No halt to child abuse deaths
Violence has killed at least a dozen children in 2012
by Sean Holstege
The number of children dying at the hands of abusive parents in Arizona shows no signs of abating.
By mid-October, 12 children had died this year as a result of maltreatment by their parents or caregivers, according to Arizona Child Protective Services. At the same point last year, 11 children had died. In 2010 the figure stood at 10.
Those numbers reflect cases confirmed by CPS and are a fraction of the actual number of child-abuse deaths that will be reported once facts from additional sources are known. Child safety advocates worry that progress in lowering the incidence of fatal abuse has been too slow.
Despite attempts by state officials to overhaul CPS, the toll of children dying from neglect and physical abuse remains a constant, tragic reminder that more work is needed to improve the state's child-welfare agency, say child-safety experts. In some high-profile cases, CPS has been criticized for not doing enough to save children who caseworkers knew were in potentially dangerous situations.
That's not to say there has been no progress. Child-safety experts are heartened that more people who are required to report suspicions of abuse are coming forward. They say it's a sign the public recognizes the grave dangers children face.
Over the past year, the state has taken steps to turn the tide. It boosted its public-awareness campaign to encourage people to report suspected abuse. It established an investigative unit to help overburdened social workers by bringing in veteran police detectives on tough cases. Arizona leaders, including Gov. Jan Brewer, have pledged more money and staff.
Brewer tapped Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to lead the Arizona Child Safety Task Force, to bring a prosecutor's perspective to the problems of child neglect and violence against kids.
But the number of child deaths has not budged, and Montgomery says more needs to be done.
"My assessment of the need for reform is no different today than it was last year," Montgomery said. "We're still seeing the same tragic circumstances."
State law requires doctors, teachers, police and caregivers who see signs of child abuse to report it to CPS. But in 2010, doctors and caregivers failed to tell CPS about half of all child-maltreatment deaths, the state task force reported. Since then, Montgomery says more doctors, teachers and caregivers are calling CPS.
That tells him, and others, that caregivers are starting to recognize that reporting early signs of abuse can prevent serious injury and death.
"Everybody's collective efforts have done exactly what we wanted," Montgomery said. "All of this created a community awareness, which results in more reports of abuse. That's positive. If we don't understand the scope and nature of the problem, we'll never be able to design a solution."
"That's exactly what we've been going for: more reporting," said Chandler police Sgt. Joe Favazzo, a board member on a countywide coalition of police officers, firefighters, doctors, educators, prosecutors and advocates trying to combat child abuse.
"Here's the reality. Abuse will never go away. We understand that. But we have to get more people reporting," Favazzo said, recalling a Chandler case from 2009 when police found a girl who'd crawled between a toilet and sink to die after a savage beating. The suspect, now facing the death penalty, told police he wishes that somebody had reported him earlier.
Police commonly hear from neighbors after such incidents that they suspected there were problems. Says Favazzo: "If your gut tells you something's wrong, it's probably wrong."
The CPS summary reports of Arizona's child-maltreatment deaths this year, plus police, court and autopsy records, detail the horror of some of those cases:
Emma Rosovich, 4, and her 17-month-old brother, Richard Jr., were shot dead in Tucson on Aug. 11. Their mother, Perla Morales, reported the shooting to police, who arrested her and charged her with murder. There was no prior CPS involvement nor any indication of an abusive home.
Nevaeh Banks, 3 months old, stopped breathing on July 13 in bed alongside her mother, Stacey Banks, in Tucson. Banks admitted using cocaine and painkillers while she was breastfeeding. There was no prior CPS involvement. Banks was indicted on second-degree murder charges before prosecutors dropped the case.
Winter Azure, 10 months old, was left alone by baby-sitter Zada Davis in a bath for more than 10 minutes and drowned. Winter died June 18 in Tucson after six days on life support. There had been no prior CPS involvement. Davis, 27, was indicted on second-degree murder charges.
Toryn Buckman, 4, died May 31 in Phoenix. Injuries covered her body. She had burns and broken ribs. There had been no prior CPS involvement. Her mother, Ashley Buckman, and her mother's boyfriend, James Edwards, were both charged with first-degree murder.
Alexus Salazar-Garcia, 2 months old, died May 16 with a cracked skull, extensive brain injuries and fractured ribs. There had been no previous CPS involvement. Phoenix police this month arrested the Chandler girl's father, Gilbert Salazar-Betancourt, and charged him with murder.
Destin Carr, 5 months old, suffocated May 14 in Show Low. His mother, Kalie Carr, had wrapped him in a blanket with a pacifier in his mouth and left him alone for seven hours. CPS had previously investigated one report of alleged abuse of the infant. Show Low police determined the death was an accident.
Angel Alvarez, 5, was killed in a car crash April 30 in Phoenix. He was sitting in the front seat without a seat belt. The driver, Pedro Ramirez, had a blood-alcohol content three times the legal limit. There had been no prior CPS involvement. Ramirez was charged with manslaughter. His girlfriend and Angel's mother, Evangelina Barrios, a passenger, was charged with felony child abuse.
The body of Vanessa Martinez, 3 months old, was found April 24 in a shallow desert grave near Eloy with 23 fractured ribs and brain damage. Three weeks before Vanessa's January burial, CPS had reunited her with her mother, Olivia Martinez, and live-in boyfriend Jonathan Kesterson. The pair fled the state, were arrested on unrelated charges and indicted on murder charges. Kesterson hanged himself in his cell.
Jorge "Ivan" Rogel, 2, had been grabbed by the throat and repeatedly smashed into a wall in his Phoenix home on Feb. 24. His mother, Wendy Rogel-Pagasa, waited three hours before calling 911, and her boyfriend, Juan Garcia, fled. There had been no prior CPS involvement. The mother was indicted on second-degree murder charges and felony child abuse. Garcia turned himself in near the Mexican border and was charged with murder.
Patrick Smith, 18 months old, died Feb. 5 in Oro Valley of a methadone overdose. CPS had reunited the toddler with his mother, Donna Smith, six months earlier. Smith, who had struggled with addiction, was indicted on murder charges.
Zanaya Flores, 22 months old, starved to death. She died in Tucson on Jan. 12 weighing 14 pounds, with dozens of scars on her body. CPS had reunited her with her mother, Kiyana Higgins, after the mother was acquitted in a beating case involving a sibling. Higgins, her sister, Keshawna Higgins, and their mother, Clara Huyghue, were indicted on second-degree murder charges.
HED: Deadly Years
CHAT: Child-safety experts reported that Arizona saw the highest number of child-abuse deaths on record in 2010. A count of fatal maltreatment cases reported by Child Protective Services suggests no improvement in the outlook. Shown are the total number of fatal maltreatment cases and in parentheses the number who died in the same calendar year by Oct. 15 annually.
2012: 25 (12)
2011: 27 (11)
2010: 23 (10)
Source: Arizona Child Protective Services
Sexual abusers in day cares are often other kids
by BRAD SCHRADE and JEREMY OLSON
More than 65 children have been sexually abused in Minnesota child-care facilities since 2007 in cases often linked to supervision failures by in-home providers, a Star Tribune investigation has found.
In most cases the abuse was committed by older children in day care or a son of the day-care provider -- not by an adult, according to a review of hundreds of pages of state licensing records and law enforcement reports.
In December 2009, for example, the teenage son of a St. Cloud provider was charged with repeatedly sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl who napped in his room. In January 2011, a child-care operator in Benson, Minn., was reprimanded by state officials for failing to supervise a 13-year-old who was accused of exposing himself to a 4-year-old during a back-yard game of hide-and-seek. A month later, a Chaska provider lost her license after her 15-year-old son was accused of sexually assaulting a preschool girl while they were alone in a playroom.
Records suggest that state and county regulators took action when notified of allegations -- suspending operators' licenses or permanently shutting down day cares in more than 80 cases since 2007.
Nonetheless, the cases reflect a pattern of risk revealed by the Star Tribune's ongoing investigation of Minnesota's in-home day-care system. The dangers that surface in inspection records -- sleep deaths, household hazards, sexual abuse -- are most common in the same kind of child-care setting: a private home, where failures in judgment or supervision by a lone provider can put children in danger.
The Star Tribune's review of sex abuse cases has prompted state officials to take a closer look at their records, which show a clear pattern of abuse occurring when child-care providers failed to monitor what was happening in their homes.
"We know enough to know we have to do something about it," said Department of Human Services Inspector General Jerry Kerber. "Supervision [failure] leads to not only sexual abuse, but children wandering away -- serious injuries that children are experiencing in the homes.''
State officials are also now considering a tougher approach to sex-abuse training for child-care operators. The state has encouraged providers to take abuse-prevention training since 2004, but records maintained by Kerber's agency show that only a tiny fraction of Minnesota's 11,000 in-home, or family, child-care providers have actually taken the safety training.
The records also show that sexual abuse, like child-care deaths analyzed by the newspaper, is much more common at in-home day-care facilities than at large child-care centers. At child-care centers, licensing records show one case of substantiated sexual abuse since 2007; that involved a student helper in a child-care center at Hennepin Technical College who was caught in possession of cellphone pictures of partly clothed children in a bathroom. State officials investigated 51 other complaints at child-care centers. Two were listed as "concerning" but not proven; the other investigations fell apart because the children couldn't repeat claims of abuse or because security camera footage or day-care workers contradicted them. None of the cases at centers involved claims of children abusing other children.
Cory Woosley says the risk of sex abuse can be overlooked because parents and providers are often blinded by common stereotypes about child predators.
"Most people say [the predator is] a man in a trench coat in the park,'' said Woosley, a training director with the Minnesota Child Care Resource and Referral Network.
In reality, research shows that 40 percent of child sex abuse is committed by other children or adolescents.
"It's not the man in the trench coat -- it's your neighbor, it's the older boy on the bus,'' Woosley said. "It is an eye-opener to people."
That misunderstanding creates unique risks at in-home day cares, where children of widely varying ages are often mixed together, and where the provider's own children and relatives often mingle with children in care.
Minnesota requires child-care providers to allow criminal background checks on anyone 13 or older living in their homes. But enforcement records suggest that a failure of background checks is seldom to blame for the sex abuse incidents; many young perpetrators simply don't have criminal records.
A promising strategy
Five years ago, Scott County had a spate of sex abuse allegations that alarmed county officials.
As they analyzed the cases, inspector Nancy Berndt says, regulators noticed two patterns: The providers' own children were usually the accused, and the misconduct was preventable.
The devastation for children and parents left a deep impact on Berndt, but she also remembers how the incidents rattled providers. Recalling one whose son was accused, Berndt said: "It was earth-shattering to this woman to think what her son may have or may not have done."
To alert child-care providers to the risks, Berndt helped design a safety course, "My Child Wouldn't Do That." It warns them that they could easily lose their businesses and find their own children facing criminal penalties.
Since the training took effect in 2010, sex abuse allegations in Scott County have fallen off, from about two each year to none in 2011 or 2012.
"What's very interesting is the feedback we get from providers" said Shona Buesgens, supervisor of the county's child-care licensing office. "One said: I'll never let my 15-year-old kid downstairs again with day-care kids without me."
Carrie Speikers, who worked in child-care centers for 14 years before opening her own home day care in 2004, found the course wonderful but "scary." Speikers, who has five children of her own, placed their bedrooms off limits to all children in care and bought an extra remote monitor. She also sat her own kids down for a family meeting to reinforce the importance of boundaries and the concept of good touch/bad touch.
"It made me really step back and think," Speikers said. "Every decision I make in the course of a day can affect so many families' lives, children's lives, my life, my family's life."
Since 2004 the state of Minnesota, too, has encouraged child-care providers to take a special training course on sex abuse prevention. But it has never made the training mandatory, and the take-up rate is modest. Records show that 483 family child-care providers have taken the course -- out of roughly 11,000 in the state -- along with 169 day-care center workers.
Kerber said that isn't good enough, and that the state is considering making training mandatory.
"People don't want to believe ... that their child would ever do something like that," Kerber said. "The kind of training necessary for those [providers] has to be very direct.''
Sex abuse in day care remains uncommon, considering that Minnesota has roughly 141,000 children in licensed care in a typical year.
To determine how often it occurred, and under what circumstances, the Star Tribune reviewed hundreds of licensing citations covering the last five years. State records showed 77 cases of sexual abuse: Of those, 11 involved boyfriends, spouses or relatives who were not licensed caregivers; three involved adults who were licensed providers; 49 named other children as the abusers.
The newspaper's tally of 65 victims is conservative because some incidents involved multiple but unspecified numbers of child victims. The count also omitted children who were victims of indecent exposure and cases where day-care children engaged in sexual contact and there was no clear perpetrator or victim. In six cases, the abuse did not involve a child in care. In five others, it was unclear if the victim was in child care or not.
The emotional impact of sexual abuse can be profound and enduring, said Libby Bergman, executive director of the Family Enhancement Center in Minneapolis.
Child victims are less likely to talk about abuse, she said, but can manifest their ordeal through stress, nightmares, flashbacks and anxiety. In one of the Scott County cases, police reports show, a child victim who never liked baths suddenly wanted to take two or three a day.
"Every time a child is sexually abused there is the potential for lifelong emotional and, as we're finding out now, physical impacts," Bergman said. "It really has a huge ripple effect in the family and the community."
Federal Sex Offender Civil Commitment Process Under Fire
by Derek Gilna
Among other provisions, the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 allows the federal government to indefinitely detain “sexually dangerous” offenders through a civil commitment process, which requires mandatory court hearings after such offenders have been certified by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) as eligible for commitment. The Adam Walsh Act was named for the kidnapped and murdered son of America's Most Wanted host John Walsh. [See: PLN, June 1996, p.12].
Under 18 U.S.C. § 4248, the federal government must obtain a “Certification of a Sexually Dangerous Person” before it can proceed in a civil commitment action. Under § 4247(a)(5), a “sexually dangerous person” is defined as one who has engaged or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation, and who is “sexually dangerous to others” or suffers from a serious mental illness, abnormality or disorder, as a result of which he would have “serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.”
To order civil commitment, a federal district court must find at an evidentiary hearing (no jury trial is required) that the government has met its burden of proof by clear and convincing evidence that an offender is a sexually dangerous person. If so, he may be confined in a suitable facility for mental health treatment until it is determined that he is no longer a danger to others. 18 U.S.C. § 4248(d). The standard of “clear and convincing evidence” is lower than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard required in criminal prosecutions, and when certifying prisoners for civil commitment the DOJ can consider conduct that did not result in an arrest, prosecution or conviction. In fact, offenders can be certified for civil commitment even if they have no prior criminal record of sex offenses.
According to investigative reporting by USA Today, the DOJ has certified 136 federal prisoners over the past six years but only 15 have been civilly committed following court hearings. The “Justice Department has either lost or dropped its cases against 61 of the 136 men” who have been certified since 2006. Of the prisoners certified as eligible for civil commitment who were eventually freed, some had been detained for more than four years pending a hearing.
“Things take time,” stated former U.S. Attorney George Holding. “These men are accused of being a threat to society, and the system has to play itself out.”
Often, though, offenders certified by the DOJ are ultimately determined not to be a threat to society deserving of civil commitment. Ironically, one of the prisoners who was released because he did not meet the civil commitment criteria was Graydon Comstock.
His case previously had been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the constitutionality of the federal civil commitment process. See: United States v. Comstock, 130 S.Ct. 1949 (2010) [PLN, July 2011, p.31; Dec. 2010, p.44]. Comstock was freed in November 2011.
In addition to the federal government, around 20 states have civil commitment statutes for sex offenders. Notably, civil commitment is not imposed for past crimes, as prisoners have been convicted and sentenced for prior offenses before being certified for civil commitment proceedings. Indefinite civil commitment is instead intended to prevent crimes they might commit in the future - a disturbing concept reminiscent of the “thought police” from Orwell's novel 1984 or the movie Minority Report.
While civil commitment is not supposed to be a form of punishment, the DOJ's civil commitment unit is located within the federal prison complex in Butner, North Carolina - and prison by any other name is still prison. “Detainees are not prisoners, yet we are treated just like if not worse than criminals convicted of crimes,” observed Gerald Timms, who was certified for civil commitment.
Unsurprisingly, the DOJ has released no public statements concerning its singular lack of success in civilly committing prisoners the department has certified as sexually dangerous. Of the certified offenders who have had commitment hearings thus far, 15 have been committed and 17 ordered freed; thus, the DOJ has a less-than-impressive 47% success rate in cases that result in hearings – not counting other cases that the DOJ has voluntarily dismissed. Nor have DOJ officials issued any explanations regarding the defects and delays in a process that has kept offenders - who have usually finished their prison sentences - incarcerated for many years while awaiting civil commitment hearings.
Some outside observers, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, have described the lengthy delays in civil commitment proceedings as “troubling” (though not troubling enough to constitute a due process violation, according to the appellate court). See: United States v. Timms, 664 F.3d 436 (4th Cir. 2012).
Fred Berlin, Director of the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, stated in reference to the DOJ's civil commitment process, “If it's going to be done, it has to be done in a just and fair manner.” However, an examination of hearing transcripts and court pleadings in cases where federal prisoners facing civil commitment have eventually won their freedom reveals problems indicative of a systemic lack of justice and fairness.
Government experts, including many Bureau of Prisons (BOP) psychologists, almost always find that prisoners certified under the Adam Walsh Act are sexually dangerous - but such certification typically does not occur until offenders are close to completing their sentences and nearing release. These delays result in extending prisoners' terms of incarceration when, had they been certified earlier, they presumably could have been receiving sex offender treatment while serving their prison sentences.
Conversely, most private (non-government) psychologists hired by defense attorneys find that offenders certified by the DOJ as sexually dangerous do not require indefinite civil commitment. Private psychologists appear in court transcripts to be more objective, thorough and nuanced in their observations and findings than their BOP counterparts.
Although readily acknowledging that prisoners who face civil commitment possess some measure of dysfunction in matters of a sexual nature, almost none of the private psychologists agreed with the DOJ's conclusions that such offenders were dangerous enough to warrant continued confinement after serving their prison sentences.
Increasingly, federal judges are agreeing with the findings of private psychologists and defense experts in civil commitment cases, which has put the DOJ in the unusual position of losing more contested hearings than it wins. Courts have repeatedly found that the federal government failed to meet its burden of proof that prisoners certified for civil commitment are sexually dangerous or have a high risk of reoffending, as required by § 4248.
