Reporting child abuse is no longer only a moral duty. It can now result in a $1 million fine for people who knowingly fail to report abuse.
On Monday, a new state law went into effect that cracks down on reporting child abuse and assists child abuse victims. The law includes fines of up to $1 million for universities and a felony charge for individuals who fail to report abuse.
The additions made Florida the state toughest toward child abuse, said Erin Gillespie, spokeswoman for Florida Department of Children and Families.
Gillespie said the push for the new legislation is credited largely to the Pennsylvania State University abuse scandal.
She said the law change requires people to report suspected abuse by any person to a child. Previously, people could only make a report if the child’s parent or guardian was the suspected abuser.
“Child abuse is higher than we know,” she said. “It just hasn’t been reported.”
The offense of refusing to report child abuse used to be a misdemeanor, but under this law, it is classified as a third-degree felony. Gillespie said this means the punishments are harsher, and the jail time is longer for those who commit the crime.
Every allegation will go through an investigation, including an interview with the child, parents, teachers, neighbors and anyone else who could make accurate observations about the child’s well-being.
Gillespie said Aventura-based Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit organization that strives to prevent abuse and to heal surviving victims, was instrumental to getting this law passed.
“Lauren brought the problem to light,” said Jessica Clark, senior account executive for Lauren’s Kids. “Aside from laws, she wants to teach kids to be their own line of defense.”
Lauren’s Kids mandated a new curriculum in the law requiring kindergarten classes to teach children what are safe and unsafe secrets and whom they can trust to talk to.
“The kids are picking it up well,” Gillespie said, noting that Tallahassee schools have implemented the curriculum. “They are very aware of good and bad secrets.”
Gillespie said indicators of a physically abused child include bruises, broken bones and other visible harm. Sexually abused children, who are more difficult to spot, tend to act out toward other children or become withdrawn. Neglected children tend to show signs of hunger or lack of hygiene.