Proposed Legislation Requires Clergy to Report Suspected Cases of Child Abuse

By: Kevin M. Ketner, Penn Law


Spurred into action by the recent Catholic Church child sex abuse scandals, lawmakers from Virginia and Washington, D.C. have announced their intent to propose legislation that would add clergy members to the list of people legally required to report cases of suspected child abuse or neglect.


In an article published by the Washington Post, Michelle Boorstein reveals that the recent sex abuse scandals in churches and organizations involving young athletes “have prompted conversation about broadening legal responsibility to extend beyond positions such as teachers and doctors.”


Penn Law works with clients seeking justice against institutions and organizations that choose to harbor those accused of sexual misconduct, rather than protecting the children entrusted into their care. For example, we have represented numerous victims of abuse by the Catholic Church, including recent filings against the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta.


The same archdiocese led opposition against the Hidden Predator Act, legislation proposed in the 2018 Georgia General Assembly that would have extended the statute of limitations for victims from age 23 to 38 and created other avenues for adults to sue long after that age. It passed unanimously on the floor of the House of Representatives last spring but was defeated in the Senate following an intense lobbying effort by the church, the Boy Scouts, and other entities fearing greater risk of financial liability.


Legislative efforts focused on former victims of abuse in Georgia and other states have encountered heavy resistance, D.C. and Virginia lawmakers hope extending mandatory reporter requirements to clergy members will quell future instances of abuse and prevent children from becoming victims.


D.C. Attorney Karl Racine has even proposed removing the confidential conversation exemption for mandatory reporters, “possibly including those that occur in the Catholic Church’s confessional.” Racine also recently shared other key goals for the legislation, including:

  • Requiring mandatory reporters to report suspected abuse, even if they don’t personally know the child, or even if the child is now an adult;
  • Requiring mandatory reporters to report suspected abuse to their own boards of directors, thus extending responsibility to their institutions;
  • Increasing the penalty for people who fail to report; and
  • Requesting funding to train mandatory reporters on their obligations.


In Virginia, Senator Janet Howell of Fairfax County and other delegates have sponsored narrower legislation that is scheduled to be considered before the state legislature during the upcoming legislative session, which begins January 9, 2019.


While the current draft of the proposed legislation adds clergy to the list of mandatory reporters, it also contains an exception for when a faith’s doctrine requires the report “to be kept confidential.” Specifically, this carve-out was added to protect the Catholic Church’s confessional.


According to the Children’s Bureau, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services that works to end child abuse, twenty-eight states currently make clergy mandatory reporters. However, these laws vary drastically between states, especially regarding religious leaders and whether their confidential conversations are protected.


In light of these recent proposed legislative responses to the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandals, lawmakers in other states may soon decide to mirror these proposals. They may adopt similar mandatory reporter laws or bolster their existing legislation through the removal of confidential conversation exemptions. Some may opt to add requirements similar to what Racine recently proposed for new legislation in D.C.–law/exclusive-new-lawsuit-alleges-sexual-abuse-longtime-georgia-priest/KT8Bd10Hz2Sf1YSpV3NMIO/


Kevin M. Ketner is a law clerk at Penn Law. He graduated from Clemson University with a B.S. in 2015 and will earn his J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law May 2019. At UGA, Kevin participates in the Prosecution Clinic with the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office and serves as an Articles and Notes Editor on the Journal of Intellectual Property Law. In the Fall of 2018, he was selected as a Pupil for the Orr Inn of Court.

Why People Wait

Sexual Abuse Victims: Why They Wait


“Why did she wait so many years?”


That’s the question asked by many during the recent testimony by Christine Blasey Ford at Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court hearings. This is a common tactic for those who seek to question the validity of sexual assault allegations which occurred years ago. The implication is that the length of time between the assault and the accusation somehow makes the allegations less credible.


The truth is this is common with victims of sexual assault, including both child and adult victims. From Supreme Court nominees to accusations against priests in the Catholic Church, sexual assault is in the headlines today, despite many assaults occurring decades ago.


