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"Escalation Techniques"
September 17, 2012 5:43 PM   Subscribe

How child molesters get away with it. 'Jerry Sandusky and the Mind of a Pedophile,' by Malcolm Gladwell. Some may find the descriptions within the article disturbing. Via.
posted by zarq (44 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I saw this, and it's more of a(nother) retelling of the Sandusky story--padded out with some standard, secondhand anecdotes of grooming behavior--than anything of substance on "How Child Molesters Get Away With It." (Maybe I just have higher standards for Gladwell, and the New Yorker.)

Here's a piece from Slate from one woman on why she didn't report, which is another look at this question.
posted by availablelight at 5:59 PM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


....and I guess what I mean by "not anything of substance" is, not anything that hasn't been part of highly visible public dialogue/education on the issue since the whole Catholic clergy mess blew up in the news. Vulnerable children are easy to groom; victims are loathe to report, especially male on male victims. I was expecting something novel or fresh from this, given the byline (insert punchline here).
posted by availablelight at 6:07 PM on September 17, 2012


[Folks there is a huge open thread about Boy Scouts, this is not really that thread.]
posted by jessamyn at 6:18 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


By Giving the benefit of the doubt, people are re-affirming their own judgement of character. What does it say about them that they were fooled? What does it say they were so close to someone who did those things? How could they not have seen evil?

I was friends, not super close, but friends with Levi Aaron, who recently killed and ate a kid. When people told me what had happened I didn't believe it until I saw his pictures in the newspaper. It leaves you wondering how you could have been fooled, I spent many hours with the guy and never knew. He was pretty awkward, but less so than other guys I know who I am pretty sure are not killers.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:27 PM on September 17, 2012 [19 favorites]


That's chilling, Ad hominem.

Levi Aron didn't seem to have many social skills, from what I remember from the New York magazine coverage, but-- successful predators (whether of the violent, financial, emotional, etc. type) are successful because they can not only "pass" well, but they are also very gifted at cultivating trust. This is relational, interpersonal violence--and usually not a "one off."
posted by availablelight at 6:37 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, he was a Karaoke DJ. I knew him as a bar friend. He didn't drink so he often gave people rides home.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:42 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of people want to believe that they were "fooled" by these extraordinary evil geniuses who are "gifted" at deception. By doing so, we gather comfort from the belief that what we think of as evil is completely external to us and intensely concentrated in these exceptional predators.

It is much less comfortable to consider that any of us is capable of inflicting enormous suffering, either through blithe ignorance or selfishly, intentionally. Evil as we define it is not exceptional, it's pervasive. Evil is banal. We are all capable of much more than we are willing to advertise, or even admit to ourselves.
posted by Nomyte at 7:17 PM on September 17, 2012 [32 favorites]


I saw this, and it's more of a(nother) retelling of the Sandusky story--padded out with some standard, secondhand anecdotes of grooming behavior--than anything of substance on "How Child Molesters Get Away With It." (Maybe I just have higher standards for Gladwell, and the New Yorker.)

Have you read either, before?

I have a question for Ad Hominem:
Perhaps you found it inconceivable that Mr. Aron could do what he did, but did you ever get an odd feeling about him? Like, if you heard he got picked up for child porn, would you be more likely to believe it? Simply, did he seem normal, or did he have quirks easily brushed aside?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:20 PM on September 17, 2012


Gladwell massaged some of the facts in his piece in order to make it fit his thesis. There is strong evidence that Spanier, Schultz, and Paterno knew explicitly what was going on with Sandusky and the children, were aware of the possibility of other victims, but decided to not report in order to preserve the reputation of the football program.
posted by schroedinger at 7:21 PM on September 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


What a ridiculous and disingenuous article. I can't quite put my finger on it but I'm angered that Gladwell would write such an article and not once be really honest.

Whatever "grooming techniques" are detailed in the article have nothing to do with why nobody spoke out against Sandusky.
posted by kettleoffish at 7:39 PM on September 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Perhaps you found it inconceivable that Mr. Aron could do what he did, but did you ever get an odd feeling about him? Like, if you heard he got picked up for child porn, would you be more likely to believe it? Simply, did he seem normal, or did he have quirks easily brushed aside?

He seemed awkward and shy.I always got the feeling he had a crush on one particular girl who hung around the bar.She was a decent singer, and was on a few of the audition bits for American Idol. She ended up getting called by the FBI when they went through his phone and called all his "associates". He was like many of my male friends in that he didn't have a girlfriend and seemed clueless about how to get one. One quirk was that he had a pretty decent setup and was a terrible terrible singer. I didn't find it odd that he didn't drink, many people in the bar business view it as work and not party time. I figured he was always giving people rides because he was a doormat and figured one day the object of his affection would figure out she loved him.

