Penn State and the Value of Our Children

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Shocked disgust grew inside as I listened to the news report about allegations against retired Penn State Defensive Coordinator, Jerry Sandusky, who has been accused of sexual misconduct with young boys dating back to 1994. Sandusky had full access to the Penn State campus football facilities after retirement and this is where much of the alleged abuse took place.

Most disturbing was the report of the many opportunities to report that were passed by while the abuse continued. Victims came into contact with Sandusky by way of ‘The Second Mile,’ a charity helping at-risk youth.

According to the Grand Jury Report:

  • In 1998 an incident of sexually inappropriate contact was investigated by child welfare after the child’s mother reported it. Sandusky apologized. No charges were filed and the university police chief instructed that the case be closed.
  • In 2000 a janitor told his supervisor, as well as another janitor that he had seen Sandusky performing a sex act on a young boy. The incident was not reported to authorities.
  • In 2002 a graduate assistant witnessed Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy. He reported the incident to Coach Joe Paterno, who then reported it to Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, Gary Schultz. ‘The Second Mile’ learned of the incident, which was internally reviewed. At the very least, five people were aware of this one incident. Any one of the five could’ve reported to child protective services. Why was there no report?

In the years that followed, others noticed unusual and suspicious behavior on the part of Sandusky. Why didn’t anyone report it?! I’d like to suggest it’s because we don’t value our children enough. Jesus blessed the children and also said that if anyone caused a child to stumble, it would go better for them if “a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) He made it clear that causing harm to a child is a serious offense. Those who know and who have seen the long term impacts of sexual abuse on children will agree.

Sandusky has been arrested on seven counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and numerous other charges, including aggravated indecent assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of a child. He is free on $100,000 unsecured bail. Curley and Schultz are each charged with one count of felony perjury and one count of failure to report abuse allegations. “Joe Pa” has done nothing legally wrong (although many would argue he had a moral responsibility in this case). He is still a beloved coach in one of the most highly respected football programs in the USA.

I wonder what our response will be and what it will say about how much we value our children. What do you think? 

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What impressed me the most was to hear the interview Bob Costas had with Sandusky on NBC,  and he playing the role of "poor guy" and with that, assuming that the children are the one who're lying . You can find it on YouTube.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Xy0L8MUsOE&feature=related 
Hopefully money and other privilege won't prevent justice.

Participant

I almost hate to speak up here, but there is always more than one side to a story, and most people do tend to act with integrity as they understand it. If we see Penn State as somehow exceptional, rather than typical, we endanger ourselves to the realities of abuse and how we handle it in our own circles. The problems at Penn State, and the way they handled them are in fact, not very different from problems we have dealt with in our own denomination. Such issues are extremely messy, and difficult to deal with honestly and justly.

Consider the following reasons such situations are difficult to deal with:

When there is an accusation of innappropriate sexual contact, it is almost always dealt with confidentially until the allegations can be substantiated in some way. We have a 'presumed innocent' society that doesn't have a special clause for sexual misconduct, and sexual sins are emotionally difficult for most of us to talk about, let alone investigate and respond to appropriately.

Second, because things are handled confidentially, most people assume that they don't have all the facts, and must trust those doing the investigation to deal with the situation appropriately. Further, most of us don't really want to know all the details.

Third, because sexual misconduct is such a difficult thing to deal with, we try to avoid dealing with it whenever possible. That means we can tend to believe it never happened, even when it did, since if it didn't we don't have to do anything.

Forth, sexual abusers are almost always, charming, well-liked, and enjoyable people to be around. They are the kind of people we tend to believe over accusers (who can be inarticulate, angry, and socially inept), especially when it's one person's word against another. They are often very good at explaining away or reinterpreting details. Mr Sandusky's interview displays somewhat typical behavior, though he is not as 'smooth' as other abusers I've dealt with.

Finally, sexual abusers rarely see their own actions as abusive (Mr. Sandusky didn't), and can easily persuade those who want to believe them that they can believe them. The total lack of shame on the part of an abuser, makes them quite believable, as they appear forthright and not to be hiding anything.

It is very, very easy to judge, after the fact, and from the outside. But when you're in the middle of a case yourself, it's never easy at all. Even determining whether or not abuse occurred can be a huge challenge. Our own denomination's abuse prevention policies are both recent and necessary, and often not understood.

The one thing we should learn from this (IMHO) is that such an investigation should be done by someone with training in sexual abuse/misconduct and from outside the organization in which the abuse occurred. When we are not personally connected to accuser or accused, we are much more likely to be able to approach the situation with better objectivity. Training is also essential, in that those who do such an investigation need to be able to recognize the signs of abuse, and the personality traits of an abuser.

Community Builder

Thank you for your very wise words!

It's important for us to realize our HUGE tendency to not want to believe that abuse occurs, especially when it involves children and especially, as you note, when it involves someone we know as a very nice person. There is always a lot of pressure to "not rock the boat". And you are absolutely right that the issues can become very complicated and confusing; there are no simple or easy cases. 

At the same time, we need to acknowledge the deep, intense and long-lasting effects that result from the trauma of childhood sexual abuse. We must not sacrifice our children to idols, whether the idol is an institution, a church, family honor, or someone's reputation. Children deserve our protection and our love. 

I have a friend who does group work with male sex offenders and batterers. His program is 52 weeks long and he says that it often takes about half of that time until the men understand that they've done anything wrong - they must unlearn and relearn a whole new way of thinking and understanding their behavior. He also says that if Jesus loves these men enough to die for them, the least he can do is work with them in group. I think of him when I want to hate and demonize people who abuse. I remember his words often, it's a good reminder to me that we all stand in the grip of God's mercy and grace. 

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