Full Title Name:  Detailed Discussion of Cross-Reporting Laws for Child Abuse and Animal Abuse

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Tarun Bishop Place of Publication:  Michigan State University College of Law Publish Year:  2021 1 Country of Origin:  United States

I. Introduction

Envision the following: You have been hired to work as a Child Protective Services (CPS) employee. You receive a tip of suspected child abuse at a house, and you obtain permission to investigate. You knock on the door. A dog barks; you hear someone screaming “NO!! BAD DOG!!” followed by a loud whack and dog whimpering. When someone opens the door, you immediately smell animal waste and mold, and see rows of cages of animals, far too many animals for one household. In the background, someone continues to berate and hit some of the animals; you also notice some of the animals have skin conditions or are limping. You cannot help but wonder: if this is what they are willing to do when they know someone is at the door, what are they willing to do when no one is watching or listening? You report this to your supervisor, but you have concerns as to whether CPS employees are permitted to report suspected animal cruelty.

This is the reality for CPS employees in many states. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have laws that either mandate or permit child protection employees to report suspected animal abuse, and/or mandate animal protection employees to report suspected child abuse. Such laws are known as “cross-reporting laws.”

For years, child protection personnel have received regular reports of animal cruelty, speaking volumes to the ever-increasing awareness of intertwined incidents of animal cruelty and child abuse. In states with cross-reporting laws, child protection groups investigate these reports by searching for past and present situations of child endangerment. In states without cross-reporting laws, child protection groups may notify animal control personnel or the Department of Agriculture of potential animal cruelty or neglect they suspected in the course of child protection investigations, but those reports may raise concerns of privacy or may go uninvestigated. Regardless, the results are staggering: almost half of animal cruelty reports in Connecticut, within two years before this cited article was written, were connected to child endangerment. Josh Kovner, Animal cruelty is often the first red flag: Nearly 50 animal abuse reports in Connecticut linked to child endangerment in past two years, Hartford Courant, (Dec. 9, 2019), available at https://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-news-animal-child-abuse-link-20191209-cyhu2fw4jfd3toued3j6atbrae-story.html.

Protecting vulnerable populations is, as most would agree, an essential goal of a society or legal system. Identifying and curtailing patterns of violence are both essential to achieving this goal. Statistics, including the one in the preceding paragraph, have shed light on “The Link”: correlations between violence against non-human animals and violence against humans. Multiple studies have found significant correlation between violence against companion animals and interpersonal family violence. In addition, children who are abused or who witness violence against household pets are significantly more likely to inflict violence upon animals both in childhood and adulthood. Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

This paper will begin with a discussion of the link between animal abuse and human violence, with a focus on the link between companion animal abuse and child abuse, including the impacts of violence on children and animals. It then analyzes the history of state laws that mandate child and/or animal abuse reporting, with a discussion on laws that require reporting between child and animal protection organizations. These discussions include the scope and potential challenges of these laws, including the categories of professionals required to report suspected abuse, and the situations in which they are required to report. The paper concludes with a proposal that more states adopt mandatory reporting laws.

II. What is “The Link?”

Increasing research has uncovered a link between abuse of non-human animals and abuse of humans, known as “The Link.” The link between animal abuse and child abuse is particularly salient; where “60% of families under investigation for child abuse, and 88% for physical child abuse, reported animal cruelty.” Elizabeth Deviney, Jeffrey Dickert, and Randall Lockwood, The Care of Pets Within Child Abusing Families (1983), available at wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/acwp_awap/15/. In addition, “[c]hildren who abuse animals are 2-3 times more likely to have been abused themselves.” Richard Lee-Kelland Fiona Finlay, Children who abuse animals: when should you be concerned about child abuse? A review of the literature, Archives of Disease in Childhood 103, Issue 8 (2018), available at https://adc.bmj.com/content/103/8/801. Children who witness animal cruelty are also more likely to behave in a violent manner. Frank R. Ascione and Randall Lockwood, Cruelty to animals: Changing psychological, social, and legislative perspectives (2001), in D.J. Salem & A.N. Rowan (Eds.), The state of the animals (39-53). Washington, DC: Humane Society Press (2001), available at wellbeingintlstudiesrepository.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=sota_2001. Because of this, some states have enacted mandatory cross-reporting laws, under which animal welfare agencies are required to report suspected cases of child abuse, and/or child protection groups are required to report suspected cases of animal abuse. Cross-reporting is, by nature, reporting that occurs between agencies, in which one agency reports to another. For example, a child protection organization may cross-report to an animal protection organization, or vice versa. The primary purpose of mandatory cross-reporting laws is to uncover patterns of abuse more quickly. Patterns of abuse may include patterns of physical violence, patterns of emotional or psychological violence, patterns of sexual abuse, and patterns of neglect.

