Freedom to Grieve

Protecting grief from "closure," consumerism, politics, and other cultural distortions

Do Not Seek 'Closure' After Sandusky Sentence

Why victims of assault do not find closure, and nor should the rest of us

Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach at Penn State University, has been handed a sentence of 30 to 60 years in prison for multiple sexual assault charges. He molested many young boys and now has received his official state punishment.

Some journalists, bloggers and others are declaring “closure” along with “justice” for the victims, families, and others who have been harmed by this man. There are other voices declaring that there will be no closure to this case in spite of the hefty sentence. I agree that we should not be declaring closure.

In calling for closure, people in part are suggesting that this story can now “go away.” We are told that people can stop thinking about it and victims suddenly have closure. This is a mistake.

As I explain in Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us, we are frequently told that we need closure after bad things happen—“a satisfying ending” to a traumatic event. Closure has become central for explaining what we need after trauma and loss. It is a new emotional state, one that people supposedly need to find in order to heal after a loss. Yet there is no agreed upon answer for what closure means or how you are supposed to find it. Closure has been described—in contradictory ways—as justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgetting, remembering, forgiveness, moving on, answered questions, or revenge.

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In spite of the popular use of the term, “closure” is not some naturally occurring emotion that we can simply find with the right advice. Nor do we need closure to heal.

There will not be closure for the victims. And there should not be closure to this case for the rest of us.

Victims can find different degrees of healing, but these assaults will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Ignoring that difficult reality and believing that victims will find “closure,” diminishes our understanding of the devastating results of the crimes.

Other people may want closure to this case because they are weary of hearing about it. Rather than seeking closure, we need to open up conversations about values, priorities, moral responsibilities, and the protection of children. We need long-term discussions about sexual abuse and the responsibility of bystanders.

There is no closure for victims of sexual abuse. The conviction and sentencing of Sandusky may bring a measure of justice and a step toward healing, but not closure. We should strive to make this case the beginning of our discussions on abuse rather than the end.

 

Nancy Berns is the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.  

Nancy Berns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University and the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.

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