Conference to Explore Kids' Risk of Being Abused in Sports Programs
You've no doubt heard about the Jerry Sandusky
case where the former 69 year old assistant coach at Penn State University was convicted multiple counts of sexual abuse against boys over a period of years. The kids, who were part of his summer youth program, were abused by the very adult who was supposed to be nurturing, supporting and protecting them. And of course it's far from the only case where a trusted adult has abused children. There have been many other cases involving coaches as well as clergy, police officers, teachers and other “trusted adults” and its one of the issues that the newly anointed Pope Francis
will have to deal with.
Unfortunately, acts of child sexual exploitation are all too familiar to the staff of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children* (NCMEC), a Congressionally authorized non-profit organization that works with law enforcement, families and other professionals on issues related to missing and sexually exploited children.
On March 19th and 20th, NCMEC is sponsoring a conference called Safe to Compete: Protecting Child Athletes from Sexual Abuse, where it will convene more than 50 youth-serving organizations, including the YMCA, Special Olympics, USA Swimming, USA Gymnastics, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America to talk about the issue of preventing abuse of children in sports programs. Most sessions will be streamed live starting at 8:30 Eastern on Tuesday, March 19th
In an interview NCMEC CEO John Ryan said “one of the deliverables of the summit will be to bring these leading national youth organizations to the Center and develop what we are calling sound practices so that parents can ask the right questions and that they can be assured that these organizations have the appropriate policies in place.” And when it comes to good practices, size doesn't necessarily matter. “Some large organizations are not doing enough, some small organizations despite limited resources are doing more than one should expect. ” He said that “there is no uniform code of behavior for youth serving organizations.”
Speakers at the conference will include Dr. Sharon W. Cooper, Developmental and Forensic Pediatrics, P.A., Sheldon Kennedy, Former NHL player and survivor of sexual abuse, Cal Ripken, Jr., founder of the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and MLB Hall of Fame Inductee and John Walsh, NCMEC co-founder and host of “America's Most Wanted.'
Central hotline for child abuse
If state officials can't enact this simple but important reform, is there any hope for more significant changes that must be made?
How long is Colorado going to have to wait for a simple, statewide hotline to centralize child abuse reports and responses, a key step toward improving the government response to children in trouble?
Such a hotline was an important recommendation in 2009 from a task force convened by Colorado's previous governor, Bill Ritter.
Yet it was kicked aside. Not pursued.
News earlier this month that the legislature's Joint Budget Committee pulled funding for a consultant's study of a hotline out of the broader legislation to set the state's budget makes us wonder whether that's about to happen yet again. Or worse, result in a watered down effort that changes little.
Sen. Pat Steadman, chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said the proposal threatened to "create pandemonium."
Perhaps what Colorado needs is a little pandemonium when it comes to taking child abuse reporting and response seriously.
The history is that there has been a long-running conflict between the state and the counties, which individually run child welfare programs and have fought hard against any further state authority.
And from our discussions last week with the Colorado Department of Human Services, we're starting to wonder whether the state has the backbone to stand up to the counties and fight for what's best for kids.
The counties have long objected to any increased state control over the fragmented child abuse and neglect system.
Yet, it's no secret that Colorado's two-tiered child protection system — administered by the state but run by counties — is at the core of many basic problems, including accountability, accessibility and lack of consistency.
Dee Martinez, a deputy director for state human services, refused to say whether the state even wanted a truly centralized reporting system. Instead she just kept repeating that the state would work with its partners and examine technology to figure out how to take on the issue.
It sounds to us like they're thinking of having one phone number that ends up feeding into the existing, fragmented system.
That's certainly not what a group of 25 experts who worked for 18 months suggested in a sweeping review of the child welfare system. They envisioned a call center that would assign referrals and result in "greater standardization of decision-making on referrals (and) more consistency in responses."
Certainly, we were glad to hear Gov. John Hickenlooper propose a statewide hotline earlier this year as part of a $20 million package of ideas intended to reduce child deaths. But it ought to be more than a call-forwarding system.
And the truth is, having a single reporting and dispatching and records-keeping system is a baby step compared to some of the more comprehensive restructuring efforts that have been proposed.
We hope state officials follow through and make a truly centralized hotline a reality. If they don't, there's almost little hope for game-changing reform.
Students learn about child abuse
by Sarah Plummer
Beckley-Stratton Middle School's after-school program invited Just For Kids executive director Scott Miller to teach them more about child abuse, a topic they have already been learning and creating a video about.
While there, the students donated fleece blankets they made to Miller for Just For Kids to help comfort kids interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center.
Miller, who is also on the advisory council for the after-school program, told the students only one in 10 children feels safe enough to tell his or her story and last year in Raleigh, Fayette and Wyoming counties, Just For Kids interviewed 300 kids.
“My message for you is that if you hear about it or it is an experience that happened to you, tell someone about it. The only way you can get help is if an adult who cares about you knows about it,” he said.
A family member or teacher is the person children who have been abused most often confide in. But as of July 2012, any adult in West Virginia who is told about child sexual abuse is, by law, considered a mandated reporter, he said.
The students asked how to tell if someone is being abused.
Miller said that it is adults' responsibility to make the call if someone truly is abused and report it to the police, but students can also be aware of the signs, for example, if someone has an unexplained injury or has a sudden change in personality or appetite.
The students asked how Just For Kids helps child victims.
Miller explained that before Just For Kids came to the area a little more than a decade ago, victims had to tell their story and be interviewed 10 or 12 times by different people. Having to share those details only once makes it a lot easier for kids, he said.
He also said Just For Kids works to raise awareness and get people thinking about child abuse.
“Many adults don't realize what a big issue it is and how many children are abused,” he said.
The students asked who is most likely an abuser and how the abuse starts.
Miller told them 80 percent to 90 percent of abusers are “people the children know, love and respect.”
He talked about the grooming process perpetrators go through to build trust in the victim and make it harder for the victim to come forward.
Ultimately, he tried to empower the students to speak up for themselves and others.
“People should not be touching your body in ways you know is not right. It is a challenge when it is someone you love and trust, but you need to be able to say no. You should not be asked to keep secrets about your body,” he said.
The Beckley-Stratton Middle School after-school program is a 21st Century Community Learning Center and is funded by the West Virginia Department of Education through RESA 1.
Child abuse research shows bruises in infants are not minor injuries
Findings of the “Sentinel Injuries in Infants Evaluated for Child Physical Abuse” study were published online this week in Pediatrics and show relatively minor injuries can precede more severe physical abuse in infants. The research was led by principal investigator Lynn K. Sheets, MD, medical director, Child Protection Center, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, and associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Physical abuse is most common in infancy. The earliest signs of physical abuse in a baby who is unable to walk on his or her own can be small bruises or mouth injuries, known as “sentinel injuries.” Sentinel injuries are common in severely physically abused infants and can help identify those who are at risk for suffering more serious abuse.
Researchers examined records of 401 infants seen by the child protection team at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to compare the number of sentinel injuries in abused children versus children who had not been abused. Of the 200 infants found to have been abused, 27.5 percent had a previous sentinel injury. Most of the sentinel injuries were small bruises, which are unexpected injuries in young infants.
“It takes a lot to bruise an infant, and while accidents do happen, this study proves that a bruise is not just a minor injury,” said Dr. Sheets. “Identifying sentinel injuries and effective intervention require educating caregivers of young infants, child protective service workers and medical providers about the seriousness of sentinel injuries. Parents, relatives and daycare providers should be taught that bruising of the skin or injuries inside an infant's mouth before he or she can walk should prompt them to seek medical evaluation,” she continued .
Improved detection of minor injuries in infants younger than age 12 months has the potential of preventing up to 27.5 percent of cases of severe abuse. With an estimated $210,000 lifetime cost estimate for each case of physical child abuse, prevention of further abuse through early detection and intervention has the potential for significant savings.
The study was funded by the Child Abuse Prevention Fund of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Children's Trust Fund, and the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
Child abuse detectors
by Betsy Lehndorff
LINCOLN - Dr. Jaci Fitzgerald and Kellie Sefernick have a way of making you feel right at home the moment you meet them. The two moms smile gently. They look you in the eye and extend a hand. They are pleasant, warm and gently professional. They also are cool and calm when it comes to examining children who have been physically and sexually abused.
At the Alcona Health Center in Lincoln, they have a special examination room that is gaily decorated with colorful images on the walls. They have a cupboard stuffed with cuddly handmade blankets, cute hand-knit hats, even cloth dolls that provide instant comfort. But their best tool is a $30,000 colposcope camera and recorder made by Olympus. Its microscope and lenses magnify almost invisible injuries 40 times, without being invasive.
"We don't do any internal exams. We are looking for bruises and lacerations," Sefernick said.
The information is then stored on a flash drive.
"It should provide enough evidence so that the child doesn't have to be reexamined by the defense," she said.
The camera was purchased two years ago through a grant provided by NEMCSA, and the Lincoln facility has been the only location in lower Northeast Michigan where children and teens can be examined.
The two, along with another assistant, handle cases from an area that stretches from Tawas to Mackinaw City. However, in about two months, another camera will be installed at the Child Advocacy Center of Northeast Michigan. A new facility, it is located in the Alcona Health Center of Alpena.
Fitzgerald said she has been a part of the county child protection team for 20 years and became the local medical consultant five years ago. She picked Sefernick as her assistant and recently added another professional, Jennifer Schultz, to the team.
On an average month, the women handle three to four cases of suspected abuse.
"It goes in waves," Fitzgerald said. "When we have one, we'll have a few more the next week."
Abuse also seems to be on the rise, but the two said they believe it could be due to greater public awareness.
"There is a growing desire to stamp out child abuse and a lot of professionals are coming forward," she said. "We aren't alone, although we were for a while."
Another important tool is a comfortable examination table that can be lowered to 18 inches off the floor, so a small child can climb on. The $4,600 unit was purchased with funds raised by the Spruce Eagles Auxiliary.
A network of services are employed when a family, teacher, doctor or other person reports suspected abuse, Fitzgerald said. Her role is to provide an exam and document conditions, then turn it over to investigators.
Children who are severely injured are first treated in an emergency room, and when stable, they arrive in Lincoln to see her.
"Any severely injured child also has to be evaluated for sexual abuse, and that's the way it is," she said.
"You have to be able to suppress your own reactions," Fitzgerald said.
"It's hard to know a child has been abused," Sefernick said. "On the other hand we have a chance to get the child out of that situation. Resolving the abuse makes it worth it."
"And you have to keep your mouth shut later," Fitzgerald said. "The staff doesn't need to know what happened. It's too personal."
To unwind from a case, Fitzgerald, Sefernick and Schultz talk to each other or to other abuse examiners at peer review sessions. They also get support and technical help from the DeVos Children's Hospital Child Protection Center in Grand Rapids.
Although the women say there are times they just want to wrap their arms around a child, they lock down their emotions and assume a friendly approach.
"What I try to do is be comforting," Fitzgerald said. "I don't do anything they don't want to do. But it is appropriate for a child to put a gown on to be examined."
Children from the age of a toddler to five or six often are intrigued with Fitzgerald's camera device and are willing to help. Older children, however, can be embarrassed and reluctant.
"It's not traumatic," Fitzgerald said. "It's all external, and we work carefully and gently. We have a few tricks of the trade."
Children can be afraid for a number of reasons. Many fear they will get in trouble or they worry they won't recover from their injuries, Fitzgerald said. Some fear retaliation, while older children and their parents are concerned about ideas of virtue.
It is crucial that the person who assaulted the child be removed from their lives, even if it means a family is disrupted, she said.
"A child who doesn't feel safe will not tell what has happened," Fitzgerald said. "A child will recover best if their future safety is assured. For most, a part of their recovery is knowing they will never have to be exposed or victimized by the perpetrator again."
Fort Mill doctor says he was sexually abused as a child
by Elizabeth Leland
Dr. Jason Peck, a psychiatrist and sleep expert, is doing what not so long ago would have been unthinkable for a man who claims he was sexually abused as a child.
Peck is speaking out.
So much stigma is attached to child molestation that men who bring charges often don't want anyone to know their names. “From the day it happened, I've tried very hard to push away the dark, terrifying, and sickening memories fearing what would happen to me or my family if I spoke out,” said Peck, now 45.
But as the Jerry Sandusky scandal unfolded at Penn State in the fall of 2011, Peck felt compelled to go public. Who better, he thought, to put a victim's face on such an horrific crime than a medical doctor married with two children, a nice house and a solid reputation?
Who better to stand up to an alleged abuser and say, “I'm not scared of you any more”?
For a man to speak out candidly would have been unthinkable not that long ago, said psychologist Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea, co-director of Presbyterian Psychological Services and a nationally-recognized authority on sexual abuse. Women began talking openly about sexual abuse during the women's movement of the 1970s. But Frawley-O'Dea said it took the sex scandals surrounding the Catholic church and Penn State for men to feel comfortable stepping forward.
“It liberated more men to feel that this is something that happens and they can talk about it,” Frawley-O'Dea said. She said that as many as one-third of all women worldwide and 20 to 25 percent of all men are sexually abused before age 18.
“Nobody wants to believe it,” she said. “We want to think it's some dirty old man in a subway grabbing a kid. It's doctors, lawyers. It's priests. It's ministers. And, occasionally, though not often, it's a woman.”
Peck claims it was a neighbor in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.
A father figure to him
In a lawsuit filed in Ohio in December, Peck named his attacker as William Airey, then head of the Moose International fraternal and service organization.
Airey, 71, retired about a week after the suit was filed and Moose International barred him from contacting students at the organization's residential care facility. “The Moose fraternity is shocked by this allegation as this is not the Bill Airey we know,” the nonprofit said in a statement.
Airey could not be reached for comment. In a court document, he denied the accusations.
