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?

Boys, Sexual Assault and Mandated Reporting Update

Back in December we discussed the Penn State scandal and conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the basics of mandated reporting. But what has happened since then? Well, to bring you up to date on those happenings, and support Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month, we’d like to talk about two important issues as a follow up to that campaign.

The first issue is how the country has responded to the Penn State scandal.

You can check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ comprehensive overview of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting State Statutes. Click here to see the chart which outlines several of the steps in reporting child abuse and neglect. It also links to full summaries of each state’s law on the issue.

Since the scandal unfolded you can now view updates on these state statutes.  Approximately 98 bills in 29 states and the District of Columbia have been introduced in the 2012 legislative session on the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Five states have enacted legislation.

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Abuse, Sexual Assault, and Child Trafficking

A few months ago Safe Start Center highlighted Human Trafficking Awareness Day and in support of National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month we’d like to provide an update on what the government has been up to in addressing the problem. Human Trafficking is a massive issue that exposes over a million children annually to sexual violence and abuse both in the US and abroad. It is an important focus of this awareness month because the biggest majority of trafficked children, both boys and girls, are those that have been abused and neglected and are those most likely to be exposed to violence and multiple victimizations in the future. You can learn more about the growing problem of the commercial sexual exploitation of children by checking out the KNOW THE FACTS fact sheet.

“The Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that each year at least 300,000 children are the human products meeting the demand of the sex trafficking industry in the U.S. alone. Around the world, more than one million children are subjected to human trafficking for sex or porn. The industry is estimated to bring in $9.5 billion annually.”

So what is being done in the US to stop it?

President Obama recently addressed a Human Trafficking Task Force Meeting at the White House where he reiterated that he is “confident that we will one day end the scourge of modern slavery.”

And the Administration really has made great efforts towards increasing government efforts to build partnerships with communities and NGOs to seriously combat domestic trafficking. In addition, on the international front, the State Department has made the fight against modern slavery a part of its diplomatic engagement and their work has made real advances in fighting trafficking in almost 40 countries!

Two of the most recent examples of how US agencies are working together to stop trafficking are:

  1. The Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Lightning Initiative “which provides U.S. commercial airlines that operate U.S.-bound international routes and their employees a voluntary mechanism to identify potential human trafficking victims and to notify federal authorities.”
  1. The U.S. Department of Transportation is working to “insure that the U.S. transportation system is not an enabler for human trafficking, [so] the Department of Transportation is operating an awareness campaign aimed at commercial truck drivers as well as personnel working at the nation’s railroads, according to John Porcari, deputy secretary of transportation.” Read more here.

You can check out the entire comprehensive list of the Obama Administration Accomplishments on Combating Trafficking in Persons as of February 2012 here.

So, as we continue to raise awareness this month and share the great progress being made to combat both abuse and sexual assault, it’s important we remember that the fight must continue to break the cycle and prevent and protect children and families from exposure.

Sexual assault and children

As well as April being designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, it is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This week we’re going to take a look at both and the impact this type of exposure can have on children.

For many reasons, including the shame associated with disclosing sexual abuse, professionals believe it’s hard to estimate just how many children are abused sexually each year.

The National Survey of Children Exposed to Violence (NatSCEV) takes a deeper look at different types of victimization experiences including sexual contact or fondling by an adult the child knew, sexual contact or fondling by an adult stranger, sexual contact or fondling by another child or teenager, attempted or completed intercourse, exposure or “flashing,” sexual harassment, and consensual sexual conduct with an adult.

NatSCEV  found that 6.1 percent of more than 2,000 children surveyed had been sexually victimized in the past year and nearly 10 percent over their lifetimes.

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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.

Resources:

MSNBC: Grand jury report offers graphic account of allegations against Sandusky (Includes copy of report)

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/45245187/ns/local_news-lancaster_pa/t/grand-jury-report-offers-graphic-account-allegations-against-sandusky/

Child Welfare Information Gateway
Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws

http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.cfm

Children’s Bureau Child Maltreatment: 2009 report

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/pubs/cm09/cm09.pdf

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