Utah abuse laws some of the toughest in the country
December 9, 2011
In light of recent child sexual abuse allegations at Penn State, many states are re-examining their abuse reporting laws. But Summit County Attorney David Brickey said that will probably not happen in Utah since the state already has some of the toughest child abuse reporting laws in the country.
Anyone who has knowledge of child abuse is required by law to report it. Members of the clergy and teachers are held to even higher standards and can be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor for not reporting suspected abuse.
"A lot of states do not have this law, but I expect within a year most will," Brickey said. "Right now, there is actually a case against an LDS bishop in Salt Lake because he knew about child abuse and did not report it. In Summit County though, we have had a great relationship with the teachers and clergy and have not had an incident where they knew about an incident and did not report it in the last 13 years."
Brickey said the attorney’s office partners with some clergymembers to teach them about the reporting laws and what to look for, but said there is always a need for more education.
Paul Boyden, the Executive Director of the Statewide Association of Public Attorneys, said he has not heard of any new child abuse reporting laws that could be enacted in Utah.
"Quite a few years ago, Utah changed the law so that everyone had to report abuse if they knew about it," Boyden said. "The only exception is confession to a pastor."
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Boyden said that if someone confesses directly to a pastor that they had abused a child, but were not going to do it again, then the pastor does not need to report it to the authorities. But if someone confesses that they knew of someone who had done it or if the pastor suspected the person was going to abuse a child again, then they would be required to report it under Utah State Law.
"Every resident, under the law, is required to do something about stopping abuse from happening again," he said.
Knowing when to report child abuse can he hard, but Summit County Sheriff Dave Edmunds said if it is even suspected, it is best to report it to the authorities and let them investigate.
"Everything has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis," Edmunds said. "If it seems like it is excessive punishment or is going to leave permanent damage, that is excessive. But corporal punishment, such as spanking, is allowed in Utah and the boundaries are becoming increasingly nebulous."
Edmunds added that in most of the cases he has seen, it has been obvious whether or not there has been abuse. If someone is convicted of child sexual abuse they can receive 25 years to life in prison, one of the toughest penalties in the country.
"Unfortunately, we see child abuse cases fairly routinely," he said. "Broken bones, soft tissue damage, children who have been sexually exploited, those are the hardest cases we have to work. We don’t mess around when it comes to child abuse and someone who may have known about it or committed it."
Children who have been abused or witnessed abuse will be able to be treated and interviewed at the new Summit County Children’s Justice Center in the Sheldon Richins building beginning the first week of January. Summit County Investigator Christina Sally said the finishing touches are being added to the center to make it a safe and comfortable place for children to come and be interviewed. The Justice Center is continuing its fundraising efforts to be able to build its own building next year.
To anonymously report child abuse, call (800)828-TIPP