Ten tips to protect your child from sexual abuse
1 - Teach children the name of their genitals in they same way they are taught their other body parts; that way, they can learn that even though their genitals are private, they are not too private so as not to be spoken about.
2 - Teach your children that no one has the right to touch them; also, teach them the difference between a 'good touch' and a 'bad touch'.
3 - Teach your children early and often that there should be no secrets between them and their parents. Make them feel comfortable about talking about anything with you, whether it's good or bad.
4 - Beware of adults who offer your children special gifts or toys. Also, beware of adults who want to take your children on trips or outings.
5 - Do not write your child's name prominently on clothes, school bags or any other piece of clothing which is clearly visible to everyone.
6 - Make your children understand that a stranger is anyone he or she does not know well, even people they may recognise, like a postman or an ice cream vendor, is still a stranger. Help them to understand that someone can be a stranger even if they look nice or if they know the child's name.
7 - As the child ages, create an environment where age-appropriate sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. Use news items and publicised reports of child abuse to start discussions about safety.
8 - If your child tells you that he or she has been sexually abused, listen carefully and take the disclosure seriously.
9 - Support your child and let them know that he or she is not responsible for the abuse.
10 - If you have concerns that your child is a victim of abuse, talk to your child's paediatrician, a social worker or counsellor, or the police. These individuals can discuss your concerns and arrange for examination of the child.
Source: Office of the Children's Advocate
Why Our Society Has Trouble Believing Victims of Child Abuse
by Tara Culp-Ressler
This week, the renewed allegations that Woody Allen sexually abused his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow have reignited a national conversation about sexual assault, the legal system and the appropriate response to victims who choose to come forward. Many observers have emphasized that Allen was never convicted of a crime, and should therefore be presumed to be innocent — kicking off a debate about whether children frequently lie about being abused, and whether the people who say they're victims of sexual crimes can ever be trusted.
It's unsurprising. When it comes to addressing sexual crimes, the issue of false reports is one of the most contentious divides. On one hand, victim advocates argue that false rape reports are incredibly low — generous estimates put the rate around 2.2 percent. On the other hand, skeptics caution that false allegations can ruin an individual's life, and invariably bring up the infamous Duke lacrosse players. It's not a debate that will be resolved any time soon.
But when it comes to children who speak out about sexual abuse, the proverbial deck is especially stacked against them. There's actually been a lot of psychological research into the factors that make it difficult for young victims to tell their stories in a way that will be believable to outside audiences.
First of all, children don't always have the words to describe what's happened to them. Some kids don't necessarily understand when their physical consent has been violated, and don't know the language to talk about their genitalia. Several studies have found that children tend to delay disclosing incidences of abuse, sometimes for years. Sexual violence prevention advocates believe that teaching kids about their anatomy, and having frank discussions about healthy relationships, is an important tool to prevent this issue from being kept in the shadows.
If kids do speak up about abuse, and their parents want to press charges, that pushes them into the legal fray. Even if they're sure about what they remember, navigating official statements, lawyers and courtrooms can be confusing for child victims — which ultimately sets up an uneven playing field between them and their abuser. “The whole drama plays out in a grown-up context, which means the grown-up always has the upper hand,” Natalie Shire points out at the Atlantic.
The cases that go to trial are often held back by several difficult factors. Putting a kid on the stand can end up being a traumatic experience for them, and child psychologists aren't convinced that it's always helpful, especially if the legal proceedings drag on for a long period of time. And even though older children can often testify correctly, that doesn't guarantee their story will sound believable to a jury.
Adult victims of sexual assault often display erratic behavior — like expressing no emotion, mixing up the chronological order of events, or laughing at inappropriate times — that outsiders mistake for proof that they're being untruthful. But that behavior actually reflects the disjointed way that the brain processes trauma, not a carefully constructed lie. This dilemma may be even more pronounced in kids. According to a 1983 study on child abuse, the act of disclosing a sexual crime often causes the child to experience “secondary trauma.” This theory posits that “the normal coping behavior of the child contradicts the entrenched beliefs and expectations typically held by adults,” which makes the children appear to be less credible. Particularly if a young child has been prepared for trial, it's perhaps no wonder their testimony may come off as too rehearsed.
On top of that, memory certainly is fragile. There are lots of complex aspects to working with kids who allege abuse — they can be sensitive to repeated interrogations, and begin to repeat what authority figures are telling them even if it's not true. Psychologists are working within these constraints. “There have been all kinds of protections developed in the last 20 years about how to talk to children in the course of investigations so as not to create confabulation or not to impair the testimony so it could be impeached in court,” David Finkelhor, the director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, explained to TIME.
Younger children are more likely to fall prey to those dynamics, and less likely to be able to accurately recall details about what happened to them. That's why abusers tend to prey on very young and vulnerable children. The power dynamic is intentional, and it works.
Dylan Farrow is just one of the millions of Americans who say they've experienced some kind of childhood sexual abuse. Just like all the rest, she can't control the way that other people interpret her story, or whether they choose to believe it. (Woody Allen, for his part, plans to refute her allegations in a forthcoming column that may be published in the New York Times.) But pointing to the rate of convictions for these type of sexual crimes — and noting that Allen hasn't been found guilty by a jury of his peers — isn't exactly the right measure of veracity. The culture of suspicion around victims is directly related to the way the justice system fails to convict their abusers.
How Woody Allen's Alleged Sexual Abuse Forces More of Us Into Silence
by Wendy @ Families in the Loop
I was sixteen when my mother brought a rapist home to live with us. They'd met in the locked psych ward a few weeks earlier. She was there for attempting suicide; he was doing a forced stay as part of his parole. Since I was the one who found her after she took the pills, I guess you could say I saved her life.
I can't remember exactly when this new boyfriend started stalking me. Or rifling through my things. Or lurking outside my room all night, forcing me to sleep with a knife under my pillow. Or rolling up the blinds in my room or bathroom so he could watch me after I showered. I don't remember when exactly he spray-painted the finished basement's windows, leaving peepholes so he could watch from outside when I was alone, with my boyfriend or friends.
I can't remember the first time I told my mother he was stalking me. I recall her ignoring my pleas for help. Or laughing in my face. Even when I screamed things like, “How does it feel to know he's thinking of me when he's f*cking you,” did nothing. The first time she saw it herself, standing with him in a driveway overgrown with weeds, she told me to put my blinds down from now on, as if somehow it was my fault.
As I read more and more about Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen and the sexual abuse that allegedly took place, I can't help but revisit those terrifying moments, as well as the pain and shame that followed. I have a strong feeling millions of other women are doing the same. We're shuddering not only because of the abuse we experienced, but because we know how easy it is for an adult to tell a child her memories are wrong. And how common it is for family members to tell an adult survivor she's lying or looking for pity and attention.
Confused and ashamed, we're forced into silence. We bury the secrets of our abuse deep inside our aching bellies. We try to move on and forget it. But then the Farrow/Allen tragedy resurfaces, and once again we have no choice but to confront the demons of our past.
When I was sixteen and all of this shit went down with the rapist my mother brought into my home, I didn't tell anyone. Even when I went to live with a friend and her mom sat me down to talk about the obvious trauma I'd endured, I had no words, no language, no framework. While theoretically I may have understood the concepts of sexual abuse, voyeurism and stalking, I could not talk about my experience.
