Research Tools: State-by-State Laws on Clergy MANDATORY Reporting of Child Abuse

The most recent Research Tools post was State-by-State Laws on Sexual Violence Issues, Including Clergy Sexual Misconduct (aka “Fiduciary Duty”). There is some overlap between this post and that one’s sources for links. But that one is on broader concerns of sexual violence while this post focuses in on the issue of clergy as mandatory reporters of known/suspected child sexual abuse.

Child Sexual Abuse is Consistently a Top Legal Problem for U.S. Churches

For each of the last five years (2011-2015), the largest percentage of lawsuits filed against churches had to do with child sexual abuse. Here is an article from Church Law & Tax on that topic – The Top 5 Reasons Religious Organizations Went to Court in 2015 – and their related infographic for 2015. They have been updating this information and infographic annually, so check their search function to find the most recent edition.

Leaders and Training Curricula

At this time, only one U.S. seminary requires a training course on sexual abuse issues in all their degree programs, and that is Dallas Theological Seminary. This was just recently instituted, and it takes effect starting in the Fall term for the 2016-2017 academic year. (See the 3 credit hour course, EML620 Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse: MinistrySafe.)

G.R.A.C.E. – Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment – led by Boz Tchividjian, has long seen the need for training Christian leaders on child sexual abuse issues, including responding to abuse as well as setting up systems to prevent abuse. (See this March 18, 2013, article by Rachel Held Evans, No More Silence: An interview with Boz Tchividjian of G.R.A.C.E.) G.R.A.C.E. has had a team developing a curriculum on child protection for use in colleges, seminaries, and training programs. According to this May 30, 2014, article by Boz Tchividjian – On-the-job training isn’t working – tentative topics in the curriculum include:

  • Characteristics of child sexual abuse and its many permutations
  • The profile and common behavioral characteristics of sexual offenders
  • Common spiritual impacts of child sexual abuse
  • A child’s perception of sexual abuse
  • Biblical and theological foundations for child protection
  • Best practices in child protection policies
  • Mandated reporting laws
  • Best practices in responding to active sexual abuse allegations in a Christian environment
  • Basic understanding of the current techniques clinicians use when working with abuse victims
  • Understanding of the purpose and value of professional mental health care for victims and perpetrators
  • Characteristics of the abusing families
  • Confronting past abuse within a church

Mandatory Reporting and “Penitent Privilege” (Confidentiality) Laws, State-by-State

There are two main sources to access legal information about clergy mandatory reporting laws and related issues: RAINN (which was highlighted in the previous Research Tools post) and Child Welfare Gateway. Both offer similar information, but in different formats. So, check out each of these to see which works better for the type of research you want to do. (Also, both sites periodically update their databases with the most recent legal code information.)

The RAINN State Law Database allows you to search a separate database that compares Mandatory Reporting Requirements: Children. For best results, set the “Show Entries” box at the top to 100. That will let you see a line for each of the 50 states, plus Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C. Click on the “+” sign to expand the entry to see:

  • A bullet list for Who is required to report? This will list the various types of people and their occupations who are required by state law to report known/suspected sexual abuse.
  • A bullet list for What timing and procedural requirements apply to reports? This is important to note, because state legal codes may require that the person who knows/suspects/witnesses abuse is the only one able to file the report and it cannot be passed off to a supervisor or assigned to a subordinate. Also, states may have time limits, such as within 24 hours of finding out about a situation of abuse.
  • The Statutory Citation with the penal code location numbers for the specific state laws. (Copy-and-paste the line with the law code numbers and state into your search engine to locate the full text of the law.)

Child Welfare Gateway gives the option of accessing a page that lists state-by-state laws solely on clergy as mandatory reporters of known/suspected sexual abuse. To get to that page, click:

  • Section #1 – SELECT A STATE – click the All States option.
  • Section #2 – SELECT A TOPIC – click checkbox for Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect.
  • Section #3 – BEING YOUR SEARCH – GO!

