This is no longer about the late Joe Paterno and Penn State University.
Their sins have now been laid bare in a scathing report about how they allowed a sexual predator to use the university’s good name to hurt children for more than a decade.
The report has put a spotlight on the ungodly power of big-time college football.
It is forcing fans and those who love institutions such as Penn State to rethink the worship of men as though they are deities on high.
And Penn State officials are dealing with just the sort of bad press the report said they wanted to avoid, which caused them to make one horrible decision after another.
For the rest of us, though, this can’t remain about Paterno Penn State.
The shock should bring renewed efforts to better protect the most vulnerable among us – including asking if it makes sense to cut needed services during the types of economic downturns that put more children at risk.
But if we aren’t careful, our shock, our disgust at what happened at Penn State could make things worse for at-risk children along the Grand Strand.
A couple of years ago, I sat in the kitchen of a Myrtle Beach house talking to a teenage girl.
She eagerly, if a bit shyly, told me about the kinds of boy problems and rivalries that are typical for her age, and a desire to attend a big name school, such as Harvard University.
She didn’t much want to discuss the early years of her life when she was raped repeatedly – even after her father tried desperately to intervene, only to have the court send her back into the home of his ex-wife, where the abuse was occurring.
An over-burdened system and hasty decision-making contributed mightily to her prolonged abuse.
I asked if she was interested in reading through the hundreds of papers that documented her case through the Family Court and S.C. Department of Social Services system. I’d read them, just as I had read the documents for many other local cases. It’s been the most difficult part of this job, looking in the eye the evil perpetrates upon children.
Maybe when I get older I’ll take a look at them, she said.
The scars and the pain and the recovery had to wait for another day and will likely take years, maybe even long after she believes she’s finally dealt with it all.
I’ve had several such conversations over the past decade with kids who had been hurt in ways most of us don’t even want to imagine.
That’s why I know this: Outrage about the outrageousness displayed at Penn State won’t make any of them safer if it leads to ill-conceived laws and policies born of disgust rather than serious contemplation.
Mandated reporting laws only provide a veneer of certainty while potentially making the lives of kids in distress worse. It leads to over-reporting, numerous false reports and an increased caseload for a social services system that is already overburdened. That robs the system of funds and resources needed to root out real abuse, leaving the children suffering from abuse more vulnerable, less safe.
Abuse doesn’t only occur because people in positions of power willfully turn a blind.
An over-worked, abused system also leads to abuse.
The hysteria that results from over-reporting hurts children in other ways, including the lonely kid who will no longer receive a needed hug from the Little League coach or teacher for fear that someone might wrongly assume the gesture is sinister, not sincere.
Children have to be protected from abuse, and making genuine reports to the proper authorities is key.
We do great harm when we refuse to protect our kids from predators we thought were trusted friends or colleagues.
But an over-reaction to cases such as Penn State’s can lead to abuse, too.
Contact ISSAC J. BAILEY at 626-0357, email@example.com or via Twitter.com at @ijbailey or @TSN_IssacBailey.