Vigilance is imperative: There's a Jerry Sandusky in every town
The crime of child sexual abuse takes place in plain sight. We must all be vigilant in recognizing it.
Special to The Times
Without question, Jerry Sandusky's insidious, methodical, and cruel abuse of countless vulnerable boys is abhorrent and, as many have stated, monstrous. The former Penn State assistant football coach was found guilty of 45 counts for sexually abusing 10 boys over a span of 15 years.
Yet, to demonize Jerry Sandusky is to mischaracterize the danger that exists in every community. It is certain that a Jerry Sandusky walks the streets of every town, including the streets of Seattle, at this very moment. To paint Sandusky as an evil monster is to miss the greatest lesson in this heartbreaking saga that has unfolded.
Adults who see children as sexual objects look like the friendly neighbor, coach, teacher or youth worker who takes an extra interest in a child. Our collective failure to recognize the patterns of grooming beneath the engaging demeanor of the abuser continues to leave vulnerable children at risk — not just those unlucky children way over in Happy Valley, Pa., but each and every child in our own community.
The estimated 305,000 adult survivors of childhood-sexual abuse in King County alone bear testimony to our unwillingness to acknowledge the threat that walks among us.
The crime of child-sexual abuse takes place in plain sight. Certainly countless individuals in the Penn State football community and the (now nearly defunct) Second Mile charity are connecting the dots of their uneasy, brushed aside, queasy feelings about Sandusky's behavior with the boys he supposedly was helping. Was the glow of Jerry's affable demeanor really that bright? Or was his place in the hallowed and prestigious Penn State community really above reproach?
In large part, the sexual abuse of children continues in our community, not because we can't see, but because we don't see. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sexual abuse is pervasive across every demographic.
Our failure to sharpen our awareness of the possibility and the picture of sexual abuse leaves children in our schools, sports teams, community centers and, yes, in our homes, vulnerable to the insidious and clever manipulation of those who form relationships with children to satisfy their twisted desire to manipulate and control those with far less power and few defenses.
As we learned from the heart-rending stories of the victimized young men who courageously testified at Sandusky's trial, the die was cast long before a sexual act ever occurred. Statistics tell us that 90 percent of the time abusers are known to their victims. The sexual abuse of a child most often begins with a relationship with a nice, friendly adult, not a monstrous act of violation.
Will the Sandusky trial be the wake-up call that brings all of us to our senses? Will the grinning face of Jerry Sandusky remain in our consciousness long enough to remind us of our responsibility to become aware of the uncomfortable reality of the sexual abuse of children in our community? Or will we continue to believe the illusion that those things don't happen here, that this was an extraordinary circumstance?
The stories of Sandusky's victims illustrate the norm. Placing the responsibility for their own safety on the very children who are at risk is a strategy that will fail. For a complexity of reasons, statistics show that, overwhelmingly, most children don't tell of their abuse and some never tell across their entire lifetime.
It is up to us, adults, to become aware, speak up and to stand with those in our community who tirelessly seek to raise awareness to one day end the destructive cycle of childhood sexual abuse.Janice Palm is the executive director of Shepherd's Counseling Services in Seattle, which offers counseling services for adult survivors of childhood-sexual abuse and support for spouses and partners.