Sunday, November 13, 2011

When Good Men Do Nothing ... Are They "Good?"

by Leann

As someone who, as a school nurse for 20 years, reported suspected child abuse and neglect more times than I can count, I am saddened but not surprised by the unfolding events at Penn State University. I heard every excuse why a teacher or an aide or an administrator or a school volunteer didn't think they should report the obvious when a child came to them injured or afraid. But for the most part, when I told them they must report it and told them the reasons why, nine times out of ten these people changed their mind. See, it's just the right thing to do. Simple. Plus, in Texas, if you fail to report abuse, you will be prosecuted. You are accountable.

What's in the news now isn't about a college sport icon, it isn't about a university program where athletes are treated like heroes, it's about doing the right thing for the right reasons. But like with the Catholic church's failures, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It can create a moral vacuum. College sports are about god-like coaches and stadium churches where the faithful go to worship. What happens in a locker room shower (or behind an altar) must not interfere with this religion.

But now it has. Eight years after someone actually witnessed a child rape. As a past and frequent reporter of child abuse, having an eye witness to a child rape is almost unheard of. Yet there it was. And so it was told. And then it was put away because that child's torture wasn't important enough to disrupt the holy game. The fact that the alleged abuser committed his crime on university property speaks volumes, speaks to the culture created when good men (or women) do nothing. Apparently this alleged abuser felt certain no one would send him to jail where he belonged--and where I hope he ends up.

I was threatened more than once by parents or caregivers after I reported child abuse. I was trapped alone in my office by an abuser who was more than a little annoyed that I had reported his brand of "discipline" to child protective services. I wasn't afraid and I didn't even care if he hurt me. I have to live with me forever and if I let down one child who needed someone to protect them, I could never live with myself. But then, I was just a nurse. No, I was just an honest, caring human being who knows right from wrong.

The Edmund Burke quote in its entirety needs stating here: "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Evil exists. If you see it, know of it, hear about it, please do something.

If you came for a cozy blog, I know I didn't deliver that today. But I couldn't keep silent. I'm not that kind of person.

27 comments:

Brenda Jean said...

Thank you for posting this. I've been upset all week about what happened at Penn State. Children looked up to those adults and trusted them, then they were betrayed in the worst way. I'm horrified that no one helped them, and covered up what happened so this man could continue his abuse. Not only that, but I'm sad at how people have rallied around these same men instead of the victims. Sigh.

Knowing that others feel like I do helps:)

Dru said...

Thanks for this.

Leann Sweeney said...

I hope there is a shift in attitude and a raising of awareness, but if there are 8 victims we know about, think about how many there REALLY are. It is a sickening thought.

Lori Cimno said...

I agree Leann, I think the horrible things done to these children has gotten lost in the story the news is reporting. It has become poor Paterno....what has happened to him is nothing compared to the life shattering horrific acts done to the victims of Sandusky. I find it shameful the way this is playing out. Thank you for speaking out.

Lori Cimno said...

I agree Leann, I think the horrible things done to these children has gotten lost in the story the news is reporting. It has become poor Paterno....what has happened to him is nothing compared to the life shattering horrific acts done to the victims of Sandusky. I find it shameful the way this is playing out. Thank you for speaking out.

Harbingerdc said...

Thank you, Leann.

The biggest horror in the whole situation for me was not the actual abuse, although that is horror enough to keep me up at night. The biggest horror for me was that those who covered this up, did so because they cared more about the whole college football mythos and culture than they did about these victimized boys and young men.

Your comparisons to the church are very apt.

ChristineA said...

Living so close to Penn State & both my husband & his brother being alumni, it's been a heart-breaking week. And I will not argue that what happened to these children was horrifying beyond belief, but, I disagree, Leann. It wasn't about Penn State football. It was about a program created by a predator to enable his addiction. It was about the failings of men who could not, would not believe that a man they worked with for years could do such horrible, terrible things. McCreary thought he did the right thing by reporting it to his superior, Paterno, and in turn, Paterno thought he did the right thing by reporting it to HIS superiors. They thought that their superiors would investigate & take action, reporting the incident to the police. Should they have called the police themselves? Maybe. Should they have confronted the man directly? Maybe. That will haunt them the rest of their lives, because they thought they did the right thing and it turned out to be not enough. They followed the same route as the teachers who come to you as an authority figure when they suspect something was wrong. They trust your opinion and trust that you will give them the right advice. This time, however, the advice turned out to be horribly wrong.
I could ramble some more, but there is an excellent, well thought out article on Facebook that I would highly recommend & is a lot more eloquent than I am. :D
https://www.facebook.com/notes/kevin-fay/a-message-to-penn-state-and-the-public/10101709665663194

LynneK said...

