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Podcast 030: What ‘Mandatory’ Means

In This Episode: A home-town story has a notable parallel to a national story, and they both hinge on men in power taking advantage of the young — while other supposedly responsible adults failed to do their legal, and “mandatory”, duty. It was a tough one to record, and it’ll be tough to listen to, but it’s an important, and thought-provoking, issue: what would YOU do?

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Show Notes

  • Who is specifically called out as a “Mandatory Reporter” of child abuse or neglect in Colorado.
  • Who is specifically called out as a “Mandatory Reporter” of child abuse or neglect in Michigan.
  • A large portion of the recounting of the times Larry Nassar could have been stopped was from this report by NBC News (in case you want to read through the rest of the times).
  • Another report that details how Michigan State officials similarly failed the girls, by the Detroit News.
  • Related, from my blog: a story of other school officials very close to where I live ignoring the “Mandatory Reporting” law. Another Week, Another Pack of Clueless School Officials is also a sobering read, yet it seems not even other Colorado school officials learned the lesson …because the penalties are pretty much nil.

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Transcript

Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world. I’m Randy Cassingham.

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: This week we’re discussing a story from issue 1234 of the newsletter, which will be included on the Show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast30. Wow, Kit, did you know this is the 30th episode already?

Kit: No! I had no idea. Oh I knew we were getting close, but I didn’t stop to think about it before I came in to record.

Randy: It’s pretty amazing. The story we’re discussing this week makes me pretty angry, and I’ll warn listeners up front that it’s not entertaining, but it sure is thought-provoking. It involves the sexual exploitation of children, and how adults failed those children, so listeners are probably going to get pretty angry too.

When Kit asked about the updates on this story, I told her, “Let’s save it for the podcast,” so we don’t know what each other’s going to talk about here. I expect we’ll pretty much see eye to eye on this, I’m guessing we’ll be surprising each other a little about some of the points we raise: her, from the perspective of being female, and me, from the factual research. And yes, I have some surprising updates to the story, and a much bigger lesson to draw from it all.

Kit: You’ve got me on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to get going here.

Randy: All right, let’s start with the story as it was published in Issue 1234. My title is, “When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime”:

In August, Brian Vasquez, 34, a social studies teacher at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colo., was arrested, charged with sexual abuse. Now, Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal Adrienne MacIntosh are also in trouble: when the student complained about Vasquez three years prior, they “impress[ed] upon her the devastating effects her disclosure would have on his career and family,” and urged her “to recant her disclosure of sexual abuse by Vasquez,” investigators say. When the frightened 14-year-old did as they demanded, Gonzales and MacIntosh forced the girl to apologize to Vasquez and hug him — and then suspended her for “making up” the accusation. Vasquez now admits he did abuse the girl, and went on to victimize “several” other children. Vasquez, who has been teaching full time for 10 years, is charged with at least 31 felony child-sex counts. The school administrators, who claim they “don’t remember” the incident, have been charged with failing to report child abuse or neglect — a simple misdemeanor subject to a fine of $50-750, and zero to six months in jail.

My tagline makes it clear where I stand on the whole thing: “Which is how we know we have ‘courts of law’ rather than ‘courts of justice.’”

Kit: I have so many reactions. Where were the parents? Why didn’t they back this child?

Randy: She may not have told them.

Kit: Wow: she would tell the principal before she told her own parents?

Randy: She told the principal, and then she gets slapped down? Would you then go to your mom? I don’t know: it depends on the kid.

Kit: Well, with my upbringing, I unfortunately wouldn’t have told the principal, and I don’t know if I would have been clever enough to — or smart enough — to tell my parents.

Randy: And I think that that’s probably true of a lot of kids.

Kit: Yeah, I’m afraid it is. But I also am angry that the principal and vice principal aren’t being charged as accomplices.

Randy: Well let’s talk about the law that the school officials allegedly broke in this case. Teachers and school administrators are covered by the “mandatory reporters” law, and, by the way, there are 37 professions covered under the Colorado law, and some of those are pretty broad. Let me give you just some examples of who is covered: doctors, coroners and medical examiners, dentists, chiropractors, nurses, public or private school officials and any other school employees, police officers, film/video and photographic print processors, so if they see something that customers bring in to print….

Kit: Right.

Randy: …firefighters, therapists and counselors, clergy, and — and this really is the last one listed in the Colorado law — emergency medical service providers, which means you and me: we have had training about this.

Kit: We have, and I know that our team is very proactive in reporting anything amiss with kids we do calls on. Actually, it doesn’t even have to be that we’re doing calls on—

Randy: Right.

Kit: It’s within the household, or in the situation we’re in.

Randy: Right. And in all the years that I’ve been doing this, maybe a third of it was full time, and two thirds now as a volunteer part time, I actually haven’t seen something that caused me to say “Whoa, do I need to report this?” So I’ve never had to make the decision, but you know, if I had any kind of real evidence, or—

Kit: Or suspicion!

Randy: …even just suspicion — yeah, that’s what I was about to say—

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: Even actual suspicion, I would report it, and, you know, if it turns out to be nothing, great! I’d be relieved. But you know what? I’d do it.