So, why do the victims wait so long to report their assaults? The answer is complicated.


  • The National Institute of Justice reports 42 percent of those physically forced to perform a sex act did not report their assault to police because they did not want anyone to know[i]. This shame is what we most commonly see as the reason for not reporting sex crimes.
  • About 90 percent of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser[ii]. This makes it especially difficult for the child abuse victim to come forward. Most times, they do not want to upset their parents or partner.
  • Many times the shame is also a fear that they will not be believed or that the victim will face retaliation for reporting the crime.


Studies show it takes an average of 20 years for a child who is a victim of assault to report the crime. The reasons for the delay include failing to realize the magnitude of the offense, embarrassment, fear of not being believed and the fear that reporting the abuse will not bring about a change.


This delay in reporting only causes victims further harm. For example, substance abuse is nearly three times more likely to occur in adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse[iii]. Depression, including suicide attempts, is twice as likely to happen in adults who were abused as children. The adult sufferers are also more likely to have stress-related health conditions including chronic headaches, obesity, heart conditions and hypertension[iv].


Georgia is one of the worst states in the country for protecting the victims of childhood abuse. Under current Georgia law, legal actions against alleged predators must be filed before the plaintiff reaches 23 years of age. Efforts were made to amend the law last year to extend the statute of limitations but the vote timed out in the Georgia Senate (see our previous blogs about the “Hidden Predator Act”).


We at Penn Law will continue to work diligently to see revisions to the Hidden Predator Act (HPA) passed by the Georgia Legislators. Introduced in 2018, the proposed revisions to the HPA would allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring civil claims against the individual abuser and any entity responsible for allowing such abuse. A bill similar to the revisions proposed in the Hidden Predator Act of 2018 is expected to be introduced during the 2019 Legislative Session. We will not stop until all protections are in place to protect sexual abuse victims in Georgia. If you or someone close to you has been a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, please contact Penn Law today at 404-961-7655.





[ii] Whealin, J. (2007-05-22). “Child Sexual Abuse”. National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, US Department of Veterans Affairs.


[iii] Dube, S. A., Anda, R. F., Whitfield, C. L., Brown, D. W., Felitti, D. J., Dong, M., & Giles, W. (2005). Long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse by gender of the victim. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 28, 430 – 437.


[iv] Sachs-Ericsson, N., Blazer, D., Plant, E. A., & Arnow, B. (2005). Childhood sexual and physical abuse and 1-year prevalence of medical problems in the National Comorbidity Survey. Health Psychology, 24, 32 – 40.



Public Outrage at Child Sexual Abuse Problem Continues, But New Legislation Seeking Justice for Georgia Victims Poses Viable Solution


A recent Pennsylvania grand jury report described internal documents from six Catholic dioceses revealing that more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the course of several decades.  Since its publication, the contents of this report have stirred widespread public outrage and reignited demands seeking justice for victims. While the report has brought these issues to the forefront yet again, it is unlikely to lead to any new criminal or civil consequences for the accused priests under current law.


Our firm represents clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and several North Georgia churches.

Further, statistics indicate that incidents of child sexual abuse are more prevalent than ever:


  • The U.S. Department of Justice reports only 30% of sexual assault cases are reported to authorities.
  • 69,939 cases of child sexual abuse were reported in 2012. 34% were younger than 9 years old.
  • 28% of male rape victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger.


Why is The Statute of Limitations Important in These Cases?


Most victims of childhood sexual abuse do not disclose the abuse until they reach adulthood. While the average time it takes a victim of abuse to disclose such abuse is nearly 20 years, others never disclose the abuse at all. There are many reasons why children delay or refrain from disclosing abuse: failing to realize the magnitude of the offense, feeling embarrassed, feeling that they will not be believed or taken seriously, and fearing that nothing will change if they do tell someone.


Many states have passed laws extending the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their abusers and the entities that harbor them.


