Experts weigh in on how Penn State's $60 million fine will best serve child abuse victims

Posted: July 25, 2012

If any good is to come from the NCAA's harsh sanctions against Pennsylvania State University, child-welfare experts said Monday, it lies in the $60 million fine mandated for programs to prevent child sexual abuse and assist victims.

District attorneys, former prosecutors, child advocates, pediatricians, and a lawyer for one of Jerry Sandusky's victims suggested a wide range of uses for the money, including:

Expanding Pennsylvania's network of multidisciplinary child advocacy centers, from about 21 statewide to several dozen.

Adding video conferencing to more courtrooms so young victims can testify outside the presence of their attackers.

Improving training for police investigators who interview child victims.

Shortening waiting times for victims seeking mental-health services.

Devoting more resources to public education - not just the "good touch/bad touch" programs for youth, but also education aimed at adults.

"People need to be educated on the signs of child abuse, just like a nurse in the ER needs to know her responsibility when a kid comes in with a broken arm and a black eye," said John Salveson of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, a Bryn Mawr nonprofit.

"None of these victims reached out and said, take down Joe Paterno's statue or fine Penn State $60 million," said Slade McLaughlin, attorney for the man known as Victim 1 in the Sandusky trial. "These are things that independent bodies decided to do on their own. ... The money needs to be used in such a way that a tragedy like this never happens again."

Citing attorney-client privilege, he declined to say exactly what his client thought of the NCAA punishment.

The $60 million fine, roughly equal to the average gross annual income of the university's football program, is to be deposited in an endowment and may not be used to fund such programs at Penn State. The university has five years to pay, with a minimum installment of $12 million due this year.

An NCAA spokeswoman said the university would decide how to distribute funds consistent with the consent decree accompanying the sanctions.

Penn State has said it will draw on its athletic reserve fund to pay the fine and, if necessary, float a bond to meet that total. In no case would it use taxpayer money to fulfill the obligations, university officials said.

Like the recent conviction of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's Msgr. William J. Lynn on charges of child endangerment, Salveson said, the NCAA sanction "is a penalty against the people who knew what was happening and looked the other way. Now they are being held accountable."

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman began her career as a prosecutor two decades ago handling cases of child abuse.

"There are no entities more expert in the investigation, prosecution, and support of victims than the child advocacy centers, known as CACs," she said.

CACs are part of a growing national network, with a multidisciplinary team approach modeled on pioneering work done in the 1980s in Huntsville, Ala.

Following that model, Ferman was a founder of Mission Kids, a CAC created in Montgomery County in 2009. If it were up to her, she said, she would use at least a portion of $60 million to bolster CACs across Pennsylvania.

Chris Kirchner, executive director of Philadelphia Children's Alliance, a CAC with an office in Center City and a $1.5 million annual budget, said individual counties have specific needs. Rural counties need support for more medical services; urban areas like Philadelphia need support to serve more victims.

"We have about 1,800 reports a year of child sexual abuse in Philadelphia, and we are able to handle about 1,000," she said, adding that "we need another $1 million" to handle the need.

Pediatrician Maria McColgan runs the child protection program at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Six months ago, she said, the Pennsylvania legislature, with support from Gov. Corbett, created a statewide child protection task force.

"When the Sandusky stuff hit the news, it sort of sped up the process on this," she said. The task force is due to release its comprehensive report on Nov. 30.

The publicity around the Sandusky trial, the report about Penn State's culpability released last week by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, and Monday's NCAA sanctions have started a conversation about the formerly taboo subject of child sexual abuse.

"Now that the silence is broken," said McColgan, the task force report will give more ideas about the best use of the unprecedented $60 million fine.


Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or mmatza@phillynews.com

Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.

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