Each year, hundreds of children in Oklahoma are the victims of sexual abuse and many more suffer in silence. Sen. Harry Coates wants to help better protect the state's youngest citizens by strengthening punishments against those who witness sexual abuse of a minor but do not report it.
"Sexual abuse traumatizes children and can cause social and emotional problems throughout adulthood. We must do all we can to protect them. Unfortunately, recent events have shown that people don’t always do the right thing. I think strengthening the penalties for those who witness such crimes will help encourage more people to come forward and report such incidents," said Coates, R-Seminole. "I know there are a number of reasons why someone might not come forward - typically it's fear of the abuser, but I'm hoping this new law will give people the incentive and courage to step forward with the truth and do the right thing when it comes to protecting our youth."
Currently, citizens are required to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Human Services.
The proposed legislation will require anyone that actually observes a sexual act between an adult and a minor to report it directly to local, county or state law enforcement. Not reporting such acts would become a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
"Being that these are such serious crimes, I think it's important that individuals report them directly to law enforcement rather than DHS," said Coates. "Reporting straight to city, county or state law officials will ensure that the perpetrator is properly investigated and punished if need be. We have to get more serious about finding and bringing child abusers to justice."