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To prevent sex abuse scandals, empower whistle-blowers

November 14, 2012|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • For decades, Jimmy Savile, shown here in 2008, was a fixture on British television, an eccentric, aggressively jocular host of children's shows and a tireless charity fundraiser. A year after he died at 84 and honored as Sir Jimmy, several women have come forward to claim he was also a sexual predator and serial abuser of underage girls.
For decades, Jimmy Savile, shown here in 2008, was a fixture on British television,… (Lewis Whyld / Associated…)

It’s disappointing to see leaders, public figures and CEOs undone by sex scandals. But it becomes a tragedy when these cases are of an abusive nature. And worse yet, when they’re kept quiet, leaving the victims even more powerless.

The Penn State case, in which Jerry Sandusky abused young boys while Joe Paterno and  administrators worried more about the institution than the victims, was a harsh reminder that we can’t blindly trust people, even respected members of our communities. Britons are going through a similar shock after allegations surfaced that Jimmy Savile, the BBC’s version of Mister Rogers, sexually assaulted young girls. And then there’s the tragedy of the Boy Scouts, which kept its "perversion files" from 1970 to 1991 under lock and key rather than report sexual abusers to authorities.

Of course, children aren’t the only ones in powerless situations who’re victimized. According to a former Waffle House employee, company Chairman Joseph Rogers Jr. allegedly demanded sexual favors of her in exchange for job security. Rogers says his relationship with the single mother was consensual (and no charges have been filed). But consider this: The woman who brought this situation to light resigned from the company after her son was awarded a full college scholarship.

There’s no easy solution to preventing sexual abuse and harassment. But there are ways to prevent those in power from preying on innocent people. In Tuesday’s episode of “The Story,” Penn State ethics professor Jonathan Marks offered a suggestion: Don’t discourage whistle-blowing. He argued:

If we want to behave, and we want others to behave, in the ways we’d like to imagine we would, we have to structure our institutions to promote those behaviors. And that means, for example, creating not just protections for whistle-blowers but incentives for whistle-blowers; rewarding people for their sort of ethical dissent and helping them realize that the expression of dissent is not disloyalty to an institution. On the contrary, it’s actually a way of demonstrating loyalty to an institution when you speak out against the leadership or you speak out when you see something that is wrong.

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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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