National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery


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

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

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

April - Week 3
MJ Goyings
Many, many thanks to our very own "MJ" for
providing us the majority of the daily research
that appears on the LACP and NAASCA web sites.
Ms. Goyings is a Registered Nurse and lives in Ohio.

Los Angeles

Child homicides down, suicides up in Los Angeles County

Agencies seek the public's help to at-risk-children

by Christina Villacorte

The number of children murdered by their parents and caregivers in Los Angeles County declined in 2011, but the number of youths who committed suicide increased, according to reports released Friday.

The Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect recorded 239 child deaths in Los Angeles County overall in 2011, including 24 homicides within families and 19 suicides.

The rest were accidental and undetermined deaths, the latter mostly babies suffocating in unsafe sleeping environments, including co-sleeping with a parent.

The 2011 figures were the most recent available in the current report.

The death of even one child is too many, said Sheriff Lee Baca, who chairs the interagency council. The panel's members come from L.A. County, city, state and federal agencies, community organizations and individuals coordinating the development of services to prevent child abuse and neglect throughout the county.

The number of children dying at the hands of their parents or their mother's husband or boyfriend declined since 2008, when 34 cases were recorded.

The 24 cases recorded in 2011, however, included six families who had had prior contact with the county Department of Children and Family Services.

Phil Browning, head of the county family agency, noted that percentage is significantly lower than the previous year, when half of the families involved in child deaths had interacted with social workers in some way.

He said the six deaths should be seen in the context of his agency having about 35,000 wards overall.

"Very few situations have resulted in a near-fatality or fatality," Browning said.

Nevertheless, he admitted mistakes may have been made.

"Sometimes, I see decisions made by many of our social workers and I wonder why that decision was made," he said. "All too often, caseworkers are overloaded. "

According to the report, 90 percent of the children who were murdered were under age 5. More than half were babies under a year old.

Browning urged the public to call the agencies' child abuse hotline "" 1-800-540-4000 if they are worried about a child's welfare.

The reports also showed suicides have been on the rise since 2009. The 19 cases recorded in 2011 "" most of them involving hanging "" exceed the 15-year average of 17.8 suicides per year.

Meanwhile, the report noted 88 accidental child deaths in 2011, significantly lower than the 121 cases recorded five years ago. Most were car accidents.

The number of undetermined deaths is on the decline "" 108 cases in 2011 versus about an average of 125 during the prior four years. Most of the deaths, however, were preventable. Two-thirds involved babies in unsafe sleeping environments, including co-sleeping, too-soft bedding, excessive swaddling, loose objects in the crib. Babies are also at risk when sleeping prone or on their side.


Los Angeles

Change to California law makes child abuse harder to track, police say

by Tami Abdollah

LOS ANGELES - Law enforcement officers and child welfare advocates are concerned about a little-noticed change to California's child abuse database, saying it could hamper their ability to keep tabs on hundreds of suspected abusers who work with kids outside the home, including teachers, coaches and clergy.

The database is used to flag such people when they apply to work with kids, adopt or take on foster children. It was changed in 2011 to protect the rights of the accused and shield the state from lawsuits, but one provision prohibited police from submitting suspects' names to it.

That meant that the nearly five-decade-old repository now only has names added by state welfare agencies, which report people in charge of a child's custody or care such as parents, guardians or foster parents. Police say this creates a gap in information that limits their ability to establish a pattern of abuse, especially if a suspect moves often.

It's not known whether anyone who previously would have been flagged went on to abuse a child since the law's change, though police and social welfare groups are concerned that could happen.

"My worry is that an institution like a school district, a preschool or somebody is going to run an individual to see if he has any history and come up with nothing, when in fact law enforcement had an investigation," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott, of the Special Victims Bureau.

On Friday, Los Angeles County's Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect unanimously approved a motion at its annual meeting to recommend the change be rescinded.

The law's author, State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, stands by the change, saying it was needed to ensure innocent people weren't unfairly flagged and noting that police still have the power to arrest someone if they can substantiate allegations against them.

"They can't just place somebody's name (in the database) just because they think somebody's guilty," he said.

The dispute over the database is an example of the balancing act between the mission of law enforcement and child welfare agencies to identify abusers and prevent them from victimizing more children and the need at the same time to protect the constitutional rights of the accused.

Since its inception in 1965, the Child Abuse Central Index has been tweaked repeatedly. It's housed by the California Department of Justice and includes basic information like name, birth date and the agency that can be contacted for more information.

The index is used by police, child welfare agencies placing foster children, and in employment screenings by schools, childcare providers, and organizations like the YMCA that work with youth.

Though the database has been around for decades, it was a 1980s case in the San Francisco Bay Area involving a daycare provider who over years abused dozens of children and murdered one that invigorated efforts to ensure a robust central repository of suspected abusers, said Lawrence Bolton, former chief counsel of the state's Department of Social Services.

Eleanor Nathan had been investigated by multiple jurisdictions, but the case against her stalled because police were unaware of her past. It was a doctor who recognized injuries on a toddler matching another child who went to the same daycare provider, who connected Nathan to the abuse.

The latest change, approved by the Legislature without any significant opposition, was the result of the state spending millions of dollars to defend lawsuits brought by people whose names appeared on the database though no criminal charges were brought.

Ammiano's original bill sought to block from the database cases in which an investigation of abuse allegations was inconclusive and to ensure an appeals process to remove someone's name. But then the provision was added to bar all police reports, including "substantiated" cases in which an investigator believes evidence "makes it more likely than not" that abuse occurred, but that the person may never be arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

As of April, the database held 672,634 individuals with substantiated cases, 41 percent of which came from law enforcement reports that were submitted prior to the change, according to the state Department of Justice. No law enforcement reports were added since the change.

The change received little attention at the time and even many law enforcement agencies weren't aware until after it took effect. Long Beach police Sgt. Janet Cooper said her department found out when the reports it forwarded to the state were returned months after, raising concerns for her about the potential problems omitting such information could cause.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. Wayne Bilowit, who tracks legislation for the agency, said "it was a failure on everyone's part."

"It was a very long bill," he said. "I don't think we all understood, particularly those in Sacramento, how all the pieces fit together."

John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, said the group had no hand in the details of the provision but will study whether they need to push for a change. Nick Warner, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriff's Association, did not recall the language in the bill.

Ammiano rejected claims that law enforcement was unaware of the change. "We had a thorough legislative process and a vetting, we talked to both houses, and law enforcement was part of that process," he said. "I think that they're beating a dead horse."

There's no statewide data to determine how many people were kept off the database since the change. But in Los Angeles County alone, Scott estimated his department had at least 375 substantiated cases last year. And the county's child welfare agency is reviewing the impact of the law change.

Scott and other law enforcement officers argue that it's not always possible to make an arrest despite evidence that substantiates allegations. Sometimes the case is beyond the statute of limitations, the victim is too young to testify, or the prosecutor may not believe there's enough evidence to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" threshold and declines to press charges. Without an arrest, no record is generated.

"Do you want us to arrest every single person because that's the only way they're going to be tracked?" Scott said.

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, supported Ammiano's bill but is willing to look at it again.

"We want as much information in as constitutionally permissive to keep kids safe," while balancing due-process rights, Mecca said. He said he would be open to having a discussion with police and child welfare advocates to hear their suggestions to improve the current database.

"The Legislature has been moving that needle" for decades, Mecca said. "If there's an argument for another tweak of the needle, maybe there is."



The impact of child abuse and neglect

by Keri Myrick

While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families and society that last lifetimes, if not generations.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. For information, or for help, contact the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Services at 784-5272 or Support is available 24 hours at 1-800-871-7741 or 1-888-458-5599 TTY.

The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral and societal consequences. In reality, however, it is impossible to separate them completely.

Physical consequences, such as damage to a child's growing brain, can have psychological implications, such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. Psychological problems often manifest as high-risk behaviors. Depression and anxiety, for example, may make a person more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or overeat. High-risk behaviors, in turn, can lead to long-term physical health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, cancer and obesity.

Not all children who are abused or neglected will experience long term consequences. Outcomes of individual cases vary widely and are affected by a combination of factors, including:

— The child's age and developmental status when the abuse or neglect occurred;

— The type of abuse (physical, neglect, sexual abuse, etc.);

— The frequency, duration and severity of abuse; and

— The relationship between the victim and his or her abuser.

Some children experience long-term consequences of abuse and neglect while others emerge relatively unscathed. The ability to cope, and even thrive, following a negative experience, is sometimes referred to as “resilience.”

There are a number of factors that can contribute to a child's resilience. These factors can include a child's individual characteristics, such as optimism, self-esteem, intelligence, creativity, humor and independence.

The acceptance of peers and positive individual influences, such as non-offending parents or caregivers, teachers, mentors and role models also contribute to resilience.

Other factors may include the child's social environment and the family's ability to nurture and provide a stable family relationship. Access to health care and social services significantly impacts a child's resilience.

The immediate physical effects of abuse or neglect can be relatively minor (bruises or cuts) or severe (broken bones, hemorrhage, burns or even death). In some cases the physical effects are temporary; however, the pain and suffering they cause a child may live on far after the abuse is over.

The relationship between childhood trauma and later health concerns has been the subject of many studies. Research has found that childhood experiences of abuse contribute to the likelihood of depression, anxiety, suicidal behaviors, personality disorders, eating disorders and sexual disorders (Draper et al., 2007).

When thinking about the long-term effects of child abuse, here are a few statistics to keep in mind:

— 22 percent of maltreated children have learning disorders requiring special education.

— 27 percent of children who are abused or neglected become delinquents, compared to 17 percent of children in the general population.

In a study of 17,000 adults, those who were abused as children were more likely to become suicidal; more likely to have heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease; twice as likely to be smokers; twice as likely to be severely obese; twice as likely to become alcoholics; and three times as likely to develop a drug addiction.

Studies conducted have shown an increase of sexually transmitted diseases in childhood abuse or neglect survivors tracked over time.

Although this article has focused on the effects of child abuse, it ends with the question: How do we ameliorate those long-term impact of child abuse?

The answer is simple — stop child abuse and neglect. There must be a resurgence of community education and intervention, and a commitment to help end this horrific childhood experience.

Child abuse continues to be an epidemic — for which there is a cure. Every person, whether they are a parent, educator, professional or a customer shopping at Walmart must advocate and protect the most vulnerable members of our community.

If a child discloses abuse to you, believe them, then take the appropriate steps to report the disclosure — The Department of Health and Human Services will take a report 24 hours a day, as will all law enforcement entities.

The impact of child abuse does not end when the abuse stops. A person abused as a child may experience long-term effects that can interfere with their day-to-day functioning. With help and support, however, it is possible for that person to live a full and constructive life, and even thrive — to enjoy a feeling of wholeness, satisfaction in life and work, as well as genuine love and trust in their relationships.

Keri Myrick is the coordinator and forensic interviewer for the Androscoggin Children's Advocacy Center.



DART program at Laurel House serves as lifeline for domestic violence victims


It's not particularly cold inside the emergency room of Mercy Suburban hospital in East Norriton on this early April afternoon, but Erin (not her real name) clutches a white blanket close to her chin as she curls in the bed, staring blankly at one of the medical monitors nearby.

As nurses and aides float in and out of the room, Erin groans slightly as she rolls over, trying to find a comfortable position. Neither her neck brace nor the contusions on the back of her head are making it easy.

Sitting in a chair next to the bed, Ashley Thompson — an advocate with the Domestic Abuse Response Team based out of the Montgomery County domestic violence agency Laurel House — gently touches Erin's hand and speaks in a soft, comforting voice that belies the urgency of her message.

“Remember earlier when I asked you if you wanted to leave him and you said yes?” asks Thompson. Erin looks at her and nods ever so slightly. “So, I mean, it might be hard for the kids right now, but do you think it might be harder for them if their mom's not around, because you're dead?” Thompson continues. “I know that's harsh, but ... .”

Erin nods again, gripping the blanket tightly.

“It's your decision, and it's a hard one to make, but you're a survivor,” says Thompson. “I know right now maybe it seems easier to forgive it all and to try and go back, and he'll probably do the apologizing thing again and probably give you something nice, but what happens after?”

“The same thing again ...,” Erin murmurs.

An hour or so earlier, after Thompson arrived at Mercy Suburban at the behest of hospital personnel, Erin, who's in her 20s, told her the story. The night before, she said, she'd been at the home of her on-again, off-again boyfriend of several years. They have young children together, and there was a history of him mentally and physically abusing her, she said. One time, he threatened her with his handgun, she told Thompson.

She said that last night they were hanging out, drinking. Talking. Then arguing. Then, she said, he attacked her — putting his hands around her throat and squeezing tight and then punching her repeatedly in the back of the head, knocking her out. The next thing she remembered, she said, was waking up in pain that morning. He was still in the house, along with their kids. She got dressed as if she were going to work, left the house, got on the bus and went to the hospital instead.

She hadn't contacted the police — yet. She was still thinking about it. For the most part, though, she was thinking about her children, wondering what would happen to them, and to her, if she called the police on him, if she set things in motion.

“You don't have to decide it all today,” says Thompson. “The only thing you need to do today is decide to go into the shelter, and we can make that happen. You want to do that?”

Erin's quiet for a few seconds.

“OK,” she finally says.

Thompson grins and pulls out her cellphone to dial the Laurel House shelter. First, though, she shows Erin a photo of her 2-month-old niece that's on her phone.

“Awwww,” says Erin, her mouth easing into a half-smile. In light of everything, it's a small victory. But Thompson will take it.

A nurse's aide comes in to administer an EKG test. Thompson leaves her phone with Erin and steps out into the hallway.

“I don't know what she's gonna do, but I think maybe it all kind of clicked for her today,” says Thompson. “I let her see the danger assessment I did, which indicated that the next incidence of violence could potentially be lethal, and she was shocked, like, ‘Oh wow.'”

Thompson looks over in Erin's direction. “So, I hope that, along with having a support system that she's never had before, it'll work. Fingers crossed.”

FOR MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS, Laurel House's DART program has existed as a lifeline for victims of domestic violence who are drowning in an ocean of abuse, isolation and fear.

DART staffers and volunteers — equipped with training, information, compassion and hope for their clients — are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week to handle crisis situations throughout Montgomery County. It's one of only a handful such programs in the nation.

Sometimes DART calls will come in from police officers who've responded to a domestic violence crime scene and need a DART advocate to counsel a victim in the home (once the scene is cleared) or back at the police station. Other times, such as with Erin's case, advocates will get calls from hospital staff or other health providers to meet with victims in emergency rooms, whether they've been transported there from a crime scene or gotten there on their own accord.

DART members have also been known to go to parks, mall food courts, coffee shops — “wherever we need to go that people feel comfortable and safe to talk to us,” says DART manager Stacy Sweinhart.

In all cases, domestic violence victims are first informed by emergency responders — police or medical, depending on the situation — that the DART program is available to provide support. If the victim gives the OK, the call is placed to DART's main number (215-852-9826) and then transferred to the cell phone of whichever team member is on duty at that time.

Once a DART advocate arrives at the scene, they can provide both emotional and logistical support as needed.

They can arrange for emergency shelter or child services.

They can help fill out the application for a temporary Protection From Abuse order — alternately known as a “restraining order” — which is thick, complicated and sometimes difficult for a person either physically injured or in a fragile emotional state to complete.

They can provide domestic violence information to help people understand what they're dealing with and how things could escalate in the future (such as showing the “Power and Control Wheel,” a standard tool that displays the most common behaviors and tactics abusers employ).

They can reassure a victim that they'll be on hand to help navigate the legal system as prosecutors work on convicting the abusers.

They can explain how to craft an escape plan —including how to put together a “go-bag” filled with documents, money and other things, and where to stash it — in the event of another incident.

Or they can just be there to listen to someone's story, without judging.

“What we've seen is sometimes that face-to-face, immediate connection helps the person make a change and it helps them walk through that change,” says Beth Sturman, executive director of Laurel House. “Sometimes they're not ready to make that change but it plants the seed, so the next time something happens they remember, ‘Oh there was that nice, supportive, encouraging, knowledgeable person who offered these resources to me, maybe I can reach out to them again,'” she continues. “I think it helps break down some of the isolation that abusers set up for people.”

