Last week, the state Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children issued its final report, which called for several changes in the legal system designed to catch offenders and provide justice for victims. According to an article in the Springfield News-Leader, the report calls for the following seven law changes or clarifications:
* A constitutional amendment that would allow prosecutors to use evidence of a person's past crimes against children to establish a pattern of abuse. The proposed amendment, which would require a change to the state constitution, would apply only to child sex abuse cases.
* The modification of existing mandatory reporter laws to require information on child sexual abuse to be reported directly to the state hotline instead of first being submitted to a supervisor or in-office system.
* The clarification of the term "immediately" in the mandatory reporting statute to require information on suspected abuse or neglect to be submitted as soon as possible and before an in-house investigation is conducted.
* The modification of the definition of deviate sexual intercourse to include genital-to-genital contact.
* The clarification of laws regarding child sexual crimes to allow hearsay evidence, such as a child's testimony to a trained interviewer, during preliminary hearings.
* The elimination of the statute of limitations for first-degree statutory sodomy and first-degree statutory rape. Crimes against adults, including rape, kidnapping and sodomy, do not have a statute of limitations, or a maximum time limit after an event that legal proceedings based on that event may be initiated.
* The modification of laws regarding child sexual crimes to allow as evidence a defendant's attempts to intimidate a child into not reporting a crime.
In addition to calling for legal changes, the state Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children asks community leaders, non-profit organizations and all Missourians to do more to prevent child sex abuse by expanding community-based prevention education and developing child sexual abuse prevention policies.
As Governor Nixon, the General Assembly and the Missouri Board of Education review the findings provided by the task force, it is my hope that they will consider the long-term negative mental, emotional and physical effects of these crimes against children. It is very sad that child sexual abuse is becoming more and more prevalent in Missouri and the United States; we must have the courage to stand up for the children in our communities and assist those who investigate and prosecute these heinous crimes.