11/10/2011 11:30 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

What If a Mother Had Been in that Locker Room?

Now that heads have rolled at Penn State, it would be easier for the rest of us to put the whole outrage out of our minds. The grand jury presentment against Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach and supposed model citizen, is not what anyone would call recommended bedtime reading. But if you are a parent and haven't read the whole disgusting saga for yourself, you should -- and be outraged that so many children were allowed to be hurt for so long.

We've been here before, sadly; this case bears many similarities to the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church for the last decade. But reading the charges against Sandusky, it struck me anew: both this case and all the cases that came to light in the Church were perpetrated and covered up entirely by males. These scandals, in other words, were mother-free. Of course pedophiliac predators are, by and large, male; statistics tell us so. But it goes beyond that: once again, everyone who knew something, and who chose to do nothing about it, was also male.

Perhaps there is a resistance to this subject matter that was particularly male. What was happening was so shameful that the men who witnessed these acts couldn't even put them into words. And so the grad student who witnessed the actual rape of a child? He didn't call the cops; he called his dad. The janitor who witnessed yet another child being raped? Told his supervisor. That dad, that supervisor, that senior vice president, that lauded football coach -- all the men who were told -- then did nothing, and once they were called on the carpet before a grand jury, claimed they didn't really know. That they weren't really told. That it was "horsing around," or "inappropriate activity." Not "rape." Not a crime.

These decision-makers were men of a different generation, who, as we have seen over and over again, sought to save their friend and themselves from embarrassment rather than save a child. But even thirty years ago, I believe, a mother in that locker room would not have witnessed that act and walked away. A mother would have not have left without that child. A mother would have asked him his name. That's why Sandusky picked a football locker room to molest his victims -- it was the most un-female space he could find, which made it, at least for him, the safest.

True, in this case two mothers of the abused children themselves tried to report Sandusky's behavior years ago, and were rebuffed. (By men.) It's easy to judge them now, to ask why these mothers didn't do more, but it's not their fault the authorities in place failed them and their children so miserably. Times have changed; now we all know to go right to the cops if we witness child abuse, rather than expecting a diocesan council or head of university finance to bring justice. These mothers did what they knew to do. They had suspicions, not proof. They never witnessed the evil themselves. They were never interested in protecting the man at the scandal's center. They did not conspire to keep the children faceless, in order to avoid comprehending the evil they were choosing to ignore.

Now President Spanier and Joe Paterno have lost their jobs, and despite the unruly protests it provoked, I think most of us think their silence deserved punishment. But that can't change history. Sandusky was able to ruin children's lives for years because no one ever shouted "Stop!", or took names, or spoke up and didn't stop. There was no one putting the child first. There was no mother in that locker room. And so twenty-three pages of documented evil end with the incredible frustration of knowing justice can, these many years later, never fully be served:

No report was ever made by [the janitor]... [who] presently suffers from dementia, resides in a nursing home and is incompetent to testify.

Victim 8's identity is unknown.