Don’t get me wrong. He should have been fired; he knew enough about Sandusky’s predilections for children, and had enough (limitless almost) power to get rid of his friend the predator. I wish instead of firing him, that the board had brought in researchers familiar with rape statistics and rape attitudes in big time college men’s sports and begun a cutting edge program to address those attitudes and the statistics that follow in their wake. I wish that they had used Sandusky’s no-longer-deliverable retirement package to hire RAINN and Men Can Stop Rape to come into the residence halls, the frat houses, the classrooms, the locker rooms of Penn State and conduct ongoing, comprehensive education and activism to change the rape culture on their campus. But instead, they fire a venerable old bastard who was already on his way out, and do nothing to alter the power and money that allows old men and young men (and even high school boys) to expect to abuse and hurt other people’s bodies sometimes in return for putting their own bodies under the control of coaches and ESPN, people who will damage them if it earns them a W or couple of bucks.
One of the reasons this case frustrates me is what is not going wrong. Normally when a powerful man is accused of rape, he and his lawyers and handlers immediately begin a media campaign to undercut his accusers. He or his media gofers explain how it was the victim’s fault for being a temptress —even when the victim is only eleven years old— or how the victim is lying. See, for example, a concurrent situation with a rape-accused powerful man named Herman Cain. His defenders suggest that the women who have accused him are lying, describe their money troubles, and create elaborate possible motives for these women. They are accused of being Democratic operatives trying to jettison the best Republican candidate, or of being bitter about career problems, or the old favorite, maligned as making the accusation for money or fame. I’m going out on a limb here and suggesting that Cain’s accusers are speaking out because they do not want a predator in the White House or anywhere near it.
But what about Sandusky’s victims? What do we know about them? How does that store of data compare to the reams of information we usually get about victims of rape or sexual assault? Have they been accused of dressing salaciously to tempt Sandusky? Is anyone suggesting that they are trying to get back at him because their football careers did not go as they had wished? Did anyone ask what that child was thinking, being in the locker room naked with a man 3 times his age? If so, I have not heard these typical victim-blaming moves. Thank goodness, for the sakes of those victims, that in this case, they are not being put on trial for the audacity of being victimized. I hope those young people get justice and a chance to heal.
But why are they spared being blamed for their attackers’ behavior? Because, of course, the Penn State victims are male. The outburst of disbelief and horror by the community, the high-level firings, and the lack of victim-blaming all come down to the simple fact that boys are not supposed to be rape or sexual assault victims. They are not the natural reward for men with power. Girls are presumed by the rape culture to be there for the raping, and thus, when they actually accuse or try to bring charges, the rape culture pushes back, wondering how they dare humiliate their betters. Boys, on the other hand, are understood as strong and impenetrable, not created for the sole purpose of sating male desire.
Penn State did one right thing by firing both Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, but it has missed a chance to actually address the problem that has brought their temple of football down, male privilege and the rape culture it engenders. Shame on them for taking the easy way out.