PAVE Featured in Psychology Today

Check out this Psychology Today article about Joe Paterno and Penn State. PAVE has a great shout out.

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Did Joe Paterno Really Break His Silence?

How shattering the silence stops abuse

By Robin Sax

Joe Paterno “broke his silence on the Sandusky case since being fired from Penn State University.” Clearly not a tell-all nor a hard ball interview, Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post portrayed Paterno as a sympathetic, sick, frail old man who simply did the best he could.  Do you feel sorry for him?  Do you think he deserves a pass? Do you think his age, notoriety and illness is justification to the many victims who would not have been abused had Joe-Pa cared about him as much as he cared about himself, his team, and the school.Denial, minimization, blame are the tenets of sexual abuse cover-ups and misunderstanding.  While Joe-Pa may not have known what to do then, he should be able to say I know what to do now.  The missing parts of the interview were the noticeably absent questions of: 

  1. Did you ever confront Sandusky? If so, what did he say?  What did you say?
  2. What would you do if this happened today?
  3. When you saw Sandusky as recently as September 2011 did you think it was strange that he was still courting kids on campus?

A hundred more questions come to mind.

The value of Paterno’s silence breaker is that this gives us an opportunity to talk about sexual abuse– a subject that despite how progressed people think we are– is one that many would prefer to remain a silent subject.

On Tuesday, January 17 on Fox 11 KTTV’s Good Day LA, Angela Rose shattered the silence of sexual violence by sharing her own story of overcoming being kidnapped when she was 17 years old and sexually assaulted by a repeat sexual offender who was on parole for murder. Although her case was perpetrated by a stranger, Angela stresses that sexual abuse is typically committed by someone who is known to the victim. The offenders prey on their victims using trust as well as silence and fear as a tool to continue to offend. Angela Rose founded the nonprofit PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment and she is partnering with other groups to tackle this societal problem.

Child sexual abuse is a worldwide pandemic and prevalence rates are known to be as high as 60 percent. Sexual abusers tend to choose occupations that put them in close contact with children. They can be found in every profession. They are heterosexual and homosexual — they don’t discriminate.

While Penn State and Syracuse are now institutions that have been exposed, there are hundreds of other schools that work harder to cover up the abuse than simply expose it and deal with it.  In all of these cases, the pattern is the same when a child reports sexual abuse and when confronted with the investigation process— a process designed to be a fact finding process—the child is the one who is disbelieved, penalized, and blamed.  The children get victimized twice – once by the people they look up to and admire, and then again through the cover-ups of the perpetrators, and their colleagues.

Take a case that as not received the same attention as Sandusky or Fine.  It is the case of Steven Noyes of Naples Florida.  In April 2011, nine-year old Jane Doe reported that she was sexually and inappropriately touched by her fourth grade teacher Steven Noyes.  Not surprisingly, he denied all allegations and hid in the joy of being the “beloved teacher.”   While the school  initially suspended Noyes, it came out that he was doing report cards, continued official duties and even  communicated with children  and parents during his time on “admin leave.” It smelled of a BS admin leave with no real intention of looking objectively into the facts of the allegations.  The smell got worse when the school seemed to have conducted a shoddy (at best) internal investigation that  resulted not only in Noyes returning to school but culiminated in the ultimate blow when principal Ginger Sauter suggested that the child leave the school with zero justification. So, like these other high profile cases the school seemed to practice their same protection for themselves instead of saying “mea cupla, we screwed up, and we are sorry.”

School and institutions have choices.  They can choose to pick denial, minimization and blame and live being more concerned about the institution, the school, and the teacher – or they can stop blaming the victim and protect the victim.

When the institutions protect abusers, they not only are allowing for rampant prolific abuse to continue but are sending the message for victims to stay silent because the adult and institution will always win.  Children are being taught that  horrific,  vile, and abusive behavior is acceptable  and that their words do not matter.