The results will show each state’s legal statues citation, whether or not there is clergy mandatory reporting law, and details on any clergy/congregant confidentiality. (Copy-and-paste the line with the law code numbers and state into your search engine to locate the full text of the law.)

Also available from Child Welfare Gateway is PDF on Clergy as Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect. It includes a very helpful chart on page 3 that shows mandatory reporting laws for clergy and also for “any person.” This is important, because some states do not have reporting laws regarding clergy in specific, but they cover that by requiring “any person” in general to report known/suspected child abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

This same chart also covers what is commonly known as “penitent privilege.” This is where there MAY be specific categories of communications between clergy members and congregants that are covered by confidentiality. Find out the specifics from the laws in particular states, as claiming a “penitent privilege” is not necessarily a defense for failure to report child abuse.

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Research Tools: State-by-State Laws on Sexual Violence Issues, Including Clergy Sexual Misconduct (aka “Fiduciary Duty”)

I’m in the midst of editing a book chapter on character/moral, legal, regulatory, and professional aspects of church and Christian non-profit leaders. In some prior tweets and posts, I’d merged the concepts of professional “fiduciary duty” with power differential in cases of clergy sexual involvement with congregants. Tweeter XianAtty let me know that the two aren’t always the same. So, I wanted to do what I could to correct my understanding of this issue, and also to find online resources that clarify when “clergy sexual misconduct” is both an ethical issue because of biblical mandates on morals and on people considered leaders, AND a legal issue because of the power differential between clergy and congregant nullifies the legal defense of “consent.”

So far, I’ve only found one source of state-by-state laws on this issue. And that is RAINN’s State Law Database.

RAINN is the acronym for Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. I found RAINN’s article from October 2015 on Understanding the Laws in Your State helpful for its background on how the database system got put together, who is involved in that project, and why.

You can search their State Law Database by state or U.S. territory for laws on eight topics:

  1. Sex Crimes: Definitions and Penalties (i.e., rape and sexual assault)
  2. Consent Laws
  3. Mandatory Reporting: Children
  4. Mandatory Reporting: The Elderly
  5. Criminal Statutes of Limitations
  6. Termination of Rapists’ Parental Rights
  7. Laws about Private Communications (i.e., confidentiality)
  8. HIV/AIDS Testing of Sex Offenders

To find out about fiduciary duty and clergy sexual misconduct, the “Consent” section is where you’ll likely find the answer.

Select the state in the checkbox list, or click on the state on the map.

Click on the Determining Consent link.

Go to the Capacity to Consent box.

Click on the question: Does the relationship between the victim and actor impact the victim’s ability to consent?

There is no consistency on clergy sexual misconduct as a criminal act. For instance, in some states like Texas, clergy/congregant sexual involvement is defined as a sexual assault crime. In these cases, “consent” by the congregant is NOT a legal defense for the clergy. Here is a partial listing of the description for Texas laws where consent is not a defense for sexual involvement. (Accessed September 27, 2016. Emphasis added.)

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[A] sexual assault is considered to occur without the consent of the other person where:

  • (1) the actor is a public servant who coerces the other person to submit or participate;
  • (2) the actor is a mental health services provider or a health care services provider who causes the other person, who is a patient or former patient of the actor, to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the actor;
  • (3) the actor is a clergyman who causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser; or
  • (4) the actor is an employee of a facility where the other person is a resident, unless the employee and resident are formally or informally married to each other under the Texas Family Code.

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Other states have differing statutes on clergy sexual misconduct. Their laws may make no specific mention of ministers/clergy.

I’m thankful this information is available all in one place, because it is all too often still needed for research into instances of alleged spiritual abuse that also involve sexual misconduct.

Another Project Update: Start That Final Countdown for Finishing Field Guide #1!


It’s a good thing that I’ve gotten as many “dominoes” as possible lined up toward all the pre-publication stuff on my 7-volume Field Guide Series. Because, a couple days ago, I received an unexpected financial gift that covers most of my bills for September and October! (It was in the mail late last week, and happened to arrive the same days I posted my last update – August 28th.) I am thankful, and excited – this means I should be able to finish up at least the first volume in my book project, and maybe the second.

