Throughout North America, if not in many parts of the world, the case of former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was followed closely. There may well have been a sigh of relief at his conviction on 45 charges. Some will think justice has been done and with Sandusky, maybe it has. But little such satisfaction should exist.
The larger question is how does a Sandusky come to exist for so long in society without intervention. His is hardly the first such case. Indeed, in the same week that Sandusky was convicted, Monseigneur Lynn was convicted in Philadelphia for assisting in the cover up of abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church. CNN is reporting that Penn State not only likely knew what he was doing but chose to not report it.
Then there are other cases in Canada such as Graham James who sexually abused minor hockey players for years. There was the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland where the Christian Brothers of Ireland physically and sexually abused boys placed in their care. Canada also saw the rampant abuse of children in the Residential Schools, with the last one closing as recently as 1996. The impact on Aboriginal families in Canada was profound. Many have yet to recover both from the abuse and the extensive fracturing of family systems.
If society truly wishes to see the end of these horrific stories of abuse, then it must be willing to open the proverbial Pandora’s Box and talk about what has and is going on. Sandusky is a high profile case in which some of his former victims found the strength to come forward and tell their story. As so often happens, their disclosures come years after the abuse occurred. Victims routinely fear disclosing because the perpetrators often occupy positions of power over the child – be it a parent who threatens harm if they disclose or a person in authority such as Sandusky whose position is such that victims typically feel they will not be believed. Many victims mistakenly feel that the abuse was somehow their own fault.
The recent report on the failure by the Boy Scouts of Canada to properly address the issues of sexual abuse perpetrators amongst their midst shows that one of the solutions is better institutional policies and responses. Without them, sexual abusers remain hidden to carry on.
Secrecy is one of the most potent tools that abusers have in order to keep abusing. To change this, we need to allow children to tell their story with confidence that they will be believed. But we also need institutions that are willing to hear those children.
Most children who are being abused will not have their situation brought to anyone’s attention. Thus, it is up to ordinary Canadians to decide that abuse should stop and be willing to speak up when they see it. Failure to do so, is to give it tacit approval.
Cases like Sandusky serve a purpose. They create conversation and awareness. These high profile cases are rare. It is the far less visible cases that require us to act. Sandusky could get away with it because, like so many abusers, he was in a position of power. Why are we so willing to turn a blind eye to such people whether they be coaches, priests, teachers or other professionals and carers for children? The tide will start to turn against sexual abuse when we call out the powerful people in children’s lives who break the trust granted them with our children.
As Eldridge Cleaver said, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Become part of the solution. As a nation, we need to raise awareness of the impact of abuse and help to create solutions. We can stop abuse by supporting families so that their children are safe. Families that need help will need to be able to find it in communities across the country. If abuse occurs outside the family, we can make it safe for our children to tell. You can do this by hearing the voices of children and making sure that a child who discloses is given a safe place to tell their story. You might be that person.