The basics of <mandated reporting> are simple: Lots of child sex abuse went unreported for years, even though people knew about it. Laws were passed requiring them to report suspected sexual abuse. Some kids were rescued from abuse. But pedophiles found out about these laws and stopped seeking out therapy that might prevent them from abusing kids. Many mainstream people are coming to think that this latter cost is higher than the benefit. (These laws also cover non-sexual child abuse and require reporting by teachers, police, doctors, etc. But here the focus is on psychotherapists and child sex abuse).
A <recent Vocativ article> describes the dilemma.
The article does quote pedophiles' perspectives on this in general terms, but the bulk of the article is about the therapist's side of the issue.
Legislators craft mandated reporting laws with some attention to detail, and courts interpret them with some care. Professional associations advise their members on how to stay within the law, simplifying the situation and erring on the side of their staying within the law (rather than protecting their clients' rights). Individual therapists will tend to have a less clear understanding, and simplify further, erring in the same direction. Some will just plain get it wrong. Therapists as a group are nearly as hostile towards pedophiles as the rest of society is, and that too can influence them in the direction of reporting rather than siding first with their client. It is also a safe bet that a pedophile suing a psychotherapist over inappropriate disclosure would face an uphill battle -- what jury will side with a pedophile if their opponent has any sort of case at all?
I come at this very much from a pedophile's perspective, as it is pedophiles who I communicate with online regularly. Pedophiles are typically even less informed than therapists. Horror stories get passed around on the internet. A typical view of the online pedophile is, "I cannot say anything about my attraction to children to a therapist or he or she might report me to the police." Any explanation put forth to ease his mind is necessarily a complicated explanation. It surely does not help that the laws differ by jurisdiction, including different laws in all 50 US states. With California's law requiring a report for child pornography viewing, the message is getting worse. Now that the word is out there, it will be very hard to take it back. If some jurisdictions soften their mandated reporting laws or if some repeal them entirely, it will make little difference -- those are details. The damage will be long-lasting. Pedophiles in danger of offending who want help to stay on the right side of the law won't feel safe seeking out therapy.
For the sake of therapists and children, one major improvement in the law would be discretionary reporting -- the therapist can use their judgment to report a case without running afoul of confidentiality requirements, but they are not obligated to do so. The vocativ article also mentions therapists who refuse to obey the law. These might help individual pedophiles who have decided to trust their fates to a therapist. But they will mean little to pedophiles who are now staying away -- it makes no difference whether the therapist might report them or would report them. It's still very risky.
What might make a difference? The distinction between what a person has done and what they might do.
The law typically covers a need to report if (1) a child is being abused or (2) if there is an imminent danger of abuse. These two cases sound very reasonable and almost identical to the public and the therapist, but they are night and day for the pedophile.
Most pedophiles I meet online have not abused a child. If they became convinced that the therapist could only report them if they actually admitted to abusing a child, most would feel safer and be safer. They wouldn't say they've abused a child since it's not true. But "imminent danger" is a judgment call by the therapist on the basis of intangibles. If a pedophile describes an attraction, maybe even an attraction to some particular child in his life, how can he possibly know that he won't be reported? An "imminent danger" clause keeps pedophiles away. Any sort of exception allowing a therapist to make a report if they think the client is lying is just as bad for the pedophile as imminent danger. The requirement to report admitted abuse would address the flagrant cases that motivated these laws -- a therapist knowing for years that abuse was taking place and doing nothing.
If such a uniform change were adopted, pedophiles could come in to therapists again. Child sexual abuse could be prevented.
Individual jurisdictions could take a helpful step in the mean time. They could publish a statement in plain language making clear to pedophiles (and other potential offenders) what they can safely reveal to a psychotherapist. What is definitely on the safe side of the law? Doubters could think of that as warning the enemy, but the enemy has already been warned. You should instead think of it as a way to help people from slipping into the enemy camp.