How to Report Sexual Abuse in the United States

You might find yourself in the difficult situation of either knowing or suspecting that sexual abuse is happening. It is important to report what is going on so that the abuse will stop and all those involved can be connected with the resources they need to begin recovering.

We don’t want to downplay how hard and scary it can be to face the prospect of reporting sexual abuse. There are numerous reasons that you might not want to report. The perpetrator could be someone you love and care about. Or you might feel like reporting will be disruptive to another family and the abuse is none of your business. You might tell yourself that you should be absolutely certain that abuse is happening before you report.

Despite the legitimate concerns you could have, consider what’s at stake for the child who is being abused. Children who experience trauma like sexual abuse can suffer consequences for the rest of their lives. You need to do what you can to stop that trauma from occurring, and if sexual abuse has occurred, the child will need help to recover. Here are some practical questions you might have about reporting in the United States.

Who do I report to?

In general, you should report to Child Protective Services (CPS). Their primary goal will be to ensure the long-term safety and well-being of the child. Find the specific agency in your state to report to.

What happens after I report?

CPS will carry out an investigation, and sometimes law enforcement will help, especially if there are going to be legal consequences for the perpetrator. Investigations will often involve an interview with the child.

Will my name be kept confidential?

In most states, you can report anonymously, but officials will find it helpful to have your name if you’re willing to give it. Your name should remain confidential after you report. CPS and law enforcement employees won’t inform people of information in an ongoing investigation.

Will the child be taken from the home?

The primary goal of CPS is to ensure the safety and well-being of the child. Removing the child from the home is usually a last resort for CPS because it is so disruptive. The first line of attack will be to put up checks and safeguards in the home to ensure that the child is safe. A child is only removed if authorities determine that an adult cannot provide adequate care and protection.

Am I legally required to report?

Nearly every state has mandatory reporting laws that require certain individuals to report either suspected or confirmed sexual abuse. Consult these summaries of state laws to find out what your obligations are.

Making the decision to report is scary, and there are real consequences that are extremely difficult for everyone involved—the child, the child’s family, the perpetrator, you. Just remember that you are reporting to help. If abuse is occurring, a difficult and damaging situation already exists. You’re reporting to stop the situation from getting worse and to get people the help they need.

There are other resources out there to help if you still have questions about reporting and if you need support throughout the process.