As a former resident of the Keystone State and someone who once served on the staff of a Pennsylvania governor, I would like to offer some sharp insight into Gov. Tom Corbett’s character before the polls open on November 4. I am also President and CEO of the nation’s oldest crisis management firm, and the author of the first book ever written on the subject, and, thus, I am considered an expert in the field, a designation I do not shy away from.
In that latter capacity, I have closely examined, and voiced my assessment of, the woefully inept handling of the Jerry Sandusky crisis by Penn State’s board of trustees. My most recent book contains an entire chapter detailing the board’s numerous blunders in this matter. In case you’ve forgotten, it was that crisis charging sexual molestation of at least a dozen or more children by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky that sent him to prison for 30 years – essentially a life sentence given his advanced age. And one question I have been asked repeatedly, in Q&A sessions following speeches and during media interviews, is whether anything could have been done to prevent the molestation and protect innocent children. The answer is an unequivocal “Yes.”
In my professional assessment, it was Tom Corbett who put innocent children at risk, and allowed the crisis to escalate, and here’s why:
Corbett was attorney general from 2004-2011, and it was during his terms that grand juries were convened in which victimized children gave vivid and lurid testimony against Sandusky’s perversions. Grand jury proceedings are secret, but inasmuch as it was his grand jury, Corbett was well aware of the target of the probe as well as the detailed testimony.
Later, Corbett was elected governor and, as such, automatically had a permanent seat on the Penn State board. But, for the next 11 months, he kept his mouth shut on the board and chose not to say anything to the school’s leaders or warn them that they had a wolf in sheep’s clothing in their midst. Nor did he warn the folks at the Second Mile Foundation, Sandusky’s charity, from which Sandusky actively recruited victims for more than a decade. It was tantamount to Sandusky’s own farm team.
In fact, Corbett did nothing, said nothing, waved no red flags to warn the school, nor whispered any warnings in anyone’s ear, that kids were being sexually violated. He knew the risks of having a footloose Sandusky out there preying on innocent kids, but never blew a warning whistle. Ever. To anyone.
Not to mince words, but since Sandusky was active right up until the time he was arrested, an unknown number of young innocent children, from 2004 through November 2011, were sexually molested, all while Corbett had the power to stop him.
In his explanation, Corbett falls on the sanctity of the grand jury sword, claiming he was legally obligated to remain quiet. Hogwash. He had a higher moral obligation to prevent more children from falling victim to a monster.
According to reliable timelines prepared by legal experts and subsequent testimony, Sandusky was sexually “active” with children at least from 2001 (when another football assistant saw him in the shower with a 10-year old boy) until 2011, when he was arrested. (There also was an earlier incident reported to authorities in 1998, but that was investigated and dismissed).
So, using 10 years as a conservative consensus of the length of time Sandusky sexually preyed on innocent children, for the last seven years of Sandusky’s molestation spree, Tom Corbett was in a unique position, first as attorney general and then as governor and Penn State board member, to have detailed knowledge of it all, but did absolutely nothing to prevent it from continuing.
This is unconscionable.
Most states have laws on the books obligating attorneys, psychologists and psychiatrists and the like to warn potential crime victims if they know someone is likely to cause harm to another person. In California, where I now live and work, it is called the “Tarasoff Decision,” named for a murder victim in the 1970s. A psychotherapist was told by a patient that he intended to kill Tatiana Tarasoff, but the therapist took no action because, he lamely argued, Tarasoff was not his patient. In a landmark ruling at the time, the courts ruled that therapists have a duty “to protect and to warn” potential victims.
But, does a politician have the same legal obligation?
I confess not knowing Pennsylvania case law. But to me, the bigger question is one of morality, not legality. In short, there is a moral obligation to take steps to warn and protect likely victims, especially children who are powerless to protect themselves.
What does it say about a man’s character if he knows young children are at imminent risk to be sexually molested and he does nothing to protect them – nothing at all for more than seven years.
I don’t know about you, but I think it speaks volumes.