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Editorial from Green Bay Press Gazette: We must be vigilant against child abuse

November 14, 2011

The following editorial appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette on November 12, 2011

A major delusion that could result from the scandal that has rocked Penn State University is that child abuse is confined to other places, not to Northeastern Wisconsin.

Evidence, unfortunately, tells us otherwise. We would be wise to heed the signs that indicate this social problem exists in our neighborhoods. We would be wiser still to learn from the mistakes that Penn State officials made and respond in a way that protects our children.

The poor judgment that brought down football icon Joe Paterno is amplified because the man’s public persona has been the antithesis of scandal throughout his coaching career. He was summarily dismissed from his job Wednesday because it became painfully obvious to university officials that the step Paterno took in reporting the alleged sex abuse of a child by one of his former assistant coaches nine years ago, while legally correct, was morally lacking. It was the equivalent of looking the other way when the need for proactive leadership was paramount.

The lessons that reach far beyond the Penn State campus should be studied here.

We have the new Willow Tree Cornerstone Child Advocacy Center in Green Bay that became necessary for abused children to have a place of refuge and a process that is victim-friendly. The need for the center is evidence enough that there is a problem that cannot be ignored. Center officials told the Green Bay Press-Gazette last week that 182 possible child-abuse cases β€” from Brown and several other area counties β€” were investigated in the facility’s first year of operation.

A single abuse case is excessive. A total of 182 is a social problem.

That there are so many suspected cases of abuse is no honor to the community, but the drive to raise money and build the center is testament to the commitment by law enforcement, medical and social services officials to combat it with the most effective means possible.

The Penn State case is a reminder that it isn’t the center’s responsibility to wipe out child abuse β€” sexual, physical or emotional. What too many Penn State officials failed to do, Paterno included, was to make the protection of children a greater priority than the protection of an institution’s reputation.

Every citizen witnessing or knowing about child abuse must act aggressively to stop it. Immediately. Not days, weeks, months or years later. That means notifying law enforcement officials.

Paterno didn’t. We must.


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