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A Special Virtual Town Hall with the SAFE & DV Program and Their Community Partners - Segment Two

May 18, 2020
With millions staying at home to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19), victims of sexual assault, child abuse, and intimate partner violence are being put in situations where they are closer to their abusers than ever. In partnership with WMAR-2 News Baltimore, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and Domestic Violence (DV) Program at GBMC, House Of Ruth Maryland, Inc., The Family Tree, and No More Stolen Childhoods hosted a town hall to address the current challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resources available for victims.

In this second segment (minute 16:09), WMAR-2 News Baltimore’s Kelly Swoope was joined by Vanessa Milio, Executive Director, No More Stolen Childhoods, and Lisa Nitsch, MSW, Director of Training and Education, House of Ruth Maryland. They answered the following questions:

What is No More Stolen Childhoods and what are your concerns right now?

“No More Stolen Childhoods works to change the perception and have conversations around childhood sexual abuse, prevent future abuse, and help adult survivors receive the care and nurture they need,” explained Vanessa. Right now, there is a large concern for the underreporting of child sexual abuse as 20% of these reports come from educational settings such as schools and extracurricular groups. No More Stolen Childhoods is working to continue educating the public to be vigilant for signs of child sexual abuse and report anything that may strike concern. These signs include, but are not limited to:
  • Disclosure of abuse from child or parent
  • Sudden, unexplained changes in the child’s behavior
  • Frequently appearing injuries, such as bruising, cuts, or burns
  • Frequent urinary tract infections or genital irritation
  • Age-inappropriate sexual behavior
  • Fear of a specific adult

What can someone do if they are afraid to ask for help?

Lisa answered that the House of Ruth 24-hour hotline and emergency shelter are available and remain open. “We know survivors are balancing the fear of leaving and the unknown versus the fear of staying. It may not always feel like a safer option for families to be in a shelter with strangers,” she explained. For that reason, House of Ruth Maryland has implemented a number of precautions to keep people safe. These include wearing face coverings and providing everyone with their own private space in the shelter. House of Ruth can also provide services such as telehealth visits for adult and pediatric patients and virtual programs.

Has No More Stolen Childhoods seen an uptick in cases since the pandemic began?

Vanessa explained that it is very hard for a child who is currently being abused to disclose to a trusted adult when they are constantly with their abuser. There has been a significant uptick in calls to No More Stolen Childhoods hotline from minors who are reporting they are in an abusive situation. “We have even seen reports of food delivery and package delivery workers making calls because they saw something that was not right,” said Vanessa. To combat abuse, parents, other family members, and bystanders need to be engaged, look for the signs of abuse, and take appropriate action when they see them. Parents should also have open and honest conversations with their children about appropriate use of technology – not talking to strangers online through games and apps and never giving out personal information. “We need to have these conversations and set boundaries when it comes to technology so that we can protect our children in both their personal lives and digital lives,” Vanessa expressed.

Where can someone who is in need of protection turn for help?

If you need emergency assistance, please call 911. Anyone in need has 24-hour access to obtain a peace and protective order even if courts aren’t operating fully. These are civil orders that can protect you from your abuser. GBMC urges all victims to seek help in whatever way is safest for them, whether it’s coming in, calling, or contacting resources online. A list of free 24-hour resources is included below.

Baltimore County Police Department
  • If you are in immediate danger, please call 911.
  • If 911 is not an option, have a family member or friend call the non-emergency number at 410-887-2222, email iwatch@baltimorecountymd.gov, or call the Special Victims Unit at 410-887-2223.
GBMC’s SAFE and DV Program – 443-849-3323, www.gbmc.org/safe-dv

The Family Tree (parenting helpline) – 1-800-243-7337 or live chat at www.familytreemd.org
  • Connects parents to resources to prevent child abuse and provides family counseling, children and youth services, and public policy and advocacy
Turn Around (helpline) – 443-279-0379, www.turnaroundinc.org
  • Provides therapeutic services to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence including legal advocacy, shelter, employment readiness, and case management
House of Ruth Maryland – 410-889-7884, www.hruth.org
  • Provides services to victims of intimate partner violence including emergency shelter, legal clinic services, counseling services, and abuse intervention
Family Crisis Center – Office: 410-285-4357 – Shelter: 410-285-7496

Baltimore County Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Hotline – 410-828-6390

SARC Harford County – 410-836-8430

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
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