Does mandated reporting keep children safe?

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What: 19th annual Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Conference, “National Scandal: Family Courts Give Children to Identified Pedophiles”

When: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, April 27

Where: Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St., Davis

Cost: Free

Info: www.issb.us

By Connie Valentine

April is dedicated nationally to child abuse prevention and sexual assault awareness. These titles long ago lost their power to shock. Child abuse and sexual assault continue to be national scourges with full media coverage.

After the Jerry Sandusky molestation scandal at Penn State University, we are acutely aware that athletic coaches, teachers, priests, rabbis, Boy Scout leaders, psychiatrists, juvenile court referees, foster parents and men — most sex offenders are male and 90 percent know their victims — from just about any profession can be child sexual predators.

There is some good news. At the Penn State Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Conference in the midst of Hurricane Sandy last October, researcher David Finkelhor, Ph.D., announced that child abuse had declined between 2007 and 2011. He showed multiple statistics to prove his statement.

But statistics are tricky. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website shows a substantial increase in the number of reported child abuse and neglect cases (from 3.2 million to 3.4 million) and number of children involved (from 5.9 million to 6.2 million). During those years, the child population remained stable (74 million versus 73.9 million).

The big difference was a decline in substantiated child victims (794,000 versus 681,000). It sounds like an impressive drop in child abuse, but the drop is only in the number of children who were believed by adults in the system. This could be called “decline by disbelief.”

A total of 6.2 million children came to the attention of child welfare services in 2011, yet only 11 percent were believed. That is quite a winnowing process. More than half of reports were made by mandated reporters of suspected child abuse and neglect. Are large numbers of mandated reporters making questionable reports of suspected abuse? I doubt it. The process is nerve-wracking and the stakes are high.

For those 681,000 child victims who were fortunate enough to be believed, there was a large jump in the rate of physical abuse (from 10.8 percent to 17.6 percent) and sexual abuse (7.6 percent to 9.1 percent).

Is the trend similar in California? Yes. The total number of child sexual abuse cases in California also rose between 2007 and 2011 from 38,465 to 40,638, and substantiation rates plunged from 17.2 percent to 9.9 percent. Only half as many children were believed in 2011 as in 2007.

This is a big problem for children who speak out. Mandated reporting does not keep them safe.

Things go particularly badly for children who report that a parent is abusing them. It turns out that family court judges and professionals are trained to be highly skeptical of allegations of abuse. The parent reporting abuse to family court is frequently punished by having custody changed to the alleged sex offender, sometimes even when sexual abuse has been substantiated. If the abuse is not substantiated, the child has little or no chance of protection and is not likely to be believed in the future.

To find out more about research into how and why this is happening and how children are affected, please come to the 19th annual Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Conference, “National Scandal: Family Courts Give Children to Identified Pedophiles” from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 27, at the Veterans’ Memorial Center, 203 E. 14th St. in Davis.

There is no cost and no registration for the event, unless you are a therapist and wish to receive continuing education units. Visit www.issb.us for more information.

— Connie Valentine is a Davis resident and member of the Incest Survivors Speakers Bureau, which sponsors the conference.

Special to The Enterprise

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