Eventually I found the words. And when I did, I was dealt another blow. My family did not give a shit. They told me to move on. They said it didn't happen. They said that bad things happened to everyone in our family and not just me. Somehow, perhaps because I'd found success in life, I didn't have a right to talk about the girlfriend-beating, unemployed, alcoholic felon who barely hid his hard core porn and the vaseline jar under the living room chair and stalked me in my own home. My abuse was an inconvenience that needed to go away.
In the last few weeks, I've been following the story of Woody Allen's alleged abuse of his daughter, knowing that I have no idea what took place in that attic between that famous filmmaker and his seven-year-old child. And then I imagine my family members wondering the same about me. Did it happen the way she said it did? Look at her Ivy League master's degree, lovely husband and cute child; why can't she just move on? Why is she embarrassing herself and us by sharing her story, a story we think she's exaggerating for her own benefit?
I wonder what will happen once Farrow and Allen fade from headlines again. My guess is that women and girls will be even more reluctant to come forward. Abuse of any sort is completely devastating to a person's life, when it takes place and for a long time afterwards. Add on to that the possibility of your family, friends and complete strangers telling you that you're lying or crazy – and you realize that given the choice – silence seems like the only palatable option.
My heart goes out to every victim of abuse, past and present. I hope you find the words to tell your story. And I hope you ignore the people who will inevitably tell you that your abuse is inconvenient. You deserve better.
Yorba Linda slaying: Sex-trafficking gangs infiltrate county
Police believe Aubreyanna Sade Parks, 17, found on Tuesday stabbed to death, is another victim of a growing band of 'Romeo' or 'gorilla' pimps.
by SALVADOR HERNANDEZ, DOUG IRVING AND CLAUDIA KOERNER
With its high incomes and millions of visitors, Orange County has become a major stop on a sex-trafficking circuit that runs through the urban West and appears to have snared a teenage girl killed in Yorba Linda this week.
Criminal street gangs are playing a growing role in the human-trafficking industry, drawn by the promise of easy money without the risks that come with dealing drugs or weapons, according to law enforcement officials. The victims in Orange County alone easily number in the hundreds, many of them teenage girls brought in from nearby counties.
Police believe Aubreyanna Sade Parks, 17, was one such victim. She spent the last weeks of her life terrorized by a convicted felon who had her beaten, threatened her family and forced her onto the streets to sell sex, court records allege.
“She is terrified,” wrote a detective who interviewed her days before she was found stabbed to death on a Yorba Linda street. The man she identified as her pimp “has knowledge of where her family resides and (she) believes that he will retaliate by ‘killing someone' in her family.”
Her case sheds light on a human-trafficking industry that thrives in the shadows of Orange County. Police and others who work with victims say the county lies on a trafficking circuit that reaches south to San Diego, east to Las Vegas and north to the Bay Area and beyond.
Traffickers spirit their victims from city to city, advertising them as “new in town,” preventing them from getting their bearings. They look for large and diverse population centers with access to major highways, according to a 2012 report on human trafficking in California.
Most of the cases here still involve pimps working alone and controlling small groups of women, police say. But organized gangs are getting into the trafficking business, where they can keep selling the same victim, night after night.
At least half of the suspects charged in Orange County trafficking cases in the past two months have “significant gang ties,” said Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff of the District Attorney's Office.
A sex trafficker controlling four women, each forced to meet a typical quota of $500 a night, could make more than $600,000 a year, according to an anti-trafficking group called the Polaris Project.
“Wherever there's headlights, there's money,” said a former prostitute who gave her name only as Hope, citing concerns about her safety. She said she used to work in Gardena, not far from where Aubreyanna grew up, but didn't know her.
Pimps often target younger girls, sending them away from their neighborhoods to disconnect them from family and friends, Hope said. That's why girls from Los Angeles County often turn up in Orange County, northern California, Las Vegas.
Some fall under the spell of sweet-talking “Romeo pimps” and trust them as their boyfriends, said Lita Mercado, a program director at Orange County's Community Service Programs, which helps victims. Others are battered under the control of so-called “gorilla pimps” and fear for their safety if they try to escape.
“They're psychologically handcuffed,” said Anaheim police Lt. Steve Davis, who heads the city's vice unit and is a member of the Orange County Human Trafficking Task Force. “It's almost like this cult following where they get in the car and come down here.”
The task force identified 213 victims of human trafficking in Orange County in 2012, a snapshot of an ever-changing problem. Three-quarters of them were being trafficked for sex. Almost all were female, and more than a quarter said they started as minors. Most were U.S. citizens.
“No child grows up hoping that they will one day be sold for sex,” District Attorney Tony Rackauckas said in April 2013 as he announced a special unit to prosecute human traffickers. The unit has since sent 17 traffickers to prison, put 10 others on probation and has 49 open cases.
How Do We Eradicate Sex Trafficking?
by How Do We Eradicate Sex Trafficking?
In the aftermath of the Super Bowl, authorities announced that they rescued 16 minors in the New York City area from sex traffickers. In addition, more than 50 women who were also coerced to work as prostitutes were saved. Police from more than 50 law enforcement agencies spanning New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut arrested 45 pimps in a two week run up to the Super Bowl.
Before the Super Bowl, The New York Times reported that the NYPD had already made 298 prostitution-related arrests this year through Jan. 26, a 30 percent increase over the same period in 2013. CNN also reported on a New York City high-end drug and prostitution bust last week.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) has cited numbers from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that 10,000 women and girls were trafficked to Miami for the 2010 Super Bowl. New Jersey Attorney General's office ramped up for this year's Super Bowl by setting up a sex trafficking task force. Months of investigative work and training of law enforcement personnel, hospitality workers, and airport employees paid off in the recent rescues.
Time reported that to date, the FBI and its partners have recovered more than 3,100 children and convicted 1,400 pimps.
While the issue of sex trafficking gets much more visibility around a major sporting event like the Super Bowl, we must be aware that it is an ongoing problem that scars thousands of lives every day. U.S. Rep. David Reichert (R-Washington) said in hearing last week, "The prevalence of this problem at the Super Bowl allows us to focus national attention on it. But it is a problem seven days a week, 52 weeks a year for the children who are caught up in it. We owe it to them to develop real solutions."
If we are to develop real solutions, we must know what we are up against. Here are some facts compiled by the Covering House about sex trafficking:
Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States. (United Nations)
Approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States. (U.S. Department of Justice)
The average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13-14 years old. (U.S. Department of Justice)
A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and the average pimp has four to six girls. (U.S. Justice Department, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children)
The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20-48 times a day. (Polaris Project)
One in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. (National Runaway Hotline)
Sex trafficking will not be eliminated until the demand is eliminated. The demand will not be eliminated until the roots of disordered sexual desire are eliminated. One of the biggest causes of disordered sexual desire is porn viewing and porn addiction. A documentary on sex trafficking, Rape for Profit, sent the message home: "Prostitution is the main act, and porn for these men is the dress rehearsal. They see it and then they go and act it out…When a society is demanding more porn, it's demanding more prostituted women."
A number of studies show the link between sex trafficking and pornography. Here are some of their findings:
A 2008 study: "Those who were the most frequent users of pornography were also the most frequent users of women in prostitution."
A 2005 journal: "Repeat users reported greater participation in all aspects of the sex industry than did non-customers. They were much more likely to report having purchased sexually explicit magazines or videos, and they were more than twice as likely to have visited nude establishments."
