National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery


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

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

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

December, 2014 - Week 4
MJ Goyings
Many, many thanks to our very own "MJ" for
providing us the majority of the daily research
that appears on the LACP and NAASCA web sites.
Ms. Goyings is a Registered Nurse and lives in Ohio.

United Kingdom

Archbishop of York's Bold Suggestion- End To Confidentiality In Child Abuse Confessions

by Mike Bryant

At times one of the defenses we will see in abuse cases is the confidentiality of penance, which is that things were said to other members of the clergy, but they are protected because they were as part of the sacrament of penance. There would be no duty of disclosure even under the strictest of first reporting laws. There would be no use of this information to show notice of the dangers that would have prevented future abuse. Not even a tip to those in present danger that they need to stay away.

The Huffington Post recently reported that Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Church of England's No. 2 official, said that the Church of England must break the confidentiality of confession in cases where people disclosed the abuse of children. “If someone tells you a child has been abused, the confession doesn't seem to me a cloak for hiding that business. How can you hear a confession about somebody abusing a child and the matter must be sealed up and you mustn't talk about it?”

This is a intriguing suggestion and I can hear the immediate response that it would serve as a chilling of people confessing. It is an interesting comparison of the need to confess and find salvation vs. the confessed acts which involve the innocence of children. The statements followed an investigation into Anglican priest Robert Waddington as a serial sexual abuser of children in England and Australia for more than 50 years. Earlier this year, Anglicans in Australia backed a historic change that breaks the convention that the confidentiality of what a man or woman tells a priest during confession is inviolable.

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.


Domestic Abuse During Pregnancy Affects Baby Too

by Heather Johnson

Domestic abuse likely affects children even before birth, suggests a new study from researchers at Michigan State University as published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect . Children born to mothers who experienced domestic abuse during pregnancy are more likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral trauma symptoms within the first year of life.

Symptoms of emotional and behavioral trauma in young children include nightmares, startling easily, being bothered by loud noises and bright lights, avoiding physical contact, and having trouble experiencing enjoyment.

The present study looked at 182 mothers between the ages of 18 and 34 to examine the association, if any, between domestic abuse during pregnancy by a male partner experienced by a woman and postnatal trauma symptoms in her child.

The researchers also examined maternal parenting styles and took into account risk factors such as drug use and other negative life events, marital status, age, and income.

The study found a surprisingly strong relationship between domestic abuse during pregnancy and trauma symptoms in a child during the first year of life.

Psychology professor and study co-author Alytia Levendosky explains that domestic abuse can cause changes in maternal stress response systems, increasing her levels of the hormone cortisol. Increased maternal cortisol levels can cause an increase in fetal cortisol levels.

Cortisol is a steroid hormone produced by the brain that is released in response to stress and a low level of blood glucose. The hormone functions to increase blood sugar; suppress the immune system; and aid the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Excessive levels of cortisol in the blood can cause health problems including psychological problems.

Explains Levendosky, “Cortisol is a neurotoxic, so it has damaging effects on the brain when elevated to excessive levels. That might explain the emotional problems for the baby after birth.”

As a clinical psychologist for nearly 20 years, Levendosky has counseled many domestic violence survivors who did not believe that domestic abuse would affect a child until the child grew old enough to understand the abuse.

The present study, however, indicates that domestic abuse can affect a children, even when a mother experiences abuse while pregnant.

Comments Levendosky, “They might say things like, ‘Oh, I have to leave my partner when my baby gets to be so-and-so age – you know, 3 or 4 years old – but until then, you know, it's not really affecting him, he won't really remember it. But I think these findings send a strong message that the violence is affecting the baby even before the baby is born.”

She adds, “For clinicians and mothers, knowing that the prenatal experience of their domestic violence can directly harm their babies may be a powerful motivator to help moms get out of these abusive situations.”


New York

Yoga can help kids cope better with stress

by Dr.Kimberly Clare

As we enter into another new year, my biggest wish is for our children to find a way to experience peace and serenity in their lives. I want them to find the tools within themselves to relieve the stress, anxiety and general chaos that surround them. I want them to express their fear and frustration without lashing out violently against themselves or their peers.

It's difficult for me, as a pediatrician, to watch our children and adolescents struggle through our toxic world. One might argue that their relentless exposure is worse than in our youth, but regardless, it's hard to be immersed in their symptoms daily, as I am. Like many of you, I am looking to find a way to steer us away from the exponential increase in psychotropic medication use.

I've written previously in this column about teaching children resilience. Experts in early childhood development believe that children persistently exposed to abuse, neglect, violence and economic hardship sustain long-term damage to cognitive and physical health. Lack of adult support further exacerbates this toxic stress response.

The American Academy of Pediatrics encourages primary care pediatricians to screen for the social and emotional signs of toxic stress. Doctors are encouraged to find means to both prevent and treat these children's symptoms. For this, I have a remedy that has existed for centuries: yoga.

I started yoga myself a year ago, after spending months plagued by running injuries. I was at a point where my injuries were keeping me from running, my usual stress reliever. Although I fretfully walked into my first class, I was instantly converted. Those moments when I have to put everything out of my mind except the connection of my mind and body provide an oasis from daily stressors.

It's not surprising then that I was excited to read a Parents magazine article on the benefits of yoga for children. As the popularity of yoga has increased among adults, practitioners realized that children could also find value in its techniques. Yoga is now used as part of physical education classes, hospital therapy programs and as general exercise for children.

Although evidence is mostly anecdotal, research within several clinical fields indicates that children experience benefits in strength, motor skills and endurance through yoga practice. The focus on rhythmic breathing and progressive relaxation can also help children to develop techniques of self-regulation, patience and focus.

Stress and anxiety trigger the nervous system to increase the heart rate and blood pressure (classic “fight or flight” response). The focused breathing of yoga practice counteracts this response and brings the body into a relaxed state. The Parents article reports that one specialist teaches these breathing techniques to his asthmatic patients as a way of improving their lung functioning.

Yoga also enhances one's kinesthetic senses — the awareness of the position and movement of one's muscles, tendons and joints. To accurately achieve the poses, you aren't mimicking the instructor's movements as much as listening to how to place yourself into the proper alignment. Your muscles remain engaged and therefore are triggered to create new fibers (i.e., become stronger).

Beyond strengthening, many yoga poses rely on balance. Learning how to keep the body still in space can help coordination in children with motor skills delay (including fine motor skills). Achieving balance will also develop both physical and mental dexterity. Some practitioners feel that the concentration required for maintaining the poses will also translate into self-regulation more globally.

Although yoga typically encourages holding a pose for an extended time, for a child, holding a simple pose for a minute can be enough to develop a sense of calm. The article notes that researchers believe that these techniques trigger the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with attention, movement and mood. This is the same chemical targeted by medications to treat ADHD, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders. Studies in small groups of children with ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders have shown therapeutic benefits.

I'm not optimistic enough to believe that practicing yoga will alleviate all childhood problems. I do hope, however, that we adults realize that we need to teach our children to cope better with stress now or their long-term health will suffer for it.

Dr. Kimberly Clare is a pediatrician with TLC Pediatrics in Poughkeepsie. Contact her at


New York

A look at the local foster care system

by Rocco LaDuca

The last time Tiffany Green saw her 13-month-old son, William Michael Allen, she could tell that something wasn't right.

After being with a foster family in Herkimer County for fewer than three months, William seemed jumpy and appeared to have bruises with rashes on his body during their weekly visit Aug. 25, 2011, Green said.

Her “mother's intuition,” she said, read the troubled look on William's face: “Just save me.”

Although Green expressed her concerns to a Herkimer County social worker, William returned to his foster home. Later that night, the young boy suffered a serious head injury. He died about a week later, but the mystery of how he was hurt never has been solved.

“I would like to know what happened, but I don't need to know because I would like to stay sane for my other two babies (Glen and Sophia),” who are in the care of other families, 26-year-old Green said just before Christmas.

The foster care system takes a number of precautions to keep children safe and nurtured while their parents cope with issues they need to overcome. And overall, statewide statistics show that very few foster children experience what Green believes happened to William.

In 2012, about 1 percent of the more than 34,600 children in foster care in New York were reportedly maltreated, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

But for parents such as Green, accepting that their children are in good hands doesn't come easily.

“You took my kid so I can get better, and you're supposed to be taking care of my child until I become the parent that you think I should be,” Green said. “I'll do whatever they want me to do for my babies, but they need to take care of them, make sure they're warm and loved, and work with me, not against me.”

Perhaps, Green suggested, foster families should be required to have cameras monitoring certain rooms and a working phone at all times. And if a birth parent expresses concerns,

there should be a serious follow-up to make sure the child is safe.

People involved in the foster care system take their obligation very seriously, they said. While the Herkimer County Department of Social Services did not return calls to discuss the issue and to talk about William's case, officials in Oneida County explained what steps they take to protect foster children.

Once Oneida County's Department of Social Services removes a child from a home for neglect, abuse or other endangerment, The House of the Good Shepherd in Utica often is contacted to find a fitting foster family. Sometimes, a family member comes forward to care for the child.

“The safety and wellbeing of our kids is crucial. It's vital and it's our primary concern, and we go to the ends of the world here to make that happen,” said Bob Roberts, executive director of The House of the Good Shepherd.

There currently are 121 open foster homes in Central New York that serve about 180 children. Over the past four years, those arrangements have brought few reasons to be concerned. In 2013, the Child Abuse Hotline received 4,570 calls overall; of those, 22 – less than 1 percent – involved foster families, a trend similarly seen each year.

Since 2009, only two complaints against a foster family have resulted in “corrective action,” officials said.

In one case, a 44-year-old foster parent in New York Mills pleaded guilty last month to sexually abusing a 16-year-old girl when his wife had left the two alone at home. He faces two years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 5 in Oneida County Court.

If a child has a history of being abused or flirting with adults, a “safety plan” is arranged to reduce the risk of any additional abuse from occurring while in foster care. For example, a child who has been sexually abused by men or other children likely would not be left alone with those same types of individuals in a foster family, officials said.

“You have the child's history, so you're placing them in a family that you think is appropriate based on the child's background, but you're also developing safety plans to make sure nothing happens as best you can,” Oneida County Social Services Commissioner Lucille Soldato said. “If all the information is there, things should not happen. However, this is not a perfect world.”

Even if a foster family is approved, other people in their home can create risks. In 2004, Rosemary Davis of Utica tried to treat the severe scalding injuries suffered by a 22-month-old child in her care after someone burned the girl in hot water. The toddler ultimately died from an infection, and some have alleged that Davis refused to seek medical attention because she feared her other foster children would be taken from her.

“Once you take on the responsibility of a foster parent, you're taking on the legal responsibility of the child as if you were the parent,” said Oneida County First District Attorney Dawn Catera Lupi, who prosecuted Davis for manslaughter. “This baby suffered because she was afraid of getting in trouble.”

It's also not easy to become a foster parent. Prospective foster families have to undergo a background check, be evaluated for their ability to meet a child's needs and have their home approved for safety. Then they have to undergo 12 weeks of intense training, which only about 30 percent actually complete.

Case planners regularly visit the foster child's home either weekly or monthly, depending on the child's circumstances. Family Court also is kept aware of what's going on to address any concerns that might arise.

In the end, no matter how good a foster family's intentions might be, a few do realize that they just aren't up to the task for a particular child.

Still, Roberts said, “Some foster parents willingly take on some children that present more challenges than others,” and therein lies the personal reward.


The state has a set of standards that must be met before any person can become a foster parent, including:

* Prospective foster homes must be evaluated and determined to meet basic physical, health and safety requirements.

* Each foster parent must be older than 21.

* Each member of the foster family household must be in good physical and mental health, and free from from communicable diseases.

* The marital status of an applicant might be a factor in determining whether a certification will be granted only as it affects the ability to provide adequate care to foster children.
* Must provide three personal references who can attest to the prospective foster parent's moral character, mature judgment, ability to manage financial resources and capacity for developing a meaningful relationship with children.

* The agency must explore various topics including applicant's reasons for seeking to become a foster parent; their psychological readiness to assume responsibility for a child; their ability to provide for child's physical and emotional needs; the awareness of the impact that foster care responsibilities have upon family life, relationships and current lifestyle.

* Background check to determine whether applicant and any person 18 years of age or older who lives in the same house is the subject of a child maltreatment report, or has been charged and/or convicted of a crime.

* Successfully complete 12-week training to help foster parents: meet the needs of children in their care; understand the problems and reactions of children upon separation from their birth-family; receive information on techniques in managing behavior and preventing abuse and neglect; understanding the expectations of the agency and payments to foster parents for care and expenses.

Source: New York State Office of Children and Family Services



Amid outrage, case elicits child-abuse warning

by Kathleen Brady Shea

In the annals of Chester County, few crimes have stunned and outraged residents and law-enforcement personnel more than the alleged torture and fatal beating of a 3-year-old boy on Nov. 4 in West Caln Township.

Last week, three people charged in connection with the homicide of Scotty McMillan each waived their preliminary hearings. McMillan's mother, Jillian Tait, and her boyfriend, Gary Lee Fellenbaum, face the death penalty for allegedly torturing and beating the boy inside Fellenbaum's trailer.

Fellenbaum's estranged wife, Amber Fellenbaum, also faces felony charges for allegedly failing to prevent or report the abuse, which authorities say occurred over several days inside the trailer where they all lived.

“The men and women of law enforcement deal with terrible things every day, from murders to suicides to car crashes, but very few things hit us as hard as the death of Scotty McMillan,” said Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan. “Even the toughest of our detectives were shaken by the level of violence directed at such a young and vulnerable child.”

In the aftermath of the homicide, Hogan called the impact on law enforcement straightforward: “a grim resolve to make sure that we do everything possible to bring justice to the defendants who killed this little boy.” He said his office intends to seek the death penalty for Tait and Gary Fellenbaum.

Amid the shock, a concerned community far beyond the boundaries of West Caln Township has stepped in to offer support to the victim's 6-year-old brother Ryan, who was also believed to have been abused.

Supportive Facebook pages were created, and the Crime Victims' Center of Chester County and the District Attorney's Office partnered to create a trust fund for the surviving brother. Attorneys from the Lamb McErlane PC law firm in West Chester volunteered to set up the trust, and DNB First, a bank based in Chester County, volunteered to work with the attorneys to handle the account's details.

The Crime Victims' Center also issued a reminder to residents that the signs of child abuse can sometimes go unnoticed.

“There may not be telltale bruises or other physical injuries,” a press release said. “The abuse could be emotional or one of neglect that can scar a child as deeply as physical blows. So, while no one wants to believe child abuse has occurred, a concerned adult should err on the side of caution and report anything suspicious – change in demeanor, acting out, withdrawal from socializing. Children depend on the adults in their world to intervene when they are being hurt.”

The center runs age-appropriate programs for children – even at the pre-school level — that teach them that no one has a right to harm them in any way and that if they do to tell someone about it. The agency urges residents to call the center and request help in educating children, a parent group, professionals who work with children, or other concerned citizens.

The free prevention/education programs can be tailored to a specific group, the release said. For more information about CVC, call 610-692-1926 or visit

Donations to the trust fund can be sent to Chester County Angel Trust, DNB First Wealth Management, 410 Exton Square Parkway, Exton, 19341



Gangs, sex trade a growing problem

Indictments didn't surprise some East County residents

by Gary Warth

Many East County residents were alarmed, but not necessarily shocked, earlier this month by the arrest of 22 alleged gang members charged with coercing local schoolgirls into the sex trade.

“It wasn't a surprise to me,” said Christina Hicks, president of the Kempton Elementary School PTA. “Not in Spring Valley. Nothing really surprises me anymore.”

Hicks, who has teenage sons at Steele Canyon High and Parkway Middle School, said she's not very worried about her own children, but is concerned for other families with parents who are not as involved. She also is disappointed that the arrests were not followed by community meetings and forums on how to deal with a growing problem of gangs and sex trafficking.

The once-rural Spring Valley is where metropolitan San Diego starts giving way to the region's backcountry. Urban concerns there have been festering for years yet some residents say they don't have the resources to deal with them.

“I think we get forgotten about a lot, and I think this is why things like this happen,” Hicks said about Spring Valley. “We're not a top priority. I think that if we were La Mesa, La Jolla or North Park, things would look very different.”

Hicks said Spring Valley residents must start working together as a community to protect their children. The growing association between gangs and sex trafficking, however, is hardly unique to East County.

San Diego Deputy District Attorney Mary Ellen Barrett said gang members accounted for more than half of the 68 defendants charged with sex trafficking since January 2013,

“I actually think that it's higher,” she said about gang activity in sex trafficking. “The police will tell you 90 percent.”

In the first major case tying gangs to pimping in the county, 29 Oceanside gang members were indicted on federal human-trafficking chargers in 2011.

Last January, 24 alleged gang members in North Park were indicted on sex-trafficking charges that involved bringing underage girls to other states.

Those cases, like the most recently indictments in East County, were prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly referred to as RICO.

“It's high-reward, low-risk,” Barrett said about why gangs have entered the sex-trade field. “It's all about the money. If you have an amount of meth, you're done after you sell it. If you have a young girl, you can sell her six times a night.”

“It's mind-boggling that it's happening here,” she said. “We're America's finest city. It's beautiful. But there are a number of factors that promote it as a high-prostitution area.”

Multi-state network

In the East County arrests, 19 men and three women were indicted and named members of a hybrid gang known as the Tycoons. According to the indictment, the gang sent young women and girls across state lines to Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and Nevada.

About 100 victims, some as young as 12, were identified during the two-year investigation.

The arrests came with the help of Grossmont Union High School District personnel who have been trained to look for signs of girls being exploited since at least 2009, the year San Diego County was identified by the FBI as a top location for trafficking.

Jenee Littrell, an assistant principal at the district's continuation school Chapall High, has become a nationally recognized figure in the fight against sex trafficking in schools and helped create a booklet on the subject.

“It's to be proactive, and it's for schools that may not understand this phenomenon,” she said about the booklet, which was created with a $25,000 U.S. Department of Education grant and is scheduled for release next month.

Littrell said she couldn't give details about the district's role in helping law enforcement in the recent arrests, but a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office credited school officials and other community members with assisting in the investigation.

“They did not look the other way,” U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said. “They saw signs of trouble, and they reported it. ”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said the investigation began with work from parents and school resource officers. Joe Garcia, interim special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said the arrests were a reminder that community awareness is crucial in identifying victims and exposing perpetrators.

Meeting on gangs

The first joint meeting between the Gang Intervention and Prevention Commission and the San Diego Human Relations Commission is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Jan. 22 at Cherokee Point Elementary School, 3735 38th St., San Diego.

What to look for

Littrell said she interviewed educators in districts across the nation to compile a list of what people should look for to recognize sex trafficking victims.

“The warning signs are pretty common,” she said. “Truancy. Bruising. Tattoos (of money signs or gang names). Multiple cell phones. Certain languages.”

The booklet, “Human Trafficking in America's Schools,” gives more details: An inability to attend school on a regular basis. Sudden possession of expensive items. Frequently running away from home. Frequent travel to other cities. Lack of control over a personal schedule.

Littrell said that as an educator she would not have associated those signs with sex trafficking without advice from law enforcement officials. She stressed that schools must create partnerships outside campuses to work in collaboration in solving the problem.

“It's not a school issue,” she said. “It's a community issue.”

The head of the county's only home for sex-trafficking victims said she has seen gang involvement increase since she opened her doors in south county almost five years ago, when about half of victims said they were involved in gangs.

Today, that amount is closer to 80 percent, said Susan Munsey, founder and executive director of GenerateHope.

Like other pimps before them, gang members sometimes find their victims online or in malls and other areas where young people gather. They often focus on the one girl in a group who doesn't look up because she is shy, Munsey said, adding that the man then often gets close to a victim by “boyfriending.”

“They pretended to be interested in them as a girlfriend,” she said. “They listen to whatever is going on in their life. I've heard more than once from a girl, ‘He'd wipe the tears off my face.' How endearing is that?”

‘Just this once'

Once the trust is in place, the perpetrator might say that he is having some financial difficult and ask his new girlfriend to help him by doing something “just this once,” Munsey said. He then has power over her in many ways, including a threat of ruining her life with photos or videos.

San Diego resident Tiffany Mester, an advocate for sex trafficking victims, has spoken about the tactics that were used by a pimp to lure her into working for him when she was just 13.

“My childhood set me up to be trafficked,” she said in an interview with the U-T earlier this year.

Mester said Child Protective Services took her away from her mom when she was just 5 years old. While living with her father and stepmother, she said she suffered emotional and physical abuse.

While she was living in a transitional home at 14, a 19-year-old man courted Mester in her vulnerable state, eventually winning her over with the love she never felt at home.

But it was all a ploy and Mester spent the next year and a half working for him, trying to fill an ever-increasing quota that reached $1,500 a night.

Mester said the emotional tie with her pimp was hard to break even after his arrest. Munsey said that is typical for victims who experience “trauma bonding,” adding that the bond seems even greater with victims who have worked for gangs.

“They get into these gangs and they begin to feel an allegiance with them,” she said. “And they're less likely to turn them over to the police.”

Federal prosecutor Chris Tenorio said law enforcement began shifting from arresting women for prostitution to seeing them as victims of trafficking around 1990.

“In my experience, we've never come across a victim who came into the business voluntarily,” he said.

Little reaction

The school-gang sex trafficking story was front-page news, but it still didn't reach all of Spring Valley. Several people recently asked about the arrests said they had not heard about them.

Still, signs of gang activity are not hard to miss. Bars cover the windows of many homes on Kempton Street near the elementary school, library and teen center, and graffiti and gang tags are easily spotted on walls, electrical boxes and even palm trees.

A man working at a liquor store, however, said he never sees violence in the community. Another man at a recycling center said the community was a safe place, as long as you know who to avoid.

“That's easy to tell nowadays,” said the man, who identified himself only as David.

Lisa Stewart, PTA president at Monte Vista High in Spring Valley, is frustrated that the community has not responded more to the arrests.

“Why aren't more parents lining up?” she said. “In my neighborhood, a couple of people have tried to put together a Neighborhood Watch. But until someone's house is broken into, people don't want to get involved.”

Barbara Warner, collaborative coordinator with the Spring Valley Youth & Family Coalition, said there is much work to be done in the community to create more awareness of its problems.

“When I heard about this bust going down, part of me was, ‘Yes! We're so glad there's a major event demonstrating this,'” she said. “But part of me is also thinking, ‘Oh man, everybody else in the world is going to think, that's Spring Valley.'”

Cornelius Bowser, a former gang member and a bishop with the Charity Apostolic Church in Santee, said intervention and prevention for both girls and boys is needed to curb the growing problem of gangs and sex trafficking.

“It's a mind game that's happening,” said Bowser, a member of the San Diego Gang Intervention and Prevention Commission. “There are a lot of parts that come into play, and it's easier for men to get caught up in that lifestyle.”



Human trafficking fastest growing crime

by Beth Smith

HENDERSON, Ky. - The U.S. State Department says it's the fastest growing illegal activity in the world.

