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: http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/entry/5881996/33197750)

Beyond Teddy Bears and Candles – Where Do We Go from Here?

The national response to the post Saving Everyone’s Baby was, quite simply, astonishing.  As a writer, a mother, and a child advocate, I woke up around 3:00 a.m. the morning I wrote the post, just staring into the darkness.  Like many of us, I was struggling with how to process the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial.  It was not so much that I thought it was the “right” or the “wrong” verdict — I have no idea.  But I realized that no matter what the verdict had been, it would have given me no comfort.

I got up a couple of hours later and wrote the post.  I was trying to do what all writers do, use words to process emotional and intellectual issues.  I was trying to work through my questions in a way that didn’t make me part of the pitchforks and torches crowd.  I was in pain, but the writing helped me understand what was really making me feel so sad and conflicted.

I sent the post to my friend and fellow advocate, Jim McKay.  I put it on Facebook.  I also asked readers to share it, which I almost never do.  What happened in the next few hours was a complete surprise to me — 4,000 plus people around the country began reading, sharing, and commenting on Saving Everyone’s Baby.

I want specifically to thank the following people and organizations for being part of this dialogue:

I don’t know everyone by name and every place where things happened, but Jim McKay shared this as well:  “Your post is getting great buzz within the child abuse prevention community. It has been re-posted by organizations and advocates in Washington state, Idaho, New Jersey and Oklahoma, as well as by some of our folks in Parkersburg and Princeton.”

While the vast majority of comments about the post were positive, there were serious frustrations expressed by some readers, and I honestly want to thank those people as well.  One angry comment was by a woman who thought I was trying to tell her she did not have a right to be angry.  I re-read the post and I don’t see that anywhere, but she helped me further articulate what I am saying.  I am saying feel whatever you need to feel, but don’t stop with that and don’t be satisfied with that.  Move on.

We don’t do a good job sometimes of moving on after something like this.  We are great at going to a funeral.  We know how to grieve.  But we don’t seem to know very much about how to avoid the next opportunity to grieve.

That’s where the other voice of frustration came in, someone who was upset that people seem to only speak out and come together when a pretty white girl dies.  And you know what?  He or she (I’m not sure of the person’s identity) has a point.  To some degree, we still seem to classify “values” of human beings, even children.  I hope that is not really what the dynamic is.  I tend to think it is something else, something also not good, but something else maybe we can do more to change.

Bear with me here, because this will be hard to say without pushing buttons.  I think there sometimes is a gap between the group of people making up the largest percentage of “helpers” and the groups of people most in need of help.  That would make sense.  People with resources are able to help those without, it’s just basic math.  But when the people with resources (time, money, connections, influence) don’t really understand what is happening in the worlds of those they are trying to help, a feeling of hopelessness can set in for everyone.  I think this thing with a larger perceived responsiveness to a white child’s death is part of the dominant “helper group” feeling more connected to that kind of child and therefore feeling more of an opportunity possibly to get involved.

When you can’t break into someone else’s world, you don’t know how to help and you eventually learn how to care less.  You focus on what you think you can fix.  If this is true, then it has a chance of changing, and that should give us all some hope.

But where do we go from here?

I don’t have magical answers, just a lot of questions.  But now because of you, I also have a spark of connection that may light a larger fire for change.  Change is a hard word.  I’ve been involved in prevention work for long enough now that I have a pretty good handle on the reality that an issue like child abuse and neglect is not going away any time soon.  It’s not going away because poverty is not going away, sexual abuse and incest are not going away, domestic violence is not going away, unintended pregnancy is not going away, and alcoholism and drug abuse are not going away.  The well-being of children is tied directly to the well-being of the family, and families will always face trouble.  We see it a lot in my home state, the cycle of families becoming stuck in one place with these issues, unable to chart a new course without years of effort and yes, assistance.

Love and care for children is not political, or at least it should not be.  But there was some questioning of what it meant when I said, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn” with regard to what parents “deserve.”  It means that I believe if we are going to slay this monster, we have to look beyond our judgments of adults in the equation.  We have to look at the children first and foremost, and drop this craziness about who is worthy of help.  All children are worthy of help, and if their parents’ behavior gets in the way of focusing on the kids, I say just let it go.  Our national policy conversations sometimes seem to just talk right past children as if they are not even there, or as if they are some afterthoughts to what makes this nation strong.  If we put a roadblock on our ability to change outcomes for children because we don’t want to “reward” parents for “bad choices,” we are just fueling the next generation of dysfunction.

It boggles the mind.

I have set  up an email specifically to manage conversations with people who want to write follow-up posts here on some of the many complex issues not addressed in the original post.  The address is essediem@gmail.com, and I welcome anyone who wants to write on additional and connected issues.  I do require transparency of authorship, so please be prepared to include a short bio about yourself if you plan to write for Esse Diem.  While I have extended this opportunity to several specific people, I don’t know who if anyone will take me up on it.

I do know this blog strives to honor children and childhood.  I do not write about the issue of child abuse and neglect very often, as I prefer to leave that to the professionals.  But I am open to making some space here for continued discussion at the discretion of those who know more than I.

Until the next post, thank you all again for your time and your commitment to children.  Some days it is hard to know what to do next, but I think getting up and knowing we need to do something other than grieve is a good first step.

