New child abuse laws take effect this month
by Lauren Baheri
Three new child abuse laws go into effect this month, increasing penalties for felony child abuse and making it a felony to not report a missing child within 24 hours.
Dottie Scher, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Gaston, said the laws were a long time coming. They will shine a much needed light on child abuse in North Carolina, she said.
“I think all of these should have been in place a long time ago,” Scher said. “But we really appreciate the fact that North Carolina legislators are taking child abuse seriously and seeing it as a real problem. And this is one way of dealing with it, increasing sentences, jail time.”
The three new laws are Caylee's Law, Lily's Law and Kilah's Law.
While Scher knows they won't fix the root of the problem, she does think the attention will help bring awareness.
“Overall, I'm just thrilled to death that child abuse is getting this much attention,” she said.
Caylee's Law: State Rep. Kelly Hastings, who represents Gaston and Cleveland counties, was the primary sponsor of Caylee's Law.
Caylee's Law spun from case of missing 2-year-old Caylee Anthony in Florida. Caylee's mother, Casey Anthony, failed to report her daughter missing until the child was gone for 31 days.
Hastings said he received more than 100 emails and calls from constituents about the high-profile mystery.
“That was the primary driving force,” Hastings said. “We had an overwhelming number of emails and calls about that particular incident that took place in Florida and it was from constituents and they were outraged.”
In North Carolina, before the law, there was no required time frame to report a missing child. Now it will be a felony for a parent or guardian to wait 24 hours before making a report.
Even if you are unrelated but know a child is missing without reporting it, you could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The new law also increases penalties for hiding a child's death or providing misleading information to police in a missing child case.
Scher believes if the law had been passed sooner, it could have made a difference in Caylee Anthony's case.
Prevent Child Abuse Gaston recommends caregivers report missing children within the first 15 minutes.
“Nine times out of 10 if a child is going to be seriously injured or killed it's going to happen within the first 30 minutes,” Scher said.
Stopping that can mean life or death, she said. Many public places like shopping malls lock down if a child is reported missing.
Kilah's Law: The change that hits closest to home for Scher is Kilah's Law. Its namesake, 4-year-old Kilah Davenport, lives in Union County but her family's plight is similar to the one undertaken by the family of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford. Jessica lived in Gaston County for much of her life before moving to Florida.
Kilah was beaten severely by her stepfather five years ago and left with permanent physical disabilities.
Jessica was assaulted, raped and killed by a man in 2005 after being abducted from her Florida home.
Both families fought for tougher penalties and longer jail time for anyone charged with felony child abuse.
Scher has spoken extensively with Jessica's father, Mark Lunsford. He wanted to see the maximum jail time raised to 25 years for felony child abuse. With Kilah's Law, that maximum will be raised to 33 years in jail.
And there's now a 10-year minimum sentence for felony child abuse convictions.
“Mark had traveled all over the country, trying to get the maximum sentence of a child severely abused … to 25 years and he has succeeded in most states that he's been in except for North Carolina,” she said. “So it's long overdue.”
Lily's Law: Lily's Law resulted from a child death in North Carolina. It mandates a murder charge if an infant is born alive but dies as a result of injuries sustained in the womb.
The law came about after Danna Fitzgerald of Mebane was shot by her estranged husband while 27 weeks pregnant with daughter Lillian. Fitzgerald was held hostage and deprived of medical care for 12 hours.
When she delivered Lillian, the premature infant was alive. But the baby died 31 days later.
Because of a loophole, prosecutors had to work hard to secure a murder conviction.
Now Lily's law states that anyone knowingly and maliciously inflicting injury on an unborn child can be charged with first- or second-degree murder.
Child advocates push for more openness in abuse, neglect cases
by Jennifer Brown
When four boys who could not speak or use the bathroom were rescued from a filthy Denver apartment, seven years after three older siblings were taken from the same parents, child protection authorities had this to say:
They believe they were bound by confidentiality law from saying anything about the case, even as public outrage grew and blame was heaped on Denver County child welfare.
Human services authorities will not say whether they received any calls to the child abuse hotline, as the family's neighbors said they made. Nor whether they visited the home in the years since the first three kids, also nonverbal and not potty-trained, were taken away and adopted by other families. Not even whether they went to court to ask a judge to remove the boys born after their parents lost a court battle to keep their first three children.
Instead, the community was left in the dark.
Across the nation, child advocates are pushing for more transparency in child abuse and neglect cases, arguing that confidentiality impedes reform and that it's possible to answer questions about how the system broke down without violating a child's privacy.
"Confidentiality is killing kids," said Michael Petit, president of Every Child Matters in Washington, D.C. "It's shielding the public from what the real problems are. It isn't just the public's right to know, it's the public's right to intervene."
A national commission focused on child abuse deaths, expected to convene in January, is likely to make confidentiality a key issue, said Petit, who was appointed to the panel by President Obama.
Colorado rewrote part of its transparency law this year, requiring that a state review team that investigates child deaths include age, gender and a description of any previous involvement with child welfare authorities. The reviews also identify problems for the county that handled the case.
But by the time the reports are released, sometimes a year after the death and after a back-and-forth process of state and county input, public outcry has quieted. Also, the public and the media do not have access to the original documents, only the report that is a collaboration between county and state officials.
Colorado's child ombudsman, a watchdog for the state child welfare system, found earlier this year that the state child fatality review team made 97 errors of fact and missing details when reviewing the death of a 2-year-old boy whose skeleton was found under his home. The state did not include all policy mistakes made by caseworkers who had received calls about the boy before his meth-using mother strangled him, the ombudsman said.
So far in 2013, 40 children in Colorado have died from abuse and neglect, according to a state website required to list the incidents within three days. About one quarter of those children's families were involved with child welfare workers within three years of their deaths.
The tally of kids who were killed, nearly killed — including severe brain injuries — and egregiously neglected — including the four Denver boys rescued from squalor in September — is at 85 for this year. Of those, 33 were previously known to the child protective system, meaning a state team is required to review those cases.
And out of those 33, just four reports are completed and available to the public. Several are bouncing between the state review team and the county where the death or near-death happened, following a timeline spelled out in state law.
"There is no backlog. We are up to date per the legislation," said Julie Krow, director of the state Office of Children, Youth and Families. "Our administration has a commitment to transparency, taken in balance with what's best for the children."
This year's law change also requires that Colorado's fatality reviews include the names of children who have been killed, but not those still living.
The state Department of Human Services previously released the names of children killed by abuse and neglect, but made the reports nameless in 2012 and 2013 when the state began putting them online. State officials said they changed policy to align with federal guidelines.
The Denver Post used state fatality reviews from 2007-11 that included children's names to create an online gallery of children's stories and photos. The newspaper's investigation last year found that 40 percent of children who die of abuse and neglect in this state had families who were previously known to caseworkers.
The children who died in 2012 and the first half of 2013, until the law making names public, will remain nameless on the state website containing their fatality reports.
"All of these kids that die, there is an adorable picture of each of them," said Christina Riehl, senior staff attorney with the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego. "When you take that away, it becomes another number on a page."
The institute published a report, State Secrecy and Child Deaths in the U.S., last year that graded every state on its transparency. Colorado, with a D-plus, was one of four states to score a D or an F, but that was before changes in state law that required more openness and also forced the state review team to investigate near-fatalities and egregious incidents of neglect, not just deaths.
Reform advocates are not arguing that laws to protect privacy aren't necessary. Revealing the name of a girl sexually assaulted by her uncle, for example, serves no purpose, reform advocates say. But the public should know how the child protection system works, or doesn't, so people can participate politically in reform, Riehl said.
"Children, in particular dead children, do not have a voice," she said. "When we hide that horribleness from all of the good people, there is nobody good standing up and saying we need more help and we need more resources. Instead, we are talking about resources for those who have a voice."
Stuck in a rut
Child protection officials tend to "over-interpret" confidentiality law, believing it requires them to say nothing at all about their work, said Kendall Marlowe, executive director of the National Association of Counsel for Children and former head of caseworkers in Illinois.
"There is no good reason for child welfare systems to be as secretive as they are," he said. "If the law is too restrictive, change the law."
Marlowe said he believes there is a "growing movement toward transparency." For decades, secrecy has led to finger-pointing toward child welfare, but if the public were allowed to hear it, they would learn how many other systems — courts, health care, law enforcement — are involved in protecting kids, he said.
"What transparency would show is that child welfare is a complex system that needs the active participation of the entire community," he said.
Marlowe said the country is stuck in a rut: The media scream that children are dying, focusing on examples of child welfare workers not acting aggressively enough in taking kids from their parents, and the child welfare system, meanwhile, says "we can't talk about it."
"The field has too long hidden behind confidentiality of families," he said. "We are spending the taxpayers' money to protect children. We owe it to the public to openly explain what we are doing to protect kids."
In the case of the four boys rescued from squalor in Denver this fall, Denver County child protection authorities said they were frustrated they could not talk about their prior involvement with the family but that they must guard the trust of families who need intervention.
As for finding out whether the parents will lose rights to the boys, now in foster care, those court records are not public in this state.
Reform advocates say Colorado has made strides in transparency in the last two years, but criticize the number of exceptions in the law for withholding information, including the blanket exception, in "the best interest of the child."
"The real discussion is how do we balance the privacy rights of families and children with the public's right to know if our systems are working, " said Stephanie Villafuerte, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center. "This is the hard conversation that needs to take place."
Radio program on sex trafficking to air Monday
The Herald-Tribune has produced a documentary radio package on child sex trafficking in Florida that is scheduled to air twice on Monday. The four-minute package is slated to run at 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on WUSF, 89.7 FM. You can also live stream the package online: wusf.usf.edu.
The radio package is narrated by Herald-Tribune reporter J. David McSwane, who spent a year researching the burgeoning underground economy of child sex trafficking in Florida, including Sarasota and Bradenton.
The result was an in-depth report, The Stolen Ones. The story, along with photos, videos and a resource guide on how to help, can be viewed at thestolenones.heraldtribune.com.
New documentary ‘Tricked' illuminates disturbing human trafficking culture in the US
by Hollie McKay
Modern-day slavery is very much alive right here in our own backyard, according to a new feature-length documentary, "Tricked." Embedded with the Denver Vice squad and combing through Las Vegas, directors John-Keith Wasson and Jane Wells bring audiences right into the frightening fold as thousands of victims are trafficked throughout the United States each year to satisfy a $3 billion-a-year industry.
"I read an article stating that thousands of girls were being imported to the Super Bowl to provide sexual services to male fans.” Emmy-nominated filmmaker Jane Wells told FOX411. “I was startled. I had worked on human rights issues for years, but I had no idea of the extent of human trafficking in this country."
"Tricked" sheds light on all aspects of this disturbing trade -- featuring interviews with everyone from law enforcement officers, parents, and victims to the pimps who seem to see nothing wrong with their actions.
"The pimps were so open in talking to us and had very little fear of repercussion, which speaks to the crime and how 'normalized' it has become in our society," Wells said. "None of them could possibly admit they were inflicting harm."
And while the FBI did not list specific figures regarding the business, it notes that the industry today is "much more organized and violent" than it once was, and that traffickers often use violence such as gang rape to force youths to work for them and remain under their control.
That is a sad reality that one of the documentary subjects, survivor Danielle Douglas, knows all too well. During her first week of college, Douglas was invited to a party, where she met a man who soon became her boyfriend. Then he violently abused her and forced her into prostitution for two years.
"The stories of survivors are profoundly disturbing. Each one has a unique story to tell of how they were preyed upon," Wells said. "Trafficking is happening everywhere, every night, across America."
The film is a project of 3 Generations, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping survivors share their stories in order to build a means for the others to learn from their harrowing experiences. But aside from simply raising awareness about the issue, Wells hopes the film busts some antiquated myths surrounding the sex trade and paves the way for legislative changes.
"There are many myths that are deeply and reflexively ingrained in popular culture, like it is the world's oldest profession and boys will be boys. These myths do great harm to those who are forced into this industry," she said.
"They deflect our attention from the need for broad change. We need to change the laws around the whole industry. Police are too often still working on a system where the young woman has committed a crime even if she is under coercion. These women are the victims. They shouldn't be criminalized."
"Tricked" opens in select theaters December 13.
14-Year-Old Sex Trafficking Survivor Speaks Out
CHICAGO (CBS) — It could happen in your neighborhood, on your street. Young girls are being lured from their homes and forced into prostitution. CBS 2's Pamela Jones spoke with a 14-year-old girl who escaped that life and now has a warning for other kids.
“He said I can do whatever the BLEEP I want to you now. So, he punched me in my mouth.”
A final act of violence against a girl just 14-years old by a man now charged with raping her and forcing her into sex trafficking.
We'll call her Hannah, a girl who ran away from family Chicago's South Side in August. That's when prosecutors say 21-year-old Donzell Mintz befriended Hannah, later raping her and moving to Evanston – where Hannah says he pimped her out for almost a month.
“He had me selling drugs, doing drugs and prostituting,” she said.
Her uncle is an activist who helps find young runaways.
“Just tears started flowing down anger, because it hits home. And you have a different feeling when it hits home,” he said.
The National Runaway Safeline says more younger girls are reaching out now – admitting to being pushed to sell their bodies.
“I think sometimes we feel like that's not really our problem. Sex trafficking and victimizing young people is very, very serious and is a problem here in the U.S.,” said Maureen Blaha.
The safeline has just launched a live chat system to attract younger victims and find them help.
Hannah is now poised to heal.
“I'm still standing strong and tall. You didn't break me.”
She hopes to help other girls avoid trouble on the street.
“Don't runaway to someone you do not know because you never know what they'll do to you or what they'll make you do.”
The suspect has been charged with involuntary sexual servitude of a minor, aggravated criminal sexual abuse and aggravated domestic battery.
Hannah still needs surgery to replace her teeth – her jaws is still held together by wire.
Help needed for victims of human trafficking
by Ashley Snee Giovannettone
Every once in a while, we hear about something so horrible that we question whether it could possibly be true. After listening to a presentation on human trafficking at my church in Davis, I was overcome with shock and disbelief. I had been peripherally aware of this issue but assumed it was happening in far off, dark places only affecting people I would never know. I was wrong.
The more I learned, the more horrifying it became. The truth is, it's happening here in the Sacramento region and often to society's most vulnerable kids.
According to the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department, 320 kids have been rescued from sex trafficking in the Sacramento region over the past seven years. Ninety percent of these kids had some contact with the foster care system. Throughout California, documented cases show young girls – some as young as 12 – being forced into prostitution by pimps who kidnapped or lured them through a variety of nefarious means.
According to a 2012 report by the California attorney general's office, human trafficking is the world's fastest-growing criminal enterprise, and California is one of the nation's top four destination states for trafficking humans. Because of its proximity to other large cities and major highways, Sacramento has become a hot spot for these activities.
When it comes to trafficking and prostitution, victimization of kids is the most horrific part and often the least understood. While people often assume that trafficking involves moving people from one place to another, the federal definition also includes inducing a commercial sex act by “force, fraud or coercion,” or inducing a child under 18 to perform a sex act for money.
Sacramento County sheriff's Detective John Sydow, a member of a federal task force on child exploitation, told me that even many law enforcement officials fail to grasp the dynamics of child prostitution. “There is a common misconception that girls are doing this because they want to be doing this, and that they get to keep the money they make.”
Sydow says pimps routinely employ violence, combined with mental and financial manipulation, to maintain control of their victims.
Sex trafficking has become so lucrative that, according to the attorney general's report, domestic street gangs set aside traditional rivalries to set up commercial sex rings and maximize profits from the sale of young women. The report describes domestic traffickers recruiting their young victims from high schools, foster and group homes, and malls among other locations.
The recently implemented Proposition 35, which significantly increased penalties for traffickers, was a step in the right direction. However, more work remains.
Under current law, even though an adult who hires a child prostitute has committed statutory rape, the child can be prosecuted as a criminal.
One recent bill that aims to change that is Senate Bill 738, by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. It would put minors picked up for prostitution in dependency court instead of delinquency court. The bill passed the Senate unanimously this summer but is on a two-year track in the Assembly.
However, decriminalization – if it happens – still leaves many of these girls with few places to turn to get out of this life.
In the absence of adequate legislative change and services for victims, churches, community organizations and some courageous individuals have stepped in to fill the void.
Leah Albright-Byrd, founder of Bridget's Dream in Sacramento, escaped the world of trafficking after being exploited when she was a teenager. She credits her faith and church community for helping her find a way out. Now Leah and her team of Bridget's Dream volunteers work around the clock to reach out to victims, offer services and a way out of exploitation. Since the average life expectancy of someone entering the life of sexual exploitation is eight years, her work, motivated by love and redemption, is literally saving lives.
While few are equipped to do the work of Leah and her organization, we can all do something. Primarily, we can be aware, alert and armed with the human trafficking hotline – (888) 373-7888 – in our cellphone, ready to report anything suspicious. For those with the means and a heart for it, adoption and foster care are powerful ways to limit abuse. Finally, we should all let our elected leaders know we care, and demand protections and services for the victims and tougher penalties – not just for traffickers, but for patrons whose demand fuels the sex trade.
In Sacramento, Republicans and Democrats quarrel over much, but one thing seldom in dispute is that government should be a safety net for society's most vulnerable victims, particularly when these victims are children.
Ashley Snee Giovannettone, former special assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney and former spokeswoman for President George W. Bush and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, is a consultant with Meridian Pacific in Sacramento.
Local churches reach out to victims of sex trafficking
by Annie Scholz
MILWAUKEE-- A group of local churches is fighting to make a change in the lives of sex trafficking victims.
As you decorate for the holidays, a group in Milwaukee is hoping the “Make Room” ornament will stand out as a way to help victims of sex trafficking.
"Going off of the season that celebrates the birth of Jesus who was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn for him, there's this idea that there are no rooms for children coming out of the trade in Milwaukee,” said Katie Linn.
Linn is the Executive Director of Exploit No More, a group made up of Milwaukee-area churches fighting a growing child sex trade.
"Cases across the country have been as young as 10 or 11 years old. In Milwaukee we typically see 12, 13, 14 15 years old," said Linn.
Pastor Randy Knie and Brew City Church are part of the effort trying to raise money to establish a home for girls who've survived.
"Just to say that I as a resident of the city of Milwaukee, I as a son of God even, I need to care for these girls and treat them as if they were my daughters," said Knie.
So far, they've raised about $60,000, but they need $500,000 to support the long term trauma care these girls need.
"Everyday things such as noise from the road, slamming doors can be triggers for them to break down," said Linn.
If you're able to give $25, the ornament is your gift. And it's a symbol of the fight for young girls who can't fight for themselves.
"The biggest obstacle to change is the idea someone else will do it, someone else will take care of it. And we as a community have come together and we're saying no, we're going to step up to the plate to do something," said Linn.
They're hoping to raise the full amount by May. If you can't afford to donate money, they say they'd love for you to donate your time. They, and these girls, are grateful for all the help they can get.
Bright House techs taught to spot human trafficking signs
by Daylina Miller
MOON LAKE — Dozens of Pasco Bright House Networks employees learned Wednesday morning how to spot suspicious things within the communities where they work.
Continuing a partnership started in 2005, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office offered a training seminar for Bright House technicians to teach them basic crime prevention tips, and how to stay at a safe distance but still call in suspicious activity.
The training included how to recognize residential burglaries, identify possible marijuana grow houses and spot other crime committed in many residential areas, but the focus of the seminar was human trafficking, a global, multibillion-dollar crime defined by the Clearwater/Tampa Bay Area Task Force on Human Trafficking as “the exploitation by force, fraud or coercion of vulnerable people — often immigrants — for forced labor, domestic servitude or commercial sex operations.”
The training session took place Wednesday morning at the Bright House offices on Moon Lake Road. The training will be repeated in Wesley Chapel on Thursday.
“We want to bring in the business community and local citizens so that there are eyes and ears in the communities they work in every day,” said Cpl. Alan Wilkett of the sheriff's office, who led the training.
Previous training sessions have been done with other utility companies, hotels, malls and retail centers. Wilkett said the sheriff's office will offer training to any businesses or organizations in the community that invite them.
Wednesday's session at Bright House focused on human trafficking. Signs to look for, Wilkett said, included individuals refusing to give personal documents or having other people hold them for them, someone refusing to answer basic questions or having someone to step in and answer for them, and signs that point to mobile brothels or brothels being set up in homes.
Joe Durkin, the senior director for corporate communications with Bright House, lauded the program for its ability to teach Bright House employees how to be a good corporate neighbor by partnering with law enforcement if they see something suspicious.
The session was part of a series of refresher courses offered by various law enforcement agencies throughout the six states that Bright House Networks, a subsidiary of Advance/Newhouse Communications, operates in.
Florida is the perfect setting for human trafficking because of its large airports, military bases, coastlines, sporting events, large conventions, other transit ports and tourism, the corporal pointed out.
Wilkett has given presentations on human trafficking at various events throughout this year, including at a Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking event held in March at Trinity College of Florida. The event was an effort to educate the community on how prevalent human trafficking is in the Bay area. Florida is third in the United States, behind California and Texas, in the human trafficking business, according to the Clearwater Area Task Force on Human Trafficking. The Tampa Bay area is the second worst area for trafficking in Florida.
“One of the things that really just boils my blood is human trafficking,” Wilkett said in March “It's more than just a job bullet point for me. It's a form of human slavery and a violation of a person's dignity and the fact that they are a child of God.”
The sheriff's office and Bright House Networks first joined efforts in 2005, using the cable company's Operation Bright Eyes program and a Fleet Watch program sponsored by the sheriff's office.
The program was credited with breaking a crime spree of stolen cable boxes in the Tampa Bay area that were sold illegally in South America, according to a sheriff's office press release from July 2008.
Training center aims to get to the root of child abuse
by John Weiss
WINONA — Amy Russell has spent years wading upstream. Now, she believes she is finally getting to the root of many social problems by helping end child abuse.
Russell, the new executive director of the National Child Protection Training Center in Winona, said she began as a counselor for victims of crime, then got her law degree. When she began practicing law, she got into a case where a man high on drugs and a drunk man were suing each other for causing an accident. That was too much, so she decided to get out of that and work more with children.
At a juvenile detention center, she found many youths who had some kind of maltreatment in their background. Russell said she saw police who were interrogating children instead of doing true forensic interviews.
"I wanted to go upstream a little bit" to get to the root of the abuse, she said.
She went on to become head of Corner House in the Twin Cities where a nationally known system for forensic interviews was developed so they are good enough to be accepted in court.
Now, she has taken over the National Child Protection Training Center at Winona State University. The center is a national leader in teaching social workers, attorneys, police and others how to investigate and prosecute abuse. It also works to help stop abuse in the first place by getting to its cause, and working with families in turmoil to end abuse.
In developing the interviewing system, she worked with Victor Vieth, the center's emeritus director.
Two weeks ago, Russell was a teacher of 30 people from across the country who were in Winona to improve their skills and learn how to identify more than one form of abuse.
Russell began by interviewing an actor trained to be like an abused child. Russell went through the steps of establishing rapport with "Rosie," finding out what the child called different parts of the body and then discovering what happened.
In the scenario, the girl's mother had been dressing her up like a cowgirl and allowing men to have sex with the girl. Rosie, who rocked back and forth, said she liked dressing up in the purple outfit and also helping her family earn money.
"Have you had touches on your body that were not OK with you," Russell asked.
"No," Rosie said.
But then she added, "sometimes I'm not sure, bu Mommy said it's OK, and we are all doing our job."
She then described how "Jim" came over and had sex with her, describing it using names for genitals that she had given earlier in the interview.
Relying on an anatomically correct doll, Russell had Rosie show her how the sex was done.
After returning to the classroom, Russell admitted she didn't do everything perfectly and had students critique her work.
Then it was time for the 30 to do their own interviews.
That's much of the future of the center, she said.
In five years, Russell said she believes thousands more people will be trained in Winona or at a new center opening in February in northern Arkansas. That will further cement the system the center has put in place for training everyone involved in child abuse investigation.
"We are absolutely headed in the right direction," she said. "We're pulling everyone together."
Kids House helps families victimized by abuse
by Jim Stratton
The disclosure, when it finally came, left April almost incapable of rational thought.
A laid-off divorced mother of four, she was on her own and trying to make it in Central Florida. Now her 17-year-old daughter was disclosing that for several years, a relative had molested her while April, an Army veteran, was serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In that moment, it all seemed impossible, and yet horribly true.
"You know she didn't just make up something like that," said April, whose name has been changed here to protect her daughter's identity. "But part of me just didn't want to believe it."
No parent does. It's the fear parents lock in the attic, the thought they crowd out of their mind.
It's one of the reasons Lourdes Davis does what she does.
Davis is a child's advocate at Kids House of Seminole, a nonprofit that helps children and families dealing with abuse. The agency is one of many supported by the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund.
Davis met April three months ago, after she was referred to Kids House by law enforcement. The agency has since helped her find counseling for her now 18-year-old daughter, is making sure the family has food for the holidays and is serving as a trail guide through the legal process. Charges in the case are pending.
But set aside those specifics, and listen to what April says Kids House has done for her daughter.
"Everybody here came around her like a cloak, like a cloak of protection, and wrapped her in it," she said.
April was always the protector. A soldier for 12 years, she said she rarely let the girls out of her sight — except when she was deployed. When she went overseas, her four girls would stay with the extended family.
Almost two years ago, April moved with the girls to Florida. She was now out of the Army — on a medical discharge — and had a job lined up.
But her oldest daughter was acting out. There were dark, sudden mood swings. She was drinking and couldn't relate to boys her age. April figured it was fallout from the separation, but a family friend suspected something more.
He told the girl, "You need to tell someone what happened."
Eventually, April's daughter did.
The sexual contact, she told authorities, began when she was 12 and the male relative was in his late 20s. April said he bought her gifts — an iPod, stuffed animals, a cellphone — and asked her not to tell anyone. Much of the abuse occurred, April said, while she was serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The allegations have fractured the family. Some members believe April's daughter is making the story up. A few have thanked her for coming forward. April is grateful for the support, but it's almost irrelevant.
"Whatever anyone else says doesn't make a difference," she said. "What makes a difference is what I can do for my children."
Phila. Agency Helping Child Abuse Victims Gets Grant For Mobile Interviewing
by Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Philadelphia agency that provides a kid-friendly place where child victims of sex abuse can deal with law enforcement, social workers, and prosecutors all at once will now be able to take its services to young victims wherever they are.
The nonprofit Philadelphia Children's Alliance is purchasing mobile equipment called iRecord, which includes a small camera, tripod, and a laptop computer.
“The camera streams the interview of the child to the laptop, and the laptop is in another room where you would have the mandatory investigative agencies, watching and listening to the interviews,” explains executive director Chris Kirchner.
She says PCA will be able to set the equipment up in hospitals, residential treatment homes, or other settings.
“If a child is hospitalized because of injuries, you don't want to wait a week, because the child may not remember what happened in a week,” Kirchner tells KYW Newsradio . “We just want to do everything we can to talk to them and find out what they remember as quickly as possible after the incident happens.”
The equipment comes thanks to a $14,295 grant from Ronald McDonald House Charites. Kirchner says the equipment will be up and running early next year.
Child Sex Abuse a Hidden Epidemic
by Tiffany McCall
MOBILE, Ala. - High profile cases like alleged internet predator Freeman Jockish and missing teen Brittany Wood bring to light a topic that's seldom discussed - Child Sex Crimes.
You may remember as the search for Brittany continued, several family members and even family acquaintances were arrested. Charges ranging from sex abuse of a child, rape and sodomy.
"Child sexual abuse is a hidden epidemic in our community and all over the United States," said Pat Guyton.
Pat Guyton with the Child Advocacy Center provides counseling to local children who have been sexually abused.
Guyton says he handles about 500 new and ongoing child sex abuse cases every year, and that it's the most under reported crime in the United States.
"The FBI says nationally that for every case of child sexual abuse that's reported, at least 10 cases go unreported," he said.
