Experts seek ways to stop online child abuse
Experts from the fields of law enforcement, research and academia gathered this week at a United Nations meeting in Vienna to find ways to combat the exploitation of children online, which has become more prevalent due to technological advances.
"The exploitation of children is not a new phenomenon, but the digital age has exacerbated the problem and created more vulnerability to children," said the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov.
While advances in information and communications technologies (ICTs) have not necessarily given rise to entirely new forms of child abuse, they have in some cases changed the nature and dimension of the exploitation.
Through the Internet, online predators can gain access to children faster and in higher volumes, using chat rooms, emails, online games and social networking sites to find and groom victims. Cyberspace has also significantly increased the ability for offenders to access child sex abuse material.
"Prior to the Internet, an offender was thought to have a huge collection with 150 images of children; today a 150,000 image collection is quite standard, and a 1.5 million image collection not unheard of," said Dr. Joe Sullivan, a forensic psychologist who works with child sex offenders.
Children and young people are also adopting new technology earlier and more often, and unwittingly exposing themselves to online child predators at an unprecedented rate. Sexual abuse for private and commercial purposes, child trafficking, cyber grooming and cyber bullying are just some of the risks the digital age has brought to children across the world, noted a news release issued by UNODC.
"Before, non-vulnerable children had parents to act as a barrier as to whom they were in touch with – now this is gone," said the Assistant Director for Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation at INTERPOL, Michael Moran.
According to UNODC, the majority of victims are girls and online predators hide under anonymous identities in cyberspace. However, their online trail has made it easier in certain instances to indentify them.
Experts agreed that better education and awareness are essential to protecting children and emphasized that parents must work to overcome the 'generational digital divide' and take a vested interest in the technology they give their children, educating them on their safe use and on the potential ramifications of careless online behaviour.
"Parents and educators need a good understanding of how sex offenders work," said Dr. Sullivan. "They are often surprised at how sophisticated offenders are, and at the levels of manipulation they go through to gain access to children."
While currently there is no consistent legislation across countries regarding online child abuse, Mr. Fedotov said UNODC is in a unique position to help countries deal with this issue at the global level.
"We can encourage effective cooperation between countries in investigations, and support global awareness efforts to educate parents and children on the safe use of ICTs. But everyone must play their part – including the private sector, which is ultimately the major driving force behind technological developments."
Statewide human-trafficking initiative focuses on children
by Jerriann Sullivan
A new statewide initiative championed by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi aims to end human trafficking by encouraging parents and children to discuss the dangers of talking to strangers online.
The "From Instant Message to Instant Nightmare" crusade, unveiled Friday, includes billboards, mall displays and bus-shelter posters asking parents and children to educate themselves about sex traffickers who target children, tweens and teens online.
The effort also includes a tip sheet with an Online Safety Pledge that Bondi wants children to sign after parents talk with them about sex trafficking and sexual abuse.
"By raising awareness about human trafficking and asking parents to play an active role in preventing sex traffickers from recruiting their children online, we can help stop this horrific crime," Bondi said.
There are 27 million people enslaved across the world, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. Florida ranked third in the number of calls received by the center's human trafficking hotline in 2011.
"According to one report, the average age of children recruited into sex trafficking is between 12 and 14 years old," Bondi said Friday.
Here are Bondi's tips for parents:
• Talk to your children about sex trafficking and sexual abuse. Describe human trafficking as modern-day slavery, where people are captured and treated inhumanely. Awareness is the first step in preventing it.
• Restrict use of the computer to the living room or other area of the house where other family members are present.
• Know your child's screen names and passwords, even if you have your child write them down and put them in a sealed envelope. If anything happens, you will be able to access your child's accounts to trace who he or she has been communicating with.
• Use the parental-control settings on your computer to check the Internet history. Look for warning signs in your children, such as: mood swings and anxiety; new friends who are significantly older; and new gifts, pre-paid credit cards, clothes or cell phones that you did not purchase.
• Let your children know that they can talk to you, or a trusted adult, about anything that makes them uncomfortable.
Bondi urges parents to insist their children read and sign the pledge "to help prevent them from becoming the next human trafficking victim."
Police In China Rescue 92 Kidnapped Children In Huge Human Trafficking Ring Bust
BEIJING, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Chinese police have rescued 92 children and two women kidnapped by a gang for sale and arrested 301 suspects, state media said on Saturday, in one of the biggest busts of its kind in years.
Police simultaneously swooped on locations in 11 provinces recently after a six-month investigation, China Central Television and state news agency Xinhua said, quoting the Ministry of Public Security.
An exact date of when the children were rescued and the arrests made was not given.
State media also did not give a breakdown of how many boys and how many girls were kidnapped.
A traditional preference for boys, especially in rural areas, and a strict one-child policy have contributed to a rise in the trafficking of children and women in recent years.
Kidnapped women are sold to men in remote areas who are unable to find brides due to a sex imbalance resulting from the draconian one-child policy, which has also encouraged sex-selective abortions.
The government would impose harsher punishment on people who buy kidnapped children, state television said.
Xinhua said the government would also punish parents who sell their children.
China has trumpeted the success of an intensified crackdown on the kidnapping and sale of children and women recently. In 2011, police said they had rescued more than 13,000 abducted children and 23,000 women over the past two years or so.
Human trafficking: 19-bill package aims to curb 'modern day slavery' in Michigan, help victims
by Jonathan Oosting
LANSING, MI -- Michigan state Sen. Judy Emmons on Thursday unveiled a 19-bill package intended to crack down on human trafficking and offer help to victims of a crime that many call a form of "modern day slavery."
The bipartisan package, to be formally introduced next week, features bills that would provide safe harbor for victims, eliminate the statute of limitations for trafficking offenses, allow victims to sue their captors and enable a prosecutor to utilize wire tapping while building a criminal case.
Michigan updated its human trafficking laws in 2006 and again in 2010, but Emmons, R-Sheridan, said the new package could make the state a national leader in the fight against the exploitation of children and laborers.
"I think it sends a message to those folks who are involved in this diabolical process that Michigan is very, very serious," she said after a press conference on the steps of the Michigan Capitol. "And certainly, with Attorney General Bill Schuette working on this in tandem, we want to give them the tools to prosecute and send a very strong message."
Supporters expect pushback on some of the bills, including a measure that would require individuals caught purchasing sex, aka "Johns," to register on the Michigan sex offender list. Another measure would require strip clubs to pay a $3 fee for every customer.
"The goal is to generate some revenue for victim services," Emmons said of the fee for adult entertainment facilities, noting that she personally sees a connection between that industry and human trafficking.
Officials say it's difficult to know exactly how widespread human trafficking is in Michigan. Law enforcement agencies around the country reported 2,515 instances of human trafficking between January 2009 and June 2010, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, with nearly half of those crimes involving the sexual exploitation of minors.
Emmons, who is part of a Human Trafficking Commission spearheaded by the attorney general, was joined at the press conference by several other sponsoring lawmakers, advocates and victims, including Theresa Flores, a former Birmingham resident who was blackmailed by a group of boys she went to high school with and manipulated into a life of prostitution.
Flores briefly recounted her harrowing story on Thursday, describing how it took her decades just to find a name for what happened to her -- human trafficking -- and how she has since traveled the country to raise awareness about a crime that victims can suffer through in silence.
Emmons presented her with a copy of the bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for trafficking offenses and the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It will be called the "Theresa Flores Act."
Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said this week that the human trafficking package will immediately become a high priority this fall in the Senate, but with so many bills, Emmons acknowledged that movement likely will take some time.
Sex-trafficking task force wants tougher laws against johns
by Andrew Knochel
PHOENIX – A task force Gov. Jan Brewer assembled to address human trafficking plans to recommend laws toughening penalties for johns in child prostitution cases and raising public awareness of the problem.
“I think we, together, cannot allow this unthinkable, evil, sick practice to continue,” Brewer said Wednesday as the group held its final meeting.
Brewer convened the Governor's Task Force on Human Trafficking in April looking toward the 2015 Super Bowl, to be hosted by Glendale. The committee will make its formal recommendations to the governor next week.
Under current state law, child prostitution involving a person age 15 to 17 carries a penalty of four months to two years in prison if a prosecutor can't prove the defendant knew the person's age. Cases in which defendants did know a person age 15 to 17 was underage carry seven- to 21-year sentences.
Prostitution cases involving those younger than 15 are carry more severe sentences regardless of whether defendants claim to know the person's age.
Rep. Doug Coleman, R-Apache Junction, said he expects the state Legislature to support cracking down on buyers of sex.
“I just don't understand why we have a law that seemingly protects the demand side, the johns,” he said. “Because that's really, in my opinion, what it's designed to do.”
Bills from the House and the Senate that would have amended Arizona's criminal statutes on child prostitution were held in committees this past session.
The draft recommendations said the committee will also call for an education campaign encouraging zero tolerance for human trafficking in an attempt to change the way society views paying for sex.
Cindy McCain, wife of Sen. John McCain and committee co-chair, said the success of the campaign will rely on the “good spirits and good hearts” of Arizonans.
“We look forward to working with tons of volunteers,” McCain said.
Among more than two-dozen other draft recommendations is changing to state policies and procedures to give victims easier access to services.
Gilbert Orrantia, director of the Arizona Department of Homeland Security and committee co-chair, said the recommended responses are balanced between statutory changes and awareness campaigns.
“It's a little bit of everything; it's multifaceted,” Orrantia said. “It's not one that one avenue is going to solve.”
Taryn Mastrean, spokeswoman for advocacy group Shared Hope International, said Arizona's laws are the key to reducing human trafficking in the state.
“Awareness campaigns are important, but if buyers aren't deterred by penalties, you're not really addressing the problem,” Mastrean said in a telephone interview.
Human trafficking by the numbers
by Tod Robberson
I had an interesting conversation last week with actress and director Mira Sorvino, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassador who has made it her personal mission to raise awareness about human trafficking and sex slavery. She says this has grown into a highly profitable international business that rakes in $500 billion a year.
It rivals the drug trade and is becoming increasingly attractive to border-area drug gangs because the penalties for getting caught are far less severe, and the profits can be enormous. Sorvino says a kidnapped or coerced girl held in captivity and forced to perform sex for money can earn her captor $250,000 a year.
No wonder there continue to be hundreds of ads for “massage” services involving sexy Asian girls on Backpage.com and other sleazy internet venues.
If police catch the girls involved in the sex trade, they typically go to jail. Chances are very high their captors/pimps won't be caught or punished. Chances are even slimmer that the customers who exploit these girls will suffer any repercussions, even if what they're doing constitutes statutory rape. That's because, in our society, we've been lulled into believing young women enter prostitution voluntarily, as if this is something they want to do. And we've somehow convinced ourselves that they are the bad people in this equation.
Sorvino will speak Tuesday to a luncheon gathering of the Dallas Women's Foundation at the Hilton Anatole. (The event is sold out.)
Here are some interesting facts from the foundation and Polaris.org worth considering:
100,000 — number of U.S. kids exploited annually in the commercial sex industry.
13 — the average age when a child is first exploited
70 — percentage of victims reporting physical or sexual abuse in their home
$1.5 million — estimated revenue a pimp can get from a five-girl prostitution ring
1,900 — 2012 calls from Texas to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center
9 — bills passed in Texas to protect victims and prosecute traffickers
$1.9 million — grants to the Dallas Women's Foundation in the last four years to support prevention, victim assistance and advocacy in North Texas.
N.J. priest in sexting sting thought he was talking to 16-year-old boy, wanted to meet
by Mark Mueller
The text messages read as if they've been ripped from a pornographic novel.
Matthew Riedlinger quizzed his texting partner about sex videos, pressed for details about intimate liaisons, described sexual acts and encouraged mutual masturbation.
He also repeatedly asked to meet.
"Promise me you will never breath (sic) a word of this to anyone — ok?" he wrote.
Riedlinger had good reason for discretion.
He is a priest of the Diocese of Trenton, and while exchanging more than 1,200 text messages over four weeks last year, he thought was he talking to a 16-year-old boy.
Riedlinger, at the time an assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson and a sex-education teacher at the parish school, was the target of an elaborate sting by a Catholic University of America graduate who says the priest sexually harassed him for years.
Timothy Schmalz, now 23 and a resident of Washington, D.C., said he was moved to action after his first complaint about Riedlinger in 2011 resulted in what he characterized as a slap on the wrist by Trenton Bishop David M. O'Connell.
Schmalz is one of five young men who provided The Star-Ledger with similar accounts of harassment and sexual obsession by the priest. Four of the five were in their late teens or early 20s when Riedlinger began inappropriate and persistent sexual dialogues with them, they said. The fifth was in his late 20s.
