New Changes to Child Abuse Reporting Law

Graeme Daniels, MFT 

            In August of 2014, the California legislature passed bill AB1775, which stipulates important changes to the Child Abuse Reporting Act, and was apparently sanctioned by CAMFT(and conveyed to CAMFT membership the same month), despite objections by the National Association of Social Workers, which reasonably argues that AB1775 will stymie therapeutic disclosures and hamper child abuse prevention efforts. This law went into effect on January 1st of 2015. Ostensibly, AB1775 calls for all mandated reporters to report instances of child pornography to authorities, social services or police. Legislative author and state assembly woman Melissa Melendez, who authored the bill (it was actually written by lawyers for CAMFT–The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists in concert with law enforcement and child advocacy groups), pledges to crack down on child pornography, though the impact of the law is likely more far reaching.

To explain: pre-existing law dating back to 1980 (the once Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, or CANRA law) stipulates that mandated reporters alert authorities to sexual exploitation, material that depicts minors engaging in obscene sexual conduct, through the mediums of film, videotape, negative or slide. The language of AB1775 is updated as followed: “sexual exploitation includes downloading, streaming, or accessing through any electronic or digital media, material in which a child is engaged in an act of obscene sexual conduct.” Meanwhile, Penal code 11165, subsection 311.4 defines obscene sexual conduct as, among other things, “exhibition of the genitals for the purpose of sexual stimulation of the viewer”, as well as lewd and lascivious acts, which are further defined in subsection  288.2 as that which depicts touching intimate parts of the body, including “buttocks of a person and the breasts of a female” (subdivision d). The law further removes the need to observe an “identifiable victim”, as is typically required by social service investigators. Thus, the idea is not to protect victims per se, but rather to capture those who view obscene material, and engage therapists as informants. **But if you work with adolescents in particular, note the word minor (meaning under age 18), the reference to “electronic or digital media” (i.e.: cell phones and computers), and the language of the penal codes, and understand why sexting, for example, is now reportable under the law.

Of course, the issue is bigger than that. A person who discloses to you that he or she looks at teen or preteen pornography, who is perhaps seeking help, afraid they might hurt minors more directly, must be reported to Child and Family Services, who will likely defer to law enforcement investigation due to lack of identifiable victims. As an experienced sex addiction/offender therapist, let me describe the likely fallout: arrest, incarceration, loss of job, estrangement from peers, family, possibly lifelong registry on a public sex offender list. Next, because sex offender treatment is under the exclusive authority of The California Sex Offender Management Board (CASOMB), which certifies providers, YOU WILL LOSE CLIENTS that you report if you’re not certified. Finally, for those who recall the CAMFT Bylaws debacle of 2013, observe that once again CAMFT has co-signed an initiative that will bind its vast membership without actively engaging that membership in the process. Don’t be taken for granted! Discover research by Dr. Karl Hanson, whose work distinguishes child pornography users from child predators (versus conflating them), become educated as to the implications of this short-sighted legislation, and learn through the website,, how we can block it.

Graeme Daniels, MFT

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