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Miriam Novogrodsky

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More on Penn State: How Do You Do Nothing?

Posted: 11/16/11 01:40 PM ET

My co-blogger Hayley Krisher discussed the breaking Penn State news here the other day. Since we love discussions at Femamom, I'm going to tackle the football scandal, my a.m. coffee still kicking.

I asked some teenage boys sitting in our kitchen what they would do if they walked in on a grown man molesting a kid? They were uncomfortable with the topic, but I pressed. "Would you leave the kid?"

The athlete among the bunch answered. "No, no I wouldn't leave the kid."  Then he spilled the beans: "I can think of a lot of guys on teams, teams I'm on who would. My coach for football says crazy shit. I wouldn't be suprised if he did something like that. But we're scared of him." He paused to butter a bagel. "But there's a lot who wouldn't say anything. I bet that's what it was. Coaches are scary." He took a bite of his bagel. "Me, I'd kill the guy. I'd tear him off the kid and freak out."

One boy wanted to know how long ago the charges were from. He thought a long time ago, well, maybe the charges should be dropped... he thought about that idea for a moment. Then, "But even if it was a long time ago? Those kids are now grownups and I bet they're still messed up from that, huh?"

I had the information I did not want: The young men who frequent our house were not surprised that people looked the other way.  They wouldn't. But they each knew people who would... They shared that coaches are scary and that sports are part of a machine bigger and more powerful than morality.

The young women who frequent our house were appalled. Unequivocally. They couldn't think of one person they knew who would walk away if they saw a kid being sodomized.

The young men and young women who I spoke with about Penn State are all wonderful young adults. They are all strong individuals. They have all been socialized in our culture. Without making too big a deal out of my unscientific data, it could be deduced that females in their response to, child in locker room being sodomized, what do you do, all said they would intervene and that they knew of no human who would not. Save some sick movie monster.

Okay, so we've covered gender.  On to institutions. Dot connectors out there, I know you're asking how one can separate the two? Because aren't gender differences born of institutional socialization? Yes, yes and yes. But for today, let's divide the two.

The pathology of institutionalized abuse involves an agreement between the perpetrators, administrators and the victims. Who wants to be the unpopular person who calls end game to such an arrangement?

Would anyone believe that sole voice? Would the sole voice lose their job, their security, their reputation? Would they be hire-able anywhere else? There is a moral membrane missing inside institutionalized abuse. The membrane is rendered useless, like tonsils. The morality membrane might have served a purpose but nobody remembers what...

The single-minded zeal of a school that's all about football or a church that's all about sin, such extremes create zealots and zealots are not known for strong moral fiber -- just strong affiliation. There is a big difference. Within institutions the moral membrane can dissolve.

Abuse of children is nothing new. Victims stay quiet. Victims are scared and threatened. Embarrassed. Unsure of what they did to invite such terror. But we have begun slowly to educate ourselves. Victims are more likely to come forward. It might take years, but they find their voices and when they do, legal action is being taken.

Sexual abuse devastates the life of the victim. They live with the tiled walls forever.

Institutions turned inside out for their students or parishioners or members to view the distasteful insides of, always takes some getting used to.

As ugly as this scandal is, I believe that we will a) see more trash like Penn State's dirty secret unearthed b) such unearthing is a sign of progress c) we have an obligation as a society to do better by our children d) we have no choice because we have begun to give voices to victims and once that has been done, we are no longer able to ignore the noise.

 

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