Until the recent media blitz regarding the Penn State – Joe Paterno – Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal, very few people ever asked me about their duty to report the physical or sexual abuse of a child. If, however, you are now curious, then this article is for you. Please remember two important things 1) The Penn State / Sandusky fiasco happened in the State of Pennsylvania. State laws differ dramatically regarding the duty to report. I am an Arizona criminal defense attorney and our review of your legal duty to report is limited to Arizona law; and 2) as already noted repeatedly by the various news outlets, your moral duty to act is often much broader than your legal duty.
Pursuant to Arizona law, Failure to Report Child Abuse is a class 6 Felony which means you could get up to two years in prison. According to A.R.S. §13-3620, all the following individuals must report the physical or sexual abuse of a child:
- Health care workers;
- Peace officers;
- Parents, step-parents and guardians;
- School personnel; and
- “Any other person who has the responsibility for the care or treatment of the minor.” This general catch-all phrase obviously includes: clergy, scout leaders, babysitters and coaches.
If you agree to watch your neighbors’ kids while their parents go on a getaway weekend, you just gifted yourself a legal duty to call the cops and fink on your friends when you happen to observe excessive and unexplained bruising.
Not every little childhood bump and bruise is child abuse. The law specifically notes that there is no duty to report “accidental physical injury” and “reasonable corporal punishment.” And while most of us understand the difference between an accidental vs. an intentional injury, “reasonable corporal punishment” is not defined in the statutes. So, before you haul off and smack your kid, (just because his attitude warrants such discipline) please note that for years now, Child Protective Services has trained its caseworkers that anything more than an “open hand” or bruising that lingers for “more than 24 hours” is reportable child abuse.
Obviously then, in addition to unreasonable corporal punishment, ALL OF THE FOLLOWING, MUST ALSO BE REPORTED:
- Non-accidental physical injury;
- Physical or Sexual Abuse;
- Child Neglect (where parents are either unwilling or incapable for providing the necessities of life – which includes medical treatment and nourishment); and finally,
- any sex offense involving a child.
While there are some limited reporting exceptions for consensual sexual conduct involving hormonal teenagers of similar age, in any of these circumstances, parents (and other adults with a duty to report) should always consult with an Arizona criminal defense lawyer before simply deciding to “take care of it” by themselves. If you have questions or concerns please call me at (480) 833-2341 and I will be happy to discuss your personal situation.
Attorney Profile: Brian D. Strong, Criminal Defense Attorney