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July 4, 2012

Child Abuse ReportingRethinking Child Protection

Author Affiliations

Affiliations: O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, DC (Ms Kim and Mr Gostin) and Dr Cole is Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2012;308(1):37-38. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6414

The general public has been bewildered by the magnitude of sex abuse cases and the widespread failure by pillars of the community to notify appropriate authorities. The crime of sexually abusing children is punishable in all jurisdictions. However, what is the duty to report suspected cases by individuals in positions of trust over young people, such as in the church or university sports?

Since the mid-1980s, law enforcement has been investigating allegations of sexual crimes committed by Catholic priests against young boys and girls. These sexual abuse scandals and lawsuits have cost the Church an estimated $2 billion in settlements.1 A 2004 US Conference of Catholic Bishops report found that law enforcement was contacted in only 24% of cases of suspected abuse.2 In other cases, the church hierarchy responded internally or not at all: priests may have been counseled, evaluated, provided treatment, suspended, or limited in their priestly duties.2

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