Uncategorized

Protecting Kids When Everyone Has a Camera

by Drew Fidler, LCSW-C; and Iona Rudisill, LGSW

Protecting Kids

Here’s what you should know about child sexual abuse images and how to protect children from the dangers of the internet.

The internet is constantly changing and evolving. As professionals, parents, and people who care about children, the internet and all of its perils present a whole new world of challenges for child protection. This is how prevalent phones and the internet are in children’s lives today:

  • 56% of children aged 8 – 12 have a cellphone[1]
  • 88% of teens have or have access to cell phones or smartphones[2]
  • 92% of teens report going online daily[3]
    • including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly,”
  • 71% of teens use more than one social networking site[4]
  • Children as young as 2 know how to work a tablet or cell phone[5]

Technology was created to be helpful, but if used incorrectly it can be abusive and disruptive with catastrophic results. This wave of access to technology has given birth to a number of different ways that young people can be taken advantage of online, including through the production and manufacturing of child sexual abuse images.

So what are child sexual abuse images? While child sexual abuse images are commonly referred to as child pornography, the latter term doesn’t do the crime justice. Child sexual abuse images are a visual manifestation of child sexual assault that involves the creation of sexually explicit content, typically pictures and videos in which children are being used as sexual objects. Between 1998 and 2016 more than 12.7 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation have been made to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Just in case you think these predators are strangers to children: 43% of images are produced by familiar persons, 18% by a parent or guardian, 25% by a neighbor or family friend, and only 18% through online enticement.[6] Additionally, out of the 25 million child sexual abuse images that are annually viewed by NCMEC, 78% of these images depicted youth under the age of 12.[7]

This form of child sexual exploitation is different from other types of child sexual abuse because the images can never fully be recovered. The abuse has been captured in a visual platform and medium that has no boundaries. Once an image is created, the child who has been victimized has no way to take down that image or stop people from viewing, which puts them in an unfortunate space of re-victimization.

Victims of child sexual abuse images experience a wide range of both immediate and long-lasting effects. Common with this form of victimization are feelings of helplessness, heightened anxiety, anger, shame, guilt, increased depression, and symptoms of complex post-traumatic stress disorder and borderline personality disorder. Also, victims of child sexual abuse images often withdraw or isolate themselves from their community due to extreme feelings of paranoia and confusion associated with the distribution of their abuse.

What can you do to protect your children online?

  1. Communicate: Talk to your kids about their internet usage – the risks, the realities of what is out there, and how to engage with others on social media sites. Think about having a social media contract.
  2. Be Share Aware: Know what your children are posting and where they are spending their time online. Encourage your child to think before they post or text, and never to share their personal information – address, passwords, phone numbers, etc.
  3. Know Your Friends: Help your child to understand that not everyone online is who they say they are, and it is important that your child only accept requests from people they know IRL.
  4. Be Patient, Be Nurturing, & Be Available: Children are going to push boundaries and experiment. Try to be a good listener. Take your time to understand what has happened and how your child has been affected. Listen to their concerns and questions. You may not have all the answers, that is alright.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C, is the Director of Community Outreach and Education at Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC). Drew works with youth serving organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting youth, conducts trainings for professionals and community members, and creates programs for organizations both locally and nationally.

Iona Rudisill, LGSW, is BCAC’s Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Program Manager. Iona has been an active member and certified trainer of the Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force (MHTTF) for several years, is presently the Co-Chair of the MHTTF Victim Services Subcommittee, and was recently awarded a Governor’s Citation from Governor Hogan regarding her work against human trafficking in Maryland. Iona serves on NCA’s Commercial Sexual Exloitation of Children (CSEC) Collaborative Work Group, where she contributes to resources and projects that help CACs serve the special needs of this population. 

 

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Uncategorized

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.

30 year logo_BCAC_CMYK

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

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child protection, holidays, nonprofit, parent resources, safety, Training, Uncategorized

Holiday Hulabaloo: Tips & Tricks for Keeping Kids Safe

Holidays are here, bringing joy, cheer, and lots of time with family and friends. While they are a great time for celebration, we at Baltimore Child Abuse Center also want to remind families that the holidays can also be a risky time for children. While there are no statistics saying that the risk for abuse increases at this time of year, circumstances surrounding the holidays make it easier for abuse to occur. Extended family and friends are in and out of our homes, kids are running around, and it is easy to be distracted by activities going on around us and lose sight of the safety of our children.

