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States weigh tough laws on child sex abuse

Associated Press

The child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University has prompted state lawmakers across the nation to take another look at laws designed to protect children and punish child predators.

Thirty-eight legislatures are back in session this month, most for the first time since former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged in November with child sex abuse and two school officials were charged with failing to properly report abuse allegations. At least 12 states are considering mandatory reporting legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and more are expected to craft bills.

Bills also have been drafted that would increase or even eliminate the statutes of limitations for bringing criminal or civil cases against alleged abusers.

"The alleged incidents at Penn State I think awakened something in our national consciousness about protecting our kids," said Mike Feuer, a California assemblyman and chairman of that legislature's Judiciary Committee.

Forty-eight states require some professionals to immediately report knowledge or suspicion of child sexual abuse to some authority, the NCSL says. Eighteen of those states require every adult to be a mandated reporter.

States, including Pennsylvania, are setting up task forces or holding informational public hearings to draft comprehensive legislative packages.

Advocates for abuse victims are pushing for legislation to be passed this year, recognizing that the scandal presents an opportunity.

"It is a mobilization time. But just as important, it is a public information time," said Jim Hmurovich, chief executive of Prevent Child Abuse America. "We need to get the message out that sex offender registries and treatment services for victims and mandatory reporting requirements are important, but they're not the whole picture. Let's think about way up the river so the child never gets hurt in the first place."