I guess I figured he was an average nerd. I know guys outwardly much stranger. He was certainly no master of deception, nobody though he was cool or anything.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:44 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the West Memphis murder case, a child molester, James Martin was interviewed. His interview is fascinating (and nauseating).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 7:47 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess to answer more succinctly, I would have believed it more likely he had a massive collection of strange fetish manga involving adult women and tentacles than child porn.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:02 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Bogeyman of Roland Park, a potentially interesting narrative in the Baltimore City Paper.
posted by Nomyte at 8:21 PM on September 17, 2012


I'm more inclined to view it at least partially as a signal detection problem. The potential harm of a false accusation is enormous for both the accused and the accuser. The harm to the previously abused is already static. There is an ambiguous potential future harm to the subsequently abused and a knowledgeable non-accuser. There is also probably harm to even a vindicated accuser and so on....

I've been in a similar but much less severe scenario and it was agonizing dissonance all around and still is. I'm still disturbed by what happened, how I reacted and failed to react to it and how it worked out in the end. I completely understand people who engage in denial at any stage of this kind of scenario because to do otherwise is to volunteer to be haunted for the rest of your life by your decisions and the subsequent self-knowledge because no matter what you did and when you did it, you will know you should have acted sooner than you did. Denial is a much more comfortable place to be.
posted by srboisvert at 8:32 PM on September 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I saw the post and went "Huh, might be worth reading... oh, Malcom Gladwell" and that was that.
posted by jscott at 8:38 PM on September 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah. Decent article until it gets to the Paterno stuff and the whole "what did he know and when did he know it." I'm not sure in the context of that article that it's appropriate or accurate. You can't put Paterno and the other admin at Penn State into the same box as parents struggling to understand a single allegation against a beloved teacher. I think that mostly, no one wants to confront this. No one. And that's the first problem. The other problem is: what to do? The Dear Prudie columns linked above were amazing at describing why victims don't report.

Anyway, there's is a culture of complicity around aberrant sexual behavior and there are so many vulnerable kids. That's the take-away. I think the Sandusky case will ultimately help more of these crimes come to light.
posted by amanda at 9:06 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Penn State avoids the death penalty.

We'll see what happens with the Boy Scouts as that story continues to be reported.

Rape culture is thriving and I just don't see it ever changing.

The fact that Catholic churches in the US were not sacked by angry mobs and burned to the ground after all of the revelations of the last 10 years is the best evidence for this. What more would it take?
posted by mlis at 9:33 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, he was a Karaoke DJ. I knew him as a bar friend. He didn't drink so he often gave people rides home

I knew a guy who ended up being the introduction to the To Catch A Predator book. He was picking up 13 year old girls from MySpace and taking pictures of them. He was the club photographer at one of the clubs I DJd at a lot. He also never drank. People who hang around a lot at bars but don't ever drink have always weirded me out, because of guys like him and some other creeps that preyed on drunk girls that I've come across.
posted by empath at 9:33 PM on September 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact that Catholic churches in the US were not sacked by angry mobs and burned to the ground after all of the revelations of the last 10 years is the best evidence for this. What more would it take?

Because not all priests are pedophiles and we're not monkeys??
posted by Mojojojo at 9:45 PM on September 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


/I can't quite put my finger on it but I'm angered that Gladwell would write such an article and not once be really honest./

Yeah it's almost like he forgot to examine status, wealth, and prestige (aka privilege) when he wrote...

Oh, Gladwell did you say?

Yeah go ahead and disregard. Sorry for the interruption.
posted by hamida2242 at 10:03 PM on September 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


He also never drank. People who hang around a lot at bars but don't ever drink have always weirded me out, because of guys like him and some other creeps that preyed on drunk girls that I've come across.

Yeah I dunno. He lugged his gear around. He didn't have his collection ripped yet so he also had thousands of CDs in books. It made sense to me that he didn't drink because he had to drive his stuff around. It was always like the same few people he drove, karaoke stalwarts that stayed till the end of the night. A total of 5 or 6 different people, most of them girls but they never hesitated hitting him up for a lift to save cab fare.

Then again you gotta wonder how he got so involved with karaoke despite not drinking. He was pretty well known for his terrible singing even before he became a DJ. Perhaps it was all a pretext.

He started doing karaoke farther and farther out into Brooklyn. He knew I had also lived in Kensington so he always hassled me to come by. That was way too far so I didn't see him for a long time. I guess it is for the best.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:17 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was friends, not super close, but friends with Levi Aaron, who recently killed and ate a kid.