And when it comes to supporting domestic violence victims in Montgomery County, there is little doubt there's a need for DART.

News headlines recently trumpeted a U.S. Department of Justice study from November 2012 which found that “from 1994 to 2010, the overall rate of intimate partner violence (i.e. domestic violence) in the United States declined by 64 percent.” At Laurel House, they take that figure with a grain of salt.

“We don't give much weight to it because we are not sure how it relates to our local jurisdictions,” says Tina Reynolds, Laurel House's senior director of community programs and support, adding that “domestic violence is one of the most unreported crimes.”

Reynolds and Sturman instead point to the long-held Centers for Disease Control statistic that one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime. And they cite the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence's annual “Domestic Violence Fatalities in Pennsylvania” reports. According to the PCADV's 2012 report, there was a total of 141 domestic violence-related fatalities in the state last year —110 victims, including three in Montgomery County, and 31 perpetrators who mostly died by suicide. The report noted that although the death count had dropped — 2011's total was 166 fatalities — “regrettably we cannot report any decrease in the brutality and senselessness of the deaths that did occur.”

Meanwhile, according to statistics provided by Sgt. Jane Robertson of the Hatfield Township Police Department, Hatfield police responded to a total of 296 domestic violence calls in 2010 (28 of which resulted in a criminal arrest); 319 calls in 2011 (37 of which resulted in a criminal arrest); and 309 in 2012 (27 of which resulted in a criminal arrest).

“We've been kind of holding steady,” says Robertson, who also served on Laurel House's board of directors from 2006 to 2012. “It's absolutely still a problem. It's unusual not to go to a domestic disturbance on any given shift that we work.”

Citing similar annual statistics from his own department, Montgomery Township Police Lt. Gerry Dougherty says, flatly, “Around here, domestic violence is not going away.”

BY THE EARLY 2000s, Towamencin Township Police Lt. Jeffrey Kratz — who's been a cop for 28 years — had already known for a long time that his and other area departments simply lacked the manpower and resources to provide domestic violence victims with additional support beyond making an arrest. After removing an offender, taking a statement and gathering any evidence, that was it — there was paperwork and processing to do, and then you moved on to the next call.

“The minute our people leave, the victim starts to go into a series of thought processes,” Kratz remembers thinking at the time. “‘What just happened? What's going to happen next? They just arrested my significant other, husband, boyfriend — how am I going to provide for myself and my children?' And it just continues to snowball, and unfortunately the victim starts to dwell on these things and starts to gravitate away from continuing the process of holding the abuser accountable or extracting themselves from that environment and protecting themselves from further violence.”

Other police officers feel the same way. “We're basically firefighters,” says Montgomery Township Police Chief Scott Bendig. “We can't always be there to work through it with victims. We're on to the next fire. We have to. That's the nature of our job.”

On top of that, police are already plenty stressed responding to domestic violence calls. “It is easily one of the most dangerous calls that an officer can go on,” says Dougherty. “It's a volatile situation. If you're going into someone's home, they know the layout of the house and you don't. Are there weapons present? What's the mindset of the people there? Are you potentially helping a victim that doesn't want to be helped? If you take her husband into custody, what's her reaction going to be?”

So with all of that in mind, a half-dozen North Penn police departments — Towamencin, Hatfield, North Wales, Lansdale, Upper Gwynedd and Montgomery Township — formed an alliance to figure out how to ease those situations, how to comfort and counsel victims, and how to encourage victims to follow through with the cooperation necessary for prosecutors to eventually secure domestic violence convictions.

Though Kratz was already spearheading that effort, a particularly horrendous double-homicide in Towamencin in 2003 steeled his resolve. On March 18 of that year, Kratz was one of three officers who responded to a home where Ian Wireman had strangled his 23-year-old girlfriend, Evyonne Patterson, and her 4-year-old daughter, Nila.

“When we located the bodies, they were stashed in containers — the adult female was in a hope chest and the girl was actually in a Rubbermaid tub and she was packaged up in several garbage bags just like you would put your trash in,” says Kratz, his jaw tightening. “I was the one who found her, the 4-year-old, and just opening that container and opening those trash bags and seeing a little girl in there, you know, right away I could see my daughter's face superimposed on this little girl and it just really, really hit home and I just couldn't believe that someone would treat any human being, let alone a child, like this, like common trash to be bagged up.”

“It'll be forever in my mind,” he continues. “To this day I can see that little girl curled up in a fetal position just like it happened yesterday. And what it did do, it made me more committed to making sure that we as a police department and as a community, that we do a better job of trying to help victims in domestic situations to get help earlier so that we don't see it come to these types of violent circumstances that end very badly.”

The North Penn departments reached out to Laurel House, which they knew had been assisting battered women with shelter services, counseling and other programs since 1980. On Jan. 1, 2005, DART was established with Reynolds in charge. For the first year, she was DART's sole advocate.

“I was on call literally 24/7 because we were just building the program, so you can't have volunteers come in if you only have one call every three months,” she says. By 2006, the program had expanded beyond the North Penn area and the first handful of volunteer advocates signed up. Many, like Heather (who chose not to disclose her last name out of privacy concerns), were drawn to DART because either they or a loved one had been a victim of domestic violence in the past.

“My first relationship in high school, he was abusive,” says Heather, 32, who's DART's longest-serving advocate aside from Reynolds. She explains that at 19, a punch from her then-boyfriend landed her in the hospital. “At the time I was like, ‘What do I do to get out of this? What did I do wrong?'” she says. “If I had known what I know now, it would have made a huge difference for me, so now I couldn't be happier helping people.”

In the summer of 2010, Reynolds handed over the DART reins to Sweinhart, who has a degree in criminal justice, and the program continued to grow. These days, DART is effectively county-wide, working in tandem with 50 of Montgomery County's 52 police departments and most of the hospitals and trauma centers throughout the county.

Sweinhart, 24, works at Laurel House full-time. When she's not responding to calls, she's usually at early-morning police roll calls helping train and update officers on DART protocols and procedures. Thompson, 27, a part-timer who holds a Master of Social Work degree from Temple, is DART's medical advocate, meaning that when she's not working directly with clients she's doing training similar to Sweinhart's with area doctors, nurses and other health providers. They've got a base of nine volunteer advocates who are on call nights and weekends (Sweinhart and Thompson are on call from 9 a.m until 5 p.m. during the week, and occasionally provide backup at other hours).

DART calls typically come in for the more serious physical domestic violence incidents — where an arrest has already been made, or is likely — as opposed to verbal spats, though sometimes officers will call DART if they believe an intervention could prevent a physical altercation down the line, or if it's a location police have been to more than once.

Calls are increasing every year. Sweinhart cautions that it doesn't necessarily mean an uptick in domestic violence — it could be the result of having worked with more and more police departments and health providers each year, or a growing awareness of DART's existence and services, she says.

Sweinhart says that for the fiscal year 2011-12, there were 70 total DART calls, 17 PFAs granted to their clients and a 73 percent success rate for criminal charge cooperation — in 33 cases where criminal charges were filed, 24 of the victims cooperated with police when a DART advocate was involved. For the fiscal year 2012-13 (which is ongoing), there have been 56 total DART calls thus far, 23 PFAs granted to their clients and a 65 percent success rate for criminal charge cooperation — in 14 cases where criminal charges were filed, nine of the victims cooperated with police when a DART advocate was involved.

“I think this shows the effectiveness of having an immediate, in-person advocate out there at the time of the incident,” says Sweinhart.

“I know for a fact that DART has helped certain cases that we've had and helped victims out,” says Dougherty.

“DART has been a godsend,” says Robertson. ‘It's an immediate response and it really is an advocate. Just to be able to say to a victim that there's someone that's compassionate who can come and help them and it won't be judgmental, just a way to remedy the situation, is huge.”

TO BECOME CERTIFIED to go out on calls, DART staffers and volunteers are required to complete 45 hours of JARS (Justice Autonomy Restoration Safety) domestic violence advocate training that's managed by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, plus at least eight hours of training each year thereafter — including attending trauma, mental health, drug and alcohol and first-aid seminars.

Advocates learn to give victims advice and information without being pushy, because the last thing a person who's had control and decision-making snatched away from them by an abuser needs is yet another person telling them what to do. They learn the reality that domestic violence knows no boundaries — rich or poor, white, black, Hispanic, Asian or otherwise, everyone's at risk. And they learn that victims might not be “perfect” or an “innocent” – they might have criminal histories themselves, or drug or alcohol problems or other issues, but that doesn't mean they deserve to be abused.

“Before starting with this program, I definitely had the thought that it was only a certain type of woman that this affects, even though it happened to me,” says Heather. “My first call was at a house that was amazing, and I'm looking at this woman with a Mercedes and a BMW and she was kept at home with no access to any money and he beat her constantly.”

And though DART's clients are overwhelmingly female (statistics show that approximately 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women), they are encountering more and more male victims. “It happens, although it's still underreported because there's a stigma around it,” says Reynolds. “But all the shelter and counseling and other services we provide for women we can also provide for men.”

Yet that training can only prepare an advocate so much, Sweinhart says.

“I always tell our new people that this isn't like any other kind of volunteering — you're going to see some stuff that you don't necessarily want to see or ever hope to see,” she says. “You're going to hear things and see things that might trigger some stuff for you, because a lot of our people have had their own experiences with this. Sometimes you sit there and you have to hold back crying. We warn people that you're going to be confronted with some things and it's going to be tough to remain unaffected and provide the information that they need.”

Between the two of them, Heather and Sweinhart have been on hundreds of DART calls over the years, and they — like all DART advocates — have seen plenty of harrowing, gruesome and heartbreaking things.

Such as the woman who moved to Hatfield Township from the West Coast, along with her 2-year-old daughter, to be with her boyfriend. He began physically abusing her, it got progressively worse, and when she finally decided to split — buying a plane ticket and telling her boyfriend she was leaving the next morning — he picked up a kitchen knife and attacked her while she had her daughter in her arms, missing her and plunging the knife two inches into the little girl's leg. When police arrived, they found the woman running down the street, crying hysterically, the little girl bleeding profusely with the knife still sticking out of her leg (the girl survived).

Or the woman who lived in Limerick whose husband had beat her for decades, going to jail several times for assaulting her. To escape him, she had moved around, even changed her name, but when he got out of prison after one particularly long stretch he tracked her down, stalked her, broke into her house and savagely beat her while she was sleeping.

“She had to have facial implants put in just to make her face look like a face,” says Heather. “I have never seen anyone in that kind of condition ever.” The potent image that sticks with Sweinhart, who also responded to the call, is that of the woman's pit bull which, along with the woman's son, helped get the husband off of her before he could kill her — the white dog was pink and red from head to tail, soaked in the woman's blood.

Sweinhart says sometimes it's the little details that are the most upsetting, such as the physical abuse survivor whose abuser killed a bird the woman had rescued. “This little bird had followed her around the apartment, and he got angry one day and threw the bird out the window into a snowstorm,” she says. “Here was this woman with this little bird she invested so much in, this one little thing that she cherished, and he knew how much what he did would hurt her. I think she would have rather had him punch her in the face than lose that little bird.”

Those experiences certainly take their toll on advocates. “One thing they always tell you is to keep one foot in the water and one foot out of the water,” says Sweinhart. “To be engaged but to make sure you can kind of step back and go home and not take your work with you,” she says, though she admits that's easier said than done.

Reynolds says that Laurel House provides in-house counseling, and advocates lean on one another for support. “We can't do this job if we don't take care of ourselves,” she says.

And, of course, they're buoyed by the happier endings to terrible situations.

Rita (not her real name), one of Sweinhart's former DART clients, nearly lost her life two years ago when her abusive boyfriend came to her workplace, where she was a receptionist, dragged her out of the building by her hair, threw her in his car and tried to drive away, but she managed to jump out of the car and came within inches of having her head crushed by the vehicle. After the incident, law enforcement put her in touch with Sweinhart, who helped her deal with the aftermath, including accompanying her to terrifying court hearings where she had to confront her abuser.

“I was crying every day and once Stacy came into my life, oh my God, I felt like something heavy was getting out of me just talking to her,” says Rita, adding that her abuser got a significant jail sentence and she was able to relocate to a different county and start her life over. “Stacy came in and was all the time next to me. She is my angel.”

Still, says Sweinhart, “I always prep our advocates for disappointment.” Many times they work with a client, see progress, and then the client disappears, often going back into the abusive environment.

It's frustrating, Sweinhart admits, but, she says, “It takes an average of seven times for a woman to finally leave an abusive relationship. It takes time for people to build up the courage to leave if they've been in a bad situation for years, and a lot of times, if there are kids or financial issues or they've been cut off from their family and friends by an abuser, it's not easy for them to just leave.”

“You have to be able to accept that and work with people and think long-term and big picture,” she continues. “You learn from the very beginning to gauge your successes differently than you normally would. Not every success is that she got out and got a new man and a new life. Sometimes it's just developing a safety plan, or getting someone into counseling, or even if someone just makes a phone call — the fact that she even reached out is a success. And the really good ones carry you for a while.”

THINGS SEEMED TO BE MOVING in the right direction for Erin. After being discharged from the hospital that evening, Thompson got her into Laurel House's shelter. The next morning, they went over to the county courthouse in Norristown and Erin got a temporary emergency PFA against her abuser — in effect until a proper PFA hearing scheduled for one week later, when she'd have to face her abuser in a courtroom, in front of a judge who would either grant or deny the PFA.

Erin was talking about finding a new place to live, getting a new start. Thompson felt hopeful.

And then Erin abruptly left the shelter after a couple of days. Gone.

“Ashley's pretty upset,” Sweinhart says the next day. “But like I said, it takes an average of seven times for a woman to actually leave a relationship and that might have been the fourth time for her. So it sucks because she was doing so well and there was really momentum and Ashley really busted her butt.”

Sweinhart is quiet for a moment. “That's the way this stuff goes sometimes. We don't know where she is. Maybe she went back to him, maybe she didn't. But at least she got familiar with us. She knows who we are now.”

“She has the hearing coming up; we hope she's there,” Sweinhart says.

It's the morning of Erin's PFA hearing. She's supposed to be there at 8:30 a.m. Thompson's standing in the hallway outside the fifth-floor courtroom, nervously tapping her foot. Other women and men are arriving for their PFA hearings, lining up to get their numbers for their turn before the judge. No Erin.

“I don't think she's coming,” says Thompson, a dejected look creeping across her face. At 8:45 a.m. she takes a quick walk around the fifth floor, then comes back, shaking her head.

“I guess I'll give her until 9,” she says.

Nine o'clock comes and goes. Erin's not there. Thompson types a few text messages, looks around and sighs deeply. “It's not happening,” she says.

And then Erin comes around the corner. Thompson's face lights up, she lets out a “Heyyy!” and for a moment she looks like she's about to burst out of her shoes with joy before she grabs Erin and pulls her toward the courtroom.

There's still a long way to go, but maybe the seed has been planted after all.



Marchers stamping out child abuse

by Lance Farrell

Don't be alarmed when you see the throng of marchers in downtown Port Huron on Monday. The marchers are concerned people taking part in the Port Huron Million March Against Child Abuse.

The march is 2-3:30 p.m. It starts at Pine Grove Park, loops past the St. Clair County Courthouse and returns to the park.

Events at the park include local bands, speakers, theater groups, face painting, bounce houses and a lunch catered by Lucky Lunches. The day's events are free and open to the public.

“Rather than just stand by the courthouse, I wanted to make it a more family-friendly event, and have children activities and have the march just be a small part of it,” said lead organizer Sierra Kearns.

More than 250 cities across the United States will take part in similar events with the goal of having a million pairs of feet on the ground to help raise awareness and to empower everyday citizens to prevent child abuse.

“You don't have to be a doctor or a police officer to save a child,” Kearns said. “Anybody can save a child, and anybody can make a difference.”

