Teen Dating Violence: digital abuse and sexting

This month, teens and communities are working together to shed light on the different forms that teen dating abuse can take. Check out the video below to see what teens are saying about teen dating violence and what it looks like to them.

One article notes  that at least 10 percent  of teens have been involved in a violent dating situation and the rising use of technology among teens as young as 12 may be contributing to these numbers.

PEW research found:

  • Almost 60 percent of 12 year olds now have cell phones
  • As of 2009, 83 percent of 17 year olds have cell phones – up from 64 percent in 2004
  • 50 is the median number of texts that are sent daily by 12-17 year olds

Use of this of technology has also led to a rise in the occurrence of ‘sexting.’

What is sexting? 

polls_Sexting_3232_469951_poll_xlarge (1)

How common is it?

PEW found that among surveyed teens aged 12-17:

  • 15 percent have received or sent suggestive images of themselves or someone else via text.
  • Older teens are more likely to participate in explicit image texting.
  • Teens with unlimited text messaging plans – 75 percent of teens with cell phones — are more likely to report receiving sexually suggestive texts.
  • 18 percent of teens with unlimited texting plans are more often receiving nude or nearly nude images or video via their phones.

Why is it problematic?

Sexting I is extremely common among teens and contributes to negative risky sexual behaviour, exposure to violence and coercion in young relationships. In January, a young girl fell victim to the dangers of sexting and was bullied into performing sexual acts after a party. A clip of her was taken and she was threatened with it being shared at school. Additionally, teens participating in sending explicit images are also at risk of legal action under child pornography rules. An example of this activity happened in Pennsylvania last month when two teens were cited for sending explicit photos of themselves.

What is an appropriate response?

Continuing to raise awareness about the dangers associated with digital abuse and sexting is the first step to combating the problem. Professionals, non-profits and communities are working on the response and HealthyChildren.org shares some ideas for how to respond, including:

  • Talk to kids about healthy dating relationships and the issue of sexting.
  • Make sure they understand the legal consequences of participating in sending explicit messages and images.
  • Share real stories about what can happen when sending or receiving images.
  • Practice appropriate responses with kids so they can use them if they’re pressured into sexting.

For more information on understanding how to respond, check out Futures Without Violence’s guide to Effective Responses to Teen Sexting.

International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking

Today is the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This awareness day, created in 1987 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly was created to work towards a society free of drugs and violence. Each year the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) promotes a theme of health to raise awareness about the global problem of drugs.

The UN Secretary General notes that “drug abuse and illicit trafficking continue to have a profoundly negative impact on development and stability across the world. The billions of dollars generated from illicit drugs fuel terrorist activities and abet other crimes such as human trafficking and the smuggling of arms and people.” These kinds of activities put children at an even greater risk for exposure to violence. The National Survey on Children’s Exposure to Violence reminds us that each year American children are exposed to violence, crime and abuse in their communities and at home. They are more at risk for developing the following:

  • Psychological health outcomes
  • Physical health outcomes
  • Academic difficulties and failure
  • Behavioral problems
  • Delinquency and offending
  • Poly-victimization

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Boys, Sexual Assault and Mandated Reporting Update

Back in December we discussed the Penn State scandal and conducted a campaign to raise awareness about the basics of mandated reporting. But what has happened since then? Well, to bring you up to date on those happenings, and support Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month, we’d like to talk about two important issues as a follow up to that campaign.

The first issue is how the country has responded to the Penn State scandal.

You can check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ comprehensive overview of the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting State Statutes. Click here to see the chart which outlines several of the steps in reporting child abuse and neglect. It also links to full summaries of each state’s law on the issue.

Since the scandal unfolded you can now view updates on these state statutes.  Approximately 98 bills in 29 states and the District of Columbia have been introduced in the 2012 legislative session on the reporting of suspected child abuse and neglect. Five states have enacted legislation.

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Trayvon Martin and Community Violence

Much has been said about the Trayvon Martin case in central Florida this past month. Much more could be said and even more will probably never be known for sure. What we do know is that Trayvon was walking home from a nearby store when he was approached by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman. Accounts vary as to what happened next, but the outcome left Martin dead from a gunshot wound.

