Phillipsburg woman refuses to stay silent about child abuse on radio show
by Colin McEvoy
Child abuse is an issue most people would rather avoid talking about altogether. Carol Levine is not one of those people.
Herself a survivor of child abuse, the 65-year-old Phillipsburg woman co-hosts an Internet radio show six days a week about child abuse awareness and prevention.
April marks the 30th anniversary of National Child Abuse Awareness Month. As difficult a subject it can be to discuss and hear about, Levine believes it's important that people be aware of the issue.
“People don't want to think about it. They put their heads in the sand,” Levine said. “We're trying to keep the conversation going and get rid of the stigma of talking about child abuse.”
Part of Levine's refusal to stay silent stems from the silence she endured when suffering abuse in her childhood.
Levine was molested by her uncle for about 18 months starting at age 6, and during that time she, like many child abuse victims, did not speak out because of fear she would be harmed.
“I was told I'd be killed if I told,” Levine said. “I took it for a year and a half and I couldn't take it anymore. I decided I'd rather die than keep it a secret anymore.”
In a separate incident, a 9-year-old Levine was stalked and kidnapped by a stranger, who pulled her into his van and held her for three hours.
Levine believes that even today, few understand the scope and magnitude of the child abuse problem in this country.
At least 850,000 children will be sexually abused this year alone, according to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, which runs the radio show Levine co-hosts.
A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds, according to the group. There are more than 42 million survivors of sexual abuse in America, and 293,000 children and youth are estimated to be at risk of exploitation.
Like Levine, 90 percent are abused by someone they know, love or trust. And, according to association, between 66 percent and 99 percent of sexual abuse victims never tell anyone.
Levine co-hosts the show "Stop Child Abuse Now" from Monday to Friday, and "Community Matters" on Sunday. She interviews a variety of guests, including doctors, members of law enforcement, specialists, college professors and child abuse victims.
Levine knows from experience how difficult it is to be a survivor. In her youth after she was assaulted, she skipped school, had panic attacks, abused alcohol and saw friends die in front of her from drug overdoses.
“It damages you,” she said. “It never goes away. Even today, I'd say I'm about 85 percent OK.”
Levine also noted child abuse is a very expensive national problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that confirmed cases of child mistreatment cost about $124 billion a year to treat.
The per-victim lifetime costs include $32,648 in childhood health care costs, $144,360 in productivity losses and $10,530 in adult medical costs, among other expenses, according to the CDC.
Levine encourages listeners to call in to her show live but also said that archives of the show dating to 2009 are available on the association website.
If you suspect a child is in danger, call 911 or the 24-hour National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD .
For information about the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, visit NAASCA.org/blueribbon. Call 646-595-2118 at 8pm EST every night except Saturday to participate live in the radio show.
For survivors, fewer options
by Caythleen Palm -- statewide child advocate and publisher of The Advocates' Agenda
On Aug. 25, 1991, I started the transition from child victim to adult survivor of sexual abuse. Just after my 22d birthday, I walked into my hometown police station to disclose my sexual abuse and name the perpetrator: a trusted family friend.
Like many survivors, I was pushed - without warning or a sufficient safety net - into confronting this abuse. An event in college, when I was a resident assistant, unexpectedly triggered painful memories and left me immobilized. In the course of disclosing the abuse to family and close family friends, I discovered that many people had strong suspicions - and some even direct knowledge - of the abuse. Coming to terms with the role silence played in perpetuating the abuse was not easy.
Law enforcement's initial reaction to my 1991 disclosure was discouraging. I second-guessed myself, but tried to remember that there already were too many victims. Each of us had been sexually assaulted in different years, but all at the hands of the same perpetrator. The threat still posed to younger victims, and the perpetrator's leadership position at a state-funded institution, provided urgency.
I met with supportive investigators from the district attorney's office. I learned from those who worked with children and youths that Pennsylvania rigidly defines a perpetrator of child abuse, tying their hands even as it related to the younger victims.
It didn't take long to understand that the law does have winners and losers, and the shorter stick is most often drawn by the child victim.
In 1991, state law required civil actions to be filed before the victims reached age 20, and prosecution generally was required to begin within five years of the abuse.
Given the expired statute of limitations, law enforcement could not file criminal charges, and I was unable to file a civil suit, so stopping the cycle fell to younger children and their parents. However, the parents opted against working with investigators, some citing the trauma the children would endure. Others worried how jobs would be affected, given their employment at the same institution as the perpetrator.
Faced with such legal dead ends, I turned instead to personal healing.
Recently, however, a conversation with a fellow survivor, who had also run up against the expired statute of limitations, has had me revisiting my own experiences. She still lives, works, and raises children in the shadow of this community "nice guy" - the man who abused us. Even as she works to heal, she is relentless in doing her part to keep a watchful eye on her community's children.
Child sexual abuse has lifelong consequences. Survivors are committed to prevention, and they work to protect victimized children when laws, including arbitrary statutes of limitations, fall short.
In 2002, state law changed. Civil actions by child-abuse victims now can be filed until the victims' 30th birthday, and the criminal statute was extended until the victims turn 50. Legislation has been introduced to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and to extend the civil one to age 50.
State Reps. Louise Bishop and Michael McGeehan, both Philadelphia Democrats, are among the leaders seeking reforms, including the enactment of a temporary, retroactive civil window - something few other states have passed.
This "window" would permit victims for whom the statute of limitations has expired to pursue civil action against their abusers within a designated two-year period. The idea is controversial, and it's an uphill battle, partially because policymakers and the public haven't understood that, before 2002, Pennsylvania's statutes of limitations on pursuing child abusers were extremely restrictive. As a consequence, perpetrators were free to pursue other victims. Some may well still be abusing children.
Like child sexual abuse itself, the debate on the civil-window legislation has been ugly, manipulative, and deeply wounding.
Opponents of the window cite it as unconstitutional and ripe for false claims. They suggest the only beneficiaries would be people who have been victimized by someone affiliated with the Catholic Church. Leaders in the state have used obscure procedural moves to deny debate on the issue, let alone allow votes.
Meanwhile, supporters routinely add window-related amendments to other child-protection bills, jeopardizing those compelling pieces of legislation.
Throughout this back-and-forth, many survivors, including me, have stayed silent.
Lately, however, I have been reminded that the silence of others didn't serve me well as a victimized child.
So now I'm joining the chorus of survivors who are urging Pennsylvania lawmakers to stop stalling on statute-of-limitation reform. Don't hold these measures or other equally important child-protection bills hostage in committee or on the House calendar. The benefits and challenges of child-protection legislation, including that related to the civil window, deserve to be publicly debated by state lawmakers, followed by an up-or-down vote.
Realizing meaningful and sustained change to prevent and respond to child abuse requires the best interests of children - not political gamesmanship - to be Harrisburg's priority.
E-mail Cathleen Palm at firstname.lastname@example.org
Police go back over cases of female genital mutilation
CPS considers using conspiracy charges against perpetrators in bid to bring first prosecution
by Paul Cahalan, Brian Brady
Police and prosecutors are reviewing hundreds of historic cases of female genital mutilation (FGM) in a bid to bring the first prosecution in Britain since the practice was ruled illegal in 1985. Legal experts are already examining six cases referred by police, and scores more are also being considered. Tens of thousands of women and girls in the UK are believed to have been subjected to the horrifying ordeal, which is also known as "cutting", in which the genitals of women and girls are severed by unqualified people in the belief that it will preserve the victim's virginity. It can result in infections, infertility and, in extreme cases, death.
The move follows widespread concern that UK authorities were failing to address the scandal adequately. In January, The Independent on Sunday revealed, officials were looking for alternatives after failing to bring a single prosecution in more than 25 years – while more than 100 parents and FGM "practitioners" have been convicted in France since 1988.
The review centres on cases which originally failed to meet the prosecution threshold under existing FGM laws. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is now reconsidering those cases under a variety of alternative criminal offences, including conspiracy charges and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (which established an offence of causing or allowing a child or vulnerable adult to die or suffer serious physical harm). A CPS spokesman said: "We have been working with police to identify the types of evidence required to support charges under other legislation, including conspiracy charges. In addition the Metropolitan Police will be looking at previous investigations of FGM with the CPS, and whether new action can be taken."
It is hoped that successful prosecutions will act as a deterrent, as well as overcoming cultural sensitivities surrounding the subject. Campaigners say it is prevalent in, but not confined to, African diaspora groups in the UK. Nimco Ali, a founder of Daughters of Eve, which campaigns against FGM and supports survivors, said: "We need to make sure there is a way for young women to come forward. People need to understand this is child abuse."
In a further bid to breach the taboo surrounding the subject, the popular BBC 1 TV hospital drama Casualty last night introduced a storyline which deals with the controversial subject. Scriptwriters on the series worked with FGM pressure groups and young girls to produce the two-part drama, which concludes next Saturday.
The need to combat these agonising procedures was reinforced in a recent European report, which warned that 30,000 women and girls were judged to be still at risk in Britain – the highest number in Europe. The report, by the European Institute for Gender Equality, showed the UK also had the most women – nearly 66,000 – who had suffered FGM.
Efua Dorkenoo, advocacy director of Equality Now, which has been campaigning against FGM for decades, said this latest step was an important development. She said: "We have been looking at what aspects of the law can be used. What we have to do is take away the burden from the children to the parents. Children are not going to come forward with information; we have to get the parents to act."
Jane Ellison, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on FGM, said: "At present anti-FGM laws are not respected by all, but I believe even one successful prosecution could change that. I am glad, however, that the CPS is also looking at using other laws."
Ending the cycle of child abuse, one class at a time
by Bev Carlson
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of monthly articles highlighting the services available through Lutheran Family Service.
Rachel was a “yeller.”
“I used to yell at my kids all the time. I had a lot of anger, and my older kids learned from that.”
Rachel was determined that things would be different with her two younger children, ages three years and six months. So, during a window in her career, she signed up for an intensive, 16-week parenting class at the Pottawattamie County Center for Healthy Families.
“My parenting is so much different now. Not only in the way that I communicate with my younger ones but also in how all of us interact with one another.”
To ensure the “yelling” cycle is broken, Rachel shares what she's learned with her 13-year-old old daughter.
She really wants her teenager to understand that she's parenting differently now. Better. Happier. And that is the model Rachel wants her daughter to emulate some day.
The Nurturing Parenting Programs were designed for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Long term, the goal is to guide families toward self-sufficiency and to break the intergenerational cycle of child abuse by teaching positive parenting behaviors.
Susan Pawloski is the Center supervisor. She has seen first-hand the transformation in parents who, for perhaps the first time, are learning how to discipline their children in love.
“It's such a powerful tool that we are giving these moms and dads. No, you don't have to lose your temper to gain your child's attention. No, you don't have to yell or lose your cool. In fact, those are behaviors that are probably just frightening your child and creating just the opposite of what you really want to happen,” says Pawloski.
The Nurturing Parenting program is recognized by several major national organizations, including the U.S. Justice Department as well as state and local agencies, as proven programs for the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. Both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy use the program to teach parenting skills to first-time parents on bases worldwide. Promise Partners, The Iowa West Foundation and the United Way have advocated for and supported the program in Council Bluffs so that parents can take it without cost.
Center parents will tell you that such classes allowed them to retain custody of their children.
“If it weren't for this program,” says one long-time client, “I know I would be fighting to get my boys back from the state.”
Rachel knows it's made a difference in her home.
“If every parent would take this,” she says, “there would be so much less family dysfunction in Pottawattamie County.”
Meantime, Rachel's very proud of her eldest, whom she says is already equipped with much more information about parenting than she ever had at that age: “She's going to be a great mom some day.”
For more information about LFS programs in Pottawattamie County, please call the Center at (712) 242-1040.
Protecting children from violence, sexual abuse can take many forms
by Dan Hillman
Here are the basics:
• Child abuse is an epidemic in the United States, and right here in the Augusta region.
• More children die from child maltreatment than any other cause of death of children.
• Children are 75 times more likely to be sexually abused than develop pediatric cancer.
• Children are 167 times more likely to be sexually abused than to have autism.
• Children are abused, neglected and/or sexually abused at alarming rates. There are 39 million adults in the United States who were sexually abused when they were children.
If you don't care, or don't believe this, or even if you simply don't know what to do, you are part of the reason why our society has not set a priority about protecting children. If you think that your children are safe, and that you are protecting them, that is something – but it is not enough. In protecting children, all children are important.
THE AMAZING THING is that everyone can do something to prevent child abuse, or help a child who has been abused.
The other really amazing thing is that children who have been abused can and do recover from even the most horrible maltreatment. They simply need some help to do so.
The miracle of preventing child abuse will not happen unless some level of a tipping point of public awareness is achieved. The belief that we can change the child abuse epidemic builds into a child protection and abuse prevention movement.
How long will we tolerate the abuse of children?
At this point, children are exhibiting more courage than adults in protecting themselves and their peers. Children fight back, run away or tell an adult quite often. Yet, children also tell and are not believed, or are physically abused and intimidated into not reporting. Families commonly do exactly what officials within the Boy Scouts, the Catholic Church and Penn State University did – they cover it up, conceal it and protect the most horrible secrets.
All children should feel safe enough to tell about maltreatment. Only adults can assure this. Do you have enough courage to protect children? It is not as difficult as you think. The majority of adults already believe that child maltreatment is horrible and reprehensible, but evidently not enough to take action – at least not yet.
HERE ARE SOME reasonable goals for our community:
• Raise awareness about the issue of child abuse in our community through media, outreach, presentations and events.
• Support adults in their role to protect children and prevent child abuse.
• Equip adults with the knowledge and skills to recognize the signs and symptoms of all forms of child abuse.
• Educate adults about how to make appropriate reports of abuse.
• Provide information for families regarding the availability of resources in the community to treat the aftermath of child abuse.
Nationwide, Child Advocacy Centers and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) programs help children to recover from abandonment, abuse, neglect and sexual abuse. Augusta is home of the first advocacy center in Georgia, and is one of the first CASA programs in the state. Both are part of Child Enrichment.
Child Enrichment served 673 child victims of abuse, and 385 of their nonoffending parents or caregivers just last year. Each of these children needed help to recover; to be safe; to find a new and permanent home; and to understand that being abused was not their fault. Helping these children is not easy. Yet, everyone can do something to prevent abuse or to help child abuse victims.
Donate money. Child Enrichment programs provide professional therapeutic services. No fees are charged, and with these services children can and do recover. Got money and want to help? Just $1,000 will give a child victim of abuse a chance to fully recover; $250 will pay for an average forensic interview or therapeutic assessment; $50 will pay for a therapy session; and $10 will pay for a group therapy experience for a child or a nonoffending adult caregiver.
Donating money not for you ? Volunteer. CASA volunteers go through a thorough criminal background check, 40 hours of training and are sworn in by a Juvenile Court judge if they are chosen to represent a child or sibling group removed from their parents because of abuse or maltreatment. CASA volunteers promise to stay involved with the child or sibling group until they have a safe, permanent home.
IF THAT IS TOO much for you, you can volunteer doing office or special-event work, and we have a few positions working in the Clothing Closet. Child Enrichment provides clothing to any needy child, and we assist a few other charities in the region by providing clothing.
Still not a good fit for you? How about learning about prevention of abuse. Please attend one of the child abuse prevention programs that Child Enrichment presents, titled “Darkness to Light: Stewards for Children.” It will teach you how to protect your children – and all children.
Even if none of those ways to help work for you, you can attend one of our special events. The Art of Chocolate will be Oct. 11, and the 25th annual Cookin' for Kids will be next March.
Please know that it will take adults to bring an end to child abuse. Until then, too many people are inappropriately hoping that children can protect themselves. That is not good enough.
Your help is needed. Please help if you can, and learn more at www.ChildEnrichment.org
(The writer is executive director of Child Enrichment Inc., the Child Advocacy Center and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for abused children in Augusta.)
Hunterdon Y asks community to help protect children from sex abuse
The Hunterdon County YMCA is issuing a call to action, inviting community members to be part of the solution to diminishing child sexual abuse. The Y has partnered with Darkness to Light, a worldwide non-profit organization dedicated to educating communities about the realities of child sexual abuse. Through their award winning Stewards of Children training workshop, the Y hopes to educate five percent of the adult population over the next five years.
"Five percent is considered the tipping point to create a real community awareness of the problem and a shift in culture and behaviors," said Bruce Black, president and CEO of the Hunterdon County Y. "It is time to broach a subject that has long been considered too delicate to discuss. The only way to recognize, react and ultimately prevent child sexual abuse is to talk openly about it, as a community."
To that end, a community partner meeting will be held on Thursday, April 18 from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Pittstown. The goal of the meeting is to provide information about how community members can protect a child from sexual abuse and garner support for the initiative. The Y is inviting community organizations, schools, faith centers, youth sports organizations, local government representatives, law enforcement, parents, caregivers and others interested in the protection of children to attend the meeting. This will be an informational session and participants will be under no obligation to commit to the initiative by attending. Interested organizations and individuals can contact Lu Ann Aversa at email@example.com or 908-236-7879, ext. 4327 to register for the meeting.
Community crucial in combating abuse of children
by Susan H. Oliva
April is National Child Abuse and Prevention Month, and on April 30, Congressman Beto O'Rourke is scheduled to help the Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso celebrate 17 years of providing healing services for El Paso's sexually abused children at our annual Anniversary Event.
The Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso is a nationally accredited Children's Advocacy Center and was established to help local children identified as victims of severe physical and sexual abuse. Many believe child sexual abuse is a rare occurrence and that children should be careful only around "strangers."
Many believe that stranger danger is the only real danger "our kids" are exposed to.
Wake up, society.
We need to educate children about potential "family danger." National statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, which brings me to Melissa (whose real name was changed to protect the innocent).
Today, I met Melissa (for the first time as a young adult). I actually met her for the very first time 14 years ago. She was a victim of child sexual abuse. Her stepfather would come into her room at night and molest her (it started when she was only 7 years old).
When confronted, her stepfather said it was a lie; he denied even entering her bedroom at night. Fortunately, the jury listened to, and believed, Melissa. Her stepfather was sentenced to almost 30 years for sexually assaulting his stepdaughter.
Over the past 14 years, Melissa finished high school and is currently taking college courses. She is now married and is the young mother of two children. Sadly, however, her young daughter also received services at the Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso.
Her daughter was also sexually assaulted by a family member. Her child was brought to the Advocacy Center -- due to a cousin molesting her in a bathroom at a family party. The only consolation for Melissa was she had survived child sexual abuse.
With the Center's help, she felt her child will receive hope, health and healing. She kept saying "I'm so happy that the Advocacy Center is still here." She believes that with victims' services and counseling, her 5-year-old daughter will become a survivor and ultimately whole again.
Last year, the Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso provided restorative healing services for 1,186 local children who were victimized by severe physical and sexual assault; 254 victims were under the age of 5, 689 victims were between 6-12, and 243 children were between 13-17.
Our kids are assisted due to reports they have been fondled, raped, exposed to pornography or otherwise physically or sexually assaulted. Melissa's words, "I'm so happy that the Advocacy Center is still here," say it all. All services received from the Advocacy Center are provided for victimized children at no cost to the family.
The Advocacy Center provides a safe child-friendly environment, forensic interviews, immediate crisis counseling, care packages, court school and victims' advocacy for child sexual assault victims. We are "still here" because of support from our community.
Our community needs to be actively engaged in protecting our children. Listening to our children, believing our children and being brave enough to report child abuse is a step in the right direction, and not just during the month of April.
Make a commitment to make a difference in the life of a child every day of the year.
Susan H. Oliva is the executive director, Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month. If you suspect that a child is being victimized, call 911 or report it to the Child Protective Services hotline (800) 252-5400. Visit our website www.advocacycenterep.org for tips on child abuse prevention and awareness.
Sandusky victim Aaron Fisher's support team highlights ways to help victims of child sex abuse
by Charles Thompson
HARRISBURG — It wasn't easy helping Clinton County teenager Aaron Fisher through the process of outing, and then prosecuting former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky.
But Fisher got through it, with the help of his mother, Dawn Daniels Hennessy, and his psychologist, Dr. Michael Gillum, both of whom headlined a benefit Saturday night in Camp Hill for the Children's Resource Center.
Even though she was often filled with personal doubts, Hennessy said she was resolute in telling her son "that this is a fight that you will not lose ... And to win it for all of those who did not have the strength to finish it."
Gillum said the most important ingredient was "unconditional positive regard," essentially his constant reassurance to Fisher that he was his ally in this ordeal and he would be in his corner every step of the way.
Many victims need that sense of trust in someone, Gillum said, if they are ever going to get past their initial reluctance to share the details that law enforcement or child welfare investigators need to bring a perpetrator to justice.
"We really want them to feel that: 'I'm with you. I'm here for you and I'm going to see this thing through with you.' ... If you repeat those and if you're consistent with that with a victim or patient, they tend to do very well in the longer term," Gillum said.
Fisher, who was abused repeatedly by Sandusky for years and whose initial breakdown in a conference with school officials ultimately cracked what would become one of America's most sensational cases of pedophilia, initially was reluctant to admit the full scope of that abuse to anyone.
Hennessy, of Lock Haven, played an important role in that regard in Fisher's case, Gillum said, by going to child welfare officials when school officials initially met her son's allegations with skepticism. Gillum picked up the torch, once he became involved in the case.
By last June, however, Fisher was one of most compelling witnesses against Sandusky, who was convicted of abusing 10 boys between 1994 and 2008.
Now a student at St. Bonaventure in Olean, N.Y., Fisher — who is also one of some 30 men pressing civil claims against Penn State stemming from Sandusky's pedophila — was not present Saturday night.
But that transformation didn't happen overnight, Gillum noted.
Along the way, Fisher had to be be eased through a real fear of retaliation by Sandusky for his reports and, like many child victims of sexual abuse, he had to be assured that none of this was his fault.
In Fisher's case, Gillum said, that involved a long explanation of the grooming process used by pedophiles, to help him understand that he wasn't at fault simply because he didn't try to physically resist when he was 11 years old.