We are here to say victim’s words DO matter.  Their disclosures are critical.  The victim’s voices must be heard and we the growns up cannot be silent.  The fact that we even have to have laws of mandated reporting to order people in positions of trust to report is telling even and of itself.  The fact that those who work with children have to be mandated to tell is just troubling.   Do we really need a law to say “tell.”  Do we need to have laws to say do the right thing and don’t kick the victim out of school too?

We can no longer be silent.  We all have a responsibility to tell whether mandated by  the law or not.  We are the adults – and kids count on us to be vocal and stand up for our victims who will live with this pain for the rest of their lives.   In New York City, buses and subways are covered with billboards that say “When you see something, Say something!” We urge you to REPORT IT!  In workplaces and in the armed services there are hotlines given for anonymous reporting.  Whether duty bound by mandated reporting laws, we the adults should retrain our default to tell and to tell until someone does something.   The more silent you stay, the more children are hurt.

You can make a difference. Report! Advocate! Get involved and most importantly, tell.

Love Our Children USA: Love Our Children USATM is the leading national nonprofit and ‘Go-To’ prevention organization fighting all forms of violence and neglect against children in the U.S. Since 1999, Love Our Children USA has broken ground in preventing violence against children and eliminating behaviors that keep them from reaching their full potential. Love Our Children USA teaches effective parenting solutions and fosters kid success by creating valuable programs that empower positive changes in parenting and family attitudes, bullying and cyberbullying prevention, Internet safety and school violence prevention through public education.    The goal of Love Our Children USA is Keeping Children Safe® and strengthening families. www.loveourchildrenusa.org

PAVE: Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment is a multinational nonprofit that uses art, education and grassroots action to shatter the silence of sexual violence. www.ShatteringTheSilence.org

Robin Sax is a Fox 11 legal analyst,  California-based attorney and former sex crimes prosecutor, who has authored six books including It Happens Everyday Inside the Life of a Sex Crimes DA and Predators and Child Molesters:  A Sex Crimes DA Answers 100 of the Most Asked Questions.  http://robinsax.com/

My Stories: Stacy M.

 

It seems that I can’t turn on a news program lately without hearing discussions about the Penn State University child sexual abuse scandal. Nor does it seem that I can browse the pages of this newspaper without finding several stories weekly about child pornography and pedophiles. It feels very much like we have reached a turning point as a society where we are beginning to become educated and speak openly about childhood sexual abuse, the perpetrators and victims and the psychology and complexity behind all of it. Sadly, the sexual abuse of children is far more common than most of us ever thought (I’ve read that one in four girls and one in five boys will be a victim of sexual assault by the time they are 18 years old) and by the time a child molester is caught, he has already victimized an average of 117 children. The good news is that these crimes are coming out of the shadows and hopefully as a society we will become less tolerant and more aware of how this happens and how to recognize and prevent it.

The Jerry Sandusky sex abuse accusations coincidentally have taken over the airwaves as I await the trial or sentencing of my daughter’s molester and the spotlight that has been put on these crimes has shown so many similarities between these two perpetrators, as well as others in the news. My daughter’s molester was her step-father for a little over a decade and if you would have asked me as recently as two years ago if he were capable of sexually abusing a child, I would have said absolutely not. He was educated, had helped in the raising of some of his younger siblings and his three biological children whose mother is a seemingly smart, professional woman, a doting and protective mother and certainly wouldn’t have knowingly raised children with a pedophile – nor would I. But we did. One of the detectives working on this case that specializes in helping child sex abuse victims worked with an officer for about eight years and was shocked when it was revealed that he was in possession of child pornography. Another detective specializing in internet child porn cases once had to arrest his next-door neighbor for these crimes – a person who had sat at his own dinner table and shared a meal with his family. That’s one of the scariest things about these predators – they are master manipulators and usually have everyone in their lives fooled. They are puppet masters, creating scenarios to get close to their prey and keeping others from unveiling their dark secrets. Jerry Sandusky started a charity for underage boys from dysfunctional families who were very easy prey for him. A recent local molestation story involved a man who ran a day care – a situation where parents literally handed his victims over to him. There was also a Pattee Canyon campground host who molested at least four little girls. Camping is a situation where kids run with a bit more freedom than usual and the opportunities were likely abundant for that predator. I remember my daughter’s molester telling me on more than one occasion that before being with me, he would often see young mothers and their children in grocery stores and always felt like that’s what he wanted for himself – a young woman with little kids. I had no idea that it was likely the children that appealed to him, not their mothers.

