The publicity from Penn State University’s sex-abuse case has set off another U.S. collegiate sex scandal, with Syracuse University placing assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine on leave Thursday because of allegations that he molested two ball boys.
One of the two former ball boys told ESPN that media coverage of the Penn State case motivated him in going public with the allegations.
Mr. Fine’s supporters believe he is being framed by opportunists who are taking advantage of the uproar after Penn State football defensive co-ordinator Jerry Sandusky was accused of abusing eight boys over 15 years.
But people who deal with institutional sex abuse say it is a common occurrence: victims only step forward and break the code of silence after hearing of incidents elsewhere.
“With a few exceptions, my clients in the last decade have come to me as a result of some media exposure,” said Rob Talach, a London, Ont., lawyer who has represented hundreds of victims of abuse.
“They say `I read a story about a sexual assault. That reminded me of my situation’,” Mr. Talach said.
“It’s one of the key triggers for someone to report sexual abuse, seeing a similar scenario in the media.”
In Syracuse, one alleged victim, Bobby Davis, now 39, spoke to police, the university and two media outlets in 2003.
However, his allegations were never made public because they could not be corroborated.
The case was reopened this week after Mr. Davis’ stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, alleged that he too had been molested.
ESPN reported that Mr. Lang said “he was inspired to talk after seeing news coverage of the Sandusky case.”
The timing was suspicious to some of Mr. Fine’s associates.
“They saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money. That is what I believe,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim told the network.
Former Syracuse center Rony Seikaly made a similar accusation. “Completely ridiculous. Do people want a quick buck or something?” he told the Associated Press.
Dave Mantin, who heads the Maritimes branch of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said few victims want to ruin their reputations by being the first or only person denouncing an authority figure.
“It’s always your word against somebody else’s word. As a victim, you are looking for validation.”
After stories about SNAP opening a Maritimes office appeared this fall in New Brunswick and Newfoundland newspapers, 150 potential victims contacted Mr. Mantin.
While sex scandals have long been associated with the clergy, Mr. Talach said the world of sports has similar dynamics, with the same potential for abuse.
“You have organizations where the leadership works in a mentorship role, where there is a macro, rather than a micro approach, you know, `the good of the team, the good of the church’ . . . when you have those ingredients you will see those kinds of cases.”
Canada saw that happen in 1996 when junior hockey coach Graham James was charged with sexually assaulting two of his teenaged players.
Afterward, scores of men were reported to have called sexual-assault help centres to report similar sports-related complaints.