Keep Kids Safe This Summer

Children playing Football

By Alison D’Alessandro

Summer is around the corner and it is a wonderful time for children to play, explore, and just be kids. Children will be visiting extended family, going to their friends’ houses, swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, and doing many other fun and exciting things. With the change in routine and being around more people, it is important to remember some basic tips to keep your children safe.

Talk about Body Safety
Teaching children the proper names for their private body parts will help them communicate with you if they should ever have a question related to illness, hygiene or abuse. Talking with children calmly and matter-of-factly about body parts demonstrates that these parts are good and special and that you as the parent feel comfortable talking about these parts. The most natural time to teach children this language is when they are toddlers and are learning the names for the other parts of their bodies.

Teach and Model Healthy Relationships
Teach and model characteristics of healthy relationships including empathy, expressed feelings, equality, fairness, respect, and boundaries. When children learn what is healthy, they are more likely to recognize and question unhealthy behaviors. Encourage your child to come to you and other helpful, healthy adults with questions about bodies and touch. Also, review your family’s values and rules for both at home and when you are not around. It is important to know that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim and their family and is someone the child know, loves, or trusts. It is critical that children have a strong understanding of healthy relationships. Also, children must be empowered to listen to their instincts.

Teach Your Child that They are the Boss of their Body
Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space. Their body is theirs, so respect their “no” and teach others that your child is not being rude, but rather establishing their boundaries. An offender won’t typically immediately start touching body parts that a bathing suit covers but instead will slowly try to groom a child and their parents and caregivers through other more “normal” touches. Do not use the term “good touch, bad touch.” We are all sexual beings and sometimes “bad” touches feel good. Instead, teach your kids to be the boss of their body and that they should tell you anytime something feels weird or uncomfortable. Role-play to help kids get comfortable using their words to set boundaries and let them know to set boundaries with other children as well as adults. Help children understand their physical, emotional, and behavioral boundaries.

Tell Your Child that Secrets are Not Okay
Adults and other children should never ask a child to keep a secret about touch. Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and no one should ever ask them to keep a secret. Talk about surprises instead – how we surprise people with gifts and presents on their birthday or planning a party. The difference is that surprises are always shared with others and secrets are not. Help your child to understand what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Watch for “Red Flags” with Other Adults and Children
Make sure that all interactions with others are observable, interruptible, and appropriate. Offenders operate by access, privacy, and control. If our child must be alone with an adult for lessons or camp or babysitting, check in occasionally or show up at an unexpected time, just to be sure everything is okay. Trust your instincts and remove your child from a situation if you feel uncomfortable. Listen to your child if they tell you something is wrong and observe their interactions with the person. Be aware of red flags such as an adult treating your child as a peer, using inappropriate language or inappropriate touch, not respecting your child’s privacy, allowing or encouraging illegal activities, treating your child as a favorite, or engaging inappropriately or excessively on social media.

Talk and Talk and Talk Some More
Remember abuse is never the child’s fault. Help your child understand that they will not get in trouble if they tell you about a touching secret, and that it is never too late to tell. Empathize with your child that while it is always ok to say “no” to any kind of touch, this can be very hard to do. Create an environment in your home where children feel comfortable sharing information and asking tough questions without being judged. Listen carefully. Nurture an understanding of healthy relationships in your child. Demonstrate the importance of sharing feelings. Evidence suggests that children are more likely to disclose abuse when a parent or loved one initiates a conversation about sexuality or abuse. Learn and exchange current information with your friends and neighbors regarding child sexual abuse so that you will be better able to protect your child. Ongoing communication with our children can help to nurture qualities within them that render them less likely to be targets of abuse. Good communication ensures that when something is difficult or something goes wrong, family and community are there to help.

Finally, it is imperative that all incidents of inappropriate behavior of an adult with a minor be reported to the appropriate person and/or civil authorities. Not all incidents are abuse, but reporting can let the person know that their behavior is unacceptable and that it is being monitored. This gives the person the opportunity to change their behavior. If child abuse is suspected, it must be reported to the appropriate civil authorities immediately as required by Maryland law, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

We must all work together to protect our children and to help them have happy childhoods and develop into strong and healthy adults.

Alison D’Alessandro is BCAC’s Senior Policy & Program Specialist. Alison has a Master’s degree in Organizational Development and Human Resources from Johns Hopkins University.  She educates youth-serving professionals throughout the Baltimore area on creating safe environments and child abuse awareness.

