Local advocates say the Penn State University child sexual-abuse case is an opportunity to create change and protect potential victims.
The acts allegedly perpetrated by the university football team's former defensive coordinator Gerald A. Sandusky against young at-risk boys enrolled in his charity program, The Second Mile, appear to be "textbook" pedophile behavior, said Marlene Mish, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County.
Be suspicious of adults in youth programs who take a special interest in a specific child, particularly if that interest includes gift-giving and/or overnight activities, said Marlene Mish, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Jackson County.
Signs of abuse can include both physical and emotional changes. Withdrawal or aggressive behavior are red flags, Mish said. Bed-wetting, loss of bowel control and genital rashes, irritation or discomfort can also indicate abuse.
If you suspect child abuse, call child welfare at 541-776-6120. Or call the police, Mish said.
"Be calm. Be prepared. Have your information ready," Mish said.
The stated mission of Sandusky's charity was to help children with "absent or dysfunctional families," according to a grand jury report. As the number of Sandusky's alleged victims continues to climb, the reality of the situation is "right out of a sex-offender playbook," Mish said.
Many serial pedophiles are well-respected, high-profile men who have groomed the adults to believe they are above reproach. They will groom susceptible children with gifts, bribes and special attention, she said.
"They will be likeable. They will garner the trust and adoration of both the adults and their child victims," Mish said. "The children in this nonprofit have no status, no voice and no one to believe them."
The grand jury report lists eight victims of Sandusky who ranged in age from about 7 or 8 years old to mid-teens at the time of their abuse. The contact was always initiated by Sandusky in the guise of play which ended in sexual assault. The report also says Penn State's then head football coach Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and business director Gary Shultz were informed of Sandusky's molestation by eyewitnesses.
Ashland resident Randy Ellison, board president of Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service, is an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. Molested by a Portland minister, Ellison did not speak about his abuse for decades. The physical, mental and emotional scars inflicted on children who are abused never fully heal, Ellison said.
"These are life-changing, life-destroying acts of violence," he said. "These kids are going to have scars for the rest of their lives."
Mish and Ellison said Sandusky's alleged acts, if true, are both morally heinous and criminal.
Equally upsetting is the knowledge that so many adults chose to look away, instead of standing up for these child victims, Mish said.
"People chose to be silent and people chose to do nothing. And that created more victims. And all of that was avoidable," she said.
Simply taking away Sandusky's privileges to bring Second Mile children to Penn State was not only ineffective, it was reprehensible, Ellison said.
"What are they telling him? Go rape them down the street?" Ellison said, adding he believes the list of Sandusky's victims will continue to grow.
"The oldest case is from 1998. But this man started a program for at-risk youth in 1977," he said. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know there are more victims."
As the story has expanded, Ellison said has been angered by the watered-down language media are using to describe violent sexual attacks.
"They put in writing that he had oral sex with a boy, that he had sexual intercourse with a boy," Ellison said. "This implies intimacy between consenting adults. Why would we be using these terms? This isn't sex. This is assault."
Recent rioting by some Penn State students over the ousting of Paterno by the University board of directors concerns Mish and Ellison.
"This sends a terrible message to victims and their families and to anyone who might be thinking of coming out, especially for a young man," Mish said.
But both say the Penn State students likely will come to support the victims.
"Nobody likes to deal with sexual abuse. Nobody likes to realize their heroes have feet of clay," Mish said. "They weren't thinking it through. As the days and months go by, it will shift to support of the victims."
Mish and Ellison are also hoping the national discourse over this case will help create better awareness and more opportunities for education.
Parents need to teach their children no adult has the right to violate them, regardless of their societal position, Mish said.
"We teach our kids to mind," Mish said. "We need to teach them to get out, if they can. And to tell (an adult), if they can't. And we need to tell them we're going to make sure somebody does something."
Mish said local community members should not be taking false comfort in this case because it is happening on the other side of the country.
"People are probably telling themselves, that's over there," Mish said. "But the truth is this is probably happening here with someone we trust and believe in. We need to use this as an opportunity to open our eyes and be aware."
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email email@example.com.