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Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright Headshot

Countering Child Sexual Abuse Amidst a Scandal: A Wake Up Call

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JOE PATERNO STATEMENT
AP

Like every Penn Stater, I'm absolutely heartbroken by the child sexual abuse charges being levied against former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. I am sickened and disgusted by the perjury charges being faced by the university's athletic director, Tim Curley, and vice president for finance and business, Gary Schultz, both of whom are accused of failing to alert police of sexual abuse allegations.

This weekend's initial shock and anger has been replaced by a deep sadness and a sense of betrayal. As an alumna and somebody who spent her formative years (10 to 21-years-old) in State College, this is very personal. My seemingly idyllic community has been tarnished; my cherished football team is being shamed and disgraced; and my alma mater's slogan of "Success with honor" is being mocked.

Yet, worst of all, all indicators are that at least eight boys were violated over 15 years by Sandusky, with the system, at every level, failing to protect them. An outraged community and nation want answers and justice. The debate has just begun as far as who is guilty for what they did, or rather, what they did not do in preventing more abuse.

While we may not be able to right any wrongs, in addition to letting the judicial system run its due course, there's a lot that can be done in combating future incidences of child sexual abuse. There's plenty that can be done in positively moving forward, and beginning the process of healing.

Donate to an organization that seeks to end childhood sexual abuse via awareness, education, and advocacy, e.g., the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children. Don't overlook supporting groups that assist victims of all ages, of all types of sexual violence, like RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

Talk to your children. If you're a parent or caregiver, take the time to educate your child about good touch/bad touch, people who make them uncomfortable, people who give them special gifts, and times that it's not okay to keep a secret, even if they've made a promise to do such. Take advantage of the fact that troubling headliners offer teachable moments. Whether or not you realize it, your children are not immune to what they're seeing and hearing about this scandal, especially if it involves their heroes. They want and need your guidance, and they need to learn how to effectively communicate about sex and inappropriate sexual advances.

Support comprehensive sexuality education programs. The lesson plans of such curricula often include informing youth that no one else is to see or touch their private parts. Workshops also encourage them to report sexual abuse to a trusted adult.

Become an advocate. Learn what you can do to assist those who have been sexually abused by contacting local or national groups that seek to protect children. (See the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Child Welfare Information Gateway in getting started.)

If you're a Penn Stater, stay proud. Yes, this is one of the university's darkest moments, and the actions of a few have brought dishonor upon us all. But the bad apples in the bunch should not take away from the many things we have to be proud of in saying "We are Penn State." We are a community that does not and will not tolerate sexual wrongdoings of any kind. We are also a community that contributes positively to society in so many ways, like Dance Marathon, which raises millions of dollars ever year to fight pediatric cancer.

If you're not a Penn Stater, don't judge. Sadly, you need to do no more than look in your own backyard to find that the same wrongs are being committed against other children. According to the National Resource Council, at least 20-24% of the U.S. population has been sexually abused. It's an issue affecting every community, and more needs to be done about it everywhere.

Support the victims. People who have shared with me that they were sexually abused as children have also stated that others' reactions are sometimes as bad as the violation itself. Failure to withhold one's shock, horror, and repulsion can leave a survivor feeling guilty, dirty, and, as an adult, undesirable. So keep how appalled you are in check and strive to provide assistance.

Continue to stand behind PSU students and athletes. They are not at fault. They have done nothing wrong. Whether studying for their next big exam, acting as a student ambassador, or preparing for their next major sporting event this weekend, those currently at the university and representing it need your support more than ever.

Practice compassion. While it's hard not to get caught up in the lynch mob wanting to hold people accountable for what they could've, should've done, it's important to remember that -- guilty or not -- people's lives are being ruined. Family members of those involved are being branded with a scarlet letter as well. A lot of good people who have done no wrong are hurting and need your empathy.

Resist publicly charging anyone as guilty until it's proven so by a court. From opinion columns to blogs to Facebook conversations, there are a lot of strong opinions out there about this scandal amidst misinformation and speculation. And while everyone is certainly entitled to give their two-cents' worth, let's not forget that reputations are on the line -- ones like JoePa's, which have proven themselves exemplary until this story broke.

Become legally informed. Learn not only what the law in your state requires when it comes to reporting suspected abuse, but also know who to contact and how, e.g., a ChildLine Service, should you ever learn of a potential or definite violation. Inaction is often bred by ignorance.

Take care of yourself. Sexual abuse is an emotionally charged, incredibly difficult travesty to process and deal with. There is no shame in finding somebody to talk to, whether a religious leader, counselor, or support group.

With swimming being my sanity and writing my way of dealing with all of this, the two are helping to keep the tears at bay. Hopefully, every one of you can find ways to constructively handle this situation. Doing something positive, in the face of adversity, can ultimately have all of us doing our part in protecting our children.