There has been a great deal of media coverage surrounding the events concerning Syracuse University Assistant Coach Bernie Fine and recent allegations of child molestation. While charges have yet to be filed and an investigation is still pending, this case has provided an opportunity to reexamine our state laws so they better protect children.
I recently became a co-sponsor of legislation called the College Coaches and Professionals Reporting Act. This bill, if passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor, will add college coaches, athletic directors, professors, graduate assistants, administrators and college presidents to the list of mandated reporters of child abuse. These are professionals who often work and manage youth programs through their respective colleges and universities. Currently, they are not defined as mandated reporters under New York State Law.
We need to be more proactive about identifying child abusers, and helping those who show signs of abuse. Creating more reporters will hopefully broaden the umbrella of safe adults that children will be protected by. We know the Bernie Fine allegations are not isolated. Before it became known about Fine, a Penn State coach was charged with 40 counts of child sexual abuse involving eight different boys. More charges also may be alleged, as the investigation is still ongoing. These stories have had a ripple effect on the community. If anything good can come of this situation is that it is has forced a dialogue on a difficult topic for teachers and parents.
Other than laws and increasing mandated reporters to better protect our kids, perhaps the best protection is to talk to your children or grandchildren about abuse and to help them define it for themselves so they can identify sexual abuse if they experience it themselves and know where to go. Social workers at McMahon Ryan Child Advocacy Center, an agency that works to raise awareness about child abuse and to protect children in Syracuse, has discussed how the alleged behavior of both Fine and the coach at Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, are typical of abusers. They often groom their victims, earn their respect and befriend parents or guardians, and develop a relationship of trust with their victims so the victim feels loyal to their abuser. Secrecy is used to perpetuate and continue the relationship. According to McMahon Ryan Center, sexual abuse is a crime of secrecy. It is estimated that only 10% of child sex abuse cases are ever reported, and 90% of the time, children are sexually abused by someone they know.
For more information, or for ways on how to approach this important discussion with your children, visit the McMahon Ryan Center Web site or the Oswego County-based Child Advocacy Center Web site. You also may call McMahon Ryan Center at 315-701-2985 or the Child Advocacy Center at 315-592-4453.
Anyone is able to report child abuse. The statewide hotline is 1-800-342-3720. The list of mandated reporters includes medical and hospital personnel, school officials, teachers, social service workers, child care workers and residential care workers and volunteers, and law enforcement.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (315) 598-5185.