The sting, initiated on Facebook and carried out through the use of a Google Voice account, partially served its purpose.
After Schmalz forwarded transcripts of the text messages and other materials to O'Connell in August 2012, the bishop removed Riedlinger from the parish, placed him in an in-patient treatment program and later assigned him to restricted ministry away from children, the diocese confirmed.
But for more than a year, O'Connell refused to tell parishioners at St. Aloysius why the priest had been pulled, an omission that advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse call a flagrant violation of the church's pledge of transparency.
Moreover, the former pastor, the Rev. Kevin Keelan, chastised parishioners for asking questions about Riedlinger's removal, saying in the church bulletin that "blabbing" was a sin and that they were not entitled to more information.
O'Connell informed parishioners of the complaints in a statement only last weekend, a day after The Star-Ledger questioned the diocese about Riedlinger and the decision to withhold information about the allegations.
Timothy Schmalz, 23, stands before the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. Schmalz, originally from Howell, was an altar server at the shrine when he met the Rev. Matthew Riedlinger, who has since been removed from ministry in the Diocese of Trenton.Barbara L. Salisbury/For The Star-Ledger
Even then, the statement makes no mention of the fact that Riedlinger believed he was corresponding with a 16-year-old boy during sexually explicit conversations.
"Father Riedlinger has been the subject of two complaints to the diocese over the past few years regarding his participation in inappropriate cell phone text communication over a period of some years with adults," according to the statement, which was read aloud at weekend Masses. "There was no sexual contact, assault or abuse referenced in the complaints."
The statement called Riedlinger's behavior "deeply troubling" and said it is "in no way to be tolerated in the life and ministry of a priest."
O'Connell declined to be interviewed for this story. The full statement can be found here .
Riedlinger, a 30-year-old Ohio native, could not be reached by phone and did not respond to a request for comment sent to his personal e-mail address. In recent months, he has been living at the Villa Vianney retirement home for priests in Lawrenceville and tending to the needs of retired Bishop John M. Smith.
On Monday, he was granted a leave from the priesthood.
"Determining that media coverage will impede his efforts to recover from the problems that have unfolded, Father Riedlinger has decided to leave the diocese and has asked for an indefinite leave of absence from the priesthood," Rayanne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said in a statement. "Bishop O'Connell has granted his request, effective immediately."
The Star-Ledger has obtained copies of the text messages. The phone number from which they originated — now disconnected — had been listed under Riedlinger's name in public records.
The diocese notified the Ocean County Prosecutor's Office of the second complaint against Riedlinger immediately after O'Connell received it.
Al Della Fave, a spokesman for that office, confirmed the referral and said investigators conducted a review but ultimately closed the case.
"There were jurisdictional issues that prevented us from bringing any criminal charges," Della Fave said, declining to elaborate.
A law enforcement official familiar with the probe said the case was compromised in part because Schmalz was not in New Jersey when the sting took place. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said authorities also were concerned because the operation had been conducted by a civilian. The authenticity of the texts was not in question, the official said.
The Rev. Matthew Riedlinger pushes retired Trenton Bishop John M. Smith in his wheelchair during a priest's funeral in Burlington County earlier this month. The diocese said Riedlinger was given special permission to wear clerical garb in public to help Smith. The photo was on the public website of The Monitor, a publication of the diocese.
The Rev. John Bambrick, who was named administrator of St. Aloysius in January of this year, after Riedlinger's removal, said he had heard rumors but did not know the extent of the complaints. Parishioners have told him Riedlinger was a well-liked priest, Bambrick said, calling the situation "sad for everyone involved."
"This is one of those tough situations," said Bambrick, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and a member of the group Catholic Whistleblowers, formed earlier this year with the aim of holding the church and its bishops more accountable for abuse cases.
Though Riedlinger engaged in "highly destructive behavior," Bambrick said, there is no evidence the priest interacted inappropriately with a real minor, and he said he did not think Riedlinger was a danger because his ministry no longer involved children and because he was undergoing therapy.
"He committed a grievous sin, but what do we do with someone like that?" Bambrick asked. "Do we cast him away? Throw him into the abyss? Or do we give him something constructive to do?"
Schmalz, a Howell native now studying at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, carried out the sting with his college roommate, who said he, too, was besieged by Riedlinger's relentless sexual chatter.
The roommate spoke on the condition that The Star-Ledger use only his first name, Ryan, because his family has business dealings with a Catholic diocese. He said he feared the business would be harmed if his full name was disclosed.
All five men reached by the newspaper said they considered Riedlinger a risk.
"Wherever he is, he will be a danger to kids, especially boys," Schmalz said. "If he did this with us, if he thought he was doing this with a 16-year-old boy, who else did he do it with? This could ruin someone's life."
Stephen Webster, one of those interviewed, was an 18-year-old seminarian at Seton Hall University when he met Riedlinger at a retreat in Long Branch four years ago. Riedlinger, less than a year from ordination at the time, held himself out as a mentor, Webster said.
Matthew Riedlinger, formerly an assistant pastor at St. Aloysius Church in Jackson, speaks with students at an outdoor ceremony in 2011. The photo was on the public website of The Monitor, a publication of the Diocese of Trenton.
But their conversations soon morphed, Webster said. Riedlinger began with dirty jokes, he said, then took to discussing his struggles with pornography and masturbation.
"He would say, ‘Pray for me,' but then he would text me when he was doing it, how he was doing it and when he was done," Webster said. "It was twisted."
Webster said he repeatedly told Riedlinger to stop but that the behavior persisted for a year, until the teen cut off contact altogether. Now 22, Webster said the experience contributed to his decision to abandon the seminary.
"As a priest, you represent the Catholic Church. You represent Christ. You hear confessions. And then you're sexting over Facebook," Webster said. "It's a disgrace."
Once, Schmalz and his roommate thought they might be priests, too.
Schmalz, a graduate of Christian Brothers Academy in the Lincroft section of Middletown, and Ryan, now a student at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, were regular altar servers at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The church, the largest cathedral in North America, lies on property donated by the university.
The men said they met Riedlinger, a Catholic University graduate who was approaching ordination, through the shrine's rector, Msgr. Walter Rossi.
Rossi was good friends with Riedlinger and recommended they seek him out as a mentor, Schmalz said.
But the young friendship soon turned odd, they said. Riedlinger began peppering them with questions on Facebook about pornography, masturbation and homosexuality.
"The next day he would say he was drunk and that it would never happen again," Schmalz said. "He would always close by saying, ‘Once I become a priest, I'll forgive all your sins. Whatever you do is okay.'"
Despite their protestations, the behavior continued even after Riedlinger was ordained in June 2010 and assigned to St. Aloysius in Jackson, the two men said. It was a bizarre phone call in the spring of 2011 that pushed Ryan over the edge, he said.
He was studying for finals in a cafeteria with his girlfriend when Riedlinger called from Rome, where he said he was vacationing with Rossi.
"He started asking me questions about my girlfriend, whether I had sex with her or oral sex or anal sex and things like that," Ryan said. "I told him it was really inappropriate and hung up."
The two students had concerns beyond their own discomfort, saying Riedlinger told them he was teaching sex education to middle school-age children at the St. Aloysius parish school.
"He would say how physically mature they were for their ages and how some even had facial hair," Ryan said. "It raised alarm bells."
After asking advice from a professor at Catholic University, the two wrote a synopsis of their experience and forwarded it, along with transcripts of Facebook chats, to Bishop O'Connell in Trenton around October 2011, they said.
In its statement last weekend, the diocese said Riedlinger was assigned to outpatient counseling after that first complaint. Schmalz and Ryan were told through an intermediary — the Catholic University professor — that Riedlinger also was given a stern lecture. Both men said they considered the response insufficient but decided against pushing it further.
Then in the spring of 2012, Schmalz said, he was chatting with a group of people visiting the shrine from the Diocese of Trenton when a woman mentioned Riedlinger. Her 18-year-old son, a seminarian, had become very close with the priest, she said.
"She was thinking it was a good thing, but it got me really concerned," Schmalz said. "I feared he would be walking into what Ryan and I had walked into before."
Schmalz and Ryan had both seen the television series "To Catch a Predator," in which a news reporter posed as a minor in online chat rooms. When an adult approached in a sexual manner, a meeting was set up and filmed, typically resulting in arrests.
The two friends said they weren't looking to have Riedlinger charged. They said they wanted to prove to the diocese the priest had a problem and should not be in ministry.
Their vehicle: Josh McDonald, a fictitious 16-year-old boy who had just moved to Newton, in Sussex County, and who was interested in the priesthood. Schmalz and Ryan created a Facebook profile with a picture they found on the internet. To draw Riedlinger in, they "liked" religious Facebook pages.
They friended Riedlinger in early July of last year. Within 45 minutes, he accepted and asked who "Josh" was. Schmalz wrote that Josh had originally lived in Brick and attended one of his Masses in Jackson. Most of the conversations that followed were in text messages.
The Google Voice account Schmalz and Ryan created allowed them to send and receive texts on a computer, at the same time saving each text in the format of a chat, with dates and time stamps.
The first two weeks, Riedlinger was cautious.
"Something's not right," the priest wrote at 10:24 p.m. July 15, 2012. "U friend me on Facebook randomly, they (sic) you start texting me, You reveal many secrets to me, you speak to me more as a ‘bro' than a priest, and u refuse to actually talk but insist on only texting. … For obvious reasons, priests must be very careful."
Schmalz said he ultimately complied with Riedlinger's insistence on a phone call.
"I quite literally held my nose and spoke in the highest voice possible," Schmalz said. "He said, ‘Hey, you're real. So nice to hear your voice.' And then we continued our conversation online."
The messages show Riedlinger needed little or no invitation to steer the conversation to sex. He spoke of past encounters and the size of his penis, encouraged Josh to enjoy sex with his boyfriend and repeatedly told him how alike they were in their thirst for pornography and sex.
"I love u dude. Ur a sick (expletive) like me," Riedlinger wrote.
Riedlinger occasionally sent a message saying he was near Newton, suggesting a get-together. On those occasions, Schmalz declined to respond and made up an excuse later.
The conversations culminated in a graphic, six-hour texting session in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2012. The next day, Riedlinger asked to do it again.
Schmalz and his roommate cut off contact two days later and forwarded the transcript and other materials to O'Connell.
On Aug. 7, the bishop wrote back, thanking them for the documents and saying he had personally escorted Riedlinger to a hospital for in-patient treatment. The diocese, citing federal health law, declined to say where Riedlinger was treated or how long he remained in the facility.
Schmalz and Ryan said they continued to press the diocese to notify parishioners at St. Aloysius, saying they worried Riedlinger might have spoken to other teens the way he spoke to them.
Two months ago, the diocese's victim assistance coordinator, Maureen Fitzsimmons, flatly told Ryan in an e-mail that O'Connell would not do so, according to a copy of the correspondence.
"I hear your request for the bishop to share information with the parish; however, as I mentioned to you in October, it was bishop's decision not to do so," Fitzsimmons wrote. "That has not changed."
Bennett, the diocese's spokeswoman, said the decision was reversed after The Star-Ledger's inquiry "to prepare the community for the media coverage and to answer any questions parishioners might have as a result."
She added that the case does not fall under the auspices of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People — a landmark document approved by the nation's bishops in 2002 — because it did not involve a juvenile.
Mark Crawford, the New Jersey director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group, argued it was "reckless" for O'Connell not to have taken more aggressive action against Riedlinger after the first complaint in 2011. Crawford also said the bishop had a "moral obligation" to notify the parish earlier.
"The bishops promised to be open and transparent about anything of this nature," he said. "This is an example of them not being open and honest at all."
• Read the diocese statement on the Rev. Matthew Riedlinger
• Read Bishop O'Connell's letter to Timothy Schmalz
Increase in calls to helpline for children who have been sexually abused
Sexual abuse service CARI says it has seen children as young as 8 with suicidal thoughts and mental health issues as a result of abuse.
THERE HAS BEEN an increase in the number of calls to a helpline for children who have been sexually abused.
CARI said it saw a 4 per cent increase to its national helpline in 2012, which usually receives around 1,300 calls per year.
A total of 30 per cent of calls related to sexual assault and rape, an increase from 10 per cent in the previous year.
Majella Ryan of CARI said it had seen children as young as 8 years old with suicidal thoughts, self harm and mental health issues as a result of abuse.
“When left untreated, they can go on to develop problems with addiction, social skills and many other things that can make life difficult and unbearable,” said Ryan at the launch of CARI's annual report.
Ryan said that there are far more services available for adult survivors of sexual assault and abuse than for children.
“It appears that despite all of the publicity this issue has received, and the bravery of so many adult survivors – most notably in 2012, Fiona Doyle – in coming forward and telling their stories, we are still not tackling this issue by addressing the needs of children who are being abused right now within our society,” said Ryan.
