The students are celebrating. The fans are elated. But how do victims of sexual violence feel about Penn State receiving time off for good behavior two years into the NCAA’s historic sanctions against the university?
That depends on who you ask.
At home in Centre County, in general, the move is being received positively, even by those who spend all day advocating for the rights of victims and holding hands in the wake of violence, but the uproar might be harder to take.
“I think the reality, especially for victims of Jerry Sandusky, (is) there is likely to be a full range of reactions,” said Anne Ard, executive director of the Centre County Women’s Resource Center. “At a visceral level, the celebration of the students and the general cheer is probably kind of rough. Like, ‘I went through something horrible and people are cheering.’ I understand that.”
Ard’s office is just blocks from campus, and she has been alternately appreciative of the university’s progress in recent years and challenged by it as CCWRC’s caseload has gone up in response.
“One of the things that has been difficult is it’s been hard for people to continue to put the feelings of the victims in the forefront,” she said, referencing the now ever-present tag line “concern for the victims” that seems to accompany the issue.
At the same time, she says, the university seems to have a renewed appreciation for the word “accountability.” But it isn’t just the university.
“There was no organization to put sanctions on the community,” Ard said. However, the community took steps on its own, putting into place programs like Stewards of Children and stepping up to create the Centre County Children’s Advocacy Center.
Andrea Boyles, of the Centre County Youth Service Bureau, sees kids in need on a daily basis.
“I hope as folks celebrate the sanctions being lifted, they will take time out to think about all victims of child sexual abuse, and if they haven’t already done so they’ll sign up for a Stewards of Children training so they can be part of the incredible group of adults who have done so and are better able to protect kids in our community,” she said. “I sincerely believe we are better able to protect kids than ever before, and better able than most communities who have never had to face the horrors of child sexual abuse the way we have.”
But there are those, especially outside the area, who see the rollback as trying to erase history.
“We are deeply disappointed that thousands of people rallied in support of the NCAA officials’ decision to reduce penalties against Penn State. We long for the day thousands at Penn State will rally showing support for the boys whose lives were devastated by and action and inaction of university officials,” said David Clohessy, of St. Louis, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
He issued a statement Tuesday pointing out the painful impact on victims, especially as calls ring out to bring back more of the legendary past, restoring the football program’s vacated victories and the whereabouts-unknown statue of Joe Paterno.
“People can make it easier or harder for victims to report and police to investigate and prosecutors to pursue child molesters. Publicly honoring Paterno makes it harder,” Clohessy said. “Penn State football players and enthusiasts are not the victims here. The boys raped by Jerry Sandusky are the victims here. Their healing comes first. It’s clear that many in the Penn State community haven’t learned this simple lesson.”
In Centre County, people hope they can help the healing and restore pride at the same time.
“I hope folks will strive to make this the best place in the world to raise a child — not just the best place to enjoy football — by investing in our kids at every level,” Boyles said.