Rarely does a sexual predator assault a child, suddenly and without warning. More commonly, they select a target and gradually groom the child to accept their abusive behavior. Subtleties include pats on the back, praise, reiteration of a “special relationship,” calls for secrecy, and alone time. For this reason, California law calls for mandated reporters to exercise vigilance in their communities. The list of mandated reporters includes teachers, instructional aides, school employees, and anyone whose job involves the direct supervision of minors.
According to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act (CANRA), mandated reporters must contact the police department, county welfare department, or juvenile probation office to report known or suspected child abuse. They are required to report suspicious behavior or abuse that they’ve witnessed first-hand or became aware. Failure to report could lead to legal action being taken against a mandated reporter and their business or institution.
High-Profile Examples of Failure to Report Child Sexual Abuse
Mandated reporters are a crucial lifeline for children who are being abused behind closed doors. When institutions turn a blind eye or try to handle complaints internally, the end result could be a case of liability to be decided in civil court.
Many instances of mandated reporters’ failure to report child sexual abuse have led to school districts in California being sued for the role school personnel played in facilitating the abuse.
- In May 2018, a school district in Torrance, California reached a $31 million settlement with the parents of 22 teenage boys for sexual assaults perpetrated by one of the district’s wrestling coach. The former coach was sentenced to 69 years to life in prison for the molestation of 25 boys between ages 13 to 15 during a two-year period where he claimed to perform “skin checks” for ringworm, among other unlawful acts. Charges against him dated back to an unauthorized camping trip with an 11-year-old boy in 1991, but jurors deadlocked on the case. Civil lawsuits allege that the boy’s complaint had been known to administration since at least 2007, but they failed to act, and that the “skin checks” were known to school officials well before his removal.
- In October 2018, the parents of a middle school student sued a San Francisco school district after a teacher was arrested on 30 charges of lewd and lascivious acts with four boys ages 13 to 14. Years before the arrest, a parent photographed the teacher with his arms around a young boy and turned the pictures over to the school principal who, according to the lawsuit, instructed the assistant principal to shred the photo and reprimand the teacher, rather than documenting the complaint, as required by law.
- A December 2018 lawsuit claimed that a Riverside school aide molested three elementary school students but the district failed to conduct a background check that would have revealed a past checkered with sexual misconduct allegations. The district also failed to investigate complaints from teachers and students. Records also alleged that the school district destroyed evidence, falsified reports, and withheld documents to obstruct the police investigation. The school district ultimately agreed to pay $6.2 million to settle the lawsuit.
Not only does the failure to report end up being a case of liability against institutions such as schools, when workers with direct or indirect knowledge of abuse tell the wrong people or fail to come forward, the consequences can be traumatic and enduring for victims.
When mandated reporters in California fail to make required reports or when administrators impede the creation of required reports, they are guilty of a misdemeanor crime punishable by a fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. When the abuse results in grievous bodily harm or death, the punishment increases to a fine of $5,000 and up to one year in jail.
Understanding the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act
Proper mandated reporter training is needed to clarify the signs of abuse and when it is necessary to intervene. In a 2017 meta-analysis, mandated reporters admitted they were reluctant to report in the absence of obvious physical injuries and 73% said they were unhappy with the process and worried the child was inadequately protected after the report was filed.
Simply put, if you work with children, you look out for them. As a mandated reporter, if a child tells you sexual abuse is taking place or if you witness inappropriate behavior, you are required to make a report. It’s not up to you to determine whether the suspicion is valid or backed by evidence. Your job is to raise the red flag to notify investigators to take a closer look.
Some prosecutors claim failure to comply with California’s mandated reporter law make cases difficult to pursue. How can law enforcement know when a mandated reporter has a reasonable suspicion but fails to report it? How do investigators know which individuals had access to information, and which did not? The facts can be difficult to come by, though not necessarily impossible for a skilled legal team.
California Sexual Abuse Attorneys Aren’t Afraid to Fight
In addition to going after the perpetrator, you may also sue a number of third-party entities whose failure to abide by the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act allowed the abuse to take place. Let a passionate and experienced attorney step up and fight for justice, especially if a mandated reporter failed to do so.
Lewis & Llewellyn has been taking a stand against sexual abuse in schools for years. We have the experienced litigators, knowledge of the law, and the resources necessary to take on your case and win. Our law firm secured a $2.85 million recovery in a lawsuit against a California school district after it was discovered school officials ignored a student’s allegations of sexual abuse by teachers.
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