The notion of several adults being made aware of the possible sexual abuse of a 10-year-old boy and not reporting the incident to police is mind boggling. As a former mandated reporter myself, regardless of whether or not such allegations are true is secondary to the fact that individuals at Penn State University grossly failed this child despite the legal system in place designed to protect him and all children. I’ll get to my own experiences as a mandated reporter shortly.
The government’s webpage for the department of Child Welfare lists school administrators, teachers and school nurses as professionals who are mandated to report child abuse and neglect. While other states like Connecticut specifically list coaches as mandated reporters in their statutes, Pennsylvania’s code states, “persons required to report include, but are not limited to.”
Regarding “reporting by other persons,” the Pennsylvania statute reads, “Any person who has reason to suspect that a child is abused or neglected may report.”
In other words, anyone employed by Penn State University (or anyone with human decency) is legally obligated to report suspected abuse of a minor.
While it seems as though legendary head coach Joe Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation by reporting suspected child abuse to school administrators, he did not do enough to fulfill his moral and ethical responsibilities. Nobody at Penn State did.
The allegations of child-sex abuse against long time Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky are disturbing enough on their own, but the exposure of a potential coverup by the athletic department makes the situation even more terrifying.
Gone from the administration are Penn State athletic director Tim Curley and vice president of finance and business Gary Schultz in the wake of perjury charges in the investigation of Sandusky, who himself was charged with sexually abusing eight boys over a 15-year period. Some of the alleged abuse took place on the Penn State campus.
For a detailed history of alleged incidences and facts regarding this situation, I’ve provided a link at the end of this entry.
Learning more about this alleged abuse and the role played by Penn State employees is hard to digest, causing a sickening feeling in one’s stomach. I can’t begin to imagine the pain, disgust and trauma experienced by children who have endured such abuse.
In all, I spent 17 summers as a camper, counselor and supervisor at an overnight summer camp in California. During staff training each year we learned about mandated reporting laws and the role we played in ensuring the safety and well-being of our campers. Our camp director tried to explain to the staff, who were just kids themselves in their teens and early twenties, the magnitude of their job as counselors. He would say, “imagine your most prized possession, the thing most important to you in your life. Multiply that by infinity, and that is what each of your campers means to their parents.”
As a 19-year-old counselor of teenagers, I was faced with the first (of more than one) admission of sexual abuse by a camper. My co-counselor and I were torn over how to proceed. We both knew we were legally obligated to tell our supervisors who would then report to the camp social worker. I knew what would follow would be difficult for our 14-year-old camper, but it was our obligation to report. My then-co-counselor was in tears, afraid of what would happen to our camper who had a rocky home life, knowing that our camp would be obligated to disclose her claim of abuse to her parents with whom she did not have a great relationship.
We debated the pros and cons and in the end, agreed to disagree. I told her I was telling our boss, period. Luckily for everyone involved, our male supervisors responded professionally and delicately, the process went well and her parents were supportive. Eight years later, we are still in touch with our former camper and she is doing great.
In recalling that story, I just realized that our situation differed from that at Penn State in that we were conflicted because of the effect that reporting would have on our camper, the victim, while at Penn State, it appears that the victim was the least of the administration’s worries. Sure, we were just college kids working at a summer camp, contemplating the future of one teenage girl. We didn’t have a multi-million-dollar institution to worry about. But if we did, so what? I can assure you the outcome would’ve been no different.
Every college coach tells parents of recruits that he or she is more than just a teacher of sport, but a teacher of life lessons and skills, and a protector of children. Many coaches become parental figures to their athletes. The idea that a coach could witness child abuse, report it to a superior coach who then reports to administration, only for all parties to close the door close and look the other way is disheartening. At best, this situation became a game of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” At worst, a multi-layered coverup of lies and negligence that most likely enabled further abuse.
With Paterno being a sports icon in this country, it is natural for individuals and the media to shift their focus to him, asking what role the coach played and what consequences he should face. The truth is that he is just the tip of the iceberg.
It appears as though Paterno played a small role in this by choice, but given his powerful platform, could’ve played an essential part in in stopping a predator and saving children from suffering life-altering atrocities.
Between the athletic director, head coach, medical staff, academic counselors and even student tutors, a university athletic department is charged with caring for and supporting it’s athletes from top to bottom. The athletic department is responsible for ensuring the safety of every person’s most prized possession; their children. Even if the victims weren’t Penn State students, it is criminal and reprehensible to allow a suspected child abuser around the program’s athletes and on campus in general.
Nothing can undo the damage done to the alleged victims, but justice can be served in other ways. At minimum, resignation and jail time is appropriate for those who failed to comply with the law in this situation. Should a court find anyone from Penn State guilty of any charges, the University and it’s athletic program must be punished.
Maybe the football program disappears for 13 years, which is the amount of time that has passed since 1998, when former university VP Schultz told a grand jury he first learned of an investigation regarding sexual abuse on the Penn State campus by Sandusky. Perhaps the university should donate every penny earned by the football program in the last 13 years to various child abuse charities and child advocacy groups. At this point, Joe Paterno should be the least of Penn State’s worries.
For full details of the Jerry Sandusky abuse case and Penn State, click here: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/7201952/penn-state-nittany-lions-tim-curley-takes-leave-gary-schultz-steps-amid-scandal