Gillum said that after a time, a rallying point for Fisher became his determination that "he didn't want Sandusky to do this to anybody else. He said: 'Mike, he's going to do it to other people. It's important to me that we stop this.'"
As Fisher's story became known under the alias "Victim 1" through interviews Gillum granted, cards and letters of support from total strangers helped bolster his resolve as well, Gillum said.
Finally, victims have to understand, Gillum said, "that you're not damaged goods" coming out of this process. That's where ongoing support from families and counselors are important, so the victims can develop a healthy picture of their future.
Gillum said the big positive that Fisher can share in now is that the Sandusky case has shined a light of awareness on the scourge of child sex abuse.
"We've seen positive outcomes across the country and even the world about people in the public starting to better understand what you all do and what victims go through," he told the audience, peppered with prosecutors, doctors and counselors.
Hennessy and Gillum are speaking together about their experiences with Fisher now as an extension of the family's healing process. Hennessy said she hopes her son's story will always "inspire other (victims) to speak out, stay strong and get the justice they deserve."
The Children's Resource Center in the capital city served 845 children in 2012, all referred by police, children and youth services agencies or physicians for abuse-type complaints.
Based at PinnacleHealth's Polyclinic campus, the center was established to serve Dauphin, Cumberland, Lebanon and Perry counties, but it actually serves kids from a much larger swath of central Pennsylvania.
CRC is funded by its corporate parent, PinnacleHealth, insurance reimbursements for medical services, payments from county Children & Youth Services agencies and grants and gifts.
Such children's advocacy centers are seen as effective venues where police, doctors and child welfare personnel can collaborate on cases with minimal trauma to and maximum service for youthful victims.
A state task force examining Pennsylvania's child abuse capabilities in the wake of the Sandusky scandal has called for the establishment of many more such centers statewide.
Nearly five children die a day from child abuse, neglect
by Dr. Deirdre Golden, Director Behavioral Health, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center
April was first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month approximately 30 years ago by Ronald Reagan in a presidential proclamation. Since then, April has been a time to acknowledge and raise awareness about the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse. The statistics are staggering and in the United States alone, nearly 5 children die every day from child abuse and neglect. According to the National Children's Alliance, there were 287,000 reported cases of abuse and/or neglect in 2012. Of these cases, many were for children most were under the age of 6 and involved sexual abuse. Due to underreporting, the actual number of children abused is likely higher. For the 1,161 cases reported in MN from July thru December 2012, most were female victims of sexual abuse, and usually, most perpetrators were relatives of the victim.
CornerHouse is an agency in Minneapolis that provides evaluations for child sexual abuse. They have promoted a mission of children first for over two decades. Information about their services and resources can be found on their website at www.cornerhousemn.org or by calling them at 612-813-8300.
There are four main types of Child Abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect and emotional abuse.
Physical abuse is a non-accidental injury to a child by a parent or caretaker. You may see frequent and unexplained bruises, burns, cuts or injuries; the child may be overly afraid of the parent's reaction to misbehavior.
Sexual abuse can range from non-touching offenses, such as exposing oneself, to fondling, intercourse, or using the child for pornographic materials.
Physical neglect is a parent or caregiver's failure to give the child food, clothing, hygiene, medical care, or supervision.
Emotional child abuse may be more difficult to identify and is maltreatment in the form of severe rejection, humiliation and actions intended to produce fear or extreme guilt in a child that results in impaired psychological growth and development. Emotional Abusers regularly reject, ignore, belittle, dominate, and criticize children. In physical abuse, the hurt and pain is external, in emotional abuse and neglect, it is internal.
Consequences of Child Abuse may be physical, psychological, emotional and behavioral and may continue long after the abuse occurred. Adult survivors of Childhood Abuse and Neglect consistently have poorer health outcomes including allergies, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, high blood pressure, and ulcers.
Survivors are also more likely to experience emotional and psychological issues such as Depression, Panic Disorder, Anxiety or Personality disorders. Survivors are at higher risk for drug and alcohol problems, antisocial and delinquent behaviors. There is a tendency for survivors of abuse and neglect to see themselves as unworthy, undeserving and sometimes blame themselves for their abuse. Abusive parents may have also experienced abuse and neglect during their childhood.
Domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse are both risk factors for Child Abuse and Neglect. Other risk factors include Underdeveloped parenting skills, poor understanding of childhood development and lack of support also. Protective factors are strong bonds and nurturance from a caregiver early in life, strong parental coping skills, social support and access to community resources.
When someone suspects that a child is being abused or neglected, safety of the child should be the first priority. If you believe the child to be at imminent danger, call 911. It can be difficulty to report suspected abuse for a number of reasons. One can feel like they are interfering in another's business and that they may feel responsible if the family breaks up. Fear of being identified may result in reluctance to report suspected abuse; however, you do not have to identify yourself if you decide to report suspected. Without identifying yourself, you may also call this number to ask questions. The consequences of unreported child abuse and neglect can impact level of functioning for the victim throughout their lifespan.
Education, strengthening child/parent or caregiver relationships and improving parent's self-care can be powerful tools in prevention of child abuse and neglect. Those interested in learning more about child abuse and neglect, prevention, positive parenting, and resources that are available may contact Dr. Golden at NorthPoint Health and Wellness, at 612-543-2566.
The National Child Abuse Hotline is a resource for confidential information on signs of abuse, questions about reporting suspected abuse and support for abuse survivors. Trained counselors are available 24/7, with communication in 140 languages through translators. All calls are anonymous and toll-free: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Resources on parenting including dealing with difficult behavior, setting limits, using time-out effectively, and safety are also available.
The Hennepin County Child Abuse reporting number is 612-348-3552.
With child abuse cases increasing post Sandy, group wants $2.5M to expand advocacy center
by Ashley Peskoe
Nearly four years after the first phase of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center opened on Kozloski Road, a group is trying to raise the additional funds needed to help the second of the project move forward.
The Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that fundraises for the center, is working to raise $2.5 million to build a medical suite, which will have space for physical exams, a therapy center and offices at the center.
Officials told NJ.com recently that there is a need for the center because the number of reported child abuse cases in the county has increased each year.
But Lynn Reich, chair of the Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center, said there has also been an influx of child abuse cases in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“There tends to be an effect about six months after a natural disaster like this, in which child abuse starts to grow because people are frustrated and kids are the littlest victims,” Reich said.
The Child Advocacy Center brings law enforcement, child services and other investigative authorities under one roof, limiting the number of times the child has to share their story and go through a drawn-out investigative process. Currently, interviews are conducted at the center, but the planned second phase would allow for medical exams and treatment to also take place at the same location.
“It really benefits the community when you have all of your team players in the same place at the same time,” said Martin Krupnick, a Freehold-based psychologist and advisory board member for the Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center.
While creating the idea for the center, designers took a child's point of view into consideration, including the color scheme to make it appear calm and the structure to make it look like a school, since that's where children said they felt safe, Reich said.
Rebecca Pollak, development director for the Friends of the Monmouth County Child Advocacy Center, said April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the friends are challenging county residents to spread awareness.
“We really want April to be teaching people about it and reminding them that there's been so much focus on restoring the shore, but its time to really restore our children here,” Pollak said. “There's so much going on with Hurricane Sandy and a focus on that, but it's over spilling into child abuse. There's a direct link and we really want people, this month especially, to really challenge themselves to do something to really help us, help the child in their community.”
Reich said in the past the group has done everything from holding penny drives and fundraising galas, to selling naming rights of rooms and benches, to raise money. Congress earmarked funds to build phase one of the center, which is not expected to happen for the second phase.
“We're looking for unique ways to reach out to the community,” Reich said. “It's not only an effort to raise funds but to raise awareness that we exist.”
The friends of the center also said volunteers are also needed to help with educating the community through talks and outreach events about child abuse, and to help with fundraisers.
“Either one big angel or [several] small angels will do the job,” Reich said. “We need this facility, it helps kids, lets build it,” Reich said.
The friends of the center said anyone wishing to set up a fundraiser or make a donation could call 908-770-1366 or visit www.friendsofmccac.org. To report suspected child abuse, call 1-877-NJ ABUSE (652-2873).
Bill Making It Illegal to Interfere with Child Abuse Report Passes Md. Senate
by Dawn White
ANNAPOLIS, MD - A bill to make it illegal to cover up child abuse passed in the Maryland Senate with a unanimous vote
The bill already passed in the Maryland House of Delegates and will head to Governor Martin O'Malley's desk for his signature.
It would make it a misdemeanor to prevent people who are required to report child abuse, such as teachers and police officers, from doing so.
People who are found guilty could receive up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Delegate Michael Hough (R), of Frederick and Washington Counties sponsored the bill.
Senator Chris Shank (R), of Washington County, sponsored it on the senate side.
Child sex abuse prevention topic at luncheon
by MARK LAW
STEUBENVILLLE - Dr. Stephen Mascio, who performs examinations of children suspected of being sexually abused, said the best intervention to stopping child sex abuse is prevention at an early age, including educating children on what is considered appropriate contact.
The Jefferson County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division, hosted the annual Child Abuse Prevention Luncheon on Thursday at the YWCA.
Mascio has been a physician working with A Caring Place Child Advocacy Center , which investigates reports of child sexual abuse, since its opening.
Mascio is part of the multidisciplinary team that works investigating child sexual abuse. The team also includes police, children services workers and the prosecutor's office.
Mascio said he performs the examinations at the child advocacy center because he said the last thing a child who has been sexually abused needs is to go to a hospital emergency room.
"We do it in an environment where the child and parents feel safe," he said.
"No child is immune to becoming abused," Mascio said, adding girls and special needs children are most at risk. He said children in low-income households with alcoholism and drug abuse also are at risk to being sexually abused.
He said the majority of the perpetrators are family members or acquaintances, such as the boyfriend of the mother.
Mascio said child victims of sexual abuse face higher risks of depression, substance abuse and eating and personality disorders. He said there is some evidence the brain chemistry can actually change as a result of sexual abuse.
Mascio said he wants to be able to go into schools to talk to younger children about sexual abuse. But he said such talks can be tricky because children can become confused about what constitutes appropriate contact.
County Job and Family Services, Children Services Division, received more than 1,000 calls about suspected child abuse in 2012, with about 28 percent being considered substantiated. Children services officials reported there has been an increase in the number of children born to mothers with drug dependency.
Elizabeth Ferron, county Job and Family Services director, said without community support, the jobs of social workers would be much more difficult.
Ferron said it is a privilege working with such a professional and dedicated group of social workers.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Students take action for Sexual Assault Awareness Month
A University of Wisconsin-Stout class is helping spread the word in April about healthy sexuality and how to prevent sex abuse of children, the national themes for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Students in the Abuse and the Family class taught by Associate Professor Susan Wolfgram, human development and family studies, are organizing 11 social action projects this semester to raise awareness about both issues.
“Start talking early and often about healthy childhood development and personal boundaries to prevent child sexual abuse,” Wolfgram said. “This includes advocating for comprehensive sex education in our schools.
“There is evidence that we can be successful in reducing sexual violence in our community through prevention, education and increased awareness. We are all stakeholders.”
Two special events will be held to benefit the Bridge to Hope, a domestic violence shelter in Menomonie serving Dunn and Pepin counties.
At 7 p.m., Saturday, April 13, the Waterfront Bar and Grill will host the first Rockin' for Hope benefit. Bingo and a silent auction will begin at 7:30 p.m. The alternative band Irie Sol will play at 10 p.m. Cover charge is $5, with one free drink ticket included.
At 5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 20, the Raw Deal will host Take Back the Night. The event will include speakers, an open mic and a candle-lit walk at 7 p.m. to the UW-Stout Clock Tower to honor victims and survivors.
Erin Sullivan, of Marshall, Minn., is the student project manager for both events.
Another class effort in April is the Clothesline Project, part of a national awareness effort that started in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1990. T-shirts with messages about sexual assault and statistics will be on display throughout the month in Menomonie:
• Through April 12, Menomonie Public Library, with a T-shirt design event from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 6
• April 14-18, Legacy Chocolates
• April 19-22, Acoustic Café
• April 23-26, Robert S. Swanson Library and Learning Center, UW-Stout
• April 27-30, Merle M. Price Commons, UW-Stout.
The shirts also will be displayed at Take Back the Night and Rockin' for Hope.
Another T-shirt design event will be from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 10, at the UW-Stout Ally Center in the Memorial Student Center.
The Clothesline Project student manager is Trisha Libansky, of Richland Center. For more information, go to www.clotheslineproject.org .
“This traveling art is a collective testimony that shows the prevalence of sexual violence in our own community and the need for individuals to take a stand and help make our society a safer place,” Wolfgram said.
Also in April, interactive presentations on healthy sexuality and preventing child sex abuse will be made by students at eight sites in Dunn, Eau Claire, Pierce and St. Croix counties. The sites and student project managers are:
• Dunn County Jail; Ronnie Moltzau, of Osseo
• Eau Claire County Jail; Shelby Tisdale, of Eau Claire.
• Transitions Center in Eau Claire for ex-offenders; Kristin Ziehl, of Greenville.
• Northwest Juvenile Detention Center in Eau Claire; Nick Vanzile, of Antigo.
• New Richmond High School; Amber Roberts, of Greenville.
• River Falls High School; Abby Grenson, of Anoka, Minn.
• Menomonie Middle School; Julia Frank, of Elmwood.
• Hmong Mutual Assistance Association in Eau Claire; Sarah Estes, of Albert Lea, Minn.
Former prosecutor equips families to combat sexual abuse
by Jacob Peklo
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) - The American Psychological Association says one out of four girls, and one out of six boys, is sexually abused before they turn 18. That's a statistic anti-abuse advocate Roger Canaff tries to get across to families.
"What I'm really trying to drive home with a talk like this is the necessity to recognize child abuse," said Canaff.
Canaff says it's important to start dialogue early, to know if something is "off."
"Toddler is about the time. If they have language and can identify their own body parts is the time that you can begin that," said Canaff.
Canaff says the Penn State football scandal, involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, brought to light a disturbing trend of child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, social workers say broken trust is becoming all too common.
"Ninety-plus percent of perpetrators are going to be people that kids know and they can trust and that's really how people gain access and are able to be in those types of situations where abuse occurs," said Amy Scarmon, an interviewer for Child Advocacy Services.
Kelcey Stubbe, a Sioux City police detective and father of three, wants to make sure his kids don't become statistics. Canaff says it's important for adults to listen and be vigilant, because kids usually don't make up stories of abuse.
"Especially if they can give details. A child should not know a detail that would be graphic in nature, especially when it comes to sexual contact," said Stubbe.
One approach, Canaff says, is to be involved with your children, and show it.
"A kind of subtle broadcast into the world into the world that I care for my child. I'm attentive to my child's needs and have good communication skills with my child. That will generally broadcast to predatory people, this is not the child to mess with," said Canaff.
Canaff says the courage to come to the police when something seems wrong could make all the difference, and keep kids from becoming statistics.
Winter Haven, Florida
Child Sexual Abuse Seminar to Start
Darkness To Light, an organization that combats child sexual abuse, will have a Stewards of Children training session from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. April 13 at the Polk County Sheriff's Office, 3635 Ave. G N.W.
The session teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
The $25 cost includes all training sessions and food. To register by today, contact Kim Alvarez at 863-651-4964 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Secrecy, myths surround sexual assault
by Julie Lassa
The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com
On April 9, I'll be attending a ceremony at The Family Center in Wisconsin Rapids to commemorate April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I'm happy to have the opportunity to help bring awareness to this issue which is the source of so much pain and fear for survivors and damages our entire community.
According to the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance, there were more than 4,800 incidences of sexual assault reported to law enforcement in 2010, the last year for which statistics are available. That included 221 assaults in the six counties in the 24th State Senate District. But these numbers are, sadly, only the tip of the iceberg, as rape is the most underreported crime. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 63 percent of sexual assaults are never reported to the police, so the actual incidence of these crimes in our communities is probably much higher.
A further look at the statistics suggests why this crime is so underreported. Most victims were female, and most were under age 15. An overwhelming 91 percent of offenders were male, most of them adult, and most either acquaintances or family members of the victims. This means that reporting a sexual offense often requires a young, vulnerable victim to accuse an older and more powerful adult; add to this the intimidation of recounting humiliating details to strangers in a law enforcement setting, and it is not surprising that this crime continues to be a largely hidden one.
The secretive nature of sexual assault conceals the impact it has on our society. One in five women, and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in four girls and one in six boys will be subjected to some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18 years old. And all of us pay the cost. It's estimated that rape costs the nation $127 billion annually, outpacing even assault, murder or drunk driving.
The secrecy surrounding this violent crime also allows myths to flourish, myths we must work to stamp out. For example, most sexual assaults are not attacks by strangers, but are committed by someone the victim knows and happen in the victim or offender's home. It is also a myth that false accusations of sexual assault are common - in fact, only 6 percent of accusations in Wisconsin were determined to be unfounded in 2010. And it's a myth that victims provoke assault with their dress or behavior. In reality, most victims are children.
I have pushed for tougher laws to protect sexual assault victims, especially those who are targeted or abused as children. Last year I worked with Attorney General Van Hollen to pass the Internet Crimes Against Children Act, which allows prosecutors to seek maximum penalties in cases that arise from undercover investigations where the perpetrator is using the Internet to try to engage in sexual activity with a child. The new law also amends the criminal discovery statute to prevent inadvertent or intentional reproduction and further dissemination of child pornography images and video. I also continue to push for the passage of the Child Victims Act, to hold offenders accountable for sexually assaulting children regardless of when those crimes were perpetrated.
As disturbing as the topic of sexual assault may be, we need to raise awareness of the terrible impact of this crime, so that we can give greater support to its victims and do a better job of bringing offenders to justice. To learn more about sexual assault in Wisconsin and how you can get involved in the solution, visit the website of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault at http://www.wcasa.org
-- Lassa, D-Stevens Point, represents Wisconsin's 24th Senate District.
Hundreds gather in Mass. to decry child abuse
by Brian Ballou
Sixty-six pairs of children's shoes, ranging from glittering sandals to all-white sneakers, were placed in a neat square on the marble stairs of the State House on Thursday morning to symbolize the number of cases of child abuse and neglect in the Commonwealth every day.
At the base of the stairs, 40 preschoolers sat, reading children's books. They represented a healthy approach to parenting.
The “Step Up for Prevention!” ceremony, marking the beginning of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, drew about 200 advocates and parents to Beacon Hill. They heard firsthand accounts of how programs that work closely with young families can pay dividends.
“We are truly helping these young moms break the cycle,'' Suzin Bartley, a licensed clinical social worker and the executive director of the Children's Trust Fund.
The $15 million statewide fund, derived from public and private money, pays for dozens of programs and training. It oversees the Healthy Families Massachusetts program, which conducts weekly or biweekly home visits to about 3,500 families across the state each year, starting with visits to expectant mothers and continuing through the child's third year.
With 54 percent of the parents in the program having experienced child abuse or neglect during their own upbringing, the visitations are critical to end the cycle of abuse and neglect, Bartley said. Only 17 percent of the families enrolled in the program have reports of neglect, she said.
“If you are 16, it's not great that you are having a baby,” Bartley said.” But if we can get in there and prevent you from having a second one, get a range of support so that you stay in school, set your own personal goals, then you can be successful.”
She also stressed the importance of training young parents on child development because age “zero to 3 is when the bulk of the brain develops.”
The program provides services worth about $3,600 per family annually.
When asked what could potentially happen without such a support structure, Bartley referred to the assault of a young mother Monday in the Savin Hill neighborhood.
Prosecutors said Samia Jones, 17, allegedly stabbed Angeleek Barros, 21, after Jones's boyfriend, Daquan Sparks, lured Barros to the neighborhood with the promise of shoes for the infant.
Sparks has a 4-month-old child with Jones and an 8-month-old child with Barros. Sparks, 17, allegedly restrained Barros while Jones stabbed her six times.
Barros was pushing her child in a stroller when she was attacked, witnesses said. The baby was not hurt.
Jones was charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and assault to murder and is being held on $50,000 cash bail. Sparks was arrested Thursday and is scheduled to be arraigned Friday. Jones has a juvenile record.
“This is what happens when there isn't anyone, and that child, that small child, never got upset because he's used to that level of chaos,'' Bartley said. “That's not healthy.”
While the Healthy Families home visit program aims to limit the cycle of abuse, it also teaches young mothers skills to be better parents and to continue their education.
Megan Scott, 21, said she was ostracized by peers when she became pregnant at 16. The child's father abandoned their relationship in her final trimester.
“My home visitor taught me a lot, how to keep [her son] on schedule developmentally, and worked with us through the years,” Scott said. “It made me feel more confident as a parent.” Her son, Carter, turned 4 Thursday.
Scott went through paralegal training and now works at a law office in Springfield.
“No matter how strong you think you are, you need a support system,” she said.
Committee studying Oklahoma child abuse and neglect deaths releases report
by Transcript Staff
NORMAN — The Special Review Committee studying child abuse and neglect deaths of Oklahoma children released its report today which includes both praise and criticism regarding the performance of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and many other entities responsible for the protection of children, and also disputes previous claims made by legislators against OKDHS.
In a 38-page report containing 50 findings and 37 recommendations which took 16 months to develop, the committee found there were many individuals, agencies and situations which were both “part of the problems and part of the solutions.”
“While our task was to review the work of DHS in the role of child abuse and neglect deaths, our committee soon discovered that while DHS had some responsibility, the conditions leading to the children's deaths were the results of multiple omissions and commissions by any number of many groups, agencies, individuals, conditions, and factors,” said Wes Lane, chair of the 21-member, blue ribbon committee.
The Special Review Committee, originally a subcommittee of the now-dissolved Human Services Commission, was created in late 2011 by then Commissioner and former Oklahoma County District Attorney Lane. Its purpose was to review OKDHS's role in child abuse and neglect deaths where the agency had some previous child welfare connection with the family.
