It’s up to us, Dan Griffin writes, to decide if anything good will come out of the Penn State scandal.
This is not the festive blog topic you may have been hoping for and that I had even hoped to write, but I can’t get this Penn State scandal out of my mind, and it weighs heavy on my heart. So, this post is one that is very important as we go into the holidays and you think about the men you know and love, as well as yourself (if applicable).
By now, everyone has heard about the egregious behavior and massive cover-up at Penn State involving the beloved Joe Paterno and his once-thought heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky, as it is only alleged at this time (though there is a very compelling grand jury report) is said to have sexually abused numerous young boys over multiple decades. This posting is not about whether Sandusky is guilty—I will let a court of law determine that and pray to God that justice is served.
However, while the flurry of 24-7 news stories on the scandal has decreased dramatically, there will no doubt be another deluge of stories with the most salacious and graphic details once the actual court case gets underway. And just this past week, two more men came forward accusing Mr. Sandusky of sexual abuse.
My biggest concern from the moment this story started airing was what it was doing to all of the men and boys across the country—and even the world—who suffer from undiagnosed and untreated trauma, especially those who have been sexually abused. Many of these men have no recollection that they have had such traumatic experiences. How many men were being triggered—and acting out in any number of ways—as a result of the blast of coverage? It is hard to say what the true statistics are, but I am confident that the majority of the estimated percentages for boys’ childhood sexual abuse are a far cry from the actual number of boys and young men who are carrying around the horrible scars of sexual abuse. Here are some of the different ways men could be affected:
- Increased use of alcohol or other drugs
- Relapse (back into active addiction—substance, sex, gambling, etc.)
- Those men who have been working through abuse histories could find themselves struggling with significant memories or emotional outbursts
- Exacerbation of mental health issues
- Abusive behavior, including acting out sexually in different ways including, unfortunately, sexual abuse
- Obsessive viewing and talking about the scandal, the people involved, and extreme opinions about the alleged perpetrator and/or victims
Our society has systematically pretended that boys and men don’t suffer from sexual abuse. We have this pervasive disparaging opinion about boys and men who suffer abuse and honestly express how it has affected them as weak and whining. That keeps a lot of men—especially those men regarded as “macho”—silent and stuck in their suffering. And, as I have stated many times, when men suffer, we tend to take our suffering out on others.
Here are five ways to support a man who has suffered abuse in the past:
- Help him find a forum for him to talk about it in a way that is safe for him, ideally with other men who have had similar experiences.
- If he is showing signs of problematic use of alcohol and other drugs, talk to him directly. Find an expert or someone in recovery to offer coaching on how to have the conversation or who can even be present with you as you have the conversation.
- Help him get help. Men can have so many barriers—many of which hit them at the core of their being and their masculinity—to seeking help. Do everything you can to see the strength and courage it takes to get help and reinforce that message to him.
- Watch the Oprah Winfrey episode from earlier this year where two hundred men came forward about being sexually abused, while their loved ones, many of whom never knew, were in another room listening and watching. Watch the full show here.
- If the man has already done a lot of work through therapy, recovery, and/or his faith, honor him for his courage and strength and let him know how much you love and respect him.
It may be hard right now to see something like this scandal as a gift, but it is certainly up to us if we decide whether any good comes from it. If a tragedy such as this creates an opening for boys and men to be better able to talk about any and all kinds of abuse, then that is definitely something very good.
While the Catholic clergy scandals have opened the door, the fact that this latest scandal took place in the domain of one of our country’s most hallowed masculine religions blows the door open—it shows that abuse and experiencing abuse are not about strength or some aberrant behavior of an aberrant population. They can happen to anyone, be perpetrated by anyone, and are more than likely happening, literally, all over the world right now. The secrets keep the sickness alive and destroy the individual from the inside. It is time to end the silence once and for all, but let’s make sure that men and their families are safe and supported in the midst of the cacophony.
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—AP Photo/Matt Rourke