Citizens to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

 

Legislation Seeks to Support Schools and Youth Organizations in Preventing Child Sexual Abuse 

MA state house

 

Two Massachusetts bills introduced by Senator Joan Lovely (D-Salem), herself a survivor of child sexual abuse, were heard at the Public Hearing of the Joint Committee on Education on September 4th. Testimony was presented by Jetta Bernier, Executive-Director of MassKids, Laura Siracusa, a Board Member of MassKids whose daughter was a victim of educator sexual abuse, and Carmen Durso, Esq., also a MassKids Board Member and legal advocate for sexual abuse survivors. Chief Steve Wojnar of Dudley, Past President of the MA Chiefs of Police Association, strongly urged support for S313 to close the loophole in the state’s current Age of Consent law which allows teachers to engage in sexual relations with their students 16 years of age and older. Other survivors of educator sexual abuse also testified in favor of these bills.  

S312, referred to as “The SHIELD Act,” would mandate child sexual abuse prevention education of public and private school and youth organization employees. Schools would be required to adopt policies, including a model code of conduct for employees to be developed by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and prevention advocates, that would detail prohibited boundary-violating behaviors. It would establish a standard tool for screening prospective new employees that would include asking whether the applicant was ever the subject of an investigation for sexual misconduct, was ever disciplined or discharged for the behavior, or whether they surrendered or had their professional license revoked because of it.   Currently, school leaders fear that sharing information about a former employee’s sexual misconduct could make their schools vulnerable to legal actions by the applicant.  Under the new law, schools would be legally protected from liability for sharing this information with other schools. 

Another key provision would prohibit schools from aiding employees accused of sexual misconduct from securing employment in another school - a practice that legislators in other states have referred to as “passing the trash.”  According to Jetta Bernier, director of MassKids, a private child advocacy organization: “Instead of reporting suspected abuse to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Families as the law requires, some schools faced with the sexual misconduct of an employee choose to negotiate a confidential agreement that permits the employee to resign in good standing, and, in some cases, ensures him or her a positive job recommendation and other perks. Fear of negative publicity, or of legal actions against the school by parents if the abuse were to be made public, often fuel this practice. As a result, abusers are allowed to gain employment in other schools where they continue to pose a sexual threat to children.”   

Eight other states to date have passed legislation on this front and the U.S. Department of Education has put states on notice that they must adopt laws, regulations or policies to stop what Congress has called “the abhorrent practice” of aiding and abetting employees engaged in sexual misconduct to get jobs in other schools. Failure to comply can jeopardize federal education funding. 

The second bill, S313, would close a loophole in the state’s age of consent law that currently provides a defense for teachers, administrators, and other persons in authority in public or private schools or state departments that serve children, who engage in sexual abuse of a student 16 years of age or older. According to Chief of Police and Past President of the MA Chiefs of Police Association Steve Wojnar of Dudley, “In such cases, teens are often manipulated into believing that the sexual relationship is consensual, exclusive, and that they are in love.  If the relationship is discovered, such youth often will not cooperate in any legal action against the adult, who then becomes out of the reach of law enforcement.”  The proposed legislation would provide that in any civil action, a student under 19, or a special needs person under 22, would be incapable of consenting to sexual relations with a person over 21 employed by a school, state department, or private institution that serves youth.  

MassKids urges citizens to contact their legislators or members of the Joint Committee on Education, to voice their support for these two critical prevention bills. Education Committee members can be found at:  https://malegislature.gov/Committees/Detail/J14 

Join with Citizens to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse so we can send you regular emails highlighting specific features of the bills, the data that support them, and how passage of the bills will strengthen the practices and policies of our schools, youth organizations, and communities. We will keep you informed about which legislators have formally supported the bills, when public hearings on the bills are scheduled, and any press conferences, rallies, media coverage, or State House events to promote the legislation.

With your advocacy, we can successfully pass S.312 and S.313. 

The push to reform the criminal and civil Statute of Limitations in Massachusetts succeeded because of the strong and persistent support of citizens like you. Our goal to ensure justice for survivors and accountability for their abusers has been realized for many. As a result, survivors have now taken their cases to court and several have won.

Building on that victory, we must now focus on protecting our children from ever having to experience sexual abuse and its devastating and often life-long health and mental health consequences. S.312 and S.313 will go a long way in achieving those protections.

Children’s tiny voices are not often heard on Beacon Hill. They need us to be their megaphone, collectively advocating as one, powerful voice for their safety and right to be protected from sexual abuse and exploitation.

 Join Citizens to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse today!