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Recently we asked therapists how the current mandatory reporting laws have affected their practice and/or therapeutic trust. The response was overwhelming. Therapists from all over California shared their experiences and gave their support to change the current law.

If you would like to share your experiences for publication on this website, please email ggs@gerrygrossman.com.

Below are some of the responses we received:

“As a therapist who specializes in working with adolescents and their families, I strongly support a change in the reporting law as pertains to teens.  A therapeutic relationship is based on trust.   For a teenager entering therapy, developing trust can be difficult since they often see adults as untrustworthy.  Mandatory reporting of sexual behavior that is consensual destroys this trust.  In therapy, helping a teen to understand the nature of these behaviors is what is essential in order to, if appropriate, stop the behavior.  The ‘threat’ of reporting will only serve to stop kids from being honest and will do nothing to change their actions.”

–Jan C., LCSW, BCD

*  *  *

“The law requiring therapists to report a minors consensual oral or anal sexual relations damages therapy and harms the clients. The client feels betrayed by their counselor for reporting their sexual behavior. The therapeutic relationship and the efficacy of the work is compromised if not ruined. I support reporting sexual behavior that is not consensual or harmful.  …. Ideally the laws on sexual behavior for minors would be altered to being less confusing, limiting, and contradictory. Until those laws are changed please change the reporting mandates to support the client-therapist relationship while protecting the clients that need protection.”

–Rich R.,  MFT

*  *  *

“I am so glad that this is being addressed.  I specialize in working with adolescents and I also teach new therapists how to work with adolescents at a local graduate school.

“Because of this antiquated reporting law, I warn my adolescent clients not to talk to me about these things, as I am required by law to report it.  As one of my grad students asked, “You mean, you have to tell a teen not to talk about something they most likely need to talk to someone about?”  I sadly must explain, yes.

“This is a discriminating law.  I must tell all of my gay and lesbian teen clients not to share any details about their physical intimacy with their partners.  “Regular” heterosexual sex may not be reportable but “gay” sex is required to be reported?!  This is clear prejudice.  It pathologizes normal homosexual behavior and wrongly labels any gay sexual contact as child abuse.

“Because I take such a defensive position with my adolescent clients and tell them about what I will be required to tell, I have not had any incidents of adolescents sharing with me about oral/anal sex that I then needed to report and then that disrupted treatment.  However, I have several stories of teens who begin to tell me about their relationship with their girlfriend/boyfriend.  I then interrupt them to remind them of the confidentiality limitations, and with wide eyes, they say, “Oh.”  Looking frustrated, they often change the subject or ask why the law is this way.

“The biggest disruption to the treatment is that there are things that are unprocessed.  Physical intimacy can be exciting, scary, confusing, pleasurable, and so many other things for teens.  In a world where oral and anal sex are often participated in long before vaginal intercourse, this law is completely outdated, and it is especially discriminating towards the homosexual community.”

— Jeannie C., MFT

*  *  *

“I agree that the current law that demands reporting of consensual oral or anal sexual relations more often than not harms the therapeutic relationship and usually precipitates its termination.  Adolescents find it difficult to trust adults, especially when their primary family-of-origin relationship has taught them that speaking their truth or opinions results in some form of rejection or harm coming to them.

“The development of a trusting relationship with an adolescent in tenuous at best because they always have in the back of their minds that this adult could do something that is going to hurt them and that they won’t be understood.  Reporting severs all trust even though the adolescent is apprised at the beginning of treatment that there are mandatory reporting laws.

“Once reporting has taken place, the adolescent becomes angry at the therapist, angry at consequences and is no longer willing to engage in the therapeutic relationship.  Therefore, all possibility of healing this minor individual has been thwarted and comes to a screeching halt.  The adolescent is then left to fend for him or herself without the benefit of an individual with a non-biased central and sound ego (the therapist) helping him or her see things more clearly and make decisions which are life enhancing rather than life and future destroying.

