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Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology






Since accusations went public that administrators at Pennsylvania State University ignored reports of child abuse during the Jerry Sandusky trial almost a decade ago, several educational and state agencies have reinterpreted aspects of their respective laws requiring certain persons to report suspected child maltreatment (mandatory reporting laws). These reinterpretations were possible due to the ambiguity of statutory language used in the law and, subsequently, may have exposed individuals to a legal responsibility to report to which they were previously unaware. In this study, we use a thematic content analysis to examine variation across state mandatory reporting statutes from all fifty states as of 2016. Three themes emerged from this analysis: definitions for reasonableness, immediacy of danger, and inclusion of mandated reporters. Generally, we found that the vague language and variation in the content of the law, though well intentioned, may contribute to uncertainty in knowing when a report is necessary and who must report it. We conclude with considerations for future research, as well as highlight potential implications for instructors and researchers in higher education. These findings can contribute to our understanding of ambiguity in the law. Further, the sources of variability we identify in this analysis may help to anticipate potential shifts in legal risk in the wake of recent and future reinterpretations of ambiguously worded policy.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

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