Peck was 12 at the time of the alleged abuse in 1980, and lived with his mother and sister across the street from Airey. Peck's parents were divorced and his father lived in Colorado.
Airey became a father figure, Peck said. “This was a person I really trusted. I looked up to him.”
Peck said he and other neighborhood boys gathered in Airey's basement to watch movies and eat snacks. He said Airey took them to dinner. Once Airey took him, his mother and his sister to the symphony.
He and Airey also shared a special ritual, Peck said. “My bedroom window faced his house and so in the morning he would flick the lights on and off on his front porch around 6:30 or 7 a.m. and he asked me to flick my lights so we could say ‘Good morning.'?”
In the lawsuit, attorneys Seth Langson and Leto Copeley alleged that Airey was grooming Peck for sexual abuse. Langson, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, including four pending against the Catholic church, said predators ingratiate themselves into their victims' lives to gain their trust.
“You make them feel like they're special,” Langson said. “They will be less likely to resist abuse. They won't understand that what you're doing is so wrong because they view the person as a very trusted friend. Or, in the case of a priest, they often view them as a representative of God on Earth.”
According to the lawsuit, the two incidents of “abuse, molestation and exploitation” happened on Moose-related functions.
During the summer of 1980, Peck said, Airey drove to New Orleans on business for the organization and took along Peck, Peck's sister, Airey's daughter and Airey's nephew and niece. Peck said they stayed in a hotel suite and he slept on a fold-out couch in the living room.
Airey came back late one night, Peck said, smelling of alcohol.
“It was dark. He gets into the bed and gets real close behind me. I was facing away from him. He puts this big heavy arm around me, and he starts groping me up... I kept grabbing his wrist and moving him away.”
Peck said Airey persisted until Peck blurted out: “What are you doing?”
Airey apologized, Peck said, and told Peck he had mistaken him for his wife (who wasn't on the trip).
Peck said he felt confused by what happened. But because he trusted Airey, he said, he rationalized that Airey was drunk. “It wasn't until the next event that I realized what he did in New Orleans was wrong.”
The second alleged abuse
The second incident occurred on a Moose-related trip north of Columbus, Peck said. That time, he said, he alone went with Airey.
“All of a sudden in the middle of the night in a dark hotel room, he was on top of me in my bed,” Peck said. “I was absolutely terrified. I froze and tried to leave my body mentally and acted like I was asleep.”
The lawsuit claimed Airey sexually abused him.
Peck said someone recently asked him how he could have let it happen.
“I didn't let it happen. People think of me as this doctor, somebody who has clout in society, a man in control,” Peck said. “You have to remember I was 12 back then, and he was probably in his mid- to late-30s. I was probably 5 foot 3, 5 foot 4, and 110 to 120 pounds. This guy was 6-4 and 220 pounds. I didn't have the ability to stop it without fearing I was going to get injured or hurt.”
As they drove home the next day, Peck said he gathered the courage to speak out when he recognized familiar landmarks. “I knew that if I had to jump out of the car I could find my way home,” he said. “I told him how sick he was, what a terrible thing he did, that I would never talk to him again.”
And he never did.
“I feel fortunate compared to some of the victims in the Sandusky case who were victimized multiple times,” Peck said. “I had something to fall back into, a loving, close-knit family.”
Always with him
Peck didn't tell anyone for years, which is not unusual. Perpetrators often threaten their victims, Langson said.
Peck said Airey told him it would harm Peck's family if he revealed their secret, and Peck worried his mother might lose custody of him and his sister.
“I decided early on to stuff it away, not to talk about it. I was embarrassed about how it would make me look as a 12-year-old kid. I didn't want to be labeled as the boy who was victimized by his neighbor. I constantly filled my life up and kept busy. But it has always been with me.”
While in medical school in Rochester, N.Y., he said he drove by a Moose Lodge on his way to the hospital every day and he said his wounds reopened. He said he took about a year off, saw a therapist and confided to his mother and his fiancé.
Peck attributes the break-up of that first marriage in part to the alleged abuse. He has since remarried.
Thirty-three years later, he said he still has trouble sleeping and suffers from nightmares. He has issues with trust and intimacy.
The boiling point
Peck moved to the Charlotte area in 2003 to start a sleep clinic at Mecklenburg Medical Group.
“I was working all these hours, taking care of my family, taking care of my patients, trying to build this sleep medicine division, but I was really blind to the fact that I needed to take care of myself,” he said. “The boiling point is when Penn State came out.”
He remembers hearing Theoren Fleury, a former professional hockey player, talk about being abused by a coach. If a hockey player, the epitome of a tough guy, could speak out, so could he.
“I felt like using the weight of what I hope to be a reasonably solid reputation – somebody who is not just there to sue this guy for money – it might help other people come forward,” Peck said.
He said he took a leave of absence from his job and met with Langson, who specializes in sexual abuse cases. They Googled “William Airey” and discovered that Peck's childhood neighbor had become the director general of Moose International.
“That was the moment that I knew I had to speak out,” Peck said.
His lawsuit asks for compensation for “extreme emotional and psychological injuries” and for the cost of therapy and lost wages. But Peck said he didn't file the suit for money. He filed it because Airey, in his role as chief executive officer of Moose International in Mooseheart, Ill., was in close contact with vulnerable boys.
A time to heal
The lawsuit claimed that in 1996 and 2007, Moose International investigated Airey for alleged sexual misconduct with children, but took no action.
A Moose spokesman said he had “no knowledge of whatever may or may not have occurred.” Asked if he could find out if anyone else knew about possible investigations of Airey, he replied, “I will stick with what I just said.”
After the lawsuit was filed, Peck was interviewed on national Fox News and his story was picked up online and in newspapers. He was taken aback, he said, by online comments faulting him for not speaking out sooner and accusing him of being out for money. “But it gave me insight into what people think. Not everyone is going to think you're a brave, good guy. People will be skeptical. It's funny, people immediately attack the victim.”Langson said they also heard from other men who allege they were abused by Airey.
“We are evaluating their claims,” Langson said. “There's always a difficulty proving these cases because they are almost always crimes without witnesses. But in every case we try to find evidence to corroborate the client's accusations and investigate the defendant as thoroughly as we can.”
Peck is in therapy again and no longer with Mecklenburg Medical Group. He said he hopes to re-establish a medical practice in this area. For the time being, he said he is doing what he wishes he had done years ago: Striving to heal.
Video of Attack on Woman Disturbing to Sex Trafficking Awareness Groups
(Video on site)
Jason Peck speaks out (VIDEO)
Presbyterian Psychological Services (formerly Presbyterian Samaritan Center) has a trauma treatment team that works with sexually abused kids, teens, and adults. 704-554-9900. presbyteriansamaritan.org
malesurvivor.org is a national nonprofit committed to preventing, healing and eliminating sexual victimization of boys and men.
Pat's Place is a child advocacy center serving children from birth to age 18. According to its website, patsplacecac.org, there were 13,367 reports of child abuse and neglect in Mecklenburg County in 2011. Of those, 70 percent were child neglect cases and 30 percent were child abuse cases. Of the child abuse cases, 20 percent were child sexual abuse cases (about 802 cases.)
by Ben Deci
SACRAMENTO- A video posted online of a group of men attacking a woman has left many, sex trafficking groups, disturbed.
The YouTube video was posted by a Sacramento man, and what he and his friends capture on video from their car has apparently happened at least once before.
“I just did my first one,” you hear one man's voice say proudly.
The women who is victimized in the video is not their first victim.
“[…]told her to look one way[...] hit her with the other,” the man goes on, describing what he did.
What the men are driving around looking for isn't clear at first, and hard to believe until they find a victim.
“What do you want?” asks the woman who they pull up next to at a gas station.
The men pose as “Johns” looking for a prostitute. And what happens when they invite the woman into their car is disgusting.
One man punches her hard in the face and she falls over.
FOX40 showed the video to Stephanie Midthun. She is a chaplain with Courage World Wide, a group that helps victims of sex trafficking.
“It's horrific. it's horrific,” Midthun said.
In particular, she points out how the men explode into sustained laughter after they strike the woman.
“It's just one small glimpse. If that outrages you, think of that times a thousand,” Midthun said. “Those are the kinds of situations these girls are in.”
In a mind-set, she says, that views women working in the sex trade more as criminals than as victims themselves.
State must combat human trafficking
by Cindy McCain
The recent unwillingness of Arizona House Judiciary Chairman Eddie Farnsworth to schedule a hearing for House Bill 2569 shines a direct and disturbing light on the problem of human trafficking in Arizona.
By refusing to schedule a hearing, he effectively killed a bill that was a small step but a step in the right direction of protecting our children from human trafficking.
HB 2569 would close the loophole for children who are victims of sexual predators, being bought for sex, who are 15, 16 and 17. Current Arizona law allows predators of children in this age group to be treated differently — less harshly — than those who sexually buy and abuse children under the age of 15. Essentially, the bill creates higher penalties for pimps and traffickers than for johns when the victim is 15, 16 or 17. This bill is relatively simple and straightforward and just the start of legislation needed to address the larger problem of human trafficking in Arizona.
According to the Polaris Project, which has rated all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on 10 categories of laws that are critical to a basic legal framework that combats human trafficking, punishes traffickers and supports survivors, Arizona ranks in the third tier.
The third tier includes states that have made nominal efforts to pass laws to combat human trafficking and should take major steps to improve and implement their laws.
Only four states fall below Arizona, in the fourth tier. I am working with many others to help improve Arizona's status with significant laws to combat human trafficking, thereby giving law-enforcement officers and our justice system the tools they need to safeguard all minors in Arizona, regardless of their age.
These are our children and grandchildren, our neighbors and members of our congregations, born and raised in Arizona. There is a truly sad misconception that this happens only to children from other countries — a devastatingly wrong assumption.
The average age of entry for a child sold into prostitution in Arizona is 14, according to Shared Hope International.
Phoenix is a major hub for this activity and is often listed as one of the top spots in the U.S. for child sex trafficking.
Sex traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and gullibility, as well as the market “demand” for young victims. Studies show pimps prey on victims as young as 12. Traffickers target their minor victims through chat lines, on the street, through friends, at malls and at schools.
Women and girls in sex-trafficking situations, especially U.S. citizens, are often misidentified as “willing” participants in the sex trade who make a free choice to be there.
This is wrong. Kids do not freely choose to have sex for money; they are overwhelmingly victims of coercion and violence.
Arizona is a major sports and entertainment hub, and trafficking activity increases during major sporting events. We have the opportunity, and I believe the moral obligation, to strengthen the state's trafficking laws before January 2015, when the Super Bowl comes to Arizona.
According to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, “It's (the Super Bowl) commonly known as the single largest human-trafficking incident in the United States.”
Sex trafficking exists partly because it is high profit and low risk. It is high time to make it a higher risk.
I have traveled around the world to learn and to better understand all of the complex issues surrounding human trafficking. I recently returned from a trip to Kolkata, India, where I saw the horrors of trafficking and the beauty of the dedicated volunteers working to make a difference. It's time we made a difference in our own backyard, too.
Passing HB 2569 would have been a small first step, but it would have been a step in the right direction.
We owe it to our children and the children of the world to provide them better protection against human trafficking.
Cindy McCain, a humanitarian and business owner, is the wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Jasmine Guy Tackles Child Sex Trafficking As Spokesperson For 'I Am Not Yours' Campaign
Human trafficking has taken center stage not only in Washington, where president Obama outlined steps to combat the form of modern-day slavery last year, but in Oakland, California, where actress Jada Pinkett Smith says she is deeply entrenched in the cause and now in Atlanta, where "A Different World" alum Jasmine Guy is speaking out.
"I had no idea that Atlanta was such a hub for sex trafficking and slavery," Guy said in an interview with HLN's Kyra Phillips Thursday. "I thought it was an illegal alien problem, that they were shipping women in from other countries, but that our girls were being snatched from our streets and being forced into prostitution, that was beyond what I knew about," she went on to say.
In January, the month President Obama declared to be National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Guy announced her involvement with NOtYours!, an organization committed to bringing national awareness to child sex trafficking, with an emphasis in Georgia.
According to a release announcing the partnership, the FBI named Atlanta as one of 14 cities in the nation with the highest incidents of children used in prostitution.
Last June, the FBI and a contingent of local law enforcement across the country recovered nearly 80 kids -- including three children and five adults from Atlanta -- and arrested more than 100 alleged pimps in a three-day crackdown on child prostitution.
Take a look at Guy's approach to combating child sex trafficking in the video posted on the site .
“I Am Not Yours”
Kimberly Ritter stands up to child sex trafficking in US hotels
by Marjorie Kehe
The first time someone mentioned human trafficking to Kimberly Ritter, she had only a vague idea of what it was. "Isn't that something that happens in third-world countries?" she asked.
That was 2008. Today Ms. Ritter might be said to have two careers. On the one hand, she's still a meeting planner, a 20-year veteran of the travel and hospitality industry. But she now expends almost as much energy fighting child sex trafficking.
It all started with Ritter's largest client, the Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph. In her work as a senior account manager at Nix Conference & Meeting Management in St. Louis, Ritter books meeting venues for this group of Roman Catholic nuns. The sisters devote themselves to causes like opposition to the death penalty and the fight to stamp out disposable plastic drinking bottles. Ritter has come to greatly admire their stands, she says.
But the sisters took her by surprise one day when they talked about an upcoming conference and said that they wanted to stay at a hotel that took a stand against child sex trafficking.
"I have learned so much from the sisters over the years," she says. So she began educating herself on child sex trafficking. What she learned came as a shock.
Ritter discovered that, according to UNICEF, about 1.2 million children are exploited each year in the global child sex trade. The crime falls under the larger heading of human trafficking, one of the fastest-growing illegal businesses on the planet, estimated by the United Nations to have an annual value of $32 billion.
