• Key point.Failure to Report Child Abuse Every state has a child abuse reporting law that requires persons designated as mandatory reporters to report known or reasonably suspected incidents of child abuse. Ministers are mandatory reporters in many states. Some states exempt ministers from reporting child abuse if they learned of the abuse in the course of a conversation protected by the clergy-penitent privilege. Ministers may face criminal and civil liability for failing to report child abuse.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled that a pastor could not be sued by a victim of child molestation for advising her to forgive the offender and forget the incident rather than reporting it to the police. Beginning in 1986, a 7-year-old girl (Leah) was sexually abused by a 14-year-old boy (Drew). At the time the abuse occurred, Leah and Drew were members of the same church. The sexual abuse was so extreme that Leah repressed the memory of the abuse until 1992, when she was 14. Upon recalling these incidents, Leah and her parents sought counseling from their minister. During these counseling sessions, the minister advised Leah to "forgive, forget, and seek atonement." At some point in the process of the counseling, Leah determined that she needed additional help and was referred by the minister to a counselor. While this counselor held himself out as a professional counselor, he was not licensed. The counselor encouraged Leah and her parents to forgive Drew and forget the incidents of sexual abuse rather than to inform the police. Leah and her parents were not comfortable with this advice, and they sought out another counselor who immediately reported the incidents of sexual abuse to the police. After the abuse was reported to the police, Leah alleged that she was "ostracized and denigrated" by the members of her church, causing her to withdraw.