It is uncontroverted that many federal prisoners have been convicted of serious sex-related crimes. But the broadness of some federal criminal statutes – which, for example, make simple possession (or downloading) of child pornography a crime that results in a lengthy sentence – means that numerous prisoners are not guilty of a “hands-on” offense such as sexual assault or rape. That, and the fact that most of the crimes occurred years before and offenders have usually completed their prison sentences, make judges reluctant to order indefinite civil confinement.
Many of the federal prisoners certified by the DOJ for the civil commitment process end up in the Commitment and Treatment Program at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Butner in North Carolina. This includes both offenders sent to Butner by the BOP and others who have volunteered for sex offender treatment programs offered at the facility. Under the skewed reality of life behind bars, some prisoners volunteer for the programs in order to avoid harassment, physical violence and even rape in other federal prisons due to the nature of their crimes.
Thus, prisoners may exaggerate their sexual deviancies to obtain a transfer to FCI Butner, which is perceived to be a safer environment for sex offenders. Ironically this puts them at greater risk of being “Adam Walshed,” or certified for civil commitment, after they complete their sentences. Prisoners at Butner and other facilities have also discovered that statements they made to gain admittance to a sex offender treatment program (SOTP), and issues they discuss in treatment, are not treated as confidential and can be used against them in civil commitment hearings.
Further, the quality and thoroughness of reports prepared by BOP psychologists that the DOJ relies upon to prove its case in civil commitment proceedings are sometimes questionable. It appears that the government feels obligated to proceed in cases where proof may be less than substantial, perhaps due to perceived public hostility toward sex offenders and media coverage of heinous sex crimes. Judges in civil commitment proceedings, though, have shown a willingness to carefully sift through the facts before rendering decisions based on applicable legal standards.
According to records in two cases discussed below, federal district courts declined to impose civil commitment and ordered the defendants freed under strict conditions of supervised release or probation. The DOJ simply could not present enough proof to justify the courts finding otherwise. In one case the judge noted that the defendant had not committed a “hands-on” crime in decades, had undergone extensive treatment and was at an age where reoffending was unlikely. In the other case, the district court cast doubt on psychological tests used by the BOP in the initial screening process to determine whether an offender should be certified for civil commitment.
Responding to such judicial criticism of the BOP's certification methodology, BOP spokesman Chris Burke said that prisoners are only certified as sexually dangerous after “careful assessments by mental health professionals.” However, the BOP reportedly suffers from a shortage of experienced psychologists, especially those qualified in the area of civil commitment. Often unable to attract sufficient experienced mental health staff, the BOP maintains a psychology pre-doctoral internship program in an effort to find potential candidates to hire.
Anthony Jimenez, a psychologist who ran the BOP's civil commitment program from 2007 to 2008, acknowledged the inadequacy of the BOP's expertise in this area and said that some prison psychologists had no experience in performing civil commitment certifications. “It was rushed, and initially,” he stated, “I believe, quality probably suffered.”
Jimenez also admitted that public pressure sometimes entered into the certification process. Although noting that the BOP consulted with staff attorneys before certifying an offender as sexually dangerous, he conceded that some prisoners were certified even though the evaluation might not have held up in court. According to Jimenez, “It's not a willy-nilly, ‘this guy looks like a bad guy' process. If we thought someone was really dangerous but there wasn't a strong legal case, we might very well still push it for the public interest. Hopefully justice is served in the end.”
This admission comes as no surprise to defendants and their supporters who have claimed the government delays cases it doesn't think it will win, just to keep prisoners incarcerated for as long as possible. More recently, though, the DOJ has begun voluntarily dismissing civil commitment cases – including 40 of the 136 cases brought since 2006.
When questioned, DOJ spokesman Charles Miller said the dismissals were due to “the totality of circumstances ... age, health status, change of circumstances, supervised release terms, family support and the opinions of all of the forensic experts.”
One private psychologist, Amy Phenix, offered her own analysis of the DOJ's difficulty in making proper psychological determinations in civil commitment cases, noting that they “just didn't have the same expertise” as outside mental health professionals. Which is an interesting statement considering that Phenix had helped train some of the government experts involved in the civil commitment certification process. “There were differences of opinion, and in some cases it was left up to the U.S. Attorney to make decisions about what to do,” she added.
Cases that have resulted in favorable rulings for the defendants serve as a chilling reminder of the power of the DOJ to arbitrarily deprive prisoners of their freedom for years after they have completed their sentences, by keeping them confined pending civil commitment hearings. The case of federal prisoner Sean Robert Francis, including the outcome of his § 4248 hearing before Judge Terrence W. Boyle, a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina, is instructive.
In Francis' case, a DOJ expert said he had testified in 150 to 200 trials involving sexually violent predators and sexually dangerous persons, and had been asked to render opinions about whether offenders certified by the government met the criteria under § 4248 “fifteen or sixteen times.” Of those 15 or 16 cases, he concluded that “nine or ten” met the criteria for sexual dangerousness. The expert stated that Francis had been “convicted of crimes of a sexual nature, of obscene phone calls on multiple occasions ... which involved the use of force or the threatened use of force ... [and there were] “multiple ... offenses [which] involved specific threats of rape or murder....”
Judge Boyle noted that “None of these convictions were hands-on crimes ... none of the threats were made in physically present context. They were all telephone threats.” The government expert agreed that Francis' offenses were limited to threats made over the phone. “And you think that that established the type of predicate that is contemplated by child molestation or serious sexual crimes?” the court inquired. The expert indicated that was his “understanding” of the law.
The DOJ expert said that in this case, “several of the victims were identifiable victims and [Francis] had personal knowledge of and made specific threats that could certainly be ... perceived by the victims as real, material threats for their safety...,” which satisfied the first part of the required criteria under § 4248 because Francis was guilty of “threatened use of force.”
The court then asked the expert to address the second part of the criteria, regarding whether Francis suffered from a serious mental illness, abnormality or disorder. The government expert stated that Francis' repeated pattern of making obscene telephone calls showed he had such a condition, based upon his self-confessions and various criminal investigations.
Judge Boyle acknowledged Francis' penchant for obscene phone calls but stated, “[H]ere you have a person whose criminal history, if any, is all reliant on his own self-confession during therapy, when he had no foreseeable expectation that he would be Adam Walshed and detained civilly.” The court then addressed one of the major weaknesses of many civil commitment proceedings – the fact that some sex offenders confess to crimes they did not commit in order to be accepted into a treatment program. “If you don't admit that you're a sexual predator or sexual deviant, they don't want you in the program because the program's only for people who admit it.”
Under cross examination by Francis' attorney, the same DOJ expert acknowledged that previous mental examinations performed at other prison medical facilities failed to find sufficient evidence that would require Francis to be certified as a sexually dangerous offender.
The defense expert attacked the very basis of the prosecution's case – the appropriateness of the civil commitment certification process. He stated that “there's no tool, no actuarial or statistical risk assessment tool that would be appropriate in this particular case with this type of [hands-off] offenses ... for which Mr. Francis has been adjudicated.... There's no contact-based offenses.” He then argued that the “Static-99R” test generally relied upon in such cases was invalid because “It violates the most fundamental assumption of test use.... So it's not appropriate in this case with Mr. Sean Francis to use any actuarial tool. It's misleading at its most charitable.”
At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Boyle found the DOJ had failed to meet its burden of proof that Francis had “engaged in or attempted to engage in sexually violent conduct or child molestation” and suffered “from a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder as a result of which he would have serious difficulty in refraining from sexually violent conduct or child molestation if released.” The court noted Francis' history of making obscene phone calls but said it was not persuaded by the government's expert witness, and instead adopted the findings of the defense expert. The BOP was thus ordered “to release the Respondent to the custody of the appropriate United States Probation Office.” The DOJ appealed the court's ruling. See: United States v. Francis, U.S.D.C. (E.D. N.C.), Case No. 5:10-HC-2013-BO; 2012 WL 174590 (Jan. 20, 2012).
Although most prisoners certified by the DOJ for civil commitment have been convicted of some form of sex-related crime, the certification process falters in the area of determining their probability of reoffending. Notably, the tests used in the certification process provide data related to the likelihood of recidivism by groups of offenders with similar characteristics, but not necessarily the individual probability of reoffending for the person being tested. Further, widely-varying scores given by psychologists who administer the same tests indicate that the process is far from an exact science.
As one appellate court put it, “The question of whether a person is ‘sexually dangerous' is ‘by no means an easy one,' and ‘there is no crystal ball that an examining expert or court might consult to predict conclusively whether a past offender will recidivate.'” See: United States v. Shields, 649 F.3d 78, 89 (1st Cir. 2011).
Most experts agree that released sex offenders are rarely convicted of another sex crime. For example, a 2003 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that only 5.3% of sex offenders committed another sex-related offense within three years after their release from prison. Other studies dating from the 1980s maintain that many of the psychological methods used to predict who may be a dangerous offender can not be substantiated by any recognized scientific method. Despite that fact, psychologists have spent years sifting through the records of thousands of sex offenders to develop tests to determine which are likely to reoffend. Those tests, however, have been subject to criticism.
A Hawaii federal district court, after reviewing the government's evidence and making specific findings as to the quality of the diagnostic tests used, found in favor of prisoner Jed Abregana at a civil commitment hearing. Abregana had a history of sex-related crimes that included exposing his genitals to a 12-year-old boy in a movie theater in 2000. That charge was dismissed without prejudice, but in 2001 he was arrested by U.S. postal inspectors for possession of child pornography. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 44 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Abregana was transferred to FCI Butner but expelled from the SOTP program, and was released from BOP custody in 2004. He was rearrested for violations of his conditions of release, re-released, and subsequently rearrested for lewd emails. He was certified as a “sexually dangerous person” just prior to his completion of a new prison sentence in 2007.
DOJ experts used many of the same tests utilized in Francis' case to contend that Abregana met the criteria for civil commitment under § 4248, including the Static-99 test, the Rapid Risk Assessment for Sexual Offense Recidivism (RRA-SOR) and the Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool-Revised (MnSOST-R). According to the court, “RRASOR consists of four items concerning a person's prior sex offenses, his age, whether he has had a male victim, and whether he has had a victim outside of his family ... Static-99 is a brief actuarial instrument designed to estimate the probability of sexual and violent recidivism among adult males who have been convicted of at least one sexual offense against a child or non-consenting adult.... The MnSOST-R was developed in Minnesota to provide for a formal and uniform process to identify high-risk offenders at the time of their release from prison....”
The government and defense experts came up with widely-varied scores on the tests, which led the judge to comment that “the difference among the experts [was] reflective of the difficulty of psychiatric diagnosis.” As the U.S. Supreme Court stated in Addington v. Texas, 441 U.S. 418, 99 S.Ct. 1804, 1811 (1979), “Psychiatric diagnosis ... is to a large extent based on medical ‘impressions' drawn from subjective analysis and filtered through the experience of the diagnostician ... [which] makes it very difficult for the expert physician to offer definite conclusions about any particular patient.”
The district court further noted that while Abregana had committed a sex-related crime, “neither of the other [non-government] experts, Dr. Rosell and Dr. Barbaree, consider Abregana to suffer from a serious mental disorder.... The U.S. Supreme Court precedent makes clear that the ‘serious difficulty' language does not require total or complete lack of control, but does require that it must be difficult, if not impossible, for the person to control his dangerous behavior. See Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407, 411 (2002) (citing Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346, 358 (1997)).... These are difficult questions that require clearer and more convincing proof than is available in the circumstances before the Court.” Abregana was therefore ordered released. See: United States v. Abregana, 574 F.Supp.2d 1145 (D.Hawaii 2008).
The DOJ's case against another federal prisoner, Markis Revland, also collapsed for lack of “clear and convincing evidence.” According to the district court, Revland's “only convictions, which conceivably could be labeled as somehow involving child molestation, were two incidents of indecent exposure,” both in 1999, one of which involved public urination. “The government does not suggest that [this] incident involved ‘exploitation' of minors, ... [and] the government did not prove that respondent engaged in conduct of a sexual nature with them ... or touched other children.”
The DOJ relied heavily on “self-reported” incidents from Revland when he was enrolled in the SOTP program at FCI--Butner, where he admitted to 149 incidents of “hands-on” child sexual abuse. The district court, however, “having consid-ered the matter carefully ... concludes that the government has failed to prove” that any of those incidents actually occurred.
“The court finds that respondent invented the 149 incidents because he was desperate to remain in the SOTP at FCI-Butner. Respondent testified, quite convincingly, that he had been beaten and raped at knifepoint by fellow inmates while incarcerated at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas; that he feared for his life if he remained at Leavenworth; that he sought and obtained admission to FCI-Butner's SOTP in order to be transferred away from Leavenworth; that once in the SOTP he was encouraged by SOTP staff to ‘get it all out,' i.e., ‘confess' everything; and that he felt compelled to make up a long list of sex offenses, lest he be deemed ‘uncooperative' and returned to the institution from which he had come.”
Revland “would be the Charles Manson of child molesters if even a small portion of the 149 incidents had actually happened,” the court wrote, quoting one of the experts in the case, adding that Revland had “no documented history of ever committ[ing] a ‘hands-on' sexual offense” and that “the government offered no evidence to independently verify that any of these incidents occurred or that any of them – even one – ever resulted in investigation or prosecution.” Consequently, the DOJ's petition for civil commitment was denied. See: United States v. Revland, U.S.D.C. (E.D. N.C.), Case No. 5:06-HC-02212; 2011 WL 6749814 (Dec. 23, 2011).
In January 2012, Judge Terrence W. Boyle ruled against the DOJ in a civil commitment hearing for prisoner Jeffrey Neuhauser, who had a history of sex-related offenses. The DOJ contended that Neuhauser suffered from a mental disorder of “hebephilia” – a primary sexual preference for adolescents undergoing puberty. Judge Boyle rejected the government's argument. “Although hebephilia has been proposed to be included as a mental disorder in the revision of the DSM [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders], it has been rejected as a proper mental disorder by numerous psychologists...,” he stated. “The Court finds that it would be inappropriate to predicate civil commitment on a diagnosis that a large number of clinical psychologists believe is not a diagnosis at all, at least for forensic purposes.”
The DOJ's own expert had admitted that hebephilia was controversial. Regardless, the district court held that even if hebephilia was considered a legitimate diagnosis, the DOJ had still failed to prove that Neuhauser was at high risk of reoffending. He was therefore ordered freed on supervised release with conditions that included polygraph testing and participation in a sex offender treatment program. See: United States v. Neuhauser, U.S.D.C. (E.D. N.C.), Case No. 5:07-HC-2101-BO; 2012 WL 174363 (Jan. 20, 2012).
The Eastern District of North Carolina is the epicenter of federal civil commitment cases, since FCI Butner is located in that district. As a result the Fourth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal courts in North Carolina, hears numerous appeals of civil commitment decisions (the Supreme Court's Comstock opinion originated from a Fourth Circuit ruling).
On January 9, 2012, the Fourth Circuit rejected the government's appeal of an adverse decision in a civil commitment hearing involving prisoner Clyde Hall. Although the Court of Appeals found that Hall had previously engaged in “past acts of child molestation” in the 1980s and 90s, and suffered from “a serious mental illness, abnormality, or disorder,” it agreed with the district court's finding that the DOJ had failed to prove “by clear and convincing evidence, that Hall, as a result of these disorders, ‘would have serious difficulty in refraining from ... child molestation if released.'”
The appellate court noted that the government and defense experts in the case had “arrived at conflicting opinions,” but affirmed the lower court's decision to credit the testimony of the defense expert and Hall, who testified in his own behalf. One contributing factor cited by the Fourth Circuit was that Hall had spent 28 months in the community after completing a sex offender treatment program and had not committed another sex crime during that time. See: United States v. Hall, 664 F.3d 456 (4th Cir. 2012).
Although it appears from the cases cited above that many judges are justifiably skeptical of the federal civil commitment process, that has not dissuaded the DOJ from continuing to certify prisoners as sexually dangerous who may or may not eventually be found eligible for civil commitment under § 4248, including those who have committed “hands-off” sex offenses. Judge Boyle complained during a court hearing in 2011 about the lengthy, indefinite civil commitment process once a prisoner is certified by the DOJ. “There's no horizon. It's just darkness,” he said.
Another issue that has yet to be addressed by the DOJ is preparing offenders awaiting civil commitment hearings for their eventual release back into the community. Such prisoners are often prevented from participating in educational and rehabilitative programs available to those in the general prison population. As a result, offenders whose civil commitment cases are ultimately dismissed, or who prevail at their court hearings, are unprepared in terms of their post-release employment, housing and treatment requirements.
Clearly the entire federal civil commitment process is in need of serious improvement. If the government intends to civilly commit certain offenders after they have completed their prison sentences, not for what they have done but for what they might do in the future, then changes are necessary to ensure that our justice system lives up to its name.
The DOJ should seek to certify only those convicted sex offenders who meet the applicable criteria and are likely to reoffend. If prisoners require sex offender treatment, they should receive it while serving their prison terms; the DOJ should not wait until they have almost finished their sentences before certifying them for civil commitment proceedings. The civil commitment process needs to be expeditious, to ensure it is not used as a means to improperly detain offenders after they complete their prison sentences. Further, the certification process should be based on objective, scientific methodology that evaluates the individual dangerousness and probability of reoffense of the person being tested.
As of March 2012, 59 federal prisoners were awaiting civil commitment hearings. The DOJ has since argued in its appeal to the Fourth Circuit in Sean Francis' case that the courts should approve civil commitment for offenders who engage in “hands-off” non-contact crimes – such as making obscene phone calls, exhibitionism and, presumably, soliciting sex from law enforcement officers posing as minors on the Internet. This would, of course, greatly increase the potential pool of federal prisoners eligible for civil commitment proceedings.
The Fourth Circuit rejected the DOJ's argument on July 16, 2012, finding that the district court had “appropriately considered the evidence as a whole using the framework provided in the Act and concluded that Francis was not sexually dangerous to others, within the meaning of the Act, because the government failed to meet its burden of proof regarding this required component for civil commitment under the Act.” The district court's judgment in favor of Francis was therefore affirmed. See: United States v. Francis, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Case No. 12-1205; 2012 WL 2877668.
Despite yet another adverse ruling, the DOJ will most likely continue to certify offenders for civil commitment whether they meet the necessary criteria or not, in order to keep them in prison for as long as possible. That, apparently, is what passes for “justice” in the federal civil commitment process.
Reporting child abuse isn't just a policy, it's the law
by JB Clark
TUPELO – Americans were shocked and appalled when they found out Penn State officials received reports of child abuse during the Jerry Sandusky scandal without reporting it.
Sandusky, a longtime assistant football coach at the university, was sentenced on Oct. 9 to 30 to 60 years on 45 counts of child sex abuse.
