Tuesday, November 22, 2011

NOW Urges Penn State to Allow Former FBI Director to Lead a Broader, "Fully Independent" Investigation

Statement of NOW President Terry O'Neill and Pennsylvania NOW President Joanne Tosti-Vasey

Last week, in the wake of the recent appalling Penn State University child sexual assault allegations, the leaders of the National Organization for Women and Pennsylvania NOW called on Penn State University to expand the composition and goals of the committee tasked with investigating these allegations. We specifically called for an independent committee to investigate these allegations, to review policies and reporting methods across the board at Penn State and to include all forms of campus violence within its scope.

Yesterday, Ron Frazier, a member of the PSU Board of Trustees and Chair of the PSU Special Investigative Committee, announced that the committee has hired Louis J. Freeh, former FBI director, to lead the independent investigation. Mr. Freeh stated that he has been assured that his investigation will be "fully independent" and that it will focus on any incident that interacts with the university dealing with "these types" of incidents, including cases of adult sexual assault. Mr. Freeh also stated that he would be looking into the "governance, controls, procedures and leadership" at the university to improve the climate of safety at the university and that his team of investigators includes former FBI agents, assistant U.S. attorneys, pedophile investigators and compliance investigators.

NOW believes that this is a good start to our call for a broader, independent investigation if --and only if-- Mr. Freeh is "fully independent" as he stated.  However, questions have been raised about his independence and these questions must be completely answered. 

We call on Mr. Freeh to include in his investigation all forms of campus violence, including sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking. Unless PSU's systematic climate of indifference, particularly within Athletics, is comprehensively reviewed and changed, we believe that these types of appalling acts will continue to be hidden and will not end.  We also believe that, in addition to attorneys and law enforcement experts, the investigative team needs to include experts and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence against both children and adults. Mr. Freeh and his committee must take their experiences and suggestions seriously.  

Mr. Freeh has set up a hotline to his risk management firm at 855-290-3382 and psuhelp@freehgroup.com for individuals with any knowledge about any incident or policy, or the PSU climate to contact him.

NOW activists will be closely monitoring the investigation in the hope that it will be truly independent, comprehensive in scope and aimed squarely at achieving -- at long last -- full enforcement of the school's 2006 zero-tolerance policy.

For further information, contact: Joanne Tosti-Vasey (Pennsylvania NOW) Phone: (814) 280-8571 OR Latoya Veal (National NOW)  w. 202-628-8669, ext. 116; c. 301-660-3447

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two News Reports Call for an Independent Investigation into PSU Sex Abuse Scandal

There were two articles in the news today about the lack of independence and transparency in the Penn State University Board of Trustees investigation into the allegations of child sexual assault. 

The first call for independence is in The Nation. It includes my full statement in response to Dave Zirin’s article of November 15, 2011 entitled “The World Joe Paterno Made."  In that article, Dave Zirin quoted something I said in 2006.  Here's what he wrote:

The signs of this malignancy did not emerge overnight. Looking backward, there are moments that speak of the scandals to come. In 2003, less than one year after Paterno was told that Sandusky was raping children, he allowed a player accused of rape to suit up and play in a bowl game. Widespread criticism of this move was ignored. In 2006, Penn State’s Orange Bowl opponent Florida State, sent home linebacker A.J. Nicholson, after accusations of sexual assault. Paterno’s response, in light of recent events, is jaw-dropping. He said, “There’s so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do? Geez. I hope—thank God they don’t knock on my door because I’d refer them to a couple of other rooms.” Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of Pennsylvania’s National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania, was not amused. With chilling unintentional prescience, Tosti-Vasey responded, “Allegations of sexual assault should never be taken lightly. Making light of sexual assault sends the message that rape is something to be expected and accepted.”
Mr. Zirin and I corresponded last night after this article was posted.  This morning, he posted my full statement regarding NOW's current call for an expanded, independent review as part of his blog.

The second call for independence is made by the editors of the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News.  They don’t ask for an expanded review, but do call for independence.  And one of the people they mention as a better leader for the committee (rather than a PSU Board of Trustee member) is Barbara Hafer, former Commonwealth of PA Treasurer and Auditor General as well as a former, long-time NOW member. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Make the PSU Investigative Committee Independent; Broaden Scope to Include ALL Forms of Campus Violence

Pennsylvania NOW leaders and our membership, like the PSU Board of Trustees and the rest of the country, are “outraged by the horrifying details contained in the Grand Jury Report.” We too have felt betrayed by these acts.  However considering the long history of the Athletics Department, role models within Athletics, and the PSU Administration in minimizing reports of campus-related violence on adult women, we are not completely surprised that an alleged cover-up of child sexual assault has also occurred.

Since 1994, both the local NOW chapter in Centre County, PA and the state chapter of NOW have pressured the University to review to all forms of campus violence against women and to more specifically look at the ways to break down the wall of immunity that has historically and currently appears to exist between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University. 

