Lawmakers push bills to tackle ‘staggering but true’ child abuse

By SAM DORAN

State House News Service

Published: 04-21-2023 5:15 PM

Anti-child abuse advocates on Thursday lined up behind bills they said would crack down on sexual exploitation of children in school settings.

Speaking at a webinar held by Massachusetts Citizens for Children and the Enough Abuse Campaign, Sen. Joan Lovely said one bill in particular, dubbed the SHIELD Act, would address “staggering but true” statistics about the prevalence of abuse in the education system.

The Salem Democrat said her legislation and a parallel bill filed by Rep. John Law (S 314/H 194) would require schools and youth-serving organizations to adopt abuse prevention policies; require all mandated reporters employed in schools and child-serving programs to undergo biennial training on how to prevent child sexual abuse, recognize inappropriate behavior and respond to violations; and have the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education develop the training program and make it available to schools and youth-serving organizations at no cost.

Rep. Natalie Blais also highlighted a bill she co-sponsored with Lovely (H 434/S 1040) that she said would “strengthen the hiring and retention policies” at schools to weed out prospective employees who could pose safety risks to kids. The standardized screening would require asking applicants about whether they had ever been the subject of a misconduct investigation, or whether their professional license or certificate had ever been suspended.

That would help stop abuse perpetrators from “being passed from school to school,” Blais said.

Attorney Carmen Durso, whose Boston practice specializes in representing abuse survivors, told attendees that “sex abuse in education has become the clergy abuse crisis of this decade.”

“By any measure, the numbers of people who are being sexually abused in school are just startling and are, if not the [most], one of the most, important public health problems we have in the United States,” Durso said.

Lovely said that sponsors “have really refined” the anti-abuse bills and they “are really ready for floor action.” She added that “as a survivor, I walk in those shoes.”

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