A. Research on How Violence Impacts Children

Research suggests that animal cruelty and violence within a family are strongly correlated, and that this has substantial effects on child development and behavior. A survey of 860 college students found that, among the respondents who participated in or witnessed animal cruelty as children, approximately 60 percent experienced child abuse or domestic violence as well. Another survey of 308 college students and 314 prisoners found a correlation between “negative or physically punitive home environments” and animal abuse, though it did not examine whether there was a correlation between “severe” physical punishment and animal cruelty. The family or household framework is important, because when violence against one member of the household occurs--whether the member is a child, a spouse or lover, or a pet or other animal--other members of the household are at a heightened risk of being on the receiving end of violence. Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

When a particular household is identified as one in which violence is occurring, prompt interventions can help to halt patterns of violence that would not have been identified. Thus, when child protection and animal protection organizations work together and cross-report abuse to one another, child and animal protection organizations can address such patterns of violence that they would otherwise have not known existed in a particular household. It is particularly notable that this included both children who witnessed animal abuse and children who abused animals, because this points to two distinct dangers of animal abuse in a family context: (1) patterns of violence beget patterns of violence, and violence against one member of the household heightens the risk that another member will experience violence; and (2) when children witness animal cruelty, the children themselves may go on to inflict cruelty upon animals. Related studies also correlated witnessing and participating in animal cruelty as children with violent behavior as adults. Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Women who experienced domestic abuse have also reported higher levels of animal cruelty in the home. Most notably, various studies indicated that half or more respondents said that a “male abuser had threatened, harmed, or killed their pet,” and more than 25% and possibly 50% said their pet “had been injured or killed by a partner.” Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Ascione et al. (2007) found that 54% of women in domestic violence shelters said their partner had “hurt or killed a pet,” and 52.5% said their partner had “threatened a pet”; among women who were not abused, the percentages were 5% and 12.5%, respectively. “The strongest predictors of threats toward pets in this study were the Minor Physical Violence and Verbal Aggression subscales of the Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS; Straus, 1979), whereas the strongest predictor of actual harm or killing of animals by a partner was the Severe Physical Violence subscale of the CTS. These results suggest that the severity of partner-perpetrated animal cruelty may increase as the severity of domestic violence in the home increases.” Id

B. Why the View of Pets by Children is Critical to Child Abuse

Another crucial element of animal abuse, as it relates to child and domestic abuse, is the view of companion animals by children and other family members. The great majority of companion animal owners consider their animals to be “members of the family.” Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Children in particular, as a general rule, have a deep warmth and affection for animals. Thus, when a person abuses an animal, the abuser may use children’s affection for animals to control a child’s behavior. For example, a parent may threaten to kill or otherwise harm the family pet if the child does not obey the parent. An abuser may also threaten to kill the family pet if another member of the family reports the abuser to the authorities.