The committee spent more than a year conducting a broad review of 135 child deaths which occurred between 2010 and 2012. The committee then conducted an in-depth review of 36 of those cases where the child died from either abuse or neglect and the family had some level of child welfare involvement in the 12 months preceding their deaths. Only one of the child death cases reviewed was of a child actually in state custody at the time.
“We observed instances where other agencies were involved in the complexities of cases, times when the public did not report abuse, and other situations where law enforcement or the judicial system, or others in the community bore some of the responsibility for a child's death,” Lane said.
The committee's report resoundingly disputes accusations made by legislators who issued a news release stating “Fifty children — on average — continue to die annually under the care of the Department of Human Services.” The release — issued in 2011 — quoted unverified numbers of child deaths, inferring the deaths occurred in the DHS foster care system.
“What we actually found was that over a 10-year period, there were an average of 12 children who died each year in state custody, and the majority died from natural causes or of the injuries they suffered at the hands of their abusers,” said Lane. “The news release issued by these legislators was clearly not based on real numbers and issued at a time when stories about some of these children's deaths were being reported by the media before the full facts surrounding their deaths were known to anyone.”
Lane described the report as balanced, noting that the findings are sorted among system issues, domestic violence, drug abuse, household conditions, OKDHS administrative, policy, and performance issues, and systemic issues outside of OKDHS.
“Make no mistake about it,” Lane said, “we found clear areas where DHS must improve and make changes to its policies and procedures — and we note that many changes are already underway with the Pinnacle Plan. But what we ultimately have had to sadly recognize is that there are no sure methods to predict murder or to examine the circumstances in a child's family and be able to definitively predict what negative consequences will occur to those children.”
The committee's report also noted that in addition to improving the child protection system, Oklahoma must find a way to address unstable family and home environments which contribute to occurrences of abuse and neglect.
“The truth is, DHS may never be able to stop children from being murdered because many times the problem is upstream from them,” said Lane. “Sadly enough, children are going to continue to die in unstable family environments. Just tweaking a government agency is not going to stop this.”
“As a state, we need to concentrate on building safe homes for our children and statistically the least-likely place for child abuse and neglect is in the home of the child's biological, married parents,” Lane stated. “This is not the child abuse prevention ‘silver bullet,' but if we know that children are absolutely safest in that environment, why wouldn't we as leaders from government, business, education and the faith community do everything we can to strengthen marriage as an Oklahoma institution over the coming years?”
National statistics show the highest rate of child abuse is for a child living with a single parent who is cohabitating with a non-biological partner. The incidence of abuse and neglect for those children is almost 10 times greater than for children living with their married biological parents.
Ed Lake, who became OKDHS director on Nov. 1, expressed his gratitude to Lane and the rest of the committee for their work.
“We are most appreciative of the work of the committee resulting in these thoughtful and action-oriented recommendations,” said Lake. “In fact, we have already implemented many of the recommendations specific to DHS and will continue to do so as we move forward with the Pinnacle Plan. It's also critically important for all of us involved in this work to reaffirm our commitment to fostering a truly dynamic system to address the complexities of severe child abuse and neglect.”
Deborah Smith, director of OKDHS Child Welfare Services, worked with the committee during their review of the child death cases.
“It was hard work but everyone involved was there because they want to help the children of this state,” said Smith. “In any child welfare case, we can look back and find things that could have been done differently. The benefit of this review process was that committee members gained a better understanding of our agency's role and how we interact with the rest of the system, and helped identify areas where we could make changes that will have a positive impact on child protection.”
OKDHS has issued its response to the committee's report which outlines internal changes already made which address many of the committee's recommendations, and how it will address further changes during implementation of the Pinnacle Plan, the five-year improvement plan for the state's foster care system.
Lane encouraged the governor, legislature, agencies working with children, law enforcement, schools, and the public, to read the committee's report in its entirety. He described their findings as important but the recommendations, particularly those dealing with prevention, should be a call to action for all Oklahomans.
“The work of this Committee will be in vain if our state does not act on these findings and recommendations,” Lane said. “The citizens serving on this committee brought a lot of good old Oklahoma common sense to the table. They were deeply concerned that what we have with child abuse is far beyond just a DHS problem. It's an ‘all of our' problem. We need to pay attention to what they had to say.”
Investigating child abuse: How interview training really matters
in Psychology & Psychiatry
(Medical Xpress)—Gathering evidence from children about alleged sex abuse is problematic. Research shows that when interviewers are trained in a protocol that favours open-ended questions more cases lead to charges and more charges lead to prosecution.
A study of the outcomes of child sex abuse cases in the US state of Utah suggests that the introduction of improved techniques for interviewing young victims leads to fewer cases being dropped early in the investigative process and results in a greater percentage of prosecutions. The findings support the argument for better training of police interviewers who have the highly sensitive task of gathering information about traumatic incidents.
A paper summarising the study ('Do Case Outcomes Change When Investigative Interviewing Practices Change?') will appear next month (May 2013) in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. The research was carried out by an international team including Michael Lamb, Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, who is an expert on children and forensic interviewing. The study is the first to focus on the investigative interview as a predictor of outcomes – such as the filing of criminal charges, prosecution, and guilty pleas or convictions.
The research drew on data from Salt Lake County Children's Justice Centre which in mid-1997 introduced training for all its police interviewers in techniques developed under the auspices of the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and known as NICHD Protocol. The study centred on a before-and-after comparison of outcomes of child sex abuse cases across two periods: a pre-Protocol period of 1994-1997 and Protocol period of 1997-2000.
The NICHD approach to interviewing was developed by Professor Lamb and his colleagues in response to widespread evidence that free recall memory prompts, such as open-ended questions, are most likely to elicit accurate information from children. Previous studies led by Professor Lamb, using data gathered in Israel, the USA and the UK, showed that open-ended questions were effective in interviewing children as young as four years' old about incidents that may have involved abuse.
The NICHD Protocol – or similar approaches – is now favoured by a growing number of countries with training being given to those who carry out the highly sensitive process of gathering evidence from children who have suffered trauma. The open-ended questioning style replaces or contrasts with a more directive, option-posing or suggestive line of enquiry which research has shown to be associated with erroneous responses.
The results from the study of child abuse cases investigated by police in Utah have clear implications for the UK where the NICHD Protocol has been explicitly recommended to forensic investigators since 2011 in the Home Office's manual, Achieving Best Evidence.
Professor Lamb and his colleagues believe that similar results would be likely in the other countries where the Protocol has been adopted because such interviews provide investigators with a much better understanding of what actually happened to the child, tend to be very compelling when the interviews are shown to jurors, and also provide interviewers with other investigative leads they can follow up in pursuit of additional evidence.
Currently, English, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Finnish, Korean and Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian) versions of the Protocol are in use around the world. The researchers initially looked at an overall total of 760 cases of suspected abuse of children aged from three- to 13-years-old. Some of these cases were dropped and some were transferred to other jurisdictions, reducing the total to 696.
Of these, 364 cases resulted in charges being filed. The comparison of outcomes across the two periods before and after introduction of the Protocol revealed a number of significant differences at two crucial points in the progress of cases through the investigative process: the filing of charges by prosecutors and the final judicial disposition, through either plea negotiation or trial. Charges were more likely to be filed following the introduction of the Protocol with 42 per cent of cases being filed pre-Protocol and more than 52 per cent being filed once the Protocol was in use.
Once charges were filed, both pre-Protocol and Protocol interviews were highly (and similarly) likely to lead to guilty pleas. This filtering-out factor means that although half the cases were prosecuted, Protocol interviews were associated with a significantly higher rate of conviction. When cases were tried, Protocol cases were almost always associated with guilty verdicts. These findings support the view that improving the quality of pre-trial phases of investigations is extremely important.
"The quality of forensic interviewing practices is of utmost importance if the rights of both child victims and innocent suspects are to be protected. When child abuse is suspected, children's verbal allegations often constitute the only available evidence. Thus our research into best-practice approach to interviewing has important implications for policy and practice," said Professor Lamb.
Cases involving the youngest children in the study (those aged two to four) were the least likely to yield criminal charges regardless of interviewer training. Previous research has suggested that younger children may be more reluctant than older children to disclose and talk about abuse. It has also been shown that children who were suspected victims of parental abuse provided fewer informative responses than those who were suspected victims of non-parental abusers.
"When young children are interviewed they may provide less complete accounts than older counterparts might have done, meaning that their evidence is not sufficient to convince prosecutors that a conviction could be obtained at trial. These findings point to the need for development of interviewing techniques sensitive to the needs of young children who've been abused. Children need protection under the law and abusers should face conviction, regardless of their victims' ages," said Professor Lamb.
Personal story of child abuse shared
Greg Williams became advocate after granddaughter died
by JESSE O'BRIEN
PEORIA — When Greg Williams' 2-year-old granddaughter Reagan died from Shaken Baby Syndrome in 2006, he was devastated.
Williams and his wife previously had noticed bruising and injuries Reagan sustained and had tried to report the signs of abuse to authorities for months. But each time, the couple was turned away.
Reagan never got the help she needed until the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services finally called on July 3, 2006 — one day after her death.
“At that point, I really wasn't interested in talking with them anymore,” he said.
Nearly seven years later, Williams is now an advocate for child abuse prevention and a co-founder of Reagan's Rescue, an effort to educate on the dangers of Shaken Baby Syndrome. In coincidence with April being National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, he shared his experience with partners of Peoria's Center for Prevention of Abuse at the center Thursday afternoon.
Sara Dillefeld, the center's director of domestic violence family services said the annual event is a good way to spread awareness about child abuse and she expected about 42 representatives from prevention agencies in the central Illinois area.
“I think our community is really good about raising awareness about child abuse,” she said. “Unfortunately, statistics are showing us (that) child abuse is on a rise in downstate Illinois, so we're really focusing our efforts on getting the community aware of preventative efforts.”
Dillefeld said one in five children in Illinois will be abused before their 18th birthday and 80 percent of cases will go unreported.
From 2001 to 2009, there were 641 child abuse deaths reported, and Williams said when he thinks about the death of Reagan, he imagines the pain he and his family felt 641 times over. That's why he uses his own experiences to help advance the conversation about the trickiness of navigating the system to properly report child abuse
“I think a personal story is needed here,” he said. “We have facts, we have statistics, but sometimes it's really hard to wrap your brain around numbers. And if I can share a little bit about what this girl was like (and) how important she was in our lives, it gives me an opportunity to not only get some information across which is important to save the lives of other children, but also for me to share her life and keep her alive.”
CASA continues to raise child abuse prevention awareness
by Jacqueline Armendariz
EDINBURG — While a single, small cross symbolized the death of a child due to abuse or neglect in Hidalgo County in 2012, residents marched before a vigil Wednesday night because that was one too many children lost, they said.
The cross resting in front of the Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, office in Edinburg was one of many reminders that child abuse and neglect can turn fatal if not reported. Volunteers walked in silence and prayer with handmade signs calling for residents to become active in helping to protect children.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“It's your responsibility to report child abuse and neglect,” CASA Executive Director Diana Almaguer told an audience at the Hidalgo County Courthouse.
CASA is a nonprofit that trains volunteers to act as advocates for children in foster care because of abuse or neglect.
Almaguer, a former Child Protective Services employee, said Wednesday was the first time in 16 years area law enforcement were also invited to the event and cited their important role in abuse and neglect cases. Officers from Alamo, Mission, Edinburg, Pharr, San Juan, Alton and the Texas Department of Public Safety were present.
She said there are too many children currently in foster care and reminded the audience that as recently as last month authorities arrested the mother of a child whose hands they believe were intentionally burned on a stove.
Out of the 276,110 children in Hidalgo County, last year 599 were removed from their homes, according to Texas Department of Family and Protective Services figures. The department investigated 7,167 cases here, while there were only seven adoptions. There were 2,685 confirmed victims of abuse or neglect.
At the vigil, Master Court No. 2 Judge Maria Socorro Leos said her court, which focuses on child support, has seen a disturbing trend with a 30 percent increase in cases that involve family violence.
“Be careful what you're doing to these little hearts,” she said, encouraging families to become educated on how to better cope with life's difficulties. “You have to learn what love is truly about.”
Laura Mesquita, a CASA and McAllen resident, said in her three years with the organization she's helped on two cases, each a group of three siblings.
“It kind of makes you feel that you're a part of something bigger and that you're doing your little part,” she said of participating.
Child Protective Services spokesman John Lennan said the department recently launched a new website to help families find resources to prevent child abuse and neglect before it starts. Go to www.helpandhope.org for more information.
But, above all it takes one phone call to save a child's life, he said.
“It takes a community. Everybody needs to be involved. If we don't know about it, how can we help anyone?”
Pope: Stopping child sexual abuse key to 'credibility' of Catholic Church
Pope Francis said that the church must "act decisively" to stop child sexual abuse by priests.
by Philip Pullella, Reuters
VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis wants the Catholic Church to "act decisively" to root out sexual abuse of children by priests and ensure the perpetrators are punished, the Vatican said on Friday.
Francis, in a meeting with the Holy See's doctrinal chief, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, had declared that combating sexual abuse was important "for the Church and its credibility", a statement said.
Francis inherited a Church mired in problems and a major scandal over priestly abuse of children. It was believed to be the first time Francis had taken up the issue of sex abuse with a senior member of his staff since his election on March 13.
Muller is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department which includes the office of the "promoter of justice", or sex crimes prosecutor, which investigates cases of sexual abuse and decides if priests are to be defrocked.
Francis said the department should continue to "act decisively as far as cases of sexual abuse are concerned, promoting, above all, measures to protect minors, help for those who have suffered such violence in the past [and] the necessary procedures against those who are guilty," a statement said.
It said the pope wanted Catholic bishops around the world to promote and put into place "directives in this matter which is so important for the witness of the Church and its credibility."
The Catholic Church's crisis began in Boston in 2002 when media began reporting how cases of abuse were systematically covered up and abusive priests shuttled from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to civil authorities.
Since then, the Catholic Church in many countries has set up new guidelines to deal with cases of past abuse, prevent new cases, report abuse to police, and stop potential abusers from entering the priesthood in the first place.
But victims groups say there is much still to be discovered about how the Church behaved in the past and want more bishops who were aware of abuse to be held responsible.
Help prevent child abuse
We all can take small actions to make a difference
by Susan Hammerling
Small, positive actions can make a difference in the life of a child.
All children can get a good start in life if the adults around them take small actions that add up to a pattern of supportive community and family environments in which children can grow and develop into productive citizens.
Child abuse is doing something or failing to do something that results in harm to a child or puts a child at risk of harm. Children can experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect. Most abused children suffer greater emotional than physical damage.
Children are suffering from a hidden epidemic of child abuse and neglect. Every year, 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States involving nearly 6 million children. The United States has the worst record in the industrialized nation — losing five children every day due to abuse-related deaths.
Some signs of child abuse may include:
• Withdrawal from friends or usual activities
• Changes in behavior or changes in school performance
• Depression, anxiety or a sudden loss of self-confidence
• Attempts at suicide
• Unexplained injuries
• Sexual behavior or knowledge that's inappropriate for the child's age
• Poor growth or hygiene
National Child Abuse Statistics
• About 80 percent of children who die from abuse are younger than 4.
• More than 90 percent of juvenile sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator in some way.
• Child abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education
Promoting children's well-being and preventing child abuse within communities can be accomplished by giving parents the knowledge, skills and resources they need to care for their children.
• Help your children feel loved and secure, even when they do something wrong.
• Encourage your children by praising and recognizing their achievements and efforts.
• Spend time with your children doing things you both enjoy. Listen to them.
• Seek help if you need it. Agencies such as these can help with parenting skills:
• Call your local library to see what materials are available to prevent child abuse and neglect and to learn good parenting skills.
• Volunteer to serve in community organizations such as the Haven, www.thehavenforchildren.com
• Become a Brevard County Guardian volunteer, a voice for children in the courtroom:
Key contacts in Brevard
Brevard Family Partnership: www.brevardfp.org/home/pages/PartnersandProviders.cfm
211 Brevard: If you are in need of community assistance or support services, and are not in jeopardy of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment, call 211 for assistance. 211 Brevard is a free referral source.
If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call 1-800-962-2873.
It's your turn to make a difference for a child.
Daviess County gets grant to combat child abuse
FRANKFORT, Ky. — The federal government is providing a $2.5 million grant to establish a program in Daviess County to deal with child abuse and substance abuse.
The five-year grant will support the Sobriety Treatment and Recovery Teams program, better known as START.
Gov. Steve Beshear said the federal money will help break the pattern of substance abuse and child abuse within families in western Kentucky.
START is intended to help parents at risk of having their children taken away because of substance abuse. The program helps parents overcome addictions and build healthier families.
Similar programs already are operating in Jefferson, Kenton, Boyd and Martin counties.
The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration on Children, Youth and Families Office.
When the abuser is your parent
by Karen Spears Zacharias
(Editor's Note: Rachel Held Evans recently opened up her blog to an in-depth look at abuses within the church. Her posts are all worthy reads and I hope you'll make time to read them, especially if you are in church leadership. There is also plenty of abuse taking place outside the church, and not all abuse is sexual in nature. Our guest blogger wrote to me last year after reading A Silence of Mockingbirds, to tell me how much Karly's story resonated with her. Unlike Karly, however, our guest blogger suffered at the hands of her own father. Such is the case for many children whose parents abuse them, or allow them to be abused, creating forever a complicated relationship. Toss into that mix the expectation that an abused child is thus “obligated” by their own theological leanings or social mores to forgive their abusers and life grows even more hair-pulling complex. Please feel free to share your thoughts with our guest blogger. Thank you.)
Comfortably Numb. That was how I used to identify myself to my own self when people would ask how I was. My response was always the same: “Fine” or “Okay, Thanks & you?” The responses were always generic, pre-planned, and I never skipped a beat. I made sure the timing was right, on point, and never suspicious. Yet I knew I was a walking, talking suspicion.
It was 90 degrees in the burning summer sun in Southern Philadelphia, where the summers are humid and brutally warm. Yet there I was, in long sleeve shirts and pants, covering what were hidden. Under those clothes were bruises, healing wounds, scabs and healing bones that were only identified by close friends and family, all of whom knew who put them there, and all of whom looked the other way. They turned a blind eye to my sunken-in eyes, protruding bruised cheekbones, cuts above my eyes and lips, and the yellowing of the healing bruises. I grew fond of the color yellow, simply because in my case, it was a color that represented healing. I was one step closer to donning a quarter sleeved top instead of a sweat shirt, or in rare cases, a t-shirt.
I never slipped on a story or explanation. I planned them all, and made each one more convincing than the next. I was numb to the pain of it all, and comfortable with lying about my healing wounds. I was comfortably numb. I was numb to the pain, and comfortable with the lies. That was the life I lived.
I am now 24 years old. I am a journalism student, and a survivor of parental abuse. I endured that said abuse for close to 10 years. My father, an alcoholic now in recovery, remembers very little of the frequent hospital visits, the blood stained carpets that I'd spend hours scrubbing, the fussing over my morning make-up by my naïve and fragile mother, always making sure the Catholic school I attended would never know of our sickening, painful private family life.
We had a dress code at my school, golf shirts and skirts in the spring and summer, sweaters and skirts in the fall and winter. I was the only student that wore my sweater year round. I had ready-made, bulletproof answers for the teachers and staff that questioned my decisions to wear thick stockings and wool sweaters in late May, the permanent darkening beneath my eyes, the occasion black eye and busted lip, and my consistent absences which were always coincided with a hospital note instead of a simple doctor's note. It continued on for years to follow, and the marks became impossible to hide.
The final time my father touched me was in the fall of 2011. We were arguing over something trivial. He was drunk, and while I knew better than to argue back in his failed condition, I was enraged and at my limit. That day, my father strangled me in the presence of my mother and boyfriend. I remember little upon waking up aside from the cops asking for a statement and my boyfriend beside me. I began to ramble one of my ready-made stories, while still struggling to regain full consciousness and breathe normally. I looked into the eyes of my mother, who witnessed the decade of pain I endured. I then turned to my boyfriend, who would allow me to lie no more.
The numbness was gone, and the pain washed over me like a tsunami, a wave so heavy it crushed my soul and swallowed my lies. For the first time in my entire life, I told someone the truth. The truth consisted of dozens of sets of blind eyes, how I had learned to lie so well, & how my lies convinced everyone, including myself.
I remember the look on the policeman's face as he checked my arms, legs, back, and stomach. I knew it was hard to believe, but my body told the story alone. I pointed to each mark, explaining the date, time, and reason why I had received that particular bruise. In those moments, I realized that between my ready-made lies I had stored the truth somewhere deep inside me. It only emerged when the pain finally did.
My father pled no contest and served no time, which was a decision that was ultimately left to me. He was required to complete alcohol treatment courses as well as anger management classes. Despite our past, a past that I would never get back, pain that may never cease, and a life that I was forced to endure at the hands of the adults that claimed to love me, I am working to repair my relationship with my father. I am working on forgiving, and although I can never forget, and the scars will never disappear, I believe that I can learn to love him, if he learns to be a person other than the man that spent so many years attempting to end my life, even if he didn't always know it or remember it.
I often wonder why it was me. We lived in a house, my father and I, with my mother and little brother. I was his punching bag, his anger release tool for years, and the answer as to why I may never receive. I spend my days now helping various individuals with poor self image, bullying related issues, and domestic abuse victims. I have found that my painful past can bring someone a future void of any of the scars I bear.
Finding resolution with my father took forgiveness; forgiving him, forgiving my mother, and the other family and friends that turned a blind eye out of fear. I have learned to spend every day grateful and thankful that I made it out of my story alive. These days, I am no longer numb. I feel. I feel everything. And I am comfortable, both with who I am, and with where my journey brought me. I would say that this is my stories end, but I am one of the lucky ones; for the second chance God gave me, is what makes this a whole new beginning.
