Student Research Projects

Jerry Sandusky’s Spiral of Silence

Student Sara Erlichman, ‘14
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Communication
Course COMM 441: Senior Seminar: Silence


This research examines the child abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University, which involved Jerry Sandusky, who sexually abused children while employed at Penn State and afterwards. The case was silenced for well over a decade. Why didn’t witnesses appeal to higher power or expose these crimes? The theory developed by Noelle-Neumann gives an explanation for why witnesses remained silent. Results show that many people kept silent due to fear of isolation and the lack of public support for their judgment. The findings show that speaking up in support of the law or even for the better of humanity is easier said than done, implying that people value fitting in with the majority more than ethics.