State child sex abuse reporting laws stronger than Pa. - WSMV Channel 4

State child sex abuse reporting laws stronger than Pa.

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The Penn State scandal has many lawmakers there thinking twice about their laws concerning child sex abuse reporting. Lawmakers here also say it's prompted them to take another look.

There are big differences between Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting law and Tennessee's. But even with a very strong law, lawmakers said it's always worth making sure they've done everything they can to protect children.

In Pennsylvania, the allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky have led to calls for stronger penalties for those who fail to report suspicions of child sexual abuse.

In Tennessee, those laws already exist.

"Our laws say that anyone must report suspicions of abuse so there are no exceptions to that," said Bonnie Beneke of the Tennessee Children's Advocacy Centers.

Failure to report is a misdemeanor, and lawmakers recently bumped the fine from $50 to $2,500.

"We've had a couple of cases of teachers in schools in Memphis where the schools were prosecuted for failure to report," said Beneke.

"When this story broke, I did think about that and think have we done enough," said state Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville.

Maggart said even though Tennessee is doing what it can to prevent child sex abuse, she said they are always looking for ideas. This scandal has brought that to the forefront.

"We do need to continue to be vigilant and make sure we are not letting anything get by that we haven't thought of," said Maggart.

One thing child advocacy groups would like to see is a requirement that any organizations that have contact with children, be it camps, scouting groups or after-school programs, take a sexual abuse prevention course.

"It gives them the information they need to know what are the signs and symptoms and what their responsibilities are to report and how to protect children," said Beneke.

Beneke said her organization has received interest from groups wanting to learn more about child sexual abuse prevention, reporting and symptoms since the scandal broke.

She said while abuse is being reported more, it's still not being reported enough.

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