'Propensity evidence' could return in child sex abuse cases
Missouri Supreme Court, in 2007, ruled use of such evidence unconstitutional
by Jonathan Shorman
Prosecutors want the ability to bring up evidence of past wrongdoing in child sexual abuse cases, regardless of whether charges were ever brought.
At a House committee hearing Thursday, one legislator said he wants to change the Missouri Constitution to allow “propensity evidence.”
Darrell Moore, former Greene County prosecuting attorney, told the News-Leader that in sex crimes this type of evidence includes information that shows how a predator has carried out abuse in the past, such as locations, manner of abuse or preferred victim age. He said predators tend to have repetitive behavior when it comes to abuse.
Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge, told the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety that the lack of propensity evidence makes prosecution of sexual abuse difficult.
“Without allowing evidence from previous events to be admitted into the courtroom, we have the word of a 6-year-old, who is sitting on the stand being questioned by attorneys and reliving everything that has happened in their life, against a member of the community,” McCaherty said.
House Joint Resolution 16, sponsored by McCaherty, would put to voters an amendment to the Constitution to allow evidence of past crimes to be introduced in court in child sex abuse cases.
In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that propensity evidence is unconstitutional under the Missouri Constitution. It had previously been allowed in court, and is still allowed under Missouri statute, meaning that once a constitutional amendment is approved, no further legislation would be needed to allow the evidence to be used in court.
In the 2007 case, State vs. Ellison, Donald Ellison, a Livingston County man, was charged with first-degree child molestation. At trial, the prosecution attempted to enter evidence of Ellison's previous conviction for first-degree sexual abuse. The defense objected, beginning a legal process that ended in the Missouri Supreme Court decision.
“Evidence of a defendant's prior criminal acts, when admitted purely to demonstrate the defendant's criminal propensity, violates one of the constitutional protections vital to the integrity of our criminal justice system,” the court ruled.
Jason Lamb, director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, said propensity evidence would be a key tool in fighting sex abuse. Early in his testimony, he said allowing propensity evidence is the “single most powerful piece of legislation that this body could pass to positively impact and protect child victims of sexual abuse.”
Lamb said the constitutional amendment is narrowly tailored to allow propensity evidence only in child sex abuse cases. A judge must also decide whether to allow the evidence, he said.
“The judge is to look at the evidence before it comes in and decide whether it does more good than harm in terms of being fair,” Lamb said.
Moore said this is a good safeguard. He said that outside sexual crimes, he does not generally support the use of propensity evidence.
Lamb said the circumstances of child sex abuse make evidence of previous crimes very helpful in prosecution. Often, physical evidence of the sexual abuse does not exist, Lamb said, adding that allegations of abuse are not usually made immediately after the abuse has taken place, because predators use fear and shame to keep their victims silent.
Without physical or propensity evidence, children must often take the stand, where they are subjected to cross-examination.
“For us to ask a child to get up there and talk about it is to ask a child to be very, very brave,” Lamb said.
Evidence of previous wrongdoing helps prosecutors establish patterns and corroborate a victim's story, Lamb said. Sexual predators who are prior offenders may wear the same clothes, or perform the abuse at the same location or abuse their victims in the same manner each time.
Details like that, when they match previous incidents, help show that the victim is not lying, Lamb said.
“One of the most damaging aspects of child sexual abuse is that it tends to be chronic in nature. It typically is not a one-time incident,” said Emily Van Schenkhof, deputy director of Missouri Kids First.
A Missouri task force charged with examining child sex abuse included putting a constitutional amendment allowing propensity evidence to a vote as one of its recommendations in a report released at the beginning of the year. The report says when an adult's word is pitted against a child's, prosecutors are often unable to reach a standard of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
At Thursday's hearing, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, raised concerns about the constitutional amendment. Colona, who has represented defendants in sex crime cases, said these are cases where the judge and jury are so horrified by the allegation that he sometimes feels as if his clients are already seen as guilty and he has to prove their innocence.
“If I put that minor on the stand, I'm the Antichrist because why would that baby boy or girl be lying,” Colona said.
Lamb responded that the proposed constitutional amendment allows judges to act as “gatekeepers” — giving them discretion whether or not to allow propensity evidence. Colona said he has had sex crimes cases in St. Charles County near St. Louis and he could not imagine a scenario where an elected judge there would not allow prior evidence of wrongdoing, regardless of how inflammatory it might be.
Colona questioned Lamb's statement that propensity evidence would be one of the most helpful tools to stop sex abuse. He said at various points during his five years in the legislature he's been told expanding the sex offender registry and creating a new crime have been the best way to protect kids.
“It seems like protecting kids is a sacred cow in this building and we can't have a, I guess, honest debate because everybody's afraid of the topic,” Colona said. “Nobody wants to be pinned as the one who doesn't want to put kiddy-diddlers behind bars.”
Lamb acknowledged that the topic may be scary politically but argued that it is important for children.
“But I think it's a scarier topic for a child victim to have to go through and to have to talk about,” Lamb said.
House Joint Resolution 16
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring therein:
Sex abuse group proposes tax on Ind. strip clubs
|That at the next general election to be held in the state of Missouri, on Tuesday next following the first Monday in November, 2013, or at a special election to be called by the governor for that purpose, there is hereby submitted to the qualified voters of this state, for adoption or rejection, the following amendment to article I of the Constitution of the state of Missouri:
Section A. Article I, Constitution of Missouri, is amended by adding one new section, to be known as section 18(c), to read as follows:
Section 18(c). Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 17 and 18(a) of this article to the contrary, in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under eighteen years of age, relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged, is admissible for the purpose of corroborating the victim's testimony or demonstrating the defendant's propensity to commit the crime with which he or she is presently charged. The court may exclude relevant evidence of prior criminal acts if the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- A group that helps victims of sexual assault wants Indiana legislators to enact a $5 tax for strip club customers.
Erik Scheub of the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault says that two-thirds of the state's 92 counties offer inadequate services for survivors of sex crimes. The only state funding amounts to about $25,000 a year.
Julian Center executive director Melissa Pershing says Indiana's rape crisis centers are "woefully underfunded."
Scheub says a $5 tax charged patrons at the doors of Texas strip clubs generates more $10 million a year. Utah and Illinois also have recently enacted taxes or surcharges to fund programs for victims.
Proponents of the strip club tax say there's a strong link between adult entertainment and sexual abuse.
Putting a face on human trafficking
As officials try to raise awareness about the existence of people who have been trafficked, a Seattle woman tells her unusual story. Her mother's family was victimized by her father, a Ph.D. and concert violinist who worked with the U.N.
by Christine Clarridge
Yasmin Christopher remembers being crammed into a tiny apartment in Aberdeen with nine of her relatives when she was about 4 years old. They shared one bedroom, a single bathroom, had no furniture and no money. Her dad was in jail and her mom, a foreign-born teenage mother of two, was terrified.
For Yasmin, it was one of the happiest times of her life.
“We were all free and we were all together,” recalls the Seattle University law student, now 28. “The bad thing that happened to us when we moved here was over.”
Yasmin, her younger sister, mother and a half-dozen other relatives had been brought to the U.S. from their native Bangladesh by her father, Stefan Christopher, to toil on his 65-acre farm near the tiny Grays Harbor County town of Oakville. There, he fed them little, paid them nothing, sexually abused some of the children and beat the adults. Police would later learn he forced one of Yasmin's uncles to dig his own grave before nearly beating him to death.
Yasmin's childhood ordeal and her father's eventual criminal conviction have made her a spokeswoman of sorts for victims of human trafficking, a global crime that generates billions of dollars in profits for the traffickers and increasingly targets young children. Yasmin has lent her voice to a recent campaign launched by Seattle and King County to raise awareness of the issue and alert people to how they can help.
“People don't realize that there's not one kind of trafficker. Traffickers do not have a stereotypical face,” she said. “It can happen anywhere; in cities, the suburbs, factories and farms. It can involve the most unexpected people.”
In Yasmin's case, she says no one from outside her family could have guessed that her father — a well-spoken, well-educated man from a well-to-do family, a violinist with the Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra who worked as a consultant for the United Nations — was also a pedophile and a human trafficker.
“I'm fascinated by my father. We always talk about the victims, but we don't talk about the trafficker. Who does this, and why? I found out there is no single answer,” she said in a recent interview.
Lane Youmans, the now-retired detective with the Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Office who helped bring down Stefan Christopher after being called in to investigate the suicide of Yasmin's 16-year-old aunt, said the case opened his eyes to the insidious nature of human trafficking.
“I was totally surprised to go out to the farm and find out what was going on,” he said. “I never imagined it happening in a small town like Oakville.”
The United Nations has estimated that 2.5?million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time. Despite a recent increase in reporting, experts say it remains one of the most underreported crimes in the world.
A recent report by the U.N.'s Office of Drugs and Crime noted that trafficking for sexual exploitation accounts for 58 percent of all trafficking cases detected globally.
Meanwhile, the share of detected cases involving forced labor has doubled over the past four years to 36 percent. Victims can be found in restaurants, fisheries, brothels, construction sites and, as in Yasmin's case, farms and homes.
Women and girls together account for about 75 percent of all trafficking victims, both for sex and for labor, the U.N. report said.
One troubling trend is the apparent rise in the trafficking of children, with the percentage of detected victims increasing from 20 percent between 2003 and 2006 to some 27 percent between 2007 and 2010, the report said.
In recent years, increasing financial resources and media attention have focused on the victims of sex trafficking, particularly that involving underage victims.
But labor trafficking is just as problematic, according to Seattle-based Assistant U.S. Attorney Ye-Ting Woo, who has prosecuted 19 trafficking cases involving 58 victims in the past five years.
In one case handled by Woo, the victim was a 19-year-old woman who immigrated from Micronesia because her cousin told her there were job opportunities in the U.S. Once she got to their Chehalis-area home, the victim's cousin and his wife put her to work cleaning their house and taking care of their children.
They also forced her to work at a chicken-processing plant and took her paycheck. When her cousin began raping her, the victim went to neighbors, who understood, despite a language barrier, that something was wrong and took her to a shelter, Woo said.
While Washington became the first state in the nation to criminalize human trafficking, in 2003, the state remains a focal point for traffickers because of its ports, its proximity to Canada and its dependency on agricultural workers.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has estimated hundreds of people, including many juveniles, are trafficked in the region each year for sex, manual labor, domestic labor and more. A 2008 study of commercial sexual exploitation of youth in King County estimated that at least 300-500 girls were being trafficked at that time.
The campaign to raise awareness of the problem in Seattle and King County, launched earlier this year, includes bus ads, billboards and phone numbers people can call if they suspect someone is the victim of human trafficking.
Woo said trained law-enforcement investigators and an increased understanding among the public have had a positive impact.
But labor trafficking cases are, in some ways, more difficult to detect and investigate, she said. The victims may not be visible, and sometimes they may not even know that their treatment is criminal.
Yasmin said she and her relatives only recently understood that they had been victims of a trafficker. They had simply thought her father was an abusive man.
“The words ‘human trafficker' seem so foreign and remote. I mean, what do they mean?” she said.
For Yasmin, understanding how her family became the victims of human trafficking means gaining an understanding of her father, which she readily admits she does not yet have.
Stefan Christopher, now out of prison, is 75 and living in Eastern Washington. He is a registered sex offender. He does not have a phone and could not be reached for comment, but his daughter said he has never explained his actions.
Christopher was raised in Seattle in a “good family” and attended the University of Washington, where he earned a Ph.D. in sociology and taught for a while, according to Yasmin and one of her older sisters, who asked not to be named. His first of five wives was a German woman whom they know little about. She left him and went to California, leaving behind their three daughters.
Christopher then joined a religious commune in Eatonville, where he served as preacher for a time. He married his second wife and had two more children.
In the early 1980s, Stefan Christopher was working in Bangladesh on a project for the U.N. when he met Yasmin's aunt.
She was 16 years old when Christopher, who converted to Islam to marry her, promised her father that he would buy him a piece of property with a source of water if she were allowed to marry him. They married, but he abused her and she ran away, according to Yasmin. Her father returned to Yasmin's grandfather and demanded another bride.
Fearing that honor gave him no choice, and believing that Christopher would care for his daughter, Yasmin's grandfather allowed Christopher to marry her mother.
She was 12 years old. Christopher was 47.
Christopher made good on his promise to buy the family a piece of property with a pond, and he poured a concrete floor for their home.
By the following year, he had created false documents allowing his wife, child and seven of her other relatives to emigrate with him to the United States.
The family members arrived in Washington and found themselves on a remote, ramshackle farm near Oakville with no bathroom, no plumbing, no electricity and no nearby neighbors. Christopher planned to raise beef cattle and sell the meat to a Halal shop in Seattle.
Yasmin doesn't remember all of the details, but she recalls that they had no heat and that the few clothes they had didn't keep them warm. “Everybody was always cold and sick,” she recalled.
The adults were threatened and beaten, and several of the children were sexually molested, investigators later said.
Christopher was in complete control. Her relatives didn't speak English, they had no idea where they were, and they were afraid to leave the farm, Yasmin said.
“My father told us that we would not be safe if we left the farm because Americans hate Muslims,” she said.
Christopher severely beat one of Yasmin's uncles with a cane in front of the whole family because he had tried to send a letter, Yasmin said. He was even forced to dig his own grave.
In 1988, 16-year-old Rhunia Gazi, the cousin of Yasmin's mother, hung herself from a rafter in the barn while Christopher and his wife were in Seattle to peddle Halal meat.
“She was suffering,” said Yasmin. “He had been molesting her and she didn't know any way out.”
Her relatives ventured off the farm and found a neighbor who called police.
Youmans, the Grays Harbor County detective, was called out to the farm.
“It was clearly a suicide, but there were all these children dressed in saris, who didn't speak English and were clearly terrified,” he said. “I didn't know what to think. I thought, ‘This is really weird for Oakville.'?”
As Youmans investigated further, he learned that someone in Seattle had reported to police his suspicions about Christopher being a child molester. That was enough to have the family removed from the farm and put up in Aberdeen. But building the case proved difficult, he recalled.
“It was a long, tedious process. We had to have translators. The females could not talk to males. The victims had no idea how old they were. None of their documents were legal. We eventually found out that he had molested at least two of the children, and we are able to charge him.”
Christopher was charged in Grays Harbor County Superior Court with two counts of indecent liberties. He was sentenced to four years in prison and released 18 months later.
Yasmin said she was not sexually abused, but that all of her unmarried, female relatives at the farm were. She said two of her older sisters from her father's first wife have disclosed that they, too, were abused.
Yasmin and her younger sister, as children of an American, qualified for citizenship. Several other relatives were deported, including Yasmin's 9-year-old aunt, the victim in the case for which Christopher was convicted.
That aunt, Khurshida Begum, now 33, returned to the U.S. with the assistance of a foster family and last year she became a citizen. She openly speaks about her experience as a survivor of human trafficking and abuse.
Yasmin's mother was granted a green card and became a citizen while Yasmin was in elementary school. She remarried, had another child and divorced. She refuses to talk about her time with Christopher, her daughter said.
“She still feels incredible shame,” said Yasmin. “Most of my family does.”
Yasmin's mother lives in Lacey.
Yasmin's family in Bangladesh still owns the property with the pond that Christopher bought for them.
Yasmin lives with her boyfriend in a Beacon Hill apartment filled with her paintings of Bengali women.
Her desire to be a lawyer is motivated, in part, by her early experiences, her trips to Bangladesh and her efforts to know her own history and understand how her father came to believe he could use people like pawns.
Yasmin's older sister, who was raised by her mother alone, believes that her father's trafficking crimes were not about money, but about control.
Yasmin agrees, but says she still wants to know him and hear the whole story.
“Human trafficking is one of the most complex issues,” she said. “It's fascinating, in kind of an awful way, to hear the justifications and the motivations. I'm sure I'll never fully understand it, but I'm going to try.”
Assembly OKs human trafficking prevention legislation
TRENTON — Bipartisan legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Alison Littell McHose that expands New Jersey's human trafficking laws by increasing protections for victims and requiring increased training and awareness programs was approved Thursday by the Assembly.
"This measure is an effort to oppose slavery, because that's exactly what human trafficking is — modern day slavery," said McHose, R-Sussex, Warren and Morris. "The media, those in positions of authority, even our friends and neighbors have, for far too long, adopted a ‘head in the sand' attitude that slavery was something that occurred and was abolished long ago. But that's only a half truth. It still exists today. It is very real and it's happening all around us."
The bill, A-3352, revises and expands the state's human trafficking laws by creating a new human trafficking commission, criminalizing additional activities related to human trafficking as well as upgrading certain penalties on existing human trafficking or related crimes, increasing protections afforded to victims of human trafficking, and providing for increased training and public awareness on human trafficking issues.
"One of our best weapons against this despicable crime is increased education and awareness," McHose said. "The other is additional stringent laws and penalties. The public needs to be better informed about the severity of this problem while those who engage in all aspects of this heinous form of slavery need to know there will be dire consequences for their actions."
According to the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice, there were 179 reported human trafficking victims from Sept. 16, 2005, to March 1, 2012, including 93 victims of labor trafficking, 60 of sex trafficking, and 26 of both labor and sex trafficking.
Specifically, the bill:
Tools of the anti-trafficking trade: Gifts, prayer and offers of support
• Establishes a 15-member Commission on Human Trafficking that will evaluate the existing law concerning human trafficking and its enforcement and make recommendations for legislation, and review existing victim assistance programs and promote a coordinated response by public and private resources for victims of human trafficking.
• Addresses the human trafficking of younger victims to engage in sexual activity by making a person strictly liable for a crime of the first degree for holding, recruiting, luring, enticing, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining, by any means, a child under 18 years of age to engage in sexual activity, whether or not the actor mistakenly believed that the child was 18 years of age or older, even if that mistaken belief was reasonable.
• Increases the minimum fine amount for criminal human trafficking of the first degree (recruiting persons for trafficking, financing a trafficking operation) to be at least $25,000. The monies will be deposited in the "Human Trafficking Survivor's Assistance Fund," which also will be created under this bill to provide victims' services, promote awareness of human trafficking, and to develop, maintain, distribute and operate a training course and educational materials.
• Makes conspiracy to commit a crime of human trafficking a first degree crime punishable by imprisonment of 10 to 20 years; up to a $200,000 fine; or both.
• Makes it a crime to knowingly provide services, resources, or assistance intended for use in furthering criminal human trafficking; or make or attempt to make a person engage in sexual activity, or provide labor or services, whether for the procurer or another, knowing or understanding there is a substantial likelihood that the person was a human trafficking victim.
• Establishes a new civil action for human trafficking. Damages can be awarded reflecting the income or value of the injured party's labor or services to the defendant. The injured person could also recover reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
by RACHEL COOK
The rain didn't deter the Union Avenue traffic on a chilly January night.
Cars and trucks trolled up and down the street as women stood on corners under umbrellas. Some were dressed in bright, tight clothing, others looked just like anybody else who might be wandering between downtown bars.
A Yukon packed with eight people cruised the street as well, pulling over so the front passenger in the "hot seat" could offer gift bags filled with tampons, jewelry and CDs, and styrofoam box dinners of spaghetti and salad to the women waiting in the rain. The bags also carried books penned by former strippers and porn stars.
"What's your opening line tonight?" Pastor Doug Bennett, the SUV's driver, asked Jessica Manning, the young woman in the passenger seat.
Twice a month, Bennett leads Manning and other volunteers from the nonprofit ministry Magdalene Hope into the streets. They strive to get their phone number into the hands of as many prostitutes as possible, hoping one day the women will call.
They pray for the women to be safe and to be able to say "No" to a john they have a bad feeling about.
The group has been reaching out to prostitutes since 2009. Bennett and the ministry's profile have been raised again lately following the arrest of a Reno man on suspicion of trafficking a 15-year-old Bakersfield girl to Nevada for prostitution. Local law enforcement said those cases are rare, but may be happening more often than authorities hear about.
"The prostitution is often a component of human trafficking," said Kern County Sheriff's Office Commander Tyson Davis.
Police and volunteers are up against a lot of barriers as they try to spot trafficking victims. Bakersfield Police Department Lt. Jorge Gomez, who supervises the vice unit, said prostitutes may not admit they are victims when they encounter police out of fear for their families' safety or because they have a relationship with their handlers.
"Those cases are often very hard to work because there's intimidation through violence, mental (and) emotional, where (traffickers) scare these women," Davis said.
The Magdalene volunteers have built a rapport with some of the women they see week after week, but Bennett is still disturbed by how many new faces they encounter. Bennett estimated that about half the prostitutes he meets each month, the half being about two dozen, are women the group has never seen before.
"It tells me that (pimps are) bringing them in from other cities and other states because if not, we would have already seen them," he said.
Some of the women who chatted with Bennett and Manning that rainy night last month said they were from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Fresno. Some were friendly and giggled. Others were guarded and somber.
One said she just wanted to go home to her son.