These earlier incidences involved Joe Paterno making insensitive remarks about domestic violence and sexual assault that were shrugged off as jokes by individuals, the Athletic Department, and the PSU administration; allowing a football player to play in a bowl game AFTER he was suspended for two semesters for an alleged rape; and the PSU administration weighing in on a rape case to have the sentence of a former Penn State wrestler placed at a minimal 6-month stay in the county jail. 

Over these past 17 years—due partially to our initial involvement and concern about this wall of indifference—there have been some, but not enough, efforts to address this issue campus-wide. But other than ordering that no suspended player can play sports at Penn State, nothing as far as we can see has been done to break down this wall between Athletics and the rest of the University for acts of violence against another person.

Earlier this week the Penn State Board of Trustees announced that they would be appointing an “independent” committee that includes “counsel and investigative teams” to investigate these allegations of child sexual assault.  Yesterday, when the Board announced the members of this committee, they stated, “The complete committee membership will be determined and announced in the near future and is expected to be composed of a majority of Board of Trustee members with representatives from each of the board's constituencies as well as representatives of the Penn State community including faculty, students and alumni.” 

This statement, in our opinion, shows that there is little if no independence in this review. All of the investigative committee members that are to be appointed are Trustee members, current members of the University community, or alumni.  There are no experts on sexual assault or domestic violence, or stalking.  There are no survivors. And there are no members of the larger community – whether that be local here in Centre County or more broadly across the communities in Pennsylvania where the other Penn State University Campuses are located.

On Monday after the news broke of the alleged child sexual assaults, Pennsylvania NOW contacted the University President and the Board of Trustees. Since the child sexual assault issue appears to be part of a broader problem of indifference to sexual assault, relationship violence, sexual harassment, and stalking, we have asked them to broaden their review to all forms of campus violence and to more specifically look at the ways to break down the wall of immunity that has historically and currently appears to exist between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University. 
After finding out that the committee is unlikely to truly be independent, we contacted Trustee members Kenneth Frazier, JD, President of Merck and Company and Ron Tomalis, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education. They have been appointed as Chair and Vice-Chair of the newly appointed investigative review committee; we have asked them to:
  • Appoint people to this committee that will make it a truly independent investigative review board. An effective independent investigative committee must, at minimum, include experts in the field of sexual assault and domestic violence, survivors of abuse, and others not associated with Penn State.
  • Broaden the review to include all forms of campus violence – sexual assault, domestic/relationship violence, and stalking – of both children and adults;
  • Broaden the review to 1) include ways to break down the wall of immunity between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University, and 2) review policies, programs, and reporting mechanisms across the University and within the Athletic Department on all forms of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Press Release: PSU Must Immediately Address the Full Range of Sexual Assault Issues on Campus and in the Athletics Department

Earlier today, Pennsylvania NOW sent a letter of concern to Penn State University President Graham Spanier and Chair of the Board of Trustees Steve Garban. 

We are greatly concerned and appalled about the allegations of child sexual abuse against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and the apparent lack of appropriate follow-through to notify law enforcement in a timely manner as required by law, and the alleged perjury to the Grand Jury resulting from this lack of follow-through indicating a possible cover-up of what occurred. We are calling on Spanier and the Board of Trustees as the corporate stewards of PSU to take immediate and far-reaching actions to ensure that Penn State students, staff and the families in the surrounding community never have to see this kind of behavior and resulting exposé ever again. 

We are pleased that the Penn State Board of Trustees met last night and took appropriate action by accepting both Tim Curley’s and Gary Schultz’s request to step down from their current positions at the University. But we are concerned about Dr. Spanier’s statement of November 5 giving unconditional support for both of these men.

Our youth deserve better custodians of their lives while at the University.  Everyone attending, working at, or participating in programs and activities at Penn State also deserve an environment free of violence.  Therefore we are asking the Administration and the Board of Trustees to follow through on the Board’s plan to conduct an independent review of the University’s policies and procedures related to the protection of children; review with administrators police reporting protocols; publicize the findings of the independent review; review with administrators police reporting protocols; and enhance educational programming around such topics. As part of this process and to further advance the zero tolerance policy made in 2006, we have requested that the Board:

1. Broaden the review to include all policies surrounding sexual assault, domestic and dating violence,  and stalking of both children and adults;

2. Broaden the review to include ways to break down this wall of immunity between the Athletic Department and the rest of the University, and to review policies and programs across the University and within the Athletic Department on all forms of sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking.

3. Consider, as part of enhanced educational programming, bringing in outside training from people within the sports field who are respected by Athletics who may be more accepted by athletic staff and coaches (we initially suggested this in 2006, but as far as we know, this has never happened);

4. Create a protocol or policy that ensures that individuals are not retaliated against when they report allegations of abuse to authorities as required by law or university policy.  As the New York Times reported, The chronology of events laid out by the state attorney general’s office includes multiple episodes that seem to suggest a failure by a variety of Penn State officials or employees to act emphatically, whether out of fear, incompetence or, perhaps, self-interest.  As with sexual harassment, fear often results in stifling someone from speaking out; and

5. Fully enforce the 2006 zero tolerance policy, up to and including, separation and/or permanent resignation of individuals from the University who participate in, condone, or cover up this form of behavior through either their action or inaction.