Special Note from Our President
Childhood sexual abuse robs victims of the innocence and hope that all children deserve. Victims suffer lifelong consequences, often impacting generations to come.
The statistics surrounding childhood sexual abuse are staggering and heart wrenching and suggest that there is a high probability that each of us knows someone who has been a victim of childhood sexual abuse or have been a victim ourselves. No More Stolen Childhoods is committed to increasing awareness and understanding about childhood sexual abuse and to supporting adult victims with resources to support them on their path to healing.
This April, in Child Abuse Prevention Month, we joined organizations across the country to highlight the need for child abuse prevention. Our efforts and message has become even more critical with the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shelter-at-home requirements.
Considering that in over 60% of child sexual abuse cases, the perpetrator is a family member, advocates worry that there is an increased risk due to the current shelter-in-place guidelines. Simply put it is more time spent at home, without the external protective and reporting services that come when children are physically engaged in school and youth serving organizations. With school buildings closed, children are not seeing teachers, counselors or school professionals who are often the primary source of child abuse reports, reporting an estimated 20% of childhood abuse to child protective services nationwide. During time of financial strains, dependent, vulnerable parents are less likely or able to report abuse, and in-person visits by social service providers are not happening. In March, RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) reported that for the first time in the organization’s history, half of the calls to the National Sexual Assault Hotline were from minors.
Additionally, we are concerned that sheltering-at-home results in children and adults spending more time on-line, for learning, for socializing and for entertainment. This increased access is creating an increased risk of on-line predatory behavior as well as a potential rise in the viewing of sexually abusive images of children. According to InHope, a network of 47 national cyber tip lines, calls to report child sexual exploitation activity have increased 30% globally.
The COVID-19 outbreak has disrupted most of our lives at a level that few of us could have imagined just a short time ago. Many people express a heightened sense of frustration and anxiety, as well as a longing to regain control of our lives and the lives of those whom we love and want to protect. At the same time, I am hearing an increased sentiment in the desire to help others.
No More Stolen Childhoods is offering a variety of digital tools to help you and your family adapt to our new way of life while keeping kids safe. Our “Protecting Children During a Crisis” webinar provides strategies for parents to build a safe and transparent environment for their families. Our blog series, Keeping Kids Safe Online, offers specific tools and resources that parents can deploy to reduce risk and open a dialogue.
We continue to provide support to adult victims of childhoods sexual abuse, whose struggle to heal may be impacted in these traumatic times. Our counseling grants program provides financial support to licensed therapists who treat the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Throughout the year, No More Stolen Childhoods engages with nonprofit partners, survivors’ groups and community members in our effort to open the important conversations surrounding childhood sexual abuse prevention. I encourage you to stay connected with us, to utilize our resources to increase your knowledge, and, please, share these tools with others. Together, as advocates for children and adult survivors, we can build a community that allows each of us to live the safe and healthy life we all deserve.
Internet Safety Part 3
Today, our tweens and teens lives revolve around mobile phones, social media and the Internet. They are the first generation whose entire existence coincides with modern technology; relying upon and leveraging it to socialize, communicate, shop, entertain and learn. Their normal and healthy quest for independence is blossoming and expanding, pushing and challenging parents on a daily basis. Keeping our kids safe in the physical world, which used to seem challenging, now appears easy compared to the potential perils and dangers of the online world.
This blog is the last in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online. This final installment focuses on more mature themes broken down into categories that present danger to your tweens and teens in both the physical and technology worlds.
As parents, we know that kids picking on one another is nothing new. However, long gone are the days when a kid could leave the bully, and their reach, at the playground gate. Online, kids exhibit something called ‘keyboard courage’, a willingness to say the most hurtful things behind the protection of a keyboard and an Internet connection. Social media, email, texting, gaming platforms and instant messaging are all avenues of this type of behavior. Sadly, there are multiple accounts where cyberbullying has led to suicide.
This is defined as “…sending and receiving sexual messages through technology such as a phone, app, email or webcam.” It includes words, pictures, video, weblinks, etc. With the technology embedded in our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, accessing a camera for still photography or video is instantaneous and inherently user friendly. It is perfectly normal for our tween and teens to be thinking about and forming romantic relationships. That normal exploration combined with access to technology bring about behaviors that ranges from exchanging flirty text messages to creating and sharing hardcore pornography. The damage of sexting can certainly include embarrassment and social reputation, but can also escalate to coercion and in many jurisdictions child pornography charges.