Numerous examples of this have been studied. For example, one man was “repeatedly punching his dog in front of his girlfriend’s daughter and telling her that ‘[this is] what you do to dogs or kids who don’t do what they are supposed to do.’” Emerald Sheay, People Who Hurt Animals Don't Stop with Animals: The Use of Cross-Checking Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse Registries in New Jersey to Protect the Vulnerable, 26 Animal L. 445, 466 (2020). In instances such as this, when children are made to witness pets being harmed or killed, this is emotionally scarring to the children and is a form of both animal abuse and child abuse. One study found that “two-thirds of adolescents in an inpatient psychiatric unit shared that they had experienced the loss of a favorite pet and that it was perceived to be as bad as physical or verbal abuse.” Id. The correlation, however, does not end here, as “children who witness domestic violence are more likely to abuse animals.” Id. In two studies, around one-third of women in shelters or domestic violence programs reported that their children had harmed or killed a pet. This may occur because children follow the example of the abuse they witness, and because children release their anger and hostility onto those who cannot defend themselves. When this occurs, programs that involve both animal protection and child protection groups are effective at noting the correlation. This is exceptionally important, because when one abuser is in a household, all members of the household are impacted. Id. Thus, cross-reporting laws, which will be discussed in the following section, are paramount, because they ensure that such incidents are documented and addressed.

III. Development of Mandatory Reporting Laws

An understanding of the need to intervene for the sake of child welfare has been known for decades. Mandatory child abuse reporting laws have come about since the 1960s, largely in response to news stories about child abuse scandals. Research studies, input from doctors, organizations, and collaboration between governments and organizations were also influential in passing mandatory reporting laws. Between 1963 and 1967, all states enacted mandatory reporting laws; some of these laws required anyone who suspected child abuse to report it, while others only required certain professionals to report suspected abuse Kevin Gallagher, Mandatory Reporting of Abuse: A Historical Perspective on the Evolution of States' Current Mandatory Reporting Laws with a Review of the Laws in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Villlanova Law Review 59, Issue 6 (Sept. 1, 2014). For example, in many states, teachers are required to report suspected cases of child abuse. California requires school employees, child care providers, animal control officers, therapists, clergy, among various other professionals, to report suspected child abuse. Cal. Penal Code Section 11165.7. In addition, some states have stricter penalties for failing to report than others do.

While mandatory reporting laws for child abuse have existed for decades, animal abuse reporting laws have been slower to emerge. In 1975, California and Alabama enacted the first laws requiring veterinarians to report abuse. Some states have mandatory reporting laws for animal abuse in certain cases. Currently (as of October 2020), in 20 states, veterinarians or “veterinary professionals” are required to report animal cruelty, and in most states, veterinarians are either explicitly allowed to report animal cruelty or have immunity from civil or criminal liability for making such reports.

Mandatory veterinary reporting laws demonstrate an understanding of the ethical obligations animal professionals have to report cruelty. But what about other animal professionals? This is key because animal welfare agencies may be “first responders” to human abuse cases, and cross-reporting laws that require these agencies to report human abuse may come in handy here. The converse is likely true as well, and human abuse agencies may function as “first responders” to animal abuse cases. The correlation works both ways: animal abuse is linked to human abuse and human abuse is linked to animal abuse. More generally, patterns of household violence lead to further patterns of violence.

All of this has given rise to the importance of cross-reporting. Cross-reporting refers to reporting between agencies, particularly different types of agencies. For example, if an animal protection employee suspects child abuse, they may report it to a child protection group, and if a child protection employee suspects animal abuse, they may report it to an animal protection group. Mandatory reporting laws in child abuse cases have given rise to cross-reporting laws because they essentially serve the same purpose: to catch patterns of abuse. In other words, child abuse is often a sign of animal abuse and animal abuse is often a sign of child abuse; mandatory cross-reporting laws help fulfill the statutory purpose of mandatory reporting laws.

IV. State Laws on Cross Reporting of Animal Abuse

Currently, there are no federal laws that mandate cross-reporting. It is possible that certain federal agencies may have rules or policies that mandate cross-reporting. On the state level, only a handful of jurisdictions have laws on cross-reporting (either requiring reporting of animal abuse witnessed by social service professionals or requiring animal control officers to report observed child abuse). This list includes the District of Columbia (DC Code § 4–1321.02; DC Code § 22-1002.01) and the following twelve states: California (West's Ann. Cal. Penal Code § 11199), Colorado (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 19-3-304), Connecticut (C. G. S. A. § 17a-106d; C. G. S. A. § 17a-100a), Illinois (325 ILCS 5/11.8), Louisiana (LSA-R.S. 14:403.6), Maine (22 M. R. S. A. § 4011–A), Massachusetts (M.G.L.A. 119 § 85), Nebraska (Neb. Rev. St. § 28-1017), Ohio (R.C. § 1717.01 and R.C. § 959.07 (effective 4/21)), Tennessee (T. C. A. § 38-1-401 - 403), Virginia (VA Code Ann. § 63.2-1509), and West Virginia (W. Va. Code, § 7-10-2). Cross-reporting laws can be categorized as requiring "two-way" or "one-way" reporting.

