A bill that supporters say would protect both child sexual abuse victims and the alleged perpetrators has sparked strong debate in the Senate.
SB6, sponsored by Sen. David H. Steele, R-West Point, attempts to separate therapeutic and criminal investigations in instances of suspected abuse. The bill would require law enforcement agencies, the Division of Family Services, and those with whom they contract to make "reasonably comprehensive recordings" of sessions with the child.The measure also mandates that therapists report alleged or suspected abuse to authorities immediately.
Lawmakers were divided on the issue for the third year and voted to resume consideration Monday morning.
Originally, the bill was sponsored by former Rep. Ervin M. Skousen, R-Salt Lake, who was one of several people the Senate allowed to address the issue on Friday.
The bill, he said, resulted from a request by "citizens who asked that we do something about what appeared to be happening in the investigation of child abuse."
Their fear, Skousen said, was that children might be asked leading questions or coached in what to say during legal proceedings. They were concerned not only about the child's welfare but the welfare of the accused.
He cited a case in Davis County in which a father was found not guilty of sexually abusing his children but was still denied visitation rights because "Social Services basically said, `We don't care what the court said, we still think you're guilty.'
"If you are charged with (sexual abuse) the elements are stacked against you. This (bill) protects the defendant from false accusations and the therapist from accusations of misconduct."
Norman G. Angus, director of the Department of Social Services, told the Deseret News he had "some reservations" about the much-amended bill, although he had spoken of it favorably early in the session.
A member of the Governor's Council on Victimization spoke against the bill, which he said was a "defendant's bill."
"It would further victimize children if every conversation they had had to be tape recorded. We'd have to give the defense every tape of every conversation. If we didn't, or if we didn't tape every conversation, it could jeopardize our case at trial," agreed Bud Ellett, chief prosecutor for the Salt Lake County attorney's office.
According to U.S. Attorney Brent Ward, who helped draft the Child Kidnapping and Sexual Abuse Act, "This bill would have a chilling effect on the reporting of suspected child abuse, if either the child or its parents thought they'd have to be before a camera all the time."
"The thrust of the bill is on the side of truth, justice and protecting children," Dr. David Raskin, University of Utah professor of psychology, told the senators.
He said taping and analysis of a properly conducted interview is the most effective way of getting the truth and "an effective way of eliciting confessions from perpetrators. It allows the uncovering of false allegations early in the process."
The bill, if passed, would require an estimated $10,000 for recording equipment and tape storage.