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Limited statute

A law meant to protect children from sexually abusive therapists isn't working. Lawmakers can change that.

July 05, 2007

IT MAKES YOU WONDER why licensing boards exist in the first place.

The Times recently reported that an educational psychologist who has worked with children in several Southern California school systems has been accused of sexual abuse dating to the late 1970s and early 1980s. Because of criminal statutes of limitations in Colorado, where the alleged abuse took place, law enforcement can't take action against him, even if the allegations are true.

Another statute of limitations in California law restricts the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which licenses educational psychologists in the state, from looking into the allegations. Practically speaking, the law -- which allows review of sexual abuse accusations only 10 years old or less, with an exception that allows victimized children to file complaints until they are 28 years old -- could prevent the board from revoking an abuser's license even when persuasive evidence of guilt may exist.

It's time for Sacramento to rethink this law.

There are good reasons for criminal statutes of limitations to exist, and the California Assn. of Marriage and Family Therapists alluded to a few when it sponsored Senate Bill 809, which established the Board of Behavioral Sciences' statute of limitations in 1999. Supporters of SB 809, hoping to protect the rights of therapists, argued that licensees deserved to have disciplinary cases resolved in a timely manner. They noted that evidence can "grow stale and jeopardize cases."

All true. But are such arguments relevant when authorizing mental health professionals to work with kids? Securing a license to work with patients is a privilege. Anyone who sexually abuses a child -- ever -- should forfeit his or her right to work with children. Period. It should not matter if the abuse took place in 1955, 1975 or 2005. And the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which operates in the public interest, should have the power to conduct investigations to enforce this standard of protection for California's children. Therapists' rights are important. But children's rights are far more so.

In coming days, Sen. Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles) will amend the omnibus SB 1049. Ridley-Thomas says the bill would relax the Board of Behavioral Sciences' statute of limitations for sex crimes against children. Because it's an "urgency bill," if it's passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, it becomes law almost immediately. That won't be a moment too soon.

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