Penn State, Friday Night Lights: Lessons for the Disabled Community

With all the opinions voiced about the Penn State scandal and who should have told or shouldn’t have and all the money and college athletics politics involved, many have lost sight of the facts of how and why the children were targeted for abuse in the first place.

Disadvantaged children, like disabled children,  are so much more vulnerable to this sort of thing.  Did the boys have anyone at home to tell of their experiences who would have believed them?  Were they also targets at home?  Hungry for love and attention, did they trust this sexual predator like a father figure and not want to lose him, even though they did not like what was done to them?  Was he a kind man,  under other guises, a man they trusted and looked up to and felt safe with?

Disabled children and adults are often not able to tell of their experiences with abuse, and, if they do find a way, are often not believed.  The abusers are then able to make their lives even more miserable.

There was a recent story in the New York Times, part of the long-running expose of the New York State department that cares for the disabled, that details how the whistle blowers names were not kept anonymous, despite State laws requiring it.  The workers making complaints were retaliated against by their supervisors and punished for coming forward, while the perpetrators went completely unpunished.

The grad student who reported seeing the abuse that he witnessed in the locker room to Joe Paterno was lucky that he kept his job.

Joe Paterno, aged though he is, if he was the coach they all thought he was, could have seen through all the layers and done the right thing.   A Daily Beast article, (here), by Abby Wolf, so wonderfully compares the Penn State actions to what the coach from Friday Night Lights might have done; the character building coach would have struggled, but his own higher standards would have prevailed.

(In case you do not watch TV or are unfamiliar with Friday Night Lights, the TV series captivated many American football widows who would not normally have enjoyed the games but were captivated by the characters of a small city in Texas and their football coach.)

I wish I knew that such a man existed in the agency running my daughter’s program; a man who would call the police and not cover up abuse.  Where are the Coach Eric Taylors in the real world?  Are there any in your life?

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3 thoughts on “Penn State, Friday Night Lights: Lessons for the Disabled Community

  1. Cathy, you’re absolutely right in drawing the focus to why these kids were targeted in the first place. In my own writing I’ve been assuming that the boys had someone to tell who would protect them. As you point out, it isn’t necessarily so – and that’s why these kids so often draw the focus of pedophiles and other abusers.

    I’m also aware of the bravado in my saying I’d do anything necessary to protect my grandson. An elderly client of ours had a son born in the late 1940’s with what may have been severe autism. As a young teen he became too big and too strong for them to handle. The institutional living options were not great, but they had to choose one. In her 70’s, she was still fighting for him to receive better care. At one point he contracted an STD. She insisted on an independent medical evaluation, which confirmed he had most likely been raped over a period of time. The agency running the group home insisted none of their staff could have been involved. I asked her why she didn’t move him, and she said that of the limited options, the place he was in was by many measures “the best.” I ached for her… and for her very vulnerable son.

  2. Pam, the story you tell makes me cry with anger! We are constantly reassured in Massachusetts that our state is different; stories told to me by other parents tell me otherwise.
    I did read an article today from the Washington Post, by a former Penn State student and former student of Second Mile, (who was not molested), who describes the program as life saving, life changing for him; he also says that he had 2 loving parents. Maybe he did not seem vulnerable enough to molest safely…

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