College football–what could possibly go wrong?

14 11 2011

You’d have to be living under a rock (I’m looking in your direction, Ashton Kutcher) to be blissfully unaware of what’s going on at Penn State. It’s referred to frequently as a scandal, which doesn’t quite seem right. Scandal implies something salacious and consensual, which, obviously, the sexual abuse and cover-up of/turning a blind eye to said sexual abuse was not.

Many people are at fault. Number one, of course is Sandusky. The child molester. The actual monster. The one who involved himself with a children’s charity for the express purpose of having access to young boys to abuse. The one who repeatedly raped children and exploited their trust.

But it goes beyond that. We have the bystanders. Many, many bystanders in this case.

Graduate assistant turned assistant coach Mike McQueary, and Jim Calhoun, a janitor, on separate occasions, each walked in on Sandusky raping a child. Mike McQueary (who moved up and up the ranks at Penn State in the nine years following this incident) saw Sandusky, a man he knew, holding a child he estimated to be ten years old to a wall and anally raping him. He quietly left the room. The janitor reacted in similar fashion when he walked in on a similar incident in the locker room, only in that scenario, Sandusky was performing oral sex on a little boy.

But don’t worry. They were both really upset about what they saw.

They both left the room. Essentially letting Sandusky finish. Allowing him to continue hurting a child so horrifically.

I don’t usually imagine myself to be much of a hero. (OK, I imagine it all the time, but I don’t trick myself into thinking that I actually am one.) I try to recognize that one never knows how one will react to a traumatic instance. But I honestly cannot imagine walking in on something like that and quietly backing out of the room.

If you aren’t going to go all vigilante and throw Sandusky to the ground prior to kicking his ass, could you at least make your presence known with a “What the fuck are you doing?!” Not even call 911? Just report it to your boss, and ignore it when it goes nowhere.

Apparently, in the incident McQueary observed, the victim heard him come in. Can you imagine that little boy, thinking he was saved, that finally there was an adult there to rescue him, and then realizing that adult was not going to do a thing?

This brings us to our first social work issue–we are all madated reporters. As are teachers, dentists, doctors, schoolstaff, and pretty much anyone else who comes in contact with children.

You have to tell someone. This doesn’t always equate to doing the right thing. We’ve all heard it said that the people in this scenarion told someone. They went to their bosses, or to people higher up the football ladder. When nothing was done, they (especially McQueary, who remained in the organization) did not object further.

Your duty to protect children doesn’t end with making that phone call or mentioning the rape you saw to your boss that one time. Protecting children, as I’ve said before, is a sacred responsibility. Feel free to follow up. Those hotlines and a chain of command to work one’s way up are put in place to make it easier to report abuse. They’re not there to absolve you of responsibility, because you’re afraid of losing your job or making some asshole look bad. It’s not so that you can pass it on and forget what you know.

When a five year old is told to apologize  for tripping a classmate, they often whine and say, “But it was an accident!” We still make them apologize, because they need to learn to admit if they were wrong, and to take responsibility for their actions. The mandated reporter, or non-mandated bystander, saying “But I told my boss!” displays no moral development from this kindergartener.

Think of what you would have wanted done, if you were the child being victimized.

It probably wouldn’t make you feel any better if you knew that the red-headed grad assistant was sleeping better, because he let the big boss know.

I think Nazi comparisons are way overused (Glenn Beck, I’m looking in your direction) but if you’re going to say you ignored it because you were just doing your job, you’re really asking for it.

Calhoun, as many of us have heard, is now suffering from dementia and not competent to testify at Sandusky’s trial. It was finally announced on Friday that McQueary would not be coaching the team’s final home game, out of concerns for his safety. (So glad they’re finally concerned about someone’s safety.) Ultimately, it was determined that he would no longer be the receiver’s coach.

Joe Paterno, a much beloved coach who was considered one of the good guys of college football, as well as athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schulz were made aware of what Sandusky was using Penn State facilities, and his access to children, for.

None of them did anything.

Well, that’s not fair. They didn’t do “nothing.” The most disturbing part of all of this (not really, it’s all too disturbing to keep an accurate list) is that the action that was taken was to prohibit Sandusky from bringing children on campus after these incidents.

The message there is clear–do whatever you’re going to do, just don’t do it here. We care about this school, we don’t care about those children.

This is especially evidenced by the fact that the people who saw what happened, and the people they told, made no effort to seek out those children. Didn’t try to ensure that their parents or guardians knew what happened.

One of those victims, one of those little boys, has never been identified.  Nothing illustrates more perfectly how the children in this case have been forgotten.

