I was on the phone the other day with my buddy, a Penn State alum. He is one of our nation’s “greatest generation,” having had his college career interrupted by his service in World War II. Our conversation could just as well have been about the recent/current scandal, here in Charleston, involving a Citadel graduate who has coached and taught, been a school administrator, foster parent and church youth group leader locally for the past ten years, a young man charged with multiple child sexual abuse crimes. But because of where my friend went to college, so many years ago, the tenor of our conversation had more to do with a similar scandal at his alma mater.
Except, the one question he asked me–it wasn’t what I’ve heard more of in recent days–how such a venerable institution as the Pennsylvania State University, in general, and arguably the most respected, if not idolized football coach in modern sports history, in particular, could allow such a travesty to have continued, with at least some awareness of the aberant behavior (on the part of yet another popular Penn State assistant football coach), for so long.
Rather, my friend’s question was this: “What causes someone to do something like that?” The “something” being, of course, the sexual abuse of children. As in the two cases I’ve referred to, specifically, the sexual molestation of young boys on the part of a trusted adult male mentor.
I was talking to my buddy on my cell phone, waiting in the car for my wife to come out of the grocery store. At which she did, just as he asked the question. So I told him my response would have to wait until he and I were together again. We’re both big sports fans and sometimes go to ball games together where, interestingly enough, we often talk about subjects far removed from necessarily anything athletic.
And while I’m hardly an expert at diagnosing and treating pedophiles, nor in the treatment of persons who have been sexually abused, I’ve been a mental health professional long enough to have spent considerable time with other mental health professionals who do have expertise in matters of this sort, learning from them, while also doing considerable reading on the subject and attending training sessions concerning sexual abuse with respect to both the abuser and the abused.
Here, then is what I will likely be explaining to my buddy in response to his question: “What causes someone to do something like that?” Which I’m sharing here, thinking that other laypersons (regarding mental health matters) might find such general information on such a painful subject helpful.