York-area legislator's child abuse prevention bill passes House
by CHRISTINA KAUFFMAN
A bill to increase penalties for people who lure children into vehicles or structures was one of a handful of child abuse prevention measures to recently gain bipartisan traction with lawmakers in Harrisburg.
The legislation introduced by state Rep. Mike Regan, R-Dillsburg, makes luring a child under age 13 a second-degree felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.
Under current law, the offense is a first-degree misdemeanor with a fine of $10,000.
Regan's bill, House Bill 1594, unanimously passed the House Wednesday, the same day six Senate bills aimed at strengthening child abuse laws unanimously passed that chamber.
The group of legislation represents the largest overhaul of child abuse laws in about 20 years, following major child sex scandals involving former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, the Boy Scouts of America, and the Catholic church.
Luring bill: But Regan said his bill was inspired by an incident of alleged child luring that took place in his district, the 92nd Legislative District, which includes several municipalities in northern York County.
Last year, a couple of older teenage boys tried to lure a group of Dillsburg elementary school girls into their vehicle, Regan said. The girls ran away as the boys attempted to pursue, he said.
The girls were able to get away and the boys later said they were only joking, but the incident brought the issue into focus for Regan, he said.
"Luring leads to kidnapping and kidnapping leads to sexual assault," he said. "The moment for me was finding out there was such a lenient sentence, a misdemeanor, for such a heinous act."
A former U.S. marshal, Regan has worked on cases involving child abductions.
In the Senate: The bills approved by the Senate would set broader rules for who can be considered a perpetrator of child abuse and a clearer list of who must report a case of suspected child abuse to authorities.
One bill would increase the punishment for people found guilty of covering up child abuse; another bill would require medical professionals to report a case of suspected child abuse immediately to the county child welfare agency, while requiring the agency to disclose certain information to certain medical professionals.
Yet another bill would ensure the identity of an attacker does not need to be determined before a case of child abuse is included in the state's official statistics. It addresses a persistent complaint by child welfare advocates who say that requirement has kept the state's official statistics on cases of child abuse artificially low.
A task force created by the Legislature issued detailed recommendations late last year, providing a blueprint for the bills.
As Regan's bill goes to the Senate for approval, the Senate bills now go to the House.
House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, said he expects a final package of child-abuse legislation to be on Gov. Tom Corbett's desk by Thanksgiving.
CASA volunteers help shoulder burden of child abuse cases
Court Appointed Special Advocates work closely with the court to serve the best interests of the child
by SCOTT HILYARD
PEORIA — The young woman sat next to her lawyer at a table in front of a judge inside the courtroom that contains no jury box. While she mostly knew the outcome of her case in advance, the moment still packed a solid emotional punch and she poked at tears with a tissue bunched around her index finger.
"Good job," a smiling Judge Mark Gilles said after legally returning her two daughters, who had been wards of the state for more than a year, into the custody of their mother. "You got it done."
The woman exited Courtroom 424 in the Peoria County Courthouse and collapsed into one of the gray molded-plastic chairs that line both sides of the fourth floor hallway outside of the Juvenile Abuse and Neglect Court. The tears still came.
"It's a happy ending," said Joe, the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer who represented her children throughout the legal process, and who followed her out of the courtroom. The volunteers interviewed for this story asked that their last names not be used, so that no one could connect them to the details of any single case. "They don't all turn out that way."
Actually, most don't start out that way. The CASA volunteer, Joe, was appointed to the case involving the woman and her children. Most cases aren't as fortunate. At the end of the 2012-2013 fiscal year there were 1,009 pending abuse and neglect cases in the Peoria County Juvenile Court system. CASA has an available roster of 181 volunteers to call upon, leaving four out of five abuse and neglect cases in the county without a CASA volunteer.
The system works without them; it works better with them.
"(CASA volunteers) are the eyes and the ears for the judge outside of the courtroom," said Dominique Alexandre, one of three Advocate Supervisors who work out of the locked-door office at the end of the fourth floor hallway. The courtroom is a 15-second commute. "The judge tends to choose the more complicated, murkier cases to assign to our volunteers, cases that need some clarity."
Here's the program's written description of what it does:
"A CASA volunteer is a highly trained advocate that is; an information gatherer, obtaining all relevant facts about the child and the case; an advocate to ensure that those facts are brought before the court through reports presented to the court with copies to case parties, and a facilitator, to ensure that all fulfill their legal obligations to the child in a timely manner. A CASA volunteer is assigned to one case at a time and serves on that case until it closes."
The last one is an important distinction. Children who have been removed from their home because of abuse or neglect are also assigned a case worker from the state Division of Children and Family Services, or one of its contractors and a Guardian ad Litem. Those are paid services, and case workers are assigned to dozens of cases. The CASA volunteer is assigned to one case at a time and is an independent voice in the process only representing the best interest of the child, said Pam Perilles, the executive director of CASA of Peoria County.
Evidence shows CASA is not only good for the child, it's good for the taxpayer. Last year CASA of Peoria County volunteers spent more than 3,000 hours assisting children. Using $110 an hour that a court-appointed Guardian Ad Litem might bill the court generates a revenue savings equivalent of $330,000. Average cost for a child each month placed outside of the family home is almost $6,000. CASA involvement reduces the time a child spends in foster care by an average of eight months, saving taxpayers $47,512 per child.
"The real value of the CASA volunteer to me is that case workers and DCFS contractors in this state are overworked and understaffed," Judge Gilles said. "The volunteers are the adult eyes and ears in the system. They provide extra information not available in other ways. They work hard to engage the parents and take steps to correct the problems in the family."
The training is intensive. New recruits will receive about 30 hours of classroom training typically stretching over five weekday evenings and two Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. When sworn to service by a judge and assigned a case, CASA volunteers spend about five to 10 hours a month meeting with the child they're representing and attending all court hearings and appropriate interagency meetings regarding the child. An additional 10 hours of in-service per year is also required.
"It's a more intensive volunteer experience," said Michael Zernick, a paid advocate supervisor who started as a CASA volunteer. "It's not like a typical soup kitchen kind of volunteer, it's much more of a commitment than that."
Added Alexandre: "It is a wonderful journey for our volunteers. It's a very rewarding and challenging opportunity and a heavy, heavy time commitment."
The CASA workers prepare a report every six months on the case they are assigned to and appear in court to answer questions of the judge. Marti, a retired teacher from Peoria, has been a volunteer for about a year and a half, and has appeared in court three times.
"Each time I feel for all of the parents involved. It's very daunting to them to be inside the system," Marti said. "The CASA volunteer can be a very stabilizing presence to the child. A lot can change in the child's life while in the system, foster homes, case workers and everything else. The CASA volunteer is a permanent part that the child can count on.
Heather, of Minonk, received her training in April. She said she has a personality that leans more toward social work or child psychology, but went into business in college to better pay the bills. Volunteering for CASA satisfies the social justice side of her beliefs.
"It ignites that old fire in me. It feels like a calling," Heather said. "You definitely get more out of it than you put into it. It has made me not only a better parent, I think, it has made me a better person."
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) needs volunteers. A lot of volunteers. There is an especially strong need for male and minority volunteers.
There are currently more than 1,000 pending juvenile abuse and neglect cases in Peoria County matched to a current roster of about 180 trained CASA volunteers. That means more than 80 percent of the cases move forward without the benefit of a CASA volunteer representing the individual needs of the children in the system who have been removed from their homes by a court order.
CASA will hold an informational meeting about the program on Thursday, Oct. 10, at Two25 in the Mark Twain Hotel, 225 NE Adams St., Peoria. The meeting will be from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Light snacks will be provided.
The next 30-hour training class begins Saturday, Nov. 9, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and continues on Nov. 11, 12, 13 and 14, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 16, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and concluding on Monday, Nov. 18, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The training location is the Detweiller Center, 809 W. Detweiller Drive (west of Knoxville Ave.) in Peoria. A swearing-in ceremony will be held at a later date in Courtroom 424, in the Peoria County Courthouse, 324 Main St., Peoria.
For more information, or to register, contact any one of the three advocate supervisors by email: Terry Pyatt, firstname.lastname@example.org; Dominque Alexandre, email@example.com; or, Michael Zerneck, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call 309-669-2939.
Child Sexual Abuse: America's Silent Epidemic
by Jorge Rodas
ROCKFORD (WIFR) -- Teaching our kids about sexual abuse isn't easy, but it's a lesson they're now learning in school thanks to a law named after an Illinois woman who was abused as a kid. Today Erin Merryn was in Rockford teaching how to recognize and report abuse.
It's hard to question Erin Merryn's bravery. She did what only a fraction of the children in this country do when they are sexually abused- report it.
"I don't want another child to live through the childhood I endured," said Merryn. "I don't want another kid to see the evil that I saw; to live through heinous acts that I experienced."
Merryn was abused by her cousin as a small child. Today the Illinois native is nationally known for her work passing Erin's Law. It's a bill that forces schools to teach child abuse prevention and recognition.
Experts say we need to look for signs like kids showing sexual behaviors and difficulty walking or sitting.
"Often times when you start looking into a child abuse incident you may have one or two victims," said Rockford Police Lt. Marc Welsh. "But, by the time you're looking into it, you may have multiple five [or] ten victims and then that magnifies the investigation to be ongoing and even longer than you originally thought."
Rockford Police say last year there were 22 cases of child sexual abuse. This year is looking better with only 8 reports, but some experts say the numbers aren't accurate.
"There's a lot of children out there that are either not disclosing that they've been abused," said Kathy Pomahac of the Carrie Lynn Children's Center, "or it's not being reported that they've been abused."
Some doctors say the reason more kids don't tell people they're being abused is because they don't understand that's what's happening to them. Doctors say it can be difficult to notice signs of abuse but if we suspect a child is a victim report it without hesitation.
Erin's law has been passed in 8 states. Legislation is pending in 11 other states.
N.H. online crimes unit seeing more child sex cases
by LYNNE TUOHY
Investigators are quick to admit they got lucky in detecting school bus driver John Allen Wright's sexual abuse of children. A woman visiting a friend near Wright's Milton home unwittingly latched onto his wireless internet connection and found sexually graphic images of children.
But getting the evidence to convict him of abusing the disabled children he drove and taping the abuse on a hidden camera required nearly 100 hours of computer forensic examinations by New Hampshire's Internet Crimes Against Children unit.
The unit was one of 10 formed nationwide in 1998. There are now 61 ICAC units in the country, growing in number and force as internet use expands and criminals and their computers grow more sophisticated.
“It's such a scourge,” said U.S. Attorney John Kacavas, whose office prosecuted Wright. “We can do this work all day, every day, and we would never catch up with it.”
The number of child pornography complaints the New Hampshire unit received in 2011 rose to 178 from 116 the year before. Arrests went from 20 to 30, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report. ICAC units nationwide received 31,630 cyber tips in 2011, up from 23,314 in 2010.
ICAC investigators analyzed thousands of images on Wright's computer to figure out that he used a hidden camera in a pair of sunglasses to record the abuse. Wright, 46, was convicted of sexual exploitation of children and possession of child pornography. He was sentenced this year to 160 years in prison.
“That was a huge amount of work,” said Portsmouth police Sgt. Tom Grella, who commands the ICAC unit. “We had to show that there was some device that was recording the acts.”
At the core of the New Hampshire unit are certified forensic computer analysts from police departments in Portsmouth, Rochester, Hinsdale, Concord, Hampton and Nashua. The unit also has agreements with 67 police departments and a host of federal agencies to share expertise.
Hooksett Det. Caitlin Rebe was working on a case involving sexually explicit images on a juvenile's cell phone when she made her first trip to ICAC's computer labs, located within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement space in a federal building in Manchester. Rebe wanted to see whether computer analysts could trace who sent the images and determine whether there were other victims.
ICAC computer examiner Rick Nelson, a Peterborough police sergeant, walked her through how to retrieve the device's memory and copy it to extract any evidence without destroying the original. Rebe was hooked.
“I knew they could do it,” Rebe said. “I just didn't understand how it all worked. I think it's fascinating to get into them and see where everything is hidden.”
The unit was based in Portsmouth until ICE officials last year offered to let the unit use its facility in exchange for assistance with federal cases. The pact allowed ICAC to centralize six satellite workstations and brought additional equipment to the lab spaces, Grella said. The unit is funded by a U.S. Department of Justice grant – $265,000 this year.
The unit gets about 30 tips a month, most from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's tip line. Other referrals come from social networking websites and school resource officers, Grella said. His unit also will venture into internet chat sites to monitor exchanges.
Portsmouth Det. Mike Leclair, a lead investigator at ICAC, said the unit is investigating 50 cases.
“It can take maybe 40 to 80 hours to look at one computer, and that's without anything being difficult,” Leclair said. Operating systems typically reveal websites visited even when the suspect uses wiping software to try to eliminate all trace of illicit conduct, he said. Leclair said they executed one search warrant on a man who had used wiping software and sat by as Leclair logged onto his computer.
“In under five minutes, I pulled it all up and said, ‘Here it is. What do you have to say for yourself?' and his very first comment was, ‘I'm going to sue that company!' ”
Investigators have to compartmentalize the emotional impact of dealing with images of sexually abused children, Leclair said.
“You have to detach yourself,” he said. “Otherwise, you dwell on it, and it can eat you up.”
Prosecutors shift approach on underage sex trafficking
by Anne Blythe
The teenage girl went to the school nurse. She complained of symptoms that once might have been dismissed but instead revealed a sordid, violent world at the root of her pain – a sex-trafficking industry that criminal justice professionals are looking at with new perspective.
The girl was 14, from North Carolina and had just escaped from an ordeal in which, according to federal prosecutors, she had been coerced into prostitution by a man who had threatened harm to her and her family with numbing regularity.
She said a 15-year-old girl was still with the man. Federal prosecutors say Christopher Jason Williams had sexual relations with the girls and forced them to pose for photographs and videos posted to escort service websites.
In the past, children and adults in such circumstances might have been charged with crimes related to prostitution. Prosecutors across North Carolina are adopting a different stance now, one that is the result of a new understanding about the harsh dynamics of sex trafficking. New laws are treating the children as abused victims, which criminal justice officials say vast numbers are.
Prosecutors also are trying better to coordinate their new efforts, calling on teachers, human services providers, families and law enforcement officers to look into the faces of the young girls and boys in the streets and on websites – and to think differently. States across the country are setting up special courts for prostitution cases, intending to pull sex- and human-trafficking victims out of the cycle of abuse.
“Human trafficking is a national epidemic and it is also happening here, in our communities, with many of the victims and perpetrators hiding in plain sight,” said Anne Tompkins, the top federal prosecutor in North Carolina's Western District, a 32-county region that includes Charlotte, Asheville, Statesville and Bryson City.
A secret, captive life
The case of Christopher Jason Williams, the 33-year-old man arrested by Fayetteville city police and federal authorities, is one of the first in North Carolina to develop from a more concentrated effort at identifying and supporting victims.
Williams, prosecutors said, looked by most outward appearances to be a typical guy going about day-to-day routines.
But inside a two-bedroom apartment in the Summerhill Townhouse community in Fayetteville, federal prosecutors contend the man was engaging in what many have described as modern-day slavery.
Fayetteville police charged him in January with 53 counts each of statutory rape, statutory sex offense and indecent liberties with a child.
While he was being held in the Cumberland County jail under a $1.325 million bond, federal prosecutors in the Eastern District of North Carolina, a 44-county region that stretches from Raleigh to the coast, charged him with two counts of sex trafficking of children, charges he pleaded guilty to this summer in a deal that dropped multiple child pornography charges. He awaits sentencing from a federal judge and faces at least 10 years in prison on each count.
The 14-year-old girl, whose name was not revealed in federal or city court documents, had been left on her own in the streets by her captor after he thought she was pregnant, prosecutors say. Though that was not the case, a pregnant girl would have lesser value to him, and she was sent away.
Like many of the adolescents lured into the sex trade, the teen came from a difficult home life and did not immediately return to her family.
She sought refuge initially with a boy she had befriended in a neighborhood near her captor, but his family soon insisted that she return to her home. Once home, though, the girl did not immediately reveal what she had been through.
It was not until she returned to school in early January that she provided a full account to an adult.
Efforts to reach Gerald Beaver, a Fayetteville lawyer representing Williams, were unsuccessful.
Slowly building a case
The prosecution of Williams in federal court shows the difficult path the cases can take.
Leslie Cooley, a federal prosecutor from the Eastern District of North Carolina, said at a recent conference on trafficking in Raleigh that the case not only illustrates what human trafficking can look like in North Carolina, but also highlights weaknesses in strategies for responding to possible exploitation of minors that authorities are trying to overcome.
Initially, the school nurse was skeptical of the story from a runaway girl. Credibility concerns can often follow runaways and victims of abuse, Cooley said. The nurse did not immediately contact law enforcement officers, but passed along the account to a school counselor. The counselor ultimately alerted investigators, Cooley said.
An officer at the first law enforcement agency listened to the details, according to prosecutors, but because the actions took place in a different jurisdiction, the girl was encouraged to file a report with the agency where the alleged crimes occurred. That could have been the end.
The case landed in the Fayetteville police department on Jan. 5, but detectives with the Youth Services Division there took action.
Investigators there sought descriptive details about the apartment from the 14-year-old. That would help detectives better corroborate the girl's account while searching the premises.
They wanted to know what the apartment looked like and who might be there.
A detective went to the man's apartment twice before an arrest was made.
One man, two plates
On the first visit, Williams was slow to answer the door, according to prosecutors, but agreed to let the investigator have a look inside with a caution about his place being messy.
Williams had told police he was home alone, but the detective noticed some things that looked suspicious. There were two plates of food on the table, though Williams had claimed no one else was in the apartment.
Williams had said a friend was coming over to eat with him, but the detective wondered why the food was already on the plate.
The detective's suspicions were heightened, but there was not enough information to file charges at that time.
The police searched their computers for any outstanding warrants and served two that accused Williams of failure to appear in court on a low-level outstanding charge unrelated to sex trafficking. His detention was not long. He posted bond quickly.
Still, the detective was not deterred.
A hideaway reluctant to leave
Several days later, on Jan. 8, the Fayetteville officer went back to the apartment. A moving van was outside. Williams' brother was there. This time the detective had a photo of the girl's 15-year-old friend. The 15-year-old had tattoos in four places – a common sex-trade-style branding that can signify “ownership” by exploiters.
The brother recognized the 15-year-old and told the detective: “That's the girl inside.”
Williams, according to prosecutors, responded that he had a girl with him overnight but was reluctant to let police inside.
Again, the detective noted several details that were curious. When the defendant had come to the door, he had what looked like building insulation in his hair.
A search of the apartment did not immediately turn up the girl but, then, a search of the attic crawl space exposed the hidden child.
The girl would not immediately come down from her hiding place. Law enforcement officers said they could detain her as a runaway. Court documents do not name her.
After an initial reluctance to recount her experience, the 15-year-old corroborated the account of the 14-year-old, confirming she had been lured into the ordeal after connecting on a social networking site.
Girl, 14, lured into sex work
The 15-year-old had been with her captor for almost eight months.
In that time, she had started corresponding with the 14-year-old, messaging each other on a website.
Both girls had been on a hunt for love and support to numb troubled pasts. Their first meeting was at a Burger King.
On Dec. 14, according to prosecutors, the 14-year-old went to Williams' apartment with her new friend from the Burger King. But the friendliness she had encountered outside the apartment soon took a turn toward captivity.
Her new friend and the 33-year-old man she had been living with took her cellphone, broke it and prohibited her from leaving by threatening to kill her family, prosecutors alleged.
Soon the girl was being forced to pose nude for photos and videos that would be posted to Web pages to lure paying customers.
Photos of the girls holding up boards hiding their faces but displaying phone numbers were posted to sites.
On at least one of the sites, prosecutors contended, Williams paid an extra $7 to have photos at the top of a list, arrangements made from a mobile phone that provided evidence for law enforcement officers.
When johns were with the girls, prosecutors contend, the defendant was in his other bedroom monitoring the activity. The girls had been instructed to leave any money on the bed, threatened with beatings and forced sexual activity if they strayed.
Scant information was available about what has happened to the girls since the arrest of Williams. Because they are underage, any programs or help they might have received have been shielded from the public.
Prosecutors target sex traffic
In North Carolina, there has been a new push to educate law enforcement on how to identify and then investigate such sex trafficking cases.
The state's three U.S. attorneys recently conducted a two-day symposium to outline ways law enforcement officers and human service providers can work together to bust the myth that sex trafficking only happens overseas to young girls.
Though it is difficult to know the breadth of the problem in North Carolina, many believe it to be more prevalent than court records and cases show.
Some states and cities have begun to set up specialized criminal courts designed to better assist removing victims of sex trafficking from the exploitation and provide them with services to escape further abuse and arrest.
Special courts already exist in the cities of Baltimore, Md.; Columbus, Ohio; Phoenix; and West Palm Beach, Fla. The state of New York announced last week that it would go a step further and create a statewide system.
The revised approach comes amid a sharper focus on the sex trafficking of minors in the United States.
The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences set up in 1970 to provide “unbiased and authoritative advice to decision-makers and the public,” released a report last week offering recommendations for responding with a comprehensive approach.
“Many professionals and individuals who interact with youth – such as teachers, health care providers, child welfare professionals and law enforcement – are unaware that these crimes occur and often are ill-equipped with how to respond to victims, survivors and those at risk,” the report summary states.
The report came from a committee that investigated the issue and recommended more training among professionals, supplementing a public-awareness campaign with details of how to recognize problems.
North Carolina was one of 39 states this year to pass legislation aimed at combating human trafficking, according to the Polaris Project, a national organization that tracks such efforts.
The General Assembly adopted a bill this summer that increases penalties for sex traffickers and johns and ensures that minors being trafficked are treated as victims who are eligible for state services and support.
Children as young as 12 targeted
The U.S. Department of Education says that trafficking can involve school-age children – particularly those not living with their parents. Sex traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and gullibility, as well as the market demand for young victims. Those who recruit minors into prostitution violate federal anti-trafficking laws, even if there is no coercion or movement across state lines. The children at risk are not just high school students – studies demonstrate that pimps prey on victims as young as 12. Traffickers have been reported targeting their minor victims through telephone chat lines, at clubs, on the street, through friends and at malls, as well as using girls to recruit other girls at schools and after-school programs.
