Mandatory reporting of domestic violence: What do abuse survivors think and what variables influence those opinions?

Jordan, C.E., & Pritchard, A.J.
Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 21
Type of Profession:

This study explored the views on domestic violence mandatory reporting among 388 women served by Kentucky domestic violence shelters. Findings from the study were coupled with leadership from the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence to substantially amend the domestic violence reporting law.


For decades, states have passed legislation to mandate reporting of criminal conduct and the abuse of vulnerable persons. Four types of mandatory reporting laws have been enacted, including laws that require reports of injuries associated with crime or due to use of certain weapons, abuse of children, abuse of vulnerable adults, and reporting of domestic violence. While Kentucky does not have a “crime-injury reporting law,” it does have a child abuse reporting law (KRS 620.030) and passed an adult protection statute in 1976 (KRS 209). The concept of mandating reports of abuse against children or vulnerable adults was predicated on two notions: that certain persons are unable to protect themselves from abuse, neglect, or exploitation; and that states should play a role in investigating and subsequently providing protective services to those in need (Jordan, 2014).  In 1978, Kentucky passed the country’s first domestic violence mandatory reporting law (KRS 209A) and was the sole state with such a law until 2005. 

While studies have been conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of mandatory reporting laws in domestic violence cases, methodological weaknesses in this body of literature make it difficult to make broad statements about whether mandatory reporting laws advance women’s protection or actually place them at additional risk. This manuscript provides an overview of that evaluation literature.

This study’s sample is based on 388 surveys administered in-person to women who had sought services from one of Kentucky’s 15 regional domestic violence shelters. In addition to querying women regarding their own experience with mandatory reporting laws, the survey explored the factors that influenced women’s views. The first aim of this study was to elicit the views of women who have had direct experiences with service providers who are legally mandated to report domestic violence to the state protective services agency (the Cabinet for Health and Family Services/Department for Community-Based Services).The women were first asked whether or not foreknowledge of a mandatory reporting requirement would have impacted their decision to seek help.Almost 36% of women reported that they would be “less likely” to call services or go to a domestic violence program knowing that there would be a report made to the Cabinet. For 63.6% of the women surveyed, mandatory reporting requirements would make them less likely to disclose abuse to a doctor or nurse while only 28.8% said knowledge of a mandatory reporting requirement would make them more likely to disclose. The trend is similar for disclosing abuse to therapist or counselors, with 59.7% endorsing that mandatory reporting would make them less likely to talk about their abuse, and 34.3% saying they would be more likely to discuss abuse.  

While Kentucky was the first state to institute mandatory reporting in application to domestic violence cases, findings from this study, coupled with leadership from the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence, led to the drafting of legislation that amended Kentucky’s mandatory reporting law. That legislation did not repeal the statute, instead it amended the duties that fall on professionals to include mandatory education (e.g., how to get a protective order) and referral (to a domestic violence program or rape crisis center). Other states should use the findings of this and similar studies to reconsider legislative policies on mandatory reporting.


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