"We were among those ignorant to the magnitude of the problem," she said Wednesday.
Sue Paterno spoke before a hundred or so people at The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance's annual breakfast in Harrisburg, Pa.
The nonprofit organization's mission is to prevent child abuse.
Sue Paterno was a controversial choice, considering Jerry Sandusky and the sex abuse scandal that embroiled Joe Paterno and Penn State.
"We had been unaware of how a predator behaves and in many case we unknowingly helped him groom his victims," Sue Paterno said.
"I know my presence here and my family's presence here is not without controversy," said the Paternos' son Jay. "I am not naive."
The Paternos did not spend much time discussing the scandal, only saying they did not know of Sandusky's abuse. Instead, they focused on spreading the word about the growing problem of child abuse.
"In child abuse, we must remove fears associated with coming forward," said Jay Paterno, "both the children who suffer the abuse and the people who report it."
But it's Penn State hierarchy and Joe Paterno's alleged failure to report Sandusky's sex abuse that has tarnished the once iconic figure's image, and sullied the reputation of Penn State.
Neither Jay nor his mother would take questions from reporters.
The nonprofit's executive director, Angela Liddle, defended her choice of speaker.
"I think they have demonstrated a humbleness and a humility, saying 'We didn't know and we are learning and join in with us,'" said Liddle.
Jerry Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.