After watching AC360′s report on the inhumane treatment of Sandusky’s alleged victims and the cover up that is now occurring, I have a suggestion for the chief of police who hid in his office rather than talk to the reporter.

Instead of cowering, he should get himself in front of that camera and say:“Even though there is an on-going investigation-- for all those children who have come forward-- I am sorry. We don’t know what the conclusion will be but as the police chief in this community, it is my sacred responsibility to protect our most vulnerable. I will work hard to do so in any way I can now and in the future.”

This is what an honorable leader does who prioritizes the emotional and physical safety of the people in his community. He does not hide.

It’s bad enough that a pedophile creates a structure where he can systematically sexually assault children year after year. But now it seems clear that not only did other adults allow it to happen, but they contributed to the abuse by ostracizing and dehumanizing the victims. All I can think of is how incapable adults seem to be of doing the right thing.

We are now faced with an incredible question: Was the power of Penn State’s football legacy so overwhelming that many people, however tangentially connected to it, became moral degenerates?

In my previous post on this issue, I described my experiences with other institutions in somewhat similar circumstances and how to understand the seemingly incomprehensible decision to protect the abusers over the abused.

It is clear that being in a situation like this can be overwhelming, leading to confusion and regrettable choices in the moment.  That’s why it is important to give yourself space to remember who you are and what you stand for-- and to digest the information rather than reacting.

Here are strategies if you ever find yourself in a situation like this one:

  • If someone comes to you for help, the only thing you should say is “Thank you so much for telling me. I am sure that it was really hard to tell me. Let me find out what I need to do to start the process where you can feel safe.” Never say anything about what you think about the alleged perpetrator’s guilt or innocence. Never say, “I can’t believe what you are telling me. That’s not possible,” even if you are having a hard time believing it. Instead, go through the process of verifying the claim and go from there.
  • If you are a child or parent who goes to an authority figure and they dismiss what you are saying, your response is, “I don’t want to discuss if you think he is innocent. I am asking you to help me (or my child) feel safe and go through the process to verify my claim.” If they won’t do that, then ask to speak to someone else because that person is worse than worthless to you:  they are part of the problem.

We all need to do some hard looking at ourselves and what we stand for because Penn State is not the only community who has had this ugly exploitation and betrayal of its most vulnerable. The moment you think this can’t occur in your community is the moment you become more vulnerable to it.

Do you know someone who has gone through a similar situation and you were made aware? How did you handle it or see it handled? What do you think Penn State (and other communities) could do better to ensure the safety of sexual assault victims?

Guest blogger Rosalind Wiseman is writing a weekly column on parenting advice for Momster and is a regular contributor to Family Circle.