It's tied with illegal arms dealing, led only by drug trafficking, and generates roughly $1 billion annually.

And when Evansville resident Jathar “Bolder” Williams was arrested by Henderson police in March after allegedly prostituting two teenage girls at hotels along the U.S. 41 strip, it was a reminder that human trafficking can touch any community.

Both Henderson County and federal grand juries have indicted Williams in May on human trafficking charges.

A federal trial has been scheduled for March 23.

“Human trafficking is causing someone to do labor under force, fraud or coercion that financially benefits another person,” said Mike Brown, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the Owensboro field office. Brown is also a regional expert on human trafficking.

“Human trafficking doesn't preclude the victim from making money,” Brown said. “If the victim is actually earning $50, but only receives $20, that's trafficking. You have to look into what a person was promised” versus what they are actually receiving.

Victims of human trafficking are found in restaurants, nail salons, on farms and in domestic situations such as cooks, housekeepers and nannies.

Trafficking victims are very prevalent in the sex industry. In fact, more victims have been identified within the sex trade than in labor trafficking.

There's also a difference between a person being trafficked and an undocumented immigrant.

“A trafficked person believes they are coming here legally and with a future,” Brown said. “They've been lied to. An undocumented immigrant knows they're here illegally, and it's up to them to find a salary.”

At the heart of human trafficking, he said, is a lie — the victim is promised something that isn't delivered.

It's important to note, Brown said, that not every waiter or waitress, nail tech, farmhand and nanny are victims of human trafficking. He said not all victims of human trafficking are from foreign countries, and not all of them are adults or even teenagers.

The Kentucky Rescue and Restore, a coalition of agencies serving victims of human trafficking, said the youngest identified victim of human trafficking in Kentucky was 2 months old.

The infant was used in sex trafficking, according to Marissa Castellanos, human trafficking program manager for Catholic Charities of Louisville.

“What we're seeing is that younger children are being trafficked by caretakers,” she said. “It seems like there's often a connection to drugs. (Caretakers) will rent their child out for a few hours in exchange for drugs ... or they're renting out their child to pay a drug debt. The child is rented out, no questions asked.

“Mostly children (are the victims) of sex trafficking,” Castellanos said.

In Kentucky, child victims of human trafficking have been identified in cases of sexual bondage, domestic servitude, hotel housekeeping, prostitution, dowry marriage, debt bondage and being sold into sexual slavery, according to Kentucky Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking Coalition.

“There's a small percentage of labor cases” involving children, usually, foreign nationals, Castellanos said. When children are involved in labor trafficking, she said, “We don't see those (cases) because the child is kept in a home and not allowed to go to school.”

“Some children are used as drug mules,” Castellanos said. “It's labor trafficking because they are forced to do it. There's a small percentage of American children who are forced to be involved in traveling sales crews.”

Some door-to-door sales crews, who peddle newspapers, magazine subscriptions and DVDs for instance, are “legitimate,” she said. “But some crew bosses target runaways and homeless teens or children.”

In 2013, there were at least 59 identified cases of human trafficking in Kentucky, according to Castellanos. Fifty of those identified victims were children, and 52 of the identified victims were U.S. citizens. Fifty-three of the 59 victims were used in sex trafficking.

The average age of a trafficking victim in Kentucky is 21.

Castellanos said the statistics she compiled have some limitations.

According to the information she provided, “This data is not collected by any one organization/agency where there was a mandated report to ensure all human trafficking cases are documented and tracked. Instead, this data was maintained by Kentucky Rescue and Restore based on the cases served directly by them, media reports and Administrative Office of the Courts reports of human trafficking charges/indictments. Therefore, this data may not capture all identified human trafficking cases in Kentucky for the (2013) time period.

“Many human trafficking cases are never (discovered),” she said. “There are likely many more human trafficking victims that have not yet been identified.”


ISIS, Boko Haram, and the Growing Role of Human Trafficking in 21st Century Terrorism

by Louise Shelley

The intersection of drugs and terrorism has long been investigated. Now, the recent actions of ISIS and Boko Haram are drawing attention to the role of human trafficking.

The list of atrocities committed by ISIS continues to grow, with the latest being a chilling pamphlet that details the organization's policy on treating the women they kidnap and then use as sex slaves. This is the latest account of ISIS's dealings in kidnapping and human trafficking in which they target women and children, often from the minority Yazidi religion, and sell them for as little as $25 or keep them as slaves.

ISIS is not the only terrorist group to engage in kidnapping and trafficking. Just a few days ago, Boko Haram kidnapped 200 villagers and killed dozens more in Nigeria, further terrorizing the already tormented community. Indeed, human trafficking plays a growing role in the operation of 21st-century terrorist organizations.

Several years ago I gave a public lecture on the topic and mentioned a case that is in the first chapter of my new book , Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism. The White Lace Case in Los Angeles involved women from the former USSR trafficked into high-end prostitution. Many of the women arrived in the United States as part of sports and religious delegations. In order to extend their legal residence in the United States, they had to obtain other visas. One of the leaders of this trafficking ring registered the trafficked women as students at a language skills school, thereby obtaining “student visas” for the prostitutes in her organization. The language school did not focus on providing instruction but instead was a visa mill. This same language school also provided visas to the 9/11 hijackers. In other words, the 9/11 hijackers and the trafficking victims shared the same “facilitator.” This facilitator was a point of intersection of crime and terrorism.

When I finished this talk, a government official approached me. He informed me that he was on a task force studying human trafficking and his role was to find the links between trafficking and terrorism. In his months in this position, he had not found a single example such as this. He asked how I found it. I answered that I had gone and talked to many members of law enforcement who through their investigations understood these links.

At that time, pre -9/11, the links were more subtle and had to be hunted down. But this case, already 15 years ago, shows that there were links at that time between human trafficking and terrorist activity even in the United States. Today they are more direct, especially in many conflict regions of the world. Yet policymakers focus nearly all their attention on more visible crime-terrorism links—primarily drug trafficking—and miss the important links between human trafficking and terrorist organizations.

Human trafficking now serves three main purposes for terrorist groups: generating revenue, providing fighting power, and vanquishing the enemy. For terrorists, human trafficking is a dual-use crime like drug trafficking and kidnapping. It not only generates revenue, but it decimates communities. As we see in Nigeria and Iraq today, trafficking intimidates populations and reduces resistance just as enslavement and rape of women were used as tools of war in the past.

Trafficking and smuggling are part of the business of terrorism, and constitute one activity in the product mix of terrorist groups. Terrorists smuggle drugs, arms, and people. Maoist insurgents in Nepal have exploited the long-standing trade of young girls taken from their country to the brothels of India to finance their activities. Evidence suggests that the LTTE smuggled Sri Lankans to finance their activities and the PKK exploited the porous mountain borders in eastern Turkey to facilitate human smuggling from countries in the Middle East and South Asia. Cells of the Ulster Volunteer Force of Northern Ireland received narcotics as payment from Chinese “snakeheads” in support of their smuggling networks. German authorities in 2006 arrested an Iraqi and a Syrian who smuggled individuals from their home region and were suspected of having links with the Ansar al-Islam terrorist network.

While trafficking and smuggling does generate revenue, they are not central money-making endeavors for terrorists and are committed primarily for other reasons. Pakistani terrorists buy children to serve as suicide bombers. Rebels in Africa trade in children to fund their conflicts and obtain child soldiers. More recently, Boko Haram shocked the world by kidnapping 276 female students and threatened to traffic them. ISIS members have taken young Azidi girls, raped and sold them off for trivial prices. The girls and women may sell for as little as $25 and sometimes even less, suggesting that this is not a revenue-generating operation when a million dollars daily is gained from oil sales. Rather, human trafficking, like slavery in the past, is a way of demoralizing the conquered.

Those not in the direct sight of terrorist groups may also become victims of human trafficking, even as they flee to safety. People displaced by terrorists are vulnerable to trafficking—both sexual and labor. Young girls fleeing with their families from the Syrian conflict today have been trafficked in Jordan and other neighboring states, just as occurred with earlier waves of refugees from Iraq. In Turkey, crime groups in border areas are exploiting the labor of Syrian male refugees who cannot find legitimate employment. Many more illegal migrants face labor trafficking in Europe as they flee the conflict regions of North Africa and the Middle East.

Human trafficking was once a crime associated primarily with a range of small to large crime groups. But as terrorist groups begin to function more as businesses, we unfortunately observe the expansion of terrorist groups into this criminality. Historically, conquering armies have seized inhabitants of conquered areas and enslaved them. But what is different is that traditional practices of the past have been combined with the business acumen of terrorist groups today. In their effort to diversify their revenue, they have capitalized on traditional practices to new advantage. Women and children are disproportionately victims, but they are not alone. Exploitation of trafficking victims may be most acute in conflict and adjoining regions, but it is not confined to these areas.

To combat the link between human trafficking and terrorism, we and European allies must prioritize this problem. Unfortunately, almost all attention goes to the drug trafficking-terrorism link without addressing the role that human trafficking plays as a terrorist funding source and a destroyer of communities. This must be added to our national security priorities and those of NATO. But it also must be given much higher priority by non-governmental organizations and peacekeepers who intervene in conflict regions. Moreover, recipient countries of refugees fleeing terrorist conflicts must prioritize anti-trafficking efforts to ensure that traumatized refugees are not subject to further victimization. Support for refugees must include anti-trafficking measures that include targeting traffickers and support to safeguard women and children.

Louise I. Shelley is a professor at George Mason University and director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC). She is the author of Dirty Entanglements: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press) .



Florida Woman Who Filed 28 Fraudulent Reports Of Child Abuse Says She Did It ‘To Create Havoc'

A Florida woman who was arrested late last month for filing 28 fraudulent reports of child abuse against two households is currently still in custody, according to Florida public records. Jessica Elizabeth Combs was arrested by Bonifay police officers and charged with 28 counts of “False Report(s) of Child Abuse,” which are third-degree felonies, according to the Jackson County Floridian . Combee told the Bonifay police that she made the fraudulent claims “to create havoc.”

Combee, 38, began making fraudulent claims of child abuse against two specific households in August. Bonifay Police Chief Chris Wells told the press that on some days, each household would get multiple abuse reports filed against them through the Florida Abuse Registry. The police began looking into the false reports in October, after no child abuse or neglect was found in either home. Though tips can be anonymous, given the suspicion of fraudulent reports, the Florida Department of Children and Families provided details that led to investigators acquiring subpoenas for records from internet providers. Investigators were then able to determine that the false child abuse reports had all been filed by Combee, according to the Chipley Paper .

“This is just one example of how people use the ‘system' to carry out their agenda against whomever they felt has done them wrong,” Chief Wells explained. “The time and effort spent by law enforcement and DCF investigating these false reports could have been better used helping others who were really in need. I hope that this case will get the attention of others who might think twice before reporting something they know to be untruthful.”

Combee was held in the Holmes County Jail on $28,000 bond. Combee apparently has a history of arrests, including a battery charge from 2002 and a probation violation in 2011, according to arrest records. Combee was booked into Florida jail cells on multiple other drug-related charges in the last two decades, according to arrest records. In 2007, Combee was apparently charged with a separate offense of filing a false report. Combee is currently in the custody of the Washington County Jail.

Some may remember another woman who made numerous false reports from a previous Inquisitr report. A British woman allegedly fraudulently accused men of rape 11 separate times. Her alleged habit of compulsively making false claims landed her in jail, after the last allegation was made against a man who officials said she simply “did not like anymore.”



Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) helps abused children be kids again

by Taylor Thompson

MONROE -- Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) is an international organization aimed at helping abused children get back to being kids again.

The president of the group's Delta Chapter, Marcus Ward, says,"We exist as a body of bikers to empower children to not feel afraid of the world in which they live."

Ward says he joined BACA because he wanted to do something for the abused kids he saw working as a therapist.

"When I found Bikers Against Child Abuse, I thought maybe there are people out there making a difference. Maybe I can help be that difference," says Ward.

BACA acts a support group for the kids. The bikers say they provide types of therapy to make the kids feel safe again.

The bikers do everything from providing toys to the children to supporting them in court when they testify against their abusers.

Although the bikers are committed to helping children in need, they say the job can sometimes be dangerous.

"In other chapters, we've had bikers shot on the road, or the perpetrator has driven by and fired shots while we were at the kid's house," says Ward.

Ward says making a child's life better is worth the risk.

"No matter what we might go through, its nothing compared to what these kids go through," says Ward.

BACA says its a victory when children feel safe because abusers are locked up and unable to hurt them anymore.

"If we can get involved and help get him put away, we can help reverse what happened to that child and prevent it from happening to future children," says Ward.

For more information on Bikers Against Child Abuse, visit their website or contact the Delta BACA Chapter by phone at (318) 278-5108 or mail at P.O. Box 56 Ruston, LA 71273.



Adopt-a-family helps 70 survivors of domestic violence

Story courtesy of Family Violence Prevention Center of Greene County

XENIA — The Family Violence Prevention Center coordinated a successful giving program for seventy survivors and their children this Christmas. The program supported by charitable donors in the Miami Valley provides relief, joy and hope for mothers and children as well as individual women temporarily seeking safety and support in the safe house in Xenia.

While the holidays can provide joyful occasions to celebrate the love of family and friends, it is not always this way for the families and individuals FVPC serves. It can be a very frightening, lonely and difficult time when violence disrupts a family. As the Adopt-A-Family program was beginning in the fall, one of the mothers in the safe house busily and regretfully explained to her counselor that she had to cancel her layaway for this coming Christmas because with her new job, she was spending a lot more on gas and would not realistically be able to afford the Christmas gifts for her children.

The center tucked this information away with hope that she would receive a surprise for her family- that she would be helped by the kindness of others.

The community members that were unknown to the families represented church groups, families, friends, businesses and individuals thinking of others during the holiday season. Many of the groups have been doing it for many years and share that they look forward to it each year. This act of true kindness will help raise the survivors' spirits and provide a reason to believe in the goodness of others and provide hope for their own future.

FVPC appreciates the community for their support, dedication and efforts during this eventful time of the year. It is a positive time at the center with children anticipating the magic of the season and the adults knowing that they can focus on goals of safety, housing, employment and healing.

Generosity is also evident as FVPC has been receiving numerous donations of general wish list items that keep the safe house and other supportive services operating such as paper products, pantry items and toiletries.

Get help

If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone that is, please contact your local police department, or the Family Violence Prevention Center of Greene County. Please do not close your eyes to the violence. If you believe that the abuse will stop without help, you're wrong. Statistics show that over time the abuse gets worse.

Family Violence Prevention Center of Greene County has a comprehensive range of services to help protect victims and provide the support services necessary to rebuild their lives through our holistic approach of Prevention, Intervention, Safe Housing, and Outreach. Broadly, those services include a 24-Hour Crisis Hotline, safe housing, children and youth services, community advocacy, counseling, education and training. The mission of the Family Violence Prevention Center is to reduce family and relationship violence and its impact in Greene County through prevention, intervention, safe-housing and collaborative community programs.

For more informationcontact Harmony Byrd, Community Relations Coordinator; Family Violence Prevention Center of Greene County at 937-376-8526.



Some Hopeful Bill Allowing Young Sex Abuse Victims To Secretly Record Abusers Will Pass

by Sascha Cordner

(Audio on site)

At least one lawmaker has followed through on an abuse survivor's vow to make sure legislation was filed to allow young victims to use private recordings in sex abuse cases. It follows a recent Florida Supreme Court ruling that will now allow a man convicted of abusing his stepdaughter to get a new trial, after she taped an incriminating conversation without his consent.

The Case

The case revolves around a girl, who at 16, privately recorded a conversation between herself and her stepfather Richard McDade.

According to the court documents—while he didn't use sexually explicit language, he “appeared to be asking her to have sex with him.” And, if she didn't, he'd be “physically sick.” He also indicated that he was doing her a favor by not telling her mother, otherwise the victim would be taken back to Mexico.

And, reading from the brief, sex abuse survivor Lauren Book says there are so many other things wrong with this case, including the fact that McDade was an ice cream truck driver who had ready access to kids.

“Even so, in the beginning, when you start reading, red flags all over the place. Never had sex or intercourse with his wife….the wife admittedly did not believe her daughter, brought her to a doctor. The doctor did not report the suspected abuse. Two members of the clergy from her church did not report the abuse. How many times was this young girl going to be denied justice,” asked Lauren Book.

The Decision

For six years until she was 16-years-old, Book survived the abuse of her nanny. Since then, she's been a victim's advocate, holding events and working with lawmakers to help abuse victims. And, the 2015 legislative session will be no different, especially she says after the Supreme Court decision.

In it, the justices agreed they couldn't allow the girl's evidence against her stepfather because it would create an exception to Florida's two-party consent rule, and they said that's ”a matter for the Legislature.”

And, with no DNA or physical evidence to support the victim's claims, the case hinged on the recorded conversation.

“You know, it's a truly horrific decision,” said Book. “While I can understand, I'm just so disappointed in the ruling. We should all be disappointed in that ruling, but we'll work very, very hard with our Legislature to create the change so that this young girl and others can find justice.”

The Legislation

Among those lawmakers Book is working with is Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Coral Springs). He recently filed the House bill creating an exemption that allows victims age 16 or younger to use secret recordings as evidence in court.

“Technology has changed,” said Moskowitz. “The reason we're having this conversation is the statute was written in a time when people didn't have a tiny recording device in their pocket. And, now that children—some as young as the age of nine and 10 you see with cell phones—why don't we use these devices to help protect them that could put their offender away? A lot of times these things become ‘he said, she said,' and no one believes the kid. An adult comes in and says it's not true. Nobody believes the child, and this will be incontrovertible evidence that a jury will be able to weigh.”

While he hasn't yet encountered any opponents to the bill, Moskowitz says he may anticipate some resistance—though the bill is bipartisan in nature.

“I wanted to pull a bill forward that addressed this particular instance so that you could minimize potential First Amendment argument that opponents of a bill like this would make: that we're infringing on their First Amendment. Well, my attitude all of the rights that you're granted have a limitation, and if you're going to abuse a child, you lose your First Amendment right,” he added.

And, he adds while the bill for now centers around a certain age group, he sees it as sort of a pilot.

“A lot of times it's easier to get something on the books and then test it, and then expand the scope of it going further,” stated Moskowitz. “So, if the Legislature wants to expand it to all sexual abuse victims no matter the age, they can do that.”

Meanwhile, Book indicated that in addition to Moskowitz, she's also working with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) and former Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Fort Myers) on this bill.

And, Book says she would love to reach out to the girl involved in this case.

“We want also respect her privacy, but as we prepare for the walk, this is a young girl who we, of course, want to empower to have her voice heard and to feel that there are people out there who love and care about her, and believe in the things that she has to share about. You know, my abuse was very similar to hers in that I was 10-years-old until age 16 every day. And, so I want to ensure that she knows she's not alone, and so, that is something that we would look forward to,” said Book.

On top of pursuing some other legislation, Book says she's also preparing for her sixth annual 1,500 mile “Walk In My Shoes” journey across the state to help spread awareness and help survivors heal. It starts at the Southernmost point in Key West on March 14th end will end on the steps of the Old Capitol building in Tallahassee on April 22nd.



Sheldon Kennedy Appointed to the Order of Canada

Retired NHL player recognized for his dedication to raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse

CALGARY, ALBERTA -- His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, announced today that Sheldon Kennedy has been named a Member of the Order of Canada for "his courageous leadership in raising awareness of childhood sexual abuse and his continued efforts to prevent abuse in schools, sports and communities."

Mr. Kennedy is among 95 new appointments to the Order of Canada. The Order, one of country's highest civilian honours, was established in 1967, during Canada's centennial year, to recognize outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation.

Mr. Kennedy has become an inspiration and advocate to millions of child abuse survivors around the world following his own announcement that he endured abuse for a period of five years under the care of his Major Junior Hockey League coach. Using his recognition as a platform for change, Mr. Kennedy has become a committed, outspoken child advocate with a mission to shed light on the hard issues, while uniting the public in an effort to influence positive change around child protection.

"Receiving the Order of Canada is a great honour and it is humbling to be recognized by my country," says Sheldon Kennedy. "For me this recognition isn't just about the work that's been done, but about the work that still needs to be done. We still have a tough road ahead of us and this is an opportunity to bring solution focused conversations to the national level."

Today, Mr. Kennedy dedicates much of his time to the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (SKCAC), where he is Lead Director. The SKCAC is leading the way in child abuse intervention, treatment, investigation, training and research. The Centre uses an innovative, collaborative, child-first approach that provides hope and healing to the children who come through their doors.

"On behalf of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre Board of Directors, we are very proud of Sheldon for his leadership and courageous tenacity," said Debra Mauro, Board Co-Chair. "Sheldon volunteers his time and works tirelessly to ensure these critical issues are being addressed at the local, provincial, national and international levels. We are so blessed to have him not only on our Board, but as the namesake of the Centre."

Mr. Kennedy is also the co-founder of Respect Group, which delivers education in the areas of bullying, abuse, harassment, and discrimination for youth serving and sport organizations, schools, and the workplace. Respect Group has certified over 500,000 adults and has armed them with the prevention education needed to deal with difficult issues. Through this work, Mr. Kennedy has been able to carry his message outside Canada's borders to the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Senate.

Sheldon Kennedy will receive his insignia at a ceremony to be held at a later date.

For more information on the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre please visit:

For more information on Respect Group, please visit:

About the Order of Canada

Established in 1967 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Order of Canada is the cornerstone of the Canadian Honours System, and recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. For more information about the Order of Canada or to nominate someone, visit



Legislature to dig into child abuse cases


Editor's note: Before the Texas Legislature is back in session on Jan. 13, AGN Media is taking a close look at issues that, though they may not necessarily pass, are expected to get the lawmakers' attention.

AUSTIN — The Texas Legislature is back in session in mid-January and, as it happens every two years when they meet for 140 days, the lawmakers will have a long list of pressing issues to tackle.

Although school finance, transportation funding, health care needs, border security and the growing demand for more sources of water top the list, it looks like the lawmakers will also have to deal with other perennial problems.

One of them will likely be child abuse and
neglect-related deaths. The likelihood the Legislature will pay more attention than usual to this matter became evident earlier this year.

First, House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the presiding officer of the Senate, added it to the long list of interim charges, issues the lawmakers take an in-depth look at the year before they are back in session.

“The death of even one child due to abuse or neglect is unacceptable,” Straus said after announcing the creation of a committee whose mission was to recommend to the Legislature what must be done to address the problem.

In all, three committees held separate public hearings aimed at figuring out what to do to decrease the annual number youngsters who perish because of abuse and/or neglect.

This is because of the of the 804 child deaths reported in Texas last year, 156 — or roughly one in five — were due to child abuse or neglect.

Of those 156 fatalities, 59 percent were due to neglect and 41 percent to abuse, Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner John Specia told the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. Abuse-related deaths are caused mainly by blunt force trauma, stabbing or suffocation while neglect includes drowning, unsafe sleep or medical inattention.

