In all but three states, there are mandatory reporting of domestic violence requirements. While the laws vary somewhat from state-to-state, the core elements are generally the same. So what does mandatory reporting actually look like in practice?
California provides a relatively simple, clear example. In California, the mandatory reporting law requires that health care 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 can include firearm injuries, incest, battery, stabbing, rape, spousal abuse, or torture.
Upon learning of these types of injuries, the health care provider is required to call local law enforcement and tell them about the suspected abuse as soon as possible or to send in a written report within 48 hours. If the health care 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 by state, but in California health care providers are the professionals covered by the mandatory domestic violence reporting law. This can be confusing for some. Patients may not know whether a counselor or social worker is considered a health care provider. For example, a physician-psychiatrist may only meet with one of her patients for psychological counseling, and not to give medical advice.
So are all health care providers subject to the mandatory reporting requirement? In some states no, and in other states, yes. If you're a health care provider or work with health care providers, be aware of your state's particular mandatory reporting laws.
In Pennsylvania, for example, mandatory reporting of domestic violence requirements apply to both health care providers and managers of a health care facility, but there are well-defined exceptions to mandatory reporting. For example, health care providers or managers in Pennsylvania don't have to report suspected domestic violence if the victim:
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 Mandatory Reporting of Domestic Violence
If you're 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 and you could face criminal charges for failing to report. If you want to learn more about mandatory reporting of domestic violence, you should contact a family law attorney in your neighborhood.