Back to School Safety:  6 New Child Abuse Laws To Know

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By Joyce R. Lombardi

While abuse, sexting, and predatory teachers aren’t great dinnertime topics, they are all, unfortunately, part of many kids’ back-to-school experience. Whether your kids know it or not, they are likely to know at least one child who is being (or will be) abused at home or at school.

One way to broach the topic is to ask your child to find out what their school is doing about child abuse. The Maryland General Assembly has passed a number of child abuse bills in recent years, and it’s possible that your child’s school might not be up to speed yet. If they are, great. If not, your child’s questions can help them. We are all in this together.

These questions work best coming from kids in middle and high school, but you can ask the school yourself if you want. The answer key is included.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do kids get in school?

A: After Erin’s Law went into effect in July 2016, public and certain nonpublic schools must teach kids K-12 about “the awareness and prevention of sexual abuse and assault.”  Jurisdictions were free to shape their own curriculums, and many have incorporated lessons on inappropriate/appropriate touch, not keeping secrets, and telling adults.

As of July 1, 2018, each county’s public school family life and human sexuality curriculum must include age-appropriate education on the meaning of “consent” and personal boundaries. It’s a new law, but ask your kids to find out if your school is doing anything yet.

Q: What kind of child abuse education do teachers and staff (i.e. adults) get?

A: Truly, only adults can prevent and stop child abuse. The Child Abuse Prevention Bill, which also went into effect July 1, 2018, requires that school personnel in public and certain nonpublic schools receive annual training on the prevention, identification and reporting of child sexual abuse. (Note: This does not include neglect or physical abuse; despite attempts by BCAC, there is no mandatory statewide training requirement for identifying and reporting those kinds of abuse.)

The new law requires that school personnel are trained in preventing child sex abuse, including how to recognize and address grooming behavior, and how to identify and report suspected abuse. The law also requires schools to create codes of conduct to address and prevent abuse, and to make sure their physical spaces do not encourage abuse.

Q: Do teachers or coaches or school staff have to report child abuse?

A: Yes. For decades, school personnel (and others, such as health professionals and law enforcement) have been mandatory reporters in the State of Maryland, meaning they must report if they have “reason to believe” child abuse or neglect has occurred, no matter how far back it was, or even if they only have a suspicion. Child abuse in Maryland means physical or sexual abuse, as well as child exploitation (e.g., photographs) and human trafficking. Since 2017, Maryland’s “child abuse” definition includes not just parents and household members, but anyone with authority or temporary care and custody over a child, including school personnel, coaches, and teachers.

Q: To whom does a teacher/school have to report child abuse?

A: This is not new, but teachers and principals often do not know that the law (Maryland Code, Family Law §5-704) requires the person who has the suspicion of abuse to report OUT to the Department of Social Services or police and UP to a principal or supervisor. Often, a staff member just reports up. This creates a problem, because, far too often, the principal or other authority figure tries to handle the abuse on her own, rather than alert the authorities. Your child can find out if their teachers and counselors know they must report out, as well as up.

Q: Are there signs posted in your school for the child abuse hotline?

A: This is an easy one—no talking required. As of July 1, 2018, schools are encouraged (but not required) to post the telephone number of the local department of social services to report suspected child abuse or neglect. (Note: Every county has its own reporting number, but that will change in a couple of years.)  Once the statewide child abuse number is released, schools can post that instead.

Q: What does the school do if someone at the school spreads sexual pictures of your child (e.g. sexting, revenge porn) or sends them lewd photos?   

A: Several things. As of 2017, an adult in authority who solicits or sends lewd/inappropriate pictures with children must be reported to police or social services under the mandatory reporter law. Students who engage in unwanted sexting or sharing sexual images with each other might fall under the state’s brand new cyber-bullying law. Starting October 1, 2018, Maryland’s definition of cyberbullying now includes intentional electronic sharing of sexual images and content that creates a hostile educational environment. The bill also requires that public (and some private) schools’ model procedures on handling bullying include notice to victims and their families.