Guyton says nowadays, children as young at 7 years old are finding their way on the internet without parental supervision.
"We've had cases right here through the Child Advocacy Center of children who unfortunately met up with someone on the internet. And we are seeing more cases like that and we will continue to do that with the explosion of the internet and iPhones and technology," he said.
Guyton urges parents to be aware. Monitor your child's internet activity, even know their passwords so they won't become a victim.
"Parents are constantly checking this because remember, children are not responsible. So we need adults who are responsible," said Guyton.
The Child Advocacy Center has a team in house from the Mobile County District Attorney's office that works to prosecute sex abuse cases. A program in Mobile County Public Schools also teaches children about sex abuse awareness.
Talking to kids about sex abuse emotional but necessary
by Diana Crawford
HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Court documents show James McCullars came into contact with hundreds of children in North Alabama. The news of his indictment now has many parents concerned their own kids could be victims of sexual abuse.
How should you talk to your children about this issue? We sat down with a representative of the National Children's Advocacy Center to find out how parents can talk about this sensitive subject with their kids.
She said parents should understand this won't just be one conversation, and they need to be prepared for anything.
Linda Cordisco-Steele is the senior trainer, and a child forensic interview specialist at the NCAC in Huntsville. She said news of a local Boy Scout volunteer facing child pornography charges can be distressing to parents, as they immediately fear their own child is a victim.
"These cases are challenging because there is no reason to think that every child who came in contact with him suffered any kind of mistreatment or abuse," she said.
But it is crucial you find out if they did. She said most children won't come forward on their own.
"Kids don't tell for lots of reasons. We know that they are either fearful or they are embarrassed. Often children think it's their fault," she explained.
Having that conversation can be tough, so she advises working through your own emotions before talking to your child.
"I would start with questions about what they remember about this man, what kind of things they did with him, the kind of interactions they had," she said.
After having the conversation, Cordisco-Steele said parents should remain observant of any changes in their child's behavior.
"The challenge with looking for behaviors is that there are no behaviors that are particularly unique to sexual abuse," she said.
Some kids will react more than others to the news, but one red flag she points out is if a child is especially upset or has no reaction. She said it's important your child understands the kids involved in the case are not in trouble or responsible in any way.
If a parent finds out their child is a victim of sexual abuse, it is important to report it immediately. Contact your local law enforcement agency first, then the Department of Human Resources, who will coordinate their investigations.
If you are a Huntsville local, the National Children's Advocacy Center will also get involved. The center has a group of therapists, victim's advocates and medical personnel who will help the child and their family get through the ordeal.
For those worried about others finding out, we are told these agencies make privacy a top priority.
"It's a terrible burden and secret to carry by yourself. While it is frightening, a lot of people are anxious about what is going to happen and question whether they are making the right choice. There is an opportunity to let go of that secret and let go of that burden," said Cordisco-Steele.
She also said it's important you leave the door open for your child to come to you at any point with their questions or concerns.
D.C. police search home of officer in investigation of prostitution ring
by Peter Hermann, Ann Marimow and Clarence Williams
Authorities are investigating whether a veteran D.C. police officer was running a prostitution ring out of his Southeast Washington apartment, where they found a 16-year-old girl who had been reported missing, according to documents unsealed in federal court.
The officer, who has been on the force 24 years, had not been arrested as of Thursday evening, but he was put on paid administrative leave as police continued their investigation. The teenager told police that the officer took nude photos of her and arranged for her to have sex for money, the court papers say.
News of the allegation broke publicly as another D.C. police officer was in U.S. District Court facing a federal charge of producing child pornography. Marc L. Washington, 32, was arrested Monday on allegations that he took pictures of a semi-nude 15-year-old who had run away from home.
Authorities said it does not appear that the cases are related, but the specter of having two officers from the 7th District station house in Southeast Washington investigated on crimes linked to sexual abuse of minors has shaken the 4,000-member department. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the department “is very concerned about the recent allegations of egregious conduct.”
Lanier acknowledged that the cases could make the force look bad, but she said that “misguided actions of a few in no way reflects on the professionalism, dedication and integrity of the department.”
The Washington Post is not naming the 47-year-old officer because he not been charged with a crime and was not identified in the search warrant application, filed in U.S. District Court. Efforts to reach him were not successful.
It was unclear how investigators came to focus on the officer and the apartment on Stanton Road. The court documents state only that detectives investigating a family's report of a missing 16-year-old girl learned that she might be at the officer's residence.
Police went to the apartment Tuesday night and the officer answered the door after repeated knocks, according to court papers. He let them in, and they reported that they immediately smelled marijuana. Detectives were told that two females were in a bedroom; one was the missing teen, the court documents stated, and the other was an 18-year-old.
Officers stayed at the apartment through the night and most of Wednesday, and after getting a search warrant, they confiscated nine pairs of shoes, one bra, two boxes of condoms, computers and cellphones. The court documents stated that they also took a mirror with names written on it and that the 16-year-old told police that the names were of women who had worked as prostitutes.
A high-ranking D.C. police official said authorities are still sorting through conflicting statements and trying to determine precisely what was happening in the apartment. How the officer met the girl was not described in documents made public thus far.
According to court documents, the girl told police that she had gone to the officer's apartment at least twice and that the officer took nude photos of her wearing sparkly high-heeled shoes and showed them to a potential customer. The man liked the photos, and was scheduled to meet her and pay $80 for sex, the girl told police. Of that, she said, $20 was to go to the officer. The girl said that the officer was to pay for her hairstyle, shoes and new clothes, and that her working name would be “Juicy.” It was not clear whether the girl ever met the customer.
The girl said that six other women worked out of the apartment and that advertisements were posted on the Internet site backpage.com, the documents said.
In U.S. District Court on Thursday, authorities were dealing with the separate case involving Marc Washington. Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola said he wanted to release the officer to stay with his father in Waldorf, Md., and be put on electronic monitoring. But Facciola stayed the order 24 hours to give prosecutors a chance to appeal.
“It is despicable for anyone to do this,” Facciola said of the alleged conduct. “For a police officer to do this is beyond anyone's imagination.”
But with Washington's gun and badge no longer in his possession, the judge said it “reduces substantially” the possibility of the officer being able to abuse his previous position of authority. The arresting officer told the judge that Washington's police powers had been revoked and that he was in the process of being suspended without pay.
The officer's attorney, Michelle Peterson, told the judge that her client “understands the serious nature of the charges, but they are just that – charges.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ari Redbord said that investigators recovered dozens of photos from Washington's camera, including images of two semi-nude females who appeared to be minors, and that they think there may be other victims. “He committed this crime on duty, in uniform and with a firearm,” Redbord said in arguing for Washington to remain in custody. “He picked the most vulnerable of victims in our community.”
Authorities: Letter from missing New Hampshire teen appears to be genuine
by Julia Lull and Leigh Remizowski
Federal and state authorities won't say specifically why, but they think a letter purported to be from a New Hampshire teenager missing for nearly two months might in fact be the real thing.
Abigail Hernandez was last seen on October 9, according to the FBI, as she headed home from her high school in the town of Conway, and officials fear she might be held against her will.
"We are concerned for her safety," New Hampshire Associate Attorney General Jane Young said Friday at a news conference called to discuss the search for the girl.
"She is not out there alone. She has somebody who is either helping her, whether that be a friend or what we fear is a foe."
At the news conference, authorities revealed that Abigail's mother, Zenya Hernandez, received a letter on November 6 that appeared to be from her missing daughter. That letter was kept secret until Friday, said Young, because "law enforcement had to take every possible step to verify its authenticity.
"And at this juncture, we believe in fact that it was written by Abby and was sent to her mother," Young added.
Neither federal nor state authorities would discuss the contents of the letter beyond Young saying the writing is in "a tone Abby would have used," and that the letter underwent "expert analysis" before its existence was announced publicly.
Officials also said revealing details about the letter could potentially trigger "copycat" letters that would slow down the investigation.
The letter was written on October 22, and postmarked on October 23, according to Young, and it was turned over to authorities for investigation after Zenya Hernandez received it nearly two weeks after it was postmarked.
"When we received this letter I will tell you it was unprecedented. We have not seen anything like that in recent times in other investigations, but most importantly, it gave us hope," FBI Special Agent Kieran Ramsey said at the news conference.
Neither the girl's mother nor the rest of her family has had any contact with Abigail since the letter's arrival, said Young.
Authorities said Abigail had no source of income, and on the day she disappeared she did not have winter clothes with her. Police released photos of a pocketbook and a necklace that were believed to be with the teen when she went missing.
Officials from several law enforcement agencies asked that members of the community be vigilant and pay attention to their surroundings, in the hopes that someone will spot Abigail and alert authorities.
"We are asking you look at your neighbor. Look at the girls next door. Look at your church. Is there somebody that you haven't seen before?" Young said on Friday.
Initially authorities believed Abigail's disappearance may have been an abduction, and continue to believe that she may be being held against her will, but nevertheless they are continuing to classify it as a missing persons case, as all possibilities have not yet been ruled out, according to Ramsey.
Information and tips on Abigail's disappearance are still flowing in from members of the community and law enforcement officials asked that anyone with knowledge of Abigail's whereabouts contact authorities.
"We need to reunite this child with her family," concluded Young.
Man released amid questions about child abuse case
by Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — A man convicted 21 years ago of child abuse involving satanic rituals at a day care he ran with his wife was freed Thursday amid questions about the evidence in the case.
Dan Keller was released on bond barely a week after the release of his now ex-wife, Fran. The couple, who have always maintained their innocence, hope that appeals courts will now exonerate them.
The Kellers were convicted and sentenced to 48 years each in 1992, after therapists testified that they helped three children recover memories of satanic rituals and sexual abuse at an Austin preschool the couple operated out of their home.
The only physical evidence came from an emergency room doctor who testified that internal lacerations on one child were evidence of abuse. But in court documents filed earlier this year, Dr. Michael Mouw says what he thought were lacerations were actually normal physiology.
That prompted prosecutors in Travis County, which includes Austin, to agree that the case's evidence was faulty and release the couple on bond.
Dan Keller, 72, was met outside the county jail by his ex-wife, 63, who was released Nov. 26. The pair — who divorced while in prison, but who remain close — hugged warmly.
Dan Keller told reporters he wasn't bitter and planned to spend his first moments of freedom grabbing a cheeseburger.
The jury convicted the Kellers after similar cases in California, Massachusetts and Florida that gained national attention. Convictions in many of those cases have been overturned, or prosecutors have petitioned to vacate them.
In an appeal filed in January, the Kellers accused Austin police of withholding evidence that would have cleared the couple and said the judge allowed prosecutors to introduce unscientific psychological evidence at trial by an unqualified witness.
Four San Antonio women imprisoned for sexually assaulting two girls in 1994 were freed last month, after a judge agreed with their defense attorney and prosecutors that their 1998 convictions should not stand due to faulty expert testimony. In that case, another doctor recanted her testimony that what she thought were internal injuries indicating sexual abuse were actually anatomically normal.
Child abuse reforms taking center stage
by John Finnerty -- CNHI State Reporter
HARRISBURG — Cumbersome legal definitions of child abuse can stymie doctors, nurses and caseworkers who might believe a child is in danger, according to advocates lobbying for changes to the state's child welfare system.
Key bills to toughen penalties for child abuse and failure to report it could be on the governor's desk before the end of the month. Those include a signature piece of legislation that advocates say will change the way child abuse is defined.
The key change involves essentially rewriting the law so almost anything that would be considered simple assault can now be described as child abuse. Under existing law, a doctor is often asked to determine if the child suffered “severe pain” as a result of the abuse, said Cathleen Palm, who leads the Protect Our Children Committee, an advocacy group that has been fighting for revamped child protection laws.
The state House has already approved the bill that would reform the definition of child abuse. A final Senate vote could take place next week.
The unwieldy definition can cripple abuse investigations before they begin as caseworkers and others in the child protection system are stymied, Palm said.
“(Child protection workers) are trained to screen based on what the law says,” Palm said.
The chilling effect is felt across the child protection system.
It matters to the nurse who calls to report that a child is covered in bruises only to see nothing happen, Palm said. It matters to the dispatcher who takes the call and determines that the injuries described by the nurse probably don't meet the state standard for abuse, so the case is put on a backburner, Palm said.
It matters to doctors who treat children with suspicious injuries only to struggle to guess if the child suffered the type of “severe pain” required to call the acts abuse, she said. And, most of all, it matters to the children who listen to a caseworker tell their abusers the victims' injuries don't count as child abuse, Palm said.
Fifteen of the 31 families in which children died as a result of abuse in Pennsylvania in 2012 had been visited by child protective services in the 16 months before the victims were killed, according to Department of Public Welfare data.
“This isn't about jacking our numbers up,” Palm said. “We are concerned because kids are not being provided pathways to services or investigations.”
Coming up with a workable new definition has not been easy. Early on, Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, who chaired the state's task force on child protection, worried that lawmakers would hedge on toughening the abuse language out of concerns about interfering with the right of parents to discipline their children. Those concerns were resolved, but physicians say there are other problems in some of the legislation.
The state is not eliminating the right of parents to claim that abuse is the result of religious beliefs, said Dr. Pat Bruno, a Northumberland County physician who specializes in recognizing and treating child abuse.
Just as badly, shaking a toddler would remain legal, Bruno said.
“First of all, the statement about ‘forcefully shaking a child if the child is under one year of age' should be changed to ‘forcefully shaking an infant or a child.' ” Bruno said. “There is no reason to ever shake an infant or a child. Indeed, there have been many reported cases of shaking causing the same damage to a child greater than one year of age as it does to a child less than one year of age.”
The move to revamp the definition of child abuse is one of 10 bills moving in the Senate. Others stiffen penalties for abuse or failing to report abuse and aim to improve communications between law enforcement and child protective services.
Advocates fret that those efforts may translate into a flood of reports of child abuse that only strain already overworked and burned out caseworkers.
Greater public awareness about child abuse has already translated into a dramatic increase in reports of suspected abuse, according to Department of Public Welfare data. The state's ChildLine hotline received 26,664 reports of suspected abuse in 2012, a 9 percent increase over 2011.
Just 13 percent of reported child abuse cases in Pennsylvania, 3,565, were substantiated by caseworkers. It's difficult to compare one state to another because not all states use the same terms. But in Nevada, for comparison, 26 percent of child abuse reports were substantiated by authorities, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
“I know the Children and Youth caseworkers we deal with are going 120 percent,” said Paula Eppley-Newman, executive director of Beginnings Inc., a nonprofit focused on early childhood development in Johnstown. Beginnings just received $120,000 from the state to offer in-home parenting classes to families in a bid to prevent child abuse. The organization also runs the court-appointed special advocate program in Cambria County, which provides independent representatives to look exclusively after the interests of children in custody or similar family law disputes.
Palm said caseworkers and advocates are concerned about the effects of a new definition of abuse, coupled with more aggressive penalties for those who neglect to report it.
“Getting the laws passed is going to be the easy part,” Palm said. “We are nervous. That's one of things we're going to have to be attentive about.”
The list: Priests accused of child sex abuse disclosed
by Emily Gurnon
(Ability to do a search on the names is on the site)
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on Thursday released its list of priests "credibly accused" of sexually abusing children.
The list of 34 priests dates to 1950. It includes at least one priest from 92 of the archdiocese's 188 parishes, the archdiocese reported.
Ramsey County District Judge John Van de North on Monday ordered the list be made public. He gave the Twin Cities archdiocese and the Diocese of Winona until Dec. 17 to do so.
Archbishop John Nienstedt said in a letter on the archdiocese website Thursday that it would disclose all "credible and ... substantiated" claims on the website from now on.
"This is a tragedy that has caused insufferable harm to victims, their families, parishioners and the church," Nienstedt wrote. "I must say once again to all victims of this abuse: I am so sorry for the pain you have endured."
Attorney Jeff Anderson, who specializes in representing clergy abuse victims, said at a news conference that Thursday's release of priest names was a step forward.
"We believe that survivors will be given permission in a way they haven't before to break the silence and share the secret," Anderson said.
The information also may aid law enforcement in investigating the crimes, he said.
But the abusive priests themselves should not be the sole focus, Anderson said.
"The real imperative is to expose the top officials, current and past, who made the conscious choice to allow these men to continue to abuse and reoffend repeatedly year after year, time and time again," he said.
"And until the top officials of the archdiocese who are complicit in the clerical crimes are held to account and fully exposed, the pattern seems to inevitably continue on its headlong course."
Anderson said he was certain the list did not include all offending priests.
At Anderson's office was Jim Keenan, who sued former priest Thomas Adamson for abuse he suffered in 1967. Keenan called the list's release the "right step ... but a tiny step.
"Try to put your hands around the idea that a religious organization has to be forced to protect children," he said. "That's crazy."
The list came out of a 2004 study commissioned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The study counted victims of clergy sexual abuse over the previous 50 years, with perpetrators' names provided by the dioceses and archdioceses.
It originally included 33 names. The archdiocese added Curtis Wehmeyer, who was convicted of molesting two boys while he served at Blessed Sacrament in St. Paul.
The names are: Thomas Adamson, John T. Brown, Cosmas Dahlheimer, Gilbert DeSutter, Gilbert Gustafson, Louis (aka Joseph) Heitzer, Rudolph Henrich, Francis Hoefgen, Richard Jeub, Dennis Kampa, Robert Kapoun, Jerome Kern, Lee Krautkremer, Ronan Liles, Alfred Longley, Brennan Maiers, Timothy McCarthy, John McGrath, Paul Palmitessa, Joseph Pinkosh, Francis J. Reynolds, Richard Skluzacek, Michael J. Stevens, Thomas Stitts, Robert Thurner, Clarence Vavra, Joseph Wajda, Raymond Walter, Curtis Wehmeyer and Robert Zasacki.
Also on the list but considered by the archdiocese to be the subject of "unsubstantiated" allegations are Eugene Corica, Robert Loftus, Patrick Ryan and Roger Vaughn.
Severe chronic depression is more likely in child sex abuse victims
Stress linked to abuse makes the brain more vulnerable to depression
A new study reveals the highest risk variables of chronic depression in the population, such as having suffered previous episodes of depression, delayed treatment, whether it is related to other physical or mental health problems, or having suffered sexual abuse during childhood.
Chronic major depressive disorder, with episodes that last more than 24 months, affects almost half of patients seeking treatment for depression and carries with it significant problems in terms of disability, suffering and the cost of healthcare.
A piece of research carried out by Mauro García-Toro, a scientist from the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), during a stay at Columbia University in New York, along with researchers from both institutions, reveals the main risk factors for this disease.
Published in the ‘Journal of Affective Disorders', the study analyses several variables related to the physical and mental health of over 35,000 residents of the USA who are representative of the country's population.
After three years, the researchers got back in contact with the same people to observe how these variables had evolved and they focused on identifying the characteristics that increased the risk of severe chronic depression persisting once it has started.
As García-Toro explains to SINC: “Identifying risk factors for the persistence and remission of severe depression is important in order to progress in our understanding of the causes and development of the most effective preventative treatments and therapies.”
The experts concluded that the highest risk variables for this illness were early onset of depression, delayed treatment, whether it is linked to other physical or mental health problems, and sexual abuse in childhood.
“The longer depression persists, the more likely the subjects interviewed are to recount having undergone sexual abuse, which no doubt means that they have been exposed to severe stress on many occasions in early life,” notes García-Toro.
In fact, the researcher affirms that, “In addition to the usual psychological trauma, it has been demonstrated that this stress modifies the neurochemistry and structure of the brain, making it more vulnerable to depression.”
Another consequence of abuse
The results reveal that 10% of all the people interviewed said that they had undergone sexual abuse as children, but of those who suffered severe depression for more than five years, this proportion approached 40%.
“These data are for men and women,” the researcher points out. Thus, “as we know that sexual abuse is much more common in girls, it is highly likely that in the adult female population more than half of those with severe depression for more than five years suffered sexual abuse as children.”
According to the authors, it is important to bring this situation to the fore in order to discover such examples – as not all patients recount these events spontaneously – and thus be able to intervene to improve treatment for those suffering from chronic depression.
Sex, Violation, Power: “Nothing will be done that the survivor does not agree to.”
by David Trower
When someone becomes the victim of a sexual assault, they are faced with some hard choices that are not easy to make. However, those decisions can have long-lasting impact. One of the major choices they have to make it whether to go to the hospital after the sexual assault.
When a victim of sexual assault goes to the hospital within 72-96 hours after the sexual assault has occurred, the collection of a rape kit by a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) can occur with the victims consent.
Anne Galloway, a SANE practicing in New York, took part in the recording of “A Body of Evidence: Using the NYS Sexual Offense Evidence Collection Kit” video produced by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services.
In the video, Galloway said collecting a rape kit is “a process that is inherently invasive and, unfortunately, often degrading for the patient, yet vitally important for the successful investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases.”
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, a rape kit, used to collect evidence during the forensic medical exam, “may also be referred to as a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection kit, a Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) kit, a Sexual Offense Evidence Collection (SOEC) kit, or a Physical Evidence Recovery Kit (PERK) kit.”
Also taking part in the recording of the video, “A Body of Evidence,” was actress Marisk Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson in the NBC drama “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” Hargitay works off screen with the Joyful Heart Foundation she created in 2004 whose “mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light on the darkness that surrounds these issues,” Hargitay said in the video.
Hargitay, when preparing for the role of Detective Benson, trained as a rape crisis counselor. She has also testified before Congress to urge lawmakers to address the backlog of untested rape kits through the country, and she launched the web site www.endthebacklog.org to address the issue. In Texas alone, the existing backlog numbers at least 15,900 with estimates as high as 20,000 backlogged rape kits, as reported by The New York Times.
“The severity of the trauma and complexity of the healing process truly hit home when I started receiving emails and letters from survivors sharing their stories,” Hargitay said in the video. “That these individuals would reveal something so intensely personal – often for the very first time – to someone they knew only as a fictional character on television, demonstrated to me how desperate they were to be heard, how desperate they were to be believed, understood, comforted and healed.”
Hargitay goes on in the video to address medical first responders and their role in the healing process for victims of sexual assault.
“Your primary obligation is to you patient,” Hargitay said in the video. “But in a sexual assault case, that patient – as callous as this may seem – is also the crime scene: a living, breathing, feeling, traumatized body of evidence in desperate need of both your professional skills and your deepest human compassion – the compassion we know you already have in abundance.”
Amy Perkins serves as the executive director for the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims and Children in Waco. The Advocacy Center serves the entire Heart of Texas area, covering McLennan, Hill, Falls, Bosque, Limestone and Freestone counties.
“We serve male and female victims here at the Advocacy Center,” Perkins said. “About 10 percent of victims that come through our door are male. For example, over the past five years, we had 488 males that were assisted. The trend is actually growing as people recognize more and more that little boys, young men and adult men can be sexually assaulted.”
Education and prominent national stories are helping increase the visibility of the issue of male victims of sexual assault.
“We see our numbers increasing just as the stigma is not so much as it used to be,” Perkins said. “It used to be a very taboo subject. Sexual assault in general, much less sexual assault of a male victim. So we're seeing that through our education, through our prevention services that it is not quite as taboo as it used to be but we have a long way to go based on the statistics that we see.”
The Advocacy Center in Waco provides the SANE nurses that perform the forensic medical exams for victims.
“If it's within 96 hours and someone is sexually assaulted and they respond to or show up at the hospital or call law enforcement and law enforcement accompanies them to the hospital, we have our SANE nurses that go and collect the evidence,” Perkins said. “We have what we call hotline advocates who are specially trained volunteers who are trained to go into the room with them, hold their hand, explain to them what's happening and advocate on their behalf.”
The process of becoming a SANE is an extensive and time-consuming process.
“Our sexual assault nurse examiners receive hours and hours of training,” Perkins said. “They have to be RN's and have to have two years of experience and then go to two weeks of training to become a SANE nurse. And then they have to observe usually for about a year before they can begin to provide services as a SANE. Any victim of sexual assault, if it is acute, which is within about 96 hours, then they respond to either Providence or Hillcrest here in town.”
SANE nurses are qualified to work with both male and female victims.
When a SANE responds to a sexual assault case, “they will talk to the victim, get a history, find out what going on, make the patient feel a little more comfortable,” Perkins said. “They will do the evidence collection and just make sure that they are OK. If they need further treatment, they will refer them to hospital staff to help them out if they need to be admitted, if they need X-rays, things of that nature.”
According to the website www.surviverape.org by the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, a rape kit “is a box that contains all the necessary materials to collect evidence” during the forensic medical exam.
The contents of the rape kit can vary from state to state, according to the website www.endthebacklog.org, most kits include the following items:
Detailed instructions for the examiner
Forms for documenting the procedure and evidence gathered
Tubes and containers for blood and urine samples
Paper bags for collecting clothing and other physical evidence
Swabs for biological evidence collection
A large sheet of paper on which the victim undresses to collect hairs and fibers
Dental floss and wooden sticks for fingernail scrapings
Sterile water and saline
Envelopes, boxes and labels for each of the various stages of the exam
During the sexual assault, the victim has no control. It is important that during the recovery and healing process, that the victim is empowered and in control of the entire process, according to the Indiana Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The Boston Center stresses, “The survivor is in control of the entire exam. Before each step of the Kit, the medical provider should explain the step and ask the survivor if they want to continue. Nothing will be done that the survivor does not agree to.”
When a SANE begins the examination, they begin by collecting a thorough medical history.
Then they have the victim undress while stand on a large sheet of paper to collect the clothes plus any hair or fiber evidence that may fall from the clothes or body to be tested.
Then the head-to-toe physical exam begins. During this portion of the exam, any injuries from the attack are documented and evidence is collected.
The SANE will collect biological evidence, such as blood, saliva, urine, semen, skin cells and hair. This is done “by taking swabs of the victim's skin, genitalia, anus and mouth, scraping under the victim's fingernails and combing through the victim's hair,” according to www.endthebacklog.org web site.
The SANE will also take photographs to document any injuries or bruises that occurred during the attack.
The forensic medical exam is an intensive exam that can take from four to six hours, but a victim can decline any or all parts of the examination at any point during the examination process.
It is recommended that even if a victim is unsure if they want to go to the police and press charges that they go to the hospital and have a rape kit collected. That allows them time before needing to make a decision on whether to press charges. It also allows critical evidence to be collected before it is lost.
Under the Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005, states are not allowed to “require a victim of sexual assault to participate in the criminal justice system or cooperate with law enforcement in order to be provided with a forensic medical exam, reimbursement for charges incurred on account of such an exam, or both.”
Not only does the Advocacy Center provide the SANE nurses to collect the forensic medical exam, but they are also involved in providing long-term support for victims of sexual assault.
The Advocacy Center works with victims of all crimes. However, a vast majority of those it serves are victims of sexual assault. It provides individual therapy for male and female victims of all ages of sexual assault whether the sexual assault was recent or if it happened when they were a child. They also provide sexual assault survivor support groups for women, men, boys, girls and teens, Perkins said.
Anyone interested in joining a support group or coming in for services can contact the Advocacy Center at 254-752-9330.
“If there is a specific need that a victim or survivors are having, we will be glad to connect them with other survivors or a support group,” Perkins said.
The Advocacy Center also engages in community education.
“We have an intervention/education program and it's their job to go out and talk to schools and community groups, civic organizations and things of that nature,” Perkins said. “They talk about bullying. About what's appropriate to change the cycle of violence so when little boys grow up they don't think that it's OK to victimize someone.”
For male survivors of sexual assault, MaleSurvivor is a national organization that provides resources to help with hope, healing and support for male survivors of sexual assault.
In addition to providing an online forum for male survivors of sexual assault, MaleSurvivor provides what they call Weekends of Recovery.
“The Weekends of Recovery are a wonderful program,” Christopher Anderson, executive director for MaleSurvivor, said. “There really is no other organization working with sexual abuse survivors of males, or females really, that does a program quite like this.”
The Weekends of Recovery provide an opportunity for male survivors to meet other survivors and experience a weekend of healing.
