Reporting Abuse with the Abuser Present: How a Minnesota Law Continues to Traumatize Child Abuse Victims

Maya White came forward to report that her father was abusing her when she was a sixth-grader. Maya soon realized that she would have to report the abuse while in the presence of her father. In her own words, Maya, now 15 years old, explained that “not only did I have to tell my story to complete strangers, but I was also forced to do so in front of my abuser.”

No child should have to report the abuse they endured in the presence of their abuser. Unfortunately, children who suffer child abuse in Minnesota are often forced to report the abuse they experience in front of their abuser because Minnesota does not grant “children the right to be interviewed separately from their guardians when reporting abuse – even if the guardian is the alleged abuser,” according to the Minnesota House of Representatives

Maya is using her voice to call for a change, stating that “no child should have to go through the same experience that I did.” Minnesota lawmakers, including Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL – Roseville), agree. Rep. Becker-Finn sponsored a new Minnesota law, HF3971, referred to as “Maya’s Law,” which would require that child welfare interviews occur without the alleged abuser being present. To force children to tell child welfare investigators their experiences of abuse with alleged abusers present “is incredibly problematic,” argued Rep. Becker-Finn. She continued by saying that “it does not allow us to really get to the heart of what’s going on to keep children protected.”

The Minnesota House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee approved the bill on March 17, 2022. The bill was then sent to Minnesota’s House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. If the bill becomes law, officials (1) would no longer interview children with their abuser present, (2) would interview the child before interviewing the alleged abuser or the child’s guardian or school officials, (3) would allow officials to interview the child without a guardian’s permission, and (4) require that interviews with children in foster care who are five years of age or older occur without the foster parents being present.

Officers on School Campuses Negative Impacts

The ability to teach a child something carries excellent weight on how they gain knowledge to understand the lessons learned in that taught experience. “Reducing recidivism should be the goal of public safety, not more punishment,” as stated by Alycia Castillo, aligns with the lessons youth are taught. Black children are punished at a much higher rate than their white counterparts for crimes. The punishments served are more severe, as “[c]hildren of color, particularly Black children, are overrepresented in arrests and other police contact.” As these Black children are taught that being arrested is the result of punishment, they then accept arrest as a punishment. Many of these cases do not deserve punishment, but it does not need to be as severe as an arrest if needed. There should be better ways of rehabilitating all but predominantly Black and Brown children rather than punishing them severely for their unfortunate run-ins with the law.

The punishment issues can arise with the presence of police on school campuses. “Arrests increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school.” This is a byproduct of punishment that Black and Brown children face from police in schools. Many students may give up on their studies if facing run-ins with the law is part of it. Some may see that no matter if their inside or outside the school, they will still be a run-in with the law. This unfortunate event is an occurrence that happens too often in Black and Brown communities. “When youth come into contact with police, including through arrests, they miss classroom learning time, are stigmatized by peers and teachers, and may experience trauma related to the physical and psychological humiliations of arrest.” This is a negative impact on Black and Brown children, especially in Harris County as “[i]n 2020, in Harris County just for example, Black kids were 19 times more likely to be confined than white kids, and Latino kids were about seven times more likely to be confined than their white peers,” stated by Castillo. There is a substantially higher population of white children to Black children in Harris County, yet many children being confined as punishment are Black children.

The unfair practice of punishment is one of many practices done to marginalized communities. To have police on school campuses increases the chances that Black and Brown children experience these unfair punishments. Additionally, the resources used on policing in schools affect Black and Brown children more negatively than white children. These resources should be reallocated to resolve run-ins with the law as a rehabilitation effort. The unfair treatment of Black and Brown people with the law outside of school is already extreme, and we shouldn’t allow the treatment of Black in Brown children in school to be the same.

Teaching Intro to Juvenile Law in Street Law

 

Being a Street Law instructor involves teaching teenage youth. This is a group of people whose laws if charged as a juvenile is separate from adult law. Many may not know, where some may. Regardless of the importance of teaching the youth about the processes and procedures of their “separate” laws, typically based on policy or precedent, can be important to developing their advocacy skills.

An important aspect to teach the students in Street Law is about representation by a lawyer for a juvenile defender. First and foremost, if ever questioned by a police officer when being detained for a possible crime or suspect to one ask for representation. Typically, when telling the students about asking for a lawyer in the street law course many students are curious to know when to know to ask for a lawyer when being questioned by an officer. The response to this, is the person who is being questioned needs to ask the officer, “am I free to leave?” If the officer responds no, then that is when you may ask for a lawyer.

This typically leads to Miranda Warnings and students’ rights at school. To be able to teach Miranda is very important in knowing one’s rights when being questioned by law enforcement. When teaching the students about Miranda Warnings, usually the lesson will involve the difference between casual conversation, reasonable suspicion, and probable cause. There are many activities done with the students during this lesson to understand the actions that lead to custody and know when Miranda Warnings should be read to them.

When discussing how to get representation, an important policy to bring up with the students from Texas is the Fair Defense Act which “requires each county’s juvenile board to adopt a plan for the appointment of counsel to youth whose families are unable to afford counsel and sets out basic guidelines for the appointment process.” To know that there is a strong possibility of help when coming from a low-income or socioeconomic background can be reassuring with getting representation.

Another important aspect of juvenile defense that can be taught in Street Law is about representation when it comes to mental health disorders. The importance has to do with the rehabilitation of the juvenile towards their actions if they are the culprit of their alleged crime. It is important that the juvenile defense lawyer gets this information and if the juvenile defender fails to ask, it is important for the juvenile to tell the lawyer. This may be a step that is possibly forgotten from time to time and is imperative to help the charged juvenile. When there is a possibility that the charged juvenile has a mental health disorder, once it is told to the lawyer then it may be important to get an evaluation. The outcome of this evaluation will help the court make a better decision towards the charged juveniles’ well-being and the juvenile’s rehabilitation efforts if convicted of the crime.

Juvenile Law is very broad and can be applicable in many situations for teenagers and youth. For them to understand their basic constitutional rights can help in many different situations. Teaching this lesson will empower youth to advocate for themselves in many situations.