Human trafficking seminar in Burlington next week
by Chris Lavender
Human trafficking enslaves its victims to a life of abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
And it's a problem largely hidden from public view.
Triad Ladder of Hope hopes to change that. It will host free community training on Saturday, Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at First Wesleyan Church at 304 S. Anthony St. , in Burlington, to help raise awareness on the issues of human trafficking. Sandra Johnson, Triad Ladder of Hope founder and president, said the community training will help educate the public on how to identify victims of labor and sex trafficking.
The meeting will also provide information on why victims of trafficking don't escape, what victims go through, and resources available to those who are victims of human trafficking.
Johnson said that Interstate 40/85 provides human traffickers with a road system to easily transport victims from Atlanta to New York . Johnson said there is no real way to count the number of victims because it's an underground operation.
Johnson will lead the community training seminar at First Wesleyan Church on Oct. 19. She has made the same presentation six different times this year across the state.
Triad Ladder of Hope is a faith-based non-profit organization dedicated to the eradication of the exploitation, sale, and enslavement of men, women, and children.
Destinie Dew, Burlington police officer, is part of a local effort to combat human trafficking in the city. Dew said it's on the rise locally.
“The community training is going to focus on raising awareness in Burlington ,” Dew said.
Dew said those who are victims of human trafficking don't usually stay in any one place for very long and are often forced to live in horrible conditions.
Trafficking doesn't just involve forced prostitution. Victims of human trafficking may also be in forced labor situations as domestic servants, sweatshop workers, janitors, restaurant workers, migrant farm workers, fishery workers and hotel or tourist industry workers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
For more information about the human trafficking community training event, visit triadladderofhope.org. The National Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Also, register for the training event at email@example.com
Charleston girl turns to India to help victims of human trafficking -- with shoes
by Victoria Hansen
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – A 22-year-old with a passion for shoes is nothing new, but Erika McKelvey sews her own. What's more, she frequently travels the world teaching others her trade.
No, Erika Lynn McKelvey is not your typical college graduate.
"For the past 14 years I have been traveling to Romania on annual mission trips to work with the orphans, street kids, and impoverished," she said.
McKelvey got a rare glimpse of the world at a very young age. She met children, not much younger than herself, trapped in poverty. Many had no parents, no skills, no hope – no way out.
"When I was 13, we took two sewing machines over and I taught four young orphan girls how to make simple handbags," said McKelvey. "These girls, now aged out of the orphanage, hold full time jobs in a sewing factory."
"It was there that the idea of sharing my skills and talents with those in need began."
Nine years and many missionary trips later, McKelvey graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design with a BFA in Accessory and Footwear Design. She immediately had offers that would have put her on a fast track to a high fashion career in places like New York and Los Angeles.
Instead, she chose India.
"Deep in my heart, I felt the need to start my own business to eventually be able to use my passion to help those with less opportunity to learn a skill and become productive citizens in their own country," she said.
So, McKelvey started her Charleston-based company, Erika Lynn Handmade Leather Sandals. But it wasn't long before she was on the road, teaching leather working at a vocational training center in India. Her students were survivors of human trafficking.
But that first trip in December 2012 didn't exactly go as planned.
"On my first trip to India, the safe house was still under construction so directly training the women would not have been safe for the women or me at the time," said McKelvey. "So they had me train the national trainers."
She taught and she learned.
"As we traveled to view the safe house and compound, I was shown the prostitute villages that surrounded it," said McKelvey. "Women sit on the surrounding walls of their village with ladders to allow the men to enter. The men in each village that sell them carefully monitor them."
"It is a very sad sight to see because you know they have their children sitting inside their homes, which, without a change or help, will be brought up with the same horrible future."
That horrible, unimaginable future inspired McKelvey to create Universole. The nonprofit empowers survivors with sustainable skills, allowing women to earn an income and provide for their families on their own.
"A year ago I found out a dear friend, once an orphan in Romania, is now caught in the chains of human trafficking after she aged out of the orphanage," said McKelvey. "Through Universole, we can help these victims and one day find my friend and bring her out of this horrible cycle."
McKelvey says she's seen the need and believes she knows a way out.
"I visited some impoverished villages where the families lived in tents and had nothing," said McKelvey. "You look in the eyes and faces of these beautiful children and know that you must do something to help."
McKelvey teaches children and adults how to make leather shoes. She uses products indigenous to their country, like the traditional suri in India. The colorful suris are weaved into straps for what McKelvey calls the Layaka Sandal.
"Layaka is the Hindi word for worth," said McKelvey. "She is worth more!"
The handmade shoes are then bought from vocational centers and sold in the United States. The money made trains more women and raises awareness about the abuse of human trafficking.
"The goal for Universole is to partner with other organizations and vocational centers in four continents by 2017." said McKelvey. "I would like to have a retail shop set up here in Charleston to sell the leather shoes and other products made by these women."
But first, McKelvey plans to travel back to India in November.
"I will be training the women who are survivors of human trafficking at the safe house that is now being finished," said McKelvey.
She's also bringing men.
"They will be able to help with some of the training as well as some construction and playing cricket and soccer with the young men in the surrounding villages," said McKelvey. "The hope is to eventually start breaking the cycle through reaching the men as well as the women."
McKelvey's nonprofit, like others, relies on donations as well as sales of the shoes. Plus, she's come up with something pretty clever.
"Shoe-ing! It's similar to what many church youth groups here in America do called "flamingo-ing."
For $50, the group will cover a friend's yard in old shoes and then clean up the mess. It's a fun gag that raises money for a good cause. They also leave behind an inspirational message.
"After my first trip to India, my eyes were opened even greater to the massive need that I witnessed. I realized I could never turn my back to this need and my work could not stop after one trip," said McKelvey. "It made me more determined to be involved and get others involved."
Now she's a young shoemaker determined to change lives, one sole at a time. To learn more, go to www.universolehope.com
'I know it happened:' Sexual assault survivors find help in Fort Collins
by Sarah Jane Kyle
It took years for Jay to accept the reality of what happened more than 43 years ago.
He was around 3 when his uncle came into his bedroom and took away his innocence. All he remembers after the assault is “being really scared.”
“For years I wondered, ‘Did this really happen? Is it something I just imagined?'” said Jay, now 46. “But kids don't think of things like that. You don't see that on ‘Sesame Street. I know it happened.”
While Jay's story is devastating, it's not uncommon. Of the more than 600 people who seek help each year from Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center, more than 86 percent were assaulted by someone in their circle of trust. The term “stranger danger” only carries so much weight when the real danger more often comes from a family member, a partner or a friend.
Erin, now 28, had just celebrated her 24th birthday when she went overseas to visit a trusted family member. What was supposed to be an enjoyable trip with a loved one turned into her worst nightmare.
After her assault, she didn't know where to turn. Being in a foreign country, Erin said she didn't even know her resources if she did choose to report the crime or seek medical attention. She had to wait days before returning to the United States and getting the help she needed through SAVA's partners.
“By the time I got back, I was trying to deny what had happened to me,” she said. “I felt very alone because I couldn't go to my normal resources — my family — to ask for help and tell them what I was going through. I felt a need not only to protect myself but protect the person who assaulted me.”
After receiving medical care and creating a plan with SAVA for her longterm recovery, Erin said she's beginning to see a stronger, healthier future.
She's now been in the program for four years, but she said just her first meeting was enough to salve some of the wound.
“I knew that help was on its way,” she said. “It's like when you take Tylenol and know your headache is going to go away soon.”
To date, the majority of her family does not know what happened those four years ago, or that's she's consistently sought therapeutic help through SAVA since her
“I wonder how much good it would do to tell my family,” she said. “I don't want to bring pain to them by sharing. I don't want them to have negative feelings about this person, but I also feel it would be helpful for them to know the truth. I just don't know which need outweighs the other.”
She has spoken to her offender through a mediated phone conversation and via email about the assault, but said she felt for the most part, “they swept it under the rug.” Since the assault, she's had to see the offender at family functions. Each renewed encounter — or even the mere thought of an encounter — brings back a flurry of emotional distress and her ultimate question: “Do I tell my family or not?”
“The hardest thing about being assaulted by a family member is that it's not somebody you never have to see or deal with again,” Erin said. “A lot of people think that because it's family and blood is supposed to be thicker than water, you're supposed to turn the other cheek. But I feel like people should be held accountable, especially if they're supposed to be someone you trust.”
Jay and Erin spoke on condition of anonymity. The Coloradoan does not identify victims of sexual assault.
More than half of SAVA's clients on average were assaulted as a minor, like Jay. ChildSafe Colorado, a Fort Collins nonprofit that primarily helps child victims of domestic and sexual abuse, saw 439 clients and their non-offending family members for childhood sexual abuse last year and 49 adults who were abused as children.
Valerie Macri-Lind, executive director of ChildSafe, said she's been treating abuse victims for 26 years. In that time, she's seen thousands of kids who have been sexually abused. Only three involved a complete stranger, she said.
“When we do ‘stranger danger' training, we do kids a disservice,” Macri-Lind said. “The fact that is is often someone a child trusts is what makes it harder for a child to tell. They feel trapped and like they can't betray the people who have abused them. That's what makes it that much more traumatic, because it's somebody they trust and love and feel very betrayed by.”
ChildSafe, SAVA and other agencies that work with sexually abused clients are retooling the way children are spoken to about sexual assault and safe touching — an education Jay said wasn't available decades ago when he was abused.
He's grateful to see more children empowered and taught the boundaries of what is and isn't OK.
“Nobody really talked about that when I was a kid,” he said. “People kept it under a rug, behind closed doors. I wish I would have mentioned this when I was a child because there's a lot more ground to cover now.”
SAVA and ChildSafe both host educational programs in conjunction with local school districts. While the necessity is driven from a desire to promote emotional and physical security, SAVA Executive Director Jennifer Jones said it's drastically cheaper to invest in preventing sexual abuse than providing the therapy and medical care needed after an assault.
SAVA's services are provided at under $700 for a full year of service to a victim of sexual assault. Preventing sexual assault through classroom instruction and programs costs about $20 per year per student.
The nonprofit recently launched a program at Foothills Gateway to work with adults and children with developmental disabilities as well because of the risk to that demographic.
“Having a conversation with kids and people early on will change the way they perceive their life,” Jones said. “We want them to know when something's not right. When I was 16 or 17, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what consent meant or even that it was a responsibility in engaging in a sexual relationship. Consent is not the absence of a no — it's an actual agreement between partners.”
Macri-Lind said it's also important to teach kids the safe, appropriate boundaries of touching — anything covered by a swimsuit should be considered off limits — and to recognize the signs of an adult who might mean them ill.
Grooming is a popular technique used by perpetrators to gain a child's trust. It can include simple paying attention to a child, giving them special privileges or attention and buying them presents.
“We don't want to children to be afraid of other people, but they need to know that no matter who it is breaking the touching rule, they have a right to tell and a right to be safe,” she said. “It could be someone you love, someone in your family or someone that's close to your family. If you're looking at this as a crime of opportunity, it's going to be somebody who has clear access to that child and a lot of opportunities to offend against them.”
Sexual assault by the numbers
• Larimer County Sheriff's Office Victim Response: 70 sexual assaults reported in Larimer County from Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 of this year. Contact Larimer County Sheriff's Office Victim Response at (970) 498-5149.
• Fort Collins Police Services: 69. Contact Fort Collins Police Services Victim Assistance at (970) 224-6089.
• Colorado State University: Two sexual assault/rapes reported this year that coccured this year; two reported this year that occured in previous year; two attempted assaults; one forcible fondling. Contact Colorado State University Victim Assistance Team at (970) 491-6384.
• ChildSafe Colorado : 439 clients and non-offending family members treated for childhood sexual abuse; 49 adults abused as children; seven treated for adult rape. Contact ChildSafe at (970) 472-4133.
• Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center : 630 last year. Contact SAVA at (970) 472-4204.
• Child Advocacy Center: An average of more than 300 children a year. Contact CAC at (970) 407-9739.
55 and up
Age of victim
**Info provided by Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center. More than 51% of SAVA's annual caseload of more than 600 people were assaulted as minors.
Partner (boyfriend, girlfriend, spouse)
Perp's relationship to victim
**Info provided by Sexual Assault Victim Advocate Center. Percentages mined from SAVA's annual caseload of more than 600 people.
What happens after an assault
• Reporting: There are two ways to report a sexual assault: medical reporting and reporting through law enforcement. Both options include the ability to have a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner exam, or rape kit, performed at no cost to the victim. Any additional medical costs not covered by insurances could also be covered through the Department of Justice's Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Having a rape kit performed does not require filing an official report through law enforcement but does give a victim the evidence needed to file a report at a later time. Filing through law enforcement does launch an investigation into the suspected perpetrator and may or may not lead to criminal charges. If you are 18 and older, your assault does not have to be formally reported to police (though nurses are required to tell police they are treating a sexual assault victim). All crimes against minors are reported and many agencies include in their confidentiality statements that they will report crimes against at-risk adults. For more information on resources and options available to sexual assault victims, call the Sexual Assault Hotline at (970) 472-4200. If you wish to report through law enforcement, contact your local jursidiction. Most jurisdictions have a victim advocate program you can work through.
• SANE Exam (rape kit): A SANE exam is an optional procedure performed by a trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner that collects any physical evidence related to a rape. Victims can choose to complete as much or as little of an exam as they desire. Exams are available to both male and female victims of sexual assault. In Larimer County, the only place to get a SANE exam is at Medical Center of the Rockies, where a team of 12 SANE nurses are on call to assist with sexual assault cases in a private room reserved for SANE exams. The SANE exam is a head-to-toe exam that can include photographs of any wounds, swabbing for DNA, genital exams and a comprehensive medical check. Plan B, or the morning after pill, is explained and offered to female victims of assault and proactive antibiotics to prevent sexually transmitted diseases is also provided. Chlamydia and gonorrhea are the most common STD's in Colorado, according to Medical Center of the Rockies. If you are seeking a SANE exam, adolescent and adult exams can be done up to 5 days after an assault and even after showering or douching. But it is better not to change clothes or shower and to have an exam done immediately. Avoid eating or drinking anything until your mouth has been swabbed for evidence. SANE exams can be performed on victims of any age or gender.
• Longterm care: Sexual Assault Victim's Advocate Center and ChildSafe Colorado provide ongoing support and emergency resources to victims of sexual assault. SAVA primarily cares for adult survivors while ChildSafe Colorado deals primarily with child survivors and their non-offending family members. Child victims may be referred to Larimer County Child Advocacy Center, which helps facilitate forensic interviews and care for children.
To learn more about SAVA, visit www.savacenter.org
To learn more about ChildSafe, visit www.childsafecolorado.org
I was sold by Mum and Dad to make images of child abuse
At age four, Raven Kaliana's parents took her to a film studio where she was sexually abused in front of cameras. For most of her childhood they regularly trafficked her to the sex industry. Now she campaigns against child abuse
by Nuala Calvi
One of Raven Kaliana's earliest memories is being taken to a family portrait studio by her parents, at around the age of four. The studio was in the basement of a department store in a town 50 miles from their home. Once they had arrived, they waited for another couple to arrive with their own child.
"Would you like to have your picture taken with this cute little boy?" her mother asked, before the parents left the kids with the photographer and retired to the cafe upstairs. But while they sat eating ice cream, the images being made in the studio down below were far from happy family portraits. Raven and her companion had just been sold into the child abuse industry.
It was to be the beginning of a 15-year ordeal, which saw Raven regularly trafficked by her parents and other members of an organised crime ring from her home in a middle-class suburb in the American north-west to locations all over the US and abroad. In her teens, the crimes were often perpetrated in Los Angeles, where many film studios provided ample opportunity for the underground child abuse industry in the 70s and 80s.
Her father, precariously self-employed after losing his teaching job, was violent towards her younger brother, but since she had become the family breadwinner, Raven was granted a peculiar status. "My father always favoured me because I brought in the money – I was supporting our whole family. My younger brother was jealous because of my dad's special treatment of me.
"My father was also quite affectionate towards me whereas he would beat my brother to a pulp. Although he did hit me, he wanted me to stay intact because the less scars I had, the more I was worth."
Inevitably, as she grew older, Raven's value to her abusers decreased and subsequently the kinds of films she was required to take part in became more extreme and violent.
Yet from a young age, she had learned from her parents to rationalise and deny what was going on within the family. "It's the same way that someone who has a problem with alcohol will rationalise their behaviour – 'It's only this many drinks. It's before noon but, oh well, just today'.
"I remember my mother saying things like, 'Oh, they'll never remember it,' like people do when they get their babies' ears pierced. I told myself that my parents meant well, that what I was going through was what was necessary to help my family. It was paying our mortgage."
As we sit talking in a central London cafe, there are two large suitcases on the floor next to us, both full of puppets she has made. A graduate of the puppetry course at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama in London, Raven turned to this artform as a way of telling her story without the gaze of an audience focusing on her directly – something she finds too uncomfortable.
Her adult life has been driven by the belief that it is important for survivors of child sexual exploitation and trafficking to tell their stories, in order to make people realise that these aren't crimes that happen "somewhere else, to someone else". She moved to the UK to create Hooray for Hollywood, an autobiographical play in which the children are represented by puppets, while the adults – their parents – are only shown up to waist height, from a child's eye view. This critically acclaimed drama has toured the UK, Poland and France, and has been made into a film.
One of the most shocking aspects of Hooray for Hollywood is the banality of the adults' conversation, as they rationalise the choice they have just made to sell their children, from the cosy confines of a cafe. These appear to be ordinary people, struggling a little to make ends meet; not monsters or weirdos, but the kind of people who might be your nextdoor neighbours.
"You hear about a perpetrator being processed in a certain way, you hear about the police getting hold of the images, but you don't hear about the reality for the children in those images – whose children are they? How did they come to be in this situation? And how have they been traumatised or damaged by what happened?"
Through her organisation Outspiral, Raven recently launched a national campaign to raise awareness of sex trafficking and familial abuse. She now uses the film of Hooray for Hollywood for public education and training for professionals working in social services, education, law enforcement and children's charities.
The biggest challenge, she says, is getting the bystanders in the child's life – neighbours, relatives, teachers, care workers, counsellors – to consider the possibility that a child might be a victim of this form of abuse. Child abuse is such a taboo subject, and the concept of parents being complicit in the crime so unthinkable, that frequently there is a failure to recognise that it might be going on. Yet since Raven's childhood, the internet has led to an explosion in the industry, which now has a worldwide market value of billions of dollars, according to the UN.
Britain's Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre, a division of the police, says the number of indecent images of children in circulation on the internet runs into millions, with police forces reporting seizures of up to 2.5m images in single collections alone, while the number of individual children depicted in these images is likely to be in the tens of thousands. The commonest way that offenders found their victims was through family and personal relationships.
A report by the NSPCC highlighted the particular psychological suffering that children who have been sexually abused within the child abuse industry endure, especially through the knowledge that there is a permanent record of their sexual abuse: "There is nothing they can do about others viewing pornographic pictures or films of themselves, and sometimes their coerced sexual abuse of others, indefinitely."
For Raven, the psychological effects of her abuse have been extreme. From an early age she began to experience dissociative amnesia – a psychological phenomenon common in victims of inescapable trauma, in which painful experiences are blocked out, leading to gaps in memory. "I started putting things into little rooms in my mind, and it was like: OK, we don't look in that room," she says. "When there's no relief, there's no one stepping in to save you, and it's clear you're just going to have to endure something, then your mind just does that. As a child, dissociation is a serious survival advantage, but in adulthood it can become a disability."
It was at the age of 15 that the coping mechanisms of denial and dissociation began to break down. "At school, I started getting flashbacks – like remembering being in a warehouse the night before – and I could feel in my body it was true, but it was terrifying because I didn't want those things to be true."
Astonishingly, she passed through most of school without anyone picking up on what was happening at home. "I got good marks at school, so teachers tended to think everything was fine. Most survivors I've known who experienced extreme abuse did very, very well at school, actually, because that was their sanctuary, a place they could go to be safe."
Eventually, however, a teacher noticed that Raven was getting thinner. Her mother, by now separated from her father but still facilitating the abuse, had simply stopped buying food for her. "The teacher invited me to stay after school and talk with her one day, and she asked, 'Tell me the truth, are you anorexic? Bulimic?' And I started laughing."
Raven confided some but not all of what was happening at home, but begged the teacher not to report it for fear of reprisals. What the teacher did do, however, was to help her find the wherewithal to move out of home eventually, get a job in a restaurant, and start saving up for college.
At university, Raven finally made a break from her family, changed her name and started to get counselling – the beginning of a long road to recovery that still continues. "I got into a support group for rape survivors, and it was a great help because all of a sudden I was around other people healing from abuse, too. It also gave me some perspective about how the things that had happened to me were really on the extreme end. I saw people completely devastated by one experience of being raped by a stranger, so it was sobering to realise, 'Oh, I've been raped by hundreds of people.'"
Once she was in a safe environment, finally the rage about what had happened to her bubbled to the surface. "I couldn't believe how angry I was when I first escaped – so angry. In one support group they let us take a baseball bat to a punching bag and told us to think about a specific abuse event and imagine that we were fighting back against it, and that was very helpful."
She also saw an integrative bodywork therapist, who used touch, guided movement and vocal expression. "Her premise was that post-traumatic stress is a physical reaction in your body, and that reconnecting the symptom to the source helps you let it go, helps you release it, and that you don't have to talk out every single thing that ever happened to you. It was very helpful for me because there were a lot of strange things that my body was doing. For example, I used to find any kind of physical touch excruciating – even if someone brushed me in the street I would shudder. She told me that was called armouring, which happens when your body makes a shield out of its muscles to protect the bones and internal organs during physical abuse."
The therapy made it possible for her to move on and start to enjoy life. "I realised that it is possible to get your life back. I started to gain an appreciation for life and a recognition that I only have so many breaths, so I've got to use them well."
But Raven believes she will always need counselling and that her experiences have made it difficult not to fall into a pattern of emotionally abusive romantic relationships.
Perhaps surprisingly, sex has not been a significant issue, but love is inextricably connected for her with betrayal, as the people who were meant to love her most as a child were the ones who orchestrated her abuse.
Yet, incredibly, she says she felt love for her parents as a child and still does, although she has cut all contact with them. Despite their behaviour, she believes they did love her.
