Will the NCAA penalty against Penn State end the culture of silence?

Penn State has the choice of becoming a beacon of change in the fight against child abuse or it can stick its head back in the sand until the NCAA penalty expires and the next Jerry Sandusky is found among its ranks. Photo: AP

DALLAS, July 28, 2012 – The recent report by former FBI director Louis Freeh on the cover up of sexual abuse of young boys at Penn State lays partial blame for the scandal squarely at the feet of Penn State.  Detailing a clear lack of empathy, the report by Freeh showed how Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, University Vice President, and Head Football Coach Joe Paterno knew of Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of young boys and chose not to act.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) used the findings of the report to institute penalties against Penn State.  The NCAA had contemplated a four-year death penalty for Penn State’s football program but decided upon a $60 million penalty over four years, the vacating of Paterno’s wins since 1998, and a reduction in scholarships. Paterno’s legacy has now been shattered with the removal both of his wins and his statue outside the University football stadium. The penalty imposed by the NCAA was unprecedented in its scope, and NCAA President Mark Emmert was given the power to act both swiftly and decisively.

As a survivor of child sex abuse, my first reaction to the penalty imposed by the NCAA was anger. I felt that the death penalty for Penn State’s football program would have been the most appropriate action. The reality is that no penalty will ever replace the innocence that was stolen from an ever-increasing number of young boys molested by Sandusky.

Many have said the “football culture” at Penn State is to blame for the abuse, but what happened to Jerry Sandusky’s victims? As Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz sat down for their holiday dinners, did they ever look at their children and grandchildren and think that they could fall victim to the next Jerry Sandusky? Did they think about the lives that Sandusky ruined and the happiness stolen from these young boys as they deposited their paychecks, played golf and ate at four-star restaurants? The answer is candidly evident in the action they took from the first moment they were notified of Jerry Sandusky’s molestation of young boys in 1998.

The reality is that what happened at Penn State is a sign of a larger problem that exists around the world.  Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz are now the worldwide ambassadors for the “culture of silence.”  They represent those who are able to take action to stop the sexual abuse of a child but ignore that responsibility.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has estimated the cost of child abuse for a lifetime is $124 billion. In 2008 Child Protective Services received 3 million reports of child abuse. That number translates into 6 cases of child abuse every minute in the United States. Research has also shown that a victim of child abuse has to tell an average of nine adults before they are even believed, raising the question of how many others at Penn State are a part of that statistic? We likely will never know, but it begs the question how many at Penn State and around the world will continue to be a part of that “chain of silence?”

As a child I was a victim of child sex abuse from the age of five until the age of fourteen, the age a pedophile typically ‘discards” his victim for someone younger. In my attempts to escape the hell I was trapped in I told doctors, teachers, janitors, bus drivers and other adults that I was being abused. The results were that I had three of my ribs broken and was beaten severely by family members, and I was molested by one of the teachers I told. These results may be shocking but they are not uncommon. The world simply does not listen to children, even today, and if we want to stop our children from being stripped of their innocence in a shower while those with the power to stop it stand by, we have to take action. What this means is we have to educate and empower parents and educate teachers and every responsible adult about the signs of child abuse and how to recognize them. We have to pass mandatory reporting laws and extend the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse.

What Penn State and others fail to understand was that what Sandusky did to his victims can never be undone.  No amount of money or NCAA penalties will erase the lifetime of pain that these young men have been forced to bear. If Penn State is serious about changing the mistakes that led to the sexual abuse of numerous young boys it needs to do more than renovate showers; it needs to renovate its understanding of child sex abuse.

Former Penn State President Graham Spanier recently came forward stating he was physically abused as a child and that he understands the pain of child abuse and would never ignore a report of child abuse. That would be a very courageous statement to make if it wasn’t a part of his defense after being fired for ignoring the evil that Sandusky perpetrated. Spanier, a sociologist and family therapist, claims he was notified in two e-mails that public welfare offices were notified and that no charges were being pursued. Wouldn’t Mr. Spanier, a victim of physical abuse and a family therapist, personally insure that a child was not being molested on his watch as University President? 

