The news out of Penn State continues to anger and sadden me in ways that I can barely describe. Words slip through my fingers, and yet I must try to speak to it.
Let me start by saying that I am not a trained professional in the field of child abuse, but I am an expert.
I know how that ten-year-old boy in the shower felt about what was happening to him because I was ten years old when my sexual abuse first started.
I know how creepy his abuser was because I was manipulated in the same ways. The abuse on my body and mind started when I was ten and continued until I was 17, and it left wounds that are still healing at 54.
I know that boy will be affected by this for the rest of his life. I know the other boys will spend years recovering from their own stories.
That is the tragedy of this story—not Joe Paterno’s firing, not the blemish on the university, but the very real physical and emotional pain inflicted on at least eight, and now possibly nine or more, young boys.
And the media needs to quit calling it a sex scandal. A sex scandal is when someone is caught cheating on his wife. It is about something that is consensual. What happened to those boys is not a sex scandal. It is a scandal of power and violence perpetrated upon innocent children. Rape, sexual abuse, molestation—these are crimes of violence, not of sex. Please stop calling it a sex scandal. It only minimizes the pain inflicted upon the victims.
The game of passing the buck seems to have ended with the firing of the head football coach and the university president, but it’s got to go further than that. It should land on the culture we have created that devalues children as human beings, a culture that does not want to face issues such as child abuse.
As a society we don’t want to face the horrors in our own midst. We do everything we can to avoid them. We can’t look at our souls in the mirror, so we look outward. Paterno is something easy upon which our gaze can focus. But Joe Paterno is in his eighties. He grew up in an era when nobody talked about these things. It is not surprising that he didn’t know what to do.
When I first told my mother, who is about his age, that I had been touched “down there” her response was, “Oh, you shouldn’t let him do that to you,” and that was the last I heard about it. I was then abused in more horrible ways for the next seven or eight years. I understand that she didn’t have the tools to know how to deal with it because nothing like that was talked about in the 1960’s. The sad thing is that in 2011 we still can’t deal with it in any kind of real way, so we deflect by focusing on everything but the actual abuse. It makes us too uncomfortable.
But damn it, we need to talk about the reality of what happened.
We need to have a national conversation about child sexual abuse because only by talking about it can we ever hope to get it to stop.
My inner child is in tears today. He feels for the ten year old in that shower being assaulted by a very sick man. He feels for the others and whatever may have happened to them. He knows about the powerlessness and hopelessness of sexual abuse.
Remember, this story is not about Penn State or Joe Paterno. It is about the children and about the society that should protect them. It is about removing the masks. It is about looking in the mirror. It is about a conversation that we need to have about the dark secrets behind our closed doors. My one hope to come out of all of this is that maybe, just maybe, this will start that long-overdue conversation.