A few years ago, I remember sitting in a dark, quiet room. I wasn't alone, there was someone with me. I sat in a comfortable armchair. It was a beautiful day outside, as I recall. There was a trashcan on my lap. Beads of sweat formed on my brow and arms, my chest constricted, my body shaking. I had been in therapy for over a year at that time, working through memories of a sexually abusive childhood week after week, but the trashcan was new for me. Here I was, 25 years removed from a memory, and it had just presented itself to me for the first time. There were so many other memories I had worked through up to this point, but this one was different. This was more horrific, which explains why my body and mind kept it locked away for so long. My body convulsed over the trashcan. My therapist sat in silence, with very little to say other than "It's alright, Chris." That day was the beginning of my genuine healing -- recovering and reprocessing my hidden memories. With my body and mind finally in unison, I guess that's what can happen when they meet up after so long.
The sad part is that this sort of personal struggle happens all over the world every day, but very few hear about it. In the U.S. alone, between 5 and 15% of adult men endured a sexually abusive childhood. Many of these men are untreated -- using whatever mechanism they can find -- work, drugs, alcohol, sex, power, fame -- to fill the void created by the abuse. But this isn't what frustrates me the most. We know this happens, we have people working hard to prevent it from happening, and we have organizations helping men find the help they need. What frustrates me most is how so many people in our society choose to let abuse thrive -- not because they are pedophiles or even bad people -- but because they have chosen to let the institution they work for, and their comfortable and often lucrative place within that institution, rise above their personal integrity.
After reading the Freeh report, it becomes clear that these senior Penn State officials knew that children had been abused and were likely being abused and still, they did whatever was in the best interest of the institution -- a complete and total lack of personal integrity. You can actually see the organizational hubris and character-wobbling occur as you read the timeline of events in the report:
February 25-26, 2001 (Just after the incident in which football assistant Mike McQueary reported that he walked in on Jerry Sandusky raping a child in a university shower -- the second incident reported in a three year period)
• Spanier, Schultz and Curley meet and devise an action plan, reflected in Schultz's notes: "3) Tell chair of Board of Second Mile 2) Report to Department of Welfare 1) Tell JS [Sandusky] to avoid bringing children alone into Lasch Bldg.
February 27-28, 2001
• Curley emails Schultz and Spanier and says he [Curley] has changed his mind about the plan "after giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe [Paterno] yesterday." Curley now proposes to tell Sandusky "we feel there is a problem" and offer him "professional help." "If he is cooperative we would work with him to handle informing" the Second Mile; if Sandusky does not cooperate, "we don't have a choice and will inform" DPW and the Second Mile. "Additionally, I will let him know that his guests are not permitted to use our facilities."
The above several days are the exact timeframe when the institution and integrity collided
-- and the institution was far more powerful a force. From this point forward, they lost their way. From this period in 2001, when the decision was made to handle the matter internally, through 2011, when Sandusky was arrested and officials Curley and Schultz were charged by the Grand Jury and Spanier and Paterno were removed from their positions as President of Penn State and Head Football coach, Jerry Sandusky went on to molest on and off Penn State's campus. The Second Mile kept operating with Sandusky having unsupervised access to young boys.
Preaching integrity is a difficult thing for anyone to do. I know I've made mistakes and chose the wrong path on occasion. But, this is integrity in its simplest form. These are children we're talking about. These are lives that will be forever changed. I was an officer in the United States Navy for six years. Integrity wasn't exchanged for the term "whistleblower" as it is so often in society these days. Integrity is the fabric of our society -- and if we don't work to harness a culture that applauds integrity, this sort of disaster will continue in institutions across the country.
I'm in the not-so-unique position of having a very real understanding of what these boys, who are now men, have gone through. I sat with a trashcan on my lap -- convulsing over my past to save my future. But, that doesn't mean I should be different in how I approach this subject. We are all the cure to this disturbing epidemic, survivors of sexual abuse and non-survivors alike, and it starts with us, as adults, to force integrity to the surface above all other things -- at the very least for our most important resource -- our children.
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