All adults must be accountable in protecting children

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comNovember 15, 2011 

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Penn State University and The Citadel -- two venerable institutions rocked by allegations that they failed to protect children from sexual predators -- deserve all the examination they can get.

But child sexual abuse is rampant in our own community. We might be better served to look at ourselves first.

Hope Haven of the Lowcountry, the nonprofit agency that conducts interviews of child sexual abuse victims for the judicial system in Beaufort, Allendale, Colleton, Hampton and Jasper counties, handled almost 200 cases in the first six months of this year.

I asked executive director Shauw Chin Capps what citizens can do, should do and must do if they suspect child sexual abuse.

State law requires certain professionals -- including physicians, educators, clergy, day care workers and film processors at the pharmacy -- to report potential abuse when they have reasonable suspicion.

State law does not say they must report it to a supervisor. They are to report it directly to the proper authority, which is the police. Capps said many institutions set up internal gate-keeping policies that prevent employees from going directly to law enforcement. It's a big mistake, she said. It's against the law.

But anyone can call police about their suspicions, not just professionals. They should call the police and say, "I need to make a child-abuse report." They don't have to have proof, but they must be able to list their suspicions, Capps said. They may have seen a child repeatedly simulating certain acts. A child may have told them something. They may have walked in on a situation that was inappropriate.

Capps said the names of those who file police reports in these cases are not made public. And those who report potential abuse in good faith are immune from civil and criminal liability.

She views it as turning information over to professionals trained to investigate.

Capps thinks South Carolina should join 16 states that require all adults age 18 and above to report suspected child sexual abuse to authorities. It sends a strong message on society's responsibility to children, she said.

All companies, churches and agencies serving children should have clear policies about reporting abuse, she said, and they should train staff and screen volunteers.

Call Hope Haven at 843-524-2256. It can provide help with child-protection training and policies.

"A sound policy can be a deterrent from the get-go," Capps said.

It sounds like a simple way to protect vulnerable children -- and mighty institutions.

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