The Ethical Fumble of Institutional Pride

By Lindsay Gullingsrud

Isn’t it great when we see prominent people in our society go the extra mile by dedicating their time to mentor young people? When I see adults take the time to honor, nurture, and mentor children, I am reminded of all the good that is in this world. When adults can tap into the interests of young people and use that as a way to provide additional opportunities to nurture their strengths and talents, the ripple effect is far reaching.

Unfortunately, the current coverage regarding Penn State and former coach Jerry Sandusky serves as a reminder of how adults can also use these opportunities to gain access to children for all the wrong reasons. Not only is the news about the years of sexual abuse alarming, but the current media coverage is also showing how power and privilege has trumped the rights of children to NOT be sexually abused. When we take the time to scan the coverage of child sexual abuse in the media, we find there are far too many examples of those in a position of authority choosing to misuse their power to sexually abuse children for their own gain. Additionally, rather than intervening on behalf of the children, too often the abuse is compounded by others with power choosing to cover up the abuse as a way to protect their organizations. When we see this happen, let’s be clear, individuals and institutions are choosing to protect the reputation of an organization over the health, safety and security of children.

Our children deserve more from the adults around them. We know about the immediate as well as long-term harm children experience because of sexual abuse. A first step in a victim’s healing is having their experience acknowledged by others and being believed. My hope, as an advocate, is that as adults, we start working to provide young people with more opportunities to be loved, nurtured, and honored–and to work even harder to prevent the opportunities where some adults chose to sexually abuse and exploit.

There is increasing knowledge about how to prevent perpetration. Prevention involves not only what individuals can do to stop the harm, but also what organizational practices can be adopted that make such abuse less likely to occur in the first place. The time is now to look into our or organizational practices and policies to ensure that when anyone comes forward about child sexual abuse and exploitation, it will not be ignored. Adults must shift into gear immediately to get help for the child harmed AND to hold those who chose to perpetrate that harm accountable.

Those who ignored or covered up the reports of abuse probably thought they were doing Penn State a favor. In fact, the harm to that institution is now greater than if they had done the responsible thing for the children from the start. I am thankful that Penn State is now working to hold all accountable in this situation. Surely Penn State, as all institutions should, will review their policies to ensure that children and youth are safe and that reports of abuse are effectively investigated.

It is time we Demand a Change for Children by investing in the health and well-being of all children. As we work together to demand the change, we must remember that prevention must address sexual abuse, exploitation and violence throughout the lifespan.

Update: Since this blog was written, Penn State has continued to prove their intent of holding all accountable in this situation with the most recent action by the school’s board of trustees firing head football coach Joe Paterno and university president Grahm Spanier.

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