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"The Difference Between 'Sick' and 'Evil'"

NH Law Mandates Everyone Report Child Abuse Suspicions

by Sunday News Staff
Originally published in the New Hampshire Sunday News, July 14, 2002

Parade magazine—inside today's Sunday News—features a cover story by child advocate Andrew Vachss that looks at pedophilia and what can be done to protect children.

Vachss examines the difference between what is sick and what is evil and how society should respond to each. Also, he notes that laws regarding mandatory reporting of child sex abuse vary from state to state. In New Hampshire, no one is excluded from the responsibility to report child abuse.

The Child Protection Act requires doctors and other medical professionals, educators, social and child care workers and law enforcement officers to report their suspicions.

Unlike the law in Massachusetts, which does not mention clergy, New Hampshire's law is specific in stipulating that a "priest, minister or rabbi or any other person having reason to suspect that a child has been abused or neglected shall report (to the Department of Health and Human Services) . . . immediately by telephone or otherwise, and followed within 48 hours by a report in writing, if so requested . . . ."

The Division for Children, Youth and Families maintains a toll-free telephone number for reporting suspicions of child abuse: 800-894-5531. The department is currently revamping its Web site to include a child protection section that will explain the reporting procedure. The New Hampshire law extends immunity "from any liability, civil or criminal," to anyone who reports "in good faith." Failure to report a suspicion of child abuse or neglect is a misdemeanor, punishable on conviction by fines and up to a year in jail. The law makes almost no allowance for privileged communication.

"The privileged quality of communication between husband and wife and any professional person and his patient or client, except that between attorney and client, . . . shall not constitute grounds for failure to report," the law states. When it comes to testimony given as a witness in court, New Hampshire statutes do recognize the clergy's confessional privilege.

The law states: "A priest, rabbi or ordained or licensed minister of any church . . . shall not be required to disclose a confession or confidence made to him in his professional character as spiritual adviser, unless the person confessing or confiding waives the privilege."

Illness or Evil?

Originally published in the Omaha World Herald, July 18, 2002
OPINION: Editorials

The fact that some people—mostly men—prey on children, sexually exploiting them repeatedly and methodically, is difficult for others to grasp. A common assumption is that the predators are mentally afflicted in some way that makes them do such horrifying things.

Andrew Vachss, an experienced children's lawyer and contributor to Parade magazine, argued otherwise last Sunday. His point of view was compelling.

"Sickness is a condition," he wrote. "Evil is a behavior." When society excuses pedophiles as "sick," he argued, it often lets them return to society to prey again.

The acts, he argued, are always a matter of choice. "If a person has desires or fantasies about sexually exploiting children," he wrote, "that individual may be sick. ... But if the individual chooses to act upon those feelings, that conduct is evil." He also had harsh words about pedophiles who claim, when caught, to be sick. Timing, he suggested, is everything. Molesters often worm their way into a position of trust with the children they desire or with their parents. They offer gifts, presents, time, soothing words.

A pedophile who claims to be sick only after getting caught, Vachss wrote, is trying to downplay his responsibility.

Vachss also said something that is seldom heard clearly enough: There is no cure for the predatory pedophile. The only hope is that he can learn self-control, leading to a change in willful behavior. Most, however, don't want to change; they want freedom to work the system again.

Vachss wants a law mandating that religious workers, including clergy, report suspicions of child abuse, including sexual exploitation. Teachers, social workers and people with similar jobs are already "mandatory reporters," as they are called. This sounds useful, as long as there is an exception for the sanctity of the confessional and the counselor-parishioner relationship.

Our sympathy is with the thousands of children in this country who have been sexually exploited by friends, neighbors, family members and trusted authority figures over the years—not with their exploiters. As Vachss said: "Sickness happens. Evil is inflicted."

CNN Larry King Live Interview With Judy Sheindlin

When you drop a stone into water, it sends out ripples. When you drop an article into the cover slot of Parade, the same thing happens. Read an excerpt from an interview with Judy Sheindlin (Judge Judy) from CNN's Larry King Live, September 5, 2002.



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