The muck at Penn State University keeps getting deeper.
The just-released report by the former head of the FBI, Louis Freeh, criticized top school officials for knowing of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and doing nothing about it. They feared bad publicity, according to Freeh’s report.
School officials who knew and, by their silence, allowed sexual abuse to continue bear a heavy responsibility for the boys whose lives Sandusky wrecked. Those officials, according to the report, included much-revered longtime football coach Joe Paterno and fired university president Graham Spanier.
Sandusky, 68, retired in 1999 but remained a fixture in Penn State’s athletic department. He awaits sentencing on 45 child sex abuse convictions.
Perhaps it is the length of time the top men knew about the abuse and failed to act that is most reprehensible. Freeh, who was hired by Penn State trustees to look into the scandal, said the abuse could have been stopped in 1998. But an investigation at the time led to no action by the university.
During another, perhaps more damning, incident in 2001, an assistant football coach testified he told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky assaulting a boy in a locker-room shower; two other university officials have been charged with perjury and failing to report that charge to authorities. Still, nothing was done.
“Our most saddening and sobering finding is the total disregard for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims by the most senior leaders at Penn State,” Freeh said.
It’s likely no one will ever be able to completely protect his or her child from the Jerry Sanduskys of the world, but the case has helped heighten awareness of child molestation. So, perhaps, something good has come from such a horrific situation.
While it can be difficult to protect children in every situation, there are basic rules that can help parents anticipate trouble. A recent article by World-Herald staff writer Christopher Burbach discussed advice from several experts on the issue; their thoughts are worth summarizing.
>> Be informed: Know where your children are and for how long. Ninety percent of abusers are known to the child and his family.
>> Inform your children: Talk with them about good and bad touching, how to say no and what adults are not supposed to do. This can be done in an age-appropriate way, and children should know that they can talk with their parents at any time about the issue.
>> Question organizations before sending your child to them: Do they have the appropriate policies in place? How do they screen staff and volunteers? Background checks are not enough. Eighty percent of abuse occurs during one-on-one time between adults and children.
>> Be there: Pick up your children on time. It eliminates opportunities for problems and signals that you are an involved parent.
>> Be alert: Behavioral changes in your child can indicate abuse; sexual abuse can leave physical signs.
>> Know what to do, then do it: Believe your child if he or she tells you about sexual abuse, but don’t overreact. Report the situation to state abuse and neglect hotlines. Call the police.
>> Become involved: Help children’s organizations, volunteer, donate. There are plenty of groups that handle this issue appropriately; support them and their good practices can spread.
Opening strong, healthy lines of communication with your children is good for many reasons, not just regarding sexual abuse. But it is among the most important tools that can help a parent prevent a tragedy or deal with it quickly, decisively and appropriately if something awful should happen.