As a therapist who specializes in trauma and a pop-culture observer, as well as a Pennsylvanian; I have a cat-bird perspective on the recent alleged Jerry Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal.
What the local and national media might not have for the pubic yet is how one admission of abuse give others courage to admit what has happened to them. It is called ‘triggering,’ a powerful phenomena to the abused when a similar episode occurs to their experience. It explains why upon hearing of the Penn State Scandal, the Syracuse victims could keep silent no more (or felt they would be finally believed). Even in clients who were not sexually abused, there are those who had been bullied, who upon hearing the stories of the alleged Sandusky victims, understood the helplessness of the youngsters and related to me their sadness for them. I am sure many of us who can remember points of childhood can refer to this. But not all, and thus the denial system. Denial means the excuses you give yourself for something you know better; “Nah, I didn’t just see, what I saw….he’s a good man, married with a college degree and the kid is always well dressed and fed. Sure, I just caught a weird moment.” That is denial.
The media has done a fairly decent job of explaining the facts of these cases as they have evolved. The sports connection is due to the fact that while parents vet babysitters etc, they rarely consider reputable coaches to be a threat. Then, sports tend to lend itself to changing and showering, a pedophile’s dream. It has been fascinating to watch the culture go through a public head-scratching as to why Joe Paterno the beloved coach of Penn State should lose his job, when he did nothing ‘wrong.’ The internet has been an explosion of folk reasoning through the bizarre non-logic of the sexual abuse of children and the denial of such, and its value to us as a society. So what is one’s responsibility in reporting abuse, or suspected abuse? People tend to think of a predator as an unshaven man in a trench coat lurking near the trash cans, however, the majority of sexual and physical abusers are by someone a child knows.
This happens to each and every family afflicted with abuse. Their love, respect, and the position “Uncle So & So” hold in the family; the good times, the favors, his advice ….how could he be an abuser? And the victim: hasn’t she always been one to act-out, been prone to drama, caught in an outright lie last year? If something were really wrong wouldn’t the wife /mother take care of it? I don’t want to overstep my boundaries. Do you hear yourself or do you hear denial? Did you see what you saw or not? Did the child tell you what is happening? Children are without words to describe what adult things are happening to them heck adults barely have the words for abuse.
Anyone who suspects a child is being abused or groomed for abuse can report suspicions directly to their state’s Child Abuse Hotline found in the Human Resources section of the phonebook or by dialing 911 and asking to speak with a crisis counselor. You may decline to give your name. If you are unsure of your suspicions you can speak to a Child Crisis Counselor about what you observe and ask what they think about it. You should be able to go to a mandated reporter in that child’s life: the teacher, counselor, clergy, doctor, therapist and share your suspicions….but as we have seen in the past, this protocol has failed, sometimes to the detriment of the child’s life.
We tend to think that by calling “the authorities” we will bring on a world of trouble for a family, make matters far worse for the child. This is not necessarily true, there are many fine support programs in place to help families stay together and be helped. OK, let’s mention the fear, the fear of falsely accusing someone and ruining their lives. This happened in the 1970s and before, so we in mental health have learned a great deal about how to prevent false accusations, how to question witnesses properly and so on. It is safer these days to protect a child with less fear of false accusation.
What are the implications for not reporting? Sure, there are those of us beat the damage of child abuse, but for each one of us there are 250 in jail, on drugs, and/or beating and abusing their or others kids. If you knew about the heinous pain of the victim and ignored it, how do you sleep at night? Think about you and yours: what if someone knew of something bad happening and never dropped a dime to help. Such a shame. Keep watching these scandals play out in the news and in their court trials….and you will see what silence and denial begets.
Lastly, for a child who may have already experienced abuse, it is never too late to reach out for help. Help is available. There may be statute of limitations on prosecution of your perpetrators; however, there is never a limit on your ability to transcend the pain, grief, and loneliness. There are qualified therapists, clergy, self-help groups, and holistic techniques to help you help yourself. If you were once the victim, you can now be the victor.
Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S. is a psychotherapist in private practice on the Lehigh Valley PA. She was born in Philadelphia in May 1960, eldest of three children. She was greatly interested in writing, language, theater and music throughout her youth which opened opportunity such as performance, travel, and academics. Gail-Elaine had planned a career in teaching English but upon seeing the state of secondary education in the 80s, she re-tooled her skills to become an addictions counselor.
She was married and has a gifted son with AS. She had a career in Art and entrepreneurial publishing while raising him. Upon her divorce she furthered her credentials with a Masters in Clinical Psychology and Master Levels in Reiki training. Her goal is to change the stigma of mental illness and facilitate positive solutions for her clients.
Gail-Elaine continues her work in trauma, chronic pain, grief, and addictions in her general practice of psychotherapy with art and somatic psychology. She serves as Therapist, Consultant, Life Coach, Reiki Teacher, Advocate, Community Speaker, Blogger [www.tinkerpsychotherapy.com], and also as Features Contributor for PCM.