 

 

Join us for BCAC Advocacy Day in Annapolis

 

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By Zach Caplan

We are less than a month away from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center’s Advocacy Day in Annapolis! On Tuesday, March 12, 9:30am to 1pm, join us for a day of advocacy and speaking with your elected officials about legislative efforts to prevent childhood trauma and abuse in Maryland.

It only takes one responsible adult to end abuse for a child, whether through advocacy, reporting, or prevention. On March 12, we need you to show up for Maryland’s most vulnerable children and be their superheroes—your voice can make a real, tangible difference in the lives of our kids. This is your opportunity to let your legislators know which bills currently under consideration will keep kids in Maryland safe from abuse, and hold adults accountable for preventing and reporting abuse.

Let us know you are coming—sign up for Advocacy Day now! We are also looking for some volunteers to help us out with logistics. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Nicole Reed at nreed@bcaci.org.

We will gather at 9:30am at the Annapolis State House Building, 6 Bladen Street, Room 170 for check-in, a light breakfast, speakers, and to go over logistics for the day. After that, you will meet with your legislative representatives, either individually or you can join a team that already has an appointment.

Never been to an Advocacy Day before? No problem! We will tell you everything you need to know. Meetings will be very short, and we will provide you with materials to share with your representatives and a few talking points.

Please leave plenty of time to park, shuttle and go through security. Parking is available at Navy Stadium (free shuttle), the Gotts Garage/Visitor Center and the Hillman Noah Garage. For more information on parking options, click here.

Here are some of the specific bills we are supporting this legislative session:

SB739/HB1007: This year we are proud to be joining the Maryland Children’s Alliance to take leadership on SB739/HB1007 to help ensure that every child in Maryland has access to a nationally accredited child advocacy center. Following a report of child abuse or neglect, a child should be seen promptly at a nationally accredited CAC, where they can speak with a trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly setting, thus reducing trauma of multiple interviews by different agencies, and helping to create trustworthy legal evidence if needed.

SB568/HB787: Professionals who work with children have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse. Sadly, not all do. This bill will help hold accountable professionals who know of abuse but choose not to report it.

SB541/HB486: Sex abuse and Misconduct Prevention in Schools. This bill does what criminal background checks alone do not:  help alert a school about a potential employee’s past sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of students – incidents that don’t result in convictions but may have resulted in a serious investigation, firing or other disciplinary action.

We hope you will join us on March 12!

For more information, please contact Zach Caplan at zcaplan@bcaci.org.

Zach Caplan is a legislative intern at BCAC.

Organized Sports & Failure to Report: Is Your Child Safe?

Girl baseball team kneeling with their coach, touching hands

By Eliza Buergenthal

What are the Boundaries of the Athlete/Coach Relationship? 
In sports, so much of what it takes to be the best—on the field, court, dance floor or mat—is physical. To perfect a tackle or a squat or pirouette may require physical contact between a coach and an athlete. Sometimes, within that contact, a line is crossed. But how does a child know when something may be inappropriate? How are the boundaries within the athlete/coach relationship defined in a way that is healthy and safe?

Coaches are given an incredible amount of access to our children and need to be held to the same standards as other adults in whose care they are placed (health practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers, all of whom are mandatory reporters).

As a coach becomes a mentor and advocate for a child on the field, bonds often form between coach and athlete. What can sometimes occur is a sense of duty and obligation on the part of the athlete to the coach. Athletes see how a coach has taken a special interest in them; in cases of manipulation and abuse, this power structure is leveraged to the benefit of the perpetrator. Athletes and parents may not want to report inappropriate behavior because they do not want to disappoint a trusted adult for whom they have feelings of gratitude and respect, or they don’t want to risk losing their coach’s favor or getting kicked off the team. Often athletes are afraid they may jeopardize a community’s pride, their own success, or the trust of their teammates. The threat of suspension of a player, termination of a program or forcing a forfeit in a big game holds power over victims and caregivers alike.

What can parents do? 
Get out in front of it. Acknowledge and talk about the risks with both your child athlete and their coach. Talk about healthy boundaries. Ask coaches, gyms, and recreational centers tough questions – have they had training on working with kids in a way that is safe? Do they know how to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse? What is their reporting policy?