TAKING ON LOCAL TRAFFICKING
Human trafficking, particularly that related to sex work, has also gained a higher profile in Bakersfield in the last year.
A locally financed and produced film about child sex trafficking in Southeast Asia called "Trade of Innocents" premiered in Bakersfield last fall. Last November, California voters approved a measure increasing penalties for those convicted of human trafficking crimes.
And this year, a new group called the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking is putting down roots in the county.
Bennett and his ministry are a part of the young collaborative, comprised of representatives from law enforcement, churches, county agencies and service providers and community activists. Phil Gazley, an anti-human trafficking trainer and advocate who lives in the Tehachapi area, is helping lead the new group.
"(Human trafficking) is not something that's happening on every street corner, but it is enough of an issue in our community for everyone to have it on our radar," Gazley said.
The coalition also plans to combat forced labor, which hasn't attracted as much attention as the sex work.
"I think the sex aspect is so horrendous that that's what everybody focuses on," Davis at the sheriff's department said.
Sgt. Jason Matson, supervisor for the BPD child abuse and sexual assault unit, said other than the January trafficking case and another recent case still under investigation, he couldn't recall any similar situations in the last several years.
Still, law enforcement leaders said, they are conscious of the overlap between human trafficking and prostitution and are learning more about how to handle those situations.
"These woman may be committing the act of prostitution, but they may have no other choice," Davis said. "We're seeing the human trafficking component and realizing that these women are the victims."
Davis provided statistics for the number of people booked into the county jail for soliciting sex in the last several years, but he said the numbers of people caught soliciting sex are much higher than those statistics reveal. For misdemeanor crimes such as prostitution, people can be cited and released without having to go to jail if they have identification, Davis said.
Gomez said the vice unit made more than 800 arrests last year and prostitution arrests accounted for a "big part" of that number. He said that tally was a step up from slightly fewer than 300 arrests made by the unit in 2011.
Vija Turjanis, a licensed therapist and supervisor for one of the Kern County Mental Health Department's children's teams, said people single out "incredibly vulnerable" foster kids at group homes and at the A. Miriam Jamison Children's Center to attempt to lure them into prostitution.
Turjanis said she has seen both boys and girls targeted.
"(The kids are) innocent, they're vulnerable, they're just looking for love," Turjanis said.
Traffickers may seduce the youth, buying them gifts and giving them attention, the therapist said. Some of the children may already have been victims of sexual abuse.
"It's not something they necessarily want to do but it's something that they may be familiar (with)," Turjanis said.
At a recent meeting of the anti-trafficking colation's public awareness committee, conversation turned to organizing a "Human Trafficking 101" class for at-risk young adults and foster kids.
Turjanis said she hopes the classes for boys and girls will help foster youth recognize the dangers they face.
"I'm just hoping to bring some education and some awareness to keep these kids safe," she said.
Participants said they also hope to increase the community's awareness of trafficking both in labor and in the sex industry.
That could mean someone being used by a boyfriend or forced to work without getting paid.
"I think the important thing is to have your eyes open in terms of people around you who might be in vulnerable situations," Gazley said.
Matson, from the police department, advised people to look out for a change in behavior in potential victims such as running away or disappearing more often. They may also withdraw and not be open about what they are doing.
"Try to dig deeper with the person into what's going on," and encourage them to report it to police, he said.
Matson said law enforcement's goal is to create trust with victims and put an end to the crime.
And while the crime may not come to light often, anti-trafficking advocates have no doubt that human trafficking is brewing beneath the surface of the community.
"This is happening in our town. In pretty much every major city worldwide, women are being trafficked, treated like meat and as a sexual object instead of an actual human being," Bennett said.
Magdalene Hope has several criteria for volunteers.
They must be at least 18 years old, born-again Christian and attend a training course before going out with the group.
Volunteers for the nonprofit gather at Valley Bible Fellowship before they head out into the night. Bennett leads a discussion of what the volunteers have been encountering lately, then they pray and worship to a few songs before loading into vehicles.
The group drives up and down Union and by motels where prostitutes work. Bennett said they have also met transvestite and male prostitutes, whom they approach in the same way.
The ministry's strategy has changed over time. Bennett said they started out paying for women's time but switched to offering them gifts in hopes that pimps won't take the goodies.
"If my daughter was out on the street, I would want somebody going out there and encouraging her and talking to her and offering her a way off the street and an opportunity to change her life," Bennett said.
Bennett believes his own experiences have equipped him to reach out to others. He struggled with a methamphetamine addiction and visited prostitutes himself earlier in life.
Bennett said things changed in 2004 when he found Jesus. Now Bennett said his past allows him to have compassion for the people the ministry reaches out to.
"I can spot a john from a mile away, I can spot a prostitute...because I've been there before," he said.
The ministry's goal isn't to get people to quit prostitution, but to show them that they are loved unconditionally, Bennett said. Bennett and other volunteers approach the women without judgment, eager to ask them how they are doing and find out if they want prayer for anything.
"We're non-threatening and we're not pointing fingers and saying, 'Oh you're going to go to hell,'" said Renee Dominguez, a hospice nurse and member of Magdalene Hope.
Though the group doesn't pressure people to abandon prostitution, Bennett said the ministry has helped three women leave sex work in the last six months. He said he and his wife recently drove a young woman who had escaped her pimp to a shelter. The group also offered its first HIV testing at a motel on Union in January.
The group brings in some donations, but Bennett said most of the ministry's money comes from volunteers. He said the ministry has had money committed to it to buy a house to start a recovery program, something he hopes will happen this year.
"I think with the house we'll really be able to do some good," he said.
Two weeks after the outing in late January, on another cold and drizzling Friday evening, Union was quieter. But the volunteers filled two vehicles and managed to hand out fabric roses and boxes of chocolates to a handful of women for Valentine's Day.
One prostitute the group has known for a while agreed to be interviewed by a reporter while she stood on the street. She kept a watchful eye on the traffic as she talked about how she got into prostitution and her day-to-day life. She said she doesn't picture herself living any other way right now.
The woman said she doesn't think prostitution will ever end and Bennett later agreed. But as the volunteers gathered again at the church to debrief, Bennett asked them to think about new ways to reach out to prostitutes and grow their work.
"A couple of the girls in our ministry used to be human trafficking victims and now they're survivors and now they go out with us and they serve on the streets and they go out to try to help these girls get off the streets.
"Hopefully one day maybe (the prostitute who was interviewed) will serve with us on our team," he said as he drove back to the church.
5 Things Standing Between You and a Healthy Relationship
by David Sack, M.D. -- Psychiatrist and CEO of Elements Behavioral Health
Deborah's love life has always been rocky. First there was Mark, a successful businessman with a raging alcohol problem. Dan was loyal and intelligent, but his need for constant attention drove them apart. Then there was Doug, a kind-hearted Southern boy who seemed to break the mold, until she found out he was married with two kids. Notice a pattern?
Every time Deborah gets into a relationship, she's sure this time she found a good one, only to discover months later that she has succumbed to the same familiar pattern. He's unavailable. She's too needy. And now she's in her 40s and unhappily single.
Why do some people repeat the same relationship mistakes over and over? Here are five likely culprits:
#1: A Dysfunctional Family
Ironically, our relationship future can be closely tied to our relationship past. That's because we learn what intimacy is from our early relationships and are drawn, consciously or unconsciously, to what we know.
Children who grow up taking care of a parent with a chronic illness may be disconnected from their feelings. Having rigid, overly-controlling parents can make it difficult for children -- and later, adults -- to make decisions, while neglectful or uninvolved parents may raise individuals with a strong need for attention. Although the problem started in childhood, its effects can linger long into adulthood, often in the form of mistrust, a need for control, or difficulty building and maintaining relationships.
While no childhood is perfect, certain types of dysfunction tend to get played out in relationships. Take addiction, for example. Studies show that kids who grow up in alcoholic families bring the problems of their youth into their grown-up romantic relationships. Children of alcoholics tend to marry into families with alcohol problems. Daughters of alcoholics are more than twice as likely to marry an alcoholic as daughters of non alcoholics. When choosing a partner, we go with what we know.
#2: Childhood Trauma
Physical, emotional or sexual abuse in childhood can have lifelong effects. In relationships, survivors of early trauma often struggle with social isolation, attachment problems and inability to trust. If they are able to commit to a serious relationship, their partners may complain that they are needlessly jealous or insecure.
As many as 80 percent of abused children meet the criteria for a mental health disorder at age 21 -- depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and eating disorders being among the most common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, as many as two-thirds of patients in addiction treatment programs were abused as children. All of these disorders can compound the difficulties abused children experience in adult relationships.
For many, the cycle of abuse doesn't end with them. According to some estimates, one-third of abused children go on to abuse their own children. Others find themselves continually seeking out abusive or unavailable partners, subconsciously trying to recreate the childhood trauma so it can be resolved. Unfortunately, the usual outcome isn't the ability to rewrite history, but rather more rejection and trauma.
#3: Love Addiction
Genuine intimacy is impossible for people actively struggling with relationship, romance or love addiction. That's because love addicts are repeatedly drawn to people who can't express their feelings, are afraid of commitment or are otherwise emotionally unavailable. They use sex and other schemes to keep a partner around, fearing that they'll be worthless without someone to care for them.
Despite a long history of chaotic relationships, love addicts continue desperately searching for "the one," falling in and out of love quickly and sometimes clinging to a partner who falls far short of their standards. Love addiction can be treated, usually by addressing trauma or dysfunction from childhood and learning what healthy intimacy looks like.
#4: Unrealistic Expectations
Our expectations surrounding sex and relationships are always evolving, perhaps never more so than in the digital age. As a result of the explosion in free, easily-accessible online porn, adultery websites, smartphone apps and other media, we are left asking, "Did the Internet kill Cupid?"
As little as a decade ago, people had to work hard to view X-rated images, get a date and embark on a sexual relationship. Now, married or single, gay or straight, young or old, there are endless opportunities online to get these things anywhere, any time. The Internet has been a savior for some, but it has been destructive for some people with a history of trauma or who are prone to addiction.
The digital generation is growing up on porn, regularly viewing images that alter their expectations of real-life partners. By age 11, most children have been exposed to pornography. Possibly because of the images they see of super-sized, always ready and willing porn stars, young people are struggling with sexual dysfunction and loss of interest in real-life partners.
#5: Mental Health Disorders
Having a mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety or borderline personality disorder can make romantic relationships challenging. Building the confidence and trust to get into a relationship is one hurdle, followed by day-to-day struggles with anger, sadness and other emotions. Then there's the break-up, which can be not only heartbreaking but also threaten the individual's ability to effectively manage their illness.
Navigating the realm of sex and intimacy can be complex. In one study, people with mental illness were more likely than those without mental illness to have multiple partners at one time and shorter relationships. They were also sexually intimate sooner. With proper treatment and self-care, people who struggle with mental illness can have healthy, stable relationships, but it requires ongoing effort and a supportive partner.
Next time you embark on a romantic relationship, look beyond the simple excuses of "I just attract the wrong kind of guy" or "the heart wants what it wants," and answer honestly: Why were you attracted to this person? If it's not because of their quality of character and your mutual respect for one another but rather your matching baggage, you may be walking into yet another heartbreak. What's familiar may be comfortable, but it isn't always the best choice. Only when you address the underlying issues can you begin making healthier choices and healing your own wounds from the past.
David Sack, M.D., is board certified in psychiatry, addiction psychiatry and addiction medicine. He is CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, a network of addiction treatment programs that includes Promises Treatment Centers, The Ranch, The Sexual Recovery Institute, Right Step, and The Recovery Place.
My deep, dark secret
A childhood trauma left me with fear of intimacy and a truth about my sex life that's almost too painful to reveal
by Tracy Strauss
At the time of my mother's ovarian cancer diagnosis when she was 65, she wanted to be a grandmother. I just wanted to be normal.
I was 36 years old and I'd never had a lover, a fact I was ashamed to admit and had only divulged to my therapist.
Although I'd wanted to be in a relationship, my attempts to date brought on a total body fight-or-flight response. I played out idealized romantic scenarios in my mind, but when it came to actually being with a man, I felt like somebody's prey. At the same time, I was terrified of being abandoned.
When I noticed a potential boyfriend looking at me with interest, I was convinced he'd pass me over once he saw through my superficial appearance: with my clothes on, I believed, I was false advertising. I imagined that once he saw me naked he'd view me in a light of lesser worth, because of what had happened to me, because of what I'd been involved in when I was a child.
As a girl, I'd been sexually abused, manipulated into acts that entailed the same body parts and motions as intercourse, but that was rape, my therapist said, that wasn't the same thing as having sex: I was a virgin.
But I didn't consider myself to be a virgin. I considered myself to be an anomaly.
* * *
“You could meet someone in the next year or two,” my mother, who frequently lamented that her life was “miserable” because she didn't have grandchildren as other women her age did, encouraged me. She was positive: “You could have a baby by the time you're 40.”
I don't know if she knew I wasn't having sex.
The truth was, despite my fears, I wanted to have sex. I desired to share myself with a partner and to ultimately create a life together with him. I wanted to have a baby within a committed relationship, within a psychologically and financially stable home. I didn't want to replicate the family circumstances of my childhood but wanted to make sure I was emotionally healthy before raising a family, because I understood the consequences if I, as a mother, was not.
I knew that not all women in stable, committed relationships chose to have children. I also knew that many were not physically capable. As a teenager, I'd been to doctors for menstrual irregularities caused by the abuse: my body shut down in response to the emotional stress and I was told I might not ever be able to conceive on my own. But in my early 30s, after I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and began to process my past, my cycles regulated.
I was able-bodied.
At 36, I despised my biological clock and the women's magazines that pointed out, with unrelenting persistence, that time was running out, if it was not already too late. Colleagues and acquaintances suggested that if I ever wanted to have a child I should become a single mother, a “choice mom.” I shouldn't wait, they said like an alarm, I had to do it right now .
But I was in no position to have a baby. I didn't have job security. I could barely make ends meet on my college instructor salary. I used any cash surplus to pay for my PTSD treatment. I was in therapy three days a week to cope with debilitating anxiety and depression. To me, there was no choice.
“I'm not going to have a child,” I said, “just to have a child.”
* * *
The closest I'd come to having sex was at 33, with a man I was dating named Rob. We met on eHarmony.
Rob was a 35-year-old clinical social worker, tall and lean with thinning dark hair and glasses. Although I told him my parents had gotten divorced when I was 18, I withheld the fact that I'd been sexually abused. I didn't reveal that I'd never made love.
I wanted to be normal.
One evening, as we cuddled on my couch, my ear was to Rob's chest and I could hear his heart beating and the vibration of his voice speaking, and I remembered how I used to do that with the man who had molested me. Rob nuzzled his face against mine, and brushed aside my hair with his hand. I knew what he wanted, and I looked up at him invitingly.
We started kissing, touching. Everything was silent, except for Rob's breathing, which was heavy and deep, and I knew he was becoming more and more turned on, and then the terror from my past overtook me and I could no longer push away the scene in the back of my mind: I was a girl and this was a man I trusted – I do but I don't want to be your girlfriend – I was pulled in by a sexual arousal that possessed me, toxically, I was crossing that point of no return where love becomes tainted and ugly and so do you because it becomes a part of you, this thing that is being forced onto you, into you, what he is doing and what you are doing to you, that causes the destruction of you, everything within you, between you two.
I nudged Rob off me with a nervous smile. To my relief, and disappointment, he didn't ask questions. He went home.
Two days later, on a park bench, I told him the truth.
“When I was growing up,” I stated it as simply and as briefly as I could, “I was sexually abused.” I told him I wasn't ready to have sex with him yet. I wanted to, I said, but I needed him to be patient. “I'm working very hard in therapy to heal,” I explained, “but I need more time.”
Rob's lips parted as if to say something, but then no words came. He sat silently for a short while, looking down at the ground before he finally stood and walked away. Later that night, he sent an email. He wanted to be able to say the right thing, he wrote, but he couldn't.
He ended it: “I'm not up for being the partner of a survivor.”
* * *
A few days after the removal of her quarter- and dime-size tumors, along with her ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, two lymph nodes, and part of her omentum, my mother revealed to me that her doctors had tested her for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. She was positive for BRCA1. We now knew that from the day of her birth, my mother's lifetime risk of developing cancer was high: her chances of developing breast cancer were 87 percent versus the general public's 7 percent, and 44-66 percent for ovarian cancer versus the general public's 2 percent.
There was a 50 percent chance I'd inherited the mutation. At the recommendation of my gynecologist, I got tested. If I were positive, management would include ovarian ultrasound, the cancer-marker CA-125 test every six months, annual mammogram, yearly breast MRI, a clinical exam twice a year, prophylactic mastectomy, chemoprevention and ovarian removal “after you have your children,” the genetic counselor, a 20-something brunette, told me, “between the ages of 35 and 40.”
Still single, I heard, like a death announcement, that I might've missed my window. As an adult, I'd never let a man touch or see my bare breasts. I thought to myself, if I was marked by a genetic mutation, I might not ever have a baby. I might not ever be what I thought it meant to be “normal” as a woman.
What I couldn't bear to face was the way I felt as if my intimate parts had already been taken.
“They call it the silent killer,” the genetic counselor said, her eyes leaving mine for the surface of her large diamond engagement ring, and then to the oval table, where she placed a large pink slip of paper on which my family tree was neatly printed. With her red pen, she circled names and traced the cancer line: my mother, her sister, my grandfather, his sister and mother. Next to my name, she drew a question mark.
Finally, my blood was drawn.
* * *
A little over a week later, I found out I was negative. Elation washed over me: I felt I'd been given a second chance to live . I was lucky.
I began to face my unresolved fears about intimacy, working in therapy to move beyond my past, sorting out the difference between what had happened to me as a girl and what I, as an adult, had a birthright to have: consensual sex.
After my mother died, I stopped allowing fear to get in my way. I started dating more regularly. I began to feel more comfortable about the idea of sharing the truth of my years of sexual isolation, and I told a couple of friends, as well as my coed therapy group. A straight male member responded by saying, “I think it's understandable.” Another said, “Why are you so hard on yourself? It's not your fault.”
Initially, I thought maybe they were just being nice. I hadn't considered such reactions to be possible.
The truth is, everyone has issues they bring to relationships, but we are greater, more whole, than our shame. We are all survivors of something. We have the power to decide whether our past defines us, serves us.
I still grieve the years and experiences I lost, the men I never got to know, the biological children I will probably never have. There are times I'm aware my past is at play and obstructing my view. That's a normal, human struggle. But I've finally found the freedom to invite intimacy and love into my life, to make a choice to have sex or not, based on my desire and self-respect.
For the first time, I feel like a woman.
A Pushcart Prize-nominated writer, Tracy Strauss has published memoir in The Southampton Review, The Briar Cliff Review, South Loop Review, Beyond the Margins, and other publications. She is currently writing a memoir, "Notes on Proper Usage," about her relationship with her late writer-editor mother, the discovery of her mother's secret collection of documents and personal journals, the abusive man who marked both their lives, and her journey towards forgiveness and reconciliation. Tracy's website is http://tracystrauss. com/
Stewards of Child Abuse training in Pecatonica
PECATONICA — Prevent Child Abuse Illinois will host a Darkness to Light Stewards of Children Abuse training from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at New Life Bible Church of Winnebago, 2285 N. Hoisington Road, Pecatonica.
Stewards of Children is a nationally distributed program that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Jennifer Samartano of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois will present. Cost is $10; registration is open to any adult who works with children.
Support grows for bipartisan bill to lift limit on sexual abuse of children
To register: Shelly, 815-335-1405, firstname.lastname@example.org. For information: winnewlife.com.
Presently, Minnesota law limits lawsuits made against sexual assailants by victims to six years after they turn 18. A bipartisan group of Minnesota lawmakers want to eliminate that time restriction.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, and House Reps. Steve Simon, (DFL-St. Louis Park), and Sondra Erickson, (R-Princeton), made the announcement with child victim advocates during a press conference Wednesday.
The proposed bill would lift the statute of limitations entirely, which would allow adults who had been abused as children to file lawsuits at any time.
“Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, a bill sponsor, said adult victims of child abuse often take many years to fully recover or process what happened to them,” according to the Associated Press. He says the bill would hold institutions more accountable for employing abuse perpetrators.
Proponents of the bill made their case to lift the time limit based on the prevalence of people who now say they were abused as children.
“Minnesota's first-ever child adverse events report, which was released last month, showed that 10 percent of adults in the state reported some form of sexual abuse in their childhoods,” reported the StarTribune.
It's difficult to comprehend that there are opponents to lifting the statute of limitations on such cases.
The Catholic Church has fought similar efforts to abolish time limits, which have limited the number of criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits against alleged child abusers.
“The Catholic Church has successfully beaten back such proposals in many states, arguing that it is difficult to get reliable evidence when decades have passed and that the changes seem more aimed at bankrupting the church than easing the pain of victims,” The New York Times reported.
