Gaines' Decision Creates Legal Questions

WMCTV [Tennessee]
December 22, 2006

Children's advocates say Tennessee law is clear.

"It is that every person is required to make a report to an agency like Department of Children's Services if they have reason to believe that someone may, a child may have been molested or abused," said Nancy Williams, with the Memphis Child Advocacy Center.

According to Bellevue Pastor Steve Gaines' own words, he didn't just have reason to believe it, he had a confession from one of his ministers, who admitted to molesting a child.

"In June of this year... I had a confidential meeting with [name removed] and he shared with me regarding this activity that took place some 17 years ago in his family," said Gaines in an address to Church members this week.

"No matter when it happened, it's got to be reported," said Susan Mackenzie, a Memphis attorney who has represented adult survivors of child sex abuse.

She says reporting abuse is important because it could encourage other victims to come forward and prevent additional crimes.

"Child sexual abuse is rarely an isolated incident if an adult has sexually abused one child the odds are there other children out there," she said.

Tennessee's reporting law applies to everyone. There are no exceptions, not even for clergy.

"It is that responsibility that we all carry and if we fail in that responsibility there needs to be some consequences to us," Mackenzie explained.

And there are consequences. Not reporting child abuse is punishable by up to three months in jail and the possibility of a fine. This was increased just last year by the Tennessee Legislature from a maximum of $50 to $2500.


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