Is Sandusky’s Sentence Merciful for His Victims?

Published by Daleen Berry on

I’m not sure why Judge John Cleland didn’t impose the maximum number of years possible on Jerry Sandusky. After all, a Centre County jury found the former football coach guilty in 45 of 48 criminal acts of sexual abuse and assault in June, after deliberations ended in the little town of Bellefonte, Pa. So Sandusky could have received a sentence of 373 years. If only Cleland had chosen to do so.

Instead, while commenting that the law would allow for a much harsher sentence, Cleland gave Sandusky 30-60 years. So let’s do the math: 10 victims at—on the low end—three years each, equals 30 years. That isn’t squat. Because if I’m one of those 10 victims, I’m probably thinking: “For molesting (or raping) me, he’s going to prison for three years.”

Keep in mind, those 10 men don’t even include Sandusky’s adopted son Matt, who revealed after the trial that he was yet another one of the serial pedophile’s victims. Or the dozens, if not hundreds, of other victims Cleland must suspect are out there, but who just haven’t come forward yet.

Even at the high end—60 years—Sandusky would hypothetically serve six years of prison for each victim who was brave enough to come forward and relate what the ex-coach did.

Cleland’s decision reminds me of the time I helped local police set up a sting on a child predator. “Wayne the pain” tried to target two pre-teen girls, back in the early 1990’s. I just happened to catch him in the act. But once in court, the local magistrate—a woman, by the way—essentially wagged her finger at him. In essence she was figuratively saying, “Now there, there, don’t you do that again, you naughty boy.”

That’s when the youngest victim, a child of 12, said something I’ve never forgotten. “You can be charged with a DUI and serve a longer sentence than that,” she said. Indeed, someone she knew had served jail time for just such a traffic violation. Wayne simply paid a fine and went on his merry way. Wasn’t even sentenced to a day in jail, so he could ponder his criminal behavior.

It was a travesty to say the least, and it sent a very negative message to the children in that family at the time. I, for one, believe it’s a message they never forgot. Furthermore, I think it’s made them—all at-risk children, due to absent or abusive fathers—even more distrustful of authority figures than they were before.

I believe Cleland’s decision does the same thing for these young men. And possibly other victims waiting to come forward, while wavering about doing so. Perhaps even waiting to see the outcome of the sentence handed down to Sandusky.

On the one hand, it’s easy to say it doesn’t matter: because this particular child predator is 68, the judge’s sentence essentially makes Sandusky a lifer. He’ll die there.

On the other hand, it does matter: the victims’ trust, one could say, has been violated again. By another person in a position of power. That’s what I think they might conclude: that in taking away their childhoods and the life they could have had, Sandusky deserves to receive an equally harsh, symbolic sentence. One that acknowledges the losses they can never recover. (Not from which they can never recover, for that is an entirely different statement, and a topic for another day.)

But why did Cleland not throw the proverbial book at Sandusky, and sentence him to 373 years? I’m not sure, but think it could boil down to this: Dottie Sandusky. Maybe the judge respects her. Maybe he even knows her personally. Maybe, like so often happens in these cases, he and the rest of the community feel sorry for her. For what she’s had to live through herself, all these years.

It isn’t entirely impossible, you know. When I went to Bellefonte for the trial, I was told that various community members had heard rumors about Sandusky’s criminal behavior. Those rumors were apparently decades old. So it was, I was told, that Sara Ganim, then a Penn State journalism student, heard the rumors, too. If true, that’s probably when her Pulitzer-Prize winning crime-reporter’s nose began sniffing out the rumors.

Be that as it may—or not—if Dottie is like most wives of sexual predators, she’s a great person. Or at least, that’s what people think. (I wouldn’t personally know, and hesitate to say.) But I say that people would logically think that because, compared with her husband, she’s practically a saint. This has nothing to do with the victims’ claims that she knew what was going on but didn’t try to help them. And remember, Dottie wasn’t on trial. (Nor is it likely she will be.) However, her character, or at least how people perceive her as a person, could have everything to do with how a judge must try to balance justice with mercy.

But Sandusky’s sentence, while being merciful to his wife and other family members, lacks mercy when it comes to the 10 men who brought him down.

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Daleen can be reached at daleen.berry@gmail.com.

Editor’s note:Daleen Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change, for her second book, Lethal Silence, to be published sometime in 2012. Berry 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 the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. 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.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. 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.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read more than 100 reviews, go to free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel


Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: https://www.daleenberry.com. Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.

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