Penn State Statement
Something went wrong at Penn State (I know, duh!). If you don’t know what happened, Google “Penn State Scandal” for an update. Warning! It is not family friendly reading. Anyhow, I’m not excusing the leadership at Penn State, but most managers, supervisors, executives and human resources professionals simply do not deal very often with criminal issues, with the exception of the occasional case of substance abuse on the job or embezzlement. If someone had walked onto the Penn State campus carrying a rifle, somebody would have called the police. I wonder if our culture thinks of the police as the option we only go to when things get deadly violent, requiring a response from an authority-figure with a badge and gun. I doubt it. I hope most people understand the police handle a variety of criminal issues. So why did Penn State leaders apparently try to handle the scandal within?
If you read the Grand Jury report (and it’s extremely difficult to read because of the graphic depictions of the alleged criminal acts with children) it appears that the leadership at Penn State either didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation or were minimizing it to protect the University’s esteemed brand. Or there may have been some presently unknown reason that kept them from escalating their response to the police.
I know it’s easy to arm-chair quarterback. Still, one thing kept jumping out at me in some of the news reports on this incident: Penn State is located in, or part of, a close-knit community. The community around Penn State, the Borough of State College, is small, with a population of about 42,000. In my past experience living in a small close-knit community, you bump into friends, relatives, co-workers and your boss in the supermarket, at restaurants, at the movies and in church. How would you react if you witnessed one of these people you know doing something that looked like sexual abuse of a child? Would you be too shocked to react? I hope most people would intervene or at least call the police. But after the Catholic Church scandal and now Penn State, I’m not so sure. Something evil is at work corroding our once venerable old institutions. I think it likely an entire generation will grow up with little faith that leaders of our institutions have our best interest at heart. This could be devastating for our society.
It’s possible child predators are becoming aware that workers in organizations that serve children (such as elementary schools, child care centers, and youth programs) are keenly aware of what constitutes inappropriate behavior and mandatory reporting responsibilities. But what about businesses and organizations where children are not present that often? If you are the leader of an organization where it is possible your employees and volunteers might come into contact with children, you must understand that the children and your organization could likely be at risk. Here are some basic things to consider that your organization can do to protect children and avoid a Penn State fiasco: finger-printing and criminal background checks on employees and volunteers who have contact with children on the job; training all employees and volunteers on child sexual abuse prevention and mandatory reporting procedures; train employees and volunteers that if they witness an incident or become aware of an allegation of child sexual abuse, it becomes the priority and reporting it to a supervisor cannot be postponed, even if it’s late a night; designate a point-person with training in procedures dealing with child sexual abuse prevention and reporting (this should be someone with authority to notify the police); establish a policy prohibiting nepotism (employees and volunteers should not be in positions where a family member is their supervisor).
Of course these are just a few ideas and counsel from a professional who understands the law and child sexual abuse issues must be consulted before implementation. Here’s a source of more information on the subject: http://www.reducingtherisk.com/
(I am not connected to reducingtherisk.com, I found them on Christianitytoday.com.)
Yesterday I heard a Penn State alumni say that many alumni plan to increase their giving to get the football program back to normal as soon as possible. The reality is that the lawsuits this scandal could spawn will drag on for years and the cost will be . . . extensive and crippling. Aside from that, many people associated with Penn State and the local community will be licking their wounds for years, possibly decades. Bitterness, resentment and anger will linger indefinitely.
In Proverbs 31:8-9 (NLT) King Lemuel says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”
Haunting words! And yet King Lemuel says nothing about the cost of speaking up for the helpless. Yes, there is often a cost. It might cost a job or a friendship or draw scorn and ridicule. Nobody really knows how they will respond until the moment is upon them. It helps if we live by the rule that those with power are not given that power to be self-serving or fearful; they are given that power by God to speak up for those without a voice. And that’s more important than any football program on the planet.