It’s Time for a Federal Mandatory Reporter Law

The Penn State sexual abuse case has been all over the news. Americans are disgusted with the moral apathy exhibited by the administrators and coaches who covered up abuse allegations. Their failure to report likely caused scores of additional children to be subjected to an alleged sexual offender.

Instead of looking backward, placing blame, and pointing a finger, one U.S. Senator has taken the initiative to make sure this cover-up never happens again in America. Senator Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, filed the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid (Speak Up) Act of 2011. The bill requires states to pass mandatory reporter laws (i.e., if you witness child abuse, no matter whom you are, you must report it to the authorities or face criminal charges). If states fail to comply, they risk losing federal money under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). There’s more information from Senator Casey’s office here.

If this law was in effect when Penn State Assistant Coach Mike McQueary allegedly witnessed Jerry Sandusky abusing a child in the team’s locker room showers, there would be no question where he should have gone next–directly to the police. It makes little sense that a crime so heinous, that involves children, can be subject to reporting up an unreliable bureaucratic chain of command. There are too many links in the chain that may prevent reporting, as demonstrated at Penn State. Nevertheless, Mike McQueary could and should have went directly to the police. This new law would make him criminally liable for what he, in hindsight, knew he should have done.

Thankfully, Texas already has a mandatory reporter law on the books. Texas Family Code 261.101(a) provides: “A person having cause to believe that a child’s physical or mental health or welfare has been adversely affected by abuse or neglect by any person shall immediately make a report as provided by this subchapter.”

According to Senator Casey’s press release, the bill would also:

  • Provide support to states to carry out educational campaigns and training to inform individuals about what constitutes child abuse and neglect, and promote greater responsibility;
  • Promotes new approaches and techniques to improve reporting; and
  • Evaluate states’ progress on mandatory reporting.

The bill is picking up steam. Senator Robert Menendez has filed a similar bill, the Child Abuse Reporting Enforcement (CARE) Act, that would make failure to report abuse a felony. Hopefully, Congress acts soon.

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is a former Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award. Alex is currently in private family law practice with the Hunt Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Katy, Texas.

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