Santa Maria Sun / Commentary
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 24
What's a mandated reporter?The District Attorney's Office sheds some light on the responsibilities of mandated reporters
BY JOYCE DUDLEY AND MAG NICOLA
Editor’s note: This is an op-ed piece sent to us by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office in response to charges made against former St. Joseph High School principal Joseph Myers and dean of students John Walker.
Our office recently filed criminal charges against two school administrators who we alleged failed to fulfill their legal duties to report child sex abuse to law enforcement. The case, which is now in court, involves two high-school girls who allegedly were sexually assaulted by fellow students. We recognize that this case may raise questions in some people’s minds as to who is obligated to report such abuse, and under what circumstances.
Vulnerable victims are often victimized because they are vulnerable to repeated acts of assault, abuse, or neglect. Many times victims, in general, but more often vulnerable victims are reluctant to tell the police what happened due to fear, trauma, embarrassment, or even guilt. But many will provide clues or details of their victimization to someone outside of law enforcement. Vulnerable victims often choose someone who is not a parent, guardian, or relative with whom to share their experience. And it’s not unusual for such victims to ask the people they confide in never to tell anyone.
In some cases, the victim’s request for secrecy must be denied because California law designates “mandatory reporters.” Mandatory reporters are individuals who are legally obligated to report suspected cases of abuse, assault, or neglect to law enforcement. If the receiver of the information is a mandatory reporter and the information s/he receives meets the criteria below, then s/he faces criminal penalties by failing to contact law enforcement immediately and make a report. The reason for this is to protect the present and potential vulnerable victim and to discourage individuals who are not adequately trained in the investigation of such matters from assuming a role they are ill equipped to handle.
So who is a mandatory reporter? The list is lengthy and includes a wide variety of positions in education, youth recreation, child services, public services, counseling, and the clergy. Some examples include teachers and instructors, in both public and private schools; librarians; bus drivers; youth counselors; daycare workers; social workers; probation officers; law enforcement officers; firefighters; doctors; nurses and other medical personnel; alcohol and drug counselors; priests, ministers, and rabbis (except information gained during “penitential communication”). (Penal Code section 1116S.7(a).) These are just
The next question is what must be reported? Generally, the acts that must be reported fall under the headings of neglect, harm/endangerment, unlawful corporal punishment, and sexual abuse/assault/exploitation.
Neglect means anything involving the intentional or negligent failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care for a child.
Harm/endangerment includes any willful harm or injury inflicted upon a child, or conduct that endangers the child.
Unlawful corporal punishment involves cruel and inhuman physical punishment resulting in a traumatic condition; i.e., bruising, scarring, burns, welts, etc.
Sexual abuse, sexual assault, sexual exploitation includes any touching of the intimate parts of the child, or by the child to the perpetrator, if done for sexual arousal.
People who are mandated reporters sometimes worry about what will happen if they are wrong and it turns out the person wasn’t abused or neglected. In those cases, there is no penalty for a mandated reporter when s/he follows the legal obligation to report. As an incentive to encourage the mandated reporter to follow the law, the reporter is given absolute immunity from civil or criminal liability from making the required report; s/he is entitled to confidentiality, and is protected from retaliation or discipline by his or her employer for making the required report.
Sometimes confusion arises when the child, parents, or the mandatory reporter’s boss says that they will make the report. It’s important to know that that does not eliminate the obligation of the mandatory reporter to also report. In short, this obligation cannot be delegated.
All employers of mandated reporters must provide their employees with copies of the relevant reporting laws, as well as an explanation of their reporting obligations, and the criminal penalties for failing to report. Any person who requires a license or certificate to practice a profession or occupation defined as a mandated reporter should also receive similar notification.
The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Reporting and Civil Protection Act mirrors the above obligations of, and protections afforded to, the mandated reporters who report suspected abuse, neglect, or abandonment of this vulnerable victim class.
The overall goal of our mandated reporting laws is to channel information regarding suspected assaultive, abusive, or neglectful conduct to those agencies that are both trained and adequately equipped to conduct the necessary investigations. The swift reporting and investigation of such alleged conduct is essential in preventing future victimization as well as identifying those reports that are unfounded.
Joyce Dudley is Santa Barbara County’s district attorney and Mag Nicola is a senior deputy district attorney. They can be reached at the District Attorney’s Office in Santa Barbara at 568-2300.
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