ISSUE FOCUS: Child Sexual Abuse and Higher Education
In 2011, several high profile cases of sexual abuse at institutions of higher education dominated the national media. This worrying trend has aroused suspicion concerning places of higher education being used as an avenue for committing such acts against the nation's children. Of particular concern is the rise in sexual abuse of young boys left in the charge of university officials. This slew of highly publicized higher education sexual abuse cases has also led to allegations that school officials have mishandled reports of abuse.
The most infamous case of alleged child sexual abuse occurred at Pennsylvania State University (PSU). In November 2011, Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach, was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys who were participants in programs administered by the Second Mile, a charity started by Sandusky. The former coach faced more than 50 counts of alleged sexual molestation, and counts of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse activity, among other charges. Sandusky continues to deny the allegations.
As a result of the investigation, legendary head football coach Joe Paterno and other university officials, such as Former Vice President Gary Schultz, were dismissed by the PSU’s Board of Trustees for failing to adequately report allegations of Sandusky’s alleged abuse to authorities. Schultz and former PSU Athletic Director Tim Curley also face criminal charges for lying to a grand jury during the course of the Sandusky investigation.
On June 22, 2012, a jury found Sandusky guilty on 45 of 48 child sex abuse charges. The jury convicted him of 25 felonies and 20 misdemeanors. The conviction came on the same day another landmark child sex abuse case was decided in Pennsylvania. A jury in Philadelphia found Monsignor William Lynn guilty of one count of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first senior U.S. Roman Catholic Church official to be convicted for covering up child sex abuse.
In the wake of the PSU scandal, Syracuse University also faced allegations of sexual abuse in their athletics program. Bobby Davis and his stepbrother Mike Lang brought accused former assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexually assaulting them when they worked as ball boys at the university. They also filed a defamation lawsuit against the university and longtime head basketball coach Jim Boeheim. The lawsuit was filed days after Boeheim made an apology to the brothers after accusing them of fabricating their allegations. In addition to these two cases, 2011 also brought allegations of child sexual abuse at The Citadel, University of Oklahoma and even the Amateur Athletic Union.
Children, such as the ball boys at Syracuse, are exposed to athletics and higher education institutions to follow role models and be inspired to establish their goals and dreams. However, victims of sexual abuse are instead faced with a world of pain and a sense of betrayal. Instead of self-confidence, victims have to grapple with issues of trauma, fear and emotional numbness, shattered trust, loss of control and a lack of belief in their ability to make sound judgments about the people around them.
These cases of sexual abuse against our children continue to flourish due to the lack of proactive effort and an effective response from the state, school officials, parents and guardians. It is time for us to get off the fence and become more than just bystanders while our children suffer. We need to join forces and deal with this rising monster that threatens the well-being of our children.