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Archive for Sunday, April 23, 2006

Some discretion

The Kansas attorney general doesn’t need to second-guess health care professionals when it comes to reporting criminal sexual encounters involving Kansas youngsters.

April 23, 2006

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Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's focus on sex and teenagers is missing the point. Although a federal judge in Wichita ruled this week that doctors, nurses, counselors, teachers and others can use their discretion when reporting sexual encounters by youths younger than 16, Kline says he is likely to appeal that ruling and press his case to force reporting of all such encounters.

Kline contends that state law requires every sexual encounter involving a youngster under 16 to be reported, whether it's a suspected rape or incest case, or a consensual encounter between two teenagers.

In 1982, the Kansas Legislature passed the law requiring suspected cases of child sexual injury or abuse to be reported to the state's Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. For the next 20 years, until Kline issued his own opinion on the matter in 2003, no one construed that to mean that every sexual contact involving a child under 16 should be reported.

Now, the federal judge has confirmed the earlier interpretation of the law, striking down Kline's opinion. The attorney general certainly is within his rights to pursue an appeal, but is it a good use of state resources? If he believes his interpretation accurately reflects the wishes of legislators and the rest of the state, perhaps he should ask the Legislature to clarify the law.

We suspect that legislators and Kansans aren't in favor of reporting every sexual encounter by young teenagers to law enforcement officials. Teachers, nurses, doctors and counselors are trained professionals able to assess a youngster's mental state. They are only able to do their jobs if they are able to openly discuss certain issues with the children they serve. What impact would it have on such communications if youngsters knew that every discussion of a sexual encounter would land on a prosecutor's desk? In many cases, professionals said, requiring any sexual contact to be reported to law enforcement authorities would prevent youngsters from seeking needed counseling and medical care.

Kline apparently thinks he and other law enforcement personnel are more capable than medical and counseling professionals to judge whether a child has been victimized in a way that warrants a criminal investigation. He dismissed the concerns of the reporting opponents as a "mammoth fear campaign."

Kline added that reporting will help law enforcement officials uncover instances in which a teenager is being abused but lies about it. Would a frightened teenager be more likely to make such an admission to a police officer than to a doctor or trusted counselor?

Kline seems to think he's unique when he says, "I do not shy away from saying that child rapists ought to be in prison and people who know about it should report it to police." No one is arguing that point. The Wichita judge and the plaintiffs in the case agree on the need to report suspected incest, sexual abuse or any sexual activity involving a child younger than 12. Mandatory reporting of those cases is appropriate.

The only issue is the reporting of consensual sex between teenagers. Professionals in Kansas, as they can in most other states, should be able to use some discretion in deciding whether to report such incidents or allow the teens and their families to work through those issues in private.

Perhaps the attorney general is right that even consensual sexual activity by teens is "inherently injurious." But, if that is true, those cases will be best handled by counseling and health care professionals trained to deal with those issues, not by police and criminal prosecutors.

Comments

xenophonschild 8 years, 8 months ago

Phill (with two ll's") probably has his eyes on the future, at the time when Roberts retires, or Brownback is successful at tricking enough people into thinking he's moved to the center to attract a vice-presidential bid from the Repbublicans.

Phill doesn't particularly care about the nuances, how the cookie crumbles; no, what Phill cares about is having the fundamentalist Christian conservative Republicans (FCCR's) who line up in droves to vote for fruitcakes like him understand that he's their boy, their golden child, and no matter what, he'll fight their fight against the godless, secular humanists/athiest/perverts who are intent on destroying the fabric of Kansas society and family life.

With any luck, Phill will have to perform to his base as an outsider after the November elections.

CommonSense4All 8 years, 7 months ago

The editorial board is missing the point, not Phill Kline.

First, Kline's 2003 opinion was issued because of a request by a state legislator and Kline's statutory duty to render opinions when so requested, not because he is trying to change Kansas' reporting law.

Second, Kline's 2003 opinion was whether a pregnant child has been "injured" with regard to the Kansas mandatory reporting statute, and stated: "The Kansas Supreme Court has also recognized the purpose of "statutory rape" laws to be "protecting juveniles from improvident acts." The Kansas Legislature has determined that such improvident acts include sexual intercourse by minors under the age of 16, whether voluntary or involuntary. Such acts may thus reasonably be considered injurious as a matter of law. Consequently, a doctor called upon to perform an abortion for a girl under the age of 16 years is put on notice that, as a matter of law, an injury as a result of sexual abuse has occurred. Such doctor is obligated to report this injury to the proper authorities."

That sounds like a common sense opinion. I guess the Journal World Editorial Board disagrees with Kline and with the holdings in cases from at least 42 states that have unanimously held that sexual abuse of a child is so inherently injurious to the victim that harm, or intent to harm, is inferred as a matter of law.

The Editorial Board has also missed the point, or conveniently omitted that Kline has always said that he is not interested in prosecuting children of the same age who are sexually involved. He is only after adults who rape children.

Third, the Editorial Board doesn't seem to understand that only law enforcement officers have the resources to find out whether a pregnant child has been raped or had a same-aged mate. Simply because a frightened 12 or 13 year old girl says it was her "boyfriend" doesn't mean it was actually an adult that had impregnated her and then threatened her to say it was her boyfriend. Remember the recent case here in Lawrence (William Rivera), where the 21 year old sicko had sex with a 13 year old that was "desperate for affection" as the court stated at sentencing. See http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2005/jan...

Finally, and most surprisingly, the Editorial Board completely ignores that the issue of whether mandatory reporting is a good thing or not, is a policy decision that has been made by the Kansas Legislature, not the Attorney General. If they disagree with the reporting law, then their beef is with the Legislature, not the Attorney General.

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