New Bill Would Strengthen Child Protection Laws

Providence Journal [Boston MA]
Dowloaded January 9, 2004

BOSTON (AP) - Anyone who turns a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children could be sent to prison under a bill filed Thursday by Gov. Mitt Romney in response to the clergy sex abuse scandal.

The legislation would make it a misdemeanor for "criminally negligent" behavior that results in the bodily injury or sexual abuse of a child. The bill would be make this behavior a crime, even if committed unintentionally, and would be punishable by up to two and a half years in prison.

Investigations into allegations of widespread allegations of sex abuse by priests revealed grave inadequacies in the laws protecting children. Massachusetts was among just a handful of states that had no child endangerment laws until 2002, when the Legislature passed a protection law in response to the church scandal.

Catholic church officials - including former Cardinal Bernard Law - acknowledged that priests abuse were shuttled to other parishes where they had access to children after they were accused of sexual abuse.

In a scathing report last year, Attorney General Thomas Reilly said the church hierarchy was ultimately responsible for much of the abuse but could not be charged because the state's child protection laws were too weak.

The new legislation would not apply to past behavior.

The 2002 protection law made it a misdemeanor for "wanton and reckless" conduct that results in a risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child. Romney's bill would increase the possible punishment for that by allowing it to be treated as a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

"All of us have a responsibility to protect children from harm," Romney said. "Under this legislation, if anyone were to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse of children, they will be punished."


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