Bill would toughen child abuse reporting laws

By Krista Kano, MetroWest Daily News
November 11, 2011

An area lawmaker’s plan to broaden state law mandating the reporting of child abuse is being called a small step that could go further by toughening punishment and extending the statute of limitations.

Rep. Kevin Kuros, R-Uxbridge, whose alma mater Penn State University is the center of an abuse scandal, told the State House News Service he would “most likely” file an amendment to the state’s child abuse law that would require all state employees to report crimes against children.

“Right now, not all state employees are mandatory reporters,” he said.

Kuros made his remark shortly after Penn State football coach Joe Paterno announced on Wednesday that he would retire at the end of the football season. The university’s Board of Directors later Wednesday decided to fire Paterno immediately.

Paterno’s firing followed allegations that he failed to report that his assistant coach, Jerry Sandusky, had sexually assaulted a young boy in a school shower in 2002.

Massachusetts has an extensive list of professions that are required to report any child abuse or neglect. These so-called mandatory reporters include medical personnel, teachers, clerks, probation officers and clergy members.

Failure to report abuse can result in a fine of up to $1,000, but if that failure results in the death or serious bodily harm of a child, a person can be fined up to $5,000, put in jail for up to 2 1/2 years, or both.

Dave Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests called the plan to expand Massachusetts’ list of mandatory ” a good, but partial step.”

Clohessy, whose national organization came to prominence during the Catholic clergy abuse scandal, said it would be better to extend or eliminate statutes of limitations for such crimes.

“Typically, the penalties are slight and the enforcement is rare,” he said. “A better remedy is to reform or repeal the statute of limitations (on crimes against children).”

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney whose has represented more than 750 victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse said, “(The fine) should be increased substantially so the law has teeth and impact. A $1,000 fine to a financially well-heeled supervisor is really not going to cause that supervisor to report a violation whereas a law with greater sanctions might.”

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, both Florida and Indiana make it a first-degree misdemeanor to fail to report child abuse or neglect. Both states classify all citizens as a mandated reporter. Delaware also classifies everyone as a mandated reporter but a 2002 court decision suggests that only medical personnel and school employees are required to report abuse.

Massachusetts lawmakers expanded the list of mandatory reporters following the child abuse scandal involving the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese in 2002, adding nearly all individuals responsible for the care of children to the list. Although clergy are considered to be mandatory reporters, the same requirements do not apply if the information was gained through religious confession.

“There’s no reason not to have such a law given the unfortunate impact of sexual abuse that children suffer,” said Garabedian. “Children need to be protected and this is one way to further protect children.”

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