By Lindsay Gullingsrud
The arrest of Penn State’s former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, on November 5 for sexually abusing boys has created major headlines and been the topic of many conversations nationally for several weeks now. This case has shed light on a subject that many people choose to not think about… choose to keep silent. Given the fact that this case has been so prominent in the news, we have seen examples of how the media coverage has also overshadowed similar examples of prominent individuals choosing to use their position of authority and “mentoring” opportunities to sexually abuse and exploit people in our own back yard. Since the coverage of Penn State, did you know that two cases of sexual abuse and exploitation have been brought to light in Minnesota?
There is a current case against Rev. Christopher Wenthe, formerly with Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St. Paul, which is also linked to child sexual abuse. Even though his victim was an adult, Rev. Wenthe used his position of spiritual authority to sexually abuse and exploit a parishioner who came to him for help—a woman whose vulnerability stemmed from her history as a victim of child sexual abuse.
The Penn State story also overshadowed the charges in Nisswa, MN, against 59-year-old Thomas Erickson, who connected with and groomed boys for years. Erickson used various volunteer associations to gain access to boys, including his role as an assistant Boy Scout leader and having a cabin to which he brought boys, some of whom he sexually abused and/or took sexploitive pictures.
We can analyze the reasons why the Penn State case is getting so much more attention than other cases, but it does present an opening to think big, and mobilize for social change and social justice. Because of Penn State, there have been survivors, family members, advocates, systems people, and concerned community members who have been impacted by these examples of child sexual abuse coming forward on a national level to unpack the full continuum of child sexual abuse and exploitation. The individuals, organizations, and communities coming forward speak with the Voices of Experience needed to shed the light on the complexity of child sexual abuse and exploitation. These Voices of Experience have come forward to talk about the ripple effect into adulthood as well as the levels of healing that our communities will need to endure. (Last week’s guest writer Erica Staab spoke to this healing and our own voices of experience.) Voices of Experience have come forward to address the points at which effective intervention could have resulted in the prevention of so many children becoming victim/survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Voices of Experience have also come forward to keep prevention part of the national conversation.
We need real solutions right now. We need the type of solutions that keep the focus on preventing this from happening in the first place.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: Where are the Voices of Experience to mobilize around prevention in Minnesota? There is a national movement building to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. Not only is MNCASA part of this movement, but there are MANY Minnesota partners at the table, meeting and planning, and organizing and mobilizing. We do not have all the solutions, however. We have not heard from all of the Voices of Experience represented in Minnesota. You don’t have to be a sexual assault advocate to be a Voice of Experience or to offer a solution. You don’t have to work within the county system to be a Voice of Experience or to offer a solution. You don’t have to be a survivor or even have someone close to you who is a survivor.
The fact is that child sexual abuse and exploitation is far reaching–even into adulthood. The ripple effect impacts individuals, families, communities. It impacts Minnesota. My questions to you are: Are you a Voice of Experience? Are you inspired to focus some of your time on exploring solutions–focusing on prevention? If you answer yes to one of these questions, find your place in the movement in Minnesota. If you plan to attend the MNCASA Training Symposium this week, connect with me. If you cannot attend, connect with me. The solutions are endless. What are some of your ideas to demand the change for children?