National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse


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EDITOR'S NOTE: Occasionally we bring you articles from local newspapers, web sites and other sources that constitute but a small percentage of the information available to those who are interested in the issues of child abuse and recovery from it.

We present articles such as this simply as a convenience to our readership ...
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Here are a few recent stories related to the kinds of issues we cover on the web site. They'll represent a small percentage of the information available to us, the public, as we fight to provide meaningful recovery services and help for those who've suffered child abuse. We'll add to and update this page regularly.

We'll also present stories about the criminals and criminal acts that impact our communities all across the nation. The few we place on this page are the tip of the iceberg, and we ask you to check your local newspapers and law enforcement sites. Stay aware. Every extra set of "eyes and ears" makes a big difference.
Recent News - News from other times

May - Week 1
MJ Goyings
Many, many thanks to our very own "MJ" for
providing us the majority of the daily research
that appears on the LACP and NAASCA web sites.
Ms. Goyings is a Registered Nurse and lives in Ohio.


Child abuse awareness program debuts today

by Kelly Monitz

Hazleton police average almost one child abuse case a week.

The ages of the children, both male and female, run the gamut, but most of these victims share a common bond -- they knew their abuser, Detective Lt. Kenneth Zipovsky said.

"The great majority of people whom are abusing children have had the opportunity to gain intimate contact and access to the child," he said, based on his observations.

The attacker may be a family member or a friend or in some other relationship that allows them to be close to a child and grants them the opportunity to attack a child, he said.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts, who prosecutes many of the county's abuse cases, agrees.

"In the vast majority of cases the victims knew the suspect as a family member or a close family friend," she said, noting the county's Child Advocacy Center saw 123 sexual abuse cases and 38 physical abuse cases in its first year of operation.

Today, Serento Gardens along with one of its volunteers, Adrienne Windley of Drums, will offer the community an opportunity to take action against child sexual abuse.

Windley, who relocated with her husband to the area from Des Moines, Iowa, is a facilitator for Stewards of Children offered by Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse.

"Back there, we had a serious pedophile issue," she said in an email. "With this certification and a goal to get others certified throughout the state, we blanketed the entire state of Iowa with the concept and trainings of the '7 Steps to Protecting Your Children.'"

Windley wants to bring those same concepts here and will be offering training to interested parties, including parents, coaches, counselors, teachers, school administrators and faith center staff and leadership, according to a press release announcing today's kickoff and introduction scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon at Faith United Church of Christ in Hazle Township.

"After watching the local news, seeing the Jerry Sandusky situation, and talking with people who've lived here for some time, I believe that we can mobilize and offer this program in order to raise awareness about what can be done to keep our children safe," she said.

Nationwide, 30 percent to 40 percent of girls, and 13 percent of boys, experienced some form of sexual abuse, said Ed Pane of Serento Gardens.

"So, the opportunity to educate adults on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to the reality of child sexual abuse is of vital importance," he said. "When you look at the statistics, the abuse is an epidemic.

"We are delighted to have Adrienne Windley conduct this training," Pane said.

Often, reports of abuse come from counselors, teachers, doctors and others required to document and report them, Zipovsky said. Officers also initiate investigations from a call for services, he said.

The Child Advocacy Center, referenced by Roberts, streamlined the way police combat child abuse by making the investigation as least intrusive as possible, Zipovsky said.

"The child is interviewed by forensic interviewers who have received training to specifically deal with the issues that arise when interviewing a child," he said. "This way the best evidence possible is collected, whether it is a recorded interview documenting the statement exactly as how it comes from the child's mouth, or physical evidence collection and documentation of injuries."

Seeking the truth in child abuse investigations is also important, Zipovsky said, noting that police can find that nothing of a criminal nature happened to the child.

"Many times, we are happy to report that some children were not subjected to abuse," he said.

Still, Zipovsky believes the true number of abused children is much higher than reported, and the next largest group of abused children, after those familiar with their attackers, are victims of opportunity -- those assaulted after running away from home or engaged in some incorrigible situation.

"I'm very thankful that we have almost no instances where the children are subject to abuse at the hands of a true stranger, but people still need to be aware that these incidents still do occur," he said.,0,233358.story



National program teaches child abuse prevention


Child sexual abuse is woefully under-reported and harder to detect, says a Tulsa woman who created an abuse prevention program.

"The biggest difference is that other types of physical abuse can occur in public, and sex abuse is a private crime," Sharon Doty said. "The prevention and treatment of sex abuse is something distinctly different. The reporting is outrageously low, especially for boys."

Sexual abuse of a child represented about 5 percent of substantiated abuse and neglect cases in fiscal year 2011, according to statistics from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services.

Doty created a sex abuse prevention program that has been adopted in 122 Catholic dioceses in the nation, with about 1.5 million people going through the workshops. It focuses on understanding the behavior of predators and how to intervene.

She created the nonprofit group Empowering Adults - Protecting Children, and has written the book "Evil in Our Midst" to spread the word of prevention.

Almost 90 percent of child sex abuse is perpetrated by a trusted person known to the child and family, Doty said.

This is what makes reporting and treatment difficult.

When a family member sexually abuses a child, the tendency is to keep it a secret and handle it within the family, she said.

"They will keep the child away from the family member or tell that person not to come around their child anymore, but they don't report it," Doty said. "I've heard they won't report it because it'll upset their mother or father or someone else.

"They think they have protected their child because they've confronted the abuser. But that person is most likely going to find another victim, and those children need to be protected. There are all these justifications for people not having children be our priority."

Doty's presentation focuses on the grooming behaviors of abusers. Many times, abusers will start by gaining trust with parents then escalate into situations where they are alone with the children.

"Offenders make sure to establish relationships with parents so when behaviors show up later, parents will dismiss them or talk themselves out of it," Doty said. "It's not bad parenting but the ability on the part of the offender.

"People see it as a good, wholesome thing to do because the intentions are good - like helping out single parents. Nothing is wrong with that, and we need supportive people in our society. But we need to recognize when it goes beyond that."

It is important to pay attention to the reactions of children around adults and to take it seriously when they try to avoid an adult or make abuse allegations.

Doty said the program is not meant to scare parents or create paranoia.

"I've heard the program actually makes people feel more freedom," Doty said. "If you have in the back of your mind the 10 behaviors that could be potentially risky for kids, then you know what to look for and do. When someone you see starts behaving in those ways, you can interrupt and intervene in those situations and eliminate the risk."

Warning signs

Sharon Doty, who developed a program to teach adults how to spot people at risk of sexually abusing children, says to watch for people who:
  • Always want to be with children alone in remote places at times when others are not around.

  • Give gifts to children without parents' permission and tell the child to keep the gift a secret.

  • Seem to always be touching children. They engage in wrestling, roughhousing or tickling, particularly with children that they do not know well.

  • Indulge children by allowing them to do things their parents would prohibit.

  • Operate as if the rules of society and/or the organization simply do not apply to them.

  • Discourage others from joining in activities and plan their encounters with children when others are not around.

  • Make themselves indispensable to busy parents and guardians. They often seem to be the answer to a busy parent's prayers, but they also take the parents' place in the activities and situations.

  • Introduce sexually explicit language into the child's life and show them adult pictures and pornography.

  • Agree with the child when the child is upset with parents.

  • Take pictures of children without permission.

  • Speak to children in a childlike manner and seems to prefer the company of children to that of adults.


When the bough breaks: Proving child abuse not as easy in Pa.

by Jo Ciavaglia

May 6, 2012

A bruised ear kept the Bucks County child welfare caseworker awake at night. The injury wasn't to her, but rather a child whose case she was assigned.

The woman wanted the injury investigated as suspected child abuse since an ear bruise is rarely accidental. In the end, though, she and her supervisors decided against opening a case.

The reason: A bruise doesn't meet Pennsylvania's threshold for child abuse.

“Regrettably, we have seen countless cases like this,” said Dr. Maria McColgan, director of the child protection program at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. She recalled the conversation with the caseworker in recent testimony before the recently formed Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection.

One of those cases involved a 7-week-old infant who was brought to St. Christopher's ER because his arm wasn't moving. Doctors found an upper arm fracture, as well as other fractures, a bruise and a healing cut in his mouth. The diagnosis was a clearly inflicted injury, McColgan said.

But when the case went to family court, the parent's defense attorney argued that the injuries didn't rise to the legal level of abuse. The child wasn't impaired, since he was too young to hold a bottle. The judge agreed and ruled the child wasn't abused and ordered him returned to the family home, McColgan said.

Stories like these are not unusual in Pennsylvania, where only 15 percent of the more than 24,000 cases of suspected child abuse in 2010 were substantiated. Pennsylvania has the lowest rate of child abuse substantiation in the nation, advocates say.

Statewide in 2010, only 1.3 cases per 1,000 reports were confirmed, compared to a national rate of 9.2 per 1,000 reports. In Bucks and Montgomery counties, the substantiation rate is even lower: fewer than one out of every 1,000 cases in 2010, according to state statistics.

Child welfare workers and advocates say the reason for the low substantiation rate is a state law that sets the bar extremely high for the type of injuries that can be inflicted on a child without being considered abuse.

As a result, it's more difficult for child welfare workers to substantiate abuse, a designation that makes it easier for a child and family to get counseling, treatment, outside supervision, and, if necessary, a court order to remove a child from the home.

Among the troubling gaps that advocates cite:

  • The use of a pain threshold to substantiate child abuse.

  • An abuse report must be listed as unfounded if a perpetrator cannot be identified.

  • Only a parent, the intimate partner of a parent, a person over the age of 14 living in the home or a person responsible for a child's welfare can be considered an abuse perpetrator.

  • Unfounded child abuse investigation records must be destroyed, even in cases where inflicted physical or sexual abuse is medically confirmed.


Deaths from child abuse are rare in Bucks and Montgomery counties, with only three reported since 2009, according to state statistics. Near-deaths, while also rare, are more common, with each county reporting three cases between 2010 and 2011, data show.

To put those numbers into perspective, 816 reports of suspected child abuse were filed in Bucks County and 781 in Montgomery County in 2010 alone.

The recent arrest of a Bristol Township man on first-degree murder charges in the death of his girlfriend's 18-month-old daughter has focused new scrutiny on Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services law and its interpretation.

Police said Adrian Morgan Allen, 27, was baby-sitting Barbara Adams and her sisters, ages 8 and 5, at their Bensalem apartment the weekend of Feb. 24 when Barbara was fatally injured. Prosecutors say there is evidence she was physically abused for a minimum of several weeks before her death.

Bucks County Children and Youth conducted an investigation after Middletown police reported that St. Mary Medical Center had treated Barbara on Jan. 7 for a spiral fracture of her right leg. Hospital workers also found old burns on the backs of her legs.

The child welfare agency was apparently satisfied with an explanation from the girl's mother that the girl's older sisters accidentally broke her leg while roughhousing and closed the case, providing no further services to the family, according to the district attorney's office. The agency's finding involving the burns is unknown.

After Barbara was fatally injured, her mother told police that Allen baby-sat her children both times when the injuries occurred.

While a broken leg or burns on a child under age 2 might sound like irrefutable child abuse, that is not the case in Pennsylvania.


As the longtime attorney for Bucks County Children and Youth, Brad Jackman says abuse investigations are hampered by the law.

“In my opinion, the definitions are far too restrictive in permitting a determination of what is clear child abuse,” said Jackman.

Pennsylvania's law requires an injury to cause both severe pain and temporary or permanent impairment to substantiate child abuse. Child advocates argue that the use of a pain threshold is far too subjective and it doesn't take into account that children who suffer regular physical abuse often develop higher pain thresholds.

The pain rating also means that a child can have medically-confirmed injuries, but if one doctor rates the child's pain as less than severe, the abuse report will be declared unfounded, said Catherine Palm, executive director of the Protect Our Children Committee, a state coalition of child advocates, doctors and service providers.

“Kids are slipping through the cracks in this state,” she added. “Children and Youth can only be as good as the laws and the resources we give them.”

Other states don't use a pain scale to substantiate child abuse. Many use specific physical or medically diagnosed injuries that, if they occur without a good explanation, are automatically ruled as abuse.

In Hawaii, for example, substantial or multiple skin bruises, internal bleeding, skin injury, malnutrition, burns, poisoning, soft tissue injury or a bone fracture on a child — if not “justifiably explained” or accidental — are deemed the result of child abuse.

Sixteen states also include “physical discipline” as an exception to the definition of child abuse as long as it is reasonable and causes no bodily harm to the child. Georgia excludes physical discipline from its child abuse definition only if “there is no physical injury to the child.”

Pennsylvania's pain threshold also doesn't take into account that a child may appear unimpaired or not in pain if no one is moving him or her, added McColgan, also an associate professor of pediatrics at Drexel University College of Medicine.

“With children, this becomes more difficult,” she testified recently. “I cannot determine with any certainty the level of pain a 7-week-old, a 13-month-old, or oftentimes, even an older child is experiencing.”


Medical professionals, social workers and law enforcement officers encounter other obstacles when investigating suspected child abuse cases.

Without a substantiated abuse finding, the onus is on child welfare workers to protect the child using the state's Juvenile Act, a law that specifies circumstances for placing a child in state custody. Abused children are a subset of dependent children under the act.

But a judge may be less inclined to remove a child from a home when there is an unfounded abuse investigation, Palm said.

Where an abuse investigation is unfounded, families can be referred for general protective services, which involves counseling and monitoring at-risk families. But the family can refuse the services. Even if families accept the services, child welfare agencies aren't obliged to keep track of the families.

Another sticking point for child advocates is that unfounded abuse investigation records must be destroyed after 16 months. They argue that the requirement undercuts the ability of medical professionals and social workers to fully assess the risk and safety of a child in the future.

A child's case file can be maintained as long as information about the abuse investigation is removed, said Jackman, the Bucks County Children and Youth attorney. If the family accepts general protective services, abuse investigation records can be retained if the record clearly reflects that the report was ruled to be unfounded.

Another major flaw child advocates frequently cite with the law is the requirement that an abuse investigation identify the perpetrator to substantiate a case of physical abuse.

“It's not enough to say, it's one of you,” said Frank Cervone, director of the Support Center for Child Advocates in Philadelphia, a pro-bono program that advocates for abused and neglected children.

Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler agrees that requiring identification of a perpetrator to substantiate abuse is ridiculous in cases where there is medical confirmation of inflicted injury.

“That, of course, is nonsense,” he said. “That has to change.”

Heckler chairs the state's new child protection task force, which is holding hearings and plans to release a list of recommended changes to the law later this year. One of the group's recent hearings in Philadelphia focused, in part, on the state's definition of child abuse.

But Heckler added that an abuse investigation's outcome has no bearing on law enforcement. Police and prosecutors can pursue criminal investigations and file charges against suspected abusers regardless of the investigation's outcome. He added that child welfare workers are encouraged to bring suspicious cases to the attention of the DA's office.

Statistics, though, show most abuse reports don't result in criminal charges. In 2010, only 35 percent of child abuse reports in the state were referred to law enforcement for possible criminal investigation and prosecution.

Criminal charges were filed in three of the nine child deaths or near-deaths reported in Bucks and Montgomery counties since 2009, according to the state DPW. Criminal investigations were listed as pending in three other cases in 2010, but the state didn't indicate if charges had been filed.

“We'd much rather hear about cases that are iffy,” Heckler added. “Most of our police departments can spend some time looking into a case. If it's not prosecutable, so be it. I'd rather spend the time making sure a kid is OK.”



Speak out against abuse and save a child

COMPASS: Other points of view


There's a huge problem in Alaska.

In far too many homes and families, this problem is passed from one generation to the next. It causes severe psychological and physical damage, and costs the state thousands of dollars every year. It can even result in death.

Yet despite its destruction, this is a problem that is entirely preventable.

The problem I'm talking about is child abuse, and it is rampant in our state.

According to the Office of Children's Services, in fiscal year 2011, 16,612 children -- about 9 percent of Alaska's total child population -- had an allegation of maltreatment reported about them. Of those, reports involving nearly 9,000 children met the criteria and legal requirements for OCS to do an investigation. Nearly a third of those children were found to have been abused or neglected.

Almost 3,000 of Alaska's children maltreated -- in just one year. And that's not counting the children whose abuse wasn't reported.

That is unacceptable.

An article in this newspaper last month portrayed one family's tragic experience with abuse. Now think of 3,000 abused children this year, and thousands more next year.

Let me be very clear: These are not just numbers, they are children. Children you and I know personally; children who will run this state some day; children who we, as adults, are morally and legally obligated to protect.

Last week in Fairbanks, hundreds of people attended an event following the death, and suspected murder, of a 2-year-old boy there. The newspaper wrote that the turnout "reflected just how strongly people feel about the scourge of domestic abuse in our community."

Don't we all feel that way? Why must a child die before we all take to the streets in protest?

The perception that nothing can be done about child abuse is flat wrong. Something can -- and must -- be done. And it's up to all of us to do it.

Child protection staff are some of the hardest working people in Alaska. I am proud to know them. They are called to help your neighbors and mine during the darkest of times, and they don't flinch. They walk into situations every day that would emotionally devastate the rest of us and that place them at risk of physical and verbal abuse. I know. I tried this work in my youth. I'm a combat veteran and I lasted six weeks.

Our child protection staff do their absolute best to prevent harm from occurring to children. Most of the time, quietly and without fanfare, they succeed. You don't hear about it and that's just fine. The workers know they've protected a child and that's why they do what they do.

But it's going to take more to turn this awful problem around. It's going to take everyone in Alaska to declare once and for all that child abuse simply cannot be allowed to occur. Child abuse thrives in secrecy and silence, and that's the key to eliminating it. We must rip off the veil of secrecy. We must speak up for the children who can't.

If you see a bruise on a child, don't look away. If you hear shouts in the night, don't close your window. If you suspect a friend or relative or co-worker or stranger is abusing a child, don't assume they have family or friends who can help. Talk to them, offer to find assistance, call OCS and tell a professional your concerns.

Just don't remain silent.

Please don't waste a moment wondering if you'll make someone angry or upset. You can't make things worse. Most important, you could make things better. With just one phone call, you could save a child's life.

The problem is daunting, but the solution is within our grasp. Please lend your hand -- and your voice -- to this battle. Alaska's children are counting on us all. We must not let them down.

William J. Streur is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, please call:

Anchorage, 1-800-478-4444;

Southcentral, 1-855-352-8934;

Northern Alaska, 1-800-353-2650;

Southeast, 1-888-622-1650;

Western Region, 1-800-557-3141.


Afghan child bride's in-laws sentenced for torture

by Rahim Faiez

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The in-laws of a child bride who became the bruised and bloodied face of women's rights in Afghanistan have been sentenced to 10 years in prison for torture, abuse and human rights violations, a judge said Saturday.

The plight of 15-year-old Sahar Gul captivated the nation and set off a storm of international condemnation when it came to light in late December. Officials said her husband's family kept her in a basement for six months after her arranged marriage, ripping out her fingernails, breaking her fingers and torturing her with hot irons in an attempt to force her into prostitution.

She was rescued by police in northeastern Baghlan province after an uncle alerted authorities.

Gul's husband's father, mother and sister were each sentenced to 10 years in prison by a court in Kabul on Tuesday, presiding judge Sibghatullah Razi said.

Also found guilty were Gul 's husband, a member of the Afghan army, and her brother-in-law, both of whom have been on the run since her case became public, Razi said. He said the men will be sentenced when they are captured.

Gul was present for the decision, telling the court that she wanted her in-laws “severely punished” for what they had put her through, Razi said. She has filed an appeal for a longer sentence with the help of the Women for Afghan Women a group that works for women's rights in the country and has been caring for the teenager since her rescue.

“Of course we are not happy with the court's decision,” said Huma Safi, program manager for the group.

Gul's case has prompted calls for more efforts to strengthen women's rights and end underage marriage. The legal marriage age in Afghanistan is 16, but the United Nations agency UN Women estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15.

There has been progress in women's rights since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign that toppled the Taliban regime, which banned girls' schools and prevented women from leaving the house unless accompanied by a male relative.

But ending abuse remains a huge challenge in Afghanistan's patriarchal society, where traditional practices include child marriage, giving girls away to settle debts or pay for their relatives' crimes and so-called honor killings in which women seen as disgracing their families are murdered by their relatives.

Gul, who had been married for seven months when she was found in late December, is still seeing doctors for some problems with her hands and fingers, but is doing better both physically and emotionally, Safi said. She said the girl is now very interested in studying, very different from when she first arrived.

She also has made great progress in her efforts to become comfortable around other people again, Safi said.

“She was very brave. When she was brought to us after her rescue, she was unable to speak. But this week she was able to get up and speak in front of an entire courtroom asking for her rights,” Safi said.

“These are all positive signs and of course we are very proud of her.”


Child sex trafficking in Los Angeles: 'It happens way too often'

by Susan Abram

May 6, 2012

He plied her with pot and promises.

I'll give you a car, he told her, an apartment of your own. I'll protect you from the streets.

She was 16. He was 70.

For Matilda Evans (a pseudonym to protect the identity of a sexual assault victim) those two weeks spent in Michael Mersola's Burbank home, manipulated into having sex with him, left a scar on her heart. Instead of learning algebra in a high school classroom, she was taught that acts of kindness only came at a cost.

