I’m sick of hearing about the Penn State scandal. You should be, too. What we’ve learned is vile.
I promise you that I’m not writing a piece that begins with “we need to pray for these kids,” and move onto talking about Sandusky, Spanier, Paterno, McQueary, or Penn State students. They aren’t worth the time I just spent writing their names. Football doesn’t even deserve to be a secondary subject.
This post is a plea for you to do something difficult.
I want you to think about the subject of sexual abuse today. Not football. Not Penn State. But children who have been sexually abused or who are at risk of abuse.
They need our focus and attention, because some experts believe that 1 out of 3 children are likely to encounter a predator. And I’m not talking about the guy in a trench coat offering your kid candy to get into his car.
We need to begin with what is most discomforting. What will keep you awake a night.
You need to read the indictment for similar reasons I recommend people to study football games. Knowledge is power and that knowledge comes from understanding and studying behaviors. The more you know the more you can anticipate and react.
I have highly intelligent readers. In fact, probably a lot smarter than I am. So when I write, I aspire to write up to your intelligence. But as we’ve seen, intelligent people don’t know how to handle sexual abuse when it shows up on their doorstep.
Intelligence only works when there’s wisdom. We need to become wise to the dynamics of predators and how they create an environment to perpetrate and cover up their behavior. We need to become wise to the aftermath victims face. We can only do that by learning what to look for and how to develop a game plan to prevent it on an individual level.
You can’t wait for law enforcement, social services, or government to do something. You’ll be waiting a long time and you’ll rarely be satisfied with the results. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here.
I know from experience.
I’ve had no less than six people I’ve been close to in my life – men and women – (that I know about) who have been sexually abused by someone they knew and trusted. The ages they were abused ranged from as young as 5 and as old as 13. The aftermath is frequently lifelong:
- Difficulty maintaining physical and emotionally intimate relationships.
- Self-destructive behavior.
- High-risk behavior.
All of these things I mentioned come down to a series of events that shatter trust – in themselves and others – both physically and psychically. Some of these people I’ve been close to have been able to rebuild their psyches and live highly productive, emotionally fulfilling lives.
But they aren’t the norm.
Many had to repeatedly interact with his or her abuser while their family members, friends, or other authority figures – intentionally or otherwise – took the side of the abuser. As outraged as we are about the events at Penn State, the fact that the school swept this abuse under the rug parallels what often happens with families confronted with the possibility that their child is being abused by a parent, brother, sister, neighbor, teacher, or preacher. This is part of the abuse and it compounds the damage of the physical act upon the psyche.
Read the indictment. Note how the alleged abuser was in a position of authority over children. Note the pattern of behavior that lead to the criminal acts.
Then pay attention to behaviors of all the people we’ve been criticizing for not acting quickly, decisively, and in the interest of the children. As I’ve said it happens a lot and those reluctant to act are not just some random janitors or graduate assistants, but the victims own mothers and fathers. Social workers and police officers. Teachers and doctors.
It’s okay to be extra cautious with your kids around neighbors, family, or authority figures. There are red flags to learn about. Warning signs that you can spot way before your child is ever physically or emotionally endangered. If someone protests too much about your caution, they are frequently someone you have reason to be cautious about.