- Written by Diana L. Chapman
23 Dec 2011
MY TURN - It’s been on my mind ever since the Penn State crisis blew up, circling the nation with questions. Did school officials cover up that a former football coach was allegedly raping young boys – at least one reportedly in a university locker room?
That was followed by more explosions: Syracuse University assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine was fired Nov. 17 for allegedly molesting two boys. ESPN sat in on a taped conversation where, Fine's wife, Laurie, admits to a victim that he was molested by her husband.
Failing to find anyone to collaborate the story, the sports network held back from airing the 2002 conversation.
Instead of turning the tape over to police, ESPN kept it confidential and never notified the cops.
That wasn’t their job, they said. Of course it was!
As far as I’m concerned, hiding behind rules of journalism or tucking away secrets because it might hurt a powerful institution such as Penn State’s money-making football program becomes very close to aiding and abetting.
I’m writing this because society must come to grips with that fact that this responsibility belongs to all of us. No stupid journalism rules need apply. No waiting on a supervisor to decide what to do. No idiocy of “Well, I’m not sure what I saw.” It comes down to this: If you see a woman being raped, wouldn’t you call the police?
Why is this so different when you see it happening to a child?
If you see a child being harmed in any way– even if it’s just a suspicion such as a man showering with a 10-year-old in a school locker room – report it to the police.
It’s that easy. No gray areas. No protecting institutions. Pick up the phone and call 911. I believe that’s what this hideous case is teaching us.
Why, then, when I suggest people call police first, do some folks recoil?
It’s partly because we cower behind our fears of molestations and that it’s too uncomfortable to do the right thing. Child sex abuse must be put out on the table so perpetrators are caught.
In the Penn State scandal, several top university officials – including football coaching icon Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier – have been accused of knowing about the incident but failing to turn it over to police. Both were ousted in November after assistant coach Mike McQueary testified to a grand jury that he saw what he believes was Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy about 10- years- old in a locker room shower in 2002.
During testimony on Dec. 16, McQueary reported what he told his higher-ups – including Paterno – as well as former Penn State vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley.
Schultz and Curley are now being charged with perjury and failing to report suspected child abuse.
McQueary said while he couldn’t be 100 percent sure there was penetration, he did witness Sandsuky in the shower with the boy and that he heard “rhythmic slapping” with Sandusky’s arms around the boy, according to USA Today.
So while McQueary did report it to his bosses, it appears the report was dropped. He believed, he testified Friday, that he had in fact told the university police since he met with Curley and Shultz 10 days after he talked to Paterno. Because Schultz oversaw the campus police, McQueary indicated he believed he was reporting it to the top authority.
Again, this makes me shiver. Since McQueary saw this in 2002, how many more children were injured in the meantime? Sandusky waived his right to a preliminary hearing last week in which 11 alleged victims were prepared to testify what happened to them.
This takes me back to the police. Why not call them? I suspect a response would occur in minutes, and it would at least be documented before a social worker could even arrive.
“As for the Penn State child molestation, every one of us has a responsibility to report the sexual abuse of a child,” says Pat Gannon, a Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief. “No exceptions. I don't have all of the facts concerning these allegations, but the entire incident sickens me.
“Somebody needs to stand up for the kids and protect them. In this case, everyone involved failed to protect these kids.”
Part of the dilemma, it seems, stems from the federal “mandated reporter” law, which dictates that medical officials, teachers and police have a legal duty to report such incidents and have a protocol to follow.
Does that mean the rest of us are off the hook? No.
With jarring numbers of child abuse, we can’t just say “I’m not responsible.” The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that in 2007 alone, 794,000 children were considered abused or neglected, and nearly 8 percent of those cases involved sexual abuse.
That’s 63,520 kids in one year -- a number that should make us cringe.
Other statistics from the same federal agency seem unimaginable. For example, in the same year, more than 3.2 million child abuse referrals rolled into Child Protective Services agencies nationally.
Those involved 5.8 million children across the nation. At least a quarter of those confirmed that at least one child was abused.
Of course, this doesn’t count cases that have gone unreported – as the Sandusky case apparently was for years despite, as a Sports Illustrated writer reported, the town was marinating with rumors.
Such mistreatment often means later in life those children will likely never lead normal lives, often fearful of building any loving relationships or even killing themselves.
Without police investigations, we place hundreds of more children at risk – which is what apparently happened in the Sandusky case. After he resigned from Penn State, Sandusky ran a successful non-profit organization, Second Chance, involving you guessed it: underprivileged kids.
Anyone stumbling onto a molestation case does not need to wait to call Child Protective Service agencies or talk it over with their boss. The first thing they need to do, Gannon said, is call the police.
“A call to 911 is simple and appropriate,” Gannon said. “The responsibility to investigate the physical or sexual abuse of a child rests with law enforcement.
Child welfare services is only responsible for protecting the children. They rely on police departments to conduct the criminal investigation. They use the information from the police reports and then petition the court for specific rulings to keep the children safe.”
In the meantime, the Sandusky case seems to have opened up a Pandora’s Box of allegations as more and more cases popped up all about the country. One includes allegations against Robert “Bobby” Dodd, the former president and executive director of the Amateur Athletic Union. Those allegations came from two male accusers who said he molested them in 1984 while attending a tournament in Memphis.
Sandusky, Fine and Dodd all proclaim their innocence.
Here in our own backyard, two cases unfolded this fall in Hollywood. Talent agent Martin Weiss, 47, has been charged with eight felony counts of molestation.
Registered sex offender James Jason Murphy, who was convicted of kidnapping and molesting an 8-year-old in Seattle 15 years ago, was casting movies – including finding parts for children. Using a different name, Murphy came down to Hollywood and set up shop until J.J. Abrams, the producer and director of “Super 8,” discovered Murphy’s cover-up. Abrams may have saved a slew of kids by his intelligent choice. He reported it.
At this juncture, there are lots of questions we must ask ourselves about how we should handle child molestations.
Many people are blaming McQueary, the Penn State assistant coach, for not immediately calling the police.
McQueary, who was recently put on paid leave because of death threats, asked that the public wait to judge him because it will all come out in court. I give McQueary credit for continuing – despite numerous death threats – giving consistent testimony.
Out of all this horror, we should now know to call the police immediately when seeing anything we believe might be sexual abuse or any maltreatment of a child.
The Sandusky case is horrible. But it might just open the doors to put sexual abuse of children out on the table for everyone to see.
Tags: Diana Chapman, My Turn, child molestation, LAPD, Pat Gannon, Jerry Sandusky, Joe Paterno, Penn State, Syracuse University, Hollywood, sex abuse
Vol 9 Issue 102
Pub: Dec 23, 2011