Under current Georgia law, legal actions against entities who knowingly harbored sexual predators must be filed before the plaintiff reaches the age of 31 years old.  However, a victim must also file suit before 12 years from the date of when the entity’s illegal actions occurred. Given that a large portion of victims of childhood sexual abuse wait decades to disclose, the current law is clearly insufficient for many seeking justice.


Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act


In early 2018, revisions to the Hidden Predator Act (HPA, HB605) were introduced in the Georgia Legislature to allow more victims to seek justice. Proposed amendments to the law included:

  • Extending the age limit for filing lawsuits to 38 years;
  • Extending the discovery period to 8 years; and
  • Creating a one-year open window for victims to sue entities that
  • knowingly harbored their sexual abuser(s).

The Georgia Senate failed to reach a consensus regarding amendments to the Hidden Predator Act, and the additional protections were ultimately excluded.

  • The bill unanimously passed in the House, but the legislation died in the Senate after extensive lobbying and opposition.
  • The majority of this opposition was spearheaded by the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church.
  • When the Legislative Session ended, the bill had been amended to include an extension of the statute of limitations allowing victims to file suit before reaching 31 years of age.


A similar bill is expected to be introduced again during Georgia’s 2019 Legislative Session. By this point, many hope the bill will gain the Catholic Church’s support. In a recent letter sent to area Catholics in response to the Pennsylvania scandal, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory stated, “All Catholics, including so many good and generous priests, are rightly angered, confused, and embarrassed by this testimony that the leadership of the church failed to care for our people with compassion and honesty.”


We will hold Archbishop Gregory to his pledge to take whatever next steps “are necessary to ensure vigilance and accountability and to foster healing.”


We call upon the community to help us to ensure the Hidden Predator Act is successful in 2019 and that protections seeking to foster the healing of sexual abuse victims in Georgia will finally be implemented.


Pennsylvania Boy Scout Leader Admits to Sexually Abusing Scouts for Nearly a Decade – State Revelations Highlight National Problem

Former Pennsylvania Boy Scout Leader, Stephen Piller, admitted Wednesday to sexually assaulting three minor Boy Scouts over the course of several years.

In an article published by The Associated Press, authorities reveal the 51-year-old man abused the scouts, both “at Piller’s home and at Camp Trexler, a Boy Scout facility in Monroe County [Pennsylvania].”  Piller, who served as the Order of the Arrow chapter adviser for the Minsi Trails Council of the Boy Scouts of America, continued his chain of abuse for nearly a decade.

Penn Law works with clients seeking justice against institutions and organizations that choose to harbor those accused of sexual misconduct, rather than protecting the children entrusted to their care. For example, we have represented clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and two Athens, Georgia churches.

In Pennsylvania, Georgia, and nationally, child sex abuse scandals continue to dominate the headlines. This particular case comes on the heels of a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report which uncovered internal documents from six dioceses in Pennsylvania revealing more than 300 “predator priests” accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.

Pennsylvania law, like the law in many other states, including Georgia, continues to hinder victims from seeking justice. These states often require victims to file suit at a very young age, allow little time for discovery, and prohibit criminal charges from being filed past a certain point. However, since the conviction of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, many have pushed for new legislation aimed at protecting victims from abusers and the organizations that harbor them.

During Georgia’s 2018 Legislative Session, The Hidden Predator Act sought to answer the public outcry by increasing protections for these victims.  However, in addition to openly opposing the proposed legislation, the Boy Scouts lobbied heavily to gut the bill’s protections. An effort upon which they were ultimately successful.  Instead of spending money to prevent known abusers from harming our children, the Boy Scouts organization continues to avoid responsibility for their decades of systematic cover-up.


Sex Abuse and Statute of Limitations Why We Need the Hidden Predator Law Now More Than Ever

A new grand jury report says that internal documents from six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania show that more than 300 “predator priests” have been credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 child victims.” (CNN)

We’ve worked with many clients on similar cases, including filings against the Darlington School in Rome, Ga, the Northeast Georgia Boy Scout Council, and two Athens, Georgia churches. While this grand jury report is expansive, laws in place in Pennsylvania make it almost impossible for the victims to achieve justice. In Pennsylvania and many other states, including in Georgia, victims must file suit at a very young age, are allowed little time for discovery, and cannot file criminal charges past a certain point.

