The motivation of the parent is not what defines child abuse in Oregon, and what may surprise many people is that physical abuse is not the most common form of child abuse. Neglect is more prevalent, and specialists say the long-term effects on the child can be far more devastating. It’s safe to say that in the vast majority of cases, parents do not intend to hurt their children, even when disciplining the child, but Oregon child neglect attorneys say the laws around child abuse and neglect are more to do with the effect on the child than the intent of the parents.
So what constitutes child abuse and neglect?
Oregon child neglect attorneys say physical abuse is an injury caused to a child that was not accidental. However, this is a gray area. Spanking, for example, may not be considered physical abuse, unless a child was marked or bruised in the act. Some of the more readily identifiable forms of abuse include:
- Cuts or bruises
- Head or internal injuries
- Fractures and sprains
- Burning or scalding
- Electrical shock
As already mentioned, however, neglect is the single most common form of abuse seen in Oregon. Failure of a parent or guardian to provide adequate food, clothing, a safe shelter, supervision and medical care all constitute neglect. In addition, while all children will be involved in accidents causing injuries, if they occur too frequently, this could be considered a result of the child being neglected.
An even more sinister form of neglect is exposing a child to illegal activities and/or encouraging their participation in those activities. Some examples would include:
- Encouraging a child to participate in drug sales, theft or transportation
- Exposing a child to drug abuse on the part of the parent or guardian
- Allowing or encouraging a child to use drugs or alcohol
Then of course there are the child sexual abuse cases which occur when any adult or even an older child exploits a child for the purposes of sexual gratification. This is an especially dangerous area for the child, as they often feel afraid to talk about what’s happening with anyone for fear of punishment or that they won’t be believed.
What happens when child abuse case comes to light?
Oregon child neglect attorneys are often asked by people representing young victims what is most likely to happen to the abuser if a case is brought forward. The process is relatively straightforward and consistent.
- The investigation may involve a number of law enforcement agencies and officials, after which a police report will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office. It is the District Attorney who decides whether or not to present the case to the grand jury.
- Seven people, not 12, make up a grand jury. They will meet with the child and the child advocate, but not in a court room. The defendant will never be present at these hearings, but the child must testify, and family and friends will have to wait outside during the testimony. The grand jury will then decide whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a case.
- A child abuse defendant may or may not be held in custody, but if they are released pending their trial, they will have to agree to a condition that they will make no contact whatever with the child in question, not even by phone or e-mail, until the case is heard. The defendant will then be arraigned in court, notified officially of the charges, be appointed a lawyer if he or she doesn’t already have one and be given a court date.
- If the defendant doesn’t plead guilty or make a plea bargain, the trial will go ahead. In these cases, the child’s family and advocate have the right to be in the court room during testimony, and the defense attorney will also have the right to question the child. The court may place restrictions on the amount of time any child may be questioned, but this can vary from case to case.
- If the District Attorney tries to resolve the case through plea bargaining, they will most likely seek input from the child’s advocate.
- If the defendant has been found guilty, the child or the child’s representative will have the right to make a statement prior to sentencing regarding the impact the abuse has had on the child.
So where does an Oregon child neglect attorney come in?
In some cases, Oregon child neglect attorneys will seek compensation for the injured party or their family. Recently, in a case brought against the state for failing to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect, the state of Oregon was ordered to pay $1.507 million to the estate of Jeanette Maples, a Eugene teenager who was murdered at the hands of her mother. The lawsuit alleged negligence on the part of Oregon child protection workers that led to Jeanette being starved, tortured and eventually beaten to death by her mother. Under Oregon law, $1.5 million is the legal limit that can be claimed against public agencies, but the state also agreed to absorb the $7,000 it has already paid out in funeral expenses.
Child abuse and neglect is an uncomfortable topic for anyone. What’s more, the laws surrounding these two areas can seem a bit blurred at times. However, child abuse is real, and it is happening to Oregon children every day. People are often afraid to get involved, but the best rule of thumb to follow is that it’s better to err on the side of extreme caution than to take a chance on any child being neglected or abused. If a child in your family is being abused, pick up the phone and make a confidential call to a team of Oregon child neglect attorneys. They will know what to do, who to call and how to follow up, and hopefully your actions will save at least one child from further neglect and abuse.