PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Governor J.B. Pritzker’s new bill aims to protect students against sexual abuse.
The governor signed House Bill 1975, also known as Faith’s Law, into law Friday.
The legislation adds safeguards by expanding the definition of grooming in the criminal code, increasing resources and protections for sexual abuse survivors and their families requiring school districts to develop a sexual misconduct code of conduct, review employment history, and increase training for educators.
Educators will receive training on students’ physical and mental health needs, student safety, educator ethics, professional conduct, which is aimed at helping staff identify misconduct while being aware of how to best support students.
“Students deserve to be safe in their classrooms, period,” Pritzker said. “Anything short of that is a call to action and Faith’s Law is another critical step in creating and preserving safe and welcoming learning environments for all students.”
The law also closes a prior loophole and expands protections for students by expanding the definition of grooming to include acts performed in-person, through direct communication of a third party, or written communication. Under previous law, grooming only included Internet-based communication.
Beth Crider, Peoria County Regional Superintendent, said the law is too new for many school districts to have taken many actions on it. However, she said this isn’t a new topic for local school districts.
Laura Kowalske, Director of Prevention Education for the Center for Prevention of Abuse, said for years the center has discussed these topics in age-appropriate, evidence-based ways for K-12th grade students in the Tri-County area.
Kowalske said annually the center sees 36,000 students in its sexual abuse prevention programming.
“Each year it’s very age-appropriate, We start with talking about your body is your body, you have the right to share it the way that you wish,” Kowalske said. “From there we move into what are safe and unsafe touches. We always talk about ways to keep our bodies safe.
“We talk about sexual harassment and how it differs from flirting. Online technology and how that’s used, especially in grooming.”
Kowalske said they get into more adult topics for high schoolers such as domestic violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault. She said they discuss trusting your instinct and grooming as early as 4th grade.
“What we’re really helping students understand is that grooming is a gradual process and has a lot to do with secret-keeping, so not all secrets are good secrets, many are bad secrets,” Kowlaske said.
She also said the education the center provides extends to faculty members.
“Prior to student programming, we go into the schools, and we talk to all of the staff at the school about sexual abuse prevention and what they can do as a mandated reporter should a student come and disclose that something is happening to them,” Kowalske said.
Kowalske said the center also provides schools with take-home letters, so family members can see what students are discussing. She said these letters also include more information on the topics as well as discussion starters.
“We’re just really sharing how important it is to know about these topics in order to keep oneself safe,” Kowalske said.