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Sandusky child sex abuse scandal raises questions about state laws

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal at Penn State, many states are reexamining their laws requiring people to report suspected abuse.

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Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky leaves the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte, Pa., June 5 after the first day of jury selection for his trial on child sexual abuse charges. The trial begins Monday.

Gene J. Puskar/AP

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When the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State erupted last year, public anger was not only directed toward Jerry Sandusky, whose trial begins Monday, but toward the people around him who didn't report their suspicions to police.

In the months that followed, that anger led many states to re-examine and expand their so-called mandatory reporting laws that require people to report suspected abuse or face civil and criminal penalties. Some state laws apply to professionals like doctors and teachers, while others apply universally to all adults.

Child advocates and academics are divided, however, about whether increasing the number of mandatory reporters will make the public more vigilant, or simply overload an already stretched-thin child welfare system and siphon limited resources from children who need help most.

Forty-eight states require at least some professionals to immediately report knowledge or suspicion of child sexual abuse to some authority, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The list of professionals varies by state and can include teachers, school nurses, doctors, social workers, police, day care workers, coaches and camp counselors.

Of those states, 18 have laws that require mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse by all adults.

IN PICTURES: Fallout from the Penn State scandal

Many states have no specific sanctions for those who fail to comply with such laws, while others have penalties but they are not enforced unless a case is particularly heinous or deadly, said Teresa Huizar of the National Children's Alliance, a Washington-based advocacy group.

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