Psychologist, Prosecutor say Dottie Sandusky's Response is Common in Pedophile Cases
A psychologist and child abuse prosecutor say Dottie Sandusky's adamant support for her husband, a convicted child sexual abuser, is common for a person in such a position.
Pamela McCloskey, who specializes in therapy for abused children and their families, says Dottie Sandusky's certainty her husband Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach, is innocent is an approach that allows her "to kind of accept the fact that you have been with someone who is a pedophile."
During a recent interview on NBC's Today Show, Dottie Sandusky said she did not believe testimony given by her husband's victims during trial because he is innocent. A jury disagreed, and a judge sentenced Jerry Sandusky to 30 to 60 years in state prison for 45 counts of abuse.
McCloskey says more often than not a wife or mother of a pedophile forces themselves to believe their loved one is innocent so reality cannot shatter the image they had of themselves or their life as a whole. Psychologically, it is difficult for the person to process the fact that the loved one committed such crimes, she says.
"Accepting the fact that you have been with someone who is a pedophile is so discordant with your view of yourself. (They think), 'how could I have not noticed," McCloskey says. "(They say) 'I will defend my husband because my reality doesn't fit with who I am.' We all have an image of ourselves and the type of person we are - if you were to take in the fact that all these years you've lived with a pedophile it takes away your whole view of yourself."
Deb Ryan, a deputy district attorney who heads the child abuse unit in the Chester County, recently prosecuted a case very similar to the Sandusky case.
Leroy Mitchell, a former Chester County Prison lieutenant, was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in state prison after he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five foster children.
Mitchell, and his wife Janet Mitchell, were foster parents to more than 50 children over at least 10 years. Leroy Mitchell was also a respected community man and athletic coach.
Despite Leroy Mitchell's guilty plea, his wife continues to believe her husband is innocent and even yelled at a victim in court, calling her a liar during sentencing, Ryan says.
"Women tend to not want to believe it happened," Ryan says. "People don't want to believe it so they stick their head in the sand."
A major reason a wife or mother will ultimately believe the abuser is due to a lack of support, McCloskey says. Often, a woman in that situation feels shame and blame from family, friends and the community. When the woman only feels support from the abuser, she begins to believe he is the one who is truthful.
"Unfortunately, as the mother or wife is going through this process they don't always get a lot of support. People wonder, 'how could you not have known? Are you just as bad or as evil as the pedophile?' When you don't get any support from anybody else you're going to reach out to the people who do support you, which is often the pedophile," McCloskey says.
When the spouse reaches out to the offender for support, they start to believe the offender when he says the victims are lying and want money or fame, McCloskey says.
"It allows them to live with themselves, to be able to say, 'yes they are just lying,'" she says. "They give themselves information that allows them to continue to view the image of themselves that fits with them."