State of College Predators

“Let’s not burn the universities yet. After all, the damage they do might be worse.”

H.L. Mencken

In the last few months, academia is reeling from a series of child abuse sex scandals, beginning with the Penn State debacle. Is this the next tsunami wave of institutions which fail to protect children?  The growing roster of collegiate child abuse scandals demonstrates shocking naiveté, insensitivity and downright negligence:

Penn State

The Penn State scandal continues to unfold with Jerry Sandusky, the long revered defensive coordinator of the Penn State football program facing 52 charges of child sexual abuse involving 10 child victims.  Not surprisingly, the university is now facing numerous investigations and lawsuits related to the Sandusky’s charges:

Two PSU senior administrators, Tim Curley and Gary Schultz are charged with failing to tell police about an alleged incident reported to them on campus in 2002, then lying about it to a grand jury.

The Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s investigation is still ongoing and its grand jury continues to meet in Harrisburg.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office is now investigating and the federal grand jury issued a subpoena for records seeking documents and emails from the PSU Board of Trustees, and others, relating to payments to third parties and any out of court settlements regarding Jerry Sandusky. Stay tuned.

The NCAA is inquiring into possible violations as a result of this scandal.

U.S. Department of Education is investigating the university’s compliance with the Clery Act, the federal law which mandates that universities report crimes.

PSU is involved in a lawsuit with its insurance company which seeks to deny or limit coverage under its insurance policy. The university could spend millions of dollars to defend itself and, if necessary, pay out huge civil judgments to the victims.

PSU has been sued for negligence by a victim of Sandusky. More victims will surely file lawsuits.

This is just the beginning of the litigation and financial woes for Penn State. By the time Penn State resolves these legal matters, costs to the university will be in the tens of millions, if not higher.

Not protecting children is costly.

Syracuse University

Syracuse University recently occupied the front page with allegations by former SU basketball ball boy Bobby Davis alleging that he was molested as a young boy by Bernie Fine, assistant to the renowned basketball coach, Jim Boeheim.  Other men have also alleged that when they were boys, Bernie Fine sexually abused them. A reported tape conversation with Fine’s wife seems to support the allegations. After the tape recording was made public, Fine was fired by the SU Chancellor.

University of Michigan

The Board of Regents recently ordered an external investigation of the six-month reporting delay of child pornography discovered on an employee’s thumb drive.  The employee, Stephen Jenson, was a University of Michigan Hospital pediatric resident.  At least eight university employees, including a university lawyer, knew of the child pornography on Jenson’s computer in May of 2011 but did not notify the police. The matter was reopened in November and finally reported to university police after doctors at the University of Michigan hospital read about the PSU scandal.  Jenson is now charged in a federal criminal complaint with receipt of child pornography and possession of child pornography. The U.S. Department of Education is also investigating the University of Michigan for the delay in reporting the crime.

Citadel University

Recently, the President of the Citadel Military College apologized for not reporting to law enforcement an allegation against a Citadel college camp counselor involving sexual activity with a child. Officials at The Citadel are admitting they did not do enough after learning that a man who has been accused of sexually abusing at least five boys in recent years, was brought to the school’s attention in 2007.  An internal investigation was conducted, but police were never informed. The counselor now faces at least six charges, including three counts of criminal sexual conduct with a minor and three counts of lewd act on a minor, according to the police.

The massive influx of children on college campuses

The mission of universities is to educate young adults, by imparting knowledge and skills in a rigorous classroom setting and to prepare adult students for the world of work.  Colleges were not founded to operate and house summer sports camps for 8 year olds.  Yet, colleges opened their doors to children without the skill or knowledge to serve and protect children. The size and scope of the population of children on universities is staggering as Penn State proudly advertises on its athletic department website:

Parents, are you looking for a way your children can build self-confidence, learn about and develop skills in activities they enjoy, and make new friends in a fun environment. Every year more than 220, 000 youth have memorable Penn State experiences with Penn State faculty, staff, and graduate students who care about helping youth excel. School age youth can choose from more than 95 sports camps and dozens of hands-on programs in arts, theatre, science and engineering.

Chilling, isn’t it?  Last summer 220,000 children participated in activities when alleged child molester, Jerry Sandusky was roaming on campus. Yet, Penn State continues to proudly promote its summer children’s programs. PSU is not unique in operating sports and academic camps for minors. Nearly every university in the United States runs summer youth programs, everything from football to marching band camps. Millions of minor children participate in activities and live on college campuses every year. The phenomenon of underage children participating and residing on college campuses is big business for universities. These children’s camps generate huge revenue and serve as a valuable recruitment tool for college sports teams.

Why are college camps for kids so troubling and risky? The alleged child perpetrator at the Citadel was a Citadel college camp counselor. At Syracuse University, Jim Boeheim’s Big Orange Basketball Camp is opened to boys ages 8-18. The Boeheim camp was run by Bernie Fine, who was recently fired by the Syracuse Chancellor and he has been plagued by allegations of child molestation.  Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile charity ran sports children’s camps on the Penn State campus.

What’s going on behind the ivy walls?  

