Advocates for child sex abuse victims, as well as an Omaha man who says he endured such abuse as a youth, on Monday praised the NCAA's sanctions against Penn State University and its football program as appropriately severe.
They also expressed hope that the sanctions would encourage more Americans to do the right thing and report suspected child abuse. And they suggested viewing this as not simply a Penn State matter but one close to home.
“These sanctions are validating that what happened was atrocious, and wrong, and horrific,” said Carolyn Rooker, executive director of Voices for Children in Nebraska. “And they focus the nation on the importance of standing up and preventing the abuse of children.”
That said, Rooker suggested this perspective on the $60 million fine, suspension from postseason play, reduction in football scholarships and other penalties the NCAA levied because Penn State officials covered up Jerry Sandusky's crimes instead of reporting them and stopping him:
That however right the penalties may be, they don't undo the wrongs.
“No matter what the sanctions are ... you cannot take back the trauma of any of the victims,” Rooker said.
The penalties, she said, “should remind all of us that it's all of our responsibility to report child abuse.”
The money from the fine will go into programs outside of Penn State to prevent child abuse or assist victims. That's as it should be, said Gene Klein, executive director of Project Harmony Child Protection Center in Omaha.
“The NCAA is sending a clear message, not just to Penn State but to the country, that it will not tolerate abuses of this nature,” Klein said.
The fine is a significant amount, and it will make a difference directly in the programs it helps to fund, Klein said. What's more, the potential of facing such a huge penalty should encourage institutions that work with children to make sure they have, and enforce, good child abuse prevention programs, policies and training.
“This kind of dollar sanction sends a message that the culture has to change if this is not going to be tolerated,” he said.
And not only in college athletics.
“I would hope (other organizations) would pay attention,” Klein said. “This should be a wake-up call for anybody who works with children.”
Margaret Hoelzer, an Olympic gold medal swimmer and spokeswoman for the National Children's Advocacy Center, dislikes that the NCAA erased Penn State's football victories but otherwise commended the NCAA “for being extremely strict.”
“That's the only way to change the way that other schools, and big businesses, look at things,” said Hoelzer, who was sexually abused as a child. “This could be applied to the NBA, the NFL, any big corporation.”
She said she wants “everybody to protect children for the right reasons.” But if they do it because of the fear of massive fines, that's OK, too.
When the Sandusky story first broke, Lutheran Family Services in Omaha saw an increase in child sex abuse disclosures and requests for service.
Ryan Suhr, clinical supervisor of children's services for the nonprofit agency, said that has leveled off, but he hopes the NCAA sanctions will lead to continued public awareness.
“It's really important to put the attention on helping victims recover,” he said.
Carrie Gobel is a therapist in Lutheran Family Services' RSafe program, which treats children and families affected by child sex abuse. The attention created by the NCAA action should “raise people's awareness of how important it is to report physical and sexual abuse of children.”
In Nebraska, the law requires anyone who has a reasonable suspicion of child abuse or neglect to report it within 24 hours. In Iowa, licensed professionals in education, child care and law enforcement must report child abuse or neglect within 24 hours. Both states have toll-free hotlines for reports. In Nebraska, the number is 800-652-1999. In Iowa, it's 800-362-2178.
While growing up in northwest Iowa in the 1970s, an Omaha man named Nick never thought to report that a doctor was molesting him while treating him for asthma. He told no one for years, though it scarred him psychologically and still is painful to talk about. But the NCAA sanctions moved Nick, now 53, to call the newspaper sports department Monday. His last name was withheld to protect his identity.
“It's a small victory for the victims, for those who spoke out; and for those who held it in, God bless their hearts,” Nick said. “Something's gotta be done.”
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