By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
An Oregon Senate bill submitted to the 79th Oregon Legislative Assembly that would modify Oregon’s mandatory reporting rules was garnering lots of input, but no vote has yet been called.
“The current interpretation of the law in some parts of our state, instructing teachers and staff to report consensual sexual activity, reduces the likelihood that youth will access a trusted adult when they need them, while simultaneously straining an already burdened system,” wrote Michele Roland-Schwartz, executive director of the Oregon Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Task Force.
The bill, SB 1540, amends the state’s rules to define reportable offenses as sexual contact or intercourse as those in which lacked consent – or the victim had the inability to provide consent – for teens and young adults between the ages of 14 and 21, if one of the parties is more than three years older, or if there is reasonable cause to believe the relationship was the result of force, intimidation or coercion.
Sponsored by Sen. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer), the bill seeks to address the underlying law that prompted the Salem-Keizer School District to issue new mandatory reporting guidelines in October 2017.
Much of the testimony submitted to the committees on human services has been supportive of the base changes, but an amendment submitted by Gelser has drawn stern rebuke from some sectors. Amendment -2, if approved for inclusion, would lower the age of consent to 12.
Brendan Murphy, a deputy district attorney for Marion County, wrote lowering of the age of consent broadens potential harm from a public safety perspective.
“We do know that evidence of sexual activity such as promiscuity or hyper sexualized behavior in young children may be an indicator of abuse. That is why (the Oregon District Attorneys Association) is especially concerned with the -2 amendments, expanding a reasonable, narrow ‘clarification’ to children who are 12 and 13 engaged in sexual intercourse,” Murphy wrote.
Patty Terzian, executive director of the Oregon Network of Child Abuse Intervention Centers urged the committee to “slow down” and take up the issue of lowering the age of consent at a later date.
“We respectfully recommend not accepting that amendment at this current time until the consequences – intended or unintended – can be discussed more thoroughly by all those who have an interest in our children and youth being safe, healthy and successful,” Terzian wrote.
Allison Kelley of Salem’s Liberty House offered the most full-throated opposition to the amendment.
“12-year-olds as a matter of general physical and psychological development are ill-equipped to withstand the powerful influence of someone wanting to have sex with them. Reducing the age to 12 lays an indescribably heavy burden on the children of this state to recognize situations of unfair influence or manipulation,” Kelley wrote.
Prior to the policy changes in October 2017, Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) teachers were required to report incidences of suspected neglect or any type of abuse to the Department of Human Services. The new guidelines expand reporting to most sex-related issues. New instances that would require reporting include: a student inquiring about birth control options after admitting to sex with a partner; reports of a pregnancy; and a student confiding in a teacher after being kicked out of his home for divulging a sexually active, same-sex relationship.
Mindy Merritt, president of the Salem-Keizer Education Association, wrote that the change to SKSD policy pose the potential of adding to the problems associated with teen sex.
“If students believe that their doctors, counselors and educators must report any instance of sexual contact, the likely outcome is a reduction in safe places for students who are most at risk and in need of support,” Merritt wrote.