Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan

Report Child Sexual Abuse Here’s what to do to be ready.

By Richard R. Hammar

Developing and following a reporting procedure is a critical component in a sexual abuse prevention program. Child sexual abuse thrives when it goes unnoticed or unreported. Often, an abusive situation continues because of someone’s failure to report it. All church workers need to know what constitutes an occasion for reporting, the reporting channels they should use, and their obligations to make a report.

Reporting Obligations An effective reporting procedure enhances the effort to protect children. Ordinarily, child molesters will not remain in a church where workers are trained to identify symptoms of child abuse and are encouraged to report suspicious behavior. Child abusers thrive on secrecy and are more likely to commit criminal acts in organizations where they go unnoticed.

State Compliance: A Legal Obligation Church workers should be aware of state laws that govern the reporting of child abuse. Every state has a mandatory reporting law which specifies the follow- ing:

• What constitutes child abuse.

• Those persons (“mandatory reporters”) who are legally responsible for reporting known and reasonably suspected cases of abuse.

• Most states require a direct report to a state agency.

• The length of time required to make a report. In most states, those providing professional care or services to children have a 48-hour period to make a report. In some states, an oral report is due within 24 hours.

• The nature and content of the report. Many states permit the reporter to remain

anonymous. However, if an individual desires to remain anonymous, the report should be made over the phone in the presence of an attorney or other independent witness who can verify later, if necessary, the identity of the reporter. This may become important if the reporter later is charged with negligence for failing to make a report. If no witnesses to the report exist, and the report is done anonymously, providing a defense becomes problematic.

• The social agencies or department to be contacted. In some states, reports can be made to law enforcement officers.

• The criminal penalties for failing to report. Failure to report may be punishable by a fine or jail sentence.

• Protection from legal and civil litigation if the report is made in good faith.

Mutual Accountability: A Church Obligation A sound reporting procedure promotes accountabil- ity among church workers. Questionable or inappro- priate behavior often precedes acts of child molesta- tion. Church workers should be trained to identify inappropriate behavior with children. Workers should be encouraged to warn each other when questionable behavior is displayed. Questionable behaviors should be reported to the proper individu- als. Such a policy, if implemented with care and sen- sitivity, can help to avoid actual instances of abuse or molestation.

Personal Responsibility: A Moral Obligation Workers may not report a suspected incidence of child sexual abuse for a variety of reasons. Some may want to avoid embarrassing situations. A fear of possible personal and legal recrimination may exist.


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