Crime Time

Justice for all.

Did Joe Paterno Really Break His Silence?

How shattering the silence stops abuse

Joe Paterno "broke his silence on the Sandusky case since being fired from Penn State University." Clearly not a tell-all nor a hard ball interview, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post portrayed Paterno as a sympathetic, sick, frail old man who simply did the best he could.  Do you feel sorry for him?  Do you think he deserves a pass? Do you think his age, notoriety and illness is justification to the many victims who would not have been abused had Joe-Pa cared about him as much as he cared about himself, his team, and the school.

Denial, minimization, blame are the tenets of sexual abuse cover-ups and misunderstanding.  While Joe-Pa may not have known what to do then, he should be able to say I know what to do now.  The missing parts of the interview were the noticeably absent questions of:

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  1. Did you ever confront Sandusky? If so, what did he say?  What did you say?
  2. What would you do if this happened today?
  3. When you saw Sandusky as recently as September 2011 did you think it was strange that he was still courting kids on campus?

A hundred more questions come to mind.

The value of Paterno's silence breaker is that this gives us an opportunity to talk about sexual abuse-- a subject that despite how progressed people think we are-- is one that many would prefer to remain a silent subject. 

On Tuesday, January 17 on Fox 11 KTTV's Good Day LA, Angela Rose shattered the silence of sexual violence by sharing her own story of overcoming being kidnapped when she was 17 years old and sexually assaulted by a repeat sexual offender who was on parole for murder. Although her case was perpetrated by a stranger, Angela stresses that sexual abuse is typically committed by someone who is known to the victim. The offenders prey on their victims using trust as well as silence and fear as a tool to continue to offend. Angela Rose founded the nonprofit PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment and she is partnering with other groups to tackle this societal problem.

Child sexual abuse is a worldwide pandemic and prevalence rates are known to be as high as 60 percent. Sexual abusers tend to choose occupations that put them in close contact with children. They can be found in every profession. They are heterosexual and homosexual -- they don't discriminate.

While Penn State and Syracuse are now institutions that have been exposed, there are hundreds of other schools that work harder to cover up the abuse than simply expose it and deal with it.  In all of these cases, the pattern is the same when a child reports sexual abuse and when confronted with the investigation process--- a process designed to be a fact finding process---the child is the one who is disbelieved, penalized, and blamed.  The children get victimized twice - once by the people they look up to and admire, and then again through the cover-ups of the perpetrators, and their colleagues.

Take a case that as not received the same attention as Sandusky or Fine.  It is the case of Steven Noyes of Naples Florida.  In April 2011, nine-year old Jane Doe reported that she was sexually and inappropriately touched by her fourth grade teacher Steven Noyes.  Not surprisingly, he denied all allegations and hid in the joy of being the "beloved teacher."   While the school  initially suspended Noyes, it came out that he was doing report cards, continued official duties and even  communicated with children  and parents during his time on "admin leave." It smelled of a BS admin leave with no real intention of looking objectively into the facts of the allegations.  The smell got worse when the school seemed to have conducted a shoddy (at best) internal investigation that  resulted not only in Noyes returning to school but culiminated in the ultimate blow when principal Ginger Sauter suggested that the child leave the school with zero justification. So, like these other high profile cases the school seemed to practice their same protection for themselves instead of saying "mea cupla, we screwed up, and we are sorry."

School and institutions have choices.  They can choose to pick denial, minimization and blame and live being more concerned about the institution, the school, and the teacher - or they can stop blaming the victim and protect the victim.

When the institutions protect abusers, they not only are allowing for rampant prolific abuse to continue but are sending the message for victims to stay silent because the adult and institution will always win.  Children are being taught that  horrific,  vile, and abusive behavior is acceptable  and that their words do not matter.

We are here to say victim's words DO matter.  Their disclosures are critical.  The victim's voices must be heard and we the growns up cannot be silent.  The fact that we even have to have laws of mandated reporting to order people in positions of trust to report is telling even and of itself.  The fact that those who work with children have to be mandated to tell is just troubling.   Do we really need a law to say "tell."  Do we need to have laws to say do the right thing and don't kick the victim out of school too?

We can no longer be silent.  We all have a responsibility to tell whether mandated by  the law or not.  We are the adults - and kids count on us to be vocal and stand up for our victims who will live with this pain for the rest of their lives.   In New York City, buses and subways are covered with billboards that say "When you see something, Say something!" We urge you to REPORT IT!  In workplaces and in the armed services there are hotlines given for anonymous reporting.  Whether duty bound by mandated reporting laws, we the adults should retrain our default to tell and to tell until someone does something.   The more silent you stay, the more children are hurt.

You can make a difference. Report! Advocate! Get involved and most importantly, tell.

Love Our Children USA: Love Our Children USATM is the leading national nonprofit and 'Go-To' prevention organization fighting all forms of violence and neglect against children in the U.S. Since 1999, Love Our Children USA has broken ground in preventing violence against children and eliminating behaviors that keep them from reaching their full potential. Love Our Children USA teaches effective parenting solutions and fosters kid success by creating valuable programs that empower positive changes in parenting and family attitudes, bullying and cyberbullying prevention, Internet safety and school violence prevention through public education.    The goal of Love Our Children USA is Keeping Children Safe® and strengthening families. www.loveourchildrenusa.org

PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment is a multinational nonprofit that uses art, education and grassroots action to shatter the silence of sexual violence. www.ShatteringTheSilence.org

Robin Sax is a Fox 11 legal analyst,  California-based attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor, who has authored six books including It Happens Everyday Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes DA and Predators and Child Molesters:  A Sex Crimes DA Answers 100 of the Most Asked Questions.  http://robinsax.com/

 

Robin Sax is a former deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County who specialized in child sexual assault cases. She is the author of Predators and Child Molesters.

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