People charged with child abuse, or convicted of neglecting or abusing children face a major social stigma. Even unfounded allegations of child abuse can be enough to ostracize a person. Unfortunately, family disputes, break-ups and divorce can get ugly, and false claims of child abuse can be used as a weapon against one party, and disproving false allegations of child abuse can be difficult and overwhelming.
At Dhar Law, LLP in Boston, we provide legal defense for individuals charged with child abuse. Contact our lawyers today at 617-391-0592.
Massachusetts Child Abuse Laws
According to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Family Regulations, abuse is the non-accidental commission of any act taken upon a child under 18 which causes physical or emotional injury, or involves a sexual offense, or any sexual contact between a caretaker and a child under their care.
Child abuse can be prosecuted under a number of laws, depending on the specific facts alleged in the case. Generally, child abuse falls under "wanton or reckless behavior creating a risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child."
According to the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, "whoever wantonly or recklessly engages in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or sexual abuse to a child or wantonly or recklessly fails to take reasonable steps to alleviate such risk" can be charged with child abuse.
Sexual abuse is defined under the statute, to enumerate the specific offenses, including: rape, indecent assault and aggravated indecent assault and battery on a child, rape with force, aggravated rape, and assault with intent to commit rape.
For the purposes of the law, a child is anyone under 18 years old. Harming a 17-year-old is child abuse, just as harming a 3-year-old is child abuse. However, many of the state's sex crimes differentiate charges and penalties depending on the age of the victim.
Mandatory Reporting of Suspected Abuse
Child abuse can be reported by any number of people in the community, and in some jobs, there is a legal requirement to report any suspected abuse or neglect to the authorities. Mandatory reporters include physical and mental health providers, teachers, guidance counselors, family counselors, childcare workers, police and law enforcement officers, social workers, drug and alcohol counselors, foster parents, and members of the clergy.
A mandatory reporter who, in their professional capacity, has reasonable cause to believe a child is suffering physical, emotional or sexual abuse shall immediately communicate their suspicion to the Department of Social Services, followed by a written report detailing the suspect abuse or neglect.
Failing to report suspected abuse or neglect is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000. Additionally, there are penalties for filing a frivolous report of child abuse, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 for a first offense.
False Allegations of Child Abuse
Child abuse is a very serious accusation, and should be treated extremely delicately. If someone has made false allegations of child abuse or child neglect against you, you need to take action. Even if someone is not making the claims to the police, other people may report the false abuse claims to law enforcement. If accused of something you did not do, it may be tempting to make false allegations about the other person; however, this may only escalate the fight and make matters worse.
If you become the target of an investigation of abuse, you may think that explaining your situation may make the problem go away, but be aware that the things you say can be used against you. Before you decide whether to cooperate with officials in a child abuse investigation, you should peak with legal counsel to help make the difficult decisions of what the next step should be, and to make sure your rights are defended.
Sex Offender Registration for Child Sexual Abuse
If the alleged crime includes sexual abuse against a child, then a conviction for a sex crime against a child carries an automatic requirement to register as a sex offender. The state's Sex Offender Registry Board handles sex offender registration, which requires annual reporting, and updating officials anytime the individual moves or changes address. For child sexual abuse offenses, the sex offender registration requirement is for the rest of the individual's life.
Defenses to Child Abuse Charges
Child abuse charges often have little physical evidence, or the physical evidence could have been caused by any number of accidents which didn't involve abuse. Abuse allegations can come from people with good intentions, but without any evidence. Each case is different, and lawyers experienced in defending people charged with child abuse will be able identify possible defenses. This will include undertaking an in-depth investigation, including gathering all available records and evidence and interviewing all relevant parties.