State Laws. B. Child Abuse Reporting Requirements


1. Inclusion of statutory rape in reporting requirements

Mandated reporters are required to report all instances where they have cause to believe that a child has been sexually abused.[715] The definition of child sexual abuse includes:[716]

  • Aggravated sexual battery and rape of a child (listed in the previous section). These laws address sexual activity with children under 13 years of age and apply to all persons, regardless of their relationship with the child.
  • A number of specific sexual acts[717] that constitute child sexual abuse. This section of the definition does not address the age of the victim and does not include any provisions that indicate that it applies only to persons responsible for the care and custody of the child.
  • Any of the acts described above if: (1) the victim is between 13 and 18 years of age; and (2) the defendant is the parent, guardian, relative, person residing in the victim’s home, or other person responsible for the care and custody of the child.

Physicians or other persons who diagnose or treat a child 13 years of age or younger for any sexually transmitted disease are required to notify the Department of Health. Other individuals required to report under these guidelines include superintendents and managers of clinics, dispensaries, charitable institutions, and penal institutions.[718]

A 1996 law passed in Tennessee dealt specifically with the prevention of statutory rape and the reporting of this crime. It outlines two specific scenarios where individuals who encounter pregnant children are either required or encouraged to report the crime:

  • If a physician or other person treating a pregnant woman less than 18 years of age learns that the alleged father is at least 4 years older than the woman (and not her legal spouse), the provider is encouraged to notify the judge having juvenile jurisdiction, the office of the sheriff, or the chief law enforcement official in the municipality where the child resides. Such a report can only be made with the consent of the patient or a parent, legal guardian, or custodian.[719]
  • The Department of Human Services is required to report all cases where an applicant for child support or public assistance appears to be a victim of statutory rape. This requirement applies to cases where (1) an applicant is at least 13 years of age and less than 18 years of age and (2) the father of the applicant’s child is at least 4 years older than the applicant.[720]

2. Mandatory reporters

Any person who knows or suspects that a child has been sexually abused is required to notify the proper authorities. The statute makes specific reference to: physical and mental health providers; school teachers or other school officials or personnel; judges; social workers, day care center workers, or other professional child care, foster care, residential, or institutional workers; and law enforcement officers.[721]

3. Who to report to

All reports of child sexual abuse must be made immediately to: the local office of the Department of Children’s Services, the judge having juvenile jurisdiction, the office of the sheriff, or the chief law enforcement official in the municipality where the child resides.[722]

Cases involving victims under 13 years of age found to be infected with a sexually transmitted disease should be reported to the Department of Health.[723]

Public assistance workers encountering applicants who they suspect to have been victims of statutory rape must notify the appropriate law enforcement agency and district attorney general.[724]

4. State response

The Department of Children’s Services is required to be capable of receiving reports of abuse 24 hours a day, seven days a week.[725] In all cases involving child sexual abuse, the county director of the Department is required to notify and consult with the district attorney general where the abuse occurred.[726] Law enforcement officers and judges that receive reports must immediately notify the Department.[727] In addition, the Department of Health must notify the Department of Children’s Services of any reports it receives involving children with a sexually transmitted disease.[728]

Each county must have a child protective team, convened by the Department upon receiving a report of child sexual abuse. These teams must include: one representative from the Department; one representative from the office of the district attorney general; one juvenile court officer or investigator from a court of competent jurisdiction; and one law enforcement officer from the county where the victim resides of where the alleged offense occurred. The team can also include a mental health professional and a child advocacy center representative.[729]

Teams are required to begin their investigations within 24 hours of the report.[730] If a team finds that the abuse occurred, it must give immediate oral notification to the appropriate district attorney general and law enforcement agency. Within three days, this should be followed by a written report.[731] Teams must also report their findings to the Department’s abuse registry within 60 days of the initial report.[732]