Penn State strengthens academic programs related to child sexual abuse

February 15, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State is strengthening a host of academic programs in its resolve to combat the widespread and complex social problems of child sexual assault, abuse and neglect. It also is broadening the study and awareness of sexual assault to include victims of all ages.

As an initial step, an inventory of undergraduate courses was compiled that identified courses and academic programs University faculty currently teach on topics addressing critical issues of sexual abuse.

“The inventory demonstrates a substantial range of topics and faculty expertise that spans diverse academic programs,” said Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses.

"We wanted to take a close look at our undergraduate courses as a starting point, recognize existing strengths and build from these strengths,” said Hanes. "What better way than by tapping the teaching and research expertise our faculty bring to the teaching-learning enterprise? This is where we do our best work."

Existing courses in education, nursing, health and human development, sociology, criminal justice and other social sciences help prepare undergraduates for careers involving interactions with children, youth and families. For example, teaching, health care and nursing, criminal justice, psychology, counseling, athletic training and coaching -- all of these professions may include the responsibility for detecting and reporting suspected abuse.

Curricula encompass a variety of topics taught in 119 courses with more than 49,000 enrollments annually in 35 majors. Topics range from media studies to workforce education; biobehavioral health to anthropology; crime, law, and justice to occupational therapy; labor studies and employment relations to comparative literature; and more.

Of those courses, 23 are listed as selections that can be taken to satisfy the University’s general education requirement for all undergraduates, constituting courses in social problems, developmental psychology, philosophy, sociology, and human development and family studies.

The Penn State Inventory of Curricula Related to Prevention and Intervention of Child Sexual Assault, Neglect and Abuse, reviewed by major, academic college and topic, is available online as a download ( on the Office of Undergraduate Education website.

Topics are typically addressed in the scope and sequence of courses across the curricula in these majors, including introductory and advanced courses.

For example, psychology majors are introduced to physical and verbal abuse as it relates to general psychology concepts such as parenting, and the application of theories of child development that include protecting children from abuse. Later in the curriculum students take courses in human sexuality, which address presumed causes, correlates and consequences of rape, incest, pedophilia, sexual harassment and hate crimes among other topics, and more advanced study of child development and abnormal behavior, each of which includes mandated reporting requirements.

Penn State is well positioned to make a significant impact as it continues to expand study in these critical areas, Hanes added. "We need to teach our students not only to be informed professionals, but also informed citizens," she said.

Penn State's vast faculty expertise already in place will come together in what seems the logical next step, noted Robert N. Pangborn, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education and interim executive vice president and provost of the University.

An interdisciplinary Presidential Task Force comprised of faculty from across the University will inventory current resources and areas of strength that can provide a foundation for innovative research, practice and outreach related to child maltreatment. The task force is co-chaired by A. Craig Hillemeier, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and medical director, Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital; and Susan McHale, director of the University’s Children, Youth and Families Consortium and Social Science Research Institute. The task force will recommend new activities and initiatives and identify new areas of expertise that may shine fresh light on the issue of child abuse.

One such initiative recently launched is the establishment of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children ( to focus on the study, research, prevention and treatment of child abuse. The center will be located at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and directed by noted child-abuse specialist and pediatrician Dr. Andrea Taroli. It will take an integrated, interdisciplinary approach, and eventually will include hundreds of child-abuse experts from across the University.

"Forming this center, where faculty from many different disciplines can work together synergistically to create effective solutions, is a natural evolution of our efforts thus far," said Pangborn. "It is an excellent beginning and advances our commitment to become a leader in finding and implementing solutions."

Last Updated May 24, 2019