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Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Outraged by Joe Paterno Plans

by on April 25, 2014 6:30 AM

An organization that represents victims of child sexual abuse says it's outraged by an alumni plan to place a statue of the late Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno in downtown State College.

The university fired Paterno in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Subsequently, the university removed Paterno's on-campus statue and stored it at an undisclosed location. Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach and convicted pedophile, is serving 30 to 60 years in state prison for abusing 10 young boys. 

Recently, a group of alumni announced it intends to place a new statue of Paterno in downtown State College to make up for the statue the university removed. Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), issued a statement Thursday criticizing the plans.

"Paterno was not the most egregious wrongdoer in the Jerry Sandusky horror. But it's clear that, at best, he should have done more and at worst, he was a part of a school bureaucracy that turned a blind eye to suspicions about Sandusky's crimes," Dorris says.

Following Sandusky's indictment, Paterno released a statement saying in part, "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Later, former state investigator Frank Fina said in an interview with 60 Minutes that the evidence shows Paterno was not part of the alleged criminal cover up. Still, Fina agreed, Paterno should have done more to report the abuse.

"I don't see any need to judge him beyond his own words," Fina says. "He said it best, 'I didn't do enough. I should've done more.'"

Dorris argues the statue will negatively impact the reporting of child abuse.

"This hurtful decision will deter victims, witnesses and whistleblowers in child sex cases from protecting kids by reporting abuse, by reinforcing their often-justified pessimism that adult wrongdoers matter more than wounded kids and their fear that even if they speak up, powerful and popular grownups will usually escape being exposed or punished for ignoring or concealing child sex crimes," Dorris says.

Dorris also argues such an initiative will further victimize survivors "by showing them that many adults are willing to ignore or minimize their pain and honor a wrongdoer so they can feel good about a football team."

Further, Dorris called on Penn State to denounce the effort and criticized Penn State graduates for making donations to the project.

"A doctor's first job is to 'do no harm.' In child sex cases, that's the job of every caring adult. These alums are, in fact, doing harm. They should know better," says Dorris.

Organizers hope to place the statue outside of the Tavern Restaurant in November 2015.

One of the organizers, Ted Sebastianelli, is currently running for a seat on the Penn State Board of Trustees. In response to SNAP's statement, Sebastianelli told StateCollege.com, "I believe Penn Staters everywhere have felt nothing but a deep concern for all of the victims."

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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