It's time to plan to end child abuse
by David STOEFFLER
Most of us have a hard enough time making a plan for the next year – so it's difficult to imagine making a plan that might need to span two or three generations.
Yet, because child abuse and neglect are cyclical diseases – as hereditary as diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers – we cannot afford to wait to begin to attack the problem.
Unlike the search for the cause of cancer, though, we know the basic cause of child abuse and neglect: People parent the way they were parented. Oftentimes, the abusers do not understand that what they are doing is wrong.
It may be in part because we understand the causes that we find ourselves somewhat paralyzed to act, particularly in an area like the Ozarks, where governmental solutions are automatically considered suspect and people share a general attitude of “you mind your business and I'll mind mine.”
Take for example the case last fall involving a young mother charged with child endangerment after police found three children playing outside wearing only diapers. Police said the children were filthy, the house was unusually dirty and noted food was left on the porch of the home, like the children were “domestic animals.”
The mother, who was 20 at the time, denied the allegations of food and trash everywhere. The mother, her mother and grandfather all denied she was a bad mother.
Of course, local child advocates and community leaders have been trying to address these issues for many years. And we should take heart some progress has been made, such as the launch of Isabel's House, a crisis nursery that temporarily cares for children when parents are under stress or unable to properly care for a child.
“My God, imagine how much worse it would be,” said Denise Bredfeldt, executive director of the Mayor's Commission for Children, reflecting on recent efforts to raise awareness and develop new services.
Still, as you'll read in a story on the front page today, Bredfeldt and other members of the News-Leader's Every Child Community Advisory Committee struggled last week to identify practical next steps.
Participants agreed education and awareness are important. Among other similar comments, Police Chief Paul Williams said as a result of our ongoing series: “We've kicked the door open and turned the light on.”
Added Annie Busch, an active community volunteer and former director of the Springfield-Greene County Library District: “It's a cultural change, and part of that is the community being aware of that and saying ‘This is not acceptable.' ”
Bredfeldt suggested perhaps it is time to follow up on initiatives discussed in the wake of a 2007 conference organized by the Greene County prosecutor's office — ideas such as expanded training for mandated reporters and investigators, or further development of the Ambassadors for Children porogram run through the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. The keynote speaker was Victor Vieth, executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center located at Winona (Minn.) State University. Vieth is known in child advocacy circles for his plan to end child abuse in 120 years.
That's not a typo — it's a 120-year plan, of which the first 40 are perhaps the most critical. Vieth is returning to Springfield March 7.
As it happens, that 2007 conference coincided with another major News-Leader project that devoted substantial space and attention to child abuse.
Here we are, five years later, without a clear plan — or really even a general outline — of how to attack this insidious problem that threatens our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It's hard to imagine writing a plan to span two or three generations. But can we afford to wait another five years before getting it started?
Sex Abuse Often Not Reported
Officials and victim advocates say a silver lining in the high-profile child sex abuse scandal involving a former Penn State football coach is that more people are now coming forward about the historically underreported crime.
Cases often aren't investigated because victims are hesitant to report the offenses and adults who suspect a child is being abused don't know what to do, experts say.
"I think it is underreported, and I think it always will be," said Capt. Kathi Rhodes, director of the Montgomery County police's family crimes division. She said children are often pressured not to tell, or are too embarrassed.
Boys often believe they should have been able to fight off their abuser, said Curtis St. John, past president of Male Survivor.
Another difficulty is that cases require children to make reports about someone close to them. In Alexandria, 95 percent of alleged perpetrators "know the child, and know the child very well," said Giselle Pelaez, executive director of the Center for Alexandria's Children.
Even those who seek help don't always pursue criminal charges. Just 50 percent of people who sought all types of sexual violence crisis services in Virginia in 2010 had reported the incident to law enforcement, according to a recent report to the state's General Assembly.
David Lisak, a founding board member of 1in6, said the outrage the public has expressed toward Jerry Sandusky and officials who didn't contact authorities has reassured victims, one upside of fallout from the scandal.
"That outrage is not being focused on them, it's being focused on the people who perpetrated this," he said. "For many of them, that's a novel idea." - Emily Babay
Answers sought for child abuse in Springfield, Greene County
by Kathryn Wall
It seemed unanimous: the work the News-Leader has done so far on children's safety issues in the Ozarks has at least raised awareness.
But even as members of the advisory group for the Every Child project saw this as a positive, there were underlying concerns:
Would creating more public awareness overload the already-burdened child welfare system?
What about solutions?
The News-Leader launched the Every Child Project in January. Thus far, in addition to numerous stories about issues, the series has emphasized the safety problems for children by including an excerpt from court documents involving child victims on the front page of the newspaper every day in January.
There have also been extensive stories on subjects such as domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect.
“When people were reading the whole series from around Springfield, they were asking, ‘Why are they reporting such negative stuff?' but that opened the dialogue of this is the new world we're living in,” said adviser Francine Pratt, executive director of Isabel's House, a local crisis nursery.
Several of the advisory group members reported hearing from many in the community who want to address the problem.
“People see this is a very dark part of our culture, but at the same time, they want to mobilize,” said Sandy Howard, vice president of public affairs at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
Police Chief Paul Williams expressed a similar view.
“We've kicked the door open and turned the light on,” Williams said.
“Now what do we do?”
To that question, no one seemed to have a solid answer.
“It's a cultural change, and part of that is the community being aware of that and saying ‘This is not acceptable,'” said Annie Busch, a community volunteer.
“We have a culture in the Ozarks of a male-dominated society. You don't change that overnight. You don't switch a button.”
Greene County Commissioner Roseann Bentley said there's not just one answer to fix the myriad of problems.
“It's not one giant solution,” Bentley said. “It's just every little entity out there seeing how we can find people to help.”
Child sex-abuse scandal in Australia's Jewish community spills into U.S.
Members of the Australian Jewish community say suspected child molesters ended up in the United States after community leaders failed to report them to law-enforcement authorities.
by Paul Berger
A child sex abuse scandal in Australia's Jewish community has spilled into America, as a pending extradition, arrests in Australia and a slew of cover-up allegations put that community's response to molestation under scrutiny.
Australian police are seeking to extradite convicted child molester David Kramer, currently in jail in Farmington, Mo., on suspicion of having abused children at a Chabad school in Melbourne during the 1990s.
Kramer, who was reportedly spirited out of Australia by one of Melbourne's Chabad leaders following abuse allegations, is halfway through a seven-year prison sentence for sodomizing a 12-year-old boy in St. Louis.
According to members of the Australian community, he is not the only molester to end up in the United States after Australian community leaders failed to report them to legal authorities. Other molesters fled the country more recently as suspicion of abuse fell on them, community members say.
The Forward has learned that at least two suspected molesters from the Australian Jewish community are living in the United States while they are under investigation in Australia.
Meanwhile, Manny Waks, a former vice president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, accused an Australian living in New York of molesting him when he was a boy.
Waks, 35, who has been the catalyst for revelations about the Melbourne abuse scandal, told the Forward he was molested by Velvel Serebryanski, son of a prominent Chabad rabbi, at two Melbourne synagogues during the late 1980s.
Serebryanski, who goes by the name Zev Sero in New York, did not deny the allegations when a Forward reporter asked him about them at his Brooklyn home.
Serebryanski, 47, declined to speak on the record about the allegations. His father, Rabbi Aaron Serebryanski, is one of Chabad's principal emissaries to Australia.
Waks claims that Serebryanski molested him on several occasions, including when he went to lie down during an all-night Shavuot study session in a synagogue at Melbourne's Yeshivah Centre, a Chabad institution.
Waks said Serebryanski began to molest him in the synagogue and then said: “This isn't for a place of worship. Let's go outside.”
According to Waks, who was about 12 at the time, Serebryanski then led him into a nearby restroom.
The charges are contained in a police report that Waks filed in 1996.
In that same report, Waks details how he was also abused by David Cyprys, a Melbourne karate instructor.
Cyprys is about to stand trial in Australia on dozens of sex charges related to the abuse of 11 boys.
During a magistrates court hearing in Melbourne last year, Detective Senior Constable Lisa Metcher “accused members of the Yeshivah community of lying to police and trying to cover up sex abuse claims,” according to The Age, an Australian newspaper.
”They failed to act in any way to protect children,” the newspaper stated that Metcher told the court.
Waks went public last year with accusations that he was repeatedly molested while attending the Yeshivah Centre's boys school, Yeshivah College.
His call for other victims to come forward shattered decades of denial. Press reports related how Victoria state police were inundated with testimony from young men who said they were abused.
Australian police are currently investigating more than a dozen Orthodox individuals suspected of child abuse in Australia, according to Joel Berman, a Los Angeles activist who has been in touch with detectives on aspects of the cases in the United States.
Berman said two people under investigation are currently in the United States. Police declined to speak to the Forward.
Many of the charges relate to the 1980s and '90s, a time when rabbis in a number of Orthodox communities appear to have dealt with abuse by either turning a blind eye or throwing molesters out of the community.
At the center of the controversy is Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the former head of the Yeshivah Centre.
Waks and other victims and their families claim they alerted Groner about abusers many times, but he failed to act.
In 1991, a child brought allegations of abuse against Cyprys. The following year, Cyprys pleaded guilty to a sexual offense and was fined, but Chabad officials allowed him to remain at the school, where he worked as a security guard until recently.
Waks said he confronted Groner about Cyprys in 1996 and in 2000, but Groner continued to allow him to work for the center. Groner died in 2008.
Even one of Groner's defenders, Pini Althaus, said the rabbi threatened to report suspected abusers to the authorities — unless they moved elsewhere.
Althaus, a Brooklyn Chabad member whose father is a Yeshivah Centre trustee, stated in a comment posted on the VozIzNeias blog: “In the case of two American citizens who acted inappropriately, Rabbi Groner gave them the choice to leave the country immediately or face criminal action. In retrospect, perhaps the latter would have been more appropriate; however, this was not the ‘culture' at that time, to masser or turn someone in to the authorities.”
Yaakov Wolf, an Australian who says Cyprys molested him and who now lives in Los Angeles, said of members of the yeshiva community: “They take these people and think they've done their job by sending them off to another community that hasn't heard about them, and that's what they've done for years.
“They end up sending them to another community, so basically they are throwing their problem onto somebody else.”
The identities of the two American citizens to whom Althaus referred are unclear. Kramer came from a Chabad community in the United States, but a spokesman at Farmington Correctional Center declined to confirm his citizenship.
Althaus declined to speak on the record to the Forward.
Meanwhile, a former Yeshivah College teacher told the Forward that the school failed to act on another occasion, too. In this case, the alleged perpetrator, who also subsequently moved to the United States, was a student.
During the early 1980s, the student, then aged 16 or 17, “took advantage” of a boy several years younger, the former faculty member told the Forward. He said the school refused to expel the abusive student.
“The parents of the abused boy were so horrified that the school would not expel him,” the former Yeshivah College teacher said, “that they ended up taking their son, as well as their two other younger boys, who were in the primary school, out of yeshiva and to another, less frum [observant] school.”
That alleged abuser was Mordechai Yomtov, who, almost 20 years later, was arrested in Los Angeles on charges of sexually abusing three boys at Cheder Menachem, a Chabad school.
In 2001, Yomtov pleaded guilty to molesting the boys, aged between 8 and 10. He served one year in prison and was required to register as a sex offender.
Yomtov has been in violation of sex offender registration requirements since March 2003, according to the website of the California Attorney General's Office. A spokesman for Attorney General Kamala Harris did not respond to requests for clarification on Yomtov's whereabouts.
The former Yeshivah College teacher, who did not wish to be named, said he also voiced concerns about Kramer to the school, but no one would listen.
Rabbi Avrohom Glick of Yeshivah College, who is a former principal and still teaches at the school, did not return calls for comment. Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler, the current principal of Yeshivah College, did not respond to calls and emails for comment. Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Groner, head of the Yeshivah Centre, did not respond to questions sent via email.
Rabbi Zvi Telsner, leader of the Yeshivah Centre synagogue and son-in-law of Yitzchok Dovid Groner, said he could not answer any questions about past events because they occurred before his time. “I wasn't here,” Telsner said. “I have no idea what happened.”
Melbourne parents say they do know what happened.
One mother told The Weekend Australian newspaper that when she informed the school that Kramer, a Jewish studies teacher at Yeshivah College, was abusing her child, she was referred for counseling.
The Weekend Australian reported that after the allegations surfaced, Kramer “was flown to Israel at the school's expense.” Harry Cooper, a former executive at Yeshivah College, told the newspaper: “At the request of the parents, we shipped him off. I remember it vividly.”
Kramer eventually made his way back to the United States and settled in St. Louis.
He became a volunteer youth leader at an Orthodox synagogue, Nusach Hari B'nai Zion.
The congregation's rabbi, Ze'ev Smason, said Kramer was a “very attractive, dynamic fellow” who won over parents and their children. Then, one day, parents came to Smason with allegations of abuse.
“When the question was one of safety for children who might come in contact with him, he was immediately reported,” Smason said.
In July 2008, Kramer was sentenced to seven years in jail. He is eligible for parole this April. As soon as he is free, police intend to extradite him to Australia to stand trial, Australian media have reported.
Detectives traveled to the United States last year to gather evidence for this and other investigations, the Forward has learned.
Smason said he was glad he had persuaded at least one victim to report Kramer's abuse in St. Louis. But, he added, there is still a reticence in the Orthodox Jewish community to speak to law enforcement.
Smason said he knows of another molester in the city, but he cannot persuade victims to contact police.
Sexual abuse is difficult enough for many victims to report, but Orthodox Jewish survivors and their families often find it much harder, because of the tight-knit nature of their communities and because of concerns that they are violating religious laws such as mesirah, which prohibits reporting on a fellow Jew to secular authorities. Many are also worried about committing a chilul Hashem, a desecration of God's name.
Some Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, organizations, such as Agudath Israel of America, still instruct people that unless one has direct knowledge of abuse, such as being a victim himself or herself or personally witnessing such an incident, that person must consult a rabbi before reporting suspicions to the authorities.
Chabad institutions have taken a more liberal approach. A beit din, or religious court, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn issued a ruling around the time that the Melbourne scandal broke, telling followers who suspect abuse that they are not violating religious laws by reporting their suspicions to the police.
Nevertheless, many survivors and their families fear being kicked out of synagogues and schools, or ruining marriage opportunities because of the taint of an abuse allegation.
Smason said people are often reticent to report because they don't want to sully Judaism's name, “not realizing that the ultimate chilul Hashem is that these things are kept quiet — and in the process, individuals bounce from community to community.”
Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, immediate past president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, said rabbis' approach to disclosures of sexual abuse has “definitely changed for the better in recent years.” But Kluwgant added that there has been no attempt to cover up abuse in Australia and that the rabbinate there is committed to addressing the issue.
“A lot [of abuse accusations are] based on rumor and innuendo, unless they're proven in a court of law,” Kluwgant added. “I could tell you lots of lashon hara [evil talk].”
Amberly's Place plans thrift store
by DARIN FENGER
Helping women and children in crisis will soon be as easy as shopping for bargains.
Amberly's Place plans to open a thrift store in Yuma that won't stop at offering good deals on great stuff. The nonprofit venture will also generate emergency funds for abuse victims needing everything from a new change of clothes to help with a utility bill.
Amberly's Place serves child and adult clients who are victims of child abuse, domestic abuse and elder abuse. Services were provided to 2,070 victims last year.
Grants provide the funding for most of the organization's services, however those grants stipulate that items meeting victims' emergency needs must come from another source.
“We've raised money through fundraisers in the past, but if we don't have the money, it just doesn't happen and that makes it tough,” said Diane Umphress, executive director of Amberly's Place. “Other agencies we've worked with in the past for needs have had their own funding sources dry up. So this thrift store is going to really help.”
Amberly's Place operated a thrift store at a swap meet last year, but simply needed a bigger operation.
The new shop will be located near the corner of Avenue A and 8th Street at 812 Avenue A.
A soft opening is planned for Tuesday, Feb. 28, followed by a grand opening from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 3.
The store's hours will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.
Clients of Amberly's Place won't just benefit from the store's funding, but the bounty of its donations, too. Umphress explained that clients will also shop there — for free, of course — and in an environment free of stigma or judgement.
“No one will be able to tell who is a victim and who is a customer,” she proudly. “We want to create a store that is warm and welcoming for everyone. We want to help victims go from being victims to being survivors.”
Umphress said victims often have emergency needs for medicine, school supplies for their children or help getting their locks changed.
“Or maybe she needs a bus ticket to get home to her family. Or her tires have been slashed in an act or violence or their windows have been smashed or door kicked in,” Umphress said. “The needs are endless. They are usually small needs, but when you have 2,000 people with small needs, that's a lot of needs.”
Keeping supplies on hand doesn't work for Amberly's Place given the realities of storage space. That's why funds from a thrift store provide such an attractive option.
“People are very generous and have donated some very high quality items. This store is going to be a bit different than shops we have around, a bit more unique,” Umphress said. “Plus there is always going to be new stuff coming into the store. We're also going to restock it on a weekly basis.”
People wanting to make donations can reach the store by calling 329-2989. That's also the number for people to call if people are interested in volunteering at the new thrift store.
Don't blame the victims of human trafficking
by Diane Yarus
February 18, 2012
This past week, citizens across Montana held their breath and prayed for a young girl whose disappearance triggered an Amber Alert.
I am so proud and thankful for our local and national law enforcement's quick and coordinated efforts. The relief I felt at the news of her recovery brought tears to my eyes. But my elation quickly turned to sorrow as I read comments online by uninformed citizens that wanted to “blame” the young victim and her family for the calculated criminal activities of the men arrested by the FBI.
There is a lesson here, no doubt, that parents need to learn how to track their children's activities online, and our young people need to be formally educated about the real dangers that linger there. But the blame in this case and thousands just like it falls completely, totally, and irrevocably on the shoulders of the men who manipulated and exploited the vulnerabilities of a 12-year-old girl.
While the investigation in this particular case continues, let me tell you that this is an all too familiar scenario. The fastest growing crime across our nation is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking; quite simply, the sexual exploitation of our young people for profit.
As a member of Soroptimist International, I have been part of a movement to learn more about this crime and ways our communities can mobilize to stop it. Over the past year, a group represented by law enforcement, legal professionals, victim advocates, community health workers and youth advocates have been meeting to address this issue in our area. We call ourselves the Flathead Coalition against Human Trafficking. Our efforts to date have focused on bringing Shared Hope International's training, “Do You Know Lacy,”to Northwest Montana.
This daylong training is scheduled for April 26 at the Flathead Valley Community College. We invite and encourage law enforcement, social service providers and concerned citizens from across the state, from Billings to Libby, to take advantage of this nationally recognized training opportunity. Registration is open now online at www.doyouknowlacy.com.