The Catholic Church has spent $2.5 billion in legal fees, settlements and prevention programs. “...it (the church) sees this as an open-ended and unfair exposure for accusations from the distant past.”
“Changing the statute of limitations ‘has turned out to be the primary front for child sex abuse victims,' said Marci A. Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University who represents plaintiffs in sexual abuse suits.
The efforts of this bipartisan effort to lift the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse must not only gain the support of every state legislator, but every citizen of Minnesota.
Child Abuse at Reservation Is Topic for 3 Lawmakers
by TIMOTHY WILLIAMS
Federal officials will hold a town hall meeting on the Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota this month to discuss the reservation's child sexual abuse problem, which last year led the federal government to take over the tribe's social services program.
Residents have complained that the Bureau of Indian Affairs and federal prosecutors have done too little to stop child abuse, which officials acknowledge is commonplace on Spirit Lake and has reached epidemic levels, whistle-blowers say. North Dakota's senators and a representative are expected to attend the meeting.
The federal government took over the tribe's social services in October, and in one month federal officials said they had investigated more than 100 cases of reported child abuse. More recent figures are not available, according to the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In May 2011, a 9-year-old girl and her 6-year-old brother were killed on the reservation after being raped and sodomized.
In recent months, residents have protested outside tribal headquarters about the lack of prosecutions of those accused of child abuse, and what they say is a continuing failure to protect Spirit Lake's children. The reservation's registered child sex offender list includes the man who plays Santa Claus at tribal events, as well as a brother of Roger Yankton Sr., the tribal chairman.
Mark Little Owl, 34, the official hired by the tribe to oversee its social services, was arrested in December on several charges, including domestic violence, after he punched a woman in the face, the authorities said. He was also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor after throwing a child out of a bedroom where the assault was taking place, according to court documents.
The town hall meeting, announced by Senators John Hoeven, a Republican, and Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, and Representative Kevin Cramer, a Republican, will include an update from the Bureau of Indian Affairs on federal efforts, according to a news release. A date for the meeting has not yet been set.
“We have pressed them not only to use every legal and administrative measure in their jurisdiction to ensure the safety of children on the Spirit Lake Reservation, but also to be transparent and forthcoming with tribal members about what they're doing,” the lawmakers said in a statement.
The Bureau of Indian Affairs said that among the changes it has made since taking over tribal social services was imposing a rule that required all adults who live with foster children to have their fingerprints taken.
While fingerprinting in such circumstances is already mandated by federal law, it was not being done regularly at Spirit Lake, officials said. Reservation residents say they believe significant numbers of foster children on the reservation have been sexually abused.
Child abuse cases on the rise in Michigan and region
by Brandon Hubbard
Child abuse cases in Northern Michigan are growing.
The latest data released for confirmed child abuse cases in Emmet and Charlevoix counties shows steady increases in overall child abuse and neglect cases during the recession.
But, while those confirmed abuses are growing, it may not identify the full story.
Statewide the cases have risen from 29,379 in 2007 to 33,000 in 2011. During the most recent year, one out of 12 children lived in a family investigated for child abuse.
Northern Michigan counties have also seen their confirmed abuse statistics trend upward during the past decade.
Emmet County reported 284 abuses or neglect complaints, while Charlevoix County had 288 in 2011 -- the most recent year reported.
Although the small rural counties are not recording nearly the large volumes of cases other major counties in Michigan have experienced, when adjusted for population it remains at or higher overall than the state average.
About 18 per 1,000 children in Charlevoix County experienced abuse or neglect, according the to the Kids Count in Michigan data released this month. Both Emmet County and the state of Michigan have a confirmed child abuse average of about 14 per 1,000 children in 2011.
"This has been driven a lot by the really acute economic situations families find themselves in," Jane Zehnder-Merrill, Kids Count project director with the Michigan League of Public Policy.
Contributors, Zehnder-Merrill said, are the waning eligibility for family assistance programs, leaving primarily food stamps as the only state-backed support system.
The increasing cost of transportation, as well as lack of public transportation in northern, rural counties also contributes, she said.
"People in those counties aren't driving the latest and greatest gas-saving models," Zehnder-Merrill said.
"Housing is a major issue also," she added, pointing to the increasing prices for rent and low income housing because of the increase in foreclosures and people no longer seeking to own homes.
"Definitely overall this has been an upward trend during the past decade in your two counties," she said.
Michigan defines child abuse and neglect as non-accidental physical, mental, sexual abuse, maltreatment, or neglect -- such as abandonment and medical neglect.
By far, neglect makes up the largest category of abuse in Michigan at 84 percent. About 5,000 of the confirmed neglect cases in Michigan are infants.
Confirmed cases have trended upward by about a third during the Great Recession in Michigan. Investigations have climbed at about a 6 percent rate.
The Michigan Department of Human Services say although the numbers used in the Kids Count data are accurate because they come from their department, officials say it does not paint a clear picture about what is happening currently.
"We not saying child poverty isn't an issue," said Dave Akerly, Michigan Department of Human Services director of public relations.
Akerly says the numbers are slightly skewed because the department has been implementing key changes such as mandatory investigations that can drive numbers up.
Akerly believes the uptick in child abuse shows the resilience DHS staff had during a historically bleak period.
"It happens to be six of the most beleaguered years in our state's history," Akerly said. "We were basically a one-state recession."
Case workers in Charlevoix and Emmet counties in 2010 were handling between 500-550 cases, compared to an average 320-case workload in 2002.
Michigan has added about 1,000 caseworkers and implemented a centralized call system to improve case response times statewide. The previous complaint system was done by individual counties and may have resulted in "artificially low" numbers in the early 2000s.
Those combined factors, Akerly said, makes blaming the abuses on the recession a "jump."
"Being poor doesn't mean you beat your kids," he said.
Maggie Kromm, executive director for the Child Abuse Council of Charlevoix & Emmet Counties, says child statistics are often believed to be under reported because of who is being reported on.
"We're dealing with children and their voices are often unheard. It is only when an adult recognizes the signs of abuse and steps in that they become heard," Kromm said. "It is usually not the child making the report. It is unfortunate and sad that we have even one case, let alone hundreds."
The Child Abuse Council, CAC, partnered with the statewide, nonprofit Children's Trust Fund, works with the community to prevent child abuse and neglect through increased public awareness and education.
The CAC provides parenting literature, hosts an annual spring conference, participates in the Children's Health Fair and Parenting Awareness Month activities and recognizes community members who positively impact the lives of our children.
"While we recognize stress can happen in all families -- rather than say we can reduce unemployment or foreclosure rates -- we look at protective factors. Protective Factors are the strengths and resources that families draw on when life becomes difficult." Kromm said, pointing to these strengths as a proven way to keep the family strong and reduce child abuse and neglect. This universal approach helps get needed support to families that may not meet the criteria for at-risk services, but who are dealing with stressors that could lead them to abuse or neglect. Kromm said her organization works to try to "overcome" those risk factors with support and information.
"When we build strong families we increase the health and well-being of children and families," Kromm added. "We want all children to grow up in a home that nurtures and protects them."
Statewide panel restructured
This week Gov. Rick Snyder issued an executive order to downsize the Michigan Task Force on Child Abuse and Neglect from 34 to 18 members from various stakeholder groups to speed the oversight process.
"We have an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of our children, and I look forward to the thoughtful, innovative suggestions for improvement from these dedicated individuals," Snyder said in a statement.
Maine's Shameful State Secret: Child Sex Abuse
by Lori Handrahan
Maine has just been rated third worst in the country for sex trafficking. The Bangor Daily News says Maine is a top source for the entire East Coast to procure children for sex abuse. Those who know Maine's history are not surprised.
Only a few years ago when students at the Baxter School for the Deaf tried to refuse sexual abuse by their director, Dr. Robert Kelly, he tied the children naked to a tree and left them alone, all night, in the Maine woods. The State of Maine protected Dr. Kelly and not the children. Maine's Attorney General (AG) refused to prosecute. Apparently the State continues to pay Dr. Kelly his pension. When children are tied naked to pine trees as a "grooming" exercise for rape and no one is prosecuted, the devil is walking the halls of Maine's Attorney General's office.
Lawyers in the AG's office used a "statute of limitations" excuse to justify their protection of abusers and not children. This is wide recognition that there can be no statute of limitations for crimes of child abuse and Maine legislatures, in 1991, ended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. Then the federal District Court for the District of Maine, in an unbelievable judgment ruled that "the Legislature clearly did not intend for this expanded statute of limitations to revive claims that were already 'barred by the previous statute of limitations in force' prior to the amendments."
Judges in Maine, both state and federal, appear eager to protect abusers and not children. From Baxter School for the Deaf to Kennebunk's Zumba prostitution scandal, Maine courts have systematically protected child abusers and not children. Child abusers like Dr. Kelly, former FBI Bureau Chief John Kenoyer, who raped a ten year old girl for over a year, and former Assistant Attorney General James Cameron, recently arrested for child porn, are considered "important people" and " productive members of the community. " Judges in Maine protect them. One has to wonder why.
I stumbled upon the massive cover-up of extreme child abuse at the Baxter School for the Deaf when I delved into the Freedom of Information Act (FIOA) files about the cover-up of child sex abuse by Maine's Catholic priests. For three years Jeannine Guttman, formerly Executive Editor of the Portland Press Herald, fought to get the State to release these records. When Maine did release, it was only records of abuse by deceased or Alzheimer's priests. Current records of living priests accused of child sex abuse remains protected by the State.
I thought the Catholic Church sex abuse documents would be painful enough to read but I'd been advised to dig deep into Pineland School as well as what the State did to Native American communities. The abuse was equally horrific. Maine has just established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to create a public record of what Maine's child protective services did and continues to do to Wabanaki children.
Maine's Robert Tristram Coffin was one of America's great poets. Coffin spoke about sons and daughters of Maine, rock-bound coasts, and pine-trees. A place where one can still see the Milky Way at night; where old-fashion values are held sacred and folks are judged not by their financial wealth but the weight of their human souls.
That is the Maine I still know or so I believed until I started researching Maine's dark history of the cover-up of child sex abuse. So-called "good Mainers" who cultivate public images as "pillars of the community" have been allowed to plunder, rape, and torture generations of Maine's children. Those, like Rod Hotham and James Levier, who raised their voices in pain and outrage, have been silenced. This was not the Maine Coffin loved. It is not the Maine I cherish.
Decades of shameful silence and impunity for child abuse continues in Maine with children like Ayla Reynolds, Logan Marr, David Handler and Mila Malenko treated exactly as the child abuse at Baxter, the Catholic Church, Pineland and Wabanakis has been handled; cover-up, deny, protect the abuser and not the children. Maine has been recognized by the Bangor Daily News as a source for the entire East Coast to procure children because there is a powerful state-system in place that allows this to happen.
Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." We must now end the silence. No more cover-ups. No more children in Maine abused while Maine protects the abusers. US Attorney General Eric Holder must appoint a special prosecutor to conduct an in-depth investigation into the corruption of public officials in Maine around the issues of child trafficking, child porn and child sex abuse. The silence and abuse must end now.
Lori Handrahan, Ph.D. is a professor in Washington D.C. She has run for U.S. Congress in Maine and is from New Sharon/Sorrento, Maine. Twitter: @dcprofessor1
Pope Benedict Will Have Immunity From Child Abuse Claims
by Living In Vatican
Pope Benedict will have immunity from any attempts to prosecute him in connection to sexual abuse cases around the world, legal experts say of the pope's decision to resign his position.
Benedict announced that he will spend the remainder of his days living at the Vatican, where he will also be given security measures, Reuters reported.
“His continued presence in the Vatican is necessary, otherwise he might be defenseless. He wouldn't have his immunity, his prerogatives, his security, if he is anywhere else,” one Vatican official told Reters.
Pope Benedict announced that he will resign on February 28, the first pope in centuries to leave while alive.
Vatican officials said Benedict‘s decision to remain in the Vatican is a practical one, albeit a bit unprecedented.
“I see a big problem if he would go anywhere else. I'm thinking in terms of his personal security, his safety. We don't have a secret service that can devote huge resources (like they do) to ex-presidents,” the official said.
With Pope Benedict getting immunity, Vatican officials also would not have to worry about a legal defense. Benedict has been named in lawsuits in the past, Reuters noted:
“In 2010, for example, Benedict was named as a defendant in a law suit alleging that he failed to take action as a cardinal in 1995 when he was allegedly told about a priest who had abused boys at a U.S. school for the deaf decades earlier. The lawyers withdrew the case last year and the Vatican said it was a major victory that proved the pope could not be held liable for the actions of abusive priests.”
For Pope Benedict, immunity from prosecution was not a motivation for his resignation. Church historian Matthew Bunson told USA Today that Benedict saw Pope John Paul II's declining health in his later years and vowed to step aside before he became unable to perform his duties.
Camden Diocese seeks to test claims of abuse
The Diocese of Camden wants to question an Ohio man for two days over his claim he was sexually abused by a priest, then repressed the memory for more than 40 years.
A lawyer for the diocese contends extensive questioning at a pretrial deposition, including asking the man to describe his abuse in detail, is necessary to protect the church's rights.
But an attorney for the priest's accuser, Mark Bryson, asserts the request is “excessive and harassing.” He wants a federal judge to limit questioning of his client to seven hours, or a single day. And a group opposed to the Catholic Church's handling of the sex-abuse issue contends the legal tactic is intended to send “an intimidating signal.”
“I think the church officials and lawyers think that, by making this as tough as they can, they'll discourage others from coming forward,” said David Clohessy, a spokesman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
Diocesan Spokesman Peter Feuerherd sees it differently.
“This is a 45-year-old claim that should not be rushed,” he said Friday.
Bryson sued the diocese in January 2012, alleging he was repeatedly assaulted by the Rev. Joseph Shannon at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden. Bryson, born in 1961, contends the abuse occurred when he was a first-grader at the parish school.
An attorney for the diocese, William DeSantis of Cherry Hill, has argued the statute of limitations for any offense expired when Bryson was 20, or two years after he became an adult.
But the suit asserts Bryson repressed his memory of the assaults until February 2010, when he saw someone who reminded him of Shannon. If a judge upholds that claim, the statute of limitations would not block the suit, said Adam Horowitz, a Boca Raton, Fla., attorney for Bryson.
In court papers filed Thursday, DeSantis said extensive questioning would help determine the validity of Bryson's claims. He said details of the alleged abuse, “such as the frequency, nature of the sexual acts, violent or nonviolent nature, conversations between victim and abuse, are relevant for the court to determine whether (Bryson) did in fact repress all memories of the abuse.”
Among other points, DeSantis also said Bryson should face questions about other events in his life “which might have served, or should have served, to trigger these memories.”
Horowitz, who specializes in cases of child sex abuse, contends two-day depositions are “exceedingly rare.”
“Out of 200 depositions of such victims, I can think of one or two requests like that,” he said in an interview.
Shannon is not a defendant in Bryson's lawsuit, but he has been previously accused of molestation. One suit, filed in the 1980s by Stephen Palo of Gloucester Township, was settled with a payment from the diocese, but no admission of wrongdoing, Palo said in a 1994 interview.
Shannon, who was put on indefinite medical leave in 1990, has worked most recently with the federal Transportation Security Administration at Philadelphia International Airport.
Bryson's suit was one of two filed against the diocese last year. Lisa Syvertson Shanahan of North Carolina sued in May, alleging church officials failed to protect her from an abusive priest at a Hammonton parish during her childhood in the early 1980s.
Her suit says Shanahan did not realize she had grounds to sue until October 2009, when she learned of recent lawsuits by other alleged victims of the priest.
Mark Ostrem: Sex trafficking victims need help and hope
Human sex trafficking. Society used to call it prostitution, and many people still do. Why the paradigm shift?
Consider Stacy's story.
At age 19, Stacy was walking home one evening, the same route she took most nights. It was getting dark when a car pulled up and an elderly man offered her a ride. He told her it was not a good idea to be out walking late at night.
He seemed nice enough — but little did Stacy know that this elderly man was paid to find girls like her. He did not drive her home. He delivered her to a pimp. She was taken at gunpoint and drugged.
This is how Stacy became trapped in human sex trafficking. It would be 10 years before she could escape.
Other individuals involved in human trafficking have similar stories. It is rarely a lifestyle they freely choose. Generally, it is a lifestyle forced on them. Stacy was a victim of a kidnapping and drug addiction enforced by her pimp, and then she was forced to prostitute herself to survive.
Stacy's is not an unusual story, other than her age. Most victims are taken between the ages of 12 and 14, and they're imprisoned through threats of violence against their family, psychological manipulation and isolation.
Many people believe victims of sex trafficking can and should simply walk away, that all they need to do is just call a police officer, social worker or public employee, and they'll be rescued.
Sadly, it's not that easy. Pimps use all manners of coercion to maintain their dominance over their victims. The fear of violent harm is real and likely has been experienced or witnessed.
What can we do?
A few years ago, the Sisters of Saint Francis invited me to an event on human trafficking. I thought I had a fairly good grasp of the problem (I still thought of the victims as prostitutes), but I quickly learned how little I really understood.
A year or so later, I joined other Minnesota Metro County attorneys pledging to no longer treat juveniles being trafficked as delinquents; rather, we acknowledge they are children in need of protective services. I have been active in juvenile human trafficking issues, including implementation of the recent Safe Harbor legislation. And the sisters continue to offer education.
The general public should acknowledge that most persons engaged in prostituting themselves are not criminals, even though our criminal code may provide otherwise. They are victims. If we treat them like criminals, they will feel like criminals and respond like criminals. That dynamic further reinforces the "bond" a pimp has with victims, by sending the message that no one else really cares for them and no one will look out for them. That no one will ever accept them or see them as anything other than a prostitute.
If we recognize and treat trafficked individuals as victims, we have hope they will recognize the sincerity of our offer of resources. Basics such as food, shelter and protection from their pimp are essential. Basic education and chemical abuse therapy are typically additional crucial needs, along with medical care, mental-health needs and life skills.
We offer those resources at the time of the "arrest" and every opportunity we have moving forward. Our law enforcement officers know it is crucial that our offer is sincere and timely.
As Stacy's tenure suggests, we may not get a victim's attention the first time. If a victim is not successful, we keep trying. With "adult victims," we can leverage the power and discretion of the prosecutor to strengthen the sincerity of an offer to get out.
The policy of the Olmsted County Attorney's Office regarding human trafficking victims attempts to do just that, to provide any number of services, tailored to a particular victim, which will assist in transitioning to a "normal" lifestyle.
We do this by actually charging the criminal matter and then diverting the case while a victim takes advantage of all we have to offer. When she is successful, the case is dismissed. A victim will not only have been given an escape route, but a "clean" record to continue to build a new life.
Likewise, the policy of the Olmsted County Attorney's Office for patrons (johns) is to adjudicate them guilty, require intervention programming and pay fines and additional fees for victims' services along with other terms designed to stop the demand.
For promoters of human trafficking (pimps), we take a hard line on convictions and impose significant jail sentences and fines, in part designed to separate promoters from their victim pool.
Stacy is no longer a victim. She is a survivor — another paradigm shift.
Female Perspectives on Ending Sexual Violence: Breaking the Silence
by Stephanie Koehler
Stephanie Koehler is a journalist and photographer residing in California. She also is an advocate for the Rape Crisis Center.
The vision of “Female Perspectives on Ending Sexual Violence
” is to unite women all over the world to document the pain they suffer as a result of sexual violence and the healing approach they take to grow from victim to survivor. Each installment includes a photo essay of a female survivor and is a platform to tell her story. Stephanie's vision is to grow this project into an international sexual assault awareness campaign.
Anna, now in her early 30s, has endured many sexual assaults throughout her life. As a survivor of incest, her earliest memories of being abused by her father go back to when she was only four years old. He sexually violated her for most of her life until just three years ago, when she finally severed all ties to her family. Anna grew up in a farming community, where she experienced three additional counts of sexual assault in her teenage years by men from neighboring communities. Both of her two sisters are also incest survivors, one abused by their uncle, and the other abused by their father as well. The sisters have only spoken about their shared experiences with one another on one isolated occasion.
When Anna attempted to confide in her mother about what was happening to her, she was accused of lying. The ongoing assaults went completely ignored. When she was about 10 years old, Anna was experiencing panic attacks, so her mother took her to see a doctor. The doctor told them that although Anna was having a mild case of asthma, her symptoms indicated that she had been traumatized. “My mother never took me back to the doctor…and the doctor never reported anything.”
When Anna was in the seventh grade, a counselor asked her directly whether she was being abused, but she declined. “I feared I would get in trouble and my father might kill me if he [found] out,” she says. In addition to the sexual abuse, he was also beating her regularly. The counselor did not take any additional measures to ensure that Anna was OK and that no abuse was happening in her home.
Anna eventually filed a police report, but chose not to go forward after her parents began to retaliate against her. “I was more concerned with me having a better life than [my father] going to prison,” she explains. Her parents remain married and her abuser unprosecuted.
