| Today's NAASCA news:
May 22, 2013
Sexual abuse survivors to host public forum
by CLARE MARIE CELANO
A local women's support group has initiated a community outreach effort to build awareness about the effects of childhood sexual abuse.
The goals of the Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse support group are to educate people in recognizing the signs of sexual abuse that children may experience and to minimize the damage sexual abuse can cause people over their lifetime, according to Anitra Puntolillo, a licensed professional counselor who co-facilitates the group with Pat Ervin, a licensed social worker.
According to Puntolillo, the group supports women who want to heal from a past plagued with sexual abuse. The group members have come together as advocates to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse.
The support group will sponsor an event to raise awareness of the issue 7-8:30 p.m. May 29 at the Manasquan Methodist Church, 23 Church St., (corner of Church and South streets), Manasquan. The forum is free and open to parents, teachers, Scout leaders, caretakers, victims/survivors and the community to learn about the impact of child sexual abuse and its repercussions, according to Puntolillo.
Residents of all communities are welcome to attend.
Puntolillo said the forum will guide parents in learning how to speak to their children, identify behaviors typical of a victim, and provide advice on how to get help. Several adult survivors of child sexual abuse will share their stories and answer questions.
“We have all heard stories in the news of scandals involving a coach, a religious leader, a teacher or other person in authority who is accused of sexually abusing a child or children,” Puntolillo said. “We see this and may think of these abuses as exceptions to the rule or of happening to someone else's child. Harder to imagine is sexual abuse to a child we know. Harder still is hearing that the perpetrator is the child's parent, grandparent, uncle, aunt, cousin, sibling, neighbor, playmate, family friend, date, baby-sitter or any other trusted person. What will you do? What are the long-term effects of sexual abuse?”
Ervin said Jo Pohl, a member of the group, encouraged the organization to take its message to the community at large.
“Helping other survivors of childhood sexual abuse is part of their healing process as well,” said Ervin, whose son was a victim of childhood sexual abuse when he was 3 years old.
“It happened in my home, and I had to deal with the guilt of that. It is not only the child who goes through emotional turmoil, but the child's family as well,” she said.
Pohl is an adult who suffered childhood sexual abuse and spent years not dealing with the emotional aspects of the abuse. She said she began to deal with the issue about a year ago.
She stressed the importance of getting children who have been sexually abused some help right away and not letting them bring the abuse into adulthood.
“Getting support will not eliminate the effects of the abuse but may diminish its effects,” Pohl said. “Children need to be helped to feel safe and supported again. Once you are violated like that, you never know who to trust and you carry that around with you until it is addressed.”
Women interested in finding out more about the support group may contact Pat Ervin at 732-528-7535, or Anitra Puntolillo at http://apcounseling.com/Womens_Group.html
Lessons in Preventing Child Sex Abuse
by Margaret Bozik
An astounding 93 per cent of child sex offenders have more than one victim, while 23 per cent abuse 10 or more children, psychologist Sandra Ifrah told parents attending workshops on ‘Parenting Safe Children' held in Melbourne on Sunday, 19 May.
The workshops were run by Tzedek (Hebrew for Justice), Australia's only dedicated advocacy and support group for Jewish victims/survivors of child sexual abuse, in conjunction with CASA, Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault.
These statistics underscore the importance of reporting all cases of child sexual abuse to the police as abusers are extremely likely to repeat their crimes and/or to have abused other children in the past. “The seven per cent with only one victim is mainly because they got caught the first time,” Ms Ifrah said.
Studies have found that approximately one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18, with a quarter of all victims aged under nine and 37 per cent aged 9-12. Eighty per cent of offenders are known to victims – a family member, family friend or other person of trust – and they are of all ages, academic levels and socio-economic statuses. Many are charismatic and seek out employment and activities that provide them with easy access to children, Ms Ifrah said. The over-whelming majority (98 per cent) are male but it is important to note that some abusers are female. Up to 50 per cent are minors, under the age of 18.