Soroptimist International of Kalispell has also purchased the licensing rights to show a documentary about Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking called “Sex + Money: A National Search for Human Worth,” throughout Montana for the next 12 months. Our first screenings will be Feb. 23 and 24 at Flathead Valley Community College. If you are interested in bringing this movie to your community, email me at SIKalispell@soroptimist.net.
Do your part to learn more and please refrain from blaming the victims of these crimes. It is so damaging to the healing process and distracts from our efforts to fully bring to justice the true perpetrators of these crimes.
Diane Yarus is president of Soroptimist International in Kalispell.
Boy Scouts sued in sexual abuse case
A Santa Barbara County boy was sexually abused by his Scout leader in 2007. A judge overseeing the lawsuit brought by the boy's family has ordered the Boy Scouts to hand over confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders around the nation.
By Kim Christensen, Los Angeles Times
February 19, 2012
The mother of a Santa Barbara County teenager says he was wronged twice — once by the 450-pound Boy Scout leader who sexually abused him in 2007, and then by a local Scouts executive who she says told her not to call police.
"He said that wasn't necessary, because the Scouts do their own internal investigation," said the woman, whose name The Times is withholding to protect her son's identity. "I thought that was really weird.... I thought it was really important to call the sheriff right away."
So she did, triggering an investigation of volunteer Scout leader Al Steven Stein, then 29, who was charged with abusing her 92-pound son and two other boys. In 2009, he pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment. He was put on probation but later went to prison after authorities found pictures of nude children on his cellphone data card.
Stein's criminal case is closed. But its fallout is far from over for the boy, who is now 17 and, according to his mother, so traumatized by the ordeal that he seldom leaves the house.
Nor is it over for the Boy Scouts of America, which is being sued by the boy's family for negligence in a case whose ramifications could reach well beyond Santa Barbara.
The lawsuit contends the Scouts knew or should have known that Stein had put the boy at risk and cites the executive's reluctance to call police as evidence of an effort to conceal widespread sexual abuse.
In addition to unspecified damages, the lawsuit seeks to force the Scouts to hand over thousands of confidential files detailing allegations of sexual abuse by Scout leaders and others around the nation. It contends the files will expose the Scouts' "culture of hidden sexual abuse" and its failure to warn boys, their parents and others about the "pedophilic wolves" who have long infiltrated one of America's oldest youth organizations.
In January, after reviewing some of the files, a Santa Barbara Superior Court judge rejected the Scouts' argument that the documents are irrelevant to the lawsuit and ordered the organization to turn over the most recent 20 years' worth of records to the boy's lawyers by Feb. 24, with victims' names removed. The judge ordered the lawyers not to disclose the files publicly.
Known as "ineligible volunteer files," the documents have been maintained since the 1920s and are intended to keep suspected molesters and others accused of misconduct out of Scouting. Scouts officials have steadfastly resisted releasing them and won't discuss their contents, citing the privacy rights of victims and the fact that many files are based on unproven allegations.
They strenuously dispute that the files have been used to conceal sexual abuse.
"These files exist solely to keep out individuals whose actions are inconsistent with the standards of Scouting, and Scouts are safer because of them," said Deron Smith, public relations director of Boy Scouts of America.
Some of the estimated 5,000 files have surfaced in recent years as a result of lawsuits by former Scouts accusing the organization of failing to exclude known pedophiles, detect abuses and report offenders to police, allowing predators to remain at large.
"They have created these ticking time bombs who are walking through society and nobody knows their identities except the Scouts," said Timothy Hale, one of the lawyers for the Santa Barbara County boy.
The Oregon Supreme Court is considering a petition by media organizations in one case to release files for a 20-year period ending in 1985.
The Santa Barbara case is significant because it seeks to unlock files that have never been turned over by the Scouts, including all since 2005. It is also noteworthy because it alleges wrongdoing that took place relatively recently, even as the Scouts have stepped up protective efforts.
According to the lawsuit, Stein had a history of inappropriate behavior with children he'd met through Scouting, including "making sexual jokes and comments" in front of Scouts and in some cases pulling down their pants. In November 2007, he abused the Santa Barbara County boy, who was 13 at the time.
"Stein used his 450 pounds to pin the boy with sufficient force to cause bruising, ripped the boy's pants down to the point the boy suffered a laceration at his belt line, and then fondled the boy's genitals while commenting on them," the lawsuit states.
When the boy told his mother about the abuse a few days later, she said, she called the Scouts' offices to report it and spoke with David Tate, then the Los Padres Council scout executive. She said Tate initially tried to talk her out of calling the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department and relented only when she insisted.
Tate, now a top Scouts official in New York, declined to comment. Messages left for his lawyer and the Scouts' attorney in the lawsuit were fielded by Smith, who issued a prepared statement detailing the Scouts' efforts to curb sexual abuse.
In the last decade, the organization has among other things expanded its sexual abuse prevention training and reporting. In 2010, the Scouts set a national policy requiring any suspicion of abuse to be immediately reported to law enforcement, Smith said.
Before that, volunteers and professionals followed state laws on reporting abuse, Smith said. The California penal code lists youth organization administrators and employees as mandated reporters.
In early 2008, Stein was charged with a felony, committing a lewd act upon a child, and two misdemeanors including child pornography for photographs he took of a boy's genitals. Two of the victims were Scouts; the third was the son of a family friend.
Stein struck a deal to plead no contest to felony child endangerment and one misdemeanor. He was placed on five years' probation but violated it by having the photos of nude children on his cellphone card. He was sentenced to two years in prison but was paroled early and has been in no trouble since, said Steven Balash, his attorney in the criminal case and the lawsuit.
Balash said Stein is "a sad case," living on Social Security disability payments in a Salinas motel with other sex offenders. He said that Stein is not a threat to anyone and that his crimes were relatively minor.
"Al is probably at the way far end of having done anything serious," Balash said, questioning the merits of the civil suit. "I don't know where the damages are."
But the boy's mother said her son has been deeply affected, in part because other families from the troop accused him of lying or "hallucinating" about the abuse. He refuses to go out in public and is now tutored at home, she said.
"He's not the person he was before," she said.
Soul Survivor: Craig woman's journey beyond abuse
by Joshua Roberts
Wanna play a game?
The 8-year-old second-grade girl was in the living room of her Craig home, killing time watching television on a lazy day.
She was with her stepfather, “Jody.” They were alone.
The girl looked up from the TV.
She didn't know certain things then.
She didn't know this moment would be a flashpoint, the beginning of eight years of emotional and physical trauma.
She didn't know this incident, and many to follow, would be the root of deep, scarring wounds, and the fallout would be random attacks of anger and depression.
She didn't know, years long from this day, lying next to her husband, young daughter nearby, she'd be shocked awake by nightmares of her abuser in the room while her family slept.
She didn't know she'd need therapy and a courtroom to heal where and what she could, that one day she'd recount the worst moments of her life to a judge, attorneys and a jury — strangers all of them — as well as friends and family, and Jody.
She didn't know people would label her victim when survivor is the reality.
She didn't know these things, and so many more.
OK, she said to Jody, who she thought was “nice and goofy” and someone who “acted like a kid most of the time.”
“That was the initiation, I guess, if you want to call it that,” said Amber Hampton, now 24, a mother, wife and full-time nursing student.
The world then slipped into darkness.
That's when Jody, or Cyril Joseph Lenahan, IV, as he's listed in Moffat County court records, tied the long white tube sock over her eyes, blindfolding her, asking her to touch things, his idea of a game under way.
For everything 8-year-old Amber didn't know when the abuse started, adult Amber had to learn.
The healing process, or as close to healing as she can get, hasn't been easy, a bridge not fully crossed.
Jody's “game,” she said, lasted somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour the first time.
“As the ‘game' progressed, I was uncomfortable and knew I didn't like it,” she said. “I knew something was wrong.”
She escaped the situation by telling her stepfather she needed to do her homework. Amber said she was abused two or three more times before she spoke out and told her mother what was happening.
The revelation didn't bring an end to the criminal acts, as she'd hoped.
She said her mother “didn't know what to think,” and confronted her husband with Amber in the room.
Jody, Amber concedes, manipulated the situation, tearfully claiming innocence and that he'd never hurt his stepdaughter.
“The (phrase) overactive imagination was applied,” Amber said. “My response then was to stop talking about it. … I was the typical abused child no one saw.”
Jody's abuse, Amber said, came in patterns, fragments here and there of opportunism, through her elementary and middle school years, ending sometime when she was 16 or 17.
She said she told her mother two or three times over the years about what Jody was doing, and she was rebuffed at each turn.
Today, the relationship with her mother is solid, Amber said. Her mother testified on her behalf at Jody's trial, and the two speak and see each other frequently.
Still, there's lingering pain, Amber said, residue from telling the truth and being left unprotected.
“There will always be just a little bit of that little girl saying, ‘Why didn't you believe me?'” she said.
In 2008, after struggles in her relationship with longtime boyfriend and now husband, Bryan Hampton, Amber reached out for help.
She began seeing a therapist in Craig, trying to reconcile what happened to her. She suffered from dark bouts of depression and panic attacks that sometimes lasted as long as two hours.
When the abuse surfaced in therapy, Amber said her therapist reported it to authorities. The health care professional diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Amber said she'd have flashbacks of the abuse and recurring nightmares of “waking up to (Jody) standing in the doorway,” or being with her family “trapped in this home with an evil witch.”
“It was just that fear of him,” said Amber, who decided to speak to authorities about the abuse, confronting a past that couldn't stay buried.
Her motivation, she said, wasn't revenge.
“I'm not a spiteful person,” Amber said. “I don't like seeing other people hurt. But, at the end of the day, he chose it — to be an adult and inflict that upon an 8-year-old. At the end of the day, he made that decision.
“I made the decision to stand up for myself and protect others.”
ryan, 27, is a reserved and soft-spoken mechanic at Twentymile Coal Co.
He's been with Amber since she was in high school, they married in 2006 and have a 4-year-old daughter, Brylee.
His love for wife and daughter is apparent.
“She's a caring person,” he said of Amber. “She tries to make everyone happy. She'd do anything for anybody.”
Of Brylee: “(I) get home from work and her eyes light up,” he said of his daughter. “That's the coolest thing in the world.”
But Amber and Bryan's relationship hasn't always been storybook. The abuse his wife suffered has affected Bryan, too.
He said he's known about the abuse for years, having seen inappropriate touching and comments from Jody to Amber several times. He said he was asked to keep quiet and do nothing.
Bryan said their relationship was strained at times by Amber's anxiety and wild and unpredictable mood swings that could last for days.
After Brylee was born, he said, Amber was overprotective and panicked when she and Brylee weren't in the same room.
For a while, “we thought we could put (the abuse) behind us,” he said.
But realistically, he wonders if that can ever happen.
Even today, with the trial come and gone, Lenahan in prison, and joint therapy sessions under their belt, life is better, but Bryan doesn't believe there will ever be enough distance between now and the past.
“It's over, it's done,” he said. “But really, it's not. I don't know if it will ever be over.”
T he Lenahan prosecution was complicated for various reasons, said Jon Pfeifer, Moffat County deputy district attorney, who handled the case with 14th Judicial District Attorney Elizabeth Oldham in Moffat County District Court.
The investigation began in 2008 and passed through several investigators and prosecutors before going to trial in September 2011.
The case included 15 to 20 witnesses for the prosecution, including two expert witnesses, a week of morning-to-night preparation the week before, and numerous hours and resources leading to trial.
Lenahan maintained his innocence to the four offenses he was charged with.
A Moffat County jury found him guilty on three of four counts: sexual assault of a child, a Class 3 felony; sexual assault of a child, a Class 4 felony; and sexual assault of a child by someone in a position of trust, also a Class 4 felony.
The jury acquitted him of the third count, sexual assault of a child by someone in a position of trust, a Class 3 felony.
Lenahan, 44, was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, and is currently at the Colorado Department of Corrections' Denver Reception and Diagnostic Center, according to DOC records.
“It's probably one of the more significant (cases) I've tried,” Pfeifer said.
Amber credits Pfeifer, Oldham and Jen Kenney, an investigator with the Craig Police Department, for the successful prosecution.
Both Pfeifer and Kenney are equally complimentary of Amber for her bravery in overcoming hardships.
“She was always very sincere,” said Kenney, a veteran police detective. “She wasn't vindictive. She wanted justice. She wanted to be believed.”
“I think Amber has progressed a lot through the issues she's had to where she can now speak about what happened to her without being devastated by reliving it,” Pfeifer said. “I think that's remarkable.”
Both the prosecutor and police detective were pleased when the jury returned its' verdict. Not for themselves, they said, but for Amber.
“I was happy for her,” Pfeifer said. “I felt a sense of accomplishment that we presented to the jury in a way they felt comfortable returning a guilty verdict.”
“Relief for Amber,” Kenney said of her reaction. “I honestly hoped that would get her over the edge, that she was no longer a victim, that she was a survivor of this.”
T alk to Amber today and she'll give you an honest and straight-forward account of the past, and her hopes for the future.
She and Bryan want to have another child someday.
Things aren't always great, they said. Their marriage, like many unions, is complicated, but they're happy together and with Brylee.
Amber works part-time as a licensed practical nurse at Sandrock Ridge Care & Rehab and a certified nursing assistant at The Memorial Hospital in Craig.
She'll graduate from Colorado Northwestern Community College's nursing program in May.
Bryan said they've talked about a move to Vernal, Utah, someday, but the future is uncertain and they're willing to take things as they happen.
Earlier this month, following Lenahan's sentencing, Amber spoke to the Craig Daily Press about her reasons for coming forward.
She said facing Lenahan and what he did wasn't about him spending years of his life in prison.
“My biggest reason for doing this is so that other women will have the courage to step forward, no matter how long it has been, and that the justice system will work for them,” she said.
“The sentencing was not as important to me as the fact that 12 people found him guilty because I went through my entire life without anyone believing me.”
And with that, Jody's “game” came to an end, him leaving the courtroom in custody, and Amber moving another step forward as someone who overcame his acts rather than someone defined by them.
DA informs school workers on child abuse
by Annie Siebert
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. spoke Friday morning to "the most trusted people in kids' lives" -- teachers, administrators and other staff from the Woodland Hills School District -- about the importance of reporting child abuse promptly and following the district's policy and the state's laws.
In the wake of child sex abuse charges against a former Penn State University assistant football coach, Allegheny County officials are trying to ensure that schools and other institutions know the law and have policies in place for reporting suspected abuse.
"Any time that you believe a child is being hurt or abused, you must contact law enforcement," Mr. Zappala said.
The district attorney's office plans to talk to people who work in health care and education and visit at least 10 schools during in-service days to reiterate the mandatory reporting requirements for suspected child abuse; another presentation was planned in the Shaler Area School District Friday afternoon.
Assistant District Attorney Kevin McCarthy reminded teachers that it is a crime to fail to report suspected child abuse -- which includes crimes from rape to neglect -- and whistle-blower provisions exist to protect teachers and administrators from lawsuits.
"You have contact with children on a daily basis; you see them day in and day out, week in and week out, month after month," he said. "You see changes in their behavior, their physical appearance, their condition. You recognize, or at least you should, those signs of neglect."
Failure to report child abuse is a third-degree misdemeanor on the first offense, and a second-degree misdemeanor on the second and subsequent offenses, Mr. McCarthy said, and both crimes could be punished with jail time.
He added that the state Legislature -- in response to the scandal at Penn State -- is working to "severely increase" penalties for those who fail to report suspected child abuse.
The district attorney's office contacted Woodland Hills officials and asked if they'd be interested in the presentation, according to assistant superintendent Alan Johnson.
The district has a person in every building who is in charge of reporting suspected abuse to police, Mr. Johnson said, adding that the district doesn't have an unusually high number of suspected child abuse cases, and because they're so infrequent, the policies are often forgotten.
"We don't have them any more than anyone else does," he said. "When they do happen, it's always a very problematic situation. We get lots of questions: Who's the official? Who's to deal with this?"
Teachers asked several questions regarding which authority they should contact -- Children, Youth and Families, local police or county police -- in cases of suspected child abuse, and several said they felt CYF didn't handle situations appropriately.
Mr. Johnson said it's often an issue in Woodland Hills because the district spans 12 municipalities.
"In the space of one bus run you can pass through four municipalities," he said.
But Deputy District Attorney Laura Ditka reiterated that the most important thing is to report suspected abuse to the designated person in the school building and call the police, adding that smaller police forces often defer to county police in cases of child abuse.
And if all else fails, Ms. Ditka said, call the district attorney's office.
"If you're calling the police, and the police are deferring, and you think a child is at risk, you call me," she said. "I'll make whatever calls we need to make, and I'll get my staff to do whatever we need to do to try to ensure that child's safety."
Cascade County Attorney lobbies to reduce child abuse, neglect
WASHINGTON — Cascade County Attorney John Parker traveled to the nation's capital this week to lobby the state's congressional delegation to support efforts to reduce child abuse and neglect, according to a news release from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.
Parker and two other Montana law enforcement leaders offered their support for quality home visiting programs, which they said can reduce child abuse and neglect by as much as 50 percent while also cutting future crime and saving taxpayers millions of dollars over the long term.
Joining Parker on Capitol Hill were Stevensville Police Chief James Marble and Carbon County Attorney Alex Nixon. The trio met with Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Montana Democrats, and Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont..
Representing more than 70 Montana police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and crime survivors who belong to Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, the three law enforcement leaders told each legislator of the latest research showing that nearly 1,400 Montana children were victims of abuse or neglect in 2010. Nationally, one third of all victims of abuse are younger than age 4.
"The number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect in Montana is alarming, and these are only the reported cases," Parker said in a news release. "Many incidents go unreported. We are urging our members of Congress to support quality home visiting programs because research shows these programs are highly effective in reducing abuse and neglect in the home."
The law enforcement leaders also noted a study of one program model, the Nurse-Family Partnership program in upstate New York, which compared at-risk children whose mothers received visits with similar children whose families did not participate. Children in participating families were half as likely to be abused or neglected. Children in families that participated in the program also had half as many criminal convictions by age 19 as those in families who did not receive the visits.
In a separate study of a quality home visitation program, researchers found significantly fewer cases of childhood injury and child mortality among families who participated.
"Voluntary home visits for at-risk families can prevent many cases of abuse and neglect from ever occurring," Marble said. "These programs pair nurses or trained paraprofessionals with pregnant women and new parents to teach them how to meet their child's health and developmental needs. The programs help new parents cope with the stresses that inevitably come with raising a new child."
"We want to reduce abuse and neglect, not only because it poses an immediate threat to thousands of Montana children, but also because it contributes to future crime," Nixon said. "While most survivors of childhood abuse and neglect never become violent criminals, research has shown that approximately 29 percent more will become violent criminals than children without a history of abuse. Survivors are also more likely to abuse their own children, creating a cycle of violence that can span generations."
