Scaringe, Sandusky, Lynn: What they teach us about ourselves

This week, the national and the regional aligned in painful ways when Michael Scaringe, 63, was convicted of of raping a 13-year-old girl in Saranac Lake, while working there are a y0uth center director.

In quick succession, we also learned about the conviction of Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky, who made a career of predating on young boys, luring them into youth programs, cultivating their loyalty, lulling their parents into complacency.

And then there was Monsignor William Lee, the highly placed Roman Catholic official in Philadelphia, convicted of child endangerment and conspiracy for covering up the vicious attacks on children by priests under his jurisdiction.

So what is it that unifies all these cases?  People in positions of authority knew that children were being brutalized and wrecked, but they failed to notify police or prosecutors.

Those acts of cowardice opened the door for far more kids to be raped.

Chris Knight reported for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise that school officials in Tupper Lake — where Scaringe was a teacher — knew as early as the 1970s that there were grave suspicions about sexual assaults on students in the district.

It turns out those suspicions were correct.  At least four women have come forward to offer accounts of Scaringe manipulating them, while still children, into acts of oral sex and intercourse.

School officials knew of at least one case.  Rather than call police, the school quietly let Scaringe go.

“We confirmed with a school board member that they were advised of this and that was the reason why Mr. Scaringe’s contract was not renewed,” Franklin County District Attorney Derek Champagne told the Enterprise.

“Why wasn’t it reported to law enforcement? If it was, why wasn’t anything done? How was this person, who clearly inflicted a lot of damage in our community, essentially just allowed to leave town?

“If today this type of information came forward, we would have convened a grand jury investigation. That’s what’s most disheartening and most troubling about this prosecution is how many other victims are out there beside the five that came forward, and how was this not stopped 30 years ago? What kind of trail of devastation has he left between here and Florida in the last 30 years?”

It turns out witnesses also saw Jerry Sandusky raping boys — saw him, in the shower with a child — as early as 2001 and failed to notify authorities.  And Msr. Lee not only failed to call the cops.  He worked actively to deceive law enforcement.

In journalism, one of the key things we look for is motivation.  If someone does something extraordinary, you have to ask “Why?”  Why didn’t people speak up about these predators.

In this case, the answer seems clear and it’s pretty devastating.

For too long, a wide variety of leaders and people of influence in our society have put the welfare of their organizations, the reputation of their institutions, above the safety of kids.

It’s easier, less controversial, to simply let a guy like Scaringe go, rather than entangling an entire school district and several local families in a painful prosecution.

It’s easier to look the other way, as coaches at the University of Pennsylvania did, rather than bring ignominy upon a legendary sports program.

It’s easier to hide predatory priests, and to blur accountability, as Monsignor Lee did, rather than confront a terrifying pattern of criminal and rapacious behavior.

There are lessons here both public and private.

The public lesson is that we need a debate over the laws that require all institutions and all people in authority to report suspicions of child endangerment to police immediately.

Are there gray zones in those laws?  Are the punishments for failing to disclose vital information in a timely way severe enough?

Penalties need to have enough teeth that organizations, and not just individuals, feel the bite for putting their own interests above the welfare of kids.

The private lesson, sadly, is that parents have to be extraordinarily vigilant.  The truth is that you probably won’t recognize a predator.  And you can’t always trust even the most well-established institutions to have proper safeguards.

So ask questions.  Set proper limits on the amount of time your kid spends with any grown-up.  Monitor the kinds of situations that might offer an opportunity for predatory behavior.

Above all else, speak up.  If you suspect something, don’t try to sort it out yourself.  Call the police.   You might save your child incredible trauma.  You might also break a pattern of viciousness that puts far more kids at risk.

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29 Comments on “Scaringe, Sandusky, Lynn: What they teach us about ourselves”

  1. Larry says:

    Most disturbing is the knowledge that these institutions of learning and religion were complicit in the abuse.

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  2. mervel says:

    This is a very important Brian is making.

    These cases are all tied together with people not wanting to hear about it and protect their institutions.

    But I think some important points came out in the trails warning signs and red flags. It is never normal for adults to want children of any age to sleep over at their homes, it is never normal to shower with children, ever, it is not normal to seek to always be alone with children as an adult, never let adults who are not related to children give them gifts and so forth. We can make our kids safer by following our instincts and calling the police, no one ever wants to call the police, but that is the best way.

