P.O. Box 12068, State Capitol
Austin, Texas 78711
Tel. (512) 463-0112
Fax (512) 463-0923
TEXAS LAW IS TOUGH ON CHILD ABUSE
By Senator Jane Nelson
We have watched with heavy hearts as the details surrounding child sexual abuse allegations at Pennsylvania State University have unfolded. It is inexcusable that these children suffered, possibly for years, without an adult standing up for them and putting a stop to this despicable abuse.
This story would play out very differently in our state. As chair of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services and, most importantly, a mother and grandmother, I have worked for years to strengthen our state laws on reporting child abuse. No government can prevent evil. But Texas law sends a clear message that every citizen has a responsibility to protect children in danger of abuse or neglect.
In Texas, it is a crime for anyone to fail to report suspected child abuse. Professionals, like teachers, nurses, doctors, and day care employees, must report to state authorities within 48 hours. This requirement is not met simply by sharing the information with a supervisor. Failure to report is punishable by up to a year in jail, a fine of up to $4,000, or both. During the last session, I authored legislation bolstering state investigations when a child is diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease. Bills we passed in 2007 and 2009 mandate sexual abuse awareness training for youth camp employees. I supported state law requiring all Texas school districts to adopt policies on child sexual abuse.
A staggering number — almost 6,000 — of child sexual abuse cases were confirmed in Texas last year. I shudder to imagine that there are other children whose abuse has gone unreported.
What happened in Pennsylvania shocked all of us. And there are lessons to be learned. Our laws on reporting are strong for a reason. Many individuals have a tendency to look the other way when confronted with this type of situation. Our sincere hope is that these laws make it clear to all Texans that protecting an abused child is absolutely their responsibility. Just as important, they promote awareness for an issue that has long been kept in the dark. In this state, we confront this challenge, rather than sweeping it under the rug. As lawmakers, we recognize our duty to enact laws that protect children.
We can never assume someone else will step up. We must always remember to choose to be a hero for a child in need. Because there may be no one else who will. If you ever suspect child sexual abuse, please report it. Names of reporters are kept confidential, or reports can be made anonymously. Those who report abuse are immune from civil or criminal liability, provided they make the report in good faith. Child Protective Services can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week toll-free at (800) 252-5400 or online at www.txabusehotline.org.
SENATOR JANE NELSON represents District 12, including portions of Tarrant and Denton Counties. She is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services.