Here are some of BCAC’s tips and tricks for keeping your kids safe this holiday season:

  1. Don’t Force Hugs: Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space.
  2. Create a Family Safety Plan: Print out BCAC’s family-safety-plan & complete it with your kids.
  3. Talk Body Safety: No matter the age, it is important to use developmentally appropriate language and help children understand boundaries. Try this video from our friends across the pond at NSPCC.
  4. Don’t Keep Secrets: Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Remember that while the holidays are joyful and fun for most, they can also be stressful and risky time for children. Read the signs your child may be giving you, and stay in regular communication with them.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season,

Drew & all of BCAC

 

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child protection, internet safety, parent resources, Uncategorized

Pokemon Go: Should you play, or Should you go?

The ever changing world of the internet has thrown its latest hurdle to parents of cell-phone wielding children and teens: Pokemon Go. Coverage on Pokemon Go has been excessive, and unless you have been hiding like Pikachu, chances are you have heard of it (but just in case you haven’t click here). Like every other app this game comes with pluses and minuses, and as our Executive Director Adam Rosenberg says “I am not saying no, but I am not ready to say yes.” So here are some things to think about before you or your kids go out and play.

What’s great about Pokemon Go is that the game encourages children to get outdoors and move around – not just sit on the couch. It encourages “IRL” (in real life) meet ups and interaction with other players. However, there have already been reports of the game being used to commit crimes and causing accidents: one player sexually assaulted at a game stop; a “PokeStop” in California located at a facility housing sex offenders; armed robbers “lure” victims; and police patrol car sideswiped by a driver playing the game. These stories illustrate the more concerning safety issues at play – not just with Pokemon Go, but with social media and technology in general.

When playing Pokemon Go, children unintentionally give real life location information which allows the game and other users to identify where they are while playing. Just like on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, Pokemon Go relies on geo-tagging data to be able to place players in the game. Geo-tagging draws a virtual map of your life. It allows others to see your child’s daily habits and routines, and gives them potentially dangerous knowledge of you and your child’s coming and goings. The game also utilizes your phone’s camera to superimpose the image of Pokemon characters onto the real world. Previous incidents with camera hacking, have allowed access to computer cameras and video which recorded people unbeknownst to them and without permission.

Additionally, players can set a “Lure” to draw more Pokemon and ultimately players to a single location. As if the name wasn’t creepy enough, this function can easily be used to attract potential victims to a single space. Equally troubling is that “PokeStops” can sometimes be in unsafe or risky locations. In BCAC’s neighborhood, there is a “PokeStop” and a “Training Gym” next door to a substance abuse treatment center and another in a vacant office.

So what can you do to keep your kids safe? BCAC recommends that parents check out the Social Preference Caps (the settings which can allow parents to set limits on both the chat and trade functions). Make sure that the location services are turned off when the game is not being used, and consider turning off location services for other apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Most importantly, BCAC recommends parents:

  1. Take Charge: set ground rules with your kids and understand the Privacy Policies
  2. Monitor: look at what your kids are doing, what sites are they going to, who are they talking to
  3. Communicate: talk to your kids about the very real risk games and social media can pose

Don’t want your home or business to be a PokeStop? BCAC felt that as a space which helps heal traumatized children, it was not appropriate for our center to be one. Therefore, we submitted a request to be removed from the game. You can submit a request to be removed as a stop by clicking here.

So should you “catch them all?” Before we shut the door on Pokemon Go, consider using it as an opportunity to get out there and play as a family. Do not let your kid stumble over sidewalks and walk into standing objects alone while looking for Vaperon or Mewtwo. Explore the game with them, and don’t be afraid to set ground rules on when and where they can play. Or if Pokemon Go or online gaming isn’t for you, grab a ball and a mitt and have an old-fashioned catch, or go for a walk in your local park IRL with your kid, not looking at a phone.

For more information visit BCAC’s website  OR to get training for your child’s school or local PTA on internet safety please contact BCAC by email at training@bcaci.org or by phone at 410-396-6147.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C is the Policy and Program Development Manager and a Forensic Interviewer at BCAC. Drew interviews child victims of crime and works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting children, conducts trainings, and writes policy on keeping the kids in their care safe. In her spare time, Drew prefers to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends.

