What to do About Penn State

I’m probably not alone when I say that many of my thoughts have been consumed by the scandal at Penn State. For those that live under a rock, an assistant football coach at Penn State has been accused of molesting eight young boys over the course of at least a decade. According to reports, many members of Penn State’s administration were aware of the abuse and failed to do anything to stop it. Most notable for the news sites, is that famous college football coach, Joe Paterno, knew and did nothing.

picture of happy valley football stadium

I read the Grand Jury report and the whole thing is shocking. Horrific, really, but what really gets me going is the angle that every single post and article on the topic is covering: football is bad. Everyone involved is bad and horrible and it’s all because of football that this man got away with it.

I mean, really?

Here’s why this bothers me: every community has pedophiles. They exist in small towns and large cities. They are everywhere. As part of my education degree, I had to attend a seminar on recognizing warning signs that another teacher might be abusing a student. What stood out to me the most was this: the teacher most-likely to have an inappropriate relationship with a student is one who has special privileges–coaches, band directors, and the like. So basically. . . anyone.

This is scary stuff and the media is painting it to be a big conspiracy between powerful men with access to untold resources. People are screaming about who should have told.

These things may be true, but the bigger truth is that every day people don’t tell, and THAT’s what we really need to be talking about. Why don’t people tell? What kinds of manipulation is used to prevent this abuse from being reported? What are the outward signs that this abuse may be going on? What is it about humans that makes us unwilling to believe this kind of thing occurs as much as it does?

The sad fact is that this topic makes most people so uncomfortable they don’t even know HOW to talk about it. The facts are that Sandusky was barred from an entire school district in 2008. An allegation of sexual assault was also reported to the police. A DA was assigned to investigate Sandusky in 1995 as well. I think there’s too much time between those incidents and the public being made aware of the situation. We have GOT to get better about talking about these things–we need to create a safe place to have these conversations.

Hopefully the whole sordid tale will remind us parents that we talk to our children about who is allowed to have access to their bodies and what they can do if someone tries to violate their innocence.

We also need to talk to each other. If someone gives us a bad feeling–follow up on it. Don’t be afraid to mention anything that gives you pause. I’m not saying we should start calling people child abusers if they give us a funny feeling, but keep our kids away from them? Absolutely. Tell our friends that they gives us the creeps for no particular reason? I think so. If nothing else, I hope this scandal shows us that we can’t expect someone else to speak up–it has to come from us.

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Comments

  1. What scares me about this issue is the question of whether my son would be able to communicate to me if this was going on. He’ll be turning 3 and therefore starting school soon, and that means I’ll have to trust other people to watch out for him (now I’m present for his therapies or can stop by his preschool any time). If they’re not reporting for a myriad of reasons, like you said, and kids with special needs tend to be victimized more because they can’t tell….it’s scary.

    • Oh, yes, M, this absolutely keeps me up and night and I have prayed for some guidance on how to handle it. Remember, you can ALWAYS drop by your child’s school as well, and while coming into the classroom might cause a disturbance for kids dependent on routines, there’s no reason why you can’t peek in and make sure you’re comfortable. I’m at Charlie’s school all the time for one reason or another.

      I’ve also started talking to Charlie about private places an who’s allowed to touch them. This is tough stuff for me as Charlie still wears diapers. I think we’re getting the message across, though. But like you said. . . scary.

  2. Very well written. I agree with what you wrote. You have to stand up for yourself and your children.

  3. That’s a really hard question-in 4th grade my daughter came home from school saying her friend’s stepdad touched her friend inappropriately while the stepdad and step daughter were watching TV. Kids about 9 do not make this stuff up-so I asked my husband what we should do. Our daughter needed to know we took her seriously- so I called the girl’s mom. The mom’s reaction was to deny it, but my gut said otherwise.
    I guess that’s what I tried to teach my kids-trust your gut-if you get a bad feeling -tell
    no one touches what your bathing suit covers
    and I will always love you no matter what you tell me-

    • It’s really hard stuff. It sounds to me like you’re doing a great job teaching your kids the right things. I wonder, however, if you knew about an anonymous tip line or the like, would you report the suspected abuse to someone else? I’m sorry–I’m just brainstorming here.

