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Lisa Belkin

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If You See Abuse, Report Abuse: The Lessons Of Penn State

Posted: 07/12/2012 5:52 pm

The committee has spoken. And its message is for all of us, not just those who looked the other way at Penn State.

The report released today by the group investigating the child rapes and abuse of which Jerry Sandusky was convicted minces no words about how late football coach Joe Paterno, along with other very powerful people, were wrong not to report their suspicions.

Among the many recommendations made to insure this does not happen again was increased training of staff on all levels about the responsibility that comes with being a "mandatory reporter." That's what Paterno was. That's what most people who work with minors are. Every state requires those who hold certain jobs -- doctors, social workers, teachers -- to speak up if they believe a child might be being abused. That has been the law in most states for decades. It's the original "if you see something, say something."

But what about the rest of us? Don't we have an obligation, even without the training or the title?

When your 6-year-old's new friend always seems to be bruised, do you bring social services into her parents' lives? When the children you babysit for start aping sexual activity in your presence, and you know that's a warning sign, but you also know the parents and have seen how wonderful they are with their kids, which instinct do you follow? When the young boy down the block takes to wandering into your house uninvited and helping himself to the contents of your fridge because he is hungry and there is not food at home, do you feed him, or call the police?

The first of these happened to me. I spoke to the preschool teacher who reassured me that the poor kid was just a klutz, and that a few of those bruises were gotten on the playground in front of teachers.

In the second case, which was told to me by a reader a few years ago, the babysitter anonymously called the child's pediatrician, was assured it would be noted on the chart and raised at the next check-up. She doesn't know how that turned out because she stopped babysitting for the family.

And finally, the neighbors, who are family friends, took to inviting the little boy over after school for a snack. He's in high school now, and seems healthy and as well adjusted as a typical teen. He hasn't shown up to eat in ages.

I'm not sure if the right thing was done in each of these cases, but I know that at least SOMETHING was done by an adult who felt they had to step in. Even without a legal obligation there is a moral one, no?

Joe Paterno had both. And he acted on neither.

 

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