A 2001 "Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States" study: "Fifty percent of the international women stated that pornography had been used to 'educate' them into prostitution. One international woman stated that her pimp made her watch pornography in the beginning. Another reported that she had to watch pornography, because "my clients asked me to do as they did it on the screen."
An all-male led film documentary called the Hearts of Men seeks to address the root of the problem. One of the men who speaks in the film admits, "We're the root of this and if we're the root of this, we have to figure out what has to change. It has to start with us." Another man states, "One of the best things we can do for women is to get the hearts of men healthy… The way that we stop sex trafficking is by discipling middle school boys. I mean really if you think about it, the average age of exposure to pornography is eight. If we get the guys, if we get the girls at a young age and we invest in them, we can see systemic change."
This modern-day slavery has an even deeper slavery, an enslavement and addiction to sexual sin. Pornography enslaves men physically and psychologically and this enslaves women and children literally via sex trafficking. Pornography is the gateway to sex trafficking. Men create the demand; women and children are the supply. If we transform the demand side, the supply side will also cease.
Human trafficking: modern-day slavery
by Janice Crompton and Rich Lord
When Moon police got a call from staff at America's Best Value Inn last month, reporting an argument among shady guests, they swooped in and separated a 17-year-old girl from the group of five.
With her help, they found two of the others listed as prostitutes on an Internet site.
They'd seen human trafficking before, as a flow of out-of-state and foreign women drove 241 prostitution arrests since 2008. This looked like another example.
Now Ivory Williams, 34, from Huron, S.D.; April Holloway, 24, from Columbus, Ohio; Sarrha Herman, 22, from East Point, Mich.; and Harley Fournier, 20, from Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., all face charges of promoting prostitution, conspiracy and possession of instruments of crime. The girl, who had been away from her family for a year but was never reported as missing, has been returned to her grandmother in Detroit.
Chief Leo McCarthy of the Moon police said he hoped the FBI would take the case and consider a human trafficking charge -- something almost unheard of in this region's courts until last year.
"I think there is a perception that human trafficking is something that happens in large, urban centers or on the coast," said Elizabeth Miller, chief of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
But she often sees girls and women with mental health issues, like post-traumatic stress disorder, along with those who need treatment for physical issues like sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition and other health consequences of trafficking. "This is really uncomfortable stuff, to think that there are young people in our community where adults who should be taking care of them are exploiting them -- using them sexually."
Dr. Miller and other local experts will be discussing the issue in depth tomorrow at an open house, sponsored by the Southwestern Pennsylvania Human Trafficking Coalition at the Andy Warhol Museum. The event comes just weeks after a federal grand jury indicted a man and a woman for sex trafficking of a 16-year-old, and a month after Moon police plucked the 17-year-old girl from the multistate group of four adults who now face charges of promoting prostitution.
There's a reason human trafficking is now considered to be the second-most-lucrative criminal enterprise, behind drugs. It's estimated to be a $32 billion worldwide industry, with more than 12 million victims.
"You can sell drugs, you can sell guns [once]. You can sell a human being more than once," FBI special agent Kelly Kochamba told some two dozen members of the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh's Center for Race & Gender Equity last month.
Legally, human trafficking is compelling a person by force, fraud or deception into forced labor, domestic servitude or sexual commerce, or enlisting a minor in the sex trade.
"We call this modern-day slavery," said U.S. Attorney David Hickton. "There are many people here who are not here voluntarily, who are being oppressed, who are being subjected to substandard housing, substandard labor conditions, and often are being used for sexual purposes."
Last month, his office indicted former drug dealer Rasul Abernathy, 32, and Poshauntamarin Walker, 33, a former state corrections officer, for child sex trafficking. The two taught a 16-year-old Western Pennsylvania girl prostitution and controlled her with drugs and alcohol, transporting her from North Versailles to Coatesville, 39 miles west of Philadelphia, according to an FBI affidavit.
While that girl was allegedly prostituted in hotel rooms, human trafficking on a larger scale is happening in our business districts, experts said.
Subtle clues include unnecessary bars on windows, people frequently coming and going in residential areas, businesses -- such as massage parlors -- open in the middle of the night, said Mary C. Burke, executive director of the 10-year-old coalition and director of training for the doctoral program in counseling psychology at Carlow University. Victims are often non-English-speaking foreign nationals, perhaps in the U.S. illegally or those who have little understanding of the justice system. She said she has assisted 35 to 40 local trafficking victims during the past several years.
"If a new business pops up, and it just says 'Massage' up front, and there's no phone number and you can't see in the windows, that may be an indication" of illicit activity, said Brad Orsini, FBI supervisory special agent. When the FBI gets a credible tip, he added, it conducts undercover investigations, attempts to interview the workers and sometimes executes search warrants.
Why haven't more parlors been shuttered, and their owners prosecuted federally? "A lot of victims of human trafficking are very reluctant to talk with law enforcement," he said. "Are they going to get deported? Are they going to get arrested? If I talk, where will I live?"
In Pittsburgh recently, two teenage Russian girls were found locked in a home, forced to prostitute themselves to repay an immigration fee to a fraudulent business, Ms. Burke said. They were basically living as indentured servants and they feared police because of their previous experience with Russian law enforcement.
"They are scared for their lives," Ms. Burke said in a phone interview from Liberia, where she was on a mission to end such abuse. "Their survival instincts kick in."
The FBI, Mr. Orsini said, has a specialist whose job is to take an initial assessment and reach out to coalition members and social service providers so that victims can be connected to services.
Mr. Orsini and Ms. Burke will be presenters at Monday's open house. It is open to the public, though it is designed to inform police, educators and health care workers.
In October, Mr. Hickton's office secured a guilty plea, and a likely 12-year prison sentence, against William C. Miller, 38, of the Hill District for trafficking a 15-year-old girl, the first prosecution in Pittsburgh on a federal human trafficking charge in years.
The city is seeing both sexual and labor trafficking, said Pittsburgh police narcotics and vice Cmdr. Linda Barone. "We see the restaurants, the Vietnamese, Chinese restaurants, where they bring people over to work in these restaurants and they have to pay their debt for getting over," she said.
In 2008, federal prosecutors indicted six men from Russia and Ukraine who brought some 400 aliens, mostly from those countries, to the region to clean hotel rooms. They rented the out-of-status visitors to hotels for $10 an hour, and paid them $6 an hour, but deducted money for housing, food and transportation.
When trafficking victims are rescued, they need places to stay. Elizabeth Echevarria from Gibsonia founded the group Living in Liberty that provides a safe house in the Pittsburgh area where up to four women can stay until they get back on their feet.
Most of the women who have been helped since the safe house opened in August are foreigners who speak little English, though Ms. Echevarria said it's just as likely that she will provide housing for domestic victims as well.
"They never expected to be by themselves in this situation," said Ms. Echevarria, whose group also provides counseling, job training, English lessons and other programs for women and families in need. The group is now seeking to find a safe house where children could also stay, and plans a May fundraiser to help with the cost.
The Denver-based group Truckers Against Trafficking, enlists drivers to keep a watchful eye out in truck stops and other locations frequented by prostitutes as young as 11.
"Victims literally come knocking on their doors. We feel like we're really going to make a difference and we already have," said executive director Kendis Paris, who said the group was responsible for the recent arrest of a man with a criminal record who kidnapped a 14-year-old girl and forced her to work as a prostitute at a truck stop.
