The Baldy Center Blog

Blog Fall 2022.

The Baldy Center Blog features interdisciplinary perspectives on research and current events from UB scholars whose work intersects with law, legal institutions, and social policy. 

Since Fall 2020, The Baldy Center has highlighted UB scholarly research at the intersections of law, legal institutions, and social policy through our online media programs. The Baldy Center has a long tradition of supporting and catalyzing new research on critical topics, and the center is excited to continue mobilizing UB scholar insights.

In Fall 2022, The Baldy Center will follow a broader approach. In addition to catalyzing scholarship synthesized from professors and peers at UB, The Baldy Center aims to include the voices and expertise of community groups and expert practitioners beyond UB. This collaboration remains true to the center's mission, while evolving the blog and podcast into tethered elements telling a story of theory, law, and mobilization, focused on the theme of Domestic Violence.

Authors and advocates that engage with DV laws and policies will share their perspectives throughout October — DV Awareness Month. The Baldy Center, as the host of this critical conversation, has invited scholars in the UB community and western New York to participate in blogs and podcasts and share their thoughts on urgent DV topics. Erin's Law, a regulation that would mandate child sexual abuse prevention, is the main topic of this interdisciplinary discussion. We hope that this focus will catalyze critical thinking and productively serve the legal and social policy spheres.

Fall 2022 Season

Past seasons of The Baldy Center Blog

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Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc, Family Unit.

Imagery courtesy of Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc, Family Unit (website).

Published November 30, 2022

Blog Author: Lizzy Vinal (UB Alum) Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc., Family Unit; Student Attorney UB Law, Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic

Blog Title: Supporting Erin’s Law — Children and Domestic Violence

Keywords: Social Justice and Social Change, Law and Social Science, Inequality, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Gender, Law, and Society, Family and Family Law

Domestic Violence (DV) has been a hidden problem for many years: people did not want to talk about what was going on behind closed doors. Many still fail to understand how someone could find themselves stuck in a cycle of violence, and a frequent comment about DV victims and survivors is: “why don’t they just leave?”

This question ignores a large set of victims: children. Children suffer from DV in two main ways. First, parents, relatives, peers, teachers, coaches, religious leaders—or anyone else—abuse the child directly. Second, children are exposed to violence in the home, even if not physically victimized, because witnessing family violence affects children and, primarily, infants. When abuse exists in the home, especially when one parent is abusing the other, children often do not know whom to go to or how to stop it.

I was a former student attorney in UB Law’s Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic, and I witnessed firsthand how children were used as pawns in abusive households. For example, abusers may tell their victim that removing the child from the home is hurting the child. Or, abusers may threaten the victim, ensuring that they will never see their child again.

One abuser I encountered held the baby while abusing the baby’s mother. Another used the children to communicate with the other parent, which violated the Order of Protection. Children might not have bruises or broken bones indicating abuse, yet the observance of abuse and being involved in it can injure them internally for the rest of their lives.

Informative education can help children experiencing abuse. Erin Merryn, the founder of Erin’s Law, gave a speech on identifying and disclosing sexual abuse to a school, after which five children reported being the victims of abuse. Erin served as someone children could confide in outside the home. Situations like this illustrate that children should be learning how to protect themselves and communicate their concerns at school because, oftentimes, schools are second homes for children. When children are taught how to spot red flags early, they can better protect themselves from abusers and teach their friends—who haven’t had this educational opportunity—the same. Ideally, however, all children, teachers, and school staff should receive training to identify and prevent abuse.

Education like Erin’s Law is the foundation for prevention and mitigation, and similar programs can—and will—protect the children of our generation, allowing them to grow into the leaders of the next.

Related Websites:

Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc, Family Unit

UB Law, Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic

 

Post 34. Kristen Holderle: The HEAL Collaborative — A Medical-Legal Partnership

Blog 34.

Published November 17, 2022

Blog Author: Kristen Holderle, PhD, Assistant Professor, Director of the HEAL Collaborative, University of Rochester Medical Center

Blog Title: The HEAL Collaborative: A Medical-Legal Partnership to address the biopsychosocial needs of interpersonal violence survivors

Keywords: Social Justice and Social Change, Law and Social Science, Inequality, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Gender, Law, and Society, Family and Family Law

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is a public health issue affecting approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 10 men during their lifetime. On a national scale, estimates suggest that IPV accounts for 20% of violent crime.[1]  IPV is associated with the loss of 8 million days of paid work and 5.6 million days of household productivity, with financial costs in excess of 8.3 billion dollars. On an individual scale, IPV is associated with physical (e.g., asthma, migraines) psychological (e.g., anxiety, depression, PTSD, suicidal thoughts/behaviors) and social (e.g., homelessness, over/under use of healthcare) effects.