“In most instances the mandatory reporting requirements elicit the termination of the therapeutic relationship and the minor no longer receives the help he or she needs.  This seems to happen no matter how much preparation the therapist makes in attempting to generate understanding from the teen.”

— Camille C., PsyD, MFT

*  *  *

“I have been a licensed MFT since 1976, and spent 20 years working with adolescents. As any therapist knows, teens are not the most trusting of clients, and it takes a lot of time and sincere attention to develop rapport and a working relationship with them. The only way for a therapist to help teen clients is to have an accurate picture of what is going on with them. It is essential that adolescent clients trust their therapist, so that they will be able to share their concerns and life activities in session. When they do share honestly, we are then in a position to help guide their thinking, choices, and behavior, to help them understand when they need additional assistance, and to be willing to seek it. Parents, as well as adolescents, know and trust that I will never breach the confidential content of our sessions, unless there is a serious threat to life or safety, or another legal mandate that would require such disclosure.

“I am appalled that a minor’s revelations of a consensual sexual involvement currently require a mandated report. I cannot help a young person who won’t talk to me because of concern that I will file a report. I cannot advocate for them, if they have to be guarded with me. Please change this law and give me the credibility to help, and the sense to know when a matter is life threatening or egregiously dangerous to adolescent clients.

— Jaelline J., PhD, MFT

*  *  *

“I currently work with adolescents in a group home facility who have an open case with DCFS or Probation. This population typically has histories of abuse and neglect and establishing rapport and trust with them can be challenging.  Having to adhere to and report a minor’s consensual oral or anal sexual relations can prove disastrous, and often irreparable to the therapeutic relationship. I fully support any changes or modifications to this reporting law.

— Louise B., MFTI, PPSC

*  *  *

“I made a report for this a few years ago — the client was a 15-year-old female.  Her male boyfriend was 18.  He was arrested and put in jail.  The client and her family left therapy as soon as they found out about the report.  The client’s family life was chaotic and she was benefiting from therapy.  The report gave the family ammunition to convince the client to end therapy with me.”

— Gail W., MFT

Child Protective Services (CPS)

“I work with students ages 11-14 on a daily basis. I work in Santa Ana, Orange County, California.

“At a recent January meeting with other professionals, the Orange County Child Abuse Registry spoke to us. We were told that Santa Ana and Anaheim have the highest rates of child abuse reporting in Orange County, California.  The mandate to report abuse often results in a two fold negative effect which is: 1) the report is often not responded to correctly by personnel and 2) the damage the mandated report creates, when working with a teenager, is often never repaired.

“My experience when I report child abuse is that personnel often make a judgment call instead of a factual decision about whether to follow up on the reported case.  It is also very disheartening to work days, weeks and months to build up a relationship with a teenager and then have it destroyed in one moment because of a report for “suspected” child abuse which may not even turn out to be the case.

“I hope that the mandated reporting laws can [be] re-investigated and eliminated as they are often ineffectual and damaging to everyone involved.”

— Carolyn M., MFTI

*  *  *

“I have been licensed since 1991 and have been working on behalf of children and families for all of my professional life. My experiences with CPS reports have been sadly disappointing. Early in my career, when a report of physical or sexual abuse was made a social worker responded fairly routinely. Now that practically never happens. Let me remind you these are cases of ABUSE not consensual sexual activity. Our system is so overburdened the victims of abuse go through the disruption of knowing a report has been made and then to have nothing happen or be investigated weeks or months after the report is filed gives the message that nobody cares.”

— Deborah M., MFT

Heteronormative Bias

“As a practicing MFT and an instructor in law and ethics, I urge the legislature to address the law that requires mandated reporters to disclose any act of oral or anal sex involving any minor in any circumstance.  Whereas mandated reporters are not required to disclose consensual sexual intercourse involving 16 or 17 year olds with anyone 14 or older, and are not required to disclose consensual sexual intercourse between minors 14 or 15 and others between 14 and 20, it appears to me the law discriminates against consensual oral or anal sex based on a presumed standard of normalcy rather than any realistic notion of “protecting” our children from sexual abuse.

