- (Photo: REUTERS / Scott Audette)
After the riots at Penn State University, in which students protested the firing of the school's legendary head football coach Joe Paterno, who is accused of not taking proper action in a child sex abuse case, those very familiar with the issue of sexual abuse say they are in shock and find the whole incident troubling.
After school administrators announced Paterno's firing Wednesday night, Penn State students took to the streets, chanting their beloved coach's name.
An estimated 2,200 students started rioting Wednesday night and continued through Thursday, moving into the downtown area of Penn State, known as Beaver Canyon, yelling slogans like "We love Joe," "We want Joe," and "We are Penn State."
One organization is having a particularly hard time understanding such a reaction in defense of a man who many say could have stopped child sex abuse, but chose not to. That organization is the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an advocacy group for people across the globe who have experienced sexual assault from clergy in childhood.
SNAP posted its reaction to the Penn State scandal, and especially the controversy surrounding Paterno, Tuesday.
"If Joe Paterno resigns as the head football coach at Penn State, it is a good start. However, it is nowhere near enough," wrote Peter Isely, a founding member of the organization. "Voluntarily giving up your high-paying, prestigious job under pressure isn't a sufficient penalty for endangering the physical and mental wellbeing of children and won't do enough to deter such cover ups in the future."
Paterno faced immense criticism after it emerged Saturday that he knew about the sexual abuse of children allegedly by his former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky, who was charged with the sexual assault of eight underage boys over a period of 15 years, from 1994 to 2009.
Sandusky is suspected to have abused the boys during his participation in The Second Mile, a statewide nonprofit organization that helps at-risk kids. Sandusky founded The Second Mile in 1977.
In March 2002, then-graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary notified Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky allegedly sexually assaulting a nude male victim in the locker room showers. Paterno notified the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz. However, no one notified the authorities.
Isely told The Christian Post Thursday that the reaction of Penn State students and their willingness to defend Paterno, the man who knew about sex abuse and "allowed it to continue," means they clearly do not understand the "seriousness and horror of these crimes."
"This is about these victims and what did not happen to protect children. That's all that this is about," he said.
Isely, who experienced sex abuse himself between the ages of 13 and 17, and stayed quiet about it for 12 years, added that it is not unusual in such cases that people stand in defense of "the beloved figure," in this case, Paterno.
He also said that Paterno will become a good mobilizer for the university to learn from scratch about how to react to child abuse information.
"This is an opportunity for Paterno and others to learn from their failure to protect the most vulnerable members of our community and model personal and public responsibility," he stated in the press release.
"Imagine you're one of these victims and you're watching this [on TV]," he later told CP over the phone.
SNAP Director David Clohessy agrees that the student riots are unfair toward the victims in this case.
"It's always distressing when people publicly rally around accused wrongdoers," he told CP Thursday. "The university has a duty to help, not to hinder, the criminal investigation."
"If someone wants to support Paterno, they should do it privately, not publicly. Like flowers, cards, sending e-mails, offering prayers," he added.
He called the visible support of Paterno, such as the protests, "very hurtful to the victims."
"It must be very, very upsetting," he said when asked how the victims must feel viewing the riots on TV.
Paterno issued a statement Thursday, urging students to respect university property and remain calm.
"I have been incredibly blessed to spend my entire career working with people I love. I am grateful beyond words to all of the coaches, players and staff who have been a part of this program. And to all of our fans and supporters, my family and I will be forever in your debt," he said in the statement.
Students were especially disgruntled because Paterno originally announced he would retire at the end of the current football season. They saw his premature firing as unnecessary for a coach so highly regarded at the university.
Curley, the athletic director, and Gary Schultz, vice president for finance and business, have also been charged with perjury and failing to alert police of Sandusky's alleged sexual misdoings. The two men stepped down from their posts at Penn State Sunday.