The decision by a committee established by the Penn State Board of Trustees to hire former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh to lead an investigation into the alleged child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the nation is a move in the right direction for the university.
One of the criticisms voiced after the scandal exploded two weeks ago was that the powers within Penn State's governing hierarchy were dominated by the powerful football program headed by the legendary Joe Paterno. This condition may have allowed retired former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky with easy access to the campus for years.
Ken Frazier, the chairman of the PSU Trustee committee that hired Freeh, stressed Monday that will be no sacred cows with this outside investigation.
"No one, no one, is above scrutiny, including every member of the administration, every member of the Board of Trustees and every employee of Penn State University," Frazier said.
This was not the only revelation to emerge from the Penn State scandal yesterday. In Harrisburg, a group of child advocates pushed for new legislation to put more teeth into state laws regarding child sex abuse, especially in reporting suspected abuses to authorities.
One speaker, Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Protect Our Children Committee, said that in suspected abuse cases, everyone should be required to contact authorities, not just their superiors, an apparent procedural failure in the Penn State case.
She blamed current practices for not only failing to protect the victims' rights, but in delaying investigations.
"What happened at Penn State is happening to lots of kids everywhere," she stated.
The state hot line (ChildLine) where suspected child abuse reports are called in also came under scrutiny. Advocates pointed out that only about 15 percent of the 24,615 calls to Childline last year were confirmed child abuse cases, which is one of the lowest percentages in the nation.
The advocates stress that not only do local authorities (counties) need more resources to investigate child abuse cases, but the questions of how a case is categorized as child abuse need to be better defined. It was noted that social workers cannot protect a child or provide services in the home, such as family counseling, if county child welfare investigators cannot determine who abused the child.
As the Penn State scandal continues to unfold, it becomes obvious that the university will be paying a huge price for its failure to protect the child abuse victims. The one bit of positive news to surface thus far is that the system that went so horribly wrong at the university is being revamped, and the shakedown is reverberating through the halls of state government.
By Jim Zbick