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The Horrifying Truth of the Freeh Report

The grand jury report was hard to read. This was worse. I’ve now read almost all of the report prepared by former FBI Louis Freeh and the team that investigated Penn State’s handling of allegations regarding convicted child rapist Jerry Sandusky. And while the grand jury report that led to Sandusky’s arrest and prosecution contained horrifying descriptions of the recruitment, grooming, and sexual abuse—including rape—of vulnerable young boys, the Freeh report described something even more troubling. Because what Freeh outlines in terse prose that is fairly trembling in anger is the indifference and inaction by extremely powerful men in order to protect a child rapist. 

I thought I had maxed-out on outrage and anger when it came to the Sandusky case. But Freeh’s 267-page report is filled with reminders of how thoughtlessly the men in charge dealt with allegations that one of their own was doing very bad things to children. Take this email from former Penn State president Graham Spanier after an assistant coach saw Sandusky raping a young boy in the school showers in 2001: “…only downside for us is if the message isn’t ‘heard’ [by Sandusky] and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road. The approach you outline is humane and a reasonable way to proceed.” [emphasis mine]

That “approach” was to give Sandusky the faintest slap on the wrist, telling him that the director of his charity would be notified that he had engaged in behavior with a child that made people uncomfortable. Sandusky was also told he should no longer bring boys to the school’s athletic facilities—a prohibition that does not appear to have been enforced and one which Sandusky immediately downgraded as only applying to locker rooms. Spanier, athletic director Tim Curley, head coach Joe Paterno, and vice president Gary Schultz had already rejected the idea of informing the Department of Public Welfare about the allegation.

This feeble response to an allegation of child rape came three years after an earlier investigation into Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior with another boy in the showers. And yet the only “downside” to continuing to do nothing about Sandusky’s criminal behavior was that school officials might be liable if the allegation got out. Not that other boys could be—and, in fact, were—raped and abused by Sandusky in the future.

Freeh points his finger at these powerful men of Penn State not just for failing to deal with the incidents they knew about, but for not understanding or not caring about the nature of child sex abuse. Even after Sandusky officially left the football coaching staff—and it’s still unclear whether his departure was voluntary or forced—these same men allowed him to maintain access to campus facilities and football activities, often bringing boys with him. Those privileges, Freeh notes, were the “currency” that Sandusky used to recruit his victims, to lower their guards, to groom them for abuse and to buy their silence.

These men did not want to know. But they knew.

Paterno told the grand jury that he remembered one of his assistant coaches coming to him in 2001 to report seeing Sandusky “fondling, whatever you might call it—I’m not sure what the term would be—a young boy” in the locker room showers. The term is rape. Child rape.