She added that cumulative Government cuts have resulted in some services for child victims being cut back, and warned that this could lead to children in certain regions in the country being unable to access vital services.
Earlier this year, CARI described the lack of counselling facilities for child sexual abuse victims as an “inexplicable scandal”, saying that the HSE does not provide proper services for survivors.
The HSE receives approximately 3,326 new cases of child sexual abuse every year.
NY Announces Statewide Court System Designed To Help Sex Trafficking Victims
The courts are intended to connect prostitutes to a support network rather than charge them with a crime.
by Katie Rucke
In an effort to better handle cases related to or involving prostitution, the state of New York is creating and implementing a statewide court system that is specifically designed to help prostitutes by treating prostitution not as a crime, but as modern-day slavery.
What this means is that starting in October, any prostitution case that is not resolved at an arraignment — with either a guilty plea or a case dismissal — will be sent to the special courts, where a judge will determine, along with prosecutors and defense attorneys, whether or not the defendant is in need of assistance to help prostitutes escape the industry and the “grips of their abusers.”
If the court rules a defendant is in need of assistance, the courts will help connect the defendant with shelters, health care and drug treatment services, job training, education and other resources.
New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said that with the implementation of the new courts, nearly 95 percent of all defendants charged with prostitution and related offenses will be handled in the Human Trafficking Intervention Courts, since more and more criminal justice experts agree that prostitutes are more often coerced into the profession than choose to do so.
“Human trafficking is a crime that inflicts terrible harm on the most vulnerable members of society: victims of abuse, the poor, children, runaways, immigrants,” Lippman said, adding that the new Human Trafficking Intervention Courts will prevent “victims of trafficking [from slipping] between the cracks of our justice system.”
“It is in every sense a form of modern-day slavery,” Lippman said. “We have come to recognize that the vast majority of children and adults charged with prostitution offenses are commercially exploited or at risk of exploitation.”
While a few other states have cities with special human trafficking-focused courts, including Baltimore, Columbus, Phoenix, and West Palm Beach, Fla., the new court system in New York is the first to deal with human trafficking on a statewide basis. The new courts illustrate a trend in the U.S. of decriminalizing prostitution, and charging pimps and johns with crimes instead of the prostitutes themselves.
In some European nations such as France that have legalized prostitution, laws have been implemented to legally protect the nation's some 18,000 prostitutes from the “dangers from unscrupulous customers or pimps” by only penalizing those who disturb the peace of the public or soliciting customers in public places. Under France's criminal laws, those who exploit another for sexual purposes such as pimps and johns can be sentenced to time behind bars as well as be forced to pay a fine.
How does it work?
The new human trafficking court system will operate in a similar fashion to three pilot courts in Manhattan, Queens and Nassau County, which implemented human trafficking intervention courts several years ago, finding that automatically putting prostitutes behind bars and treating them like criminals doesn't change their behavior.
In total, 11 of these new human trafficking-focused courts will exist throughout the state of New York. Five will be in New York City — one for each borough — and are expected to be running by mid-October. The other six will be located throughout various parts of the state and will start toward the end of October.
Lippman said the cost of the new court system has already been built into the current budget, and includes prosecutors, defense attorney and judges who have been specifically trained to handle human trafficking and prostitution cases.
In addition to connecting a trafficking victim or prostitute with organizations that could help them escape the sex trade industry, judges may also decide to dismiss or reduce charges against the defendant, so long as the defendant complies with the court-directed programs.
Steven Banks is the attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society of New York City. He applauded the implementation of the new court system, and said treating prostitutes as criminals often negatively affects their ability to find safe housing, obtain employment and their ability to receive financial aid to get a higher education.
“Our clients in these cases are the victims of crimes,” Banks said. “They've been branded in many cases on their bodies by people treating them as if they are nothing more than property.”
“It's certainly critical that underlying all of this is the concept of providing a helping hand rather than the back of a hand,” Banks said , adding that this type of system “can give human trafficking survivors a second chance in life.”
Human trafficking epidemic
Last year about 3,700 defendants were charged in New York state with prostitution and related crimes. Lippman said the new program “will stop the pattern of shuffling trafficking victims through our criminal courtrooms without addressing the underlying reasons why they are there in the first place.”
While human trafficking is not always just a sex crime, Lippman said that about 80 percent of the trafficking victims in New York are trafficked for sex, and most of them are U.S. citizens.
“It is not just halfway across the globe,” he said. “It is around the corner from all of us.”
The announcement of the new court system came hours before the Institute of Medicine released a report examining the impact of sex trafficking and the exploitation of children in the U.S., since the most common age for a child to become a prostitute is between 12 and 14 years of age.
Funded by the Justice Department, the report said sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation are “commonly overlooked, misunderstood and unaddressed forms of child abuse.” The report also highlighted discrepancies in statutory rape laws that say children under a certain age cannot legally consent to sex, while at the same time arresting and charging persons under that age with prostitution crimes.
A fresh start
During the announcement that the state of New York would be implementing this groundbreaking new court system, Lippman shared success stories from the pilot court program in Queens. He introduced 27-year-old Lakisha, a former prostitute who says she was forced into the industry at the age of 12. Lakisha referred to the court program as a “support system” and said it “led me to a network of people who were able to help me escape.”
Since Lakisha first began receiving help from the courts, she has been off the streets she worked for six years, obtained an associate's degree in public administration and is now working on getting her bachelor's degree.
“I feel like it's a going to have a big impact and change the way victims are dealt with,” she said.
Her advice for those who are currently being forced to prostitute themselves was to “accept the help that's being given. Don't be afraid.”
Kathleen Rice is the District Attorney for Nassau County, one of the pilot locations for the human trafficking court. She said the new court system will likely become a model for the nation and should improve the lives of countless victims.
“We have to think differently about how we prosecute prostitution cases and who we prosecute to combat the exploitation and the demand that fuel human trafficking,” Rice said .
Child abuse prevention program kicks off
by Jordan Howse
HIGH POINT — Nonprofit leaders gathered in the fellowship hall of Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church to be made aware of a silent epidemic in Guilford County.
Child sexual abuse is the most expensive victim crime in the U.S., except for murder. Darkness to Light child sex abuse prevention program aims to bring the issue from behind its shield of secrecy and educate adults.
At the kickoff event for the YMCA's new program, David Ozmore, CEO of YMCA of High Point, shared stories of victims of child sexual abuse from the Catholic church, schools and others.
“It's not a church problem. It's not a coach problem. It's not a camp problem. It's a community problem,” Ozmore said. “As a community, we have to stand up for our kids.”
One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday. More than 90 percent of the perpetrators know their victims.
The mission of the program is to raise awareness of the prevalence and consequences of child sexual abuse by educating adults about the steps they can take to prevent, recognize and react responsibly.
Ozmore said he wants to train 5 percent of the adult population in Davidson, Guilford and Randolph counties, train 2,500 adults by December 2014, and have 15,300 adults trained by 2016. The way the program can reach those goals is by nonprofit leaders having a trained facilitator train their staffs in becoming Stewards of Children who can recognize and help prevent child sexual abuse.
“As an adult with three children, as an adult leading a youth-serving organization, I have an unbelievable passion and fire to protect my children. They're mine,” Ozmore said. “They are here because of me, and I hope they are thriving and surviving because of me.”
West New York students knit 200 baby caps for child abuse prevention campaign
by Joseph R. Vena
Each year, thousands of infants are shaken and abused by their parents or caregivers because they won't stop crying or for other reasons. But students at School 3 in West New York hope to change that.
On Monday at 1:30 p.m., the school's students will present Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey with 200 purple newborn baby caps they knitted themselves to aid in raising awareness about infant abuse prevention.
The caps are being knitted as part of the national CLICK for Babies Campaign, in coordination with the Period of PURPLE Crying program. They are meant to serve as a reminder to parents and caregivers to keep their babies safe.
“This project is great because it's not just them learning how to knit, but also how to help people,” said Nikki Casey, the school's social worker and coordinator of the project.
Casey taught not only the children but also herself how to knit in the process. She says that when the project began only a few were interested, but word of mouth and students watching other children knitting helped to attract more participation.
Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey aims to collect at least 4,000 caps by Tuesday from knitters and crocheters throughout the state. It will then give one to every mother who delivers a baby in November and December at New Jersey hospitals that offer the program, along with a Period of PURPLE Crying educational video and booklet.
Period of PURPLE Crying, which Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey brought to the state last October, “educates parents, caregivers and others
in the community about normal infant crying, ways to cope with crying and the dangers of reacting in frustration by shaking or abusing an infant.”
To learn more or make a donation, visit www.preventchildabusenj.org or call 1-800-CHILDREN.
Lake Shore collects teddy bears for child abuse victims
by Frank DeFrank
Leadership takes many forms. Sometimes, it even looks like a teddy bear.
The Lake Shore Public Schools community is reaching out to help children traumatized by abuse by collecting teddy bears for donation to Care House of Macomb.
Care House is an agency that advocates for child abuse victims who sometimes must be interviewed by authorities as part of the legal process. Teddy bears and other items are given to the children to provide some comfort during the difficult interview process.
From now through Oct. 3, Lake Shore school district buildings will collect teddy bears and other items that will be turned over to Care House.
Michelle Anderson teaches a course called Principles of Leadership at Lake Shore High School. As its name implies, the course hopes to help students develop leadership skills and introduces or reinforces concepts such as community outreach.
The teddy bear collection idea grew out a desire by her 25 students — all female — to tie together a community-wide effort with the school's annual homecoming celebration.
“It started with social media,” Anderson said. “We just proposed it with our class and it grew from there. It's a community-based project.”
Students created signs and distributed information sheets to publicize the effort and placed donation boxes in district buildings. Next Thursday, they'll collect the donations and get them ready for presentation to Care House during a ceremony at halftime of the Shorians' homecoming football game Oct. 4.
While Care House and the children they serve will benefit from Lake Shore's effort, Anderson can't help but think her students may be the biggest beneficiaries, particularly because they've been exposed to a darker side of life.
“It teaches them a lesson,” Anderson said. “There's a reality they have to face. It's authentic learning. You can't get any more real than that.”
The teddy bear drive will continue through Oct. 3. People wishing to donate can drop off new teddy bears with tags still attached, individually wrapped snacks and juice boxes to any of the district's school buildings. Cash donations for Care House will be accepted.
Collection boxes will be set at Lake Shore's football stadium on game night. The stadium is at Lake Shore High School, 22980 13 Mile Road, west of Jefferson Avenue.
For additional information, call 586-285-8987.
Report: Child sex trafficking victims live in shadows
by Tom Wilemon
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Children trapped in sex trafficking or who are at risk for sexual exploitation need coordinated help from teachers, parents, government officials and community leaders, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Institute of Medicine.
The nation is without reliable estimates for the prevalence of under-age prostitution, the report noted.
"These young people live in the shadows behind hotel room doors. It's hard to find them," said Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, a Vanderbilt University professor who co-chaired the Committee on the Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking of Minors in the United States.
The committee issued a call to action in the 466-page report, concluding that efforts to prevent the crime are largely absent and that programs to identify the activity are "under-supported, insufficient, uncoordinated and unevaluated." Teenage prostitutes are too often processed like criminals when they should be treated like victims, the committee concluded.
In Nevada, an effort to stop sex trafficking has led to an attempt to try to save exploited girls. A new Nevada law, which went into effect July 1, toughens penalties for pimps and creates new opportunities for the treatment of victims, which includes building safe houses for the girls. Exploitation of a child now carries a maximum life sentence in the state.
"What we do know is that it is a big problem," Clayton said. "We know that there are a number of risk factors that predispose young people to get involved with this. We know that these kids run into a variety of different adults in their lives who have the opportunity to recognize this, ranging from their parents, their teachers, their health care provider, to social services, to juvenile justice."
“We know that these kids run into a variety of different adults in their lives who have the opportunity to recognize this, ranging from their parents, their teachers, their health care provider, to social services, to juvenile justice.”
— Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton, Vanderbilt University professor
In July, the FBI announced the arrests of 159 people and the recovery of 105 children involved in child prostitution rings across the country.
The coordinated, 76-city sweep involved 230 separate law enforcement agencies. The sweep was the latest in a national campaign that has helped recover 2,700 children since 2005.
At the announcement of the July law enforcement action, Assistant FBI Director Ron Hosko, head of the bureau's criminal division, said, "We have victims whose new normal is sexual abuse. We are trying to take this crime out of the shadows and put a spotlight on it."
