Syracuse: Another Institution Failing in Child Protection

When it comes to child protection and childhood sexual abuse, Jim Boeheim and Syracuse University’s quick defense of and rebuke of the courageous victims is fundamentally wrong.  Boeheim’s comments immediately dismissing the victims reflect his own and our society’s general lack of understanding and ignorance regarding childhood sexual abuse. Society is quick to rally around an offender without knowing more than just his or her public persona as a trusted person who is also in denial.

In Syracuse we are seeing yet another example of institutional failures in child protection.  Jim Boeheim rebuked these victims, saying their accusations were “a bunch of a thousand lies.” Jim Boeheim and others at Syracuse who allowed Bernie Fine to continue working as an assistant basketball coach at Syracuse for the past six years since these allegations have surfaced, need to be trained and educated on mandatory reporting and child protection.  As Victor Vieth, the director of the National Child Protection Training Center, and his co-authors write in a recent article, Lessons From Penn State, “sex offenders who have been ‘caught’ abusing a child without a report being made to the authorities or without any meaningful consequences often feel emboldened, giving them a sense of invincibility.”  In contrast, with proper training, University officials would know to report and competently investigate and assess any reasonable suspicions of child sexual abuse.

In an email to faculty, staff and students Sunday night, the chancellor of Syracuse University, Nancy Cantor, defended the University’s actions in 2005 because at the time “those who felt they knew Bernie best could not imagine what has unfolded” and the University did not have a copy of the recently-released telephone call with Bernie’s wife wherein she states that she believes he molested children. These excuses should never have prevented the University from acting quickly to thoroughly investigate Bernie Fine at the time.  Instead, Bernie was emboldened as the University failed to investigate or impose any consequences until finally yesterday, when they fired Bernie Fine.

Jim Boeheim, Nancy Cantor and others must learn the lesson that that the most trusted and most revered among us can also be the most predatory. This is in fact a lesson we must all learn.  Victims of child sexual abuse should never be dismissed as were these brave men who came forward to expose the truth and end the secrecy nor should they be required to come forward publically before their perpetrator is investigated. The rebuke of the victims in the Syracuse case did them harm and every other victim who often suffers in silence because they think people like Jim Boeheim would not believe them.  Boeheim and other officials at Syracuse can make amends by educating themselves and acting to teach, train, and educate others in child protection and mandatory reporting.  It is only with proper training on child sexual abuse that children can be protected and child abuse can be prevented.