The Sandusky Verdict: What’s The Biggest Take-Home Message For Parents?

By now you have heard that Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse and child endangerment. Last November, I wrote about my feelings as a professional, a parent, and a Penn State grad. Since then, not much has changed for me. That said, I think the trial and conviction certainly reinforces a principle I believe we all have to adhere to these days: 

Cultivating Informed Trust

I don’t want to be a distrustful parent and harbor suspicions about all the adults entrusted with caring for my child (teachers, coaches, etc). I don’t want to be a helicopter parent and micro manage the time my child spends away from me. But I do think we all have a very real obligation to be involved and informed. We need to establish a respectful dialogue with the adults in our child’s life. We need to let them know that we will want to be informed and keep an eye on our kid. We want them to know that we will, now and then, want to observe what they are doing and how they do it. We also want them to know that we don’t want to indulge our kids, but in the end, we want to make sure that the adults they are around treat them fairly and with respect.

We also want our kids to know that we want to hear about their lives. Although we want them to treat adults with respect and follow rules, we want them to know that they should never do something that seems uncomfortable. In fact, they should never feel uncomfortable, uneasy, coerced or threatened. And they should not only know that they can talk to us – we should openly talk to them and stay informed about their feelings and their experiences. An open line of communication with kids is one of the most powerful ways to help protect them because we can get warning signals of something (or someone) gone awry.

There are lots of other good tips to consider – you can read some here. But for me the overarching idea is informed trust – we have to stay involved and informed with the adults in our kids’ lives, as well as with our kids. That way we can strike a balance and let our kids experience the world as safely as possible – and know that they always can (and should) rely on their parents to support and protect them.

Trust via Shutterstock.com

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  1. by jillicious

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:00 am

    This stuff has gone on since the beginning of time..and usually, regardless of how much effort parents put in, the people such as Sandusky are in authority positions and do what they want and continually get away with it. Why did it take an adult to bring this info forward? They tend to prey on children who are at ‘risk’ so to speak most of the time. Shame, shame, shame!

  2. by Fellow Concerned Parent

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:05 am

    I agree with you 100%. Parents and guardians are sometimes a child’s only defence against abuse and they need to know they can always depend on us to protect them. If we don’t, they will find someone else to go to that might not be the best choice!

  3. by Dr.NP

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:16 am

    I worked with sex offenders for over 10 years (most of which were pedophiles). Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, babysitters, teachers, clergy, boy scout leaders, coaches, businessmen, etc. were victimizers. Also, although most offenders were men, there was also a percentage of women molesters as well. As a result of my past exposure to abusers, I am very very cautious and slow to trust, and even then I keep a very close eye on my son. I monitor the people he interacts with closely and also watch his behavior around them and afterwards. There are several reasons Sandusky was so successful in his decades-long abuse spree: 1. his victims were primarily “throw away” kids who either came from abuse or neglect or had behavioral issues, and were not closely monitored or protected 2. he was in a trusted position of power at Penn State, 3. he was married to a yes woman who he could control and was confident would not turn him in (she is horribly guilty as an accomplice and I hope charges are also brought against her), 4. and he had a veneer/ruse as a “caring” individual who wanted to “help” the boys.
    Parents, family, and caregivers need to be vigilant, or otherwise they are easy prey to sick abusers like Sandusky.

  4. by DR.NP

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:18 am

    I worked with sex offenders for over 10 years (most of which were pedophiles). Fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, babysitters, teachers, clergy, boy scout leaders, coaches, businessmen, etc. were victimizers. Also, although most offenders were men, there was also a percentage of women molesters as well. Abusers come from all walks of life, from every SES and educational background. As a result of my past exposure to abusers, I am very very cautious and slow to trust, and even then I keep a very close eye on my son. I monitor the people he interacts with closely and also watch his behavior around them and afterwards. There are several reasons Sandusky was so successful in his decades-long abuse spree: 1. his victims were primarily “throw away” kids who either came from abuse or neglect or had behavioral issues, and were not closely monitored or protected 2. he was in a trusted position of power at Penn State, 3. he was married to a yes woman who he could control and was confident would not turn him in (she is horribly guilty as an accomplice and I hope charges are also brought against her), 4. and he had a veneer/ruse as a “caring” individual who wanted to “help” the boys.
    Parents, family, and caregivers need to be vigilant, or otherwise they are easy prey to sick abusers like Sandusky.