A trucker noticed that the girl seemed young, and she was accompanied by the man -- also a sign of sexual trafficking -- so the driver used a wallet card given to him by the truckers group to call police and the national hotline.
Truckers have made 790 calls to the hotline since it was established in 2007 by the Polaris Project, a nonprofit, Washington, D.C.-based group that fights global issues involving human trafficking and pushes for legislative changes.
Legislative changes are sorely needed in Pennsylvania, according to the nonprofit group Shared Hope, which recently completed a comprehensive study of existing state laws to combat domestic minor sex trafficking.
Pennsylvania received an F grade from the group, and at least one state senator is aiming to change that.
"There has only been one conviction under Pennsylvania's current statute," said state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery. "The law's definition of 'human trafficking' is vague, and lacks the teeth needed to effectively prosecute these criminals."
Mr. Greenleaf has proposed legislation to aid prosecutors that redefines trafficking and provides increased criminal penalties. It passed the Senate and has moved to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration.
"It is an absolute crisis that victims of trafficking are being charged with crimes they committed while under threat of force, while traffickers get off on lesser charges," said Mr. Greenleaf, whose bill includes a provision that provides a legal defense for prostitution as a result of trafficking.
Studies show that one in three children who are runaways find themselves snared by a pimp within the first 48 hours, Mr. Greenleaf said. The pimps, he said, "are habitual child molesters and they should be treated that way."
The FBI accepts tips on human trafficking through its hotline at 412-432-4122. For more information on helping the agencies devoted to stamping out human trafficking, visit: www.swpaahtc.org/ or http://livinginliberty.org/
CNN to air Mira Sorvino-led Freedom Project special on sex trafficking in Cambodia
‘Every Day in Cambodia: A CNN Freedom Project Documentary' premieres on CNN/US Sunday at 7pET
‘Every Day In Cambodia' is a powerful CNN Freedom Project documentary which follows Academy Award-winning actress and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking Mira Sorvino on a disturbing yet ultimately hopeful journey to Cambodia, where she shines a light on modern-day slavery.
Far from the bright lights of Hollywood, Sorvino speaks to survivors and urges governments to prosecute traffickers, demanding to know why the Cambodian government is still allowing this outrage to happen. Three mothers also reveal why they allow their young daughters to be so cruelly exploited.
“The brave Cambodian girl survivors who shared their stories broke my heart,” she said. “But their incredible spirits inspire me to continue fighting this atrocious scourge until all the victims can be brought to safety and their traffickers to justice.”
Sorvino teams up with American activist and founder of Agape International Missions (AIM) Don Brewster, who has dedicated his life to rescuing and rehabilitating young girls from sex trafficking in Cambodia. These young victims are sold to pedophiles who pay hundreds of dollars to have sex with pre-pubescent virgins. To many of these young girls, Brewster is their hero.
The hour-long film also looks at how AIM's work in Cambodia is supported by other organizations like 3Strands, which provides sustainable work for rescued victims of human trafficking.
“This is one of the most remarkable and difficult documentaries CNN has produced through the Freedom Project,” said Tony Maddox, Executive Vice President and Managing Director for CNN International. “This is tenacious and fearless journalism, and we are immensely proud to be able to highlight this crucial story and help act as a champion for change.”
About The CNN Freedom Project
The CNN Freedom Project produces original reports, articles, and documentaries on human trafficking in all of its forms – from debt bondage in India to sex trafficking rings in Southern California and African slaves in the Sinai desert. Many notable figures in the fight against human trafficking have partnered with the CNN Freedom Project since its March 2011 launch including Nick Cannon, Common, Emmanuel Jal, Anil Kapoor, Demi Moore, and Mira Sorvino. In addition, the production team curates digital resources with information on global advocacy groups working against human slavery. Users of www.cnn.com/freedom can find details on how to support or volunteer with anti-slavery organizations, watch CNN Freedom Project videos, and read in-depth articles and behind-the-scenes reporters' notebook stories from the journalists reporting for CNN Freedom Project investigations. Lisa Cohen and Leif Coorlim produce for the CNN Freedom Project, which is overseen by Parisa Khosravi, senior vice president of global relations for CNN Worldwide.
About Agape International Missions
Agape International Missions is an organization dedicated to fight trafficking, restore victims and transform communities. For more information, visit: http://agapewebsite.org
The mission of 3Strands is to mobilize a worldwide community of individuals and organizations to positively change lives by investing in sustainable initiatives that fight sex trafficking. For more information, visit: www.3strandsglobal.com
Rehab center for sex trafficking victims to open on Northshore
by Ashley Rodrigue
Efforts are underway to open the state's first rehabilitation home for underage, female sex trafficking victims on the northshore at a place approximately halfway between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, two areas where the problem is said to be bad.
Beth Salcedo, the director of the work-in-progress said the building, which will be the future home of young women, has plenty of space, lots of room and plenty of land.
However, Salcedo said the best thing that young women will be offered at the center is a fresh start.
“We want to be able to, hopefully, watch them transform from a caterpillar to a butterfly,” said Salcedo. “…from a piece of coal, where they feel like they are worth nothing, to a diamond.”
Dr. Raphael Salcedo, Beth's husband, has helped similar victims recover from their experiences in the past. He said a place like this is long overdue.
“Many of these girls come in with post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms,” he said. “One of the hallmarks is when you look in their eyes and their eyes seem lifeless.”
One thing the Salcedos want to raise awareness of is the fact that children – anywhere – can be snatched into sex slavery, especially by meeting strangers who contact them through the Internet.
“You can get a little girl now quicker than you can get a pizza and it's unfortunate,” said Salcedo.
The organization behind the building says they've gotten a lot of help already, including donated clothes, but they say that in order to be successful, they're going to need a lot more help.
“Community groups or churches and what not, if they'd like to adopt a room, then they would go on our web site and find out how they can do that. We're registered, kind of like you would register a baby or a wedding.”
The goal is to educate people on how to help victims escape, and then get them help to begin the rest of their lives.
The Northshore Human Trafficking conference is being held at the First Baptist Church in Mandeville on Saturday from 9 am until 3 pm.
Mexico's lost daughters: how young women are sold into the sex trade by drug gangs
When armed men arrive in Mexico's remote villages, mothers hide their daughters – especially the pretty ones. Jennifer Clement hears the distressing stories of the girls and women stolen by drug cartels to be trafficked for sex.
by Jennifer Clement
Lupita is in her 30s and works as a laundry maid in several houses in Mexico City. She can still remember the first time she saw a girl taken from her home village. "She was very pretty," says Lupita. "She had freckles. She was 11 years old."
Lupita was 20 when five men drove into the small community near Dos Bocas, outside the port of Veracruz. "When they got out of the van all we could see were the machine guns in their hands. They wanted to know where the pretty one was, the girl with freckles. We all knew who that was. They took her and she was still holding her doll under her arm when they lifted her into the van like a bag of apples. This was more than 12 years ago. We never heard from her again."
The girl's name was Ruth, Lupita tells me. "She was the first one they stole. Then we heard it had happened in other villages." The men who visited the villages worked for the local drug cartels, snatching girls to be trafficked for sex. "There was nowhere in our village to hide," explains Lupita. "Where do you hide? So we dug holes in the ground and if we heard there were narcos around, we'd tell the girls to go to their holes and be very quiet for an hour or so until the men left." She remembers how one mother would leave paper and a crayon in the hole for her daughter. "This worked for a while until even the narcos began to know about the holes." Two years later, Lupita left the village and came to Mexico City looking for work.