A 2011 report found that a Nurse-Family Partnership program produced almost $21,000 in net savings per family served, according to the Montana law enforcement leaders said.
"We want Congress to continue to make funding available for these worthy efforts," Parker said.
The trio also told the members of Congress that since the inception of the federal home visiting grant program in 2010, Montana has received nearly $5 million to implement and improve home visiting programs.
Chancellor Vows to Fire Those Guilty of Sexually Abusing Students
by DAVID W. CHEN
Hoping to quell anxiety after three members of the teaching staff were arrested and accused of sexual crimes involving students, Dennis M. Walcott, New York City's schools chancellor, ordered a review of all substantiated cases of misconduct dating back to 2000 on Friday and pledged to remove any teachers who had engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.
In two of the cases, the teacher or teacher's aide had been found to have acted inappropriately with students at previous schools, but had been able to transfer. Education officials acknowledged on Friday that they had failed to notify the principals of the new schools of the earlier accusations.
The developments came on a day when angry parents at Public School 174 in Rego Park, Queens, where the most recently arrested teacher worked, confronted Mr. Walcott during a tense two-hour meeting. And while Mr. Walcott tried to assure parents that the safety of their children was of paramount concern, the city's public advocate, Bill de Blasio, said in a letter to the chancellor that the city's overall response had been lacking.
“I do not understand how the existence of previous inappropriate conduct does not trigger automatic, ongoing oversight; the absence of such actions by the Department of Education suggests negligent oversight and a failure of accountability,” he wrote.
Richard J. Condon, the special commissioner of investigation for the school system, said there were 66 substantiated cases involving a sexual allegation in 2011. But that number includes a broad range of cases, including sexual harassment of employees, and the Education Department could not immediately say how many had involved inappropriate behavior with students.
On Thursday, Wilbert Cortez, 49, a computer teacher at P.S. 174, was charged with sexually abusing two male students by touching their genitals and buttocks over their clothes. He was released on $50,000 bail on Thursday. He did not respond to a message left with the doorman of his apartment building in Queens on Friday. A lawyer for Mr. Cortez, Donald H. Vogelman, said his client — who, he said, had no criminal record — intended to fight the case in court. “In my experience,” Mr. Vogelman said, “if the Department of Education has credible evidence that a teacher is a danger to students, they remove that teacher from the classroom. In the year 2000, Mr. Cortez's case was fully investigated, and a determination was made to put him back in the classroom.”
The principal at P. S. 174 apparently did not know that Mr. Cortez had been found, in 1999 and 2000, to have slapped the buttocks of two students at another school.
Similarly, P. S. 87 on the Upper West Side accepted the transfer of a teacher's aide, Gregory Atkins, 56, unaware that he had been found to have had an inappropriate relationship with a student at another school in 2006, sending a boy gifts that included a jockstrap. In both Mr. Atkins's and Mr. Cortez's cases, the earlier episodes had not been considered criminal in nature at the time.
Mr. Atkins was arrested last week on sexual abuse charges; he is accused of inappropriately touching a P.S. 87 student after forcing him to undress.
In a letter to parents sent home with students on Friday, Mr. Walcott said that in the future, all principals and the Education Department's human resources staff would be able to see reports on any employee against whom misconduct allegations had been upheld.
Mr. Walcott also wrote that the department would review cases dating to 2000: “Thinking prospectively is not enough. That is why my staff will look back at substantiated cases of misconduct and take appropriate action where necessary to ensure the safety of our students.”
Asked to elaborate on the failure of the department to share information, Matthew Mittenthal, a department spokesman, said, “There is a system in place, but it highlights different kinds of information in different ways.”
For instance, he said, principals had access to a teacher's service history, rating history and information about a current suspension without pay. He added that principals were encouraged to contact a teacher's prior school and ask questions about performance.
But if discipline did not result in a suspension of pay or firing, Mr. Mittenthal added, the hiring principal might not know the teacher's full history. Principals will now have access to such information.
Ernest A. Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators, the principals' union, said the union “supports the chancellor for acting to ensure that appropriate action is taken against staff members with a record of sexual misconduct involving children.”
“A teacher with a proven history of sexual abuse against children,” he added, “should never be allowed in a classroom again.”
In the third arrest, Taleek Brooks, an aide at P. S. 243 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, was charged last month in federal court with violating child pornography laws. Officials said he had made videos of himself inappropriately touching students, possibly at the school. Mr. Brooks did not have a known history of inappropriate behavior.
During the meeting at P. S. 174 on Friday, Mr. Walcott was often interrupted by angry parents.
“There was a lot of emotion,” said Kevin Rodriguez, 39, the father of a third grader.
Leonard Shirman, whose two daughters were both students in Mr. Cortez's computer classes, said that he was not especially satisfied with Mr. Walcott's appearance.
“On a lot of questions, he didn't have answers,” he said. “I'm very surprised that in 2012 we still have breakdowns that allow this to occur.”
Miramonte Elementary School, an amusement park for pedophiles
by Jerome Elam
February 17, 2012
The serene exterior of Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles provides a false facade hiding a house of horrors where child sex abuse was part of the curriculum. Authorities charged two teachers, Mark Berndt and Martin Springer, of sexually abusing the students placed under their care by unsuspecting parents.
Parents in this largely Latino neighborhood are consumed with outrage over the sacrifice of their children's safety at the altar of silence. School officials knew for more than a year that authorities were investigating the activities of the two teachers, but told parents nothing.
Mark Berndt has been charged with committing lewd acts on 23 children between the ages of 6 and 10.
Authorities say he used students for twisted games of child pornography that included spoon-feeding semen to children. Martin Springer has been accused of fondling two seven-year old girls. The pair worked at Miramonte their entire career, Berndt since 1979 and Springer since 1986.
Last week, a female teacher has been implicated for supplying victims to Berndt. Reports state that she would take children from her class to Berndt.
Administrators closed the school for the past two days and replaced the entire staff of 128 people at the school. The school stated it would replace everyone with properly vetted personnel.
As a victim of childhood sexual abuse, I cannot dispel the anger I feel over the tragic nightmare these perpetrators saddled their innocent victims with for the rest of their lives.
As a child, I suffered physical and sexual abuse both at home and at the hands of my teachers. For the victim, the barriers to disclosing the horror of sexual abuse are immense.
As we have seen with Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State Scandal, pedophiles swim in the tidal pools of societies most respected figures.
Those who idolized Sandusky were pressured to keep quiet as to not harm the Penn State image; their silence conspired to mask his molestation of innocent children.
Background checks and references are a limited tool in screening out pedophiles, and counseling for victims will not “un-ring the bell” of childhood sexual molestation. Since the abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church hit the press, society has begun to slowly educate itself on the tragedy of childhood sexual abuse.
The Sandusky scandal has changed the tenor of that lesson into a crash course that has resonated around the world. Last year, the Dutch Catholic Church was gripped by scandal as allegations of childhood sexual abuse rocked its members. Each time abuse is revealed, the wall of silence begins to crumble more and humanity sails into uncharted waters, frantically searching for a map to navigate the horrible reality of childhood sexual abuse.
The teacher who molested me was someone who had mastered the art of both blending in and gaining the trust of a child. This monster-predator made sure no one would believe my allegations and when I did not meet his demands, he manipulated others, to punish me for acts I did not commit.
In my anger from the abuse I suffered, I often acted out at school and in my disobedience teachers labeled me a problem child, making it easier for my abuser to take advantage of me.
Children from dysfunctional families are easy targets for pedophiles and their hunting grounds are the sidewalks of America, where lonely children wander avoiding toxic parents. A lack of interest in a child's progress at school is a flag to those who prey on the weak of vulnerability.
My molestation ended when my perpetrator grew tired of me and moved on to another victim.
During the time I was being molested as a child, my hands were forever bloodied as I beat them against the “Wall of Silence.” In my desperation to escape the endless nightmare I was trapped within as a child, I spoke to those who I thought could bring an end to the abuse I was suffering.
What happened was just the opposite. In response to speaking out, I received death threats and was subjected to endless beatings, one of which led to three broken ribs at the age of ten. Doctors were not so inquisitive during that time, and a story of falling from a tree satisfied the curiosity of many who had the chance to save me from the hell I endured.
I never gave up hope and never let the child in me fall into to the abyss so many survivors have slipped into. I have had close friends, both men and women, lost to a drug overdose or gun shot to the head when the pain of their abuse became too great to handle.
One Sunday morning after repeated attempts to contact a close female friend remained unanswered, I drove to her house to check on her. Opening the door, I could not prepare myself for what I would find.
Her father had molested her and we had met in a support group for survivors. We became fast friends in the platonic sense and supported each other during painful times in our lives. She had spent a great deal of time trying to get her father and her family to admit that her abuse had occurred and that there is a result of such abuse.
Some victims feel an intense drive to reconnect with their families and want an admission of their victimization as a gateway to returning home. I am sad to say that in her case, as well as in many others, the family would have no part in the admission of guilt. My own family turned their backs on me so quickly I could feel the breeze when I confronted them about my abuse.
I felt a great deal of pain in their abandonment and it took a great deal of time for me to get past it
My friend was not so fortunate: she decided a bottle of pills was the only alternative to the pain her family inflicted. The image of her lying there will always haunt my mind but the memory of her wonderful sense of humor and undying friendship is one of the reasons I fight for victims today.
In the search to bring an end to the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse, there are no easy answers. There are, however, important steps to take. Education is a key factor and reaching out to parents, teachers, coaches, family members and anyone who has the responsibility of dealing with children is mandatory.
Changing legislation regarding the reporting of child sex abuse and lifting the statute of limitations on prosecuting Pedophiles is also vital. Survivors like Erin Merryn are working tirelessly towards these goals.
She is transforming the pain of her childhood into action, traveling around the country working with State legislators to help pass “Erin's Law.” That law would create a task force that would investigate modalities to reduce child sex abuse in that state. Organizations such as Stop Abusing Your Children started by Los Angeles based actress Stacy Asencio-Sutphen are educating the public on the dangers of child abuse and collaborating with other organizations in their effort to combat abuse.
The tragedy of child sex abuse sweeps across gender and race, religion and sexuality, and we all suffer the pain in our own way. Recent events have unified us into a collective voice to end childhood sexual abuse and educate society on how best to accomplish that goal.
Miramonte can serve as the Pearl Harbor in the war against child abuse that brings everyone into the fight or the loss of our Humanity. We can stand by and watch the future born in our children's eyes slip away like grains of sand through our fingers or find the determination and the means to change the future.
Miramonte teacher out on bail must wear ankle bracelet
A judge has denied a request by a Miramonte Elementary School teacher charged with fondling a student to have his ankle bracelet removed but did allow him to leave his home.
Martin Bernard Springer, 49, must also continue to stay away from schools and parks and cannot be alone with children or have contact with the victim or witnesses, the judge said Thursday.
Springer, 49, has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court April 16. He is currently free on $300,000 bail.
Springer was charged with three counts of committing lewd acts. He was arrested last week after two students at the school accused him of fondling them.
The charges involve one girl. A source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing, said one of two alleged victims had changed her story in the last few days.
Springer, of Alhambra, faces a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison, district attorney spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.
Springer's arrest came as the elementary school in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood of South Los Angeles was reeling from the arrest of former teacher Mark Berndt, 61.
Prosecutors claim Berndt spoon-fed his semen to blindfolded children as part of what he called a "tasting game." Police have collected hundreds of disturbing photos; in some, children are shown with a milky substance around their mouths.
Berndt was charged with 23 felony counts and was being held on $23-million bail.
Former pediatric nurse charged in ICE child pornography investigation
TACOMA, Wash. – A former Doernbecher Children's Hospital pediatric nurse connected to the online screen name "Kidluver" was arrested on federal criminal charges Friday morning for possessing, receiving and distributing child pornography.
Bryan W. Corbitt, 43, of Washougal, is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court Friday afternoon on charges contained in a criminal complaint. The case is the result of a probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations.
In November 2011, HSI special agents identified a suspect sharing child pornography over a peer-to-peer network using the screen name "Kidluver." Investigators traced the screen name and illegal online activity to Corbitt's Washougal residence. Based on that information, HSI executed a search warrant at Corbitt's home Feb. 1. It was then they learned that he was a pediatric intensive care nurse at Oregon Health & Science University Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore.
According to OHSU, which has cooperated fully with the case, the hospital placed Corbitt on unpaid administrative leave immediately after learning about the allegations. Corbitt resigned his position Feb. 10. Corbitt began working at the hospital in July 2002.
Receipt and distribution of child pornography is punishable by not less than five years and not more than 20 years in prison. Possession of child pornography carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington. The charges contained in the complaint are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The case is part of HSI's Operation Predator, a nationwide initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who sexually exploit children, and Project Safe Childhood, a Department of Justice effort launched in May 2006 to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse.
As part of Operation Predator, HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-347-2423. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, at 1-800-843-5678 or http://www.cybertipline.com.
Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in the Justice Department's Criminal Division, PSC marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about PSC, please visit www.projectsafechildhood.gov or call the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington and ask to speak with the PSC coordinator.
Colorado announces reforms to child-welfare system
by Christopher N. Osher and Jordan Steffen
Colorado will overhaul how it trains child-welfare caseworkers, make more information public when a child dies of abuse or neglect and start using data to hold counties accountable for how they deal with reports of child abuse, state officials said Thursday.
Reforms unveiled by Gov. John Hickenlooper and Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, are aimed at improving a child-welfare system that has seen 43 children die in the past five years amid concerns that caseworkers did not do enough to save them.
"We all have a shared goal of making sure that we ensure every Colorado kid is safe, that every kid is raised in a safe and secure environment, and that they can grow and learn and achieve to the fullest of their potential," Hickenlooper said during a news conference announcing the changes. "Our child-protection services play a fundamental role in making sure that need is met."
The plan, which took a year to develop, has five key strategies. The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Casey Family Programs helped the state come up with the program and contributed more than $600,000 toward developing and implementing the proposal.
Bicha said the reforms create a common way for caseworkers throughout Colorado to deal with case referrals. He said caseworkers in 17 counties already are trained in the new approach and the state will expand the system to all counties.
Five counties — Arapahoe, Larimer, Jefferson, Fremont and Garfield — also have been working with a new way to handle lower-level allegations of minor abuse and neglect cases. That approach, known as "differential response," seeks to take the adversarial nature out of such casework and tries to make parents less defensive, Bicha said.
He said the preliminary results in the counties are encouraging, and the state wants to expand the program.
Some child-welfare advocates said they worry that the state does not have enough proof that differential response will work. Linda Weinerman, executive director of the Office of the Child's Representative, an advocacy group for attorneys who represent abused children, said she fears there will be less documentation of abuse cases.
Sen. Nancy Spence is sponsoring a bill that will put the differential-response program before the state legislature. Spence, R-Centennial, said that in cases in which there are mild or moderate allegations of abuse or neglect, differential response is a positive alternative approach.
"What we want to do with this approach is keep kids out of the judicial system and let them heal with their families, and I think differential response can do that," Spence said.
The state also has put in place a program called C-stat that uses data to measure child-welfare performance.
Bicha said that when he sought to bolster data collection, he learned the data could be provided only every four months. Under the new system, it will be provided monthly to county and state officials. The information also will be made public, Bicha said.
This is not the first time the state has sought to fix a system that the governor acknowledged "had let children fall through the cracks." Former Gov. Bill Ritter's administration also announced reforms, chiefly the creation of an ombudsman for child-welfare issues.
Most child-welfare advocates said they welcomed the latest reforms.
"It should align the counties with the state. In the past it's been a lot of passing ships when it comes to the counties and the state," said Dennis Kennedy, director of communications and government relations for the Mount St. Vincent Home, which provides services to 90 children daily.
Bicha said that over the past year, he learned that many experts had already evaluated Colorado's child-welfare system.
He said he decided that what was lacking was a "comprehensive focus or plan. We had no approach that moved us in a common direction for kids."
He said the state will create a standard assessment for child-welfare issues and will give the counties performance scores.
The state's system for training caseworkers also needs an overhaul, he said. Currently, caseworkers get eight weeks of training when they are hired. Supervisors aren't given additional training, and senior workers aren't retrained. The training academy is in Douglas County, but new technology could allow training to occur throughout the state, Bicha said.
Donald Cassata, director of the Adams County Department of Human Services, said he was impressed with how quickly Bicha and Hickenlooper put together a plan.
"I think it is really good for the state of Colorado, and I think the areas that he identified are areas that the counties have been working on in terms of practice models and differential response," Cassata said.
The state also will seek more flexibility from federal funding sources and will try to attract more federal aid, Bicha said. The state likely will seek a waiver that allows federal aid for foster-care programs, which care for fewer children these days than in the past, to support other areas of the child-welfare system, he said.
The state also will start directing money it sends to counties for child safety in a way that supports outcomes the state thinks protect children.
Bicha said the state plans to hire a consultant to help analyze how the child-welfare system spends money and make recommendations.
The state also will push legislation to make more information public when a child is abused or dies because of abuse or neglect, Bicha said.
He said the state already conducts investigations of children who die after caseworkers investigate allegations of abuse for possible policy violations. In the future, he said, those reviews should also be conducted when a child suffers serious injury or harm.
Bicha said that state and county officials are constrained from discussing child deaths stemming from abuse or neglect. Pending legislation would allow those officials to correct misinformation.
"The government can't be solely responsible for ensuring the safety of children," Bicha said. "It's a community responsibility."
Tougher human trafficking laws needed in Mississipp
OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) -
You've seen TV shows and movies that depict horrifying stories of people being forced into slavery. But Human trafficking isn't just a problem somewhere else. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood believes it is a crime happening here. That's why he pushing for tougher state laws dealing with the problem.
Dozens of prosecutors gathered Thursday on the coast to listen and learn about human trafficking. What is it, and how can it be stopped? Are new laws needed to meet the legal challenges posed by trafficking?
"Trafficking can be separated into two different categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking," Heather Wagner, an assistant attorney general. "So sex trafficking is only a part of the overall issue that we're facing."
The two year nightmare suffered by a young woman from Detroit sold into sex slavery is a classic case. Her name is Theresa Flores.
"There was always a bedroom and I would be taken and locked away, sometimes tied up, sometimes tortured," Flores recalled in a YouTube video presentation.
Changing minds and attitudes about human trafficking won't be easy. Judy McKee is with the National Association of Attorneys General.
"It's a very long hard process, but we have, as I said, a whole generation of children that we need to be reaching out to and working with and try to rehabilitate so they can become survivors instead of victims," McKee said.
There's an underlying reason why it's so difficult to prosecute human trafficking cases in Mississippi. Far more often than not, the victims are really thought of as criminals.
"If people like social workers begin to recognize it, if people like prosecutors recognize, hey, this girl is a teenage prostitute. But is somebody making her do this? Or is she being coerced or sold? Then I think we'll begin to see a lot more reports of it," Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said.
