The beating death of Tyre Nichols has renewed calls for reforming the police. But can anything really change?
Pennsylvania’s attorney general blasted Penn State University for failing to report suspected sexual abuse of young boys. The case has shaken the nation since the arrest over the weekend of the alleged molester, former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. He denies the charges. Two top administrators were also charged – with perjury and failure to report the allegations. For many it brings to mind painful episodes with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America over their handling of allegations involving sexual abuse of children. Diane and her guests talk about the Penn State case, the responsibility of individuals and institutions and how to help young victims.
One place to go to for help: Childhelp’s hotline 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)
- Sara Ganim Reporter, Harrisburg Patriot-News.
- Jeffrey Rosen Professor of law at The George Washington University; legal affairs editor at The New Republic.
- Nikki Sample Therapist and residential program coordinator at Childhelp's Alice C. Tyler Village, in Lignum, Virginia.
- Frank Cervone Executive director, Support Center for Child Advocates.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. A sex abuse scandal has rocked Penn State University. Individuals warned university administrators about suspected abuse of young boys more than a decade ago. Even if the allegations prove false, we're once again reminded that institutions sometimes fail to live up to their legal and moral obligations. Joining me in the studio to talk about the Penn State case: Jeffrey Rosen of George Washington University, Nikki Sample of Childhelp and Frank Cervone of the Support Center for Child Advocates.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we'll be happy to take your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. And before we begin our conversation here in the studio, joining us by phone from State College, Pa., reporter Sara Ganim. Good morning to you, Sara.
MS. SARA GANIMGood morning, Diane.
REHMI know you broke this story. Tell us how it unfolded.
GANIMWell, it's very interesting. It unfolded for us in pieces. I know it unfolded for investigators in pieces. The most recent victim that we know of is actually the first one to come forward and be believed by police. So police were almost working backwards. They started with this victim who says that he was involved in this prolonged relationship of abuse with Jerry Sandusky from the mid-2000s up until 2008. He's still a teenager. He came forward through his school.
GANIMAnd as they begin investigating his case, they went back and found that there was an earlier report of abuse in 1998 that was investigated by police. And charges were never brought. Then they also found that there was a report made by a graduate assistant in 2002 of abuse very similar to the abuse in 1998. And that was the one that has resulted in perjury charges and failure to report because Penn State officials who were told about it allegedly never told police.
REHMSara, I want to go back to the 1998 case because, in that situation, the district attorney instructed that the case be closed. How come?
GANIMWell, we don't know because Ray Gricar was the district attorney, and he has been missing for seven years and was declared presumed dead over the summer. So we can't go ask him why. And, as far as I know, there is no investigative notes. I did talk to a law enforcement official who was in the room with Gricar when police came to him with the results of their investigation. But there's no indication of why he made his decision. We just know that he made this decision.
GANIMYou got to remember, he's the one that -- he appeared to have been investigating it. It's not like he completely blew it off. He -- it was a six-week investigation. He set up this sting in the house of one of the victim's mother. The mother confronted Sandusky. According to the presentment, Sandusky admitted that he did something appropriate. He asked for forgiveness. He said he knew he wasn't going to get it from that mother, and then he said, I wish I was dead.
REHMI know you're at State College today for a news conference later by head coach Joe Paterno. What has he said so far?
GANIMHe's only released one statement so far saying that if it's true, we've all been fooled and kind of clarifying his grand jury testimony. And I think the reason that he did that was because the day after this broke -- I mean the news report -- some of the sports columnists just, you know, basically said, how could this -- how could Joe Paterno have acted this way? And his clarification, so to speak, was, you know, I was never told the extreme graphic details. I only knew something inappropriate might have happened.
GANIMAnd he's not said anything since that clarification. Now, whether or not he says anything today, I think, is still up in the air because those of us who have covered Penn State and covered Joe Paterno know that, you know, his handlers could tell him and have worked every detail of what he's going to say. But it's up to Joe when he sits in that chair in front of that mic what he's going to say. And we really don't know.
