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San Diego DA Unveils New Tool To Track Suspected Child Sex Abuse Cases

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The tool was unveiled along with a new task force by District Attorney Summer Stephan after a two-year investigation by Voice of San Diego into harassment and abuse in San Diego County’s public schools.

Speaker 1: 00:00 There is a new online tracking tool available that allows San Diego County residents to report suspected student abuse in schools,

Speaker 2: 00:08 making sure that the gaps are closed and that there is not any situation where a, you know, a person who is harming kids is just moving around from school to school without real accountability.

Speaker 1: 00:24 That's district attorney summer. Stephan unveiling the new program last week in a press conference. The rollout comes on the heels of an investigation by voice of San Diego into harassment and abuse and local public schools. Joining us now with the backstory on the new tracking system is voice of San Diego reporter Kayla Jimenez. Kayla, welcome. Hello there. I want to talk about the DA's new online tool and task force, but first I want to dive into what you've learned after spending two years investigating these issues, what are some of the systemic shortcomings you uncovered through your reporting? Sure. So in our investigation over the past two years, I think some of the big shortcomings we've found are that students and parents don't feel like they're being heard by schools when they're reporting abuse or suspected abuse and they feel like it's being downplayed or looked over. And we've seen that many times over various schools across the region.

Speaker 1: 01:22 A big concern is also that mandated reporters who are teachers, coaches, anyone who works in a school are not reporting to the correct people. So they usually go to a principal or a school police when state law that they should be reporting to child welfare services or accounting police, their law enforcement department. Can you highlight one or two of the cases that you wrote about? Sure. So one of the major cases that we started with back two years ago was a LA Jolla high school case of teacher Martin teach worth. And in our investigation we uncover that this teacher had harassed, groped many girls. They were many complaints over the years and local law enforcement told us that they had never received a complaint from a teacher or principal when school police had documented that there was even one case that could have been criminal and that never went to SDPD. [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 02:22 And so you said currently reporting is being made to school authorities. How might reporting potentially change with the DA's new online tracking tool? So the tool and some are stuffing told me herself that one of the main priorities of it is for anyone who suspects that there is someone who is a mandated reporter who failed to report an instance of suspected child abuse, which can range from a variety of things from brooming to actual crime that any complaint or suspicion can be made through the website as well. And that would be handled internally by this new task force, which, um, the district attorney's offices put together. The D I emphasize that this is not a replacement for the mandated reporting. This is in addition to, so it's still important for anyone who's a mandated reporter to follow those laws and report to the police department or child welfare services.

Speaker 1: 03:20 So mandated reporters would still need to report suspected abuse through proper channels, right. As far as the task force goes, who will be involved with this task force and what will their responsibilities be? Right. So the district attorney has said that this would be internal law enforcement task force. Um, Steven Mark [inaudible] who's the deputy district attorney will be leading it and there'll be prosecutors and a victim advocate on the team. You point out that back in may, district attorney summer staff and said neither her office nor the city attorney's office has ever received or prosecuted a complaint of a mandated reporter like a school administrator or teacher for example, failing to report child abuse. Has her office said why that's the case? They said they have never received a report where there was a case of failure to report. And I think this is one of the avenues that they're trying to hopefully fix that is where complaints can come through this one channel.

Speaker 1: 04:15 And they'll have a record of any suspicions that someone failed to report. What are the parents you talk to said, have they said that they've taken an elevated their complaints to the DA's office? Oh yeah. Over the course of the two years I've heard over and over again that they've taken him to the schools haven't been heard. And then some have gone and taken them to the district attorney's office, which I think is kind of what sparked this is that now there's more cases and complaints coming forward to the DSA DA's office. What kind of feedback have you heard from the community or victims, um, on how effective they believe this new reporting system might be? I think there's a lot of questions on whether this will help and I think that's reasonable because a lot of victims that I've spoken with have been not so happy with the way the process has gone, what they've reported and they feel neglected and like their complaints aren't being heard or trusted.

Speaker 1: 05:13 So I think there's a question. And San Diego unified itself has had a few child abuse task force. They implemented another one a few months ago, and there's questions about whether this law actually helps. So there is an outline question from the community about whether this will do anything. So how can people submit complaints into this new online tool? So they go online and there's a pretty clear form to fill out. Just there's an option of whether you're going to report suspected abuse or fail. It's a mandated report. And then you felt the form. I haven't done it myself, but anyone who does it and has a reaction, it would be good to hear from them. I've been speaking with Kayla Jimenez, reporter with voice of San Diego. Kayla, well, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 06:04 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.