Jonathan Zimmerman: Sandusky and Sexual Abuse: From Apathy to Panic

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history at New York University and lives in Narberth. He is the author of "Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory" (Yale University Press). He can be reached at

In the 1970s, I went to a summer camp whose director liked little boys. That's how we described pedophiles at the time, and all the kids figured he was one.

Our parents did, too. I remember telling my folks that the director often visited our cabins at the end of swim period, because he knew we would be changing out of our bathing suits at that point. He also showed up at skinny-dips with a movie camera. True story.

If you think that's astonishing, consider this: We thought it was funny. My parents laughed it off, and so did I. Later, after I became a counselor at the same camp, the director's proclivities remained a source of mirth. There was a playful, Keystone Kops aspect to it; we would station a kid on "director watch," for example, to warn everyone when he was on his way....

Today, his inclination could have triggered a criminal investigation and a media blitz. The camp that we loved would almost certainly have closed down. And none of that would have been good for the kids who went there.

Unless, that is, they had been sexually abused by the camp director. Since the 1980s, a wealth of psychological research has demonstrated the negative long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse....

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