Ms Ifrah outlined the grooming process, a technique used by offenders to gain the child's – and often the child's family's – trust, and manipulate the child into accepting the abuse. She then discussed ways parents could help protect children from abuse by creating a safe and open environment where kids knew they could speak freely.
Talking about ‘body safety' (rather than sexual abuse), using the correct terminology for body parts and explaining the difference between ‘OK', ‘Not OK' and ‘Confusing' touching, does not sexualise or traumatise children, Ms Ifrah said. Children need to know that it is never OK to keep a secret about someone hurting them or another person, they can say ‘no' to touching that made them feel uncomfortable, they should trust their instincts and they will be believed and supported if they come to their parents with any concerns.
The value of teaching children about body safety was highlighted in a recent case where police found hundreds of diaries belonging to a paedophile teacher who documented his attempts to groom multiple children, Ms Ifrah said. Along with entries “Touched [child's name] hip and she did not flinch” and “Brushed hand across [child's name] bottom and she did not object” was an entry where a child resisted his attempts to tickle her, saying “I only allow members of my family to tickle me”. The paedophile recorded “Clearly [child's name] has been coached”, referring to the fact that the child had undergone some form of child sexual abuse preventative training.
“Without even realising it, with that one sentence that child had saved herself from being a victim,” Ms Ifrah said. Emphasising that sexual abuse was never the child's fault, Ms Ifrah noted that letting family, friends and other adults know you are teaching your child protective behaviours can in and of itself help protect your child from predators.
There was extensive discussion during and after the workshop by parents seeking advice for specific situations and several requests from participants for further workshops and sessions to be run at schools. Many participants also wanted information sheets and resources designed specifically for parents of children of different ages.
Tzedek Events Coordinator Lauren Gabriel said: “We were absolutely delighted with the quality of the presentations, the enthusiasm of participants and the clear desire of our community to learn more about this important issue. Many people, including myself, went home to start important conversations with our children. We received multiple calls from schools and community and youth groups wishing for the workshops to be run in house following excellent feedback from their parents. We plan to run additional workshops for those who weren't able to attend this one and design further workshops and educational programs for our schools and community.”
Register your interest in further workshops by emailing: events AT tzedek DOT org DOT au
For support or advice, please visit the Tzedek website.
Margaret Bozik is a freelance journalist and Tzedek's Head of Communications
Senate considering legislation to make lies about age on children's internet chat rooms an offence
by Natasha Bita
ADULTS who lie about their age to children on social media or in internet chat rooms in order to meet them risk jail, under draft legislation before federal parliament.
A Senate committee is considering legislation that would make it a crime for adults to lie about their age to children online, with the intention of meeting them.
Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has drafted "Carly's Law", named after a 15-year-old Adelaide girl who was murdered in 2007 by a 50-year-old man who had posed as a young musician online.
He said existing laws required prosecutors to prove that adults who groomed children online had a "sexual purpose".
"If you are lying about your age to a child and you want to meet them, that needs to be an offence," Senator Xenophon said.
"Police now have one hand tied behind their backs because they need to prove a sexual intent.
"This (law) would mean police can intervene at an earlier stage, and that will save kids from abuse."
The federal Attorney-General's Department has told the Senate inquiry the legislative change could help police intervene sooner.
"... this offence may be easier to investigate and prosecute than existing grooming and procuring offences which require evidence of sexual intent, allowing law enforcement agencies to intervene during the preparatory stage of an offence before proof of sexual or other illicit intention is apparent," its submission states.
But the AG's Department raised concerns that the draft law could "criminalise conduct which may not be harmful in itself".
"Lying about one's age occurs in many social situations, including on the internet and social networking sites such as Facebook," it says.
"There are many reasons why people may lie about their age, and it is conceivable that a person over 18, having lied about their age, may meet a young person without any ill intentions."
Senator Xenophon said he would be happy to amend the bill to address the AG Department's concerns.
"But why would an adult lie about their age to a child and want to meet that child?" he said.
"Most parents would agree there is something wrong about that."
Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus yesterday said the federal government "shares Senator Xenophon's concerns about the safety of children online" and would consider the Senate inquiry's recommendations later this year.
