There is a harsh reality to child sexual abuse that hits too close to home; we do not want to think this happens in our neighborhoods, on our streets, or in our schools. Accepting the false reality that this would never happen in certain villages or ZIP codes results in one thing: the perpetuation of children falling through the cracks, of not being believed or listened to, and falling deeper into their reality of continued sexual abuse by their abuser.
The truth is that 90% of child sexual abuse occurs by someone the child knows; 60% occurs by someone the child’s family trusts. Abusers groom children and use secrecy, power, and control over them to continue to sexually abuse sometimes multiple victims at the same time. The results are devastating and can be long-lasting if help and intervention do not occur.
At EAC Network, we are well aware of the prevalence of child abuse, and its devastating effects on our children and their families when left unaddressed.
We are so proud of the courageous survivors coming forward to disclose the abuse they say they endured as youth in the Babylon school district. However, this is also a stark reminder of laws in place regarding mandated reporting that should have stopped this abuse from continuing.
Help and intervention for children being abused is partially shaped by existing mandated reporter laws, put in place in New York State to protect children and to provide them with trusted adults trained to identify signs that a child is being abused and report this suspicion to investigative agencies. These professionals include most school personnel.
More recently, Erin’s Law was passed in New York, requiring all public schools to implement child sexual abuse and exploitation prevention curriculum for students in grades K-8. The EAC Network Suffolk County Child Advocacy Center, which provides a safe, neutral, child-friendly location along with team coordination for active child abuse investigations in the county, offers support and assistance to Suffolk school officials for implementing Erin’s Law. Our organization also offers guidance for schools in speaking with students and parents, instituting curriculum, and assisting staff through professional development.
Proper handling of a child’s disclosure is critical. It makes a difference when they are believed, when a trained team member conducts a child forensic interview, and when that family can be immediately connected with support and services.
When children are asked to retell their trauma to a dozen different adults, or if they do disclose abuse and nothing is done, they may feel dismissed and that they deserve what is happening to them. Some may become frightened of the consequences of ever coming forward again.
In order to meet the criteria for Erin’s Law, school districts must ensure that their staff and faculty, who so often play the role of trusted adult in their students’ lives, are not only informed of their mandated reporter requirements but also supported by a team whose focus is on conducting trauma-informed investigations. This is an opportunity to empower their students and to let child sexual abusers know there is a team of professionals and adults who prioritize child safety over all else.
The situation in Babylon should be a reminder to all school districts to make sure your mandated reporters are properly trained and understand their obligation under the law. Let’s make reporting the fourth R in our school vocabulary.
This guest essay reflects the views of Neela Lockel, chief executive of the EAC Network not-for-profit human services agency.