Child abuse caught on tape, but parent can't go to authorities? Please help.

This is happening to the cousin of a good friend of mine. He is going through a divorce. He and his wife have a 3-year-old boy. His wife apparently is mentally ill and has a history of behaving very strangely. Anyway the mother has primary custody of the child. The father suspected abuse and installed a camera in the bathroom of the home. This home is in his name, and he owns it, but he is not living there anymore, and his wife and child are. He caught on tape evidence of abuse, including sexual abuse. He has footage of the mother repeatedly banging the child’s head on the wall, and also fondling his private parts and something involving a vibrator (not sure of the exact details).

So, apparently this guy’s lawyers say there is nothing he can do because the video is illegal and in fact he could get in trouble for it. My friend contacted a child abuse organization and they also said he should not go to the authorities with the tape because, again, he could get in trouble for it. It is unclear why they say the video is illegal but I think it is due to federal wiretapping law.

So my questions are: is it illegal to set up a camera in your own home if you suspect someone is abusing your child? What about those “nanny cams,” and cases where nannys were caught on tape abusing children?

Secondly, what can this guy do? Without the tape, he really has no way of proving the abuse. This child is 3 and may not have sufficient verbal ability to describe the abuse.

This guy said his lawyers advised against going to the police or to child protective services because he could get in trouble for the tape. But I find it really hard to believe that the authorities could not investigate… you hear these stories about how CPS will investigate a family just based on one anonymous person reporting suspected abuse. So how could the authorities just ignore the abuse?

Please let me know your thoughts. This is taking place in Illinois, if that makes any difference. It seems clear that this child is truly in danger.

IANAL, but if I had documented proof that my child was being abused I would take it to the authorities, if I got in trouble it wouldn’t matter.

My own troubles would not be my primary concern, I would want that child protected ASAP, even if it meant some problems for me.

But that’s just me.

Yeah that is what I would do too. However, the situation is so volatile and the mother so unstable that he is trying to do everything “by the book.” It seems very strange to me that his lawyers are telling him not to go to the authorities with the videotaped evidence because he could end up getting arrested, and that an child abuse organization told my friend (the guy’s cousin) that he should not bring the tape to the authorities because he could get in trouble.

My question is, what law would he be breaking? I understand the tape may not be admissible in a trial, but isn’t it enough probable cause to alert the authorities to the abuse?

The first thing I would do is ask my lawyer, “Suppose I turn it in and get in trouble. Can they still use that as evidence, or not?” I mean, we’re talking about a child, here — I’d pay a fine or spend 30 days in jail if it meant the police had evidence to lock up the abuser. Would I accept a felony conviction that got me fired? Would I accept being put on a sexual predator list for installing a bathroom cam? Probably not — at that point I’d try to think of a different way to do it.

Of course, if he’d get in trouble but not help the child, then it’s not worth it.

The other alternative is to send it to a news agency — they protect their sources. I’m sure some investigative reporter would love to chew on that.

This story sounds like a complete crock. If I had knowledge that my child was being abused as you described, it would be reported quick quickly. I’ll take my lumps if it comes to that for invasion of privacy or whatever but the abuse would stop.

Tell this man to grow a set of balls and report this immediately.

I agree. If my kid was being abused I wouldn’t be asking my lawyer’s opinion on the legality of the tape. I would be driving that tape to children and family services and calling the police to have the child removed.

I dunno, Fir na tine. What good would it do to turn in the videotape if the police were unable to use it as evidence? It’s fruit from the poisoned tree, isn’t it? Getting yourself in trouble and accomplishing nothing — thanks for the grand gesture, dad, but try to be effective next time.

A paranoid person could imagine a situation where he had installed the cam for his own voyeuristic gratification and only happened to catch the abuse, or where he and his wife abused the boy together and now he’s ratting her out. Perhaps that’s why he’s afraid of the scrutiny; who knows?

The news agency idea sounds better and better.

Agreed. However, I am trying to answer a factual question. What law would he be breaking? How could he get in trouble for the tape? Why are the lawyers telling him he could get in trouble? Those are my “general questions.”
p.s. It seems to me there are overtones of a double standard in this whole situation. If a mother planted a camera and had video evidence of the father sexually abusing a little girl, it would be totally different, I think. I think it is being treated differently because all the genders are reversed - the mom is the abuser and the child is a boy, and the person doing the videotaping is the father.

Some of the suggestions I made to my friend were to go directly to child protective services; go talk to the district attorney; or get new attorneys. Or file for change in custody in the family court stating child abuse as the reason.

