Saturday, July 14, 2012

Penn State child sex story is America's story

In the age of Jerry Sandusky, how safe are America's children from predators who roam Happy Valley or the woods much closer to home? How safe are our children from molesters who lurk, online, in the streets, at our churches and in our schools?

Now is the time to talk about these questions. The nation's attention focused this week on child molesters, with the release of a report showing how Penn State officials put their football program and the university reputation ahead of the safety of children. By purposely ignoring the horrors committed by Sandusky, they allowed more children to suffer, physically and mentally, at his hands.

While we're all thinking about the crimes of Sandusky and the reprehensible decision-making at Penn State, we should also take a lesson from it. It's a simple lesson: Let's protect our kids.

Yet another might be to look at the messages we give to our children about sex. In this country, we've managed to sexualize everything, including our children. We have surrounded them with images of sexuality. We are a commercially sexualized nation rife with parental absenteeism. We're making it too easy for our children to become victims, to be seduced.

It's easy to point fingers at Penn State. Officials there should be ashamed of themselves. And it's easy to castigate the late coaching legend Joe Paterno. It turns out he was a moral fraud.

But what about the destruction of childhood innocence happening in ZIP codes much closer to home? Every time we turn the page of the newspaper or flip channels during the news hour, it seems, we hear of another adult in Northeast Ohio who has molested another child. My bet is that adults in the lives of those children could have stopped the abuse if they had paid closer attention.

Let's get more wary. Let's perform better legal, social and familial patrols of areas that pose the possibility of sexual intersections between adults and children. In this third generation of latchkey children, children who are vulnerable to manipulation through social-media portals that instantly connect predator to prey, we need more controls to protect them.

Take a look at the children in your life. Are they safe? Are we really naive enough to believe that what happened in State College, Pa., ranked in a 2010 survey as one of America's safest towns, isn't happening much closer to home?

Trust me, it is.

We can shake our heads in disgust at what happened in State College.

But the Penn State story is, sadly, the American story.

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