Jerry Sandusky today will be sentenced for abusing boys and young men who, over the past 15 years, had put their trust in him as a friend, mentor and guide. When the judge’s ruling is announced, many in the public will think sentencing marks the end of this tragedy. Though the trial may be over, the process of healing for his victims and our society continues.
Since the allegations broke in the media last fall, we’ve followed the case, expressing shock and dismay, wondering how a tragedy of this scale and scope could have possibly escaped proper reporting to the authorities. Questions raised in private and public forums ran the gamut from, “Was Dottie Sandusky blind to what was happening under her own roof?” “Didn’t any of these kids’ parents suspect something was terribly amiss?” “How could adults—adults in positions of authority, no less—place a school’s or a sports team’s reputation over the need to protect innocent children from falling prey to a sexual offender?”
But have we had the courage to ask ourselves the most difficult questions: “What would I have done? Why did this case get so much more attention than others? What can I do now to prevent the child sexual abuse that’s endemic in our society? How can I help protect our youth?” Yes, you have that power. Each of us, individually and collectively, is responsible for ending the sexual abuse of children.
Start by asking about the sexual abuse policies and reporting procedures in place at your child’s daycare, school, summer camp, religious organization or sports team. Make sure that everyone participating in or managing the program clearly understands that sexual abuse, exploitation or harassment isn’t tolerated, and knows how to respond sensitively to those harmed, talk to those with problematic behaviors and report suspected abuse.
Talk about it. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused or exploited as youth. Chances are great that if you weren’t victimized as a child, sadly, someone close to you has been. Through sharing our experiences and stories of strength and healing, we bring this epidemic out of the shadows. We make it easier for victims, and for those who may be prone to becoming abusers themselves, to ask for help. Admittedly, conversations about child molesting are not comfortable by any means, but they are critical in preventing childhood sexual abuse in our society.
Ask leaders from your faith community, neighborhood or school district to publicly discuss the obligation that each and every one of us has to protect our own and others’ children from harm and to create environments in which it is highly unlikely that anyone will sexually abuse a child or profit from abuse or exploitation.
Jerry Sandusky was found guilty of repeatedly sexually abusing young people. For the rest of their lives, his victims and their loved ones will wrestle with the untold pain and trauma he inflicted.
This case, like countless others, is a public wake-up call to demand a change for children. Working together, we can create a society that values and protects children, and ensure that potential abusers get help long before a single child is harmed.
Today is the day. You have the power. Demand a change for children.
Donna Dunn is Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Demand the Change for Children is a collaboration of individuals and organizations working together from a preventative, child-centered approach to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.