Penalties for Falsely Reporting Child Abuse

Article excerpt

The Jerry Sandusky criminal trial is over; the civil lawsuits are in active settlement mode. Undoubtedly, the entire country is more attuned to child abuse than ever before. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that about 105 bills on reporting suspected child abuse and neglect were introduced in 2012 legislative sessions in 30 states and the District of Columbia. (1) All of them include a penalty for failing to report suspected child abuse.

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Oregon is one of the states that recently enacted child abuse reporting legislation. It added to the list of mandated reporters any employee or volunteer of organization providing child-related services or activities; any employee of a higher education institution; and any coach, assistant coach, or trainer of a child athlete, and individuals who provide guidance, instruction, or training in youth development activities and youth camps.

Overlooked in the wake of this new awareness is the sad reality of false allegations of child abuse. There is no disputing that child abuse is a serious and pervasive worldwide problem. (2) In most situations, abuse allegations are made responsibly, based on actual abuse. But often in the context of divorce or custody proceedings, there is a greater chance that a baseless abuse allegation may be made.

To address this concern, Oregon also passed legislation regarding the false reporting of child abuse. The law (3) reads:

  "(1) A person commits the offense of making a false
  report of child abuse if, with the intent to
  influence a custody, parenting time, visitation or
  child support decision, the person:

  (a) Makes a false report of child abuse to the
  Department of Human Services or a law enforcement
  agency, knowing that the report is false; or (b)
  With the intent that a public or private official
  make[sic] a report of child abuse to the Department
  of Human Services or a law enforcement agency,
  makes a false report of child abuse to the public
  or private official, knowing that the report is
  false.

  (2) Making a false report of child abuse is a Class
  A violation."

In fact, most states (4) have similar statutes. For instance, Arkansas (5) provides that:

  "(a) A person commits the offense of making a false
  report under this chapter if he or she purposely
  makes a report containing a false allegation to the
  Child Abuse Hotline knowing the allegation to be
  false. (b) (1) A first offense of making a false
  report under this chapter is a Class A misdemeanor. …