“The weekends are really transformative experiences,” Anderson said. “At the heart of the weekends, what really makes it so powerful is for many survivors it's an opportunity to come together to community with other male survivors. Often times it's the first time in their lives they've ever had the opportunity to speak about what happened about what was done to them at earlier points in their lives and be heard by other survivors.”
Anderson is a male survivor of sexual assault himself. He has attended three of these Weekends of Recovery.
“For me the moment that changed everything was when I walked into the room and I was surrounded by about 30 people,” Anderson said. “I hadn't met anybody. I hadn't introduced myself. I didn't know anyone's name but I made eye contact with one other person and I almost broke down crying because it was the first time in my life that I didn't feel alone.”
Male survivors experiencing a Weekend of Recovery for their first time experience a sense of community they never really had before, a community of survivors with similar experiences, Anderson said.
“Obviously I had been around people before, but I never before had seen in someone else's eyes what I saw in my own face when I looked in the mirror,” Anderson said. “There was a moment that just happened that gave immediate recognition that I just knew I wasn't alone and it began to change a lot of things for me.”
For Anderson and MaleSurvivor this kind of experience is really at the heart of the Weekends of Recovery.
Preventing abuse in the UK: a matter of education
by Holly Dustin
A new campaign by the UK Government's Home Office, This Is Abuse, is a critical step to preventing violence against women and girls, but the Department for Education's failure to support it is baffling, says Holly Dustin
Recent research from the Office of the Children's Commissioner in England has highlighted disturbing levels of abuse experienced by girls and young women, often at the hands of friends and boyfriends. It is a problem that the Home Office is tackling with its re-launched This Is Abuse campaign which, refreshingly, turns the traditional prevention campaign on its head by challenging abusive attitudes and behaviours in boys and young men, rather than focusing on the behaviour of the victim.
Attitudes and behaviours are formed early, so the Home Office's focus on young men is well targeted. There is a great deal of research to show that this group are most likely to hold violence-condoning attitudes and are influenced by harmful images in the media. For example, research this year also by the Children's Commissioner found that boys are more likely than girls to seek out pornography, and that it is linked to negative attitudes towards women, viewing women as sex objects and having earlier and riskier sexual activity.
There is growing evidence about the way in which our sexualised media, including pornography and music videos, provides a ‘conducive context' in which violence against women and girls flourishes. So it is a smart move by the Home Office to run the new This Is Abuse campaign ads on MTV and to use pop stars and DJs in a series of films ‘calling out' abusive behaviour. The new campaign also links in to a storyline on youth soap, Hollyoaks, about domestic violence and Hollyoaks stars have been doing the rounds on breakfast TV sofas with government Ministers and experts to promote the campaign.
NSPCC research in 2009 found that almost one in three teenage girls had experienced sexual violence from a partner, and that teenagers are the age-group most at risk from domestic violence. Research also by the NSPCC on ‘sexting' (sharing sexual messages or images via mobile phones or online) in 2012 found that it is linked to coercive behaviour, harassment and even violence and disproportionately affects girls . The problem was tragically highlighted by the case of 13 year-old Chevonea Kendall-Bryan who fell to her death from a block of flats in 2011 whilst begging a boy to delete an image of her being raped by another boy that had been passed around her school. Our own poll in 2010 found that one that in three 16-18 year old girls in the UK have been ‘groped' at school or experienced other unwanted sexual touching.
The Home Office leads a cross-government strategy on violence against women and girls, an approach for which our members had long-campaigned. This Is Abuse delivers on one of the priority objectives of the strategy:
“ To prevent violence against women and girls from happening in the first place, by challenging the attitudes and behaviours which foster it and intervening early to prevent it .”
Despite this commitment, prevention remains the weakest part of the government's strategy. There is an absence of any real vision of how to achieve a violence-free society and key departments, notably the Department for Education in Westminster, are failing to play their part in the task of prevention. The Department has said repeatedly that it will not be disseminating This Is Abuse to schools in England – meaning that the opportunity to use campaign materials may be missed, as well as any warning to school staff to prepare for disclosures from children who have seen the ads. This is baffling from the key department with responsibility for child protection and is one of the reasons why the Westminster government was scored just 24/100 earlier this year for its action on prevention.
Westminster policy and practice is still predicated on the assumption that violence is somehow inevitable and this is reflected at local levels. In February this year, the report of a joint inspection on young sex offenders found that, in many cases, there had been an earlier display of sexually harmful behaviour which had been over looked, minimised or dismissed by parents, teachers and social workers. The result was that an opportunity to intervene at an early stage was lost. More recently an Ofsted Inspection found that poor teaching of Public Social Health and Economic (PSHE) education is leaving children vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Our own surveys with local Secondary Schools as part of our Schools Safe 4 Girls campaign found a general failure to address violence against women and girls adequately, with few specific policies and little ongoing training for staff.
The researchers who carried out the NSPCC's qualitative research into sexting said this:
"As researchers going into the schools to meet with young people, we were distressed by the levels of sexist abuse and physical harassment–even violence–to which the girls were subject on a regular basis. More than this, we were struck by the way in which it is entirely taken for granted by both girls and boys–even when the same behaviours would be grounds for dismissal in other settings and among adults (e.g. in the workplace) or for arrest and prosecution if they happened in public space."
That we afford girls less protection from harassment and abuse than adult women is horrifying and deeply shameful. This is not to say that there aren't good initiatives in schools and local areas. There are. But there is no national plan or coordination of activity to prevent abuse.
The From Boys to Men project found that social marketing campaigns such as This Is Abuse need to be integrated with work with young people to be properly effective. So whilst the Home Office is to be applauded for continuing to run the campaign, it can only ever be one step in a comprehensive programme of work to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls.
It is clear what action governments at all levels need to take. A large-scale UN study on men who perpetrate sexual and domestic violence found that tackling social norms and damaging notions of masculinity, and promoting gender equality is key to ending violence. The ground-breaking Model of Perpetration prepared for the EU sets out pathways to violence, and consequently what policy interventions are required to disrupt those pathways. Our own report, A Different World Is Possible, uses the Model to set out a blueprint strategy on prevention. Research on sexual consent from the Children's Commissioner stressed the importance of work with young people on how to gain enthusiastic consent, in line with the Sexual Offences Act, not just how to give it.
Key elements of a prevention strategy include: a legal obligation on schools and other educational institutions to do preventative work with young people and ongoing training for teachers on how to identify the signs of abuse and respond appropriately; a guarantee that both survivors of abuse and perpetrators have access to specialist support in the community; long term investment in public campaigns like This Is Abuse which are targeted at specific groups (similar to the long-running road safety campaign THINK!); further work to regulate and restrict harmful messages in the media that condone violence, building on recent action to address children's safety online; and community and bystander programmes. Critically, we need to see leadership from politicians at national and local levels in the same way that successive Directors of Public Prosecution have said this is a priority issue for them and have revolutionised their policy on child sexual abuse in the wake of the Savile case.
We cannot continue to wring our hands at the litany of abuse and, in extreme cases deaths, of women and girls in our homes, communities, schools and workplaces. The government must build on This Is Abuse by setting out the step by step pathway to achieving a world free from violence against women and girls.
Child Sex Abuser Profits by Suing 1,000 Firms Under Disability Act
by Hillel Aron
In 2012, Jon Carpenter filed 257 lawsuits in L.A. County — more lawsuits than there were court days — under the Americans With Disabilities Act , a civil rights law intended to give disabled people the same access to places that everyone has.
The spree left small businesses all over the Southland scratching their heads. What was this law? And who was Carpenter?
A basic records search by L.A. Weekly shows that 2012 was a prolific but not atypical year — the 47-year-old quadriplegic has filed nearly 1,000 lawsuits in L.A. County alone, and is believed to have reaped a sizable but unknown amount of cash.
But now, lawyers representing businesses sued by Carpenter have unearthed the man's sordid past: He is a convicted child molester from Utah , who was set free after serving less than two days of a one- to- 15-year sentence.
How he got out of jail made the lawyers' skin prickle.
Stephen Abraham , a defense attorney representing restaurants and others Carpenter sues, says, "He's a destructive contradiction. This is someone for whom the law only goes one way — his way."
Documents obtained by the Weekly show that in the 1980s, Carpenter was arrested on multiple counts of aggravated sexual abuse and charged with molesting two 8-year-old girls. His victims tell the Weekly that Carpenter, then 24, was a Sunday school teacher at a Mormon church in Provo County.
"He had sexually abused several kids," Sharon Davis of Salt Lake City alleges. "I do know [about] other kids. It happened to me."
"It's horrific to me, that he's under the radar," Beth Roskelley says. She was a little girl when she was sexually abused by Carpenter — the crime for which he was convicted.
Carpenter pled guilty to a second-degree felony for sexual abuse of a child and was sentenced to up to 15 years, with a chance to enter a sex-offender treatment center.
But the day after he was sentenced in 1989, according to jail reports, Carpenter stood atop his bunk bed and dove head-first into the concrete floor. When a guard later asked if he'd jumped intentionally, Carpenter replied, "Yes, I did, it's better than being in this place for six months."
Two days later, the state of Utah informed Judge George E. Ballif that Carpenter was a permanent quadriplegic and asked that Ballif "suspend execution of the sentence until such time as the defendant has achieved medical stability," arguing that "further incarceration or therapy in this matter would serve little purpose and in any event is not appropriate at the present time."
Ballif appeared to suggest that Carpenter would return to jail, saying his imprisonment would be reconsidered "at such time as the defendant achieves medical stability and further reviews are appropriate."
Deputy Utah County Attorney Cort Griffin , who was not around then, says, "Why and what happened here, I can't say."
But Roskelley says, "I think they just assumed that he would be a vegetable for his entire life."
Abraham, the attorney fighting Carpenter's ADA suits, says, "He was released only because they didn't want to provide a guard at the hospital, and because of the nature of his injuries they didn't think he was going anywhere. They just dropped the ball."
Carpenter eventually moved to L.A., records show, settling near USC and an elementary school. Although he's a convicted child molester, Carpenter doesn't appear on the public sex-offender registry.
He slid into the serial-lawsuit business without raising red alerts with Los Angeles County Superior Court judges, yet he certainly stood out.
According to David Peters , who heads Lawyers Against Lawsuit Abuse, Carpenter has sued 94 pharmacies for everything from steep ramps and failure to remodel access areas to lack of Braille or hearing-assistance technology for the blind and deaf.
Carpenter's hearing and vision, Peters says, were perfectly fine.
California is a rare state that lets people who allege an ADA violation personally win pots of cash in court — $4,000 minimum per violation, plus attorney's fees, which can reach tens of thousands of dollars.
Small businesses can be sued if the paper towel dispenser in the bathroom is too high; the customer counter is too tall; aisles are too narrow; or the grade of their wheelchair ramp is steeper than 3 percent.
But in California, defense attorney James Link says, those regulations run about 435 pages. "I had one case where the coat hook in the men's accessible stall at a P.F. Chang's was too high."
Legislators have tried to fix the state law that enables serial litigants, passing Senate Bill 1186 in 2012 and cutting the number of ADA lawsuits roughly in half.
But Carpenter thrives.
"California is the only jurisdiction on the planet that has minimum financial damages for claims of this nature," Peters says, referring to the $4,000 floor. He estimates that 42 percent or more of the nation's ADA lawsuits are filed in California. "There are lawyers who have moved from other states just to file these lawsuits here," he says. "It's more profitable than [selling] narcotics."
According to Link, more than 3,000 ADA lawsuits were filed in L.A. County in the last three years — more than 1,700 of them by attorneys Morse Mehrban of L.A. and Mark Potter of San Diego's Center for Disability Access .
"I stand by every case," Potter says via email. "This is an important federal civil right that we are talking about."
Link scoffs. "If you're trying to clean up the stores and restaurants that you frequent, that's one thing. But if you are going to 1,000 different businesses ... that's just trolling." (Mehrban, who didn't respond to the Weekly 's calls, this year told ABC 7 News, "Isn't every lawsuit technically extortion?")
Disabled plaintiffs routinely ask L.A. Superior Court judges to grant them "fee waivers" to get out of paying the $435 court filing fee. Taxpayers pick up the costs, even for convicted felon Jon Carpenter.
"I have judges who tell me ... 'We just cut 40 departments,'?" Peters says. "And some judges are telling me they're spending 80 percent of their time on mega-filers who are filing fee waivers."
Other mega-filers include Alexander Johnson , a hearing-impaired man with a service dog named Snoopy. According to multiple defense attorneys, Johnson's approach is to walk into businesses and get the clerk to object to Snoopy's presence.
Then there's Alfredo Garcia , who testified that he became a paraplegic when he fell out of a tree while high on cocaine. Garcia, who targeted 24 laundromats, has filed more than 600 ADA lawsuits; ABC 7 news reporter Marc Brown exposed him in 2011 and again in 2013. (Neither Johnson or Garcia could be located by the Weekly .)
But nobody tops Jon Carpenter, aka John Rick Carpenter .
"I'm just one of many that are trying to make things more accessible for everyone that has to use a wheelchair," Carpenter emailed the Weekly .
Carpenter and his current attorney, Potter, almost always target mini-malls or small businesses, which must create parking spots for special vans like the one he drives. They also must provide parking lot space for a wheelchair to be lowered, and special signage. Get a detail wrong — even the color of the sign — and Carpenter can sue for $4,000 and up.
"We didn't know that we needed a parking spot for a van," says Avi Hadid, owner of a mini-mall at Western Avenue and Washington Boulevard. He settled with the convicted child abuser for $10,000 — cheaper than hiring a lawyer. A friend of Hadid's, who owns a gas station, also was sued by Carpenter. "They say they're going to pay," Hadid says. "I'm sure he made so much money from that, this guy."
Attorney Abraham is defending a restaurant owner who has been sued three times for ADA violations, most recently by Carpenter. Abraham, a former army intelligence officer deployed in Operation Desert Storm after 9/11, once worked to assess the legal status of detainees at Guantánamo Bay .
"I see someone like Carpenter essentially using the judicial system but without truth at its center," Abraham says, "and that's a perversion of justice."
Social workers in Los Angeles County plan to strike today over caseloads
by City News Service
LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County's approximately 4,000 children's social workers will stage a strike today in an attempt to lower caseloads -- their first in more than a decade
"The county has shown no willingness to make meaningful reforms which leaves us with little choice but to go on strike,'' Lowell Goodman, the communications director of Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents about 55,000 county workers, including the children's social workers, told City News Service.
"It is so sad is that through so many months of bargaining, the county has refused to move forward on reforms that would benefit the children of Los Angeles.''
County public information officer David Sommers said it was "extremely disappointing that they're willing to take such a serious action that will have a negative impact on public services at a time where we are so close to finalizing an agreement.''
The Department of Children and Family Services will have 300-400 administrators provide "front line services'' during the strike, Sommers said.
"We have plans that will assure that the public will be as minimally impacted as possible,'' Sommers said.
Union negotiators have been asking the county to enforce a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker. To reach that yardstick, they want a commitment from the county to hire 35 social workers each month until 595 new hires are brought on board, according to Goodman.
Of the department's 1,035 social workers who manage cases, 683 are working with 31 children or more, Goodman said.
The department has hired 100 additional social workers who will be carrying full caseloads by January and is in the process of screening 150 more, department director Philip Browning said. Another roughly 100 positions are funded.
Browning estimated that the average caseload per social worker would come down to 29 by January and to the mid-20s by August. However, he stressed that careful screening and background checks are critical for employees in such sensitive positions and take time.
According to the county, labor negotiators have reached settlements with 21 of 24 union bargaining units, but talks stalled with the remaining units Tuesday night when SEIU negotiators declared an impasse.
Sommers said a main sticking point is a dispute over the timing of a pay raise being offered by the county.
The union and county have agreed on a 6 percent pay boost -- 2 percent in each of the three contract years -- along with bonuses and a boost in county contributions to employee health care costs in 2014 and 2015, Sommers said.
Sommers said the union is calling for one of the 2 percent increases to take effect two months earlier than normal, effectively making the raise retroactive.
"This movement would constitute a form of retroactivity which violates the county's bargaining practices and would be unfair to other county bargaining units who negotiated in good faith and settled their contracts on time,'' Sommers said.
According to union letter sent to members and obtained by the Los Angeles Times, union officials said the county is "only offering to provide this 2 percent increase after settlement (of negotiations), thereby screwing SEIU 721 members out of at least two months' salary increase.''
Sommers said county officials recognized workers' right to take part in such a job action. But he noted the workers would not be paid by the county while they are on strike.
"If an employee participated in a work action for just one day, that employee would lose more money in a single day than they would gain if the last 2 percent were given two months earlier, as SEIU is demanding,'' Sommers said.
Goodman said union officials are aware its members would lose more money by striking than they would gain from an earlier increase. He called this a "non-economic strike'' intended to reduce the caseloads.
Protect the children: Pa. senators can fix the state's abuse laws
Members of the Pennsylvania Senate have a chance to add important protections for the state's children next week when child abuse reforms — proposed in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State University — are expected to come up for a vote.
Three Senate committees this week advanced six bills, the most important of which was House Bill 726. It would change the definition of what constitutes child abuse, making it tougher and bringing it into line with the standards used in many other states.
Under current state law, child abuse is limited to instances in which serious physical, mental or sexual abuse is sustained. Child advocates have long argued that including the word “serious” in Pennsylvania's legal threshold is the reason the state is a statistical outlier in the number of child abuse cases reported. In 2011, for instance, Pennsylvania had 1.2 abuse victims per 1,000 children versus a national rate of 9.1 per 1,000, according to the Protect Our Children Committee.
HB 726 would change that. In addition, it specifically lists a number of acts that would legally constitute abuse — including kicking, biting, burning, throwing, stabbing and cutting, as well as shaking or slapping a child under the age of 1.
The measure already has passed the House, along with five other bills that would, among other things, expand the list of who is legally required to report abuse, mandate additional training for those individuals and address child custody decisions and the expunging of records from the state's child abuse database.
It's impossible to know whether stronger laws on the state's books could have done anything to prevent Sandusky from sexually abusing 10 boys over a period of 15 years. It is possible to know that a civil society must make every effort to keep children safe from predators like Sandusky.
The state Senate can do that next week by voting in favor of the package of bills that strengthen Pennsylvania's child abuse laws.
Sheriff Speaks On New Child Abuse Law
(Video on site)
by Meghann Mollerus
REIDSVILLE, N.C. -- Now in effect as of the beginning of this month, Kilah's Law seeks to curb instances of child abuse by more than doubling the maximum punishment for perpetrators convicted of the most serious child abuse crimes.
Kilah's Law increases the penalty from 15 years in prison to 33 years. It also specifies that the presiding judge and clerk of court put the instance of child abuse on the perpetrator's record judgment and the perpetrator's conviction, so as to ensure anyone--employers--inquiring about the individual will learn of the crime.
According to the latest Kids Count data's substantiated reports, collected by Action for Children North Carolina, 11,300 children were reported abused or neglected in 2010--down almost half from 20,340 in 2006. He said the law could further lower these numbers and prevent some child abuse crimes from even happening.
Page said, "This type of law right here and the enhancement should help as a deterrent in that factor. So, again, getting the information out that we in North Carolina and our legislature and our law enforcement...take it very serious--child abuse."
In recent years, the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office has set up a special victims unit for people who have suffered from child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse. This unit works in conjunction with Help, Incorporated, a relief agency in the county. Page said for him, cracking down on child abuse is something important, not only professionally but also personally.
"As a former criminal investigator, before I was Sheriff, and as a father, it does affect you when you see children that have been victimized and when you see families that have been victimized. So, it affects a lot of people and also the investigators. But we want to do our part that when we do identify these cases that we can do everything we can do to help this victim," Page said.
He further explained, "The victim comes first and helping that child and helping that family and then going after that abuser and making sure that person gets everything that's coming toward him...this law helps with the enhancement of those penalties."
Kilah's Law is named after Kilah Davenport, a Union County girl who was severely abused by her stepfather last spring when she was three years old. She suffered head injuries that required doctors to remove part of her skull. Her story was the driving force behind why both the North Carolina House and Senate unanimously passed the bill with bi-partisan support during this past legislative session.
Vatican to set up special committee on child sex abuse
(Reuters) - The Vatican is to set up a special committee to improve measures to protect children against sexual abuse within the Church, the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley, said on Thursday.
"Up until now there has been so much focus on the judicial parts of this but the pastoral part is very, very important. The Holy Father is concerned about that," O'Malley told reporters, referring to Pope Francis.
The commission of experts would "study these issues and bring concrete recommendations" for the Pope and the Vatican, he said.
O'Malley was speaking on the third and final day of a series of closed-door meetings between Pope Francis and a special commission of eight cardinals who are discussing the Vatican's troubled administration.
The commission, named a month after the pope's election, underlined his determination to push through reforms of the Vatican's top-heavy administration and tackle festering scandals like the issue of sexual abuse of children by priests.
The survival stretch for women
by Dara Squires
There are some things you are allowed to be proud to have survived. Anyone who has ever had a lump removed from their breast can proudly declare themselves a breast cancer survivor.
Have a car crash, a crazy freak accident or get drunk and do something stupid and your survival becomes a badge of honour and a great story. Get mugged, carjacked, beat up for cheering for the wrong team, or attacked in any violent way and you become a hero for surviving it.
But if you've been raped or a victim of domestic violence, you don't have a badge, a hero status or a great story. You're a survivor as much as anyone else, but they don't make you a T-shirt or run marathons for you and you would never stand up at a party and say “I'm a rape survivor” or “I'm a domestic violence survivor” as a note of pride and inspiration like a cancer survivor could.
On Nov. 25, the province launched another purple ribbon campaign. Although it's been four years now, I'm not sure the purple ribbon will ever become as widely recognized as the pink one. Because while we're all willing to stick that purple car magnet on the rear of our car along with the “Proud honours student parent” and “If you can read this you're driving too close” bumper stickers, we'd prefer that that reminder stay on our bumper — behind us.
If you're a woman who has survived violence, that is exactly where you are supposed to leave it — behind you. In fact, according to the website our province has created for “awareness” of domestic violence, respectwomen.ca, and our province's Violence Protection Act, once you've survived the violence and gotten away, you're pretty much fine.
At least, that's the way it reads to me.
It's wonderful that our province puts resources into helping women recognize and escape abusive relationships, but our resources for women after they've left are tragically wanting. Our resources to prevent things such as the double homicide/suicide in CBS recently are dangerously low. Our resources to help children heal and help women recognize the potential their abusive partner squashed are sadly low.
It is not enough to walk away. A woman who has escaped violence hasn't just left bruises and broken bones. But that is how we, as a society, see partner violence. In fact, if a woman has the resources and strength to leave before she gets that first black eye or broken bone, many people would challenge her assertion that there was any violence at all.
Domestic violence is rarely about fists, though. That is a part of it, and the part we concentrate on because it is so visual and immediate. But even with the worst physical offender, women rarely get beaten every day. Instead they get beaten down.
If a woman is being abused, it doesn't start with the black eye. It starts with control, isolation and psychological torture. The experience of any abuse survivor is akin to that of a prisoner of war survivor (though, again, while the POW is a hero, the woman should just move past it).
And if a woman walks or runs away from abuse, there are no more black eyes, but the other damage inflicted lasts a lot longer. Most leave with little to no financial resources and often little financial knowledge because they weren't permitted that. Their credit scores are shot or they've never had their own credit.
They leave with a splotchy resume, if one at all, because the controlling spouse wouldn't permit them to work late or to promote themselves at work or perhaps didn't permit them to work at all.
They leave with a consistent sense of inferiority and failure that makes the transition from survival to thriving all that more difficult.
And, typically, they leave with children also burdened with multiple scars.
But once they've left and have started to feel safe again because of protection orders or new housing and the government has perhaps — if they were already in receipt of support — given them a relocation allowance or extended their benefits, they are left alone with their memories and their struggles.
They consistently face questions about why they don't have “important” paperwork because they decided getting out was more important than finding a copy of last year's taxes or getting copies of the children's medical records.
They struggle to find help for their children and themselves to adjust to life without control and violence and they get put on a wait list while they watch their children fall to pieces.
They are assumed to have left because they “fell out of love” or “fought a lot” or “found someone else” ... and those assumptions come with marks of judgment that assault them again.
They might ask for help from social services, or the single parents network, or legal aid, or any number of other resources supposedly available to them, but they will always be given the run around because the resources are stretched too thin and only the persistent will get them. Yet they lack the ability or know-how to be persistent or advocate for themselves because they've spent the last decade being told they are worthless.
And then they will drive behind your car and see your purple ribbon and know that you don't actually want them to talk about it. You want them to forget about it and move on.
And if they walked up to you and said “I am a domestic violence survivor” you wouldn't open your arms as you would for a breast cancer survivor. You wouldn't want to hear about it. Or, you would want to hear too much — asking them to prove their survivorhood with bruises and police reports.
One in two women in our province will be the victim of physical or sexual assault at some point in their adult lives. One in two women. Fifty per cent. Half.
Of all the women you know, can you name more than one or two that you recognize as a survivor of violence?
And when you do, can you look at her as a survivor? Or do you instead wonder why she can't seem to get her act together?
Teacher accused of abusing autistic child flees to Hong Kong, Montgomery police say
by Dan Morse
Three weeks ago, the parents of a Silver Spring teenager learned that their autistic son may have been sexually abused by an educator. The 15-year-old talked to police. Days later, the family went to see a protective services worker.
“We drove by the school,” the boy's father recalled Tuesday. “He began to literally rip pieces of the door panel off the inside of our car.”
The father spoke at a news conference during which Montgomery County police revealed new details of the case, including that the female suspect had allegedly fled to Hong Kong.
“It's challenging for him,” the father said of his son. “Because with autism, he does not display his emotions but he feels them deeper than most of us.”
The suspect, Yee Tak Sharon Kui, 25, was an educational assistant at the Frost School, a nonpublic school in Montgomery that serves children with behavioral disabilities, autism and other special needs.
Kui is charged with sexual solicitation of a minor, sex abuse of a minor and two counts of third-degree sex offense. Police said that in November, she twice visited the boy at his home — apparently on Sunday mornings, while his parents were at church — and fondled him and had sexual intercourse with him.
“Because of my son's autism,” the father said, “his trauma will be long, and it will be revealed slowly.”
Kui, who police said is from China, graduated from the University of Maryland in 2011, according to the university. In an interview, one of her friends said she was stunned by the allegations.
“I don't think she's the kind of person that would do this kind of thing,” said the friend, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy.
The teenager disclosed that he and Kui had been sending text messages to each other and talking on the phone, and police learned that they had exchanged sexually explicit messages, according to charging documents.
According to police, Kui visited the boy's home Nov. 3. Six days later, she sent him a text message and asked if he would have sex with her, according to an arrest warrant filed in the case. Kui returned to his house Nov. 10, a Sunday, authorities said.
The next day, the teenager's parents, school officials and police were starting to piece together what happened, according to documents and police officials. On Nov. 12, detectives applied for an arrest warrant in the case. By then, they already knew the time to act was tight.
“On Nov. 11, 2013, during a telephone conversation with the victim, the defendant mentioned she would flee the country rather than go to jail,” detectives wrote in a statement of charges.
When police tried to apprehend Kui, they learned that she had left the country, said Montgomery Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill.
Police said that she might be traveling with her boyfriend and that she flew out of New York.
Hamill said that although all cases involving child victims are upsetting, this case is particularly difficult because the child's parents trusted Kui.
“When you take the special circumstances of this case into account, it's even more disturbing,” Hamill said.
He added later: “She needs to be held accountable and brought back here to Montgomery County and face these charges.”
On Tuesday, officials at the Frost School released a statement that said in part: “The Frost School community is deeply saddened by the unfolding allegations involving a former member of our staff.?.?.?. We fully believe that this very serious and egregious allegation represents an isolated event.”
Man quotes Scripture as he admits to child sex crimes
by Diane Turbyfill
A 51-year-old man will spend at least a decade in jail for sexually molesting an elementary school-age girl. David Glenn Scott accepted a plea deal Wednesday in Gaston County Superior Court and was sentenced to 10 to 17 years in prison. He will spend the remainder of his life on satellite-based monitoring.
