In light of the recent events surrounding Penn State and its former assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, one of the questions that probably on everyone’s mind is how far the legal duty to report suspected child abuse should extend to effectively prevent or stop a predator.
The law requires people in certain occupations to report suspected child abuse. These occupations include teachers, doctors, social service workers, chiropractors, and registered nurses. What about those running charity programs for children? What about the school officials other than teachers? What about those people who do not fall into any of the enumerated categories yet actually witness the abuse?
Pursuant to Pennsylvania’s provision on mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse 23 Pa.C.S. § 6311(a): “A person who, in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children shall report or cause a report to be made … when the person has reasonable cause to suspect, on the basis of medical, professional or other training and experience, that a child under the care, supervision, guidance or training of that person or of an agency, institution, organization or other entity with which that person is affiliated is a victim of child abuse, including child abuse ….” [emphasis added.] In other words, Sandusky’s abuse was not reported to authorities in 2004 because Penn State officials had no obligation to these boys.
Let’ now consider what the Penn State officials did do upon learning in 2004 from a graduate assistant who witnessed Sandusky assault a young boy in the school’s locker room? They took away Sandusky’s key to the locker room and prohibited him from bringing boys from the Second Mile charity to the school. Essentially, the message their actions sent to Sandusky was “YOU CAN CONTINUE ASSAULTING LITTLE BOYS BECAUSE WE HAVE NO OBLIGATION TO THEM, AS LONG AS YOU DON’T DO IT ON THE SCHOOL PREMISES!”
At this point it is unclear whether Penn state athletic director or senior vice president for finance and business were under a legal obligation to report Sandusky to the authorities. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear that their failure to report allowed a sexual predator to continue abusing young children for at least the next five years.
Another case of unreported child sexual abuse that has come to light recently is that of Louis “Skip” ReVille, a predator that taught school, led sports teams, guided Bible studies and took kids into his home as a foster parent. According to the local news source, it was around 2006 when the officials at Pinewood Preparatory School in Summerville, SC where ReVille worked for an English teacher and basketball coach for 4 years, became aware of his inappropriate behavior toward students. Yet, instead of reporting this to the authorities, the school simply chose not to renew his contract.
As a society, we are reluctant to burden so-called innocent bystanders with duties to act. At the same time, today we are collectively outraged that these abuses went on for so long and the perpetrators were not reported to the authorities. So the question remains – how far should the legal duty to report suspected child sexual abuse be extended in order to protect innocent children who are too ashamed and scared to stop the abuse……..