How to Report Suspected Abuse
Studies have shown that only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported. Children are often reluctant to speak up because they don’t think anyone will believe them. Often, they have been made to feel that they caused the abuse or failed to stop it. In some instances, abusers may threaten a child, as well as his/her family, if the child reveals the abuse. Sadly, some victims are too young to understand or verbalize what happened to them.
Oftentimes, families are reluctant to get involved in the legal system or child protective services. An abuse investigation could mean that family members and friends can no longer safely live together or even visit. In some cases, if the main breadwinner for the family is the abuser, there is often worry that removing the abuser from the home could result in serious financial hardship for the family. Family members and friends often find themselves at odds; some denying that the abuse ever happened, others angry because they know that it did. Getting to know each family and its situation helps BCAC and its partners assist families through this difficult time and helps them connect with resources they may need to aid in healing and recovery.
For some families, the occurrence of child sexual abuse is just one more challenge in a series of issues – poverty, drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse. Reporting and addressing child sexual abuse may not be their highest priority. In fact, some mothers have revealed that they were sexually abused as children, themselves, and have managed to cope with the trauma without intervention, and they feel that their children could do the same.
Valuable information you should know
What is child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse is any sexual contact between a child and an adult or an older child. This includes touching of private parts, sex acts and pornography. In Maryland, if the abuse is committed by someone not providing direct care for the child, it is called child sexual assault.
As defined by Maryland State Family Law 5-701, Child Sexual Abuse:
- Means any act that involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a child by a parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care, custody, or responsibility for supervision of a child, or by any household or family member.
- Includes incest, rape, sexual offense in any degree, sodomy, or unnatural or perverted practices.
Facts about child sexual abuse
- The average age of reported victims of child sexual abuse in Baltimore City is 9 years old.
- 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18. Briere, J., Eliot, D.M. Prevalence and Psychological Sequence of Self-Reported Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in the General Population. Child Abuse and Neglect, 2003, 27 10.
- Almost 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser; abuse by a stranger accounts for only 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Finkelhor, D. Sexually assaulted Children. In press OJJDP: Washington, D.C.
- Almost half of all sexual abuse is committed by children under the age of 18. Hunter, J.A., et al., Juvenile Sex Offenders: toward development of a typology. (2003).
- Victims of child sexual abuse are at high risk for long-term physical and emotional problems including eating disorders, obesity, depression, drug dependence, promiscuity, and prostitution.
- 88% of child sexual abuse is never reported to the authorities. Hanson, RF et. al. 1999. Factors Related to the Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse.
- Over 30% of all victims never disclose their experience to anyone.
Getting mental help
If you were a victim of child sexual abuse, learning that your child was also abused can bring back very painful memories. Get help for yourself, too. Baltimore Child Abuse Center can provide you with a list of mental health service providers who work with sexual abuse victims.
Who should report suspected child sexual abuse?
Anyone! If a child is in danger, they need help.
How to report suspected child sexual abuse in Baltimore City
How to report suspected child sexual abuse outside of Baltimore City
Each State designates specific agencies to receive and investigate reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Typically, this responsibility is carried out by Child Protective Services (CPS) within a Department of Social Services, Department of Human Resources, or Division of Family and Children Services. In some States, police departments also may receive reports of child abuse or neglect.
Many States have an in-State toll-free number, listed below, for reporting suspected abuse. The reporting party must be calling from the same State where the child is allegedly being abused for the following numbers to be valid.
For States not listed, or when the reporting party resides in a different State than the child, please call Childhelp, 800-4-A-Child (800-422-4453), or your local CPS agency. (Revised 12/2002)
New Hampshire (NH)
New Jersey (NJ)
New Mexico (NM)
New York (NY)
North Carolina (NC)
Contact the appropriate County Department of Social Services for the number for Child Protective Services.
North Dakota (ND)
800-854-3508, ext. 2402
Rhode Island (RI)
West Virginia (WV)
Who are mandated reporters?
Certain professionals in the community are mandated to report suspicions of abuse in Maryland. These professionals are known as “mandated reporters.”
The following are considered mandated reporters:
- Registered and Practical Nurses
- Hospital Administrators
- Health Care Providers
- Mental Health Professionals
- Education Professionals
- Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counselors, School Social Workers
- Police Officers
- Camp Counselors and Administrators
- Members of the Clergy
How should a mandated reporter report suspicions of child sexual abuse?
For health practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers (“educator or human service worker” means “any professional employee of any correctional, public, parochial or private educational, health, juvenile service, social or social service agency, institution, or licensed facility”, and specifically includes any teacher, counselor, social worker, caseworker, or probation or parole officer) acting in a professional capacity, an oral report must be made as soon as possible (to the entities noted above), and a written report must be submitted to the local department of social services within 48 hours (with a copy of the written report submitted to the local State’s Attorney in the case of suspected abuse.)
For all other persons, there are no such requirements specified, and the reports “may be oral or in writing.”
Individuals who are not health practitioners, police officers, educators, or human service workers need not report suspected abuse or neglect if doing so would violate the attorney-client privilege or if the report would require disclosure of “matters communicated in confidence by a client to the client’s attorney or other information relating to the representation of the client.”
A minister of the gospel, clergyperson, or priest of an established church of any denomination is not required to report suspected abuse or neglect if:
- the report would disclose matters in relation to any confession or communication made to him or her in confidence by a person seeking his spiritual advice or consolation, and;
- the communication was made to the minister, clergyperson, or priest in a professional character in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the minister, clergyperson, or priest belongs and the minister, clergyperson, or priest is bound to maintain the confidentiality of that communication under canon law, church doctrine, or practice.
A mental health provider who learns of an instance of child abuse or neglect must report it, regardless of whether the person revealing the information was referred by an attorney (Md. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 90-007)
Reporting is required whenever there is reason to believe that child abuse or neglect occurred in the past, even if the alleged victim is an adult when the incident comes to light, and reporting is required even when the alleged abuser is deceased (Md. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 93-049)
Information available courtesy of RAINN.
What should be included in a report made to child protective services?
To the extent reasonably possible, the report should include the following:
- The name and home address of the child and the parent or other individual responsible for the care of the child;
- The present location of the child;
- The age of the child (or approximate age);
- Names and ages of other children in the home;
- The nature and extent of injuries or sexual abuse or neglect of the child;
- Any information relayed by the individual making the report of previous possible physical or sexual abuse or neglect;
- Information available to the individual reporting that might aid in establishing the cause of the injury or neglect;
- The identity of the individual or individuals responsible for abuse or neglect.