So I hadn't heard of Levi Aron, but after reading the article linked to by availablelight and browsing Wikipedia, I didn't see mention of cannibalism. Am I just at the burning-the-midnight-oil stage of reading comprehension?
posted by vegartanipla at 10:28 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, the Wikipedia article elides over the icky details.
posted by Justinian at 10:31 PM on September 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went to grad school for teaching, what at the time anyway, was considered one of the better teaching programs on the West Coast. There was a guy in my cohort of twenty who essentially lied to us throughout the entirety of the program about various (major) details of his life. In the beginning a lot of people were charmed by him, but I found him creepy. He made a number of uncomfortable and strange comments throughout our time in the program and through an unlikely connection while student teaching I found out various things about his past that set off alarm bells. I met with the professor in charge of our cohort and let him know about our concerns and essentially told him that a number of us felt that he probably shouldn't be working with children. He said he would look into it. A week later he called me back into his office and said he'd talked to his school placement and the school had said there was nothing unusual and that was that. I remember walking out of that meeting and telling my friend, "In ten years ___ is going to be in the news for abusing a student."

He went on to teach at a middle school and I went on to be disillusioned from teaching and pretty much forgot about him. Then one night seven years later I got a message from a fellow student with just a link to a page on Interpol's website that had a picture of our old cohort member who was now wanted for sex crimes against children and had fled the country.

It later came out that there were concerns in the middle school where he taught, but again nothing was done and he was free to continue teaching. After he was caught there were certainly parents who defended him and talked to the media about what a great guy he was, etc.

When I first found out about his being caught I was rather upset and wondered if I could have done more to push the issue with the school, and that maybe if I had then none of this would have happened. I don't know, but I certainly feel like the ball was dropped and whatever reporting system was in place completely failed.
posted by alpinist at 11:48 PM on September 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah. Decent article until it gets to the Paterno stuff and the whole "what did he know and when did he know it."

That was my take as well. I was like ... who the hell is this Paterno guy, and why do I care about him at this point?

Presumably it must have made more sense to people who know/care about American college football, but it just seemed like a total derail to me. And disappointing too, because I thought he was building to some intelligent conclusion about detecting or preventing paedophilia.

Oh, Gladwell did you say?

Yeah, yeah. I *still* get suckered every time.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:12 AM on September 18, 2012


If Gladwell wants to write about what deja vu says about you, or why left-handed people are more likely to be serial monogamists, or whatever pop-psy bullshit is going around at the moment, fair enough. But this is an important subject. He should stay away from it for everyone's sake.

I am a bit surprised to see this on the Blue.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 3:00 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


The one pedophile that I knew was a very handsome, masculine, outgoing guy. He became friends with a religious family that included two young girls, through their church. He participated in the church and in their chosen outdoor activity with them, which is how I came in contact with them all. I only met him to talk to once or twice, but he seemed too good to be real, like I'd imagine meeting a famous actor or politician would be. It was a surprise to learn he'd been arrested for molesting those little girls. He was one of those people you can't imagine having any trouble hooking up with suitable partners, so why would he do that?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:27 AM on September 18, 2012


Did anyone at Penn State understand what they were dealing with, either?

Hmmmm I dunno, perhaps the guy who saw him raping a kid in the shower?
posted by nathancaswell at 4:49 AM on September 18, 2012


So I hadn't heard of Levi Aron, but after reading the article linked to by availablelight and browsing Wikipedia, I didn't see mention of cannibalism. Am I just at the burning-the-midnight-oil stage of reading comprehension?

No, the Wikipedia article elides over the icky details.


So does the 8-page New York Magazine story availablelight linked to. It says he apparently did nothing to the boy until he saw the missing posters and then panicked, killed him, and cut pieces of his body off so that he would be more easily hidden/disposed of. Plenty of "icky details," but no cannibalism.
posted by headnsouth at 5:00 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


"He was one of those people you can't imagine having any trouble hooking up with suitable partners, so why would he do that?"

Of the various reasons people molest children, I don't think lack of alternatives is a significant a factor.
posted by idiopath at 7:17 AM on September 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I'm totally missing the cannibalism angle, too on Levi Aron.

Speaking up as a minority who doesn't drink/do drugs but clubs. I like to dance. I like music, friends, fun. I don't drink/do drugs because I don't like it, I'm used to being the DD/responsible one. There are *now* compelling physical reasons not to, but I didn't do it before those reasons became obvious or paramount.

As for the Gladwell article, I have one of his books but haven't gotten through it. If it's as random as this article (two vaguely similar topics stapled together) I'm not sure I'll ever get through it. Just did a quick look at my Amazon history - Tipping Point from March 2005.
posted by tilde at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tipping Point is decent, but Blink is completely useless. I say that having purchased both at a Gladwell lecture, only to hear him kindly sum up the latter in a matter of two or three sentences.

Who else was really, really bothered by the fact that this "Jeffrey Clay" guy is/was apparently still teaching in his new community -- and that Carla Van Dam, who knew enough about his activities to write such a detailed account, apparently thought it was okay to give his story a cutesy summing up instead of relying on her own professional responsibility to assure her audience -- ostensibly, people trying to prevent kids from getting abused -- that he had been removed from a dangerous position of authority?

