State laws that could punish doctors, teachers, and other adults for keeping silent when they suspect a child has been abused have gone largely unenforced over the past decade, reports USA Today. The laws require those who work closely with children to alert police or child-welfare investigators anytime they so much as suspect a child has been abused.
A combination of infrequent enforcement and small penalties means adults have little to fear from concealing abuse. In most states that could provide records, police and prosecutors typically charged no more than one or two people each year. Michigan police made five arrests over the past decade. In Hawaii and Minnesota, court officials couldn’t find a single case. Fewer than half of the cases ended in convictions, and the penalty was usually a fine of less than $1,000. “If you’re not going to make the moral choice, at least you have to have a law with some teeth that makes somebody do it for the legal reason that you’re afraid you’re going to be charged,” said Sean McCormack, a child abuse prosecutor in Harrisburg, Pa.