Scott Paterno said, “is my dad’s life becomes a really useful tool to have a broader discussion of both how we address these types of problems, how we train people to see them and everything else.”
“These types of problems,” in this case, are the Jerry Sanduskys of the world.
Last spring, Stop It Now!, a Massachusetts-based non-profit that works to prevent child sexual abuse, began a pilot program with the 14 state universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to train university employees who work with minors on campus on how to create safer conditions for children and prevent them from being victimized.
The 149 employees included administrators, faculty, counselors, athletic directors, legal counsel, communication director, students — basically, anyone who might deal with the summer camps that many schools host. They are trained to look for the signs of “nice-guy predators,” because that is the profile of the Sanduskys who prey on children. They appear to be respectable members of the community. They mentally seduce their peer adults. Then they seduce the children around them.
The news release said that Stop It Now! created the pilot program “through the generosity of a donor.” That donor is underwriting the $240,000 to fund the pilot program. That donor is Sue Paterno, Joe’s widow and the one-time matriarch of the entire Penn State community.
“You can look at it,” Scott Paterno said, “and say, hey, look, here’s a guy who tried to do in every other instance, every other documented instance, tried to do the right thing to the best of his ability,'” Scott said. “And here’s this one situation, we can debate whether or not he could have done more. But let’s not debate the fact that had he been equipped with better understanding, had he known exactly what he was dealing with, had he been trained to see what he was dealing with, had he been told how to handle this particular problem, would have dealt with it.”
This spring, Stop It Now! and the PASSHE system will hear assessments of the pilot program, both from participants and an independent evaluator based at the University of New Hampshire. The hope is to expand the program beyond the borders of Pennsylvania.
“Our evaluations are showing that it’s an effective program,” said Deb Donovan Rice, executive director of Stop It Now! “We’re real happy with what’s being accomplished. It wouldn’t have ever happened without Scott and Sue and the whole Paterno family.”
To the people who look at what happened at Penn State and are sure they would have been able to see what Jerry Sandusky hid in plain sight for 35 years, the pilot program may look like an attempt at penance — too little, too late. As if the motivation to stop child sexual abuse, to prevent another college community from enduring what Penn State has endured, isn’t enough.
Call it what you will. But while the rest of us pointed fingers and debated and dithered and pulled out our righteous indignation, Sue Paterno tried to solve the problem. As it turns out, locating the legacy of Joe Paterno on the road to redemption isn’t hard at all.