“It also imposes sexual tastes, values, and fears in the same way that miscegenation laws once did in prohibiting Black and Caucasian Americans from having sexual relationships or laws prohibiting sodomy were used to persecute gay men.

“Please add my name to the list of mandated reporters urging the legislature to right this egregious wrong.”

— Chuck M., MFT

*  *  *

“The law for reporting oral and anal sex is felt to be discriminatory towards gay clients.  While intercourse is not reportable between two consensual minors, these other acts that are the only way that gay clients can have sexual relations, are.  The law just doesn’t make sense in general.  Even for heterosexual clients, it is likely that they will be engaging in oral sex along with intercourse, while others would prefer to engage in oral sex versus intercourse because they want to avoid pregnancy.  It seems that the law should be the same across the board. Either report both intercourse as well as oral and anal sex, or make them all not reportable when consensual between minors.

“As a therapist who has worked with minors for over four years, many situations have arisen where minors screen what they will say due to the law and they often times just hold back in general.  Teens are in a vulnerable place and they have a hard time trusting, especially in sexual matters.  It is already difficult for them to deal with feelings of shame revolving around their sexuality, but to add on top of that the threat of the law makes it more difficult for them to have open, honest discussions.  I feel that this law just doesn’t make sense and should be changed.”

— Camilla C., MFTI

General Support

“My experiences with reporting a minor’s sexual relations occurred years earlier, working in a family clinic. I’ve not worked with minors for several years.

“However, I can attest that being forced – by law – to report any consensual sexual relations activity, without my clients’ permission/agreement, would most likely be detrimental to the trust and rapport between the client and me.

“In my best judgment, as that law now stands, ethically I must inform each new minor-age client of this law.  And, virtually guaranteed, this would put a damper on the client’s trust of my confidentiality in such a matter.  Most likely, the client would withhold such information from me, therefore making it impossible for the client to be able to share and work on such an aspect of their troublesome experience.  AND, the occurrence may not have been troublesome for them; thus, this law becomes an intrusion to their privacy, and again, a barrier to their therapy.”

— Anne R., MFT

*  *  *

I have worked with youth at both a drug treatment facility and at a Nonpublic School for emotionally disturbed students.  My clients were members of gangs, survivors of trauma, in foster care, and in and out of residential treatment.  Needless to say, developing rapport with each of them was always a challenge, as their sense of safety and trust in the world had been eroded time after time.  Having a safe place where they could be open without fear of judgment, punishment or retaliation was a critical component of the therapeutic process as many of them had been in “the system” for so long, that they no longer felt safe revealing even the most basic information.  I knew it was my job to help protect the safety of my young clients and to ensure their rights were respected.  I have made countless reports to CPS when any suspicion of abuse or neglect arose.  I have never shied away from this duty, regardless of how difficult it would be for my client or their parent or guardian.  However, the most frustrating moments were always those at the outset of therapy and throughout the course of therapy when I would have to remind my clients of my mandate to report “some” consensual sexual acts.  Inevitably, as our therapeutic relationship would deepen, they would want to discuss some of the more intimate parts of their lives – often the happiest part of their otherwise challenging lives.  The conversation would take an abrupt turn when I would remind them of my “duty”.  “It doesn’t make sense,” they would tell me.  What could I say?  I agreed.  Trying to explain to someone who HAS experienced abuse and trauma and who is attempting to re-learn what is “okay” what is “loving” what is “intimacy” that what they’re doing is somehow “wrong” is so…frustrating.

I wholeheartedly agree that our youth need to be protected from any situations that are potentially abusive, exploitative or neglectful.  Oral or anal sex among consensual partners is none of things.

Melanie H., MFT

*  *  *

“[C]hanging an archaic law will help strengthen the therapeutic relationship between a minor and the therapist instead of jeopardizing it by reporting consensual oral or anal sexual relations.”

— Angelica C., ASW

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