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The Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal – My Thoughts

Today I am veering off the topic of all things breast cancer and delving into the subject of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. I decided to do so because as an educator, mother, cancer survivor and human being I have been greatly disturbed by the story that has unfolded there in recent days. Some issues I care too much about to not speak out about. This is one of those issues.

First of all as an educator, I want to say ‘shame on you’ to all involved in any way at Penn State for your lack of timely and thorough action and/or investigation. As a long-established and revered institution of higher learning, you have let us all down. And if there was indeed a cover-up, well, don’t even get me started…

In many states educators are bound by law to report abuse to outside authorities, but it is my understanding this is not the case in Pennsylvania where it is only required to report incidents to a superior in the “chain of command.” Law or no law, in my opinion, all educators are morally bound to protect the well-being of our youth. No matter how you try to spin this story, it comes back to that.

Individuals at Penn State failed in this responsibility. Adults failed to protect children.

As a mother, I am even more appalled by this story. Coaches, teachers and all authority figures are entrusted to watch out for our children. We expect such role models, above and beyond all else, to provide a safe environment for learning and growth.

As a cancer survivor and human being, I empathize with the victims and I wonder how those children who were abused are ‘surviving’ today. I wonder how they feel about the labels ‘victim’ and ‘survivor.’ I wonder how they have struggled with this burden they have been forced to bear. I wonder if they have been able to move on. I wonder what they think should be done.

During the last few days I’ve listened with interest to discussions about what should be done now. I’m not talking about the legal ramifications. Others will address those, and there will undoubtedly be many. I’m referring to the football realm of things.

Some believe the game last weekend with Nebraska should never have been played. Some believe the rest of Penn State’s football season should be canceled. Some believe stiffer sanctions should be imposed and the 2012 season (and perhaps beyond) should be canceled as well (my view if allegations are proven). Some on the other hand, firmly believe the games must go on no matter what. The players, after all, were not at fault and do not deserve to be ‘punished.’ This is true, but…

A child’s innocence and dignity is a precious thing.

Adults have tremendous power and influence over children on a daily basis, literally affecting the trajectory path of each child’s life they come in contact with. Obviously, this influence can result in varying degrees of benefit or devastation for those children.

That’s why in my opinion, if it is proven there was an attempt to cover up this travesty, if it is proven those in power did use that power to protect the reputation of a sport or an institution instead of to protect children, there should be serious sanctions against Penn State. 

Penn State would survive. Football would survive. The players would too.

More facts are coming out daily. The story is yet unfolding. We don’t know who knew what or when they knew it. I’m willing to wait and see.

But one thing is for certain – dollars, football, coaches, or an institution’s reputation must never matter more than the welfare of children.

Ever.

 

Do you believe there should be sanctions against Penn State now or in the future?

Do you believe Penn State should be allowed to accept a bowl bid?

22 thoughts to “The Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal – My Thoughts”

  1. Great post, Nancy. I missed the whole story while I was in Cambodia. I’m just getting caught up on it now – and I am appalled. I am disgusted by the students and parents who sound like whiny, overprivileged brats, claiming to be the victims. True, the abuse and scandal are not their fault, but that does not make them victims. But mostly I am horrified that football, and the money and prestige it confers, could be considered more important to an institution than the well-being of children.

    My feelings are particularly strong right now since I just returned from Cambodia, where far too many poor children fall victim to predatory foreigners with shocking frequency. There is a dark shadow that hangs over all the glories of Cambodia.

    In reading the Penn State story, I kept thinking that the children were missing from far too many people’s writing and opinions. No matter what, this is a story about child abuse by a perverted sexual predator. It doesn’t matter what else he was or is – he is a predator. And no one bothered to stop him from raping children. Anyone who knew or even suspected something is wrong for not reporting it. The pain of those children sits squarely on those adults’ shoulders, too.

    Thank you for keeping the true victims at the heart of your post.

    1. Julie, Thank you for your insightful comments and also for giving us a perspective about what many children in Cambodia are dealing with too. Sometimes it seems the world’s children are sadly neglected doesn’t it? I often ask myself, ‘where are all the pro-life people?” Shouldn’t we care even more about children that are already here? But… I try not to get political on my blog… I think you are absolutely right about the need to remember who the real victims are in this and it’s not the football players, football or even the university. It’s the children who were abused.

