Refusing to report abuse and its consequences

As many Americans know, The Jerry Sandusky trial is well underway. Mr. Sandusky is charged with 52 counts of child sex abuse during his era (and following) as assistant football coach at Penn State University. But equally on trial–at least in the media, the court of public opinion, and most likely civil and criminal courts in the near future–are Penn State officials. Chief among those under scrutiny is former PSU president, Graham Spanier. It appears that Mr. Spanier, along with other important University employees knew of accusations and eyewitness accounts of abuse and failed to report the matter.

I have written here about the reasons why we fail to report. We fail to report because we are protecting our own. We fail to report because we worry about backlash, bad press, and we don’t want to get involved in messy situations. But consider now the consequences of not reporting.

1. Protecting the wrong person or entity. allegedly, one email from Spanier states that he wouldn’t report Sandusky for “humane” reasons. Spanier appears to have made the calculation of negative consequences for reporting Sandusky to law enforcement but failed to do the same calculation for probable victims.

2. Destroying trust for future leaders. Ask the general public how they feel about the trustworthiness of leaders within the Catholic church? Ask if they feel that the church’s response (verbal and in legal settings) has helped improve or continue to erode trust? Sadly, future leaders of organizations (those that failed to report child abuse) likely face unmerited suspicion on the basis of the predecessor’s behaviors. Further, such failure to instill trust does not just impact general trust within a community. Victims who were not protected and helped are much less likely to be willing to report abuse that happens in the future.

3. Increasing PTSD symptoms. Many abuse and interpersonal trauma victims report that something traumatized them even more than the original abuse–the failure of those who knew about the events to do something about it. When those you think should protect you do not, you are more likely to experience PTSD.

4. Having no answer for Matthew 25:31-46. You may remember that this passage tells what will happen on the day of judgment. For those who did not do for the “least of these” (care for, protect, serve), tremendous judgment awaits. Strong words.

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

Strong words indeed.


Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ptsd, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Refusing to report abuse and its consequences

  1. Fran

    Phil, thank you for another good, informative response to current headlines. God’s strong words for those who fail to care for, protect and serve the “least of these” were very powerful and timely for me. From news stories today, point 3 highlights two situations of potential opposite PTSD outcomes for the victims. One involves the Sandusky case, the other of a 5-year-old girl in Texas. The first example you clearly see a failure to protect victims. The second case a little girl is protected during her attack.

    Mrs. Sandusky testifies in defense of her husband describing victims as either charmers, demanding, clingy, unable to make eye contact and says she heard her husband state one victim was “not willing to do what he was told after everything done for him.” Her statements are disturbing, truth telling and strengthens the case for the victims. One would also conclude PTSD symptoms in these victims are more likely to be present because of all the many ways people did not protect them.

    Then how may PTSD play out with the 5-year-old girl whose father did interrupt (and kill) her rapist? Clearly this is a horrific and traumatizing experience for both the little girl and her father. Assuming this is an isolated incident in this little girl’s life, I have to wander and hope her suffering of PTSD symptoms will be fewer because of the immediate and strong protection of her father.

    To be abused is crippling; to be in a system of no protection is crushing.

    Here are the links to these stories:

  2. Fran

    oops……meant wonder, not wander …….. though I am prone to wander….Lord I feel it……. 🙂

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