State Rep. John Frullo, who sits on the House Select Committee on Child Abuse, a nine-member panel Straus appointed in the spring, said he and his colleagues listened to scores of witnesses and they will be ready to tackle this problem when they are back in session.

“We want to make sure that we are doing everything we can with the resources that we have to protect our children,” Frullo, R-Lubbock, said. “Alcohol and drugs play a big part on what's going on.

The committee met four times and in the first public hearing chairwoman Dawnna Dukes made it just as clear this is a problem the Legislature is committed to tackle.

The Sunset Advisory Commission, a panel of five House members, five senators and two appointed private citizens, also looked into the issue and, like the House committee, is also expected to issue recommendations to the entire Legislature.

A Sunset staff report released in May made it equally clear that the Legislature must do something major to take on child abuse and neglect in Texas.

This includes drastically changing how the Department of Family Protective Services — the beleaguered agency that oversees Child Protective Services — operates.

“While it may not be catchy or exciting, DFPS simply needs to do a better job of planning, communicating, listening, and managing its people so that it can carry out its critical mission more effectively,” the 118-page report says in its summary. “The agency needs to roll up its sleeves and get down to the mundane business of effective management, long lost in a culture of addressing every problem that pops up with a new policy or initiative.”

Though it remains to be seen who will file what bill and whether the Legislature approves any major reforms, State Rep. Four Price — vice chairman of the Sunset panel — said the group will recommend merging the Department of Family Protective Services and four other health agencies.

“This is a starting point,” Price, R-Amarillo, said about the proposal.

“We want to consolidate these five agencies into one,” Price explained. “It would give tremendous flexibility to the agency to sort of organize itself in a way that would make it more responsive and more efficient and provide better service and it will eliminate some of the blurred lines of accountability that are there now.”

However, even if the Legislature approves the Sunset Commission's recommendation, it will be more than a year before the merger occurs.

In the meantime, the Department of Family Protective Services must continue with its objective of providing the type of services the public expects, some legislators said.

For starters, John J. Specia, Jr., the Department of Family and Protective Services commissioner, promised major changes at CPS.

Over the years, CPS has been characterized by high turnover and low morale due mainly to low pay and heavy workloads.

Lubbock County Medical Examiner Sridhar Natarajan, who testified in the last committee hearing, said the number of child abuse cases he has seen in West Texas, including rural counties, are no worse than those in other regions of the state.

“They are probably about the same with the types of deaths we see,” Natarajan said in an interview after listening to most of the 31 other witnesses who testified before him.

Nonetheless, he was encouraged by what he heard, Natajaran said.

Here is the number of annual deaths since 2009:

Year --Deaths

2009 -- 280

2010 -- 227

2011 -- 231

2012 -- 212

2013 -- 156

Source: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services


South Carolina

Hundreds Search for Jayden Morrison, Autistic 4-Year-Old Missing in South Carolina

Hundreds of volunteers have joined the search for a missing 4 year-old autistic boy who disappeared while visiting his grandparents for Christmas in South Carolina. Jayden Morrison, who does not speak, was last seen in red pajamas at his grandmother's house on Christmas Eve in Little River, near Myrtle Beach.

Police, K9 units, dive teams and volunteers have combed a five to 10-mile radius, including wooded areas and bodies of water, in search of Jayden. A few leads — including scraps found in wood and red cloth — have been found in the search, officials told NBC News affiliate WMBF. Lt. Raul Denis, from the Horry County Police Department, told WMBF that authorities have not ruled out the possibility abduction.

Horry County Fire and Rescue confirmed to to WMBF that Jayden's family is from New York, so the area is unfamiliar territory for the child. Jayden's father, Andre Morrison, traveled to South Carolina to join Jayden's mother, Tabatha Morrison, in the search efforts as soon as he heard the news of his son's disappearance, WMBF reported.



Strength in solidarity - Advocates refuse to let victims stand alone

by Austin Harrington

It takes a strong person to be there for someone in his or her time of need.

At the Council on Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, or CSADV, volunteer advocates provide that strength.

The CSADV is an organization that provides support, advocacy and a safe environment to empower adults and children, who have experienced domestic violence and/or sexual assault.

CSADV is based out of Sioux City, but Cathy Van Maanen runs a satellite office in Le Mars and is Plymouth County's outreach coordinator.

Part of Van Maanen's responsibilities include training CSADV advocates.

An advocate is a person who volunteers his or her time to help someone who has survived sexual assault and/or domestic violence.

This could mean going with survivors to a hospital, police station, court or any place they may need support, Van Maanen said.

"To have a knowledgeable person, who can support them through all of those processes, can make a world of difference," she said.

Having an advocate walk beside them can make it easier for survivors to cope with the situation, Van Maanen said.

Two different types of volunteers work with the CSADV.

They are referred to as indirect volunteers and direct volunteers.

Indirect volunteers do fundraising and office work, but never directly work with survivors.

Direct volunteers are those who work one-on-one with victims.

To become a direct volunteer, a person must take a 40-hour training course, provided free of cost by CSADV, to become certified as an advocate for victims of domestic violence.

Advocates undergo much of the same training she and the rest of the CSADV staff went through, Van Maanen said.

"That's important, both for that volunteer to feel comfortable in what they're doing and for the survivor to know that the person coming to support them is well-educated and prepared," Van Maanen said.

Becoming an advocate takes a certain type of person, and the work isn't for everyone, Van Maanen said.

"An advocate really needs to have a good handle on their biases and have a very good understanding of what empowerment means," she said.

Van Maanen describes empowerment as providing information and support to survivors, while encouraging them to make the best decisions they can for themselves, without judgment.

"Then, we can walk with that person through the benefits of their decisions or if there's any consequences of their decisions, then we're going to walk with them through that as well," Van Maanen said.

Going through difficult periods with a person can take an emotional toll on an advocate.

"We see some of the very unhelpful and unfair things that happen to survivors, such as losing their job because their abuser harasses them at work or the survivor who gets arrested because she fought back," Van Maanen said.

Seeing some of the unjust things that happen to people reminds her society has taken a lot of strides in the movement, but has a long way to go, she said.

"This is not easy work to do," Van Maanen said. "Our volunteers are treasures."

Many people who become advocates are people who have been through similar situations, according to Van Maanen.

In fact, that's how she got started.

Several years ago, when Van Maanen was working with law enforcement to have her own "abuser" arrested, she met a person who changed her life.

"Law enforcement put me in touch with an advocate and I was just so impressed by how she did what she did, how she empowered me," Van Maanen said. "I knew right then, 'that's what I want to do.'"

Van Maanen has been working as an advocate for 19 years.

"I can't think of anything more rewarding. This has been my calling, obviously," Van Maanen said.

In the last two years, Iowa has attempted to separate the state into regions for sexual assault and domestic violence services. The two services have been separated as well.

As a part of that, the CSADV in Le Mars now shares its building with another advocacy group fighting for the same cause.

Courtney McCrellias is an advocate for the Center Against Abuse and Sexual Assault, or CAASA.

She has been working as the sexual assault advocate for Plymouth County since August.

CAASA works very closely with CSADV to provide services for local survivors, McCrellias said.

Even though she had only been an advocate since August, McCrellias said she has known this was her calling since she worked as a volunteer.

"While I was going to college, I volunteered for an organization on campus that taught sexual assault and domestic violence awareness," McCrellias said.

She said her time working in Le Mars and Plymouth County has been very rewarding.

"It's a small town, but it still has everything you need and the people are really friendly and welcoming," McCrellias said.

To become an advocate for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault contact Van Maanen and the CSADV at 546-6764.


New York

It's Time to Bring Domestic Violence Survivors Like Barbara Sheehan Home from Prison

As governors mull clemency, battered women should be at the top of the list.

by Victoria Law

“This will be my grandson's first Christmas,” said Barbara Sheehan, a 53-year-old from Queens, New York. Her grandson is 10 months old and just learning to stand. But Sheehan won't be celebrating with him. Instead, she will spend the holiday at Albion Correctional Facility in upstate New York, forty-eight miles from the Canadian border. That is, unless New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is struck by the holiday spirit and grants her clemency.

For twenty-five years, Sheehan was terrorized by her husband, Raymond. The terror included physical beatings and frequent threats to kill her and their two children. In February 2008, when her husband pointed a gun at her, Sheehan shot him first. Acquitted of murder, she was convicted of firearms possession and sentenced to five years in prison. Now she is petitioning for clemency.

State governors have the power to grant clemency to people in prison. Clemency can take the form of a pardon, which allows a conviction to be set aside, or a commutation, which allows a person to be considered for parole earlier than the date imposed by their sentence. Christmas is traditionally when governors demonstrate compassion by granting clemency to people whose cases or circumstances they find compelling—and many of the battered women behind bars have compelling cases. Many suffered years of escalating violence at the hands of their loved ones before the moment when it was kill or be killed. Then, they find themselves attacked by a legal system that questions, downplays or outright denies their experiences, the same system that often failed to come to their aid during those years of abuse. For all too many, the end of their partner abuse means the start of a lengthy prison sentence.

This year has seen heightened attention to domestic violence, sparked by the leaked video of football player Ray Rice knocking his fiancée, Janay, unconscious in an elevator and leading to reminders of the prevalence of domestic violence throughout the country. The high-profile case of Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother imprisoned for firing a warning shot to stop her husband's assault, has further illustrated how the legal system continues to abuse women who have survived domestic violence. As the country begins to grapple with just how pervasive domestic abuse remains, and how inadequate the response by those in power, isn't it time that governors show their compassion by granting clemency to battered women behind bars?

There is a history, if relatively brief and fragmented, of governors showing compassion to imprisoned domestic violence survivors. In the 1990s, thirty-four abuse survivors in California petitioned then-governor Pete Wilson for clemency. Wilson only granted clemency to three, but outside advocates organized to push for the release of other survivors through petitions for clemency, habeas corpus and parole changes. Since then, approximately fifty other women have gained their freedom through their efforts.

More recently, between 1999 and 2010, Missouri governors granted clemency to eleven incarcerated survivors. These clemencies came after years of organizing by the Missouri Battered Women's Clemency Coalition, made up of domestic violence advocates, law students, law professors, and childhood friends of incarcerated survivors. These efforts included passing a law in 2007 that enables women convicted of murdering their spouses to apply for parole if they had served at least fifteen years in prison, had no prior felonies and had histories of “substantial physical abuse or sexual domestic violence.” That statute allowed 55-year-old Vicky Williams, 65-year-old Roberta Carlene Borden and 57-year-old Ruby Jamerson to be paroled in 2010.

In the most dramatic instances, governors have granted clemency to a relatively large number of battered women at once. In 1990, Ohio governor Richard Celeste granted clemency to twenty-five battered women behind bars in one fell swoop. In 1991, Maryland Governor William Schaefer granted clemency to eight. Why, then, are other governors unwilling to follow suit?

One reason may be governors' reluctance to be seen as “soft on crime” coupled with the continued lack of understanding around domestic violence, self-defense and incarceration. No agency keeps track of how many survivors are imprisoned for abuse-related crimes, whether they acted in self-defense or were coerced into illegal activity by an abusive partner. In 1999, the US Department of Justice found that over half of women in local jails and state prisons have experienced abuse before their arrests. That was the last nationwide survey released by a governmental agency.

Barbara Sheehan is one of these women. She was a high-school student in Queens when she met Raymond Sheehan, then a college student, at a church event. It was 1979. They dated briefly, but Sheehan was turned off by his possessiveness. “He wanted me to call him and let him know where I was right after school,” she recalled during a phone call from prison. “I thought, ‘I'm too young for this' and broke up with him.” Reflecting back thirty-five years later, she added, “I should have left it that way.”

They met again a few years later at a wake for a mutual friend and began dating. They married two years later, in 1983. Raymond Sheehan became a sergeant with the New York Police Department, a position that he used to terrorize his wife for the next twenty-five years.

“It started with pushing or shoving,” she explained. Her husband always apologized afterwards, bringing flowers and gifts, promising never to do it again. After their second child was born in 1990, the physical violence began. “At first, he hit me where people couldn't see—my back, my upper arms, my upper legs,” she recalled. “Then he started giving me black eyes. Then he started hitting me in front of other people.”

Their now-adult daughter, Jennifer Joyce, remembers a childhood marked by her father's violence. When she was 10, she walked into the living room to find him holding her mother, face-down, on the floor. She often saw him punch her mother or hit her in the face while he was driving. “I remember the car swerving while he was hitting her,” she described. But no one dared call the police. “He'd say, ‘You can't call the police. I am the police.' He would remind us of this all the time,” she explained. Even after Raymond Sheehan retired from the police force in 2002, he carried two guns with him at all times.

“He would continually tell me that he knew how to do the perfect crime, that he could make it look like an accident or he'd make me disappear. Because he had worked for the crime scene unit, he knew what they looked for. I knew he could do it, too,” Sheehan recounted.

In 2007, while vacationing in Jamaica, Raymond Sheehan beat his wife so badly that she had to go to the hospital for stitches. “We had to wrap towels around my head because there was blood everywhere,” Sheehan recalled. That was when she realized that, if she didn't leave, he would kill her.

On February 18, 2008, when her husband pointed his gun at her, she has said knew that time had come: he was going to kill her. Sheehan ran into their bedroom and shot him with the gun he kept there. He fell, dropping his gun. When she saw him reaching for the gun he had dropped, she picked it up and shot him again. She was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and criminal possession of a firearm.

In 2011, Sheehan was acquitted of murder and the use of one gun. She was convicted of using the second gun and sentenced to five years in prison. Both Sheehan and her daughter hope that Cuomo will grant her clemency, allowing her to reunite with her children—and Sheehan's first grandson—sooner.

Sheehan is not the only domestic violence survivor hoping for clemency this year, in New York State and elsewhere. At least three other incarcerated survivors in New York have submitted petitions for clemency. In Missouri, inspired by the Missouri Battered Women's Clemency Coalition, domestic violence advocates, law professors, attorneys, law students, and past and present lawmakers formed the Community Coalition for Clemency to fight for clemency for fourteen other incarcerated survivors.

“All of our clients have different stories with a very similar theme,” explained coalition member Anne Geraghty Rathert, an associate professor of Legal Studies and the director of the WILLOW (Women Initiate Legal Lifelines to Other Women) Project at Webster University. “No one—no family member, no police, no one in the justice system—helped them get out of situations where they were being controlled and brutalized.”

Nearly all of the women have spent at least a decade in prison. Three are in their fifties, four in their sixties, and Verdia Miller, who has spent thirty years in prison and is not eligible for parole for another eighteen, is 72.

Barbara Sheehan has spent one and a half years in prison. Although a shorter length of time than many others have served, she and her family are hoping this December will mark her last one there. “It feels like it's been so long, and to know that she'll be gone so much longer is hard,” said Jennifer Joyce, Barbara's daughter. She and her son have only been able to visit Sheehan three times since his birth. “It would mean the world to us if she could come home early.”

Since taking office, Cuomo has granted pardons to three men who had already finished their prison sentences. He has yet to grant clemency to anyone currently in prison. In contrast, his father Mario Cuomo granted thirty-seven clemencies. Republican George Pataki granted thirty-two, David Patterson granted thirty-eight and Spitzer, before unceremoniously leaving office, granted one. Of these, only two have ever gone to battered women imprisoned for self-defense—Charlene Brundidge in 1996 and Linda White in 2002.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo has branded himself as pro-woman, introducing a Women's Equality Act, which ostensibly strengthens protections against domestic violence. He even started a Women's Equality Party so that women “can make their voice heard,” he said this fall. But if Cuomo really wants to prove that he is pro-woman, and lead the way for other governors, he could do so by granting clemency to Barbara Sheehan and other battered women, allowing them to spend the holiday season with their families.


Child abuse linked to increased risk of migraine in adulthood

Each year, more than 6 million children in the US are the victims of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.

by Honor Whiteman

Past studies have indicated that children who are neglected or abused are at increased risk of numerous emotional and medical problems as adults. Now, a new study finds that such children are more likely to experience migraine than tension headache in adulthood.

The research team - including Dawn C. Buse, PhD, director of behavior at the Montefiore Headache Center and associate professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in New York - publish their findings in the journal Neurology.

Past studies have indicated that abused children are likely to experience frequent headache. But the researchers note that such studies have not investigated this association by headache subtype.

"Other pioneering studies support the association but are limited by the nature of their samples (i.e. subspecialty headache centers), incomplete characterization of headache subtypes or limited assessment of adverse childhood experiences," note the authors.

In their study, Buse and colleagues wanted to test the idea that adults who are abused during childhood are more likely to experience migraine than less severe episodic tension-type headache.

The researchers assessed data from 9,734 adults who were part of the American Migraine Prevalence and Prevention Study. Of these, 8,305 adults experienced migraine and 1,429 experienced tension headache.

In 2007, participants were required to complete the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, which disclosed their history of three types of childhood maltreatment: emotional abuse (intentionally doing or saying things to harm a child), emotional neglect (failing to do things that promote a child's emotional well-being, either intentionally or unintentionally) and sexual abuse.

Emotional abuse linked to 33% higher risk of migraine than tension headache

The team found that 24.5% of participants with migraine had suffered emotional abuse during childhood, while 21.5% of those with tension headache had experienced such abuse.

Overall, subjects who experienced emotional abuse before the age of 18 were 33% more likely to have migraine than tension headache as an adult. This finding remained even after the researchers accounted for participants' age, sex, race, depression and anxiety, and household income.

Furthermore, the team found that subjects who experienced two forms of abuse during childhood were 50% more likely to have migraine in adulthood than those who experienced one form of abuse.

Although researchers found an increased risk of migraine in adulthood among participants who had experienced emotional neglect or sexual abuse as a child, these subjects were at no higher risk once depression and anxiety were taken into account.

Commenting on the findings, Buse says, "Childhood maltreatment can have long-lasting effects like associated medical and psychological conditions, including migraine, in adulthood. When managing patients with migraine, neurologists should take childhood maltreatment into consideration."

In an accompanying editorial, B. Lee Peterlin, of the Department of Neurology at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore, MD, says the findings from Buse and colleagues are an "important contribution to advancing our understanding of the association between adverse childhood experiences and headache disorders."

"In particular," she adds, "it highlights the importance of identification of adverse childhood experiences in both migraine and tension-type-headache participants as this can help guide treatment strategies and future research."

In June 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry claiming child abuse "has serious consequences for brain development."



Child-abuse victims heal in Kids House

by Brian Schmitz

Mara was reliving a nightmare.

She had been molested in her youth. Now 39, she was dealing with the unimaginable: Her 14-year-old daughter had been sexually "violated" by a close friend of the family, she said.

Mara found strength and support for her daughter at Kids House, a Wayne Densch Children's Advocacy Center in Sanford which is supported by the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund.

After a year and a half, her daughter recently completed an extensive counseling program with therapist Cherilyn Rowland Petrie.

"We reached out to Kids House, looking for direction and to get some help. It was very respectful, and my daughter felt she was in a safe place," said Mara, whose real name is being not being used in accordance with Orlando Sentinel policy not to identify sexual-assault victims. "It definitely was a rocky road, but the whole set-up was fantastic."

The house on Ronald Reagan Boulevard looks as if it were lifted out of a child's coloring book, painted in yellow with a sign in red, purple and green.

Inside, the lobby has colorful murals, a Christmas tree in the corner and toys in a play area accessible to kids arriving for assessment or treatment.

Mara said she'd recommend the program to any family dealing with a similar situation based on her daughter's progress.

"We didn't expect it to happen so soon," said Mara, who lives in Seminole County with her three children and her husband.

"She's learned more about herself, established a voice for herself. … I was a young girl when it happened to me and as horrible as my experience was, this was a learning process for me to try to help her."

Mara's daughter is one of approximately 2,000 children served by Kids House each year.

Unfortunately, the cases pour in and the place is busy, as are many similar ones in the country.

There are more than 3 million reports of child maltreatment every year in the United States and more than four children die every day as a result of child abuse, according to studies cited by Kids House.

Kids House has established community partnerships with various entities, from law enforcement to area hospitals.

As grim as the cases can be, there are success stories: An infant violently shaken by his father has permanent injuries, but he is progressing. A 4-year-old girl, unable to talk to anyone after being sexually assaulted by her grandfather, has slowly recovered. And a teenage girl — raped and impregnated by her stepfather — has been healing after graduating from the Kids House program.

Mara knows all about helping others. She works at the Beta House in Orlando, a nonprofit organization focusing on parenting, teen moms and at-risk families.

As in Mara's case, she found Rowland Petrie — a therapist at Kids House since 2007 — to be a godsend.

"We have to get the child's trust. We want them to believe we can help them and treat them with care without pushing them too hard," said Rowland Petrie, one of three full-time therapists at Kids House.

"A lot of the kids don't realize they were manipulated or taken advantage of. We teach them not to blame themselves. They are dealing with difficult memories developed from awful experiences. Every child has to go at their own pace."

Watching the children progress after these experiences makes the job worthwhile for the case workers and counselors.

Jennifer Napier, director of Kids House, was a police dispatcher before she started as a volunteer at the child-advocacy center.

"I was calm and could handle the 911 calls. I'd be on the line with a woman suffering domestic abuse, but I never knew what happened to that woman," Napier said. "Here I can see the results. I think it was my calling."

Says Rowland Petrie, "Being able to watch the children heal is the best part for all of us, to see them whole and happy again."

How you can help

Thousands of children and families throughout Central Florida need your help this holiday season.

Contributions to the Orlando Sentinel Family Fund Holiday Campaign provide basic needs such as a hot meal, a place to sleep, or after-school tutoring and literacy programs to youth year-round.

All administrative costs are paid by the Family Fund and the McCormick Foundation, which contributes 50 cents for every dollar donated.

You can charge a donation to a credit card by calling 1-800-518-3978. Or go online at Questions? Call 407-420-570



Appeals Court Finds 30 Years Too Much in Child Abuse Conviction

LAKE CHARLES, La. (AP) - A state appeals court says 30 years in prison is too much for a first conviction for child abuse.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal ordered Judge Clayton Davis to re-sentence 32-year-oldJamie Brooks Day, of Lake Charles. A jury convicted her a year ago of second-degree cruelty to a juvenile.

Prosecutors tell the American Press they will appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

The boy was 9 years old and weighed 38 pounds when he was brought to a hospital in 2010. He testified that - among other things - Day burned him, let him eat only grits, ramen noodles and rice, and made him eat his own feces.

The defense argued that the boy refused to eat and injured himself.



When a child confides in you about sexual abuse

What would you do if a six-year-old confided in you about sexual abuse? A handler's guide for parents, teachers and guardians about negotiating the emotional landmine.

by Anita Sarkar

Early in December, Antop Hill cops registered a case of sexual assault in which a five-year-old accused her classmate.

While a case was registered, and investigations at Sion hospital proved that there had been sexual abuse, the accused was not booked since he was under seven years old. The minimum age criteria under the Indian Penal Code in which a person can be booked for sexual assault is seven.

