What the Freeh Report Does—and Does Not—Tell Us About Child Sexual Abuse at Penn State

By Marci A. Hamilton (Justia.com)
July 12, 2012

Louis Freeh, a former head of the FBI, is a model of integrity and the perfect person for Penn State to have chosen to conduct its internal investigation of allegations involving serial child predator Jerry Sandusky, and involving the men in power at Penn State who failed to protect children from Sandusky even after they should have know he was a threat. The 162-page (267 pages with Appendices) Freeh Report, released yesterday, July 12, pins blame on Penn State former President Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, Athletic Director Tim Curley, and legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

As Freeh noted at his press conference and repeatedly in the Report, these four men put the image of Penn State and Penn State football ahead of the safety of children. They were callous, reckless, and wrong.

In the words of the Report, “In order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at the university—Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley—repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky’s child abuse.” We have heard this song before in the Roman Catholic Church, among other institutions. Just the names have changed.

The Freeh Report Rightly Places a Share of Blame Upon Paterno—as Well as on Spanier, Schultz, and Curley

Anyone who wants to continue romanticizing Paterno’s role must stop now: According to Freeh, Paterno “was an integral part of this active decision to conceal.”

With such a finding now having been made by such an unimpeachable investigator, Penn Staters like myself must learn to live with what Catholics have been dealing with for the last decade: the realization that the men we have idolized are just humans after all. Let’s face it: humans must be held to account for their mistakes.

The Penn State culture and these four men in particular, the Freeh Report concludes, “empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access.” The Penn State football culture and these men “provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims.”

Beyond pointing an accusatory finger at these four men, the Freeh Report roundly condemns the insular environment of the Penn State football program, and of the University, which led them to be unaccountable when it came to addressing basic safety concerns regarding children. This is the same pattern that we have seen repeatedly in institutions dealing with child sex abuse. When the institution at issue is so self-referential that it keeps its own secrets in order to protect its external image, the vulnerable get swept aside. Whether those in power are too busy or too self-important, they let themselves act in an inhumane fashion. The same pattern was most recently identified in Brooklyn, New York, where even the District Attorney had allegedly cooperated for years to keep the identities of child abusers in the insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community secret. Institutions exist to perpetuate themselves, and insularity sends that instinct into hyperdrive.

The Freeh Report on Penn State is a blockbuster, but it is also just the beginning of the journey to justice for the victims of Penn State’s, Second Mile’s, and Sandusky’s criminal behavior. No one should take the Freeh Report as the last word, because a criminal trial against Schultz and Curley (and perhaps even Spanier, as well) will be held later this year. (Paterno, as readers may recall, passed away before criminal charges could be filed.) The criminal justice system will provide even more information on, and even more transparency with respect to, these men in power and this institution. And then there will be the long trail of civil lawsuits that will doubtless be filed by the many survivors of this conspiracy to endanger children.

The Freeh Report’s Recommendations

For the full recommendations of the Freeh Report, readers may want to look at Chapter 10 of the Report, which begins on page 127. Here are the recommendations, in summary:

The Freeh Report states that the Counsel, meaning Freeh himself, gave the PSU Board of Trustees about 15 recommendations, back in January of this year, which have already been at least partially implemented. Those recommendations are designated by asterisk in the Report.

Then, yesterday, Wednesday July 12, the Counsel put forth approximately 120 additional recommendations, issuing them along with the full Report. The recommendations are broken down into eight broad categories: (1) Penn State Culture; (2) Administration and General Counsel: Policies and Procedures; (3) Board of Trustees: Responsibilities and Operations; (4) Compliance: Risk and Reporting Misconduct; (5) Athletic Department: Integration and Compliance; (6) University Police Department: Oversight, Policy and Procedures; (7) Management of University Programs for Children and Access to University Facilities; (8) Monitoring Change and Measuring Improvement.

The Recommendations are addressed to Mr. Freeh’s client: Penn State. They lack the kind of larger picture that is provided by, for example, the 2005 Grand Jury Report

documenting the coverup of child sex abuse by the Philadelphia Archdiocese, which I have discussed in this prior column. In that Report, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office suggested a series of legal reforms for the protection of children. The Freeh Report regarding Penn State, in contrast, does not take that step.

This omission—which is somewhat surprising given Louis Freeh’s former position as Director of the FBI—is a reminder that this was a report paid for by a singular client, and not a broad-ranging inquiry by an office accountable primarily to the public. Thus, no one should ever take the Freeh Report as the final word on what must be done to protect children across society, or even, arguably, at Penn State.

The Narrow Scope of the Freeh Report: We Do Well to Remember That It Was Commissioned by Penn State, and That It Only Covers Certain Years of Sandusky’s Abuse

As scathing as the Freeh Report is, its scope is also relatively narrow. It is limited to the years that the public already knew about: 1998 to the present. The grand jury report that led to the trial of Sandusky, at which he was convicted on 45 of 48 charges for child sex abuse, covered these years alone. But we know from both the Sandusky grand jury report and the evidence that came out at trial that the elements of Sandusky’s victimization of children were in place well before 1998.

Sandusky started coaching at Penn State in 1969. His charity, The Second Mile, from which he plucked boys who were in precarious family situations, was established in 1977. One victim after another testified at Sandusky’s trial how they had been identified through the Second Mile, and then groomed, and ultimately abused by Sandusky. Freeh knew all of this, which is confirmed in the Report. And yet the Report is conspicuously silent on the years of 1977-1997, making no findings and drawing no conclusions regarding Sandusky, and his involvement with children on campus or otherwise.

Nor is there mention in the Freeh Report of The Second Mile’s activities on the campuses of Penn State, or its involvement with the football program, from 1977 to 1995. The Report does establish that Penn State changed its policies regarding children on campus several times. In 1992, Penn State adopted a new policy regarding “minors involved in University-sponsored programs or youth programs held at the University or housed in University facilities,” which is telling. Furthermore, that new policy was revised several times, and was conspicuously revised yet again in April 2012, to include the phrase “at all geographic locations.”

Freeh also knew, through the criminal trial of Sandusky, that the modus operandi that had occurred at Penn State had continually repeated itself. Why would Freeh’s team think that Sandusky suddenly started behaving this way 30 years after he started working for Penn State? I sincerely doubt that the team did. After all, Kenneth Lanning—who was the FBI’s premier child sex abuse expert for 30 years, including when Freeh was Director—documented that abusers typically have many victims, over many years, and abuse over the course of their lives.

Moreover, Freeh also must have known, when he took on the task of researching and completing his Report, about the well-documented patterns abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, the ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jewish faith, the Boy Scouts, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—not to mention in the Fundamentalist LDS—the Citadel, Syracuse University, and many other institutions. Surely, he put two and two together to conclude that 1998 did not initiate Sandusky’s reign of abuse. Therefore, perhaps the fault for the limited scope of the report should be laid at Penn State’s feet.

In the end, the Freeh Report interprets the data available to date, and tells the story that was already emerging through the criminal justice system. It was important for that story to be told in the way that Freeh told it, bluntly and unforgivingly. But that still leaves a grave and important question to pose to Penn State, my alma mater: What happened between 1969 and 1998?

Marci A. Hamilton is a professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, and the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, which was just published in paperback with a new Preface. Her email address is This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .