Following the recent allegations that former Penn State assistant football coach Gerald A. “Jerry” Sandusky allegedly sexually abused at least eight young boys over a 15-year period, one statement has been repeated frequently: The focus should remain on helping the victims of this alleged abuse.
The debacle has left people wondering many things, not the least of which is: If something like this could happen at a large institution like Penn State and stay under the radar, how many other places could it be happening and go unnoticed?
While everyone has many opinions on the events still unfolding, Billie Jo Weyant, executive director of the local organization Citizens Against Physical, Sexual and Emotional Abuse (CAPSEA), said it is important to not lose sight of those at the center of the trauma: the victims.
“We really have to bring the victims to the forefront on this. It’s the victims who are suffering,” Weyant said.
She said almost every institution, including Penn State, would have policies and procedures in place and several actions to take when a report of abuse is made. Additionally, state law currently requires that certain people whose jobs bring them into proximity with children – teachers, physicians, daycare workers and others—must report suspected child abuse. Known as “mandated reporters,” these individuals need to report suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities.
“There are policies in place to protect children here at CAPSEA. There is a child sexual assault center in every county in the Commonwealth [that people can contact],” Weyant said.
“We call ChildLine (the state’s child abuse hotline) and we also follow up with the (county) Children and Youth agency. That is how we report so we now that more than one agency knows what is going on. We also talk to the victim or the victim’s family.”
Weyant said while some people are shocked that incidents of abuse can occur and go seemingly undiscovered, it is a common story at CAPSEA and other places who provide intake services and coordinate treatment for people who have been abused.
“We see where there are a lot of gaps where follow-up is needed. It’s that vicious cycle. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your background is. You can always be a potential victim. We’ve had adult men and women seek our services,” Weyant said.
She said some people who contact CAPSEA have been harassed or intimidated at work by superiors or by other people they have trusted.
“And that person who’s been victimizing doesn’t have any right to do what they’re doing,” she said.
While Weyant would not comment specifically on the allegations and grant jury presentment against Sandusky because she wanted to have time to read and process the information fully, she did provide an account of the general circumstances under which children are sexually abused and how the level of secrecy in such matters persists.