OLYMPIA—Everyone has a moral responsibility to report cases of sexual molestation or other severe abuse of children to authorities. State Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson wants to make it a legal responsibility as well.
Dickerson (D-Seattle) is proposing legislation that would require every adult in Washington to contact a law enforcement agency when they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is being severely abused or neglected.
“Children are suffering behind curtains of silence as we try to combat serial sexual predators and other child abusers one profession at a time in our mandatory reporting laws,” said Dickerson.
“We need to bring clarity to the law so that no one has to wonder or ask a lawyer whether they are legally required to report severe child abuse. The answer should always be, ‘Yes, you must try to protect the child by reporting the suspected crime.’”
The Department of Social and Health Services lists 19 professions and other categories of persons who are required to report suspected abuse.
Dickerson worked with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg to develop the law to protect children.
“I support this important bill because it expands the duty to all adults to report severe and obvious abuse and neglect of children,” said Satterberg.
Dickerson was working on her legislation even before the notorious sex-abuse case in Pennsylvania came to light, where a college football coach allegedly sexually molested a string of young boys while others who suspected or were told of the abuse remained silent.
“Many Washington children have also suffered horrible abuse because dirty secrets were swept under the rug,” said Dickerson. “I remember the moral outrage when a shroud of silence allowed kids to be sexually abused for decades at the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch near Spokane. And just recently, in Seattle, Timothy Dampier has been accused of molesting multiple boys after a specific accusation of sexual abuse went unreported by a member of the clergy.”
Many health experts and advocates for children agree with Dickerson that reporting severe child abuse or neglect is the surest means of protecting children against further harm.
“Reporting child abuse is the best way to stop abuse from continuing, give children protection, and make sure they get the help they need. It can make all the difference in an abused child’s life,” said Lucy Berliner, director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress.
Eighteen states already have laws that require everyone to report suspected cases of child abuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It is currently a gross misdemeanor in Washington for mandatory reporters of child abuse to knowingly fail to report instances of abuse or neglect to authorities.
Dickerson’s proposal, House Bill 2331, has been referred to the House Committee on Early Learning and Human Services.
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