Regardless of whether your child is playing in a premier league or a recreational team, be present. Show up to a random practice. Talk to other parents who have been through the program. When your child is contacted by program staff, make sure that you are included in conversations, or, if necessary, request that all communications come to you directly. Unfortunately, abuse can happen at every level, from Pee Wee Leagues through high school and beyond. Stay involved and stay alert. 

On a larger scale, talk to your Representatives and raise awareness about abuse in your communities. Advocate for comprehensive policies and procedures around recognizing, responding to, and reporting abuse from all of your child’s institutions and programs. Advocate for institutions and states to have strict penalties for those who fail to report abuse. Make sure there are protocols and trainings in place.

When coaches do not receive proper training, and when we do not advocate in our communities for better policies, it not only allows for failure to report abuse when incidents occur, but also for abuse to go on at the expense of future victims. Intervention, prevention and healing is delayed or unable to occur.

We’re here to help. At the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we have a comprehensive program for outreach and training. BCAC gives coaches, youth serving professionals, and the institutions they work for the tools they need to work with children safely, and to recognize, respond to, and report abuse. When everyone is educated and working together, we can better protect our children, and make a profound difference in the lives of not only our child athletes, but all children. Let’s keep them safe.

Eliza Buergenthal is the Special Assistant to the Executive Leadership Team. She is a recent graduate of Syracuse University where she studied Public Policy, Public Relations, and Management. Eliza first joined the BCAC team as a legislative advocacy intern and plans to eventually attend law school with a focus on policy and lobbying.

Day of the Girl: We See You

On this Day of the Girl, October 11, 2018, Baltimore Child Abuse Center gives a huge shout out and thank you to all the girls who report abuse and demonstrate unbelievable courage and tenacity. 

Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar in Lansing
Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar. (Photo credit: PBS NewsHour)

THANK YOU to Nasser victim Kyle Stephens, whose was accused of lying and was forced to apologize to Nasser when she first came forward, but who persisted and helped open the door for the 200-plus other victims.

THANK YOU to the middle-schooler in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado whose school administrators made her recant, apologize and hug the teacher she accused, then suspended her for “false allegations.” But she persisted, hired an attorney, and helped get an $11.5 million settlement against the school on behalf of herself and the predator’s four other victims.

THANK YOU to the Baltimore City teenager whose story no one would believe, but who bravely persisted, enough to support an investigation that turned up undeniable proof that the abuse was happening, just as she’d described it.

To all the brave girls out there, today and every day, thank you for your strength and courage. Never doubt that you are impacting the lives of thousands by owning your stories and bravely finding your voice. You are the light of hope for other girls who are not yet ready to come forward. They see you. We see you. Never back down. We’ve got your back.

BCAC@30 and Nassar

Last night BCAC celebrated our achievements at our Annual Community Gathering. Thanks to those of you who attended, and for those who missed it, we missed you.

If you want to see just what we all did last year, take a look at our 2017 by the Numbers attached. Please share.  In the coming days we’ll have a video version of it as well.

Our event last night was covered by WMAR. You can see the clip here. There are 2 versions of the video. The first from this AM, and the second from last night.

It’s fitting that our annual gathering occurred the same night as the Larry Nassar sentencing for his sexual abuse of dozens of girls. He received a 175 year sentence. Angela Povilaitis, the Michigan Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the case, said at Nassar’s sentencing 6 points that resonate and mirror what BCAC has stood for over 30 years. Allow me to share them with you all.

  1. We need to listen to and believe children when they report abuse, no matter who the adult is. 
  1. Anyone can be an abuser: As a society our response cannot be that he did not do this – this is how Nassar got away with what he did for so long. 
  1. Delayed disclosure of child sexual abuse is not unique – it’s quite the norm. 
  1. Predators groom their victims and families. 
  1. We must teach our girls and boys to speak up until someone listens and helps. 
  1. Police, child protective services workers, and prosecutors must take on hard cases no matter who the suspect is. They cannot wait until they have the perfect case. They must be victim centered in their work.

BCAC has held to those principles for 30 years. We continue to work in partnership so no child has to suffer the same trauma that these brave young women endured. And last night the President of Michigan State University resigned due to her inaction in the Nassar case as well. Sadly, it looks as if societally we’ve learned little after Penn State – all the more reason to stay on top of what we do.