There has been an alarming increase in the number of sexual assault cases involving children, both as victim and perpetrator. Childline India Foundation, which is supported by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, has received about 250 cases from within Mumbai this year. While the 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) has laid down regulations on how to interrogate both, underage victims and accused, experts say small measures on behalf of parents and counsellors can make a difference to the survivor's mental health.

Observe the child
Psychologists say that children are rarely able to understand or communicate their feelings when faced with sexual abuse. Signs of trauma - sudden tantrum, mood swings, changed sleeping habits, loss of appetite, refusal to attend school or a class they used to like earlier - tend to show up.

"Don't confront the child or ask them to recount the experience immediately, as that can be traumatising," says child psychologist Dr Zirak Marker, suggesting instead that parents observe a child's behaviour through play therapy. "For instance, we leave a child, especially younger than six, with a toy and observe how they play. If they pick up the toy and play with it normally there's possibly little to worry about. However, if the child is sitting silently in a corner, it may need help," he adds. Children should also be encouraged to express themselves through drawings.

It helps, he says, that very young children tend to forget things by the age of 6 and, with help of regular play therapy, a child can overcome a traumatic experience. However, if the child shows signs of trauma - nightmares or post traumatic stress disorder - counselling is recommended. "Counselling, either by a private expert or the school counsellor, must always be done sensitively in a safe environment, in the presence of parents," adds Marker.

Good vs bad touch
Before the age of 11, humans do not understand sexuality. "However, because we live in a depraved society, by the age of 6-7, children should be made aware of the difference between good and bad touch," says Marker. In an abused child, this should be done once the healing process is over.

But, he warns that too much awareness can cause children to become confused about touch. "Sometimes, during workshops, girls come up to me and tell me that they were inappropriately touched by their uncle. But when we dig deeper, their stories change. This may happen because of confusion with too much information," says Marker.

Habiba Kudrati, a counsellor with JBCN International School, says sex education camps are now conducted for children as young as three. "While we don't bring up the topic of sexual abuse, we encourage them to express themselves before their parents or someone they trust. They need to be able to communicate when they don't want to be hugged or touched in other ways," she adds.

Childline activist Nishit Kumar says parents need to support the child and ensure that nothing they say puts the blame on the child. Counselling should also be aimed at making the child understand it wasn't their fault, as often, children suffer from guilt believing that the attack was a consequence of their actions.

Often, the perpetrator is someone from the victim's immediate environment. In this case, it's important to establish a safe place for the abused child and create a wall between it and the offender. Talking about a 2012 incident in which a 15-year-old junior college student from Vile Parle was assaulted by first her uncle and then later her grandfather, Kumar, a child rights activist with Childline says the first step was to get her out of home and into a shelter. "In this case, the parents were not in the city when the assault happened and the child reported the crime. When they returned, she was sent back home, by which time both offenders were arrested," he adds.

The other side
Even an underage perpetrator, says Kudrati, could have been a victim of sexual abuse without realising it. "If a child displays inappropriate behaviour by touching its own or another child's private parts, it may be mirroring what someone else did to it. This is a sign parents should watch out for. This child, very likely, is also a victim here and does not realise that it is inappropriate." Child psychologists clarify sexual behaviour plays up in children above the age of 13 years and, rarely, younger. Chairperson of the Child Welfare Committee Vijaya Murthy says in most cases, those under the age of 18 are unable to understand the concept of sexual abuse. "For an accused, especially, counselling is not a one sided approach," says Murthy.

Especially, when it comes to underage perpetrators, it's important to make them realise in what way their actions have been wrong. It's once they admit and agree, can counselling begin in the real sense.

Know your rights
- Once a minor survivor states that s/he has been abused, no further questions should be asked about the incident. Police should bring the matter to the attention of the Child Welfare Committee (CWC) within 24 hours of being intimated. The CWC can then make further arrangements for the safety and security of the child if required. The underage survivor should be accompanied by a parent or relative when the statement is being recorded.

- Parents can request the police to have an NGO worker present while speaking to their child.

- Nishit Kumar of Childline, says, parents also find it extremely difficult to deal with such a situation. "At times, parents fear repercussion and refuse to file a complaint. In such cases, the NGO is required to inform the police and the Child Welfare Committee in writing," he adds.

- A female police officer, in plain clothes, has to be present while the survivor is being questioned. Shivaji Nagar police station's sub inspector Poonam Mane says, "The under-age survivor doesn't need to be brought to the police station. I have gone to a survivor's home or wherever she feels comfortable to take her statement." When the child is under the age of 14, its mother's statement is customarily taken as the primary statement. "Apart from the mother or relative's statement, we also prepare a video recording of the child's statement. If the child is younger than 14, NGO personnel ask it indirect questions to avoid trauma," she adds.



Victims advocate an inspiration to colleagues, sexual assault victims

by Kristine Guerra

Pat Fitzgerald started as a volunteer, helping out with special projects at the Marion County prosecutor's office.

Later, she was asked to become a victims advocate. She didn't know much about the job, other than it sounded interesting.

That was 25 years ago. The job that, in some way, she drifted into turned out to be her calling.

Fitzgerald, 65, retired Dec. 12. She left with a lasting reputation. She has become one of the most loved victims advocates at the prosecutor's office, someone the agency relied on for help with challenging cases. Colleagues said she's one to go well above and beyond what's required of her.

Fitzgerald was one of two sexual assault victims advocates at the prosecutor's office. Her job was to connect victims with counselors and to help find other services they need. She attended court hearings in case victims needed emotional support, especially when defendants' families also were present. From the day she met the victims to the day their cases were closed — and perhaps even after — she was their friend. For victims without families, she filled that role.

"The best thing about this job is that every day is different," said Fitzgerald, who was born and raised in Marshall County in Northern Indiana. "You never know what's going to be ahead of you."

Former Marion County Deputy Prosecutor Charnette Garner, who has known Fitzgerald for nine years, said her former colleague genuinely cared about victims.

"No matter how long it took for a jury to deliberate, she would stay," Garner said. "She would stay right there and wait on the verdict."

Garner, who handled adult sex crimes and child abuse cases for the prosecutor's office, said some of the child victims had grown fond of Fitzgerald.

"We've had child victims who came back after a case," Garner said, "and give little thank you cards (to Fitzgerald) showing their appreciation."

For victims and their families, the emotional support from someone like Fitzgerald can be life-changing.

Allison Boehm's daughter was sexually assaulted about two years ago. A jury found the man who tried to rape the then-17-year-old guilty of criminal confinement, sexual battery and battery. A Marion County judge sentenced Perry Gebhart, the victim's stepbrother, to three years.

Boehm said the last year of court proceedings was marred by frustrations with the long judicial process and anger every time she saw Gebhart in court. But Fitzgerald, she said, made everything easier for her daughter by talking to her and cheering her up every time she got upset during a court hearing.

"We've been through multiple prosecutors. Pat has been the steady one through it all," Boehm said. "Pat was her strength."

Boehm's daughter did not return phone calls seeking comment. The Indianapolis Star typically does not name victims of sexual assault.

Boehm said her daughter wanted to be a nurse but was inspired by Fitzgerald to pursue a career as a victims advocate. She said her daughter, who attends Ivy Tech Community College, plans to major in human services.

The agency has nine victims advocates, most of whom work with domestic violence victims. Each has a caseload of about 100 victims.

Of the countless victims she has worked with, Fitzgerald said one stands out.

She's a Downtown bar waitress who was raped while doing laundry in her apartment building, Fitzgerald recalled. After reading her file, as Fitzgerald always did before meeting victims, she thought she had an idea of what the woman was like. The day they met, what Fitzgerald saw surprised her.

She saw a petite woman in her late 50s, wearing a knitted top with a round collar, neatly ironed slacks and a baseball cap. Fitzgerald expected to meet a different person. This woman lived a conservative, laid-back life, Fitzgerald said. She loved her job, and the Downtown bar was her second home.

That was about 10 years ago. Fitzgerald never looked at a victim the same way again.

The woman, she said, never showed any sign of weakness and held her head up through 18 months of court proceedings. And as Fitzgerald ended a long career, she left with the lessons that woman taught her — that victims of sexual assault or any other crime are strong in their own ways, no matter how shaken and terrified they are at first.

"She was an inspiration. She made me want to come to work every day," Fitzgerald said. "She made me view every case every day as if this could be another one of her cases."


New Mexico

Keeping kids safe in stressful homes

by D'Val Westphal

A year ago tomorrow, the Albuquerque area's relationship with child abuse got a face and a name.

Omaree Varela.

A year after the 9-year-old's death at the feet of a mother who says she was disciplining him and “kicked him the wrong way,” there have been structural and systemic changes in how child abuse cases are investigated.

•  There's a state pilot family support worker program that has 12 employees working with families that have had three or more contacts with the Children, Youth and Families Department.

It started in August and has 150 enrolled.

•  The professionals who handle child-abuse investigations for CYFD and the Albuquerque Police Department are again in the same building, making sharing information and expertise much easier.

•  There's also new and more training going for law enforcement in this area, as well as a new videography system so children don't have to recount and relive events multiple times.

More reforms are recommended in the 24-page city Child Abuse Prevention Task Force report to try to get some answers. Yet CYFD is quick to point out that the structure and system still rely on relationships to keep children in stressful family dynamics safe.

From a relative who offers to baby-sit so an overwrought parent has a safe place to leave a child while the parent takes an emotional break, runs a vital errand or goes to work, to the neighbor who dials #SAFE on a cellphone because things don't look right next door, CYFD says it's people in a child's life who are the front-line defenders against abuse.

Jared Rounsville, director of CYFD's Protective Services Division, says that in his 16 years with the department he's seen that “most parents want to parent their children,” but poor decisions, lost tempers, substance use and a lack of support require his staff to “intervene in people's lives.”

Sometimes, as in Omaree's case, multiple times.

Yet CYFD's goal for the majority of families is to interact once, either to investigate and dismiss a specious claim or to help a struggling family connect with needed services “so parents don't have to be involved in the system.”

The state does offer a permanent relief for new parents in the form of its Safe Haven for Infants law. Statute 24-22-1 says, “A person may leave an infant with the staff of a hospital without being subject to criminal prosecution for abandonment or abuse if the infant was born within ninety days of being left.”

Rounsville says he has seen Safe Haven used only a few times in its 13 years (he's been with CYFD for 16), most recently in Las Cruces and Albuquerque. Although he says it's “critical” to have such a law to prevent infants from being abandoned, most New Mexico parents need not-so-permanent solutions.

Like a safe person to watch or safe place to leave their child instead of what has become the clichéd bad boyfriend who loses it.

“We want people to accept responsibility for their child,” Rounsville says. But sometimes parents need guidance in stepping up to that responsibility.

The task force report found that to date that guidance has been disjointed and repetitive at best. Its Appendix C amounts to four, mostly overlapping, lists of services, many with waiting lists, and the report says the “state website is difficult to maneuver, information is difficult to locate; the city of Albuquerque website does not have a comprehensive list of resources that can be easily accessed.”

In fact, “there is no single website that compiles resources for easy access for victims, families, services, nor is there a single location to distribute a hard copy.”

As the professionals in the field tackle that challenge, and then the one of expanding existing services so there's enough to go around, Rounsville says, it's vital that the public embrace its role in reporting concerns about child abuse. For those who would say they don't want to get involved or get someone in trouble if it turns out there's no abuse going on, he offers these two thoughts:

•  “Remember as responsible adults we have a duty to report. Dial #SAFE (on a cellphone or 1-855-333-SAFE on a landline) and say, ‘I'm concerned. Please look into it.' We go in, assess and (if there is not a serious problem) get out again. If it's not that bad, there's nothing to worry about. There are federal and state laws protecting civil liberties,” and while you may have concerns about getting someone in trouble, it's “better to protect that child.”

If there's no problem, there will be “no involvement beyond a simple assessment” and callers can “be at peace knowing we made an effort to be sure … children are safe.”

•  “Offer to help (and) watch closely. Offer Mom and Dad a break. Have both eyes open and watch the situation. What a great way to strengthen a family.”

And start the new year of 2015 off better for New Mexico's children than 2013 ended for Omaree Varela.

For help
Dial #Safe from a cellphone or 1-855-333-SAFE on a landline to report suspected child abuse. For information on New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department programs aimed at prevention, intervention, rehabilitative and after-care services for children and their families, go to



Need Growing For Foster Parents In Southern Indiana

There is a growing need for foster parents in Southern Indiana.

Foster care provides a nurturing and stable environment for children who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. It can be a rewarding experience for the foster parents themselves, too.

One local foster mom, Carrie Haggard, said her interest in fostering started years ago when she became close with foster kids at the daycare where she worked. Since then, Haggard and her husband, Jerry, have fostered two children in their home.

"We currently have one biological child, one adopted child, and one foster child," she said, noting that they're all boys.

The Haggards only take boys in their home as requested by Jacob, their twelve-year-old son. Jacob also wants to remain the "big brother" of the family and asked that his parents only take in younger children.

"We respect his requests," Haggard said.

Fostering children involves the entire family. She said the boys get along most days, playing with their Hot Wheels cars and video games, but they also wrestle and tattle-tale like typical brothers.

The Haggards have a large support group of relatives, friends, and members of their church family. Fostering is a big responsibility to undertake, and having an understanding support group to lean on for help or advice is necessary, Haggard emphasized. Some children in the system have challenging emotional or behavioral problems, and Haggard has reached out to others for advice in the past.

"They do often times from difficult environments, but when I look at the great number of foster kids that we have met and known in our lives," Haggard said, "there are very few that weren't resilient. They bounce right out of it with just the smallest amount of love."

The Haggards' "family flag" hangs in their home.

Sometimes fostering involves maintaining a close relationship with the child's biological parents, and the Haggards have invited their foster son's biological mom to come to church with them soon.

"We realized that fostering was an avenue that we could use to help minister to people in a very unique way," Haggard said.

Occasionally, some foster parents experience negativity or false assumptions from people in the community. Haggard said another foster mom she knows received a rude comment at the grocery store when using WIC vouchers, which were provided for her foster child.

"Some people have the inability to have compassion," Haggard said. She has dealt with insensitive comments from strangers and acquaintances herself.

It's never easy being a foster parent, but the rewards are endless.

"A lot of people say 'oh, you saved Bradyn', the boy we adopted--but he saved us," Haggard said, glancing at a picture of Bradyn in her living room. "A lot of the reward comes from just knowing that we've made a little bit of a difference in our little part of the world just by influencing their lives."

Ornaments the boys have made hang on the Haggards' Christmas tree.

"The goal is to place children with relatives first," said Samantha Freeman, a regional foster care supervisor. "When we can't find relatives, we want to place them in a foster home in their local community. We try to keep kids close so they can attend the same school."

Foster parents must be 21 or older and pass background checks. They will undergo ten hours of pre-service training, as well as First Aid and CPR. They must also participate in a home study process to ensure they are able to provide a safe, positive environment.

"They make it easy to get licensed," Haggard said.

To become a foster parent visit



Staggering child abuse numbers released

by Juliana Valencia and Randall Barnes

PADUCAH, Ky - The federal government estimates about 1,650 deaths every year, but the actual number may be twice as high. A recently released Associated Press study looked at the number of child deaths in our country in connection to a child abuse or neglect investigation.

The AP study shows more than 700 confirmed child abuse deaths over a six-year period that happened while abuse and neglect cases were under investigation.

That's well below the federal government estimate of 1,600 a year. The study shows that's partly because there is no set standard way to report these deaths. AP said complete data doesn't exist which makes it "difficult to measure how well those responsible for keeping children safe are protecting their most vulnerable charges".

The study shows in Tennessee, 31 children died from 2008 to 2012, but it's not clear whether a child abuse case was opened before or after the child's death. Missouri had 25 deaths from 2008 to 2013 while an abuse or neglect case was ongoing.

From the 2008 to 2013 fiscal year Illinois showed 33 deaths, and Kentucky had 7 deaths while an abuse or neglect case was open.

Local 6 met with one local organization that's working to help bring those numbers down. Child Watch Counseling and Advocacy Center in Paducah helps stop and prevent child abuse. It's run on donations and grants.

'Child Watch' helps through therapy, and in the courtroom by volunteers participating in CASA or Court Appointed Special Advocates. Executive Director Lee Emmons said the CASA program helps give a voice to a child whose cases are in court due to abuse or neglect.

"They don't have 40 different cases. Having that volunteer advocate, that extra set of eyes, and ears make a real difference for that child," Emmons said.

Emmons said it's not just about stopping abuse, but preventing it. That's why they have programs at local schools to help put an end to abuse before it begins. She said it's not uncommon for a student to speak up after every visit, and that's why it's important to talk to children about abuse.

"That abuse is not okay and that there is help available. The big message is that it's okay to tell. That's a very important part of our child abuse prevention message," Emmons said.

She said she hopes more people become aware of child abuse because it affects the whole community.

"It is a crime that we must all be aware of and work to stop – whether that's taking action to report suspected abuse, lending a hand to help a struggling family, or supporting organizations that work against child abuse," Emmons said.

The Child Watch's prevention program reaches 11,000 elementary school children in our area every year.

A separate report in Kentucky prepared by the Division of Protection and Permanency, the Department for Community Based Services, and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services shows 9 children died this past fiscal year with prior involvement from DCBS. None of those were in our area - Ballard, Caldwell, Calloway, Carlisle, Christian, Crittenden, Fulton, Graves, Hickman, Hopkins, Livingston, Lyon, Marshall, McCracken, Muhlenberg, Trigg and Todd counties.

The report showed nineteen children almost died with prior involvement from DCBS, three of those were in our area.



Homeowners transform home into a brightly lit castle, raise funds for Bikers Against Child Abuse

by Brett Brostrom

ST. GEORGE – Bikers Against Child Abuse, joined with the Kuhn family at their home on Heritage Drive in St. George – referred to by passersby as “the castle” this Christmas season for its extravagant lighted decor – to hold a fundraiser Saturday night for B.A.C.A. efforts in Southern Utah.

“B.A.C.A. is a group of bikers that exist to create a safer environment for abused children,” Utah Chapter President Chris “Shots” Benzington said. “We do whatever it takes, if the family doesn't have the money for therapy, then we jump in and assist with that therapy money.”

Therapy doesn't exclusively include therapists, he said, but whatever helps the child overcome past experiences – whether that be karate or football, B.A.C.A will assist in any way they can.

B.A.C.A. became involved with the Kuhn family when Frank Kuhn, the “castle's” homeowner, contacted B.A.C.A. with an offer of a fundraiser.

“People just dropped off money when they started doing this,” Benzington said, “so he thought this would be a great way to raise money for charity. Now he's actually riding with us.”

The Kuhn family started this Christmas tradition at their home when Frank Kuhn wanted to take his Christmas decorating above and beyond what everyone else was doing.

“About six years ago, we decided to do Phineas and Ferb characters, just hanging up lights, making it look like they're decorating our yard, and we had a lot of people come by and we started getting traffic,” Kim Kuhn said. “We decided to make use of it and have a fundraiser to raise money for certain charities, and that started five years ago. The last three years, we've been raising money for B.A.C.A. because of what they do for the children in helping them feel empowered and safe in their environment.”

Santa Claus made an appearance, hot dogs and hot chocolate were served, and children could get their faces painted as well.

B.A.C.A. has chapters in seven countries around the world, including the United States, Australia, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, France, and Germany. There are 22 members in St. George, and 10 chapters in Utah, according to their website.


New York

Slain toddler's baby brother had sexual abuse signs

by Nina Schutzman

KINGSTON – The baby brother of Mason DeCosmo, the Milton toddler who allegedly died from abuse by his mother's boyfriend, may have had signs of sexual abuse after Mason's death, according to his doctor.

Tuesday was the fifth day of testimony in the ongoing Ulster County Family Court case regarding the death of 2-year-old Mason DeCosmo, who died on Aug. 5.

The Ulster County Department of Social Services said Mason was severely physically abused over the course of several days by 27-year-old Kenneth Stahli, the live-in boyfriend of Mason and Jaxon's mother.

Stahli was charged with second-degree murder, depraved indifference murder of a child, a felony, and his attorney Andrew Kossover is answering a severe abuse petition in the family court on Stahli's behalf.

Katlin Wolfert, the mother of Mason and his baby brother Jaxon DeCosmo, is answering petitions of severe abuse and neglect in the civil proceedings, said department attorney Heather Harp, via direct message on Facebook.

Wolfert, 22, was set to testify Tuesday afternoon, but Harp had a family emergency and the case was adjourned until Jan. 12.

Child Protective Services brought Jaxon in for an examination by his pediatrician Dr. Joseph Malak on Aug. 6, a day after Mason died. He was nearly 8 months old.

Jaxon had "reddish, swollen," symmetrical marks on his nipples, which were "inflamed," and a "suction-type" injury mark below his right nipple, said Malak, who has been Jaxon's doctor since birth.

The doctor said he believes the marks were not caused by Jaxon's eczema, a skin condition he's has since he was 3 months old, but by "sexual abuse, or sexually inappropriate activity... stuck in my mind as being responsible. The trauma…was likely a sexual nature."

While Jaxon was an "overall healthy baby, well-nourished," he also had a bad ear infection, with pus behind the ear drums, and eczema "from head to toe," Malak testified.

"This has been turning over in my mind since the incident… there are no other plausible (explanations)…that would account for those three spots," Malak said. "It looked like hickeys were placed on the nipples, as well as having eczema."

The "hickey-like" suction mark below Jaxon's right nipple contributed to his determination of sexual abuse, Malak added.

Malak said that he didn't think the marks could be caused by pinching because "it looks too much like a mouth-suction mark." Jaxon had no other bruises or injuries and Malak believes the marks on his nipples were "a couple of days old."

"You really have no way of determining whether this conduct was performed by an adult or child," said Stahli's attorney Kossover, during cross-examination.

Malak agreed, but said, "I really don't think a toddler or kindergartner could do that."

"You've been talking to social services caseworkers" since Jaxon's Aug. 6 examination, Kossover said to Malak. "They're trying to prove a case of abuse and neglect," so the idea that the marks were the result of sexual abuse would have been reinforced over the past few months.

Malak agreed again, but the initial medical report he made mentions the marks on Jaxon — who Malak said has been "thriving" since the August visit — as potential sexual abuse.

Mason also had signs consistent with sexual abuse at the time of his death, according to previous testimony by Dutchess County Medical Examiner Dennis Chute

At the time of his death, Mason had 60 bruises and injuries, old and new, internal bleeding in multiple places, a broken rib, and a lacerated pancreas and liver, according to Chute, who performed his autopsy.

Wolfert allegedly failed to protect Mason and didn't seek medical care for him, despite the fact that in the week leading up to his death, he vomited a black substance, defecated a blood clot, and had multiple bruises on him, because she feared a doctor would report his visible injuries to Child Protective Services, according to the Ulster Department of Social Services.

Soon after Mason's death, Jaxon was placed in the care of both boys' father, Louis DeCosmo. Ulster family court Judge Anthony McGinty has so far denied Wolfert supervised visits with him.