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  3. mervel says:

    Also background checks are a good thing institutions have a responsibility to ensure who they are hiring to be around kids is safe to be around them.

    If you child is involved in any youth effort, camps, volunteer church youth gatherings, etc, ask what type of background checks have been done on all of the staff AND volunteers who are going to be around your child.

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  4. myown says:

    “The public lesson is that we need a debate over the laws that require all institutions and all people in authority to report suspicions of child endangerment to police immediately.”

    Yes, isn’t it ironic that the NYS Legislature just passed a law making it a crime to view child pornography on the internet yet it apparently is not a crime when an individual or institution fails to report their knowledge of a material child sex abuse situation occurring locally.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    Not absolving anyone of anything and fully realizing there are instances of cover-ups, the counter reality is that people are often uncertain of what they saw or heard.This problem is often exacerbated when your information is second hand.
    Unless someone has an ax to grind with someone, they are hesitant to accuse someone of something when they themselves are not certain. Making a false charge is slander. And the risk rapidly rises if the supposed victim doesn’t step forward with the charge.
    When you consider even adults who have been molested or abused are hesitant to charge the offender, it is not surprising the young and especially the very young are hesitant to come forward.
    Why? Simply because charging someone with rape or molestation often results in twice being a victim. Passing more laws will not change this reality.

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  6. mervel says:

    The first step is that we believe the victims. There is a myth out there that kids often lie about this, the facts are that they RARELY lie about being abused. We have to listen to our children and believe them, even if they are telling us something we really wish was not true. These are not easy things, no one ones to hear that their grandfather is molesting their child or that the beloved coach is molesting or the beloved priest and so forth, it is easier to not believe the victim.

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  7. Larry says:

    What we need is not more laws but more vigorous enforcement of the ones we already have. Why have bishops whose dioceses concealed multiple cases of sexual abuse of children over long periods of time (often involving repeat offenders) not been arrested and charged as the leaders of criminal organizations? The same is true of school districts, universities and any other organization that promotes, conceals or otherwise encourages the sexual exploitation of children. Civil remedies are certainly appropriate but imagine the outcry if the head of a drug cartel or car theft ring was allowed to continue operations after only paying civil damages.

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  8. mervel says:

    The key is keeping children safe now.

    These cases are very hard to prove; and particularly when they are old. If the victims are believed and if safe guards are in place now we can really prevent a lot of children, awareness is really important. Watch for the red flags and follow your instincts.

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  9. Brian Mann says:

    Pete –

    I think your point is interesting, but I think my conclusion is slightly different. Because people are often uncertain, nervous, socially awkward in these situations, the best option is ALWAYS to notify authorities and let them sort it out. Don’t try to second guess yourself or think about the social consequences. The police and prosecutors have plenty of fail-safes built into the system to do that professionally. If it turns out that this was a case of misplaces suspicion, the system will (99% of the time) resolve that quickly.

    The far bigger problem is that too many people are self-censoring, either because of these social concerns, or to protect their institutions. And I do think it’s worth debating whether or not stricter laws are needed to “encourage” potential witnesses to come forward.

    I think some people would be more comfortable being able to say, “Look, I just didn’t have a choice. The law says ‘If you have a suspicion about a a child’s welfare being at risk, you HAVE to report it.’ So I had to make the phone call.'”

    –Brian, NCPR

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  10. Pete Klein says:

    I totally agree but with one stipulation. Go to the police, not the school or the church or whatever.
    I would say this to both the victims and anyone who is concerned something wrong (criminal) might have taken place.

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  11. Ellen Rocco says:

    Sadly, one of the common ways abuse is covered up and, as a result, passed on–sometimes for decades–is the “let’s just not renew his contract” tactic. But it often goes one step further–when the next place of employment calls for a reference, nothing is mentioned of the problem. The first institution just wants to be rid of the suspected abuser.

    This happens in school districts, in churches, in Boy Scout troops…Sometimes the problem is passed on because the employer doesn’t want to invest the time and expense in pursuing a prosecution. Sometimes the problem is passed on because of uncertainty about the behavior.

    I completely agree with Brian: even if there’s doubt, let law enforcement handle it. That’s what our justice system is all about: sorting out illegal behavior beyond reasonable doubt.

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  12. Ken Hall says:

    Brian says: “People in positions of authority knew that children were being brutalized and wrecked, but they failed to notify police or prosecutors.”

