By San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan
The latest sex abuse scandal involving Catholic priests and the church’s failure to act is devastating. Hundreds of victims were robbed of their childhoods by individuals in positions of trust and power—covered up by leaders and higher-ups who had a duty to act.
As a Catholic, I share in the faithful’s outrage.
As a mother, I empathize with the victims and families grappling with this betrayal.
And as San Diego County’s District Attorney, I am determined to educate and clearly remind those in a position of trust they have a legal and ethical duty to report suspected abuse.
California law says mandated reporters are required to report to law enforcement if they know or reasonably suspect abuse of a child. It is a misdemeanor crime to fail to report. Even if a charge is not found to be true, reporters are immune from liability for reporting in good faith.
“Mandated reporters” include teachers, instructional aides, or teacher’s aides. Most employees of public or private schools, athletic coaches are all mandated reporters. Clergy and medical professionals are also mandated reporters.
“A reasonable suspicion” is when a person entertains a suspicion, based on facts that could cause a reasonable person, drawing when appropriate, on their training and experience, to suspect abuse or neglect. It does not require certainty that the abuse or neglect has occurred. Any reasonable suspicion is sufficient.
Recognizing that individuals may not fully understand their legal duty to report suspected abuse, we recently took proactive steps to educate the community. My office, in partnership with the San Diego County Office of Education, has produced a training video reminding school officials and employees about their legal duties as mandated reporters. We’re also in the process of distributing 40,000 laminated cards and other printed materials to all school personnel so they’re aware of their lawful obligation to report abuse.
A society is judged by how we treat our youngest, oldest and most vulnerable. A mandated report is often the first step to ensure that children are protected and stay safe. We routinely see inexcusable failures by churches, universities, athletic programs and schools to protect children from abuse. The price paid for this failure to act is borne by new victims subjected to the same predators and children suffering in silence. Through our focus on collaborative training in San Diego’s schools, we want to help mandated reporters succeed in fulfilling their obligations.