Frank Bruni of the NY Times has an excellent Op-Ed piece this morning that mirrors my most recent blog post concerning the Penn State sex abuse scandal. The molester is not the person in the trench coat lurking behind the bushes. Those who abuse children, whether the abuse occurs in the Boy Scouts, in the Catholic Church, or in a school setting, are adults who are perceived leaders in the community. They gain access to children through their positions of trust and authority. As scout leaders, priests, ministers, or coaches they are afforded easy access to vulnerable children. Very often, the children upon whom they prey are in need of love, attention, and direction from an adult. Many of these children are showered with gifts, praise, and attention. The kids in turn become susceptible to the progressive advances of the molester until they are trapped in the vicious and tragic cycle of sexual violence. The predator’s actions become confusing and disorienting to the child or teenager. On the one hand, everyone (their parents included) think highly of the predator. Yet, lurking behind the public façade of altruism and mentoring, is the deep, dark secret of sexual abuse. So, they keep it to themselves thinking, “maybe that’s what love is” or “maybe I’m special because I’ve been selected to be his special friend”.
The secretive nature of the abuse often leads to self-doubt and self-loathing. In my many years as a sexual abuse lawyer, survivors have recounted to me how they feel lost and alone. They tell me how they’ve tried to mask those feelings with drugs, alcohol, or unhealthy relationships. Unfortunately, very often they blame themselves for the actions of the one who abused them. Tragically, some have ended their lives rather than continue the dark struggle.
Yet, there is a way out. Some courageous men and women have transformed what happened to them and have begun the long process of healing. They tell their stories. They report the abuse to civil authorities. They demand change for the sake of future children. They confront the institutions that protected these adult molesters.
If there’s any good that can come out of the Penn State sex abuse case, I suspect it will be when the community rises up and demands accountability from those who knew and should have done the right thing and reported Coach Sandusky to law enforcement. There is nothing more damaging to those who’ve survived such abuse as when institutions such as Penn State, the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church and many others hide behind lame excuses. I’ve read too media reports trying to argue that the University officials, including Coach Joe Paterno, weren’t really required to call the police. But this is the worst kind of denial. Paterno and the other officials at Penn State who were told about Sandusky had a moral obligation to tell law enforcement. Perhaps it wasn’t a legal requirement, but it’s surely an ethical requirement for men in such positions of trust and confidence. As the head of the Pennsylvania State Police dryly remarked to the press, all of the administrators should have called the police; as he put it, “it isn’t a high standard.”
At this point, no one should give a damn about the future of Penn State football, Coach Paterno’s legacy, or the next football game. The fact is children were abused right under the noses of a prominent and respected institution, which sat idle, choosing to pretend the problem did not exist, so that its pristine reputation wouldn’t be sullied. Well, now: that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?