  5. by GramThinks

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:34 am

    As we encourage our children to test their skills and spread their wings in the wider world, we must be aware that not all adults they encounter are safe. We as parents can teach the lesson of trusting your child’s own feelings. If an adult makes them uncomfortable, they are never forced to embrace them, kiss them or sit in their laps. Children can learn to listen to that quiet voice inside, and respond with the confidence that we will back them up, they will learn to protect themselves. It doesn’t have to be emotional: simply say, ‘She doesn’t feel like hugging you right now.’ Shrug, smile and change the subject. When we learn to trust our children they learn to trust themselves.

  6. by cmsvmom

    On June 27, 2012 at 10:50 am

    When I divorced my ex husband, I realized that he had a boyfriend. I was prepared to accept this guy into the extended family, figuring that we could all be civil about it, and I basically liked him, we had been friends. Instead, he engaged in grooming behaviors, and tried alienation from me – abetting my ex, who wanted me totally discredited and thrown out of family life for knowing that he was gay after all. The boyfriend ven wrote the kid lovey dovey letters and signed his emails Hadrian VII. (Um, danger Will Robinson, YA THINK???)

    Anything I said against this guy was not taken seriously. I was this horrible homophobic evil woman in a “bitter divorce” blaming MY troubles on an “innocent gay man”. Privately, some teachers and our pediatrician confirmed that the tone of the emails and cards was really inappropriate between a 50 year old man and a 12 year old child of either sex. But no one would say so publicly for fear of litigation, cuz clap hands, daddy had money and mommy had none.

    Well, good thing I am so vicious and nasty and ignorant and evil and “bitter”. I taught my son (then age 12) how to say no, how to trust his feelings no matter what his father belittled, how to be honest, how to ask for help. Eventually the pervert started showing up when my ex volunteered at school and I raised the roof. They interviewed my kid and judged that the perv was being invasive and inappropriate and causing stress, and told my ex that he could not just show up and visit when he was volunteering.

    Pedophiles exploit the dysfunction in families, and if you look at some of the stories of Sandusky, it is all about promoting how great he is and what failures the boys real parents are.

    We resolved residential custody four years later when I was allowed full residential custody and he had very generous joint legal custody. We resolved it at the state appellate level, where he had attempted to take the children away from me.

    I think this guy was exploiting my ex’s vulnerability as a closeted gay man whose wife found out, and saw his chance to make his move, isolating the kid.

    My boys are adults now, and they are ok. They recognize the truth of what happened. They are really good at cutting through other people’s lies and garbage.

    And they are not “homophobic”.

    Watch out for people with power who enable this kind of abuse – and hold them accountable. Even if there is no money or position to be gained.

  7. by Weina Sampson

    On June 27, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I think that in addition to the above points, we as adults also need to be vigilant. If we see something that is not appropriate, we need to speak up and take immediate action to protect the children involved, and then inform the appropriate authority. We can not just think that somebody else will do something about it and walk away. After all if it was our children involved, we would want other adults to act appropriately and immediately to help.

  8. by april

    On June 27, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I was sexually abused from age 7-14 by my grandfather (which started after my parents divorced). My family trusted him very much and even questioned the authenticity of what I told them when I finally came out. Many predators are relatives or others within the community deemed “trustworthy”. You have to go a step above trust. I now have a daughter and am afraid that I may become over protective. I would suggest informing your child on abuse as young as possible, even though it is hard, yes listen to your child, and please do not be blinded by the people you love especially if they show a big interest in your child and always want to buy them gifts. My grandfather often told me he loved me, that I was special, and always gave me gifts. I hope this info is helpful. So sad that it exsists, and it is more common than you would think.

  9. by Corine

    On June 27, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Yeah, this is a great article. On paper. I doubt very much that this person has ever knowingly dealt with a sexual predator. Children and parents can have the best trust in the world but once a child is violated the whole dynamic changes. The ‘helicopter parents’ can have children who are abused right along with the others. Parents should try to look out for their kids and believe them if something is reported. But if something happens it is ridiculous to assume that it could have been prevented by a better system of “trust”. Predators are good at what they do and they will cultivate your trust and your childs as well. Sometimes there are no warning signs, that’s why they can abuse so many children without reprocussions.

