Those seven pages are the analytical equivalent of my story, and provide an equally alarming eye-opener for parents who want to know how child molesters think, speak and act. They also provide insight into the mind of a child, explaining why children will return to their molester again and again, essentially becoming a willing participant in their own abuse.

This type of “acquaintance molestation” is what Lanning calls “the often forgotten piece in the puzzle of the sexual victimization of children.” He says it’s hard “for society and even professionals to face,” because people want to believe child molesters are ugly, evil strangers. They would rather believe that than the truth: It can be anyone “who has access to children.”

Lanning knows the biggest problem people have is believing the child’s role in all of this. “The idea that child victims could simply behave like human beings and respond to the attention and affection of offenders, by voluntarily and repeatedly returning to an offender, is a troubling one,” he said in the foreword.

Because this type of molester can spend a long time seducing first, the potential victim’s parents or caretakers, to gain their trust and confidence, and then, the intended victim, there’s no need for any force. That’s why Lanning says “an acquaintance molester who seduces his victims without violence can sometimes go unreported for thirty years or more.”

This is exactly what happened to Sandusky’s alleged victims, as shown in the grand jury testimony, and how my seduction occurred, as well. And when someone—a nice neighbor, a family friend, or a football coach—comes along and shows an interest in you, you immediately “get a life.” At 13, I was escorted to the Dairy Queen and the movies in a nice, shiny new vehicle; by the time I turned 16, he was buying me clothing and making my decisions for me.

And I loved it—every second of it. Well, except for the times when he convinced me that my repayment for his kindness should come in some form of sex. But those coerced occasions were quickly forgotten with a gift, a trip to the DQ or yet another truckload of wood he brought to help heat our home. He also knew he shouldn’t touch me, and kept promising me again and again, that he wouldn’t do it again. So I kept returning. To him, to what he could give me or do for me, and to the sex—which my body responded to and enjoyed—but which I could not get my mind to wrap around, try as I might.

Just as the targeted child or adolescent life in some ways changes for the better, so does the parent’s life: they finally have someone showing an interest in their offspring, and helping with the parenting workload. At least, that’s how it seems on the surface. I wrote about this in Lethal Silence, a book that looks at four families whose children died or were at risk of death, due to being victims of violence. (Due to be published as an e-book later this month.)

“When (Eddie) began helping our family, my mother was struggling with a shortage of several resources: time to properly instruct or even interact with her children, money for auto and home repairs, as well as a mate to help carry the load.

While Dad was overseas he sent little money home, forcing Mom to struggle just to get by. If she wasn’t trying to provide for her children on an almost nonexistent income, all while living in a dilapidated house that required constant work to ensure it was safe and warm, she was filling out paperwork so we could receive food stamps or heating oil. At first a single parent working two part-time jobs, after Dad returned home for a short visit a few times, Mom later became an overwhelmed pregnant mother who simply couldn’t be both parents to her growing family. She was a perfect mark for a twenty-year-old man who found girls of thirteen more sexually stimulating than young women his own age. It must have seemed like a blessing when the man who would eventually rape me offered to perform house repairs or provide free fuel and transportation.”

Lanning, who spent 30 years with the FBI and who has trained thousands of law enforcement officers and criminal justice professionals about child sexual abuse, said my story is both like all the others he’s investigated and yet equally unique. He also said it feels like he’s got a crystal ball, because he’s investigated so many of these cases that he already knows much of their outcome.

For example, one of the alleged victims has testified he voluntarily went to Sandusky’s home and had dinner after the abuse took place. Lanning said people automatically think, “if you were really victimized, you wouldn’t do it.” They also ask, “Why do these kids keep going back?” Lanning said.

This “absolutely happens all the time in these cases. Is it something that people understand? No, hardly anybody understands it,” Lanning said. That even includes the investigators charged with trying to bring such crimes to trial, he added.

These cases become even murkier when “the bad guys don’t cooperate and they don’t stay inside the lines” and do what society thinks he should, Lanning said. As an example, child molesters are usually divided into three groups: stranger, family member or acquaintance. Within those divisions, come others: age or gender, for instance. Mine liked girls of 13, while Sandusky allegedly favored boys of the same age, or slightly younger.

Now, though, comes the troubling news of allegations of abuse from one of Sandusky’s own grandsons: this boy is only five. “This case involves an acquaintance molester who befriends kids, grooms them and seduces them, showers them with attention and affection, gives status, privileges . . . and the primary reason to do that is to get children to cooperate in this activity so you don’t have to use knives, guns, weapons and threats,” Lanning said.

This leads to what’s called “compliant child victims,” like me, or like the Second Mile victims who are slowly coming forward in State College. But instead of asking why kids like us would become complicit in our own crimes, let’s instead start educating ourselves about child sexual abuse. That involves not passing on the same fairytales about what molesters, or victims, look like.

It also means realizing that stereotypes don’t fit when it comes to this type of crime: just as each and every fingerprint is different—so is each and every case of child sexual abuse.


Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13, 2013 at Connecticut College, is now live.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


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