The toughest child abuse reporting law in the nation went into effect in Florida last October, and the state has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the legal obligation to report suspected abuse.
The new law was introduced in response to the scandal at Penn State University. Former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of molesting children years after the abuse was discovered by staffers.
If a similar situation happens in Florida, the institution could now be fined a million dollars for each person who failed to report the abuse.
It used to be that only parents or caregivers suspected of abuse had to be reported.
Now, anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected is required to report it regardless of the suspect. Failure to do so could lead to a felony charge resulting in a five year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
The Department of Children and Families (DCF) new public awareness campaign is called “Don’t Miss the Signs.”
The state’s child abuse hotline receives over 300-thousand calls a year. About twenty percent of them lead to formal investigations.
“Today, our call volume is up about 16 percent,” says DCF Secretary David Wilkins. Even though, the new law has had an impact, he says thousands of cases of child abuse and neglect still go unreported every day.
The awareness campaign was developed in partnership with Lauren’s Kids, an organization aimed at the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Founder Lauren Book, a survivor of sexual abuse, describes some signs that a child may be abused.
“If they startle easily, if they were at one point completely potty trained and now have regressed and are wetting the bed, sucking their thumb, show regression in age,” Book says, “those are a lot of signs that something is up.”
Book was sexually abused by her former nanny, who is now serving 25 years in prison. She’s encouraging victims to call the hotline at 800-962-2873 or go online.
“If you are being assaulted, if you are having somebody touching you and it makes you feel uncomfortable, make the call. There are people who love and care about you out there who want to help you,” Book says, “and I know what it is to be a victim in that position where you feel like you are all alone and no one has your back. There are people out there that will help you.”
As part of the campaign, Floridians are urged to sign an online pledge showing their commitment to protecting children.
Book is planning another walk across the state starting in March. It will be her fourth walk to raise awareness of childhood sex abuse.
She is also working toward making child abuse prevention part of the state’s school curriculum.
“It’s just as important as reading and writing. Prevention is key. We know that we can prevent these types of crimes from occurring.”
Book’s Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum is already in every public school kindergarten class in Florida.