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.

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About Michele Goodwin

Professor Goodwin is a prolific author, public commentator, and social policy advocate. She serves on the executive board of the ACLU and is an elected member of the American Law Institute, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Her reviews and commentaries appear in Forbes, Salon.com, the New York Times, L.A. Times, Washington Post, Chicago Sun Times, and numerous other periodicals. She is published in the Yale Law Journal, Harvard Law Review, Georgetown Law Journal, Northwestern Law Review and other law journals.

One thought on “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.

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