"When I screen my film, a lot of times in the Q&A session afterwards people want to know: how could parents do this to their own children? I tell them that abuse is generational: my parents were also abused themselves, so that was normal to them. They had dissociated in the same way I did; they were in denial. Unlike my generation, they didn't have access to counselling when they were young, and weren't born in a time when child abuse was beginning to be acknowledged by society. It's important to recognise that they weren't born evil – they were damaged."
Raven thinks that the way in which child abusers such as Jimmy Savile are demonised is counterproductive. "Demonising the perpetrators elevates them to the realm of the surreal. We need to shift that, so people recognise that they are very sick humans and that there's a context for their crimes.
"Only then can we tackle the source of this suffering."
Expert gives sexual abuse information for child care providers at Lubbock adoption conference
by GABRIEL MONTE
Sexual abuse is more likely committed by family members and friends than strangers — with juveniles responsible for half of them — according to Troy Timmons, an Amarillo psychotherapist and expert in child sexual abuse.
Timmons gave information on sexual abuse to about 140 foster care, adoption and social workers during a Friday, Oct. 4, seminar at Broadway Church of Christ.
The seminar was part of an annual adoption conference hosted by the Lubbock Interagency Adoption Council, an adoption advocacy group.
Kathleen Hudson, adoption supervisor for Child Protective Services, said there are about 300 children in the region who are available for adoption. She said sexual abuse is a rising trend among these children.
Timmons shared insights on offender profiles and what caregivers and parents can do to help victims and prevent abuse.
“The better we understand predators, the more we can help,” he said.
He said 1 percent of child sexual abuse cases in the Texas Panhandle region involve a complete stranger. He added juvenile offenders have poor judgment and tend to be more invasive.
Timmons said juveniles are often placed in situations supervising younger siblings or children, which leads them to act out their sexual curiosity. He said parents must establish limits when older children supervise younger siblings.
Timmons said access to pornography is a common denominator among sibling abuse. “It's the fuel,” he said.
Factors that contribute to sibling abuse include denial and neglect, he said.
He said parents should pay close attention to how younger siblings react to older siblings.
Among adult offenders, Timmons described the practice of grooming, where victims are showered with attention and gifts to build a strong bond before starting abuse. “Their ability to establish rapport is unacanny,” Timmons said.
Grooming was new to Ricardo Castilleja, who works with nine children at the Children's Home of Lubbock. “That is something I was not aware of,” he said.
Castilleja said the seminar shed light on what signs he needed to watch for to better help his children.
Timmons encouraged parents to establish safety and privacy guidelines and to teach children to be assertive.
For parents with survivors of sexual abuse, he said it is important to be supportive, ask questions and arrange regular opportunities to talk to someone.
Most of all he said it was important to know the difference between listening and hearing.
“Hearing is when you're just thinking about what you're going to say when they shut up,” Timmons said.
Sarah Butts, a Tech student and an intern with the state health department, said the seminar helped give her tools to talk to children.
“It was really helpful to know this stuff because I have a daughter as well,” said Butts, whose career goal involves working with children.
She said knowing the signs that a child might be sexually abused will get help faster.
Child sexual abuse victims are being failed by courts, says NSPCC
Children's charity warns that cases are collapsing because children are not getting the support they need to give evidence
Defence barristers have been known to aggressively cross-examine child witnesses, said NSPCC's chief executive Peter Wanless. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA
Children giving evidence in court in sexual abuse cases need to be given more support because many suffer from stress before a trial, the NSPCC has said.
The children's charity warned some cases are collapsing because not enough is being done to help vulnerable witnesses.
Fewer than a quarter of the 23,000 child sex offences recorded in England and Wales last year resulted in prosecution, the NSPCC said.
Chief executive Peter Wanless said: "These children have to publicly relive the most traumatic, upsetting and humiliating experience of their lives in order to try and get justice. A victim of child sex abuse is usually the sole witness to the crime and the strength of the case lies in their testimony.
"It is vital that children are supported by a registered intermediary when they are interviewed by the police and if they give evidence in a trial. Justice can only be served if they are able to give their best evidence."
He said defence barristers have been known to aggressively cross-examine child witnesses – challenging, criticising and even accusing them of lying until they feel that "they are the ones in the dock".
"If there is concern that a child can't withstand the experience of giving evidence in a trial, there is a chance that the case will have to be dropped," he said.
"Dealing with the police and the courts can be a daunting and intimidating experience for an adult, let alone a child. Where is the justice in putting children in a position where they don't know what is going on, they can't understand the questions and are unable to make themselves understood?
"All this does is risk the child being further traumatised and the guilty walking free."
Currently just 2% of child witnesses in criminal court cases receive guidance on criminal proceedings from registered advisers, the NSPCC said, and yet at least half said they were unable to understand some of the questions they had been asked.
The research showed that more than 50% of child witnesses reported symptoms of stress ahead of a trial, including panic attacks, self-harm and difficulty sleeping. New Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidelines on prosecuting sexual abuse cases involving children are due to be released later this month.
Wanless called for compulsory training for judges and barristers and said all legal advocates should be trained in how to question child witnesses in an appropriate way, paying specific attention to their welfare.
He added: "In the midst of this important and often complex debate let's not forget that at the heart of the matter are children. And their welfare must not be sacrificed in the pursuit of justice."
The justice minister, Damian Green, said: "We must do everything we can to support child witnesses to give their best possible evidence to bring offenders to justice.
"There are a range of measures available to help reduce the anxiety of attending court, including giving evidence behind a screen or the use of a registered intermediary, which has increased significantly over recent years. We are also trialling pre-recorded evidence for young and vulnerable witnesses.
"We recognise that more work needs to be done. I have ordered an investigation into how we might reduce the distress caused to victims from cross examination from multiple defence barristers without compromising the fundamental right to a fair trial."
SPECIAL TO NAASCA:
Read about how NAASCA's own Carol D Levine
is making a real difference through her work
in her local NW New Jersey community !!!
|| Centenary College Social Services events in Hackettstown, NJ,
designed to 'Stop Child Abuse Now'
by Warren Reporter
October 2, 2013
The Centenary College Social Sciences Department announces an event designed to support the “Stop Child Abuse Now” initiative spearheaded by National Association for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA). At 6 p.m., Oct. 23, in the George H. Whitney Chapel at Centenary College, Carol D. Levine, child abuse survivor and author of “Panic Child: A Harrowing True Story of Sexual Abuse and Neglect,” will speak about her experiences and how to be more aware about this epidemic. A limited amount of her books will be available for purchase that evening for $10. This event is free and open to the public.
Levine is a survivor, author and advocate who knows all too well about the horrors of child abuse, domestic violence and all the negative efforts it has on the lives of children. Her mission is to help educate people as to just how bad the epidemic of child abuse is and the impact it has on society. Levine speaks about physical abuse, emotional abuse and the neglect of children. If left untreated, abuse can impede the progress and growth of a child and it alters children to the core of their being. Levine suffered from all of the abuses mentioned, which caused her to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, but she has healed through help that she received over the years.
“It is imperative for society to become aware of the signs of abuse and to become proactive,” said Levine. “Our children have no voice, but we do!”
Levine claims that educating parents, children, schools and society in general will help “put a dent” in the statistics of child abuse. An informed child is a safer child. There are offenders everywhere. They go where children go and many times are falsely taken to be pillars of society.
Levine has been interviewed by The Express-Times on numerous occasions, has been a guest on many Internet Blog Talk Radio shows and has been a guest speaker on WRNJ radio several times. She distributes information about child abuse to colleges, schools, day care centers, post offices, stores, diners - anywhere where people go.
Levine has worked in a juvenile detention center, detox facilities and a methadone clinic as a counselor, and Greystone Psychiatric as a technician. She was also part of the original Rahway Lifers television program “Scared Straight,” in which she volunteered for years working with troubled youth, many of whom had been abused as well. She was a guest speaker for Sussex County Community College's “Clothesline Project” last April. She continues to work with those in crisis today.
She is a representative of the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse ( NAASCA.org ), which offers a wealth of information on prevention, intervention and recovery. She also co-hosts the Internet blog talk radio show, “Stop Child Abuse Now.”
“I am so pleased that Carol Levine will be visiting the College and will be talking with our students and members of the community about this serious issue,” says Dr. Kitsy Dixon, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Centenary College. “We can certainly learn from Levine and become more aware of warning signs when abuse is occurring and what help is actually available out there.”
For more information, call 908-852-1400, ext. 2424.
Centenary College's main campus is located in Hackettstown, with its equestrian facility in Washington Township (Morris County). The Centenary College School of Professional Studies offers degree programs in two locations: Parsippany and Edison, and at corporate sites throughout New Jersey. The School of International Programs recruits international students for study at Centenary and Centenary students for study abroad.
SC senator: DSS must face questions about child abuse deaths
COLUMBIA — A Richland County state senator wants to question the director of the state's Department of Social Services after the deaths this year of three Richland County children from abuse or neglect while they were involved with that state agency.
Sen. Joel Lourie, D-Richland, a member of the Senate committee that oversees Social Services, said he plans to have agency director Lillian Koller appear before a special Senate subcommittee to answer questions about the deaths.
“Something has gone wrong within the agency in the last year, terribly wrong,” Lourie said. “The consequences are tragic, and I think they have let the children of South Carolina down.”
Lourie's comments came after a public hearing of the Joint Citizens and Legislative Committee on Children, created to advise the governor and Legislature on child-safety issues. The committee heard testimony Thursday, including remarks by J. Paige Greene, executive director of Richland County CASA, a public-nonprofit partnership that provides volunteer guardians for children in child abuse and neglect cases.
“I have been in this business for over 30 years,” Greene told the committee, which includes Koller. “And, honestly, I have never in my life been so scared or frightened for the safety of our children as I am today.”
Laura Hudson, a member of the state Child Fatality Advisory Committee that reviews suspicious child deaths, said 312 children have died since 2009 while involved in one way or another with Social Services. The state agency's duties include investigating allegations of child abuse or neglect.
Hudson said the State Law Enforcement Division currently has 472 active investigations into child deaths.
Koller, a member of Republican Gov. Nikki Haley's cabinet, said the number of child deaths where Social Services was involved before a fatality has decreased steadily – from 73 in 2009 to 62 in 2012. Thus far in 2013, there have been 42 deaths of children who had some involvement with Social Services.
“Child safety is our top priority,” Koller said during the meeting. “Everything we do is focused on trying to prevent preventable crimes on children.”
Education groups help in fight against child abuse
One in five Illinois children is abused, according to state child welfare officials.
by Patrick Smith
Some key education groups in Illinois are out to help stem child abuse.
The Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Education Association, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois PTA will participate in the state's “You are not alone” campaign.
“We are all committed to working together to ensure safe, loving homes and brighter futures for children,” Roger Eddy, director of IASB, in a press release. “School board members across Illinois understand that children can't do their homework if they don't have a safe home to go to at night, or their home is in chaos because of abuse or domestic violence.”
The campaign features posters and social media advertising urging kids to report their abuse.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services started sending out posters to schools last month.
It carries a simple message: “You are not alone.”
DCFS spokesman Dave Clarkin says in addition to getting more reports, the department wants to combat the feeling of isolation that comes when children are abused.
On the same day that the statewide groups pledged their support, DCFS added a crucial school district to its coalition: Chicago Public Schools and its roughly 400,000 students.
Clarkin says it's important for kids to report their own abuse, because too many Illinois adults are letting them down.
“One in five kids in Illinois are abused or neglected before they turn 18, and unfortunately children tell an average of seven adults that they're being abused or neglected before an adult calls the hotline,” Clarkin said. “All nine million adults in Illinois have a shared responsibility to report abuse and neglect. Unfortunately not every adult lives up to that responsibility and when that's the case we want to make sure that children know that helps is available.”
Clarkin says the department already gets more information from children who are siblings of kids being abused than they do from other adult relatives. He said sometimes children as young as 6 call the hotline to report the abuse of their brother or sister.
The posters - in both English and Spanish - are being sent out to more than 600 Illinois school districts. The department estimates the posters will reach about 1.5 million students.
“If children haven't seen them already they should [soon]. But the folks at our hotline report that we're already seeing an increase in calls to the hotline, so it looks like the campaign is working.”
The campaign urges children who are being abused to call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-252-2873.
False Abuse Reports Trouble Child Welfare Advocates
Child protection experts say false, malicious reports of abuse are not uncommon. Efforts to address the problem face complex challenges.
by Rachel Blustain
In some neighborhoods in this city, it's not uncommon for people to file an allegation of child abuse or neglect to settle a grudge.
In a meeting with City Limits, lawyers and social workers from The Bronx Defenders, which represents parents with child welfare cases in the Bronx, described a string of such cases: a landlord who repeatedly called in child neglect complaints against a tenant whose housing support check wasn't coming through; a neighbor who reported another neighbor for neglect after a fight over a missing cell phone escalated.
Attorney Ryan Napoli recalled a client living in a homeless shelter whose 15-day-old son was removed from her care after someone reported she was a drug-user and a domestic violence victim. Although her son was returned five days later, the investigation lasted six months, during which time Napoli's client was required to separate from her boyfriend, enter a domestic violence shelter and be drug tested regularly (she passed each time) before her case was dismissed at trial, he says. Napoli's client assumed the caller was another woman in the same homeless shelter who was jealous of her relationship with her boyfriend, but she couldn't prove it because the call was made anonymously.
Across the divide, an organization representing foster and adoptive parents, New York State Citizens' Coalition for Children, recently hosted a talk by attorney Margaret Burt, who said she regularly represents foster and adoptive parents who are the target of repeated harassing calls to the state's central registry of child abuse reports, often by biological parents who themselves feel powerless to reclaim their connection to their children.
Burt described one adoptive mother who had had 72 reports against her in a two-and-a-half month period. When the woman's adopted children saw the child protective worker's car pull up—a daily occurrence, Burt said—they would immediately start removing their clothes because they knew the investigator was going to check them for marks and bruises. Despite attempts to stop the calls—ACS reported the case to the district attorney, and the district attorney's office took the case—the investigations didn't stop until the caller phoned the White House and threatened President Obama. After that, Burt said, the woman was arrested and the investigations ceased.
Advocates for domestic violence survivors, in particular, have long been concerned about the role such reports play in keeping women in violent relationships and in punishing them when they leave them. “We see the threat of false reports to child welfare and then actual malicious and retaliatory reporting by batterers at all different stages of abusive relationships, and we see it frequently,” explains Liz Roberts, Chief Program Officer for Safe Horizon, the largest provider of services to survivors of domestic violence in the country.
Just what to do about such calls, however, is a conundrum for a system that was built around encouraging people to speak out whenever they believe a child is being harmed and charged with the unenviable task of determining not only whether a child has been abused or neglected, but also with predicting whether that child will be hurt in the future.
Scope of problem unknown
Neither Roberts nor other advocates can point with precision to how large a problem malicious false reporting is.
“It's not something we track, and I can't tell you that it's X percent of cases. But if you ask any of our staff members who have been around for a while, they'll tell you they've heard about such cases many times," says Roberts, who worked at New York City's Children's Services (ACS) from 2000 to 2010, and was the agency's first director of domestic violence policy. "Batterers are opportunistic. When they realize just how important the children are to the victim, that threat—that 'I'll call ACS and tell them you're an unfit mother'—holds a lot of weight.”
For most people in middle-class neighborhoods, this kind of harassment is a reality they're lucky never to have even imagined. More children are removed from eight of the city's poorest neighborhoods than from New York City's other 42 neighborhoods combined, and in places like East New York, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Jamaica and some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx, abusive exes and vindictive neighbors know little evidence is required to trigger a terrifying investigation.
Even when a parent has been investigated dozens of times without any finding of maltreatment, ACS will not flag those cases or counsel investigators to approach any particular investigation with particular skepticism—in case a family's situation changes and children who once appeared safe wind up not being so.
State law does require ACS to send reports it believes to be maliciously false to the appropriate District Attorney's office. But advocates told City Limits their experiences suggest such cases are rarely tried. “These cases are extremely difficult to prove,” says Roberts. “Abusers can be pretty savvy, giving allegations that are difficult to completely disprove. The worst offenders do things like use pay phones and never give their names.”
In 2011, instead of simply shrugging off such calls as an unfortunate but inevitable byproduct of protecting children, ACS took a step to more deeply understand the problem through the eyes of survivors and their children. It agreed to a series of trainings by Voices of Women (VOW), a grassroots group of domestic violence survivors, many of whose members have themselves been the victims of false and malicious reporting. To date, VOW says, it has trained approximately 250 ACS frontline staff, supervisors and upper management.
A personal stake
“When a report is given, people have a visceral reaction that it just might be happening and it's very hard to say: Don't investigate that case. Nobody wants to be responsible for leaving a child in a dangerous situation,” says Singh.
One thing VOW tries to show in its trainings—a fictional skit of a 60-day investigation based on the real accounts they say they have collected over the years—is that false and malicious reports, and the policies that allow them to go relatively unchecked, themselves hurt children.
Sometimes the investigations impede a family's recovery from earlier trauma. Roberts recalls three children she counseled whose father made a handful of false reports against their mother over a two-year period. “In that case,” says Roberts, “there was every reason to believe the allegations were false, and the child welfare folks were respectful and did the right thing.
Still, each time, they had to interview the mother. They had to interview the children separately. They had to open the fridge and look in the apartment. Every time the child protective worker interviewed the children, they knew: ‘My father wants me to say bad things about my mother, but I don't want to say bad thing about her.' It really got in the way of the family healing.”
Other times, the calls can have a more profound impact, especially when a parent is in fact struggling—with depression, with homelessness, or is fighting with an older child who's aligned with the batterer in some way. Those very real problems combined with a false report—often of flagrant forms of abuse or neglect—may lead child protective workers to conclude that children need to be removed rather than that the family needs to be supported.
In the testimony VOW has collected from survivors over the years, they describe one mother who lost custody of her children after the father reported that she was delusional. The report, combined with the fact that the mother was living in a homeless shelter while her husband had two jobs and was living in a stable home, may have tipped the case in his favor. “The best case scenario is that the family gets help with those stressors, and we see that,” says Roberts. “But the worst case scenario is that it could lead to a court case that then becomes another enormous stressor for the family to manage.”
But it may be the fear that such investigations arouse within a whole community that has the most widespread impact. For people who are already vulnerable—feeling powerless bcause of poverty and past trauma—the realization that anyone can call in a report against them at any time can be particularly devastating.
VOW tells the story of one undocumented immigrant who took her 2-month-old daughter and fled her abusive husband, an American citizen. But when her husband threatened to report her to immigration and called in a report to the state central registry alleging that she was mentally ill and harming the baby, she gave up custody of her daughter to him. Three years later, VOW says, she is still fighting in family court to win overnight visits with her daughter.
ACS workers face pressures
Through their skit, VOW tries to help workers understand the fear that many survivors live with. They explain that some women are afraid to even speak up about who might be reporting them, and counsel workers to ask certain questions, like: “Are you in court fighting for custody, visitation, or divorce? Have you recently sought an order of protection?” Those, they say, may be red flags that a batterer is making a call as a means of extending his power and control.
They also listen to workers' frustrations with domestic violence survivors who hide their problems and don't cooperate—making investigators' brutally hard jobs that much harder. Still, they tell workers, if you go into a home without understanding the patterns of domestic violence, then the victim sees you as just another abuser.
For Roberts, this is an issue with no easy answers. “Sixty percent of reports are unfounded,” says Roberts, “but that doesn't necessarily mean the report was malicious. Responsible citizens can make reports who don't understand the law or who don't have enough information, or they may have reasonable cause to be concerned, but there was just not enough evidence.”
Roberts believes one of the most important steps investigators can take is to document their suspicions in their case notes well, so that if there is a repeat call, the next investigator walks into the home with information. ACS should also continue to try to build trust in communities, says Roberts—so that domestic violence survivors know that if they reach out for support for themselves and to keep their children safe, they won't be punished. That way, says Roberts, “batterers' threats and exaggerations wouldn't carry as much weight.”
Is anonymity appropriate?
Martin Guggenheim, the founder of New York University Law School's Family Defense Clinic and a leading advocate for the rights of parents in child welfare cases, believes state legislators and the state's Office of Children and Family Services could take more concrete steps to reduce the impact of the crime.
One solution, says Guggenheim, might be to limit the number of repeated anonymous calls that the hotline is willing to accept. (Guggenheim notes that on paper, the law does not allow anonymous reports, even though accepting anonymous calls is standard practice. Moreover, says Guggenheim, in the handful of states that do not allow anonymity, no studies have shown that children are less safe.)
Even if the state did not want to refuse to accept all anonymous calls, says Guggenheim, at a certain point it could decide to refuse to accept repeated unfounded calls without the caller offering identifying information. This, in turn, might dissuade some harassment. It also might make it easier to prosecute some of the most egregious cases.
Guggenheim believes that a system of differential response might also go a long way in helping victims feel less violated. If, for instance, calls were repeatedly made anonymously, if all previous investigations had been unfounded, and if there were reason to believe that the calls were being made maliciously, then the state could have a way of noting this, of informing investigators of this, and of having investigators enter the home in a way that was less invasive.
“I think it would make a world of difference to a parent,” says Guggenheim, “if the person who comes to the home the next time were to say, ‘I'm very sorry to be visiting you again. I hope you can understand that I'm required to do this. All I need to do is take a look at your child.'
“I'm not sure this would ever lead to a victim feeling that everything that just happened is fair…But the fact that parents now go through the whole gamut of an investigation each time greatly exacerbates the problem… Ultimately it would be saying that the state has an equal interest in protecting children from harm as protecting families being investigated for harm to children.”
Missouri amendment would allow past allegations to be heard in child sex abuse cases
by GLENN E. RICE
Initially, Daryl D. Lemasters seemed almost too good to be true.
But Lemasters had a dark side. A jury convicted him of repeatedly sexually assaulting two girls, taking videos of one of them while they were naked and offering to take them to a water park in exchange for sexual acts.
In August, a Platte County judge sentenced him to 180 years in prison on six counts of child sexual abuse. Lemasters' attorneys have appealed the verdict and the sentence.
