The leaders of US university Penn State showed a “total disregard” for the safety of victims of sex abuser Jerry Sandusky, a report says.
Former FBI chief Louis Freeh said: “The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps… to protect the children who Sandusky victimised.” Mr Freeh cited the former university president and legendary football coach Joe Paterno, who died last year. Both were sacked during the probe into assistant coach Sandusky’s abuses. Sandusky, who worked on Paterno’s nationally lauded football team, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse in a trial in June. He is expected to serve a life sentence.
‘Most powerful people’
Louis Freeh’s report, released on Wednesday, laid much blame in the hands of four of Penn State’s “most powerful people”: President Graham Spanier, Vice-President Gary Schultz, athletic director Tim Curley and head football coach Joe Paterno. They “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade,” Mr Freeh wrote. The four men knew that Sandusky was under investigation by university police for allegations of child sex abuse on campus as early as 1998. Sandusky retired from the university a year later, gaining emeritus status, which allowed him unfettered access to campus buildings. Three years after the first allegations, the report found that officials did not take any action to identify a victim seen being abused by Sandusky in the Penn State showers in 2001. In fact, Mr Curley informed Sandusky that another coach, Mike McQueary, had reported seeing the incident. That move further endangered the victim, Mr Freeh concluded.
According to emails uncovered by the report, Mr Curley, Mr Schultz and Mr Spanier had initially planned to report the incident to child welfare services, but decided against it. Instead, offering Sandusky professional help and telling him “guests” were not permitted to use campus facilities was deemed a “more humane and upfront way to handle this”, as Mr Schultz wrote in an email. “Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky’s victims,” Mr Freeh said in prepared remarks on Thursday. The report also faults the university’s board of trustees for failing to press Mr Spanier for details about the 2011 grand jury investigation of Sandusky. In a statement, Paterno’s family said he had made mistakes but had “never interfered with any investigation”.
“The idea that any sane, responsible adult would knowingly cover up for a child predator is impossible to accept,” the statement said. “The far more realistic conclusion is that many people didn’t fully understand what was happening and underestimated or misinterpreted events.” University ethics officer Mr Freeh also noted that Penn State’s policy to comply with a national child abuse reporting act that was expanded in 1998, was still in draft form when Sandusky was arrested in 2011. Travis Forney, a Penn state alumnus who played as a kicker on the football team, told the BBC he was glad the report spread blame among the many people who could have acted.
“I totally agree with coach Paterno that this was an university issue,” he said. “I think everyone can agree that more could have be done, but in my opinion the ball was dropped by the four people and the 31 other people on the board of trustees.” Mr Forney said that this year – for the first time at his summer sports camp – the university has implemented a seminar for “anybody who is involved with children” focusing on reporting child abuse and protecting children.
The report includes several recommendations on what steps the university should take going forward:
- create a stronger sense of accountability and transparency among leadership
- evaluate security for campus buildings and track university programmes involving children
- require all employees to provide training for abuse awareness and reporting
- establish a university police policy to seek assistance during sensitive investigations or where there is a conflict of interest
- appoint a university ethics officer and an ethics council.
In an initial response, the board of trustees of Penn State University said it was still considering the report, and would comment further in due course. “We expect a comprehensive analysis of our policies, procedures and controls related to identifying and reporting crimes and misconduct, including failures or gaps that may have allowed alleged misconduct to go undetected or unreported,” the board said in a statement. – bbc