Jerry Sandusky, the disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach, insists he’s no pedophile. Whether he engaged in “horseplay” or sexually abused children will be up to a jury to decide. Regardless of his claims, he certainly set things up to make it easier for young kids to become victims of his inappropriate behavior.
The details emerging in this case show that Sandusky used classic pedophile methods to get close to kids. Contrary to the stereotypical picture of an old man in a trench coat near the playground, pedophiles are skilled at building trust in kids so they have opportunities to abuse them. They “hide in plain sight” and are often known and respected by parents, teachers and other responsible adults. They are coaches, ministers, Boy Scout leaders and other volunteers.
Working on kids over a period of time, they build up trust and strive to separate the vulnerable from the adults or stronger kids who would be able to protect them.
Sandusky’s volunteer activities included running youth football camps and a charity he founded for at-risk youth. These activities gave him plenty of time with young boys. It gave him access to kids without a strong parental presence in their lives. It gave him opportunities to groom them into viewing the sexual abuse as normal, and blurring the line between good touching and bad touching.
When a popular public figure like Jerry Sandusky is the perpetrator, victims may feel even more hesitant to report abuse. They may wonder if the problem is themselves; they may think someone like Sandusky should be trusted—especially if his parents and others kids trust him.
When it comes to volunteers who have access to children or vulnerable adults, the best defense is an extremely strong defense. Conduct background screening of volunteers to keep criminals away from your organization. Run personality tests on potential leaders to determine if they have risky qualities that don’t show on the surface. And never allow an adult and a vulnerable person of any age to be alone.