What can we learn from the Sandusky trial?

The Penn State scandal is back in the headlines, as former football coach Jerry Sandusky’s trial on 52 counts of child sexual assault plays out.

Victims and observers have already taken the stand, with more to come, all detailing Sandusky’s alleged sexual acts with children as young as 11 years old.

For us, the trial brings to mind many things including child abuse prevention, intervention and mandated reporting.

The testimony of one witness in particular reminds us of the responsibility some legally have to report observed instances of child maltreatment. Mike McQueary, a young graduate assistant at the time, has testified that he witnessed Sandusky in the shower with one boy. He didn’t call the police, but told his father and then administration at the school. The administration never reported the alleged abuse though, by law, they were required to.

In December we posted a series of blogs on mandated reporting, which we’ve listed below. The national attention this case is getting should remind us all that child sexual abuse is still happening and there are ways we can help, including reporting abuse when we see it.

Mandated Reporting: How many could have been spared?

The Basics of Mandated Reporting

Background and Basics of Mandated Reporting

Mandated Reporting: What are the barriers?

Mandatory Reporting: Implications, Meanings and Practice

Other takeaways include being able to identify when a child has been exposed to violence or abuse and the importance of building resiliency to help victims cope

What are some other lessons you think can be learned from the Jerry Sandusky case?

Guest post: How to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

By Cary Betagole
Cary is a proud supporter of Sexual Assault Awareness Month, while also proliferating information on the need for sexual harassment training in the workplace.

It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: you receive a phone call from your child’s school or read an alarming story about a sexual predator in the newspaper. Your next question, “could my child be a victim?” would only be justified.

Well, there are certainly steps that any parent or concerned caretaker can make to ensure that the children in their charge have a healthy upbringing. While it’s important to remember that most children experience a childhood free of sexual abuse, it’s essential to remain vigilant so as to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are never harmed by pedophiles.

In celebration of April’s designation as Sexual Assault Awareness Month or SAAM, here are a few tips on how to protect your child, or any child, from sexual abuse.

Continue reading

The Basics of Mandated Reporting

According to the Children’s Bureau annual Child Maltreatment report more than 700,000 children were reported to be mistreated in fiscal year 2009. Almost 80 percent of those children were neglected while 17 percent were physically abused and 9 percent were sexually abused. (The total equals more than 100 percent because some children experienced multiple abuses.)

Those numbers reflect reports made to child protection services agencies across the country, 52 percent of which were made by educators, law enforcement, social services and medical personnel – people mandated to do so.

Every state and Washington, D.C. has mandated reporting laws that require certain professions who work with children to report suspected child abuse.

Those professionals vary, but usually include teachers, social workers, medical and mental health professionals and child care providers, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway.

The punishment for failing to report can be as serious as a misdemeanor.

Mandated reporter laws also describe what and where to report concerns.

For example, here in Maryland, “each health practitioner, police officer, educator or human service worker, acting in a professional capacity” are expected to report to law enforcement or child welfare agency if they suspect a child is being abused or neglected. Abuse and neglect are not specifically defined by the law.

But each state’s definitions are based on minimum standards set by federal law. Through the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, child abuse and neglect is defined as:

…any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm…

The National District Attorneys’ Association has a handy list of laws for each state here. Take a look and see if you’re mandated to report, what you should report and who you report to.

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Summary of State Laws

Child Welfare Information Gateway: State Guides and Resources

National District Attorney’s Association: List of Mandated Reporting laws by state

Mandated Reporting: How many could have been spared?

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


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