Anna believes that sexual assault is a direct result of patriarchy. “Patriarchy teaches men that it is totally okay to take control over women's bodies for their own purposes,” she says.
“Long term the patriarchy [must be dismantled]. [People must be taught] that they do not have the right to touch [another's] body without their consent. And…that you cannot touch a child's body inappropriately ever; here it is not about consent,” Anna asserts. “There is still this pervasive idea that women's consent doesn't matter. Policy changes have to happen at governmental and institutional levels.” Harassment in schools or workplaces must result in intervention and not be downplayed as “boys will be boys.”
As a result of what she has had to cope with, Anna has attempted suicide twice and has been hospitalized psychiatrically three times. Thankfully, she has since found a good therapist who accompanies her on her path to healing and provides her with tools for coping.
“Until just recently I was not coping very well,” Anna admits. “I have complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and dissociative identity disorder (DID). I still have flashbacks pretty much every day, nightmares pretty much every night, suicidal thoughts often, but [with therapy] I am managing it much better.”
Many of the childhood sexual violence survivors Anna has spoken with have developed dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Anna explains that the disorder causes women to “check out of their entire lives for days at a time and other personalities take over and do things that we may or may not know about. And we certainly, until we are treated, have no control over it.” She says, “A lot of people with childhood sexual experiences dissociate and adapt that way…it's a testament to our own creativity and survival instinct.”
Dissociative identity disorder (DID) most often develops during childhood, usually as a result of severe physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Because personal identity is still forming at that time, a child is more capable than an adult to step outside of his or her own personality. “It's quite different to be a survivor of childhood sexual abuse than it is to be a survivor of rape in adulthood,” says Anna.
According to Sidran Institute for Traumatic Stress Education and Advocacy, DID may currently affect one percent of the general population and five to 20 percent of psychiatric hospital patients, though the rates are even higher among sexual abuse survivors. Furthermore, most current literature reveals that these disorders are primarily recognized among women.
Anna's advice to other survivors is that “they be patient and…do whatever it takes to get better…not to keep secrets, because secrets are poisonous.” She suggests changing negative thoughts to positive ones and practicing patience with oneself by self-soothing – doing simple things like taking a bubble bath and practicing mindfulness. “Getting out of your head!” she puts it. “You get stuck in a loop like a broken record and you have to break it down.”
In order to stop sexual violence and to make the subject less taboo, Anna declares that education, listening, and dialogue about sexual assault are needed on all levels, starting at home. “Being an incest survivor, I feel there is an additional taboo. The only way [to make it less taboo] is talking…about it in a way that shows that you don't have shame. If someone encourages you to feel shame, to resist it openly…The only one who should feel ashamed is the one trying to silence you.”
Anna has been failed on many levels, starting with her parents – one abused her and the other ignored it. “I was failed by medical providers, by teachers who didn't notice what was going on. When I started to talk about it I was in college and it was still happening. Many of them said, ‘I had a feeling that something like that was going on,' but they didn't do anything…I feel pretty strongly that that should not be allowed.” Anna states.
I asked Anna whether the hardships she has endured have contributed to who she is today and she replied, “Without this I wouldn't be on the path I am today.” As a social worker, she feels that she can make a difference in people's lives and make the pain that they endure more bearable. Anna is also in the process of earning her master's degree in Social Work.
Anna's affirmation for this project is a quote from one of her favorite novels, which she wears as a tattoo on her upper arm: “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”
I encourage women and men alike to follow Anna's advice and listen intently. In many cases, survivors will not come forth directly with their experiences. They may give little cues, but it is up to us to be sensitive and read between the lines, to be mindful and take their best interests to heart. Our help can come in many ways: listening and offering help, going to a professional when we suspect abuse, and reporting it to the police. We can be the change we want to see in the world; it starts with good intentions and one voice. May there be many more women like Anna who have the courage to share their stories and give voice to those who cannot do so. Standing up for our rights will make us more conscious and bring a sense of unity not only among survivors but all human beings.
Worldwide inquiries about this project are welcome. Participation is voluntary and the scope of each photo shoot and interview is determined with each participant to ensure women's boundaries are honored and respected. To participate in this project or for more information, please contact me at: email@example.com
To read the entire series, click here.
About the Author: Stephanie Koehler is an artist, professional photographer and the founder of Heart-Filled Productions. Her work focuses on capturing the heart, soul and spirit of her subjects. Born and raised in Germany, she earned her Master's Degree in Linguistics from Bergische Universitaet & Gesamthochschule Wuppertal, Germany and moved to Spain at age 27. She has lived and worked in various countries and now resides in California. Stephanie's international background in marketing and event and program management combined with her creativity allows her to view the world through a lens of cultural diversity. She is an advocate at the Monterey County Rape Crisis Center and also works on a photojournalistic project that focuses on female survivors of violence, in which she highlights the beauty of traumatized women and gives them a voice to tell their story. Some of her photography can be seen at Heart-Filled Productions.
Dancers stop traffic to support abuse victims
by Jenny Arnold
Dancers stopped traffic on Main Street for a good cause Thursday night.
About 50 dancers affiliated with No Excuse for Abuse of Spartanburg came together for the international movement, One Billion Rising. The dancers performed between Converse and Liberty Street.
“We stand proud as sisters,” said Jan Hammett, of No Excuse for Abuse. “Never let anyone paralyze your spirit. Be real, be authentic.”
The global movement is called One Billion Rising: No Excuse for Abuse. The name derives from data that indicates 1 in 3 women on Earth will be beaten or raped in her lifetime. With a world population of 7 billion, this adds up to more than one billion abused women and girls.
Hammett held several dance rehearsals at the Chapman Cultural Center leading up to the event. She says about 30 people showed up at the first rehearsal, but the group grew from there.
The dancers took to the street wearing black and read One Billion Rising T-shirts and carried shiny red balloons.
Jennifer O'Shields of Safe Homes Rape Crisis Coalition, which assists rape and domestic violence victims in the Upstate, said Thursday's event is important for several reasons.
“Just to know people are here to support,” O'Shields said. “To honor survivors, victims and the dead. This is just one way to do it.”
O'Shields told the crowd that Safe Homes sheltered 341 adults and children who were victims of domestic abuse, and responded to 47 cases of sexual assault last year.
Janie Salley danced and said it felt wonderful to participate in such a good cause. She said a public event like Thursday night's is important to bring visibility to the services and organizations that can help abused woman receive help.
“A lot of women are abused, and a lot of women have not come forward,” Salley said. “Maybe this can bring some light and people can get the help they need, not just after it happens, but before.”
Hammett said she was overwhelmed by the support the event received.
“People are so willing to help if you just ask,” she said. “People are saying: We want this to stop. People have so much power within themselves, if they just come together.”
Anyone who would like to know more about No Excuse for Abuse may email Hammett at firstname.lastname@example.org
Fix the child abuse bill
A bill to create a permanent panel to review child abuse deaths and injuries may have squeaked through a divided House committee Thursday but members voiced valid concerns about the excessive secrecy it imposes.
“It pains me to do this,” said Joni Jenkins, a Louisville Democrat and one of five members of the House Health and Welfare Committee to vote against it. “It's still protecting adults more than it does kids.”
Several committee members urged changes in the bill to help it achieve its goal of providing transparency to a panel to look into abuse deaths and serious injuries that afflict so many Kentucky children.
“We need to get this right,” said Rep Ben Waide, a Madisonville Republican who also voted no.
Under House Bill 290, all records submitted to the panel would be confidential, even those now considered public record. The bill requires panel members to sign a confidentiality agreement. And it allows the panel to review records and conduct discussions in closed sessions.
There's plenty of time to fix this bill before the session ends. We hope lawmakers “get it right.”
Advocates tout child abuse work of Second Look Commission
There's movement at the legislature to continue funding for the Second Look Commission, the expert group that examines the worst cases of child abuse in Tennessee.
In its latest newsletter published Thursday, the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth focuses exclusively on the work of the Second Look Commission (SLC) and argue the group should not be allowed to “sunset” and be disbanded.
“It is a critical entity because involvement of all groups represented on the SLC is essential for assuring Tennessee responds effectively to child abuse and neglect,” the newsletter says.
Second Look delivered its annual report in December, including detailed recommendations for how the Department of Children's Services and others can improve their investigations into abuse. The Tennessean detailed those recommendations here.
Lawmakers, who decide if the work should continue, did not immediately say what they would do. But legislation has since been filed (SB304 and HB0836) to continue the Second Look Commission at its current funding level, just shy of $100,000 per year. The only paid member of the commission is Director Craig Hargrow.
The Senate Government Operations Committee will take up the bill on Wednesday during a 9 a.m. session. The budget of the entire Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) will be discussed an hour later at the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
In its newsletter, the TCCY goes on to describe the Second Look Commission as “efficient” and as having “maximum expertise,” that will become more valuable over time if its statistical analysis of child abuse is allowed to continue.
More advocacy for sex abuse victims
Minnesota Child Victims Act would lift abuse lawsuit limits, allow adults to seek justice no matter how much time has lapsed
by Per Peterson
MARSHALL - A little less than a year after Jacob's Law went into effect requiring both parents to be notified in cases where a child is the victim of physical abuse or sexual assault, legislation that would make it easier for Minnesotans who were sexually abused as children to bring civil lawsuits against their abuser or the institution that facilitated the abuse has been introduced at the state Capitol.
The Minnesota Child Victims Act would remove the current statute of limitations that requires victims to file lawsuit within six years of their 18th birthday. If the bill is passed into law, victims could file a lawsuit at any time no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
The legislation is supported by numerous child abuse victim advocate organizations, including the National Center for Victims of Crime, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Minnesota Alliance on Crime, Minnesota Indian Women's Resource Center and the National Child Protection Training Center.
Kathleen Blatz, a former chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, told the Independent on Thursday that Minnesota has taken a step backward when it comes to protecting young victims of sexual abuse.
Blatz was a judge in 1989 when the original statute passed in Minnesota that said people had six years from the time they knew or had reason to know injury was caused by sexual abuse. In 1996, the Minnesota Supreme Court interpreted that statute to mean that a child who is sexually abused immediately knows they are injured and has only until their 24th birthday to file a lawsuit. That law, she says, is antiquated and needs to change.
"Minnesota, instead of being on the forefront of giving a voice to victims in the court system, is behind now," said Blatz. "This law has virtually capped any lawsuits from going forward in Minnesota. Victims just don't really ever get justice in the courts. Oftentimes, the victims, when they get older, have a lot of issues with relationships and have to deal with what happened to them as children."
Rep. Steve Simon, a DFLer from St. Louis Park, authored the legislation. Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. Blatz said she is confident the bill will be received with strong bipartisan support. Jeff Dion, deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said efforts are under way to get Republican co-sponsors for the bill.
"I feel bad that Minnesota law does not protect children," said Blatz, who served as a Republican legislator from 1979-1993 before becoming a trial judge. "The idea they have to go to trial about when they knew versus their injuries is the wrong focus. The law needs to be fixed. I do think it will enjoy bipartisan support; it's a bipartisan issue."
Dion said four states - Alaska, Delaware, Florida and Maine - have eliminated their civil statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, thus allowing victims to seek justice at any time from the moment the law was enacted, and three others - California, Delaware and Hawaii - have created a civil window, allowing child sex abuse lawsuits to be filed no matter how long ago the abuse occurred, as long as the file date is within the window. This bill, he said, would be retroactive in nature and open up a window for past cases of sexual abuse to be heard.
"That's very important, because we know victims can take decades before they're ready to discuss the abuse, or they don't recognize they were harmed, or just weren't strong enough to come forward," Dion said. "When they do, we often find the perpetrator is still alive and molesting kids. Pedophiles don't retire. They're not going to stop until we make them stop."
Amy Russell, deputy director of the National Protection Training Center, said the impact of victimization goes on for years and carries with it a negative impact that can go beyond one's emotions or ability to carry out relationships in their adult years.
"The impact includes mental and physical health issues," she said. "There is support out there that says there are very close correlations between victimization and heart disease, lung disease and other long-term medical issues."
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 10 percent of Minnesotans were sexually abused as children and one in two know someone who was sexually abused as a child.
Arrest in Philadelphia girl's kidnapping, rape
by Tracy Jordan
Philadelphia police have made an arrest in the kidnapping of a 5-year-old girl abducted from her school last month by a woman wearing traditional black Muslim clothing and found in a park the next day wearing nothing but a T-shirt.
The Philadelphia Daily News reports that 19-year-old Christina Regusters will be charged with kidnapping, rape, conspiracy, aggravated assault and several related offenses in the Jan. 14 abduction.
The girl was taken Jan. 14 out of her kindergarten classroom at W.C. Bryant Elementary School in West Philadelphia by a woman who pretended to be her mother, a Muslim who wears traditional Islamic black clothing that includes a veil and gloves.
The principal at Bryant Elementary School was replaced and action was taken against three other employees two weeks after the kidnapping.
The girl who was taken was the subject of a nationwide Amber Alert until she was found in the early morning hours of Jan. 15 at an Upper Darby Township playground – not far from her school or the home where she was allegedly held and raped.
Although her name was released when she was abducted, The Morning Call is withholding her name in this report because the charges indicate she is an alleged sexual assault victim. The Morning Call generally withholds the names of all sexual assault victims.
According to other published reports and wire stories, Regusters lives at 6243 Walton Ave., the house where police executed a search warrant last week.
A reward of up $80,000 was being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case, but published reports say it was the girl who led police to her alleged kidnapper by retracing her steps after she was taken from her school.
Although authorities have said the girl was specifically targeted based on the way she was abducted, they have not put forth a possible motive.
A sanitation worker who heard her cries from the playground at 4:40 a.m. Jan. 15 received the $10,000 reward from the city that Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter offered for the girl's safe return.
W.Va. campaign targets protecting kids from abuse
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — One in four girls and one in six boys in the state of West Virginia will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, yet only one in 10 of those victims will come forward and report the abuse.
It's a frightening statistic, but one that the Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center in Martinsburg and the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network hope to change through the launch of a new statewide public awareness campaign aimed at protecting children from abuse.
The Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center, one of 20 child advocacy centers across the state, announced the launch this month of the "One With Courage" campaign, which highlights the bravery that it takes for child victims to talk about their abuse and calls on all adults to have similar courage to identify signs of abuse and to know how to respond.
"We are really passionate about protecting kids. We are also very passionate about enabling other people to protect children, which is why I'm very proud and honored to be able to introduce the One With Courage campaign to you all this morning," Amber Knuckles, child advocacy coordinator for the Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center, said at a press conference.
Last year alone, 173 children from the Eastern Panhandle walked through the agency's door for a forensic interview and a total of 2,358 children received services from advocacy center programs in West Virginia. Almost 80 percent of children served were identified as alleged victims of sexual abuse.
"All of the CACs, including ours, are all very serious about this issue. We want to give children a voice. We want to encourage adults to be the one voice with courage to stand up for these children," Knuckles said.
The campaign also highlights the unique role child advocacy centers play in providing services to child victims of abuse. The campaign launch included a panel of four guest speakers who spoke of the importance of the campaign and child advocacy center services.
West Virginia Delegate Tiffany Lawrence said that, while the statistics surrounding child abuse and child sexual abuse are heartbreaking, she saw hope as she looked around at those gathered.
"This is why I'm proud today to stand with you with the One With Courage campaign and focus on the adult role of protecting our children rather than asking our children to protect themselves," Lawrence said.
For too long, she said, child abuse prevention efforts have centered on asking children to protect themselves from strangers, when a majority of abuse is perpetrated by someone in the victim's family or someone that the child knows and trusts.
"The One With Courage campaign highlights the 10 signs of abuse, and I think it's very important that all adults recognize that abuse and appropriately respond to the many, many children across our state who are facing just this," Lawrence said.
The signs include unexplained injuries, changes in behavior, returning to earlier behaviors such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting, a fear of going home, changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, changes in school performance or attendance, a lack of personal care or hygiene, risk-taking behaviors and inappropriate sexual behaviors.
Cpl. F.H. Edwards, a member of the West Virginia State Police's Crimes Against Children Unit, spoke about the critical importance of child advocacy center services to both victims and law enforcement officers investigating crimes of sexual and physical abuse against children.
"The importance of having a child advocacy center in the Panhandle is that these 173 kids that were brought here were here in a safe environment when they had to sit down and tell their story. There's people here to offer services and post services to begin the healing process and to provide law enforcement and CPS or any other professionals that may be at the interview too with critical information that they would need," Edwards said.
Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Hassan Rasheed said child advocacy centers provide a place where a child can feel safe without the intimidating atmosphere of a police station, where a child might feel scared to disclose the abuse they have suffered.
"As most of you know, some of the most important - some of the most difficult - cases are cases involving the abuse of children. Why are they the most important? Obviously, it's because you have the most vulnerable in society who need the most protection," Rasheed said.
Jefferson County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Kimberly Crockett said 20 percent of victims of sexual abuse are under the age of eight, and she said it's important for the public to realize that the people who abuse children look like everyone else.
Crockett also highlighted a new state law that took effect on July aimed at protecting victims of child sexual abuse and punishing those who fail to report it. Under the new provision of the West Virginia state code, any person over 18 who receives a disclosure from a credible witness or who observes any sexual abuse or sexual assault of a child must immediately report it within 48 hours to the West Virginia State Police or the Department of Health and Human Resources.
"You can't know that this is going on and not tell someone who is in a position to do something about it. That is very important that the public knows that you are now mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse," Crockett said.
For more information about the campaign or to learn more about the signs of child abuse, visit www.wvcan.org
Evidence lacking on how to help kids after trauma
by Genevra Pittman
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - There's no good evidence to say what types of treatment might help ward off anxiety and stress disorders in kids and teens exposed to traumatic events, according to a new analysis.
Researchers said that a few psychological interventions, including talk therapy and school-based programs, "appear promising" for helping young people cope with the kind of trauma stemming from accidents, mass shootings and natural disasters. But so far, there are too many holes in the data to know what to recommend for children's long-term health and wellbeing, according to Meera Viswanathan from RTI International in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and her colleagues.
Nicole Nugent, who has studied stress disorders in kids at Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said one difficulty is that children get exposed to many different types of trauma, and as a result have many different treatment needs. Nonetheless, "We can't just say, 'Let's just not address it until we know more about the interventions that are effective,'" Nugent, who wasn't involved in the new review, told Reuters Health.
"One thing that we know doesn't work is nothing," she said.
"Something horrible happens, and (kids) think, â€˜If I don't think about it, if I don't talk about it, it will go away.' And that absolutely doesn't happen."
So-called nonrelational trauma is different from interpersonal trauma, which stems from acts committed by a person the child knows, such as sexual abuse or maltreatment by a friend or family member.
The young victim in the recent Alabama hostage drama, a six-year-old known only as Ethan, who was held in an underground bunker for six days, could have suffered nonrelational trauma because he didn't have a prior relationship with his kidnapper, Viswanathan said.
In an interview today on the "Dr. Phil" television show, Ethan's mother talked about the boy's emotional state since being rescued, including his difficulty sleeping - a symptom common among both kids and adults following trauma.
Viswanathan's team analyzed 25 studies in which children who had been exposed to nonrelational trauma were assigned to a particular treatment intervention or a comparison group.
Depending on the trial, some of those children were already experiencing anxiety and other symptoms related to the trauma.
Treatment programs varied in their methods - from medication to talk therapy - as well as in their intensity and how long they lasted.
None of the studies testing medications such as antidepressants found they had a positive effect on children's mental health, according to the findings published Monday in Pediatrics.
On the other hand, youth who went through some type of talk therapy tended to do better than others who weren't treated at all - though Viswanathan called that pattern a "weak signal."
Researchers said some of what has been learned helping children who experience interpersonal trauma can be applied to young survivors of accidents and natural disasters as well.
"In the absence of other evidence," Viswanathan told Reuters Health, "certainly don't ignore the problem. Provide children with the support that can be available, and also tailor it for the needs of the children."
She urged for more research looking at how kids respond to nonrelational trauma, in particular.
"Sadly, the shootings in Newtown are unlikely to be the last that we see, and we don't want to be in a position that we wish we had better evidence" on how to help children move on.
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/XAOQ3Z Pediatrics, online February 11, 2013.
Animal cruelty connection to domestic violence, child abuse discussed Saturday at Cooley Law School
by Aaron Aupperlee
GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Animal cruelty and its connection to domestic violence and child abuse will be the topic of a forum Saturday at Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Organized by Cooley Law School's Animal Law Society, the symposium will feature Phil Arkow, a consultant for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animals and Society Institute. Arkow has written books on animal cruelty and animal-assisted therapy.
Recently, Kent County Circuit Court Judge Paul Sullivan cited a connection between violence against animals and violence against people when sentencing a woman accused of killing three kittens.
Melanie Sabrina-Roberta Jasina snapped the necks of the three kittens March 3 after some type of domestic argument with a 16-year-old at a Center Avenue NE home near Ann Street.
