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Crosby: Sainted coach, revered musician both master groomers of victims

Jerry Sandusky

Jerry Sandusky

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Updated: November 4, 2012 6:10AM

He was popular. Beloved. A role model. A pillar of the community who cared deeply for the kids he mentored.

Jerry Sandusky or Steve Orland? Take your pick.

Lots of readers have been comparing these two cases — especially after the Kane County state’s attorney launched an investigation into whether West Aurora School District officials should have reported an earlier incident involving Orland, the West High band director now in prison for sexually abusing two students.

No matter what the outcome of that investigation, there’s no denying the similarities. But I didn’t realize how closely the cases mirrored each other until I read a recent article from The New Yorker, that also helped me understand how Sandusky/Orland (take your pick) got away with his crimes in plain view of so many.

“When monsters roam free, we assume that people in positions of authority ought to be able to catch them if only they did their jobs. But that might be wishful thinking,” author Malcolm Gladwell wrote. “A pedophile .... is someone adept not just at preying on children but at confusing, deceiving and charming the adults responsible for those children.”

The successful pedophile, he writes, does not select targets arbitrarily. He culls them from a larger pool, testing and probing, “desensitizing the child with an ever-expanding touch,” until he finds the most vulnerable.

Sandusky and Orland were known for hugging and kissing their charges. But they managed to ingrain themselves so tightly into the community, even those bothered by the inappropriate behavior shrugged off their suspicions because “that’s just the way” Sandusky/Orland (take your pick) was.

In Sandusky’s case, he was a sainted coach who devoted his life to mentoring at-risk kids; Orland, an iconic band director who devoted his life to mentoring talented musicians. Saint. Icon. Friend to all.

Unfortunately, pedophiles are in the business of being likeable, Gladwell points out. So even when the really creepy stuff was noticed — Sandusky’s showers with kids; Orland’s hotel room antics — witnesses stayed silent.

Even those who came forward were hesitant in initial reports. The mother who reported her suspicions about Sandusky wondered if she was overreacting; and Mike McQueary, the former Penn State quarterback, wasn’t sure what he saw in the shower. Likewise, custodian Leon Smith, when interviewed twice by West Aurora High School Principal Dan Bridges, wavered on whether he saw physical contact in the band room that summer day in 2010.

In both cases, officials threw these disturbing incidents into that “did not rise to the level of sexual abuse” area.

At Penn State, a counselor suggested someone talk to Sandusky about how to “stay out of such gray area situations in the future.” At West, Superintendent Jim Rydland warned Orland his behavior “could give the impression/perception of inappropriate conduct even when none had occurred.”

But witnesses eventually grew more adamant about what they saw. McQueary testified he saw Sandusky rape the boy in the shower. Smith was vehement he saw Orland “up on (the student)” when questioned by the media a year later.

If nothing else, all these similarities point to the need for a paradigm shift in the way we understand sex abusers to keep these scandals from reoccurring. And that shift, sadly, will affect even the most innocent of relationships between kids and the adults who teach, coach or mentor them.

For those who work in our schools, that’s particularly troublesome. It means a more cautious, hands-off approach. It means a teacher’s goal can’t be to foster a best friend relationship or be a substitute parent, no matter how much that student needs it. West teachers have voiced their complaints about being watched so closely in the wake of this messy Orland stuff that they now feel under a constant umbrella of suspicion. And that truly is a shame.

Pedophiles and sex abusers end up harming all of us in ways big and small. They are so good at building our trust, it seems we can no longer trust anyone. It’s the price we pay to keep our kids safe.

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