Sandusky Verdict and Horace Mann Sex Scandal: Why Sexual Violence Should be a Household Word

It's not everyone's favorite topic to discuss. It's not generally considered "polite" dinner conversation. But on the heels of the Sundusky conviction, there's ample opportunity (and need) to bring discussion to a dinner table with your family or friends about sexual abuse and violence.

Many people shy away from talking to their children or friendst about sexual violence (rape, assault, child sex abuse, and the like) for fear of unnecessarily scaring a child, being seen as an alarmist, being read as someone who is looking for trouble where it doesn't exist. There is a litany of reasons people name as to why not bringing up sexual violence is the best possible course of action. A large majority of these reasons will ring true because we live in a society that is structured to tip-toe around the topic of sexual violence and to silence victims of sexual violence. (Even using the word "sexual violence" instead of "rape" is a way to soften the blow for some).

But there are certain moments in the world where we need to decide to be more proactive and have these harder conversations with friends and family in order to open up a space for victims to speak about their abuse because it is no easy task. 

In this article from CNN, Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly comments on the Sandusky trial and says, "It was incredibly difficult for some of them to unearth long buried memories of (what) they had suffered. This trial was not something that they sought, but rather something that forced them to face the demons of their past."

The act of telling someone about experienced sexual violence can be one of the most difficult things a survivor will do. And many never will speak a word about it to anyone. NPR's The Diane Rehm Show on June 13 hosted a panel to discuss Horace Mann and Sandusky as they related to the larger issue of sexual violence. In it Dr. Richard Gartner (a psychologist and psychoanalyst practicing in New York City) speaks to the difficulty to reporting, "I think they're [male victims] coming forward because they have the example of people coming forward. Each time a celebrity comes forward or something like Penn State or Syracuse...it empowers people who have felt they could not say those words to another soul to find some soul to say it to."

Another guest of the show, Frank Cervone (executive director of Support Center for Child Advocates) emphasized that, "we know for certain there is large scale under reporting ... kids aren't picking up the phone and calling 911, they're keeping it inside."

So we know there is under-reporting. And we know that often people have difficulty even naming their experiences to themselves as being of a sexually violent nature. And we know that when stories come out like the Horace Mann expose from Amos Kamil that there is a space opened (however small) for more people to come forward, for the conversation to begin. 

What I urge you to do today is to not let this moment (or others) pass by. Use Sandusky's conviction as a conversation starter with friends and family. Or start the conversation your own way. There are many resources online for the best ways to begin a discussion with your kids about sexual violence like this one from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, or this one from RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network). And if you're nervous about this discussion, know that you're not alone; Author Lisen Stromberg candidly opens up about her own difficulty with the topic in this article. There are also resources at your local Rape Crisis Center available to help you. 

And if people do start talking about their own experiences, be patient and open to helping them however they are ready for you to be there for them. Dr. Liza Gold, another guest of Diane Rehm and a clinical professor of psychiatry says that, "blaming the victim for misbehavior is often a common [negative] response." If someone does open up to you about being a survivor and you're unsure of how to proceed don't hesitate to call or instant message the hotline at RAINN where there are professionals in the field to help you and to help you be there for that individual in the best way. 

Don't just let this moment pass by without acknowledgement, like so many other news headlines do. Allow sexual violence to become a household word because doing that is a first step in creating a world free from sexual violence.