Jerry Sandusky will spend the unholy remains of his existence rotting in jail and/or Hell, although there is probably no discernable difference between those two things for a pedophile. Last week’s sentencing can’t quite feel like justice, given the damage done to the lives of the innocent, so instead we’ll have to settle for something closer to vengeance, which will do. Guilty of 45 counts of sex abuse against children, his crimes are so evil, so impossible to understand, so confounding to everything from science to the priesthood, that our solution is to throw his sickness in a dark, closed place and just wait for it to please die.
The worst place in the entire world to put a pedophile?
The second worst place in the entire world to put a pedophile?
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A sick man
There is no moderate, understanding world between those two extremes, so rabid hostility engulfs pedophiles like Sandusky, who was at the center of the biggest scandal to ever hit American sports. We want him to die in jail, painfully preferably, to suffer for the horror he caused, to be tortured as he tortured, and so we call him a disgusting monster. “So sick,” we say, but if it is indeed a literal sickness, a mental illness, a psychiatric disorder, it is a sickness America seems to treat by yelling at it.
There is such a stigma associated with being attracted to children, understandably, that no pedophile would feel comfortable admitting a not-acted-upon urge to even a mental-health therapist, so the lonely shame tends to remain a dormant secret without treatment right up until it makes its way out into the light to our horror, whereupon we lock it back up in the dark. The problem with this routine is rinse-repeat obvious. The solution? Non-existent.
There is no known cure for whatever afflicts Sandusky. And, given how many sex offenders are jailed for everything from child porn to molestation, we don’t have much of a deterrent, either, not even with pedophiles living the worst prison existence known to man (rivaled only by snitches). White supremacist Joseph Druce planned for months and then murdered a defrocked priest, Father John Geoghan, as a “prize” in prison. Sandusky runs the risk of being beaten, tortured and murdered the rest of his life. Good, we say. And the world is indeed a better place without him. But this existence doesn’t seem to deter the next child molester any more than the news of Father Geoghan’s murder deterred Sandusky.
No one chooses to be attracted to children. How can that be a choice? Why would anyone choose that, given the consequences? Pedophilia seems like more of a predisposition or an orientation, linked to white matter in the brain by recent science on this subject that is new and incomplete. There are plenty of free adults walking around with a secret attraction to children, and they suppress it for the entirety of their lives without ever doing any harm to kids. In short, no one chooses to be a pedophile (the disorder associated with being attracted to children), but pedophiles do choose to be molesters. The urge itself can’t be controlled; but acting on it obviously must be.
Either way, though, it is a pretty awful existence for the pedophile, your brain wired to produce a feeling you can’t control but must suppress, and a feeling you better not share with anyone, either, because of the taboo and lack of helpful treatment. Gawker tackled this subject in a brave and thoughtful way, with an article headlined, “Born This Way: Sympathy and Science For Those Who Want To Have Sex With Children.” The author, Cord Jefferson, wrote in part, “Imagine a world in which admitting your attraction to busty women or tall men led to alienation, jail time or your murder.” It was fascinating, well-researched reading. The author, predictably, was inundated with hostility.
The rest of us are consumed with revulsion and a lack of understanding. What we aren’t consumed with is empathy or answers. Disgust doesn’t work like that. Neither does fear. How in the name of all that is holy and sane do so many priests, ostensibly doing the work of God, find themselves committing the worst crime a human can commit against children? We don’t understand. Science has attempted to do so with varied results. Absent treatment, absent understanding, absent anything except horror, our solution isn’t a solution at all: Wait until the sickness reveals itself and harms our children, and then put that sickness in a freedom-less place where it will be ravaged by our most hardened criminals.
If the limited science is right, if indeed pedophiles are less evolved and less intelligent — and we can’t know how much science does know because science hasn’t come up with a cure or even treatment — what we are essentially doing is keeping pedophiles away from our children by placing these mentally ill, less intelligent minds in a hardened criminal environment that doesn’t do much of anything to fix or treat their urges. That’s our only choice when mental illness morphs into crime against children. Hospitals are too expensive and too gentle and don’t feel like the same kind of deterrent jail does.
So the most understandable and safest place to put the mentally ill is in prison — for us.
It is also the least understanding and most unsafe place to put the mentally ill — for them.
Sandusky’s incarceration and punishment might make us feel some small, small degree of better.
What it doesn’t do is make our children any safer from the next one like him.