Taking Allegations of Child Abuse Seriously: Former Penn State President Spanier Charged

By Michele Goodwin

Penn State’s former president, Graham Spanier, is the latest person to be charged in the fallout involving Jerry Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys on the Penn State campus.  A year ago, I blogged about Spanier’s curiously timed defense of his former staff members following the horrific allegations involving the former, popular football coach.

Jerry Sandusky’s crimes are deplorable. He was convicted of molesting boys from a charity he helped to found (Second Mile) and will serve 30-60 years in prison; he will likely die there.  Yet no less problematic were Spanier’s statements immediately following the release of the grand jury’s presentment.  Last year, the statement released by Spanier could only be described as cavalier and irresponsible.  Spanier claimed that the perjury charges against his former athletic director, Timothy Curley, and Gary Schultz, his senior vice president for finance and business, were “groundless,” and that he has “complete confidence in how they… handled the allegations” against Sandusky.  Stunning.

Remember the grand jury report?  Schultz said that the allegations were “not that serious” and that he and his colleague “had no indication that a crime had occurred.”  What we know now from the Freeh Report is that there were emails between Spanier, Curley, and Schultz about allegations of Sandusky’s showers with boys in the Penn State football locker room. Spanier claims that there may have been emails that he received, but he can’t remember them.  He told Jeffrey Toobin in a New Yorker article: “I was apparently copied on two emails…I didn’t reply to them.”  A few years later, Michael McQuery (a former graduate student) reported witnessing Sandusky sexually abusing a child in the shower; he also testified before the grand jury.

Spanier’s response to that incident was not to report Sandusky to local law enforcement, but instead to call Sandusky’s organization; “we thought, we should tell the president of the Second Mile that …we don’t want any Second Mile kids being brought into the athletic shower facilities.”  The charges against Spanier represent an important turn.  It is time to take sexual abuse against children seriously and this includes pursuing cases against those who fail to report allegations of child abuse.

Michele Goodwin

Michele Bratcher Goodwin is a renowned scholar, advocate, and author who has devoted her career to uplifting the voices, social conditions, and rights of women and children around the globe. A widely cited legal authority in constitutional law, health law, and women’s rights, her writings have been consulted by courts, legislators, government agencies, and civil society organizations. She has advised or given testimony before Congress and state governments as well as the United States’ Uniform Law Commission on privacy, the regulation of the human body, and reproductive health.

One thought to “Taking Allegations of Child Abuse Seriously: Former Penn State President Spanier Charged”

  1. You have made some very important points here, indeed any allegation of abuse should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly and yes those who stay ‘tight lipped’ or ‘turn a blind eye’ are as guilty as those doing the abusing, thus should be treated the same as the perpetrator/s.

    However it’s imperative that the individual/s making the allegations are well supported not only throughout the investigating period but well beyond it. We know that psychotherapy and victims of abuse often ‘bump’ against each other many years down the line because the question of ‘unfinished business’ remains outstanding.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.