"I developed a terrible distrust of people," Evans, now 22, said. "I felt alone, because no one believed me."

Evans told her story to the Burbank Police Department in 2007, but it was a Los Angeles Police Department detective who linked Mersola to an ongoing investigation into a larger problem in Los Angeles: sex trafficking.

Mersola was arrested for pimping and pandering runaway girls in Hollywood. One was 13 years old. He was imprisoned for those and other offenses.

"He was lending out one of the girls," said LAPD Detective Dana Harris, the acting officer in charge of the department's Human Trafficking Unit. "These guys use the child as property."

Harris is also one of the supervisors at the Los Angeles branch of the Innocence Lost Task Force, a national program formed in 2003 with the FBI, Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The program has 44 initiatives throughout the country that work with local law enforcement such as LAPD and groups such as Children of the Night, a Van Nuys nonprofit that rescues children from prostitution.

While most of the public believes that child prostitution and sex trafficking are endemic to poor countries, it also occurs in areas throughout the United States.

Since it began, the Innocence Lost Task Force has rescued more than 1,800 children and arrested more than 800 pimps, madams, and associates nationwide who exploit children through prostitution, according to the FBI.

In Los Angeles, at least 33 people are arrested annually for pimping and pandering underage youth, Harris said. Among those arrests last year, four were women.

"There really is no difference between pimping and pandering and human trafficking," Harris said. "All involve the force, fear and coercion of their respective victim."

Girls, pimps and tracks

Human trafficking is defined as the movement and control of the victim from location to location for the purposes of sexual exploitation, Harris said.

Some experts say there is a circuit of at least 17 tracks or main boulevards where pimps rotate prostitutes throughout Southern California. Many are in Los Angeles County, from the San Fernando Valley to the border with Orange County.

"We're definitely a major hub of trafficking," said Hania Cardenas, director of placement community transition services for the Los Angeles County Probation Department.

"It's a very lucrative business," she said. "A trafficker can make $140,000 on just one girl annually. No trafficker has just one girl."

And no girl is left undamaged, Cardenas said.

She and Probation Department colleague Michelle Guymon wanted to find a better way to help girls who were in the system because they were arrested for prostitution, and learn why they were out on the streets.

They also wanted to change the perception within the Probation Department from viewing the young girls as criminals to developing a program to protect them.

"We've always had these kids in our system, but we were looking at them as kids who were on the streets by choice," Cardenas said.

The two women studied those in custody in 2010 and found that 33 percent of those girls had ties to the Los Angeles Department of Children and Family Services.

The data also showed that of the 174 girls brought in for prostitution, 92 percent were African American, while 84 percent were from the Long Beach, South Los Angeles, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Compton and Torrance areas.

But Cardenas said they could have been trafficked anywhere in the county.

"It's so heartbreaking," Cardenas said. "One of the girls in our system was beaten and the pimp put a tattoo over her eyebrow to mark her, as if to say `next time you get out of line, this is what's going to happen to you'."

Most of the girls are also between 13 and 17, but many enter prostitution at age 12, Cardenas said. And the form of exploitation continues to grow.

"Online exploitation has increased," Cardenas said. "I think that the pimps are getting younger. Some of them are in gangs. And many of them will promise girls to be in videos. There's all kinds of recruitment tactics."

Awareness, prevention and treatment

Cardenas and Guymon traveled across the United States but found no city that offered comprehensive programs that can deter youth from pimps.

"We decided to develop a model, to bring all the (service) partners all together to talk about awareness, prevention, and early intervention," Cardenas said.

The women applied for a federal grant, and this month will start "My Life, My Choice," a program that targets girls in the foster care system. The goal is not only to raise awareness among girls about trafficking but also to break the spell pimps may already have over them. Women from the Van Nuys-based Mary Magdalene Project, an agency that works with older prostitutes, will facilitate.

More than 500 staff and community providers also have been trained. Under the initiative started by Cardenas and Guymon, girls who wish to testify against pimps will be offered protection, even if it means they are housed in detention or sent to a juvenile camp.

More laws to punish perpetrators

Cardenas and Guymon also presented data to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The board in April voted unanimously to support the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act, a state ballot initiative to strengthen penalties against human traffickers, add fines to fund victim services, and require that all sex offenders disclose Internet accounts.

"These girls should be worried about their algebra problems and not worried about how they're going to make the money that night so that they won't be beaten or so that they can have some food to eat," Daphne Phung, executive director and founder of California Against Slavery, told the board.

If passed by voters in November, CASE would be the toughest human trafficking law in the country, said Supervisor Don Knabe, who supported the measure.

"What we discovered was happening was that these young girls were being arrested then getting a slap on the wrist for prostitution, then walking out," Knabe said. "Their scummy pimp was waiting for them in the parking lot."

Knabe acknowledged he and others likely have no idea of the extent of sex trafficking, but they know that California and Los Angeles play a significant role.

"What we know is there is an issue out there," he said. "It's horrible what the poor kid has to go through, especially the trauma that the kids suffer. They all have trauma."

Burbank's own trafficker

Evans, who wasn't trafficked to others, said she had no idea Mersola had been pandering other girls.

Mersola, once a prominent developer in Burbank, had been arrested in the early 1990s for paying four teen girls for sex, according to published reports and court files.

In 1993, Mersola was convicted of pandering and attempting to bribe a witness. He pled no contest and served three years of a five-year sentence.

Evans acknowledged that before she met Mersola, she had been acting out, rebelling against her parents and in school. Drugs were involved and she had run away from home. A relative introduced her to Mersola.

But after two weeks with him, she realized she was being manipulated and walked away.

Still, she was unable to talk about her experiences until her parents forced her into a treatment facility in Reno, where she finally told a therapist about her encounter with Mersola.

Evans then went to the Burbank Police, but no charges were filed against Mersola. So Evans' mom called the LAPD, and Detective Harris connected her case with Mersola's other victims.

Mersola was eventually arrested and charged with committing lewd acts on a child and pandering.

During the criminal trial, Burbank Superior Court Judge Patrick Hegarty called Mersola "a major predator."

"He prays on runaway girls that are in rehab," Hegarty said in court documents.

He again served three years of a five-year sentence and was released last summer, according to the state Department of Corrections.

Mersola, who is registered as a sex offender, did not respond to requests for an interview.

After Mersola was sentenced, Evans filed a civil suit against him in Los Angeles Superior Court.

That makes the case fairly unusual, because victims of sexual predators rarely pursue civil damages, Harris said.

"It was the most interesting thing I did in my career," said Adam Zolonz, the attorney who represented Evans. "Mersola was such a sick person, that he really didn't think what he did was wrong. What we were doing was we were going to show this guy that we're going to stand up to him."

Evans said she and her parents pursued the civil trial to help pay for medical expenses that went toward her treatment.

In November 2011, three years after Mersola was sentenced, a civil jury found him guilty of negligence, emotional distress, outrageous conduct and sexual battery on Evans. Mersola was ordered to pay $250,000.

Evan said she knows she may never see that money. But what the case did was expose that anyone, even in quiet suburbs like Burbank, can come across a sex trafficker.

"I just wanted it to be brought to light," Evans said. "People think, 'Oh it can't happen to me.' But it happens way too often."


US abuse victim of Brendan Smyth calls on Ireland's Primate Sean Brady to resign

Victims say they're forced to relive their trauma through the lack of closure


he chorus of voices calling for the resignation of Cardinal Sean Brady now includes an American woman who was sexually abused as a child by the serial abuser Father Brendan Smyth. However, the woman is also calling for a criminal investigation into the actions of the Cardinal.

American lawyer Helen McGonigle, 50, now campaigns for survivors of clerical sexual abuse and she told the Irish Independent this week that the Cardinal should resign for not alerting other families to Smyth's catalogued history of sex abuse. McGonigle was molested by Smyth on multiple occasions in the late 1960's in Rhode Island, New York. Smyth's behavior was known to Church authorities; however, they consistently failed to act.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster this week, McGonigle said she was 'outraged' by Cardinal Brady's response to allegations made against him in a BBC documentary broadcast this week, saying that Cardinal Sean Brady's 'duty as a human' was to protect children and his failure to act decisively after hearing a complaint from the then 14 year old Brendan Boland, who named other five other children who were being abused, was 'unforgivable.'

McGonigal told the Independent she was just six-years-old and preparing for the sacrament of penance when she was first abused by Smyth, who led her from her classmates into the sacristy of the church where he molested her. Her sister, Kathleen, was also abused by the Belfast-born priest in their hometown of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Unable to cope with the trauma of her stolen childhood, Kathleen took her own life as an adult.

Church authorities knew that Smyth had already sexually molested children when he was sent to the McGonigles' parish in the summer of 1965. Each time Smyth made efforts to befriend local families who shared his Irish ancestry. Each time his victims were unaware of his predatory plans.

McGonigle, who is now an attorney in Connecticut, said: 'From 1967 until about 1970 he molested me. He was caught in my parish molesting children as early as 1968. It was in the spring of 1967, when myself and a neighbor were going through training to get the sacrament of penance, that he would pick us out one by one and bring us to the sacristy of the church to abuse us.'

Although when the now Cardinal Brady learned of Smyth's activities in 1975 it was already too late to save the children of East Greenwich, many others could have been shielded McGonigle said.

'Cardinal Brady has blood on his hands. He came to this with unclean hands. So many lives and children could have been spared. We know the reports of the number of Brendan Smyth's victims who committed suicide or attempted suicide.'

McGonigle added that she believed Cardinal Brady should resign and he should be charged with obstruction of justice.

'He sat on this knowledge for 35 years, from 1975 through to 2010, and Brendan Smith continued to abuse children. It is only because of the lawsuit one of his victims has brought that he has had to show his hand. How this is unfolding, we're seeing what the real church is. The real church has orchestrated this for decades. People need to take their church back.'



Bikers take stand against child abuse

by KEVIN LEWIS - Plainview Herald

About 25 people — some of them members of a motorcycle group with a unique way to fight child abuse — showed up Saturday morning at an event geared to bring awareness to mental health issues.

About a dozen members — both men and women — of Bikers Against Child Abuse participated in Sock It To Stigma, a two-day event hosted by Central Plains Center and Rural Children's Initiative. The event included a health fair and cookout on Friday and a downtown sock hop and street dance at Millennium Park on Saturday night.

It also included a one-mile walk downtown and balloon release on Saturday morning when members of BACA showed up on their motorcycles.

BACA is an international organization that “adopts” victims of child abuse and their families to help make them safe. It was started by John Paul “Chief” Lilly, a social worker in Utah in 1995 who realized the legal system, even with protective orders and the removal of perpetrators, could only do so much to help protect victims of child abuse and make them feel safe.

That's where BACA comes in.

Scott “Bones” Kimball, a resident of Ransom Canyon, serves as sergeant-at-arms of the 10-year-old Lubbock chapter, which has about 45 members including, he said, Brad and Rachel Burgess of Hale Center. Kimball said BACA performs various functions, including appearing in courtrooms so abused children will feel safe when testifying against their abusers in a courtroom.

“If kids feel secure, they're more likely to tell the truth, and when they tell the truth the perpetrators are more likely to go to jail,” Kimball said.

In extreme cases where accused abusers stalk their victims, BACA members chauffeur them to do their shopping or run other errands.

According to BACA's mission statement, they “send a clear message . . . that this (abused) child is part of our organization, and that we are prepared to lend our physical and emotional support to them.”

Further, BACA “does not condone the use of violence or physical force in any manner; however, if we are the only obstacle preventing a child from further abuse, we stand ready to that obstacle.”

“This is not vigilante justice,” stressed Kimball, who said when abusers find out that BACA is involved with an abused child, there usually are no further issues with the perpetrators.

Chapter vice president Roy “Cuate” Weatherford said the key is establishing a bond between BACA members and the kids, who they take horseback riding and to other fun activities.

“We try hard to develop a bond with that child so they can heal from the inside,” Weatherford said.

Kimball and Weatherford said BACA members undergo extensive background checks, come from all walks of life and have various reasons for being members. Some were victims of abuse as children, while others know someone who was abused.

Kimball said the Lubbock chapter currently has relationships with about 30 abused children from the area, including Plainview.

Anyone interested in learning more about BACA may call 806-632-2348 or visit their Website at



State to pay $2.85M to child-abuse victim DSHS lawsuit:
In 2004, her father was arrested but not charged; after she ran away in 2005, he landed in prison


The state has agreed to pay $2.85 million to a 21-year-old woman after she said a social worker botched a child-abuse referral and returned her to the care of her father, who then physically and sexually abused her.

The state and attorneys for Amber Wright announced the settlement Friday after it was accepted by a Pierce County Superior Court judge.

The state also has been ordered to pay Wright $650,000 for violating the state's public records law. The state has appealed that order.

Wright's attorney, David P. Moody, said his client is focused on moving forward. The lawsuit against the state Department of Health and Human Services had been scheduled to go to trial this month.

“This is an example of good DSHS, bad DSHS,” Moody said. “Unfortunately, she was drugged and raped and beaten countless times in between.”

In a statement, state officials said they regretted the abuse Wright suffered at the hands of her father.

“DSHS believes that the agreement fairly compensates this young woman, who can use the proceeds to meet any special needs she may have in the future,” agency spokesman Thomas Shapley said.

Wright sued the state in 2009, alleging a state social worker failed to properly investigate allegations of abuse and neglect against her father.

According to the complaint, Wright was living in Pierce County with her father, David Wright, in 2004 when Sumner police arrested him on suspicion of child molestation, providing drugs to minors, attempted child molestation and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes.

He was jailed, and temporary custody of his then-13-year-old daughter and her younger brother was given to their paternal grandmother. DSHS also was notified of the arrest and opened an investigation.

David Wright later was released from jail without charges being filed.

The lawsuit alleged that the social worker allowed him to visit his daughter after his release. When he asked whether he could have his children, the social worker said he “could not prevent him from getting an apartment with his children,” the lawsuit states.

The social worker then closed the referral as unfounded. He noted that Amber Wright and her brother had been doing well with their grandmother and the risk of further harm was minimal. A short time later, David Wright left Pierce County with his children and moved to Pacific County.

The lawsuit alleged David Wright physically and sexually abused his daughter nearly every day. She ran away from home in May 2005 and reported the abuse. David Wright later pleaded guilty to charges of child molestation and was sentenced to prison.

Amber Wright's lawsuit said DSHS took no steps to protect her despite “a litany of warnings from members of the community, including concerned neighbors, local law enforcement and no less than five other children who report that they too were molested by (the same) abuser.”

“This is social work 101,” Moody said.

DSHS said the 2004 referral was closed after Amber Wright denied the abuse had taken place and after a forensic exam for evidence of sexual abuse was inconclusive. The agency acknowledged the best practice would have been for the social worker to follow up with law enforcement officials and pursue other information before closing the referral.

The department noted it has made several changes in recent years, including not just taking a child's word that they are not being abused or neglected. Social workers are directed to conduct a more thorough investigation by interviewing family members and others before closing a case.

The agency said it also has implemented a higher level of review for all safety plans, improved supervisor training and changed the protocol for responding to critical incidents.

“We take each case personally and use each case as a lesson to evaluate our training and practices,” Children's Administration Assistant Secretary Denise Revels Robinson said.



More accusers for Jerry Sandusky?

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- New documents filed by the attorneys for former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky suggest there are at least 17 accusers in the child sexual abuse case, a much higher number than described in criminal charges.

The requests, dated April 16 and April 23, were attached to a motion filed Thursday in which Sandusky defense attorney Joe Amendola asked the supervising judge to mandate more disclosure of investigative materials.

The criminal charges against the former Penn State assistant football coach only pertain to boys named as Victims 1 through 10 in court records.

The April 16 discovery request asked for information on ''uncharged conduct evidence,'' while the one filed a week later pertained to employment records.

The court filing did not name the people, explain what might make them accusers or indicate what role, if any, they play in the criminal case in which Sandusky has denied all allegations.

''This in all likelihood means that there are other people who have come forward who have accused him of improper sexual conduct,'' said Wes Oliver, a Widener Law School professor who specializes in criminal law.

Asked about the eight supposed accusers, Sandusky defense lawyer Karl Rominger indicated the basis for the requests grew from previous material disclosed to the defense by the attorney general's office.

The April 23 request referred to ''all individuals identified as Accusers 11 through 17 as well as 18 through an unknown number.''

''The requests we made are based on what we believe should be provided, based on information we've received to date,'' Rominger said.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office declined to comment, citing a gag order issued by the presiding judge.

Lawyers for potential civil litigants have said there are accusers beyond the 10 alleged victims for which Sandusky, 68, faces 52 criminal charges. One alleged victim has filed a lawsuit in Philadelphia that is on hold while the criminal case proceeds.

There are many possible reasons why prosecutors might not file charges based on the claims of a purported victim, from problems with the statute of limitations and questions about credibility to a strategic analysis about how much evidence to put before jurors.

Information about any additional accusers for which Sandusky has not been charged could help the defense try to undermine the credibility of the prosecution's case, said University of Pittsburgh law professor John Burkoff, an expert on Pennsylvania criminal law procedure.

''There may not be anything there, but who knows?'' Burkoff said. ''It's all a part of getting as much evidence as you can, to see what you've got.''

Oliver said there are theoretical scenarios under which the additional names could be either helpful or damaging to Sandusky's defense.

''If the other eight people are kooks, that's actually a great story for the defense to put before the jury,'' Oliver said. ''If, however, there are eight other alleged victims out there who the prosecution just can't corroborate but they've got pretty good stories, then that's really bad for the defense.''

Another discovery request, dated March 27, sought nine documents that Amendola said were removed from football coach Joe Paterno's office and copied by state police. Amendola wrote that the documents had undergone a ''supervised review'' and been protected by a ''police seal of evidence.''

It was not clear what the documents were, or when the state police may have taken them.

Paterno was fired in November, following Sandusky's arrest, and he died of lung cancer in January. Paterno was not charged with any crime but expressed regret about how he handled a complaint from an underling about Sandusky in a football team shower with a boy a decade ago.

Paterno family spokesman Dan McGinn said he had no information about the documents and referred questions to Penn State, which declined comment.

''Coach Paterno delivered all relevant materials under his control,'' McGinn said. ''The Paternos were not part of any `supervised review.'''

It is normal for prosecutors and defense attorneys to argue about disclosure of investigative materials prior to trial, which in Sandusky's case is scheduled to begin in one month.

On Thursday, Judge John Cleland directed state prosecutors to turn over materials that are not in dispute before a pretrial hearing on Wednesday in Bellefonte, and to say in writing by Monday if there are remaining discovery disputes.

Additionally, ex-FBI director Louis Freeh and his team have conducted more than 400 interviews in the internal investigation spurred by the charges against Sandusky, Penn State trustee Kenneth Frazier said Friday.

Frazier said the investigation includes current and former employees from numerous departments across the university, which employs more than 18,000 at its main campus in State College.

The school still hopes the investigation will be completed by the time the next academic year begins in late August. The board still intends to make the full findings and recommendations public, Frazier said.

But, he added the time of the report timing ''will be dictated by how long it takes to complete a thorough investigation.''

School officials said nearly all of the trustees have now been interviewed.

And in Harrisburg, two Penn State administrators charged with lying to the grand jury investigating Jerry Sandusky filed court documents Friday that argued prosecutors have not produced enough evidence to support the perjury charges against them.

Athletic director Tim Curley, now on leave, and retired vice president for business Gary Schultz outlined the reasons they believe charges should be thrown out. Curley's filing cited what he called ''a shifting sand approach'' by prosecutors and said the court record so far did not include the basic elements needed for a perjury case to proceed.

Schultz's reply called the case ''unprovable, unfounded and untimely'' and said prosecutors acted prematurely with an exaggerated grand jury presentment to tarnish them with the child sexual abuse allegations against Sandusky. The attorney general's office declined to comment..



Long Beach man killed child to cover up sex abuse, DA alleges

A Long Beach man is facing capital murder and molestation charges as authorities allege that he stabbed to death his 9-year-old stepdaughter to cover up months of sexual abuse.

Jacinto Zuniga Trujillo, 31, is alleged to have stabbed the girl -- identified in court papers as Xiomara J. -- because he feared she might reveal that he been sexually abusing her since November, prosecutors alleged.

The District Attorney's Office filed a special circumstances murder charge, which would allow it to seek the death penalty in the case.

The girl's lifeless body was found in the parking lot of the Los Altos United Methodist Church on Saturday at about 11 a.m. Trujillo was found a short distance from the girl's body, suffering from self-inflicted stab wounds. Investigators say he attempted to commit suicide.

He was taken to a Long Beach hospital for treatment and released the next day. Authorities immediately took him into custody on suspicion of murder. Trujillo has yet to enter a plea in the case but made a brief appearance in Long Beach Superior Court earlier this week.

Trujillo is accused of the special circumstance allegation that the victim "was killed because she was a witness to a crime," specifically child molestation.

He also charged with five counts of oral copulation and sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10 involving the victim.

The District Attorney's Office will not make a decision on whether to seek the death penalty against Trujillo until the case moves closer to trial.