Heightened awareness is a necessary step in abuse prevention, Kearns said. The police are “outnumbered, that's why we as citizens need to come together and be aware of the signs and what to look out for and be able to protect the children.”

Port Huron Police Chief Michael Reaves echoed Kearns' assessment.

“We have to work together to stop child abuse in all forms,” he said. “In everything the police department does we're outnumbered, but we gather strength from the public and the community. When you raise awareness, we become stronger because people help us.”

In 2012, 4,331 children were living in homes investigated for child abuse or neglect in St. Clair County — 580 of them were confirmed victims.

The county had the 10th highest number of children in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect in the state in 2012, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Kids Count report. The county had the ninth highest number of investigated families.

More than 300 marchers have signed up in Port Huron, Kearns said.

“United we are stronger,” she said. “These abusers and child predators will know that we're in numbers now and we're watching you, and we know what to look out for, we know the signs. We're educating our citizens and we'll be watching you.”


New Jersey


Tell children early about recognizing sexual abuse

by Dr. Martin A. Finkel

Special to the Times

Pediatricians are very good at preventing illness or injury. We give vaccines to help children avoid diseases, and routinely dispense warnings about seat belt, bicycle and water safety. We do so because we are convinced that these are real dangers and our consistent reminders help parents to keep their children safe from harm.

But there is another threat to children — one that can cause serious long-term physical and mental health consequences — that is rarely mentioned by pediatricians or parents. Our failure to warn young children of child sexual abuse may be because we find the topic unpalatable, don't have the language to address it, or are unsure of what would be effective.

We need to develop that dialogue with our children if we are going to protect them from the real-life risks of child sexual abuse.

Let's reflect on some basic facts.

Child sexual abuse occurs in our communities, our neighborhoods and in our families, and it is not limited by religion, education, ethnicity or social or economic status. Approximately one in four girls and one in seven boys will experience child sexual abuse before they reach age 18. In fact, about 40 percent of child sexual abuse victims are under 6 years old.

“Stranger danger” is real, but rare. Relatively few children are molested by strangers or registered sex offenders. Most children who experience child sexual abuse do so at the hands of someone they know and trust, usually a family member or someone with easy access to the child. Most perpetrators do not intend to physically harm their child victims and rarely use force or restraint. About a third of perpetrators are themselves juveniles.

Admittedly, we don't know for sure that talking to children about personal space and privacy will be the magic bullet of prevention. But we do know that children armed with information about personal space and privacy will be six to seven times more likely to develop protective behaviors and to feel empowered to disclose abuse.

Reminders about personal space and privacy should begin early and be repeated often. That begins with teaching children the appropriate names for their private parts. Any child over the age of three can easily say “vagina” or “penis”. In one case, a mom taught her 5-year-old daughter to call her private parts “diamonds” and to tell an adult if anyone touched them. When the girl later told her teacher that someone had touched her “diamonds,” the teacher didn't recognize what the girl was trying to disclose. The girl's protection from further abuse was delayed.

We need to teach all young children the difference between “OK” and “not OK” touching, by explaining that the only people allowed to touch their private parts are themselves, their parents or caregivers when helping with washing or a wiping problem, or a doctor during an examination when Mom or Dad is in the room.

We also need to explain to children the difference between surprises, which can be fun when we find out, and secrets, which are never allowed. Children should know that anytime someone tells them to keep a secret, they should immediately tell two other adults.

Most kids who are abused never disclose it — or delay disclosure — because they fear shame or embarrassment or because they doubt they will be believed. They also lack the language to communicate the abuse. That is where pediatricians and parents can help.

Child sexual abuse thrives in silence. Our discomfort can't be reason enough to keep us from talking to children about it.

Dr. Martin A. Finkel is the medical director and co-founder of the Child Abuse Research and Education Services (CARES) Institute at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine in Stratford. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


New York

Woman Accused Of Taking Kids Around To Fire BB Guns At Car Windows

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Suffolk County woman stood charged Saturday with encouraging her young teenage children to fire a BB gun at car the windows of parked cars CBS 2's Steve Langford reported.

Susan Becker, 43, of East Northport, was arrested after police allegedly learned she had been driving around with her 13-year-old son, her 15-year-old daughter and another 15-year-old boy, encouraging them to shoot out car windows with a BB gun she had bought for them.

Police had been investigating more than 60 incidents of car windows being shot out in Commack, Hauppauge, and Islandia over the past two weeks.

One woman told WCBS 880's Sophia Hall she had not one, but two vehicles damaged.

“I'm actually stunned to hear that a mom drove her children around to do such harm to others,” she said.

A man told Miller a BB gunshot missed his white sport-utility vehicle in his driveway, and instead busted the window on his garage.

“Crazy mom,” he said. “What mom would instruct their children to do that? It's crazy.”

Becker was arrested late Friday afternoon, and charged with multiple counts of criminal mischief and endangering the welfare of a child. She was arraigned in Suffolk County First District Court on Saturday, bail was set at $30,000.



State statute of limitations extended in child abuse cases

by Jim Camden

OLYMPIA – Virginia Graham's journey to get justice for victims of child sex abuse isn't over, but after nearly 10 years of pleading and prodding the Legislature she can take a breather.

A bill that extends the statute of limitations on child sex crimes, to allow charges to be filed until the victim turns 30, was signed into law Thursday afternoon. The Spokane mother of three stood at Gov. Jay Inslee's right hand as he put his signature on the bill. Former state Rep. John Ahern, who fought for much of that decade to change the law, was nearby, as was newly elected state Rep. Jeff Holy, who picked up the fight when he succeeded Ahern.

In one hand, Graham held a handkerchief that moved frequently to her face, dabbing tears as Inslee signed the bill and ceremonial pens were passed out. In the other, she clutched tight to a pair of purple and white rosaries that wound around her palm.

The rosaries, she later explained, came from the funerals of her brother and sister, who like her were victims of sexual abuse as children. Her brother committed suicide. Her sister ran away from home as a teenager and soon after became one of the victims of serial killer Gary Ridgway.

When Ridgway was sentenced in 2003, Graham began searching for a purpose behind her sister's death. That became what she calls “a verbalized prayer for a change in the law.”

Washington law extends the statute of limitations for charging a suspect in a case of child sexual assault, but the rules are complicated and vary with the age of the victim. In most cases a child must report the abuse while still a minor, when they are unlikely to do so because of threats or psychological manipulation by their abuser.

Initially, Ahern tried to remove the statute, making child sexual abuse like murder in allowing a suspect to be brought to trial at any time if the evidence is strong enough. Members of the law enforcement community balked, saying convictions get less likely with each passing year, and changing the law would give victims false hope. Bills would easily pass the House and then die in the Senate, sometimes without a vote.

“People you're trying to reach have no idea what it's like,” Graham said.

This year, Holy, a Cheney Republican who is an attorney and former police detective, sponsored a modified version, which will allow charges to be filed for sex abuse involving someone under 18 that is reported before the victim turns 30. First- and second-degree rape can be prosecuted up to 10 years later if a victim who is 18 or older reports it within a year of the assault. That bill, the freshman legislator's first, passed both chambers unanimously and takes effect July 28.

The signing was a bittersweet victory for Graham because her brother and sister weren't there, but it was also a partial victory on which she hopes to build.

There's no statute of limitations on murder, whether the person kills with a gun, a knife or a car, she said: There should be no statute of limitations on prosecuting a sexual abuser when that abuse leads to the death of the victim later in life.



Sexual abuse topic of ‘It's OK to Tell' parent seminar

by Justin Beard

STUART —Millions of children are sexually abused every year in the United States. Many cases go undetected and unreported often because children are afraid to tell someone who can help.

Parents are invited to attend a free seminar entitled, “It's OK to Tell,” at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 29 at the Blake Library, 2351 S.E. Monterey Road, Stuart. The seminar is part of the Our Kids! Parent Seminar Series sponsored by Tykes and Teens, CHARACTER COUNTS!, Martin County Library System and the Martin County School District.

“It's OK to Tell” will provide parents with important information on protecting their children from sexual abuse including: a definitive and comprehensive explanation of child sexual abuse and its dynamics; current child sexual abuse statistics; and specific and detailed ways that child safety can be increased. Materials will be provided to parents with information on safe and unsafe touch, boundary setting, secret keeping, warning signs, and stranger dangers.

“The It's OK to Tell” will be conducted by Robbin Wolf, a local child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapist, who, in addition to her private practice, works with Tykes & Teens, a nonprofit agency in Palm City dedicated to the social-emotional healing of children and their families.

Wolf's clinical experience has included the intensive treatment unit at Savannah's Hospital for the severely emotionally disturbed and Hibiscus Children's Shelter in Jensen Beach which provides residential safety for young children who were removed from their homes due to severe abuse and neglect. Wolf is also a longtime adjunct faculty member for the human service department at Indian River State College in Fort Pierce.

Registration is required, call 772-221-1407 for more information.



Sunflower House helps young victims of sexual and physical abuse

by Laura McCallister and by Jeanene Kiesling

SHAWNEE, KS (KCTV) - April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and there are several resources for help for children in the Kansas City metro.

Last year the Sunflower House helped 500 children from Wyandotte and Johnson counties. With April being National Child Abuse Prevention Month, child advocates want to reach even more children this year through education and prevention.

"We take April to focus on raising awareness in general - how prevalent child abuse is in our community," Bev Turner with the Sunflower House said.

The organization is a not-for-profit child advocacy center. The majority of the children they see are there for allegations of sexual abuse. About 10 percent need help for alleged physical abuse, while others have witnessed a violent crime.

At Sunflower House child advocates, law enforcement and child services can work together to help the child through a traumatic situation.

"Everyone comes together and works together. It's an ideal situation, allowing a child to tell their story in a safe, comfortable environment," Turner said.

Preventing abuse starts early. Last year child advocates went into area schools to teach education and raise awareness.

"We want to teach kids what we call the three R's of prevention - recognize, resist and report," Turner said.

More than 26,000 students were educated on abuse - a record number for the Sunflower House. It is organizers' thoughts that every child reached might be the next child saved.

This weekend there will be a family fun day at the Sunflower House from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information on the event and services available, click here.


New York

Dating Abuse Survivor Shares Warning Signs

When Danielle DeZao entered one of her first dating relationships at college, she felt all the initial excitement of attraction. However, soon that thrill degenerated into verbal fights, control over her activities, and finally physical abuse. In a quick turn of events, which DeZao's own mother calls "chilling," Danielle had become a victim of dating abuse. Today, as a survivor and activist, she is committed to sharing her story of how she came to the realization that she was in an abusive relationship and how with the help of family and friends she reclaimed her life -- from the ABC News program "What Would You Do?" all the way to the White House.

DeZao and her mother Denise, who have become spokespersons for campaigns against teen dating abuse, will be featured speakers at a special program, " Love Shouldn't Hurt: Talking with your kids about healthy relationships " on May 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Scarsdale Woman's Club . The program is designed to help parents help their children who might be victims of dating abuse. One in four teens will be victims, and the incidence of abuse increases in college. DeZao, a 2012 Marist College graduate who grew up in Westchester and Bergen counties, and her mother will share their experiences, warning signs, what to do, and how parents and friends can intervene.

A panel will join the DeZaos to discuss the many facets of abusive relationships, to identify available resources and to respond to questions. The panel discussion will be led by Lauren Pomerantz, LCSW, Scarsdale High School Youth Outreach worker, who will be joined by panelists Sharon Charles, LCSW, youth counselor with Westchester Jewish Community Services and the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation; Det. Sherri Albano, Scarsdale Police Department's youth officer; Amy Paulin, NYS Assemblywoman; and Chris D'Silva, the leader of the High School's Students Terminating Abusive Relationships (STAR) chapter.

Lauren Pomerantz, who is a principal contact for Scarsdale's teens who might be in unhealthy relationships, believes that date abuse cannot be addressed by parents or schools alone, but rather requires a community response. She is encouraged by the many community organizations and leaders who have agreed to be sponsors of the event. "This community support demonstrates the understanding in our community leaders that relationship abuse affects all parts of our society, regardless of economic status, national background, race or ethnicity."

The Rev. Dr. John Miller of Hitchcock Presbyterian Church noted, "We need to create a community of respect for our children so that they understand what healthy relationships look like and feel like. At the same time parents need to be educated about the danger signs of unhealthy and dangerous relationships and given tools on how to discuss these sensitive issues with their children." Rabbi Jonathan Blake of the Westchester Reform Temple reflected that sentiment, urging parents to attend. "We know that many of our teens are hurting, either as victims of unhealthy relationships, or as friends of victims who feel powerless to provide support. Parents are a critical resource for their children, offering protection, education, and caring. However, when children leave home for college or adult life they often encounter unfamiliar circumstances including dating abuse. Often, even the most caring parents and friends feel powerless to address these destructive relationships. I am pleased to join my colleagues in the faith community and other community organizations and leaders in bringing this important message to our community."

The Scarsdale Coalition on Family Violence, which has organized programs addressing domestic violence since 2001, is coordinating the event. Sponsors include The Center @ 862; Maroon & White; Scarsdale Community Support Council; Scarsdale-Edgemont Family Counseling Service; Scarsdale-Edgemont Girl Scouts; Scarsdale-Hartsdale Clergy Association; Scarsdale High School PTA; Scarsdale Middle and High Schools; Scarsdale Police Department; Scarsdale Woman's Club; Village of Scarsdale; Westchester Jewish Community Services; Youth Advisory Council; Kenneth Bonamo, Principal, Scarsdale High School; Michael T. McDermott, Principal, Scarsdale Middle School; Dr. Michael V. McGill, Superintendent of Schools; Amy Paulin, NY State Assemblywoman; and Robert J. Steves, Mayor, Village of Scarsdale.

For more information on the May 22 program, contact David Kroenlein at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 914-645-5067. Visit. for more information on teen dating abuse.



Police: Law change makes child abuse hard to track


LOS ANGELES—Law enforcement officers and child welfare advocates are concerned about a little-noticed change to California's child abuse database, saying it could hamper their ability to keep tabs on hundreds of suspected abusers who work with kids outside the home, including teachers, coaches and clergy.

The database is used to flag such people when they apply to work with kids, adopt or take on foster children. It was changed in 2011 to protect the rights of the accused and shield the state from lawsuits, but one provision prohibited police from submitting suspects' names to it.

That meant that the nearly five-decade-old repository now only has names added by state welfare agencies, which report people in charge of a child's custody or care such as parents, guardians or foster parents. Police say this creates a gap in information that limits their ability to establish a pattern of abuse, especially if a suspect moves often.

It's not known whether anyone who previously would have been flagged went on to abuse a child since the law's change, though police and social welfare groups are concerned that could happen.

"My worry is that an institution like a school district, a preschool or somebody is going to run an individual to see if he has any history and come up with nothing, when in fact law enforcement had an investigation," said Los Angeles County sheriff's Sgt. Dan Scott, of the Special Victims Bureau.

On Friday, Los Angeles County's Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect is expected to consider a motion at its annual meeting to recommend the change be rescinded.

The law's author, State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, stands by the change, saying it was needed to ensure innocent people weren't unfairly flagged and noting that police still have the power to arrest someone if they can substantiate allegations against them.

"They can't just place somebody's name (in the database) just because they think somebody's guilty," he said.

The dispute over the database is an example of the balancing act between the mission of law enforcement and child welfare agencies to identify abusers and prevent them from victimizing more children and the need at the same time to protect the constitutional rights of the accused.

Since its inception in 1965, the Child Abuse Central Index has been tweaked repeatedly. It's housed by the California Department of Justice and includes basic information like name, birth date and the agency that can be contacted for more information. The index is used by police, child welfare agencies placing foster children, and in employment screenings by schools, childcare providers, and organizations like the YMCA that work with youth.

Though the database has been around for decades, it was a 1980s case in the San Francisco Bay Area involving a daycare provider who over years abused dozens of children and murdered one that invigorated efforts to ensure a robust central repository of suspected abusers, said Lawrence Bolton, former chief counsel of the state's Department of Social Services. Eleanor Nathan had been investigated by multiple jurisdictions, but the case against her stalled because police were unaware of her past. It was a doctor who recognized injuries on a toddler matching another child who went to the same daycare provider, who connected Nathan to the abuse.

