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CA officials on mandatory reporting: err on side of disclosure

There's nothing but upside for all parties involved when California individuals legally tasked with reporting child sexual abuse disclose their suspicions to authorities even when they aren't sure of their validity.

So says one commentator in a recent article discussing California's mandatory reporting requirements imposed on a core group of adults who work with or around children. He notes that even targeted individuals who end up being exonerated benefit from a report to police from a principal, doctor or other individual with a reporting duty. If they are innocent of wrongdoing, lingering suspicions are erased.

Conversely, the downside potential of a failure to report is all too obvious and can carry catastrophic consequences. Given that reality, law enforcers stress the importance of promptly passing along suspicions of child sexual abuse, even for a reporter who harbors doubts.

Sadly, it is often the case that mandatory reporters hesitate to disclose, or only tardily do so. They believe that they must establish some proof threshold before doing so.

That is not the case, though, and professional law enforcers say that more harm than good typically results from self-directed investigations. Moreover, the California legal standard for reporting is merely "reasonable suspicion." That falls far short of a duty to establish certainty of wrongdoing.

And then there's this: If a reported claim is ultimately proved to be unfounded, the discloser has immunity from legal liability.

Those factors strongly support early reporting to criminal law professionals, say authorities, And that is especially true because untrained investigations of child abuse claims can easily produce wrong results.

"Let us vet it," says one police official.

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