Penn State Sexual Abuse Analysis with Jackson Katz Interview

Uploaded by MidweekPolitics on 23.11.2011

David Pakman: Back on the show is Jackson Katz, he's an anti-sexist activist, author,
and expert on violence, media, and masculinity. He's also the co-founder of Mentors in Violence
Prevention, which has worked with college and professional athletes specifically on
issues like the ones we're really looking at with Penn State, like we're looking at
with Syracuse. And there's just so much to talk about today, so thanks for joining us,
Jackson Katz: Thanks for having me. Nice to be with you, David.
David: I was looking at one of your latest Huffington Post articles, and you talk a lot
about this naming of accusers versus victims in different abuse stories that we've looked
at in the media over many, many years, and it's really interesting what you focus on
there. Tell me a little bit about what you've observed with that dynamic.
Katz: Well, I think since roughly around the time of the Kobe Bryant rape trial in the
2004 timeframe, the journalistic convention in referring to alleged victims or victims
of sexual crimes and domestic violence and sexual abuse crimes, the journalistic convention
has been to call them "accusers" rather than "victims" or "alleged victims".
And basically what my argument is is this is a very backwards term, it's a very anti-,
you know, victim term. And what ends up happening when you call people who are victims or alleged
victims "accusers" is you reverse the process of sympathetic identification with the victim,
which is part of, I think, what happens when, when we hear about somebody who's been victimized,
we think oh, that's really sad, or that's too bad, or even maybe it could've been me
or somebody that I cared about, there's a sympathetic identification with the victim,
but when you turn a victim into an accuser, you reverse this process, because now she,
it could be he as well, he is now not the victim, she is the accuser, she's the one
doing something to him, she's accusing him of a crime. And so we're positioned, I think,
in the public to identify sympathetically with him as the... as the victim of her accusation
rather than her as the alleged victim of his active sexual violence.
And so it subtley but profoundly shifts our sympathies away from the victim and towards
the perpetrator, and I think this is a really, really bad turn, if you will. And I think
a lot of journalists and others don't even think about it, they just use the word "accuser".
But what my piece in Huffington Post talked about was in this case, or I should say, in
the Penn State case, there's been more discussion about the victims of Jerry Sandusky rather
than the accusers of Jerry Sandusky, and I think it's really interesting to look at both
the fact that they were children when they were victimized, and the fact that they were
boys who are now men, because I think both the social position and age and the gender
of the victims has a lot to do with how we describe them in the media discourse.
David: Yeah, so that's what I wanted to ask you: do you see that this tends to be one
way or another in terms of victim, alleged victim, and accuser based on the gender of
the victim? Does that seem to be a key factor here in how the media portrays it?
Katz: Yes, there's no doubt it's a key factor, and I think the fact that the Jerry Sandusky
victims are boys, I think that a lot of men are more comfortable calling them victims.
I think that a lot of men are made more uncomfortable by this.
David: And I think it was just about two weeks to the day after we heard about the... after
the Jerry Sandusky arrest, I read about the Syracuse basketball assistant coach Bernie
Fine, who is also now being investigated for sexual abuse allegations that actually date
back some years, and some of the reactions that I read online were hey, it's too much
of a coincidence that this happens right after Penn State, somebody's trying to get this
guy in trouble. And my reaction was shouldn't we be looking at this as there is such shame
often associated with coming out and talking about something like this happening that can't
we say if it is tied to the Penn State news, isn't this a good thing, that maybe the Penn
State horrible situation has actually empowered some people, some other men, to come out and
say you know what, this happened to me too, somewhere else, and I want to talk about it?
Katz: You're right on the money, that's exactly what's going on. And anybody who works in
the field, the sexual abuse treatment field or prevention field, knows that this is a
phenomenon, that when one case comes to public light and there's some sympathy and empathy
that's expressed in media in public and other places for victims, rather than blaming victims,
that other victims come forward.
And so that's a predictable process. People in the field predicted this was going to happen,
that once the Penn State case broke, other cases would come out. And you know, I think
that's... by the way, this has been... this has been shrouded... men's sexual violence
against men and boys has been shrouded in secrecy and shame and silence for a long time,
and it's starting to come out now.
I mean, obviously the Catholic Church scandal over the past decade is a... is a big marker
in historical terms, in terms of, you know, big institution with all kinds of social power
and political power being challenged and victims coming forward and being honest about what
has happened to them, and you know, the world changes as a result of the courage of victims
that come forward.
