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You Got to Carry That Weight

by on October 08, 2014 6:15 AM

Child molestation really isn't that big of a deal.

Or so I gather from the way local law enforcement and the local press have handled the Christopher Lee case. Lee, a Harris Township Supervisor, was indicted last week on federal charges related to trying to entice a minor to have sex with him.

As someone who has lived around here for a while, I recognized the name – and the crime. There was no mention of prior charges in the first news story I read about the indictment. In the second, a summary of the earlier case was buried in paragraph 20 of a 23-paragraph story:

"Lee has previous charges of indecent assault, corruption of minors and harassment in 2005, when two boys, ages 10 and 8, alleged inappropriate touching on an overnight stay at the mansion."

The mansion is the Boal Mansion Museum in Boalsburg. Lee is the CEO of the museum and the Columbus Chapel. His lawyer, Joseph Amendola (yep, Jerry Sandusky's lawyer), told the Centre Daily Times that what happened with the two boys in 2005 was "a terrible misunderstanding": Lee had put his hands inside their pajamas to check if they had wet the bed.

Naturally. Parents, have you ever performed that kind of an inspection when your kids' friends have slept over? Me neither.

In fact, here's a tip if you are ever concerned that an overnight guest has had a little accident: Don't check the jammies. Check the bed. It won't misconstrue your intent or rat you out to its mother.

According to the CDT's coverage of the 2005 case, Lee said he was "looking forward" to proving his innocence in court, but when then-Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira invited him to enter the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) program instead, he accepted, to spare the children from having to testify.

How sweet. Note that Lee and Amendola had no compunction about publicly branding an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old as bed wetters. The boys weren't named, but if you're a kid who has been subjected to the creepy overtures of a grownup it can't feel very good to see his side of the story in the paper while having to be silent about your side of the story.

Note, too, that the boys' mother was not happy that Lee wasn't going to stand trial. "We are strong and willing to testify against him," she told the CDT.

Do you suppose that in grabbing the ARD option Lee might have been sparing himself from having to run his bed-wetting story past a jury of his peers? We must presume his innocence, of course, but thanks to ARD, we didn't get to find out one way or another.

Consider this, though: ARD, according to the Pennsylvania Code, allows first offenders facing charges that are considered "relatively minor" to perform community service and then have the charges dismissed.

Does indecent assault sound "relatively minor" to you when children are involved? How about when the accused runs a student docent program that the D.A.'s office surely knew about? Commenting on last week's indictment, State College Police Chief Tom King said Lee "had been bringing international teenage males to his home for many years."

ARD sounds like a humane and expeditious way to handle a charge like shoplifting, which might be a one-time lapse. The defendant completes the program and if he keeps his nose clean, he can get on with his life. But one thing we've heard over and over about sex offenders is that getting on with their lives means leaving a trail of victims.

In any event, Lee was in the ARD program for nine months and did eight hours of community service. Then, confident that he had cleared his good name, according to the CDT, he ran for re-election to the Harris Township Board of Supervisors. And lost.

In 2013, he ran again. In its coverage of the race, the CDT seemed not to have considered the possibility that voters would be interested to know about the 2005 charges. They weren't mentioned. And lo and behold, Lee got his seat back, 51 to 49 percent.

Now, this prominent member of the community is again alleged to have indecently assaulted a minor.

Sound familiar?

Recall that in 1998 a mother reported to the University Police that Jerry Sandusky had showered with her son on campus, and that no charges were filed.

Recall that in 2001 Mike McQueary reported to the honchos at Penn State that he had seen Sandusky and a boy in the showers on campus, and that no charges were filed then either.

Do you get the impression that sex crimes aren't taken all that seriously around here?

Those who insist that the Sandusky case was not a football scandal are absolutely right. It's a Happy Valley scandal. And a Centre County scandal. And a Pennsylvania scandal. And an American scandal.

A few days ago, Penn State students carried mattresses around town in solidarity with a Columbia University rape victim who has vowed to carry a mattress until her accused rapist is brought to justice.

The students shouldn't have to carry that weight alone. It's high time the grownups shouldered the burden.

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A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for StateCollege.com won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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