Monday, November 28, 2011

A Plea to FINALLY Address Child Sexual Abuse and Its Victims

Admittedly, I am biased - I am a de facto Penn Stater.  After one of the most trying months on record with the explosive allegations that broke in the mainstream media in early November, Penn State and Joe Paterno have taken a beating.  I wrote about the anger and sadness that this caused at the time and still causes upon further reflection; it provoked me to assemble the facts about the "Penn State scandal" that I could in order to truly understand the evolving situation and learn from it.
Then Syracuse happened, incidentally because of the allegations that broke at Penn State.  And Jim Boeheim denied that he was Joe Paterno.  Admittedly, I had an initial hunger for retribution - if Paterno got fired for not doing enough of the right thing, then Boeheim should definitely be fired for doing nothing at all and further defending a man "he knew could not have possibly done what he had allegedly done".

But this is THE moment to actually reflect on the reports - outside of the stampede of the "raised pitchforks" - and to really learn what we can do to better our society.

And for the sake of this exercise, let's assume that the alleged perpetrators - Jerry Sandusky and Bernie Fine - are guilty (even though neither has had his respective day in court to actually work through the facts - but what does that matter when justice is applied by the "court of public opinion"...).

If the allegations are true, what can we learn?
  • Sexual abuse for boys is likely more rampant and pervasive than we want to believe
  • Influential men, like high-ranking coaches, can exploit boys fairly easily
  • Getting abuse out in the open is quite difficult, due to molester skill and witness vulnerability
  • Molesters and pedophiles can live for a long time "out in the open" - and even those people closest to them might struggle to suspect that these molesters and pedophiles could commit the acts they are committing
  • Accusations can come down to "what if that was your son who was abused?" vs. "what if that was your do-good uncle who was accused?" - what side would you more likely believe?  And what side would institutions believe?
  • Teaching boys to say something if situations become strange in any way is the first line of defense - a mere touch of the knee can start what eventually leads to full-on sexual contact
  • Those boys most vulnerable - at-risk and in foster care - face the greatest threat, and there is usually no one to protect them, even child services (is there anything that can be done for these boys?)
  • We should expect confusion and denial - the suspects do not usually fit the description that we might have in our heads about molesters and pedophiles
  • Large institutions - churches, universities, etc. - are not well-equipped to handle molesters and pedophiles amongst their population - perhaps this requires some broader institutional awareness and change than just a few inquiries and new leadership appointments?
If we allow ourselves to step back, we will see that this issue is actually much bigger than a couple of college athletic programs; it's a societal issue exacerbated by our puritanical values, which cause us to want to "cover up" and not talk about the untoward behavior and the harm it causes, particularly to boys.  Or more direct, if men are touching or committing acts with the genitalia of young boys, and we cannot create the sort of environment where boys can share this plainly and adults can discuss this reasonably in order to take action against offenders, then we will have lost the opportunity to make life better for children and reduce the number of boys who are sexually abused.

In short, this is not about a Penn State "cover-up" or a Syracuse head basketball coach who should take the fall for inserting both feet in his mouth for callous statements about alleged victims - or even college football teams that should sit out bowl games and seasons because "they just don't get it".  This is about recognizing that we have a larger societal problem appreciating, recognizing, and acting upon sexual abuse among boys, for a host of complicated reasons.  Unfortunately, the damage at Penn State has already been done, but the alumni are doing something about it, raising almost $500k for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN)

I donated because it seemed like the right thing to do; I would encourage you to do the same.  I have reflected on what we can really learn from this situation because it would seem that child sexual abuse is more common than we probably want to admit - and something good should come out of the crucifying that Penn State and Joe Paterno have undergone.  Shame on us, then, for crucifying Syracuse and Jim Boeheim - when will we learn that the real travesty is focusing not on what we might learn to recognize the patterns of sexual abuse but rather on soiling of the reputations of the sort of leaders who we desperately need to raise proper awareness for better addressing and stopping sexual abuse amongst boys in the future?
Post a Comment