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Lawmaker wants to reduce anonymity for reports of child abuse, neglect or sexual abuse

Tennessee State Capitol Dome.jpeg
Posted at 9:29 PM, Sep 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 22:29:28-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — On Tuesday, a state house committee discussed the merits of removing anonymity from child abuse, neglect or sexual abuse case reporting in Tennessee.

State Rep. Clay Doggett (R-Pulaski) brought the bill forward. He said, through his experience with law enforcement, there are many cases where anonymous reporting is used to harass parents or others. Instead of protecting children, the system is being abused in a spiteful manner, he said.

"My biggest concern is the anonymous reporting through the website," said Doggett. "It's because it can be done anywhere in the world. Someone could get your information off of social media accounts and then report you. They don't even know you. They see you have children, they can find your address and they can do this."

Doggett said he would often accompany the Department of Children's Services to make welfare checks on a child after a report was made, but most of the time the cases were unsubstantiated.

"They were unfounded but they were anonymous," said Doggett. "So, they couldn't prove it was the ex-spouse or partner in that case. They couldn't prove it was a coworker that had done it."

Doggett's bill, HB0908, would allow a person to petition the court to learn who accused them of misconduct. The representative said it's a complicated issue, but one the state should consider in 2022.

Opponents, such as Nashville Democrat Rep. Mike Stewart, said the bill would weaken protections for children and people trying to bring attention to abuse.

"We saw in the Penn State case where people were retaliated against and people were fearful about making disclosures in that important case of child molestation and abuse," said Stewart. "Because of this, you've got to have the ability for people to make, as they do now, reports of potential abuse."

Stewart said the law shouldn't change. Even if there are false reports being made, many of them are found unsubstantiated which should end the issue.

However, testimony at the House Children & Family Affairs Subcommittee suggested otherwise. Some said anonymous reports had a profound negative impact on their life and there was no way for them to face their accuser.