The mandatory cross-reporting laws that have two-way reporting - again, that some or all of those who work with children must report animal abuse and some or all of those who work with animals must report child abuse - exist in California, the District of Colombia, Illinois, Nebraska, and West Virginia.

Some laws are "one-way" cross reporting. This means only one type of suspected abuse is mandated. The laws require animal-related employees to report child abuse, but do not appear to require child-related employees to report animal abue in Colorado, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, and Virginia. Essentially, animal control or other related professions are mandated reporters for child abuse (Maine also provides that certain professionals “may” report suspected animal abuse). In contrast, child-related employees are required to report animal abuse in Connecticut and Tennessee, but animal-related employees do not appear to required to report child abuse.

An example of a good cross-reporting law exists in Illinois:

Investigation Specialists, Intact Family Specialists, and Placement Specialists employed by the Department of Children and Family Services who reasonably believe that an animal observed by them when in their professional or official capacity is being abused or neglected in violation of the Humane Care for Animals Act must immediately make a written or oral report to the Department of Agriculture's Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare. However, the Department of Children and Family Services may not discipline an Investigation Specialist, an Intact Family Specialist, or a Placement Specialist for failing to make such a report if the Specialist determines that making the report would interfere with the performance of his or her child welfare protection duties.

325 ILCS 5/11.8.

The Illionis law is effective because it includes those who have the opportunity to directly observe, and protects employees for failing to report if doing so would interfere with the employees’ duties.

A. What Activity is Covered in Cross-Reporting Laws

Cross-reporting laws may require covered employees to report active harm or cruelty, neglect, abandonment, or all of the above. Each type of abuse is somewhat distinct, yet each type of abuse can have long-lasting deleterious consequences to those directly abused and to others who interact with the abusers.

As two examples, in Connecticut, “[a]ny employee of the Department of Children and Families who, in the course of his or her employment, has reasonable cause to suspect that an animal is being or has been harmed, neglected or treated cruelly in violation of section 53-247 shall make a written report to the Commissioner of Agriculture . . ." C. G. S. A. § 17a-100a. In the District of Columbia, “[a]ny law enforcement or child or protective services employee who knows of or has reasonable cause to suspect an animal has been the victim of cruelty, abandonment, or neglect, or observes an animal at the home of a person reasonably suspected of child, adult, or animal abuse, shall provide a report within 2 business days to the Mayor. If the health and welfare of the animal is in immediate danger, the report shall be made within 6 hours." DC CODE § 22-1002.01. Thus, both of these laws cover a wide variety of cruelty, as neglect and active cruelty are somewhat distinct, yet both can inflict a large amount of damage. It is noteworthy that the District of Columbia law lists “abandonment” and “neglect” as separate, because abandonment and neglect also have distinct natures. Abandonment suggests that the person left the animal and went somewhere else, and neglect suggests that the person lives with the animal and fails to provide adequate care to the animal. For further evidence of the range of abuse covered by these statutes, it is useful to examine animal cruelty laws in the given jurisdictions, and if possible, to examine the definitions of terms such as “harm,” “cruelty,” “neglect,” and “abandonment.”

B. Who is Required to Report

The breadth of employees covered by mandatory reporting laws varies by state. States may require school employees, clergy, veterinarians, and/or law enforcement to report suspected abuse.

