Incessant media attention toward the Penn State child sex abuse scandal
has been accompanied by a rush to judgment about the
sex crimes accusations behind the administrative fallout. In any investigation involving
allegations of child molestation, child rape or
child pornography possession, assumptions about events should always be held in check until
evidence can be presented and considered in a court of law. After all,
a basic and essential tenet in our country is that every person accused
of committing a crime must be presumed innocent unless and until proven
guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.
In reaction to unreported allegations of
child sexual abuse, many, but not all states have created specific statutory duties that
require citizens to report suspected child sex offenses. In Florida, this
duty is backed up by criminal consequences imposed by state child abuse
laws. Pennsylvania is now considering a similar measure.
The duty to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect in Florida applies
to any person who "knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that
a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian,
caregiver, or other person responsible for the child's welfare."
Most reports are anonymous, because only child care workers, doctors,
teachers, law enforcement and certain other professionals must provide
their names when making a report to Florida's central abuse hotline.
Palm Beach Post recently reported that, while only two people have been prosecuted for
failing to fulfill this duty since 1999, 37 individuals were accused of
making false reports of child abuse. As well intentioned as this law might
be, it also facilitates harassment and attacks on the reputations of innocent
people. (Records from the Florida Department of Children and Families
reveal more than 300,000 calls to the hotline in the most recent fiscal year.)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education has opened an investigation
to assess whether Penn State officials violated a federal duty regarding
campus crime reporting. That obligation arises out of the Clery Act (also
known as the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act), which requires
colleges and universities to issue annual crime reports based on their
participation in federal financial aid programs.
Any individual accused of sex crimes faces an array of legal challenges,
from trials in the media and, if convicted, potentially lengthy prison
sentences, to lifetime sex offender reporting requirements. A Florida
criminal defense lawyer can explain the importance of strategic legal
action in defense of an individual's liberty and Constitutional rights.