St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson has a lesson for all of us, and I don’t think it’s the lesson he intended.
The situation: When asked by victims’ attorney Jeff Anderson in a recent deposition if he knew in the 1984 that child sex abuse was a crime, Carlson responded, “I’m not sure if I did or I didn’t.” The result: he didn’t report. Countless children were put at risk and many others were abused because he couldn’t pick up the phone and call the police.
Which leads to the following question: Do YOU know how to report suspected or witnessed abuse?
I am going to go into much greater detail on this subject in my upcoming book, but I feel that it’s necessary to post and repost this information as much as possible.
First, some assumptions: I consider everyone a mandatory reporter. Child sex abuse is a crime with lasting consequences. There is a victim and an alleged criminal. If you see or suspect abuse, it’s an adult’s civic and moral obligation to report.
If you are a mandatory reporter in the eyes of the law, your employer should provide you specific training on your reporting procedures. If you have not had that training in the past year, demand that your employer provide it to all mandatory reporters at your work.
How to report child sexual abuse
If you are a victim or witness abuse:
1) If you are a victim of sexual assault, call 911. If it is not an emergency requiring immediate medical care, call your local police department and ask to speak to someone who can take a report of the sexual assault of a(n) child/adult. If you feel that it’s necessary to call 911, do it.
2) If you see sexual abuse taking place, call 911. Treat the crime like a robbery, car accident or shooting. It’s a crime that needs immediate attention.
NOTE: Do not rely on your institution (whether it be a church, school, university, community group, or your boss) to do the reporting for you. If you witnessed a shooting, you would call the cops, not your supervisor. Child sex abuse is the same. Plus, we have seen time and time again that institutions (especially churches and universities) are NOT in the abuse investigation business. Internal investigations do not protect victims and do not protect the rights of the accused.
If you suspect child sex abuse:
1) Call the ChildHelpUSA national child abuse reporting hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD. They also have a website that is well worth your review now, before you encounter a situation where you need immediate answers. When you call the hotline, a trained crisis operation will talk to you about what you saw, what you suspect, and the next steps you should take. They will carefully walk you through the entire process.
2) Call the specific agency in your state that handles the investigation of child sex crimes. You can read a list of them here. I suggest going over them now, before you are in a situation where you need to report.
3) If you suspect that a child who is not your child is being abused and the parents are not the suspected abusers, talk to the parents. If you think that the parents will not take action and the child is in danger, call ChildHelpUSA. They will help you assess your suspicions and alert you of the next steps you should take.
NOTE: You are not an investigator and you do not need to have “proof” of the abuse to report. That is the job of the police. Report your suspicions and let law enforcement do its job.
Some red flags:
1) Your employer says that you should report suspected abuse to them before calling the police or ChildHelp. (Think of it this way – if there was a shooting going on, you would call 911 without getting your supervisor on the phone, right?)
2) If an employer or institution says that they “need to investigate this internally” before calling ChildHelp, the police, or social services.
My take? Report anyway.
And if you’re scared or reticent of “making a mistake” by reporting:
Organizations like ChildHelp were founded to help people correctly report crimes. They also can tell a concerned adult when there is no crime to report.
Most of us will never be in a situation where we need to report. But we will encounter people who need our help. Learn what sexual behaviors in children are healthy and which ones need direct attention. Learn the signs of abuse. Learn the signs of sexual grooming.
Most importantly: Talk to your kids. Chances are they will listen.