Few penalties for keeping child abuse secret

February 18, 2012 Comments Off on Few penalties for keeping child abuse secret

Few penalties for keeping child abuse secret
By Brad Heath, USA TODAY 12/16/2011

Laws that could punish doctors, teachers and other adults for keeping silent when they suspect a child has been abused have gone largely unenforced over the past decade.

Those state laws require people who work closely with children to alert police or child-welfare investigators anytime they so much as suspect a child has been abused.

Yet a USA TODAY examination of police and court records from across the USA found that a combination of infrequent enforcement and small penalties means adults often have little to fear from concealing abuse.

In most of the states that could provide records, local police and prosecutors typically charged no more than one or two people each year. Michigan police made just five arrests over the past decade. In Hawaii and Minnesota, court officials said they couldn’t find a single case.

Fewer than half of the cases USA TODAY reviewed in detail ended in convictions, and the penalty was usually a fine of less than $1,000.

“If you’re not going to make the moral choice, at least you have to have a law with some teeth that makes somebody do it for the legal reason that you’re afraid you’re going to be charged,” said Sean McCormack, the chief child abuse prosecutor in Harrisburg, Pa.

States’ mandatory abuse-reporting laws are getting new scrutiny in the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University, where longtime assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky is accused of having molested 10 boys over 15 years. He has pleaded not guilty. Two Penn State officials are charged with failing to report the abuse to police….

Abuse frequently unreported

Child welfare agencies estimate that 695,000 children were abused or neglected last year, but studies have repeatedly found that even more abuse goes unreported. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-01-02/unreported-child-abuse/51981108/1

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