Power, prestige and profits take priority over the plight of children

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Children everywhere are still not safe tonight.

That’s because a pedophile was allowed to roam the halls of a sacred academic institution, while power and prestige took priority over the plight of the children who were sacrificed to the gods of profit.

Kind of reminds me of the ancient god Molech, to whom parents in Judean times sacrificed their live children on a fiery altar.
When an entire institution turns a blind eye to the plight of a child as young as 10, all for fear of reprisals, loss of power, prestige and—mostly—profits, is it really any different than those pagan worshippers of so long ago? Is it really any better? Should it be any more revered?

The Penn State scandal has left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. Like most people, I’m sickened that a college football coach, a president, a finance director, and even the grad student who witnessed a small child being raped by a grown man—among other adults who were aware of Sandusky’s perverted behavior–would not report such a crime to law enforcement.

In fact, when I tried to take a nap today, I could not erase from my mind the picture of a bigger, older man holding a boy of just 10 captive, while raping him anally. Now, after reading the grand jury testimony, which includes details about how Sandusky “gave Victim 1 a number of gifts, including golf clubs, a computer, gym clothes, dress clothes and cash,” as well as “took him to restaurants, swimming at a hotel . . . and to church,” I’m reminded of the grooming I experienced as a young girl myself.

My molester didn’t create a charity whereby he could have access to “hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations” and which was “dedicated to helping children with absent or dysfunctional families.” But he targeted girls from such families, who were equally vulnerable as Sandusky’s victims.

When I wrote Sister of Silence, I did so because I wanted to help people understand what this type of crime looks like. I wanted to help protect other children. I also wanted to alert parents as to how they can avoid having their children targeted by these molesters.

The only reason Ken Lanning even agreed to write the book’s foreword is because I describe exactly what it feels like to be among the majority of sexual abuse victimizations. That’s right: most children are sexually abused just like I was, and just like Sandusky’s victims.

How is that, exactly? Well, we were seduced or groomed, and we were complicit in our abuse. That means we took an active role, perhaps enjoying the gifts bestowed upon us, or returning to our abuser, because we craved the attention of a positive role model.

And Lanning, after spending 30 years as an FBI special agent, testifying at hundreds (if not more) of cases that involve child victims, and having written the manuals for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says these cases are the norm.

So much for the big, bad stranger in a black trenchcoat lurking behind a tree. (Please see “Parents Beware: Misconceptions about the Natascha Kampusch case all too common.”) Most of them instead look like Sandusky: a grandfatherly type, with an easy smile and pleasant personality. That our society continues to hold tight to the myth of stranger-danger is a travesty that permits crimes like Sandusky’s to go unnoticed for 30 years. Lanning knows this is common, and he says so in my book’s foreword.

Sadly, sometimes even when parents are alert to the danger, as was Victim 6’s mother after her son returned from a stint with Sandusky and told her they showered together, when the accused is someone prestigious, an investigation into the crime at hand is only cursory.

Anyone in the law enforcement community with an ounce of commitment toward helping children should have known Sandusky’s admission of guilt went far deeper than simply apologizing for a mere shower, or a hug. “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead,” Sandusky told the boy’s mother.

Children have become a casualty in today’s social climate, where parents are too busy for their child’s own good, and where trusted family friends (or coaches or priests or scout leaders) become convenient stand-ins for an overworked or absent parent.

In the past, parents tried to silence their children upon learning of such crimes, usually from a fear of shame coming upon the family name. Today, we stand at a crossroads: society can choose to continue to deny that people like Sandusky wouldn’t hurt a child, or people like Paterno wouldn’t permit it, and it will just be business as usual.

For its part, Penn State needs to do anything and everything it can to show its moral compass has changed, and it will no longer conduct business as usual. From Cleveland school teacher Rick Shartzer comes this idea about how the institution can do that: “What you permit you promote! Joe Paterno needs to be fired, and if Penn State University doesn’t have the humanity and character to cancel this weeks game, then ESPN needs to step up and BLACKOUT the game.”

Shartzer got his first wish late last night. But Penn State, which should be held accountable for the huge culpability it has in this matter, due not just for its failure to report these crimes, but because it allowed Sandusky to operate his charity, The Second Mile, from the campus. Let’s see if Penn State has the guts to grant Shartzer’s second wish.

If it does cancel Saturday’s game, the college won’t redeem itself entirely. But it can show it has indeed learned something of lasting value from this tragedy. Especially where football is more like a modern-day Molech than a national pastime, and where the mindset is making money at all costs.

Or society—we the people—can remember the legacy we leave behind will cause future generations to judge us harshly, and condemn us for the ignorance, shame and cowardice we so often display, in cases like these.

I don’t know about you, but I choose the child. After all, didn’t Jesus say “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these?” Seems like he had his priorities straight. It may be too late for Penn State to learn from him, but it isn’t for you and me. The lives of our children—who are, after all, society’s greatest asset—depend upon it.


Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. Berry’s TEDx talk, given April 13 at Connecticut College, is now live.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. She speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country. Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout.”


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