Kit: And I do respect the principal and vice principal for advising this young girl that a false claim could endanger the teachers career, etc. But not to make her recant. Just to say, “Are you sure? All right, you’re sure, let’s move forward in protection of you.” It’s how it should have played out.

Randy: OK. Well that law, which as mentioned in the story the three school officials have been indicted under, says it’s mandatory that if anyone covered under the law becomes aware of, or has any suspicion of, any sort of child abuse or neglect, and that certainly would include sexual abuse, we must make an official report to an on-duty law enforcement official by calling 911, or the 24-hour Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, about that suspicion or evidence.

Kit: With that law in place, would that sentence you told me about — it covers it? I mean, I didn’t ask that well.

Randy: Then start over.

Kit: That’s seriously the worst they’re going to get, even with that law in place. They broke a lot of laws, it seems to me.

Randy: Well, we’ll get to that. So as mentioned in the story, the penalties for breaking that law aren’t all that severe: the maximum fine, $750, and the maximum jail term, six months. That’s nothing compared to the lifetime of torment the victims have to suffer.

Kit: True.

Randy: But here’s the first update to the story, something I actually hadn’t thought of when I first wrote it: there’s a statute of limitations on the law: 18 months.

Kit: Oh no.

Randy: As the story notes, the school officials allegedly failed to report Vasquez’s crimes three years before he was arrested, which is decidedly longer than 18 months. So my bet is, when they have their court hearing in March, their lawyers will immediately move to have their charges dismissed — and the judge will probably have no leeway and will have to grant that motion. So as I understand it, there will be no trial, and no possibility of a conviction, let alone the slap on the hand the law dictates for violations.

Kit: As you said, it’s a court of law, not a court of justice.

Randy: Exactly. And by the way, the statute of limitations for the actual sexual abuse of a child in Colorado is 10 years.

Kit: The worst that they’re suffering now is the embarrassment of having their names in the paper connected with this.

Randy: And, I kind of hope, pretty much the end of their careers. So here’s the second update: in response to this specific case at Prairie Middle School, Colorado state legislators have introduced a bill calling for a change in the law: State Sen. Rhonda Fields first proposed that rather than the 18 months statute of limitations starting at the commission of the crime, the proposed law would set it to start upon the discovery of the crime by police, which is not at all an unheard-of concept when it comes to statutes of limitations.

Kit: Well that would be encouraging, but it doesn’t help this young woman or any of the other people, but….

Randy: Correct. From here on out, if the law’s passed, then beyond.

Kit: Right.

Randy: But there were objections to this proposal, since it would effectively nullify the concept of a statute of limitations, which may or may not be a good idea depending on your point of view. But anyway, faced with that opposition, Sen. Fields amended the bill to instead propose to extend the statute to a flat 5 years, rather than 18 months.

Kit: That’s not bad. I’d be more aggressive: I’d make it 10 years, but I tend to be a little vigilante about this. So hold on, Randy: who is objecting to this? Who would object?

Randy: So far, the Colorado Education Association, otherwise known as the state’s teacher’s union, which I think is a reprehensible position for them in particular to take, and the Colorado Catholic Conference.

Kit: [laughs] Sorry!

Randy: I knew that would get you!

Kit: That’s no surprise, I’m sorry to say.

Randy: Well, the first sentence of their mission statement says, “The Colorado Catholic Conference [is] a united voice of the three Catholic dioceses,” in Colorado, I assume and “speaks on public policy issues.”

So with that, they spoke. I’ll read their statement:

The sexual abuse of a child is a despicable crime, regardless of whether the offender is a member of the clergy, a teacher, counselor, or family member. Children must be protected from abuse in all cases, and survivors need to be helped on their journey toward healing. The Catholic Church has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse. [And I’ll interject here to say that is an appropriate place for zero tolerance! -rc] The concern with Senate Bill 18-058, as written, is that it creates an indefinite statute of limitations regarding mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect. The principle of statutes of limitation acknowledges that as time elapses, evidence goes stale, memories fade, witnesses die or disappear. In cases of child abuse, we should do everything possible to encourage victims to come forward as soon as possible and for those aware of the abuse to report it as soon as possible. Our state law should reflect this policy as a matter of basic fairness to those involved and not go down a slippery slope that potentially creates unfair and unjust situations. There are over 30 mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect in Colorado; the Catholic Church is not alone in its concern regarding Senate Bill 18-058.

Kit: That’s a reasonable rebuttal, or concern on their part. But the “fair and just” …?

Randy: Yeah: fair to who? Just for who? So again: courts of law, not of justice. And that statement was apparently released before the bill was amended to the flat 5-year statute of limitation, rather than start the clock when the police learn of a crime — or what the CCC calls “indefinite” — so I certainly hope they consider the new proposal completely satisfactory.

Kit: You haven’t heard about that yet?

Randy: No I haven’t. And while they’re correct, there is someone else objecting — the teacher’s union — the other side of the coin is, there are plenty of people in favor of it, too. That would notably include District Attorney George Brauchler, who is the prosecutor in the district where Prairie Middle School is located. He says: “The way that law is written right now, people can get together and keep a secret from those who may be able to lend help to a sex assault victim. And if you can keep that secret for 18 months and a day, you can avoid all criminal responsibility.” Also, he says, “If we’re not fighting for our kids and protecting our kids, then we’re protecting institutions.”