I mean, holy run-on sentence, but GEEZ.
posted by Madamina at 7:43 AM on September 18, 2012


His article is incomplete and incoherent. It's as if his deadline beat him to any coherent conclusions. WAY too many loose ends. Also, how can you write this story and fail to at least mention the McMartin preschool case?

This is truly the horrible thing about alleging child sexual abuse: it's the worst thing an adult can ever be accused of. If true, it's our imperative to protect our children at all cost. If false, it ruins and stains a person's life forever. No wonder why pedophiles are so successful at hiding amongst us.
posted by littlemanclan at 8:03 AM on September 18, 2012


I was friends, not super close, but friends with Levi Aaron, who recently killed and ate a kid. When people told me what had happened I didn't believe it until I saw his pictures in the newspaper. It leaves you wondering how you could have been fooled,

Because humans have a tribe mentality. Once you 'know' someone we instinctually consider them 'ours'. The 'other', who may be exactly like you in every way, is an unknown and is therefore first and foremost suspect. It's deep survival instinct and it's why Romney's supposed gaffe yesterday will not be as damaging as people think. Use of 'the other' is extremely powerful in scaring/motivating vast hordes to your goals because of this.
posted by spicynuts at 8:29 AM on September 18, 2012



Here's a piece from Slate from one woman on why she didn't report, which is another look at this question.


Wow, I had completely missed this story by Yoffe. The allegation coming at the end of the article is something completely new, right? I'm looking for followup or even commentary on the web and not finding much.
posted by BibiRose at 9:46 AM on September 18, 2012


Sounds like someone went fishing for a followup and the family said they found the allegation "odd." Which isn't much of a rebuke. It sounds like she looked into whether it would be worth the effort to bring up charges but you can't arrest a dead man or charge him. Nor can you libel the dead. I thought it was very brave for her to name the molester. Why shouldn't she? As a dead man and a groper, he has no rights to a false clean name.

Anyway, I'm sure all the hairs on her neck stood on end when she typed his real name into her story. What more is there to say?
posted by amanda at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2012


An article on the incident linked from the Wiki on Father Drinan.
posted by amanda at 10:07 AM on September 18, 2012


Thanks for that link, amanda, and for bringing this story up in the first place. My post was mainly just me being surprised that more people weren't as blown away by it as I was. For you to notice on the internet, I guess.

The Gladwell article really does seem like taking a story and making it less than the sum of its parts. A lot of molesters don't construct an elaborate tissue of respectability + deniability but they get away with it anyhow, until they don't. A friend of mine was raped repeatedly by a teacher in high school and didn't tell anyone until years later. By that time the guy had gone to prison for similar crimes-- but even then my friend's mother's reaction was to blame him for not telling someone earlier. I think he knew perfectly well what the response for telling would have been, given the kind of family he was from and the kind of school it was. (Boarding school where you get put when you've been in a good amount of trouble already.) The perpetrator had created no ingenious smokescreen of mannerisms and he had no special status; was "just a perv," as my friend put it. His downfall came when, having repeated this at school after school, he simply got too outrageous.

What is wrong with perpetrators like that? We never seem to hear much about them; more about the mental status of the victims. And this scrutiny of the victim always ends up being somewhat judgmental. I keep hoping for an article which will shed light on what's going on in the heads of the perpetrators, and this wasn't it.
posted by BibiRose at 10:34 AM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I'm totally missing the cannibalism angle, too on Levi Aron.

He dismembered the body and kept certain parts. The police later found those parts in his freezer. I suppose I shouldn't have implied he ate an entire body. Maybe he hadn't even gotten around to eating them yet but the supposition was pretty strong that he kept some of the body parts in his freezer to eat them.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:33 AM on September 18, 2012


Ah. Obviously can't know what goes on in a person's mind, ymmv. I'm thinking that keeping the feet apart from the rest of it could have been a combination of time, space, and separation of the body parts to prevent identification.

Footprinting is pretty common at birth (my kids were, also have a freezer packet of dna swab) but not finger printing. I remember Citizen of the Galaxy used footprint identification as a plot point, and I read that when I was 19. One can speculate that if it were likely he were fingerprinted, too, the hands would have been kept as well.
posted by tilde at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Reading Gladwell's stuff I get the impression that he is rewriting other's stuff without fully attributing. and it's got a lot of air in it.
posted by SteveLaudig at 5:28 PM on September 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Deadspin response. (Gladwell posts in the comments.)
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 PM on September 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Gladwell posts in the comments.)
His defense of the article was better than the article, itself.
posted by steve jobless at 8:23 AM on September 20, 2012


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