Sparking Change in Light of Penn State Atrocities

We are shocked and saddened by the Penn State allegations like everyone else. As the week has progressed, we have found ourselves experiencing a wide variety of emotions—anger, shock, sadness, fear, and just pure devastation. We all wonder, how could so many people have known about the alleged abuse and yet did nothing? We ask this question, not just rhetorically, but truly trying to find some explanation with the hopes that having that answer will prevent something like this from ever happening again. The focus is clearly on Penn State this week, but we all know that there are likely other sex abuse scandals that continue to be “covered up.” Why is this? What does this say about our society?

Did a 28-year-old graduate assistant in the Penn State football program really think he fulfilled his obligation by reporting the abuse to his boss, the head coach? Was he selfish—simply looking out for his own career and too scared to face possible scrutiny, anger by officials if he came forward and reported to the police? Ideally, he should have said something immediately to stop the abuse in the shower. At a bare minimum, he should have reported the abuse to law enforcement. What does it say about our culture and society when people—grown adults—likely know the difference between right and wrong, yet turn their backs? Sadly, the speculation is that dozens and dozens of people knew the stories about this coach. Blame does not just rest with 1 or 2 people when so many knew. Despite the number who knew, these acts reportedly continued.

We need to rethink how we teach our children moral responsibility and how to speak out when they see abuse. We need to teach them that each of us, ultimately has a responsibility for making sure that abuse like this is reported. Somewhere along the line all who knew about the abuse fell short on this lesson.

The topic of abuse, whether physical or sexual, should not be any different than the way we approach dealing with bullying. Bullying is a horrible act that can cause significant emotional problems and scars for children, but so does abuse. Not that we are trying to say that bullying is any less significant than sexual abuse, but sexual abuse involves a much more sinister violation of basic human dignity. Our society has done much more in the last 5 years to recognize bullying. As evidenced in the media and in our schools, we clearly advocate for people to take a stand against bullies. We teach our kids to tell adults, teachers, school officials, and parents when bullying occurs.

There is really no excuse for not having that same, strong attitude towards perpetrators of abuse. Let’s teach our kids to grow up being responsible adults who understand and have the proper moral foundation that allows them to speak for injustices and victims. We want our children to grow up with an instinct—inform authorities when they see abuse—regardless of the type of abuse. Let’s begin teaching this so that when children learn about laws, they have a strong moral conviction that says, “Even though I am not legally mandated to report abuse, I will do the right thing and seek help from law enforcement to protect victims of abuse.” Unfortunately, the Penn State tragedy has highlighted for us, as parents, the need to develop a stronger sense of moral responsibility for our children of defending others, as well as themselves. This is not just a Penn State phenomenon. This represents that somewhere along the line, we, as a society, have fallen short in the moral upbringing of our children. We have to help our kids learn how to become voices for others, especially if victims are too scared to tell someone. The children of today, will be the adults of tomorrow. If we do our job as parents, those adults will have strong, confident voices for standing up for what is right and what is wrong.