One of the main difficulties with child sexual abuse and sexual assault in general is the overall lack of incident reporting. It is a well-known fact that many sexual assault survivors can have difficulties coming forward to file a report with authorities. This is often on account of feelings like shame, guilt, or fear of retaliation.
When it comes to child sexual abuse, reporting becomes even more challenging. Children, especially very young children, might not be fully aware that they are being abused, although they may demonstrate visible behavioral symptoms of sexual abuse.
To help identify cases and increase reporting of child sexual abuse, every state has mandatory reporting laws. Such laws require certain people to contact local authorities if they suspect a child is being abused. These people are known as mandatory reporters and are usually individuals who are in frequent contact with children, such as teachers or counselors.
Mandatory reporting is a crucial weapon in the fight against sexual abuse. Survivors of abuse and their families must demand better communication and information, and one of the most powerful channels they have is through mandatory reporting laws. Knowing how these laws work can also help in spotting when a mandated reporter isn’t doing their job of reporting.
What is a Mandated Reporter?
A mandated reporter is a person who is legally required to report suspicion of child abuse, neglect, or sexual abuse to the relevant authorities. They are required to do so based on their profession or position at a job. Usually, reporting is anonymous, and there are no repercussions for filing a report.
A mandated reporter does not have to actually witness the abuse or have definite proof before they make a report. Under California’s mandatory reporting laws, they only need to have “reasonable suspicion” that a child is being sexually abused.
In most cases, child sexual abuse reports are filed based on red flags in the child’s behavior. These can include:
- Knowledge or interest in sexual acts that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Avoiding interaction with a specific person for no apparent reason
- Not wanting to participate in physical activities
- Being hesitant to change clothes in front of peers
- The presence of a sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy, especially at younger ages
- Running away from home
Who is a Mandated Reporter?
Under California mandated reporter laws, all school and district employees, administrators, and athletic coaches are classified as mandated reporters. The list of mandated reporters is continuously expanding, and may also include other professions like:
- Social workers
- Health care employees
- Child care providers
- Law enforcement personnel
- Mental health professionals
- Clergy (especially in instances of church or religious sexual abuse)
- Other educators
- Medical professionals
Persons who enter into such professions will receive training on what their obligations are and how to file reports.
How Long Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report Abuse?
Mandated reporters are required to report child sexual abuse immediately. To make the report, the employee must contact the relevant law enforcement department or child welfare agency. They should do so directly through a phone call first, and then follow it up in writing. The department or agency contact will have forms for this specific purpose.
Acceptable places to contact include:
- A local police or sheriff’s department (separate from the school police office or campus security department)
- County welfare departments or child protective services
- A county probation department, if they have been designated to receive child sexual abuse reports
Note that the legal obligation to file a report is not satisfied simply by reporting internally to a supervisor or with the school district. The school district will generally not investigate the matter, nor are they obligated to do so.
Thus, if a mandated reporter claims they have filed a report, but has only done so internally with the school, they haven’t fulfilled their legal reporting obligations. A failure to report out is often one of the reasons why child sexual abuse incidents are not adequately investigated.
What Does a Mandated Reporter Have to Report?
At a minimum, a child sexual abuse report should contain:
- All known information about the suspected abuse
- Descriptions of any actions taken to assist the child
- Contact information of the reporter
- Whether the child disclosed the abuse
- Any other information that would help authorities in investigating the case
Again, there are no repercussions for filing a report. So, a mandated reporter should err on the side of caution and report any information or suspicions regarding the child’s welfare. It is better to provide more information than less, as the agency or department will investigate the matter.
What is the Role of a Mandated Reporter?
While all mandated reporters are required by law to report all known and suspected cases of child sexual abuse, there are limits to their roles. For instance, it is not their job to investigate or confirm whether the abuse allegations are valid.
In fact, mandated reporters should under no circumstances attempt to act as investigators. It is not their place to ask the child questions or try to get to the bottom of the suspected sexual abuse. Instead, the correct action is to file a report so that the properly-trained authorities can then investigate.
On the other hand, mandated reporters can provide authorities with support for the report, such as photographs or statements from the child.
What if a Mandatory Reporter Fails to Make a Report?
According to California’s penal code, a mandated reporter who fails to make a required report may be guilty of a misdemeanor. This is typically punishable by up to six months in jail and up to $1,000 in criminal fines.
The person may also be subject to consequences in their employment setting, such as being reprimanded. In other instances, civil liability for damages can also result, especially if the failure to report results in serious harm or damage to a person.
Most importantly, however, unreported child sexual assault means that the child will not receive the attention and treatment they need. The abusive circumstances they are living with may continue to go unchecked. Unreported abuse can affect several people, not just one child (as is the case with many abuse incidents in child sports leagues or other youth organizations).
When to Contact a Sexual Assault Lawyer About Mandatory Reporting
Child sexual abuse is a heinous crime that can result in many long-term effects and struggles for the survivor. Mandatory reporting laws are in place to provide protection and safety. However, like any law or requirement, they can be ignored or purposely violated.
You may need to contact authorities or hire a sexual assault lawyer if:
- You have seen a mandatory reporter fail to make a report
- You observe schools or other institutions whose policies allow widespread reporting violations
- You experienced sexual abuse as a child and a report was not properly filed
The state of California has recently expanded the statute of limitations (filing deadline) for child sexual abuse claims. You may need to reach out to an attorney if you were abused as a child and the mandated reporters in your area did nothing about it. Also, you don’t need to be a mandated reporter to report child sexual abuse. Contact your local police authorities if you suspect any abusive activity.
Get in Touch With an Experienced Sexual Assault Attorney
A failure to report child sexual abuse is one of the main reasons why such crime continues to persist in our communities. We need to take a stand and ensure that those who are required to file reports do so promptly — it could mean all the difference for someone’s life.
If you or a loved one have been affected by child sexual abuse, you may need to contact an experienced sexual abuse attorney who understands what you are going through.
Managing partner Jessica Pride has been fighting on behalf of sexual assault survivors for more than a decade. She and her team have been compassionately securing justice for hundreds of individuals and families, helping them find healing and making their lives whole again.
Reach out to us at (619) 516-8166 to learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim. All initial consultations are free, and your information will be kept strictly confidential. We are here to help you get back on track with your life.