*April is National Child Abuse Prevention month. Take the time to educate yourself about child abuse. Read A Silence of Mockingbirds or any of the many books listed on Rachel Held Evan's blog.
Special investigation team tracks child abuse cases
by Stacia Willson
SAN ANTONIO -- Last year, San Antonio had the highest rate of confirmed child abuse cases in Texas. However, a group of former law enforcement officers is working to change things for the better.
The team is made up of professionals with specialized training in dealing with child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault.
The Region 8 Specialized Investigator team consists of about 20 men and women, all of whom have former ties to law enforcement.
"So they talk police lingo and they also now talk CPS lingo," says Program Director CPS Special Investigator Ray Ramo.
The team investigates high-profile, high risk cases, which require law enforcement's help because of alleged criminal acts.
"We are assigned to all child death cases...we are assigned to those where are serious physical injuries," says CPS Special Investigator Dave Pingel.
The special investigators respond to child homicides, drug raids, and child runaway calls.
"There's a bigger mission and that's to save the child," says CPS Special Investigator Michele
The Region 8 team is currently in the process of adding more members to their 20-person crime fighting group.
Child Advocacy Center of East Alabama raises awareness of abuse
by Kristen Oliver
In 2012, nearly 1,000 instances of child sexual abuse were reported in Lee County, with two of those cases ending in the death of a child. Because of this statistic, the Child Advocacy Center of East Alabama and Lee County officials are making extra efforts to raise awareness of abuse in the community.
The center, located in Opelika, is one of the county's most prolific resources in the local effort to stem child sexual abuse.
“This is a place where children come to tell their stories of child sexual abuse, and they also get free therapy for them and their families,” said Cleone Brock, executive director of the CAC.
Last year, the center conducted 329 forensic interviews, which were able to be used as evidence in the search for sexual perpetrators locally. Since the start of 2013, Brock said, the center has interviewed 76 children who've suffered sexual abuse.
Brock said the Department of Human Resources will have a social worker and law enforcement will have an investigator observe the interviews behind a one-way window.
Brock said one realization many people don't in such cases is that the child is rarely capable of fabricating or lying about the circumstances.
“The incidences of children coming in and lying are very rare,” she said. “… A child that wasn't there wouldn't think to say certain things. They don't know the sensory stuff and they just can't answer it.”
To prevent more of these victims arising, the CAC has been distributing packets of information to local churches about child safety.
“We've sent 675 so far,” said Katrina Ryan, administrative assistant at the CAC. “Another church said they would take the copy we sent them and put it in their newsletter. At least 1,000 people will probably be touched by these.”
The CAC is also hosting a benefit event at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center called Dancing Stars of East Alabama. Featuring professional dancers paired with local celebrities, the event has already sold out its tickets and raised $74,000, although contributions can still be made at dancingstarsofeastalabama.com
The East Alabama center is celebrating 20th anniversary this year. It was originally the brainchild of former Madison County district attorney Bud Cramer.
“He was the D.A. a long time ago and he hated the way child victims were treated,” Brock said. “He envisioned a child-friendly center where children could come to tell their stories and the partners would come to them instead of the children being dragged to various places.”
Today, Brock said, the services of the child advocacy center are essential to the community.
“Until they work through this, most of them are going to have a very, very hard time in life,” Brock said. “What I would like people to know is if this happens to their child, it's not the end of the world. There's a place they can come to get healing and justice, and a child can absolutely be OK after sexual abuse has happened.”
Rape survivor to help spread awareness during Take Back the Night
by April Burkhart
No means no, but sometimes people don't believe it.
That was Kelly Hilliard's experience when she was raped in her home in Sandy Springs by a drunk friend two years ago this month.
The friend, an ex-boyfriend, came to Hilliard's Atlanta home unannounced and, after letting him in and seeing he was drunk, she offered to let him stay the night.
She suggested they watch a movie in bed, something they had done platonically before, but said it wasn't long before he “started to put the moves on me” and continued the sexual advances even after she repeatedly told him no. Hilliard finally had to punch him in the throat to get him to stop.
“I thought I was doing the right thing (by letting him stay) and I didn't expect him to do that,” she said. “I've been around him when he's been drinking before and he's never done that.”
Thinking the incident over, she went back to watching the movie, but he began to make sexual advances again with more aggression.
“He was on top of me so I can't fight him off. I'm trapped,” Hilliard said. “I knew what was coming, but I couldn't fight in that position. There's so much emotional coercion in that position. You're praying and crying and begging and doing everything you can think of to get him off of you.”
After a long struggle, Hilliard realized she couldn't win the fight a second time.
“He had his hands in my clothes and his leg between my legs. ... I said ‘just get it over with,' but he took his time. It went on for a while,” she said.
“I had been in love with him and I couldn't believe this was happening with him. I was so angry.”
When it was over, Hilliard rolled over and cried herself to sleep. When she woke up a few hours later, he was gone.
Hilliard told two friends about it and was told by one of them that it didn't count as rape because Hilliard told him to “get it over with.”
“That's where a lot of confusion came in,” she said. “So I just kind of quit talking about it.”
To get away, Hilliard looked for a new job outside Atlanta. She took the first job offered and moved to Athens.
As the one-year anniversary of the rape approached, Hilliard started to have flashbacks and nightmares about what had happened and her job performance began to suffer. She knew she needed to deal with her emotions and an Internet search led her to the telephone hotline for The Cottage.
The Cottage, a sexual assault and child advocacy center in Athens, provides intervention, advocacy, referrals, and support for survivors and families hurt by child abuse and sexual assault. The center also works to raise awareness and provide prevention education about sexual assault issues.
“I called (the hotline) and told the story and asked about the ‘get it over with' part and did that count as rape. They told me yes,” she said. “At that point, I was sobbing because up until them I had been carrying around so much guilt and shame because I didn't know how much of it was my fault.
“We need to learn that none of it is our fault. I don't care what we wear, or if we're dancing, or if we've had something to drink. It's not our fault.” Soon after Hilliard met with Devon Sanger, a rape crisis counselor at The Cottage.
“(Devon) has been a Godsend and The Cottage has been amazing,” she said.
While working with The Cottage, Hilliard used the hotline and group counseling sessions with Sanger to work through what had happened. The Cottage also paid for six months of individual counseling.
“The goal of The Cottage is to provide holistic services for victims of child abuse or sexual assault in the community,” said The Cottage Executive Director Sally Sheppard. “If an adult decides to report (a sexual assault), The Cottage facilitates that process with law enforcement and sexual assault nurse examiners to hopefully make sure it's not a traumatic experience.”
If an adult victim of childhood abuse decides to get therapeutic assistance, The Cottage also facilitates that process and offers referrals and payment for therapy, support groups and a 24-hour hotline so people can reach out for help at any time and receive free and confidential services.
After some sessions at The Cottage, Hilliard decided to press charges. When she and her ex-boyfriend met in mediation with a lawyer, Hilliard asked that he be sentenced to rehab, anger management and counseling.
While there, Hilliard said he struggled to maintain his composure and at one point told her he was sorry.
“For me it was a very healing moment and it was validation that I was on the right path (in pressing charges),” she said. “Part of my decision to come forward and press charges was because if he got that drunk again and did it to somebody else and I found out about it I couldn't have lived with myself knowing I could have done something to stop it.”
Today, Hilliard said she is doing much better and has even accepted an offer to speak during Athens Take Back the Night event on Friday.
“I don't like speaking in public, but I can deal with being a little uncomfortable to help other people,” she said.
To others who have been through a sexual assault, Hilliard says they are not alone and encourages them to use resources like The Cottage.
“We help people to understand that there is real healing and it can happen,” Sheppard said. “There are people and agencies that support them and care about them.”
For more about Take Back the Night, call (706) 542-2846.
For more about The Cottage, visit www.northgeorgiacottage.org
Centre honors child, adult sex assault victims
by SCOTT JOHNSON
BELLEFONTE - Still reeling from the nationally-watched trial and conviction of former Penn State University defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky on dozens of counts of child sexual abuse, Centre County is honoring both child and adult victims this month.
County Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos and Michael Pipe Tuesday voted unanimously to proclaim this month as Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month in the county.
In conjunction with the proclamations, the county Department of Children and Youth Services and the Centre County Women's Resource Center have hung over 1,000 blue and teal ribbons in the trees in front of the county courthouse. Each one is to signify a reported case to the two agencies in the past year - 388 children cases and 481 adult cases.
"We are actually trying to put ourselves out of business," said Women's Center Director of Outreach and Communications Women's Resource Center Jody Althouse.
Neither Althouse, nor Mary Zimmerman or Julia Sprinkle from CYS could speak about any possible ongoing reports, either with children or adult victims, from Sandusky.
However, they all noted both child and adult reports rose in the aftermath of the first allegations against Sandusky in the fall of 2011.
Zimmerman said CYS will host a free workshop for mandated reporters later this month and will participate in "Painting for Prevention" murals to be displayed in the Nittany Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on April 20, then be on display at the Child Advocacy Center in Bellefonte.
Althouse noted the Women's Resource Center has reached about 5,000 people with programs over the last several years, and also offers three support group: Adult female sexual assault survivors, adult male sexual assault survivors, and family and friends of assault survivors.
"The questions shouldn't be why were you there or what we you doing, but why did he do that," she said, noting an abundance of assault victims in the county have been females who were passed out.
"Sexual assault needs to be stopped and the only way to stop it is to have a rapist stop raping," she Althouse said.
In other news from Tuesday's meeting, the commissioners renewed a contract with the Central Counties Youth Center in Bellefonte to house youths at a cost of $179,243. The center is used by five counties, including Centre and Clinton, and the cost for each county is determined by their use on a five-year rolling average.
Centre spent $212,000 for use of the facility last year and had budgeted $190,000 for the upcoming year.
The commissioners also approved a check run of $1,495,404, for the period ending April 5. Exarchos noted about $200,000 of those bills came from the ongoing 911 Emergency Communications upgrades.
Students Gain Momentum in Fight against Child Sexual Abuse
by Gant Team
UNIVERISTY PARK – In observance of National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Penn State students will be joining with the community this April to raise awareness and funds for the prevention of child sexual abuse. Now in their second year of fundraising, the One Heart Campaign will continue their efforts to secure contributions for the Vision of Hope Fund of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR).
In December 2011, Penn State formed a partnership with PCAR and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, national leaders in the field of sexual assault response and prevention. Among PCAR's many initiatives is the Vision of Hope Fund, founded in 2005 to protect children from the devastation of sexual abuse by increasing adult responsibility and accountability. Gifts to the fund have supported Internet safety programs for parents, continuing education for family physicians, and training for professionals who are mandated reporters of child abuse.
“After the University partnered with PCAR, the One Heart Campaign was established as another avenue of local support,” said Tori Smith, co-founder of the One Heart Campaign and a junior finance major from Yardley, Pa. “Students are at the heart of this University and so who better to sustain Penn State's efforts in advocating for the prevention of child sexual abuse than the student body itself?”
This year, One Heart will kick off Penn State's Sexual Violence Awareness Week by hosting, “One Heart's Lighting the Way Run,” on Saturday, April 6, at 2 p.m. Symbolizing the statistic that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually victimized by the age of 18, runners can choose from 4- or 6-kilometer races. The cost of registration is $10 and all interested parties can visit the PCAR project site www.theirhope.org to register for the run.
On April 12, One Heart is collaborating with several other student-run organizations to participate in Sexual Violence Awareness Week's “Rock Against Rape.” This awareness event will be held on Heister Street in downtown State College from 3-7 p.m., and will feature several notable speakers and musical acts. The community-centered event is planned as a celebration for the survivors of sexual violence and to build awareness of the issue.
“The first step toward ending childhood sexual abuse is increasing awareness about how to recognize and stop it,” said Kristen L. Houser, vice president of communications and development for PCAR. “Through the One Heart Campaign, the students of Penn State are challenging alumni and friends to join them and to join our organization and the University in the fight to protect children.”
One Heart is encouraging corporate partners and University faculty and staff to hold “Blue-nited We Stand” fundraisers on Fridays through the month of April. Participants are encouraged to show support by wearing blue and making donations to PCAR through the One Heart Campaign. More information about how alumni, friends, and businesses can become involved with the campaign is available at http://sites.psu.edu/oneheart/campaign/. Gifts can be made online at www.visionofhopefund.org.
The founders of the campaign, in addition to Smith, include Dan Rost, a junior finance and accounting major from Waynesboro, Pa.; Anand Ganjam, a sophomore finance and accounting major from York, Pa.; and Zack DeVoti, a junior finance major from Fort Salonga, N.Y.
“Building awareness is an essential piece of this annual campaign,” said Smith. “Through our events we are encouraging students and the larger community to play an active role in preventing future occurrences of child sexual abuse. In doing our part, we hope to make an impact on a national level and to show the world that Penn State cares.”
Helping raise awareness for child abuse a team effort
April is Child Abuse Awareness month, and at the YMCA, we champion child abuse prevention every day, but during April we will be working hard to bring awareness to this issue.
I have seen child abuse from many angles. As a former executive director of domestic abuse and sexual assault programs, I saw family after family come through the shelters and many of the children had also been abused; physically, emotionally or sexually.
I was also a foster kid in my teens and saw so many children come through the foster care system who had suffered abuse, many times from those who they loved and trusted the most. I have also mentored and taught many youth who came from abusive homes.
Before I came to Texas, Much of my work focused on stopping the cycle of abuse, helping families heal and empowering young men and women as a prevention tool as they continued into adulthood. So, what can we do as community members, family members and human beings to help stop child abuse?
First, be informed:
• About 2,000 children in the US have a cause of death listed as “homicide.” More than 80% of these children are under the age of 4; more than 80% of these children die at the hands of a parent or parental figure.
• There are more than 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in the US. (Smith et al., 2000; Broman-Fulks et al., 2007).
• Adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of 18 (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006).
• For more statistics on child abuse, please visit: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/statistics/can/stat_natl_state.cfm
Next, help spread the awareness:
• Get a copy of this article and post a link on your Facebook page, send an email to your friends and coworkers.
• Talk to your children and family members about abuse.
• Speak up.
Finally, be the peace that you want to see in the world. World peace begins at home.
Healthy Kids Day will be at the JER Chilton YMCA at Rockwall on Saturday, April 20, from 2:30-4 p.m. We will have “Minute to Win It” games at each table and will be drawing for prizes. There will be educational materials, snacks, a bounce house and lots of fun! We will also have numerous service providers including the police department, fire department, safety and health providers and lots of information on YMCA programming to promote healthy kids, healthy families, and healthy communities.
Liz Jones is the Membership & Wellness Director at the JER Chilton YMCA at Rockwall, located at 1210 N Goliad in Rockwall, TX. She is a writer, certified yoga instructor, personal trainer and wellness coach. She holds a Master's Degree in Organizational Leadership and Strategic Management, with a graduate certificate in Ethics and Leadership. Her studies included communication, business, writing, law, art, fitness, and dance.
She is trained in Reiki, Guided Imagery, and various healing method. Her background includes non-profit management and working with various at-risk populations, women's empowerment workshops, and mentoring programs.
Liz Jones can be reached at: email@example.com or 972-772-9622.
Australia opens national child abuse inquiry
A national inquiry into child sex abuse has opened in the Australian city of Melbourne, with more than 5,000 people expected to provide evidence of "abuse and consequential trauma".
PM Julia Gillard has warned that the commission will unearth "some very uncomfortable truths".
She said that its opening was an "important moral moment" for Australia.
The inquiry will look at religious groups, NGOs and state care providers as well as government agencies.
But commission officials have warned that it is unlikely to complete its task by the end of 2015 as requested.
They say that is because the scope of the inquiry is so large - in relation to the number of people testifying and the number of institutions who may be affected by the allegations.
The probe will look into institutional responses to the sexual abuse of children.
Its formation was announced by Ms Gillard in November following pressure from lawmakers amid police claims that the Roman Catholic Church had concealed evidence of paedophile priests.
The commission was formed after revelations emerged of child abusers being moved from place to place instead of their crimes being reported and investigated. There were also accusations that adults failed to stop further acts of abuse.
Ms Gillard told ABC radio that she wanted the commission to provide a "moment of healing" for the survivors of child sexual abuse - "because for too long, so many of these survivors have just run into closed doors and closed minds".
How the royal commission will work
Likely to start holding private discussions with victims in May
Public hearings not expected to start for several months
Initial report due by middle of 2014 but the final report is not expected to meet the end of 2015 deadline
Not a prosecutorial body, but has legal links with state and territory authorities
Will not determine whether any person may be entitled to compensation
Victims can phone the commission to give evidence, make a written statement, have a private face-to-face hearing or speak in public
"And second, I want the royal commission to provide for us recommendations about the future.
"We've let children down in the past as a country. We need to learn what we can do as a nation to better protect our children in the future."
Chairman Justice Peter McClellan said that the commission had already served notice to produce documents on the Roman Catholic church and the Salvation Army.
Correspondents say that the composition of the inquiry panel is unusual - it has six commissioners, enabling one or more to sit in private to hear victims' stories over the next five months. It is estimated that each victim will need at least an hour to tell his or her story.
Justice McClellan warned that the commission would be expensive and would "require the commitment of very significant sums of public money".
Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been a major issue in Australia. There have been a series of convictions but also a series of alleged cover-ups.
In September, the Roman Catholic Church in Victoria state confirmed that more than 600 children had been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s.
Similar allegations have emerged from New South Wales where the church has been accused of silencing victims, hindering police investigations, alerting offenders, destroying evidence and moving priests to protect them from prosecution.
During a visit to Australia in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.
Call to clarify abuse support training
THE peak national body supporting adults abused as children says the royal commission's off to a great start, but is concerned about how well trained its support staff are.
Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) president Cathy Kezelman says the commission's willingness to communicate and inform while setting reasonable expectations is positive, adding that a very thorough process had been undertaken.
She wants to ensure, however, all support personnel have had adequate training, particularly to prevent victims from being retraumatised.
"It's very important for the health and wellbeing of everyone coming forward, but also for everyone involved in the commission," Dr Kezelman told AAP.
"They're being confronted with tales of extreme horror day in and day out, so their wellbeing and health is absolutely critical."
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said on Wednesday the commission will take extensive steps to reduce the stress victims may experience by giving evidence, including having trained counsellors available. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/subscribe/
The ASCA has and will continue to advise commissioners as hearings continue, Dr Kezelman said.
Both the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) and the National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) have welcomed the federal government's funding of a legal advisory service for those considering giving evidence to the commission.
The Author Who's Teaching Boys How to Talk About Rape
by Jen Doll
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and today marks the kickoff of a new program between Macmillan and RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network, to help raise money for survivors of assault. At the heart of this campaign is Laurie Halse Anderson's classic Y.A. novel Speak , which tells the story of a teenage girl who stops talking in the aftermath of being raped by an older high school boy at a party. The book was initially published in 1999. To date, Speak has sold 3,176,161 copies domestically across all editions. Joy Peskin, editorial director of Macmillan's Children's Publishing Group, told me, "The sales never go down."
The dichotomy of the book's age and continuing readership says a lot about where we are on the subject as a nation. Speak is one of the most widely read, long-standing teen books about rape. It's taught in schools, where Halse Anderson herself travels to speak to students about the topic. Yet the news of the day—take what happened at Steubenville, for instance—indicates that the problem of sexual assault remains very real, even increasingly so, nearly 14 years after the book was released. Halse Anderson believes this is because communication still has a long way to go with regard to rape (which received an updated federal definition just a year ago), particularly when it comes to how we talk to teenage boys about sexual assault.
Well before Steubenville, "I was shocked when I realized how ignorant boys are about this," she told me. "It became clear in 2002, after five years of pretty heavy school visits, and people putting the book into the curriculum. In every single demographic—country, city, suburban, various economic classes, ethnic backgrounds—I'd go into a class and talk about the book. And usually by the end, a junior boy would say, 'I love the book, but I really didn't get why she was so upset.' I heard that so many times. The first couple dozen times I sort of freaked, and then I got down from my judgmental podium and started to ask questions. It became clear that teen boys don't understand what rape is."
Halse Anderson cites a couple of reasons for this. For one, there's the old, false, yet still pervasive view that rape can only be committed by "a stranger in the bushes with a gun." That's a perspective not just held by teens; it's also believed by a lot of adults. And if parents think that way, they tend not to feel they have to talk to their teenage boys about rape. Sometimes it's more plainly that they're uncomfortable with any discussion at all. In her talks at schools, Halse Anderson has found that the necessity for informed consent is not a widely understood reality. "When you tell teen boys that if they have sex with a woman who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, they can be charged with rape, they're like, what ?" she says. "No one's talked to these boys. There are a lot of parents who love their sons and don't want to think about them as rapists. But I think they're being naive. It's uncomfortable, but we need to talk about it. Most teenage boys are wonderful, but if we don't have the courage to sit them down and explain the rules, we're failing them."
Peskin adds, "We can't expect our boys to know what's appropriate or not when they haven't been taught. We teach kids right from the start, you don't hit, that's not how you express yourself, but often those conversations don't extend to sex and sexuality. I suspect that some boys engaging in these behaviors don't understand, maybe, that this behavior is wrong."
One would hope that if there is any positive side to be found in news like what happened at Steubenville, it would enforce the view that such behaviors are absolutely wrong, and that rapists should and will be punished. Yet even in the aftermath of a guilty verdict for the boys, commentary from CNN and other outlets about their young lives being "ruined" after the fact (and awful commentary that followed from that around the Internet) seems to indicate that that's not, in fact, the case. Not only rape, but also how we talk about rape—and most of all, figuring out how we talk about it in order to prevent it—remains a serious societal problem.
