In the chilly November days following Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on child sexual abuse charges, his likeness was scrubbed from the giant mural splashed across a brick wall at a bookshop near Penn State’s campus, replaced by a blue ribbon to signify awareness for abuse victims.
And after Sandusky’s conviction Friday on 45 out of 48 counts related to the child sex abuse case, artist Michael Pilato has returned to put some finishing touches on his mural. Sandusky has now been replaced by Dora McQuaid, an advocate for victims of domestic and sexual violence and a Penn State grad.
Pilato’s mural, titled “Inspiration,” stands across the street from the Penn State campus in State College, Pa. The painting features dozens of lauded members of the university community. Sandusky, once seated in a chair in a prominent section of the painting, was erased the weekend after the scandal broke, leaving an empty section. But Pilato waited for the verdict to bring closure — or at least a modicum of it — before filling the disgraced former assistant coach’s chair. Pilato told the Centre Daily Times he knew instantly he wanted to paint in McQuaid, a victim of sexual abuse who wrote poetry to help the healing process. McQuaid and Pilato felt it was important to portray the scandal that rocked the sleepy Pennsylvania town. “What we’re seeing is a revolution in the willingness to talk openly and publicly about these experiences that are most often suffered in silence,” she said.
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Flanking McQuaid are two red handprints, the bright color calling attention to the suffering of abuse victims. One print belongs to Ann Van Kuren, one of the 12 jurors who helped convict Sandusky. Van Kuren said she chose to add her mark to the mural to highlight to other victims the importance of telling their stories. “I’m hoping that this trial, with this verdict, will help them heal,” she told the Associated Press. The other print belongs to a woman who was sexually abused as a child. “I think the one positive out of all this is that if anything like this ever happens again, people will go directly to the police,” Pilato told CNN.
Though the prominent blue sexual abuse ribbon was removed from the chair, it now adorns the neck of the university’s mascot, the Nittany Lion, sitting in the corner of the mural. Another addition was made in recent months: After the death of former head coach Joe Paterno in January, his image was adorned with a golden halo connoting his still-revered status on the campus.
Sandusky was convicted last week of 45 counts of criminal child sexual abuse. He remains in the Centre County jail awaiting sentencing. Sandusky and his lawyers have maintained his innocence, but based on sentencing requirements the 68-year-old will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.