As two examples, the employees subject to these laws in Connecticut and the District of Columbia appear similar, but somewhat distinct. A “law enforcement employee” is presumably a government employee; the D.C. statute probably does not use the term “state,” because D.C. is not a state. A “child protective services employee” is probably a government employee as well, because Child Protective Services is typically a state agency in an individual state. It is somewhat peculiar, however, that the statute does not capitalize “child protective services,” because an agency is typically capitalized. Thus, perhaps the statute aims to cover any employee who works in the realm of child protection, children’s rights, or child welfare, regardless of the specific agency. If this is the case, the D.C. statute probably covers a somewhat broader range of employees than does the Connecticut statute. The Connecticut statute refers to employees who “work with children and families,” which presents another question: does it only apply to employees who work with both children and families, or does it apply to employees who work with either children or families? Because these statutes have no case law or administrative guidance interpreting the coverage of who is required, some issues remain unclear.

D. Training Programs for Mandated Reporters

Some states with mandatory child abuse reporting laws have training programs for mandated reporters. For example, California Assembly Bill (AB) 1432 (2014) requires training for school employees, and California AB 1207 (2015) requires training for child care providers. California has a training program that includes a general training that is followed by a specific module for school personnel, child care providers, law enforcement, etc. The School Personnel module teaches the signs of abuse or neglect, what is expected of mandated reporters, how to talk with children about abuse, the reporting process, and issues of reporting in a school context. The School Personnel module takes up to three hours to complete, and requires a score of 80 percent or higher.

Training programs can serve a variety of purposes. At its most basic level, training programs help reporters identify likely patterns of abuse. Training programs can help reporters distinguish between abused or neglected and injured or chronically ill animals. This issue can go both ways: if injuries and chronic illnesses are mistaken for abuse, this may lead to reporting of people who care for sick and injured animals, while if abuse or neglect is mistaken for injury or chronic illness unrelated to abuse, this can cause abuse to go unreported.

Training programs for mandated cross-reporters for animal abuse do not appear common. Thus, while some states require cross-reporting for suspected animal abuse, this law may be difficult to enforce, because mandated cross-reporters may lack the experience and training needed to recognize the signs of animal abuse. For example, animals who have been abused may demonstrate fearful body-language, and may have subtle differences in behavioral patterns that are undetectable to those who are not well-versed in animal behavior. In addition, many people are unfamiliar with the needs of certain species of animals, and may not know how to determine whether the animals’ living conditions are salubrious to the animals’ health or meet their needs. Thus, training programs can help mandatory cross-reporters (or even the general public) spot signs of animal cruelty. There are some initiatives to include training for cross-reporting; for example, a training program on child abuse signs may integrate animal abuse signs into its program, or vice versa. “May 7 -- Animal Abuse and Family Violence: A Training Program,” Devereaux Law Group, April 14, 2014, available at http://devlegal.com/page/animal-abuse-family-violence.

V. Benefits and Risks of Mandatory Reporting Laws for Animal Abuse

A. Early Intervention and Prevention of Direct Injury to Humans and Animals

When cross-reporting laws are in place, child abuse prevention, domestic violence prevention, and animal cruelty prevention groups can work together to can bring abuse to the surface in situations in which the abuse would have otherwise gone undetected. They do this when, in the course of investigations for allegations of child or animal abuse, they assess how both the children and the animals are faring. Child and animal maltreatment, in particular, are underreported because the victims lack the capacity to report the abuse. In addition to mandatory reporting, laws can require child protection groups to check animal abuse registries, and vice versa. Jared Squires, The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence: Children Caught in the Middle, Ky. Child. Rts. J., Winter 2000, at 2. Cross-reporting, whether mandated by law or not, works as an additional layer of safety for vulnerable members of households. Essentially, “if an animal control officer determines that an animal is suffering, the officer also checks on how the children are doing. Child protective services workers reciprocate by noting the condition of animals when they investigate a case. Even where the connection is not formalized, professionals are cooperating.” Emerald Sheay, People Who Hurt Animals Don't Stop with Animals: The Use of Cross-Checking Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse Registries in New Jersey to Protect the Vulnerable, 26 Animal L. 445, 466 (2020). Even though cross-reporting may exist in practice where laws do not exist, child and animal advocates prefer a mandated framework. This mandated cross-checking alleviates the concern that reports to overburdened departments go unnoticed and eventually fall through the cracks. The model serves to protect the most vulnerable members of a potentially abusive household.

