This past week we watched – with horror – as individuals attempted to use their positions of power and fame to broker deals to save their careers and reputations amidst the ruins of the lives of little boys. The sexual abuse of nine little boys was cited as the root of a scandal that has toppled the sterling reputation of Penn State in the happy valley of University Park, Pennsylvania.
We learned that for nearly a decade senior staff and university administrators at Penn State knowingly turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children in their athletic facilities. After receiving an eyewitness report of an attack on a 10-year-old boy, no one notified the police. Instead, the known offender was allowed to continue to run an organization that gave him unlimited access to children who became his victims.
No action was taken until 2009 when one of the victims disclosed the abuse and filed a report with police. The courage of this child led the Pennsylvania Attorney General to launch an investigation that uncovered more victims and placed a spotlight on the adults that failed to protect them – the adults that failed in their duty to report the known and suspected sexual abuse of children to the authorities.
An equally tragic aspect of this scandal has been the rallying and rioting of Penn State students in support of their “heroes”. A group of men who – through inactivity and agreed upon silence – collaborated in a cover up and enabled brutal violence against children. These students are worried about the lucrative careers that have ended in disgrace instead of the lifetime of healing ahead for each abused child. They have failed to recognize the terror these children experienced at the hands of a predator because people who had the power to keep them safe chose to stay silent.
The offender has been charged. The negligent staff and administrators at Penn State have been fired and some face criminal charges, but we know the harm to the children cannot be processed as swiftly or neatly. This investigation may be ending, but the children at the center of this case will need the support of their families and communities for years to come.
Now, in the wake of Penn State’s biggest failure, the question remains: what does it take for adults to put the welfare of children first?
Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.