An Opportunity to Focus on What Matters: What Lessons Can We Bring Home from the Tragedy at Penn State?
GURNEE ILLINOIS (JULY 2012) - As the public continues to reel from the ever-unfolding story of Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State administration that enabled his predatory actions, child sexual abuse and assault have become topics of conversation at water coolers and dinner tables, on buses and trains, via Facebook and Twitter, through emails and text messages. However, with the release of the NCAA sanctions levied upon the university, much of that conversation has begun to shift from one about sexual abuse awareness and prevention to one focusing on the future of a once-storied football program. If we have learned anything from this tragic case, it should be that football should never take precedence over the safety of children or providing victims of sexual abuse and assault the protection and support that they not only need, but to which they should be entitled.
What Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center in Gurnee, IL has tried to draw attention to for nearly three decades has become common conversation through the predatory actions of one person, perpetrated on countless victims; and it’s crucial that we do not let the lessons from this unfortunate case be cast into the shadow of big time college football.
What are the important aspects to know about this widely publicized case?
1. This is not a sex scandal – It’s a sexual abuse scandal and a scandal on the conspiracy to cover up that abuse. It is about an adult raping multiple children over decades. It’s about the leaders of an institution protecting the rapist instead of the survivors. It’s about bystanders failing to step forward and stop abuse. This is what this story is about.
2. Bystanders must act – We must all make the pledge that when you see abuse taking place, you must do everything you can to stop it. We can’t afford to respond to sexual abuse in slow motion. We tell survivors to tell and keep telling until someone hears and supports them. Bystanders should heed the same rule: tell and keep telling until the abuse stops. Every one of us, no matter our position or our age, has a profound obligation to protect one another from sexual abuse.
3. Leaders must lead – The Penn State travesty has shown that a failure of leadership results in further abuse. If you are an adult in our society, please understand that you are in a position of power in regards to children. As such, you are a leader. All leaders of institutions, families, civic groups or communities must demonstrate zero tolerance of sexual abuse. Leadership can’t stand back and hope that these crimes will simply end. And they absolutely cannot seek to cover abuse up in the interest of protecting their own personal or professional interests. As a leader of any kind it is your obligation to teach children that they are in charge of their own bodies and empower them to come forward and seek help if they ever feel afraid or confused. We need to emphasize that helping victims and stopping perpetrators is an emergency and should be dealt with as such.
4. Victims not Football – This is not about winning or losing a Saturday afternoon football game in Happy Valley. This is about victims of child sexual abuse. We all must remember the victims and how their lives have been forever altered by the abuser and the conspiracy to cover up the abuse by people in positions of power. The story should be about those survivors and protecting survivors, not abusers.
If you suspect that sexual abuse may be happening to someone you know, please believe, validate, and empower that individual. Let them know that they are important, and that help is available. Know that all it takes is one person to believe and inspire strength in a child for the healing process to begin. Also, know that there are trained professionals waiting to join in this support at centers such as ZCenter.
5. Don’t be shocked – Abusers can be anyone: nearly 90% of child and 85% of adult victims know their abusers before the abuse or assault happens. The stranger rape scenario is not the norm. Additionally, it’s important to realize one in three girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused or assaulted before their 18th birthday. Sexual assault is not a women’s right matter and it has no demographic preference; it is a social justice and human rights issue that is relevant to every gender, race, religion and sexual orientation.
6. ZCenter is here – ZCenter services are available 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year. Because of the generosity of our donors and supporters, we can offer counseling, advocacy and prevention education at no charge. Communities must utilize these services to help victims of sexual abuse recover and to work to prevent future abuse. If you or someone you know has been the victim of this type of abuse please contact the Zacharias Sexual Abuse Center Support Line at 847-872-7799. Also, keep in mind that ZCenter has legal and medical advocacy services, as well as prevention education programs that cover the following topics:
- Up2Us: Empowering men and women to work together to Question, Support, and Interrupt the gender socialization that often leads to interpersonal violence, including but not limited to sexual abuse.
- Pre-K, Elementary, Middle, and High School Prevention Programs: including topics such as date rape, dating violence, gender equality, risk reduction, and anti-bullying.
- Community Education Programs available to clubs, parent groups, religious groups, civic groups, corporations, and other organizations. These programs cover topics such as adult sexual assault, sexual harassment, rape trauma syndrome, child sexual abuse, incest, human trafficking, internet safety, supporting high-risk populations, and prevention.
- Professional Training directed at those professionals who work with survivors of sexual assault/abuse, such as police officers, court personnel, military personnel, medical personnel, educators, social workers, and human service providers.
If you would like more information about any of these programs, or would like to schedule a training for your organization, please call us at (847) 244-1187. Of course, you may visit our website at any time for more information on our services: www.ZCenter.org.
What happened at Penn State was both tragic and an example of gross negligence by people in positions of power, and it’s our obligation as a community to try and ensure that history does not repeat itself, that we hold our leaders accountable for their actions, and work to build a community that does not tolerate sexual assault and abuse.