Well I have a suggestion for Mr. Brauchler: when people “get together” to keep a secret about committing a crime, or covering one up as an accessory to that crime, I’m pretty sure that’s called conspiracy, which in Colorado is a felony, and I certainly hope that the statute of limitations for that crime is longer than 18 months!

Kit: Yeah, this whole concept of adults colluding to be quite to protect some other adult who’s despicable, they don’t get statutes of limitations in my book.

Randy: Yeah, well, there’s another remedy in this case too: even if the school officials are off the hook for the criminal charges, that doesn’t mean they can’t be sued. In the case of a harmed juvenile, the clock typically stops until they reach majority, or 18 years old, and then there is some period of time after that where they can sue, like maybe a year. And if the girl in this case does sue, I hope that suit targets the school officials individually, and not just leave taxpayers on the hook.

Kit: I like that.

Randy: So to me, the elephant in the room is when the school officials didn’t follow through on their mandatory reporting requirement, they not only let Vasquez get away with the crime they became aware of, and that he admitted to later, but also that he went on to molest at least four other girls. That’s four we know of; there could be others who haven’t come forward.

Kit: How can they sleep at night? How can they live with themselves?

Randy: Stopping someone early on can save a lot of grief and heartache to a lot of families, which is part of why the mandatory reporting law is there in the first place. This case is ramping up as Larry Nassar’s case is ramping down. Nassar would be the sports doctor from Michigan State University who, since 1996, was the team physician for USA Gymnastics, the national governing body for gymnastics, which selects and trains the girls who compete in the World Championships and the Olympics. Nassar has been convicted of sexual abuse after molesting a lot of athletes.

Kit: All right Randy, I’m going to ask again.

Randy: Yes?

Kit: How many girls are we talking?

Randy: I know you don’t read the news, and haven’t been following this—

Kit: I avoid it at all costs, because it’s filled with stories like this.

Randy: Yeah, so the number is, at least that we know of…

Kit: Right.

Randy: 265.

Kit: [long pause] Ugh…. In what period of time?

Randy: At least this side of 1996, when he started in that position.

Kit: Whohhhhhh.

Randy: So of those 256, 156 of them chose to address the court during his sentencing phase.

Kit: Good for them.

Randy: And here are the results: In July 2017, he was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. If he lives long enough to get out of prison — and he’s 54 years old now — he must be on supervision for the rest of his life. The earliest he could get out is March 2069, 51 years from now, when he’s 105.

But even getting out in 2069 is unlikely, because on January 24, he was sentenced to 40 to 175 more years in a Michigan state prison after pleading guilty to just seven counts of sexual assault of minors. And then this week, on February 5, he was sentenced to an additional 40 to 125 years in prison after pleading guilty to an additional three counts of sexual assault. That’s right: in total, we’re talking about just 10 counts. I can’t believe he’ll ever walk free again.

Kit: Well, I’m glad— well, I’m horrified that he could even get out. But it sounds like he would move from the federal pen to the state pen.

Randy: Yeah, should the feds let him go, should he live that long, then I’m sure he’ll be picked up by the state.

Kit: So he has plenty of time to think about his crime. So Randy, with that many abuses, that many people standing up and addressing him, how come he only is hit with 10 counts?

Randy: Because really, that’s all you really need to get him put away for the rest of his life. They could, you know, dig up and investigate and prove more and more and more and more, but—

Kit: And that’s expensive.

Randy: That’s not only expensive, but it puts the girls through a lot of trauma to dig up all of it, and then—

Kit: And it slows it down.

Randy: …and come up with proof, and yeah, it slows the process down, so—

Kit: But it would also be gratifying maybe, if you were one of his victims, to be counted — “I stand in his count of punishment.”

Randy: Well, and I think that’s what the sentencing hearing is all about: allowing the victims to address the court, so he had to actually sit there and listen to all 156 of these girls and women as they described not only what happened to them, but how they’ve suffered in the meantime, since they got away from him. So I think that’s a really neat function of the courts, to allow the victims — even if they’re not specifically the victims he’s been convicted over, or pled guilty over — that they’re allowed to address the court, sometimes the jury, depending on whether it’s a jury trial and I think because he pled guilty, there wasn’t a jury and the judge decided the sentence.

Kit: OK. So do they get to, or did any of them express, their desire for what kind of penalty he’d suffer?

Randy: That I don’t know, except I think at least one did, and I’ll get to that.

Kit: OK.

Randy: So here’s the thing that really bothers me about this particular case, and it’s a real echo to the Colorado case. In 1997, gymnast Larissa Boyce, then 16 years old, and another unnamed 14-year-old gymnast, went to their coach, Kathie Klages (I guess is how you say that), they told the coach that they were — and this is hard to say — uncomfortable with how Dr. Nassar put his hands inside them.

Kit: Ooh.

Randy: [pause for composure] They say Klages “interrogated” them, told them they misunderstood what Nassar had done to them, told Nassar about the complaint, and made the girls apologize to him. Sound familiar?

Kit: It does. I’m dumfounded that a woman would take that stance with young girls. Of course, there was a woman involved in the previous case too.

Randy: Yeah. So Boyce said recently, “I told somebody. Instead of being protected, I was humiliated and told that I was the problem.” So many young girls — and boys — can tell that same story.