As parents we know that this type of content has been around for centuries. The change in the medium (technology) has brought quicker, broader, and more diverse offering directly to our kids. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), exposure to pornography can have a lasting impact and hamper your pre-teen and teen’s ability to form healthy, loving relationships. In several surveys, 50% of 11-13 year olds and nearly 80% of 16-17 year olds have reported seeing pornography via the Internet.
- Online predators:
Online predators can easily impersonate your kid’s peers in an attempt to connect with potential victims. They frequent social media, chat rooms and online gaming environments establishing relationships with kids to mentally, emotionally, and/or physically exploit them. According to law enforcement, online predators will groom multiple kids at the same time and often it takes them less than 30 minutes to gain access to your kids’ personal information or image.
- Identity theft:
Stealing someone’s identity remains one of the most precious commodities in the hacker community. When looking to steal identities, electronic criminals focus on the deceased and children. Why? Because no one is monitoring the identities of either group. With our tweens and teens, they are a blank slate of credit. Cyber criminals can open credit and bank accounts, which if not caught quickly, can take years to unravel and will follow them into adulthood.
That is a long and quite frankly, scary list of potential traps for our tweens and teens. Now more than ever our kids need to know they can come to us with questions about what they are seeing, hearing, and receiving online. They need clearly articulated boundaries and consequences for when those boundaries are broken. They also need to know that mistakes happen, and that together you will work to fix them.
As you enter this stage of parenting, here are some key points to consider in helping to protect your tween and teen when using technology:
- Internet access is a privilege to be earned, not a rite of passage. Be sure your child demonstrates responsible behavior when using technology. Establish a code of conduct for internet use, set clear boundaries for what type of content you want them viewing and sharing. Create a list of accounts and passwords, with a clear expectation that you, as the parent, will be accessing these accounts if needed.
- In many cases, giving a pre-teen or teen a mobile device is a convenience for the parents and care providers. You will hear “everyone has a phone”. However, handing your tween, a smartphone is no small matter. Establish clear boundaries for the apps they can install and the content they can share. Set rules for where cell phones are kept and charged for the evening, establish time frames for when they are in use and then they are turned off.
- Inform your teen if they post something on the Internet and/or social media, it is there for eternity and there is no taking it back. Share real life examples of how social media posts have impacted teens college admissions, sports scholarships, and job prospects. Establish a clear ‘think twice before hitting send’ guideline and a reminder that if you would not share the sentiment face to face, it should not be shared online.
- Install parental control software on your computer/mobile device to monitor Internet usage, control access to applications and limit use based on amount of time or time of day. These parental controls are available on both your router, your streaming media services and through your mobile phone carrier. Learn what options you have available and use those tools to establish boundaries and guidelines for your kids.
Today’s older teens are more aware of Internet safety because they discuss it with their peers, see evidence of poor decision-making regarding posting Internet/social media content and learn about it during their school day. For many of our teens they are growing up in a more publicly accessible way, often showing their strengths and weaknesses to a digital world.
While school-based instruction and peer experiences are valuable, nothing replaces parents and care-providers closely monitoring their technology use. At the end of the day, our tweens and teens are still kids, and they still need their parent’s guidance, discipline and understanding as they begin their maturation process.
Today’s kids only know life with the Internet and its related services. For them, it will replace the prior generation’s television, public library and telephone as the way to access entertainment, read, research and communicate. Current technology embedded in a mobile device equals potentially unlimited access to the world and its content. It will be nearly impossible to escape as both the business and educational communities increasingly leverage it to bring products and services to everyone including our kids.
This blog is the second in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online. This installment focuses on kids under the age of 10; broken down into sub-groups as your child’s development matches the level of potential access to Internet content as well as their ability to navigate technology tools.
Kids Under Five
This group is wide-eyed and will believe everything that is put in front of them, taking it at face-value. They do not possess the critical thinking skills to question things. If you think this is too young for interacting with the Internet, you are wrong. Many pre-schools today are using it to supplement their learning curriculum as well as prepare kids for kindergarten and the technology they will encounter in school. At this age, no child should be using technology without parental supervision.