In Mississippi, anyone who receives reports of child abuse, especially those in positions of trust, are legally obligated to report any child abuse to the Department of Human Services.
“We've had a couple of circumstances in the region where a situation was reported to the next level of authority at their work, but it wasn't reported to our agency because that person then elected not to report it, and when we found out about that we tried to do community education,” said Tracy Malone, regional director for the Department of Human Services.
“We've worked with schools and churches so they understand their liability and responsibility does not end with them reporting to their supervisor or school counselor or minister because the law says that they are required to report it to us.”
Reportable abuse includes physical abuse like intentionally injuring or bruising, sexual abuse like rape or inappropriate touching, emotional abuse like constant rejection and belittling or neglect.
Many organizations, such as schools and churches, have their own policy dealing with reporting child abuse.
“Anyone can have a protocol in their school or agency – it needs to be brought up – but it's still the individual's responsibility if the report never gets made,” Malone said.
Shelia Nabors, community partnership coordinator for DHS, said they don't want to go into a home and take children, they just want to make sure the child is safe.
Nabors said many people won't report because they aren't 100 percent sure of abuse. “It's our job to make sure and substantiate that. If you aren't sure, call 1-800-222-8000 and let them decide if we need to follow up,” she said.
If someone is found to have had knowledge about child abuse and not report it to DHS, they can be charged with a misdemeanor that carries up to one year in jail and/or a $5,000 fine.
First Circuit Court District Attorney Trent Kelly said the penalty for not reporting isn't the important thing to remember, it's the child.
“You have a duty to report, it's not about what can happen to you but that you have a duty to the safety of a child,” Kelly said. “Not only are you allowed to protect a child, you're required to, so you can't get harassment from work because you're protected by the law.”
The law, section 43-21-353, states it is the duty of every Mississippian to report child abuse, but specifically an attorney, physician, dentist, intern, resident, nurse, psychologist, social worker, family protection worker, family protection specialist, child caregiver, minister, law enforcement officer or school employee.
“The important thing is that people need to know if we expect children to be successful, then they have to advocate for them at all times and sometimes that means making the hard decision to make that call,” Nabors said.
Juvenile sex offenders more likely to respond to treatment than adults, expert says
by Michelle Hunter
After the arrest of 17-year-old Doranty Allen on Thursday for the alleged sexual abuse of two young boys, there is cause for concern for both the victims and Allen. Teresa Huizar, executive director for the National Children's Alliance, offered additional insight into the matter of juvenile sex offenders.
The National Children's Alliance is the accrediting body for children's advocacy centers, which service sexually abused children across the country.
The National Children's Alliance is an accrediting agency for children's advocacy centers that service sexually abused children across the country. The 6- and 9-year-old victims in the Allen case were interviewed by staffers from the Jefferson Parish Children's Advocacy Center.
Allen, of Kenner, was 16 years old when the incidents allegedly occurred in April and May. A relative walked in on one encounter and reported it to local medical and legal authorities.
Huizar said child abuse advocates have recently begun to pay more attention to the problem of juvenile sex offenders. Nationally, they account for about 20 to 30 percent of the suspects who commit sexual offenses against minors, according to Huizar.
"It appears to be a problem that is certainly coming to the attention of the public far more than it used to, and we think there may be an increase in offending behavior," she said.
When dealing with a young offender, Huizar said it's important to determine whether or not the juvenile is a victim of abuse. Allen made no allegations of sexual abuse against himself when interviewed by detectives, according to Sgt. Brian McGregor, spokesman for the Kenner Police Department. He also denied touching the victims.
But past abuse is not always an indicator of potential future abuse, according to experts. "That's the kind of a myth that exists in the public perception, only individuals that have been sexually abused go on to abuse," Huizar said.
Most abuse victims do not become sex offenders, according to a 2009 in-depth study on juvenile sex offenders by the U.S. Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. "There are lots of reason that a juvenile might sexually act out or be inappropriate," Huizar said.
Adolescents nowadays are pretty sexualized, pretty early, she said. They have almost unfettered access to risqué materials through television and the Internet. Developmentally, young children aren't meant to look at pornography of any type, she said.
"Repeated exposure makes individuals curious about that, and that can lead to some pretty specific acting-out behavior," Huizar said. The Justice Department study also found that juvenile sex offenders could suffer from mental illness or have a pattern of violating other's rights. But most often, the study said, it's impulsive and reflects poor judgement.
While the research on the efficacy of sexual treatment of adults is discouraging, Huizar said, it's actually encouraging for young offenders. "The earlier you interrupt that cycle, the better," she said. "The longer that someone gets sexual gratification from offending, the more difficult it is to change that sexual behavior. It allows the juvenile to receive treatment he needs to interrupt this behavior before it becomes a fixed part of his sexual interest."
It's alarming for parents to discover that a child has become the victim of abuse. But Huizar said it's just as alarming to discover that one's own son or daughter is the offender. "It's every parent's worst nightmare to think that your child might be abusing another child," she said.
But parents should have hope. Many treatment providers specialize in this area and can be easily contacted through local mental health centers or the state Department of Children and Family Services.
Huizar said it's important that parents who suspect their children are suffering from controlling those types of impulses and even the the children, themselves, know that help is available. "It's available and it's effective," she said.
For more information about warning signs of possible child abuse, age-appropriate sexual behaviors or tips about talking to children and teens about the subject, visit the website of Stop It Now!, an agency devoted to the prevention of the sexual abuse of children.
Protect children from sex trafficking
by David Bundy
A 14-year-old runaway drugged, threatened and forced to sell her body, her “services” advertised online. A homeless teen forced to walk the streets without sleep or food until she earned her “quota.”
Those are just two instances of sex trafficking in Florida that happened within the past month. But here's the stomach-churning reality: It's far more common than a couple of isolated incidents.
Sex trafficking, also known as commercial sexual exploitation, is the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world — with perpetrators raking in more than $32 billion every year. Nationally, nearly 300,000 children and teens are at risk of victimization, and 100,000 are lured into the trade annually. Many experts feel these numbers are woefully understated.
The average age of victims: 12 to 14. In Florida, the kids are even younger.
We cannot ignore this problem.
Recently, Florida State University hosted the first summit in Florida devoted to educating professionals about the prevalence of sex trafficking in our state, the warning signs and the resources — or lack thereof — dedicated to helping victims. I applaud Attorney General Pam Bondi, Department of Children and Families Secretary David Wilkins and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Wansley Walters for coming together at the summit to publicly state their commitment to better help child victims and prevent more kids from being lured into this evil trade.
Most victims of sex trafficking are runaways, kids with troubled home lives and youths traumatized by abuse, but the menacing prevalence of recruiters is seeping into schools, malls, parks … anywhere a girl — or boy — could be enticed by cash or gifts, insincere affection, and the false promise of love.
We, as parents, educators and concerned citizens, must vow to protect our children, to be alert for suspicious activity — to help free more kids from powerful grips of predators.
Law enforcement, schools and child-serving organizations are training staff to recognize and respond to commercial sexual exploitation, leading to the rescue of victims and the arrests of alleged perpetrators.
But victims' roads toward safety and healing are long and turbulent, and there aren't nearly enough services or resources to help them. During the 2012 legislative session, Florida passed legislation for “safe houses” to provide shelter and counseling … yet it came without funding.
More must be done to protect kids from manipulative predators eager to lure them into heinous traps. We implore the Legislature to fund safe shelters and counseling to help victims heal and move forward. Kids need more Floridians who care — they need you and your voice.
David Bundy is president and CEO of Children's Home Society of Florida (http://www.chsfl.org).
Mental and physical signs help identify victims of sex trafficking
WASHINGTON - To say that child victims of human trafficking face significant problems is an understatement. After being physically and sexually abused, they have medical and psychological needs that have to be addressed before they ever reach adulthood. Because I was trafficked from the early age of thirteen years old and I never received any medical care the entire time I was trafficked, I suffered many serious medical problems after escaping my trafficker, including heart problems, spinal conditions, P.T.S.D., and depression.
Recognizing health problems of victims of sex trafficking can be one way to identify and help human trafficking victims. These health problems have to be addressed in order for all survivors to begin to lead productive lives.
Some of the many health problems that trafficking victims suffer are:
|Sleeping and eating disorders
Sexually transmitted diseases
HIV/AIDS, pelvic pain, rectal trauma, urinary difficulties
Chronic back, cardiovascular or respiratory problems
Fear and anxiety
Depression, mood changes
Guilt and shame
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Traumatic Bonding with the Trafficker
Traffickers frequently confiscate their victims' immigration and identification documents and instill in their victims a fear of government officials, particularly law enforcement and immigration officers.
Whether you are a law enforcement officer, health care professional or a social service provider, there are physical and mental clues that can alert you to a victim:
• Child victims of trafficking are often malnourished to the extent that they may never reach their full height, may have poorly formed or rotting teeth, and later may experience reproductive problems.
• The psychological effects of torture are helplessness, shame and humiliation, shock, denial and disbelief, disorientation and confusion, and anxiety disorders including post traumatic stress disorder, phobias, panic attacks and depression.
• Other factors can also aid in identifying child victims of trafficking, including where the child is living, living with multiple people in a cramped space, and attending school sporadically or not at all.
• Victims may experience Traumatic Bonding (Stockholm syndrome) a form of coercive control in which the perpetrator instills in the victim fear as well as gratitude for being allowed to live or for any other perceived favors, however small.
• Traffickers of children sometimes condition their victims to refer to them by family names like Daddy, and to refer to the other women who are also being trafficked as their wife-in-laws.
The public is finally beginning to understand women who suffer through domestic violence and why those women stay in abusive relationships or go back to their boyfriends and husbands. Trafficking victims and their situations with their traffickers are similar; they both suffer from trauma bonding. We have to recognize the multi-faceted mental and physical problems that victims of human sex trafficking suffer in order to identify them and to help them on their journey to leading a healthy life.
Database: Search the Boy Scout 'Perversion' Files 1965 - 1985
Search by state, city or name to see those included in the Boy Scouts of America 'ineligible volunteer' files that were released on Oct. 18, 2012.
The files were evidence in an Oregon lawsuit in 2010 that resulted in the largest judgment ever against the Boy Scouts in a molestation case. The Boy Scout tried to keep the files secret, but media outlets opposed the move and in June the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that they should be made public after victim information had been redacted.
(Database FORM ON SITE)
Note from O'Donnell Clark and Crew LLP about the information in this database:
"The information contained in the ineligible volunteer ("IV") files is being made public pursuant to a court order from The Honorable John Wittmayer, Multnomah County Circuit Judge for the State of Oregon, in the case of Lewis vs. Boy Scouts of America, Case No. 0710-11294. The Oregon Supreme Court upheld the ruling on June 14th, 2012.
"By the terms of Judge Wittmayer's order, the names and contact information of persons identified as victims of sexual abuse and those that reported the abuse were redacted. If the person identified as an abuse reporter was a professional Scouter, i.e., an individual employed by the Boy Scouts of America or an affiliate, then the name was not redacted.
The information in the IV files concerns allegations of child sexual abuse. In a number of the cases, the allegations were later substantiated by court proceedings. However, in a great many cases no such substantiation ever occurred. Consequently, the law firms of O'Donnell Clark and Crew LLP and Paul Mones, and any agent or representative thereof, make no representations or suggestions that any of the allegations in these files are in every case true. In fact, we are in no position to verify or attest to the truth of these allegations as they were compiled by the Boy Scouts of America. The incidents reported in these documents attest to notice of potential child abuse given to the Boy Scouts of America and its affiliates and their response to that notice.''
Child sex abuse survivor on release of Boy Scouts' files: This 'empowers us'
by Miranda Leitsinger
John Buckland was 12 years old when an assistant Scoutmaster sexually abused him on an Air Force base in California. He has been waiting years for the day when a secret Boy Scouts file documenting that abuse three decades ago would be made public.
That day came Thursday, when more than 14,500 pages of previously confidential documents created by the Boy Scouts of America detailing accusations of child sex abuse within the organization were released under an Oregon Supreme Court order.
“It unveils all the secrecy, or at least a good portion of it, and the secrecy is the biggest demon there is when it comes to things like this, because it's by being hidden that it basically just eats people away like a cancer,” Buckland, 42, of Huntington, W. Va., told NBC News.
“I think the release of the files will be instrumental as far as victims are concerned in being able to see that the dialogue is out there, and what I'm hoping to see is that there will be some really good self discovery of other people who haven't come forward, people who will get a chance to see the files and actually being able to start processing it and getting their experience out in the open. But as long as the files were hidden that would never happen," he added.
The court ordered the Boy Scouts to release the “ineligible volunteer” files from 1965 to 1985 that chronicle suspected or confirmed instances of child sex abuse. Media organizations had sued for the release of the files, part of a 2010 case in which a jury decided that the Scouts were negligent in allowing a former assistant Scoutmaster to associate with the organization's youth after he admitted molesting 17 boys in 1983.
Lawyers for victims of the abuse say that the files, which they have dubbed the “perversion files,” represent reports of Scouts allegedly abused by more than 1,200 different Scoutmasters and other adult volunteers. The files, which includes Buckland's abuser, were released Thursday on www.kellyclarkattorney.com.
A report by the Boy Scouts in September said that 829 of the files from Jan. 1, 1965, to June 30, 1984, involved suspicions or confirmations of inappropriate sexual behavior with 1,622 youth. The report was done for the organization by Dr. Janet Warren, a professor of psychiatry and neurobehavioral sciences at the University of Virginia.
At the time, the Boy Scouts said in a letter that they would review their files created from 1965 to the present “and ensure that all good-faith suspicion of abuse has been reported to law enforcement.” They also said that there “have been instances where people misused their positions in Scouting to abuse children, and in certain cases, our response to these incidents and our efforts to protect youth were plainly insufficient, inappropriate, or wrong.”
On Thursday morning, the organization also noted: “Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families.”
“While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals' actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse,” the statement added.
In an interview with NBC DFW, National President Wayne Perry said: "I would ask parents to look at the programs we have and then judge us versus, maybe not the past, but judge where we are today and certainly judge us against any other youth service organization in the world and they will see that your kids are very, very safe."
Buckland said his life spiraled downward after Air Force officials came to his parents' house on Travis Air Force Base in Vacaville, Calif., with photos depicting his abuse by a Scout leader. He dropped out of high school, got into drugs, attempted suicide twice, had many failed romantic relationships and eventually ended up in prison for two robberies that he confessed to doing.
His abuser was court-martialed and sentenced to hard labor, Buckland said, but it took him decades to figure out the source of what was troubling him since he, like the Boy Scouts, had buried the abuse. He said his life turned around when he got his dream job as a firefighter and then landed a two-year post in Iraq in 2009, where, while online, he came across stories similar to his own.
“That was the first time that I understood the dynamics of what was going on inside of me that flawed my decision-making, that flawed my emotions, that flawed everything and really propelled me in that direction,” he said. “The light bulb goes off and that's decades later.”
For Buckland, the Boy Scouts' apologies are insincere and forced. He said they never contacted him since he was abused in 1982 to see if he was okay.
“These files had to be ripped from their hands,” he said, noting that the lawyers who fought the 2010 case, Kelly Clark and Paul Mones, had “taken us from being a piece of paper to being a person that was offended, and that's a huge difference.”
“This whole thing empowers us,” he said. “We've been powerless up to now. We've been at the whims of a multibillion-dollar organization that … has all the money to keep us under a desk in a box. And for now, they can't do it anymore.”
Sandusky Victim 1 Steps Out of Shadows, Says Justice Took Too Long
by JOSEPH RHEE and LINH TRAN
He was known only as Victim 1 in one of the most infamous child sexual abuse cases in history. But this week, Aaron Fisher revealed his identity to the world and, in an exclusive interview with "20/20's" Chris Cuomo, told the story of those he said stood in his way as he struggled to bring now-convicted child predator Jerry Sandusky to justice: officials at his own high school.
"Here I am, beside my mom, crying, telling them and they don't believe me," he said in an interview with Cuomo airing on "20/20" tonight at 10 p.m. ET. "I knew they wouldn't."
Fisher has detailed his struggle to have his allegations against Sandusky, formerly a revered Penn State University football coach, taken seriously in a new book," Silent No More: Victim 1's Fight for Justice Against Jerry Sandusky, " published today.
He was 11 when he met Jerry Sandusky in the summer of 2005. Fisher was selected to attend a summer camp run by Sandusky's charity organization for disadvantaged children, The Second Mile, on Penn State's campus.
Fisher said Sandusky immediately took a special interest in him. He encouraged Fisher's athletic interests, taking him to both college and pro sports events.
"We sat in box seats," said Fisher. "He was just kind of like a giant stuffed teddy bear. He seemed like the all-natural father figure -- something that most kids wished their dads did."
Young Aaron came from a struggling family and didn't have a father at home. Dawn Daniels, Fisher's mother, recalled the times Sandusky took the boy away for the weekend to give her a break.
"Everybody knew who he was," said Daniels, "He's a great guy. Everybody, even my own father, said he does great things for kids."
Sandusky's reputation had preceded him and put Daniels at ease as far as allowing her son to spend so much time with Sandusky. But according to Fisher, Sandusky slowly turned from a "father figure" into something much darker.
"He'd put his hand on my leg while we were driving," Fisher said, "My family never did that, so it was kind of weird."
By the time Fisher was 12, Sandusky was sexually assaulting him. Fisher said fear, shame and confusion prevented him from seeking help and telling anyone about his tormentor.
"There were so many emotions and thoughts running through my head," he said. "Being a kid, you never know what to do, and you don't know who to tell because you don't know who you can trust."
Fisher said Sandusky began seeking him out at his own high school, Central Mountain High School in Lock Haven, Pa. Sandusky was a volunteer football coach there and would pull him out of class, with school officials' blessing.
Daniels said the school never notified her about all of the classes her son missed because of Sandusky and Fisher said no teacher or administrator ever questioned Sandusky's motives.
It grew to be too much and Fisher said he tried to do everything in his power to stay away from the ex-Penn State coach, sometimes hiding in school bathrooms rather to avoid meeting with Sandusky. But Sandusky only grew more aggressive, Fisher said.
"He once followed my bus home from school," he said. "I took off running but he drove on the opposite side of the street, onto oncoming traffic to catch up with me. I ran up an alley and he went to my house and parked out front."
Daniels said she was alarmed by the hundreds of phone calls Sandusky made to the house. By the time Fisher was 15, he reached a breaking point and finally summoned the courage to tell his mother and the school's principal, Karen Probst, that Sandusky was sexually abusing him.
"Aaron was melting down in the office," Daniels said. "I immediately told them we need to call the police."