    People in “authority”. I believe you have hit the nail on the head; however, not the nail you were aiming at. The perpetrators ARE people of authority. The military has an acronym for this propensity, RHIP (Rank Has It’s Privileges), although those with rank would never admit to the dark side of this acronym talk to low ranking women and men in the military about it. It is estimated variously that 5-15% of humans exhibit psychopathic personality traits so one would expect that distribution throughout all walks of life. It is highly likely that the more psychopathic are responsible for the more heinous acts. Preying upon young children induces a greater reaction among those of us who consider ourselves “normal”; however, the tendency to overlook same when such is foisted upon teens is quite prevalent; as in “they were asking for it”. How about a few names of power from the past to mull over: J. Edgar, Ike, JFK, Teddy, Martin Luther, H. Hughes, Polanski, Clinton, , ,. Psychopaths or simply men of power exercising what they considered their rightful use of RHIP?

    “In journalism, one of the key things we look for is motivation. If someone does something extraordinary, you have to ask “Why?”

    What if the motivation is a psychopathic disorder which lends the perpetrator an air of “what is the big deal?” “nothing extraordinary here, just doing what comes natural”. Much has been made of late about the apparent psychopathic personalities inhabiting the upper environs of the corporate world. Anyone willing to join me in my conviction that these men (predominantly) do whatever they want with whomever they want, whenever they want? Anyone think it would be easy to take one of them down? How about just your local low level sleaze bag supervisor/boss who holds your employment, or not, in his hot little hands. NCPR aired a program about just such a tyrant at least twice, that I heard it. He was taken down after many years of terrorizing activities.

    “people of influence in our society have put the welfare of their organizations, the reputation of their institutions, above the safety of kids”

    Perhaps some of these people of influence have a few skeletons in their own closets that they wish to not allow into the light of day. Most are likely simply intimidated by the person/s suspected.

    “The truth is that you probably won’t recognize a predator”

    This nail you hit squarely upon the head and drove it home. Back in the early 80’s I was working at Plattsburgh AFB as engineering liaison representing AFLC management for FB-111A flight simulator modifications. One day I arrived at work and the simulator shop was abuzz. Had I heard about so and so; “no”. So and so was an onsite contractor representative for the company that had designed and built the simulators for the USAF. He had up and fled the local area; scuttle butt had him cloistering himself in his home state of Texas to avoid arrest in Vermont. He lived in Vermont and rode the ferry forth and back every day he also was apparently involved with a child porn ring headed up by, as I recall, a school principal. I knew so and so at work, had no social interactions; who’d a thunk? I attempted to find news stories about the incident via the minions at Google to no avail. I did run across an astounding assortment of articles about child porn in Vermont! One from last month was titled “Sheriffs Sergent accused in Child porn case resigns” turned out this was actually in Wisconsin. No indication that he was arrested.

    I hate to do it but now we all must look in the mirror. How many folks out there shop at the big box stores? The stores that have virtually everything at rock bottom prices. How can they do this? Child exploitation!, not here so much; but, over there where everything they sell comes from, here it is mostly the 20 somethings and the old folks. Unashamedly they will deny doing such. Have you noticed what big money and power does to me? If you think I am going to name such a company so they can hunt me down and drag me off to court you are sadly mistaken. Similar to the situation I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back concerning running to the police to turn in your low level supervisor or even worse his higher level supervisors.

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  13. mervel says:

    How do we handle these cases? I think that is a valid question. Paterno died, but he knew that Sandusky was molesting kids or had a reason to know and he was the only guy with the true power to do anything about it. His name will never be the same.

    The same goes for this Monsignor that was convicted, he knew and didn’t do enough and now he faces prison and for good reason.

    How about the board of directors who hired the rapist in Saranac Lake? What did they know and what did they ignore?

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  14. mervel says:

    Have their names been made public?

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  15. Pete Klein says:

    The only authority worth going to is the police.

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  16. Larry says:

    Absolutely correct, Pete Klein. It continues to astound me that leadership does not do exactly that. If the accused is innocent it will soon be found out and the rumors, etc. stopped. If guilty, justice can’t come quickly enough.

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  17. mervel says:

    Is it criminal not to go to the police? For example the guy above, the school district back in the 70’s knew and had victim’s complaining about him, instead of going to the police they just quickly got him out of town; should they now be held criminally liable?

