Essence of Penn State report on Sandusky scandal: Protect children's innocence

The Penn State report is more than a plan to reform a college football program or a university that failed to prevent sexual abuse of minors by Jerry Sandusky. Any institution dealing with kids will find the report useful in protecting children as innocent beings.

Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo
Penn State students gather around a television on Penn State University's campus to listen to former FBI director Louis Freeh speak of his report on the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Freeh said the most "saddening and sobering" finding is the "total disregard" of Penn State leaders like the late football coach Joe Paterno for the safety and welfare of Sandusky's child victims.

Any institution that deals with kids can benefit from a Penn State internal report about the university’s failure to prevent the sexual abuse of children by football defensive coach Jerry Sandusky.

The report, issued Thursday by former FBI director Louis Freeh, lays out dozens of reforms on how to safeguard children from physical or emotional harm. One key reform: Don’t let a program like college football become so powerful that those in charge  ignore core values or puts its reputation above ethics or law – as legendary coach Joe Paterno and other top school leaders did.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of children use Penn State’s facilities. And yet the school failed to put “the needs of children above the needs of adults,” cited the 267-page report.

What exactly are those needs?

First and foremost, of course, it is the need of children to be kept from  harm. But Penn State and other organizations that work with youth must also diligently affirm and protect that which makes children unique: their innocence.

This point is sometimes lost as institutions like Penn State go about improving their procedures to become more accountable, transparent, and diligent in order to protect against sexual abuse.

To consistently cherish a child’s innocence can help any organization that takes care of kids. The Federal Communications Commission, for example, justifies many of its rules for language and sexual content on network TV with an understanding that children are innocent beings.

In Ireland, following last year’s revelations about sexual abuse of children by some Roman Catholic priests, prime minister Enda Kenny declared: “I want to do all I can to protect the sacred space of childhood and to restore its innocence. The children of this country are, and always will be, our most precious possession of all. Safeguarding their integrity and innocence must be a national priority.”

Every society appreciates the purity and guiltless joy of children. Or as 19th-century English writer Martin Farquhar Tupper put it:

“A babe in a house is a well-spring of pleasure, a messenger of peace and love: A resting place for innocence on earth; a link between angels and men.”

But modern life – such as increased sexual predation, Internet pornography, and, of course, drugs – has assaulted the lives of children despite their parents’ best efforts.

The Penn State scandal is the latest reminder of how much work is needed to uphold the rights of children to live out their innocence without fear of harm. Each reform proposed for Penn State – and perhaps for other institutions – must be implemented not only to protect children but also to support their inherent goodness.

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