Reporting is only the beginning. Successful prosecution of human traffickers under tougher state laws is the ultimate goal. The deadline to file bills in the state legislature dealing with human trafficking is later this month.
Campaign against sex trafficking launches
by TOM LOTSHAW
Working with a national advocacy group, Soroptimist International of Kalispell next week is kicking off what it hopes will be a statewide campaign against domestic minor sex trafficking in Montana.
That's a term for the exploitation of children through prostitution, pornography and other forms of sexual entertainment for commercial gain.
“We know it's happening and as long as it is we have to try and stop it,” said Diane Yarus of Soroptimist International of Kalispell, a volunteer women's organization.
Launched in conjunction with the Flathead Abolitionist Movement, the campaign starts at Flathead Valley Community College next week with two showings of the 90-minute documentary, “Sex+Money: A National Search for Human Worth.”
Free showings are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, and 6:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24 in the Arts and Technology Building.
The documentary explores the child sex trade in the United States. Its showing is meant to help raise awareness, Yarus said.
On April 26, the national advocacy group Shared Hope International will visit the college with its full-day “Do You Know Lacy?”education and training session.
The regional event is being promoted around Montana for police, social service and heath-care workers, youth advocates and anyone else who is concerned — including family members, coaches, teachers and pastors — and wants to learn more about domestic minor sex trafficking.
“It takes the community approach that everyone has a role to play when it comes to combating this issue in the U.S.,” Elizabeth Scaife, a program associate with Shared Hope International, said about the event.
“We want to bring everyone together at one time to close the gaps so we don't lose these kids. It's a matter of exposing the issue for what it is and equipping people to recognize signs and what puts a child at risk.”
Based in Vancouver, Wash., Shared Hope International was founded by former U.S. congresswoman Linda Smith. The group aims to strengthen laws related to domestic minor sex trafficking, prevent children from being sexually exploited and rescue and restore children who are.
Five separate courses will be offered: one for law enforcement, one for social service and health care providers, one for community advocates, one for youth advocates, and finally, one for men, who are seen as the last line of defense.
The courses qualify for continuing education credit in some professions and range in cost from $35 to $50. Some scholarships are available.
Yarus hopes the campaign will lead to more awareness in Montana about domestic minor sex trafficking.
That includes knowing the signs of a problem and how to identify victims, knowing who is most at risk and knowing how minors — the vast majority of them young girls — end up in prostitution and pornography, whether forced or willingly.
It also means making sure there are adequate laws for prosecution, that victims are identified and can get the help they need, and that crimes such as aggravated promotion of prostitution are recognized as domestic minor sex trafficking, Yarus said.
The need for more awareness goes for everyone, from law enforcement to grandparents, Yarus said.
Many people think of faraway countries and big cities where children are trafficked for sex; some controlled by pimps through threats, violence and drug addiction.
The campaign comes on the heels of some high-profile cases involving the sexual exploitation of minors in Montana.
Here in the Flathead Valley, a 43-year-old Kalispell woman faces a possible sentence of life in prison for allegedly forcing a 13-year-old girl to have sex with a 32-year-old Columbia Falls man in exchange for drugs.
Both were arrested and charged last August. The woman has pleaded not guilty to aggravated promotion of prostitution and the man has pleaded not guilty to sexual intercourse without consent and sexual assault.
In 2010, Missoula police happened upon a prostitution ring run through “adult encounter” ads posted on the website Craigslist. The ring involved several girls under age 18 deemed willing participants.
Two Missoula men ultimately were convicted for running the ring on charges of aggravated promotion of prostitution and conspiracy to commit that crime.
In addition, 12 clients and would-be clients, including a Missoula attorney and a federal Bureau of Land Management employee, faced misdemeanor prostitution charges. Law enforcement there called it the state's first such online bust.
For more information about “Do You Know Lacy?” or to register, visit www.sharedhope.org
For more information about the documentary showing or the training, contact Yarus at 751-2175 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Fighting the sex trade in Queens and statewide
by Jose Peralta
There are some 27 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other time in human history. Most are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and 80 percent are female. About half of the world's trafficking victims are under the age of 18.
While New York State's sex trafficking laws are among the most comprehensive in the nation, promoting prostitution in the first degree, compelling prostitution and sex trafficking are all classified here as non-violent felonies.
“Sex trafficking is one of the most violent humanitarian issues of our day,” says Faith Huckel, executive director and co-founder of Restore NYC, a nonprofit that provides aftercare services to sex-trafficking victims and works with local and federal authorities to facilitate the prosecution of traffickers. “To call it anything less is to disregard the trauma, rape and abuse experienced on the part of the victim. We must reclassify sex trafficking as a violent felony and increase the minimum jail sentence for traffickers.”
That's just what I'm trying to do. I introduced a bill in the New York State Senate recently to reclassify sex trafficking as a violent felony and increase the minimum jail sentence to five years. The minimum sentence currently is one to three years.
Classifying sex trafficking as a violent felony not only raises the minimum sentence for a first offense, it can put someone who commits multiple violent offenses away for life under the persistent violent offender law.
Assemblyman Francisco Moya has introduced the same bill in the Assembly.
Traffickers prey on the poor and vulnerable. They use promises of a good job or a false marriage proposal to lure victims. Other victims are kidnapped or sold into the sex trade by parents, husbands or boyfriends. But don't delude yourself into believing that this sort of treachery and brutality occurs only in far-flung corners of the world.
New York is believed to be a major U.S. entry point for human smugglers. Women from around the world and across the country are brought here and enslaved, forced to have sex with strangers for the profit of human traffickers and pimps. And make no mistake: Many of these women are being abused and exploited in public and private locations in our very own communities, including Jackson Heights, Corona and Flushing.
As noted by columnist Nicholas Kristof, who writes frequently in The New York Times about the horrors of sex trafficking, “the business model of pimping is remarkably similar whether in Atlanta or Calcutta: take vulnerable, disposable girls whom nobody cares about, use a mix of ‘friendship,' humiliation, beatings, narcotics and threats to break the girls and induce 100 percent compliance, and then rent out their body parts.”
About a year ago, I introduced another bill — which has since been signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — prohibiting the distribution of obscene, business-card-sized ads for prostitutes. These so-called “chica” cards, which have been handed out along Roosevelt Avenue and adjacent streets for many years, feature promises of “free delivery.”
After a press conference at which I unveiled my “chica” cards bill, the problem drew attention. The cards were the subject of some jokes.
And it turned out that one of the cards we enlarged and displayed at the press conference pictured an international supermodel.
Of course, the harsh reality is that there is absolutely nothing funny or glamorous about prostitution. We need to dispel the dangerous notion that it is a victimless crime. And we do that with information and by raising awareness.
Someone aware of the brutal truth is less likely to participate in the continued exploitation of these women. Someone who understands the plight of these women is also more likely to say something if they see something.
In the coming weeks, I'll be launching a sex trafficking awareness campaign in and around Jackson Heights and Corona, hubs where trafficked women are prostituted.
By raising awareness and imposing penalties commensurate with the brutality inherent in sex trafficking, I hope that we can put at least some traffickers and pimps out of business and keep them from destroying more lives.
Jose Peralta is New York State Senator for the 13th District in western Queens.
Starved, sexually abused, kept in basement: Teen's horror revealed
It's a case that has the nation asking: How could this happen?
Police say a 15-year-old girl was kept for years in a Madison, Wis., basement, beaten and starved by a father and stepmother who often forced her to eat her own feces and drink her own urine. And, they say, her stepbrother had been sexually abusing her in the cellar since she was just 10 years old.
Moreover, it appears that child protective services had repeatedly been called to the home or otherwise alerted to something amiss.
On Thursday, the girl's father, Chad C. Chritton, 40, and stepmother, Melinda J. Drabek-Chritton, 42, were charged with reckless endangerment, child abuse and child neglect, according to the Madison State Journal. The girl's stepbrother, Joshua P. Drabek, 18, was charged with sexual assault and child abuse, the newspaper reported.
The girl, whose name is not being released, is in protective custody. Two other children have been removed from the home, although there were no immediate reports on their condition.
The girl, who escaped this month, told law enforcement authorities that she had been virtually trapped in the unfinished basement. Video equipment was trained on the cellar door, and it was rigged with an alarm that would go off if it opened, according to a police affidavit obtained by the Associated Press. The girl said that if she was caught eating without permission, she would have to throw out -- or throw up -- the food as punishment.
On Feb. 6, the day she escaped, she had been let out of the basement by her stepmother so she could clean up some papers. When the girl did not do so quickly enough, the stepmother threatened to cut her throat and throw her back in the basement. Fearful of what would happen next, the girl said, she escaped out a window, according to Madison.com
The 15-year-old was wandering the streets of Madison, barefoot and in her pajamas, when she was spotted by motorist Mike Vega, above. He stopped the car. Instinctively, he knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. She was so slight -- authorities later said she weighed about 70 pounds -- that he initially took her for an 8-year-old. The girl was bleeding from a gash on her face.
Vega called police.
"It was the most shocking thing I have ever seen," he told Madison.com. "I've never seen anybody look like that."
But the horror of what had happened to the girl was only just beginning to reveal itself.
A neighbor next door and another across the street each said they had called child protective services after catching a glimpse of the rarely seen girl -- and suspecting something was wrong. One of the neighbors, Mark Stuntebeck, said he made the call after watching the girl take out the garbage and then scavenge through it for food.
"She seemed to be hiding and munching on crumbs or remnants of something," he told the Wisconsin State Journal.
How Child Abuse Primes the Brain for Future Mental Illness
A brain scan study pinpoints the changes associated with child abuse that may raise people's risk of depression, PTSD and addictions later in life.
by Maia Szalavitz
Child maltreatment has been called the tobacco industry of mental health. Much the way smoking directly causes or triggers predispositions for physical disease, early abuse may contribute to virtually all types of mental illness.
Now, in the largest study yet to use brain scans to show the effects of child abuse, researchers have found specific changes in key regions in and around the hippocampus in the brains of young adults who were maltreated or neglected in childhood. These changes may leave victims more vulnerable to depression, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the study suggests.
Harvard researchers led by Dr. Martin Teicher studied nearly 200 people aged 18 to 25, who were mainly middle class and well-educated. They were recruited through newspaper and transit ads for a study on “memories of childhood.” Because the authors wanted to look specifically at the results of abuse and neglect, people who had suffered other types of trauma like car accidents or gang violence were excluded.
Child maltreatment often leads to conditions like depression and PTSD, so the researchers specifically included people with those diagnoses. However, the study excluded severely addicted people and people on psychiatric medications, because brain changes related to the drugs could obscure the findings.
Overall, about 25% of participants had suffered major depression at some point in their lives and 7% had been diagnosed with PTSD. But among the 16% of participants who had suffered three or more types of child maltreatment — for example, physical abuse, neglect and verbal abuse — the situation was much worse. Most of them — 53% — had suffered depression and 40% had had full or partial PTSD.
The aftermath of that trauma could be seen in their brain scans, whether or not the young adults had developed diagnosable disorders. Regardless of their mental health status, formerly maltreated youth showed reductions in volume of about 6% on average in two parts of the hippocampus, and 4% reductions in regions called the subiculum and presubiculum, compared with people who had not been abused.
That's where this study begins to tie together loose ends seen in prior research. Previous data have suggested that the high levels of stress hormones associated with child maltreatment can damage the hippocampus, which may in turn affect people's ability to cope with stress later in life. In other words, early stress makes the brain less resilient to the effects of later stress. “We suspect that [the reductions we saw are] a consequence of maltreatment and a risk factor for developing PTSD following exposure to further traumas,” the authors write.
Indeed, brain scans of adults with depression and PTSD often show reductions in size in the hippocampus. Although earlier research on abused children did not find the same changes, animal studies on early life stress have suggested that measurable differences in the hippocampus may not arise until after puberty. The new study suggests that the same is true for humans.
The findings also help elucidate a possible pathway from maltreatment to PTSD, depression and addiction. The subiculum is uniquely positioned to affect all of these conditions. Receiving output from the hippocampus, it helps determine both behavioral and biochemical responses to stress.
If, for example, the best thing to do in a stressful situation is flee, the subiculum sends a signal shouting “run” to the appropriate brain regions. But the subiculum is also involved in regulating another brain system that, when overactive during chronic high stress such as abuse, produces toxic levels of neurotransmitters that kill brain cells — particularly in the hippocampus.
It can be a counterproductive feedback loop: high levels of stress hormones can lead to cell death in the very regions that are supposed to tell the system to stop production.
What this means is that chronic maltreatment can set the stress system permanently on high alert. That may be useful in some cases — for example, for soldiers who must react quickly during combat or for children trying to avoid their abusers — but over the long term, the dysregulation increases risk for psychological problems like depression and PTSD.
The subiculum also regulates the stress response of a key dopamine network, which may have implications for addiction risk. “It is presumably through this pathway that stress exposure interacts with the dopaminergic reward system to produce stress-induced craving and stress-induced relapse,” the authors write.
In other words, dysregulation of the stress system might lead to intensified feelings of anxiety, fear or lack of pleasure, which may in turn prompt people to escape into alcohol or other drugs.
With nearly 4 million children evaluated for child abuse or neglect in the U.S. every year — a problem that costs the U.S. $124 billion in lost productivity and health, child welfare and criminal justice costs — child maltreatment isn't something we can afford to ignore.
Even among the most resilient survivors, the aftereffects of abuse may linger. Not only are such children at later risk for mental illness, but because of the way trauma affects the stress system, they are also more vulnerable to developing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.
We can do better for our kids.
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
New ruling may make child victims take stand in sexual assault cases
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A new Georgia Supreme Court ruling has some local child advocates worried the court system is not fully protecting children. The case could make child molestation victims testify in court, even if they are young children.
Last year, 377 child sexual assault cases in our area were reported to Child Enrichment, the advocacy center for Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties. Those reports likely represent only a fraction of the actual number of cases.
Dan Hillman, executive director at Child Enrichment, says only 10 percent of reported child sexual assault cases usually even make it to court. Those that do often depend on forensic interviews of the children, which are performed by trained professionals at Child Enrichment.
"The forensic interview is used in many cases -- and this court decision affects how we're going to do that from now on," Hillman said.
Hillman is referring to an appealed case, Hatley v. the State of Georgia. In 2010, a jury convicted Johnny Hatley of various counts related to molesting a 3-year-old girl. Hatley appealed, saying it wasn't fair his victim never took the stand. On Feb. 6 of this year, the Georgia Supreme Court released an opinion. Based on other evidence in the case, they said Hatley is still guilty. Their published opinion didn't change his conviction, but it does affect the evidence allowed in other cases from now on.
Until now, a recording of the child's interview and the interviewer's testimony could be submitted as evidence in court. The child did not usually have to testify.
But in their Hatley opinion, the State Supreme Court now says evidence like that is considered child hearsay.
"So what it is saying now is other than just having the examiner come up and testify or showing a video of what the child said, the defense has the opportunity to put the child on the stand and cross-examine the child," Columbia County Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flannagan explained.
Forensic interviews and police statements are still admissible in court, but if the prosecution is going to use them, that means the child victim also has to be made available to take the stand.
"If a child, especially a young child or special needs child, has to testify, it's going to be reliving the trauma," Hillman said. "I won't say it will undo all of the counseling we've done with them, but it will affect their progress."
The court's decision cites the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution that a defendant has the right to face his or her accuser. And now, whether it's a teenager or a toddler, that means more than just the taped interview.
As a judge, Flannagan says it would be inappropriate to offer his personal opinion of the ruling. He says he believes our local courts do their best to protect children.
"The judge runs the courtroom. It's his job to make sure no witness -- adult or child -- gets 'run over' either on direct or cross examination," he said.
Flannagan says the Hatley opinion will no doubt change how cases are handled in the D.A.'s office.
Hillman says if the child won't testify, or his or her parents won't allow it, many cases could hinge on physical evidence alone.
"There's not always physical evidence, depending on when the crime is reported," he said.
Hillman says until they can prevent abuse altogether, they have no choice but to adjust to the law of the land.
"We're not doing enough to protect [the children]," he said. "If we could prevent child sexual abuse, then we wouldn't even be talking about this."
The Hatley decision does not mean every child will take the stand from now on. The defense may not even choose to cross-examine the victim. But based on this case, they do have a right to object to child hearsay and insist on cross-examining the child on the stand.
Prince William case highlights new approach to dealing with child abuse
by Josh White
When Evelin Ventura brought her youngest child to the hospital in January 2009, the 8-month-old girl was emaciated, her enlarged head was bulging, and she was lethargic, vomiting and clearly in pain.
Ventura, 29, of Dumfries, said the infant girl had been riding in a stroller that tipped over, causing the baby to hit her head on the ground. Though doctors thought the injuries were more consistent with a violent shaking, social workers, Child Protective Services investigators and police determined that no abuse had occurred. Permanently blinded and with parts of her brain dead, the little girl went home with her mother.
Prince William County prosecutors argued in circuit court over the past week that Ventura's baby returned into the care of a “tormenter,” a mother so upset that the baby even existed that she repeatedly abused her during the first two years of her life. Ventura escaped detection, they said, by lying to authorities and slipping through a system that repeatedly failed to identify what they called a pattern of chronic abuse.
“A lot of people let this child down,” Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandra Sylvester told jurors. “The police, social services, occupational therapists, doctors, and the one person who should care for her, her mother, the defendant.”
On Wednesday, jurors found Ventura guilty of four counts of felony child abuse, one count of aggravated malicious wounding and two counts of assault and battery. Jurors recommended a prison sentence of 34 years and a $100,000 fine; under Virginia sentencing rules, Ventura would be behind bars until after her 55th birthday should Prince William County Circuit Court Judge Mary Grace O'Brien uphold that sentence at a hearing scheduled for June 8.
The case, one in a stream of such child abuse trials in local courts, highlighted the path that Prince William County has followed in the three years since the high-profile death of Lexie Glover . Lexie, a special-needs girl known to police and social services officials, was left for dead in a frigid creek by her mother in January 2009. It was just days before Ventura brought her daughter to the hospital for her head injury.
Lexie's death, and the shortcomings it identified, led authorities to rethink the county's treatment of at-risk children and spawned a revamping of the way police investigate abuse. New protocols and training, police officials say, ensure such cases do not go uninvestigated.
With that new approach — involving social workers, doctors, more frequent forensic interviews and a team of detectives assigned to such cases — Ventura was arrested about a year after she brought her daughter to the hospital for the head injury. An observant day-care worker noticed scratches and bite marks on the baby's body, and Prince William County police Detective Dan Harris delved into the girl's history and interviewed her mother, who admitted some of the abuse.
A thorough examination of Ventura's baby turned up two old elbow fractures and injuries a doctor said were too numerous to count. Authorities said they believe the intervention likely saved the baby's life.