REHMBut let me take you back a bit to March 2002 when, apparently, a graduate assistant allegedly told Paterno that he had seen Sandusky engaged in totally inappropriate relationship with a young boy. And it's at that point that one assumes that Paterno reported what he saw. Is that correct?
GANIMWhat has come out in the last few days, the scenario appears to be this graduate assistant witnessed this act. It was a sex act in the shower. He went directly to his father, and then he went to sleep. He slept, you know, one night, slept on it. In the morning, he told Joe Paterno. Joe Paterno's statement is that, basically, this graduate assistant sat down, started to tell him the story, and he went, whoa, whoa, whoa, you know, these details are really graphic. Please go tell -- we need to report this to somebody else.
GANIMThis is not something I need to be dealing with. So he passed it up before he knew, according to Joe, that he -- before he knew the graphic nature of it. And then, 10 days later -- according to the grand jury presentment, 10 days later, this graduate assistant sat down with Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. And that's where the story starts to split because the graduate assistant says that he told Curly and Schultz everything, all the details. And Curley and Schultz say that they were never told that anything of a criminal nature might have happened in that shower.
REHMSo how have -- how has Penn State and the college students themselves, how are they all reacting to this?
GANIMWell, the college students -- I mean, there's a lot of anger on this campus right now. And I think it's a combination of a couple of things. I think they feel very, very hurt by what they read about -- they're reading about Joe Paterno. I also think they're feeling pretty let down by their university leaders. You know, one of the first statements that was made by Graham Spanier was that he was pledging unconditional support for Curley and Schultz.
GANIMOne of the mothers of the victims said to me yesterday, you know, where is your unconditional support for my son? And so that was really -- that statement created a lot of backlash. And the students -- you got to remember, the students on this campus don't really know Jerry Sandusky. He's been gone from the football program since 1999. He is well-known to some older alums and some older fans, but the students here -- what's really heartbreaking for them is reading about what Joe Paterno may or may not have known and may or may not have done.
REHMSara Ganim, she is a reporter for the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Thank you so much for joining us, Sara.
GANIMThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd turning to you now, Frank Cervone, this whole story has a lot of complex details. What stands out to you?
MR. FRANK CERVONEThere were eight victims who appear to have been engaged in sexual violence perpetrated by this fellow over several years, all boys -- if the grand jury report is accurate -- and boys who were involved with this charitable organization, Second Mile, that Sandusky helped to found. It's striking to me that these were boys who were probably placed in that organization because of some prior experience of abuse or neglect in their lives, so they were vulnerable to start.
MR. FRANK CERVONEIt's a heightened trust that we are invested with when we care for kids who are involved with the child welfare juvenile justice system. They didn't have anybody probably in their lives that they could have gone to, except for the people in the organization. That's why the community ought to have stepped up in a way before it did. As well, there's legal implications for the failure to report.
MR. FRANK CERVONEThose of us who work with children across the land, the national standard is there's a duty to report when one believes or suspects that a child coming before you or a child with your organization has been abused. We're supposed to make a call to the authorities, and the authorities are supposed to take it from there. It appears that calls were not made and even that the authorities dropped the ball.
REHMWhen you say the authorities, what do you mean?
CERVONEWell, the grand jury report, like many grand jury reports, are -- is a very detailed document. And so it offers an account of the actions and inactions of the local police department and of the campus police, both of whom were in -- had staff involved in investigating allegations over this period of years that this was happening. Sara just described the 2002 incident. In fact, there were reports dating back as early as 1998. Investigations happened, and nothing followed.
REHMHow typical, Jeffrey Rosen, is this situation on the part of higher-up authorities? What is their legal responsibility, and how do they normally behave?
PROF. JEFFREY ROSENThe legal responsibility is that when you receive a complaint of abuse, you have an obligation under Pennsylvania state law to report that to the authorities. And the grand jury is charging the officials with not making that required report. Now, they have a defense. Their lawyer has said that the law only applies to children under the care and supervision of the organization for which they work, and that's Penn State, not the Second Mile. So they're saying that the Pennsylvania law does not actually bind these people because the kids were not under their care.
