Riot at Penn State over child sex abuse scandal

A lamp-post overturned. People throwing rocks and chanting “We want Joe back.” Pepper spray applied liberally to quell the chaos. And by morning, silence and quiet. Life moving on as if nothing happened.

This was the reaction of students at Penn State to the dismissal of Joe Paterno, the university’s college football coach for the past 46 years and one of the biggest names in the sport, as well as university president Graham Spanier for failing to act when assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of child molestation. Sandusky was arrested last weekend on charges of molesting eight young boys during his 15-year career.

Paterno has been replaced by assistant coach Tom Bradley for the time being. The university’s athletic director, Tim Curley, and senior vice-president, Gary Schultz, resigned their posts in order to face charges of failing to report the alleged abuse to police. Sandusky himself faces 40 criminal charges and a maximum penalty of 460 years in prison.

Sandusky worked with the Second Mile Foundation, an organization that helps at-risk children. In a statement on their website, Second Mile said they felt “shock, sadness and concern” over the accusations and that “We encourage program participants to report any allegations of abuse and/or inappropriate sexual activity wherever it has occurred, and we take any such reports directly to Child Protective Services.”

The US department of Education is investigating the university over the accusations. The story was first brought to the university’s attention by Mike McQueary, a graduate assistant for the football team who claims to have seen an act of child molestation by Sandusky on a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers back in 2002. At the time, McQueary brought his accusation to Curley and Schultz. Schultz took the complaint to President Spanier, but no action was taken.

In addition to McQueary’s testimony, a 20-year-old man who claims to have been one of the victims has come forward.

Police estimate the crowd that showed up to protest Paterno’s sacking was about 5,000 strong. Police also claim they have a number of suspects for the rioting and attempted arson.

Public reactions to the scandal have not been confined to Penn State students. Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL star for the Dretriot Red Wings and a victim of sexual abuse himself, criticized the university’s response. “Does [Paterno] have grandkids? How would he feel if it were one of his grandkids in that shower with the coach? What would he have done? Somehow, the perpetrator felt welcome at that school. We need systems in place that make perpetrators feel unwelcome.”

Jeffrey Anderson, an attorney who represented child abuse victims in the scandal that once rocked the Roman Catholic Church, sees a number of similarities between Penn State’s scandal and the ones in the Church. He says, “In both cases, very trusted and revered male offenders used their positions and their care, cunning and trust they enjoy not only to access the victim but to keep those around him from speaking out.”

David Clohessy, national director for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, also drew a parallel: “Both institutions are big and powerful and hierarchical and have very carefully crafted public reputations that they value. There’s an obsession with an institution’s image over children’s safety.”

Penn State graduate Rick Santorum told ABC News, “To see people turn a blind eye to this monster is just devastating. How does a guy walk by, a 28-year-old man walk by, and see somebody doing this to a child in a shower and not take a baseball bat and beat the guy’s head in?”

For the time being, interim coach Bradley’s focus is on the Penn State Nittany Lions’ last three games to their regular season, starting with a home game against Nebraska. If Penn State wins two of their next three games, they will still earn the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series in January.

Information from ESPN, BBC News, Grantland, and Fox News.