"People who do this to animals, even wild animals, are often considered to be at risk for violent activities against people," Sullivan said before sentencing Jasina to 150 days in jail and two years of probation.
Saturday's symposium costs $10 and runs from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. in room 529 of the law school, 111 Commerce Ave. Refreshments and lunch will be provided.
Roanoke Valley Children's Advocacy Center sees increased child abuse cases
by Jenna Zibton
ROANOKE, VA - Roanoke County Police say over the past five years, they have seen an increase in the number of cases of suspected abuse being reported to authorities.
A new grant from the Junior League of the Roanoke Valley is making a difference for victims of child abuse.
The Children's Advocacy Center has seen an increased case load and money from the women's organization will enable them to hire more staff and in turn help more children.
Christina Rouse is a forensic interviewer at the Children's Advocacy Center. She talks to possible victims of child abuse in a comfortable, safe environment.
"They talk about their trauma to us in detail, specific detail as much as they are able to and so hearing that every day, day in day out, it does take a toll" said Rouse. "There are days you get frustrated and angry and are astonished that things like this happen in your community."
Here are the facts: Since the Roanoke center opened in 2005 they've seen a 30% increase in cases every year. In 2012 that number jumped to a 60% increase or 220 cases. The case load has increased so much they need a second interviewer.
"The quicker we can see the kids, the more valid the information they have, the more reliable the information is and so to have a second interviewer will allow us to respond more effectively" said Rouse.
Rouse interviews the child alone in a room. Around the corner, police are watching, getting information for their investigation.
"That becomes part of the case file and part of their evidence for their investigation and really the jumping off point for the continuation of the investigation" said Janice Dinkins-Davidson, the Children's Trust executive director. "Largely what we see is sexual abuse."
She says they're seeing an increase in multiple victim cases and community awareness.
"We are more protective of our kids than we've ever been before. We're not letting it stay in the dark corners where it's been in the past" said Dinkins-Davidson.
"When a child says ‘thank you for talking to me' or ‘thank you for helping me' that's all you need because you know you're making a difference in that child's life" said Rouse.
The Children's Advocacy Center is currently looking for a second forensic interviewer. Currently, they serve Roanoke City, Roanoke County, Salem and Vinton but when asked they also help with cases from Botetourt, Alleghany and Craig Counties.
Arch diocese of L.A. releases new names of priests, brothers accused of sex abuse
by Barbara Jones
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has quietly added the names of two dozen priests and brothers to its list of clergy accused of sexually abusing children.
In a two-page "final addendum" to its 2004 Report to the People of God, which was the church's response to the growing sex-abuse scandal, the archdiocese said the newly released names included those found during a follow-up review of its files. Some also were named in a lawsuit against the archdiocese, which resulted in a 2007 settlement of $660 million to more than 500 victims.
As part of the settlement, the archdiocese recently released some 12,000 documents detailing allegations of molestation against children, some going back decades. The files also revealed a cover-up of the abuse by Cardinal Roger Mahony, which led to an unprecedented public rebuke of the retired archbishop by his successor.
The list was posted on the archdiocese website at the same time the files were released, although no mention was made of it. The list of 49 names includes two dozen who were not previously known to be accused, according to BishopAccountability.org, which has been tracking sex-abuse in the Catholic Church and discovered the addendum.
Terry McKiernan, the group's president, wrote a letter to Archbishop Jose Gomez, calling on him to release details of where the newly named clergy served and the number of allegations against them.
"It is essential for everyone to know the nature of the allegations against these priests and brothers, because some of them may still pose a danger to children in Los Angeles, elsewhere in the United States and in other countries," McKiernan wrote.
Archdiocese officials could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.
ICE deports former director of Salvadoran children's home to face charges of sexually assaulting children under his care
WASHINGTON – A Salvadoran man was returned to his native country earlier today by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) to face charges for sexually assaulting five minor children, who were under his care at a children's home he managed in El Salvador.
Jose Mauricio Huezo-Ortega, 37, was arrested Sept. 14, 2012, at his residence in Falls Church, Va., by officers of ERO Washington's fugitive operations team. In June, ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) El Salvador, assisting the El Salvadoran Civil National Police (PNC), developed intelligence that Huezo-Ortega was residing in the United States. Huezo-Ortega fled to the United States in 2009 to avoid charges stemming from the sexual assault. Following his arrest, he was placed in immigration removal proceedings and subsequently on Dec. 28, 2012, a U.S. immigration judge ordered Huezo removed from the United States.
"Heinous criminals like this who attempt to evade justice by fleeing to the United States will find no sanctuary in our communities," said M. Yvonne Evans, field office director for ERO Washington. "As this case makes clear, ICE is working closely with our foreign law enforcement counterparts to promote public safety, and identify and arrest foreign fugitives, and return them to their native countries where they stand accused."
According to the arrest warrant issued by PNC, the victims, who were all residents of the children's home, reported to local authorities that Huezo-Ortega would grope them at night while they were sleeping and further sexually assault them. An Interpol Red Notice was issued for Huezo-Ortega Sept. 26, 2012.
Huezo-Ortega arrived at the International Airport of El Salvador, Comalapa and was turned over to El Salvadoran law enforcement authorities by ERO officers.
The investigation was conducted by PNC, working in collaboration with HSI El Salvador, HSI Dallas and the ERO Washington's fugitive operations team. ICE's Office of the Chief Counsel Arlington handled the administrative removal proceedings leading to the immigration judge's decision. The removal was supported by HSI El Salvador.
ICE routinely uses special air charters to transport aliens who have final orders of removal from an immigration judge. Staffed by ERO Air Operations (IAO) officers, these air charters enable the agency to repatriate large groups of deportees in an efficient, expeditious and humane manner.
Officials point to Ortega-Huezo's deportation as yet another benefit of the expanded cooperation between ICE and authorities in El Salvador to identify, arrest and repatriate Salvadoran criminal suspects who flee to the U.S. to avoid justice. ICE officers are working closely with PNC, the Salvadoran National Interpol Office and Salvadoran Immigration as part of this effort. As a result, in fiscal year 2012, PNC was able to execute 134 criminal arrest warrants immediately upon fugitives' return to El Salvador aboard IAO removal flights. More than a fourth of those arrests involved homicide-related charges.
Since Oct. 1, 2009, ERO has removed more than 566 foreign fugitives from the U.S. who were being sought in their native countries for serious crimes, including kidnapping, rape and murder. ERO works with ICE's Office of International Affairs, foreign consular offices in the U.S. and Interpol to identify foreign fugitives illegally present in the country.
Ex-congresswoman Smith testifies in favor of tougher sex-trafficking penalties
by Lucas Wiseman
OLYMPIA — Southwest Washington's former congresswoman turned anti-sex-trafficking advocate testified on Capitol Hill on Wednesday in favor of tougher penalties for those who traffic and solicit prostitutes younger than 18.
Linda Smith, founder and president of Vancouver-based Shared Hope International, said the bill to create those stricter penalties is needed to help define child sex-trafficking. The bill also will make the state's human-trafficking law a more powerful tool to prosecute traffickers, Smith said.
"The crime of trafficking itself in Washington state does not distinguish between adults and minors, and it does not say that any minor involved in commercial sex is a trafficking victim," Smith said after the hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Smith said the current flaw in Washington's trafficking laws is the "requirement to prove that force, fraud or coercion was used to cause a child under 18 to be used in a commercial sex act."
The bill removes that requirement from cases involving a minor, meaning a defendant cannot claim the minor consented to any sexual acts. The bill also mandates that anyone soliciting a prostitute younger than 18 is charged with a felony rather than a misdemeanor.
"We are taking away excuses as to why you might have had sex with a child," Smith said. "There is no excuse."
Also testifying at the hearing were two survivors of sex-trafficking, who did not wish to disclose their full names. One of those women, Marie, detailed a life of child abuse that soon turned into a life of crime and drug abuse.
Marie's stepfather sexually abused her and allowed his friends to abuse her, too. She experienced drug addiction and pregnancy, and she was prostituted frequently. At age 16, she tried to escape from a violent man by stabbing him, and as a result she spent 4 years and 8 months in jail for manslaughter.
Marie had difficulty finding work because of her criminal history, and she was unable to get into a long-term drug rehabilitation program. That's when she went to Shared Hope International for help a few years ago.
"I didn't have the tools to be normal -- I didn't even know what that meant," Marie said. "I'm asking that this bill does pass today for future victims, that they don't see the same path that I saw."
The other woman testifying, Brianna, pointed out that pimps and traffickers go after minors because they are easier to persuade.
"Now I know trafficking is real, traffickers choose and befriend their victims before they are sold, and average girls are vulnerable," Brianna said.
Joe Banks, a detective with the King County Sheriff's Office, also testified in favor of the bill by saying it would help police track down pimps and rescue trafficked girls.
"Any tools to help go after the pimps is helpful," Banks said.
The only person speaking in opposition to Senate Bill 5669 was Thomas Weaver, an attorney representing the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. The bill would raise the age from 10 to 14 of children allowed to testify in an area separate from the accused.
"I believe this age increase makes the statute particularly vulnerable on a constitutional basis," he said. "Everyone is guaranteed the constitutional right to confront your accuser."
The age increase for separate-room testimony is intended to make victims more willing to testify, according to Shared Hope International's website. Prosecutors often rely on the willingness and availability of victims to testify against traffickers.
Evidence of a victim's past sexual behavior would not be admissible if offered to attack the victim's credibility in cases of trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.
"A child cannot give consent to their own victimization," Smith said.
According to Shared Hope International's website, at least 100,000 American children are exploited through pornography and prostitution every year.
Smith served as a Washington state representative from 1983 to 1987, as a state senator from 1987 to 1994, and as a U.S. Congresswoman from 1995 to 1999. She represented Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District.
Safe in Hunterdon receives $5,000 donation from Flemington-Raritan Business Association
SAFE in Hunterdon received a $5,000 donation on Monday, Feb. 11, from the Flemington-Raritan Business Association.
The check was presented to SAFE's Executive Director, Donna Bartos and Major Gifts Manager, Lori Herpen at the SAFE in Hunterdon outreach office by two of the Business Association's Board members, Chris Gacos and Karen Palotas.
SAFE in Hunterdon is a nonprofit, charitable organization whose mission is to empower adult and child survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, while collaborating with the community to prevent violence and create positive social change.
Those affected by domestic violence and sexual assault have access to a 24-hour hotline, crisis intervention teams, safe house, transitional housing, legal advocacy, individual and group counseling, community education and PALS, a children's arts therapy program.
SAFE in Hunterdon delivers critical support services to local families who have experienced violence in their lives.
The Flemington-Raritan Business Association is a group of local business owners that use collaboration as a means for success.
The association works with local governments on behalf of their members and facilitates networking by sponsoring and participating in community events. “This is our way during these tough economic times to lend a hand to some of the really deserving nonprofit organizations like SAFE in Hunterdon and a great way to help the community at large,” said Karen Palotas.
“We are sincerely grateful for the contribution made by the Flemington-Raritan Business Association especially at a time when ‘traditional' sources of revenue are down,” said Lori Herpen, SAFE's newly hired Major Gifts Manager. Donna Bartos, SAFE's Executive Director, said that the unexpected $5,000 donation will be used in part cover the cost of damages caused by Super Storm Sandy. “We have been unsuccessful with our appeals to the State of NJ and to FEMA for funding dollars to repair a storm-damaged whole house generator. Because of this gift, women and children who call SAFE “home” will not be displaced in the event of another power outage.”
Safe in Hunterdon's services for victims and survivors of domestic and sexual abuse are free of charge and confidential.
To learn more about Safe in Hunterdon, visit safeinhunterdon.org
Kidnapping survivor Elizabeth Smart to speak at Bridgewater College
Abducted from her bedroom on June 5, 2002, at the age of 14, Utah resident Elizabeth Smart was imprisoned and sexually abused by her captors for nine months before being rescued by the police. She will tell her story on Monday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in Cole Hall at Bridgewater College.
Smart's captors exerted control over her by threatening to kill both her and her family if she tried to escape. An alert biker spotted Smart in the company of her kidnappers and notified authorities, who rescued her and reunited her with her family on March 12, 2003.
Smart's courtroom testimony helped lead to the conviction of her abductors.
Because of her experience, Smart has become an advocate for legislative change related to child abduction and recovery programs, and speaks on behalf of kidnapping survivors and child victims of violence and sexual abuse.
Smart says that her kidnapping helped her understand the depth of her love for her family and friends, and that she learned to take joy in the gift of life.
“I only have one life, and I'm not going to miss out on it,” she said. “When I'm through, I want to be able to say, ‘Wow, I lived a great life.'”
Smart serves as president of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, an organization that seeks to bring hope and stop victimization. She promotes the national AMBER Alert and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.
She has worked with other recovered young adults and the U.S. Department of Justice to create a survivors' guide You're Not Alone: The Journey From Abduction to Empowerment.
Smart has shared her story in interviews with Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey, and is a contributor for ABC News on missing persons and child abduction cases.
In the spring of 2012, Smart earned a degree in music with an emphasis on harp performance from Brigham Young University.
The program at Bridgewater College is sponsored by the W. Harold Row Endowed Lecture Series and is free and open to the public.
Bridgewater College is a private, four-year liberal arts college located in the Central Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Founded in 1880, it was the state's first private, coeducational college. Today, Bridgewater College is home to approximately 1,750 undergraduate students.
How to report child abuse or neglect
Call 1-800-800-5556 if a child is in danger
by Liz Nichols
LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) - Indiana's Child Protective Services (CPS), protects Indiana's children from further abuse or neglect and prevents, remedies, or assists in solving problems that may result in abuse, neglect, exploitation, or delinquency of children.
CPS operates a toll-free hotline (1-800-800-5556) for people to call and report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect. Although reports can be made in person or by correspondence, the vast majority of child abuse and neglect reports are made via telephone. CPS receives and initiates investigations of child maltreatment on a 24-hour basis.
Investigations of abuse or neglect may be substantiated or unsubstantiated. The child's safety is the paramount concern for child protective staff conducting investigations. Families receive services based on the severity of the abuse or neglect, an assessment of the child's and the family's needs, and an assessment of the relative safety and risk to the child in the home.
The Family Preservation Program carries out the agency's goals to prevent unnecessary separation from their families by identifying family problems and assisting families in resolving them.
DCS also seeks to return children who have been removed from their own homes to their families through the provision of services to the child and family.
For more information on what constitutes child maltreatment, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway.
SOURCE: Indiana Department of Child Services website
Stewards of Children abuse prevention workshop Feb. 26
Plainfield, Conn. — Stewards of Children, a child sexual abuse prevention workshop, will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 26 at Day Kimball Healthcare Center, 12 Lathrop Road, Plainfield.
The free workshop will discuss the prevalence of child sexual abuse and its impact on the community as well as how to prevent it and react responsibly. To register, contact Kerry Fair, authorized facilitator, at (860) 336-9377 or email@example.com
Men confront child sex abuse
Men, like women, ignore feelings at their own peril. So even amid criticism — some of it coming from inside his own head — Paul Travisano found the guts to start a support group for men.
For a while, just one other guy had the courage to join it.
A few women called to get information about the group for their sons or husbands, but there was no rush of men to the meeting.
Paul didn't let himself get discouraged. He was on the right path.
He and that one other man met weekly at Doylestown Hospital for two hours every Sunday night.
And then another man joined them. And another. Then a couple more.
Courage was going around town.
Now a core of eight to 10 guys — all ages, income levels and educational backgrounds — gather weekly to talk about survival, with an eye toward thriving someday. The group is a year old this week.
The work of the group is messy emotional business, Paul said. The kind most men seek to avoid until the pain of avoidance is worse than facing the past.
Nothing is tougher than standing in your own ugly truth. And that's what Doylestown Male Survivors are doing.
They are strong, resilient men who don't feel strong some days, but who are taking critical steps to take charge of their lives.
All are survivors of sexual abuse as children. Paul's abuse was at the hands of a New Jersey parish priest. All of the men were betrayed as kids by adults they should have been able to trust.
Their stories of abuse are as different as the men. What they have in common is the way in which abuse contaminated their lives by contaminating their thoughts about themselves and their worth.
Secrecy about sexual abuse makes it so toxic. A guy gets isolated when he can't talk about something weighing so heavily on his heart.
Pain takes the shape of rage, depression, anxiety and those lead to addictions to everything from alcohol and drugs to inappropriate sex to overwork and perfectionism.
People don't heal in isolation, preaches Paul. Why? Because people serve as mirrors for one another. If you were molested as a kid and you look into the face of another guy who was molested as a kid, you see yourself better. Understand yourself more clearly.
You hear a guy talk about his shame and confusion; hear him struggle still to understand why it happened. You watch him torment himself with questions about why he didn't or couldn't stop it. You know he was a kid when he was victimized. An innocent.
And then sometimes, in a moment of clarity and grace, you see your own innocence in his face. It's powerful.
Not all of the work feels like work, said Paul, a Rutgers-trained engineer now working in sales. There's a lot of laughter in the group. “Comedy and tragedy are close cousins,” he explained.
Paul recently reported his childhood abuse to law enforcement. The legal statute of limitations for prosecution is long past. Not the statute of limitations on wanting to name his abuser.
Other group members also have made “bolder moves,” he said. For privacy sake, he won't go into detail. Trust is sacred. So, too, is safety. No one attends the meeting without a brief screening. For details about the place and time of meetings, call Paul at 267-221-6611. Or visit the website www.doylestownmalesurvivors.com.
Not ready for a group, but thinking about therapy? Paul recommends Chris Carlton's book, “Nice to Meet Me.” It's about a man's quest to find the right therapist to deal with the sexual abuse he experienced.
Neither group nor one-on-one therapy is about being cured. It's not about mucking around in the past. It's about understanding how what you've experienced drives your life today. How it motivates you and affects your relationships today. Making conscious what has been unconscious puts you in the driver's seat again. Not the wounded boy. Not his abuser. You drive again. Mindfully aware and vigilant about your recovery.
It's the long, bumpy, scary road to healing, and there is no advantage to traveling it alone.
One billion women will experience violence in their lifetimes. In Santa Fe and around the world, they're rising up for change
by Alexa Schirtzinger
Jessica Montoya's hands are shaking.
She's a pretty, self-possessed 29-year-old with big brown eyes, long black hair and a smile that spreads across her face when she laughs, which she often does. Her fingernails are painted alternating red and sparkly pink. In other words, she seems like someone whose hands you wouldn't expect to shake. Unless you knew the story.
Montoya was just 17 when her aunt Kathleen, with whom she was close, was brutally murdered. Everyone knew Kathleen as Kat—a fun-loving young woman who in 2000 was strangled and beheaded, her remains scattered and left to rot.
Thirteen years later, Montoya is still haunted by the blood she helped scrub from her grandmother's house, where the murder happened. After the family was assigned a victim advocate named Norit Walsky to help them overcome their grief and pain, Montoya saw a way out.
“I wanted to be her,” she recalls—so she turned her academic career around and got an associate's degree in criminal justice. When an opening came up for another victim advocate in Santa Fe, she leapt at the opportunity.
“My goal was to make sure David Baca, Eddie Lucio and Ivan Sanchez-Lara never saw the light of day,” she says of the three men convicted for their involvement in Kat's murder. “I wanted to become a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court so I could quash any appeal they ever made.”
In 2002, Sanchez-Lara, who committed the murder, was sentenced to life in prison; he's currently serving time in Guadalupe County. For Montoya, it took years for that anger to subside, and the grief will never disappear entirely.
But a few years ago, she stumbled across a transformative film: What I Want My Words To Do To You
, by V-Day founder and The Vagina Monologues
author Eve Ensler. The film made Montoya realize that Sanchez-Lara “wasn't an evil creature—he had a mom, a dad.”
She also realized that she wouldn't accomplish anything if she stayed angry.
“We can fall victim to our lives, or we can stand up against it,” Montoya, herself a domestic abuse survivor, says. She's wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words “One Billion Rising,” the day of global activism scheduled for this Thursday, Feb. 14, to raise awareness about violence against women. On that day, Montoya is planning to participate in a series of events in Santa Fe, including a flash mob dance, a march and a series of testimonials.
“I'm rising in spite of my trauma,” Montoya says, her gaze steady. “I realized that it's possible to restore the justice for the harm that came to our family.”
For Montoya, the notion of rising above a challenge isn't new. At the time of Kat's murder, she says, “I wasn't doing well in school; I had like a cumulative 1.6 GPA.” She was partying too much, hanging out with the wrong people. She says that affected her relationship with Kat, and that there was tension between them when she died.
Drugs played a role in the murder: Sanchez-Lara, in what his lawyers described as a drug-induced psychosis, strangled and stabbed Kat, then cut off her head and burned and buried it. Montoya wonders whether, had cocaine not been a part of Kat's life, all of this could have been avoided—“but I can't say what would've, could've, should've been.”
But for Montoya, it was a learning experience.
