Reportable Abuse and Neglect Guidance

There are a variety of state and federal laws which require certain UW-Madison employees to take action when they suspect abuse or neglect of children or other vulnerable individuals, including for situations discovered as part of a research study. A summary of those laws appears below. For additional information or for help in determining whether something is reportable, please contact the UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs at 608-263-7400.

Version Date: December 4, 2015

I. Child Abuse and Neglect

A. Wisconsin Statute s. 48.981

Section 48.981, Wis. Stats., makes certain health care providers (including physicians, nurses, counselors, physical therapists and social workers) mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect.

For purposes of reporting child abuse and neglect, a “child” is a person who is less than 18 years of age. Abuse may be physical or sexual:

  • Physical abuse means physical injury inflicted on a child by other than accidental means. Physical injury includes, but is not limited to, lacerations, fractured bones, burns, internal injuries, severe or frequent bruising or great bodily harm.
  • Consensual sexual intercourse or sexual touching involving minors 16 or 17 years of age is not reportable unless there is reason to believe that abuse occurred (see below under Exceptions)
  • Sexual abuse means sexual intercourse or sexual touching of a child; recording or displaying of a child engaged in sexually explicit conduct; forcing a child to view or listen to sexual activity; exposing genitals or pubic area to a child or exposing a child’s genitals or pubic area for purposes of sexual gratification; or permitting, allowing or encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.
  • Neglect occurs when a parent or caretaker fails, refuses or is unable, for reasons other than poverty, to provide the necessary care, food, clothing, medical or dental care, or shelter, which seriously endanger the physical health of the child.

Health care providers who provide health care services (family planning services, pregnancy testing, obstetrical health care or screening, and STI diagnosis or screening) to a child and persons receiving information about a child who has received healthcare services do not have to report sexual intercourse involving a child unless one of the below exceptions is met:


  • The intercourse occurred with a caregiver
  • The child suffers from a mental illness or mental deficiency that renders the child unable to understand the consequences of his/her actions
  • The child, because of age or immaturity, was incapable of understanding the consequences of his/her actions
  • The child was unconscious at the time of the act or otherwise unable to communicate unwillingness to participate
  • Another participant in the sexual intercourse was exploiting the child

Reports should be made to one of the following:

  • Dane County Child Protective Services: (608) 261-KIDS or (608) 261-5437
  • UW Police Department: (608) 264-COPS or (608) 261-2677
  • Madison Police Department: (608) 266-4948

B. Executive Order #54

Mandatory reporters under s. 48.981, Wis. Stats., are not subject to Executive Order #54 (EO #54). Under EO #54, all University of Wisconsin System employees are mandatory reporters of child abuse. For additional information regarding whether something is reportable under EO #54, please contact the UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs at (608) 263-7400 or go here:

II. Title IX

Under Title IX (20 U.S.C. § 1681), a responsible school employee generally must report incidents of sexual violence which they learn of to the school’s Title IX Coordinator or other appropriate school designee. However, per UW-Madison’s Annual Safety Report: “The University [] will not disclose identifiable information about research subjects if prohibited by an NIH-issued Certificate of Confidentiality, HIPAA regulations and state laws pertaining to the privacy of health information, or promises of confidentiality made to research subjects pursuant the federally required consent form and authorization form.”

The Office for Civil Rights (the office charged with Title IX compliance), expects that researchers will inform students who report sexual violence how to get information on filing a Title IX complaint. While this only applies to students experiencing sexual violence, it could include a reported assault that happened off campus or even a long time ago. Researchers should direct such students to our Title IX website which designates our Coordinator and includes information on how to file a complaint:

III. Elder or Adult-At-Risk Abuse or Neglect

Pursuant to Wisconsin law, health care providers (including nurses, physicians, physician assistants, physical therapists, psychologists, and occupational therapists) may be required to report at-risk individuals when the health care provider suspects that the at-risk individual is being abused or neglected (including self-neglect).

In order to be considered an “adult-at-risk,” a person must: (1) be an adult who has a physical or mental condition that substantially impairs his or her ability to care for his or her needs; and (2) have experienced, is currently experiencing, or is at risk of experiencing abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or financial exploitation. The term “elder adult-at-risk” is defined similarly, but with a key difference: rather than being a person with a physical or mental impairment, an elder adult at risk is any person 60 years old and older who meets the second criterion from the paragraph above.

  • “Abuse” means physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, treatment without consent, or unreasonable confinement or restraint.
  • “Neglect” means the failure of a caregiver to fulfill her or his duties to the at-risk individual, creating a significant risk or danger to the individual’s physical or mental health.
  • “Self-neglect” means a significant danger to the individual’s physical or mental health because the individual is responsible for her or his own care but fails to obtain adequate care, including food, shelter, clothing, or medical or dental care.

While the law generally requires health care providers to report cases of abuse that they encounter in their professional practice, there is a narrow exception for when the provider believes that it is not in the person’s best interest to report the abuse. In this case, the law requires that the provider record the reasons that she or he believes that it is not in the at-risk individual’s best interest to report.

Reports should be made to one of the following:

  • Dane County Department of Human Services: (608) 261-9933
  • Madison Police Department: (608) 266-4948
  • UW Police Department: (608) 264-COPS or (608) 261-2677

For additional information regarding whether something is reportable, please contact the UW-Madison Office of Legal Affairs at (608) 263-7400.

Keywordsabuse neglect Wisconsin law   Doc ID59110
OwnerTravis D.GroupVCRGE and Graduate School
Created2015-12-21 14:36:24Updated2017-10-03 11:07:09
SitesVCRGE and Graduate School
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