With sensational headlines and shocking revelations are we missing the bigger tragedy of the Penn State scandal?

During this past weekend’s Special Edition of BTW! on Blog Talk Radio, in which I welcomed to the show renown sports psychologist Dr. Jack Singer and the National Post’s Managing Editor Jonathan Kay, an amazing revelation came to light that while maybe not surprising has perhaps been lost amidst the scandalous headlines regarding former Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Gerald Sandusky.

In the inevitable search for answers as to why Sandusky, virtually unchallenged as opposed to undetected, was able to abuse so many boys under his charge through his charitable organization The Second Mile, questions as to how it might have been prevented in the first place turned to the responsibility of parents and children.

The recommendation that children must be properly educated to the point of distinguishing the differences between what is an acceptable and unacceptable level of contact with an individual, in particular an adult, has been met with a certain degree of disdain.   The point of contention is the feeling that this unduly places the burden of avoiding abuse on the child, potentially suggesting to some that they bear a responsibility for avoiding what has happened to them.

While no one would suggest that educating children as part of an overall approach to protecting them is in itself flawed, the real challenges exist in terms of establishing a comfort zone of communication that will encourage those who are in a position of being abused to come forward with the confidence that they will be heard and believed.

As referenced in my previous post (Are adolescent sports and Community-based organizations the harvesting grounds for Paedophiles, and why one reader believes that there is a special place in hell for Joe Paterno), even though the suggestion that parents need to be more vigilant and that it is the responsibility of the child to come forward when they experience abuse at the hands of a trusted adult are not inherently unreasonable, they are in reality impractical given the reluctance on the part of children to come forward coupled with ever decreasing levels of parental involvement in the daily lives of their off-spring.

Problems with reporting according to Dr. Debra Castaldo, a child therapist with 25 + years in the field of child abuse, are due to the fact that “child victims are often blamed for the abuse, not believed, and emotionally terrorized by their abusers in order to keep the abuse going.”  Adding further insult to injury continued Dr. Castaldo, is that children are “often re-victimized by the legal system,” being subjected to embarrassing “multiple interviews and evaluations.”  What is needed advises Castaldo is that “we all need to do our part to listen to children and not close our eyes to the trauma of sexual abuse.”  This final point is where Paterno and his coaching staff, the university and even those associated with the Second Mile organization dropped the proverbial ball.

This is also the critical area where parents of children are also missing the mark, especially before any abuse has occurred.

I can still vividly recall a fellow by the name of Bill who frequented the Chateaulaine Bowling Alley in my home-town of Winnipeg.   As young boy I was a fixture at the alley being a member in the junior bowling league, spending countless hours aspiring to achieve “silver ball” greatness (remember The Who’s hit song Pinball Wizard?) on one of the many pinball machines, and enjoying the amazing burgers in the cafeteria.  The fact that my older brother worked there was an added plus as it meant that I would get the occasional freebie.  It was also what I would later discover, a saving grace that likely prevented me from becoming a statistic.

Going back to Bill, he always seemed to take a great deal of interest in my friends and my activities, often times picking up the tab for a few games of bowling, dropping a few quarters at just the right time so that we could continue to play pinball and treating us to our favourite burgers and shakes.

Over a period of time we came to accept Bill as being a pretty cool guy, and although I must admit that we all shared the same indescribable feeling that something wasn’t quite right, we came to trust him.

Well one evening it was getting late and, as the weather in Winnipeg is prone to turn cold even in late spring, I found myself at the alley tired and lamenting the walk home.  Bill who had been hanging around in the background all that night overheard and said that I could catch a ride with him as it was on his way home anyway.  I didn’t clue in at the time that Bill as it turned out lived on the other side of town.

Grateful I said sure, and before long we were on our way.  About a block or two from my house Bill pulled the car over and said that he wanted to show me something neat.  Happy to have had the ride and figuring that I could spare an extra couple of minutes I said sure.   He reached into the back seat and handed me a magazine and said take a look at this . . .

As I opened the magazine the images of women and men in various pose of explicit sexual interaction were at once shocking and interesting.  You have to remember that back in those days we young lads of 10, 11 and 12 got our thrills so to speak from the cover of National Geographic, so such a display of photos was noteworthy to say the least.

