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Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse Archived Discussion Room

Fairfax County, Virginia

Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Since the Penn State child sex abuse scandal broke in November 2011, Fairfax County has felt the impact. The FCPD Child Abuse Squad doubled the number of reports it received in December 2011 (at 39 versus 19 in December 2010). In 2011, officers in that unit investigated a total of 329 cases covering child rape, sodomy, aggravated sexual battery and indecent liberties with a juvenile. The Office for Women’s Domestic and Sexual violence hotline also reports that they’ve received an increased number of calls asking for advice and counsel since the scandal broke. Please join us online to address this serious topic; one that parents, educators, and all those who come into contact with children need to know more about. Two detectives from the FCPD and an expert from the Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services will be on hand to answer your sensitive concerns and offer resources on where to get help.

Joshua Laitinen : Good morning. Thank you for joining us today. Kathleen and Josh are to answer your questions and listen to your concerns.

Anonymous User : Is there anyone besides doctors and teachers who are "mandated reporters"?

Joshua Laitinen : Yes; including hospital residents or interns, nurses, social workers, probation officers, anyone employed in a public or private school, child care employees, mental health professionals, law enforcement officers, hospital professionals, emergency medical personnel are required to report suspected cases of abuse or neglect to child protective services. For the full list and specific details related to these mandated reporters, see Virginia Code 63.2-1509. Also, there are several pieces of legislation that are under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly that would require coaches and others involved in youth organizations to be added to this list.

Anonymous User : Why do you think children don't tell their parents or the police when bad things happen to them? How should they handle these situations? What should we be doing as parents to ensure their safety?

Kathleen Kelmelis : In 93% of cases of child sex abuse, the abuser is someone the child knows. Nearly half the time these abusers are family members. Abusers manipulate the child in many ways - through threats - such as, "If you tell, I will kill your family or your pet." or through promises - "If you do this for me, I will take you out to the arcade." Abusers are masters of manipulation. Often a child does not even fully understand what is happening. They sometimes feel they are responsible for what is happening to them. They might worry that their parents won't believe them or understand. If the parent or step-parent is the abuser, the child does not know where to turn. In working with a child, there are several things that will help guide the conversation. Give the cild a safe environment in which to talk to someone with whom trust has been established. When talking with a child, try to guard against displaying emotions that would influence a child. Reassure the child that they have not done anything wrong and they are not to blame for what happened to them. You can call the Childhelp hotline for more information and resources on child sex abuse at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. In Fairfax County, you can call the Child Protective Services hotline at 703.324.7400. For more information and support, you can call the 24-hotline with the Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services at 703.360.7273.

Anonymous User : What efforts are currently underway between the police and other agencies to address the recent rise in cases?

Joshua Laitinen : The police department, along with the Dept. of Family Services, are working together to address this increase. For example, the Office for Women and Domestic Violence Services recently started a support group for men who were sexually assaulted as children. Call Chris Davies at 703-704-6727 for more information.
In the police department, we are accustomed to handling periodic increases in caseloads and adjust resources accordingly.

Anonymous User : What if I was abused as a child and I'm and adult now.

Kathleen Kelmelis : There is no statute of limitations for prosecution in Virginia on child sex abuse. If you are now an adult who was assaulted as a child, you can still report to the police. The Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services provides no-cost counseling and support for people no matter when the abuse occurred. Often people find that the effects of the sexual abuse can impact them at different times during their life. Triggers such as reading a news report or knowing someone who has been sexually assaulted will sometimes cause feelings of anxiety and depression or will cause flashbacks to be triggered. No matter when your victimization happened, it is never too late to get the help you need to outcome the trauma of your early life. If you are interested in counseling, you can call OFWDSVS at 703.324.5730. You can also talk with a hotline counselor anytime at 703.360.7273. 

Anonymous User : I am illegally here, but I'm being sexually abused. What will happen to me if I report it. Will me or my family be deported.

Joshua Laitinen : We urge you to report this abuse. The Fairfax County Police Department does not consider immigration status when any crime is reported to us. There are laws that protect undocumented immigrants in the U.S.; you do not lose your rights as a victim if you are undocumented/illegally here. Make a report on the FCPD non-emergency line, 703-691-2131.   If you are under 18, you can also make a report to Child Protective Services at 703-324-7400.

