Jerry Sandusky Scandal

In advocating for child abuse education, Paternos say best prevention tool is ‘open discussion’

The family of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno delivered Wednesday its latest push as advocates for child abuse awareness, as his widow and two of their sons signaled their commitment to an organization that provides mandated reporter training.

“It is easier not to think about it, it is easier not to talk about it,” Jay Paterno said about child abuse in remarks during a breakfast for the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. “It is hard to recognize but tougher to talk about, but the best weapon we have is open discussion to cast light into the darkest places of our society.

“You have to know what you’re looking for ... so we can see something and say something.”

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance, which trains people such as teachers on recognizing signs of abuse, kicked off celebrating the statewide Child Abuse Awareness Month with Sue and Scott Paterno as guests, too. The executive director of the organization acknowledged the choice to invite the Paternos was controversial among members. Angela Liddle said she is hoping to advance her group’s efforts by using the Paternos’ collective voice, which is “far stronger than mine.”

The Paternos are in the midst of advocacy efforts that took shape with the family’s release of the repudiation of the Freeh report. The Paterno family is also harnessing its celebrity to advance the cause of educating people about child abuse in light of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that cost the late head coach his job.

“We are here as a family because we know and are committed to making more people aware so we can find the path to preventing child abuse,” Sue Paterno said during her remarks. “We were among those who were ignorant of the magnitude of the problem.

“If we do not pursue this course of action now, tragedies such as the Sandusky scandal will continue.”

The breakfast event was the first time Sue Paterno spoke publicly since she filmed an episode with Katie Couric’s show on ABC. That is when she told the television host neither she nor her husband knew Sandusky was a pedophile.

Sue Paterno, a mother of five, questioned how people who say they love children can hurt them by abusing them. That is something she struggles to understand, she said.

In his remarks, Jay Paterno was blunt.

The former assistant coach under his father said the family’s purpose was not to “press the case” for Joe Paterno, whose legacy has been called into question over whether he fulfilled his moral obligations in dealing with Sandusky. Jay Paterno even said some might find controversial his family’s attendance at a child abuse awareness event.

But he pressed on with his message of educating people about child abuse and growing comfortable with what has been thought of as a taboo topic.

Jay Paterno said he worked with children in the 1980s as part of a parks and recreation program in State College. Child abuse was never brought up or thought of.

Times have changed, he said, and people need to have that in the back of their minds.

“If there is one thing that I have learned in the last year and a half it is this sad fact: Child abuse offenders do not need — do not need — enablers,” he said.

Children should not fear coming forward about being abused, and the same goes for those questioning whether to report it, he said.

“The message must be that when you come forward, we will all stand with you,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance provided mandated reporter training to 15,000 people and provided support services to 6,000 families last year.

Liddle said the lawmakers who have worked on drafting and implementing laws in the area of mandated reporter training cannot create laws that do what everyday citizens must do — spread the word about how to prevent it.

In an interview after the event, Scott Paterno said the family will commit financial resources — whether donations or fundraising through third parties — as part of its advocacy push.

Since the Sandusky scandal, Penn State has gone on a mandated reporter-training bonanza. More than 11,000 employees have been trained, spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.

In the State College Area School District, 30 employees have received formal training so they can train other employees on recognizing the signs of child abuse.

Student services director Jeanne Knouse said the district is working on a $5,000 contract with the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance to use the organization’s online training tool.