Penn State’s Biggest Failure


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?

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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The Collision of the Personal and the Professional


Someone once told me that at some point our personal and professional lives are bound to collide. I chose to believe that it is possible – although often times difficult – to keep the two separated. My personal and professional lives collided recently, and I am forever changed.

Last Sunday evening I was talking with a person that I have long considered a close friend. I endured the displeasure of listening to him speak words that enraged me and caused feelings of physical illness with the hope that I might be able shift his thinking. However, the impossibility of sparking any change became evident when he made statements that revealed the distance that exists between our core values.

Here is some of what he said:

  • Children are sexually abused because of flaws in their characters that are targeted by sexual predators
  • Children are sexually abused because they are not strong, grounded individuals
  • Children are sexually abused because they come from families that are not strong or stable and the parents of these children are ultimately responsible for the abuse
  • Children must bear a share of the responsibility when they are sexually abused, and that responsibility is increased when they choose not to disclose the abuse immediately
  • Studies need to be conducted to determine the “type” of child that becomes a victim of sexual abuse

The shock of these words coming from someone I held as a friend has still not worn off. No matter how much evidence I offered to counter his arguments he continued to assert his beliefs – his very dangerous beliefs. He shamelessly minimized the criminal responsibility of anyone who harms a child. As a parent, he refused to recognize the fact that any child – according to reported statistics 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 3 girls by the time they are 18 years old – could become a victim of sexual violence. Moreover, he displayed the weakness of his character when he repeatedly stated that the most vulnerable in our society should be held responsible when they are sexually abused.

Children are sexually abused because they are vulnerable. The people children trust and love abuse them. People in positions of trust, power, and authority abuse children. Family members abuse children. Family friends abuse children. Strangers abuse children. The trauma of sexual abuse has lifelong effects and sexually abused children are NEVER responsible for the abuse.

I know this because I am a sexual abuse survivor.

The person I had this conversation with did not know that I am a survivor because it is not information I often disclose in my personal life. In my personal life, I talk around the edges of sexual abuse. This collision between my personal and professional lives has made me realize that hiding behind my work while shrouding my personal life in secrecy are no longer options. I cannot truly advocate on behalf of survivors of sexual violence if I cannot be truthful about who I am in all areas of my life because I choose to do this work because I am survivor. Unfortunately, as this experience shows, a part of this work is trying to eliminate the misinformation and myths that exist about sexual abuse and sexual abuse survivors.

Because of this person’s beliefs I can no longer maintain our friendship, but I am walking away with renewed purpose and the knowledge that I am stronger without it.

T. Bennett
Founder,
Survivors Guide

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

Suspected Abuse and the Duty to Report


“Be careful of Clive.”

That was the warning to a young girl from her aunt who suspected that it might be unsafe for her to spend time alone with the man who had already been sexually abusing her for months. Her aunt did not confront the man. She did not discuss her suspicions with other family members. She did not report her concerns to the police or a child protection agency. She told the young girl to be careful, but did nothing more to ensure her safety.

This person did not fulfill her duty – the duty of an adult to protect a child – and that young girl became a survivor.

In Canada, each province and territory has a Child Protection Act* because children cannot protect themselves. According to each Act, if a person has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a child is in need of protection that person must report the suspicion and all information to the local police or child protection agency. This responsibility extends to all adults. Even if, wrongly, we choose to believe the responsibility falls more heavily on the shoulders of anyone who performs professional or official duties involving children. Even if, in some cases – because of the nature of the job – a child may feel safer disclosing abuse to professionals such as:

  • Health care professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and family counselors
  • Educational professionals including teachers, school principals, guidance counselors, early childhood educators (ECE), daycare staff, and youth and recreation staff
  • Religious officials including ministers, rabbis, and other members of the clergy
  • Law enforcement professionals including peace and police officers
  • Social workers
  • Lawyers

Every person has the duty to report if he or she suspects the abuse of a child. There are no exceptions.

So, what are some of the things from which a child requires protection?

  • Neglect: the failure to provide adequate care and/or supervision
  • Emotional and Psychological Abuse: revealed in children as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, and/or delayed development
  • Physical Abuse: injury inflicted by a parent/caregiver or another person; or resulting from neglect or lack of supervision
  • Sexual Abuse: when a child is sexually molested, sexually assaulted, or sexually exploited by her or his parent/caregiver or by another person; or the parent/caregiver knows that there is a risk of sexual molestation, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child

The Child Protection Act of Ontario states that if you suspect a child requires protection, to fulfill the duty to report you must make the report directly. You cannot rely on another person to report abuse on your behalf. In fact, anyone who fails to make a report is guilty of an offence.

We know that children cannot protect themselves. The key principles of each Child Protection Act – the promotion of the best interests, protection, and well-being of children – are there to remind us of this. Therefore, if you suspect abuse, fulfill your duty: report it. You may protect a child from becoming a survivor.

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* Written with excerpts from the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11

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Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

The Agonizing Last Words of Programmer Bill Zeller


I have read this letter and I understand it in a way that chills me to the marrow of my bones.

