REPORTING STATUTES MEAN WHAT THEY SAY

The gospel of reporting statutes, especially when crossing state lines and possibly triggering more than one, still seems to be misapprehended by many in church leadership.  Among some church leaders, there might even be an arrogance by which leaders somehow convince themselves they can manage, cure, or heal child abuse victims and abusers.  Most church leaders lack the training and resources to help victims unilaterally.  Most church leaders are unwilling to demand stringent proof of repentance much less have the training or resources to cure or manage abusers.  Nevertheless, church leaders often try to do one or the other or both resulting in onerous legal repercussions or perpetuation of the harm.  Also, church leaders tend to apply the standards of their upbringing to the conduct alleged without consideration of the changing views of society, meaning that what might have been considered merely unacceptable in an earlier age is today a crime.

In Jane Doe-1 v Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Slip Op. (W. Va. 2017), the 82 page opinion detailed numerous instances over several years in which both local and regional church leadership were alleged to have learned of alleged sexual abuse of children but did not report it.  There is even an allegation that the accused abuser was brought home from a mission trip in response to a police investigation but that the police were not notified of the return.  Another aspect of the opinion was that for the court to have this quantity of information to recite in its fact summary, the record in the trial court had to have been extensive.  Extensive fact records, especially when there has not yet been a trial, usually exist only after expenditure of a lot of money.

In Jane Doe-1, conspiracy to hide the abuse was alleged.  The opinion clearly seems to teach that church leaders that receive allegations of child abuse that consult with other leaders, or even parents, about what should be done may later be accused of conspiring to hide abuse if the consultation leads anywhere but reporting.  The only safe thing a church leader receiving allegations of child abuse can do in most states is report.  The only safety valve other than reporting is consultation with legal counsel that is paid to report on the actual impact of the reporting laws on the allegations received.  But, this is a safety valve only in that it might provide to a church leader a consultation free from conspiracy charges even if the consultation has to be paid.  It does not provide a defense.

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