Editorial: Jerry Sandusky forced us to think the unthinkable to protect the little children

Patriot-News - PennLive [Mechanicsburg PA]

October 31, 2021

Ten years ago, we were forced to think the unthinkable. A man thousands of people idolized and revered was unmasked as one of the most depraved beings on the face of this planet.

On Nov. 5, 2011, Jerry Sandusky was arrested for raping young boys. Turns out Sandusky had been sexually abusing innocent children for years, while important people who knew, or should have known, looked the other way.

As PennLive and The Patriot News documented over this past decade, Sandusky’s power inside the Penn State system assured he would be both trusted and feared, and that he would have easy access to countless kids.

Mothers thought it an honor to have their boys connected to Jerry Sandusky and his Second Mile charity. What Penn State father wasn’t proud to stand with the assistant football coach?

The power of Sandusky’s position inside a powerhouse like Penn State made it easy for him to molest little boys. But the sad fact is, we have discovered Penn State was far from the only venerable institution where powerful people abused children.

Trusted organizations have been providing safe havens for pedophiles for decades: chief among them, USA Gymnastics, Boy Scouts of America and the Roman Catholic Church.

That’s an awful indictment of our society, and it should cause every parent to shudder. Parents routinely trusted their children into the care of untrustworthy priests, Scout masters, coaches and doctors. We will never know how many children were abused over these past decades and how many adults still bear the scars.

But now, we do know it’s impossible to spot pedophiles just by looking at them. Their vile is often masked by white lab coats, football jerseys, Eagle pins and holy white collars. And the noble institutions that should have protected children, first tried to protect themselves.

If any good has come in this past decade from Jerry Sandusky’s arrest and conviction, it’s that we are more willing to think the unthinkable. We now are aware of just how widespread child abuse is. And since Sandusky’s arrest, Pennsylvania has mandated more safeguards to protect children in churches, schools, community centers, sports teams, kids’ clubs, nurseries and anywhere adults hold sway over children.

More importantly, it’s now mandatory for people in positions of authority to report suspected child abuse. People in authority can’t just look the other way anymore, at least not without serious repercussions.

Despite these new safeguards, child abuse remains a serious problem in Pennsylvania and throughout the nation. The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) says every nine minutes, government authorities respond to another report of child sexual abuse. And they have a list of warning signs about child sexual abuse anyone working with children should know.

As much as we recoil from thinking the unthinkable, ignoring signs of child abuse is the worst thing anyone can do. And now, for those who should be protecting children instead of men like Sandusky, it’s also illegal.