The lists compiled by government agencies and NGOs for missing girls in Mexico read like this:
Karen Juarez Fuentes, 10. Female. Disappeared going to school in Acapulco. Brown skin. Brown hair. Brown eyes.
Ixel Rivas Morena, 13. Female. Lost in Xalapa. 1.5 metres tall. 50 kilos. Light brown hair. Light brown skin. Oval face. Thin. Left ear lobe torn.
Rosa Mendoza Jiménez, 14. Female. Disappeared. Thin. Brown skin. Dark brown hair. Long. No more data.
They go on and on. According to government figures, kidnapping in the country increased by 31% last year. Those statistics tend to refer to victims who have been kidnapped for ransom, as people are more likely to report the crime when money is demanded. But there is another kind of kidnapping that goes unreported. When a girl is robada – which literally means stolen – she is taken off the street, on her way to school, leaving the movies, or even stolen out of her own house. No ransom is asked for. Her body is all the criminals want. The drug cartels know they can sell a bag of drugs only once, but they can prostitute a young woman many times in a single day.
To avoid the traffickers, families are now taking to extreme measures. Some women hide in secret shelters and homes, the buildings disguised from the outside to look like shopfronts. Many poor farming families have secret places in their shacks where they can hide their sisters and daughters from the constant raids from drug traffickers.
A woman who sells beaded necklaces on a beach in Acapulco tells me how her parents created a small crawl space between the wall and the refrigerator where she would be sent to hide if they heard that there were drug traffickers roaming around in their SUVs or on motorcycles. "There were shootings and kidnappings all the time," she tells me. "We don't live there any more. Nobody lives in that village any more."
Another way to avoid the narcos' attention is by being unattractive. Over and over again I hear mothers explain that they don't let their daughters dress up or wear make-up and perfume. Some mothers from rural areas, who I meet at marches and protests in Mexico City, even make their daughters "ugly" by cutting their hair and making them dress like boys. "I told my daughter to keep in the shade," Sarita from Chilpancingo, a large town in the state of Guerrero, tells me. "She never listened to me." Sarita's tears roll down her cheeks and she wipes upward, as if to put them back in her eyes. "We would fight all the time because I did not want her to wear lipstick. And I don't know if she willingly ran away with a man, she was wanting to be loved, or was stolen, robada. I don't know. She went to school in the morning and never came home."
In one town in the south of the country I visit a 17th-century convent that has been established by one of the few groups in the country that secretly works to help women leave dangerous situations. Here, the nuns, all over the age of 75, have 20 women and their children hiding in a basement to escape their husbands and boyfriends. I ask the nuns what would happen if one of the women's husbands or boyfriends should appear on their doorstep with their gang, carrying AK-47s under their arms. The nuns tell me, without hesitation, that they would stand together and create a wall with their bodies and die for the women and children they protect.
At the convent there is a slim, brown-haired woman who is 18 years old. Maria has been living with the nuns for more than a year. Her husband first saw her at a party. "He looked at me and I knew I was trapped," says Maria. "I hid in the bathroom for the rest of the night and he stood outside the door for hours. If you turn these men down, then they steal you. There is no saying no. A woman cannot say no. I finally left the bathroom and there he was. He raped me for days."
Maria explains how, after a few days, she managed to crawl through a window while the man was asleep and make it back to her family home. "When my mother saw me walk in the door I thought she was going to hug me, but instead she picked up the telephone to call that man to tell him where I was," she says. "My mother said that she was not going to die for me. He beat me badly after he came to pick me up. One night, months later, he took me into the woods so that I would help him dispose of a barrel of hydrochloric acid in which a body was decomposing. He wanted to make sure I was an accomplice."
There are no precise figures as to how many women and girls are being stolen and trafficked in Mexico. In rural areas few trust the police forces as they are often involved in local mafias, so many cases of missing girls are not registered. One fact all government and non-government agencies agree on is that instances of forced labour, debt bondage and sex trafficking are growing at an alarming rate. The government has vowed to find a more effective means to fight the country's violence – the head-on fight with the drug cartels has killed up to 70,000 people in the past six years – but has yet to produce any kind of plan.
Last November the president of Mexico, Enrique Peña Nieto, stood beside Rosario Robles, Minister of Social Development, as she opened a women's centre in the remote, impoverished community of Tlapa de Comonfort in Guerrero. "In Mexico in the 21st century the worst expression of discrimination against women is violence," said Robles. "In this modern Mexico there are still states where the punishment is greater for stealing a cow than stealing a woman."
At the cathedral in Xalapa, Veracruz, families of missing, stolen or killed women staged protests last year on International Women's Day. As part of the protest, the shoes of missing girls and women were left on the cathedral steps with the names of their owners written next to them. A sign beside one pair of size-two sandals reads: "You took her alive, bring her back alive."
"We stopped taking our daughters to the market," one mother there told me. "It was too dangerous. You'd let go of your daughter's hand to pick up a papaya and in a second she was gone. This happened to my cousin. They took her daughter at the market. She felt a movement, a push, and she fell on the ground. They pushed her away and picked up the girl. She was only seven. When my cousin went to talk to the policeman that is supposed to guard the market he said only an idiot would take her daughter to the market. You can have another child, he said to her. You're still young."
In Mexico City's women's jail, Santa Martha Acatitla, prisoners wear one of two colours: those who are sentenced wear navy blue and those awaiting sentencing are dressed in beige. The women's jail faces the men's jail and the prisoners can see each other through the cracks in the concrete walls. A man and a woman can look at each other for 35 years. They see a flash of skin, the shadow of a face, a blown kiss across a courtyard of cement and barbed wire. They wave handkerchiefs at each other.
The artist Luis Manuel Serrano has given collage workshops at the jail for more than 10 years, helping women tell their stories by cutting images out of magazines and gluing them to large pieces of cardboard. Serrano explains to me that collage technique allows the women to express themselves and tell their stories, without needing technical skills. The collages tell an overwhelming number of stories about women who were stolen, then used or sold as prostitutes, and then jailed for working as prostitutes.
Serrano says the most frightening collage he ever saw was made by a young woman called Marcela. She was from Tijuana and had been walking away from school to take the public bus home when she was snatched off the street and thrown into a car. She was 14 years old. She became a paradita – literally "one who stands" – in Tijuana's well-known prostitution area called Callejón Coahuila, where the women stand out on the street and lean against walls. "We were all little girls, really," she told Serrano. "How did I know we were all little girls? We only had to look at each other's small, small breasts to know." Serrano says her collage was black and white and covered in skulls. "It's the only time a collage has frightened me," he adds. "It shook me up."
Almost every woman I meet in the prison testifies that her life here is better than it was outside. Proof of this is that the jail authorities never tell the inmates when they are going to leave. Instead, very late at night, a prisoner is taken from her cell and released quietly. The prisoner, or her friends, might otherwise do something (place drugs or a weapon in the cell or attack a guard) in order to remain in jail. Luis Manuel Serrano tells me that, once released, women often commit crimes so they can return: "Here, for the first time in their lives, many are safe and cared for."