The girls Lemasters molested had to answer difficult questions in court, but their mother says they might have been spared that ordeal if prosecutors had been able to tell jurors about previous allegations of sexual abuse against Lemasters. If so, Lemasters might have pleaded guilty before the case went to trial, she said.
Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd agrees, and he wants voters to pass an amendment to the Missouri Constitution in fall 2014 that would allow prosecutors in child sexual abuse cases to tell jurors about a defendant's prior sex offenses, even allegations for which the person never faced charges.
Missouri is more restrictive than any other state, barring prosecutors from telling jurors about prior criminal sex acts in nearly all cases against accused child predators, said Zahnd, who wrote the proposed amendment.
“This amendment impacts cases involving dangerous, repeat sex offenders preying on our most vulnerable citizens — children,” he said. “By its very nature, child sex abuse occurs behind closed doors, and there is often very little evidence other than a child's word against that of the abuser.”
In May, the Missouri General Assembly approved a House joint resolution to place the proposed amendment on the statewide ballot. Lawmakers rejected two previous attempts to change the law.
Fifteen states, including Illinois, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska, permit prosecutors to introduce evidence of past criminal acts with few or no exceptions. Federal courts also allow the evidence.
The remaining states, including Kansas, permit that evidence in some circumstances. Only Missouri excludes the evidence in almost all situations.
If approved, the amendment would affect cases in which the victim is younger than 18. A trial judge still would have to decide whether jurors would hear about the past crimes.
But critics of the measure say it would let prosecutors give unwarranted weight to allegations of past wrongdoings rather than focus on the merits of the current criminal charges.
“If the prosecutor doesn't have a good case, then he or she doesn't have a good case and should not try to use character assassination to put people in prison,” said Kim Benjamin, the president of the Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “That is just un-American to use rumor and innuendo and character assassination to take away someone's liberty.”
Authorities learned in February 2011 that Lemasters allegedly had touched two girls inappropriately. Investigators served search warrants at Lemasters' home and business, and they found on his computer a pornographic video showing one of the victims.
Later, investigators heard from other girls who said Lemasters molested them. The mother of the girls he was convicted of molesting wishes jurors had known that.
“If this (measure) is approved, it would help a lot of children who would not have to go in front of a jury and be terrified and be forced to retell their stories,” said the mother, who is not being named to protect her identity and those of her children.
If approved, the amendment would nullify a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that excludes from child sex abuse cases evidence that a defendant has the propensity to commit a certain crime.
In that case, Donald Ellison, who lived in Livingston County northeast of Kansas City, was convicted of child molestation. Prosecutors told jurors that Ellison had been convicted in an earlier child abuse case.
The case ended up in front of the Missouri Supreme Court, which ruled that bringing up Ellison's prior conviction violated the state constitution. Ellison was later retried and convicted.
“In sex offender cases, Missouri's Supreme Court has been an activist court,” Zahnd said. “It has done backflips in an effort to construe the Missouri Constitution in a way that no other state or federal court has done in interpreting similar constitutional provisions.”
Efforts to amend the state constitution to conform to federal law and what other states have done are not unusual, said David Achtenberg, a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.
“This particular provision is not radical at all in that it's very similar to things that exist in other states and in the federal government,” Achtenberg said. “You might be against it if you believe very strongly that evidence of a prior bad act tends to distort the process in a way that leads to convictions based on the old offense, but not that the new offense was committed by this person.”
Research shows that most perpetrators of child sex abuse have multiple victims, said Joy Oesterly, the director of Missouri KidsFirst, a statewide nonprofit child welfare advocacy agency.
Prosecuting child sexual abuse cases is difficult because very young victims must testify in front of a jury and face unsettling questions from a defense attorney, Oesterly said.
“This amendment gives prosecutors another tool to protect children,” she said.
DCF on trial over sexual assault by foster child
Negligence lawsuit claims social service agencies failed to warn family in 2002
by Marc Freeman
When the 10-year-old foster child arrived in late summer 2002, he came with tremendous baggage: Sexually molested as a toddler; raised in poverty and around drugs; and repeatedly raped by an older neighborhood boy described as a "sexual deviant."
This foster child also had a violent history of suicide attempts and self-mutilations, attacks on relatives, drowning a kitten in a bathtub, setting numerous fires and sexual assaults on girls as young as 3.
What happened next forms the basis of a civil lawsuit filed by the foster family in 2006 — and described Wednesday for a jury at the opening of a trial in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
Mission Kids in Montgomery County celebrated its fourth year as a resource for families and children who are abused on Thursday morning.
“The story of Mission Kids started with a child who was terribly abused by family members,” Executive Director Abbie Newman said.
Newman explained that prior Mission Kids, the experience for child abuse victims in the legal system was often a bad one and needed a change.
“As a victim's mother said, ‘What happened to my child is bad but your system is even worse,'” she said.
That victim was present at the ceremony and gave a speech on the importance of Mission Kids and similar organizations.
“It's such a beautiful place that is helping so many children,” said abuse survivor and filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger.
Neulinger, 24, formerly of Lower Merion but now living in Montana, was abused by three people in his family and told his parents about the abuse when he was seven years old.
“When I told my parents I thought the nightmare was going to be over, but really the hard part just beginning,” Neulinger said. “When I was sexually abused, my life changed. I was afraid of everything and everyone.”
Neulinger explained that the beginning of his long journey consisted of interviews with strangers, doctors, detectives and psychologists, all of whom wanted to know in vivid detail how he was abused.
“I am so blessed that I had an incredible support system to help me heal, but for all of the children that don't have the support that I had, Mission Kids has to be there,” he said.
Neulinger went on to say that child advocacy centers are the way for a better future.
“They find the courage to explain to adults what that abuse was like. Their interviews are recorded and a healing plan is created for those kids. This is the first huge step towards healing our children and fixing the issues.”
After everyone spoke, Neulinger said he hopes catching the problem early will prevent further abuse from happening in the future.
“The only difference between my abusers and myself is that I got help,” Neulinger said explaining that his abusers were also sexually abused when they were younger.
“I was there with him and his family when he was a little boy and saw how harrowing the system was,” said Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman, who helped prosecute the three adults who abused Neulinger.
“It was because of him I was driven to open a child advocacy center,” Ferman said.
Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler was thankful Montgomery County had an advocacy center for children and explained why the other counties in Pennsylvania needed one.
“As a judge, I asked 40 potential jurors for an abuse case if they had any kind of experience in this and nearly all of them raised their hands,” Heckler said.
Heckler commended Ferman and the people of Montgomery County for creating Mission Kids and said there should be more organizations like it in the state.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro agreed.
“Our work to get Mission Kids up and running was phase one. Now we're ready for phase two: the responsibility of all Pennsylvania residents to recognize the need for child advocacy centers,” Shapiro said.
While many would like to see more child advocacy centers to open up in Pennsylvania, funding is a large issue.
“We can't even get a few million dollars, even though that money has been identified as sitting idle,” Heckler said.
Neulinger, who is currently working on a film about his experience as a survivor of sexual abuse, said he would one day like to see centers like a child advocacy center within an hour and a half drive from every child in America.
“If they go out into the world as beautiful adults, they're starting to shift all of the pain and we open ourselves up to a beautiful future. Hopefully we can continue to grow, but it starts right here in Pennsylvania with Mission Kids,” Neulinger said.
In their four years of service, Mission Kids has provided service to 1,450 children in Montgomery County and they expect to be providing services to 450 children in 2013. Ferman along with other members of Mission Kids asked the media not reveal the location the center for the safety of the families that come in for help.
As state battles child sex trafficking, more resources needed
by Scott Carroll
TAMPA - Florida is making strides in confronting the problem of child sex trafficking, but resources are still scarce and for every girl saved there are dozens more who continue to be beaten, drugged and sold for sex.
That good news/bad news message was delivered to more than 700 advocates, caseworkers, law enforcement officers and other interested parties at the second annual Human Trafficking Summit, held Thursday at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Top state officials who kicked off the event included Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey and Esther Jacobo, the interim secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
They touted several new laws and initiatives aimed at addressing the problem of child sex trafficking. These included legislation implemented this year to treat prostituted children as victims instead of criminals, and calls for the creation of safe houses across the state.
Bondi unveiled one initiative last week to raise awareness of the problem. The message “From Instant Message to Instant Nightmare,” will be displayed on billboards, bus shelters and at malls to help parents protect their children from online traffickers. Children are also encouraged to sign a pledge to use the Internet appropriately, and tape the pledge to their computers as a daily reminder.
Bondi said the estimated 750 summit attendees — double the number at last year's inaugural event — underscores a growing awareness of the problem.
A prosecutor for 18 years before being elected attorney general, Bondi said she has had a steep learning curve on the trafficking issue.
“I didn't know how bad it was when I was a prosecutor,” she said. “We're No. 3 in the country in terms of reported cases, and we have to make that stop.”
But advocates say that while the Safe Harbor Act is well-intended, it left out one critical component: funding. The 200 or so beds needed initially to help rescued victims are to be paid for in large part by an increase in fines for johns who prey on children.
So far this year, only about $10,000 in fines has been collected, while the estimated cost of running state safe houses is estimated to run in the millions.
While the summit addressed all facets of human trafficking, including so-called domestic slavery and adult sex trafficking, much of the discussion focused on what is formally called Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.
That is for good reason.
Indeed, the facts surrounding child sex trafficking are both startling and gut-wrenching:
• Experts say more than 100,000 children nationwide are forced into prostitution each year, and up to 300,000 annually are at risk of being trafficked for sex.
• The average age of a child being forced into prostitution is 13, according to one widely recognized study. Most of those children are sexually abused, often by a family member, before being prostituted.
• Florida ranks third in the country in the number of prostituted children, experts say, and Southwest Florida — including Tampa, Bradenton and Sarasota — is considered a hotbed of abuse.
In Bradenton last year, Eric Bell was convicted of running a prostitution ring with underage girls who'd been lured from bus stops.
Bell and an accomplice offered the girls a place to live, then took sexually explicit photos to solicit clients on the Internet.
The four victims rescued by authorities were between 15 and 17 years old.
Bell pleaded guilty to four charges of sex trafficking of minors and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
But for every Eric Bell sent to prison, there are several more ready to take his place, said FBI Special Agent Greg Christopher, who focuses on child sex trafficking cases.
“We're locking up pimps left and right,” he said, “but the problem keeps growing.”
What does domestic violence look like to children?
by GOV. SEAN PARNELL
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Nearly every adult reading these words has had a first-hand experience with domestic violence. Either it has occurred somewhere in your family or in that of a neighbor or friend, or you've seen examples of it in the community.
Perhaps you've heard demeaning or belittling words being shouted next door or violent arguments that stray from a healthy disagreement. Perhaps you even grew up with it close at hand.
In America, 15 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. In Alaska, more than six percent of mothers of children under the age of three say their child has seen, firsthand, violence or physical abuse. Exposure to violence has an impact on them, and repeated exposure can cause physical and emotional problems that may last a lifetime.
The stress of these adverse childhood experiences can even lead to shorter lifespans, according to some long-term studies.
What domestic violence looks like to children is often far worse than anything a parent can imagine. Studies show that heart disease, asthma and diabetes are often made worse by stress.
What domestic violence looks like to children often means an inability to focus in school, behavioral problems, anxieties, and sleeping and eating disorders.
Although some researchers set the health-related costs of domestic violence at $750 billion per year, the cost has to be much higher, because there are some things you simply cannot quantify.
The kind of domestic violence children are exposed to takes many forms. It may be verbal or physical abuse by one parent to another. It may consist of isolating someone from social support by cutting a spouse off from family or friends, or shaming a spouse in front of others. Or it may be committing physical harm, like the twisting of an arm, shoving, pulling hair, or slapping of a face. It too often escalates and sometimes ends tragically in death.
We must not only break the silence about domestic violence, but we must end the epidemic that has overtaken our communities in Alaska.
In the past four years, funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention and intervention has increased. Alaskans in more than 150 communities are now standing up for victims and survivors in our Choose Respect initiative. We continue to reach out to women to get themselves and their children to safety. We encourage them to start the healing process with caring, trained professionals - heroes in our communities who spend their lives offering hope to survivors.
I call on every Alaskan to make a commitment to become part of a great tide of action to end the epidemic of domestic violence. Let's help victims become survivors and make sure perpetrators get caught, so they do no more harm to Alaskans.
Sean Parnell is the governor of the state of Alaska.
Social workers, others to learn about digital safety and youth
The Internet and cell phones are convenient, and usually offer fun diversions. But there's a dark side to this new technology.
Recently, Americans have been astounded as they hear how teens interact with these new digital tools and the dangers that lurk there. True tales — sometimes leading to criminal convictions — make more than a few parents think they are living in the Wild West of communication.
Hundreds of social workers, police officers, mental health practitioners and others will learn about the dangers in the digital world — dangers that youth seldom understand — at the 29th UW-Madison Conference on Child Sexual Abuse Oct. 21-23.
Richard Guerry, executive director of the Institute for Responsible Online and Cell-Phone Communication, will be keynote speaker at the conference at the Madison Marriott West in Middleton.
Guerry believes everyone must develop a “digital consciousness” that reminds a user that every action done on the Internet is “public and permanent,” Professor Jim Campbell, associate dean of continuing studies and conference director, says.
“Whether one is snapping cell phone photos, posting on Facebook, describing the next family vacation, or playing an online game with others from around the world—all is not as upbeat as it looks,” says Guerry, who writes digital safety curriculum for schools.
Today's adults and teens must understand that the very technology they love so much can land them in “very hot water” — and even in criminal court. Guerry explains how an 18-year-old had a nude photo of his 16-year-old girlfriend, but after an argument the boy circulated the explicit photo throughout the teens' school. The consequence: the boy was convicted of distributing child pornography and sent to prison.
Many have been shocked and saddened by cases of cyberbullying, but Guerry can describe other difficult issues, such as how people involved in Internet pornography use webcams, cell phone photos and other ruses to capture and sell even a half-minute video of a teen undressing.
Here are a few digital safety reminders from Guerry:
Losing a phone, computer or thumb drive can lead to photos getting posted on the Internet, and living there forever.
Sending photos to the trash or deleting them from a SD card does not mean they have disappeared. Software exists to recover anything.
Cyberbullying is not anonymous. In 2010, a judge ordered Google to reveal anonymous users involved in such a case.
All tweets are saved in the Library of Congress for historical purposes.
Hackers can get into a computer and turn on a webcam without anyone realizing it.
One identity is stolen every three seconds on the Internet.
The conference consists of 50 institutes. Topics include forgiveness as treatment, sexual abuse in sports, teen addiction to online pornography, interview techniques for use with young victims, translation of neurobiology for clinical use, understanding the minds of male survivors of child sexual abuse, and more.
Town meeting will address tough subject
by Cameron Smith
Sexual abuse is a difficult subject for any parent to talk about with their children. But understanding how to prevent it, and how to heal from its horrors, is something that is important for everyone to know.
A special meeting, organized by a child abuse survivor, will be held at Draper City Hall in the City Council Chambers on Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. to help address that very issue for families.
“It is an issue that is very important for everyone to understand,” Preston Jensen, the organizer of the event, said. “Whether they are dealing with it themselves, or may know someone who is dealing with it, understanding what can be done is really key.”
Jensen, 32, said he was abused by the stepfather of a friend from the age of 8 to 13. He said his abuse was kept secret, and went unreported until later in life when he returned from a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“Nobody ever asked, or talked to me about it,” he said. “But realizing what had happened was the first step to recovering from it.”
Jensen currently works for the Utah Child Abuse Prevention Coalition. Events like this one in Draper, which was specifically requested by Jensen's uncle Mayor Darrell Smith, aim to decrease the stigma that victims may feel and help them to speak out about their abuse.
“We wanted to raise awareness about this situation for families and help people understand how prevalent this issue is,” Smith said. “Anytime you have someone who knows about this firsthand, it is a good opportunity to have them share and help improve the situation.”
“I don't want another person to go through what I went through,” Jensen said. “This topic has come a long ways, but it's still often kept very hush-hush.”
At the event, Jensen and his mother, Paula Jensen, will share their story with those in attendance. Draper City Police Department detectives and other city officials will be in attendance to discuss abuse prevention.
“It is a sensitive issue, but we want to make sure that this is something adults and children can come to and understand together,” Jensen said. “We don't go into a lot of uncomfortable specifics, and we definitely want as many people as possible to attend.”
As he shares his story in these meetings, Jensen said that his aim is always to help someone in the audience who might desperately need it.
“I always go into it with the mindset of wanting to help out that one person who may be suffering from abuse,” he said. “The message is that there is hope to end the abuse, recover and go on living a happy life.”
Francis faces big decisions on sex abuse
by John L. Allen Jr
Rome – Although Pope Francis has earned a reputation for taking on tough questions and shaking up the status quo, so far he's been relatively quiet on at least one issue that's arguably done greater harm to the image and morale of the church over the last decade than any other: the child sexual abuse scandals.
Even when the pontiff has had opportunities to express concern, he's sometimes let them pass by. For instance, there was no meeting with victims of abuse during his July 22-29 trip to Brazil, even though such encounters had become almost a routine feature of papal travel under Benedict XVI.
The activist group BishopAccountability.org recently asserted of Francis, “He has expressed solidarity with nearly every vulnerable population except for those who were sexually abused within the church.”
Neither have there been many substantive developments on the policy front. On July 11, Francis approved a revision to the laws of the Vatican City State adding crimes for sexual abuse of children, child prostitution, and possession of child pornography, but that merely codified changes already announced under Benedict.
Francis also has come under fire for his handling of the case of Polish Archbishop Josef Wesolowski, the former papal ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who was quietly relieved of his post on Aug. 21 following charges of sexual relations with underage boys.
No official explanation was offered by the Vatican, though a spokesman later confirmed that an investigation of Wesolowski is underway.
“Like all of his predecessors, Pope Francis is acting belatedly, secretively and recklessly,” said Barbara Dorris, outreach director for the US-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), at the time.
In other words, some critics charge that the “Francis revolution” – generally understood to mean a more transparent, accountable, and compassionate church – has not yet arrived vis-à-vis the abuse crisis.
Now, however, Francis faces some important decisions that will require him to face the issue head-on.
As reported yesterday by Andrea Tornielli for “Vatican Insider,” the pope used a consistory of cardinals on Sept. 30, called to approve an April 27 date for the canonizations of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, to also consult with cardinals about the idea of setting up national or regional church courts around the world to handle sex abuse cases.
At the moment, church law requires bishops to submit charges of abuse against clergy to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, which determines if there's sufficient basis to proceed. After its review, the congregation generally sends the case back to a local court, but those bodies sometimes lack the personnel and resources to handle them efficiently.
The idea behind national or regional tribunals would not only be to ensure that cases are processed swiftly, but also to enforce a uniform standard of justice, so that outcomes don't hinge on where the case originated.
If Francis makes creating such tribunals a priority, it would be read as a clear signal that he wants to fill the gaps in the church's response.
On a different front, as part of a larger discussion of Vatican re-organization currently underway, the question has arisen of where responsibility for adjudicating abuse cases ought to be located in Rome.
Pope John Paul II assigned that task to the Congregation for the Doctrine for the Faith in 2001, but some observers believe that was mostly an expedient in response to a crisis situation.
Some officials have floated the idea of creating an entirely new Vatican department dedicated to protection of children and vulnerable adults, which would not only process abuse cases but would have a broader mandate to promote “best practices” across the church.
Such a department, for example, might be tasked with developing a system for conducting background checks across national lines, so that when a priest transfers from one region of the world to another, the host diocese can feel confident that he's got a clean record.
At the other end of the spectrum, some have suggested that legal responsibility for processing abuse cases should be returned to one of the normal Vatican courts, most probably the Roman Rota.
Were that to happen, insiders might read it as downgrading the importance of the effort – not only because the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is generally seen as more consequential in terms of Vatican politics, but also because the Rota has a mixed reputation for efficiency in handling annulment cases.
What Francis decides, therefore, will be closely watched.
The pope will also likely to have to face the question of how to oversee the anti-abuse policies adopted by bishops' conferences around the world.
In 2011, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by American Cardinal William Levada, announced to great fanfare that it was setting a May 2012 deadline for all bishops' conferences to submit their guidelines to Rome for review.
A high-profile symposium was held at the Jesuit-run Gregorian University in February 2012, co-sponsored by several Vatican departments, to help bishops' conferences finish their work.
In the end, however, several conferences still missed the deadline – famously including the new pope's native Argentina. (The Argentinian bishops belatedly submitted a draft policy after the pope's election.)
In addition, because these policies tend to be long and highly technical, observers say they sometimes didn't get careful review in Rome. As a result, some reformers believe Francis needs to “reboot” the effort.
In a late July interview with NCR, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston said that Francis “probably needs to bring together the presidents of the bishops' conferences” to talk about the importance of having strong policies.
O'Malley also said that Francis needs to make sure conferences have the resources they need to get the work done, especially in parts of the world where conferences lack expertise on the issue, and also that the Vatican has adequate systems and personnel to ensure that review of the guidelines is serious.
O'Malley is a member of the “G8” council of cardinals currently meeting with Francis, and presumably has made these points directly to the pope. The drama now is what Francis will do with the advice.
One step already taken in that direction, according to some observers, may have been the Sept. 21 appointment of American Archbishop Augustine Di Noia as “adjunct secretary” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a new position.
Although Di Noia, a Dominican theologian, will likely have broad responsibility for shaping doctrinal policy, he also brings considerable experience on the abuse issue. It was during his time as under-secretary from 2002 to 2009 that the doctrinal congregation completed its investigation of the late Mexican Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, founder of the Legionaries of Christ, ordering him to “prayer and penance” on the basis of various charges of sexual abuse and misconduct.
Finally, there's the vexed question of what to do about bishops who fail to handle charges of abuse according to the church's official policies.
To date, Francis has not ordered any new accountability measures, nor has he openly removed a bishop for failure to act. Some read the Sept. 24 appointment of Bernard Hebda as coadjutor archbishop of Newark as an indirect rebuke to Archbishop John Myers for his handling of abuse cases, but both Myers and Hebda denied that interpretation in an interview with NCR.
Were Francis to take such a step, it too would be read as a powerful sign that he means business.
Justice system ‘a source of trauma' in sex crime cases
One in Four says it is unacceptable that many victims lack legal remedies
by Dan Keenan
It is not acceptable in a democracy that so many victims of serious sexual crime do not have access to a legal remedy or are so terrified of the criminal trial system that they chose not to make a complaint in the first place, the executive director of One in Four has said.
