The task force formed last December by the Pennsylvania legislature to look into how to improve laws dealing with child sex abuse released recommendations Tuesday that call for sweeping changes in Pennsylvania’s child protective laws.
The Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection released recommendations that call for a “complete rewriting” of the Child Protective Services law, in an attempt to transform the way child sex abuse is reported, according to the recommendations. The task force is made up of 11 members and chaired by Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, according to the recommendations.
The recommendations should be implemented through various bills introduced to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
Jason Kutulakis, a member of the task force, said the group heard testimony from child sex abuse experts and the parents of people who had been abused. Kutulakis said the group listened to the experts and parents’ opinions on what they thought was wrong with the system of reporting in the state and how they thought it could be improved.
Cindy Christian, a child sex abuse expert who serves on the task force, said the task force mostly focused on recommendations related to the civil side of child sex abuse and child protective services laws, but did make some recommendations for criminal litigation. Christian said most of the criminal recommendations relate to how mandatory reporters and police agencies interact.
“We tried to break down some of the silos between people in a position for the care of children and law enforcement,” Christian said. “All cases of suspected abuse that are investigated under child protective services law or general protective services law should be known throughout all law enforcement agencies to account for all children in system.”
Christian said that while the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case was not the sole case that sparked the creation of the task force, if there was a better functioning multidisciplinary team working together to investigate reports of child abuse, Sandusky’s ability to carry on abusing children would have been diminished.
Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, was convicted in June on 45 counts of abusing children he met through the charity he started, The Second Mile. Sandusky was sentenced in October to serve 30 to 60 years in prison.
The recommendations amend to redefine child abuse to “lower the threshold” of what is considered abuse by eliminating the requirement for a child to feel “substantial” during the abuse and changing “serious bodily injury” to simply “bodily injury.”
The recommendations also move to broaden what is considered child sexual abuse by expanding the criteria to include engaging in sexually explicit conversations and looking at breasts and/or genitalia of or with a child for another person’s sexual gratification.
The list of mandated reporters would also be expanded, according to the recommendations, to include specifically college administrators, coaches, attorneys and librarians.
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, said that the current system of reporting child sex abuse needs to be looked at and changed in certain ways. Benninghoff said that the general assembly hopes to broaden the scope of who has to report suspected abuse as well as form better protections for whistleblowers.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.
Laura Kennedy contributed to this report.
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