Monday, November 14, 2011

The real Penn State story

Much of the mainstream press would have you believe that the Penn State/Sandusky child abuse story is about Joe Paterno, a football legend.   Many in the public believe this too.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Indulge me while I tell a real-life story.

There once was a seven-year-old girl living in a solidly-middle class family that loved and did all they could for her.   This little girl and her family lived in a solidly middle-class neighborhood.   The adults in the neighborhood looked out for the girl and her younger brother, as they did all children in the neighborhood.   Step out of line and an adult admonished the child.

This child could not have lived in a more stable environment.   She lived in luxury compared to the children in the Hartford public school in which her mother volunteered.   She may have wanted toys that she did not get but there was nothing about her upbringing that had her wanting for the important things—love, shelter, food, medical care.

This young girl was molested by two adults and an older teen.

That's right, this solidly middle-class girl was molested by solidly middle-class people.

Skip ahead to young adulthood and the girl acted out knowing full well the cause.   People around her didn't know and she didn't tell her parents until she was in her mid-20s.

This woman was lucky and had a great support system to get through the disclosure.   Her family was incredibly supportive.   This young woman bravely went public in a healing service at the church in which she grew up.   All was going well during the service until her father broke down in tears, almost inconsolable.

Back to the Penn State story.

The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh got it right in Penn State's Paterno deserves no pity with this: "Save your pity for the trusting boys who may grow up into tortured men, not JoePa."   And this: "Right now, I still see a guy who was one of Pennsylvania's most powerful people who looked away and failed to protect children."

When I hear stories about child sexual abuse, I cringe, get mad, reflect on my past, and move on.   Not possible with this story.   There is something so wrong with the narrative that focuses on the adults at Penn State who knew what Sandusky is alleged to have done to boys.   The story is about the boys, about the impact of the abuse now and forever, about their families now and in the future.

Sexual abuse is not something you can just shake off.   Take it from me.

I wish I could make the pain go away for those Sandusky abused.   I can't.   What I can do is to continue my work in the area of child abuse and neglect and to speak out when I hear folks pity the likes of the abusers or those who knew and took the easy, cowardly road of saying nothing.