Abstract: Closing the Gap in Mandated Reporting Laws: Investigating Historical Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Requirements (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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70P Closing the Gap in Mandated Reporting Laws: Investigating Historical Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Requirements

Thursday, January 12, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jeffrey Trant, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Background and Purpose: Victims of childhood sexual abuse (“CSA”) frequently do not disclose their abuse until years later, if ever (Cashmore et al., 2017). Delayed disclosure is even more common among victims of CSA committed by Catholic clergy (Easton, 2014). Problematically, mandated reporting laws are silent on the issue of historical CSA, even when the perpetrator is still living and may have access to children. Thus, allegations of historical CSA are frequently not reported to child protection authorities even after disclosures are made by victims to mandated reporters. Over the past 20 years, the Catholic Church in the United States has required reporting historical CSA to civil and criminal authorities to close the gap and address its legacy of underreporting CSA.

There is a critical need to understand how historical CSA reporting requirements differs across child protection policies in the Church and civil statutes. Greater insight into this policy dimension can inform church and state policies that lead to improved mandated reporting laws. This study is the first of its kind that examined how historical CSA (1) in various Catholic archdioceses child protection policies and (2) across Catholic archdioceses and civil statutes.

Methods: Comparative content analysis was employed to conduct a policy analysis using publicly available Catholic child protection policies and state civil statutes. The sample in this analysis included archdioceses’ child protection policies (“policies”) and civil statutes along with their differential child protection statutes (“statutes”) from different regions across the United States, which were matched for comparison according to jurisdictional alignment (N=5). A priori policy dimensions were: Child maltreatment including, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse; historical sexual abuse of a minor; mandated reporters, clergy and laity; reporting process/ requirements: criminal, civil, and church authorities; and priest-penitent privilege. Policies and statutes were analyzed independently to identify similarities and differences based on a priori policy dimensions. Next, a working typology of policies was developed. Finally, comparative content analysis was conducted with matched policies and statutes.

Results: Three archdioceses were categorized as conclusive-misaligned, one archdiocese was categorized as ambiguous-aligned, and one archdiocese was categorized as ambiguous-misaligned for the historical sexual abuse of a minor dimension. No archdioceses were categorized as conclusive-aligned. In contrast to civil mandated reporting statutes that require reporting of suspected current abuse or neglect of a child (a person who is currently under the age of 18 years), the present study found that archdioceses’ policies required reporting to civil authorities even in cases where the victim is now an adult (a person who is currently over the age of 18 years) and the sexual abuse is reported to have occurred when the victim was a minor.

Conclusions and Implications: Archdiocesan policies exceeded civil statutes by requiring sexual abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred, to be reported to civil/criminal authorities. Civil statutes should minimally address historical CSA, which would help facilitate prosecution of offenders and other appropriate child welfare interventions. A national, overarching framework could strengthen civil statutes across states to address this important gap.