Joe Paterno Ignored Their Cries

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…

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17 Responses to Joe Paterno Ignored Their Cries

  1. Karin says:

    I was outraged back in November when the Grand Jury report came out. It became clear then that Paterno had been lying. Sadly, his son’s reaction comes as no surprise to me either. That’s a thing with public figures, and people of power and their families when their dirty secrets are unveiled. Somehow their delusions of grandeur justify any bad actions/non-actions because of all the good deeds they have done.
    I second your suggestion regarding Paterno’s statue and what should take its place.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Karin. Unfortunately, it’s not just public figures who lie and cover up abuse. It’s an inherent part of the system of abuse. I hope that because he was such a public figure that this may create a necessary shift. We can hope can’t we?

      • Karin says:

        Very true. Public figures just have a better chance at getting away with it. A telling sign is how many Joe Paterno supporters are still out there saying that this one “misstep” should not diminish his legacy.
        Yes, we can hope!

        • Mommy Psychologist says:

          I’ve really been shocked at the words his supporters are using to describe his actions.

  2. T. says:

    Very, very true.

    With child abuse and, in some case, woman abuse, the default option seems to be “brush it under the rugs and hope noone noticed”.

    I also have the firm belief that some, if not “many” of children who end up dead in hot cars, or in pools (first cause of death of toddlers) have been wilfully neglected to death.
    Unplaesant though ->Can’t be true. -> Remove it. -> If impossible, rationalize it.

    I remember when I lived in my previous house. Our neighbours had a daughter (peraphs 10). Sometimes there were screams heard. Loud screams. Once, while I was on my bed, I heard “Don’t kill me” with a shrill, high pinced voice.
    You can tell when somebody is truly afraid.
    We didn’t know what to do though. Yes, the first reaction is: call the police.
    But we humans being are trained to do our own business. And what if you have misread the situation?
    In the end, after the aforementioned incident, I did call the police.

    It might be worth noticing that the fact we tattled the neighbour to the police did nothing to make us beloved among other families. Funny thing, they seemed to resent us. They started complaining about our dog barking, our tv being too noisy and stopped saying Hi in the elevators.

    What happened in our condominium was the same thing that happened in that school (and that happens everywhere. Families. Churches. Other schools. Name an institution, it happens.): everybody knew, noone did a thing.

    Plato got it thousands of years ago. People who lives in cozy caves don’t want to know the truth.

    • Violina23 says:

      I think that’s exactly it — the fear of becoming the pariah of the community. People know it’s wrong, but their “self-preservation” instincts tell them that it’s not their problem. It’s like those “What would you do?” TV shows. The question I ask myself is, wouldn’t I want someone else to step in if it was me being attacked/abused?

      I’ve spent my whole life battling issues of self-worth and caring too much what other people think of me. I can understand the hesitation. But I sure hope that my sense of decency and morality would compel me to act if I was in a position to bring abuse to the attention of authorities. Again, what if the victim was me?

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, T. You brought up another key point. And one that is equally disturbing. There is almost always a backlash whenever someone does tell. You were the ones that told and your neighbors treated you as if you were the one who had done something wrong. I’m not surprised at this. I actually had a similar experience when I lived in an apartment. Same kind of thing. I heard terrible screaming and fighting. Someone down the hall was clearly getting the shit beat out of them. So, I called the police. But, I made sure to make it point to tell them to keep my name anonymous. I knew if the neighbors found out it was me that it would not go over well. What a shame.

  3. Mama Bear says:

    This is difficult to think about rationally because I feel so angry at the football culture that idolizes men like Paterno. I’m fond of good coaches, but why make them into heroes? It seems to me that its just transference, is that the right word? Lifting oneself up by putting someone you relate to on a pedestal? Joyously shaming and looking down on others while ignoring our own flaws, or rationalizing them away. Human nature, I know…:(
    It IS hard to know about whether someone is in trouble and needs help, you may have a suspicion, but you aren’t sure. It’s painful to create a schism within one’s group. I understand that, but the men at Penn State let loyalty to their institution and self-interest override any instinct to protect children from harm. It’s just so painful to witness that.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Mama Bear. It can be difficult to know if someone is in trouble and needs help. I tend to err on the side of “better to be safe than sorry.” However, in this case, there wasn’t any level of uncertainty. It was pretty clear these boys were being abused.

  4. Rach says:

    There was sexual abuse in my family. Children were victimized and the predators(!) were left to prey on more children because the family didn’t want to appear bad in the eyes of the community.

    Why? Why protect the predators and not the innocents whose lives were destroyed?

    One of the men is still around and I flat out REFUSE to allow him near my girls, or to have anything to do with him and his wife. This has caused quite a rift in the family but I don’t care. Let them say terrible things about me, at least my girls are safe.

    • Mommy Psychologist says:

      Thanks, Rach. Good for you for refusing to allow him near your girls regardless of your family’s response. I wish more women had this courage.

  5. Pam says:

    My Daughter was molested by her Father…None of our friends believed me…problem is It is so horrible no one wants to believe it! All those friends let him be around their kids.. ME? I was the bad guy for reporting it! I was molested by my Step father, and I was too ashamed to tell. MY Aunts were molested by their Uncles and Dad, and they are Gay. After 40 years they finally talk about it! This all just makes me sick…I have battled mental Illness my whole life because of this!! When I finally told my Mom she says she did not know! I don’t believe that … how could you NOT KNOW IN a 8X35 trailer? You are so.. right who is protecting the Children when they do tell?

  6. Mama Bear says:

    People can behave just viciously and an otherwise loving person can become utterly cold when you challenge their denial. It’s like a life or death fight for one’s reputation. I really think survivors can sometimes experience PTSD just from the repurcussions of speaking up, let alone the horrors of the abuse they experienced. No excuse not to help when we are needed, though.

  7. ElectraDaddy says:

    I can’t help but think that some of this results from the determined drumbeat that continues to pound into our brain the wrong image of what a sexual predator looks like. It’s telling that nearly 40 years after Anita Bryant’s reign of terror, the number one tactic that those opposed to marriage equality use in elections is the imagined threat that “teh gays” pose to kids. According to one study, this tactic even worked in CA, causing Prop 8 to pass.

    Ending the ridiculous notion that gay men target children might help prevent situations such as the Penn State scandal. If we’re looking at out, gay men as the predators then it helps those not meeting that description to hide under the cover of darkness. Plus, people think, “No. He couldn’t be a predator. He’s married.”

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