The main activity at the jail is beautifying; sometimes it almost seems like the largest beauty parlour in Mexico. The jail smells of hair spray, nail polish remover and perfumes, and the prisoners spend most of their day painting their nails, dyeing their hair all kinds of colours and applying false eyelashes. A couple of years ago, several members of staff were fired for hosting a Botox party in the infirmary. Perhaps here, inside the prison, it feels safer for the women to be pretty.
Knowledge is power: Cadet, Academy works to end human trafficking
by Amber Baillie
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- In 2005, the Defense Department implemented a national initiative against human trafficking, requiring annual combating trafficking in persons awareness training for all military members on how to combat labor trafficking, sex trafficking and child soldiering.
For Cadet 4th Class Caroline Cotton, it's a fight she's been a part of since she was 17, and through the Academy's CTIP program, she hopes she can educate cadets on the facts of human trafficking and build respect for the women, men and children who are victimized.
"The Air Force is built on respect," she said. "Who is more vulnerable than sexually exploited children? Protecting them from sex trafficking through awareness and decreasing the demand not only makes a good citizen, but is based on the values which we take an oath here to uphold. If little kids and citizens of my country are being deprived of their freedom, then it is my duty to change that."
Nineteen-year-old Cotton said her passion for protecting sex trafficking victims arose when she witnessed a powerful presentation at her high school in Phoenix, Ariz.
"I was researching ways to get involved in stopping human trafficking and found that some states have safe harbor laws (preventing sex trafficking victims under the age of 18 from being prosecuted for prostitution and providing them with specialized services) and realized Arizona does not," she said.
From then on, Cotton said she made a goal to propose and pass a safe harbor law in Arizona, meeting regularly with elected officials and local law enforcement to gain their support and ideas.
"I want children rescued from sex trafficking to be treated as victims rather than criminals," she said. "In the current system in Phoenix, certain minors who were rescued were seen as criminals and sent to jail, often returning to trafficking after being released due to the psychological trauma they faced and the lack of resources available to help them."
Cotton said she's worked with anti-trafficking organizations such as Streetlight USA and the Polaris Project, and attended a conference in Phoenix last spring held by Sen. John McCain's wife, Cindy, and the McCain Institute. The conference included other local and national anti-trafficking organizations.
"I also talked with my high school principal about having health classes incorporate the prevention of sex trafficking in the curriculum," she said. "My principal tentatively approved it, but it was around the time of Basic Cadet Training and I was unable to fully implement the plan. Over spring break, I plan to speak with the new principal about what can be done to implement anti-trafficking curriculum there. My hope is to educate high school-age individuals about the tactics that pimps use to lure and capture young people."
People tend to think of prostitutes as women, who go out and use their bodies for money, have a bad moral compass and are choosing this lifestyle, Cotton said.
"The reality is, young people get tricked by pimps in malls and on the streets," she said. "Everyone is susceptible."
Cotton said people tend to think trafficking victims are being compensated with money, when in reality, the money almost always goes to the pimps. Victims are often starved and beaten, Cotton said.
"One way some pimps force girls to stay is by getting them pregnant and holding their newborn baby like a hostage," she said.
According to the FBI, the average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is between 12 and 14 and for boys and transgender youth, between 11 and 13.
"They are only children," Cotton said. "In addition to physical trauma, many rescued victims are found to have post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety disorders."
This semester, Cotton saw a poster for CTIP in Harmon Hall and contacted the Academy's program manager, Staff Sgt. Curtis Cardoza to get involved.
"Monthly task force meetings occur at the First United Methodist Church in Colorado Springs," Cardoza said. "I recommended Cadet Cotton to attend one and be a guest speaker. I think that would be great for her and the CTIP program."
Cotton said she hopes to post copies of the poster that first clued her in about CTIP by the elevators and bathrooms in Fairchild Hall. She said she also wants to look into giving an awareness briefing here.
"Cadet Cotton's efforts can greatly benefit the Academy since she's a cadet and is able to spread CTIP information to her peers," Cardoza said.
During CTIP general training, Airmen learn how to define TIP, identify who is involved with it, determine why it occurs and how to combat it.
"We currently have 7,727 here trained out of 8,082, which is a 96 percent total and approximately six percent above Air Force average," Cardoza said. "Aside from the online training, I've created a first-ever CTIP SharePoint site that is accessible to everyone on base. The site contains Academy training statistics, current events, reporting hotline and other informational material. I hope people gain a sense of awareness from the training."
Cotton, an engineering major, said she will proceed with her anti-trafficking efforts after she is through with the time constraints of a fourth class cadet.
"I love my freedom, my fellow citizens' freedom, my future children's freedom and I will protect it," she said.
(Update from article posted 2/7)
Missing baby found alone but alive; aunt arrested
by Kevin Murphy
A Colorado woman who police think faked a pregnancy was charged yesterday with the kidnapping in Wisconsin of her 6-day-old nephew, who was found alone but alive behind a gas station in Iowa, federal prosecutors said.
Kristen Smith, 31, of Denver, was charged in federal court in Wisconsin after being arrested at a store in West Branch, Iowa, on an unrelated warrant from Texas. The infant, Kayden Powell, was later found behind a nearby gas station wrapped in blankets in a tote bag.
According to the criminal complaint, authorities think that Smith faked being pregnant. They found a prosthetic pregnancy belly in her car and Facebook postings in which she said she was with child.
The infant's mother, Brianna Marshall, 18, reported him missing from his bassinet in their Beloit, Wis., home early Thursday, sparking a search that rallied federal, state and local officials.
Yesterday, nearly 200 miles away, the West Branch police chief found the baby, said Steven Kopp, Beloit's police chief.
“Despite frigid temperatures, Kayden was found alive and appears to be doing very well,” Kopp said yesterday. “In the words of EMS officials, he is in excellent health.”
FBI agent G.B. Jones said authorities do not know how long the baby had been outside.
West Branch is in eastern Iowa. Beloit is in southern Wisconsin, near the Illinois line.
Jones said investigators determined that someone had left the family's residence with the baby. They tracked the suspect's path south into Illinois and west into Iowa and asked authorities to be on the lookout along that route.
“The police chief from West Branch, Iowa, was checking areas right along the interstate corridor. He heard the baby's cries,” Jones said.
Teen dating violence awareness event set
by The Reporter
Teens are invited to a dating violence awareness event this Valentine's Day.
In honor of National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month, the Solano Family Justice Center is teaming up with the Girl Scouts of Northern California's Got Choices program to host a Love = Respect event, which promotes awareness and prevention of teen dating violence.
The Love = Respect event is at 3:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Solano Family Justice Center, 640 Empire St. in Fairfield.
"This month provides an excellent opportunity for the Solano Family Justice Center and its affiliates to demonstrate their commitment to ending teen dating violence and to support the victims and survivors," said Supervisor Linda Seifert, chair of the Solano County Board of Supervisors.
One in three adolescent girls in the United States is a victim of physical, emotional or sexual abuse from a dating partner, according to a press release issued by Solano County. These violent relationships have serious consequences for victims - putting them at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, suicide and adult re-victimization.
"Now is the time to educate ourselves about the seriousness of teen dating violence and the prevalence of this problem in our own communities," Supervisor Seifert said.
