The shocking child sex scandal rocking Penn State University in State College, PA is an explosion of almost nuclear proportions. It has all the elements designed to produce a media firestorm: fame, money, illicit sex, deception–and yes, betrayal. But the core of it is betrayal: of the country’s deepest religion–sports; and of those whom we claim to adore and revere the most–children.
The scandal has shown how great wealth, fame and the business of college sports corrupted everything and everyone, to keep the gravy train rolling; and the Penn State football program was (and is) an extremely lucrative gravy train, bringing in tens of millions of dollars in fees from TV, advertising and sports paraphernalia sales. Penn State University itself is the biggest employer in State College, and is one of the biggest ten colleges in the U.S., with over 45,000 students.
The gravy here flowed thick and heavy. And like other great, wealth-making and powerful institutions, its sins were covered, so as not to rock the money-making boat. It reminds us of the great scandals that shook the foundations of the Catholic Church in the ’90s, the ripples of which are still with us. They remind us that rape is about power–and sex is but a tool of domination of the weak by the powerful. That same dynamic is at work whether it’s a man and a woman; a priest and a child; or a coach and a boy. But is it the same when it’s two men? How about when one man is a prison guard, and another is a prisoner?
When news leaked out several months ago that rapes were widespread in the blocks of the state prison in Pittsburgh, PA, the reaction was largely local, mostly concentrated in Western Pennsylvania. Here it has all the dynamics of the rape culture we’ve discussed; powerful against powerless. Indeed, in some respects it’s more pronounced, for systems are in place to protect women and children (whether they’re followed or not is another question), which necessitates hiding these things.
But in prison, the indicted guard, Harry Nicoletti, allegedly used his power as a state prison official to threaten men he raped and abused with being sent to the ‘hole’ – and death if they told. He reportedly ordered prisoners to contaminate food with spit, urine and feces. He punched, slapped and spat on prisoners. He used racist language with abandon. And these things happened for years. Schools, churches and prisons–institutions of immense social power, exploiting, abusing and hurting the powerless–in the places which seemingly attracts rapeholics.