In light of an increasing number of statutory rape cases in Warren County, Child Abuse Prevention (CAP), a group of local social service groups and agencies, is launching an awareness campaign. It hopes to educate the public about what statutory rape is and how it is reported to authorities.
What is statutory rape?
A Safe Place of Warren County has tried for several years to educate students about statutory rape laws and consequences. The curriculum it shares in county high schools defines statutory rape as "the criminal act of having sexual intercourse with a minor who is under the age of consent (16)," according to information provided by Ruth Chase of A Safe Place and developed by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
Pennsylvania law defines sex with a minor under the age of 13 as rape, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Statutory sexual assault - sex with a minor under the age of 16 when the perpetrator is four or more years older - is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. A perpetrator can be an older male with a younger female or an older female with a younger male, as well as an older male with a younger male or an older female with a younger female. It is not always an older male with a younger female.
Since the younger person is considered below the age of consent, he or she is considered to be the victim, and the older person is held responsible, even if the younger person agreed to or initiated sex or pretended to be older or lied about his or her age.
According to the coalition, the younger person has a lower level of maturity or less experience with relationships and may be intimidated or manipulated by the older person.
"They may find it hard to speak up or argue for what they want and may feel they have to give in to the older person's wishes. Many teens look up to older partners - younger teens can be pressured into having sex in order to please their partners or because they are afraid of losing their older partners," according to the curriculum.
Who must report statutory rape?
Although the public may assume that statutory rape charges are filed by the parents of a victim, that is not always the case.
"There are a lot of mandated reporters out there," said Terri Allison, A Safe Place director.
According to Child Protective Services Law, anyone who "in the course of employment, occupation or practice of a profession, comes into contact with children shall report ..." suspected statutory rape. And, that includes medical professionals, clergy, school personnel, social service workers, day-care center workers, child and/or foster-care workers, mental health professionals and law enforcement officers.
According to information supplied by Forest-Warren Human Services Director Mary Kushner and compiled by the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW), mandated reporters should report suspected abuse to "the person in charge," or call ChildLine at (800) 932-0313 then complete a report of suspected abuse. Forms are available from Children & Youth Services (726-2100).
Mandated reporters do not have to be sure of abuse.
Their "responsibility is to make the report ... (then) the caseworker of the county children and youth agency will investigate," according to the DPW.
Mandated reporters must, by law, report suspected abuse even if they hear it from someone other than the child.
The law is clear when mandated reporters ignore suspected abuse and do not report it.
"A mandated reporter who is convicted of willfully failing to report or refer suspected child abuse is guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree," according to the DPW.
Editor's note: According to Lisa Thompson, director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), The Child Abuse Prevention Committee (CAP) is a collaboration of representatives from local organizations and agencies sponsored by the Exchange Club of Warren and dedicated to the elimination of child abuse through community education, training of professionals, special projects and advocacy. They include: Exchange Club of Warren, Family Services, CASA of Warren and Forest Counties, Safe Place, Warren County Human Services, Warren County School District, Warren County State Health Center, Warren Forest EOC Head Start and Warren General Hospital. All have representatives commit their time and resources to CAP.