Anonymous User : My son is a member of Boy Scouts, church groups and other groups where male adults are in charge of activities - sometimes campouts and other overnight activities. As a parent, should I assume that the staff has been vetted by the organization? Are there laws in Va. that mandate criminal background checks for anyone who is working with children in these settings?

Joshua Laitinen : You should contact the organization to determine their vetting process. Many organizations require specific training for people working with children. Don't assume that these employees or volunteers have been vetted; some organizations do not. There are some laws that mandate criminal record checks for certain employers, such as licensed day care providers. Parents need to be involved, know what adults their children are with. For example, consider becoming a leader or volunteer; take the time to stay at the music lesson or sporting event/practices. No amount of concern is too great for the welfare of your child.

Anonymous User : Why do you feel the uptick in local reports is somehow related to the Penn State case?

Kathleen Kelmelis : Increased awareness and attention on the issue of child sex abuse has caused people to look more closely at the issues. Some people who have called us have said the reporting directly influenced their decision to seek help for themselves or their children. For others, just getting more information will enable them to be  proactive in situations where they might otherwise have held back.

Anonymous User : Could I remain annonymous as a reporter? Would I need to go to court?

Kathleen Kelmelis : You can always report anonymously to the CPS hotline. You can also go to the police with an anonymous report. Something, though, that you should consider is that in order to proceed and get a conviction, it is often helpful to have someone testify to what they saw or knew. In protecting a child, you need to consider if your testimony and support could make the difference in getting that protection and justice.

Anonymous User : I am an elementary school counselor, and students will sometimes share with their teacher or with me about being hurt at home in some way. Sometimes though, the child's story doesn't really make sense, or there is not a visible injury. Since I am a mandated reporter, I still feel that I should contact CPS if there is suspected abuse, or when a child makes a claim about abuse... but in a few cases, it has started a chain of events for the family where the case was unfounded, or the child made up the story. As a result, the relationship between the school (mainly myself as the counselor) and these families has been damaged. Any advice for handling these types of situations?

Joshua Laitinen : This is a difficult situation; as a mandated reporter, you've got difficult decisions to make. There can be serious consequences for failing to report suspected abuse if, in fact, it did occur. The child's welfare is paramount.
As a therapist or counselor your skills and expertise are crucial in determining the need for support for the abused child and their family as the investigation progresses. Thank you for all you do for supporting and caring for these children every day.

Anonymous User : Who are Joshua and Kathleen? Are they both police officers?

Kathleen Kelmelis : 2nd Lt. Josh Laitinen is the Supervisor of the child abuse squad for the Fairfax County Police department. Kathleen Kelmelis is the Program Manager for the Office for Women & Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

concerned citizen : If I am concerned about a child being abused by their parents in my immediate neighborhood, what should I do? Is verbal abuse worth reporting?

Kathleen Kelmelis : Any abuse is worth reporting, especially in the interest of protecting children. What you are seeing might just be the tip of the iceberg. You can report anonymously to the CPS hotline 703.324.7400. If you would like to talk through the issues first, you can also call the County's Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline at 703.360.7273. Either way, it is always best to act in the interest of protecting children and there are plenty of supports in the County to help guide you through the process.

Anonymous User : I was wonder With the high number of cases do you all have the man power to effectively work each and everyone?

Joshua Laitinen : The Fairfax County Police Department is accustomed to handling periodic increases in crimes and fluctuating caseloads. We adjust our resources accordingly. If the FCPD recognizes that a periodic trend becomes a permanent increase, then staffing issues can be re-evaluated. At this point, however, there are no plans to increase the seven person Child Abuse Squad.

Anon : What if I think my child is being abused, but I am scared to report because my partner is also abusing me? Who should I go to first--the police?

Joshua Laitinen : Yes; we urge you to report this to police at 703-691-2131 first. (If there is an immediate matter of safety, contact 911!) The police will work hand-in-hand with Child Protective Services in conducting an investigation. If you would like to contact CPS as an anonymous caller, call their hotline at 703-324-7400 anytime day or night. Whomever you decide to call first, your situation will be addressed and you will get the help you need. Please call.

Anonymous User : What if a child is being abused by a live in parent? What course of action should they take?

Joshua Laitinen : You should report this to the police department and Child Protective Services as soon as possible. Call 703-691-2131 to make a police report. The CPS hotline is 703-324-7400.

