Penn State scandal may toughen laws

BY foxsports • November 13, 2011

State lawmakers are expected Monday to press for passage of legislation to toughen requirements for reporting child sexual abuse following the Penn State scandal in which at least two adults allegedly witnessed abuse and did not report it to law-enforcement authorities.

State Sen. Wayne Fontana, a Democrat from Pittsburgh, said he would ask Senate leaders to move a bill he first introduced in 2005 that would amend state law to require any professional who works with children to report suspected child abuse to police, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Under existing state law "a member of the staff of a medical or other public or private institution, school, facility or agency ... shall immediately notify the person in charge" about suspected child abuse. The person in charge ultimately has the responsibility to report alleged incidents to government authorities.

"Everyone should be held to the same standard of reporting abuse of children," said Fontana. He said his proposal would have ensured police would have learned of the allegations of child sex abuse leveled at former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, whose attorney has said his client is innocent. "Unfortunately something bad has to happen before something becomes relevant," he said.

Pennsylvania's current system places it in a minority among states -- most of which have stronger rules requiring professionals also to follow up directly with law enforcement, said Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Protect Our Children Committee, a statewide coalition of parents and child advocacy groups.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, said on "Meet the Press" Sunday that he expected changes in the reporting law by year end. "Should the law be changed? Absolutely," said Corbett, who was attorney general when the investigation of the sex scandal began.

Some experts urged caution, saying overly broad reporting requirements could hamper child protection. Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, said a law requiring anyone to report suspected abuse could cause more harm than good.

"Child abuse hot lines will be deluged with even more false reports, further overloading workers who then will have less time to find children in real danger," he said.

Sandusky was charged with 21 felony counts related to alleged sexual abuse of youths, following the release earlier this month of a grand jury report that suggested he had abused boys over a 15-year period.

Much of the outrage that surrounds the scandal stems from a 2002 incident detailed in the grand jury report, in which Mike McQueary, then a graduate assistant with the football team, allegedly saw Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in the shower, then reported it to head coach Joe Paterno. Paterno has said he then reported the incident to athletic director Tim Curley.

According to the grand jury report, McQueary notified Curley and Gary Schultz, the university's vice president for finance and business. Police were never informed, the report said.

Schultz and Curley face charges for lying to the grand jury about what they knew of McQueary's allegations. Both men have said through their attorneys that they were innocent.

In another instance, a Penn State janitor said he witnessed Sandusky allegedly engage in a sex act with a youth, according to the grand jury report. The janitor was concerned about losing his job and never reported the incident beyond a supervisor, the report said.

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