If You Suspect Sexual Abuse On Campus: What to Do
In November 2011, Jerry Sandusky, a Penn State University assistant football coach, was indicted on 40 counts of sex abuse against young boys. The indictment came after a three-year investigation, in which many Penn State employees involved in the football program were found to have behaved inappropriately.
Some were charged with failing to notify authorities, attempting to cover up the scandal, or even perjury. In the wake of the scandals several high-ranking officials at Penn State, including legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and Graham Spanier, the school president, lost their positions.
The question to ask now is this: if you suspect sexual abuse at your school, what should you do? The obvious answer is to report your suspicions to the appropriate authorities. But doing the right thing may be harder than you’d think. Here are a few options you have when it comes to reporting child abuse.
Check out your state’s laws
Every state has its own differing laws regarding reporting these crimes. In some instances, if you work in a position where you deal with children, you may actually be required to report the abuse, usually within 48 hours—either to law enforcement officers and child welfare agencies, or to your boss. Check out the ChildWelfare.gov website to find out more about the statutes in your state.
Reporting child sexual abuse may be more difficult than you think—especially if you only suspect, but aren’t sure, that something inappropriate is going on.
If you work on a college campus, telling your boss is often the first step. But bear in mind that it may not be enough. In the Penn State case, assistant coach Mike McQueary allegedly witnessed Sandusky performing a sexual act with a minor, and reported it to head coach Joe Paterno—who in turn reported it to the school’s athletic director. Ultimately, the only result of this was that Sandusky was no longer allowed to bring children into the football locker rooms—and the incident was never reported to law enforcement. Your boss may step up to take responsible action, or feel pressure to cover up the incident.
Call a child abuse hotline
There are numerous child abuse hotlines available, some national—such as the National Child Abuse Hotline, as the name suggests—and some state-specific. Check out ChildWelfare.gov’s list of hotlines by state to find the best place to call in your area. For most hotlines, you don’t have to give your name and can report anonymously. The help line may take direct action or assist you in determining the appropriate next steps.
Call Child Protective Services
Child Protective Services operates on a statewide basis, so the number to call will be different depending on where you live. And what happens next depends on the laws in your state. It’s possible the hotline operator could open an investigation on the alleged abuser, if you have enough evidence. Afterward, a social worker may be dispatched to investigate the allegations, talk to the child, and assess the situation. Unless there is overt evidence of abuse, however, calling Child Protective Services may not result in arrests or other dramatic action. However, it could—so you should be absolutely sure your accusations are well founded before you call.
Call the police
Another option you have is to call law enforcement—you can do this as easily as calling 911. This is more of an option if the situation is immediate—you’ve just witnessed a sexual assault, or know that one is going on currently. The police don’t take reports based on hearsay, so be sure you have specific information to give.
Reporting child sexual abuse may be more difficult than you think—especially if you only suspect, but aren’t sure, that something inappropriate is going on. But in many cases, reporting is the right thing to do. Know the laws in your state, and do your best to get the information to the correct authorities if you have strong reason to suspect something is going on. A child may depend on you.
ABC News: Penn State Lesson: What to Do if You Suspect Sexual Abuse of a Child
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