BIGGER THAN PENN STATE:<br />
Does Our Culture Neglect Child Abuse Victims?

Jerry Sandusky

Amid all the self-righteousness and demands for accountability, justice and changes are the realities that speak to a societal disregard for the injustice of child abuse.  Clearly, Penn State, a culture of hero worship, and most specifically those who turned their back on Jerry Sandusky’s victims in the name of bowl victories and football tradition, are complicit. Dollars and wins were deemed more important than the safety of children, an indictment of many.

We can all point to the various enablers within Penn State – administration, the Board of Trustees, Joe Paterno and countless others. Yet, the NCAA and the sports media, which not only promote a culture of football, a “victory culture,” and a “win by any means necessary” are also complicit here.  They provided the incentive, the financial remunerations, and the institutional support that gave rise to this tragedy.  Did what the NCAA did today make kids any safer; did it change the culture of college sports; did it adjust societal priorities; did it change the ways we define heroes. The plague of child abuse necessitates systemic action, including budgetary support for the prevention of child abuse; it requires financial commitment that actually puts kids first, that cares for those who have faced the unthinkable injustice for child abuse.  As the NCAA wags its finger at Penn State and as ESPN and others in the sports media congratulate them, I am left to wonder who will hold the American political structure accountable for making kids more vulnerable. 

For the first time in 18 years, the budgetary support for the Victims of Child Abuse Act was cut to ZERO for the 2013 budget.  Monies that supported the victims of child abuse, that served almost 300,000 abused children in 2011, are gone, unless Congress restores them. According to the National Children’s Alliance, the cutting of funding for the Victims of Child Abuse Act will result in among other things:

  • Fewer abused children will receive services in every jurisdiction;
  • CACs will not receive the technical assistance and training they need to do their work effectively;
  • Prosecutors would not receive the training and technical assistance they need to get successful prosecutions, hold offenders accountable, and keep our communities safer;

If we as a society are truly concerned about child abuse, lets put our money where our mouth is.  Instead of purchasing tickets for one game, instead of donating to our favorite athletic program, instead of donating to politicians who vote against the interest of children, instead of forking over $$ for the latest game gear, lets make our priorities clear with some investment in those actually promoting justice. 

Founded in 2003 by Scheherazade and Salamishah Tillet, A Long Walk Home has spent the last decade combating this problem one person at a time: “[It is] the only organization in the country that uses art therapy and the visual and performing arts to end violence against women and girls.”  In light of what happened at Penn State, a Long Walk Home challenged every person, every institution, to end the complicity and be instruments of change:

"These cases of sexual abuse against our children continue to flourish due to the lack of proactive effort and an effective response from the state, school officials, parents and guardians. It is time for us to get off the fence and become more than just bystanders while our children suffer. We need to join forces and deal with this rising monster that threatens the well-being of our children."

By investing in institutions that actually protect children, by demanding that our dollars go to support legislation that support justice organizations, we can go from complicit bystanders to forces of change. How about we demand the NCAA, ESPN, and others rightly outraged by what happened at Penn State follow suit, donating money to organizations committing to help the victims of sexual abuse; those determined to curtail this ubiquitous injustice? 

If we are really committed to a culture that values all children, that seeks to protect and preserve safety and innocence, while creating a culture free of VIOLENCE, let’s get real: Penn State is just the tip of the iceberg. Complex problems require complex solutions, substantive change, and cultural shifts, not press conferences.