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When I was Attorney General, one primary focus of my administration was working closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children on the protection of children. Of crimes committed against a person, the one that carries the most shame involves sexual abuse and assault. Many sexual abuse victims feel a deep and abiding shame – as if they are the ones who have done something wrong. These victims often feel the need to protect themselves by keeping the abuse and assault hidden. This crime lurks in secret, sometimes even over years, as evidenced by the recent allegations at Penn State and Syracuse University.
How institutions respond to these types of allegations shapes public opinion, and may influence the course of investigations by authorities and civil litigation against the institution. Initial public statements must reassure victims they will not be further victimized, and should affirm to stakeholders and the public that the institution will cooperate fully with authorities; will commit the resources necessary for a full airing of the facts; and will institutionalize measures to ensure such crimes do not occur again.
Following allegations of wrongdoing, institutions must make a fundamental decision whether to conduct an internal investigation. By not doing so, the institution runs the risk of appearing indifferent to a potentially serious matter. However, a half-hearted investigation risks further criticism of the institution and interfering with criminal investigations by authorities. On balance, it is usually in the institution’s best interest to hire an unrelated, unbiased counsel to lead a thorough internal review that is coordinated closely with any ongoing criminal investigations.
I have seen the depravity of man; the pain that one human being is capable of inflicting upon another, and the indifference to such cruelty by others.
To be a credible examination, the independent counsel should have access to all relevant documents and communications and empowered to interview relevant witnesses, all in coordination with law enforcement. Findings should be made public, and individuals held accountable for their actions – and their failure to act. Finally, the independent counsel can assist the institution develop procedures to prevent wrongdoing in the future.
I have seen the depravity of man; the pain that one human being is capable of inflicting upon another, and the indifference to such cruelty by others. When confronting charges of wrongdoing, many institutions – like individuals – tend to focus first on protecting their reputation. However, there is no better way to secure our reputation than doing what is necessary and right to protect the vulnerable in our society, particularly our children.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former United States Attorney General and the former Counsel to President George W. Bush. He is currently a visiting professor at Texas Tech University and a regular columnist for Fox News Latino.