THANK YOU Leann! My sentiments exactly and I also have reported more than one - and gladly!

Leann Sweeney said...

I will respond to you Christine because I know you are close to the situation and you are doing what I have seen done so many times. You and your Penn State family are good, kind people. But perhaps you are too close to be objective and thus feel the need to defend and excuse. When we do that, when we cannot step back and make things simple--as in, this is a crime and the police were not called--then it gets easier to see this is a "gray" issue, but this is really a black and white issue. That is what I told people who hesitated to report because the "he's a good father or she's a good mother" statements began. I would tell the same thing I am saying now and in my blog--this is simple. This is about protecting a child. Penn State is not alone in the church-like culture they have created concerning their athletic programs--(and I love college sports, by the way). Penn State is singled out today because this is probably the most horrific evidence that a moral vacuum was created surrounding "the program." It was to be protected at all costs. I do not back down from that. I cannot.

Brenda Hyde said...

I think when the dust all settles on this entire situation there will be many more details revealed. This was not a one time situation- what that assistant saw happening in the showers was beyond horrible, and yet he waited 24 hours to report it-- not helping the child as it was occuring. He didn't "suspect" the incident he saw and heard it. To deny that because the man was a friend is not just denial it's a crime. It also shows the character of everyone involved that they could live with what happened. I'm sorry, but good people don't think of their friend instead of a child-- a TEN year old boy. A good person protects that child no matter what the cost. Sigh.

Aurian said...

Thank you for explaining what I saw in snippets on Twitter. I do hope he gets punished severely, and that the witness will feel guilty for the rest of his life.

Anonymous said...

When adults do nothing to help a child who is abused, the child feels guilt and anger and isolation and pain and many other feelings for the rest of their life. THE REST OF THEIR LIFE. Of course that will not be put in any record books, but it affects the way that life continues. Just as a good coach can affect the lives of the people they coach. The example of doing nothing would not be something in which I would take pride if I were that coach. I have been an admirer for many years. I am no longer an admirer, I simply want to cry.

LeAnn said...

There is no gray area if you walk in and catch a 50+, 6-foot-plus man penetrating a 10-year-old boy anally. Sorry. Everyone who excuses the young male coach for not immediately walking over and interrupting that rape shares some amount of guilt as far as I'm concerned. It's not just a football-is-God mentality. It's a culture which can find excuses.

Hearing a secondhand story about a man you don't want to believe has done this is only minimally gray. Anyone with a conscience has to ask questions because someone is lying in this case. They can't both be right and another person, the most vulnerable kind of person (a child) is involved. Having a few meetings and being unwilling to believe evil of a colleague just doesn't do it.

I want to do something, so I'm planning to donate a portion of my income from my book Saint Sebastian's Head, whose narrator is a woman coming to grips with being abused sexually as a child, to the Heath Evans Foundation. HEF provides therapy and counseling to child sex abuse survivors. That's about all I can do, but I want to do something.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Leann.

CherylR said...

Would he have reacted the same way if it was a woman/girl being raped? How do you walk away from a crime happening in front of your eyes? How do you not follow up on your superiors?
I get sick every time I think about those children and the physical and emotional anguish they must have suffered. To have people you trust abuse you like that if beyond horrific. Then to hear the excuses now that it has come to light.
LeAnn, it is you and people like you who are the heroes, not Paterno and his excusers. Thanks for speaking out.

Heather said...

I agree somewhat with Christine people reported the incident to the WRONG people. Shoving it under carpet. In regards to Paterno, he is scapegoated as the figure head of Penn State (Bishops/Catholic Church}. Yet, McQueary, THE EYE WITNESS calls his dad, then talks to Paterno. I could go on and on. But McQueary should be just as responsible as the rest of the Penn State staff. The pedophile developed a pool of victims under the guise of philanthropy...very skilled in his criminal activity. That's how "good" pedophiles operate. They do this in our schools, churches and communities. NO ONE is immume. McQueary SAW it, Paterno HEARD about it...in my opinion McQueary committed the bigger evil absent of the actual molestation

Leann Sweeney said...

