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Penn State Child Sex Abuse Scandal Spurs Federal Legislation [AUDIO]

Senator Bob Menendez
Ramin Talaie, Getty Images

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of sexually assaulting eight boys over a 15-year span, with some of the alleged crimes happening at Penn State, where he had access to campus as an emeritus professor following his 1999 retirement as head coach Joe Paterno’s top assistant.

Although Paterno has not been charged with any crimes, many people are wondering if he did all he could to stop Sandusky.

U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) says he now plans to introduce the Child Abuse Reporting Enforcement (CARE) Act that would require states to mandate the reporting of child abuse to law enforcement and child protective services in order to receive federal social services funding, and to make it a felony for any individual who fails to report such abuse.

“If common sense doesn’t dictate when and to whom an adult should report child abuse, this law will,” explains Menendez. “The bottom line is simple: If you see something, say something…..Private citizens should not be the ones deciding to whom and how to report. It should be crystal clear that the job of the public, in my mind is always to report if there’s any question in their mind.”

Menendez says the goal of his legislation is to create consistency among state child abuse reporting laws. The bill would specify that all witnesses report abuse to the law enforcement authorities and child protective services and would require a penalty of at least a year in prison.

“It’s not a serious law unless it has a penalty associated with it,” says Menendez.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), failure to report child abuse is a misdemeanor in 39 states including New Jersey, and in 3 states, failure to report child abuse is a felony. Only 20 specify the penalties associated with failing to report. 18 states require that any person who witnesses child abuse report it while many states specify only certain professionals. HHS also reports that 17 states require reporting specifically to law enforcement. Menendez feels this inconsistency creates confusion about mandatory reporting requirements that can lead to tragic consequences for children.

Menendez says recent events surrounding child abuse allegations at Penn State University underscored the lack of uniformity in child abuse reporting laws among states.

Sandusky told NBC News’ “Rock Center” on Monday night that he was not a pedophile but, in retrospect, should not have showered with the boys he’s charged with sexually assaulting. In an interview with Bob Costas, Sandusky, once considered the heir apparent to coaching legend Paterno, proclaimed his innocence in the face of a series of startling allegations detailed in a grand jury report issued last week.

“I am innocent of those charges,” insisted Sandusky. “I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids. I have showered after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact.”

Asked whether he was sexually attracted to underage boys, he said “sexually attracted, no. I enjoy young people, I love to be around them, but, no, I’m not sexually attracted to young boys.”

The scandal has rocked the community called Happy Valley, where “success with honor” is the motto. Paterno and University President Graham Spanier have lost their jobs and Athletic Director Tim Curley and senior vice president Gary Schultz face perjury charges.

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