Collusion & Confusion: The “Loyalty” Crisis at Penn State

  1. a secret agreement, especially for fraudulent or treacherous purposes; conspiracy.
  2. Law. a secret understanding between two or more persons to gain something illegally, to defraud another of his or her rights, or to appear as adversaries through an agreement.

I once had dinner with a counselor who worked for a nonprofit organization that supports victims of domestic violence.  One of her programs involved recruiting men who did not have a history of DV to meet with and counsel men who had been identified as abusers.  I am fortunate to know a lot of quality guys who (I thought) would be great in this role, and I mentioned I would like to make some referrals.

Her words were slow and measured, and I can’t forget them.

“It’s not as easy as finding great guys.  It is a very complex dynamic when men talk, and it takes an unusual person to avoid colluding with the abuser.”

This was years ago, and I still don’t think I’m over it.  I was instantly very upset and even angry and defensive internally when I heard her words.  These were my best guys, my husband, my brother-in-law, lifelong friends I was bringing her and she thought they had the potential to collude with these horrible, abusive, violent criminals?  I was offended, and though I never said anything but, “Thank you, I’ll think about that,” I did not pursue getting involved with the program.

In my heart I know the real reason I was upset by her words, and that is because I knew instantly that they were true.

All of us have the potential to become lost when we get involved with very layered and complicated relationships.  This is because it can be overwhelming, and seems instantly easier in a tough spot to just deal with a small moment in time.

I’m counseling this guy, and he just said “Sometimes my wife just gets so mouthy it wears me out, you know?  She won’t do anything I tell her, I just lose it, I smack her around to make her be quiet.  You’ve been there, right, man?”  And I say, “Right man, I know.  Marriage is tough.”  Because I’m thinking, what do I say? Maybe I can help him by relating, by gaining his trust……

And as easy as that, you are IN.  I’ve seen it a thousand times, both men and women, people not wanting to ignite or exacerbate an already volatile situation and you just think, I’ll get past this and then we will figure it out.  I’ve done it, and I bet you have, too.

Sometimes, maybe it’s the only way, and I know we all do the best we can with what we have where we are.  But this very sad and disappointing scandal at Penn State is a reminder that even good guys, the best guys, can get lost without a road map with a very simple set of directions, and from which you never — ever — deviate.

When someone commits a violent crime against another person, there cannot be time to buy and layers to work through before we take action.  That action must result in the perpetrator being confronted and held accountable by law enforcement.  Too often we seem to think that our calling the police is what gets a person in trouble, and of course that’s crazy.  When you punch your spouse in the face, or when you engage a child in a sex act (either with or without their implied consent) you are in trouble of your own making.

We can’t rely on the minimum required by institutional procedures and policies.

Decide with me today that you will call the police when you have knowledge of a crime against another person, and especially against a child.  Don’t ask questions, and don’t wait.  Decide with me today that loyalty to a just and peaceful society that protects children is the only “winning team” you care to be on.

(Here is the most haunting article on this situation I have read to date:

13 thoughts on “Collusion & Confusion: The “Loyalty” Crisis at Penn State

  1. Are you serious? Did you “instantly” know that the best men in your life would collude with abusers?! Just like that?! Whew! I feel downright indicted – make that convicted, and not in a religious sense – by this one merely because I’m a male. Wrong direction, wrong conclusions this time. Please tell me I’m misreading.

    • Ok. You’re misreading. The point is not that the men in her life (or any men, for that matter) were suddenly known to collude with abusers, but that knowing that a man is good is not sufficient to know that he will also be firm and stand the line when confronted with a difficult situation. In the counseling example, it’s very easy to just agree in order to avoid the situation, slightly harder to directly confront them and tell them it’s wrong, but incredibly difficult to respond in a way that allows them to actually realized that what they are doing is wrong. Simply being a good person is not enough to be a good counselor. You have to be able to help other people understand what it takes to be a good person.

      • Thanks, David. Yes, that is where I was coming from, and please make note I do not see this as male problem, though that was the example I used. What I realized is that it is harder than it seems many times to implement “right,” especially when you are trying to navigate in a delicate manner. That is why I now believe we have to have a foregone plan of action, all of us, before we are confronted with situations that in hindsight everyone seems to think should have been a cut and dried course. Make the commitment ahead of time to be loyal to the right thing, and it may cut back on these horrible ethical quagmires.

    • Though I understand your emotional reaction to this, because it is exactly the one I had to the original comment myself. Do note that the comment is “It takes an unusual person” — in other words, we are all more prone to without intent make choices that result in collusion. It is much, much harder than it appears in many cases IF we are without a commitment to the right loyalties in advance. Now, what are “the right loyalties” — that is a book, not a post, right? I have few things that are totally clear to me, and child abuse is one of those things.

  2. child abuse and racism are totally clear to me. I hope I never let anyone get by with a racist joke and for sure child abuse. I am amazed that Paterno didn’t pursue the issue until his close associate was in jail. That has to be who Paterno really is beause it seems a given that he would expose the abuser right now and stay on it until the guy was in jail. Paterno may be a lifelong nice guy but look what he didn’t do when children were being sexually assualted–that negates a life time of nice.

    • I don’t know. I really don’t know. It’s a pretty scary commentary on human capacity to focus on self-interest and meaningless obsessions. I think we all have this potential, and the best we can do is try to learn from something like this. There is plenty to judge, too, but also lots of opportunity for self-reflection.

  3. As a former protective service worker, I have grappled with this kind of situation many times and have come out knowing that children are being abused in hidious ways every minute of every day. I still hate to think about it. My brother, a sweet dear man said to me that this kind of thing is exagerated in the press. I told him that I knew better but I think he did not believe me.

  4. Thank you for articulating this issue. – I am engaged in a master’s degree program for school counseling, and a constant question at the back of my mind is; if I’m strong enough to do/say the right thing *all the time*? Is my road map so clearly laid out that I’m never tempted to ‘understand’, and in turn validate, the circumstances leading up to violence?

    The last thing I want to do is enable dangerous behaviors through complacency.

    I’m the first person to run into a “burning building” but burning buildings are clear threats, often (unless you directly observe an act) the aftermath is heresay and parties who are complicit are trying to absolve themselves… You have to be above the manipulation of the offenders, you have to be stronger than all their compelling tales and justifications. I suspect the majority of cases are *not* clearly defined.

    I suppose at this point I should probably go pull up CNN and get the details of the case. I’ve heard about it but have been avoiding it because I can only fit so much human suffering in my brain per day.

    • I don’t know, friend. I’ve been avoiding it for several days and decided to go back into the news stories again today. It’s just insanely dark and disturbing, and it appears that it will only get more so as we learn the depths of the abuse. It’s starting to give me headaches and other types of physical stress.

      Thank you for your comment, and for telling me that you relate to the issue I am exploring. It’s a really difficult issue.

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