Child sex trafficking – which differs from child prostitution – is part of this and occurs when a minor is tricked into prostitution by force, fraud, or coercion.
But perhaps what was most horrifying to Ritter, as a longtime worker in the hospitality field, was to discover how often US hotels are the venues for such crimes.
"It happens everywhere," Ritter says, and "that includes five-star hotels."
What the Sisters of St. Joseph wanted Ritter to do was to find a hotel for their next conference that had signed on to the standards created by a group called ECPAT (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking) USA. The ECPAT standards ask hotels to take a stand on child sex trafficking by – among other actions – training their employees to look for signs of it and asking all their suppliers to do the same.
Spotting the telltale signs
At hotels, this crime often leaves telltale signs visible to employees. When a third party arranges for a room for a guest, or when a guest shows up without luggage and doesn't spend the night, or when a young girl is dressed inappropriately or seems disoriented or confused – any of these could be signs of child sex trafficking.
But because hotel employees are not trained to recognize the problem or encouraged to report suspicious activity, it may go overlooked.
That's where the training mandated by ECPAT could make a difference.
What Ritter discovered, however, when she began canvassing hotels, was that many were reluctant to take any kind of stand on child sex trafficking. They feared that signing an agreement such as the ECPAT standard was tantamount to acknowledging that such crimes might be taking place in their hotels. Given the extreme public revulsion to the topic, they simply wanted to keep a distance.
As a result, some employees remain remarkably ignorant. (When Ritter surveyed several hotels asking them for their policy on human trafficking, one hotel worker replied: "We maintain and point out the crosswalk in front.")
But finally, Ritter scored a big success. The Millennium Hotel in St. Louis agreed to sign the ECPAT pledge. It did so during a special ceremony in July 2011, while the Sisters of St. Joseph were holding their conference there.
Ritter was initially delighted. But the day after the signing she realized, "That's not enough." In fact, it was just the beginning.
Online photos yield important clues
Ritter's company, Nix, was founded in 1985 by Richard Nix Sr. But today its seven em-ployees are all women. Intrigued by Ritter's campaign, the entire group – led by principals Molly Hackett and Jane Quinn – decided to throw its weight into the fight.
Today Nix continues to work to inform hotel staffs about child sex trafficking and to urge them to sign the agreement. They have also developed standards that meeting planners can sign on to as well. (A letter that individual guests can present to hotels, urging them to sign the ECPAT standards, can be found at http://ecpatusa.org/take-action/promote-the-code/).
One effective gambit for Ritter has been to find images of children available for sex online. (She says that these images are only too easy to locate.) Often these girls are photographed (faces blanked out) in hotel rooms. Ritter studies the photos and can sometimes recognize the hotel, thanks to clues like wallpaper patterns or the view from the window. She then takes the photo to the hotel's managers.
The reaction, she says, is usually one of absolute horror.
Ritter has become an active member of the Human Action Network (of which Ritter is now a vice president and on the board of directors), which works with young women who have been able to flee the sex trade.
Getting to know these young women is an eye-opener, Ritter says. The notion that most children being trafficked are runaways or come from unstable homes is inaccurate. A fair number, she says, are suburban teens from middle-class families. They have been manipulated in some way by pimps, who are extremely savvy about using a mix of drugs, attention, praise, and threats to bend the girls to their will.
Facebook and the local mall are favorite recruiting grounds. Handsome teenage boys are sometimes hired to make the initial approach.
Once coerced into "the life," it can be hard for a girl to get out, Ritter says. Pimps can be violent and will fight to protect their "assets."
That is why an educated hotel staff is so important. Ritter tells a tale she heard from a young woman who has since freed herself from the trafficking business. She had been brought to a St. Louis hotel for yet another sexual encounter when she decided to break away.
She fled the hotel room, leaving her pimp and the client behind, and ran down the hotel hallway shouting for help. She encountered a maid who spoke no English; not understanding the situation, the maid helped to return the girl to the pimp who was chasing her.
'You've got to keep doing this'
That's exactly the kind of situation in which employee training could have been crucial, Ritter says. In fact, she says, when she told this young woman about the ECPAT agreement, her response was: "You've got to keep doing this. You're going to get such a blessing."
The blessing has come already, Ritter says.
"This has been life-changing for all of us," she says of herself and her colleagues at Nix. "It has created a whole new world for us."
It also has taken the work of the Sisters of St. Joseph to a whole new level.
"Kimberly realized that as a meeting planner she has a tremendous opportunity to influence hotels," says Sister Patty Johnson, the group's executive director. "She's reaching groups that we could not."
Public recognition is now following as well. In April Ritter will fly to Washington, D.C. , to attend a national ceremony at which she will receive a community leadership award from FBI Director Robert Mueller to honor her work in the fight against child sex trafficking.
"Raising awareness goes a long way to preventing sex trafficking or any crime," states Dean C. Bryant, special agent in charge of the FBI St. Louis division, in the press release announcing the event. "By challenging their industry peers to raise awareness, Ms. Ritter and Nix are creating a force multiplier that could eventually have a nationwide impact."
St. Louis sex trafficking shelter opens
by Farrah Fazal
ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Behind the red brick, inside the windows, and past the big steel doors, is a secret home in St. Louis.
It's a place where a world of hurt comes walking through the door, every time an officer brings a rescued young woman or girl.
"This home is dedicated to victims of sex trafficking," said Pat Bradley. He opened the doors in December. It's the only shelter in the Midwest for victims of Sex and Labor trafficking.
"It tells me there's not much help for these girls. For every girl we know about, there's a hundred we don't, we can't get our hands on just yet," said Bradley.
He runs trafficking shelters in Cambodia and Ethiopia. The FBI told him sex trafficking is huge problem in his own backyard in St. Louis. He said traffickers, smugglers, and pimps are selling girls on the streets of St. Louis every night. They also sell them on Backpage and recruit them on Facebook.
Bradley relies on law enforcement to rescue girls and women. Five stayed at the shelter since it opened.
Two more came in the doors this past week. They were all Americans. Bradley knows so many more victims are Mexican or Central American girls. It's hard to find them. They don't speak English. They are hidden in communities in St. Louis, where people won't tell.
"Organized crime already has the infrastructure to move drugs in so what's the difference if you are moving drugs or people," said Bradley.
The home can accommodate twenty two victims. He's got enough money to keep the doors open for 10 months. If donations don't come in, he will have to close the only home that's a haven for trafficking victims.
He also needs toiletries, makeup, and gift cards so he the victims can buy clothes. They often come in with only the clothes they wear on the streets.
Bradley is hoping somebody will read or see this story and call 314-487-1400. He hopes somebody will recognize a girl forced and coerced into selling herself and call that number. He also wants law enforcement across the Metro area and the Midwest to know they can bring trafficking victims to the shelter.
(Photo on site)
Do you know this man? HSI asks possible victims of a sexual predator to come forward to law enforcement
NEW YORK – A New Jersey man, posing as a business owner, was indicted today in federal court in New Jersey for engaging in sexual activity with two minors and possession of child pornography. This indictment comes as a result of an extensive investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
Gregory John Schaffer, aka John Archambeault, 34, was charged with production and possession of child pornography. Today's indictment follows Schaffer's June 2012 arrest and indictment in the Eastern District of New York for enticement and coercion of a minor to engage in illegal sexual activity.
"The defendant, Gregory John Schaffer, has been alleged to be a sexual predator and has been indicted in New York and New Jersey on charges of child exploitation. We believe there are more victims in the metropolitan area and we ask that they come forward," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of HSI New York. "The widespread availability of the Internet has facilitated predators who seek to prey on our children. These indictments underscore HSI's commitment to work with our law enforcement partners to seek out individuals who use technology in an effort to sexually exploit innocent children."
According to court documents from the Eastern District of New York, in March 2012 Schaffer allegedly answered a craigslist posting by another victim, a female, who was seeking afterschool and weekend employment. Schaffer lied and told this victim via email that he owned several businesses at the Newport Mall in Jersey City, N.J., and was looking for part time help in these stores.
Schaffer requested information from the victim as part of the "application process," to include her age, what type of work she was interested in doing, her plans for college and requested a photograph for "security purposes." The victim responded via email and told Schaffer that she was 15-years-old, was interested in business management, culinary arts and photography. Schaffer responded that he might have something that might fit in with what she wanted to study.
The victim and a friend traveled from Brooklyn to Schaffer's office in Jersey City March 17, 2012. Schaffer took the victim into a private office area and closed the door. During the meeting, Schaffer told the victim she would need working papers and a physical examination to work in New Jersey. Schaffer gave the victim paperwork for her great grandmother to sign – as the victim's guardian – and return the next day alone for her first day of work.
The victim again traveled from her home in Brooklyn to Schaffer's office in New Jersey March 18, 2012. During the meeting, Schaffer asked the victim to sign a confidentiality agreement and an employment contract.
After the victim signed the paperwork, Schaffer told her she had agreed to engage in sexual intercourse with him. Schaffer had the victim try on "outfits" for him, which included a bathing suit. Schaffer told the victim that if the job was important to her, she would try on the bathing suit. He then took photographs of her. Schaffer subsequently removed his pants and revealed he was wearing a Speedo bathing suit himself. Schaffer told the victim he wanted to photograph them both together.
At this point, the victim told Schaffer she did not feel comfortable and asked if she could get out of the contract. Schaffer threatened to sue her great grandmother for breach of contract. Schaffer then engaged in sexual intercourse with the victim in his office.
Afterwards, Schaffer told the victim that he would remove the sex part of the contract and asked her not to speak to anyone about their sexual encounter because that would be a breach of their confidentiality agreement.
HSI special agents executed a search warrant of Schaffer's office and recovered: a laptop computer, video camera, large computer monitor, condoms, sex paraphernalia, employment applications, computer printed photographs of teenage girls wearing bathing suits or naked and a document titled, "Sex Contract."
HSI is urging anyone who may have further information – or has had contact with Schaffer – to come forward and contact HSI New York at 646-313-4380.
This investigation is part of Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, including those who travel overseas for sex with minors, Internet child pornographers, criminal alien sex offenders and child sex traffickers. HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators.
Workshop on suicide to help adults talk to youth
by Jim Boyle
The Elk River Area School District is co-sponsoring a suicide prevention workshop 6:30-8:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 20, in the Rogers High School media center. The workshop is free and open to the public.
Deb Link, owner of co-sponsor Link Therapy and Mediation in Rogers, and Jen Holper, Community Relations representative with co-sponsor PrairieCare, will present the workshop.
Link, a marriage and family therapist, has been personally touched by suicide. She works with individuals, families, couples and groups to address issues in thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships.
Holper, who also experienced the suicide of a loved one, enjoys connecting people to resources for improved access to mental health care.
Participants will learn suicide risk factors for youth, as well as strategies to intervene when one is concerned about the safety of a young person.
For additional information, call ISD 728 Prevention Specialist Judy Johnson at 763-241-3400, ext. 5003.
More about speakers Holper and Link
Holper and Link have been talking since 2011 about how to help parents feel more comfortable in talking to their kids about mental health, and suicide in particular.
“Thanks to the partnership with the Elk River Area School District we now have a venue in which to do this.
The program on March 20 will be devoted to sharing information about the prevalence of mental health issues, suicide, warning signs and action steps that parents can take to help their children/adolescents get help when it is needed.
The objective for the evening is for parents to think about their own perception of mental illness and suicide and what do they need to do to be able to be able to provide support to their children in times of need.
“This could mean in dealing with their own child's mental health, or it could mean being a support to their child who has a friend struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts,” Holper said. “This event will provide parents with the tools they need for their adolescents to feel comfortable talking to them about depression and suicidal thoughts, just like they would for a stomach ache or sore throat.”
Holper has been a part of the PrairieCare team since 2007, starting as a social worker in the Child/Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program in Edina. She came to PrairieCare with more than eight years of in-home case management experience, helping families and children with mental health issues navigate and access support systems including school resources, county social services and community-based programs to enhance their quality of life.
Front line and clinical experience come in handy in connecting with the community in her current role of community relations representative. Holper is a board member of the Robbinsdale Redesign Family Service Collaborative, and she's involved with the Washington County Children's Mental Health Partnership. Holper co-facilitates OASIS with the Osseo School District – a parenting education workshop and support group for families dealing with mental health issues.
She is passionate about alleviating stigma and seeking ways to improve systems so that families can access the care they need.
Holper, as asurvivor of the suicide of a loved one,brings her experience to reduce stigma and empower people to seek the support they need. In her spare time she enjoys hiking with her husband and son, reading and yoga.
Link is the owner of Link Therapy and Mediation in Rogers. She became a marriage therapist because of her conviction that life was meant to have purpose and meaning. She has been personally touched by suicide and understands that there are many for whom life doesn't always feel worth living. She works with individuals, families, couples and DBT groups to address issues in thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships. A licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed professional clinical counselor, Link received her master's in counseling psychology at Bethel University in 2007 and completed additional training at the Adler Graduate School in marriage and family therapy.
As an in-home family therapist, Link began her career working with children and adolescents in the context of their family system. She has experience working in an outpatient mental health clinic as the group therapy program coordinator as well as an outpatient therapist specializing in DBT and treating survivors of sexual abuse. Her other interests include suicide prevention, parenting skills training, grief therapy, marriage therapy, families impacted by divorce and spiritual searching within the therapeutic context. She is also a qualified neutral under Minnesota Rule 114, which enables her to act as a mediator in family law cases.
