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Women's Health

Does a Doctor Have to Report Abuse?

07/07/2010

Question:

I was sexually abused by my father for many years when I was a child. I am afraid to tell my doctor because I am afraid my doctor will report it to the police. I do not want my father arrested or sent to jail. It would hurt my mother more than it would hurt my father since he would not be able to support her if he was in jail. She has no way to earn a living and she would lose her home.

I am an adult now and I no longer live at home. I just stay away from him and he hasn`t touched me in years.

If I tell my doctor does she have to report this to the police or any other authorities?

Thank you.

Answer:

Some of the answer depends on the state in which you reside and the statutory limits for the case. In general, though, if you are now an adult and do not want to press charges, the case doesn’t have to be reported by the health care provider. The mandate is usually to report ongoing abuse of children and elderly (vulnerable populations). There is the problem, though, if the perpetrator is an ongoing sex offender. If that’s the case, then he needs to be reported, but the context is a current incident rather than one in the distant past.

It is, though important for you to get into some kind of therapy to work with the effect of the abuse on your adult life and relationships. These kinds of “secrets” can be devastating. Hope this helps.

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Response by:

Elizabeth R Barker, APRN, BC, FNP, FAANP, CHE, PhD Elizabeth R Barker, APRN, BC, FNP, FAANP, CHE, PhD
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University