Today, Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) is calling for action to reform state laws that have allowed child abusers to thrive in secrecy. In March, Wallace introduced the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion Act (CARE Act A.6662) as the next legislative step following the passage of the Child Victims Act. The CARE Act would require members of clergy from all religions to report suspected cases of child abuse and maltreatment. The bill also clarifies that the duty to report supersedes an assertion of clergy privilege in situations of alleged child abuse and increases penalties for failure to report.
The Child Victims Act, which was signed into law on February 14, opens a one-year look back window beginning today, giving adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse the opportunity to seek justice against an abuser or a negligent institution regardless of statute of limitation requirements. Adult survivors were previously time-barred from bringing suit.
Opening a one-year look back window was critical to allow victims of past abuse to seek redress, said Assemblymember Wallace. Adults who were preyed upon as children often take years to come to terms with what happened. Unfortunately, before the Child Victims Act, that meant it was too late to seek justice. Today, adult survivors across New York will finally be heard, and alleged predators will have their day in court.
The Child Victims Act was the first step, continued Wallace. However, if we want to prevent future victims, more must be done. Specifically, we must make clergy from all religions mandatory reporters of child abuse so as to increase transparency and accountability moving forward.
Under current state law, clergy members are not included in the otherwise extensive list of professionals required to report suspected cases of child abuse. Whats worse, some religious institutions have relied upon clergy privilege statutes to avoid accountability, allowing perpetrators to thrive in secret.
If we truly want to protect children from future abuse, we need to require that every clergy member put the safety of children ahead of the desire to avoid institutional embarrassment and liability, said Wallace.
Wallaces CARE Act creates a bright line-rule for mandatory reporting and takes the investigatory process out of the hands of religious institutions, ensuring that any clergy who learns of a child being abused or mistreated will have the obligation to report that abuse to proper law enforcement.
The CARE Act also seeks to increase the penalties for failure to report second and subsequent offenses and adds penalties for mandatory reporters of child abuse who act as part of a plan or scheme to conceal the abuse. Under current statute, a first offense for such failure to report is punishable as a class A misdemeanor. Wallaces legislation would make second and subsequent offenses punishable as a class E felony.
Wallace will be pushing the Legislature to approve the CARE Act when it returns for the 2020 session. Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the Child Victims Act in the state Senate, introduced a Senate companion bill to Wallaces CARE Act in June.
28 other states have already closed the loophole by requiring mandatory reporting for members of clergy. Its time for New York to join them, concluded Wallace.