The child sex-abuse accusations against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky are staggering and yet familiar.
Mr. Sandusky, the founder of the Second Mile charity for troubled boys, generously brought them to football games and treated them to food, clothes and gifts, eight men told a grand jury. He also fondled them or exposed himself or had sex with them, they testified.
One might think it would be easy to prosecute such accusations made by men, now in their late teens or 20s, who tell remarkably similar stories. But federal data show that less than half of suspects in child sex-abuse cases are brought to trial, mostly because no crime can be proved against them.
“It’s really tough” to get justice on child sexual abuse, said Bill Murray, a Los Angeles community activist who leads the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.
First of all, “only one in 10 kids ever tell,” said Mr. Murray, 59, who only recently began explaining fully about how, beginning at age 11 in the mid-1960s, he was molested for several years by a camp counselor, and later by priests and leaders at an all-male Catholic school.
“One of the hallmarks of what happens to most of us is we don’t want to remember it. We don’t want to admit it. We don’t want to talk about it. We’re ashamed. We feel guilt. We feel somehow it was our fault,” said Mr. Murray, who once used drugs and alcohol to obliterate the memories of abuse.
Once people realize that, as children, they can’t be blamed for these abuses, they finally can get into recovery and tell their stories for the first time. “But this can take decades. Decades,” said Mr. Murray, who discusses these issues on blogtalkradio.com.
“I was molested as a boy, and I know a lot of men that have been molested as boys, and they don’t want to talk about it for a variety of reasons,” said retired lawyer Mark Douglass, who in 1988 sued and won a $1.27 million civil judgment against a family friend who molested him for more than a decade.
A primary reason for staying silent is fear of “being branded gay,” Mr. Douglass said.
But there are other reasons: If a boy cooperated with the molester in any way, or felt any sexual pleasure during the abuse, or stole money or committed other illegal acts with the molester, or if the molester threatened him - these things can keep men “very, very quiet for years.”
“My perp used to say, ‘I never get mad. I get even’ ” and “I know someone who, for $500, will kill somebody at my direction and there will never be any trail leading back to me,” said Mr. Douglass, who told his story in a book, “Flashbacks of Abuse.”
Even if a victim finds the courage to speak up, it is often too late to file a criminal or civil lawsuit on the abuse because of statutes of limitations.
The only reason Mr. Douglass could sue his molester was because “at a family dinner, he jokingly said, ‘I know so much about Mark, I could easily blackmail him.’ And he looked across the table at me.”
“I was a young lawyer at the time, and I realized, ‘You son of a gun, you’re doing that right now: You’re blackmailing me,’ ” said Mr. Douglass, who was in his mid-30s and married.
“I realized he could pick up the phone at any point and have me disbarred … so I sued within [the time limit of] the blackmail statute,” he said, adding that, because of the molester’s ability to hide his financial assets, “I never collected a dime.”
In 2006, 3,661 people were referred to U.S. attorneys on child sex-exploitation charges, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report.
Of these suspects, almost 6 in 10 were prosecuted (up from 4 in 10 in 1994) and of these defendants, 9 in 10 were convicted and sentenced (up from 8 in 10 in 1994), the agency said.
However, the bulk of the 2006 prosecutions involved child pornography, not child sex abuse.
Moreover, less than half - 46 percent - of child sex-abuse suspects were prosecuted. Why were hundreds of child sex-abuse suspects let go? “Weak or inadmissible evidence” was the top reason, followed by “lack of evidence” that a crime was even committed, the Bureau of Justice Statistics report said.
Mr. Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, has taken that line of attack against the charges, announced in November with Mr. Sandusky’s arrest on charges of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corruption of minors, endangering the welfare of a child, indecent assault and unlawful contact with a minor.
Mr. Sandusky, 68, has pleaded not guilty and is confined to his home on $250,000 bail, pending a June trial.
In a court hearing Thursday before Pennsylvania criminal court Judge John Cleland, Mr. Amendola issued - and then withdrew - a request to dismiss all 52 charges against Mr. Sandusky. But in his pre-trial motion, Mr. Amendola argued that without the exact ages of the victims, and exact dates, times and locations of the purported abuse, no one can tell whether the statute of limitations has expired.
Moreover, not only are the accusations against Mr. Sandusky “so general and non-specific that the defendant cannot adequately prepare a defense to those charges,” two of the 10 victims remain unidentified, Mr. Amendola said.
Judge Cleland declined to dismiss the charges against Mr. Sandusky, but agreed that “the whole proceeding is somewhat complicated and in flux,” and it “would be premature to decide what can and cannot be prosecuted.”
Bob Flores, former deputy chief of the Justice Department’s child exploitation and obscenity section, said that, in general, cases against serial child molesters have to be built carefully. The most credible witnesses have to be identified, and the clearest corroborating evidence has to be found on the most provable counts, he said.
However, he said, “I would not expect an overly difficult challenge to the prosecution” in Mr. Sandusky’s case.
This case appears to involve much misconduct over a long period of time that “fits so well within the established profiles of an active predator,” said Mr. Flores, who today runs Hampton Road Strategies and consults on sexual risk-management issues.
If the prosecutors make their case, “it will be difficult, I think, for him to get the benefit of the doubt from a jury,” he said.