BCAC’s training department can also help if your child’s school wants guidance on child abuse prevention training and policies. Contact training@bcaci.org or call 410-923-7003 for more information.


Joyce Lombardi, Esq. is BCAC’s Director of Government Relations and Legal Services. She can be reached at jlombardi@bcaci.org and she welcomes questions and comments about how child abuse laws are being used in Maryland.

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. 

 

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

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

 

Stranger Danger in the Target Bathroom and Other Ridiculous Myths

In solidarity with the federal Equality Act, Target recently announced an inclusive bathroom policy welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” This sent the blogosphere into chaos. Bloggers literally lost their collective minds. Some claimed the inclusive policy could be dangerous for women and children. Real talk, people wrote that women and children were more likely to be sexually assaulted as a result of the policy.

This claim makes two absurd assumptions. First, that people in the LGBTQ community are sexual perpetrators. One blogger even went as far as to ask why “Target is willing to forego the safety of many to appease the internal struggle of the few.” This is a dangerous and outrageous leap. The writer suggests that the LGBTQ community is inherently unsafe or sexually predatory and perpetuates baseless stereotypes that put people at greater risk for harm. In fact, research shows that the LGBTQ community is more likely to be victims of sexual abuse/assault, not perpetrators. Do not jump to the conclusion that victims become abusers—that’s a whole other blog post.

The second assumption presented is that men and women will pretend to be transgender to enter either bathroom so they can molest women and children. The hypothesis here is that strangers are the perpetrators of sexual crimes. The reason this is dangerous is that we are continuing to teach children the idea of “stranger danger.”

This is a missed opportunity to teach our kids about more likely dangers. In reality, 93% of children who have been sexually abused are known by their perpetrator. What does this mean? Typically, perpetrators are acquainted to their victim—they already know the child in some way and may even be a trusted adult.

Let’s backtrack for a bit. Where did this obsession with stranger danger come from? Highly publicized cases of abductions and child sexual abuse date all the way back to 1874. In one case, a four-year-old boy was lured into a wagon (#oregontrail) by two men that offered him candy.  More recently, we’ve heard about Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, or Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland who were held captive against their will for years. These cases are so compelling because we see their family members on television, we feel like we know them, and become emotionally invested in the cases. We relate to them, making it easy to imagine that something like this could happen to your own child. Side note: stranger abductions make up 1/100th of 1 percent of all abductions—again, it’s usually a parent or someone the child knows.

Let’s be clear, it is always a good idea to teach children to be vigilant and cautious in any situation. It’s our job to help them navigate the world. If we want to keep kids safe, let’s not just focus on stranger danger (or inclusive bathrooms), but instead, let kids know that child sexual abuse happens right at home. Unfortunately, offenders are most likely someone you or your child already knows and trusts. So, how do we protect kids?

  1. Know the signs (we have some here).
  2. Talk and listen to them. Only 1 in 10 children actually report child sexual abuse. Let your kids know they can come to you and that it’s not OK to keep secrets.
  3. Minimize opportunity. Educated children are harder targets for abuse. Teach your kids about body parts that are private and use correct terminology. If something does happen to their body, they will have the words to tell an adult. Trust your child’s instincts. If they say they don’t want to be alone with a person, there’s probably a reason why.
  4. Know how to report and make the call—you may help keep other kids safe, too. Stay calm, and listen. Gain minimal facts and let the professionals conduct an investigation. Not sure how to report? Let us tell you.

Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with kids. Arm them with knowledge. Give them the capacity to keep their bodies safe and the tools to respond if something happens. Be proactive; not reactive.

And if your child has to pee at Target, treat it just like you would if your child had to pee at Walmart. Provide proper supervision and guidance, encourage your child to use the buddy system (but we think Target has better home décor).

Picture taken from “Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity.”  

Nikki Daskalakis, LCSW-C and Sammy Jo Kanekuni, LCSW-C are forensic interviewers at Baltimore Child Abuse Center and best friends.