During the 2018 Legislative Session, we worked to strengthen Georgia’s Hidden Predator Law, which would have expanded protections for these victims. Those efforts were unsuccessful, but we continue to use every effort avenue available to support victims of childhood sexual abuse and to advocate for changes to the law in Georgia.

See links below to stories about the Pennsylvania cases from CNN and The New York Times.


Penn Law Files Suit Against Darlington School

Penn Law filed a lawsuit June 1 in Oconee County on behalf of seven additional former students of Darlington School alleging they were sexually abused by staff members of the school from 1977 to 1988. The total number of students alleging the abuse and represented by the Penn Law Group is 17. Lead attorney on the case, Darren Penn recently spoke with the media about the case.

WSBTV – Seven New Accusers Come Forward in Boarding School Sex Abuse Case

AJC – 17 Former Students Now Allege Sex Abuse at Georgia Boarding School

Rome News-Tribune – 17 File Suits Against Darlington

Coosa Valley News – More Accusers Come Forward in Darlington School Sex Scandal

Hometown Headlines – 17 civil suits filed against Darlington, renewing sexual abuse claims against a former teacher in the ’70s and ’80s.

3/28/18: Georgia’s Sexual Abuse Law Should Protect Children, Not #EntitiesToo

By Emma Hetherington, Director of the Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) Clinic

After the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, victims of child sexual abuse and their advocates have been hopeful that they were finally being heard. The public outcry over Nassar’s crimes, along with the #metoo movement, has led to the introduction of new legislation throughout the country that protects victims from abusers and the organizations that harbor them.

In Georgia, the State House of Representatives unanimously passed House Bill 605 (“HB 605”), which would increase the age by which a victim can file a claim from 23 to 38 and allow a one-year retroactive window under which victims who were previously barred from filing claims could sue their abusers and entities who knew or should have known about the abuse.

Amendments passed in the Senate, however, have threatened to significantly weaken the bill in crucial ways. This has led to a showdown today at the Capitol as proponents of the House version fight for its survival.

Continue reading

Georgia Senate Changes to Hidden Predator Act Leaves Victims Behind (March 26, 2018)

Senate Version of Hidden Predator Act Leaves Victims Behind


Media Coverage of this issue:

Below are listed the courageous Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse who summoned the strength and courage to come forward and, through testimony, telephone calls, and emails, pleaded with the Georgia Legislature for a shot at justice.

They came forward with their horrifying stories of abuse and the lifetime of harm left for them to deal with and asked for a chance to seek justice from the Sexual Predators and the Entities that had information about the Predators yet failed to take any action to protect Georgia’s children.

Childhood Sexual Abuse has been described as a form of Murder because it literally Kills the Soul of the Victim.

The Georgia Legislature was provided the very real scientific evidence that shows the average victim is not able to come forward until age 42.[1]  Here in Georgia, the average age of the victim asking the Legislature for a chance at justice is 48.[2]  When the Hidden Predator Act of 2015 was passed, this Legislature included a two-year window within which Victims could sue Sexual Predators (without limitations).  At that time, Victims asked for the chance to sue the Entities that literally hid these Predators from Victims, their families, the appropriate authorities, and the public.

Continue reading

Strengthening Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act – 2018

Georgia Legislature 2018: Strengthening the Hidden Predator Act

Media Coverage of this issue:

Sexual abuse and sexual harassment stories have exploded into the headlines over the past year. But while these stories have been getting more attention of late, the problem is not a new one. A part of our practice focuses on childhood sexual abuse cases that often go back decades, working with people who have claims against individuals, churches, nonprofit organizations, and schools.

Our focus for this legislative session has been to work with our representatives to amend Georgia’s Hidden Predator Act. Key among our goals is to modify the legislation so that it appropriately applies to entities that breed, foster, and then hide their knowledge about the individuals responsible for these horrendous acts.

Continue reading