New Bill Aims to Protect Testimony of Child Sex Abuse Victims
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Child sexual abuse survivor and advocate Lauren Book is joining with the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association to promote the passage of legislation that would make an out-of-court statement from child victims of sexual abuse a stronger tool trials against their alleged abusers. Book's non-profit organization, Lauren's Kids, also is seeking to expand Florida's existing abuse prevention curriculum through fifth grade.
Under current Florida law, out-of-court statements – such as transcripts of forensic interviews – made by a child victim with a physical, mental, emotional or developmental age of 11 or less may be admissible as evidence in some child sex abuse cases. Book and Florida's State Attorneys want to see this option extended to children up to 16 years old, as contained in HB 7031.
“Facing my abuser in court was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but under Florida law, it was necessary for me to appear in court to testify in order to bring my abuser to justice,” Book said. “This is such a traumatizing experience for children who are victims of sexual abuse that many victims would prefer to forgo justice rather than face their abuser in open court.”
The legislation is intended to give prosecutors additional tools to get sex offenders off the street and keep better track of them when they are in the community.
“Giving our prosecutors additional tools to get sexual offenders off the street and to end the epidemic of childhood sexual abuse is a critical state priority,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, one of the bill sponsors.
Florida's state attorneys believe that revising the state's current victimless prosecution law to be more inclusive would help prosecutors increase the number of trials and convictions against sexual predators.
“The Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association is supportive of HB 7031,” said Bill Eddins, FPAA president and State Attorney for the 1st Judicial Circuit. “We believe it will help us significantly in the prosecution and conviction of sexual predators and offenders.”
Next week, Book kicks off her fourth annual “Walk in My Shoes” statewide awareness journey, beginning on March 19 in Key West and traveling 1,500-miles to Tallahassee, where Book will end “Walk in My Shoes” with a Rally in Tally on the steps of the Historic Capitol on April 23. State Attorneys in districts across the state will join Book to advocate for victimless prosecution and the passage of HB 7031.
During each week of Book's six-week Walk, she will be highlighting a different aspect of child sexual abuse: Signs, Disclosure and Reporting; Predators: Grooming/Pedophile Tactics; Prevalence and Healing; Effects of Child Sexual Abuse; the Role of Youth-Serving Organizations; Education and Prevention. A series of educational web videos corresponding to each topic will be posted each week, featuring experts, survivors and a convicted child molester.
Armed with the knowledge that 95 percent of sexual abuse is preventable with education and awareness, Book is on a mission to shine light on the dark issue of abuse in Florida. Her organization, Lauren's Kids, has partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families to launch the “Don't Miss the Signs” campaign, which aims to educate adults on signs of child abuse and how to make a report. She is also seeking to expand the state's existing kindergarten abuse prevention curriculum to include grades one through five, incorporating such topics as bullying and Internet safety.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature allocated funds for the development and distribution of an abuse prevention curriculum for kindergarten students. The curriculum, Safer, Smarter Kids, has since been demonstrated to increase children's knowledge of critical personal safety information by 77 percent.
Lauren's Kids is a non-profit organization that works to prevent abuse and help survivors heal. The organization, headquartered in Aventura, Florida, was started by Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse who endured abuse at the hands of her nanny for six years. Her organization offers a 24-hour crisis hotline, elementary school prevention curriculum, an annual 1,500-mile awareness walk, legislative advocacy and speaking engagements. For more information, visit laurenskids.org
Leading legal expert challenges Rep. Ron Marsico's concerns on child sex abuse bill
by Ivey DeJesus
One of the country's leading church and state scholars is challenging state Rep. Ron Marsico's claims that suspending the statute of limitation in order to allow victims of child sex abuse to file charges against their predators is unconstitutional.
Marci A. Hamilton, a 20-year professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, argues that two amendments pertaining to the statutes of limitations and attached to House Bill 342 are constitutional and sound public policy.
In a report to the General Assembly, Hamilton argues that: “In reality, while the United States Supreme Court has closed the door on retroactive criminal legislation, it has found retroactive civil legislation to be constitutionally permissible.”
Under the U.S. Constitution, Hamilton argues, retroactive civil legislation is constitutional if the legislative intent is clear and the change is procedural.
Hamilton said efforts over the past eight years to reform the law have been fueled by false and outdated arguments.
House Bill 342, sponsored by Rep. Marguerite Quinn, R-Bucks, would protect the identities of child sexual abuse victims from public disclosure.
The bill contains two amendments that have largely been the sticking point over the past eight years to efforts to reform current statutes.
One amendment, authored by state Rep. Mike McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), would open a two-year window for adult victims who have aged out of their opportunity to seek justice to file civil charges against abusers.
McGeehan's amendment also would suspend the sovereign immunity clause, which protects public school teachers and government officials from prosecution in these cases.
The other amendment, sponsored by Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), acts as a safety net in case McGeehan's amendments fail: His proposal would offer just the two-year window clause, not the sovereign immunity.
Earlier this week, Marsico, a Republican from Dauphin County and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, indicated he will not support the proposed legislation.
Victims advocates have long pointed towards Marsico as being one of the main obstacles to reforming the statutes of limitation.
In a written statement earlier this week, Marsico said: "While it might feel satisfying to pass a bill that includes a window, any such provision would simply give false hopes to a victim whose civil claim has been barred by the existing statute-of-limitations because it would later be declared unconstitutional by the court."
It is not clear who the intended recipients of the statement were. PennLive made repeated attempts to speak with Marsico; calls were not returned.
Hamilton, a Bucks County native who is regarded as a leading expert in legislation pertaining to child sexual abuse and statutes of limitations, has challenged Marsico to produce legal precedence supporting his claim that the proposed legislation is unconstitutional.
“I am appalled that Mr. Marsico has chosen to misrepresent the constitutional law of Pennsylvania." - Marci A. Hamilton, Yeshiva University
“I am appalled that Mr. Marsico has chosen to misrepresent the constitutional law of Pennsylvania, and then say it is his 'sworn duty' to do so,” Hamilton wrote in an e-mail to Marsico's office this week. Hamilton shared the email with PennLive.
“There are no cases that support Mr. Marsico's position, as I am sure he knows, given that he has never mentioned a case that supports his misrepresentations,” she said. “As a Pennsylvania citizen, I demand that Mr. Marsico publicly disclose the Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases that support his statements about the constitutionality of the window.”
Hamilton, who represented scores of victims in the Philadelphia Archdiocese clergy sex abuse case and has authored leading books on statutes of limitations, said McGeehan's and Rozzi's amendments satisfy federal law requiring the intent of retroactive civil legislation to be clear and the change procedural.
In addition, she argues that the window component of McGeehan's amendment is constitutional under Pennsylvania case law.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has allowed for retroactive application of merely procedural aspects of civil statutes.
“Pennsylvania follows the same reasoning as the United States Supreme Court and has permitted the retroactive application of statutes,” she argues.
Hamilton further refutes claims by Marsico and others that a window provision in the statutes of limitations would generate false claims.
Hamilton argues that victims of child sex abuse rarely make false claims. She points to Delaware and California, where windows have already opened and closed. California saw approximately five total false claims out of the 850 against the Catholic Church, Hamilton said.
Marsico has pledged to offer a bill removing the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions of all future child sexual abuse cases. Victims advocates point out that Marsico, in 2011, opposed similar legislation introduced by Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (D-Philadelphia).
Bishop's legislation - House Bill 878 - would have eliminated the statute of limitation in sexual abuse cases involving minors. That bill, along with an earlier attempt by McGeehan to introduce a window component, were shut down.
The Legislature, which was scheduled to take up House Bill 342 this week, has yet to do so.
Howard Loughlin's work to fight child abuse with Child Advocacy Center recognized
by Chick Jacobs
Twenty years later, the job doesn't get any easier.
But, Howard Loughlin notes, it's just as important.
In 1993, Loughlin, a Fayetteville doctor, helped establish the Child Advocacy Center to help diagnose and care for abused children in Cumberland County.
Next weekend, he will receive the 2013 National Children's Advocacy Center Service Award for medical care.
It's an award he says he deeply appreciates - but one he wishes didn't need to be given.
"I'd love to see the day when everything we do here wasn't needed," Loughlin said from the offices of the Child Advocacy Center. Now 68 years old and semi-retired from his position at the Southern Regional Area Health Education Center, he could walk away from the stories, the pain, the tears.
But there's still something in the New York native that won't let him leave the job unfinished. It's been that way since he helped create the network of support and care for children who suffer abuse.
In 1993, Cumberland County citizens and community agencies got together to address the growing problem of child abuse. The Child Advocacy Center, which opened in 1995, was the result. It's a partnership with several government bodies, including Cumberland County Department of Social Services, Cumberland County Mental Health, law enforcement agencies, and the Cumberland County School System.
"From investigation to prevention to care, it's too big a job for one group to do alone," Loughlin said. "We learned long ago that no one profession can do the job adequately for these kids. We all work better together.
"We have a great organization that works well together. The trick is when we have new faces - and that's a constant in this field - that we're able to convince them.
"It isn't about turf. It's about the needs of children."
Loughlin, who last year received the Champion of Children Award from the Cumberland County Break the Chain of Child Abuse committee, says there's an irony in the fact that an individual received a national award in this field.
"Anyone who's been a part of this process knows that one person doesn't do it," he said. "My receiving this award is humbling, but it should go to the whole center. We all work together.
"I'm honored to have been a part of the process and to work with some really good people who are doing the right thing in our community."
Cash fears as male sex abuse cases rise
by Emily Walker
The number of men seeking help after being sexually abused has soared – and victims' groups fear the effects of the Jimmy Savile scandal will push the numbers even higher.
A counselling service for male victims of sexual assault said the number of men it helps has more than trebled in the last five years.
And Brighton-based Mankind said it expects more to come forward following the Savile revelations.
The organisation is one of only a handful of organisations helping male victims of sexual violence in Britain but it has been snubbed by the Government for support.
Minister Helen Grant announced £4 million in funding to open four new rape crisis centres and secure 65 existing centres.
But Martyn Sullivan, the chief executive of Mankind Counselling in Brighton, said: “We welcome any funding that supports victims of rape and sexual abuse but it saddens us that yet again little thought has been given to adult male survivors of sexual crimes.
“The Government's own figures estimates that 1 in 9 males have suffered childhood sexual abuse and 1 in 29 have experienced rape in adulthood. With this decision, they have chosen to ignore the 3.8 million actual men and boys that these figures represent.
“Male specific agencies were excluded from the Rape Support Fund last year and it looks like the same thing has happened again.
“There has been a rise in cases being reported in light of the Jimmy Savile scandal and we are expecting even more cases.”
Brighton victim Adrian*, 38, was repeatedly raped at a children's home from the age of seven.
It took him two decades to seek help by which time he had fallen into a life of drugs and crime.
He said: “I now have a good job, a lady and a baby son. I am proud of who I have become and look forward to what and who I can be. Thank God for Mankind, because otherwise I'd be dead by now.”
To donate to Mankind visit www.mankindcounselling.org.uk
*Not his real name
Child abuse prevention summit to be held in April
KEARNEY, Neb. — Kearney will host a child abuse and maltreatment prevention summit April 10 at the Younes Conference Center.
The Nebraska Children and Families Foundation will partner with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services for the event, which will have several speakers and workshops focused on community prevention strategies.
Kelly Medwick, vice president of marketing and communications, said the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation works with state agencies to watch out for at-risk families and provide support for children into young adulthood.
"We want to reach out to families before something bad happens," Medwick said.
Medwick said 300 people have registered for the April summit.
"A lot of people with the state government, some nonprofits associated with child care, educators ... anyone who interacts with families and children," Medwick said of the people attending.
Group to meet to tackle child abuse
LAKEVILLE -- The public is invited to meet to brainstorm ways to raise awareness and fight child abuse in northern Indiana.
The meeting will be 7 p.m. Monday, March 18th at LaVille Jr.-Sr. High School, 69969 U.S. 31.
Deb Blacklaw, the grandmother of a Plymouth boy who had been abused by his father, has organized the meeting to gauge interest in anti-abuse efforts.
SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY:
Students helping child abuse victims
Four students of the School of Social Work at Cal State San Bernardino have been working to raise funds and obtain donations for the children served by the Children's Assessment Center of San Bernardino.
Norma Mendez, Victoria Mariscal, Guadalupe Torres and Veronica Medina have dedicated their time and efforts to accomplish their goal of helping the CAC's mission of coordinating the services they offer in a child-friendly atmosphere. This is part of a community advocacy project they are completing for their Social Welfare Policy and Services course. The project consists of advocating for the needs of the children served by the Children's Assessment Center of San Bernardino, a public/private partnership that provides forensic interviews and evidentiary medical examinations to assist in the evaluation of child abuse allegations.
“In order to help promote a stress-free and child-friendly atmosphere, our objective is to obtain donations in the form of products such as craft supplies, books, magazines, movies, electronic devices, video games, board games, and snacks,” said Mariscal. The supplies are to be placed in the center's waiting area, where the children and teens can utilize them while they wait to be interviewed. “This will help to keep them occupied and to reduce their level of anxiety and stress. So far, we have obtained donations from Wal-Mart, and a professional in our community, Mr. Stephen Siringoringo. Furthermore, Carl's Jr. worked with us and allowed us to do a fundraiser through them (we sold coupon books), from which we were able to raise $400.”
Their ultimate goal is to connect the center with assets and resources in the community that can continue to donate the supplies needed to the center. The students hope to spark public interest and spread public awareness of the needs of these kids.
“We ask the community to take action and further assist us in accomplishing our goal to provide a comforting environment for children retelling their experiences in abuse and neglect in their forensic interviews at Children's Assessment Center,” said Mendez.
For further information regarding donations or to volunteer, please contact Nancy Wolfe at the Children's Assessment Center of San Bernardino at 909-796-2070.