Kit: Yes, and I’m glad you said “and boys” — the “MeToo” movement …I guess the guys need to have a MeToo movement.

Randy: Yeah, it happens to boys and men too.

Kit: Well, and we’ve seen cases where false accusations have ruined somebody’s life.

Randy: Absolutely. And that needs to be punished just as harshly.

Kit: Yes. Yes.

Randy: But wait—

Kit: Oh, no! No! There’s not more!

Randy: That’s not the only missed opportunity: there were a lot of them. In 1999, a Michigan State University runner was referred to Dr. Nassar and says he penetrated her with his fingers. She says her coach told her he was a respected doctor and she needed to trust him. In 2000, a Michigan State softball player saw Nassar for an injury. She got the same treatment, and reported Nassar to her trainer. The trainer told her, “He’s a world-renowned doctor. He treats elite athletes.” The young lady said later, “She made me feel like I was crazy.”

At about the same time, and again, this was 17 years ago, a [pause for composure] a Michigan volleyball player said her entire team referred to Nassar as “the crotch doc” — his reputation was well established. That player says she decided not to pursue a formal complaint because she was too embarrassed by the whole thing.

In 2004, a 12-year-old girl told her psychologist, who was also employed by Michigan State, that Nassar was a family friend, and he had been molesting her since she was six. No wonder she needed a psychologist! Yet rather than relay the allegation to the police, Dr. Gary Stollak instead had a meeting with Nassar and the girl’s parents, and of course, Nassar denied the allegation. At the hearing to watch Nassar be sentenced to prison, that girl, who is now 25, told the court…. [pause for composure] That girl, who is now 25, told the court, “My parents chose to believe Larry Nassar over me.” [pause for composure]

Kit: When you can’t rely on your parents, who can you rely on?

Randy: And she thinks the later realization that they were wrong drove her father to commit suicide in 2016.

Kit: Ohhhhh….

Randy: Like I said, this is tough stuff.

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: [pause for composure] Also in 2004, yet another teen went to the police in Meridien Township, Michigan. Finally! The police are involved! Except they didn’t investigate: they simply set up a meeting between Nassar and the girl’s parents, and of course he denied everything, and no charges were filed. That young lady says, “Nassar’s abuse went on for too long because nobody was listening.”

I could go on: there are several other such examples after that, but nothing really happened to Dr. Nassar, and he kept on molesting young girls and young women until, finally, one gymnast, tired of nothing happening, who had been molested by Dr. Nassar starting when she was 15 years old, tipped the scales when she went public, outlining the details for a reporter. That was Rachael Denhollander, now 33, who not only grew up, but became an attorney, and knew she what it would take to really get the ball rolling against him.

“I knew it was going to be a fight,” she said. “I had to present the absolutely strongest case possible because it was a medically and legally complex case because a doctor and alleged medical treatment was involved. My biggest fear was I would file a report, he would win and would know he was unstoppable.”

Kit: That’s a pretty huge fear and burden on her, and I hope you’re going to tell me that she done good.

Randy: She did. She did. Yet Dr. Nassar was far from the only person at USA Gymnastics who had been molesting the girls: the organization actually started a list of “permanently banned coaches” in 1990, and they were banned for various reasons, including sexually abusing the young athletes. Yet it wasn’t until 2007 that they even started getting background checks on coaches.

Kit: The surprises just keep revealing themselves. This is astounding. Again, we’re not protecting our kids!

Randy: Yet I’m not done.

Kit: Oh! Please, be done!

Randy: USA Gymnastics fired Dr. Nassar in 2015 when they became aware of his repeated molestations, yet they didn’t even tell Michigan State University about what was going on, and didn’t challenge Nassar when he explained the separation by saying he was simply retiring as the team doctor. The organization didn’t warn anyone because, they say, they had called in the FBI, and the FBI told them they shouldn’t do anything to interfere with their investigation. So more girls and young women were molested.

As Rachael Denhollander said after the Nassar case was finally all over, “I am greatly disappointed that we have finished the criminal proceedings without seeing any responsibility taken by the institutions that let this happen.” But now the lawsuits start, and a lot of them have already been filed.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, teacher Brian Vasquez also could have been stopped, in 2014. It’s time we start believing girls and women when they finally muster up the courage to say something has happened to them, especially when the line of accusers stretches down the block. While the school administrators who apparently let him continue his molestations won’t see any criminal liability, I expect to see lawsuits in that case too.

Kit: And I will also chime in that any person who has claims of sexual abuse, girls or boys, [should be believed].

Randy: Absolutely. And by the way: Michigan does also have a mandatory reporting law, which first went into effect in 1975, but when I looked at the state’s page on the topic, I found “teacher” and “psychologist” among the professions that it covers, but not “coach”. Step up, Michigan. Colorado includes coaches, assistant coaches, athletic directors, and other athletic program personnel in their law. I’ll link to the list of both state laws on the Show Page.

Kit: Randy, I hope we’re about to wrap this up: it’s been pretty heavy. And now I’d like to find out, how does all this fit into your mission of getting people to think?