There are wonderful tools available to help our youngest kids meet key developmental milestones. They should be accessing them with the convenience of iPad, tablet or mobile device while sitting with you. There are a plethora of age-appropriate games and educational programs well-suited for this entry-level age and accessing them provides an opportunity for you to learn together.
School Age Kids
As our kids enter kindergarten and move through elementary school, things can start to get challenging for both parents and children. At this age, children are developing in leaps and bounds, exhibiting and wanting independence. They are growing extremely capable with daily life activities, including their use of technology. For many parents it seems like one day, they will act like a toddler and they next a pre-teen. Parents need to be flexible with the Internet monitoring as they move through this stage of development.
Here are some things to do:
- Start by having Internet usage done in an open area where kids can be both actively and passively supervised.
- Discuss privacy with your child in age appropriate ways. Remember all those talks about “stranger danger”? The Internet is nothing but strangers.
- Speak with your child’s school about their in-school, Internet-related learning activities and become familiar with your school’s policy for monitoring and securing kids access on school-issued devices.
- Use kid-friendly Internet search engines
- Install parental control software on your computer/mobile device to monitor Internet usage, control access to applications and limit use based on amount of time or time of day.
For the kids closer to 10, and moving into those tween years, the number of online threats grows as social media, online gaming and personal Internet-connect devices become the focus.
Things to remember and remind your kids:
- Never use your child’s identity or personal information when creating an online profile.
- Their online profile, username and password is private information. It should be shared with you, as their parent, but not shared with a friend, neither online nor IRL (in real life).
- Companies are improving their child controls on their application. Be sure to educate yourself about these controls and use them!
- Set the age-appropriate content filtering to the most-restrictive level.
- You will determine what’s appropriate for your family and set very clear boundaries with consequences if those boundaries are not followed.
The Internet is a wonderful learning tool to help children discover our world as well as absorb and master their educational skills. However, it is still a public place filled with strangers and people doing nefarious things. You are their parent, their protector, their advocate, their everything. It is important to determine what role the Internet will play in your child’s live and development and be ready to provide the appropriate level of oversight and protection.
Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic
On a normal day, the Internet can range from a nuisance to a critical lifeline. However, none of us are living under ‘normal’ circumstances. As we all adapt to the guidelines for the COVID-19 pandemic, the Internet has become the working parents ‘everything’ as we use video calls to replace in-person interactions, online shopping for nearly all products and an escape from the overload of today’s negative news. Take a minute and imagine how your kids feel since they can no longer get together with their friends. This global health crisis may be the hardest on them as they need and crave human interaction especially with friends, family and classmates. They are not built for isolation. This means the Internet, and everything it can provide, is their link to their ‘normal’ lives and they will use it most waking hours for school, socializing, personal interests, gaming and escape.
As adults, and especially as parents, we need to remind ourselves that it is unreasonable for kids to expect privacy on the Internet. It is a public space and everything they do can and will be seen by strangers. Parents need to monitor their kids Internet behavior just as they would monitor their behavior in a public space. For parents, we must TALK to our kids about Internet content as well as put some technology tools in place to help protect them. The federal government created the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) that helps protect kids younger than 13 when they’re online. It’s designed to keep anyone from getting a child’s personal information without a parent knowing about it and agreeing to it first. COPPA requires websites to explain their privacy policies and get parental consent before collecting or using a child’s personal information, such as a name, address, phone number, or Social Security number. The law also prohibits a site from, “requiring a child to provide more personal information than necessary to play a game or enter a contest.”
Remember, no laws can replace parental involvement to manage, monitor and protect our children and their online activity.
Here are some key themes to help you protect your child when using the Internet:
- It is reasonable for kids to expect privacy in their bedroom. It is their space to think, read, study, draw, reflect and relax. It is not place for technology. Mobile devices and computers should be used in common spaces within the home.
- Install technology tools (Qustodio, NetNanny, Norton Family, Screen Time are some to consider) to help control access and filter Internet content
- Teach your kids proper Internet behavior to keep them safe online:
- Never agree to meet in-person with anyone you meet online
- Do not give out personal information such as name, address, phone number, school name and location
- Use a screen name (not their real name) and never share passwords with anyone but parents
- Don’t respond to threatening messages and email
- Only post comments online that you are willing to say face-to-face
- TALK to them about what they are seeing on the Internet particularly if they experience something inappropriate, uncomfortable or unknown to them.
