What we’ve learned from Penn State

By: Debra W. Haffner

There is nothing new about child sexual abuse, and there is nothing surprising about the events unfolding at Penn State University (and now Syracuse University) or at religious congregations around the country. In fact, if there is a surprise, it’s that this issue generally receives so little attention, and that so few institutions and parents take the steps to prevent it.

We know that approximately one half a million children are thought to be sexually abused each year. If one half a million children each year were getting pneumonia or dying in airplane crashes it would be front page news and covered as a national crisis.

It’s taken the abuse of children by priests and football coaches for headlines to emerge. I fear that once the Penn State case is resolved, the headlines will go away again.

The fact is that child sexual abuse is a devastating social, spiritual and public health crisis. It is also a crime. As many as one in four women and one in six men were sexually abused before they were 18 years of age. In 90 percent of the cases, the children know their abusers well-they are parents, family members, neighbors, clergy, coaches, scout leaders, and teachers. Despite the latest news stories, girls are much more likely to be abused; more than 8 in 10 juvenile sex crime victims are female.

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  1. Dear Jane,

    Thank you for posting this article. I wish somehow that this devastating problem could be given the attention that hunger is. For when a child is abused, they are emptied and they cannot be filled again. A spiritual and emotional hunger stays with them the rest of their lives. In essence, they grow up having a hole that will forever need to be filled. And as those of us who have been victims know, we search and search for something to fill that void yet it seems that our virtual buckets have holes and therefore can never be filled to satisfaction. In the end, it is a rupture of the soul.


    • Barbara, with proper therapy the holes can be filled in. xx

      • I worked in Social Programs and I was a Corrections Officer, that housed 1033 I/M. I do not agree you can fill in the holes and patch the problem up. The problem of abuse started many many years ago; only today do we “hear about it, because it is covered more, and computers make contact. Sexual abuse is the murder of an innocent soul, and anyone that commits this crime; should be housed on Devil’s Island There is no cure; and the innocent soul; carries the shame for the rest of their lives.I think off all the I/Ms I supervised; sexual abuse was the worst. I do not care to say seeing a shrink will help either. Children need to be protectedand abusers should not see the light of day.

  2. As disturbed and outraged as I am by the horrific crimes against children, I am also disturbed and concerned by the blatant cover up and the student reaction at Penn State. There is something so foul, so wrong, so disturbing when a culture’s obsession with sports overshadows children’s safety. The culture of “yes” afforded athletes from a young age is of great concern to me. In many ways, these athletes are victims too. They have had all their worth and value pinned to athletics. They are repeatedly given a pass when it comes to academics, authorities look the other way when they are caught breaking rules/laws, they are pumped with steroids and repeatedly told their allegiance to the sport is above all else. So they screw up, they take what they want and know they can do so without consequence as long as they deliver on the field. I believe this is why there is so much rape, violence,drug and alcohol abuse and crime among athletes. Because they can. They know if they deliver on the field, they can get away with just about anything.

    At Penn state, Athletics was sacred above all else. Coaches looked the other way. They all seemed to know not do any thing to make waves or in any way compromise the program…so if you see a child being raped…or even hear about the rape of a child – do everything to keep it quiet.

    The most disturbing element of this is how pervasive the attitude is. It is not limited to the athletes and their coaches. It was a way of life for the whole campus including the students. Clearly athletics is of greater priority than academics at this and many institutions. The very fact that such a large number of students had the initial reaction to VIOLENTLY RIOT in support of the football program and coaches instead of the victims is such a very very sad commentary on our society.

    I remember when college students were profound idealist. I remember when students protested for ideals like equality, civil rights, peace, etc. I remember when students protested FOR the victims.

    In many ways, I am very concerned for the future of our county.

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