JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX) — A bill that would require everyone to report the sexual abuse of a child is facing some debate in Missouri’s Capitol.
Right now only certain people are required by law to report a child being sexually abused, but Kirkwood Senator Eric Schmitt wants to make it everyone’s responsibility.
“Here, we’re dealing with a person who is actually a witness,” says Schmitt. “The penalty right now for such a mandatory reporter is a Class A misdemeanor, which is up to a $1000 fine and a year in jail.”
The current law only requires those involved in “child care or treatment,” such as teachers or medical professionals, to report abuse. The law does not specifically include university employees. This measure comes after the news out of Penn State, where an assistant coach saw a young boy sexually abused but didn’t tell law enforcement.
But several senators said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of the legislation.
One concern raised by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, was that 18-year-olds may not be mature enough to report child abuse or could face repercussions if the abuser is their parent or guardian.
“I think we’re asking an awful lot of an 18-year-old, under penalty of criminal prosecution, who stands to lose a lot,” Ridgeway said.
Schmitt said that since they can vote for the leader of the free world, 18-year-olds should be old enough to report abuse. His bill requires incidents be reported to the Department of Social Services only the individual directly witnesses the abuse.
Ridgeway also brought up the possibility that children could face further abuse if law enforcement fails to find enough evidence for a conviction.
Another senator, Rep. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, used her experience as an attorney to give examples of situations where reporting abuse could cause further harm. She said when a mother is being abused and the situation escalates to include her children, the woman could potentially lose custody for failing to report her husband for abuse.
“The problem is that child sexual abuse is so much bigger than that one narrow thing that we can’t possibly fix it with just one bill and we can’t possibly prevent unintended consequences with the passing of this one bill,” Justus said.
Schmitt says he’ll be tailoring the law so that it applies to anyone who sees the act happen. “The debate is good and these are important questions to ask,” Scmitt said. “But I think at the end of the day the right thing to do here is to try to protect these kids by obligating witnesses to step forward.”
There are some companion bills in the House that are not receiving as much resistance, so Schmitt says he’s sure a version of this will land of the Governor’s desk by the end of May.
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