Charleston Divorce Lawyers: South Carolina’s Mandatory Reporting Laws
The whole country has been following the sad and almost unbelievable story coming out of Penn State University of their football program since last November. If, for some reason you have not, the football program has been embroiled in scandal concerning the multiple failures by their coaching staff and school administration to report the sexually abusive behavior of former coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky is now in prison, two school administrators have been await trial for their part in the cover-up, and legendary coach Joe Paterno, who passed away in January, was fired after 47 years on the job (despite his proclamation of having abided by the letter of the law). The school recently released the results of an independent report conducted by former federal judge and FBI Director Louis Freeh, which permanently tarnished Paterno by linking him to a willful cover-up of Sandusky’s serial molestations.
Charleston had its own brush with a serial child abuser at the same time. Louis “Skip” ReVille worked with a number of local schools, churches, and youth groups. Questions still remain regarding who knew what and when, but a lawsuit is pending on behalf of some of the victims against Pinewood Prep; the high school and the Citadel both are accused of knowingly passing ReVille on to other schools after learning of his criminal behavior.
Much of the talk surrounding both the Penn State and local cases centered on the (alleged) failure of individuals and institutions to expose these molesters to the appropriate authorities. At Penn State, assistant football coach Mike McQueary stumbled on Sandusky and a boy in the showers at a school building, but rather than going to the police (or taking matters into his own hands), he waited before notifying the school vice president and Coach Paterno. He never followed up on his reports, even when he saw no action being taken against Sandusky. Lawyers for ReVille’s victims allege Pinewood Prep knew enough about his abuse to send him to “counseling,” but failed to properly notify law enforcement. The Citadel conducted a private investigation of ReVille’s behavior before privately settling with a victim, but didn’t alert possible future employers or authorities.
The Sandusky and ReVille cases both involve serious questions about the morality and legalities of reporting abuse. The questions of morality are outside the scope of this blog, but what about the legalities? In South Carolina, who is required to report suspicions of abuse, when is this obligation triggered, and to whom is one required to make a report?
The questions is governed by SC Code Section 63-7-310, which lists those professionals who are required to report abuse if they have received information in his or her professional capacity that a child has been abused or neglected. Those professions include: any doctor, health care provider, or any employee of a doctor or health care provider; any member of the clergy; school teachers, counselors, principals, and assistant principals; social worker, substance abuse counselors, and childcare providers; police or law enforcement officer; any employees of funerals homes; film processors or computer techs; and, judges. “Abuse” is defined specifically by SC Code Section 63-7-20, but in general terms means that a parent or other guardian inflicts or causes substantial risk of serious mental or physical harm to a child; commits or allows a sexual offense to committed on a child; fails to feed, clothe, or shelter; abandons a child; or, allows a child to become a delinquent.
A mandatory reporter’s job is complete only upon reporting suspected abuse to local law enforcement (preferably the County Sheriff’s Department) or to your local DSS office. Do not make the same mistake that was made at Penn State or locally — reporting to your boss does not mean you have fulfilled your obligation.
These are very specific laws, applicable to very specific people in very specific situations. Some of these professions may not be self-explanatory, and some of these situations may not seem like they arise to the level of “abuse.” If you are unsure whether these laws apply to you or a situation you may have encountered, report. Let law enforcement sort the facts out, and always err on the side of reporting.
Changes may be coming to the laws that have been referenced above, so keep your eye on the news. SC Representative Peter McCoy (R-Chas) has recently introduced a bill that would make everybody in the state a mandatory reporter. You can watch him discuss the bill here. Such a law, if passed, would certainly be the broadest of its kind in the nation (if not in the world), and would make those who violate its provisions subject to misdemeanor prosecution.
Contact our Charleston divorce lawyers if we may provide you with further guidance on this serious and potentially tricky issue.