Scott was known for giving groups of children rides to a church that met at the Central YMCA on Franklin Boulevard in Gastonia . He used that position of trust to befriend a 9-year-old girl and molest her from Feb. 1 to June 20. Scott told Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell he accepted responsibility for his crime. He then launched into a 15- to 20-minute monologue that included Scripture, a story about a Holocaust survivor and talk of volunteerism with church and prison ministries.
Caldwell gave Scott all the time he wanted to speak, but questioned the point he was trying to get across. “Mr. Scott, what good is it to do all those things if you undo it all by sexually abusing a child?” Caldwell asked.
Five months of abuse: The girl's mother spoke tearfully in court Wednesday about the abuse her daughter endured. “She is scared to go to church or anywhere that reminds her of him,” she said. “This has torn our family apart.”
None of the abuse happened at church, according to testimony. Prosecutors said Scott also took the girl to the park, the swimming pool and to get ice cream. The abuse started with inappropriate suggestions and progressed to touching and fondling, said Gaston County Assistant District Attorney Beth Stockwell.
Scott molested the girl in the woods at a park. He offered her piggy back rides then touched her inappropriately while doing providing them, Stockwell said.
The girl's parents became concerned when she said she no longer wanted to go on outings with Scott. She ultimately told her father she was being molested, and police were contacted. Scott was arrested in July and charged with eight child sex offenses.
Contact with children: Scott has three adult children and no history of abuse charges. He was a self-employed contractor and did not work for the church. Scott met children in the neighborhood and offered to give them rides to services or afternoon outings.
He said in court he used to take children to and from another church in an official van. When he started attending Revolution Church in Gastonia, Scott said he continued that role in his own vehicle in an unofficial capacity. Scott told the judge he gave the children Bibles, and they listened to religious music together.
Taking responsibility: Scott's attorney, Rick Beam, said his client accepts responsibility for his crimes. “He understands he's going to have to pay for his offense,” Beam said. “He is very embarrassed for himself and his family, and he is very remorseful for what he did to the victim.”
Stockwell expressed concern about Scott's ability to fully accept responsibility. She told the court that during part of the investigation, Scott suggested the girl instigated the inappropriate behavior.
Emotional outpour: Scott's voice cracked while he spoke during portions of the proceedings. At times he slumped forward and at others waved his hands, recited Scripture and talked of God's forgiveness. “I'd much rather be standing before God today than before a human judge because he sees everything perfectly… he knows me better than I know myself... He would be much more gracious to me than what's happened I'm sure,” he said.
He quoted religious songs he said his 9-year-old victim liked and mentioned giving spiritual DVDs to the children. Judge Caldwell asked if Scott understood the repercussions of his actions. “You abused a position of trust,” he said. “You groomed this little girl, which is a classic sign of a pedophile.”
Caldwell recognized Scott's knowledge of the Bible and asked him how it applied to the situation. “Were you showing Christian love to this girl when you were sexually abusing her?” he asked.
Scott said no, and then referred to more Scripture.
Conditions of the sentence: The 9-year-old girl did not come to court for the proceedings. Supporters of her family filled nearly three rows. None of Scott's family came to court, at Scott's request, according to his attorney. Scott was led back to jail, where he's been since his arrest. He'll be sent to prison to complete his sentence.
Once released, Scott will be on house arrest for four months and supervised probation for three years. He'll be added to the sex offender registry for at least 30 years and tracked by satellite-based monitoring for life.
The least reported crime: Survivors of male sexual assault
by Rachel Premack
Right after his girlfriend raped him, she apologized.
“She had a boyfriend who told her that girls shouldn't make noise while they were having sex,” Rackham student Ben Alterman said, twisting his pinky over his ring finger as he discussed his second sexual abuser.
His memory of that day is foggy. He can't exactly remember how he went from her living room to her bedroom. He was 16 years old.
“There was no conversation,” Alterman said. “There was no, ‘Is this okay?' I felt trapped, I didn't have an option. I didn't feel safe.”
Now an on-campus activist for male survivors of sexual assault, Alterman realized in recent weeks the likelihood that his high school girlfriend was abused herself — possibly by that ex-boyfriend who insisted she stayed silent during sex. That could explain why she thought this sort of coercion during sex was normal.
Alterman thinks consent is excluded from the cultural conversation. Grabbing a woman's hips from behind is the requisite way to ask for a dance and movies show guys endlessly pursuing a girl until she “gives in.” Many balk at the idea that men, who are supposedly constantly sex-starved and domineering, can be victims of sexual assault too.
“As a survivor, I feel regularly confronted with the question of, ‘What is masculinity and what is masculinity in my life?' ” Alterman said.
One in six
Rape of males is the least reported crime, according to MaleSurvivor Vice President Chris Anderson. This organization was the first in the country dedicated to helping men and boys heal from sexual victimization.
Many of the statistics, for this reason, are not definite. It's estimated that one in 10 sexual assault survivors are men. One in six men experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. In the case of rape, 1 in 33 men are survivors, compared to 1 in 6 women.
Most issues that male and female sexual assault survivors face — such as guilt, shame or anger — after an incident are similar, said Rackham student Jamie Little. Little studies the intersection between law and male sex crimes in the Department of Sociology.
Statistics reflect one difference between the genders: the age during the crime occurs. Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center Director Holly Rider-Milkovich explained that male survivors at the University and at college campuses nationwide are usually abused before their college years. The most common age for sexual assault for men is 8-18, Rider-Milkovich said, compared to 16-24 for women.
Before being raped as a teenager, Alterman was repeatedly abused as an 8-year-old by an older neighbor. The neighbor would force him and another boy to rub their genitals together in Alterman's bedroom.
But for many boys, a close adult — a family member, coach, religious official — is the common perpetrator of sexual assault. There's a “grooming” process where the perpetrator attempts to build trust with his or her target. This better allows the abuser to manipulate the child into not reporting the abuse. Rider-Milkovich said this type of abuse is disconcerting for children who have likely never had a sexual experience before.
Rider-Milkovich added that SAPAC has seen, in recent years, a “number of male students” who have been abused on the University campus by men and women. She emphasized the importance of resources for all survivors regardless of gender. Some cities and communities do not have the funds — or do not recognize male rape or partner abuse as possible — to give male survivors proper resources, Anderson said.
Stigmas shroud the true number of male survivors. However, Anderson said abuse does not discriminate.
“Sexual abuse affects people from every gender, age, race, religion and socioeconomic class,” Anderson said. “You will find them in all walks of life.”
Despite its pervasiveness, male rape is not commonly discussed. In fact, many male survivors face great difficulty in talking about their experiences.
A mentally challenged classmate abused LSA sophomore D. Lyons when he was in first grade. After his principal punished him for saying the word “hump” to describe the abuse, he told his mother after two months of repeated experiences.
Lyons never saw the boy again, and no one ever asked him about the abuse.
“You feel like sexual abuse, it's like this thing, it's almost like this disease you have and you tell people and you can infect people,” Lyons said. “It's like you're like a leper. It's messed up, man.”
Alterman said sexual assault deprives men of what typically characterizes masculinity: power. In a traditional view, he explained, the most venerated men dominate athletically, are flush in cash, and attract women.
Men are valued for their ability to control or best others.
“The history that I feel as a man that I carry is one of power,” Alterman said. “I am taught to be powerful, to be authoritative, to be controlling, to be aggressive.”
Sexual assault takes that power away. This can make some people question if they are truly male when they link power and masculinity so closely.
“You are subjugated by someone else and done so in a way that is shameful and creates a lot of self-loathing and guilt,” Alterman said.
Other effects of rape mirror women's trauma: disruption of eating or sleeping patterns, anxiety, low self-esteem, depersonalization and a host of other symptoms.
Lyons said the abuse, followed by the death of his parents in his adolescence, spawned certain personality traits that seem almost impossible in the gregarious Residential College student.
“The big thing is being distrustful of people, feeling like I've always had to look out for myself, always being a distrustful person,” Lyons said. “There've been a lot of times where I've just been an asshole and it's not okay. But it's also like at least three different big fuckin' events in my life that made me have to forge for myself.”
The question of sexual pleasure can compound emasculation. Anderson said men are biologically driven to become erect with genital stimulation, regardless of mental state. Shock and terror can sometimes even lead to an erection.
Male ejaculation is also a physiological response that does not signify enjoyment or consent, similar to females who orgasm during rape. Alterman explained that he ejaculated as a 16 year old simply to make the experience end. Still, this visible response can be manipulated by rapists of men.
“It becomes a hook that perpetrators can use against a survivor to say, ‘See, you enjoy this. This is something that you really wanted. This is natural, this is what happens when people who like each other touch each other in these ways,' ” Anderson said.
This is further complicated when a heterosexual man is assaulted by another man and experiences arousal. Survivors often question their own sexual identity in such cases. And for many younger victims, it is their first sexual experience.
Both of Lyons' parents died in his early adolescence. His mother committed suicide and his father overdosed on heroin. His friends and family were quick to comfort him about these painful losses, but always shied away from his abuse.
“I thought no one wanted to hear about that,” Lyons said. “People wanted to hear about how torn are you, about how you're going to survive. People wanted to hear how I hadn't killed myself, essentially. People didn't know and didn't want to know, and I felt like it was a weird weak thing.”
Men abused as children confront their experiences, on average, in their late 30s or early 40s. Alterman said secondary traumas are common for male survivors — specifically, traumas that occur as a result of telling someone of his assault and experiencing some sort of rejection or questioning about if a survivor “enjoyed” the experience.
“It's not just a question that someone is asking of, ‘Oh, did you enjoy it?'” Alterman said. “Most people ask it in a much more accusatory way of, “Oh, you must have enjoyed it.' Then the question is, ‘Did I? Should I have? Am I wrong for not?'”
Lyons, too, argued that societal narratives limit men's ability to discuss their experiences. The schema that men are logical beings and women are hyper-emotional contradicts the possibility of male feelings.
“We have to tell men that it's okay to talk about (sexual abuse), and that's hard to do even when women are supposed to be more emotional than men,” he said. “But even then, so many women still feel like they can't talk about it. So if women are supposed to have this space where they can be emotional, what are men who are supposed to be logical supposed to do?”
Pursuing legal action is relatively rare. However, conditions for men seeking legal reparations for their abuses are improving. Little, who studies male survivors in the legal system, interviewed 75 attorneys who were involved in such trials.
These lawyers were especially galvanized by male victimization. Such cases are relatively rare in the legal system, despite their relative presence in actuality.
“They actually seem to be intrigued by cases involving male victims,” Little said of the lawyers she interviewed. “They work a little bit harder. There's a great sense of injustice that a sexual assault could happen to a man.”
Still, Little noticed something peculiar with the mostly male attorneys: They do not view themselves as potential victims of sexual assault, unlike women.
Jurors, who also may not view men as possible victims, must receive comprehensive instruction that men can be targets of sexual assault.
In mass killings, smallest victims bear biggest burden
by Meghan Hoyer
Eight-year-old Katrina Yuzefpolsky didn't even realize she had been shot.
In the foyer of her grandparents' house in Covina in suburban Los Angeles, Katrina darted toward the man at the door on Christmas Eve. "It's Santa! It's Santa!" she shouted at her cousins. In the seconds before she reached the door, she mistook the crack of the semi-automatic handgun for the sound of balloons popping, the red on the marble floor as paint.
As Santa brushed by her, Katrina's mother sprinted from the dining room, Katrina in tow, and they ran. Away from the house where her extended family had gathered, away from where Katrina's former uncle - dressed in a custom-made Santa suit that hid his weapons - searched for other victims.
Away from the house where Katrina's grandparents and five aunts and uncles and a cousin would die, trying to hide from their attacker.
CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
After Adam Lanza killed 20 first-graders at an elementary school one year ago next week, advocates called for changes to gun laws and school security, saying the Connecticut mass shooting had proved to be a tipping point, a sign that violence had reached even the most innocent victims - groups of young children, huddled together in their classrooms.
The truth is children have always been caught in the crossfire of mass murder. Hundreds have been killed, and hundreds more have been forced to witness what some say is the most violent type of crime. It has devastated families and left permanent scars, long before Newtown became a household name.
A USA TODAY analysis of mass killings since 2006 shows that nearly one-third of all victims were younger than age 18 - 363 children dead in the past eight years. Their average age was 8 years old.
Lanza may have been unknown to the first graders he killed, but that isn't the typical threat: Most child victims of mass killers died at the hands of someone they knew. USA TODAY's data show that more than a third of the children who died in a mass murder were killed by their blood parent. Still more fell victim to stepparents, their parents' ex-lovers and other family members. Only about a quarter were killed by someone they didn't know.
And that doesn't count the hundreds of children such as Katrina, who survived but witnessed the violence: A 9-month-old baby in Memphis, stabbed repeatedly in the leg. Two Upstate New York teenagers forced at gunpoint to thank the man who had just shot dead their mother and stepfather, because he spared them. A 4-year old who first covered her bullet wounds with Band-Aids and then met police at the door, telling them, "Everybody's dead."
"There is sort of this myth that our children aren't exposed to these types of things, that it's rare," said John Fairbank, co-director of the UCLA-Duke University National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. "But it's not rare. Children are exposed at high rates."
Among the cases:
Four Washington, D.C., sisters, ages 5 to 16, who were beaten, stabbed and strangled by their mother in June 2007. Banita Jacks was sentenced to serve 120 years in prison.
Four young children who drowned after being thrown from an 80-foot-high bridge on Dauphin Island, Ala., in Jan. 2008. Lam Luong, father of the three youngest, faces murder charges. The deaths occurred shortly after he argued with his common-law wife.
Six-year-old twin girls and a 3-year-old boy found on top of each other in a bathtub in their Tallahassee home in November 2010. Henry Segura, the boy's father, is charged with killing his ex-girlfriend and the children after he was ordered to pay $20,000 in back child support fees.
That so many mass killings involve children as victims or are triggered by children isn't surprising, since so many occur at the hands of their parents, said Susan Hatters Friedman, a forensic psychiatrist who studies child homicide.
Hatters Friedman's research shows that the vast majority of child deaths start with abuse and turn fatal. But those are most often cases with one victim. USA TODAY's data show that child deaths in a mass killing - defined by the FBI as four or more killed, not including the suspect - are more likely caused by a family member's psychotic break. They also may be triggered by an impulse for revenge, in which one adult harms the children to punish a partner in a divorce, custody battle or breakup.
Young children are less likely to be able to defend themselves, and even older children often are unable to seek help or control a parent or family member suffering from mental illness.
"If you imagine - you're 30 and your partner is going into a deep psychosis, you'd hopefully act to get help," Hatters Friedman said. "If you're a kid, you don't know - that's just mom."
CHAOS AT CHRISTMASTIME
Inside Katrina's grandparents' house back in 2008, chaos broke out where just minutes before the family had been eating, laughing, exchanging gifts and playing poker.
Bruce Pardo, the ex-husband of one of Katrina's aunts, a man whose divorce had been finalized just a week earlier, had spent months crafting his revenge. He wore a custom-made Santa suit; made extra large to accommodate weapons. In his sack was flammable liquid. He strapped cash to his body and had a plane ticket out of the country waiting in a rental car.
When Katrina's uncle opened the door, Pardo began shooting immediately, hitting Katrina first, the bullet slicing through her cheek and exiting below her jaw.
The house erupted. Several adults dove under the dining room table. Relatives pulled Amanda Orza and Brianna Yuzefpolsky out the back door.
Unable to see their attacker, the Yuzefpolskys crouched alongside the house until the shooting stopped. Inside, Pardo had begun spraying gasoline. Vadim Yuzefpolsky hefted first his wife, then his two young daughters over the terra-cotta wall and into a neighbor's backyard. Across the yard, Amanda, her sister and a cousin also hurdled the wall before flames erupted.
As the group huddled at a friend's home nearby, Katrina finally realized something was wrong with her cheek. She would spend the next few days in the hospital, only to return home to a houseful of grieving family members.
"It was," she said, "very, very, very depressing those next few days."
KIDS COPE IN VARIOUS WAYS
The unpredictability of how a child will respond to violence, makes helping the survivors especially difficult.
Some are maimed, physically scarred for life. Others are left with difficulty concentrating, overwhelming grief or guilt about the death of so many others. Still more regress developmentally - research has found even children a year old who witness violence can lose skills, choosing to crawl, rather than walk, for instance.
Steven Marans, a child trauma expert at Yale University, said a child experiences an overwhelming loss of control when faced with an attack such as a mass killing. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress can create a second loss of control, he said.
"For a lot of kids, the feeling that the world is no longer safe is not an uncommon experience," he said. "Post-traumatic symptoms strengthen that perception."
Studies have shown that therapists need to work quickly after a crisis, which is difficult when parents or guardians are dealing with their own grief and trauma, Marans said. Re-introducing routines into children's lives also is important.
Vadim and Leticia Yuzefpolsky adhered to that idea, putting their daughters back into school as soon as it re-opened after the Christmas break. But it wasn't easy, they acknowledged years later. Especially when the harbinger of the attack - the sound of the doorbell - is an everyday reminder.
Katrina, still with bandages over the scars on her cheek just weeks after her shooting, said she was mostly in a daze. Some days, she refused to go outside for recess. Her teacher didn't make her.
Brianna, a kindergartner, would cry in class. Or start talking about what she witnessed: "My sister was shot," she'd tell her 5-year-old classmates.
Amanda Orza, whose mother died in the attack, and her adult brother and sister came to live with the Yuzefpolskys. At her new school, Amanda told none of her first-grade classmates what she had experienced. "I just tried to make friends and pretend that never happened," she said. "I still do that now."
When asked why she referred to Leticia as "Nina," she said she lied: "I just tell them it means mom."
Counseling was of limited help.
"It helped part of the time," Amanda said. The counselor "did help me in some ways. But other ways, she just couldn't help me. I don't think she could stop my grieving. I'll still miss them, and that's final."
Still, the family was helped by living in the Los Angeles area and Vadim, a lawyer, had a strong network of community resources.
In many parts of the country, trauma counselors are few and far between, setting up a difficult road for children confused and scared by what they've seen.
"We talk about the most famous mass shootings - they bring in the trauma teams, but unless it's in downtown or a very urban area, there just aren't the resources," said Lisa Rothwell, who acted as guardian ad litem for an 8-year-old Ohio girl inexplicably spared after the rest of her family was killed. The girl is being raised by an aunt, who had trouble finding help within an hour of their home.
"From a national perspective, considering the scope of the problem, this is not enough," said Fairbank, of the UCLA-Duke Center. "Many children who experience such events are not able to access care, and as a nation, we need to do more."
A NEW NORMAL
In the Yuzefpolskys' dining room, three giggling girls have interrupted the family's discussion about the attack to pin a sparkly blue barrette on the patient family dog, Apollo. A tableau of normalcy that masks lives forever changed.
Earlier in the afternoon, Brianna, now 10, picked at her sweatshirt as her older sister and mother talked about what happened that Christmas Eve five years ago.
"Sometimes I still get dreams about how the fire happened," she finally said. "Sometimes I imagine it happened at our house, and someone did that again to us, and my mom and dad died and no one would take care of us."
While the girls still cling to beloved items from before the attack - Amanda keeps the red and black dress she wore that Christmas Eve, that her mother gave her -
they have taken steps to put the tragedy behind them. Late last spring, Katrina asked her teacher if she could make a presentation during National Nonviolence Week.
She explained how she got the scar on her left cheek, and the longer line tucked under her jaw, described what had happened to her family. The questions, she knew, would only get more difficult as she entered middle school.
"I still have my scar, and people are still going to ask me what happened," she said, adding that the story helped her classmates open up with their own tales of bullying. "It's not a secret anymore."
Leticia Yuzefpolsky also has spoken at victims' rights rallies and to grief groups, and has encouraged the girls to write letters to the victims of the Newtown shooting and a mass killing closer to home in Seal Beach, Calif.
Other families who have been through such tragedies also have been pushed to action: In Lake Havasu, Ariz., an annual walk raises awareness about domestic violence. The wife of a man killed at a Salt Lake City mall has created a victims advocacy group called Circle the Wagons to help families living through overwhelming sorrow. And the son of a Sikh Temple founder killed in 2012 by a white supremacist in Wisconsin plans to run for the U.S. House of Representatives next year.
In the hills outside of Los Angeles, however, the family's tragedy still lingers for Katrina, the girl named most likely in her class to become president. If her classmate's prediction ever came true, she said, "I would tell everyone that they'd have to get rid of their guns."
"The kids - it's sad to think about what they have to go through, like what we had to go through - what I had to go through," Katrina said.
"For the rest of their lives, everything is changed."
Overhaul of child abuse laws planned
Senate could vote on
by Kate Giammarise
HARRISBURG -- A bill at the center of a package of child abuse law reforms passed unanimously through a Senate committee Tuesday.
The legislation, which has passed the House, could get a full Senate vote as early as next week.
The proposal is the legal centerpiece of a huge overhaul of the state's child abuse laws; it is one of a number of changes put forth by a task force convened in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
The main provision of the bill is a new definition of what legally constitutes child abuse: "intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to a child." It also lists a number of acts that would constitute abuse, such as kicking, burning, forcefully shaking or striking a child less than 1 year old.
"The level of injury that a child has to suffer isn't as serious or extreme," under the revised definition, said Cathleen Palm, executive director of advocacy group the Protect Our Children Committee.
Current state law says that a child must suffer "serious" bodily injury to be considered abused.
Additionally, feigning or exaggerating a medical symptom or disease that results in a harmful medical treatment would also constitute abuse. Causing a child to be present at a methamphetamine lab, or leaving a child with an individual (other than the child's parent) who has been convicted of certain sex offenses would also be considered child abuse, according to a summary of the bill from the office of Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery, chairman of the Senate aging and youth committee.
The bill still contains an exemption for not providing medical care if it is part of the practice of religious beliefs, allows the use of force for safety purposes and would not "restrict the existing rights of parents to use reasonable force on or against their children for the purposes of supervision, control and discipline of their child," according to the summary.
The bill passed the House 191-6 at the end of June.
There were 26,664 reports of suspected abuse and/or neglect last year, of which 3,565 cases, or 13.4 percent, were substantiated, according to statistics released earlier this year by the state Department of Public Welfare. There were 33 substantiated child fatalities in Pennsylvania in 2012 and 48 near-fatalities.
If the bill becomes law, it will not take effect until the end of next year.
Report Outlines Reported Child Abuse While in State Custody
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WGGB) –The Department of Children and Families investigates reports of child abuse at places like foster homes, and schools.
The results of those findings are in a report from the Office of the Child Advocate.
They reviewed 234 reports from 2012, supporting nearly 250 allegations of maltreatment,
connecting with the DCF on treatment in foster homes. “We do see cases of children who were abused while in foster care, occasionally, less commonly, in schools. A foster home is monitored to a certain extent. Foster parents are given a certain amount of training, but only a certain amount,” said Dr. Stephen Boos, Medical Director at the Family Advocacy Center at Baystate Children's Hospital.
Though Dr. Boos mainly works with private families, he estimates that only 1/3 of child abuse cases are even being reported. “We probably see between 300-350 children a year. Each of those cases is a question of abuse, but that doesn't mean those kids have been abused. Probably are about half are abused. But that's only cases that come to light. We don't see the vast majority of the neglect cases,” he added.
Neglect could include things like poor hygiene, and home conditions…
According to the DCF, the number of kids removed from homes because of abuse or neglect has declined in the past couple of years. For reports of child abuse in schools or day care, children may be living at home, and not necessarily under DCF care.
Still, Dr. Boos hopes a report like this creates a long term solution instead of a knee-jerk reaction. “We recommend that this is perhaps, the most important public health problem of our time, and we make gradual, incremental changes with real thought and commitment,” stated Dr. Boos.
The DCF says they have expanded placements, and lowered staff caseloads in order to help keep children safe.
When the DCF gets a report of abuse, they say they begin investigating immediately, while putting a corrective action plan in place at the home.
That home is immediately closed from more placements pending the investigation's outcome.
First person: Talking to our kids about inappropriate touching – and sexual abuse
by Diana Limongi
During the Thanksgiving break, we watched an award-winning movie on Netflix called “Polisse,“ about a police child protection unit in Paris. The movie was based on real events.
These were some of the scenarios presented: a young girl molested by her 74-year-old grandfather, a young boy molested by his gymnastics coach, a coach who believed he had a ‘relationship' with the student he was molesting, a girl who went to boarding school because her father “loved her too much,” a father who claimed children had “sexual liberty” to make decisions about their sexuality, a mother who admitted touching her infant son inappropriately to get him to fall asleep (and who didn't see anything wrong with it) and a teenage girl who lured a “friend” to an alley to be raped by a gang of boys.
Yes, this is very disturbing stuff. But we cannot deny these things happen.
The movie got me thinking about talking to children about what is “appropriate” touching and what is not appropriate behavior.
When should parents have this conversation? At what age? Are parents even having this conversation with their children?
I remember when Enzo was an infant I was changing his diaper and I said, “This is your penis and no one should touch it.” Of course, he was a baby and was too little to understand.
After watching the movie, I couldn't stop thinking about the scenarios, so I did some research. According to the Advocacy Center, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be sexually abused by age 18. That is one statistic that makes me sick to my stomach.
Another one is this: according to the American Psychological Association only 10 percent of child molesters are strangers. 60 percent are individuals are known adults (but not family members) and 30 percent are family members.
In our Hispanic culture, talking about body parts or sex can be taboo. Yet this is an incredibly important topic. Children who are touched inappropriately or who are sexually abused may feel ashamed or be afraid to get in trouble if they say something.
Moreover, because the perpetrators are often people they know, children may feel they don't want to betray the adult engaging in the inappropriate conduct.
It is important to remember that child abuse can happen to anyone. Race, gender, nationality, religion and socioeconomic status are all irrelevant. Children of all backgrounds can be victims of sexual abuse.
Also, it is important to stress that abuse is not only limited to inappropriate “touching.” The Advocacy Center cites these examples of abuse: “sexual touching, oral-genital contact, rape, incest, any penetration with objects or body parts, making a child touch someone else's private parts or play sexual (“pants down”) games, exposing private parts to a child, showing pornography/making child watch sexual acts, taking sexual pictures, watching a child undress or go to the bathroom and obscene/sexual language.”
Experts recommend talking to your child as early as possible. As with all things, repetition is key. As soon as we start talking to our children about their bodies, which can be as early as two years old, we should be telling them about what is OK and what is not. It is necessary to continue the conversation as children get older as well. In some cases, perpetrators are older children molesting younger children.
If you wish to start a conversation about inappropriate/appropriate touching with your child(ren), here are a few places to start:
Read a book: My Body Belongs to Me written by Jill Starishevsky, a child abuse and sex crimes prosecutor in New York City. This book, written in rhyme, talks about a child who was touched by her uncle.
Introduce your child to “The Underwear Rule” developed by the European Council. It was created to start a discussion on appropriate/inappropriate touch.
Check out these other resources:
I know this is a tough topic, but I can't stop thinking about these alarming statistics and how important it is for us to talk to our children about appropriate and inappropriate touching.
Body parts and sex can be difficult topics to broach as parents, but it is necessary to discuss these in order to protect our children.
Diana Limongi-Gabriele works hard juggling a full-time job, motherhood, family, grad school and her blog, LadydeeLG, where she writes about issues she is passionate about including teaching her son Spanish, motherhood, parenting, Latino issues, good quality food and women's issues. Diana is a regular contributor for Mamiverse. She has a MA in Migration Studies, and is pursuing an MPA in Nonprofit Management. Her most important job however, is being mommy to Enzo, a French/Hispanic/American (one day trilingual) 2-year-old boy. You can connect with her via Twitter, @dianalimongi or on Facebook.