B. Potential Negative Effects of Cross-Reporting Child and Animal Abuse

Despite the discussed benefits of cross-reporting, it is not without risks to households. It is important to note potential pitfalls of cross-reporting. One of the most major pitfalls is false reporting. False reporting may be intentional, when the reporter purposely lies and says that someone is an abuser. False reporting may also be unintentional, when the reporter honestly believes that the accused is an abuser, while the accused is actually not an abuser. This may occur when an animal is temporarily or chronically ill or injured, and the animal's condition mimics usual signs of abuse. If this occurs, and a child or pet is removed from a household, this can be traumatic for children, animals, and all other members of the household, and the abuser incurs legal costs. However, while these concerns are noteworthy and valid, the benefits of mandatory cross-reporting laws probably outweigh the costs because early intervention allows appropriate officials to assess each situation for potential abuse, and provides an opportunity to uproot patterns of abuse early on. Jared Squires, The Link Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence: Children Caught in the Middle, Ky. Child. Rts. J., Winter 2000. In addition, the negative effects can be minimized if, at each stage of the investigation, the officials use discretion based on training and collabortion (e.g., to only send a case to trial if there is probable cause after consultation with animal and/or child experts).

VI. Legal Challenges and Concerns of Cross Reporting Laws

While cross-reporting laws have support from those in both the animal and child protection communities, they are not without concerns. To date, there do not appear to be any appellate cases that challenge cross reporting of animal abuse, but, by analogy, one can look to the challenges in a child cross reporting case.

Cross-reporting laws for child abuse have been legally challenged. In B.H. v. County of San Bernardino, 195 Cal.Rptr.3d 220 (Cal. 2015), a cross-reporting law between child welfare groups and law enforcement was challenged. In B.H., a child and their guardian sued a police officer and the Sheriff's Department for not reporting child abuse, and the case concerned whether the detective was required to report under cross-reporting laws. The detective had met the child after allegations of child abuse were raised. The court found that, under the statute, a law enforcement agency was required to report "every known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect reported to it," and that "child abuse and neglect" was "clearly defined." Examining the legislative history and purpose of a relevant Act, the court found that this was indeed a duty to report, not just a recommendation. The court also found that a law enforcement agency's relevant obligation to cross-report only arose after the agency received a report of child abuse, and that this duty was separate from any duty to investigate. Thus, even if the mandated reporter did not suspect abuse, they are required to cross-report it after receiving a report. A mandated reporter is required to report suspected child abuse if they know or "reasonably suspect" it in a context within their "scope" of employment. The court determined that the Sheriff's Department was required to report the suspected abuse, but that the individual deputy was not because if it had already been reported by the Sheriff's Department, the child protection agency would have known about it. This case touches on the nuances of mandatory reporting laws, and highlights the complexities of cross-reporting laws, when agencies must work together.

Legal issues with mandatory reporting laws include privacy rights, and discrimination in the reporting process; constitutional challenges include a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as well as a defendant’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. In addition, there may be concerns about implicating oneself in other criminal actions. Child welfare investigators might have concerns with being used as a conduit for other criminal cases. In addition, there may be privacy concerns over the CPS worker forwarding pictures and other evidence of animal abuse for criminal investigation. There may be issues of illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment because, absent certain exceptions, police cannot enter a person’s house without a warrant from a judge. Very likely plain view and consent exceptions would exist, but it does raises potential legal concerns for seamless prosecutions. This may also lead to disparate convictions between communities because one major exception to the warrant requirement is consent (i.e., if a resident of the house or driver of the vehicle in question gives permission, it is usually legal for police to enter and investigate). People with more education are more likely to know the laws and limit consent. However, people of color and neurodiverse folks are likely more vulnerable in police encounters and may be less likely to feel safe asserting their rights.