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child protection, Summer camp, Training, Uncategorized

Pick a summer program that will keep your child safe 

Summer is coming and there are no better ways to enrich your child’s summer with a great summer camp or summer program. But out of school time poses risks as well. 

What can parents ask to make them better consumers when selecting programs? What follows is a quick guide to help you be proactive in choosing a safe summer program that prioritizes child protection along with fun. 

1. Is the program is licensed or accredited?

2. How are employees and volunteers screened?

3. Is there a child protection policy and how is staff trained?

4. Are there clear reporting procedures for suspicions of abuse?

5. Observe the program & Follow your instincts?

Amazingly not every camp does this. And what we are seeing in the child protection community is that even foundations are starting to place a priority on these issues before continuing to find programs. 

If camps or programs don’t meet your standards or don’t leave you feeling comfortable and safe, don’t leave your kids there. Use your gut instinct and advocate for better policy and better systems. 

And if you’re a camp or summer program reading this and wondering if you can say yes to all these questions, contact us for an assessment of your program. Our expert staff can help you keep the kids in your program safe and happy all summer. 

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Uncategorized

Help Us Raise Awareness and Funds in Honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month

Baltimore Child Abuse Center is looking for community partners to help us raise funds and awareness in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month this April.
We’re calling on members of the Baltimore community to create activities to benefit Baltimore’s most vulnerable inhabitants – its children.
Currently, groups throughout the region are hosting bake sales, film screenings, donation boxes at cash registers in local shops, dining nights at local restaurants, benefit performances, happy hours, bingo & trivia nights, and so much more. Get creative!
In exchange for your participation in Child Abuse Awareness Month, throughout the month of April, we’ll promote your event or business on social media, on our website, and in e-communications to our supporter list.
Contact Melissa at 443-923-7009 or mjencks@bcaci.org with any questions and to get involved.
Thank you for joining us in our mission to protect children in Baltimore from sexual abuse, trauma, and other adverse childhood experiences!

CHILD ABUSE AWARENESS MONTH

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child protection, failure to report, legislation, Uncategorized

Failing to Protect Children by not Punishing the Failure to Report

I’ve been calling for penalties for the failure to report child abuse for years now in Maryland. Maryland remains the only state without a penalty or formal mechanism to pursue such a violation of the duty to protect children in one’s care. And for years myself and a few others have called for the enactment of such a penalty for a willful and knowing failure to report abuse. However, this bill has consistently died in the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates at the hands of legislators focused on professionals and not children and advocates less concerned with children than they have been with their own special interests. You know who you are.

Today’s allegation that a child informed a teacher about his own abuse and was told to sit down just underscores the need for a penalty for the failure to report. Penalties are not designed for the mistake or the confusing situation, but for moments like the Deonte Carraway case in Prince Georges County where not just the principal but multiple teachers in the school knowingly and willfully failed to report abuse.

A prosecutor needs to have the mechanism to pursue justice for those who abrogated their responsibility to protect the children in their care. This incident is no different and no less heinous that what occurred at Penn State where leadership at all levels turned a blind eye towards the abuse of children. When mandated reporters fail to adhere to their duty, abuse continues, pedophiles remain unaccountable, and regrettably even children die. The lack of a penalty in Maryland diminishes the significance of the crime of child abuse and the value of those lives impacted. This omission is truly one of the only incidents in Maryland law where there is a mandate required without any penalty.

A 2008 study published by the Journal of the International Society for Child Indicators concluded that the passage of effective mandatory reporting laws across the United States has clearly shown success in increasing the number of reports made to child protective services (Kesner, John. Child Protection in the United States: An Examination of Mandated Reporting of Child Maltreatment, Child Ind Res (2008) 1:397-410). Unfortunately, Maryland is the only state without any formal and enforceable remedy for the failure to report abuse – a distinction glaringly pointed out in reports issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and other national agencies on mandatory reporting. Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated.  There are no teeth to encourage or enforce this basic requirement that mandatory reporters report abuse. Having a penalty for the failure to report abuse is the national standard, and Maryland must do the same to ensure and underscore the importance of reporting abuse.

Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated.

Review the recent history in Maryland of bills introduced to examine the failure to report penalty and system of reporting. Even task forces to examine the issue have been shot down in committee and received dissent among advocates. Review the votes of members who voted against these bills, and read the testimony of advocates and professions who rallied against a penalty. Perhaps it’s too late for this legislative session to do any good, but it’s never too late to protect children. 

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