What do homosexuality and 1-800-REALITY have to do with Sandusky’s case? Everything!
Ever since the Penn State scandal came to light, people have been of two camps: either former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is a homosexual or he’s a child molester. The debates have been hot and heavy, with heated commenters protesting any connection between the two terms.
Before I tell you why they’re wrong, let’s review yesterday’s preempted preliminary hearing in the sleepy little town of Bellefonte, Pa. Because the biggest news to come out of the place wasn’t that Joe Amendola waived his client’s rights to have the prelim—it was that Amendola, the Pennsylvania defense attorney who represents Sandusky, offered up late night TV hosts like David Letterman pure cake and their best material to date, when he referenced a gay phone sex line, while making light of the child sexual abuse allegations his client is facing.
If you didn’t know who Amendola was before one of the most anticipated preliminary hearings in recent years, you sure do now: That’s because Amendola had some really sage advice for anyone who believes Mike McQueary’s account that Sandusky sexually abused boys coming through the doors of his Second Mile charity—or that Penn State officials wouldn’t have stopped him, if Sandusky had done so.
Here’s what Amendola suggested the folks who gathered in Bellefonte do: “I suggest you dial 1-800-REALITY.”
It was either a brilliant tactical move on Amendola’s part, or the worst attorney error in history. (And given that, almost overnight, another attorney has joined Sandusky’s defense team, I’d say it was a huge gaffe.)
But it could also be quite brilliant because–guess what–during a three-hour telephone interview with Ken Lanning recently, he shed some very important light on this particular case. “There’s no victims easier to seduce than an adolescent boy. Why? Because what gives an adolescent boy an erection? Anything!” Lanning said. “Men who molest boys understand that . . . They take this characteristic of adolescent boys and use it to their advantage.”
Now before you dismiss Lanning as crass, or talking off the top of his head, you should probably know he’s considered one of the top experts in the area of child sexual abuse: he worked in a supervisory capacity as an FBI special agent and instructed thousands of law enforcement officials at Quantico and elsewhere, about this very crime. (He also wrote the foreword for my book, Sister of Silence, which is essentially like this case—only with a role reversal for the victims.)
Essentially, he’s maybe one of three people in the country who has as much specialized knowledge about the topic of child sex abuse. So when he talks, I listen. I hope you will, too.
Because there’s something else that Lanning knows that shows how Amendola’s reference to a gay (and bi) sex line could have been quite a good move for his client. Here it is: even today, many people remain homophobic—and boys who have been molested know this, too. Which is why the majority of them never come forward. Why most of them remain silent.
“They’re the least likely to tell anybody, because of shame, guilt and embarrassment, and the number one reason they don’t tell is because of the stigma of homosexuality,” Lanning said. “It’s more acceptable now, but adolescent boys know it’s not good, because once you have had sex with an adult male, people label you ‘gay.’”
And that might just be the truth–or it might not be.
“They are gay, they might be gay, or they might not know, because they’re adolescents. So they don’t tell anyone when this happens—because the minute they admit to having sex with a man, the one thing they do know is that being labeled ‘gay’ equals a miserable life,” Lanning said.
Let’s make this crystal clear: Lanning is not saying boys who are molested are gay, or that their abusers are. What he is saying is that because of people’s homophobic fear about gays, for a male teen to be labeled as such is the social equivalent to a death sentence. And that is why these particular victims of sexual assault often go to great lengths to pretend nothing sexual happened.
All of this is crucial to other cases of male-on-male acquaintance molestation where child sexual abuse occurs after much grooming and seduction on the part of the molester, because of the long-term effects on society and its children.
“The most prolific of all child molesters are men who have an interest in young, adolescent boys. They have a large number of victims. They’re the most persistent and prolific of all child molesters, and they get away with it more often than any other type of molester,” Lanning said, adding that the Penn State case shows just that.
“These cases are good and bad. That’s because we’re lucky if we can get one in 10 (adolescent male victims) to disclose (what happened of a sexual nature). But they’re good because one of these guys can have hundreds of victims. (With that large number), it means you can end up with 50 victims who will testify,” Lanning said.
So, as sad as it is to say, the Penn State victim count is likely to go up. Let’s just hope the first eight or 10 victims that have spoken out so far are not intimidated by Amendola’s blunder (or his strategy). Let us also hope that the courage of these bold survivors will empower the other boys and men who are also out there, silently waiting to come forward. And let’s all give them our blessing to do just that—without fear of being judged as anything other than sexual abuse victims.
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 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.”