Watching an interview with the mother of one of Sandusky’s victims and hearing her talk about how her son told her that Jerry was a “weirdo” but she was unable to mentally make the leap and recognize that he was a molester was eerily similar to my situation. My daughter, at age seven or eight, told me one day that she didn’t want her step-father to give her a massage anymore. I asked her when he had given her a massage and if it hurt her or was uncomfortable. She said it was uncomfortable and, hearing our discussion, the step-father jumped in and said, “What? What is she saying to you?” I told him what she had said and my little girl looked at him and said, “I don’t want you to do that anymore”. He chuckled and said, “Ok. I’ve never been very good at giving massages.” That was it – a very defining moment because my little girl thought that she had communicated that something wasn’t right, I failed to make the mental leap that a bad massage meant that this man that I knew and trusted was a pedophile, and he took control. He had been starting the grooming process with her by increasingly expanding where and how he touched her, beginning with simply massaging her back but reaching just a bit further each time. I’ve recently learned that the next time he did that to her back then, he told her (in true pedophile fashion), “Don’t tell anyone, you almost got me in trouble last time.” For the next several years (until she was 14), my daughter lived in a cycle of bribery, confusion and blurry memories of waking up to this man fondling her. There’s no way of knowing what she, or other potential victims of his slept through or were too young to remember.

There were lots of arguments between him and me over the years because he favored my daughter over my son, giving her gifts and lots of extra attention. He claimed that it was because he had grown up with only brothers and always said, “Little girls are special – I always made sure my own daughter had nice things.” I struggled to figure out why my daughter had such a hard time concentrating in school and received average grades despite her obvious intelligence. He often blamed it on the absence of her biological father, though I’ve since learned that inability to focus in school is very common among sexual abuse victims. Over the years, I suffered from anxiety and a constant nagging feeling that something wasn’t quite right, but allowed my spouse to convince me that those feelings were my fault and that I was insecure and paranoid.

This man, like Jerry Sandusky, had good long-time friends, worked full time and was loved by his own children. There were many good times over the years – camping trips with all of our kids, birthdays, graduations and lots of sporting events. Never in a million years would I have guessed that things would end the way they did. It was as if the man I trusted and loved had two identities living in one body. That seems to be the realization with which people who know a pedophile must come to terms – these people can compartmentalize their two halves in a way that seems impossible. This man was a co-worker to many, an employee to some, a good friend and confidant to others. He was a father, a son, a brother and the majority of people who knew him would have described him as a good guy. We all hate pedophiles and child molesters in theory, but it’s a difficult journey to wrap your mind around the fact that you already know and maybe even love one. I’ve learned from several experts that pedophiles develop their attraction to small children (some prefer boys, others prefer girls) in their teen years and a huge majority of them were sexually abused themselves.

