Ryan J. McCombie is a Member of the Pennsylvania State University Board of Trustees. He was elected by the Alumni to serve and his term expires in 2015. He is a former Navy Seal.
Prior to moving to State College, Pa., in 1997, I spent much of my adult life in Third World, poverty stricken nations during my service as a U.S. Navy SEAL. There, when we had free time, we would often visit orphanages (yes, SEALs do have hearts). I learned to admire the noble souls that cared for these destitute and hopeless children.
After leaving the military and moving to State College, I did as many others had done and became involved with The Second Mile. It was then a highly respected statewide, nonprofit organization for children who need additional support, founded by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. I was on the development committee for The Second Mile campus, participated in the Friends for Fitness program and went to the golf tournaments sponsored by the foundation. We believed this was a great charity, and we were doing great things for children.
Having spent some time with Sandusky, I was aware of the good he was credited with unselfishly doing for children through The Second Mile. So, when the rumors began in the summer of 2011 regarding one complaint from one child, my thoughts were “in 30 years of helping kids a false complaint was bound to happen eventually.” I assumed the mother and child filing the complaint had ulterior motives.
To show Jerry our support, a friend of mine and I invited him to play golf. Another time we took him to lunch to show our support for a man we had thought was wrongfully accused.
When the Grand Jury presentment was later released and Sandusky arrested for sexually abusing children, I was dumbfounded, confused and full of disbelief. Once Sandusky was convicted, however, I realized that he had received his due process and was rightly convicted of these heinous crimes.
It was still difficult to internalize and understand how anyone I thought I knew could be guilty of such crimes – until I read the report written by former FBI profiler James Clemente. Mr. Clemente, one of the nation’s leading experts on child sexual victimization, released a 78-page report in February as part of the response to the Freeh report commissioned by the family of the late Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno.
Mr. Clemente concluded that Jerry Sandusky was a “cunning and deliberate child sex offender” and a “fraud of the highest order.” Sandusky is a “textbook example of a preferential child sex offender” and a “nice-guy acquaintance offender,” he wrote. Sandusky effectively groomed most of the people who came in contact with him, including child care experts, psychologists, professionals, celebrities, athletes, coaches, friends and family.
Only after reading Mr. Clemente’s report was the opaque veil lifted shedding light on the methodologies of an insidious predator. Finally here was an explanation of how I, my friends, hundreds of co-volunteers, a region and parts of an entire state could be so wrong. This report opened my eyes to how a man could groom an entire population of caring people.
To me, Mr. Clemente’s report is not about defending Joe Paterno. It’s about recognizing the wolf among us, defending our children and avoiding these preconceptions and mistakes in the future. If we don’t learn and understand the category of preferential sex offenders called “nice guy acquaintance offenders” and “compliant victimization,” as described by Mr. Clemente, we all risk being the pedophile enablers we so despise.
While we find this type of crime abhorrent and are disgusted by the perpetrators, we must not allow our natural revulsion to push the problem to the periphery of our consciousness. Only by facing it head on, in an open and factual manner can we hope to avoid this kind of tragedy in the future. We can all start by reading and internalizing Mr. Clemente’s excellent report.
Ryan J. McCombie