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Friday, July 20, 2012
You'd have to be hiding in a hole somewhere to have missed the news about the Penn State child abuse scandal. It is absolutely horrific. It's been a topic in the news and sports news for several months now.(Please stop reading now if the topic of child sexual abuse is disturbing for you.)
Joe Paterno has been the coach at Penn State since before I was born until his death a few months ago. That's a really long time to be a coach. I remember the times OU had played Penn State and respecting him as a coach. The older I've gotten, the more respect I've had for a man to be so seemingly devoted to doing things right. I remember watching scandals come and go over the years at many programs, yet here he was....Paterno: old Fashioned, upstanding and someone that seemed to be a man made of a different cloth. It was often said of him, "They don't make 'em like that anymore." This sort of thing was always said with near reverence for the man and all he had done. Now, there are much different things being said about him and rightly so.
In the wake of one of the most devastating and tragic scandals to ever rock college sports, everyone is talking about the horrific acts done at Penn State by former coach Jerry Sandusky and the people who have covered it up. Worse it seems now with all the new information that no one, not even Joe Paterno, did ANYTHING to stop it from happening to more young boys. It is horrible, sickening, gut wrenching to think of even ONE young boy being raped and not stopped. Not to mention the 40 counts of which he was convicted.
As a family physician I am no stranger to abuse cases. Recognizing them, reporting them, dealing with the long lasting psychological trauma caused by abuse of all kinds is part of my job, my responsibility. The fact that these so called "teachers"or "professors"or "educators" or even coaches KNEW that a child predator was in their midst and did not do everything in their power to stop it from ever happening again is revolting.
Last week a new report from an independent investigation was released. Since then, many people have been calling for the removal of the statue of Joe Paterno on the Penn State campus. This week I've seen multiple reports discussing whether it should be taken down both in the sports and regular media. Fact is, we're missing the point. Statue or no statue, child abuse is a REAL problem. We all ought to be spending more time disucssing it, how to recognize it and prevent it.
Every single one of these news reports talk about this as if it's an isolated incident. The sad truth is that children are sexually abused every day, every hour, every minute. Most perpetrators are someone the child knows and many times is a family member. We should not think that child abuse is committed by some stranger. Just like in the Penn State case, it is almost always someone that is trusted by the family.
As a parent, the idea of what happened to all those poor boys saddens and enrages me. As a doctor it makes me want to be just that much more diligent about watching for signs and symptoms. But more importantly it reinforces the idea that prevention is key.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. This teaches that the genitals, while private, are not so private that you can’t talk about them.
Talking to our children about inappropriate touching is also important. We cannot wait "until they're old enough" or be embarrassed or worried about talking about it. Protecting our children starts at home. We all must be sure kids know that if ANYONE touches them in ANY way that makes them uncomfortable they can and must tell someone and not fear ANY repercussions. Sandusky often threatened his victims and their families as many sexual predators do. We have to emphasize that they will be safe and not punished for reporting it. It is so important to teach our children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything -- good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult.
Children who are victims of sexual abuse can display many or few behavioral symptoms. They may withdraw from family or friends, display poor school performance, experience depression, anxiety, or exhibit aggressive and self-destructive behavior. Or they may not display any outward abnormal behavior. It's important to use your instincts. If you are worried about your child, don't ignore that. See your family physician right away.
We also must educate ourselves about how to report and to whom. Every one of us, doctor, teacher or just regular citizen has a duty to report ANY suspected child abuse-sexual or physical. You can make reports anonymously. You can call 911 for any emergent situation. In Texas you can even file a report online. Please don't be afraid to report. It is much better to make an error than live with the idea that you did nothing to protect a child who has been harmed. It's only your job to report cases of suspected abuse. Investigators will do their job to see if the abuse really occurred.
The situation at Penn State is tragic and horrible. The victims and their families will face a lifetime of dealing with what was done to them. It is horrible. But, whether or not someone's statue is removed is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that the victims receive the help they need, Jerry Sandusky never gets the opportunity to touch another child, and we ALL open our eyes and protect our children.