Generally speaking, child abuse refers to the physical, psychological, or sexual mistreatment of a child or minor (persons under the age of 18 in most states, or 16 in some states). Most states have laws that very strictly prohibit child abuse conduct, and prescribe severe legal penalties for persons who engage in child abuse.
Child abuse can involve a wide range of conduct, and may include:
- Physical abuse of a child, including striking, hitting, choking, hitting with a weapon, strangling, grabbing, or other forms of physical violence;
- Psychological abuse, such as telling the child demeaning things, verbally abusing them, taunting or teasing them, insulting them, or threatening them with physical violence;
- Sexual abuse of a child, touching them inappropriately, exposing them to sexual images or materials, or engaging in sexual acts with them (it is against the law for adults to engage in sexual activities with minors or children).
Child abuse can lead to various criminal consequences, including fines and jail time. It can also lead to other consequences, such as a loss of child custody or child visitation rights.
All 50 U.S. states have child abuse laws that serve to protect children from instances of child abuse. These laws also include reporting requirements which make it mandatory for certain persons to report any instances of child abuse that they come to learn about. The word “mandatory” means required. This means that failing to report child abuse can result in legal consequences for certain people or agencies.
Reports of child abuse incidents should be made to either law enforcement agencies (the police) or child protective services. The report should include important information such as the child’s name, the children’s parents and address, the child’s age, the name of the person who committed the abuse, and the nature and extent of the child’s injury. In some jurisdictions, mandatory reporting also includes the duty to report child neglect and child abandonment.
In all states, child abuse laws require the following persons and professionals to report confirmed or suspected instances of child abuse:
- Daycare workers;
- Social workers;
- Law enforcement personnel;
- Mental health practitioners;
- Doctors and nurses; and
In some jurisdictions, other persons like attorneys, clergy leaders, foster parents, and summer camp counselors are also required to make reports if they suspect child abuse.
The reason why such persons are subject to mandatory reporting laws is that they often interact with children or minors in ways that can reveal evidence of child abuse. For example, in the course of a routine physical check-up, a doctor may discover or observe bruises or scars on a child’s body.
This may be a sign that the child has been abused. Therefore, the doctor would be required to file a child abuse report with the proper authorities stating that they suspect that the child has been abused.
Failure to report child abuse is often classified as a crime in most jurisdictions, if the person is required by law to do so.
A first-time failure to report child abuse is generally classified as a misdemeanor crime under most state laws. This is a less serious crime punishable by criminal fines and up to a year in jail. Criminal fines can range anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on the state.
In some states, a first-time violation of child abuse reporting requirements can result in more serious felony charges, especially for very serious or severe situations. Arizona, Washington, Florida, and Minnesota are examples of states that impose felony charges on persons for failure to report child abuse. Also, repeat offenses can sometimes elevate an initial misdemeanor charge into a felony charge.
Finally, a person who fails to report child abuse can also become subject to a private civil lawsuit. This is especially common if the failure to report the abuse results in death or serious injury to the child.
About more than of the 50 U.S. states also make it a crime for a person to file a false report of child abuse. False reporting of child abuse occurs where a person files a report of child abuse while knowing that the report is false or contains false information. False reporting is considered a serious crime, since a person accused of child abuse can suffer major consequences elsewhere in life. For instance, they can lose custody of the child, or may suffer a loss of employment or benefits.
Filing a false report of child abuse is classified as a felony crime in Florida, Tennessee and Texas. In some states, false reporting is classified as either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the seriousness of the accusations and various other factors. As with failure to report, filing a false report of child abuse can be elevated to felony charges with repeat offenses.
However, fear of ruining a person’s life with a potentially false claim of child abuse is not a reason to hesitate if you truly believe that a child is being abused. If you have reason to believe it is true and have found the necessary evidence to file a compelling report, then you should file the report even if you know how much it will impact the alleged abuser’s life.
Filing a child abuse report is a very serious matter that can have major impacts on all persons involved. If you suspect that a child has been or is being abused, it is in your best interests to contact a lawyer for advice, especially if you are required by law to make such a report. An experienced family lawyer in your area can assist you in filing a report to ensure that you are following reporting requirements.
Also, any time a child abuse report is filed with authorities, it can lead to a criminal or civil trial. You may wish to retain the services of your lawyer in the event that such a trial becomes necessary.