“Kat was the first and only person I'd ever seen use cocaine,” Montoya recalls, sitting quietly on a lavender sofa in a lavender-painted room. A vase of matching flowers adorns the coffee table, and a tiny, aging black cat named Piñoncita purrs softly on another sofa. Because Kat was honest about the drug use, Montoya says, “It's never been a problem in my life. I thank her for that.”
Montoya says she had problems with alcoholism, but has been sober for two years now.
Sometimes, she says, “I think it was her life sacrifice for me to succeed. I hate to think of it that way, because I'd rather her be here—” She stops, her eyes welling with tears, but she doesn't cry.
“It's a prime example of learning life's lessons through someone else's experience,” she says.
As she talks, her mother Liz—Kat's oldest sister—flits in and out of the living room, leaving little altars of mini poppyseed muffins, stemmed strawberries and bottled water on the table.
“My mom was in a domestic violence relationship for 15 years,” Montoya says. She witnessed firsthand how difficult it was to escape: “When she finally left him, it wasn't the first time, or the second time, or the third or fourth or fifth time,” she says. “It was the seventh time, or the 27th time…but she was strong, and that made all the difference.”
Montoya's family is far from alone in its struggle to overcome domestic violence. One Billion Rising is named for the estimated one billion women on the planet who will be raped or beaten in their lifetimes. It's designed to coincide with the 15th anniversary of V-Day, a “global activist movement to end violence against women and girls.”
V-Day began on Feb. 14, 1998, as a nonprofit group that raises money for anti-violence work by organizing performances of Ensler's famous play, The Vagina Monologues
Years ago, Cecile Lipworth, V-Day's managing director (who just happens to live in Santa Fe), says she was handed a handwritten list of some 20 people who had been organizing performances of The Vagina Monologues
. From that, V-Day has grown into a global network of more than 650 communities that coordinate more than 5,000 annual performances of Ensler's work.
“It's kind of remarkable what's happened,” Lipworth says. “Women have literally found their voice to become leaders…It really has evolved from being just a performance of a play to something that's grown much bigger than something anyone could anticipate—to being a real movement of activism.”
It's also a different kind of activism, Lipworth says, than your typical stand-around-with-a-sign protest.
“The thing with V-Day is that it is wild and anarchic,” she explains. “People are just incensed—and they react. And that's a good kind of activism, because people say, ‘We need to do this; let's move!…If you are angry, go stand on the steps and show you are.' I think it's that kind of activism.”
Lipworth—tall and poised, with cateye glasses and a lilting South African accent—seems an unlikely ambassador of this wild anarchy. But for V-Day's 15th anniversary, she explains, the organizers didn't really want “that kind of ‘candle on the cake' birthday…We want to celebrate the victories we've had, but we also want to tell the world we have so much further to go in terms of explaining what violence against women does to the planet.”
As they watched the 2012 election cycle unfold, along with its “legitimate rape” gaffes and abortion controversies, “We realized that women's rights were still seen as marginalized,” Lipworth says. They also had in mind a United Nations report that found that one in three women will experience gender-based violence in her life.
“And Eve [Ensler] was like, ‘If we do the math on that, that's one billion women on the planet.' We said, ‘What if we showed the world what one billion women looks like?'” Lipworth recalls. “She said, ‘OK, staff of 12.
We're going to get a billion people on the planet to rise up and dance.' She had this vision of people dancing.”
Inside a darkened studio on a chilly Saturday afternoon in Santa Fe, that vision plays out over and over.
Women of all ages and shapes are dancing, sweating, shouting with excitement as Audri Roybal leads them in a dance choreographed especially for One Billion Rising. They're practicing for this week's flash mob, at which they hope to have 1,000 local women dancing in front of New Mexico's state capitol building.
Roybal is one of 15 “V-Girls”—young leaders of the V-Day network who actively work to end violence in their respective communities around the world.
“I dance 'cause I love, dance 'cause I dream/ Dance 'cause I've had enough, dance to stop the screams…It's time to break the chain,” pulses the music through the studio's speakers. Colored lights illuminate the moving bodies, and though a spotlight on Roybal's white shirt and black exercise tights suggests she's the leader of this ensemble, she looks totally absorbed—as if she were here solely to dance. The music ends with a melodic ode to One Billion Rising, and everyone in the room points to the ceiling—and then to the reflections of themselves in the studio mirror.
They go through the dance several times, and then Lipworth shares some announcements about the Feb. 14 event.
Roybal, 21, is petite, with bright brown eyes and a friendly, familiar air. A mother and a student at the University of New Mexico, she still manages to find time to volunteer for V-Day. After the rehearsal disperses, she explains that she got involved with V-Day about four years ago, when she participated in a performance of another of Ensler's works, I Am an Emotional Creature
At the time, she says, “I was actually getting out of a relationship that was abusive, and I didn't even realize it was abusive until after the fact.”
Since then, she's become a key local activist. In addition to her usual V-Day activities, like organizing performances of The Vagina Monologues
, she's been helping get the word out about One Billion Rising.
“We've just tried to include everyone,” Roybal says. Many of the dancers wave goodbye to her as she explains how she stays motivated.
“It's time that [domestic violence] stops before it gets to my daughter,” she says. “I'm doing it for her.”
For her, the seeds of activism go back generations.
“My great-grandma was a single mom twice over”—once at 17, and then, after marrying, she was widowed—“so she was a feminist before feminism was even feminism,” Roybal says. “She held a job; she knew how to drive; she did everything independently while the whole community kind of looked at her like, ‘You're crazy.' So she took a lot of abuse from that.”
It hits even closer to home for Roybal: As Montoya's niece, she's had an intimate view of how Kat's death has impacted her family.
“Seeing people in my community that are constantly affected by the violence—it has to end,” Roybal says. “I think it's time that we bring that forward and truly make a revolution out of it.”
At every rehearsal, Roybal asks a question: How many people here have been affected by domestic violence, and how many people know someone who has?
When you experience domestic violence or sexual abuse, she says, “You kind of feel like you are the only individual—nobody else knows what is going on in your world.”
But when you look around at a roomful of people all raising their hands, she says, “All of a sudden, you are one of one million, one billion people.”
She quotes a passage from Ensler's new monologue Rising
, written specifically for One Billion Rising: “I am done counting / And recounting.”
“Because it's time that we stopped counting and start doing
something with those numbers,” Roybal adds, her own words seamlessly extending the monologue, “because otherwise, nothing here is going to change, and we just leave it until it blows up.”
Change is especially important in New Mexico. According to a recent report by several local violence prevention groups, approximately one in four New Mexico women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime—significantly more than the national average of one in five.
In Santa Fe, in advance of One Billion Rising, local businesses are displaying photographs of men, women and families holding signs that express why they're rising. This Thursday, local organizers have planned a day-long series of events, beginning at 9 am with testimonials inside the Roundhouse to the dancing flash mob at noon, a march to the Railyard, an afternoon open-house in the Santa Fe Farmers Market pavilion and a community dance led by Embodydance co-founder Tracy Collins.
“I love the way our Santa Fe community works,” says Carrie McCarthy, the local photographer who took the “I am rising because…” portraits. During a freelance project years ago, she did a portrait of Lipworth, and that budded into a friendship and collaboration.
“In mid-December, there was this sort of simultaneous—we both said, ‘What if we do portraits?'—and then it just snowballed,” McCarthy says. “It was unbelievable.”
Recently, McCarthy set up a temporary portrait studio. She planned to photograph 12 people, each holding a sign depicting—in their own words—why they were rising. But on the day of the event, more people began showing up, and McCarthy, an energetic blonde with sparkling blue eyes, ended up taking portraits of 25 people.
“It was really an amazing day,” she says. “People were coming, and I [would say], ‘This is however you want to be right now. And if you feel very serious about this, if you feel very strong about this, if you feel joy—every answer is the right answer.'”
The resulting photos span the gamut. They're sad, like the one of a somber woman whose sign says she's rising because “I literally just ran out of tears.” Some are joyful and hopeful; others are poignant, like the one showing an adorable baby girl before a sign that reads, “I am rising because when I grow up, I don't want to be raped.”
“I was just so honored that people truly showed up,” McCarthy says. “They were there with every fiber of their being.”
But McCarthy also hopes One Billion Rising triggers something bigger.
“The way people are responding, we need to keep the momentum going,” she says. “Things start from here.”
Lipworth says that on Feb. 14, organizers will ask One Billion Rising participants to pledge to do one thing, “within their means and capabilities,” to end violence against women—“whether that's running for office, if you feel inspired, or lobbying, or ensuring that laws and bills are passed in your Legislature, or volunteering at a shelter. Whatever it is, we hope that that's sort of the impact that it will have.”
And for McCarthy, a domestic violence survivor, it's personal.
“Personally, as a survivor, I don't—it doesn't define me,” she says. “I don't walk around on a daily, monthly or even yearly basis and think about everything I've overcome—but it is part of who I am. I've been really blessed in that I have great support, and I live my life with a lot of joy. And most of the survivors I know live their life with a lot of joy…[But] no one should have to experience that, and that's the goal of this. So it can be overwhelming when we start to look at all the different components, but we have to start somewhere.”
Montoya sees V-Day and One Billion Rising as an affirmation that “local women can become unstoppable leaders.”
She is a case in point. As an adult advocate at Santa Fe's Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families, Inc., she plays a crucial role in the shelter's mission of battling domestic violence through “protection, prevention, awareness and education.”
Working at Esperanza Shelter has taught her to be “proactive, not reactive,” Montoya says. “I don't like to use the word ‘victim.' I use ‘survivor'—because even if it's ongoing, or we're only starting to rise above it, we are surviving, every day.”
Last year, as the shelter's only child advocate, she says she helped 167 children coming from violent or abusive situations.
Though she admits the work is “challenging,” she says she sees it as an opportunity to carry on Kat's legacy.
“I want to be their aunt [while they're there],” Montoya says. “Just having this little respite in their lives can go a long way.”
She feels the same way toward Roybal.
“For me to be half the aunt that Kat was, to Audri—I want to continue that,” Montoya says. “[Kat] was also my mom and my sister.”
She's hopeful, too, that Roybal is already starting to break the chain.
“I think with every generation we get better,” Montoya says. “I'm better than my parents were—at least, I hope I am!—and the next generation will be better than me.”
When asked how old she is, Montoya hesitates, then says, “Twenty-nine.”
I ask her why she had to stop and think about it.
“It's a big milestone,” she says, choosing her words. “Kat was 31 when she died.”
Even now, Montoya continues to feel her aunt's presence in her life.
“People tell me I look like her. They stop me on the street to tell me that—strangers!” she says. “I know she's everywhere. I hear a song on the radio and it makes me think of her. And I dream about her.”
But not so long ago, things changed, and Montoya began to think about Kat in a different way.
“In my dreams, she was always driving a car, and I'd be waving her down, like, ‘Kat, pull over! Come over here! Grandma thinks you're dead!'” Montoya says. “But then she finally passed away in my dream—like she was always alive in my dream, but then she was dead. And I woke up crying and I was like, ‘Mom, Kat's dead!' and my mom was like, ‘Are you crazy? She's been dead for 10 years!'” Liz, passing through as she's telling the story, smiles gently.
“That was the moment I knew I had to let her rest,” Montoya continues. “That I was going to live in her honor—in spite of this, I'm going to live the best life I can.”
And she does. She has a wide support network—particularly now, as strong women from all around New Mexico pull together to celebrate V-Day and One Billion Rising. And she loves her job—a job she knows is, in small ways, helping to heal New Mexico's domestic violence epidemic.
I ask whether working at Esperanza Shelter ever triggers bad memories.
“I have a weak stomach, so when I see a woman with blood or bruises on her face, sometimes that's hard,” she says. “But I don't think of it as us and them. We're all one step away, one decision away, from being in a shelter. I could be in their shoes.”
Thankfully, she's not.
“We have a choice,” Montoya says. “Chaos, catastrophe and crisis are a matter of perspective. No matter how bad a day I'm having, someone's having a worse one—so if I can provide that smile, bring them a glass of water, I might be helping.”
At the most fundamental level, she adds, “Domestic violence is my passion. If we can stop violence against women, we can basically solve all the problems of the world.”
SFR solicited personal testimonials from readers and received the submission published below. To learn more about One Billion Rising in Santa Fe, visit SFReporter.com. If you are experiencing domestic violence and need help, call the Esperanza Shelter hotline (800-473-5220) or the National Domestic Violence hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Becoming A V-Man
|V-Day 2013 In Santa F e
9 am: Community testimonials: “I Am Rising Because…”
Capitol rotunda (corner of Old Santa Fe Trail and Paseo de Peralta)
10 am : NM Domestic Violence Coalition press conference
Noon: One Billion Rising flashmob, readings, dancing
Capitol east concourse (outside)
12:45 pm : One Billion Rising march to the Railyard
1:30-6:30 pm : One Billion Rising open house
Farmers Market Pavilion, 1607 Paseo de Peralta
6:30-8:30 pm : One Billion Rising Embodydance
Railyard Performance Center, 1611 Paseo de Peralta
For more information, visit obrsantafe.org
One Billion Rising offers men around the world an opportunity to actively stand up in protest of violence against women. Rising goes beyond showing support for the women we love. It is an active stance, and one that most male supporters are privileged to make.
Rising out of solidarity gives courage to those who are afraid or prohibited to do so, just as it endorses the courage of those who can.
The action helps overturn the stigmatic elements of breaking one's silence. Rape and violence against women are charged issues, and many people—male and female—are hesitant to speak of them publicly.
When a man rises, he conveys that outrage should be amplified, not muted, and that shame should never be part of the victim's experience, only the perpetrator's.
Likewise, the act of rising silences the vocal and ignorant (primarily male) contingent that insists on reinforcing mythic stereotypes about rape, domestic violence and women themselves—that women invent accusations to ruin upright men; that women invite abuse based on how they dress or behave.
Ignoring such hate-driven formulas is too passive a response. It is equivalent to ignoring the issues themselves.
Standing up on V-Day is an act of taking responsibility. It is a chance for men to affirm the reality that violence against women is a societal issue, not just a women's issue, and most deeply a human rights issue.
Join the cause and experience, as a V-Man, the pride of uniting one's voice to a global demand to end violence. (Loren Bienvenu)
“That's a sign. Do you believe in signs?” This sentence belongs to Sleepless in Seattle , which I learned by heart, with the excuse that it was good for improving my English. I loved the idea of a soul mate: No matter how far your significant one may be from you, if you're meant to be together, you will be, in each other's hearts first if you can't be in each other's arms yet.
My particular sign came up yesterday. I had just posted a video on my Facebook wall, with a caption taken from Daniel Barenboim's words: “Music demands a perfect matrimony between thoughts, feelings and guts.”
To that I added that I thought writing demanded that kind of matrimony, too. Barenboim is in charge of a wonderful project called the West-East Divan Orchestra, in which Palestinian and Israeli musicians play together to transcend fear, violence and hatred. The video was called Playing with the Enemy , to which a friend reacted saying that it was way better than Sleeping with the Enemy .
That movie made me cry for hours; for my friend, it was The Stoning of Soraya M.
How can one even think of stoning another human being to death in the name of a religion? Unfortunately, that mentality rang a (Catholic, Spanish and loud as hell) bell. Spain has a proverb for nearly every situation in life, but some of them are just unbearable—for instance, “La maté porque era mía” (I killed her because she was mine). What kind of sick mind could ever think that, right?
And while my friend and I compared our experiences with films related to abuse, here came this post on The Santa Fe Reporter's wall: “We're working on a story about One Billion Rising in Santa Fe. Are you a domestic violence survivor? Do you have a story to share?” It was the sign I guess I was waiting for—because yes, I am a domestic violence survivor.
I don't want to talk about the abuse per se. It would be rather unpleasant and unnecessary, since I am sure readers can imagine what it means to live in fear, hellish days and nightmare nights, blood on your face and pain in your guts. I want to mention something else.
What's more important—and often harder to imagine—is life after leaving your particular hell. I cried rivers while watching Sleeping with the Enemy , then realized I was the only one crying during certain scenes. I cried when I saw this woman coming back to life after faking her own death to be free from her torturer. As she gazed through the window of the bus that was taking her away to her new life, that's what she saw: life, in all its raw simplicity and powerful intensity. She felt how life was welcoming her again, letting other beings exist again for her. The sun started to shine again, kids played and laughed together again, dogs were nice companions instead of potential weapons your tormentor might use against you; a butterfly brought the message of a fragile beauty one forgets when living in fear, grief, shame and shadows.
All of that I felt myself, and all of that is what makes me want to say life is beautiful, and so worth living. I have struggled every day, ever since I got out of my particular hell, to remind myself how wretched and miserable I felt with him, and how human I feel without him. Life taught me that sleeping is not always with the enemy, that those many sleepless nights will finally come to an end and that, one day, we'll really sleep in peace again, without fear, only to wake up to a beautiful day and all the gifts life has in store, once we're brave enough to say, “Enough!”
So always, always, ten fe —have faith, not necessarily in saints (like those my particular torturer would so devotedly pray to)—but first and foremost in yourself. Santa Fe, “Holy Faith,” please rise up so that all who once were victims of domestic violence can gain back their fe , their faith in tomorrow, in the beauty of the world and the beauty of love, because love, too, demands a perfect matrimony between thoughts, feelings and guts. More than ever, because I'm a survivor, I know what my guts are capable of, I know what my thoughts will reject and what my feelings will rightly choose. Oh yes, I do believe in signs. (Nathalya Anarkali)
Pa. House Approves Child Abuse Bills
Bills come in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is sending the state Senate several bills aimed at improving the safety of children.
The House voted unanimously Tuesday to help set up child advocacy centers, to make judges more aware when a child has been the subject of a protection from abuse order, and to make it a separate crime to intimidate or retaliate against a witness, victim or reporter of child abuse.
Current Pennsylvania law applies only to witnesses and victims in a criminal investigation. The new law would apply in noncriminal investigations.
The proposals are in response to the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection's recommendations in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal.
The child advocacy centers would be funded by a $15 fee from criminal defendants.
Bill: A crime to not report child abuse
by Ken Dixon
Officials including athletic directors and school principals could face criminal penalties if they fail to report suspected child abuse.
That's the focus of a bill that will get a public hearing Wednesday afternoon before the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee.
State Rep. Gerald M. Fox III, co-chairman of the committee, said Tuesday that the bill is aimed at stopping the chain of administrative silence that led to the Penn State University sex scandal of 2011.
"This is to prevent people in supervisory roles to handle abuse claims privately rather than reporting to police," said Fox, D-Stamford, who introduced similar legislation last year. It's based on the sex-abuse case against Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant football coach who was found guilty last June of 45 charges of sex abuse.
Currently an athletic director or person in similar supervisory role can be fined no more than $2,500 for failing to report the abuse of children 16 and under.
Under the proposed bill, such neglect could result in a Class A misdemeanor, with penalties of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Fox said that the penalty could be negotiated and possibly toughened before it reaches full votes in the House and Senate. He's looking forward to testimony in the public hearing to discuss the issues.
He said the point of the legislation is, hypothetically, not to punish a young public school teacher who misses signs of abuse, but rather the administrators who might try to dismiss cases or cover up cases that should be investigated by law enforcement.
"This would target people trying to protect their organizations or themselves, rather than staff," Fox said in a phone interview Tuesday.
The bill would amend current law on so-called mandated reporters, who under state law are required to observe children for signs of either physical or sexual abuse and report it.
The state Department of Children and Families is expected to testify in favor of the bill in the hearing, which starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Legislative Office Building.
Michael P. Lawlor, a former lawmaker who is under secretary for criminal justice policy in the state Office of Policy and Management, said Tuesday that the list of mandated reporters has expanded over the years, from teachers, doctors, and clergy, to coaches and those in authority at youth-oriented activities.
"There are people in the course of their professions who come across information on children who are being abused either physically or sexually," Lawlor said.
"They have been trained and should be under the obligation," he said. "People who run powerful institutions have a conflict of interest sometimes even though they have clear evidence of children being abused. That has to be stopped."
Prosecutor's office hosts seminar on combating child abuse
Robert “Bob” L. Rice, prosecuting attorney of Nodaway County, is hosting a seminar to combat child abuse in conjunction with the Children and Family Center of Northwest Missouri at 1 pm, Friday, February 15, in the conference room of the Nodaway County Administration Building.
The organization Bikers Against Child Abuse, BACA, will give a presentation on how their organization can assist community resources to create a safer environment for abused children. One of their main goals is to provide children with empowerment through brotherhood/sisterhood and to not feel afraid of the world in which they live. BACA works in conjunction with local and state officials who are already in place to protect children. BACA members will be available to answer any questions at the end of their presentation.
“Combating child abuse requires a multi-disciplinary aggressive plan to empower children to disclose their abuse, protect the child, punish the abuser and help the child's healing process to restore the feeling of self-worth and confidence,” said Rice. “All local agencies have been invited to this seminar because we stand united in our war against child abuse.”
The public is welcome to attend the seminar. There is no cost to attend.
