Child-Porn Confessions to Therapists Confound California Courts

(Bloomberg) -- California’s highest court isn’t ready to embrace a requirement that psychotherapists practicing in the state report patients who admit viewing child pornography online to authorities.

A divided California Supreme Court on Thursday revived a lawsuit challenging the requirement as a violation of patient confidentiality. The decision overrules two lower courts that said the privacy privilege doesn’t cover criminal conduct.

Under a 2014 state law, therapists who fail to contact law enforcement officials after hearing patients describe downloading or streaming sexually explicit material involving minors can face criminal fines and the loss of their licenses.

The law drew criticism from some professionals who treat people for sexual compulsions. Along with privacy concerns, the therapists who challenged the law argued that research shows most adults who view child pornography are unlikely to commit sexual crimes. They expressed fears that patients won’t seek help if they are worried about being prosecuted.

State officials argued that the mandatory reporting is justified because children are exploited each time illicit images of them are downloaded.

Thursday’s ruling follows recent reports that images of children being sexually abused have become ubiquitous online despite more than a decade of efforts by tech companies to curb the problem.

The case is Mathews v. Becerra, S240156, California Supreme Court (San Francisco).

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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