First Sgt. Liam Burke, who leads the county police's Special Victims Unit, said Lexie's case was a “learning experience” that helped refocus police efforts at protecting children and arresting abusers. Detectives received new training in early 2010 and since have looked more carefully at each case.
“We're looking at the totality of the circumstances, the history, full forensic interviews,” Burke said outside of Circuit Courtroom 3 in Manassas on Monday, just after Judge O'Brien sent Ventura's case to the jury.
After Ventura's three children were taken from her, she was indicted, pleaded not guilty and testified at trial that the major injuries to her daughter were accidental; she said the girl fell off a bed and out of a stroller. The scratches were her fault, she said in Spanish through an interpreter, because she was “frustrated.”
Ventura had been secretly living in an abandoned house because she was homeless, had no family support, was unable to properly care for her children, and was nearly penniless. Having a special-needs child who would cry incessantly pushed her to the brink, she and her defense lawyer, Margaret DeWilde, said in court.
“I felt that I had asked for all the help I could, and I felt I couldn't go on any longer,” Ventura testified. “I didn't know what else to do.”
So when her baby was brought to the hospital in June 2010 with the scratches and bite marks, Ventura said she lied and blamed another child for the injuries. She was afraid of losing her children, Ventura said. And as an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, she also risked deportation if convicted of a crime.
DeWilde argued that Ventura was a victim of poverty and was overwhelmed, leading her to miss doctor's appointments for a baby she loved and wanted to care for but lacked the experience to do so. She noted that the early cases were investigated and resulted in no charges.
“If CPS had felt there was an issue with child abuse, they could have done something in June 2008,” DeWilde said, referencing the baby's first visit to the hospital, at 8 weeks old, when she was vomiting, crying and had bruising on her face, which doctors said was consistent with someone having grabbed her forcefully.
Prosecutors credit Harris with cracking the abuse case after he saw the baby in June 2010 and she appeared “very wasted away, emaciated” and with scratches and bite marks nearly from head to toe. Ventura initially denied hurting her daughter but later broke down and said she lost control when the baby was inconsolable.
Sylvester and Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney J. Regan Kline argued that Ventura was vengeful and sadistic, upset at the fact that her daughter's father was a married man who would not leave his wife to care for them. Kline told jurors that Ventura's youngest child was a “target” of her frustrations, and that she alone suffered malnutrition, physical abuse and neglect. Ventura's other two children were healthy and well cared for, according to testimony.
The baby survived the abuse, and she has since been living with her biological father. Though permanently blind and developmentally delayed, she is happy, healthy and playful, as seen in videos and photographs at trial. “The difference is, her tormenter has not had access to her,” Sylvester said in court. She later ended her closing argument near tears: She “will never be able to fully comprehend what her mother did to her. That is a life sentence.”
Cracking Down on Human Trafficking in MS
by Brad Soroka
Mississippi's Attorney General is behind a big push to make prostitution laws tougher in the state. He says too many children are forced into this form of slave trade, and it's dangerous for them and the rest of us.
Many are trafficked into the country. According to the US government, as many as 17,500 people are brought in each year to work as prostitutes. Most are women and children.
A two-day workshop starts Thursday on Mississippi's coast to help our law enforcement officers and prosecutors learn how to identify these victims of human trafficking.
The Attorney General thinks tougher laws in the state would help. He wants new legislation that makes child trafficking a felony here.
"If you're a pimp, you're a John, you're a prostitute, it's a misdemeanor in Mississippi. We want to create it and make it a felony for anybody to pimp a child under the age of 18," he says.
The legislation he's backing would make underage prostitutes victims, not criminals. The Department of Human Services would offer counseling.
"There's very little counseling that deals with the psychological impacts that they've had to deal with," explains Hood, "So you treat them as a victim rather than a prostitute."
Hood believes many prostitutes are working against their will.
"I suspect many of the prostitutes that you see out there were coerced into this life at some point by someone," says Hood.
He says they got in too young: "Young girls in 9th grade, they're not comfortable in going and telling their parents that somebody's made nude photographs of them and that they're coercing them to do things."
Then it was too late to get out: "And once it gets to the point where they're having sex frequently with men, then of course they're getting into drugs and alcohol to try and kill the pain of it," says Hood.
Hood hopes this legislation will prevent that pain and protect our children. The proposed plan has not yet made it to the state legislature. Hood believes it should be a top priority this session.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The statistics are startling.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has estimated that about 100,000 American children, with an average age between 12 and 14, are drawn into prostitution each year.
The FBI ranks Minnesota as the nation's 13th largest center for human trafficking of children.
Recently, a national group called the Protected Innocence Initiative, analyzed all states' existing laws on domestic trafficking and gave Minnesota a 'C' rating.
Prostitution and human trafficking are alive and well in Minnesota. KARE 11 has delved into the issue and the efforts to fight an age old problem that appears to be growing.
During rush hour in the Twin Cities, and as most people end their work day, the prostitutes of south Minneapolis are starting theirs.
"You have to go out when the girls are out and the girls are out when the johns are out," says Joy Friedman with Breaking Free, a Twin Cities victim advocacy organization. "It's dinner time and they have a quickie before they go home so to speak."
Joy is part of the Breaking Free outreach team, which tries to stay connected to prostitutes and get them help.
"They know my car. That's Miss Joy's green machine," says Joy.
And Joy knows this place well - the streets, the customers, the game.
"I actually used to walk these streets," says Joy.
For more than 20 years, Joy was a victim of prostitution herself and is now committed to saving others. We joined her one night during her outreach efforts. We watched and listened as Joy approached well known prostitutes to let them know she was there for them and checking on their welfare.
Joy checks for new girls and girls she knows, like Lisa. Joy gave Lisa personal hygiene items and made sure she's okay. Lisa is a drug addict who has tried time and time again to get off the streets. Joy assures her she will always be there for her.
"We are here to let them know that someone is here that cares about them and that if and when they are ready to get out they can call us," says Joy.
Prostitution exists in the Twin Cities - a lot of prostitution - with pimps and johns preying on young girls promising them love, money and drugs.
"Prostitution doesn't discriminate. These are our kids out here that are throw-aways, that we have just said to hell with them and that's not ok," says Joy.
Antoinette Hollins endured 27 years of abuse on the streets. She carries her old driver's license as a reminder of what she's been through.
"He hit me in my jaw and the impact was so hard that he broke both sides," says Antoinette. "I cried out to God and told him I had enough."
Antoinette got out with the help of people who believed in her. She's now drug free, a grandmother and proof there is hope for so many who feel hopeless.
"In my prostitution I reached out for affection, looking for love in the wrong places and that's what these girls are looking for is someone to love them," says Antoinette.
The newest prostitution trend is online where young girls sell themselves to so-called sugar daddies to pay for things like college tuition. You can read the pimp manual online and learn how to do it yourself or sit back, some say, and order a girl as fast as a pizza.
Sgt. John Bandemer is with the St. Paul Police Department's human trafficking unit. Prostitution becomes trafficking when girls are coerced or forced into the lifestyle by someone else. They're often transported across state lines and underage.
"These young girls today are becoming easy prey for that trafficker," says Bandemer.
Bandemer's team trolls websites that advertise prostitutes. Recently, over a 24-hour period, they found 500 ads, selling sex for money, in and around the Twin Cities.
"Almost every suburb I can think of, we've seen ads for prostitution," says Bandemer.
Along with homegrown prostitution and domestic trafficking, Minnesota continues to be part of an international human trafficking pipeline.
The FBI ranks Minnesota as one of the nation's 13 largest centers for sex trafficking of children. Authorities say part of the reason is our proximity to the border, a large port in Duluth, and the booming mail-order bride business. It can be easy access for sophisticated cartels bringing in girls and kids, fetching $400,000 a head for sex or forced labor.
"They are coming from around the whole world," says Linda Miller, an attorney with the Civil Society, which helps victims escape, get help and then testify against their trafficker. She has seen some 700 victims since 2005. Many are children and some are as young as five years old and younger.
"That is a trend we're seeing. The traffickers are using other children to solicit children," says Miller.
"The type of men out there purchasing sex are always looking for something new, something fresh and a lot of times that's a young girl," says Bandemer.
And there have been prosecutions.
In 2010, 29 people were indicted in a sex trafficking ring allegedly run by Minneapolis-based Somali gangs, recruiting victims under age 14. Last month, a Woodbury man was sentenced for sex trafficking a 15-year-old and a Minneapolis woman was indicted for sex trafficking of a minor she advertised online.
While international trafficking is on the rise, the most visible and prolific problem continues at home as part of the normalization of sexual exploitation, victim advocates say.
"It was like one of those feelings that you are having a dream but actually your dream becomes real," says Julie, a former prostitute who was lured in through strip clubs at age 17. She asked us to conceal her identity, detailing how she was kidnapped by a pimp and sold for sex from state to state.
"We just travelled everywhere and we decided what states we would make more money in," says Julie.
Today, Julie is turning her life around and hoping her story inspires other young girls to get out before it's too late.
"I just have a big passion about broken hearts and I just don't want anyone to feel what I felt," says Julie.
Fighting the Problem
Victim advocates say an approach to solving the problem is to go after the demand and hold johns accountable. Joy Friedman of Breaking Free says if there are no johns, there will not be any prostitution. Breaking Free runs a John school and there are many other new community based programs to help men with sex and porn addictions.
The St. Paul Police Department is one of the only departments in the state with officers dedicated to trafficking investigations. They are working on new ways to tackle the problem and have the kind of expertise they plan to use to help other law enforcement agencies in training statewide
There are many other organizations in the Twin Cities fighting the prostitution and human trafficking problem. They include: The Women's Foundation, which is giving out grants to agencies fighting trafficking. There is also the Institute for Trafficked, Exploited & Missing Persons, Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center and The Family Partnership.
In addition, several Minnesota prosecutors have made a pledge to not charge juvenile prostitutes with a crime, but rather treat them as victims. The Ramsey County Runaway Intervention Project was created to identify and address the needs of young runaway girls.
Governor Dayton signed Safe Harbor into law last year, a law that treats commercially sexually exploited young people as victims in need of protection, not criminals.
POKIN AROUND: Prosecutors, FBI say human trafficking hard to detect, but a growing problem
by Steve Pokin
You might not see it, but the problem of human trafficking is here and getting worse.
Don't take my word. Take the word of Thomas Gibbons, Madison County state's attorney; Stephen R. Wigginton, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Illinois; two FBI agents; and others who spoke Wednesday in Edwardsville at the Madison County Administration Building.
They say there's a growing problem. They say you and I can be helpful by being more attentive.
On the other hand, I should also point out that there are currently no human trafficking prosecutions under way either on the state level in Madison County or the federal level in Southern Illinois.
"This is a difficult crime to detect," Wigginton says.
Human trafficking is like slavery. There are two kinds of human trafficking: sex and labor. They both employ force, fraud or coercion to exploit a victim.
Victims include immigrants, drug addicts and the poor. They could be runaway teenage girls who are U.S. citizens or immigrant men from Guatemala who end up at a meat-packing plant where they are charged so much for food and lodging that they remain forever in debt to their employer.
The force or coercion can be physical beatings; or getting the victim addicted to drugs; or threatening to harm loved ones; or holding hostage the documents the victim needs to remain in the United States.
In St. Louis, Waquita Wallace in 2009 was sentenced to 20 years in prison after she pleaded guilty to sexual trafficking. She held hostage a mentally disabled 18-year-old woman — beating, burning and torturing her — in order to sell her for sex.
In Brookfield, Wis., near Milwaukee, two doctors from the Philippines were convicted in 2006 for keeping their housekeeper, also from the Philippines, a virtual prisoner in their home. Jefferson and Elnora Calimlim were sentenced to six years in prison.
Eileen Shanahan, with the FBI office in Springfield, told an audience of a dozen police officers and prosecutors that pimp and street gangs have come to realize that a human being can be sold over and over again, unlike drugs and guns.
Law enforcement needs the public's help to combat trafficking. For example, plumbers and electricians, Shanahan says, should call authorities if they happen to spot several mattresses in the basement of a business or home.
Rarely does a trafficking victim escape and contact police. That's because some have developed a bond with their abuser, says Mark Ranck, a special agent with the FBI in Springfield.
In addition, Ranck says, their horrible conditions here might be better than living conditions in their home country.
Oftentimes, someone who has been trafficked will not have a cell phone or credit cars. They might not speak English or know their whereabouts because they have been moved so frequently.
The employer or abuser will often insist to police that he or she interpret for the victim, says Rosie Lange, with the International Institute in St. Louis. Instead, she says, a third-party should interpret.
Another obstacle to prosecution, Lange says, is that many victims come from countries where police are corrupt and not trusted.
"In Cambodia there was a girl who escaped from a brothel and went to law enforcement and then law enforcement returned her to the same brothel where they punished her severely," she says.
Jeffrey Othic, with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, says there are incentives police and prosecutors can offer victims to get them to testify.
The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 was the first comprehensive federal law to protect victims and prosecute traffickers. The law provides help with housing and education, for example, for victims trying to rebuild their lives.
The law created the T-visa, allowing victims to become temporary residents of the United States during criminal investigations and prosecutions. Prior to that, many were quickly deported as illegal aliens.
Othic says those unfamiliar with trafficking might question how victims allow themselves to become victims. Why wouldn't someone try to call police? Why wouldn't someone try to escape at every opportunity?
To answer that, he says, "In St. Louis all you have to say is two words: Shawn Hornbeck."
Hornbeck was 11 when abducted by sexual predator Michael Devlin. Hornbeck had become so fearful and traumatized that he had stopped trying to escape. He was rescued five years later in January 2007
The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.
Penn State strengthens academic programs related to child sexual abuse
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State is strengthening a host of academic programs in its resolve to combat the widespread and complex social problems of child sexual assault, abuse and neglect. It also is broadening the study and awareness of sexual assault to include victims of all ages.
As an initial step, an inventory of undergraduate courses was compiled that identified courses and academic programs University faculty currently teach on topics addressing critical issues of sexual abuse.
“The inventory demonstrates a substantial range of topics and faculty expertise that spans diverse academic programs,” said Madlyn Hanes, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses.
"We wanted to take a close look at our undergraduate courses as a starting point, recognize existing strengths and build from these strengths,” said Hanes. "What better way than by tapping the teaching and research expertise our faculty bring to the teaching-learning enterprise? This is where we do our best work."
Existing courses in education, nursing, health and human development, sociology, criminal justice and other social sciences help prepare undergraduates for careers involving interactions with children, youth and families. For example, teaching, health care and nursing, criminal justice, psychology, counseling, athletic training and coaching -- all of these professions may include the responsibility for detecting and reporting suspected abuse.
Curricula encompass a variety of topics taught in 119 courses with more than 49,000 enrollments annually in 35 majors. Topics range from media studies to workforce education; biobehavioral health to anthropology; crime, law, and justice to occupational therapy; labor studies and employment relations to comparative literature; and more.
Of those courses, 23 are listed as selections that can be taken to satisfy the University's general education requirement for all undergraduates, constituting courses in social problems, developmental psychology, philosophy, sociology, and human development and family studies.
The Penn State Inventory of Curricula Related to Prevention and Intervention of Child Sexual Assault, Neglect and Abuse, reviewed by major, academic college and topic, is available online as a download (www.psu.edu/oue/curricularinventory.pdf) on the Office of Undergraduate Education website.
Topics are typically addressed in the scope and sequence of courses across the curricula in these majors, including introductory and advanced courses.
For example, psychology majors are introduced to physical and verbal abuse as it relates to general psychology concepts such as parenting, and the application of theories of child development that include protecting children from abuse. Later in the curriculum students take courses in human sexuality, which address presumed causes, correlates and consequences of rape, incest, pedophilia, sexual harassment and hate crimes among other topics, and more advanced study of child development and abnormal behavior, each of which includes mandated reporting requirements.
Penn State is well positioned to make a significant impact as it continues to expand study in these critical areas, Hanes added. "We need to teach our students not only to be informed professionals, but also informed citizens," she said.
Penn State's vast faculty expertise already in place will come together in what seems the logical next step, noted Robert N. Pangborn, vice president and dean for Undergraduate Education and interim executive vice president and provost of the University.
An interdisciplinary Presidential Task Force comprised of faculty from across the University will inventory current resources and areas of strength that can provide a foundation for innovative research, practice and outreach related to child maltreatment. The task force is co-chaired by A. Craig Hillemeier, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine and medical director, Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital; and Susan McHale, director of the University's Children, Youth and Families Consortium and Social Science Research Institute. The task force will recommend new activities and initiatives and identify new areas of expertise that may shine fresh light on the issue of child abuse.
One such initiative recently launched is the establishment of the Penn State Hershey Center for the Protection of Children (http://www.pshcpc.psu.edu) to focus on the study, research, prevention and treatment of child abuse. The center will be located at the Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital and directed by noted child-abuse specialist and pediatrician Dr. Andrea Taroli. It will take an integrated, interdisciplinary approach, and eventually will include hundreds of child-abuse experts from across the University.
"Forming this center, where faculty from many different disciplines can work together synergistically to create effective solutions, is a natural evolution of our efforts thus far," said Pangborn. "It is an excellent beginning and advances our commitment to become a leader in finding and implementing solutions."
Contact Laura Stocker Waldhier email@example.com 814-863-4784
Child abuse reporting bill complicated
Senate Bill 154 is making its way through the South Dakota Legislature that will place some volunteers in the position of mandatory reporters for child abuse.
I'm not sure exactly how I feel about that.
It goes without saying that anyone who sees a child in a compromising situation or knows of abuse should do something about it, whether you're a mandatory reporter or not. Surely we can agree on that.
Anyone who would hurt a child in any way should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
We have been bombarded with news of such things as the Penn State issue, and everyone has to wonder where we have gone wrong.
Let's be honest here. There are things that have “gone on” forever, and it has been only lately that it has been exposed, reported and prosecuted.
Some of this transparency is the result of the Internet and instant 24-hour news. There's not much that happens where a cell phone or digital camera can't capture it.
The question I have is this. Are these abuses increasing and we are just reporting the numbers better, or are we reporting everything and making the numbers look worse? Or even worse, are we reporting and placing people under suspicion who don't deserve it?
I don't doubt the sincerity of the sponsors and proponents of SB 154.
But here's the problem that I see. There are currently mandatory reporters, such as teachers, nurses and others. Now those working for children's organizations as volunteers are going to be added in the mandatory category.
I see two potential problems. First, organizations of all types have trouble getting volunteers. If they can get them to work for the organization, will they be hesitant to report an abuse?
The second problem is where do “volunteers” end? Is a person who serves as a Little League or sports coach also potentially a volunteer, hence a mandatory reporter?
The saddest part is that such laws really have to be written in the first place. If you oppose one, you are possibly accused of being anti-children or worse somehow think abuse is OK. That's not the case.
We live in a society that promotes promiscuity and violence. Look at the movies and music videos that are made and just try to find a computer game that doesn't have an element of violence.