The Solano Family Justice Center is inviting local high school and middle school students to explore more than 10 learning stations that focus on different forms of dating abuse, characteristics of a healthy and respectful relationship and California laws surrounding dating violence. Youth will also be able to make Candy Grams for their Valentine. Beverages and light appetizers will be served.
The Solano Family Justice Center provides services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, child abuse, and elder abuse. For more information on services provided at the Solano Family Justice Center, call 784-7635 or visit www.solanocounty.com/stoptheviolence
Treat teens in sex trade as victims
Finding runaways urged as priority
by MARLENE HARRIS-TAYLOR
Toledo experts on sex trafficking met with U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) on Friday to discuss ways to increase protection for minors who are considered runaways from being recruited into the sex trade business.
The round-table discussion at the University Toledo involved several members of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition including state Rep. Teresa Fedor (D.,Toledo), who has successfully pushed several laws through the Ohio legislature on the issue, and UT Professor Celia Williamson, who is known as one of the top researchers on the issue in the country.
“One of the issues is to change the way law enforcement approaches it from a federal level. From these young people, who are brought into this exploitation, from being treated as criminals as they often are now and put in the criminal justice system to being treated as victims — some of these kids are as young as 12, 13 years old,” said Senator Portman.
Another issue that emerged as a theme during the round-table discussion is the lack of emphasis placed on finding and helping teenagers who run away from home.
“First we had to focus on awareness of the issue itself. Then we had to put some programs and services in place. Now is the time to really start looking at the risk factors for how and why kids get involved in sex-trafficking, and running away is one of the highest risk factors,” Ms. Williamson said.
The professor recently surveyed teenagers who were involved in human-trafficking in five Ohio cities to find out what was going on in their life before they became victims of the sex trade. The results of her 2012 study show that 63 percent of the teens said they had run away from home for the first time. In Ohio, she said, a runaway is likely to be recruited into sex-trafficking within the first two years of leaving home.
Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn agreed and said there needs to be a shift in the thinking of law enforcement about juveniles who run away and that the cases should get as much attention as “missing” children cases.
Senator Portman said Ohio has been out front in providing leadership for the country on this issue. The bipartisan Safe Harbor Law, which was introduced by Representative Fedor and signed by Gov. John Kasich in 2012, increased penalties for adults who profit from underage prostitution and gave teenaged victims and survivors a chance to avoid a conviction and turn their lives around. The law was widely praised and moved the state much closer to changing the way child prostitutes are treated in the criminal justice system.
Senator Portman, who is the co-chair of the Senate caucus to end human trafficking, said he has been working on the federal level to educate lawmakers about steps being taken in Ohio, and he has introduced several pieces of legislation aimed at providing better protection for missing and exploited children.
He is focusing much of his efforts on his Child Sex Trafficking Data and Response Act that would increase the amount of information collected on the issue of sex-trafficking to understand the problem better. He said Ms. Williamson is doing a great job but she could use help.
“We got it through the finance committee in December. It was bipartisan, and we are trying to get floor time right now. I think if we can get a vote on the Senate floor, it will be a huge bipartisan vote, and I think we are gonna get it through the House and get the President to sign it into law,” he said.
A Safe Place to Promote Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month
by A Safe Place
Amanda Thomas, Individual Giving Specialist
A Safe Place
847-731-7165 ext. 104
A Safe Place to Promote Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month
ZION, IL (February 4, 2014)
1 in 3 adolescents and teens will be victims of sexual, emotional or physical abuse. This violence puts young women and men at greater risk of poor academic performance, depression, substance abuse and experiencing further violence from a partner. A Safe Place is dedicated to breaking the cycle of violence and teaching young men and women what a healthy relationship is.
Because of the prevalence of dating violence, everyone should know the warning signs in case someone you love becomes a victim. Dating violence is a means for an individual to exert power and control over their dating partner and can include constantly monitoring, isolating or insulting a partner. The abusive partner may also express extreme jealously, insecurity and possessiveness and exhibit physical violence or unwanted sexual contact. If someone you know is a victim of dating violence, call our crisis line at 847-249-4450 or visit asafeplaceforhelp.org for more information.
A Safe Place is committed to ending teen dating violence with our education programs geared towards educating the public about healthy relationships and the warning signs of an abusive relationship. If you are interested in hosting a presentation, please contact A Safe Place at 847-731-7165.
We can all work together to end teen dating violence. This month and throughout the rest of the year, stand together to speak out against dating violence, support survivors and help us build a community where abuse will not be accepted.
About A Safe Place
Founded in 1980, A Safe Place is the leading advocate for eliminating domestic violence in northern Illinois, and is Lake County, Illinois' only provider of services exclusively for victims of domestic violence.
A Safe Place provides emergency shelter; affordable transitional housing; a 24-hour help line (847-249-4450); court and non-legal advocacy; individual, group, and children's counseling; family visitation services; batterer intervention services; and community outreach, prevention education, and professional training. Our service area includes Lake, McHenry, and northern Cook counties in Illinois; however, our clients come to us from across the state, region, and country. A Safe Place serves more than 6,600 adult and children victims of domestic violence each year, helping them as they transform their lives after domestic violence.
For more information about A Safe Place, call 847-731-7165 or visit www.asafeplaceforhelp.org .
Pat Davenport, A Safe Place, 847-731-7165 x105 or email@example.com
Kari Skloot, A Safe Place, 847-731-7165 x109 or firstname.lastname@example.org
UN says children caught in Syria's civil war suffer ‘unspeakable' abuse
(Transcript of podcast)
This week, the United Nations released a report on children and the Syria conflict . It found that the Syrian government is responsible for thousands of deaths, and charged that it put children as young as 11 in prisons where they suffered — quote — “beatings with metal cables, sexual violence and mock executions.”
It also accuses armed opposition groups of summary executions of children .
Joining me now is one of the authors of the report . She is Leila Zerrougui, the U.N. special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict .
And we thank you for speaking with us .
Ms. Zerrougui, you describe in this report unspeakable violence against these children . What were some of the main findings?
LEILA ZERROUGUI , U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict: We were documenting — gathering information and documenting abuses committed against children since the beginning of this war.
And we — as you know today, we are talking about 10,000 at least of children who have been killed . Thousands have been injured . More than a million is either displaced or fled in neighboring countries . And 70 percent of the children are not anymore going to school, and it's the third year . Their schools have been looted, have been destroyed, used militarily .
They don't have access to the basic health care . They don't have access to even food . They saw their family killed . They are forced to take part in this conflict and to be recruited and used in military and other support function . And, from the other side, they are arrested, detained because of their effective or perceived association with armed groups .
So this is what we are saying, and this is what it is happening . This is what I saw myself in my two visits in Syria . And this is just not only unspeakable . It is unacceptable .
JUDY WOODRUFF: And did you find — what did you find were the differences between what the government, the Syrian government has done in the way it's treated children, and the opposition groups?
LEILA ZERROUGUI: I think, at the beginning, as we mentioned in the report, the government was confronted to self-defense militia, and more civilian opposition, but with the access from the opposition to heavy weaponry .
So it's become more and more a war between two parties and taking — this happening in the middle of cities, in area where — populated area . And the consequences for children is just unbearable, because the number of killed and injured is very high in this brutal war .
But if we can — what we are reporting is that government is, of course, using aerial bombardments, a lot in populated area . A lot of children have been killed and maimed, and also, as we mentioned, the detention of children and the ill treatment in detention .
