Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Monster(s) in my Midst

A couple of recent events - the Jerry Sandusky case and the release of the Boy Scout's perversion files - have led me to reflect on an event from my own childhood that parallels the two events.

I was in Boy Scouts my whole childhood - and pretty active in it too. About 6 months after I joined my troop, one of the assistant scoutmasters (let's call him Larry) resigned. When I asked my parents aboout it they were pretty straightforward with me about it. Jerry had also been an assistant football coach at the high school I would eventually attend and my mother told me that he had "approached" a boy in the shower. That was reported to school officials, and he agreed to resign and leave town. And that's what he did. He packed up his family and moved half-way across country.

This was handled rather matter of factly as I recall. It was not reported in the media, and though it was an open secret, no one ever said "hey, this is wrong. We should prosecute the guy, or force him to seek counseling or something. But just making him leave town is only pushing the problem onto someone else. It's highly likely they'll be other victims because of it." Two years later, my troop was at an event in Larry's new home state and he stopped by to say hello. No one was creeped out by him and I remember being glad to see him. None of the adults in the troop, at least one of whom was there when he left, thought that his visit was inappropriate.

When the Jerry Sandusky case broke, I naturally started thinking of this event. What ever happened to the guy, I wondered. So I looked him up in his new home state. Sure enough, about 10 years after the incident in my hometown (and about 8 years after I last saw him) he committed some crime that got him registered as a sex offender. I'm not sure what he did, but I can guess. I wonder now if the victim in that case knows about what happened to Larry in Texas; how people kind of knew what they were dealing with, and pushed Larry their way. I wonder if they thought about suing.

Then, this month, the Boy Scouts released their perversion files. I searched them, and even though many of the "perverts" listed in it were listed by number, Larry was in there by name. There was a file on him about the incident that got him run out of town. The story I had heard was wrong. Larry didn't approach a high schooler at the shower of the high school, he molested two boys on a Boy Scout camping trip. A trip I was likely on. Even though I don't know which two boys he molested, I definitely know them. I knew everyone in my troop. I guess I was lucky it wasn't me, but it feels weird to feel lucky that someone else was sexually assaulted.

So now I wonder, did my parents know the real story (probably not and they don't claim to). The parents of the two victims, according to the file, decided not to prosecute. Do they know what happened to Larry later?  Do they regret that decision? And what about the school officials - a Catholic school I should note - where he worked? They knew. Or the scout troop leaders? And how many victims did Larry leave in his wake before he was caught?

I guess my main thoughts on all of this is that the Jerry Sandusky case is only special in that he was so high profile. This story, or one similar to it, played itself out in town after town, all across the country, for decades. I hope that now we're in a place where no one would just "run the guy out of town on a rail." and that we'll look back on that behavior the same way we'd look at "Colored Only" drinking fountains, as an ignorant and fear-based behavior that now seems so far out of step with American values. The people who made these decisions are people I know well (even when I'm not sure who decided what). Good people. In some case people I admired. And they made these horrible decisions because that's what you did at the time. I'd like to think that these kinds of decisions aren't made anymore. And I wonder what decisions I'd make today that would be looked at in the same way 30 years from now.

Anyway, this seems like an appropriate post for Halloween. There are monsters out there, and some of them are upstanding community leaders.

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