Therapists Argue Against California's Child Porn Reporting Law

LOS ANGELES (CNS/FOX 11) - Three mental health experts are suing in a bid to bar prosecutors in Los Angeles County and elsewhere in the state from enforcing a law requiring psychotherapists to reveal if patients have downloaded or viewed child pornography, saying it will invade the patients' privacy and won't protect children.

Don L. Mathews and Michael L. Alvarez, both licensed marriage and family therapists, and alcohol and drug counselor William Owen filed the complaint Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court, naming California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

Representatives of the two offices did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

The suit asks that AB 1775, a recent amendment to the Penal Code, be declared unconstitutional and that the plaintiffs be awarded attorneys' fees.

Alvarez lives in the South Bay, Owen in Los Angeles and Mathews in Northern California.

Before AB 1775, the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act served a legitimate purpose of requiring therapists to report if they knew or suspected that children were being sexually abused or exploited, according to the lawsuit.

The plaintiff say the new law "dramatically and unconstitutionally expanded the scope of CANRA'' by forcing therapists to report patients who view child pornography over the Internet or on their cell phones, without any evidence the person has sexually abused anyone.

"The overbroad nature of AB 1775's invasion of privacy rights extends to the reporting of minors who view sexually explicit self-portraits sent to them by other minors over phone networks,'' a practice known as "sexting,'' the suit states.

"As psychotherapists, Mathews and Alvarez have treated numerous patients ... many of whom have admitted downloading and viewing child pornography on the Internet, but whom (they) ... do not believe present a serious danger of engaging in `hands-on' sexual abuse or exploitation of children or the distribution of child pornography to others,'' the suit says.

The patients usually have no prior criminal history and have never expressed a sexual preference for children, according to the lawsuit.

The suit states that although child abuse is "despicable, morally repugnant and the product of child sexual abuse,'' the confidentiality of information patients given to therapists by patients "is critical and essential to the efficacy of psychotherapy to treat mental issues.''

The required reporting of such information by therapists "will obviously destroy the patient trust that communications during therapy will be kept confidential, which is widely agreed to be the (essential) for successful psychiatric treatment,'' according to the suit.

Mandated reporters such as therapists who do not follow the law can be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to six months in prison, a $1,000 fine and the possible suspension or revocation of their licenses, the suit states.

Harris and Lacey are named as defendants because they are charged with statewide and local enforcement of CANRA, respectively, the suit states. Lacey is also named as a defendant in her capacity as a district attorney and as a representative of all California district attorneys, according to the plaintiffs.

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