Not Reporting Child Sexual Abuse Could Soon Be a Felony
The recent Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky has raised some questions in towns like Cape May and around the country about when a person is legally, as well as morally, required to report a crime. We have already seen some situations which require reporting of certain acts to authorities, such as suspected terrorism in Britain or toxic waste dumping in areas of the United States. Many people feel reporting should also be required in cases of child molestation or other sexual abuse involving a child.
While the state of New Jersey already requires every person to report child abuse, not reporting it is currently only a misdemeanor. Charges are usually only filed if a person has failed to report serious abuse, works in a setting where they have supervisory authority over kids or works in a position that requires a special license, such as a doctor.
However, Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman introduced a bill in New Jersey last month that would now make failure to report child sexual abuse a felony. Since the term “abuse” has a broad definition, it will be important for people to understand what to report and how to report it.
Right now people are required to report abuse to both the police and child welfare agencies. This rule may need to be changed since the average person should not be required to tell two different places, especially since the police and child welfare agencies will tell each other about the abuse anyway.
It will also be crucial for police, lawyers and judges to apply this new law very carefully. Since the punishment for not reporting will now be higher, they must make sure they do not unfairly punish someone for not reporting something that they did not know they were supposed to report because it was too ambiguous to show clear child abuse.
If the bill is passed and failure to report child sexual abuse becomes a felony, a person will be charged and punished for having a reasonable suspicion of the abuse and failing to report it. The new punishment will be up to a year and a half in state prison and a $10,000 fine.