Sunday, July 29, 2012

Child Sex Abuse Victims, Penn State, Joe Paterno & Jerry Sandusky

Recently the NCAA handed down an extremely harsh penalty on the Penn State football program due to the absolute abhorrent handling by university officials of child sex crimes committed by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Caught in the fray of this disaster is the late legendary Penn State football head coach Joe Paterno. Many have debated whether the NCAA's punishment was too harsh and also many have debated what will become of Paterno's legacy. One thing that should not be in debate is the seriousness of child sex abuse and the damage it can cause its victims.

No doubt the $60 million fine, reductions in scholarships, four year ban from post season play and now sullied reputation will hurt Penn State football for some years to come. Unfortunately there will be a lot of innocent people directly and indirectly involved with the program that will be negatively affected. There are scores of people who have jobs and businesses who count on the success of Penn State football. I can only hope that their negative impact will be limited. At least for the current PSU football players, the NCAA is giving them a free pass to leave for another program if they choose to do so without having to lose any time or eligibility.

Paterno's legacy, built on decades of numerous positive contributions such as raising the visibility of Penn State, teaching countless boys how to be men, and bringing in millions (if not billions) of dollars to the university, in an instant has been wiped away. Though "Joe Pa" was not the man committing these heinous crimes, at one point he did know about Sandusky's behavior and he (along with other university officials) all but looked away seemly to protect the stout and profitable football program. Paterno (and others) tried to prevent the football program from getting a black eye; instead his actions (or lack thereof) has placed the program on life support. And much worse, Paterno's "actions"  potentially placed many more children in harm's way.

I am no psychiatrist and I haven't conducted any scientific studies but sexual child abuse is a VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM; it happens way more often than we think and the effect that it has on its victims is immeasurable. It makes my stomach literally turn when I think about what happens to these innocent kids and makes my blood boil when I think of the predators/perpetrators. As an adult male I cannot tell you the amount of adult female friends and acquaintances that have shared their painful stories of being sexually abused as children. Every kind of sexual abuse from having someone exposing themselves to them, to touching their private parts to actual sexual intercourse. The abusers are generally from a wide range of folks within these victim's inner circle: biological fathers, stepdads, mother's boyfriends, uncles, cousins, neighbors, family friends and more. They all "abused" their authority over the children. Almost every single one of them threatened the child, usually by telling them their mother and other loved ones would be harmed if they spoke about what was happening. And yes I say "happening" because most was being abused on a consistent basis.

These selfish despicable predators don't comprehend the sometimes lifelong damage they create for their victims. Most victims I know never told anyone. The guilt and shame of being abused prevents a lot of them from having healthy relationships with other people. As kids, most blamed themselves somehow for it all happening. A couple of them even thought it was normal behavior and that everyone was doing those acts. But once the victim gets older and they understand more fully what has happened to them, how they were abused and taken advantage of, how do they reconcile that alone?  Depression, confusion and lack of trust are just a few things victims may wrestle with as adults. And what compounds the issue is when an enabler is involved. A couple of victims I know, in the situation where it was the mother's boyfriend who was the abuser, did tell their mother what was going on, AND THE MOTHER DIDN'T WANT TO BELIEVE THEM. These mothers, apparently so worried they would lose their "man", made a "business/emotional" decision to look the other way. As a victim, how do you reconcile that? Paterno and other university officials essentially became these type of  "mothers"; sacrificing the health and safety of children to protect something they valued. The enabler is ALWAYS A LOSER too because they contribute to the destruction of lives and that is never worth what it is they try to protect.

In the Penn State scandal, all of the victims I heard about were boys. I personally can't say that I know any males that were abused but today I am convinced that I actually do know some, they just haven't spoken up about it. The stigma of being abused and raped is harsh and for a male that has been abused by another male....well lets say that more likely than not those actions are never ever discussed. We have had some celebrity men discuss their ordeals in recent years, notably former NFL wide receiver Laveranues Coles and R&B singer Rahsaan Patterson, but many males have and will continue to remain silent. They will never tell a soul, not even their spouses. But this silence and these stigmas are part of the problem. The silence of the victims and the silence about the victims is no match for the deafening and piercing internal torture that they face.

The truth is as vile as Sandusky's actions were (and as irresponsible as the university's response was) it is just a mere drop of what goes on daily in the lives of children across the world. Again, I have not conducted a scientific study but if you are reading this more than likely you may have been abused yourself or you know someone that has. That is shameful. We have to be better. We have to do better. Silence has created an environment for these predators to roam. Maybe if we spoke up more about these tragedies, less of them would occur. If we spoke more about them, other victims who feel shame and guilt may feel more comfortable to speak up. Maybe they will feel some alleviation knowing that they are not alone. We have to teach our kids to speak up and let them know we will be there for them. As I mentioned, an overwhelming amount of these predators are people that victims know and trust. Sandusky had a foundation for underprivileged kids; it appears he used it as his personal playground. Those vulnerable kids needed his help not his abuse. And while he pays for his crimes in jail for the rest of his life, what type of "payment" will his victims make for the rest of their lives? I don't know what lasting effects this situation will have on the Penn State football program or on Paterno's legacy but I don't think it will be as harsh as it will be on Sandusky's victims.

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