But the mother and son say they were shocked by the principal's response.
"They said that Jerry has a heart of gold and that he wouldn't do those type of things," Daniels said "They tell me to go home and think about it."
Daniels did not follow their advice. Instead she says she told Probst that she would be notifying Clinton County Children and Youth Services of the allegations directly.
Daniels and Fisher later learned that Central Mountain High School officials did call CYS, but they say the call only came after the mother and son left the principal's office. School officials are legally mandated to report all allegations of child sex abuse and have said that the allegations were reported immediately.
For Fisher, the initial suggestion that those meant to protect him did not believe his story was crushing.
Clinton County CYS psychologist Michael Gillum was one of the first to handle Fisher's case.
"It was obvious to me immediately that he was upset, that something had, in fact, happened to him," Gillum told "20/20."
Gillum said he was shocked by the claim that Central Mountain's principal, Probst, had told Fisher and Daniels to go home.
When confronted outside the school by "20/20", both Probst and football coach Steve Turchetta -- who pulled Fisher out of his classes for meetings with Sandusky -- declined to answer questions. In grand jury testimony, Turchetta said that he took kids out of class for those meetings even though he developed suspicions about the relationships.
Much to Fisher's dismay, coming forward with the allegations was only the beginning of a long battle to bring Sandusky to justice. It would take years for an arrest.
"The broken promises, the numbers of state troopers," Fisher said, "and he's not even in jail."
Sandusky was interviewed by CYS but he laughed off the allegations, painting Fisher as a troubled kid, Gillum said.
Meanwhile, the police made Fisher retell his story four times over the course of three years. He was forced to go before two grand juries. Yet still, the attorney general prosecuting the case said authorities needed more victims to charge Sandusky.
To Fisher, it meant his suffering was not enough.
Fisher said every delay in the case caused him to grow increasingly desperate and drove him to contemplate suicide.
"I thought maybe it would be easier to take myself out of the equation," he said. "Let somebody else deal with it."
Finally, in 2011, there was a break in the case. Allegations surfaced from a Penn State coach, Mike McQueary, that he had witnessed Sandusky molesting a boy in a university locker room years earlier.
On Nov. 5, 2011, just before Fisher's 18th birthday, Jerry Sandusky was arrested following an indictment by a grand jury on more than 40 counts of child sexual abuse. In June 2012, Sandusky was tried and convicted on 45 of 48 counts. He was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, a virtual life sentence for the 68-year-old man.
"I wasn't expecting it," Fisher said, "I was kind of thinking that he'd get off scot free with this."
Though the conviction was a victory, Sandusky was not the only adult who Fisher felt betrayed his trust. Fisher still has questions for the teachers and administrators at his high school.
"It's a fact that I lost a good portion of my childhood," he said. "I endured heartaches and numerous amounts of people who didn't believe me and walked away from me."
Watch the full story on "20/20" Friday at 10 p.m. ET.
Sandusky filing says trial violated rights, seeks to have child sex abuse charges thrown out
by Associated Press
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — Jerry Sandusky launched his effort to overturn his child sexual abuse convictions with a set of motions that said there wasn't enough evidence against him and the trial wasn't fair.
Lawyers for the former Penn State assistant football coach filed a 31-page document Thursday that attacked rulings by the judge, the closing argument by the prosecution and the speed by which he went from arrest to trial.
Sandusky wants the charges tossed out “and/or” a new trial, saying the statute of limitations had run out for many of the 45 counts for which he was convicted in June. Currently in a county jail near State College, he is awaiting transfer to the state prison system to begin serving a 30- to 60-year sentence.
“The defendant submits the court's sentence was excessive and tantamount ... to a life sentence, which the defendant submits is in violation of his rights,” his lawyers wrote.
The set of motions, technically not appeals because they were filed with the trial judge, cover a wide range of assertions, including insufficient evidence and improper use of hearsay testimony.
More than a third of the document explores ways Sandusky believes the rapid pace of the case violated his right to due process of law, as he was tried just over seven months after arrest. His lawyers said they were swamped by documents from prosecutors, they lacked time to interview possible witnesses and an expert and two assistants were not available at trial.
The document said Judge John Cleland ruled improperly concerning the use of a computer-generated drawing of an accuser and issued incorrect jury instructions. It also raised issues about the vagueness of the charges, the sequestering of jurors and the amount of restitution ordered.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said the Sandusky filing was under review.
Eight young men testified against him in June, describing a range of abuse they said included fondling and oral and anal sex when they were boys.
Sandusky didn't testify at his trial but has consistently maintained his innocence in interviews and at sentencing.
Also Thursday, People magazine said Victim 1, whose claims of being abused by Sandusky began the investigation in late 2008, and who testified against him at trial, gave an interview in which he spoke out publicly by name for the first time.
Aaron Fisher, 18, told the magazine he decided to come forward with a book to tell other victims it is better to tell people about abuse than remain silent. He and Sandusky's other victims, he said, “had a very long battle to see justice done.” He was also expected to appear on ABC-TV on Friday.
Sandusky, 68, built a reputation as one of the country's premier defensive coaches while serving under head coach Joe Paterno, including two national championships. That image was shattered last year by his arrest.
The abuse scandal rocked Penn State, bringing down Paterno and the university's president and leading the NCAA, college sports' governing body, to levy unprecedented sanctions against the university's football program.
Two Penn State administrators were charged as a result of the investigation into the Sandusky allegations, accused of lying to the grand jury that investigated Sandusky and not reporting suspected child abuse to the proper authorities. Those two officials, athletic director Tim Curley, who is on administrative leave, and retired vice president Gary Schultz, await trial in January and maintain their innocence.
Former FBI Director Louis Freeh, hired by university trustees to conduct an investigation into the university's handling of abuse complaints against Sandusky, concluded that Paterno, who died in January, ousted president Graham Spanier, Curley and Schultz concealed a 2001 allegation against Sandusky to protect Penn State from bad publicity.
The late coach's family, as well as Spanier, Curley and Schultz, dispute Freeh's assertions.
Texas boy burned at 8 says in deathbed video that attacker raped him beforehand
Robbie Middleton of Splendora, who died of skin cancer at 20, identified his alleged attacker as Don Collins. Now that Collins is free after serving time for failing to register as a sex offender in an unrelated case, police want to prosecute him for felony murder.
by Erik Ortiz
A Texas man who was horribly burned on most of his body at age 8 divulged a dark secret on his deathbed — the monster who set him ablaze had also raped him.
Robbie Middleton died shortly after the videotaped admission last year, and now prosecutors hope to use his tortured words to go after a convicted sex offender who had abused another boy.
“It was done to prevent Middleton from talking,” Montgomery County attorney David Walker told the Houston Chronicle about the atrocious acts 14 years ago.
Middleton gave the 27-minute statement to name his alleged attacker again and confess he was raped by him two weeks before he was set on fire, Walker said.
The video was the first time Middleton, who was 20 when he died in April 2011, ever spoke publicly about a sexual assault and provides a possible motivation for why he was brutalized, according to the Chronicle.
The accused neighbor is 27-year-old Don Collins, who was 13 in 1998. Police had detained him in the attack, which occurred on a trail near Middleton's Splendora, Texas, home, but he was never charged.
Middleton, who was celebrating his eighth birthday, walked to a friend's house to try out a tent. On his way, he was apprehended, and his attacker tied him to a tree with fishing line and splashed gasoline on him, police said. His tiny body was torched.
As the fishing line melted, the boy got loose and was discovered by neighbors, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Walker told the newspaper last year that “the case was very, very difficult, with evidence that was not clear or necessarily compelling at that time.”
But Collins was found guilty in 2001 in an unrelated sexual assault of an 8-year-old boy.
He served time for failing to register as a sex offender and was released from prison Sept. 5.
Now that Collins is out of the slammer, Walker plans to file papers to have the case moved from juvenile court to district court as a felony murder case given the weight of the sexual assault claim.
Middleton's mother, Colleen, told the Chronicle that the family's lawyers “see this is a strategic move, one that is moving in the right direction.”
She also said her son had told his older sister about the alleged rape two years before he died, but otherwise he wasn't comfortable talking about it.
During his life, Middleton reportedly required more than 200 operations and developed a type of skin cancer that doctors said occurs after complications from having multiple, painful skin grafts.
Medical examiners ruled his death last year a homicide.
A Texas jury awarded the family $150 billion in a civil lawsuit against Collins last December. But the money was considered a symbolic gesture meant to prod prosecutors to go after Collins in a criminal case, according to reports.
With A Phone Call, Truckers Can Fight Sex Trafficking
by Carrie Johnson
Eight years ago, a truck driver parked at a travel center near Detroit made a phone call that changed a life.
"I pulled into a truck stop about midnight," Willis Wolfswinkel remembered. "Getting my log book done. Had two girls knock on my door. And I waved them on 'cause I knew what they were looking for."
Something about those girls bothered Wolfswinkel. They looked young, so he called 911.
When the girls went inside another truck in the same lot, he called again. Wolfswinkel kept watching as the police arrived.
"Evidently this one phone call started a major investigation, because it turned out there were two girls that were, I don't know, 14 or 15, something like that, that were kidnapped out of Toledo, and they obviously, you know, in the end were rescued," said Wolfswinkel, who's now retired and living in a small town in Minnesota.
If You See Something, Say Something
The scores of truckers carrying freight across America see and hear a lot on the road, so they're in a position to notice when something at a rest stop doesn't look right. That's why people who fight sex trafficking of underage kids are enlisting drivers to help.
Kendis Paris, who runs the nonprofit group Truckers Against Trafficking, holds Wolfswinkel up as an example of someone who is "so representative of how many truckers out there who are really wanting to do the right thing, ready to go and just needing to know who to talk to about this."
Paris said her anti-trafficking group is reaching out to drivers to tell them about red flags — noticing girls who look too young, for example. Then, she says, there's "pimp control."
"It's that SUV that pulls onto the lot, and three or four girls all get out at the same time and they're scantily clothed, and they begin to go from truck to truck to truck," Paris said.
Paris hands out cards everywhere she goes. On them is a phone number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a 24-hour hotline. The hotline is operated by the Polaris Project, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C.
At the organization's headquarters, a stately red-brick row house, nine young operators who wear headphones are waiting for calls to come in from all over the country.
Sarah Jakiel started the hotline about five years ago. She has watched it go from 200 calls each month to close to 2,000.
Jakiel said some of the best calls come from truckers because they're at the center of things, in an "incredibly unique position to recognize and report sex trafficking of children in this country. They're seeing it at truck stops, travel plazas."
At a travel center near Baltimore in Jessup, Md., truckers chat as they fuel up.
David Hathcox, who has been driving for five years, just dropped off a load of sugar. He said he has seen trafficking in New Mexico, California and Texas.
"They come knock on the door of the trucks, or else they'll be hanging out up front or something like that," he said. "But as a rule I try to stay out of truck stops like that. I have my fiance with me 'cause when you see that there's a lot of violence and stuff like that."
The travel center is huge. It has a restaurant, a shower and a laundromat, where William Heberling is doing laundry.
A former Army Ranger, Heberling said this place is patrolled, nice and quiet. But he has also seen some bad things on the road. In Kentucky, Heberling saw two girls who looked about 15 years old. He called the police.
"You have to watch out for stuff like that," he said. "And usually if you see somebody that's pretty young, it's something fishy."
A Phone Call That Can Change Lives
Every new employee at this TravelCenters of America stop in Maryland goes through training about human trafficking. Tom Liutkus, the director of nationwide marketing for the company, said it began doing a rollout last year.
"Humans are trafficked via virtually every form of transportation," Liutkus said. "And in some countries it may be boats or ships. In other countries it may be rail. In this country, it's more than likely to be by car."
That's a message employees hear, mostly by watching part of a 30-minute video produced by the group Truckers Against Trafficking.
A woman in the video, Sherry, says, "Thank God what saved me was that truck driver that called in and said, 'Hey, this is whoever at the TA truck stop, and we have some girls out here that look pretty young.' "
She's the girl who knocked on Willis Wolfswinkel's door that night eight years ago near Detroit. She and her cousin had been snatched by a pimp as they walked to Wendy's to get a Frosty treat. They were missing for months, until the police intervened after Wolfswinkel's phone calls.
Wolfswinkel said Sherry's mother called to thank him.
"Oh, yeah. That was very touching," Wolfswinkel said. "I got kids, and I can't even imagine what a parent would be or feel like if their kid disappeared like this."
If truck drivers say something when they see something strange, he said, maybe more parents won't have to go through that pain.
Wanted: Volunteer advocates for Coast's abused, neglected children
Three counties lead state with highest number of abused or neglected children
by ROBIN FITZGERALD
GULFPORT -- Wanted: Volunteers to work 15 to 20 hours a month for about 18 months to help an abused or neglected child thrive in the safe embrace of a loving home. Must be 21 or older, have good driving record, auto insurance and no criminal background. Must be able to put a child's best interests above the wishes of the child or the child's parents.
Leaders of Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children want to have one volunteer for every abused or neglected child taken into protective custody. Program leaders in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties know it's a tall order. The three Coast counties are among the top four in the state for number of abused or neglected children.
About 1,050 children in the three counties are in state Department of Human Services custody. The counties' CASA offices have 177 volunteers and 27 others are about to finish a 30-hour training program.
Harrison County has 450 children in limbo, more than any county in the state, while Jackson County has 350. About 250 children are in protective custody in Jackson County, which has the state's highest ratio of children to volunteers.
The ratio of children to CASAs matters because CASAs make recommendations to a judge on a child's best interests in deciding on a permanent home, said Laurie Johnson, executive director of CASA Mississippi.
DHS documented more than 8,000 cases of child abuse or neglect statewide in 2011.
Children taken from their homes often languish in the welfare system far longer than desired, Johnson said, "but one volunteer can make a difference in the life of one child."
CASAs maintain contact with the children and prepare recommendations for the court after talking with parents, family members, school officials, health providers and social workers. Their goal is to help a judge make the best decision on a child's future.
"Typically, the CASA knows the child better than anyone in the courtroom," Johnson said.
CASAs are trained to put the child's best interests first, even if it goes against the wishes of the child or the child's parents, she said.
Jackson County began the first CASA program in the state in 1985.
"Volunteers are the backbone, the heart and soul of the program," said Frances Allsup of CASA in Jackson County.
Jeannie Herrin leads CASA in Harrison County. Kady B. Pietz leads the Hancock County office.
The leaders said they've seen an increase in abuse and neglect cases across the Coast since Hurricane Katrina.
Police call on public to help stop potential child abuse
Wichita, Kansas -- Three times this week, very young children have landed in the hospital with injuries. Cops say they could be child abuse.
"Fell off the bed," says Lt. Doug Nolte with Wichita P.D. "Fell off a bed."
That's the latest child in the hospital with head injuries. Now police are putting out the call for help.
"As a community we need to be paying attention to families," says Nolte. "Families that have kids and might need help. Because sometimes there are contributing factors that lead someone to abuse a child."
While officers are being pragmatic about what happens in child abuses cases, child experts agree the time to act is now.
"I just think kids don't come with instructions," explains Vicky Roper with the Kansas Service Children's League.
The League will be handing out information at hospitals to parents beginning next month.
To try and stop abuse before it begins.
"It's not like we take a class and suddenly we know how to handle every situation," says Roper on parenting.
Police say they are crunching the numbers now to see if there is an increase in child abuse cases and suspected cases. And while they look for numbers they also are looking for help. Help from families, friends and neighbors.
"There are resources out there," says Nolte. "Community help line. United way operates 211. Dial 211 and it can put you in touch with those resources. But I think as a community we've got to be willing to extend a hand to families that we know are in need."
If you think you know of a parent that needs help with a child, you can make the call with anonymity.
The Kansas Children's Service League anonymous help number is 1-800-332-6378.
Raleigh schools get Stewards of Children training
by Sarah Plummer
BECKLEY — Just For Kids Inc. held a facilitator's training Wednesday in preparation for training Raleigh County School personnel next week.
Just For Kids Executive Director Scott Miller said around 30 individuals from across West Virginia attended the training at the First Century Bank board room. The group took part in the video-based, hands-on training that empowers adults to prevent child sexual abuse.
“Working with the new Raleigh County Superintendent Jim Brown and Miller Hall, director of secondary education, Just For Kids is planning to train all 1,000 teachers in Raleigh County using the Stewards of Children curriculum on Oct. 24. In order to carry this out, Just For Kids needed a number of new trainers to handle the large number of people to be trained,” explained Miller.
“Raleigh County Schools' motto is ‘Making a Difference One Student at a Time.' We want to make a difference in each kid's life and that is the foundation we are building in our schools with this type of training,” said Hall. “Our students can look to teachers and know that they can go to them for help if they need it and our teachers will feel more confident in knowing what to do if they suspect abuse.”
“When it comes to education, our focus is not just on the academics, but the total well-being and social health of our kids. And those things directly affect academics,” he added.
In addition to building the capacity for trainers in Raleigh County, Wednesday's stewards training nearly doubled the number of accredited facilitators in the state, said Miller. Trainers from both panhandles, Morgantown, Logan, Boone, McDowell, Harrison, Jackson, Lincoln, Wyoming, Greenbrier, Mingo, Kanawha, Summers, Mercer, Barbour and Braxton counties participated in the workshop.
Miller added that it was exciting to have two children's advocates from Slovakia in Eastern Europe participate in the training and talk about the lack of services for children regarding sexual abuse in their country.
“They were excited to hear about the work that is taking place here in West Virginia and across the country to reduce the trauma that children experience when they are sexually abused,” he said.
According to the national organization that designed the Stewards of Children program, for every individual trained using the program, 10 children will not have to experience the trauma of child sexual abuse.
Founded in 2002, Just For Kids works with hundreds of children in Raleigh, Fayette and Wyoming Counties each year who are experiencing sexual abuse in their lives.
Just For Kids is a nationally-certified Child Advocacy Center located in uptown Beckley. It also maintains offices in Oak Hill and Pineville.
Wednesday's training was made possible through donations by the United Way of Southern West Virginia, the Healthy Families Healthy Children's Coalition of Nicholas/Fayette Counties and Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia.
For more information, contact Just For Kids at 304-255-4834 or by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about the Just For Kids Child Advocacy Center, visit jfkwv.com.
Hall churches asked to join battle against child sexual abuse
by Marc Eggers
GAINESVILLE – Ministerial representatives from nearly a dozen Hall County churches watched and listened intently to sobering video testimony about the life-long, life-changing effects that victims of childhood sexual abuse must endure.
The video got everyone's attention; the urgency was clear and Steve Collins of Adults Protecting Children, speaking on behalf of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, implored the church leaders assembled in the conference room at the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children to join in the battle.
