Mandatory Reporting of Domestic Violence

In all but three states, there are mandatory reporting requirements for domestic violence and related injuries. While the law varies somewhat from state-to-state, the core is generally the same. So what does mandatory reporting really mean?

California provides a relatively simple, clear example. In California, the mandatory reporting law requires that healthcare providers send in a report to local law enforcement if they know or reasonably suspect that their patient has been injured as a result of abuse -- listed injuries include firearm injury, incest, battery, stabbing, rape, spousal abuse, torture, etc. The healthcare provider is then required to call up local law enforcement and tell them about the suspected abuse as soon as possible or send in a written report within 48 hours. If the healthcare provider fails to meet these requirements for mandatory reporting of domestic violence, he or she may be found guilty of a misdemeanor crime.

Who Has to Make a Report?

Just who is required to report varies state by state, but in California, healthcare providers are the professionals covered by the mandatory reporting law. This can be confusing for some. Patients may not know whether a counselor or social worker is a healthcare provider. For example, a physician-psychiatrist may only meet with one of his patients for psychological counseling, and not to give medical advice.

So are all healthcare providers subject to the mandatory reporting requirement? In some states, no, and in other states, yes. If you are a healthcare provider or work with healthcare providers, be aware of your state's particular mandatory reporting laws.

In Pennsylvania, for example, mandatory reporting requirements apply to both healthcare providers and managers of a healthcare facility, but there are well-defined exceptions to mandatory reporting. In Pennsylvania, a healthcare provider/manager doesn't have to report suspected domestic violence if the victim is an adult, and if the victim has been informed about mandatory reporting, doesn't consent, and afterwards, is referred to a victim's services agency.

Patients, of course, can always choose to report on their own as well.

What Does the Report Include?

The report on suspected abuse must include the name of the patient, the patient's location, a description of the patient's injuries, and the name or identity of the abuser (if the identity is known). These are minimum requirements. The report itself can go into more detail about the suspected abuse if the healthcare provider feels that further description will help.

One question many healthcare providers have is whether they have to tell the patient about the report. State laws typically don't require that the healthcare provider tell the patient about the report, though it is encouraged, if possible.

However, federal law requires that the healthcare provider tell the patient if a mandatory report is going to be sent out, so that the patient understands and can prepare for local law enforcement to engage with them. The exception to this federal rule is if telling the patient about the report puts the patient at risk, the healthcare provider doesn't need to tell the patient about the report.

What Should Be Done After the Report?

Sending in a report to local law enforcement authorities may cause new problems for the patient. Law enforcement may show up at the patient's house and question the family about abuse, may make an arrest or issue charges, and more. When the behavior of an abuser is questioned, criticized, and potentially investigated, then this can create a dangerous environment for the patient-victim. The patient-victim may be looked at as having 'betrayed' the abuser's trust, even though it was the healthcare provider who made the report and not the patient.

So what can you do to help? Healthcare providers and others can and should attempt to guarantee the safety of the patient-victim. Contact security at the healthcare center or contact the local police if there's a real possibility that the patient won't be safe upon returning home. Also, try to enroll the patient in a counseling service of some kind. There are resources available through most hospitals, and some resources available outside of hospitals, too.

Consider Getting Legal Assistance With Your Domestic Violence Case

If you've been the victim of domestic violence or are in a position to report an incident of domestic violence, it's critical to take action as soon as possible. In many instances, the domestic violence incidents recur and can get progressively worse. If you want to learn more about reporting domestic violence as well as other options available to you, you should contact a family law attorney in your neighborhood.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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