      • yes, whole heartedly, emphatically yes. and I did say something to the school shrink….hinky vibe wouldn’t let up-practice what you preach- I was able to let it go after that….never did learn all the facts…and I didn’t need to know them….

        • Great move telling the school employee. By law, she’s required to follow up on those reports, so that’s a great place to go with that kind of information.

          And yeah, some details we just don’t need/want to know. . .

  4. The parallels between the Penn State cover-ups so mimic the cover-ups in the Catholic Church, Only when the abuse is made public do institutions act, and even then slowly. I think that the after reporting suspected abuse to the police and authorities, the media should get the info next. It is that pressure that makes institutions and leaders act. Unfortunately, there is more value on institutional reputation than on the rights and values of childrens’ safety. Things gotta change…

    • What’s SO weird to me about that is that I wouldn’t think an institution looked bad if they accidentally hired a predator and then got rid of them. I think they look bad when they systematically cover up abuse. Is it just me that thinks that way?

  5. I like what you are saying about trusting your gut. I have an uncle who I never liked as a kid. I have no idea why, I don’t remember any event, I just knew I didn’t like him. We were at a family function with him for the first time in 10-15 years this summer. On the way there, I told my husband to make sure my girls (5 and 3) were not alone with him. Reasonably he asked why and I said I had no idea other than gut. He may be a perfectly fine, upstanding man. But if my gut is telling me something is wrong, my kids are not going to be alone with him. They are way too important.

    • Good for you Kristen–lets not sit around and wait to be proven right on these things–a hinky feeling is all I need to stay far, far away.

  6. I think the interesting thing about this case is that Joe Paterno DID do something. He did report it to two superiors (one in the athletic department, and one in the university at large). The criticism, though, is that he did not do enough, because he stopped there and assumed they would take care of it. It sounds as though he failed to follow up (even though he knew this man was still his assistant coach).

    I don’t know if it’s happened before in a case like this where someone has fulfilled their LEGAL responsibility but has been brought down for not fulfilling their MORAL responsibility. I’m of course not happy that it happened, but I am glad that it’s bringing to light the gray area. It’s worth people taking a look at not just what they’re required to do by LAW, but also what they’re required to do to just plain do the right thing. It’s good to have in the public eye that consequences may still be enforced if you only do the minimum.

    Our school last year sent the counselor to each class with a video and talked about good touches, bad touches, good secrets, and bad secrets. Basically, they were told that if they felt uncomfortable, they needed to tell a trusted adult. If it was a trusted adult that did it, they needed to find another adult until someone stopped it.

    • Jenny, I think it’s great that that is going on at your school.

      The Joe Paterno issue is an interesting one since as you say, he met his legal obligations, but not his moral one. And I do wonder what was going on in his head–did he just not believe it to be true? I don’t know. I don’t know how you could possess that kind of knowledge and not call protective services or something. The whole thing is just crazy.

  7. So true – all of it. We keep our Kobi a bit sheltered at the moment. The Deaf seem to be a big target of abuse. We “talk” to her all the time about privacy and good touch, bad touch etc. We are very selective about who she is alone with. Still, things can happen…so we pray a lot too!

    • I think that disabled persons are often targets–I guess because they are assumed to be weaker? Like you, I spend a lot of time praying, and am very protective of Charlie.

  8. I find it disgusting and infuriating is that someone walked in on the abuse and walked right out. I think I would have at least said something to the person being a disgusting piece of human filth. That is the part I have trouble with, how can someone just walk away from a child in trouble?

  9. I just have a really hard time wrapping my head around the fact that Joe Paterno knew–at least part of–what was going on, and did not take more action than he did. What caring adult would not be absolutely outraged over something like this? Who cares about football–what about the kids? They need us to be their advocates, their protectors. Joe Paterno might be legally cleared, but he is morally responsible. Shame on him and everyone else who didn’t stop this mess when it first started.