Jerry Sandusky, Miss America and Good Old-Fashioned Denial
I love to string together words in a way no one else ever has. I love to put forth ideas in creative ways that make people think. And I love to feel that maybe, just maybe, what I write makes a difference in the life of someone else.
Today, I’m not feeling that love at all.
In fact, I hate the topic about which I’m writing.
But events over the last few weeks have left me no option.
Friday, after a 20 hour deliberation, a jury found former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky guilty of 45 out of 48 counts of child molestation.
I know people cheered. I know people declared justice. I know people expressed relief that Sandusky is going to be locked in jail for the rest of his life.
Personally, I’m not feeling much elation.
Don’t get me wrong. If Sandusky had been acquitted, I would have been livid. What bothers me is how easily his crimes were swept under the rug for years, even though so many people must have sensed something just wasn’t right.
What bothers me is how easily people were silenced by the job Sandusky held, and how he literally bought more silence by feeding into the growing materialist nature of our society.
What bothers me is that victims didn’t have the knowledge, self-esteem or support to ensure Sandusky was behind bars years ago.
What bothers me most is I’m not at all surprised.
This isn’t an isolated case. Child sexual abuse has been occurring for years, and, for the most part, society has chosen to turn the other way.
I recently read the book Miss America by Day by Marilyn Van Derbur. It’s not a book I would have normally even glanced at, much the less picked up from a shelf. But I’d attended a workshop about how anyone can help prevent child abuse, and Ms. Van Derbur, along with other abuse survivors , was in the training video.
Something about her passion spoke to me, and she’s still speaking to me.
Ms. Van Derbur was Miss America 1958. She was also molested from the age of 5 through age 18 by her father, a wealthy and well-respected member of the Denver community. To the outside world, her family was perfect. To perpetuate this perception, Marilyn’s mother looked the other way. And, for years, Marilyn even repressed the abuse.
But now, she’s an advocate whose message is simple: preventing child sexual abuse isn’t primarily the responsibility of social services agencies, law enforcement or the courts. It’s the responsibility of all of us.
We need to eliminate our preconceived notions that child abusers are easy to identify.
We need to recognize that community leaders, religious leaders and sports leaders are just as likely to be predators as anyone else.
We can’t allow children to be alone with an adult just because that person is trusted by others.
We need to listen to our children and not dismiss their fears, concerns and even silences.
We have to be willing to talk about sensitive issues, such as sex and abuse, so the children feel comfortable talking to us.
We need to look beyond appearances and examine behavior.
Most of all, our outrage needs to be expressed long before an individual has molested multiple children and is on trial.
Our outrage should begin the moment a child communicates they are they least bit uncomfortable with another adult. Period.
Until then, when we see or hear about a conviction, we can cheer and proclaim justice all we want. But if we look away when we think the alleged perpetrator is too well-connected or that no one we know would purposely hurt a child, then all we are really celebrating is good old-fashioned denial.