Two of the biggest headlines this month: the Occupy Wall Street Movement and Penn State sexual abuse expose. Both have awakened the nation to the extreme racial and economic inequalities that still exist in America. And while a lot of people are probably a bit confused as to how the latter event has anything to do with race or class, since it is highlighted in the firing of a beloved coach, it is very much about power in America – or rather how little many Americans actually have.
There isn’t much information known about the identity of the eight alleged victims that have come forward thus far, but initial leaks depict mostly disenfranchised Americans-young, poor, “at risk,” some inner-city, kids of color who were enrolled in Sandusky’s non-profit Second Mile which was started in 1977 to help disadvantaged youth.
When we heard the non-profit described as an organization for “at risk” youth, the writing was on the wall.
For many it was the only explanation of how Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky was able to elude years of alleged child abuse — some which was even seen by employees of the University.
It was also the reason many others say that the head football coach, Joe Paterno, turned a virtual blind eye to the allegations even after an assistant told him he witnessed the crime.
While many, like commentator Maureen Dowd, lambasted the university for what they say was a cover-up to protect the Penn State “brand,” others say the issue is deeper than that. Because the men involved at the top of this case were White and the victims allegedly Black, poor, and men – or all of the above – issues of race, class and gender have been raised.
Some in the media have refused to comment on the matter since the boys’ race and socioeconomic status have yet to be officially revealed. But, as a plethora of similar stories regarding Black boys and sexual abuse have begun to emerge – last year it was Bishop Eddie Long and in Penn State’s wake there is Boston clubhouse manager Donald Fitzpatrick – there are signs that race, power, and vulnerability may be at play.
Studies show that race, sexual preference, and religion don’t necessarily matter when it comes to sexual abuse (reports on class haven’t been as clear), but differences emerge in reporting of incidents of assaults and prosecution of offenders, with a minimal number of Black men reporting abuse or winning cases, leaving them as the perfect group for predators to take advantage of.
Dr. Carl C. Bell, Director of the Institute for Juvenile Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and President of the Community Mental Health Council says that poor Black boys may be victimized more because of “their inability to pay for a lawyer, suspicions on telling police of the crime, and cultural stigmas surrounding sexual abuse in the black community.” Mainly, he says, they lack protection by parents and other community members that even middle class Black kids may have access to.
In a conversation with Politic365, he argues the Penn State situation exposes how disenfranchised and powerless these children are. “You got a guy in power whose loved by everyone. A lot of people are weak. They don’t have any integrity, so they turn a blind eye to this.” Without resources young black children in poverty have less of a chance to be protected from incidents like this. “You’re scared of the police, so you don’t go to them… Worse stuff happens to poor people of color. We’re the lepers. We’re the throwaways.”
He says that even though statistics are slim on exactly how many Black boys are sexually abused [A report by the organization Black Survivors put the number at 1.9 million African American men that have been abused. Overall the national figure is about 1 in 6 nationally], he believes the issue of Black child molestation is rampant.
Professor C. Sean McGuffey of Boston College, who studies race, abuse, and trauma, says both institutional and psychological issues were most likely at play in the Penn State case.
“We have very powerful men doing very bad things to people without power. Whenever men behave badly in high power we tend to protect them, particularly affluent White men. That’s what institutions do. We cover them up,” notes McGuffey talking to Politic365.
And while he says that it may have been economically beneficial for the men and the University to keep the matter under wraps as well, he also wants to stress psychological trauma that people go through when trying to deal with an issues like child molestation.
“It’s hard for people to witness. It destroys your well-being. Once your schemata is shattered on how the world works and you’re unable to respond…sometimes people’s response is not going to the police, it’s often going into PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder]. The larger issue is macro, is institutionalized, but micro is, I don’t know how to deal with it.”
Reading the works of scholar bell hooks, a third theory may be available: people just don’t know how to deal with Black male sexuality. In her 2004 book, We Real Cool: Black Men and Sexuality, she observes: “Because this society has deemed black males hypersexual, the sexual abuse of black boys is simply not acknowledged. Or when it is acknowledged the presumption is that it has not been traumatic.”