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Church Settlement Prompts Overhaul of Child Protection Laws

Nov 17, 2002 | AP

The church abuse settlement in New Hampshire has prompted the state to look at overhauling child endangerment laws, including repealing deadlines for filing charges after sexual assaults on minors.

Senior Assistant Attorney General William Delker says proposals will be designed to make it easier to prosecute cases of sexual assault and expand reporting requirements for alleged abuse.

He said any changes won't affect most of the priest abuse cases being reviewed in New Hampshire because they happened too long ago. However, he said, changes would benefit prosecutors of future cases and any pending cases not covered in this week's settlement with the Diocese of Manchester.

Attorney Peter Hutchins, who represents alleged victims of priest abuse, said the elimination of the statute of limitations would be a major step forward in handling such crimes.

Some victims don't come to terms with the abuse until years or decades after the incidents, he said.

The legislation also would put provisions of the church settlement into state law.

The settlement requires priests and church workers to report suspected abuse to authorities, regardless of whether the alleged victim is still a child or has been identified.

The diocese is also required to cooperate with police and provide all requested information, and alleged abusers will be barred from contact with children.

Delker said legislation is necessary to toughen the charges for such abuse. He said the church's conduct carried the penalty of someone who had tattooed or branded a child, which is a misdemeanor.

Rep. William Knowles, D-Dover, is the prime sponsor of the bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assaults on minors and improving the child endangerment law. Knowles said the proposed changes in law are not aimed solely at the church. He said they send a message that the state will not condone abuse of any kind.

The legislation may complement a bill to increase criminal penalties against those who failed to report child abuse - a movement that began after the beating death of 21-month-old Kassidy Bortner in 2000.

The failure to report abuse in the Bortner case, said Knowles, should have clearly brought felony charges.

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