The moment I realized that the Penn State scandal was breaking, and breaking big, I knew that the universe had taken over. My prayers had been answered. Lots of us have tried for a very long time to bring the issue of sexual abuse to the mainstream media without success. It's never been cocktail party conversation or tweet material or the kind of thing you post on Facebook. Until now, that is.
Back in 2009, I wrote Mrs. Obama a letter in the form of a blog here on the Huffington Post asking her to take up the cause of sexual abuse and violence against women. She chose childhood obesity instead, admittedly a very important issue. It was my great hope that she or her husband would one day simply speak the words, sexual abuse, to bring attention to the subject. And the President did take a brief question about it last weekend, calling the situation at Penn State a "problem." It was a good start. We now have a national dialogue about sexual abuse.
The Catholic Church scandal had the potential to have the same effect but somehow, it just didn't. People could choose to ignore the scandal if they so desired and there were very few actual images of the abuse itself. Catholics tried to process it and justify staying faithful to their religion as those in power continued to deny, protect and pay out while preaching self-serving forgiveness and understanding. There was no particular human face on the scandal as it had a more institutional feel to it. No, it wasn't a mainstream event and the media didn't really adopt it.
But choosing the scandal to come out of one of the most revered college sports programs in the country was a brilliant stroke by the universe. And including the graphic images of children actually being raped by a person who should have been trustworthy forced our society to see the problem in a way they never had. And in a particular blessing, the story speaks the loudest to men, a group notoriously difficult to reach on this subject. So suddenly, the victims are feeling the protection and concern of the public and we are being constantly reminded of that as we watch the Penn State program crumble. It is understandable that many are choking on their compassion as they watch their beloved JoPa exit, including the students who took their outrage over his firing to the streets. But still the empathy seems to be going with the children, as it should.
The opportunities created by this story are endless. In a stunning interview on the Ed Show on Wednesday, the actor/activist David Keith spoke about the 10,000 other Jerry Sanduskys out there in Pennsylvania whose victims are "waiting to be rescued and they don't have NCAA football to highlight their plight." He called this failure to fund resources and act on behalf of these child victims of sexual abuse and pornography "maybe the greatest failure in the history of mankind." He also stated that 96% of the children raped and abused within the child pornography industry are violated in their own home. As an advocate for sexual abuse victims, I follow the subject very carefully and never knew that David Keith had been actively involved in this cause for years through the National Association to Protect Children (protect.org). I won't dwell on how little publicity his cause was able to generate in the past and instead will just be grateful that opportunities are now opening up.
Hopefully the Penn State story, depending on how it plays out, will give children the courage to tell when they are being abused. Because it so often happens at home, these children are frequently blamed for destroying the family by telling. It is unlikely that anyone blames the Penn State victims for destroying the football program. All victims deserve the same consideration. It is always right to tell.
I am happy to take this remarkable, once in a lifetime gift from the universe. It gives me the chance to say that those eight victims are representative of thousands and thousands of children who are sexually abused in this country every single day. The image that we all have now of that moment in the locker room shower plays out in some shape or form in homes, schools, cars, or wherever a person with power chooses to victimize a child every single day. I am sleeping better at night, not because this will eradicate sexual abuse. But because we are all talking about it. We have stepped out of the darkness into the light. So many of us have waited so long for this to happen.