It's Time to Proritize Child Safety in Burlington
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It is estimated that 1:10 children to possibly as many as 1:4 girls and 1:6 boys experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. In nearly all cases, the perpetrator is someone known and trusted by the child and family. For many survivors it can take at least 5 years for them to disclose to another person, and in most cases abuse is never reported to the authorities.
Unfortunately there is not a lot of awareness for this issue. Pediatricians are not required to talk to parents about it but thanks to the work of legislations like Erin's Law, schools across the country are being required by law to provide body safety education to children in grades K-12. This involves letting children know they have a right to not be touched by someone on the areas of their body covered by a bathing suit and that it is very important to tell a trusted adult - like a parent, teacher, etc so they can get help. This is not 'sex' education, it's body safety, something we believe every child has a right to be taught, just like fire safety, water safety, and now in-school threats.
When children experience abuse from a young age they may not know that it is wrong, or if no one talks to them about it, they feel embarassed, ashamed, and guilty and are too afraid to tell. Awareness and education can give children hope and a safe place to tell.
By law, teachers are mandated reporters of child abuse and one of the most often to report child sexual abuse to the authorities. Unfortunately, children are not told that they can talk to their teacher and get help and they often struggle with school work or develop self-harming or disruptive behaviors as a result of their trauma. Other children strive to hide any signs of abuse because they fear someone finding out, but this is still very damaging to their well-being.
According to the most recent data from a nationwide survey of 8th- to 11th-grade students asking about incidents of unwanted sexual attention at school, nearly 7%, or about 3.5 million students, report having physical sexual contact from an adult, most commonly a teacher or coach, in their school (Shakeshaft, 2004).
Based on the estimates, there are at the very least dozens if not hundreds of child and adult survivors of child sexual abuse living in our community that have not disclosed abuse.
Most recently, a technology teacher at an elemetary school in Harwich was charged with sexually abusing second grade students during school hours within the school.
And as many are aware, we recently had a Boy Scout leader and parent within our community charged with distributing and downloading images of children through online child pornography networks.
These represent the very few cases of abuse that make the headlines, the majority never will. This is an epidemic and unfortunately it's too easy for victims to be silenced, but with awareness and education of educators, parents, and youth serving volunteers we can improve protection, reduce opportunity, and give every child the knowledge and support they need to stay safe.
Please join us in petitioning the Burlington Massachusetts School Committee and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Eric Conti in adopting stronger policies and procedures to protect the children in our community and set an example for other towns and cities of Massachuetts and beyond.
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