TOPEKA — Sen. Tom Holland on Wednesday announced he was introducing a bill that would require the clergy to report child abuse to authorities.
Holland, a Democrat from Baldwin City, named the bill Sheldon’s Law for a Jefferson County family who says their son suffered abuse from two older boys at a Lawrence church.
The boy’s mother, Lori Cook, said she notified church leaders of the abuse and was told not to take the matter to outside authorities. She said the decision by Eagle Rock Church to contain the issue allowed too much time to pass before she reported the abuse to Lawrence police.
Police determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute, she said.
“It is pertinent that ministers and other church leaders are mandated reporters because they can help with the legal process and stop these crimes from reoccurring,” Lori Cook said.
Current Kansas law mandates that police, social workers, teachers, therapists and others report instances of abuse. Holland said Senate Bill 37 will apply the same mandate to anybody at a church who supervises children. There is no exception for confessionals.
“This bill provides an extra layer of protection for all Kansas children,” Holland said.
At least 28 other states have similar laws.
Lori and her husband, Larry, said their 10-year-old son was assaulted by teenage boys over a three-month period, including an incident at a church event. Lori Cook said the final instance happened at her home during a prayer group meeting the day before Christmas.
An examination at Children’s Mercy Hospital determined there was evidence of child sexual abuse.
“No man should ever have to take their son to a rape kit,” Larry Cook said. “Not when they were at a church. No. It’s not right.”
The Topeka Capital-Journal’s policy is to avoid identifying victims of sexual abuse without consent. The family said it wanted to step forward to raise awareness about the importance of adding the clergy to the list of mandated reporters.
Sheldon Cook joined his parents in speaking about his experience during an emotional news conference at the Statehouse. He said he struggles to explain how he feels about what happened to him.
“I want safety for other children, and I don’t want this to ever happen again,” he said.
The church didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment for this story.