It is hard to believe it has been a decade since Pennsylvania was rocked by the Jerry Sandusky scandal out of Penn State. Lawmakers and advocates say the state has made progress in the 10 years since, but it is a job that doesn’t have a finish line.
Months after initial reports emerged regarding a grand jury investigation into Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach was arrested on Nov. 5, 2011, on 52 counts of sexual abuse of young boys from 1994 to 2009. Sandusky was found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse the following June. He is serving a 30- to 60-year sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Laurel Highlands in Somerset County.
The tumultuous week that followed included the firing of head coach Joe Paterno. Soon after, then-President Graham Spanier, former Athletic Director Tim Curley and university Vice President Gary Schultz were all implicated and eventually charged.
In the years since the scandal, Pennsylvania lawmakers have passed more than two dozen bills designed at protecting children in the commonwealth. In many ways, they have all helped.
That doesn’t mean child predators have disappeared. The hope is we’ve gotten better at finding them, prosecuting them and protecting our children.
The state dramatically expanded the requirements for background checks to cover almost every adult who has the opportunity to be alone with children through a volunteer or professional position. Unfortunately, that, at times, has led to fewer volunteers for schools, youth sports organizations and more. We have adjusted.
State officials also pushed children’s advocacy centers, places where specially-trained forensic interviewers are available to talk with children who have been abused. The idea is to limit the number of times the victims are questioned by investigators.
Perhaps the highest-profile change was the additional layers of mandatory reporters and a renewed push of the state’s ChildLine hotline — 1-800-932-0313. As often happens when these cases emerge, the number of tips exploded after the Sandusky news broke and after the state’s grand jury report into predatory sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church.
Part of the challenge with so many new mandatory reporters required to report suspected abuse is that many didn’t get any training to help them recognize abuse. Early on, many of the calls were unnecessary, said Haven Evans, who was director of the hotline from 2013-2016. At one point in 2015, officials estimate 40 percent of callers were on hold so long they hung up before making a report.
But we have adjusted.
There will always be cracks and shadows where those who want to live there will try to thrive. But Pennsylvania has closed some of those gaps in the past 10 years and must continue to move forward in protecting such a valuable asset.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.