Tuesday , 19 June 2018

Penn State: Never Again

Well, I’m usually all about bringing the funny, but I have to admit, the topic crowding my mind this week isn’t a laughing matter at all. You see, I have an eight year old son. And I love college football more than a fat kid loves ice cream. So the news coming out of Penn State the last couple of days? Let’s just say as usual, I am opinionated.

Yes, I love college football. But I don’t care how many wins you rack up, championships you win, or records you break if you achieved those things while you’re covering up for your buddy’s diddling little boys.

Even my hometown was rocked this week by allegations a well-known and trusted doctor in our area abused teenaged girls under his care. I know of a woman who went to a Collin County preacher who called himself a counselor for her prior sexual abuse…only to be abused by the counselor.

But enough about the darkness. I’ve decided, in my usual indomitable-spirit fashion, to focus on the positives about the situation at Penn State.

First: can anyone understand what it must take for eight young men to break the secret of sexual abuse? Human beings are so cool how they gravitate to heal, but to bring the actions of such powerful men into light? That took some nerve. Good for them. They will help other children who are being abused know: it doesn’t matter who it is or how beloved abusers are. And even though teenagers don’t think they’re children? They are. If someone over 21 is having sex with a teenager? That person is a criminal. There is no such thing as a Lolita.

The Penn State response by officials, too, was spot on. Heads are rolling. Hopefully more criminal charges will be coming. The college was right not to allow Joe Paterno to leave on his own terms.

I’m also glad the topic of sexual abuse is front and center. We’re all talking about it. We’re talking about how to stop it, how to spot it, how to protect children. We’re talking about how no one is above scrutiny: not clergy, not coaches, not anyone.

I know that some of you reading have been sexually abused as children. Statistics say numbers may be as high as 3 in 5. I hope the Penn State scandal will give you cause to consider breaking your silence. Because that’s the most powerful and wonderful thing that has happened: those young men were courageous enough to break the silence. Now their healing can begin. Can you talk to someone about what happened to you? Because it wasn’t your fault.

Penn State is also calling attention to the fact that sexual abuse does NOT usually happen with someone the child doesn’t know. Most assaults are from family or close friends to the family. As a result, victims have mixed feelings about their experience and their assailant. Usually a predator takes his (usually his, sometimes her) time to groom the child and their family to trust and care for them. Sexual advances are slowly led up to, and a child is torn about both their responsibility in what happened and shame for caring about someone who would hurt them so. Make the assailant a parent, and a child just can’t cope.

Lastly, and this is so key: as a parent, have a close relationship with your child. Make them know you believe them. Talk with them about what’s going on. And as excruciating as it might be for you, talk to them about their physical boundaries. Insist they will never get into trouble for “telling” on another adult. Have an emotionally intimate relationship with your opposite-sex kid. Daughters need their fathers to talk to about men, and sons need their mothers to talk to about girls. Teach them: some people are friendly. Some are not. And some are dangerous.

So I apologize for the lack of hilarity this week. But to highlight the positive aspects of what is otherwise a horrible tragedy seemed the way to continue to raise awareness of the prevalence of child sexual abuse.

Again: break the silence. If something like this has happened to you in the past, break the silence. If not with a pro, with someone you love who loves you. Tell it.

Because we’re only sick as our secrets.


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