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Survivors of sexual abuse appalled by Penn State unrest

By Madison Park, CNN
updated 11:44 AM EST, Fri November 11, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Survivors of sexual abuse say they're appalled with unrest at Penn State
  • Some students condemned the actions by the crowd Wednesday
  • Survivors says students are short-sighted and don't understand abuse

(CNN) -- How does a survivor of sexual abuse respond to students rioting at Penn State?

"You're not getting it. You just don't get it," said Dave Lorenz who was abused by a priest as a teen.

"It's just stupid youthfulness."

Earlier this week, legendary head football coach Joe Paterno was removed in the midst of a scandal involving sexual abuse allegations against a former defensive coordinator, Jerry Sandusky.

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What started as an apparent celebration of Paterno turned into a riot in the Pennsylvania town of State College. The crowd tipped over a news van and decried the media in anger Wednesday night. They held signs in support of "JoePa" -- a nickname for Paterno.

Some said their frustration stemmed from the media's focus on Paterno, rather than the charges against Sandusky.

Watching footage of Penn State students rioting in the streets Wednesday night, Lorenzo shuddered, then hung his head.

What bothered Lorenz is that students "rallied around (Paterno's) house, cheering him up."

"The kids up there just don't understand what this does," he said.

"Stop thinking of the adult and start thinking of what happens to a child that goes through this. You love the adult, you may not know the kid. Start thinking of the kid and the horror they go through, because it's hell."

Paterno has been under scrutiny because of his response to allegations brought to him in 2002 by a graduate assistant. The assistant allegedly said he witnessed Sandusky, now 67, having sex with a young boy in a shower at the campus football complex, according to a grand jury indictment.

Paterno reported the allegations to his boss and Pennsylvania's attorney general said it appeared Paterno had met his obligations under state law. But critics said the coach should have reported the suspected abuse to police.

Sandusky is accused of sexual offenses, child endangerment and "corruption of a minor" involving eight boys.

Many within the Penn State community condemned the crowd's actions. In the campus newspaper The Daily Collegian, an editorial read: "Wednesday night was an embarrassment for Penn State... The way students reacted set our university two steps back."

Penn State grapples with conflict over coach's firing, horrific allegations

Earlier this week, as questions about the coach's action mounted, students began swarming Paterno's home. The gatherings had the tone of a pep rally.

Kayla Garriott, a 22-year-old college student who was sexually abused as a child, said the open support for Paterno was disrespectful to survivors.

"That's the first thing people look at -- that their football team is without their head coach that's been there so many years. Nobody looks at the eight children."

The rioters are "never going to be in those children's shoes. It's not about football. It's about eight children who are never going to get back their lives back. They're going to live with this the rest of their lives. They might not get over that."

This kind of spectacle could even make abused kids more reluctant to go to the police, she said.

The Penn State scandal prompted numerous calls from sexual abuse survivors, said Barbara Dorris, the outreach director at Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

"I have talked to people all over the country who have dealt with their abuse," she said. "This is bringing it all back. It's so upsetting. They were crying. They were angry."

The reaction of the crowd could send an unintended message to children and teenagers who've been abused: They may feel blamed for what happened to the football team and the rioting, said Dorris, who was also abused as a child.

It's a "horrible statement that a winning football team is more important than the safety of the children. It mirrors what happened in the (Catholic) church."

SI.com: Penn State tragedy shows danger of making coaches false idols

Jerry Needel, a Penn State alum who graduated in 1999, watched the news unfold and felt he had to do something.

"This just shook my beliefs and a big part of my identity to the core," he said.

He started a campaign to shift the attention to supporting victims of child abuse, by raising money for RAINN, which stands for Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

In addition, some Penn State students are planning to dress in blue for their next football game to support the victims of child abuse worldwide.

Jennifer Marsh, the director of the National Sexual Assault Hotline said the news story is bringing awareness and facilitating a national discussion about abuse, a topic often cloaked in secrecy.

"The biggest takeaway we've seen is just the outpouring of support to victims and survivors."

National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800-656-4673

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