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September 16, 2019
Managing Your Church Blog, July, 2012
Report: Penn State Sex Abuse Allegations Arose in 1998
Investigation also says leaders disregarded safety—here’s what churches should note.

Joe Paterno and other key Penn State officials knew about sex abuse allegations as early as 1998, but actively hushed concerns in fear of repercussions, according to a special investigative team's report released today. The sweeping independent report notes that the investigation's ". . . most saddening finding . . . is the total and consistent disregard by the most senior leaders at Penn State for the safety and wellbeing of Sandusky's child victims."

The report agrees with a recent grand jury's findings that Penn State officials made no attempt to investigate abuse allegations, identify victims, or protect other children from the continuing crimes.

According to head investigator (former FBI Director Louis Freeh), "The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized." Freeh noted a trickle-down effect of organizational fear that arguably resulted in even a school janitor failing to report an incident of abuse he witnessed in 2000 because of concern for his job. In an ironic twist, the lack of action by staff and officials, all to protect jobs and reputations, most likely will carry severe consequences for the university and its staff in the months and years to come.

Church leaders and staff must remember that reported abuse must be investigated seriously and quickly. Liability can be traced not only according to what is (or isn't) done, but how quickly an organization responds.

Once information concerning possible misconduct comes to light, immediate action must be taken to adequately prove or disprove the reports, and to properly address them if they are true.

Richard Hammar, senior editor of Church Law & Tax Report, says church leaders should note at least 12 lessons from the Penn State scandal:

  1. How to recognize "grooming" behavior;
  2. How to identify abuse disguised as "horseplay";
  3. Understanding the duty to report child abuse—what is reportable abuse?;
  4. Understanding the duty to report child abuse—mandatory reporters;
  5. Understanding the duty to report child abuse—report to whom?;
  6. The criminal liability for failing to report;
  7. The civil liability for perpetrators of child abuse;
  8. The civil liability of employers for employees' failure to report child abuse;
  9. The civil liability for employers based on negligent hiring, retention, and supervision;
  10. The importance of the two-adult rule;
  11. The need for insurance for intentional acts;
  12. The need to control access by former employees.

Richard Hammar goes deeper on the 12 lessons from Penn State's sex abuse scandal in this free recorded webinar and in the May/June edition of Church Law and Tax Report. Hammar also provides a comprehensive, 50-state review of child-abuse reporting laws and definitions through his2012 Child Abuse Reporting Lawsresource.