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Penn State ignored abuse allegations, Ariz. man claims

A Phoenix, Ariz., man is alleging that he tried, without success, in 2001 and 2002 to reach someone at Penn State who would act on his claims he had been sexually abused as a child by a Penn State professor.

Paul McLaughlin, 45, of Phoenix, Ariz., alleged in a news release issued by the National Center for Victims of Crime that he was 11 years old in 1977 when he began to be abused by Penn State professor John T. Neisworth and two other men. He said the abuse occurred over a period of four years in several states, including at Neisworth’s home in Julian and at his Penn State office, McLaughlin said.

From 2001 to 2002, he said he contacted Penn State officials in order to make them aware of his allegations against Neisworth, a full-time professor regarded as an expert on early childhood education and autism. Several Penn State officials declined to take action on his complaints, he said in the news release.

“Although I had clear evidence of abuse by this professor, the university refused to act,” McLaughlin said in the news release. “At the time I was abused, there were no policies or safeguards in place at the university to prevent this kind of crime.”

According an interview with McLaughlin in the (Harrisburg) Patriot News, McLaughlin went to Penn State’s dean of education, David Monk, and eventually had a phone conversation with university President Graham Spanier in early 2002. Both brushed him off, he said, despite his offer to share a tape recording he made of Neisworth admitting to performing oral sex on him.

Neisworth retired as a professor emeritus from Penn State in the early 2000s, but continued to teach distance courses part-time for years afterward, the Centre Daily Times previously reported. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.

McLaughlin filed a civil suit against Neisworth and a California man named Karl Goeke in New Jersey in 2001. McLaughlin agreed to an out-of-court cash settlement, which included a nondisclosure agreement, in 2002, according to the Centre Daily Times archives.

In 2005, charges of child sexual abuse were filed in Maryland — the only state in which the statute of limitations had not expired — against Neisworth, who was 67 at the time; Goeke, who was 58; and David A. Smith, who was 64. However, prosecutors later made a declaration of nolle prosequi — a voluntary dropping of charges — because of lack of evidence, according to court documents and newspaper accounts of the trial.

Throughout the civil case and the criminal proceedings, Monk expressed support for Neisworth.

“He has an impeccable record as a scholar, and he’s been a fine member of the faculty here,” Monk told the Centre Daily Times in 2005. At the time, he said Penn State was not investigating Neisworth’s activities at the university.

Neisworth sued Mc- Laughlin and his wife, Joy McLaughlin, in 2007 for breaching the terms of the non-disclosure agreement signed after the 2001 civil suit for initiating the criminal proceedings against him in Maryland.

McLaughlin counter-sued for abuse of process, breach of contract, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, and fraud. The results of those suits could not be determined Thursday.

McLaughlin appeared at a press conference Wednesday in Harrisburg to push for the passage of several child abuse-related bills.

“Last week’s arrest of Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky for the same kind of abuse suggests that little has changed (at the university),” he said. “At Penn State and other institutions, witnesses can just ignore abusers, leaving them free to abuse children again and again.”

McLaughlin and the National Center for Victims of Crime are advocating for the elimination of the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases alleging child sexual abuse.

“Institutions can best protect their reputations by preventing child sexual abuse and holding abusers accountable,” said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “By acting immediately, they can earn their good name and protect themselves from the kind of catastrophe now unfolding at Penn State.”

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