Posted by: joshjasper | November 22, 2011

Penn State

People across the country were shocked as the news broke about the sex abuse scandal that rocked Penn State.  So much has been said and written about what allegedly took place between Jerry Sandusky and a number of young boys.  President Obama, ESPN reporters, and any and all newspapers or news stations have chimed in.

For the most part, the most important points have yet to be addressed.

I feel my response to this sex abuse scandal is different from most.  I am not shocked…not in the least.  My disgust with the grand jury report has little to do with the details about how Sandusky groomed his victims, and more to do with how so many people knew what was going on and remained silent.  If anything, this is what shocks me most.

I believe the vast majority of our society does not want this type of violence to ever exist.  Very few people want women, children, and men to experience sexual and domestic violence.  I also believe that if given the appropriate skills, we can effectively eradicate this behavior.  With that said though, WE are part of the problem….the problem does not rest solely on the shoulders of someone like Jerry Sandusky.  By removing a Joe Paterno, Jerry Sandusky, or a even Graham Spanier (university president) the problem itself does not leave with them.  The issue is much larger and more complex than that.

To begin, I think it’s important to clarify a few important points.  First and foremost, it is not happenstance that a sexual predator becomes a coach, teacher, Boy Scout leader, priest, or any other person that has influence, access, and trust.  For example, the grand jury report notes the specific ways in which Jerry Sandusky groomed his victims.  He showered some of those boys with gifts, gave them special access to events, and made a pointed effort to gain their trust.  Statistically speaking, an average sexual predator has between 150–200 victims in their lifetime.  They know what they are doing.

Here’s where we are a part of the problem: Time and time again we as a society are shocked by someone who is found guilty of rape and domestic violence.  Immediately the press interviews next door neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family, and they all tell the same story.  Everyone is baffled as to how such a seemingly nice guy could inflict so much pain and suffering onto others.  Rapists are not individuals that are identified by the hump on their back or their third eye.   More than 90% of the survivors we serve at Riverview Center were assaulted by a family member.

I get it though.  It’s not easy to accept that we live in communities in which the greatest danger comes from the people we trust the most, but that is our reality.  And until we accept that, we can never move past the shock and into action.

So let’s talk about action.  This is where so many failed and where we as a society continue to fail at epic proportions.  The grand jury report revealed that more than 10 people knew of Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior with young boys and did relatively nothing to stop it.  By doing nothing, those 10 individuals consented to his criminal behavior.  We live in an incredibly passive society in which we too often assume that someone else is going to take care of a problem or that it’s none of our business.  Or worse yet, we do nothing for fear that it will tarnish the reputation of an individual or institution.  This needs to change now.

We need to realign our priorities.  The reason so many people did not intervene at Penn State was because somewhere along the line, winning football games became more important than the safety of children.  Why does ANYONE care about Joe Paterno’s legacy?  So much conversation has been about Joe’s future.  Our focus should be on the children that were assaulted and any other children that may have been harmed.  I have yet to see Penn State issue a statement that is focused on other individuals that Sandusky may have assaulted.  This university should be doing everything in their power to provide support and services to anyone harmed by this very dangerous man.

Policies, procedures, core values and beliefs must all be examined at Penn State.  The institution failed these children, not just a single person.  An environment must be created in which janitors, coaches, graduate students, and anyone else feel empowered to come forward to report abuse and know that if action is not taken, they have the responsibility to do more; much, much more.

Parents must begin talking to their children at a very early age about what constitutes a good and bad touch.  Children must  know the appropriate names of their body parts and feel comfortable coming to a trusted adult to share if someone is touching them inappropriately.  Additionally, parents must be more mindful of healthy and unhealthy boundaries that may exist between their children and an adult.  If you are unsure about these topics, call us.  (563-557-0310)  We provided violence prevention programming to more than 44,000 students last year.  We can help you with this.

To close, it’s easy to vilify someone like Jerry Sandusky and believe that if we find him guilty of his actions and imprison him, our communities are once again safe.  This type of thinking is not only naive, but is also very dangerous.  The solution to this problem requires a commitment from everyone to change.  We must invest heavily into changing the norm.  Sexual and domestic violence is a learned behavior, and it permeates nearly every facet of our lives.  This learned behavior can change though.  In order to realize this change, we have to start with ourselves.  We must examine our own attitudes and beliefs that may support and reinforce the behavior of someone like Jerry Sandusky.  We then must lead by example, acting as a positive role model for others to learn from.

In 2008, Penn State earned $91,570,233 from their football program…..91 MILLION dollars.  Imagine if for just one year Penn State invested that money back into their college for the sole purpose of creating a safer campus.  Tranformative change would undoubtedly occur, having a ripple effect well beyond the university.

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Responses

  1. Fantastic overview of the true causes of this problem, with clear actions and suggestions on what to do. I hate that I have to talk to my kids about this stuff, but I have to.

  2. Josh — Excellent points. I read the grand jury report and, as you note, what was more shocking than the creepy and sick conduct of which the defendant is accused was how many others knew something wrong — yes, criminal — was going on. In one instance, police were notified but no charges were brought.

  3. Thanks Mike and Brian. There is so much to learn from this sex abuse scandal. My hope is that the local rape crisis center is working closely with the university. Hmmm….now I’m curious. I think I’ll send an email to that center to see what kind of partnership, if any, they may have.

  4. As a parent of a 2nd grade boy in Dubuque, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for the services you provide. My son had his first sleepover tonight, and talking with him about good touch/bad touch was so much easier since you and your team members had already introduced him to the concept. I can sleep easier knowing that he is informed and empowered to protect himself. Your organization truly does amazing things for this community.

  5. Thank you Kristen for your support of our work. I am SO happy to hear that you were talking to your son about good and bad touches. It’s such an important conversation to have with our children…..good for you! I can’t say enough about the tremendous work our team does. We are truly blessed to have such amazing people work for such an important cause.


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