  10. by Mel

    On June 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Being a victim of sexual abuse this is something that hits home with me. I have a daughter now and I have a difficult time trusting anyone. My first thought is always the worst possible scenario. I have been trying to teach my daughter to know what is appropriate and what is not so that she can know how to act in a situation and if something does happen she knows that she can tell us no matter what. The biggest problem in this lies in the fact that is most cases the abuser is someone who is trusted by the family. How do you teach your kids to tell you if something happens when the person is someone that is close to the family? How do you teach your kids that if someone ever threatens them or their family if they tell that they should still tell you/

  11. by Kelly

    On June 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I too was sexually abused from age 6-12, until of course I entered puberty and was no longer “childlike.” My abuser was a close family friend, a bachelor who was in his 50′s, had no family nearby and interestingly, knew my grandparents and great-grandparents! My grandmother knew something of his past or suspected him of peodphilia as she avoided him. She was the only one. Everyone else loved him. Especially me. The abuse began 4 years before my father died. My homelife was tumultuous; parents fought, my dad drank, my older siblings were gone a lot and my younger brother and I were left on our own much of the time…until our “great” family friend offered his free babysitting services for the little kids; my brother and I. Sometimes just me. After my father’s death, the babysitting turned into weekends. Much of our summer’s were spent at the abuser’s home. Gifts, money, freedom to stay up late, watch anything on tv, buy anything at the store-I had it all. All for the price of my childhood innocence. I don’t know why I never told anyone. I felt VERY guilty, shameful and just basically depressed for most of my childhood. The abuse “felt good” and that made me feel even more guilty; like I had caused it–now as an adult, I see that a six year old cannot cause abuse! It was done to me. I wonder how my mother could not have known or suspected???? As a new mother of a son and a daughter, I was overprotective from day one! And my mother is very critical of my parenting skills. I still harbor resentment toward her, “what was she thinking?” But my abuser was VERY good at his manipulating everyone. He did die a painful death in his 70′s-cancer and he died alone (except for my mother who was there taking care of him!) I was cruel to him at the end, a dying, pitiful man who to me, was the devil incarnate.
    I don’t trust ANYONE. Not even my own family members completely. It’s been a blessing and also a curse to have been shown this horrific part of mankind at such an early age. Nothing surprises me about people. And just because someone wears a collar and robe, a surgical mask, a suit, has money, is poor–it does not matter! Abuse does not discriminate. I have anger that is deep but I have learned to forgive, just never to forget. And to constantly be on the lookout for those who want to hurt my children. I will be there to protect them God willing! I have started teaching them the tools-knowledge and no fear to talk about what is happening to them. And belief in them. Listen to them and believe what they say!

  12. by Victoria

    On July 2, 2012 at 2:24 am

    My older daughter was molested by two family members. Her father’s younger cousin, who was raised as his brother and my husband’s (my daughter’s step father) younger brother. Both of these monsters (and they are monsters) were not adults at the time. They were young boys. She did not tell me until she was 20 yrs old. The only reason she told at all, was because she did not want her younger sister around my husband’s brother. My older daughter is now 26, and my younger daughter 13 has not seen my husband’s brother since I found out and my son 2, has never met him, and if I can help it, never will. My older daughter refuses to get help, refuses to talk about it with me. I am left guessing and wondering how this happened and how I could have stopped it. I only wish I would have known sooner, so that I could at least get her into counseling. As an adult, she will not go and I can’t make her. Her life is a mess and I know it is because of what happened to her. This has been a horrible situation for our family, as my husband’s mother and other brothers do not believe this happened, but I do. I believe my daughter. My husband said he believed my daughter too, but as the years go by, I truly believe he has doubts. I don’t think he wants to believe it. It’s a horrible, disgusting thing. I don’t trust anyone around my kids and it doesn’t matter how old they are. These monsters are not always adults. I don’t think any of us will ever get over this and I have to work very hard to control the rage that begins to boil inside of me when I think about this. What those monsters did to my little girl. What she held inside all those years, because she didn’t want to cause problems. I have so much guilt and anger. What I wish I could do to those monsters, but then I’d be the one in trouble and they are not worth it. They are both evil and rotten inside and I hope they both rot in hell!