How to Report Child Sexual Abuse and Provide Victim Support
If a student came to you and said they were being sexually abused, would you know what to do? Here’s how to file a report and support student victims.
As professionals committed to student safety, learning how to recognize signs of child abuse is essential to protecting the children in your organization and the organization itself. That is why in Part 1 and Part 2 of this four-part series, we discussed the signs of both child sexual abuse victims and child sexual abuse perpetrators.
Here in Part 3, we’ll discuss how to report suspected child abuse and how to help students who have been sexually abused.
In Part 4, we’ll look at preventive measures your institution can implement to protect students from sexual abuse.
It is estimated that only a third of child sexual abuse incidents and cases are identified and even fewer are reported. School personnel identify 52% of all child abuse cases classified as causing harm to a child. That is more than any other profession or organizational type, including Child Protective Service agencies and the police, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Much of our Campus Safety audience are mandated reporters, including teachers, administrators, counselors, school resource officers and law enforcement officers. Are you a mandated reporter within your institution? If so, do you know the steps you are legally required to take if you know or suspect a child is being abused?
How to Report Suspected Child Sexual Abuse
All states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories have reporting statutes for child abuse and neglect. These statutes outline who must report, to whom, and the form and content of the report. You can find a summary of your state’s laws surrounding mandated reporting here.
Knowing how to file a report when you suspect child sexual abuse is critical to protecting children within your organization. A mandated reporter only needs reasonable suspicion that abuse or neglect has been committed to file a report.
Dianna Smoot, the director of community education at the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, told Campus Safety that as a general guideline, you can make a report of suspected abuse if you have the following information: WHO did WHAT to the child and WHEN it occurred.
All states require an oral or written report (some require both) be made to the agencies responsible for responding to child abuse and neglect. When two reports are required, the oral report is usually required immediately, with the written report often following within 24 to 48 hours.
If you suspect a child is being abused, call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD or your state’s hotline. Here is a full list of child abuse hotlines by state. Some states allow for online reporting as well.
Since reports made through hotlines and websites may take up to 24 hours to process, if you feel a child is in immediate danger, contact your local law enforcement agency. They, along with Child Protective Service agencies, are mandated to investigate abuse claims.
Smoot also says having the following information can be helpful when reporting possible abuse:
- Name, age and address of the child
- Brief description of the situation
- Names of parents or any other individuals living in the home
In most cases, reports of child abuse or neglect remain confidential and immune from civil and criminal liability, as long as they are made in good faith. However, in some circumstances, your identity may be revealed. This does not release you from your legal obligation to report.
Guidelines for Handling Child Sexual Abuse Disclosures
Cordelia Anderson, former president of the National Coalition to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse and Exploitation, said in an interview with Campus Safety that our society’s discomfort in talking about sex and sexuality is one reason why disclosure of sexual abuse by all ages is uncommon.
Girls are more likely to disclose sexual abuse than boys, which some attribute to the social stigma attached to abuse by another male.
Research shows adolescents are more likely to tell a friend their own age about their abuse while school-aged children tend to tell a caregiver. In situations where children disclose their sexual abuse to a school employee, it is pivotal to know the most effective way to handle it.
As previously discussed in Part 1, only 4-8% of children who say they have been sexually abused fabricate their claims. That is why it is essential that mandated reporters always believe the child. Be sure to demonstrate to the child that you believe them and acknowledge their courage for speaking up.