Randy: You would think that it would be pretty obvious, a matter of ethics, of humanity, of personal responsibility, for adults to step up and do something when they find out that another adult is apparently sexually molesting a child. But so many do nothing: they don’t want to get involved, they don’t want to think about it, they don’t want to have to testify in court, they don’t want to confront these ugly realities. But when they turn their backs, they’re not thinking about what they’re condemning that child to endure — and then more children, one after another, for 10, 20, 40 years. It can add up to dozens, or as we’ve seen here, even hundreds of children. And they could have stopped it had they only stepped up.

Now, I think that if most adults were sure, they really would step up and report it. The thing is, they usually can’t be sure so they don’t. That’s why every state has such a mandatory reporting law. They can’t apply it to everyone, but they can to professionals who work with children. Yet even then, those professionals sometimes don’t do it, as we saw with Larry Nassar, and as we are seeing now in Colorado. It’s not up to us to instead “investigate,” like the Colorado school decided to do, or to interrogate children, as one of the gymnasts said happened to her. Leave the investigation to the professionals: if there is any reasonable suspicion, you have a choice: ignore it, and maybe condemn a lot of children, or to follow the dictates of decency and maybe put a stop to the horror. That really is something to think about. The victims shouldn’t have to grow up, become a lawyer, and do it themselves. But they will if they have to.

As Rachael Denhollander put it: “A monster was stopped last year, after decades of being allowed to prey on women and little girls, and he wasn’t stopped by a single person who could have, and should have stopped him at least 20 years ago. He was stopped by the victims, who had to fight through being silenced, being threatened, being mocked, by the officials at MSU who they appealed to for help.”

So last, I’ll just say that most stories in This is True aren’t this heavy: usually they’re pretty lighthearted. But now and then, when I see something that just makes me mad, like supposedly responsible adults sacrificing children to monsters, well, I’m going to stand up even if they don’t.

Kit: Bravo, Randy.

Randy: If you’d like to comment on this episode, you can do so on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast30. I’m Randy Cassingham.

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: And we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

12 Responses to Podcast 030: What ‘Mandatory’ Means

  1. Diane, Kentucky February 9, 2018 at 9:14 am #

    Believe me, even going directly to the police often doesn’t do any good either.

    As we saw here. Sadly, you often have to build your own case — provide strong evidence — to get past the “he said/she said” impasse. -rc

  2. Gary, Vermont February 9, 2018 at 12:05 pm #

    You told about Rachael Denhollander, said it would be a difficult case because it was against a doctor performing “an alleged medical treatment.” What in the world kind of treatment was he claiming to be doing? He was a sports doctor, not a gynecologist who might have a medical reason to be poking around down there. Can you explain?

    And what a hero Rachael Denhollander is. I’d love to shake her hand.

    You can stand in the hand-shaking line with me. As to your question, Nassar, an osteopath, claimed he was doing “pelvic floor” treatments. There are legitimate reasons for vaginal finger insertion by a doctor or other health professional for non-gynecological reasons. According to my research, an article by a PhD physical therapist notes that “There are a variety of musculoskeletal complaints that can involve the pelvic floor. Trigger points (or knots) in the pelvic floor muscles can often refer to the back and hip areas.” The only access to those trigger points is via the vagina; accessing and massaging those trigger points can release back and hip pain, or treat other ailments, such as urinary incontinence. But, my research says, it’s rarely done on minors, and that sort of treatment is certainly not the place to start — external exams are first. Even if indicated, such treatments aren’t done while the patient is in bed (as Nassar did it), the practitioner absolutely needs informed consent first, should have a chaperone in the room, especially if the practitioner is male, and they certainly need to wear gloves. Nassar didn’t have such informed consent — not from the girls, and not from their parents — had no witnesses in the room (although for a thrill, and/or to demonstrate to the girl that what he was doing was somehow legitimate, he would sometimes do it to the girls when an unknowing parent was in the room), and he didn’t wear gloves, all strong indications of a sexual, not medical, motive. -rc

  3. Jean, NJ February 9, 2018 at 12:18 pm #

    I believe the “mantra” is: Don’t make waves!

    A number of years back when a teacher reported to the principal of the school where she taught, that she suspected a child was being abused at home, mainly physical abuse, she was told “Don’t make waves.” The little girl died a short time later when her adoptive-father threw her, once again, against a wall.

    Then it became a legal case. And a media magnet. So whether or not it is a case of he said/she said, you have to get past that first “she said”.

    I now forget the names of the people involved, but it did take place in NYC. But the case fully shows how the very people we trust with our children, are least likely to be suspected of abusing them in any way. Because the “mantra” is king!!

    And a sad example of why the mandatory reporting laws cover any type of child neglect or abuse. -rc

  4. Krysta, Wisc. February 9, 2018 at 1:50 pm #

    A couple months ago, a co-worker talked with me about a minor female at his PT work who said she was being physically / emotionally abused by her mother.

    I told him he needed to report it, and she should talk with a teacher at her school. He didn’t want to get involved.

    In WI, anyone who knows a person is being harmed (victim of a crime) has to report it to police or help the victim. So my co-worker failed there.

    Having a license as a private detective, I am required to report to police ANY crime I become aware of. So I did.

    Co-worker was mad at me for weeks, even though the officer who contacted him told him I had no choice.

