Child Abuse

If child abuse is not the most serious crime facing our society today, it is certainly one of the most heart-wrenching. There are many attempts under way to remedy the underlying causes of child abuse, but, until it is eliminated states have unanimously responded with laws specifically designed to identify and punish child abusers.

Child abuse is an insidious type of crime where the victims are, for many reasons unable to, or are fearful of confronting or reporting the perpetrator to authorities. Therefore, the laws surrounding abusive activity contain an element not found in many other criminal statutes. Under the laws of many states, third parties with knowledge of, and reasonable cause to believe that abuse has occurred, are under a legal obligation to report the situation to the authorities.

The reporting provision is the most controversial and the most problematic of this area of the law. In our society, many relationships are held in particularly high regard and communications in those relationships are given special protection. For example, the law seeks to encourage communication between patient and doctor, client and attorney, and congregant and clergy, and protects the content of any communication between them from discovery by third parties by providing a “privilege,” or a rule, that prohibits the doctor, lawyer or clergy from revealing the content of any communications that take place within that particular professional relationship. There are also certain occasions, not covered by the privilege where parties may presume their relationship to be confidential, such as between parent and teacher. Under the child abuse laws for some of these relationships, the professional in such relationships must now report any known or suspected abusive behavior to the proper authorities.

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