The New York Times is being too kind to Pennsylvania
In an editorial published on December 19th The New York Times states “Children should be far better protected under a raft of reform bills that the State Legislature has begun enacting with Gov. Tom Corbett’s support, including a child abuse definition in line with other states.”
The reform bills that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recently passed are not bad ones, but thinking they will have a remarkable impact on protecting children from abuse or fixing the broken systems that lead to the Penn State tragedy is naïve.
Bringing PA’s definitions of child abuse into line with other states is a good idea, but changing abuse definitions and thresholds does nothing to prevent abuse from occurring in the first place.
Not reporting suspected child abuse is morally reprehensible, whether the law requires it or not. But history shows that increasing the number of mandated reporters in a state has little impact on the rates of child abuse, reported child abuse, or indicated (substantiated by CPS) cases of child abuse.
The problem with reporting laws is that children rarely report abuse to adults. With physical abuse, a savvy adult may see suspicious marks, question the child and make a report, but psychological and sexual abuse rarely leave physical signs and most adults, even mandated reporters, are not trained to help children process their feelings.
Legislation to protect children should be backed with science and research. The science says the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania still need to do more if they wish to prevent sexual abuse.
Preventing child abuse is best done before it happens. If Pennsylvania wants to prevent child sex abuse then public education and the arrest and monitoring of criminals who otherwise continue to offend are the essential ingredients.
Today whilst almost a quarter of children are sexually abused only 3 out of 100 rapists will ever go to jail.
The biggest obstacle to arresting criminals who sexually abuse children are statutes of limitations on the crime, which keep victims, now adults, out of the courts, and keep criminals in the classrooms, daycares, and everywhere else kids are.
This is crucial, because children rarely disclose abuse before adulthood. Pennsylvania’s new laws don’t address this.
Gov. Tom Corbett should work with the State Legislature to pass the Child Victims Act and eliminate the statutes of limitations on child sex abuse because all the science shows that most children, including those raped by Jerry Sandusky, don’t report abuse till many years later.
Today Pennsylvania’s laws still silence victims and protect rapists.
Jerry Sandusky and other pedophiles are also protected by the lack of public education about child sexual abuse. Obvious warning signs are missed. Simple prevention practices not used. Children not believed. Governor Corbett should invest in public education too.
Child sex abuse is preventable. Pennsylvania’s new laws just won’t do it.
Contributed by Melanie Blow with Andrew Willis.