Child Sex Abuse—Let the games begin!

I won’t repeat what has already been said about the child sex abuse scandal engulfing Penn State. Everything which needs to be said can be found in the Grand Jury Findings of Fact and Recommendation of Charges.

Yesterday, National Center for Victims of Crime, released the following statement which is worth repeating.

Washington, DC: The National Center for Victims of Crime today called on the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and all educational institutions to respond quickly and forcefully to sexual abuse. The arrest of a former Penn State athletic coach for allegedly abusing eight young men shows why—for every institution in our society—protecting young people must become a top priority.

“For too long, institutions have sought to protect their reputations by ignoring allegations of abuse,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “Instead of explaining away or covering up these allegations, administrators can actually protect their institutions by rooting out individuals who commit abuse.”

Research shows that abusers—except for the fact that they abuse children—usually appear to be respectable, ordinary citizens. They may be teachers, camp counselors, Boy Scout leaders, tutors, or coaches or tutors. Their one common trait is that they look for situations where they can be trusted with access to victims.

“Sex abusers win the trust of kids and the people those kids look up to—such as coaches and other officials,” says former Philadephia Eagles linebacker Al Chesley, who was abused by a neighbor who was a police officer when Chesley was 13. “Predators camouflage themselves so it’s hard for anyone to figure out what they’re doing, and they use organizations to keep hurting kids. It’s in everyone’s interest to find out who these people are and shut them down.”

Institutions can take steps to protect themselves from harboring predators. They can conduct background screenings for prospective employees, especially those who work with young people. They can respond immediately to any allegations of abuse—making sure that victims report incidents and that these reports are investigated thoroughly. And they can follow the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s best practices for preventing sexual abuse in youth serving institutions.

Legislators throughout the nation can also do their part. Right now in Pennsylvania, for example, Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Ron Marsico is holding up a bill (HB 878) that would create a “window” of opportunity to allow child sexual abuse victims to sue, no matter how long ago they were abused. Similar legislation passed in Delaware in 2007 resulted in civil suits that exposed many previously unreported predators. Because it can take victims decades to address the abuse, and because many of these predators continue to abuse children, Pennsylvania should pass this legislation to help heal victims and prevent future crimes.

“When institutions take steps to eliminate sex abusers and legislators act to protect victims and prevent them from hurting children, we will make progress in preventing this crime,” Fernandez added. “Institutions must earn their good reputations by responding forcefully to child sexual abuse.”

Finally, The Legal Intelligencer has a good article explaining why the prosecution trying the cases against former Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and former Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz might have difficulty proving one of the charges pending against the two administrators.

According to the article, Curley and Schultz are charged with both failure-to-report an incident of child abuse and perjury. Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates, told The Legal that the defendants might have a “credible, if not very satisfying defense” on the failure to report charges because the alleged incident occurred when a more restrictive version of the law was in place.

Under the statute at issue—23 Pa.C.S. Section 6311—a mandated reporter must “[come] into contact with children” as part of his or her position. In 2002, when the alleged incident occurred, a prior version of the statute required an abused child to come directly into contact with a person “in their professional or official capacity” in order for them to be a mandated reporter. The law widened in 2007 to include those who hear the information secondhand.

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