“The Penn State abuse scandal is prompting new legislation that could broaden abuse reporting laws.” According to an NPR story, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Congress are considering proposals to make every adult a mandated reporter. Traditionally, mandated reporters are determined by profession (i.e,. social workers, physicians, etc.) Adults working in these professions are obligated by law to report suspected abuse of children.
Ordinarily, I cringe at legislating decency and/or common sense. I am troubled that we need laws to enforce adults to differentiate themselves from children, and to exert their inalienable right and responsibility to protect children. But I am choosing to only see the silver lining in this development.
There are some curious (if not disingenuous) arguments being made against this proposal. One state commissioner of Children and Family services has suggested legislation is not needed because when; “you walk in and you see somebody sexually molesting a 10-year-old, you don’t need a statute to tell you that that’s a crime.” Well sir, recent headline stories would dispute that assertion. Some case managers are concerned about being inundated with unsubstantiated calls. I would argue a) 18 states currently have mandated reporting laws and calls have increased in some states and decreased in others, and b) so what. Do we even want to flirt with an argument that might at its core be: we don’t want to increase our ability to protect children because it might result in more work for us?!
The fact that rates of reporting have not increased uniformly in states which have mandatory reporting laws is not necessarily an indication of anything. We simply don’t know if abusers are less likely to abuse when they know the whole world is watching.
Sometimes reports are unfounded, or simply can not be proved. That is the nature of society and of law. Being falsely accused can be devastating to an individual and a family. However that has always and will always be true. There is nothing in the world preventing any of us right this second from calling in suspected abuse. What this new proposal changes is the legal responsibility to do so. All this really means is that if anyone over the age of 18 should come across a child appearing to be violated in a locker room shower, they will now know exactly what to do.