The Office of Domestic Violence is responsible for providing oversight on the administration of state and federally funded initiatives designed to intervene and prevent domestic violence and support survivors and their families. In collaboration with Florida's network of certified domestic violence service providers and partners, Florida has established a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to enhancing advocacy and improving the criminal justice system’s response to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking crimes (FDCF, 2023).
In 2020, more than 106,000 crimes of domestic violence were reported to Florida law enforcement agencies resulting in over 63,000 arrests. During 2020-21, Florida's certified domestic violence centers provided 412,360 nights of emergency shelter to more than 10,000 survivors of domestic violence and their children (FDCF, 2023a).
Advocates created nearly 151,000 tailored safety plans and provided more than 191,000 hours of advocacy and counseling services. The domestic violence hotline received over 72,000 calls from individual seeking emergency services, information, and safety planning assistance (FDCF, 2023a).
Many survivors of domestic violence are not reporting their abusers to the police or accessing services at domestic violence services due to reasons such as shame, fear, or being prevented from doing so by their abusers. For this reason, we may never know the true extent of abuse in our country and in our state (FDCF, 2023b).
4.1 Florida Legislation
Under the provisions of Section 741.28 of the Florida Statutes, domestic violence means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member (Florida Legislature, 2023).
“Family or household member” means spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married. With the exception of persons who have a child in common, the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit (Florida Legislature, 2023).
Florida now has legislation requiring all physicians, osteopaths, nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, midwives, psychologists, and psychotherapists to obtain two hours of domestic violence education every third renewal period. Domestic Violence Data Resource Center (DVDRC) and Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams have been established to examine cases of domestic violence that result in a fatality and to identify potential changes in policy that might prevent future deaths (Houseman and Semien, 2022).
The “Family Protection Act” requires a five-day jail term for any domestic battery crime in which the perpetrator deliberately injures the victim. The law makes a second battery crime a felony offense. A statute to the Family Protection Act includes dating relationships of six months or more, and another statute requires judges to inform victims of their rights, such as the right to appear, be notified, seek restitution, and make a victim-impact statement (Houseman and Semien, 2022).
The Domestic Violence Leave Act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide guaranteed leave for domestic violence issues. This activity describes evaluation and management strategies for Florida victims of domestic abuse and stresses the role of team-based interprofessional care for these victims (Houseman and Semien, 2022).
During the 2015 Florida Legislative Session several bills were passed that have effects on the 41 certified domestic violence centers in the state and on survivors of domestic violence and their children (FDCF, 2023c):
- Child Protection Investigation (CPI) Project
- Sexual Offenses (HB 133)
- Tracking Devices or Tracking Applications (HB 197)
- Public Records—Audio or Video Recordings (SB 248)
- No Contact Order (SB 342)
The Florida Department of Children and Families is one of seven state agencies that use the statewide screening database, “The Clearinghouse.” The Clearinghouse provides a single data source administered by the Agency for Health Care Administration for background screening results for persons screened for employment or licensure that provide services to children, the elderly and disabled individuals. More information about who should be screened is available from the Florida Department of Children and Families web site at this page: https://www.myflfamilies.com/services/background-screening
4.2 Florida Reporting Requirements
Although there is no reporting requirement for domestic violence except for life threatening injury*, there are requirements for reporting abuse of children, vulnerable adults, and elders.
*Life-threatening injuries include gunshot wounds, stabbings, and strangulation.
4.2.1 Mandatory Reporters of Abuse
Every person has a responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect and some occupations are specified in Florida law as required to do so. There are 2 types of reporters that are required to report child abuse, sexual battery, and vulnerable adult abuse (FL Courts, 2020):
Mandated Reporter (General):
- Any person who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, legal custodian, caregiver, or other person responsible for the child’s welfare is a mandatory reporter.
- Any person, including but not limited to state, county, or municipal criminal justice employees or law enforcement officers, who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a vulnerable adult has been or is being abused, neglected, or exploited must make a report.
Mandated Reporter (Professional):
- Anyone who is legally obligated to report known abuse and must also identify themselves when reporting.
- Physician, osteopathic physician, chiropractic physician.
- Medical examiner.
- Nurse, paramedic, emergency medical technician
- Hospital personnel engaged in the admission, examination, care, or treatment of persons.
- Health or mental health professional other than already listed.
- Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing.
- School teacher or other school official or personnel (child).
- Social worker, daycare center worker, or other professional childcare, foster care, residential or institutional worker (child).
- Nursing home staff, assisted living facilities staff, adult day care center staff etc. (vulnerable adults).
