What I wish I knew for sure

The Penn State scandal is very disturbing on many levels.

That it happened. That it went on for years. That people knew about it and didn’t stop it. That people witnessed it and didn’t stop it. And finally, that people seem to be as angry at the witnesses as they are at the perpetrator.

The anger at the witness is where my mind gets snagged.

The vitriol and harshness of the judgment against the grad student that allegedly saw a young boy being raped and did not stop it. He called his dad, not the police. His dad told him to tell his boss, not the police. His boss called his boss, not the police.

The alleged perpetrator (I am attempting be objective, at least to complete this thought), the alleged perpetrator groomed a child, and didn’t stop. He coerced a child, and didn’t stop. He hurt a child, and didn’t stop. And then he chose a new child.


My mind gets snagged on the idea of being the witness. I think of myself as someone who would intervene, who would save that child. Is that true? How can I know that about myself? I think it’s pretty common for folks to think that they would do the right thing. Of course they would hide their Jewish neighbors. Of course they would join the resistance. Of course they would help the lost child.

But do we? It’s not easy to intervene or be a “whistle blower”. And the whistle blower is never thanked.

And what if you are wrong? What if you lose your job? What if no one wants to know? I imagine that the questions and answers are made in the blink of the eye. And the regrets and self-recrimination and/or rationalization lasts a lifetime. “The terrible algebra of necessity” is a brutal calculation, not an excuse.

What would I do? I think I know. I hope I never have to find out.

The quote is from Terry Pratchett’s new book Snuff, which I was reading while the Penn scandal broke. The book is about deciding when to stand up and what happens if you don’t.