The Sandusky sex scandal currently rattling in the media is of course very sad, confusing and more complicated than is publicly reported.
Part of this awful event and issue is that children are by nature vulnerable, incomplete and easily intimidated by adults who are bigger and more powerful. Any child can be a victim of any adult and be overwhelmed and coerced into colluding (keeping silent) with the offensive actions–whether it’s lying, cruelty, theft, violence, parental substance abuse, sexual or emotional abuse; a child can easily be made afraid and manipulated.
I have seen and heard situations where children are injured for life by dysfunctional adults (parents and non-parents) who imprint and stunt young minds by aggression or neglect, and, as research reveals, the earlier in life the abuse occurs the deeper the injury, as psychologists know well.
Another part of this is the ‘double tragedy’ that most abusers were once victims who grew up but forgot how it felt to be small and injured themselves. They later become self-focused and self-gratifying and forgot (repressed) the their own fright and shock at being violated. (photo left: father and son)
When an adult loses recall of their own childhood injury and vulnerability he/she becomes a danger to others. Lost in their deep-seated desire for psychic relief, by sexually seducing (consuming or injuring) another child, the adult ignores the young one’s unprepared mind and shocks them through coercion and/or charm. The adult victim in turn creates another child victim.
Such recycling of pathology and pain is still happening now–and tomorrow–since childhood is never wholly forgotten or healed in any of us, for good or not.
Sadly it happens frequently in certain Arab cultures today in Afghanistan (indeed, across the globe) as older ‘warlords’ court, seduce and bed ‘trophy boys’ by buying them off with money from their impoverished families. A twisted condition where choice is not involved. This is not homosexuality, it is criminal behavior, a sort of Robin Hood criminality in that the boy and his family are showered with gifts and money that they could never access otherwise.
Another part of the whole issue is that youth, beauty and sexual desire are blended in a complex personal and social issue in a matrix of appeal. As many are too aware in our culture, the adoration of youth is nearly stultifying, much to the delight of teen media and the fashion industry and to the dismay of middle-agers and seniors. Two or three thousand years ago there were marble statues of slim-hipped ephebes (adolescent males) by the thousands that adorned Greek and Roman public and private places. Many of these extant statues are today priceless possessions in museums where their beauty is still admired for conscious or unconscious reasons. As well, on countless pottery decorations of antiquity are depictions adult males caressing young males. ‘Puer eternis’ (eternal youth) and its appeal are virtually genetic–this instinctual attraction for youth.
Since we all age and lose our youthful looks there is an enviable desire for renewal of that freshness, male or female. It is not simply homo or hetero sensuality but a deeper universal longing for one’s past vitality and erotic charm; some say it’s a quest to re-experience innocence.
Sandusky’s desire for young boys goes deep.
Of course this is no defense of what we now call child abuse. Rather, it is a reflection that beyond the legal limits of age of consent in most countries (ranging from 14-18) there is a multi-dimensional, ‘archetypal’ and universal appeal toward smooth pretty looks that resides in our cultural blood. Where today’s teen magazines and Facebook images dance before our eyes, the ancients carved stone images and cameos of their handsome androgynous youth.
In the June 23, 2012 issue of the New York Times, there was a report of another–similar yet different–teacher-student liaison many years ago. A long-retired teacher, now 88, recalled through his fading memory a fond ‘affection’, which he claimed was mutual and free of coercion: “I’m surprised they remember,” he said, in an interview referring to the students. “It was all so casual and warm… I acted occasionally out of impulse. In those days, the ’60s and ’70s, things were different.”
The Times concluded, “All three students <interviewed> cited the teacher as a positive influence in their lives, even today, and seemed reluctant to speak, not wanting to hurt the reputation of a man who had opened their eyes to philosophy and literature, and whose strict grammar rules they remembered today. (photo left: scoutmaster Jennifer Tyrrel and cubscout)
Their reluctance raises another complication to this muddled and emotional issue: it is not unusual for a young pre-teen or teen to actively seek out–often unconsciously–adults beyond their family who feel safe and accepting. Kids gravitate toward love and light and can be assertive in their expression for such an emotional bond, thus making them especially vulnerable to wrong-minded predators. Sandusky appeared to offer this kind of care with his person and foundation but he violated the trust of some children with his own needs and unresolved inner conflicts. One wonders how many kids ‘offered’ themselves to Sandusky, seeming to seduce him, out of innocent desire for a caring proxy parent. That such a child would show willingness to be close is, of course, never an excuse for an adult to betray that willingness. Fortunately, there are many more proxy parents who are clean and consistent with their affection for youth-in-need.
The issue of physical intimacy between mentors and apprentices is an age old ‘tradition’ that ranges from domination and force to affection and benevolence with varying degrees of meaning and impact. Sandusky was a tragic mix of both in an age that sees all types within the same offense and is unwilling or unable to navigate such intricate and complicated relationships, preferring to, rightly, protect the child from injury yet in the process inhibiting adult warmth toward children who seek it. Sadly, teachers now have become hesitant to offer that care–and everyone loses.
By Richard Ammon