Monday, November 14, 2011

Everyone Should Learn Something From Penn State Molestation Scandal

The Olympian

The Pennsylvania State University football team took to the field Saturday and for the first time in 62 years, their coach, Joe Paterno, was not on the sidelines.

After 46 years as head coach, Paterno, 84, was fired last week, along with University President Graham Spanier for their actions – or more accurately – their lack of actions surrounding the sexual abuse of minors by a former football coach hired by Paterno.

Normally, we wouldn’t opine on a national issue of this nature, preferring instead to focus our attention on South Sound. But the circumstances surrounding the Paterno case are screaming for comment.

The facts, at least the facts that have emerged to date, go something like this:

Jerry Sandusky was employed by Paterno’s Nittany Lions as defensive coordinator, leaving the team in 1999. In 2002, assistant coach Mike McQueary, then a Penn State graduate assistant, heard a noise in the team showers. When the assistant coach investigated, he saw Sandusky engaged in illegal sexual contact with a boy McQureary estimated to be 10 years old. The next day, McQueary reported the incident to Paterno.

Paterno relayed the information to athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, senior vice president for finance and business. Not one of the men, not McQueary, not Paterno, not Curley or Schultz, reported the child abuse to law enforcement.

The whole story exploded into national headlines on Nov. 4, when Pennsylvania’s attorney general indicted Sandusky (who had since retired from the Penn State football program but still had an office at the sports complex) on 40 counts of sex crimes against young boys. The charges were the culmination of a three-year investigation into sex abuse allegations against Sandusky – an investigation when a brave 15-year-old, dared tell his story of four years of abuse.

A grand jury has identified at least eight victims.

Sandusky was arrested and pleaded innocent to 40 felony counts ranging from involuntary deviate sexual intercourse to endangering the welfare of a child.
At the same time Curley and Schultz were charged with failure to report child abuse and perjury for their testimony before the grand jury. Paterno has not been charged.

In the subsequent firestorm, university trustees fired Paterno and university President Spanier, sparking a student riot in State College, Pa.

Those are the sordid details. Now the commentary:

First, a broadcaster on ESPN said this incident was so important people would remember where they were when they heard the news.

Like when older Americans remember where they were when they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor, or when President John F. Kennedy was shot, or when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, or when the Challenger exploded or when terrorists took down the twin towers in New York City.

How absurd.

A second thought: Newspapers and broadcasters across the country repeatedly tied Paterno’s firing to the Penn State “sex scandal.”

This is not a sex scandal. This is a case of child molestation. There’s a big difference.
Third: We understand how Penn State students see their coach as the campus father figure. But rioting? Smashing windows? Upending a television truck?

Where was their outrage for the real victims here – the young boys subjected to years of abuse because people in authority didn’t speak up and notify police? How many victims could have been spared had those in power at Penn State – and others – notified law enforcement when Sandusky was caught in compromising situations?

A fourth thought: In more than 40 states, the prevailing policy is that such reports must be made to police or child-protection authorities swiftly and directly, with no option for delegating the task to others and then not following through. Thank goodness, Washington is a must-report state.

And a final thought: Perhaps, just perhaps, this whole ugly mess will get people to re-examine their own values and responsibilities. Perhaps other victims or witnesses to child abuse will remember how the secrecy and cover-up in Pennsylvania ruined lives and reputations and maybe, just maybe, those memories will help them muster the courage to step forward, to notify authorities immediately and ensure that abusers of children are held accountable for their crimes.

Maureen Fitzgerald, the former executive director of Monarch Children’s Justice and Advocacy Center in Olympia provides these statistics:

 • One in four girls in this country is sexually molested.
 • One in six boys is sexually molested.
 • Only one in 10 children that are molested ever report it.

Child sexual abuse happens every day to children in our community.

Adults who witness sexual abuse of children have an absolute responsibility to report it. Monarch is an outstanding local resource to help victims through the justice system and healing process.

If the Paterno case convinces abuse witnesses to summon police, that’s about the only good we see coming from this horrific incident.

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