Advocates: Clergy should be required to report abuse

ALBANY — Child sexual abuse happens every day, in every community across the United States — impacting 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 20 boys younger than 18, but in New York, religious leaders like a rabbi, pastor or imam aren’t required to report abuse to the authorities when they become aware of it.

A group of advocates, abuse survivors and lawmakers rallied in Albany on Wednesday to support a bill they say would help close that reporting gap, by requiring that clergy and church officials report instances of sexual assault when they become aware of them under the Child Abuse Reporting Expansion, or CARE Act.

“The New York State Child Abuse Reporting and Expansion Act increases the number of champions for children we have in our communities, but incorporating members of the clergy or any ministers of any religion as mandated reporters, enabling them to receive specialized training on identifying and reporting abuse, and empowering them to report the abuse when it’s suspected,” said Kimberly Haight, director of advocacy for the New York State Children’s Alliance.

CFCToo, an anti-abuse advocacy group founded in St. Lawrence County in response to allegations of unreported abuse in the Christian Fellowship Center church in Madrid, Potsdam, Canton, Richville and Moira, has led advocacy on the CARE Act for years, arguing that New York is behind on expanding mandated reporter requirements.

At least 32 other states in the U.S. include clergy on the list of mandated reporters, and in some states like Florida, anyone older than 18 is required by law to report instances of sexual abuse when they’re aware of them.

Abbi Nye, co-founder of CFCToo, said the risks are significant for homeschooled children who don’t frequently see adults outside of their family except, for some families, at church.

“Pastors and other faith leaders are some of the only adults who may notice child abuse, in a state that has more than 55,000 home school students,” she said. “Unless the CARE Act passes, those pastors are not required to report it.”

The CARE Act has not progressed far in the state legislature this year. The Senate version is awaiting review in committee while the Assembly version has not made it to committee yet.

Nye said the biggest problem in getting the bill moved forward is a lack of awareness among lawmakers in Albany. She and the other advocates have held meetings with lawmakers and worked on outreach for years, but she said she frequently hears from lawmakers that they aren’t familiar with the proposed law. Nye said she has one message for the state’s lawmakers.

“New York legislators: This needs to change,” she said. “Our religious leaders are frontline responders to disclosures of abuse. Their failure to report concerns or suspicions leaves a gaping hold in critical response efforts.”

In a press conference later Wednesday afternoon, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul declined to say whether she would sign any bill like the CARE Act into law should it reach her desk.

“When it passes both legislature (houses), I will give my answer at that time,” she said. “Obviously, I believe that all children should be protected without a doubt, and I’m going to protect our children in any way possible.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.75/week.

Subscribe Today