Chicago – Legislation tightening reporting requirements for school districts implicated in child sex abuse cases is awaiting Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. Following the Tribune’s “Betrayed” series last year, which revealed rampant, hidden sex abuse and assault incidents within Chicago Public Schools, lawmakers passed a bill requiring more reporting and information-sharing for all schools.
It’s a solid step forward.
But it’s also important to contextualize what led to the changes in state law. Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials for months fought records requests from Tribune reporters on sexual assaults within schools. CPS only relented under threat of a lawsuit. It’s important to remember that the documents City Hall and CPS eventually provided were heavily, ridiculously, redacted. It was not an exercise in protecting students. It was an exercise in CYA. Reporters strung together police records, court files, other public documents and interviews to compile a database of abuse allegations, without the dutiful or transparent assistance of CPS, a taxpayer-funded agency.
It is most important to remember the gross, indefensible number of victims: Police investigated 523 reports that children were sexually assaulted or abused inside city public schools from 2008 to 2017, or an average of one report each week. More than 500 cases, shrouded in secrecy. Without the diligence of journalists, those cases might have stayed buried. That’s what City Hall hoped.
Instead, the scandal forced a reckoning at CPS more than 25 years after the Archdiocese of Chicago began to acknowledge and take steps to hold priests and other religious personnel accountable for allegations of sexual abuse and assault against children within its schools and institutions. As despicable as the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal has been, the archdiocese here implemented a protocol for dealing with it, and strengthened that protocol repeatedly, beginning in the early 1990s.
For more than 15 years, the archdiocese has conducted background checks on priests, staff, volunteers and any parent or coach who might come into contact with a student. The archdiocese has removed, named and outed priests with substantiated allegations of abuse against them, even without a criminal conviction in a court of law. The archdiocese still publishes a list of all priests with substantiated allegations and refers new cases to the local state’s attorney.
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