When And How To File

“When do I file?”

If you suspect a child is being sexually abused, getting the proper help and support is vital. Typically, the situations that require reporting are:

  • A child and/or adult shows numerous and consistent warning signs of abuse or being at risk to abuse
  • A child has stated that he or she is being abused by an adult
  • A child has stated that another child has been engaging in sexually harmful behaviors with him or her
  • A child states that he or she has sexually harmed another child
  • An adult has stated that he or she has sexually abused a child
  • An individual has become aware of child pornography online
  • An adult is aware of another adult or child who is viewing child pornography

"Should I wait until I’m sure before I file a report?"

In most situations you do not need to wait to have “evidence” of child abuse to file a report to child protective services of police. However, it is always best when there is some symptom, behavior or conversation that you can identify or describe to a child protection screener or police officer when making the report. Remember to include all relevant information that you think might assist them.

  • If you are a mandated reporter, check with your state’s requirements for mandated reporters as each state has a specific definition about what may be required in order for the authorities to accept a report, and under what circumstances you must file. In many cases having “reason to suspect abuse” is sufficient to contact authorities.
  • If you are involved with a family court case when sexual abuse concerns arise, it is advisable to consult with your attorney as you consider filing reports which allege child sexual abuse by someone related to your active case.

“Who do I call? Do I call Child Protection or the police?"

Typically, Child Protective Services (CPS) will accept reports and consider investigating situations in where the person offending is in a caretaking role for the child – parent, legal guardian, childcare provider, teacher, etc. Their primary objective is to make sure the child is safe in their own home or when with adults who are responsible for their care.

The police usually take on the investigation of cases where the person offending has a non-caretaking role – family friend, neighbor, acquaintance, or unfamiliar adult or youth. In some cases CPS and the police will collaborate in the investigation, prosecution, and follow-up process. In some situations if one agency is not responsive you can seek the guidance or assistance of the other authority. Some families choose to file reports with both offices as they can and do share information between them when necessary.

You also have the option of filing with both authorities. If you file with an authority which is not best suited to take the report, ask them specifically who you should contact to file. Typically reports should be filed in the area where you believe the abuse took place, not necessarily where the people involved are right now.

“How do I file?”

Be prepared with as much factual information as possible and include as much of the following as possible.

  • Name, date of birth (or approximate age), race, and gender, for all adults and children involved.
  • Addresses or another means to locate the subjects of the report, including current location.
  • Information regarding disabilities and/or limitations of the victims (especially for vulnerable adult victims).
  • Relationship of the alleged perpetrator to the child or adult victim(s).
  • Other relevant information that would expedite an investigation, such as directions to the victim (especially in rural areas) and potential risks to the investigator, should be given to the Abuse Hotline Counselor.
  • Stick to only what is factually known and what you personally have observed.
  • Avoid telling the person taking the report what you think should be done or offering opinions regarding the people involved in the report.
  • Remain calm, polite and professional.

In many states reports can be filed with child protection authorities anonymously which means you can file without providing identifying information about who you are. If you have questions about filing you can call a confidential helpline such as Child Help USA or the Stop It Now! Helpline (1.888.PREVENT) to discuss your concerns before making your report.

Reporting Internet Crime:

The Cybertipline is an online and phone service which accepts leads regarding Internet criminal activity which are forwarded to law enforcement for review. Operated by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in collaboration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other state and law enforcement agencies, the Cybertipline has resources on Internet safety and Internet crime reporting. Contact or 1.800.843.5678.

Illegal images, websites or illegal solicitations can also be reported directly to your local police department. More and more police departments are establishing Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) teams.

For reporting child pornography outside of the U.S., INHOPE: International Association of Internet Hotlines includes an international directory of resources for reporting concerning online content