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Credentials 

DOJ Certified PREA Auditor

Certified Rape Crisis Counselor

Certified Community Crisis Responder

Mediator - Victim Offender - Crimes of Violence

Certified Trainer - Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse

 Consultant Office for Victims of Crime U.S. DOJ

 
 

Daily Comments

Sexting Among Teens 

Saturday, November 15, 2014 8:16:00 PM

Sexting Statute in Pennsylvania

Last year I had the privilege of working with staff of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission as they were looking at the new "sexting statute" in Pennsylvania.   The final product of that work was a report titled "Report of the Juvenile Court Judges’ Commission:  Considerations in Response to Pennsylvania's Sexting Statute, Act 128 of 2012. During this project it was evident that is was still very early in the implementation phase of the statute.   Only 10 months had passed since the law went into effect.  As a result the statistics we were able to review were minimal at that point. Also many cases went to the District Justice level and those statistics were not reviewed.

What I think is most significant about this report is the view it provides from a variety of angles on the impact of all involved, the inclusion of the most current research on sexting behavior among teens, and the acknowledgement of the number of cases that never make it to the juvenile court system.  Education of juvenile probation officers on the issues related to sexting was for me the strongest recommendation in the report/

Many times during the informal focus group members voiced concerns that many if not most cases involving sexting were being handled within the schools.  This raised the question as to when and what criteria were being used to determine when to call the police. 

This issue of sexting is riddled with the potential for net widening and sexism that must be addressed in any response. Careful consideration of the breath of the issue and what our response either as parents, law enforcement or as schools should be requires acknowledgment the sexism prevalent in our society.  For example, girls are depicted more often in these sexually explicit images, and most often it is ex-boyfriends or jealous girlfriends that are redistributing these images after a teen dating relationship ends.  The harsh reality is that it is the individual depicted in the image that is labeled, shamed, and humiliated.  

The law enforcement community championed this law with support from victims and their advocates.  However, as a community we fall short if we believe that arrest and prosecution are the answer.  Those steps must be combined with appropriate intervention and education to assist parent, teens, schools and others in learning about healthy boundaries and healthy relationships. Otherwise we will continue to deal with the inconsistent reporting which creates inconsistent enforcement, and the potential for overzealous prosecution of individuals, individuals that based on the research contained in the report would not normally come into contact with the juvenile justice system.

Criminalizing this behavior cannot be all that we do.  We must are wiser than that and need to apply new knowledge based on the research to look at the sexting issues from a broader perspective.

Mary Achilles, Owner

Achilles Consulting Services, LLC

 

PA Secretary of Education's Comments on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 7:41:00 PM

This posting is a letter that I sent to Dennis Owens of abc27 WHTL Harrisburg in response to a a news story and subsequent posting on-line of an piece/article titled.  PA officials differ on when to report child abuse. http://cumberlandlnk.com/news/local/capitalregion/pa-officials-differ-on-when-to-report-child-sex-abuse/articleddd66cf86-3901-11e3-b951-0019bb2963f4.html.

Dear Mr. Owens,

 Thank heavens for Secretary of Welfare Bev Mackereh and her comments “School officials are not trained to be investigators.  So, to have the police involved is the right thing to do.”   She reiterated what is state law and frankly, what is best practice. Those comments were part of a news story that you presented and was posted on line in Pa. officials differ on when to report child abuse published October 19, 2012 AT 6:30 p.m. on www.cumberlandlink.com

Comments by Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education in the same posting regarding her understanding of the need for educational administrators to consider the reputation of the accused as central to when and if a report of child abuse is made is alarming.  It is especially alarming as we remain a state living in the shadow of a painful child sexual abuse scandal at Pennsylvania State University and in the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The Secretary of Education’s comments conveyed the type of thinking process that brought Penn State and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to their knees from their failure to report child abuse. 

Unfortunately, the views of Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Education illustrated not only a lack of knowledge of the mandatory reporting of child abuse laws in the Commonwealth, but also how often and how easy it is to taint testimony, re-traumatized the child victim, and potentially impede justice. 

The Secretary of Education must provide the required leadership to ensure that the laws of this Commonwealth requiring the immediate reporting of child abuse are followed.   But most of all she must provide the leadership that changes a culture that currently permits misguided conduct such as that alleged in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County, which seems to place more emphasis on the adult’s professional reputation than on the safety or our school children. 

