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Sunday, 14 April 2013 14:17

Reporting Suspected Abuse

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The following steps for reporting abuse or suspected abuse are taken from the book, “For Their Sake: Recognizing, Reporting and Responding to Child Abuse” by Dr. Becca Cowan Johnson.

Most of these guidelines reference children as victims. However, persons of any age can be victims of abuse. These guidelines are equally applicable to adults as well as children.

1. Take the initial report

  • Assure privacy but not confidentiality. A child may say to you that they have something to tell you but only if you promise not to tell anyone else. If you are a legally mandated reporter, you cannot make such a promise. You may tell the child, “Everything we talk about will be private. But if I think you are going to hurt yourself or someone else, or if someone is hurting you, then I may have to share our conversation with someone else who can help you.”
  • Be calm. If your response to hearing about an abusive situation reflects shock, it will adversely affect the abused child. It is appropriate to share your feelings of concern with the individual. But getting upset about the situation may result in the child’s feeling worse about it or worse about his/her role in it.
  • Believe the child. Do not ask “why” questions, as they may be accusatory. Many children think that adults will not believe them, especially if their abuser has reinforced such thinking by saying, “No one will believe you because you’re just a kid.” Therefore, it is important not to discount anything a child tells you that involved an abusive situation.
  • Get the facts, but don’t interrogate. In making a report, it is necessary to have certain factual information. However, as mentioned, you do not have to interview the child to determine whether the abuse occurred or did not occur. Leave that to the experts. Your responsibility is to present the child’s story to the authorities.
  • Reassure the child. It may have taken quite a bit of courage for the child to finally tell his or her story. Assure the child that what happened was not his or her fault. Use such statements as “I believe you,” or “This happens to other kids, too” or It’s not your fault this happened.” Tell the child that he or she was very brave and mature to tell you about the situation.

2. Reporting the information to the authorities
After you have made a verbal report to the local authorities, you will need to follow-up with a written statement. Although the amount and type of information included on an abuse report may vary from state to state, the basic information required for either report usually includes the following (if available):

  • Name, address and phone number of the victim
  • The nature and extent of injury or abuse
  • Name, address and phone number of the alleged abuser
  • Your name, address, telephone number and relationship to the victim (if you are not a mandated reporter, you may request anonymity.)

It is also beneficial to know or have access to the following information, if possible:

  • In addition to the above information on the victim, the gender, and date of birth or estimated age of the victim
  • If the abuse is interfamilial, the names and ages of other children in the household
  • The names, addresses, phone numbers of the child’s parents or guardians
  • Any indication of prior injuries, abuse or neglect
  • The circumstances under which you first became aware or were notified of the person’s abuse, injuries or neglect
  • If the information was given to you by a third party, the identity of that person (unless anonymity was requested)
  • A description of the incident(s) as reported by the victim
  • Physical indicators noted
  • Behavioral indicators noted
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