Authorities found letters written in blood next to the girl's body in a lot at the corner of Woodruff Avenue and Willow Street. The writing was on the side of what appeared to be a gray container that authorities are considering evidence in the case. No other details about the letters immediately were available.



Locals Fight Human Trafficking

by Camila Bastidas

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. -- A candlelight vigil was held at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday at the Liberty Bell on Truxtun Avenue. The event was organized by California Against Sexual Exploitation, a group advocating for the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act.

The measure would increase prison terms for human traffickers and would require convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, all registered sex offenders to disclose their internet accounts, criminal fines from convicted human traffickers to pay for services to help victims and law enforcement training on human trafficking.

The CASE Act campaign recently announced the submission of more than 865,000 signatures, far exceeding the approximately 500,000 signatures needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot.

Once signatures are verified, the measure is slated to be on November ballot. Doug Bennett, a Bakersfield man who tries to get prostitutes out of that lifestyle, said human trafficking also happens in Kern County.

"We went to a motel and we talked to 10 different women there, and they asked for prayer for their safety, and they said, 'At the end of the day, we just want to go home.' So, I asked them where home was, and they said in San Francisco," said Bennett.

To learn more about the anti-human trafficking, visit


‘Erin's Law': Sen. Judy Emmons introduces legislation to help prevent abuse of Michigan children

LANSING, Mich. — Sen. Judy Emmons introduced legislation known as “Erin's Law” on Wednesday in the state Senate to help prevent the sexual abuse of children in Michigan.

“This legislation is about protecting Michigan children from sexual abuse, which tragically steals the innocence of childhood from 25 percent of girls and one of every seven boys,” said Emmons, R-Sheridan. “More than 90 percent of the time, sexual abuse survivors know their abuser. Many child sexual abuse survivors are afraid to come forward. Erin's Law is about eliminating that fear and ending the abuse.”

The measures are named “Erin's Law” after Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor from Illinois, whose advocacy in her home state led to the passage of a similar law there in 2011. After going public about abuse by a family member, Merryn made it her mission to try to ensure that children have the age-appropriate education to recognize and talk about sexual abuse.

“As a child I was educated in school on tornado drills, bus drills, fire drills, stranger danger and drugs, but when I was sexually abused, I listened to the only message I was being given – and that came from my abusers to stay silent,” said Merryn. “Educating kids on sexual abuse prevention in schools is the best way to empower kids to tell so abuse won't go on for years the way it did for me. My voice was silenced. I am on a mission to make sure no other child has their voice silenced and innocence stolen the way mine was.”

Senate Bills 1112-1114 would require school boards to adopt and implement policies addressing child sexual abuse and would create a one-time Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, made up of legislators, state officials and experts to make recommendations on changes to Michigan law.

Schools could adopt age-appropriate curriculums for students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade, train school personnel on child sexual abuse, and adopt policies concerning informing parents on the warning signs of abuse.

Parents would be made aware of the curriculum and be able to “opt out” if they did not want their child involved.

“As a mother and grandmother, I applaud Erin for her bravery and leadership in working to help children get the education and support they need to identify abuse and get help,” Emmons said. “My bill is about protecting our children from sexual abuse and enabling parents to make the ultimate decision about the appropriateness of sexual abuse instruction for their young child.”

If the bills are passed and signed, Michigan would join Illinois, Indiana and Missouri in enacting Erin's Law to protect children from sexual predators. Similar legislation has also been introduced in New York, Minnesota, New Mexico, Maine, Iowa and Massachusetts.


Illinois child abuse deaths down

CHICAGO - Illinois child welfare advocates recently released an analysis of state child welfare data and hailed a projected 24% drop of confirmed child abuse and neglect in Illinois since 2008.

"Our review of the Illinois Department Children and Family Services data reveals concretely what we in the field knew intuitively-Illinois children are safer today than they were even just four years ago," said Margaret Berglind, President of the Child Care Association of Illinois.

According to the group's review of the data, there were 29,802 cases of confirmed child abuse or neglect in Illinois in fiscal year 2008, and by annualizing the first seven months of fiscal year 2012 data, there will be 21,720 confirmed cases, which constitutes a 27% decrease.

"We are on our way to see a 27% decrease in child abuse and neglect in Illinois," said Berglind. "That accomplishment is due to combined efforts of DCFS and private child welfare agencies to continue to implement the reforms that began in 1995."

Berglind noted that the DCFS data is on track to reveal child safety progress on multiple fronts, including child sex abuse, substance abuse-exposed babies, and child deaths.

"If the current trends continue, child deaths, as a result of abuse or neglect, are set to fall by 60%," said Berglind. "This good news confirms that the Illinois child welfare system is effectively doing its job-which is protecting children."

Berglind also noted that there are fewer children in state care. Illinois has reduced its child caseload from nearly 51,000 from 1997 to 18,413 in 2012-a 63% reduction in the foster care caseload compared to a national reduction of 24%.

Additionally, More children have been placed in permanent homes. More than 40,000 children moved out of foster care to adoption and guardianship over the last decade, Berglind noted.

However, Berglind did sound a cautionary note that Illinois' protection progress could be jeopardized if the Illinois General Assembly further cuts the DCFS budget by more than the $44 million recommended by Governor Pat Quinn.

"While the Illinois General Assembly and DCFS have implemented legislative and program reform to overhaul the Illinois child welfare system, the state's performance is still significantly governed by eight court consent decree settlements," said Berglind. "If the legislature cuts the DCFS budget too deeply, the state risks undermining the safety of children and risks court action."

In 2008, the state provided $897 million of its own money to DCFS. For next year, Quinn is proposing to spend only $746 million of general revenue money, or a 16.8% reduction.


New Florida Law on Reporting Child Sexual Abuse to Bring Rest of School in Line With Bus Drivers

by Ryan Gray

Legislation signed late last month by Gov. Rick Scott will require schools by this fall to report known or suspected cases of child sexual abuse, which a leading student transportation expert said school bus drivers have essentially been required to under existing Florida Administrative Code.

Charlie Hood, the state director of transportation and immediate past-president of NASDPTS, told School Transportation News that school bus drivers are among the school employees that already must comply with Section 39.201 of the Florida Statutes and Chapter 65C-29 of the Florida Administrative Code that requires certain workers to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the Florida Department of Children and Families. DCF has a toll-free, confidential reporting hotline in such cases.

The new law for the "Protection of Vulnerable Persons" goes into effect this coming Oct. 1 and specifically targets sexual abuse of children. It carries with it fines of up to $1 million per incident for anyone who "willfully and knowingly" fails to report a case of suspected child sexual abuse.

"We have not assessed the provisions or impact of the new law yet, since it does not appear to impose any new or more restrictive requirements on school transportation personnel specifically," Hood added.

Joining school bus drivers in the existing statute are: doctors and medical staff; day care workers; foster care counselors; foster parents; health professionals; home visitors; institutional workers; judges; law enforcement; medical examiners; mental health professionals; residential workers; school staff; and social workers.



Slices of life: Children's advocate is honored with award for her efforts

by Jennifer Hetrick

Jefferson Township, PA - As an advocate of children's rights in legislative and judicial circumstances involving sexual abuse, Cathleen Palm of Jefferson Township recently received the Vision of Hope Award from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

Palm is a survivor of child sexual abuse, which is a part of what compelled her in 2003 to co-create the Protect Our Children Committee as a statewide organization based in Bernville.

She serves as the part-time executive director of the committee, which is mostly supported by volunteer efforts. Around 60 organizations and individuals support the committee's cause across the state.

"While the majority of states were providing testimony options, Pennsylvania's state constitution barred children who had been victimized from testifying by means other than face-to-face," Palm said in describing the main reason why she and others believing strongly in children's rights formed the political action committee.

This meant that children could not confront their accusers through closed circuit television or videotaped testimony.

Wanting to get the state's constitution changed to bring better rights to children, Palm and the committee members traveled across Pennsylvania that first year, convincing voters to amend the testifying limitations for kids in court cases of child abuse or sexual violence, or when they witnessed domestic violence.

"Pennsylvania has the lowest rate of investigated and substantiated child abuse in the country, and it's very out of whack," Palm said. "Nationally, the rate is about 9 per 1,000 kids, but in Pennsylvania, it's 1.3 per 1,000 kids who are victims."

But of course, that's just what's reported, she said.

"Physicians and advocates have been struggling for years as to why we look so different in Pennsylvania, and we knew that kids were not as protected or provided a pathway to services," she said.

Palm and her fellow advocates pushed tenaciously for the past 18 months in urging the state government to put together a task force on protecting children from all forms of abuse.

"In December, the House and the Senate both passed a resolution, and the Task Force on Child Protection was created as a 10-member board," Palm explained.

Those who sit on the task force are district attorneys, physicians, lawyers and sexual-violence victim advocates. They will meet several times annually.

Palm said she hopes these efforts will open up the lines of communication for children to be able to trust that they can speak out to those around them if they're being victimized, without the fear of not being believed, something she had to cope with in her own childhood.

"The one thing that has been clear to me in my life is that I am an advocate," Palm said. "That's my strength. Everyone has a talent and a gift, and mine is advocacy, so it's a right fit to have started, be with and stay with the Protect Our Children Committee. I get to spend every day figuring out how I, individually and with a group of people, can be a voice for a child and the whole community of kids in Pennsylvania."


Companies pull ads from Village Voice Media to protest child sex trafficking

by Elizabeth Stuart

Advertisers are pulling ads from Village Voice Media in an attempt to pressure the chain to shut down a website that has been accused of facilitating child sex trafficking.

In response to a campaign, 27 companies, including H&M, AT&T and Ikea, had pulled their advertisements by Thursday afternoon. Justin Wassel, a minister from Ohio, started the campaign following reports that young girls were being peddled alongside bikes and refrigerators on, Village Voice's online classified ad section.

Backpage brings in about $22 million a year in prostitution ads in its "adult entertainment section," according to AIM Group, a media research and consulting company. Backpage hosts 70 percent of online prostitution ads in the United States.

While many of the ads are placed by adult women of their own volition, many ads are placed for underage girls by pimps, The New York Times reported. Pimps approach vulnerable young girls, many of whom are runaways or have been perviously abused, earn their trust and then force them to turn tricks.

"I urge you to consider ... those who have been forced into a life of modern-day sexual slavery," Wassel wrote in his petition. "You, from right where you are, have the opportunity to make a vital impact on their lives, their futures. You will be able to say that you and your company have good moral conscience for the well-being of all, and you will have stood up for those who can't stand up for themselves."

On Wednesday, a group of five U.S. senators released a statement calling on Village Voice to do away with the adult services section of, which allows users to sell everything from "body rubs" to "escorts." Since August, 51 attorneys general have condemned Backpage for facilitating child sex trafficking, Business Insider reported. Goldman Sachs, which owned a 16 percent share of Village Voice Media, severed ties last month due to controversy over the issue.

“The so-called ‘adult entertainment' section is nothing more than a front for pimps and child sex traffickers," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in a news release. "This is absolutely sickening and should be stopped with all the tools available to us."

Village Voice Media has 123 moderators reviewing the content of Backpage to try to identify ads for underage prostitution, Forbes reported. The company has also publicly supported federal legislation that would fund beds and assistance for the victims of child sex trafficking.

The company has adamantly argued, however, that both the problem of child sex trafficking in the United States and Backpage's involvement in the trade have been exaggerated.

"We're being told that there's a widespread, growing and out-of-control problem to fear in our country. And it has a catchy name: 'trafficking,'" wrote Tony Ortega, editor-in-chief of The Village Voice, in an editorial last year. "The actual data behind this 'epidemic' is wanting in the extreme. It involves guesses by activist professors, junk science by nonprofit groups trying to extract money from Congress, and manipulation by religious groups hiding their real agendas about sex work."


From the Department of Justice

Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Mary Lou Leary Speaks at Arresting Demand: a National Colloquium

Boston ~ Thursday, May 3, 2012

Thank you, Attorney General Coakley. I'm very pleased to be here and excited to join this discussion of demand reduction in the unlawful commercial sex industry. I want to thank you for hosting us here in the great city of Boston – and for your leadership in the fight against sex trafficking.

I'd like to thank Ambassador Hunt and Lina Nealon for organizing this important colloquium, and for the tireless work their organizations are doing on behalf of the exploited and enslaved. They are to be applauded for their vision and commitment.

My thanks, as well, to Councilor Pressley for welcoming us to Boston and for her support of this city's efforts to fight sex trafficking. And I want to acknowledge my fellow keynote speaker, Attorney General McKenna – a true champion in the fight against human trafficking. He has demonstrated outstanding leadership on this issue as President of the National Association of Attorneys General. Our organizations have worked closely together to train investigators, prosecutors, and judges on trafficking issues – and I think we've helped moved the field forward together. I'm grateful for his partnership.

It's wonderful to be here. I'm a Massachusetts native – raised in Worcester, just about 40 miles west of here. I went to law school in Boston and lived in the city a number of years. I also held my first job as a prosecutor in the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office in Cambridge. I saw there what a tremendous impact our work in the justice system can have on the lives of those who are exploited and abused. As a young Assistant D.A., I learned important lessons about the dignity and worth of human life – and the difference we can all make – that I carry with me to this day.

These lessons run through the veins of all good Bostonians. We have a proud history of leading great causes. As we gather here to discuss modern-day issues of forced servitude and bondage, it's worth remembering the role this city played in ending an earlier form of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison published his great anti-slavery newspaper, The Liberator , just a couple of miles from here. Through it, he led a national movement that became a global crusade. In the first issue, he gave notice that abolition was not to be a cause for quiet or casual devotion. He said, “I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation. I will not equivocate – I will not excuse – I will not retreat a single inch – and I will be heard.”

Today, a century-and-a-half after he helped raise the nation's consciousness and secure the 13 th Amendment to our Constitution, the need for champions against injustice remains great.

Sex trafficking is a big money-maker for criminals and a scourge to society. Traffickers callously seek to furnish their market with women, girls, and boys who have been cast out by society and whose options are few. In many cases, they are young people – not even teenagers – who are looking for the home they've never had. What they find, instead, are betrayal, cruelty, and abuse. And sadly, too often our systems of support and justice have offered no quarter.

Years ago, as U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., my office's human trafficking task force pursued a case involving a network of distributors that trafficked girls up and down I-95. We were beginning to make headway in the case, thanks in great part to a Metropolitan Police Department officer who formed a bond of trust with a juvenile victim. This victim eventually agreed to break away and testify. Unfortunately, the case dragged on – and before we could get to trial, she changed her mind and tried to return. Sadly, we had to lock her up as a material witness. We were eventually able to get to trial and win the case, but not before re-traumatizing this poor girl.

Regrettably, that was the reality of how investigators and prosecutors handled sex trafficking cases in those days. And quite frankly, it's how some cases are handled even today.

We have much work to do – in raising awareness, in changing attitudes, and in meeting the needs of those who are exploited. But the good news is we are making progress.

I'm proud that the Department of Justice and my agency – the Office of Justice Programs – have been part of this movement forward. In an era of diminishing federal dollars, we are directing substantial resources to fighting human trafficking. Last year, we made more than $9 million available to bolster anti-human trafficking efforts. Our Bureau of Justice Assistance and Office for Victims of Crime now support 28 task forces dedicated to investigating trafficking crimes and providing culturally competent victim services.

In a two-and-half year period ending in June 2010, these task forces investigated more than 2,500 incidents of human trafficking and arrested 144 suspected traffickers. We are reviewing another round of applications for funding now and will support additional task forces this year.

We also make available a number of training and technical assistance resources. We recently supported a third pilot training for state prosecutors in conjunction with the National Association of Attorneys General. And we held a Webcast in December that drew more than 80 state and local judges.

Our Bureau of Justice Assistance is funding a series of three-day trainings on advanced investigation techniques. And after holding several regional trainings, our Office for Victims of Crime is planning a national forum for law enforcement and victim service providers this summer.

We've also developed an excellent resource called the Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force Strategy and Operations e-Guide. This guide offers direction on forming and strengthening task forces and provides lessons learned from current task forces, as well as a host of other tools for fighting human trafficking in your community.

The Justice Department's efforts to combat trafficking are by no means limited to the work we're doing in the Office of Justice Programs. Fighting trafficking crimes is a priority of the Obama Administration and of this Department of Justice.

Last year, the Attorney General launched a Department-wide Human Trafficking Enhanced Enforcement Initiative. And last week, he announced his plans to designate an anti-human trafficking coordinator to oversee all Justice activities in this area. This will allow us to be even more effective in our efforts to combat these crimes and reach victims.

Led by the Civil Rights Division – and strengthened by other components – the Department of Justice has achieved substantial increases in human trafficking prosecutions and charged a record number of defendants. In one such case in Virginia, the Department secured a life sentence against a violent gang member who coerced a 12-year-old runaway into prostitution, regularly plied her with alcohol and drugs, and forced her to have sex with multiple men every day.

It's significant – for all of us in this room – that more than 40 percent of all human trafficking incidents opened for investigation by the Department were for sexual trafficking of a child. And more than 80 percent of these were identified as U.S. citizens. Human trafficking – and particularly sex trafficking – is not just a spillover of corrupt regimes where the rule of law holds little sway. It's happening right here under our noses. As the Attorney General said, this “is not just a global problem – it's a national crisis.”

My agency has mobilized to support those who are forced into prostitution. Our Office for Victims of Crime and our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention are funding several organizations that work to serve young victims of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic trafficking.

Rachel Lloyd's GEMS program in New York City – as you just heard – provides a range of services, from counseling, housing, and legal aid, to education and employment services. GEMS is designed not only to get these young people out of the commercial sex industry, but to empower them to become mentors and leaders and to reach their full potential. Rachel has said that many of these girls “cannot envision a future. . . GEMS works to give them their future back.”

Just a couple of weeks ago – during National Crime Victims' Rights Week – the Attorney General recognized Rachel and her team with the National Crime Victim Service Award, the highest national award for service to crime victims. And I'm so pleased that we're supporting GEMS' efforts by funding the development of a guide – informed by survivors – for serving girls and women who are commercially exploited and domestically trafficked.

Reaching these victims and helping them reclaim hope is vital, but it's not enough. For too long, our approach to the unlawful commercial sex industry has been focused on the traffickers who occupy the supply side of the equation. We need to adjust our approach and look at the demand side, as well. I'm encouraged by organizations like Demand Abolition and by the enlightened advocates and professionals at this colloquium who are leading us in this direction. I'm also heartened by the aggressive approaches we're seeing in communities across the nation – including right here in Boston, where police, under Commissioner Ed Davis, have been successful in arresting would-be buyers.

And I'm pleased to see a growing interest in programs that specifically target the demand-side of the industry. Johns schools, in particular, have gained traction in cities across the country. They've provided an effective tool for preventing future offending. Our National Institute of Justice funded a study of San Francisco's First Offender Prostitution Program – one of the nation's first Johns schools. The study found a 40 percent reduction in recidivism among participants. What's more, it found that these programs pay for themselves – offenders foot the bill at no expense to taxpayers. In fact, the San Francisco program has generated $1 million in revenue that is being used to pay for programs to help former prostitutes.

I'm pleased we're supporting this work through our partners at the organization Standing Against Global Exploitation, or SAGE. I'm sure many of you know about SAGE and their collaboration with the San Francisco District Attorney's Office on the First Offender program. Part of their work involves helping girls and women exit the commercial sex trade. Since late 2009, our Office for Victims of Crime has helped support therapeutic and rehabilitative services to minor victims who come through this program.

By focusing our resources on demand reduction efforts like Johns schools, early evidence shows we can be more effective. Research done by Michael Shively – under funding from my agency – has found that demand-focused and other comprehensive approaches result in substantial reductions in prostitution and sex trafficking markets.

By no means does this suggest we curtail our efforts to go after distributors, or let up on our outreach to victims. What it tells us is that we need to approach sex trafficking holistically and make sure we're attacking the root of the problem.

But what are these approaches that seem to be working so well? We know Johns schools can bring real results, but what about other methods?

Our National Institute of Justice is working to give us a better understanding of these practices. You'll hear from Michael Shively later about a new report he's authored under an NIJ grant that provides a catalogue of demand reduction practices compiled from jurisdictions across the country. When we started surveying the field, we expected maybe a couple hundred responses. The final report describes more than 800 programs – everything from Web stings and camera surveillance to billboard ads and the publication of names and photos.

The catalogue is exhaustive – and it gives a terrific scan of the landscape in demand reduction. As a companion to the report, we'll be launching a Web site that law enforcement, victim services, and other organizations can access for information about these programs. Our hope is that this will be a tool to advance these efforts in communities across the country. And I want to add that Michael's organization, Abt Associates, has agreed to maintain the site. We're grateful for their partnership in this effort.

Our base of knowledge about sex trafficking is growing. So is our understanding of what works to fight it. For too long, our approach to fighting unlawful commercial sex has looked past the Johns whose demand perpetuates the industry and focused on those who are often coerced into providing services.

Our nation is beginning to open its eyes to this injustice. Activists, survivors, and forward-thinking professionals like all of you have helped us see our errors and straighten our path. You've pointed us forward. Now, we can truly begin – in earnest – the work to end sex trafficking in our country. Thank you.


