By Betsy Schindler
3:39 PM EDT, July 16, 2012
Those are the two words that have been going through my mind since the release of the Freeh report. After months of examination of all of the facts surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case, the Freeh report proved that the top Penn State University officials — Joe Paterno, Graham Spanier, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz — knew that children were being abused by assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and did nothing to protect the children. There were two incidents brought to their attention — in 1998 and 2001 — and they took no steps to ensure the children's safety. If anything, they actually took steps to ensure Mr. Sandusky's safety and to see that he was treated "humanely."
I always figured that they must have known. How could these men who ran Penn State and knew everything about the football program not know what Mr. Sandusky was doing right in front of them? Still, to have it proven was devastating. It did not bring the joy and relief that the guilty verdict against Mr. Sandusky brought to me. I'm pleased that the people who are responsible for these actions are being held accountable, and there is some sense of justice. But how can that change the last 14 years? The fact is, nothing can. Because of their failure to act, in order to protect themselves and football, they allowed numerous children to continue to be victimized by Mr. Sandusky. Nothing can change that.
How do we go on from here? I think a good place to start is to accept the recommendations of the Freeh report and ensure a system of reporting abuse without fear of repercussions. Janitors at Penn State were worried about losing their jobs if they went against Mr. Paterno and told what they had seen. This must never be allowed to happen again.
Far beyond the State College campus, people must from now on be aware of potential abuse in every institution in America and realize that pedophiles typically don't appear to be monsters. They can be the football coach, priest, uncle, grandfather, teacher or camp counselor who seems like the greatest guy. Plus, there needs to be ongoing dialogue about sexual abuse. No one likes to talk about this subject, but it is so important to keep this story going — to not hide behind the fear and shame that are so much a part of this type of abuse.
What can Penn State do? It can start by taking down the Joe Paterno statue and removing his name from every place on campus. He cared more about football and his own reputation than he did about vulnerable children. He does not deserve any praise, much less hero worship. He aided and abetted a pedophile, and that is his legacy now. He deserves this legacy that shows his true character.
I also would hope that there is a way for the NCAA to give Penn State the "death penalty" and not allow it to play football. I would wish it to be for 14 years — the same length of time that the children were abused with no intervention — but I realize that money and power will not allow this to happen. It would be wonderful if other college teams took a stand and refused to play Penn State, forfeiting any games with them.
Some people have argued that the current team should not be penalized for what happened before them. I disagree. Football was shown to be more important than children's lives, and the only way to show that one cares more about children now is to sacrifice football. The world will not come to an end if football is not played at Penn State. In fact, it seems the world would actually have been a better place without Penn State football. At least for the boys who were sexually abused the past 14 years.
As a social worker who works with children in a pediatric hospice program, I find it unconscionable that people would review information about life-altering abuse to children and decide that it was more important to protect the pedophile and a sporting event. What kind of world are we living in? The churches and institutions that knowingly do these things need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and people need to stop supporting these institutions until they show a change in their behaviors and policies.
Betsy Schindler is a social worker with Gilchrist Kids, an affiliate of Greater Baltimore Medical Center. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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