As children we played cops and robbers, and usually the good guys won.
It just didn't have the same level of violence that seems to be the norm that children are exposed to now. Sexual content and innuendo in mainstream TV leaves little to the imagination. So much for“Leave It To Beaver.”
Does a passerby have an obligation, even though they are not a mandatory reporter, to help a child?
What if that child is getting a much-needed paddling for something? Is the adult out of control? Do you watch, shake your head and walk away or call the police?
Are you in a position to report and place a parent under“suspicion” for abuse that could be as simple as a child falling down learning to walk?
As a parent, you can't protect your child from every bump and bruise.
If a parent grabs a child's arm to keep them from stepping into traffic and they get a bruise, are they bad? I'd risk that.
Unintended consequences of SB 154, however, may complicate organizations and put volunteers in a place they may not want to be.
Child abuse, neglect decline by 21.8%
by Sarah Plummer Register
The 2011 West Virginia KIDS COUNT data released today reveals a vast gulf between great improvements and quick declines. Some indicators of child well-being, particularly child abuse and neglect, have improved across the state; however, rates of child poverty and teen pregnancy continued to worsen.
Margie Hale, executive director of KIDS COUNT, noted “We are very alarmed more babies are being born to teens and more of those teens are unmarried. These babies need strong public support that will help them overcome the risk factors that threaten their well-being.
“That's why KIDS COUNT continues to advocate for important state investments to improve the quality of child care.”
The survey notes 12 indicators of child well-being and 16 background factors.
For the first time this year, the survey considers both child oral health and training for child care workers.
The most significant change across the state is a 21.8 percent decrease in child abuse and neglect rates.
Injury death rate for teens 15 to 19 years old and child death rates for ages 1 to 14 have improved 15.4 and 8.8 percent respectively.
The numbers of teens who are pregnant continue to rise, however, with a 10.9 percent increase in teen birth rate for ages 15 to 19 and a 13 percent increase in birth to unmarried teens ages 10 to 19.
McDowell County proves to have the highest rate of teen births, child abuse/neglect and children in poverty in the state.
According to the KIDS COUNT data, 82.9 percent of McDowell County's school-aged children qualify for free or reduced school meals, and for every 1,000 children in the county, 51.3 are victims of child abuse or neglect.
Moreover, the county's high school dropout rate is 23.6 percent and the percentage of births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education has increased 33.3 percent.
West Virginia ranks 44th in the nation when considering the percentage of children born with low birth weight, infant mortality, percentage of teens who are high school dropouts, number of teens not attending school and not working, number of children living in families where no parent has a full-time and year-round employment, number of children in poverty and number of children living in single-parent families.
Each county in West Virginia was ranked in order under the same indicators.
Monroe County ranked No. 10 in the state; Greenbrier, 30th; Raleigh, 35th; Nicholas, 43rd; Fayette, 46th; Summers, 47th; Mercer, 50th; Wyoming, 51; and McDowell, 55.
The three counties rated best in the state under these indicators of child well-being were Monongalia, Jefferson and Putnam.
On a county level, Fayette showed drastic improvements as well as short falls.
On one hand, child death rates increase 33.7 percent, but infant mortality decreased 32.5 percent.
Teen birth rates (ages 15 to 19) increased 42 percent and births to unmarried teens (ages 10 to 19) increased 30.6 percent.
Greenbrier County shows a 108 percent increase in teen injury death, but a 37.7 decrease in child abuse and neglect.
Both the teen birth rate and birth to unmarried teens increased 14.8 and 11.8 percent respectively.
In Monroe County, both teen injury death rates and child abuse improved significantly, 100 and 72.9 percent.
The teen birth rate in Monroe County is up 43.5 percent, birth to unmarried teens 79.6 percent, and the number of high school dropouts have increased 28 percent.
Nicholas County, while improving in child death and teen injury death rates, has also seen a 78.3 percent increase in infant mortality.
Child abuse and neglect is up 31.6 percent, teen birth rate 46.3 percent and births to unmarried teens 41.6 percent.
Raleigh County has seen a decrease in birth to mothers with less than a 12th grade education (12.2 percent), high school dropouts (11 percent) and a decrease in child abuse (15.3 percent).
The most significant increase in Raleigh was a 64.9 percent rise in teen injury death and a 22.8 percent rise in child death rates.
Summers County data shows a 232.1 percent increase in child death, a 35.7 percent increase in teen birth rate and a 15 percent increase in high school dropout rates.
The percent of births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education decreased 20.6 percent.
Wyoming county shows an improvement in teen injury death (54.8 percent), child abuse (34.2 percent) and child death rates (21.9 percent).
Teen birth rates have increased 25 percent and births to unmarried teens have increased 21.1 percent.
KIDS COUNT rate changes for child abuse, high school dropouts, and teen birth are based on an average of victims/dropouts for three years ending in 2010.
Child death and teen injury death rates are based on five years of data ending in 2009.
Rate changes for births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education and births to unmarried teens are based on a three year total ending in 2009.
KIDS COUNT is a nation-wide project that aims to bring the needs of children to the forefront for the public and policymakers.
The initiative begin in 1989 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
The 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book can be downloaded at www.wvkidscount.org.
Agency will review all open child abuse cases
by DONNA KOEHN
Although they don't officially take over the supervision of child abuse cases in Hillsborough County until July 1, Eckerd officials announced a plan Tuesday to send in teams of experts immediately to pore over every open case in the county — more than 1,500 of them — looking for errors and ways to improve child safety.
Last month, Eckerd was chosen to replace longtime lead agency Hillsborough Kids Inc., which has been criticized for having the highest number of child abuse deaths statewide. From 2009 to the present, nine children died while under the watch of HKI and its subcontracted agencies.
By contrast, Eckerd, currently the lead agency in Pasco and Pinellas counties, was in charge when two children died, one in 2008 and one in 2010.
"We wanted to get our arms around the cases in Hillsborough County as soon as possible," said Lorita Shirley, Eckerd's newly appointed executive director in Hillsborough. Previously, she served in the same role for Eckerd in Pinellas and Polk counties.
The investigative teams include experienced child abuse investigators, medical personnel, mental health specialists and experts in substance abuse, she said.
They will start with the families most at risk: young single parents with children younger than 6, as well as parents with chronic substance abuse issues and a history of violence.
It's the first step toward stabilizing what, said Mike Carroll, regional director for the Department of Children & Families, is the state's most complicated and confusing delivery system of child welfare services.
David Dennis, president and chief executive officer of Clearwater-based Eckerd, said the privately funded nonprofit agency plans other changes as well.
Among them is a plan to upgrade the quality of the frontline workers charged with recognizing dangerous situations for children and doing what is needed to protect them.
The first step is recruiting the right people and paying them according to the difficulty of the job, he said. Second, workers will receive seven weeks of training and a slow introduction to cases.
"These are people who come in wanting to help children but they become overwhelmed," Dennis said.
Eckerd requires follow-up meetings with new hires at 30 days with their supervisors, at 75 days with human resources and a third meeting after 100 days on the job with their supervisor's boss.
"It's a way for us to know if they're doing OK, feeling confident and using the right judgment," he said.
Eckerd also offers to pay for employees with bachelor's degrees to receive a master's in social work. Caseloads also will be decreased, meaning case managers would be responsible for no more than 18 children at a time. The ideal, according to the Child Welfare League of America, is 12.
The goal is to slow the turnover rate of 40 percent per year; most workers last just short of three years before quitting, said DCF Secretary David Wilkins. Inexperienced workers are the most likely to make mistakes in a field in which experience is critical to saving lives.
Wilkins said that Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the discovery of the body of Nubia Barahona, the adopted daughter of a couple who authorities say beat the girl to death and stuffed her body in a plastic bag. Her battered twin brother was found in a truck along Interstate 95 in Palm Beach County.
"When I went through that tragedy last year, it became apparent that we needed to make radical changes," Wilkins said. "We're asking for more money for child abuse investigations. The case managers feel overworked and underappreciated. We have to change the way they do their jobs."
Shirley said Eckerd, which was begun in 1968, offers a model that has been effective.
"We have 43 years of stability with a corporate infrastructure that allows us to know how to do the job better," she said.
Over the next four months, Eckerd will conduct community meetings in Hillsborough County, beginning in neighborhoods in which the highest numbers of children have been removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. Priority will be given to ZIP codes 33612, 33613 and 33610.
The first community forum will be at 6:30 p.m. March 6 at the College Hill Church of God in Christ, 6410 30th St., Tampa.
For information, go to www.eckerd.org/hillsborough.
Orange Woman Fights Against Sexual Abuse
Peggy Pisano has been counseling victims of sexual abuse and child abuse for 35 years.
by Fred Musante
After 35 years as a rape crisis and child abuse counselor, Peggy Pisano said the plight of the victims can be emotionally draining.
"The cases can touch you emotionally," says Pisano, the former executive director of the Milford Rape Crisis Center. But the center volunteers take care of each other so they can focus on helping the victims.
Pisano recalled when she first started volunteering for the program and had her own 7-month-old daughter, she encountered a 3-month-old child abuse victim and it was hard not to take it personally.
Stepping Down to Step Up
Pisano stepped down as executive director last July to focus on her other roles as Coordinator of Sexual Assault Services and head of one of 16 multidisciplinary teams in the state. Ann Fabian was hired to take over as executive director of the Center.
In the first role, she leads the sexual abuse crisis volunteers that counsel victims throughout reporting the crime, hospital treatment and prosecution of the assailant.
The multidisciplinary team consists of volunteers who are trained as counselors for child victims of physical and sexual abuse, with the focus on minimizing the trauma to the victim and his or her family.
The Milford Rape Crisis Center's service area includes Milford, Orange and West Haven, plus the Lower Naugatuck Valley communities of Shelton, Ansonia, Derby and Seymour. The center works closely with Milford Hospital and Griffin Hospital and the local police departments.
Pisano, an Orange resident, is a state certified counselor advocate and a certified police instructor for sex crime training.
"I wish I'd see a time when our services aren't necessary," she says. However, rape and abuse cases in the center's service area seem to be on the increase.
There were 360 cases in the 2010-11 fiscal year, but if the trend continues the number for 2011-12 will top 400.
It is unclear if that means more crimes are occurring or just that more are being reported, Pisano notes.
Inspired by a Speaker
Pisano is originally from Detroit and had had no training or education in psychology or social work before moving to Milford in the 1970s when her husband's job took them here.
She says she joined the Milford Newcomer's Club and one day a representative of the Crisis Center was a guest speaker. "I thought this is something I'd like to get involved in," Pisano remembers.
She has received plenty of training since then from the Milford Rape Crisis Center's training program, as well as 35 years of experience helping rape and abuse victims. "Sort of on the job training, I guess you could call it," she says.
Gradually, her responsibilities increased until she assumed the job as executive director 10 years ago.
"We provide information," she says in explaining the organization's role. "People call and don't know what to do."
The center's volunteers act as the victim's advocate through the process of reporting the crime to the police, performing the rape kit procedure at the hospital, and interviews with detectives and prosecutors.
The multidisciplinary teams, which are sanctioned by the Governor's Task Force on Justice for Abused Children, serve as advocates working with the Yale Child Sexual Abuse Clinic in New Haven. Their goal is to replace the need for numerous, repetitive victim interviews with a single interview by specially trained child abuse experts.
All the Milford Rape Crisis Center services are free to the victims. The center accepts donations, and holds fundraisers including its 9th Annual Indoor Golf Classic on February 24 at the Costa Azzurra Restaurant in Milford, and the Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event coming in April.
Lawmakers should keep the pressure on sex-trafficking ads
Eight out of a dozen anti-sex-trafficking bills have made it through the state Senate. The state House of Representatives now takes up the package, continuing important progress.
IMPORTANT progress combating sex trafficking should continue as the state House of Representatives takes up a package of anti-sex-trafficking legislation passed recently by the Senate.
Hearings on the bills begin Wednesday in the House Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Committee.
A dozen bills were introduced at the start of the legislative session. At the session's midpoint, the Senate has passed eight of them. Two more are in the pipeline.
Good work. As a package, the proposed rules give a stronger hand to law enforcement to crack down on pimps.
Passage of Senate Bill 6251 was particularly noteworthy. If the House approves the bill — and it should — knowingly selling or disseminating an ad for commercial sex that features a minor would become a class C felony. It would also make a defense available when the seller makes a bona fide attempt to check ID of the person in the ad and can produce a record of the identification used to verify age.
The bill's author, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, worked with state Attorney General Rob McKenna and the American Civil Liberties Union to craft a bill that protects women and children from being exploited in commercial advertising but does not violate constitutionally protected free-speech rights.
This bill is rightly aimed at Backpage.com, a robust online clearinghouse for sex escorts.
An independent study by Advanced Interactive Media Group estimated that Back-page.com's "Adult" section is expected to earn its owner, Village Voice Media, $24.8 million, accounting for more than two-thirds of the $36 million in revenue projected to be earned by all tracked online classified ads facilitating commercial sex. Village Voice Media also owns Seattle Weekly.
Dozens of cases in 15 states involve girls allegedly sold for sex on Backpage.com, according to Shared Hope International, an anti-sex-trafficking group headed by former Republican Congresswoman Linda Smith. Moreover, the Seattle Police Department has linked 22 cases of child prostitution since 2010 to girls advertised as escorts on the website.
A coalition of state attorneys general, mayors and community advocates have urged Village Voice Media to take a stronger role protecting minors from exploitation through advertisements on its website.
Pressure should continue until it does.
Outreach workers say sex trafficking on the rise in Hawaii
by Olena Heu
Hidden behind closed doors and on the streets at night.
Outreach workers say sex trafficking in the state has drastically increased in recent months and more needs to be done to tackle the problem.
Outreach workers attempting to tackle forced prostitution and the sex trafficking industry in Hawaii say numbers have climbed recently.
"They are from California , Vegas, D.C., New York , small towns even you know South Dakota as well as Hilo or Maui or here in Honolulu ,” said Kathryn Xian of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery.
Victims are also brought to the islands from parts of Asia and Micronesia to work the streets.
"Anytime you have something like the Pro Bowl or a big convention come to Hawaii you are going to see an increase in the number of victims,” said Jessica Munoz of “Courage to be you.”
An increase in victims means more help is needed to stop the sex trafficking.
"We have serviced in the last year over 40 victims of mostly sex trafficking about 25 percent of those are labor trafficking cases and 10-percent of that are children,” said Xian.
State laws are said to be some of the weakest in the nation when it comes to human trafficking, lawmakers are looking at several bills aimed at changing that.
"That is just part of our goal to help educate people and this is what is actually going on and this is the way that you can be a part of the change that needs to occur,” said Candice Garrison of Courage House.
A documentary and informational meeting on sex trafficking in Hawaii will be held next Saturday 2/25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Historic Haleiwa Gym.
For L.A. Dependency Court, a first: the press
Opening dependency hearings to the press and public is good for kids.
February 13, 2012
I have been attending trials in Los Angeles for 20 years. I've covered torture and murder, drug smuggling and bank robberies. I covered the trial of the officers who beat Rodney G. King and the rioters who beat Reginald O. Denny. I covered the murder trial of O.J. Simpsonand the child molestation investigation of Michael Jackson. I've been put on the stand and been told to reveal my sources for some unflattering documents regarding Police Chief Willie L. Williams (I refused). But one type of hearing has remained presumptively off-limits.
Until last week. On Wednesday morning, I took a seat in Courtroom 415 at the Los Angeles Dependency Court, where cases are heard involving child abuse and neglect. Judge Amy Pellman brought the room to order promptly at 9 a.m. and informed anyone who didn't know already that I was there to observe for the day. She asked whether anyone objected to my staying. Boy, did they.
For years, advocates of greater transparency in the child welfare system have argued that public and press access to dependency courts would improve the public's sense of how that system works. But the forces in favor of secrecy were strong – a combination of well-meaning defenders of children's privacy and unions and legal organizations who want to shield social workers, lawyers and others from public scrutiny. Those forces had prevailed until this month. But then Michael Nash, the presiding judge of Los Angeles Juvenile Court, issued an order decreeing that dependency hearings, which had been presumptively closed, were now to be presumptively open to the press. As a member of the press, I went last week to take advantage of this new right.
The first objection was to my being present for a hearing over whether I could be present. Pellman ruled in my favor. Then lawyer Thomas Wayne Pichotta argued that Nash was wrong to issue his order and that Pellman should not open her courtroom until opponents could get a ruling on their appeal. Pellman rejected that argument, too. Pichotta then delivered a dissertation on the right of privacy, which he asserted was grounded in the 4th Amendment. Pellman rejected his objection.
Other lawyers then chimed in with their own protests. Some argued it should be my burden to show that my presence wouldn't harm children. My lawyer (yes, I had a lawyer with me, since I'd expected objections) rebutted that. Another asked for a delay; Pellman said no.
The lawyers asked Pellman to order me not to divulge the names of children involved in these proceedings; she correctly conceded that she had no power to issue such an order, but I volunteered to withhold them, consistent with The Times' general practice in this area.
There were more objections, but finally they were all dispensed with and the day began. What followed was tragic, enlightening and important for the public to know. A man struggled to persuade the court to look past his criminal history and return his daughter to his custody; a woman whose two girls had been taken away made a desperate plea to get them back before she loses them forever to adoption; a broken family asked the court for help in reuniting a group of sisters under one roof.
Pellman was alternately stern and forgiving. She reminded the mother trying to recover her children that she'd had chances to do so and had failed. Her time, the judge warned, was running out. "Childhood has a short shelf life," Pellman said. "They deserve to have a mommy who's stable." The woman wept.
An essential goal of openness is to expose failings in the system, and those, too, were evident. One child takes medication for seizures that exacerbates behavior problems, and medication for behavior that aggravates the seizures. She needs – but has yet to receive – better coordinated care. Pellman expressed frustration that it took seven months for her to receive information on this case, and directed the child's caregivers to work together.
That one was of several glimpses of the greater accountability that public access to these courts will help bring about, but there also were reminders that access will also deepen appreciation for the system. Pellman's courtroom, decorated with teddy bears and a Spongebob Squarepants tapestry, is a place of both authority and compassion, and the lawyers who fought so hard to exclude me worked hard for their clients, all of whom ignored my presence.
In one instance, a young couple had lost their son to protective services but then completed the counseling required of them and applied for his return. "We have an excellent report from the social worker," Pellman told the couple. "Congratulations, you've done very well."
With that, she agreed to reunite parents and child. The boy, sitting behind me in the courtroom, called out "Mama" and reached for her as she left the room, her boy in her arms. "Spongebob," he added, pointing at the tapestry.
Secrecy has hidden many sins in the Los Angeles County foster care system. The system has failed to take children from dangerous homes or placed them in unsafe situations, without any public scrutiny. Openness will help expose such problems. But secrecy also has cloaked the system's successes; they, too, will be on display as this important experiment in open government unfolds.
