Parents of Colon bus abuse victims seek answers with the Michigan Mandated Reporting Law
COLON, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3) —
A group of West Michigan parents sues the bus company in charge of transportation at Colon Community Schools.
The lawsuit claims the company knew their young daughters were being sexually abused on the bus for months by a teenage boy, but did nothing about it.
Newschannel 3's Anna Giles explained how this case is spurring new debate over gaps in the law that may put kids in danger.
The last few months have been a nightmare for this mother.
Mother of victim said, “We just get through day to day. Sometimes my daughter has good days, she has bad days."
Even with professional counseling, she said her daughter struggles to recover from sexual abuse on a Colon school bus.
Her daughter is one of up to seven girls that Colon Police said were molested by a 15-year-old high school boy in April.
In police interviews with parents, the abuse is described as, kissing, tickling and the boy putting his hand down their pants.
The mother said, "I wonder as the older she gets is she going to remember this? And she has to live with it the rest of her life. There's nothing that's going to change it."
Failure to report charges were authorized against the bus driver, who said in a police report, he knew about the abuse and notified his boss at Dean Transportation, but not Child Protective Services.
The charges were later dismissed because a bus driver is not a mandated reporter under Michigan state law.
Parents feel no one was held accountable for what happened.
The Colon Police chief declined to do an interview, but sent a statement saying there is no way to prepare for this kind of incident. The department's priority was to make this investigation as least intrusive as possible for the victim.
Michigan's Child Protection Law, or Mandated Reporting Law, details a specific list of who is required to report sexual abuse. While bus drivers are not on the list, professions like Audiologist and Marriage Therapist are on the list.
Criminal Attorney Jim Mequio represented the bus driver in this case and has extensively studied the law.
He said, "The statute in this case, I don't think I've seen it in too many statutes, goes to extraordinary effort to limit the number of people that have to be reporting."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, just two states list bus drivers as mandated reporters: Louisiana and Maine.
Mequio believes the list of mandated reporters is targeted at trained professionals.
He said, "I don't think we want to impose a criminal sanction on someone who doesn't have the training these people would have."
Under Mequio's interpretation, the law also does not require mandated reporters to report juvenile-on-juvenile abuse.
Victim's Mother said, "I don't think that's right. It's juvenile on juvenile but it's still a sex crime. It needs to be reported."
Michigan State Representative Pam Faris, (D) Genesee County, is sponsoring a bill that would expand the list of mandated reporters in Michigan.
Faris said she would look into the Colon school bus case.
She said, "My first response to this is they have an obligation whether they are a contractor or not. Whether they are driving the bus or doing anything with these kids. Bus drivers have a lot of time with kids on buses."
Vicki Vanas is a therapist in Kalamazoo specializing in traumatized children. She wasn't involved in the Colon abuse case, but believes the young girls face years of trauma.
Vanas said, "Not being able to sleep, having bad dreams, developing fears becoming really clingy with their mom. Losing interest in things they used to be interested in."
The Colon girl's mom said she's seeing this from her daughter now.
She said, “She'll have an attitude worse than any child could have. She'll throw things, she'll hit. When it comes down to it sometimes she'll hit herself.”
The families who went through the ordeal say they want to protect others and believe the answer lies in changes to the Mandated Reporting Law.