REHMJeffrey Rosen, he's professor of law at George Washington University, legal affairs editor at The New Republic.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about the alleged cases of sexual abuse at Penn State by one of the former assistant football coaches, Jerry Sandusky, and the failure of top administration individuals to report what they knew about what was happening. From your point of view, Jeffrey Rosen, just before the break, you were talking about the legal obligations. What about the moral obligations of someone like Joe Paterno?
ROSENThe moral obligations are undoubted, and this is what the Catholic Church really learned in its scandals. It turns out that these reporting laws are not that constricting. Even if you're convicted of failure to report, it's a summary offense, a misdemeanor and, at most, it's three months in jail and more likely a $200 fine. So it does not promise a very serious penalty. And these cases are not brought very often.
ROSENThe lawyer for the Penn State official says that he -- as far as my research shown, there's never been a reported criminal decision under the statute, and the civil decisions go way back. In the Catholic Church scandal, it was only in October that the bishop of Kansas City was also indicted for failure to report under a similar summary offense facing a very minor penalty. So we have to emphasize that even if the prosecutors win their case, it's a small penalty, and that increases the moral obligation to report.
ROSENThe Catholic Church, in the face of its scandals, at least adopted internal regulations requiring reporting on moral grounds because they recognize that it's a terrible dereliction of responsibility not to care for the children for which they're responsible.
CERVONEOne of the dark sides of the scandal in Philadelphia around the Catholic Church was documented in a 2005 grand jury report, revealing a bit of a loophole in the Pennsylvania law that it subsequently was closed by the legislature. And that was -- and many states have this kind of a loophole. It used to be that one had a duty to report only for children who come before you in a professional capacity.
CERVONEAnd so the pastor heard about the abuse perpetrated by one of his subordinate priest from the parents of a child, and the child's not sitting there. The pastor says, I'm not a mandated reporter. And, in fact, that was a, one might say, a fair, if unfortunate, reading of the law. The legislature closed that, you know, found it, you know, silly if it wasn't so upsetting.
CERVONEAnd now, the Pennsylvania law reads that a child who is cared for by the organization. Now, one might ask, were these kids from Second Mile being cared for by Penn State? I think they were. They were in their gym. They were using their facilities. They actually had a contractual agreement to use the facilities.
REHMAnd that was granted when Jerry Sandusky retired as assistant head coach. Isn't that true?
CERVONEWell, formalistically, it looks like there was some, perhaps, contractual relationship. What we know is that the Second Mile organization is intimately connected to the Penn State community and for good and noble reasons, right? The Penn State community opened itself up to the care of these young people, made their facilities available, their personalities available, their kids connecting with the Second Mile kids. You have to like all of those things. And yet it's in those very trusting relationships that responsibility to care for kids becomes more heightened.
REHMNikki Sample, as a therapist and coordinator of Childhelp Village in Lignum, Va., you've seen these cases, I'm sure. But think about that mother talking about what had happened to her son back in 1998. How do mother, son feel when this kind of situation is virtually ignored?
MS. NIKKI SAMPLEI'm quite sure they feel robbed. It's very difficult, especially in terms of sexual abuse in general, disclosing and coming forward. There's a lot of grief and shame that's usually associated with it on no fault of the child, obviously. But it's a very sensitive disclosure. I'm sure, and I think she said it right in terms of where was the advocacy for my child? Where was the support for my child?
MS. NIKKI SAMPLEIt's very difficult to come forward most of the time because the child may feel like they won't be heard or that they might anger that authority figure because most of the time it is. It's a trusted authority figure that is the one, or the perpetrator, doing the abuse. So there's a fear to come forward. There's, of course, the shame that's associated with it, and there's a fear that they may break up whatever that relational piece is. So it's...
SAMPLEYeah, conflict. And as the mother and as the parent, I'm sure you just trust, and the safety of your child was taken.
REHMJeffrey Rosen, do laws regarding child sexual abuse make it too easy in terms of reporting responsibility, making sure that the child's needs are adhered to? I mean, we realize that there are cases where allegations are made, and they're not true. At the same time, you're talking about children in the care of adults, as Nikki says, whom they trust.
