At a time when the firing of Joe Paterno and the charges against Jerry Sandusky have Penn State students and alumni torn over the university's legacy, alleged victims of Sandusky's sexual abuse are preparing civil lawsuits against PSU over the administration's failure to protect them.
This may be the most high-profile sexual abuse case ever, Benjamin Andreozzi, a Harrisburg, Pa. lawyer representing at least on of the victims said. Andreozzi broke the news to The Daily Beast that at least two legal teams were currently at work on a suit against Penn State University.
Andreozzi and the second lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous, say even more victims are likely to sue when they see they're not alone. Attorneys following the case agree. I think things are going to be fast and furious over the next weeks, said Pittsburg, Pa. lawyer Manning J. O'Connor.
Eight victims of alleged sexual predator Jerry Sandusky, former assistant coach to football legend Joe Paterno, have already been identified in a grand jury report released last week. At least one more victim is believed to have come forward since then, and the Pennsylvania Police Department reports that its phone lines, set up for victims and tips about the Sandusky scandal, have been ringing off the hook since the story broke.
Possible Federal, State Suits
Many have decried the university's silence during Sandusky's alleged period of sexual abuse, some reports of which date back as far as 1994 (for a full timeline, see this article).
If the allegations are true, Andrew Shubin, an attorney who has specialized in civil rights cases for over twenty years, said, the institution's silence, and failure to act, not only emboldened a predator, but silenced the victims.
These children, Shubin told The Daily Beast, must have believed that the institution didn't care about them, because it did nothing to protect them.
The next question is how the various civil rights lawsuits will come together, and who within Penn State University will be charged. Attorneys are likely to file a federal civil rights action, arguing that the administration violated the underage victims' 14th amendment rights. In failing to notify the authorities, the college also failed to ensure their right to bodily integrity, one of the rights listed under the Constitutional amendment.
A civil rights lawsuit, said Shubin, is a way in which victims of abusers can hold perpetrators, and those who enabled and covered for them, accountable when all other systems have failed them. In this case, the university as a whole will be sued by the defendants, and Sandusky may be sued both for his alleged abuse and for taking some victims across state lines.
It is also possible however, that a state acton may be taken, targeting individual administrators for negligence and possibly suing for monetary damages. This action could very well target Joe Paterno as well as Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
FInally, the suits may also involve Sandusky's now-infamous charity The Second Mile, an organization founded to help at-risk youth and which appears to have been a hunting ground for the alleged sexual predator for over a decade. Authorities are still trying to determine how much Second Mile administrators knew about their founder's crimes, which have culiminated in 40 charges against him, including over 20 felonies.
Will Paterno be Sued?
When the news that Sandusky, 67, had been abusing young boys for decades using his connections at Penn State and his charity foundation The Second Mile, Americans were universally horrified. As the case has come to implicate PSU higher-ups however, public reaction has been decidedly more mixed, especially following the decision by Penn State and Gov. Tom Corbett to fire longtime football coach Paterno.
Since Sandusky's arrest, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Financial Officer Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury in their grand jury testimony, when the university officials denied having been informed by a graduate student of one of the assaults that took place on the PSU campus.
Sandusky's direct boss, head coach Paterno, was not formally charged, but his alleged negligence in the Sandusky scandal, at least a part of which was known to him as far back as 2002, led to the firing that has caused some to decry his past behavior and others to rally to his defense.
PSU students took to rioting on campus last week at the news of Paterno's firing, with many protesting his absence at the university's last football game of the season (which Penn State lost to Nebraska). Some alumni, like former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, have called Penn State's decision to ditch Paterno an unfair call, and a bad decision for the university.
They're linking the football program to the scandal and, possibly, the cover-up. That's very disturbing to me, Harris said. I think there should be no more connection to the football program, only in the case that it happened at the football building with an ex-coach.
Paterno's family has likewise stood behind him. My father's desire is for the truth to be uncovered, Paterno's son Scott said in a statement before the Penn-Nebraska game, and he will work with his lawyers to that end.
Legacy of PSU: You Just Don't Get Over it.
In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for victims of sexual abuse to file a civil claim is 30 years old. Since most of the known victims are in thier mid-20s, this gives them and their legal teams time to put together a lawsuit, both against Penn State and specific officials within the university.
In the meantime, the American media continues to follow PSU's reaction to Sandusky's past and Paterno's firing, from those students and alumni calling for a house cleaning to those defiant in Paterno's defense.
Americans in general, whether longtime PSU sports fans or readers just learning Sandusky's and Paterno's names, remain torn on whether the head coach should face punishment for his perceived negligence in protecting the victims. But for those who question whether such a case has bearing on Penn State's legacy, especially when (as some argue) it happened off campus or many years ago, those who've represented sex abuse victims have only one answer.
Very few people come out unfazed by something like this, Alan Perer, a Pittsburgh attorney who represented dozens of victims in the Catholic archdiocese scandal, said. It [the trauma of the abuse] goes on for the rest of your life. You just don't get over it.