So – the final countdown starts today! I have client work scheduled over the next few months, and will write on my own project in between that. Here’s what I have left for Field Guide #1:

  • 2 content chapters to finish editing
  • 2 workbook/teamwork chapters to write
  • 2 interviews to conduct with people whose profession involves work with systems and toxicity
  • 1 “master class” chapter to write, integrating everything in Field Guide #1 and setting up volume #2

I’ll post progress updates periodically … meanwhile, thanks for your prayers!

~ Brad


  • Pray I would be listening carefully for the Spirit’s leading. It would be all too easy to go on “editing auto-pilot,” just to get the thing done as quickly as possible. But I’ve often figured out later from readers’ feedback that the final stages were when material got added that ended up being especially important in ministering to them.
  • Physical stamina and mental clarity. It’s been a rough year healthwise, and I’ve been battling worse fatigue than usual.

Project Update: Autumn 2016 – Figuring Out Final Steps for Publishing Field Guide #1!

Some of my friends are interested in the process of putting a book together. So, periodically, I post details involved in the most current stage of getting my curriculum series edited and ready for eventual publication. And there’s been a bit of news lately, so here it is.

Shifting From Publisher to Self-Publishing

It’s been four weeks since I found out the conventional publisher I’d hoped would be a match didn’t feel my curriculum series fit with their line. That was disappointing, but I knew it was a doorway to the next set of options to investigate: self-publishing.

What writing a book proposal for a publisher does in helping authors refine their content, the self-publishing prep process does in helping refine all the other details that a publisher would normally take care of. So, after working all month with a company that specializes in helping authors self-publish, now I have a final checklist of what has to be done to get the first volume actually available for sale! It’s a lot of administrative details, many of which I could do for myself, but just because I could do them doesn’t mean I should. Writers often miss identifying their mistakes when it comes to editing and proofreading. And many of us are horrible layout designers. For me, it’s also an issue of best stewardship for very limited energy. So, will just have to wait until the time comes and see what unfolds for hiring outside help from that company to complete those tasks.

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A Tribute and a Eulogy for Debbie “Mum” Jones

Debbie "Mum" Jones

Debbie “Mum” Jones

Debbie/Debra “Mum” Jones succumbed June 15th to kidney failure while ill with malaria, typhoid, and gastrointestinal bugs. She was in Gambi Hospital in Bahar Dar, Ethiopia.

She and her husband Andrew have been friends since 1995 – a third of my lifetime. Our stories have intertwined deeply at times, less so at others, but we’ve stayed connected for a very long time.

I wrote a eulogy for Debbie a day after I heard the news of her death. It’s later in this post. I’ve written before about Andrew and Debbie, most extensively in these posts:

’tis andrew jones’ birthday! so celebrate, already! (September 7, 2008).

Everyday DiscipLeaders – Andrew and Debbie Jones (originally posted January 5, 2009).

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Random Moment: My First Shoe-Selfies!

[~ Click on images to see larger views of the shoes! ~]

Hey all y’all – I bought shoes! A friend sent me a gift for my birthday. I told them I’d do something fun with part of it (pizza, DVDs, books), plus something practical – like socks.

Well, it ended up that I bought shoes instead of socks. I’d completely worn through the soles of my previous set of Sketchers, and the add-on insert insoles from Rite-Aid were starting to go, too. After only – what? Like, only five or six years? Outrageous.

Anyway, I figure that you can’t get a reasonable pair of heavy-duty shoes for less than $50-60, so that was my budget guideline. Shoe shopping is torturous for me, as my feet are narrow, and it’s hard to find a fit. So, I always have to wear two pairs of socks – hence, my perpetually frequent need for socks – in order not to slosh around in my shoes all the time.

I like Fluevogs, so that was what I was going for. Continue reading