ROSENAbsolutely. And it's striking, isn't it, that the laws for reporting sexual harassment in the workplace, for example, or even sexual assault of college students are far more rigorous than the laws for reporting child abuse?
ROSENThe EEOC requires employers to keep yearly reports to file accounts of every single complaint that's made. There are strong penalties for not filing that. As for universities, even here in the studio, there's a sticker from American University saying, if you feel that you've been a victim of sexual assault, report it to this campus office, and we will report it to the police. So as you suggest, it's almost as if children are more vulnerable because the laws covering them, for whatever reason, don't make this reporting mandatory.
REHMHow do you account for that, Frank Cervone?
CERVONEWell, the -- we -- at the one level, we have created in our laws a low threshold. So we've empowered the entire community to be vigilant. So we don't, from a due process perspective, ask for much evidence in order to start a case. The mandate attaches -- the duty to report attaches those of who are professionals and others who work with kids when there's either a belief or a suspicion. This is way below the criminal standard that everybody knows beyond a reasonable doubt. It's, in a sense, the other extreme. You have a duty to report when you suspect that a child may be abused.
CERVONEWell, one might say we're all responsible. And in the end, when everybody's responsible, no one is. I think that's one part of the response we see in this case. And we see over and over again that the community witnesses some act against children, and they feel hesitant to intervene. They either tell themselves, well, that's a private moment of that family, or they tell themselves, well, I don't want to make it worse. Or, of course, they rationalize to themself someone else will respond.
SAMPLEI completely, completely agree with -- exactly with what Frank is saying. He's right. A lot of the times there is -- there's -- they want the anonymity, which they don't feel like they may have when you call to report. They might fear that they are doing further damage in terms of breaking up that family because, most of the times, that's what will occur, where the child be removed from the home.
SAMPLEI think here, though, in this case, there's a self-accountability that we have to take into consideration in terms of, yes, when you are a mandated reporter and then you report to your supervisor, do you wash your hands from there? Or do you persist and do you make sure that, you know, it's taken to the next level or an investigation has started?
REHMI'm going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Hoover.
HOOVERYeah. Good morning, Diane. This is a very important topic that you're considering today. And I just want to convey that I'm no longer working at a Division I school, but I did for a lengthy period of time. And some of the things that go into an investigation like this are never ever reviewed at the highest level. They -- situations happen, and employees of the institutions, first thing they do is they lawyer up with their university council and hire a private attorney if necessary.
HOOVERAnd then the -- they build walls around the case. And they're there to defend the situation and the university, so they're not going to lose money in a legal settlement or a lawsuit. But they will settle if necessary to keep it out of the papers for obvious reasons. But the thing that bothered me the most -- and I interviewed some people that had been involved in sexual harassment on campus with a high-level official -- in fact, a couple of high-level officials.
HOOVERAnd because they were important, because they brought grant money in, et cetera, no matter what they did, it was always the victim who was blamed. And, in some cases, they were put out on disability, or they were given some discreet settlement without the ability to talk about it. You know how those confidential settlements are.
HOOVERSo, you know, the thing I'm concerned about is a person like Paterno, he should have followed up on this. And I don't care what he says today. When you learn something about that, you don't just stop and tell a graduate student, that's way too scary for me to know. What you do is you take that person with you to the appropriate person on campus, and you make sure it's followed up at the highest level. That was his moral responsibility, and he didn't live up to it.
REHMAll right. Jeffrey Rosen.
ROSENWell, that seems exactly right. And as Diane suggested, once the report is made, Paterno may have felt that his responsibilities were over. But it's striking in so many of these cases that the police are so quick to exonerate. Why did the district attorney, who's missing, not indict? And in the case against the Kansas City bishop, it's remarkable that the monsignor actually shared -- described a photo of child pornography that one of the fathers had downloaded to the police.
ROSENAnd the police said, that doesn't sound like child pornography to me, and it was dropped as a result. So there's something about these charges that both makes the institutions eager to cover them up and the police not eager to follow up. And it doesn't make any sense that we're treating sexual harassment more seriously than child abuse.
