Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan | Report Child Sexual Abuse

Example 5. A teenage girl informs her youth pastor that her father has been sexually molesting her. The youth pastor immediately informs the senior pastor, who confronts the father with the allegation. The father (a respected member of the church) vigorously denies the charge.

Is there a legal duty to report any of these incidents to the state? These cases illustrate the difficulty that church staff encounter in making this important de- cision. Here are some factors to consider in deciding whether or not to report a particular incident of sus- pected abuse to the state:

(1) Are you a mandatory or permissive reporter under state law? Mandatory reporters (as defined by state law) face criminal penalties for not reporting.

Permissive reporters are permitted to report but they are not legally required to do so. However, it is possible that permissive reporters who do not report reasonable suspicions of abuse will be sued later by victims who allege that their suffer- ing was perpetuated by the failure to report. Therefore, do not automatically dismiss a duty to report on the ground that you are a permissive reporter under state law.

(2) What is the definition of child abuse in my state? Some states define abuse very narrowly to include only abuse inflicted by a parent or caretaker.

(3) Do I have reasonable cause to believe that abuse has occurred? Remember, most state laws require mandatory reporters to report not only actual abuse, but also reasonable suspicions of abuse. Our recommendation: interpret “reason- able cause” very broadly. Also, note that child abusers, when confronted with their misconduct, often deny it. Any allegation must be treated seri- ously.

(4) Be especially aggressive when dealing with pedophilic behavior (that is, sexual molestation


of a pre-adolescent child). Some studies suggest that a pedophile may have hundreds of victims over the course of a lifetime. You have a duty to protect other innocent victims. Resolve doubts in favor of reporting.

(5) Be especially aggressive when dealing with suspected abuse on the part of a person with a history of previous abusive behavior. Resolve doubts in favor of reporting.

(6) Does the clergy-penitent privilege apply? In a few states, clergy who learn of child abuse during a confidential counseling session are not required to report the information to the state.

(7) Consider discussing the case anonymously with a representative of the state agency that receives reports of abuse. These representatives often are more than willing to discuss particular cases and evaluate whether or not a report should be filed. Of course, if you are advised that a report need not be filed, be sure

to obtain the

representative’s name and make a record of the call.

(8) Consider filing an anonymous report from the office of some independent third party (such as a local attorney or the pastor of another church). The other person can later verify that you in fact made the report.

(9) If you have any doubts concerning your duty to report any particular incident to the state, an attorney should be consulted. It is also desirable to inform your insurance agent.

Train Workers

Conduct periodic training of workers and staff re- garding the reporting procedures. This is especially important at the beginning of a new program sched- ule or whenever a new person begins working in a ministry or program. Training sessions should pres- ent the church’s policy on reporting and the rationale behind it. Workers should have the opportunity to voice their concerns and questions. All church staff

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