Vatican refuses to share sex abuse investigations with U.N. panel
(Reuters) - The Vatican refused to provide a United Nations rights panel with information on the Church's internal investigations into the sexual abuse of children by clergy, saying on Tuesday that its policy was to keep such cases confidential.
In response to a series of tough questions posed by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Holy See said it would not release information on its internal investigations into abuse cases unless required to do so by a request from a state or government to cooperate in legal proceedings.
The response of the Holy See, which will be directly questioned by the panel in January 2014, will be closely watched as it tries to draw a line under financial scandals and abuse by priests that have damaged the standing of the Roman Catholic Church around the world.
Since becoming the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years, Pope Francis has largely succeeded in changing the subject after the resignation of Benedict XVI in February.
The questions from the panel aimed to assess the Church's adherence to the 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty guaranteeing a full range of human rights for children which the Holy See has signed.
In its response the Vatican said internal disciplinary proceedings "are not open to the public" in order to protect "witnesses, the accused and the integrity of the Church process", but said this should not discourage victims from reporting crimes to state authorities.
However, it said state laws, including the obligation to report crimes, must be respected.
The Holy See noted it was "deeply saddened by the scourge of sexual abuse" and emphasized that it had changed the requirements for admitting candidates for priesthood, updated canon law, and asked bishops' conferences to draw up guidelines to combat abuse.
But it indicated the Vatican could not be held responsible for the behavior of institutions or individual Catholics around the world and said local bishops had the responsibility of ensuring children were protected.
"The Holy See does not exercise effective control over the local activities of Catholic institutions around the world," the response read, indicating the Catholic Church's central administration could only be held accountable for events within the Vatican City State.
The U.S.-based advocacy group the Center for Constitutional Rights criticized the responses as too vague.
"In claiming it only bears responsibility for what happens inside Vatican City and blaming the lack of prevention ... on local governments, the Holy See has taken one of its most explicitly disingenuous and misleading positions on the issue to date," the rights group said in a statement.
Witnesses watched alleged child sex assault
by Peggy Fox
WOODBRIDGE, Va. (WUSA9) -- Officials tell WUSA9 that there were numerous witnesses to the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl.
The girl knows the two people charged; they are two boys, 12 and 13-years-old.
Police say the incident happened in the the girl's own backyard in the 15100 block of Blackburn Road in Woodbridge on Wednesday, November 27th, the day before Thanksgiving.
"She reported to us that she was sexually assaulted by two people who were known to her, two juveniles," said Officer Jonathon Perok, spokesman for the Prince William County Police Department.
The boys are only 12 and 13-years-old. No names or court records have been released because they are juveniles. The boys have been charged with forcible sodomy, which apparently was oral sex, according to Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert. The boys are also charged with abduction with intent to defile.
"During our investigation, we learned that they held her down, so that escalates it," said Perok.
"Though it's horrifying, something likely happened that normalized this behavior for both of the young men," said Clinical Psychologist Kacie Fisher. She helps rehabilitate children who commit violent acts, which she says can be the result of exposure to such crimes. She says usually, an outside influence has skewed their moral compass.
"Research does show that for most people who commit sexually violent acts, there has to be come level of exposure that normalized the behavior to them. It could be that they are victims of abuse themselves... or have been forced to watch some act of some violence," said Fisher.
Dr.Fisher says when there is more than one perpetrator, a mob mentality can take affect that can quash the courage to speak out against what's happening. In the Woodbridge incident, there were not only two perpetrators but also other kids watching. It was after school, and there were no parents around, but a half a dozen witnesses says Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert says there were half a dozen witnesses.
The two boys are being held at a juvenile detention facility without bond. They could stay there through Christmas and their preliminary hearing is scheduled in late January.
Ebert says the boys are too young to be tried as adults. He says if the boys are found guilty, the court will order a thorough family and background check to determine the measure of punishment. The maximum they could face would be to stay in a juvenile facility until they are 21 years old.
Dr. Fisher says children who commit such crimes can be rehabilitated. She says they must learn empathy and compassion, and realize right from wrong is not just about what's against the law or the rules, but how those actions affect other people.
Fisher advises parents who are concerned about their children either becoming the victim or perpetrator of sexual violence to go to The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website.
Alison Arngrim Of 'Little House On The Prairie' Talks About Childhood Sexual Abuse
(Video on site)
Alison Arngrim was 12 years old when she landed the role of Nellie Oleson, the iconic golden-haired villain on "Little House on the Prairie." Her character was known for her brazen attitude and fearlessness, but off camera, Arngrim says she was hiding a painful secret. On a new episode of "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" she opened up about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
"So here I was playing this girl that everyone was afraid of and it's great," Arngrim says in the above video. "I'm paid to play this person who screams, yells, throw things, vents her anger, just lets it out, doesn't care who's looking, shows all the worst parts, makes terrible faces and doesn't care how awful she looks.
"It was absolutely therapeutic," she says.
Starting at age 6, Arngrim says she was sexually abused by a relative for three years.
"I actually read somewhere the average length of time for someone to come forward about being sexually abused is 14 years from the incident," she says. "I was in my early 20s when I first started talking about it and went to therapy, so I was right on schedule -- textbook."
Because she was so young, Arngrim says she didn't tell anyone when the abuse started. "I wasn't quite completely clear on exactly what it was that was being done to go report this," she says. "So when I started to get older and realize what it was, that's when I actually said 'No, I'm not doing this anymore.' And amazingly, it stopped."
Arngrim says her cast mates never knew about the abuse, and she even kept the secret from her family. "It was awful," she says. "It's keeping the secret is the worst part. It's wondering, can someone tell by looking at you?"
In the below video, Arngrim joins "Oprah: Where Are They Now?" executive producers Jill Van Lokeren and Julie Simpson on HuffPost Live and talks about why she eventually went public about her abuse and her work with the National Association to Protect Children.
"Oprah: Where Are They Now?" airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.
Authorities search for mother who abducted son from Palmdale foster home
PALMDALE (CNS) - Palmdale sheriff's detectives sought the public's help tonight in finding a 10-year-old boy abducted by his mother outside a foster home in Palmdale.
Matisse Murphy was taken from the home at 8:50 a.m. on Monday according to Deputy Jodi Wolfe of the sheriff's Palmdale Station. He is described as a black, about 4 feet 11 inches tall, weighing 80 pounds.
His mother, Nisshawn Murphy, 39, was ordered by the court to relinquish her parental rights due to several criminal convictions. She is 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs 145 pounds.
Wolfe said cellphone records show that Nisshawn had made several trips to the Antelope Valley from South Los Angeles in a white four-door Ford Explorer with side steps and the California license plate 6VZX199.
Anyone with information about either's whereabouts was asked to call the sheriff's Palmdale Station at (661) 272-2500 or (661) 272-2477.
The Vigilante of Clallam County
Patrick Drum was tired of seeing sex offenders continue to hurt children. So he decided to kill them.
by Lexi Pandell
On a morning last fall , Patrick Drum sat quietly in his black and white striped uniform and handcuffs as he awaited his fate. The sleeves of his top were short enough to reveal a tattoo reading “Win Some” on his right forearm and one reading “Lose Sum” on the left. From the court's gallery where dozens of reporters and community members sat, he seemed to barely move as the families of the two men he had killed four months before came forward to speak.
“The only thing I'll say is I don't has no sympathy for the man who shot and killed my son,” said Jerry Ray's father, Paul, his voice breaking. The wife of the other victim, Gary Blanton, said Drum's followers were harassing her and her family—spitting at them, parking at night outside her home. “Tell your supporters to stop,” she said. “My children and I don't deserve this… I think we've suffered enough.”
Prosecutor Deb Kelly recommended life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders, plus time for burglary and unlawful possession of a firearm. “What Mr. Drum has done diminishes us all,” she said. “There is no room for vigilantism. There is no room for what he has done. And no one in authority will ever tolerate vigilantism. It will be sought out, those who commit it will be sought out. They will be sought—“
Drum interrupted her. “This country was founded on vigilantism,” he said.
Kelly ignored him and continued. “You piece of shit,” someone from the galley called to Drum.
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The defense attorney spoke briefly. Drum rose and curtly apologized for the hurt caused to the families, asking his supporters to leave them alone. “As for the men themselves,” he said, speaking of his victims, “actions speak louder than words.”
The judge gave Drum a sentence of life without parole. “See you in hell, fucker,” someone shouted as he departed. “Love you guys,” Drum said to the crowd. “God bless you,” said another.
As far as Drum was concerned, he had been protecting the community's children when he murdered Paul Ray's son and Leslie Blanton's husband. He may have killed two sex offenders in June of that year, but he had set out to kill sixty more.
In the months after the killings , Drum's case had divided the small community. Both Sequim, where Drum and his victims had lived at the time of the murders, and Port Angeles, an adjacent town where Drum spent most of his life, lie in the rain shadow of Washington's Olympic Mountains and are relatively small—just 19,000 and 7,000 residents, respectively. Mills were the lifeblood of this area, but many closed during the worst of the recession. A few years ago, Twilight fans flocked to the region on pilgrimages to the nearby city of Forks, the main setting of the fantasy novels and films, but Twilight tourism eventually tapered off. Off the main highways, large houses are mixed in with cabins and shacks. There are horses fenced in on private properties, fields and apple trees, snow-capped mountains and the cool waters of the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
Everyone knew about the murders. Many residents showed their support by writing letters and showing up at court. Some said they had been raped and that Drum was their hero. Courtroom spectators would yell things like “Way to go!” during proceedings.
As stories of the murders were posted online, comments from readers around the country poured in. Drum was a star and a hero. Drum had no right to play God. He had watched too much television. How could anyone support a murderer? How could anyone support a sex offender? Where could they send Drum money? More still seemed unsure how to feel: They disliked sex offenders, but didn't know if murder was the solution.
To those who supported Drum, any ethical objections to murder were outweighed by the need to protect children. Discussing the case online, one reader commented, “If it were my child, I would […] think of [Drum] as a hero…sex offenses can be a life long agony and pain.” Another wrote simply, “Looks like he took out the trash.” A man interviewed on camera outside the Clallam County Courthouse said, “I honestly feel that it was justified.”
In fact, Drum's crime wasn't as unusual as it seemed. Between 15 to 20 percent of convicted sex offenders report vigilantism or harassment; According to Professor Jill Levenson of Lynn University in Florida, about one-third of offenders lose their jobs or homes, are harassed, or have property damaged because of their status. In some cases, children grow up to attack those who hurt them when they were young. In 2012, a man from San Jose, California, beat the priest who allegedly raped him and his brother when they were children. In other cases, the attackers have no connection to the offenders, as in 2011 when a St. Louis man allegedly approached a 74-year-old neighbor whom he knew was a registered sex offender and asked to borrow sugar. He allegedly attacked the man, who had been charged with sexually abusing an 11-year-old girl in 1991, with a hammer. He later told police that he was “doing God's work.”
Vigilantes, and especially those who target pedophiles, often harbor a deep belief that they're doing what's necessary to protect others from grave harm. “They think the state's not doing enough,” said Dr. Lisa Arellano, a historian and professor who studies vigilantism at Colby College in Maine. “And I think those two claims go hand in hand—the state isn't doing enough to protect your community, so you have to do something.”
Those who knew Drum from his years in Sequim said he was the kind of person who wrote poetry and helped neighbors learn how to send e-mails. Friends said Drum liked being a mentor to young people, including two teenage boys who Drum learned had been molested by Jerry Ray, one of the men Drum would eventually kill. Drum said he knew the boys from the time they were young, and took them fishing when they were teenagers.
While he was a student at a local community college, Drum started a boxing team and, when he left the school, he coached youth boxers in the area. “I got a vibe from him that he had had some challenges in his life and he wanted to be a part of something that kids in our community who had had a rough life, like his perhaps, could have something to work on that was drug free and alcohol free,” Point Peninsula College athletics director Rick Ross said.
Drum spent much of his early life in and out of jail, mostly for drug-related offenses. When he was released for the last time in 2009, he seemed to be making an honest effort at starting anew. A stint at a homeless shelter led to a brief dish washing job and, then, a job at Nash's Organic Grocery as a farm laborer. Drum worked there for three years while trying his hand bottling water from Forks to sell to Twilight fans and creating an uncommissioned logo for the Seattle Seahawks. Although his ventures were commercially unsuccessful, a local paper profiled him in 2011 as an inspiring example of an ex-felon getting back on his feet. He was laid off from his farm job not long after, but seemed to be holding things together.
Drum had become friends with Leslie Blanton (née Sheriff), a thick woman with dark hair, in the early 2000s. They were both involved in the drug scene of Port Angeles and became closer after spending some time in rehab together. Leslie Blanton and her boyfriend Gary Blanton Jr., a lanky young man who had been in and out of prison after some violent encounters, both pled guilty to kidnapping. They allegedly forced a girl into a car, kept her in an apartment against her will and hit her in the head with their hands and a frying pan. Gary Blanton was released first and, when Leslie Blanton was released a couple years later, they married.
The pair had two children together: Gary III, who was born in 2009, and Skylar, who was born in 2010. Blanton, Leslie says, was a dedicated father, bringing her meals when she was pregnant and reading to her stomach so the babies would get to know his voice. As a husband, he helped her reform her life.
Yet something about Gary Blanton bothered Drum, who kept in touch with the couple and came to dinner occasionally, bringing groceries from the farm where he worked. When he was 17, Blanton had pled guilty to raping a 17-year-old deaf/mute girl. Leslie didn't mind what had happened: Her husband had come clean with her early in their relationship. (She would later say in court that Gary had been caught having sex with the girl in public, while his mother said he was set up by the girl and charged with statutory rape. Because both Gary Blanton and the girl were minors, details of the case are sealed.) But Drum withdrew from them slightly after he found out.
In the summer of 2011, then-17-month-old Skylar was diagnosed with a spiral fracture in his arm, a type of break that doctors said would have required relatively great force unless he had a bone disease, which he did not. The alternative was that someone might have seized the baby forcefully by his arm while he was lying down. Doctors also discovered another, 2-week-old fracture on Skylar's thighbone consistent with someone roughly grabbing him by the arm and forcing him to kneel. In an email to a detective, the doctor wrote, “In summary, Skylar is the victim of child abuse, and at least the second injury, the upper arm fracture, occurred at the hands of his father.”
The family contended that Gary hadn't hurt the baby. But Blanton was arrested, and released on bail on the condition that he stay away from his children.
In May, Drum visited Blanton at Mandi Smith's residence, where he had been staying since he could no longer live at home. Drum noticed Blanton “throwing his weight around,” eating Smith's food without asking and saying things Drum found disrespectful. Blanton also hadn't packed up his belongings despite being asked to leave. Drum asked Blanton about the situation, but was told to butt out. At that point, Drum recalls jumping up and punching Blanton in the face and, as Smith later told police, the two started brawling. She called Leslie Blanton at work in hopes that she could help but, by the time she showed up, the two men had calmed down.
Afterward, Drum did something unusual. He asked Gary Blanton if he'd like to stay with him in the cottage he rented in Sequim for a while. Blanton accepted. Soon, he moved in, bringing his dog with him.
Even though they were living apart, Leslie said she and her husband still spoke on the phone daily. She remembered hearing him and Drum joke together while they made dinner. She later remarked that they seemed like old buddies. Though she noticed Drum had barely been at home since Gary had moved in, and saw him uncharacteristically driving a new, red Chevrolet Impala in place of his usual older car, nothing seemed to be horribly amiss.
The accommodation seemed like a generous offer.
In fact, it was the first step in the plan Drum had been contemplating for years. Only later would Drum admit that the apparent generosity was a ruse. He stole a gun, planned an escape route and started gathering the names and addresses of other sex offenders in the area. “I invited him to move in with me rent free as a way to get him to a secure location to execute him,” Drum would later write from prison. “He took the bait.” The red Impala had been rented as a getaway vehicle.
On the night of June 2, 2012, Gary Blanton was playing World of Warcraft on his desktop computer. Blanton's dog sat nearby while he fought monsters and embarked on quests in his gray plaid pajama bottoms.
Though Drum had been planning for this night for weeks, he still spent most of the morning scrambling to get food and camping supplies together. He was always running late.
While Blanton was immersed in his game, Drum slipped out of the house and cut the power. Blanton was wearing a headset that let him speak with other players and Drum didn't want anyone online to hear what was about to happen. Calming himself, Drum pulled out a 9 mm pistol and charged inside. He hadn't thought about how hard it would be to hit Blanton in the dark and emptied the first magazine wildly into the blackness before realizing he'd need another. He dashed to get an extra from his car and to nab a flashlight. When he re-entered, Blanton, riddled with bullets, was on his cell phone. “Help, 9-1-1 I'm being shot,” Blanton managed to say before the line went dead. Drum shone the light on Blanton's head and kept shooting.
Afterward, Drum led Blanton's dog, scared and splattered with a bit of Blanton's blood but otherwise unscathed, into another room before placing a letter titled “Declarations” and a lollipop with a scorpion inside near Blanton's body. The end of his note read: “When I was younger I was at a pet shop. I saw these three scorpions in [an] aquarium. One was a pregnant female and two were males. As I approached, the female tucked into a protective ball. The two males got in front of her in full battle ready posture; tails up, claws out and open. Being young and curious I played a game and used my hands to circle the aquarium in different directions. Each male picked a hand and moved with it, never leaving her side and staying between the hand and her. This spirit always impressed me.” It was signed with his name.
Drum grabbed a backpack stuffed with a thumb drive, camouflage clothes, a map, supplies for living on the run, and a plastic bag full of pot. Then, he left. He carried a list of 60 names and addresses of sex offenders. Drum picked those who had been charged with rape or other serious crimes. He didn't want to target someone who was on the list for peeing in public or another minor offense. They lived in Forks, Sequim, Quilcene—all towns on the Peninsula. They were all in his sights, but first Drum had someone particular in mind.
It was around sunrise when Drum came to the home of his next target. Jerry Ray, a tall 57-year-old man with a graying mustache and glasses, lived with and cared for his elderly father, Paul. Jerry Ray was born in Mississippi, but spent much of his life in California, including a stint in the Army in Fort Ord in the mid-1970s. He had had two marriages, one of which ended in divorce and the other in separation, and had three children. Of his son, Paul Ray would later say, “Jerry wasn't no angel.”
In 2002, Jerry Ray was found guilty of having stripping naked, carrying the 7 and 4-year-old grandchildren of his friends (the boys Drum said he walked across the street and took on fishing trips) into a bedroom, and molesting them. Jerry Ray later told police he was drunk and barely remembered the evening, but admitted that he had acted on a strange urge. He served four years of jail time and underwent sex offender therapy as well as rehab for alcoholism, although he struggled with his addiction until his death.
After his release from prison, a back injury prevented Jerry Ray from working and so he spent his time shopping for groceries, taking his father to doctor's appointments, and keeping busy around their house with their three Pekingese dogs, black Persian cat, and gray and white parakeet named Tweety. He also took care of his mother until she died of Alzheimer's.
Drum had been waiting for years for the moment when he would get revenge on this man who molested the children he knew. He had had plans to come to Jerry Ray's home and stab him on New Year's Eve before Drum was arrested in 2005 for burglary. “I am close friends with the family and what I did was long overdue,” he would write later, adding that they had no idea that he was planning to hurt Ray. But, now, on the porch of the Ray home, Drum hesitated. He had heard that Jerry Ray was ex-military and it wasn't uncommon for people in this rural area to have guns. He tried knocking, hoping Jerry Ray would answer the door so Drum could shoot him and make a quick escape. Nobody answered. Leaving his rental car in the Rays' driveway, Drum went for a walk to calm his nerves.
While many people assume sex offenders are incurable, Justice Department statistics show that the overall recidivism rates for sex offenders, including pedophiles, are actually lower than those for other violent crimes. Still, sex offenders are four times more likely to be rearrested for a sex crime, meaning that the stereotypes we have about them being shadowy characters who continue hurting others sometimes play out as expected. These are the moments that burn in our minds.
Two major cases surfaced in the first half of March of this year alone. In the first, an Indiana man convicted of multiple violent felonies, including rape, strangled and raped a 17-year-old girl in her apartment. Not long after, a sex offender jailed in California for failing to register (he had been convicted for molesting a minor) was released because of overcrowding. Three days later, he raped and killed his own grandmother.
In fact, what spurred much of the sex offender registration reform was a crime similar to these—the 1994 murder of 7-year-old Megan Kanka in New Jersey. Megan, who had light brown hair and round cheeks, was lured to a male neighbor's house with a promise that she could see his new puppy. Once she was in his grasp, the neighbor raped Megan and strangled her with a belt. He placed her body into a wooden trunk, assaulting her corpse once more as he did so, before dumping her in a local park. The next day, this man confessed what he had done. He had two previous convictions for sexually assaulting little girls, but had spent less than seven years total in prison. Today, the federal online sex offender registration requirement is often referred to as Megan's Law.
These cases are shocking for anyone but, for someone who was sexually abused as a child, hearing about these stories can trigger serious, psychological reactions. “It is very common that hearing about a child being victimized or hearing about a molester living in the neighborhood would trigger a lot of the old feelings and perhaps memories about what happened to the victim,” said Dr. Carolyn Knight, professor of social work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County and the author of Working with Adult Survivors of Childhood Trauma . Some who have experienced abuse in childhood, particularly men, are prone to turning these emotions outward, sometimes violently. “Physically targeting child molesters is probably very, very rare and unusual,” Knight said. “But the dynamic is not uncommon.”
Drum wandered outside until dawn , collecting his thoughts before he walked back to the Ray home. Drum had read that people were in their deepest sleep then, and figured it would be the easiest time to attack. On the front porch for the second time, Drum slammed the front door in and charged through the living room, past Tweety screeching madly in his cage, down the hall decorated with family photos to meet Jerry Ray, who had emerged from his room because of the commotion.
“What's going on?” Jerry Ray said. Drum fired his pistol and hit Ray in the stomach. Ray stumbled back and tried to dash back into his room and toward the dresser. Whether he was trying to get to a gun or make it to his bedroom window, he couldn't escape in time. Bang, Drum hit him in the back. Ray dropped to the floor. Bang, Drum hit him again. The only sound Jerry Ray made as he crumbled to the ground was a short, “Ahh.”
Paul Ray was asleep in a nearby room when his son was shot. He would have gotten up, he said, but he thought the noise was just the sound of the dogs playing in the hall and slamming into his door, which they often did.
Drum left a note and lollipop identical to the one by Blanton's body in the family's mailbox.
After killing Jerry Ray, Drum ditched his rental car in the woods and took to his route by foot. He hitched a ride with a trucker heading toward Blue Mountain Road, which begins at Highway 101 and winds up toward the Olympic Mountain range. There are few homes along this route and Drum hoped to make it to a cleared trail under a strip of power lines that would take him to Quilecene, where his next target lived.
Little did Drum know, Paul Ray had found his son and contacted the police. Checkpoints had been deployed along a number of streets, including Blue Mountain Road, to ask drivers if they had seen a suspicious person. When Drum saw patrol ahead, he told the driver to pull over and bolted into the forest. It was that driver who tipped off the police that Drum was in their midst.
Soon, about 65 cops and Border Patrol officers were deployed for the manhunt.
The plan was to flush Drum out of the woods by boxing him in and giving him two choices: flee to the mountains where there were no roads to travel by and where he couldn't hurt anyone, or fall into their grasp.
Drum tried to stay hidden, but a homeowner saw him pass by and notified the police. A half hour later, a Border Patrol agent spotted Drum near a driveway. A small group of cops chased and tackled him.
Later, Drum admitted that his plan had been to live in the wild and continue attacking sex offenders as long as he could manage. “I was going to have no communication with the grid—no informants to worry about and nothing to trace to a network,” he wrote in a letter. “For food, I intended on hitting the farm fields [where I had worked] at night. Spring and summer is the easiest time for such a life. I knew I could survive early fall. Late fall and winter, if still free, I would have holed up in a secluded abandoned house.”
As the cops led Drum toward the squad cars on Blue Mountain Road, Drum turned to them and commended them on a job well done. He didn't think they'd catch him so quickly. Clallam County Sergeant Nick Turner said Drum walked with a swagger, as if he expected to be caught. As if he was proud of what he'd done. Yet, when Drum was taken down to the station, he said killing was not like he had expected, adding that it doesn't happen easily like it does on television.
Although Drum initially asked to represent himself in court, he ultimately decided to plead guilty and forego a trial. He said he came to the realization that it would be a waste of tax dollars.
Prosecutor Kelly considered trying Drum for the death penalty, but changed her mind. When later asked why, Kelly said there were two factors. For one, he had unusual support both in the county and online. She doubted that she could convince 12 jurors to give Drum a death sentence. Sex offenders are not the easiest to empathize with, even if they've been murdered in cold blood. The other factor was Drum's history of drug abuse. The immediate effects of toluene are depressant or excitatory, but the long-term effects include paranoid psychosis, hallucinations and damage to the brain. Drum's history of toluene abuse might have impacted his decision-making skills, Kelly said. And, although he claimed he was clean and only had a single beer on the night of the murders, blood work showed Drum had toluene in his system, which meant that he was using within a couple weeks of the crimes.
Drum's childhood in Port Angeles and, briefly, in Northern California was far from idyllic. His parents, both drug addicts, had him about one year after their two other sons were put into foster care, and divorced soon thereafter. His father, violent and only sporadically mentally present due to his drug and alcohol use, remarried. As a kid, Drum remembers stealing his father's toluene—a solvent that Drum's mother had abused while Drum was in utero—sparking an addiction that he would struggle with throughout the rest of his life.
Drum learned quickly that adults, particularly men, could not be trusted. His brother, Isaac, told police that his father was volatile, but Drum later revealed more about the violence in the household. He recalls his father spitting tobacco in his face for doing something wrong, and also strangling him unconscious in front of friends. He remembers what it was like to have adults watch as he writhed on the floor, doing nothing to save him. The memories of seeing the sexual abuse are hazy, but Drum can still recall the night when he was 6 years old and walked into the living room. He remembers that his father was sitting on the couch in a night robe. And he remembers seeing a teenage girl, dressed in a long nightgown, straddling his father and, even then, knowing what he was seeing was wrong. Drum's father was later convicted of statutory rape.
And later, after the trial and the media deluge, Drum revealed a long-kept secret during a phone interview.
Drum spent time in the care of other family members and, when he was 10 or 11, was staying with one of his uncles. Drum decided to go for a walk around town by himself. He was coming of age and was enjoying the freedom to do things independently. But, while he was out, a man in his 30s saw him and asked if Drum would like to go drinking. When Drum accepted, the man went to a nearby liquor store and bought two big bottles of whiskey.
The pair went into the woods and, by the time things started to get out of hand, Drum was too drunk to run away or even really know what was happening. The man forced Drum to perform oral sex and then forced oral sex on him. Drum didn't know where the man went afterward, only that he left. He managed to find his way out of the woods and to the bus line that would take him near his uncle's home. Drunk and unable to walk, he crawled on hands and knees toward the home. Someone in a car saw him and took him the rest of the way.
Drum never spoke of what happened that day. He told a few close friends that he had been molested as a child, but nothing more. After the assault, Drum became very protective of others, mostly women and children, almost to a fault. Once, when Drum was a teenager, a girl from out of town started talking smack about Port Angeles at a party. When the other partygoers threw beer cans at her, Drum pulled out a knife and threatened everyone there.
Through all the times Drum struggled with addiction and was apprehended by the law, he doesn't remember anyone asking him much about why he found it so difficult to hold down a normal life. No one in his family talked about what his father did to that young woman and no one pushed Drum to acknowledge his molestation—his family never suspected it. Even if his family had addressed these problems, he doubts he would have talked to them about it much.
“I stonewalled people all the time growing up,” Drum said. “I'm a private person…most of my girlfriends would never even know about my dad.”
He tried to ignore most of what he had seen and experienced, and many people around him attributed his criminal behavior to his drug use. The courts recommended that he to go through some addiction treatment, but never followed up on it. He was never forced to have a psychiatric evaluation or to go to therapy. No one helped him confront his past. This lack of support is incredibly common. “I can count on my one hand the number of times I've worked with clients where the families have been supportive of them,” Knight said. “The typical way is to deny, deny, deny.”
