If you see something, say something. Or go to jail.

There is a bill in the Missouri legislature which may have repercussions for years to come. Sen. Eric Schmitt (R- Glendale, MO) has sponsored SENATE BILL NO. 457, which would create the crime of failing to inform the government of sexual abuse of a child.

Unlike the practice in totalitarian countries, free countries like the United States have never been enthusiastic about forcing citizens to inform on other citizens. In this country, “Good Samaritian Laws” are laws that encourage people to aid other people in trouble. For example, healthcare professionals can give emergency help without worrying about getting sued for malpractice. Such laws encourage helping others. Aiding another is the right thing to do, but in a free country, rendering assistance it is not mandatory unless one has somehow contributed to the harm or otherwise has a relationship-based duty of care for that person.

A new kind of Good Samaritan law has become common in recent years. These are called “manditory reporting” laws. Under mandatory reporting laws, doctors, nurses, social workers, day care workers and others responsible for the care of children–who have reason to suspect that a child is being abused or neglected–must report it to the government or face criminal charges. These laws are justified when limited to persons who already have a duty of care toward the child.

Last year, sexual abuse scandals were in the news and decent people everywhere are outraged that persons, who knew of the abuse, said nothing. When the prospective witness is not a mandated reporter, however, nothing can be done to punish them for this morally reprehensible failure. Some states already have universal child abuse reporting laws, so it was only a matter of time before this bill surfaced in Missouri..

The bill takes that next step by making every person a government informer, whether they have any connection with–or duty toward–the child. Since this bill is directed at a truly despicable crime, child sexual abuse, it may well be supported by legislators who “do it for the children.”

With this well-intentioned bill, we cross over to a dangerous side of the street. Maybe in a year or two, it will be but a small step to cover other crimes, serious ones at first, less serious crimes later. Eventually, all crimes may be covered. Then, if you see anything and don’t say something, you go to jail. I hope lawmakers will consider where this bill may take us.

With an informer-oriented society, the police state would blossom, and like the twentieth century residents of fascist and communist states, a healthy fear of one’s neighbors, friends and even family could become a valuable survival skill.

 

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