Missouri attorney general wants tougher laws on reporting sex abuse

Saturday, December 3, 2011 | 3:54 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Missouri lawmakers should toughen the state's requirements on reporting the sexual abuse of children, state Attorney General Chris Koster said.

Koster wants Missouri to join 18 other states that require everyone to report suspected abuse or neglect of children. Right now, only certain professionals, such as teachers or physicians, are required to do so, according to The Columbia Daily Tribune.

Koster said in a recent statement that the allegations of sex abuse at Penn State highlight nationwide disparities in how state laws handle reporting child sexual abuse.

"If a citizen walks in on the sexual abuse of a child, his duty as a citizen should be clear. We are all mandatory reporters," Koster said.

Penn State administrators have been under fire for failing to contact law enforcement over reports that a former football defensive coordinator molested boys.

But whether those individuals were mandated by law to report the situation likely wouldn't have mattered, said Clark Peters, an assistant professor in MU's School of Social Work. Peters said he is sympathetic to the revelations of possible child abuse but urges caution when reconsidering legislation.

"Solutions to rare problems, while well intended, often have broad effects that might have wide-ranging, unintended harms," he said in an email. "For example, expanding the number of people mandated to report abuse will likely include those who have less training to identify abuse and the more problematic 'neglect,' and distinguish it from benign behavior or injuries."

State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, also said additional legislation could get "intrusive."

"Every time there's a big problem, somebody wants a new law about it," he said. "If we're not careful, we'll pass an intrusive and over-leaning statute."

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