We live in a culture riddled with secrecy, denial and childhood sexual abuse. The revelations and reality about the pattern of institutional cover-ups at Penn State University underscore the nature of the problem. The voice of children, who are the victims of sexual abuse, are often disregarded and invalidated. The power of denial transcends the painful reality of violating our most valuable, yet vulnerable resource. Often, parents, schools, community caretakers and agencies are more interested in protecting the perpetrators of abuse than in seeing justice rendered. It's unfortunate, but in a litigious society the wheels of justice are more likely to be granted to the most powerful players.
Unfortunately, it is human nature for those who are first-hand witnesses of sexual abuse to deny, minimize, or avoid its impact; this is also true for those who are potential reporters who have been provided with first-hand information regarding suspected sexual abuse, such as the case with Joe Paterno. Rather than standing tall as a mandated reporter (along with assistant Mike McQueary), he decided to follow the letter of Pennsylvania law, absolving himself of responsibility by seeking to pass the information along to "higher authorities."
Most states have mandatory reporting laws that address this problem of potential reporters trying to shirk their responsibility. In Arizona, the key phrase in the mandatory reporting law is "any person” is obligated to report suspected abuse. In other words, most everyone constitutes a mandated reporter and penalties for not reporting are severe.
It appears that in the Pennsylvania mandated reporting law, those individuals who work in institutional settings are provided an "out" by merely mandating that personnel such as educators pass suspected abuse information to their superiors. This distinction in the Pennsylvania reporting law creates a loophole, which is disturbing. At Penn State University, rather than holding first-hand responders responsible for reporting suspected abuse, the Pennsylvania statute let Paterno and McQueary off the hook and gave them the opportunity to dilute the information as they passed it on to their administrative superiors.
I am not suggesting that Penn State administrators, including the university president, are not culpable for what occurred. Rather, I am making a case that Mike McQueary and Joe Paterno had a legal and ethical responsibility to report suspected abuse and were provided a legal escape through Pennsylvania law.
According to Mike McQueary, he witnessed a horrific scene within the locker room at Penn State University. He viewed a child being sodomized by former assistant football coach, Jerry Sandusky. He supposedly found the situation so repulsive, that he fled the locker room. Due to his eyewitness account, McQueary had the most significant role and obligation to report the alleged sexual abuse to the police and child protective services. Joe Paterno received first-hand information about the alleged sexual abuse from McQueary and should have collaborated with him to report it. According to most state’s child protective service protocols, "any person" should be obligated to report suspected child abuse - including Joe Paterno, who had first-hand knowledge relayed to him about the heinous acts of Jerry Sandusky.
Once again, we are witnessing the ugly side of college sports and institutional cover-ups. It is obvious that the NCAA is being tarnished by the behavior of many players and coaches. I find it mystifying and yet understandable, that the Penn State University administrators, including the president, have taken the fall for the legal and ethical cowardice of a coach who plans on leading his team onto the field this Saturday for a game that most people will find repugnant.