The media firestorm surrounding the Jerry Sandusky sex crimes scandal is still burning. In many sexual assault or criminal sexual misconduct cases, including this one, public anger and prosecutors' ire can take aim not only at offenders, but also at those who have failed to report their suspicions.
Mandatory reporting laws arose in response to this outcry. These statutes can require people to inform authorities of their misgivings regarding potential child abuse. In most states, mandatory reporting laws apply only to certain professionals, such as teachers, doctors, nurses and social workers. In some states, though, these laws apply to all adults.
According to the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, any resident who has "reasonable cause" to believe a child is being abused should report these concerns to the state. Reporters can remain anonymous and do not need proof of their suspicions to submit a report. In addition, child abuse reporters can often remain free of both criminal and civil liability as long as they submit their suspicions in good faith.
The penalties for not following mandatory reporting laws vary by state. In some areas of the country, lawmakers have not defined consequences for non-reporting. In other states, the legal system imposes penalties only if the crimes are particularly heinous. In one state, Florida, not reporting suspected abuse is a felony.
According to some critics, though, increased mandatory reporting laws may not make sex crimes prosecution fairer or more efficient. Martin Guggenheim, a law professor at New York University, notes that over half of child abuse reports turn out to be unfounded.
Source: NorthJersey.com, "In wake of Sandusky scandal, questions about laws," Joann Loviglio, June 9, 2012