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4 of 5 schools beef up policy after Penn State
David Finkelhor of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center said anecdotes like that help explain why new policies and laws are important, but maybe not as important as the light shed on the issue of child sex abuse because of the Sandusky case.
“I don’t think the problem at Penn State was that they didn’t have enough rules, or that they didn’t have a mandatory law that required this reporting,” Finkelhor said. “I think the problem was that they didn’t have a higher level of awareness about the problem itself and they thought they could kind of get away with the way they were handling it.”
In searching the states, AP reporters across the country checked databases from the last two years of legislation. The AP also referred to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which has tracked Sandusky-related bills.
In Florida, the Legislature passed what many are calling the most expansive reporting law in the country. It includes fines of up to $1 million on any university whose administration or campus police knowingly fail to report child abuse on campus. Several campuses around the state reacted, as well.
“As an institution, we had very sound policies in place,” Miami athletic director Blake James said. “I think it was obviously a real reminder to everyone of the need to make sure that all policies are being followed, and in certain cases there was the elevation of analysis that was put in place.”
The overwhelming number of schools and states that made changes in a relatively short amount of time runs counter to the normally slow-moving wheels of state governments and university boardrooms. The action reflects what Mark Chaffin, who directs research at the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at University of Oklahoma, said was a much-needed continuation of moves to protect children that have been triggered by sex scandals at child-serving organizations, including the Catholic church and the Boy Scouts.
“Given everything that’s been in the news, it’s not too surprising that universities would start to put out some policies and do some education,” Chaffin said.
When the universities did their reviews, some administrators were surprised at the number of minors who come to their campuses for a variety of programs that extend well beyond football camps.
At Minnesota, for instance, up to 300,000 minors visit campus _ 114,000 of them for 4H club events. A 10-year review of campus crime statistics there revealed four cases involving minors. One of those cases resulted in charges in 2000 when the victim came forward.
“We thought this was a pretty safe place,” university general counsel Bill Donohue said.
Nevertheless, the school beefed up its policy and added language that specifically applied to the safety of minors on campus.
In Texas, state legislators passed guidelines in 2011 _ before the Sandusky case made headlines _ for minors attending camps. The law applied to camps with at least 20 campers who spend four days on campus.
“That’s a big loophole,” Texas Tech athletic department spokesman Blayne Beal said. “We wanted more stringent than that.”
So, in May, the school passed a tougher rule putting the guidelines in place for any program that brings minors in, regardless of the number of children or duration of their stay.
“I think everybody took a look at themselves and what they were doing, what they weren’t doing, to make sure that the policies they had in place were the best for young people and were best to protect the institution,” Beal said.
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