Sen. Noel Frame (D-Seattle) today introduced an updated proposal to make members of the clergy mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse, SB 6298.  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.

In 2023, Frame introduced SB 5280 on the same issue, which failed to pass because of disagreement over whether to include an exemption for clergy who learned about abuse during confession. The version of the legislation that passed the House, which closed the exemption for confession, was opposed by a majority of the Senate, and the two chambers were unable to agree on a final version of the bill.

The updated legislation strikes a compromise position. It doesn’t completely close the exemption for confession, but it does enact a duty for clergy to warn law enforcement or the Department of Children, Youth, and Families when “they have reasonable cause to believe that a child is at imminent risk of being abused or neglected, even if that belief is informed by information obtained in part as a result of a penitential communication.”

“My hope is that this new version of the legislation will have the support in both chambers to pass and put into place the strongest possible protections for children from sexual abuse,” said Frame. “While my personal preference would be to have no exemption for confession at all, this is a strong piece of legislation that will provide real protections for children.”

Frame is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse that occurred from the ages of 5 to 10 by a member of her own family, and the abuse ended only after she told a teacher who was a mandatory reporter.

“When we recognize the cycles of violence and sexual abuse, how this can repeat itself generation after generation, we see the need for public policy to intervene,” said Frame. “Kids need to know that if they ask a trusted adult like a faith leader for help, they’ll get help. Mandatory reporters play an essential role in protecting children, and extending this responsibility to the clergy who are so important in our lives as mentors and community leaders is the right thing to do.”