Bill could require authorities to report teenage kissingPublished 10:48pm Friday, February 17, 2012
NATCHEZ — A proposed law that has passed the Mississippi House could have serious unintended consequences regarding the reporting of sex crimes against juveniles, a local juvenile justice judge said.
Judge John Hudson said House Bill 16, otherwise known as the Ryan Petit Child Protection and Child Rape Protection Act of 2012, accidentally confuses Mississippi’s current child protection laws, which he said are some of the toughest in the nation. The bill requires those defined as mandatory reporters of sexual abuse — teachers, law enforcement officers, members of the clergy, health care providers or film processors — to report any observed or suspected abuse.
The problems, Hudson said, come from the definitions as presented in the proposed law. House Bill 16 in part defines “sexual abuse” as, “the involvement of the child in any sexual act with a parent or another person, or the aiding or intentional toleration of a parent or caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person.”
The bill also defines “child” as any minor under 16 years of age.
“It’s too broad,” Hudson said. “Saying ‘any other person’ includes other 16-year-olds.”
Likewise, defining sexual abuse as “any sexual act” between a child as defined by the statute and “any other person” could mean that a mandatory reporter who observes two teenagers 16 or younger kissing could be required to report the act under the new law, Hudson said.
The requirement to report those who are tolerating a child’s sexual involvement with the statute’s broad “any other person” can be troubling, he said.
“What happens when a parent comes in to a doctor and says I want you to prescribe birth control for my daughter — is that toleration?”
“What about the parents who tell their son, ‘You better not engage in pre-marital sex, but if you’re not going to listen to me, then you better buy some condoms?’ — is that toleration?”
Deciding what is and is not toleration would ultimately fall on local prosecutors, he said.
Those who introduced the bill had good intentions, Hudson said, but because they worded it too broadly they accidentally diluted the definition of abuse. The judge said a group of youth advocates is putting forward what he characterized as a small tweak to the current child protection laws on the books to ensure that a situation similar to the Penn State abuse scandal does not happen in the state.
Hudson also said he believes the Senate will significantly rework the bill because of the objections he and others have raised.
The bill is currently under review by the Senate Judiciary committee.