Wolfert's testimony in January will come at the request of Kossover, whose client Stahli is in Ulster County Jail on no bail.

Dates for Stahli's criminal trial will not be scheduled until Jan. 16, a day after the Family Court case is set to end.

Petitions have been filed to keep Stahli away from his own four children.


?I Was Sexually Assaulted As A Child. Here's Why I Didn't Remember For Years

by Sacha Feinman

Charles was sobbing violently when I came upon him in the woods. The sight of it still haunts me, all these years later. He was tall and blond, popular with the girls and one of the best all-around athletes. And I… I was the boy who liked comic books. We'd both spent multiple summers at that sports camp, passing our days in some form of competitive activity played out over acres of partially manicured Maine forest. We were 13 at the time, and I liked him, so when I saw him so visibly upset and so uncharacteristically vulnerable, I did what many adolescent boys might not have done: I leaned in.

“What's wrong?” I asked, “What happened?”

Charles turned around and, taking me in, responded with wide eyes.

“You know what's wrong,” he yelled. “I know you do because I know he did it to you too!”

I was confused and utterly unclear as to what he was talking about. I told him I didn't know. He insisted that I did, so I denied it again. At this, Charles (his name has been changed for his privacy) raised his fist to hit me. When I flinched, he thought the better of it. I can still remember how he tugged at the bottom of his dark navy blue shirt as he turned away, how he had the opening of it balled up tight in his hand, his knuckles white from the intensity of his grip.

Two years later, I was 15 and walking a short distance to go see a movie by myself. The theater was just around the corner from my parents' Tucson home. All that separated the two was a nondescript park with brown desert grass and a modest swingset. It also had a few stone benches that I'd sat on many times late at night, sneaking cigarettes with friends and drinking beer we'd somehow pilfered. None of that explains why I suddenly stopped mid-stride that day, struck by a new and horrible understanding of Charles' outburst.

I wish I could explain fully why it took until then for my mind to grasp the events of a summer night when I was 12, the night when a favorite counselor who all the boys looked up to crept into my bed and sexually abused me. You're just going to have to take my word for it that for three years, even after Charles confronted me, I was blind to my own experience. And then, suddenly, I wasn't.

“Holy shit,” I said aloud, to no one in particular, as the park was otherwise empty. “I was molested!”

You may be skeptical of this seemingly random epiphany, which is exactly the point, at least in part. It is through the lens of this experience and my belated recognition of it — the realization that trauma can disrupt everything: your memory, your ability to see and communicate, even the firing of your synapses — that I view the recent scandal in which an alleged victim of sexual assault at UVA did or did not fabricate her experiences to Rolling Stone .

Following the coverage of “Jackie's” story feels, for me, like an exercise in emotional schizophrenia. Two of the core elements of my personality — the journalist and the survivor of sexual assault — are at war with each other as I try to recover the “truth” from the rubble of a narrative that seems to have fallen apart. Was or wasn't a young woman gang raped?

For too long, I lived silently with the legacy of my own trauma. When I finally started to see a therapist at the age of 28, she made a simple yet profound observation, highlighting something which I'd never considered; that this abuse, which preceded my first kiss, was my initial sexual experience. It was the paradigm through which I'd filtered so much of what came after, and it adversely affected romantic relationships that deserved a best I was incapable of delivering.

So that thing happened and I live in its aftermath though it no longer controls me. For the sixteen years between the fateful night and the bright afternoon I first walked into a therapist's office, it did. Now my abuse is a tool I am able to use for better understanding the varieties of human experience. And in this circumstance, it is a means of illustrating how difficult it is to articulate trauma.

Remembering what we remember

It's easier for reporters to engage with the heartbreaking story of a young woman claiming gang rape than it is to ask the question of whether a woman was raped in the first place, as the Washington Post has forced us to do in its follow-up coverage challenging the story. But my greatest concern about the fallout of this scandal is that, regardless of the veracity of Rolling Stone's reportage, it will make it that much harder for victims to clear the already difficult hurdle to proving their claims. When we call Jackie or any other potential survivor a “liar,” we accuse them of intentional obfuscation. And yet, the reality of our biological and neurological makeup is such that, in spite of our best efforts, victims of sexual abuse may sometimes be incapable of telling their stories accurately, if at all. In fact, contradictory details or head-scratching gaps in the narrative might be demonstrative that the violation was all too real.

Dr. David Lisak is a clinical psychologist with a long history in counseling rape victims, and he is confident that if there is one thing we understand about the nature of trauma, it's that humans deal with it in extremely complicated and variable ways. “Especially when you are talking about childhood or young adulthood,” he stresses, “if you define trauma as an experience that overwhelms someone cognitively or emotionally, people at that age are more susceptible. They have fewer resources, as they're less developed. So they protect themselves from the nature of the incident by blocking themselves from it. And those of us who work with trauma victims, we have loads of experience with people who one day would absolutely deny that something happened to them, and the next day, not 24 hours later, would suddenly remember that yes, in fact, it did happen.”

That was certainly the case in my life. Thinking back on it now, the greatest tragedy of the three-year gap that separated the abuse and my sudden revelation is that interaction with Charles, a year after the fact. I once felt guilty about my inability to comfort him, though that feeling has since faded. Today, I'm mostly amazed at how the haze of the trauma made it impossible for me to empathize. I am sure that I was telling Charles the truth as I then saw it in that moment. I am sure that I didn't know what he was talking about, and I doubt that if he'd even given a name to it, if he'd cried, — “He molested both us!” — that I'd have reacted any differently. If nothing else, my experience is demonstrative of the spell pain can cast.

“You have to understand how someone who has been traumatized copes,” urges Dr. Lisak. “In the aftermath, they are flooded with a high concentration of neural transmitters which fundamentally alter the brain's functioning. When you sit in a room, go into your memories, re-access them in order to answer questions and create a coherent narrative filled with detail and nuance… All of that complex behavior requires the proper functioning of your frontal lobe. And we know that those neural transmitters impair exactly that.

“If a person tries to recount their story after the fact, they're sinking back into that trauma, and their frontal lobe might cease to function well. If a survivor stumbles over words, needs questions repeated and seems unsure of themselves, it isn't necessarily a sign that a story isn't credible. Instead, what you might be witnessing is someone who did, in fact, have a traumatic experience.” In other words, the brain in recall can suffer the same blockage that characterizes the initial incident.

Questioning your own recollections

Take the case of Aryle Butler. The UC Berkeley senior says she was sexually assaulted twice in the summer of 2012 while attending a for-credit program in Alaska, and she is quick to vocalize her displeasure with the way in which the university handled its investigation.

“Going up there… It was the first time in my life I'd been on a plane,” she tells me. “Even though I'm from East Los Angeles, it basically felt like I was some poor kid fresh off the farm.”

Aryle had two bosses that summer; a female graduate student for whom she was gathering research, and that student's boss, a male member of the board of directors of the educational center in which Aryle planned to live and work.

According to Aryle, both assaults occurred when Aryle found herself alone with the board member, her supervisor working a days' travel away. Aryle reported the first incident by phone but downplayed it to her supervisor at the time out of fear and embarrassment. A few days later, she was sexually assaulted again, though how much time actually lapsed between the two traumas is a mystery even to her. “I think it all unfolded in the course of a week,” she says, “but it's really hard to remember. It was summer time in Alaska and the sun never sets, so it felt like one horrible, very long day.”

Aryle returned to Berkeley, and after a bout of depression so severe that she tried to kill herself, finally found her way to Denise Oldham. As the school's Title IX coordinator, Denise was in charge of overseeing and managing student complaints of this nature. Before meeting with Denise, Aryle says a third party warned that those investigating her claims would scrutinize her character. “I was told that they would first consider how credible I was, and that made me nervous.”

According to Aryle, the interview turned out to be something of a disaster. “As soon as I started,” she recalls, “Denise interrupted me with questions about if I'd said ‘no' during the assaults, and how audibly and often I'd repeated the word. I became flustered. And then Denise got into the gap between the two incidents. She was asking me about what happened after the first one, how I'd reported it, why I downplayed it and what my supervisor did about it. Then she asked me about the second trauma quickly, and there is something you have to understand with me, something she didn't get; I compartmentalize and isolate things. I could deal with and recount how I reported the first abuse to my supervisor and her disappointing response, and I could deal with the abuse itself, but going back and forth simultaneously between both betrayals made it difficult. I didn't perform well.”

Aryle sees the university's refusal to aggressively pursue the case as resulting from a series of bureaucratic calculations that were primarily concerned with avoiding liability. The program she attended that summer was affiliated with but was not a part of UC Berkeley. She also believes that her lack of grace and coherence during the questioning played a part. “I feel like my report to Denise definitely hurt the situation,” she sighs. “I tried to give her all the details, and my failure to do so definitely impacted things.”

I reached out to Denise Oldham and UC Berkeley; a university spokeswoman declined to comment — on behalf of both the university and Oldham — on the particulars of Butler's case, citing student privacy, but did write in an email that, “a state audit report last spring that included a review of our case files, found that our professionals are appropriately trained and that case outcomes, including sanctions imposed, were handled appropriately given the circumstances of the cases.”

Aryle and I first met in a coffee shop not far from her campus. It was crowded that day, and we sat next to each other at a counter top that looked out a plate glass window into the busy street. This proved to be a stroke of luck, as it allowed us to easily avoid making uncomfortable eye contact. Even still, she projected a palpable weariness, only warming to me after I'd shared my own tale towards the end of our 90-minute chat. I'm certain that the skepticism I felt until then was the result of too many conversations with too many people who simply cannot fathom the difficulty in recounting something of this sort.

Those who expect a clear-cut, linear, and logical account seem to think of memory as akin to a Netflix stream; click on a title and sit back for an authoritative representation of what transpired, as though a camera had been there filming the whole time. This is not the case.

When interviewing survivors, the protective layer they often wear makes the access you're seeking feel so near and yet still untouchable. If you can manage your way past that and get to the substance of the thing, to the questions of what was done when and by whom, a whole new challenge waits. Even in the reporting of this piece, I found it vastly more difficult than usual to understand the narratives of those willing to open up to me, pestering survivors three or four times after the initial interview in order to clarify details I didn't quite understand.

Needing to be believed

Kim Thuy Seelinger directs the Sexual Violence Program at the UC Berkeley School of Law's Human Rights Center. She is also a graduate of the University of Virginia, class of 1996, and as such, she has closely followed the initial reporting of and fall out from Jackie's story.

“I spent almost 10 years representing asylum seekers who were coming to the United States after experiencing individual and gang rape, sometimes as a weapon of torture,” she tells me. “I know very well that sexual violence distorts, separately, memory and communication. This makes it difficult when a victim is interviewed, especially by someone like a journalist who, despite her intentions, might not have been prepared for the difficulty of putting together that narrative. I have been following the reaction to the story, and the people picking apart the reporting are focused on the wrong things. Jackie not being sure how many people were raping her is beside the point. It's not reasonable to expect a person who has been violated in a dark room by a group of rapists to tell us if it was by 3, 4, or 7 people. It's pretty hard to count when you're terrified and struggling to keep your thighs closed. It's totally unfair to expect that someone would be able to tell you that precisely.”

Moving beyond questions of legal responsibility, the inability of survivors to recount their stories with authority can result in strained personal relationships, exponentially compounding the heartbreak while making the prospect of recourse even more debilitating. Savannah Badalich is a fourth-year student at UCLA. She says that a classmate and fellow member of the university student government assaulted her in September of 2012 when she was a sophomore. Her trauma unfolded in a cabin during a student retreat, she remembers. Stumbling away from the rest of the party, Badalich says she found an empty bedroom in the downstairs portion of the house. Slightly drunk, she put on an old pair of her father's pajamas and fell asleep. Soon she awoke to find a senior pressed on top of her with his pants undone. Protestations ensued, but it was a loud noise from upstairs rather than Savannah's struggle that paused the assaulter. Pulling his pants up, he ran out the room muttering that he “shouldn't be doing this.”

Savannah fell back asleep, and that's where the pieces stop fitting together. Some indeterminate period of time later, she came to a second time, finding that same young man pressed atop her again. She thinks that there were other people in the room, in the bed even, but she can't say so with any certainty. She isn't even sure the extent of what he did to her, or how it ended.

“I never went to the police,” Savannah explains, “But I did write an article on it for the Daily Bruin . And then, when I was back home in December of 2013, I was telling my story again to three friends from high school, a girl and two guys. They'd seen my piece on Facebook and wanted to know. I told them the first half of the story, until the loud noise and the guy running out the room, but not the second half. And so they challenged me on it. And it's not exactly like I'd forgotten, but the details are so vague and I had just sort of naturally left it out. So I told them the rest and then they started questioning me in a way that made clear they didn't understand, ‘How do you not know what happened? How do you not know if someone else was in the bed or when it ended?' And the thing is, I still think about going to the cops and reporting the crime, just so it will be on that guy's record somewhere. But my biggest fear is that if my friends are grilling me like that, and I can't answer them… Why would someone else believe me? They weren't even cross-examining me; they were just curious.”

Why rely on memory?

Earlier in the fall, Governor Jerry Brown signed one of the country's most stringent and progressive laws governing the sex lives of university students. Popularly referred to as “affirmative consent” or “yes means yes,” the bill will change the basic metric by which we determine if a student has been sexually violated. Both Aryle Butler and Savannah Badalich were activists in the battle to draft and pass the measure.

When the bill goes into effect, the operative questions for investigators will no longer rely on the faulty memory of a potential victim. Rather than asking, “Did she say ‘no'? And how hard did she struggle?” the burden will shift to the accused. Now we will ask if he first sought permission and if she granted it.

The paradox of the current system is that the reliability of the victim is crucial to the prosecution of a crime that features unreliability as an almost guaranteed byproduct. This point seems lost on many of the people currently swept up in a reactionary obsession with the account of one alleged survivor. There is a certain dark joy in pockets of the Internet as people celebrate the unraveling of the Rolling Stone piece, as though this were not still a very real problem, as though reporting of this kind isn't both crucial and almost impossibly difficult.

Though it preceded the UVA scandal, Connor Friedsdorf published a thought-provoking and timely series of pieces earlier this fall on the potentially impossible mechanics of “yes means yes.” While he appreciates the “do unto others” spirit that it embodies, he is skeptical that students will truly internalize the law and abide by it. I'm sympathetic; it's an imperfect piece of legislation. And yet if nothing else, it creates a shift that would make our procedures more humane and trusting of those who bear the burden of sexual trauma, those who are not simply victims, but are oftentimes the sole, flawed witness.

It's tough to forecast where “yes means yes” will lead us, but advocates hope it will open a broader conversation about sexual relations and problematic situations characterized by an imbalance of power. On an intuitive level, the law does make sense. If I wanted to use your cell phone to call a friend, you would expect me to ask before picking it up. Why, then, does the same basic principle not apply to the human body?

Ultimately, the law, if it works at all, might prove cosmetic. Affirmative consent won't change how drinking characterizes the undergraduate experience, sometimes enabling these sorts of tragedies. It won't change the ways in which many fraternities embody the entitled and aggressive ethos of an outdated patriarchy. Tackling those issues would require a seismic shift in culture, a transformation of the behaviors we witness in and absorb from our friends, family, and authority figures. And if that's the case, then I think a collective realization of the fragility of memory and ways in which it can fail those who've been victimized is a good place to start.



Tanzania: Child Abuse - a Nefarious Atrocity

by Sosthenes Mwita

Dear Readers IT IS commendable that as a society we can now talk more openly about child abuse. Not many years ago, when child rearing was a communal responsibility in most tribal settings, child abuse was virtually unknown.

We now know that some people are cruel to children. We also know that some children are abused with impunity, without anyone stepping in to save them.

In this column, today, I look at some of the real facts on child abuse, so that we all are aware of the dangers and can protect our children. It is important to keep children away from abuse.

But it is also vital that we do not panic and keep our children indoors, denying them the chance to grow up and develop independence.

Whatever the case, it is imperative to mention a few examples of practices that amount to gross child abuse. InTanzania, it seems, not a day goes by without a media report of abuse or cruelty towards a child. Most child abuse is, seemingly, committed in urban centres where moral decay is most prevalent.

Parents now worry more about the welfare of their children. Child abusers are now a menace. When parents or other adults deliberately injure a child or do nothing to prevent it, this amounts to child abuse.

This includes hitting, ruthless shaking, biting and kicking. It also includes giving children alcohol or drugs in order to get them to sleep!

Yes, some parents abuse children this way. Gross abuse on children includes using excessive force when feeding a child, dressing him or other activity. Some parents or minders threaten children with suffocation or drowning to get him to behave well.

Defilements and cases of incest are increasing and, to say the least, this is diabolical. Some children are denied food as punishment for bad conduct.

Injuries caused in physical abuse - hitting, kicking and caning -- include bruises, swellings and even broken bones. And there is female genital mutilation (FGM)! It has now come to light that FGM is sometimes carried out on infants. The most serious cases of child abuse can result in brain damage, haemorrhage and even death.

Caning is, arguably, the most common form of child abuse in this country. Incidents in which incensed parents bite their children are rare but they are prevalent.

I know numerous incidents during which parents or guardians burned their children's hands or feet after alleged thefts of small amounts of money or sugar.

It should be expressly known that any form of child abuse is a criminal offence that is punishable by law. In the West parents who abuse children end up losing them to welfare centres. Sometimes the abusers land in jail. I must point out here that parents who burn the fingers of their sons and daughters commit a heinous felony.

And there are those who sell their children to strangers! Some parents continuously fail to show love and affection to a child. This is most evident when parents or other adults constantly use sarcasm, threats or criticism on children.

Some yell at or taunt children. Emotional abuse can destroy a child's self-esteem, making him fearful and withdrawn. All children need love and praise to feel confident and loveable.

The effects of emotional abuse are serious and can be long lasting. They often wreck relationships, cause poor mental health and a lack of confidence in adult life.

Neglect is a common form of child abuse in many families. When parents fail to meet a child's basic needs for food, shelter, clothing or medical attention, this amounts to neglect.

This can also mean leaving children to fend for themselves when they are too young and immature to manage the challenges of earning a living. Leaving children home alone without adult supervision, for example, is a form of neglect.

Neglected children may be very withdrawn or even aggressive, and can develop health problems or have difficulty coping in school. It is common to find this kind of children in most communities.

When an adult uses a child for sexual gratification, this amounts to gross abuse. This might mean forcing the child to carry out sexual acts, including sexual touching, oral sex and intercourse.

It can include indecent exposure or deliberately showing a child adult pornographic videos or magazines. It also includes filming or photographing children in a sexual way.

Both boys and girls are sexually abused, and it can happen to very young children - even babies. It is imperative to mention here that the effects of sexual abuse are long lasting and highly damaging.

Some children who are abused in this way may go on to become abusers themselves. It is estimated that at least one child dies each week in this country as a result of physical abuse.

Babies are particularly vulnerable, (being five times more likely to be killed than all other ages). Eight out of ten young people who have experienced physical abuse have also seen violence between their parents or minders.

Although parents may worry a great deal about paedophiles and the dangers they pose to children most sexual abuse often happens in the family home.

In some cases, parents may come under intolerable pressure and stress, which prompts them to harm their own children. Babies and toddlers may be shaken or hit, or older children constantly putdown and criticised in a manner that wrecks their emotional well-being.

Some adults may have been treated badly by their own parents, and have not had the chance to develop better ways of raising children. Whatever the reason for stress - problems with adult relationships, poverty, or having been abused as a child - there is no excuse for abusing children.


‘Tis The Season Of Stress: 10 Tips To Help You Cope

by Steve Schlozman, M.D. and Gene Beresin, M.D.

Imagine this fairly common holiday scene: You're driving up and down the aisles in a very busy parking lot. There have been a few near misses, cars pulling out of briefly empty spaces, but there's always someone waiting for that space, getting there just a second before you. Your car is a cacophony of seasonal torment: The pop music on the radio mercilessly full of holiday cheer, your little one in the car seat with a runny nose, your school-aged kid kicking the back of your seat and your teenager sitting with her legs on the dashboard while she sullenly tunes you out in favor of her iPod and its noise-cancelling earphones.

‘Tis the season…

Study after study shows us that the holidays are stressful for both parents and kids. (Like we needed a study?) People are cranky, irritable, rushed and unruly. All of us await the holidays with great anticipation and high expectations — family, fun, presents, togetherness. And these experiences are reinforced by the multitude of ads we all see on TV. Yet, for most of us, there are immeasurable stresses.

The stress can be about almost anything: the guests, the gifts, the recents divorces or deaths.

And people with psychiatric disorders often have an even harder time. Depression and substance abuse worsen, and suicide attempts appear to increase. Don't misunderstand — the holidays are also wonderful, but we'd be fooling ourselves if we ignored the yearly misery that the holidays can potentially engender.

So, how do we navigate these frenzied days and stay on an even keel?

It turns out that there are some things we can do to manage the tough times, and though many of these things seem obvious, it's their very obviousness that often causes us to forget. Here are 10 tips to remember:

1. Pace Yourself (if possible)

Adults and children rarely do well when they're rushed. Kids detect the panicked demeanor of their parents, and parents then get irritable when their anxious kids act out. So, don't do everything at once.

If you can, spread out the errands and ask your family members to help with the chores and preparations.

2. Pick Your Battles

The ever-present background frenzy means that most attempts at reprimand will be met with a greater than normal emotional response. If you tell that teenager to take her feet off the dashboard, you might get more than the average earful, and it might not be worth that level of discord. Save your angry moments for the times when things are really going south. Remember that emotions are always raw at the holidays.

3. Plan Some Fun

Shopping in a crazed mall with a zillion people all fighting for the latest toy stinks. Remember that you can also shop online, as well as enlist your family to help. Furthermore, some of the best movies come out around the holidays.

This is the time for incentives (read: gentle bribes). Your school-aged kid will be a lot more malleable if he gets a chance to laugh at a silly holiday flick or a seasonal puppet show. Local libraries arrange readings, schools have fairs — attend these activities with your kids. It'll make the necessary shopping more palatable for all of you. And, try to play with each other at home! Playing board games or cards, watching old home videos, doing a crafts project, cooking a cool dessert, or singing together are activities never forgotten. These memories can last forever, whereas toys and other presents might lose their value over time.

4. Talk About The Tough Stuff

The economy has gotten better, but the holidays still remind families that luxuries they could afford five or ten years ago are sometimes no longer possible. Don't let that issue go unrecognized. The kids are surely noticing what's missing, but they may be imagining something much worse than the truth. In a way that makes sense for your child's age, tell him or her that there is less money but that the same amount of fun, goodwill and love remains. Toddlers and younger children will especially be glad for this discussion — many young children interpret fewer toys as less love. That's not spoiled behavior; it's just the way kids think.

Helping them to remember that they are loved just as much will make a difference. But remember to talk to your kids in a way they can understand. Explaining economic problems to school-aged kids is different than explaining such matters to teens.

