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Hope, help for abused

Published January 11. 2012 05:01PM

More lurid details are sure to emerge from Penn State sex abuse scandal once the trial process unfolds in the Jerry Sandusky case.

With all the sadness and gloom enveloping this story, we do see some signs of hope in helping the actual victims themselves who were or are still being sexually abused.

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett announced the appointments to a task force to examine Pennsylvania's child abuse laws and propose changes. The panel, made up of lawyers and experts in the field, will study how child abuse is reported and responded to, collect input from the public, and also report how procedures, laws and training can be improved. The findings and recommendations will be issued in a report by November.

The group, which includes a children's hospital physician, a social worker, a prosecutor and the chief executive of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, is being chaired by Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, a former state legislator and former county judge. Also aiding will be a state police lieutenant in the criminal investigations bureau, and Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander.

The Sandusky case has sparked other initiatives on the statewide front.

Last November, state Rep. Todd Stephens from Montgomery County, a former head of the sex crimes unit in that county DA's office, introduced a bill that would require people who witness suspected abuse to call law enforcement.

The current law only requires an in-house chain of command at a person's place of employment, a process that many determined was a failure in the Penn State/Joe Paterno story.

In light of that episode, which led to the dismissal of two Penn State officials, Stephens feels a tougher child sex abuse reporting law is needed. The lawmaker stated that we all have a duty and obligation to look after our children, and if we suspect someone is being abused, the local police department needs to be notified.

Just before Christmas, Rep. Stephens also joined the governor and Montgomery County prosecutors for the signing of legislation to close loopholes in the state's Megan's Law and to prohibit sexual conduct between students and school employees.

Senate Bill 1183, which passed both chambers unanimously, included provisions offered by Stephens to make it a felony of the third degree punishable by up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000 for sexual conduct between a school employee and any student, regardless of age.

Regarding the Penn State scandal, we will be hearing much in the coming months about civil suits and the payout to victims. But many victims and their families realize that these horrible offenses, which scar victims for life, are not about the money.

The reforms already undertaken and the ones currently in the works to strengthen Pennsylvania laws on child abuse and child sexual abuse are a byproduct of the horrible chain of events surrounding the Penn State/Sandusky case.

By Jim Zbick

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