Child abuse registry bill passes Conn. Senate

by The Associated Press

HARTFORD — The Connecticut Senate has passed a bill that would allow rehabilitated people to apply to have their names removed from the state child abuse and neglect registry.

State senators voted 23-13 in favor of a modified version of the measure Wednesday. It now awaits action in Connecticut's House of Representatives.
The proposal would allow offenders currently on the database to appeal their listing after five years of not being involved in any new abuse investigations.

Applicants would need to submit letters of support from two adults with knowledge of the rehabilitation.

Currently, anyone identified as a perpetrator in Department of Children and Families investigations of child abuse and neglect is listed in a registry for such offenses, even if the individual is not convicted of a civil or criminal offense.



Reaction to proposed law targeting child sex abuse

by Wayne Hereford

TUPELO, Miss. (WTVA) — The director of the Family Resource Center in Tupelo supports a bill sent to the governor that requires health professionals, clergy and others to report suspected sexual abuse of children.

"Over 17,000 children were allegedly sexually abused last year," said Christi Webb, who leads an agency that conducted more than 400 forensic interviews last year to determine if a child had been sexually abused.

But many more incidents go unreported, she said, because sometimes people who are in position to know what's going on don't come forward.

"I think when it comes to children, when it comes to sexual abuse, child abuse, I think confidentiality needs to be thrown completely out the window," Webb continued.

That's no problem, said Dr. Rick Brooks, the pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Tupelo.

He added that House Bill 16 does not change the way pastors in his denomination have always approached the issue.

"We've always understood that ethically as pastors, although we hold confidence in high regard...part of the sacred trust of being a pastor is to realize there are situations with people who are vulnerable and cannot take care of themselves where you are ethically liable to report," said Brooks.

The law also calls on commercial photo processors to report suspected child abuse to authorities.

One professional photographer said that's a good idea.

"The bill primarily is going to deal with the Walmarts, drug stores, things of that nature," said photographer Marty Petit of Tupelo. "If they are coming across and they are developing homemade film and they see something, then they are required by law now to turn that in."

The bill also contains a portion that will require anyone performing abortions on girls under the age of 14 to preserve DNA results to determine if statutory rape was involved.



PATHWAYS TO PROGRESS: Child abuse. Yes, it happens here. And the numbers might stun you.

by Casey Jones and Kenneth L. Stewart

May 2, 2012

SAN ANGELO, Texas —Violence involving young people is shocking. Dramatic cases regularly populate the national media such as the senseless shooting death of a teen in Sanford, Fla., or the suicide of a gay Rutgers student after finding that his roommate used a webcam to watch his gay liaisons.

Occasionally a case of violence involving youth turns into a saga of survival and empowerment, such as the inspirational kidnapping story of Elizabeth Smart that riveted a sellout audience at San Angelo's "Day of the Woman" event last month.

As compelling as that story is, however, instances where child victims of violent acts become celebrities leading popular causes to ensure child safety are rare. Much more often, these events lead to wrecked lives.

While keen awareness and fervor arises out of famous cases in other places such as those involving Trayvon Martin, Tyler Clementi and Smart, young people in the local community face a threat-level of violence that is stunning.

In 2011, Texas Child Protective Services investigated 297,971 alleged instances of child abuse across Texas and confirmed 65,948 allegations. Tom Green County contributed more than its share to this picture.

The county's 26,373 children comprised only about four of every 1,000 children living in Texas. Yet the county's 1,596 alleged victims of child abuse made up slightly less than six of every 1,000 accusations across the state.

The lowest child abuse rate for Tom Green County over the past decade occurred in 2004, when the rate was 6.4 confirmed cases per 1,000 children. The high rate of 20 confirmed cases per 1,000 children was in 2010.

The local rate of child abuse has increased by 56 percent since 2000. This compares with an increase of just 19 percent for all of Texas. The local community also usually registers higher rates than the state for incidents of violent death of teenagers, family violence and for abuse of disabled and elderly people.

Dangerous place

Tom Green County, in short, is a violent place for kids and families despite any wishful thinking or pretensions to the contrary.

Local families, children and the community at large are paying for the extraordinary violence. For instance, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services places many abused children in foster care.

Between 2001 and 2011, the number of children younger than 18 in foster care increased by more than 194 percent in Tom Green County compared with an increase of just over 21 percent for Texas. Only 14 Texas counties had a higher number of children in foster care than Tom Green County in 2011.

Studies show that children in foster care have a higher probability of having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and other developmental problems. Once leaving foster care, many young adults also experience higher degrees of incarceration, poverty, homelessness and suicide.

These may be some reasons why the Annie E. Casey Foundation's projects to help vulnerable kids succeed classify foster care as a "safety and risky behavior" issue.

Some child abuse victims also may find themselves in family violence shelters. There was a consistent increase in the number of Tom Green County children living in family violence shelters from 2000 through 2006. In 2007, the latest year of available data, the rate significantly decreased by 38 percent. Still, only 24 Texas counties had a higher family violence shelter placement rate than Tom Green County in 2007.

Helping organizations

Accompanying the startling facts on violence and local youth are an astonishing number of local programs and agencies with missions to protect and aid the development of children and their families.

Many churches and faith-based organizations have special youth and family ministries and missions, most public social services have a focus on families and children, and the majority of nonprofits are family- and child-centered.

Most of these local entities do marvelous things. Just a few local places where heroic actions occur daily include the Children's Advocacy Center's Family Enrichment Services to improve parenting and prevent child abuse, the House of Faith programs for positive youth development and the Concho Valley CARES Coalition's activities to reduce youth substance abuse.

Efforts are now under way to add Smart's personally endorsed safety education and anti-bullying radKIDS program to the long list of local initiatives tackling one piece or another of the youth and violence picture.

As the list of programs grows, however, someone must seriously ask why the big picture is not also improving. After all, the numbers show that this community is a risky place for young people and adding one more new program, no matter how much glitter surrounds it, is unlikely to dent the dangers.

In fact, shining starlight on narrow aspects of preventing violence involving children can have the ironic effect of diverting attention from the violent nature of the community toward a perception that the problem boils down to performing a few common sense techniques of self-protection against a small number of ruthless perverts hiding in the shadows.

Truth is that there are many moving parts to the violence surrounding young people. It has the face of poverty; it involves drug and alcohol abuse; ineffective parenting is part of it; racial tension and intolerance of social differences impinges; insular and inept social programs and services aggravate the situation; legal and law enforcement issues impose; and the politics of public funding and taxation is onerous.

Programs for family enrichment, reduction of substance abuse, positive youth development and safety education can help, but the help is attenuated in a community thinking the problem is only to contain a malicious few in the population. Former first lady, senator and now Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave insight by noticing that "it takes a village" to raise a child. Now is the time to understand that it also takes a village to keep one safe.

Casey Jones and Kenneth L. Stewart are directors of Community Development Initiatives at the ASU Center for Community Wellness, Engagement, and Development. Contact them at or


Penn State gives $1.1M to new child abuse center

Penn State says it's giving more than $1.1 million in football bowl revenues to its new center for child abuse research and treatment.

The Center for the Protection of Children was launched in the wake of child sex allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Based at Penn State's children's hospital in Hershey, it'll offer treatment for abused children and a primary care clinic for foster kids, sponsor research into abuse, offer training, provide advocacy and collect data.

The funding announced Wednesday is more than twice the amount that Penn State had promised in December. Higher-than-expected bowl revenues allowed Penn State to give more.

Penn State had already donated $1.5 million of its share of Big Ten bowl revenues to a group that operates rape crisis centers.



The right age for sex: 16 or 18? A legal view

New Delhi -- After a Delhi court asked the government to review a proposed legislation that would raise the age of sexual consent to 18 from 16 if passed in Parliament, most of the discussions and media articles have missed the wood for the trees. The age of consent issue has very often been discussed without placing it in the right context i.e as a part of the 'The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011'.

The Bill is the culmination of the attempt first undertaken by former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee in 2000. It is meant to protect Indian children from being sexual abused by adults.

Noted writer and lawyer Pinki Virani has been a crusader for protection of children against sexual abuse. She told IBNLive, "It is India's first legislation, ever, to protect children sexually from predatory adults. The term children means all those who are minors. That is, the future citizens of India who are between newly-born and up to 17 years, 11 months and 29 days. (As also those yet to be born, I might add, since the law will protect every child-citizen of India hereafter.) At 18 years of age, the child become a major. These age-bands are, generally speaking, internationally accepted as 18 being the time a human being is physically, financially, emotionally and sexually more able and capable to handle the process of adult-hood which involves not only rights but also responsibilities. To date there has been no law in India to protect those under 18 from paedophiles, be they in the home or outside. Cases being reported – most are not – have been tried in adult courts with the application of adult laws and adult timeframes. The Bill, when it becomes law, will change this."

Virani had shot off a letter to the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Congress leader Oscar Fernandes that was looking into the Bill when it was introduced in Rajya Sabha in March, 2011. She says, "The Bill, bizarrely, introduced a clause that almost legalised child sexual abuse. The clause, paraphrased, said that should an adult – anyone from 18 to 80 years or more of age – sexually abuse a child between 16 and 18 years of age, it would be examined if the child 'consented'. Surreally, this disenfranched this entire age-band of children from legal protection against sexual abuse, and every generation of Indian child is this age-band in the future. Such a clause could not be there without taking complete consent from the actual stakeholders. And these are not politicians or NGOs based in Delhi. These stake-holders are pan-India. They are, and always have to be, those directly concerned. The parents and grandparents, who might also be working professionals like doctors, lawyers, psychiatrists, counsellors and perhaps even elected members of Parliament and state assemblies whose informed insight should help shape the child's rights space. Principals of schools and colleges, teachers and other educationists, young adults above 18 who plan on having children of their own should also be included."

Asked on the 'consent' element which everybody seems to be obsessed about, she says, "Here is how it can be misconstrued as 'consent' if this clause of decriminalising sexual acts by adults upon children between 16 and 18 years of age was not removed. A 16-year-old girl is being taught dance by an adult instructor. In the manner of all perpetrators he grooms her so that there will be no ongoing objection, slowly he moves in to perform several sexual acts with her. The onus to prove that she did not want 'it', would be upon her. As will the onus on a 17-year-old boy sodomised by a male-adult known to him. Or even one whom he has recently met, and he doesn't know that he has been snared into that part of the web looking for 'fresh male meat'. For instance in a chat room on the Internet, then they meet in person and the boy is sodomised."

Jayshree Satpute, another noted lawyer connected with the Human Rights Law Network, also says, "The Age of Consent needs to be reviewed and more clarity on explanation of the term 'consent' is desirable. Age difference should be taken into account while the law should look at every case as unique."

But most of the countries of world have 16 as the age of consent. So what is the legal merit of raising the bar? Virani brings in the element of 'informed consent' instead of ignorant giving in to predatory advances.

She says, "Different countries have varying ages of what construes consent. In the countries where it is 16, it is understood to mean 'informed consent'. These nations also try to ensure that safeguards are in place for their young to fall back upon should they need immediate and sensitive legal assistance, starting with the police moving in to immediately stop the adult forcing himself, or herself, sexually upon the minor the moment there is a call for help from the latter, even if the minor falls in the consent-band. More so since internationally it is clearly understood that child sex abusers rarely stop at one child or one instance. Research indicates that adults can sexually abuse up to 35 children before being identified as paedophiles. There is also a very real concern in developed nations about the appalling side-effects of child sexual abuse which tend to criminalise the child as also carry over to future generations. Generally speaking – because not every sexually-abused child displays the same or some or all after-effects – children act it out on other children in school. They grow up misunderstanding their original sexuality, some become hypersexualised and are traumatised by their bisexuality. Boy-children can become wife-beaters, girl-children indifferent mothers. Some can grow to become child sexual abusers themselves. Purely as an observation it has also been pointed out that in countries paying due attention to the sexual well-being of their young, even criminals in jails treat child sexual abusers with greater contempt."

What many have wondered is that with more teenagers having sex between themselves than before, isn't such a legislation retrograde? Virani steps in to clarify the matter: "First, let us not confuse adults preying upon children sexually, with teens experimenting between themselves. Second, there are overwhelming factors leading to too-early sexualisation of Indian teens which need to be addressed separately. Girls are feeling the (false) pressure to provide oral sex as soon as they enter their teens. Then they are being recorded on mobile phones and such 'films' are mms-ed. Is that honestly 'consent'? It's up to the stakeholders to decide what they see as 'consent', and also start a dialogue on what, then, would be the next lowering of age-band, from 16 to 13, then 10?"

Satpute also pitches in: "Usually if both the consual actors are minors, criminal charges are not framed against either of them. The criminal charge kicks in as the age gap between the partners increase."



Victims of sex trafficking will have help in Tulsa area agency's new wing


DaySpring Villa is stepping up its efforts to provide support to the victims of sexual trafficking.

The agency announced it has become the first domestic violence shelter in the state to earn certification for accommodating adult victims of sex trafficking.

The certification ensures that trafficking victims receive services that comply with Oklahoma Statue Title 75, Chapter 30: Standards and Criteria for Adult Victims of Sex Trafficking Programs.

"In Oklahoma, it's my understanding that this is a growing, major issue, especially because we have such a center stage. With Interstates 44, 40 and 35 it makes it easier for victims to be transported," said Wilma Lively, executive director.

The shelter will provide emergency housing, food, clothing, protection and advocacy services for victims of sexual slavery using the policies, protocols and best practices outlined by the Attorney General's Office.

"This is something that Dayspring felt, as the only faith-based shelter in the state, this was something we needed to do to help these victims," Lively said.

To accommodate the new program, the shelter is raising funds to undergo a $635,000 expansion and renovation project. There is currently a 5,000 square-foot area of the shelter used for sorting donations. The plan is to renovate that area to house sex trafficking victims and to build a new wing to handle the donations.

The renovations will include extra security and will add 15 to 17 beds for sex trafficking victims. The shelter currently can house 23 woman and their children.

"As Christians we are called to help those that need the help and can't help themselves. We're very proud and our staff is honored and consider it a privilege to be able to help those that are less fortunate," Lively said.

The approach to caring for sex trafficking victims will be similar to the approach used to care for domestic violence victims with some slight differences, including more medical needs.

"Sex trafficking victims need more respite care or more one-on-one because they've been held captive, in some cases for years. You're going to have to speak to the physical needs longer before starting to work on goals and life skills," Lively said.

Lively added she hopes to have the funds needed for the renovations raised within six to nine months but that the shelter has already started caring for sex trafficking victims.

Mark Elam, director of the OATH Coalition, or Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans, said it's very important for victims to have a safe place to go.

"The big issue is they haven't had support or places to go. That often meant moving to another state. Finally we have a certified place in the Tulsa area where victims can go for safety," he said.

Last year the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline received 102 calls from Oklahoma, according to the Attorney General's Office.

How to help

To make a donation to DaySpring Villa's expansion effort, designate donations to "new wing" and send to P.O. Box 1588, Sand Springs, OK, 74063


New York

Prosecutors Focus on Pimps and Clients, Instead of Prostitutes


It was not exactly a run-of-the-mill prostitution case: the men accused as ringleaders were a father and his son, a pimp team coercing women to push their trade like traveling sex saleswomen, handing out business cards at hotels and strip clubs.

The women were branded, tattooed with the pimps' monikers, Mr. Vee for the father and King Koby for the son, Manhattan prosecutors said. One woman was even tattooed with a bar code.

But what makes the case noteworthy is not how the operation was run, but how the men are being prosecuted. The Manhattan district attorney's office is employing a sex trafficking charge, added to the New York State penal code five years ago, that is helping to redefine how law enforcement agencies approach organized prostitution.

In a stark departure from decades of such prosecutions, the women who were working as prostitutes are not facing criminal charges but are instead being treated as their pimps' victims, and offered services to help them build new lives.

Under the old charges, pimps typically faced up to 15 years in prison for promoting prostitution with an adult. The newer sex trafficking charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Also under the new law, the customers who pay adult prostitutes for sex face up to one year in jail, up from 90 days.

On Monday, 14 men, including a physician, an owner of an online ticket sales company and a concierge for a film-production company, were arraigned on charges of patronizing a prostitute. Most were offered a chance to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation; two accepted the plea offer.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said his office had embraced the new approach, long advocated by those who see brutal oppression of women as the defining component of the commercial sex trade.

“They basically live as slaves of the pimps,” Mr. Vance said. “These are sad cases. These are women who need help.”

A federal law that went into effect in 2000 cracked down on sex trafficking. But in general, someone must be moved across state borders for the purpose of prostitution before federal prosecutors have jurisdiction.

The law that Albany passed in 2007 has no such limitation. It broadly defines sex trafficking by the methods a pimp uses to control a prostitute. The threshold can be met if the pimp instills fear of a beating, but also by more subtle intimidation, like spreading a secret that might subject the person to ridicule, or doing anything “calculated to harm” the health, safety or immigration status of the prostitute.

“One thing we've learned from women who have been prostituted is that it is very easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of,” said Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women .

Statewide, there have been 150 arrests on the new sex trafficking charge since the law took effect on Nov. 1, 2007, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services; all but 13 were in New York City. Seventy of the 150 cases remain open. Of the 80 that have been completed, there have been 13 convictions on the sex trafficking charge; other outcomes include 33 convictions on charges other than sex trafficking, and the dismissal of charges against 21 defendants.

The office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, has brought 52 sex trafficking cases, the most of any district attorney in the state in that period. (One of those cases was recently thrown into uncertainty when questions were raised about the credibility of the accuser, a woman who said she had been raped and forced into prostitution at age 13.)

Mr. Hynes said the law and the changed approach were having important effects. “It has enabled us to rescue young women, girls really, from the grip of traffickers, who in the past have been able to avoid prosecution,” he said.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has also begun to shift his department's enforcement efforts from prostitutes to their customers in a crackdown called Operation Losing Proposition.

The effects of the changes can be seen in arrest numbers in Manhattan. Arrests for prostitution fell by about a quarter from 2010 to 2011, while arrests of their customers jumped by about a third. And in the first three months of this year, there were 90 arrests in Manhattan on charges of patronizing a prostitute, nearly the total of 107 in all of 2011.

Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said the trafficking law was part of a “paradigm shift” slowly taking hold across the country — one that will require a lot of training and planning by law enforcement agencies.

“We know what to do with criminals at 2 a.m. on a Friday night if we pick them up for selling sex. We have places to put them,” she said. “But what do you do at 2 a.m. if they are not a criminal? Where do you house them? How do you keep them safe? This is not easy stuff.”

The case brought last month by Mr. Vance's office is different from many others brought under the new law in that the women working as prostitutes were not children and did not identify themselves as victims of sex trafficking.

Mr. Vance's office determined, by listening to telephone conversations between the pimps and the prostitutes, that the women had been coerced into working for them.

According to Mr. Vance's office, the father and son team found customers through livery drivers acting as middlemen: Vincent George Sr., 55, had run a prostitution ring for at least two decades and brought his 33-year-old son, Vincent George Jr., into the business.

The Georges required the women to meet a quota each night or face harsh consequences, and took most of the money the women were paid — $200 to $500 for each customer, prosecutors said.

They brought women into Manhattan from Queens and Allentown, Pa., where the Georges had homes. A ledger recovered from the son's home showed that one woman had generated about $500,000 in 2011, prosecutors said.

The father and son pleaded not guilty and have been held without bail since they were arrested in Pennsylvania with a woman they were said to have recruited in Buffalo.


Girls of Color, Backpage, and the Online Girl Trade

by Malika Saada Saar - Director, Human Rights Project for Girls

I grew up loving the Village Voice . Nat Hentoff taught me how to listen to Billie Holiday. Jack Newfield politically baptized me through his stories and recollections of Bobby Kennedy. During the 80's and 90's, the Village Voice was also one of those rare mainstream publications in which the Black and Brown mind, body, and spirit were routinely celebrated. I read the Village Voice to understand myself better as a woman of color in America.

And that is why I am heart-broken to witness how it now survives off the exploitation and enslavement of girls. Girls, who are disproportionately Black or Brown, and poor--the very girls that the Village Voice once prided itself on writing about and giving voice to. How is it that the iconic paper of vanguard liberal thinking has descended into a publication supported through a cyber slave market?

The Village Voice is now largely funded through, an online classified ads site, in which you can purchase furniture, cars, or underage girls for sex. Backpage is owned by Village Voice Media which also owns the Village Voice weekly. Like Craigslist used to, the Village Voice 's Backpage is reaping huge profits off the sale and sexual exploitation of children -- $22 million to be exact.

Unlike Craigslist, whose founder Craig Newmark finally recognized the moral abhorrence of his site being used to sell children for sex, Backpage has expressed nothing but shamelessness. Perhaps that is because Craigslist didn't need the revenue from its sex ad sales to survive. The Village Voice does.

Because of its desperation, Village Voice 's Backpage is using a multitude of asinine excuses to defend its online girl trade. Defenses such as their site needs to exist to assist law enforcement, that it is safer for children to be peddled for sex online than for the sordid transaction to be pushed underground, or that criticism surrounding its sex ads amount to censorship.

