…and being Sanduskied is NOT a joke, even though it does sound funny. The Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Penn State has scarred all of Happy Valley and a great deal of the country. Yet many of us are arguing about whether the university handled the firing of its beloved football coach ‘correctly’ and who deserves to be on the sidelines this weekend. Wow! We have really dropped the ball.
Perhaps the focus on football and attempts at humor are a symptom of our discomfort. Though we are horrified by predators, it’s hard to think about the children. It’s much easier to talk about Jerry Sandusky and ‘Jo Pa’ Paterno, a well-known figure whose storied career provides lots of great video and pictures. We imagine ourselves experts as we critique Penn State’s communications strategy or its football-centered culture. Rioters get a lot of attention, but those speaking up for the victims don’t provide the same exciting visuals. This group of protesters got remarkably little national attention for demanding accountability and systemic change despite incredible social pressure to protect the institution and its icon.
It’s great to hold a candlelight vigil, raise money for victims and wear a light blue ribbon, but we can do more. Children rely on us to provide a safe environment, and that means we have to face some tough facts. What’s so enraging about this crime is that we feel the child’s pain, we can’t fathom how anyone would violate a child’s trust and their body so horribly, we think we are helpless to prevent such an insidious thing from happening.
That helplessness is a mirage that gives predators opportunity. We can stop them. Everyone, especially parents, can educate themselves to protect children from predators and seek the reasons behind a child’s change in behavior. Everyone can learn about every type of child abuse that causes vulnerable children suffer and how predators deceive everyone close to them. Everyone can know how to reach the proper authorities when they witness abuse. Everyone can be aware of organizations like ChildHelp so they have resources when something makes them suspicious. Everyone can be understanding and compassionate when a victim of sexual abuse overcomes the horror and trusts us enough to share their story. Everyone can take a personal vow to protect children, no matter what.
If each of us did just one of these things, we would make our neighborhoods, youth sports programs, schools and churches harder places for predators to succeed. We’ll never know how many children we save, but a lot more predators would wind up in jail. Some may even seek therapy instead of victims. Fewer administrators and trusted leaders would be indicted because they could count on community support. And all of us will sleep better at night, especially our children. Because the truth is that it doesn’t take a village, a system, or a procedure manual to protect a child. It takes you.