Pennsylvania State University has contracted with a Texas abuse-risk-management company to arrange for free counseling for alleged victims of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, the university announced Wednesday.
Since the child sex-abuse scandal broke in November, university officials have pledged to help the victims, who have said that Sandusky sexually abused them as children.
Sandusky has denied charges that he molested 10 boys over a 15-year period on and off campus. The case is to go to trial in May.
"It took a little while for us to roll out a program of this magnitude," said Mark Dambly, a member of Penn State's board of trustees. "We had to vet the group that would provide it, and we had to work it out with the insurance company."
The university has hired Praesidium Inc., which specializes in helping large entities prevent abuse within their organizations, according to the company's website.
The counseling will be confidential, the university said. It will be handled by counselors outside the university, and the school will not know the identity of those who use the services, the school said.
No budget has been set, but funds will not come from tuition or state funds, a university spokeswoman said.
"We're committed to helping those who may have suffered from abuse," said Dambly, a real estate developer from Media who heads the trustees' outreach committee. "We think this is a key step in meeting that commitment."
Victims will be permitted to keep their current counselors if they are already getting help and the counselors are appropriately qualified, Dambly said. The university will reimburse counselors for help already provided to the victims, he said.
And there are no set limits to the coverage, he said.
"We'll rely on the professionals," Dambly said. "So long as those who may have suffered abuse are in need of counseling and the professionals believe counseling is still appropriate, we'll continue those counseling services for them."
The university's attorney will begin reaching out to the attorneys of the victims this week, notifying them of the new service.
Several attorneys for victims said that they had not heard of the service, but that they knew Penn State was under pressure as not doing more to help and that they hoped the new program was a legitimate step.
Michael Boni, attorney for an 18-year-old identified in grand jury testimony as Victim One, said, "You'd think they might contact us first. We'll believe it when we see it. To us, it's just a rumor."
His client has a therapist, he said. But he will discuss the university's offer with his client and the client's mother to see if additional services would help, he said.
Jeff Anderson, an attorney for a 30-year-old victim identified as John Doe A, said that if the offer was "authentically given" and the appropriate resources were offered, he would discuss it with his client.
"We'll have to see how that plays out," he said.
The client has had intermittent counseling, he said, due to financial constraints.
"It's been a struggle for him," Anderson said.
Andrew Shubin, a State College lawyer who said he represented "multiple" victims, said he had talked to psychologists in the State College area who felt overwhelmed by the need for their services in the aftermath of the scandal.
It's not just the victims who need help, he said. "We have families who are looking for support, wives, mothers, brothers, siblings. Imagine a plane crashing in a community - that's really what happened," Shubin said.
The university removed both its president, Graham B. Spanier, and its head football coach, Joe Paterno, after the allegations came out in a grand jury presentment last November.
The university said victims who were in counseling or needed counseling - as well as their family members and friends - could call Praesidium at 1-888-961-9273 or e-mail email@example.com.