As a survivor of child sex abuse I would have conducted my own investigation until I was sure no children were at risk or that Sandusky was behind bars. I would have sacrificed my job and my career to make sure I could look into the mirror each morning and not be ashamed. Each of the four men exposed by the Freeh report, Spanier, Paterno, Curley and Schultz, showed a major lack of courage and a vacuum of empathy in their handling of the allegations against Jerry Sandusky.

This past week, the Penn State Board of Trustees voted not to fight the sanctions imposed by the NCAA. News that the NCAA also considered a four-year death penalty reminded the board of the severity of the crimes committed by their administration and Jerry Sandusky.

Penn State is also under investigation by the Department of Education for violation of the Clery Act named after Jeanne Clery, a 19-year-old Lehigh University student who was raped and murdered. The Clery Act requires that all Colleges and Universities that are a part of Federal Financial Aid programs reveal information about crime on or near their campuses. If Penn State is found to be in violation of the Clery Act, the Department of Education can impose a fine of $27,500 for each violation and it can also suspend Penn State’s participation in Federal Student Aid programs.

Penn State is also bracing for lawsuits from the many victims of Jerry Sandusky, and on Thursday victim number two, whose rape was witnessed by Mike McQueary, announced plans through his attorney to sue Penn State. The attorneys for victim number two released two voicemails that Jerry Sandusky allegedly left for their client in September 2011 inviting him to a Penn State football game. One of the voicemails ended with him clearly saying, “I love you.”  The attorneys for victim number two released a statement saying they had numerous other voicemails that Sandusky had left for their client during the fall of 2011.

The actions taken by the NCAA, the negative publicity of the Sandusky trial, and the impending civil litigation by the victims will not change the root of the evil that has plagued Penn State. What desperately has to change at Penn State is the culture of silence that has ruled there, exposed in the findings of the Freeh report. We will never know the true depth and scope of the cover up that allowed Sandusky to make Penn State into his own pedophilic amusement park. We can, however, be thankful that Louis Freeh exposed a culture of silence that is not unique to Penn State. The story of Penn State and Jerry Sandusky has been, and is currently being, replayed all over the world every day and will not stop until we address the underlying issues that make grown men turn their backs on innocent children.

Penn State is now left with a decision as to how it can move forward from the tragedy of lost innocence that no longer echoes in its showers but echoes around the world. It can become a beacon of change in the fight against child abuse or it can stick its head back in the sand until the NCAA penalty expires and the next Jerry Sandusky is found among its ranks. If Penn State is serious about change it should sponsor a National summit on the issue of child sex abuse and bring together Victims Rights Organizations, Victims, Law Enforcement, Mental Health Professionals, Teachers, and Parents to educate and empower these groups so not one more child will lose their innocence. Penn State should sponsor this summit for two years and schedule it for the summer months when it could make vacant dorm rooms available to those attending. After the two years it would be up to another University to sponsor the summit. Penn State could also create a program to train students to go into schools, churches and communities to educate people about child sex abuse and create a foundation to keep the education about child sex abuse a priority.

As a society we have to fight the lapse back into complacency that is now happening after Jerry Sandusky’s conviction. There are thousands more like Jerry Sandusky, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that there are currently 500,000-registered sex offenders in the United States and typically 100,000 of those are unaccounted for. These are just the ones that we know about and only an estimated 1 in 20 cases of child sexual abuse is reported or identified. We have to eliminate the culture of silence by raising our own voices and saying we will not allow one more child to suffer the tragedy of child sex abuse. The conviction of Jerry Sandusky is the Pearl Harbor in the war against child abuse and we need to come together as communities, as a nation, as a planet to end the evil that stalks out children in the darkness. Our children deserve a world where their innocence is safe and their happiness is guaranteed. Let’s all work together to make this dream a reality.

 

 


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Jerome Elam

Raised in the south, I joined the United States Marine Corps at the age of seventeen and spent the next eight years seeing the world. After my enlistment was finished I attended college and graduated to work in the Biotechnology sector.

I have struggled against many things in my life including childhood sexual abuse and somehow I found a way to survive. Writing is my passion and it keeps me in touch with the wealth everyone holds deep inside their hearts and minds. 

I am married with two beautiful children, and they have made my life complete. I have written all my life and enjoy creating lyrics as well as novels. I enjoy spending time with my children and teaching them about music, art, nature and the value of family.

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