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Mandatory Reporting of Domestic Violence

In most states, there are mandatory reporting requirements when it comes to domestic violence. While relevant laws vary from one state to the next, the core elements are generally the same. So, what does mandatory reporting actually look like in practice?

In California, for example, the mandatory reporting law requires that health care providers report domestic violence to local law enforcement if they know, or suspect on reasonable grounds, that their patient has been injured as a result of abuse. Examples of injuries requiring such reporting are those caused by firearms, incest, battery, stabbing, rape, spousal abuse, and/or torture.

Upon learning of these types of injuries, the health care provider is required to call local law enforcement and tell them about the suspected abuse as soon as possible or to send a written report within 48 hours. If the health care provider fails to meet these requirements for mandatory reporting of domestic violence, they may be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

Who Has to Make a Report?

Who is required to report varies by state. However, in California, for example, health care providers are required to report domestic violence. This can be confusing for some people, given that patients may not know whether a counselor or social worker is considered a health care provider.

So, are all health care providers subject to the mandatory reporting requirement? In some states no, and in other states, yes. If you're a health care provider or work with health care providers, be aware of your state's particular mandatory reporting laws.

In Pennsylvania, for example, requirements for mandatory reporting of domestic violence apply to both health care providers and managers of a health care facility. However, with these entities, there are well-defined exceptions. Under the following circumstances and others, health care providers or managers in Pennsylvania don't have to report suspected domestic violence if the victim:

  • Is an adult suffering bodily injury as a result of domestic violence
  • Is informed of the reporting requirement
  • Doesn't consent to reporting
  • Is provided with a referral to a victim services agency

Keep in mind that this list is not exhaustive. A full list is available here.

Patients, of course, can always choose to report on their own, as well.

What Does the Report Include?

The report on suspected abuse must include the name of the patient, the patient's location, a description of the patient's injuries, and the name or identity of the abuser, if the abuser's identity is known. Keep in mind, however, that these are minimum requirements. The report itself can go into more detail about the suspected abuse, if the healthcare provider feels that further description will help.

One question many healthcare providers have is whether they have to tell the patient about the report. State laws typically don't require that the healthcare provider tell the patient about the report, although it is encouraged, if possible.

However, healthcare providers may also ask themselves whether federal law requires them to notify the patient, as well. Whether notification is required depends upon a handful of factors, laid out in the following two sections.

Child abuse or neglect:

Healthcare providers may make reports to law enforcement without notifying the patient, under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Adult abuse, neglect, or domestic violence:

Notice to an adult survivor may be required, depending on the circumstances. If a report meets the following criteria, it may be made without first notifying the patient:

  1. Is permitted by law,
  2. Based on the healthcare provider's exercise of their professional judgment as a healthcare professional, and
  3. The report is necessary to prevent serious harm to the individual or others, or in certain other emergency situations.

If, on the other hand, the survivor's circumstances meet the following criteria, the report must be made only after the health care provider has notified their patient:

  1. Is not permitted by law, or
  2. The risk(s) to the patient is so low that that report is not necessary to prevent serious harm to the patient, or the circumstances are not related to an emergency.

What Should Be Done After the Report?

Sending in a report to local law enforcement authorities may cause new problems for the patient. Law enforcement may show up at the patient's house and question the family about abuse, may make an arrest or issue charges, and more.

When the behavior of an abuser is questioned, criticized, and potentially investigated, then this can create a dangerous environment for the patient-victim. The patient-victim may be looked at as having 'betrayed' the abuser's trust, even though it was the healthcare provider who made the report and not the patient.

So, what can you do to help? Healthcare providers and others can and should attempt to guarantee the safety of the patient-victim. Contact security at the healthcare center or contact the local police if there's a real possibility that the patient won't be safe upon returning home. Also, try to enroll the patient in a counseling service of some kind. There are resources available through most hospitals, and some resources available outside of hospitals, too.

Consider Getting Legal Assistance with Mandatory Reporting of Domestic Violence

If you're in a position to report an incident of domestic violence, it's critical to take action as soon as possible. In many instances, the domestic violence incidents recur and can get progressively worse. You could face criminal charges for failing to report the abuse, under circumstances where you fail to make a report required by law. If you want to learn more about mandatory reporting of domestic violence, you should contact a family law attorney in your neighborhood.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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