The latest change, approved by the Legislature without any significant opposition, was the result of the state spending millions of dollars to defend lawsuits brought by people whose names appeared on the database though no criminal charges were brought.

Ammiano's original bill sought to block from the database cases in which an investigation of abuse allegations was inconclusive and to ensure an appeals process to remove someone's name. But then the provision was added to bar all police reports, including "substantiated" cases in which an investigator believes evidence "makes it more likely than not" that abuse occurred, but that the person may never be arrested, charged or convicted of a crime.

As of April, the database held 672,634 individuals with substantiated cases, 41 percent of which came from law enforcement reports that were submitted prior to the change, according to the state Department of Justice. No law enforcement reports were added since the change.

The change received little attention at the time and even many law enforcement agencies weren't aware until after it took effect. Long Beach police Sgt. Janet Cooper said her department found out when the reports it forwarded to the state were returned months after, raising concerns for her about the potential problems omitting such information could cause.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Lt. Wayne Bilowit, who tracks legislation for the agency, said "it was a failure on everyone's part."

"It was a very long bill," he said. "I don't think we all understood, particularly those in Sacramento, how all the pieces fit together."

John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, said the group had no hand in the details of the provision but will study whether they need to push for a change. Nick Warner, a lobbyist for the California State Sheriff's Association, did not recall the language in the bill.

Ammiano rejected claims that law enforcement was unaware of the change. "We had a thorough legislative process and a vetting, we talked to both houses, and law enforcement was part of that process," he said. "I think that they're beating a dead horse."

There's no statewide data to determine how many people were kept off the database since the change. But in Los Angeles County alone, Scott estimated his department had at least 375 substantiated cases last year. And the county's child welfare agency is reviewing the impact of the law change.

Scott and other law enforcement officers argue that it's not always possible to make an arrest despite evidence that substantiates allegations. Sometimes the case is beyond the statute of limitations, the victim is too young to testify, or the prosecutor may not believe there's enough evidence to meet the "beyond a reasonable doubt" threshold and declines to press charges. Without an arrest, no record is generated.

"Do you want us to arrest every single person because that's the only way they're going to be tracked?" Scott said.

Frank Mecca, executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California, supported Ammiano's bill but is willing to look at it again.

"We want as much information in as constitutionally permissive to keep kids safe," while balancing due-process rights, Mecca said. He said he would be open to having a discussion with police and child welfare advocates to hear their suggestions to improve the current database.

"The Legislature has been moving that needle" for decades, Mecca said. "If there's an argument for another tweak of the needle, maybe there is."



Child-abuse prevention targets fathers

by Kate Santich, Orlando Sentinel

Following the recent arrests of two Central Florida fathers for extreme child abuse, local officials have launched an initiative to give new dads and male caretakers more parenting support.

"There are a lot of classes and programs out there for expecting and new moms — and understandably so," said Carrie Hoeppner, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families' central region. "But historically, there hasn't been much for men. We know from statistics that the male caregiver figure is more prone to demonstrate violence towards a child in response to stress or feelings of being overwhelmed."


Attorney General Holder Launches Task Force to Improve Responses to Violence Against Children in Tribal Communities

by Katie Dixon

On Friday, Attorney General Holder outlined the initial steps to implement the recommendations of the department's Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, part of the Defending Childhood Initiative.

The Attorney General announced that Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West will oversee the creation of an American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The announcement was made at the new tribal task force during a quarterly meeting of the Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which is administered by the Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Office on Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Prevention.

The proposed task force will be a joint effort between the Departments of Justice and Interior and tribal governments. The task force will focus on:

•  Improving the identification and treatment of American Indian and Alaska Native children exposed to violence;

•  Supporting American Indian and Alaska Native communities and tribes as they define their own responses to this problem; and

•  Involving American Indian and Alaska Native youth in developing solutions.

The creation of the American Indian/Alaska Native Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence was one of 56 recommendations made by the Attorney General's National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence presented its final report and recommendations to Attorney General Holder in December 2012. The recommendations called for universal identification, assessment and treatment of children who witness or are victims of violence. They also called for training for professionals who work with children to identify and respond to trauma caused by violence.

The Justice Department will provide additional details on the implementation of the recommendations in the coming months. These efforts will build on the task force's call to support and train professionals working with children, raise public awareness, build knowledge and increase department and federal coordination and capacity.

OJP provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking.



Sex abuse survivor encourages victims, coming to Pensacola

by Rhema Thompson

Lauren Book wants people to know that childhood sexual abuse doesn't fit a stereotype.

She knows because, when she was 11 years old, her abuser came in the form of her nanny.

“It's not always the dirty old man hiding behind the bushes,” said Book, 28, of Aventura in Miami-Dade County.

Through her organization, Lauren's Kids, she is using her own horrific experience to empower other survivors and educate their loved ones.

Book is in the midst of her fourth annual “Walk in My Shoes 2013” campaign which hosts more than 55 events throughout Florida to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse.

On Saturday, she will host a roundtable discussion of child-protection professionals at the Gulf Coast Kid's House. On Sunday, she will lead two walks open to the public — a sunrise walk at the University of West Florida track and, later in the morning, another walk at Perdido Key State Park.

In Florida, there were 2,496 verified cases of childhood sexual abuse last year, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families. It's a level that most experts believe to be grossly under-reported.

Parental support

For six years, Book endured a silent nightmare of sexual, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of the nanny she loved and trusted.

“The abuse went on for 365 days a year, seven days a week,” she said. “There were no breaks. There was no time off. She never ever took a day off.”

At age 17, with the help of a friend, she found the courage to disclose the abuse to a school guidance counselor, and eventually, to her parents.

She said she was very fortunate to have the full support of her parents once they learned what had happened to her. And she said it's important for parents who might find themselves in a similar situation to refrain from outrage — even if it's directed at the offender.

“In my house, of course, my dad was angry, my mom was angry,” she said. “For me as the victim, who loved my offender, it made it very difficult for me to be able to talk to them.”

Signs of abuse

This year, Boook's organization has partnered with the Florida Department of Children and Families to launch the “Don't Miss the Signs” campaign, which aims to educate adults on how to recognize signs of child abuse and how to make a report.

Signs parents should be aware of include: unexplained bruises, marks, burns or broken bones; sudden changes in behavior or school performance; and fear at the approach of a particular adult, according to DCF.

“A child who's acting withdrawn, a child who was completely potty trained is now having accidents, thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, night terrors, if they startle very easily. ... There are so many things that parents need to look for and be aware of,” Book said. “And you can't just look at the children. You need to look at the adults in the children's lives. Notice which adults are paying undue attention.”

The five-week “Walk in My Shoes” event will culminate with a rally Tuesday at the state Capitol to lobby for passage of a bill to extend the age a child is permitted to make out-of-court statements as admissible evidence to age 16. Under current state law, the age limit is 11.

Book also said it's vital for families of an abuse victim to report the abuse to authorities and seek professional help to get the child on the path to healing.

“It took a lot of healing and a lot of recovery to get to the point where I am today and it took a long time for my family to get to the point of where they are,” she said. “It's not just the child who was offended against that needs help; it's the entire family structure.”

To find out more about Lauren's Kids, its mission or Walk in My Shoes events throughout the state, visit


North Carolina

Child abuse law passes legislature

by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.

A law that would increase the punishment for child abusers who severely injure children unanimously passed the N.C. Senate on Wednesday and could get the governor's signature before the end of the month.

The bill would increase the sentences for five child abuse-related felonies. For the worst cases of abuse, offenders now face a maximum of 15 years in prison. The proposed new law would increase the maximum penalty to nearly 33 years.

The measure, dubbed “Kilah's Law,” is named for Kilah Davenport, who was 3 last May when she was hospitalized with severe brain damage and a fractured skull.

Authorities say she was beaten by her stepfather, Joshua Houser, who remains in jail while awaiting trial. Houser's potential sentence would not be affected by any new legislation.

At first, doctors didn't know whether Kilah would live 24 hours. She survived, but will likely have the mind of a 3-year-old for the rest of her life. Earlier this week, Kilah had surgery to place a shunt in her head to relieve pressure that was causing painful headaches.

“It's been a really good day,” Kilah's mother, Kirbi Davenport, said Wednesday. “It's really nice to know that we're not the only people who wanted this so bad.”

Rep. Craig Horn, the bill's sponsor, said Gov. Pat McCrory is a supporter of the bill, and could sign it before the end of April.

Every time the bill has come up for a vote – in front of committees and full legislative bodies – it has passed unanimously, Horn said.

“The message is when it comes to our kids in North Carolina, there are no Republicans and Democrats,” Horn said. “There is no House and Senate. It's the people in North Carolina speaking very clearly … that we're not going to sit still for these crimes against those least able to defend themselves – our children.”

Horn hopes the governor will sign the bill in Union County, so Kilah's family can easily attend.

Another bill named for Kilah is making its way through the U.S. House. Last month, U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican from Charlotte, announced federal legislation aimed at increasing penalties for people convicted of serious cases of child abuse.

The federal legislation would strip federal money for child abuse prevention programs from states that don't increase the mandatory minimum sentence for abuse that causes serious bodily injury to children, or results in long-term or permanent damage.

The legislation calls for a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.


New Mexico

New method aids child-abuse victims

Investigators consolidating contact with kids

by Jessica Garate

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Eleven New Mexico counties have adopted a new approach to investigating child-abuse cases, and now the governor is urging the rest to do the same.

The 11 have already set up Multi-Disciplinary Teams known as MDTs, which are agreements between various agencies on how they handle child-abuse cases.

On Wednesday Gov. Susana Martinez MDTs prevents further harm to the child:

"In the past, law enforcement would interview the child, social worker interviews the child, the district attorney, the nurse in the hospital--this child put through many interviews" she said. "Now this forensic interviewer meets the needs of everyone else."

Martinez made her push as part of Child Abuse Awareness Month. New Mexico currently ranks eighth when it comes to child-abuse related deaths.

The governor said the mission of the state Children, Youth and Families Department is to make sure the child is safe while law enforcement investigates whether charges need to be filed. MDTs assure the cases are handled efficiently because agencies are communicating more, she added.

More than 23 other counties took part in a summit in Albuquerque Wednesday to learn how to set up MDTs in their towns. Martinez has directed CYFD to help establish the teams in each county.

Martinez also encouraged the public to use CYFD's hotline to report child abuse at #7233 ("pound-SAFE").



House committee approves bill that would close loophole in sex trafficking law

by Lauren McGaughy

A bill that would close a loophole in an existing sex trafficking law by making it a felony to solicit, incite or promote the prostitution of minors passed a House committee Wednesday without objection.

House Bill 261, sponsored by Rep. Lowell "Rick" Hazel, R-Pineville on behalf of Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, would ensure that anyone who encourages a minor into such activity could be charged and prosecuted in state court.

The legislation closes a loophole in a law passed last year at Abramson's urging that made sexual activity with a minor who is engaged in prostitution a felony offense.

Abramson has long been a proponent of harsher penalties for sex trafficking. After the committee meeting Wednesday, he said he hopes this legislation will ensure laws in Louisiana are as rigorous as possible.

Under state current law, a person convicted of engaging in sexual activity with a prostitute under 18 faces a fine of up to $50,000 and up to 15 years in prison. For a prostitute younger than 14, the penalty is up to $75,000 in fines and 50 years in prison.

Hazel's bill will make "soliciting, inciting or promoting" minors in prostitution subject to the same penalties.

The bill will now proceed to the House floor for further debate.



K-State, Manhattan organizations combat human trafficking

by Melanie Thomas

Forty-eight hours. That's the estimated amount of time it will take for a runaway girl to be approached by a pimp on the streets and trafficked into the sex trade, according to the Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence. The CARDV states, “sex trafficking is sexual slavery.” This problem hits a lot closer to home than many realize.

“We know there is trafficking in Junction City, Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita. We know there is trafficking in the large farming co-ops in Western Kansas. If there is trafficking in the big cities, you better believe that there is trafficking going on in rural areas and smaller towns,” said Kristen Tebow, 2011 K-State graduate and founder of the campus group K-State Freedom Alliance which works to bring awareness to and create positive change for human trafficking victims and practices.

Sex trafficking is just one form of slavery that results from human trafficking, which involves the transport, deception or kidnapping of a person who is then forced to work for little or no pay.

Human trafficking is currently at an all-time high, with an estimate of 2.5 million people in forced labor globally due to trafficking. An estimated $31.6 billion profit was made off of trafficked, forced labor globally in 2006, making it a massive global industry. It is second only to the illegal drug industry and equal to the illegal arms trafficking industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

International Justice Mission, a leading global human rights organization, states on its website that “more children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade.” Despite the abolishment of slavery in the U.S. in 1865, slavery rages on undercover within our borders.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Of those trafficked, about 80 percent are women or girls, and up to half are minors.

Of the five worst cities for sex trafficking in the United States, Kansas has two of them, said Deb Kluttz, program director of The Homestead. The Homestead is a Manhattan-based organization that houses, restores and reintegrates women exiting the sex trade industry.

Wichita is the fifth and Kansas City is the fourth worst city in the nation for sex trafficking, Kluttz said. The reason for this is that I-70 and I-35 highways are heavily used in moving trafficking victims and they intersect in Kansas, providing the perfect hub for traffickers, Kluttz said.

In the face of all that is happening in the world of human trafficking, many organizations are rising up to do what they can to stop the slavery and help victims of trafficking.

On campus, K-State Freedom Alliance is a student-led organization that works to spread the word about human trafficking and what people can do to fight it.

“[Our mission is] to bring forth awareness of the existence of human trafficking and to develop student activists engaged in preventing human trafficking, and raising funds to help non-profit organizations dedicated to the restoration of victims,” Tebow said.

K-State Freedom Alliance began in 2009 when Tebow, a survivor of trafficking, and four friends decided to form an organization to spread the word about trafficking. The group wanted to let people know that trafficking is an issue in the Manhattan community.

“Slavery still exists,” Tebow said, adding that “it happens here in Riley County.”

Human trafficking is not a dead issue, Tebow said.

“Everyone thinks that Abraham Lincoln stopped slavery. The only thing that has changed is that it is illegal,” Tebow said. “What Freedom Alliance does is challenge how mainstream society thinks of human trafficking and give our students and Manhattan community the real information.”

Tebow is optimistic that her organization makes a difference.

“We won't be able to stop human trafficking, but we do our best to help those who have been victimized by giving them information to get help and giving out as much information as we can,” Tebow said.

Tebow said that one of the problems with human trafficking is that people simply don't know what it is.

“I have spoken with many women who have been prostituted by family members, friends even boyfriends and not known that it is human trafficking until they have seen one of our programs or heard my story,” Tebow said.

K-State Freedom Alliance exists to make sure people know what human trafficking is and that it happens here in the U.S. and in Kansas.

Another problem in human trafficking, Tebow said, is that not enough organizations are working together to make a difference.

“There is a major divide between faith-based organizations and secular (non-profit or government) organizations.” Tebow said. “I think that if people are willing to let politics, morals and other things get in the way with helping people, then it should be considered a major problem.”

K-State Freedom Alliance isn't the only organization in Manhattan working to aid victims of trafficking. The Homestead, another locally based organization, works to directly aid victims of sex trafficking. Before graduating from K-State, Tebow was the creative director for The Homestead.

The Homestead works with women who have exited the sex trade industry. Its goal is to prepare women through a program to work in trades outside of the sex trade industry. This includes providing the women with apprenticeships to learn trades.

“We take up where they left off with their recovery process,” Kluttz said. “I want them to have a trade where they're able to make a career.”

Restoration and reintegration of these women isn't easy, though, Kluttz said. Only a small percent of those trafficked are pulled out of the industry, and of those rescued, many go back into it. Statistically, many women may go back as many as seven times, Kluttz said.

It is not an impossible battle, though, Kluttz said. “We're starting to get a bit of a handle on it.”

