By Sara Ganim
More than 3,500 Penn State employees who are mandated by law to report suspected abuse have been trained about their obligation since the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded in November.
Another 12,500 staff members who aren't considered mandated reporters -- as was the case with Mike McQueary, the assistant football coach who witnessed abuse by Sandusky in a shower in 2001 -- are being trained, too.
Amidst all the bad publicity, the misguided reactions and controversial decisions, this is a significant piece of good news for Penn State.
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) began this initiative Penn State's request in December, just about a month after Sandusky was charged with dozens of counts of child sex abuse, and two Penn State officials were charged with never reporting what McQueary had seen.
It had immediately become clear that many employees didn't know what they were supposed to do if they saw or suspected abuse.
A major focus of public outrage fell on McQueary, who told five people -- his father, a family friend, Joe Paterno, athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz -- but never called 911.
The training program -- developed by the Bucks County agency that trained thousands of employees of the Catholic Archdiocese in Philadelphia -- focuses on eliminating such confusion and misunderstanding at Penn State.
And, it goes above and beyond what Pennsylvania law requires.
"We’ve tried to make it very clear, to all employees – volunteer or paid – what their responsibility is reporting," said Sue Cromwell, Penn State's director for the center for workplace learning and performance.
The training is part of a larger initiative with PCAR and the NSVRC that was pledged in response to the scandal.
Other focuses include educational outreach initiatives, research on child sexual abuse and sexual violence, public policy development, and internships for students.
The pledge is broad and it aims to make Penn State a leader in a subject matter that is -- right now -- defining it in the worst way.
Sandusky was convicted in June of abusing 10 boys, most of them had experienced abuse while on campus. Athletic director Tim Curley and vice president Gary Schultz were charged with never reporting an incident of abuse in 2001, then lying about it a decade later to a grand jury.
Even worse, a Penn State internal report found that former president Graham Spanier and iconic coach Joe Paterno knew about allegations as far back as 1998, but kept it secret for fear of bad publicity.
The scandal has opened up a large public conversation about sex abuse, about child abuse reporting laws, and whether changes should be made.
At Penn State, the message is simple. Whether or not employees are mandated by the law, "The message that we are giving to people is that if you suspect child abuse, you need to report it," said Joyce Lukima, vice president of services at PCAR and the NSVRC.
"The process is reporting to a supervisor and the two of you together will report to Childline," she said.
Childline is the state reporting and abuse registry.
"We really want to ensure that everyone at Penn State working with children has a very clear understanding that even a suspicion, they have to report to childline, and those investigators will investigate," Lukima said.
So far, 4,000 employees have been trained by about 20 trainers.
The first priority was to train employees and volunteers who are working summer camps on campus with children.
In-person training will continue until an online class is developed -- the hope is by September -- that will be mandatory each year for employees.
In all, 16,000 people will be trained.
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