The allegations against Jerry Sandusky, the longtime Penn State assistant, are yet another reminder of the misplaced concern over pedophiles in this country.
The as-yet-unproven charges detail a pattern of a pedophile insinuating himself into a position of trust and therefore access to a steady supply of potential victims; we’ve seen it with the Catholic church, in scouting organizations and other youth groups and — overwhelmingly often — in families. It’s how the vast majority of child abusers work.
Yet our legislative system is obsessed with a “stranger danger” model, seeking to battle dirty old men hanging around schoolyards that comprise a tiny percentage of cases.
So we pass laws regulating where convicted child molesters can live — laws that neither the police who deal with pedophiles nor advocates for their victims work. In fact, because the laws force abusers into a transitory lifestyle, it makes it much, much harder for probation and police officers to keep an eye on them. Nobody wants a child molester living on their block, but residency laws don’t keep them away. Instead, they wind up couch-surfing, putting them in touch with god knows how many potential victims, in hidden patterns the police can’t possibly be expected to track or control.
And we have the Amber Alert system, a high-profile measure that is almost never called on but that promotes a false sense of security.
The only good that can come out of the Penn State case is that it might help educate the public as to the real danger of sexual abuse, which is almost always close at hand, not some phantom in a dark corner.