MO AG wants to strengthen mandatory sexual abuse reporting laws

KENNETT, MO (KAIT) – Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is asking the general assembly to consider strengthening mandatory reporting for sexual child abuse. According to Koster, he'd like to see legislators strengthen a law requiring people in certain professions who witness sexual abuse to include anyone.

While the proposed law is viewed as a good thing by many people in the public, legal professionals told Region 8 News it could have downfalls.

Dunklin County Prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff said many teachers and medical professionals have training to determine sexual abuse.

"They have no training to recognize or distinguish what is that may be legitimate or something that is just so preposterous that it doesn't deserve consideration," said Sokoloff, who has worked two child sex abuse cases in the last three days.

"If you're goal is to increase the reporting of child abuse, I don't know that you necessarily accomplish it with that. If you're goal is to punish people that don't report it, then I'm sure it'll work fine for that," said Sokoloff.

Sokoloff estimated to have worked between 30 and 40 child sex abuse cases in the last year. He said that's typical for most counties with a comparable size to Dunklin County.

"Anybody who has direct knowledge has a moral obligation, I don't know how much you change that moral obligation and enhance that by creating that specific legal obligation on something that is fairly difficult to determine," said Sokoloff. "Kids now understand that they are supposed to and need to tell if anybody has any kind of inappropriate contact with them."

Sokoloff said the problem children face when they're in an abusive relationship, whether it be sexual, physical or verbal, is that they've been told to obey their parents.

"It's some family member or authority figure, so they've been trained to listen and follow those instructions," said Sokoloff.

Right now, 18 states nationwide require everyone to report child sex abuse to law enforcement.

"The recent incidents at Penn State highlight the disparities across the country in the manner in which state laws handle reporting sexual abuse of children," said Koster. "If a citizen walks in on the sexual abuse of a child, his duty as a citizen should be clear. We are all mandatory reporters."

"If anybody does something you don't like, you tell somebody. I think in that regard, we're seeing quite a bit more reporting. I don't know that the incidences have increased that much," said Sokoloff. "I think really to a great extent what we're seeing is with education of the public, with education of kids, because they do a lot of stuff in school about this stuff, that there's a lot more telling."

Several Region 8 residents interviewed Wednesday viewed Koster's proposal as a good thing toward protecting children.

"They can convince that child not to say anything to the parent. They can threaten them and they're not going to say anything to the parent and it's continually going to happen," said Larry McDowell. "I think it should be mandatory and if you don't report it and the authorities find out that you knew about it and didn't report it, I think that you should suffer the consequences."

"I'm not so sure that if they've got a moral fiber about them, they'd report it anyway or should see about it, but having the law would encourage them, I would think, to go ahead and do something about it. But if you're morally sound, you're going to want something done to begin with," said Frank Stuart. "It needs to be handled by people in authority to stop as much of it as they can. If it takes legislation to pass laws to do that, then lets' get it done."

Arkansas law requires all individuals who are involved in education, health and clergy members to report child sexual abuse to police agencies.

If you would like to report child abuse in your area, call the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in Missouri at 1-800-392-3738.

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