A recent bill passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives could have unforeseen consequences for the state’s youth, according to one juvenile justice judge – particularly the notion that the proposed legislation would inadvertently make teenage kissing a reportable offense.
House Bill 16, the Ryan Petit Child Protection and Child Rape Protection Act of 2012, is currently undergoing review by a state Senate Judiciary committee. Meanwhile, Natchez Judge John Hudson says the bill is too far-reaching, with definitions that would require certain professionals to report teenage kissing as acts of “sexual abuse.”
The bill, Hudson noted, would require community members deemed as “mandatory reporters” of sexual abuse – teachers, police officers, health care providers, clergy members and film developers – to contact authorities upon observing or suspecting sexual abuse. The problem, Hudson identified, was with what he considered a vague description of what “sexual abuse” entails within the bill.
Under the bill’s current language, “sexual abuse” is defined as “the involvement of the child in any sexual act with a parent or another person, or the aiding or intentional toleration of a parent or caretaker of the child’s sexual involvement with any other person.” Additionally, the bill defines “children” as minors 16 and younger, meaning that certain adults witnessing junior high school students kissing would be legally required to report the incident to local police.
Although Judge Hudson said he believed the bill was designed with good intentions, he urged lawmakers to significantly rephrase the measure during its ongoing judiciary review.
“Saying ‘any other person’ includes other 16-year-olds,” Hudson stated. “It’s too broad.”
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