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Bigger Than Penn State

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Bigger Than Penn State

Media stories of childhood sex abuse have filled the airwaves of late; from the Penn State trial of Jerry Sandusky to the ongoing Catholic Church scandals to the first conviction of a high ranking church official. While these stories stir our outrage, their telling and re-telling truly only reflect the tip of the iceberg when it comes to both the enormity and secrecy surrounding childhood sexual abuse. In fact, childhood sexual abuse makes up more than 10 percent of the millions of reported childhood abuse cases in the US.

Worldwide, research shows that up to 36 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys have suffered child sexual abuse and coercion. According to the World Health Organization, these statistics represent 150 million girls and 73 million boys under the age of 18 who experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. That number increases substantially when you include the vast sexual slave trade market that holds millions more children in its grasp. Most shocking of all is that even these numbers are considered to be only fractional because sexual abuse carries such profound taboos that the vast majority goes unreported by the victims themselves.

Recent revelations of the years of child sexual abuse that occurred in the Penn State locker room generated a national swell of outrage in response to the institutional efforts to cover for the perpetrator which enabled the sex abuse to continue. Just days before, Monsignor James Lynn was the first high ranking church official ever to be convicted for the same crime of protecting and enabling other priests that were abusing altar boys. Unlike the Sandusky case where the perpetrator was also sentenced, the priests were not tried. However, what both these cases share in common is the silence, denial and shame that the victims faced when they came forward.

Sadly, our national conversation about this rampant form of child abuse too often ends with the dispensing of punishment. We refuse to delve deeper into the frequency and prevalence of inappropriate sexual behavior that impact millions of children. Like Sandusky, it is not surprising that many, if not most, perpetrators were once childhood victims themselves. Our collective discomfort with the reality of this situation creates a weighty silence that suppresses and distorts normal human sexual impulses and turns them into a distorted cycle of repeated pain. Jerry Sandusky wasn’t an outright liar in his trial. In order for him to live with his overwhelming shame he had to reinvent what happened with all the boys he abused, just as he had to reinvent the story of his abuse as a child.

He needed help that he couldn’t ask for or even recognize. Many other highly educated people witnessed his need for help but could not overcome the shame and silence surrounding sexual deviance. The abuse occurred in a world in which many shut down the efforts to educate oneself and others about the complexity and mystery of being an erotic human being. When we refuse to host a sexual conversation that is focused on healing, it leads to misinterpretation of the lasting emotional damage for both the perpetrator and the victim. Denial and distortion are as common to the adult perpetrators as to the children being coerced into sexual acts that they do not understand. They create ramifications in all of the other aspects of their emotional and social relationships. Those who have looked the other way in the hierarchy of the institutions are silent not only out of covering up bad press issues, but like many of us, also are clearly unable to language and determine consequences of inappropriate sexuality.

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Wendy Strgar

Wendy Strgar, founder and CEO of Good Clean Love, is a loveologist who writes and lectures on Making Love Sustainable, a green philosophy of relationships which teaches the importance of valuing the renewable resources of love, intimacy and family.  In her new book, Love that Works: A Guide to Enduring Intimacy,  she tackles the challenging issues of sustaining relationships and healthy intimacy with an authentic and disarming style and simple yet innovative adviceIt has been called "the essential guide for relationships."  The book is available on ebook.  Wendy has been married for 27 years to her husband, a psychiatrist, and lives with their four children ages 13- 22 in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

18 comments

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8:20PM PDT on Aug 23, 2012

This is one of the biggest reasons why I think that not only that offenders get stiffer time, and not leniency for being a likable criminal, but also to ensure that the kids get the therapy needed, to help stop the cycle.

6:46PM PDT on Aug 15, 2012

It scares the hell out of me that a parent can only do so much to protect their kids. It's a shame that parents can't send their kids off to camp without worrying, "what if..."

12:34PM PDT on Aug 13, 2012

Thank you for sharing.

4:34PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Protecting children from predators has to become a national priority gvien the same importence as ntional defense, otherwise what are we defending?

3:25PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

How do you come to terms with sexual abuse? To disbelieve the survivor is to 'revictimize' them. To look the other way is to support the actions of the perpetrator and participate in the crime. To be a victim and not speak up is self-destructive. Even with community support, healing can be a painful journey for all involved.

2:20PM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

This is such a terrible problem, and of course the fact that people DO sometimes misreport or "retrieve" false memories makes things even more complicated (read "The Slap" for an interesting take on the complexities of misreporting).

11:49AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

I wish everybody would devote more time to fighting child abuse than arguing about gay marriage. Coercive sexual abuse of a child, vs. consenting adults- can we focus on what's more important, people!?

9:18AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Changing our tendency to say little about sex will be a maintenance operation. Humans are very unusual in preferring privacy for copulation, and this opens the door for huge misunderstandings and deviations from natural development. Children build on whatever they are exposed to, and consider it normal.
We are almost monogamous, but we have good memories. We need a man's help to give our children the best chance, but we also need to avoid inbreeding. Thus, a steady ten percent of fathers are cuckolds, and many other crimes that do no good at all are let loose.
Many of our instincts only work well in small, isolated groups, so when we understand human nature, we can intelligently design education to prepare us for life in large civilizations.

2:57AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

Of course we never want to believe that people we have trusted and respected could behave like this.

6:43PM PDT on Aug 11, 2012

There are just too many criticisms about Penn State - a state tertiary system. Criticisms should be leveled at the perpetrator and those who have supported and hide the claims of the perpetrator. Penn State is not the immoral institution but the persons who pacify the claims did not get sufficient justice. Only Jerry Sandusky will be punished. What about the previous Board of Trustees, the President of the institution and Senior Administrators, how come these people are not arrested and prosecuted? Paterno and some of his coaching staff did highlight the matter but these guys thought best to sweep them under the carpet to protect the integrity of the institution. Sandusky the actor is only penalized but the everything was leveled at Paterno and his coaching staff. This is a case similarly like the one in Gitmo where the torturers were punished but the Administrators and Senior Bush staff got away scott free because they all have the GET-OUT-OF-JAIL free card. Think again whether this is just a case of only getting the fall guys and letting the rich and powerful scott free.

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