by Katie Kreider
In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky conviction of child sex abuse in Pennsylvania, Missouri legislators debated whether anyone in Missouri who witnesses sexual abuse of a child must report it to the state or be charged with a crime.
Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill that would mandate that a witness of child sexual abuse come forward or face criminal charges. Schmitt said that the ultimate goal of this bill is not to criminalize people who are witnesses, but protect children in Missouri from sexual abuse.
“What it comes down to for me is doing the right thing and expecting our neighbors to do the same to protect our kids,” Schmitt told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
Current law requires only certain professionals who deal with children report cases of child sexual abuse. And for some of the “mandated reporters,” such as teachers, they only need report it to a superior rather than the state child-abuse protection agency — a situation similar to Pennsylvania.
Schmitt’s bill provides that all people above the age of 18 would be required to report these cases to law enforcement. Those who fail to report a child sexual abuse case would face one year of jail time or a $1,000 fine.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said only reasonable people should be held liable.
“I could see in my own mind somebody saying, ‘well I didn’t think what I saw was sexual abuse’ and the court saying ‘oh no, you’re going to jail,” Schaaf said.