CHILD ABUSE: Community group hunts for solutions
BARBARA COTTER - The Gazette
What can a community do to combat child abuse and neglect?
Maybe it involves better educating new parents on how to pacify and cope with a screaming baby.
Or maybe it's by training first responders — police, firefighters and EMTs — on what to look for when they go out on calls unrelated to abuse and neglect.
It could even include a mentoring system to connect seasoned parents with new mothers and fathers who may be clueless about the challenging and sometimes frustrating journey of raising a baby.
Those ideas, and many more, were part of the mix Monday as a task force made up of representatives from social service agencies, government, hospitals, the military and law enforcement met to discuss ways to prevent child fatalities from abuse or neglect.
The task force was formed after 10 children in El Paso County died last year from abuse or neglect. While task force members acknowledge a need to address abuse and neglect among all ages, they want to start by taking smaller, more manageable steps and narrow their focus on preventing the deaths of children 5 and younger. According to Sally Duncan, an injury prevention specialist at Memorial Health System, eight of the 10 child victims of 2011 were taken to Memorial; all were under age 5, and all died of abusive head trauma.
“One concern: If we try to do too much, we won't get anywhere,” said El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark, an organizer of the task force and the commission's liaison with the El Paso County Department of Human Services. “We hope that targeting baby deaths will spill over to other types of abuse.”
Most of Monday's meeting, the group's second, was spent going over the work that six committees have started.
Among the ideas:
|• Establish a hotline to connect parents on the verge of losing their cool with someone who can help them. One idea is to expand the region's 2-1-1 hotline to include the service for parents. “I see this as a type of triage; we talk to people, find out what they need,” said Michelle Milner, who oversees the local 2-1-1 office.
• Expand ways to reach parents of newborns and provide them with support and education. Memorial has a bedside program for parents of newborns to teach them about the dangers of shaking a baby and how to cope with a crying baby. Duncan said the program reduced cases of abusive head trauma by 63 percent its first year and 50 percent the second, but not all babies are born at Memorial, and not all women are in a learning frame of mind right after giving birth.
• Train first responders to look for signs of abuse of neglect when they're out on a call for something else. “Every firefighter would rather ask these questions and not go out on a call two weeks later to transport somebody,” one participant said.
One message was clear: There is no single answer to preventing child abuse and neglect. Some abuse occurs in a state of rage by a parent who didn't mean to hurt the child. Some takes place discreetly, over time, resulting in burns and broken bones. Some parents will accept offers of help and education; others won't. But if those parents can't be reached, others who know them can.
“A lot of families, we discuss in fatality reviews. You could put a million brochures in front of them, and it's not going to stop them from killing children. They're not reaching out for services,” Duncan said. “But someone in their circle — if they reached out, that may have saved a child.”
Child abuse leaves a long-lasting mark on brain: Study
February 14, 2012
Abuse and maltreatment during childhood can shrink important parts of the brain that could lead to psychiatric disorders like depression, drug addiction and other mental health problems later in life, according to Harvard scientists.
The link between childhood abuse and reduced brain volume in parts of the hippocampus could help find new, better ways to treat survivors of childhood abuse, the scientists said.
"These results may provide one explanation for why childhood abuse has been identified with an increased risk for drug abuse or psychosis," study researcher Martin Teicher of
Harvard University told LiveScience.
"Now that one can look at these sub-regions in the brain, we can get a better idea of what treatments are helping."
For their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences, Teicher and his team used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of 193 individuals between 18 and 25 years old, who had already undergone several rounds of testing to be qualified.
They then analysed the size of areas in the hippocampus and compared the results with the patient`s history.
It was found that those who had been abused, neglected or maltreated -- based on well-established questionnaires – as children had reduced volume in certain areas of hippocampus by about six per cent, compared with kids who hadn`t experienced child abuse.
They also had size reductions in a related brain area, called the subiculum, which relays the signals from the hippocampus to other areas of the brain, including the dopamine system, also known as the brain`s "reward center".
Volume reduction in the subiculum has been associated with drug abuse and schizophrenia, as well.
In animal experiments, including non-human primates, this hippocampus can shrink because of high exposure to the stress hormone cortisol during two developmental periods: between ages 3 and 5 and between ages 11 and 13, the researchers said.
These stress hormone levels stop the growth of neurons in the hippocampus, leading to smaller volume in the adult human brain. Changes in hippocampus volume have been linked to depression, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders.
High stress levels from childhood abuse and maltreatment during important brain development periods may be causing the decreased hippocampus volume that the researchers saw.
"This region has a lot of receptors for the stress hormone cortisol. It interacts with receptors in these neurons to effect the development and the branching of these neurons,"
Teicher said. "The neurons are responding by either shrinking or not going into neurogenesis [and making new neurons]."
These brain changes can cause mental illness, explaining why childhood abuse is highly correlated to diseases like depression and drug addiction, Teicher said.
"By damaging it to some degree you may cause the dopamine system to be disregulated, and disregulation of the dopamine system has been linked to drug abuse and psychological illnesses," he added.
Assault support line seeking volunteers
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services is looking for volunteer advocates to respond to its 24 hour crisis and support line and make a difference in the lives of people affected by sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, stalking or sexual harassment.
Volunteer advocates listen and provide support, information and referrals to people calling for assistance. Calls can require supporting someone through a difficult memory of childhood sexual abuse, providing support and education about available resources, or accompanying a caller to a local hospital, police station or courthouse when the survivor chooses to use these resources.
Volunteer advocates receive extensive training and support to prepare them for effectively responding to callers. The training provides insight and information in the areas of sexual harassment, stalking, child sexual abuse, sexual assault and the challenges faced by survivors and their supporters. Volunteers are taught the various options and resources available for survivors of all ages in our communities and learn crisis intervention and advocacy skills through training and role-play scenarios with special emphasis placed on the importance of self-care.
Volunteer advocates carry a pager during their on-call shifts, allowing them to be on call from their homes and choose from a variety of scheduling options. A stipend is available for volunteer advocates who cover evening, weekend and holiday shifts.
Volunteer advocates must be over the age of 18, empathetic and dependable with access to reliable transportation. All potential volunteers must complete the training and a screening process which includes criminal and DHHS background checks. No prior experience is necessary.
Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services is the new name of the agency providing sexual assault related services throughout Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties. In October of 2011, the Sexual Assault Crisis Center of Androscoggin County, the Rape Education and Crisis Hotline of Oxford County and the Sexual Assault Victims Emergency Services of Franklin County merged to become one agency. The new agency is maintaining the staff, offices and services of SACC, REACH and SAVES, and sexual assault services may continue to be known by those names in their local communities
In addition to its 24 hour response line, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services offers accompaniment to local hospitals, law enforcement and court proceedings; individual advocacy; and support groups. It also provides prevention education to local schools on a variety of topics including Internet/technology safety, healthy relationships, sexual assault and sexual abuse prevention.
A new training session for volunteer advocates is scheduled to begin soon. Meetings will be held on Monday evenings and some Saturdays. To learn more about becoming a volunteer advocate in Androscoggin County, contact Sarah L. Wood at 784-5272, ext. 104. For more information about providing support in the communities in Oxford County and the towns of Harrison and Bridgton, contact Stephanie Leblond at 743-9777, ext. 1. The deadline to sign up for training to become a volunteer advocate is Friday, Feb. 17.
Delicate Questions of Abuse
Molestation Case Raises Problem of How to Ask Children About Allegations
by TAMARA AUDI
LOS ANGELES—In the photos, the smiling dark-haired girl poses with her favorite teacher, Mark Berndt, or displays a cookie sticking out of her mouth—part of the "tasting games" he played with her and other students.
It wasn't until a sheriff's investigator showed up to ask about her time in Mr. Berndt's classroom at Miramonte Elementary School that the now 10-year-old girl got a sense that some of the games the teacher led in his after-school sessions may have been less innocent, according to Greg Owen, a lawyer representing her family and eight others.
Mr. Berndt, 61, was charged last month with sexually molesting 23 children; investigators say they suspect he fed them his semen on spoons and cookies. His lawyer had no comment on the charges, pending his arraignment later this month.
Most abused children know they are being harmed, according to experts. But the scandal that has enveloped the Los Angeles Unified School District, whatever the legal outcome, raises a vexing procedural problem: how to pursue an investigation that authorities know may lead to traumatic revelations for the children and for their parents.
"You walk up to that door knowing you're going to change this family's life," said Michael Osborn, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent in Los Angeles who runs a multiagency task force investigating sex crimes against children, but isn't involved with the Berndt probe and didn't comment on the investigation.
He said he and his team have faced unsuspecting abuse victims, calling it "one of the most defining moments of a case."
There are protocols for questioning children who may be victims of sexual abuse, but there is no national standard for how—or whether—to inform them that they may have been victimized. Children too young to be aware of the possibility, or who were victimized in ways difficult to detect, may realize it during questioning.
Authorities and child advocates are confronting the issue more often as they track down victims of child pornography on the Internet.
"They don't understand what these pictures [of them] meant until much later, when an FBI agent knocks on their door and starts questioning them," said Dr. Frank Putnam, professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and an expert on child sexual abuse.
Scott Burns, a former district attorney in Utah and now the director of the National District Attorneys Association, said that in cases in which prosecutors can rely on photographs or DNA instead of child testimony, officials consult with parents and psychologists about whether to inform or question children who don't understand that they may have been abused.
"It's a delicate balance, and these are very, very difficult cases," Mr. Burns said.
Investigators tread carefully when interviewing children, typically asking open-ended questions to avoid planting suggestions that might later prejudice the case, law-enforcement officials say.
In the Berndt case, they have asked students to "talk about the activity in Mr. Berndt's class: Did you play any games? What kind?" said Sgt. Dan Scott, who leads the special-victims bureau of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.
But experts say kids can figure it out. "There's a dawning realization," said Teresa Huizar, who runs the National Children's Alliance, an advocacy group for abused children. "By the end of an interview, and by the time they've had a medical exam, their life has changed dramatically."
Not everyone agrees that open-ended questions are the norm. "I've seen the interviews with law enforcement. They ask close-ended, directed, and leading, suggestive questions," said Dean Tong, a defense consultant on child-abuse cases, who said specially trained child advocates are better at the task.
Last year in Delaware, a pediatrician was convicted of abusing scores of young patients between 1998 and 2009. He is appealing the conviction.
Many of his young victims are unaware of the abuse, which occurred during medical examinations, said Joseph Zingaro, a psychologist who runs a support group for parents in the case. "The community is very divided about if and when they should even share that with the kids," Mr. Zingaro said. "Some parents are choosing not to say anything, for fear they may trigger a response. Other parents have been more proactive."
At Miramonte Elementary, investigators said they began pursuing the case against Mr. Berndt after a photo developer sent them pictures of students blindfolded and poised to eat a substance on a spoon, which they said DNA tests showed was Mr. Berndt's semen.
They still needed to question children to understand the "totality of the circumstances," Sgt. Scott said.
Kids who learn they were abused think, " 'I thought I could tell who is my friend,' " said Ms. Huizar, the child advocate. "And they sense a loss of personal safety because of that."
Childhood sexual abuse: a survivor speaks
by AJai Hilton
It was just a small closet remodel, a way to maybe take one more thing off his “honey do” list from his wife. But working in that confined space uncovered something Ken Followell didn't see coming. It was his past and this time it wouldn't be pushed aside.
“Being in a physical location that was similar to where a lot of the abuse happened triggered the memories starting to come back,” Followell said. Those memories had long been locked away, stored in place where even Ken didn't know they lived. But there they stayed for almost 30 years.
“I was actually working remodeling my closet in my master bedroom and a lot of the sexual abuse happened in a coal bin which was approximately the same size.” He says the rush of memories triggered by that small space lead to some realizations about questions he had for years. “When the memories started coming back, I was sure I was losing my mind. It was difficult for me to believe that it happened but it was so undeniable. Once the memories started coming back, it made so much sense. I understood why I was such an isolated person … such a loner because I'd been taught that was the only safe way to be.”
According to Tari Allan, a mental health counselor at Manatee Glens, the specialty hospital and outpatient practice for mental health and addictions, Ken's experience isn't far from the norm. “Many times when I see young boys, they don't even realize initially that something wrong is happening,” she says. “It's as they age and have more appropriate relationships with other individuals that they begin to realize that this was actually abuse.”
Allan runs a counseling group for boys and young men at Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Services. She says counseling can help victims break out of the isolation they sometimes feel by helping them to know they're not alone and allowing them to tell their stories without judgment.
Manatee Glens Rape Crisis offers services to both males and females. One of those services is a 24-hour, crisis hotline at 941-708-6059 that can be accessed seven days a week. There are also advocacy services and counseling programs. All services are free to victims and their families.
Allan says healing after sexual abuse is possible and she offers encouragement to those who need help. “Keep telling, she said. “Tell until somebody believes you. There is support out there.”
Today, Followell works to help other survivors of sexual assault. He is the president of Malesurvivor.org, a national organization that offers support, education and advocacy for men who were sexually assaulted. He also runs a peer support group for male survivors through Manatee Glens Rape Crisis Services.
While Followell concedes the subject of sexual abuse is difficult to talk about, he says parents need to take control to protect their children. “Don't be afraid you're going to upset your child by having a conversation you don't know how to have. Trust your gut because something is telling you something's not right. Don't wait 20 years to find out what it was.”
For more information, about Manatee Glens, or to schedule an interview with Mary Ruiz, president/CEO, call 941-782-4320, email AJai Hilton at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.manateeglens.org.
SingleSource Services, A Leading Background Screening Company, Endorses Test That Screens for Child Sexual Abusers
A scientifically proven assessment test is the missing link that ties together background screening, criminal record checks, finger printing and drug testing to red flag child sexual abusers.
Jacksonville Beach, Florida (PRWEB) February 14, 2012
Don Dymer, president and chief executive officer for SingleSource Services reminds his colleagues in the background industry and others engaged in what he calls "frenzied" background checks about the limitations of strictly relying on criminal background checks to keep sexual abusers away from children.
"The background screening industry is seeing a flood of requests by people thinking they are doing their due diligence to keep children and teens safe by demanding criminal background checks. As background screening professionals we have to alert the public that in order to determine if someone is suitable to work with children and youth they need to do far much more extensive checking. They need to use more sophisticated assessments and screening methods than what has traditionally constituted our industry's basic tools of the trade." explains Dymer. "What I want my colleagues and their clients to understand is that research tells us that less than one-tenth of 1% of child sexual offenders will have a criminal record of sexual abuse.**
Don Dymer of SingleSource is a founding member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS) and a member of Concerned CRAs, a group of ethical background screening vendors who maintain the highest standards of truth in business and have made it their goal to ensure that employers and organizations are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of database searches.
After years of careful searching, Dymer has found the assessment tool that works in helping to identify child sexual abusers. It is called the Diana Screen®. A test that to a high scientific degree of accuracy alerts you that this is not a person who should be placed in a position of trust with children and youth. The test meets the goal: "To select the best possible people for staff and volunteer positions and to screen out individuals who have sexually abused youth or are at risk to abuse," as set by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Don Dymer and SingleSource Services are taking this assessment tool to the background screening industry and is urging them to take it to their clients. "The goal is to make our industry peers aware that this established, yet mainly unknown screen needs to be part of their background screening programs in order to weed out those who pose a sexual threat to children and seek access to them through employment or as volunteers."
The DIANA SCREEN® is named for a victim of child sexual abuse who took her life. The test takes 30 minutes to complete, is completely confidential, the results are cross validated 200 times. The assessment establishes whether an adult recognizes the appropriate boundaries that should exist between them and a child. Not all people who fail are child abusers - some are enablers, those who lack the ability to recognize inappropriate behavior when they see it all around them. These people contribute equally to the sexual abuse of children.
The Diana Screen® is supported by 18 years of research by Abel Screening in Atlanta, Georgia and two long-term pilot studies with the Episcopal Church Pension Fund and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. It is also endorsed by the Foster Family-based Treatment Association.
Dymer explains, "As a background screening provider who has campaigned vigorously for people to be vigilant when it comes to background checking, I am now extremely worried that people out there don't realize that when it comes to identifying child sexual abusers - background checks, finger printing, criminal background checks and drug testing won't give you the whole story. We can't let people rely on results of criminal record checks as a stand-alone solution. They see that no arrests appear for child sexual abuse and figure that the potential hire or volunteer is good to go. That's simply not the case. Research shows us that 6% of adults have a sexual interest in children and that they will be drawn to employment opportunities or volunteer to be near their prey.*"
SingleSource Services is located in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.The company provides background screening to over 2,500 business across a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. SingleSource was founded in 1995 and believes that backgrounds are like fingerprints and prides itself on its long term customer relationships and a strong commitment to fulfill its corporate civic duties.
To understand how to include the Diana Screen® in your background screening program call Don Dymer at SingleSource. It is a five minute call that can save your organization and save a child from a lifetime of horror. Visit www.singlesourceservices.com. Telephone us at 800.713.3412.
Alyssa Bustamante and children that kill: When violence is a lullaby
by Jerome Elam
DALLAS , February 13, 2011 – A feeling of anger and confusion swept over the town of Jefferson City, Missouri last Wednesday as Alyssa Bustamante was given a life sentence for the brutal murder of nine-year-old Elizabeth Olten.
In October 2009, then fifteen-year-old Bustamante lured Olten into the woods where she brutally stabbed her to death because she “wanted to know what it felt like to kill someone.
The trial reveals that Bustamante used her younger sister as bait to lure Elizabeth Olten away from her home before stabbing her to death with a knife. At her sentencing she offered an apology to the parents of her victim as she was escorted to serve the life term she may one day be paroled from.
Throughout history there have been rare glimpses into the mind of children who become murderers.
In December 1968 Mary Flora Bell was found guilty of murdering two boys, three and four. Bell was only ten-years-old. She is currently on record as the youngest documented serial killer.
What drives these children to detach themselves from any association with humanity and become killers has been the perpetual quandary of the psychiatric community for years. Bell was the daughter of a prostitute whose father was unknown and thought to be a convicted felon.
Bustamante is the child of teenage parents, a drug abuser whose mother and father left her to serve time in prison. Striking similarities in the lives of two young girls who looked into the eyes of the abyss and saw themselves looking back.
The process of making a human life insignificant in someone's mind, especially in the case of a child is not well understood. As her dairy was read recounting how she enjoyed the murder of Elizabeth Olten minutes before attending a church dance, Bustamante was called a monster by the prosecution.
A suicide attempt in 2007 resulted in the prescription of Prozac, which prosecutors argued she was not taking at the time of the murder. In a study done in 2000 on juvenile homicide, Psychologists David M. Shumaker and Ronald J. Prinz found striking similarities that transcended race, gender and income level.
