David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Lessons from Penn State and Boy Scouts of America

By David Mandel and Elliot Pasik Esq

Is the story of Jerry Sandusky and Penn State over? How do we understand the emergence of stories of child sexual abuse in the Boy Scout movement?

Sandusky was sentenced to 30-60 years for sexually assaulting 10 boys over many years during his tenure as assistant coach of Penn State’s venerated football team. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. But as one of his victims said in court, he will forever remember the pain Sandusky caused him. That Sandusky was unrepentant, offered no apology moreover blaming his victims cemented a searingly painful period in their lives.

One need not read far into the Penn State Report to understand its damming conclusion: 267 pages rebuking the University leadership and its famous football coach. Joe Paterno did not die in peace. More importantly Jerry Sandusky’s victims have not lived in peace.

This week has seen the release of the Boy Scouts “Perversion Files.” While the files do not indicate rampant abuse, they do reveal the pain of many young children and teenagers who have been silent victims of child sexual abuse. Like Penn State, the abuse reflects the danger of some individuals who work amongst children who are in positions of power and trust and manipulate their victims as well as the imperative of better reporting systems and immediate and comprehensive support to victims of abuse.

Books will be written. Law school tort courses will be updated. The general public has heard more than they can absorb about sexual abuse. Where to go from here?

The Penn State Board of Trustees has demonstrated boldness. When confronted with the devastating news, coach Paterno and the University President were fired. An expert independent group led by a former FBI Director and Federal Judge, Louis Freeh, was hired to conduct a full investigation. The University fully cooperated with prosecutors, and most importantly, showed full support to victims including a willingness to settle lawsuits.

Cynics may argue it was an approach born of survival rather than moral conscience. Then again, we have witnessed other institutions failing to act responsibly when similarly confronted with such issues.

The new message sent by Penn State is clear. Abuse will not be tolerated, victims will be supported, and the protection of children and the law stands above the University’s national football ranking. Their actions spoke much louder than their words ever could.

Universities and institutions of all types now have a blueprint on how to respond to system-wide failures involving sexual abuse. Every child’s suffering is an abject lesson that must result in renewed efforts to prevent another’s pain.

Freeh’s report was a shot heard ’round the world. It reaffirms almost all we know about sexual abuse. Children are groomed by pedophiles who are well known to them. Children fall victims to despicable sexual acts with predators. Parents often don’t realize their own children are being victimized. If as recent data shows that only 8% of parents are aware their children are victims of cyber bullying sexual abuse is even less well known. The cycle of non-disclosure leads to non-reporting and therefore, not prosecuting. This cycle results in easy access blindly granted to pedophiles.

Too much of the media focused on the wrong part of the Sandusky story. Was it really important for this country to debate if the Penn State football program should have been suspended for the season? It is much more relevant to engage in a national discourse on how to better protect children and strengthen our laws, so predators are prosecuted and jailed for many years, not given one or two year sentences. Sadly, Jerry Sandusky’s lengthy sentence is an anomaly for pedophiles.

But we need not expend any words or energy rehashing Jerry Sandusky’s evil or Penn State’s inaction. Instead, we need to speak to our children on what to do if anyone touches them inappropriately, support legislation to make our schools safer, and push for sentencing guidelines that require Judges to mete out maximum rather than minimum prison time to convicted pedophiles.

In our respective organizations we have met hundreds of victims of sexual abuse. Their world is a safer place today because of the Penn State report. It is a bold call to action. We need police and prosecutors acting in concert to protect children along with parents, schools, religious institutions and community organizations.

There are no desert islands for pedophiles. They live in our neighborhood, they work in our universities, and they volunteer in programs our children attend. We don’t want to run them out of town. We want to catch them, prosecute them and keep them in a secure place for a long time where they can’t harm any more children.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.