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Health reporting laws concern police
Glynn County Police Chief Matt Doering is concerned his department may not be hearing about child molestation and statutory rape offenses because some state and federal laws requiring medical professionals to report abuse conflict.

According to state law, medical professionals, teachers and various state employees are required to report child abuse to authorities, even if they have only a suspicion of it.

Doering said that includes child molestation or statutory rape.

Anytime a woman under the age of 16 becomes pregnant, a crime has been committed, he said.

"If she's under 16, it's always a crime because they do not have legal ability to consent to have sex. It's either child molestation or statutory rape, depending on the circumstances," Doering said. "We look at those on a case-by-case basis."

But Jackie Weder, vice president of government relations for Southeast Georgia Health System, said pregnant teens who come to health system hospitals in Brunswick or St. Marys are afforded privacy under federal laws.

"Under federal law, minors can seek medical attention for mental health, drug and alcohol treatment, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy-related conditions without their parents being notified," Weder said Thursday.

The laws are in place to encourage pregnant teens to seek medical treatment instead of taking riskier measures.

Doering said statutory rape and child molestation are big issues.

"It is an issue. What if you have an underage victim who's been sexually assaulted? If that happens and it's not reported, it makes it very difficult to enforce," Doering said.

Even when pregnancy involves two juveniles, a crime has still been committed, but the level of responsibility placed on the parties involved increases with age, Doering said.

Weder said every teen mother isn't reported, but the health system doesn't simply treat and release them.

"If a 15-year-old girl does give birth here at the hospital, we don't notify her parents, but we do interview her with one of our resource personnel social workers," Weder said. "If during that assessment process a flag goes up -- that she's been raped or molested, or (impregnated) by an 18-year-old, we notify the Department of Family and Children Services."

The question of reporting arose following the Sept. 8 arrest of 22-year-old Willie James Stroud, who is accused of killing his 3-month-old son, Christian Powell, on Sept. 3.

In addition to murder, Stroud is charged with child molestation because Christian's mother was reportedly 15 years old when she became pregnant.

In 2009, 5,255 girls between 15 and 19 in Glynn County became pregnant, according to Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, an organization working to eliminate teen pregnancy.

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