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It's no secret that children depend on the adults around them to keep them safe. Whether you're a teacher, coach, nurse, or someone else who works with children, you have a responsibility to look out for their well-being. This responsibility includes speaking up when you suspect a child has been abused. But is failing to report child abuse a crime? The answer is: it depends.
Some people have a legal obligation to report child abuse based on their occupation, such as teachers and police officers. However, the penalties for failing to report vary depending on where you live. Some may only have their license suspended while others could face fines and jail time.
Child abuse reporting laws vary by state. All states have some degree of mandatory reporting laws, but they vary in terms of who is required to report. In some, such as New Jersey, anyone who suspects child abuse must report it to the proper authorities. In others, only people in certain professions must do so, such as nurses, clergy members, teachers, and day care workers. And in most states, you can file a report anonymously.
State laws also vary when it comes to punishing people for failing to report child abuse. In most states, you can be charged with a misdemeanor and face fines or jail time if you don't report suspected abuse. In Maryland, ignoring the abuse is not a crime, although a mandatory reporter could lose his license for failing to report. However, a bill recently passed by the Senate would make such an omission a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
In Michigan, Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of girls while serving as a sports physician to Olympic gymnasts. While he'll spend the rest of his life in prison, many have also called for the punishment of those who failed to report his abuse. A series of bills proposed by state legislators would increase punishment for failing to report child abuse from a misdemeanor punishable by 93 days in prison to a felony punishable by up to two years and a $5,000 fine (the original version of the bill simply increased punishment to a one-year misdemeanor). It would also expand the reporting requirement to include people like coaches and trainers.
Reporting child abuse is an extremely serious responsibility. If you think you failed to report abuse, or you've been accused of committing abuse, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
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.