A Guide To Preventing Future Penn State Tragedies

The legendary Joe Paterno's departure from Penn State  following the disclosure that retired defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky had sodomized and otherwise abused several boys who had participated in his Second Mile Foundation has been ranked along with the departures of Coach Woody Hayes from Ohio State, Bob Knight from Indiana University, Jim Tressel of Ohio State and Pete Carroll from USC. In terms of coaching legends taking a fall from grace, that may be true.  JoePa was the face, heart and soul of Nittany Lions football for 46 years. He was THE symbol of the university.  Therefore, he was the one let go, along with Penn State's president. 

But to my mind, with the exception of Hayes' punching a Clemson player's jaw following a Gator Bowl in the early '80's, the violations were sins of greed that did not involve direct causal harm to young children. Yes, it is wrong to gift potential All-Americans to bribe them to attend a particular school, it's not right to hit people, and it's not right to lie to investigators.

This, however, is in a class by itself. Precedent-setting, even.

Sandusky stands accused of molesting at least eight boys he met through the charity between 1994 and 2009. He has denied all charges through his attorney, according to www. philly.com. As anyone familiar with the case already knows, Penn State officials, including Paterno, were aware of the abuse from at least 2002, when graduate assistant (now the on-leave assistant football coach) Mike McQuery reported that he saw Sandusky molesting a boy in the shower on the Penn State campus. Joe Pa apparently did what his job required him to do--report it to school officials.

The  "benign neglect" that was apparently the result of fear on any number of levels-- was perpetrated by all who knew of Sandusky's sexual abuse. This heinous act should be used as a precedent to adopt reforms that would protect children from predatory animals like Jerry Sandusky. Yes, there are laws against the abuse of children, a code of ethics at the university, and presumably, enforcement procedures to ensure that those laws and ethics are followed.

And yet....those at-risk boys were victimized over and over and over again. First, by the circumstances that brought them to the Second Chance Foundation. Then, by Sandusky. And finally, by all those who didn't step in.

And I say...shame on all of them. They...the former University President, the Athletic Director, and so many others...put the prestige of Penn State and the sanctity and reputation of the football program ahead of the safety of children.

The only conceivable good that can come out of this horrific situation is to make sure THAT IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

I know something about child abuse. I've worked in the field for nearly 15 years. I write grant proposals, though, and am not a counselor. But I can say that the mission of all child welfare services is "to help and protect children." And across the Chicago metropolitan area, 24 hours a day, agencies receive calls...from teachers, friends, police officers, and abuse victims themselves.  When authorities are involved...children can be protected and lives can move forward.

While the type of violence inflicted on children varies greatly, the common denominator among the calls made to nonprofit agencies, to the National Runaway Hotline, to DCFS, to hospitals and other caring and safe places is that someone cared enough, was daring enough, and had the moral cajones and conviction to make a call to authorities, no matter what the cost to themselves.

Most of these calls are made anonymously.

That said, when a child is in danger, why would protecting your safety be so important? Children are our future. Anything that is done to them now is reflected in the kind of adults they become. And that determines our country's future. Intervention, as any social services professional will tell you, is the key to stopping destructive cycles of abuse.

Had Sandusky been reported, he could have been brought to justice. By now, he would have been a registered sex offender.  But everyone involved protected him, and enabled him to continue his predatory ways.  That is why each school, and every community, needs to step up and enforce laws regarding behavior around children.  There are stringent rules surrounding abusive and exploitative behavior throughout the United States that govern educational facilities, nonprofit agencies, park distict sports teams, scouting organizations, and other places where children and adults meet. Background checks are mandatory, as are fingerprinting, for all those working with children, at least in Illinois. Yet, many slip from the cracks, because abuse goes unreported.    

For example, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has an abuse hotline number on its website. Though it may be too late for the victims of Jerry Sandusky, here's the number for future reference: Call 1-800-932-0313 to Report Child Abuse. A word of advice: USE IT!

According to Helpguide.org,  a resource website for mental health:

 "Aside from the physical damage that sexual abuse can cause, the emotional component is powerful and far-reaching. Sexually abused children are tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual problems as they grow older—often either excessive promiscuity or an inability to have intimate relations.

The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take him or her seriously. Don’t turn a blind eye!

It's important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn't always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.

What is even more frightening is that sexual abuse usually occurs at the hands of someone the child knows and should be able to trust—most often close relatives. The website notes that "sexual abuse of boys may be underreported due to shame and stigma"

The only way to prevent is to report. We must all take responsibility to protect our children.

That way, the Jerry Sanduskys of the world will not be able to continue.

Helpguide. org also provides the following warning signs to look for in the sexual abuse of children:

  • Trouble walking or sitting.
  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
  • Runs away from home



Child Abuse Hotlines:

Child sexual abuse:

1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368) Stop It Now

1-800-656-HOPE Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

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    Alison Moran

    Writing and broadcasting are my life, especially about women's sports and women's issues. I believe in God, Title IX, equal pay and equal rights for all mankind. Recently, I became the guardian of a beautiful, inquisitive little girl. Occasionally, you'll find me 'mommy blogging.' Read all about it!

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