In response to last year’s child sex abuse scandal at The Pennsylvania State University, Georgetown has launched a new Protection of Minors Policy.
The policy, which was approved by the Faculty Senate in September, was announced last week in a university-wide email from the Office of the President.
“We recognize that we certainly have to look at how we protect minors on campus,” Vice President for Public Affairs and Senior Advisor to the President Erik Smulson said.
Georgetown began reviewing its policy regarding treatment of minors on campus after news of the Penn State scandal broke last November. According to Smulson, the review resulted in the formation of a Culture of Care Working Group, a committee composed of university leaders from Georgetown’s three D.C. campuses that gathered information about other university’s policies and noted how they differed from Georgetown’s.
“There were a lot of current policies in place that we already have,” Smulson said. “We have a code of ethics. … We have an honor pledge … so there is a culture of care that is already integrated into our community.”
The working group first established guidelines last April for on-campus summer programs that include minors and used this initial set of recommendations as a test for the final policy. According to Smulson, the guidelines applied to more than 45 different summer programs on Georgetown’s campus that included minors.
Most of these summer guidelines, which consisted of recommendations for program coordinators and leaders, were incorporated into the final policy.
“We did an inventory of all the groups that bring minors to campus and looked at what the best practices were,” Smulson said. “It changed the way [the programs] did business based on the guidelines, which I think is a very good sign.”
The fully developed policy released last week sets standards for treatment of minors across Georgetown’s campuses and establishes protocol for dealing with infractions.
According to the policy, “abuse or neglect of minors” includes physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or negative treatment of any individual under the age of 18. The policy applies to all buildings, facilities and areas owned and operated by the university.
To enforce this standard, the policy requires all people over 18 who lead or participate in programs or activities involving minors to undergo training and a criminal background check.
Training includes learning methods for recognizing signs of abuse or neglect and developing ways to protect minors from abuse. Non-university organizations must submit documentation proving that program members underwent training.
The policy also highlighted the importance of a reporting system, which mandates that members of the university community call Georgetown’s Department of Public Safety or the Metropolitan Police Department if they notice suspicious activity. Community members also must inform the Office of Compliance and Ethics about concerns.
According to Smulson, the university’s next task is to ensure that the campus understands the new policy.
“It is very much an ongoing process because now that we have the policy in place, we have to increase awareness that we have the policy and that this is an issue,” he said.
He added that the university hopes to bolster the policy’s message by bringing speakers to work with student groups and talk about child abuse throughout the year.
“It is going to be a constant conversation to make sure people are aware of the issue of child abuse,” he said.