Where Evil Lies: Our View of the Penn State Scandal - Page 2

By Maia Szalavitz 11/14/11

Tales of sex abuse of children inside the college football franchise reveal a conspiracy to protect the powerful. For addicts, it's a familiar story.

Local legend Jerry Sandusky was arrested last week in
State College, Pa.
photo via 

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Sexual abuse causes psychological and physical damage that can have lifelong crippling consequences. Just this week, a new study was released showing that girls who have been sexually abused have a 62% higher risk of heart disease and stroke, compared to those who have not been so victimized; many other studies have conclusively demonstrated massive increases in risk for all kinds of addictions, including alcoholism, illegal drug addictions, smoking, obesity and behavioral addictions like gambling. 

Indeed, those who come from impoverished backgrounds and who have suffered the trauma of being placed in the foster care system, those who are raised by poor, single parents and those who have suffered any type of early trauma are already at high risk of drug problems, before they come across institutional predators.

Still, isn’t it true that drug users and troubled teens lie frequently? Yes—but not necessarily more so than anyone else. When they are surveyed anonymously and will not get in trouble for telling the truth, research finds that teens and drug users tend to be honest, even when talking about their drug use.

Drug addicts earned the reputation of being chronic liars in part because they are involved in an illegal activity; the majority of their lies are motivated primarily by their need to cover up this “crime.” Otherwise, unless they also have some type of personality disorder, they’re no more likely to be dishonest than anyone else. 

Pedophiles who run teen programs, on the other hand, have a much greater motivation to lie. Sandusky pleaded innocent to all charges, and in his first public statement since his arrest, he would admit only to taking showers with the boys and “just horsing around”—the lie that proved so palatable for so long to the entire community.

If teenagers are so unhappy in a residential program that they are willing to create a story of abuse to try to get out of it, the program has likely already failed. The probability of recovery is much better when they feel safe rather than threatened enough to want to flee. Recovery research finds that when counselors treat clients with empathy and respect, “denial” and other forms of treatment resistance is dramatically reduced.

If we want to stop sexual predators from working with troubled kids with impunity, we need to start believing the children and not discrediting them with demeaning stereotypes about drug use. Or we can go on letting pedophiles increase the addict population by traumatizing their young victims.

Maia Szalavitz is a columnist at The Fix. She is also a health reporter at Time magazine online, and co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered (Morrow, 2010), and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids (Riverhead, 2006). 
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Maia Szalavitz.jpg

Maia Szalavitz is an author and journalist working at the intersection of brain, culture and behavior.  She has reported for Time magazine online, and is the co-author, with Bruce Perry, of Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential—and Endangered, and author of Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. You can find her on Linkedin and  Twitter.