Parents can't keep their children from committing crimes, and neither can books, but Halse Anderson and Peskin, among others, believe that communication can and does make a difference. Part of the role of young adult fiction is as a parental or teacher assist, to help teen readers understand what happens to the characters in the books, to help them learn from those experiences without, one hopes, having to experience them themselves. A book like Speak , in which a character experiences rape and its aftermath, allows boys and girls to get in the head of that character and realize their own moral stance on the subject. And research has shown that reading the book really has changed how kids view rape, and rape culture. "My experience watching it taught is that many boys don't understand the emotional impact that sexual assault can have on a woman," says Halse Anderson. "The awesome thing is that teenage boys for the most part are pretty amazing people, and when people they respect explain to them the rules of the road—this is why you don't want someone to do this to your sister or your mother, she could lose ability to trust for the rest of her life—the boys go, Ohhhhhh, now I get it . I've seen this happen over and over again."
That's not to say that all books that deal with rape are helpful to the conversation. Earlier this year Y.A. author Maggie Steifvater wrote a blog post in which she demanded "less gratuitous literary rape." She's not talking about books like Speak , she says, but "about novels where the rape scene could just as easily be any other sort of violent scene and it only becomes about sex because there's a woman involved. If the genders were swapped, a rape scene wouldn't have happened." Using rape as a plot device, or to boost character development, is no more excusable than is not talking to your children about rape, perhaps. When we do talk, or write, about rape, we need to make sure we're talking about it in the right way—not sensationalizing, not making it gratuitous, not using it simply as an aspect of a story.
I've noticed, though, that there are relatively few books that address the topic from the perspective of the boy who has committed the crime—and that may be a valuable place to go in support of future discussions. Halse Anderson mentions the award-winning 2005 book Inexcusable , by Chris Lynch, which addresses how "it may be all too easy for a good guy to do something terribly wrong." That's a valuable lesson, too, and Halse Anderson agrees that it's a powerful book (she blurbed it, after all). "My only issue with it is that the main character gets so buzzed when he assaults this girl," she says. "I don't think it's the typical situation we're talking about." Peskin adds, as for what we might in expect in the future, "I would love to do a book like that, from the perspective of the boy—not to excuse the behavior, but to figure out the environment in which the behavior was created."
Whether that manuscript comes to her or not, Peskin says there will certainly be more books about the most challenging topics that require discussion. "I think that young adult literature has changed since Speak ," she says. "I think the marketplace is much more willing to hold books for teens that discuss difficult things and challenges. One of the greatest tools we have to start these conversations are books. Most teens don't want to sit in a room with a grownup and talk about their sexual habits, but if there's a book featuring the issue, you can talk about that stuff and apply the lessons to your own life. I think that's one of the best chances for stopping things like what happened at Steubenville. I hope this can spark a conversation about how we can do better by boys, so they can behave in a way that's more respectful to girls."
"It's time for America to grow up," says Halse Anderson. "We have to change the way we're dealing with rape so there are no more Steubenvilles. Speaking up to boys about the law and the morality of sexual assault empowers men to become men without criminal records and without bars. Hopefully it will move this generation forward, men and women, and maybe they'll raise a generation of kids who really get it, who aren't afraid to speak at all."
The #Speak4RAINN program runs through the month, and includes a matching donation campaign as well as a ‘How Speak Spoke to Me' creative contest, signed book giveaways, a manuscript review, and visit from Halse Anderson to the school that raises the most money. Learn more about it here.
Child abuse, neglect reports to DCS on rise
DCS chief of staff says more people reporting
by Kara Kenney
INDIANAPOLIS - The number of abuse and neglect reports to the Indiana Department of Child Services has increased 15 percent, according to numbers obtained by the Call 6 Investigators.
In 2011, DCS received 151,440 reports of abuse or neglect.
In 2012, the agency received 173,541 reports of abuse or neglect.
As Child Abuse Prevention Month kicks off, child advocates and DCS workers say the trend shows people are more tuned in to the signs of abuse and neglect.
“Reports are up, but that doesn't necessarily mean there's more abuse or neglect taking place,” said DCS Chief of Staff John Ryan. “What it hopefully means is people are more aware of abuse and neglect and are stepping forward and reporting it.”
Ryan said about 18 percent of child abuse and neglect reports turn out to be substantiated.
DCS is making improvements, including allocating an additional $5 million for the Healthy Families program.
They also have a new director, Judge Mary Beth Bonaventura, who took over after James Payne resigned last year.
For Child Abuse Prevention Month, advocates are placing blue pinwheels all over central Indiana as a symbol of the childhood every child deserves to have.
“People are paying attention in a much more concentrated way and they're actually hungry for information to prevent,” said Paula Sellars, child abuse expert and keynote speaker for “Breaking the Cycle” conference. “I don't think we've ever seen that before.”
360 Hoosier children died from abuse and neglect from 2003 to 2010, according to child fatality reports.
Child fatality numbers are not yet available for 2011, 2012 or 2013 year-to-date.
To report child abuse or neglect, call the DCS hotline at 800-800-5556.
Children's Alliance Uses Social Media To Battle Abuse
by Melony Roy
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The Philadelphia Children's Alliance is launching a month-long social media campaign during Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month in April.
The Philadelphia Children's Alliance is using social media to give tips, start a discussion, and let people share their stories about preventing and stopping sexual abuse.
“Our mission is definitely to provide direct services to children when there's been an allegation of sexual abuse,” Executive director Chris Kirchner said. “But we also have a component of our mission that is about educating the community about the extent of the problem.”
The problem is 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will report being sexually abused before their 18th birthday. The 30 day campaign called “April is” balances safety and prevention with help and healing. Anyone can participate in “Tweet about it Tuesdays” and “the 6 word memoir project.”
“We're hoping that people will take the time to think about their take on the issue of child sex abuse and put it into 6 words that we can then post on our website.”
One in three girls is sexually abused by 18: Here's what you can do about it
by Oz Spies
As parents, we do a lot to keep our kids safe, from cutting grapes in quarters to to requiring bike helmets. But there are other dangers out there than choking and head injuries: one in three girls and one in seven boys is sexually abused before the age of 18.
This statistic is one that keeps me up at night. Thankfully, there's a lot we can do to make sure our kids, and our communities, are safe.
April is Child Abuse Prevention month, and the following infographic created by Feather Berkower and Parenting Safe Children shows you how to keep your children safe from sexual abuse. It debunks common myths, offers useful body-safety rules, and gives you specific questions for screening caregivers. Check it out—and then share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.
A few years ago, I attended a workshop led by Feather, a social worker and speaker with over twenty-five years' experience raising awareness about sexual abuse and offering tools that keep kids safe, who's also the author of a book, Off Limits: A Parents' Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.
In our house, we use Feather's body safety rules daily, from discussing playing with clothes on to emphasizing that it's always okay to say no to unwanted touches of any kind, even if it's a kiss from a great-aunt who might be a little offended. Having these conversations in our homes, neighborhoods, and schools helps to create the kind of environment where kids and communities have the tools to fight off predators.
One of Feather's most important points, though, is about listening to kids. If a child express discomfort or dislike, don't dismiss it – take a few moments to ask why, to listen, to try to find out what's underneath that discomfort. It's a good parenting tip that helps build trust and communication, and also creates space to uncover and prevent sexual abuse:
And for the month of April 2013, Parenting Safe Children has generously offered friends of Babble Cares a 25% discount on Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse !
Bradley: Toughen sex-assault prosecution
State Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, is backing legislation to remove the statute of limitations on sexual assaults on minors.
The current law requires prosecution for criminal sexual abuse of a minor must begin within one year of the victim turning 18 years old.
The Bradley backed House Bill 1063 removes the statute of limitations for aggravated or predatory sexual offenses, or criminal sexual abuse where the victim was under 18 at the time. The bill also allows for a 20 year window to prosecute the failure to report certain alleged or suspect sexual assaults against minors.
“We have no greater respsonsibility as a state than protecting our children from harm,” Bradley said. “As survivors of sexual abuse can often take years to come to grips with what occurred and build up the courage to alert authorities, eliminating the statute of limitations for aggravated, predatory or criminal sexual abuse of minors provides victims an avenue towards justice and the potential to stop a sexual predator from harming others.”
“Children who have been victimized by sexual violence experience unimaginable trauma,” said Lyn Schollett, general counsel for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “Sex offenders often prevent child victims from reporting the crime by blaming or threatening the child. This bill will ensure that when a survivor of childhood sexual abuse is safe enough to report the crime, prosecutors can stand ready to charge the offender.”
The legislation passed through the House of Representatives unanimously and awaits consideration in the Senate.
Human trafficking victims are getting more attention from state, police
by Jessie Halladay
Working from a Louisville motel, the prostitute from Chicago found clients through online ads. But when Louisville Metro Police encountered the woman during an undercover operation, they focused not on her as a criminal, but as a victim of human trafficking.
The woman in her mid-20s was addicted to heroin, supplied by a pimp to keep her addicted and working for him, they learned. And when she'd tried in the past to escape, he found and severely beat her.
In the past, police might have treated her as a prostitute who should be in jail. But as part of a shift in attitude in the past couple of years, officers worked instead to try to find and arrest the man who'd forced her into prostitution.
A bill that passed the General Assembly this year, and was signed by Gov. Steve Beshear last month, reflects that shifting attitude toward helping such victims and cracking down harder on those who enslave them.
House Bill 3 strengthens penalties for trafficking — defined as the attempt, recruitment or enslavement of an individual through fraud or coercion, for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sex. Stronger penalties include fines and seizing assets of convicted traffickers to create a fund that will be used to help support victim services.
Also as part of the bill, children found to have been human trafficking victims will now qualify for the same state services as other abused or neglected children. And in cases involving a minor under 18, no coercion or force must be shown.
“For once in the commonwealth, we are going to treat the children who have been victims of trafficking with the kind of services they need and they deserve and we're not going to criminalize their conduct,” Rep. Sannie Overly, D-Paris, said of those who sponsored the legislation.
A statewide advocacy group says police and other agencies have identified 101 victims of human trafficking in Kentucky since 2008, including 44 who were trafficked as children.
The Rescue & Restore Coalition has documented 16 state indictments and one conviction related to sexual human trafficking throughout the commonwealth. There have been at least three other cases in Kentucky identified as human trafficking in which other criminal charges were filed, the coalition said.
Carissa Phelps counts herself among trafficking victims.
“I was basically criminalized and told I was worth nothing,” said Phelps, who added that as a 12-year-old runaway in California she was forced into prostitution by a pimp and an addicted prostitute.
Though she was arrested as a juvenile for prostitution, “No one really addressed the issue that I was picked up with a known pimp trafficker ... nobody ever addressed that issue and I was 12 years old. Today, in Kentucky, we're going to start doing that, which is amazing.”
After landing in a youth detention facility in California, Phelps eventually earned a law degree from UCLA and now works with runaways and other troubled young people to help them find a way out. She has written a book and conducts training for professionals around the country. She visited Louisville to provide training at the Family Scholar House days after the new trafficking law passed.
“We want to believe that it doesn't happen in our own communities or that maybe that person chooses that,” she said. “But there's actually a lot of force and coercion and abuse that happens to people who are being sex trafficked.”
While many think of human trafficking as involving women from other countries sold into sex, about half of the people identified as being trafficked in Kentucky were born in the United States, said Marissa Castellanos, who works with victims through Catholic Charities. Teenage runaways and homeless people are particularly vulnerable to such victimization, Castellanos said.
Still, immigrants do remain a vulnerable population, Castellanos said, noting that often in such cases, traffickers will keep a victim's immigration or identification documents locked away as a means of control.
Louisville Metro Police Sgt. Andre Bottoms, one of the lead officers involved in the case of the Chicago woman found in the motel, said it can be difficult to prosecute the real offenders.
He tried to help the Chicago woman make a case against her pimp, but after about two days of contact and before police could act on her information, she stopped returning calls from police and checked out of the motel.
“It's just frustrating,” he said. “We had a good case and also thought we could help her and get her out of it.”
In another Louisville case, Rebecca Goodwin pleaded guilty last June to facilitation of human trafficking and other charges after being caught during a prostitution sting by narcotics officers. Her co-defendent in the case, Justin Ritter, awaits a trial on human trafficking, set for September.
According to the police report, an undercover officer arranged a meeting in a parking lot to buy sex from a girl. When he arrived, he found a 17-year-old in a car with several people, including Goodwin and Ritter, and they arranged the sexual deal, leading to their arrest.
The 17-year-old told police that she had lived with Ritter and Goodwin for about a month and had been forced into having sex with several men during that time. She said Ritter and Goodwin injected her with heroin and used force to keep her there and working.
Bottoms said he believes the numbers of people being trafficked are significantly under-reported, in part because victims do not come forward themselves and because trafficking goes unrecognized by police and service providers.
“The numbers are probably just staggering,” he said.
Robin Valenzuela, a family advocate at the Center for Women and Families, said it can be hard to identify victims, particularly if the right questions aren't asked.
“Sometimes if we aren't specifically looking for it ... we don't see the broader picture,” said Valenzuela, who has worked with trafficking victims in Kentucky for several years. She said often women are identified as victims of sexual abuse, but the link doesn't get made to trafficking.
But Valenzuela said that is starting to change as more and more service providers, prosecutors and police get training on the issue so they can ask better questions, including whether or not the victim has been forced into her situation or held against her will.
Still, finding resources to combat trafficking are difficult to come by. “It would be so much better if we had some dedicated personnel whose sole job it is to deal with this problem,” said Valenzuela, who had worked full-time on human trafficking issues with Catholic Charities until funding for her position was cut. Now she works at the Center for Women and Families, but only spends a portion of her time with victims of trafficking.
Castellanos, of Catholic Charities, said she is the only full-time trafficking advocate in the state after recent federal funding cuts. Though her salary is funded through a federal grant, she said she now relies largely on private donations to fund services for victims.
Castellanos said getting victims the help they need to become self-sufficient is key to combating trafficking.
“Victims are very resilient if they get the proper treatment and care,” Castellanos said, adding that counseling, safety planning, medical attention and help living independently are among the things victims need.
New Cleveland Rape Crisis Center hotline to help victims of sex trafficking
by Diane Suchetka
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Survivors of sex trafficking have a new phone number to call for free help from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center: 855-431-7827.
The hotline was launched Monday, the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it will help victims escape their abusers and find help once they do.
While many believe forced prostitution only happens in other countries, a 2010 report from the Ohio Attorney General's Office estimated that 1,800 Ohio children between 12 and 17 are forced into the sex trade every year and another 6,300 are at risk of being prostituted, according to a statement from the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center.
The center provides free counseling to all victims of sexual abuse. For more information, go to its website, clevelandrapecrisis.org, or call its general hotline number, 216.619.6192.
Child Abuse Prevention Classes
Free classes are available in Bonham at the Fannin County Children's Center for adults to learn how to prevent, recognize and report child abuse. The classes are designed for parents, teachers, other school personnel, day care workers, coaches, Sunday School teachers and other professionals and volunteers who work with children.
“Recognizing & Reporting” is a 1.5 hour class that utilizes video, class discussion and case studies. Learning objectives include: the realities of child abuse, detailing who becomes victims, who the likely perpetrators are and the prevalence of abuse in all communities, the legal definitions, signs and symptoms of child abuse, how to communicate with a child who makes a disclosure of abuse, how to make a report and how to overcome one's fear's and barriers around reporting.
This class will be offered three times in the coming weeks. For those who want an evening class from 5:30 – 7:00 pm, there are two choices of days: on Tuesday, April 23 or May 7. A daytime class will be offered on May 2 from 11:30 – 1:00 pm.
“Stewards of Children” is a 3 hour class that utilities video, workbooks and class discussion to teach adults how to prevent, recognize and report child sexual abuse. The video includes personal stories from survivors of sexual abuse and education from professionals in the child abuse field. This class will be offered on May 13 from 5:30 – 8:30 pm.
All classes will be held at the Children's Center at 112 West Fifth Street in Bonham. All participants who successfully complete the class will receive a certificate. Thanks to generous donations, there is no charge for the classes. Seating is limited.
To register for a class, contact Tara at the Children's Center by phone at (903) 583-4339, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or in person at 112 W. 5th in Bonham. Provide your name, which class you want to attend and a contact method (phone and/or email).
To schedule a “Stewards of Children” training class on site at your school, church or other youth serving organization, contact Sandy Barber at email@example.com or (903) 583-4339.
To schedule a “Recognizing & Reporting” class on site at your school, church or other youth serving organization, contact Sandy Hood. She can also teach the WHO Program (We Help Ourselves) to children so that they can learn personal safety rules that will encourage them to report child abuse. Contact Hood at firstname.lastname@example.org or (903) 583-4339.
Manatee Glens Sexual Assault Awareness Day pushes tougher laws
Tougher abuse laws against predators urged by Manatee Glens
by DEE GRAHAM
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Survivors of child sexual abuse urged better education and stronger laws against predators during the Manatee Glens Sexual Assault Awareness Day at the same time the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee was unanimously recommending Senate Bill 1114, a bill designed to do just that.
That bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. A similar law, House Bill 7031, already passed the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Activist survivor Lauren Book walked through Lakewood Ranch and Bradenton on Monday as part of her 1,500-mile journey to the state capitol in Tallahassee to call attention to National Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. The "Walk in My Shoes 2013" campaign is Book's lobbying effort to improve state laws, prevent child sexual abuse and extend prosecution rights to older children in Florida.
The two bills would raise the qualifying age from 11 to 16, strengthen controls on sexual predator registration and update Internet language.
Book spoke on a panel in Lakewood Ranch and at a rally in Bradenton with two survivors: Manatee Coun
ty Detective James Wisher, author of "The Boy Who Never Cried Wolf," and Ken Followell, president of the MaleSurvivor organization.
"From the time that I was 11 years old until I was 16, I was abused by my female nanny," said Book. "She was really sadistic and did some horrible things. My family and I decided it was time to turn a very negative, horrific experience into a very positive one. It is to prevent sexual abuse by awareness."
Book was invited by Manatee Glens President Mary Ruiz, events organizer.
"I like to come where the community is actively involved," Book said. "Last year when we were walking through, we had a woman stop us on the side of the road and she said, 'I have to tell you that a friend of mine really needs some help.'"
The passerby started to cry and tell Book about her friend who had been abused as a youngster, and she urged her to bring the friend to Manatee Glens. About 20 minutes later, the woman brought her friend to join them in getting some help.
Book is also working with the Florida Department of Children and Families on a larger Don't Miss the Signs campaign. Followell, Manatee Glens and others made the television show "Intimate Crimes," featuring survivors from throughout the state. It will air at 1:30 p.m. April 13 and 27 on WWSB, Channel 7.
Between 85 percent and 92 percent of childhood sexual offensives are never reported, often because the abuse comes from family members or people with a close relationship to the victim. Family issues and personal consequences complicate reporting abuse, said Cathy Wilson, Manatee Glens director of Children's Services and Community Programs.
Wisher, for example, suffered for 10 years under an abusive stepfather, but didn't report it until he was an adult police officer in his 40s investigating similar crimes.
"My siblings and I decided it was time and we began the process of prosecuting him. It was liberating. That's when I decided there are thousands and thousands of guys like me who need to have their story told," Wisher said. "We need to teach our boys that it's OK to talk."
A survivor of abuse by males and females, Followell was in his 30s before he found MaleSurvivor online.
"I was able to get the courage to share my story with my wife, who I'd been married to for 20 years at the time," Followell said. "Every day someone types those words for the first time that they're too afraid to say."
When a youngster confides in someone about abuse, they need plenty of encouragement.
"You have to tell somebody who takes care of kids. Tell the kid I'm so proud of you for telling me. Normalize it for the kid. They love and hate the abuser at the same time, and they don't want to be responsible for hurting them," said Followell. "Give them some time to get over it, too,"
Wilson encouraged survivors and family members to contact Manatee Glens for support any time. The phone number for the walk-in center is 941-782-4800.
“Most Heroic Pet In America” Visits Newtown, CT
(Adorable pictures on site)
by Heather Wallace Shields
Standing at only 22 inches tall, a miniature therapy horse named Magic is one of America's most heroic pets.
Gentle Carousel, home of Magic and other miniature therapy horses, is an all-volunteer, non-profit charity housed in Gainesville, Florida. Debbie Garcia-Bengochea, co-founder and Education Director, started Gentle Carousel with her husband, Jorge, about 15 years ago when they started working with severely abused children.
“It's kind of advanced and evolved until now, where we work with about 20,000 adults and children a year…” says Garcia-Bengochea, “inside hospitals, hospice programs, veterans' programs, and with children who have experienced traumatic events.”
The charity believes you are never too young or too old to have a special wish granted. For those who need it most, they make your wishes come true by bringing Magic and other miniature therapy horses to you.
The therapy horses also work in assisted living facilities, schools and libraries. They work with adults and children with disabilities, foster children and at risk and abused children.
To add magic to the visit, Gentle Carousel dresses the horses in costumes from mane to tail and make sure to leave you with a stuffed horse that looks like the one who spent time with you.
Each outing is different and specialized, says Garcia-Bengochea. Gentle Carousel adjusts what the horses are going to do based on the situation they are entering.
“We have a team of 26 therapy horses that are out working and they rotate all the time [because] we want to make sure they don't get tired of doing what they do.”
While all the miniature horses are extraordinary, Magic is one of the most requested due to her ability to form a unique bond with individuals in need.
“She has been in the right place, at the right time. She was with someone who woke up from a coma,” says Garcia-Bengochea.
In 2009, Magic was selected as “The Most Heroic Pet in America” by AARP. Magic is the only living animal on Time Magazine and CNN's list of “Ten Most Heroic Animals.” In addition, Magic was in the top ten of Newsweek's “Most Heroic Animals of 2010” and also is the only animal to make it onto the Reader's Digest's “Power of One Hero” list.
Garcia-Bengochea says Magic was with Kathleen Loper, an assisted living resident, when Loper spoke for the first time in years.
“[Magic] went into an assisted living program and went over and laid her head in this woman's lap. I think she was so surprised to see a horse working indoors, that she started laughing and she said ‘It's a horse! It's beautiful!' and we looked up and the staff was all crying because she had been there for years and they had never heard her speak before and they were able to tell her that they loved her and she said ‘I love you too.' She's talked ever since that day.”
