End the Silence

Now that the trial is over, the satellite trucks have all returned home and new headlines have replaced the story that was Jerry Sandusky. Penn State has indicated a desire to settle the lawsuits as quickly as possible because that is the only way they can salvage what’s left of their reputation. And without it, you can be sure that all those generous donors of Penn State’s past are going to be finding elsewhere to build their legacy and leave their dollars.

Speaking of legacies, Joe Paterno spent a lifetime building a career as one of the most successful and beloved coaches of all time. But one critical lapse in judgment has forever cast him as the man who failed: “He now passes to eternity less as a legendary coach than as that guy from Penn State who let pedophile Jerry Sandusky keep abusing kids,”  the San Jose Mercury News rightly noted.

Another week or so and most people will stop talking about Sandusky at all. The masses will move along to the next trending topic on Twitter. Oh, they might share photos of Sandusky shuffling about in chains. And, no doubt, rude people across America will be swapping off-color jokes about Sandusky getting what’s coming to him inside the jailhouse. But for the most part, the entire mess that was Jerry Sandusky will be pushed to the outer rim of our consciousness, just another unpleasantness we’d just soon forget.

Sandusky’s victims will be alone once more, alone with their memories and their nightmares as constant companions. No longer will the Morning News Shows call all hours of the day and night seeking some titillating detail. All those cable channels will soon follow suit. Oh, sure, there may be the odd reality TV show offer, because let’s face it — reality TV is the porn of America’s viewing audience, the freakier the better.

And what, pray tell, is more freaky than the sex abuse of a child? As some of Sandusky’s victims testified to, they enjoyed the attention they got from him. Abusers often make children feel loved. It’s part of the grooming process. Victims are then left with an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. Some will turn to substance abuse in an effort to deal with that. Others will simply internalize the pain in more silent ways.

It is not true that silence speaks when words can’t. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is hurt denied. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is responsibility deafened. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is shame misplaced. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is evil granted access.

Everyone said it, and it’s true, one of the most difficult things to comprehend about the abuse perpetuated by Jerry Sandusky is how all those good-hearted people, including Joe Paterno, could have remained so silent for so long?

But questions still linger now that Jerry Sandusky is behind bars: What lessons have the rest of us learned from all of this? And what will we do about the silence that continues to threaten our nation’s children?

Karen Spears Zacharias is author of A Silence of Mockingbirds: The Memoir of a Murder. MacAdam/Cage.

 

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About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • http://amysorrells.wordpress.com/ Amy K. Sorrells

    “When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is hurt denied. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is responsibility deafened. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is shame misplaced. When it comes to the abuse of a child, silence is evil granted access.”

    Amen.

    Thanks, Karen.

  • Rachel Shetterly

    San Jose Mercury News is how many miles away from PA? I live in PA, and I don’t know many people who share their view of JoePa. He was made the scapegoat for a Board of spineless Trustees who were too weak to take the blame themselves. He died of more than just a disease. He died of a broken heart.

    • http://karenzach.com Karen Spears Zacharias

      Perhaps but I read the editorial in the MN. Star Tribune, which isn’t that far away. I respect your thoughts as someone who lives there but there is little question that whether or not Paterno was made a scapegoat, there is far more he could have & should have done to deal with the alleged abuse. It is not enough to make one phone call. We must be a voice for that child. Paterno preached ethics all the time, but when it came to facing a very real ethical dilemma, he failed.

      • Rachel Shetterly

        But he isn’t the only one who didn’t do more!!! Yes, we do have to be a voice for that child, and we’re also judging him by today’s standards when those standards were far more lax 10 years ago. Please understand, I am not a fan of football unless my boys are playing, but I do not for one minute believe that JoePa is the only one to be implicated. He’s the biggest name, so he takes the biggest fallout. No, ma’am, there were others who knew and did nothing, and they need to go down, too.

        • http://karenzach.com Karen Spears Zacharias

          Yes. We agree. On all points here.

  • A65roger

    “What lessons have we learned from this?”

    A few days ago, I asked a pastor friend who is my age (65) how many psychological tests and background checks and behavioral questionnaires he had to complete when he began his seminary training and went into ministry as a 20-something. None.

    When I began the long trek myself, starting in 2000, it involved five different psychological tests and evaluation of the results by a PhD psychologist who was also an ordained pastor, review of the results by a synodical committee. Since then, there have been periodic questionnaires about my life–whether I’ve had legal troubles due to finances, accusations of harrassment, abuse, ever been let go from anywhere/anything because of ethical issues. I’ve done (and conducted) sexual harrassment training, done a mandatory boundaries training workshop. Clinical pastoral education involved constant peer evaluation and critiquing. All so I can do an unsalaried ministry among homeless and mentally ill folks a few hours per week. (And also so I don’t cause embrarrassment and legal bills for my church body.)

    Clearly, the standard has changed for new hires. That change has been driven by the unfortunate and inescapable demands of experience. When it comes to sexual predation and abuse, “don’t ask, don’t tell” doesn’t cut it.

    But here’s the question: Do we need to apply the same standard to people who have been serving in any capacity of leadership and authority for years? Are we willing to apply the standard for new hires to people who are walking legends and dynasties? Talking heads? Pastors, priests and bishops? Members of Congress and legislatures? Mayors, police chiefs, captains and beat cops? Lawyers and judges? Executive directors of non-profits? Pundits and candidates for anything? School principals? Drill sergeants, military academy staff, and base commanders? Coaches, team owners and sports superstars? CEO’s, bankers and brokers? Board members of anything?

    Soon the name Sandusky will once again become synonymous with a town in Ohio, no more. But as we learn every time we become concerned about the known sex offenders nearby when we do the Internet search, the greater danger is from the unknown sex offenders living and working all around us.

    Our goal must be prevention, for almost limitless reasons; but mainly because life is precious. All the vigilance and safeguards in the world are simply responses. Shouldn’t be necessary–but they are. The best we can do is to be tirelessly about the business of making better, safer, wiser and more moral human beings in the first place.

    • A65roger

      We could add presidents and former presidents to the list.

  • Tim

    “And without it, you can be sure that all those generous donors of Penn State’s past are going to be finding elsewhere to build their legacy and leave their dollars.”

    Actually, I think the donations would keep coming in regardless. While a few people might see this as a reason to pull their donations, I bet those who are diehard Penn State supporters are unlikely to see the sandusky convictions as reason to give up on the school or even hold the Trustees’ collective feet to the fire.

  • http://simplydarlene.com/ SimplyDarlene

    “And what will we do about the silence that continues to threaten our nation’s children?”… oh my, this is so true and one of the highest at-risk rates is found in our nation’s children who live on the streets.

    - 1 in 3 children are forced into prostitution within 48 hours of being on the street
    - some are as young as 5 years old
    - 300,000 children a year are sold into sex slavery

    These hard topics are maybe less real when good folks turn aside or a blind eye, but those living the nightmare would disagree. Vehemently.

    * data taken from this site: http://forsakengeneration.com/

    Thank you, miss Karen, for shining His Light into darkness.

    Lord have mercy on the children and lead us into works of righteousness for their sake, for Yours. In Jesus’ name, amen.

  • MsBean780

    I pray that the victims are able to sleep better knowing the evil is locked up. I hurt so bad for them.


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