I wouldn’t call it a silver lining exactly, but the Penn State/Sandusky child rape scandal has triggered more than one victim to speak about sex abuse in the hands of a trusted adult. I’ll leave those who are ending their silence to decide whether telling these stories has been personally cathartic. But I can say, as a person who has always been a little lost with how to talk to my own children about the risks, I’m grateful for their brave effort to make those of us who have not lived out that kind of terror understand.
CNN is running an excerpt from weekend anchor Don Lemon‘s recent memoir, Transparent. Former elite gymnast Jennifer Sey sheds light on how internationally respected coach Don Peters could get away with sexually abusing at least three of the girls entrusted to him — and how Olympic medal-hungry parents helped him get away with it.
But absolutely the most important piece is over on Slate.
Like Sandusky’s victims, Mark P. McKenna (disclosure: he’s a personal acquaintance of my family’s) was sexually abused by a football coach around the same age as Sandusky’s alleged victims. But here’s the thing: McKenna doesn’t think Sandusky — or his own abuser — is a monster. He doesn’t think Penn State’s storied football program acted (or, in this case, refused to act) in some unique and unexpected way.
Characterizing what happened in State College, particularly the failures of so many adults to report the abuse, as the product of some morally bankrupt institution is a way of convincing ourselves that we are outsiders to these sinister forces. It is no different from calling Sandusky a “monster.” That is soothing, I realize. But it also lets us off the hook too easily, allowing us to avoid asking hard questions about what happens, or can happen, in our own backyards. The Penn State cover-up could have, and undoubtedly has, happened at many other institutions, including those you most care about. Don’t content yourself with demanding something of Penn State, or big-time college sports. While that might make you feel better, it won’t prevent the next tragedy.
Not only is calling Sandusky and other child sexual predators a monster letting us off the hook, it won’t help our children one bit. McKenna writes what has to be the most important important take-away for any parent now freaked out about coaches and teachers and the other adults trusted to care for our children:
Predators do not look like monsters; they look like your neighborhood basketball coach or the guy running a children’s charity. They look like people you know, because they are. This is so important for parents to realize: If you allow yourself to think of these predators as “monsters,” you will convince yourself that they are rare, and you will not be as vigilant as you need to be. This recognition is also important for your kids, because if you teach them that they should be on the lookout for monsters, they will be confused by the inappropriate behavior of adults who don’t fit that profile.
This is particularly true with respect to adults who have parents’ implicit trust: friends, family members, and coaches. Sadly, the statistics tell us that most perpetrators are in this group. Focus on behavior — teach your kids that adults are never entitled to touch their bodies, and that no one is entitled to touch their bodies without their permission.
The entire piece is a must-read.