Of course, most law enforcement has publicly pleaded with Backpage to close down its sex ads (as they did with Craigslist). Over 50 Attorneys General from over 48 states have written letters demanding that Backpage shut down its adult services section due to its facilitation of child sex trafficking. And the notion that it is safer for children to be sold online rather than underground is another self-serving, false statement. It is exactly because children are sold online that demand has increased since purchases can be made quickly with discretion and anonymity.

As for the First Amendment protest -- progressive and liberal communities would do better to reframe this as a human rights issue.

We can neatly gloss over the ugly business of the online sex trade that disfigures the lives of poor and undereducated girls. We can choose to simply focus on the narrative of the empowered sex worker or the sexually free-thinking graduate student who pays for tuition through escort services. Or we can pretend that this is about free speech on the Internet. But it is, undeniably, a matter of human rights, when girls -- and especially girls from historically disenfranchised communities -- are being bought and sold for sex against their will.

I hope that Village Voice can return to its original progressive roots and cease exploiting underage girls in order to support its paper. I pray that it restores its once powerful commitment to the civil rights and human rights of marginalized communities by shutting down its cyber slave market that promotes the exploitation of disproportionately Black and Brown children. Perhaps that hope and prayer is just the naiveté of a girl who once loved the Village Voice .


New York City

Prosecutors Focus on Pimps and Clients, Instead of Prostitutes


May 2, 2012

It was not exactly a run-of-the-mill prostitution case: the men accused as ringleaders were a father and his son, a pimp team coercing women to push their trade like traveling sex saleswomen, handing out business cards at hotels and strip clubs.

The women were branded, tattooed with the pimps' monikers, Mr. Vee for the father and King Koby for the son, Manhattan prosecutors said. One woman was even tattooed with a bar code.

But what makes the case noteworthy is not how the operation was run, but how the men are being prosecuted. The Manhattan district attorney's office is employing a sex trafficking charge, added to the New York State penal code five years ago, that is helping to redefine how law enforcement agencies approach organized prostitution.

In a stark departure from decades of such prosecutions, the women who were working as prostitutes are not facing criminal charges but are instead being treated as their pimps' victims, and offered services to help them build new lives.

Under the old charges, pimps typically faced up to 15 years in prison for promoting prostitution with an adult. The newer sex trafficking charge carries a maximum sentence of 25 years. Also under the new law, the customers who pay adult prostitutes for sex face up to one year in jail, up from 90 days.

On Monday, 14 men, including a physician, an owner of an online ticket sales company and a concierge for a film-production company, were arraigned on charges of patronizing a prostitute. Most were offered a chance to plead guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation; two accepted the plea offer.

Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said his office had embraced the new approach, long advocated by those who see brutal oppression of women as the defining component of the commercial sex trade.

“They basically live as slaves of the pimps,” Mr. Vance said. “These are sad cases. These are women who need help.”

A federal law that went into effect in 2000 cracked down on sex trafficking. But in general, someone must be moved across state borders for the purpose of prostitution before federal prosecutors have jurisdiction.

The law that Albany passed in 2007 has no such limitation. It broadly defines sex trafficking by the methods a pimp uses to control a prostitute. The threshold can be met if the pimp instills fear of a beating, but also by more subtle intimidation, like spreading a secret that might subject the person to ridicule, or doing anything “calculated to harm” the health, safety or immigration status of the prostitute.

“One thing we've learned from women who have been prostituted is that it is very easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of,” said Norma Ramos, executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women.

Statewide, there have been 150 arrests on the new sex trafficking charge since the law took effect on Nov. 1, 2007, according to the State Division of Criminal Justice Services; all but 13 were in New York City. Seventy of the 150 cases remain open. Of the 80 that have been completed, there have been 13 convictions on the sex trafficking charge; other outcomes include 33 convictions on charges other than sex trafficking, and the dismissal of charges against 21 defendants.

The office of the Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, has brought 52 sex trafficking cases, the most of any district attorney in the state in that period. (One of those cases was recently thrown into uncertainty when questions were raised about the credibility of the accuser, a woman who said she had been raped and forced into prostitution at age 13.)

Mr. Hynes said the law and the changed approach were having important effects. “It has enabled us to rescue young women, girls really, from the grip of traffickers, who in the past have been able to avoid prosecution,” he said.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has also begun to shift his department's enforcement efforts from prostitutes to their customers in a crackdown called Operation Losing Proposition.

The effects of the changes can be seen in arrest numbers in Manhattan. Arrests for prostitution fell by about a quarter from 2010 to 2011, while arrests of their customers jumped by about a third. And in the first three months of this year, there were 90 arrests in Manhattan on charges of patronizing a prostitute, nearly the total of 107 in all of 2011.

Bridgette Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School, said the trafficking law was part of a “paradigm shift” slowly taking hold across the country — one that will require a lot of training and planning by law enforcement agencies.

“We know what to do with criminals at 2 a.m. on a Friday night if we pick them up for selling sex. We have places to put them,” she said. “But what do you do at 2 a.m. if they are not a criminal? Where do you house them? How do you keep them safe? This is not easy stuff.”

The case brought last month by Mr. Vance's office is different from many others brought under the new law in that the women working as prostitutes were not children and did not identify themselves as victims of sex trafficking.

Mr. Vance's office determined, by listening to telephone conversations between the pimps and the prostitutes, that the women had been coerced into working for them.

According to Mr. Vance's office, the father and son team found customers through livery drivers acting as middlemen: Vincent George Sr., 55, had run a prostitution ring for at least two decades and brought his 33-year-old son, Vincent George Jr., into the business.

The Georges required the women to meet a quota each night or face harsh consequences, and took most of the money the women were paid — $200 to $500 for each customer, prosecutors said.

They brought women into Manhattan from Queens and Allentown, Pa., where the Georges had homes. A ledger recovered from the son's home showed that one woman had generated about $500,000 in 2011, prosecutors said.

The father and son pleaded not guilty and have been held without bail since they were arrested in Pennsylvania with a woman they were said to have recruited in Buffalo.


Jamaica Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse

by Eulalee Thompson

A man in his late 50s wept uncontrollably. He had just disclosed in therapy that as a boy, living in rural Jamaica, he was forced to repeatedly have intercourse and perform other sexual acts with his older female relative. He said that it was the first time that he was disclosing this painful piece of his life to another human being. Not being able to process this pain as a child, he was wrapped in anger, shame, guilt and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. He started acting out and soon was kicked out of school as a 'rude boy'.

His life as a child and into adulthood was one filled with repeated interfaces with the legal and prison systems for wrong-doings including illicit drug use. He managed to 'migrate' to the United States but also lived there on the wrong side of the law and was deported to Jamaica after a long time in prison, unskilled and unable to fully function as a good citizen.

Adequate counselling

This is not really an unusual case. Many children grow into adults suffering with the scars of abuse. The Office of the Children's Registry recently released data indicating that it received more than 7,000 reports of sexual abuse of children between 2007 and 2011. Many of these sexually abused children don't receive adequate counselling and therapy, if any at all. However, the emotional problems associated with the trauma don't just go away.

Female and male victims of sexual assault suffer a range of psychological consequences in the short and long term, as noted in the The World Report on Violence and Health. These consequences include guilt, anger, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, sexual dysfunction, somatic complaints, sleep disturbances, withdrawal from relationships and attempted suicide. In addition to these reactions, studies of adolescent males have also found an association between suffering rape and substance abuse, violent behaviour, stealing and absenteeism from school.

Coping strategies

The abused child tries to make sense of the trauma using various coping strategies. For example, the survivor may keep telling herself/himself that the experience wasn't so bad by hanging on to this thought: 'Daddy didn't really mean to hurt me'. She/He may also try to find an excuse for the abuser: 'He was drunk' or 'He was really tired and stressed out because he works so hard'. She/He may blame him/herself thinking: 'Maybe if I had not been so pretty and attractive he wouldn't have abused me' or 'Maybe if I had not been such a bad girl/boy he wouldn't have abused me'.

However, as the child becomes an adult, these childhood coping strategies begin to falter. This is perhaps when professional help is sought.

CDA's theatre as therapy workshop

Paedophiles and other sex offenders are nurtured by a society. Poverty, multiple shifting and societal norms that support sexual violence, male superiority and sexual entitlement need to be tackled. Sexual harassment, for example, is still viewed here as something 'cultural' that men have some kind of divine right to perpetrate on women and this is a society where a recently revised law cannot even admit that a husband can rape his wife except in a few prescribed situations. This is an enabling society for sex offenders.

These societal norms are difficult to tackle. However, it is encouraging that the playwright, Basil Dawkins, has taken on this topic in his play, Where Is My Father. Dawkins, the team at the Child Development Agency and some mental health professionals recently used the play as a springboard for a 'theatre as therapy' workshop around the theme of sexual violence. Let's do more.

Eulalee Thompson is health editor and a therapist in private practice. Email

The Office of the Children's Registry recently released data indicating that it received more than 7,000 reports of sexual abuse of children between 2007 and 2011.

Many of these sexually abused children don't receive adequate counselling and therapy, if any at all. However, the emotional problems associated with the trauma don't just go away.



State welfare data shows drop in child abuse cases

An analysis of state child welfare data that shows a projected 24 percent drop of confirmed child abuse and neglect in Illinois since 2008 is being hailed by child welfare advocates in Illinois.

The analysis, released Tuesday by the Child Care Association of Illinois, shows there were 29,802 cases of confirmed child abuse or neglect in Illinois in fiscal year 2008, and by annualizing the first seven months of fiscal year 2012 data, there will be 21,720 confirmed cases, which constitutes a 27 percent decrease, a release from the Child Care Association of Illinois said.

“Our review of the Illinois Department Children and Family Services data reveals concretely what we in the field knew intuitively–Illinois children are safer today than they were even just four years ago,” Child Care Association President Margaret Berglind said.

“We are on our way to see a 27 percent decrease in child abuse and neglect in Illinois,” Berglind said. “That accomplishment is due to combined efforts of DCFS and private child welfare agencies to continue to implement the reforms that began in 1995.”

Berglind noted that the DCFS data is on track to reveal child safety progress on multiple fronts, including child sex abuse, substance abuse-exposed babies, and child deaths.

“If the current trends continue, child deaths, as a result of abuse or neglect, are set to fall by 60 percent,” Berglind said. “This good news confirms that the Illinois child welfare system is effectively doing its job–which is protecting children.”

Berglind also noted that there are fewer children in state care. Illinois has reduced its child caseload from nearly 51,000 from 1997 to 18,413 in 2012—a 63 percent reduction in the foster care caseload compared to a national reduction of 24 percent.

Additionally, more children have been placed in permanent homes, the release said. More than 40,000 children moved out of foster care to adoption and guardianship over the last decade, Berglind noted.

Berglind did however sound a cautionary note that Illinois' protection progress could be jeopardized if the Illinois General Assembly further cuts the DCFS budget by more than the $44 million recommended by Gov. Pat Quinn.

“While the Illinois General Assembly and DCFS have implemented legislative and program reform to overhaul the Illinois child welfare system, the state's performance is still significantly governed by eight court consent decree settlements,” Berglind said. “If the legislature cuts the DCFS budget too deeply, the state risks undermining the safety of children and risks court action.”

In 2008, the state provided $897 million of its own money to DCFS. For next year, according to the release, Quinn is proposing to spend only $746 million of general revenue money, or a 16.8 percent reduction


Human trafficking still a scourge


Slavery ended in the United States in 1865 when the South lost the Civil War, right? By law, the answer is yes. But in reality, the answer is no. Human trafficking and bondage, which are tantamount to slavery, go on to this day in the United States and elsewhere. One might reasonably expect human bondage to be a shrinking -- if not disappearing -- phenomenon. Instead, it is growing here and around the world.

A State Department annual report on human trafficking showed last year that there were at least 12.5 million people worldwide trapped in the modern equivalent of bondage. More recently, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there may be as many as 27 million persons trafficked worldwide.

Trafficking is defined by federal law as the "recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery." Sex trafficking is still the most common form of trafficking, and it is defined as taking place when "a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age."

Just how common is it in the United States? You might be shocked to learn, as was I, it is not as rare as one would hope. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 2008 and 2010, federally funded task forces opened 2,515 suspected incidents of human trafficking for investigation. Most were for suspected sex trafficking, but about one in 10 were for trafficking in forced labor. The Department of Health & Human Services also reports between 14,500 and 17,500 people from other countries are trafficked into the United States each year.

Trafficking is (often unwittingly) supported by big businesses that either buy products made by forced labor or may even hire employees who are being trafficked (i.e., forced to turn over their earnings to middle men who "own" the workers.)

Why aren't there laws against this? In fact, there are. In January, California's Transparency Act took effect. It requires any manufacturer or retailer with worldwide annual gross receipts of at least $100 million that does business in California to explain what it is doing to combat forced labor and trafficked persons in its supply chain. The law is expected to apply to 3,200 global companies.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has introduced a similar bill in Congress called the Business Transparency on Trafficking and Slavery Act. Both laws exemplify the extent to which big business profits, directly or indirectly, from forced labor or human bondage. Some international employment agencies profit directly, as do restaurants and manufacturers. For others, profits are indirect when forced labor is used to produce goods.

There even still exists the enslavement of entire families. The International Labour Organization estimated in 2011 there were nearly 6,000 families who live and work in the brick kilns in Chengalpattu area of Kanchipuram, India. Kiln owners hire and indenture entire families, who can only find work by taking out high-interest loans to pay off debt or for housing and food when they move into the modern-day equivalent of "company towns."

How is this taking place in today's supposedly humane world, and why don't we hear more about it? There is plenty of media coverage of the issue, but it seems to fly beneath the radar. Maybe we here in the United States are too preoccupied with maintaining financial equilibrium through the recession and its aftermath. But nothing much will change unless there is mass outrage about what is going on and government action to crack down on perpetrators.


New York

Assemblymember Paulin Announces Bill to Protect Victims of Sex Trafficking

Paulin introduced the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act.

Assemblymember Amy Paulin, (D-88th A.D.) Chair of the Committee on Children and Families, announced the introduction of the “Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act” (A.9804).

"Exploiting human beings for sex has to be one of the most heinous crimes in our modern day society," Paulin said. "My bill recognizes that buying children for sex is child abuse. It holds traffickers criminally responsible.It also increases penalties on the criminals – the traffickers supporting this trade – and gives law enforcement increased tools to put them in jail. By ensuring access to social services, it also helps the victims break the vicious cycle of dependency and humiliation."

In addition to protecting victims such as sexually exploited children, the bill seeks to correct inconsistencies in existing criminal justice law in cases involving victims and purveyors of sex trafficking. Specifically, the bill increases penalties for traffickers so that the penalties match the severity of the crimes.

Sex traffickers subject their victims to repeated rape. The bill raises both sex and labor trafficking violations to a class B felony, and aligns the penalties for patronizing a minor with those for statutory rape. The bill also updates current law to clarify that giving marijuana and ecstasy to a prostituted person in order to impair his or her judgment constitutes sex trafficking.

The use of the term “prostitute” is the only instance in New York penal law where a person is identified by the crime he or she has allegedly committed. The bill eliminates the stigmatizing use of that term and replaces it with “person for prostitution.”

The bill is supported by numerous law enforcement officials and human rights organizations. Dorchen Leidholdt, Director of the Center for Battered Women's Legal Services for Sanctuary for Families, stated, "This legislation enhances protections for trafficking victims-some of New York's most vulnerable residents- and increases accountability for buyers and traffickers who fuel the growth of this massive underground industry."



Human trafficking focus of youth forum

by Betty Ann Adam

Sex trafficking, forced and bonded labour, child soldiers and organ harvesting — the chilling reality of modern day human trafficking will be the focus of a youth forum this week in Saskatoon.

About 1,100 teens from Saskatoon and area will attend the Youth Unchained forum to learn more about the crime that affects a growing number of people around the world.

The two-day forum is organized by Nashi, a local volunteer organization devoted to raising awareness of human trafficking in Saskatoon and Canada and to raising money to help at risk youth in Ukraine.

“Our mandate with Nashi is to divert young people from human trafficking, which is modern day slavery. It's the second highest money maker for organized crime,” said Carol Cisecki, a member of the organizing committee.

In Canada, Nashi focuses on education through forums, speaking engagements and workshops.

“Our youth need to know that human trafficking is in Canada. They need to recognize that they are susceptible to the criminal element and that human trafficking really does steal the young person and put them into slavery,” Cisecki said.

The educational event will feature a talk Thursday by Craig Kielburger, a Canadian child advocacy activist known for drawing attention to forced child labour when he was middle school student himself and creating a grassroots organization of schoolchildren called Free the Children.

While there have not been any documented cases of human trafficking in Saskatoon, law enforcement agencies are learning from cases elsewhere in Canada and trying to educate the public for their own safety to help identify the troubling trend if it arrives in here.

“Often times, human trafficking isn't something that police see or a victim come to the police. It might be someone from Social Services or a friend or family member that sees it and doesn't know it human trafficking,” said Const. Hal Lam of the Saskatoon Police Service, who will facilitate at session at the event Thursday.

There have been cases of international human trafficking, notably in the Peel Region in Ontario, in which individuals from other countries have been lured to Canada with promises of good jobs only to find themselves forced into the sex trade or forced labour, he said.

The forum will also feature presentations by Thrive, a group of local youths organizing to work against human trafficking; Nashi members will challenge youth in role play activities focused on using social media to learn and act; and members of Saskatoon Community Youth Art Project (SCYAP) will talk about art projects on the topic.

The May 3 event, to be staged at the new Cathedral of the Holy Family in Forest Grove, will also feature a Fair Trade expo, where students can learn how their own buying choices can support ethical production of goods, Cisecki said.

The forum will move to Broadway Avenue on the evening of May 4 with art, music and media at Oskayak High School and St. Joseph's Hall.



Abuse victims get more time to seek justice

LINCOLN — More than 100 adults who were sexually abused as children have come to Cynthia Topf for help over the past 25 years, the Omaha clinical psychologist said.

A definitive event — the death of their abuser or the birth of a child, for example — often prompts victims to seek counseling for the anger, depression and nightmares that can linger long after the abuse.

Topf works with some clients to emotionally prepare them as they seek justice in civil courts. But many victims come to her long after the opportunity for their day in court has expired.

Under current Nebraska law, child sexual assault lawsuits must be filed by the victim's 25th birthday. Criminal child sex assault cases have no statute of limitations.

Psychologists, counselors, lawmakers and lawyers argue that the statute of limitations doesn't provide enough time for victims to come forward. It can take decades, experts say, to overcome shame, guilt, embarrassment and fear of retaliation.

They applauded a new state law, which takes effect in July, that will allow individuals to file civil claims against their alleged sexual abusers until they turn 33.

The extension won't apply to cases that already have expired.

“The old law cut off kids soon after they reached adulthood and said, ‘If you're not willing to deal with it now, too bad, the perpetrator is off the hook,' ” said state Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha, a former criminal prosecutor and sponsor of the bill that changed the law. “The bill gives them a little more time to come to grips with what has occurred and to seek action.”

Joan Hillman, now of Omaha, said an Iowa priest repeatedly raped her in the summer of 1966 when she was 8 years old.

“I didn't really understand what happened until years later,” Hillman said.

Decades passed by the time she tried to sue. No physical evidence remained. The priest was dead.

By law, it was too late.

“I wanted to file suit to bring about accountability and hopefully some type of compensation, but there's no amount of money that could ever compensate for what I've been through,” said Hillman, who now is 53.

Although her case was subject to Iowa's statute of limitations, Hillman lobbied Nebraska legislators last year to give victims like her more time to sue. But the 2011 legislative session ended without a vote on Pirsch's bill.

Since then, prominent claims of alleged sexual abuse against former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, former Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist Bill Conlin and clergy across the country cast the spotlight on states' statutes of limitations.

Senators approved Pirsch's bill this year without opposition.

Nebraska, New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are among the states that recently have re-evaluated their time limits for victims to file civil cases.

Opponents argue that the extensions could unleash a flood of lawsuits.

They say statutes of limitations exist to help courts operate efficiently and to protect individuals from being accused of crimes based on faded memories and old evidence, if evidence exists at all.

Catholic conferences in some states have publicly denounced such legislation, but the Nebraska Catholic Conference doesn't have an official stance on Pirsch's bill, said Executive Director Jim Cunningham.

Proponents of Pirsch's bill said child sex assault cases are unique and should be treated accordingly.

“I think (the new law) is a win for victims of child sexual abuse,” said John Velasquez, an Omaha lawyer. “Quite frankly, I wish it would be extended a little bit further.”

Velasquez and Lincoln lawyer Herb Friedman said they have turned away multiple potential clients over the years because the statute of limitations had expired.

Nebraska courts have ruled against several plaintiffs who tried to proceed despite the law's time limit. In 2008, a federal judge in Omaha threw out a 41-year-old man's lawsuit against the Omaha Archdiocese.

Sex abuse claims against Boys Town were dismissed in 2006 because of the statute of limitations, and lawsuits against a teacher and a principal at a Lutheran school in Seward met the same fate in 2005.