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  18. erb says:

    Very unsettling, the parallels between Scaringe and Sandusky. And a recent article in Slate credibly impugned a childhood hero of mine, Fr. Drinan, the Jesuit antiwar congressman from my home district in MA. In this case, he allegedly groped a young woman, not a child, in a car after a political event.

    The best way to keep children safe is to raise strong, self-assured kids who walk away from the creepy guy in the car and who tell authorities about things that seem wrong to them. I don’t mean lots of “stranger-danger” lectures. Kids need parents who pay attention, who don’t ignore moodiness and write it off as growing pains, who are honest with their kids without making them fearful.

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  19. Larry says:

    Any person who uses a position of authority or guidance over children to abuse them must be immediately reported to the police or district attorney by the management of the school, church, etc., that gave them the position of authority or guidance. Anything else, in my opinion, is criminal behavior. If the manager of a bank, for example, learns that a teller may be stealing from customers, is it not a crime to conceal that information or not report it?

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  20. mervel says:

    What if it is just a rumor?

    This is hard stuff. In the case above, we have confirmation that the school board and administration had a concrete accusation by a victim, should they now be held criminally accountable? Also what kind of reference did they give him? How was he hired at the Youth Center as Director given this background right here in the region? What was their responsibility in checking him out before hiring him to work with kids?

    These cases are usually easier when you don’t know the people involved, but when we have a local case we see how hard some of this is.

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  21. Remember that whenever one of these “pillars of the community” is accused, both the accuser and the media who reports on it are often treated as traitors who are just trying to drag the good name of the town/pillar into disrepute. Classic shoot the messenger behavior. Everyone hates child rapists but no one likes the media attention the town gets when one is brought to justice. We’ve met the enemy and it is us.

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  22. mervel says:

    I agree Brian.

    It is simply not that easy, but it must be done. I just don’t think we should fool ourselves about how simple it is to just call the police and then we can wash our hands. It is true about the media attention and the protecting of our own institutions. Also we should be clear, once an accusation is made it is unlikely that your name will ever be really cleared, and I think that is one of the reasons people hold back they worry about that.

    To me the key is not getting the creeps and their protectors, although that would be nice, but creating an environment where children are safe. Abuse is a crime which happens alone, we can take many actions and watch for the red flags to prevent this before it happens. I have seen some studies that show just doing background checks which we all know don’t catch a whole bunch of things, but just doing them acts as a deterrence to abusers. They want easy access they don’t like rules and often don’t follow them. We can really create safer environments buy just having some strong policies in place.

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  23. Blaikie says:

    Very important: Prevention! Will never be perfect, but some progress can be made via health ed incorporating information about abuse, and also recognition that abused kids sometimes tend to abuse when older…if they are aware of this, they may be able to talk with a professional about it, recognize that it’s not their fault, but they are more at risk of repeating such behavior. Also discuss it in terms of power relationships, not just sexual.

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  24. mervel says:

    Very true.

    I know at work we have a very hard and fast rule to never be alone with a child, this creates large hassles for our caseworkers; if they are going to go do something with some of our youth they can’t just go pick him or her up alone, they have to have someone else with them. Sometimes this means you don’t do activities you want to do and that is a cost of strong policies but it is worth it. We also do full background checks on all of our staff AND volunteers, which again pisses some of the volunteers off, but it is worth it.

    In all of these cases, the adult had to find a way to be alone with the child. What this does is increase costs, it is easier to just have one person sometimes. I am surprised at the number of agencies in the NC that do not do background checks and transport kids alone.

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  25. Larry says:

    A safe environment is one in which any suspicious behavior of a sexual (or otherwise abusive) nature is immediately reported to the proper authorities for investigation. As for rumors, the authorities must be very diligent in unequivocally clearing the innocent. Not easy, but better than the conspiracy of silence we have seen in the Catholic Church, for example.

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  26. mervel says:

    So Larry should the Tupper Lake School board and administrators who knew of an accusation against this man, be criminally held liable?

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  27. mervel says:

    But I do agree any abnormal actions toward children should be reported to the police. But if you have a safe environment you reduce the odds of predators existing in your organization in the first place. It does not make me feel better as a parent that an abuser is punished, it makes me feel better to know that my child will not be abused in the first place.

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  28. Larry says:

    Mervel: Yes. The accusation should have been reported to the police for proper investigation. As it was, this predator was free to continue his activities for many years, which would not have been the case had he been reported.

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  29. mervel says:

    Well sure. So was it a coverup?

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