This Holiday Weekend, Try Not to Be Penn State

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Posted in: Criminal Law

As usual, the Onion has published a satire that hits the truth right on the head. They have nailed Penn State:

The nation’s nearly 320 million citizens all confirmed that the Penn State community’s repeated denials of the school’s culpability, continued displays of reverence for their former football head coach Joe Paterno, and failure to meaningfully acknowledge and respect the victims suggest that they share a very warped perspective on the world and may indeed be suffering from some kind of serious mental health condition.

Amen. But, wait, Penn Staters start to look like a bunch of amateurs when compared to high-level competitive sports like gymnastics, where there are hundreds of victims, and multiple perpetrators, and the same pattern of denial and cover up that has tortured victims of child sex abuse in one organization after another. Then there are the religious organizations doing the same: Catholic, Jehovah’s Witness, Baptist, ultra-Orthodox congregations, and on and on. But they are still just a portion; there are also the Boy Scouts, the private and the public schools, and on and on. Then last but not least (by a long shot) are the family members.

In each and every one of these venues, there is good reason to wonder whether those who let the kids be abused “share a very warped perspective on the world and may indeed be suffering from some kind of serious mental health condition.” That condition has a name. It’s called “denial,” and it has poisoned our culture every bit as much as the child perpetrators.

The toxin has distorted the legal system, creating a patchwork of confusing laws that leave children at risk, perpetrators free, and organizations immune. But there are shafts of light piercing the darkness.

There was a time when the media, attorneys, and public had a tacit agreement that we simply would not discuss this awful subject during the holidays. It was inconsistent with our happy holidays, so lawsuits would not be filed during December and the media would hold its investigative reports for the new year. Yet, every story mentioned above appeared this December, and each one uncovers yet more facts about the deepest, darkest, ugliest secret we keep as Americans about our innocent children: we protect adults before we protect them—even from sex assault and abuse. And, boy do we love to keep the secrets and deny the truth about our powerful men and women.

I would posit that this is in fact the best time of year to be aware of these issues. Why? Because survivors of sex abuse, in a cruel twist, often find the holidays a time of torture rather than joy. That is 20-25 percent of the population. Memories are stirred up, family is gathered, childhood haunts may be visited. Think of that while you are gathered with family and friends this weekend.

When an organization (whether family, school, sport, club, or religion) is forced to account in public for what it has done to children, its leaders typically climb onto a figurative bike, and try to pedal past the “scandal” as fast as they can. They want nothing more than to get this “whole thing” behind them so they can go back to their more comfortable past reality. That is what the Penn State fans are doing. Unfortunately for them, that bicycle is stationary, and the faster they pedal, and gaze longingly into the horizon, the less likely they will ever “get beyond” the problem. The reality is that child sex abuse has been a problem since the dawn of society, and it will persist until we change the laws, teach the adults, reform the institutions, and support the victims.

So while you celebrate with your family and friends over this holiday weekend—and while you sit in religious services—try to be the Onion and not Penn State.