Adolescents have a greater understanding of the hardships of financial pressure, and will appreciate the extent to which you involve them in nuanced and sophisticated discussions.

5. Consider Alternative Ways Of Giving

While many see the holidays as a time to be excessive (eating, spending), maybe there are alternatives. If your family is experiencing economic hardship, try picking names out of a hat, and having each family member gives another ONE gift of a certain amount. This way there are fewer gifts, but perhaps greater consideration for each present given. This also keeps the meaning of giving front and center. The holidays may be better (and more memorably) spent sharing time together rather than spending too much on too many. Giving TIME is much more precious than giving GIFTS.

6. Be Aware Of Worsening Psychological Suffering

As we noted, psychiatric symptoms often worsen during the holidays. This makes sense — just as asthma worsens with dust, psychiatric symptoms worsen with stress. There is, however, an even more insidious stressor with the holidays. People hear nothing but messages that they are supposed to be happy. That message can make individuals with psychiatric conditions suffer even more if they are already not doing well. Help your loved ones to get the extra care they need, and don't hesitate to call your doctor.Those calls can be life-changing and even life-saving.

7. Don't Forget Who Is Not There

Someone is always missing during the holidays. It may seem painful to bring up a lost one, or a family member who cannot make it home, but telling stories, watching old videos and looking at photos is always helpful in bringing the family together. Kids love to hear stories about family members — where they came from, what they did, what they're doing now. Don't forget that physical absence is not the same as emotional absence.

8. Don't Let The Ghosts Of Holidays Past Haunt You

Many people find the holidays to be incredibly stressful when they painfully recall holidays in the past. This is especially the case for families with old and not easily forgotten family conflicts. Adults might recall the bitter disputes between their parents, fights between parents and grandparents, or battles between parents and kids. Some families have individuals who experienced the holidays under traumatic situations involving domestic violence, alcoholism and substance abuse. In these circumstances, the holidays can come to carry an important and difficult reminder: the loss of an “ideal” family, or, at least, one that is peaceful and happy. Kids pick up on these memories like sponges. While painful memories cannot be erased, dwelling on past grievances without resolution is not likely to be productive. It's far better to acknowledge the pain than to try and make life in the moment better for all.

9. Keep The Focus On Gratitude

Every year has its ups and downs. The holidays can be an important venue for reflecting on seminal moments in family and personal life and most importantly in relationships. It's fitting that we traditionally sing “Auld Lang Syne” New Year's Eve. This tune never fails to evoke nostalgia. Keeping the focus on gratitude — how grateful we are to be together regardless of the adversities or losses we have suffered — is resilience-building. There exists something precious in family conversations about the past, especially if we emphasize the gifts of being together in the here and now.

10. Don't Aim For Perfection

A sure formula for depression, demoralization and upset is setting standards too high for the holidays. No dinner is perfect; something breaks; someone triggers an old family fight. This is the normal course of things, and it's beneficial to keep in mind that something will likely not go according to plan rather than letting it catch you off guard. Setting expectations too high for the holidays is certain to upset you and your kids — they already know that you're stressed.

The holidays are not necessarily difficult, but they can be enormously trying. Don't let the hustle and bustle ruin your time with family and friends. Slow it down. After all, it's only once a year.

Gene Beresin is executive director of The MGH Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Steve Schlozman is associate director of The Clay Center and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.



Sex offender lottery winner target of lawsuit

Timothy Poole won $3M on scratch-off ticket

by Sheli Muniz

MOUNT DORA, Fla. - A convicted sex predator who became a lottery millionaire is now the target of a lawsuit. The civil suit was filed in the Orange County Courthouse Monday afternoon by a high-profile law firm representing the sexual battery victims.

Dale Poole won $3 million on a Florida Lottery scratch-off ticket he purchased at a Mount Dora 7-Eleven store on Dec. 6. In 1999, Orange County authorities arrested Poole following allegations that he sexually battered a 9-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2002.

The suit filed Monday lists two sexually battery victims -- a 9-year-old and a 5-year-old who were close family friends of Poole. The victims also spent some weekends at Poole's home, according to investigators.

"He said Tim would sleep in the same bed as him at his house" and perform a sex act on the child, the detective wrote in the affidavit. "He said sometimes Tim would wake him up from sleeping to (perform a sex act)."

As part of a plea bargain, Poole pleaded guilty to attempted sexual battery and was sentenced to the 13 months he had already served in jail. The judge also ordered Poole to serve 10 years of sex offender probation and register as a sexual predator.

On Dec. 22, just weeks after Poole won millions in the scratch-off ticket, the complaint was filed asking for damages. Lottery officials said he chose to receive his winnings in a one-time, lump-sum payment of $2,219,807.90.

The victims are being represented by Jason Recksiedler, an attorney with NeJame Law.

Recksiedler lists physical and emotional scars for the victims -- damages that include suffering from physical pain, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and severe depression. The complaint then says, "treatment will continue throughout the rest of their lives."

Legal analyst Eric Dubois said the complaint has grounds to move forward and the statute of limitations has not run out.

"Twenty years ago, why would you ever pursue it? Because odds are he's never going to have any money. So he hits the lottery (and) wins $3 million," Dubois said. "They figure, we can finally recover and help compensate us for some of the emotional and mental abuse."

Just as quickly as the Mount Dora Man won the money, it could be spent, which is why the victims' attorney also filed an emergency motion to freeze his assets.

"If they don't freeze it now, he's going to spend it. He's already fled the state once when he was arrested in New York. He's a flight risk. He has $3 million.

Essentially, he can buy his ticket to any place in the world," said Dubois.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Sex Offender Registry has a new address for Poole out of West Virginia as of Dec. 12.

Dubois said Poole will most likely have 20 days to respond to the lawsuit.



The strength of communication

by Airman 1st Class Alexa Culbert

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Most families experience growing pains when it comes to communication, whether it's learning how to express their feelings with each other or dealing with a teenager going through adolescence.

The staff at the Family Advocacy Program here helps Airmen and their families to understand the importance of effective communication and provides them with the communication skills needed to retain healthy personal and professional relationships.

Their mission is to prevent, intervene and provide treatment for family maltreatment. Family maltreatment is the physical, emotional, sexual abuse or neglect of an adult partner or child.

Ineffective communication doesn't just affect Airmen's family lives and personal relationships; it can also have detrimental effects on their professional relationships and the mission.

"It's important for Airman to have healthy communication skills to have healthy relationships," said Dr. April Jones, 42nd Mental Health Family Advocacy outreach manager. "Ineffective communication skills can impede the mission. For instance, when you have family maltreatment in the form of emotional abuse in your life, it can make it difficult to focus on your job, which can have a negative impact on the mission."

Emotional abuse is connected to ineffective communication because it is verbal and often consists of insults, humiliation or "mind-games" to control another person, she said.

People learn to communicate in childhood from their parents, family members, friends and school. Whether the communication skills learned are effective or ineffective will become that person's way of communicating with others.

"We are all products of our environments or products of how we were raised," said Beverly Lesyea, Family Advocacy Program officer. "We often repeat the same behaviors we saw or experienced in our own families."

The first step in resolving family communication issues is to realize there is a problem and to take the necessary steps to make a change.

"Change is hard, and it is always easier to do what we know or what feels 'normal' to us. Personal insight or awareness often comes when the individual doing the negative behavior experiences it themselves," said Lesyea. "And numerous communication classes are a great place to start improving or changing your communication patterns."

Parenting training is available at the Family Advocacy Program and is free to anyone with access to the base. Training available include Active Parenting of Teens, which educates parents how to effectively communicate with their teens, and Love and Logic Parenting, which teaches parents how to use practical techniques for appropriate disciplining of children.

The program also mentors families who are going through difficult times or who are living in abusive environments. Usually, the abusive environment is the result of poor communication skills within the family.

"Alleged abusers of family maltreatment don't always know that what they're doing is unhealthy; it is usually a learned behavior that becomes their norm," said Jones. "So, it's our job to raise awareness and educate people about the different types of family maltreatment that a person can be exposed to in a relationship. Prevention is key. If you learn what constitutes family maltreatment and learn how to effectively communicate, then a person may prevent having miscommunication in their personal life and work environment."

Other evidence-based training provided by the Family Advocacy Program includes Couples L.I.N.K.S, which teaches couples how to keep their relationships strong and identify potential unhealthy behaviors before they become issues of family maltreatment; Anger Management, which teaches individuals how to identify their anger triggers and how to manage them to better their quality of life; and Operation Restoration, which was designed by the Air Force to provide education about family maltreatment and life skills that can enhance personal well-being of self and others.

For more information, contact the Family Advocacy Program at 953-5430/5055.



Stemming the tide of child abuse


Recently, a video recording of a house-help inflicting unbelievable pains on a hapless 18-month-old child whom, ironically, she was meant to look after went wild on the social media. The dreadful sight of the maid pouncing and pounding on the child, as if in a wrestling bout, was met with widespread indignation across the globe. It was such a disgusting spectacle. Many who saw it wondered what on earth the child could have done to deserve such cold-hearted treatment. It was later revealed that the parents of the unfortunate child had been suspecting foul play for quite some time, based on several bruises they had noticed on the body of their child. This, of course, was why they hid a camera in the house to monitor happenings between the maid and the child. It was the hidden camera that eventually exposed the maid and her callous acts. Fortunately, reports have it that the iniquitous housemaid has since been sentenced to a four-year jail term by a Ugandan court. Hopefully, this would serve as a deterrent to others with similar sadistic inclination.

Naturally, childhood represents a sensitive period that requires handling with greater care and attention. This readily explains why parents, guardians, nannies, teachers and others in the business of child mending often go the extra mile to care for and protect the interests of children. This is quite understandable as children are expectedly quite vulnerable. It is in view of their vulnerable nature that the United Nations and its affiliated bodies spare nothing to ensure the safety and general wellbeing of children all over the world. Consequently, since 1979, when the UN decided to focus more on children's rights, the attention of the world has shifted towards child protection, care and security. Hence, several rights have been proclaimed as indispensable for the child. These include rights to love and understanding, adequate food and health, free education, play, an identity and special attention of the handicapped regardless of colour, sex, religion and other socio-cultural divides.

Regrettably, though, child abuse has over the years remained a recurring blight that major global child rights advocates and groups have been working hard to deal with. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), 80 million children below 18 years are working as labourers all over the world while another 2 million engage in child prostitution. Without a doubt, child abuse remains a foremost global danger to the development of children. Ugly incidences of callous maltreatment of children, like the one described above, still abound in a world that is gradually losing its sanity. Some of the things that constitute child abuse include maltreatment of children, sexual harassment, denial of education, child labour, intimidation and molestation, physical assaults, neglect, child labour and child trafficking, among others.

As with other such heinous tendencies, child abuse has grave consequences. For one, it can lead to emotional distress, dejection and frustration. It could also lead to unplanned pregnancy which could result into abortion and possibly untimely death. Other effects of child abuse include uncontrollable aggression, bitterness, anger, depression, disorderly lifestyle, unfulfilled dreams, among others. Research has indicated that child abuse has far-reaching consequences on not only its victims but the community as a whole.

Like other members of the global community, Nigeria has been involved in making concerted efforts to frontally confront the evil of child abuse. In order to provide a legal and institutional framework to confront this menace in our country, the National Assembly passed the Child Rights Law in 2003. Most states in the country have equally domesticated the law. In Lagos State, for instance, the Child Rights Bill was signed into law on 28th May, 2007. Since the law came on board, the Lagos State government has been in the forefront of child rights protection and development. Since it has been revealed that the female child represents a larger proportion of victims of child abuse victims, the Lagos State government has been paying particular attention to the protection of the girl-child. The state has also strengthened its crusade against child abuse by paying considerable attention to street hawking by children of school age as well the art of engaging children as housemaids.

In order to properly stem the tide of child abuse in our country and, indeed, the world, parents, guardians and other stakeholders must work together with relevant government and non-government agencies. This is important because effecting a positive change in the condition of the children entails that everyone must stand up to be counted. Parents, in particular, must take extra precaution to ensure that those that they employ to take care of their children are psychologically and emotionally stable. It is dangerous for parents to entrust their children to people whom they hardly know much about. Similarly, parents must pay quality attention to the education of their children. The idea of engaging children in street trading and other such demeaning tendencies must be discouraged. Most parents that engage in this act often argue that they need to raise extra money for the education of their children. It is, however, difficult to justify such viewpoint as almost every state in the country offers free education that covers primary and secondary education.

Continuous enlightenment by relevant authorities and agencies on the dangers of child abuse is equally vital. But then, as it has been previously stated, all hands must be on deck in this bid to protect and defend children from abuse. Everyone in the society has a role to play in this respect. For instance, faith-based organisations, community leaders, social activists and others must come on board this lofty campaign to respect and restore the dignity and rights of the child. The media equally has a crucial role to play in the crusade against child abuse. Communication experts will, equally, do better in doubling effort to address the menace.

On a final note, children are special gifts from God and as such everyone must be involved in defending and protecting their rights and interests. This is the right thing to do.


New Mexico

Delayed disclosure: What stops children from telling?

by Malinda Williams

In the last column, I wrote about reasons why adult victims of sexual assault may delay reporting or never report. This week I write about child sexual abuse victims and why they may not tell someone.

Studies show that most child sexual abuse victims never tell anyone. Many others delay disclosure, and some keep the secret until adulthood. Some children are victimized by more than one perpetrator and will talk about earlier incidents with other abusers when they disclose about their most recent abuse.

Many barriers prevent children from letting adults know about sexual abuse. The majority of perpetrators groom their child victims by using gifts, attention, special outings and friendship to develop love and loyalty with a child and the child's family. When they begin the overt sexual abuse, love and loyalty make it confusing for a child to know the abuse is wrong and even more difficult to talk about. The child may not want the offender to get into trouble or to lose contact with the offender.

Offenders also may enforce secrecy with fear: threats to harm the victim, family members or pets. Many tell their victims no one will believe them. Children often feel shame, embarrassment or fear that the child will be punished for what happened or for bringing unwanted scrutiny to the family.

Over time some children may disclose details of more abuse. A seemingly minor statement about being uncomfortable around someone or being touched may be a tentative reaching out by the child to figure out if they feel they can safely “tell on” the abuser. Are they going to be believed? Are they going to be punished? The full extent of the abuse may be revealed gradually, as the child learns they can safely talk about being abused.

Sometimes children may recant (withdraw) their sexual abuse allegations, especially in the rare cases that criminal charges are brought. The offender, the family or others may pressure the child to say they made up the abuse. When non-offending parents continue to be in a relationship with the offender, the child may feel pressured to “take back” the disclosure to keep the family together.

Not all sexually abused children show obvious signs of abuse. It is important to pay attention to any changes in children such as sleep problems, unusual fears, distraction, withdrawal, mood swings, unusual rage or fear, or changed eating habits.

Some younger children suddenly resist taking off their clothes at bed or bath time. Older children may cut or burn themselves, use drugs/alcohol, develop eating disorders, become sexually promiscuous or provocative, or run away or threaten suicide.

Only rarely are there physical signs of child sexual abuse so a child's statements are usually important evidence. Community Against Violence houses the Children's Advocacy Center, where child forensic interviewers work with local law enforcement to talk with children about what may have happened. The interviewers are highly trained to avoid false disclosures by interacting with the child in a neutral, non-suggestive way.

Perpetrators make sure that there are no witnesses to the abuse, except the child. Child abuse is everybody's business. If you believe that your child or a child you know may have been sexually victimized, immediately contact CYFD's Statewide Central Intake —1-855-333-SAFE (7233). This is a confidential call. Authorities will investigate and often enlist expert interviewers at Child Advocacy Centers to talk with the child.

Everybody's Business

Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers free confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; male involvement, community, and school violence prevention programs; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at 575-758-9888.



"Eight Holiday Tips from a Domestic Violence Survivor" by Award-winning Author, Tom North, Posted on

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for adult survivors of domestic violence and child abuse, especially those with children. But the holidays can be a perfect time to help heal the past and create new loving memories to support the health and wellbeing of the family.

Award-winning author, Tom North's blog, "Eight Holiday Tips From A Domestic Violence Survivor" is posted on NO MORE is a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault. North, who appears on radio and television programs and is featured in articles and blogs, shares information about why it is important that children develop a healthy "family narrative”.

According to research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, having a close circle of relatives is crucial for the psychological wellbeing of children. Children need to feel that they are connected to others and they are not alone. Studies show that children who know more about their family connections prove to be more resilient, meaning they can better moderate the effects of stress. They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. As chapters are added to their family's life, they grow in strength as they share their “family narrative” through experiences and stories.

North knows first-hand about how growing up in a violent household can effect a child's health and wellbeing. He is one of the children in the famous Beardsley family that was featured in the movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours” starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda. But the Beardsley's were anything from blissful; in fact, according to North, the stepfather's abuse created an environment of fear and terror for the family, even over the holidays. North wrote about the double life in his memoir, True North – The Shocking Truth about “Yours, Mine and Ours.”

“When my dad, Dick North, died, and my mother–who had 8 children–remarried Frank Beardsley, who had 10 (we were famous globally for the size of our combined family), we North children were virtually cut off from our father's extended family," explains North. "I was 6 years old. Connections with our North grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, were forbidden by Frank Beardsley, (he was insanely jealous of anyone ‘North') a very abusive and controlling man. I didn't even know any of my North cousins until I was a grown man.” Grandparents and other relatives play a key role in a child's life. They provide a net of support that can help children weather the storms of life as they grow.

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for adult survivors of domestic violence and child abuse, especially those with children. Everything's supposed to be happy and rosy, with plenty of family and togetherness, but the holiday pressures coupled with alcohol abuse can lead to very stressful situations, including domestic violence and child abuse.

North continues, “Even though I learned how to create a positive and healthy environment for my family, the holidays are still hard for me and for so many others like me. The happiest time of the year just isn't. But I don't have to repeat the cycle. Instead, I can try to create a sense of family for my own children—something I never knew.”

Tom North's "Eight Holiday Tips From A Domestic Violence Survivor" can be found on

Tom North is an Official Sponsor of National CASA for Children. To learn more about Tom North, visit

NO MORE is a public awareness and engagement campaign focused on ending domestic violence and sexual assault. NO MORE is aligned with hundreds of organizations working at the local, state and national levels on prevention, advocacy, and services for survivors.



With the loss of his mother, Steelers' William Gay steps up against domestic abuse

by J. Brady McCollough

The holidays bring extra-complicated emotions to the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, so all the more reason to be festive.

On this night, freshly wrapped gifts are tucked underneath a large Christmas tree, and the spicy smell of barbecue wafts in the warm air coming from the kitchen as “White Christmas” plays softly from small stereo speakers.

The 17 women and 13 children are here because they were considered to be in immediate danger. They are safe for now, and that is to be celebrated. But they are also scarred, separated from their families and friends at the time when they need them most. The shelter can comfortably take about 40 survivors at a time, which employees know is not enough. Last year, they had to turn away 700 people, ushering them to similar facilities across the region.

Victims stay until the shelter can find an affordable landing spot for them, usually 45 to 60 days. The names change often, and the hope is that the transiency of the population means more lives are being changed for the better.

“Hey ladies! Will's here!” yells a staff member.

This night should be special. Steelers cornerback William Gay is here to serve his annual holiday dinner. He likes that each time he visits the shelter, he is greeted by new faces carrying untold stories of bravery.

“Every time I go,” Mr. Gay says, “it's like a new beginning.”

Barbara Nicholas, the shelter's development director, introduces him. She wants the victims to understand that Mr. Gay is not just some NFL player who happened to take up domestic violence as his issue now that it has become the league's hot-button topic in the aftermath of the Ray Rice incident. Mr. Gay has been helping the shelter since 2009, she says.

“I don't know if you know my story,” Mr. Gay says, “but my mom passed away from domestic violence. So to see y'all get out of situations, I call y'all heroes. My mom, unfortunately, she couldn't get out of the situation. She lost her life to it. For you guys to bring your kids here, it's just tremendous.

“Want to come bless the food with me?”

What the women and children don't know is that Mr. Gay needs this time with them every bit as much as they do. For nearly two decades after he lost his mother as a 7-year-old, he felt that if he just kept the pain inside long enough it would finally disappear. Instead, it became part of his inner lining, affecting his everyday interactions in a world of happy parents and children that he simply could not comprehend.

“Bow your heads,” he asks. “Dear Lord, we just want to thank you for another blessed day. … We ask you to lift these women up, and their families, and everybody who helps out with the Women's Center & Shelter…”

For those like Ms. Nicholas who fight against domestic violence every day, one of the constant challenges is finding victims to step forward and into the spotlight. Real-life examples are needed to put an end to the shame survivors live with and show them they are not alone. That Mr. Gay, with his Steelers celebrity, has done public service announcements for the shelter, been the spokesperson for its new “RU Safe?” mobile app and traveled the country doing speaking engagements has been more than Ms. Nicholas could have ever expected.

When he first expressed interest in learning more about the shelter, neither Ms. Nicholas nor Steelers community relations manager Michele Rosenthal knew what had happened to his mother. He had said he just wanted to eat dinner with the victims and get a sense of the place, but once he began hearing their stories, something came over him. His words poured out, and they haven't stopped since.

After all those years, William Gay was free. But if he was going to start telling his story, it was time to find out the truth.

Reliving tragedy

He had never asked questions. His mother was there for him one day, and then she wasn't. What did the details matter? William Gay had bought into a message given by the elders in his family that was meant to help a young boy put one foot in front of the other: The world was not fair, and nobody was going to feel sorry for him.

Now, he was coming for answers. Mr. Gay returned to Tallahassee, Fla., after his first visit to the shelter and sought out his uncles and his grandmother, Corine Hall, who had raised him.

He did not remember more than the basics about his mother. They didn't have much, but Carolyn Hall Bryant worked to give him and his brothers the things they wanted. She asked them to be good citizens. But the specifics were murky. By not talking about her, year after year, her image had become blurry, her voice faint. Mr. Gay was there to bring her back to life.

“When I went home, that's all I wanted to know about,” he says. “What happened, why did it happen, where were we when it happened…”

Carolyn had three sons with three men, and she had recently married Vernon Bryant, the father of her third boy, Verterris. At age 30, she had an office job working for the state of Florida, and she had just given her life over to God.

Her relationship with her new husband was far from perfect. For the adults, that was easy to see. They would sometimes become heated around family, but not the kids. One uncle told Mr. Gay that he knew Carolyn and Vernon were having issues, but they always had viewed Carolyn as tough, able to handle anything that came her way. So, he stayed out of it.

That was one thing Mr. Gay kept hearing: Nobody felt it was any of their business — a tired refrain in domestic violence cases.

March 14, 1992, was a sunny Saturday. Carolyn dropped the boys off at their grandmother's house and walked down the street to visit a friend. She was considering leaving Vernon, and he was not taking it well. He tracked her down at her friend's house, and she came outside to talk to him.

