I believed Joe Paterno, beloved coach of Penn State’s Nittany Lions, when he said the reason he turned over the allegations about child sex abuse made against his friend and former employee to university officials in 2002 was that he didn’t know what else to do.
I think we are way more sensitized to the cruel and common reality of this behavior because of the Catholic Church’s having had to wrestle with it publicly in recent years.
The Penn State community was told, several times, about Sandusky’s behavior and underreacted.
So, too, did the Catholic Church, which held a meeting of bishops to discuss priests’ sexual molestation of children in 1967. In 1981 and 1985, individual priests pleaded guilty to sexual abuse in court.
When Did Public Awareness Change?
Public awareness changed in 2002 when the Boston Globe wrote its Pulitzer-Prize winning stories about the sexual abuse by priests that opened the floodgates.
By 2004, the Catholic Church had identified nearly 4,400 priests in the U.S. who had been accused of sexual abuse, representing approximately 4% of active priests, 7% of them victims of some kind of physical, sexual or emotional abuse themselves.
Until then, the Catholic Church had chosen the then-accepted route of advising prayer and sending priests for counseling.
It is only now, 50 years after the Church relied on advice that counseling was effective, that the medical community has come to understand that rehabilitation can be elusive.
Click here for a definition of child abuse.
What Are the Facts About Sex Offenders?
A 2000 U.S. Department of Justice report, “Myths and Facts About Sex Offenders” is moderately encouraging. It says sex offenders are actually less likely to repeat their criminal behavior than the rest of the criminal population.
And, it says intense therapy the first year after they get out of jail reduces the likelihood of repeating by 8%.
A combined, customized program of rehabilitative treatment includes anger management, empathy for victims and changing deviant sexual arousal patterns. It costs less than the same time in jail.
Still, communities want to know who lives in their midst. As a result of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, states keep a database of sex offenders, with varying levels of public access, depending on the state.
Parents Can Be Supportive
As always, it falls to parents to protect their children, even from revered public figures, as was Coach Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno’s presumed successor for many years.
Parents can’t be everywhere their children are, but they can set up an environment where their children can talk to them about scary things in their lives. And, they can be supportive if their child reports such an act from a trusted adult.
I once had a friend whose daughter was molested by her husband.
After several years of being molested, the daughter finally opened a conversation with her mother with the question, “How would you feel if you had a friend whose daughter was being molested by her father?”
My friend, whose previous husband had molested their first two daughters, understood instantly what her daughter was really asking. Divorce soon followed.
Parents Can Educate Their Children
Parents can teach their children that not all people will be good to them – even family.
In Chris Rock’s hilarious HBO Special in 1999, Chris Rock, Bigger and Blacker, he speaks to this.
(Note: this routine contains adult language.)
“If you got enough uncles, they’ll prepare you for life…
’cause you got every type of uncle.
You got your gay uncle. You got your alcoholic uncle.
You got your stealing uncle. You got your molester uncle.
Everybody’s got that one molester uncle.
Your mama’s like, ‘Where them kids at?’
‘They’re with Johnny.’
‘Get them kids!’
‘Hurry up, get them kids! Don’t leave them with your Uncle Johnny!’
Later on, you get molested, your mama get mad at you.
‘That’s what you get.’
‘Hanging around fucking Johnny. I told you about that shit!’
‘Now walk it off!’
That’s your family.”
We hope those sweet boys are surrounded by loving family and friends and, now, the support of a community that, if too little and late, is finally putting a stop to the abuse.
Did you have friends who were abused as children?
Did you know about it at the time?
How old were you when you found out?
To you and giving your grandchildren the strength to meet the world.
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
Click here to nominate my book for Best Grandparenting Book, at grandparents.about.com.
Click here to nominate my blog for Best Grandparenting Blog, at grandparents.about.com
- Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno speaks about role in Sandusky scandal for first time (philly.com)