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Rage vs. ReasonDung Hoang

Reason versus Rage (continued)

Myth #4: The Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State will drive society to develop better policies.

The media explosion set off last year by allegations of serial sexual abuse of young boys over the course of years by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University, has focused sustained attention on a topic that society might otherwise avoid. Peter Pelullo, the leader of a foundation devoted to supporting victims of child sex abuse, says he’s hopeful the case will help the public grasp the true costs of sexual abuse.

“This thing has just rocked the country,” he says. “It presents a great opportunity to really put the focus on these young boys—and especially on the fact that they’re going to be living with this for 40 or 50 or more years.”

A successful music-industry executive, Pelullo is a former victim himself. His book, Betrayal and the Beast, recounts his journey from being raped repeatedly at age 7 by older neighborhood children to his still-in-process recovery as a 50-something adult. In between, Pelullo battled multiple addictions and endured an inability to establish bonds of trust and intimacy.

In going public as an abuse victim, Pelullo launched his Let Go … Let Peace Come In Foundation. In March, the foundation reached an agreement with the Bloomberg School to help fund research by Letourneau, Eaton and other department colleagues aimed at preventing abuse.

“To truly study this as a public health issue, that’s something that just hasn’t been done,” Pelullo says. “It’s a mammoth task, considering that this is an area where we have a hard time just engaging in a conversation.”

If the focus stays on victims and how to help them, the Sandusky case might indeed turn out to be a positive. But as Letourneau points out, we’ve seen “monster” cycles play out before—and the results have not always been productive.

“These blowups always center on the most sensational type of offenses,” Letourneau says. “If these allegations against Sandusky are true, think about it this way: How many guys go out and set up a not-for-profit agency to serve as a feeder system to satisfy their urges?”

She rates it a one-in-a-hundred-million event. “We’re going to base policy on that?” she asks. “When you base it on the rarest, most unique, most bizarre case, you’re not going to get good policy.”

Berlin has a friend who once joked that no laws should ever be adopted in the immediate aftermath of any 60 Minutes broadcast. He feels the same way about cases like Penn State. “We tend to legislate in response to the emotion of such moments,” he says. “Let’s just say that in my opinion this does not ensure that we will get effective public policy based on data and careful thought.”

There’s another danger to this “monster” cycle as well. Since cases like these are often the only ways the general public and political leaders learn about child sexual abuse, they tend to fuel the misconception that all offenders are serial predators.

“The reality is, most offenders are people we know and even people we like,” Letourneau says. “They are people in our families, in our communities and in our social circles. What we’ve got to do as a society is figure out a way to talk about these offenders in a way that doesn’t always evoke the monster. We’ve got to get to a place where people can stand up and say, ‘I’m a little worried about my friend Jim. He’s having some troubles in his life right now, and I think he might be spending too much time with one of his young volunteers. I’m worried he might make a mistake, and I’d like to get him some help.’”

Berlin draws analogies here to alcoholism—a condition that not so many decades ago was regarded as a matter of personal weakness and shoved under the rug in family life and civic affairs. “If we ask the question, ‘Who is the person who gets involved sexually with children?’ It’s actually a lot like asking, ‘Who’s the drunk driver?’” he says. “There’s a tremendous spectrum. On one end is the chronic alcoholic who might always pose a threat to others. On the other end is the guy who wants to quit but needs help.”

Berlin surveys the landscape today and sees a balanced approach to alcoholism—one that encourages people to seek help and one that steers clear of blanket demonization while also delivering the needed criminal justice component. “With alcoholism today, we recognize that decent people can be struggling,” he says. “We see that Aunt Jane or Uncle Harry has a problem. We recognize that they could get in a car and kill somebody. But we also see them as human beings we care about and want to help.”

By contrast, the demonization of child sex offenders allows no room for such consideration.

“We hear all the time—if you are depressed or addicted or have anorexia, please come in so we can help you,” he says. “As I speak, there are some 16- or 17-year-olds out there who are privately aware of the fact that they’re sexually attracted to children. And because of how we’ve demonized people in this area, the last thing they’re going to do is raise their hand and ask for help—which is exactly what we should be encouraging them to do.”


This forum is closed
  • Dolores miller

    Philadelphia 06/13/2012 03:07:40 PM

    A person who has a drinking problem needs help! An adult Who rapes children needs to be put away for life! One subject I think you are all afraid of is there are just plain Evil people in this world. Thank God most people are not! Also, anytime a person faces and heals From abuse most do what they can to make a better society. I'm not saying It doesn't take time courage and love. It does. Please go to my website and read my book review. Peace,Dolores Miller

  • Nia Rico

    Los Angeles 06/15/2012 02:19:27 AM

    Dolores, with all due respect you are missing the point. I am totally on your side that these disgusting sexual child predators should be put away for their horrific crimes [for] the rest of their lives behind bars. But that is the emotional response the researchers are referring to. It's understandable and normal for us to feel and think that way and I'd probably want to hurt somebody real bad if I found out such a crime was committed against my own child. Having said that however, that is not the solution to what is such a pervasive problem in our society. We need prevention programs and those sickos need help! They are diseased just like an alcoholic or drug addict and until they can talk about it openly and get help to end the vicious cycle they will continue to act out their dirty little secrets hurting thousands and thousands of children who in turn will hurt thousands and thousands of other children. We need to put a stop to this and I applaud the researchers at Johns Hopkins for bringing this to the forefront and to those who are funding the program. Let's pray their studies will shed some light on this very dark issue.

  • Pamela Pine, PhD

    Glenn Dale, MD 06/17/2012 10:45:10 AM

    Stop the Silence: Stop Child Sexual Abuse, Inc. ("Stop the Silence,", has been working on the prevention and mitigation of child sexual abuse (CSA) through innovative and proven impactful programming with a public health approach for over 10 years. A plethora of information about both CSA prevention and treatment is available, and a great deal of information has been available for decades. There are now numerous smaller and larger organizations working on the issue, and recently, a number of organizations have been springing up around the nation and the world, as well as a coalitions forming to address it. Unfortunately, nearly everyone is working without the adequate resources to step up programming. The issue of lack of resources and other support is enormous. As a nation, as a world community, unless and until we are able to find a way to speak about it (without shying away or calling "monster," as the article points out), and help enable both policy makers and the public to address it as the public health issue it is, we will not be able to adequately conduct the work on either the prevention or treatment fronts - leaving open a whole new generation to be abused. As a more-than-concerned citizen, as a mother, and as the Founder of Stop the Silence, I implore the public to get involved (despite their discomfort) and policymakers to put the resources in place to address CSA as the public health epidemic (indeed, pandemic) that it is.

  • ayulestari 07/05/2012 11:28:18 AM

    save our generation

  • Matt

    USA 06/07/2013 03:16:16 AM

    One of the problems in the United States is that the "sex offender" laws which were originally implemented to protect children, starting with the Wetterling Act in the 90s, are now being implemented to aggressively prosecute children who "offend", when merely exploring their own curiosities. Of course, some children may need a little counseling and guidance if the trouble persists. But any child under the age of 14 being charged with "Lewd and Lascivious Acts with a Child Under 14" is asinine. A judiciary panel on an appellate hearing last year even remarked in their statements at how ridiculous it is that some "defendants" were even younger than the "victim"! It is time for change in this country. As Patty Wetterling herself has noted, we are targeting the wrong people.

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