Child Abuse

What is child abuse and neglect?

Oregon law defines physical abuse as an injury to a child that is not accidental.  Most parents do not intend to hurt their children, but abuse is defined by the effect on the child, not the motivation of the parents.

Physical abuse includes:

  • Bruises or cuts
  • Head injuries
  • Poisoning
  • Fractures, sprains
  • Burns or scalds
  • Internal injuries
  • Electrical shocks
  • Death

Although not recommended, spanking is not abuse.  However, a spanking which leaves marks or bruises on a child might be abuse.  Bruises anywhere on a baby are serious.

Neglect is the most common form of abuse seen and may have long-term effects.  Neglect is failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, supervision or medical care.  Parents must provide adequate supervision, care, guidance and protection to keep children from physical or mental harm.  Parents must also provide appropriate treatment for children's problems.  Children will have minor injuries during childhood.  When accidental injuries are frequent, they may be the result of neglect.

Neglect includes exposing a child to illegal activities, such as:

  • Encouraging a child to participate in drug sales or theft
  • Exposing a child to parental drug abuse
  • Encouraging a child to use drugs or alcohol

Sexual abuse and child exploitation
Child sexual abuse occurs when an adult, adolescent or older child exploits a child for his or her own sexual gratification.  Children do not have the ability to understand the meaning of mature sexual behavior, and are therefore unable to give informed consent to such sexual activity.  Sexual contact between adults and children is always the responsibility of the adult.  

Most children do not talk about sexual abuse right away.  Children are afraid to talk about sexual abuse for many reasons.  They are often afraid they will be punished, that they are bad, or that they will get someone they care about in trouble.  They may have been threatened, and fear something terrible will happen to themselves or loved ones if they tell.  

Children worry about their families' reactions most of all.  Children depend on their families not only for their basic physical needs but also for emotional support.  If parents become too angry or upset to take care of their children's needs, the children tend to blame themselves and to feel worse.  Children may not tell their families about sexual abuse at first because the risk of damage to their security feels too great.  This is why children sometimes first talk about abuse to someone outside of the family.

Additional information about child abuse and neglect is available through the Oregon Department of Human Services website.  You may also read more about the impact of child sexual abuse on your child and your family in our brochure: When Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused PDF icon.  

Criminal Justice Process in Sexual and Physical Abuse Cases

Law Enforcement, DHS and CARES Northwest may all be involved in the investigation of child abuse.  When the investigation is complete, a police report will be forwarded to the District Attorney's Office for review.  The district attorney will then decide whether or not to present the case to the Grand Jury.

Grand Jury
The Grand Jury is made up of seven citizens selected at random from the jury pool. The Grand Jury takes place in a conference room, not a court room.  The defendant is not present at the Grand Jury.  The District Attorney and the victim advocate will meet with the child before Grand Jury to explain the process and answer questions.  Even though the child has likely gone to CARES and talked with police about the abuse, it will be necessary for the child to testify before the Grand Jury.  Only the grand jury members, the deputy district attorney and the witness who is testifying are allowed in the grand jury room.  There is a waiting area outside the Grand Jury where family, friends, and the victim advocate can wait with the child.  The role of the grand jury is to decide if there is enough evidence for the State to proceed with criminal charges against the defendant.

Defendant's Custody Status
To find out whether or not the defendant in your child's case is in custody view the Washington County Sheriff's Office Inmate List.

If the defendant is arrested on child abuse charges, he/she may remain in custody while the criminal case is pending.  Every defendant in custody has the right to request a release hearing.  At a release hearing, the judge will decide whether or not to release the defendant on his or her own recognizance or to a responsible third party and/or whether or not to change the bail amount.  The scheduling of a release hearing does not necessarily mean the defendant will actually be released.

If the defendant is released from jail while the case is pending, he/she will sign a release agreement with the Court.  This agreement will include the condition that the defendant must not have any direct or indirect contact with the victim.  This means no contact in person, by phone, by letter, text or e-mail, or through any other person.  Often, in sex abuse cases, there is an additional restriction regarding contact with any minor children.

If you would like to be notified of the defendant's release from custody, you may register through the Oregon VINE service by calling 1-877-674-8463 or online at  VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) is a free, automated system of notification. 

The defendant is given a copy of the Grand Jury indictment in court at arraignment.  At the arraignment, the defendant will be advised of the charges, appointed a lawyer if he doesn't already have one, and given his/her next court date. 

Trial/Change of Plea
A case is generally resolved by either a trial or guilty plea and sentencing.  If a trial date is set in your case, it is likely to be reset several times and with short notice.  The defendant may also decide to plead guilty instead of having a trial. 

If the case goes to trial, the child will likely be asked to testify.  The child's parent or guardian has the right to be in the courtroom throughout the trial.  During the trial the child will be called to the stand as a witness.  The child will swear to tell the truth and then be asked questions by the deputy district attorney.  The defense attorney then has the opportunity to ask the child questions.  The length of time a child must testify varies from case to case.  The victim advocate or the deputy district attorney assigned to the case can provide you with more information about trials.

Plea Negotiations
In many cases the District Attorney will attempt to resolve a case through negotiations with the defense.  Negotiations are based on the facts of the case, the defendant's criminal history, input from the victim and victim's family, and the attorney's discretion.  It is important to know that the final decision on plea negotiations always rests with the District Attorney's Office.  During plea negotiations, the victim advocate will likely contact you to request your input. 

If the offender is found guilty or pleads guilty, you and the child have the right to speak at sentencing regarding the impact this crime has had on your family.  This statement may be made in person or in writing.  Please be sure you notify the victim advocate if you wish to be present for the defendant's sentencing or to have the opportunity to submit a written victim impact statement.  It is essential that the victim advocate has your most current contact information so that you can be contacted regarding important court events.