Op-Ed: Reporting Abuse

New York Times
November 28, 2011

Prosecutors have a long way to go before they unravel the sexual abuse scandals that have engulfed the athletic departments at Pennsylvania State University and Syracuse University. What is clear from both cases is that college administrators need to contact off-campus law enforcement authorities immediately when they receive allegations of criminal conduct. It should not take prolonged inquiries or complex new standards for universities to take this common-sense step.

At Syracuse, prosecutors are looking into the claims by a former ball boy that he was molested "hundreds of times" by Bernie Fine, the associate head coach of the men's basketball team. The accuser, Bobby Davis, now 39, said that the abuse started in 1984 shortly before he began seventh grade and continued during the 1980s and '90s at the coach's home, office and on team trips. Mr. Davis has been joined by his stepbrother, Mike Lang, 45, who also said that Mr. Fine abused him while he, too, was a ball boy.

Mr. Fine was dismissed from his job over the weekend after a third accuser came forward and a recording was made public of a telephone conversation between Mr. Davis and Mr. Fine's wife in 2002 about Mr. Fine.

Mr. Davis reported his allegations to the university in 2005. According to school officials, the law firm that investigated the case on the school's behalf could find no one to corroborate the story. However, the Onondaga County district attorney, William Fitzpatrick, says he finds Mr. Davis's allegations credible and that he found corroborating evidence recently, within days of beginning his investigation. He faults the university for not contacting his office at the time of the initial allegations.

Syracuse has turned over its files to prosecutors and hired an independent law firm to review how it responded to the charges. The National Collegiate Athletic Association and its member colleges, meanwhile, should examine how athletic programs supervise staff contact with children and set specific guidelines that can better protect minors if they are involved with program activities.