Sexual contact between an adult and a child is illegal in nearly all situations and in all states across the United States. The only few exceptions are cases where an adolescent engages in a consensual relationship with a young adult as permitted by a state’s Romeo and Juliet laws, if any apply. Typically, when the term pedophilia is used, it does not refer to this type of consensual relationship, but to nonconsensual sexual contact between an adult and a child of any age. When someone suspects that a child is being sexually abused by an adult, she may feel morally compelled to report it and may even be legally required to report her concerns to law enforcement and/or to the state’s child protective services agency because of her job or position in the community. The procedure for reporting suspected pedophile activity can vary from state to state, but it is nearly always a straightforward, anonymous process.
Avenues for Reporting Suspected Abuse
Individuals can report their suspicions in several ways. The ideal way to make a report depends on where and how the alleged abuse is happening. Calling 800-4-A-Child connects you with the Childhelp National Abuse Hotline. Once there, a Childhelp representative can connect you with the state child protective services agency, where you can file a report. The state-level agency will then investigate the case with aid from local law enforcement.
A concerned adult can also report suspicions to local law enforcement or directly to the FBI, depending on the circumstances involved in the alleged abuse. Suspicions of internet-based child sexual abuse, like hosting child pornography websites, should be directed to the FBI. Suspicions of a local adult who may be grooming and engaging in sexual contact with children should be reported to the local police.
Additionally, you can report suspected online pedophile activity to the social network platform where it is happening. For example, a Facebook user can report a suspicious post or image to Facebook. By doing this, he is creating an online "paper" trail that can help law enforcement investigate the claim, and if the investigation leads to an arrest, prosecute the alleged abuser.
Many people choose to make their reports anonymously out of concern for their own well-being. Law enforcement and state agencies respect the reporters' desire for privacy and concern for their own safety.
Understanding the Mandated Reporter's Role
Individuals in certain positions are known as mandated reporters – people who are legally required to report any child abuse suspicions they have to law enforcement and/or to child protective services. Individuals who are considered mandated reporters vary from state to state. Usually, they are in positions where the person works regularly with children, like:
- Children’s librarians.
- Police officers.
- Clergy members.
- Medical professionals.
- Social services employees.
Reporting Suspected Sexual Abuse
Anybody can report their suspicions to authorities, not just mandated reporters. Reports of suspected sexual abuse should include as much information as possible, including the names of the parties involved, the location where the alleged abuse has occurred or is currently occurring, whether the reporter believes the child is in immediate danger, the signs that led the reporter to believe the child is being abused and contact information for the child’s parent or legal guardian.
Reports of suspected child abuse must be made in good faith. This means that the reporter does not need to provide evidence to prove the child is being abused, but she should reasonably believe that her report is true, or at least likely to be true. In her report, the reporter may also include information about any previous attempts she or other adults have made to intervene and protect the child.
Reporting concerns about sexual abuse can potentially save a child's life.