Cain, Penn State Scandals Should Make America Face Everyday Sex Abuse

Herman Cain has opted for a blanket denial, asserting that the four women who have so far accused him of inappropriate sexual conduct belong to a Democratic Party conspiracy to deprive America of a businessman in the White House.

Plausible deniability runs even thinner at Penn State, where football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky has pled not guilty to charges of allegedly disgracing his position as an educator to prey on young boys. Joe Paterno, the university’s inspirational coach, and president Graham Spanier were fired by the board of trustees—long after the damage was done.

Away From Media Glare

Away from the media glare, however, girls, women and boys are quietly and helplessly violated in the privacy of darkened living rooms and bedrooms every single day across America. The crime scene may be a rural shack or a palatial suburban compound. The crime, however, is depressingly similar, often involving profoundly frustrated men, who try to find in sexual assault a sense of power that they desperately lack.

The frustration is an obvious byproduct of a common mindset that so consistently and loudly celebrates money, power and fame, leaving the majority of people with abiding feelings of inadequacy.

Beyond private homes, a pandemic of sexual abuse also infests educational institutions, places of worship and work. Countless priests, coaches, teachers, policemen, prison guards and bosses routinely harm their victims, often with complete impunity.

The powers of the U.S. Constitution have been used during the past several decades to protect American people of color in schools and workplaces, aboard buses and at lunch counters. Statutes have also been used to make significant strides toward providing parity and protection for women and those in the lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender community.

Yet the same laws are also respectful of a privacy, which offers the opportunity for sexual assault with children as the primary targets.

Legislating and enforcing private conduct are both difficult and inadvisable. Today an institutional tangle reaches from the federal level down to every neighborhood, involving armies of legislatures, prosecutors, law enforcement authorities, teachers, counselors and physicians who are entrusted with protecting the vulnerable from sexual assault.

Phone lines to report crime and to seek help abound and sex offenders are required to register in the communities where they live.

Yet only a small minority of criminals are stopped, let alone brought to justice.

Lifelong, Festering Wounds

Childhood abuse, be it sexual, psychological or physical, leaves lifelong, festering wounds, taking enormous mental and material tolls. The abused fill prisons, psychiatric wards and unemployment lines. They try to numb the paint with alcohol and other drugs, become rudderless and homeless. Most tragically, many become abusers themselves.

The issue is fraught with boundless guilt, shame and pain. It is hardly suitable as a part of a political candidate’s platform.

Cain is using the media megaphone to deny charges against him, even as he seeks the counsel of an attorney expert in libel laws in an attempt to fend off additional allegations. Yet he says nothing about measures he took during his long career to proactively fight sexual assault and harassment. He is equally silent about all that he would do as President of the United States to stem the tide of a national catastrophe.

Sandusky, a lifelong veteran of gyms, locker rooms and shower stalls, also cannot point to measures he took to ensure that the strong erotic element present in athletics would not escalate into sexual abuse.

Precisely because sexual assault is rampant, yet embarrassing and uncomfortable to discuss, it moves into the forefront of public attention for a brief, intense interval, only to be forgotten for long periods to come.

Americans, therefore, should look at the issue beyond all the sensationalism, shame and anger associated with it to initiate an ongoing national dialogue that reaches homes, schools, offices and prisons where sex crimes take place.

Victims of sexual abuse should be encouraged to step forward and share their stories because communities provide necessary protective measures when they do so.

Political leaders should be asked to clarify their position on predatory crimes against boys, girls and women, and pressed to state the steps they would take to keep the topic from slipping back into oblivion. From the seats of the major media to the smallest of classrooms and to the family dinner table, matters that have so long been hushed about with deep emotions should be articulated clearly and rationally.

Sexual assault, despite a common perception, does not come down to “he said, she said.” It is an indefensible crime against which all have to speak with one voice.