Within families, exposure to IPV is distressing to children and associated with mental health problems in childhood and later life. Effects of IPV have even been found in-utero, with women who experienced IPV when pregnant having infants with more observable symptoms of trauma or PTSD.[2]

IPV generates short and long term effects for children exposed to it. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, immediate reactions in children can include increased anxiety, sleeplessness, nightmares, difficulty concentrating, hyperactivity, separation anxiety, worry about their safety or the safety of the parent, and increased aggression. Long-term effects include physical health problems, alcohol or substance use disorders, and/or emotional difficulties in adulthood.[3]

The impact of child exposure to IPV can be thought of in terms of both individual and relational factors. Individual factors include the child’s specific trauma response which might include mental health problems, cognitive, social, or developmental delays. Relational factors include the development of poor attachment styles or learned maladaptive behaviors (e.g., viewing violence as an appropriate way to resolve disputes). Childhood exposure to serious IPV is associated with offending as an adult.[4] Furthermore, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child puts one at risk for future IPV victimization, perhaps due to learned patterns about what is ‘acceptable’ in relationships or the disruption of the child’s overall social development and peer group. As a result, detection and intervention at an early age becomes imperative to combat these short and long term effects.

The HEAL Collaborative was established in October 2016 as a Medical-Legal Partnership (MLP) to unite medical and legal professionals with community partners for a coordinated, interprofessional approach to IPV care.[5]

Our partnership occurred between the University of Rochester Medical Center, two legal aid societies, a community domestic violence shelter, and primary care. Its mission is to offer trauma-focused, accessible, and inclusive services that include education, connection to resources, advocacy, counseling, and healthcare.

The HEAL Collaborative offers specific services including trauma-informed assessment, safety planning, psychotherapy, linkage to community resources, and clinician training on assessing for IPV. These services are directed by trained team members:

All referrals are handled by our physician support specialist who is trained on aspects of confidentiality and safety for IPV survivors. The HEAL social worker completes a biopsychosocial assessment and safety plan and facilitates referrals to the appropriate social, health, and legal resources. HEAL psychological services include general psychotherapy/coping skills and evidence-based trauma-focused interventions. HEAL therapists are available for consultation with other clinicians on IPV-related concerns. Primary care support involves evidence collection (e.g., body diagrams and photographs). On-site legal clinics allow patients to see IPV attorneys in a safe and familiar environment. Our IPV Advocate is an employee of our community partner who is fully embedded and integrated into the clinic and medical record, allowing for shared documentation and collaboration. The advocate links survivors to community resources, facilitates orders of protection, provides court escorts, and completes safety planning. Importantly the advocate is able to assess patients within the outpatient clinic, inpatient medical and psychiatric units, and the emergency department. This interprofessional team stays connected through regular meetings, including quarterly meetings with all community partners to discuss clinic patterns and needs, obtain updates on local and national IPV trends, and review legislature impacting the IPV community.

NOTES

[1] National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (2020). Domestic Violence Retrieved from domestic_violence-2020080709350855.pdf (speakcdn.com)

[2] Carlson, J., Voith, L., Brown, J. C., & Holmes, M. (2019). Viewing children’s exposure to intimate-partner violence through a developmental, social-ecological, and survivor lens: The current state of the field, challenges, and future directions. Violence Against Women, 25 (1) 6-28.

[3] Effects | The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (nctsn.org)

[4] Hamby, S., Findelhor, D., Turner, H., & Ormrod, R. (2011). Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Other Family Violence. Retrieved from 232272.pdf (ojp.gov)

[5] Poleshuck E, Wittink MN, Crean H, Juskiewicz I, ReQua MA, Cerulli C (2021). A biopsychosocial and interprofessional approach to the treatment of family and intimate partner violence: It takes a village: Frontiers in Psychiatry 17 (12): doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2021.738840. PMID: 34899417; PMCID: PMC8652581.

Chart.

Post 33. Megan Dudziak: It’s Every Adult's Responsibility – Erin’s Law – New York State

Published November 7, 2022

Blog Author: Megan Dudziak, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Child Advocacy Center at BestSelf Behavioral Health

Blog Title: It’s Every Adults Responsibility: Erin’s Law – New York State

Keywords: Social Justice and Social Change, Law and Social Science, Inequality, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Gender, Law, and Society, Family and Family Law.

About 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys in the USA experience child sexual abuse every year. Alarmingly, 91% of the time the abuser is a known and trusted adult to the child. (Source; CDC.gov). Even more jarring is the fact that child sexual abuse is an underreported problem, making these statistics an underrepresentation of the transgressions against America’s children.

