Most states have some kind of mandatory reporting laws if someone believes that a child is being abused (sexually or otherwise) or neglected. This makes sense. After all, very young children literally cannot speak for themselves, and may not understand that anything wrong is happening. Even older children can benefit, because they might not feel emotionally able to come forward about abuse, or know exactly what they’re supposed to do.
Colorado, however, takes mandatory reporting a few steps beyond this if there is a belief that a sex crime occurred. It’s important to understand how these laws work and how they might impact what is reported and how people are charged.
Below, we’re going to go over the reporting laws in our state and discuss their impact.
What Needs to Be Reported in Colorado?
As mentioned above, any possible instances of child abuse or neglect must be reported in our state – if you fall under one of the categories covered by Section 19-3-304. In this, Colorado law is actually not quite as robust as in some other states, where anyone is required to report if they see what they believe is child abuse or neglect.
However, our state goes beyond others in the categories of alleged victims that fall under mandatory reporting laws. In addition to children, there are laws requiring certain people to report any abuse of “at-risk elders or adults with IDD” (i.e., seniors and adults with developmental disabilities). Additionally – and this is where Colorado really pushes then envelope on mandatory reporting – any competent adults who receive medical care for sexual assault and have evidence collected are required to file a report in one of three ways:
- Law enforcement report.
- Medical report.
- Anonymous report.
Ours is one of only nine states to force competent adults to file a report for sexual assault. In fact, national best practice is to leave the choice up to alleged victims, but Colorado has decided to take away that choice.
Who Does Colorado Require to Make Reports?
This is a long list, and it varies depending on the type of alleged victim, from children to seniors and those with disabilities to competent adults.
For children, mandatory reporters include:
“(a) Physician or surgeon, including a physician in training;
(b) Child health associate;
(c) Medical examiner or coroner;
(i) Registered nurse or licensed practical nurse;
(j) Hospital personnel engaged in the admission, care, or treatment of patients;
(k) Christian science practitioner;
(l) Public or private school official or employee;
(m) Social worker or worker in any facility or agency that is licensed or certified pursuant to part 1 of article 6 of title 26, C.R.S. (e.g. child care providers and employees);
(n) Mental health professional;
(o) Dental hygienist;
(q) Physical therapist;
(s) Peace officer as described in section 16-2.5-101, C.R.S.;
(u) Commercial film and photographic print processor as provided in subsection (2.5) of this section;
(v) Firefighter as defined in section 18-3-201 (1), C.R.S.;
(w) Victim’s advocate, as defined in section 13-90-107 (1) (k) (II), C.R.S.;
(x) Licensed professional counselors;
(y) Licensed marriage and family therapists;
(z) Registered psychotherapists;
(aa) Clergy member.
(bb) Registered dietitian who holds a certificate through the commission on dietetic registration and who is otherwise prohibited by 7 CFR 246.26 from making a report absent a state law requiring the release of this information;
(cc) Worker in the state department of human services;
(dd) Juvenile parole and probation officers;
(ee) Child and family investigators, as described in section 14-10-116.5, C.R.S.;
(ff) Officers and agents of the state bureau of animal protection, and animal control officers;
(gg) The child protection ombudsman as created in article 3.3 of this title;
(hh) Educator providing services through a federal special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, as provided for in 42 U.S.C. sec. 1786;
(ii) Director, coach, assistant coach, or athletic program personnel employed by a private sports organization or program.
(jj) Person who is registered as a psychologist candidate pursuant to section 12-43-304 (7), C.R.S., marriage and family therapist candidate pursuant to section 12-43-504 (5), C.R.S., or licensed professional counselor candidate pursuant to section 12-43-603 (5), C.R.S., or who is described in section 12-43-215, C.R.S.; and
(kk) Emergency medical service providers, as defined in sections 25-3.5-103 (8) and 25-3.5-103 (12), C.R.S., and certified pursuant to part 2 of article 3.5 of title 25, C.R.S. (effective July 1, 2014)
(2.5) Any commercial film and photographic print processor who has knowledge of or observes, within the scope of his or her professional capacity or employment, any film, photograph, video tape, negative, or slide depicting a child engaged in an act of sexual conduct shall report such fact to a local law enforcement agency immediately or as soon as practically possible by telephone and shall prepare and send a written report of it with a copy of the film, photograph, video tape, negative, or slide attached within thirty-six hours of receiving the information concerning the incident.”