Sheriff's office to hold first child abuse awareness day
The Polk County Sheriff's Office is planning a child abuse awareness day on April 13 in honor of child abuse awareness month. The event will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Polk County Middle School Recreation Center.
The sheriff's office is seeking sponsors for its first Polk County awareness day.
Organizers say the goal is to educate Polk's communities in prevention of child abuse, detection of child abuse and resources that support families in Polk's communities.
Individuals or businesses are encouraged to participate as sponsors, which will be advertised on the backs of T-shirts that will be sold to raise money for education and prevention materials.
A report of child abuse is made in the United States every 10 seconds with more than five children who die every day as a result of child abuse.
Neglect makes up 78.3 percent of child abuse with physical abuse at 17.6 percent, sexual abuse at 9.2 percent, psychological maltreatment at 8.1 percent, medical neglect at 2.4 percent and other types of child abuse making up 10.3 percent, according to statistics provided by the sheriff's office.
About 80 percent of children who die from abuse are under 4-years of age and it is estimated that between 50 and 60 percent of child fatalities due to maltreatment are not recorded as such on death certificates.
More than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way with child abuse occurring at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all regions and at all levels of education.
Approximately 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children.
The annual estimated cost of child abuse and neglect in the United States for 2008 was $124 billion.
Other national statistics on child abuse include that 14 percent of all men in prison were abused as children; 36 percent of all women in prison were abused as children; abused children are 25 percent more likely to experience teen pregnancy; children who experience child abuse and neglect are 59 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, 28 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult and 30 percent more likely to commit violent crimes.
Sponsors for the child abuse awareness day are asked to make a $100 donation to the sheriff's office no later than March 22.
Donations can be mailed to the Polk County Sheriff's Office Child Abuse Awareness, P.O. Box 69, Columbus, N.C. 28722.
Digging for answers
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is justified in seeking a court order to exhume human remains at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
This is a case that goes back a century, but whose questions remain unanswered.
The Dozier school closed in 2011 after 111 years of operation; it had opened in 1900 as the Florida State Reform School. Its inmate population grew to include not just lawbreakers, but children who skipped school, orphans and those whose parents couldn't support them in hard economic times.
They received more than the strict discipline that was common for the times. Rumors had long circulated of horrific abuse of the children, which included rape and even murder. Just three years after it opened, investigators found children “in irons, just as common criminals.”
A few years ago, former inmates from the 1950s and '60s came forward with chilling stories of their ordeal. These witnesses called themselves “the White House boys” because they said the abuse took place in a small white building on the campus.
In 2008, then-Gov. Charlie Crist ordered a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of Dozier. The FDLE identified 31 graves on the site, but said its investigation into the former inmates' claims was hampered by a lack of evidence. However, last year a group from the University of South Florida did more thorough research and discovered even more graves at the school, and used historical documents to verify the deaths of two adult staff members and 96 children — ranging in age from 6 to 18 — from 1914 through 1973.
Some undoubtedly died as the result of accident or illness. But the sheer number, combined with the stories of survivors, suggest other young lives came to more grisly endings.
The public needs as full an accounting of what happened in Marianna as can be expected given the historical limitations. The state has a responsibility to (literally) dig deeper, because this alleged abuse occurred on the government's watch.
Thus it was good to see Bondi on Tuesday request that Dr. Michael Hunter, medical examiner for Florida's 14th Judicial Circuit, be allowed to exhume human remains on the school grounds and conduct autopsies to determine the cause of death and to identify as many as possible.
That effort at least could bring some closure to families who have long wondered how their kin perished at the school. But it also opens the possibility that those responsible could be brought to justice. That may be unlikely given the timeline of events — most of the school employees who were around during the years of alleged abuse are either deceased or quite elderly. Plus, the statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions has expired for most of the illegal conduct, save for murder.
It has taken too long for the state to aggressively pursue the Dozier case. Bondi's move is an important step toward finally uncovering the truth.
Dumped child sexual assault case raises concerns about effectiveness of Royal Commission
by Simon Lauder
TIM PALMER: A Melbourne woman wants to know why Victoria's Office of Public Prosecutions has dropped her sexual assault case at a critical stage.
Last November a Queensland man was committed to stand trial for the sexual assault of Debra Wooby at a children's home in Victoria in the 1970s.
But Debra Wooby has told AM that the prosecutors have now dropped the case because of a statute of limitations.
She believes her case has been mishandled and could discourage victims of sexual abuse from approaching the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.
Simon Lauder reports.
SIMON LAUDER: When the Geelong Magistrates Court decided there was enough evidence to send Francis Graham Oakley to trial on charges of carnal knowledge and indecent assault, Debra Wooby thought she was going to see justice in action.
Now she's been told the trial, which was due to begin next month, is cancelled.
DEBRA WOOBY: I was devastated that I'd been through all that. Just devastated. And I don't want this to happen to anyone else.
SIMON LAUDER: The charges go back to 1975 when Ms Wooby was 13 and living under the care of the accused at the former St Cuthbert's Children's Home in Colac.
Ms Wooby says she was called into the Office of Public Prosecutions late last week and told the case couldn't proceed because of a statute of limitations.
DEBRA WOOBY: Yes, well obviously I think they stuffed up because how can I have gone through a committal and committed to trial to end up "no you can't do anything now." So yes, I was devastated.
SIMON LAUDER: What explanation did you get?
DEBRA WOOBY: Just the statute of limitations. That's all it is.
SIMON LAUDER: Presumably that existed last year when it was in the court?
DEBRA WOOBY: Ah yes, it would have, yes, yes. It's always existed but obviously no-one said to me that this could come to the statute of limitations. I thought once it was committed for trial, all that must have been okay.
And they're well aware that historical abuse from children who are in government, church-run institutions, you know, foster care and all that, all these people are just coming out now.
It's noted in a Senate report that these people only come out like in their 40s or 50s. And so now, yes there's been the parliamentary inquiries. We've got Taskforce Sano on the case.
But what's going to happen when they get into court is that are all these other people going to then be hit with the statute of limitations - you didn't report it?
I don't want what's happened to me to happen to them.
SIMON LAUDER: Debra Wooby says she's speaking out because she's concerned that laws affecting the timeframe for reporting child sexual abuse may hamper the effectiveness of the Royal Commission into child abuse.
DEBRA WOOBY: Not many children that would have been in a home back then would have been reporting a crime. To who are you going to report a crime? You live in a children's home.
SIMON LAUDER: And we've had a lot of talk about people coming forward lately with the Royal Commission. Julia Gillard has even encouraged people to come forward. What would your advice be?
DEBRA WOOBY: Julia Gillard, seeing you're Prime Minister, you need to do something about the statute of limitations. She needs to get all the Attorneys-General together, all of them, from every state. They all need to come together and they need to work something out because she's said we're having a Royal Commission but then after that, sorry youse aren't going to get anywhere.
Where's your justice? Well we were kids then. When all these things happened to all these children, they were all little kids.
Julia needs to step up yeah maybe and do something about it.
SIMON LAUDER: Victoria's Office of Public Prosecutions has confirmed the case was affected by a statute which came into effect in 1975.
TIM PALMER: Simon Lauder reporting.
Watch for Warning Signs of Child Abuse
Abused babies often have previous suspicious injuries before they begin crawling
If victims of child abuse could be identified early on, it could save a lot of heartache and pain for everyone. Paying attention to babies' injuries may be an important first step.
A recent study found that infants who are victims of child abuse are more likely to have had another earlier unlikely injury when they were younger – before they could even crawl.
Among a group of abused and non-abused babies evaluated at a hospital, only the abused children had histories of previous injuries, such as bruising.
The researchers found that babies with suspicious minor injuries, especially before they begin crawling, are more than four times more likely to become later victims of child abuse.
The study, led by Lynn K. Sheets, MD, of the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, aimed to better understand what might be warning signs of abuse in babies.
The researchers looked 401 babies under 1 year old who had been evaluated for child abuse in a hospital. In each child's case, the hospital's Child Protection Team either determined that there was definitely child abuse going on or that no abuse occurred after the evaluation.
Then the researchers looked at the previous medical records of these infants for "sentinel" injuries. A sentinel injury is a previous injury that appeared suspicious either because the baby was not yet crawling or the explanation the parents gave was an unlikely cause for the injury.
Of the 200 babies in the study who had definitely been abused, 27.5 percent were found to have had a previous sentinel injury. Of the 100 babies who may have been abused, but it was not yet clear, 8 percent of them had a previous sentinel injury.
Among the 101 babies found not to be victims of abuse at all, none had a previous sentinel injury.
The most common earlier sentinel injury found among the children who had definitely been abused was bruising, which 80 percent of the children with sentinel injuries had. In addition, 11 percent had a mouth injury, and 7 percent had another injury.
The sentinel injuries generally occurred very early in the babies' lives. About two-thirds (66 percent) of the babies had a sentinel injury before they were 3 months old, and 95 percent of them had the injury before they were 7 months old.
The researchers found that medical providers were aware of the previous sentinel injury in 42 percent of the cases where one existed.
"Previous sentinel injuries are common in infants with severe physical abuse and rare in infants evaluated for abuse and found to not be abused," the researchers wrote. "Detection of sentinel injuries with appropriate interventions could prevent many cases of abuse."
The study was published March 11 in the journal Pediatrics . The research was funded by the Child Abuse Prevention Fund of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Children's Trust Fund, and the Department of Pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. One author has provided paid expert testimony in court cases related to child abuse. The other authors declared no conflicts of interest.
Bill to expand mandatory reporting of child abuse will help protect more kids
by Joey Kennedy
For years, my wife and I were volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates in Jefferson County, representing abused and neglected children at Family Court.
It can be depressing, discouraging work -- but also very uplifting when a case goes right. One consistent encouragement: We never investigated or represented an abused or neglected child whose parents weren't in some way involved with drug abuse or alcohol abuse. The abusive parents we saw had serious issues; they weren't just being mean for mean's sake.
Drug or alcohol abuse doesn't excuse beating or harming a child, but that dysfunction can be fixed, sometimes, and, sometimes, an abused child can be reunited with her parents.
Child abuse remains a serious, growing problem, but we've gotten a lot better at identifying when a child is being physically abused or neglected.
One of the great aids in identifying and intervening in child abuse has been the law requiring certain professionals -- doctors, social workers, day care workers, teachers and others -- to report suspected child abuse.
Now, a state representative from Jefferson County is taking a leadership role in expanding the mandatory reporting requirement.
State Rep. Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, is sponsoring a bill that will add physical therapists, all public and private K-12 employees, and employees of public and private institutions of postsecondary and higher education to to the list of mandatory reporters of suspected abuse.
Drake's bill also prohibits a public or private employer from retaliating against a worker for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.
"Children First came up with the bill, and I originally named it the Savannah Hardin Bill after the 9-year-old girl who was run to death in Attalla," Drake said in an email. "Four people saw this and no one even reported it.
"The bill did not make it through the process last year, so I changed it and resubmitted it," Drake said. The bill has cleared the Judiciary Committee and should be on the House calendar this week.
"I don't expect any problems passing it," Drake said.
We all should be better reporters of suspected abuse and neglect, but we also must understand that once we get involved, we're involved. It makes sense to have certain professionals, from doctors to teachers to law officers, be require to report suspected abuse. They frequently come into contact with children -- and being a mandated reporter gives them protection should an angered parent decide to take legal action if an abuse report turns out unfounded.
The idea is to protect the child, so any time abuse is suspected, it should be reported, even if the report eventually turns out to be a mistake.
Drake's bill is a needed expansion of the list of mandated reporters. The Legislature shouldn't play games with this bill like they do with so many bills. Once it becomes law, this will help protect children from repeated abuse.
That's really all anybody needs to know.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winner, is a community engagement specialist for AL.com and The Birmingham News. Reach him at email@example.com
Pennsylvania House fight over statute of limitations for child sex victims intensifies
by Charles Thompson
A top midstate legislator said Monday he will not support efforts to create a temporary "window" for victims of long-ago child sex abuse cases to bring new civil suits against their alleged abusers or the institutions that employed them.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico's statement, coming after closed-door party caucuses on two amendments to create the so-called window, immediately cast doubt on whether supporters can force their proposal through the General Assembly this session.
A Republican from Lower Paxton Township, Marsico cited Constitutional concerns with revoking existing deadlines.
If that becomes the line upon which opponents choose to rally around, it could become a recurring theme every time the issue is brought up.
It was not clear Monday night, however, if Marsico had enough support to sustain his constitutional objection. All votes on the underlying legislation, House Bill 342, were postponed after caucuses today.
At present, child sex abuse victims only have until age 30 to bring civil claims against their abusers.
Here's what Marsico said about the window amendments attached to H.B. 342 by Democrat Reps. Michael McGeehan of Philadelphia and Mark Rozzi of Berks County.
"While it might feel satisfying to pass a bill that includes a window, any such provision would simply give false hopes to a victim whose civil claim has been barred by the existing statute-of-limitations because it would later be declared unconstitutional by the court," Marsico said.
"Those victims deserve better than to be given such false hope, only to see it snatched away."
To read Marsico's full statement, click here.
Marsico's statement was quickly denounced by McGeehan, who has supported a window for civil cases ever since major and long-running abuses within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia emerged in the last decade.
McGeehan noted similar civil case windows have been enacted in California and Delaware and survived court challenges. He argued the constitutional argument is simply a way to provide cover for those who would stand with insurers, the church and other lobbies that have opposed the change.
The window legislation has been a top priority for many victim advocacy groups.
Supporters argue that a belated ability to sue validates victims who have wrestled for years with their abuse, exposes perpetrators who may still be out there, and helps assure an end to years of cover-up by churches, school districts, camps and other entities.
"The only way they change their behavior is to make it too expensive for them not to follow the rules," McGeehan said.
