A bishop’s “epic fail” is a lesson to all of us: How to report abuse

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has a lesson for all of us, and I don’t think it’s the lesson he intended.

The situation: When asked by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson in a recent deposition if he knew in the 1984 that child sex abuse was a crime, Carlson responded, “I’m not sure if I did or I didn’t.” The result: he didn’t report. Countless children were put at risk and many others were abused because he couldn’t pick up the phone and call the police.

Which leads to the following question: Do YOU know how to report suspected or witnessed abuse?

I am going to go into much greater detail on this subject in my upcoming book, but I feel that it’s necessary to post and repost this information as much as possible.

First, some assumptions: I consider everyone a mandatory reporter. Child sex abuse is a crime with lasting consequences. There is a victim and an alleged criminal. If you see or suspect abuse, it’s an adult’s civic and moral obligation to report.

If you are a mandatory reporter in the eyes of the law, your employer should provide you specific training on your reporting procedures. If you have not had that training in the past year, demand that your employer provide it to all mandatory reporters at your work.

How to report child sexual abuse

If you are a victim or witness abuse:

1) If you are a victim of sexual assault, call 911. If it is not an emergency requiring immediate medical care, call your local police department and ask to speak to someone who can take a report of the sexual assault of a(n) child/adult. If you feel that it’s necessary to call 911, do it.

2) If you see sexual abuse taking place, call 911. Treat the crime like a robbery, car accident or shooting. It’s a crime that needs immediate attention.

NOTE: Do not rely on your institution (whether it be a church, school, university, community group, or your boss) to do the reporting for you. If you witnessed a shooting, you would call the cops, not your supervisor. Child sex abuse is the same. Plus, we have seen time and time again that institutions (especially churches and universities) are NOT in the abuse investigation business. Internal investigations do not protect victims and do not protect the rights of the accused. 

If you suspect child sex abuse:

1) Call the ChildHelpUSA national child abuse reporting hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD. They also have a website that is well worth your review now, before you encounter a situation where you need immediate answers. When you call the hotline, a trained crisis operation will talk to you about what you saw, what you suspect, and the next steps you should take. They will carefully walk you through the entire process.

2) Call the specific agency in your state that handles the investigation of child sex crimes. You can read a list of them here. I suggest going over them now, before you are in a situation where you need to report.

3) If you suspect that a child who is not your child is being abused and the parents are not the suspected abusers, talk to the parents. If you think that the parents will not take action and the child is in danger, call ChildHelpUSA. They will help you assess your suspicions and alert you of the next steps you should take.

NOTE: You are not an investigator and you do not need to have “proof” of the abuse to report. That is the job of the police. Report your suspicions and let law enforcement do its job.

Some red flags:

1) Your employer says that you should report suspected abuse to them before calling the police or ChildHelp. (Think of it this way – if there was a shooting going on, you would call 911 without getting your supervisor on the phone, right?)

2) If an employer or institution says that they “need to investigate this internally” before calling ChildHelp, the police, or social services.

My take? Report anyway.

And if you’re scared or reticent of “making a mistake” by reporting:

Organizations like ChildHelp were founded to help people correctly report crimes. They also can tell a concerned adult when there is no crime to report.

Now what?

Most of us will never be in a situation where we need to report. But we will encounter people who need our help. Learn what sexual behaviors in children are healthy and which ones need direct attention. Learn the signs of abuse. Learn the signs of sexual grooming.

Most importantly: Talk to your kids. Chances are they will listen.

1 thought on “A bishop’s “epic fail” is a lesson to all of us: How to report abuse

  1. As always, great advice Joelle on a very difficult subject. With your permission I’d like to post some tips for the church hierarchy to follow. If you choose to delete no hard feelings.

    Top Ten Options For Catholic Church Hierarchy When Raping and Sodomizing Innocent Children Falls Into That Grey Area of What The Hell Do I Do Now.

    Since St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson, like so many other Catholic Church Hierarchy, do not know if a Catholic priest raping or sodomizing a child is reason to contact someone, anybody, maybe even police. I offer at no charge, this free guide.

    1. Try contacting the president of the local Hell’s Angels, Pagans or other motorcycle group, although some of the fellows are pretty tough characters, my bet is that they would offer better advice than how the clergy abuse scandal could have and should have been handled.
    2. Contact local drug dealers, used car salesmen and loan sharks. I admit that these guys may have some faults, but even these guys have a warm spot in their hearts for children.
    3. Contact the local town drunkards, homeless people and other folks we all tend to shy away from, again, even on their worst days, these folks would have a better way to handle the problems that Carlson erred so terribly on.
    4. Contact international terrorists groups such as, Al-Queda, Cosa Nostra, or any group with a reputation for doing things their own way. Again, even if you quiz these guys on a day they get out of the wrong side of the bed, usually, they are in favor of protecting children.
    5. Contact your favorite rock ‘n roll band, heavy metal band or any band that is on a drinking and drug binge. Their advice should prove to be better than what was decided by Carlson.
    6. Contact a Catholic Bishop or cardinal from any of the 195 diocese in the United States and whatever their advice is, do just the opposite.
    7. Contact any attorney who has ever made a dime off the Catholic church and do just the opposite of what they suggest.
    8. A random sampling of convicted felons should offer better choices than the ones made by Carlson.
    9. Construct a spinning wheel with the following option: do anything except follow the guidelines set forth by Archbishop Robert Carlson. Spin the wheel. It should land on the only option that was described. Follow the directions.
    10. Ask witchdoctors, voodoo doctors or any member of the fake religions out there that do not adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and then follow their advice.

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