STATE COLLEGE — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky proclaimed his innocence on national television Monday night, saying he isn’t a pedophile and that the worst mistake he made was showering with children.
But under Pennsylvania’s child protection laws, what Sandusky admitted to in an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas could fit the definition of indecent exposure.
If children younger than 16 were involved, it could be a first-degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“That certainly sounds like indecent exposure to me,” said Nicholas Cafardi, a law professor at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh who has written about child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests and the church hierarchy’s decades-long effort to conceal it.
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Indecent exposure fits under the definition of a child sex crime, according to Pennsylvania state law.
Title 18, Chapter 31 of the Pennsylvania state code defines indecent exposure as when a person exposes his or her genitals “in any place where there are present other persons under circumstances in which he or she knows or should know that this conduct is likely to offend, affront or alarm.”
The law considers that exposure to be a second-degree misdemeanor. But the law also says: “If the person knows or should have known that any of the persons present are less than 16 years of age,” it’s a first-degree misdemeanor.
Multiple calls to Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, seeking comment were not returned Tuesday.
According to a state grand jury presentment, Sandusky met the alleged victims through The Second Mile, the charity he founded in 1977 to help underprivileged children throughout Pennsylvania.
Sandusky is charged with sexually abusing at least eight boys over a 15-year period whom he met through Second Mile. He surrendered Nov. 5 to charges in the 40-count indictment.
Revelations in the Sandusky case have roiled Penn State’s football program and cost its longtime head coach, Joe Paterno, and the university president, Graham Spanier, their jobs. It’s still unclear what the full impact of the scandal might be on Penn State, or who else might be charged in an ongoing state grand jury investigation that led to Sandusky’s indictment.
In the interview with Costas on Monday, Sandusky said he was innocent of the charges.
“I could say that I have done some of those things,” he said. “I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact.”
Asked if he regretted anything, Sandusky said, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”
Cafardi said Sandusky could try to argue that he didn’t know any of the children were uncomfortable with showering with him, or that communal showering among athletic teams is normal. But Cafardi said there’s a stronger argument than not for charges of indecent exposure.
“This was not a team use, but a private use of the shower room, hence not acceptable as normal,” he said.
“A reasonable person would likely be offended, affronted or alarmed by such a sight,” said Patrick Corbett, an attorney in Bellefonte, who has taken many child protection cases. He isn’t related to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who started the investigation of Sandusky as state attorney general, nor does he have clients in the case.