After the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the town contacted Gentle Carousel in the hope that they would be able to bring the horses up in time for the first day back at school.
“They said they wanted their children to come home talking about minis and not monsters.”
In December 2012, Gentle Carousel traveled with Magic and the other horses and stayed at a horse training facility in Newtown. During their stay, Da Vinci Equine Emergency Transport LLC, from Poolesville, MD, assisted Gentle Carousel by taking the horses from place to place and keeping them warm at night in a heated horse ambulance.
“We were going to do a library program and they told us you might not have anyone, but probably you'll have a couple of children, maybe two or three, but no one has really been in the library since the tragedy,” says Garcia-Bengochea, “and over 600 people came.”
The miniature therapy horses privately met with first responders, survivors of Sandy Hook and family members of victims at a youth and sports academy.
“The line was continually moving for four hours, while people went to spend time with the horses and, you know, tell their stories. As one little girl said, horses don't tell your secrets.”
Garcia-Bengochea met with the family of Catherine Hubbard, one of the Sandy Hook victims. Gentle Carousel decided to name one of their foals after Hubbard, who was an animal lover.
“It just turned out that this little foal had the same color of hair that she had.”
Garcia-Bengochea said they promised the town of Newtown that they would come back before the school year was over. Catherine and Magic will be making the trip along with their other horses.
“We're starting at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and we're doing Vanderbilt and Nashville and kind of moving our way up.”
During their trip, Gentle Carousel will briefly be staying in Maryland, although they have no programs set in the state. Before moving on to New York and then Newtown, they plan on stopping at the Da Vinci Equine farm. They will use it as a “jumping off spot” to make private visits to foster children in Washington, DC.
The equine ambulance from Maryland will also be helping during this next trip, as well as at a children's hospital in Connecticut and for a few Make-A-Wish visits.
“We kind of feel that therapy animals are born and not made. It takes a lot of training to learn certain skills, but there are things you cannot teach them.”
Garcia-Bengochea says miniature horses are very smart; it takes about 2 years for them to learn the basic skills, but they are constantly learning new things.
“We are asking them to do something that is very unhorse like. To be able to work indoors, to be housetrained, to go up and down stairs and ride in elevators and work around hospital equipment, and walk on all different floor surfaces.”
Garcia-Bengochea emphasized that they make sure to keep in mind that the horses are not toys or dogs, and they need to be treated like such. She said that the horses feel equally safe playing outdoors and coming inside.
“Because they are herd animals, we want them to live the most natural life that they can. So, they do live in their own little herds and have a regular horse life. When it is time for them to go to work, they really enjoy it.”
Gentle Carousel currently works with patients who have had severe brain or spinal cord injuries at Shands Rehab Hospital in Gainesville, FL. This “mutual help program” provides the patients and horses with an irreplaceable experience.
“The [horses] are demonstrating things that the people that are at the rehab program are trying to learn how to do.”
Shands has set up an imitation apartment for patients to use familiarize themselves with. As part of their treatment, Garcia-Bengochea said patients bake horse biscuits in the kitchen for the therapy horses. Horses in training are able to use the apartment too.
“We're able to use the facilities to work with the horses. They can go into this little room that looks like an apartment and learn how to walk up to beds in a hospital, how to move around on different floor surfaces, how to turn and move in very small areas.”
The horses are also capable of walking up flights of stairs and riding elevators, which is a necessity because they never know what to expect during house visits.
Beyond private home and hospital visits, this organization also has an award-winning program, Reading Is Magic, which encourages children to read by bringing to life beloved children's books and relating the story to one of their 26 horses.
The program provides “books, coloring pages, bookmarks, certifications, posters, lesson plan materials, family reading lists, author book signings and book readings with our horses to preschools, elementary schools, at risk youth programs and libraries.”
If you or someone you know would like a visit from one of these special miniature horses or are interesting in getting involved, click here for contact and donation information.
Click here to go to Gentle Carousel's Facebook page.
Stand Up for Children in April
by Ellen Magnis -- Chief of External Affairs, Dallas Children's Advocacy Center
We hold babies with broken arms and skull fractures. A 9- to 10-year-old little girl whose "father figure" has raped or molested her is our most common "client." We see children whose day-to-day existence is worse than most can even begin to comprehend. We lead a children's advocacy center, a best practice model for our community's most challenging cases that might end up in a criminal court process. We work where healing begins for abused children, and while we celebrate when children find their resilience and begin to heal from their trauma, we mourn with our colleagues all too often.
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings and other city leaders, as part of a new campaign against domestic violence, recently stated, ''You can call a man who hits a woman a lot of things, but you can't call him a man." We would expand on that statement. You can call a man who has sex with a child or touches a child in a sexual way a lot of things, but you absolutely cannot call him a man.
According to a National Juvenile Justice Report by Snyder, nearly 70 percent of all reported sexual assaults in the U.S., and this includes assaults on adults, occur to children ages 17 and under.
It therefore bears repeating. A man should never have sex with a child or touch a child in a sexual way, nor should a woman. The subject is difficult, even still taboo. This is not a common topic at our family gatherings, cocktail parties or community rallies. We know it's hard to talk about.
It's our job, however, to think about it and talk about it every day. Our agency serves more than 2,000 children annually, most of them children sexually abused by someone they know and trust. So, we're not shy, not afraid to raise the level of discussion because we know and see these children. We know and see their pain as they work to alter their perspective and beliefs about "who they are" -- as they work to courageously transform from victim to survivor. It is our privilege and responsibility to stand up for these children.
April is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month, and we invite you to join us -- to stand up for children. It doesn't matter what you do. Just take a simple action -- become more aware. Watch an educational video. Read some statistics. Make an effort to talk to your own children about keeping their bodies safe. When they are young we teach our kids to look both ways before crossing the road, we tell them that skull and crossbones on a container means poison, and we warn them about talking to strangers. We don't, however, talk to them about what to do if an adult does something to hurt them or make them feel uncomfortable. Here is some language to weave into several conversations with your own child in a calm, loving way:
I love you with all that am. You are precious to me. It's my job as your parent to try to protect you and help you learn and grow into all that you want to become.
I want to know if someone makes you feel bad in any way, no matter who it is. I want to know if someone asks you to keep a secret from me. I want to know if you're scared, or hurt, or sad, or mad. It's my job as your parent to help you.
I may not say it enough. I may not always say the right things. But I adore you. It's always okay to tell me what you're worried about. If someone makes you feel bad in any way, makes you feel icky or acts in a creepy way -- I want to know. I promise to listen and to hear you.
Remember that your body is your own and that the parts of your body that your bathing suit covers are private. I want to know if anyone tries to touch you there. It's always okay to tell me about your feelings. I want you to know that I am here for you. I am on your side. I am on your team.
It is true that if someone really wants to harm a child, if a true pedophile has his sights on a particular child, there really may be little that we can do to stop it. Just ask the many survivors of Jerry Sandusky. But we have to try.
During April, when our awareness of the public health issue of child maltreatment is heightened more than perhaps any other time of year, we believe that we can all make a difference. We can all send out information via a Facebook post or tweet. For those who want to do more, consider participating in Show Your Blue Day (April 10th), ask those in your place of worship to incorporate child abuse information into the sermon or into the bulletin on Blue Sunday (April 28th). Donate your time to a children's advocacy center in your local community. Tell us what you decide to do at www.istandup.org.
Ellen Magnis is chief of external affairs at the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center in Dallas, Texas, and an OpEd Project Public Voices fellow at Texas Woman's University. Written in collaboration with Mr. Lynn M. Davis, President and CEO, Dallas Children's Advocacy Center.
Mental Health Minute: Young adults can reduce risk of sexual assault
by MARY RUIZ
Every two minutes, someone in the United States is sexually assaulted. About 44 percent of the victims are under age 18, and approximately two-thirds of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
There are many more statistics and numbers. The one fact to always keep in mind -- it is never the victim's fault. Still, there are some steps young people can take to reduce the risk of sexual violence.
Attackers and abusers are not just strangers, but some are peers, relatives, friends and acquaintances. Here are some thoughts from Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) to help stay safe:
Go with your intuition and instincts. If something or someone makes you uncomfortable or you feel unsafe, just leave. Don't worry about what anyone else thinks.
Get to know someone before you trust him/her. Just because someone goes to your school, knows your friends or hangs out where you do, it does not mean he/she has your best interest in mind.
If someone is pressuring you, leave the situation. Even if you have to make up an excuse, it is better to be safe.
Be a good friend and watch out for each other. If you have to separate from your friends, let them know where you are going and who you are with. If a friend is acting out of character or is too intoxicated, get him or her to a safe place.
Keep your phone charged and with you. Make a backup plan, so that you know where and when to meet with friends, even if our phone dies.
Don't post your class schedule or give details about your whereabouts on your social media accounts. Don't put too many details about your vacation plans online, either. If you wouldn't give that information to a stranger, don't put it online!
If a situation seems questionable, take action and say something.
Guard your beverage at a party. Don't accept a drink from someone you don't trust or know well.
Parents of young children can take steps to help protect them. This starts with open conversations to let the child know that it's OK to talk with you when they have questions. Be engaged and get to know the other people involved in their lives.
Teach them that if someone is touching them or talking to them in ways that make them uncomfortable they should tell a trusted adult immediately. That should not be a "secret." It's OK to say "no" to adults they know.
Set parental controls on your computer and set guidelines about who they can talk with online and what they can say.
It is not possible to prevent all sexual assaults. Those who are victims have hope in recovery. Through counseling and therapy, victims become survivors and live full and healthy lives.
Mary Ruiz, is president/CEO of Manatee Glens, a specialty hospital and outpatient practice for mental health and addictions headquartered in Bradenton.
Dealing with Psychological Trauma in Children: Answers from Neuroscience, Community Initiatives, and Clinical Trials for Treating Childhood PTSD
by Shaili Jain, MD
“Susie Ehrens spoke of her daughter who escaped from Sandy Hook with a group of other first graders when the shooter paused. Her daughter, she said, saw her friends and teacher slaughtered before she ran past lifeless bodies and a half a mile down the road”
On December 14 th , 2012 the unthinkable happened. A gunman fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members in a mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut. This incident is the second deadliest school shooting in American History.
Tragically millions of children, all around the world, are frequently exposed to all manner of traumatic experiences. From those of human design such as bearing witness to shootings, inner city violence or the effects of living in a war zone or being the victims of child abuse to enduring the consequences of exposure to natural disasters such as a hurricanes, earthquakes or natural fires.So what is the impact of psychological trauma on children?
To understand more, I recently met with Dr. Victor Carrion, a Professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Director of the Stanford Early Life Stress Research Program at the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. Dr Carrion's research focuses on the interplay between brain development and stress vulnerability. He has developed treatments that focus on individual and community based interventions for stress related conditions in children and adolescents that experience traumatic stress.
SJ: If we consider the example of a child, of elementary school age, who is exposed to a horrific traumatic event such as Newtown what, as a child psychiatrist, would you expect to see over the coming days and weeks i.e. what would be a normal and expected reaction to such an event in an elementary school child?
VC : The school-aged kid is going to have a difficult time understanding his/her emotional life. So, they may somatise e.g. complain of headaches and stomach aches and they are going to want to not go to school. They may not be psychologically minded enough to verbalize what they are struggling with. Kids sometimes do not have the vocabulary to talk about a traumatic event and sometimes they are still very concrete in their thinking.
Also remember, because of media, even if we are not right where a trauma happened we can still be equally affected. An example would be 9/11, where kids in California were following, minute by minute, everything that was happening in the news and when they started showing those pictures of people jumping from the towers that was traumatic for many kids. Our association, the AACAP (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry), actually contacted the networks and they were very responsive and stopped showing those images as soon as we contacted them.
SJ: In your opinion, how best should parents, teachers and caregivers respond to such normal reactions?
VC: It will be important to really encourage discussion after something traumatic happened but not force it. Certainly, not even encourage it in very young kids that may not even know that something happened. Our belief now is that if the kid is 4 and 5 and this is not being discussed at school and they are not watching the news and they do not know that something terrible happened, there is no reason to talk to them about it.
Obviously, if they directly witnessed or experienced something, that is a different story because, as you know, exposure to trauma is one of the strongest predictors of PTSD.
It is important is for caregivers to give children a message of safety and get the message that they are being taking care of and that they will be protected and that nothing will happen to their caregivers. This message of safety is important.
Another piece of this is that children should not be expected to be tough. One of the things that parents can actually model is that it is okay to cry, it is okay to have distress but parents have to be careful in how they balance that with maintaining their safety message and their authority message. They still have to give the message that I am okay enough to take care of you in a good way. But children certainly should be encouraged to express whatever feelings they may have about something that has occurred
Most children, exposed to trauma, are going to have a normal response and be okay with time. With a very small group of these kids, the response is going to continue and is going to become maladaptive and they need extra help. One of the things that is important for caregivers to recognize is when a child's response becomes maladaptive, chronic or continuous. In that event, they should seek out professional help.
SJ: Let's consider the more unfortunate scenario, that this child starts to develop signs/symptoms of a prolonged reaction to the trauma/an abnormal reaction: What are the typical manifestations of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) in children of this age?
VC: Kids tend to show their re-experience of trauma through intrusive thoughts. This means thinking or talking about the trauma when they do not want to. So, they are playing basketball with friends and, all of a sudden, the images of the trauma do not let them enjoy the game or even play it. Or, they are doing their homework but they cannot because they are thinking about the traumatic event. Or they re-experience their trauma through what we call traumatic play. Traumatic play is a way for many children to communicate their experience especially if they are not that verbal.
Then there is avoidance. But with kids is it really avoiding or is it that the kid does not have the words to talk about what happened? There might be a cognitive inability to really talk about what happened but certainly we also see an avoidance of trauma related triggers. For example, if something traumatic happened and it was a rainy day then the next rainy day they may be particularly sensitive or nervous that day.
We see emotional numbing quite often also: kids say that they can no longer feel sad when something bad happens. They feel happy when something good happens but not as good as they used to feel. They may go to a birthday and it is okay but they used to love birthdays before.
The other type of symptom is the physiological hyperarousability. That is what leads many kids to receive a misdiagnosis (especially kids that live in environments where they are surrounded by violence) of ADHD. Now, this gets very complicated, clinically, because kids that truly have ADHD are at increased risk of experiencing traumatic events. For example, they may not see the car coming and they go and cross the street. The kid that has ADHD is at increased risk of experiencing traumatic events which means they may end up with PTSD also.
Then, another thing as I said is that traumas are stressors to the system and you develop whatever you are vulnerable to. It may be that you do not develop PTSD but you develop OCD/a phobia as a consequence of experiencing a traumatic event.
We have always known that having anxiety puts you at risk for developing PTSD but what we have also seen in our data is that developing PTSD is a good predictor of developing other anxiety disorders after having PTSD.
What we also see is that children tend to be egocentric and naturally narcissistic. In kids it is a helpful drive because they get the necessary attention and all that but that also means that if something bad happens, children take excessive responsibility for it and it creates this sense of guilt and guilt is a very good predictor of developing PTSD. This is not survivor's guilt. This is guilt over an act. For example, “there was a fire and I could have prevented it and I did not”.” I was abused and that is because I provoked it or I made it happen”. Whenever there is that sense of guilt after a kid experiences a traumatic experience it is good to start some clinical remediation to correct those cognitive distortions.
SJ: How does this differ from PTSD in adults?
VC: Immediately, when we look at the first criterion for diagnosing PTSD, we already have an issue when it comes to kids. Criterion A requires that the traumatic event make you feel as though your life is in danger/threatened. But if you are younger than 7 or 8, you may not understand death as something that is universal and something that is irreversible.
One of the studies that we did is that we looked at children who had experienced separation or loss and were in that age group and compared them with kids that had experienced physical abuse, sexual abuse, and also had functional impairment. They really did not differ in terms of the amount of functional impairment that they had in their lives, in their personal relationships, and the amount of distress and so forth. So for children younger than 8, what I am saying is that separation or loss is considered a traumatic event. even if they might not have a full understanding of death or loss.
The symptoms of PTSD, in children as well as in adults, are mostly on and off. They are not there all the time and they tend to be triggered by cues. When those cues or triggers are there, that is when you see the symptoms. This becomes problematic if you are conducting a trial and at the end of the trial this group looks like it is doing well, it may be the case that the treatment worked but it might also be the case that there were no triggers/cues around those kids at that time. That is one of the reasons why we need to know about the neurofunctionality or the neuroscience of how traumatic stress impacts development.
For kids it is still a balance between internal and external resources, and it is like a mathematical equation. So you may have a lot of coping and strength and that may be able to help you overcome the lack of support you have in your life or you may have total perfect support but you have so many risk factors to begin with like a previous history of trauma exposure or family history of anxiety disorder that you are more likely to have a post traumatic reaction. I am calling it a post traumatic reaction not necessarily PTSD because some of the work that we have done and also work done by Dr. Michael Scheeringa at Tulane University shows that children do not have to have all the criteria for PTSD listed in the DSM to experience functional impairment. For example, we showed that kids that have PTSD compared to kids that have a history of trauma and symptoms in 2 of the clusters are equally impaired. We still have work to do in terms of how we develop this diagnostic criterion for children. That is one of the things that Michael has done. He has proposed a number of criteria that has less symptoms and also that some symptoms might be somewhat different in children compared to adults
SJ: In terms of the neuroscience of PTSD, how might this look in terms of impact on child development from a psychophysiological, neuroimaging or neuroendocrinological point of view?
VC: One of the things that have been studied for a long time is the autonomic nervous system in children as well as in adults. It seems that those who have PTSD are actually a heterogeneous group and that physiology may help us differentiate between kids that dissociate versus all the kids that might display symptoms of aggression. For example, the kids that dissociate seem to have a lower heart rate when narrating a stressful event or a stressful story. Whereas, those that do not dissociate seem to have increased heart rate but increased heart rate does not seem to be a good marker because it depends where your baseline is. What seems to be a good marker is how long is the latency? i.e. how long it takes you to return to your baseline heart rate after a stressor. So, if the stressor increases your heart rate, kids that are vulnerable or have PTSD will take longer in coming back to a baseline heart rate.
We concentrated on looking at cortisol and identifying what would be a good cortisol marker for this kids. What we find is that these kids have the normal circadian rhythmicity that you would expect (i.e. higher at the beginning of the day and going down at the end of the day) but then at the end of the day it seems to be elevated so these kids have high levels of cortisol. That is what we found about 10 years ago but what we found out years later is that that variable of” time since trauma” is very important.
What we did is we looked at a big sample of kids and we looked at those that had had trauma during the past year and those that had trauma prior to that year. We hypothesized that our theory of increased cortisol was going to hold true for the kids that had it in the past year but not for the others. What we actually found was exactly that and we found 2 reverse correlations where if you had events in the past year, the higher your cortisol, the higher your symptoms of PTSD. Whereas, for the other individuals that had experienced trauma from a long time ago and were still with symptoms of PTSD, the more symptoms, the lower the level of cortisol.
But in general, I would say, that high pre-bedtime (before you go to bed) cortisol in kids, I am starting to think of that as a marker of pediatric PTSD.
Now, if you have these high levels of cortisol, the next normal question was to see what is going on in the brain because of the potential neurotoxicity of cortisol at high levels every day, right? So, we looked at kids who were experiencing chronic trauma i.e. physical abuse, sexual abuse and witnessing a lot of violence.
Cross sectionally there were no significant findings. But in 2007, we followed 15 kids for 1-1 ½ years and we saw that there was a correlation between high cortisol, (pre bedtime) cortisol, and decreased volume from time1 to time 2 of the hippocampus.
Of course, the hippocampus is important for memory storage and retrieval so we did a task in functional MRI, a verbal declarative memory task, to look at encoding and retrieval in kids. We saw that in the control/healthy group, with no history of trauma and no PTSD symptoms, was activating significantly more hippocampus than the PTSD kids were. So we were not seeing the volume differences but, functionally, you can see that the hippocampus really does not work as well in kids with PTSD.
We then decided to look at emotional regulation. We did the faces task and saw that kids that have PTSD activate their amygdala significantly earlier when viewing an angry face. When viewing a fearful face, there was a trend for their pre-frontal cortex to not be as activated as it was in the healthy controls. But the interesting thing about the amygdala activation is that, potentially, what we are talking about is a neuro functional marker of hyperarousability for these kids who have a history of exposure to interpersonal violence. For these kids, the face of someone angry is a cue/trigger and we here see the amygdala getting activated.
So then, we started thinking that treatments that treat these kids better pay attention to emotional regulation, memory processing, and executive function. The other thing we realized is that we could increase the empirical validity of some treatment interventions by demonstrating that they can lower cortisol or decrease amygdala function on this task and so forth.
SJ: What are the most common misperceptions/misunderstandings regarding the impact of traumatic stress on child development?
VC: There used to be this idea that children were resilient just by virtue of being children but there is no literature to really back that up. In fact, we know the opposite. We know that you are more vulnerable when you are younger, when you do not have defensive styles, when your brain is still developing, when your physiology is still developing. It affects you more.
SJ: What are effective treatments for children with PTSD? (psychological therapies and pharmacotherapies)
VC: Trauma focus cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment of choice. It is a treatment that was developed to treat children who have experienced sexual abuse but it has now been adapted to be used in different settings including for children who have witnessed domestic violence.
One of the things that Judith Cohen (the developer of trauma focused CBT) and I are talking about is the need to develop algorithms for treatment. So, the age of the kids, the type of trauma and duration of the trauma would determine which specific treatment a child would get.
But certainly, the first line of intervention for children that have PTSD is psychosocial interventions and it is not medication. Now, do I use medication? Yes. I use medication in 2 scenarios. One, when there is comorbidity and the comorbidity in PTSD is high, it is 80%. So if the child has major depression, in addition to the PTSD, I would want to treat that. That is one scenario. The other scenario is when the severity is so high that this individual may have difficulties engaging in their psychosocial treatment.
