In Penn State's wake, Mikulski explores child abuse law
As the Penn State child sex abuse scandal began to wind its way through court on Monday, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski held a hearing on an underlying issue raised in the case: Whether federal child abuse laws are adequately protecting children from abuse.
“There have been too many examples in our recent history where children have been subjected to double abuse,” the Maryland Democrat said at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Children and Families, which she chairs.
“They are victimized by the initial abuse and then are victimized a second time when the abuse is overlooked, ignored or covered up in order to protect institutions that many consider beyond reproach or ‘too big to fail.’”
The hearing came on the same day that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was expected to face several of his accusers in court. At the last minute, however, he waived his right to the preliminary hearing. Sandusky, who has denied wrongdoing, faces multiple charges of child sex abuse in a scandal that has forced the university’s president and longtime coach, Joe Paterno, to resign.
Mikulski said that the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, the 1974 federal law that sets reporting procedures for states, may need to be updated. The law provides funding to states that enact procedures for responding to allegations of child abuse and neglect and that define who must report abuse, she said.
“It is my belief that every adult should be required to report known or suspected child abuse regardless of whether the abuser is a parent, caregiver, coach or teacher. If you see something, you should say something,” she said.
Mikulski, who spent two years as a child neglect social worker in Baltimore, said Maryland has mandatory reporting requirements for all adults -- not just parents and caregivers – but said there are no criminal and civil penalties in place for non-reporting, which she argues renders the requirements “essentially unenforceable.”