After a few page turns, and still at a loss for words, I guess that I did not provide the reaction that Bill had either expected or had hoped for as he quickly grabbed the magazine from my hands and then immediately drove me the remaining distance to my house in silence.

I said nothing to him as I exited the car, nor did I say anything about the experience to my parents who asked me about my evening when I walked in the front door.

Now here is the thing, even though I had remained silent about the ride and my exposure to “the pictures” as I will call them, the next day my father and mother came to me and said that Glenn – my older brother who as I had previously indicated worked at the bowling alley, had told them that I had gotten a ride home.

Then for no apparent reason my father said that I was never to accept a ride from this gentleman again and that I was to stay away from him if he ever approached me at the bowling alley in the future.  To emphasize their point, I was not allowed to go to my favourite hangout for the next few days.

It was only when I had talked with Glenn later that I told him about the photos to which he responded yes, I know.  I then asked if he thought if Bill might try something to which his facial expression spoke volumes beyond his what do you think response?

Now consider this for a moment.  What if my older brother didn’t work at the bowling alley?  What if my parents had not taken the interest in our lives to the extent that anyone one of us could feel free to talk to them about anything at any time?

You see predators like the Chatelaine Bill’s and Penn State Sandusky’s have always been and will always be around.  This is a sad truth that unfortunately will not change.

However, and according to 5 time bestselling author Larry Winget who’s latest book Your Kids Are Your Own Fault, today’s parents on average spend a mere 3 minutes per week in meaningful conversation with their children.  This is an important shift in parental focus that makes kids even more vulnerable than ever before.

Now some may bristle at the 3 minute suggestion but, as Winget points out, asking them if they did their homework or telling them to do their chores is not meaningful interaction.  Nor is trading in one’s parenting hat for a chauffeur’s hat in terms of driving them to their many extra curricular activities going to establish the trust that is necessary for the aforementioned comfort zone of communication.  Besides, and as disclosed in the show 52% of children were sexually abused in community-based organisations . . . including sports and voluntary groups and also private tuition classes.  Makes you wonder if you really know who is coaching your child doesn’t it?

I can only wonder how many did fall prey to Bill, and how many more children are falling prey to today’s predators?

In the end, the real tragedy with Penn State beyond the fact that it did happen, is that it is perhaps the tip of a very disturbing iceberg, and should therefore serve as a major warning to all parents that even those who receive fame and praise from from the highest rankings in society – including the President of the United States as was the case with Sandusky, cannot be blindly and absolutely trusted.

The only thing you can depend on to ensure the safety of your children is you.

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Comments
2 Responses to “With sensational headlines and shocking revelations are we missing the bigger tragedy of the Penn State scandal?”
  1. ROBERT(BOB) HODGES says:

    ALONG WITH CHILDREN BEING TAUGHT DIFFERENCES BETWEEN WHAT’S ACCEPTABLE AND WHAT IS NOT WE ALSO MUST TEACH PARENTS TO ACCEPT WHAT THIER KIDS SAY ABOUT SOMEONE MOLESTING THEM TO BE TRUE.PARENTS USEUALLY BRUSH IT OFF WHEN A CHILD TELLS THEM SOMETHING THE PARENT WILL SAY NO MORE STORIES.
    IN MY DAY AS A CHILD IT WAS A FAR WORSE CRIME TO SPEAK UP THAN IT WAS TO BE A BULLY OR MOLESTER.THEY CALLED MY CRIME TATTLEING.I WAS THE SMALLEST IN SCHOOL.MY SCHOOLWORK AND SUPPLIES WERE DESTROYED DAILY AND IF I SAID ANYTHING I WAS PUNISHED AND GIVEN AN F FOR THE DAY.NEEDLESS TO SAY OTHERS MY AGE GRADUATED IN 77 I GRADUATED 2 YEARS LATER.

    • piblogger says:

      You speak powerful words Robert that people need to hear, and in particular parents. I had interviewed a young woman as part of the RAW Women TV series who had been abused, reported it to her parents who sadly did not believe her.

      Why do you think parents refuse to either listen or just do not believe what there kids are saying? Is it due to the fact that the majority of molesters are known to the family? Is parental guilt a factor?

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