The road to getting caught for most of these molesters is long and rocky, as they will do anything to protect their secret. I spent the final year and a half with my daughter’s molester getting into arguments and defending myself against his delusions. Reintroducing alcohol into his life after many years of sobriety made it very difficult for him to maintain his two separate identities and his façade crumbled. Fearing his secret coming out and knowing that I wanted out of the relationship due to his drinking, he went on the offensive attempting to preemptively discredit me in the event that I learned the truth. He accused me of cheating on him with one man, then four or five, then dozens. Ugly fights occurred in front of my children and when I left him, he spread his delusions and lies among his family members portraying himself as a victim who had been cheated on then abandoned. That’s when it began to click. I remembered how he had told me similar things about another woman long ago – tales of infidelity and abuse, painting a picture of himself as a victim. I remembered him ranting many years prior about the fact that he felt that he hadn’t had any privacy and always felt under suspicion – essentially laying the groundwork for me to give him space and not question his behavior. These were the same things he was saying about me now, that I cheated, was abusive to him and snooped into his private business.

On Thanksgiving 2010, he sent my daughter a text attacking my character and that was the final straw for her. She told me that night that she remembered several times waking up to him touching her over the years. She said that the last time he did it, she was 14 years old. I confronted him about it and he claimed that one time, in his sleep, something may have accidentally happened. My daughter insisted that it wasn’t one time and it wasn’t an accident – she remembered him molesting her on several occasions over many years. I discussed the situation with my therapist and, following his guidance, we discussed these things with child protective services and then the police. This is one of the things about childhood sexual abuse that many people don’t understand. Why didn’t she say something sooner? Why are so many of Jerry Sandusky’s victims coming forward now, many years after the crimes occurred and after others were victimized? That’s all a part of the complex psychology of this kind of crime. When kids are very little and they are being abused in this way, they often don’t know that it’s wrong. It doesn’t hurt and sometimes even feels good. By the time they understand how wrong the behavior is, they feel as if they have been a participant in something bad because they didn’t speak up sooner. Some fear the repercussions such as not being believed, anger from those who care about the pedophile and potential revenge from the abuser or his supporters. Most suffer guilt because they often have an otherwise close relationship with their abuser despite the pain and dysfunction he has caused. In Sandusky’s case, he spent many hours, days and even years mentoring his victims. Many of Sandusky’s victims are now speaking up because they know that they are not alone. My daughter finally felt safe speaking up after she was sure that I was not going back to her former step-father.

After my daughter came forward, her abuser’s home was raided and a huge amount of child pornography was found – videos and images of little girls from toddlers to teens being raped and sexually assaulted. Police told me that some of the girls could be heard crying in the videos while being raped. He had saved much of it to CDs and much more was found to have been downloaded on his computer. This all hit me like a ton of bricks and has taken many months to process. How could I not have known? I thought back to all of the times that I watched the Dateline “To Catch a Predator” shows on TV and my daughter’s molester acted appropriately disgusted by the adult men preying on underage girls. He even once told me that those guys should be shot. I remembered a time when I told him about a man who tried to sexually assault me when I was very young and he said that he wished he knew who that was because he’d kill him.  He seemed very protective of his own children and step-children. Many times, I told them that they were lucky to have such a good father figure in their lives. None of it fit or made sense but it was all true – the evidence was clear and abundant and was followed by his confession.

There are several people in this man’s life who are still struggling with pain and confusion, looking for someone else to blame (many of them choosing me or my daughter), and who have a long road of grieving and breaking through denial ahead of them. The initial reaction by some of his supporters was similar to the crowds of Penn State students who rioted, turned over a news van and loudly protested Paterno’s firing. We received an onslaught of text messages and emails, some calling my daughter a liar, one telling me I belong in prison with him, and several disowning both of us. I was accused of “thriving” on the terrible circumstances and of allowing the abuse to take place because the perpetrator helped pay my bills. In reality, I paid a large portion of our household expenses and a significant amount of his earnings, I now know, was spent on child pornography and a gambling addiction he was hiding. And, any mother who has been in my situation can attest to the fact that they would NEVER knowingly allow someone to molest their child. Whether such an accusation is made out of ignorance, denial or cruelty, the additional pain caused to a pedophile’s victims is the same. People that my daughter loved have been cut off from her life and people who she thought would love and protect her have failed to show concern about her recovery or to reach out to her in any way, instead, they are more concerned about the fate of her molester and spreading rumors that the molestation charges have been dropped (essentially still suggesting that the crimes never happened).

