If theres any good to come out of last weeks revelations of child sexual abuse by a former Penn State assistant football coach, it is that nearly everyone who has heard the stories is horrified.
Someone, they all say, should have done something.
A whole list of someones should have acted to end the abuse. No one did. To put the very best possible spin on their failure, they may have counted on others, somewhere up the chain of command, to do the right thing. Thats a stunningly inadequate response.
They no doubt feared losing their own prestigious positions as indeed they have, and rightly so. Becoming the winningest coach in football, using Penn State as a stepping stone to a head coaching job, making money all those things must have seemed more important to them than the welfare of children. That bears pondering.
They may have feared being responsible for destroying a well-known, successful program and indeed, the Nittany Lions have taken a series of hard hits, but only after being protected for too long at a price far too high.
They may have feared being caught up in a war of accusations. After all, any man who sees another man in the shower with a young boy is also very close to the shower close enough, certainly, to intervene, close enough to make the entire nation wonder why he did not.
For whatever reason, they believed the consequences of speaking up outweighed the moral responsibility to do so. So they became complicit. They knew what was happening, they knew it was wrong, but they managed to convince themselves that the responsibility rested with someone else. Too many of them figured out ways to be technically compliant with law and school policies without thinking too deeply about the reason for those laws and policies. They looked the other way, until the whole sordid mess came crashing down on them.
And until it did, children suffered in ways that could have been prevented, if just one person had made the right phone call.
The lesson to be learned is the difference one persons sense of moral responsibility could have made and can make, because child sexual abuse doesnt happen just in Pennsylvania. Too often it happens right here. It happens in all walks of life.
And adults dont fail to protect children just in college football programs. That lack of responsibility, too, happens in all communities, and like abuse, it transcends gender, age, ethnicity, income, education, religion all the lines by which sociologists categorize people.
Maybe the publicity surrounding the Penn State scandal will help to change that. Maybe some people, faced with a choice between protecting a child or looking the other way, will realize that if they dont step in, no one will.
Maybe now, more people will act.
Not everyone witnesses child sexual abuse, but everyone now has the opportunity to consider, very carefully, their moral responsibility to prevent it. That opportunity has been bought at a terrible price; squandering it would be equally terrible.