In the wake of the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal, a wave of moral outrage and second guessing has washed across the United States. Somebody should have done SOMETHING! Why didn’t they?!
When the heads began to roll, however, and a beloved coach was revealed to be one of the “somebodies” who should have done something, many ran to his defense and sought to proclaim his valor. Their lack of knowledge about the details and circumstances not withstanding, they sought to protect their beloved hero at all cost. HE was the victim in their eyes.
That wave has now crashed upon the beach, and the prevailing concern has shifted. Now we are all wondering, how did this venerable institution fail to protect young people from abuse?
I do not profess any specific knowledge of the details myself, but I have seen the pattern many times before. The Penn State debacle demonstrates a very predictable pattern of human behavior.
In the Penn State case, as well as that of the Catholic Church failing to protect victims from predatory priests, denial and ignorance of the truth led to victims being left in danger. Instead of protecting victims, efforts were made to protect the institutions from the repercussions of an abuse scandal.
Why is it that we build institutions that should protect as well as serve us, yet when they fail in their protective capacities, we seek to protect the institution, not the actual victims?
One word. FEAR.
When we see a neighbor ruthlessly punishing a child, what is our first thought? Do we rush to the child’s aid? Do we call the police?
If we see a relative whipping a puppy mercilessly for pooping on the carpet, do we report him to animal control?
Some may answer yes to these questions. Most would not. Because our thought processes would probably be more like this: “If I report this, will he retaliate against me? Will the rest of the neighborhood get mad at me? Will my family be upset about my report?”
Just like the beloved coach and his superiors, we are likely to try to handle abuse situations ourselves rather than face the repercussions of reporting. We fear the fallout from getting involved more than we fear the dangers present if we do nothing.
Part of the reason this human behavior pattern exists is because sexual abuse is still a topic that we want to avoid. It is so uncomfortable to think about the topic, we resist gaining more awareness about it. Yet it is a very insidious problem in our society. And its victims cannot view life without thinking about the trauma that pervades their lives.
It is not just wealthy coaches and educational administrators who avoid the issue. It is all of us.
Let’s change that. Now.
Learn about child sexual abuse. There are numerous resources available on the internet. One good resource is the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.