The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 27, 2012

Sweeping changes suggested today for state's child abuse law

By Mark Scolforo
The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania should enact sweeping changes to state child abuse laws, a legislative commission concluded today after a year of study prompted by Jerry Sandusky's arrest on child molestation charges.

The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection's recommendations include rewriting state law, redefining what constitutes child abuse and expanding the list of people who are required to report suspected abuse.

"We propose a transformation in the way information concerning child abuse is handled and maintained, the way in which crimes against children are investigated in parts of the state, and the way in which those with a responsibility for the well-being of children are trained," said David Heckler, the Bucks County district attorney who chaired the panel.

The recommendations are nonbinding and will probably require a set of as-yet-unwritten bills for the Legislature to consider when it convenes for a new two-year session in January.

"Strengthening these laws must be done as soon as possible, but we should recognize that it cannot be done overnight," Heckler said.

Sandusky, a 68-year-old former Penn State assistant football coach, is serving a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence after being convicted this summer of 45 counts of sexual abuse of 10 boys. He maintains his innocence and is pursuing appeals.

The task force's highlights of its recommendations include greatly expanding the definition of "perpetrator" in one law, and harsher penalties when people who are required to report abuse fail to do so.

Children should not need to experience severe pain in order for abuse to be substantiated, the task force concluded.

The definition of sexual abuse should be expanded to include sexually explicit conversations, the panel said.

Those who should be required to report suspected abuse would include college administrators and employees, coaches, lawyers and computer repair people who encounter images of child abuse, the task force said.

Under the recommendations, more people would find themselves subject to the child endangerment criminal statute, including anyone who knowingly acts to prevent police or child welfare workers from learning of abuse in order to protect someone.

Three Penn State officials face related charges for their actions in response to complaints about Sandusky acting inappropriately with children in Penn State showers: the university's former president Graham Spanier, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz. Each has said he is innocent.