    You may have had no choice, but it was still the right thing to do. -rc

  5. John, Arkansas February 9, 2018 at 1:53 pm #

    One thing I think you kind of overlooked on the Mandated Reporter laws is WHO you report to matters. Local police departments may or may not be set up to handle these type of investigations. In some states reporting to Law enforcement is not sufficient under the law for this reason. In Colorado unfortunately they still accept a report to a Law enforcement agency as meeting your obligation. Michigan requires everyone who learns of abuse to file a report with the Michigan CPS and even go so far as to require a verbal call during the first 24 hours after you find out AND a follow up written report within 72 hours. They even provide a form for this report. And Michigan makes it a FELONY for CPS to reveal a reporter’s identity to anyone except by court order or your permission. Colorado’s law has long been problematic due to its reliance on local police agencies and lack of teeth in its enforcement provisions.

    In other states including my own, by law if you report it to a police department THEY are obligated to call the Department of Human Services, but this fact does not relieve you of your obligation to call them. In some states the police are not so obligated and these are states where problems such as Nassar and Vasquez continue until someone goes beyond their minimal legal obligations. Michigan has a very good law and it’s why Nassar’s case is so sad, if it had been followed, so much damage could have been prevented.

    I encourage anyone who has knowledge of suspected abuse sexual or otherwise to reach out to their State’s equivalent of DHS, CPS, etc. (Child Welfare Department, Protective Services, Human Services, etc.) AND the local police AND the appropriate branch of your state police agency. That sets all kinds of things into motion where if any one of them drops the ball, there are two other players ready to scoop it up and run with it. And with kids we don’t want that ball dropped. Get the names of the person assigned your case with all three and pass these names on to one another so they can coordinate. Each of these different agencies will have different resources they can bring to bear. And since each state is different that my vary by state.

    And from past experience I can tell you the biggest hurdle to a coordinated case that brings results, is simply those three agencies touching base with one another and getting on the same page. Just putting these three investigators together can do more to bring results than anything else. If they don’t know who the investigator is in the other Agency is, normal channels make take weeks or even months for them to find that out or even worse result in multiple investigators being assigned at each agency as they try to coordinate and the internal turf wars taking time away from their actually doing anything to help the child.

    Now speaking directly to your two examples, in Larry Nassar’s case many of the 250 plus known victims were beyond Michigan’s statue of limitations which is average for most states. A little under 200 of the known victims were beyond the statue of limitations. The 10 cases that were prosecuted were the “best” cases and those most clearly not near the statue of limitations lines. Another 30-40 cases were barely under the statues of limitations and those cases are hard to prosecute. Why? One missed court deadline by the prosecutors and the case is dead. And the prosecutors are even held responsible for things beyond their control such as court schedules, etc.

    In other words, they could have a case where they have weeks left on the statue of limitations, but as a practical matter, a case like this is not going to get to a jury in a few weeks. Filing charges only partially stops the clock. I don’t pretend to understand all the ins and outs of it, but I have been told by lawyers that I trust that any halfway competent attorney can beat a case like that simply by dragging their feet enough to make the prosecutor have just one calendar conflict and they win. They literally can wait for the prosecutor to come down with the flu, have a death in the family, get in a car accident, etc. and then file that they are ready for immediate trial and the clock restarts retroactively to the date of the last prosecution motion.

    Mandated Reporting Laws are complex and while any law is usually better than no law, sometimes bad laws can actually make things worse than if there were no law at all. I am going to follow up with a passage on what you should insist on from your state to best protect the children in your state. It’s something that survivor groups have been fighting for for nearly a half a century. I hope every one of you will read it and follow up with your state’s legislators and help your state’s laws become better.

    Sincerely,
    A survivor.

    Thanks, John. I was actually thinking of you as I was researching this one, and hoped you’d chime in. You continue to help others with your voice of experience. Thanks. -rc

  6. Steve, Calif. February 9, 2018 at 4:09 pm #

    As an educator, coach, and parent these type of stories really infuriate me. The systematic failure across all levels creates a belief that there are no checks and balances to prevent the abuse of power and actually perpetuate the predation of the less fortunate.

    “Impress[ed] upon her the devastating effects of her disclosure” is so far beyond the pale it’s criminal on its own. Holding those that “blame the victim” to the same standard as the predator would also go a long way to cleaning up any problems. I know, as a father, what I would have done in this situation. I am hoping I would do the same as a mandatory reporter.

  7. John, Arkansas February 9, 2018 at 4:38 pm #

    The best way to evaluate your states Mandated Reporter Laws is find out and evaluate the following:
    Who?
    What?
    Where?
    When and How?
    Anonymity and immunity of reporters.
    Penalties.
    Statue of limitations.

    Who is a mandated reporter? Ideally, anyone who would work with children should be included from Teachers, Administrators, Doctors, Coaches, Police officers, etc. (Why police? Because they may not belong to an agency that investigates child abuse crimes as a matter of course. In one case I know of a child who was being harmed purposefully got arrested for shoplifting in order to get help. Despite his pleas, the agency turned him back over to his abuser and he was murdered.) Anyone who routinely comes into contact with children in their duties and who have specialized training due to their interaction with children. And anyone a child could conceivably reach out to report abuse. Some laws go too far and an example of this is making their parents, retail workers, etc. into mandated reporters. If everyone is a mandated reporter, then they will assume someone else will report it and more cases will slip through the cracks. States where the parent is on the list, have some of the worst problems with failed reports.

