Mandatory Reporting Laws Under Scrutiny

Lawmakers want answers on reporting sexual abuse of children

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and state lawmakers believe more needs to be done to bolster laws designed to protect children.

"We must strengthen our laws to ensure that any suspected abuse is immediately reported to law enforcement and child protective services -- it is an essential action to protect our children and ensure that these criminals are stopped before defenseless children are harmed," said Casey.

On Tuesday, Casey called on the Senate HELP Subcommittee on Children and Families to reexamine federal reporting laws on sexual abuse of children.

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Serious allegations of child sex abuse against former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky have shined a spotlight on possible instances of adults failing to report alleged abuse.

A group of state legislators held a press conference at the state capitol in Harrisburg on Tuesday supporting the passage of several measures related to mandatory reporting requirements.

State Rep. Louise Bishop (D-Phila.) related her own personal story about being raped by her stepfather at age 12, PoliticsPa.com reported.

She had never before told anyone, not even her husband about the long-ago abuse, Bishop said.

There are specific state reporting guidelines for professionals who come in contact with children, including school employees and others who work for public and private agencies and facilities. For example, a school staff member must notify whoever is in charge of the school or organization and that person has a legal obligation to report the abuse.

Among the changes the lawmakers support is increasing the statute of limitation for sexual assault. Until 2007, victims had to come forward before age 20 and now that has been extended to age 30 to file civil suits. Criminal charges must be brought before a victim turns 50.

Casey said he would like a Senate hearing to highlight the failings that appeared to have led to the recent revelations and charges surrounding Sandusky and Penn State.

Here is the full text of Casey's letter to the Subcommittee on Children and Families:

The Honorable Barbara A. Mikulski

Chairwoman

Subcommittee on Children and Families

Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

The Honorable Richard Burr

Ranking Member

Subcommittee on Children and Families

Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions

Dear Chairwoman Mikulski and Ranking Member Burr:

I write today to request an expedited hearing in the Subcommittee on Children and Families to assess how well federal laws, such as the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), are protecting children and what provisions are in place to ensure appropriate reporting of suspected cases of child abuse and neglect. This Committee reauthorized CAPTA last year with a new provision to strengthen reporting of child abuse and neglect, but gaps remain that leave victims of such crimes liable to fall through the cracks. Currently, only 18 states require all adults to report suspected child abuse, and Pennsylvania is not one of them.

As you are aware, serious allegations of child abuse at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) involving former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky have been brought to light in a recently published Grand Jury report, which indicts Sandusky on 40 counts of sex crimes involving boys. Eight victims have come forward. The serious nature of these allegations and the evidence on the public record of failure to report by individuals at Penn State warrants an immediate review of the relationship between federal and state reporting requirements on child abuse and neglect under CAPTA. Additionally, the hearing should explore the need to support educational and training requirements for people who come into contact with children to recognize abuse and neglect.

To that end my office has consulted with national and Pennsylvania-based child protection advocates on legislation to require states to improve their mandated reporter laws to ensure that all adults recognize their legal responsibility to report suspected child abuse, which I hope to introduce with child advocates’ support in the days ahead.

I look forward to working with you to plan a hearing that will highlight the failings that led to the tragedy at Penn State and illuminate a path forward to ensure that children will be protected by all adults entrusted with their care.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.

United States Senator
 

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