As parents and trusted adults, we need to remember that the Internet is many things to many people; from wild and crazy, to the best library in the world. For your kids to successfully navigate it they need a guide, age appropriate boundaries and to know they can come to you when they make a mistake.
Be informed, be active, be careful.
This blog post is the first in a three-part series, Keeping Kids Safe Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic, written by Jeff Bathurst, Director of Technology Advisory Services for SC&H Group and Board Member at No More Stolen Childhoods.
Interview with Delegate Wilson
NMSC is committed to helping survivors of childhood sexual abuse find healing. For many that’s working with a trained counselor to process the abuse they endured, for others it’s finding the words to tell their story. For some it’s asking the criminal justice system to prosecute their abuser. For others it’s having access to justice in civil court, which provides a way to hold their abuser, and often the institutions that protected them, accountable. Delegate CT Wilson, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, has been a legislative champion in Annapolis working to put legislation in place that helps adult survivors heal and protects all children from abuse in the future.
This powerful interview aired on Sunday, March 8.
For More Information
For more information on how you can take action to support the passage of HB974…
No More Stolen Childhood’s 2020 Brew Tour!
A fancy charter bus, great camaraderie, a little booze education and plenty of brews – could this be a perfect spring Saturday? We sure think so! Join us as we support the great work of No More Stolen Childhoods all while imbibing and experiencing Baltimore’s growing local brewery market.
Our day will take us to two of the top producing breweries in B-More – Oliver Brewing and Charm City Meadworks.
Oliver Brewing Co. is one of Baltimore’s original breweries and always delivers a fantastic tasting line up by the ‘best brew master around.’ Here we will tour their production factory, learn some fun facts and then eat, drink and be merry!
Next stop…Charm City Meadworks, Baltimore’s first meadery. Here we will learn how the delicious honey-based concoctions are made and of course, sip on the goodness.
Saturday, October 24th
1pm – 5pm
No More Stolen Childhoods
Raising Awareness, Changing Public Policy and Advocating for Victims of Child Sexual Abuse
Latest Position Papers: Trauma
No More Stolen Childhoods is committed to Stop the Reason for Keeping the Secret by understanding the process of abuse and recovery; identifying where, how and why it breaks down; and determining what can be done to overcome these barricades to justice and help for the victims and their families.
View our latest position papers:
Profile: Jeff Bathurst
Whoever said ballroom and business don’t go together clearly hasn’t met SC&H Director of Technology Advisory Services Jeff Bathurst. During the week, this Baltimore native spends his days at the business advisory and accounting firm’s headquarters in Sparks, MD, helping clients strengthen their technology strategy and execution. But recently, once the work day is over, Jeff has been trading his suit in for some dancing shoes.
This coming April, Jeff is participating as a dance competitor at the Alzheimer’s Association’s Memory Ball fundraiser to give his nonprofit involvement a little bit of flare. And when he’s not busting moves on the dancefloor, he’s helping families get fresh starts by building houses with Habitat for Humanity.
This determination to try new things and learn from them—whether they’re within his comfort zone or not—is nothing new for Jeff, and it is something that he aims to share with others. His work at SC&H is heavily tied to connecting companies with the proper tools to enhance their technological experiences and expand their knowledge bases.
And though the technological advances that we’ve seen in recent years have made for a more connected and more efficient world, Jeff knows just as much as anybody else that the rise of cyberspace has sparked unique dangers for its users, especially children.
“Technology has opened the entire world to our children, so you’re protecting them from a multitude of threats,” he says. “In our school circles, folks commonly ask me for recommendations around how to help protect our kids when they use technology.”
In part, it was this need to inform others, especially those who interact closely with children, about the ways in which technology and childhood sexual abuse (CSA) can intersect that drew Jeff to No More Stolen Childhoods. He first heard of the organization through his good friend and NMSC Board President Mike Fitz-Patrick. After attending a fundraiser, Jeff was sold on becoming part of the team.
“Given that my wife and I are parents of a twelve-year-old daughter, we want to make sure that her learning environment and her life are [safe],” Jeff says. “Our primary job as parents is to protect our kids.”
And this protection comes in a lot of different forms. The newfound risks with Internet use are definitely something parents should look out for, but for Jeff, this awareness must also come from kids themselves.
“The biggest thing that you can do is have a conversation with your child about technology and about what type of people use it,” he shares. “If they’re not ready to handle that conversation, then they’re probably not ready to handle the technology.”
