What are a person's legal responsibilities if they believe that someone is currently committing infant abuse, but are not certain that they are doing so.

For example, they might learn this from internet posts or observing my neighbor. The person who believes that this is occurring is not in a profession that specifically has a child abuse reporting requirement.

Do they also commit a crime if they choose not to help the infant out or not to report it?

  • 4
    "know someone might commit . . ." Literally, it appears that you are asking about someone who it at risk of doing something in the future rather than someone who has currently been abusive. Some people (especially people who are not native English speakers) use the phrase you did to actually mean that you know that someone might be currently committing abuse and that you are not 100% sure that this is happening. Do you mean that they might do this in the future, or that you think that they might be doing so now? If you think that they might do this in the future, why and how certain are you?
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 16, 2022 at 21:52
  • 2
    @ohwilleke I think they are doing it right now but I am not sure.
    – dodo
    Dec 16, 2022 at 23:35
  • 2
    @dodo surely there is a way to report this anonymously?
    – Darren
    Dec 17, 2022 at 7:39
  • 1
    I'm sure the law on this is complex, but not to report it would be a moral crime in my view. Your fear of retaliation is a small thing compared to the reality of that infant's life if your suspicions are true. Consider how you're going to live with your decision not to report when you see in the news a month later that the infant is dead. Dec 17, 2022 at 23:31
  • 1
    Thinking someone might commit is problematic, unless you are one of those three Precogs in that Tom Cruise film Minority Report. Dec 18, 2022 at 20:36

4 Answers 4


There are many different sets of laws in the United States. This post is not a comprehensive survey of every U.S. state and district and territory's laws on the subject. I also do not identify every single federal law reporting requirement that applies nationally.

Child Abuse Specific Duties To Report Crimes

Who Must Report Child Abuse?

Every U.S. state, territory and district provides that people in certain professions must report to the proper authorities all cases of child abuse of which they become aware.

These "mandatory reporters" generally include parents, teachers, school administrators, clergy, medical professionals, therapists, social workers, and others.

There is also a federal mandatory child abuse reporter law applicable to potential reporters on federal land or in a federally operated or contracted facility. 42 U.S.C. § 13,031 (2000).

There are some states, however, in which anyone who suspects child abuse must report it to the proper authorities. New Jersey is one such state. Texas, Rhode Island, Wyoming, Florida, Tennessee, Utah, Delaware, and New Hampshire also have varying catch-all provisions that impose the duty to report child abuse on "any person," "any other person," or "any person, including but not limited to [certain categories of reporters]".

California and Nevada require people who personally witness a crime against a child to report it. CAL. PENAL CODE ANN. § 152.3 (2002); NEv. REV. STAT. ANN. 202.882 (2001).

When Must Child Abuse Be Reported?

As the first link above explains:

Once a mandatory reporter witnesses an act of abuse or finds evidence of child abuse, he or she has a duty to report the incident to the appropriate authorities. That usually includes sharing important details about the incident, like the names of the victim and perpetrator.

Under California's Mandatory Reporting Laws (California Penal Code Sections 11164-11174.4):

A mandatory reporter does not have to actually witness a child being abused or neglected. Rather, a “reasonable suspicion” from other sources that child abuse or neglect has occurred is enough to trigger this responsibility.

What Are The Consequences For Failing To Report Child Abuse When Required To Do So?

Failure to report an incidence of child abuse is a misdemeanor offense in most states for people who have a duty to report it. But in cases were serious harm results it can be more serious misdemeanor. For example, in California:

If a professional required to report fails to do so, that person may be charged with a misdemeanor offense punishable by:

  • imprisonment in a county jail for up to six months, and/or

  • a maximum fine of $1,000.

But, if the unreported instance of abuse or neglect leads to death or great bodily injury, the person can be punished with:

  • imprisonment for up to one year in county jail, and/or

  • a maximum fine of $5,000.

In practice, these statutes are usually enforced only in the clearest cases when an individual's personal duty to act was clear.

Mandatory reporting laws were enacted to clarify that sense of personal duty and not leaving the task of reporting suspected child abuse to someone else.

General Duties To Report Crimes

Under Federal Law

The main exceptions in federal law are treason and sedition for which there is a federal reporting requirement for all citizens.