CERVONEYeah, the caller raises two interesting, one might say, bureaucratic dynamics. You're in an institution. The laws across the land are explicit that one may, indeed, pass the buck up the chain so as to, in a sense, take the load off a subordinate. All right? You know, there were janitors who saw some of these things happen.
CERVONEShould the janitor have to engage the children and youth agency? They get to tell their boss. Their boss now wears the mantle of responsibility. All of the burdens and responsibilities that the janitor had for seeing it now pass to the boss, right? So we can legitimately go uphill. The pass the buck thing isn't necessarily a negative. Second, the caller suggested that internal review sometimes squelches the complaint. The law in child abuse investigation goes along with this low threshold. We may not conduct an investigation at the expense of the duty to report. You could do your own internal investigation.
CERVONEBut the children and youth authorities, they get to do their investigation, that the first response, beyond -- it's just -- just, at this initial point, there's a suspicion. You're a mandated reporter. You get to read the act. It says, oh, I do that kind of work. This applies to me. I have a suspicion. I got to make the call. Now, if the university or the institution wants to make their own investigation, they can, but they can't forestall the call.
REHMFrank Cervone is a lawyer. He's executive director of the Philadelphia-based Support Center for Child Advocates. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." One emailer said, "I missed this detail, but what was the young boy doing on campus, let alone in the locker room at a university?" And as it turns out, it was because Jerry Sandusky had access to university facilities, including the gym. Isn't that correct?
CERVONEWell, you know, let's face it. I'm reluctant to discourage the kind of charitable works that, across the land, are important to young people, particularly young people in need. The Penn State community is a wonderful, noble community, with great connections across the country. And there are obviously tens of thousands of other groups of individuals who come forward in a charitable way to care for the children of others.
CERVONEThis is a good thing. We can't let the Sandusky malfeasance tar that tradition of service. At the same time, of course, as caregivers, as parents, we have to be vigilant. We have to ask the questions. Lawyers call it due diligence. We have to make sure that the people to whom we're trusting our kids are worthwhile of that trust.
REHMNikki, these young people are living a lifetime with these memories. What's done to help them?
SAMPLEOh, there's several treatment modalities and facilities in terms of the one in which I work, which is a residential treatment facility for 65 children that we serve, who have suffered abuse and neglect and trauma of some sort. There are, of course, advocacy centers that will work with you through the investigation process and just sue that initial process in terms of the child disclosing.
SAMPLEThen there are residential treatment facilities, group home facilities that you're talking, aftercare treatment. But most of the time it's trauma-focused, and it's walking that child through and processing the trauma with them and family members if there's that involvement still.
REHMBut in the case of, for example, a child abused in 2000 or 1998, you're talking about a whole lifetime...
REHM...of living with this kind of abuse.
SAMPLEYes. Absolutely. And a lot of trust concerns and relational pieces that come with that trauma, suffering that trauma.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Roanoke, Va. Good morning, Rob.
ROBGood morning, Diane. The way in which you orchestrate and the diligence with which you pursue questions has never ceased to continue to amaze me.
ROBIt's just brilliant. My comment follows up what's already been said, with one little slight shift. It was fascinating that -- what I read in the paper this morning -- the police commissioner, in fact, called Joe Paterno out. He said legally he had done his duty, but morally he had not. And in listening to the comments already this morning, the thought that struck me was the unfortunate reality of Joe Paterno got -- is so one point, focused on football.
ROBYou know, I can really believe that once he had turned it over, he never, ever thought about it again. And I can fault him for that, but I think that's the reality.
ROSENHere, Rob is undoubtedly correct that he failed in his moral responsibility. I wonder if there's a sense in which the law discourages people from taking moral rather than legal responsibility. Did Paterno feel that if he went further than just reporting, that he might run the risk of unfairly tarring someone, given the explosive nature of the charge? If that is the case, we need more carefully worked-out procedures for immunizing people who go beyond their reporting requirements.
