Legislation to make members of the clergy mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect passed the Washington State Senate today on a unanimous vote.

SB 5280, sponsored by Sen. Noel Frame (D-Seattle), would require clergy to report sexual abuse allegations to authorities unless the information was received in a context protected by clergy-penitent privilege. Currently, Washington is one of just seven of states in the country that do not list clergy as mandatory reporters of child abuse or neglect.

Frame is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and the abuse ended only after she told a teacher who was a mandatory reporter.

“This subject is personally very important for me,” said Frame. “I was abused from the ages of 5 to 10 by a member of my own family, a teenage cousin. It stopped when I told a teacher, who then reported it to the authorities, and ultimately to my parents. Mandatory reporters play an important role in protecting children, which is why teachers and others who have close relationships with children have to take on that reporting responsibility. Faith leaders have similarly trusted relationships with children in their communities and should share the same responsibility.”

The bill currently contains an exemption for clergy-penitent privilege, referred to as confession in some faith communities, and would not require mandatory reporting of abuse discussed in confession. As the bill continues to move through the legislative process, legislators will have further opportunities to debate whether to continue that exemption or amend the bill to close it.

“We’re going to have some tough conversations about the issue of clergy-penitent privilege here in the Legislature and find what’s possible for us to pass,” said Frame. “This bill is already a major step forward for protecting children, and my priority is to pass it into law this year in the strongest form we can.”

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.