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2011 column image: 
2011 column title: 

Guest Column: The Penn State Scandal is a Call to Action

2011 column date: 
Monday, November 14, 2011
2011 column text: 
Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen

MADISON — The Penn State child sexual assault scandal has put the issue of child abuse exactly where it should be -- on the front page and among the lead stories of every media outlet nationwide.  The details of this case are still coming to light; however, what is clear from the facts alleged in the Grand Jury indictment against Jerry Sandusky is that young boys were being sexually abused by a powerful individual.  It also is becoming clear that even though others -- including at least one eyewitness -- knew about the suspected abuse, it went unreported to law enforcement until years later. 


As Attorney General, protecting children is one of my top priorities. If we do not protect those who are most vulnerable, then whom are we going to protect?  We owe every child the freedom from abuse and neglect.  But we cannot protect those too young to protect themselves if we allow people to hide under a veil of "I didn't know what to do" or "I didn't know whom to call."


Perpetrators who commit crimes of horror against children rely on the fact that their victims are too young and too scared to report. As the Penn State situation highlights, adults also can be silenced.  When child abuse is suspected, we must treat the behavior seriously and swiftly take action.


Over and over again, we learn of situations where good people don’t know what do to when they are confronted with child sexual or physical abuse, or child neglect.  All too often, the response is denial, silence and inaction. If adults are hesitant or reluctant to report these crimes, imagine how difficult it is for the child victims.


Unfortunately, there are instances of child abuse and neglect being perpetrated every day.  While, as a society, we may not wish to accept this stark and painful reality, it is time for us to remove our blinders and to make a plan as to how we will respond to child sexual assault or abuse that comes to our attention.   


The plan is not complicated, but it is a plan that I ask you to commit to now.  Here it is:  If you witness or suspect child abuse or neglect, DO WHAT YOU CAN TO INTERVENE AND CALL 911.  You must get law enforcement involved immediately.  If the Penn State graduate assistant who reportedly saw a young boy being raped in a campus shower had committed to this plan ahead of time, the alleged pattern of predation could have been stopped.  Instead, stunned by what he saw, he fled the building and did not call the police.    


While Penn State personnel fell short in certain respects, I want to be clear that the alleged perpetrator of these horrendous crimes, and he alone, should be held accountable for his actions.  And while he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, should he be found guilty, he should be justly punished. 


The next time you hear someone ask, “What can I do,” please tell the individual to commit to the plan outlined above and pray that he or she will have the courage to carry it out.