Youth considered at special risk for exploitation include those who have been abused or neglected, those in foster care or juvenile detention, those of LGBT sexual orientations, those who are racial and ethnic minorities, those who are homeless or runaways and those considered "throwaway" children who have been told to leave their homes.
The report issued Wednesday by the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine is the culmination of two years of research.
Ex-teacher convicted of rape finishes 30-day prison term
DEER LODGE, MONT. — The former Montana teacher who raped a 14-year-old former student finished serving his 30-day prison sentence and was released on probation yesterday.
Stacey Rambold, 54, left the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge shortly before 10 a.m. after completing the sentence, which has been criticized as too lenient. He will be registered as a sex offender and will be on probation until 2028, a prisons spokeswoman said.
Rambold was convicted of raping Cherice Moralez in 2007. She committed suicide in 2010, and her mother said the rape was a major factor.
In sentencing Rambold, Judge Todd Baugh's comments about Moralez sparked national outrage. The jurist said the girl was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation as was the defendant.”
Baugh later apologized, saying: “I made some really stupid remarks. It didn't come out right, and I owe the whole county, but maybe even the whole country, especially women, an apology.”
Women's advocates have filed a complaint against Baugh asking that he be removed from the bench.
The unintended consequences of laws addressing sex between teachers and students
by Betsy Karasik, -- Betsy Karasik is a writer and former lawyer.
There is a painfully uncomfortable episode of “Louie” in which the comedian Louis C.K. muses that maybe child molesters wouldn't kill their victims if the penalty weren't so severe. Everyone I know who watches the show vividly recalls that scene from 2010 because it conjures such a witches' cauldron of taboo, disgust and moral outrage, all wrapped around a disturbing kernel of truth. I have similar ambivalence about the case involving former Montana high school teacher Stacey Dean Rambold. Louie concluded his riff with a comment to the effect of “I don't know what to do with that information.” That may be the case for many of us, but with our legal and moral codes failing us, our society needs to have an uncensored dialogue about the reality of sex in schools.
As protesters decry the leniency of Rambold's sentence — he will spend 30 days in prison after pleading guilty to raping 14-year-old Cherice Morales, who committed suicide at age 16 — I find myself troubled for the opposite reason. I don't believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized. While I am not defending Judge G. Todd Baugh's comments about Morales being “as much in control of the situation” — for which he has appropriately apologized — tarring and feathering him for attempting to articulate the context that informed his sentence will not advance this much-needed dialogue.
I do think that teachers who engage in sex with students, no matter how consensual, should be removed from their jobs and barred from teaching unless they prove that they have completed rehabilitation. But the utter hysteria with which society responds to these situations does less to protect children than to assuage society's need to feel that we are protecting them. I don't know what triggered Morales's suicide, but I find it tragic and deeply troubling that this occurred as the case against Rambold wound its way through the criminal justice system. One has to wonder whether the extreme pressure she must have felt from those circumstances played a role.
I've been a 14-year-old girl, and so have all of my female friends. When it comes to having sex on the brain, teenage boys got nothin' on us. When I was growing up in the 1960s and '70s, the sexual boundaries between teachers and students were much fuzzier. Throughout high school, college and law school, I knew students who had sexual relations with teachers. To the best of my knowledge, these situations were all consensual in every honest meaning of the word, even if society would like to embrace the fantasy that a high school student can't consent to sex. Although some feelings probably got bruised, no one I knew was horribly damaged and certainly no one died.
On the other hand, awareness of sexual harassment was also much lower. Pretty much every woman I know has been sexually harassed in at least one, and usually many, of her jobs and/or academic settings. I was fired from a waitressing job in Boston in 1979, during my first year of law school, after I refused to sit in the manager's lap like the other girls. I would have much rather seen that sleazebag dragged through the legal system than certain teachers I considered friends despite their sexual relations with students that today would land them in jail.
The point is that there is a vast and extremely nuanced continuum of sexual interactions involving teachers and students, ranging from flirtation to mutual lust to harassment to predatory behavior. Painting all of these behaviors with the same brush sends a damaging message to students and sets the stage for hypocrisy and distortion of the truth. Many teenagers are, biologically speaking, sexually mature. Pretending that this kind of thing won't happen if we simply punish it severely enough is delusional. If anything, to return to Louis C.K., the indiscriminate criminalization of such situations may deter students struggling with sexual issues from seeking advice from a parent or counselor.
If religious leaders and heads of state can't keep their pants on, with all they have to lose, why does society expect that members of other professions can be coerced into meeting this standard? A more realistic approach would be to treat violations in a way that removes and rehabilitates the offender without traumatizing the victim. The intensity of criminal proceedings, with all the pressure they put on participants, the stigma, the community and media scrutiny, and the concurrent shame and guilt they generate, do the opposite of healing and protecting the victim. Laws related to statutory rape are in place to protect children, but the issue of underage sex, and certainly of sex between students and teachers, may be one in which the law of unintended consequences is causing so much damage that society needs to reassess.
Letter to the Editor
Decriminalizing teacher-student sex is not a solution
Regarding Betsy Karasik's Aug. 31 op-ed, “Sex happens, even in school,” which argued that sex between teachers and high school students should be decriminalized:
Sexual activity between teachers and students is a profound ethical violation. The authority placed in teachers, coaches, counselors or other instructors creates an inescapable responsibility to maintain appropriate behavioral boundaries. A teacher crossing those boundaries betrays the trust bestowed by the student and the community.
A student's willingness to engage in a sexual liaison with a teacher cannot eradicate this truth. As Richard Gartner, a pioneering psychologist in the treatment of men sexually abused as boys, has written, “Even seemingly consensual situations may turn out to have long-term negative effects. There's no way for an adult to know whether a particular child — even if he seems happy to participate — will be affected negatively by taking part in sex acts. And the very last person we can expect to be objective about the needs and best interests of a child is the adult who sexually desires that child.”
Decriminalization would wrongly signal that teacher-student sexual encounters are not harmful, leading to more students being sexually abused. It would also effectively empower perpetrators of sexual abuse and make it more difficult for many victims to get support. Ms. Karasik is right to be concerned about the stigma and pressures that victims face in the legal system, but decriminalization would not solve those problems and certainly would not provide the support that all victims of sexual exploitation and violence deserve.
Christopher Anderson, New York
The writer is executive director of the nonprofit group MaleSurvivor.
PostScript: Karasik on yuckiness
by Rachel Manteuffel
It certainly is ooky to talk about teachers and students having sexual relationships, Betsy Karasik writes in her oped, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about it a little more. There are instances in which such relationships aren't damaging to the student, she asserts — and there are times when criminal prosecution of the teacher and sensationalized coverage is more damaging to the young person than the actual illegal relationship.
Bo (left) and Sunny are the picture PostScript would like to look at, rather than any illustration of this discussion. Thank you. (Pete Souza/The White House)
Yuck, may PostScript dare to say — a sentiment broadly echoed in the 3,000 comments the piece has received. Yuck, and gross, and please stay away from us, people who want to have sex with a 14-year-old (who are not 14 themselves).
All of this sort of proves Karasik's point, that our yuck response makes for irrational reactions and unfair policy. For example, some commenters want to say yuck so badly they make up an entirely bogus argument and pretend Karasik said it, in order to disagree vociferously.
50 yr old teachers should be encouraged to have sex with their 14 yr old mentally ill students. By Betsy Karasik, Esq. Why don't you move your firm to Billings and offer Judge Baugh a partnership? I hear he's looking for work and so is Stacey Rambold. You could hire him as your child abuse expert when you defend sex offenders!
So, there's that. There's also hysteria:
Something strange but predictable is happening. More and more we're hearing pro-pedophilia comments. Recently the Los Angeles Times wrote about research stating that pedophilia was simply another “sexual orientation.” If this is true, schools will not be allowed to discriminate against hiring pedophiles. Bakeries will have to cater to pedophiles if requested. Photographers will have to agree to provide services to avowed pedophiles. The implications for student-teacher relationships is staggering. My suggestion would be chemical castration for male teachers who abuse students. Women would be more difficult.
Okay. These phantom arguments are much easier to argue against without getting ick all over you. But PostScript also thinks the part of the piece where Karasik claims knowledge of teacher-student affairs that did not do much psychological damage might give the impression Karasik thinks it's okay for teachers and students to have sex. She does not. She says it's wrong and bad and the teacher should be barred from teaching until having completed rehabilitation. But if the age difference doesn't already make the relationship statutory rape, it shouldn't necessarily be a criminal matter, she says.
Well anyway, what other yuck got expressed?
Djones121 says letting institutions police these matters themselves outside the legal system has a really bad precedent:
Unmentioned is the widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. There are thousands of cases both here and in other countries. The Church, following Karasik's philosophy, did not report it to the police and tried to cover it up in order to protect the priests and its own reputation. The children were considered expendable by the Church and in some cases held responsible for what happened. The real problem is that sexual abuse of children has not been punished enough, not too much.
I might agree with the premise that putting the child through the legal system along with the offender is harmful, but I am deeply offended by the premise that student/teacher sex is so common that it is normal and should not be criminal. I would also be horrified if a teacher who had sex with an underage student was “rehabilitated” and allowed to return to the profession. The author seems more interested normalizing this crime than in protecting children.
I get the impression from most of the comments that people are so anxious to express their views against adults having sex with minors that they missed one of the main points of the article: that overreaction can cause more damage than the original crime.
SeaTigr says the ick factor/normalizing factor clouds our judgment about statutory cases in general:
I don't understand. You're either old enough to consent to sex, or you're not. While I, personally, have no desire to bed a teenage girl, if the age of consent is, say, 17, and she is 17, then it shouldn't matter whether I'm 18 or 80. You're either old enough to consent, or you're not – my personal ‘ick' factor being irrelevant.
And mirrorgazer says that the potential for psychological damage here is so great that it's worth some unfair prosecutions. Making teachers very, very afraid of having adult relationships with their students, or even seeming to, and there'll be less line-crossing:
Ms. Karasik appears to be reacting to the tragedy of the 14-year-old and her teacher. That situation only underscores a need for stronger policies – not just guidelines – about teachers' relationships with their students. This should apply without question for middle and high school educators, and there should also be consequences for bad-behaving college professors. If there are ever cases for jerking knees, it involves protection of our children in places where they should feel safe – like their homes, schools and churches.
PostScript just wants to say yuck one more time. Thank you. Yuck.
Letter to the Editor
My teacher sexually abused me
I am at a loss for words at The Post's publishing Betsy Karasik's Aug. 31 op-ed “Sex happens, even in school.” Ms. Karasik noted that she was once a 14-year-old girl and suggested that this, in her mind, gives her authority to speak for those who have been abused by teachers. She couldn't be more wrong.
I was sexually abused by a teacher when I was in high school. It went on for two years, and at the time I believed it to be consensual. He was never violent, so in my 15-year-old mind, everything was okay.
But everything was not okay. He was emotionally abusive and coerced me into sharing my body in ways I was not ready for nor able to understand; it has taken me years to heal from the things he said and did. At one point I fell into a deep, three-year depression, and I found myself at the brink of suicide more than once.
Ms. Karasik has no right to tell those of us who have struggled with humiliation, regret and fear that what happened to us was not a crime. As a victim, my healing began when I faced my abuser in a courtroom and watched as he was sentenced. I have never felt prouder, stronger and more in control of my own life.
Emily Miranda, Washington
Is it Time to Re-Evaluate Our Views on Sex in the 21st Century?
by Lance Rinker
Betsy Karasik is a writer, painter, and former attorney who recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post and attempted to begin a serious discussion on how we evaluate laws pertaining to minors and sexual activity. Since her opinions on this issue were published she has received feedback ranging from supportive to highly vitriolic . I reached out to Betsy to ask her specific questions about her views on the matter.
When you were writing your piece detailing your views in relation to laws regarding sex between teachers and students, did you expect the backlash you have received from it thus far?
I did expect a backlash simply because I was advocating re-evaluation of two highly controversial subjects: whether sex between a student and teacher should always result in the case going into the criminal justice system, and the age of consent/statutory rape laws. These are both big taboos, and to be challenging accepted narratives about them is definitely poking the tiger.
But I naïvely failed to anticipate the extreme distortion my piece would receive by the media. Almost every media outlet characterized my piece as being pro-rape, racist, condoning pedophilia, actively promoting student-teacher sex, and/or other positions I find utterly repulsive. It never occurred to me that the piece would be read so selectively. I think a fair reading makes it clear that my concern is for the welfare of the students/victims and that my ideas are coming from a place of pragmatism and compassion.
Labeling me as "pro-rape" is a facile and intellectually dishonest way to shut down dialogue, much like claiming that anyone who questions mandatory sentencing is promoting crime or that advocates of comprehensive sex education in schools are promoting promiscuity. I wasn't surprised when Glenn Beck slammed me, but I was appalled to see the same reductive tactics and reactionary mindset embraced by journalists who call themselves progressives and feminists.
