Child abuse is a legal term that is generally used to descrbie the physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse of a minor. In most states, a “minor” is any person under the age of 18 years old; however, some states may set the age limit at age 16. Every state has its own laws that prohibit child abuse.
Various persons can engage in child abuse. These usually include persons who are in a position to care for the child or are in a position of authority of the child. This can frequently include such persons as:
- Legal guardians; and
- Grandparents and other close relatives.
Child abuse often overlaps with other legal violations, such as child neglect or child maltreatment. Child neglect is where a parent or guardian fails to provide the child with proper basic necessities, like food, clothing, shelter, or educational or medical/healthcare needs. Child abandonment is also a related issue. Many issues of child abuse can involve a mix of these different issues.
As mentioned, child abuse can involve various forms of physical, mental/emotional, or sexual abuse of a child. Common examples of this include:
- Physical Abuse: This can take many forms, including hitting, striking, hitting with an item such as a belt, kicking, pulling a child’s hair, grabbing or shaking a child, choking, and other physical acts;
- Mental/Emotional Abuse: This can include saying degrading things to a child, demeaning them, telling them lies or misinformation (often about the child’s other parent), teasing them, depriving them of love or affection, threatening them with physical harm, or other forms of psychological manipulation.
- Sexual Abuse: This can include engaging in sexual acts with a child, inappropriate touching, exposing the child to sexual materials, and other acts.
These types of acts are punished strictly under state family and criminal acts. In many cases, criminal consequences can result, such as fines or jail time. Sexual abuse of a child can also result in the offender being placed on a registration list of sexual offenders.
Child Abuse Reporting laws are a specific body of laws identifying who should report child abuse, and under which circumstances. They create a legal obligation for certain persons (especially teachers and child care providers) to notify authorities if they suspect that a child has been a victim of abuse.
Child abuse reporting laws may be different from state to state, but generally cover:
- When to report child abuse;
- How to recognize and identify signs or symptoms of child abuse;
- Differences between physical, mental, or sexual abuse of children; and
- Various other legal and health issues related to children.
Reports of child abuse should be made to local law enforcement authorities (such as the police), and/or to a lawyer. Child abuse is a very serious crime; a failure to report such crimes can lead to severe legal consequences. Reporting laws may also cover other violations involving children and their parents, like child neglect or child abandonment.
Mandatory reporting refers to situations where reporting instances of child abuse is required under law. This usually applies to persons who are engaged in certain professions, especially those that require frequent interaction with and supervision of children.
Some professions that may be subject to mandatory child abuse reporting laws and standards may include:
- Teachers and teacher’s aides;
- School advisors, coaches, and other school personnel;
- Day care workers;
- Counselors, especially ones serving at a school;
- Doctors, dentists, and nurses;
- Social workers;
- Clergypersons; and
- Police Officers.
If a person has a legal obligation to report child abuse, but fails to do so, they might become subject to various legal consequences under the laws of their state. They might also face other consequences and repercussions in different areas, such as a loss of their job or practicing license.
The training provided for these types of professions will usually instruct you as to whether or not you have an obligation to report child abuse to authorities. If you’re unsure of your legal responsibilities, then a family law attorney can help clarify the different child abuse reporting laws that might apply to you.
Child abuse reporting laws are highly important for protecting the health and safety of children. You may wish to hire a family lawyer in your area if you are involved in any instances of child abuse reporting. You may be called upon as a witness in a trial, or may be requested to provide evidence for the hearings.
An attorney can help guide you through the legal process and will be able to represent you in court if needed. Also, if you have any specific questions regarding mandatory reporting laws, your attorney can provide you with legal advice and input.