GUIDELINES REGARDING INCIDENTS OF CHILD SEXUAL MOLESTATION
(1) According to California law, workers fall into the legal category of “mandated reporters” and have a legal obligation to report any sexual abuse inflicted on a minor (person 17 years of age or younger) if she or he is still a minor at the time the information comes to us.
(2) There is no legal obligation to report a case where the victim is no longer a minor at the time the information comes to the worker (even though the abuse happened when the victim was still a minor), but there may be a moral obligation in some cases if there is reason to believe that other minors remain at risk.
(3) If you receive such information as a younger companion, take it to your older companion.
(4) The companions in a field are advised to take the matter to your regional overseer(s) or to your general overseer.
(5) The regional overseer(s) and general overseer will discuss the matter with the local workers who received the information with the option of bringing in any other consultants whom they agree may be helpful at arriving at decisions.
(6) We will discuss here four different directions to go with this information that comes from a victim, an offender or from a third party concerning the abuse. The selection of one of these or possibly a combination of two of these will depend on the particulars of the case you are handling and the level of cooperation you are receiving from the victim or offender. We need to remember that we have a legal responsibility as “mandated reporters” to report such cases and that the victim and offender would benefit from therapy. It is possible that other family members would benefit from therapy as well. While California law stipulates that a “mandated reporter” is required to report a case of child abuse within 36 hours of learning about it, we believe that the law would be flexible regarding the time factor. However, this stipulation does indicate the importance of dealing with the matter as soon as possible. Following are the four options regarding handling such information when it comes to us:
(a) There is a definite advantage in getting the victim and the offender to a certified counselor for help. This provides help for the victim in learning to deal with the experience. Therapy provides help for the offender in managing and overcoming his or her abusive tendencies. It also can transfer the responsibility of reporting the criminal conduct from the workers to the certified counselor. We are not freed from the responsibility of reporting a case simply because we have referred the victim or the offender to another “mandated reporter,” which in this case is the counselor. We should visit with the counselor and come to an understanding that he or she will assume the responsibility of reporting (if the case warrants it) rather than ourselves. The counselor has training and resources to better determine if the case should be reported. Also, it puts us in a better position to help people on both sides of the issue if we have not done the reporting.
(b) It would be possible to go to a counselor alone without the victim or offender and convey the information that has come to us. This would work best in cases in which the counselor already has had some experience with our group and has reason to trust us. In this way, the counselor (a mandated reporter) is receiving information from a third party (in this case, the worker also being a mandated reporter) and then there would need to be an understanding and agreement that the counselor accepts the responsibility to “report” or “not report” rather than the worker continuing to have that responsibility. This is one of the optional routes in cases where the victim or offender is unwilling to see a therapist.
(c) Another option is to report the incident to Child Protective Services which is part of the county Social Services Department. They will keep the name of the reporter confidential. There is a difference in reporting the case to Child Protective Services rather than directly to a law enforcement agency. The difference is that Child Protective Services will send a social worker to evaluate the case and determine its severity. This is one step removed from the law and does not put the responsibility of determining the validity or severity of the case on the workers. Child Protective Services has “mandated reporter status” and will report the case to the law if the decision is made that way. Child Protective Services will also refer the victim and/or offender to therapy (counselors). However, the victim or offender would also have the option of seeking out therapy on their own.
(d) The fourth option is to report the incident to the Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department or the County Probation Department. The initial report can be by telephone or in person followed up by filling out a required form issued by the California Office of the Attorney General.
Options (a), (b) & (c) would usually be the preferred ones – and sometimes a combination of two of them. In more severe cases, there may be instances when option (d) seems preferable.
(7) An offer to help the victim, victim’s parents or the offender in selecting a certified counselor would be in order unless they choose to let Child Protective Services look after that. We have friends who can help us in making these choices because of their associations in the work place. There may be instances where it would be helpful to offer to accompany the victim or the offender on their initial visit to a certified counselor.
(8) If a police report is filed, the family can apply for help with expenses through the California Victim Witness program. If their request is approved, the state of California will pay for counseling sessions for the victim and each member of the victim’s family plus other services and reimbursement for certain costs related to the incident, to the extent to which they are not otherwise covered by insurance.
More information is available online at www.boc.ca.gov or by contacting
California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board
Victim Compensation Program
P.O. Box 3036
Sacramento CA 95812-3036
(9) People who fall into the broad category of “clergy” can receive information of criminal conduct from a person of their congregation which could be legally classified as «penitential communication” and the failure of the clergy member to report this can be legally excused. There is quite a bit of grey area here and room for private interpretation. If an offender brings information about himself/herself to us in a spirit that we deem to be truly repentant, this would be the most clear cut category of “penitential communication.” On the other hand, if a victim brings information to us but doesn’t want it to go any further for reasons that seem valid to us, this could also be classified as this type of communication. If either a victim or an offender asks you to be completely confidential, it would be well to press the point that you would really prefer to discuss it with a very confidential fellow-worker or fellow workers. You may be in a position where you would say, “I cannot keep this completely confidential and still have a clear conscience before God.” That is something you would need to weigh up prayerfully, seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Your decision may be influenced by the age of the victim as well. You may be more inclined to respect the plea for confidentiality from a 16-17 year old and less inclined to respect the plea for confidentiality from a 5-10 year old.
(10) Proverbs II: 14 “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” There is an element of safety involved in a small group of people evaluating any such case. At the same time, it is very important that these matters (along with many others) be handled in a wise and confidential manner so that sensitive matters are not spread indiscriminately among people who do not need to know. We would soon lose the trust of the Lord’s people if we are not wise in this area.
(11) If information comes to us from a third party (neither the victim nor the offender), there is still an obligation (legally and morally) to follow through if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the abuse has occurred.
(12) As workers, we are trusted with our friend’s homes, children, spouses, cars, financial gifts, etc. It is a serious and damaging betrayal of trust if our conduct inflicts the kind of damage described in this paper on any person and family. We also need to recognize that parents may have apprehensions regarding their children being with workers – particularly, in a one on one situation. We should be sensitive to “appearances” and sensitive to the particular apprehensions that some parents may have. Of course, there are other areas of betrayal of trust that can be equally damaging. We need to live within safe parameters. We want to preserve our consecration as workers and the testimony of this ministry.