Last night also represents the soft start of BCAC’s 30th year celebration. If you’re tweeting and posting about us, use #BCAC30.

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We’ve got lots coming in the year ahead. I’m excited for what the future brings. Thanks for what you all do to make this happen.

With appreciation,

Adam

Action 1 of 10 : Save VAWA

Saturday’s Women’s March ignited a movement of activism around the globe. Thousands never before involved, found themselves united behind issues, their voices amplified. And with that amplification, comes the need to keep it going.

Take the personal politics out of Saturday and focus on what it stood for and what it can do next. Among the issues highlighted is the need to stand up for women’s issues and rights. The announcement after the inauguration, and before the march, that the 20 plus year old Violence Against Women’s Act grant and office at DOJ is at risk of being cut is one such issue worth standing up and fighting for, and making your voice heard.

The organizers of the march proposed taking 10 actions in the next 100 days on an issue we care about to keep this momentum going. Action 1 of 10 is to write a postcard to your Senators telling them what matters most to you and how you’re going to fight for it in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

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We suggest you write to your Senator and tell him or her to fight to Save VAWA. You can read yesterday’s post, and I’ll tell you about VAWA’s history and importance. Tell them that you’re concerned about proposed cuts to the Violence Against Women’s Act and then tell them why. Share with them any number of reasons why VAWA is important to you: a personal story, the fact that it saves millions of lives at risk from sexual assault and domestic violence, the impact VAWA has on protecting children from violence, or the fact that it’s been expanded to help protect victims from prison rape and even violence perpetuated by the same sex.

VAWA has become a beacon for millions of vulnerable women, children, and even men, who needed help at their darkest hour. In my 20 years of prosecuting, protecting, and advocating for victims, I have seen first hand how VAWA funds and programs have saved lives. And while these cuts are proposed not to be mean towards women, but to trim the federal budget, consider the cost of domestic violence and sexual assault on society – domestic violence alone is estimated to cost you the America taxpayer $8.3 billion a year.

So take action. Be A Hero. Fill out your postcard and send it in. And if you want to keep the movement going, post a picture of you or your card and include the #SaveVAWA and even #BeAHero so we can see we did!

I’m With Her: Reflections on the Women’s March

Like many of you, I traveled to Washington, DC on Saturday to stand with hundreds of thousands of women (and men!) who had something to say about the state of the world, America, politics, their bodies, and what’s on their mind. The Women’s March on Washington was a great day to be in DC. I brought along my feisty kid who participated in this incredible moment in time and shared it with me, some good friends who traveled and many others.

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Many people want to know why I went? I wanted to stand up for continued protections for women’s health and the health of all. I wanted to stand by women who have been politically marginalized by some. I wanted to stand up and say that the denigration of women and the trivialization of sexual assault should not be tolerated. And I wanted to stand with my daughter as her voice was amplified by 500,000 others (and millions more around the world) that their rights, their protections matter. 

But the final straw was this. On Friday the Trump Administration began discussions on proposed cuts to the US Department of Justice and elimination of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) the signature act signed into law in 1994 (drafted by Joe Biden) that has enabled protection for millions of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. VAWA had bipartisan support when passed in 1994 and reauthorized by with bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005 and signed by then President George W. Bush.

Cutting VAWA would be devastating to millions, continues to send the wrong message, and must be stopped.  

And lest you think that BCAC and I are being partisan on an issue, read our 2012 Op-Ed when the Victims of Child Abuse Act fund was zeroed out by then President Obama. We made our voice known then as well and saved VOCAA.

Try and explain this one to your daughters, wives, sisters, mothers, and sons and brothers all who have been covered by this watershed legislation for over 20 years.

In the coming days, I’ll be sharing what you can do to Save VAWA (#SaveVAWA) and why it has been such an essential tool for protecting victims from violence, something I have dedicated my entire career to doing. BCAC’s growth as a program, includes helping teenagers who are victims of sexual violence, and children who witness domestic violence.

Saturday in DC was peaceful, poignant, funny, enlightening, empowering, and memorable. Some were there to stand up for women, some to stand up for causes, some to stand up against decisions already made by this Administration, and yes some against the President. But altogether this remarkable rally and all that comes next demonstrates that indeed, this is what democracy looks like.

Adam Rosenberg, Executive Director, January 22, 2017