Hopefully Bricker will be along shortly with his knowledge of Virginia law. The most important thing is of course the welfare of the child. Whether or not the suspect gets charged with a crime is far behind. Whatever your child protective services are called in your state, they don’t have to be held to the rules of evidence like a prosecutor would. If they are given evidence of abuse they have to act on it. The suspect might not be able to be prosecuted but the child will be safe. I believe family court has a different standard also but I am not sure.

As to the admissibility of the tape in a criminal court, I have my opinions but I’ll wait for the expert to come by. Things might be different in Virginia.

I agree that this scenario sounds odd.

I have no idea what laws might have been broken by the installation of a camera. (And if the guy does not have access to the house, how does he know what is on the film/tape?)

However, there is nothing to stop him making an anonymous phone call from a pay phone to Children’s Protective Services claiming that he is a neighbor who suspects child abuse, then hanging up. (If the kid is in day care or permitted to play with neighbor kids, the phone call could claim that the kid told the “caller’s kid.”)

In most jurisdictions, CPS is required to perform some sort of investigation. It is possible, if the abuse is sufficiently blatant (or the mother has insufficient control of her lying) that they will discover the abuse on their own.

What reasons did he have to suspect the abuse in the first place? He should start there.

Actually this is taking place in Illinois, not VA.

Yes I also thought that CPS has different standards for evidence, and has to check out all suspected abuse, and the fact he has video evidence should be enough of a reason for them to investigate.

He installed the camera when he was still living there, and he has access to the house because (1) it’s his house and (2) apparently he goes over there for his visitation at least part of the time. Also, I think that he has remote access to the camera, like through the internet or something (as in, it’s a web cam).

As far as why he suspected abuse in the first place, well he witnessed it when him and his wife were together, and he knows that she is mentally ill and unstable. Based on his description, it really sounds like she is either schizophrenic or multiple personality disorder.

She would do things like in the middle of the night take the kid out of his crib and start shaking him, then the husband would “wake her up,” like as if she were doin g it while sleepwalking.

She also has a history of assuming fake identities and living alternate lives and weird stuff like that.

According to this page from a home security site on “Nanny Cams” :

The question becomes, I think, is it “his home” because it’s in his name, or is it “her home” because she’s living in it. Hairs like this are what lawyers love to split.

As a lawyer, my strong advice to him is: Listen to his own damn lawyer. If necessary, ask his own lawyer for clarification.

As you know, unsolicited legal advice over the internet isn’t worth the cost of the electrons. In cases like this, it is almost certain that your retelling of his retelling of what he thinks are the relevant points misses some of the facts and issues that the lawyer involved in the situation has identified.

If his lawyer told him not to do it, it is likely he will fuck up his case in some way us third-hand gawpers don’t understand. You can encourage him to press his lawyer for further explanation, but it’s really bad advice to tell somebody to just do something his lawyer advises against.

I work for a security company (we do all types of low voltage work). We have been told by our lawyers that 1)no hidden audio recording, 2)hidden video is OK but only in public areas of a house(LR, DR, KIT, etc). We are in FL. They also have recommended that if a person wishes to install ANY hidden camera, that we post the “area under surveillance” sign, and let the person take it down if they wish. Our camera suppliers have also told us the same basic things. I imagine the biggest problem is that he recorded the video in a private area. I still think he should go to the police. We have been advised that hidden video recording in a private area is legally in a grey area, but definitly cause for civil action against us.

The nanny cam link says"legal to use them" but does not say “legal to record with” and also does not specify civil liability.

The case that our supplier told us about was a mother/father who installed cameras, then their teenage daughter had a slumber party, and now there is video recorded of 14 year old girls taking showers, changing clothes, etc, and their parents sued the family with the recording devices.

Even if he knew about child abuse, doesn’t it strike anyone as a tad bit creepy that he installed a camera he could view remotely in a BATHROOM? Thats a wee bit odd, and I would bet that no actual security company did it, that he did it himself, and no one else knew about it.

This is my standard response to anyone who wants to tread into a grey area…I tell them that 1)we won’t do THAT, and 2)if they want to buy the parts and do it themselves, contact a lawyer first.
For anyone who doesnt understand how bad this is, ignore the fact that he caught the abuse on tape…how would you treat a business owner who installed hidden cameras in his dressing rooms or bathrooms to prevent theft?

http://www.state.il.us/dcfs/docs/cants97_intro.shtml
I would say, call the number, or have him do so!

I cannot conceive of a loving parent who knows his child is being phyiscally and sexually abused, but does nothing, and allows it continue regardless of the law.