The Homestead works in conjunction with other organizations in Kansas, many of which are involved in rescue and restoration. Some of the Manhattan organizations The Homestead works with are Forsaken Generation, Stepping Stones and Court Appointed Special Advocates.

More information on human trafficking and what you can do to help can be found on K-State Freedom Alliance's Facebook page. To join K-State Freedom Alliance's ListServ, contact . More information on The Homestead can be found at .



Search continues after Amber Alert issued for Maywood boy

by Matthew Walberg -- Tribune reporter

Authorities are continuing to search for a 1-year-old boy apparently abducted in Maywood Tuesday afternoon.

The victim, Byreon Hunter, described as 2 feet tall, 30 pounds and last seen wearing a blue striped shirt with blue jeans and brown Nike boots, is believed to have been taken at around 2:15 p.m. near 6th Avenue and Main Street in the near west suburb, according to the state's AMBER Alert website.

Authorities are searching for three suspects who are described as Hispanic men and may be traveling in a black sports coupe with tinted windows, according to police.

License plate information was not available.

Police named three suspects late Tuesday but said Wednesday morning they had been cleared. Police are still searching for the child and the vehicle.

Anyone with information about the child is urged to contact the Maywood Police Department at (708) 450-4471.,0,6642706.story



Agency provides temporary home for abuse survivors


It looks like any other house on any other street in Norfolk.

But the Bright Horizons shelter may be one of the best-kept secrets around — and for good reason.

“Safety — it's our top concern,” said Christy Abner, Bright Horizons' program director in Norfolk. “We take that very, very seriously.”

The domestic violence agency Bright Horizons operates a confidential and secure shelter facility in Norfolk for those fleeing an unsafe situation. In 2012 alone, they sheltered 52 adults and 75 children.

When people think of a shelter, they think of an auditorium with cots lined up end to end, said Lacy Kimes, shelter manager. But Bright Horizon's facility is a large, three-floor home with five bedrooms, three bathrooms and your normal kitchen and living room areas.

It's almost always full of women and their children who left an abusive home life.

Some will stay only one night or only a week. For others, it takes longer, sometimes two to three months.

“No one wants to stay at a shelter forever,” Kimes said.

The women who come to stay are given time to regroup but then are encouraged to start working on their goals — finding employment, daycare for the kids and a more permanent place to live.

Bright Horizons can supply clients with a list of possible landlords and take her to an appointment to look at an apartment — even help fill-in housing applications.

“We want them to be as independent as possible. We want them to have everything set up when they leave shelter . . . so that they're able to function without the abuse in their lives,” Abner said.

One-on-one advocacy with a case manager helps clients to assess their situation, evaluate options and make safe decisions.

Kimes said just educating women on local resources hits home that they're not alone.

Along with communicating daily with staff, each woman at the shelter is required to complete house chore assignments and keep their own living spaces clean and orderly.

“When you've got five families in one house it can get kind of crazy,” Kimes said.

Each is also required to keep the shelter's location and the individuals staying there in complete confidence.

Groceries and personal supplies are provided as needed and all of Bright Horizons services are free. Funding is provided through federal grants and private donations. Public assistance does not pay for diapers which is always a shelter need, Kimes said.

The agency also raises funds throughout the year with special events such as an annual walk. Funds raised not only benefit the shelter but Bright Horizons' other services which includes a 24-hour crisis line, advocacy, community education and support groups to individuals in Madison, Stanton, Antelope, Knox, Pierce, Holt and Boyd counties.

Once a family leaves the shelter, Kimes finds herself getting ready for the next family to walk through the door — which could happen in a matter of hours.

“When we leave at 5 and a crisis call comes in in the middle of the night, that room is ready to go,” Abner said. “We would never turn someone away. They may not be appropriate for all of our services but we would always help them to make sure they're safe. . . . We always keep that door open.”



Protestors hope for indictment in Steubenville rape case

STEUBENVILLE - A gathering of between 25 to 35 protesters, some wearing Guy Fawkes masks and claiming to be members of Anonymous, stood in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse Monday while a grand jury was being selected to further investigate the Steubenville rape case.

The special grand jury is expected to hear about 10 days of evidence beginning on April 30 as to whether any laws were violated by persons surrounding the rape case involving two Steubenville High School student-athletes.

The special grand jury was quickly seated Monday morning after questioning by visiting retired Summit County Judge Patricia Ann Cosgrove in Jefferson County Common Pleas Court. Trent Mays, 17, of Bloomingdale and Ma'Lik Richmond, 16, of Steubenville were found delinquent on March 17 by visiting Judge Tom Lipps of rape in connection with an incident involving an intoxicated underage girl on Aug. 11-12. Mays also was found delinquent of a charge of illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material for having a picture of the 16-year-old victim in an outgoing text message on his cell phone.

Three Anonymous protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks stood in front of the Jefferson County Courthouse Monday while a grand jury was selected. Some protesters said they were cautiously optimistic others may be indicted, especially adults they contend were part of a coverup or knew about the rape and didn't report it to authorities.

Immediately after Lipps' decision, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced a special grand jury would be called to investigate whether other laws were broken in the case.

The case made international headlines after Anonymous, an Internet hacktivist group, launched an Internet campaign alleging more than the two student-athletes were involved in the rape. Monday's protest was the latest in a string that brought unprecedented media coverage to the trial. Those attending said while they were hopeful others might be indicted for other crimes related to the rape, they were cautious.

One woman, Rebecca Mikesell of Jefferson County, said while she initially was outraged by the rape and the circumstances surrounding it, she'd come to realize it was going to take more than just protests to educate young people as to what rape really is. She also said she had begun a support group for survivors of unreported sexual assault.

"I am co-founder of a peer support and advocacy group called Sisters of Jane," said Mikesell, adding she also was a victim of an unreported sexual assault. "We are in the process of getting our nonprofit status. Our inception was because of this case.

"We don't wear masks," continued Mikesell, adding she didn't mind people knowing who she was. "My own (sexual assault) case went unreported. My assault happened in 1990, and I remained quiet for years. We feel support for the victim to the utmost. More important, there shouldn't even be a victim."

Mikesell said the events stirred up feelings ranging from anger to eventual empathy for all involved.

"When this case came to light I knew it was time to act," she said. "We couldn't just sit here and be hypocrites any longer."

Mikesell said her program is designed for victims to share their experiences, but "a big part of this is to educate and motivate. Our organization can be contacted on Facebook under Sisters of Jane. We also have an e-mail address -"

Many victims of unreported sexual assault and abuse have come forward to share their stories, particularly on the Facebook home page, said Mikesell.

"It was amazing the number of women that came to us crying and telling us their stories," she continued, adding the group meets at the Schiappa branch of the Public Library of Steubenville and Jefferson County.

Mikesell also said she had ambivalent feelings toward the males involved, and while they knew their actions were immoral, they may not have realized what the definition of rape was. She said one of the group's goals will be to educate young people about what constitutes sexual assault. She also said she believed others should be held accountable but refused to cooperate or tell what they may have known.

"I hope there are other indictments handed down," she said. "I think that could be the beginning of the change we need."

An Anonymous member who called himself "Mike" also was willing to discuss his hopes for any grand jury action. Mike, wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, said he was from Weirton and involved "behind the scenes" in some of the Anonymous actions related to the case. He said he was unsatisfied with the outcome of the trail.

"It really wasn't enough," he said. "They were very light sentences. Those two should have been tried in an adult court because this was an adult crime. I think it's been proven there's been some covering up and some corruption, and that's why we're here today."

Mike said he was unsure of what the outcome of the grand jury would be, but it was a step in the right direction.

"I guess we'll find out what happens," he said. "At least it's a start. We're hoping the grand jury finds others should be held accountable. Where were the parents? Where were these houses? It hasn't been brought up enough. Why? A lot of brothers and sisters in (Anonymous) feel the same way."

He also said the parents of those involved in the parties the evening of the rape also should be held accountable for not chapperoning the youth and allowing drinking at their houses. Mike also said he wasn't happy about immunity from prosecution given to three witnesses for their testimony about the crime.

"The justice system locally didn't appear to work," he said. "We're not happy with the immunity and the sentences and that this was in a juvenile court. And I don't think it's just Anonymous that feels that way, but also the general public.

"Let's face it," he continued. "These boys knew what they were doing. She didn't give consent. That's rape."

He also said education is the key to preventing juvenile sexual assault and abuse.

"Get to your kids at an early age," he said. "If you teach them early, they will know right from wrong."

He also said Anonymous will hosting another protest against an allegedly abused child at 3 p.m. May 4 at the Weirton Municipal Building.


Expectant mothers' negative beliefs linked to child abuse

by Cole Petrochko

This story originally appeared on

An expectant mother's beliefs about her infant's negative intentions, such as soiling diapers on purpose, were associated with child abuse, researchers found.

Moms who said their children had negative intentions were more likely to maltreat their child by the time the baby was 26 months old, according to Lisa Berlin, PhD, of the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Baltimore, and colleagues.

In addition, more hostile attributions were significantly associated with harsher parenting behaviors, they wrote online in JAMA Pediatrics.

The authors noted that parental maltreatment is an increasing problem as abuse in childhood has been associated with abusive behaviors in adulthood.

The study analyzed pregnant women's attributions to children as a predictor of maltreatment and harsh parenting during an infant's first and second years, they wrote, as well as offering healthcare professionals methods of assessing hostile attributions through a community-based sample of 499 pregnant women.

Participants were mostly non-Hispanic black (34 percent) and white (35 percent) women with a mean age of 27. Most had a college degree (23 percent) or greater (18 percent) and did not report notable social isolation during pregnancy.

Almost all of the children (92 percent) were born at a gestational age of 37 weeks or more and 54 percent were boys.

Researchers interviewed mothers during the second half of their pregnancy about attributions of infant behavior, family demographics, mental health, and social isolation. Interviews were conducted again at follow-up during their child's second year about the child's date of birth and sex, as well as mother's self-reported parenting behaviors.

Attributions were recorded in questions such as "Do babies seek praise when they do something clever?" and "Do babies ignore their mothers to be annoying?" and were measured on a five-point scale.

Maltreatment outcomes were measured through county records and included 79 incidents of abuse among 40 children, including 62 allegations and 18 substantiations.

Harsh parenting was measured through a four-item, five-point scale of "hostile-reactive" behaviors, such as responding to periods where the infant was particularly fussy with anger directed at the child, spanking, shouting at, or shaking the child.

Hostile attributions were significantly associated with child maltreatment.

On the five-point scale, children of mothers who received the minimum score of one for hostile attributions had a 4 percent chance of being maltreated.

Children of mothers who received the maximum score of five for hostile attributions had a 15 percent chance of being maltreated.

"Almost one-quarter of the children in this sample (113 of 499 [23 percent]) had mothers who received the maximum score of 5 for hostile attributions," the authors said.

Maternal age, income, race, education, mental health status, and social isolation were not significantly associated with child maltreatment, though there were "significant bivariate correlations between mothers' hostile attributions and their mental health problems and social isolation."

The authors also found that "mothers' hostile attributions increased the likelihood that their child would be maltreated," adding that "for every one-point increase in mothers' hostile attributions, their children had a 26 percent greater odds of being maltreated."

The authors said their research was limited by lack of rigorous analysis of maltreatment data and missing diagnostic mental health information. In addition, the patient population was a small, homogeneous sample and the study relied on self-report for assessing maternal attributions and parenting behaviors.

They added that "our study highlights the value of practitioners attending to mothers' and expectant mothers' attributions about infants' intentions. This practice can be accomplished on informal and formal bases."

For instance, if a new mother reports that the baby is repeatedly waking her up during the night because the child is "spoiled" or "naughty," a practitioner could immediately discuss the mother's attributions and responses, they said.

In an accompanying editorial, Joel Milner, PhD, and Julie Crouch, PhD, both of the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, pointed out that "cognitive models of aggression propose that when an individual attributes hostile intent to another person's behavior, these attributions increase the likelihood of aggression toward that person."

They noted that practitioners need to be able to make a distinction between changing attributions of hostile intent or focusing on helping the parent "develop a clearer understanding of intentionality as it relates to young children."

"There remains a need for additional research on the methods that might have the greatest efficacy in changing the maternal belief-based attributions, especially hostile attributions related to children's behaviors," they wrote.



The Lonnie Smith Act strengthens felony child abuse law


JACKSON COUNTY, MISS. -- Gov. Phil Bryant on Monday signed into law the Lonnie Smith Act, which will reform the felony child abuse law in the state beginning July 1.

HB1259 was championed by the Mississippi Prosecutors Association and Jackson County prosecutors who handled the case involving the bill's namesake.

In 2008, Lonnie Smith's biological mother, Sylvia Smith, repeatedly dipped him, then 3, into a bathtub filled with scalding hot water, resulting in injuries that has left him confined to a wheelchair and permanently disabled for life. Sylvia Smith is currently serving an 18-year sentence for felony child abuse. He has since been adopted.

The bill strengthens the language of felony child abuse, the current law of which officials say is too vague and fails to address the language physicians commonly use when treating victims of child abuse.

"The Lonnie Smith Act gives prosecutors across the state a new weapon to protect children from continuous abuse and to hold those accountable for that abuse," MPA's immediate past president and Jackson County District Attorney Tony Lawrence said. "I have seen too many tragedies unfold due to the inadequacies of the old child abuse law. I am proud the legislature and the governor saw the need to reform the law to better protect our children."

The new law, officials say, has bridged the gap between the legal and medical definitions of child abuse to better tie offenders to a criminal act so appropriate legal punishment can be taken.

"I appreciate the work of so many that helped make this legislation happen," Bryant said Monday. "House Bill 1259 gives law enforcement in Mississippi the tools they will need to better protect our children and sends a clear message that those who harm children will be held accountable."

Sen. Brice Wiggins was among those pushing for the bill's passage.

"This bill took a lot of work to get the language right in order to better protect our children," Wiggins said. "We met with physicians, prosecutors and parents around the state to ensure the bill does that for which it was intended -- protect our children."

Current MPA President Dewayne Richardson added, "This law ensures that countless children will be protected and those individuals who abuse children will be accountable under the law. MPA sponsored this bill to improve the law in our state and demonstrate the importance of protecting the children."


North Carolina

NC Senate committee OKs tougher child abuse law

RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill increasing penalties for those convicted of child abuse is heading for a vote in the North Carolina Senate.

A Senate judiciary committee signed off on the bill Tuesday, about a month after the House passed the bill unanimously. The bill is named after Kilah Davenport, a Union County toddler who suffered severe brain damage last May from a beating that investigators have blamed on her stepfather.

Bill sponsors say the measure will discourage future child abuse by doubling maximum sentences to more than 30 years for the most serious crimes. The bill also tracks those convicted of child abuse separately from domestic abuse to help determine rates of repeat crimes.

The bill would go into effect Dec. 1 if passed by the Senate.


West Virginia

Step up to help protect children in your community

by Melody Souku, Martinsburg - Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center

It has been a little more than a year since the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University first alarmed communities across the country. The unfolding of this issue served as a troubling reminder that child sexual abuse spans all geographic areas, races, and classes. It happens in our schools, our churches, and our homes. The failings of the adults who knew of Sandusky's victims were many: unwillingness to believe such a "great guy" would do something so bad to children, assuming someone was "dealing with the problem," not contacting the authorities, and ultimately lacking courage to stand up for the children victimized by Sandusky.

The West Virginia state legislature took to heart the lessons of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. A new law in West Virginia requires any adult over age 18 who witnesses or receives disclosure about child sexual abuse to report it to the authorities. The shocking reality is that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys you know will likely be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18. This means that in an average classroom of 20 kids with eight girls and 12 boys, four children will be sexually abused. The story of Penn State, although a reminder of the failures of the adults involved in the scandal, can also be an inspiration to us to have the courage to step forward and prevent child sexual abuse from taking place in our own communities.

Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center is joining the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network in the One With Courage awareness campaign, which is currently running on television, radio, billboards, and in social media statewide. This campaign emphasizes the courage it takes for a child to come forward and talk about their story of sexual abuse. Please join us to show the same kind of courage by leading the way in our own communities - by educating and informing ourselves, by reporting abuse when we suspect it, by advocating for better protection on a local, state and federal level, and most of all, by showing the courage to protect our children - all children - from abuse. Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center is also providing Darkness to Light's, Stewards of Children trainings as a way to raise awareness of child sexual abuse prevention for adults in the Eastern Panhandle. Stewards of Children is a three-hour interactive workshop that educates adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The contents of the program include building consciousness, identifying the steps to take toward prevention and understanding the nature and impact of child sexual abuse.

To learn more about Stewards of Children and upcoming trainings, call Melody Soukup, family and community advocate, at 304-596-2022. To learn more about the One with Courage campaign, as well as information about the signs of abuse and how to take action, go to:

You too can be the One with Courage to protect children from sexual abuse in your community.


War's most vulnerable: How to stop child rape

by Carolyn S. Miles

Editor's note: Carolyn Miles is the president and CEO Save the Children -- an international organization working for the rights of the child. She writes her own blog "Logging Miles."

(CNN) -- One of the longest-lasting effects of conflict is one that is all too often hidden away, breaking down social fabric and affecting those it touches for the rest of their lives. Rape and sexual violence are easy to overlook -- private tragedies with public stigmas. According to a new report from Save the Children, children bear the brunt of this unseen crisis, enduring the unthinkable when they are most vulnerable.

And sexual violence against children is more common than we dare to think. More than half of the victims of sexual violence are children, according to our report. In places of active or past conflict, from Liberia to Colombia to Afghanistan, children -- both boys and girls -- have been afflicted by this horrendous crime. One study cited in the report shows that in post-conflict Liberia, a staggering 80% of victims of sexual violence were children, and the majority of those had been raped.

The time has come to change those horrific numbers, and we are glad to see that G8 leaders have taken a step in the right direction As chair of the G8, the government of the UK is making sexual violence a priority, pledging new funds dedicated to preventing rape in places of conflict, and to make sure that those who survive it are given the care and treatment they need and deserve.

The scale of the problem is staggering -- in so many conflicts, sexual violence is adding to an already terrifying situation for children. Earlier this week, I spoke to a working group for the U.N. Security Council about the threat of sexual violence facing Syrian children, who have already been uprooted by a bloody two-year old conflict. Save the Children spoke to girls from Mali who saw their friends raped and killed by armed men; children in the Congo subjected to vicious sexual attacks in recent fighting around Goma; and mothers in Colombia whose young children had been raped as the rule of law broke down around them. This problem is not isolated, something happening in just one corner of the world, but instead a troubling pattern that we have seen in too many places.

Male victims, often young boys, have been overlooked when it comes to sexual violence, despite evidence that attacks on them, especially in war zones, are significant -- and go unreported. We need to face the full scale of sexual violence so that all children, boys or girls, receive that protection and support.

Tackling this problem means shifting attitudes toward sexual violence in war. Where help is available, it is often geared toward the needs of adults. We know in any conflict, children are the most vulnerable, and their needs are unique. Our report cites the devastation -- physical and psychological -- that sexual violence inflicts on the young. With proper support, we can help them heal.

The problem is not an easy one to tackle, but it must be done. Funding for protection of children in conflict zones has been difficult to secure. It is not as easy to show as items like food and tents, things that donors can see and grasp easily. Child protection in humanitarian crises is consistently the least funded area of humanitarian response. This pledge will help it get the resources a problem of this magnitude deserves.

It is imperative that we continue to demand that this changes. Survivors are often too afraid or embarrassed to speak out on what they have been through, sometimes isolated from their communities and lacking confidence those who abused them will face justice. We must be vocal in insisting that their needs be met. Those needs won't be met overnight, but on Thursday, G8 leaders took a bold step to combat this grave violation of children's rights. Ensuring proper resources and attention are given this critical issue is the first step in fighting this widespread crime against children.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are soley those of Carolyn Miles.



Child abuse and neglect survivor looks to future, thanks advocates who secured it


At the start of her life, Nacirema McFarlane bore the bruises of her mother's smacks. Later she shouldered the burden of caring for her siblings while she watched her mother sell food stamps and family furniture for drugs.

McFarlane, now 19, is a survivor of child abuse and neglect. She's a senior at DeSoto High School with an eye for fashion and art, and she's focused on her future. She wants to be a chef or a broadcast journalist. Maybe an artist.

As for her past, “that's the part I don't like to talk about,” McFarlane said. “I just like to keep looking forward.”

Early this month, advocates and Child Protective Services workers marked the start of National Child Abuse Prevention Month with a downtown event, during which McFarlane spoke. She said people like them saved her life nearly 10 years ago when they helped her navigate the child welfare system and moved her into a safe home.

“I know it's so hard for you all,” she told them. “But without you guys, my life wouldn't be as great as it is now.”

McFarlane's first name is “American” spelled backward, but she goes by Nasa. Her mother and grandmother are from Jamaica and she was the first born in the United States. As a young child, she lived with her mother and younger brother and sister in Dallas.

Her mother was an addict and left her eldest daughter to care for the home. The young girl found ways to feed her siblings with the little food they had but often went hungry in order to do so, said McFarlane's court advocate, Tim Sexton.

But during McFarlane's fourth-grade year, someone filed a report with Child Protective Services, and workers rescued the three children, McFarlane said. Sexton was assigned to their case as a volunteer for Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates and helped the three throughout the proceedings of the CPS investigation and court.

“We've seen this before,” said Sexton, who is now employed by CASA. He has worked with about 150 kids like McFarlane. “Nacirema had become what we call ‘parentified.' She was the parent, and she was in charge.”

The three children were removed from their mother's custody and taken in by foster parents in Dallas before being adopted by their maternal grandmother. The woman later decided she would move from Dallas to Florida and take the kids with her, but McFarlane wanted to finish school in DeSoto, Sexton said. She is living with friends.

McFarlane said she also hopes she can take advantage of going to college in Texas for free as a former foster youth. She has not had contact with her birth mother and doesn't wish to, she said.

“Nasa has all the right things in her head,” Sexton said. “We are so proud of her. She has the character and strength to keep going on the right path. She has a great spirit.”

Sexton continues to keep tabs on her, McFarlane said, advising her with “anything I need.”

In addition to all her other goals, she hopes to one day help youths who “age out” of foster care, she said.

At the April 5 event, the 11 children who died of child abuse in Dallas County were remembered with a release of 11 blue balloons. A clothes line of children's clothes represented those lives lost.

“My brother and sister and I could have been one of those,” she said. “I am so grateful that I'm alive, that I'm here.”

AT A GLANCE: Toll of abuse

Despite success stories like Nacirema McFarlane's, caseworkers and advocates know it's the tragedies of child abuse that get the most attention. “We always try our best,” said Linda Gomez, a program director for CPS and a 101/2-year veteran. “The deaths always hit us very hard, because this is an emotional job, but there are hundreds of children that we do help.” In 2012, 11 children died of child abuse or neglect in Dallas County. That's down from 30 in 2011. Here are a few of their stories:

A 2-year-old boy drowned after being left unattended in a bathtub with three young siblings.

A 5-year-old boy drowned in an apartment pool swimming unsupervised.

A 2-year-old boy died after suffering severe head trauma, broken bones and bruises.

A 1-year-old girl suffocated on a plastic bag as she was sleeping.

A 2-month-old boy drowned when his mother took him into the bathtub with her and fell asleep. The mother had a history of drug use.

A 1-year-old boy died after suffering head injuries after he fell when he was left unattended.

A 1-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend.

Anyone who suspects abuse or neglect of a child can call 1-800-252-5400. Names of those who make reports are kept confidential.



Child abuse reports down, awareness up


RACINE — Cases of child abuse and neglect in Racine County have been on a consistent decline in recent years.

Between 2009 and 2012, there was a 21 percent decrease in reports of abuse or neglect that required further assessment by the Racine County Human Services Department — down from 1,382 to 1,095. And local authorities say that accompanying the drop is an increased awareness of the issue among mandatory reporters — like teachers and doctors — and in the community as a whole.

“From that standpoint we are in really good shape,” said Kerry Milkie, Human Services Department Youth and Family Division manager.

But it takes consistent work to make sure those in the community know what they may be witnessing and what they can report.

“If you suspect it, you should report it,” Milkie said. “You don't have to know it. You just have to suspect it. Even if somebody isn't sure what's going on, we want them to call it in because we want to be the ones to make that decision.”

During the same four-year period, the number of Child Protective Services reports with enough evidence to warrant further assessment has also decreased across the State of Wisconsin but in a much more inconsistent pattern than in the county, which decreased each year between 2009 and 2013.

Younger children seeking help

While the number of cases in the county have been dropping, SAFE Haven of Racine Executive Director Pamala Handrow said she has noticed a different trend.

SAFE Haven of Racine, 1030 Washington Ave., provides shelter and services to hundreds of abused, neglected, homeless and runaway youth each year.

Handrow said that while there hasn't been a significant change in the number of those in need, those seeking help are now younger than they've have been in the past.

“I think we're seeing more middle school children now than we used to,” said Handrow, something staff at SAFE Haven also attribute to a rise increase in awareness.

“I think young people are more aware of the fact that ‘this isn't right,' that there may be a place I can go,” Handrow said. “I think they're educated in the school system and other places to speak out if they're being abused.”

Angie Flores, a youth shelter supervisor and case manager at SAFE Haven, said that the organization has also been busy helping families mediate problems before they rise to instances of abuse and neglect.

Child Abuse Awareness Day

Tonight, SAFE Haven is partnering with the Women's Resource Center and SCAN of Lutheran Social Services to recognize National Child Abuse Awareness Day.

During the event, information on child abuse prevention will be presented along with food, crafts, face-painting and games.

The night will also include a child abuse remembrance walk and candlelight vigil.

Those attending the event are asked to wear blue to promote awareness.


WHAT : National Child Abuse Awareness Day event

WHEN : 4-6:30 p.m. today

WHERE : SAFE Haven of Racine, 1030 Washington Ave.



Health department seeking input about child abuse

The Oklahoma State Department of Health Office of Child Abuse Prevention is asking for input to use in developing an effective, statewide comprehensive child abuse prevention plan.

Organizers say the survey provides an opportunity to share input on community resources in your area. The information will be considered and included in the upcoming five-year Oklahoma State Plan for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

The focus of the survey is on factors and family stressors that are connected with child abuse and what strategies that the participant believes impact the prevention of the four specific types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect.

Participants are encouraged to freely share this information and survey link with others who might be willing to provide input into child abuse and prevention in their area.

Public input can be provided by completing a brief questionnaire that is available at the following link: . The deadline for submitting input via the online questionnaire is Friday, April 26.



Special Report: Bringing awareness to child sexual abuse

by B.J. Williams -- Editor

GAINESVILLE - Since April is Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Prevention Month, local advocates have renewed their push to train a portion of Hall County's adults in preventing child sexual abuse.

Steve Collins, the president of the group Adults Protecting Children, said so far about 12-percent, or 840, of the 7,000 adults they want to train have taken the Stewards of Children training course. There's a reason, said Collins, that they have targeted 7,000 trainees.

"The goal in our initiative is to train five-percent of the adult population," said Collins. "Five-percent comes from Malcolm Gladwell's theory on the tipping point, where he says that if you can reach five percent of any audience with your message, you have reached that critical mass by can actually bring about a cultural shift."

Collins said the focus is on training adults because they are the ones who should be responsible for protecting children. He said many parents have misconceptions about who the child sexual abusers are.

"[They think] as long as I protect my child from the guy in the trench coat at the park, I'm okay or as long as I know where the sex offender's living near my house, I'm okay," said Collins.

He said the truth of the matter is that 90-percent of children know their abusers. In addition, 80-percent of sexual abuse cases occur in a one child-one adult situation.

Collins said parents need to ask pointed questions any time they leave their children in the care of others, whether at school, at camp or at church.

"They need to ask the question, 'Do you have a child protect policy? Is there ever an occasion where my child is going to be alone with an adult or with an older child?'"

Collins said in the next several weeks, his group will offer four Stewards of Children Training sessions in the Gainesville-Hall County area, as advocates continue to push toward their goal. Each trainee will pay $15 for training materials and 2 1/2 hours of instruction, according to Collins.

The upcoming courses are as follows:

Tuesday, April 16
Lakewood Baptist Church
6:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 27
Gainesville Parks & Recreation
Frances Meadows Aquatic Center
1 p.m.

Friday, May 10
Gainesville Parks & Recreation
Frances Meadows Aquatic Center
5 p.m.

Thursday, May 16
Westminster Presbyterian Church
6:30 p.m.

Collins said other groups interested in offering training sessions for adults may contact him at

Collins made his comments on a recent edition of WDUN's "Ken Coleman Show."

April is Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Prevention Month. Watch for other stories on this topic later in the month.



Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Event Scheduled for Saturday

by Karoline Wightman

LITTLE ROCK- A non-profit organization dedicated to preventing sexual abuse of children is holding a walk and rally at the State Capitol Saturday, April 20th.

The group Break the Silence-Speak Out America offers hope, help, and healing to survivors of sexual abuse. Miss Southeast Arkansas 2013 Britteny Humphrey has chosen child sexual abuse as her platform because of her own personal tragedy. When she was 8 years old she was sexually abused by her 3rd grade teacher. "I am in college getting my degree, I'm competing for Miss Arkansas and hopefully I'll become Miss Arkansas and go on to Miss America someday. I want to let kids know they can do that too. They can achieve their dreams and do anything they set their mind to."

Founder of Break the Silence Phyllis Harrington says the goal of the organization is to provide education and training, and help people find their voice. "We want to let children know it's ok to tell when someone is hurting them."

1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused by age 18. Alexis Williams is a volunteer with Break the Silence and says 95% of those cases are preventable. "The more we talk to our children the more comfortable they'll be approaching us about this subject if something were to happen."

Humphrey says support from her family, friends, and councilors helped her heal. "You can speak up. You don't have to be afraid. It's not your fault."

Harrington encourages parents to keep the lines of communication open with children. "Parents really need to watch who they allow their children to be around."

Williams says parents need to be advocates for their kids. "We are the protectors. We should not be victimizing children."

The Break the Silence-Speak Out America event is happening Saturday, April 20th on the steps of the Capitol. Registration starts at 7am and the walk is at 8am. The 2nd Saturday of every month Break the Silence hosts classes on child sex abuse prevention. The organization is completely volunteer and is always looking for donations, sponsors, and more people to join.



Oakland County-based nonprofit receives $5,000 from Verizon Wireless to help battle childhood abuse and neglect

Verizon Wireless donated $5,000 to CARE House of Oakland County, which provides programs and services for children and families to help prevent child abuse and neglect. Made possible through phones donated to HopeLine from Verizon, the funds will support the Stewards of Children (SOC), a sexual abuse prevention training program that educates adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. CARE House of Oakland County has provided SOC training to nearly 10,000 individuals since 2008. Training is provided at no cost to participants.

CARE House of Oakland County has served tens of thousands of children and families since 1977, with its advocacy, community outreach, intervention, prevention and treatment programs and services. It has taken a proactive approach in addressing the issues of child abuse and neglect, and has continued that mission-critical goal through programs and services that model its core belief; it shouldn't hurt to be a child.

“We thank Verizon for their long-term commitment to ending the epidemic of abuse,” said Carol Furlong, executive director, CARE House of Oakland County. “The HopeLine program has been an important contributor to our efforts to protect children in our community from abuse and neglect.”

Through HopeLine from Verizon, the company collects no-longer-used wireless phones, batteries and accessories in any condition from any carrier and turns them into support for domestic violence survivors. Phones collected through HopeLine are either refurbished and sold or recycled, and proceeds are donated to organizations that work against domestic violence in the form of cash grants and prepaid Verizon Wireless phones for survivors. Last year, Verizon donated nearly $400,000 in cash grants to nonprofit organizations across Michigan. The company also donated nearly 3.4 million minutes of service to domestic violence organizations for use by the clients they serve.



Ohio one of worst states for human trafficking

by Jami Kinton

CARDINGTON — Ohio is one of the top five worst states in America for human trafficking.