ROSENThis was done in sexual harassment cases, and the norms on harassment have changed. I was struck -- you know, we're seeing this Herman Cain sexual harassment scandal right now. And isn't it surprising? It almost seems like a blast from the past. There have been fewer of these high-profile sexual harassment charges. We're getting better in that arena. We need to do better in the child abuse arena.
REHMJeffrey Rosen of George Washington University. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd here's an email on this situation at Penn State University. "As an alum," he says, "this case is embarrassing and horrifying. Curley and Schultz should have all ties severed from the university. And if the charges are true, Sandusky deserves to be punished to the full extent of the law. That being said, the vilifying of Joe Paterno is incredibly frustrating.
REHM"If the superiors he reported to had done their job and reported it to the state or state college police, as they should be legally and morally required to do, there would be no debate over whether Joe did what he needed to do. Because his superiors dropped the ball, he is being raked over the coals." Frank Cervone.
CERVONEI think that loyalty is a common human experience, and it's a key part of the experience in this story. One had to feel conflicted if you're in that community and a large personality like Sandusky is at the core of stories that you hear. I think we all have to refresh our own sense of to whom we're loyal. A guy like Paterno is almost mythic in our culture, and, of course, football is larger than Paterno in all sorts of crazy ways. But it's not just football or sports.
CERVONEYou saw it as compellingly in the religious scandals of the Catholic Church, both here and in Ireland. You've seen it across generations that people have stood with their familial loyalties, their professional loyalties, their money loyalties when, in fact, the population or class of individual most deserving of our loyalty is the one who needs us the most right now.
SAMPLEAbsolutely. And I agree wholeheartedly with Frank. But at the same time, we're talking about something as egregious as sexual abuse of a child and eight children over a series of 10 years. We cannot turn a blind eye to stolen innocence, and that's where, as I mentioned before, self-accountability has to come into play.
SAMPLEI think this will allow us to look at processes, especially in terms of this institution, and reporting because is it that once I have reported to the supervisor, my responsibility ethically and morally has, you know, it's dissolved? Or do we continue to pursue because we're talking about abuse of children?
REHMAll right. To Dallas, Texas. Good morning, Mark.
MARKGood morning, Diane, and hope I don't get too outraged during my comment. I'm approaching this from the perspective of a parent of a couple of boys, both of whom are involved in sports. And I'm a little frustrated. I understand that you are -- you have a public radio show. But it -- there has to be some way to convey the horrible -- you know, just the simply appalling nature of these allegations without resorting to euphemisms in as much as child abuse or, you know, inappropriate behavior.
MARKApparently -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- there was an eyewitness to criminal forcible rape of a young child, and it went reported. And now, you know, we're resorting to the legalisms of all, you know, I don't want to hear the details, and I didn't have a duty to report. Are you kidding?
REHMMark, I share your outrage. And I'm glad you called. Jeffrey Rosen.
ROSENAnd readers who similarly share the outrage can go to the Web and read the grand jury report, which sets out all of the allegations in the most graphic detail. It's linked on The New York Times' website, and there is no doubt, as Mark suggests, about the horrific and criminal nature of these allegations if they're true. The details are all in the report.
REHMAll right. To Charlotte, N.C. Good morning, Joe.
REHMGo right ahead, sir. Joe.
REHMGo right ahead, sir. That's...
REHMForget it. Jerry in Baltimore, you're on the air.
JERRYYes, Diane. I listen to you almost every day. And I'm calling because this could be more than a teachable moment -- that sounds weak -- but parents are not as aware as they should be of what is happening. Jeff Rosen said that the Catholic Church had learned. They have not yet learned. And I would invite anybody to go to the SNAP -- it's the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests -- on the line and find that one of the areas which has not yet been investigated is that priests who were abusers in their parishes or in their assignments were encouraged to join the military, become chaplains.
JERRYAnd they carried on with their abuse with families of the military, et cetera.
REHMDo you know anything about that, Jeffrey Rosen?