Minutes later, the friend was running frantically down the street to Corine's house. Carolyn's brother, Ronald “Gene” Hall, was there with the boys. The friend told Gene that Vernon had shot Carolyn and then turned the gun on himself. When Gene reached her, Carolyn was laying on the driveway, bleeding onto the concrete.

Gene held his little sister and tried to keep her from moving. She was breathing, so there was still hope. He stayed with her in the ambulance and into the hospital. The outlook wasn't good; she had been shot five times.

Family took William and his brothers to the hospital. This was the part of the story that he could always remember. The boys wanted to see their mother, but they were told they couldn't. They didn't understand why.

“After that, they told me that my mother passed away,” Mr. Gay says. “I thought life was over.”

Getting on path

Corine Hall's husband died when Carolyn, the youngest of their five children, was just a toddler. Corine was a housekeeper by day, a stretched-thin mother by night, and Carolyn had gotten her best. Now her baby was gone, but there was no time to wallow, not with Carolyn's three sons she had left behind living under the cloud of an uncertain future.

What were they going to do with Unrikay Hall, 13, William Gay, 7, and Verterris Bryant, 3?

They talked about splitting them up among family members, but Corine decided she would take all three into her home.

This would be no side job for a woman in her 50s. The boys were angry and confused.

“My grandmother couldn't control us,” Mr. Gay says. “I was just enraged, not caring about nothing.”

To give herself and the boys a chance, Corine moved out of Tallahassee's South Side project. They stuffed nine people into a small four-bedroom home, where William's temper didn't subside. He had been taught to swallow his grief, and there was no telling when it would rear its ugly head. In junior high, school officials lost patience with his constant fighting and threatened expulsion.

His Uncle Gene told William that if he didn't start behaving, he was going to end up dead or in jail. But what really stuck with William?

“You won't play football anymore,” Uncle Gene had threatened.

No football? The game was the one thing that had brought him joy and a sense of belonging. When he did something good on the field, people cheered for him. William was not going to let that be taken from him, too.

He stayed out of trouble and became a star quarterback and defensive back at Tallahassee's Rickards High. When he would make a big play, he would point to the sky. Those were moments shared between just him and his mother.

William, at 5 feet 10 inches tall, was not going to make the recruiting list for hometown Florida State. So he and six of his teammates compiled a video of their highlights on their own and sent copies of it across the country. William's tape jumped out, and he accepted a scholarship to the University of Louisville.

There, away from home for the first time, he was on fast forward. The Cardinals planned to redshirt him as a freshman because of his size, but they couldn't keep him off the field. He would become one of the best players in the Big East Conference, and he would graduate with a degree in sports administration in just three and a half years.

Still, though, Mr. Gay hadn't fully proven himself. He was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine or any senior all-star games. He worked out at Louisville's on-campus pro day, and his agent told him he'd likely be a high-priority undrafted free agent.

“To be honest with you, I didn't really think about the NFL,” Mr. Gay says. “Yeah, that was a dream when I was young. But when I got to school, I knew a degree would bring a lot of opportunities. I was ready to go back home and work, get into coaching.”

On draft day in 2007, there was no big gathering. Mr. Gay was half-watching at his grandmother's house when his phone started buzzing and his name scrolled on the bottom of the screen: The Pittsburgh Steelers had taken him in the fifth round.

Hours later, Corine's backyard was packed with family, and the meat was on the grill. Fifteen years after her death shattered him, Carolyn's middle son was headed for the NFL.

Using his platform

William Gay was at home on Monday, Sept. 8, when he saw the video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice striking his fiancee with his fist in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino.

“I was very shocked,” Mr. Gay says. “You never see it coming.”

That day, when Gay arrived at the Steelers facility, he was approached by team officials who warned him that reporters would be wanting to talk to him about Mr. Rice. Mr. Gay had come a long way since he first told his story publicly five years ago, and he assured them that he was ready for it. He knew one thing: He wasn't going to villainize Mr. Rice.

“Someone could have died, that's all,” Mr. Gay said then. “That's how I feel about the situation, so we need to do everything we can to help Ray Rice. Because we don't need to run away from him and say he's evil. It's an issue, we need to deal with it, and we need to help Ray Rice and his [wife] to be better from it.”

Now that domestic violence is being more freely discussed, Mr. Gay has been able to step forward as a leader. His face was featured in several NFL public service announcements with the theme “No More,” and, on Oct. 26, he wore purple cleats during the Steelers' win over the Colts because purple is the color of the cause against domestic violence. He has received attention for pointing to his mother in the sky after his franchise-record three interceptions returned for touchdown.

In November, the Steelers named Mr. Gay their Walter Payton Man of the Year, which nominates him for the league-wide award, given to players who best serve their communities. During his bye week, he returned to Tallahassee to hand out turkeys and Thanksgiving fixings to 500 local families. The bill was $16,000.

That day, as he and his family manned the assembly line, Corine Hall, now 84, looked on from the community center's bleachers. She said that watching him do for others makes her happy.

About a year ago, Mr. Gay bought her a new house, which quickly became the family meeting place. These days, when he and his brothers get together, they can talk about what happened to their mother. Sometimes, it gets emotional, but at least everything is out in the open.

“To see William, his success, it helps all of us,” his Uncle Gene says. “You get some of the effects of it.”

The Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh is benefiting, too. At Mr. Gay's holiday dinner, he moved around to speak with the women and play with the kids, each of whom received a few presents he provided. He and two teammates who joined him, fellow defensive backs Will Allen and Cortez Allen, stayed to sign autographs.

Sure, Mr. Gay would have been OK without the NFL. But he knows it gave him this opportunity.

“Maybe it was for this reason,” he says. “I was never the guy to want to stand in front of the camera and get all the praise for coming up in domestic violence, because I didn't live it. My mom did. So that's what I'm using that platform for, to keep her voice alive.”



786 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span

by Holbrook Mohr and Garance Burke

BUTTE (AP) – At least 786 children died of abuse or neglect in the U.S. in a six-year span in plain view of child protection authorities — many of them beaten, starved or left alone to drown while agencies had good reason to know they were in danger, The Associated Press has found.

To determine that number, the AP canvassed the 50 states, the District of Columbia and all branches of the military — circumventing a system that does a terrible job of accounting for child deaths. Many states struggled to provide numbers. Secrecy often prevailed.

Most of the 786 children whose cases were compiled by the AP were under the age of 4. They lost their lives even as authorities were investigating their families or providing some form of protective services because of previous instances of neglect, violence or other troubles in the home.

Take Mattisyn Blaz, a 2-month-old from Montana who died when her father spiked her “like a football,” in the words of a prosecutor.

Matthew Blaz was well-known to child services personnel and police.

Just two weeks after Mattisyn was born on June 25, 2013, he came home drunk, grabbed his wife by her hair and threw her to the kitchen floor while she clung to the newborn. He snatched the baby from her arms, giving her back only when Jennifer Blaz called police.

Jennifer Blaz said a child protective services worker visited the day after her husband's attack, spoke with her briefly and left. Her husband pleaded guilty to assault and was ordered by a judge to take anger management classes and stay away from his wife.

She said the next official contact between the family and Montana child services came more than six weeks later — the day of Mattisyn's funeral.

The system also failed Ethan Henderson, who was only 10 weeks old but already had been treated for a broken arm when his father hurled him into a recliner so hard that it caused a fatal brain injury.

Maine hotline workers had received at least 13 calls warning that Ethan or his siblings were suffering abuse — including assertions that an older sister had been found covered in bruises, was possibly being sexually abused and had been burned by a stove because she was left unsupervised.

Ethan himself had arrived at daycare with deep red bruises dappling his arm.

Still, the caseworker who inspected the family's cramped trailer six days before Ethan died on May 8, 2012, wrote that the baby appeared “well cared for and safe in the care of his parents.”

Lack of data

Because no single, complete set of data exists for the deaths of children who already were being overseen by child protective services workers, the information compiled over the course of AP's eight-month investigation represents the most comprehensive statistics publicly available.

The AP reviewed thousands of pages of official reports, child fatality records and police documents for the period in question, which ran from fiscal year 2008 through 2013.

And, even then, the number of abuse and neglect fatalities where a prior open case existed at the time of death is undoubtedly much higher than the tally of 760.

Seven states reported a total of 230 open-case child deaths over the six-year period, but those were not included in the AP count because the states could not make a distinction between investigations started due to the incident that ultimately led to a child's death and cases that already were open when the child received the fatal injury.

Some states did not provide data for all six years, not all branches of the military provided complete information, and no count of open-case deaths of any type was obtained from the Bureau of Indian Affairs or FBI, which investigate allegations of abuse on reservations.

The lack of comprehensive data makes it difficult to measure how well those responsible for keeping children safe are protecting their most vulnerable charges.

The data collection system on child deaths is so flawed that no one can even say with accuracy how many children overall die from abuse or neglect every year. The federal government estimates an average of about 1,650 deaths annually in recent years; many believe the actual number is twice as high.

Even more lacking is comprehensive, publicly available data about the number of children dying while the subject of an open case or while receiving assistance from the agencies that exist to keep them safe — the focus of AP's reporting.

When asked to explain why so many children with open cases have died at the hands of their caretakers, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the nation's major child abuse prevention programs, said the agency had no immediate response.

But spokeswoman Laura Goulding said colleagues wanted to know more about how the AP derived its figures. “Are you willing to share your source for that?” she wrote in an email.

States submit information on child abuse deaths to the federal government on a voluntary basis — some of it comprehensive, some of it inaccurate.

For instance, a significant number of deaths were not reported to the South Carolina team reviewing child deaths in the state, said Perry Simpson, director of the South Carolina Legislative Audit Council. That meant the data the review team provided the federal government was wrong.

And a judge in Kentucky issued a scathing order last year against the state's Cabinet for Health and Family Services for willfully circumventing open records laws and failing to release full records on child abuse deaths, fining the agency $765,000.

“There can be no effective prevention when there is no public examination of the underlying facts,” Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said.

In some cases, states withhold information about child deaths in violation of the terms of federal grants they receive.

HHS says all states receiving grants under a prevention and treatment program must “allow the public to access information when child abuse or neglect results in a child fatality,” unless those details would put children, their families or those who report child abuse at risk, or jeopardize an investigation.

In addition, grants issued under a section of the Social Security Act are tied to a requirement that states describe how they calculate data on child maltreatment deaths submitted to the federal government.

Still, no state has ever been found to be in violation of disclosure requirements and federal grants have never been withheld, according to Catherine Nolan, who directs the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, a sub-agency of HHS.

“Obviously, the overarching goal is always keeping the children safe from harm. It's a matter of how the states have decided they want to do it,” Nolan said.

The information that states provide to the federal government through the voluntary system also is severely lacking. A 2013 report showed that 17 states did not provide the federal government with a key measure of performance: how many children had died of child abuse after being removed from their homes and then reunited with their families within a five-year period.

Withholding information about such fatalities allows child protective agencies to shroud their activities — and their failures. It also leaves a major void for researchers and policy makers looking for ways to identify and protect the children in risky situations.

“We all agree that we cannot solve a problem this complex until we agree it exists,” said David Sanders, chairman of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, whose members have been traveling the country studying child deaths under a congressional mandate.

“If, for example, you want to fix something like fatalities due to children being left alone, it seems that it would be important to know how often that is happening and what it looks like to come up with a solution,” he said.

The child welfare system is fragmented, with hundreds of different agencies — from state governments to county offices, tribes and the military — operating by their own set of standards.

Some states, like New York and Ohio, have county-administered systems, with data collection and retention scattered. In others, a state agency provides child welfare services. And still others, such as Florida, have privatized some child welfare operations.

And because there is no single definition of what constitutes abuse or neglect, what is counted as maltreatment in one locality may not be in another.

Montana secrets

Nowhere was the AP's challenge steeper than Montana, where the state's confidentiality law allows the child protective services agency to operate with impunity. The AP discovered the Department of Public Health and Human Services' involvement in Mattisyn Blaz's short life, and her death, only by examining hundreds of pages of court files from the criminal trial of her father.

The state makes public only the number of children who died from maltreatment in a given year. Officials said state law prohibits them from releasing details on the number of children who died after having a prior history with child protective services.

Department spokesman Jon Ebelt acknowledged Montana law conflicts with federal disclosure requirements and said officials would seek a change in state law to allow for the disclosure of more information.

As part of the blanket secrecy, it is not clear what, if anything, child welfare authorities did to help Mattisyn Blaz.

Based on information obtained from the court file, it is clear that Matthew Blaz's violent streak was known to authorities. His former girlfriend had accused him of assaulting her while she cradled their 9-week-old son in 2011. He attacked his wife, Jennifer, at least twice in 2012, on one occasion dragging her around the house by her hair. She told authorities he regularly threatened to kill her.

Mattisyn's older half-sister — 10 at the time — cowered under a bed after Blaz threatened to come after her and was so afraid she began sleeping with a knife nearby, the children's grandmother said.

The protective order issued in July 2013 should have prevented Matthew Blaz from remaining in the home, but soon he was back with the family.

“I honestly thought after I bailed him out and we talked, and with the no alcohol, you know, and him going to AA, I really thought things were going to change,” his wife said.

When Jennifer Blaz went to work on Aug. 16, 2013, she left her husband to care for the girls. For reasons still unknown, he became enraged and threw the baby, fracturing her skull and causing other devastating injuries, according to prosecutor Samm Cox.

Later that day, he loaded the children into his car and drove across town to pick up a chain saw that had been repaired and then stopped for some sandwiches. He dropped one off to his wife at work, but never mentioned anything was wrong with the baby.

When Matthew picked his wife up that afternoon, he calmly told her that a 12-year-old neighborhood boy had dropped Mattisyn earlier in the day. Jennifer noticed the baby didn't look right and called for an ambulance.

By then, it was too late for little Mattisyn.

Last month, Matthew Blaz was sentenced to life in prison, with no possibility of parole.

System still failing

When President Richard Nixon signed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act into law in 1974, it was seen as a sign of federal commitment to preventing child abuse through state-level monitoring.

But in 1995, a board reviewing the progress that had been made issued a scathing report headlined “A Nation's Shame: Fatal Child Abuse and Neglect in the United States.”

The report called for better information and transparency, and flagged “serious gaps in data collection.” ”Until we develop more comprehensive and sophisticated data, our efforts to understand and prevent child maltreatment-related deaths will be severely handicapped,” it said.

Nearly 20 years later, the AP found that many such problems persist.

Michael Petit, who was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, said meetings have been fruitful but will bring no substantive change unless Congress requires states to do more.

“The child safety net in this country is not equal to the size of the problem that's coming at it,” said Petit, the former head of Maine's child protective services agency and founder of the advocacy group Every Child Matters. “The system overall is in crisis.”

That system is plagued with worker shortages and a serious overload of cases. For instance, a caseworker in Texas who investigated abuse reports about a 2-year-old who eventually died in the care of his mother was juggling 37 cases a few weeks before he died.

In addition:

• Budgets are tight, and some experts say funding shortages lead to more deaths. Conditions improved when Alabama spent more money on child welfare as part of a 15-year federal consent decree. But since 2007, when the decree ended, funding has shrunk nearly every year — and the number of open-case deaths has started to climb, from one in 2009 to five in 2013.

•Insufficient training for those who answer child abuse hotlines leads to reports being misclassified, sometimes with deadly consequences. In Arizona, a June 2013 call about an 8-month-old with a suspicious broken arm was logged incorrectly and not investigated. The girl died of a brain injury about a month later, after being burned on the face with a cigarette lighter and shaken violently.

•The lack of a comprehensive national child welfare database that would allow caseworkers to keep track of individual cases, child by child, means some abusive caregivers known to authorities can slip through the cracks by crossing state lines.

•A policy that promotes keeping families intact plays a major role in the number of deaths, because children remain in abusive situations. According to Vermont police, 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon was left in her home even after suffering two broken legs under suspicious circumstances. Caseworkers said they'd felt “an overwhelming push” to keep the family together, based on their general training. Dezirae died in February from blunt force trauma to the head; her stepfather is charged with second-degree murder. A police detective wrote: “This focus on reunification very often puts the needs of the parents often above the needs and interest of the child or victim.”

•Worst of all, nearly 40 percent of the 3 million child abuse and neglect complaints made annually to child protective services hotlines in the U.S. are “screened out” and never investigated.



Accuser's lawyer: 'Fix was in' with Winston code of conduct hearing

by 51 Wire

A lawyer for the woman who accused Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her says "the fix was in" when the university cleared him of violating the school's code of conduct.

The lawyer, Baine Kerr, tells the Associated Press that Florida State did not conduct a fair hearing, calling the proceedings a "mockery ... that ignored what the evidence was."

Citing evidence “insufficient to satisfy the burden of proof,” Winston was cleared of allegations that he violated four sections of the school's code of conduct -- two for sexual misconduct and two for endangerment. Winston, last season's Heisman Trophy winner, could have been expelled had he been found guilty.

"I don't want to impugn the proceeding as corrupt, but I think it was biased and the fix was in," Kerr said to the AP. "It's all about a football game 10 days from today. It turned out to be just a predetermined whitewash to keep a guy playing football."

Winston did not testify during the hearing, but gave a written statement saying that sex with the woman was consensual.

"The proper forum to getting to the truth is going to be the court of law, not, essentially, a sham court like this one turned out to be," Kerr said.

Winston's accuser has five days to appeal to the school's decision.

Florida State is currently being investigated by the U.S. Department of Education on how it handled the Winston case, which could be a possible Title IX violation.

The Seminoles, who have won 29 games in a row, faces Oregon in the College Football Playoffs semifinal on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl.



Woman: I did not consent to sex with ex-49er Ray McDonald

by Evan Sernoffsky

A woman who said she was possibly sexually assaulted by former 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald told police she had been drinking at his San Jose home, had fallen and hit her head, and had awakened the next morning naked in his bed, according to court documents released Monday.

In addition, the woman said she and McDonald had consumed alcohol with 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, who in July was sentenced to three years' probation by a Santa Clara County judge in connection with a series of weapons and drunken-driving charges.

“We'll look into it, we're aware of it, we'll see where it goes,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said during an interview on 95.7 The Game on Monday afternoon.

According to the woman's report, she and McDonald were accompanied by Smith to the store to buy alcohol the day after the possible assault.



$1M grant for hospitals to study child abuse injuries

by Anne Saker

Astounding as this number is, more than 30,000 Ohio children suffer abuse every year, and in many instances, it starts in the first months of life. That's when abusers often inflict seemingly minor injuries that can get explained away.

To study this phenomenon, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and the five other big children's hospitals in Ohio have just received a $1 million grant from the state.

Attorney General Mike DeWine unveiled the research money at a news conference in Columbus Friday. "By studying these injuries in children from zero to six months, we hope to detect patterns early in order to help prevent, diagnose, care and treat abused children," he said.

"Sentinel" injuries are tells, like small bruises or oral injuries, that something possibly is wrong with a child's environment. There isn't much research on sentinel injuries, but a 2013 study in the journal Pediatrics reported that one hospital examined nearly 200 abused children and found that almost one in three children has an earlier injury that a health care worker documented but did not give consider significant at the time.

The $1 million goes to the Ohio Children's Hospital Association. Participating in the collaborative three-year study with Cincinnati Children's will be Akron Children's Hospital, Dayton Children's Hospital, Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, ProMedica Toledo Children's Hospital and UH/Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. Nationwide is the lead facility.

The money, DeWine's office noted, came from lawsuit settlement funds.

The study will seek a baseline frequency of missed sentinel injuries, develop and share interventions to reduce the likelihood of missing such an injury and measure the impact of intervention at the sighting of a sentinel injury. The first year of the study will collect data from the six main hospitals; the second year will gather information from regional hospitals that care for children, and the third year will include data from large primary-care pediatric practices.



The ‘Queen of Cyberporn' and Her Town's Industry of Child Abuse

by Kristen Schweizer and Clarissa Batino

Along the narrow roads leading into the Philippine village of Ibabao, billboards highlight traditional crafts such as baking cassava cakes, rope making, and sea-shell jewelry. There's no mention of a less salubrious trade that has swept the area in recent years: child porn.

The area has developed a reputation as a global center of the sexual exploitation of children largely due to Eileen Ontong, authorities say. For at least seven years, Ontong -- dubbed “the Queen of Cyberporn” by local media -- abused children on demand in front of a webcam for cash delivered via international wire transfer services, according to Philippine and U.S. police.

Investigators say as many as 35 children, some as young as five, passed through the door of Ontong's concrete and plywood home, adorned with a crucifix and a picture of Jesus, and into a makeshift cyber-den. There, they were molested, had sex with each other, or exposed themselves in front of a camera. It didn't take long for neighbors to offer their children for shows and set up similar operations at home, police say.

“This became a cottage industry in the area because they all saw Eileen Ontong making money,” said Abdul Jamal Dimaporo, an agent with the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation, the country's equivalent of the FBI. “It's easier to earn a living doing this than working. They don't think what they are doing is wrong.”

Police estimate Ontong netted about $200,000 over the years: Snapshots of naked children retailed for $50, nudity in front of the webcam cost $100, and a live sex show among children ran as high as $500. The children, or their parents, got $10-$18 per show. Members of Ontong's extended family participated from age 11. Her husband, Wilfredo, served as a watchman, police say.

The Ontongs today are being held 15 miles (24 kilometers) from their home, in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, a hilltop prison designed for 1,400 inmates that houses 2,200. Charged with child pornography, child abuse and violating the country's human trafficking law, the Ontongs face life imprisonment, according to the Philippine NBI. They have pleaded not guilty, the NBI says. Their defense lawyer didn't respond to numerous phone calls and text messages.

Cat and Mouse

Away from the sandy beaches and blue waters that woo tourists to the Philippines, children have long been exploited in the sex trade. These days, though, instead of working as underage prostitutes on street corners or in hotels and discos, children from poor families in remote slums are being used for sex shows via online video calling services.

“When the money flows easily through the Internet, there are new ways to exploit children,” said Mark Clookie, a former head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who oversees investigations at the International Justice Mission, a non-profit group that is helping prosecute the Ontongs.

About four years ago, Philippine police say they began receiving reports about online child porn streamed live from the Philippines to customers worldwide. Since then, underage sex shows have become the country's No. 1 cybercrime. Though a 2009 law requires Philippine Internet access providers to install software that can detect images and streams of pornography, those rules are often ignored because companies deem it too expensive to comply, said Ronald Aguto, head of the NBI's cybercrime unit.

“It's a cat and mouse kind of thing,” Aguto said. “Our Internet providers are mandated to be law enforcers, but it's a big business and a lot of people are involved.”

Private Rooms

Until 2006, Eileen Ontong, now 36, worked at a factory that made electronic equipment in the neighboring city of Lapu Lapu. Wilfredo, now 38, had a motorized rickshaw that he used to ferry tourists around resort areas, according to Wilfredo's mother, Nenita Ontong, a slight woman of 56 who lives in a small stucco house with pink curtains and an air-conditioner -- relative luxury in the warren of tumbledown shacks. Eileen and Wilfredo's place, next door, was more humble.

