Who Are The Victims?

The student riots in Happy Valley following the firing of Joe Paterno must give us pause. To be sure, the media love to blow these things out of proportion to help their ratings, and it would be a mistake to think the entire campus of thousands of students is in an uproar at the firing of their favorite. So let’s say there are a few dozen at the heart of this sad event with a few hundred curious hangers-on who just want to see what’s going on — and maybe get their face on TV. Most of the students, we must assume, are attending classes, studying, or planning the next party. But what on earth were the idiots thinking who sent threatening letters to Coach McQueary whose only fault in this saga, we are told, was to report to Coach Paterno that he saw Sandusky molesting a young boy in the showers? It would be ironic if it is the same twisted sense of loyalty to a favorite that kept Paterno from bringing the whole mess into the open when he had the chance out of a sense of loyalty to his favorite assistant coach. That is, these idiots who single out for abuse the man with a conscience  have the same moral blindness that their hero exhibited toward a favorite assistant coach.

But let’s stand back and consider what’s going on here.  A man, Sandusky, was let go because he was allegedly guilty of molesting young boys. A fellow coach, McQueary, sees the event and reports it to his superior, Joe Paterno. Paterno then goes to his Athletics Director and reports the event in vague terms (from what we hear). But then nothing happens. Paterno’s moral blunder stems from his position of power at Penn State which gives him the ability to move mountains, yet he says nothing more. The event becomes known to the public at large and he is eventually fired for failure to do the right thing, which is the only thing the University could do in the circumstances. And then students riot over what they perceive to be an injustice, or, perhaps, simply because they are bored. Some of them write threatening notes to McQueary which forces the University to allow McQueary a leave of absence to avoid further violence. There are numerous victims in this sad affair, but the real victims who are doubtlessly suffering from untold trauma, to wit, those young boys who were molested, are being forgotten.

2 thoughts on “Who Are The Victims?

  1. There are a lot of moral lessons to be learned here, aren’t there? And it’s not perfeclty clear what they are.

    Let’s ask about the moral responsibility one has when, as is said to have happened, someone comes upon a child being raped. The question requires one to narrow the case down. It is not a case of a moral obligation to prevent another from committing a crime, or from stopping the commission of a crime that’s in progress. There is no such obligation. Nor is it a case of an obligation to prevent others from being harmed. Were there, one would be obliged to work to stop most wars.
    But there is a difference between preventing harm’s happening far away and preventing is happening in one’s own home or school or workplace, say. One would be guilty, I would argue, for knowing harm was being done, being able to do something about it (even if only raising awareness of it), and not doing it.
    What, now, if one is present when the harm is being done? And could do something about it, even if only yell foul. Isn’t one then complicit in the harmful act? If the act is morally wrong, as rape is, then one is wrong in being complicit in its commission.

    I am saying that if we stand back and allow it to happen, we are being complicit in the act. The sheer fact that we are witness to it involves us, and we can’t beg off on the ground that we weren’t really part of it. I think that that is what being witness comes to – we are part of it and pur presence makes a difference, to us as well as to the participants.

  2. I don’t understand your comment that :”there is no such obligation” to interfere when one comes upon a child being raped. If one has the knowledge that it is occurring and has the power to stop it, it would appear to be a paradigm case of moral responsibility. I don’t see the parallel with the responsibility to “stop most wars,” either. I would argue that most wars cannot be justified, but our ability to stop them is highly doubtful, though there may well be a responsibility to TRY to stop them, as you suggest.

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