How Pennsylvania’s Child Protective Services Law Punishes Survivors of Domestic Violence
Volume 90, No. 2, Spring 2018
By Lizzy Wingfield [PDF]

A domestic violence (DV) survivor may, after weighing her options, choose not to leave her abuser or not to report the abuser’s violence toward her child for a number of reasons. One fear is that leaving an abuser or taking another preventative action, such as reporting the abuse, may lead the abuser to retaliate. A survivor may decide that living with an abusive spouse is the safest option.

Despite the very real risks that survivors face when leaving or reporting their abuser, so-called failure to protect laws harshly punish survivors who choose to stay with or do not report their abusers, even when their decisions are based on a rational safety calculus. Commentators have noted the unfairness in punishing a survivor of DV under failure to protect laws. However, no commentator has discussed the specific context of placing survivors on a child abuse registry for failure to protect their child. This context is worth attention as it is a common occurrence, and placement on the child abuse registry causes unique harms to a survivor. A survivor who is placed on the registry for failure to protect her child faces multiple collateral consequences, ranging from being denied employment to being unable to accompany her child on school trips. This Comment proposes legislative reform in Pennsylvania: give survivors an affirmative defense to placement on the registry.

Lizzy Wingfield is a Stoneleigh Foundation Emerging Leader Fellow at the Education Law Center and a Temple University Beasley School of Law graduate, Class of 2017.