However, what isn’t being talked about so much is the environment where this tragic incident played out.

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Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Over the last several years, the topic of human trafficking – or modern day slavery as many advocates call it – has captured the attention and pulled on the heart strings of the American public. U.S. citizens became indignant as they realized that slavery, something they thought fixed a century ago, was still growing in the world. Since then, countless organizations, advocacy campaigns, and fundraisers have been created to help the victims of global trafficking, especially the women and girls trafficked in our country.

Unfortunately, many people still don’t know that these same horror stories happen in their state, their county, their city. Recent reports cite that American born girls and boys are just as likely to be trafficked domestically as immigrant children. Amy Fine Collin recently wrote a story for Vanity Fair on domestic sex trafficking about two trafficked American girls, Gwen and Alicia, and the police officers, lawyers, social workers, and doctors who helped free them. “A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a “righteous” pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings,” Collin writes. This is an American reality, one that unfortunately is targeting younger and younger children.

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Global Family Day and the Year of the Child

As we’ve mentioned before, even though Christmas and the New Year are a wonderful time for friends, family, and good memories, they can also be one of the most stressful times of the year resulting in increased exposure to violence and abuse. Often it is women and children who are the most affected.

An article from the Herald Sun, a case of domestic violence every 10 minutes at Christmas – police, provides an example of the increased violence exposure. The article shared data that authorities expected more than 100 cases of domestic violence to occur on Christmas day alone.

The Washington Times also shares an article that cites New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as two of the most dangerous days of the year for domestic violence. “According to the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, domestic violence reports increase as much as 30 percent on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.”

So, it is essential that we keep this in mind as we enter the New Year.

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Mandatory Reporting: Implications, Meanings, and Practice

We’ve been talking a great deal about mandated reporting the past few weeks expanding our knowledge about the topic, drilling down into some of the specifics, and thinking through some of the barriers for professionals and systems.  Now we’ve come to what the implications of that reporting might be for mandated professionals, families, individuals, and the children affected.

Since the Penn State scandal became public knowledge, there has been a firestorm of opinion and media and legislative activity across the United States. States are responding by reviewing current mandatory reporting laws and reinforcing who is responsible for reporting abuse and when they should be reporting. There is some individual outcry that everyone should be required to be a mandated reporter and others are opposed to the expansion of legislation, citing it will cause more harm than good. But, overall there is a general agreement that reporting laws are necessary but clarification is essential for them to be carried out properly.

Nancy Fagan, LCSW, a child-welfare specialist with Jewish Family and Children Services, wrote an opinion piece that reiterates the view point that everyone has a clear ethical and legal responsibility to report abuse, but that those responsibilities must be clarified and outlined.  Another writer from the Michigan CASA blog believes even more extremely that “when there is even a question or an inkling of abuse,” that you must assume that abuse is occurring until you are proven otherwise.

On the other end of the spectrum, in a November 27th opinion piece for the Hartford Courant, Joette Katz, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families and former State Supreme Court Justice, said that she was against requiring everyone to become a mandated reporter. The piece cites that studies have not proven that extensive reporting laws have even helped to reduce the incidence or prosecution rate of abuse cases and in fact can increase the prevalence of spurious reports which take away from the investigation of legitimate cases being reported.

So in order to understand the implications of mandated reporting, one has to think about their own understanding about the subject. In a recent lecture on child protection laws, Margaret Lynch Professor of Community Pediatrics, King’s College, gave a lecture at the University College London on child protection laws, and as part of the lecture she provided an exercise that required participants to look at the subject of reporting from personal, public, and professional perspectives and confront their own understanding about the subject. One of the scenarios asked participants whether they would be suspicious of the idea of a father cuddling with his 11-year-old daughter in bed after she’s had a scare. Each person had a very different understanding of what should have been done or how they should have responded from a reporting perspective.

This scenario is a clear example of the implications of mandated reporting legislation. When presented with a possibly scenario of abuse, how do people respond? How do you know when it is abuse or when it’s not? In a room full of policy makers, doctors, and advocates every person had a different understanding about the presented scenario. They each would interpret legislation and guidelines differently. So do states push forward with the mindset that everyone should report if they have any reason to suspect abuse or should they follow the Commissioner’s advice for targeting reporting laws and cautioning guidelines?