Opponents, meanwhile, have argued it's not fair to expose potential suspects and institutions to financial liability for allegations that may have little supporting evidence, and they say its patently unfair to insurers to change deadlines after they've expired.
Steve Miskin, press secretary to House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny County, said it was not clear after Monday's caucuses whether leaders will bring the bill to the floor this week.
"There are real concerns about this type of legislation," Miskin said, referring to the amendments, adding "we didn't finish the conversation."
But McGeehan, for his part, suggested that he will not back down if GOP leaders ask him to drop his amendment. "If this bill runs, this amendment will run," he said.
Marsico could not be reached to elaborate on his prepared statement for this story, but in it he pledged to offer a bill removing the statute of limitations on criminal prosecutions of all future child sexual abuse cases.
At present, child victims have until age 50 to make criminal complaints.
"That way, justice will always be served because no one who sexually abuses a child then will ever be free from criminal prosecution merely because of a lapse statute-of-limitation," Marsico said.
Lawmaker Wants School Policy On Sex Abuse
A Nebraska lawmaker wants to require the state Department of Education to develop a child sexual abuse policy.
The Nebraska Legislature's Education Committee will consider a bill by Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield on Tuesday that would encourage schools to adopt guidelines for handling sex abuse cases.
Bloomfield's bill says the Department of Education would create an example policy that could be replicated by schools leaders who wish to create child abuse policies.
The bill would require schools that adopt child sexual abuse policies to include the policy in the school handbook, teach students about the policy and offer child sexual abuse training to staff.
Eyes Change To Sexual Abuse Litigation
SPRINGFIELD, IL (IRN) - Victims of long-ago sexual abuse would have an easier time suing their perpetrators, under a bill which has passed an Illinois Senate committee.
The bill would remove the statute of limitations – currently 20 years – for civil cases alleging child sexual abuse.
The founder and president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Barbara Blaine, testified, “The burden on the victim is huge. It's our word against someone else's. What we as victims want to say to you is, bring ‘em on. We'll produce the evidence, because it's so rare that there's just one of us. There's usually many, and our perpetrators are still out there, and they get more children.”
Senators said they are concerned that only the correct people are accused and that the accusations can stand up.
S.B. 1399 has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Group: Pennsylvania underreports child abuse
by John Finnerty
HARRISBURG — In Pennsylvania, the Department of Public Welfare might not consider a child's death a case of child abuse even if someone is arrested for the slaying.
That has happened at least seven times since 2008.
In six other cases, the Welfare Department wasn't told about the deaths of the children, so no determination was made about whether the deaths were caused by abuse, said Donna Morgan, a Welfare Department spokeswoman.
Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Protect our Children Committee, an advocacy group that looked into those cases, said the findings expose the shortcomings in the way Pennsylvania deals with child abuse. The state's unwieldy standard for determining what constitutes child abuse was among the key problems identified by the child protection task force created in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Pennsylvania's definition of child abuse is so limited that the crimes of Sandusky technically were not considered child abuse.
The Protect our Children Committee found 32 cases between 2008 and 2011 in which an individual was charged in connection with a child's death, but was not included in reports on child abuse published by the state Department of Public Welfare. In more than half of the cases identified by the advocacy group, the agency has since acknowledged that abuse was involved, Morgan said.
Palm said that the Protect our Children Committee's findings illustrate the shortcomings of the way the state defines abuse.
Pennsylvania relies on antiquated terminology that does not reflect the real-world relationships that are involved in many families in crisis, she said.
In Pennsylvania, an act is considered child abuse only if the perpetrator is “a parent, a paramour of a parent, an individual (over the age of 14) living in the same home as the child, or a person responsible for the welfare of a child. ...”
Child protection task force members noted that under Pennsylvania's definition of abuse, the crimes of Sandusky were not child abuse. Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State, was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison for molesting boys he had met through a charity he founded.
A House Children and Youth Committee has already held hearings on six bills that would tackle issues such as improving training for those who might see child abuse, and extending whistleblower protection to anyone who reports child abuse.
The committee has not yet considered any legislation re-examining the basic question of what is considered abuse in Pennsylvania. At a hearing last month, Kathy Watson, chairwoman of the House Committee on Children and Youth, said that lawmakers are working on a bill that would address that issue.
Palm said advocates believe the shame caused by the Sandusky scandal created an opportunity to reform Pennsylvania's child protection system.
The questions about properly documenting abuse deaths indicate how difficult it is to hold a system accountable when there are questions about the credibility of the data that is being released to the public, Palm said.
“We decided to look at abuse deaths because we thought it should be black and white, but in Pennsylvania, it's not,” she said.
Domestic Violence: Why Do Women Stay?
Examination of VAWA renewal finds that, for mothers, part of the answer is the children
LOS ANGELES , March 11, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The Violence Against Women Act was a landmark victory when it was signed into law in 1994; last month the Congress again made history, voting to sustain funding to the Domestic Violence Hotline and other services, as well as enhancing it with added protections for survivors. Yet, even with these support systems in place, each day in the United States , more than three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends , and statistics show that 85% of women remain in a relationship where domestic violence has been reported . Why?
There are many factors that force victims to remain or return, including isolation, entrapment, coercive control, financial issues, lack of support and safely-accessible resources, as well as fear for their own lives and those of their loved ones. Yet there is also another important reason: "Like all mothers, victims of domestic violence do not want to be separated from their children ," said Cassandra Loch , President and CEO of Prototypes, a non-profit organization that serves 12,000 people annually. "In our experience, when law enforcement is contacted in a domestic violence situation, dual arrests are likely to take place, and the children are more likely to enter the foster care system. This is an important factor in mothers' reluctance to contact the authorities when facing domestic violence. "
Keeping mothers with their children through the recovery process is key to Prototypes' successful 26-year history. At Prototypes, 80% of women in residential treatment are survivors of domestic violence, and 71% of their children have witnessed violence in their homes or communities. The organization's Domestic Violence Resource Centers serve more than 500 children each year, many of whom display symptoms comparable to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Witnessing violence in the home is the strongest risk factor for perpetuating the cycle: For example, boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.
By pairing parenting skills education with physical and mental health services, Prototypes supports the bond between mother and child and works to break the cycle of violence, addiction and abuse , so kids can grow up to create happy, healthy relationships.
Prototypes will address these challenges and more as we "Celebrate Women in Recovery" on Thursday, April 4 th at the California Endowment Center, at a free event headlined by speaker Dr. Neva Chauppette and co-sponsored by Friendly House LA. To register, visit www.Prototypes.org/events
Most low-income mothers seeking treatment for addiction, mental illness and domestic abuse face a heartbreaking choice: Give up their children to a guardian or foster care and get help, or stay with their families and continue to suffer. Yet studies show that mothers who receive family-centered treatment have increased rates of post-treatment sobriety. For more than 25 years, Prototypes has pioneered the way we treat addiction by allowing mothers to stay with their children through recovery. Today, Prototypes operates from 13 sites throughout Southern California , annually providing 12,000 women, children and communities with life-saving counseling, treatment and critical life skills. Together, we're transforming communities, one family at a time.
Freedom Run To Raise Money For Prevent Child Abuse NJ
NEW BRUNSWICK – On Saturday, June 29, Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey and the Beta Tau Chapter of Sigma Delta Tau at Rutgers University will host their inaugural Freedom Run: A 5K to Protect the Children of New Jersey (USATF Certified).
The run will be held in Johnson Park, 1030 River Road, Piscataway. Registration opens at 7 a.m. and the race begins at 8 a.m. There will be a one-mile fun run/walk, petting zoo and face painting for children and families. Prizes will be given out to the first male and female runner to cross the finish line, as well as the runner with the best patriotic costume. Registration is $25 before March 31 and $30 after. Register online at www.preventchildabusenj.org/5k
All proceeds from the 5K will directly support the programs of PCA-NJ statewide, which include parent education efforts, training seminars for those who interact with families, home visitation services, community awareness events, initiatives that promote parental involvement in a child's education, and projects that support vulnerable families – including those headed by adolescent and incarcerated parents.
Sex offender registry just part of the solution
Child abuse prevention begins with family conversations
by Adam Rosenberg
Every week, dozens of parents, guardians and leaders at youth-serving organizations tell me that they want to do whatever they can do to keep their children safe from abuse. One such tool is the state's sex offender registry. Accessible by the Internet, sex offender registries provide a simple map and list of people who have committed sexual crimes against children, or sexually violent crimes against adults. There are even apps for viewing the registry on mobile devices. One need only to do a routine check every so often in order to be reminded that the threat of child sex abuse impacts every neighborhood and that every community has its share of offenders.
The Maryland Court of Appeals' recent decision in John Doe v. Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services may allow some sex offenders to have their names removed from the statewide sex offender registry. This alarming prospect is a grim reminder, however, that the sex offender registry is just one tool in the battle and not all we can and should do to keep our community safe from sex offenders. Equally important are proactive measures we all can take to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse and ultimately keep our communities safe.
First, make time to talk to your child about safety. It only takes about 25 minutes, and it's not as difficult as it seems. Simple conversation starters can be found at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center's website, bcaci.org, and include age-appropriate questions such as: "What would you do if someone called the house or knocked on the door when I wasn't home?" or "Have you and your friends talked about what types of pictures are OK to post online?" The answers you get will open the door to further discussions about your family's safety rules.
Second, create a family safety plan. We are conditioned to respond to emergencies; we all know where the exits are on a plane in the event of a water landing, and how to shelter in place during the next "snowmageddon" event. But our children are much more likely to experience child sexual abuse than to be hurt by, say, a natural disaster or terrorist attack. We know that 16 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday — this is the situation we truly need to prepare for. Take the time to draft simple guidelines about safe adults, who your children can trust, and know to report abuse to law enforcement or child protective services if it is suspected. It is time to extend the fabled "ounce of prevention" to protecting our children from sexual abuse as well.
Finally, remind your lawmakers that they need to continue to keep children safe from abuse. Attempts must continue to be made to strengthen existing systems around child protection. Maryland's legislators are currently debating gun safety, an important issue. But consider that in 2011, there were 46 child gun deaths and 13,059 children who were victims of abuse and neglect, according to the Children's Defense Fund.
A number of bills before the General Assembly this session offer lawmakers the opportunity to close loopholes that allow part-time coaches to get away with sexual child abuse; to crack down on the failure to report abuse (Maryland is one of only three states with no penalty for a willful failure to report abuse); and to even establish a statewide task force to improve Maryland's existing child protection systems. Lawmakers need to hear from their constituents that these issues are a priority. With potentially fewer offenders on Maryland's registry, improvements in laws to prevent children from being abused in the first place may be more important now than ever.
The sex offender registry is one tool to monitor those who have been identified as a threat, but there is plenty more we all can do to continue to keep our children safe from abuse.
Adam Rosenberg is executive director of Baltimore Child Abuse Center, a nonprofit child advocacy center. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is available at http://www.baltimorechildabusecenter.org
Help is key for recovery of girl stabbed by mom
Healthy life is possible with love, experts say
It's likely that no one will ever know what went through the mind of 7-year-old Ava Sangavaram during the hours she spent lying on a blood-soaked bed next to the body of her mother, who had stabbed her 31 times before killing herself.
The crime — a mother viciously attacking her child before committing suicide — is unspeakable. But the case of the New City mother and daughter differs from many cases of suicide-filicide, a parent killing a child then killing him or herself, because little Ava survived.
The New City girl remains at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla, where she was taken after her father, Dr. Kristappa Sangavaram, found her near-lifeless body next to her dead mother, Victoria Vovchik, on Feb. 28.
Sangavaram said Friday that his daughter continues to recover. He declined to say anything more.
The child's experience was so unusual that there's not much research on her long-term outlook, experts said. But research into how children develop after a parent commits suicide and how youngsters recover from violence provides both hope and precautions for a child like Ava.
The strength and commitment of a surviving parent or relative, psychological counseling and a supportive community can all help a child recover from such a terrible experience, experts said.
Children can struggle for years to make sense of a parent's suicide, said Dr. Nancy Rappaport, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School who lost her mother to suicide when she was 4 years old.
“It can take a lifetime,” she said. “When you have a parent who kills herself, you are left asking the question, ‘If my mother loved me, how could she leave me?' ”
Rappaport was well into adulthood when she set out to investigate the circumstances leading to her mother's death. The result was a critically acclaimed memoir, “In Her Wake: A Child Psychiatrist Explores the Mystery of Her Mother's Suicide.”
Well-meaning relatives often don't tell a child how his or her parent died.
For years, Mamaroneck resident John Tiebout has voluntarily run a support group at Westchester Jewish Community Services in Hartsdale for survivors of loved ones who committed suicide.
He has met people who lost a parent as a child but didn't know until adulthood that suicide was the cause.
“Suicide is so difficult for adults to understand — it's even more difficult to find a way to explain it to a kid,” Tiebout said.
It is important for children to understand that they were not responsible for the suicide of a parent, said Julie Cerel, a University of Kentucky psychologist who has researched the impact of parental suicide on children.
Just about all people who kill themselves were suffering from severe depression, she pointed out. That has to be explained to a child in age-appropriate terms.
“They have to be made to understand that the parent was ill — that the parent's action had nothing to do with them,” she said. “The parent's brain was sick.”
There is a genetic component to depression, which could make a child susceptible to the same illness.
Children who experience the suicide of a parent learn by sad experience that taking one's life is a way to deal with a problem, Cerel said.
She recalled a suicidal patient who had a father and brother who died by suicide.
“The patient said to me, ‘This is what we do in our family,' ” Cerel said. “It was an acquired coping strategy.”
That genetic component could be a factor in the violence that critically injured Ava Sangavaram.
Her mother, a 45-year-old podiatrist, was described by many as a loving parent. But others said Vovchik was obsessed with Kristappa Sangavaram, 68, a physician who lives in New Jersey. He never married Vovchik.