It's known as the “oldest oppression to women in the world,” yet State Representative Teresa Fedor said the fight for more education, stricter laws and harsher punishments is as tough as ever.

On Monday, Fedor was the keynote speaker at a Human Trafficking Awareness Program in Morrow County.

Human trafficking is the trade in human beings, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or for the extraction of organs or tissues, including surrogacy and ova removal.

“We have modern slavery — and it's called human trafficking,” Fedor said. “If these victims can't get away, then they're enslaved. And those responsible are very crafty. They make threats, they threaten with pictures, they tell these victims that no one cares about them.”

Fedor said the average age of the victims involved in human trafficking is 13.

“You might think that these things are only taking place in the bigger cities like Cleveland and Columbus, but did you know that there have been reported cases in Marion and Mansfield?” she said. “This is happening everywhere.”

And forget the stereotypes.

“This is not just in the bad areas,” Fedor said. “This is going on in suburban neighborhoods, in very nice homes. And it's not just ‘bad women.' It could happen to anyone here. And it's not just happening to females. It's despicable.”

Earlier Monday, Fedor introduced the End Demand Act, which focuses on reducing demand, increasing the penalties for users and rescuing victims.

“We need to be educating our children,” she said. “If something doesn't feel right, we need to let them know it's OK to ‘Yell and tell.' Unlike drugs, the demand is so high for human trafficking that these pimps will share girls. One survivor told me that she watched another girl be traded for a car.”

Fedor said 200,000 American kids are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry.

There are nearly 3,000 youth at risk in Ohio.

Fedor said the reason the numbers are so high in Ohio is because of a large immigrant population, and there are more truck stops and colleges and universities in Ohio than any other state.

“Children don't choose to do this,” she said. “They are kidnapped, coerced, forced and manipulated.”

There is also major health-related issues involved.

Fedor said victims suffer from more heart problems, more asthma, depression, bipolar disorders, HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and more.

Possible victim identifiers include hotel room keys, numerous school absences, multiple cellphones, fake IDs and much older, abusive and controlling “boyfriends.”

Fedor said the community can help by supporting trafficking legislation, report instances and join local coalitions.

Morrow County Sheriff Steven Brennemen said one of the best things parents can do is be involved in their children's lives.

“We just need to be parents,” he said. “We need to know where are kids are, what they're doing, where they're going.”



More twists in Audrie Pott case

At an emotional news conference, Audrie Pott's family and their lawyer acknowledge there probably was just one photo of her alleged assault, and that it had not been widely distributed.

by Maria L. La Ganga and Kate Mather

SAN JOSE — Audrie Pott thought everybody at her high school knew what happened that night.

The 15-year-old had been drinking during a Labor Day weekend party at a friend's house in the pricey Silicon Valley suburb of Saratoga. She either fell asleep or passed out. And she woke up to something her family's lawyer described as "unimaginable."

"There were some markings on her body, in some sort of permanent marker, indicating that someone had violated her when she was sleeping," attorney Robert Allard said Monday. On Audrie's leg was a message, Allard said, that included a boy's name and the words "was here."

"They drew on her, in addition to doing what they did."

And they — three 16-year-olds who had been Audrie's friends since middle school — are suspected by authorities of taking at least one cellphone photo of the sophomore while she was unconscious and later showing it to 10 or more classmates.

A week after the party, Audrie killed herself.

The suspects, arrested Thursday, are scheduled to appear in juvenile court Tuesday on charges of misdemeanor sexual battery, felony distribution of child pornography and felony forcible sexual penetration in an incident that raises questions of exactly what cyber-bullying means.

The case made international headlines last week after Allard said that images had spread among students at Saratoga High "like wildfire" and at least one photo had been posted on the Internet. Parallels were made to high-profile cases in Nova Scotia and Steubenville, Ohio.

On Monday, however, Allard and Audrie's family acknowledged that there probably was just one photo, and that it had not been posted on Facebook or widely distributed.

But as Audrie's stepmother, Lisa Pott, said during an emotional news conference, flanked by enormous photos of the fresh-faced girl: So what?

"We don't know if they were posted," she said. "We do know that images were taken. … Audrie [likely] saw people huddled around cellphones. … In her opinion, the whole school was talking about it."

Much is still not known about what really happened. Because the suspects are juveniles, their names have not been released. Their attorneys did not respond to calls for comment Monday. The Santa Clara County district attorney's office has not talked about the case.

But Deputy Kurtis Stenderup, spokesman for the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department, confirmed that the three suspects were students at Saratoga High School when the incident occurred and that one of the youths had since transferred.

"Audrie committed suicide, and then we were told of a possible sexual assault that occurred," Stenderup said in an interview Monday. "We're working backward. We're still trying to piece it together. …Multiple search warrants were written and served, and multiple computers and multiple cellphones were seized."

Stenderup said officials "really are hampered" because "getting kids to cooperate is difficult."

Allard and the Pott family on Monday urged anyone who had been to the party or seen the photo to come forward and cooperate with authorities.

In a statement released after the arrests, attorneys for the three suspects said that much of what had been reported in the media was inaccurate. What they described in the statement as "most disturbing" was "the attempt to link [Audrie's] suicide to the specific actions of these three boys."

On Monday, Allard said that statement had sent the Pott family "over the edge."

"These boys distributed pictures to humiliate and further bully my daughter," said Sheila Pott, Audrie's mother. "These individuals calculated their assault, harassed the victim with the photos and then took steps to cover up the evidence.

"There was no remorse here. These were not the actions of a child but of a person whose values systems are so skewed that they will do this again."

Lisa Pott said that the family "had no idea what happened to Audrie until after her memorial service." But after talking with her friends, checking her Facebook account and looking at her cellphone, a picture began to emerge. The family started its own investigation.

"We were able to find statements made by Audrie herself in the last week of her life that draws a direct connection between her death and what the three young men did to her," Lisa Pott said.

And then she read the young girl's words, culled, she said, from messages Audrie had sent to her friends on Facebook:

"My life is over."

"I'm in hell. Everyone knows about that night."

"My life is ruined and I don't even remember how."

"I have a reputation for a night I don't even remember and the whole school knows."

The Pott family has said they will file a civil wrongful-death lawsuit and push for an "Audrie's Law" to try to make sure that what happened to their daughter does not happen to any other child.

At Saratoga High, the original assertion that the whole school knew about events that unfolded at a party attended by about a dozen young people left some students angry.

In a posting on the San Jose Mercury News website, student Angela Luu said that "by stating that the pictures went on Facebook or went 'viral,' the media has falsely depicted Saratoga High as a heartless community that would laugh at the victim and sympathize with the abusers."

"We are NOT like that," she wrote. "We could have helped her, but we didn't know what was going on."

It was the school's newspaper, the Saratoga Falcon, that first reported about 10 students on the campus of about 1,400 had been shown an image of Audrie at what Allard described as her most "vulnerable."

On Monday, the Falcon's student editors posted a message on their newspaper site saying that, even though the picture had not been widely distributed, it still constituted cyber-bullying because Audrie believed it was.

Which, said cyber-bullying expert Brendesha Tynes, is exactly the point.

"If a teenager felt that everyone else had that negative perception of them," said Tynes, an associate professor at USC, "I could see it causing a person grave emotional damage, depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts — everything that we see Audrie Pott experiencing.",0,5695824.story



Pennsylvania legislators urge redefinition of child abuse

by Renatta Signorini

Pennsylvania's definition of child abuse is skewing statistics kept by welfare officials on how many children die from abuse, keeping the number artificially low.

The 1986 definition is so narrow that 30 children who died from apparent abuse have yet to be counted among victims listed in annual reports from the state Welfare Department between 2008 and 2011, said Cathleen Palm, director of the Protect Our Children Committee, a statewide advocacy group formed to prevent child abuse.

Among those missing from the statistics is Natalee Kay Mibroda, a 5-pound infant who was 20 days old when she was beaten to death on Dec. 27, 2011. A Westmoreland County judge on Tuesday will sentenced her father, who was found guilty by a jury of third-degree homicide.

She is among victims who can fall into statistical limbo because she cannot verify “severe pain,” which is specified in the state's definition of child abuse, Palm said.

Pediatricians and child advocates say the definition has to be rewritten to use a more common-sense approach to define abuse and to stop hamstringing officials from keeping accurate numbers.

Annual reports from the Welfare Department say 158 children died from abuse between 2008 and 2011, meaning that the state is underreporting those deaths by at least 20 percent.

Those numbers are so unreliable they cannot be compared to data from other states, Dr. David Turkewitz testified before a state task force formed to investigate the child protection system after reports of child abuse by Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State who has been convicted and imprisoned.

After hearing from Turkewitz, the chairman of pediatrics at York Hospital, and other experts, the task force advised changing the definition of child abuse.

It is unknown whether higher numbers of reported deaths will bring more funding to bear against child abuse, but at least the public will know how often abusers kill children, Palm said.

“We should be better at getting the numbers right,” Palm said. “We use that child abuse data ... as a measurement for child well-being in Pennsylvania.”

Various lawmakers are crafting bills to address that and other problems identified in a November report from their task force of 11 experts.

Under Pennsylvania's definition of child abuse, a child under age 18 must experience “severe pain” for abuse to be substantiated. But if the victim's pain level does not reach that threshold, that case is not recorded as child abuse, said Dr. Rachel Berger, a Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh pediatrician.

“We prosecute cases that CYS (Children, Youth and Family Services) can't call abuse,” she said.

The subjective nature of pain “leads to unacceptable variability in physical abuse reporting,” Turkewitz said.

One solution is to simply make it illegal for anyone to inflict “bodily injury” upon a child.

The “severe pain” threshold was inserted into the law under a revision of the Pennsylvania Code that went into effect in January 1986. Appellate court decisions in 1987 and 1989 disagreed on whether hearsay testimony from a caseworker or a medical expert could give evidence about “severe pain” when children could not offer that testimony.

In addition, Palm said, caseworkers are limited with a law that defines a perpetrator as “a parent, a paramour of a parent, a person over 14 living in the same home or someone responsible for the child's welfare.”

The law needs to be amended to reflect that others abuse children, experts said.

“We're trying not to miss anyone that we can protect,” said Dr. Amy G. Nevin, a pediatrician at Pittsburgh's Hilltop Community Healthcare Center who testified before the task force.

Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who said the task force was needed because of “loopholes” in the law, said the recommendations — which include other areas such as mandated reporters — should be adopted “so that we can better protect kids.”

Ward said it's difficult to determine whether changes in death statistics might result in more funding or caseworkers. “If the load's bigger, we'll have a responsibility to take care of it,” she said.

Palm said her group presented the welfare department with information on the 30 fatalities not counted from 2008 to 2011.

The children died from apparent abuse, based on what could be gleaned from media reports and comparing them to death reports routinely posted on the welfare department's website, Palm said. Criminal charges were filed in most of the cases, although some were ruled accidental.

The department said 15 of those deaths have been substantiated as abuse. Palm said she is waiting to learn which have been counted. It remains unclear whether Natalee's death has been included.

Shara Saveikis, director of the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau, and Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Welfare, declined to comment, citing confidentiality restrictions.

In general, county caseworkers investigate reports of suspected child abuse and forward findings to the state, Saveikis said. County officials can determine whether the circumstances of a suspected abuse case do not meet the threshold of state law or if the case is substantiated, she said.

For a death report, the state is required to complete a review within six months to analyze the “strengths and challenges of our system” and identify the best ways to serve families, Miller said.




Column: Stepping up to prevent child abuse

by Lisa Johnson

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. This year marks the 30th anniversary of this national effort to promote awareness of child abuse and neglect.

And while the incidence of child maltreatment has declined, the most recent data available indicates an estimated 681,000 victims of child abuse and neglect in 2011. Four-fifths of these children (78 percent) experienced neglect, 18 percent experienced physical abuse and 9 percent experienced sexual abuse.

Here in Massachusetts, the Department of Children and Families reports that in 2010, among maltreated children, 21,952 (91 percent) were found to have been neglected, 3,212 (13 percent) were physically abused and 801 (3 percent) were sexually abused. It should be noted that these numbers do not account for all incidents of maltreatment; they refer only to children who are known to child protection agencies.

Child abuse and neglect do not occur in a vacuum. Individual, family and social factors often play a role and shape the extent to which children are at risk. Issues such as parents' lack of understanding of child development, substance abuse, domestic violence, poverty and socioeconomic disadvantage, and community violence have all been identified as contributing to the incidence of child abuse and neglect.

Alternatively, protective factors such as parent-child attachment, social connections, parental resilience, and concrete support for parents can shield children from maltreatment. Therefore, we must not only focus on decreasing risk factors, but also give attention to increasing protective factors, many of which call for strengthening parents so they can provide nurturing and safe environments for their children. Just as we, as a community, have a responsibility to report suspicions of child maltreatment, we must also play a role in supporting the safety, permanency and well-being of children and their families.

Taking on this role requires an awareness of the connection between state investments and policies and child well-being. Last year, the Foundation for Child Development released a report that provides a state-by-state measure of the quality of children's lives using the Child Well-Being Index. According to the report, there is a strong relationship between state tax rates, the size of state investments in children and children's well-being. States with higher tax rates generate higher revenues and have higher rates of overall child well-being than states with lower tax rates.

Essentially, when states invest in children, children have better outcomes.

In his 2013 State of the Commonwealth address, Gov. Deval Patrick called for increased revenue to support improvements in transportation and early education programs for children. Higher revenues are also necessary to bolster programs and services that encourage protective factors among families in our communities. Examples of such services include home visitation and early education programs, supportive housing, parent education and support groups, family resource centers, and violence prevention programs.

While a higher income tax rate is difficult to imagine in this challenging economic environment, we should consider such revenue-building opportunities as a way to invest in children's well-being and support healthy families. The benefits of such an investment are revealed in Massachusetts' ranking as second in the nation in overall child well-being. However, the need for increased revenue is supported by the fact that our children continue to experience a relatively high rate of maltreatment (18 per 1,000 children) and by recent budget cuts that have weakened the system of social supports intended to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect.

National Child Abuse Prevention Month reminds us that prevention of child abuse and neglect requires promotion of child and family well-being. The public investments we make in our children today can make a difference in their lives now and in the future.

Lisa Johnson is an assistant professor in Salem State University's School of Social Work. She has practiced in both the child welfare and health care fields.



New organization aims to aid abused children

University of Alabama sophomore Stephanie Ray knew she wanted to provide aid for local abused children, so she came up with a plan to start a student organization to do just that.

Her program, Good Alabama, aims to offer support, mentorship, resources and meals to abused children in local areas.

“Good Alabama is an organization that kind of developed into a student organization,” Ray said. “Good Alabama's goal is to basically just really be there and be positive enforcement for the kids.”

Since Good Alabama began in March, they have been working to grow to meet the needs of the children. Due to the sensitivity of the topic, members go through extensive training to prepare them for interacting with the children in the mentorship setting.

“We don't want to be an organization that just drops off donations,” Ray said. “We're trying to immerse ourselves and become trustworthy to the area and the shelters. We want to make sure we get a good couple of days a week to spend time with the kids.”

Another part of Good Alabama's mission is to go cook with the kids and provide them with at least one organic meal a week. This is to ensure they are getting crucial nutrients, which can sometimes be difficult to obtain in these situations, Ray said.

“We're trying to make sure that they get good nutrients at least once a week, which is of course is not ideal, but it's a start,” she said.

Ray said she hopes she can extend Good Alabama beyond The University of Alabama. She wants to see the program at other universities and eventually in other states, she said.

“I think it's important that people can see that good things are happening,” Ray said.

Her efforts have been recognized by other members of the Good Alabama group, who say that they feel inspired by Ray's drive. Marina Roberts, a junior majoring in accounting, helped in the early stages of Good Alabama's development by offering advice and suggesting potential resources.

“I believe that Good Alabama is right now building a sort of foundation that will later enable it to make a truly significant impact in the Tuscaloosa community,” Roberts said.

Roberts said the effort Ray puts into the program is significant.