The Sandusky Grand Jury Report: Little boys everywhere

For 32 years, Jerry Sandusky worked as both the defensive coach at Penn State and founder of a charity for at risk boys.   Consequently, Jerry Sandusky brought young boys, unrelated to him, to countless PSU events.  The grand jury details the astonishing list of gifts and benefits lavished by Sandusky on these poor and vulnerable boys.  Jerry’s boys were treated to football games where the young boys would stand on the PSU sidelines, attend PSU coaches meetings, attend pre-game PSU football banquets, sit at the PSU coaches’ table, stay overnight in the hotel room with Sandusky before home football games, appear in PSU football videos, work out in PSU sports facilities, travel and eat with the PSU football team, travel and attend out of state PSU College Bowl Games. The Grand Jury report paints a sports culture where an alleged child predator is allowed to roam free, using the vast resources  and perks of a massive university and storied football program, exploiting his prominent college coaching position to groom and abuse young boys.  No one called the authorities.  No one had a clue, or did they?

The gut wrenching Sandusky Grand Jury Report describes 8 vulnerable children molested by Sandusky at all hours, throughout the campus sports facilities.  Tragically, the Grand Jury found that at least 8 people who had either witnessed former coach Jerry Sandusky molesting boys or had been informed that others had witnessed the abuse. The silence was deafening while Jerry kept bringing more boys to campus.

Didn’t anyone think it odd that Jerry Sandusky always had young boys with him? Didn’t someone think it strange that he always brought young boys, who were not his own, to sporting events? Didn’t someone think it curious that the boys were always the same age?  Why didn’t someone pick up the phone and call one of the 80 PSU psychology professors and ask the experts about this odd and troubling pattern of underage boys with Jerry?  Surely, the psychology department professors understand the profile of a predator and are fully knowledgeable about the mandatory child abuse reporting laws.  No calls, no whispers, just silence.

These latest scandals raise serious questions whether universities are  equipped to supervise minor children.  Do minors even belong on a college campus without parental supervision? As the Grand Jury report describes the college campus is a potentially dangerous breeding ground for child predators. Plenty of people saw these children, but no one  apparently knew about child predators, nor did they know about the mandatory child abuse reporting requirements. When an alarming incident with Sandusky and a young boy finally came to the attention of the administration, the institutional solution was to take away Sandusky’s facility keys and tell him not to bring boys on campus.  It’s like saying to a drunk, give me the keys, and don’t drive drunk again.  What about the child?  Silence prevailed.

Universities should know better.  For the last 20 years, the headlines screamed with stories of predators who were protected by administrators who did not report child abuse to the police.  The Catholic Church has spent $2 billion to settle victim lawsuits, and the child abuse scandal has bankrupted 8 dioceses and 2 religious orders. Weren’t university officials paying attention? Did college officials believe that they are above the law, and the law doesn’t apply to them?  Did college administrators think that they are too important, too revered, too elite as an institution or sports dynasty to be bothered by an annoying and pesky little child molestation allegation?

Protecting Institutions at the expense of children.

These scandals suggest that protecting the reputation of the university institution trumps protecting children. Precious little has been done to ensure that the college campus is safe for minors. Background checks, if done at all, are only one small step. The vast majority of sexual offenders have clean background checks. Jerry Sandusky and the alleged Citadel perpetrator had a clean background check.

How did the Penn State Scandal finally surface?  A high school where Jerry Sandusky volunteered as a coach was informed that he was sexually inappropriate with a student. The assistant principal knew his obligation under the mandated reporting law and called the police to report the allegation.  This is how the mandated reporting law is supposed to work to protect children.

In 2007, when Oprah Winfrey was told that there were allegations of child sexual abuse at her girls’ leadership school in South Africa, she immediately called the South African child protection police. As Winfrey stated of the allegations, “I was devastated and really shaken to my core.” Despite her shock and pain and without concern for her own reputation, Winfrey immediately called the South African police who undertook a criminal investigation. Protect children first.

Since colleges are education institutions, here’s a college 101 Course on Child Predators. It’s not as complicated as a Big 10 football defensive playbook, but far more important:

The moment you have a reasonable suspicion of child abuse call the authorities and let the experts investigate.

All states have mandatory reporting statutes which compel teachers, and others, to report child abuse to authorities.

Predators never abuse just one child.

Predators are never too old to abuse children.

Predators seek access to children. Where the children are, the predators will be.

Predators are often seemingly respectable, talented, charitable, generous, nice, friendly, and intelligent adults.

Predators groom, seduce, and threaten children not to disclose the abuse,  and, as a result, predators are rarely caught and brought to justice.

Be vigilant.

Once a child is abused, it takes a lifetime, if ever, to heal.

Children need and deserve protection.  Wake up and pay attention. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize a predator. It does require a commitment to put children first.

Why are these avoidable tragedies happening on universities?   The novelist Alexander Dumas’ provides a possible explanation:

“How is it that little children are so intelligent and men so stupid? It must be education that does it.”

© Elizabeth Yore-2012 All Rights Reserved.

Elizabeth Yore is the former Special Counsel at Harpo, Inc.where she served as Oprah Winfrey’s Child Advocate. She is also served as the  General Counsel at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

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