Nightly News | November 12, 2011
LESTER HOLT, anchor: The scandal at Penn State and the alleged failure of anyone there to call police for years is bringing renewed attention to child sex abuse . There are some states where witnesses are not required to alert authorities about what they've seen and that is prompting calls for some tougher laws. We get our report from justice correspondent Pete Williams .
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: Whatever moral obligation Penn State coaches had when they heard about children abused on the campus, state officials say Joe Paterno appears to have complied with the legal requirements when he told the school's athletic director what he had heard about former coach Jerry Sandusky and a young boy. That's because Pennsylvania 's law does not require teachers or coaches to report suspected child abuse directly to local authorities. Instead, it says school employees quote "shall immediately notify the person in charge of the institution" who in turn must notify authorities. A member of the Pennsylvania legislature wants that loophole closed immediately.
State Representative KEVIN BOYLE (Democrat, Pennsylvania): My bill will mandate that those who witness sexual abuse or suspect that sexual abuse is occurring must report it to the police if they are coaches, teachers or medical professionals.
WILLIAMS: Pennsylvania is not alone. Five other states, Georgia , Massachusetts , Missouri , South Dakota and Virginia , have similar laws requiring school personnel to report suspected abuse only to an administrator, not directly to the police.
Rep. BOYLE: If my bill had been in the books, then you would've seen more reports to the police, thus a greater likelihood that Sandusky would have been stopped a long time ago.
WILLIAMS: In two-thirds of the states, only certain adults have any legal duty at all to report suspected child abuse . That includes doctors, teachers, members of the clergy, day-care staffers, people who work with children. But some advocates for child safety say laws in those states should be tightened up to impose that requirement on all adults.
Mr. JIM HMUROVICH (Prevent Child Abuse America): We believe that everybody who witnesses or even suspects abuse or neglect should report it. And we believe that that reporting should go to the child protective service agency in that particular state.
WILLIAMS: Making it more likely, they say, that abuse will not be covered up even though tougher laws cannot provide any guarantee. Pete Williams , NBC News, Washington.