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Editorial: Pennsylvania has power to combat sex assault legacy

| Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
Bill Cosby, center, leaves the courtroom after he was sentenced to three-to 10-years for felony sexual assault on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (Mark Makela/Pool Photo via AP)
Bill Cosby, center, leaves the courtroom after he was sentenced to three-to 10-years for felony sexual assault on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (Mark Makela/Pool Photo via AP)

Pennsylvania has a sex problem.

Scratch that. Pennsylvania has a power problem.

The difference between sex and rape, after all, is actually all about power. It’s about forcing another person to do something. It’s about self-gratification at the expense of another human being. It’s about violence.

The big stories that have brought Pennsylvania into the national spotlight over the last years have been about power and control. They are connected by a blood-red thread of contempt for the lives of the people who can’t stop what is being done to them.

On Tuesday, Bill Cosby, the great symbol of a loving father figure from Saturday-morning cartoons and prime-time TV, was taken in handcuffs from the courthouse, sentenced to spend up to 10 years in jail for a pattern of drugging and assaulting younger, powerless women.

But Pennsylvania’s problem is more nauseating than America’s favorite dad being named a sexually violent predator because so much has happened for so long.

It’s a long-time respected coach and advocate for children being convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys while the state’s largest university pays out claims to dozens who say he assaulted them.

It’s all eight Catholic dioceses being the subject of grand-jury reports and investigations by the state attorney general’s office, with more than 1,000 kids molested over a period of 70 years, hundreds of priests and laity commiting the crimes, and 40 men wearing the bishops’ mitres guarding the records of what happened.

It is easy for people to blame the Vatican or Penn State. It is easy to blame Hollywood for Bill Cosby’s crimes.

When do we look at decades of people without power being sexually subjugated in what sometimes seemed to be open secrets and say, “How did we let this happen?”

Pennsylvanians are hard-working people. Many are clinging to lower rungs on the economic ladder, trying not to slip, understanding exactly what it means to not have power. When kids have been assaulted, most have been picked from those families at a disadvantage.

And no, it’s not an exclusively Pennsylvania problem. It just seems that the state has become indelibly stained by it, so let’s fight the stain by solving the problem.

We need to look at history and remember that Pennsylvania has been America’s battleground. From Valley Forge to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania has been where people said “Enough!” and turned the tide. Defending the powerless against sexual assault could be the new Declaration of Independence, a statement of self-evident truth and equality for all.

We have to do it, because Pennsylvania has a power problem, but Pennsylvania has the power to correct it.

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