A study published in Clinical Pediatrics in 2010, by Benjamin H. Levy and Kathryn Crowell, Child Abuse Experts Disagree About the Threshold for Mandated Reporting, attempted to see if setting forth guidelines for using reasonable suspicion for reporting abuse might help to create an overall threshold for the context of reporting abuse. However, they found that there really wasn’t any guidance that helped to determine the interpretation of the meaning of abuse. The study concluded that experts even showed a wide range of variation in defining that suspicion. Basically, there’s absolutely no consensus on how even experts can interpret suspicion. This and other studies also discuss that abuse investigations themselves can be just as traumatic as any suspected abuse, so there is no need to put a child through the trauma of the reporting process on an “inkling” of suspicion. This may especially be the case if everyone is a mandated reporter because they’ll start reporting anything because they’re afraid of facing penalties for not reporting.  If experts are not even clear about what reporting laws mean then it may be even more difficult for the average person to know what to look for as well.

Looking back at the exercise about child protection, we just have to keep in mind that everyone has an identity affected by their life experiences, beliefs, and culture that impact their understanding of abuse. The implications of mandated reporting laws can have a strong impact on everyone involved in the reporting process. So, this must be kept in mind as states review their laws and as people understand what abuse is and what constitutes reasonable suspicion for reporting.

While it isn’t always clear what is meant by “reasonable suspicion,” there are signs that you can look out for whether you are a practitioner, parent, teacher, or individual. Prevent Child Abuse America suggests the following:

What You Can Do: Recognize the Warning Signs

PINWHEELS FOR PREVENTION ™ CAMPAIGN

The behavior of children may signal abuse or neglect long before any change in physical appearance. Some of the signs may include:

  • Nervousness around adults
  • Aggression toward adults or other children
  • Inability to stay awake or to concentrate for extended periods
  • Sudden, dramatic changes in personality or activities
  • Unnatural interest in sex
  • Frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor hygiene

They also provide a webpage that lists the steps to report and where to actually go to report.

What you can do: Report Suspected Abuse or Neglect

http://www.preventchildabuse.org/help/report_abuse.shtml

In addition the following website provides some guidelines for what reporters can expect and how to respond:

http://www.childhelp.org/pages/what-to-expect

If a child discloses that he or she has been abused by someone, it is important that you listen to them most of all.
(http://www.childhelp.org/pages/about-abuse)

DO NOT
•   Investigate
•   Ask leading questions (a question that suggests the answer or contains the information the questioner is looking for – That man touched you, didn’t he?)
•   Make promises
•   Notify the parents or the caretaker

DO
•   Provide a safe environment (be comforting, welcoming, and a good listener).
•   Tell the child it was not his/her fault
•   Listen carefully
•   Document the child’s exact quotes
•   Be supportive, not judgmental
•   Know your limits
•   Tell the truth and make no promises
•   Ask ONLY four questions
•   What happened?
•   Who did this to you?
•   Where were you when this happened?
•   When did this happen?
•   Asking any additional questions may contaminate a case!

Report it!
•   Call your local law enforcement agency
•   Call your local Child Protective Services Agency
•   Call the 24-Hour Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline and we will connect you to the appropriate agency.

Questions that will be asked when you call
http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/safety/abusereport.asp

  1. The name, address and age of the child.
  2. The name and address of the child’s parent, guardian or other persons having custody of the child.
  3. The nature and extent of the abuse or neglect.
  4. Any evidence of previous incidences.
  5. Any other information which may be helpful in establishing the cause of the child’s abuse or neglect and the identity of the perpetrator.

You do not need to have all of the above information when you call to make a report, but the more accurate information you can provide, the better equipped the offices will be to assess the child’s risk.

We’ve also included some further resources below that can help reporters clarify reporting laws and some further signs that you can look for if you suspect a child might be abused:

Prevent Child Abuse America

http://www.preventchildabuse.org/index.shtml

Child Abuse and Neglect Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse

http://helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

Mandatory Reporters of Child Abuse and Neglect: Summary of State Laws

http://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/manda.cfm

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