Jacksonville's Protect the Children Conference Organizer Don Dymer Applauds Gov. Scotts' Protection of Vulnerable Persons Law

National background screening company chief executive officer Don Dymer supports Florida Governor Rick Scott signing into law a bill that goes into effect October 1,2012, requiring anyone to report known or suspected cases of child sex abuse.

Jacksonville Beach, FL (PRWEB) May 01, 2012

Jacksonville Beach, Florida: Speaking from his office, Donald J. Dymer, chief executive officer of SingleSource Services background screening corporation and sponsor of the Protect the Children Conference held earlier this year applauded the passage of the Protection of Vulnerable Persons Law signed on Friday, April 27, by Governor Rick Scott.

"The new Florida law and penalties for failure to report child sexual abuse sends a clear message, reinforces our work and gives us the impetus to keep heralding change and encouraging a proactive mind set when it comes to preventing child sexual abuse. This law that Governor Scott signed is ground breaking in my opinion.” commented Don Dymer. “When research tells us that only 6% of adults* who are told about a child's sexual abuse actually report it to the police, there must be laws in place to make failure to report abuse much more punitive.” (*Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute study of 11,000 adult survivors.)

“The objective of The Protect the Children Conference that we sponsored in February was to illuminate the issues surrounding the sexual abuse of children and youth outside of the home by those entrusted with their care such as coaches, teachers, clergy, mentors and volunteers. Since that conference we have committed to continue to provide invaluable insight on what people can do to identify and prevent child sexual abusers from becoming the volunteers or employees who will have youth entrusted to their care. “, explained Dymer. "The new law places emphasis on the "enablers", those who see but say nothing."

“Training and education of adults must take center stage in order to give this law some ‘teeth',” Dymer points out. “According to Robin McGinnis,CEO of Alternative Behavior Treatment Centers, organizations who are dedicated to reporting abuse must establish clear guidelines and conduct training and education sessions and answer the following questions: How we will grant access to children? What will be regarded as normal behavior? How will we learn about inconsistencies and at risk behaviors?”

“Setting screening standards for hires and volunteers should be the front line of defense for anyone involved in selecting adults to work with and around children”, Dymer points out. “Over fifteen years in the background screening industry and a lifetime career in law enforcement I can attest that the most thorough interview process does not guarantee that appropriate candidates are taken on board as employees or volunteers working with children.

“Every day thousands of children will be sexually abused by people they trust,” notes Dymer." Their abuse won't make headline news. Adults are the only people who can stop this from continuing."

“Background checks are not enough. Databases are fallible, reference checks don't uncover problems. Tools like the Diana Screen®, along with tight selection policies and procedures are the best avenues for the prevention of child sexual abuse”.** (**Robin Jenkins, Ph.D, North Carolina, Department of Public Safety, Division of Juvenile Justice.)

"The new law works in day care or youth serving organizations as long as those employed or working as volunteers truly understand what constitutes appropriate behavior between adult and child.", explains Dymer. The costs of child abuse at all levels are staggering. (Fang, Brown, Florence, Mercy; Child Abuse and Neglect; Jan 2012) - $1,272,900 lifetime victim costs ($585 billion combined fatal and nonfatal child maltreatment costs in 2008 dollars).

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 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 Dr. Gene Abel, of 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.

To understand how to include the Diana Screen® in your background screening program call Don Dymer at SingleSource. or visit It is a five minute call that can save your organization and save a child from a lifetime of horror.

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 strong commitment to fulfill its corporate civic duties.

***Carla van Dam, 2001, Identifying Child Molesters: Preventing Child Sexual Abuse

Contact Information    
Adrienne Whitman
Don Dymer



True North provides care, resources for domestic abuse survivors

By Barbara Ellen Hodges

Sadly, Cassidy Richardson's story is true for too many young women. We have made many strides in educating the public, increasing awareness of available victim services — including those provided by True North, for example — and influencing the behaviors of our youth so they learn to resolve conflicts without violence and form healthier partnerships as adults. But domestic and sexual violence remain underreported crimes, and there remains a stigma attached to being a victim of domestic and sexual abuse in our society.

True North is a place of immediate safety for women and their children. Their stay may be for one day or for several weeks, even months depending on their need. Our first priority when a woman comes to us for shelter is safety. True North staff members spend time with her to get her settled into her room, to feed her children if they are hungry and to show her around the shelter so she is familiar with her surroundings. Our staff will also gather personal items that we keep on hand for her use. All too often, these are items she has not had time to gather herself (shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc.).

Our shelter case managers will then work with her to process what choices she wants to make for her future. If she decides to leave the abusive environment permanently, we will help her write a resume if she needs a job and find daycare for her children. She might need medical care, so we will provide referrals within the medical community. If she needs housing, we maintain lists of affordable properties and work with landlords to help our clients through this process. We maintain a variety of referral lists and provide emotional support and encouragement as they step out of their current "world" and begin the process of creating a new life free from the abuse.

Beyond the safety of our shelter, we also provide our clients — both the in shelter and those receiving non-residential services — with counseling and support groups. We have one full-time counselor and one to two counseling interns from MU who provide short-term crisis counseling for up to 6 months. We also have a volunteer counselor who provides very focused and specialized counseling for some of our clients who might need this type of service.

True North is part of Boone County's Coordinated Community Response team, the Domestic Violence Enforcement Unit. Our DOVE coordinator works closely with the Columbia Police Department, the Boone County Sherriff's Department and the prosecuting attorney's office to provide court advocacy, crisis management, safety planning and a variety of other services to victims of domestic violence. A part of this program is our First Responder Advocate. When she is on duty from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. four nights a week, she responds to requests from the police department to go on the scene of a domestic violence situation that just occurred. This immediate response is critical for victims, providing on-site emotional support, advocacy and information.

True North also has an educational outreach program and works collaboratively with the Columbia Public School System, MU and other surrounding colleges to provide preventive education, safe intervention techniques and social-norming strategies that work to redirect unhealthy behaviors among our youth. We recently joined with Columbia Parks and Recreation to provide outreach prevention education for at-risk youth, as well. This program, which meets once a week at the Armory, is free and focuses on teens and young males.

We have a variety of volunteer opportunities at the agency. Victim service opportunities include hospital advocacy, hotline response, court advocacy and child care support. Because these are direct victim service activities, volunteers must receive a minimum of 48 hours of training provided by True North prior to providing services. Other volunteer opportunities include maintenance and administrative projects, fundraising activities, tabling events, and food and paper good drives. Anyone interested in volunteering at True North can check our website or call us at 875-0503.

Civic groups, church groups and MU's Greek community provide volunteers for work days to do a variety of tasks for our agency. This month, the Greek community provided more than 40 volunteers who spent three hours on two different days completing projects for the agency.

Additionally, groups hold drives for us and collect items we routinely use. These types of activities save us thousands of dollars and provide many man-hours of work we could not otherwise afford. The Professional Leaders Auxiliary (part of The Assistance League of Mid-Missouri) provides thousands of dollars in services to True North each year and, through Upscale Resale , provides clothing vouchers to True North clients in need.

All the services True North provides are free to victims of domestic and sexual violence. Together, working with everyone in our community, we can create a safer community. Our goal is to make sure young girls growing up in Columbia and Boone County do not experience what Cassidy did as a child and young adult. I commend Cassidy for coming forward and sharing her story.

Barbara Ellen Hodges is the executive director of True North.



Human Sex Trafficking: Attacking a Little-Known SoCal Problem

by Greggory Moore

It's one thing to debate whether prostitution — an adult's consensual choice to provide sexual services for money — should be legal. But the enslavement and sexual exploitation of children for profit is an entirely different issue.

Unbeknownst to most of us, it's happening right here at home. It's called domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST), and Los Angeles County has begun a new chapter in the story of our efforts to eradicate the practice.

Kim Biddle, who hails from Orange County and took her Master's in Social Work from USC, first came face to face with sex trafficking of children while working for the International Justice Mission in Thailand and Cambodia. But eventually she learned that such problems are far from confined to the Third World.

"Through that work I realized how predominant a problem it is in the United States — and that a lot of organizations, funding, and initiatives/policy were not really focused on it in our own country and our own children," she says. "And so I felt compelled to be a voice for the voiceless here."

Biddle's "here" is not just the U.S. in general, but Southern California in particular, which she labels as one of the top three hubs for DMST. "Because of [the area's] diversity, it's able to hide people well," she says. "[…] And there's a lot of money, a lot of events. It's definitely a hot spot […] and a prime place to recruit children."

So it was that in 2010 Biddle founded Saving Innocence, a nonprofit organization with a mission "To rescue and restore child victims of sex trafficking through strategic partnerships with local law enforcement, social service providers, and schools, while mobilizing communities to prevent abuse and increase neighborhood safety."

Later that year Michelle Guymon and Hania Cardenas of the L.A. County Probation Department were becoming aware of DMST through their work with the Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, work that opened their eyes to this lesser-known side of the sex industry in the U.S.

"We've always had these kids in our system," Guymon says. "And I — like everyone else — just saw these as kids who chose to be involved in prostitution. To me, it was just another kid who came in with a specific crime. I never really thought of them as being sexually exploited. […] One of my not-so-proud moments [in talking with the girls was how] I always focused on their sexual-abuse history as why they were working the streets. It never even occurred to me that they were being sexually exploited [in the present tense]. […] Over the last 18 months it's been my 'a-ha' moment about changing the way we see kids who have been arrested for a prostitution."

It was through the efforts of Guymon and Cardenas that Supervisor Don Knabe became aware of DMST.

"These two gals out of Probation have just done an incredible job of putting this whole thing together," Knabe says. "I was shocked when I got this briefing, 'cause I thought, you know, 'Maybe that happens in some other country or something, but not here in Southern California."

The Probation Department, along with the Juvenile Justice Court, applied for and received three one-year grants from the California Standards Authority, which will provide over $1 million to combat DMST and help survivors. With the funds L.A. County has already opened a new courtroom dedicated to sex-trafficking issues — "to help make sure these kids don't just get their hands slapped and go back out there and get pimped away by these thugs again," says Knabe.

The grants have also enabled the County to contract Saving Innocence, a move Biddle says will help to create "a collaborative effort with local FBI and LAPD." And much of that effort will focus on training local law-enforcement personnel to process the problem.

"Most dispatchers at 911 would not know what [human] trafficking is," Biddle says. "Most of the dispatchers at the Department of Children and Family Services wouldn't know what trafficking is. I've had people try to call and report child abuse because they've seen a child being prostituted out, and [the dispatchers] don't know how to handle that, because in these systems these kids have been improperly categorized as delinquent, runaway youth. And yeah, they obviously have left home — whether that was by kidnapping or coercion — but these are kids that have been brainwashed, they've been tortured, they've been raped; they're being forced to sell themselves between five and 20 times a night to strange men beginning at age of 11 years old. In those circumstances an adult is not going to be able to function properly, much less a child, whose brain isn't as developmentally capable. […] If you were to call 911 and say, 'There's an 8-year-old on the side of the street,' they would probably send somebody to check it out. But if you're saying [that a prostitute] looks a little young to be out there, they're just not going to respond in the correct way. They just don't understand the dynamics of human trafficking."

"People see these as kids prostitutes," Guymon agrees. "If you don't change people's awareness, things won't change. […] With our kids, we arrest the 'prostitute,' and we don't go looking for anybody. Because on some level we think our job is done."

Of the 300 people who Guymon has trained about the problem in Southern California, "There hasn't been one of them that walked away from that saying, 'I knew that.'"

One of the facts that most don't know: the average age of entry into the sex-trafficking world for a child forced to sell herself on the street is 12. "I refuse to believe any 12-year-old has grown up wanting to be a prostitute," Guymon says.

"Obviously most of these kids have very, very low self-esteem," Knabe says. "These pimps come out, basically tell them they love them — they've never heard that before — and then force them to sell their bodies. […] It's horrific to think that these vile pimps and scumbags do that to these young women."

Biddle points out that it's not just law enforcement that needs to be retooled, it's also the judicial system.

"Most of the trafficking cases that we're seeing in L.A. are still be prosecuted as pimping and pandering cases, which is a misdemeanor crime," she says. "Of course, all of these guys are also raping the children that they're selling, and so that's what's really giving them a lot of their [jail] time. […] And we need to criminalize the correct criminals. Because right now it's more likely for the children to be arrested than the actual trafficker or pimp to be arrested — or even the buyer, or 'john,' to be arrested. So I think a shift in emphasis on who we're criminalizing, and to really equip the people who know how to catch these predators. […] I know a lot of law enforcement in the area that would love to spend more time and more emphasis on cases like this, but they just can't because they're restricted in how many hours a week they're able to work or what type of cases they can focus on because of […] how [human trafficking] cases are seen right now."

But Saving Innocence places just as much focus on what happens to survivors after they have been rescued. Those efforts include:

  • Providing long-term treatment, mentorship, and case management support

  • One-on-one visitation and life-enrichment workshops weekly for children in juvenile halls

  • Court advocacy for survivors and helping them to navigate the legal system

  • Providing support and resources for families of survivors

  • Overseeing survivor-run prevention programs in high-risk areas and schools

  • Overseeing quarterly survivorship leadership programs (a service open to all survivors of DMST)

"We follow the girls long-term," Biddle explains. "We really see it as a long-term, lifelong relationship. […] We want to be a place of continuum for them, [because] they're bounced around in the system a lot. A lot of them come from broken homes or environment where they don't have consistent relationships. So we try to provide that for them."

Knabe says that although the County has learned much about DMST over the last year, there is much more to know and do.

"I tell everybody, 'What we don't know is what we don't know,'" he says. "So the purpose of this task force and this grant is to start [processing] the numbers that we're dealing with here in Southern California. And I'm being told it's a very, very significant issue here because of the ports, because of the border, because of LAX, because of the weather, because of a lot of different things. And so we're trying to get our arms around it."

Biddle says a reprioritizing of law-enforcement and judicial resources — particularly as concerns the "War on Drugs" — would be a great help in combatting the problem.

"I think there needs to be a much greater emphasis in funding directed to DMST," she says. "We designate so many government dollar toward the 'War on Drugs,' but we're neglecting that gangs nowadays are more likely to be involved with the selling of girls, because you can sell a girl 20 times a night, and you can only sell a drug once. So it really is the fastest growing crime, and we need to put more emphasis on supporting the already-existing systems with law enforcement and the FBI, who are already trained to do that job well."

Knabe agrees: "[DMST] is a related problem, because [often] these girls wind up on drugs, too. So it's an easy transition to use some of those resources to deal with this whole human-trafficking issue."

Whether it's law enforcement, the courts, the victims, or the general public, education is key to eradicating DMST.

"I've raised the issue with Metrolink and [asked them] to report back on what we can and can't do," Knabe says. "It's no different than dealing with terrorism, [as far as] making everybody aware [of] what signs to look for — because [traffickers and victims] do use public transportation. [… We want people] to be able to recognize [such a situation] so they can alert the authorities to check the situation out. We're trying to do a lot of thing to heighten the awareness of it."

"A lot of these cases are brought to law enforcement and the FBI because of the 'Good Samaritan' reporting," Biddle says. "They're noticing something strange — that the girl on the corner looks just too young to be out there. Police have said they've seen girls as young as 9 years old being forced to prostitute on the street. So I think it's a mental shift for the general public, as well, to know, 'Hey, let's think about this. They're children — they're not choosing to sell themselves. This isn't a child's dream come true. There's something going on here. There's a trafficker or there's a game that's been sold to them.' There's a coercive nature to this crime that I think if people understood the level of brainwashing that's being done to the children, people would be more likely to take notice and report — especially if they knew the proper hotlines to call."

Biddle suggest concerned citizens call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 3737-888, which will connect them 24 hours a day to FBI or other law-enforcement trained to handle DMST issues.



AAU basketball

AAU does not require its coaches undergo background checks, although individual teams and organizations may choose to do so anyway.

From the AAU handbook: "It is the policy of the AAU to deny participation in the AAU to any individual for whom there is reasonable cause to believe that they have engaged in sexual misconduct."

The AAU's list of reasonable causes include, criminal or civil charges filed, conviction of a crime involving sexual misconduct, written allegations of sexual misconduct against the individual of reasonable probative value and accusations of sexual misconduct of reasonable probative value.

Babe Ruth, Cal Ripken baseball

Background checks for coaches are not mandated, although each local league may have its own policy. From "Since background checks are not specifically mandated by the Babe Ruth League, if you have any concerns about the coaches in your local league, please contact your local league's administration. If your league chooses to do background checks, those should take place through the help and recommendation of your local law enforcement agency or other reliable resources."

CYO basketball

The Archdiocese of New York requires annual criminal and sex offender background checks through LexisNexis for all coaches and assistants.

Little League

Coaches and volunteers are subject to annual national criminal and sex offender background checks through LexisNexis. Every qualified league in the United States is provided with 125 background checks free of charge. Each background check beyond that limit costs the league $1 apiece.

Orange County Youth Football

All coaches and volunteers, as well as cheerleading coaches, are now subject to background checks. USA Football offers a national criminal and sex offender background check through National Center for Safety Initiatives for $15 for 24 months.

USA Swimming

One of the first youth sports organizations to implement mandatory background checks, USA Swimming started checking just coaches in 2006. By 2010, all "non-athlete" members are subject to a national criminal check through Acxiom Information Security Services, Inc. every 24 months. Any felony or misdemeanor involving a sexual crime, including lewd conduct, is an automatic disqualification.

United States Tennis Association

In 2011, the USTA began requiring background checks for officials, coaches, athletic trainers and massage therapists every 24 months. Like the OCYFL, the USTA uses the NCSI as its third-party background check services. From "Background screening is designed as a preventative measure. It is not a guarantee against incidents of inappropriate behavior or criminal activity. The USTA encourages parents and legal guardians to play an active role in their child's development, both on and off the court, to ensure their well-being."

  Precautions against sexual abuse taken at youth-level athletics

Parents must be aware of possible threats to children


A group of parents sat in lawn chairs, huddled under blankets, at the start of a chilly evening Little League practice April 10 at Watts Memorial Park in Middletown. They're there to keep an eye on their kids, but the thought that something like what allegedly happened to the children under Jerry Sandusky's watch at Penn State could happen here is the last thing on their mind.

"No, my son has been here three years and we've never had anything," said Jami Estevez. "They have good coaches and the team is close."

Little League parents have reason to believe their children are safe from sexual predators. The organization, which includes more than 2.5 million players and one million coaches, requires any volunteers with regular access to the children — including concession stand workers and even those who keep the field maintained — be subject to an annual national criminal and sex offender background check.

"Around here, the parents are all here," said Chris Perkins, an assistant coach for the Middletown mini-minors Orioles. "I would say every kid is accounted for parent-wise and everyone is communicating with one another and we respect each other's boundaries. You don't put your hands on anybody. We do all the things that should be common sense, but unfortunately for some are not."

No checks required

Not all youth sports organizations, however, require background checks for coaches and volunteers.

For baseball players ages 8-13 in Sullivan County and Wayne County, Pa., another option is the Delaware Valley Little Fellows League, a low-cost alternative. Little Fellows players pay an annual fee of just $40.

Those savings, however, potentially come with a price. The Little Fellows League does not require background checks on any of the adults involved in the program.

Rob Taylor, president of the league, doesn't have an issue with the league's policy. It's a small organization in a tight-knit community, not unlike the parents watching at Watts Park, so he feels the adults in charge of the league are familiar enough with each other that background checks are not necessary.

"We're a small league with five teams," Taylor said. "The five coaches have been coaching for at least five years and we do not do any background check and have never had any complaints for inappropriate behavior."

Most parents who spoke with the Times Herald-Record are concerned enough about the safety of their children to sacrifice their own time to travel to and sit through practices and games multiple times each week. Few were willing to verbalize that their reason for attending every practice was to protect their children from sexual predators.

Instead, they're worried about broken bones and bloody noses.

Not just team sports

If parents don't believe a sexual predator could come into contact with their children through sports, it's a concern that hits close to home, especially for athletes competing individually in activities with one-on-one instruction, such as golf, tennis and the martial arts.

In late December 2007, Trent Young, a New York City police officer who taught martial arts at Iron Tiger Martial Arts school and out of a basement dojo at his home in Middletown, was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison after admitting to sexually molesting three teenage female students.

Young told one student to take off her clothes as part of an initiation at his home. During the span of several months, Young had a sexual relationship with the 14-year-old girl.

He later tried the same strategy with a different girl, age 15, who refused to remove her clothes.

Young admitted that in 2003 he also had driven a 14-year-old girl from Brooklyn to Middletown for sex. In 2006, Young took a 14-year-old and a 16-year-old female to the Iron Tiger school location in West Milford, N.J., for the same purpose.

Sentenced to 262 months in prison in 2011, Young, now battling terminal cancer, is unlikely to live out his sentence.

At a recent class for preteens at Budo Jiu-Jitsu, held in Fireman's Hall at the Otisville Fire Department, a number of parents were on hand as their children worked with instructor Guy Croce.

"You know, it is nerve-wracking," said Jennifer Ganuncio. "Here, we're very lucky because it is really family. They let you come and watch and we've gotten to know them very well through the years."

Sensei Heath Macaluso and his wife, Nikki, have responded to concerns about sexual predators in a number of ways. One, participants come to practices already dressed, so there are no locker rooms. Two, the space at Fireman's Hall is a single room, meaning parents can see what's happening.