Maeve Lewis of the support organisation for victims of child sexual abuse was speaking ahead of today's publication of the organisation's 10th annual report.
She praised the record of the group, which had “helped thousands of survivors of child sexual abuse to transform their lives”.
But she added: “The criminal justice system continues to be a source of trauma and distress to our clients.”
“While accused persons must have the right to a fair trial, it is not acceptable in a democracy that so many victims of serious sexual crime do not have access to a legal remedy or are so terrified of the criminal trial system that they choose not to make a complaint in the first place.”
Looking over the organisation's first decade, Ms Lewis said One in Four could point with pride to a list of significant achievements.
The groups had “created a unique model of intervention working with survivors, their families and sex offenders” and had delivered 51,267 hours of counselling to adult survivors, she said.
The group had also guided more than 4,500 survivors through the criminal, civil and child protection systems, provided treatment to 101 sex offenders and supported 63 families affected by sexual violence.
Ms Lewis said One in Four had also helped establish statutory inquiries into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and was a force behind the introduction of an innovative restorative justice programme.
All such achievements had led to a rise in public awareness and a cultural shift whereby survivors were no longer ashamed to recount their experiences, she said.
“Many challenges remain, as the events of this week show,” she said
“At One in Four we notify all allegations of child sexual abuse to the HSE child protection services but many of these notifications are never investigated. Just because the sexual abuse happened in the past does not mean that the sex offender is no longer active and dangerous.”
She added: “We cannot be complacent . . . However, One in Four is delighted with our achievements to date and look forward with confidence to the challenges of the next decade.”
Mia Farrow's Daughter Shatters the Silence
by Shannon Walsh
Dylan, who now goes by a different name, has opened up about the child molestation allegations brought up against her adopted father, Woody Allen. In 1992, at seven years old, Dylan told her mother, Mia Farrow, that Allen had “touched her private part” and asked her mother if “her daddy ever did that to her”. Farrow videotaped Dylan speaking about the abuse and her accusations led to a court case that eventually was dropped in order to prevent Dylan from testifying.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dylan discusses what she remembers and how Allen's behavior and actions have traumatized her, to the point where she can no longer say his name. The childhood sexual abuse that she endured in the attic was her breaking point .
“There's a lot I don't remember, but what happened in the attic I remember…The things making me uncomfortable were making me think I was a bad kid, because I didn't want to do what my elder told me to do. For all I knew, this was how fathers treated their daughters. This was a normal interaction, and I was not normal for feeling uncomfortable about it,” she stated.
Victims of childhood sexual abuse often feel how Dylan has felt, and suffer from immeasurable pain and intense feelings of guilt, fear, and shame. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , adult retrospective studies show that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused before the age of eighteen, which means that there are more than 42 million adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the United States.
Childhood sexual abuse can also have a devastating impact on others. Farrow's son, Fletcher Previn, even eliminated Allen from all of the family photos and videos, and briefly discussed the effects that these traumas had on the entire family.
In one of her last statements, Dylan commented, “I have never been asked to testify. If I could talk to the seven-year old Dylan, I would tell her to be brave, to testify.”
To learn more about the long-term effects of sexual abuse, you may click here.
Pa. appeals court: No new trial for Jerry Sandusky
by MARK SCOLFORO
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky should not get a new trial after being convicted of sexually abusing 10 boys, a state appeals court ruled Wednesday.
The unanimous decision by a three-judge Superior Court panel came barely two weeks after they heard oral arguments by Sandusky's lawyer and a state prosecutor.
Defense lawyer Norris Gelman said he planned to ask the state Supreme Court to review the case.
Sandusky had argued his trial lawyers did not have sufficient time to prepare, a prosecutor made improper references to him not testifying on his own behalf and the judge mishandled two jury instructions.
The opinion by Judge Jack Panella said that trial judges have discretion about whether to allow pretrial delays and that in Sandusky's case the judge carefully considered the continuance requests.
"The decision does not reflect a myopic insistence upon expeditiousness in the face of Sandusky's request; it was not an arbitrary denial," Panella wrote.
Sandusky had wanted the trial judge, John Cleland, to give jurors an instruction about the amount of time it took for nearly all of the accusers to report their allegations. Panella wrote that Cleland should have evaluated the need for such a jury instruction based on each accuser's age and maturity but Cleland's failure to do so did not harm Sandusky.
"The trial court specifically instructed the jury that they were to consider any possible motives of the victims in coming forward," Panella wrote. "The vigorous cross-examination of the victims and arguments by defense counsel, when combined with the trial court's instructions on credibility, clearly defined the issues for the jury."
The issue related to Sandusky not testifying was not properly preserved for appeals court review, Panella wrote.
The appeals court also turned down another jury instruction claim, related to weighing a defendant's good character against the allegations.
A spokesman for the attorney general's office said the decision affirmed prosecutors' position about the strength and weight of the evidence against Sandusky.
Sandusky, 69, is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence at a state prison in southwestern Pennsylvania. If he does not get the convictions overturned, he is likely to die in prison.
Jimmy Savile: Rape Crisis Reports 40% Rise in Calls in Wake of Sex Scandal
by Ewan Palmer
A rape helpline charity has registered a 40% increase in calls for help in the year since the Jimmy Savile sex scandal broke.
Rape Crisis for England and Wales, a sexual violence charity for woman and girls, said that its national helpline had received 78,000 calls since October 2012, compared with 55,000 with the previous year.
Local Rape Crisis centres across the country reported a similar increase in the use of their services over the past year, the charity said.
Allegations about the former Top of the Pops presenter were first aired on ITV. The documentary, Exposure: The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, featured accounts of five woman who said they were sexually assaulted by Savile, who died in 2011 aged 84.
The documentary triggered more women to come forward to claim they were abused by Savile.
Following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police and the NSPCC, there are now 214 recorded criminal offences lodged against Savile across 28 police forces, including 34 cases of rape and 126 indecent assaults between 1955 and 2009.
Rape Crisis spokeswoman Katie Russell, said: "Shocking as the revelations of the last year have been, they've reinforced what we within the Rape Crisis movement have learnt through our 40 years' experience of providing specialist support to women and girls - that sexual violence sadly happens a lot more than most people think and that the impact on the survivor can be devastating and lifelong.
"Over 60% of those who use Rape Crisis services come to us because of events that took place three years or more ago, and many are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One positive outcome of the last year is that so many of these survivors have at last been heard, recognised, believed, and given the confidence to seek support, often for the very first time."
The figures from Rape Crisis also reflect similar reports of rise in sexual abuse calls to charities and police.
In August, children's charity NSPCC said it had there had been an 84% increase in calls to its advice helpline between June and July compared to the same period in 2012.
Figures obtained by BBC Radio 5 Live also showed that the number of sexual offences obtained by police rose by 9% after the Savile revelations emerged.
Russell added: "We know from this frontline work how difficult it can be for those raped and sexually abused as children to seek help at the time.
"This is reflected in the fact that 450 survivors have reported Savile since his death, while only four felt able to during his lifetime."
Joint Home Office, Ministry of Justice and Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released in January 2013 estimated that over 85,000 women are raped and over 400,000 are sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year. Only around 15% are reported to the police.
Center supports families traumatized by child sexual abuse
by Scott Aiken
ST. JOSEPH — The disclosure by Ann's 7-year-old son that he had been sexually abused by a relative came as a devastating shock to her.
Within a short time the Berrien County woman's teenage daughter also revealed that she had been sexually assaulted for years.
The children's father, Ann's ex-husband, was later charged with abusing both, found guilty in a trial and sentenced in December to a long prison term.
“Looking back now, I can see the signs that were there,” Ann said. “It was more devastating because I didn't ask my children a lot of questions.”
Initially afraid and uncertain of the legal process after the sexual assault revelations were made, Ann came to count on support and counseling from the Children's Assessment Center (CAC) of Berrien County.
The center in Royalton Township played an important role during the police investigation, doing forensic interviews with the children to help authorities determine if the sexual assaults had occurred.
Later, the center's therapists provided free counseling to Ann and her children, helping them work through the traumatic events and bring normalcy to their lives.
Ann said she got an important bit of encouragement from a therapist at a terrible moment early in the process — immediately after her son disclosed facts to an interviewer about the sexual abuse he had endured.
“She said someday this won't be the only thing you think about,” Ann said. “This won't dominate.”
“I was thinking there's no way, I'd never get past this.”
But after a few months, with support and counseling, the trauma subsided.
“I thought, OK, we can think about soccer practice,” she said.
And after six months, Ann said, “it wasn't consuming us anymore,”though she feels there's still a way to go.
“They were incredibly kind to me,” she said.
The case is one of more than 500 in 2012 in which the CAC interviewed children to determine if they were sexual assault victims.
Operated by the Berrien County Council for Children, the center coordinates the work of police, the prosecutor's office, the Michigan Department of Human Services and others responsible for investigating child sexual abuse.
The facility, a remodeled school along M-139, serves children ages 2-18. The aim is to assist law enforcement while reducing the trauma on children.
Crisis and ongoing counseling are provided to young victims and members of their families who are not abusers. The CAC coordinates case reviews of every child seen at the center. Cases are tracked through an investigation and prosecution until final disposition.
The National Children's Alliance has accredited the center and does periodic reviews.
One of the most important parts of the work is doing forensic interviewing with children who may have been sexually abused. The interviewing technique, which requires training, poses questions in a friendly but unemotional way, one that does not suggest answers.
The interview is one on one and conducted in a pleasant room with decorations appropriate for the child's age.
While the interview takes place, a police officer, prosecutor and DHS employee watch through one-way glass. They can communicate with the interviewer, who wears a small headset, sometimes suggesting a question.
“We're looking for a lot of detail,” said Barbara Welke, recently retired CAC director and a forensic interviewer. “You're not supporting anything but encouraging to give detail.”
Typically, 90 minutes is set aside for the interview. Afterward, the police officer, prosecutor and DHS worker who were present meet with the child's parent.
Children disclose that they were sexually abused in about half of the cases, and the majority of those result in prosecution.
In some cases abuse may have occurred, although a child does not disclose what happened or tells only some of it, not enough information to bring charges.
In other cases, suspicions of abuse are shown to be unfounded, occasionally initiated by a vindictive spouse in the context of divorce or custody proceedings.
The forensic interview process has come into use to replace a problem-prone method that relied on multiple interviews.
Under that system, a child would sometimes be interviewed three or four times as a case proceeded from police to the prosecutor's office and through the court system.
Interviews might take place in a police station or in the home where the suspected perpetrator was nearby. The multiple interviews tended to add to a child's trauma or leave the impression that nobody believed him or her.
In the forensic interview the child is encouraged to do most of the talking.
“It may be the first time an adult has listened to them,” Welke said.
With the police and others watching and listening from another room, all get the same information at the same time, and rarely there is a need for a second interview.
Therapy is another key element of the Council for Children's program, said Brooke Rospierski, a forensic interviewer and therapist. The service may continue for a long period of time.
“There's no fee, no time line, no insurance companies to deal with,” she said, which can relieve some of the family stress.
During 2012, the CAC conducted 526 forensic interviews, up from 476 in 2011 and 463 in 2010. The numbers were 372 in 2009; 330 in 2008; and 338 in 2007.
Therapy sessions also are on the increase. There were 552 in 2012, compared with 398 in 2011; 384 in 2010; 292 in 2009; 244 in 2008; and 326 in 2007.
The center sometimes interviews children who may be victims of physical abuse or neglect.
Child sex abuse victims come from all ethnic groups and economic backgrounds. In 2012 a large percentage of the suspected abusers were parents, stepparents, boyfriends or girlfriends of a parent, other relatives or others known to the victim.
About 26 children's assessment centers operate in Michigan, which means not every county has one. The Berrien County CAC also serves children in Van Buren and Cass counties.
A step forward
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said development of the CAC, which opened in a different building in 2002, has meant better outcomes in investigations of child sexual abuse.
But the incidence of such abuse does not seem to be declining.
“I think we're getting better at prosecuting them,” Sepic said. “I don't think it's stopping.”
Accurately determining the number of cases is not possible because so many sexual assaults on children go unreported.
The nonprofit organization Darkness to Light says studies suggest that 10.7 percent to 17.4 percent of girls are sexually abused, while the rate for boys is 3.8 percent to 4.6 percent. The organization's goal is to reduce the incidences of child sexual abuse through awareness and education.
Nationally, about one in 10 children are abused before they turn 18, according to Darkness to Light.
A 2005 study by London, Bruck and Cici found that 60-70 percent of adult survivors of child sexual abuse do not recall ever disclosing to anyone about the abuse when they were children. Of those who did tell as a child, only 10-18 percent remember their cases ever being reported to authorities.
“We only see the tip of the iceberg,” Welke said.
Studies by David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, maintain that one in five girls, and one in 20 boys, have been sexually abused.
Over a one-year period in the U.S., 16 percent of children ages 14-17 had been sexually abused, one of the center's studies shows.
Assistant Berrien County Prosecutor Patricia Ceresa says children who have been abused sometimes come forward to prevent the same thing from happening to a sibling.
In one case, a 13-year-old girl reported how she had been abused only when it seemed to her that a younger sister was about to become a target. A family member was prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison.
A new approach
The Children's Assessment Center of Berrien County went into operation as the result of a committee's work to find better ways to investigate and prosecute child sex abuse cases. The CAC moved into its present building in 2005.
Sepic, who helped get the ball rolling, said changes were sorely needed in the interview process — which was not child-friendly — to help victims.
The committee decided to set up a center using forensic interviewing, a technique which had been around for almost 15 years at the time, Sepic said.
At first, some police officers who had training in victim interviewing were skeptical. Then, the Benton Harbor and Benton Township police departments started using the professional interviewers and liked the results.
From that point on, Sepic said, “it just sort of blossomed.”
A protocol on child sex abuse investigations developed by law enforcement, the Michigan Department of Human Services and the prosecutor's office requires that the CAC interview alleged victims who are under 13.
Lincoln Township Chief of Police Dan Sullivan, who worked as a detective when the center opened, said it has solid support among law enforcement agencies.
“This allows us to have an independent, professional person with no bias in the case, other than concern for the children, to do the interview,” he said. That way, police investigators do not inadvertently cause mistakes that could affect the outcome of a case.
“We don't want to mislead or ask leading questions of children,” Sullivan said. “They are trained to do it. They're trained interviewers.”
Defense lawyers also support the center, Ceresa said, because the forensic interview process reveals cases that are groundless.
“It really filters those out,” she said.
After eight years of operation in its current building, the CAC has run out of room.
“It's getting crowded in there,” said Ceresa, also president of the Council for Children.
The CAC is the council's largest program. The council is an umbrella organization that works to reduce child sexual abuse through prevention, assessment and intervention. Plans are being developed to provide additional space for therapists and to have separate waiting rooms for people whose children are there for interviews and others getting counseling.
The building now being used has one waiting room, and it can be a busy, confusing place. There is no debriefing area for parents waiting for the outcome of a child's interview.
“We tell the parent the worst thing that's ever happened to their kid,” Executive Director Jamie Rossow said, then send them back to the waiting room.
The nine staff members work in tight quarters, cubicles with no locked space for records and other documents. The employees include two interviewers, two therapists, two family advocates and a front-desk, child-care person.
Officials are developing plans for expansion, either an addition to the current building or, if need be, a building somewhere else.
Ceresa said the organization has managed its finances well over the years and should be able to expand.
The center's annual budget is $425,000. In addition to government support, the center receives funding from several foundations and other organizations.
Funding sources are: Crime Victims Services, through the state Victims of Crime Act; the Michigan Department of Human Services; Berrien County prosecutor's office; United Way of Southwest Michigan; Children's Trust Fund; National Children's Alliance; Upton Foundation; Berrien Community Foundation and individual donors.
Colorado teen pleads guilty in killing of school girl
by Colleen Slevin
GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — A Colorado teen charged with kidnapping and killing a 10-year-old girl pleaded guilty Tuesday to all 22 charges against him, against the advice of his attorneys.
Austin Sigg, 18, could be sent to prison for the rest of his life for the October 2012 slaying of Jessica Ridgeway in Westminster. Jessica was abducted while walking to school, and her disappearance panicked thousands of residents in Denver's western suburbs.
Sigg also pleaded guilty Tuesday to a May 2012 attack on a 22-year-old jogger at a lake in Jessica's neighborhood.
Prosecutors said Sigg entered the pleas because of overwhelming evidence against him. His trial would have started Thursday.
“The writing was on the wall,” Jefferson County District Attorney Peter Weir said after the hearing.
Sigg faces a minimum sentence of 40 years in prison with the possibility of parole when he is sentenced Nov. 8. Prosecutors asked Judge Stephen Munsinger to impose consecutive sentences so Sigg spends the rest of his life behind bars.
Sigg cannot face the death penalty because he was 17 at the time of the slaying.
“In this case, there has been justice for Jessica,” Weir said.
Defense attorney Mitch Ahnstedt told the court that Sigg was entering the pleas against his lawyers' counsel.
The families of both Jessica and Sigg were in the courtroom Tuesday. Sigg spoke only to answer the judge's questions about whether he understood what he was agreeing to.
As a prosecutor started to describe how Sigg grabbed Jessica and pulled her into his car, Jessica's mother, Sarah Ridgeway, left the courtroom. Defense attorneys asked the prosecutor to stop, saying Sigg already had pleaded guilty.
Sigg's pleas came two days before he was to stand trial.
Jessica, a fifth-grader, left home to walk to school in Westminster on Oct. 5, 2012. She never arrived.
Hundreds of people helped search for her. Jessica's backpack was found two days later in Superior, a town about 6 miles from her home. Days after that, human remains later identified as Jessica's were found in a park.
Authorities, meanwhile, urged residents to watch for any suspicious changes in neighbors' behavior. Officers guarded crosswalks and photographed cars in the area. Parents escorted their children to and from area schools. Mailboxes and trees were encircled by ribbons in Jessica's favorite color, purple.
On Oct. 19, 2012, a resident contacted authorities to alert them to Sigg because he reportedly had a fascination with death, Westminster police Detective Luis Lopez testified at a preliminary hearing. FBI agents took a DNA sample from Sigg.
On Oct. 23, Sigg's mother, Mindy Sigg, called 911, saying her son wanted to confess.
Investigators said Sigg told them some of Jessica's remains were hidden in a crawl space in his mother's home, where he lived. They said Sigg described how he abducted Jessica as she walked past his car. He said he bound her arms and her legs, drove around for a little bit, then took her to his house.
There, he told investigators, Sigg tried to strangle the girl and then used his hands to kill her. He also allegedly told investigators that he dismembered Jessica in a bathtub.
Lopez said Sigg's DNA was found on Jessica's clothing.
Sigg dropped out of high school after the 11th grade and later earned a graduate equivalency diploma. Former classmates say he was intelligent but complained about school and was bullied for having a high voice.
When asked about his criminal record on the 911 call, Sigg told the dispatcher: “The only other thing that I have done was the Ketner Lake incident where the woman got attacked. That was me.”
In the attack on the jogger, investigator Michael Lynch testified that Sigg used homemade chloroform to attempt to subdue the woman. She escaped.
Crockett's Kalin's Center takes fight against child abuse on the road
by Caleb Beames
CROCKETT, TX (KTRE) - It is challenging for Crockett's Kalin's Center to cover child abuse cases in two counties, spanning almost 2,000 square miles.
Now, it might be a little easier.
Director Debbie McCall says she has worked hard to get Kalin's Center to where it is now.
"Our goal [is to] help law enforcement and prosecution to help take care of those bad guys," Mccall said.
The center will now be able to cover the two county area a little better after receiving a grant to pay for a new mobile forensic investigation kit.
The mobile forensic investigation equipment will allow the center to reach victims in the far reaches of Houston and Trinity County.
"I would say a good half [of our victims], we have had to get here and that is not just for the interview," McCall said. "It is also for court. It's state of the art. It's higher technology then what we have right now."
The equipment will allow the center and law enforcement to go to victims and keep privacy their number one goal.
"Before we were paying for their gas or paying for someone to bring them, or getting law enforcement or cps to bring them to us, and now we can go to them," McCall said.
Over the last several years, the center's case load has grown, causing the need for a brand new building and this new mobile equipment.
"We have really nice equipment here, but it's not digital, and this is all digital," McCall said.
McCall said that as the cases grow she and her staff are ready to bring justice thanks to this new technology and that the center will be able to loan it out to any other child advocacy group that needs help, meaning that they are also able to help even more counties with this equipment.
Man sentenced to 69 years to life in child molestation case
OROVILLE — A 50-year-old man was sentenced to nearly 70 years to life in state prison for molesting a girl when she was 8 to 9 years old.
Butte County Superior Court Judge Tamara Mosbarger handed down the upper-term sentence of 69 years to life Tuesday on Bryan Scott Owen for a felony count of continuous sexual abuse of a female under 10 years old, according to deputy district attorney Stacy Edwards.
A jury convicted Owen of the count following a trial in May. The judge determined several special allegations to be true, including prior strikes and prior prison terms. The prior strikes stem from Owens' pleading no contest to four felony counts of committing lewd acts upon two females, then ages 5 and 6, in the 1990s.
Owens' primary sentence of 16 years was tripled to 48 years to life due to the prior strikes, Edwards said. The special allegations added 21 additional years in enhancements.
The girl in the current case testified Owen molested her when her mother wasn't present at the mother's Oroville residence. The two females from the earlier cases testified at trial that Owen also molested them when their mother wasn't present.
Owen testified in his own defense at trial. He said he pleaded to the earlier cases because he takes responsibility for his actions, but claimed the girl's allegations in the current case were lies.
The defendant said he wasn't attracted to children and denied engaging in acts such as exposing himself, contacting her genitals or having her contact his genitals.
The defendant is in custody at Butte County Jail.
How to defend yourself in a domestic violence situation
by Parella Lewis
SEATTLE — According to national statistics, one in four women has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime, and last year 53 deaths in Washington state were a direct result of domestic violence, according to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“Your No. 1 risk for assault if you're a female in America – your No. 1 risk for violence — is from a current or former intimate partner,” Joanne Factor said.