San Bernadino County: Child abuse prevention nominations sought
The County of San Bernardino Children's Network is seeking to recognize the unsung heroes in the lives of children.
The department is accepting nominations of individuals or organizations for the Children's Network 2013 Shine-a-Light on Child Abuse Prevention Awards Breakfast. The awards, now in their 15th year, are presented by Children?s Network to those who have provided exceptional service to at-risk children and youths.
The Children?s Network seeks nominees in 14 categories that include children and family services, education, foster parent, law enforcement, medical and volunteers.
Nominees should be those who have made a commitment to the safety and well-being of at-risk children and youths. All nominations will be reviewed and selections will be made by a committee of last year?s award recipients.
Recipients will be recognized at the Children's Network 15th annual Shine-a-Light on Child Abuse Prevention Awards Breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Thursday, March 28, at the National Orange Show in San Bernardino.
The deadline for this year?s nominations is 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15. For more information, contact the Children?s Network at (909) 383-9677. Nomination forms are available on the Children?s Network website, www.sbcounty.gov/childnet
Support child abuse prevention efforts with ‘Build a Blue Ribbon Tree for Kids'
The Child Abuse Prevention Action Committee invites communities, schools, businesses and individuals to participate this year in the “Build a Blue Ribbon Tree for Kids” campaign. The blue ribbon is the international sign for child abuse prevention and serves as a constant reminder that all of us have a responsibility to help protect children.
Participants can display blue ribbon trees throughout the month of April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The theme for this year's CAP month is “It's Your Turn to Make a Difference in the Life of a Child.” Tree photos will be featured in a presentation at the State Capitol on April 9, CAP DAY AT THE CAPITOL.
A “Tree Registry” form is available to print from the Oklahoma State Department of Health website at: http://fsps.health.ok.gov then click on the words “2013 Blue Ribbon Tree Materials”. The theme for the 2013 CAP Day at the Capitol is “Connecting the Dots for Oklahoma's Children – Prevent Child Abuse.” Include no more than two photos of your tree with the completed entry form. The registration form must be completed and submitted by Wednesday, April 3, 2013.
To build a Blue Ribbon Tree, select any materials. If using a living tree, choose a highly visible location and secure needed permission. Creativity is encouraged. Decorate the tree with blue ribbons to represent any of the following:
|The confirmed number of abused and neglected children in your county
The number of new babies born in your community
Or to show your community's support for children, or something important to your organization, agency, program, or community
Mail, fax or e-mail the complete Blue Ribbon Tree Registry Form to: Sherie Trice, Community Based Child Abuse Prevention Grant Coordinator, Oklahoma State Department of Health, Family Support and Prevention Service, 1000 NE 10th Street, Oklahoma City, OK 73117-1299, or fax to (405) 271-1011, or e-mail SherieT@health.ok.gov
Canada: Abusive Policing, Neglect Along ‘Highway of Tears'
Set Up National Inquiry Into Murders, Disappearances of Indigenous Women, Girls
(Ottawa) – The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in northern British Columbia has failed to protect indigenous women and girls from violence, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Women and girls Human Rights Watch interviewed also described abusive treatment by police officers, including excessive use of force, and physical and sexual assault.
The 89-page report, “Those Who Take Us Away: Abusive Policing and Failures in Protection of Indigenous Women and Girls in Northern British Columbia, Canada,” documents both ongoing police failures to protect indigenous women and girls in the north from violence and violent behavior by police officers against women and girls. Police failures and abuses add to longstanding tensions between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and indigenous communities in the region, Human Rights Watch said. The Canadian government should establish a national commission of inquiry into the murders and disappearances of indigenous women and girls, including the impact of police mistreatment on their vulnerability to violence in communities along Highway 16, which has come to be called northern British Columbia's “Highway of Tears.”
“The threat of domestic and random violence on one side, and mistreatment by RCMP officers on the other, leaves indigenous women in a constant state of insecurity,” said Meghan Rhoad, women's rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Where can they turn for help when the police are known to be unresponsive and, in some cases, abusive.”
Human Rights Watch conducted research along Highway 97 and along the 724-kilometer stretch of Highway 16 that has become infamous for the dozens of women and girls who have been reported missing or were found dead in its vicinity since the late 1960s. In July and August 2012, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed 50 indigenous women and girls, and conducted an additional 37 interviews with families of murdered and missing women, indigenous leaders, community service providers, and others across 10 communities.
Indigenous women and girls told Human Rights Watch that the RCMP has failed to protect them. They also described instances of abusive policing, including excessive use of force against girls, strip searches of women by male officers, and physical and sexual abuse. One woman said that in July, four police officers took her to a remote location, raped her, and threatened to kill her if she told anyone.
Women who call the police for help have been blamed for the abuse, shamed over alcohol or substance use, and have found themselves at risk of arrest for actions taken in self-defense, women and community service providers told Human Rights Watch.
“I will never forget that day,” said “Lena G.,” whose 15-year-old daughter's arm was broken by a police officer after the mother called the police for help during an argument between her daughter and her daughter's abusive boyfriend. “It's the worst thing I ever did. I wish I didn't call.”
Despite policies requiring active investigation of all reports of missing persons, some family members and service providers who made calls to police to report missing women or girls said the police failed to investigate the disappearances promptly.
Women and girls have limited recourse when they experience police abuse or when police fail to provide adequate protection, Human Rights Watch said. They can lodge a complaint against the police with the Commission for Public Complaints. But the process is time consuming and the investigation of the complaint is likely to fall to the RCMP itself or to another police force.
Human Rights Watch researchers were struck by the fear expressed by women they interviewed. The women's reactions were comparable to those Human Rights Watch has found in post-conflict or post-transition countries, where security forces have played an integral role in government abuses and enforcement of authoritarian policies.
In September 2012, Human Rights Watch wrote to the RCMP to advise the national headquarters and the “E” Division in British Columbia of the results of the research and seek information about questions raised by the research. The RCMP responded in November. Human Rights Watch did not include details of specific incidents of abuse in the September 2012 letter because of victims' fears of retaliation if the officers they accused were able to identify them.
British Columbia's legislature recently established the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) to provide independent civilian “criminal investigations regarding police-related incidents involving death or serious harm.” The law's definition of “serious harm” would exclude most cases of police rape and other forms of sexual assault, however, sending a strong message that assaults on women and girls are not important, Human Rights Watch said.
“The lack of a reliable, independent mechanism to investigate allegations of police misconduct is unfair to everyone involved,” Rhoad said. “It is unfair to the officers who serve honorably. It is unfair to the northern communities that deserve to have confidence in their police forces. And it is especially unfair to the indigenous women and girls, whose safety is at stake.”
United Nations human rights bodies have criticized Canada for the inadequate government response to violence against indigenous women and girls. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women announced in December 2011 that it was opening an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In 2008, the committee called on the government “to examine the reasons for the failure to investigate the cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women and to take the necessary steps to remedy the deficiencies in the system.”
The government of Canada has taken some steps to address the murders and disappearances, Human Rights Watch said, but the persistence of the violence indicates a need for a national public commission of inquiry.
“The high rate of violence against indigenous women and girls has caused widespread alarm for many years,” Rhoad said. “The eyes of the world are on Canada to see how many more victims it takes before the government addresses this issue in a comprehensive and coordinated way.”
- The Canadian government should develop and put into operation a national action plan in cooperation with indigenous communities to address the violence against indigenous women and girls, with attention to the current and historical discrimination and the economic and social inequalities that increase their vulnerability to violence, as well as the need for accountability for government bodies charged with preventing and responding to violence;
- The British Columbia provincial government should expand the mandate of the Independent Investigations Office (IIO) to include authority to investigate allegations of sexual assault by police;
- The RCMP, in cooperation with indigenous communities, should expand training and monitoring of training for police officers to counter racism and sexism in the treatment of indigenous women and girls in custody and to improve police response to violence against women and girls in indigenous communities; and
- The RCMP should eliminate searches and monitoring of women and girls by male police officers in all but extraordinary circumstances and require documentation and review of any such searches by supervisors and commanders. It should prohibit cross-gender strip-searches under all circumstances.
Statements about police abuse
“I feel so dirty….They threatened that if I told anybody they would take me out to the mountains and kill me, and make it look like an accident.” – Gabriella P. (pseudonym), who told Human Rights Watch that in July 2012 four police officers took her to a remote location and raped her. She said that police officers had raped her in similar circumstances on previous occasions.
“‘Here's your choice, you either get charged with assaulting an officer or you take the beating,' [said one of the officers.] Stupid me I said, ‘I'll take the beating.' She grabbed me, slammed me up on the wall and I hit my head. Then she slammed me on the ground. A male cop drove his knee into my back while she stripped earrings out of my ears and elastics out of my hair. ‘Have you had enough?' ‘Yes, I've had enough. I'm sorry.' ” – Anna T. (pseudonym) who spat on a police officer when she was arrested.
“I had a woman about two years ago who decided to report [a sexual assault] to the RCMP – very rare. I have worked with many women sexually assaulted and only a handful go forward with charges. She was made to feel that she was to blame….You have a system of authority that puts the blame on the victim.” – Community service provider in northern British Columbia
DCYF director: Drug abuse doesn't equate to child's removal from home
by Jeff McMenemy
NEWMARKET — The state director of The Division of Children Youth & Families said just because parents are using illegal drugs does not automatically mean they are unfit parents and their children can be taken away from them.
“Unfortunately, drug possession or drug use in and of itself doesn't mean you can't parent a child,” Maggie
Bishop said during an interview Tuesday.
She said DCYF investigators have to determine that the drug use and possession is harming a parent's ability to keep his or her kids safe.
But Bishop acknowledged that if a parent or parents are using heroin, based on that alone, she would be concerned for the child's safety.
“If there's a parent who's using heroin, we have a safety concern for their children,” Bishop said. “Whether or not I can prove that directly affects their ability to keep their kids safe is another issue.”
Her comments come a day after the Exeter News-Letter reported that Newmarket police arrested the live-in boyfriend of a 29-year-old mother of two who allegedly left her children outside in frigid temperatures and charged him with heroin possession.
Newmarket Police Lt. Kyle True said police arrested Arthur Pudims, 35, of 33 Elm St., Apt. 3 on Feb. 6 and charged him with heroin possession. According to True the arrest was based on the “underlying incident on Jan. 18.”
That's when a neighbor of Pudims and his girlfriend, Nicole Fahey, 29, of the same address, called police when they heard Fahey's two children, ages 6 and 10, outside crying.
True said the children arrived home on the bus to find themselves locked out of their apartment in “sub-freezing temperatures,” with their mother nowhere to be found. Neither child was dressed for the weather, True said.
True said police eventually reached Fahey on the phone after an hour of trying, but she was not home when authorities arrived. When police went inside the couple's apartment, they found the heroin and drug paraphernalia out in the open and within reach of the children, which led to the drug charges against Fahey and Pudims, True said.
Fahey also faces two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Bishop said Tuesday she could not speak about that specific case, but said drug and other substance abuse is a growing reason why case investigators respond to reports of child abuse and neglect.
“I can tell you, I've been in this business for more than 35 years and there's been a dramatic increase in families involved with substance abuse,” Bishop said. “The drug of choice sometimes changes, but substance abuse is often involved.”
But there's no doubt having kids growing up in households where their parents are using, hurts the children, Bishop said.
“The whole issue of substance abuse and selling and using drugs is traumatic for kids and it put kids in unhealthy and unsafe environments, that's why we investigate,” Bishop said.
But she also stressed “substance use is not in and of itself abuse and neglect of a child.”
Parents could be using out of the home and away from the child or their drug use while hurting them might not make them unable to parent their children, Bishop said.
“There are people on cocaine that you and I might see every day and we have no idea they're on it,” Bishop said. “The challenge we face is not only proving they're using, but proving that use and abuse impacts their ability to keep their kids safe.”
DCYF investigators have to go into court and prove a child is in “imminent danger,” before the child can be taken away from his or her parents, Bishop said.
When DCYF receives a report of child abuse or neglect, they do an investigation to try to piece things together as quickly as possible, but often “the parents are going to say something different than the reporting person.”
“We talk to the children alone, we talk to neighbors, any other people who are touching the children's lives,” Bishop said.
And it is always the goal of DCYF to keep the children in the home, or return the children to the home after working with the parents, Bishop said.
“I think there's a false premise out there that DCYF just removes children from homes, but the majority of cases have nothing to do with removal,” Bishop said. “That gets missed a lot and those few we have to remove, we work diligently to get them home.”
She said often if a child does have to be taken from a home, they'll try to place them with a family member so the child can keep going to the same school and have as much permanent structure in their lives as possible.
For example, in 2011 42 percent of the kids who came into the DCYF system were returned to their home, just 2 percent were adopted and 6 percent were placed with a relative, Bishop said. Most of the rest remained in the system.
DCYF workers also have to show they've made every effort to address whatever issues the parents are having to keep the children at home.
“It's not as simple as one would think it is,” Bishop said about removing a child from a home. “It shouldn't be simple to take away someone's rights for their children.”
“It is always our hope not to remove them,” she said. “It's hard for the children to leave their home and their school.”
About 900 kids come into the system each year after an assessment worker determines there's abuse and neglect in the home, Bishop said.
Typically the assessment worker is conducting multiple investigations at the same time, Bishop said, often getting two or three new cases a day.
“That's what's so challenging,” Bishop said.
But she stressed, “The majority of our kids go home, they do go home.”
Few Answers on How to Effectively Help Children Cope with Trauma
Evidence supports the effectiveness of some cognitive behavioral therapies, but barriers to research make it hard to offer specific recommendations in treating children exposed to traumatic events
by Tara Haelle
In the aftermath of traumatic events like the Newtown massacre, Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, children need to heal, just as adults do. But in turning to research to find out what approaches work best for young people, one finds little guidance, according to a research review published February 11 in Pediatrics.
The study focused on non-interpersonal trauma, such as natural disasters, terrorism and community violence, and excluded sexual abuse and domestic violence. A total of 22 trials meeting the criteria provided evidence on interventions for children exposed to trauma. The criteria required studies to have low or medium risk of bias, to compare at least two groups of children and to measure at least one outcome related to post traumatic stress symptoms that children may experience after such events, such as depression, anxiety attacks, psychosomatic symptoms (headaches, stomachaches, general pains), poor grades, nightmares and similar symptoms.
Among the 20 treatments included in those trials were various psychotherapies focusing on trauma or grief, school-based programs, group therapy and three medication trials: imipramine (Tofranil) , fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft).The results are sobering: researchers don't know if any medications help and if anything works long-term, and don't know much about possible harms from interventions.
"I thought we were going to find a lot of studies on different interventions and make clinical recommendations," says Valerie Forman-Hoffman, the study's lead researcher and a psychiatric epidemiologist for RTI International in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Many of the excluded studies failed to include comparison groups, which are important because children may recover without treatment, she added. "It's depressing. The evidence base is just lacking."
Many children do heal on their own from one-off events, especially with good support systems. Yet, about 30 percent will continue to experience nightmares, anxiety attacks, stomachaches and other post traumatic stress symptoms more than a month later, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Past research has also shown children can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms simply in response to watching news coverage of traumatic events.
A variety of treatment approaches showed some evidence for effectiveness, but not enough studies compared approaches or replicated other results. "That's not saying that no treatment works," Forman-Hoffman says, "but based on the evidence, we don't know what works."
What we do know
One reason for the limited findings may be the review's exclusion of studies about relational trauma, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence. A companion review awaiting publication did review that evidence, but separating the two types of trauma may have made it harder to see a big picture.
"Had they looked at all of the research done on trauma exposure for kids, you would have seen replications for some of the intervention models," says Todd Sosna, the senior vice president in charge of program evaluation at the Children's Institute in Los Angeles. "The research does give some directions for treatments that can be helpful, and they tend to be the ones that are cognitive behavioral and involve trauma narratives."
With trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT), clinicians spend 12 to 18 weeks with a child and parent to help them understand the effects of trauma, how to cope and how to retrain their thoughts and behavior responses. TF-CBT (pdf) also uses trauma narratives—stories children tell about an event while reprocessing it in a healthy way. Put another way, it's telling the story while getting back on the horse. This study and another recent review both found some evidence for reduced symptoms with TF-CBT, but the studies were small and short-term. TF-CBT studies also often involve only children who were sexually abused, providing less specific guidance regarding survivors of a school shooting or hurricane.
Excluding studies involving abuse also leaves out the most common trauma children experience, though, so the new findings were unsurprising, says Ryan Herringa, at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. "There's clearly a great need for research," he says. "It's just really difficult to do."
Barriers to research
The biggest research obstacle is the population itself. Researchers need to get involved with children early after an event. Without knowing what will happen or when, arriving in time to enroll children in trials can be tough, not to mention lag times in getting ethics approval. "Ideally, you would have some sort of rapid-response team that would fly into a tragedy and begin enrolling people in a study on the spot," Herringa says. "Then, ethically, is it appropriate to be approaching someone for research just as they're trying to cope?"
Forman-Hoffman says lack of funding and the sensitivity of working with traumatized children may also be limiting research. "As a researcher, I wouldn't want to go running to Sandy Hook and say, 'Can I study your kid and see if this works?'—to add to what they're already going through and without knowing if any of these treatments could potentially be harmful," she says. In fact, some PTSD therapies have shown harm in adults recovering from sexual abuse, such as retraumatization, but only five studies in this review even looked for harm. No harm was found in two psychotherapy trials, but among the three medication trials, none showed benefit and one showed possible harm. The placebo group in the sertraline study showed more improvement in quality of life measures than those receiving the medication showed, and those taking sertraline experienced side effects from the medication and more suicidal thoughts.
Katey Smith, coordinator of the Trauma Response Team at Family Centers in Fairfield County, Conn., worked with Newtown families right after the shooting. She is not involved in ongoing interventions in Newtown, but she uses TF-CBT in her own practice—without having much information about long-term effectiveness. "We have to follow these kids over time to know if this model is working," she says, because research shows that experiencing trauma before age 18 can increase adults' risk of depression, suicide and other problems. It is also difficult to control for differences between children that may influence recovery. "We're talking about human beings here, and there's so much variability between subjects," Smith says.
A growing body of research points to the importance of "protective factors" in helping children cope with trauma and develop resilience. Protective factors include how engaged children are with their communities, schools and faith; how well they regulate their emotions; what their support systems are; and how attached they are to a caregiver.
The Children's Institute's Sosna says protective factors are part of a multi-faceted solution to treatment. "We think research will advance, and we think therapy will be part of a larger solution to helping kids recover from trauma," he says.
Another approach entirely is to view these children's experiences through the lens of loss and grief, says Robert Lucia, a pediatric counseling specialist at Children's Hospital of Illinois. Both Lucia and the study authors pointed out that discussing PTSD in children is controversial because children may not show the full constellation of symptoms that garner a diagnosis. "I would challenge researchers and clinicians to switch the lens," says Lucia, who treats children coping with death. "You need to treat the grief too, and there is no pathology to grief. Everyone does it differently. Look at the impact of the loss that traumatic event has on the child," he says, whether it's loss of home, community, friends or a way of life.
Mob mentality fuels culture of bullying
by Alexis Lounsbury
Adults told me that these were the best years of my life. The thought that it wouldn't get better left me defeated and alone.
Most mornings I had to be dragged out of bed, and other days stomach pains of anxiety and panic would send me to the nurse's office. I would beg my mother to come and pick me up, swearing I didn't feel well. Now, I'm finishing college and some would even consider me successful, as last year I worked on a presidential campaign.
But there is something that still affects how I get up and get moving every day, although some may not fully understand. I was bullied, harassed, stalked and generally made to feel like I existed just for a certain group of classmates' amusement while I was a student at River Ridge Middle/High School in New Port Richey. It was nearly a decade ago, but it feels very much like last week.
I used to be followed closely at all times, with every move I made closely judged and every little strike, hit or kick made to me deemed hilarious. It made me a paranoid person who still feels anxiety in social situations. I still wonder what made me a target, which makes me feel crazy sometimes, trying to see myself through the eyes of the other young teenagers who established a pecking order by going after me. It wasn't girls; far more often it was young men who crossed the line and became physical.
The breaking point for me was to be sexually harassed by a group of middle and high school boys who waited until the school bus had pulled away before chasing me down and jumping me. The next day, too ashamed to tell my parents what had happened, I went to the school administrators. I filled out an incident report, but an overwhelmed and uninterested school administrator said since the school bus driver hadn't seen anything, the school could do nothing.
My mother let me drop out and be home-schooled, and I just wanted to move on. As a teenager, I began speaking openly about what I had dealt with at a workshop for teachers and was then interviewed on Vermont Public Radio. What surprised me was when the adult survivors of school abuse called in, weeping over the pain they felt. Nationally, fellow survivors of bullying began taking their own lives at an alarming rate, and it has not ceased.
Last month, after I moved back to Florida for the first time since that time, a 12-year-old boy took his own life in Hernando County, the cause of which seems to be torture by other classmates. A young girl from my old school district is nursing her wounds after being beaten up on the back of a bus. Both happened after the children told the schools and had disappointing responses.
