Penn State Case Presses Others on Abuse Laws

by Marisol Bello and Greg Toppo (USA Today)
November 15, 2011

Lawmakers and university officials across the USA are moving quickly to tighten up rules on who must report sexual abuse on campus in the wake of the Penn State scandal.

A key issue likely to be debated in state legislatures is whether reports should go straight to police, and whether new laws are needed to shore up vague guidelines and polices about child safety on campus.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, said Sunday that the assistant coach who in 2002 witnessed former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky allegedly abusing a child "met the minimum obligation of reporting it up" to head coach Joe Paterno, but the assistant "did not, in my opinion, meet a moral obligation."

Corbett said that within the next few weeks, state lawmakers would introduce bills to explicitly outline educators' responsibilities if they witness or suspect abuse.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see if a bill was passed ... between now and the end of this year," Corbett told NBC's Meet the Press.

Mike McQueary, the assistant coach, said in an e-mail made available Tuesday to the Associated Press that he stopped the action he saw and went to police.

In the e-mail written Nov. 8 to a friend at Penn State, McQueary wrote: "I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room. ... I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police. ... no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds ... trust me."

McQueary added: "I am getting hammered for handling this the right way ... or what I thought at the time was right."

According to the grand jury report, McQueary testified he spoke to his father and then to Paterno before speaking to athletic director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz, who oversaw campus police. Curley and Schultz face perjury charges in the case.

In addition to Pennsylvania, several other states are considering tougher laws regarding reporting sex abuse of children. Iowa, Maryland and New York are among them.

"Penn State does create a sense of urgency," said Stephen Scott, chairman of the Iowa Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Task Force. He told The Des Moines Register this week that the scandal may push the group to add college officials to the list of those required to report abuse.

The group may also require that school districts report abuse by teachers to authorities beyond the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners. State law requires most school employees, child care workers and medical personnel to report sexual abuse of any children younger than 12 to the state licensing board, which can suspend or revoke a teacher's license.

Scott said the task force could recommend that "mandatory reporters" must also file a police report.

In New York, Republican assemblymen Jim Tedisco and George Amedore plan to introduce legislation as early as this week to require college coaches, administrators and all employees, including janitors, to report suspected child abuse. Under current law, those who fail to report the abuse can face fines and up to a year in jail. But Tedisco says the law includes "nothing mandatory at all at the college level. It's imperative we close that loophole."

Tedisco says colleges play host to children under 18 for all sorts of athletic and academic programs, which means those children need to be protected while they are on the campuses.

In Maryland, Republican state Sen. Nancy Jacobs wants to make it a crime to fail to report child abuse. Maryland law is similar to New York law in that it requires teachers, school officials, social workers, doctors, nurses and other medical personnel, and police officers to report child abuse to authorities.

The law says teachers may lose their jobs if they fail to report. But there is no criminal penalty. "Maryland has a good reporting law — practically everyone has to report," she says. "The problem is there is no teeth to the law."

She says she is working with the state's attorney and advocates for sexual abuse victims to determine penalties. She plans to have a bill drafted by Jan. 11.

"When something like this happens, it helps you see what the weaknesses are in your own laws," she says. "You do what you can because you hope it does not happen again."