I teach grade school and suspect a student’s mother is being abused by her live-in boyfriend. My suspicions became even stronger when she showed up for a parent-teacher conference with a black eye and broken wrist. What kinds of abuse should I be reporting and to whom? What am I obligated to report?
The simple answer is that you have no legal obligation to report abuse involving an adult. However, anyone who suspects abuse going on may report these concerns to authorities.
"You can always report if you think someone is being hurt, but you are not required to report abuse of an adult," said attorney Peder Arneson.
The law is different when it comes to children, however. "Any time you have a concern that a child is subject to abuse or neglect or has been threatened with abuse or neglect, it is your responsibility to call social services," Arneson said. "The Children’s Code portion of our Wisconsin statutes is very clear."
Under the code, state statutes specifically require educators to report neglect or abuse. Others with that responsibility include medical professionals (with some limited exceptions), mental health counselors, alcohol and other drug abuse professionals, police, law enforcement and first responders. With clergy frequently serving as counselors, it can be argued that they fall under this law although they are not specifically named.
The law also specifically states people who report abuse cannot be fired for contacting authorities with their suspicions.