You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

What Happened At Penn State Was Sadly Typical

State College erupted last night after news broke that legendary football coach Joe Paterno had been canned for failing to take stronger action when confronted with allegations that one of his assistant coaches had been molesting young boys. Furious students poured into the streets, destroying lamp posts, clashing with police, and destroying vehicles (including one overturned news van). The Study finds the students’ mayhem inexcusable—Paterno’s inaction was morally repugnant, and the university made the right move—but wonders: Was the fact that this crime went unreported all that unusual?

Data from the U.S. Department of Justice suggests that sadly, Paterno’s behavior was normal: The majority of crimes against children ages 12 to 17 (roughly the age of the victims in this case, who appear to have usually been between the ages of 10 and 13) go unreported. And even though sexual assault against juveniles is one crime that is reported at roughly the same rate for juveniles as it is for adults, the DOJ says it is nonetheless “generally underreported”—the police are informed only about 30 percent of the time. A subsequent DOJ report from 2001 noted that the incidence of sexual abuse against children seems to have declined from the ’80s, but it could only speculate why: The actual number of such crimes may have actually decreased, but the decline could also have been caused by more crimes going unreported. One wonders if the students wreaking havoc in State College will make similar excuses for these findings.