Two Democratic lawmakers have announced plans to introduce legislation to create new rules for coaches and nonprofits in response to reports that years of alleged sexual abuse of young boys by former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was not reported to authorities, even after a graduate coaching assistant told university athletic officials that he saw Sandusky raping a young boy in a Penn State locker room. Sandusky, who founded a nonprofit organization that runs programs for Pennsylvania youth, has been charged with sexually abusing at least eight young boys over a 15-year period. He has said he is innocent.
One proposed bill, authored by Sen. Juan Vargas, would require university coaching staff, including graduate assistants and athletic directors, to report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement. Draft language would increase fines and jail time for mandated reporters who fail to alert the proper authorities of suspected abuse.
The San Diego Democrat said in a statement that he read the grand jury report detailing the allegations and "couldn't believe these men, who are adults and leaders, didn't take the abuses they witnessed and learned of immediately to the police."
"Telling their superiors was fine, but they should have gone to the police. What they did was wrong and it wasn't a crime, but it should be," he said in a statement. "These men protected their football team rather than the innocent boys. That is disgusting and should never happen again!"
Assemblyman Ricardo Lara has also called for legislation targeting nonprofits that enable or fail to report sexual abuse of children connected to their organization, citing both Sandusky's charity, through which he met some of his alleged victims, and reports of abuse cover-ups within the Boy Scouts of America.
Lara said he wants to craft a bill that will strip such organizations of their tax-exempt status, thought it was not immediately clear what state agency -- if any -- would have that authority. A spokesperson for the Franchise Tax Board, which handles tax exemption applications, was not immediately available for comment and Lara's office declined to elaborate on his proposal, saying they are still fleshing out the details.
For Lara, the issue is personal. The Bell Gardens Democrat says that as a young child he was sexually abused by an older relative. It wasn't until much later in life that he told his family of what he described as a "very dark time in my life."
"It infuriated me that people would try to sweep this under the rug," he said in an interview. "It just brought back old memories of the helplessness you feel when you feel no one is there to help you in this horrible time."
In this Aug. 6, 1999 file photo, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno, right, poses with his defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky during Penn State Media Day at State College, Pa. Pennsylvania state prosecutors said Sandusky, 67, was arrested Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011, on charges that he sexually abused eight young men. Paul Vathis/AP File Photo.