Today I’d like to introduce Dawn Sticklen, from Since You Asked…. Dawn lives in Joplin, Missouri and she writes about family life both in her local community and around the globe. Her blog offers ideas for contributing to the overall quality of life and wellness of your community.
Dawn and I have been talking about a major issue that, sadly enough, affects each and every one of our communities: sexual abuse. Recently, I wrote about the Code of Silence that protects perpetrators in child sexual abuse cases, and Dawn wrote an amazing response to that issue in the comments that followed. I asked her to expound on her response in a guest post, and what she wrote is both hair-raising and instructive. For a look at how the Code of Silence has impacted her community, please read Dawn’s excellent story below.
Today, as I ponder the sanctions handed down to Penn State University by the NCAA, I can’t help but wonder, “What can we learn from all of this? Will we learn from this?” Like El and most of you, I am outraged not just by Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, but also by the behavior of those surrounding him who felt that the reputation of the university and its football program was more important than the safety of the children with whom Sandusky worked – and then abused.
However, what makes me most angry about the Penn State situation is the fact that the “code of silence” is frequently enacted in our own communities. Too often we ignore complaints about inappropriate behavior by adults in leadership positions for fear of bringing negative attention to an institution that we hold high esteem for. We speak of the accusations in hushed tones; hoping the incident was a “one time” event or convincing ourselves it’s none of our business because our child was not the victim. Unfortunately, what we don’t realize is that when we react swiftly in the face of accusations of abuse and/or inappropriate behavior it is an indictment against the individual. When we are slow to react, though, it becomes an indictment against the institution.
Take, for example, the Catholic Church, of which I am a member. Imagine how much more respect and honor the church would have received over the years if its leaders, upon learning of the very first abuse case, had simply done the right thing and adopted the policy of removing perpetrators from any contact with children. Instead they chose to move the abusers to other churches in an effort to cover up the crimes committed and in the hopes that the perpetrator would miraculously cease his abusive acts.
After years of this pattern, the church –and rightly so – now finds itself responsible for jeopardizing the safety of hundreds of children. Unfortunately, Joe Paterno is guilty of this same crime by hiding what he knew about Sandusky’s behavior with the young boys he came into contact with on a regular basis on Penn State’s property.
Penn State’s fans are outraged by the NCAA’s and the media’s harsh criticism toward their beloved coach. I find this ironic because it is this same revered coach who single-handedly brought dishonor to the university by his decision to put the sanctity of the university and its football program above that of the many children who were Sandusky’s victims. Unfortunately, this misguided anger occurs frequently in our own communities, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Locally I witnessed the firing of a high school football coach amid accusations of inappropriate text messages he sent to a student. I was appalled to hear parents defend the coach by questioning the student’s reputation. Some individuals even went so far as to make threatening phone calls to the victim’s home out of their anger for her drawing negative attention to their beloved coach, football program, and school. It was the fear of this community backlash that kept past victims from coming forward to reveal the pattern of abuse exhibited by this coach.
How many other children have been victims of abuse in other communities but have been reluctant to come forward for fear of their own safety and reputation because too many people are loath to admit that someone they respect is capable of crimes against our most vulnerable citizens? This is the “code of silence” that exists in all our communities, and it is time to break this code. It is time for us to stand up to the bullies who desire athletic dominance over the safety of our children. Are we really the kind of society that values the reputation and sanctity of an institution above that of a child?
NCAA president, Mark Emmert, explained the severity of the sanctions against Penn State as a wake-up call to all universities about the dangers of “hero worship” with regard to their athletic programs (specifically football). In our own communities we, too, must endeavor to achieve a winning tradition while refusing to adopt a win-at-all-costs attitude. We cannot allow our admiration for an individual to cloud our judgment of his behavior toward the children entrusted to his care. We cannot continue to allow others to threaten a victim or discredit his or her claims of abuse in an effort to protect the institution with which the perpetrator is associated.
We must take our cue from the NCAA and realize that as adults and members of a community we are all accountable for the safety of our children and must strive to create a culture of honesty and integrity where children need not be afraid to report any inappropriate behavior of the adults who work with them.
These are the lessons we can – indeed, must – learn from the Penn State scandal.
Readers: how do you feel about the Code of Silence? What can we do about it?