HD5 - Child Sexual Abuse Study and Sex Between Teachers and Adult Students Study (HJR 595, 2013)

    Executive Summary:
    House Joint Resolution 595 was introduced by Delegate Loupassi during the 2013 Session of the General Assembly. The resolution incorporated Delegate Albo’s House Joint Resolution 730. Consequently, the resolution had two distinct parts, dealing with different subjects that were joined together during the legislative process. The resolution specifically directed the Crime Commission to review:

    "(i) the availability of penalties for sexual conduct between secondary school students 18 years of age and older and teachers; (ii) the reasons why sexual conduct between teachers and other school personnel who maintain a custodial or supervisory relationship with students under the age of 18 is subject to criminal penalties while the same conduct with students 18 years of age or older is not; (iii) the feasibility of penalizing sexual conduct between teachers or other school personnel and students age 18 or older; (iv) the number of cases involving sexual conduct between teachers or other school personnel and students 18 years of age or older each year; (v) laws, regulations, policies, and training practices of the Commonwealth and its agencies governing reporting, investigation, and tracking of complaints of suspected child abuse, including suspected sexual abuse of a child and including such laws, regulations, policies, and training practices of or governing the Department of Social Services, local departments of social services, law enforcement agencies, schools, and child welfare agencies; (vi) variations or discrepancies in how the various agencies receive, investigate, and track alleged cases of child sexual abuse, particularly those variations or discrepancies that may create opportunities for individuals who are alleged to have committed child sexual abuse and who are the subjects of investigations to destroy evidence, intimidate victims, or otherwise interfere with the conduct of such investigation; (vii) recommendations for legislative, regulatory, and budgetary changes to reduce or eliminate variations or discrepancies in how the various agencies receive, investigate, and track alleged cases of child sexual abuse in order to increase the quality and effectiveness of child protective services, investigations of alleged child sexual abuse, and prosecutions of individuals alleged to have committed child sexual abuse in the Commonwealth."

    In order to address the issues of the study mandate, Crime Commission staff examined relevant literature, statutes, and regulations, convened two Child Sexual Abuse Work Group meetings, collected available data from relevant agencies, and disseminated surveys to public school division superintendents, private school principals, local departments of social services, law enforcement agencies, criminal justice training academy directors, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys. In addition, staff attended multiple meetings, trainings and conferences, and met with various individuals, organizations and state agencies.

    The first issue involved consensual sexual conduct between school personnel and students eighteen years of age or older. Virginia law currently does not have a criminal penalty for consensual sexual conduct between school personnel and students who are eighteen years of age or older. However, at least eleven other states have made such conduct criminally illegal, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Based on survey results disseminated by Crime Commission staff, at least 14 incidents of this nature have occurred in Virginia public school divisions over the past 5 years. Furthermore, approximately 25% of responding public superintendents reported not having a policy that addresses relationships between school employees and students.

    The second issue focused on child sexual abuse investigations. Child sexual abuse is a serious problem that can affect any community. Victims of child sexual abuse can experience many negative short- and long-term consequences. Similar to all sexual offenses, child sexual abuse is a highly underreported crime making accurate incidence and prevalence rates difficult to estimate. Similarly, attritions rates tend to be high for cases that are reported.

    The Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) provides oversight to 120 local departments, which operate autonomously. Within each local department, the child protective services (CPS) unit handles reports of child neglect and abuse that involve a caretaker. Local departments are required to report all cases of child sexual abuse immediately to law enforcement and the Commonwealth’s Attorney. If the case is accepted by the local department, the case can either receive a family assessment or an investigation. If investigated, the burden of proof for a founded case is preponderance of the evidence. If the evidence does not meet this burden of proof, the case is considered unfounded. Retention times vary for founded, unfounded, and family assessment cases.

    The timeframe and burden of proof for investigations is very different for CPS and law enforcement. These disparities can lead to investigatory concerns. Caseload levels are very high for both local departments and law enforcement. Staff turnover is also a concern for both. Based on survey results, it appears that the vast majority of law enforcement and local DSS have a “very good” to “excellent” working relationship.

    While basic law enforcement training appears to be adequate, it does appear that in-service/specialized training could be offered more frequently. On-line training in particular was highly desired. It was noted that there is currently no requirement for newly assigned detectives to complete any type of certification or specialized training. Findings also indicated that the mandated VDSS training for newly hired CPS workers needs to be made more available across the state, as well as specialized or continuing education for existing local DSS staff. Teachers are required to complete mandatory training on child abuse and neglect as part of their licensure. School divisions are required to have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with their local DSS; however, it appears that compliance with this requirement is problematic. An additional concern is that the MOU is only required to address reports against school personnel.

    Child advocacy centers (CAC) have been shown to provide numerous positive outcomes in child sexual abuse cases by coordinating the investigation and promoting a child-focused environment. There are currently 17 CACs in Virginia. Local DSS reported that forensic interviews are being provided in most child sexual abuse cases, but there is a need to train additional personnel to increase availability in localities. The multidisciplinary team (MDT) is the foundation to the CAC model. The need to implement MDTs, at a minimum, across the state was strongly encouraged.

    The Crime Commission reviewed study findings at its November and December meetings and directed staff to draft legislation for several key issues. As a result of the study effort, the Crime Commission endorsed the following legislative recommendations at its December 2, 2013, meeting:

    Recommendation 1: Statutorily require the creation, maintenance, and coordination of a multidisciplinary response to child sexual abuse under proposed new statute, Va. Code § 15.2-1627.5.

    Recommendation 2: Amend Va. Code § 63.2-1505(B)(5) to extend the requirement for a CPS investigation to be completed from 45 days to 90 days, whenever a joint investigation is being conducted between law enforcement and local DSS, for child sexual abuse investigations.

    Recommendation 3: Amend Va. Code § 63.2-1514 to extend the amount of time unfounded records are maintained from 1 year to 3 years.

    Recommendation 4: Amend Va. Code § 63.2-1511(D) to extend the scope of MOUs between school divisions and local DSS to include all types of child sexual abuse reports involving a student.

    Recommendation 5: Amend Va. Code § 63.2-1503 to require a form be completed and signed by both agencies whenever a local DSS reports an incident of suspected child sexual abuse to local law enforcement. It would also require that any local DSS report the receipt of a complaint within 2 hours to the attorney for the Commonwealth and the local law enforcement agency.

    Recommendation 6: Amend Va. Code § 63.2-1505 to require that no new local DSS staff member may make any dispositional decisions in a case that involves an allegation of child sexual abuse, until they have received the required training.
    No motion was made on any legislation pertaining to sexual relationships between school personnel and adult students.

    The Virginia State Crime Commission intends to submit a report of its findings and recommendations for publication as a House document.