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Using Abusive Words Against a Child May Be a Crime

The laws in this state are in place to ensure the well-being of every resident and visitor, which includes children. As such, Wisconsin has a statute on the books that makes it illegal to engage in conduct, such as using abusive language against a child, that could put their mental health at risk.

Causing Mental Harm to a Child

Under Wis. Stats. § 948.04, it is unlawful for any person caring for a child on a temporary or permanent basis to subject that child to conduct that would cause mental harm.

The state defines mental harm as that which could substantially cause a child to exhibit any of the following:

  • Anxiety,
  • Depression,
  • Withdrawal, or
  • Outward aggressive behavior

Therefore, using abusive words against the child that could affect their "psychological or intellectual" functioning would be a violation of the statute.

However, that's not the only type of conduct that could lead to charges or a conviction. Nearly any actions that affect the child's emotional or cognitive development is a violation. For instance, a Menomonie woman was recently convicted of causing mental harm to a child for allegedly making a 10-year-old girl sleep on a basement floor without a mattress or sheets.

Not Reporting Mental Harm to a Child

Under Wisconsin law, it's not only carrying out emotionally abusive acts that is illegal; a person responsible for the child could be charged if they know someone else is causing mental harm but fails to report it.

The reporting requirements aren't just for the child's biological parents. They also apply to:

  • Stepparents,
  • Guardians,
  • Foster parents,
  • Employees of residential homes or other agencies,
  • Someone legally responsible for the child in a residential setting

Causing Mental Harm Is Separate From Child Abuse

Wisconsin distinguishes causing mental harm from physical child abuse. The former is concerned with affecting the psychological well-being of the child, whereas the latter is concerned with actions that result in bodily harm.

In the case involving the woman convicted of causing mental harm, she had also been charged with physical abuse of a child, but she was not found guilty of that offense.

How Is Causing Mental Harm Charged?

According to Wis. Stats. § 948.04, causing mental harm to a child is a Class F felony. If a person is convicted of this offense, they could be looking at 12 years, 6 months in prison. In addition, a judge may impose a fine of up to $25,000.

Are you facing a misdemeanor or felony charge in Milwaukee? Allow our skilled attorney at the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella to get to work defending your case. Call us at (414) 882-8382 or contact us online today.
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