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How could Sandusky’s wife not know?

Denial called a way to cope


ASSOCIATED PRESS Asked whether she could think of a reason why eight men would come forward to accuse her husband, Jerry Sandusky, of molesting and raping them, Dottie Sandusky’s answer was: “I have no idea. … I don’t know what it would be for.”

Perhaps one of the most shocking witnesses at the child-molestation trial of Jerry Sandusky was his wife of 46 years, Dorothy, known as Dottie.

Mrs. Sandusky paid her husband’s bail, steadfastly declared his innocence and testified on the stand that she never saw or heard anything strange or suspicious during the years when her husband brought boys over for dinner and sleepovers in the basement.

Asked whether she could think of a reason why eight men would come forward to accuse her husband of molesting and raping them, Mrs. Sandusky’s answer was: “I have no idea. … I don’t know what it would be for.”

But the Sandusky household was divided in its members’ views of its patriarch. Adopted son Matt Sandusky said last week, before the former Penn State assistant football coach was convicted of nearly all charges associated with the molestation of 10 boys, that Sandusky also had sexually abused him.

How is it possible for a wife to live with a child molester for years, have the abuse going on in the home, and not know what was going on?

The answers, analysts say, lie in the complexities of human relationships, the existence of heartless psychopaths in people’s lives and the natural desire to not see things that do not make sense or that threaten one’s own life.

“I never suspected a thing,” said Darlene Ellison, who said she did not learn that her ex-husband led a pedophile organization until he was arrested.

“I think there are three options in terms of Dottie Sandusky,” Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said in a recent interview.

“One, she didn’t know. Two, she didn’t want to know. Or three, she knew, but acknowledging it, or doing anything about it, would be so disruptive to her life that she chose not to,” he said.

It’s common for a spouse or family member to fall into the latter two categories, he said.

“They don’t go into rooms when they’re afraid of what might be going on. They don’t ask questions purposefully when they wonder about something because they don’t want to know,” Mr. Dion said. “Or they do know [something’s wrong], but they feel afraid that they can’t say anything” because the perpetrator has power and control over them; there’s an idea that “this is something you have to tolerate, this is part of the arrangement.”

Another scenario is that a spouse “just decides that anything I do will end badly for my family, for my kids, and so I’m just going to make a decision to ignore it.”

Mrs. Sandusky’s desire to “not know anything” may have been revealed in the testimony by one of the victims about being in a hotel room with both of the Sanduskys, Mr. Dion said.

The victim said he went into the bathroom to take a shower, and Sandusky entered the bathroom and motioned to the boy to give him oral sex. But when Mrs. Sandusky asked, “Jerry, what are you doing in there?” the elder man leapt out of the room.

This sounds like Mrs. Sandusky was “making the point of announcing herself” so she could avoid a situation where she would see something wrong, Mr. Dion said.

Indeed, he added, “she didn’t see anything” because “they were in the bathroom.”

Child sexual abuse is typically perpetrated by men, many of whom are married, and there are indeed women and mothers who are complicit and really know what’s going on, analysts say.

But it’s also common for their wives to be “in denial, to be blind, deaf and dumb, when it comes to these acts,” said Dr. Frank Ochberg, who teaches clinical psychiatry at Michigan State University and is a former associate director at the National Institute of Mental Health.

“Think about what it means to live your life with a man who’s living a lie and who has tremendous power and who has some perverted instincts and appetites,” Dr.Ochberg said.

It wasn’t all that long ago that women didn’t “dare speak back to your man,” he said. Also, some people’s personality types make them dependent, timid and trainable into a subordinate position.

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About the Author

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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