Of course, most people who are sexually abused as children don't go on to kill pedophiles, and many are not violent. But Drum—with his history of sexual abuse, lack of counseling, and protective nature—was a ticking time bomb.
Knight has had clients who, as adults, fantasize about killing the person who sexually assaulted them. She even had a client who went to his perpetrator's home with murderous intentions. (“Luckily the perpetrator didn't answer the door,” she said. “I think if he had, he probably would have shot him.”) But, often, it's not the assailants that victims are most angry with—it's those who stood by and did nothing.
Drum's actions, in many ways, were making up for the inactions of others, be it those who watched him struggle as his father abused him or those who never caught his molester and brought him to justice. “In a way, he's over identified with the children,” Knight said of Jerry Ray's victims that Drum knew and of the others he wanted to protect, “and stepping in where nobody stepped in for him.”
Some called Drum a hero. But if anyone needed a hero to step in and save him, it was Drum himself.
In the early 2000s, both of Drum's parents died from complications from toluene abuse. Just a couple of years later, Drum heard about the sexually motivated murder of a girl named Melissa Carter in Port Angeles. Her decomposing body was found in a hollow near a popular trail the day after Christmas in 2004. Police believed she was raped and then strangled to death. It was at that moment that Drum decided he was going to kill sex offenders. Not long after, having been arrested and convicted of burglary, Drum met Michael Anthony Mullen. In the summer of 2005, Mullen, dressed in a blue jumpsuit and FBI hat, went to the Bellingham home of three convicted child molesters. He said he was there to warn them of a vigilante who was preying on sex offenders. Accustomed to routine check-ins from police, the men were not suspicious. Mullen chatted them up and bought a six-pack of beer so they could all drink and smoke Camels on the patio together. Around 9 p.m., one of the offenders left for work. When he returned later in the evening, he discovered that his two housemates had been shot and killed. Mullen later said that the man who left showed remorse for his crimes, while the other two did not. About a week after the murders, Mullen turned himself in.
“In time, we began formulating a plan to initiate upon my release,” Drum wrote. “I was going to smuggle poisons to Mr. Mullen so he could silently eliminate sex offenders in prison. I began talking to other prisoners about how to obtain cyanide, how to produce ricin, and how to obtain or produce nicotine sulfate.”
Mullen died—the official cause of death listed as pneumonia, despite investigators' original suspicions of suicide—before the two could act on their plan. But Drum felt empowered about his decision to kill sex offenders and soon he was released from jail.
When I asked Drum about his motivations, he insisted that what he did was for the betterment of the community. He said his decision to kill Blanton was as much about the pending child abuse case as it was about his sex offender status. He didn't think of himself as much different than a soldier killing insurgents abroad for a cause. “I believe my experiences with sex offenders, my father and abuse gave me firsthand empathy for the issue, but my actions were not about me,” he wrote to me in a letter. “They were about my community. I suffered many failures and my overall view of things was one of hopelessness. I took that hopelessness and in turn threw myself away to a purpose. I gave myself to something bigger than myself.”
But, as we spoke on the phone, I listened to Drum describe his father and then Blanton. The similarities were striking between them—two men accused of crimes involving young women who had histories of violence and child abuse. I asked Drum if he saw aspects of his father in Blanton.
“Yes,” he said. “I definitely see aspects of him in Gary.”
About a week after his sentencing, Drum stabbed a fellow inmate with a sharpened, plastic utensil. The 19-year-old sex offender, who survived the attack, was serving time for failing to register. Drum wouldn't know until later that his victim had committed his sex offense when he was just 13 years old. Drum was soon moved to solitary. When he was released into the general population months later, he fashioned a shiv from a toothbrush and a razor blade and tried to kill another sex offender in the gymnasium. Prison officers caught him before he was able to seriously harm the man, who Drum said had raped a male friend from Port Angeles. And, with that, he was back in solitary indefinitely.
Six months after the murders, the cottage in Sequim that Drum and Gary Blanton briefly shared was empty. Inside, the house was torn apart, prepared for remodeling or demolition. The front yard was overgrown with weeds and thin stubs of grass. The only signs of what happened that summer were the bits of red police tape stuck to the padlocks on the front and side doors.
Next door, a kayak rental store continued to do business. Across the street, small birds flitted around a feeder. Workers down the road at Nash's Organic Grocery tended to the fields, as Drum once did.
Drum is not happy to be in prison, but he seems to feel at peace with his choices. He has heard of some murderers, like Gary Ridgway the Green River Killer, who get piles of fan mail, but he only receives about one letter a week, and it is never from a fan. He works out and reads a lot. He has begun collecting information about alternative sex offender sentencing that allows offenders to be released faster if they undergo treatment—which he believes helped knock off a significant portion of the time Jerry Ray spent in prison—in hopes that he can find someone to advocate against it on the outside. Anytime he leaves his cell, his legs and arms are shackled.
He doesn't think much about his past, although he admits that the man who assaulted him when he was a boy would have made the hit list he carried with him as he killed Blanton and Ray. But Drum's feelings about his father are a bit more complicated. If he hadn't been his father, he would have certainly made the list, but Drum isn't particularly comfortable with the idea of patricide.
What if someone else had killed his father? Drum doesn't hesitate. “I think he did things that deserved—that merited—death,” he says. “I think he deserved that. I think somebody should have.”
KU Public Safety Office issues ‘Stranger Danger' alert
LAWRENCE, Kan. – A crime alert was issued on Monday night for the public to be vigilant after a man indecently solicited a child. The KU Public Safety Office stated in a release that the incident happened at about 5:30 p.m. when an unknown adult black male attempted to lure a nine-year-old child into his vehicle.
The incident occurred on 19 th and Anna Drive and the suspect was described as a black male with braided hair and a short-to-medium beard. The suspect drives a large brown vehicle but a further description of the vehicle or what he was wearing is presently unavailable.
Anyone with information in regards to this incident or who may know the described suspect is urged to call Crime Stoppers at (785) 864-8888 or the KU Public Safety Office at (785) 864-5900.
Minnesota Child Victims Act Has Eliminated Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Lawsuits for 3 Years
by Mike Bryant
Since Governor Mark Dayton signed the Minnesota Child Victims Act in July, statute of limitations on sexual abuse lawsuits has been lifted within Minnesota for the next three years. This law (the Minnesota Child Victims Act) now gives sexual abuse survivors a voice which allows them to come forward and find justice. They can now sue their abusers and ensure that the truth comes out.
Two individuals who lead the fight and deserve great thanks are Senator Ron Latz (DFL) District: 46 and Representative Steve Simon (DFL) District: 46B. They showed leadership in getting the bill passed and made into law.
The stories are real and now finally they can be brought out into the open.
Abuse of children and the continued silence by the offenders needs to be prevented. If you suffered, saw, or suspected such events, it is important to know that there is help out there.
Judge orders names of 46 accused priests to be released
by Madeleine Baran
ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Ramsey County judge ordered today that the names of 46 Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse -- 33 from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and 13 from the Diocese of Winona -- be made public.
Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse have sought the release of the names since a Ramsey County judge sealed them in a 2009 lawsuit. They've argued that the public is at risk as long as the names remain secret.
Archdiocesan officials have fought in the past to keep the list secret, but changed their position in response to an MPR News investigation that found that church leaders protected a priest who admitted to sexually abusing boys on an American Indian reservation and did not disclose his abuse to the police or the public. Archbishop John Nienstedt announced on Nov. 11 that he would begin releasing the names of priests with substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse against them in November if he obtained a judge's permission.
Ramsey County District Court Judge John Van de North said at today's hearing that the names must be released no later than Dec. 17.
In a statement, the archdiocese said it is "grateful for the approval of Ramsey County court to release information relating to priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors in our archdiocese." The statement also said the church anticipates "releasing this information" Thursday on its website and in the archdiocesan newspaper, The Catholic Spirit.
The archdiocese's statement said "the information to be released is mostly related to reported incidents that occurred between the mid 1950's and 1980's. Most of the men whose names will be released have been previously identified in media reports. All of these men who will be identified have been permanently removed from ministry or are deceased."
Nine of the 33 priests on the Twin Cities list are dead, archdiocese lawyer Tom Wieser said, and seven are not from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Van de North also ordered the archdiocese to release by Jan. 6 the names of priests who have sexually abused children since 2004. Wieser said there's only one priest who meets that criteria, and that priest is already well known - an apparent reference to the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer, who was sentenced earlier this year to five years in prison for sexually abusing children and possessing child pornography.
Victims' attorney Jeff Anderson said he's grateful for the judge's order. "What the survivors want most, and what we want most, is the kids to be protected and not to have happen what happened to them in the future," he said. "Today we made a stride in that direction."
Van de North was not expected to decide the matter today, partly because he had recently rejected a similar request from Anderson this year to unseal the list.
Van de North issued his verbal order today after Wieser, the archdiocese lawyer, announced in court that Archbishop Nienstedt wants to release 29 of the 33 names, as well as those 29 priests' year of birth, current age or year of death, ordination year, parish assignment histories, current ministerial status and city of residence.
However, Wieser said Nienstedt is opposed to releasing the remaining four names. In three of those cases, the archdiocese could not substantiate allegations against the priests, Wieser said. In the fourth case, church reviewers found no evidence that the priest had served in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, he said.
Wieser also announced that Nienstedt has asked former Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson to review the files of the three priests. If Johnson finds "reasonable grounds that abuse occurred," Nienstedt wouldn't object to releasing those names as well, he said.
Van de North left open the possibility that the four remaining names could be withheld if the archdiocese provides a convincing explanation. He said that attorneys for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and the Diocese of Winona can submit explanations to the court if they believe some or all of the names should not be disclosed.
The Diocese of Winona continues to oppose the release of its list of names, according to a diocesan attorney.
Attorneys for victims of clergy sexual abuse have asked the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for years to release the names of credibly accused priests. The archdiocese has refused, saying most of those priests are either dead, already known to the public, or falsely accused.
The battle over the list began in 2004, when the archdiocese told researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that it knew of 33 priests accused of sexually abusing children. The archdiocese did not provide the names of the priests. Researchers used the information from the archdiocese and other dioceses around the country to study the prevalence of clergy sexual abuse.
In 2009, victims' attorneys Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan asked a judge to order that the names of the 33 priests be released. Ramsey County Judge Gregg Johnson ordered the archdiocese to provide the information to the attorneys as part of a specific lawsuit but immediately placed the list under seal. It has remained under seal since then, which means it could not be released to the public -- and victims' attorneys cannot reveal its contents -- without a judge's order to unseal it.
Bridport author tackles bullying in unique way
by Judy Simpson
BRIDPORT, Vt. - Hobbes is a seven year old dachshund. He is one of three dogs who live with Bruce and Tami Zeman. He is also part of the radio show duo known as The Wake Up Crew With Bruce and Hobbes on Farm Fresh 102.9 Radio in Bridport.
"I have the only morning radio show in the nation with a dog as a co-host -- and he is a domestic violence survivor," said Bruce Zeman.
The two met four years ago at the Homeward Bound Animal Welfare Center. Hobbes was in very bad shape -- abused by his former owner. Zeman brought him home, and it was this experience of helping Hobbes overcome his distrust of people that inspired Bruce and Tami to write their new book, "Hobbes Goes Home."
"He was bullied and picked on and hurt pretty bad and so we wanted to take that message across the state to bring the message to kids about bullying and compassion -- the humane treatment of animals," Zeman said.
It took two years to write the book and get it published. Tuesday night Bruce will read the book for the first time in public at Homeward Bound, Addison County's humane society -- and the place the two first met.
"Instead of hitting him, the man with the bright blue eyes gently rubbed Hobbes on the head and said, 'It's ok little buddy, I promise you no one will ever hurt you again,'" said Zeman, reading from the book.
"It naturally fit into the whole bullying topic because people that bully kids and bully animals bully other people, and it has become a national problem and we can't have kids killing themselves because they are being picked on," Zeman said.
The ultimate goal, Zeman said, is to read this book to students at every elementary school in Vermont. A dozen are scheduled already. It is an ambitious goal, which is why Hobbes will have some help.
Zeman says through it all, the main concern is Hobbes. That is why his younger brother sometimes steps in front of crowds if Hobbes is afraid.
"I would love to get a copy of this book in front of every Vermont elementary school kid and talk about how we can make a difference. One person can make a difference -- we are an example. I am a radio show host but anybody can make a difference. Vermont can be a national example on how to put a stop to bullying. It can happen, we just have to work together to make it so," Zeman said.
Zeman hopes Hobbe's story will show children -- and adults alike -- what can happen when bullying is replaced with compassion.
Penn State's interdisciplinary effort to study child abuse
by Susan Snyder
While riding a taxi to a job interview last year at Pennsylvania State University, the cabbie casually asked Jennie Noll what brought her to State College. When she told him she specialized in child-sexual abuse research, his response was quick:
"You'd better figure this out," he told her, explaining that he had had fewer riders since the Sandusky scandal, and worse could be coming.
"It felt like a traumatized community to me," Noll said last month. "It just shows you the far-reaching consequences of child abuse."
The developmental psychologist now serves in a pivotal role in the university's burgeoning effort to become a national leader in the study and prevention of child abuse, an undertaking resulting from the scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Noll, who started in September as director of research and education for the study and prevention of child abuse, is one of five experts the university has hired, with at least nine more to come.
The 48-year-old became interested in helping traumatized children while growing up in Castle Rock, Colo. Her mother served on a child-protection team and sometimes gave temporary shelter to children in crisis.
"I would wake up in the morning sometimes, and next to me on my trundle bed would be a child that my mom brought home," she said. "Sometimes I was the one to reach the child, comb her hair, or make her feel not so scared. That felt like really important work to me."
Noll has been working to protect children since then. She has been a principal investigator since 1995 in an ongoing study of nearly 200 women from the Washington area, each of whom was sexually abused at age 10.
Noll is helping with Penn State's staffing effort, which will span various disciplines, four colleges, and six departments at the flagship state university. The new researchers and faculty will study the far-reaching impact on the victims of child trauma, including premature aging, accelerated rates of disease, and higher rates of risk behaviors such as drug use.
The researchers will explore detection, treatment, prevention, and education.
"Penn State has grieved, but we've pulled together to try to make something positive and large out of this tragedy," said Karen L. Bierman, a psychology professor and director of the Child Study Center.
Others hired include:
Lori D. Frasier, a physician, head of the new division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital. She chairs the American Board of Pediatrics' sub-board on child abuse pediatrics.
Idan Shalev, a postdoctoral associate in psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. He will start in January as an assistant professor of biobehavioral health. His work has explored how trauma alters DNA and accelerates aging.
Kent Hymel, a physician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. He will start at Penn State-Hershey in March. He teaches pediatricians and other practitioners how to spot and diagnose abuse and works with abuse survivors.
Chad Shenk, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. He started this fall. He studies the long-term psychological implications of child abuse and the best treatment to help children and their families.
Seven more searches are underway, two in psychology and others in biobehavioral health; sociology and criminology; human development and family studies; education; and pediatrics. The positions have not attracted tons of applications because the field is small.
"It's more like you make a call and someone says, 'You have to get this person,' " said Susan McHale, director of Penn State's Social Science Research Institute and professor of human development.
In the fallout of the Sandusky scandal, Penn State forced out top leaders, suffered unprecedented sanctions against its storied football program, and paid nearly $60 million to settle civil suits with 26 victims.
A faculty stunned that a child predator had roamed the campus undeterred for years grappled with a way to help.
In January 2012, more than 30 faculty from various schools and programs met to brainstorm.
"It was horrifying, especially for many of us who spent our career working on behalf of children," McHale said. "Everything we thought Penn State stood for was violated by this one man who got away with what he did."
Bierman said the case illustrated the need for an effort to dig more deeply into child abuse: "This whole episode shows how challenging it is to spot, to take action and prevent."
The group held a national conference in October 2012 and another this year. It established the "Network on Child Protection and Well-Being," drawing on the expertise of about 400 faculty who deal with children and families. And it got approval for the hires, which when completed will constitute perhaps the largest concentration of experts in the child maltreatment field.
Although she will begin teaching at Penn State in the spring, Noll will continue her ongoing research. Last month, she trained people to begin reinterviewing the Washington women from the long-term study. She has looked at how the women's lives have unfolded and published findings on their higher rate of chronic health problems, such as diabetes and obesity. Noll and her partners are about to take another snapshot of the women and their offspring, 30 years since the abuse.
When the Penn State opportunity arose, Noll was director of research for the division of behavioral medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital.
"I was incredibly intrigued," she said. "There has never been this kind of effort in my field to actually coordinate the hiring of experts in child maltreatment in an interdisciplinary way, with research focused on connecting the dots between abuse and why these things happen and then filling in the gaps. What have we not studied yet that if we studied would benefit victims and their families?"
Brewer creates separate child-abuse investigative team
Arizona governor announces independent child-advocacy panel
by Mary Jo Pitzl and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez
Governor Jan Brewer has assembled an independent team to oversee the inquiry into more than 6,000 child abuse and neglect reports that were not investigated and to examine the child-protective agency's personnel and procedures.
The team will report directly to the governor.
Creation of the CARE team brings to three the number of investigations into the Child Protective Services agency since the revelation last month that staff at CPS had marked cases “NI,” for not investigated. CPS is doing its own investigation, at the direction of Clarence Carter, the head of the state Department of Economic Security, CPS' parent agency. In addition, the state Department of Public Safety is also investigating CPS procedures.
Brewer's announcement Monday is a response to the public cries for an independent group to look into CPS and unravel what led to thousands of cases not being examined.
“Failure to investigate even one, let alone thousands of cases of potential child abuse is absolutely inexcusable and undermines people's confidence in the system that is charged with protecting the welfare of Arizona's children,” Brewer said in a statement. “Every case must be investigated, period.”
She named Charles Flanningan, director of the state Department of Juvenile Corrections, to head the nine-member team. The group will oversee the investigation of the neglected cases, as well as look at systemic problems with CPS. It has a tentative report date of Jan. 31, to coincide with the deadline CPS has set for its own investigation.
In announcing the independent review, Brewer took pains to laud the work of CPS caseworkers, whom she said are “overburdened,” a reference to the fact their caseloads exceed the state's standard by 77 percent. She also emphasized the shelved cases were not the result of caseworkers' neglect, since the 6,000-plus cases “never made it to their desk.”
In addition to the CARE team, CPS is doing its own investigation at the direction of Clarence Carter, the head of the state Department of Economic Security, CPS' parent agency. The state Department of Public Safety is also investigating CPS procedures, a move that Brewer and Carter jointly made last month. DPS is assigning a team of up to five officers full-time to their inquiry.
Brewer rejected suggestions that her administration is responsible for the oversight, noting that child-welfare issues plague officials in other states as well.
“It's never going to be perfect; we don't live in a perfect world,” she said.
And, as she has said since the news broke last month, Brewer said the overlooked cases were only discovered because of legislation that she championed that created a separate office at DES to investigage potential criminal conduct on child abuse cases.
The cases date to as early as 2009, but nearly all are from 2012 and 2013. They came to light when a Phoenix police detective who is temporarily leading the agency's Office of Child Welfare Investigations came across case files marked “NI,” for “not investigated.”
When he revealed the discovery, DES Director Clarence Carter said CPS staff were already working on an investigation into why the cases were shelved. A review of all the cases is scheduled to conclude today; as of last week, the review had covered 2,919 cases, of which 61 percent have been referred on for a full investigation.
Last week, Carter said he also planned to bring in an outside group to do a quality-assurance review of the agency's work. That drew some criticism from state Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, who said it would boost confidence if someone other than Carter, such as the governor, selected the outside group.
It was unclear Monday afternoon if Carter would still be hiring an outside group for such a review, or if that task would fall to the newly created CARE team.
The discovery of the shelved cases again focused attention on CPS, which has seen reports of abuse and neglect climb even as the state has put more money into the effort, and as other states have seen such reports decline.
Dana Naimark, president and CEO of the Children's Action Alliance, called Brewer's move “ an excellent first step.” The alliance is among the groups that have been urging Brewer to create an independent look at CPS.
“We greatly welcome the transparency,” she said.
But she also said the state'schild-welfare system needs more than an examination of the current crisis involving 6,000-plus cases.
CPS has a 10,000-case backlog, as well as 12,000 cases started during the last budget year that, as of the most recent report, have not been completed. The agency needs to keep its attention on those cases, too, she said.
In addition, Naimark said the state would benefit from bringing local and national experts together to take a look at the braoder issue of child welfare, from support for troubled families to how to best promote family reunification.
In addition to Flannigan, other members of the CARE team are state Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix; state Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix; Robert Bell, Children's Justice Coordinator at the Childhelp Children's Center of Arizona; Cindi Nannetti, a prosecutor with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office; Deb Gullett, a child advocate and former legislator; Greg McKay, Chief of the Office of Child Welfare Investigations; Jan Strauss, a former Mesa Police chief; and a CPS representative to be named later.
Group reviewing child abuse deaths fails to make specific recommendations
by Beth Musgrave
FRANKFORT — An external panel created to review child-abuse deaths and serious injuries did not make specific legislative or policy changes in its first annual report as required by law.
The Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Panel decided instead to focus on improving Kentucky's child-fatality review process. One of those recommendations includes a $400,000 budget request for two staff members, a part-time lawyer and other expenses to help the 20-member panel dig through hundreds of case files about children killed or nearly killed as a result of abuse and neglect. Some of the case files contain more than 800 pages.
The panel was created by Gov. Steve Beshear in July 2012, and the legislature this year made the panel permanent. The legislation required that the panel prepare a list of recommendations by Dec. 1 for improving the child-protection system, and present them to Beshear, the legislature and Chief Justice John D. Minton. The panel is made up of doctors, prosecutors, police officers, judges, addiction specialists, child advocates and others.
Retired Franklin Circuit Judge Roger Crittenden, chairman of the panel, said at its Monday meeting that although the panel met more than eight times, it was not prepared to make specific recommendations.
"We have only been in existence a year, we've reviewed 55 cases and right now we are not prepared to make statutory recommendations," Crittenden said.
The group has struggled to figure out how to break down the voluminous information contained in the files and how to turn that data into specific recommendations.
A national expert on child-fatality reviews warned the panel during its September meeting to make specific recommendations that are backed up by data from the case files. Otherwise, the recommendations are rarely followed. It's not uncommon in the first year of an external child-fatality review panel's existence for it not to develop concrete recommendations on statutory or policy changes, national experts said in September.
Despite no specific recommendations, the report said the "panel noted disturbing trends and missed opportunities to prevent tragedies to children."
Some of the areas of concern the panel noted in its report and during its meetings include:
Common risk factors of domestic violence, criminal history and substance abuse by caretakers and family members.
The need for public awareness campaigns and targeted campaigns on specific public health issues including drownings and the number of children who die due to unsafe sleeping conditions
Lack of mental health services throughout Kentucky.
Many doctors and medical personnel are not trained to recognize the signs of physical abuse.
The workload, training and resources of social workers in state child protection is an ongoing concern.
Panel members said during Monday's meeting and in their report that they should be able to give more specific recommendations during the annual report in December 2014.
Also at Monday's meeting, the group opted to do more extensive reviews on a select number of cases. Typically, the group splits up cases, with each panel member reviewing four. That does not lead to an in-depth review of the case.
Teresa James, commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services and a panel member, said she wanted to see more rigorous review of the cases and more analysis of what went wrong. James oversees child protection services in Kentucky.
"I think we need to get down in the weeds in some of these cases, deeper than what we are now. And maybe not be so worried about hurting each others feelings," James said.
The panel's report will be discussed at a Dec. 18 meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare in Frankfort.
Crittenden said he also expected questions about the group's budget request. Although the General Assembly passed legislation to make the panel permanent, it has no full-time paid staff or budget. Without a staff person, it's difficult for the volunteer panel members to go through and analyze all of the files, Crittenden said.
SA should not become involved in altering university child abuse reporting policy
The Syracuse University Student Association should not become involved in university policies for reporting suspected child abuse.
At a Nov. 18 SA meeting, several members presented a resolution to the assembly urging SU employees to change the directions within the policy for reporting suspected child abuse. The resolution also suggested that SU employees could face disciplinary action such as termination if they fail to report signs of such abuse. Members will vote to pass the resolution at Monday's meeting.
However, this resolution mirrors the effort by the Joint Working Group in the summer of 2012. The group, consisting of SU Board of Trustee members and administration, aimed to analyze SU's policies and its responses to allegations of misconduct. The group released directions for all staff and faculty to follow that included specific instructions for mandated reporters of child abuse. These reporters include physicians, psychologists and other members of the SU community.
Although SA proposing these changes is admirable, the topic of child abuse is one that demands attention from the university.
This issue is far too complicated for students to handle. It is a topic that should be left to administrators, like those involved in the Joint Working Group. The members of this group have the authority to initiate such change and are more aware of the complexities and the procedures involved.
SA's misguided effort reflects a greater need for the organization to find its true identity on campus. Earlier this semester, President Allie Curtis proposed that the association become involved in national student issues — an overly ambitious goal for a student organization. This recent proposal further proves the disconnection between SA's goals and what it can realistically achieve.
SA should not be concerned with the magnitude of the topic, but instead its relevance to students.
Under President-elect Boris Gresely, members of SA should better define the goals they plan to tackle. These goals should be achievable and pertinent to the students they are serving.
With this proposed resolution, SA is entering territory where it does not necessarily belong.
Although the intentions behind this resolution are commendable, it would be wise of SA to focus its efforts on more achievable objectives relevant to the organization.
Child abuse shocker
8,030 cases reported between Jan & Aug OCA receives call every 30 minutes
by DONNA HUSSEY-WHYTE
MORE than 8,000 cases of child abuse were reported between January and August this year, according to the Office of the Children's Advocate (OCA) which also revealed that it is contacted every 30 minutes with an allegation of ill-treatment.
Sharian Hanson, senior legal policy officer at the OCA, said that the 8,030 cases of abuse ranged from physical, to sexual, to emotional, with neglect and missing children being high on the list.
Hanson noted that 1,730 children have gone missing during the same period, with 10 of the missing children found dead. These statistics, she explained, were from the Office of the Children's Registry.
"It would appear that being a child in these times is indeed a disadvantage," Hanson told more the than 500 parents attending the National Parent-Teacher Association of Jamaica (NPTAJ) Annual Conference and Expo 2013, held at Jamaica College in Kingston on Saturday.
"Should childhood not be the complete opposite?" she asked. "Should this not be a time of utter simplicity, freedom from adult responsibilities and assured protection from the ills of our society?"
Addressing the theme, 'Parents, care and protect your children, get involved', Hanson said research has shown that the more involved parents are in a child's upbringing, the more likely children are to become successful in life.
"The role of the family is essential to the development of children," the attorney-at-law said. "In fact, society relies on the family to nurture, care for, and protect the child. A teacher can assist in guiding and reinforcing positive attitudes within a child, but cannot be the sole source."
Hanson pointed out that parental responsibility is dealt with in the Child Care and Protection Act, which states that where parents fail to carry out their duties to the child there are serious penalties.
Parental duties involve the provision of care for the child to include adequate food, clothing, lodging and health care appropriate for the child's age and need; duty to secure education for the child from age four to 16, and where it cannot be afforded application made to the State for financial assistance; and the duty to ensure that offences are not committed against children.
"If there is reasonable cause to suspect that an offence has been or is being committed, the family members are to act in the best interest of the child and immediately report it to the relevant authorities," Hanson said.
These authorities include the police, the Family/Children's court, the Child Development Agency, Office of the Children's Registry (OCR) or the OCA.
The maximum penalty for failing to report where it is suspected that a child is being or is likely to be abandoned, neglected, physically or sexually ill-treated, or is otherwise in need of care and protection, is a $500,000 fine, or six months' imprisonment, or both.
President of the NPTAJ, Everton Hannam, said the national conference was a call to action that should see parents unite, promote and reinforce good family values, decency, principle and proper parenting in the homes and within communities islandwide.