Overall, there is a general reluctance of most adults to talk about this topic. The silence surrounding child sexual abuse has grown into a nationwide epidemic. Most adults agree that their number one priority is for children to be safe. However, when we shy away from discussing difficult topics with children, we also avoid opportunities to talk about body safety which will reduce the likelihood of them becoming victims. In fact, the CDC indicates that education about abuse may successfully prevent 95% of violence against children.

In August of 2019, New York State signed Erin’s Law into legislation (Chapter 187 of the Laws of 2019). It was the 37th state in the union to pass this legislation. It is pending in 12 other states. The law is named after the survivor, Erin Merryn, who introduced this legislation in her home state of Illinois. Erin is an abuse survivor and activist against child sexual abuse. She has advocated for similar laws in every state and territory of the United States for over a decade.

Ideally, the law was proposed by Ms. Merryn to provide this mandate for students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grades, to professionals who work at the schools, and to the parents/guardians of all children. The main outcome of this education is for children to understand body autonomy, body boundaries, safe adults vs unsafe adults, safe touch vs unsafe touch, and to know what to do and who to go to if you or another child may be a victim. It also assists children in reporting to adults or other children who may be posing a risk. In fact, 40% of child sexual abuse involves a peer as the abuser (source: CDC.gov)

New York is one of several states to approve this law with modifications. The law went into effect on July 1, 2020, in New York, at the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic–a time when school administrators were struggling with providing education to students in the safest environment possible.  Many were not even aware of this mandate until contacted by local advocates and professionals in their area.

The Child Advocacy Center in Buffalo, New York–a program of BestSelf Behavioral Health–took to email and written campaign in the summer of 2020 to update all the public school districts in the Erie County region of the passed legislation. The CAC provided resources about the mandate and opportunities to collaborate with the district to ensure this information was provided to professionals, community members, and students. The programs are offered to all groups at no cost. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) established a website where those interested in learning more about what the mandate requires, about resources to support the mandate, and about agencies to contact to provide the training to adults and children. (Erin's Law |New York State Education Department (nysed.gov).

There has been a mixed response to this education in public schools statewide. In addition to Child Advocacy Centers, other programs have offered curricula to school districts alongside their own personnel for in-school training. Districts, however, seem hesitant to utilize these programs because they incur nominal fees, and administrators may be concerned about the sensitivity of this subject matter overall. But, upon previewing the program, schools have been reassured that the material is taught in a developmentally appropriate manner to students, and this effort has strengthened schools’ tolerance toward the programs.

Parents and community members, although most dislike the topic, agree that this education for their children is valuable.  Many times, they are unsure of how to broach the subject with them. The training provides caregivers with real-life lessons they can teach their children and reinforce the information they have learned about at school. The most important takeaway from this information should be that it is every adult's responsibility to protect children in their communities. We all can do more just by checking in with children of all ages to make sure they are aware of the main ways to protect themselves.

Related website: Child Advocacy Center in Buffalo

 

 

Post 32. Judy Torres: Domestic Violence and the Cycle of Violence

Stop VIolence.

Published October 27, 2022

Blog Author: Judy Torres, Director Domestic Violence, Hispanics United Of Buffalo

Blog Title: Domestic Violence and the Cycle of Violence

Keywords: Social Justice and Social Change, Law and Social Science, Inequality, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Gender, Law, and Society, Family and Family Law

Domestic Violence is difficult for many to discuss, however it is a public health issue that must be addressed. Domestic Violence is non-discriminatory in those that it affects and tends to disproportionately impact already vulnerable groups. Although standards and practices protecting victims have improved in the judicial system, proactive and preventative measures must be taken to ensure that we break the cycle of violence at its conception. A relatively new piece of legislation–known as Erin’s Law–seeks to set up such measures using our public school system as a medium.

Erin’s Law is intended to help children, teachers, and parents in New York State schools identify sexual abuse and provide awareness, assistance, referral, or resource information for children and families who are victims of child sexual abuse. Although the focus of Erin’s Law is on sexual abuse, the curriculums supplied have information that largely addresses all forms of domestic violence. With that in mind, we must not forget that “domestic violence” is not limited to romantic partners; instead, it can, and does, occur between a parent and child, siblings, or even roommates. Whereas “Intimate Partner Violence” (IPV), is abuse or aggression that occurs exclusively in a romantic relationship between current and former partners.

Children are often considered the “hidden” victims in families, and studies have estimated that 3.3 - 10 million children witness domestic violence each year. According to the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, 1 in 15 children is exposed to (IPV) each year, and 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to this violence. In many instances, these children become victims themselves and are too frightened or reluctant to report abuse in the home because of the threats made by the perpetrator(s), or the possibility of being removed from the home. Coincidentally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has cited research that suggests that as much as 60% of child maltreatment and domestic violence occur simultaneously.

