Let’s talk some more about keeping all of our students safe.
Although we’ve been hyper-focused on the need for traffic safety as of late, all public schools have a duty (i.e., a legally enforceable obligation) to do many things to protect students from other aspects of harm, as well. Two such things are matters no one enjoys having to think about, much less discuss, but still have to be addressed: helping children learn to protect themselves against sexual abuse and sexual exploitation.
As unpleasant as both topics are to even contemplate, there are two laws in particular that I want to draw your attention to in this article: Erin’s Law and Gavin’s Law. As a public school, Virtus Academy is required to adhere to both.
Here’s a brief description of each, followed by a brief explanation of how we are implementing their requirements this year.
According to the Erin’s Law website, Erin Merryn is a childhood sexual assault survivor, author, speaker, and activist who has been urging state legislatures since 2008 to mandate child sexual abuse prevention. There are currently 38 states which have done so, including South Carolina, which requires public schools to annually “provide age appropriate instruction in sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention to all students in four-year-old kindergarten, where offered, through twelfth grade.”
What Virtus Academy Is Doing In 2023-24 To Comply With Erin’s Law
- We recently conducted an Erin’s Law/Gavin’s Law Awareness Survey with our faculty to inform the development of our policies and programs.
- We have formed a committee which is in the process of selecting age-appropriate curricula to educate all of our students about assault awareness and prevention.
- We are providing training to our faculty and staff about preventing child sexual abuse.
- We will be implementing multiple safe reporting mechanisms, including fostering a culture among our students in which they are confident that our faculty and staff are safe people to whom they can report allegations of sexual abuse.
- We will soon be hosting a free workshop for the community that explains the warning signs of child sexual abuse, and will include referral and resource information to support families. We will announce the date for this workshop through ParentSquare as soon as we schedule it. (As you might guess, a lot of moving parts are involved when hosting such events.)
Gavin’s Law is newer than Erin’s Law, having been signed into law by Governor McMaster only a few months ago. In essence, the law prohibits “sextortion,” that is, according to the South Carolina Department of Education’s website, it makes “sexual extortion, the act of blackmailing someone using sexually explicit images or videos a felony offense and an aggravated felony if the victim is a minor, vulnerable adult, or if the victim suffers bodily injury or death directly related to the crime.” This law came into existence after “17-year-old Gavin Guffey was a victim of sexual extortion, resulting in him taking his own life.”
According to an SCDE memo sent to District Superintendents on August 29, 2023, the SCDE recommends that districts incorporate the requirements of Gavin’s Law into Erin’s Law, which includes the following provisions:
- Implementing a policy to educate and notify students of the provisions of Gavin’s Law.
- Providing “age-appropriate instruction on the dangers and consequences of sexual extortion to satisfy the requirements for student notification.”
- Posting Virtus Academy’s Erin’s Law/Gavin’s Law Policy* on [our] website for full visibility.
- Using our “preferred notification method” to inform [students,] parents or guardians, the public and school personnel, “of the change in law” (which now incorporates education awareness and prevention training against sexual extortion).
What Else Does Virtus Do To Protect Students Against Sexual Abuse/Sexual Exploitation?
- Everyone who works at Virtus Academy or volunteers with children has passed a SLED check, including all of our board members.
- If you’ve even been inside our school building, you know that everyone is required to scan their ID. The scanner is linked to the national sex offender registry.
- We require all of our faculty and instructional support staff to complete pertinent training through an online platform called SafeSchools.
- We report all allegations of sexual abuse to appropriate authorities, and in the event of an allegation against a staff member, we would investigate in accordance with Title IX requirements. Our current Title IX Coordinator, is Mr. Whitfield, who can be reached at (843) 799-4032 or email@example.com.
What Can You Do As Parents To Help Protect Your Children Against Sexual Abuse/Exploitation?
- Watch these three videos of Representative Brandon Guffey, father of the bill’s namesake.
- Talk to your kids. Assure them that you don’t expect them to keep bad secrets.
- Check out Take it Down.
- We have two certified school counselors on our staff if you need assistance. While the school is not capable of providing ongoing therapeutic services, we can refer you to others.
- Check out the free, high quality publications produced by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- Attend our free workshop (date to be determined).
*The linked policy will be on the board’s agenda for ratification at its next regular meeting under new business