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Fall-out from Sandusky Trial: Changes in Reporting, Statutes

Tingley-021 color-1After last week’s gut-wrenching testimony of eight young men who alleged that former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky abused them, Slate reporter Emily Bazelon writes that Sandusky should be done with it already.   “I know we are supposed to believe in the presumption of innocence and wait for the full defense to have its say,” she writes.  “This time, I don’t care.  Sandusky should end this pathetic travesty right now – by pleading guilty.”

Bazelon admits that it’s unlikely that will happen.  Instead, this week Sandusky’s lawyers may try to show that the young men who testified did so for money they might get from suing the university later.  There is speculation whether Sandusky himself will take the stand, but after his weak and murky response to Bob Costas’ question about being sexually attracted to young boys, it would seem a huge risk (“Sexually attracted to young boys?  I like young people.  But sexually attracted? No.”).

In the wake of the scandal at Penn State, some states have reviewed laws regarding mandated reporting.  Almost every state has laws designating certain professions whose members are mandated to report instances of child abuse.  These people typically work with children or have frequent contact with them.  Included in those professions are teachers and other school personnel, social workers, mental health workers, child care providers, medical examiners and coroners, and law enforcement officers according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  In most states, laws regarding mandated reporting apply to children in the K-12 age range.

New York State is currently working on a law that would require coaches in colleges and universities to report child sexual abuse both internally and to law enforcement officials.  An editorial in Sunday’s New York Times expressed disappointment that the governor and the legislature have not moved forward to extend the stature of limitations for victims reporting abuse.  The Times notes that New Jersey is now considering completely eliminating its statute of limitations on the civil side.  Pennsylvania has set the age limit at 30 for filing child sex abuse cases and at 50 for criminal cases.

Every indication from sex abuse cases in the Catholic church or in the Boy Scouts or at Horace Mann or anywhere else is that young men and women bury these memories for years and suffer from the lasting effects of being taken advantage of by older adults they respect or even love.  College kids can be as vulnerable in these situations as younger kids.  Making college coaches mandated reporters is a step in the right direction; laws extending the time period for victims to bring civil and criminal suits need to be enacted as well.

 Sports Illustrated reports that Sandusky’s lawyers can have an expert testify that Sandusky has a condition called “histrionic personality disorder” that will explain his behavior.  Glen Gabbard, a professor of clinical psychology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said,  “That diagnosis, if he has it, would be completely irrelevant to anything having to do with criminal responsibility of acts of pedophilia.”  The diagnosis suggests behavior that is highly emotional, overly dramatic, and seductive.  Dr. Gabbard says that Marilyn Monroe might be a classic example of the diagnosis.

Bazelon may have a point.


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