"There are already offences in the Commonwealth Criminal Code which protect children from adults seeking sexual relationships with them online," his spokeswoman said.
"It is a Commonwealth offence to communicate with a child online with the intention of either engaging in sexual activity with the child (procuring) or making it easier to engage in sexual activity with the child (grooming)."
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said it was "troubling for parents" that 6 per cent of teenagers have arranged face-to-face meetings with strangers they met online.
A survey of 1000 kids by internet security firm McAfee has found that one in five "tweenagers" aged eight to 12 have chatted with strangers online, or sent them personal photos.
The National Centre Against Bullying's Cyber Safety Committee chairman, child psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg, said it was "just terrifying" that teenagers were arranging to meet cyber strangers, and called on parents to monitor their kids' internet use.
IS YOUR KID BEING GROOMED?
The Australian Federal Police lists possible signs of abuse as:
A CHANGE in sexualised language.
EXCLUSIVE use of mobile or internet technologies.
UNEXPLAINED gifts or cash.
WHAT TO DO:
HIT the "Report Abuse" button on the Federal Police/Microsoft website Think You Know www.thinkuknow.org.au
MONITOR and supervise your child's internet use.
CHECK if your child knows every Facebook friend.
October Perez bill becomes law: Measures intended to curb child abuse
by Michael Beall
Gov. Steve Bullock signed two child abuse protection bills inside the Cascade County Courthouse on Tuesday, adjacent to an ongoing jury trial of an alleged sexual assault of a 4-year-old girl.
The two bills were Senate Bill 160 and House Bill 76. SB 160 was sponsored by Sen. Mitch Tropila, D-Great Falls, which created the offense of felony criminal child endangerment. HB 76, known as the October Perez bill, created an ombudsman for the Montana Department of Justice.
“It is a celebration of legislation that has passed, but it's also a celebration that's rooted in many tragedies,” Bullock said.
The tragedies Bullock alluded to are the deaths of five children in Cascade County over the past five years, and in the wake of the deaths, five child abuse prevention bills were introduced to the 2013 Montana Legislature, and four passed.
Tropila carried SB 160 through the Legislature, but he said the passage of the package of child protection bills was a team effort from law enforcement and county attorneys to social and community service groups.
The crux of the package of bills is that, “In Montana, if you hurt a child, you will be punished,” Tropila said.
Tuesday's ceremony symbolized that after the tragedies in Great Falls, the state of Montana said enough is enough, Tropila said.
Cascade County Attorney John Parker drafted SB 160 and traveled to Helena throughout the legislative session to testify for the package of bills, and he opened his short speech to the courtroom by thanking Bullock.
“I think it sends a powerful message that the plans we've been making and the work we're doing is taking hold, and we're going to turn the tide, and he came here personally to make sure that's going to be the case,” Parker said.
Parker's voice cracked with emotion as he spoke about going forward and how the bills will be used.
“Here's the bottom line. Montana's children have more protection under the law than they did before,” he said. “I will tell you we are going to use these laws to make sure kids are safe in this community and all across the state of Montana.”
Bullock said his visit to Great Falls was more than symbolism, and his signature on the two bills showed how the legislative process works when people come together and work toward an end and to make a meaningful difference.
The court proceedings next to the room where Bullock spoke is recognition of the continuing challenges the justice system will face, Bullock said.
“We need to be vigilant to keep kids safe,” he said. “As attorney general, I worked a lot on child advocacy centers, making sure a child who is a victim or potential victim is on a path toward healing.”
The Cascade County CARE Center is one of the advocacy centers Bullock mentioned, and it's the center where Great Falls Police Detective Noah Scott conducted his forensic interview of a 4-year-old girl in March 2012. That interview led to the trial he testified in Tuesday morning.
Scott said Tuesday's bill signing is huge for children in Montana, and that he's most optimistic about SB 160.
“Hopefully on even one case we can proactively stop a child from getting into a situation like an October Perez,” Scott said. “If we can get one it will be a resounding success. It will lead us to have more tools in the toolbox so to speak to help children in difficult situations.”
