Mandate Child-Molestation Reporting By All Religious Institutions
Currently, reporting of child sexual abuse is mandatory by clergy members and religious leaders of other faith-based institutions in only 40% of our nation’s states and territories. This means that a majority of three out of five American children—our children—are not protected within church settings. Reporting child sexual abuse to the authorities should be mandatory in all institutions of trust that engage with our children. The catastrophe of childhood sexual abuse by clergy in the United States phenomenon is nondenominational, with cases involving the Roman Catholic Church, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Amish and others evidenced by myriads of lawsuits exposed in the media regarding the issues of systematic cover-up of clergy abuse which are:
(1) Failing to report to investigative authorities when abuse is reported to the institution;
(2) Imposing secrecy requirements on clergy and victims;
(3) Shifting of perpetrators throughout the religious organizations, both geographically and by specific house of worship;
(4) Hindering police investigations when reported by a guardian; and,
(5) Insisting on autonomy from the tort and criminal law for the organization's role in the furtherance of the abuse.
Reinforcing this attitude are the many exemptions religious institutions receive and the constitutional theories that would permit churches to believe that they are beyond the reach of the law whenever the issue involves internal affairs or clergy, such as the church autonomy theory and strict scrutiny of neutral, generally applicable laws under the Free Exercise Clause.
Unreported Sexual Offenders Are Proselytizing At Your Door!
Megan's Law, which is a federal law passed in 1996, “authorizes local law enforcement agencies to notify the public about convicted sex offenders living, working or visiting their communities” and keep children safely away from a pedophile’s reach. Because of the high risk of undisclosed pedophile/child cases that were left unreported, door-to-door ministers for church groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Church of Latter Day Saints, and others, should be required to pass background checks, respond to all child abuse registry requirements, and to only approach homes in which it is known where children do not live, if a known predator exercising their right to proselytize. This protects children while allowing the pedophile to exercise his or her religious right to proselytize to others. Currently, people in the community open their doors and invite these people into their homes - in good faith, unknowing if they will be exposing their family to an unreported pedophile. Investigation is needed to ensure that the religions who do proselytize at the doors of others, are in compliance with federal laws.
Such passivity is socially unacceptable and ineffective at resolving child sexual abuse. The government has a strong interest in preventing child abuse in all forms, yet the state often hesitates before acting on accusations of abuse within religious communities or by religious leaders, partially due to the constitutional dictates demanding separation of church and state. The state has been content to abstain from intervening by allowing the individual organization to confront the abuse in accordance with its own rules and practices. With child sexual abuse in the religious community becoming more prevalent, it becomes evident that the epidemic of child sexual abuse within the church needs to be addressed.
Abrogate the Clergy-Penitent Privilege
Innovative measures, such as abrogating the clergy-communicant privilege, under the Privilege Laws under Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE 501) is necessary so that law enforcement agencies can effectively combat the child abuse problem and secure the safety of minors. Ambiguity concerning what government actions are constitutionally permissible under the Religion Clauses often shields religious institutions from the government enacting legislation. The criminal justice system has begun making changes to accommodate sexually abused minors; however, more aggressive changes are necessary. Because cases cannot be tried until they are reported and investigated, states universally abrogate the clergy-communicant privilege in relation to already existing mandatory reporting statutes in order to ensure that all complaints or allegations of indecent sexual acts on children are brought to the attention of the appropriate governmental agency.
Unreported Offenders (Pedophiles) Are Often Repeat Offenders
Anyone accused of child molesting who is not reported and/or expelled from the church or congregation, will put other children at risk. Numerous lawsuits continue to be filed and settled in favor of the victim - for the church’s failure to report the molester, knowingly, when the Defendant did re-offend by committing sexual abuse on yet another child within the congregation.
‘Two-Witness Policy' Burdens The Victim - To Prove Their Rape, Pardons The Pedophile
(Valparaiso University Law Rev., Vol. 42, No. 3 , Art. 4 cites:)
“The Jehovah’s Witnesses church, also known as the Watchtower Society (“WTS”), is no stranger to sexual abuse of children either. In recent years, abuse scandals and alleged cover-ups have been uncovered within the WTS. Similar to the Catholic Church, the WTS takes a stance that condemns such acts while simultaneously adhering to a “child protection policy” that seemingly protects pedophiles. When investigating an allegation of abuse on the part of a WTS member, the Church follows a biblical standard requiring either “confession on the part of the alleged perpetrator, or the testimony of at least two witnesses to a single case of abuse, or the testimony of one witness to abuse, followed by testimony of a second witness to another instance of abuse.” As a result of this practice, the Church rarely prosecutes reported cases of sexual abuse.
Policies That Result In Harboring Unreported Sexual Abuse Crimes Results In Child Endangerment !
When a sexual crime is committed against a child, clergy members should immediately advise the parent/guardians to go to the police. If the parents/guardians fail to heed this advice, the clergy should be legally obligated to make the report on the victim's behalf. Failure to do so not only imperils the safety of each child in a church, but also undermines the legal and judicial system that is in place to protect those children. The standard of care that the religious leaders uphold in conducting these investigations are inadequate in comparison to secular authorities who have the skilled training, resources and expertise to investigate sex crimes. Religious leaders simply are not equipped for criminal analysis, and this obviously provides a disservice to the victim of rape. Many members have been shunned and ostracized for exercising their conscience-based decision to prosecute pedophiles who have assaulted their own children. We absolutely must uphold the rights of our children, to protect their welfare in every institution of trust – in every state, instead of turning a blind eye to the problem. In order to reform the policies that do a disservice to children, and give children the justice that they deserve –so they can grow up to become healthy citizens in our communities.
Signed, AAWA ADVOCACY