Again, the similarities have come to light with the Sandusky accusations. Once the veil had been lifted and the truth revealed, Jerry Sandusky minimized his behavior, claiming to have “horsed around in the shower” with young boys. The local day care provider recently convicted of molestation claimed that the little girl he sexually assaulted was “four going on forty” and very provocative. The Pattee Canyon campground host who has molested at least four young girls said that when he has one drink too many, his hands “start to wander”. During his confession to police, my daughter’s molester said in regard to her, that he had “crossed the line a few times,” as if all adults are somehow teetering on the edge, resisting the urge to molest children. Regarding all of the child pornography, police asked if he had any pictures or videos of my daughter and he replied that the stuff he had was just “generic kids”.  I suppose the perpetrators of these crimes have to minimize their actions in their own minds in order to live with themselves and maintain their false image on a daily basis.

As disturbing and frightening as it is that these crimes are so common and the perpetrators are so difficult to identify, I am pleased to see that we, as a society, are beginning to become educated about this subject. I am thankful that my daughter was brave enough to speak the truth, strong enough to deal with the re-victimization she has endured and has a great therapist and many supportive people who love her and will help her recover. I am proud to say that she is now on the high honor roll in school and on track to graduate a year early. If more people feel safe to speak up and more people understand how to properly respond, the cycle of sexual abuse can began to be broken. Victims will have a greater chance of recovering and perhaps pedophiles will find the courage to admit what they are, deal with what happened to them and seek the help they need rather than continuing to harm our children and their own families.

- Stacy M.

Mandatory Reporting Challenges on a College Campus

The other day, over lunch, prompted by an in inevitable conversation about the recent tragedy at Penn State, a colleague lamented their own experiences as a mandatory reporter of sexual assault. The discussion began as we were flushing out possible scenarios with the Penn State case, hoping that perhaps the lack of reporting on behalf of Coach Paterno et al was a lapse of administrative training rather than pure moral abomination. My colleague expressed some sympathies with those encountered by reports of sexual violence and that a similar encounter had left them questioning the efficacy of the current mandatory reporting protocol.

My colleague works at a small liberal arts college in a position that manages student workers. The college requires that all student employees take an hour-long online sexual harassment training, which they administer twice a year. My colleague emailed a notice to their student staff that each of them would have to take this training. In response to the email, a student requested that they be exempt from the training because they had recently experienced a sexual assault and also had a major assignment due the day after the training and did not want to be “re-triggered and stressed out by having to spend an hour thinking about sexual violence.” The student requested anonymity and mentioned that she intentionally did not report the crime to the Student Judicial Board (my colleague made assumption that assault must have been committed by another student because Judicial Board would have been standard course of action).

After getting this information, my colleague was unsure of what the necessary protocol was for reporting. They know they are a mandatory reporter, but were not sure that this fell under the realm of things necessary to report, especially since anonymity was requested and the student was not seeking help. The information they received regarding the assault was extremely limited and the disclosure of the event was not intentional, but rather reactionary – prompted not out of a request for help, but rather to avoid being re-triggered. It is important to note here, that although my colleague is a mandatory reporter, they have had no training on mandatory reporting from the institution they are currently working for. Fortunately they worked in Student Life for another higher education institution where they did receive some training, namely to report up.

My colleague took two steps. She reported the incident to her direct superior and asked if further action was necessary. They said no, no action was necessary because the student asked to remain anonymous. At the same time, however, the staff member e-mailed the schools HR department to see if the student’s request for a training exemption could be honored. My colleague explained the situation to HR in full, however omitting the students identifying details. The HR director responded to her email almost immediately saying that they could definitely accommodate the student and telling my colleague that they needed to report the assault if they had not already done so. My colleague called the HR director at this time and let them know the opposing information they had received from their immediate superior. The HR director admitted that they were, in fact, not positive that they needed to report and suggested they contact the Assistant Dean of Students to give the final decision. After a meeting where the student’s anonymity remained intact, the decision was reached that standard mandatory reporting protocol must take place, and that my colleague should file a paper report and send it up the chain of command.