But the reality is that we have no pharmacological agent that would target all the neurotransmitter systems that traumatic stress impacts.
We actually developed a manual to treat kids called the Cue-Centred Treatment Protocol. The whole idea here is that it is a hybrid. It has different components that we know help kids, it has: CBT, exposure and psycho education and insight orientated therapy. But the main thing that it does is that it empowers children to be their own agent of change. It is not so much about processing a narrative as teaching you how important a narrative is because the chances that these kids will continue to have traumas after we finish treatment is still pretty high and we want these kids to be equipped in knowing what to do.
We did a randomized controlled trial in East Palo Alto and Hunters Point in Bayview at some schools there and the treatment has shown efficacy to decrease PTSD symptoms and anxiety symptoms when compared to kids put on a wait list.
There are some family interventions too. One is called parent-child psychotherapy. This is worked by Alicia Lieberman at UCSF where she helps children age zero to 5. It gives treatment to both the parent and the child, it is more about their dyad, their relationship and that has also been shown to be effective.
SJ: What are the factors that determine how children, with PTSD, will respond to treatment?
VC: With children, there are 3 factors that we think are very important to the outcome of the psychosocial intervention: Intelligence, motivation, and psychological mindedness. If a child is motivated and they can talk about feelings and they are smart, then the treatments will likely work. For some special populations, like children with mental retardation that get traumatized or children in the juvenile justice system we still need more effective treatments.
SJ: What types of preventative interventions/public health measures do you think are key to reducing the amount of violence children in our society are exposed too?
VC: One of the things that I have done for the past 3 years is that I have been part of this coalition in San Francisco where we have built an ecological approach to the problem of trauma. Rather than just concentrating on models or treatments for the individual, we think of the whole system. We think about their school, we think about their family and how can we, in one place, do preventive work or treatment. We have developed this Centre for Youth Wellness (CYW) which is a place that integrates paediatric care with mental health. So, every time they come for their paediatric checks, they get additional screenings for trauma. In that way, we know very early if they had traumatic events or not and then we start working with them, but not only with them, with their families and with the primary care team that is taking care of them in the same place.
The CYW is also co-located with the CAC i.e. the Child Advocacy Centre. The CAC is the place that, when something traumatic happens, the child will come here get their forensic evaluations and physical exams etc. So, if that family shows up with kids to the CAC, the other siblings can be enrolled right away in the Centre for Youth Wellness. So, we are concentrating a lot on prevention, on interdisciplinary work and concentrating on developing new treatment methods that are empirically validated.
At Ravenswood Family Health Centre, here in East Palo Alto, we have this model where we have a behavioral health worker working with the pediatricians. We looked at referrals and found that when we did a “warm hand off” (between psychiatry and the behavioural health person) there was significantly more follow through and less no shows for treatment.
SJ: What do you envision will be key obstacles to progression in this field? Or what are the major controversies in this field that need to be resolved?
VC: The way that ground mechanisms work in terms of funding for 3 or 5 years or maybe even less than that. This makes follow up research very difficult. We need longitudinal studies to advance our knowledge of what goes on in PTSD.
SJ : What do you envision will be key advances in the treatment/understanding/prevention of traumatic stress in children in the next 10-20 years?
VC: I think working with mathematicians will advance our field, because I think that mathematical formulas are going to help us understand how these variables interact with each other e.g. like genetics and severity of the traumatic event.
I get excited about treatment interventions that can demonstrate that they can actually alter the physiology of someone who struggles with PTSD.
I am excited to know more about how stressors and traumatic events impact the physical health of the individual, for example, through atherosclerosis or pro-inflammation and things like that. This will inform not only our psychiatric practice but I think medicine in general and the role of environment in medicine.
Panhandle holds highest rates for child abuse in Texas
by Shannel Douglas
AMARILLO, TEXAS -- Child abuse has continued to be an issue in the Texas Panhandle. According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the Texas Panhandle had some of the highest reported cases of child abuse in the state last year.
There are about 68,000 children in Randall and Potter County and of those, there have been 1,029 confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect.
"Really the point is not why the numbers are so high, but just one is too many," said CPS Community Initiatives Specialist Darla Ingram with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. "So April is child abuse prevention month and we're trying to do some activities to basically raise awareness."
Ingram said they look at prevention through education and spreading awareness throughout the area.
The Bridge Executive Director, April Leming said that while child abuse is very much a part of our community, there are definite things that you can do to be a part of the prevention. She said paying attention to your children is key.
According to the Bridge, some general indicators include:
- Change in behavior, grades
- High risk behaviors- drugs, promiscuity, etc.
- Running away
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts/attempts
When people see abuse or suspect it, Ingram said that they want people to speak up about the issue.
"It is their responsibility by law to report abuse and neglect," said Ingram. "A lot of times we can't depend on someone else to make that report. You've got to do it yourself."
After a report is filed, an investigation begins to see if there really is abuse or neglect. Investigator Julie Miller said that Child Protective Services main objective is what is in the best interest of the child. She said there are many reasons why abuse and neglect happen within the area.
"Drugs have been a huge problem in the area for a while," said Investigator Julie Miller. "Or they just cannot financially afford their children at this point. Sometimes they just need that extra help."
During investigations of child abuse and neglect, Miller said that Child Protective Services tries to work with families and their problems.
"We try to do our best in keeping the kids with their parents. That's our number one goal," said Miller. "And even if we do take the children out of the home, our number one goal is reunification."
If you know of a child suffering from abuse or neglect, or even suspect it, you can report it at 800-252-5400.
For more information on Child Abuse Prevention Month, visit www.childwelfare.gov
For more information on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, visit http://www.dfps.state.tx.us
For more information on the Bridge, visit www.bridgecac.org
Child Testifies Of Sexual Abuse; Defendant's Own Words Used Against Him
MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) A 32-year-old Grand Bay man is on trial, charged with sexually abusing a little girl.
Prosecutors say 32-year old Kevin Baker would lock a relative in a bedroom, show her porn, then would molest her. They claim it happened several times while the little girl was between the ages of 6 and 11. She's 12 now.
That girl took the stand Monday. Baker set motionless as the girl made her claims.
The little girl spoke in faint whispers, sometimes sobbing into the stuffed animal she was using to describe the alleged encounters.
They are allegations prosecutors say she eventually shared with her grandmother, who then called the authorities. She pointed to the stuffed animal's crotch as she answered questions about where she had been touched, then used that same animal to explain what parts of the male anatomy touched her.
"He made me watch bad movies," she testified.
"When did this happen?" asked assistant district attorney Nikki Patterson.
"When my mom was at work," she whispered.
And there's another worry for Baker. His own words.
Late Monday, prosecutors played a video taped confession, one they claim shows Baker first denying the allegations, then admitting it was true, going into detail about the abuse.
But despite the mounting evidence, there's one person in the courtroom who says it just didn't happen, Baker's sister, Christine.
"He's grown up around my kids, he's kept my kids for weeks," she said. "I even set my children down and asked them, because I have older ones who understand good touch, bad touch. And he kept them overnight and everything."
Cross examination from Baker's attorney, Walter Grant, indicates they'll argue the confession was coerced, and that the girl's grandmother may have had an ax to grind with Baker and prompted some of the little girls testimony.
Just before the trial began, Baker sought to have his attorney removed from the case.
The judge said he'd let Baker represent himself. Baker declined, and the trial began.
It continues Tuesday.
Lawmakers look to lift statute on child sex crimes
WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Ill. - Illinois lawmakers are taking action to increase prosecution of child sexual abuse. The state is looking to do away with the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children.
Right now, prosecution of those crimes has to start within a year of the victim's 18th birthday.
But a measure sailing through the legislature would open up the door for victims to step up at any time.
Young victims of sexual assault may never confront their accuser in a courtroom.
"Perpetrators do a lot of things to children to convince them that there's nothing wrong with this," said Betti Mucha, with the Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center.
Mucha said it's because fear and guilt stand in the way. The abusers keep kids and young adults from speaking out.
"When they realize what's happened to them, they want something done about it," said Mucha.
Often after years of counseling victims come to terms with their abuse. But sometimes by then it's too late to go to court.
Illinois lawmakers hope to change that.
A bill lifting the statute of limitations passed the Illinois House and sits in the Illinois Senate.
"Someone who has done something despicable like harm a child should not be able to get off scot-free simply because some random or arbitrary deadline for bringing a case against them has expired," said Rep. John Bradley.
Jackson County State's Attorney Michael Carr said crucial to securing a conviction would be other witnesses who may have known about or seen the abuse.
"It's a great step if there is corroboration already," he said.
Carr believes the legislation, if passed, could send a message that crimes against children won't go unpunished, no matter the amount of time.
The measure unanimously passed the Illinois House. It's in committee in the Senate.
Should teens be part of PBS doc about sexual abuse?
"Kind Hearted Woman" (Monday and Tuesday, 8 p.m., PBS/Ch. 7) is a beautifully made documentary that goes where filmmaker David Sutherland has gone before.
Into the heart of poor America.
And like Sutherland's two previous PBS projects - "The Farmer's Wife" and "Country Boys" - "Kind Heart Woman" is a beautiful film that reaches out and grabs you by the heart.
The two-part, four-hour documentary focuses on Robin Charboneau, a Oglala Sioux woman who lives on the Spirit Lake Nation reservation in North Dakota. (Her Indian name translates at "Kind-hearted woman," giving name to the project.) Sutherland follows her through three years of her life as she struggles to improve her life and the lives of her two children - and struggles to overcome the trauma of being sexually abused as a child.
It's tough going at times. Heart-breaking. Emotional. Frustrating. Compelling. Important.
It will make you uncomfortable. It will enrage you as Charboneau has to fight her ex-husband - who was convicted of sexually abusing their daughter - for custody of the children.
Charboneau was reluctant at first to get involved with Sutherland's project.
"David was the third person I had ever told about what I endured as a child, and I have no idea what made me decide to do the film," she said.
But she had a dream that prompted her to agree.
"I woke up and I was cold and I was shivering and I was crying and I knew then that - you know what? I have to start speaking out," Charboneau said. "And here's somebody that's willing to listen."
What makes this even more uncomfortable is that her daughter is also involved. And, while Chaboneau is an adult and can make her own decisions, the question of involving a minor - two minors, including her son - in something this public is never really addressed.
"Well, I've always taught my kids that if they have something to say, say it," Charboneau said. "If they have something that they think they need to share, then it needs to be shared and that their voices are powerful. And they've gained that."
This is not to suggest that her daughter has any reason to be ashamed. She did nothing wrong.
But this is a huge decision to take this public. And in the same way children should not be fodder for reality shows, should they be a part of a project like this - no matter how well done or how well intentioned?
"I'm so proud of the both of them and so proud of the things they've done," Charboneau said. "And wherever the road takes them, I've given them everything I have to offer and I've guided them as far as I can."
You can certainly argue that a program like this that shines light on child sexual abuse is a good thing. Potentially, a great thing if it can help prevent it from happening.
Charboneau and her children should be proud.
But is appearing in this documentary the kind of decision a parent should be making for her children? Is this the kind of decision teenager should be making?
I don't have a answer for that. But it remains a troubling question.
Home visiting programs offer hope to reduce child abuse, neglect
by Robert Gregoire and Michael Tracy
Pinwheels are a symbol of hope. During the month of April pinwheels are also the symbol for child abuse and neglect prevention both here in Maine and across the nation.
One of the most hopeful times in our lives is the time in which we are expectant parents. We hope that our babies are born healthy, and we hope that their lives are filled with wonder, laughter, fun, love and good health.
For some new parents, however, the experience can be overwhelming. This is especially true if parents are young and did not have solid parent role models in their own lives. Being a new parent can be exhausting and stressful for everyone. At such times, parents need to learn to how to cope with these situations and how to keep their child safe.
Tragically, too many Maine children fall victim to child abuse and neglect, and the vast majority of these cases are at the hands of adults entrusted with their care. As chiefs of police, no case is more devastating for us to investigate.
More than 4,000 children in Maine were substantiated victims of child abuse and neglect in Maine in 2012, according to the Maine Children's Alliance. This is a particular concern to us, given the fact that this number increased by more than 500 children over the previous year, and, in fact, is a reversal of the previous trend, which showed a decline in cases in 2010 and 2011. Those of us in law enforcement also know that thousands of additional cases go unreported and undetected each year.
The importance of preventing acts of violence against children cannot be overstated. Extensive evidence shows that children who suffere abuse or neglect are more likely to grow up to be involved in later crimes. A small portion of these children, 4 percent in one study, grows up to be violent criminals.
Children who have been abused or neglected are also more likely to face other major hurdles in their lives, often struggling in school, struggling to get and keep a job and struggling in their relationships with others.
It is possible, however, to break the cycle of abuse and neglect, and that is a primary goal and focus of the Maine Families Home Visiting Program.
Last year, these programs offered parenting education to more than 2,000 pregnant women and new parents. The program is delivered in homes by trained specialists, who work to ensure a safe home environment, promote healthy growth and development of babies and young children, and provide key community connections for families.
Forty-three percent of the programs' mothers were 22 or younger when their first child was born; 145 were younger than 18. While the program is available to families facing challenges prenatally until their child turns 3, the average length of participation per family served is 14 months.
For the families involved with the Maine Families' program last year, 92 percent of the children were up-to-date on immunizations, 99.7 percent had a primary care provider, 97.6 percent had health insurance and 88 percent were up-to-date on their well-child check-ups.
Seventy-three percent of parents who were involved with Child Protective Services at enrollment had no further substantiated allegations for child abuse and neglect during their participation in the Maine Families program.
Home visitors also helped families conduct a home safety assessment and worked with parents to address any safety concerns.
Home visitors also identified about 100 children who had developmental delays. They referred these children to early support services to address these delays before the children become school age.
Evaluation of the Maine Home Visiting Program is under way, and it continues to show that these programs are working. The evaluations also help the program best meet the needs of parents and their children.
These programs help instill hope in young and often struggling families. They offer us law enforcement leaders the hope that these families never need our services.
We hope policymakers in Augusta and Washington see the positive outcomes of these programs and continue to support them in the state and federal budgets.
Robert Gregoire is chief of police in Augusta and Michael Tracy is chief of police in Oakland and president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. Both are members of Fight Crime: Invest In Kids, an anti-crime organization of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence survivors.
Ending child abuse
Sinatra center helping more children find freedom from the cycle of harm
by Victoria Pelham
Rosa Nuñez of Cathedral City was 6 years old the first time a man touched her. It was her best friend's father, who lived behind her family's apartment in Guadalajara, Mexico. She felt disgusted, ashamed and scared. She kept quiet.
She felt like she was worth nothing.
Decades later, Nuñez fell in love with a handsome Argentinian at the hotel where she worked. She had only just immigrated to the U.S., spoke very little English and was coming out of a rough divorce with someone from back home. Emotionally, she was down, and she fell head over heels for the man.
But when the man left Nuñez while she was hospitalized for back problems, her two daughters, then ages 9 and 5, approached her and told her that her boyfriend had sexually abused them.
At first, she didn't believe them. She didn't want to.
“The first thing you do is deny it happened,” she said. “It's too painful.”
But after doing some digging, she faced the truth. Nuñez called the police, who referred her and her family to the Barbara Sinatra Children's Center in Rancho Mirage.
The center, a nonprofit that provides counseling for victims of child abuse of every type, was founded by Barbara Sinatra more than 25 years ago. Since then, it has seen and helped treat 18,000 children from Banning to Blythe, said John Thoresen, the center's director.
“Abusers were generally abused as children,” he said. “If we can get them therapy, we can end that cycle of abuse.”
The cost of counseling a child individually is roughly $4,000 per year, according to its website.
The center has six trained therapists who offer outpatient clinical sessions to the children and a psychiatrist who evaluates them, said Rosemary Marta, clinical director at the Sinatra Center.
The facilities are also used to monitor the child's condition when reports of abuse come in to outside agencies such as the police and Child Protective Services. Forensic exams by doctors and forensic nurses and CPS interviews using a two-way mirror are conducted on site at all hours whenever calls come in.
The staff is also seeing more children who have witnessed violence in the home but not been abused themselves, which can often have the same emotional effects as abuse, Thoresen said.
Now, the Barbara Sinatra Center is looking to become a model for other communities in dealing with child abuse. Part of that model includes its close work with these local agencies and its partnership with its neighbor, Eisenhower Medical Center.
It is also expanding services to keep up with the rising demand and the changing patterns of abuse.
“We're trying to do more not less, because we need to,” Thoresen said.
The center has recently added a gardening therapy program installed by College of the Desert's horticulture department and also a tennis life skills group that comes to the center every Wednesday. The tennis curriculum was developed by Charlie Pasarell, former owner and manager of the tournament now known as the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Bosley the Bear, another tool the center uses, visits schools to speak with children and let them know about the signs of abuse in a friendly way. The program, for kindergartners through third- graders, saw 6,000 children this year. The staff is now developing a curriculum to extend it to fourth through sixth grades.
The center is open to all, regardless of cost, and is run largely through charitable donations from the community and its partnership with Eisenhower. Revenue from patients pays less than $300,000 each year out of a $2 million budget, Thoresen said.
The staff is trying to reach out its fundraising efforts to a broader cross-section of the community, including those who they might not have attracted in the past as they tackle the changing face of child abuse in the Coachella Valley and work to keep up with the demand. This includes anyone who can make small donations of $5 or $10.
“There isn't as much communitywide support as we would like,” Thoresen said. “It was a lot easier years ago when Frank (Sinatra) was here. ... But Frank's not here anymore.”
The core mission of the Sinatra Center remains the same, though, since Frank's wife had the vision.
“(Child abuse) is an ugly subject,” Barbara Sinatra said. “No one wants to talk about it, and if you don't talk about it, nothing can be done about it.”
In therapy, children play games, including anger solution games and coping skills games, Marta said.
“All these games are fun, but at the same time, they're designed to work on a symptom the child's displaying, because we have to make therapy fun,” she said.
The treatment also focuses on art work and painting because it allows children to express their feelings in a way that is both cathartic for the children and diagnostic for the therapists. Other therapy tools include sand trays, Legos, playhouses and modeling clay.
Outside of child and family therapy sessions, there are also group activities designed to improve their self-esteem, such as karate classes and fashion shows and makeup.
Nuñez completed two years of therapy with her family and then went on to work as a crisis intervention worker at the center for 10 years, helping others in similar situations. She said the more she attended therapy, the more she liked it.
She saw her children making progress through games they played, and hearing stories in group therapy from other mothers helped her to open up her own memories and move forward. She had completely shut out the memory of her own abuse experience as a child, and she said that remembering it and working through it allowed her to heal wounds that had left her an easy target for abusers.
The treatment also allowed her daughters, who were very angry at their mother for not believing them and shy about the whole experience, to open up. All of them began to discuss what had happened and move forward. The girls realized there were others like them through group therapy, so they felt less isolated in the abuse. The boyfriend apologized in therapy, bringing some closure, although Nuñez decided never to go back to him.
Together, they healed.
“I couldn't touch them. I couldn't hug them. I couldn't express any feelings. I had like a barrier,” she said. “(The Sinatra Center) taught me how to get close to my kids and how to communicate.”
Nuñez said the sessions took away many of the emotional scars that had put her in abusive relationships and, now married to someone else, said that it allowed her to seek out the right kinds of people.
She added the therapy also allowed her to feel self-worth again and ultimately to forgive herself.
“When I got rid of the guilt, I started liking myself,” she said.
Nuñez's daughters now have children of their own, and she said that book in their lives is now closed unless it needs to be reopened to teach her grandchildren.
“It goes around and around and around until somebody stops it like us,” she said. “We stopped the cycle. It's not going to happen to my grandkids.”
Strengthen families to prevent child abuse, neglect
by SARAH CORBALLY
The Department of Public Health and Human Services has seen recent significant growth in the number of reports of child maltreatment received by the Centralized Intake Child Abuse Hotline. The number of children placed in foster care has also increased to over 2,000. Every day, DPHHS staff work tirelessly to carry out the mission of keeping children safe and families strong. However, responding after a report is received is not enough. The work of preventing child abuse requires the efforts of all Montanans, and it starts long before a call is made to the Child Abuse Hotline.
The 2011 Legislature requested an interim study of ways to reduce childhood trauma and its long-term effect on children. The report emphasizes research that the human brain, which grows to 85 percent of its adult size by the time a child is 3 years old, is profoundly shaped by the child's experiences during those years, particularly by the safety, stability, and nurturing that the child's primary caregivers do or do not provide. It stressed findings that unaddressed childhood trauma affects a child's behaviors later in life and can lead to problems such as poor physical health, addiction, and mental illness.
The report also noted these problems can be prevented through early intervention, especially through prenatal care, parent education, family support, and other efforts to prevent or mitigate childhood trauma.
Future generations are counting on us to find ways to help strengthen our families and communities. We can do this by helping to build protective factors in Montana families. There are six protective factors that can help families become self-sufficient and raise healthy, happy, and successful children:
- First, every parent must understand the importance of nurturing and attachment. The essential need for every young child to have a consistent and caring relationship with a parent cannot be overstated or underestimated.
- Every family must have the opportunity to learn about basic child development. Children do not come with instructions, but they probably should!
- Parents need to develop resilience to allow them to parent through the times of stress, and understand that all families have times of stress. This resilience can come from many sources, but it requires that families have the ability and knowledge needed to access outside resources and services in the community when that time comes – without stigma. We all need help sometimes!
- Families need social connections. As we think about the little things that each of us can do to prevent child abuse, think about making connections to families in your community that might not have them. Knowing the families in your neighborhood, and being a positive connection and support for those families with young children, has never been more important.
- All families need solid support. In our communities and our state, we must support those agencies and providers who work tirelessly to ensure that all families have access to food, clothing, housing, and some form of transportation. More often than not, it is Montana's children who lack access to these basic supports.
