Today a news release to the media says that four adults in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case have been charged with failure to report the rape of a 16 year old girl as required by state law. The superintendent of the Steubenville, Ohio school district, two coaches, and a principal were charged. The state law that these adults failed to follow is called the mandatory report for professionals. According to the National Conference of State Legislature 48 states including Guam, District of Columbia, Samoa, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands require that specific individuals are required to report child abuse. This report is usually required to be made within a specified amount of time. http://www.ncsl.org/research/human-services/2012-child-abuse-mandatory-reporting-bills.aspx The important part to remember is that the report only requires suspicion of child abuse not proof of child abuse.
This is not the first case in recent years of adults being charged with failure to protect a child. The President of Penn State Graham Spanier, Vice President Gary Schultz, and Tim Curly, Athletic director were charged with various crimes including lying and concealing Sandusky’s molestation of children in his care. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ex-penn-state-president-spanier-arraigned/
Upon hearing of these charges being brought against these adults one wonder’s “how does this happen? How can these educated, professional men and women allow children to be harmed in this way? There are two well known studies in psychology that demonstrates the behaviors that explains what happened in these cases.
The first study was conducted in the 1950’s by Solomon Asch. The study was set up so that all of the participants except for one were given which answer to chose. Questions were asked regarding the length of three lines. In a group each person was called upon to answer the question. The results were astounding 33% of the time participants would chose an answer that conformed to the group consensus. Each time the study was conducted 5% of the participants agreed with the wrong answer. Only 25% of participants disagreed with the group, and reported what they saw. Scary isn’t it?? 75% of people placed in the same situation as the adults in Ohio, and Penn State would do as they did, and conform to the group. Another study that highlights the dangers of conformity is Stanley Milligram’s study of obedience completed in 1963. In this study Milligram placed one participant in one room, and another participant in the next room. A complex machine was designed to stimulate the introduction of electric shock to the person in the next room. An alleged doctor in a white coat would stand over the participant instructing them to administer more, and more electrical shock. In spite of the screams coming from the other room 63% of people followed the doctor’s direction to the end. That is almost two thirds of the participants.
The third study that explains the behaviors of these adults is called Cognitive Dissonance. This experiment was conducted in 1959 at Stanford University. The participant was given a boring task to complete. Upon completion the participant was asked how they liked it? The participant would often answer boring. The experimenter that is watching says really the others thought it was interesting. Then the participant was paid a dollar to tell the other person that it was interesting. Then the participant is taken into another room to be interviewed about the task. As a participant you don’t want to lie after all you were paid one dollar to tell the other person that it was interesting. So, now you interpret the task as not so boring, and find things interesting about it. This is how the human mind works when it has two thoughts that are contradictory to each other. http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/10/how-and-why-we-lie-to-ourselves.php
In the case of the Penn State President it is likely that he dismissed Sandusky’s behaviors as untrue, or not what the person seen. He knew that the school was known for great football, and Sandusky was the one who coached them to championships. He adjusted his values to match the behavior. In other words he decided that football was more important to his school’s reputation than reporting the child abuse. As you can see from their sanctions from the league he was not wrong in that assuming it would make the university look bad. However, he may be spending some time in jail for his Cognitive Dissonance.
Unfortunately, in the Stubennville, Ohio case the superintendent made the same mistake as the President of Penn State did. The Superintendent assumed that his school district football reputation was more important than one girl. He , also adjusted his values to accommodate the behavior of the students. He too will pay the price for his Cognitive Dissonance with some jail time.
There is a moral to this story. The moral is that anyone of us at any time can fall victim to the traps of conformity, and Cognitive Dissonance. Being aware of how we conform, and why we conform is imperative. Understand how you rationalize the information you hear from other people. For only you can stop you from becoming another adult who did not report abuse to protect a child.