Reilly Backs Tougher Anti-Abuse Laws

By Jennifer Fenn
Berkshire Eagle [Boston MA]
July 27, 2003

BOSTON -- While the state has taken steps in recent years to help protect children against future clergy abuse, Attorney General Thomas Reilly said the Legislature has more work to do.

In the wake of a 16-month investigation that showed Reilly does not have the evidence or tools to charge the Archdiocese of Boston or its senior managers with a crime, the attorney general said he wants to see as many safeguards as possible in place.

Law amended

He commended the Legislature for amending the mandated reporting law last year to include clergy and passing a child endangerment law. The reporting law states that doctors, nurses, day-care workers, psychiatrists, clergy members and social workers must report suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services.

The endangerment law makes it a crime to recklessly engage in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury to another person.

However, neither law was in place in time to used against the church or its agents, he said. Reilly released a report this week showing that at least 237 priests and 13 other church employees were accused of molesting at least 789 minors between 1940 and 2000.

"If these laws had been in place earlier, however, the attorney general and district attorneys would have had much more effective tools at their disposal as they sought to hold accountable those responsible for placing children at risk of sexual abuse," the report stated.

Moving forward, Reilly hopes the Legislature will increase the penalty for failing to comply with the mandated reporting law from a fine of $1,000 to $25,000 or imprisonment for not more than 2 1/2 years, or both. He has sponsored legislation with Rep. Colleen Garry, D-Dracut, and Sen. Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, to increase the penalty.

Garry said that anyone in a position of authority who suspects a child is being abused has a moral duty to come forward, and she thinks the high fine and potential of jail time will push them to come forward.

"While the damage may have been done to the child they suspect has been abused, by coming forward, they can prevent it from happening to another child," she said.

"They need to realize that if they cover it up, they're part of the crime as well," Garry added.

Reporting to police

Sen. Cheryl Jacques, D-Needham, said there are several other steps the Legislature can take to protect victims and punish those who abuse children.

Jacques filed a bill similar to Garry's. But in addition to increasing the fine for noncompliance, Jacques would also amend the law requiring mandated reporters to give information to law enforcement officials, not just DSS.

"If it's only reported to DSS, law enforcement may not know for weeks or months and sometimes critical evidence is lost," Jacques said.

Jacques also filed legislation with Reps. Ruth Balser, D-Newton, and Gale Candaras, D-Wilbraham, that would establish a bill of rights for victims of rape and sexual assault.

Specifically, Jacques' bill would eliminate a statute of limitations for criminally prosecuting a defendant for child rape or sexual assault when DNA evidence is available. The current state law prevents prosecution if 15 years have passed since the date of the alleged crime.

"The goal of that is the doors of justice should never be shut," Jacques said. "We've seen so many cases that we can't prosecute because of the statute of limitations. There's nothing law enforcement can do because of an arbitrary deadline." The bills that would amend the mandated reporting law are before the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, while the bill of right's legislation is pending in the Judiciary Committee.


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