Legal Responsibility of Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Volunteers
I have been approached both personally and in my role as a PACA member by people both in support of what I do as well as opposed to (for various reasons that, to me, are frightening and irresponsible) what I do. The questions, concerns, and accusations I have both seen and/or of which I have been the recipient are as follows, along with my answers:
Is being anti-child abuse a matter of morals, law, or both?
In this country, the United States of America, it is officially a matter of Law. Regardless of a person’s opinions about child abuse, including how a pedophile believes it is merely “child love” and not rape, child abuse is illegal and anyone witnessing it or having information about a victim or an assailant has an obligation to report the behavior.
Morality is subjective to a broad spectrum of interpretation, if a person wants to split hairs. Some people define morals as laws laid down by a person’s faith. Others define morals as simply that feeling we get of what should be right or wrong because of how it effects others and ourselves, rather positively or negatively. A lot of people don’t see the difference between both views and that’s where the argument of morals in regards to child abuse is used primarily in favor of allowing child abuse to continue. And so we have laws to protect children even if some do not want to.
What are the legal responsibilities of child abuse awareness and prevention volunteers?
As long as it is a matter of law, it is a crime and any citizen witnessing that crime has a responsibility to report that crime. Investigations, arrests (if any), and convictions (if any) are then in the hands of the law and judicial system. Not the informants.
If a person stands by and sees someone sexually assaulting a child, doing nothing to prevent it or help the child, they can be charged as an accessory or at the very least negligently responsible. In other words, even if the law doesn’t press criminal charges on a silent witness, the family of the victim can successfully take them to court if, for nothing else, a civil suit. This does not, of course, apply to one in fear of their life – like a second victim. Rather a by-stander – like a pedestrian on the street, a visitor to the home, an account holder on an internet site, etc… . One who uses the incident for his/her own gratification even if not an active participant can be charged as an accessory.
Are articles factual or based upon the author’s personal opinions of how a person should behave in the presence of a minor, including online?
Websites like The Ultimate Evil, PACA, Red-Alerts, Warriors For Innocence, and Absolute Zero United have taken the information they post on child safety and known crimes directly from reported convictions and government recognized sites like McGruff Safe Kids and the FBI’s National Center For Missing And Exploited Children.
Stories that show examples of known predatory behavior as well as crimes committed are posted on these sites.
Anyone can see well for themselves what would legally be defined as questionable or possibly illegal behavior toward and in the presence of a minor.
This information was not made up by any of the awareness sites listed above. This information follows FBI standards.
Do volunteers feel if someone doesn’t agree with their views on child abuse, they are a pedophile/pedophile sympathizer/predator?
Any person can have their own point of view on a particular situation. Since no ordinary citizen may publicly accuse another of being a pedophile without there being proof of a conviction, a volunteer in this field would not accuse someone who does not believe the same way as being a pedophile, nor would they suggest anyone who doesn’t unlawfully accuse someone as being a pedophile, themselves.
That being said, if there is a clear cut case of child pornography, child abuse, pedophilia being discussed and someone replies with an attitude such as, “he was only making the child feel good,” “the child is too young to know what’s going on, anyway, so what’s the big deal?”, “it’s not pornography to show the child’s genitalia. It’s art,” “she’s 15 and old enough to decide if she wants to meet me in private if she wants to,” “pedophiles are not criminals. They are mentally unwell and need our compassion, understanding, and help…..”, then a person hearing/seeing this can rightfully state the speaker/author is sympathizing with pedophiles, speaking as a pedophile does, behaving as a predator. In conjunction with the person’s own words, this would be a factual statement. Not a matter of opinion.
If someone doesn’t like being seen in such ways, they should refrain from speaking and behaving as those who have been convicted of such crimes.
Are volunteers kept aware of a reported incident throughout the investigation process, and are they influential in any legal decisions made for or against a suspect?
Regular volunteers and other informants may take down information as they see an incident unfolding (offline would be license plates, suspect descriptions, description of witnessed behavior, description of possible victim, location and time/date; online would be time and date, link location, description of the incident – like suggesting to meet offline, attempts to gain personal information like home address or private contact information – suspect, and possible victim, screen shots if possible; and any other information the witness feels is relevant). They then turn their gathered material into their local law enforcement agency or the law enforcement agency where the incident is taking place if it is known, or the NCMEC.
What happens with their report, volunteers are not legally privy to. Law enforcement does not have an obligation, legal or otherwise, to keep informants and its sanctioned volunteers posted on every move they make and the outcome. However, in most cases – especially if there was indeed a crime – the agency to whom the report was filed will update the informant on the progress. Informants can also request the information but if it becomes an ongoing case, law enforcement cannot, under any circumstance, comment unless the informant/volunteer is needed as a witness.
How can a non-law enforcement person claim to know predatory behavior or pedophilia?
Based upon information posted by awareness sites around the net as well as on walls and in educational pamphlets in law enforcement centers, anyone who is willing to see a dangerous situation for what it is can recognize it immediately. If they have any questions, concerns, or doubts, they can still turn it over to local law enforcement or the FBI’s online report form.
No one in law enforcement gets angry about mistakes. They would rather a person err on the side of caution rather than turn their back on a very real threat.
For more information on what the FBI considers predatory behavior, dangers to minors, internet and offline safety, please visit http://www.fbi.gov/innocent.htm.
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