- Last, the importance of social and emotional competence in children must be understood and promoted by each of us. The skills that our children need to be successful in their careers are built in day care centers, schools, and on playgrounds and ball fields. There is no way to make up for lost opportunities in childhood.
As a parent, I know that it is not enough to provide my own children with the building blocks for a successful future. I know that their success, and the success of the generations to come, depends on how we treat all children. I hope that during Child Abuse Prevention Month, each of us will find a way to strengthen the protective factors of families in our Montana community.
Montana children need a safe, stable family environment. Each individual in Montana can protect children who are being abused or neglected by reporting suspected abuse or neglect. To report concerns about a child's safety, call 1-866-820-KIDS (5437).
Another way to help is by learning more about becoming a licensed foster parent. To learn about becoming a foster parent, call 1-866-939-7837 (866-9FOSTER) or e-mail: AskAboutFosterCare@mt.gov
Children's deaths from abuse still national shame
* Angela Palmer, 4, burned to death in an oven in Auburn, Maine, in 1984; mother's boyfriend convicted of murder.
* Kaydence Lewinski, 5 months old, shaken and beaten to death, in Wasilla, Alaska, in 2007; father sentenced to 30 years in prison.
* Brianna Blackmond, 23 months, beaten to death in Washington, D.C., in 2000, two weeks after judge removed her from foster care and returned her to neglectful mother; godmother convicted of murder.
* Samuel and Solomon Simms, 6-year-old twins, strangled in Baton Rouge, La., in 2007; mother pleaded guilty of murder.
* Jaydon Hoberg, 17 months, raped and suffocated in Columbus, Ohio, in 2006; mother's boyfriend convicted of rape and murder.
* Chandler Grafner, 7, starved to death in Denver, in 2007; foster parents convicted.
* Prince McLeod Rams, 15 months, drowned in Manassas, Va., in 2012 during a visit with his father.
These horrific cases from different times and different parts of the country, like hundreds of other incidents each year in which children die as the result of abuse and neglect, attracted attention. Grisly details of the children's deaths generated headlines and sometimes action -- a person arrested, a case worker blamed, an agency director fired, a local law changed.
What has been lacking is a systematic examination of policies and processes or the development of a comprehensive strategy to prevent such deaths. That may change with establishment of a national commission that will evaluate prevention and intervention efforts and recommend how federal, state and local agencies can strengthen protections for children and vulnerable families.
The Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities is the result of legislation, the Protect Our Kids Act of 2012, that got broad, bipartisan support in the House, passed the Senate unanimously and was signed by the president on Jan. 14.
The commission will consist of 12 members, six to be named by the president and six to come from Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. Members are expected to be named next month.
It comes none too soon. Even as the overall rate of child abuse has declined, there's been virtually no decline in the rate of child abuse fatalities. Experts estimate that more than 2,000 children die from abuse and neglect each year, with nearly 82 percent of the victims under the age of 4.
The Every Child Matters education fund points out the 15,510 children known to have died between 2001 and 2010 is about 2.5 times the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, these numbers are underreported because there is no national standard for reporting.
Improving the collection of data, a key to devising better solutions, is among the commission's missions, along with studying best practices and examining demographic and risk factors that may predict maltreatment. The commission will take a broad, multidisciplinary approach that will allow it to discuss and recommend ideas across boundaries that may normally limit such efforts -- such as the lines between federal and state government, courts and child welfare agencies and health-care providers and law enforcement. We hope the commission takes a look at how confidentiality laws intended to protect children are perverted to thwart scrutiny.
Commissions always run the risk of producing expensive and ignored reports, but Congress structured this one to improve its chances for success. It must complete a report by a specific deadline, and federal agencies are required to respond to recommendations within six months. Political leaders will then need to follow up.
-- The Washington Post
Painting the town blue for child abuse awareness
by CHRIS AGEE & LIBBY CLUETT
PALO PINTO COUNTY – Two upcoming events are designed to illustrate the number of local children currently in the child protection system.
April is Child Abuse Awareness Month, which is commonly represented with the color blue, and local agencies are using the color to draw local attention to a widespread concern.
A fundraising event for the Palo Pinto County Child Welfare Board (formerly known as the CPS Board) will be held Thursday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Steve Perdue Training Center, just south of city hall.
This "Go Blue Day" event will include a barbecue lunch – for a donation – and silent auction. Door prizes will also be distributed during the lunch.
Proceeds from Thursday's lunch will benefit the Child Welfare Board and its efforts. The board will give out blue bracelets for each person who makes a donation.
The board also wants citizens to know that Chili's Restaurant will donate to the Child Welfare Board a portion of its proceeds from Tuesdays in April for any diners who show a "Go Blue For Kids" flier, available at the lunch. For more information, call (940) 328-2220 or (940) 445-0797.
CASA of Palo Pinto and Parker Counties is getting a jump on the monthlong celebration with an exhibit in Weatherford, Saturday, and will host a similar presentation later in the month at the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce.
The local exhibit will take place April 19, noon to 5 p.m., and will include one pinwheel displayed on the chamber's lawn for each Palo Pinto County child in CPS care.
In this county, that number is 104, and CASA Executive Director Barbara Tucker said the exhibit is meant to emphasize the importance of reaching the young victims and working toward preventing future abuse.
"Half the children in the child protection system in Texas do not have CASA volunteers to advocate for them," she said. "Many fall through the cracks of an overburdened system, but the half who do have a CASA volunteer are more likely to grow up to be healthy, productive citizens."
Other area agencies and organizations will take part in the awareness campaign with blue ribbons and adornments across the community.
Typically, the Palo Pinto County Child Welfare Board has an annual balloon release, but a shortage of helium has curtailed this year's release. They would have had 176 blue balloons, representing abused children in the county in 2012, and one black balloon for a child that died at the hands of abuse. Instead, they will give out large blue ribbons for citizens to tie on flagpoles, fences and any visible locations around the county.
CPS Board Treasurer and Rainbow Room Coordinator Cheryl Berry researched the rise in child abuse cases in Palo Pinto County over the past decade. Based on the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the county had the following confirmed victims of child abuse and/or neglect:
|• 2002 – 62 cases.
• 2003 – 79 cases.
• 2004 – 94 cases.
• 2005 – 75 cases.
• 2006 – 95 cases.
• 2007 – 94 cases.
|• 2008 – 100 cases.
• 2009 – 158 cases.
• 2010 – 160 cases.
• 2011 – 114 cases.
• 2012 – 176 cases.
• 2013– ????
Berry said that what stands out to her is that since 2008, the number of child victims of abuse and/or neglect has not been below 100.
Unique center serves as advocate for child abuse victims
The Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota is a serene environment in which children are examined and interviewed following instances of maltreatment and abuse. We talk with the executive director to get an idea of what the center does, and how predators “groom” their victims.
by Justin Glawe
BEMIDJI – The hallway is quiet and clean.
Its walls are painted with bright blue skies, flowers, golden suns, butterflies and birds. The hallway leads victims of abuse to safe places, where truths that would cause most to shudder can be told.
They are often children. And they are often confused, timid and scared.
It is a soothing environment that belies the stories of abuse, neglect, violence and victimization that are told there.
It is the only place of its kind in northern Minnesota, serving 17 counties and the Red Lake, Leech Lake, and White Earth reservations.
“People don't like to talk about this, and it's hard to wrap your head around it,” says Aria Trudeau, Executive Director of the Family Advocacy Center of Northern Minnesota.
“This” is sexual abuse, and the Family Advocacy Center in Bemidji is home to that clean, quiet and soothing hallway.
“I think that first we need to become cognizant of the fact that child sexual abuse doesn't discriminate,” Trudeau says. “It knows no boundaries. It knows no socio-economic status, no race, no sex.
“It doesn't matter what neck of the woods that you live in, or how much or how little education that you have, or if you're a boy or a girl. It just doesn't matter.”
A safe place
The hallway sits just inside a glass door, tucked into the corner of a building not far from Lake Bemidji. It leads children to a room with trucks and dolls. Color-splashed walls serve as an art gallery. A table not more than 2 feet high offers a workbench for the child artists; its centerpiece, a box of markers and crayons, colored pencils and pens.
This is the playroom. It is a place for children to be children, and nothing else. The work of discovering the abuse takes place elsewhere.
“We see over 200 kids a year,” Trudeau says. “That number is not high compared to what we know about child sexual and physical abuse.”
Here's what else she knows: Most instances of abuse, 90 percent Trudeau says, go unreported; most take place more than once and, often, over an extended period of time; most are committed by a person who is close to the victim or the victim's family; and, most disturbingly, the perpetrator will “groom” the victim to establish a trusting and close relationship.
“Really what that means is that it's not typically likely that a perpetrator is going to start touching a child right away,” Trudeau says. “They're going to groom that victim.
“Sometimes they'll establish a great deal of rapport with the person before anything starts to happen. When stuff does start to happen, which is little, subtle stuff, the child might not recognize that it is even happening. And by the time it is to the point of something that's really uncomfortable to the child, it's just so very confusing because it's like ‘this person that I like so much is doing this, but I don't think this is what grown-ups are supposed to do. But maybe it is.'”
The abuse begins with seemingly harmless closeness, becomes confusing behavior and often ends with a horrendous act, and the victimization of a child.
“It's a process,” Trudeau says.
Funded by charity
The hallway that welcomes children was painted by Bemidji State University students who volunteered their time for the project. It is fitting considering how Trudeau's facility pays its bills.
Taxpayers have nothing to do with the work that goes on here. No federal or state grants go to keep the lights on and the hallway heated. Sanford Bemidji Medical Center plays the largest role in keeping the Family Advocacy Center going, but donations from members of the community, often anonymous, also help.
Those donors help to keep the hallway clean, but they also pay the salaries of the five women who run the facility. Two have the responsibility of providing medical analysis and treatment of both adult and adolescent victims of abuse. Two more employees – a family support advocate, who provides assistance in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of abuse, and a family care coordinator, who constructs a plan to deal with the long-term effects of abuse – round out the team.
Then, there is Trudeau. She is the person who children can confide in. Her office is their safe place, where they can speak.
There are many reasons why her center needs to exist, Trudeau says. But the discovery of abuse, often a painful and traumatic admission of victimization by a child still struggling to understand what happened, is the biggest one of all. The safety and serenity of Trudeau's halls and rooms offer a single space in which children can speak about what happened to them.
Pieces of the investigation and recovery process -- interviews, medical exams, referrals and family support services -- are clustered at the center.
“It's not about the what and the how of what we do,” Trudeau says. “It comes down to the why for me. I wouldn't want my children or your children shuttled all over town to give the depositions. I often think, where would children go if our center didn't exist? How would the services be coordinated?”
In all, 321 children passed through the Family Advocacy Center in 2012. According to records there, two were endangered by drugs, nine were victims of neglect, 35 were witnesses to violence, 39 were victims of acute sexual assault, in some cases, rape, 54 were physically abused and 182 were victims of some form of sexual abuse.
A 2013 study by the state's Department of Public Health showed that 10 percent of Minnesotans were sexually abused as children.
In a devastating appraisal of the situation, Dunn says those who are abused as children often go on to commit the same acts themselves, representing a disturbing cycle of abuse handed down from victim to victim.
“Children who have been mistreated are often afraid to tell anyone, because they think they will be blamed or that no one will believe them,” Trudeau says. “Sometimes they remain quiet because the person who abused them is someone they love very much, or someone they fear very much, or both.”
In 96 percent of cases, Trudeau says, children are abused by people who are close.
“It's really a crime of secrecy. There's a lot of shame and guilt that goes along with being a victim of that.”
That's why the hallway, the offices and playroom, the employees and atmosphere of the center are welcoming, soothing, unassuming and peaceful.
They must be, so secrets can be spoken softly and safely.
“Sometimes, they haven't disclosed abuse at all. And until an environment is created in which they feel safe enough to talk about something, then they do,” Trudeau says. “It's all about the child here.”
Telling the story
Trudeau and her colleagues are not necessarily in the business of investigation, she says. They are there every day to have conversations. This is the distinguishing characteristic of the center, and one that Trudeau takes seriously.
“Essentially we're the front-liners in the investigation of child abuse,” she says. “What that means, though, is that we're unbiased front-liners. And so our job is to create an environment that encourages the accuracy of the child's statement.”
There is no leading and, only if the situation requires it, some asking. In Trudeau's office, there is mainly talking.
“We acknowledge that some kids don't have anything to tell, or today's not their day to talk about it. And we're OK with that,” she says.
Just inside the glass doors and at the threshold of the hallway is another path. At its end is a conference room with a large television and a table where employees of the center consult with parents of victims, and review interviews that are sometimes later used as evidence against perpetrators. Across this second, painted hallway is a small, hospital-like room with medical supplies.
It is here where the physical well-being of victims and non-victims alike is checked. The center, along with dealing with victims of sexual abuse, also conducts forensic examinations of the physically abused, neglected, those who are endangered due to exposure to drugs and those who have been witness to violence.
“We might be the front-liners in the investigation of abuse, but our goal doesn't stop there,” Trudeau says. “We are going to give them a medical exam so that when they walk out of these doors, they know that their body is normal and healthy.”
The center sees victims who are adults and children. This fact, combined with their domestic violence intervention program, makes the Family Advocacy Center unique.
It is one of only a few places of its kind in the country.
“The benefit of having us in your community is this is all we do every day,” Trudeau says. “We're unique because we're kind of a family violence center. We serve all types of victims under one roof.”
The signs of abuse are difficult to distinguish. Often, they are concealed with silence spawned by fear and shame. There are no typical victims, and no typical perpetrators.
The secrecy of the crime and the confusion of its victims aids in its lack of detection.
“The fact of the matter is that, it could be my children or your children or your neighbor's children. We think that it doesn't happen in our home or our community, but it does,” Trudeau says. “To get that point across is important, and I don't know how to do that.”
There is, however, one thing that can be done to protect the innocent.
“If a child tells you something has happened, you have to believe them,” Trudeau says. “You need to believe them.”
Child sex tourism: Toronto lawyer kept travelling despite child porn convictions
The shadowy world of a one-time Toronto millionaire is the latest story in a Star investigation into legal loopholes exploited by child sex tourists.
by Robert Cribb Jennifer Quinn and Julian Sher
Matthew Sheard's distinguished family lineage flows from an early Toronto mayor to one of the city's first medical officers of health to contemporaries who include a respected physician brother and a cousin who sat on the bench of Ontario's Superior Court of Justice.
Matthew himself spent his career as a lawyer in Toronto.
But in his private life, the retired 83-year-old inhabited a shadowy, scandalized world far from his esteemed family.
While his story has never been reported, police say Sheard's string of convictions for creating child pornography featuring young boys overseas provides a case study in how sexual predators can exploit the justice system and leave behind a trail of victims.
“He's got every creepy aspect behind him,” says Det. Const. Jeff Kidd with the Toronto police's child exploitation unit, who led the Sheard investigation. “He didn't have any issues about what he was doing.”
An ongoing Star investigation into child sex tourists has uncovered a system rife with loopholes that fails to track convicted sex offenders leaving the country, inform foreign authorities of their impending arrival or give Canadian border authorities access to the sexual offender registry that would flag their arrival back in Canada.
In response to the series, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has vowed to plug the holes that allow Canadians to abuse children overseas with impunity.
On four occasions between 2000 and 2010, while in his 70s, Sheard was convicted for various offences related to sexually exploiting young boys and breaching his probation — a decade of repeated travel abroad in which he exploited children and young men, according to his arrest record and interviews with Toronto police.
Sheard, now living in a rooming house in downtown Toronto, declined the Star's request for an interview.
His run-ins with police for seeking sexual gratification with children overseas began in the winter of 2000, when he spent six months in a Thai prison for exploitation of young boys, according to interviews with Kidd and Sheard's retired judge cousin, Joseph Sheard.
“It takes a long time for people to understand these are pictures of real kids. If they saw their own kids in these pictures it'd be a different story.”
Det. Const. Jeff Kidd of
Toronto police's child exploitation unit
“He was involved in juvenile pornography,” said the 89-year-old Joseph Sheard, who for a time acted as a surety for his cousin, with whom he continues to communicate.
“I found the idea of sexual connection with boys positively horrifying and most distasteful … But you don't talk people out of it who have that predilection.”
The first reference to Sheard in Canadian police records is in 2002, and again in 2004, when Toronto police recorded his name in “occurrence reports,” the details of which are not public.
The Ontario Provincial Police also registered Sheard in a separate occurrence in 2004.
His first arrest came in 2006 after Sheard visited a Stratford photo shop to get vacation photos of young boys enlarged.
A store clerk, alarmed by the images, called local police.
The resulting conviction for “corrupting morals” came with a $1,000 fine.
His plea on a relatively minor charge meant his name wasn't placed on the province's sexual offender's registry and he faced no limits on his ability to travel abroad.
“They treated it very mildly at the time,” Kidd said. “It takes a long time for people to understand these are pictures of real kids. If they saw their own kids in these pictures it'd be a different story.”
The fine did little to alter Sheard's behaviour, a police report from 2009 says: “This did not stop (Sheard) from possessing child pornography, he only made more.”
During what police call one of his frequent — and extended — trips after that conviction, he continued to exploit young boys, says Kidd.
“Usually he flew into Thailand and jumped to Cambodia. He had people there who would provide the kids and he kept them in certain hotels … It was give and take. He has something they don't have and they have something he didn't have.”
Sheard exchanged hundreds of written letters with Thai boys who referred to him as “papa.” He, in turn, referred to them in letters obtained by police as his “f--- boys.”
“He probably had 50 pounds of pictures (with him) when he came back,” says Kidd. “But he never got searched.”
The border agents at Canadian airports who do the preliminary passport checks do not have access to the Canadian police database that contains criminal records.
Sheard's lifestyle was financed through a seven-figure inheritance he received at the age of 17 when his physician father died, leaving him a millionaire property owner, says Sheard's cousin Joseph.
The inheritance included four duplexes in Forest Hill and uptown Toronto and half of his father's fortune, which he shared with a half-brother physician named Charles, now dead.
“He used to be regarded as rich uncle Matt when he had all that property,” his cousin recalls.
But over time Sheard's wealth gradually slipped away.
“He went into the world and became a multi-millionaire but then he made some bad investments, one after another . … He bought real estate and sold it at a loss about four or five times.”
On April 3, 2008, Sheard boarded Cathay Pacific Airline flight 827 from Pearson International Airport, landing at Hong Kong International Airport. A second Cathay Pacific flight — 701 — landed in Bangkok two days later with Sheard on board, says a detailed arrest record obtained by the Star.
He spent several days in Thailand before moving on to Vietnam and Cambodia.
Sheard accessed boys as young as 8 in these countries through a “third party,” the police report says.
He would supply them with food and alcohol and then take photographs of them with erections and, in some cases, take “plaster casts of the erect penis.”
He would then bring the photos and casts back to Toronto to add to his collection, says Kidd.
After two months, Sheard boarded a Cathay Pacific flight back to Toronto via Hong Kong and Anchorage, Alaska.
A camera seized by police in Sheard's luggage contained a 35-mm film that contained 17 photographs. Among them was the image of an Asian boy aged between 8 and 10, the police report says, “with his hands over his head and his pants down around his knees. The boys' genitals are clearly visible.”
Another photo shows a “topless Asian male sitting on (Sheard's) knee with (Sheard's) arms wrapped around him.”
The rest of the pictures contained undressed adult males with erections posing for the camera.
The police arrest report at the time says Sheard, then 78 years old, “readily admits he is a gay male and gay people do these types of things. He states he regularly goes to Thailand for a couple of months at a time. He states that he is not a sex tourist or a pedophile.”
The investigation found Sheard also travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia “for only one reason … This accused has been exploiting children for years to satisfy his sexual interests. He not only possesses child pornography, but he makes his own child pornography through the hands-on sexual abuse of children.”
Sheard revealed no signs of remorse for “years of child abuse,” the report says. “It almost appears that the accused has adopted an attitude of ‘I don't care.'”
In March 2009, he pleaded to child pornography charges and was sentenced to 43 days in jail (in addition to the 101 days already served) and given a three-year probation, court documents show.
“To cross the border with that kind of stuff in your suitcase doesn't show much common sense,” says Joseph Sheard. “It was idiotic.”
That 2009 conviction finally placed Sheard's name on the sexual offender registry — but that did little to deter his travel.
While he couldn't get a Canadian passport after release from jail, that didn't stop him from flying to Grenada with a Grenadian passport he easily obtained, says Kidd.
His now-deceased brother Charles had a home on the island where the two spent time together, says Joseph.
But while the Grenadian passport got Sheard out of the country, it couldn't get him back in.
“It wasn't accepted by the U.S., where he had to go through,” says Kidd. “So he sent his brother back (to Toronto), who is 91 years old, who made an application to Passport Canada and Foreign Affairs saying, ‘I can't sustain my life without my care provider.' ”
With an emergency Canadian passport in hand, Sheard returned from Grenada to Toronto in 2010 when he re-emerged on the police radar.
“When Foreign Affairs took his passport application and realized he was banned, they contacted (Canadian Border Services Agency) and they alerted us when he'd be coming back through Pearson,” says Kidd.
Peel Regional Police at Pearson were standing by.
“That's when he got caught coming into the country with more images of (naked) kids,” says Kidd. “Peel Regional Police did their investigation and determined it didn't fit the definition of child pornography but it fit the definition of breach under his probation, which is that he isn't able to have any pornography at all.”
Sheard's plea resulted in another 30 days in jail (in addition to 60 days of pre-sentence custody) and another three-year probation.
Today, Sheard lives in a rooming house on Carlton St. in Toronto.
The $1,400 pension he lives on — almost entirely consumed by his $1,200 monthly rent — has left him a long way away from the life of privilege and wealth he once had, says his cousin.
“I don't have that much feeling for him. I feel an obligation to him because he's my cousin and because there are no other people to do anything for him. He has no friends.”
These days, their contact is limited. Joseph and his wife take Matthew for dinner on occasion.
“He's not the most entertaining person and I don't count the days until I see him.”