Child abuse is a crime, there is no question about that. But what about the failure to report child abuse? If you suspect that a child has been abused, do you have to speak up? Is failing to do so a crime?
Certain people are required to report child abuse due to their profession. In MA, these people are called Mandated Reporters. Individuals designated as mandated reporters include:
- Teachers and other school personnel
- Social workers
- Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel
- Counselors and other mental health personnel
- Child care providers
- Foster parents
- Medical examiners
- Police and other law enforcement
If you are a mandated reporter and you fail to report child abuse, you may be charged with a misdemeanor and face a fine of up to $1,000. A MA criminal defense attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been charged with a crime.
What if I’m Not a Mandated Reporter?
In MA, as in most states, failure to report child abuse is not specifically charged as a crime. However, every case is unique. In the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, for example, victims have called for the criminal punishment of the individuals who failed to report his abuse of hundreds of young girls and at least one boy.
In Michigan—where Nassar abused his victims—state legislators have proposed several bills that would increase penalties for failure to report child abuse from a misdemeanor offense to a felony with fines of up to $5,000.
But this topic begs the question – why wouldn’t you report child abuse? If you suspect that a child is being abused or neglected, reporting that mistreatment is the right thing to do. Fortunately in MA, as in most states, you can file an anonymous report. A Boston criminal defense lawyer can help you protect your rights if you’ve been charged with a crime.
What is Considered Child Abuse?
There is a lot of gray area when it comes to child abuse and neglect. For example, in 2014 a Florida mom was charged with felony child neglect for letting her seven-year-old child walk to a nearby park by himself. However, not all cases are as ambiguous. Some types of child abuse, including sexual or physical abuse and depriving a child of food and water, should be reported immediately.
In the United States, approximately four children die from child abuse or neglect every day. Most are under the age of four. Child abuse is often associated with a medical or emotional disorder, such as alcohol abuse, depression and drug addiction. In many cases, the abuser was abused as a child.
In MA, child abuse is defined as “the non-accidental commission of any act by a caretaker upon a child under age 18 which causes, or creates a substantial risk of, physical or emotional injury; or constitutes a sexual offense under the laws of the Commonwealth; or any sexual contact between a parent/guardian/caretaker and a child under 18.”
Child abuse, which can occur both at home and in other environments, includes:
- exposing a child to domestic violence;
- having a baby that is born with an addiction to narcotics; and
- mistreatment of a physical, sexual or emotional nature.
Child neglect, on the other hand, is the failure of a parent or care giver to meet the child’s basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, supervision and other emotional needs. Continue reading