Michael Tabman

The Penn State Report – A Sobering Message

In Crime and Security on July 14, 2012 at 7:45 am

The Report of the Special Investigative Counsel Regarding the Actions of The Pennsylvania State University Related to the Child Sexual Abuse Committed by Gerald A. Sandusky which was headed up by my former boss Louie Freeh, revealed details that were utterly depressing. This is especially unsettling as the report did not focus on the child molestations conducted by Sandusky – as that was determined by a court. The report disclosed that “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized.”

Growing up in New York City, I remember one famous incident of people doing nothing to stop a violent crime. In March, 1964, 28 year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in a Queens, NY neighborhood. Neighbors heard her screams, saw the struggle and did nothing to help, not even calling the police immediately. I was six years old, living only a few miles away. I often heard about this tragedy and during my years at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, that story was often invoked as the phenomenon of the bystander effect, even while a murder was occurring. After a long career in law enforcement, I wonder why I am no less shocked when people of trust, respect and power fail to do the right thing. We are not discussing minor ethical breaches; there were clear signs of heinous crimes occurring under their noses.

Pennsylvania State University is not the first, nor will it be the last organization to turn a blind eye to criminality. Maybe, and hopefully, we won’t be discussing something as tragic and disgusting as child molestation. Yet, despite the lives ruined by our recent financial crisis, the New York Times recently reported on “The Spreading Scourge of Corporate Corruption.” When was the last time you heard, “I have to protect my career” or “I do what’s right for me.” Yes, we all have our reasons for not speaking up, as did those at Penn State. That is probably why we hail as heroes those few people who put aside their own interests or safety to do what is right.

I often quote Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” But there is an oxymoron in that statement. Men who do nothing, cannot be good men.

  1. Paterno wasn’t even a bystander- he knew what was going on, and made a conscious effort to cover the abuses up for his own good. This is selfish behavior coming from a man many thought they knew. What’s your opinion about the whole debacle?

    • Thanks for your comment. This was an example of pervasive arrogance and people in power who were going to retain that power at all costs. In my books and blogs I often discuss our inability to handle power. That is why there must be independent checks and balances. That clearly did not exist.

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