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Reflections

Best Practices Reporting Child Sexual Abuse

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Each year the President of the US and our own MA governor Charlie Baker issues a  proclamation to raise awareness and urge involvement. While awareness involves all forms of abuse (http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/departments/dcf/child-abuse-neglect/warning-signs.html). This proclamation focuses on all forms of abuse. This little fact sheet focuses on sexual abuse. Likely you know a child that’s been sexually abused. Experts estimate that 1 in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday.This means that in any classroom, neighborhood, and church there are children who are silently bearing the burden of their abuse. Here’s more eyeopening statistics: 

• More than four children die every day as a result of child abuse.
• Approximately 70% of children that die from abuse are under the age of 4. 
• More than 90% of child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator.  


Child abuse isn’t just a sin. It’s a crime. All 50 states have mandatory reporting laws. Clergy and and child workers are front line responders and mandated to report. But most don’t. There’s a fear factor. Some say they don’t know the signs, how to make a report or fear the consequences. But the consequences of not reporting are much more grave. Children who carry secrets they fear won't be believed suffer long term psychological, emotional, social, and physical problems into adulthood. Child victims become adult survivors. Healing is a long journey home.

Realizing the definition for child sexual abuse is a start toward prevention: It not only involves physical contact and penetration. It's any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors, when one exerts power over the other; forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act; non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism, and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet http://www.D2L.org/LearnTheFacts.

Reporting doesn’t require proof. In most states reasonable suspicion is necessary to make a good faith report. “Reasonable suspicion means you have witnessed physical or behavioral signs of maltreatment, either in the child or parent/caregiver, or both. OR, you have received a disclosure from a child about abuse, neglect, or boundary violations towards them” (www.d2l.org). Be prepared to give the child’s name, address and age, parent’s name and address and the nature of the abuse. Even if there’s not enough evidence to convict, reporting creates a paper trail that can lead to future action. You do not need to provide your name unless you are a mandated reporter and required to do so by the law in your state; however in all cases mandated reporters contact information is is confidential and protected by law. Learn your state's laws (see https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/clergymandated.pdf). For those who live in MA as I do click on this informational brochure for more: http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/docs/dcf/can-mandated-reporters-guide.pdf.

Darkness to Light, an organization committed to educating the public about child sexual abuse reports that "90% p of the time, the child is telling the truth" when he/she discloses. They offer best practices when a chil discloses: 

1. Say, I believe you and it's not your fault. 

DO ask open ended questions: "Then what happened?"
DON'T express anger or disbelief.

2. Conduct a "minimal fact" interview.

DO determine what, where, when and by whom, if possible.
DON'T ask leading questions and probe for details.

3. Report immediately.

DO tell law enforcement/child protective services.
DON'T attempt further investigation. 
DON'T promise not to tall anyone.

If the child does not readily supply this information, do not continue to question or investigate. It could interfere later with the investigation.

For further information see: https://www.D2L.org (How to Report Child Abuse)

Summarizing, April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. Reflecting on the cross, it wasn’t just a handful of enemies responsible for Christ’s death. But the silence of his friends. Silence, even when well-intended enables a culture of abuse and “in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends (Martin Luther King, Jr.). Please. If you see something, say something.

Dr. Rev. Beverly Blaisdell-Weinhold

April 13, 2016
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