Do you feel that the message you were trying to relay has been misconstrued or not fully understand by those responding negatively towards it, and you?
Yes, it was shocking to me that some assumed I was suggesting decriminalization in the type of situation that occurred at Penn State. I was not in any way arguing that teachers who employ grooming, harassment and other forms of coercion should escape prosecution. A small minority of readers did carefully consider my arguments and provide thoughtful and insightful feedback.
I am in correspondence with a psychologist who works with sexual abuse victims who, while disagreeing with my position about the degree of harm generated by consensual teacher-student sex, shares my concerns about subjecting abuse victims to the criminal justice system.
One thing I do regret is that the piece was ambiguous in unpacking why I pegged it to the case involving Ms. Morales. I expressed "ambivalence" over her case, but I failed to sufficiently clarify that my ambivalence was not about whether the teacher should have been prosecuted, but about whether the criminal process may have traumatized her. (That was why I introduced the piece with the Louis C.K. remarks, which also address an unintended consequence of criminal laws.)
When I said I was troubled "for the opposite reason" I was not implying that the teacher should have received an even lighter sentence, but rather I was pivoting to the general issue of whether these criminal prosecutions have a huge downside for victims in general. I did specifically state that I was not defending Judge Baugh's comments, but I nevertheless blame my lack of clarity for the fact that this particular aspect of the piece was misconstrued by a percentage of readers.
What exactly were you trying to convey?
I was trying to convey that criminalization is a blunt instrument with unintended consequences and is not always the best way to deter behaviors we deem undesirable. Society learned this during prohibition and is currently grappling with these problems in the context of drug laws and mandatory sentencing. I was simply stating the obvious: sexual activity between students and teachers will continue to occur no matter how hard we try to suppress it with legislation. And some of these situations will include behavior that does not include force, coercion, manipulation, or other conduct that plainly should be subject to criminal laws.
I was suggesting that we could be responding to consensual situations in a more realistic and intelligent manner, and that forcing the student to participate in a criminal prosecution in these cases is likely to unnecessarily amplify the trauma to the student.
Of course, we aren't just talking about the general population, but rather a situation where teachers are in a position of trust and authority over students. That is why I clearly stated that any teacher who has sex with a student, even if the sex is consensual and the student is above the age of consent, should be fired and lose their license. And I have also suggested a higher standard of proof for establishing that student-teacher sex is consensual, perhaps in the form of a rebuttable presumption of non-consent.
Some argue that because of the power differential there can never be meaningful consent in in this context. I disagree and I believe it is tortuous and hypocritical to label all of these situations rape. I do agree that any student-teacher sexual relationship should be subject to very careful scrutiny because of these concerns. I would rather see society devote resources to providing a thorough mental health and/or law enforcement evaluation on a highly individualized basis at this point to determine if there was manipulative or coercive conduct, rather than on indiscriminate prosecutions and repairing psychological harm after the fact.
In her book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex , (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2002) Judith Levine states that "[m]any psychologists believe that adults' reactions even to certifiable sexual abuse can exacerbate the situation for the child..." and quotes a report by the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect stating: "There is often as much harm done to the child by the system's handling of the case as the trauma associated with the abuse."
Even my most vocal critics in the victim community concede that the criminal justice system is still rife with ignorance and incompetence, can be a brutal experience for victims, has a long way to go before it adequately supports survivors of abuse, and is not likely to change any time soon.
You stated that you "don't believe that all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape, and I believe that absent extenuating circumstances, consensual sexual activity between teachers and students should not be criminalized."
I strongly believe that forcing a teenager who has engaged in a consensual sexual experience to self-identify as a rape victim sends a hypocritical and damaging message to that individual and to society. I suspect this sentence disturbed readers because I did not make it sufficiently clear that I was carving out an exception for consensual situations, not assuming most sexual activity between students and teachers to be consensual.
I was also arguing that the age of consent is unrealistically high. In the United States it is 18 in many states, and 16 or 17 in others. In most European countries it is between 14 and 16. When I said "extenuating circumstances," I actually meant, and should have said, "aggravating circumstances." When I said "not all sexual conduct between underage students and teachers should necessarily be classified as rape" I was referring to consensual sexual activity by teenagers who are underage within the current legal framework, but who would not be underage if legislators lowered the age of consent.
Again, this is not about promoting sexual activity, but rather realistically tailoring social policies, including how wide a net we wish to cast for criminal prosecutions.
Do you feel this way about sexual relations between teachers and students specifically or sexual relations between all legal adults and minors?
As noted, I think the current age of consent is unrealistically high, and I feel the same about how these principles should apply to the general population. I have been thinking about the fact that, outside the school context, there would not always be disincentives such as job loss to deter adults from seeking out sexual relations with teenagers above the age of consent. But if the teenager is above the age of consent and the conduct is consensual, distasteful as it may be to contemplate that they are engaging in sex with adults, I still believe this is better addressed outside the criminal justice system, preferably through the intervention of parents and mental health professionals.
This sentiment is supported by Ms. Levine's extensive analysis of statutory rape, wherein she argues that "legally designating a class of people categorically unable to consent to sexual relations is not the best way to protect children ... [c]riminal law, which must draw unambiguous lines, is not the proper place to adjudicate family conflicts over youngsters' sexuality." Id. At 88.
Do you believe that our society, our culture here in America, is one that is incapable of having an open and honest conversation about sex, the different age groups that participate in the act, and the different circumstances surrounding all sexual activity between participants or even non-willing participants as it pertains to crime and punishment?
I would hate to conclude that it's impossible, but I have to say the response to my op-ed quite vividly illustrates how polarized people are on this point and how vehemently they will attack and shout down opponents. It is obvious that examining either of the taboos I challenged, statutory rape laws/age of consent, and student-teacher sex, is guaranteed to provoke a firestorm.
For these reasons, I am pessimistic about society's ability to objectively and effectively reassess our criminal codes or even sex education policies. That being said, even within the backlash I am seeing some genuine interest in openly debating these subjects, and that is heartening because the issue here is -- or at least should be -- the health and welfare of young people.
Brain science, effects of childhood trauma prompt changes in child welfare
A 24-year-old Kansas City man stood before Nebraska child welfare workers, foster parents, judges and therapists Friday and thanked them.
Their counterparts in Kansas City, Nathan Ross said, had a role in saving him, guiding him out of the deepness of a childhood defined by beatings, sneaking food from the garbage and being forced at age 10 to draw the scalding hot bath that led to the deaths of two of his younger brothers.
Because of the trauma he had suffered for at least five years, a lot of people thought he could never be normal. How could he? He had seen too much and done too much. He was going to be crazy the rest of his life.
"That should have been me. It would have been me if I didn't have people like the ones sitting in this room," he told them.
Nearly 1,000 people attended the two-day conference on trauma across the lifespan, offered free by the state Department of Health and Human Services, the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center and the Nebraska Early Development Network.
Ross was one of the five children of Mary Bass, convicted in 2000 in what was called one of the worst child-abuse cases in Kansas City history. They came to the attention of the child welfare system many times, but the case always was dismissed.
This family illustrated why people who work with abused and neglected children should know about the effects of trauma.
After his 8-year-old brothers were scalded, their mother locked them in a broom cupboard for a week or more with no food. They developed gangrene. Finally Mary Bass let the boys, crying and in pain, out of the cupboard.
"As we're looking at (Larry) and as she's rocking him as he cries, he takes his last breath and he dies right in front of us," Ross said. "And I could feel it, that everything in our life was about to change."
Gary died two days later. His mother was convicted on two counts of second-degree murder and other charges, and received eight life sentences. Her three remaining children entered foster care.
Ross's behavior, caused by his trauma, could be a blueprint for many children asked to adjust to a "new normal." Resist, don't get attached, don't trust. Do what you can to prove that this person, and this person, and this person ultimately will reject you, too.
It is the pattern adopted by many foster children, said Dr. Bruce Perry, who spoke to conference participants Thursday on the impact of trauma and abuse on the developing child.
Brain science has advanced far enough to give people more understanding of the children and families with whom they work. They know the connections and patterns learned as infants and children can permeate the lifespan, Perry said.
"If you have adversity early in life, it influences how you function all the way into, really, senility," he said.
Experts are shifting the way they think about clinical approaches to treating these children. A one-size-fits all approach does not work, he said.
"We have to understand the individual, their family, their culture, the context within which they're doing their behaviors, and thinking and making decisions," he said. "And when we do, we will be better at helping them express their full potential."
The major vehicles for prevention and healing are healthy relationships.
Child welfare systems are well-intended, Perry said, but not functioning for the optimum care of children.
Kids who have been maltreated fall behind, until they come to the attention of the mental health system. By fifth- or sixth-grade they become labeled as mentally ill -- attention deficit disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional-defiant disorder, bipolar disorder.
"All those are wrong," he said. "The connection between those disorders and physiological reality is nil."
Children are treated, nonetheless, through the lens of mental health and many end up on medications and anti-psychotics, he said.
State Medicaid paid $2.7 million in fiscal year 2013 for anti-psychotic drugs prescribed by doctors for state wards. That same year, the state spent $6.8 million for all behavioral health drugs for state wards.
It's Perry's opinion that, in many cases, drugs don't make kids get better. Many of them end up in the juvenile justice system.
The model must be changed, he said.
It costs Nebraska $233.2 million, including salaries, operating costs and services, to protect children from their caregivers.
This conference was the kickoff for changes in Nebraska's child welfare system — prompted in part by advances in brain science — that will make it a priority for workers, foster parents and others to be more informed about childhood trauma, said Vicki Maca, deputy director of HHS' division of children and families.
"Kids come into our system that have a variety of experiences," Maca said. "But the one thing they have in common, if they're in our system, is trauma."
The department will move to ensure staffs, parents and providers know child development and can recognize and help kids who have been through traumatic experiences, she said.
HHS will lead the planning for the changes, in collaboration with providers, foster parents and youth, she said.
"It is a culture change," she said. "We are definitely heading in the right direction."
Men and Rape
by Richard Denton, Guest Columnist
Most sexual assaults are committed by men. Rape is a particularly egregious form of sexual assault, with about half of current college student survivors still suffering from some symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome. The majority of rapes are committed by a small number of predatory men who escape punishment, and we must all work together to prevent these acts of violence.
Two psychologists, David Lisak and Paul Miller, studied the characteristics of men at an urban commuter university. Their survey did not use the word “rape,” and many of the men in the study might not label themselves as rapists. But they did answer “yes” to questions like “Have you ever had sexual intercourse with someone, even though they did not want to, because they were too intoxicated (on alcohol or drugs) to resist your sexual advances (e.g., removing their clothes)?” or “Have you tried, but not succeeded, in having sexual intercourse with an adult when they didn't want to because you used or threatened to use physical force (twisting their arm; holding them down, etc.) if they didn't cooperate?”
The good news is that 94 percent of the men interviewed did not meet criteria for rape or attempted rape. The majority of men are not rapists. The bad news is that six percent of the men interviewed did rape. Two-thirds of the rapists studied were repeat rapists, and the repeat rapists averaged six rapes each. Taking two percent of men times one rape per single incident rapist plus four percent of men times six rapes per repeat rapist leads to 26 rapes per 100 men, a number roughly consistent with national rates of victimization of college women. Ninety-one percent of college rapes are committed by people who have raped, attempted to rape, will rape or will attempt to rape more than one person.
Most rapes are unreported. But Lisak's data led him to state the “uncomfortable truths” that rape is ubiquitous on American college campuses and that there is a small group of criminals, serial sexual predators, among us. If only four percent of Dartmouth undergraduate men are repeat rapists, that still comes out to 80 repeat rapists. Unlike incarcerated rapists, these predators escape prosecution because they use the minimum “necessary” amount of physical force, confine their victims to acquaintances and are experts at disguising themselves as “nice guys.”
The repeat rapists not only averaged about six rapes, but about eight other acts of violence such as hitting or kicking people, choking someone, and beating or sexually abusing a child. Lisak says that this group of men “cannot be reached or educated. They must be identified and removed from our communities.” Whether one has sympathy for these men, it is not doing them a favor to let them continue abusing people, and doing so will certainly put other people in peril. In my opinion, one of our first priorities should be to identify, confront and remove serial rapists from our community.
Lisak goes on to say that “our prevention and education efforts must be focused on the vast majority of men who will never themselves cross the line into criminal behavior, but who by their participation in peer groups and activities either actively or passively provide support or camouflage for the sexual predators in their midst”.