    As a part of mandated reporter requirements, it’s also good to look at whether they waive confidentiality laws to allow reporting. Some mandated reporting laws cover professions who have a duty to keep confidences. For example attorneys, priests, doctors and other medical personnel. Ideal laws will release them from their confidentiality requirements in order to report. HIPAA even recognizes this and releases a medical professional who releases information either under a court order or pursuant to obligations under a mandated reporter law. It in effect immunizes them for acts in violation of Federal Law if there is a state law requiring them to report.

    Good rule of thumb, everyone with specialized training to take care of a child who is NOT a part of the agency you report child abuse to, should be required to report. Everyone outside their family who conceivably could be someone who the child will tell, should be mandated to report. Sure, the family should report it too. But re-victimizing the family is just adding insult to injury unless they were an active participant or directly witnessed abuse.

    Next, is what is required to be reported. The best laws cover any maltreatment of a child whether it rises to the level of abuse or not. This can be emotional abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. At a minimum the best laws cover the last three. The first is more tricky as it can be a precursor to the others and can be very subjective. What might seem bad from the outside can be harmless fun to those inside it. And vice-versa. But, it is better to report it and have it be found unfounded than to leave a child in a harmful environment. So, to recap an ideal law would cover all four types of abuse: emotional, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.

    Some states also limit mandated reporting events according to the offender or the degree of offense. For instance if an adult slaps a child, that is mandated to report. If another child slaps that same child, it may or may not be mandated. The degree of harm may be a factor in some laws. These are not the best laws. It simply puts too much on the mandated reporter to “judge” the offense. It is always better when the law has any judgement calls being made by an impartial observer who can investigate the totality of the circumstances. A child may be subject to many small abuses that on their own do not rise to the level of worthy of action, but when taken together absolutely are. But, if the law does not require putting that information in the hands of one investigator then nothing happens until it is too late.

    Where do you report it? Ideally a state agency either with the Child Welfare department (or its equivalent in your state) or a state police agency. Why state agency instead of the local police or school itself? There are hundreds of thousands of cases where local agencies had conflicts of interest and sublimated the needs of the child to their needs. A central impartial state agency with conflict of interest protocols and immunity to political influence is the only way all children will be protected. Some states have even experimented with agencies that are a combination of social workers, law enforcement and child psychologists. These are usually only successful when they are large enough to be independent. Smaller scale cooperation agencies do work but they must be accountable to a single agency which takes the initial report. The best states have this to be a Child Welfare agency. But, there are states with professional state law enforcement agencies in place that have run very successful programs by closely working with their social worker counterparts in the child welfare or protective services agency.

    Whoever this agency is who your state chooses to have take abuse reports, its investigators should receive specialized training on investigating and prosecuting child abuse. Its personnel should also receive training on connecting survivors and their families with resources both private and state funded to help repair the damage done by abuse.

    When and how do you report it? Most all states have a 24 to 48 hour mandatory reporting period. Most states have a centralized phone number just for this. Some states are more lax and allow up to a week to report an incident from when you found out about it. Best practices I believe are those with a 24 hour window to report verbally by phone and require a written follow up to be mailed no more than 72 hours after the fact. Why? State agencies are bureaucracies. Bureaucracies run on paper. If there is no paper complaint, report, etc., nothing happens. In my experience, it takes upwards of dozens of verbal reports before meaningful action is taken. Written reports are acted on usually by the second or third such report because the second or third report goes up the line to a boss who sees that there is already a report pending without follow up. (Yeah, ideally the first one would trigger those results. But, I have seen their caseloads and from a practical perspective, they go to who is screaming at them the loudest first. State Child Welfare agencies are usually in a permanent state of triage.)

    Three other factors also impact the efficiency and effectiveness of mandated reporter laws. The first is protecting the reporters. States which give reporters anonymity have higher numbers of reports. True, they also receive higher levels of unfounded reports, but it means that they get a report on a much higher percentage of cases of actual harm. Other states go further and give the reporters some qualified immunity from civil cases as a result of reporting. To get this immunity, they have to be a mandated reporter, the report has to be made in good faith, and they must report through the proper channels of their state’s law only. In other words, they can still be sued if they run to the press, call other parents, etc. They lose their immunity if the party reported can prove malice on the part of the reporter. Some states also pull the immunity if their report is not timely.

    Next is the penalties of a failure to report. If the penalties are no worse than a traffic offense, then you will have just as many failing to report as you do speeders on your highways. Ideally a failure to report should have significant professional repercussions. These people didn’t abuse children, they just failed to stop it. So, getting them with the same penalties as an abuser will lead to less prosecutions and that weakens the law if it’s not enforced. I and many other survivors think the best penalties are the ones which render them unable to continue in their chosen profession or at the least suspend their ability to work with children for a significant period of time. (Two to Five years for the first offense and life for the second offense would be my personal choice.) Violation of this provision of any penalty for reporting should be a felony. The penalty should also follow them across state lines. (This would require a federal law.) A $500 or even a $5000 fine is not going to deter an administrator or teacher at a school. A two, three, four or five year prohibition of working for a school will stop them in their tracks. Same for a doctor. A suspension of a medical license that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain will affect them more than a fine or even a little jail time. The law needs teeth to be effective.