I have an issue with the overuse of the term "bullying." It projects an image of teasing and/or whispering behind each other's backs. In fact, bullying in schools these days is more physical violence, sexual humiliation and deeply personal attacks. And a bigger issue is that survivors aren't talking openly about what they dealt with, and it is necessary to help the kids now who are suffering. They need to know from us is that it can be stopped, although it doesn't feel possible.
What is needed to end bullying in our schools is a change of the culture. We need a class-by-class intervention system, and the policies schools claim to have are antiquated. Our schools have become a place where mob mentality and hierarchies are thriving.
It seems in overburdened schools a student's safety has fallen down the priority list because of ignorance of the full problem and how to solve it.
I believe its time for those of us who have lived through the experience of being abused to begin to work for the students in this situation, not in defending the broken policies of the schools. And I must add, perhaps parents need to look at their children and wonder if they are being bullied, but also wonder if they are bullying others.
This is in memory of all of those who have taken their lives, but also in deep hope that those who have reached the end of their rope will reach out for help. We understand. We get it. It gets better.
Alexis Lounsbury, 22, recently moved to Spring Hill, and is a writer and student at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vt.
Pope Benedict XVI 'complicit in child sex abuse scandals', say victims' groups
Pope Benedict 'knew more about clergy sex crimes than anyone else in church yet did little to protect children', say critics
by Ian Traynor in Brussels, Karen McVeigh in New York and Henry McDonald in Dublin
For the legions of people whose childhoods and adult lives were wrecked by sexual and physical abuse at the hands of the Roman Catholic clergy, Pope Benedict XVI is an unloved pontiff who will not be missed.
Victims of the epidemic of sex- and child-abuse scandals that erupted under Benedict's papacy reacted bitterly to his resignation, either charging the outgoing pontiff with being directly complicit in a criminal conspiracy to cover up the thousands of paedophilia cases that have come to light over the past three years, or with failing to stand up to reactionary elements in the church resolved to keep the scandals under wraps.
From Benedict's native Germany to the USA, abuse victims and campaigners criticised an eight-year papacy that struggled to cope with the flood of disclosures of crimes and abuse rampant for decades within the church. Matthias Katsch, of the NetworkB group of German clerical-abuse victims , said: "The rule of law is more important than a new pope."
Norbert Denef, 64, from the Baltic coast of north Germany, was abused as a boy by his local priest for six years. In 2003, Denef took his case to the bishop of Magdeburg. He was offered €25,000 (then £17,000) in return for a signed pledge of silence about what he suffered as a six-year-old boy. He then raised the issue with the Vatican and received a letter that said Pope John Paul II would pray for him so that Denef could forgive his molester.
"We won't miss this pope," said Denef. He likened the Vatican's treatment of the molestation disclosures to "mafia-style organised crime rings".
That view was echoed by David Clohessy in the US, executive director of SNAP (Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests) , an organisation with 12,000 members: "His record is terrible. Before he became pope, his predecessor put him in charge of the abuse crisis.
"He has read thousands of pages of reports of the abuse cases from across the world. He knows more about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups than anyone else in the church yet he has done precious little to protect children."
Jakob Purkarthofer, of Austria's Platform for Victims of Church Violence, said: "Ratzinger was part of the system and co-responsible for these crimes." Under the German pope, his native country, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Austria were rocked by clerical sex-abuse scandals, triggering revulsion at the clergy in Europe just when Benedict saw his mission as leading a Catholic revival on a secular continent.
Before becoming pope, there were also major scandals in the US and Ireland at a time when Pope John Paul II had put the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in charge of dealing with them.
A combination of deep rancour and disgust over the crimes and disaffection with the conservative ethics of the Catholic hierarchy has nudged the church in Austria towards schism, with rebel priests leading an anti-Vatican movement of hundreds of thousands, dubbed We Are The Church.
"He should have come clean about the abuses, but was not really able to change anything fundamentally," said Purkarthofer. "The resignation is a chance for real change, perhaps the best thing he could have done for the church."
While also intensely critical, some Irish victims of the seminaries, convent schools, and church-run orphanages gave the pope the benefit of the doubt, but lamented that not enough action had followed Benedict's expressions of remorse in the spring of 2010.
"When the pope issued his pastoral letter to the people of Ireland we welcomed it," said one Irish campaigner. "Because of the sincerity of the words in that letter from the pope in the name of the church. He said he was 'truly sorry' and accepted that our 'dignity had been violated'.
"So we went on to meet the group of bishops in Ireland thinking that this would be a new era. But what we got instead were pastoral platitudes and special masses offered up."
The fallout from these scandals continues to reverberate. Next Monday campaigners for justice are to protest in the ancient west German city of Trier when the country's church leadership gathers. Last month a church-sponsored inquiry into the abuses collapsed in disarray amid recrimination between the clergy and outside criminologists involved in the examination.
A similar situation persists in Austria, where a church-led inquiry into the abuse and compensation has degenerated, in the view of activists, into a smokescreen. In Belgium, where the head of the church nationally had to resign and then made matters worse by going on television to plead innocence while admitting "intimacy" by having boys in his bed, there are parallel frustrations with the partial nature of the church's openness.
A couple of years ago US activists sought to file a criminal suit against the Vatican at the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, while victims' associations responded to the current drama by demanding an international commission be set up to examine Catholic paedophilia, independent of the church.i
Clohessy said a big question for Benedict's successor is "what he will do in a very tangible way to safeguard children, deter cover-ups, punish enablers and chart a new course.
"There are 30 bishops in the US [who] have posted on the diocese websites the names of predator priests. The pope should require bishops to do that and to work with secular lawmakers to reform archaic sex abuse laws so that predators from every walk of life face justice."
John Kelly, one founder of Ireland's Survivors of Child Abuse group and a former inmate at Dublin's notorious Artane Industrial School , which was run by the Christian Brothers, said Benedict had resisted their demands to properly investigate and disband religious orders tainted by sexual and physical abuse.
"In our view, we were let down in terms of promises of inquiries, reform and most importantly of all the Vatican continuing not to acknowledge that any priest or religious bodies found guilty of child abuse would face the civil authorities and be tried for their crimes in the courts.
"I'm afraid to say Pope Benedict won't be missed as the Vatican continued to block proper investigations into the abuse scandals during his term in office. Nor are we confident that things are going to be different because of all the conservative Cardinals he appointed. For us, he broke his word."
The Austrian campaigner called for church files on paedophilia to be opened and generous compensation for the victims.
Katsch pointed to the discrepancies between the response in the US and in Europe, insisting that clergy suspects must be brought before the law.
"From our point of view, Ratzinger did nothing to support the victims. Instead, perpetrators and serial perpetrators were protected and moved to new jobs," he said.
"Victims in the US have been compensated sometimes with more than a million dollars and the personal files of the perpetrators were put on the internet. But the victims of sexual violence by the clergy in Germany had to settle for a few thousand euros, often conditional on pledges of silence and no more claims.
"We demand from German politicians that this concern [the church] is no longer beyond the rule of law. That's more important than waiting to see whether a new pope will be more reactionary than the old one."
India: Reject New Sexual Violence Ordinance
Enact Law Against Gender-Based Violence that Respects Rights
The new ordinance at long last reforms India's colonial-era laws on sexual violence, but fails to provide crucial human rights protections and redress for victims. Indian parliamentarians should insist on a law that deals with these critical issues. Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director
Legislators in India should substantially amend or replace the new criminal law on violence against women in the forthcoming budget session of the parliament, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. On February 3, 2013, Indian President Pranab Mukherjee signed the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance 2013, amending criminal laws, over protests from human rights and women's rights groups across the country.
Legislation addressing sexual violence should reflect international human rights law and standards, and incorporate key recommendations of the recently appointed Verma Committee, the rights groups said.
“The new ordinance at long last reforms India's colonial-era laws on sexual violence, but fails to provide crucial human rights protections and redress for victims,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Indian parliamentarians should insist on a law that deals with these critical issues.”
Criminal law reform to address sexual violence has been the subject of national debate in India since the gang rape and death of a 23-year-old woman in New Delhi in December 2012. The Indian government set up a three-member committee, headed by former Supreme Court chief justice J.S. Verma, to consider reforms to strengthen laws against sexual violence. The new ordinance unfortunately ignores the committee's key recommendations, especially on police accountability and framing sexual violence as a violation of women's rights to bodily integrity.
“There should be a robust discussion in parliament before any law is enacted, and amendments should not ignore key recommendations of the Verma Committee or the views of women's rights groups in the country,” said G. Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India.
The ordinance falls short of international human rights standards in several ways, the rights groups said. It fails to criminalize the full range of sexual violence with appropriate punishments in accordance with international human rights law. It includes vague and discriminatory provisions, and introduces capital punishment in some cases of sexual assault. The ordinance also retains effective legal immunity for members of state security forces accused of sexual violence, harms rather than helps teenagers by increasing the age of consent to sex, and defines “trafficking” in a way that might conflate it with adult consensual sex work.
Some of the definitions incorporated in the ordinance do not appropriately protect women from sexual violence, the human rights groups said. The ordinance retains archaic and discriminatory concepts used to define criminal offenses as “insults” or “outrages” to women's “modesty” rather than crimes against their right to bodily integrity. This violates India's international legal obligations to amend all laws containing gender discriminatory provisions.
The ordinance includes penetrative sexual offenses within the definition of “sexual assault” and fails to draw a distinction between the harm caused by penetrative and non-penetrative offenses. For example, the act of touching another person's breast is given the same punishment as penetrative sexual offenses.
Limited Recognition of Marital Rape
The ordinance discriminates against women based on their marital status and denies them equal protection before the law. Under section 375 of the amended Penal Code, wives cannot bring a charge of “sexual assault” against husbands except under extremely narrow grounds: where she is “living separately under a decree of separation or under any custom or usage.”
India has ratified treaties and supported declarations that uphold the right to sexual autonomy as a matter of women's equality, including the right to decide freely whether to have sex free of coercion, discrimination and violence. Criminal law must provide protection from martial rape under all circumstances, the rights groups said.
The ordinance introduces the death penalty for sexual assault when it results in death or “persistent vegetative state” for the victim and in cases of certain repeat offenders.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch oppose the death penalty under all circumstances as the ultimate cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life. This irreversible form of punishment has been abolished by a majority of countries.
Rather than focusing on punishment, legislators should ensure that the law substantially reforms the system by which sexual violence is reported, investigated and prosecuted, the rights groups said.
Immunity for Police and Armed Forces
The ordinance leaves in place procedures that put police and armed forces above the law in cases of sexual violence. Under current criminal procedure and other special laws, police and security forces are not subject to prosecution – including for sexual violence – unless the government body overseeing the respective force approves prosecution. This seldom happens, resulting in effective immunity for police officers and soldiers who commit serious abuses. The Verma Committee recommended that these legal immunities, including in the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, be removed. Protracted legal procedures to prosecute police and armed forces have consistently caused injustice to rape survivors in India's North East, Jammu and Kashmir, and Maoist-affected areas, the rights groups said.
“India's laws should not give the police and armed forces special privileges to commit sexual violence and other human rights abuses,”Ganguly said. “Requiring government permission to bring cases against public servants is an unacceptable barrier to justice for survivors of sexual violence.”
Age of Consent to Sex
The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, enacted in 2012, increased the age of consent to sexual intercourse from 16 to 18. The Verma Committee recommended that the age of consent in the Indian Penal Code should revert to 16.
Indian law should continue to acknowledge that below a certain age, sexual contact with a child or adolescent who is unable to give meaningful consent must be criminalized. But the law should also take into account adolescents' evolving capacity and maturity to make decisions about engaging in sexual conduct for themselves, age differentials between those engaging in sexual activity, and remove inappropriate penalties, the rights groups said. The legal framework should help adolescents deal with their sexuality in an informed and responsible way, and not punish the same population that it is designed to protect.
Potential for Conflating Adult, Consensual Sex Work with “Trafficking”
The new ordinance conflates the crime of trafficking with adult, consensual sex work in section 370 of the amended penal code, the rights groups said.
The ordinance introduces a new definition of “trafficking” by which a person “recruits, transports, harbors, transfers or receives a person or persons” by using force, threats, fraud, abducting, inducing, or abusing one's power for the purpose of “exploitation.” But the ordinance states that “exploitation shall include prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation” and adds that “the consent of the victim is immaterial in a determination of the offence of trafficking.” While forced prostitution should be treated as a crime, and consent to a crime should not be a defense, the language of this provision risks conflating adult, voluntary sex work with trafficking into forced prostitution.
Criminalizing Consensual Same-Sex Relations
The ordinance fails to repeal section 377 of the Penal Code, which criminalizes consensual same-sex relations among adults. In 2009, the Delhi High Court ruled that criminalizing consensual same-sex relations among adults was a violation of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to equality, non-discrimination, and the right to life with dignity and privacy.
Given these serious flaws in the new ordinance, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called upon the Indian parliament to reject the ordinance in its present form and urged the Indian cabinet to introduce a revised bill to amend the criminal laws.
“Instead of passing a deeply flawed ordinance, the Indian cabinet should table a well-drafted comprehensive bill addressing gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, in its forthcoming budget session,” Ananthapadmanabhan said. “The parliament should engage in meaningful consultations with civil society groups, and ensure that any new law complies with international standards.”
Time Limitation for Child Abuse to Be Abolished in Norway
The government proposes to repeal the limitation period for penalizing child abuse and rape.
The proposal for amendments to the Penal Code has been sent out for consultation.
Currently, the limitation period for such cases is 25 years, and the regulation aims to lift time restrictions for investigation so that the abuse cases can be investigated and lead to judgment any time.
Last week, Norwegian daily VG had published a story about Annett Berntsberg Eck (42) who was raped at age six in 1976. 34 years later, she was ready to tell his story to the police. But she was told that her case was outdated by ten years despite the fact that both Annett and police have knowledge of the identity of the assaultant.
- My case was dismissed because it was outdated. (Thanks to this proposal), I feel a twinge of joy when I think that boys and girls in the future will not experience a restriction to fair treatment when they report the abuse they have suffered, says Eck to NRK.no.
Justice Minister Grete Faremo told NRK that with the new regulation, it will be ensured that the perpetrators must be held accountable for crimes against children regardless of how long ago the offense occurred.
The proposed amendment was sent to the consultative bodies on Friday, and they have time until 1 June to come to a decision.
Human Trafficking: Survivors offer tips to the Dept of Transportation
by Holly Smith (Video on site)
RICHMOND , VA, February 10, 2013 – Last October, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, and Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman announced a partnership among the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and Amtrak to combat human trafficking. Under this partnership, DHS and DOT would work with Amtrak to train over 8,000 frontline transportation employees and Amtrak Police Department officers to identify and recognize indicators of human trafficking, as well as how to report suspected cases of human trafficking.
DOT announced that this partnership is also part of their efforts to raise awareness about the issue and to ensure that the U.S. transportation system is not being exploited for human trafficking. The DOT has stated that, under the leadership of Secretary Ray LaHood, nearly all Department of Transportation employees have completed an anti-human trafficking training that covers common signs of trafficking and how to report it. DOT contractor employees are expected to begin the training soon.
“We cannot let the American transportation system be an enabler in these criminal acts,” stated Secretary LaHood. “In addition to…partnership with the Department of Homeland Security and Amtrak, we are working with all modes of transportation to help stop the flow of human trafficking. Raising awareness can save lives, and we all have a responsibility to keep an eye out for these activities.”
DOT recognized the need for survivor input on this process, and for that, I commend them. Without survivor input, any educational data or training program regarding human trafficking is missing a very important perspective. As stated by U.N. Ambassador Mira Sorvino in a recent speech at the National Conference of State Legislatures, “no victim's advocate or policy maker is as good as a survivor.”
My traffickers (a man and a woman) used taxis to transport me back and forth between their motel room, the local malls, and the streets of Atlantic City. I was clearly young and very quiet. There was an obvious age difference between us- I was 14, and they appeared to be in their 20s or 30s – and we did not appear to be a family.
As a survivor, I would like to offer the following warning signs for taxi drivers:
• Watch for victims of any kind of abuse or exploitation. Victims may appear to be young, confused, inexperienced, withdrawn, or afraid of their older (or generally more authoritative) companions. Be aware and report anything suspicious.
• Watch for children or teens who are dressed maturely and traveling alone or with older companions, especially late at night or early morning, in unsafe areas or places known for prostitution, and / or if the child or teen appears to be lost or inexperienced with using taxis.
• If an adult is instructing a child or teen about sex or prostitution practices, including handing the child or teen prophylactics, report it immediately.
• If a man or woman appears to be hiding a child or teenage companion within the taxi (i.e. pushing the child or teen to the floor or below the level of the window), then report it. They may be attempting to hide the child from the police.
As each survivor's experience is unique and important, I reached out to others to share tips or portions of their stories as it relates to transportation:
– “Truck stops and adjacent hotels are huge for trafficking of minors. They have trucks set up on lots for prostitution-type setups; truckers are the main target for clients. Taxi [drivers should be on the lookout] for little girls dressed up in big-girl clothes [who are out] late at night [traveling] to and from hotels… with someone else paying the cab fare. Bus stops- [drivers and other personnel should be on the lookout for] young girls being taken to and from or being directed to go to a stop [for] someone [who] will meet them there...
"Toll plaza [workers] need more awareness of signs to look for, like if a child is disheveled, [or appears to be] abused, [or is wearing] inappropriate clothing for the weather… Bathroom attendants and toll clerks can [be informed] to spot [signs,] or posters can be hung up [with signs of what] to look for.” -Katarina Rosenblatt, LLM, Founder of There is Hope for Me
– “I was sent by my trafficker across the U.S. border into Canada, utilizing the bus. I appeared to be traveling alone. Upon my return to the U.S., the Customs Agent, who reviewed my paperwork, looked at me with disgust and told me to ‘just go.' My face was swollen and covered in bruises after having spent days in the hospital for a very severe beating.” - Jes Richardson, President of Freedom's Breath
If properly informed, this Customs Agent could have recognized and reported potential trafficking.
– “Work vans are almost synonymous with normal labor; however, in my case it [was] what my trafficker and his network of pedophiles used to transport me and other children around town and to different cities in the U.S. to be sold for sexual exploitation. We were dehumanized and terrified into submission and, subsequently, silence. Traffickers can be stopped in their tracks and lives can be saved. Tips, ideas on how to educate different departments of transportation, and coming up with ways of implementing change can happen by involving survivors in the DOT process of helping to end human trafficking. ” -Margeaux, Artist and Advocate
– “My trafficker, who was my father, took me to truck stops very late at night in either a pickup truck, which sometimes had a camper attached, or a van. He used CB radios to ‘advertise' my availability and to communicate when we would be arriving. We looked like a ‘typical' father and young daughter traveling. I was terrified and often drugged, which may have [given the appearance] I had just woken up. My father also used the same van to meet groups of truckers at truck stops and then transport groups of truckers to and from our house for parties where I was commercially sexually exploited. I urge [the DOT] to [connect] with Truckers Against Trafficking [as] they do incredible work with educating truckers about what to look for on the roads and instructing them on how to identify trafficking. ” -Anonymous –
While difficult to hear, these stories and tips are paramount to an effective program geared to recognize signs of human trafficking. Tactics used by traffickers are known most well by those who endured them. I encourage DOT and collaborators to reach out to Jes Richardson, to Katarina Rosenblatt, and to other survivors of both labor and sex trafficking.
If you are a survivor of human trafficking and would like to offer advice for the DOT program, please contact Trafficking@dot.gov.
Holly Austin Smith is a survivor advocate, author, and speaker. She invites you to join her on Facebook or Twitter and to follow her personal blog.
SEX TRAFFICKING: Stats, How to Spot a Juvenile in Trouble
Keeping your eyes open can be one of the best ways to help a child or teenager being held against his or her will.
by Jessie Gable
After a video stated that I-20 was a hot spot for sex trafficking and several cases of human trafficking and forced prostitution arose in the Midlands, many ask how you can tell if a girl is in trouble.
Here are the key signs, according to The WellHouse:
- The individual is not free to leave or come and go
- Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp or manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or is paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work.
- High security measures exist in the work or living conditions. Examples include opaque or boarded up windows, barbed wire, & security cameras.
- They are fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous or paranoid
- Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up “law enforcement”
- Avoids eye contact
- Lacks health care
- Appears malnourished
- Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture
- Has few or no personal possessions
- Is not in control of his or her own identification documents (I.D. or Passport)
- Is not in control of his or her own money, no financial records or bank account.
- Is not allowed to speak for themselves. A third party may insist on being present and/or translating.
- Claims of “just visiting” and inability to clarify where he or she is staying
- Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know which city he or she is in
- Loss of sense of time
- Has numerous inconsistencies in his or her story
For more on the video that started this series, see this story.
For more information on sex trafficking in South Carolina, see this story.