Don 't Let the Penn State Sex Scandal Happen to Your Place of Business

In some ways avoiding the kind of  abusive and criminal sex practices that have been plaguing Penn State University is a fairly easy task.  It is a matter of conducting background checks not only for pre-employment screening but periodically to determine if your staff has been convicted of any criminal and sexual offenses.  But then what about the first timers?  Or, rather, those who were never caught?

Determining whether sex abuses are taking place, particularly in the employment environment is not always an easy task.  If you find candidates or employees on the sex offenders registry, then it's the employer's call to make.  But when nothing seems apparent, it becomes perhaps a matter on observing behavior patterns or establishing within your employment organization hotlines and clear channels of communication where other employees can report sexual transgressions or any other criminal malfeasance.

You don't want your employees to serve as snitches.  And in determining certain behavior characteristics, you certainly don't want to rush to judgment.   Before accusing an employee of sex offenses you have to be really sure of the evidence.   Evidence of this sort is gathered over time.  But the basis of that information is often tips provided by fellow employees.   Fellow employees are often disturbed by illegal behavior, but unless there is a clearly outlined system for reporting abuses, most will remain silent.  As a result employee morale tends to suffer and there is much consternation that justice is not being served.

The Penn State sex scandal comes to mind because it is very much in the news and renders this subject open for discussion.   It is also a despicable act and the fact sex abuse was allowed to go on for so long makes it that much more reprehensible.   Add to it all that the suspected offender was using a children's non-profit group to go trawling for his victims elevates factors concerning the premeditation and the elaborate scheming to ruin children's lives for one's own personal pleasure.

There is the issue at Penn State that certain staff members witnessed the illegal sexual activity and did nothing about it, or half-heartedly reported it to the school hierarchy without insisting it be investigated further.  In some states, like California, the fact that certain staff members failed to report it to law enforcement authorities makes them potentially criminally liable.  In Pennsylvania, as the law is described, this would not necessarily be the case.  So it is.    But, clearly mentioning it to the school hierarchy failed to inspire the kind of investigation necessary.   The suspect was allowed to continue raping and committing sex acts with underage children with relative impunity.

Now all this is bad enough.  But over dinner the other night, a friend and sports jock well into his middle age, told us that he heard talk about sexual improprieties.  While he played sports at Penn State and was somewhat affiliated still with its sports program, he hadn't been on the campus for dozens of years.  Yet, he heard talk.  So if the whispers were loud enough to reach California, then most probably more than the few who came forward had heard talk at State College, PA, where Penn State is located.

So, again, it is a matter of establishing clear communications channels for reporting malfeasance in the workplace.  Reporting criminal offenses this severe, especially, should be encouraged.  The policy and procedure for reporting such offenses should be clearly outlined in the employee manual.     Before your place of business suffers the consequences of Penn State's incompetent approach to this matter, get out in front of the problem.

As a background checking service, we possess particular insight regarding the hiring and continued employment of employee sex offenders.  We are aware how this can be deleterious to the workforce.  Not only does office morale tend to drop, but fellow employees can become fixated on the issue.  If the employer doesn't take action, then certain employees feel that they should take it upon themselves.  I guess this was definitely not the case in relation to the staff at Penn State.  And for that, the school will pay the price.

For Penn State, this is something that will not go away anytime soon.  As a result of this case, parents may prevent their children from going to the school.   This contributes to a potential brain drain and decline in revenue. For a university that prides itself on its sports program, especially football, recruitment may decline.  Donations from alumni and others may also diminish.  And the staff in place most live with the fact their silence resulted in the ruining the lives of dozens of kids.

I would venture this is tragic.  But more than tragic, this is too disgusting to dwell on its tragedy.   This episode could have been prevented.  But clearly, the athletic staff, especially, may have had their thoughts on other priorities.   Perhaps it was the code of protecting one of their own.  Even if he turns out to be a pervert.   Just grand.


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Comment by Suresh on December 6, 2011 at 10:08am

Good article, wonder how such events get incorporated into Corporate Training or Orientation for new employees.

If it happened at Penn State and now at Syracuse, you have to wonder how many other athletic programs have such events been swept under the rug. Conflict of Interest is what keeps all these hushed, include Campus Police being involved in covering it up.


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