"This year we seek to focus on our children, hence our theme. We have designed this theme through the reports of abuses being experienced by our children, such as mental, physical, emotional, economical, and sexual," he said.
Presenters at the conference included the Education Minister Ronald Thwaites, representatives from National Parenting Support Commission, OCR, National Family Planning Board, and the National Council on Education.
Parents from PTAs across Jamaica were represented at the conference and were encouraged to take back the information to other parents who were not in attendance.
Macomb County forms task force in effort to stop increased child abuse
by Christina Hall
Eleven-year-old Kristina Geiger was stabbed in her Clinton Township apartment in July.
Damian Sutton, 2, was assaulted in a Washington Township home in August.
James Nelson, 2, was buckled into a minivan outside his Shelby Township home and died of heatstroke in September.
Their deaths are part of a trend of child death or abuse cases in Macomb County this year — reminiscent of about three years ago, when authorities saw a similar spate of crimes against children.
“I'm sick of it,” Prosecutor Eric Smith said of the trend, which continued this year with the death of a 3-week-old girl in Warren from blunt-force head trauma. The alleged assault of a 3-week-old girl in Mt. Clemens and two other deaths involving children younger than 1 in Sterling Heights and Warren are under investigation.
Smith and Sheriff Anthony Wickersham are trying to protect children by forming the Macomb Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. More than two dozen leaders from government, courts, schools, churches and other groups will discuss efforts today to confront child abuse.
“I'm getting tired of being on the reactive side,” Wickersham said. “We need to do something proactive to prevent this from happening.”
Dorie Vazquez-Nolan, executive director of Care House in Mt. Clemens, which interviews children who are victims of sexual and physical abuse, said the nonprofit agency has seen an increase in the number of cases, in part, because it expanded the population it serves, from ages 12 and younger to 15 and younger.
She said Care House handled 322 cases last year and is on track for about 400 this year.
Last fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, there were 146,294 complaints to Children's Protective Services statewide. Of those, 87,920 investigations were filed, and there were 36,697 confirmed victims, said Dave Akerly, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Human Services.
Vazquez-Nolan, who is vice president of the Michigan Chapter of the National Children's Alliance, can't point to one reason why people abuse children, though research often points to stress and past abuse in the family.
“I really do feel, if we're going to make any progress, it's going to be through much better education on having people reflect on the choices they're making with their most valuable possession,” she said.
Smith, a father of three young children, said the severity of the recent cases is scary. He said he knows there is a problem when he's asked about a child death case, and “I have to say, ‘Which one?' ”
One case, he said, “is too many.”
Audit Reveals Nearly Half of Calls to Santa Clara County Child-Abuse Hotline Went Unanswered
by Stephanie Chuang
An audit of Santa Clara County's child-abuse hotline reveals anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of calls for help went unanswered.
The unanswered calls continued for at least a year, according to the audit, which was ordered by the county after employees apparently tipped off people.
"We're dealing with teens often who are calling who are desperate for help," said Sparky Harlan, CEO for the Bill Wilson Center in Santa Clara.
Harlan said the hotlines receives 38,000 calls each year, with a 100-percent response rate by three to four people working the phones.
"For us, it's like a fire or police station -- you answer those calls," Harlan said.
The county's hotline is staffed by about 18 people on each shift, answering roughly 10,000 fewer calls yearly.
Despite a larger staff and fewer calls, the audit found the county hotline only answered 50 to 60 percent of their calls.
"If the call isn't answered, will that neighbor report again?" Harlan said. "Probably not. That's probably it. There's one chance to get some of these calls. I wonder what's happening to kids who might be calling and not getting an answer who are in trouble."
Bruce Wagstaff is the top department head overseeing the county hotline. He said the reason for the poor response rates was staffing.
Wagstaff said the hotline response rate has improved to nearly 90 percent.
"We were doing different things during the course of the audit," Wagstaff said.
The changes included bringing new staff in, shifting staff to other parts of the department and monitoring peak times to try and make adjustments, he said.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese said the department dropped the ball and failed countless people who needed help.
"Anything less than 100 percent responsiveness to kids in this community, especially those that need help the most is unacceptable," Cortese said.
Do sex offenders deserve dignity?
by Peter Kirkwood
In Australia, sexual abuse by clergy is the Church issue of the moment. The ongoing national Royal Commission, which is due to begin public hearings into the Catholic Church next week, and separate recent enquiries in Victoria and NSW, ensure the crisis has been, and will continue to be in the headlines.
The results of a survey of Mass-going Catholics released at the end of October by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference Pastoral Research Office shows anger and disillusionment among grassroots believers. The survey of about 2800 Catholics in over 200 parishes found 54 per cent agreed that 'the response of church authorities to these incidences (of sexual abuse) has been inadequate and shows a complete failure of responsibility'.
But how to diagnose accurately the complex issues underlying sexual abuse in the Church? How to deal fairly, justly and adequately both with victims/survivors and with offenders? Why such a dismal failure of leadership by Church hierarchy and how should it be practicing its responsibility? What is the way forward?
The man featured in this video is a prophetic voice in this fraught territory. What he says is informed and grounded through decades of experience. He speaks with clarity, insight and authority, and his words are deeply challenging.
Gerard Webster has spent all his working life as a psychologist dealing with victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. He spent the first ten years in the Departments of Community Services and Juvenile Justice in the areas of child protection and juvenile offending.
In this context he received specialist training and supervision working with these clients and much of his work was with sexual abusers, victims and their families. This included juvenile offenders, and adults and children with intellectual disabilities who had been abused or were abusers.
After this, 20 years ago he set up a private practice and this coincided with victims of abuse in the Church first raising their voices. Since then many of his clients have been men abused in a church setting, and male clerics and religious who have committed crimes of abuse.
In the interview he explains how he balances the needs of victims and offenders by using a human rights approach to all his clients. This recognises the inherent dignity and worth of all. It leads to his somewhat controversial position of engaging with perpetrators and speaking out against demonising them. He argues this leads to a safer and more dignified environment for everyone.
He also has strong views on the causes of abuse in the Church, and believes there are structural problems that actually encourage abuse. As he states in the interview, 'What is it about the structure [and] culture of the Church that has allowed this to happen, and, in fact, in some ways encourages it? Such as, the hierarchical system is one of domination and submission, and sexual abuse is about domination and submission.'
Of course this raises issues of major reform of Church governance that overturns centuries of tradition. With Pope Francis's call for decentralisation of authority in his recently released apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, perhaps such reforms might actually happen.
A few weeks ago Webster delivered an inspiring address to members of Catalyst for Renewal and the Aquinas Academy in Sydney entitled 'A Meditation on Human Rights: Responding to Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church'. It outlines his position in more detail, and gives the theological and biblical underpinnings to his approach.
For 25 years, Rachel was haunted by the teacher who sexually abused her at 13. Then she decided to make him pay for his crimes by taking him to court
by Rachel Rounds
The man standing in the dock of the crown court cut a pathetic figure.
Middle-aged with thinning hair and a paunch, he wore shabby clothes and cheap shoes. I didn't recognise him at all.
‘That's him,' said my mother. But I couldn't quite believe that the man sitting a few feet away was Graham Wilcock, the once-trusted teacher who had abused me for three years from the age of 13.
Glancing towards me, he bit his nails. It was then I felt a sick stab of recognition. Mr Wilcock used to bite his nails right down to the quick.
In my many nightmares, he'd always been a handsome, charismatic young man with blond hair.
Now I could see him for what he really was: an inadequate man and a paedophile.
Thankfully, it was time for him to face justice.
The abuse I experienced at his hands began only weeks after my father's sudden death at the age of 48.
I'd returned home from school one afternoon in April 1984 to find a police car outside.
My dad, Peter, had collapsed and died from an epileptic fit, leaving me and my mother, Jean, who was a teacher, on our own.
I'd just turned 13 and was a bookish, rather naive teenager who, like most girls of that era, loved Duran Duran and Adam And The Ants.
Despite my grief, I woke up the very next morning, put on my uniform and headed to school, desperate for life to continue as if nothing had happened.
What I didn't realise was that my school - the very place which should have provided a safe haven - was the place I was most at risk.
Mr Wilcock had become my teacher when I was nine. He was charismatic, funny and good-looking.
Like most of the girls at my school in Fleetwood, Lancashire, I harboured a small crush on him.
I had absolutely no idea of his intentions towards me when he offered me a shoulder to cry on in the aftermath of Dad's death.
I respected and trusted him - as did my mother and the other teachers at the school.
If anything, they believed it would be helpful to have a male influence to guide me through the grieving process.
In the days before and after Dad's funeral, I would often sit in Mr Wilcock's small office pouring my heart out about how much I missed Dad.
I can see now just how easily I transferred all the love I'd had for my father onto this new male role model in my life.
Wilcock listened, gave me warm hugs, told me I was smarter than the other girls. He laughed at my lame jokes and made me feel special. Little did I realise that, far from being fatherly, his behaviour was part of a sordid grooming process.
A couple of weeks after my father's death, as I was about to leave for the Easter holidays, he stopped me on my way out of his office and asked for a kiss.
I assumed he meant a goodbye peck on the cheek, so when he leaned forward and planted a kiss firmly on my mouth, I felt pure horror - but also a little excitement.
‘You really don't know how to kiss, do you?' he smiled. ‘We're going to have to teach you.'
I blushed, feeling utterly humiliated, but also thrilled that I was somehow special in his eyes.
Of course, I knew kissing him was wrong, but I didn't breathe a word to anyone. As a naive child, I believed that he loved me - and, what's more, I loved him.
Back at school after Easter, it wasn't long before Wilcock started inviting me to his house to play chess - a game I had played with my father.
It was a calculated move, playing on my yearning to feel close to my dad again.
It worked. I would go to his house every few days after school while his young wife was out shopping. That's when the abuse began.
Although the notion of a male teacher inviting a pupil to his house sounds incredibly suspicious in today's society, during the Eighties no one gave much thought to predatory paedophiles.
Yes, there had always been ‘dirty old men' in raincoats - but child abusers just didn't hold respectable jobs and seem happily married.
Like so many other parents, Mum trusted Mr Wilcock. He was intelligent, charming, funny, earnest and, seemingly, utterly believable. He was also married to a lovely young woman.
Everyone believed he had my best interests at heart. But the only thing Wilcock was interested in was manipulating and controlling me.
He sexually abused me in ways I cannot bear to remember - at his home and in shelters on the seafront near where we lived, as well as on waste ground near his home.
Even at the time I knew it was seedy, but I was both desperate to see him and terrified that we'd be caught. I found myself lying to friends and, worst of all, my lovely mother about where I was going.
It never occurred to me to tell anyone what was going on. It wasn't that I thought people wouldn't believe me, but Wilcock warned me we'd both get into ‘enormous trouble' if we were discovered.
Undoubtedly the sexual abuse was vile and damaging, but, with hindsight, the emotional abuse had huge repercussions.
While privately he would tell me that he loved me, in public he'd bully me - calling me fat and ugly in front of other pupils.
It was classic, calculating abuse. I craved his approval and would often spend my pocket money on his favourite chocolate bar and newspaper, hoping that these little love tokens would make him happy.
I dieted drastically, in the hope he would stop making fun of me. Sadly, I became anorexic and have battled with body issues all my life.
The only upside to the whole revolting business was the fact that I sought his approval by studying hard.
While the abuse continued, I gained 12 O-levels - all grade As in the subjects he taught me. It was this that aided my eventual escape.
By the time I left to do A-levels at sixth-form college, my schoolgirl crush had long since disappeared and I'd begun to comprehend the sordid nature of our encounters.
I decided I didn't want anything more to do with him, and now our paths no longer crossed I was able to start a ‘normal' relationship with a boy of my own age.
After A-levels, I went to Oxford to study English, then moved to London where I went on to become a correspondent for GMTV.
It took me more than ten years to consider that what happened was actually ‘abuse' and not just some slightly abnormal relationship, for which I'd been just as responsible.
It was around 1998, during a visit home, that I began to hear rumours from a number of people about Wilcock and other girls at school.
It was my wake-up call. I realised I was not ‘special': this was not ‘one-off' behaviour. He was a paedophile and could do to other girls what he'd done to me. He had to be stopped.
I confessed all to my mum - the hardest thing I've done in my life. I can still see the look of shock and horror on her face.
I informed the school, and after Wilcock and I were both called, separately, to give evidence to the head and a panel of governors, he was sacked.
The school informed the Department for Education, but as it was my word against his, they wouldn't take the matter any further. If I wanted to go to the police, I would be on my own.
To my regret, I didn't. I just did not feel I had the strength to go through it again with the police.
Even then, I couldn't shake off the feeling that somehow I was to blame. I even felt guilty that he'd lost his job.
In the years that followed, I tried to ‘get over it' but, of course, I didn't. I still hated myself and my body.
On the surface, I was a glamorous, blonde TV reporter - but underneath I was an emotional wreck, suffering nightmares and suicidal thoughts.
In 2008, after searching the internet for local counselling services, I came across Revival - which helps survivors of sexual abuse in Wiltshire - and finally turned a corner.
Once a week, I saw a counsellor who helped me to believe that I wasn't to blame and confirmed that this ‘relationship' was actually abuse by an adult in a position of responsibility, who should have known better.
I cried tears of self-hatred during our sessions, but I also began seeing the past from a different perspective and slowly found peace.
By then I had also met my future husband, Tom, an RAF officer, and for the first time realised what a truly happy relationship could involve.
It was in 2009 that I finally decided Wilcock should face justice. The catalyst was an extremely disturbing story I'd heard through an old school friend, which led me to suspect he'd used his position of trust to abuse other young girls.
I contacted Lancashire police and their investigation culminated in a case at Preston crown court.
That's where I found myself facing the man who'd changed the course of my life. Because he had pleaded guilty to six counts of indecently assaulting me, I was spared giving evidence to a jury - but it was still a horrendous ordeal.
I'd given video evidence and been asked some very specific and graphic questions about what had been done to me and this was read out in court. Hearing these facts spoken aloud brought home the severity of what he'd done.
At one particularly graphic point, my aunt, who was sitting behind me, burst into tears. My mum simply squeezed my hand throughout.
Wilcock was sentenced to four years in prison - the maximum allowed under the law at the time the abuse took place - and put on the sex offenders register for life.
A Sexual Offences Prevention Order was made to restrict any contact with children under 16.
When I heard the sentence I didn't cry. Instead, I felt as if I had been released. As I turned to look at this evil man standing in the dock, I thought: ‘This is how it feels to be powerless and to know that someone else has control over you.'
I had done something brave and powerful. Instead of feeling ashamed, for the first time in my life I felt extremely proud of myself.
Sentencing him, Judge Christopher Cornwall said: ‘This is a deeply distressing case.'
Later, my mum read in the local newspaper that Wilcock's sentence was reduced on appeal to three years and four months. None of the appeal judges ever bothered to ask me what I thought.
I don't know where Wilcock is now, and I don't want to. What I do know is that he tried to make me a victim. Childhood abuse, like mental illness, is still a guilty secret.
Those who have been abused feel too ashamed to speak out and are afraid of the consequences.
Paedophiles cast a long shadow. Many victims eventually commit suicide to escape the deep feelings of guilt and self-hatred that have been instilled in them by their abuser.
But I refuse to be a victim.
Tom and I married in 2011 and last year we had a gorgeous little boy called Tanoa - a Fijian name, from his father's side of the family.
Becoming a mother makes me realise even more how Wilcock abused the trust of everyone around him. If anyone did to my little boy what Wilcock did to me, I would want to kill them.
But now I am looking only forward. My name is Rachel Abigail Rounds and I am a survivor.
Revival-Wiltshire Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre is available only to people living in Wiltshire. They can be contacted on 01225 358 568. For national inquiries, visit www.thesurvivorstrust.org/national-helplines
For Roger Mahony, clergy abuse cases were a threat to agenda
From the start of his tenure as the leader of L.A.'s Catholics, Roger Mahony had ambitious plans for the archdiocese. But clergy molestation claims were vying for his attention.
by Harriet Ryan, Ashley Powers and Victoria Kim
A year after arriving in Los Angeles, the youngest archbishop in the U.S. Catholic Church had a schedule and an agenda befitting a presidential candidate.
Roger Mahony raced around the city in a chauffeured sedan, exhorting labor leaders to support immigrant rights and rallying hundreds against a proposed prison in Boyle Heights.
Where his predecessors had talked up praying the rosary, Mahony touted his positions on nuclear disarmament and Middle East peace, porn on cable TV and AIDS prevention. No issue seemed outside his purview: When an earthquake struck El Salvador, he cut a $100,000 check. When a 7-year-old went missing in South Pasadena, he wrote her Protestant parents a consoling letter.
Reporters took notes and the influential took heed. The mayor, the governor, business executives and millionaires recognized a rising star and sought his company.
Among the thousands of papers that crossed his desk in September 1986 was a handwritten letter.
"During priests' retreat ... you provided us with an invitation to talk to you about a shadow that some of us might have," Father Michael Baker wrote . "I would like to take you up on that invitation."
The note would come to define Mahony's legacy more than any public stance he took or powerful friend he made.
In the child sex abuse scandal that has shaken the Catholic Church, Mahony is a singular figure.
He became the leader of America's largest archdiocese at the very moment the church was being forced to confront clergy molestation. Because he was just 49 when he took office, he was in power for the entire arc of the abuse crisis. Long after peers had retired or died, Mahony was around to face the public's wrath. Because of the unique way abuse lawsuits played out in California, his files on molesters became public while in most other corners of the church, they remain under lock and key.
The archdiocese's confidential personnel files, released this year as part of a massive settlement of civil lawsuits, provide the most detailed accounting yet of how clergy abuse was handled in a U.S. diocese. Along with sworn testimony by Mahony and his advisors and interviews with church officials, victims' families and others, the nearly 23,000 pages maintained by the archdiocese and various religious orders suggest a man who was troubled over abuse but more worried about scandal — and how it might derail the agenda he had for himself and his church.
When Roger Mahony was tapped in 1985 to lead Los Angeles' 3 million Catholics, he was bishop of the sleepy Stockton diocese where the faithful numbered just 135,000.
Some might have been nervous about taking on such a visible, high-pressure role, but not Mahony. The North Hollywood native enjoyed the spotlight, whether it was marching with Cesar Chavez in the 1970s or jumping into the nuclear arms debate from the unlikely perch of Stockton. L.A. offered Mahony a national platform.
He began changing the way the archdiocese was run. He stocked the chancery with computers and laser printers and hired women and minorities for key positions.
He seemed almost temperamentally unable to see a problem and not do something. When a cathedral fire alarm stopped working, Mahony found a screwdriver and rewired it. When the clock was blinking the wrong time in an aide's car, he quickly reset it. On vacation at his mountain cabin in the Sierra, he never let friends wash the dishes — he could do it faster and better.
When it came to the big issues of the day, he wanted his church to move just as nimbly.
He set out to redefine its relationship with secular L.A., inserting himself into debates on an array of issues. Whether it was teen pregnancy or Soviet aggression, if Reagan-era America was talking about it, Mahony was too.
Latino concerns had been important to him since the days when he worked on his family's chicken ranch in North Hollywood, side by side with Mexicans in the country illegally. Within months of taking office in L.A., he had rolled out his "Latino plan" — a strategy for better serving the archdiocese's 2 million Latino Catholics. He quickly became a prominent proponent of an immigration bill that would grant amnesty to millions.
"My theory is that if we make the wrong decision, we can always abandon it or change it, or fine-tune it," Mahony told The Times early in his tenure. "But taking forever to ever get to the decision, to me, that is one of the faults of the church over the centuries."
Behind closed doors, another issue was vying for his attention.
Had they met under different circumstances, Mahony might have thought Father Michael Baker an ideal priest for the archdiocese he was trying to build. Like the archbishop, Baker was a Southern California native fluent in Spanish as well as English. His bright blue eyes, charisma and familiarity with Mexican culture made him popular in the Latino parishes so important to the archbishop.
But what brought Baker to Mahony's office in December 1986 was a sin gnawing at his conscience. For close to a decade, the priest said, he had molested two boys.
That a priest could molest a child would no longer have surprised Mahony. Less than a month after he started work in L.A., the first letter regarding an abuser priest landed on his desk. Two days later, he was dealing with the case of a second molester priest .
Baker was the ninth.
For decades, such allegations had made their way to the archdiocese's headquarters. But for the most part, the men who wore the miter before Mahony did little in response. Letters from irate parents gathered dust in file cabinets. Priests were quietly transferred.
Mahony knew the larger church was just starting to confront clergy abuse. In 1985, after a molester priest caused a scandal in Louisiana, U.S. bishops held a closed-door session on abuse at their annual conference.
Mahony and other bishops subsequently received a lengthy report warning of the legal and public relations ramifications of abuse and offering tips for dealing with such cases. The report, written by a priest, a psychiatrist and a lawyer, presented the topic in a risk-analysis manner appealing to pragmatists like Mahony.
"Our dependence in the past on Roman Catholic judges and attorneys protecting the Diocese and clerics is GONE," the report said.
Among the recommendations was that bishops rely on lawyers' advice. Not long after Mahony arrived, he consulted the archdiocese's longtime attorney about Cristobal Garcia, a priest accused of molesting an altar boy and then fleeing to his native Philippines.
The lawyer, J.J. Brandlin, was unequivocal: "Be sure that someone has reported the matter to the authorities," he urged . "The law carries a heavy burden."
The advice went unheeded. Brandlin stepped down shortly thereafter, and in his place Mahony hired the law firm of prominent venture capitalist Richard Riordan, a devout Catholic.
About the same time, Mahony took another step recommended in the report: He held a seminar for all 1,100 of his priests about pedophilia. He concluded the session with a direct appeal to any child molesters in the audience.
"It's really helpful if you come forward so we can get you help," he said .
Only Baker responded.
It was Christmas week 1986. The chancery had begun to empty out for the holidays, but Mahony was working as hard as ever. The amnesty bill had passed, and the archdiocese was setting up centers to help register 250,000 immigrants for citizenship. The L.A. leg of Pope John Paul II's summer visit, the first time a pope had ever set foot in California, needed planning. And in the archbishop's corner office, Baker wanted to unburden himself about two boys he had molested for years.
What happened? Mahony asked. "Oh, just touching," Baker said.
Who were they? Mahony asked. Immigrant boys who'd left the area, Baker said. He didn't know their last names or where they could be found, he said. For all he knew, they might be back in Mexico.
The experts' report on abuse had mentioned cases like Baker's. Molesters so rarely self-disclosed that when a priest did, the bishop "should 'reward' him with his support," it said.
The archbishop did not raise his voice, the priest would later recall. He did not press Baker for the boys' identities or ask if there were more victims.
"I was glad I brought it up," Baker told The Times in 2002.
Mahony typed up a detailed account of the conversation and placed it in the priest's confidential file, meticulous record-keeping that distinguished the archbishop from his predecessors.
By the time the holidays were over, Baker had been sent to a New Mexico treatment center for accused pedophile priests. Police weren't notified. Victims weren't contacted.
It would become a familiar pattern.
By 1988, the sensational McMartin preschool trials, in which the staff of a Manhattan Beach day-care center was accused of abusing dozens of pupils, had made child molestation a water-cooler topic. But few in L.A. were aware that the archdiocese had its own serious problem. Barely two years in office, Mahony had dealt with 14 suspected abusers.
He had done so with utmost discretion. Chancery secretaries knew to lower their voices when taking calls from victims' parents. At Riordan's law firm, many partners didn't even know that their colleagues were working on the cases. Junior staffers whispered about it.
"We called them Father Fondle cases," recalled Lauren Hunter, then a paralegal at the firm. Riordan said in an interview he was not aware his firm handled the clergy abuse cases.
When the story about Aguilar-Rivera broke, Mahony was preparing to fly to Washington for a high-profile address to Congress on nuclear disarmament. He had told his press office to expect a lot of calls about his speech, but in the wake of the Aguilar-Rivera story, the media weren't interested.
"I do appreciate your advance copies of speeches you will be giving before Senate committees," an aide wrote to the archbishop . "But to date I have received no calls inquiring after your testimony. I have received more than a few calls from the media about the Fr. Aguilar case."
In the wake of the negative press, Mahony cleared his schedule to deal with the case full time. He implored bishops across Mexico for help in tracking down the fugitive priest, and arranged a meeting with Lyon and his supervisor to clear the air.
During that meeting, Mahony sat quietly as one of his attorneys and an aide accused the police of misrepresenting the archdiocese to the press. Lyon recalled church representatives saying: We never refused to turn over the altar boy lists. We were fully cooperative.
"They lied as bad as any thug or ex-con I've ever come across on the street," Lyon recalled in an interview. "They were more interested in saving the reputation of the church than helping us find these young victims."
A few years earlier, the same LAPD unit and the city attorney's office had gone after the L.A. Unified School District for failing to report suspected child molestation, filing criminal charges against a school administrator. But as convinced as detectives were at the time that the church was covering up abuse, they didn't pursue an investigation of Mahony or anyone else in the archdiocese.
Meanwhile, the archbishop's influence was growing. In 1991, Pope John Paul II elevated him to cardinal. Accompanying him to Rome for the ceremony was a group of powerful Angelenos, including future mayor Riordan. He had become a confidant of the archbishop, raising millions for the church and even spearheading the purchase of a helicopter for Mahony.
In the city's worst moment of crisis, the 1992 riots, Mahony provided a voice of moral authority that politicians couldn't. He appeared live on six television stations to plead for calm and went to still-smoldering Watts to urge looters to "clear their conscience" by returning stolen merchandise. Many did.
By this time, Mahony had dealt with close to 40 accused abusers. He sent priests to long stays at treatment centers, pored over memos detailing their progress and, upon their return, arranged jobs designed to keep them away from children. To the archbishop, each case represented a problem crossed off his list.
In the early 1990s, however, signs began to emerge that his approach wasn't working.
Lynn Caffoe, a Redondo Beach priest who had allegedly taken hundreds of boys into his bedroom, convinced church officials that a nine-month stint in therapy had him "in a much better space."
"Excellent progress," Mahony wrote.
Months later, as the archbishop was about to clear Caffoe to return to ministry, a boy came forward to say the priest had been molesting him the entire time. Another abuser priest, Gerald Fessard, had been cleared by a psychologist as being "in no danger of acting out" after treatment; but after he returned to ministry in Temple City, parishioners said he was talking to children about sex and touching them inappropriately.
Mahony revised his approach. He updated the archdiocese policy so allegations triggered automatic church investigations. He challenged recommendations from Catholic treatment centers, ultimately barring many abusers from returning to ministry. He tried to persuade reluctant Vatican officials to keep priests who had allegedly molested in L.A. from ever working with children anywhere. He directed that when victims approached the church, they were listened to and offered therapy. He named lay people — including a retired judge, the parents of victims and a psychologist — to a new board to review molestation allegations.
Yet the archbishop stopped short of any steps that might make the sins of priests public. The new advisory board, for example, was provided only vague descriptions of cases.
Alleged perpetrators were referred to as "Father X," and the parishes involved were never identified. Board members were never told whether Mahony followed their advice.
None of them mentioned calling police.
Before dawn on Jan. 17, 1994, a fault line running beneath the San Fernando Valley shook Southern California and set the stage for a vivid display of Mahony's power in the city. The Northridge earthquake cracked the bell tower at St. Vibiana's, the archdiocese's small, venerable downtown cathedral, and Mahony soon announced plans for a massive, modern replacement.
He secured a county-owned parking lot as a building site. To pay for the $189-million project, he turned to his Rolodex, extracting huge donations from the city's wealthiest and most prominent residents, Catholic and not.
In those years, it seemed unimaginable that anything could undermine his power.
But seven miles from the new cathedral site, at St. Columbkille's in South L.A., Michael Baker had returned to the ministry. The priest had signed a contract vowing to stay away from children and agreed that a trusted Mahony aide, Msgr. Tim Dyer, would monitor him in the rectory.
