The Impact of Case Characteristics on Child Abuse Reporting Decisions

Published in: Child Abuse and Neglect, v. 16, No. 1, 1992, p. 57-74

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1991

by Gail L. Zellman

Drawing distinctions on the basis of at least some case characteristics in making reporting decisions makes considerable sense. Using data from a national survey of mandated reporters that included vignettes in which case and personal characteristics were systematically varied, this paper examines the impact of selected characteristics while controlling for others. The data reveal that respondents noticed and responded to case characteristics. Abuse-relevant judgments and reporting intentions varied, often substantially, as a function of case characteristics. Three case characteristics--previous abuse, severity of abuse, and recantation--were powerful predictors of vignette outcomes. A history of previous abuse led to judgments of greater seriousness, a more salutary impact of a report, and greater likelihood of reporting. More severe abuse was more likely to be labeled as abuse, and was more likely to be reported. When the alleged victim retracted her accusation upon questioning by an authority figure, respondents were significantly less likely to intend a report. Child age, perpetrator intent and family socioeconomic status also influenced abuse-relevant judgments and reporting intentions. Respondents were more likely to intend a report when younger children, lazy or angry perpetrators and children from poorer families were portrayed.

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