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Hold institutional enablers accountable for child abuse

In my career representing victims sexually abused by powerful people, I have come to understand one thing clearly: we will never change the culture of complicity until executives are held accountable through criminal prosecution. This is true for the United States Olympic Committee and university officials who enabled Larry Nassar and hundreds of other coaches and officials to violate children, many of whom I represent.

As I see it, the predators are the weeds, but the complicit institutions are the soil that helps the noxious weeds grow and flourish.

I currently represent several Maryland families whose children were abused by a powerful and charismatic rabbi. In the course of that representation, I learned about Maryland law. Two things I learned appalled me. One was that Maryland – unlike most other states I have worked in or most states in the country – has no criminal penalty for failure to report child abuse. Second, should my clients’ cases ever reach a criminal trial, they would likely have to be tried separately in state court due to Maryland’s evidence laws.

After I learned this, my clients and I went to Annapolis and met with legislators to show our support for House Bill 500 (establishing a penalty for failing to report child abuse) and HB 301 and HB 353 (putting Maryland’s evidence laws to be more in line with those in the rest of the country).

We learned from Del. Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery and vice chair of House Judiciary Committee, that she does not support a new bill because few prosecutors have charged persons who failed to report under another Maryland law, passed in 2015, which says that child protective services and law enforcement must notify a licensing board if a mandatory reporter fails to report.

While I respect that viewpoint and agree those who fail to report the sexual abuse of children should have their professional licenses reviewed, criminal penalties are needed.

In my considerable experience litigating on behalf of abused children across the United States, when leaders of organizations such as USA Swimming or USA Gymnastics are motivated to report by fear of criminal prosecution, real changes in institutional culture happens. Whether the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Jewish community, or the United States Olympic Committee, we must demand accountability for those leaders who cultivate the garden of weeds that allows those like Larry Nassar to prey on children without fear of prosecution.

Jonathan Little is a lawyer with Saeed & Little LLP in Indianapolis. He can be reached at jon@sllawfirm.com.