On June 22, a jury in Bellefonte, Pa., convicted former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on 45 of 48 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys, ending a closely watched two-week trial and putting a permanent black mark on Sandusky's football and charitable legacy. Sandusky was taken to jail from the courthouse, and after he is sentenced, in about 90 days, he will almost certainly spend the rest of his life behind bars. The verdict is undoubtedly a relief for the eight "courageous" victims who testified at the trial, says Bonnie Rochman at TIME, "but judging by the tears that fell during their testimony, the ensuing decades have done little to dim the pain of being abused by a man they trusted and revered." What can we learn from the Sandusky case that could help us protect other children from similar pain? Here, six possible lessons:
1. Beware — predatory monsters exist
"The first lesson to be learned is that monsters do exist," says the Pittsburg, Kan., Morning Sun in an editorial. We don't want to believe it, but "there are predators; there are those who would do unspeakable things to children," and often they are the people we least expect. Sandusky was able to get away with abusing boys for so long in part because of his stature in the community, both as a top lieutenant in a legendary football program and as a saintly benefactor of troubled kids through his charity, the Second Mile. That means the most important lesson is that "we, the public, must remain vigilant."
2. Parents need to learn the warning signs
At least as important as community vigilance is conscientious parenting, says TIME's Rochman, and "the Sandusky trial revealed many valuable lessons for parents." Among them: Use the word "surprises" with your kids instead of "secrets," since molesters play keep-a-secret to keep young victims silent; "be leery of any adult who seems smitten with your kid"; and teach your children about appropriate and inappropriate touching from an early age, starting with bath time with toddlers — only parents and the doctor should touch kids' private parts.
3. It's especially important to listen to children
To protect our children, "we must listen to them," says Jim Lexa at the Amarillo Globe-News. "If they say something that seems a little odd, then we shouldn't just sit back and dismiss comments out of hand" — ask them about it. Remember, speaking up takes courage, and abuse victims who do "should be praised and encouraged and protected, and not belittled and humiliated." Tragically, some of Sandusky's victims did try to reach out to parents and school officials — and were "rebuffed or ignored," says New Jersey's Gloucester County Times in an editorial. If you care about children, "believe a kid," and take the story to the police.
4. Be smart about their activities
Part of being a "vigilant and proactive" parent is to dig a little bit into the team sports and other activities your child gets involved in, says Betsy Shaw at BabyCenter. Personally, "I don't want my parenting choices to be driven by fear and distrust," and you certainly shouldn't treat every adult who works with kids as "a potential pedophile," but there are some simple things you can do to help keep your kids safe: Find out who is in charge of the activity, and make sure they use "two-deep leadership," a system developed by the Boy Scouts that ensures all interactions with kids involve two adults.
5. Sports are the "perfect hiding place" for predators
The Sandusky case is particularly relevant for young male sex-abuse victims, who face their own struggles and societal stigmas, says Mitch Abrams at Psychology Today. The advocacy group MaleSurvivor.org estimates "conservatively that 1 out of every 6 men have been sexually abused at some time in their lives," and as great as sports are, we have to acknowledge that they "represent a perfect hiding place for predators unless (or until) we do a better job at screening coaches." Don't rely on reputation — screen everyone. And while great coaches literally save and turn around lives, they "should not take the place of parents."
6. Sex-abuse trials are winnable
Maybe the most encouraging lesson from the Sandusky mess is that "when these predators are caught, sometimes justice prevails," says Lexa at the Amarillo Globe-News. Even when an apparently upstanding, beloved figure like Sandusky is the accused, "sometimes jurors will make the right decision." And sometimes victims are treated as witnesses, not accomplices, so "victims no longer need to fear they are being put on trial." Sandusky reminded us that "monsters exist," says The Morning Sun. But "although it was a bit late," he also showed us "that monsters can be fought."
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