Factor is a self-defense instructor who owns Strategic Living Seattle, but she teaches more than just how to fight off an attacker.
“First, I will start off with physical skills and then I'll begin segueing into things like acquaintance rape and sexual assault. Then I'll work on different ploys and manipulations that people use and then onto domestic violence, dating violence,” she said.
Factor said that teaching self-defense for “stranger danger” is a lot easier than instructing women on how to engage someone they're know.
“Once you get into intimate partners, it becomes more dicey,” she said. “When you're dealing with a stranger or an acquaintance, the attacker is not necessarily committed to you as the target however, once you're in that intimate relationship, that changes completely. ”She also warned that makes things more dangerous.
“What we try to tell women in abusive relationships is if it looks like it's going to get physical, try to protect your head. Try to protect your brain and your eyes and stuff like that. If it looks like it's going to get physical try to be in a room with less hard surfaces.”
But in a life or death situation, fighting back may be your only option.
“OK, so you're trying to strangle me — what I'm going to do is bring one hand over, one hand under, foot up and then throw you off,” she said.
And using your body weight against the attacker is key during a struggle.
“I'm going to bring my arms up, I'm going to take a step back with one foot and I'm going to drop my body weight,” Factor said. “And it's not just using my arms, notice that I'm doing my full body weight.”
Using your voice is also a great way to disarm an attacker and adds strength to your strike.
“Use your voice really loud, really strong. It increases your adrenaline level and it also — by tightening your abs and doing a nice exhale — it makes that palm heel stronger,” Factor said.
But she adds that the most important part of self-defense is knowing the warning signs ahead of time and walking away.
“You should be able to live the life you want to live. And you should be able to recognize when somebody else means to control you, and you have the right to tell those people, ‘No'.”
The paedophile hunters: Extraordinary women who work in specialist police unit which tracks down internet predators
Last year there were 19,000 reports relating to child sex abuse online: YOU is granted rare access to the specialist policing unit hunting down internet predators
by CATHERINE O' BRIEN
Rosie Atwal's desk contains a half-drunk cup of tea, an as-yet (because it is only 10am) unopened packet of biscuits and a Crayola-etched picture with the words ‘I love you Auntie Rosie' pinned behind her in-tray.
It sits among a bank of six in an ordinary open-plan office, but the conversations Rosie conducts here and the material she views on her computer screen are more alarming and distressing than a ny you are likely to hear or see elsewhere in Britain.
Take, for example, the information she found herself digesting within five minutes of arriving for work this morning.
‘We've got a new case that has come in overnight,' she says. ‘The offender has been inciting and blackmailing children as young as 11. He lives overseas, but we know from his chat on a social-networking site that he has severely abused at least one UK victim, and our experience tells us that there are likely to be hundreds more. That's going to have a big impact on my team today.'
How to protect your child online
Many illegal images of children originate overseas but with the growing number of children now living their lives online, every child is potentially at risk. Ceop, has a prevention strategy through its educational programme, Thinkuknow. It offers the following tips:
= Be involved in your child's online life. For many of today's young people there is no barrier between the online and offline worlds.
= Talk to them about what they're doing – if they know you understand they are more likely to approach you if they need support.
= Watch Thinkuknow films to learn more. The programme has videos and advice for children from five to 16. Your child may have seen these at school, but they can also be a good tool for you to find out more about what young people do online and some of the risks.
= Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world. Think about what they might see, what they share, who they talk to and how long they spend online. It is important to continue to discuss boundaries so that they evolve as your child's use of technology does.
= Know what connects to the internet and how. Nowadays you can go online via your TV. Your child will use all sorts of devices and gadgets; make sure you're aware of which ones can connect to the internet, such as their phone or games console. Also, find out how they are accessing the internet – is it your connection or a neighbour's wifi? This will affect whether your safety settings are being applied.
= Consider the use of parental controls. They are not the answer to your child's online safety, but they are a good start and are not as difficult to install as you might think. Service providers are working hard to make them simple, effective and user-friendly.
= Emphasise that not everyone is who they say they are. Make sure your child understands that they should never meet up with anyone they only know online without taking a trusted adult with them. thinkuknow.co.uk
Rosie works for Ceop – the Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre. Based in a discreet but fortified Central London office block, she is part of a tight-knit unit with a global reach tracking down and bringing to justice the perpetrators of child sex abuse via the internet.
‘People say to me that working here sounds like MI5, and it is a bit,' says Rosie. ‘But the difference is that at the heart of every decision I make, there is a vulnerable child at risk of abuse.'
Just how vulnerable children and young people can be to internet predators was tragically highlighted this summer by the suicide of 17-year-old apprentice mechanic Daniel Perry from Dunfermline, Fife.
Thinking that he was talking to an American girl his own age, Daniel was filmed on Skype engaged in an undisclosed sexual indiscretion. He jumped to his death from the Forth Road Bridge after blackmailers threatened to make the footage public.
Shocking statistics just released show that 184 children have been victims of online sexual blackmail in the past two years. One known case involves Paul Wilson, a nursery worker from Birmingham, is currently serving a minimum 13-and-a-half-year jail term for two counts of raping a toddler, but he also admitted 45 offences related to internet grooming and the distribution of indecent images. Wilson, 23, created 23 fake online profiles and pretended to be a child-abuse victim himself.
He encouraged children to send pictures and movies of their abuse to him, and then used the material to blackmail them into making more extreme images for his own use, under threat of exposing the original material to their family and friends – including everyone on their email list. He was caught only after one of his blackmail victims reported him to the police.
A recent study revealed that a deadly combination of factors – namely that almost two thirds of 12- to 15-year-olds now own a smartphone while many of their parents remain naive about what they are up to online – is making youngsters ever more susceptible to online grooming by child sex offenders.
Last year, Ceop received almost 19,000 reports relating to child sex abuse (a child is classed as anyone under 18), an increase of 14 per cent. Its investigations led to the arrest of 192 suspects and the safeguarding and protecting of 790 victims. Its task is to provide a safety net for a generation of children who view the internet as their playground – and to bring to justice the offenders who seek to exploit that.
The government agency is police-led. Alongside Rosie sits the operations manager whose job it is to collate evidence for prosecutions and manage live operations. Behind her is a windowless room accessible only to covert operators adopting online aliases as paedophiles or naive youngsters in order to identify offenders. Nearby, another secure room is given over to victim identification experts whose days are spent combing through harrowing images for clues – items of branded clothing, a magazine with a date, an envelope with an address – that might lead to the rescue of children and the arrest of abusers.
Rosie, however, is not a trained detective. She is a social worker and her presence here underpins how Ceop works. ‘Child sex abuse is criminal, but Ceop's work is not just about crime. It's also about protecting and safeguarding children, and my job is to ensure that we do that to the best of our ability,' she says.
As Ceop's child protection manager, Rosie heads a team of eight social workers seconded from the National Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). They are embedded in every team and are often deployed worldwide to help investigators assess risk factors and analyse intelligence.
Back in London, one of their main tasks is to work within Ceop's ‘front door', handling referrals that come in daily from frightened children who have pressed the Click Ceop button on Facebook or one of the 1,700 other websites that carry the safety link. (The Click Ceop button takes users to a help and advice centre with an online reporting system – it is publicised through Ceop's education programme, Thinkuknow, which reaches on average 2.5 million primary and secondary school children each year through the training of teachers in online safety and through talks given in schools.)
Among those on the referrals desk today are Lucy Field, 31, and Cheryl Dennett, 33, both social workers with several years of experience in child protection. They tell me about a recent case they have been working on. A 13-year-old girl, who we'll call Louise, emailed: ‘I met someone online and he said he was 17 but I don't know if that's true. We got chatting and he asked me to go on cam. He wanted me to take my top off and, stupidly, I did it. Now he's threatening to put the pictures on Facebook if I don't do other stuff.'
‘One of the key trends we are seeing is the escalation in abuse through webcams,' says Cheryl. ‘The pattern begins as a friendly interaction. The abuser poses as a teenager and dares them to do something or makes the undressing seem like part of a game. But once even the most innocuous photograph is in the abuser's possession, things spiral out of control.'
Offenders are often careful to hide their own identity – usually by claiming their own webcam is broken, which allows them to see their victim while the victim has no way of seeing them. A common ploy of abusers is to elicit indecent images and if their victim doesn't then comply with increasingly depraved demands, they create a Facebook page in the child's name – thereby exposing them to all their family and friends.
‘The greatest fear of almost every child is that they are going to be in trouble with their parents,' says Lucy. ‘They've posed for the pictures, so they blame themselves and unfortunately the first reaction of some parents is to be angry.'
For this reason, after careful assessment of each case, Ceop sometimes decides not to contact parents directly in the first instance. ‘It's just too alarming to have someone call and say: “I am from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre and I am ringing about your son/daughter…”' says Cheryl.
Instead, they will speak to the child's school, where a designated child protection teacher can explain face to face to parents that there is only one person responsible for what has happened – the abuser not their child. The local police force can then step in, as they have just done in the case of Louise. Her 17-year-old Facebook friend turned out to be a 35-year-old registered sex offender who was soliciting multiple children. He is now in custody.
Every year, more than a thousand of the reports that come into Ceop are classified as urgent because the children involved are at immediate risk of harm – maybe because they are planning to meet a suspect, or because they are living with their abuser, or because they are so distressed that they are threatening suicide.
Such cries for help create heart-stopping moments for the child protection team. ‘But,' says Rosie, ‘one of the most remarkable things about Ceop is that we really can make a difference. We can be given a picture of a child and know that before we go home that child could be identified and someone from the local police force or children's services could knock on his or her door and make him or her safe. That little bit of magic that Ceop achieves is a massive motivator in this job.'
It is also a deserved reward for a team that works alongside others in assessing the relentless tide of images of children being abused, degraded and sometimes raped and tortured. The international investigation to which Rosie was alerted when she arrived for work today is one of ten that her team is currently juggling. ‘I've been told that the data coming in includes thousands of still and moving images and we will have to risk-assess each one of them. When this happens, it is all hands on deck – I don't ask my team to do something unless I am prepared to do it, too.'
For law enforcement purposes, images are graded from levels one to five – a level one image might show a child in an provocative pose, level two might be two children touching each other inappropriately, level three will involve non-penetrative sexual activity between adults and children, levels four and five will involve penetration and elements of sadism.
A report from the Internet Watch Foundation – a safeguarding charity set up by the internet industry – revealed that the number of level four and five images being uncovered has recently increased by 7.6 per cent. Several studies have established that those who commit child sex crimes often also harbour indecent images of children. Both Mark Bridger, the killer of April Jones, and Stuart Hazell, Tia Sharp's murderer, were found to have been accessing sickening material – of which there is no shortage.
A pre-internet 1990 Home Office study estimated that the number of illegal images of children in circulation stood at 7,000. Today, police are reporting seizures of up to 2.5 million in a single investigation. Ceop intelligence reveals that between 50,000 and 60,000 people are viewing and exchanging these images in the UK.
All those who work in Ceop's child protection team have frontline experience of working with and investigating child abuse. Rosie, 43, can still recall the first time she knocked on a family's front door almost 20 years ago to remove a girl of nine and boy of seven who were being abused by their father.
‘I have spent years interviewing children, gaining their trust and listening to their stories of abuse, but hearing someone's experience of sex abuse and seeing the explicit images of what has happened to them is very different,' she says. ‘Everyone here has an image in their head that they will never be able to erase,' says Cheryl. ‘We deal with that by reminding ourselves that our distress in viewing those images is nothing compared with what that child has been through.'
One of the misconceptions that Ceop is determined to dispel is the notion that online sex abuse has less of an impact than contact abuse. ‘Sex abuse is abuse regardless of where or how it occurred,' says Rosie. ‘The impact is the same, and possibly worse, because once an image is out there, it can never be retrieved.
'Victims ask us, “Can you just get the pictures taken off the internet?” And sadly, the answer is that we can't. They have to live with the knowledge that their image will always be out there, that someone could be viewing them right now. Each time an image is reviewed, the child in it is re-victimised and the impact is ongoing.'
Victims can be helped to recover, however, with the right help and support from professionals and parents.
To restrict re-victimisation within Ceop – and to protect staff who don't need to be exposed to indecent images – each computer monitor is fitted with a light-absorbent cover which allows only the person in front of the terminal to view the screen.
Ceop employees have mandatory three-monthly counselling sessions, but the camaraderie between colleagues is probably their greatest coping mechanism. ‘I love working here, but sometimes, if I am having a bad day, I hate it, too, and I can be stubborn and obnoxious because this is a job you can never take lightly,' says Rosie.
‘But there is always someone ready to catch your eye and check that you are OK. Every so often, a message will go out saying, “Pub tonight?” and we'll have some banter and a laugh. Our work is hard-hitting and I am tough, but the day I stop feeling emotional about what I am doing will be the day I stop.'
Recognize what they are: Excuses
by Malinda Williams
By now readers of this column know that battering crosses all economic, educational, ethnic, sexual orientation, age, and racial lines in equal proportions. There is no “typical” victim.
While this is also true of offenders of sexual and domestic violence, there is a striking similarity in the excuses offenders use to justify their personal choice to commit violence.
In listening to offenders talk while they were being interviewed by police or protective services, or in court settings, or batterer's intervention program groups, I've noticed they are all very good at making excuses, using the same type phrases over and over. They blame their abusive behavior on everything and everyone else, most often the targets of their abuse, their victims. “She (the victim) …
… is bipolar and un-medicated,”
… is a liar, selfish, and manipulative,” or
… is emotionally abusive.”
From minimizing, or denying, to even justifying why it's the victim's fault:
I had to head butt her to just get her off of me.
She was hitting me and I had to push her to make her stop.
We were arguing and she ended up on the floor. (No acknowledgment of how.)
She hits (or strangles) herself to get me into trouble.
I was holding her away from me when she passed out.
She tripped and when I was trying to catch her, I only caught her by her hair.
Offenders will often use other people as excuses to further close their circle of control and justify their bad behavior choices:
Accusing the victim's friends and family as “causing trouble” to further isolate the victim.
Acting easily insulted or hurt to take the defensive mode and blow up over minor situations.
Blame and manipulate others by saying things such as, “You know that makes me mad,” or “You always do this…”
An abuser may admit to hitting other partners in the past but will still use reasons why that victim “asked for it.”
Because someone is tired, stressed, angry, upset about losing a job, worried about expenses, or their partner made a mistake, came home late, or disagreed with them is not a cause of abuse.
Batterers are not abusive because they are mentally ill, have anger problems, are poor communicators, insecure, jealous, or use drugs or alcohol. These things may contribute to the batterer's violence or make it worse or more explosive, but they do not cause the violence.
It doesn't matter what someone says or how they act, passive or assertive, it doesn't warrant or provoke violence. It is wrong to say offenders' batter in response to another's behavior.
Domestic violence, including child abuse, is designed to gain, re-gain, maintain, or show control over another. The decision to strike out physically, sexually, emotionally, or verbally is the choice of the offender. People disagree; it doesn't mean someone deserves to be hurt.
It wasn't many years ago when, as a community, we tolerated drunk driving. Today we would never say anyone else was responsible for the drunk driver's actions. We understand someone made a choice to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Batterers are unlikely to change or stop their violence — not until they recognize they have a problem. And this will not happen if blaming the victim is acceptable in our community. Believing that someone provoked the batterer means support for the abuser and the excuses used. A person's hurtful words and actions are their own choice — there is always a choice.
Child abuse prevention program launches in rural Colorado
by Jennifer Brown and Jordan Steffen
Parenting coaches will visit at-risk families under a new program announced Monday aimed at preventing child abuse and neglect throughout Colorado.
Families referred to child protective services for suspected abuse or neglect can participate in the program, called SafeCare. Doctors, public health officials and schools also can refer families to the program, which is voluntary.
Families whose allegations of neglect are screened out by county child welfare departments can take part in SafeCare as a best option to keep protective services from appearing again, said Katherine Casillas, director of SafeCare Colorado.
The program, funded by a budget approved by the Legislature this year, will begin in 15 counties and within three years expand to the entire state. It is a major part of state reforms announced in the past year following a 2012 Denver Post/9News investigation that found more than 40 percent of children who die of abuse or neglect came from families known to child protective workers before their deaths.
"So many communities in the state do not have the resources to intervene with at-risk families early on," said Reggie Bicha, executive director of the Colorado Department of Human Services. "This new program, which is going to be available in October, will be in communities that have never had these types of services before."
In its first year, the program could work with as many as 600 families in 15 rural counties and the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain tribes. Once the program is implemented in all 64 counties, it could help as many as 1,800 families per year, Bicha said.
The legislature approved $1.9 million for the program's first year. Similar budgets were approved for the following two years.
"My goal is to get to every kid in the state regardless of where they live," Bicha said.
State officials have proceeded with reforms at "breakneck pace compared to usual policy change," said Des Runyan, executive director of the The Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect. Runyan advised state Department of Human Services officials last year to put SafeCare in all Colorado counties.
As a physician, Runyan said, he has had some parents say their child "is mean" or "doesn't like them," and they were talking about infants.
The 18-week program teaches such parenting skills such as how to deal with a toddler's tantrum, when to see a doctor and what behavior to expect from kids under age 5, the most common age for child death by abuse or neglect. In Oklahoma, researchers found a 26 percent reduction in new reports to child welfare in families who participated in SafeCare. Certain families in Oklahoma are required to participate; in Colorado, the program is voluntary.
One SafeCare program has existed in Denver for about three years through the court system.
Local bikers take a stand against child abuse by forming B.A.C.A. group
by Erin Kennedy
CLEVELAND -- It's a worldwide, non-profit organization aimed at helping children who've been abused.
All their members wear leather, some have tattoos and all of them ride motorcycles.
The group is called "Bikers Against Child Abuse," or B.A.C.A.
They have chapters in Italy, Holland, Canada, all over the United States, and now, for the first time, there's one in Northeast Ohio.
That means the next time a local child is abused, local B.A.C.A. members may be called up by the court system or by family services to support and empower the child.
And it's easy to see, this organization is really changing lives.
Maybe it's the leather.
Maybe it's the tattoos.
"You know everyone has those stereotypes, biker clubs and biker this and biker that," says one biker, code name "Ginger."
But how about bikers as "keepers of the children" or Bikers Against Child Abuse?
"We got love for kids and there's no reason a child should live in fear," says B.A.C.A. member, "Jammer."
"We empowered the children to be a child," says B.A.C.A. member "Floppy."
"You see these big, huge, burly guys and their tattoos and some have long hair some have shaved heads, and everyone is there for the same cause and the same reason," says "Ginger."
That reason, quite simply, is to support and empower children who've been abused, children like "Snake."
"At first, I felt so scared and so afraid," says "Snake."
"Snake" is 9 years old, in fourth grade. He was abused by someone close to his family, and just recently, B.A.C.A. members from all over Ohio came to Northeast Ohio for his "adoption" ceremony into the B.A.C.A. family.
"Hearing the rumble of the pipes and hearing the bikes come down the road. We all stopped and said, here they come."
Imagine what that sounds like. Imagine what it feels like when you realize all that noise, all these leather clad bikers are here for you, here to keep you safe.
"We don't condone violence in any form, but we will protect that child at all costs," says "Jammer."
"I felt really happy and really protected," says "Snake."
Part of becoming a full-fledged, B.A.C.A. member includes a code name, a warm blanket, a vest and the ultimate biker accessory, a teddy bear.
"Everybody here is gonna hug this bear, okay?" says "Jammer" to "Snake" during the adoption ceremony. "Anytime you feel afraid, scared, whatever, you hug that bear."
"When we saw his little face light up, there wasn't a dry eye in the area. Big huge guys were standing behind me and you hear sniffling," says "Ginger."
"Jammer" then tells "Snake," "So from here forward, you just be a kid, and you do that kid thing, and you let us take care of everything else for you."
Part of that new support system includes B.A.C.A. members accompanying the child to court, in case he or she needs to testify against their abuser.
"Go on that stand and say what you've got to say. There's nothing to be afraid of. We're here. Nobody's going to hurt you. It's all good," says "Jammer."
So when "Snake" does testify, when he looks out in that courtroom, he will see "Trouble," "Floppy," "Ginger," "Jammer" and several other men and women looking back at him, giving him strength.
"It's a tough thing," says "Jammer." "Don't let anybody tell you bikers don't shed tears. Bikers shed tears."
"Yeah," says "Snake," "I feel like I don't have to be afraid of anything now because I have them, the B.A.C.A."
When asked what "Snake" wants to be when he grows up, he says he wants to be "a B.A.C.A."
Saint John police officer sexually abused over 260 children, investigators suspect
by Carmen Chai
TORONTO – A New Brunswick police officer is suspected of sexually abusing at least 260 children over the course of nearly three decades dating back to the late 1950s, Canadian investigators said Monday.
After decades of secrecy, private investigators and Saint John, N.B. officials say that a lone police officer, Sgt. Kenneth Estabrooks, was behind a massive child abuse scandal that targeted vulnerable children for at least 25 years.
“Although we cannot change the past, the city's investigation into allegations of sexual abuse against Mr. Estabrooks is about doing what we can to right a wrong,” Saint John Mayor Mel Norton said at the press conference.
“Since the new allegations were brought to the city's attention, our main priority has remained on those affected.”
Estabrooks died in 2005 of cancer. Investigators say they suspect he sexually abused at least 263 children. Most were boys, but some girls were identified in the investigation. About 53 of the victims are still living, 33 are deceased and officials believe there are another 152 suspected victims they hope to contact.
There were also six attempted cases of sexual abuse, the investigators said at the press conference Monday.
The disturbing details follow the exclusive Global News story that aired last Saturday on news and current affairs program 16×9.
Global News senior investigative correspondent Jennifer Tryon and 16×9 producer Brennan Leffler spent more than six months gathering the names of more than 40 probable victims.
The official investigation began in 2012 when one person came forward and told police his story.
“The extent and impact of predatory crimes committed by Ken Estabrooks has been exceptionally devastating, reached epic proportions and has been extremely difficult to predict and respond to,” lead investigator Dave Perry told reporters.
Reporters spoke to 11 victims — they all shared a similar story: they were all vulnerable, unsupervised children that Estabrooks preyed on.