    And of course there is the statue of limitations. Most states have the statue of limitations at 18 months and some even shorter. Very few are longer. My personal opinion is the statue of limitations should be equal to the offense not reported. In other words, if the offense is allowed to be prosecuted up to one year after the victim’s 21st birthday, then the failure to report should be prosecute-able until after that passes. There will still be cases where administrators fail to report and get away with it. Those can really only be addressed by their boards and superiors putting in zero tolerance policies which end their employment for such offenses.

    But, let’s say you have a mandated reporter law in your state that meets all of these. Nothing to do then, right? Wrong! Make your local prosecutors go AFTER failure to reports. If no one is ever prosecuted then these laws become nothing more than dead laws. Laws that are on the books but no one ever enforces. When you hear about a case like Nassar or Vasquez, where someone failed to report, make that local prosecutor FEEL your outrage. Write them. Email them. Call them out on social media. Do the same thing to their employer. Call the failed to report individual out. Sure, they are not the offender. But, turning a blind eye is just as offensive and they should feel that.

  8. Gary, Xinzheng, China February 9, 2018 at 9:54 pm #

    The first flash of light that went off in my head was “Jerry Sandusky and Joe Paterno.” How many times did someone report Sandusky raping a boy in the showers while the winningest coach in football ignored the allegations for years? True, Sandusky is in prison where he belongs, and Paterno is dead and has been demoted from sports hero and icon to world-class scumbag. And they removed his statue from Penn State campus!

    You reap what you sow. I’m a history professor teaching American History in China (I also teach Chinese history and British history, and other things). I have some “life lessons” which I frequently use to introduce my lectures. I do one entitled “Sports and Corruption: Winning at all Costs or Doing what is Right.” It’s all about Penn State and our culture of sports corruption. (When I was teaching at the University of Illinois, Urbana, many years ago I had a world-class football jock in my history class. He was a nice guy, but dumb as a rock. I once got a call from the Alumni Association, asking me if I would take money for a passing grade. I refused. The student failed, but promptly got a multi-million dollar pro-football contract.) So now thousands of Chinese university students who once believed that we Americans were free from corruption have heard the unsettling truth. I don’t teach these things because I’m anti-American. I teach the truth so people will learn and (hopefully) not make the same mistakes. But I will never white-wash anything simply to promote a dishonest image. If we cannot protect the most vulnerable people in society, then we deserve the black eye our actions are giving us around the world. And by the way, your comment about America having “courts of law” rather than “courts of justice” is perfectly on target.

    Gary Lee Todd, Ph.D., Professor of History, Sias International University, Xinzheng, Henan, China. http://www.WorldHistoryPics.com

    I lost a lot of readers for taking on Paterno at the time: The Worship of Joe Paterno. It was sickening to see how many people were willing to overlook a few dozen children being raped because “Yay team! We won!” -rc

  9. Ed / Illinois February 10, 2018 at 11:07 am #

    A Medieval reenactment organization I once belonged to had a problem in Pennsylvania with children being molested by an older member of the group. The Board of Directors ignored the situation until they were sued by the parents for ignoring what happened. They ended up paying the families $1.3 Million while denying any wrongdoing.

    And that’s “just” a hobby organization. I imagine it impacted them tremendously — a good illustration to the liabilities involved, not to mention simple humanity and ethics. -rc

  10. Ben of Houston February 13, 2018 at 6:32 am #

    My only concern with the mandatory reporting law is the possibility of being wrong. Think about the father who committed suicide. Especially in cases like Nassar who was a doctor and framed his abuse as medical treatment. While the sheer number of reports is insane and some of them should have got through, at least you have to question at least the non-medical Personnel about whether they genuinely thought that his actions were genuine medicine. With Prosecuting people under the non-disclosure law you can end up punishing people for being wrong instead of just punishing the people participating in cover-ups.

    We did briefly cover both the idea of false reports (which should be punished very harshly) and erroneous reports. The fear of the latter, coupled with “I don’t want to get involved,” is a large part of what makes it so easy for predators to get away with things for so long. We need to get over that: reasonable suspicion should be the guide. -rc

  11. Bill. Kentucky February 13, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

    I do know that for all 50 states and territories, physicians, Nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and generally all other health care workers are mandated to report. An interesting point is that the family can sue in civil court whether or not criminal charges are brought. Often lawyers hold back on civil suits pending the results of criminal action. If the individuals are found guilty, then the civil is a slam dunk. If the are found innocent, then civil action can still follow, and requires much lower levels of innocence. In addition, for healthcare providers, their malpractice insurance will not cover any damages, as all insurances cover only the “lawful practice of their profession.” Being found guilty demonstrates they were outside the guidelines of the law, so the insurers deny coverage. (I used to be licensed as a healthcare risk manager, so I had to know those details.)

    Thanks for the interesting facts from an insider’s perspective. -rc

  12. Danny, Bristol, UK February 16, 2018 at 2:05 pm #

    This is horrific, and very important. Thanks for your considered, thoughtful treatment of this topic.

    It’s quite incredible to read that people have objected to you covering these stories. Keep up the good work.

    Nothing really surprises me anymore about what people will object to! -rc

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