BY ERIC BOEHM, PA Independent – HARRISBURG — On first glance, Pennsylvania’s mandatory child abuse reporting law seems straightforward: If a person suspects or witnesses child abuse, he must report it to the proper authorities.
But as the charges against Tim Curley, Penn State University athletic director, and Gary Schultz, the school’s vice president for business and finance, play out in court, the ambiguous nature of the law may be put to the test.
Both men are charged with perjury to a grand jury and failure to report child abuse by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, which prosecutors say allowed the abuse to continue for longer. Sandusky’s alleged crimes took place during a 10-year period from 1996 to 2005.
Curley and Schultz turned themselves in Monday to state authorities in Harrisburg, following the arrest of Sandusky on Friday in Centre County, where he will stand trial.
Curley and Schultz are now free after being arraigned and posting bail. Both men have professed their innocence through their lawyers.
The question the prosecution will have to answer is whether Curley and Schultz — to say nothing of Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno or university president Graham Spanier — had an obligation to report suspected abuse, said Wes Oliver, an associate professor at Widener Law School in Harrisburg.
“The moral obligation is to report that, obviously,” Oliver said. “But the question will be: What does the law require of us?”
The state’s required reporting law specifies that professionals who “in the course of employment, occupation or practice of their profession, come into contact with children” must report any suspected abuse.
State Attorney General Linda Kelly on Monday said Curley and Schultz had the legal obligation to report the abuses that they knew were taking place.
“The sexual abuse of a child is a horrific offense that understandably arouses strong emotions within all of us and can cause scars that last a lifetime for its victims,” Kelly said. “Failing to report sexual abuse of children is a serious offense and a crime.”
Oliver said whether Curley and Schultz fall under those legal provisions is unclear, since the alleged abuse occurred to children who were participating in the Second Mile program, a nonprofit founded by Sandusky in 1977.
Although many of the alleged incidents of abuse, detailed in a statewide grand jury report released Saturday by Kelly, occurred on Penn State property and within Penn State faculties, that fact may not be enough to legally tie the two men and the university to Sandusky’s alleged crimes, Oliver said.
Lawyers for both men have said the charges will not hold, because neither Curley or Schultz had direct contact with the allegedly abused children.
But strengthening the law by increasing the punishments or making the requirements more specific is not necessarily a solution either, Oliver said.
“We want people to report these crimes because of the moral sense, not because we want to turn
the citizenry into spies,” Oliver said.
Diane Moyer, legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, a victim’s advocacy group, said people should be more concerned with the spirit of the mandatory reporting law than the letter of the law, and should report suspected abuse to law enforcement regardless of their legal obligations.
“It’s recognizing that something is wrong even if you’re not mandated to do it, but because you know it is the right thing to do,” Moyer said. “I don’t believe that is something you can legislate.”
In this case, Moyer said Penn State should have taken action to prevent Sandusky from being alone with children after school administrators were made aware of his alleged crimes in 2002.
Instead, he was allowed to continue using school facilities through his involvement with the Second Mile group until at least 2008 and had access to school facilities until this year.
State Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre, who represents State College, said he was “shocked and saddened” by the allegations against the three men.
“The Attorney General, the University, or the community should not tolerate any complicity with regard to failure to notify appropriate law enforcement officials,” Corman said in a statement.
Curley and Schultz also face one count of perjury, which could carry a sentence of up to seven years in jail upon conviction. The failure to report charge carries a 90-day sentence and a $200 fine if convicted.
Oliver said the failure to report charges could be dropped as part of a plea bargain, since the statute of limitations for failing to report abuse is two years.
Sandusky is charged with sexual assault against a minor, and the grand jury report details eight separate incidents in which the former football coach abused boys as young as 8 years old between 1996 and 2005.
Kelly said Monday that Paterno was not a target of the investigation, though he testified to the grand jury that he was aware of Sandusky allegedly committing inappropriate actions with minors, but did not know the incidents were of a sexual nature.
Given the chance to say the same of Spanier, Kelly declined to do so, but did not say whether there would be more charges filed as the result of the ongoing investigation.
In a statement, Spanier said the charges against Sandusky were “troubling,” and Schultz and Curley had his “unconditional support.”
“I have complete confidence in how they have handled the allegations about a former University employee,” Spanier said of the two men who are accused of knowing about alleged sexual abuses and not reporting it to the authorities.
The Second Mile, Sandusky’s group through which he allegedly identified his victims, said in a statement Monday that the organization “is committed first and foremost to the safety and well-being of the children we serve.”
Sandusky has had no contact with the organization since he made them aware of the pending charges against him in 2008, the group said.
CLICK HERE TO READ FULL GRAND JURY PRESENTMENT (Warning: contains graphic descriptions of sexual activity)
“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” This Edmund Burke quote distills the intent of a mandatory reporting law to the simplest form. It is indefensible for parties to rest on their laurels to exonnerate themselves after not physically stopping or reporting a predator to authorities.
Comments are closed.