Reporting Abuse of Vulnerable Citizens
By Allyson McAndrews, M.Ed. of McAndrews Law Offices
Recent cases involving the abuse of children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities have resulted in a growing public awareness surrounding this issue. The high level of vulnerability of these populations is a critical reason that they become targets for such crimes. Unfortunately, many of these cases go unreported. According to the United States Department of Justice, sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes, with perhaps 60% being unreported. (1) In recent years, many states have enacted additional legislation mandating the reporting of abuse.
One result of the 2012 trial of Commonwealth v. Sandusky is that the term “abuse” has come to possess a more universal and troubling meaning. Sandusky, the serial child sex abuser and well-known retired college football coach, was found guilty of 45 of 48 charges of child sexual abuse. Research reveals that 6 million children are involved in the 3.6 million child abuse matters that are reported every year in the United States. 90% of victims of child sexual abuse know their perpetrator. (2) All of the victims who testified against Jerry Sandusky in June of 2012 knew him very well before the abuse took place. The majority of the victims were from broken homes and lived with one parent.
Jerry Sandusky befriended his victims when they were young and defenseless. He met many of his victims through the Second Mile, a non-profit organization he helped create for underprivileged children. He used the Second Mile as an opportunity to groom his victims by creating a bond with them prior to the abuse. This is a common method used to entrap victims both mentally and physically. Sandusky eventually “graduated out” his child victims as they grew older and left them to live painfully in silence for years.
One of the many issues facing colleges in the wake of the Sandusky scandal is a failure to fully report crimes as required by the Clery Act. In 1990, the Clery Act was passed by Congress, requiring colleges to compile and publicly disclose information involving crimes on campus. In addition to heightened attention to the mandates of the Clery Act, many facilities including schools, homes for the elderly and/or disabled, and childcare establishments are reforming their policies to identify and properly report misconduct which may constitute abuse. Programs are becoming more proactive in training their employees about the nature of abuse and how to identify its signs, as well as establishing clear obligations for reporting possible abuse of vulnerable populations. Many facilities are also developing “Crisis Communication Plans” which specifically identify the steps to be taken by staff and the institution for reporting abuse; these Plans have become an essential tool in preventing unreported abuse in institutions. Crisis Communication Plans should have an unambiguous structure, explaining the measures that employees must take if there are signs of possible abuse.
In Pennsylvania, reports must be made as appropriate and mandated by the staff person or responsible adult who believes abuse may have occurred to the Department of Public Welfare, Children and Youth Services, the local police or the District Attorney. Education and awareness about abuse, the implementation of policies within institutions, and cooperation with law enforcement all help to decrease the troubling statistics of abuse, institutional non-reporting, and in preventing further transgressions.
1. Justice Department, National Crime Victimization Survey: 2008-2012
2. Do Something.org