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New Missouri sex abuse reporting bill could see changes

The child sex abuse scandal at Penn State University has brought a renewed focus on requiring the reporting of apparent crimes by adult witnesses. In the Penn State case, an assistant coach allegedly witnessed abuse firsthand, but reported it only to his supervisors at the school rather than to police, and those supervisors also did not report the abuse to law enforcement authorities.

In Missouri, people who are in professions related to "child care or treatment," such as teachers or doctors and nurses, are required to come forward with suspicions of abuse. Other adults, however, are not. A bill introduced in the Missouri legislature seeks to change that -- but it faces opposition that it may be too strict.

Those opposed to the bill said that in some cases, having penalties for those who don't report abuse could backfire and do more harm than good. One example could be if a mother was being abused by her husband and failed to report abuse of her children: She could lose custody of her children for doing so, but reporting the abuse might cause her to be further endangered by the husband.

Other legislators said that an 18-year-old who witnessed abuse might not have the incentive to report it if the abuser was that person's parent. Again, it could cause unintended consequences for the reporter. The current law that specifies "mandatory reporters" such as teachers and doctors to report abuse carries penalties of up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail.

Source: CBS St. Louis, "Compromise Likely in Changes to Sex Abuse Reporting Law," Allison Blood, Feb. 27, 2012

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