Gaines' decision to keep confidence could lead to criminal charges - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Ursula Madden

Gaines' decision to keep confidence could lead to criminal charges

Dr. Steve Gaines Dr. Steve Gaines

For six months, Pastor Steve Gaines had a secret.

"In June of this year, I had a confidential meeting," said Gaines.

By his own admission, Gaines knew another minister at the church had sexually abused a family member 17-years ago.

Keeping that confidence could lead to criminal charges against Gaines.

"Everyone has a duty to report. There are not exceptions, there are not exceptions for clergy or anyone else," said Assistant District Attorney, Kevin Rardin.

Rardin could not talk specifically about possible legal action against Gaines.

But, he says Tennessee law is clear when it comes to reporting sexual abuse against a child.

Rardin adds, "Failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect is a crime in and of itself.

Rardin says it doesn't matter how long ago that abuse happened, or if the child who was abused, is now an adult.

"Even though the child you mention may now be an adult, there may be other children at risk from the same person, the suspect, and that's why it's incumbent upon you to report it to the appropriate authorities."

Depending on how much Pastor Gaines knows about what he calls this minister's "past moral failure" could determine if he is in trouble with the law.

Children's advocates also say Tennessee law is clear.

"It is that every person is required to make a report to an agency like Department of Children's Services if they have reason to believe that someone may, a child may have been molested or abused," said Nancy Williams, with the Memphis Child Advocacy Center.

According to Bellevue Pastor Steve Gaines' own words, he didn't just have reason to believe it, he had a confession from one of his ministers, who admitted to molesting a child.

"No matter when it happened, it's got to be reported," said Susan Mackenzie, a Memphis attorney who has represented adult survivors of child sex abuse.

She says reporting abuse is important because it could encourage other victims to come forward and prevent additional crimes.

"Child sexual abuse is rarely an isolated incident if an adult has sexually abused one child the odds are there other children out there," she said.

Tennessee's reporting law applies to everyone. There are no exceptions.

"It is that responsibility that we all carry and if we fail in that responsibility there needs to be some consequences to us," Mackenzie explained.

And there are consequences. Not reporting child abuse is punishable by up to three months in jail and the possibility of a fine.

This was increased just last year by the Tennessee Legislature from a maximum of $50 to $2500.

Click here to email Ursula Madden.

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