The following information is intended only as a supplement to Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children® training, which provides in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Click here for more information on Stewards of Children®.
State laws require that you have reasonable suspicion that abuse is occurring. That means you do not need proof of sexual abuse to make a good faith report to authorities.
Reasonable suspicion means you have witnessed physical or behavioral signs of maltreatment, either in the child or parent/caregiver, or both. OR, you have received a disclosure from a child about abuse, neglect, or boundary violations towards them.
WHAT INFORMATION DO I NEED TO MAKE A REPORT?
- Child's name, address, and age
- Parent's name and address
- Nature of the abuse
- Perpetrator's name
- Details of the abuse
*If the child does not readily supply this information, do not continue to question or investigate. It could interfere later with the investigation.
The benefits of your report may be longer term
Even though your report may not result in legal action, the investigation may cause other services to take place, like counseling or the provision of necessities for the child.
Sometimes the investigating professionals may not be able to gather enough evidence to act on your report. Still, your report may become part of a series of reports that can lead to an action later.
How should I talk to the child about the abuse?
Do not ask the child leading questions or try to draw out information.
Asking too many questions about abuse may cause distress to the child, and could interfere with prosecution of the alleged offender.
Should I investigate the case further?
No, do not investigate on your own. Especially do not investigate physical signs beyond those that can be seen in daily interactions.
Should I tell the parents or guardians of my report?
It is best not to contact parents about your suspicions before making a report. Doing so could result in retribution against the child, destruction of evidence, or flight of the perpetrator with or without the victim.
Do I need proof to make a report?
Most state law indicates that a report should be made when there is reason to believe that a child has been abused, is being abused, or is in danger of being abused. You should make the report as soon as you have reason to believe or receive a disclosure. You do not need to have proof and knowledge beyond a reasonable doubt that abuse is occuring. Some state laws indicate "reasonable suspcicion" as necessary for the report. Again, this means that you do not have to have proof, just knowledge to reasonably suspect abuse. Do not wait for proof or more information to make a report.
Do I need to create a written report?
Sometimes you may be asked to also submit a written report after calling in.
What if a child is in immediate danger?
If you believe a child to be in danger, call law enforcement immediately and state that you believe the child to be in imminent danger.
What information will I need to provide when making a report?
At a minimum, you will need to provide the name, address, and age of the child, the name(s) and address(es) of the parents or guardians, and the nature of the abuse. The name of the perpetrator and the relationship to the child as well as any other details of the abuse are helpful, but if the child does not readily supply this information, do not continue to investigate further. Law enforcement or child protective services will perform the investigation, and you can add details to a report if they later become available. You are entitled to follow up at any point on a report to child protective services, which must provide you with current investigation status.
Do I need to provide my name when making a report?
You do not need to provide your name unless you are a mandated reporter and reuqired to do so by the law in your state; however in all cases mandated reporters contact information is is confidential and protected by law. While anonymous reports are allowable, it is helpful to provide your name in the event that further information is needed.
Are there penalties for not reporting?
A person who is required to report child sexual abuse and who fails to do so has committed a crime. Penalties vary by state and can include fines and imprisonment.
What if I think I don't have enough information to make a report?
It is always best to err on the side of the child. The agency you are reporting to will help determine if there is enough information to proceed. If there is not, the report remains on file. If you receive additional information you can always call back and add to the report. if additional reports are made for that same child, then sometimes multiple reports can lead to an investigation.