Penn State scandal prompts calls for child-abuse reporting laws
Outrage over the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal has led to calls for federal legislation that would require anyone witnessing child abuse to report it to law enforcement or a child protection agency.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced plans Wednesday to introduce the Child Protection Act, which would compel states to enact child-abuse reporting laws or risk losing some federal aid. States would set the penalties for people who fail to report abuse.
A similar bill, the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act, was introduced Wednesday by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
“As we’re trying to comprehend what appears to be a case of blatant failure on the part of adults to protect children, our focus should be on doing everything we can to prevent abuse in the future,” Casey said in a statement.
Thirty-two states do not require all adults to report suspected child abuse or neglect, according to Casey's office. Instead, many states have in place a requirement that people with regular contact with children, such as healthcare providers and teachers, must report child abuse. "Unfortunately, by not sending the message that it is every adult’s responsibility to report, it means that some cases of child abuse and neglect will go unreported," according to a summary of Casey's proposal provided by his office.
His bill would require states to pass laws requiring adults to report instances of known or suspected child abuse in order to receive federal funding under the Child Abuse and Prevention Act. It also would provide support to states to carry out educational campaigns and training to inform individuals about what constitutes child abuse and neglect, according to his office.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), co-chairwoman of the House Congressional Children’s Caucus, said that she planned to introduce the Federal Zero Tolerance of Child Sexual Abuse Act to stop federal funds from going to institutions, employees or any other entities where sexual abuse of children is not immediately reported.
"The failure of top university officials to act on reports of Mr. Sandusky's alleged sexual misconduct, even after it was reported to them in graphic detail by an eyewitness, possibly allowed a predator to walk free for years -- continuing to target new victims," she said in a statement, referring to Jerry Sandusky, the former coach charged in the Penn State child sex-abuse scandal.
"Equally disturbing is the lack of action and apparent lack of concern among those same officials, and others who received information about this case, who either avoided asking difficult questions or chose to look the other way,'' Jackson Lee added.
Boxer said that she also planned to introduce the Federal Child Protection Act to require anyone on federal property to report child abuse.
"To protect our children from violence and abuse, anyone who sees or knows about a crime against a child must report it to local authorities," Boxer said in a statement. "Right now, the federal government and 32 states have no such requirement in law."
A Penn State assistant football coach who, according to a grand jury report, saw Sandusky raping a boy in the football team’s showers has been widely criticized for not reporting the incident directly to police. He did report it to the university. In an email obtained by the Allentown (Pa.) Morning Call, the assistant coach, Mike McQueary, said that he did discuss the incident with police and stopped the assault.
-- Richard Simon in Washington
File photo: A vigil was held Nov. 11 on the Penn State campus in support of alleged victims of child sex abuse involving a former assistant football coach. Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke.