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Friday, July 13, 2012

Sandusky, Penn State and the Freeh Report

At one level, all of us who work in the field of child protection should celebrate the Freeh Report on the way in which Penn State University handled the sexual abuse allegations regarding former assistant football coach Sandusky. The report is blunt and scathing in pointing out the lack of accountability and responsibility by the university. It makes it clear that these children were not protected and could well have been (not to mention victims that had yet to be brought into Sandusky's abuse).

The report states:

The most saddening finding by the Special Investigative Counsel is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims. As the Grand Jury similarly noted in its presentment,1 there was no “attempt to investigate, to identify Victim 2, or to protect that child or any others from similar conduct except as related to preventing its re‐occurrence on University property.”
Four of the most powerful people at The Pennsylvania State University – President Graham B. Spanier, Senior Vice President‐Finance and Business Gary C. Schultz, Athletic Director Timothy M. Curley and Head Football Coach Joseph V. Paterno – failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade. These men concealed Sandusky’s activities from the Board of Trustees, the University community and authorities. They exhibited a striking lack of empathy for Sandusky’s victims by failing to inquire as to their safety and well‐being, especially by not attempting to determine the identity of the child who Sandusky assaulted in the Lasch Building in 2001. Further, they exposed this child to additional harm by alerting Sandusky, who was the only one who knew the child’s identity, of what McQueary saw in the shower on the night of February 9, 2001.
These individuals, unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties, empowered Sandusky to attract potential victims to the campus and football events by allowing him to have continued, unrestricted and unsupervised access to the University’s facilities and affiliation with the University’s prominent football program. Indeed, that continued access provided Sandusky with the very currency that enabled him to attract his victims. Some coaches, administrators and football program staff members ignored the red flags of Sandusky’s behaviors and no one warned the public about him. (pp.14-15).

Already we see some of those named coming out to deny their culpability. Certainly, the individuals resposnible should be identified and their actions held up to scrutiny with all of the resultant consequences. What matters most here, however, is what can be learned about sexual abuse in institutions that can be useful elsewhere.

The report is long and has many suggestions.

In my mind, one of the most poignant lessons is that wealth, power, prestige can all combine to make an institution and those who serve it wilfully blind to events that can tarnish that reputation. at best, it can cause them to cover up or act behind the scenes. As I have said before, sexual abusers uses secrecy as one of their best tools to keep going In the Sandusky case, he had powerful allies to Penn State to help him with that.

Critics argue against mandatory reporting laws stating that they will lead to a flood of complaints and further over burden an already over burdened child protection system. They fear that the system will become over intrusive and apprehend children who should not be apprehended. Yet, this report shows that without methods to demand institutions and individuals to do the right thing, many will not.

This avoidance of doing the right thing is not unique to child protection. We need only look at yet another series of banking crises emerging in both the United Staes and the United Kingdom to see that.
We have also seen multiple examples of institutions who avoid accepting the responsibility that comes with managing people who abuse children - Mount Cashel Orphanage in Canada; the Roman Catholic church with their priests and brothers in many countries; the Boy Scouts in Canada; The churches who ran the Residential Schools throughout North America and so on.

Thus, we do need government to legislate and regulate as it seems too many of its citizens and institutions aren't willing to do the right thing.

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