Jerry Sandusky has been convicted of sexually assaulting ten boys over a period of 15 years. The allegations against the former Penn State assistant coach sent shockwaves throughout the nation, helping raise awareness of the reality and evil of child abuse. As the Sandusky case fades out of the media will the outrage also fade from the collective memory of our community? Will it take story after story of adults sexually preying on and physically abusing little children to maintain the community’s disgust of child abuse? Child abuse is the number one public health issue facing the nation, our Commonwealth and yes, even York County. This place we call home is currently near the top of the pile in abuse related cases.
The mother of victim number six said it best following Sandusky’s verdict: “Nobody wins. We’ve all lost.” We all lose every time a child is either sexually abused, physically abused or fails to receive necessary daily care and nourishment through neglect. We lose because a child fails to properly grow in an environment of love and nurture. We lose because that child’s brain architecture is hardwired the wrong way, a tangled mess that may never get unsorted. Statistics tell us that abused children will grow up with a host of developmental issues that will make becoming a healthy, contributing citizen less likely. These kids may struggle in school, wrestle with insecurity, and simmer internally with unresolved anger. Left unchecked, these once precious young children may themselves repeat the pattern of their perpetrators, becoming monsters in their own right.
We all lose when we fail to learn how to prevent child abuse before it ever begins. The public has a vested interest in this issue. If we don’t get this issue under control, not only will children be damaged in the process but also the community we are trying so hard to build will erode. Abused kids will likely struggle to know how to live in healthy, loving relationships and so, future marriages will fall apart, families will crumble and more and more children will be left in the wake of the destructive act of abuse. The county’s mental health budgets will skyrocket. We will need to beef up the staff of the County’s Children, Youth and Family office, hiring an endless stream of caseworkers to investigate allegations of abuse. Children will need to be taken from their homes and will need places to go. As the courts become inundated with an increased caseload, we will need to increase their capacity, costing taxpayers more money to fund the system. Prisons will have to be built to house future offenders.
I know it sounds like a doomsday scenario. It is shocking and fear inducing but is it that far from reality? If you have ever met an adult who was abused as a child you know what an incredible struggle it is for them to live successfully. Many survivors have moved on to be productive citizens and they deserve our highest respect and compassion. But many survivors will not and in the end we will all lose.
The Jerry Sandusky case exposes the need to have a community conversation around the subject of sexuality. There are dots that need to be connected. On the one hand most of us are disgusted by the sexual abuse of little kids. But on the other hand we have developed a culture that encourages little self-control in the area of sexuality. We have unconsciously created a pornography culture that fosters unhindered sexual gratification. Men are lusting after younger and younger girls. Female schoolteachers are hooking up with 15-year old boys. Parents refuse to consider the folly of allowing their daughters to dress provocatively. The community has to start connecting the dots. An unbridled, unhindered sexual ethic encourages men, women and even kids to transgress boundaries that should be clearly fixed for our own collective good.
In our community conversation we may disagree about where the boundaries of a healthy sexuality exist. Some of us will argue that sex should be encouraged only in marriage. Others will make the case that sex is ok between consenting adults and still others will argue that sex is nothing more than an animal appetite akin to hunger. Surely we can come together and agree that an adult should never seek sexual gratification from a child. And if that is the case it means we need to collectively frown on and discourage anything that encourages it. I for one believe the conversation can start around the issue of pornography. The dots between pornography addiction and sexual abuse are obvious. It doesn’t matter where the conversation on sexuality begins. What matters is that the conversation begins. Have that conversation with your kids. Let them know what healthy sexuality looks like and what adults are forbidden to do with their bodies. Listen to them and for heaven’s sake, please take them serious if they report abuse to you. We all stand to lose if even on more child becomes the object of an adult’s sexual gratification. Prevention is possible but we all have to get involved. I hope you will.