New Report Recommends States Introduce Laws to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, Strengthen Child Safety in Schools & Youth Organizations

June 2, 2021 – Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America) announced today the release of A Call to Action for Policymakers and Advocates: Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Legislation in the States, a new report detailing the need for executive and legislative efforts in all 50 states to prevent child sexual abuse. The 116-page report, authored by Jetta Bernier, executive director of MassKids, the Massachusetts chapter of PCA America and site of the Enough Abuse Campaign, documents specific policies geared towards the prevention of sexual abuse of children and youth in schools and youth organizations nationwide.

According to Bernier, “Children from every community and from all economic, racial and cultural groups are included in the estimated one in ten children who are victims of child sexual abuse. And the pandemic has placed children at significantly greater risk, as confirmed by the unprecedented numbers of calls to rape crisis hotlines by minors over the past year.”

Specifically, the report urges President Biden to appoint a policy czar and federal inter-agency task force to work with private sector abuse prevention experts to address what law enforcement and public health experts are calling a pandemic within a pandemic. The report also calls upon lawmakers in every state to introduce legislation mandating all school employees and students receive training on how to prevent, early identify and report child sexual abuse.

“Although 32 states and the District of Columbia have passed such laws, only 14 require training for all school employees and all students,” explained PCA America President & CEO Dr. Melissa T. Merrick. “Given the U.S. Department of Education’s data indicating that 4.5 million school children experience some type of sexual misconduct or abuse by an adult in their schools, we must support schools to make this critical prevention education available.”

Also recommended is the adoption of a model code of conduct for all schools that details the inappropriate and boundary-violating interactions by adults with children, which, left unchecked, could lead to illegal and reportable sexual offenses. Stronger policies are proposed to screen applicants for school jobs to identify past sexual misconduct, prohibit confidentiality agreements aimed at suppressing information about an employee’s past misconduct and the practice referred to by the U.S. Department of Education as “passing the trash,” i.e., aiding an employee engaged in sexual misconduct or abuse to get a job in another school.

Additionally, the report urges national and community foundations to increase funding to support the scaling up of evidence-based child sexual abuse prevention education programs in schools and youth organizations, the development of new promising strategies and research to expand the knowledge base for prevention.

“This is another example of the need to reshape how child sexual abuse prevention is addressed in the United States,” added Merrick. “We want to continue to shift from reactive, after-the-fact programs and processes to deliberate, forward-thinking approaches that support child and family well-being holistically.”

View the report here