Preying on the vulnerable
On Sunday, Tryon interviewed an 11 th victim. The Saint John man, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was only 13 years old when he was first sexually assaulted in 1973. Many of the victims say they were taken to Tin Can Beach and abused by Estabrooks, but there were other locations cited. In this case, the victim would typically be assaulted at Tucker Park, after being offered alcohol by Estabrooks.
“He'd buy liquor, he wouldn't buy beer because it would take too long for you to get a buzz,” he told Global News .
Over the course of three years, he guesses he was assaulted at least 60 times.
He even alleges Estabrooks had help from colleagues in the police force whenever he couldn't find his victims.
“If he couldn't get a hold of us, then he had some policeman on the force look out for us,” he said.
“I had my bumps and bruises, let's put it that way,” he said.
The same details resurfaced over and over again with the other victims reporters spoke with. Young boys growing up in poor homes and poverty stricken neighbourhoods.
Most of the victims never told authorities what was happening; it was their word against an established police officer. Most had never told a soul and carried the burden of what happened to them as children for decades.
One victim, a 58-year-old Montreal man, spoke to 16×9 on the condition of anonymity, recounting the nightmare that started decades ago in Saint John.
They'd call Estabrooks a “pervert,” the man says. He was one of the victims Estabrooks would take in his police cruiser before driving over to Tin Can Beach.
“He was touching me. He was touching himself and…I just went some place. Looking back I was a target. You know a kid walking home by himself, low self esteem, vulnerable.”
In another case, Estabrooks was found guilty of luring a boy over to a west Saint John police station with toys and sexually assaulting him in a jail cell when he was only six years old. It went on for years and at least two or three times a week.
In this case, the man's identity is protected by a court order.
Ignoring the signs
Some victims say they told police and social workers what Estabrooks was doing, but they looked the other way.
By 1999, some victims stepped forward and Estabrooks was charged with six counts of indecent assault, convicted of four and sentenced to six years in prison. During his trial, a former police detective named Herbert Robertson testified that in 1975, two kids complained that they had been molested by Estabrooks.
Robertson said Estabrooks confessed to these accusations, but instead of being charged, he was quietly moved to a city works job, the records show.
Shortly after wrapping up his prison sentence, Estabrooks died in 2005.
Investigation in the hands of notable Toronto investigator
After another victim filed a complaint with the city last year, Saint John Mayor Mel Norton ordered an immediate investigation to find all of the hidden victims and offer them counselling.
Private investigator David Perry was called in to lead the search. He was formerly with the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit. So far, Perry has found dozens more victims.
“The one thing that never changes for me is that every time I do one of these investigations I'm always… you know, shocked about the extent of trauma that people endure for so many years. These people have suffered tremendously as a result of what happened to them,” Perry told Global News.
For now, it's unclear how widespread Estabrooks abuse was — the investigation is hoping to finally uncover all of the hidden victims. But as Perry keeps digging, the number of victims keeps growing and the investigation is expected to last several more months.
A toll free number has been set up for victims wanting to contact Perry and receive counselling paid for by the city of Saint John. The number to call is 1-866-790-4764.
Advocates urge tougher sex trafficking laws in AZ
by Rebecca Thomas
PARADISE VALLEY, AZ (CBS5) - Child sex trafficking is a growing problem in Arizona – with at-risk youth being easy targets for pimps.
Experts who spoke at an educational event at Paradise Valley United Methodist Church Monday night said a record number of children in foster care, combined with a flourishing drug market, has created a perfect storm in Arizona.
"It really needs to be a communitywide effort because it's happening everywhere and everybody has a role in it," said Savannah Sanders, a program assistant with the group Training and Resources United to Stop Trafficking or TRUST.
For Sanders, the issue is personal.
She said she was trafficked in Phoenix when she was 16.
Sanders said she fell in with a pimp who took all of her money and held her hostage for nine months.
TRUST and the Arizona Attorney General's Office are pushing for tougher laws and more victims' services.
They want to get this done before the Super Bowl comes to town in 2015 – when pimps will shore up young prostitutes for incoming johns.
"When people buy a prostitute, they will pay more for an underage girl," said Kathleen Winn, community outreach director for the Arizona Attorney General's Office. "So we know, based on demand - the demand for underage girls is increasing and that we're seeing more and more girls be trafficked."
Winn said there are strict laws on the books when it comes to trafficking children aged 14 and younger.
But there's a clause in the law pertaining to older teens.
"If you don't know that the girl was 15, 16, 17 - your penalties are not as severe," said Winn. "And, we'd like to change it - so if you buy a girl who's underage, you are raping a child and that the penalties are strict for that."
These proposed laws will be rolled out in January.
Advocates urge you to contact your state lawmakers and urge them to pass tougher measures against child sex trafficking.
SPD, rescue group receive grant to combat human trafficking
by Sara Jean Green
The Seattle Police Department and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Seattle have been awarded a $750,000 federal grant to continue work combatting human trafficking of both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals, according to a news release issued Monday by U.S. District Attorney Jenny Durkan.
The money — $500,000 to the police department and $250,000 to IRC's Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network — will be used for criminal investigations and to provide services to victims, including housing, medical and mental health care and support for those involved in prosecutions against traffickers.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Justice was first awarded to SPD and IRC nine years ago, but up until July 2012, the funds could only be used to help foreign nationals involved in forced labor or the sex trade, said Kathleen Morris, program director of the Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network. Now, the money can go to aid all victims of human trafficking in Western Washington, she said.
“It's been going up exponentially, each and every year,” said Morris, adding that more people requested help in the first half of 2013 than in all of 2012. “Anyone exploited in this way deserves services.”
Morris' organization has partnered with local community groups to provide services to human-trafficking victims, including API Chaya and YouthCare. Victims, both domestic and foreign, are forced into prostitution and domestic-servitude; the construction and restaurant industries are also hotbeds for labor exploitation and Morris has seen an increase in the trafficking of boys from Central America who are brought here and forced to sell drugs.
“It's been such a long-hidden crime but now, a lot more people are paying attention and learning about this issue,” she said.
IGNITE Conference Hopes to Spark Action Against Sex Trafficking
by Megan Lynch
ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Last week KMOX News told you about the horrors of child sex trafficking in the St. Louis region. Now more on new efforts to stop it.
In recent years, Nix Conference and Meeting Management has been working with the hotel industry to train employees.
“The housekeepers, the front desk, your bellmen, they see things that are happening that seem odd to them, it doesn't seem right, but they don't know what to do with that information,” said Molly Hackett, Principal of Nix.
Hackett says hotel staff aren't the only ones unsure where to turn to help sex trafficking victims. That's why Nix has launched the Exchange Initiative as a means to connect and empower individuals and organizations in fighting sex trafficking.
The group's first effort – a Spring 2014 conference – will bring together first responders, corporations, faith-based groups, social service agencies and anyone else passionate about the issue.
“Bringing those groups together and talking about the whole cycle of kids being recruited into this; how to rescue them; how to restore,” Hackett explained.
The group is in the process of launching its website.
Human trafficking seminar to be held
by MORGAN MYERS
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the developing Northcentral PA Human Trafficking Response Team are hosting a full-day training seminar on human trafficking at the Little League International Recreational Hall on Monday, Oct. 7.
"Human trafficking is the second most profitable criminal enterprise, second only to the drug trade, and it is happening right here in North Central Pennsylvania," Mae-Ling Kranz, director of Wise Options at YWCA Northcentral PA, said.
A form of modern-day slavery, victims of human trafficking are forced into labor against their will, often without host communities being aware of it.
"Typical situations of human trafficking have included minors, often runaways, and adults being sold for sex. Trafficking can happen at places like truck stops, restaurants and massage parlors. And there are occurrences where children are sold by parents in exchange for drugs or to pay off debts," Kranz said.
Other types of victims include coerced, unpaid domestic and farm workers. Lured by false promises, human trafficking victims may live and work under lock and key. They may be monitored by security cameras and kept captive by boarded windows and barbed wire, according to a YWCA Northcentral PA press release.
It might be hard to imagine human trafficking as a local problem - but it is. Because of the region's proximity to interstates and highways, human trafficking victims frequently travel through the area, according to the press release.
"First responders, district attorney offices, advocates for sexual assault victims and children and youth agencies in Bradford, Tioga, Lycoming, Union, Snyder and Northumberland Counties are working together to stop human trafficking in our communities. Our counties surround the Route 15 corridor. Human trafficking is a crime and traffickers are profiting from the abuse of others," said Lycoming County Judge Joy Reynolds McCoy.
Traffickers often target vulnerable people with histories of abuse. They use violence, threats and lies to intimidate victims, according to the press release.
The goal of the seminar is to raise awareness, provide education and strengthen relationships between law enforcement and other government agencies to further develop a regional Human Trafficking Response Team.
Warriors against child abuse
by Bob Weir
Have you ever known anyone who had been abused as a child and suffered emotional trauma in adulthood? Depending on the severity of the abuse, they might carry the scars of those childhood experiences throughout their lives.
There are thousands of children living in abusive situations. They live with it because they're too young, innocent, and powerless to break free. Whether it's sexual abuse, or repeated physical assault, these future adults suffer in silence in a world that must appear cruel and hostile to them. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to grow up in loving, nurturing households cannot begin to understand the torment and self-devaluation that these children face each day. Living in a world of giants, they need to rely on the decency of those who have authority over them. When their trust has been violated, to whom do they turn? Hopefully, someone will notice their distress and intervene.
Perhaps a schoolteacher observes that a student's academic grades have taken a downward turn. Maybe a next-door neighbor has, from time to time, noticed unusual bruises on a child. Or, as is the case very often, the non-offending parent might file a report with the police, alleging misconduct toward the child. That's when the child protection agencies swing into action. Providing a safe, non-threatening atmosphere, the Children's Advocacy Center (CAC) for Denton County offers a child friendly environment so necessary during the early stages of trauma reduction. There was a time, not long ago, when investigations were conducted in the cold, severe surroundings of a police station. Such an atmosphere can further traumatize a child who has already been struggling to survive in an oppressive climate.
In addition, the CAC provides professional counselors who serve an emotional healing function that gently moves the child from a state of confusion and shock, to one of comfort and security. It is especially important at this time to reduce the fear and anxiety of a child who will need to be involved in the criminal justice process subsequent to the offender's arrest. Recently, my wife and I were among a few others who had been invited to tour the CAC at 1854 Cain Drive in Lewisville. The work being done by the staff is nothing short of phenomenal! There's an Assistant District Attorney with an office on premises who is there a couple of days during each week. During Wednesday meetings, the ADA, local police detectives, Child Protective Services and their onsite nurse, will be in attendance. They also have specially trained staff for sexual abuse interviews, with three bilingual staff members.
Dan Leal has been the Executive Director of CAC since 2002. Born in Victoria, Texas, he graduated from UNT and worked as a sports broadcaster in college and on the radio. Also a student of public relations, Dan worked with the Denton County MHMR for two years as Public Information Officer and Director of Community Relations. In addition, he helped form the Homeless Coalition in 1999, which helped homeless people become more self-sufficient. The CAC has 13 full-time and 3 part-time childcare providers who take care of the children while parents are being counseled. Add to that, 24 interns and 150 volunteers and you have a veritable army of compassionate warriors fighting to protect the most vulnerable among us. Included in those warriors are the Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), a formidable group with chapters all over the world providing additional support and encouragement to abused kids. They donate their time to be a big brother/sister to the children when they need the feeling of security at court, or in some cases, when they feel their abuser may be stalking them.
The 14,000 square foot facility handled 1830 cases in 2012; 1,000 were children and the remainder were adults for counseling sessions. Their current budget is $1.25 million. Some of their funding comes from annual events like the Champions for Children Gala at Circle R Ranch in Flower Mound; the Lantana Golf Club Tournament; and the Cloud 9 Art and Fashion shows.
During a recent coffee with Dan at our home, we learned how devoted he is to the protection of children. His concern for the plight of those kids and his deep understanding of abuse comes from a personal sexual abuse case by his grandfather when he was nine. He can easily relate to the fear and confusion that children feel, as well as the mistrust of those who are closest to them during these events. His former wife, who died a few years back from alcoholism, was a product of child abuse, which gave him an even deeper understanding of how deadly such abuse can be. You can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice when he speaks about the children he's helped. “I see the healing taking place,” he said, adding, “I see kids able to smile again and I know that God has chosen this for me.” The children's hotline number is 1-800-252-5400 to report suspected abuse.
Child Abuse Prevention Strategies Receive Funding Public News Service
BOISE, Idaho - Strengthening families to prevent child abuse and neglect takes deliberate actions - through training and assistance. That's the tenet from the Idaho Children's Trust Fund (ICTF) as it issues grants this week to five programs around the state.
ICTF executive director Roger Sherman said while the goals are the same, the programs are diverse - including home visits and parenting classes, along with programs for female inmates and refugee families.
"It's going to take a whole lot of different methods and ways to be able to prevent child abuse and neglect, and it has different forms," Sherman said.
Programs receiving funding were ICARE through St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities of Idaho, Idaho Department of Correction, the Bannock Youth Foundation and Baby Haven at the Salvation Army in Caldwell.
Sherman said child abuse and neglect, and child sexual abuse, bring lifelong consequences for children, so prevention is serious business.
"All of it is about getting to a place where all kids grow up in a thriving environment without abuse. That's really what we're looking at," Sherman added."
The grants are for three years. Sherman said that duration recognizes that making a difference takes a sustained effort.
Details on grants and grantees are available at http://idahochildrenstrustfund.org
Maryland law on sex offenders and child custody must be revisited
by Editorial Board
ANDREW MOJICA is a registered-for-life sex offender in Maryland. As such, he's barred from knowingly entering a school or child-care facility without written permission. However, Mr. Mojica is allowed unsupervised visits, including overnight, with his 4-year-old son despite fierce objections from the boy's mother. The anomaly — other words come to mind — is the result of cracks in state law and a court system seemingly so suspicious of any parent who seeks to limit another parent's access to their child that it is willing to discount potential risks.
“The court has taken away my power to protect my son,” said Gloria Faulkner, the Talbot County woman who has been locked in a battle with her ex-husband over visitation. Less than two months after their son was born in 2009, Mr. Mojica was accused of sexually abusing a preteen girl related to Ms. Faulkner; he was convicted in 2010. The two divorced in 2012, following his release from jail. Neither was represented by an attorney in a decree that gave Ms. Faulkner sole legal and primary physical custody of the boy but that granted Mr. Mojica visitation rights.
Ms. Faulkner told us she didn't know to object at the time and that subsequent efforts to amend the agreement have made matters worse. According to Ms. Faulkner, Mr. Mojica gets scheduled visits overnight every Wednesday and every other Friday and during the day every other Sunday. Her recent court efforts to curtail visits based on her allegations about changed behavior in her son and the fact another sex offender lives in the apartment building where her ex-husband resides have been unsuccessful; she told us she wants to require supervision, not banish the father from her son's life.
“It is without question that the Defendant previously sexually assaulted the Plaintiff's [relative]. Such behavior is reprehensible and without excuse,” Domestic Relations Master Jamie E. Adkins wrote on July 15. “However, there is no evidence currently before the Court that [the boy] is in need of protection from the Defendant.” The opinion by Ms. Adkins, who a court spokeswoman said would not comment on a pending case, concluded Ms. Faulkner did not meet “the threshold burden for the court to reconsider custody.” The master considered Ms. Faulkner's claims of troubling and changed behavior by her son but found “minimal corroboration.”
Kevin M. Joyce, attorney for Mr. Mojica, said the father has “a constitutional right to raise the child.” He denied any suggestion that Mr. Mojica, who, Mr. Joyce stressed, was fully compliant with the law, was abusing or not properly caring for his son. He ascribed Ms. Faulkner's efforts to redraw the custody agreement as “buyer's remorse.”
Maryland law requires that in circumstances in which there has been a finding of child abuse or neglect, the court should determine whether future abuse or neglect is likely and, unless there is no likelihood, deny access or require supervision. The two parties disagree on how carefully this was weighed.
Child advocates pushed this year's General Assembly to toughen the law. A bill sponsored by Del. Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot) would have prohibited custody or visitation to child sexual offenders, except under certain circumstances where there was clear and convincing evidence that there was no danger to the child http://thedailyrecord.com/2013/03/03/bill-would-restrict-custody-rights-of-convicted-child-sex-abusers/; supervised visits would have been allowed. It died in the House Judiciary Committee, a graveyard for similarly worthy bills that aim to better protect children and victims of domestic abuse.
What's even more troubling than the weakness in state law — which we urge Maryland lawmakers to make haste in fixing — is the attitude by the professionals who run family courts that any parent is better than no parent. A corollary to that is the belief that a parent who warns of possible risks in wanting to limit contact has ulterior motives. The judge who will review this wrong-headed decision should apply common sense in deciding what interests are served in letting a 4-year-old sleep alone and overnight in a house with a registered sex offender.
Polarizing Yakima religious figure Robert Fontana plots new path
by Jane Gargas
Some will say, emphatically, “good riddance.”
Others will lament his leaving.
But all will acknowledge his imprint here.
Robert Fontana, who has been a leading advocate for major reforms in the Catholic Church, recently moved away from Yakima.
Fontana and his wife, Lori, are relocating to Seattle, where he will train as a marriage and family therapist at Seattle University, and she will substitute teach.
“We love Yakima. I grieve leaving our friends, the sunshine and the rural life. This is where we raised our children, but I have no future here, and it's time to move on,” Robert Fontana explains.
Fontana has been a controversial figure in Yakima for nearly a decade.
He founded the local chapter of Voice of the Faithful, a group calling for change in the Catholic Church. He's been outspokenly critical of how the Catholic Diocese of Yakima handled some cases of alleged clergy sex abuse. He's marched outside diocesan headquarters and worked closely with Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) from other cities. Some of that activity occurred while he was a diocese employee.
In short, he's been a thorn in many people's sides.
“If crucifying and stoning were still legal, Robert would have been stoned to death by now,” says Steve Menard, a local business owner who traveled to New Orleans in 2005 with Fontana to help re-locate people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Church officials have, indeed, found him difficult and demanding. “There was only one way to look at these things, and it was Mr. Fontana's way,” according to Monsignor Robert Siler, diocese chief of staff. “I think a lot of people got weary. He probably could have made more progress if he'd been less strident.”
At one time, Fontana, 56, was a quiet figure, devoted to his church; he has a master's degree in theology and a doctorate in ministry. A father of six — come June all will have graduated from college — he worked as a lay minister for 25 years and as director of evangelization for the Yakima Diocese for 14 years. He was in charge of adult education programs, teaching Scripture, human development and Catholic ritual. He also taught young people and deacons, or men intending to become priests.
But then came 2002. And Fontana was never quiet again.
That was the year clergy sexual abuse exploded as a national scandal with revelations of Catholic priests preying on children in Boston.
Fontana describes his initial reaction to the scandal as tepid. He had followed cases his brother Anthony, an attorney in Louisiana, had filed for people alleging they had been abused by priests as children. But Fontana considered it an isolated problem.
“I kept thinking the bishops would do the right thing. Then I hit a low; I looked in the mirror and realized I was part of the problem because I refused to get involved. But never again. I decided either I quit the ministry or demand the truth from the inside. “
Within a few years of speaking out against how the diocese was handling reports of clergy abuse, Fontana would lose his job, lose a lawsuit, lose friends and alienate many fellow parishioners.
He recalls at Mass one day, when it came time to share the kiss of peace, several people in the pew around him refused to shake his hand.
“We were really shunned, and that was gut-wrenching,” Lori Fontana says. She says they received nasty letters, and vulgar messages were left on their answering machine, which their children inadvertently heard.
Robert Fontana began treading on dangerous territory in 2004 after a local priest came under criminal investigation for having photos of nude boys on his computer. About a dozen photos of boys, elementary-school age to teens, all naked, were turned over to police by the diocese. The priest was never charged with a crime and eventually, after completing a rehabilitation program, he resumed work in the diocese in an administrative post, but not as a parish priest.
After the photographs were found, rumors swirled around the diocese, and a local television station reported that the FBI was investigating a priest for child pornography. Fontana wanted answers. But the diocese wouldn't identify the priest.
At the time, Lori Fontana was working at St. Joseph-Marquette School as a religious educator, where one of her duties was to arrange for priests to hear children's confessions. She became alarmed, thinking the priest being investigated by the FBI might be one of those who met one-on-one with children. So she and her husband expressed their concerns to school officials, who agreed that no child should be left alone with any priest until they knew which priest was the target of the probe.
That landed Robert Fontana squarely in trouble with then Bishop Carlos Sevilla. The bishop sent him a letter of reprimand for interfering with diocesan authority.
However, Fontana kept pressing. “Once the diocese knows a priest has a proclivity toward child sex, it's no longer their prerogative to place that priest with my child or anybody's child without telling us. It's the parents' call, not the diocese's.”
Yet, other Catholics think Fontana went too far and was verging on a witch hunt. Holy Family parishioner Herman Fischer characterizes Fontana's push to publicize the names of accused priests as just plain wrong. “He's (Fontana) done no good. People got upset when he accused priests. A lot of times there was no proof that anything had happened.”
Fischer also thinks Fontana focused too much on the church and made no attempt to examine abuse in other institutions, such as schools.
“He hurt the church,” Fischer maintains.
Lori Fontana doesn't see it that way. When it became clear that Robert might lose his job, she remembers that they both went to see a physician because they felt depressed and were losing weight. Then Lori Fontana says her “Mama Bear” instincts kicked in.
“I said to Robert, ‘We can't back down. This isn't right.'”
Troubled by what he perceived as debilitating silence from the diocese in the case of alleged pornography, Robert Fontana began investigating cases himself, pressing for answers on how sexual accusations were being handled in the diocese. Several weeks after his reprimand, he received a second one from the bishop for criticizing church policies.
By December 2004, most of his duties had been removed. Realizing he had reached a dead end at work, he resigned in 2005.
Later that year, he filed a lawsuit against the diocese, arguing he had been forced out. The diocese emphatically said it never retaliated against Fontana. Ultimately, the court ruled it didn't have jurisdiction over a church matter and dismissed the case.
Those losses didn't dissuade him from continuing to speak out, pursuing cases he thought were being mishandled by the diocese.
Some saw that as sheer stubbornness.
Russ Mazzola, who heads up the Diocesan Lay Advisory Board, which investigates any allegations of sexual misconduct in the church, says, “I like Robert, but it was difficult for him to let things go. At times he'd present facts to us, we'd investigate and things couldn't be substantiated. But he wasn't satisfied with the decisions we reached.”