Another important federal law obligation under 18 U.S.C. § 4, is that you may be obligated to report a crime if you are directly asked during a criminal investigation whenever:

  • You have knowledge of the commission of a felony;

  • The felony actually occurred; and

  • The felony is a federal offense;

If you willfully conceal the commission of a felony federal offense, you can be charged with “misprision of a felony.” Misprision of a felony is a form of obstruction of justice. If you are convicted, you face up to a $250,000 fine, imprisonment up to three years, or both fine and imprisonment.

A higher duty applies to certain federal officials charged with investigating crimes by federal officials.

But, you don't usually (outside of treason and sedition cases) have an affirmative duty to contact authorities about the crime that has been committed which you are aware of unless you are actually asked about it in a criminal investigation.

Under State Law

The vast majority of U.S. states do not have a duty to report any kind of crime (except as explained above).

But, there are at least eight U.S. states that are exceptions to the general rule.

Under Texas law you can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor for failing to report an offense that resulted in serious bodily injury or death. This would arise, however, only when you learn that it actually has resulted in serious bodily injury or death, and you have reasonable certainty from your personal knowledge that indeed a crime has been committed and not merely a suspicion or a speculation. Under Texas Penal Code § 38-171:

(a) A person commits an offense if the person:

(1) observes the commission of a felony under circumstances in which a reasonable person would believe that an offense had been committed in which serious bodily injury or death may have resulted; and

(2) fails to immediately report the commission of the offense to a peace officer or law enforcement agency under circumstances in which:

(A) a reasonable person would believe that the commission of the offense had not been reported; and

(B) the person could immediately report the commission of the offense without placing himself or herself in danger of suffering serious bodily injury or death.

(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor.

Child abuse causing serious injury or death would generally be a felony on the person committing the child abuse (but not the person failing to report it).

In Ohio it's illegal to knowingly fail to report a felony. This is a much broader requirement and could include child abuse, but again you must have reasonable certainty from your personal knowledge that indeed a crime has been committed and not merely a suspicion or a speculation. OHIO REV. CODE ANN. § 2921.22 (2002) ("No person, knowing that a felony has been or is being committed, shall knowingly fail to report such information to law enforcement authorities.") And, this is not a particularly serious offense.

South Dakota also has a law similar to that of Ohio. S.D. CODIFIED LAWS § 22-11-12 (2002) ("Any person who, having knowledge, which is not privileged, of the commission of a felony, conceals the same, or does not immediately disclose such felony, with the name of the perpetrator thereof, and all the facts in relations thereto, to the proper authorities, shall be guilty of misprision of a felony.").

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania have laws that require someone who personally witnesses certain crimes to report them. See, e.g., MASS. GEN. LAWS ANN. ch. 268, § 40 (2002).

There are also at least a couple of states also mirror the federal government in having mandatory reporting for the general public only for treason. See 720 ILL. COMP. STAT. ANN. 5/30-2 (2002) ("A person owing allegiance to this State commits misprision of treason when he conceals or withholds his knowledge that another has committed treason against this State."); LA. REv. STAT. ANN. § 14:114 (2002) ("Misprision of treason is the concealment of treason, or the failure to disclose immediately all pertinent facts to proper authorities, by a person who has knowledge of the commission of the crime of treason.").

All of these offenses are only rarely enforced, but there are some prosecutions.

Academic Analysis And Review of The Law

Sandra Guerra Thompson has published a law review article entitled "The White-Collar Police Force: "Duty to Report" Statutes in Criminal Law Theory" 11(1) William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 3 (2002).

Relief From Civil Liability If You Report In Good Faith

In Colorado, the formal duty is seemingly even more broad under Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-8-115:

It is the duty of every corporation or person who has reasonable grounds to believe that a crime has been committed to report promptly the suspected crime to law enforcement authorities. Notwithstanding any other provision of the law to the contrary, a corporation or person may disclose information concerning a suspected crime to other persons or corporations for the purpose of giving notice of the possibility that other such criminal conduct may be attempted which may affect the persons or corporations notified. When acting in good faith, such corporation or person shall be immune from any civil liability for such reporting or disclosure. This duty shall exist notwithstanding any other provision of the law to the contrary; except that this section shall not require disclosure of any communication privileged by law.