The group's target number of adults trained to recognize and deal with child sexual abuse is a modest 5-percent of the population, roughly 7,000 people in Hall County. It is at that percentage a "tipping point" is encountered, according to Collins, creating the critical mass where experts say cultural change becomes possible.
"We currently have trained about 6-percent of that 7,000," Collins said, "but we really just got started in earnest back in May."
"I've been in Christian ministry for 45 years so I feel like I've earned a little bit of the ability to be able to say this…but churches, in my experience, are the last in communities to step into this issue and try to address it (child sexual abuse)."
Heather Hayes, Executive Director of the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children, said, "We do the exams of the children that have been sexually abused," Hayes pointed out that she is called upon to perform those exams 450 times per year in Hall County alone.
"I exam children after the abuse…but I would like to be out of business and not have a job. If all adults really accepted that it's our responsibility to prevent child abuse and not children's responsibility…then we can make a difference."
Connie Stephens is Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA). Her agency shares the building with Hayes' group.
"We get the really tough cases," Stephens said. "Last year (2011) our agency served over 437 children that were removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. A large percentage of those children were sexually abused."
Collins reminded everyone of recently enacted Georgia law was that makes pastors and church volunteers mandated reporters when they suspect child abuse, saying that many churches still have not responded to their new status under the law.
Tom May is Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church on Thompson Bridge Road. "It (the 2 ½ hour training program) has really helped us fashion a child-protection policy…so this is not a place for someone who wants to abuse children because child-abusers like to be around children."
Andy Brent, Director of Counseling at Free Chapel Worship Center, said, "When we first heard about Adults Protecting Children…we began putting into place policies and procedures for protecting the children. We give no sanctuary to anyone who might want to come and hurt children."
"Stewards of Children" training seminars are available to anyone interested. They last 2-and-a-half hours and cost $15.
Westminster will be hosting a seminar Thursday evening, October 18, beginning at 6:30. Those interested are asked to call the church at (770) 534-1078 to let them know you plan to attend.
Subsequent sessions will take place at the Edmondson-Telford Center for Children on Washington Street on October 25 at 9:00AM. Call the Center at (770) 534-5151 to find out more.
"God understands," Collins said assuringly. "He came through the system, as a helpless child who was dependent upon parents, the adults in His life, to do for Him what all of our children need for us to do for them…to create for them a safe environment."
Child abuse prevention focus of conference
by THERESA SCHIEFFER
Hundreds of people from throughout the state are gathering in Springfield this week to look into the issue of child abuse.
The 18th annual conference coordinated by Prevent Child Abuse Illinois is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. today and 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at the Springfield Hilton. The event is expected to draw 350 to 400 professionals who work with children and families, according to Denise McCaffrey, director of prevention awareness and education for the coordinating agency. Walk-in registrations are being accepted. Registration fee is $199 per person.
With the theme “Children Matter, Get Involved,” the conference is designed to give attendees “the tools to respond to child abuse and to prevent it in the first place,” McCaffrey said.
“Violence of many kinds affects our children,” she said. “We need to step up and be stewards of children. Our children are so important to us; they have to come first.”
In his keynote address, Milton Creagh, motivational speaker and former host of the PBS series “Parenting Works,” will talk about “how we need to help kids today,” McCaffrey said.
In all, there will be five featured speakers and 24 breakout sessions on a variety of topics related to child abuse and child abuse prevention.
As part of this year's conference, two individuals and one organization will be recognized for their advocacy efforts on behalf of children. A “Friend of Children” award will be presented to each of the following, all from the Chicago area:
*Womazetta Jones, deputy director of child protection for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
*Erin Merryn, child advocate and sexual abuse survivor who inspired “Erin's Law,” which was passed last year and provides for age-appropriate sexual abuse education for students in preschool through fifth grade.
*The Exchange Club of Naperville, an organization dedicated to child abuse prevention.
Sponsors of the conference are the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, Illinois Department of Human Services, Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, Illinois Attorney General's Office, Illinois Federation of Women's Clubs, The Ounce of Prevention Fund, Voices for Illinois Children and Children's Advocacy Center of Illinois.
Established in 1990, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois is a not-for-profit agency with offices in Springfield, Bloomington, Chicago, Glen Ellyn and East St. Louis.
Attorneys to release confidential Boy Scouts files on alleged child sex abusers
by Michael Martinez and Paul Vercammen
More than 20,000 confidential Boy Scout documents will be released Thursday identifying more than 1,000 leaders and volunteers banned from the group after being accused of sexual or inappropriate conduct with boys.
The public release of the Scouts' 1,247 "ineligible volunteer files" from 1965 to 1985 will not contain the identities of the boy victims and witnesses. The national files are being distributed with the approval of the Oregon Supreme Court by a law firm that won an $18.5 million judgment in 2010 against the Boy Scouts in a case where a Scoutmaster sexually abused a boy.
Wayne Perry, president of Boy Scouts of America, said the group is deeply committed to youth protection, but he acknowledged that in some cases, the organization's response to allegations of abuse by volunteers "were plainly insufficient, inappropriate or wrong."
"Where those involved in Scouting failed to protect, or worse, inflicted harm on children, we extend our deepest and sincere apologies to victims and their families," Perry said in a statement issued Wednesday evening. "While it is difficult to understand or explain individuals' actions from many decades ago, today Scouting is a leader among youth-serving organizations in preventing child abuse."
The Boy Scouts opposed the release of the internal records and said their confidentiality has encouraged prompt reporting of questionable behavior and privacy for victimized boys and their families.
"While we respect the court, we are still concerned that the release of two decades' worth of confidential files into public view, even with the redactions indicated, may still negatively impact victims' privacy and have a chilling effect on the reporting of abuse," the organization said.
The Scouts also released a September report from a University of Virginia psychiatry professor, Janet Warren, who concluded that the system "has functioned well in keeping many unfit adults out of Scouting."
But the attorneys representing victims in several lawsuits against the Scouts say the group hid evidence from the public and police and that the so-called "perversion files" offer insight into what they deem a serious problem in the organization.
The secrecy protected more than 1,000 suspected child molesters, said the attorneys, who will publicly release the documents during a news conference in a downtown Portland hotel. The attorneys are also seeking the release of post-1985 files from the Boy Scouts.
The files will show that the expelled Scout leaders and volunteers -- all men -- "are sociopathic geniuses," said attorney Kelly Clark of Portland, who has reviewed the 20,000 pages and is among the attorneys releasing the papers Thursday.
"They fool everybody," he said. "And then they are able to coerce, convince or threaten these kids to stay silent. And you see that play out over and over again in the files."
Clark said he represents more than 100 men who as children were in the Boy Scouts, and he estimates that more than 50% of his clients have drug or alcohol problems. At least three of them have committed suicide, he said.
Tim Kosnoff, an attorney in Seattle, said the abuse allegedly inflicted on the men as boys "has a corrosive effect" in which trust, relationship and sexuality issues develop with adulthood.
One former Boy Scout represented by Kosnoff, Keith Early, joined the group at 12, recruited by an assistant Scoutmaster who was a married firefighter with three children and led Scout meetings in a church in Washington state.
Early, now 18, was sexually abused by the Scout leader while helping build a Boy Scout camp on his 42-acre ranch, he said in an interview with CNN. The assistant Scoutmaster was convicted of abusing Early and another boy and is now serving a prison sentence of 10 years to life.
"I felt like I was all alone," Early said. "Just thinking about it makes me angry ... because how could you do that to somebody? How could you bring yourself to do that to somebody who is so innocent and has done nothing wrong?"
The number of files started each year ranged from 25 to 75 at a time when about 5 million Scouts and volunteers were active, according to Warren's report. In most cases, "police, courts and public were aware of the information in the files," and 58% "included information known to the public."
There were "a small number of files where an alleged offender was allowed back into Scouting after offending," often after psychiatric treatment, "those cases were extraordinarily rare," wrote Warren, who was an expert witness for the Boy Scouts during the court case.
Tim Hale, a Santa Barbara, California, attorney who's representing allegedly abused Scouts who are now adults, said the released documents could provide information about possible pedophiles.
"We're talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of unidentified men who should be registered sex offenders who are roaming free in society, free to volunteer with other youth organizations, to work at schools and that sort of thing," Hale said.
The Boy Scouts disputes that characterization of their files.
In a September 20 statement released by the Boy Scouts, Warren rebutted the characterization that the documents were "secret files of hidden abuse" by pedophiles.
"The files show a significant amount of public knowledge of the offenders and their unlawful acts. For example, over 60% of the files being made available to the public include some kind of public information. These public domain sources included newspaper articles, police reports, criminal justice records, and records of civil litigation. The majority of men in the files were arrested at some point in their lives for a sex crime," Warren wrote.
The files are also "very limited in their ability to answer important research questions about sexual abuse," she said.
"While some have attempted to categorize these files as a 'treasure trove' of information about pedophiles and their actions, that simply is not the case," Warren said. "These files tell us precisely what researchers already knew, and have known for many years: some small number of men will use a position of trust and access to young people to pursue illegal sexual gratification. This is a sad reality that has been with us throughout human history."
The Boy Scouts say they have improved their youth protection policies the past decade and have initiated such practices as third-party, computerized background checks on all new adult volunteers. Also, at least two adults are present at all scouting activities, the group said.
The Scouts, founded by congressional charter in 1910, instituted character reference checks for Scoutmasters in 1911 and, by the 1920s, began using an ineligible volunteers list deemed not having "the moral, emotional or character values for membership," the group said.
In June, the Oregon Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision to release the documents as requested by media outlets.
"The court had discretion to order, on good cause shown, the release of those documents subject to the redaction of names set out in the exhibits to protect victims of child sexual abuse and reporters of child sexual abuse from embarrassment, retaliation or other harm," the state Supreme Court said in its order. "The court in this case properly exercised that authority."
The media companies seeking the release of the files were the Associated Press, The Oregonian newspaper in Portland, Oregon Public Broadcasting, KGW (a CNN affiliate), The New York Times and Courthouse News Service.
Those media outlets intervened in a 2010 lawsuit in Oregon that resulted in the largest judgment against the Scouts in a molestation case.
That year, an Oregon jury found the Boy Scouts liable for the sexual abuse of a 12-year-old boy more than 25 years earlier, returning a verdict of $18.5 million in punitive damages.
The plaintiff, Kerry Lewis, then 38, allowed his name to be used publicly during the trial, according to his attorneys. He was among six men suing the Boy Scouts over allegations of sexual abuse.
Lewis' attorney, Clark, produced documents during the six-week trial that he said were part of an archive of previously secret Boy Scout files chronicling decades of abuse of boys.
Clark said that when his clients were boys during the 1980s, the Boy Scouts knew that at least one of them had been abused by a former assistant Scoutmaster. At the time of the 2010 trial, that former assistant Scoutmaster was a 53-year-old convicted sex offender released from prison in 2005 and paroled until 2013.
Clark also alleged that though the Scout leader was removed, he was allowed to stay on as a volunteer and the abuse continued. In 1983, the assistant Scoutmaster told troop leaders he abused 17 Scouts, according to plaintiff's attorneys.
In its verdict, the jury held the Boy Scouts of America 60% negligent; the Cascade Pacific Council, which oversees Scouting activities in the region, 15% negligent; and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 25% negligent.
The church has sponsored a number of Boy Scout troops, including the one to which the plaintiff belonged. A lawyer representing the church said then that the verdict had no impact on the church, because it settled the case out of court more than a year earlier.
VFW National Home for Children: Employee's alleged sexual abuse of juveniles 'difficult and hearbreaking'
by Brandon Howell
The VFW National Home for Children is cooperating with authorities on the case of one of its employees who's accused of sexually abusing children in her care.
, 44, of Eaton Rapids, was arraigned Tuesday in Ingham County District Court on four counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and three counts in the second degree. She was arrested at her home Monday by authorities.
The VFW National Home for Children placed Botke on administrative leave when the investigation began in mid-August.
"Our children remain at the heart of our mission and it is our duty to make sure they are protected," VFW National Home for Children Executive Director Patrice Greene said in a statement.
"We are working with the Prosecutor, the Sheriff and the proper state agencies to gain a better understanding of what they have concluded, based on their investigation, and are continuing to do everything we can to help get to the truth. We have also been in touch with our families and staff to keep them up-to-date. This is a very difficult and heartbreaking situation and we will do whatever we can to make sure the children and families that we care for are protected."
The Ingham County Sheriff's Office began investigating Botke in mid-August when one victim, who was between 12 and 18 years old at the time of the alleged abuse, reported Botke to Greene. Greene contacted Child Protective Services about the allegations.
A second victim, who was between 15 and 18 during the alleged abuse, also came forward.
Botke has worked at the VFW National Home for Children in Onondaga Township since 1991. Her victims were in her care as a "house parent" during the time of the alleged abuse, between about 1998 and 2006, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Botke is scheduled for a pretrial conference on Oct. 23 and preliminary examination on Oct. 25. Both proceedings are held before Ingham District Judge Donald Allen. She remains held at the Ingham County Jail on a $15,000 cash surety bond.
A first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction is punishable by at least 25 years imprisonment, up to life. A conviction on the second-degree is punishable by up to 15 years imprisonment.
Those with information on this case are asked to contact Detective Annie Harrison at 517-676-8256.
Oakland University women's hoops coach breaks silence, tells AP of sexual abuse by her dad
ROCHESTER, Mich. – Beckie Francis remembers sitting on her couch last year, staring in amazement as she watched Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts reveal on TV that he was a survivor of sexual abuse.
Francis turned to her husband and told him she could do the same thing.
The women's basketball coach at Oakland University shared her story with parishioners at her suburban Detroit church, and with her players. And now, she is telling everyone else in hopes that it will encourage victims of sexual abuse to seek help, and to assist parents and children to avoid what she endured.
Until now, Francis had not publicly disclosed said that she was sexually assaulted by her dad, who is now deceased, from the age of 4 until she was in the seventh grade. Francis says she doesn't know when her dad died and can't recall the last time she saw him because she blocked him out of her life and mind after the abuse he inflicted on her.
The 47-year-old coach decided to come forward to speak out against the problem, in part because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.
"It's not easy to talk about," Francis said in an interview with The Associated Press. "It's something I tried to hold back and hide because I was afraid of what people would think. It's to a point now, where situations are coming out in the media with all kinds of cases from schools, churches, everywhere and I'm tired of it."
And, Francis is trying to do something about it.
She agreed to emcee an event on Oakland's campus on Thursday night featuring Erin Merryn, who was sexually abused as a child and now campaigns for increased education and protection from sexual predators. While Francis has been inspired by Brown and Merryn to go public with her past plight, the politician and the advocate are thrilled to have the coach on their team.
"Since telling my own story of abuse, I've been struck by the number of people who say they have drawn strength from it," Brown said. "It is humbling and gratifying to know that I may have given coach Francis the courage to speak out about the abuse she suffered."
Merryn travels around the nation to get versions of "Erin's Law" passed in all 50 states to require schools to adopt policy and create a curriculum that, among other things, would help children understand and talk about sexual abuse. The legislation has been introduced in many states, including Michigan, and enacted in four: Illinois — where the 27-year-old Merryn is from — Missouri, Indiana and Maine, she said.
"It always a help when you have a public figure like Beckie, especially at a university, to come forward like this to encourage other people to not keep their story a secret," Merryn said.
Sandusky's secret was exposed nearly a year ago and the former Penn State assistant football coach was sentenced this month to 30 to 60 years in prison. He was found guilty of raping or fondling boys in a child sex-abuse scandal that disgraced the school, forced the ouster of coach Joe Paterno and brought unprecedented penalties from the NCAA.
Penn State is hosting a child sexual abuse conference later this month. Merryn plans to be there to share information about "Erin's Law" and sign copies of her two books.
"It's good that Penn State is trying to do something positive instead of shoving it under the rug, but at this point, they don't have a choice," Merryn said. "It's unfortunate that it look something like the tragedy at Penn State to bring the world's attention to the monsters, who 93 percent of the time are somebody you trust with your kids, that are in every community."
Francis' path toward going public got a jolt when she heard about Merryn trying to get legislation named after her passed in Michigan. The two women quickly connected and an invite was extended to Merryn by the school to come to campus for a speaking engagement endorsed by the school's administration, which includes Francis' husband, Oakland University President Gary Russi.
The school planned to have counselors on hand to provide support and referrals for anyone after what was expected to be an emotional night.
Francis didn't tell her mother what happened until she was in her 30s, about 15 years ago. Her mom, she said, was "shocked and angry" about what happened in Germantown, N.Y., where Francis was born, raised and abused.
Francis, who has won 184 Division I games over 10 seasons, took the team to the 2002 NCAA tournament — only to resign after the season because of ulcerative colitis she later attributed to stress from the abuse she tried to forget. Francis was rehired for the 2005-06 season and led the Golden Grizzlies back to the NCAA tournament.
"Reflecting back, I do believe the fact that I didn't deal with my abuse affected my health and led to my health- and stress-related resignation," Francis said. "During that time away from coaching, I bawled for the first time in my life with therapists and became a Christian."
With professional help and her strong faith, Francis walks and talks with a powerful conviction — confident and comfortable — about her past and her hopes.
"I was in total denial until maybe my 30s, and that's another example of why I want to talk about this," she said. "I know that people are so embarrassed, and they think, 'Oh, I'm just going to forget about it. It was in the past. Move on. Buck up. Suck it up.' But there are so many things. It can affect your health. It just affects your confidence.
"And since I have just let it go, I am happier and healthier than I have ever been. I am totally free."
Shaming sex customers effective against trafficking
by Becky Yeh
A California advocate against human trafficking says the method of shaming men who buy sex is a helpful tool to fight against traffickers.
Men who purchase sex services may now see their faces on the Internet or in a newspaper. The method of shaming nameless "Johns" is a tool for fighting sex trafficking that is being adopted across the country. In California, the website "Operation Reveal" posts photos of suspects; while in Oklahoma, "JohnTV" reels through possible sex customers.
Daphne Phung is the executive director of California Against Slavery. She says that while it may be somewhat unorthodox, this method does have success.
"We know that fighting human trafficking requires every tool available to us," she says. "Certainly, 'John-shaming' is one available tool. It attacks the problem on the demand side."
Officials say shaming these men has been one of the most effective tools against prostitution.
"We know that anonymity of the Internet has fueled the growth of child sex trafficking," Phung tells OneNewsNow. "That's why it's important that we recognize the role of the Internet in our daily lives, and that predators are also on the Internet to recruit and exploit children and young women."