So why would someone jeopardize his livelihood and reputation to hammer away at an issue that seemed overblown to many?
Simple, Fontana says. Because he loves his church. People have to defend what's just, no matter what, he believes. “Look at the priests of integrity who stood up to the Nazis,” he says.
Noting that he doesn't agree with everything Fontana does, Menard argues that Catholics need Fontana's prodding. “Otherwise, we sit in the pew with our heads in the sand,” he says, “I don't know anyone who stands on principle like he does.”
But for many Catholics, Fontana had irrevocably burned bridges. One of the ways he supported himself after his resignation was providing music at local weddings. He played guitar, while he and Lori sang. However, he says one prospective bride had to renege on her agreement, saying she was told she couldn't be married in one of the local parishes if he did the music.
Siler says he has no knowledge of that incident but “the Diocese of Yakima was not obsessed with ruining Robert's life.”
Fontana concentrated on organizing retreats for couples and teens and, for a time, was allowed to conduct retreats for Catholics in the Seattle Archdiocese but not here.
Siler explains that when Fontana filed his lawsuit against the diocese, Sevilla felt he shouldn't use church property for his retreats or youth meetings.
Although he lived here 22 years, Fontana is not a local product. Born and raised in Louisiana, one of seven boys, he might still be in bayou country if it weren't for the intriguing young woman he met while both attended Louisiana State University. She — Lori — was originally from Seattle, so a few years after they married in 1978, they moved to the Northwest. In Seattle, Robert worked as a youth minister, including serving teens in detention. He and Lori formed Catholic Life Ministries Northwest, an educational outreach organization, in 1990 as a part-time mission to bolster faith among families. A year later they moved to Yakima for his new job with the diocese.
The Fontanas also organized Camp St. Francis, leading youngsters and adults on annual volunteer weekends to perform community service projects for elderly and needy people in the Valley.
In his role as a Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) volunteer, Fontana was contacted by people who said they had been molested by Catholic clerics. Kim Alarid was one. She told Fontana she had been sexually abused repeatedly here as a child by a Jesuit priest, now deceased, who has been the subject of several abuse lawsuits.
According to Alarid's mother, Carma Salazar, her daughter had never told the story before, even to her. Salazar credits Fontana with helping her daughter immensely through the tough aftermath. “If we called him, he was here in 10 minutes. He has such a big heart; I don't know how I would have survived without him.“
Alarid contracted systemic scleroderma, an autoimmune disease that destroys tissue, and died in 2008 when she was 40. “Robert saw her through her victimization, her illness and her death. Robert and Lori are some of the kindest and most generous people I've met in my life.”
But Siler takes exception to the local VOTF, because its website recommends victims contact the police, a lawyer or SNAP before contacting the church.
Michelle Duerre, who alleges she was abused by three priests while a student at St. Joseph-Marquette School in the 1970s, says she didn't call the church hot line because she didn't feel she would get the support she needed. A resident of King County, she first contacted a SNAP chapter there and was then referred to the Yakima VOTF.
While declining to discuss details of her alleged abuse because she has a lawsuit pending against the Yakima Diocese in Superior Court, Duerre says, “Robert and Lori gave me the support I needed to move forward in my life. Someday I want to help others come forward and be a staunch advocate for victims.“
She characterizes Fontana as a true Christian. “He's compassionate and a great listener and in the end all he wants is for people to forgive and move forward. He's never been a hate monger; he's all about forgiveness.”
Last year Lori and Robert made a religious pilgrimage, walking 300 miles from France to Spain on the sacred El Camino de Santiago route, stopping every night for Mass. “It was beautiful being together and building our faith in God and strengthening our marriage,” he says.
Reflecting on his time in Yakima, Fontana says he regrets that he couldn't keep a dialogue open with the diocese.
Siler counters that they tried: “Bishop (Joseph) Tyson made a great effort to talk with him and offer a pathway for reconciliation. Robert chose not to accept.”
But since Fontana says he wouldn't stop openly criticizing how sex abuse issues were handled, that rendered any further dialogue moot.
After he finishes studies at Seattle University, Fontana plans to teach marriage-strengthening programs, both faith-based and secular, in Seattle. “I'd like to enrich marriages and minimize divorce.”
Robert and Lori Fontana recently wrote a self-published book about marriage, called “Hidden Treasures,” and will conduct a book signing in Yakima when it's released later this fall.
Lori Fontana looks back on the couple's experiences challenging the diocese and says, “I still would do the same thing. I'm at peace with it.”
Her husband agrees. “The good thing about the dispute is I stepped back and learned to live with integrity and still be an advocate for what I know to be beautiful and good in this church. It's a good struggle.”
In Salazar's view, there should never be another struggle ahead for Robert Fontana.
“His place in heaven will be much bigger than anyone else's,” she believes.
Others aren't convinced. Fischer says, “I don't believe he did anything for the community.”
But Siler says, “I wish him well.”
Haunted by priest's pedophilia case, Louisiana native turns to Europe, writing
by EVAN MOORE
OPELOUSAS, La. -- On clear mornings he can see the steeple.
It rises from a little russet-stone Catholic church in the village in southern France where Ray Mouton, former Louisiana lawyer-turned-expatriate-American author, now lives.
The view from Mouton's terrace focuses squarely on that steeple as it cuts a vertical line through the horizon, reaching heavenward against a backdrop of the Pyrenees Mountains, a symbol of solace, hope and inspiration to man.
But not to Mouton.
Mouton has never been to Mass in that church. He has never heard a sermon there.
Mouton no longer attends church services. Not since the case of Father Gilbert Gauthe, whose horrific crimes against children in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette set off a wave of scandal in 1985 that reached from southern Louisiana throughout the nation.
Not since that wave rolled across the ocean to Europe, all the way to the Vatican.
Not since Mouton defended Gauthe and almost ruined his life in the process.
Now, he only enters churches to light candles, candles for the children.
Ray Mouton's tale is that of a man who had everything and lost it, a man who hit rock bottom, then found a way back. Once a lawyer, then a wanderer who watched his home, his family and his law practice fade away in an alcoholic haze, Mouton is now an author, a man who reinvented himself.
It's also the story of Gilbert Gauthe, a pedophile priest, an unassuming, obsequious man whose monstrous crimes in south Louisiana set off a world-wide avalanche of scandal in1985 that continues to rock the Catholic church today.
And, it is the story of a novel, “In God's House,” Mouton's latest, a work of fiction that mirrors reality so closely that Gauthe almost leers from its pages.
Mouton has lived his 66 years with a fine madness.
He jumps from first to fifth gear. Ask for the time and he builds you a watch. Ask where he is from and expect a discourse on the history, food and culture of South Louisiana.
He grew up wealthy, the scion of an historically prominent, staunchly Catholic, Acadiana family. The Moutons began their Louisiana heritage with Jean Mouton, founder of the settlement that eventually became Lafayette. They count a Civil War general, a governor, a U.S. senator and other prominent Louisiana figures in their ranks.
Ray Mouton also made his mark. At Our Lady of Fatima high school he was a star quarterback, voted MVP of the All Acadiana team. Two years later he ran off to Mexico with the prettiest girl in his sophomore college class, married her and went on to graduate from Lousiana State University law school.
As a lawyer, Mouton poured himself into his cases with the same zeal that made him a star quarterback, sometimes going days without sleep while he was preparing for trial.
It paid off. By the mid-1980s he had tried two personal injury cases that resulted in record verdicts and was involved in a number of other high profile trials.
“I had a significant media profile locally for a young lawyer,” he said.
He was known as a firebrand and he lived up to the reputation. Mouton drove flashy cars. He liked champagne. He, his wife and their three children lived on a sprawling estate in a remote corner of Lafayette Parish.
“We had 15 acres,” recalled Mouton. “We had a big home that was a replica of an 1850s Acadian farmhouse, a Cajun guest cottage, a large bass pond, stables, horses, a swimming pool, and landscaping. There were irises on the banks of the pond.”
Gilbert Gauthe was none of those things. Born into a poor farming family in Napoleonville in Assumption Parish in 1945, he was the eldest of eight children. An introvert and a poor student he more or less strayed into the priesthood. He attended the now-defunct Immaculata Seminary in Lafayette, then squeaked through Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. After failing several classes, he was ordained in 1971.
He might have remained obscure, had he not been a predatory pedophile. As his crimes came to light and case after case was brought against him and the Lafayette Diocese, Gauthe's life was chronicled in multiple court records.
Having been molested himself around the age of 9 by an older boy, Gauthe preyed on boys of roughly the same age, the sons of his parishioners, scores of them.
Though timid around adults, he could be a fiend with children, once telling a reluctant boy that, if he told about their sexual encounters, Gauthe would kill his father and, as a priest, “make sure he goes to hell.”
He told family members and others that he never felt any real commitment to the priesthood, but confided to his brother, Richard, another pedophile who was eventually arrested and jailed in Great Britain, that it offered unlimited access to young boys.
Gauthe took advantage of that access and a pattern emerged. Over a decade beginning in 1972, Gauthe moved from Broussard to New Iberia to Abbeville to Henry, molesting boys in each location. The late Bishop Gerard Frey, then in charge of the Diocese of Lafayette and Gauthe's supervisor, was repeatedly told of Gauthe's crimes, but responded only by moving the priest every time rumors began to spread.
Frey also told parents of the victims to have their sons go to confession and repent their participation in the sexual episodes.
Then, he made Gauthe chaplain of the Boy Scouts.
It all came to an end in 1984, however. A number of suits were brought against the diocese by parents of Gauthe's victims that year. At first, all the plaintiffs settled out of court. The late J. Minos Simon, a crusty, garrulous Lafayette lawyer, refused to settle, however. Simon's suit became public, forcing the district attorney to file a criminal case against Gauthe, and Gauthe became the first Catholic priest in U.S. history to face indictment for multiple cases of child molestation.
The Diocese of Lafayette suddenly needed a criminal defense attorney, a Catholic who would have the church's interest at heart. They turned to one of the best.
“I took the case out of vanity and greed,” said Mouton. “I knew it would be a high-profile case and I knew the church had unlimited funds to defend it.”
Beyond that, said Mouton, he waded into his defense of Gauthe with a certain naiveté. As a criminal defense attorney, he thought he had seen the worst of humanity, but this was his mother church. Gauthe, he reasoned, must be an aberration.
“I honestly believed the church was a repository of goodness,” Mouton said. “As it turns out, it wasn't. When I decided to take that case, I destroyed my life, my family, my faith. In three years, I lost everything I held dear.”
Mouton's first meeting with his client was unnerving.
“No one would have believed this nondescript, mild-mannered, soft-spoken person could have done the things he was charged with,” said Mouton.
“And then he began to speak about these things and being in that room with him was the creepiest experience of my life, a horror that returned to me in nightmares.”
Mouton believed he was representing a true sex maniac and his strategy was to have Gauthe admit to his crimes and plead insanity. The list of victims had grown to 37 by then. An insanity defense would keep the victims from having to testify and Mouton hoped to have Gauthe serve out whatever term he got in a treatment facility.
“The church fought me at every turn,” said Mouton. “They wanted me to plead him out and make it go away.”
Eventually, so did Gauthe. Though Gauthe first seemed fearful of prison, in the midst of the legal proceedings Mouton noticed that his client had become complacent and seemed to have few worries about his fate.
“I didn't know it then, but Gilbert had (the late) Judge Henry Politz on his side,” said Mouton.
As the case progressed, Mouton's obsessive habits worked to his client's advantage, but not his own. He would work days without sleeping, self-medicate with a bottle of vodka or gin, sleep fitfully and rise to begin again.
As news of the case spread, Mouton and his family began to receive threats. Mouton's son was embroiled in fights in school over Mouton, and the lawyer's long hours began taking their toll on his marriage.
His faith in the church, something he had never questioned, began to erode as well. As he dug into the Gauthe case he found evidence that church officials had long known that Gauthe was a child molester. Worse, Mouton found evidence of first one and then another and another pedophile priest in the Lafayette Diocese. That number eventually rose to seven.
And as he watched his health and his marriage slip away, Mouton began to lose something else, his unflinching faith in the church as the one institution of good.
“I didn't consider quitting. I couldn't quit,” said Mouton. “I felt somebody had to do something, do all in their power, to protect innocent children from bishops who covered up crimes of demented criminal priests who belonged in prison.”
As the Gauthe case wound toward a close, its publicity brought forward other victims of other priests across the country. Lawsuits against the church began to multiply.
Gauthe's crimes alone would cost the diocese at least $10 million.
Mouton joined with two priests, canon lawyer Father Thomas Doyle and the late Rev. Michael Peterson, a church psychiatrist who treated troubled priests, to make a report for the Vatican on the state of pedophilia in the U.S. church.
Working over a period of months, traveling the country, the trio compiled a report that concluded that the problem of pedophilia was so widespread in the Catholic clergy that the cost in dollars could eventually reach $1 billion and would be a public relations nightmare. The cost to the church would be staggering, they warned.
The cost in human suffering could not be measured.
Church leaders initially appeared thankful for the report, then turned their backs on it, said Mouton.
“They swept it under the rug,” he said.
Doyle, who served as chaplain to the U.S. Air Force until 2004, agreed.
“In the beginning, both Ray and I naively believed that when confronted with the truth that the church would do the right thing and act in accord with its teachings,” said Doyle.
“At a minimum, we thought it would have the common decency and common sense to do all in its power to heal the wounds of innocent victims, and in the process remove criminal clerics from the ministry, reporting them to police authorities,” said Doyle. “How wrong we were. It shook my faith and it shook Ray's.”
Mouton ended the Gauthe case and the report a ruined man. By 1987 his law practice was gone and his marriage was ended. The country estate sat vacant and Mouton was falling apart.
“I felt then as I do now that every bishop who has covered up a clerical crime belongs in prison with the priest,” he said. “I knew no one in the church had ever done anything about this or ever would do anything about it. I worked, battling the diocese, the American Church and the Vatican until I literally burned myself up spiritually, mentally, and physically.”
Mouton was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the psychological driving wheel that can lead to great success or catastrophic failure.
And, he said, he had another problem as well.
“I also was a full-blown alcoholic,” Mouton said.
In prison, Gauthe led a charmed life.
In October 1986, he pleaded guilty to 11 counts of child molestation and was sentenced to 20 years. Under a plea bargain worked out by Mouton, he was to get psychiatric treatment and was to be required to take Depo-Provera to diminish his sex drive.
He was sent to David Wade Correctional Center in Homer, northeast of Shreveport, and the mantle of protection from Politz, at that point chief justice of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, followed him there.
The bond between one of Louisiana's worst child molesters and one of its most powerful jurists was both real and puzzling. Politz was a giant in Louisiana's legal community, a former president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association, an officeholder on numerous boards and a man in whose name a scholarship has been established at the LSU law school.
From the day that Gauthe was charged, Politz became his protector. In an interview in 1998, Politz said that it was the result of family ties that reached back to Napoleonville.
“My father and his grandfather sharecropped together in Napoleonville,” Politz told the Houston Chronicle. “When my father died at a very early age, Gilbert's grandfather befriended my mother. Gilbert's mother and my sister were best friends. It's as simple as that.”
Largely due to Politz's intervention, Gauthe was given his own air-conditioned studio in Wade where he painted signs and portraits. The walls of that studio were glass, so that Gauthe could be observed by guards, but he soon hung portraits on the walls, hiding himself and his teenage assistants from sight.
He was allowed to leave the prison for extended furloughs to visit his mother. Politz visited him regularly and, on occasion, took him and prison officials to lunch at a nearby country club.
In September 1995, Gauthe was released from prison 11 years early. He moved to Polk County, Texas, to the tiny community of Ace where he was arrested months later and charged with molesting a 3-year-old boy.
Once again, Politz stepped in. Robert C. Bennett, a powerhouse Houston lawyer who practices primarily in federal courts, arrived in Polk County to defend Gauthe. With Bennett's help, a lack of cooperation by Louisiana authorities and what the district attorney described as a weak case, Gauthe was allowed to plead no contest to a non-sexual charge of injury to a child.
He was given seven years' probation.
He later moved to Waskom, on the Texas-Louisiana border, then south of Houston to Galveston County.
By then, however, Gauthe's mentor was gone. Politz died in 2002 and, in 2008, Gauthe was arrested for failing to register in Galveston County as a sex offender. He served two years and was released in April 2010.
As Gauthe was painting in his prison studio, Ray Mouton was running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
He still had money and, with his life at a crossroads, he headed for Europe.
“I quit drinking,” he said. “My sobriety date is Nov. 15, 1987 — I have not had a sip of alcohol since.”
Instead, he found release running two feet in front of the horns of a 1,500-pound beast that wanted to kill him.
The “running of the bulls” is a tradition across Spain, but particularly in Pamplona. There, a dozen or more fighting bulls are loosed in the streets and members of the crowd run in front of them to test their courage.
“I first attended Fiesta De San Fermin in Pamplona in July 1970 and ran with the bulls for the first time that summer,” said Mouton.
He did it again after the Gauthe case and continued the practice until 1998, when he fell, breaking an arm and almost dying from a subsequent heart attack.
He found another release as well. Mouton had always written: essays, short stories, observations. In writing he found an outlet for the manic obsession that drove him in law, but one that did not threaten to kill him.
Mouton began spending most of his time in Europe. In 2002, he published “Pamplona, Running the Bulls, Bars and Varrios in Fiesta de San Fermin.” The book, replete with stunning photographs and vivid descriptions, has been praised as the definitive account of Pamplona's fiesta and running of the bulls.
More recently, however, he has written another, a sprawling novel about a Louisiana lawyer who defends a pedophile priest and almost loses everything in the process.
“This is a work of fiction, but, obviously, it wouldn't be the same if I hadn't lived through what I did,” he said. It's dedicated to the victims, children around the world who are survivors of clergy abuse and those who did not survive.”
The book has done well in England, Ireland and Scotland, and is available on amazon.com. It does not yet have a U.S. publisher and Mouton said he intends to begin searching for one this fall.
It is a book that will not be welcomed by the church, though a spokesman for the Lafayette Diocese said the diocese was not aware that the novel had been published and would have no comment on it.
Currently, Mouton spends most of his time at his home in southern France, where he is working on several other novels. In the mornings, he often walks out on his terrace, and looks across the valley to the little church below.
Mouton no longer considers himself a member of the Catholic Church, or any organized religion. Still, old habits die hard and, once in a while, he quietly slips into the little church alone.
“I only go into churches to light candles and pray while lighting them,” said Mouton.
“To me, the perfect prayer is when one focuses all of their energy on another in the moment when a candle is lit. I light candles for people I know who have troubles of any kind in their life, especially those who are ill. But I always light the first candle for all the innocent children whose names I will never know. All those children who have been abused.”
Past key to moving on
For residential school survivors, stories help with reconciliation
by Craig And Marc Kielburger
Sainty Morris was play-wrestling with his best friend when they got caught. The residential school priests forced the two boys to beat each other bloody.
Another time, Morris helped a younger student hide a puppy. When they were caught, the priests made them drown the puppy in a sack.
And no matter how minor the infraction, the priests locked Morris in a dark room without food or water for as long as 15 hours. To this day, he can't sleep with the lights out.
"I live in fear of the dark because of the residential school," says Morris, one of 4,000 people who packed the PNE Coliseum in Vancouver on Sept. 19 to hear Justice Murray Sinclair open a new session of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Sinclair, who is a member of Canada's First Nations and became Manitoba's first aboriginal judge, heads the commission, which was launched in 2008. Since then, Sinclair says he has personally listened to more than 15,000 stories like Morris's, and estimates the Commission will have gathered more than 30,000 stories by the time it concludes. After five years, the commission is preparing to wind up. The final hearings will take place in Edmonton this spring. Before he headed to Vancouver, we asked Sinclair about this incredible archive he has compiled, and the next steps on the road to reconciliation.
Sinclair makes the point that the scars left behind by the residential schools are not just a problem for aboriginals - they are a problem for Canada. Many of the challenges that aboriginal communities face today - such as high rates of sexual abuse and poor education - are a legacy of the schools.
Approximately 150,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families and placed in Canada's residential school system from the late 1800s until the last one closed in 1996. At least 3,000 children - possibly many more - never got out of those schools alive. Because of those schools, Canada's aboriginal peoples still harbour distrust for government in general and school systems in particular. It's one factor behind the estimated 45,000 aboriginal students not in school today.
Sinclair has heard too many school survivors tearfully admit they became abusive parents as a result of the abuse they had suffered. Studies show, in general, that 30 per cent of abused children will become abusers themselves.
In Canada, the rates of sexual assault and abuse are higher in aboriginal communities than in the general populace. Research has found that anywhere from 25 to 50 per cent of aboriginal adults in a community will have experienced child sexual abuse.
Telling their stories to the commission helps survivors begin to heal. However, in order for there to be reconciliation, to mend the distrust between aboriginal and non aboriginal canadians, Sinclair says all Canadians need to hear these stories.
We asked Sinclair what he sees as the way forward for reconciliation. He told us the key is education. "Our public school system must contain content that allows aboriginal students to have self-respect, but also teaches non-aboriginal young people to be respectful."
As well, Sinclair said Canada's leaders - both aboriginal and non-aboriginal - must change the way they talk to and about each other, showing respect for one another and, by their example, encouraging Canadians to do the same.
He cautioned the path to reconciliation in Canada will not be a fast or easy one. "It is going to take us as long to heal as it took to inflict the damage. It will take many generations. We need to have a vision."
In just a few months, the Truth and Reconciliation process will come to an end. Now is the time for Canada to start the discussion: what next? We cannot take the tens of thousands of stories Sinclair has gathered and consign them to a dusty archive as a part of our history best forgotten. Understanding the impact the residential schools had then is critical to understanding and addressing the challenges our aboriginal peoples struggle with now.
We believe there should be a national campaign to make Canadians aware and invite them to read the stories of survivors. As well, there should be a national strategy for incorporating these stories into our school curricula.
Craig and Marc Kielburger are cofounders of international charity and educational partner, Free The Children. Its youth empowerment event, We Day, is in 11 cities across North America this year, inspiring more than 160,000 attendees from over 4,000 schools. For more information, visit www.weday.com