Then again, not every parent is worried about what could happen to their children when they aren't around. Tracy Stein, for one, was immediately trusting of Macaluso and his instructors.

"I send my kids by themselves," said Tracy Stein. "They go to the ninja camp sleepovers and I don't hear a word from there. They don't even want to go home, actually."

Getting involved

Stephen Dolson has made every effort to attend two or three times every week with his son, Jake, 11. He's typically sitting matside, reading a book or chatting with other parents.

Jake has three older sisters, so Dolson has been through a countless number of teams and coaches over the years. He's even been a coach himself off and on for the better part of the last two decades.

For Dolson, signing up a child for a new sport is like buying a house. Before signing a mortgage, who wouldn't inspect the roof, check out the pipes or otherwise do their homework?

Dolson recommends that parents lean on anyone they know for advice. Trusted varsity, jayvee and modified coaches at school may have information on travel teams and may be able to offer tips or make a phone call to help parents feel more comfortable. Neighbors and other parents who have previously been involved with a specific team or organization can also offer invaluable advice.

Most of all, however, Dolson says it's about trusting oneself as a parent in having made the right decision. That also means having conversations with children to make sure they know right from wrong and are willing and able to speak up if they feel something isn't right.

Budo Jiu-Jitsu is a place that certainly inspires that trust. Croce's four children all participate, so other parents feel they have little to fear when they see their kids alongside Croce's during drills.

"If I didn't trust them, my kids wouldn't be here," Ganuncio said.


Coaching styles forced to change

Perception of abuse is the driving force

by Kevin Gleason

Chris Brinckerhoff used to think nothing of sleeping in the same hotel room as teen girls while helping coach the Diamond Dolls travel softball team. Parents preferred the cost-friendly arrangement knowing their children were in good hands.

A decade later, Brinckerhoff wouldn't consider such a scenario.

She suspects the 24-hour news cycle created by the Internet and social networks have spotlighted the existence of sexual predators. That focus has made coaches, concerned over being perceived as a pedophile by parents, other adults or children, careful in their dealings with kids.

Coaches talk about sticking to fist bumps and high-fives. Most coaches wouldn't even consider the once-acceptable congratulatory smack on the butt. The climate makes coaches leery of how an innocent hug could be perceived by witnesses. Their means of affection essentially have been reduced to hand-to-hand contact — the handshake, the fist bump, the high-five.

Brinckerhoff, the assistant superintendent of the Middletown Recreation and Parks Department, helps oversee more than 1,000 kids involved in sports camps and various other activities throughout the year. She holds up a multiple-sheet directive from the state outlining procedures the department must follow to help prevent and deal with issues involving children.

Brinckerhoff and fellow employees in the department must attend an orientation that encompasses dealing with kids victimized physically, emotionally or sexually — what to look for, and what to do when problems arise. She said she fields about one child-related issue per year, but has never had a coach/child complaint sexual in nature.

Background checks commonly are used as a deterrent. But they generally only weed out folks convicted of crimes. They can't fix a whole other set of issues between children and even the best-intended counselors, many of whom are teens and young adults. Alluding to the pre-teen crowd, generally 10- to 12-year-old girls, Brinckerhoff said, "Kids make up stuff.'' It can be the interpretation of actual contact between the counselor and child — say an accidental bump during a game — or something fabricated by the child. Brinckerhoff said her office occasionally deals with cases of kids letting their imaginations run wild. She discusses such accusations with the counselor and child, as well as the child's parents.

"I tell the high school counselors, don't let them touch you,'' Brinckerhoff said. "Don't let them sit on your lap.''

Middletown Rec and Parks runs a counselor in training program for 13- to 15-year old prospects. Brinckerhoff said counselors and coaches are briefed on such things as locker room etiquette, which mainly involves having multiple counselors in locker rooms with kids in efforts to prevent false accusations against staffers.

A balancing act

Brinckerhoff has developed an impeccable reputation working with and mentoring kids for 30 years in her job and through various community endeavors. Some kids crave affection and attention that they might not be receiving at home. Asked how she balances the need to influence a child's life without being accused of improper behavior, Brinckerhoff said, "You have to make sure kids aren't around you all the time. I am aware not to be alone constantly with a kid, and if I am, to always be in public view. When transporting a kid, keep conversation simple.''

Jim Gagliano, an FBI agent spearheading the Hudson Valley Safe Streets Task Force designed to attack gang activity, runs youth basketball programs out of the Newburgh Armory. "Ten years ago in Newburgh, I would give kids rides home at all hours of the day and night,'' he said. "I'm a lot more reticent to do that, because you do think of those things.''

Those things he's referring to are concerns about being perceived as a coach with ulterior motives. The cases of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky and former Syracuse assistant men's basketball coach Bernie Fine — both accused of sexual abuse in the past year — have brought increased awareness of the problem.

"I think it's made everyone more leery,'' Gagliano said. "I'm concerned about even putting hands on a kid's shoulder. My practices are open. I want to make sure nothing is misconstrued. You just can't be too safe.''

Heath Macaluso, who operates Budo Jiu Jitsu in Otisville that includes classes for young children and overnight camps, reiterated the need for coaches to "keep your distance'' from children. Brinckerhoff and Macaluso point to the importance of parents in researching those who will coach or instruct their children. But in some cases, Macaluso said, parents either are concerned about offending the coach or instructor with too many questions about their character, or trust such authority figures with solid reputations and credentials. Macaluso said he rarely fields many questions from parents.

Parents must be involved

Brinckerhoff and Macaluso stress the need for parents to take an active role in their child's athletic disciplines. "Learn to know the people around your kid and not just drop them off and pick them up,'' Brinckerhoff said. "We encourage parents to ask their children how their day was, and to let us know immediately if there are any concerns at all. It does help that most parents already know me and trust me. You should still ask your child questions. So many parents don't ever meet me or ask to meet me. I think that is crazy. I go out of my way to talk to parents.''

Spending time at Macaluso's dojo is exactly what made Elsie Romero feel comfortable after her 9-year-old, Elyssa, joined Budo six months ago. Elsie talks to her daughter at home to ensure Elyssa is having a healthy experience.

"Elyssa and I have a relationship that if something is wrong, she will tell me,'' Elsie said. "I watch it and see the interaction, and it's completely innocent.''

"I've had parents where I've never met them the whole year,'' said Jamie Cody, who has coached kids of all ages in the Otisville Little League for 15 years. "I try to pick kids that I know the families, because not only do I want parents to trust me, I want parents that I like and can trust too.''


Sexual predators are hard to identify


Child sexual predators are masters of manipulation, so much so that professionals who are trained to identify them can also be misled.

Dr. Paul Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. In his free time, he struck up a friendship with a member of his gym, Robert Viggiano of Fishkill. They'd spend time at the pool, talk about “guy” stuff and their families got to know one another. Viggiano's wife was a religious education teacher, and the couple has two children, one of college age.

Imagine Schwartz's shock when he learned Viggiano was arrested by Yonkers police in February 2011 for soliciting a prostitute in an attempt to arrange sex with a 10-year-old girl. A sting operation, with an undercover cop posing as the prostitute, resulted in his arrest. Three months ago, Viggiano, now 50, pleaded guilty and faces 15 years in prison, followed by registration as a sexual offender.

“I knew him well, as well as you would know anybody you meet or work with,'' Schwartz said. “I never, ever, ever had an iota of recognition that this was an issue in his life. My wife is extremely protective of our 12-year-old daughter – if he had a daughter who was her age, she wouldn't have blinked an eye to allow her to sleep at his house.''

“Sexual predators are not individuals that have a sign around their neck,'' Schwartz said. “They are very difficult to discern.''

In the majority of cases, sexual predators are not typically strangers, or some bearded guy in a rain coat lurking in a bush, Schwartz said. Rather, most predators hide in plain sight as family members, neighbors or trusted professionals, including teachers, coaches and religious leaders.

“Sexual predators are not the bogeyman that kids will run from or parents will question,'' Schwartz said. “These are people that are friendly and often endear themselves to the family.''

“Sexual predators place themselves in situations where they are more likely to have access to children,'' said Dr. Linda Dunlap, a psychology professor at Marist College. “It's hard for children to be saying ‘no' to people in power, ‘no' to people who give them access to resources or an opportunity to perform or opportunity to play. Often times (predators) care in loving ways – they may be the father or grandfather that they never had. They give them gifts or complete them in ways they never had.''

Who are the predators?

Most sexual predators are white, heterosexual males who are young-to-middle age adults. (Women have a much lower incidence of pedophilic activity, psychologists reason, because females are hard-wired to nurture children, not harm them). The targets of these men are mostly young female adolescents and sometimes younger.
“Kids are easily manipulated,'' Schwartz said, “and they are very good at picking these kids. They don't do this quickly. This is done little by little, slowly ingratiating themselves.''

Schwartz believes the internet culture gives birth to some of these actions.
“You can practice your craft and reinforce that behavior because you can find it on the internet,'' Schwartz said. “You can find children having sex with adults on the internet and that reinforces that idea. (In the mind of the predator it's) now I can go to the next level.''

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse

1. Ascertain whether a child is receiving gifts for performance when others do not.

“They (adults) should be active observers and trust their instincts. Pay attention, and if a coach is giving their child extra attention or giving them gifts, find out why. By and large, coaches on all levels have the best interest of kids. But you have to be aware and always trust your instincts.'' -- Captain Joseph Trippodo - Troop F, New York State Police

2. Ask your child about any mood changes.

“Your child might be more anxious or depressed, especially around that coach. Your child might not want to be around that coach.'' -- Brad Garrett - Former FBI agent and terrorism consultant for ABC News

3. Listen if children appear to have more sexual knowledge when it is not age appropriate.

“If kids blurt out, ‘Sex is good,' or ‘It's OK to do that' when the parent would never had said that, that is a sign.'' -- Dr. Paul Schwartz - Mount Saint Mary psychology professor


Trouble walking or sitting.

Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.

Doesn't want to change clothes in front of others or

participate in physical activities.

Runs away from home.



Sexual Abuse, Emotional Bullying, and Stalking by a Step-Father to Daughter:
Dr. Carol Francis Interviews Author Teresa Joyce - Autobiography Entitled "There's A Fine Line"

Psychologist Dr. Carol Francis addresses key issues of sexual abuse and a step-parent's emotional blackmail on April 30 on Dr. Carol Francis Talk Radio Show with profound guest author Teresa Joyce. Author Teresa Joyce's autobiography "There's A Fine Line" is published by Chipmunka Publishing. This raw, life-changing interview sheds light on the confusing, traumatizing pain of child sexual abuse which reaches deep into adult years of anguish.

Honest disclosures about Sexual Abuse liberates sufferers who feel they must hide in shame or fear. Teresa Joyce helps open the conversations so more can be set free from their abuser's emotional choke-holds.

Dr. Carol Francis Talk Show again addresses how to recover from on-going child sexual abuse. The torture of protecting a mother from knowing about her husband's sexual child abuse activities is one of many torments author Teresa Joyce endured as a child, teenager and adult. In addition, Teresa endured lures, threats and pressures into adulthood from her mother's husband. Her step-father, a well respected community businessman in the UK, had a secret inclination to threaten, sexually abuse and emotionally blackmail his step-daughter. Tune in April 30 to this radio show, released for podcasts through and itunes immediately afterward. Link is:

The confusion and pain of such on-going struggles can not be underestimated, and Teresa Joyce draws every reader and listener into the maze of events that baffles, saddens and enrages. Teresa Joyce shares with honest vulnerability in an attempt to awaken every listener to the toxic processes of sexual abuse and the pain of recovery. Teresa Joyce's book, "There's A Fine Line" published by Chipmunka Publishing is available through or through

Teresa Joyce, in her 50s and after her grandson was born, decides to expose the painful memories of her sexual abuse by her step-father when she was a child. Why? To help. To help those who have suffered sexual abuse and those who need to stop hurting others with sexual invasion of human dignity. Teresa Joyce, from the United Kingdom, leads us to expose and dispose of the dreaded silence about sexual abuse within families so that more can be liberated to live the rest of their lives whole and loved. Teresa Joyce' book "There's A Fine Line" has offered many the insight, self-love and freedom to move on from the curse of Sexual Abuse.


Debate rages over severity of child-porn sentences

DAVID CRARY NEW YORK (AP) — Their crimes are so loathsome that some hardened courtroom veterans recoil at viewing the evidence. Yet child-pornography offenders are now the focus of an intense debate within the legal community as to whether the federal sentences they face have become, in many cases, too severe.

By the end of this year, after a review dating to 2009, the U.S. Sentencing Commission plans to release a report that's likely to propose changes to the sentencing guidelines that it oversees. It's a daunting task, given the polarized viewpoints that the commission is weighing.

The issue "is highly charged, both emotionally and politically," said one of the six commissioners, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell.

On one side of the debate, many federal judges and public defenders say repeated moves by Congress to toughen the penalties over the past 25 years have badly skewed the guidelines, to the point where offenders who possess and distribute child pornography can go to prison for longer than those who actually rape or sexually abuse a child. In a 2010 survey of federal judges by the Sentencing Commission, about 70 percent said the proposed ranges of sentences for possession and receipt of child pornography were too high. Demonstrating their displeasure, federal judges issued child porn sentences below the guidelines 45 percent of the time in 2010, more than double the rate for all other crimes.

On the other hand, some prosecutors and members of Congress, as well as advocates for sexual-abuse victims, oppose any push for more leniency. At a public hearing in February, the Sentencing Commission received a victim's statement lamenting that child pornography offenders "are being entertained by my shame and pain."

"They need to be taught how much pain they inflict and a greater term of imprisonment will teach them that, (and) will comfort victims seeking justice," the victim said. "I don't believe that short periods of imprisonment will accomplish these things."

Once completed, the Sentencing Commission report will be submitted to Congress, which could shelve it or incorporate its recommendations into new legislation.

Already, the commission has conveyed some concerns. In a 2010 report on mandatory minimum sentences, the commission said the penalties for certain child pornography offenses "may be excessively severe and as a result are being applied inconsistently."

However, similar misgivings voiced by the commission in previous years failed to deter Congress from repeatedly ratcheting up the penalties — including legislation in 2003 that more than doubled average sentences for child pornography crimes.

Many of the offenses carry a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and the guidelines call for additional penalties — known as enhancements — based on a range of factors, such as the age of the children depicted in the imagery and whether a computer was used in the crime. As of last year, the median sentence was seven years.

In a recent article for the journal of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, former Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and former federal prosecutor Linda Dale Hoffa criticized the approach by Congress.

"The fact that child pornography offenders can be given longer sentences than child abusers or violent offenders reflects a lack of care by Congress," Specter and Hoffa wrote. "In the rush to prove itself hostile to individuals who possess or distribute child pornography, Congress has obscured the real distinctions between different offenders."

Hoffa doubts Congress will be eager to ease the guidelines.

"If you vote against these harsher penalties, the sound bite is that you're protecting child pornographers, and that could be the end of somebody's career," she said in a telephone interview. "It's a political radioactive hot potato."

As a backdrop to the sentencing debate, Internet-based child pornography has proliferated, and the crime is an increasingly high priority for federal law enforcement agents.

According to the Justice Department, federal prosecutors obtained at least 2,713 indictments for sexual exploitation of minors in 2011, up from 1,901 in 2006. This month, the FBI announced that the latest addition to its "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" is a former elementary school teacher, Eric Justin Toth, who is accused of possessing and producing child pornography.

In testimony to the Sentencing Commission in February, three Justice Department experts said the sentencing guidelines for child pornography should be revised — not with the overall aim of making them more lenient, but rather to help the courts do a better job of differentiating among offenders and determining appropriate punishment.

"The guideline has not kept pace with technological advancements in both computer media and Internet and software technologies," the DOJ experts said.

As opposed to focusing on the quantity of images collected by an offender, the experts said revised guidelines could take into account the length of time the offender has been involved with child porn, the degree of sophistication of measures taken to avoid detection, and the extent to which the offender communicates as part of a network.

One such network, called Dreamboard, was unraveled by investigators last year. In all, 72 people were charged with participating in an international, members-only Internet club created to trade tens of thousands of images and videos of sexually abused children.

There's one point of agreement in the sentencing debate: All parties agree that penalties should remain severe — or be toughened — for those who produce and promote child pornography.

A key point of contention, by contrast, is the degree to which offenders charged with receipt and possession of child porn pose a risk of physically abusing children themselves, as opposed to looking at images of abuse.

New York-based federal defender Deirdre von Dornum told the Sentencing Commission there's insufficient evidence to prove a strong correlation. Child pornography offenders have a lower recidivism rate than child molesters, she said, and many could be safely monitored via supervised probation.

"Many of these individuals have stable employment, family support, and no prior contact with the criminal justice system," she said. "Punitive terms of imprisonment do nothing but weaken or destroy pro-social influences in their lives."

The Justice Department experts were more skeptical, citing research suggesting that a substantial percentage of child-pornography offenders are pedophiles who either have sexually abused a child or might try to do so.

Von Dornum challenged the premise that tough sentencing would dry up the market for child porn.

"Because child pornography is free, widely available and easy to produce, it is not subject to the normal laws of supply and demand," she said, noting that many countries do not even have laws against it.

She also said the sentencing guidelines contribute to unjust disparities, depending on whether a prosecutor charged a defendant with receipt of child pornography, as well as possession. Under the guidelines, receipt carries a five-year mandatory minimum sentence, but possession has no mandatory minimum.

According to von Dornum, the average sentence for a federal child pornography offense in 2010 was higher than for all other offenses except murder and kidnapping. Indeed, the average was about six months higher than for sexual abuse offenders.

"Yet there is significant political pressure to do nothing but continue to increase penalties for these offenders, the 'modern-day untouchables,'" she testified. She urged the commission "to take the difficult step of rising above the politics and fear" and revise the sentencing framework.

Another witness at the February hearing — testifying on behalf of her fellow federal judges in the Judicial Conference of the United States — was Casey Rodgers, chief judge of the Northern District of Florida.

Rodgers stressed that child pornography entails "unspeakable acts by the offenders and unimaginable harm to the child victims."

Nonetheless, she said doubts are growing within the judiciary about the reasonableness of the sentencing guidelines, as demonstrated by the extent to which judges are refusing to follow them and issuing lower sentences.

Rodgers urged the commission to propose repealing the mandatory minimum sentence for receipt of child porn. And she said the guidelines should be revised to help judges better identify which offenders are at greatest risk of committing future sexual abuse of children.

"Lengthy terms of incarceration alone will not adequately address the harms of these offenders," she testified. "Greater reliance on the use of supervised release should be considered."

Troy Stabenow, an assistant federal public defender in Missouri, said the judges' resistance to the sentencing guidelines was "pretty courageous,"

"They're doing it knowing they're likely be lambasted in the media," he said. "They wouldn't be doing it unless they really believe a lot of typical offenders they see are not the menace that people assume they are."

In Congress, some Republicans have voiced dismay at the judges' stance, as evidenced by a recent letter to the Sentencing Commission from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Crime.

"I am concerned that the federal judiciary is failing to consider the severity of child pornography and its victims," he wrote. "This departure rate is disturbing and threatens the most vulnerable among us, our children."

Among Democrats in Congress, there are numerous critics of mandatory minimum sentences — for example, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. But members of Leahy's staff doubt there will be any groundswell of support in Congress for easing child-pornography sentences.

One of the few recent rollbacks of sentencing laws came in 2010 when Congress reduced the difference between sentences for crimes committed by crack cocaine and powder cocaine users.

The disparity had been assailed by civil-rights advocates as a form of racial discrimination because most people convicted of crack crimes were black.

There's no equivalent advocacy campaign on behalf of child porn offenders, about 90 percent of whom are white.

"You don't have any built-in sympathy," said Jelani Jefferson Exum, a professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. "Who's going to stand up and say, 'I'm fighting for child porn possessors.'"

Susan Howley, public policy director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, has been urging those involved in the debate to keep the victims in mind. She says they face higher risk of developing mental health disorders, sexual dysfunction and substance abuse problems.

"While sentencing does not appear to be the perfect tool to reduce the market for child abuse images, it is one of the few tools available," Howley told the public hearing in February. "Through sentencing we express to society, and to the individual victims and family members harmed, that we recognize the seriousness of this offense."



Preventing Child Abuse: Everyone Deserves to Feel Safe

by Kimberly Weisz

As we enjoy the beautiful spring weather of Southern California, we are also reminded that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month is the time to emphasize the safety of children by working together in our communities, with schools and social service agencies, to prevent child abuse and promote education about it.

Domestic violence is never acceptable, and children of battered women are often abused. Children are vulnerable, afraid to communicate and frequently remain silent. Child abuse occurs in all types of families, and as community advocates we need to look for warning signs such as emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.

If a child is withdrawn, fearful, anxious or intimidated, or frequently misses school, she or he may be at risk. If a child has a sudden change in eating habits, develops a new fear of people or places, or refuses to talk about a secret, she or he may be a victim of child abuse.