“Look at their home,” Nenita Ontong said, gesturing toward a small concrete structure where her son and daughter-in-law lived. “It's not the house of a queen.”

After a friend taught Eileen how to use computers, she began frequenting local Internet cafes that offer private rooms for less than $1 an hour, Nenita said. There, Eileen engaged in chat sessions with foreign men, and she soon earned enough to buy her own computer and a high-speed Internet connection to start working from home. Several times a week, Eileen traveled to money-transfer outlets in Lapu Lapu to pick up funds sent via Western Union (WU) or other services, police say -- anywhere from $30 to $500 at a time.

“I knew Eileen was doing something using the Internet, and I advised her to stop but she ignored me,” said Nenita. “I think some of our neighbors asked Eileen for help” in setting up their own cyberporn operations. She didn't say whether children were involved.

The NBI says it found thousands of images of child pornography on equipment seized from the house: scenes of Eileen Ontong sexually abusing a pre-teen member of her extended family, children having sex, a five-year-old girl exposing herself, young boys performing oral sex on each other.

About 60,000 Filipino children enter the sex trade every year, and perhaps 10,000 of them have worked in online porn, according to the Preda Foundation, which runs a shelter for abused girls. In a country where 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, a webcam show can put food on the table or pay for a new roof.

“Of course those who do it will always use poverty as an excuse,” said Adelino Sitoy, mayor of the Cordova Municipality, which includes Ibabao. “What attracts them is easy money. All you have to do is tell your children to undress.”

One child testified in the Ontong case on Dec. 8, and the next hearing is expected in March, according to the International Justice Mission. One girl found at Ontong's house during the arrests has also testified, but the other two children who were there that night fled and can't be located, according to the NBI.

Holy Child

Ibabao sits on Mactan Island in the shadow of the international airport serving the city of Cebu, where flights from points as distant as Singapore, Seoul, and Tokyo disgorge sun-seeking tourists. Many of these end up at hotels such as the Shangri-La, Costabella, and Plantation Bay on Mactan's eastern beaches. Few ever make it to Ibabao.

To reach the settlement of about 8,000 people, you leave behind the resorts, malls and apartment towers near the shore and cross a low bridge spanning the Gabi River. The road narrows to two lanes, and the sedans and SUVs typical of wealthier districts give way to swarms of motorbikes and three-wheeled motorized rickshaws. Colorful posters depicting happy families urge children to cherish and obey their parents.

The area is thick with pawnshops, bakeries, butchers and Internet cafes, many of which double as money-transfer services, with Western Union logos on prominent display. As in villages across the Philippines, women working as nannies in Hong Kong and men constructing skyscrapers in Dubai use these services to send funds back home.

From the barangay office -- the local town hall -- a sharp left onto an unmarked road leads to Sitio Sun-ok, a hardscrabble enclave of tiny homes thrown together from concrete, thin sheets of metal, and plywood. They're separated by dirt pathways, just wide enough for two people, that turn into rivers of mud in the rainy months of June through September. The Ontongs' house lies up one of these lanes, a few steps from a yellow stucco Catholic chapel devoted to the Santo Nino, or Holy Child, that seats about 50 worshipers.

Police say the Ontongs were in the process of renovating their home with money from the business. In the past few years they had added a concrete foundation and replaced tarps that made up the walls with cement blocks and plywood. They hadn't yet fixed broken windows or rebuilt the ceiling of banig -- dried palm-leaf mats -- with something more impermeable.

Other proceeds went toward private school tuition for their daughter. And it wasn't unusual for Eileen to take the family to a mall for lunch or one of the beach resorts for a day in the sun -- sometimes with a “foreign friend” in tow -- Nenita Ontong said.

Dockside Encounter

One of Eileen's foreign friends, at least via the Internet, was David Tallman. The 55-year-old retired U.S. Navy enlisted man, who sent Ontong more than $7,300 over four years, is serving a 12-year sentence in Lexington, Kentucky, after pleading guilty to transportation of child pornography. His lawyer has retired and couldn't be reached for comment.

On Dec. 17, 2012, the USNS Laramie -- Tallman's ship -- pulled into Norfolk, Virginia, after sailing to ports across the Middle East and Africa. Waiting at the dock were four agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Customs and Border Protection service. Peers in Dallas, investigating a separate case, had alerted the agents that Tallman's name had come up as someone who bought child porn. They boarded the ship and asked to search his computer equipment.

“He just stared at me like a deer in the headlights,” said Paul Wolpert, a Homeland Security agent who questioned Tallman in the ship's staff lounge that day. “He sat in thought for a moment, put his head down, and admitted there would be child pornography on the laptop.”

Wolpert's team seized Tallman's two computers, three external hard drives and iPhone and took them to Homeland Security offices in downtown Norfolk. Forensic investigators found 4,000 child porn images as well as e-mails and Yahoo! Messenger logs in which Tallman had negotiated sex shows using the screen names “Ronin” and “tragic_prelude.” Among those communications were hundreds of messages and chats with Ontong, Wolpert said. Tallman also kept a meticulous folder of receipts from Western Union and credit card companies that detailed his payment for pictures and live shows.

Stateroom Arrest

On Feb. 1, 2013, Wolpert went back to the port and arrested Tallman in his stateroom on the Laramie, where he was living. In exchange for a reduced sentence -- he faced more than 20 years in prison -- Tallman agreed to help investigators snare Ontong. He turned over his e-mail accounts and transcripts to Wolpert, who assumed Tallman's online identity and kept in contact with her, while police at the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation prepared to raid Ontong's house.

On Memorial Day weekend 2013, Wolpert logged on as Tallman from a laptop in his living room near Norfolk and negotiated a live sex show. It was after midnight in the Philippines, so Ontong had trouble rounding up children to join in; the more participants the higher the payout. She settled on two members of her extended family and a boy from the neighborhood, all underage, police say.

NBI agent Dimaporo followed the chat on a laptop as he made his way from Cebu to Ibabao in his Toyota sedan, part of a convoy of eight unmarked cars and vans. The NBI had to observe the negotiations taking place from the laptop in order to secure a search warrant, Dimaporo said.

“When we saw the children flash on the screen it was all we needed to swoop in,” he said.

Wilfredo Ontong, standing guard at a basketball court near the house, spotted the agents as they arrived and took off running to warn Eileen, Dimaporo said. He was too late; from the chat, police had all the evidence they needed. The three children were pulled from the house just as two of them were about to have sex in front of the camera, and were handed over to local social welfare counselors. Dimaporo said Eileen showed little remorse, while her husband said he'd warned her to stop the shows for fear of arrest. Both were handcuffed and hustled off to jail.

Marine Busted

NBI agents have identified 35 children from the material found at Ontong's house. Dimaporo said 13 have been taken from their parents and placed in state facilities or shelters run by non-profit organizations. Evidence from the case has helped police find at least 10 neighbors involved with online pornography, the NBI says. Charges of child pornography and child abuse are pending against three people, including one of the parents of the second girl rescued during the Ontong raid.

Police have also identified at least 20 people in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, who they say purchased images or live shows from her. One man, an American Marine, paid Ontong some $40,000 over the years, according to Homeland Security. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrested the man in Okinawa, Japan, though he can't be named until he enters a plea, expected in January.

In the wake of the Ontongs' arrest, local officials have stepped up efforts in schools, churches and community centers to educate children and their parents about the dangers of the trade. And social workers seek out children on the streets and at Internet cafes to help steer them away from cybersex, said Guusje Havenaar, a psychologist at Terre des Hommes, a non-profit that combats child exploitation.

Children who engage in such acts start to “see their bodies as a tool; they become separated from themselves,” Havenaar said. “Cybersex, especially when parents are involving their children, is damaging much more than the parents suspect. Family ties are strong in the Philippines, but that doesn't mean they are healthy.”



Transparency Lost: Little disclosure on child abuse deaths in Florida


In December 2009, the state panel that reviews child abuse deaths released a 179-page report. The document included a detailed analysis of what killed Florida children the year before, dozens of charts and graphs describing both the victims and perpetrators of child abuse, and brief memorials for several of the youngsters whose lives were cut short.

The task was grim but important: studying past child fatalities to prevent future ones.

This year's version of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee's annual report, by comparison, is 17 pages long, six of them devoted to definitions, references, background and methods. It also contains charts — a dozen of them — but little else. Unlike prior years, the report contains no memorials for individual slain children, and no discussion of the state's role in protecting them.

To find evidence of the panel's existence is no simple matter today. In recent months the Florida Department of Health quietly scrubbed any reference to the Child Abuse Death Review Committee from its website, where the library of prior reports had been posted for public examination for more than a decade.

This past March, the Miami Herald and the Bradenton Herald published a series of stories under the heading Innocents Lost that detailed the deaths of 477 children whose families were known to the Department of Children & Families. Since then, steps have been taken to stanch the tragedies: Lawmakers passed legislation overhauling DCF's child protection system and set aside nearly $50 million in new money for more investigators and other reforms.

The law, for the first time, articulated the Legislature's intent to hold the welfare and safety of children above the rights of parents accused of abuse and neglect. Lawmakers stated that they wanted to see more openness from agency administrators, and mandated a website to track child deaths.

DCF, in turn, vowed to learn from its mistakes, even if it meant enduring an occasional public relations beating. In a report last October that detailed the shooting deaths of Sarah Lorraine Spirit's six small children by their grandfather — the single largest child abuse loss of life in recent memory — administrators made this pledge: “There will never be one child who dies without DCF working to determine what changes can be made or processes improved to prevent further tragedy.”

In fact, though, reviews of each child death, required under federal law, have become increasingly thin and decreasingly critical, making it difficult for the public and the news media to gauge DCF's performance. At the same time, several respected, highly engaged members of the statewide Death Review Committee, under the auspices of Surgeon General John Armstrong, have been purged.

“This is not the direction we had expected DCF and the Department of Health to go in,” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel, a Hollywood Democrat who chairs the chamber's Children, Families and Elder Affairs committee. “I think you get the best results when you communicate openly, and not when there is any kind of cover-up.”

“There is no other place to get this information, and this is not the way government should work in the sunshine,” added Sobel, a Senate sponsor of legislation that overhauled DCF last spring. “The goal is to learn what is happening in the state, so we can use our resources wisely.”

A health department spokesman, Nathan Dunn, said the statewide committee “determines the content of the annual report, not Dr. Armstrong or the Department of Health. He added: “The 10 professionals appointed by Dr. Armstrong have over 170 years of experience in child welfare, law enforcement and related fields and are committed to eliminating preventable child abuse and neglect deaths.”

Dunn said the committee's website was taken down for “ make it more user-friendly and transparent. It will be back on line this spring.”

A DCF spokeswoman, Alexis Lambert, said that “to increase transparency, Florida is one of the only states in the country that posts five years of continuously updated child fatality data online.” She added: “DCF reports are focused on reviewing the decision-making in each case in order to help guide future preventative measures Florida's communities can take to save lives.”

Oversight of Florida's child welfare program, and its worst failures, has sometimes bent to political winds. Wary of bad publicity — and of tort lawyers getting rich from DCF missteps — the state often diluted its own watchdog programs, some critics claim.

For instance, Linda Swan, a DCF quality assurance supervisor from the Panhandle who earned a reputation as one of the state's toughest investigators, repeatedly admonished DCF not to rely on “promissory note” safety plans — written pledges by troubled parents to refrain from dangerous behavior. Her warnings went unheeded until the Herald described the proliferation of such pledges, and lawmakers set strict limits on their use in the overhaul bill last spring.

Swan was laid off as the Northwest Florida death review coordinator in 2011. She called DCF's oversight of death reviews a clear “conflict of interest,” and said the agency had long manipulated the program for political ends.

“One of my bosses said ‘we don't want you to air our dirty laundry,' ” Swan said.

As early as 2008, a former chairwoman of the death review committee, acting as a special counsel to DCF, wrote that such reports suffered from “a striking lack of rigor.”

Along with the “lack of rigor,” some death reviews contain information that is clearly erroneous.

Take the case of Logan Suber. A DCF post-mortem report on Logan — the infant died on Nov. 5, 2011, one day after DCF closed its investigation into allegations that his mother's drug abuse endangered his welfare — says Logan was living at his maternal grandparents house, where investigators believed his grandparents would ensure he was safe.

But a police report detailing the 2-month-old's death said Logan and his mother were living in a barn — alongside horses and “large bales of hay” — when his mother accidentally smothered him on a couch inside the barn. Police said they found Xanax, Valium and marijuana, and a drug pipe in Kortney Suber's purse.

Few of the reviews completed this year contain more than three pages of substantive information, a striking contrast to past years, when reviews delved deeply into what went wrong. Fewer still contain sections for recommendations or “areas for improvement” — as was common in prior years.


Yanelli Jaylin Vasquez's autopsy details 15 separate injuries to the girl's 38-pound body. The decisive blows landed near the child's liver, resulting in a catastrophic loss of blood. The Dec. 13, 2013, beating was administered, police say, by Yanelli's grandmother, Caridad Cobb, with whom the state DCF placed the girl two years earlier.

Yanelli remained with her grandma, records show, though DCF's hotline was told Cobb “beat the crap” out of Yanelli's younger brother months earlier “because he was crying.” Cobb admitted to “popping” her toddler grandson at school.

The 3-year-old girl's death review takes up three pages and one sentence. It devotes three paragraphs to DCF's history with Yanelli and her family, though records, as a whole, are hundreds of pages long. The review gives equal time to Cobb's claim that Yanelli accidentally drowned in a bathtub, though police say the story is fiction. Cobb was charged with first-degree murder.

What the death review did not say: Yanelli and her little brother were yanked from their child care center after Cobb was accused of beating her grandson there — and the children never were returned to day care. That's a red flag for child abuse investigators.

It also doesn't say that DCF allowed Yanelli to stay in the home even after her step-grandfather, Michael Cobb, was charged with domestic battery on his sister in November 2011. Though Michael Cobb was charged with the battery — and his sister was not — reports said the children would be safe so long as the Cobbs signed a safety plan promising to keep the sister away.

“Case manager feels that moving the kids due to the incident is not necessary,” a report said.

Lillie Cobb, Michael Cobb's mother, who lived next door to the family, said she and her adult daughter had grave concerns about Caridad Cobb's handling of the two small children — though no DCF investigator or caseworker had ever asked her family for an opinion.

“She could be vile,” the 75-year-old Lillie said, adding the children appeared to be petrified of their grandmother.

Lillie's daughter, 53-year-old Janice Cobb, who lives with her, said she, too, had never been interviewed by DCF. Though she never saw or heard Caridad Cobb abuse the children, she said, she often wondered why she never saw the youngsters leave the house. “I never saw them come outside to play. They were never exposed to other children. I didn't see them socialize. They never got sunshine.”

DCF's review of Yanelli's death — an opportunity for self-examination — fails to mention that the 2012 investigation of Caridad Cobb did not include any interviews with so-called “collateral contacts,” such as the family next-door.


The death review for 2-year-old Noelani Isabella Marmolejo may have been less rigorous; the results of DCF's investigation into her killing took up less than two full pages. The agency's history with the girl's family takes up about half a page.

In January and September of 2013, DCF's abuse hotline received two reports that Noelani was being physically abused: In January, she had “a knot and bruise in the center of her forehead, and a scratch over her left eye.” The following September, the toddler had “bruising and swelling on the right side of her head.” Records show investigators spent four days on the first probe, and nine on the second, though regulations allow 60 days for such investigations.

Such truncated investigations have become common in DCF's Northeast Region, and an Inspector General report on the June 21, 2013, death of a 2-year-old boy, Ezra Raphael, said investigators were encouraged to wrap things up quickly to “alleviate the need to see the child again, and additional work would not have to be completed.”

The death review provides only a brief outline of the two cases, and left out a variety of details that might have shed light on agency missteps, including the fact that Noelani appeared to be fearful of her mother's boyfriend, and, at times, her own mother.

On Nov. 1, 2013, when Noelani was hospitalized with “extensive” head injuries, her grandmother, Fabiola Marmolejo, screamed at a DCF investigator, a report said. The grandmother said she had repeatedly noticed bruises and other injuries to Noelani, and had begged DCF to remove the toddler from the reach of Reyes-Delgado, known to friends as “Jimmy.”

The agency, she said, allowed Noelani to remain with mother Olivia Blake and her boyfriend “even though she tried to tell them that Jimmy was abusing the child.”

Noelani succumbed to “traumatic head injuries,” an autopsy said, and Reyes-Delgado was charged with murder.

Some death reviews remain open for years, rendering them invisible to scrutiny. Two-year-old Lamar Braddy, for example, died on Oct. 18, 2012, while in the care of his state-approved caregivers — one of whom had lost her own children, one to a mysterious death, others to adoption. An autopsy said Lamar died of chest trauma, a homicide, though neither caregiver has been charged. The review of Lamar's death was not made public for two years.


As the rigor of DCF's review of such deaths declined, so, too, did the independence of what was originally designed to be a check on the state's child welfare program. The Statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee was created by statute in 1999 following the killing of a Kayla McKean. Her father buried her in the Ocala National Forest on Thanksgiving Eve in 1997 before reporting her missing, setting off a furious — though futile — search. She had been the subject of several reports to the state's abuse hotline.

The committee, Florida law says, is tasked with achieving “a greater understanding of the causes and contributing factors of deaths resulting from child abuse.”

Beginning about two years ago, the Department of Health's top administrator, Surgeon General Armstrong, purged a number of members with years of experience, replacing them with newcomers. When the agencies that made the appointments objected, they were overruled.

In March, for example, the chairman of the state's Medical Examiner's Commission asked Armstrong to reconsider his dismissal of Central Florida Medical Examiner Barbara C. Wolf from the panel. “I have selected [Wolf] to remain our appointee” to the committee, Bruce Hyma, the Miami-Dade medical examiner, wrote in a March 31 letter. “I have chosen Dr. Wolf for her expertise, her institutional knowledge, and her passion for the health and well being of children.”

Wolf was removed anyway, along with Connie Shingledecker, a major who heads Manatee County's child protection unit, and, Terry Thomas, a now-retired child abuse expert with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement — both of whom served on the panel for about a decade.

Wolf, the medical examiner for five Central Florida counties, had risen to chairwoman when she was told she could no longer serve. She said Armstrong had sought repeatedly to have her removed from the panel, telling her and other team members their reports were “too graphic.”

This month, Armstrong canceled his agency's contract with Randell C. Alexander, a professor at the University of Florida's medical school who had headed the state's Child Protection Team. Alexander had delivered remarks critical of the state's child protection efforts to a federal commission investigating child deaths earlier this year.

Armstrong's agency also abolished the job held for 10 years by Michelle Akins, who oversaw the health department's local child death reviewers. Two years earlier, Armstrong had removed Akins from the statewide team. She had drawn the ire of DCF by questioning the agency's decision to stop counting dozens of child deaths each year that resulted from drowning or accidental suffocations in bed.

Shingledecker, a major in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, said both Alexander and Akins had been instrumental in helping the committee produce “what I believe are the best reports we put out.”

Sobel, the lawmaker who co-sponsored last spring's reform bill, said it appeared as if Armstrong had “wiped the slate clean, shut down the website, and changed the whole direction of this committee.”

Most of the staples of the report, which had been published annually for 13 years, are now gone, including the short vignettes that served as memorials for individual children, and a “dedication” that, in 2009, said members remembered the slain youngsters “for their innocence, and honor them by committing ourselves to work tirelessly to see that no child dies from a preventable death.”

Gone is any detailed analysis of the most persistent threats to Florida children's safety, such as alcohol and drug abuse, criminal or violent histories, or mental illness.

Gone, too, is any discussion of DCF's role leading up to the fatalities, or any analysis of whether any deaths were “preventable.” In the 2009 report, the committee concluded that 65 fatalities, or 32.6 percent of that year's total, were either “definitely” or “possibly” preventable by the state.

Detailed recommendations comprised 12 pages in the 2009 report. Only one page was devoted to calls to action in this year's installment, and one of the seven recommendations was for less transparency: the panel suggested eliminating a requirement in state law that some meetings be taped, arguing such recordings inhibit candor.

“The more transparent we are — as painful as it is — the more chance we have of saving the next child,” said Pam Graham, a professor in the Florida State University College of Social Work and ousted member of the Child Abuse Death Review Committee.

“If you are serious about saving children's lives, you have to look at these things with a discerning eye,” she said.



Advocates Needed For Victims Of Child Abuse

The Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program has an urgent need for volunteers to advocate for children in court.

The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that one or more children witness domestic violence in Arizona every 44 minutes. In addition, up to 60 percent of perpetrators of partner violence also abuse their children.

Currently in Gila County, some 153 children have been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect, but only 21 active CASA volunteers are advocating for these children in court.

“We're currently experiencing a drastic increase of cases in Gila County and these children need a voice in court,” says Lyndsie Butler, Program Coordinator for CASA of Gila County. “As a CASA, you literally have the opportunity to change a child's life forever. You can be the difference between that child languishing in foster care, or finding a permanent home where they can be healthy, happy and safe,” she said.

CASA volunteers serve as critical figures in the lives of children who have suffered from abuse or neglect. After receiving special training and appointement by a judge, CASA volunteers gather all of the information involving a child's case and make formal recommendations to the court on the child's behalf. For many children, their CASA volunteer is the only consistent adult presence they have.

For more information on CASA of Gila County, contact Lyndsie Butler at 928-474-7145 or visit

The Arizona Supreme Court administers CASA in all 15 Arizona counties. County programs recruit and train community-based volunteers to speak up for the rights of abused and neglected children in court. Judges appoint CASA volunteers for foster children who have the greatest need for an advocate. Volunteers do not provide placement or a home for the child, but serve as advocates and make recommendations to the judge. CASA volunteers complete 30 hours of training to prepare them for their duties.

Child abuse statistics

In the six-month period of October 2013 to March 2014, the statewide Child Abuse Hotline received 22,956 calls that met the statutory criteria for a report.

Neglect is the most common form of child abuse, followed by physical abuse.

Reports of child abuse and neglect have been consistently rising in Arizona since 2010.

As of March 2014, there were 15,751 children in out-of-home care.

The majority of children in out-of-home care in Arizona have a case plan goal of family reunification (54 percent).

CASA volunteer requirements

Volunteers must be at least 21 years old.

Volunteers go through a rigorous screening process including interviews, reference check, a fingerprint check and polygraph exam.

Volunteers make a commitment to one case until its conclusion, typically involving 10-20 hours per month.

Volunteers must complete 30 hours of pre-service training.

CASA volunteers are advocates, not mentors. Their objective is to help the court system determine the best outcome for the child.

CASA volunteers try to build a 360-degree view of the child and his or her surroundings. To do this, they meet with teachers, counselors, physicians and guardians.

CASA volunteers work to ensure that children are in safe, permanent homes where they can thrive.

If you would like to become involved, but cannot make the time commitment to become a CASA volunteer, you can help in other ways. Contact Gila County Friends of CASA and become a member, or provide a donation. Email