As someone who is a mandatory reporter in the state of Oregon for at least three reasons, two of them involving my service in church and one of them involving my role as a CASA , I pay some attention to what is expected of someone who is by law ordered to report to the police or other authorities when there is something potentially abusive going on. Admittedly, such situations have been rare in my own observation. While I have seen more than my fair share of cringeworthy or awkward interactions involving young people, I have seldom been a witness to anything that was potentially abusive. One time, though, when I was living in Vancouver, I was minding my own business one Friday evening reading books in my room, when the sound of a loud altercation was taking place upstairs. I communicated this to the online system of the Vancouver police only to find out that the place where I lived was just outside of city limits and it had to be forwarded to the county sheriff’s office, by which point the loud argument was over.
In such a situation it is pretty clear that a loud argument that features the sound of slammed doors at least has the potential to be a Domestic Violence case, and there were certainly children in the apartment above mine. They were unlucky, I suppose, that they lived upstairs to a generally unobtrusive mandatory reporter that they did not know about, but fortunate that no sheriff’s deputy came over to their apartment where they could have been involved in a potential child removal situation. That said, it is not always so clear what exact threshold a mandatory reporter comes under. We know that we are to report potential abuse, but we may not always be aware of what that standard involves. Today, therefore, I would like to bring to the attention of fellow mandatory reporters, especially those of us in Oregon, a troubling matter that I read as part of a mailing list that deals with subjects related to the government and child abuse, with the information taken from a recent news article that I was sent a link about .
According to the Salem-Kaiser school district, mandatory reporters are required to call the authorities every time one is told or one is a witness to any sort of intimacy involving someone under eighteen. If one saw two kids kissing, one would have to report them. If a young person talked about the intimacy his or her partner, one would have to report them. To quote the article: “Salem-Keizer Public Schools and the Marion County District Attorney’s Office assert all mandatory reporters have to file a report with law enforcement or the Department of Human Services if they suspect or know of any sexual activity — from kissing to intercourse — involving a child under the age of 18. This applies even if the individuals involved are within three years of each other and the activity appears consensual, meaning there is no sign of force, coercion or intimidation. It also applies to the children of mandatory reporters.” Needless to say, this is an extremely high standard to report, and it goes without saying that over the course of my own life that by this standard there is quite a lot I would have had to report that I have known or suspected. Even now, if this standard was held to me, I would certainly be placed in an even more awkward position than I am already.
After all, Oregon has among the stiffest standards nationally when it comes to mandatory reporters. To wit: “If a mandatory reporter fails to report, it’s considered a Class A violation, warranting a write-up and maximum fine of $2,000.” Speaking for myself, and others, that is not a punishment we who are mandatory reporters are willing to face. Punishments are even more stiff if someone happens to be an elected official or an attorney, with the potential of disbarment for the latter. Mandatory reporters for other states have lower penalties, but even in those states failing to report is a misdemeanor. There is some evidence that other school districts are looking to mimic this harsh standard of what requires mandatory reporting, as in Oregon alone the school districts of Medford and Ashland have adopted this standard as well, and if it spreads to, say, the school districts in Washington, Colombia, Multnomah, and Clackamas counties, well, let’s just say that life for me and some of the people I know is going to be a lot more complicated if I have to call the police any time I know or suspect that any people under eighteen have been involved in any intimacy with anyone from kissing on up. You have been warned.
As someone who has admittedly very little experience with physical intimacy at all, sadly, I consider this situation to be an example of the contradictions and tensions that our society faces. On the one hand, declining standards of morality have made physical intimacy far more common among young people than has been the case in previous generations. On the other hand, the increasingly intrusive power of government and its legions of voluntary (or involuntary) spies make the conduct of people subject to government involvement. It is, of course, up to the authorities to decide which of the many accusations and reports they will be hearing about the intimate behavior of minors to act on. Who is to say what standard will be taken? There has rarely been a time where being a decent and moral and restrained person in one’s behavior has been more maligned or more necessary to avoid unpleasant complications in life. Such is the life we live, though. Let us at least be aware of the standards that we and others are being held to, though.
 See, for example: