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Archive for the ‘Child Safety’ Category

Mandatory reporting: Joe Paterno’s obligation to report child sex abuse

Saturday, November 12th, 2011

Did he do what he could? Much of the controversy surrounding the Penn State child sex abuse case that led to the ousting of longtime coach Joe Paterno concerns this question.

But just what do football coaches — and for that matter, other people in positions of authority — have to report?

Here to answer that question is Kevin Hull, a Kitsap County deputy prosecutor. The so-called “mandatory reporting” law in Washington state is quite clear, he says.

Here’s Kevin’s take:

Are you a professional educator in a public school? A doctor? A nurse? A lawyer? A social services provider? A child care provider? A psychologist?

If so, you (and others) are mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse under Washington law. Specifically, our statute in Washington states that when a mandatory reporter has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect, he or she shall report such incident, or cause a report to be made, to the proper law enforcement agency. This past week’s events at Penn State University must serve as a reminder of the tragic consequences that can happen when adults fail to share what they know.

What occurred in State College, Pennsylvania is newsworthy because of the long list of alleged victims. Coupled with this is the centerpiece of Penn State’s football program, iconic head coach Joe Paterno. Earlier in the week, Coach Paterno said, “With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.” Pennsylvania’s Attorney General commented that Coach Paterno fulfilled his obligation to report under Pennsylvania state law. But Coach Paterno is now apparently wrestling with his own conscience and realizing he could have done more than fulfill his legal obligation.

Law enforcement, prosecutors, judges and juries are imperfect and don’t always get it right. It is agreed that the consequences to the falsely accused can be devastating. But does the fact that injustices do occur justify inaction? Our mandatory reporting statute in Washington requires that law enforcement be alerted to whatever knowledge that may exist if there is reasonable cause to believe that a child is being abused. At the very least, evidence that child abuse is occurring must be investigated. Prosecutors do not charge every suspect because of the appropriately high standard of proving a case beyond a reasonable doubt. And juries will acquit a defendant when this burden of proof is not met. Outcomes are rarely perfect, but perfection is not the standard.

We know that most perpetrators of child abuse are either a friend or family member of the victim. The complicated dynamics that occur when a family member abuses a child creates conflict and clouds judgment. There is a common refrain that a delay in reporting from a child victim is somehow indicative of a lack of credibility. But if presumably responsible adults have knowledge of abuse and don’t have the wherewithal to alert law enforcement the expectation that a child speak up may be unreasonable.

If we can take a positive from the events at Penn State it should be that it is never too late to report suspected abuse. Adults must bear the responsibility of protecting children. Please look at RCW 26.44.030 to see if you are a mandatory reporter. And even if you may not be a mandatory reporter under the law, shouldn’t you, in any event, report to law enforcement what you may know about a child who may be suffering from abuse? The lesson being learned at Penn State today is that this answer to this question is yes.

Kevin Hull is the chief deputy prosecutor in the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office’s Special Assault Unit.

(Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)


Family, friends mourn Baby Enzo’s death one year after crash

Friday, October 7th, 2011

The crash that killed 6-month-old Enzo Williams was one year ago Thursday. Williams was riding in the back of a stopped car on Highway 303 when the car was rear-ended by a driver who pleaded guilty recently and was sentenced to prison for vehicular homicide.

Family and friends who set up a Facebook page marked the anniversary there. In their own words:

“Today marks one year since the accident that killed baby Enzo… so much has changed… the man responsible for the accident is behind bars, Kate has matured like you wouldn’t believe, our family has grown closer, and we have another little boy on the way (Kate’s) who I am sure will help close the hole left in our hearts with Enzo’s passing. GOD IS FAITHFUL AND GOOD – ALL THE TIME! TRUST in Him through your difficult circumstances! The following verse has been the overall theme to our lives for the last year: Psalm 66:12 “We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.”"

See the page for yourself here.


Child Porn Prosecutions Skyrocket

Monday, February 21st, 2011

An interesting, if creepy trend in criminal justice these days is the growing number of (mostly) men prosecuted for having child pornography.

There was a time when child porn was exchanged on polaroids in back alleys around the nation, one local detective told me recently. But these days, the internet has made it possible to move millions of pictures and videos instantaneously, and law enforcement is struggling to keep up.