Clarkstown police confirmed that Vovchik had made threats to harm herself before she committed suicide.
Vovchik's sister, Ellen Dorso, was 31 in 1995 when she shot her 5-year-old son Alex, then turned the revolver on herself in Oklahoma.
Even such a troubled family history does not necessarily predict a poor future for a child who has experienced terrible trauma. Much depends on how often the child was subjected to violence, said Dr. Jeffrey L. Brown, a clinical professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College and an associate clinical professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.
“A child in a home where there is constant abuse is in a different situation from a child in a protected environment whose parent suddenly flips out,” Brown said. “It's easier to come to terms with behavior that a child can put in the context of being accidental as opposed to a pattern of abuse.”
Children are resilient and can recover from even the most traumatic events, experts said.
With the help of her family, it is possible for a child like Ava Sangavaram to live a healthy life, experts said.
“She needs the support of people who love and care about her,” Cerel said. “It will be a difficult road for this child, but it's not the end of her being a productive human being.”
How Long Is Too Long to Report Rape?
Advocates want to end the statute of limitations on civil and criminal litigation against rapists and child molesters.
New York's Rape is Rape bill—which would include forced oral and anal penetration in the legal definition of rape—suffered a huge setback last week when a major Republican backer of the bill, New York State Senator Catharine Young, retracted her support, arguing that juries will reject the idea that forced anal or oral penetration constitutes rape and refuse to convict.
That notion is a slap in the face to people like Andrew Willis.
“I may not have a vagina, but I was raped as a child,” Willis tells TakePart.
It took Willis decades and a 2008 suicide attempt before he finally came to terms with his abuse.
Then, he became an advocate.
Willis is the cofounder of Stop Abuse Campaign. His organization is at the forefront of attempting to bring New York's (and the rest of America's) rape laws into the 21 st century. Not only is Stop Abuse Campaign one of the primary backers of New York's Rape is Rape bill, it is making a nationwide push to end civil and criminal statutes of limitations on reporting crimes of sexual violence—particularly sexual crimes against children.
In Minnesota, Stop Abuse Campaign is backing the Child Victims Act, which would end the statute of limitations on civil litigation against perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Minnesota law currently states that child victims have until six years after they turn 18 to bring legal action against their attacker.
Willis argues that allowing civil litigation isn't just about compensating victims—it can be a means of preventing further abuse:
“When an insurance company pays out a massive claim, you better believe they are trying to work out how to never pay it again. They become agents of reform, pressuring organizations like the Catholic Church to change—to put in better safeguards. Civil litigation turns economics to our advantage. We can use economics to stop abuse. And it works.”
If pushing for rape prevention and allowing children the time they need to confront their attackers sounds like a political no-brainer, it's not. Similar, more-modest legislative efforts to raise the statute of limitations to ten years in New York—where victims of child sexual abuse have only five years from the time they turn 18 to bring both criminal and civil charges—have failed every year since 2005.
Dr. Robert Geffner, President of the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, at Alliant University, says that statute of limitations laws on sexual abuse are completely arbitrary from a scientific perspective. His 30 years of experience in treating victims of sexual abuse has shown him that survivors often need decades to steel themselves for a legal battle against their attacker. Sexual abuse in childhood is particularly complicated. Geffner says the reasons for taking years into adulthood to come forward are numerous.
“When sexual abuse occurs during childhood, it's often associated with shame, guilt and self-blame,” Geffner tells TakePart. “If the abuse came from within the family unit, or someone trusted by the family, who do you come forward to? Or there may have been threats. There are often incredible barriers from a psychological or intimidation standpoint, as to why they don't come forward.”
Geffner says that taking legal action against their rapist isn't any easier for adults—which is why so many rapes go unreported.
“The majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows. So guilt and self-blame are very high again. Additionally, the stigma is still very strong. If you look at what happens when someone comes forward to talk about sexual assault, people immediately begin questioning: What did he or she do to allow this to happen? Was it something she was wearing? What kind of position did she put herself in?”
The result is that years or decades can go by before survivors of rape are ready to report their abuse.
“By the time my patients have come to terms with their abuse,” says Geffner, “not only have civil statute of limitations expired, but in many areas, even criminal statutes have expired.”
Geffner says that having no legal recourse to confront their attacker often results in major setbacks for the treatment of abuse victims.
“Rape is a serious crime. Putting an arbitrary time limit minimizes its traumatic nature. They view it as the offender getting away with it, or being free to do it to others. It's difficult enough for someone to come forward as a child or even an adult. If you come forward, and it doesn't do any good, it's really a re-victimization.”
Like Rape is Rape, political movement on statutes of limitations faces an uphill climb. But Willis says he won't stop until all civil and criminal statute of limitations have been removed for rape.
“People who have suffered trauma are not public property,” says Willis. “They have the right to come to terms with it in their own time and express it in their own way, when they are ready. Being ready can simply be a collision of circumstances. Often, it's as straightforward as realizing you are not the only one.”
Child sex abuse lawsuit window should be opened
by Bill White
Over the years, I have heard and told the stories of numerous men and women who were molested as children.
I wrote about one of them earlier this year, a 37-year-old survivor of a kidnapping and years of abuse. Unable to seek justice because his statute of limitations had expired, he has had to endure the additional torment of knowing his abuser is a youth sports coach today, with easy access to new victims.
Every time I talk to one of these survivors of child sex abuse, it strengthens my conviction that we need to change these statute of limitations laws, and not just because of the healing this would provide the victims, important as that is. In many cases, it also would identify predators who still have access to children.
Unfortunately, those efforts have been blocked by powerful institutional lobbyists and by legislative leaders — in the state House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, and minority Chairman Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks — who have buried these proposals to prevent their colleagues from discussing and voting on them.
Neither of the two major statute of limitations bills put forth in the last session or this one have made it to the House floor for a vote. The new versions of those two bills, again sitting in the House Judiciary Committee, are HB 237, which would remove the statute of limitations for criminal charges and civil lawsuits, and HB 238, which would open a two-year window for victims to bring civil action in cases barred by the current law.
I'm writing about this again today because advocates for these efforts hope they will succeed next Monday in finally getting this issue to an actual discussion and vote on the House floor — and they're rallying the public's support.
Their hopes revolve around House Bill 342, which would prevent the courts from disclosing the name of a child victim of physical and sexual abuse when the victim was under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. The plan is to propose amending this bill to include the two-year window provided for child sex abuse cases in which the statute of limitations prevents civil action.
I'll share an email that is being forwarded to state representatives this week. I received it from Maureen Martinez of the group Justice4PAkids and also got a phone call from Tammy Lerner of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse. Both are urging members of the public to contact their state representatives in support of this effort. Here's the email:
We know that the trauma of child sex abuse lasts a lifetime — but the time available to sex abuse victims to seek justice is too short. Most victims of child sex abuse are too young to speak out. When they are adults they still face trauma, depression, addiction and shame.
Our laws should give victims a chance to hold perpetrators accountable — and to expose them for the danger they are to all of our children.
Recently, the Task Force for Child Protection made recommendations for new laws and procedures dealing with child sexual abuse. The task force, however, failed to take up the most powerful tool designed to expose predators and to afford victims the justice they deserve.
On Monday, March 11, we will have an opportunity to create a one time, two-year window that suspends the civil statute of limitations to allow past victims of child sex abuse to be heard. It would allow access to the justice system so that suspects could be subpoenaed and deposed. The victim would still have to prove "gross negligence" and the current sovereign immunity defense for public employees would be suspended.
HB 342 is on the House voting calendar on Monday, March 11. At that time, Rep. [Michael] McGeehan [D-Philadelphia] and Rep. [Mark] Rozzi [D-Berks] will be offering child sex abuse statute of limitation amendments to the bill. These amendments would allow access to the justice system so that suspects could be subpoenaed and deposed. This helps identify and put current predators on notice. It is critically important that you vote for our children by supporting the McGeehan and Rozzi amendments.
It's time to put the victims first.
Martinez said people shouldn't be distracted by smoke screens about false claims — a tiny percentage and unlikely to survive the rigors of the court system — or the perceived threat to church finances. I can tell you that I've talked to a lot of abuse survivors, and most of the cases involved family members, family friends, teachers or counselors, not the clergy.
"Our message has nothing to do with the Catholic Church," Martinez told me. "It doesn't matter who abused you. Our message is clearly showing how, when you open a two-year window, it exposes current predators that are out there."
Lerner said, "It's not a religious issue and it shouldn't be a political issue. This should be an issue about protecting kids."
If you agree, contact your legislators today and tell them you want their support for this effort. Meanwhile, I'll share another survivor's story — and her message about what that two-year window would mean to her and other potential victims of her abuser — next time.
Brown Co. child abuse task force must step up efforts
Almost a year ago, Press-Gazette Media reported a dramatic increase in the number of child abuse and neglect reports in Brown County in the first two months of the year.
At that time, Patrick Evans, County Board supervisor and chairman of the Human Services Committee, said: “We have to tackle this issue quickly. We have to act.”
In July, we reported that the trend seen in the first two months was holding true — reports of child abuse and neglect in the first five months of 2012 had increased 29 percent over the same time frame in 2011.
Evans was right, of course, the county and areas agencies have to act. The county has added child-protection workers. But that doesn't get at early intervention and prevention, which most everyone agrees are keys to reducing child abuse and neglect.
For a problem that everyone agrees is a priority, that intervention and prevention part of the equation has been slow in forming.
In December, the United Way of Brown County and the Brown County Department of Human Services held a Community Summit on Child Abuse and Neglect. By the end of February, the Child Abuse and Neglect Task Force had elected Evans its chairman and began the task of setting up monthly meetings.
So in 11 months since we first published the spike in reports, the task force is just getting organized. We welcome this development and encourage the task force to give this the priority that everyone has talked about and to move quickly.
While we had hoped for quicker action, at least there's a task force looking into the problem. Concern about child abuse and neglect has been raised in the past.
The 2011 Brown County LIFE Study listed the “high rate of child abuse/neglect and sexual assault reports” as an area of concern in its key findings and that “child abuse and neglect rates have grown.” Much of that data was gathered in 2010.
Having the resources to investigate reports has been an issue. The study pointed out that in 2009, 29 percent of Brown County's child abuse and neglect reports were investigated, compared with a state average of 42 percent.
The consequences of inaction can be death or a child scarred for life through no fault of his or her own.
An Every Child Matters report shows 12,180 children died from child abuse and neglect from 2001-2008 in the United States, including 132 in Wisconsin. That same report said, “The current systems of child protection are stretched too thin to protect these children.”
The issue of child abuse and neglect in Brown County, and everywhere, needs to be addressed. Experts agree that such cases are under-reported, often because of safety concerns or out of embarrassment, so what the county and area agencies have been able to document is only the tip of the iceberg.
We applaud the formation of a task force, but we urge them to not pay lip service to this problem and to move ahead with some solutions.
Saying 'Yes' Matters as Much as 'No'
by NILANJANA S. ROY
NEW DELHI — The man who was my abuser was a fine host, a good husband, a caring father, a respected elder whose generosity and kindness were as genuine as the fact of the abuse. These qualities were important, because they helped him conceal the abuse he carried out over a period of four years.
As a much-loved older relative, a close friend of my parents, he had unrestricted access to our house, and we visited him often. It was only at 12 that I began to feel uncomfortable. Not about the abuse — I didn't know the term “child sexual abuse” at 9 or at 12, and had no words with which to describe my discomfort with the “games” he played — but about the silence that he demanded. When I was 13, I left Delhi for Calcutta, to study in that city, and left my abuser behind. But he didn't forget, and when I came back to Delhi as a 17-year-old, he was there.
At 17, I knew that he had no right to do this to me. When he sent poems, said that despite the four decades that separated us, we were supposed to “be together,” I finally broke my own silence — but only partly. I told my mother and my sister, and they formed a fierce, protective barrier between me and my abuser.
But the man who had started his abuse when I was a 9-year-old was still invited to my wedding, because we were keeping secrets, trying to protect one family member or another.
Years later, when my abuser was dying of old age and diabetes, I visited him. There was no space for a long conversation, but I did tell him that I could not forget what he had done, even if forgiveness was possible. The silence around the abuse, as much as the abuse itself, festered and caused damage for years, until finally, in my thirties, the difficult but ultimately liberating process of healing began.
In December 2012, a violent gang rape in Delhi took the life of a young woman and set off a raging debate over women's freedoms and rape laws. In all the complex arguments we've heard in the past few months in India on rape, violence against women and the even less often discussed experiences of men who have gone through either sexual violence or childhood sexual abuse, we have not discussed consent as much as we need to. In the area of rape, women's bodies in particular are often discussed as though they were property: How much freedom should the Indian family allow its daughters, wives, sisters, mothers?
This way of thinking almost always reinforces curbs on women's freedoms, by heightening the idea that a woman's honor — rather than her well-being — must be safeguarded, because she is someone else's possession. This used to be, until very recently, underlined by most Indian government and legal documents, in which we were asked for the name of the father (not the mother), the husband (not the wife), as though the terms “parent” and “partner” were alien to the notion of the Indian family.
If my story saddens you, please think about this: It is neither new nor rare, nor was the man who abused me a monster, or in any way out of the ordinary. According to a 2007 survey (the largest of its kind in India) conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, over 53 percent of Indian children have experienced some form of sexual abuse — including a slightly higher percentage of boys than girls.