Another potential challenge for mandatory reporting laws is the possibility of discrimination in the process of reporting. For example, people of color, especially Black, Hispanic/Latinx, or Native American people, may be more likely to be profiled than are white people. People with certain neurological conditions may be more likely to be profiled as well because behavior labeled “erratic” or “suspicious” may, in reality, be a result of mental illness and have no indication of abusive or violent behaviors. These discriminatory patterns can, conversely, prevent abuse from being recognized or taken seriously because people of color and disabled people are frequently taught that their pain and experiences are not real, which means they are less likely to be taken seriously if they experience abuse and try to get help, or if they are abused and someone reports the abuse. Thus, even if cross-reporting laws uncover likely abuse, the agencies to which it is reported may take it less seriously. In addition, mandated reporters presumably have some discretion to decide what does or does not constitute suspected abuse, and may be less likely to report it if the victims are people of color, disabled, etc., because of stereotypes. Therefore, good additions to the training would be to recognize biases and actively counteract them. Geographic setting may also pose a barrier. For example, in urban areas, it may be more common to abuse animals by leaving them in crates or small enclosures for long periods of time, while in rural areas, it may be more common to abuse animals by leaving them outside in dangerous conditions. CPS workers unfamiliar with different regional attitudes toward animal care may see abuse where none exists.

One potential challenge in assessing this is the mere definition of “abuse.” Every jurisdiction has somewhat different laws as to what constitutes reasonable discipline and what constitutes abuse, and presumably, mandatory reporting laws in any given jurisdiction would define “abuse” or “cruelty” in the legal sense. Thus, a jurisdiction with officially “lower” rates of abuse may simply allow a higher level of corporal punishment or have lower standards of care (in order to avoid neglect charges). As an example, in the above study of prison inmates and their experience with animal abuse and “physical” punishment, the correlation between the two was said to be “weak,” but the comparison is somewhat unequal because it is easy to define “physical” punishment, but it is not clear what constituted “animal cruelty.” Sarah DeGue and David DiLillo, Is Animal Cruelty a “Red Flag” for Family Violence? Journal of Interpersonal Violence (June 10, 2008), available at https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.942.9552&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Thus, if a parent used corporal punishment on both their child and their companion animal, but the corporal punishment did not meet the study’s definition of “animal cruelty,” then the inmate might have indicated experience with physical punishment but not with animal cruelty. If the study had simply asked whether there was any violence against them or a companion animal in the house, perhaps a stronger correlation would have been found because all corporal punishment is, by definition, violence. In essence, without the structure of a good reporting law and required training like in California, it might be difficult for child protection workers to assess whether animal abuse is truly occurring in households that use corporal punishment.

Finally, there may be a misunderstanding of the importance of cross-reporting by child protection workers. Workers may see the need to report suspected animal abuse as an additional burden or obstacle to resolving family violence when their primary concern is for the child. Concern over accusing a parent of an additional crime when the goal is to keep the family intact safely may arise. However, this can be mitigated by proper training in the dynamics of family violence that includes expression of violence on pets.

VII. Conclusion

While it is clearly a minority of states with cross-reporting laws, the research shows the benefits. However, this must be combined with proper training and legislative definitions that are clear and cover all forms of abuse. As research becomes more clear, and the public is more informed, it is likely that more states will enact mandatory cross-reporting laws. For example, Florida is currently considering such a law. Robbie Gaffney, Proposal Requiring Child and Animal Abuse Investigators to Work Together Heads To Senate Floor, WFSU Public Media (Feb. 3, 2020), available at https://news.wfsu.org/state-news/2020-02-03/proposal-requiring-child-and-animal-abuse-investigators-to-work-together-heads-to-senate-floor. Both cross-reporting laws and training for mandated reporters are vital because they teach reporters to recognize signs of abuse and report accordingly, which will disrupt patterns of abuse and thereby prevent present and future suffering as well as future abusive behavior.

Laws can give structure on when and how to report as well as immunity for mandated reporters. As noted above, most cross-reporting laws are mandatory with one being discretionary. One potential compromise would then be to have mandatory cross-reporting laws and give the reporters discretion in how they report suspected abuse. For example, they can allow reporters to report to different agencies, and the reporters can then choose which one/s would seem most suitable in a given situation. This compromise can be effective, because the risks are too high to make a completely discretionary cross-reporting law, but different agencies may be more or less effective at handling the abuse in different situations. Regardless of structure, the importance of cross-reporting laws for suspected animal abuse protects all members of the household and may even reduce future violence.

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