Even if you care nothing about sports or college football, Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky are names nearly everyone is becoming familiar with. And after today, I’d be surprised if there was anyone on the planet who didn’t know them.
The Freeh report targeted at the investigation of Penn State officials was released today. People were shocked and outraged to learn that Penn State’s head coach, Joe Paterno, along with other officials knew about children being sexually assaulted by Jerry Sandusky and did nothing.
I completely understand the outrage. I’m sickened by the references to Paterno being a victim in all of this. His son pleaded in an interview: “please don’t let this one thing taint his legacy.” This one thing? 8 boys were sexually assaulted over a 15 year period! In my mind, Paterno is just as guilty as Sandusky because he knew about the abuse and did nothing. His career should be tainted. In fact, it should be painted black.
I don’t understand the shock. One of the most common factors of child sexual abuse is systematic denial of the abuse by others who are close to the child. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve sat with caretakers who knew their children were being abused and did nothing. Some had even witnessed it. Others had been told by the child that it was occurring. I’ve heard the story again and again about caretakers failing to protect children who were being victimized. The rationalizations and justifications for their lack of action are just as absurd and ridiculous as the ones being made by Penn State officials.
The Internet is abuzz with discussions about raising awareness for child sexual abuse. But here’s the deal: We know all about the signs of abuse. We know what to look for. We know what to do. But what happens when you tell and nothing is done? What happens when you suspect abuse has occurred and go to the correct authorities and it results in silence?
That is the problem here. It’s not about raising awareness about childhood sexual abuse and trying to prevent it. The awareness around these issues couldn’t be more prevalent. We’ve inundated society with it. And it’s done nothing to decrease the rates of childhood sexual abuse. Why? Because of instances like the Penn State case.
Kids tell. People tell. It’s what happens after they tell that is the problem. Tragically, more often than not they are silenced. Or they are met with a deaf ear as if the events never even happened. This is where our energy needs to be focused. This is the area of research that needs to be conducted because the reality is that we have no idea why so many people fail to protect children when they know they are being abused.
And I have another idea. There’s been discussion about what to do with the huge statue of Paterno in front of the football stadium. How about we tear it down and replace it with a memorial for all of the childhoods that were stolen? Maybe something symbolizing the need to not only hear children’s cries, but to respond…