Sex Offenders and Psychotherapist Reporting Requirements

Sex Offenders and Psychotherapist Reporting Requirements .

Historically, the law has found a few relationships between people to be confidential, such as the “psychotherapist-patient” relationship. In other words, what a therapist cannot divulge what he or she hears from a patient, except in certain situations where the patient is threatening to harm a third party. Therapists, counselors and other mental health professionals know this as the Tarasoff exception, named after a California Supreme Court case where a psychiatric patient told his therapist he wanted to kill a young woman named Tatiana Tarasoff, and then later did so.

The Tarasoff family sued the Regents of the State of California and the Supreme Court imposed a duty on the therapist or other mental health professional to warn the appropriate authorities of any clear threat disclosed to him or her. This requirement goes back less than 40 years.

Therapists, doctors, nurses, teachers, counselors, and pastors also have a duty to report child, sexual, or domestic violence to police when that becomes known to them.

Effective January 1, 2015, California Penal Code section 11165.1 was amended to require psychotherapists to report their clients if the psychotherapist learns that the client is downloading, streaming, or accessing child pornography.

This legislation was passed unanimously in California, despite a study published in 2009 in the Journal BMC Psychiatry www.biomedcentral.com, that found that the viewing of child pornography alone is not an indicator for an increased risk of committing a hands-on sex offense (as in rape or child molest).

Some therapists feel this rule about reporting viewing child pornography is counterproductive to the purposes of therapy and is violating patients’ rights to privacy.  In fact, according to the Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/…/la-me-therapists-pornography-20150, therapists are suing the state over this requirement. It is not difficult to see how the requirement frustrates an internet porn addict’s ability to get help for their problem if it means they will be prosecuted for a felony and must register for life under Megan’s Law. Considering that the prevailing wisdom is that downloading child porn—as wrong as it seems—is not a predictor of hands-on sexual offenses, this seems to go against logic.