By Beth Mirza, senior editor for HR News

There are some things you wish you’d never read.

When the Penn State University tragedy came to light, I, like thousands of other people, read some horrible details about what the victims suffered. Things that you can’t forget, that pop into your mind when you’re falling asleep at night or driving to work in the morning.

But my discomfort at having read about the abuse doesn’t come anywhere close to the devastation the victims and their families feel. We shouldn’t forget these things; it’s best that we know them. Now the thousands of people who read the horrifying news articles and grand jury testimony have even greater impetus to prevent and stop child sexual abuse.

By shining the spotlight on what happened, and increasing awareness of the signs and symptoms of child sexual abuse, more children can be spared. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance to organizations that serve young people to help prevent and identify possible abuse cases. Read here to see what your organization can do.

What Would We Do?

The tragedy makes business leaders ask themselves: How would my organization handle such a situation? What if an employee witnessed another employee breaking the law or doing something unethical—something that might make the organization look bad in the public eye but that should be reported to authorities? What if it wasn’t such a clear-cut decision as reporting child sexual abuse? Do my employees know where to report wrongdoing? Would they report it, if they knew?

Business leaders can increase the likelihood of their employees doing the right thing by modeling the behaviors they want their employees to exhibit. According to Dr. Jack Spark, a psychologist who has worked with professional athletes and Fortune 500 companies, there are certain attributes that, when practiced by company leaders, nearly always lead to better decision-making—by the leaders and the employees they lead:

  • Caring
  • Honesty
  • Attitude
  • Resilience
  • Analytical thinking
  • Communication
  • Teaching
  • Energy
  • Rules to live by


These attributes “correlate to business success and failure,” Spark said. When leaders fail, it’s “because they don’t have moral strength.”

Think about your company. Does it have character?

For more information, read “Lessons from Penn State” in the Business Leadership section of the SHRM web site. Then let us know here what conversations the Penn State story has sparked in your organization.