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How to report suspected abuse

Child Abuse


Any person who has reason to believe a child has been subjected to abuse (physical or sexual abuse) or neglect must make a report to the local office of Department of Social Services or law enforcement as soon as possible. In Maryland, suspected abuse must be reported to the county in which the abuse occurred.



Domestic Violence


If you believe you are in an abusive relationship or know someone who may be in an abusive relationship with a current or former partner, call DOVE to speak with an advocate. For more information or to get help NOW, call: 



Elder Abuse


If an elderly or vulnerable person in your family or in your community is being abused, neglected, or exploited, call 1-800-91-PREVENT (1-800-917-7383) immediately or the local office of Department of Social Services.

Reporting Suspected Abuse

Studies have shown that only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported. Children are often reluctant to speak up because they don’t think anyone will believe them. Often, they have been made to feel that they caused the abuse or failed to stop it. In some instances, abusers may threaten a child, as well as his/her family, if the child reveals the abuse. Sadly, some victims are too young to understand or verbalize what happened to them.


Oftentimes, families are reluctant to get involved in the legal system or child protective services. An abuse investigation could mean that family members and friends can no longer safely live together or even visit. In some cases, if the main breadwinner for the family is the abuser, there is often worry that removing the abuser from the home could result in serious financial hardship for the family. Family members and friends often find themselves at odds; some denying that the abuse ever happened, others angry because they know that it did. Getting to know each family and its situation helps Center for Hope and its partners assist families through this difficult time and helps them connect with resources they may need to aid in healing and recovery.


For some families, the occurrence of child sexual abuse is just one more challenge in a series of issues – poverty, drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, physical and emotional abuse. Reporting and addressing child sexual abuse may not be their highest priority. In fact, some mothers have revealed that they were sexually abused as children, themselves, and have managed to cope with the trauma without intervention, and they feel that their children could do the same.

What is child sexual abuse?


Child sexual abuse is any sexual contact between a child and an adult or an older child. This includes touching of private parts, sex acts and pornography. In Maryland, if the abuse is committed by someone not providing direct care for the child, it is called child sexual assault.


As defined by Maryland State Family Law 5-701, Child Sexual Abuse:


  • Means any act that involves sexual molestation or exploitation of a child by a parent or other person who has permanent or temporary care, custody, or responsibility for supervision of a child, or by any household or family member.
  • Includes incest, rape, sexual offense in any degree, sodomy, or unnatural or perverted practices.


Facts about child sexual abuse:


  • The average age of reported victims of child sexual abuse in Baltimore City is 9 years old.
  • 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before they reach the age of 18.Briere, J., Eliot, D.M. Prevalence and Psychological Sequence of Self-Reported Childhood Physical and Sexual Abuse in the General Population. Child Abuse and Neglect, 2003, 27 10.
  • Almost 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their abuser; abuse by a stranger accounts for only 10% of child sexual abuse cases. Finkelhor, D. Sexually assaulted Children. In press OJJDP: Washington, D.C.
  • Almost half of all sexual abuse is committed by children under the age of 18. Hunter, J.A., et al., Juvenile Sex Offenders: toward development of a typology. (2003).
  • Victims of child sexual abuse are at high risk for long-term physical and emotional problems including eating disorders, obesity, depression, drug dependence, promiscuity, and prostitution.
  • 88% of child sexual abuse is never reported to the authorities. Hanson, RF et. al. 1999. Factors Related to the Reporting of Child Sexual Abuse.
  • Over 30% of all victims never disclose their experience to anyone.


Who are mandated reporters?


Certain professionals in the community are mandated to report suspicions of abuse in Maryland. These professionals are known as “mandated reporters.”

The following are considered mandated reporters:

  • Physicians
  • Registered and Practical Nurses
  • Hospital Administrators
  • Health Care Providers
  • Dentists
  • Mental Health Professionals
  • Education Professionals
  • Principals, Teachers, Guidance Counselors, School Social Workers
  • Police Officers
  • Camp Counselors and Administrators
  • Members of the Clergy


How should a mandated reporter report suspicions of child sexual abuse?