Rather than prosecuting the prostitutes, officials are trying to rid the industry's demand. Police say they hope to slowly release hundreds of names over the next several weeks.
Santa Clarita school districts get restraining orders against Eric Yee, 21, over posts about murdering children
by Eric Hartley
Two Santa Clarita school districts have obtained restraining orders against a man who admitted to writing online posts that referred to murdering children.
Eric Yee, 21, was arrested Sept. 17. Sheriff's detectives said he wrote the comments on an ESPN article about expensive sneakers.
"Looking out a window and see some little kids I wouldn't mind murdering at all," a prosecutor said in court, reading Yee's comments.
She said Yee then wrote, "I don't know. I would find it funny. It would be like the Aurora shooting in Colorado," which he added that he "loved."
His lawyer, David Wallin, said he lifted the ideas from the film "American Psycho" and never meant to threaten or harm anyone.
Sheriff's and school officials took the comments seriously, in part because Yee's parents' home in a wealthy Valencia neighborhood, where he was living, is near an elementary school and a junior high.
The Saugus Union and William S. Hart High School districts obtained temporary restraining orders against Yee from a court commissioner Sept. 25.
Wallin said they were served on Yee today in the San Fernando courthouse, where he appeared in court briefly as a commissioner entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to a weapons charge.
Court hearings on the school districts' requests for permanent injunctions were scheduled for Wednesday in Chatsworth, though Wallin said they will be delayed until November because Yee was only served today.
Wallin said he believes the restraining orders, which instruct Yee to stay away from the schools, are unnecessary. Yee walked by reporters outside court today, refusing to answer questions.
Yee was detained on suspicion of making criminal threats, but has been charged only with a weapons violation.
After prosecutors filed that charge, a commissioner cut his bail from $1 million to $100,000, rejecting a prosecution request to set it at $2 million. Yee was released Sept. 20.
The Sheriff's Department said several guns were found during a search of the Yee home, including an illegal H&K M-94 assault rifle.
Wallin said the guns belong to Yee's father, Roger Yee, who purchased them at a time they were all legal.
Father and son have been charged with illegal possession of the same weapon. Roger Yee also appeared in court today and pleaded not guilty.
Wallin said Eric Yee's comments, which were on posted online with a story about expensive LeBron James sneakers, were intended as social commentary.
The full comments have not been made public, but Wallin said Yee wrote in jest that he would murder the children before they grew up to be yuppies who mindlessly buy expensive consumer goods -- an idea taken, perhaps loosely, from "American Psycho."
Yee, who graduated from Valencia High School, attended Yale University. A prosecutor said he withdrew this year to avoid being thrown out for dishonesty, but Wallin said he is two classes shy of graduation and will receive a Yale degree.
Three days before his arrest, Yee signed a lease on an apartment in New York, where he planned to move to start an investment counseling business, his lawyer said.
Wallin said Yee is guilty of nothing but "felony stupid."
Prosecutor Ruby Arias said in court in September that Yee also made "racially motivated threats" in the online writings, but she said he did not want to specify those in public.
The full comments have been deleted from ESPN's website.
Notice to US citizens: Your actions abroad may have serious consequences
WASHINGTON – American tourists, with twisted overseas travel plans to engage in child sex tourism, may think they are beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. However, they should know that it is a priority for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to apprehend and prosecute U.S. citizens who engage in sexual acts with minors in foreign countries.
Millions of American citizens travel abroad on a regular basis. While the vast majority of them are law abiding, some commit sexual crimes against minors in foreign countries. Each year, over a million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade. Child sex tourism involves people who travel from their home country to another and engage in commercial sex acts with children. Child sex tourism is a shameful assault on the dignity of children and a form of child abuse and violence. For the minors involved, these acts have devastating consequences, which may include long-lasting physical and psychological trauma, disease, drug addiction, unwanted pregnancy, malnutrition, social ostracism and possibly death.
Tourists engaging in child sex tourism often travel to developing countries looking for anonymity and the availability of children in prostitution. The crime is typically fueled by weak local law enforcement, corruption, the Internet, ease of travel and poverty. These sexual offenders come from all socio-economic backgrounds and may hold positions of trust. Previous arrests for child sex tourism involving U.S. citizens have included: a pediatrician, a retired Army sergeant, a dentist, a Peace Corps volunteer and a university professor.
In 2003, the United States strengthened its ability to fight child sex tourism by passing the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today Act (PROTECT Act) and the Trafficking Victim's Protection Reauthorization Act. These laws carry penalties of up to 30 years in prison for engaging in child sex tourism. In the nine years since these laws were strengthened, HSI special agents have arrested 93 suspects on child sex tourism charges.
"Our message is clear to all U.S. citizens: We take these crimes seriously," said Peter Vincent, director of HSI's Office of International Affairs. "If you dare abuse a child abroad, we will find you, send you back to the United States and prosecute you for your crimes. You might be out of the country, but you are not out of reach of U.S. law enforcement."
HSI has 73 offices in 47 foreign countries around the world that serve as the agency's liaison to counterparts in local government and law enforcement. HSI's attachés abroad are critical in investigating these crimes.
Just last week, Jesse Osmun, 33, a former Peace Corps volunteer, was sentenced in Hartford, Conn., to 15 years in prison for sexually abusing four girls, all under the age of 6, while he was a volunteer in South Africa. He never expected that HSI special agents would arrest him for crimes he committed nearly 8,000 miles away from his Connecticut home. HSI's office in Connecticut – working collaboratively with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Connecticut – has had two other recent cases involving child sex tourism. Edgardo Sensi was sentenced in January to 85 years in prison for production of child pornography and sexual tourism offenses related to his sexual abuse of minor girls in the United States and Nicaragua. Douglas Perlitz was sentenced in December 2010 to nearly 20 years in prison for sexually abusing 16 minor victims over the course of a decade in Haiti.
"I am proud to partner with HSI in prosecuting U.S. citizens who abuse children abroad," said U.S. Attorney David B. Fein, District of Connecticut. "I am hopeful that the cases we have successfully prosecuted in Connecticut will serve as a deterrent to others who would partake in these illegal acts. The Department of Justice will continue to devote resources to protecting children worldwide."
HSI's Child Exploitation Investigations Unit investigates the trans-border, large-scale production and distribution of images of child abuse, as well as individuals who travel abroad to engage in sex with minors. The unit employs the latest technology to collect evidence and track the activities of individuals and organized groups who sexually exploit children through the use of websites, chat rooms, newsgroups and peer-to-peer trading. These investigative activities are organized under Operation Predator, a program managed by the Child Exploitation Investigations Unit.
"If you are molesting children, I advise you to turn yourself in and get help," added Vincent. "The law will catch up to you no matter where you are. If you continue your crimes against children, you should always be looking over your shoulder because we will hunt you down to the ends of the earth in order to protect innocent children from being violated. There will be no refuge for child sexual predators who believe that they may victimize children outside the United States. No place is too distant or too remote to escape the attention of HSI."
To learn more about HSI, visit www.ICE.gov/HSI.
Marriage, education can help improve well-being of adults abused as children
Researchers investigating the long-term consequences of child abuse have identified some protective factors that can improve the health of victims during their adulthood.
Men and women in their 30s who had been abused or neglected as children reported worse mental and physical health than their non-abused peers. But being married or having graduated from high school buffered the severity of their symptoms.
The researchers also found that adults who experienced child abuse reported less happiness and self-esteem, more anger and other psychological damage, indicating child abuse has wider-ranging effects than previously known.
"As we understand more of how individuals overcome early trauma, we can develop programs to support and nurture kids exposed to abuse," said Todd Herrenkohl, professor in the University of Washington's School of Social Work.
Herrenkohl is the lead author of two new studies examining what factors can mitigate the harm of maltreatment during childhood. He used data from the Lehigh Longitudinal Study, which began in the 1970s to evaluate the consequences of experiencing violence at a young age.
Participants became involved in the study if their parents were reported to child welfare agencies for abuse or neglect. Parents were also asked about a range of disciplinary practices that are considered abusive, such as slapping and leaving a bruise, kicking, hitting or biting. Neglect involved depriving children of necessities, such as food, medical attention and hygiene.
The study's participants, an even mix of men and women, are now in their late 30s. Herrenkohl and his collaborators got back in touch with them, and interviewed more than 80 percent of the original participants, about half of whom were earlier abused. The researchers wanted to know how the participants were faring in their adult lives and asked about mental and physical health, use of drugs and alcohol, quality of relationships with family and friends, education, employment and overall well-being and satisfaction in life.
In a study published online Sept. 28 in the Journal of Family Violence , Herrenkohl and his co-authors reported that childhood abuse led to worse mental and physical health and substance abuse in adulthood. For instance, 24 percent of child abuse survivors reported moderate to severe depression – a level that could be debilitating – compared with 7 percent of participants who had not been abused.
About 19 percent of the survivors reported problems with alcohol over their lifetimes, whereas only 10 percent of the non-abused participants reported these problems.
Being married or a high-school graduate partly lowered, but did not eliminate, the risk for depression among those who had been abused. Survivors who graduated high school had a lower risk for lifetime alcohol problems.
Surprisingly, gender and early childhood socioeconomic status had little bearing on the long-term effects of abuse. "The expectation is that growing up in a household with a higher income and higher social status will help kids, but child maltreatment erases those advantages," Herrenkohl said.
In a second study, published in the November issue of Violence and Victims and also based on interviews with the adults from the Lehigh Longitudinal Study, Herrenkohl and his co-authors explored anger proneness, self-esteem, sense of independence, satisfaction in life and other measures of well-being that studies of child abuse typically ignore. Child maltreatment was linked to lower scores on most of these well-being measures when compared with scores from individuals who hadn't been abused.
"The results show that the effects of child maltreatment extend beyond the most common mental health diagnoses," Herrenkohl said. "It shows that adults abused as children experience the emotional consequences of early trauma well into their adult years."
The paper published in the Journal of Family Violence was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse – all part of the National Institutes of Health. Co-authors are Seunghye Hong of the University of Hawaii, Bart Klika of UW, and Roy Herrenkohl (Todd Herrenkohl's father) and M. Jean Russo of Lehigh University.
The paper published in Violence and Victims was funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Klika, Roy Herrenkohl, Russo and Tamara Dee, formerly of UW, were co-authors.
In Scouting reports, a pattern of molestation
There is no single predator profile, but analysis of confidential files shows 'grooming behavior,' a gradual seduction. The organization declined to use the reports as a tool to prevent more abuse.
by Jason Felch and Kim Christensen
The thousands of men expelled from the Boy Scouts of America on suspicion of molesting children came from all walks of life — teachers and plumbers, doctors and bus drivers, politicians and policemen. They ranged in age from teens to senior citizens and came from troops in every state.
As the Scouts long have said, the files suggest no single profile of a predator. But a close look at nearly 1,900 confidential files opened between 1970 and 1991 revealed a pattern: Many suspected molesters engaged in what psychologists today call "grooming behavior," a gradual seduction in which predators lavish children with attention, favors and gifts.
In hundreds of cases, Scout leaders allowed the boys to drive cars, drink alcohol or look at pornography. They gradually tested physical boundaries during skinny dipping, group showers, sleepovers and one-on-one activities.
"He combs the boys' hair and buys them clothes and dinner," one mother wrote to a Scouting official in 1985 about an Orange scoutmaster. "He takes them to church, motorcycle riding, skiing, flying. . . . Everybody thought he was a real nice guy. Now we know why he did these things."
Boys in a York, Pa., troop alleged in the 1980s that their 28-year-old scoutmaster invited them for sleepovers at his house, then plied them with beer and pornography.
"And then as they become further inebriated and perhaps sexually excited from viewing the pornographic films, he touches them and tries to undress them, and then proceeds to do other things if he is successful," an assistant scoutmaster noted in a memo in the file.
The confidential files, kept by the Scouts for nearly 100 years, were intended to permanently bar suspected molesters from the organization.
The Times obtained two decades of files, submitted as evidence in a court case, as well as case summaries from an additional 3,100 files opened between 1947 and 2005. Both were provided by Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who has sued the Boy Scouts more than 100 times. The dossiers — which included biographical data, legal records, Scouting correspondence, boys' accounts of alleged abuse and media reports — represent all surviving files kept by the Scouts as of January 2005. The Scouts have destroyed an unknown number of files over the years.
Hundreds of files from the 1960s to the 1980s are set to be released Thursday by order of the Oregon Supreme Court, giving the public its first broad view of the documents.
According to the Times analysis of thousands of case summaries, at least 47% of the men expelled from the Scouts for suspected abuse were single, and at least the same portion did not have a child in the program. Those numbers could both be higher, because in many files this information was not recorded.
The full case files showed that nearly all the cases arose from situations in which troop leaders were alone with boys — a practice the Boy Scouts has long discouraged and officially prohibited since 1987. At least a quarter of the cases involved contact with boys outside of official Scouting activities, at scoutmasters' homes for instance, or on nonsanctioned camping trips.
Many of the men who were ultimately expelled from the Scouts were highly decorated troop leaders and respected members of the community. Dozens had been honored with Scouting awards such as the Silver Beaver, a distinguished service award for adult troop leaders.
John McGrew was a Dallas scoutmaster who had been recognized as teacher of the year and received a proclamation from City Hall for his work with disadvantaged youths. Two months before he was arrested on molestation charges, he was featured in Scouting Magazine , where his supervisor praised his "personal dedication and genuine love for these kids."
In 1988, 16 boys testified in court that McGrew had abused them. He was convicted on several counts and sentenced to life in prison.
The grooming process and rule-breaking often ensured boys' silence, allowing some men to serially abuse boys over a span of years before being caught. In more than 50 cases, Scout leaders were alleged to have abused 10 or more boys by the time they were expelled.
Darrald Timmie Ostopowich , an assistant scoutmaster in Los Angeles, told a psychiatrist that over four years he sexually assaulted more than 50 boys, most of whom were Cub Scouts, according to his file. Scouting officials only learned about the abuse years later after news of his 1981 conviction was published. He is now in jail.
Scouting officials declined to be interviewed for this article. The organization released a prepared statement by Mike Johnson, the organization's national youth protection director, who underscored the difficulty in identifying predators before they strike.
"My nearly 30 years of experience as a detective who investigated child sexual abuse confirms what leading youth protection professionals know: There is no profile of a potential abuser," he said.
"This is precisely why, in addition to using these files as a background screening tool, Scouting requires a multitiered approach to youth protection, including criminal background checks, two adult leaders at all activities and the training of all youth in personal safety awareness, including teaching them to recognize, resist and report abuse."
Many of those reforms were adopted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the Scouts were named in a growing number of lawsuits and cited in reports on sexual abuse. The Times analysis found a sharp increase in the number of files opened at that time — something experts say probably reflected an increasing awareness of the problem.
Beginning in the early 1990s, some experts on the Scouts youth safety advisory panel urged the organization to study the files for patterns, but they were ignored, according to two of the experts.
"I told them I thought it would be good for someone to do a review of them for scientific purposes," said David Finkelhor, a child abuse expert from the University of New Hampshire who served for a decade on the advisory board. "A lot of us were scientists and thought this could be very helpful. We raised it pretty regularly every year or two."
Dr. Richard Krugman, dean of the University of Colorado Medical School and a member of the advisory board during much of the 1990s, recalled asking Scouting officials to study whether the incidence of sexual abuse changed after an abuse prevention program was adopted.
"I said it would be really nice to have the data to support everyone's impression that these interventions are working," he recalled. "The answer was no. We weren't given reasons."
Krugman and Finkelhor said it was their impression that attorneys for the Boy Scouts decided not to do an analysis because of concerns about liability.
The result, these and other experts said, was that the Boy Scouts missed a chance to glean important insights from what is believed to be one of the largest sets of records on the alleged sexual abuse of children ever collected.
Scouting officials long have said that analyzing the files would not enhance their efforts to protect children. Last year, however, after an Oregon judge ordered about 1,200 files to be released publicly, the Scouts commissioned a study of several hundred of the files by an expert who had testified for the organization in court. University of Virginia psychiatry professor Janet Warren concluded that "there was little information in the files concerning the techniques used…to 'groom' their alleged child victims" and no clear risk factors to help screen out molesters.
A clinical psychologist who also has reviewed hundreds of the files strongly disagreed, saying that the documents were full of information about the behavioral traits of "acquaintance molesters," which were not well understood until the 1980s. Gary Schoener, who testified as an expert for the plaintiff in the Oregon case and is director of a Minneapolis mental health clinic, said an analysis of the files decades ago "would have spurred research and we would have recognized those things much earlier."
The Scouts missed "a chance to really understand the phenomena and construct really good education materials," he said.
In many of the files, The Times found, patterns emerged among the alleged victims as well. The boys were often from troubled backgrounds or seeking approval from a father figure.
During an interview with prosecutors in 1990, a 17-year-old former Scout from a Valley Forge, Pa., troop haltingly described how he came to be involved in a more than yearlong relationship with 45-year-old Douglas Verney, a former policeman he met through Scouting and had come to trust "very much."
" I had a lot of family problems … And so I was kind of like emotionally ripped up and that kind of thing. I think I was looking for somebody who was there to be that comfort, you know, that parent, parental figure."
The boy went on to describe how, over a period of months, Verney had offered him a job and began counseling him and hugging him. One day around the youth's 16th birthday, as he was talking and crying, Verney unzipped the boy's pants.
The relationship ended when the Scout's mother discovered a letter from Verney with sexual overtones. In 1990, Verney was charged with molesting him and two others, and pleaded guilty to involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, corrupting the morals of minors and sexual abuse of children.
Even as he described his sexual abuse, the boy told his interviewer that he had never intended to report it — until he heard that a 14-year-old friend had been abused as well.
"I really had no idea of cooperating at all," he said.
DATABASE: Tracking decades of allegations
FULL COVERAGE: Inside the 'perversion files'
After the Conviction: The Legacy of the Jerry Sandusky Case
by Teresa Huizar -- Executive Director, National Children's Alliance
Days ago, Jerry Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually assaulting 10 boys over a 15 year period. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief that he will spend the rest of his life in prison for these crimes. While we may find some closure in knowing that this man - whose crimes of sexual abuse shocked the nation - will spend his remaining days in prison, the fact remains that hundreds, if not thousands of child abusers go unpunished every year because crimes of this nature go unreported or are poorly investigated.
Jerry Sandusky has been convicted of victimizing young children entrusted to his care. At the time they were abused, these victims did not know to whom to turn for help; and in the case of one who did report abuse, the investigation was so poorly conducted that one could hardly call it such. While it has taken decades for these crimes to publicly surface, there has been a shift in the national discourse on child sexual abuse that no doubt led to the veil of silence being removed. As a society, thankfully, we have finally begun to speak out about child abuse so these crimes do not go unnoticed and unpunished.
