I’m like everyone else–I was angry and disgusted at the events that unfolded at Pennsylvania State University. And then I read this post on a popular public relations website, “Shock and bewilderment: A PR student at Penn State offers her take on the sex-abuse crisis.” I found myself shrinking in distaste at the way allegations of child abuse are discussed in this article, written by a well-meaning (I’m sure) and admittedly, “bewildered” student.
Not reporting an allegation of child sexual abuse to the police is against the law. The people involved have admitted to not reporting it.
The first rule of public relations is this: You are a person first and a public relations professional second. The crisis communications plan in this case is simple and clear. People are admitting they broke the law and the criminal justice system will take it from there. There can be no spin and no message other than that. This incident has crossed the line from a public relations situation to a criminal investigation. No amount of planning and messaging can protect an individual or an organization when there is criminal behaviour admitted to. It’s best just to get out of the way and let justice run its course. We must accept that public relations has no place being an apologist for criminal behaviour, so that leaves the only alternative–which is to behave like human beings and say that this incident is absolutely unacceptable and people breaking the law will not be tolerated.
End of story.