This would mean that the students anonymity would no longer be intact as a paper report (which requires a name) would have to be filtered through six additional people before it eventually would get back to the Assistant Dean Of Students (who they had just met with and was already briefed on the incident). This was the first time my colleague found out that they would have to file an actual paper report, previously they thought a simple verbal exchange was all that was required. Additionally, they found the report rather confusing and somewhat futile. The definitive categories on the report were misleading and seemingly redundant. Also, the only information my colleague had was limited which meant that the bulk of the report remained blank.

After the report was filed and sent up the chain of command, my colleague was urged to reach out to the student, give her a packet of information on resources and encourage her to report and seek support. My colleague was asked to get the student to fill out a threat assessment with campus security even if she did not want to report in an effort to protect other students. The packet of information and resources seemed particularly helpful and full of information my colleague wished they had known previously so that they could have given the student more helpful information when she first confided in them.

The student didn’t respond to the staff member for several days, even though my colleague had seen her at work and on campus a few times since sending the follow-up email and information. The student responded by thanking them for their concern but said she was doing fine and did not address answering the threat assessment or reporting. My colleague, the staff member, sent the student response back to campus safety and the dean’s office. To date, that is where the case has ended. This case is about a month old, and the above proceedings took place over the course of 8 days from the student confiding in my colleague to her response going to campus safety.

This incident left a very sour taste in my colleague’s mouth, who highlighted several challenges and take homes to reporting on their campus:

-          Staff felt really bad about having to “pressure” the student to report.

-          Staff was unsure of how much to encourage the student to report and did not appreciate higher up administrators asking them to pressure the student as they did want to disrespect the student by pushing her to do something she was uncomfortable with.

-          Staff did not want to breach the confidentiality of the student but wanted to provide the best support possible.

-          Staff had lack of training. Even though they are a mandatory reporter, they only received an hour long on-line sexual harassment training but never had a Cleary reporting training or any specific training about mandatory reporting with student employees or about someone who approaches you but is not trying to report.

-          Staff found the paper Cleary Report misleading and misrepresentative.

-          Staff learned that only health and counseling professionals do not have to report

-          Staff disappointed that higher up staff and supervisors were also unclear about the reporting process and could not provide proper guidance.

-          Staff wanted to be able to report without sharing the students’ name

In the end this incident enlightened my colleague’s superiors and HR administrators to the fact that their staff lacked sufficient training and that changes need to be made with the overall reporting system. However, the student victim did not receive the anonymity she requested, which might have felt like a violation to her. This incident is by no means a singular occurrence.  This and similar situations have been seen time and time again at universities across the country. Higher education staff members are under-equipped to handle sexual violence on their campuses. This is a HUGE problem. College women experience one of the highest risks of sexual violence of any demographic. One in four college women will be assaulted during their time. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 20.4 million students are enrolled in US colleges. If we give a rough estimate that half of these students are female (and this is generous because enrollment tips more heavily towards the female persuasion) then this means that 2.55 million women will be assaulted during their time in college. This is an epidemic and we need to treat it as such. Who is going to be there to support these two and a half million women?

The egregious handling of the Penn State sexual assaults by all parties, although very different from most sexual assaults that happen on our nations campuses, has started conversations about our role in reporting and intervening from the white house to casual luncheons between friends. We need to continue this conversation and keep highlighting the epidemic of sexual violence in our society. Bottom line: Our higher education administrators need training and they need it now. A national effort needs to be made. We need to address this issue from both sides. We need more prevention work on our campuses and we need to encourage our students to demand these types of services on their campuses.