Today, the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, formed in the wake of the child sexual abuse scandal involving Jerry Sandusky at Penn State University, issued its long-awaited report and recommendations. The Pennsylvania General Assembly authorized the Task Force to examine and evaluate state laws and procedures concerning child protection and reporting child abuse. The Task Force recommended comprehensive changes in the mandatory reporter law, including an increased focus on training and education. The Task Force’s recommendations, however, do not go far enough. We need to change the culture in our institutions, both public and private, to focus on the protection of children over the protection of image and reputation. We must do so not only through education but also accountability.
The Task Force’s emphasis on education must not be discounted but it is only a half-measure. Education and training must be coupled with another major component of child protection, the repeal of the statute of limitations. The majority of sexual abuse crimes go unreported. This unique reality of the crime of sexual abuse must be recognized. Recognizing that victims of child sexual abuse do not come forward immediately, the statutes of limitations must be abolished. We must provide survivors with the means to seek accountability, both through criminal and civil processes. This step requires the elimination of the statute of limitations, so that survivors have a path to justice. If survivors are given the opportunity to hold predators and those that protect them accountable in both the court systems and the court of public opinion, we will see real change in institutional behavior.
The Sandusky tragedy is the perfect example of why reform is crucial. Various officials at Penn State University, upon learning of Sandusky’s behavior, should have immediately felt that it was their duty to make a report to law enforcement. Moreover, as the Sandusky case has shown, Sandusky abused victims through Second Mile for decades. Not only did Penn State officials knowingly fail to protect these children, these survivors are now denied access to justice in holding those persons accountable. If, as a society, we demand that these reforms in child protection laws be implemented, we will begin to shape our society into a culture of child protection.
Jeff Anderson is an attorney and advocate working with survivors of clergy sexual abuse at Jeff Anderson & Associates.