Sex abuse scandal puts focus on charity
By Brad Heath, USA TODAY
November 13, 2011
Updated 12h 54m ago
The charity that Jerry Sandusky founded is under scrutiny for whether it acted swiftly or effectively enough after it was informed of allegations that the former Penn State assistant football coach had sexually abused boys the foundation was supposed to help.
The Second Mile’s headquarters is in State College, Pa. Jerry Sandusky founded the charity.
A Pennsylvania grand jury charged last week that Sandusky had abused eight boys over a 15-year period. In an odd twist, the charges ignited a firestorm at Penn State, and prompted troubling questions about the foundation, which the grand jury said Sandusky used to find his victims, and which had been told of earlier episodes of suspected abuse.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, said the investigation into Sandusky and others who may have known about the abuse is “ongoing,” but that he could not discuss potential targets. Gov. Tom Corbett, who launched the Penn State investigation when he was attorney general, said last week that authorities should investigate The Second Mile.
Meanwhile, lawyers who represent sex abuse victims say the charity is almost certain to face lawsuits over whether it did enough to supervise Sandusky’s interactions with children.
“If they really wanted to find out the truth, they could have,” said Jeff Herman, a Miami lawyer specializing in sex abuse cases, who said he had been contacted by several families whose children participated in Second Mile. “One allegation is a red flag. It puts you on notice. If after that point you don’t do anything, it’s on you.”
Employees and board members at Second Mile declined to answer any questions about the case.
The organization released a statement last week expressing shock at the allegations about Sandusky, but confirming that officials had been notified about a report of inappropriate conduct. “Our success is a result of the trust placed in us by the families and professionals with whom we partner, and we will take any steps needed to maintain their confidence in us,” it said.
Sandusky founded Second Mile in 1997 as a group home for foster kids. During the next three decades it grew into one of Pennsylvania’s most respected charities. Last year, Second Mile said in its annual report that it had helped more than 100,000 kids last year through its leadership academy, fitness program, mentoring and other services.
Most states require that organizations such as Second Mile do background checks on their employees and their volunteers to weed out potential predators. Second Mile said on its website that it performed such checks. But few states have specific rules for what an organization must do when accusations of abuse surface later on. Pennsylvania does not have specific regulations, but the state’s top court has said that organizations can face civil liability if they fail to stop known pedophiles.
“It’s common sense. Who are we going to protect first? The kids, or our reputation?” said John Manly, a Minnesota lawyer who has represented abuse victims against Catholic organizations.
“You have a responsibility to separate anyone from contact with kids where there’s a serious allegation,” said Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which advocates for victims of sexual abuse.
The grand jury investigating Sandusky suggested that Second Mile officials were told on at least two occasions that Sandusky might be sexually abusing children.
According to the grand jury’s presentment, in 2002, Penn State told Second Mile CEO, Jack Raykovitz about an incident in which a graduate assistant had seen Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a locker room there.
Raykovitz said in a statement last week that college officials had told him only that they received a report that an employee was “uncomfortable” seeing Sandusky in the shower with a young boy. “At no time was the Second Mile made aware of the very serious allegations contained in the grand jury report,” the group said.
Four years prior, two detectives listened as Sandusky told the mother of another of his alleged victims that he had showered with young boys. Sandusky was never prosecuted. But the grand jury investigating him said the report was referred to Penn State’s lawyer, Wendell Courtney, who also represented The Second Mile.
Courtney said in an e-mail that he did not work for Second Mile in 1998, and that he did not tell the organization what he knew about the police investigation of Sandusky. If Second Mile knew about that investigation, he said in an e-mail, it wasn’t because he told them.
Second Mile didn’t take action against Sandusky until 2008, when he notified the group that he was being investigated for an incident involving another boy. After that report, Second Mile then prohibited him from having contact with children. He resigned from the group last year “to devote more time to my family and personal matters.”
“The problem they’re going to have is that as an organization, their mission is to help vulnerable kids, and they knew that they had a guy who had problems with sexual activity with children,” Manly said. “The bottom line is that if you even suspect somebody might be doing that, you do something.”