This Ain’t No Foolin’ Around

Every politician in a rural state with an aging demographic wants to know The Answer to The Magic Question:

“How do we get young people to move here and stay here to start careers and families?”

I probably shouldn’t think this is funny, but for some reason I do.  The situation itself is not funny, but the bizarre machinations around constructing arguments to lure 20-somethings to rather than away from Appalachia are a little bit amusing.  Part of the problem looks like this:  We say we want young, talented, intelligent, educated, passionate people to want to call West Virginia home.

Fair enough.

But then we talk about the offer, and about the very people we want to attract, as if they are not wise enough to see what is written in flames about 50 feet tall.

This ain’t no party.  This ain’t no disco.  This ain’t no foolin’ around.  

True story, I had some dialogue with a public school employee in a neighboring county last week in which he disclosed he’s had 3 students talk about suicide as the school year winds down.  This seems unusual, right……aren’t most kids thrilled for school to be out?

No.  Not any more and not here.  For an increasing number of children the end of school means three months of food insecurity and the lack of physical protection that comes from reporting to a public place every day.  It means hunger, and fear of violence, and isolation.  For many kids, it means exposure to serious drug abuse like methamphetamines and to its associated crime.

It means too much time on your hands and not enough of anything else.

This is but one aspect of our situation.  We don’t want to lead with such misery for obvious reasons — Don’t smart ambitious young people want to be in hip urban centers with lots of good times and easy living?  That’s what it looks like on TV anyway.  The thing is, I don’t think these people are the ones we really want and need.  So why are we trying to get them anyway?  No offense Jersey Shore and Gossip Girl; you’re entertaining and all, but you are the last thing we need over here.

This ain’t no party.

I say we market what we have for real and get the most hard-core world-changers we can. No one needs self-absorbed “what’s in it for me” types right now.  I’m not falling for the idea that these people are part of any solution.

This ain’t no disco.

We need that piece of the 20-something puzzle that wants more.  They’ve already done the research and they know that PR efforts to market the great outdoors and low rent is a weak sales pitch.  I’m betting we are on the edge of a different attraction…..the nation has suffered several years now of throwing off the costumes of wealth and easy money, sexy start-ups and Internet-driven marketing schemes.  McMansions, gargantuan gas-guzzling vehicles, and extravagant parties are dwindling and even a source of embarrassment.  We see more clearly what that all was, how false and how wasteful.  No one wants to churn that back up, they want to build on what’s real.

This ain’t no foolin’ around.

I’m not sure what is more real than the opportunity to turn away from “all for me” and turn towards “all for the world.”  Our world of Appalachia is in peril, and that is nothing new, but what may be new is the chance to harness global concern about our local issues to attract the right young people who will change the future of this state and consequently the world.

Life is short.  There are people out there who want to tell the stories of their youth as grand adventures in engaging serious problems with  their whole hearts. These are not the same people who want to tell stories of bar-hopping and overspending and trips to casinos.  These are people who are modern journalists and water quality scientists and child advocates.  They are health care specialists and teachers and professors.  They are small business entrepreneurs and artists and historians and contractors.  They are responsible natural resource leaders and sustainability experts.  Despite popular belief, they are lawyers too.  They are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

They know right from wrong, they know giving from taking, and yes, they are 20-somethings.

I don’t think they want a sales pitch or a hand out.  I think they want us to get out of the way and allow their innovation, perspective, and talent to change the future of this place.

Will we?

2018 Update: WordPress won’t let me embed this  video anymore, but you can watch it and listen to The Talking Heads perform Life During Wartime on YouTube.  Over 7 years later, it still hits home for me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVHNwBbkSj4

MTV’s “Skins”: Has the horse already bolted?

If you are a parent or child advocate, like it or not you should be aware of this program: MTV’s “Skins.”

I worked for a few years as a sexuality educator and advocate for adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives.  I find I am generally much more comfortable than most adults with the reality that teenagers are sexual people (well, actually, we all are from cradle to grave, but that’s another post).  Where I have always found discomfort is in the lies that marketers tell society in general and kids in particular in order to make a buck.

The video clip linked above is from an interview done by Anderson Cooper with a former reality TV star on MTV and with a representative of the program’s writers and marketers.  As when I did work directly with adolescents, I stick by my philosophy, if you want to know the truth about what’s going on with kids, listen to the kid before you listen to the adult.

The young woman in the interview is in fact no longer a teenager, but she has a perspective on the show that I believe trumps what anyone currently trying to make money off the program would put forth.  I am interested in anyone else’s opinion about the possible value of this program.  Truly, I like to think if I had a teenager in my family right now I would be bold enough to discuss the show with her.  While I am generally grossed out by the ongoing exploitation of children for money on every level, I have a feeling this is not all without value.

Rather than bunch up in outrage, we could see this as an opportunity.  When I watched the clips of the show, I had an unexpected feeling of flashback to my own teenage years.  It was not so much the specific situations as the feeling that now, as an adult, I was getting a look at a private world that I vividly remember wanting to keep under wraps from grown ups when I was that age.

Maybe as a parent thanks are in order.  Kids, MTV is not your friend, but it might be mom’s.  I think you were just busted.  Now turn off the TV, come over here and give me a hug.