Another group of psychologists led by Heather Littleton added that “men also ought to be encouraged to intervene if they see someone taking advantage of a person who is intoxicated.” Note that, under New Hampshire law, a person is not deemed legally capable of giving consent for sexual activity if that person is incapacitated. As described on a University of New Hampshire site, “If someone you are with is having difficulty walking or talking, is throwing up, passed out, or just generally unaware of what's going on, that person cannot legally give consent.”
Men can use characteristics that are often thought of as masculine — strength, single-minded focus and determination — to work for a safer Dartmouth. I recently heard an unusual and inspiring story about an unsung Dartmouth student who stopped another man from assaulting a woman but, in the process, was himself injured by the assailant. This man exhibited authentic manhood, being what men can and should be, protective rather than abusive of others, and doing the right thing regardless of the cost. Richard Denton is a physics and astronomy professor.
Myths about victims of sexual abuse can deny young people a voice
When politicians, professionals and the media buy into stereotypes of who is vulnerable to sexual exploitation, they contribute to a culture of disbelief and silence
by Carlene Firmin
This month a new voice was added to the ongoing debate on child sexual exploitation: Asian and Muslim young women who have endured months and sometimes years of sexual violence and who have not been afforded the protection or attention that their treatment warranted. The cases outlined in the report Unheard Voices, published by the Muslim Women's Network UK, paint a damning picture of the sexual abuse of children.
As hard as it was to read the cases of abuse documented in the report, they echoed the voices of minority ethnic girls that I had met in custody and communities around England over the past eight years. Many of these girls were not able to tell anybody about what they had endured, and nobody had noticed or thought to inquire about why they were self harming, getting involved in crime, failing to arrive at school or turning up with unexplained physical injuries.
With widespread stereotypes and myths about sexually exploited children only being white British girls, the importance of this report should not be underestimated. Sweeping statements have been made, implying that Asian or Muslim girls are not vulnerable to sexual exploitation because their families keep them indoors and so they cannot be groomed. Others have purported that perpetrators of British Pakistani origin would never abuse girls of the same ethnicity, because they would be easily found out and turned away from their communities.
Every time someone makes a statement that promulgates myths about who is vulnerable to sexual exploitation and who isn't, an environment is sustained where victims are hidden in plain sight – how many times has a professional thought "Oh, they couldn't be a victim because they're Asian, or they're a boy, or they live at home"? Yet, what about the latest revelations that hundreds of children are being blackmailed into online sex acts as they sit in front of their computers at home?
For many of the Asian girls, it was the fact that they were from the same ethnic or religious backgrounds as their abusers that gave perpetrators easy access, and made them acutely vulnerable to rape and exploitation.
Politicians, professionals and the media should always be mindful that when they buy into, and re-enforce, stereotypes they contribute to a culture of disbelief and silence. In the wake of the Jimmy Savile inquiry, a climate of safe disclosure was created, and some people were able to talk to someone about their harrowing experiences for the first time. Such a climate is made up of two things: first, society, professionals and individuals recognising and acknowledging that abuse is likely or has occurred; second, all of those people, and society as a whole, being willing to hear, believe and act upon the testimony of abuse victims and survivors.
Yet, while Operation Yewtree and the high-profile sexual exploitation trials of 2012 and 2013 have caused that shift for some children and adult survivors, we must not be lulled into a false sense of security that it is an experience shared by all those who have been sexually abused.
The Unheard Voices report illustrates that, in spite of progress, we continue to deny some children and young people a culture of belief and support.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children, regardless of gender, ethnicity, faith or sexuality, have a right to be protected from abuse and exploitation. Myths, disbelief and stereotypes have impeded our ability to honour this commitment and we all have a duty to rectify that injustice.
October Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Complimentary Surgery for Victims, and Help for Young Adults In Unhealthy Relationships
by Michelle R. Yagoda, M.D., P.C.
NEW YORK, Sept. 24, 2013 -- /PRNewswire/ -- In the United States, a woman is beaten every nine seconds by an intimate or former partner, and over 75 percent of women who are in an abusive relationship receive a battering to the face and head area. The American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) is the largest international association of facial plastic and reconstructive surgeons and the first surgical group to take a firm stand against domestic abuse. In 1994, the AAFPRS teamed up with the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), to develop FACE-TO-FACE: The Domestic Violence Project. The project was created to help repair both physical and psychological scars by providing complimentary consultation and surgery to domestic violence survivors whom have suffered injuries to the face, head or neck. Victims of domestic abuse who are burdened with physical scars of the head and neck are invited to call the 24-hour toll free number - 1-800-842-4546.
Dr. Michelle Yagoda is a volunteer female facial plastic surgeon with FACE-TO-FACE, and has been providing complimentary care to survivors of domestic violence for almost two decades. But, "treating the scars of an abusive relationship is only one part of the equation," according to Dr. Yagoda. "Detecting early signs of unhealthy relationships, and empowering women and men early in life, can help to prevent this trauma from happening in the first place." Dr. Yagoda notes, "High school can be a difficult time for many teens, who may be finding, exploring, and building relationships. They may also be experiencing bullying, stress, physical and emotional changes. During this time of turmoil, the signs of unhealthy and abusive relationships may be especially difficult to identify." Dr. Yagoda has counseled privately and to school groups about the importance of early intervention and helped to educate young adults and their parents about healthy relationships, and warning signs of abuse.
As a woman facial plastic surgeon, Dr. Michelle Yagoda is gentle, caring and understanding, and she understands first hand that her involvement in FACE-TO-FACE often brings a renewed confidence and positive lifestyle to the survivor.
If you would like to arrange an interview or a lecture, please call Melanie at (212) 861.1212.
About Dr. Yagoda Dr. Michelle Yagoda, one of NYC's most respected female facial plastic surgeons, is an attending physician and clinical instructor at Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital, Lenox Hill Hospital and The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. Dr. Yagoda uniquely practices an integrative approach to health, wellness and beauty. She understands the key importance of internal health and wellness, including mental wellness, on external beauty. Dr. Yagoda offers a combination of natural, holistic and alternative therapies as well as more traditional surgical and non-surgical procedures. She and her clinically proven beauty supplement have appeared widely on television and in print.
Melanie Caron, Associate Director of Press
Available Topic Expert(s): For information on the listed expert(s), click appropriate link. Dr. Michelle Yagoda, M.D. http://www.profnetconnect.com/dr._michelle_yagoda
Seven bills pass through Senate panel to strengthen Pa. child abuse laws
by Kate Giammarise
HARRISBURG -- Seven bills aimed at strengthening Pennsylvania's child abuse laws sailed unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.
The bills, prompted by recommendations from the Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection, convened in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, would update the state's definition of child abuse, clarify who is a mandatory reporter of such abuse and increase penalties for failing to report abuse, among a number of other changes.
Updating the definition of abuse is a major part of the overhaul; Pennsylvania is considered an outlier among states as having a high threshold for what legally constitutes child abuse.
State law says that a child must suffer "serious" bodily injury to be considered abused, the proposed changes would lower that standard to just "bodily injury."
"Before we can do anything to improve our child abuse reporting system, enhance care for victims and families, or toughen prosecution of offenders, we must be able to clearly define what is and is not child abuse," said Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and a sponsor of the bill to overhaul the definition.
Current law and the proposed changes allow a religious exemption -- meaning withholding needed medical care from a child due to religious beliefs would not be considered abuse.
However, the "belief must be consistent with a bona fide religion" and county child welfare agencies can "closely monitor the child and shall seek court-ordered intervention if the lack of medical care threatens the child's life or long-term health," according to a memo on the bill by Ms. Washington.
The exemption is an area of concern, said Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Protect Our Children Committee.
"If a child needs medical or surgical care, we should really be consistent in making sure they get access to it," she said.
A number of similar changes related to child protection have already been passed by the House, though there are some differences that would need to be clarified before the bills could become law. The differences in House and Senate bills and the line between what is considered acceptable discipline versus what is abuse "needs a little fine-tuning yet," Ms. Palm noted.
The bills next head to the appropriations committee, then to the full Senate for a vote. Floor votes are planned for most or all of the bills next week and they are expected to pass, said Erik Arneson, a spokesman for the majority Senate Republicans.
Child Sexual Assault Prevention Workshops Offered
by Lisa Pachnos
Local residents can learn how to help prevent child sexual assault by joining the Enough Abuse Campaign, a cooperative effort of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey, Project Self-Sufficiency and the Sussex Warren Partnership to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse. The community-wide education initiative aims to mobilize adults and communities to prevent child sexual assault by increasing awareness of the warning signs displayed by predators and as well as victims. Educators are particularly interested in training middle and high school youth, their parents, teachers, administrators, coaches and other youth-serving professionals on how to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse.
Training sessions will be held at Project Self-Sufficiency from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. on Monday, September 30 th and Tuesday, October 22 nd , and from 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 8 th . Project Self-Sufficiency is located at 127 Mill Street in Newton. Participation is free and open to anyone interested in stemming the tide of child sexual assault, but registration is required. To register, or to find out more about the Enough Abuse campaign, call Melissa Bischoff at Project Self-Sufficiency, 973-940-3500.
The one "fact of life" that kids must learn early
by Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA
No matter how much discipline we try to exert over our bodies, in some ways they're just going to do what they're going to do. We breathe, we have reflexes, when we're scared our bodies make ready to fight or flee. And anyone who has ever diapered a boy baby has probably seen a tiny erection, a reflexive physical reaction.
It is absurd to think that a baby's genital feelings are sexual -- babies have no concept of sexuality and just naturally respond to anything that feels good. Human bodies are wired to react to many types of stimulation without conscious decision -- like getting goose bumps, or blinking. These types of bodily responses, including physical arousal of the genitalia, are called autonomic responses. They are governed by the autonomic nervous system and not conscious choice.
What does this have to do with sexual health and safety?
Many popular sex abuse prevention programs focus on teaching kids about "good touch-bad touch", but the words of one adult survivor of sexual abuse must be heard: "No one ever tells a child that a wrong touch might actually feel good!" In fact, molesters often count on a child not knowing this critical fact of life, and use a child's physical response to convince him or her that they were a willing participant. Similarly, a young man who does not know that his arousal came directly from his own brain may choose to 'blame' his arousal on someone and attempt to coerce them to relieve it, an all too familiar story heard from sexually aggressive adolescents. Parents of young children have an opportunity to set a foundation for sexual health and safety by helping make sure their child understands how their genitals work.
Transmitting this message to kids can be as easy as doing nothing. Simply, a non-reaction to a baby handling their genitals gives the message that as parents we'll treat all body parts equally. As babies become toddlers, we can set boundaries around genital play, focusing on privacy, much the same way as we present potty-training; there's a time and place for everything. We can also begin to introduce the difference between privacy and secrecy; a child can learn that there are things she can do in private, but Mom and Dad need to know about them. Parents of toddlers can prepare to answer questions coming from a child who knows that he can ask his parents anything.
One mom interviewed for The Sex-wise Parent shared her total meltdown when her 3 1/2 year-old son asked, "Mommy, why does my winky get big sometimes?" Another expressed how hard she had to work not to reprimand her four-year-old daughter who loved to rub favorite toys on her genitals in the bath. Both of these parents were off to a good start by not punishing their child for talking about sex or pleasuring themselves, and both have an opportunity to do more.
A question about an erection can be answered with an age-appropriate version of this: "Sometimes our bodies do things all by themselves because of how they feel, like when you laugh if you're tickled. Penises get bigger when they feel good, whether you told it to nor not." The pre-school girl may be ready to hear, "I know it feels special when you rub your vagina, but don't rub too hard; vaginas can get scratched too, like your knee did when you feel off your bike yesterday."
Speaking like this to your child may feel odd at first; a great way to prepare is to practice with your spouse or a friend. Take turns thinking of the toughest question you fear hearing from a little one, then help each other craft short, clear answers. The more you say the words and phrases with a trusted friend or partner, the easier it will be to speak to your child with pleasant authority instead of discomfort.
Comfort, knowledge and language about the sexual parts of the body are crucial to the foundation of sexual health and safety for our kids. Children with knowledge and language are less appealing to molesters, who seek out kids lacking the tools to speak up. Children who know the fundamental difference between healthy privacy ("I can do it without Mom or Dad watching") and secrecy ("Mom and Dad can't know about this") are less likely to be sworn to the silence that provides cover to people who sexually abuse children.
And, if a child is touched inappropriately like thousands are each year, the knowledge that their body's autonomic reaction doesn't make them complicit and that there are no secrets from mom and dad will spare them the devastating confusion resulting from experiencing a physical response that they neither wanted nor expected.
Having those frank discussions about genitalia with your children while they're still young enough to want your answers means they'll be more likely to listen to you as they negotiate the turbulent teen years. Good luck!