On a May afternoon in 1996, Dyer went home from work early and climbed the stairs toward the priests' bedrooms. Suddenly, Baker emerged from that direction with a teenage boy at his side and barreled past Dyer. Aghast, the monsignor threw down the books he was carrying and raced after them. By the time Dyer reached the bottom step, Baker and the teen were outside.
Dyer peered through the rectory's Venetian blinds just in time to see Baker's car screech away, with the boy in the passenger seat.
~~~ part 2
As clergy abuse scandal erupts, Roger Mahony put in spotlight
As the clergy abuse scandal unfolds nationwide, Roger Mahony's moral authority — and his legacy — erodes.
On a brilliant Sunday afternoon, Cardinal Roger Mahony stood before thousands jammed into a vacant lot overlooking the 101 Freeway. The archbishop, resplendent in gold and crimson, told the crowd that the cathedral that would rise from the dirt would stand for centuries as a monument to the church's stature in Los Angeles.
"This revered ground is blessed and dedicated to God for the ages to come," he declared. Three hundred doves fluttered into a cloudless sky, a choir of 800 sang and the faithful roared their approval.
In 1997, a dozen years into his tenure, Mahony was at the height of his power. He was a national advocate for immigrants in the country illegally, and his voice carried sway on issues including welfare reform and the racial tensions arising from the O.J. Simpson trial. Residents — Catholic and others — consistently voted him among the region's most popular public figures in opinion polls.
But in a locked cabinet in the archdiocese headquarters, files bulged with evidence that Mahony was covering up sexual abuse of children.
Manila folders alphabetized by abusers' names contained letters from distraught parents, graphic confessions from priests, and memos between the archbishop and his aides discussing how to stymie police investigations and avoid lawsuits.
To Mahony, the meticulous files were a record of problems solved and scandals averted. In the years to come, however, it would become increasingly hard — and finally impossible — to keep the problem of sexual abuse locked away.
Revelations that he had shielded pedophiles eventually undercut the moral authority that had made him one of America's most important Catholic leaders. One by one, people who had revered and trusted him would turn away. He lost the victims and their parents first, then his aides, the press, the political establishment, lay Catholics and ultimately the church he'd worked so hard to protect.
From early in his time as archbishop, Mahony did more than his predecessors to address sexual abuse by priests. For the most part, he didn't ignore allegations or shuffle untreated molesters from parish to parish. He insisted on inpatient therapy and placed returning priests in jobs where they had little access to children.
It was Holy Week, and Mahony's calendar was jammed. In addition to the rites leading up to Easter 2000, the cardinal was working around the clock with city leaders to end a strike by 8,500 janitors. Presidential candidate Al Gore was also in town and wanted to meet.
That Tuesday afternoon, Father Michael Baker walked into archdiocese headquarters. Fourteen years earlier, he had confided to the cardinal that he'd molested two boys for nearly a decade . After a stint in treatment, he was allowed back into limited ministry.
Now, he was asking to see Mahony's top aide, nervously clutching a stack of papers. Baker handed the papers to Msgr. Richard Loomis without explanation.
It was a draft lawsuit from an attorney for two new victims — brothers then living in Arizona — accusing Baker of molesting them over 15 years in California and Arizona. The attorney gave the church and Baker one week to compensate the victims or face a lawsuit. Loomis didn't even read to the end before removing Baker from the ministry. Pack your bags, he told the priest.
Mahony had quietly settled claims before, many for little or no money. But to prevent an airing of Baker's misdeeds in a public courtroom, he approved a settlement on a different order: $1.25 million.
The payout stopped the suit, but not Baker. Mahony barred him from acting as a priest in public, but church officials soon learned he was still wearing his clerical collar and ingratiating himself with families by performing baptisms.
Those closest to Mahony realized that after years of trying to handle Baker quietly, they had reached a breaking point.
Loomis and the archdiocese's lawyer, John McNicholas, told the cardinal that for the safety of the community, the faithful must be alerted. They proposed vaguely worded parish announcements about Baker's "past inappropriate behavior with minors" in another state. But even that was too much for Mahony.
"There is no alternative to public announcements at all the Masses in 15 parishes???" Mahony emailed Loomis . "Wow — that really scares the daylights out of me!!"
Announcements would distract from all that the cardinal was trying to accomplish: a new immigration amnesty, a push against the death penalty and more funding for parochial education. Just the week before, he had taken presidential hopeful George W. Bush to South L.A. to show him how Catholic schools were helping poor children.
"We could open up yet another fire storm — and it takes us years to recover from those," he told Loomis .
No announcement was made. Later that year, Baker was defrocked. In the past, Mahony's aides had not questioned the way he dealt with abuse, but Loomis couldn't contain his anger in this case. He told a colleague that how Mahony had handled Baker was "immoral and unethical" — and shortsighted.
"Someone else will end up owning the Archdiocese of Los Angeles," he wrote in a memo . "We've stepped back 20 years and are being driven by the need to cover-up and to keep the presbyterate [priests] & public happily ignorant rather than the need to protect children."
Mahony had hoped to spend Christmas 2001 with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. But the Army said it was too dangerous, and he ended up celebrating Mass on an aircraft carrier off Tokyo.
He was still shaking off jet lag when the Boston Globe published the first in a series of stories that would shake the Catholic faith. "Church allowed abuse by priest for years," the headline read. The priest was Father John Geoghan, and the disgraced archbishop was Cardinal Bernard Law.
But 3,000 miles away, Mahony recognized a threat to his own reputation. By this time, he had quietly dealt with at least 47 clergymen accused of abuse.
He quietly drew up a list of all accused abusers still working in the archdiocese. There were seven. One by one, he summoned them to the chancery and informed them their careers were over.
But after Boston, the world had changed. Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard C. Parks publicly demanded the names of abusers. Detectives, thwarted on church cases for decades, set up a hotline for victims. When they learned about a possible molester priest in Azusa, they dispatched at least 15 investigators to interview altar boys.
Talk radio hosts whom Mahony had once charmed by calling in traffic reports pilloried him. When emails in which he expressed fear of a criminal investigation were leaked, KFI-AM read them live on the air from outside the cathedral.
His press office embraced a phrase once unimaginable for the archbishop: "No comment." When he finally spoke to reporters, he joined the critics piling on Law but admitted few mistakes of his own.
"I don't know how I could face people," Mahony said about his Boston counterpart. "I don't know how I could walk down the main aisle of the church myself comfortably, interiorly, if I had been [guilty] of grave neglect."
With each new headline, more victims stepped forward. Some of the accused priests were long dead, others long gone from L.A. Some were beloved, others the subject of rumors for decades. Mahony lamented that to be a priest was to be suspected of abuse.
Late one Friday night, he picked up his phone and called the LAPD. He was patched through to Det. Dale Barraclough, who was getting ready for bed.
The detective was astounded, he said in an interview. In two decades of Barraclough's investigating child sex abuse cases, Mahony had been a distant adversary who sent aides and lawyers to frustrate investigations. Now the cardinal was calling him.
There's a new abuse allegation, Mahony said. It involves me.
A schizophrenic woman had accused Mahony of molesting her in 1970 at a Fresno high school. He told Barraclough he didn't know the woman. The detective thanked him and typed up a report. Fresno police later cleared the cardinal.
It was the first time Mahony had reported an abuse allegation to the LAPD, and the only time he could be certain it was false.
By the spring of 2002, the file Mahony kept on Michael Baker had grown to more than 300 pages. Only a handful of people had ever laid eyes on it, and the cardinal thought it inconceivable that its damaging contents would ever become public.
As in the past, Mahony had misjudged Baker. When Times reporters tracked the former priest down, he provided details of how he had told the archbishop he was a child molester. In the 2002 front-page story, Baker recounted that during a 1986 meeting with Mahony, a church attorney blurted out that perhaps police should be called.
Mahony's response, Baker told the paper, was "No, no, no."
Atty. Steve Cooley to convene a grand jury to subpoena the personnel files of Baker and other priests. Mahony refused to turn over the files, saying canon law required that conversations between bishops and priests remain confidential. Cooley countered that there was no such legal protection and accused the cardinal of obstruction.
The battle cost the archbishop in Sacramento, where lawyers and victims' groups were pushing for legislation that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations on sex abuse lawsuits and allow victims to sue the church over decades-old allegations. Mahony was once a powerful force in the capital, but his refusal to hand over records was now being cited by irate legislators — some of them raised in the church — as a reason to support the bill.
"It made it easy for the Legislature," Rod Pacheco, then a GOP assemblyman from Riverside and a former altar boy, recalled in an interview. "We're in Sacramento reading these articles and talking to people in our districts. No one's on the church's side. Nobody."
The measure passed easily.
The scandal consumed Mahony's days, but he seemed to find solace at the corner of Temple Street and Grand Avenue. There, the $189-million Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels was nearing completion. Mahony had spent years approving every detail, down to the wattage of freight elevator light bulbs. He walked the grounds almost daily in a hard hat and snapped enough photos to fill 40 albums. When he spoke of the sprawling plaza and the soaring nave, he sounded like a new father.
"I dreamed of how it would look," he said at the time, "but I never thought it could be so beautiful."
To Mahony's dismay, the abuse scandal continued to dominate the news. He turned to the crisis public relations firm Sitrick and Co., which had counted Enron among its clients. In one meeting with journalists arranged by the firm, he said he thought about the scandal every two to three minutes and wished he could "back up and undo" his mistakes.
"We were really following what was then a view in the psychiatric, psychological circle that this particular malady could somehow be successfully treated," he said. "And that turned out to be wrong."
He ended by pleading for "some great story about the cathedral without sex abuse in that story."
In the weeks surrounding the cathedral's September 2002 unveiling, the elite of L.A. feted Mahony. Billionaire Eli Broad hosted an intimate dinner at the California Club, and a who's who of L.A. — including Vin Scully and Roy Disney — turned out for a $25,000-a-table black-tie gala.
The four-hour dedication Mass was so important to Mahony that he went through 32 drafts of his homily. In the end, he didn't mention sex abuse; but outside, protesters had brought a papier-mache effigy of Mahony holding a sign that read, "Suffer the little children." Some mocked his cathedral as "the Taj Mahony."
Four months later, the first lawsuits resulting from the Sacramento law were filed. Mahony hired a downtown firm that specialized in what attorneys call "bet-the-company litigation." The law firm estimated that about 100 people would sue. In the end, more than 500 did.
The claims stretched back to the 1930s, and many named priests never previously accused of abuse, including Loomis, the Mahony aide who had removed Baker from ministry. Loomis denied the allegations but was put on leave. Lawyers had predicted a "feeding frenzy" of false claims. But as victim after victim gave sworn accounts, it became clear to church officials that the vast majority were telling the truth.
With the scandal he had feared for so long now a reality, Mahony began to embrace transparency. In 2004, he named more than 200 accused priests in a comprehensive report unparalleled in the American church. It called on the church to "examine its conscience" about having placed secrecy and image preservation above the well-being of children.
Mahony set up an office to assist victims. He hired retired FBI agents to investigate every claim. He instituted fingerprinting for clergy, teachers and volunteers and started a mandatory program to teach them how to prevent abuse.
Mahony invited victims to meet one-on-one with him. More than 90 accepted. A man who said he was molested by Baker refused to shake Mahony's hand, he told The Times, and lambasted the cardinal for more than an hour about how the priest's abuse had led to a lifetime of crime and alcoholism.
How can I help you? Mahony finally asked.
Give me my childhood back, the man replied.
On a winter evening in 2008, Mahony welcomed a group of parishioners from La Cañada Flintridge into a conference room at the cathedral.
He had settled the bulk of the abuse litigation for $720 million, far greater than any previous settlements in the U.S. Catholic Church and far more than the archdiocese could afford. Mahony was now forced to beg wealthy parishes for contributions.
St. Bede's had more than $100,000 to spare. He showed the parishioners accountants' reports, charts and timelines, two people who attended the meeting said in interviews. He told them how an East L.A. parish had held a tamale sale and brought him a check for a couple hundred dollars.
What about Michael Baker? a man interrupted.
A lot of us come from business backgrounds, a woman further down the table said, and you are a CEO who just paid out a three-quarter-billion-dollar settlement. We think you should resign.
Don't you think I want to retire? Mahony said, his voice rising. I could be at my cabin in the Sierra. I'm staying because I'm the best person to fix this.
It's about accountability, another woman said.
Mahony slammed his hand on the table, scattering his charts. You self-righteous... he began. Keep your money, he told them.
By 2011, when Mahony reached the church's retirement age of 75, he had outlasted most of the public fury.
He planned on using his remaining years to advocate for the rights of immigrants in the country illegally and saw an opportunity when President Obama announced his second-term push to overhaul immigration law.
But events in a dreary courtroom west of downtown last winter would ensure that he couldn't separate his legacy from the abuse scandal. In January, after years of delays, a judge signed an order forcing the archdiocese to make public thousands of pages of priest personnel files, the final piece of Mahony's mammoth settlement with victims.
The records showed for the first time, and often in Mahony's own handwriting, the level of his personal involvement with abuse cases. He had reviewed the psychiatric reports in which priests laid out what they'd done to children. He had read the letters in which mothers of victims described their agony, and he had strategized with aides about how to keep abusers from justice.
He issued yet another apology, this one describing notecards he'd kept listing the names of the victims he had met.
"I pray for them every single day," he said. "I am sorry."
It wasn't enough. There were calls for Mahony's prosecution. When he ventured out to run errands, strangers berated him.
His successor, Archbishop Jose Gomez, wrote a letter to the faithful admonishing the cardinal for his failures in dealing with abuse and announcing that Mahony would no longer have any "administrative and public duties" in the archdiocese. Mahony was furious. He objected in private to the Vatican and in a letter to Gomez he posted on his blog.
"Not once over these past years did you ever raise any questions" about clergy abuse, Mahony wrote, adding, "I handed over to you an Archdiocese that was second to none in protecting children and youth."
Hours later, Gomez issued a clarification that Mahony remained "in good standing."
On a Monday morning nearly two weeks later, Mahony woke up to the news that Pope Benedict XVI had resigned.
"I look forward to traveling to Rome soon … to participate in the Conclave to elect his successor," he typed on his blog.
Many did not share his enthusiasm. With Law too old to vote for the next pope, Mahony stood as the global face of clergy abuse. A liberal U.S. Catholic group started an online petition urging him to stay home.
After he arrived at the Vatican, some of his fellow prelates, men whose own records on abuse largely remained secret, distanced themselves. Several told reporters that Mahony should look to his own conscience in deciding whether to participate.
Mahony stood his ground, giving television interviews and blogging and tweeting from Rome. But once he returned to Los Angeles, he largely faded from public view.
He now lives in the rectory of his boyhood parish in North Hollywood. Some Sundays, he volunteers at churches in poorer neighborhoods, saying Mass in Spanish in place of vacationing priests.
When Mahony's predecessor retired, a church historian worked with him to prepare an exhaustive biography. No one is currently working on Mahony's.
Friends say that on his best days, he sees the scandal as the cross God has asked him to bear.
"I am not being called to serve Jesus in humility. Rather, I am being called to something deeper — to be humiliated, disgraced, and rebuffed by many," he wrote on his blog. He added, "To be honest with you, I have not reached the point where I can actually pray for more humiliation. I'm only at the stage of asking for the grace to endure the level of humiliation at the moment."
Michael Baker served about six years behind bars after pleading guilty to molesting two boys. Authorities believe he abused at least 21 other children. He now lives at a senior citizen community in Costa Mesa. On a recent morning, he answered the door for reporters wearing only shorts. Keep your voices down, he said. My neighbors don't know.
In an interview shortly before his release from prison, two L.A. detectives pressed Baker about Mahony.
Why did the cardinal shelter you for so long? they asked.
"I don't know his phone number. I never called him. I never went over to his place, never had any meal," he said. "We haven't talked since that one meeting in 1986."
About this story
This series is based on nearly 23,000 pages of internal documents from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and various religious orders that were made public this year in compliance with court orders. In addition, Times reporters reviewed thousands of pages of depositions and court filings and interviewed dozens of people, including church officials, victims' families and law enforcement officials. Cardinal Roger Mahony declined to be interviewed or respond to questions sent to his attorney.
Unless otherwise stated, and excepting historical and biographical information from Times archives, all information in the story is based on internal church records released through court order or sworn depositions. Statements that appear within quotation marks are from depositions, church records, public statements, interviews and contemporaneous coverage in the Los Angeles Times. Some comments and conversations have been paraphrased based on the recollections of participants; in those instances, quotation marks are not used.
State details case against ex-Penn State president
by Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Pa. — The state attorney general's office filed papers Friday that detail the lies it says former Penn State President Graham Spanier told during his grand jury testimony over the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
The allegations in the prosecutors' itemized list aren't new, but the specifics were listed to answer Spanier's request this fall for details of the charges.
In the filing, prosecutors listed portions of Spanier's April 2011 testimony before a grand jury. In one section, prosecutors asked Spanier whether university officials discussed filing a police report over a 2001 shower encounter witnessed by former assistant football coach Mike McQueary, and Spanier said no, The Centre Daily Times reported.
But emails discovered later appear to show a discussion about whether to report that incident.
Sandusky, the school's longtime defensive coach, was convicted last year of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. He is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence.
Spanier has maintained his innocence. He is one of three former Penn State administrators awaiting trial on charges they engaged in a criminal cover-up of complaints about Sandusky. Former vice president Gary Schultz and former athletic director Tim Curley also deny the allegations.
Spanier also testified that during discussions about Sandusky's conduct with a young boy in the shower, then-head coach Joe Paterno's name “was never mentioned to the best of my recollection,” according to the prosecutors' filing. In addition, Spanier said he had never been told about a prior on-campus child abuse allegation made against Sandusky in 1998.
But McQueary has testified that he told Paterno about seeing Sandusky in the shower with the boy in 2001. And the lead state prosecutor said during the officials' preliminary hearing in July that the men knew police investigated complaints about Sandusky showering with boys in 1998.
In October, Penn State announced it was paying nearly $60 million to settle abuse claims by 26 young men. It's not clear how many suits are still pending against the school following those settlements, but at least one new one has been filed.
Arizona gov in spotlight over child abuse failures
by Associated Press
PHOENIX — Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer could be politically damaged by revelations that her administration ignored thousands of child abuse and neglect reports that prompted calls for her to replace her hand-picked leader of the state's social services agency.
While Brewer has made reforming Child Protective Services one of her top priorities in the past several years, critics of the Republican governor say the failures show her administration continues to shortchange kids.
Brewer is so far rejecting calls to replace the agency's leader, and supporters say the governor ensured the botched cases were made public and has called for accountability.
Clarence Carter, director of the Department of Economic Security, which oversees CPS, revealed last week that more than 6,000 reports generated by the state's child abuse hotline hadn't been investigated since 2009, most in the past 20 months. The CPS plan to clear those reports was released early this week and has been widely panned as inadequate and short on specifics.
Carter promises every case meriting a full investigation will be handled by the end of January. He's assigned more than 200 CPS supervisors and program managers to the job, employees who don't currently handle a caseload.
Carter has declined to comment through a spokeswoman since Monday.
Last January, Brewer personally took credit in her State of the State address for “overhauling” the hotline system so urgent calls received priority. But that overhaul apparently included simply closing thousands of abuse reports.
Now, criticism is coming from both Democrats and members of Brewer's own party, who appeared blindsided by the news.
“I have to ask the question, what else might not be working?” said Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, a Phoenix Republican who co-chairs the Legislature's CPS oversight committee. “Is it a systemic problem?”
Republican Sen. Nancy Barto, the committee's other co-chair, said the problem was system-wide. And while neither GOP lawmaker called for Carter's ouster, both were harsh in their assessment.
“The public must know that this neglect of duty will never happen again and that the people responsible for this disturbing practice are held accountable,” Barto said in a statement. “In addition, a long-term reform of the agency is warranted to restore public confidence.”
The controversy is certain to become a major source of debate when the full Legislature returns in January, and the attention focused on the social service agency could deflect from Brewer's other priorities going into the final year of her last term.
Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder brushed off the calls for Carter to resign.
“The calls for Carter's resignation have come from largely predictable people,” he told The Associated Press Wednesday. “She's not entertaining calls like that right now, because her first concern is to ensure that every child whose case went uninvestigated is safe. That's the immediate task at hand.”
The leader of minority Democrats in the state House of Representatives blasted Carter, saying Brewer needs to take responsibility for the problem.
“The bottom line is Carter needs to go. He needs to go yesterday; he's failed in every aspect of this job,” Rep. Chad Campbell said. “Either the governor or Carter — one of them needs to go. This is another state agency that's failing under her.
“The other agencies are bad, but now we're talking about protecting children,” Campbell said. “Enough is enough.”
The head of a leading Arizona child advocacy group sent an open letter to Brewer demanding that Carter be removed.
“Since this practice of leaving reports uninvestigated has continued over several years from different units within the Department of Economic Security, it's clear it was not one or two rogue employees, but a systemic policy,” wrote Dana Naimark, president of the Children's Action Alliance. “Director Clarence Carter is responsible for this lapse and we urge you to ask for his resignation.”
Brewer has made reforming CPS a priority, establishing a task force in 2011 to recommend changes, and making it a key part of this January's State of the State address.
She took credit for overhauling the hotline system “so the most urgent calls are directed for faster response,” all the while apparently not knowing that the team responsible was labeling thousands of cases unworthy of investigation.
Wilder said Brewer ensured the failures were publicized and has called for accountability once an outside review by state police is completed. He also said Brewer should be credited with creating the special investigation team within CPS that discovered the cases were being neglected.
“If it wasn't for the reforms that Jan Brewer fought for successfully, it is a question when and if these cases would have been exposed,” Wilder said.
Assessing child-abuse reports a complex challenge
by Associated Press
NEW YORK — The calls, reporting suspicions of child abuse and neglect, come in at a rate of nearly 10,000 a day, to hotlines and law-enforcement offices across the country.
They add up to 3.4 million reports per year — a daunting challenge for state child protection agencies, which must sort out the flimsy or trivial claims from the credible and potentially dire ones, and make decisions that balance the rights of parents with the welfare of children. Many states, after initial screening, deem more than half the reports they receive to be unworthy of further investigation.
“In child protection, you are always walking a difficult line,” said Cindy Walcott, deputy commissioner of Vermont's Department for Children and Families.
“Obviously you want to protect children from harm, but you don't want to intervene in the private life of a family when it's not indicated,” she said. “Those decisions need to be made carefully, so you're getting it right as often as possible.”
The issue of child-abuse reporting burst into the spotlight last week with news that Arizona's Child Protective Services failed to look into about 6,000 reports of suspected child maltreatment that had been phoned in to its abuse hotline in recent years. At least 125 cases already have been identified in which children were later alleged to have been abused.
Other states have had problems with their processing of abuse reports. Florida's Department of Children and Families, for example, overhauled its abuse hotline last year after flaws were discovered with how information was collected and relayed to investigators.
In general, however, advocacy groups and academic experts credit child-protection agencies and their workers with trying their best, under often-challenging circumstances.
“Child protection workers are very valuable to our country,” said Jim Hmurovich, president of the Chicago-based advocacy group Prevent Child Abuse America and former director of Indiana's Division of Family and Children. “They often have to make determinations with limited information, and they care a lot.”
Nationally, the standard practice is to vet all the calls coming in to the hotlines. Yet as that is done, federal data show that about 40 percent are soon “screened out” — judged not to warrant further intervention or investigation. Among the reasons: The alleged maltreatment might be deemed innocuous, or the caller may fail to provide enough details for the agency to pursue.
Of the 3.4 million reports received for the 2011 fiscal year, about 2 million — or 60 percent — were “screened in” to trigger some degree of state intervention, according to the latest federal figures. Of those cases, 680,000 ended up being substantiated as incidents of neglect and abuse.
Even at that stage, there are options. The child-protection agency may open a formal child-abuse investigation or, in a less drastic step, it may assign social workers to assess a given family's circumstances and offer counseling, support services or other intervention. Minnesota is at the forefront of a group of states pursuing this strategy, known as “differential response.”
“It is hard work,” said Erin Sullivan Sutton, Minnesota's assistant commissioner for children and family services. “One of the challenges is being able to distinguish where people are doing horrible things to children and those situations where a mom or dad are trying to be good parents but lack the resources to do so.”
Minnesota screens in only about a third of all the reports received through a statewide network of county and tribal hotlines — well under the national rate of 60 percent. But Sullivan Sutton says voluntary social services are offered to some of the families who figure in the cases that aren't going to be subjected to a formal abuse investigation.
“We care as much about the families who are screened out as those who are screened in,” she said.
Vermont, like Minnesota, screens in only about 30 percent of the reports phoned in to its statewide hotline. In 2011, there were 15,256 reports and 4,911 of them were accepted for state intervention — either a child abuse investigation or a less draconian assessment.
Walcott said her agency is comfortable with the low screen-in rate.
“We encourage people to call,” she said. “Even if they just suspect something, we prefer they call us. It’s our job to sort through the information they give us.”
Overall, experts say it’s difficult to assess how good a job the state agencies are doing with their screening of abuse reports — in part because variances in laws and practices make precise state-to-state comparisons almost impossible. Even the basic definitions of child maltreatment vary.
“We don’t have a lot of information about the cases that are screened out, so it’s hard to say if a good decision was made,” said John Fluke, an expert on child maltreatment at University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Vermont did undertake a detailed assessment of its abuse reporting system in 2012. It concluded that its decisions on screening in were highly accurate but found fault with 22 percent of the decisions to screen out, generally on grounds that those decisions were made without gathering enough information about the case.
According to the federal data, the total number of reports of suspected maltreatment rose from 3.1 million in 2007 to 3.4 million in 2011. The number of confirmed cases of abuse or neglect declined over that period, from 723,000 to 681,000, at a time when many state child-protection agencies were experiencing tight budgets and heavy caseloads.
Virtually every state has laws outlining who is required to report instances of suspected child maltreatment. Most states designate certain professions — notably law enforcement personnel, social workers, teachers and other school personnel, doctors and other health care workers, and child-care providers. However, 18 states have laws requiring any person who suspects child abuse to make a report.
Sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center, said some members of the public may make calls that are far too vague for an agency to pursue.
“When professionals call, they understand what’s needed to make a credible report,” he said.
Police: Sex abuse arrests in Canada began with probe of company
by Mariano Castillo, CNN
(CNN) -- A three-year investigation into an exploitative Toronto-based film company has netted nearly 350 arrests and rescued more than 380 children from sexual abuse, police said Thursday.
Law enforcement from all over the world, primarily in Eastern Europe and the United States, worked with Toronto police since 2010 to arrest those who produced child pornography and those who purchased it.
The owner of the film company, Brian Way, has been in jail since 2011 awaiting trial, and the producers who made the illegal films have been convicted in their home countries, Toronto police Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said.
The investigation is ongoing and more arrests will be made, but authorities decided it was time to share with the public the scope of its operation, known as Project Spade.
Among the 348 people arrested in the international child sex abuse investigation were 40 teachers, six law enforcement personnel, nine pastors or priests and some doctors and nurses, Beaven-Desjardins said.
Throughout the investigation, 386 children have been rescued, she said, referring to their removal from situations where they were being abused.
Authorities were first tipped off about Toronto-based Azov Films in 2005, Beaven-Desjardins said, but no charges were filed at the time. An archived version of the company's website shows that it sold naturist, or nudist, films that featured children. The website claimed that the videos were not sexually explicit and that the nudism it depicted was legal under free speech laws.
But the nature of the films changed, Beavens-Desjardins said, and a raid on the company's office happened in 2011.
Investigators spent four days searching through all the materials at the location, she said. In all, there were more than 46,000 gigabytes -- about 45 terabytes -- of movies recovered.
With the help of the United States Postal Inspection Service, police were able to reconstruct customer lists, which led to arrests of purchasers of child pornography around the world.
Of those arrested, 108 were taken into custody in Canada and 76 in the United States.
Most of the movies were produced in Romania and the Ukraine, Beavens-Desjardins said.