Bill Zeller

Bill Zeller’s last wish was to have his final words shared with as many people as possible, and as survivors of sexual abuse, we believe this wish must be fulfilled.

People everywhere need to understand the extent to which sexual abuse harms an individual. They need to understand how the lack of societal recognition about the heinous nature of this crime causes survivors to retreat from society and human contact in a way that makes the victim appear to be the source of dysfunction. They need to understand how the fear of lack of support from family, friends, and trained professionals in the aftermath of disclosure drives survivors away and buries them in inescapable darkness. People need to understand that survivors of sexual abuse live with the effects throughout every minute of every day of their lives and there is no miracle or epiphany that will make what happened instantly “go away”.

Bill Zeller did what survivors of sexual abuse do every day: keep a secret.

We hope that sharing this secret in the wake of his death will create a powerful ripple of awareness in the world about the darkness that can exist for survivors of sexual abuse.

Read the letter: The Agonizing Last Words of Programmer Bill Zeller

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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The Canadian Government Needs to Do More about Sexual Offenders


How does a convicted sex offender obtain a pardon and then bail when he faces additional charges for sexual offences?

This is a clear example of why the Canadian government needs to do more about sexual abuse and to protect the victims of sexual offenders.

In an interview with the Toronto Star on December 8, 2010, Theo Fleury, a survivor of sexual abuse who is pursuing charges against his offender Graham James, urged Canadians to contact their local Member of Parliament. He believes “the decision to grant Graham James bail . . . means those who have suffered in silence will not feel confident about stepping up and voicing their concerns”. Fleury further stated, “We absolutely must do something about this for the future of our children. I encourage you to contact your Member of Parliament and complain.”

However, this call to action does not stem solely from previously convicted sex offender Graham James being granted bail in December 2010. The National Parole Board granted James a pardon in January 2007 after he pleaded guilty in 1997 to sexually assaulting two young men on 350 separate occasions and serving a 3 1/2-year prison sentence. According to CBC News, “a National Parole Board pardon effectively seals a criminal record except under certain, narrow circumstances, such as if a person convicted of a sexual offence applies to work with children”, and in James’ case the pardon allowed him to leave Canada to start a new life first in Spain and then in Mexico.

This raises questions about how effective Canadian laws are at protecting victims of sexual abuse. The only people who can answer these questions are our local Members of Parliament.

If you do not know your elected Member of Parliament this link will provide you with a complete list of the Canadian House of Commons Members: http://bit.ly/1bjGA

You may also contact the government at:

Toll-free (Canada): 1 (866) 599-4999
Telephone: 1 (613) 992-4793
TTY: 1 (613) 995-2266
Email: info@parl.gc.ca
Mail: Information Service, Parliament of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0A9.

 

Let the Canadian government know that they need to do more about sexual offenders.

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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An Open Letter to Amazon.com


Dear Amazon.com,

You have lost customers…permanently.

When it was brought to light yesterday that you were selling “The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct”, through your site we were stunned. It is incredulous that no one on your staff thought that this listing would be offensive, not to mention that what this “instruction manual” is teaching is criminal.

You defended the sale of this book in a statement that read, “Amazon believes it is censorship not to sell certain books simply because we or others believe their message is objectionable. Amazon does not support or promote hatred or criminal acts, however, we do support the right of every individual to make their own purchasing decisions.”

This is not a free speech issue and this book is promoting criminal acts.

As survivors of sexual abuse, we find it abhorrent that the author was able to use your services to disseminate material about how to avoid detection while committing crimes against children. Pedophilia is not a “love” of children as the author states, but an exercise of power over the most vulnerable individuals within our society. In his description of the book, the author states, “penetration is out. You can’t do that with a child, but kissing and fondling I don’t think is that big of a problem”. He is wrong. Any sexual acts between an adult and a child are a problem, and survivors of sexual abuse are living proof that the harm is immeasurable.

You removed the book from your listings, but not before it hit your Top 100 Bestsellers list. Unfortunately, you cannot remove from our memories your unwillingness to do what was necessary to protect children everywhere. For that, we bid you good-bye.

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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Victims Matter


The Government of Canada has launched a streamlined site for victims of crime. The Victims Matter site states: “The government of Canada is taking action for victims of crime, so can you”.

Victims of sexual assault/sexual abuse can find information under the
“Is This Your Situation?” section by clicking on the link for
Victims of Violent Crime. In this section, to get help victims of sexual assault/sexual abuse are directed to:

  • call 911 in an emergency
  • contact your local police service if you wish to file a report
  • contact victim services whether or not they have reported the crime to police
  • click a link to the Victim Services Directory to locate services in your local area
  • click a link to learn more about victim services provided by provincial and territorial governments
  • click a link to the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, which is a non-governmental organization

You can contact the Government of Canada to request information or to provide your feedback about the site.

Toll-free Number: Call 1-800-O-Canada (1-800-622-6232) for help to find information and services.
TTY: 1-800-926-9105
Email: webadmin@justice.gc.ca
Mail: Department of Justice Canada, 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, ON K1A 0H8

 

Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.

Survivors Guide

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