Over the past 25 years many communities in this country have committed themselves to a better way of investigating, prosecuting, and treating child sexual abuse. In over 750 communities in the US, there exists a Children's Advocacy Center where child victims of abuse are given a safe space to tell their story and receive help. At these centers, trained professionals understand the best practices for investigating allegations of abuse, providing medical and mental healthcare for victims, and prosecuting offenders, all the while putting the child victim first.
These questions remain - what might have happened if coordinated intervention and prevention programs were available in Happy Valley back in the early days of Sandusky's abuse? Could these children have known where to go for help? Would their caregivers have been better educated to recognize the signs of abuse? Would institutions and investigators have been better trained and better equipped to respond to reports of abuse?
Despite the growth of the Children's Advocacy Center movement since its impetus in 1985, over 1,000 U.S. counties still do not have access to these important coordinated services - leaving thousands of children underserved. These communities also lack the benefit of abuse prevention programs that are commonly instituted by Children's Advocacy Centers. As was the case in Happy Valley during the years of Sandusky's abuse, the fact exists that when coordinated services for abuse intervention are not in place, there are far more allegations that will fall through the cracks of a disjointed investigative system. And as we saw with Sandusky's victims, years, even decades may go by before the real story surfaces and the abuser is punished for his or her crimes.
The Children's Advocacy Center model has been proven effective in bettering the response to child abuse in customized ways to meet the needs of local communities. Yet so many communities still do not have access to this model. It is our shared responsibility to protect our children. By educating ourselves on the signs of abuse and the process for intervention, as well as by raising awareness of the need for coordinated intervention and prevention services in every community around the country, we take one more step in doing so. To learn more about the signs of abuse and how to report it, visit OneWithCourage.org, our national prevention initiative. And to find out more about the Children's Advocacy Center model or locate the one nearest you, visit www.nationalchildrensalliance.org.
Let's make the legacy of the Jerry Sandusky case not merely be listening to one more horrific tale of lives devastated by abuse as we await the next one. Rather, let the tragedy of this case make us ever more committed to ensuring abuse is prevented, and that those who are abused receive the compassionate care of a Children's Advocacy Center. The victims of Jerry Sandusky, and the hundreds of thousands more children abused in this country every year, deserve no less.
Child abuse survivor runs for her cause
WEST FARGO – Leslie Brunette used to run from her past. Now she runs to overcome it.
Brunette of rural West Fargo is a child abuse survivor and one of six women who run on a team to raise awareness for the nonprofit organization, Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota.
“I've turned my running passion into how can I use this to raise awareness and get people to think about preventing child abuse, not just about feeling sorry for children who have been abused,” Brunette said.
She started running seven years ago with a group from Authentic Voices of North Dakota, an organization of survivors of childhood abuse and sexual assault. They decided to put together a relay team to run the Fargo Marathon.
While she's always been active, Brunette said she had never been a runner.
“I could never understand why people would run,” she said. “And then I became addicted.”
She found running energizing and cathartic and has since run six full marathons and a 200-mile ultra-marathon relay.
Brunette uses her running time to pray and to think of new things she can do to help others who have been abused, she said.
“It's not only my therapy to get rid of my anger that I felt, but it's also my creative energy,” she said. “It helps me have time to think.”
Brunette went through years of depression and struggled with an eating disorder. Now her life is peaceful and happy, she said.
“A lot of it had to do with the fact that I stopped focusing on me and what I was angry with and what was done to me,” Brunette said. “I chose to focus on things that I can change or can control and try to make a difference.”
Brunette said that by running in her Team PCAND jersey, she hopes to inspire others to find ways to work to prevent child abuse and raise awareness about the issue.
Brunette is training for the New York Marathon on Nov. 4. She said she did her final 20-mile run last weekend, and while she couldn't wait to finish it, running for Prevent Child Abuse North Dakota kept her going.
“I think about the things I've gone through and what I've been able to overcome and I also think about the kids who are currently going through things,” she said.
Brunette and two other members of Team PCAND, Lori Klabunde and Julie Bosch, both of Bismarck, will be running in the Fargo Mini Marathon Saturday.
Brunette also volunteers for the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch, spending time with teen girls who have been abused. In 2009 she and her husband, Jayson Brunette, partnered with the organization to start a scholarship program. The seed money for the scholarship came from a fundraiser to raise awareness about child abuse prevention for the 2009 Fargo Marathon, Brunette said.
“When we stop focusing on ourselves and we start reaching out to others, there's no more fulfilling thing than that,” she said.
Brunette and her husband have three children, an 11-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old son. Brunette said her children know she has been abused.
“It's so easy to get caught up in the negative experiences,” she said. “What we need to focus on is we were all created to overcome and we can all overcome. Yes, life is hard, but our circumstances don't have to create who we are.”
Wichita Conference Focuses on Child Abuse Prevention
WICHITA -- There may not be one, easy solution for preventing child abuse and neglect, but there are many effective approaches proven to keep children safe from abuse and neglect.
One effective approach is to make sure the professionals working with children have proper training in the field of child abuse and neglect. Each year, the Kansas Children's Service League (KCSL) along with 18 other sponsoring agencies provides such training at the Governor's Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.
This year, the 36th Annual Governor's Conference for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect will be held October 15-17, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel and Century II Convention Center in Wichita. An expected 600 participants from around the state will be participating and will learn about a range of topics and how they affect the field of child abuse and neglect.
Some of the topics of interest this year include human trafficking, best practices in foster care, internet safety, crime scene protocol for law enforcement and many more. Many of this year's workshops will be specific to individuals who work in law enforcement. By learning about relevant topics affecting children and families, professionals are able to provide better service and prevent child neglect and abuse because they are aware of the potential issues and they will know how to effectively deal with the issue.
The conference strives to:
|- Provide information about exemplary models of prevention and intervention services for children and families.
- Provide a networking opportunity for Kansans interested in the welfare of children.
- Recognize individuals and organizations who have provided outstanding services to children.
- Publicize the needs of children and families and the opportunities to meet those needs.
- Provide certifiable training opportunities for individuals who work professionally providing services for the benefit of children and families.
“We are pleased to bring together national and state experts to share information on best practices, promising programs, and the latest research to aid in our collective efforts to help families raise their children in safe and healthy environments,” said Vicky Roper, Director of Education and Awareness with the Kansas Children's Service League and Director of Prevent Child Abuse Kansas.
Workshops will be taking place throughout the three-day conference and an awards luncheon will be held from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, October 16th.
Sexual abuse of children necessitates serious considerations
OSU, UO professors find that sex abuse incurred on children requires tactful attention, care
by Amanda Antell
Oregon State University Professor Dr. Kathryn Becker Blease and University of Oregon Professor Dr. Jennifer Freyd offer condolences and coping methods for parents and children who have been through sexual abuse.
“Many times, children are not given sufficient resources and support to heal from abuse,” Freyd said. “This is a tragedy, since with support and resources, healing is possible. Our society needs to do much more to help those who have been harmed and to prevent abuse in the future.”
How adults respond to disclosure is critical, the first step of which is showing the child that they will be taken seriously. Certain phrases communicate this message, including, “I'm so glad you told me,” “I will do everything I can to help you,” or “There are adults who know a lot about how to help, and I will call them.” After calming him or her, one should call child protective services or the police.
According to Blease , making promises like, “I will keep your secret,” “You will never have to see him again,” or “I will make sure he never does this to anyone else,” do not help, because they do not guarantee anything.
“Be genuine, but avoid dramatic displays of emotion such as vomiting or threatening to kill the abuser in front of the child,” Blease said. “Do not investigate yourself or ask a lot of questions. Do not ask, ‘Why didn't you tell me earlier?'”
For many parents, the threat is often much closer than they think, so Freyd and Blease emphasize behavioral signs of what to look out for, for parents and children, particularly if a parent is dealing with a possible situation between another adult they trust and their own child.
Predators often use youth groups, sports teams, teaching positions, and other volunteer or employment opportunities to get close to children. Usually, sexual abuse escalates over time.
“Some abuse their own children, or other children they have access to in other settings, before abusing children in youth-serving organizations,” Blease said.
Sex offenders often look for victims who they think will not tell, or who parents or other adults will not believe. Often these people include youth who are too young to use words to explain what happened, youth who are in trouble with the law who won't be believed or youth who lack close relationships with adults.
Blease and Freyd have answered the call to concerned parents who want to know the tricks and signs sexual predators use.
One sign is when an adult singles out a child for special attention. Abusive adults might repeatedly offer to take the child on trips, try to exchange cell phone numbers, or initiate instant messaging and other technological methods to communicate with the child without parents' knowledge. It is a concern when an adult does this with one or two youths in particular. Most youth-serving organizations have rules about contact between staff, volunteers and youth.
The second sign would be a lack of boundaries.
“It is a red flag if someone invades personal space, brings youth home after the parent-specified curfew, or otherwise doesn't take ‘No' for an answer,” Blease said.
Teens are particularly drawn to adults who treat them as adults and tell them that they do not need to follow organization or family rules.
Another sign a child might be being abused is if he or she is afraid to say no to the adult, or moves away when the adult tries to brush or tickle the child.
Parents usually ask themselves, “Who do we trust with our children, and who do we tell them who's okay to trust?”
“This is a critical issue, and one that prevention researchers have considered carefully,” Blease said. “We can teach our children the correct names for body parts and talk about safe boundaries. We can tell children that abuse is abuse, even if the abuser is someone they know...we need to work on preventing offenders' desire to offend in the first place.”
While sexual abuse is a traumatic and horrific experience for any child, both Freyd and Blease assure parents that with the proper love and support, the child can recover successfully.
“Healing from abuse depends a lot on the survivor's resources and support,” Freyd said. “Although abuse survivors have an increased risk of numerous problems, many people who are abused do heal and go on to lead joyful and productive lives.”
For more information on sexual abuse signs and coping methods, please visit Oregon Abuse Advocates & Survivors in Service.
Child sex abuse must not be left in dark
by Verna Wyatt
Child sexual abuse is a horrible thought, and even if we do think about it, most of us can't wrap our minds around the concept. But that's exactly what we must do if we are going to stop child victimization.
Statistics indicate that one in four girls and one in seven boys will become victims by age 18, and no socio-economic or religious group is exempt from this problem. For too long, child sexual abuse has been a “dirty secret,” placing the burden of guilt on the victim and not the offender where it belongs. Much of the power over the victim is the secrecy.
Slowly, communities are learning about this problem, victims are being identified and coming forward, and we are believing them! We still have a long way to go.
Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach at Penn State University, was sentenced Oct. 9 for the sexual abuse of 10 boys. It takes tremendous courage for victims to come forward. Victims have to face so much fear. Fear of not being believed (unfortunately, it isn't an unfounded fear). Fear that the offender will retaliate. Fear that people will look at them as being “different” or “dirty.” Fear that their family will be torn apart. Fear that they will be blamed. Fear they won't get a conviction. It is not uncommon for offenders like Sandusky to have countless victims, with only a few victims stepping forward to disclose.
Sandusky's prepared remarks at his sentencing hearing were examples of textbook offender behavior. Not only did Sandusky express no remorse, he essentially called the victims liars, saying: “A young man who was dramatic, a veteran accuser and always sought attention, started everything. Evaluate the accusers and their families and realize they didn't come out of isolation. The accusers were products of many more people and experiences than me. Look at their confidants and their honesty. Think about how easy it was for them to turn on me given the information, attention and potential perks.”
Sandusky wants us to believe he is the real victim. It was sickening to hear, and it made my heart ache for his victims, as well as every other victim of child sexual abuse in our country who heard his statement.
As devastating as this experience has been for the victims, their experience is sparking discussion about child sexual abuse. We all should know the signs and symptoms, offender behavior and what to say if a child discloses abuse. And everyone in Tennessee needs to remember that state law mandates anyone 18 and up who suspects child sexual abuse must report it. Failure to report suspicions can be prosecuted.
The 24-hour hotline reporting number is 1-877-237-0004. If you would like to learn about child sexual abuse, contact the Tennessee Chapter of Children's Advocacy Centers, or Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee, agencies that conduct educational sessions in the community. Our children deserve our protection, and knowledge is power.
Verna Wyatt is a victim and advocate. Contact her at email@example.com
Chabad's Brooklyn Schools Launch Unprecedented Educational Effort To Combat Child Abuse
Chabad is using a national program specifically set up for haredi and Modern Orthodox communities to educate about child sexual abuse. But the announcement of Chabad's program doesn't mention child sexual abuse at all – it only mentions physical abuse, apparently because like other haredim, Chabad won't use the word "sexual."
|Letter to the Crown Heights community:
All of us have heard too many sad stories about kids and abuse. We wring our hands in despair and wish the difficult and awkward story would go away. How can we stop this awful pain? What preventative steps can we take to protect our children?
Now we are taking a positive step. We will empower the children and educate them so that they know the boundaries of personal safety and what to do in an unsafe situation. This fall, Crown Heights mosdos will invest in our children's fundamental human right to a safe and secure childhood. Safety Kid® is coming to town.
The Safety Kid® Child Safety program was created and developed by the Aleinu Family Resource Center, a program of the Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. Designed specifically for the frum community, Safety Kid™ teaches kids from a positive and tznius perspective how to protect themselves from all types of danger they may encounter.
The program was initiated by [Rabbi Nochum Kaplan of] the Merkos Chinuch Office, which formed a parent committee who has worked hard to bring this long overdue program to all our Lubavitch pre-schools and elementary schools in Crown Heights.
During the week of October 28, 2012, Aleinu representatives will hold workshops and training sessions for Crown Heights School staff, administrators, teachers, and all community parents. Volunteer educators will be trained by Aleinu to go into the classrooms once a year and to teach the students using upbeat, fun and interactive materials, how to protect themselves from physical abuse.
The program also covers other areas of safety like "stranger danger", fire safety, school bullying, what to do when lost or separated from parents, as well as other vital day to day safety practices.
Mandatory evening parent workshops will also be held to increase awareness and prevention. Parent participation is vital. Each child will receive a Safety Kid® kit to take home and review with their parents.
Together with the children, the safety practices they learn at school will be reinforced at home. "Tell Mommy what the Safety Morah taught you today, show me your "safety tree" and we will fill it in together". "Mommy is so happy that you checked first before you answered the front door, etc."
Our kids must know from a very young age what is an "OK" or not "OK" touch. They must know that they can and must always come to mommy and tell her that someone did something to them that made them uncomfortable or scared.
This New Year, we will make a hachlata together and show our children that their safety is our utmost priority. More information and scheduling details will IY"H be forthcoming. The significant fee for the Safety Kid® program is being shared by our schools and the Chinuch Office.
With much thanks,
Crown Heights Parent Safety Alliance
When you check the website of the Safety Kid program Chabad is using, you'll immediately note that is openly talks about child sexual abuse – which is the main reason Safety Kid exists:
Why is Aleinu SAFETY KID training important?
Research shows that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys in the United States are sexually abused before age 12. Only 1 in 10 victimized children report sexual abuse of any kind to someone who can do something about it. We need to empower our children with the skills to keep themselves safe and supported by educated parents and teachers.
You can't fix a problem like this until you fully admit it exists and allow it to have a name, just as you can't do an effect good touch, bad touch program without showing children what that means.
Chabad gets an "A" for effort here, but a "C-" for its willingness to tell the truth about what the problem actually is.
You're fighting child rape and molestation. Say that out loud. I guarantee you, doing so won't hurt anyone – except the pedophiles who are hurting your kids.
“Top 10 Ways to Get Away With Rape” Flier Found in Dorm
by Kristina Chew
After a flier listing the “Top Ten Ways To Get Away With Rape” was found in a men's bathroom in a co-ed dormitory at Miami University of Ohio, did the university notify all students about a frankly disturbing incident?
No, as the Columbus Dispatch says. As a result, “students, their parents and campus leaders across Ohio” have been outraged and Miami University has found itself making headlines for reasons other than being the alma mater of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
The flyer was actually found the weekend before last. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported on Saturday, some of the “ways” listed on the flyer included slipping roofies into women's drinks, targeting women who walk alone and sneaking into women's unlocked rooms and slitting their throats if one is afraid they will talk. The tenth tip is even more abhorrent, if that is possible: It reads “RAPE, RAPE, RAPE, its (sic) college boys live it up!!”
This is frankly ugly stuff. So it is all the more disappointing to learn that Miami University officials dragged their feet to respond. Barbara Jones, Miami University's vice president for student affairs, said in USA Today that no campus-wide alert was at first sent out because they did not think the flyer contained an immediate threat. “All of our evidence shows it was confined strictly to McBride Hall,” Jones says, referring to the dormitory in which the flyer was found.
All the male students in McBride Hall have been summoned to attend a mandatory meeting and the university is undertaking an investigation. Police presence has also been increased and Jones insists that the university is serious about campus safety. “I read the flier. I was shocked. It has no place on our campus or any other campus,” she says in USA Today.
Of course. But the fact that someone thought it was all right to post a flyer containing language so violent and demeaning towards women more than suggests that at least some members of Miami University's community think that it is all right to say and think such things. It suggests that there is a culture on the campus that tacitly condones misogynistic attitudes.
As Kate Van Fossen, a junior at the university who is the vice president of Women Against Violence and Sexual Assault (WAVE), says in the Cincinnati Enquirer , “It could have been a joke, but the fact of the matter is that those thoughts are crossing someone's mind. There are girls living in a hall where someone came up with that. It's just disturbing.” Indeed, Van Fossen also said that, had she not been a member of WAVE, she would not have learned about the incident. The university erred in not alerting all students, not to mention faculty and staff across the campus, and thereby sent the message that such remarks and behavior are allowed and tolerated.
Van Fossen notes that, even if the flyer was meant as a joke, it is still highly disturbing, especially at a university at which 27 sexual assaults were reported between 2009 and 2011.
Miami University officials' fumbling in handling this incident is simply disappointing. It is also a stark reminder of why we need to keep up the pressure on educational institutions to educate students and their communities that violence against women, and violent attitudes and language against women, are never tolerated. University officials can never do enough to foster and nurture a campus culture that is safe and welcoming for women and certainly, one would hope, in a place like a co-ed dormitory.
Over 200,000 child abuse images found in Notts since 2010
The NSPCC is calling for urgent action to stamp out the illegal trade in child abuse images after figures revealed that over 200,000 have been confiscated by Notts Police in the last two years.
