KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Missouri lawmakers are debating a bill that could bring criminal charges toward anyone who suspects child sex abuse but fails to report it to authorities.
The legislation comes after Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's trial, where he was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys. Sandusky's trial brings to light an interesting debate: If someone is a witness to child sex abuse, should they face going to jail for up to a year or pay hefty fines if they don't come forward to police?
Senator Eric Schmitt of Saint Louis has sponsored a bill to mandate any witness over 18 must report abuse or face one year of jail time or a hefty fine. Schmitt says the goal of this bill is not to criminalize people who are witnesses, but protect children in Missouri from sex abuse.
Currently Missouri law only mandates that certain professionals who work with children have a legal obligation to report abuse.
This bill is coming under fire from other local senators. Rob Shaaf of Saint Joseph says only reasonable people should be held liable. In a recent senate meeting, he said he worries about someone being hauled off to jail simply because they saw something, but didn't necessarily suspect sexual abuse.
Jolie Justus from Jackson County questions the idea of turning bystanders into criminals, especially in cases concerning parents having to report children.
According to the organization Missouri Kids First, the most common witnesses of child sexual abuse are other juveniles, and under this bill they wouldn't be required to report it.