Scott said getting a case into prosecution is a difficult process, and for every child abuse case the public reads in the paper, there are 20 that never get to that point.
Amid the crowd inside the courtroom were a half dozen people wearing white T-shirts with October Perez's name and picture. Tuesday was an emotional day for October's family, but it was also a chance to start anew.
“It has been a very long road,” said April Hall, October's grandmother and major proponent for the October Perez bill. “It's been a fight day and night, and the last few months was a roller coaster ride.”
The fight for Hall, as well as October's father, who returned from deployment in Afghanistan, her aunt and close friends, began six months before October's death, trying to save her life, Hall said. But the true fight followed her death in order to get an ombudsman for child abuse cases in the Department of Justice.
Tropila personally thanked October's family wearing matching shirts, as he walked from the courtroom, telling them they helped make the child protection package pass.
He said hope for our children starts today.
“Ultimately it really is all about the kids,” Tropila said. “It was a team effort. The sun is shining today, and hopefully it's shining bright for our children.”
Child abuse experts gather at Del. conference
DOVER, Del. (AP) — State officials are hosting a two-day conference for police, educators, attorneys and others on Delaware's child protection system.
The conference that begins Wednesday in Dover is aimed at improving how Delaware professionals work together to respond to child abuse and neglect cases from both a civil and criminal perspective. Organizers also plan to discuss prevention efforts to reduce child abuse.
Officials say the conference themes are based on the work of Delaware's Child Death, Near Death and Stillbirth Commission. They are also based on reviews prompted by the case of former pediatrician Earl Bradley, who is serving life in prison for sexually molesting scores of young patients over several years.
Public-private partnership: Initiative targets child abuse
by Alan Wilson
Child sexual abuse is not a comfortable topic for the dinner table. We shy away from it because of its complexities and the horrors of sexual abuse. However, our silence only makes the systemic and system-wide failures in addressing the problem even worse. Significant progress will require vision, leadership, communication, cooperation and coordination.
Under the leadership of Bob and Lisa Castellani, Silent Tears program was forged last year with the mission of giving “a voice to every child sexually abused.” An array of private-public partnerships and the world-renowned expertise of Victor Veith, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center, provided the foundation for a statewide task force. This task force includes law enforcement officials, prosecutors, child protection service facilitators, health care providers, civic, community, judicial and religious leaders.
As our state's chief prosecutor, I am committed to protecting South Carolina's children and giving them a voice. Last month, my office helped host the annual Children's Advocacy Day at the Statehouse and stood with legislators to discuss the need for greater protections for our most vulnerable children – those who are victims of abuse and neglect.
Over the past year, the Silent Tears initiative conducted the nation's first child sexual abuse statewide needs assessment. This process included talking with key stakeholders and identifying representative counties, conducting face-to-face interviews with more than 200 child protection professionals across South Carolina, and distributing a statewide survey to more than 400 professionals. The report's findings will be comprehensive, including reforms to undergraduate and graduate programs, frontline professionals, court systems, forensic professionals, prevention programs, the faith-based community and more. Clearly, Silent Tears is a “best practices” model that should be replicated across the United States.
I look forward to joining U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, S.C. Rep. Bruce Bannister, Victor Veith and the Castellanis on May 28 for the release of the Silent Tears official report and a presentation of its findings and recommendations. This will showcase how government can work with the private sector to give our children a voice.
The Silent Tears study provides South Carolina with an opportunity to be a leader in eradicating child abuse. This is an issue that has no boundaries or lines. It affects all South Carolinians regardless of race, creed, religion, ideology or means. Therefore, we must all come together to engage policy makers, community leaders, child care professionals and parents throughout our state.
Our children are South Carolina's most vital resource and our future. We all share in the problem of child abuse, so we must all share in the solution. I hope you will find the time to become involved in the Silent Tears initiative and take part in protecting the future of our state. Join us as we work together to end child sexual abuse.
Wilson is South Carolina attorney general.