I’ve been saddened by recent accounts of sexual abuse in prestigious college sports programs. The comment has been made that people who gravitate to youth and to the physicality of sports might provide an environment where pedophiles fit in.  The comment has also been made that raging hormones and a fascination with sexual experience make boys and young men especially vulnerable targets.  Both lead one to wonder how isolated or pervasive the predatory activity is.  I imagine university presidents and trustees all over the country are asking themselves the same thing.

Regardless of how pervasive the problem is in college sports, I hope the news coverage brings people who have survived sexual abuse out of isolation. Perhaps the most insidious and lasting effect of child sexual abuse is the persistent shame saddled on its victims.  There is a kind of circular thinking in which the fact that the crime happened is interpreted as proof that it must have been deserved.  It takes the separation of many years to detangle that twisted perspective. It takes courage to confront both the lies and the hard underlying truth. It takes real maturity to overcome shame.  It is no wonder whatsoever that survivors come forward years or decades later.  I have nothing but admiration and respect for those who do so in their own time.

I also hope hidden perpetrators get caught.  The combination of survivors realizing they are not alone and nervous university presidents and trustees may heighten the exposure.  No one should be above the law, but it goes without saying that many—sports figures are joined here by politicians, clergy, and even police—have demonstrated a differing view.  The story of human pride and downfall is as old as history itself.  Icarus perished flying too close to the sun, and Pharaoh was the bible’s biggest loser.  It may be naive to hope high profile sexual abusers stop feeling entitled.  University financial self-interest (if not moral decency), however, is a reasonable place for hope.  I hope universities proactively search out and excise offenders (and those who protect them) in a way the Catholic hierarchy never did.

The twin keys to crime are motive and opportunity.  Universities can clamp down on opportunities if they choose to do so.  Motive is trickier.  Whatever sexually attracts adults to prepubescent and post-pubescent teenagers can be treated behaviorally (CBT) and chemically (“chemical castration”), but treatment efficacy is unclear and the human cost of recidivism is unacceptably high.  Child victims of abuse are more likely to be arrested for violent crime, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to abuse other children.  It is for these three reasons—perpetrator recidivism, long term consequences on victims, and the long healing cycle—that statutes of limitations don’t fit this crime.  That’s just my opinion.

I imagine the sad revelations are heartbreaking to none more than to those high integrity individuals who have dedicated their careers to mentoring and guiding youth. Some people and institutions alike are driven by a mission to equip young people to be the best they can be.  It is unfortunate in the extreme that some in leadership positions, when confronted with alarming accusations, have blundered into choosing sides—disparaging the accuser in order to defend the accused.  The higher road is simply to defend the mission.

Join the conversation. What can you do to equip youth to lead us to a better future?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Learn more at

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