Reminder needed

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board November 18, 2011 05:57 pm

The Penn State University child sex abuse story is awful.

Jerry Sandusky, a former longtime assistant to legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, is accused of abusing eight pre-teen boys over 15 years.

Because crimes allegedly continued even after several Penn State officials — Paterno among them — were notified about concerns regarding Sandusky’s activities, the situation has highlighted differences in state and federal laws known collectively as “mandatory reporting” statutes.

The basic idea is that certain people — social workers, teachers and doctors are examples common to pretty much every such law — should be legally obligated to report suspected abuse or neglect of children.

Oregon’s mandatory reporting law is relatively broad, applying not only to the aforementioned professions, but to a host of others, including hospital administrators, legislators, probation officers and members of the clergy.

Pennsylvania has a mandatory reporting law, but it is unusual in that it allows educators to report abuse allegations to their superiors rather than requiring that they go to the police.

At the other end of the spectrum, 18 states — Oregon not among them — require all adults to report suspected child abuse.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, thinks the 32 other states should join that list.

We agree.

Casey wants Congress to pass his Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act.

The legislation would require states to either enact universal mandatory reporting laws, or lose federal dollars through the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

(Oregon’s share averaged about $323,000 per year for fiscal years 2007-09.)

We would like to believe, of course, that the issue of children being sexually abused is a matter of morality and ethics, that no law is needed to prompt adults to take such a fundamental action to protect vulnerable children.

Obviously this is not the case.

We’re not suggesting that adults who fail to call police when they suspect child abuse should be put in prison.

But cases such as the Penn State scandal — which is the most heavily publicized recent incident but, sadly, is hardly the only one — prove that some people need to be reminded of their obligations.

And laws tend to be pretty potent reminders.