Exposure to domestic violence and child maltreatment trauma can have long-lasting effects on a child’s socio-emotional and neurological development, which can deeply impact them in adulthood. These effects can present themselves in a variety of ways. In some instances, you may have a child become impulsive and aggressive while another child may become withdrawn and anxious. The behavioral changes that stem from DV and childhood maltreatment can affect a child’s ability to successfully navigate romantic, educational, professional, and other social settings. Therefore, recognizing these early warning signs is imperative, not only as professionals but as members of our communities.

Abused children and children exposed to domestic violence are many times not believed, and the abuse goes on for years. Perpetrators will threaten to hurt family members, use the rewards approach, and/or tell them “It’s our secret” to keep the child from telling anyone. In my own experience working with parent clients, many do not realize that their children have been victimized along with them. Remarkably, this is where the cycle of abuse typically begins. Studies show that about one-third of people who are abused in childhood or exposed to domestic violence will themselves become abusers or perpetrators. This strengthens the importance of educating parents and children about childhood sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Consequently, we must look at policy such as Erin’s Law that seeks to make necessary systemic changes to combat the cycle of violence as we do more than react. Instead, let us look to a future where we take preventative measures to quell this kind of violence.

Related website: Hispanics United of Buffalo

 

Post 31: Julia Merante: Introducing: Erin’s Law and Preventing Domestic Violence

Erin’s Law requires all public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program to train school personnel, caregivers, and students in grades preK-12.

Published October 4, 2022

Blog Author: Julia Merante, 3L, UB School of Law, and, Blog Producer, The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy

Blog Title: Introducing — Erin’s Law and Preventing Domestic Violence

Keywords: Social Justice and Social Change, Law and Social Science, Inequality, Human Rights, Civil Rights, Gender, Law, and Society, Family and Family Law

Erin Merryn is the founder of Erin’s Law. During her childhood, Merryn suffered from years of sexual abuse at the hands of two trusted males. Galvanized by her own survivorship, Merryn is fiercely crusading across the country and campaigning for all states to mandate an educational program on child sexual abuse awareness and prevention. Erin’s Law requires all public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program to train school personnel, caregivers, and students in grades preK-12. Merryn’s impassioned advocacy, authorship, and legislative work was inspired by her own adverse experience at a young age.

In one of her books, An Unimaginable Act: Overcoming & Preventing Child Abuse Through Erin's Law, Merryn shares that, in 2013 at a Kansas school, she polled the students, asking if they were taught how to respond to fire drills, how to decline drugs, and how to prevent bullying. Every student raised their hand. Merryn then asked how many of them knew how to identify and disclose sexual abuse – not one student answered yes. 

After Merryn’s speech that day, five children reported being sexually abused.

Thirty-seven states have enacted Erin’s Law; however, some have failed to do so effectively and others have failed to do so at all. From neglecting to train teachers to allowing parents an opt-out provision, jurisdictions that – on paper – pass Erin’s Law but do not fulfill it in practice ultimately disserve schools and students. As a result, children then lack critical literacy as they are not taught how to identify or communicate that they have been violated. In New York, for example, the legislature recently passed Erin’s Law in 2019, however, only for grades K-8.

Omissions like these frustrate the purpose and objective of this regulation: to comprehensively education children, parents, and teachers on this topic throughout all primary and secondary grade levels. Therefore, to protect American youth and curtail abuse, states should pass Erin’s Law in its entirety by teaching all preK-12 students, teachers, and parents how to recognize and report abuse.

During October 2022 – Domestic Violence Awareness Month – The Baldy Center will produce blogs and podcasts that engage experts and educators on preventing child abuse. Erin’s Law, alongside other urgent DV topics, will be discussed by UB scholars, community spearheads, and other academics that aim to advance change in this critical area of law and policy.

Related website: Erin's Law. 

 

Julia Merante, Blog Producer

Julia Merante is a second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law. She is the Vice President of the Jessup International Moot Court, a Human Rights Fellow at Legal Aid, a Student Ambassador, and an Associate of the Buffalo Environmental Law Review Journal.

Julia Merante

Julia Merante, a second-year law student at the University at Buffalo School of Law, is host/producer for the 2022-23 Edition of The Baldy Center Blog.  Merante is the Vice President of the Jessup International Moot Court, a Human Rights Fellow at Legal Aid, a Student Ambassador, and an Associate of the Buffalo Environmental Law Review Journal. The award-winning poet and essayist graduated SUNY Geneseo summa cum laude with a Bachelors Degree in English, Biology, and Human Development. Merante plans to become a public interest advocate, and then become an educator to continue engaging in important, legal scholarship. 

Executive Producers

Samantha Barbas, JD, PhD
Professor, UB School of Law; Director, The Baldy Center

Caroline Funk, PhD 
Associate Director, The Baldy Center