Virginia lawmakers are introducing legislation that would mandate clergy alert authorities to reports of child abuse or neglect.
Two young women who saw the consequences first hand are pushing hard for passage.
In August of 2016, sex abuse allegations against a youth and music leader at The Life Church in Manassas hit the news. Jordan Baird, the pastor's son, was charged and eventually convicted of indecent liberties for an improper relationship with an underage girl.
But when some church members like Kristen Frazier and Hannah Hudson started to ask questions, they were troubled by their discovery. When the teen’s allegations against Baird were first reported to church leaders, they conducted an internal investigation for a month. Police only learned about it when someone with ties to the church got fed up and tipped them off.
"Through my conversations, I realized, unfortunately, there is no mandate for clergy to report," former church member Frazier said.
As a teacher, Frazier is among those that Virginia law considers mandatory reporters. Along with doctors, nurses, social workers and others she must report suspected child abuse or neglect. She and Hudson say giving clergy a pass creates a dangerous situation for victims.
"If they bring it forward they are rebullied or harrassed or shunned. And so we’re seeing it time and time again where people are told to brush it under the rug," said Hudson, who also left the church.
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Frazier and Hudson joined forces and began looking for a way to close the loophole and make clergy members mandated reporters.
"She left the church. I had already left the church," Husdson said. "We came back together and started to really dig deep into this and that's when we went down to Richmond,"
They found lawmakers in both House and Senate to bring forward bills.
The scandals that have been capturing national headlines have really gotten the public’s attention and I think caused people to give extra thought to what is the role clergy should play when child abuse happens," said Del. Karrie Delany (D-Fairfax County).
Del. Delaney's bill has one exemption: disclosures during confession.
The 2019 legislative session begins Wednesday.
Pastor David Baird from the Life Church tells News4 when his son was first accused, they didn’t go to police right away because they were only aware of an improper texting allegation. He says he welcomes the legislation to make clergy mandated reporters.