Our Opinion: Proceed with caution on changing laws

Changes in mental health treatment and state law are among task force recommendations designed to prevent sexual abuse of children.

On Sunday and Monday in this forum, we explored the scope of the problem and ways to increase education and awareness.

Today, let’s focus on recommendations regarding public policy, statutory changes and a possible constitutional amendment.

The task force recommended more mental health resources be created for young victims and perpetrators.

Contrary to the widely held belief that sexual abusers cannot be rehabilitated, the report reads: “Studies have shown juveniles who receive treatment demonstrate very low recidivism rates for sexual crimes.”

Concerning government funding, the report notes six Missouri counties have enacted quarter-cent, local sales taxes for services for children.

Recommended changes to state law deal largely with reporting requirements and criminal prosecution.

A proposed constitutional amendment to permit evidence of past criminal history, as well as proposed statutory changes to allow hearsay evidence and to eliminate specified statutes of limitation deserve further debate.

The heinousness of a crime must not dilute the bedrock principles of our justice system that the accused is innocent until proven guilty.

Sadly, false accusations of sexual abuse can be and have been alleged, sometimes by vindictive family members.

Such lies have tremendous power to vilify innocents; lawmakers face a difficult task in attempting to prevent abuse without permitting false allegations to become convictions and incarcerations.

The task force report, overall, is well-researched and well-documented.

The panel accurately characterized the issue of child sexual abuse as complex. In deference to that assessment, the report advances recommendations in the areas of awareness, education, mental health service, public policy and state statutes.

Although we are not prepared to endorse every recommendation, we believe all 22 deserve comprehensive discussion and honest debate.

The report is available on the Missouri KidsFirst website, missourikidsfirst.org.

We agree with the task force imperative that everyone has responsibility in protecting our children. In that spirit, we encourage everyone to read the report and embrace their responsibility to prevent sexual abuse of children.

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