As the Trial Winds Down

Face. Photo by Callen Harty.

The emotional toll of the Jerry Sandusky trial will soon be in the past and a disturbing public story of child sex abuse will be out of the newspapers and the limelight, possibly in less than a week.

The question is, did it raise consciousness, or will it fade into distant memory as soon as the next big story comes along? Did we learn anything from it about sex abuse or the perpetrators of these kinds of crimes? Or will we as a society retreat into our former shells and be relieved that we won’t have to talk about such uncomfortable subjects again?

For now, the trial has shone a light upon dark secrets. My hope is that it will not flicker and fade, but will continue to illuminate a pervasive and secret problem that lies beneath the surface of our collective consciousness.

The trial itself has been difficult to follow, with raw descriptions of horrendous acts and attempts to undermine the credibility of the young men who have already suffered a great deal and have taken a courageous stand to tell their stories. After the testimony of the eight victims the defense was left with an almost insurmountable task and really did not do much to overcome the first week of testimony.

The defense did not present much evidence to counter the powerful testimony of the eight young men who bared their souls and shared their stories for the court. What the defense has put forth seems like desperate reaches to find holes in the prosecution’s case, but so far it has not been very convincing. From the beginning the defense has attempted to portray the young men as gold-diggers out to make money from an eventual civil case. They even found one neighbor who claimed that one of the youths talked about getting a new Jeep because of this and his mother talked about getting a new house out in the country. The boy and his mother denied it, but even if it were proved to be true that doesn’t prove that the abuse never happened. It would only prove that at least one or two of the victims hoped to gain financially from it.

This is the nature of the litigious society in which we live. A person gets injured in a car accident or an event at work and talks about suing the bastards who caused it. This doesn’t mean the accident didn’t happen or that the victim didn’t suffer. It doesn’t mean that the injured party would not want to go back in time and never have that trauma in their lives. No amount of financial recompense can pay for lost innocence. It is an incredibly weak argument from the defense and says nothing about whether the abuse did or not did happen.

The other thing the defense did was bring up a parade of character witnesses–neighbors, associates, friends, youths that Sandusky had helped. But let’s face it: serial criminals such as bank robbers, murderers, and child molesters do not advertise their crimes to their neighbors and associates. Whenever someone is arrested for a heinous crime it is invariably followed by newspaper reports of these kind of people around the arrested person claiming, “He seemed like such a nice guy. I never would have suspected him of this.” And, in fact, with child molesters in particular, they tend to go overboard in presenting themselves as caring, concerned, and trustworthy people. Yes, Jerry Sandusky may have helped countless children with his charity work and generosity. That doesn’t mean he didn’t select certain ones to manipulate into sex acts for his own gratification. His generosity with others should not convince a jury of his innocence with the boys selected from all those children for a different kind of relationship.

Of course Sandusky’s wife didn’t suspect him of anything. Of course she never saw him acting inappropriately with any of the boys. Does anyone think he would do these illegal and immoral things in front of the woman who would stand by him through anything? Hardly. A man committing a devious act upon a child isn’t going to come into the living room with his wife watching television and ask the boy to take off his clothes and play their usual game. These things require privacy and secrecy (sometimes guaranteed by threats). What is shocking is how many of the boys described events that happened in places that were public enough where they could have been caught. In fact, two of the witnesses were regarding third parties who witnessed inappropriate behavior in the Penn State athletic showers.

The final supposed defense was a potential mental disorder that may or may not describe Sandusky, but which appeared to have little or nothing to do with whether a person might be a child molester.

The reality is that the defense did not have much to work with in this case, particularly after the heart-wrenching testimony of the eight who were able to testify. Perhaps those young men could have been coached to talk about certain things as the defense suggested, but the police are not going to be able to coach them on acting. Liars do not produce tears when recounting false memories. Only good actors do. This trial did not have eight young men who were that good at acting. It had eight young men who had to face long-suppressed emotions and memories and did so as bravely as they could. In a few days we’ll know if their efforts will result in a guilty verdict for the man they claim did such horrible things to them.

There is still prosecution rebuttal and closing arguments to go, but I do not have to wait to arrive at my own conclusions. I do firmly believe that a man is innocent until proven guilty in our courts, but I also believe in my own mind and in my own heart that even if he somehow gets off on a technicality Jerry Sandusky is guilty.

The question is whether the jury will look honestly at the evidence. Granted there are few definitive dates and times; one witness is dead and another had a difficult time describing exactly what he saw, though he knew it was wrong. It all comes down to first-hand accounts of events that happened years ago from young men who were boys at the time. Memory is difficult, imprecise, but the heart doesn’t forget the pain. The details may have been a little clouded at times, but the emotional memory displayed by these young men was real and powerful and a clear indictment of the man they trusted and loved, but who betrayed them in ways they could not even understand at the time.

I feel sorry for Sandusky’s wife and those who truly believe in him, but I feel sorrier for the boys I know were telling the truth. I hope that the jury understood the truth in their testimony and that they return a guilty verdict. If so, there may be others who stand up and proclaim, “This is what happened to me.” There may be more justice in the world. If not, there will be thousands of children who are now being told never to tell anyone and that “no one will believe you” who will likely continue to suffer in silence. This verdict is not only for the Penn State victims, but for all victims, present and future, that some peace and comfort may come at last.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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2 Responses to As the Trial Winds Down

  1. samantha masterton says:

    Callen, you make my world a better place just because you and the things you create are in it.

  2. Suzy Metta4 says:

    I’m with you, I’ve already determined that this guy is guilty, just based on the totality of evidence, including his own words. I am impressed with the thoroughness and quality of the prosecution. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this case.

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