I have been asked to make some comments on HB4016, which will dramatically expand mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse in Oregon. This bill and others like it around the country are a reaction to the unbelievable non-reporting in the Penn State crisis that left young children at risk and with no help for healing.
On the surface this is absolutely a no brainer. If you see, hear, or know of a child being sexually abused PLEASE REPORT IT! Kids need our protection and they need help in healing as soon as possible if they have been sexually assaulted. More than anything we need this if we are to turn the tide of child sexual abuse and provide a safe world to enable our children to grow up. I personally am involved with Darkness to Light, which teaches awareness tools and how important it is to report if you suspect abuse. I am also a member of the Child Abuse Network of Jackson County and we sponsor a campaign called “Don’t Turn Away”, again sending the message that we must all take part in reporting abuse. Both programs espouse it is better to report suspicions and be wrong, than to not report and be wrong. You well may save a life.
When I first heard about this bill I asked a group of people who have worked in the abuse field with survivors for decades what they thought of it. I was surprised by the reaction I got. Without exception they cautioned against a blanket law to require everyone involved in kids lives to be mandatory reporters. If anyone who comes in contact with children is required to report, where then does the 15 or 16 year-old go to speak to an advocate to work through the process and get to the point of reporting her father, or his coach? One of the people I spoke to about this shared a story of a contact she had from a 15 year-old girl that lived in a state where every adult was a mandatory reporter. She had called a national hot line and wanted a referral to find someone to talk to about her abuse. The professional had to tell her there was no one in her state she could go to for help because they would immediately be required by law to report to the police even though this girl was not ready for that.
Some might say that it should be reported anyway. A lot of the counseling community would say that the victim has the right to process their own feelings and choose to report. Some of the legal community would say it is a violation of the legal rights of a person over the age of 12 or 13 to be forced to report until they are ready.
This issue is not as open and shut as it appears. I have mixed feelings about it. I can tell you the potential solution I heard from experienced and caring advocates was that this expanded level of mandatory reporting apply to victims under age 12. That protects kids that need to be taken care of and allows an opportunity for older kids the right and respect of a hand in their own life choices. I do think that putting a 17 year old in the position of reporting incest or keeping it secret is not fair to the child. They should have a third option, one which includes a process that includes healing and making a decision with the help of an advocate.