When I first started hearing bits and pieces about the Penn State scandal, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to know the details. As a former Child Welfare/social worker choosing indefinite hiatus from the field I make efforts to insulate myself from information like this. You might think I’m hardened to hearing stories of children being abused, and when you are facing it day to day there is a fair amount of compartmentalization that goes on, but it never, ever gets easy. I’m an empath by nature which means things like this have a deep impact on me.
This morning when I read that many students at Penn State were outraged at the ousting of their coach last night, to the point of riotous behavior, I decided to find out a little more about what was going on because it didn’t make sense. It was simply unfathomable to me that people could care more about football than about 10 year old boys being sexually assaulted. It appears it’s not as unfathomable as I thought.
There are many other articles in print today about this scandal so I won’t rehash the details here. Long story short is that the head coach of Penn State football, Joe Paterno was fired along with the president of the university, after it came to light that they were aware that Jerry Sandusky (former assistant football coach) was a pedophile and had been caught in the act of raping a child. Sit with that for second – caught in the act of raping a child. Someone saw him raping a child, discussed it with several people including Coach Paterno and not one single person alerted authorities. Is there some freaky magnetic field at Penn State messing with everyone’s moral compass? That’s a flat out no-brainer – raping children = crime.
As the mother of a 10 year old boy, a former child welfare worker and a survivor myself it is abhorrent to me that students and fans of Joe Paterno are rioting in the street in support of this man. This man who had first hand knowledge that his assistant coach was, for YEARS, sexually abusing and raping young boys. Boys the same age as my son.
And what about those boys? The number of victims was originally reported at 8, but that number has more than doubled in the last two days as prosecutors have asked victims to come forward. I would estimate that number is in the dozens, potentially hundreds. Remember, he was caught and allowed to continue his predatory behavior. He was basically given the green light when no one even bothered to try to stop him, they just said ‘not in my back yard’.
My heart physically aches for these boys and young men who are likely being re-traumatized as this plays out in the media. Many of them are probably experiencing significant flash backs including powerful, real body memories of what they were subjected to at the hand of this monster. If his victims found solace in alcohol, food, drugs or other addictions to cope with the pain of being sexually assaulted by this man, they are currently at a high risk for having a relapse (assuming they’ve been in recovery). Their families and loved ones who don’t know about the abuse may be confused by the sudden change in their behavior, relapse, or shift into a depressed state. Some of the victims may even be contemplating suicide. Aside from his victims, there are hundreds of young people on that campus who are themselves survivors of sexual abuse (1:6 boys and 1:3 girls) and this has the potential to be re-traumatizing for them as well. I would not be at all surprised if the phones at the local Sexual Assault Crisis Hotline are blowing up with survivors looking for support.
The students of Penn State should be rioting in protest of child sexual assault and exploitation and not in support of a man and system who for years allowed it to happen, allowed the numbers of victims to double and triple. How many boys, how much innocence, how much physical and emotional pain would have been spared if just ONE person had done the right thing and reported what was going on? I honestly don’t care what the excuses are along the chain of people who had knowledge that this man was raping young boys. There are no excuses. Period. It is unconscionable that any human being with a soul would question disciplinary action take by the university Board of Trustees. I commend the Board for taking a stand, for executing swift and decisive action against university figureheads who should have had the courage to protect the children. The Board of Trustees gave the victims a voice when no one else would speak for or protect them. I only hope that they can find healing and support in this horrible time.
If you or someone you love has been impacted by sexual abuse, please offer them love and support, assure them they are not alone and that it was not ever, for one second, their fault. There are crisis hotlines throughout the country available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and as a former volunteer, I can tell you that there will be someone on the other end to listen to you, direct you to other local resources you may be looking for or simply hold space for you if that’s what you need.