It's important to stand up for a child in need. Call law enforcement agencies, child welfare services or 911 in an emergency if you suspect that child abuse is occurring. Be specific on what you have observed or documented. Help stop the cycle of abuse and neglect. By intervening and reporting child abuse as early as possible, you are helping to provide a voice for those so desperately in need.

April has also been designated Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault occurs without the consent of both individuals. Sexual assault usually happens with force, under threatening circumstances and against a person's will. Rape is a form of sexual assault and can happen on a date, with a friend or acquaintance, or when you are alone.

Victims include children and adults. One in five women may experience rape during college, and many attacks go unreported. No matter where or how it happens, rape, child molestation and sexual assault are never the victim's fault.

Our community does not tolerate sexual assault. Consequently, we need to stand together to implement prevention, safety and accountability.

A person who engages in a sexual assault may be prosecuted criminally. It's essential to contact your local law enforcement agency or seek hospital emergency care immediately if you are a victim or know a victim of sexual assault.

Victims need to be aware of and observe the following advice: Do not take a bath, shower, eat, chew gum or brush your teeth, as these activities may destroy evidence. If possible, carry an extra set of clothes as the original clothes may be collected for testing.

If you believe your were drugged and don't remember what happened to you, obtaining a urine sample is critical for screening. Do not wash any bedding or clothes or dispose of anything before checking with law enforcement officials. Try not to change anything at the scene of the assault.

Sexual assault survivors have the right to have a victim advocate and a support person present during interviews with law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies.

We need to hold those who abuse power and control accountable. Everyone deserves to feel safe. Let's work together to increase community awareness and partner with parents to take action and break the cycles of domestic violence. Let's prevent child abuse and sexual assault!

Important Resources

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911.

To report child abuse or neglect in San Diego, please call, (858) 560-2191. Within the State of California, call toll free (800) 344-6000. Calls are staffed by trained social workers who receive calls about child abuse, molestation and neglect. Child Help USA can be reached at (800) 422-4453, or click here for a list of child abuse reporting phone numbers by state.

In seeking help and confidential services of sexual assault in San Diego:

24-hour toll-free crisis line: (888) 385-4657.

Center for Community Solutions Assault Victim Advocates help survivors navigate complicated systems and make informed decisions, call (858) 272-5777.

Women's Resource Center: (760) 757-3500

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network: (800) 656-HOPE (4673)

About this column: Voices End Violence is written by leaders, members and supporters of Operation for HOPE Foundation—a nonprofit that raises awareness about domestic violence and offers resources to survivors. For more information, visit


New Jersey

Ringing off the hook: N.J. child abuse hotline calls have soared since Penn State sex scandal

by Susan K. Livio

TRENTON — New Jersey's child abuse hotline has been flooded with phone calls since the Penn State sexual abuse scandal shocked the nation late last year, according to Children and Families Commissioner Allison Blake.

The number of calls soared to as many as 750 a day in November, when a Pennsylvania grand jury indicted former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, said Kristine Brown, spokeswoman for the state Department of Children and Families. It rarely topped 400 a day in the two months before the scandal broke out, she added.

As of last month, calls were in the 600 to 700 a-day range. And from November to last month, the hotline answered a total of 80,543 calls — 6,815 more than the previous year.

"When you look back on major cases like that that made the news, you will find they increase awareness," said Cecilia Zalkin, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. "A situation (where) people might have had concerns about a neighbor or a family member, it may encourage them to stop and think and take action."

The message following the Penn State scandal may have registered more deeply in New Jersey, where the law requires anyone having "reasonable cause" to suspect child abuse or neglect to report it. Violators could face six months in jail or a fine of $1,000.

"Preventing child abuse is everyone's concern. Reporting suspected abuse or neglect is the first step in potentially saving a child's life," Blake said at a recent event commemorating April as child abuse prevention month.

Pennsylvania law is not as expansive, placing the legal responsibility to notify authorities of suspected child abuse on "mandated reporters" such as teachers, doctors, coaches and other professionals who come into regular contact with children.

"I would like to believe we would not have a Penn State situation here," Blake said at a recent Assembly budget committee hearing.

Sandusky, 68, who faces more than 50 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years, has denied the claims. The revelations prompted the firing of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.

High-profile child abuse cases have always elicited a reaction at the child welfare system's front door, regardless of whether the children are from New Jersey, said Judith Meltzer, a federal court-appointed monitor examining the child welfare system under terms of a class-action lawsuit settlement. "People's awareness of the issue of child abuse and neglect has to be a good thing. I believe child protection has to be a community responsibility."

But the added traffic to the hotline taxed a child welfare system that already shouldered an increasing number of calls last year.

"Intake" workers, who investigate allegations deemed credible by the hotline employees, exceeded their maximum caseload last year, according to Meltzer's most recent monitoring report. The agreement requires 95 percent of intake workers to handle no more than 12 cases and get assigned no more than eight new cases a month. Only 84 percent met that standard from January 2011 to June 2011.

In September and October, the hotline referred approximately 1,500 cases per week for investigation. But after the Sandusky scandal broke, "reports to the field climbed as high as 1,770 per week in November, and 1,730 per week in December and steadied at more than 1,600 per week to date," Brown said.

Senate Budget Committee member Nellie Pou (D-Passaic) grilled Blake about the rising caseloads during a budget hearing Thursday. The increasing caseload "certainly started before the Penn State allegations," she said. "It might have peaked after, but it was certainly in place already."

Blake said the department responded over the past four months by assigning 10 four-member "impact teams" to the busiest offices, and assigning more people to work the phones

There is no evidence yet to say the calls are translating into a new wave of children entering foster care, or new families falling under the supervision of the Division of Youth and Family Services, the formal name of the state's child welfare system, said Zalkind. Last September, there were 7,135 children in foster care compared to 10,432 in December 2007, according to state data cited in a Kids Count report Zalkind's group released last week that examined child health, safety and economic stability.

"If you look at the data, they are getting more calls and doing more investigations, but it does not appear to be bringing more kids into the system," Zalkind said. That's a good thing, if the callers' tips are getting the proper scrutiny, she said.

Last May, a rookie hotline employee decided a caller's information about the sickly appearance of two children in Irvington did not merit an investigation. Nine days later, police found 8-year-old Christiana Glenn had died at home from malnutrition and an untreated broken leg. Blake fired the hotline manager and allows only more experienced workers to work the hotline.

Zalkind said the law's requirement to make everyone equally responsible for reporting child abuse is working. "Every time an issue comes up like this, the consensus is we want to err on the side of protecting children," she said.

The state's child abuse hotline is 1-877 NJ ABUSE.


Sex cases prompt new school rules in N.J.

by Colleen Diskin

HACKENSACK — Schools are forbidding teachers and coaches from befriending students on Facebook and banning them from giving students gifts or rides home to guard against situations that could potentially lead to sexual abuse of children.

Employee behavior is being more closely scrutinized and staff members are being trained to act as watchdogs as more school officials in New Jersey realize they need to do a better job policing their own.

“The worst thing that a school district can do is to ignore this and to pretend that it doesn't go on,” said Steven Engravalle, interim superintendent in Fort Lee. “I wish it were being spoken about more. It's still a very dark subject that people don't want to talk about.”

The new policies and programs come as North Jersey schools deal with 25 arrests or convictions the past three years of teachers, coaches or other school employees accused of sexually abusing or engaging in inappropriate relationships with children.

Since The Record published a story about the issue on Jan. 30, there have been two more arrests: Hours after signing a contract to become a teacher at Rutherford High School, Richard Damato Jr., 24, a Bayonne resident, was arrested on Feb. 8 for allegedly exchanging explicit messages over the Internet with a Passaic County sheriff's officer posing as a 12-year-old girl. On March 14, Darren Clark, a maintenance worker for Morgan Educational Services, was arrested and charged with luring a teenager onto an unoccupied school bus in Bogota. In both cases, the charges were still pending as of Friday.

Allegations like these in schools have sparked a national campaign to ensure that a teacher under suspicion of abuse can't quietly resign and get a job teaching somewhere else. And in New Jersey, there is a push to allow victims to more easily sue schools where the abuse occurred, a move advocates say could compel schools to be more vigilant.

But as someone who has prosecuted child sex abuse cases for 20 years, Joseph Del Russo said many schools still fail to enforce “bright-lines rules” about teacher-student relationships that offer little room for debate about what's acceptable.

“There should be no ambiguity,” said Del Russo, chief assistant Passaic County prosecutor and head of the special victims unit.

Too often, sex-abuse-prevention efforts in schools have been aimed only at the potential victims, with students being urged to tell a “trusted adult,” about abuse, said Terri Miller, president of the national prevention group, Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation.

“It's not going far enough to just educate the children about keeping themselves safe,” Miller said. “It's about a teacher in one room watching the teacher in the room next door, and the principal watching those teachers.”

While experts say there's no psychological profile test that could help schools screen for predators, there are common patterns in how abusers gain and then abuse the trust of their victims: repeatedly texting or emailing; giving gifts; offering rides home; sharing intimate details about personal problems; singling a student out for special attention.

Besides banning these behaviors, schools should hold more extensive training on warning signs. They should also establish a protocol for investigating allegations, including designating a staff member as the person to whom other faculty can report their concerns, said Robert Shoop, director of Kansas State University's Cargill Center for Ethical Leadership. Shoop has testified as an expert in more than 80 cases in which schools were sued for failing to prevent abuse.

“You can't report everybody that gives a kid a ride in their car because there may be some appropriate reason for the ride to be given,” Shoop said. “But you have to have someone who's paying attention and who knows how to investigate these behaviors and to intervene when they see a staff member crossing a line. That's how you prevent the abuse.”

With liability concerns growing, the New Jersey School Boards Association Insurance Group, which insures 380 districts statewide, has created a sexual harassment and abuse prevention webinar for districts to use as a training tool, said Lauren Schilling, a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile, many North Jersey superintendents say they are doing more to monitor their staffs. “Do I Google people? Absolutely,” said Fair Lawn Superintendent Bruce Watson. “Do I go on Facebook and check out this person? Absolutely.”

Still, school officials say setting boundaries is not easy.

The role of a teacher and coach in a child's life often spills outside of normal classroom boundaries. Math teachers tutor. Music teachers give lessons. Baseball coaches give private batting instruction. Some of this can be policed by the schools, some must be policed by the parent, said Daniel Fishbein, superintendent in Ridgewood.

Other officials said boundary lines can blur when school employees and their families live and are active in the towns where they work.

Del Russo, the Passaic prosecutor, said he's often heard school employees talk about what they see as unclear boundaries, with some even suggesting the fault lies in the fact that teens are more sexualized today.

“You talk to some teachers privately, and they say, ‘You don't get it, Joe. It's the sexual Wild West in the schools today,'” Del Russo said.

“They place a premium on the child looking older or acting older. And they place too much emphasis on the responsibility of the child in preventing these relationships from occurring. They don't think about the disparity of power in a relationship between an adult and a teenager.”

Engravalle, the Fort Lee superintendent, takes a hard line on boundaries.

“I say to my staff, ‘Even in high school, when they have beards and drive, they are still children,'” Engravalle said.

Victims' advocates say there is one sure way to force schools to do a better job at preventing sexual abuse of students: Sue.

In New Jersey, advocates are pressing to change a law that gives adults who were victims of child sexual abuse just two years after they reach adulthood — or two years after they first realized, as an adult, they had been abused — to file a lawsuit against the institution where the abuse occurred. harassment and abuse prevention webinar for districts to use as a training tool, said Lauren Schilling, a spokeswoman.

“If entities such as schools and churches are not going to be held responsible, then there's no incentive for those entities to take measures to ensure children are protected,” said Greg Gianforcaro, an attorney who specializes in such cases. He said many victims are often too frightened in the initial stages to consider suing.

A measure to change the law failed in the last legislative session, largely because of opposition from the Catholic Church, said a chief sponsor, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex. Meanwhile, victim's groups are upset about a bill introduced by Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden. It gives victims greater leeway to sue abusers but retains the two-year limit on suing institutions.

“It would still insulate far too many institutions from having to take responsibility,” said Vitale, who hopes to hold hearings on another version of his original bill in May.

Catholic officials have said they oppose the measure as unnecessary since judges already have the power to waive the statute of limitations, possibly allowing groundless suits to go forward.

In Pennsylvania, lawmakers held a hearing this month on a measure that would prohibit confidentiality agreements between a school and a staff member who resigns after coming under suspicion of abuse. It would require such conduct be disclosed to prospective employers, ending a practice that victims' groups call “passing the trash.”

“Passing the trash is a pervasive practice that is happening nationwide,” said Miller, the leader of the national prevention group.

Engravalle agrees that “it happens all the time” and that New Jersey could use such a law so school administrators, without fear of being sued, could share information with one another about prospective job candidates, he said.

“I've had staff members I've let go because something just didn't smell right to me,” he said. If later called for a reference for that person, Engravalle knows he can't detail the circumstances of the person's departure, so he'll just say simply, “Do you have anybody else?”

“They get the message,” he said.

When he worked in Sussex County, Engravalle said he used to ask job candidates to sign a release allowing him access to their personnel file at their previous schools. If they refused, he wouldn't hire them.

“You get challenged on these things, but you have to do them,” he said. “I'm not working in a factory here. I'm working with children. There should be a higher standard.”



Teen recounts trauma of child abuse

A teen struggles to overcome anguish from being locked up by parents

by Adam Rodewald

OSHKOSH — A frail girl of 70 pounds huddles under pillows in a bare, attic room. Next to her lies a dirty mattress and an empty dresser. She wears old, summer pajamas, and a space heater offers little warmth on the frigid morning.

The date is Jan. 4, 2007. The girl, 12-year-old Hannah Engstrom, cries, but no tears appear in her green eyes. She longs to spend a day at the park, hear a song from her dad's guitar or simply share a hug.

Instead, she spends 22 hours a day locked in this room.

The stress and loneliness bear down on her, and she falls into a dark part of her mind. She begins to hear voices that aren't real but sound like relatives and friends narrating the ways she will die: a grisly car wreck or maybe bites from rabid animals living in the walls of the sparse room where her parents confined her.

She began to rip chunks of frazzled hair from her scalp and pick the sallow skin off her arms.

Engstrom, who is now an 18-year-old student, blacked out many of her memories from that day. She recalls going to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, where she thought she was placed in a special ward for naughty children. Her parents told her she was bad. She believed them.

She had been grounded for two years straight. Much of that time was spent in a room with an electronic alarm wired to the door and a security camera perched overhead. She was allowed to leave only to use the bathroom or do chores, such as cleaning up after the family's dogs.

But as soon as she arrived at the hospital, the medical staff notified authorities of her condition. A doctor determined she had suffered a psychotic reaction due to sensory deprivation and imposed helplessness. She was malnourished and dehydrated, maybe a week or two from death.

On Jan. 12, 2007, Engstrom's 13th birthday, she waited behind the hospital room door for her parents to arrive. The door finally opened, but neither parent stepped into the room. Instead, she saw a social worker with brown hair and a kindly smile. The woman told Hannah that her parents wouldn't be coming. Don't worry, she was told, it's not because she's bad — she was safe now.

Early that day, police had arrested Hannah's dad, Clint Engstrom, and her stepmom, Lynn. They were eventually convicted of felony mental abuse to a child.

Hannah turned and looked at the social worker. Her mind whirled with incomprehension. After a long moment she spoke.

“You mean I didn't do anything wrong?”

'So traumatic'

Engstrom's case riveted the community of Oshkosh for weeks. Clint Engstrom and Lynn Engstrom, pleaded no contest on June 18, 2007, to causing mental harm to a child. The parents could have received up to 12 years in prison but entered into a plea agreement that imposed a four-year, no-contact order, counseling and regular check-ins with the district attorney.

Hannah's paternal grandparents, Beth and Terry Redmann, later adopted her.

“Could I have done more to stop this?” asks Beth Redmann as she recalled the events of five years ago, when she first discovered Hannah was being abused.

She doesn't have an answer.

On Dec. 20, 2006, Redmann rang the doorbell of her son's newly remodeled home. She carried an armload of Christmas presents and eyed the taupe-colored vinyl siding and sage-colored roof shingles while waiting. She had only been allowed to see Hannah a few times in the previous three years.

A young boy answered the door, said “Hi Grandma,” and led her inside. But, Lynn Engstrom told Redmann she wasn't wanted there. Beth ignored the words, pushed her way farther inside and called out to Hannah.

The stepmom told Hannah not to leave her room, and then to her other three children said, “You know what to do.”

They darted up the stairs and stood on the landing in front of a door. Beth followed, forced her way past two barking St. Bernards and a beagle, rushed up the stairs, shooed away the children and turned the knob on Hannah's door. An alarm sounded like a school bell.

She turned and grabbed Lynn Engstrom by the shirt and asked what was going on. Lynn told the grandmother to leave or she would call the police.

Too stunned to argue, Beth left. She never saw Hannah.

Later that day, Oshkosh police officers contacted Redmann and told her she was being charged with disorderly conduct, and she was issued a restraining order.

Redmann told police about the alarm, which was used to keep Hannah locked up. But, the police said they saw no evidence of abuse while they were at the home. Redmann called child protective services the next morning. She said she was told that the information wasn't sufficient to warrant an investigation.

“I hope no child ever has to go through what Hannah did. I hope no family has to go through what we did,” Redmann said. “It was so traumatic. For everyone.”

'No hope in myself'

How could this happen?

The question weighs on Hannah Engstrom. She knows she may never learn the full truth.

The grounding started one day in 2005 when she didn't immediately put her shoes on to leave the house. She had to go two days without getting into trouble for the punishment to be lifted. It never happened. Her parents took away privileges, toys, clothes. They pulled Hannah out of school.

To this day she can't figure out what exactly she did wrong.

“I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone or look at anything. … If the dog came in my room I'd get in trouble, but if I got up to get it out of my room I'd get in trouble. No matter what I did, it was always wrong,” she said.

Her younger brother told police that his parents would spank Hannah with a wooden spoon if she left her room. He was not allowed to go in and play with her. He only got to see her when she went to the bathroom, occasionally joined them at the dinner table or was taken to the doctor.

After a year of this treatment, Hannah couldn't take any more. She snuck downstairs and cautiously moved into the light of the living room, where her dad sat on a couch. He was the only one home.

“You could see it in the look he gave me. There was so much pain and disappointment … anger,” Hannah said.

She saw his face, turned around and went back to her room. She never said what was on her mind. She never said that she didn't really care about herself because she thought that he didn't love her. That he was the only person that mattered to her.

“All I could think about was his happiness, and I couldn't ruin that,” Hannah recalled. “He already looked so disappointed in what he thought I was, that I just couldn't do it to him anymore.”

Hannah gave up that day. She stopped defending herself and started to believe she was a bad person.

“I had no hope in myself.”

Love for a father

Hannah takes after her dad. They both have green eyes and a delightful smile. They're both short and love music. He had black hair and hoop earrings that Hannah always wanted.

On his arm, he had the names of his family tattooed in Chinese letters. Hannah's name was in the center. She wonders if it's still there. If he looks at it every day, or if he covered it up.

In court, Clint Engstrom described his daughter as “challenging” and strong-willed. He described her as manipulative, aggressive toward other children, physically violent toward her stepmom and abusive to the family pets.

He testified that he and his wife sought help from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed Hannah with oppositional defiant disorder, mood disorder, personality disorder, anxiety disorder and possibly reactive detachment disorder. She was put on a myriad of medications and continued counseling.

That's not the Hannah her grandparents know. She loves sports and gets straight A's in school, and is always with her friends. She has gone on mission trips with her church and loves kids.

“She was never a problem child. It's just the way she had been treated,” Redmann said.

When she turned 16, Hannah wrote her dad a heartfelt letter. She still loved him and she felt sorry for all that happened. She hoped to make him proud someday.

The letter was delivered to Clint Engstrom's attorney because of the no-contact order. Clint never read it. He sent it back, unopened.

“I guess he hated me as much as everyone else,” Hannah said.

Dreaming of the future

Hannah turned 18 in January. The no-contact order with her parents has been lifted, but her dad has not tried to speak to her. She has given up hope of a reunion. She's used to feeling abandoned and unloved, “but it still hurts that after all this time, he still can't say, ‘That's my daughter.'”

For years, she saw a counselor at CHAPS Academy, a ranch in Shiocton that uses horses to help youth deal with emotional and behavior difficulties. She still goes every now and then when she falls into one of her “funks.”

Birthdays and holidays are hardest.

On Father's Day 2009, Hannah's grandparents wanted to do something special.

They gave her buckets of red, blue, yellow and purple paint and permission to go crazy. Hannah and six of her friends splattered the colors on her bedroom walls, ceiling and inside the closet. They wrote their names and made footprints and handprints — their personal, literal touches imprinted as permanent memories all around her.

Hannah will graduate from high school this spring, with honors for her good grades. She's a member of the girls' softball team and sings in the school choir. She plans to attend Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac this fall and pursue a career as a sleep lab technician.

She dreams of starting her own family and having her own children. She wants to be the parent she always longed to have.

“I would show them the love I never got. Encourage them. Make them feel like they matter. Do things with them. …,” Hanna said. “No one is going to hold them back, and no one is going to tell them they can't have love or be a part of others' lives.

“I want them to know they're amazing.”
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