ROSENI don't, in particular. But I -- the caller is absolutely right to say -- I never meant to suggest that the church as a whole had learned, but there had been individual dioceses. I was struck, particularly in New Hampshire, for example. The dioceses was so upset about the failure to report that it adopted new requirements that went beyond the law and said that there is a moral obligation to pass these things around.
CERVONEIn our work, we often say that child abuse lives in the shadows of our lives. And if there's one thing we can be certain, it's that we have not heard the last of either incidence of individual horrors or incidence of corporate organizational neglect. It's one of the ways that human beings respond to these things. We hide from the truths. We shirk our responsibility. We expect someone else to do it.
CERVONEI think one of the tremendous lessons in this case is the same lesson we've seen over and over again in these type of horrific accounts. It's that the community and individuals in the community have a responsibility.
REHMTo Ann Arbor, Mich. Good morning, Steven. Steven, are you there?
STEVENYes, I am.
REHMGo right ahead, sir.
STEVENWell, I just wanted to mention I teach law to educators, and I teach that they have a responsibility to report suspected child abuse and can't shirk that responsibility by going up to chain of command. At least in our state, liability for failure to report would happen. Whether a teacher reported to a principal, or, in this case, if Paterno reported to his general council, he would still be responsible, at least in our state.
CERVONEYeah, Steven, I'm with you on that. The Pennsylvania attorney general yesterday made a statement explaining that the reason that Paterno is not being charged is that he did what he was supposed to do under law. In fact, a reading -- a close reading of the statute finds that the statute is silent on this question. And I have...
REHMWhat do you mean?
CERVONEWell, I've thought for 30 years that the duty to report attaches, when you're a person who is supposed to report and you have caused a report, and you get to tell your boss, but the duty doesn't leave you.
REHMOh, I see.
CERVONEThe duty -- the circle expands. So one might say, it's not a bureaucratic mechanism to say, well, it should be this person in the chain versus that person in the chain.
REHMSo somebody should have kept going. Somebody should have followed each report?
CERVONEYes. So if you think that the law -- the mind of the law in this area is to create and expand a sphere of protection. It wouldn't make sense that we let somebody out of the duty to protect. We're only adding -- we're adding protectors.
ROSENI have the law here, and, as Frank suggested, it is indeed ambiguous. It says, whenever a person is required to report as a member of the staff, that person shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution, school, facility or agency. Upon notification, the person in charge or the designated agent shall assume the responsibility and have the legal obligation to report. So you -- and this chapter does not require more than one report. So you could say that it's just being pushed up the chain, and it actually creates an incentive to pass the buck.
CERVONEYes. So the boss certainly has a responsibility from, one might say, an administrative point of view to tell his subordinate that he has discharged what is now their shared responsibility.
SAMPLEAbsolutely. But -- and at that point, when do you follow up?
REHMYeah. Or do you?
SAMPLEYou know, when is the -- or do you?
SAMPLEYou know, that's what, I think, passing the buck, and it's -- people are reluctant anyway because they want...
REHMBut, you know, the Pennsylvania attorney general went on television yesterday, and she excoriated Penn State. Now, is that premature? Is that part that of her role? Should she have done that?
CERVONEWell, she did it because she read the grand jury report. And when you read the report, you have to come away believing that more people had to know, right? There were 40 incidents, I believe the count is. It's some extraordinary number.
CERVONEEight different victims. Several of the victims had occurrences in the double digits, all right? Now, as I said earlier, these are kids who are away from their family, and so they might not have had a trusting relationship to tell.
REHMI see. Yeah.
CERVONEBut folks had to know. They had to see behavioral change. They had to see acting out by some of these kids. There were clearly suggestions by the kids that they distrusted this fellow that they were avoiding, all right? These things don't happen in a vacuum. We're not on the moon.
REHMWho did the janitor report to?
CERVONESadly, the janitors -- so there were not only one. There was -- multiple janitors are together, and they told the grand jury that they were afraid they'd lose their jobs.
CERVONEThey told -- sadly, they told no one.
REHMThey told no one.
CERVONEIt would appear to be the case.
REHMAnd yet they were called as witnesses. How could that have happened? Did they go voluntarily? How did that happen?
