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Ellen Magnis

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Monsters, Bad Guys and Perps

Posted: 06/26/2012 6:42 pm

This piece was written in association with The OpEd Project.

Jerry Sandusky, "the monster," is guilty, and his victims, who have found some semblance of justice, can proceed down their path of healing. Every day, I work around detectives and other professionals who fight crimes against children, and we all routinely use the terms "bad guy" or "perp" to describe those who molest, brutalize or otherwise scar the thousands of young clients we see every year in our children's advocacy center.

Now that the national consciousness has been raised around this issue, a common question is, why do they do it? What happened to Sandusky and others like him who took the path of such cruelty? What is it about his particular brain chemistry? Was he born this way? Was he, himself, molested as a child?

Research related to the use of polygraphy in sex offender treatment was reviewed in the journal Federal Probation by researcher Jan Hindman and Assistant U.S. Attorney James Peters in 2001. They found that 67 percent of sex offenders report that they were molested as children. However, when connected to a polygraph and asked this same question, 29 percent of sex offenders report being molested as children. A 1996 Government Accountability Office report stated that "the existence of a cycle of sexual abuse was not established," and other longitudinal studies of children who experience violence do not demonstrate a "vampire" cycle. So, it is simply not the fact that once bitten, we bite.

There are no easy answers here. We don't really understand exactly why sexually deviant behavior occurs in our population. Humans are complicated beings with unique sets of brain chemistry and experiences. According to Dr. Jim Tanner, who studies sex offenders as part of his life's work, perpetrators can be blocked, angry, delusional, deviant or anti-social. Tanner says it is far easier for us to demonize someone when we don't understand their behavior. Otherwise, we have to accept that we, as human beings, have the potential do something equally vile.

Recently, I watched a documentary by Tom Shadyac called I Am, which asks the fundamental question, "What is wrong with this world?" His message is that "I am" (we are) what is wrong with this world, and "I am" (we are) also what is right with this world. The film explores the concepts of our interconnectedness as well as our individual and collective responsibility for the current state of our world as well as for improving the future state of our world. He posits, if we saw each other truly as brothers and sisters on the planet, would we distinguish ourselves so separately and most importantly, would that change how we treated each other?

I feel enormous sadness and empathy for the Sandusky Eight and the countless others who continue to suffer in silence. A common life experience now binds us as brothers and sisters in a way that only survivors understand.

I have personally walked the long, narrow road of recovery to survive childhood trauma that one therapist noted as "bordering on evil." I actively and passionately hated my perpetrator for many years until I realized that this hatred was actually causing further harm to myself. I don't know what drove him to act as he did and never will. I have no idea if he realized the suffering he caused and if he, too, suffered in some way. But at some point I stopped hating him, stopped thinking of him as evil and separate from humanity.

I am positive many people will furiously respond to what I'm about to say. I will admit that as I saw Sandusky handcuffed, I experienced just a brief moment of sadness for him as a human being. I didn't see him in that moment as "monster." I wondered -- as I know many people did -- why? Why did he hurt those young boys? What is it about his brain chemistry or life experiences that made him bring so much devastation to those children and to our world?

I am not sure I am or will ever be evolved enough to consider Jerry Sandusky my brother in a spiritual sense as Mr. Shadyac's beautiful film ponders. I do worry, however, about the negative effects of our hatred and separation if we are indeed part of a collective consciousness. I hope, as Charles Dickens did, that "real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world." I hope that we will all find ways to continue to heal ourselves, to find ways to reduce the labeling and rhetoric that works to separate us in so many ways.

 
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