Persons on this list who fail to report child abuse or neglect may face misdemeanor charges.
For at-risk elders and adults with IDD:
(b) The following persons, whether paid or unpaid, shall report as required by paragraph (a) of this subsection (1):
(I) Any person providing health care or health-care-related services, including general medical, surgical, or nursing services; medical, surgical, or nursing speciality services; dental services; vision services; pharmacy services; chiropractic services; or physical, occupational, musical, or other therapies;
(II) Hospital and long-term care facility personnel engaged in the admission, care, or treatment of patients;
(III) First responders including emergency medical service providers, fire protection personnel, law enforcement officers, and persons employed by, contracting with, or volunteering with any law enforcement agency, including victim advocates;
(IV) Medical examiners and coroners;
(V) Code enforcement officers;
(VII) Psychologists, addiction counselors, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and registered psychotherapists, as those persons are defined in article 43 of title 12, C.R.S.;
(VIII) Social workers, as defined in part 4 of article 43 of title 12, C.R.S.;
(IX) Staff of community-centered boards;
(X) Staff, consultants, or independent contractors of service agencies as defined in section 25.5-10-202 (34), C.R.S.;
(XI) Staff or consultants for a licensed or unlicensed, certified or uncertified, care facility, agency, home, or governing board, including but not limited to long-term care facilities, home care agencies, or home health providers;
(XII) Staff of, or consultants for, a home care placement agency, as defined in section 25-27.5-102 (5), C.R.S.;
(XIII) Persons performing case management or assistant services for at-risk elders or at-risk adults with IDD;
(XIV) Staff of county departments of human or social services;
(XV) Staff of the state departments of human services, public health and environment, or health care policy and financing;
(XVI) Staff of senior congregate centers or senior research or outreach organizations;
(XVII) Staff, and staff of contracted providers, of area agencies on aging, except the long-term care ombudsmen;
(XVIII) Employees, contractors, and volunteers operating specialized transportation services for at-risk elders and at-risk adults with IDD;
(XIX) Court-appointed guardians and conservators;
(XX) Personnel at schools serving persons in preschool through twelfth grade;
(XXI) Clergy members; except that the reporting requirement described in paragraph (a) of this subsection (1) does not apply to a person who acquires reasonable cause to believe that an at-risk elder or an at-risk adult with IDD has been mistreated or has been exploited or is at imminent risk of mistreatment or exploitation during a communication about which the person may not be examined as a witness pursuant to section 13-90-107 (1) (c), C.R.S., unless the person also acquires such reasonable cause from a source other than such a communication; and
(XXII) (A) Personnel of banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and other lending or financial institutions who directly observe in person the mistreatment of an at-risk elder or who have reasonable cause to believe that an at-risk elder has been mistreated or is at imminent risk of mistreatment; and
(B) Personnel of banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and other lending or financial institutions who directly observe in person the mistreatment of an at-risk adult with IDD or who have reasonable cause to believe that an at-risk adult with IDD has been mistreated or is at imminent risk of mistreatment by reason of actual knowledge of facts or circumstances indicating the mistreatment.”
Those on this list who do not report elder or IDD adult abuse may be charged with a class 3 misdemeanor.
Finally, as mentioned above, for competent adult victims, the victims themselves are made to report if they seek medical help and evidence is collected.
How Can Mandatory Reporting Laws in Colorado Potentially Harm Both Victims and Those Charged?
Any time people are forced to report criminal acts under fear of penalty, it can create an uncomfortable situation where they feel obliged to report even the most minor possible infractions to avoid being punished themselves.
This is bad for two reasons:
- It can stop actual victims from getting the help they need because they are afraid of reprisal from their abuser or attacker if a report is made.
- It can lead to improper arrests and charges if a mandatory reporter overreacts and the mistake isn’t caught. These are errors that not only put both the alleged victim and perpetrator through a horrible ordeal, but also waste law enforcement resources and taxpayer money.
If you or someone you love is facing a charge, it is vital that you understand how our mandatory reporting laws work and the way they can influence these types of cases so that you are more prepared to fight back.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.