CERVONEI have to imagine they were subpoenaed by the grand jury and by the district attorneys running the grand jury once the story came out.
REHMBut then they must have told somebody?
CERVONESure. So once the story came out, then -- this investigation went on for several years. That's a little-known fact about this. They've been drilling down on this thing from -- for at least, I believe, it's two-and-a-half years.
REHMYou know, it just -- it takes your breath away to hear this kind of report. Let's go now to Shannon in San Antonio, Texas. Good morning. You're on the air. Shannon, are you there?
SHANNONGood morning, Diane.
REHMYes. Go right ahead, please.
SHANNONI just wanted to concur with your previous caller's comment about your line of questioning. It's superior, and we thank you for it. What really boils my blood about this -- and it isn't just this scandal that's being made public.
SHANNONIt's the other scandals that we've been known -- that we've been informed about, though, with the Catholic religion and everything else, that it's just -- these children and their stories -- because they -- people feel that nobody is going to believe them anyway because these pillars of the community are the ones that are conducting this behavior against these innocent children, these vulnerable children, and support is behind these evil sexual deviants instead of the support that should be behind these children.
REHMIt's all about power, is it not, Jeffrey?
ROSENAll about power, all about relationships and dependencies. The janitors are afraid they're going to lose their jobs. The graduate student who actually witnessed the 2002 abuse is now an assistant coach to Joe Paterno, which is why he certainly have -- would have had no incentive to further criticize Paterno for not having moved up further.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Ottawa, Ill. Good morning, Linda.
LINDAHi. I have one question. We hear Joe Paterno's name over and over and over again, but he did report to someone. What was that person's name? Why don't we hear that person? It seems to me that that person, the next one in line, has really dropped the ball.
CERVONEYeah. So he -- yeah. So, Linda, that person is the athletic director, Curley. And, indeed, he was indicted both for failure to report and for perjuring himself before the grand jury.
REHMPerjuring himself how?
CERVONEHe is said to have lied, that Paterno did not tell him about explicit incidents, that he didn't know or have -- he didn't know enough to create the duty to report.
REHMSo, you know, once again, we are all stunned and shocked by these kinds of revelations. What must be done is somehow to strengthen the laws regarding everything in relation to child sexual abuse.
CERVONEI'm a lawyer, but I think I want to talk about people instead, if I may. We haven't talked about the experience of listeners who may have been abused. If you've been a victim, we urge you to tell someone and to get help. If these kids had the courage to come forward, if the folks who were working with them had the courage to see their need, this could have been stopped. This (word?) could have been arrested. Our laws are an open door to receive reports.
CERVONEEvery community has a 24-hour hotline and emergency response mechanism and lawyers and judges and therapists who are ready to respond. We need the community to believe that, and we need individual victims to feel safe enough to come forward.
ROSENFrank is absolutely right that it's important to talk about people, but this is also the time for legal reform. We know that laws evolve in response to scandals. It was because of the Anita Hill hearings that sexual harassment is taken more seriously. It's surprising -- I think we're all surprised to learn that there have been no prosecutions under this failure to report law that the defense lawyers can imagine and that it was only in October that the Catholic officials were prosecuted for refusing to report.
ROSENAnd we're surprised -- or I was surprised to learn that it's just a misdemeanor punishable by a $200 fine. So by beefing up the penalties, imposing stronger fines, stronger duties to report, that would at least be one small comfort to come out of the scandal.
SAMPLEAbsolutely. And, Diane, just in terms of reporting and kind of going off of what Frank said, if you don't feel comfortable going to your local authorities, which you should, or Child Protective Services, the National Child Abuse Hotline, Childhelp's hotline is 1-800-4-A-CHILD, where you have those professionals on the other end offering crisis intervention and lot of services.
REHMAnd we will have that number posted on our website. Nikki Sample, Jeffrey Rosen, Frank Cervone, thank you all so much. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth, Lisa Dunn and Nikki Jecks. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. A.C. Valdez answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information. Our email address is email@example.com. And we're on Facebook and Twitter. This program comes to you from American University in Washington. This is NPR.
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