The Penn State sex abuse scandal that resulted in a guilty verdict against football coach Jerry Sandusky led many states to strengthen and clarify their laws around the reporting of perceived sex crimes against minors. The laws vary somewhat from state to state, but most include a mandate for professionals who work with children to report any conduct that could be construed as abuse -- sexual, physical or neglect -- to law enforcement authorities.
But the laws for reporting abuse are somewhat fuzzy in Wisconsin, which could lead to false accusations by people who are worried they'll be penalized for not reporting behavior they suspect is appropriate. And a single investigation is enough to publicly destroy an accused person's reputation forever.
Take for example the case of a former University of Wisconsin Eau Claire coach who was recently charged with making and possessing underage pornography on a cellphone that his current employer owns. Police began investigating him after a technician said he found underage pornography images on the phone as he was fixing it. He reported what he saw, but wasn't legally obligated to do so. That's because Wisconsin's law only mandates that people report suspicious activity if they witness it in person while carrying out professional duties. It's unclear where cellphone videos stand because the activity they contain happened in the past.
Most would agree that reporting a sex crime after the fact, in a non-professional setting, is the ethical thing to do. But those who do so also have an ethical responsibility to be specific and entirely truthful in what they witnessed so as not to falsely accuse someone of a crime. Evidence must be separated from hunches and suspicions, because once an official investigation is launched, crime reporters can release suspects' names publicly, putting the personal and professional reputations of accused people at risk. Although many lives have been destroyed by sexual abuse, false reports can also be extremely damaging.
If you find yourself the victim of a false report of a sex crime, it's crucial that you contact a defense attorney immediately who can help you clear your name.
Source: WEAU.com, "Amid child porn investigation, WI reporting laws fall into gray areas," Joe Nelson, Aug. 23, 2012