Anonymous User : I understand that special need children more victims of sex abuse. My daughter is special need child. I always worry for her because she couldn't able to tell me what happen with her at the school. What do you think to put cameras in special need children's classrooms and hallways to record daily routine? Also might be possible in the school bus too. Thank you!

Kathleen Kelmelis : One of the things you can look at is change in your child's behavior or routines. When a child has special needs, it is not always easy to see some of the behaviors changes that might be more evident in a child who does not have special needs. Some of these changes can be subtle - withdrawal from typical acitivites, increased or changed coping behaviors, being more quiet or more vocal. You know your child well. If you see something that is not usual, even if it is subtle or intermittent, you should look into it. Sometimes other professionals with whom your child interacts such as a teacher, aide, or doctor can also help you determine what is going on.

Anonymous User : What is the Virginia statute of limitation for failure to report possible sexual abuse of a toddler?

Joshua Laitinen : There is no statute of limitations for the prosecution of sexual abuse; mandated reporters have 72 hours in which to report suspected abuse or neglect.  The statute of limitations for failure to report child sexual abuse is one year.

Anonymous User : What types of signs or behaviors do mandated reporters look for in a child who may have been abused?

Kathleen Kelmelis : People can look for different signs both physical and behavioral. Typical signs can include depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, sexual dysfunction, withdrawal, and acting out. There was be inappropriate sexual behavior, fear of the opposite sex, or inappropriate sexual knowledge, sexual interest, or sexual acting out. Physically we bleeding, brusiing, swelling, or pain in the mouth, genital, or anal regions. Change in appetite, failing at school, sleep problems, suicide attempts, durg and alcohol use, clinging behavior, avoidance of school or friends, and others.

concerned : I know that certian professionals are considered mandatory reporters. What about parents of a two year old where one can show that they had long standing concerns, reported red flag issues to a custody evaluator as well as other auhorities for months and the other parent refused to sign off on the child being seen or address it with CPS only to file an emergency motion attempting to implicate my father 7 months later? Additionally, there is e-mail documentation showing that I was trying to address the issue with the other parent and was open as to my concerns.

Joshua Laitinen : I encourage you to continue to work with the courts and to contact CPS for additional information or assistance on this matter.

Anonymous User : What about the sport clubs in the nothr of Virginia?are they legally responsible? until where it reponsibility goes? (directors, coaches, parents?)

Kathleen Kelmelis : There are several bills currently before the General Assembly that will increase the number of professionals and volunteers who will become mandated reporters. These include coaches and others who work with children and youth in a variety of roles.

Anonymous User : At what age is a child's testimony considered legitimate and action taken? At what age can a child request to go live with a non- abusive parent and be taken seriously?

Joshua Laitinen : Each child is individually evaluated for their competency and ability to testify accurately. The judge makes these decisions on a case by case basis. Contact the courts for more specific custody information.

Anonymous Citizen : I have a friend who has confided in me about abuse. She said that it has gone on for years in her family and up through many generations. She doesn't want to report, and doesn't want to talk about it. Any suggestions on what I should say to her? Are there other organizations that can help if counseling isn't what she wants?

Kathleen Kelmelis : It is often difficult to know how to respond to a friend but she can really use your help. You can talk through the friend's issues and find ways that would be helpful to approach her by talking with someone on the Domestic and Sexual Violence hotline. You can call 703.360.7273 any time. All calls are anonymous and someone is always available to listen.  In general, you can best help your friend by being non-judgmental, helping her explore her options, and providing a supportive environment in which she can talk. Avoid giving advice or pushing her to do something that might not be the right thing for her. That she reached out to is a testimony to the trust and faith she has in you.

Anonymous User : What is the greatest obstacle(s) that are faced when investigating Child Abuse?

Joshua Laitinen : There are many factors that influence these investigations. Age of the child, time between the abuse and the report, a lack or witnesses/physical evidence, varying of levels of cooperation by involved family members are some of the factors that make these investigations challenging. That said, the Child Abuse Squad is committed to completing thorough, accurate and factual investigations.

Kathleen Kelmelis : Thank you for joining us today. We appreciate all your questions and hope that the answers and advice we gave will be helpful. Fairfax County has many resources that can help you. Please don't hesitate to call.