I don't want to think about Jerry Sandusky anymore. I don't want to spend another moment considering the evil he visited upon so many young boys. I don't even want to think about how Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, was led off in handcuffs last Friday night after his conviction on 45 of 48 counts of child sexual abuse, almost certainly destined to spend the rest of his life behind bars. Lock him away and banish him from my thoughts.
I would rather think about how, even from this horror, something hopeful is emerging. After the two-week trial reminded us all over again of the revolting nature and scope of Sandusky's crimes, it is easy to overlook the good that has come from finally dragging him out of the shadows. I want to think about how there are more people than ever, working in ways large and small, to prevent the atrocities that men like Sandusky attempt. I'm under no illusion that pedophilia will magically disappear through greater vigilance or the swipe of a lawmaker's pen. But those who would target children will find far greater resistance than before.
Don't think about Sandusky. Think about the groundswell that has grown since the scandal, at the legislative level, the university level, the grassroots level, to fight back against pedophiles. Think about how the efforts to keep them from operating in secret has gained momentum and reinforcements, and how victims and those who spot evidence have been emboldened to come forward.
Were you disheartened that the Penn State students who demonstrated in support of Joe Paterno last November seemed to show little regard for Sandusky's victims? Then think about some of the other students on campus, who care quite deeply. Dan Rost is a sophomore accounting and finance major from Franklin County, Pa., whose most immediate goal before the Sandusky accusations came to light had been to start a microfinancing fund. "I had no clue how prevalent an issue this was until then," he says. "Then I did some research and realized this was not just a Sandusky issue, not just a Penn State issue, but a national issue. I decided I didn't want to live in a culture in which this was such a widespread problem, so I decided to see what could be done about it."
With three other students, Zack Devoti, Anand Ganjam and Tori Smith, Rost founded the One Heart campaign, dedicated to raising money and awareness to help fight child abuse. The name, One Heart, was drawn from a line in the Penn State alma mater that has been often quoted with irony in the wake of the Sandusky scandal: May no act of ours bring shame / To one heart that bears thy name.
The foursome grew to dozens within a few weeks, and then hundreds, as other campus organizations joined them. They partnered with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape to raise money for the Vision of Hope Fund, which educates adults and children about strategies to prevent sexual abuse. "People are trying not just to wallow in the ugliness of this," Rost says, "but to push through it and create a positive change."
Were you outraged to discover how little substantive action was taken by the Penn State athletic department and administration when allegations were first made against Sandusky? Think, then, about how the university now requires all employees to report suspected child abuse not to their superiors but to child welfare authorities. Dozens of other universities have put similar measures in place, meaning it will be harder than ever for school officials to close their eyes and ears to evidence of possible molestation.
None of this can undo what happened to the boys, now men, whom Sandusky preyed upon, of course, but even there a glimmer of optimism exists. "The coverage of this has made people more aware that there are effective mental health treatments for victims," says Teresa Huizar, executive director of the National Children's Alliance. "Not only do they know that they are more likely to be believed, but they know that they don't have to deal with the trauma by themselves. For those who are victimized, there is a greater awareness that there is help."
Do you find it mind-boggling that some people in Happy Valley may have hesitated to act on their suspicions about Sandusky because of his status as a well-known football coach? Then think about the many states that are moving to make anyone with substantive suspicions legally obligated to report inappropriate activity. Legislators have introduced more than 100 bills in 30 states involving mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse, many of them directly in response to the Sandusky case. Thirteen of those states have adopted new laws, including Florida, which has passed the toughest reporting requirements in the country. It makes willful failure to report suspected child abuse a felony and subjects universities to a $1 million fine if school officials don't report suspected abuse.
Think about those new measures. Think about the victims and their families. And rather than give the predator from Happy Valley another second of your time, think about ways in which you can join the effort to keep children safe.