The U.S. military is now dealing with sexual-- male sexual assault victims, you know, in
a way that it hadn't in previous, you know, decades or centuries, and now this, you know,
the elite male sports culture is now having to address this. These are tectonic shifts,
and I do think it's important that more public discussion about victims and about... and
not blaming them, but actually, you know, applauding their courage is a big step in
that process.
David: I started to get a lot of emails from people saying you know what? The way I feel
this Jerry Sandusky thing is going to play out is that most or all of the evidence is
going to end up being considered circumstantial, the best evidence for what happened is going
to be people that end up getting talked out of or scared out of, either by themselves
or by other people, from actually testifying about this, and that Sandusky is going to
get little to no punishment for this, and it's going to actually in the long term reinforce
the idea that accusers will not want to speak out, victims will not want to speak out, because
they'll say look at what happened with Sandusky, and barely anything happened to the guy. That's
a real risk when we look at something like this if real punishment doesn't end up happening,
is it?
Katz: Yeah, I mean, it's always a risk when somebody's charged with criminal conduct,
especially when it comes to these highly-sensitive issues like sexual abuse. But look, Joe Paterno,
one of the most legendary coaches in the history of, you know, organized athletics, was fired.
The president of the university was fired. There's been accountability already, and I
don't mean to be, you know, Pollyannaist about this, because, you know, who knows how the
process is going to play out in legal terms, but there's already been some significant
accountability in this case, which, you know, which is a good thing. I think people have
been held responsible and accountable in ways that they haven't in
the past.
David: In practical terms, in the last minute or two we have left here, we spoke with education
expert Steve Edwards last week about ways he has worked with universities to try to
prevent this type of sexual abuse from continuing when it's been initially identified, which
I think is a big issue with Penn State, because there were a number of points at which it
could've been interrupted, but it continued. What really specific ways do you think need
to be... what processes or policies need to be put in place by universities separate from
whatever state legal laws are in place, because as we saw in Pennsylvania, Joe Paterno may
have not done anything illegal necessarily, but he really didn't act proactively, I think
is the argument. What does the institution need to do?
Katz: Well, thank you for asking. I mean, my program, the MVP program, honestly, we've
been doing this since 1993 in big-time college athletics. You know, we work with hundreds
of college athletics programs. When I say "we", the MVP, Mentors in Violence Prevention,
model is really about empowering bystanders. And bystanders in the model are defined as
friends and teammates and, you know, colleagues and coworkers and family members, those individuals
who are not directly involved in the situation of harassment or abuse or violence, but who
are friends with or teammates with or in the same workspace with.
And what do we do to speak up to support our friends, to interrupt the behavior? This is,
by the way, this is true in college athletic programs, again, with whom we've been working
for almost two decades: we talk about all these kind of realistic scenarios, like the
scenario we heard about the guy walking in, Mike McQueary seeing in the shower Jerry Sandusky
nude with a 10-year-old boy, this is the kind of scenario, I mean, we don't have that exact
one, but that's the kind of scenario that we're constantly talking about in our work
with college athletes, with college, you know, coaches, with administrators.
And a key piece of this, David, what needs to happen on college campuses is we need to
institute prevention programing for all student athletes, for all coaches, for all athletic
administrators, in addition to, you know, housing people and Greek affairs people and
all kinds of things.
Often at times adult men in positions of institutional power, whether it's at Penn State or anywhere
else, they'll often say things like oh, the young guys need this, or, you know, our 18-year-olds
need some, you know, support and some guidance, but we, that is, adult men in power, you know,
we don't really need this. We're already grown up, we're already mature.
And one of the things that we've been saying for years in MVP, and we hope that people
will hear it now, is adult men as well as adult women need training on these issues
of what to do in situations, what are your ethical responsibilities, not just your legal
David: Yeah.
Katz: And you know, what we see at Penn State, at least from what I've read, is a failure
on many levels of individual men to do the right thing, because there are consequences
often in male culture for doing the right thing, right, for speaking up.
David: Yeah.
Katz: It's not just about knowing what your legal responsibilities are, that's one piece,
it's also having the courage to challenge group norms and, you know, to be seen as being
disloyal, or it could be challenging somebody who has more authority than you in a hierarchical
workplace where you could lose your job as a result of your truth-telling.
And so I think we can't be naive, that it's not just about knowing the policies and procedures,
we need to give young men and young women, and older men and women, space to have conversations
about all of these dynamics, and that's what I think-- that's the kind of institutional
change I think that needs to be catalyzed by this sad situation.
David: We've been speaking with Jackson Katz, anti-sexist activist, author, expert on violence,
media, masculinity, and co-founder of MVP Strategies. Thanks so much for talking to
us, Jackson. Really great to talk to you again.
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