  2. The whole thing just sickens me… I was a teacher for over 30 years. I cannot imagine an educator taking advantage of a child in such a malicious, evil way! Of course, I can’t imagine ANYONE hurting an innocent child at all!!! But it happens, unfortunately, too often.
    I have worked with children who were neglected, who saw terrible things happen in their homes, and some who were underfed and over disciplined…
    My heart aches for the victims of these unspeakable acts. I don’t think the college should even have a football team for a long time.

    1. Sharon, It is hard to imagine ‘respected people’ taking advantage of children in such a way isn’t it? Educators such as yourself see a lot too that’s for sure. One thing I do know, you or I would never keep quiet about such things. Like you, I think there should be harsh sanctions if there is guilt. I did hear, however, it will be difficult for the NCAA to do much since there were no specific NCAA rules broken and this is a legal matter not an NCAA matter. To me that’s a ‘cop-out,’ but I’m willing to wait and see. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Nancy, I really hope that this Penn State incident will be a game changer (pardon the pun). I want it to be the tipping point… the one that finally kicks stigma to the curb and makes it OK for children and adults to “tell” without fear.

    One of my blogging pals, Lauren, has written a powerful piece about her day job standing guard for children who have suffered abuse.(http://afterfiveyears.com/2011/11/13/standing-guard/)

    Just like the “think before you pink” movement, change is coming. It has to.
    -Renn

    1. Renn, I hope you’re right, that’s why I really hope an example is made here and a precedent set because I’m sure there are plenty of ‘shady’ things going on at other campuses, not molestation type things, but ‘shady’ none-the-less. There is too much money involved in college athletics to think otherwise. So maybe this can be a ‘game-changer’ in some ways. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Any time anyone with holds information about a child being sexually abused is tantamount to that person being there watching. How do you in good conscience not provide the information they know? It’s not about passing the buck it’s about how these children see themselves for the rest of their lives.
    These students and who ever else should have been protesting the abuse instead of behaving like entitled over indulgent brats.

    The rest about the “bowl” I don’t know much about American football or Canadian for that matter….Alli……

    1. Alli, I agree with you. Seeing a child molested and doing nothing is nearly as bad as the act itself. And I don’t buy the reporting ‘to the next person in the chain of command’ excuse. Not good enough in my book. More should have been done, plain and simple. Thanks for commenting.

  5. To become more relevant to you blog – did you hear Joe Paterno just announce he has “operable” lung cancer?

    Now, if there is such a thing as playing the cancer card, that is it.

    Are we supposed to feel sorry for him now? Well, speaking as a person with Stage IV metastatic cancer, I don’t.

    They all disgust me. I don’t know anything about college football but the #1 thing educators must do is protect kids, no matter what level they teach. So, no, they should not get a “bowl bid” (whatever that is), yes, they should get sanctions and frankly, I think they should stop with the football and just go on to teaching them.

    1. Ann, Yes, I did hear that about Mr. Paterno. Is that announcement being made right now as an attempt to look for sympathy? Is it playing the cancer card as you said? I don’t know. You are absolutely right, an educator’s top priority is always protecting kids, no matter what level they teach at. I don’t think Penn State should be allowed a bowl game appearance, but I’m pretty sure they will be and the reason given will be this all needs months to get sorted out and the players aren’t at fault. Hmmm…. Thanks for commenting. Hope you are healing and resting well.

  6. Nancy,
    I am so outraged by this I can’t discuss it without my blood boiling. I have not paid attention to any of the details because it disturbs me THAT much. The very first person who saw something and didn’t do something to protect that single child is the person with ALL the “blood” on his hands. How many lives were destroyed that might have been stopped if proper moral action was taken. Forget the laws of the state or the rules of the university. How about being a human being. I’m pretty sure I would be capable of some violent behavior (all 5’2″ of me) if this was even remotely close to home. The tentacles are far reaching and every one of those who made a choice to turn their head away. Guilty. I am glad you posted this.

