Faith Leaders Now Mandatory Reporters of Abuse Under New Law

WCVE PBS Richmond • July 11th, 2019

By Reed Canaan

Faith leaders in Virginia are now required to report suspected child abuse. Legislation that went into effect July 1 adds ministers, priests, rabbis, and imams to the list of mandated reporters. But victim advocates say they want the law to go further.

Becky Ianni with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said she hopes the law will increase reporting of child abuse, but is concerned about what she identifies as a loophole.

Clergy are exempt from reporting abuse if the religious organization requires the conversation to be confidential, like during confession.

“I’m afraid that that loophole will keep some cases from being reported,” Clergy said.

Jeff Caruso, Executive Director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, defended the importance of this exemption.

“This is an exemption that applies across the board to faith leaders and it’s important to respect religious practices and traditions. And the bill does that and at the same time strengthens protections for children, which is extremely important and necessary,” Caruso said.

Delegate Wendy Gooditis, chief co-patron of the legislation, agreed that this exemption is a loophole in the law.

“All I can say is we made progress with this. And there’s certainly more work to be done,” she said.

There are now 19 categories of individuals mandated to report child abuse in Virginia.

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Gooditis, Loudoun Farmers Discuss Agricultural Sustainability

Loudoun Now • June 6th, 2019

By Patrick Szabo

In a world that’s primarily focused on technology advances and increased development, small-time farmers don’t always get the attention they need. But that wasn’t the case this week.

Nearly 20 farmers, advocates and policymakers flanked Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) at the Middleburg Community Center on Wednesday night to discuss what they can do to support Loudoun’s small and family-owned farms. The agriculture policy roundtable solicited input from professionals representing more than a dozen different organizations and government agencies ranging from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to Loudoun Hunger Relief. Coming to the forefront in the hour-and-a-half conversation were topics of small farm marketing and visibility and voucher and farm-to-school programs.

Gooditis kicked the discussion off by noting that she’s lived in southern Clarke County for more than two decades on property that overlooks the Shenandoah Valley and that she’s a rural resident at heart.

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Gooditis Holds Child Abuse Roundtable with Experts, Legislators

Loudon Times • April 3rd, 2019

By Patrick Szabo

It’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) put the spotlight on the difficult topic during a policy roundtable Tuesday night at the Leesburg Town Hall.

Eleven child abuse experts from the county, state and other organizations participated in the forum, which focused on child abuse prevention and responses and aimed to give lawmakers recommendations to better protect children, along with state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-10), Del. Karrie Delaney (D-67) and Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) also participated in the conversation.

Better training and more access to affordable childcare services were two issues raised frequently during the discussion.

Buta Biberaj, a Leesburg attorney who is running for commonwealth’s attorney, pointed out that many cases of sexual abuse involve individuals that children trust, and not necessarily strangers.

John Walker, the Loudoun County Public School System’s director of Student Support Services, said that kids are more vulnerable to sexual abuse today because of their access to social media. He said it was important for school personnel to connect with parents and help to make kids comfortable when reporting sexual abuse.

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Gooditis to Introduce Four Bills to Combat Child Abuse

Winchester Star • January 5th, 2019

By Josh Janney

WINCHESTER — Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, said she will introduce legislation to combat child sexual abuse when the 2019 General Assembly legislative session begins Wednesday.

During a press conference in Leesburg on Friday, Gooditis said she will introduce four bills that would:

• expand the definition of sexual abuse,

• require the clergy to report suspected abuse,

• retain records of complaints about child sexual abuse for a longer period of time,

• enforce a harsher penalty for those who commit domestic violence in the presence of a minor.

Gooditis said her brother, at the age of 11, was raped multiple times by the leader of a children’s activity. Her brother later attempted suicide multiple times, and suffered from PTSD and alcoholism. He was found dead in March 2017, shortly after she announced her candidacy for the House of Delegates. Gooditis hopes to protect other children from a similar fate.

“My grief and loss have created an energy in me,” Gooditis said. “I couldn’t help my brother. I couldn’t fix it for him. If I can do anything to save that one child from being abused right now ... then I will do it.”

