On Penn State, Sexual Assault and Silence...

5 years ago

Through most of my summer of triathlon training, my inner monologue always began with “What Would Diana (Nyad) Do?”  Whenever I thought that I couldn’t swim any longer or bike any further or run any faster, I would catch a glimpse of her in the middle of the ocean doing these extreme (to many of us) training swims of eight or nine hours and that would be just the thing I needed to get outside.

I spent my summer trailing her around the ‘net to see what she was up to and during both of her long distance swimming attempts, I was glued to my Twitter account to see what was happening. Once the summer was over,  I thought it was time to put away training and, on some levels, my following of Diana’s pursuits, because it felt like it was time to fix up my nest and prepare for winter sports.

Then, a few days ago, Ms. Nyad wrote an article that seemed as though she had been inside of my head and that made me wonder if the goal of the universe is to put people together, even virtually, for a common cause.

In her recent blog post ‘http://diananyad.com/penn-state-shocker-really/’, we are reminded that abuse, in all of its forms, often continues unchecked because of the fear that people have of sharing too much with others. And yet, isn’t that exactly what we need? Do we have any obligation as a society to protect each other whenever we can? I think so.  I also think that what first inspired me to write was the need to understand how we all have bad days, but how we can turn them into something positive.

Ms. Nyad’s blog post reminded me of the day I told my mom that my uncle, her youngest brother, had tried to kiss me after insisting I sit on his lap while he tried to put his hand inside of my underwear. Even at 8, I knew that it didn’t feel right and by telling my mom, I was trusting that she would fix it. Instead, she told me that I was the problem. That maybe I had misunderstood. When that failed to move me to change my story, she told me that I was, at 8, turning into a slut.

That morning in 1980 should have been the last time I tried to tell my mom anything, but instead it took another two years before she did something so awful that I never forgave her. But on that morning, she made me feel helpless so I did the one thing I knew would make a difference: I called my grandmother. It was years later that I learned that she had called her older sister and, together, they had called my uncle and told him that if he ever came near me again, they would have him arrested.  My mother never forgave me for telling anyone about my uncle. She preferred protecting him over protecting me.

But what I knew then was that there was someone in my life I could trust to take care of me. And that is the real issue with abuse.  It can only continue if people do not act to protect those who cannot protect themselves. It isn’t simply a legal issue, it is a moral one. Do we allow someone to commit an act of violence against another and turn a blind eye because it is the easiest thing to do or do we try our best to keep others from harm whenever we can?

It’s easy to say what we ‘should’ do in these cases and far more difficult to actually ‘know’ how we will respond. We can really only hope that we won’t do further damage because of silence.

As for Ms. Nyad’s post…

Penn State…what of it? I have a vested interest in the school’s ability to protect its campuses because A is a student. How do I explain my feelings about the University right now? It’s very easy: Penn State is not Jerry Sandusky. Penn State is over 90,000 students strong spread out around 24 physical campuses and online communities; it is over 500,000 alumni world-wide and it is a place where education is taken seriously. It is also a community of people who care about others and while the media focuses on the scandal of abuse, alumni and students have raised almost $500,000 for RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization.

What is the take-away? I hope that it is that the only time that the words ‘protection’ should be used in the context of violence is when it is used to describe how we respond to the victims, not to covering for the bad behaviors of the perpetrators. No one should be made to feel ashamed because they didn’t know how to speak up for themselves.

*for more information on RAINN and Penn State’s Support: 


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