On Leadership, Penn State, and an Ounce of Prevention

Jerry Sandusky

Preventing Childhood Sexual Abuse in the Workplace: An Ounce of Prevention…

For the last couple of weeks the sports news, and all of the news for that matter, has been saturated with the Penn State University child sex abuse scandal with Jerry Sandusky at the center. The winds of scandal have already taken their toll with the terminations of coach Joe Paterno, Penn State University president Graham Spanier,  Penn State athletic director Timothy Curley and university Senior Vice President Gary Schultz as they all lost their jobs.

And of course the reputation of the university has taken a significant hit…

This article does not debate whether the legendary coach of Penn State football should have been fired. The time has come to take a proactive look at your organization in order to minimize the possibility of such an occurrence and scandal.

Leaders, by Definition, Act Proactively

Analyze the Organizational Culture

Joe Paterno & Coach kDuke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski defended fired Penn State coach Joe Paterno as being from a generation far removed from such things as sexual assault of minors or that Paterno’s generation may have been ill-equipped to handle such situations.

However, even if we accept the misguided assumption that leaders of advanced age (Paterno is 84-years old) are not trained to deal with sexual abuse issues, it does not relieve them of responsibility for the cultural landscape of their organization.

Nor does it relieve them of the responsibly to protect basic human dignity and the innocence of childhood.

When I speak of cultural landscape, I mean the we are speaking of accepted official norms of behavior as well as tacit norms of behavior. By “tacit” we mean “unofficial and unspoken, but accepted by default.”

Lurking Scandals Ahead

Example of Pending Doom

XYZ Corporation has several hundred employees and has been a part of the community for years. The CEO and founder is a respected leader and has been recognized and awarded several service awards. What the CEO does not know is that sexual promiscuity and illegal drug usage has become an accepted part of the cultural landscape within his company.

New employees are often approached with offers of “friendship with benefits” (which means “sex.”) 

One might suggest that since these are consenting adults then it’s acceptable. However, in this example, the firm occasionally offers temporary jobs to high school students to do filing and reception tasks. Some employees occasionally bring a child to the office, even if briefly. The practices are ingrained and often go unnoticed or unchallenged.

A scandal is just around the proverbial corner.

Even an aging leader of a cutting edge and trendy organization must establish accountability systems to prevent or at least minimize risk from the above scenario. Some organizations have employed “secret shoppers” and “secret workers” who do their undercover work and provide a report that reveals potential risks as well as immediate action steps to minimize risk and liability.

Leaders should be aware of the culture and subcultures within their organization.

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Being the Adult

Establish a “NO EXCEPTION” Culture

Once the leaders of an organization put measures in place to prevent child sexual abuse in the workplace, changes begin to occur.

Prospective perpetrators find it difficult to act on their desires.

However, make no mistake, the potential always remains as they assume a quieter and more invisible approach. This means that the leadership at all levels must broadcast a no exception rule for intolerance of sexual abuse and educate all employees in the policies and reporting procedures.

There is the caution that with a history of inaction the risk of equal and opposite reaction is increased, meaning a potential of false reports.

Thus, it is important to establish and reinforce reporting rules and procedures.

Responsibility in Leadership

Establish a “SAFE PLACE”

Several years ago I became aware of a useful resource to use as a beginning point to create policies and culture-scaping systems that minimize the risk of child sexual abuse. The book and CD titled Safe Place: Guidelines for Creating an Abuse-Free Environment is directed to churches and non-profit organizations, but any business would find it as a useful resource.

The Penn State University scandal offers an opportunity to take a “bird’s eye” look at our organizations. Theirs was a complex educational institution where there is a mixing and mingling of adults of all ages with minors.

In that institution are athletic facilities including group showers. Perhaps your organization has no such facilities but ask yourself this:

“Do employees sometimes bring a child to the workplace even for a few minutes?”

If so, then create a safe place for all.

An Ounce of Prevention

Follow Practical Steps

Here are some actions that may prevent child sexual abuse:

  • Properly screen any and everyone who will be working in the same area as minors.
  • Include training during orientation for all employees that includes prevention policies and reporting procedures.
  • Install transparent windows in office doors and make it a policy that they remain uncovered or unobstructed by blinds or curtains as a practice. Doors without glass should remain open.
  • Establish a two-person rule for areas where adults interact with minors.
  • Establish surveillance practices of managers who will roam around the facility in a non-routine fashion.
  • Establish rest room guidelines that encourage parents and approved childcare workers to care for children. No exceptions!
  • Minors should never be allowed to supervise other children without supervision of an adult.

Sexual predators dislike exposure, light, and transparency.

They will often change jobs or relocate to where they may hide their predatory behavior.

Shining the  Leadership Light

Be Transparent and Forthcoming

There is nothing that will totally prevent child sexual abuse in the workplace. When an incident does occur leaders must be genuinely transparent, cooperative, and forthcoming.

In the past some leaders reacted to incidents by trying to control the flow of information with the intention of limiting damage to the company image, brand, reputation, or profits.

Leaders must abandon this course of action and understand that transparency is the best way to get through the crisis and preserve the company. Learn from the crisis rather than creating more damage.

What are some additional actions that may prevent child sexual abuse in the workplace? How do cultural sexual attitudes affect this issue?  Take a walk around your organization and evaluate your risk of an incident. What policies and education are already in place in your company to prevent child sexual abuse? Do you agree with the “transparency policy” set forth in the article in the event of an incident?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Dr. Tom Cocklereece is CEO of RENOVA Coaching and Consulting, LLC
He is an author, pastor, coach, and leadership specialist
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Image Sources: abcnews.go.com, cdn2-b.examiner.com

One response to “On Leadership, Penn State, and an Ounce of Prevention

  1. Pingback: A 10-POINT CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT PROCESS | Simple Discipleship @ Wordpress·

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