Punishment Could Depend on How Long You Knew about the Abuse
Video Transcribed: It’s a crime not to report suspected child abuse or neglect in Oklahoma. I’m Oklahoma lawyer, James Wirth, and that’s the topic that we have is simply the fact Oklahoma law changed a few years back, it is now a crime for anybody to fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect.
I’ve actually got the statute pulled up here, it is a Title 10A Section 1-2-101, subsection B, and what it provides is that every person having reason to believe that a child under the age of 18 years is a victim of abuse or neglect shall report the matter immediately to the Department of Human Services. Previously, there were certain people that had that duty, maybe based on their role as perhaps a teacher or healthcare provider. It was expanded to include anybody in the state of Oklahoma who has that obligation.
Okay, so what if you don’t do that? Well, it is a crime, you can go to jail for. It provides that any person who knowingly and willfully fails to promptly report suspected child abuse and neglect, or who interferes with the prompt reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect may be reported to local law enforcement for criminal investigation, and upon conviction shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. So, for failure to do that, it is a misdemeanor crime with the potential of up to a year in prison, and I believe it’s up to a thousand dollars fine and/or both of those. However, if the person has prolonged knowledge of ongoing child abuse for a period of six months or more, then it’s not a misdemeanor, it is a felony where instead of going to the county jail, perhaps you could go to the penitentiary for this.
The interesting part though is that if you have a duty and everybody has a duty to report suspected child abuse, what is it required to suspect child abuse? And that’s not defined really well. Also, what is the definition of abuse or neglect? Most people would probably be very surprised that under Oklahoma laws, those terms are fairly broad and probably cover way more than you would think that they would. For instance, looking at the statutory definition of abuse, again, is statutory. You can find it in Title 10A Section 1-1-105, this is the definition of abuse. It says, “Abuse means harm or threatened harm.” So, right off the bat, it has expanded abuse to mean not just harm, but also just the threat of harm. No actual abuse is occurring, no harm is occurring. If you threaten it, it’s abuse under Oklahoma law.
All right, harm to the safety, health, or welfare of a child. Okay, so what does that mean to be harmed to the safety? Harm to the health? Harm to the welfare? What does it mean to be a threat to harm, to health, safety or welfare? Of a child by a person responsible for the child’s health, safety, or welfare, including but not limited to non-accidental physical or mental injury. Okay, so here we have another expansion. Harm does not just include physical, it also includes mental injury. So, that’s part of the ways where this can get expanded quite a bit. Also, if you look for harm or threat and harm, there’s a separate definition of that that expands it to emotional injury as well. So, you don’t actually have to have harm, it could be a threat. It doesn’t have to be physical harm, it could be mental harm, so a threat to cause a mental injury.
And what does it require to be a mental injury? This can all be extremely broad. So, it’s just important to note, Oklahoma law does require mandatory reporting if you suspect child abuse or neglect, and just know that the law is extremely broad and how they define what is neglect, and what is abuse.
If you’ve got any questions about the law in Oklahoma, you’re going to want to talk to a Tulsa child custody attorney about that privately and confidentially. To get that scheduled with somebody at my office, you can go online to makelaweasy.com.