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Local abuse victim wants Penn State scandal to be game changer

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh gestures during news conference Thursday July 12 2012 Philadelphia. After an eight-month inquiry Freeh's firm

Former FBI Director Louis Freeh gestures during a news conference, Thursday, July 12, 2012, in Philadelphia. After an eight-month inquiry, Freeh's firm produced a 267-page report that concluded that Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno and other top Penn State officials hushed up child sex abuse allegation against Jerry Sandusky more than a decade ago for fear of bad publicity, allowing Sandusky to prey on other youngsters. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Updated: August 14, 2012 6:12AM



Thursday morning’s news about the Jerry Sandusky case once more made national headlines.

Here in Kane County, one man in particular followed closely every word spoken by FBI Director Louis Freeh at the press conference where Joe Paterno and three other top officials at Penn State University were condemned for helping to cover up the sex abuse scandal that broke last November.

In the FBI report, investigators found that in order to avoid bad publicity, the legendary football coach, along with university President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz, repeatedly concealed critical facts that allowed the abuse to go on for 14 more years. Sandusky, once the team’s top defensive coach, is awaiting sentencing on 45 charges of sexually abusing 10 boys over a period of 15 years.

And that’s where Lawrence, molested by a neighbor when he was a young child, comes into play.

The Elburn man asked that his last name be omitted, not because he was once victimized, but because his teenage son revealed to him — days before the Sandusky story hit the news — that he had also been sexually abused as a child.

That startling revelation, coupled with his own experience, sent Lawrence “to a dark place” for many months. But his sadness turned to anger when he heard Nike founder Phil Knight eulogize Paterno at the iconic coach’s funeral, casting all blame on school trustees.

It was after I wrote about Lawrence’s story in January that he decided to turn that anger into advocacy. He began talking publicly about his sexual abuse at his church in St. Charles, where he is an elder. And the more he spoke out, the more other men came to him with their own stories.

Then Lawrence went one step further: He came up with an idea on how to make more people aware of the prevalence of this crime against children. And he called Nike’s cofounder for assistance.

In a string of e-mails between Lawrence and Knight’s personal assistant, Lisa McKillips, he laid out the idea for a blue Child Abuse Prevention Campaign that would model the pink Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where light blue socks, gloves and towels could be distributed through the NFL, NCAA and even high school teams.

Although he never got the Nike chairman to call him, Lawrence — a sales rep by profession, as well as a man of faith and passion — knows the importance of persistence. As a former college athlete, he also understands competition.

He took his idea to Nike’s rival, Under Armour.

Your company – Your BRAND – can reach MILLIONS of people,” he wrote to officials there. “Changing just one life, saving one life is worth whatever the cost to do so.”

Although Lawrence is a long way from a win, he can at least say he’s put a point or two on the board.

Last week, after stating his case to several folks on Under Armour’s corporate ladder, he received a phone call from Steve Sommers, vice president of global marketing for the athletic apparel giant.

My own call to Sommers was not returned — his assistant said he’s out of the office for a couple of days — but e-mails confirm the VP and the victim did indeed talk. It’s a discussion Lawrence described as extensive and productive.

“I had his ear,” he added. “Sommers liked what I had to say.”

Who knows. Maybe after Thursday’s FBI report, Knight will rethink Lawrence’s suggestion. Hours after Freeh revealed the findings of the investigation, Nike CEO Mark Parker announced the coach’s name has been removed from the Joe Paterno Child Development Center at company headquarters. But in that same story, Knight referred to Paterno’s unconscionable cover-up of child sexual abuse as “missteps.”

Statistics indicate one in three girls is sexually assaulted. And one in six boys becomes a victim , although newer findings put that number at one in four. As Lawrence points out, it’s hard to be accurate when there’s a veil of silence protecting abusers. The more awareness we can bring to this issue, the thinner that cover becomes.

The fallout from the Penn State scandal will hopefully be a game changer. After all, if it can happen at a well-respected university under the eye of a beloved icon, it can happen anywhere.

And, as Lawrence knows all too well, it does.



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