Missouri Sex Abuse Task Force Releases Recommendations

Kansas City Star: A Missouri task force focused on preventing child sex abuse released nearly two dozen recommendations Thursday that included training, awareness, mental health services and changes to state law.

Joy Oesterly, executive director of Missouri KidsFirst and the task force’s leader, said it will take a combination of the ideas to make a significant difference. She said implementing the changes will require cooperation from lawmakers, organizations and others.

“Child sexual abuse is a very complex issue, and to think that there is one thing that will solve this problem is unrealistic,” she said.

A 2011 law created the 14-member task force, which included legislators, law enforcement officers, advocates, education officials and others. Its report included 22 recommendations and was submitted to the governor, the Legislature and the State Board of Education.

The suggestions fell into seven different areas: community-based prevention, professional training, multi-disciplinary action, mental health services, awareness, funding and state law changes – which include a proposed constitutional amendment.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, said one possible law change focuses on doctors, social workers, teachers, ministers and others required to report suspected child abuse. Missouri’s law currently requires they “immediately report” or “cause a report to be made” to the state’s Children’s Division.

Haefner said that means a mandated reporter can submit the information to another person in his or her organization who then would decide whether to submit the case to authorities. She called it a “loophole” and said it is similar to one of the failures in the Penn State sex abuse scandal.

Additional proposed law changes would specify that mandated reporters submit information about suspected abuse as soon as reasonably possible and would eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting cases of first-degree statutory rape and first-degree statutory sodomy. The suggested state constitutional amendment would allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of a similar crime against a different victim. Advocates say allowances can be made in federal court and some other states, and would allow prosecutors to demonstrate a pattern of behavior.

Other recommendations would not require state law changes. The task force suggested early intervention and treatment for youth who engage in illegal or inappropriate sexual behavior and expanded mental health services for children who have been sexually abused. It also advised developing standardized training for all mandated abuse reporters, noting they frequently have received little or no instruction.

The committee suggested a statewide public awareness campaign for child sex abuse and urged schools and organizations that serve youth to establish child protection policies. The task force said most recommendations require some funding and urged the Legislature to consider targeting more money for combatting child sex abuse.

“We need awareness and vigilance from the statehouse to the schools and to our houses of worship,” said Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield. “The wake-up call has been sounded.”

Task force report: http://bit.ly/S7x7S4