For health practitioners, police officers, educators, and human service workers (“educator or human service worker” means “any professional employee of any correctional, public, parochial or private educational, health, juvenile service, social or social service agency, institution, or licensed facility”, and specifically includes any teacher, counselor, social worker, caseworker, or probation or parole officer) acting in a professional capacity, an oral report must be made as soon as possible (to the entities noted above), and a written report must be submitted to the local department of social services within 48 hours (with a copy of the written report submitted to the local State’s Attorney in the case of suspected abuse.)


For all other persons, there are no such requirements specified, and the reports “may be oral or in writing.”


Individuals who are not health practitioners, police officers, educators, or human service workers need not report suspected abuse or neglect if doing so would violate the attorney-client privilege or if the report would require disclosure of “matters communicated in confidence by a client to the client’s attorney or other information relating to the representation of the client.”


A minister of the gospel, clergyperson, or priest of an established church of any denomination is not required to report suspected abuse or neglect if:


  • the report would disclose matters in relation to any confession or communication made to him or her in confidence by a person seeking his spiritual advice or consolation, and;
  • the communication was made to the minister, clergyperson, or priest in a professional character in the course of discipline enjoined by the church to which the minister, clergyperson, or priest belongs and the minister, clergyperson, or priest is bound to maintain the confidentiality of that communication under canon law, church doctrine, or practice.


A mental health provider who learns of an instance of child abuse or neglect must report it, regardless of whether the person revealing the information was referred by an attorney (Md. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 90-007)


Reporting is required whenever there is reason to believe that child abuse or neglect occurred in the past, even if the alleged victim is an adult when the incident comes to light, and reporting is required even when the alleged abuser is deceased (Md. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 93-049)


Information available courtesy of RAINN.


Mandated reporters in Maryland can download this interactive form 180. With this form you can type in your information, print it out, and fax it to your local department of child protective services.

Possible Signs of Abuse


Children who have been sexually abused may display a wide variety of emotional, behavioral, or physical symptoms. The signs below are not all inclusive or exclusive but can serve as a guide to understanding an abused child’s behavior. If you suspect abuse, call 911.


Emotional and behavioral signs in children who may have been sexually abused


  • Child reports being abused
  • Sudden mood swings involving rage, fear, anger, or withdrawal
  • Fear of being left alone with a specific person
  • Becoming distant when a specific person is present
  • Fear of a particular place
  • Nightmares, trouble sleeping or extreme fear without a reasonable explanation
  • Unusual clinginess
  • “Spacing out” at odd times
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble eating or swallowing
  • Incorporating sexual subject matter into drawing, writing or play
  • Sexual activities with toys or other children
  • Reverting to earlier childhood behaviors, e.g. bedwetting, thumb sucking
  • Knowledge of sexual activity more extensive than what it should be for their stage of development
  • Alluding to a secret between him/herself and an adult or older child.


Possible physical signs of sexual abuse


  • Trouble sitting or standing
  • Recurrent urinary tract infections
  • Bruising, bleeding, pain, or itching in the genital area, anus, mouth or throat
  • Presence of sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy in underage child
  • Stained, torn, or bloody undergarments
  • Penile or vaginal discharge and/or odor


Possible signs of abusers


  • Insistence on touching or showing child affection even when the child resists
  • Frequently offers to babysit for free or take children on unsupervised outings
  • Requesting uninterrupted time alone with a child
  • Spending significant time with children or much younger teens, in addition to showing little interest in peers or those who are older
  • Buying children expensive or inappropriate gifts or giving them money for no reason
  • Walking in on children or teens in the bathroom, whether accidental or not
  • Significant interest in the sexuality of a particular child or teen
  • Preoccupation with pornography or sexual play with children or toys


Possible signs in relationships with older children and adolescents


When another child or an adolescent is the abuser, it may be difficult to tell the difference between sexual exploration and sexual abuse. Signs of abuse may be:


  • The potential abuser is much larger than the other child.
  • There is a difference in age of three or more years.
  • The potential abuser has power over the child, e.g. babysitter, camp counselor, neighborhood bully, gang leader.
  • The potential victim has physical, emotional, or mental delays that would inhibit his/her ability to protect themselves.
  • The abuser is making potential threats.