New state bill would make silence on child abuse a stronger crime

HB 1009 targets family, friends, neighbors who have clear knowledge violence against a child is happening

SAN ANTONIO – A newly-proposed state bill aims to hold more people accountable for violence against children.

Texas House Bill 1009 was just filed and the local advocate behind it said it’s time to make silence a bigger crime, and not just for a child’s legal caregivers.

“Complicated and horrendous child death cases. What I found as an investigator, there was an aunt that knew that this was going on. There was a grandmother, there was a friend, a neighbor,” said former investigator and child abuse advocate Carrie Wilcoxon.

Wilcoxon used her decades-long career in child abuse advocacy, casework and investigation to draft HB 1009, which would strengthen the penalty for people with actual knowledge of serious child abuse, who never report it.

“Existing law today is if somebody has a cause to believe. So that’s different from having knowledge,” she said.

In the current law, those who fail to report suspected child abuse or neglect can be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. But, Wilcoxon said the charge is not only hard to prove -- it’s barely being used.

“In my research, I cannot find where district attorney offices in the state of Texas prosecute on this,” she said.

So the bill Wilcoxon drafted focuses on those who actually see serious bodily injury.

“They saw the broken arm a couple different times, they saw multiple bruises over a 2-year-old’s body a couple different times,” she said.

HB 1009 states if someone has that type of knowledge and fails to report it, he or she could be charged with a state jail felony.

If that child is six or younger and dies from those injuries, that person could face a third-degree felony.

State Rep. Ina Minjarez filed the bill and in a statement said, “HB 1009 helps to close the legal gap between non-caregivers and caregivers as it relates to serious bodily Injury of a child.”

Right now, only legal caregivers can be charged with “serious bodily injury to a child by omission.” Close family, friends and neighbors cannot.

Wilcoxon pointed out statistics of the people that report child abuse, saying, “Your top three are your medical, law enforcement, and teachers. Friends and neighbors represent 3% of the total reports that come in each year. Family represents only 8%.”

She said if those small percentages begin to rise, children’s lives will be saved.

If you suspect or have direct knowledge of child abuse, report it now. You can remain anonymous. The number to call is 1 (800) 252-5400.

About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.