This brings us to our next social work issue–why not? They were poor, they were underprivileged, many of them were in foster care. This is not to say that kids from middle class backgrounds are not abused as well. But they are better protected.

Some idiots have even been heard calling into sports and news radio shows (really, is there a lower form of person? Aside from YouTube commenters?) saying that because these were troubled children, they really aren’t to be believed.

So that’s it, kids. You’re fucked. Yes, you’re more likely to be victimized, as you’re emotionally vulnerable, looking for approval, and don’t have a consistent, caring adult in your life to protect you. Also, when you are victimized, you won’t be believed. We all know it, you and your kind lie.

Sandusky knew this. He could have just as easily offered his services at a football camp for wealthy children of football-dreaming parents, but he didn’t. He opted to go after kids in need. Kids we work with.

This is one of many things we’re up against.

Some current Penn State students saw Joe Paterno being fired as reason to riot. I’m sure they weren’t fans of the sexual abuse, but it didn’t bother them nearly as much as something tarnishing the football season. I know people who attended Penn State. People that I consider to be good. But even they are blinded by love of their school and their football team.

I don’t think they’re all terrible people. I do think they’re showing themselves to be spoiled, myopic, and selfish.

They seem to think that saying, “of course, if the allegations prove true, Sandusky should be punished to the fullest extent of the law” is sufficient. My goodness, what a brave statement! So you think the child rapist should be locked up? You’re against child abuse? Please consider writing a book, so that others may benefit from your strong moral compass.

Just like in our work, we need to keep the focus where it belongs–on the children who were hurt. No one else in this situation was a victim. Not those who witnessed something terrible, not the geriatric who has been napping on the sidelines for the past few seasons, and not the brats fretting over a game.

Everyone says that they care about children, but most only do so when it’s convenient.

These kids and their families need help. Changes need to be made to ensure that people stop covering up for pedophiles. Anyone who tries to take the focus off of those issues needs to know that it’s unacceptable.

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7 responses

14 11 2011
Dorlee M (@DorleeM)

SJ, Thank you for taking the time to cover this awful scandal from the different angles and to show just how horrific and awful the abuse and lack of action was (and who thought there may be help coming and then saw that essentially the adults who saw just looked the other way – further compounding the abuse and pain).

I think this is the best post (article) I’ve read on the subject and I pray/hope that appropriate help and support will finally be provided to all of Sandusky’s victims and that everyone will learn from this – bystanders/witnesses must step up to the plate and intervene to protect the children. Being silent does not make the abuser stop…

14 11 2011
Heidi

Love this article! I’ve been commenting A LOT on this topic and following it in every detail. One possible correction, however, needs to be stated here. It wasn’t quite clear from reading this if the victim (witnessed by McQueary) only heard him come in but didn’t see him. The indictment states that McQueary stated that THE VICTIM and SANDUSKY both SAW him. So that little boy (whom NO ONE tried to identify) will probably never trust anyone again. Someone saw that happening to him and WALKED out.

14 11 2011
Sarah

This is a great post. It’s very thoughtfully written, and I think you make great points here. It’s a tragedy what happened, even beyond the child abuse that occurred. It breaks my heart to think that these children could have been helped had only somebody followed through on their efforts to do the right, ethical, moral, legal thing.

15 11 2011
ECMH Nerd

thank you for this. it’s a succinct but passionate description of why this situation is messed up.

i just got this quote in an email:

I always had a decent sense of outrage.
-Bella Abzug

I think the more apt might be “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention”

15 11 2011
tokenswkguy

For me, the biggest issue is that whether or not your profession makes you a mandatory reporter, everyone has a moral obligation to protect children from being systematically abused by people in a position of trust. In this situation we had a long list of adults (fifteen at last count) who did not live up to that obligation. Social work training aside, I can’t imagine walking into a room where a child was being raped and simply walking out. Even if the perpetrator were my boss, friend, family member, girlfriend, etc. There is simply no excuse for looking the other way in a situation like that.

The other thing; we just had a huge scandal with the Catholic Church a few years ago, with the EXACT same problem. How have we not learned that sexual assault on a minor is just one of those things you don’t cover up?

16 11 2011
shilohwalker

Well said. I’m so tired of hearing from those who aren’t thinking about the ones hurt more than anybody else… those kids. Geez, those poor kids.

I don’t get how anybody could see that…and just walk away. If you were that afraid for your job, HELLO, anonymous phone calls? Call the damn media, something.

22 11 2011
socialjerk

Thanks so much for the support on this one, everyone!

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