As a result of the leadership of Senator Pat Vance (R) of Cumberland County school employees must now receive three hours of training on mandatory reporting of child abuse every five years.  The Department of Education approves all curriculum that may be used in schools across the Commonwealth to fulfill this requirement.  This is why it is important the Secretary of Education provide informed leadership on the issue of mandatory reporting of child abuse.  Her sphere of influence is wide and she has the opportunity and responsibility to help shape the response of schools at the local level. 

As the former and first Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania I know that reporting child abuse is a mechanism for intervening in a situation where abuse may already have occurred.   I know that when we as adults fail to make the required report, we not only violate the law, but we leave the responsibility to stop the abuse in the hands of the child.  That is just not right.

 

Mary Achilles,  Owner

Achilles Consulting Services

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scandal Ridden Organizations Dealing with Sexual Violence 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 9:27:00 PM

Over the last several years there has been increasing public discussion on the issue of child sexual abuse.   Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your view, this discussion has been precipitated by several public scandals of epic proportions.  First in the early part of the 21st century several courageous adult survivors of child sexual abuse came forward in the city of Boston to disclose their sexual abuse at the hands of priests within the Catholic Church.    Their courageous actions rocked the Catholic Church across this country and would dominate the coverage of the Catholic Church in the media for the next decade. 

Over ten years later in early November 2011 the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was shocked when the Attorney General released a grand jury report which indicted several prominent current and former athletic figures at Penn State University Football Program.  These indictments rocked the sports world nationwide. Over the next few months individuals would be arrested, one would be tried and several would be fired and the media coverage of Penn State was dominated with the sexual abuse scandal.  

Never before had we heard sports writers talking about child sexual abuse.    As with the Catholic Church the media covered the issue from variety of angles.    What was most remarkable was the clear and concise way that the Patriot News, who broke the story and the sportswriters across America covered the story.  Their coverage was clear – this is a crime story – a story about the lives of eight boys – now young men who courageously came forward to tell of their abuse.   All were clear in their reporting – this was bigger than Penn State Football.

For the young men at Penn State and the adult survivors who came forward in Boston coming from the darkness into the light is a journey fraught with new challenges.  What often follows in these public outings is that more victims are inspired with the courage to come forward.  This is one reason why transparency by organizations about sexual violence is important.  It can help to free others from their silence.  Most victims go public when they feel that it is of value to others and or when the feel that the organization that should be responsive to them has failed them. 

For these two organizations the public scandal often propelled them into a defensive posture.  Both Penn State and The Catholic Church have responded in various ways to the scandal.  The Church has been forced to take stock of the problem and begin internal review and changes that would, could and should prevent child sexual abuse in the future.  These efforts have been evolving for the last decade.

The public nature of these scandals creates a unique situation for these organizations.  While under investigation, or while trials occur, they must evaluate their own situation and make the necessary changes all under the watchful eye of the media.  Many critics of Penn State and the Catholic Church will not acknowledge that these organizations and particularly the Church are attempting to address the problem of sexual violence within the organizations while the culture in which we live continues to struggle to understand it.  As a society we still engage in victim blaming and judgment of the behavior of the victim.  But we expect those in these organizations to get it right.  We have a higher standard for these organizations than we do for ourselves. That is not to say that they should not be criticized but we need to recognize the additional burden that public attention places on them.

Unlike many others I believe that the Church is on the right path.  Whether they will get to the place they need to be in time I am not sure.  What I am sure about is that they will continue to struggle publicly with this issue.  What I know for sure is that many other churches were in the same position as the Catholic Church but the spotlight was not on them.   My father would always tell me that a “word to the wise was sufficient” and I saw that saying in action when other churches began to retool their efforts to protect children in response to the public scandal of the Catholic Church.  Many however have chosen to view this as someone else’s problem

Penn State is early in its response to the scandal and time will only tell whether they get it right. There are still a number of investigations ongoing and the toll of those is yet to be seen. There are however many things that Penn State has done correctly and some not so well. But the true ending will be when Penn State embraces the idea that the reporting of child abuse is only a part of the problem.  It is a culture within the University and the Atheletic Program that supports a culture of violence that is really what needs to be addressed.

 If a word to the wise is sufficient, Universities across this country would be wise to look at their own policies and practices under Title IX pertaining to their response to sexual assault on campus in the aftermath of Penn State. They would be wise to take heed and learn something from Penn States mistakes.  They would be wise no to take comfort in the fact that today they are not under the spotlight.

If a word to the wise is sufficient we would all question ourselves as to what we are doing to prevent sexual violence within ourselves, in our relationships with family, friends and loved ones,  and colleagues to change our culture to one that does not support sexual violence.

January 23, 2012