I am only one of many. And I was luckier than most; my abuser was not excessively violent. As I learned to acknowledge the abuse and to cope with the fallout, I made some unexpected connections, found good friends, found strong mentors, found help, found my voice again and built a happier, more free life. I'm breaking my silence today to make a point, not about abuse, but about the importance of consent in the present debate over women's rights and gender equality in India.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are no different from anyone who has survived sexual violence, in terms of what we do to rebuild ourselves. But we are experts in two areas: We've taken a master class in the toxicity of silence and secret-keeping, and we have doctorates in our understanding of the importance of consent. It can take abuse survivors, like rape survivors of either gender, years to reclaim a sense of ownership over their bodies. The body is the site of so many violations, starting with the chief one: Our abusers did not ask us for permission to use our bodies as they pleased.
Over years, those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to well-trained counselors and healers learn to reclaim our bodies. We learn as adults what children are supposed to know by instinct: We learn that we can be safe in our bodies, we learn to play, to allow ourselves pleasure, to take care of ourselves, and most of all, we learn that we have the right to offer or withhold permission to other people, when they want access to our bodies, ourselves.
The Indian family has most recently been invoked as an institution that needs to be safeguarded, by both the government and the judiciary. The Justice Verma Committee, including several eminent, retired members of the judiciary and legal experts, was set up in the aftermath of the December rape, to make recommendations on the rape laws. Rejecting the Verma Committee's strong appeal that marital rape be made an offense under the law, the Standing Committee on Home said that (a) the Indian family system would be disturbed; (b) there were practical difficulties; and (c) marriage presumes consent.
These assumptions expose the violence and the toxicity at the heart of a certain view of the Indian family. For marriage to “presume consent,” you must assume that a woman gives up all rights to her body, to her very self, once she goes through the ceremony of marriage. You must also assume that a man is granted the automatic, legally sanctified right to access over his wife's body, regardless of whether she finds sex unwelcome, frightening, painful or violent or simply doesn't feel like it that particular night.
This diminishes both genders, with its assumption that men are little more than lustful beasts, unable to restrain their libido, and the parallel assumption that women are passive receptacles without desires of their own, forced to submit to demands for sex regardless of what they want.
This is a medieval view of marriage, and it is dismaying that Parliament appears to subscribe to it.
What is missing in the Standing Committee's deliberations is the key question of consent — the consent of the woman and, indeed, of any person in a sexual partnership or contract. To understand why this consent is important, we must first accept that all people — children, women, men — have a right to their own bodies, and that they cannot be forced to share their bodies with partners (or strangers) under any circumstances.
They have the right to say no, as well as the right to say yes; to withhold or retreat, as well as to share their bodies freely and gladly. In any equal partnership, between any two people, whether in a marriage or not, the only possible basis for sex is the mutual understanding that consent is an active process — to be offered freely, to be given freely, to be withdrawn just as freely. Underlying the principle of consent is the equally strong principle of respect — respect for oneself as much as for one's partner.
Without consent, there can be no gender equality; its absence makes every argument we have on rape, or on women's rights or children's rights, meaningless.
On an active, day-to-day basis, consent embraces the idea that any woman or man is free to say yes or no to a sexual encounter, inside or outside marriage, regardless of whether he or she is, in the coarse phrase of the courts and police stations, “habituated to sex.”
Survivors of child sexual abuse and rape survivors understand this instinctively: We understand that true respect for human beings includes giving them the right to say no, the right to choose when they will be touched, and by whom.
If it is hard for Indian society to understand why everyone should have this right, then perhaps we should start with a very basic principle. Everyone has the right to live without his or her body being violated. Everyone has the right to demand that you ask for permission before you touch his or her body.
Perhaps in time, Parliament and the government might understand this. The Justice Verma Committee and thousands of women trapped in marriages where they do not have the right to refuse sex certainly do understand. (For those who believe that marriage in India is a perfect, unsullied institution, read the statistics: Over 40 percent of women in marriages have reported domestic violence. That's reported, not experienced.)
My own journey, from victim to survivor and then to a kind of normalcy, took years. Even so, I had less to deal with than some of those whose stories are reported in a recent study by Human Rights Watch of child sexual abuse in India — no institutionalized abuse, no caste abuse, no extreme violence. In time, I became a writer, a listener and a collector of stories.
From the shared stories of other survivors, I learned to let go of shame — child abuse was too common and too widespread for that — and I also learned that your memories, however dark, will not kill you, or prevent you from creating a better life.
Reclamation happened slowly, sometimes painfully. I was lucky to have the support of my partner, close friends and great counselors. But it started with this simple thing: believing that I did have the right to say no, learning to claim my body and soul back again.
The debate in India over rape laws, particularly marital rape, is about the simplest thing of all: acknowledging that women (and men, and children) have a right over their own bodies.
This should not be treated, as it is now, as a dangerous or radical idea; in a country that thinks of itself as modern, it's time we embraced the idea of consent, in marriage and in all relationships.
Even though it's so common — more than half of all adults in my generation of Indians have experienced some form of child sexual abuse — few survivors discuss their experiences, because of the Indian family's insistence on silence. That silence transferred the shame of the abuser's act onto the child and onto the family; it is powerful and crippling, and it actively enables abuse. The silence around marital rape is strengthened when the Indian social and legal system refuses even to acknowledge that it exists; for an abuser, and for a rapist, these silences are enabling.
Just as children have the right to ask that their bodies remain unviolated by the people they should be able to trust, a woman has the right to say no, she does not give her consent. Even, and perhaps especially, in a relationship as intimate as marriage.
This essay by Nilanjana S. Roy, a former Female Factor columnist for the International Herald Tribune, is also appearing in The Hindu newspaper. Ms. Roy is the author of a novel, “The Wildings.”
Sex Trafficking Victims 'Failed' By Authorities
More than 1,000 trafficking victims were found last year, but ministers remain "clueless" about the problem
by Richard Suchet, Sky News Reporter
Ministers, police and social workers have been accused of failing to tackle the "shocking underworld" of human trafficking.
The Centre for Social Justice think tank says the Government is "clueless" about the scale of the problem.
More than 1,000 trafficking victims were found last year, including a significant number of British children.
CSJ managing director Christian Guy said: "Our research has uncovered a shocking underworld in which children and adults, many of them UK citizens, have been forced into lives of utter degradation.
"The authorities are either failing to understand the nature of this abuse or turning a blind eye to its existence.
"Our once great nation of abolitionists is a shameful shadow of its former self."
The group is proposing a raft of measures to deal with the issue, including a new law to ensure victims are not prosecuted for forced criminality.
The CSJ is also calling on businesses to ensure their supply and product chains are free from forced labour, as well as demanding more rigorous training of professionals such as police and social workers to spot the signs of trafficking.
Sophie Hayes was 24 when she was groomed in Britain by an Albanian man who she thought was her boyfriend .
Six years ago, while on holiday in Italy, he suddenly turned on her and forced her into a life of prostitution.
In an interview with Sky News, she told of the mental turmoil she endured.
"To begin with, I tried to hold on. I would look in the mirror and just want to scream. And I'd see bruises which I'd never had before. Until one night everything changed, with one of the men that came.
"After that night, I just let go. To the point that I stopped caring. Because nothing I could do or say, no matter how many tears, how many screams, nothing would change the situation because I was too afraid to run.
"So many people would ask me: 'Why? Why would you not run away? Why would you not ask for help?' but he was the person who kept me from asking anybody to help me, knowing that my family were at risk - my younger brother could be taken.
"He'd already taken me to a lake to show me that if I did something wrong, that's where he would take me. He would put a knife to my neck, a gun in my mouth, a gun inside of me. I knew there was no boundary for him. All I was to him was money."
She has now set up the Sophie Hayes Foundation to raise awareness about human trafficking, and to support survivors.
A spokeswoman for the Home Office said the Government has already made significant progress in fighting trafficking.
She said: "Human trafficking is abhorrent and the UK Government is committed to combating this crime in all its forms.
"Investment in training for front line professionals to identify and refer victims, improvements in data collection, work with the private sector to protect workers and more personalised care and support for victims are already making a real difference.
"But the Government is not complacent and we will continue to work to improve and strengthen our approach to keep pace with emerging threats."
At Penn State, Academics Drive Effort to Hire Child-Abuse Experts
by Robin Wilson
When the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal broke, in 2011, professors at Pennsylvania State University were as shocked as anyone else. Then they did what faculty members often do: They set about formulating an academic response to the horrifying incidents, some of which had occurred on their own University Park campus.
The result is a campaign to hire over the next three years a dozen faculty members whose work focuses on child abuse and entails cutting-edge research, clinical treatment, and public education about the problem. The hiring is on a fast track: The university just opened six searches and hopes to have a half-dozen new tenured and tenure-track hires on campus by next fall.
Susan M. McHale, 5 9, a professor of human development whose research centers on children's family relationships, is leading the effort. She says earlier research on child abuse tended to revolve around case studies, as opposed to representative data samples involving established measures of study over time.
"We will be hiring people who are serious methodologists, experts at various data collection, and people who have experience with large clinical trials," she says. Research by such scholars, she says, will help inform work by practitioners the university is also looking to hire, including a pediatric physician and a child psychologist, both of whom will focus on treating abused children.
The job ads for the positions went out last month from the departments of biobehavioral health; human development and family studies; pediatrics; and psychology. And the university is already bringing in candidates, says Ms. McHale.
The "cluster hire" could turn Penn State, scene of some of the most publicized child-sex crimes ever, into an academic powerhouse for research on and treatment of child abuse. Mr. Sandusky, who served as an assistant football coach at Penn State for 30 years until he retired, in 1999, was convicted last summer of multiple counts of sexually abusing young boys, one of them in a Penn State locker-room shower. The scandal led the university to remove both its famed football coach, the late Joe Paterno, and its longtime president, Graham B. Spanier.
Professors worried about how the events might affect the recruitment of students and faculty members, and the job prospects of the university's own Ph.D.'s.
Penn State established a Presidential Task Force on Child Maltreatment in December 2011 to come up with an appropriate academic response to the issues. The panel recommended the formation of a Network for Child Protection and Well-Being. Ms. McHale is the network's director. The new hires, as well as about 400 professors at Penn State whose work includes research on some aspect of child maltreatment, will be affiliated with the network.
Ms. McHale says that at first she and others at the university wondered, "Would we have this really dirty, tarnished image so people didn't want to have anything to do with us?" But, she says, the university's reputation in the wake of the scandal as a "place that really doesn't care and would do anything, including covering up, is not consistent with our experiences as professionals here."
A member of the search committees for some of the new hires is Benjamin Levi, 51, a physician and a professor of pediatrics and humanities at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and the Penn State College of Medicine as well as director of the Center for the Protection of Children at the medical center's new Children's Hospital. In 2010, Dr. Levi created the university's Look Out for Child Abuse Web site, which encourages reporting. He says Penn State's willingness to put money into the dozen hires shows they are not just a public-relations move.
The university expects to spend roughly $100,000 per hire on salaries each year, plus a one-time expenditure of up to $120,000 in start-up money for each researcher to pay for laboratories and other facilities.
"There are splashier ways to make it look like you are making a response than bringing in people who are experts and pledging decades-long assistance to support them," says Mr. Levi. "This is a commitment."
David Finkelhor, a professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire and director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center there, calls the Penn State effort "a terrific opportunity" to further a field "in need of more committed research centers connected to Research I universities. There hasn't been enough scientific evaluation of treatment and intervention."
Stopping child abuse by supporting families
by Krista Ramsey
It is a fact we acknowledge too rarely: Most of the people who neglect or abuse children are not sociopathic monsters. They're parents who are exhausted, addicted, unemployed, evicted or simply overwhelmed.
Life goes hard on them so they go hard on their kids. Usually they don't mean to.
Typically, we know nothing of these families until something awful happens – until the parents are mourning, or charged with a crime, and the children are trooped out of their homes in their pajamas to be placed in protective services with strangers.
But the week before families became part of the system – the courts, the jails, foster care – most were just families with needs and nobody in their lives to help meet them.
Ten years ago, a Chicago Christian social-service agency decided there was a better, cheaper, kinder and more effective way to deal with these families. LYDIA Home Association partnered with a group of local churches to identify families willing to take children into their homes temporarily while their parents dealt with crises or difficulties – having surgery, being evicted, completing a drug treatment program, dealing with an out-of-town emergency.
The point was, the children wouldn't be “taken.” They would be given – voluntarily, to another family that had been vetted and trained and could keep them safe while their parents regrouped.
Thus Safe Families was born.
Now the movement has come to Greater Cincinnati, and tremendous good can come from it.
Montgomery Community Church is sponsoring the local Safe Families effort, one of 64 sites in 25 states. Five Greater Cincinnati families have been certified as host families, a dozen more have expressed interest and last week the first client family called to request help.
Nationally, more than 2,100 families have had 10,000 child placements (some children come for more than one stay) – without a single case of reported abuse.
The Safe Families units collaborate with child welfare agencies, but there is no government oversight. Host families are not paid for their service. They stay in close contact with the biological parents while caring for their children.
When the child returns to his family – sometimes after a day or two, sometimes after weeks or months – the host family is encouraged to remain part of the other family's support system.
“It's all done from care and compassion, not for compensation,” says Chris Combs, local executive director.
It's a powerful demonstration of the biblical admonishment to care for orphans and vulnerable children – a mission, Combs says, religious organizations relinquished when the government stepped in.
But when strong, stable families reach out to struggling families they help reduce the number of foster-care placements, save taxpayer dollars and relieve pressure on the system. Those children who need to be in foster care get better oversight.
Safe Families works only because people of grace and goodwill choose to make it work. Some decide to host children. Others serve as respite care for host families – making a meal for them, doing the laundry. Still others contribute financially.
It's humble work, far from the outrage and drama that surrounds high-profile cases.
We care enough to mourn children who die from abuse or neglect – to attend funerals, fund memorials and lobby for legislation.
The question Safe Families asks is, do we care enough to intervene early – and make it stop?