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Truman Braslaw
Del. Gooditis Announces 4 Bills Aimed at Combatting Child Abuse

Loudoun Now • January 4th, 2019

By Patrick Szabo

Less than a week ahead of the 2019 Virginia General Assembly, Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10) is striving to tighten Virginia’s laws to protect children from sexual abuse.

Gooditis today announced a slate of four bills aimed to combat child abuse that she’s filed ahead of this year’s General Assembly session, which begins Wednesday. Those bills would change Virginia’s definition of child sexual abuse, make clergy of all religious denominations mandated reporters of child abuse, maintain records of child abuse investigations for three years and penalize those who expose children to domestic violence.

“If I can do anything to save that one child who is being abused right now…then I will do it,” Gooditis said.

Alongside Gooditis in the Leesburg Town Council chambers were Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman; Loudoun County Chairwoman Phyllis Randall (D-At Large); Leesburg Mayor Kelly Burk; Judy Hanley, the executive director of the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter and the director of the Loudoun Child Advocacy Center; and Ian Danielsen, an assistant professor of social work at Longwood University.

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Del. Gooditis Announces Bills to Fight Child Abuse

Loudoun Times-Mirror • January 4th, 2019

By Veronike Collazo

State Del. Wendy Gooditis (D-10th) on Friday announced four pieces of legislation aimed at combating child abuse, specifically sexual abuse.

During a press conference in Leesburg, Gooditis shared that her brother developed PTSD after being sexually abused as a child by the leader of an after-school activity.

The lawmaker's brother died in 2017 days after she announced her House of Delegates candidacy, and now Gooditis said she wants to make sure what happened to him doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“My grief and loss have created an energy in me,” Gooditis said. “... I couldn’t help my brother. I couldn’t fix it for him. If I can do anything to save that one child who is being abused right now, with the help of the people in this you and all of you watching, then I will do it.”

Longwood University Assistant Professor of Social Work Ian Danielsen commended Gooditis and her team for doing research and speaking with stakeholders to find the gaps in the system and propose bills to better help child abuse victims.

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Gooditis Outlines Legislative Priorities in 2019

Winchester Star • November 30th, 2018

By Onofrio Castiglia

WINCHESTER — Renewable energy, farmland preservation, and a broader statutory definition of sex abuse are among Del. Wendy Gooditis’ legislative priorities for the upcoming General Assembly session, she said on Wednesday.

The 2019 legislative session convenes on Jan. 9 in Richmond for 45 days.

Entering her second year as a legislator, Gooditis, D-Clarke County, said she’s also concerned with appropriations for Interstate 81, political support for renewable energy, rural broadband, and legalizing testing strips for Fentanyl, a powerful opioid narcotic.

The definition of sex abuse in the Code of Virginia does not sufficiently protect children under 13 who are in effect “groomed” for sex by psychologically abusive predators, Gooditis said. She plans to sponsor a bill that would change the statutory definition requiring that abuse entail touching “intimate parts” to instead cover any part of the victim’s body. Prosecutors would still have to prove sexual intent, Gooditis said, but they would have a broader definition of abuse.

For example, Gooditis said, as the law stands a kiss must involve the tongue to be considered sex abuse. “It shouldn’t be,” she said. Unwanted or inappropriate kissing or touching should be a crime regardless of what body parts are involved.

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Looking for Solutions to Rising Suicide Rate Among Virginia Women

WVTF • July 20th, 2018

By Michael Pope

Suicide rates are on the rise in Virginia, especially among women.Lawmakers are trying to figure out ways to reverse the trend. Since 2010, the suicide rate among women in Virginia has increased 24 percent.

Freddy Mejia at the Commonwealth Institute says a number of factors may have contributed. “Making sure that mental health is accessible to this population is crucial. We also know that increased access to lethal means, such as illicit and prescription drugs as well as firearms, may have contributed to this rise.”

Earlier this year, Delegate Wendy Gooditis, a Democrat from Northern Virginia, introduced a bill that requires the state to issue an annual report to lawmakers about suicide prevention. “My family was horrifically affected by the loss of my brother this year following a couple of years of suicide attempts, so in my personal and professional opinion anything we can do to spread the word and help these people is really important.”

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