I Know How It Feels: Empathy and Reluctance to Mobilize Legal Authorities. By: Fong, Kelley. 2024. Social Problems. Vol. 71 Issue 1, p291-307.

Why do people hesitate to summon state authorities to address concerns? Previous research has focused on cultural orientations about law enforcement, such as legal cynicism. In addition, people are often in a position to turn others in, requiring attention to how potential reporters understand the meaning and consequences of implicating others. This article identifies empathy as an underexamined lens through which marginalized groups view state intervention. I argue that amid shared social roles with those potentially reported to authorities, individuals invoke empathy in disavowing reporting. I advance this argument using the case of child abuse and neglect reporting, analyzing in-depth interviews with 74 low-income mothers in Rhode Island. Respondents disavowed or expressed ambivalence about reporting other families to child protection authorities, often justifying their non-reporting by empathizing with mothers they might report. Drawing on their own experiences of scrutinized and precarious motherhood, respondents imagined how they would feel if reported and balked at calling on child protective services, understanding reporting as an act of judging and jeopardizing another’s motherhood. The findings challenge conceptions of non-reporting asnecessarily indicating social disorganization. Rather, hesitation to mobilize authorities can constitute an expression of care, kinship, and solidarity.