As Syracuse University became the third U.S. college whose workers have faced high-profile allegations of child sex abuse this month, child welfare advocates say the accounts may be triggering a surge in reports of juvenile sex abuse.
The “Stop it Now!” group, which guides people who are concerned that a child may have been sexually abused, says its contacts have risen 130% since a former Penn State assistant football coach was charged on allegations that he sexually abused eight boys. Anne Bale, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that after the charges, its child abuse reporting hot line received twice the number of calls it normally does for five days.
That’s not to say child sex abuse has been on an upward trend. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last year reported that incidences of child sex abuse declined by 38% from 1993 to 2006. But Stop it Now! executive director Deborah Donovan Rice said the college stories may be helping victims come forward.
“One of the things that having this story be so public and high-profile is doing, it’s making it more acceptable to talk about this very difficult issue,” Rice said Friday.
The Syracuse allegations are the latest of three child sex abuse cases at U.S. colleges that have gained national attention this month. Syracuse put longtime associate men’s basketball coach Bernie Fine on leave Thursday after two former ball boys, now in their 30s and 40s, told ESPN that Fine molested them years ago. Fine, who has not been charged, denies the allegations.
In the Penn State case, former football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky is accused of 40 counts of sexually abusing boys over a period of more than 10 years, according to a grand jury's summary of testimony. Two Penn State officials stepped down after being charged with lying to the grand jury and failing to report the allegations of abuse to police. Longtime football coach Joe Paterno, who is not charged, was fired after reports that although he advised supervisors of allegations, he didn’t inform police.
In a third case a former cadet-turned-camp counselor at The Citadel military college in South Carolina was arrested last month on charges of molesting at least five children in alleged incidents in the Charleston area. Those cases weren’t linked to the Citadel, but the college this month revealed that in 2007, a former Citadel Summer Camp participant alleged that the man, his camp counselor, engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct.
The following is a roundup of some of the latest developments in these cases:
NCAA to examine Penn State’s handling of scandal
The NCAA says it will examine how Penn State University has handled its child sex abuse scandal.
"This unprecedented situation demands the NCAA evaluate the university's accountability" and the application of NCAA bylaws, said the group's president, Mark Emmert, in a letter to the university.
The NCAA asked Penn State to provide information to several questions by December 16, including:
- How has Penn State exercised "institutional control" over issues identified and related to the grand jury report on the sex abuse allegations?
- What policies and procedures does the university have in place to "monitor, prevent and detect the issues identified in and related to the ... report or to take disciplinary or corrective action if such behaviors are found?”
- Have "each of the alleged persons to have been involved or have notice of the issues identified in and related to the grand jury report behaved consistent with principles and requirements governing ethical conduct and honesty?"
Paterno has lung cancer, son says
Paterno, the 84-year-old coach who was fired last week amid the outcry over the handling of the Sandusky abuse claims, was diagnosed last weekend with lung cancer, his son Scott Paterno said Friday.
"He is currently undergoing treatment, and his doctors are optimistic that he will make a full recovery," Scott Paterno said in a statement. "As everyone can appreciate, this is a deeply personal matter for my parents, and we simply ask that his privacy be respected as he proceeds with treatment."
Syracuse associate basketball coach calls allegations 'patently false'
Bernie Fine, the Syracuse associate men’s basketball coach, denied allegations that he inappropriately touched two boys starting more than 20 years ago and said they were "patently false in every aspect."
Syracuse put Fine on leave Thursday after Syracuse city police said they were re-opening an investigation of the allegations made six years ago by former Syracuse ball boy Bobby Davis, 39.
That news came after both Davis and his stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also was a Syracuse ball boy, told ESPN on Thursday that Fine had molested them when they were children. Lang's new allegations helped kick-start the new police investigation.
"Simply put, these allegations are patently false in every aspect," Fine said Friday in a statement released by lawyers representing him. "The fact is these allegations have been thoroughly investigated multiple times.
"When evaluating the veracity of these accusations, please keep in mind that credible media outlets were approached in the past to publicize these false allegations and declined to do so. I fully cooperated with all past inquires."
The university conducted its own investigation in 2005, and found that no one, even people who Davis said would support his accusations, knew of wrongdoing by Fine, Syracuse Senior Vice President Kevin C. Quinn said Thursday. Police in 2005 said they wouldn't pursue the case because the statute of limitations had expired, Quinn said.
Had the school found evidence or corroboration of the allegations, it would have terminated the associate coach and reported the case to the police, Quinn said. Syracuse placed Fine on leave "in light of the new allegations and the Syracuse city police investigation," Quinn said.
Columnist: How many more college child abuse allegations will come?
A columnist for The Sentinel newspaper in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, told CNN on Friday that the Penn State case may prompt child sex abuse allegations at other colleges in the near future.
The Sentinel’s Rich Lewis had written a column on the subject after the Citadel allegations, but hours before the Syracuse case became public Thursday.
Lewis said he wrote the column because, in part, he rejected arguments that Penn State’s alleged lack of reporting allegations about Sandusky to police came down to a unique culture at the school.
He said the Penn State story will get college officials and reporters looking into past allegations at schools more aggressively.
“I can’t imagine a more uncomfortable group of people than college and university presidents the day after the Penn State story broke, worrying if there perhaps had been something that they overlooked,” Lewis said Friday.
Motivated college officials and journalists, along with victims who may be emboldened by the Penn State allegations, “suggest to me that we may be seeing a lot more cases in the coming weeks,” Lewis said.
“It’s not a prediction, because I hope that it’s false. But it’s a bad feeling about what might lie ahead,” he said.
Child-protection laws under scrutiny
This month’s well-publicized scandals have some child welfare advocates and lawmakers calling for a look at whether laws requiring the reporting of child sexual abuse should be changed, CNN’s Tom Watkins reports.
Changes should include tightening requirements among the states about who must report suspicions that a child is being sexually abused, said Lisa Fontes, a lecturer at University Without Walls at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and author of "Child Abuse and Culture - Working with Diverse Families."
For example, Pennsylvania has an unusually narrow category of mandated reporters, she said. The law requires teachers to report suspicions, but not school bus drivers or athletic coaches, she said.
But Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, wrote in USA Today that tighter requirements would be harmful.
“Changing laws now will lead to a deluge of even more false allegations from newly minted ‘mandated reporters’ protecting not children but themselves, because they fear being punished for failure to report. The time wasted on these cases will be stolen from children in real danger, so more such children will be missed,” Wexler wrote.