The information was revealed following a Freedom of Information (FoI) request which found nearly 26 million images have been confiscated in England and Wales over the last two years.
This staggering total comes from just five of the 43 police forces that were able to check their records, of which Notts Police were one. A sixth force said it had records of more than 10 million images going back a number of years.
The figures are in stark contrast to 1990 – before the internet became hugely popular - when the Home Office estimated there were just 7,000 hard copy images in circulation across the UK. Now, at least five times that amount are being confiscated every single day.
The FoI also revealed that 25 people were arrested last year in Notts for taking, possessing or distributing indecent images of children. Since 1995 the number of people convicted in England and Wales has risen more than 1,700 per cent from 85 to 1,495 last year (2011). The pictures are graded from level one- the lowest- to category five, which involves sadism. Many of the pictures involve children under ten and even babies appear in some.
Fiona Richards, NSPCC regional head of service for the East Midlands, said: “The number of these dreadful images is absolutely appalling, and let's not forget that only a handful of police forces could supply figures so the true amount is likely to be much higher.“
“The truly awful thing is that more and more children are being abused so these pictures can be produced and once in circulation they may stay there for many years. If we can halt this vile trade we will be saving countless children from suffering sexual assaults which have a huge impact on their lives.”
She added: “The authorities are working hard to clamp down on this but there are still far too many pictures available. It's time the government and industry got together to find an answer to this corrosive problem which cannot be allowed to continue.”
“There are obviously paedophile rings which make a sordid business of sharing these images. But there are now so many in circulation that people from all walks of life are getting caught with them. They have to understand these are not just images- they are crime scenes.”
John Carr, Secretary of the Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety, said: “It's reasonable to assume that as there is a seemingly never-ending conveyor belt of images more children are being abused to satisfy demand. And research has shown that the victims are getting younger and younger and are being assaulted in ever more grotesque and violent ways.”
“Some of those who are caught with these abusive images say they had a sexual interest in children but had been too scared to do anything about it until the internet came along- then it opened the door for them.”
“And once they're in they crave more sickening levels of abuse. It's not unknown for an offender to go very quickly from viewing pictures of secondary school children to images of three-year-olds who have been bound, gagged and assaulted.”
“These numbers beggar belief but we need to face up to the realities of the situation and find better, more effective ways of tackling it.”
Local sex abuse victim says Sandusky case proves more work still to be done
by Mac Cerullo
AMESBURY — Ten years ago, Gary Bergeron visited his sister's grave for the first time in more than a decade.
It was May 1, 2002, a day that promised to be among the most emotional and difficult days of Bergeron's life.
Terry Bergeron was just 22 when she died of cancer in 1992, and to Bergeron, she was the strongest and most courageous person he had ever known.
Buried right next to her was a man named Joseph Birmingham, a priest who died of cancer himself in 1989.
Bergeron had avoided this cemetery since his sister's death, but the time had come for him to face his demon. He needed her strength now.
A couple of hours later, Bergeron stood before a packed conference room in Boston filled with reporters, where he would speak publicly for the first time about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child at the hands of Birmingham.
Birmingham abused Bergeron for three years while he was attending St. Michael's School in Lowell in the early 1970s. He found out later that his brother, Ed, also had been abused by Birmingham, along with scores of others both before and after him.
“After my brother and I were in the newspaper, there were over 60 men who came forward from this one single priest that had been abused, and those were just the ones who came forward publicly,” Bergeron said. “That's when I realized that I was involved in something much bigger than you ever could imagine.”
In Amesbury, Bergeron is best known as the co-owner of Mill 77, now on Route 110. But since going public with the story of his abuse 10 years ago, he has also become one of the nation's most outspoken proponents of child sexual abuse awareness. In 2005, he wrote a book about his story titled “Don't Call Me A Victim” and in 2007, he and another survivor of childhood sexual abuse founded Survivors Voice, which works to raise awareness of the issue around the world.
Bergeron said he's now reached the point where he's no longer ashamed of what happened to him, and he continues to tell his story so that other survivors will know they aren't alone, so his kids and others will be better protected in the future and so those who perpetrate or cover up these kinds of acts will be held accountable.
Since last fall, he's been tuned in to the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, which he said bears similarities to the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal in Boston.
“I think that Penn State, in the last year, that was a microcosm of what happened in Boston over three or four years,” Bergeron said. “By that I mean that the initial knee-jerk, gut reaction that the public had, that the students had, was to defend (Penn State).”
Bergeron said no one believed him and the other Birmingham survivors when they first stepped forward, and it took a long time before that started to change. He said something similar happened with many people at Penn State when reports involving the football team first surfaced and he attributed that to the difficulty individuals have in hearing that a fundamental piece of their lives has been involved in something horrible.
“The hardest thing to do is look at an institution that you've loved your entire life, that's a part of you, and find fault with it,” Bergeron said.
Bergeron has noted a big change in the way people are approaching the issue at Penn State compared to how the Catholic Church scandal was handled a decade ago. He said the college moved quickly to remove legendary head coach Joe Paterno. Former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president Gary Schultz were indicted for covering up the incident.
Equally important, people are actually talking about child sexual abuse now, he said. And thanks to the Internet and a greater proliferation of social media, the story has spread all over the world, he said.
“I think that the positive piece that came out of the Penn State scandal, if there is one, is that it's raised public awareness,” Bergeron said. “It has let the everyday person, regardless of his religious beliefs, understand that it's not just the priests, it could be a coach, it could be your next-door neighbor, it could be anyone.”
Last week, Sandusky, Penn State's former defensive coordinator, was sentenced to what amounts to life in prison after being found guilty of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Bergeron said he's been asked if the sentence amounts to justice for the survivors. To him, it's not that simple.
“For an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, justice is a very elusive term,” Bergeron said. “There is no justice, because there is no way to get your innocence back, but there is accountability. Accountability means that Jerry Sandusky is never going to abuse another child, accountability means that the victims of Jerry Sandusky now have a voice and it hopefully means that future generations will be more protected than I was.”
Regardless of the outcome, Bergeron said the Penn State scandal showed there is still much work left to be done, and the people who live in Amesbury and the surrounding communities need to do their part by talking about it.
“This can't be fixed through a newspaper article or a sound bite on television; the only way to prevent this from happening is to engage the public in dialogue about it,” Bergeron said. “That means parents need to speak with their children and adults need to speak about it to each other.”
Tulsa police see rise in child abuse
by KENDRICK MARSHALL
The number of child-abuse cases reported in Tulsa is on the rise, and Sgt. Brandon Wyckoff of the Tulsa Police Department's Child Crisis Unit has come to grips with the sobering reality that he has arguably the dirtiest job in law enforcement.
The unit handles an average of roughly 1,500 cases of child physical or sexual abuse a year, according to police data, and so far this year, the unit has investigated more cases than in all of 2011, Wyckoff said.
Last month alone, the unit investigated 147 reports of child physical or sexual abuse. In August, 160 such cases were investigated.
"It is something that the public doesn't want to see," Wyckoff said of the situations in which adults prey on innocent children.
Some high-profile cases have been investigated recently by detectives in the Child Crisis Unit. Those cases include that of Ricky Lewis, 31, of Tulsa, who was arrested Sept. 28 on allegations that he manufactured and distributed child pornography and attempted to procure a minor's participation in the creation of child pornography.
The charges involve an 8-year-old, a 2-year-old and a 3-month-old.
Lewis' arrest report alleges that he solicited women via text messages to send them nude photos of their children, saying he desired to have sex with their young daughters.
Two women, Sally Deupree, 55, of Glenpool and Brittiny Linne Dick, 21, of Vinita, have also been charged in the case.
Also last month, Chris Denman, 20, and Israel Castillo, 23, were fired from Victory Christian Center, a Tulsa megachurch with 17,000 members and a worldwide presence through television and Internet, after allegations arose of sex crimes involving minors.
Denman was arrested Sept. 5 and later charged with first-degree rape, forcible sodomy and lewd molestation on an allegation that he sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl before a church service Aug. 13.
Castillo is charged with making a lewd or indecent proposal to a child and using a computer to facilitate a sex crime. His charges are in connection with a 15-year-old girl.
Five other church employees - Paul Willemstein, 32; Anna George, 24; Harold Frank Sullivan, 73; Charica Daugherty, 27; and John Daugherty, 28 - are charged with failing to report child abuse, a misdemeanor. They have returned to work at the church after being suspended.
Investigators say it is not out of the ordinary for large entities such as churches and schools to attempt in-house solutions - such as counseling or prayer - first to address abuse claims before contacting the police or the Department of Human Services.
"To pray with them or to use counseling is (sometimes) a normal response," Wyckoff said, but "that approach is misguided."
Detective Danielle Bishop says such institutions often protect themselves first, instead of the victims.
"Any time (a sex-abuse crime) happens at a large organization, the entity is likely to take priority over the priority of the victims," Bishop said.
When there is a significant delay in reporting abuse, it can hinder the investigation, authorities say.
This can be especially difficult when a possible crime is not immediately reported due to a belief that the suspect doesn't fit the profile of an abuser.
Such was the case, police said, of 33-year-old Jamal Thomas, who was charged Sept. 19 with first-degree rape on an accusation that he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl. Thomas was an acquaintance of the victim's mother, police said.
"Unfortunately, it is hard for people to believe that someone they know could abuse children," Wyckoff said. "It is important that these incidents are reported for the sake of both the child and the adults.
"The best thing for us is to find out something didn't happen after an investigation than for the incident not to be reported at all.
"We have to let (the child) know that someone is out there for them, that someone cares for them and justice will be served," he said.
DCS struggles to answer child abuse hotline calls
Urgent investigations begin with hotline; new computers help call takers
Child abuse investigations usually begin with a phone call.
More than 400 times each day, someone in Tennessee — a family member, concerned neighbor, teacher, police officer, or doctor — dials a hotline to warn of a child in danger.
More often than not, the call ends up on hold.
During the last two years, the department hasn't answered its phones as quickly as it used to, so more callers than ever have been hanging up — as many 25 percent in the early months of 2012, department data show. Nobody can say what happens to those thousands of callers and their concerns, or whether chances to help children are being missed.
When callers do get through, they find trained social workers like Amy Taylor on the receiving end, watching the calls appear on a computer screen inside the Department of Children's Services call center in South Nashville.
“I always apologize to them,” Taylor said. “I just thank them for their patience and explain the unpredictability of call volume.”
DCS officials said they recognize the urgency of the problem.
“We still are struggling,” said Carla Aaron, DCS executive director for child safety and head of the call center, known as Central Intake. “You'd love to answer every one on the first ring. But I think because of the call volume, and not knowing every day how many calls you're going to get, and trying to predict the staff, that is an ongoing oversight that our management looks at every day.
“We know how important it is to answer that phone call,” Aaron said, “because it could have very critical information about a child's safety.”
To answer calls faster, the department transferred five case managers to the call center this summer, increasing the staff to 70. The office recently got new computers, with an updated phone system to follow this month.
And a group of national child welfare experts has begun a study of the call center. The group plans to suggest improvements in the next two months.
DCS already knows some of the reasons for the increase in abandoned calls and longer wait times.
First: Tennesseans have been calling in about 15 percent more allegations of child abuse and neglect the past two years.
“Some of that is due to the economic situation,” Aaron said. “Families are stressed, and sometimes that plays out in their interactions with their children.”
The DCS computer system installed in 2010 also requires call takers to spend more time entering information.
For a while, the computers were so troublesome that some social workers across the state were calling the abuse hotline whenever they wanted to reach someone in the center who had more expertise with that computer. Those calls tied up the lines and inflated call volumes. Once discovered, the practice stopped, officials said.
The combination of more calls, slower technology and issues with high staff turnover has made it harder to answer calls, according to officials and an independent review of the system.
In the department's worst months, including in late 2010 and early this year, a fourth of the calls went unanswered. The numbers improved this summer, possibly after the addition of staff, said DCS officials. Callers who dial the wrong number and hang up immediately are counted as abandoned.
Years ago, until mid-2010 when the new computers arrived, most calls were answered in one minute or less. But the average wait is now closer to three minutes, and sometimes twice that long.
Calls are first step
Abuse phone calls are the first step in launching an investigation. For more than a decade, Tennessee has been trying to launch child abuse investigations more quickly, as demanded by a federal lawsuit settlement known as “Brian A.”
The state has yet to meet those standards.
The calls are “critically important,” said John B. Mattingly, former commissioner for children's services in New York City and a senior fellow at The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which is reviewing Tennessee's call center at no cost to the state.
“It's not simply a hotline the way 911 is, where your job is basically to get some facts and then get the EMS people rolling,” Mattingly said. “This is the question of the possibility of severe abuse and neglect.”
Mattingly said the people answering phones need training and expertise in deciding the level of urgency. Aaron said she has tried to recruit experienced case managers from the field to join the call center.
In Tennessee, call takers must have four-year college degrees and nine weeks of training. They hold the same job title, case manager, as social workers in the field.
Yet there's little to prepare them for the emotions that come across in the calls, and for the sad, frightening stories they hear — all while trying to capture important details from a caller.
“There have been calls where I had to take a moment afterwards,” Taylor said. “We hear so many sad things, all day, every day.”
Recently, Taylor answered a call about the death of an infant.
Inside her dimly lit cubicle, decorated with family photos and an Employee of the Month certificate, Taylor spoke into her headset and toggled between two glowing computer screens for more than 13 minutes.
On one screen, she filled in information about the family members and child. On the other, she typed notes to craft a narrative of what happened.
To be accurate, Taylor spoke the heartbreaking details back to the caller. Monotone and serious, Taylor probed for details and checked spellings.
She hadn't had to take a fatal call in more than two years, she said. She has answered five such calls in her five years at the call center.
“I remember each one, vividly,” Taylor said. “But the ones that I have taken that seem to stick out in my mind are just the parents knowing about something happening and they're not being protective.”
Many callers worry about being identified. Others hardly let Taylor get a word in.
“You have people yelling and screaming in your ear,” she said. “You have to kind of adjust to what the caller is doing. That is one of the hardest things to do here.
“As stressful and emotional as it is, at the end of the day we may have helped somebody.”
At the end of each call, Taylor answers questions on the computer that walk her through the severity of the case to determine risk factors.
Questions include where the alleged abuser might be located, whether the case concerns sexual abuse and whether the child is under age 12.
The computer responds with an urgency level. The most urgent, Priority 1, requires a face-to-face response by a social worker within a day. Priority 2 demands a response in 48 hours, and Priority 3 within three days.
“When in doubt, I always screen higher,” Taylor said.
Supervisors, who review all calls, can adjust the priority response time. Social workers in the field cannot.
Of the 170,000 calls each year, some 65,000 become actual cases. The rest are already open cases, are hangups or do not require DCS intervention.
For most of this year, the department's computer system hasn't been able to produce reports showing whether front-line social workers respond fast enough to cases.
Older data show that at the beginning of 2009, case worker response times had improved since the year before. For Priority One cases, workers met the response time goal about 85 percent of the time.
Advances in works
The call center's new phone system will be designed to give more automated information to callers. For example, a prompt will tell callers that nonemergency situations can be reported online.
Another option will allow callers to leave confidential voice mails.
The system will also produce better statistics, so leaders can keep an eye on changes and potential problems.
The department has started to shift staff to be on hand at peak call times.
In the past year, 10 of the 65 employees left or transferred out.
“You're answering the phones all day long. For some people it can be not exactly how they want to practice social work,” Aaron said. “They want interaction with families and to be more hands on.”
“These people hear horrific stories,” she said. “They hear of child fatalities and they hear of bruises and burns and horrible things that have happened to children. Some people have a hard time forgetting about what they've heard on the other end of the phone.”
Human trafficking expert to visit Africa
State Department taps local deputy's expertise
In the dark, ugly world of sex trafficking, South Africa and Gambia are among the worst of the worst, countries known for the exploitation of underage girls and boys, as well as women.
Elizabeth Fildes will take a step into the belly of the beast this week when the Erie County sheriff's deputy embarks on a 13-day tour intended to educate law enforcement officials in those countries on how to recognize and prevent sex crimes.
As a local leader in the anti-human trafficking effort here – Fildes has been involved in almost every major investigation over the past six years – she brings front-line, street-level expertise to any discussion of sex trafficking.
“It's a crime that's been hidden for so long,” Fildes said of the problems in Africa. “They're finally coming to the realization that it does exist and that Americans and Europeans go there because of the sex trafficking.”
Fildes, who is recognized nationally as an expert in human trafficking, was picked as an envoy by the U.S. State Department and will visit several countries, including South Africa, Gambia, Botswana and Central Africa, as part of her mission.
She will give lectures and hands-on training on how to investigate and prevent sex trafficking, especially among children, a subject she is all too familiar with as head of the Western New York Human Trafficking Alliance, a task force of state, local and federal law enforcement officials.
The trafficking in underage girls and boys is especially acute in Gambia, an annual vacation destination for thousands of Europeans. Fildes said the government there has asked for her help in training its police force on how to deal with sex crimes.
“They have not been educated enough or made aware of the problems there,” Fildes said. “I see my mission as a way to reach out to them.”
The deputy will remind her hosts that they're not alone and that human trafficking is present in every corner of the world.
To make her point, she will bring with her firsthand accounts of women from Africa who left their homeland only to become victims elsewhere, including here in Western New York.
“Several of my victims were from Africa,” she said. “And more often than not, they were from poor families who came to the United States looking for a better life.”
Even before leaving for Africa, Fildes had to chance to meet Thursday with judges and law enforcement officials from Ethiopia, who are in the United States as part of their own anti-human trafficking mission.
In Fildes, they found someone who, more than anyone else locally, is familiar with the plight of victims. She has been known for years as the officer in the room, the one who interviews victims and gains their trust.
She, more than anyone else, knows that without a victim's cooperation, the chances of a successful prosecution are slim.
With that in mind, Fildes will remind the legislators, prosecutors and police officers she meets with in Africa that there's more to solving the problem of human trafficking than jailing criminals.
She will remind them of the need for programs and services for victims, including shelters where they can live safely and begin a new life.
It's a message she's fond of delivering at home as well because of what she and others see as a huge void in the assistance provided to victims in Western New York.
Unlike foreign-born victims of human trafficking, who have access to a wide range of programs and services, there is no local shelter for victims born here.
Fildes and two other local women – Karen O'Hara of Springville and Aimee Wieler of Buffalo – are determined to fill that void and have formed United Hands of Hope House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising money to build a local shelter.
The group's next fundraising event, “Out of the Shadows,” will be held Nov. 29 in Ellicott Square. Information on the event – tickets are $50 apiece – can be found at www.unitedhandsofhopehouse.org