Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Issues In Mandatory Reporting


Mandatory reporting can be an immensely complex topic to cover. Given the pushes in the United Kingdom for mandatory reporting, I think it is necessary to address some of the failures that mandatory reporting can have, as well as some of the misconceptions of what mandatory reporting calls for. I think that in the United Kingdom, there are particular concerns about whistleblowers who may wish to report what they know to be an abusive situation, but fear that their job may be on the line. This is a separate issue from mandatory reporting. So, this post will aim to address the difference between mandatory reporting and whistleblower protection, and the pitfalls of mandatory reporting.

Issues In Mandatory Reporting

One of the biggest issues that comes to mind with mandatory reporting is the reality of who sexually abuses children, or for that matter, the reality of who abuses children in general. The public perception seems to continue to be that dirty strangers and sex offenders abuse children, or sexually abuse children. However, the reality is that over 90% of those who sexually abuse children are people known and trusted by both the child and the community around the child. With sexual assault as a whole, that statistic is still above 80%. In other words, in the majority of these cases the perpetrator is someone who is known, trusted, and well-liked in the community of the child.

When you love someone, the last thing you want for them are the legal hassles of being arrested, charged, or convicted of a crime. You can tell yourself until you are blue in the face that it does not matter who the person is, if they are sexually abusing your child, you will report them immediately. I really do not care what you tell yourself, but the reality is not at all that simple. Say you are married with children, and you find out that your husband or wife is sexually abusing one of the children. You want them and the child, first and foremost, to get mental health help to wade through the issue and ensure it does not happen again.

Another common public perception is that most of the time someone does sexually assault or abuse someone, they will inevitably reoffend. Please stop here. Go to the right-hand side of this blog, and at the top you will find, “Resources:Studies And Articles”. Click it. You can pick any number of studies and articles in this resource, but the facts and statistics firmly establish the fact that most people who sexually take advantage of someone else will not do so again. The facts also show that help is effective in dropping the number of people who re-offend. While recidivism rates are far from perfect, they are a great general indicator of how likely to re-offend a particular criminal population is.

So, let us visit a few scenarios:
1.      A single parent who discovers that a teenage son or daughter is sexually abusing a younger sibling.
2.      A married couple with children, and one of the couple discovers that the other is sexually abusing the children.
3.      A married couple without children, and one of the couple discovers that the other is volunteering with children, and takes individual children to private places for unknown reasons. They suspect something might be going on.
4.      Someone who has sexual attractions to children, and fears they might someday act upon their attractions.
5.      Someone who has sexually abused a child and wants to get help to stop and make sure it does not happen again.

In each of these scenarios, which are likely very common, you have people who, under mandatory reporting laws, would not be mandated to report the abuse. However, if any of these people see a therapist, that therapist would be required, under mandatory reporting, to tell law enforcement about that situation. All of these people are either very close to the abusive person (1-3), or they are the abusive person (4-5). If they are aware that seeing a therapist means the involvement of law enforcement, how likely are they to seek help?

That just covers five scenarios not involving mandatory reporters. Now, let us take a glance at some situations that could involve mandatory reporters, under mandatory reporting laws:
1.      A social worker, teacher, or church official that becomes aware of abuse within the child’s family.
2.      A social worker, teacher, or church official that becomes aware that a coworker is abusing a child.
3.      A police officer that becomes aware that their partner or boss is abusing a child.
4.      A doctor or nurse that becomes aware that their direct supervisor is abusing a child.
5.      Someone who works in any one profession that requires mandatory reporting, but knows someone in their personal life who is abusing a child.

Suddenly, mandatory reporting stops being straightforward. Does the person in the first scenario do their duty and rip apart the child’s family, which is also traumatic for a child? Does the person in situations 2-4 shatter their workplace with such a revelation? If their country does not have whistleblower protection laws, which shield someone in those situations from losing their job, will they be risking their job? How likely are any of these people to say anything in the absence of mandatory reporting laws? How likely is it that, under mandatory reporting laws, these people will be making a difficult situation even more traumatic, not only for the child, but all of the people around them?

Mandatory reporting may sound like the right thing to do at first, but these ten situations raise a number of questions that do not have solid answers. Countries that have mandatory reporting, like the United States and Canada, sometimes will have procedures in place for law enforcement to limit the trauma of involving the police. These procedures are not in place in every situation, and come places will have child protective services, family court, or a similar setup to ensure that fairness and justice are both in place. Child advocates, lawyers, judges, juries, therapists, social workers… the complications to each of these situations are not as simple as “make them report it to police”.

Whistleblower Laws

Some countries, like the United States, have what are called “whistleblower” laws to protect people who know of illegal activity within the company from facing retaliation for reporting the illegal activity to the police. These whistleblower laws do not mandate that people report such activity, but they do give them legal protections and courses of action to take if their employer retaliates against them if they choose to make such a report. These laws give added protection and are aimed at limiting the actions that employers can take in response to such a report being filed.


I must stop a moment to address something that most people do not consider, and that is the reality that pedophiles do not always abuse children. A pedophile is someone with sexual attractions to young children, and there is academic evidence to suggest that not all pedophiles are even a danger to children. Observing that reality does not make me some kind of “sex offender advocate”, or mean that I am “taking the side of sex offenders”. It means I recognize a fact that is related to the issue of child sexual abuse. I have discussedthe estimates that can be made based on what we know about these issues, and these estimates show that using the most conservative estimate of the number of pedophiles, only 8% or less are known to sexually abuse children.

With that being said, and as you probably realize with me having to dedicate an entire paragraph to explain it, pedophilia is an extremely stigmatized condition. If you wish to know more about this stigma, please copy “stigma against pedophiles” into Google, as it is not the main focus here.

However, it should be pointed out that most mental health providers do not have specific experience with pedophilia or other sexual issues. There have also been many horror stories of pedophiles being reported to the police merely for talking with a therapist about their attractions in order to get help with them. Therefore, the common assumption among pedophiles is that if their country has mandatory reporting, it is not safe to talk with a therapist about the issues they are experiencing. Sexual abusers who are sexually attracted to children (“pedophilic”, in other words) make up about a third of sexual abusers. Imagine if even half of those people felt they were able to get professional help, before they had sexually abused a child.


Mandatory reporting is not an ideal solution to child sexual abuse. It can cause more issues than it solves by pushing people further away from mental health help, and it can have the added effect of stigmatizing mental health issues. Other solutions besides mandatory reporting, like whistleblower laws, should be considered in the UK instead, and a closer look must be paid to the child sexual abuse prevention program Don't Offend: Germany's Prevention Program. The United States has had a “Help Wanted” study this year to look at what pedophiles report that they needed in adolescence to help them with pedophilia. A great many organizations exist to reduce and eliminate the stigma around mental health issues. We must investigate other alternatives to mandatory reporting.