As the child sex abuse scandals at Penn State and The Citadel began to dominate headlines, those scandals sparked a discussion about the ethical obligations to report such incidents.
How could all those clues go unreported at an academic institution?
The answer may be simple: Despite thousands of children each year attending sports, arts and academic camps on South Carolina campsues, most employees on college campuses are not required by law or their employers to report sexual abuse.
And many S.C. colleges base their internal policies on state law and do nothing further.
Change both in state law and schools' policies could be on the horizon.
"We're getting more calls from colleges looking to implement child protection policies," said Cindy McElhinney, program director of Darkness to Light, a Charleston-based nonprofit that teaches adults about recognizing and reporting child sexual abuse.
According to Section 63-7-310 of the S.C. Code of Laws, there are certain individuals who are mandated reporters of suspected abuse, under penalty of jail time and fines. Those include dentists, doctors, nurses, principals, teachers, foster parents, police officers and clergy.
But at the collegiate level, despite hosting thousands of K-12 students each year, the South Carolina Attorney General's Office confirmed to Patch that many positions that are required to report in a grade school scenario aren't held to the same standard on a college campus.
While school teachers, principals, counselors and assistant principals are defined as mandated reporters, professors, presidents, academic advisors — not to mention coaches and athletic directors — aren't considered to be under the purview of the state law on abuse.
Mark Plowden, spokesman for Attorney General Alan Wilson's office, said there is some legal precedent from civil cases such as Doe. V. Yale University that provide a well-reasoned public policy basis for defining college professors as "school teachers" as defined in many mandated reporter statutes.
"Our courts have not addressed the issue in the context of S.C. statute 63-7-310, so this is at best persuasive authority and has no binding effect," Plowden said.
"It is our hope that (upon hearing such a case for the first time) our courts settle in favor of being inclusive instead of exclusive with this statute," Plowden said in a statement on behalf of Attorney General Alan Wilson.
"Of course, the legislature could amend the statute to either specifically define the term 'school teacher' or add 'college professor,' 'coach,' or similar...There would no longer be any question," Plowden said.
Becoming more inclusive is just what some lawmakers have in mind.
Rep. Chip Limehouse, R-Charleston, has authored legislation that would add camp counselors, athletic coaches, assistant athletic coaches, athletic trainers and athletic directors to the list of people who are required by state law to report child abuse immediately when they learn of it.
Rep. Peter McCoy has prefiled a bill that is even more inclusive, requiring anyone at all who knows of abuse must report it. Some schools are more strict internally when it comes to reporting abuse or other crime.
Limehouse — who wrote South Carolina Amber Alert bill, the Violent Sexual Predator Act and Megan's Law — said he would now support McCoy's bill because makes everyone mandated reporters of child abuse.
"I think this has been an honest oversight. You do the best you can, but this was a law that was needed, and we'll have it soon," Limehouse said. "The problem is silence. If everyone spoke up we wouldn't need laws like these."
The College of Charleston's policy on reporting of abuse includes specific language on the matter. Section 6.2 stipulates that disciplinary action is possible for non-reporting.
"A member of the college community who witnesses but fails to report such a situation may be subject to the immediate consideration of disciplinary or other remedial action if the failure to report has placed a member of the college community at risk of harm or the college at risk of legal liability," the policy reads.
Meanwhile, the University of South Carolina in Columbia does take stricter steps to ensure children are not abused on campus or in college-sanctioned events.
"Yes, if employees condone or allow child sexual abuse on campus or in school sponsored activities, they would be subject to disciplinary action in addition to punishment for any criminal law violations," spokeswoman Margaret Lamb said.
USC publishes rules of conduct and policies that proscribe any type of sexual abuse or harassment. Internally, the Office of General Counsel reports any and all evidence of criminal conduct to law enforcement, Lamb added.
But at two other state schools — Clemson University and Furman University — the policy stops at the law, which many deem inadequate.
Robin Denny, director of media relations at Clemson, said there are an estimated 6,000 campers who visit Clemson each year.
Denny said those who witness or have reason to believe there is abuse or neglect on campus or at a university-sanctioned event are encouraged to report it to school officials or the campus police. They are also protected by a school whistleblower protection policy that prohibits internal retaliation by the university to those who reported the incident.
However, there is no policy at Clemson that specifically requires coaches, professors or administrators to report abuse to police or supervisors under penalty of disciplinary action.
"We do not have a policy that requires employees to report abuse or neglect," Denny said. "We do have a policy that requires employees to comply with federal and state laws — and South Carolina law requires certain employees to report abuse or neglect. We do not require employees who are not otherwise required to do so by law to report abuse or neglect.
"We do, however, encourage all employees to report abuse and neglect — and South Carolina law makes it very easy to do so."
In light of the recent scandals, Clemson President James Barker sent out an email statement to students and faculty reminding them of their responsibility to report criminal incidents.
"But policies aren’t the most important part of the system: We are," the statement says. "We each have the responsibility – the moral obligation — to take positive action when we believe someone has done something wrong or clearly needs help to prevent harm to self or others. It doesn’t matter if the incident is on or off campus."
"While this has not been reduced to a formal policy, his expectations should be clear," Denny said.
At Furman University, where officials estimate 4,500 campers come each year, has implemented similar policies, but again without an expressed requirement under the threat of internal disciplinary action.
Furman's policy reads:
"Furman University complies with all state and federal reporting laws. The university encourages and supports victims of sexual misconduct to report incidents of sexual misconduct, whether it occurred on or off campus, to University Police, the Student Life Coordinator, other University officials, or local law enforcement. In addition, faculty, staff and students are encouraged and supported to report incidents of actual or suspected sexual misconduct. University Police are required to advise the Solicitor's office and SLED of reported sexual assaults."
But beyond encouraging reporting of incidents, there aren't any internal requirements, Media Relations Director Vince Moore explained.
"Furman University does not currently have a policy that requires faculty, staff or students to report suspected abuse beyond what is required by state and federal law," Moore said. "... We do encourage all faculty, staff and students to report suspected abuse immediately to campus police and/or other law enforcement agencies."
Ultimately, schools have the moral obligation to protect children coming onto its campuses that goes beyond mere adherence to the law, said McElhinney.
"It comes down to, morally, what is the right thing to do," she said.
And even when certain policies are followed, as in the Penn State case, and upper management does nothing, McElhinney's organization encourages adults to keep advocating for the child, and that though in some cases state may not have sufficient requirements, that in and of itself isn't a worthy defense against any school's lax policy.
"You need to keep talking until you're heard, " McElhinney said.