“What Stephanie is doing is trying to set up a network of resources and support that she can use to empower the abused children with whom she wants to work,” Roberts said. “I think she recognizes a lot of the barriers that these children will face, and she wants to take on those challenges and bring those barriers down.”

Before Good Alabama, Roberts said she was not aware of how extensive the issue of child abuse is within the local areas.

“My experience with Good Alabama has helped me to recognize how huge the problem of child abuse is in this community, but it has also taught me how capable we all are of taking action to address that issue,” Roberts said.

Good Alabama is working continuously to plan events and fundraising to further its cause. For more information on the group and their upcoming projects, visit them online at



Saratoga girl's suicide fuels cyberbullying debate

by Mark Emmons

SARATOGA -- It has become a depressingly familiar story in the digital age. An alleged sexual assault occurs. Images brazenly are shared electronically. Reputations are destroyed and, in some cases, a humiliated teen even takes his or her own life.

That horrifying chain of events played out shortly after school started in the fall when 15-year-old Audrie Pott, of Saratoga, committed suicide eight days after police say she was assaulted by three boys, who were arrested last week on suspicion of sexual battery and distribution of unlawful material in a case that has sparked national outrage.

Audrie's death is only the latest in a series of cyber-related tragedies fueling a debate about the negative effects of social media -- especially on kids who are anxious to live their lives through electronic devices but unprepared to deal with the sometimes harsh consequences.

A Canadian teen, who allegedly was gang-raped and then horrified to see a photo of the incident circulating among friends, was taken off life support last week after trying to hang herself. Last month, two Steubenville, Ohio, high school football stars were convicted of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl -- an assault that came to light when digital photos were distributed.

"You look at these cases and see how similar they are, and you wonder what's happening in our society right now," said Parry Aftab, founder of advocacy group Stop Cyberbullying. "Something new and terrible is occurring. Why do otherwise normal kids rape people and then brag about it online for cyberglory? These kids are setting off bombs online, and then they explode offline."

Instant communication on cellphones has become increasingly important to teenagers. And teens can have the attitude that if they don't post something on Facebook, then it didn't actually happen. But the full implications of that technology also can be lost on them, and Audrie's death is yet another cautionary tale about the perils of social media.

"As much as the original rape of this young girl was a violation of her soul, you could argue that the suicide was motivated by the public humiliation of the photos rather than the private humiliation she suffered at the party," said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital. "The rape was repeated every time someone passed those photos on. It sure sounds like that's what led her to feel her life was worthless, not the rape itself."

The photos going viral, according to accounts provided by authorities and family attorney Robert Allard, only magnified the teen's emotional pain -- and ultimately became too much to bear.

Audrie, who played musical instruments, loved to sing and enjoyed playing soccer, attended an unsupervised house party Labor Day weekend. Audrie had passed out drunk when she was assaulted by three Saratoga High students, police say.

Allard said digital photos "spread like wildfire" among students, and that seems to be reflected in a series of tortured Facebook postings by Audrie in the days before her Sept. 10 death, including one describing the "worst day in her life."

It was only after her death that a Santa Clara County sheriff's deputy assigned to the school began hearing whispers about the sharing of the images and that her parents became aware of the assault.

Tina Meier knows first-hand what the Pott family has been going through the past seven months. Her 13-year-old daughter, Megan Meier, committed suicide in 2006 after the teen was embarrassed by a cruel Internet hoax where a friend's mother pretended to be a boy who liked her.

"I'm sure this girl knew that she didn't have control over those images and what was being said about her," said Meier, who founded the Megan Meier Foundation. "Kids many times feel that the things that they hear are what everybody is going to believe, and that there's no way out."

Just turning off the cellphone or computer is not a solution, she said.

"Social media is the way that teenagers communicate today," Meier said. "It's their whole life, and when you're pushed aside and humiliated in that world, it's truly devastating for them. Kids are conditioned to have their cellphones with them everywhere and even go to bed with them. They set up alerts that ding anytime there's a message. It's a vicious, 24-hour cycle that they can't get away from."

The circumstances of Audrie's death quickly gained national attention in part because of two other high-profile cases. Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was removed from life support on April 7 after a suicide attempt. She was depressed over being allegedly raped and bullied by four boys in November 2011 when she was 15. She reportedly had been tormented at school after a photo allegedly showing her having sex with a boy was circulated among friends' mobile phones and computers.

In March, two Ohio football stars were convicted of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl -- an attack that came to light when digital photos of the naked 16-year-old were distributed digitally.

But David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, said it's wrong to place the blame with technology

Instead, he said: "Kids feel like they can commit these kinds of acts and maybe even get away with them."

Rape among teenagers, he added, has decreased substantially since the 1990s and cellphones even might be part of the reason for that drop. That's why he calls the issue of technology "complicated" when discussing sexual assaults.

"If someone knows their images could be out there because everyone is carrying around smartphones, they will be fearful of committing a crime," Finkelhor said. "The problem with sexual-assault crimes always has been that it can be his word vs. her word. So while an image of what happened can be tremendously humiliating, it also can identify the offenders and lead to convictions."

Aftab has a different view. She believes once technology becomes involved, young people can lose a sense of empathy. She theorizes that whomever took the alleged images might be teens who feel like they're the stars of a reality television show. Teens who viewed and then disseminated the photos become the audience.

"It's not just the plain, old, horrible crime of rape," said Aftab, an Internet privacy and security expert. "The cyberworld has a different reality as far as kids are concerned. It's not real life. For them, it's a show and not a rape of someone their own age. It's almost as if entertainment has taken over their humanity."

The Pott family has been public about the circumstances of Audrie's death in hopes it can prevent further tragedies and lead to an "Audrie's Law" to better address cyberbullying that follows sexual assaults.

Rich isn't sure if changes in the law are the answer, but he's convinced there needs to be changes in societal attitudes.

"We need to reframe the whole act, including the photos, as rape because that's exactly what it is," he said.



Local child sex abuse survivors want statute of limitations gone

Efforts to include changes in Oregon House Bill 3284 on hold after failing to get votes

by Sanne Specht

Local survivors of child sex abuse vow to continue their fight to remove statutory limitations on criminal prosecution of Oregon offenders despite a recent setback in Salem.

The advocates want to remove the prosecutorial time clock from five Measure 11 sex crimes — incest, first-degree rape, first-degree sexual abuse, first-degree unlawful penetration and first-degree sodomy — provided the victim was younger than 18 and the perpetrator was older than 18 at the time of the alleged crimes.

Efforts to add the changes to House Bill 3284 were tabled last week after the nine-member House Judiciary Committee failed to muster five affirmative votes, said Randy Ellison, an Ashland resident, adult survivor of child sexual abuse and board president of Oregon Advocates and Survivors in Service.

"(Last) week the Oregon state Legislature chose to place perpetrators over the safety of our children," Ellison said. "It is truly a dark day in Oregon, but it's not the last day."

Oregon law allows a perpetrator be prosecuted for abuse up to 12 years after the first reporting of an alleged incident to a responsible party such as the Department of Human Services, school officials or police, Ellison said.

"Or within 12 years after the victim reaches the age of maturity, which means they are locked out of the system at age 30," Ellison said, adding it can take decades for a victim to be able to disclose.

"It's so hard to disclose — the shame, the lack of support," Ellison said.

Members of the America Civil Liberties Union and the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association argued against the proposed changes.

"The best public policy promotes prompt reporting," said Gail Meyer, who testified on behalf of the defense lawyers organization.

Ellison, who joined other child sexual abuse survivors demonstrating on the Capitol steps last week, said the committee's inaction leaves Oregon children at risk.

"Perpetrators don't retire," Ellison said. "We're saving future generations of kids."

Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18. It is estimated that at least 39 million Americans are survivors of child sexual abuse.

"At least 20 percent of our children are being abused, are being molested, are being raped," Ellison said.

Ellison, 60, was 15 when a youth minister began sexually abusing him. For more than 40 years, Ellison remained silent about the abuse by a trusted leader in his community — a 40-year-old married man with children of his own, he said.

"He said it was my fault," Ellison said. "He said I should pray for him.

"One woman spoke about how she tried to disclose (her abuse) in grade school, in junior high and as a young adult," Ellison said. "At every stage she was not given support."

When the woman became an adult and found the strength to speak out against her abuser, the statute of limitations had run out, he said.

Taking away the statute of limitations on these Measure 11 sex crimes would put them on par with murder, attempted murder and other deadly crimes, which have no time limits on prosecution, Meyer said.

"The thing with a murder case is there is usually a dead body, and pretty clear evidence of foul play," she said.

In the case of a decades-old abuse allegation, there may be no evidence. Simply the word of an alleged victim, Meyer said.

Even if there was once a police report or other physical evidence recovered at the time of the initial alleged abuse, it may no longer be available, Meyer said.

"The more time goes by, the more things like that get destroyed," Meyer said.

Ellison said 33 states have eliminated statutes of limitations on these types of cases.



Victim speaks out about horrors of sexual abuse


In 2012, the Janelle Grum Family Crisis Center of East Texas provided services to 228 sexual assault victims, both adults and children.

Rita, whose real name is not being used in this story in an attempt to protect her identity, was one of the 118 adult victims. She spoke to The Lufkin News in hopes that victims of sexual assault will seek out help.

It was about two years ago, but the images are still powerful enough to bring about tears of sadness and anger. Rita was beaten, robbed and raped in her Lufkin home. She's convinced that her attacker, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison after pleading guilty, scoped out her house in advance.

“I had a window in my kitchen area and all my windows appeared to be locked,” she said. “If I blame myself for anything, it's not checking my windows occasionally to make sure they were actually locked. There was only one screen removed and it was from that window. It looked locked and it was shut, but not locked. (The police) found a piece of plastic in the window seal apparently that kept the lock from engaging, but the other windows were locked because we checked afterwards. That tells you something.”

It was the middle of the night. She had already experienced what she described as a bad night and took a sleeping pill about 11 p.m. in an effort to get some rest. At 2 a.m., she took another sleeping pill.

“When he came in during the 3 o'clock hour, I was pretty out of it,” she said. “The lights were off. I'm in my room, in my own house, under three layers of cover, in the dark with the shades drawn. You would think I would be blameless. He knocked over a lamp, which kind of roused me, but I went back to sleep. I keep my keys in my bedroom door because I like to lock the bedroom door when I leave.”

He brushed up against the keys, but Rita didn't know someone was in the house. She thought it was her cat, but woke up to find an intruder on her bed.

“I turned on the light,” she said. “It's stained glass. It's for looks, not for putting out a whole lot of light. I see him. Honestly, for a few minutes, I thought I was dreaming. I'm screaming in my head, ‘Wake up! You've got to wake up! This nightmare is going to kill you if you don't wake up!'”

She said she remembered asking, “Who are you? Why are you in my room?” Then she remembered something telling her to run.

“I got out of the bed on the opposite side,” she said. “My mom had moved in and I had extra stuff on that side of the bed. I hit that stuff, tripped, and he's able to catch me. He wrestled me to the floor and cut off my air supply. That's when I realized I wasn't dreaming. He proceeds to beat the heck out of me. He raped me three times and tied me up at first. He raped me (again) twice, then got up to look for money. With my hands tied behind my back, I had to give him money from my purse, hoping that would be the end of it.”

Unfortunately, it wasn't the end.

“He proceeds to sodomize me and rape me again,” she said. “Then, he unties me and leaves. The fact that he untied me told me that he either had a car nearby or he lived nearby because he wasn't concerned about being caught. Surely, he had to know I was going to call the police. I managed to call the police.”

She survived, but then came the comments from people that still make her angry today.

“You think you're blameless,” she said. “I was in my own house, my own room. I had comments from the general public like, ‘You were heavier than he was. Why couldn't you fight him off?' I had somebody that should have known better say, ‘Well, this was just meant as a robbery.' So I asked, ‘If I had more clothes on, I wouldn't have been raped?' I never really blamed myself, but I got blamed. So I'm supposed to wear boots and three pairs of jeans when I go to bed on the possibility that somebody might break in and try to rape me. If I had more clothes on, I wouldn't been hurt more than I was. I have no doubt, he would have raped me.”

Members of the Family Crisis Center's staff met with Rita that night at the hospital and stayed with her throughout the legal process. Once her attacker pleaded guilty and was sentenced, she knew it was time to heal, but she was going to need some help. She waited to seek help, but said she would not recommend that to anybody.

“I know it was over as far as dealing with him,” she said. “I decided that I was not going to have to try to convince 12 people (in a jury). I would not recommend that for anybody. I would not recommend anybody wait. I waited until he was sentenced and knew he was going away, knew there was no chance he could walk the streets for a long time. Then I said, ‘OK, I need to talk to somebody because this is bad.' I came (to the center) and went through the whole therapy. I took a little bit longer because we had illness — I had to take care of my mom. It was like 16 weeks instead of 12 weeks to get through it, but I'm a much better person for having gone through (the therapy) because I was a mess. I was into full-blown what I think they call rape drama syndrome, which is a form of post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Heather Kartye, executive director of the Family Crisis Center of East Texas, said Rita's story is an inspirational one for her.

“The program that Rita was referring to is our counseling program,” Kartye said. “Our counselors here on staff use specific counseling techniques that are specifically for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I became familiar with Rita and her story when I first started at the agency a couple of years ago. It really had an impact on me. It epitomizes why we're here and why we do what we do. To know somebody like Rita, to hear her story and know her struggles and triumphs through the process brings it all home. That's why we're here.”

Counselors at the Family Crisis Center said they use Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Person Centered Therapy with their clients during the counseling program. Two primary goals of person-centered therapy are increased self-esteem and greater openness to experience. Some of the related changes this form of therapy seeks to foster include closer agreement between the client's idealized and actual selves; better self-understanding; lower levels of defensiveness, guilt and insecurity; more positive and comfortable relationships with others; and an increased capacity to experience and express feelings at the moment they occur.

According to counselors, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy consists of several core treatment components that are designed to be provided in a flexible and developmentally appropriate manner to address the unique needs of each client. It's a short-term treatment that may work in as few as 12 treatment sessions.

Individual sessions address the following:

¦ Providing education about the impact of trauma and common reactions to trauma.

¦ Helping to identify and cope with a range of emotions.

¦ Developing personalized stress management skills.

¦ Teaching how to recognize the connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

¦ Sharing traumatic experiences either verbally, in the form of a written narrative, or in some other developmentally appropriate manner.

¦ Modifying inaccurate or unhelpful trauma-related thoughts.

¦ Helping develop skills for optimizing emotional and behavioral adjustment.

Rita said the turning point for her was when counselors asked her to write down and verbalize her experience. She knows she is the better for seeking help, but admits the counseling process was not easy for her.

“I can't speak for everybody,” she said. “I can only speak to what I went through and what I believe, but I think I would be a bigger mess if I hadn't sought help. I didn't know there was help out there. I didn't know there was a crisis center in town, and there is. The word has to get out that there is an organization here, a wonderful organization that is willing to go the extra mile — to get you the legal help, the legal process of getting protection orders, going to court with you and holding your hand and saying, ‘It's not OK, but it can be later.' This place is wonderful. I can't say enough for the services I got here. Lufkin PD was wonderful. I don't think they ever questioned that what I was saying wasn't true, and that helped a whole lot. I just can't imagine what I would be going through it I hadn't been believed, like so many people are not believed.”

Rita said she thought she was going to die that day. She made up her mind that she wasn't going to die.

“Poor judgment does not justify rape,” she said. “The fear, the humiliating things that you're forced to do and all this time you're going through this thinking, ‘Remember what the police said: “The less you fight, the less injuries you're going to have.” I walked in here for therapy a scared traumatized person, and when I walked out, I held my head up and I said, ‘I'm a survivor. I'm not a victim anymore.' You've got to tell your story.”

The Janelle Grum Family Crisis Center of East Texas is a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention to women, children and men and advocacy services to reduce and prevent family violence and sexual assault through education and community awareness. The center of provides support and services to Angelina, Houston, Nacogdoches, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby and Trinity counties.

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. If you need assistance from the Family Crisis Center or would like additional information, call the 24-hour crisis hotline at (800) 828-7233. For more information, visit