Today's guest blogger is Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, the national consultant for child sexual abuse prevention for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent. For more information, read her blog, follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.
Clothesline Project provides creative outlet
Mississippi State University students raise awareness for sexual assault by hanging their stories on clotheslines on the Drill Field. The Clothesline Project is a three-day event where volunteers can decorate a T-shirt representing how they, or someone they know, has been affected by sexual assault.
In 1990, a group of women from Cape Cod, Mass., decided it wanted to break the silence. One of the women, Rachel Carey-Harper, presented the idea to make T-shirts and hang them on a clothesline to make the well-kept secrets of so many known.
According to The Clothesline Project official website, the event raises awareness and creates freedom for victims of sexual assault, while letting women share their individual stories through artwork on T-shirts. After decorated, the T-shirts are hung on clotheslines.
“This very action serves many purposes. It acts as an educational tool for those who come to view the clothesline. It becomes a healing tool for anyone who makes a shirt. By hanging the shirt on the line, survivors, friends and family can literally turn their back on some of that pain of their experience and walk away. Finally, it allows those who are still suffering in silence to understand that they are not alone,” the website stated.
The MSU Clothesline Project allows any child or adult, male or female, to participate.
Each colored T-shirt holds a different meaning. Yellow stands for men and women who have been battered or assaulted. Red, pink or orange stand for men and women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. White stands for men and women who have died of violence. Blue or green stand for for men and women who have been victims of incest or child sexual abuse. Purple stands for men and women who have been attacked because of their sexual orientation. Black stands for men and women who have been attacked for political reasons.
Leah Pylate, assistant director of Health Education Wellness and Sexual Assault, said it is vital the public is made aware of sexual violence and begins to take action.
“We cannot ignore the issue. The Clothesline Project brings awareness to crimes of violence against men, women and children, and it is important for the campus community to take action and not allow these crimes to continue,” she said. “According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, in a woman's lifetime, one in five have been raped and one in six have been stalked. Also, according to the same report, one in four women have experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner,” Pylate said.
Lesley Hammers, senior educational psychology major, was a volunteer for last year's Clothesline Project. Hammers said the experience changed the way she views her life and the lives of others.
“Before volunteering with the Clothesline Project, I never thought about how other students my age were going through really hard experiences. Walking through and reading the T-shirts was really eye opening. A lot of times we take our lives for granted, not realizing how much others have been and are going through right now,” she said. “I am now a lot more grateful for my life and hope to make others aware of the hurt that is happening to so many people around us.”
The decision of a small group of women from Cape Cod, Mass., to stand up for what they believed in has grown and spread to reach people throughout the nation. In October of 1990, 31 people hung up their stories. Today, an estimated 500 projects nationally and internationally make an estimated 50,000 to 60,000 T-shirts.
MSU's Clothesline Project will be held on the Drill Field Sept. 24-26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
SNAP: Pope's Comments Do Not Protect Children
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) sharply criticized Pope Francis for failing to make child sexual abuse in the church a top priority. Pope Francis made headlines last week for remarking that the Catholic church had become obsessed with gay rights, abortion and birth control, and for putting moral doctrines before serving the poor and marginalized. He described his vision of the church as a "home for all."
"It's good to make adults happier," said SNAP director David Clohessy. "But it's better to make children safer. That should have been the pontiff's top priority on day one. It should become his top priority now. He's done nothing to protect children, expose predators and deter cover ups. Not as a priest, bishop, archbishop or cardinal. Not as the pope."
SNAP stressed that the Pope has not confronted the church's history of child sexual abuse and cover ups, despite statements he made after his election that he wanted to root out the sexual abuse of children and punish perpetrators.
According to BishopAccountability.org, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has counted 16,795 individuals who have alleged that they were abused as minors by priests between the years of 1950 and 2013.
Media Resources: New York Times 9/20/2013; Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests Media Statement 9/20/2013; NBC News 4/5/2013; BishopAccountability.org 5/9/2013
New PSA Campaign Featuring More Than 40 Celebrities Calls Attention To Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault And Encourages Bystanders To Help
New national survey uncovers staggering silence and inaction around domestic violence and sexual assault; Overwhelming majority of Americans have never discussed these hidden issues with children or friends and 65% of victims who come forward say no one helped
Corporations announce major domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and awareness initiatives using the NO MORE symbol
NEW YORK -- Celebrities, athletes, corporate leaders, and advocates have joined forces to generate awareness for domestic violence and sexual assault and encourage bystanders to help, in a dramatic new series of public service announcements that feature the NO MORE symbol, the first unified branding symbol (like the pink breast cancer ribbon) for these issues. A new, national survey underscores the urgent need for the campaign, revealing that the overwhelming majority of Americans know victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, but they do not talk about the issues with their children or friends, or take steps to help survivors.
The study "NO MORE Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Survey of Attitudes and Experiences of Teens and Adults" was conducted by GfK Public Affairs & Corporate Communications, and commissioned by the Avon Foundation for Women, and shows an urgent need for increased awareness, conversation and education around domestic violence and sexual assault, with an emphasis on what bystanders can do to prevent violence and help victims before it is too late.
Among the key findings:
60% of Americans know a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault
Three out of four (73%) parents with children under the age of 18 said that they have not had a conversation about domestic violence or sexual assault with their children.
67% of Americans say they have not talked about domestic violence with their friends; even more, 73% have not discussed sexual assault.
Even though 75% of Americans say that they would step in and help a stranger being abused, the reality is most people do not help.
For example, among the 70% of women who experienced domestic violence and then told someone about it, more than half (58%) said that no one helped them.
But 64% of Americans say if we talk more about domestic violence and sexual assault, it would make it easier to help someone.
"The Avon Foundation for Women funded this survey to better understand why domestic violence and sexual assault remain so inherently hidden and marginalized in our society," said Carol Kurzig, President of the Avon Foundation for Women. "The data shows us that conversations about these issues simply are not happening. That silence leaves victims trapped by the shame, stigma and fear that these crimes carry. If we can encourage more people to start talking, we can end that cycle and bring these issues to light in a new way."
The full data report can be seen at nomore.org/nomorestudy.
The NO MORE PSA
A new, celebrity-driven NO MORE PSA campaign is being unveiled to the public that directly addresses the silence and inaction of Americans on these critical issues. The NO MORE PSA campaign was spearheaded by the Joyful Heart Foundation, one of the many championing organizations behind the creation of the NO MORE symbol, and was directed by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, the Foundation's President and Founder, in her directorial debut. The campaign, involving more than 40 celebrities and public figures to engage bystanders to get involved, was developed in partnership with Y&R and photographed by world-renowned Timothy White.
Beginning today, the three-year PSA campaign will roll out across the country in local and national markets via print, broadcast, online and outdoor advertising, in movie theaters across the country, and in major airports and medical facilities. The Ad Council's Endorsed Campaign program has endorsed the campaign, and the Entertainment Industry Foundation is also helping generate awareness. Other major partnerships include Viacom, Lifetime Television, ConnectiVISION Digital Networks/ClearVISION and OK TV!.
"Being a part of NO MORE from the beginning has been a great privilege, especially the launch in Washington DC, where I got to stand with Vice President Biden and Attorney General Holder," said Hargitay. "And if that wasn't enough, directing the NO MORE PSAs was a dream come true. Society continues to misplace shame and blame on survivors. That has to end. What we saw during the filming, brave and strong and authentic person after person, was people standing up for each other, for the people they love, for their partners, wives, husbands, children, friends, mothers and fathers, for people they've never met, for themselves. I was just moved beyond words. NO MORE fills me with confidence and renewed determination."
The NO MORE PSAs can be viewed at www.nomore.org/psas. Anyone can follow the conversation on Twitter throughout the week, at hashtag #NOMOREexcuses, where celebrities, experts and advocates will promote and share updates on the PSA launch.
The NO MORE PSAs are available at no cost to non-profit organizations, universities and corporations across the country to co-brand and increase support in their local communities for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and services. Many will begin using the PSAs locally beginning this fall, (see a list here).
The New Symbol for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault - NO MORE
NO MORE has been in the making since 2009 and was developed because despite the significant progress that has been made in raising awareness around these issues, they remain hidden and on the margins of public concern. Virtually every domestic violence and sexual assault prevention organization in the U.S. is behind NO MORE, along with corporate leaders, branding experts, celebrities, athletes and advocates nationwide.
NO MORE was designed to unify everyone working to combat these issues in an unprecedented way – whether their focus is women and girls, men and boys, teenagers, children, minorities, rural or urban communities – as well as corporate leaders from a variety of business sectors behind one, powerful brand created to transform awareness and action.
Corporations Say NO MORE
This fall, prominent companies will launch new prevention and awareness activities under the NO MORE banner. The Avon Foundation for Women is funding a NO MORE bystander campaign to provide employers with training programs and tools to help their employees recognize the signs of abuse and better support victims. Kaiser Permanente will use the NO MORE symbol in their medical facilities and at community events to build awareness about the health impact of these issues. The Allstate Foundation is incorporating NO MORE into its ongoing work to help domestic violence survivors gain the financial knowledge and resources needed to break free from abusive relationships.
Verizon will feature the NO MORE PSA over its wireline and wireless networks during the month of October. The PSA will run on FiOS TV, wireless and online assets reaching millions of viewers.
"We believe that joining forces with other companies and the many organizations involved with the NO MORE campaign is the right thing to do because it allows us to leverage our collective resources and helps amplify the domestic violence and sexual assault awareness message across the country," said Torod Neptune, chief communications officer for Verizon Wireless.
Volunteers and financial support from organizations and individuals who care deeply about ending domestic violence and sexual assault, including The Allstate Foundation, the Avon Foundation for Women, Fifth & Pacific Foundation, Finn Partners, the Joyful Heart Foundation, Kimberly-Clark, Mary Kay, Sterling Brands and Verizon helped make the NO MORE symbol a reality. In addition, representatives from nearly every major domestic violence and sexual assault prevention organization in the country have supported the vision for NO MORE's potential to revolutionize how these issues are seen by the public.
They all support NO MORE:
A CALL TO MEN
Break the Cycle
California Coalition Against Sexual Assault
Casa de Esperanza
Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence
Futures Without Violence
Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation
Joyful Heart Foundation
Men Can Stop Rape
National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Latino Network
National Network to End Domestic Violence
National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
National Sexual Assault Coalition Resource Sharing Project
Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault
U.S. Department of Justice Office on Violence Against Women
More information about NO MORE can be found at www.nomore.org. Or for regular updates, visit NO MORE on Twitter @NOMOREorg or Facebook www.facebook.com/NOMORE.org.
About NO MORE
NO MORE is a new unifying symbol designed to galvanize greater awareness and action to end domestic violence and sexual assault. Supported by major organizations working to address these urgent issues, NO MORE is gaining support with Americans nationwide, sparking new conversations about these problems and moving this cause higher on the public agenda. For more information on NO MORE, to get involved or to get the symbol, visit www.nomore.org
The NO MORE Study Methodology
Avon Foundation for Women commissioned and funded the NO MORE Study (NO MORE Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Survey of Attitudes and Experiences of Teens and Adults), conducted by GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications, to research domestic violence and sexual abuse among teens, ages 15-17, and adults 18 and older, in an effort to further support the Foundation's mission of educating people to reduce sexual assault and domestic violence. GfK Public Affairs and Corporate Communications Group conducted interviews with a total of 1,307 respondents, 15 years of age and older. The study was conducted using the KnowledgePanel. The data was weighted to the population it represents. The margin of error for this study was +/-3.2 percentage points.
Child abuse 'You Are Not Alone' campaign promotes hotline
(CHICAGO) -- State officials who oversee the welfare of children in the state are launching a new effort to help stop child abuse and neglect.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services has started it's "You Are Not Alone" campaign. It includes a hotline: 1-800-25-ABUSE.
The department is asking school officials , including regional school superintendents and private school organizations, to distribute 25,000 posters statewide.
The effort is being initiated as students return to the school.
The department says one in five children are abused or neglected before they turn 18.
Child Abuse Victims Find Comfort in Therapy Dog
by John Borsa
BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) - Meet a very special dog.
"What's so special about Violet?" asks his trainer, Kathleen Gilliam, a volunteer at Child Advocacy Center in Allentown.
Violet is an eight-year-old English Labrador Retriever.
"I would say, she's sweet and loving. She's the most sweet and loving animal that I have ever known."
An animal who gives love to young abuse victims.
"She gives her love very generously and she's very patient, very non-judgmental," Gilliam said.
Helping them deal with the horrors of abuse, in a way adults cannot.
"She won't talk. She won't tell your secrets. Kids tell her all kinds of things. They whisper things into her fur."
Things that no child should ever have to say, even to a dog.