Children who commit murder are more likely to come from homes where domestic abuse, physical violence, sexual abuse, the complete absence of parenting or poor parenting and over all instability were present.
As a survivor of both physical and sexual abuse my youth was spent in an environment of poor parenting and I have seen others in my circumstances part ways with humanity. So why do children choose to be consumed by the darkness and abandon all hope on giving life meaning?
The simple answer is that they have convinced themselves their own lives no longer have value and by extrapolation everyone else's as well. Anger is a motivating factor in juvenile violence and when a powerless child sees those as having power over the musing violence, they assimilate.
In cases of long-term abuse, anger can build inside a child until an explosion occurs. If you place a cork into the mouth of a faucet and turn the tap on full, eventually the water has to go somewhere. Such is the case in children who come from abusive households.
Schooled in inappropriate ways of expressing negative feelings, many children are nurtured on dysfunction. They learn to seek out chaotic situations because it is what they are most comfortable with.
In 1993, two-year-old James Bulger was kidnapped raped and murdered near Liverpool, England. His killers were Robert Thompson and Jon Venables, two ten-year-old boys. They spotted James Bulger as his mother turned her back in a butcher's shop and lured him outside while they punched and kicked him, even dropping him on his head as bystanders watched. After a 2.5-mile walk Thompson and Venables dropped a 22-pound iron bar on his head killing him. They placed his body across train tracks where it was later cut in half.
The coroner found 42 injuries including ten skull fractures when he examined James Bulger. Video evidence shown at trial showed the pair luring the two year old away from his mother while she was distracted.
Thompson and Venables were from unstable environments where alcoholism, absent fathers and negligent parenting were the status quo.
During the trial of Thompson and Venables the defense tried to cite the influence of violent videos on Thompson and Venables behavior as a motivating factor for their crime. There has been much discussion in recent times about violent video games and their effect on children.
Christopher Ferguson is an associate professor at Texas A&M International University in Laredo and after reviewing the evidence he feels the effects are generally low. He found violence in the home such as abuse and poor parenting is the largest indicators of violent behaviors in children.
The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs released a study in 2009 called "From Time-Out to Hard Time: Young Children in the Adult Criminal Justice System. “ Within its pages it states that in twenty-two states including the District of Colombia children as young as seven can be sentenced as adults. More than half the states allow children under 12 to be treated as adults.
Beginning in 1985, violent crimes by children increased and from 1995 to 2004 ninety-two murders were committed by children under 12. The study found a disturbing trend among violent offenders transferred to adult court. More often than not, only the high profile cases were transferred while others were placed on probation or released.
There were strong inconsistencies in how children under twelve were prosecuted under the law. Barry Dale Loukaitis was 14 when he murdered his algebra teacher and two students. Dressed up like a Wild West gunslinger, Loukaitis walked from his house to his fifth period algebra class armed with a hunting rifle and two handguns.
As he began shooting he was heard saying, "This sure beats the hell out of algebra, doesn't it?" a quote from the Stephen King novel “Rage.” Loukaitis' parents divorced when his mother found his father was having an affair.
She grew increasingly suicidal afterwards and would often speak of a joint suicide that included her son. Loukaitis was being treated for clinical depression and suffered relentless bullying at school. At trial his defense attorney pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity citing messianic and delusional thoughts.
The jury thought otherwise and sentenced him to two life sentences and an additional 205 years without the possibility of parole.
The responsibility of being a parent must take precedence over any other priority in our lives. It is the one job we must not fail to do our absolute best every single day of our lives until we can no longer walk this earth. The impact a parent can have on a child's life is immeasurable and begins the moment that child takes its first breath of air. If we fail in our responsibilities as parents and act selfishly the results of our actions are not hard to predict.
An overwhelmed Division of Child and Family Services need the funding and resources to properly care for those children cast aside by those unable to parent. The life of a child is too valuable to waste and we must do better as a society to ensure a stable environment for all children.
If we turn our backs on the neglected and abused children of this world the results present themselves on the front page of our morning newspaper. Mary Bell was paroled from prison in 1980 and has gone through a series of name changes to protect the daughter she now has.
Thompson and Venables were paroled in 2001 and have also undergone name changes. Loukaitis will never see the light of day. Alyssa Bustamante is starting her life sentence and may be paroled in 35 years.
January may be 'Human Trafficking Prevention Month' in N.J.
Three legislators Monday introduced a joint resolution that would designate January of each year as “Human Trafficking Prevention Month.”
Under the legislation, sponsored by Senators Barbara Buono (D-Middlesex) and Sandra Bolden Cunningham (D-Hudson) and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), the designation would promote ongoing education about the signs and consequences of human trafficking, to work to end human trafficking, and to encourage support for the victims of human trafficking throughout New Jersey and across the world.
The designated month would coincide with the annual-anniversary of President Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation which occurred on Jan. 1, 1863 as well as his signing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution – outlawing slavery – which occurred on Feb. 1, 1865.
The United Nation estimates there are at least 12.3 million adults and children worldwide who are forced into labor or prostitution. According to the U.S. Department of State, between 600,000 and 800,000 women, men and children are trafficked annually across international borders with between 14,500 and 17,500 of them occurring in the United States. Human trafficking disproportionately affects women and young girls.
Human trafficking involves the coercive recruitment, transfer, harboring or sale of a person for the purpose of prostitution or sexual exploitation, forced labor and slavery or the removal of organs.
“Human trafficking is a horrific offense that affects millions of people throughout the world. Human traffickers often prey on the poor and destitute, and disproportionately attack the world's women and children,” Buono said. “These captors instill fear in their victims to keep them enslaved, often for prostitution. It is our moral obligation to educate our citizens about human trafficking so that we can put an end to this human tragedy.”
“It has been nearly 150 years since the passage of the 13th Amendment ending slavery, yet there are tens of thousands of Americans who each day are forced into labor or as sex slaves,” Cunningham said. “Unfortunately, many of these Americans are being forced to live in fear, coerced by their captors who threaten them with violence, captivity, isolation, a control over their money. By designating January as ‘Human Trafficking Prevention Month' we can shed light on these horrible crimes and provide hope for victims who are too frightened to come forward and report the abuses against them.”
“The sad reality is that human trafficking flourishes in the shadows, overlooked by most of us because we're so accustomed to our government-protected freedom,” Vainieri Huttle said. “But throughout the world there are millions who are forced into modern slavery, under deplorable circumstances, and many of them are predominantly women and children. It's time we start raising our consciousness and doing all we can to fight the proliferation of this practice.”
January 2012 marked the first National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, proclaimed by President Obama.
Buckner joins hands with Refuge of Light to fight sex trafficking in the U.S.
has been committed to transforming lives by putting Christ's love in action for over 130 years. But last week, the ministry sealed that commitment in writing for one marginalized group of people.
Buckner International and Refuge of Light signed a three-year agreement last week to work jointly serving female minors identified as victims of sex trafficking.
Refuge of Light, based in Tyler, Texas, hopes to start construction for the safe-home early in 2013 to serve girls 17 years of age and under. Buckner will oversee the operations and provide staff members to work with Refuge of Light. Buckner staff will also assist in case management and therapy.
Refuge of Light, which formed in 2010, is dedicated to establishing a long-term safe home that provides physical, mental and spiritual healing in an effort to overcome the brutalization of modern day slavery, or sex trafficking, in the lives of victimized girls in the United States.
"The beauty of this agreement is that it allows both ministries to work together to fulfill the core values of our separate missions," said Felipe Garza, vice president for expansion and development for Buckner. "We are committed to being the presence of Christ for the most vulnerable in our world, and no person is more vulnerable than a young female who is victimized by the sex trade."
Within the United States, there are an estimated 100,000 to 300,000 individuals trafficked annually. But there are few resources for these girls who have been forced into slavery. There are only a handful of shelters for them. The majority of the victims are young girls who have fallen prey to the commercial sex industry at the hands of perpetrators, according to reports from the U.S. government.
This new partnership will be the beginning of restoring light into the lives of girls who have been smothered in darkness. Pray for the ministries as they start up this project, and pray for their future efforts to bring girl after girl to a relationship with Christ.
Jerry Sandusky can visit grandchildren, step outside, judge says
Jerry Sandusky will get a local jury in his trial on child sex-abuse charges and will be allowed to visit with his grandchildren, a judge ruled Monday in giving the former Penn State football coach several victories.
Centre County Judge John M. Cleland also rejected a prosecution request that Sandusky be confined inside his home while under house arrest. Neighbors have complained that Sandusky, while outside his home, was able to watch children at a nearby school.
“The generalized concerns of parents, while understandable, cannot justify additional bail restrictions in the absence of some evidence from the commonwealth that the defendant's presence or behavior on his deck presents a danger to the community,” Cleland wrote.
The rulings follow a Friday hearing at which Sandusky took the stand.
Sandusky is accused of molesting at least 10 boys through a charity he founded, The Second Mile. Some of the alleged assaults took place at Penn State, where Sandusky would bring children on field trips. The former coach has denied all charges.
The child sex-abuse scandal rocked the university and the nation, eventually leading to the dismissal of the school's head football coach, the late Joe Paterno, and school president Graham Spanier; both were criticized for failing to act more aggressively in having law enforcement officials investigate Sandusky. Further, two Penn State administrators are awaiting trial on charges they lied to a grand jury investigating Sandusky. Both administrators have denied those charges.
The prosecution had wanted to draw people for the jury pool from outside Centre County, where Sandusky lives and where the university is located, arguing that it would be difficult to find a jury that hadn't been tainted by the flurry of publicity surrounding the case. The defense, however, disagreed.
Cleland in his order said it's not possible to know if a potential juror can be fair until questioned during selection.
“I am not persuaded the commonwealth has established the factual predicate to reach a conclusion that the ‘the most imperative grounds' support granting its motion, especially since the defendant objects,” Cleland wrote. “The presumption should be in favor of at least making an effort to select a fair and impartial jury in the county where the defendant has been charged.”
If there are problems in seating a jury, Cleland said, he would reconsider his order.
The judge gave Sandusky permission to have visits with eight of his 11 grandchildren. One mother, who is divorced from Sandusky's son, objected to her children having contact with the defendant. Sandusky's trial is tentatively scheduled to start in May.
Parents also have role in creating safe environment
The child is often expected to protect himself/herself from sexual abuse. But many cases of abuse can be prevented if the adults too take up the responsibility of ensuring a safe environment for the child, says Lois J. Engelbrecht, founder of the Centre for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Sexual Abuse.
“Often when I go to regular schools and ask teachers what will you tell a girl who says that an uncle touched her. They often say ‘we tell her to stay away from the uncle.' When I pose the same question in a special school, they say that they will talk to the uncle. But the latter is what should be done in the case of every child,” she says. Ms. Engelbrecht has helped create systems of prevention and response in various Asian countries.
Brushed under the carpet
While a large number of child abuse cases are brushed under the carpet, the ones that are reported are not assessed and dealt with in the right manner. Ms. Engelbrecht is in the city to train people on using the ‘traumagenic dynamic framework' when treating minor and adolescent female victims. “The way every child responds to the situation is different, and these need to be assessed for effective treatment,” she says. Traumatic sexualisation, stigmatisation, betrayal and powerlessness are the four dynamics used to assess children in this method.
“Often in the case of female victims, stigmatisation is the biggest issue. In the case of boys, they often ask themselves if they are homosexual since they have been abused by men. Many male-survivors continue to manifest the behaviour, and become offenders themselves,” says Ms. Engelbrecht. But it is not only the victim who should be treated, since it is equally important to deal with the family, the immediate community and the culture, she emphasises.
While effective assessment and treatment models of survivors are absent in the country, there is an even bigger lacuna of sexuality education. “Schools do not speak openly to children on how to protect themselves and parents are embarrassed to discuss anything even minutely related to this topic their own child,” she says.
Sexuality education, however, is an integral part of understanding one's identity, just the way health and nutrition is, she adds. At what age should this start? “When we start teaching children the names of various body parts such as eyes, ears and hands, they should also be taught about their private body parts,” she says. A better communication should be developed between the mother and a child, and as the child matures so does the rules of protection.
Parents blame child sex abuse victims more if perpetrator is another youth
February 13, 2012
DURHAM — Parents are much more likely to blame and doubt their children when their child has been sexually abused by another adolescent instead of an adult, according to new research from the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
"Parents may have higher levels of blame toward their child when sexually abused by adolescents because parents have difficulty with the concept of adolescent sex offenders. Some parents may still expect the offender to be an older stranger rather than someone who their child knows, trusts, and is close in age to their child," said lead researcher Wendy Walsh, research associate professor of sociology at the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center.
"Parents may feel their child could have done something to prevent any association with a troubled adolescent. Some parents might consider sexual acts between those close in age to be consensual and discount the possibility of abuse," Walsh said.
The research was conducted by Walsh; Lisa Jones, research associate professor of psychology at the Crimes against Children Research Center; and Theodore Cross, research professor at the Children and Family Research Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, IL.
The research is presented in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence in the article "Do Parents Blame or Doubt Their Child More When Sexually Abused by Adolescents Versus Adults?"
The researchers analyzed 161 cases of child sexual abuse in which the suspect was 12 or older and the child victim was 5 or older. The cases were part of data collected by Children's Advocacy Centers in 10 communities in Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas.
The researchers also found parents had significantly higher levels of blame and doubt as the victim's age increased and when children were black.
"It is concerning that mothers of black children had significantly higher levels of blame and doubt. It may be that there are particular ethnic and cultural factors that contribute to expressions of more blame and doubt by parents when a child has been reported as a possible sexual abuse victim. It also is possible that unmeasured factors, such as socioeconomic status, could contribute to the identified differences. More research is needed to help explore how blame and doubt is associated with race/ethnicity," Walsh said.
Previous studies by the UNH Crimes against Children Research Center of sex offenses against minors show that 36 percent of the offenses were committed by juveniles. Other research estimates up to 50 percent of known cases of child abuse involve an adolescent male perpetrator — estimates the researchers consider conservative given the reluctance to report adolescent sex offenders, many of whom who are related to the victim.
"The results of this study suggest that parents view this particular type of sexual abuse differently from that committed by an adult who is 20 years older than the victim. Given these findings and the high rates for illegal sexual behavior committed by adolescents, more needs to be done to educate parents and professionals about the rates of adolescent sexual abuse and why adolescents might be engaging in this type of behavior," Walsh said.
Child abuse and neglect a sinister problem across Alaska
by Carey Restino
While news of the recent death of a 3-year-old Barrow child touches the hearts of many, it is just one incident in a much larger picture, one that challenges communities across Alaska and puts the state in the top five states nationwide for number of children neglected and abused per capita.
In 2010, the State of Alaska's Office of Children's Service received more than 4,500 allegations of child abuse impacting 2,871 children across the state that were later substantiated. Last month alone, 1,774 children were in placement in Alaska. It's a problem that will only improve with the attention and dedication of all Alaskans, those working with the problem say.
"Unfortunately, child abuse is happening in Alaska every day in every community, among every ethnicity, and every socioeconomic group" said OCS Director Christy Lawton. "It really does cross all lines, and that isn't something the community always wants to acknowledge because it's painful and people don't want to hear about cases of child abuse and neglect."
Lawton said every time there is a case of animal cruelty, it makes her cringe. Often, the public pays more attention to the animal cases than it does to cases of child neglect and abuse. Even worse, while most cases referred to OCS don't wind up as criminal cases, those that do often result in lighter sentences than those dealt to animal abusers.
So what is the biggest thing that Alaskans can do to prevent child abuse? Any time you have a feeling a child might be neglected or abused, report it, says Lawton. In that regard, the department feels like it might be making some headway. Last year, there were more than 16,000 reports of child neglect and abuse -- a 15 percent increase from previous years, Lawton said.
Disproportionately high number of Native Alaskan children
The increase in reporting may be a result of several cases around the state that received media attention of late. Or perhaps a media campaign encouraging people to consider it their job to keep Alaska's children safe is having an impact.
And while the increase numbers of reporting are great, even better would be a lowering of the child abuse figures statewide.
"That number represents 9 percent of the total child population of the state that has had a report of child maltreatment," Lawton pointed out, adding that only 39 percent of all reports are investigated.
Substance abuse is a huge problem in these cases, Lawton said, with some 80 percent of cases connected in some way to substance abuse.
"These are families that under other circumstances, without substance abuse issues, would have been doing a fine job of parenting," she said.
Also an issue for the state is the fact that some 61 percent of the children in care are Native Alaskan -- a disproportionately high number. That may be in part because Alaskans may be more willing to report concerns about children in certain ethnic groups versus white, middle class families. In addition, high rates of substance abuse and other struggles faced rural villages work against them.
"I think that some of the well known complex trauma issues that many of our communities are facing in terms of generational kinds of issues and struggles are a factor," Lawton said. "There are a lot of hurting people, so it just continues the cycle."
Lawton said OCS works heavily with tribal partners, and tribal organizations are involved in many cases. Children are often far better served by their tribal organization than they would be by the state, she said. A recent survey of tribal partners indicated that while they felt the tribes were included in decisions about how and where to place children, challenges still presented themselves in areas like providing opportunities for continuity of Native values, foods and traditions.
Lawton said OCS has struggled in rural Alaska in two ways: First, it is difficult to keep staff in the rural communities, and at times, those areas will have as many as half of their positions unfilled. Second, it is difficult to find Native Alaska foster families.
Lawton said she's not sure why the latter is true -- perhaps it's leftover feelings from past actions by OCS on families, or perhaps it's something else. But whatever the reason, it doesn't serve the children, who would benefit from the consistency of care in a Native family setting.
Thinking outside the box
While it may be difficult to report on a friend or neighbor you suspect may be abusive toward his or her family, people can take solace, Lawton said, in the fact that OCS of today is not the same as OCS of 10 or even five years ago. A more holistic approach to investigating a family, for example, rather than a focus on substantiating or unsubstantiating a specific crime or offense had occurred serves the families better, she said.
"I believe in my heart we are a kinder, gentler system than we were," she said.
The department is trying to think outside the box rather than making the knee-jerk reaction to take the children away for the parent or parents. If enough support exists for a family, for example, the department might leave children in the home even if a parent isn't sober 100 percent of the time as they work through their treatment plan.
"Things don't all need to be wrapped up in a nice, neat ball," she said.
The goal, of course, is reunification with parents, she said, and the state has a 53 percent child reunification rate.
National levels are 75 percent, so there's room for improvement there, however.
Lawton said the biggest thing to remember when considering the issue of child abuse and neglect in Alaska is that the people who are struggling with these situations are more often than not struggling themselves.
"The majority of the parents we are dealing with are struggling with issues of known substance abuse, poverty, and they didn't experience nice childhoods, but they love their kids," she said. "If it were not for the fact that they have these problems, they are fine parents."
Resources are available on the OCS Web site, including a DVD for mandatory reporters focusing on what to look for.
For more information, visit the state Office of Children's Services website.