Reporting Suspected Child Sexual Abuse

July 30, 2019

Recent high-profile incidents at educational institutions have re-focused attention on preventing sexual abuse of children. In UE's experience, employees often fail to report “red flags” or suspicions because they do not understand their reporting obligations. The following summarizes important aspects of reporting procedures to ensure legal compliance and protect children from harm.

What laws require reporting of suspected child abuse?
All 50 states have laws requiring that either all or certain employees of educational institutions report suspected child abuse and neglect to state officials. A state-by-state listing of these mandatory reporting laws is available here.

Who is considered a mandatory reporter?
The answer varies by state, but generally, individuals likely to have contact with children, such as teachers, administrators, coaches, law enforcement, and medical professionals must report.

When should employees report?
Any time an employee knows or reasonably suspects potential sexual abuse, the person should report as soon as practicable to law enforcement or a state's child protective services office. Employees should also report concerns to someone at the institution with the authority to investigate and stop the abuse.

Can a report be made anonymously?
In most states, reports can be made anonymously. However, the identity of reporters is very helpful for investigations. All jurisdictions protect the confidentiality of abuse records.

Is a reporter protected from liability or retaliation if it turns out there is no abuse?
No state laws require that reporters have conclusive proof that abuse occurred. In all states, individuals who report in good faith are immune from liability. "Good faith” usually means there is a reasonable belief that abuse may have occurred even if a later investigation shows it did not.

Can a mandatory reporter be punished if he or she fails to report suspected abuse?
Yes. Failure to report may result in the mandatory reporter being held personally liable for the abuse through civil litigation and criminal prosecution with the prospect of imprisonment.


Resources

Protecting Children from Sexual Misconduct Learning Program (Higher Ed)
Protecting Children from Sexual Misconduct Learning Program (K-12)