As I sat glued to Sports Center last night listening to the news about Penn State, Joe Paterno, and the rioting student body I was horrified. I know folks around the country share in my revulsion, disappointment, and grief over the events of the past week (and 15 years). And it’s pretty clear the details of the abuse of young boys and the fallout for all involved are just beginning.
I am a firm believer that all things DON’T happen for a reason. What reason could there possibly be for mass sexual assault on children? However, I do believe that we can learn from most, if not all, experiences – even horrendous ones. There’s a lot we can learn from the mess at Penn State, including:
It’s all of our jobs to protect the children in our midst. It’s not enough to tell a supervisor or a colleague or a buddy when abuse is suspected. Contacting the police or social services is essential – even if it feels awkward, or weird, or like a betrayal.
Stereotypes aren’t always accurate. We all have stereotypes of what a child molester looks like, what a “pervert” looks like, and what a man sexually attracted to boys looks like. The Penn State coach accused of abusing 8+ boys most likely didn’t fit any of our stereotypes. Sometimes child abusers (and rapists, and murderers, and arsonists) look creepy and suspicious – sometimes they look just like us.
Parents have to talk to their children about abuse of all kinds. I’m not sure a child is ever too young to begin talking about personal safety. While conversations should be age-appropriate, the best way to get kids to understand the importance keeping safe and telling someone if they’re not, is talking about it early and often. With the Penn State situation in the news, now is a perfect time to sit your kids down and talk about what abuse is, and what to do if they feel unsafe (tell you, a teacher, a principal, etc).