Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey supports the NCAA’s leadership and actions taken in response to the unfortunate events at Penn State. Setting up an endowment to fund programs that can prevent a situation like what happened at Penn State from ever happening is a solid step forward and there are effective strategies than can be used to do just that.
The President of Penn State also deserves credit due to his courageous stances that show his commitment to building a university and athletic program based on a truer definition of integrity. President Erickson accepted the harsh penalties from the NCAA, in contrast to others who continue to debate the benefits of a college football program versus horrific crimes against children. He also removed the statue of Joe Paterno from outside the football stadium, stating it represented a permanent symbol of sorrow for survivors of child sexual abuse.
While everyone can debate whether the penalties were too little or too much, we prefer to compare them to what they could have been. It is not difficult to imagine an NCAA that would have “punted” in this situation, saying instead that this was a matter for the courts. Nor is it difficult to envision a University President who would have chosen to litigate and defend, possibly a more popular option for many.
There is no doubt that Jerry Sandusky committed horrendous crimes at Penn State, and that the leadership of the University, at the highest levels, chose to hide those crimes to protect a football program. As a result, more children were assaulted and their lives will never be the same. As parents and adults in society, one of our most cherished responsibilities is to protect our children from harm. There is a silent epidemic of child sexual abuse that is pervasive in our communities. We can do so much more to protect our children from sexual abuse, and these actions from both the NCAA and Penn State President Erickson represent powerful steps in the right direction.
At Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, we are leading efforts in our State to prevent child sexual abuse by working with the State’s top leaders and mobilizing efforts in three communities to educate adults about the true facts of child sexual abuse and steps every adult can take to protect children. We are also developing “safe-child policies” that can be adopted by every youth-serving organization. We are working with the NJ Academy of Pediatrics to engage doctors in our effort to prevent abuse. By working together, we can prevent children from ever being a victim of child sexual abuse, and prevent a situation like Penn State from ever happening here in New Jersey.
The new report from Penn State, led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, highlights two of the greatest challenges in our collective efforts to protect children from being sexually abused by adult predators.
The first challenge is that many of our major institutions and individuals are willing to take extraordinary steps to protect themselves and their reputations — ahead of protecting our children. According to the report, at Penn State, this included:
One can easily make the case, that by protecting their own reputations, and that of a college football program, multiple officials at Penn State played a role in helping Mr. Sandusky abuse more victims. That should be a crime.
Second, this report reinforces the fact that the public’s (and media’s) attention is still focused on reporting and enforcement issues after the fact — after a child has been abused. By continually talking about how punish perpetrators, we encourage lawmakers to introduce even stronger penalties, in the hopes that stronger law enforcement will better protect the public. Unfortunately, no such evidence exists. Not all perpetrators of child abuse are adult predators like Jerry Sandusky; in fact, over one-third of all cases involve two adolescents. Research shows that first-time offenders, especially adolescents, are at very low risk to ever repeat the crime. The increasing emphasis on law enforcement to solve the problem can also drive reporting even further underground as family members are afraid to report someone they know because they know of the overwhelming consequences. A more important question deserving of our attention is what we can do to prevent child sexual abuse from happening in the first place.
That can be accomplished by educating adults throughout our communities about the true facts related to child sexual abuse, how to recognize the warning signs of “grooming”, and bringing together leaders to strengthen prevention of child sexual abuse. In New Jersey, we are making that happen, working with the Enough Abuse Campaign and many state and community partners. We welcome your support and please contact us if you would like to get involved.