"She's really been a comfort to so many children," said Judith Olin, director at the center.
"Child abuse, nationally, the numbers are going down. But locally, we haven't really seen that here in Erie County," said Olin.
"In 90 percent of the cases, the abuser is someone who is known to the child, a family member, a relative, a neighbor, a teacher, a coach, we've all seen those cases as well."
Making the job of tracking and finding abusers all that more difficult because they blend into the child's life... and for years... can go unnoticed. The best advice? Experts say look for the physical and mental signs of abuse... talk to your kids... and most importantly... listen... just like Violet does.
Child abuse cases on the rise; Kosair Charities launches new initiative
by Johnny Archer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – Each year dozens of child abuse stories make headlines.
Most of the 2700 other cases a year in Jefferson County go unheard of in the public eye and it's a problem that experts say is getting worse.
“As the economy gets worse so does child abuse. Child abuse is a manifestation of stressors going on in a child's family,” Dr. Melissa Currie of Kosair Charities Forensic Medicine at U of L said.
Kosair Charities is leading an initiative called the “Face It” campaign.
Their goal is to completely eliminate child abuse and neglect in Jefferson County by 2023.
In 2012, 22 children died in Kentucky because of child abuse.
Dr. Currie says there are risk factors that increase the likelihood of child abuse including untreated mental illness, substance abuse and domestic violence.
Stress is also a factor that can play a huge role in a person's reaction to caring for a child.
“Crying does not hurt a baby. A caregiver who is frustrated while holding that baby can cause permanent harm,” Currie said.
If a baby is crying and the caregiver is stressed, experts recommend placing the baby down in a safe location, walking away for a few minutes to cool down. This decreases the chances of doing something unforgivable.
Experts say if you witness something that causes concern, you should document the situation and consider reporting it to authorities.
Treasure Coast child summit raising awareness of child abuse and neglect
by Kayla Smith
FORT PIERCE — Recognizing child abuse and neglect is the first step in preventing it.
Raising awareness of child abuse and neglect is the focus of this week's Treasure Coast Guardians for New Futures' second annual child summit.
With emphasis on how to interview drug-endangered children and victims of sexual abuse, the two-day conference will help educate members of the community on how to combat this epidemic.
As of spring 2012, there were approximately 1,400 children under court supervision in the Treasure Coast's 19th Judicial Circuit, with approximately 32,000 statewide, according to research published by the Guardians for New Futures. During this time frame there was an average of 15 children per month who died statewide from abuse and neglect.
Debbie Butler, president of Guardians for New Futures, hopes to provide the training and education necessary to encourage everyone to become a vigilant defender of the community's children.
“By helping the community learn more about abuse and neglect, and how to recognize signs of maltreatment and other things that are affecting our children — that's going to make us such a strong community,” Butler said.
Although it's difficult to directly measure the outcome of these workshops and summits, awareness has undeniably increased since last year. This year's summit has already garnered more than 400 people signed up.
“We have 400 or more people that will attend the summit,” Butler said. “Just think: if each one of those individuals had a positive impact or intervened for a child, that's a lot of eyes and a lot of ears that are looking out for our children, and are better educated about how to protect them. That's a pretty huge legacy for each individual who attends.”
The conference was designed for professionals who work closely with children, such as teachers, day care providers, law enforcement officials, health care providers and mental health counselors. Although the information to be provided at the summit targets people in these fields, Butler encourages any community member with an interest to attend.
“It's not one organization, or one person or one company that can protect all of our children,” she said. “It's all of us, at every level and in every community.”
IF YOU GO
What: Educational conference aimed at raising awareness for child abuse and neglect within the community.
When: 7:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Sept. 26 and 27
Where: Treasure Coast Public Safety Training Complex at Indian River State College, Frank & LeVan Fee Building, 4600 Kirby Loop Road, Fort Pierce
Who should attend: Professionals who work closely with children, including educators, law enforcement and health care professionals, as well as any community member interested in learning more about how to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Information: Registration can be completed through the Guardians for New Futures: www.websitegfnf4kids.org
Stricter laws can check child abuse
by Xie Caifeng
A series of child abuse cases has hit the headlines recently: four steel needles inserted into the body of a baby girl by her biological father; a seven-year-old girl drowned by her step-mother; little children in kindergarten beaten up by teachers. Such atrocities have appalled people across the country and left them wondering how children can be better protected.
Unfortunately, the existing laws are not powerful enough to ensure punishment to perpetrators or deter potential offenders. Often, police don't investigate minor child abuse cases because people generally believe that parents and teachers do have the right to physically punish a child. According to traditional thinking, the rod should not be spared when it comes to children's education, and physical punishment helps children grow up into knowledgeable, responsible and obedient adults.
So police intervene only if children suffer from serious physical injuries. In such cases, the law enforcement agencies often apply the Law of the People's Republic of China on Administrative Penalties for Public Security (or Law on Public Security). According to the law, a person could be detained for up to 15 days and fined a maximum of 1,000 yuan ($163.4) for intentionally causing physical harm to a child. But the clause is rarely invoked in a child abuse case.
The other two important child protection laws are the Law of the People's Republic of China on Protection of Minors (or Law on Protection of Minors) and the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China (or Criminal Law). Although many clauses of the Law on Protection of Minors are devoted to protecting children's rights, it is by nature a soft law that does not advocate strict punishment, and thus plays a limited role in deterring child abuse.
The most powerful weapon against child abuse could be the Criminal Law, but it is not designed to deal with such cases. The Criminal Law only deals with the "crime of abuse", not the "crime of child abuse", and even the clauses on the crime of abuse have four inherent loopholes when it comes to deterring child abuse.
First, the law merely covers crime in the family. Non-family members such as schoolteachers and daycare center employees are thus beyond the purview of the law.
Second, only if an incident is "extremely serious" can an abuse be treated as a crime under the law.
Third, since the law sees a crime as a matter of private prosecution, the victim himself or herself has to file a case before a court of law to seek justice. Do we expect children to have the legal knowledge, let alone expertise, to move court against an abuse? Moreover, there are no public or private organizations competent enough to file a case on behalf of an abused child. The result: the "crime of child abuse" is rarely applied in child abuse cases.
And fourth, the punishment for child abuse is often very light. The offender gets away with just two years' imprisonment for even the severest of child abuse. Worse, even if the victim is tortured to death, the perpetrator can at best be imprisoned for seven years.
The story is quite different in Western counties. In the United States, and European Union and other developed countries, child abuse is a serious crime that invites the severest of punishments. Take the US for example. Child abuse cases have a wide scope, from physical abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse to neglect.
In June this year, a couple in the US were arrested and charged with child abuse because they spent their days playing World of Warcraft and did not fulfill the needs of and provide the appropriate living environment for their children. The couple face up to seven years in jail. Chinese people would see such a case as being intrusive on family life and unjust.
Abuse could leave a permanent scar on a child. According to the World Health Organization, a child that suffers abuse is vulnerable to many physical, emotional and behavioral conditions, such as obesity, depression, suicidal tendency, accidental pregnancy, and risky sexual behavior.
In the light of the above facts, Chinese parents and society as whole should change their mindset. They have to understand that it is not a good idea to beat up children in order to educate them.
Like their counterparts in other countries, Chinese too believe children are the future of the nation. But if they cannot provide children a safe and sound childhood, how can they expect them to grow up and lead the nation?
And despite not being the panacea against the ills of child abuse, laws can indeed be used to deter potential offenders. Therefore, to protect children from abuse, the government should amend some laws and make child abuse a crime.
Athens mom: special-needs child raped during family crisis
by Joe Johns
Nancy is a single mom struggling to raise two young children with autism. When an emergency with one of her kids arose she called on her tenants for help.
While the 10-year-old boy was in the care of Melissa Nicole Jones and Matthew Wilson Freethy-Swimm, Athens-Clarke police said the couple sexually assaulted him.
According to Nancy, her son told her that Freethy-Swimm held a knife to his throat while Jones had sex with him.
Jones purportedly later bragged about “taking the virginity of a minor,” according to Nancy.
The woman had no idea what happened to her son for a few weeks.
In mid-June, her 9-year-old suffered a “severe meltdown” and had to be taken to his doctor. The doctor wanted the boy to go to Athens Regional Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment, and possibly be institutionalized out of town.
Amid the chaos, Nancy said she needed someone to take her older son home until she could deal with the situation. With no family in the area, and everyone she knew locally unavailable, she called on Freethy-Swimm and Jones to help out.
The couple had moved in a month earlier to an efficiency apartment Nancy created at her eastside Athens condo. Both had presented her with documentation of clean criminal histories.
“This was the one and only time I ever left any of my children alone with them,” Nancy said. “This was an emergency and there was no one else available I could turn to.”
After the suspects picked up the boy, Nancy kept in regular touch.
“I was on phone with them every 30 minutes, asking if I had to send my partner to pick (my son) up, but they were like, ‘No, he's fine, he's fine,' ” Nancy said. “If I wasn't calling I was texting them if I was in an area of the hospital where I couldn't use the phone.”
It turned out that her younger boy didn't need to be institutionalized, and when the episode he'd been going through de-escalated, Nancy said she returned home late at night and was told by her tenants how well things had gone.
“They said they got (her son) to take a shower and that he did really good,” Nancy said.
In the days that followed, Nancy noticed her son was acting a little strange.
He wet his bed, she said, but a pediatrician told her that probably had to do with the child's under-developed bladder.
It wasn't until about three weeks later when what really troubled the boy started to come out.
On July 17, while Nancy and her partner were preparing to go out to dinner with the children, the alleged victim bolted out the door and confronted Freethy-Swimm, Nancy said.
“He said to Matt, ‘You forced me to have sex with your wife,' ” according to Nancy.
The child was so worked up that Nancy said she and her partner struggled to get him away from the tenant.
“I told Matt he needed to get out of my house and that I was going to get to the bottom of this, and he threw racial slurs at me and my girlfriend, said he was going to send the KKK and burn crosses on my yard, though I don't know what that means to the gay community,” Nancy said.
“We really saw his true colors that day,” she said. “When we finally got the boys locked in the van I called the police, but Matt squealed tires out of there before they came.”
Officers explained the eviction process to Nancy and how to get a temporary restraining order.
By the time she went to court, however, Nancy said her son told her about what the tenants had allegedly done to him.
“(He) verbalized what happened to him,” Nancy said. “The details he gave were very advanced for a 10-year-old.”
The mother did not immediately go to the police, saying she first brought her son to his therapist to make sure he didn't make up the sexual assault story out of anger.
Certain that her son was being truthful, Nancy said she went to court on July 23 to begin eviction proceedings and file a petition for a protective order.
She had to return to court on Aug. 12 for a hearing on her protective order petition. When the judge learned what her son alleged happened to him, Nancy said the judge told her to go to the district attorney's office. A prosecutor then notified police.
A forensic interview was conducted at The Cottage Sexual Assault Center and Children's Advocacy Center. What the child had to say convinced police to he was telling the truth.
“The boy knew what was going on, and we believe that the evidence corroborates what he said happened,” said Lt. Mark Magnuson, commanding officer of the Athens-Clarke police Sex Crimes Unit.
After the interview, conducted by someone who specialized in interviewing children with autism, police sought warrants charging Freethy-Swimm and Jones both with felony statutory rape and child molestation. The man was additionally charged with aggravated assault and the woman with sexual battery.
Though the couple had presented Nancy with criminal history reports that showed no felony convictions, police learned there was a warrant for Freethy-Swimm's arrest out of a town in Massachusetts, where he was wanted on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon.
Athens-Clarke police said Freethy-Swimm left Massachusetts, and after arriving in Athens with Jones lived out of his van until finding Nancy's ad for the efficiency apartment she was leasing.
By the time a judge signed warrants for the arrests of Freethy-Swimm and Jones, the pair had moved out of Nancy's condo since the protection order forbade Freethy-Swimm from being within 100 yards of Nancy and her children.
Police issued a lookout, and on Sept. 14 Freethy-Swimm and Jones were arrested after a patrol officer spotted their van in the parking lot of Walmart on Lexington Road, police said.
They are being held at the Clarke County Jail without bail.
Anyone who has been sexually assaulted or knows someone who has can contact The Cottage Sexual Assault Center and Children's Advocacy Center. The agency provides a range of services to child victims of sexual and physical abuse, and also young witnesses to domestic violence and violent crime. All services are free and include medical accompaniment, advocacy, referrals, counseling and support groups.
The Cottage also provides services for adult victims of sexual assault, including a 24-hour crisis and information hotline, medical and legal advocacy, referrals and support for secondary survivors.
Call the crisis and information hotline at (877) 363-1912, or for more information visit www.northgeorgiacottage.org