But the rise of technology is not all doom and gloom. Jeff notes that the existing online services dedicated to protecting kids continue to improve every day. In a world where everyone is as brave as Jeff in taking every opportunity to learn something new, the future of our children’s safety will be that much brighter.
“If we stop learning, we stop growing. NMSC’s work is helping people learn about [childhood sexual abuse], these threats to children, and helping to put things in place so that we can try to prevent this from occurring.”
Profile: Medley DeLeonibus
Most teens dream about the day when they can break free and move out of their hometown, but for board member Medley DeLeonibus, there was value in staying. Attending McDonogh School in her youth and attaining her undergraduate degree from UMD, the Maryland native now lives in Baltimore County with her husband David and one-year old daughter Dawson (with another one on the way), and has dedicated her career to deepening her Maryland roots.
As the Regional Vice President for Accelerent’s Baltimore market, Medley spends her days connecting Baltimore business leaders with each other and helping to foster relationships between them. Through this position, Medley has been able to work directly with the Special Olympics, Goodwill Industry, and the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. She also serves on the advisory board of Business Volunteers MD, where she graduated with the GIVE class of 2014.
Despite her deep passion for nonprofit work, Medley’s direct involvement with No More Stolen Childhoods did not come until long after she met Wayne Coffey early on in her professional life. “I leaned on him as a mentor and bounced many of my ideas off him,” Medley explains. After following the organization’s progress from a distance, Medley decided that it was time to “up her game.”
To help further integrate her into the nonprofit community, Wayne reconnected Medley with NMSC Executive Director, whom she had connected with at Business Volunteers MD. “Through conversation we realized that there was mutual interest in this mission and the desire to help,” Medley recounts.
In familiarizing herself with the rest of the board and the new, more focused mission of the organization, Medley says that she is most inspired by No More Stolen Childhoods unique mission of providing resources to adults who have been impacted by childhood sexual abuse.
“There’s an educational piece to all of this,” Medley explains. “We have this whole population of people who need help and don’t have resources, and letting them know we are a resource [is so important].”
Just as she is able to create bonds between business leaders, Medley is confident that she will be able to bring further awareness to NMSC’s mission in her ever-expanding professional community. “We’re not going to eliminate [the problem], but we can educate around it.”
With a growing family of her own and a secure network of colleagues, Medley has striven to live by the motto, “You are the company you keep.” As she’s proven, creating change does not always necessitate a radical uprooting of your life. Rather, it’s about cultivating a home you’re proud to live in; where, with others, making a difference is always possible.
Profile: Pam Gillen
In her daily work as a sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, board member Pam Gillen encounters individuals in some of the most vulnerable moments in their lives. Pam is tasked with providing medical care to sexual assault victims, which sometimes includes collecting forensic evidence in the event that the individual wants to pursue a legal case against their attacker.
But more than evidence that can be used in court, Pam knows that the most important part of her job is being there for those individuals in the wake of their trauma and helping them feel safe and empowering them to take the first step of control over both their bodies and their lives.
Though work like this is something that Pam has always been passionate about, she has taken a long and winding road to get here. With a masters degree in Parent and Child Nursing, Pam has spent some time as a research assistant to a children’s neurologist at Kennedy Krieger, a research coordinator, and of course, a full-time nurse.
Pam also spent time as a full-time nurse to care more fully for her child with autism, who is one of her main inspirations in the work that she does. Pam recognizes that philosophically, there are vulnerable populations who are more vulnerable to certain traumas like sexual assault and sexual abuse, and it is in part because of this that she chose to join the No More Stolen Childhoods board.
Pam is an Owings Mills local and was first introduced to No More Stolen Childhoods by its current board president, Michael Fitz-Patrick. In addition to being curious about the work that the organization does, Pam knew that her professional and personal passions for both children and their safety would aid in furthering NMSC’s mission.
Even though most people’s professional work does not directly align with putting a stop to childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault, Pam believes that even the simplest of things can go a long way. Pam puts great importance on having conversations with kids about consent and always telling children to do the right thing, whether this is in the way that they treat others or in telling someone right away if they believe something bad has happened.
“There are people who need our help and need a hand, and I can [give them both],” she says. No More Stolen Childhoods is honored to have Pam Gillen join its team and value the professional lens she has to offer in putting an end to childhood sexual abuse.