Will You Talk To Your Kids About the Penn State and Syracuse Scandals?

Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach at the center of a child-abuse scandal that has ensnared the school.


The Penn State and Syracuse University child abuse scandals have focused our attention on the possibility of something like this happening to our own children.

Is protecting an allegedly upstanding citizen more important than protecting kids? In the case of Penn State, apparently the answer was yesThose who witnessed former coach Jerry Sandusky’s behavior, or had reason to suspect him, but decided not to act, are equally guilty of this crime.

Syracuse basketball’s former associate head coach Bernie Fine’s sexual abuse scandal has further increased worries that sports and coaches might be the perfect cover for perpetrators.

It seems every community has been touched by similar instances of abuse by a trusted coach. Coronado and La Jolla have experienced their own versions of student-athletes being abused by coaches.

The Centers for Disease Control offers a grim statistic regarding child sexual abuse; one out of every four girls, and one out of every six boys has been abused or victimized by sexual misconduct.

One positive thing to come out of the publicity about these scandals is that they offer teachable moments for parents to discuss with their kids what sexual wrongdoing is about, and hopefully avoid them from becoming victims.

Parents Talk takes on the difficult topic of how parents can address these mortifying issues with their kids.

Tonia Accetta: The protection of our children is of the utmost importance, as it is clear that there are many people living among us who would take advantage of them. It sickens me to think of these poor children having to go through these painful acts that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, while adults sat back and let it continue. We must educate our children on this topic and encourage them to speak out for themselves, to be aware and to speak up. These kids were given gifts that were to good to be true, so as the old saying goes “If it sounds to good to be true, It probably is!” 

Tam Dorow: The Penn State, Syracuse and Coronado Navy Swim Association child sexual abuse cases are just the ones brought to our attention by the media. Sadly, there are thousands, if not millions, more of these crimes occurring around the world. As heinous as these crimes are, it is deplorable to know there were so many people who could have stopped them and did nothing, or worse, covered them up to protect the perpetrators. 

We must ask ourselves how as a society can we change this situation around so that when someone is accused of a sexual crime we investigate it like any other crime, especially if that someone is a child.

Although we do not discuss crimes in our homes, when the Penn State situation erupted we had to. Because my son, like so many boys, loves sports and watches ESPN religiously. This case was all over the news, nearly impossible to avoid if you are an American sports fan. It was an opportunity for us to sit our children down and talk about what it means to have your personal space invaded: physically, visually or emotionally; by anyone, including: parents, teachers, coaches, priests, doctors, babysitters, ANYONE. This is wrong and kids need to KNOW their right to personal privacy and basic human respect. If the first person you tell does nothing, go tell the next person until you find someone who would help you and stop the abuse.

We have a responsiblity as human beings to do everything to stop sexual abuse immediately, and at the very least alert law enforcement to investigate. I don’t care whether you are required by law to report it or not. There are some things more important than your job, the next promotion, or the next million dollars.  When we turn a blind eye or cover up child sexual abuse, we are condoning the crime, making us as morally corrupt as the violators. Of course, none of us want to bear witness to any crime, let alone a sexual crime, but whatever inconvenience we may experience, think of the impact this crime has on the victims and future victims. These are never one-off incidents. These criminals will strike again – it’s only a matter of when and to whom. 

Kurt Sauter: It is always hard to fathom how these molestation scandals could occur. Strangers on the side of the road are clear threats to our kids. Trusted institutions are less scary. Institutions with a long and respected history seem less likely to be a source of danger.

The Penn State and Syracuse scandals are not new. Locally there was the Coronado Navy Swim Association and also La Jolla Country Day. The scandals with the Catholic Church and even the United States Congress were very disturbing.

Is it that large institutions that have a reputation to protect provide cover for predators or do predators gravitate to the institutions to take advantage of the prestige of the organization to pressure victims to not report the incidents?

Another thing that puzzles me about these scandals is the fascination of parents with celebrity. Why would any parent be so enthralled with a celebrity like Michael Jackson or a famous football program like Penn State’s that they would allow their child to spend the night with a man outside of their parental supervision? Boggles my mind. That is the first thing parents can do to keep their children safe – proper supervision.

Another step is good communication. Let them know that they need to tell you anything that happens out of the ordinary. Children need to trust their parents more than anyone else. As much as you can, you should cultivate a relationship that is immune to a stranger telling your kids that they should keep secrets from their parents. This can only happen if you trust them and believe what they tell you.

What makes that really difficult is that young kids are reluctant to take responsibility for their actions and sometimes blame others. Do you believe your child when they blame problems in school on the teacher? Best we can do is to stress personal responsibility for our kid’s actions by telling them to be open about everything they are doing – good or bad. Eliminating any culture of cover-ups is at least a step in the right direction.

Suzette Valle: It may be that after the Penn and Syracuse University scandals broke, it opened the door for other kids to come forward with similar abuse stories after being silent to protect themselves because the perpetrator was well-respected in their community or school.

It is imperative that parents have an open dialogue with their kids as soon as they are old enough to join organized sports. Talking about the role of a coach and what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior is important. But the conversation shouldn’t be limited to just physical boundaries. Kids should also let you know if they witness inappropriate language and other unacceptable conduct on the field towards them and their peers.

As parents, we can’t act on every thing kids complain about regarding a coach or practice. However, suffering at the hands of a coach, who has as much influence in shaping their lives as a teacher, is completely unacceptable.

As kids get older and have more frank conversations with their parents, they’ll hopefully get in the habit of sharing sensitive information and won’t hold back because they’ll trust us to believe them over the adult.  


Tonia Accetta is stay-at-home mom of a teenage boy and a preteen girl. She moved to Coronado in 2002 with her husband of 15 years.

 Tam Dorow emigrated from Vietnam when she was 10. She worked at all of the Big 3 U.S. car companies and has been a stay-at-home mom of two for the last 10 years.

Kurt Sauter is a father of two sons, works part-time as a chief engineer and system architect and volunteers with Coronado youth sports organizations.

Suzette Valle is a 20-year Coronado resident who was recognized by Time Warner as one of the local “50 Best Moms” in 2006. She has appeared on the Dr. Phil Show and blogs at MamarazziKnowsBest.com.