National scandal is reminder that reporting child abuse is mandatory
The furor over former U.S. Representative Mark Foley’s improper advances toward a 16-year-old congressional page, and the apparent unwillingness of his peers to report the behavior, should serve a sobering reminder of the country’s unequivocal laws about reporting child abuse.
Although it is unclear exactly who knew what and when, it appears that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, and some of his colleagues, were aware of complaints about Foley’s relationship with the pages. While at one time they may have thought it was kinder to protect Foley from the embarrassment of being disciplined, they are now probably wishing that they had spoken out earlier.
Let it be a lesson to all of us.
Child abuse comes in many forms and sometimes it may be unclear to a teacher, a neighbor or an acquaintance how serious a situation might be. Perhaps Foley’s coworkers honestly did not know how explicit his e-mails had been, or that he had invited pages to his home. But many, it seems, knew that Foley’s behavior was questionable.
Unfortunately, they did what many people in that situation would do. They opted to be polite, to mind their own business, to close their eyes.
When it comes to child endangerment, however, that kind of politeness is illegal.
Federal and state laws make it a crime to witness and then not report instances of child abuse. According to Utah statues when a person "has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to incest, molestation, sexual exploitation, sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect, or who observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in sexual abuse, physical abuse, or neglect, he shall immediately notify the nearest peace officer, law enforcement agency, or office of the division." (Utah Code:62A-4a-403)
Child advocacy groups are quick to add, though, that reporting suspected child abuse does not require hard evidence. According to the National Association of Counsel for children, "When you report child abuse, you are reporting suspected child abuse – you are not making a determination about whether the child is abused or neglected as defined by the law."
It is enough to suspect that a child may be in danger.
If you or someone you know mentions that they are concerned about a particular child’s welfare it is your duty to report it. In Utah, you may call the local police or sheriff’s department. If it is uncomfortable reaching out to local officials call the Utah Division of Child and Family Services hotline, (800) 678-9399.
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