While federal officials continue to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse occurring at Penn State University this week, Florida experts are addressing a state statute that requires teachers, doctors, child care workers and all other professionals to report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect to law enforcement officials.
Florida statute 39.205 clearly holds any witnesses of child abuse, whether it occurs in the workplace, in public or in the privacy of a home, legally obligated to report any suspicions to authorities.
Many Florida experts believe that had a state law like this been enforced in Pennsylvania, all Penn State officials that knew of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of boys spanning over a 15-year period could have been criminally charged for failing to report abuse.
While Sandusky has since been arrested for his alleged actions, Penn State’s former head football coach Joe Paterno has been criticized for not taking more action to stop the alleged abuse. Paterno was recently ousted from his position, just three games shy of the end of his 46th season.
He has been scolded for how he handled an alleged 2002 incident at the university’s football complex where former graduate assistant and current assistant coach Mike McQueary told Paterno he witnessed Sandusky assaulting a boy in the showers.
Paterno supposedly reported the conversation to the athletic director, Tim Curley, and a vice president, Gary Schultz, who then relayed the information on to university President Graham Spanier. Paterno and Spanier were dismissed from their positions Wednesday, while Curley and Schultz have been charged with perjury and failing to report the incident to authorities.
While Paterno is not a target of the criminal investigation, many Florida experts feel he had a moral obligation to follow up with the abuse reports and a legal obligation to report the alleged incident to police.
According to the Department of Children and Families spokesperson, all residents in the state of Florida are required to report any suspicion of abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families’ Florida Abuse Hotline.
In Florida, the failure to report a suspected case of child sexual abuse to authorities can be classified as a felony. However, identifying if any actual crime took place is a difficult process that often relies upon the testimony of children. According to WTFV.com, last year in the six-county Central Florida area, 3,300 cases of sexual abuse involving children were reported, with 500 actually verified.
Florida statute 39.205 makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to knowingly and willfully fail to report a suspected case of child abuse or to prevent another person from reporting a similar incident. This same statute identifies that it is a third-degree felony to knowingly and willfully fail to report child abuse when the witness is 18 years of age or older and living in the same house as the abuse victim, unless the person who did not report the abuse has mitigating circumstances that prevented he or she from reporting suspicions.
There are many different forms of child abuse, including:
The Florida Department of Children and Families does not keep track of cases where people were penalized for failing to report instances of suspected abuse, but the numbers of prosecutions statewide for this crime are not noted as being high. In fact, according to records from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office, since 1999 only two people have been charged with failing to report abuse and 37 have been prosecuted for falsely reporting abuse.
Florida imposes strict penalties for allegations of false reports of child abuse. Any person accused of this crime faces a prison sentence of up to five years and a $5,000 fine. In addition to this, the Department of Children and Family Services may fine the reporter up to $10,000.
If you have been accused or suspected of either child abuse or failure to report child abuse, contact the Florida Sex Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton online or dial us statewide and toll-free at 1-866-608-5LAW (5529).
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