Sexual Assaults in Schools: How Vermont handles reports - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Sexual Assaults in Schools: How Vermont handles reports

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The Vermont Agency of Education says there have been 11 sexual assault cases in Vermont schools in a three-year period starting in 2012 that resulted in discipline. WCAX News wanted to know, once they are reported, how are they handled? 

All school employees in Vermont are considered mandatory reporters. That means they are required to report any suspected sexual assault on school grounds.

"What sort of discretion does the school have before it reports it to you?" asked reporter Alex Hirsch.

"That's a really important question," said Brenda Gooley, the director of operations for the Family and Services division of the Vermont Department for Children and Families.

Gooley says when a school has a situation that might be sexual assault, they should call DCF where individuals are trained to investigate these cases.

"The mandatory reporter does not have to worry about if this meets the definition of sexual assault. If they suspect, they call," Gooley explained.

Each of Vermont's 14 counties has its own special investigative unit. They have trained individuals with expertise in responding to child sexual abuse investigations. Members of the team include law enforcement, social workers, advocates for children and victims, mental health experts and DCF.

"Individuals that are interviewing kids in sexual assault cases receive intensive forensic interviewing skill training, in addition to all the training they receive as a law enforcement officer or family services social worker," Gooley said.

DCF officials say investigators look at the type and severity of the alleged abuse and determine whether it requires further investigation. If the alleged perpetrator is 14 or older, there is always an investigation.

And while the Agency of Education says there were only 11 cases of student-on-student sexual violence in a three-year period, DCF's numbers indicate there could be more. DCF says in the 2015 calendar year, there were 97 sexual assault cases that resulted in a crime involving an assailant under the age of 20. But DCF would not tell us if any of those crimes occurred at school.

"Regardless of how the investigation turns out, if there was an impact on that individual on that victim, we are there to support them," said Cathleen Barkley, the executive director of HOPE Works, a sexual violence outreach center in Burlington.

Barkley says the center is sometimes called in to train teachers on how to spot problems of sexual assault.

"With staff, we talk to them about what sexual violence is. How to intervene appropriately," Barkley said.

She says while sexual assaults happen at school, education begins at home.

"I think that certainly as a parent I don't want to let parents off the hook. I think the most important prevention that happens is the information that parents give their children, so I think that really is the key to ending sexual violence," Barkley said.

"Do you believe that Vermont is doing all that it can to prevent sexual assault?" Hirsch asked.

"I believe that there is always more that we can do, and I am incredibly proud of what Vermont does do in response to child sexual abuse," Gooley said.

"At the end of the day, we are responsible for ending sexual violence and we all play a key role," Barkley said.

DCF does mandate training for all teachers and school employees in the state to spot signs of sexual abuse. They set up an online training system and since it went live in April of 2016, they say they have over 9,000 mandatory reporters that have completed their training.

Related Story:

How Sexual Assaults Are Handled At Vermont Schools

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