    AnneMarie
    xoxo

    1. Ann Marie, I did hesitate to post this, so thanks for saying you’re glad I did. I care a great deal about children and education, so it was difficult for me to not speak up here. I know what you mean about being disturbed and having your blood boil, mine’s been boiling a bit too. Perhaps the lesson here, is we are all responsible for looking out for all children at all times. No excuses. I thought everyone knew that lesson already, but apparently not. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I, too, view his health announcement with suspicion. I am sorry that he has lung cancer, but am deeply suspicious of the timing of the announcement.

    Also suspicious – selling his house (worth around $600,000) to his wife last July for just $1. Perhaps to avoid losing it because he knew he’d be open for personal liability in civil suits? Curious.

    1. Julie, Yes it is all curious isn’t it? I’m always sorry to hear about anyone’s cancer diagnosis, but the timing does seem a bit too coincidental here. Interesting news about the house too. Maybe he knew this was all coming… I have a feeling there will be a lot more to this story, I just hope there aren’t too many more victims out there. Thanks for commenting again, Julie.

  8. No, Nancy. In Pennsylvania, teachers and school professionals (among many other professions – and mine is one, as well) are considered to be ‘Mandated Reporters’, which means by law, they are required to report abuse to Child Protective Services. It has been explained to me that I would lose my license if I failed to do so. I think that Joe Paterno had enough clout (do you realize that he was the highest paid state employee in Pennsylvania?) that he could have simply refused to have this man on his staff, and no one would have argued with the great ‘Pa’. If Joe had reported this properly, the college would have had no choice but to pursue this. I will never understand why such a good, good man decided that if his superiors weren’t going to handle it, he’d overlook it as well. This is totally out of charactor for a man long respected for his ethics and honor.

    1. Debby, Thanks for commenting. According to my source, Wendy Murphy, a leading victims’ rights advocate and nationally recognized television legal analyst and adjunct professor at New England Law in Boston, “in Pennsylvania, as in nine other states, the law is explicit that employees need not report directly to outside authorities and can satisfy their reporting obligation by reporting only to a supervisor. Interestingly, this “chain of command” change to Pennsylvania’s mandatory reporting law happened right before Sandusky’s first alleged on-campus offense in 1998.” You can read her entire position in my ‘sanctions’ link. Actually, it doesn’t even matter though, does it? Law or no law, individuals at Penn State failed to protect children. Mr. Paterno can no longer be considered a man of any integrity what-so-ever in my book. He has disappointed many.

  9. Great post, Nancy. Good for you using your blog to share thoughts other than cancer. We do have them, don’t we? This story is unreal. I don’t know how anyone can know of something so horrendous and stand by without taking legal action. How do you live with yourself? I feel for those children and their parents. Let’s see how it plays out.

    1. Stacey, The story is unreal isn’t it? Lots more will be coming out I’m sure. Your question is right on, how CAN people who choose not to take any or further action live with themselves? Thanks for commenting.

    1. Beth, Thanks for commenting. I hope you’re wrong about that ‘slap on the hands.’ Time will tell I guess. Actually, I think time will tell a lot. I’m sure there is lots more yet to come out.

  10. I just caught your post now. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Paterno was legendary. This is just such a tragedy. Everyone has to take responsibility to protect children, students, etc. The power these people had was incredible, corrupting. Made it easy for them to sweep it under the rug – no accountability. Just because you do good in one area, doesn’t mean you can turn the other cheek to evil. And if people are fearful to report misdeeds, it’s so wrong.

    My husband and I worked in another public university with a strong sports presence. We’ve been very leery of the power given to college sports programs. I wish that universities in the US would derive their identity from academic achievement – not bowl victories. I wish there was more accountability.

    It looks like there may be more serious action taken against Penn State than just a slap on the hand.

    1. Elaine, Thanks for reading my earlier post and for sharing your thoughts. As more details come out, it’s looking more and more like there was indeed a cover-up. It makes my blood boil to think protecting the university’s reputation and football was more important than protecting children. I hope the consequences for all are severe. Otherwise things like this will continue to happen.

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