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Why Didn’t Anyone Speak Up About Abuse at Penn State?

Penn state scandal
Penn State University student Laura Lovins, (middle), and fellow students react while watching a live broadcast of the announcement of the NCAA penalties and sanctions at the HUB-Robeson Center on the Penn State campus in State College, PA July 23, 2012. (Reuters/Craig Houtz)

While many are still reeling from the sanctions handed down to the Penn State football program by the NCAA, questions remain about how so many people who allegedly knew about the abuse could remain silent when evil was being perpetrated and not stand up for innocent children who were being abused.

“Power, prestige, and wealth can be terrible guideposts for reason when unexpected and hideous actions interrupt the championship party,” says Karl Benzio, M.D., founder and executive director of Lighthouse Network, a Christian addiction and mental health referral service.

“One could only imagine the distorted values and inner deceit necessary to inhibit decisive action from a group of people who prided themselves on winning the right way.”

As Benzio sees it, this shows the diabolical power of how these acts traumatize onlookers. So many individuals knew the perpetrator and allowed him to be at large while more children were at risk daily. The guilt of keeping such evil acts a secret for so long just for the sake of a sports program seems unfathomable, he says, and only evil or a traumatized person would do it.

Despite pressures and potential retaliation, the best course of action in any situation is to do what’s morally right by speaking up, especially if immediate danger still exists, according to Lighthouse Network.

In the case of the Penn State abuse situation, reporting abuse immediately when witnessed directly to the police and continuing to speak up if the perpetrator continued may have saved countless victims from the shame that sexual abuse inflicts.

“With proper support and guidance, it’s possible that someone may have stood up much sooner and unnumbered victims could have been spared,” Benzio. “And for those that struggle with not reporting abuse, counselors can help with resulting guilt as well.”