Fix PA’s Broken Child Abuse System

Fix PA’s Broken Child Abuse System

A shortened version of this article appeared in today’s York Daily Record print version in the Editorial section…

Fix Pa’s Broken Child Abuse System
Aaron J. Anderson
Pastor, City Church York
Member, Advisory Board, Prevent Child Abuse Pennsylvania
Member, York County Children, Youth and Family Council

The simple answer to the question is everything! No one did enough to protect little boys from a grown man’s perverted sexual fantasies. As this story grows more and more disturbing questions surface.

Yes, graduate assistant Mike McQueary contacted Joe Paterno the day after he witnessed Sandusky with a boy in the shower, but how does a man just walk away while a ten-year old is being sodomized? Why not physically intervene to stop the abuse? Why not call campus police or the PA Childline instead of going to Paterno first? McQueary could have done more, a whole lot more.

Yes, Paterno fulfilled his legal obligation under PA law and reported what he heard to his supervisor, but did he follow through beyond that report? Did he later go to Tim Curley to find out how the university was handling the situation? If Joe found that the police had not been called why did he not feel the responsibility to call? Yes, I am aware that the letter of the law does not require this of Paterno, but surely the spirit of the law implies that adults assume the responsibility of protecting innocents in a civilized society. Paterno could have done more and now he has publicly acknowledged it.

Make no mistake, Paterno will be the most public fall guy for this scandal but should he be the primary? What went wrong with the administrators who were required by law to report this? The only thing we do know is that they took Sandusky’s locker room keys away and reported the incident to Second Mile charity, but that was it! No police call, no Childline call, nothing more! Was the reputation of the storied PSU football program more important than the welfare of a ten-year old boy? Seems to me like a house cleaning is in order.

How did Second Mile charity respond to what was reported? Over a ten-year period, starting in 1998, they knew of three separate allegations against Sandusky. It took them until 2008 to keep Sandusky away from kids. Unacceptable.

I could go on about how janitor Jim Calhoun witnessed Sandusky sexually abusing victim number 8 in the locker room shower in 2002. Calhoun relayed the incident to co-workers and no one ever reported the incident for fear of their jobs. Why wasn’t there a real man at PSU who would stand up for these kids?

What went wrong in Happy Valley? Everything. No one went far enough and little children paid for it. No one acted in the interest of kids who deserved to grow up with a carefree childhood. I want to cry over the fact that no one at PSU made an attempt to discover the identity of victim number two. We should weep for all the known victims and those who are even today emerging to share their horror stories. The 23-page grand jury report is a read I won’t soon forget. I can’t get Jesus Christ’s words in Matthew 18:6 out of my head: “But if anyone offends one of these little ones, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

What more can we do to protect our children, not just in Happy Valley, but also in all of our communities? First, we have to acknowledge that Pennsylvania has significant flaws in our system. Read the Grand Jury report for yourself regarding victim number six. The Department of Public Welfare investigated the report of Sandusky showering with the boy after the mother reported it. Sandusky admitted to giving the boy bear hugs in the shower. No criminal charges were filed! No abuse was substantiated! Are you kidding me?

We can address system flaws by asking our legislators for a comprehensive independent review of the core elements of child abuse in PA – how it is defined, reported, screened in and out, and investigated. Child advocates have been calling for a Child Protection and Accountability Task Force to oversee this. Harrisburg, do we have you ear now? Lawmakers should make it a requirement that mandated reporters receive training on how to identify abuse and how to appropriately respond. You should contact your legislator today and demand that the system gets a thorough review.

Second, we can move beyond the letter of the law and do whatever is necessary to protect children. If you remotely suspect that a child is being abused, sexually, physically, emotionally or being subjected to neglect, you should call the PA Childline at (800) 932-0313. I have the number saved in my iPhone and I am ready to use it if needed. Protecting a child may require more than a phone call. My former neighbor, Neida Baez, is in prison for failing to intervene when her boyfriend, Harve Johnson, was beating her little girl to death. She should have called the cops and stepped in but she didn’t and Darisabel is gone because of it.

Third, we need to teach all of our community’s children about what is appropriate adult behavior and what is not. Our kids should have the confidence that if they come forward with a report that they will be heard, protected and that justice will be done.

My final thought is more of a question with which I believe our communities should wrestle. It seems like every day another man is arrested for child pornography or for molesting a child or a high school teacher is arrested for having sex with a student. If the allegations hold true, we have to ask this question: “What led Jerry Sandusky to act out his fantasies on kids?” The statistics for sex abuse of women and children are going in the wrong direction. Are we out of control as a society when it comes to sex? Are we willing to live with the consequences of unbridled sexual expression?

There may be a ‘victim number two’ in your own community, a faceless, nameless, helpless, powerless little one being victimized by an adult that should be trusted. Will we sit idly by while our community’s children are destroyed, like it appears they did in Happy Valley? Or will we rise in indignation and be protectors of the powerless at any cost, even if it costs us the reputation of our sacred institution or even our job? As a community member, I’m horrified. As a father of five, I’m torn up inside thinking about the victims. As a pastor, I find myself praying the hymn,

O quickly come, dread Judge of all,
For awful though Thine advent be;
All shadows from the truth will fall,
And falsehood die, in sight of Thee.
O quickly come, for doubt and fear
Like clouds dissolve when Thou art near.

May the shadows from the truth fall. Our children need our protection. We can do better. You have a role to play. Prevention is possible.

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