On heels of Penn State scandal, UF calls for diligence

Campus police chief hopes people report crimes of abuse they see.

Published: Saturday, November 12, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 at 6:13 p.m.

The most difficult interview Linda Stump ever had to do was with an 8-year-old boy who had been sexually abused by a Purdue University graduate student when she worked for the campus police department there.

Stump, now the University of Florida police chief, said she hopes that if any good comes from the trouble that is now befalling Penn State over the sexual abuse of boys by a former football coach, it's that people will report the crime if they see or suspect it.

“All he did was cry and I couldn't get him to talk to me at all about anything, let alone what he had happened to him,' Stump recalled. “It was just horrible things, and I wanted to comfort him in some way.

“I'm really passionate about this issue,” Stump continued. “The fact that Penn State covered it up, and that so many people turned their cheek to this, makes me sick.”

Former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky last weekend was arrested on child sexual abuse charges. A Penn State administrator and the school's athletic director have been charged with perjury and failing to report the abuse.

Some of the abuse happened at Penn State's athletic facilities, which Sandusky had use after he retired.

Meanwhile, head coach Joe Paterno and Penn State's president were fired this week because of the case.

Prosecutors allege a graduate assistant who is now an assistant coach saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy in a shower in PSU's football complex. The grad assistant told Paterno and Paterno told his supervisor. No one called police.

Gainesville Police Sgt. Ray Barber, a sex crimes investigator, said failure to report is common despite a Florida law that requires anybody who sees any form of child abuse or has reasonable suspicion of it to call a state hotline.

“Some cultures just keep that within their family. It's family business and they deal with it themselves. They'll know it's going on and they will give the child to an aunt or grandmother to get away from the offender,” Barber said. “We come across that all of the time. They will watch the offender within the family, but that doesn't help children outside the family that the offender might go after.”

Stump said as part of a federal law requiring university police departments to issue reports on campus crime, UF in October sent out notices to UF staffers who have contact with students stating that they are obligated to report any suspicious activity to police.

UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said UF officials have not discussed whether additional notices should be sent reminding people of the laws that require reporting or whether any UF policies will be reviewed.

University Athletic Association spokesman Steve McClain could not be reached for comment on UAA policies regarding use of UF athletic facilities or whether the UAA has had any discussion of reporting laws in the wake of the Penn State scandal.

The university's athletic programs often host summer sports camps for children. Stump said any adult who works with children at camps must be fingerprinted and undergo a criminal background check.

Sherry Kitchens, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center, said various agencies in Alachua County, including police and the state Department of Children and Families, work hard to close any gaps that could exist in reporting and investigating cases.

Kitchens praised the Penn State victims for coming forward, and added that adults have a responsibility to protect children from abuse regardless of whether they are related to that child.

“We have to take that on ourselves -- what we see, we have to take care of by reporting and following through,” Kitchens said.

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