In the words of AP writer Paul Elias:

The number of federal child porn cases has exploded during the last 15 years as Congress passed mandatory five-year minimum sentences and federal authorities have declared such investigations a priority.

The FBI has made more than 10,000 arrests since 1996 and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency reports a similar number of arrests since its creation in 2003. The U.S. Department of Justice says prosecutions are up 40 percent since 2006 resulting in roughly 9,000 cases. In 2009, 2,315 suspects were indicted.

No crime’s prosecution has exploded similarly, Elias points out: a 2,500 percent rate increase by the FBI.

We are not immune to child porn prosecution here locally either: some examples can be found here and here.


Supreme Court: Sex Offenders Can Be Held Indefinitely

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

The US Supreme Court has upheld a 2006 law that allows for the federal government to imprison sex offenders beyond their sentences if they’re deemed “sexually dangerous.

Sound familiar? That’s because Washington was the vanguard in sex offender confinement with its passage of the Community Protection Act of 1990. That state law, along with creating a registration and community notification system for sex offenders, also set the stage for the state’s Special Confinement Center on McNeil Island — a place that holds those deemed “sexual violent predators,” indefinitely after they serve their prison time.

From what I’ve read, there isn’t that much different about the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act and Washington state’s law. The federal Walsh Act allows a judge to determine if a person should be held past their sentence; our state law allows for a kind of jury trial to determine if they should be confined indefinitely.

But I think the US Supreme Court’s overwhelming 7-2 decision puts more weight behind the Washington state law.

Here’s part of the decision, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor:

“The statute is a ‘necessary and proper’ means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others,” Justice (Stephen) Breyer wrote.

But here’s what I see as the most important aspect. Like Washington state’s law, it seemed Breyer — and U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan, a supreme court nominee who argued the government’s position — believe sex offenders are as great a risk to public health as a disease outbreak.

From the Washington Post:

Kagan in January compared the government’s power to commit sexual predators to its power to quarantine federal inmates whose sentences have expired but have a highly contagious and deadly disease.

“Would anybody say that the federal government would not have Article I power to effect that kind of public safety measure? And the exact same thing is true here. This is exactly what Congress is doing here,” she said.

But not so fast, wrote Clarence Thomas, whose overarching fear seemed to be the idea of a national police force — an overreach by the federal government in his mind. From the Monitor:

“Protecting society from violent sexual offenders is certainly an important end,” Thomas wrote. “But the Constitution does not vest in Congress the authority to protect society from every bad act that might befall it.”


Coast Guard Urges Boating Safety Following Deaths

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Across the water from Kitsap, two people have died from injuries sustained in boating accidents since Saturday, the Coast Guard pointed out today in a release.

A woman was killed on Lake Washington Saturday and a man was killed on Lake Tapps Monday. Both were collisions.

The coast guard gives these safety tips:

(more…)


Internet Bullies

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

“A victim of cyber-bullying is often belittled and intimidated until his or her life is ruled by paranoia and fear.”

Those are the words of Phar West, a Central Kitsap Junior High School ninth grader, in an essay that won first place in the Kitsap County Bar Association’s annual writing contest in commemoration of law day.

The essay also caught the eye of Washington’s Division II Court of Appeals Judge Robin Hunt, who is also a Kitsap County resident.

Educators will tell you cyber-bullying is on the rise, a scary new way for kids to continue belittling classmates off school grounds on message boards at social networking sites like MySpace.com.

(more…)


Amber’s Reach

Tuesday, May 8th, 2007

When the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office last week launched an Amber Alert to find a missing North Kitsap infant, the story hit newspaper web sites and aired on TV and radio stations almost immediately.

We hear often about Amber Alerts around the country, and every now and then, they hit close to home, as was the case in a separate story last August involving a 3-year-old Bremerton girl who’d been taken from a local home.

But how did this method come into practice?

(more…)


Child Luring: What you Should Know

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

A frightening incident was reported Tuesday night at Wolfle Elementary School in Kingston: a 7-year-old reported a strange man tried to get into her family’s car.

While reports of “stranger danger” are exceedingly rare according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they do happen. But a perpetrator is far more likely to be someone the child knows, the center says.

Still, there are some overarching tips to help keep children safe.

(more…)


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