Possibly 30+ years of pedophilia, carried out by a trusted football coach named Jerry Sandusky, who set up a charity to lure his victims. The coach enabled and protected by Penn State's church of football, with the Pope-like figure of Joe Paterno at the helm. Eight victims so far and more are coming forward.
Now at Syracuse University, associate head basketball coach Bernie Fine (pedophiles know all religions and no religion) has been placed on leave after two alleged victims have stepped forward. The police have opened an investigation regarding allegations of sexual abuse by him spanning from the 1970s to the 1990s.
Back to Penn State. The image of a helpless ten-year-old boy being raped by a powerful and trusted community figure, observed but not protected by a 30-year-old man who could have intervened but inexplicably failed to physically intervene, is so horrifying that there literally are no adequate words. At CNN, Bill Bennett says it's the "worst scandal in the history of college football." The New York Times' Michael Bérubé calls it "the worst scandal in the history of college athletics."
Bennett and Bérubé aren't going far enough. Penn State is the worst child abuse scandal in the history of the United States. It is going to be remembered as the turning point for children's rights in this country. The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and now the beginning of the Children's Rights Movement. We are bearing witness to moment when this movement will take root in a serious way.Sociologically speaking, this scandal is so bad because the culture's dominant groups are affected:
- Gender: Sexual abuse of girls is rampant and 25% of American women take psychiatric drugs for a "mental disorder." Can it be a coincidence that 15-25% of women are estimated to have been sexually abused as children? But it seems that the abuse of boys, coming now out of the closet, is somehow seen as worse.
- Class and race: Penn State students were 75% Caucasian as of Fall 2010 and costs about $45,000 a year for out-of-state dorm students. While the victims' identities are unknown, the alleged perpetrators and those who covered for them were (previously) considered "the very best" of what America had to offer. (Obviously this is classist, racist and ridiculous.) As one commenter put it, referring to Penn State months before the scandal broke: "To these Universities, to their turned-up-nose administration teams, and to the their majority of smug living-in-a-bubble, highly tenured, untouchable professors...to THEM may we send out a collective, very heart-felt C' MON MAN !!"
Because of Penn State, Generation Y - which was, after all, raised by Generation X "helicopter parents" - is going to become the most suspicious generation of parents ever. And they are well-equipped with social organizing skills, social media technology, and the willingness to use both.
For brands this is going to mean:
1. The end of Penn State as a brand. Even though the academic side was not involved, they are permanently tarnished. If the school does not close down, it will have to change its name.
2. The end of athletics as the basis of a college brand - schools will have to focus on education first
3. When athletic programs are used as selling points, they will have to emphasize diversity, inclusion, respect, fairness, transparency, and accountability.4. We will likely see a national brand of daycare facilities that are built into the workplace in a modular fashion - offered as an "ingredient brand" benefit by top employers. (Conversely, telecommuting will go even more mainstream.)
5. An opportunity to capitalize on the growing integration of children in adult life, first through daycare facilities at work, then through homeschooling and unpaid internships accepted for high school credit
6. The mainstreaming of homeschooling - with issues of sexual abuse and bullying at the forefront today, and the advent of distance learning technology, homeschooling will go from being "weird" and "non-credible" to being "standard" and even a sign of prestige, showing that children are self-directed achievers (we are already seeing this to some extent)
7. The growth of part-time teachers, childcare workers, etc. as people who seek such low-pay, low-prestige positions full-time not only face more stringent background checks and increased licensing requirements, but become socially stigmatized as possible pedophiles
8. Police or private security forces specifically dedicated to child welfare at school, not just metal detectors
9. The standardization of self-defense training for children in the public schools
10. An "Angie's List" type social network dedicated specifically to discussing people who work with and care for children
11. A colored bracelet or symbol for speaking out against child sexual abuse, together with a national 1-800 number for reporting suspected abuse12. The end of "feminism" and the beginning of "humanism" as recognition grows that power-abusers are equal-opportunity; but a simultaneous emphasis on the male experience of abuse; a "Dr. Oz"-like figure who writes a pop-culture book and is anointed as an authoritative source on male recovery from sexual abuse
13. A brand of surveillance technologies for children - e.g. wrist monitors, pen cameras, cameras in shoes, jackets, hats, etc.
14. More broadly, the growth of interest-based coalitions as opposed to large institutional authorities, which will find themselves at the center of growing distrust and even disrespect
15. Even more broadly, with the death of trust in social institutions and an extremely challenging economy, the growth of self-help culture in every respect - from education, to work, to home repair, self-protection and community policing. (I call it "Lifehacker" culture, for the website Lifehacker.com.)
All of these developments center on a single question that continues to lack a satisfactory answer: "Why didn't anybody tell (when it happened)?"The answer is, back in the "olden days," people perceived that their survival depended on not telling. They would be shunned, stigmatized, removed from their positions. "You just can't tell Jerry (Sandusky) no," one Penn State victim said. Even today, it is still very difficult for a victim to speak out: Just ask the women who alleged misconduct against Herman Cain what it feels like to have your entire reputation smeared against the wall.
In the future, survival will depend precisely on telling. The more vocal, transparent and organized you are, the larger your trust-based network, the higher your credibility and the better your chance of getting anything done. And so the revelations at this school and the reaction by the public mark a turning point in history.
At this point, from a branding/PR perspective, all organizations would be wise to take heed. What happened in Pennsylvania is going to have a domino effect on the rest of the country. Silence is no longer golden, either for perpetrators or their protectors. The victims have had it - and they are going to speak up.