McCreary is apparently protected under whistle-blower laws in Penn. but he will probably never return to work. He has been talking to prosecutors who have been building a case against the perve-perp for more than 2 years. I will not debate about seeing versus hearing. I have my opinion and you have yours--which is okay. I didn't write this blog to debate anyone. I wrote it because we all need to continue talking and not forget the real victims here.

Anne from Iowa said...

Thank you, Leann. I will happily purchase your book - I am a survivor of sexual abuse and know first hand how important therapy and counseling are for a person dealing with the aftermath.

There are many examples of crimes being covered up at universities where sports are big money. There are no excuses. Campus police departments should report any crimes they investigate to state police. Universities have reason to cover up campus crime. It directly affects their coffers.

Leann Sweeney said...

I am so sorry Anne. But I am glad you received therapy. I know there are remaining scars. It changed who you were but I am so glad you read this blog and responded with strength and conviction.

Margaret Anderson said...

Leann, you mentioned imagining the number. I read several books on incest, first motivated by my desire to understand an adult survivor of incest, and later as background for one of my novels. All three books were written by mental health professionals who actually specialize in incest. (Some who are not really specialized still try to treat it.) All three defined incest by what does the unique harm (worse than abuse by a stranger) and thus included not only blood relatives, but other caregivers and authority figures. And not only penetration, but other acts that do the same type of unique harm e.g. taking pornographic pics of the child, forcing oral sex, etc.. Their estimates were that between 30% and 50% of girls and between 20% and 35% of boys are incestuously victimized in some manner. The predator on the street is the tip of the iceberg.

Sara said...

Very well said, Leann. I keep hearing "Well, they reported it..." but they had to know that nothing was done, yet they did nothing more. Teachers in most states, I believe, are "mandatory reporters" and face ramifications if they even suspect something is going on and don't report it. It boils down to this...no one had the guts to keep talking until something was done. Thank you for your blog post...needed to be said.

Maggie Sefton said...

You did a powerful service in writing this post, Leann. Thank you for that. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these were children. We have to protect children. Always.

Peggy Graham said...

Thanks, Leann, for posting this blog. Unfortunately many athletes (especially football players) are treated like royalty and come to believe that the rules simply do not apply to them.

I too cannot believe that anyone could witness abuse actually occurring and walk away. In my opinion, by not coming to the immediate defense of that child, stopping the incident, and then immediately calling the police, Mike McQueary is guilty as an accessory to the crime. I hope that he and the alleged abuser end up in adjoining jail cells for life. There is simply no excuse for his failure to act at the time of that incident.

Debra said...

Leann,
Thank you for this post. As a former prosecutor and the mother of a college football player these unreported felonies broke my heart.
I once worked on a case where a mom continually allowed her three year old to be physically abused by boyfriends. This happened three times! I spoke to the mother's social worker who said the mother needed counseling. The child was too young and traumatized to testify in court. We came up with the idea of prosecuting the mom for endangering the child's welfare.
I could not, and still do not understand the social worker's thought process. Our society seems to assume children are liars and that their needs come last.

Nancy Lynn Jarvis said...

I once "removed" a woman's fist from her child's face in a department store. She called me every imaginable name but at least she stopped hitting her child. It never occurred to me to think about the consequences of butting in; there was no other choice.

I heard Dr. Harry Edwards, a UCBerkley professor and sports commentator, say on a local radio show that had he witnessed the rape, there would have been no need for him to call the police because they would have been there removing his hands from around the neck of the coach.

Pooch said...

As a retired teacher, I strongly support your sentiments. I too have been the target of family anger for reporting abuse. The sad fact is, as teachers, we see exactly how slowly the system moves on these cases. The child whom I reported in kindergarten was not removed from the home until 5th grade. Not that I am a proponent of that extreme measure, but there are severe circumstances when it must be done. By that time, he was considered "weird", his education was in tatters, and his mental health was destroyed.

Though not singularly true, I was trained that teachers are a young child's first line of defense. Intervention is crucial for the child.

I hope you don't mind if I use your Edmund Burke quote and the ribbon to send a few emails around in the hope that it will be forwarded ad infinitum. If it moves one person to positive action it will be well worth it.

Thank you for voicing your opinion.

:)

Leann Sweeney said...

Thanks so much, Pooch. We are so slow to respond and the consequences are often just as you describe. when we keep talking, we can make a difference.