The headline in my local paper, the Contra Costa Times, said it all: “THEY KNEW.”
I felt the same when I asked the Moraga, Calif., town council to write a letter to the Moraga School District asking for an independent investigation of child abuse in the system in the late ’90s, finding out who knew what, when and why it wasn’t reported.
The investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh into the child abuse at Penn State by Jerry Sandusky – and who knew what and when, and what they did and didn’t do about it – deserves special commendation.
It’s clear Freeh pulled no punches in the conclusions, and he looked thoroughly at the scandal, talking to hundreds of people and examining millions of documents.
The results aim right at the people who had most to lose – the university president, vice president, athletic director and head coach. The implication of revered Coach Joe Paterno being part of the cover-up was perhaps more shocking to the campus than the abuse.
The job security of those people and others depended on this story not becoming public because the reputation of the school was at stake. More importantly, the financial viability of the football team was at stake and the team was the key to the money the school coveted from fans, students and alums.
As a result, there was a major cover-up for years, and children continued to be victimized and abused. Freeh called it “callous and shocking” and said it was a “total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
Sandusky was found guilty of 45 crimes against 10 boys. How many more? Who knows? Will any of those implicated in the cover-up be charged with crimes? According to Freeh, it’s up to a grand jury.
Will Penn State recover from the scandal? Since there are people who still doubt it was as bad as the report illustrates, and since Paterno’s family still denies he knew about this sordid mess, one might surmise it will soon be swept under the rug, along with other Penn State dirt.
It’s too bad that Louis Freeh isn’t available for other school sex abuse investigations involving responsible people who knew what was going on and didn’t report it to authorities, as the law requires.
I first wrote about sex abuse of students in Moraga, Calif., in my June 17 WND column, “Town’s dark secret: Teacher rapes kids.” My next three commentaries were elaborating on the same issue, which appears rampant across the country.
Whether at a university or a public school or a local athletic team, it appears that people parents trust with their children often prove untrustworthy. Either they’re doing the abusing or they’re covering it up. I almost don’t know which is worse.
I learned of the case of Kristen Cunnane from an investigation by the Contra Costa Times. She had the courage finally to report her abuse at the hands of a female coach and work with the police. The woman confessed and is in prison. That was bad enough, but that wasn’t all.
The newspaper investigation showed that teachers and principals in the school system then, and now, knew of the situation and did not report it as required by law. Members of the school board also knew. People know who those people are; many are still there. Still, nothing has been done to hold them to account. Police say the statute of limitations has run.
Yes, Kristen’s abuser faced the law more than a decade later, but there were seven other students at the same time who reported untoward sexual behavior by staff. They didn’t get justice, even though one teacher who was implicated committed suicide.
When that happened, it appears, those in authority who should have reported the crimes, believed they were off the hook. But the Contra Costa Times investigation cast light on it, and everyone scattered like cockroaches.
The current school-board president said they would investigate it internally and teach parents how to identify sexual abuse. Not a word about holding anyone responsible.
I attended that school-board meeting and asked for an independent, outside investigation; another man there did the same.
I also attended the Moraga Town Council meeting that week with the same request and also asked they write a letter to support Kristin, who, in the interim of a week, was highly insulted by the Moraga Country Club, which canceled her talk to the local swim team. Kristin is a champion swimmer and a coach at Cal Berkeley. They quickly reinvited her when word got out.
The council did say it would draft a letter to Kristin and have it at the next meeting, two weeks later. Less than three days later, a letter suddenly appeared in a small, local media outlet.
It’s amazing how certain things can be expedited!
It was short, expressing “admiration” for Kristen and her courage and hoping other victims might be encouraged to speak out.
I attended the next council meeting and asked again that it write the school board. It was decided to draft a letter for the following meeting for discussion even though it was mentioned that everyone knew everyone and they could just talk about it.
That “next” meeting was Wednesday; it was the last item on the agenda: “Review and Consideration of Draft Letter to Moraga School District Governing Board Regarding its Response to Sexual Abuse of a Moraga Student by a Moraga Teacher.”
I was there. I referenced the agenda, which said they would review the draft letter. I asked to see it and was told there was none.
Imagine, in two weeks, not one of five people, with the help of paid staff, could come up with a simple request letter. What was the point of the agenda item?
I repeated my request that their letter should ask for an “independent” investigation to provide transparency and discover who knew what and when.
Another woman asked what that would gain anyone. Also, she said, it would appear the council doesn’t trust the board to do its job.
There was muddled cross talk. Mayor Mike Metcalf commented they hoped they wouldn’t have to send it and agreed with the woman.
It was mentioned offhandedly that they talked with the board about it. I’m not even sure that’s legal.
Councilman Dave Trotter said they took a “crack at crafting a letter and ultimately concluded it was not constructive.”
It was said the board doesn’t have to answer to the town and “it’s not necessary to send a letter to the school board at this time.”
There was no motion, no vote, no comments from the three other council members. It was informally decided to drop it. And they did.
Just like that. The people of Moraga don’t even know why.
My contention is that there are people still in the system and involved with the board who knew what went on then, who did not report the abuse as they are required to do, and who, until the newspaper did the story on Kristen, were more than willing to continue the cover-up.
Silly me, I hoped the council would be honorable and courageous and not let this look like what it is – good-old-boys-local-pols covering for each other at the expense of youngsters.
Remember, at the time Kristen was abused, there were accusations by seven other students. We don’t know who they are or who they accused, but there’s good evidence about who knew and didn’t report it – and still haven’t.
The council showed itself to be filled with craven cowards selling out the children.