But breach of this duty does not actually carry any criminal penalty, although it might conceivable be a basis for civil liability (although I've never seen a lawsuit brought on this basis).

Instead, the statute really exists primarily to protect people who do report crimes from any punishment for doing so.

In general, even when it is not a crime to fail to report suspected child abuse, there is immunity from civil liability, either by statute, or under common law tort doctrines (called a qualified privilege) for reporting in good faith (i.e. actually believing that a crime has been committed) a suspected crime.

  • If this is correct, then all individuals who accidentally dropped by a child-porn/child-abuse websites commits serious crimes if they did not report it.
    – dodo
    Dec 18, 2022 at 20:02
  • @dodo In that context, the viewer typically wouldn't know enough to make a report. They don't know when, where, or the names of the people involved.
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 19, 2022 at 19:25

No. Although some people have a duty of care over children to prevent harm and suffering, such as a parent or guardian, there is no mandatory reporting requirements in this scenario:

If you witness a crime ... There is no legal obligation to contact the police... Source: CPS

Note that:

There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children in England to report known or suspected child abuse or neglect. The statutory guidance, Working Together to Safeguard Children, says “anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to local authority children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern that the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.” While statutory guidance does not impose a legislative requirement to report abuse, it creates an expectation that those working with children will comply with the guidance unless there are exceptional circumstances.

That said:

...a number of professional regulators and bodies (predominantly those in the health and social care sectors) require their members to report any concerns about a child’s safety or well-being. A professional’s failure to adhere to such standards or codes of conduct may result in misconduct or fitness to practise proceedings against them. Source: UK Parliament

  • 7
    Although the question is tagged USA, I have answered in line with: we expect and encourage answers dealing with other jurisdictions ... please tag your answer using the tag markdown: [tag: some-tag]". From the Help centre
    – user35069
    Dec 16, 2022 at 22:57
  • There is specific mandatory reporting in cases of suspicion of FGM in England.
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2022 at 10:17
  • @JamesK source?
    – Tim
    Dec 17, 2022 at 14:54
  • I'm a teacher, this is part of the annual "keeping children safe in education" training. However I think the relevant law is section 5b of the FGM act 2003. legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2003/31/section/5B
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2022 at 15:47

Reporting child abuse is mandatory for everyone

s316a of the Crimes Act 1900 defines the offence of “Concealing child abuse offence” which has a maximum sentence of 2 years or 5 years imprisonment depending on the nature of the child abuse offence.

The elements are that you know or reasonably ought to know a child abuse offence has been committed, you know, believe or reasonably ought to know that you might be of material assistance, and do not have a reasonable excuse for not bringing that information to the attention of a member of the NSW Police Force.

I have only been able to find one case on this, R v George (a pseudonym) [2021] NSWDC 18. George was present on numerous occasions where the mother of their son committed serious child abuse on more than one occasion which ultimately caused permanent brain injury. George did not merely fail to disclose these offences, he actively concealed them from paramedics, hospital staff, and police. He was sentenced to 2 years 7 months with a non-parole period of 1 year 8 months - both heavily discounted due to an early guilty plea, good prospects of rehabilitation, and cooperation in the Crown case against the mother.

  • What might be a "reasonable excuse for not bringing that information to the attention"?
    – Barmar
    Dec 17, 2022 at 18:18
  • I wonder, for example (and I've been in this situation) that a reasonable excuse might be that the child only spoke to you after extracting a promise of secrecy. Dec 17, 2022 at 19:55
  • @MichaelKay if the child was now an adult when that happened, yes. If the child is still under 18, no. The law is explicit on this.
    – Dale M
    Dec 17, 2022 at 20:31
  • @Barmar the law lists reasonable excuses
    – Dale M
    Dec 17, 2022 at 20:32

In most countries, it is a crime to fail to report child abuse. Depending on the country, failing to report child abuse can be a misdemeanor or a felony, and in some countries, it can even be considered a form of complicity in the crime. Therefore, it is important to report any suspected or known cases of child abuse.

  • 8
    Some specifics would make this a much better answer. I am not at all convinced that this is true for members of he general public in "most" countries. Dec 17, 2022 at 1:27
  • 1
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