- Employees of Department of Business and Professional Regulation conducting inspections of public lodging establishments.
- Law enforcement officer.
Mandatory reporters can make reports by telephone, TDD, fax, or web. See the Resources section for full contact information. For a complete list of mandatory reporters in Florida call the Florida Department of Children and Families at 850 487 1111 or visit their website here.
For child abuse, Florida Statute 415.502 requires anyone “who knows, or has reasonable cause to suspect, that a child is an abused or neglected child, shall report such knowledge or suspicion.” Thus, health professionals report when there is suspicion. Health professionals do not need confirmatory proof. Health professionals must report all cases of reasonable cause to believe that a child or adolescent has been abused or neglected or is in danger of being abused (Houseman and Semien, 2022).
Florida statute defines child abuse as (CWIG, 2022):
any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause a child's physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired. Abuse of a child includes the birth of a new child into a family during an open dependency case when the parent or caregiver has been determined to lack the protective capacity to safely care for the children in the home and has not substantially complied with the case plan toward successful reunification or met the conditions for return of the children into the home. Abuse of a child includes acts or omissions.
“Harm to a child’s health or welfare can occur when any person inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon the child physical, mental, or emotional injury,” which can include (CWIG, 2022):
- Willful acts that produce specific serious injuries.
- Purposely giving a child poison, alcohol, drugs, or other substances that substantially affect the child's behavior, motor coordination, or judgment or that result in sickness or internal injury.
- Leaving a child without adult supervision or arrangement appropriate for the child's age or mental or physical condition.
- Using inappropriate or excessively harsh discipline that is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury as defined in this section, or emotional injury.
- Committing or allowing to be committed sexual battery against the child.
- Allowing, encouraging, or forcing the sexual exploitation of a child.
- Abandoning the child.
- Exploiting a child or allowing a child to be exploited.
- Neglecting the child.
- Exposing a child to a controlled substance or alcohol.
- Using mechanical devices, unreasonable restraints, or extended periods of isolation to control a child.
- Engaging in violent behavior that demonstrates a wanton disregard for the presence of a child and could reasonably result in serious injury to the child.
- Negligently failing to protect a child in their care from inflicted physical, mental, or sexual injury caused by the acts of another.
- Has allowed a child's sibling to die as a result of abuse, abandonment, or neglect.
- Making the child unavailable for the purpose of impeding or avoiding a protective investigation unless the court determines that the parent, legal custodian, or caregiver was fleeing from a situation involving domestic violence.
The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) defines child abuse and neglect as (CWIG, 2022):
- Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caregiver that results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse, or exploitation,
- An act or failure to act that presents an imminent risk of serious harm.
CAPTA provides definitions for sexual abuse and the special cases related to withholding or failing to provide medically indicated treatment but does not provide specific definitions for other types of maltreatment such as physical abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. While federal legislation sets minimum standards, each state is responsible for providing its own definition of maltreatment within its civil and criminal laws (CWIG, 2022).
4.2.3 Vulnerable Adults
A vulnerable adult is a person 18 years of age or older whose ability to perform the normal activities of daily living or to provide for his or her own care or protection is impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory, long-term physical, or developmental disability or dysfunction, or brain damage, or the infirmities of aging. Abuse includes acts and omissions.
Abuse of a vulnerable adult is any willful act or threatened act by a relative, caregiver, or household member which causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical, mental, or emotional health. Abuse includes acts and omissions (Florida Legislature, 2023).
Exploitation of a vulnerable adult occurs when there is a breach of fiduciary relationships, unauthorized taking of personal assets, misappropriation, misuse, or transfer of money, and intentional or negligent failure to use the vulnerable adult’s assets for their support and maintenance (Florida Legislature, 2023).
Neglect of a vulnerable adult is the failure or omission on the part of the caregiver to provide the care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the vulnerable adult. Neglect also means the failure of a caregiver to make reasonable efforts to protect a vulnerable adult from abuse, neglect, or exploitation by others (Florida Legislature, 2023).
Healthcare workers (and others) are required to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults to the Florida Abuse Hotline (1-800-962-2873). This includes reporting the suspected abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults who, because of their age or disability, may be unable to adequately provide for their own care or protection. Law enforcement takes the lead in all criminal investigations and prosecution.
Abuse can also be reported online but web reporting should not be used for situations requiring immediate attention. If you believe a child or vulnerable adult is at imminent risk of harm, contact the Hotline’s toll-free reporting number. If you submit an online report, gather all of your information in advance and select one of the web reporting options. Online reports can be submitted here: https://reportabuse.myflfamilies.com/s/