Allegations of sexual assaults on children at Penn State have occupied the headlines since former football coach Jerry Sandusky was arrested Nov. 5.
Even more disturbing than the salacious details and the apparent cover-up, are the numerous missed opportunities for reporting Sandusky’s alleged criminal behavior. People required by law to report child maltreatment, abuse and assault – and had suspicions or directly observed Sandusky’s inappropriate behavior – failed to do so.
According to testimonies to the grand jury:
•In 2006 or 2007, a wrestling coach walked in on Sandusky and a middle school boy “lying on their sides, in physical contact, face to face on a mat” at a local high school. The wrestling coach found it strange, but didn’t report the incident.
•An assistant principal and head football coach at one victim’s high school described Sandusky as “clingy” and “needy” with the boys in the program and found his behavior suspicious. He reported the behavior only after the mother of the victim called the school to report Sandusky sexually assaulted her son.
•The most publicized instance of flawed reporting was in 2002 when a 28-year-old graduate assistant said he witnessed Sandusky raping a boy, who looked to be about 10 years old, in the shower area of one of the athletic buildings. The graduate assistant told his father, who encouraged him to tell the Penn State head football coach. The coach then reported the incident to the athletic director who pulled in the university’s senior vice president for finance and business. The University Police, or any other law enforcement agency, were never notified.
•In 2000, a janitor witnessed Sandusky performing sexual acts on a boy in the shower in the Lasch building. He told his supervisor, who told him who he should report the incident. He never did.
We can’t help but to think what might have been different, how many boys could have been spared had just one of those people reported their observations or suspicions to the proper authorities, in a timely fashion.
There are federal and state laws that require individuals of certain professions to report instances of child abuse and assault. These laws identify professions with frequent contact with children to determine who are considered mandated reporters.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, about 48 states and D.C. mandate social workers, teachers and other school personnel, physicians and other health care workers, mental health professionals, child care providers, medical examiners or coroners and law enforcement officers to report child maltreatment.
The specifics of the law vary from state to state, including what can be reported and when. But Pennsylvania law specifically requires that “when a staff member reports abuse…the person in charge of the school or institution has the responsibility and legal obligation to report or cause such a report to be made by telephone and in writing within 48 hours to the Department of Public Welfare of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
The grand jury interviewed eight victims, but who knows how many more Sandusky may have sexually assaulted. As the grand jury found, through his work with The Second Mile, “Sandusky had access to hundreds of boys, many of whom were vulnerable due to their social situations.”
Had everyone in the numerous situations done their mandated duty and reported the alleged abuse, this situation may have had a different outcome. Some have lost their jobs because of their failure to do what’s right – and what’s legally required. Since the failure to report is a misdemeanor in some states, time will tell if these people will face criminal charges.
Though the Sandusky case revolves around sexual abuse, mandated reporters are expected to report instances of other maltreatment as well, including physical and emotional abuse and neglect. And the high percentage of reports that are eventually determined unfounded, show that there are different questions and concerns about the act of reporting. There are many grey areas that we hope to explore through research and discussions with you.
Throughout the month, we will take a look at mandated reporting on all of our social media outlets and our website. Please join us on Facebook, LinkedIn and our website for resources and ongoing discussion.
MSNBC: Grand jury report offers graphic account of allegations against Sandusky (Includes copy of report)
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws
Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment: 2009 report
Filed under: Mandated Reporting | Tagged: child abuse, children, exposure to violence, maltreatment, mandated reporting, mandated reporting of abuse, Penn State, Sandusky, sexual abuse | Leave a comment »