But we also receive information on opposition groups, because with all these factions now operating in different areas, also, they are detaining the children, and they are — but most important when you talk about the opposition is the recruitment and use of children in this conflict .
JUDY WOODRUFF: How confident are you in your findings? We're already hearing of denials, especially from the Syrian government, the Syrian regime . How much evidence were you able to get to back this up?
LEILA ZERROUGUI: As I said, we were gathering information from the beginning . We were documenting . I visit twice the country, Syria, and neighboring country . We are in contact with both sides.
I met with people that are — have been affected by this war that are directly victim, children, but were, for example, detained and released, and they report on what happened to them . They report on what — others still in detention . I spoke with parents that their children have been either killed or have been detained or disappeared .
I also spoke with children that have been associated with armed groups, fighting alongside with them . I met with those who left — who lost arms or legs . So, if we gather ourselves information and we also go through triangulation of information coming through our partners on the ground, we consider — we consider that what we were — you see in our report, that some information are confirmed and verified, or they are reported, and we are asking the government side and opposition to allow us to get access.
If they contest something, we would like to get the access and to verify with them . But there's no doubt that violation is ongoing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Just finally, let me ask you, is the intention — do you really — is it your hope that the two sides would change their — the kind of violence that they have been guilty of, or is this more a matter of documenting this for some sort of future accountability that these two sides will be held against?
LEILA ZERROUGUI: I think that the documentation is important, because those who are committing atrocities on both sides need to be held accountable one day . So it's important .
The documentation is also necessary because people — because it's the only way that you can engage with parties and bring the evidence to act — to let them act on that . It is also important because we have to push — it is my duty to continue to do what I am doing . I will not stop, and I will not give up, because it's my responsibility .
And it's only — it's also the only way to see to put the pressure, not only on those who are fighting, but those who can make a difference because they are supporting them . We have to continue to reach to all parties . It's the only way to stop this brutal war that is affecting children .
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, it is a disturbing report . And we appreciate your talking with us, Leila Zerrougui, who has, along with others, authored a report on violence against children in the Syrian war.
We thank you .
LEILA ZERROUGUI: Thank you .
JUDY WOODRUFF: In next week's “Frontline” on PBS, “Syria's Second War,” gets inside the battle lines in the country's northern fight, where al-Qaida-linked factions have joined the fight . That's Tuesday on your PBS station.
Society failed man convicted of sexually abusing children, judge says
by McKenzie Romero
SALT LAKE CITY — When William Estell entered the courtroom Friday to be sentenced after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting young boys, the small group there to support him saw one more victim: Estell himself.
Estell, 41, stayed quiet as Judge Deno Himonas told the court that the trauma of Estell's sexual abuse when he was a child was not lost on him.
"I would be remiss if I didn't note that society failed Mr. Estell," Himonas said before announcing a sentence of 25 years to life. "This sentence is appropriate for the crime that has been committed, but I understand you were the victim. There was a tremendous breakdown in the system and that led to other victims."
Estell was charged with multiple counts of forcible sodomy, sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse of a child in two different cases, pleading guilty in November to one count of sodomy of a child.
"There's no excuse for what I've done," an emotional Estell told the judge. "I have to live with what I've done for the rest of my life. … I'll look back on it every moment I'm in prison."
Investigators believe there were more victims who hadn't been identified and that Estell could have been sexually abusing children for as many as 20 years, targeting parks, concerts, sleepovers and other places where he might likely find young boys, according to court and jail records.
Though all but one charge had been dismissed in Estell's plea deal, it had been decided that victims from other cases would still have a chance to speak in court, if they chose. Estell selected his victims carefully, prosecutor Coral Rose-Sanchez said, choosing boys who spoke English as a second language, were poor and whose parents knew little or nothing about navigating the legal system.
None of the victims were present, including one young man who testified in a preliminary hearing last May, but Sanchez-Rose said they and their parents had told her that Estell should go to prison for as long as possible.
"Although I understand there are some issues with the defendant, he was savvy enough to know which kind of victims to target," Rose-Sanchez said. "These kids already have a lot of hurdles to face. This is another one that has been thrown at them."
One of the victims felt law enforcement didn't take an interest when he tried to report the abuse because he was a "poor, Hispanic kid," Rose-Sanchez said. Now he harbors a deep mistrust of law enforcement and society in general. Another is behind bars himself, facing charges in another state. A third struggles with sexual identity and blames himself for the abuse.
Defense attorney Nick Falcone said it was identified early on that Estell was sexually abused by his father, and that abuse was allowed to continue, leading to problems in his adult life and his own illegal actions.
"The system here in this state has completely failed, not only the victims against this case, but Mr. Estell," Falcone said.
Pete and Maxine Peterson, who knew Estell as "Billy" as he grew up and regularly mowed their lawn, felt he had been "shanghaied" by the long sentence.
"He's a 10-year-old kid. He isn't a 40-year-old man," Pete Peterson said. "I think it was way too much. … All he can do is be good. He's got to toe the line and hope that he gets out before 25 years."
Estell's sister, Holly Birich, wept quietly after her brother left the courtroom.
"The whole thing is a tragedy," Birich said. "As they expressed, the system has let everybody down, including Bill and his victims. … Prison isn't a place for people with mental disabilities."
Birich said she believes her brother meant it when he apologized.
Woody Allen Is Not a Monster. He Is a Person. Like My Father.
by William Warwick
Last week, an impassioned letter from a sexual abuse survivor surfaced online. Its author had been at the center a scandal that attracted national media attention. The letter's vulnerability, and its bravery, gave me chills.
Dylan Farrow didn't write it. It was the suicide note of Jesse Ryan Loskarn, a Republican congressional aide arrested last year on charges of distributing child pornography. Loskarn wrote it before hanging himself in his parents' basement while awaiting trial. It made no excuses for his decision to view and distribute child pornography, and told his own history of sexual abuse.
Loskarn's letter is a painful account of life within the hermetically sealed world of a child sexual abuse survivor, as well as a shocking illustration of how most pedophiles reproduce in our culture. In his alienation, Loskarn discovered images that externalized the very memories that he had worked for decades to push out of his consciousness. And then he got hooked, as if the images were some sort of talisman of his fractured self made whole again.
I understand this. I have never viewed child pornography in my life, but I recall telling my therapist several years ago that part of me desperately wanted to see it, not out of any prurience or titillation, but a deep desire to see a world into which I had been forced at a young age.
I have extremely disturbing drawings I made as a kindergartner, a story I wrote when I was six years old carefully trying to tell my mother I had been molested, and a clinical history that could have easily been extracted from a child psychology textbook. But the sort of forensic evidence that some strident folks are demanding of Dylan Farrow eludes me, too.
On a clear blue Saturday afternoon in the summer of 2006, I confronted my father for sexually abusing me, and for the years of quiet emotional abuse that followed. I had been staying in my parents' home for several months after breaking up with a girlfriend in New Haven, Connecticut. I like to think that, in the days leading up to my attack, he knew what was about to happen. That he was almost proud of me for having the balls to finally stand up for myself. I pictured him like a man on the lam, peeking through filthy venetian blinds, half-hoping the cops will just hurry up and break down the door.
The confrontation is a blur now. But I remember saying, "If you hurt my mother, I will have you prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law." And then his tone grows more rapid, more furtive – trying to contain all of this, as it happens in the front yard of his house, before it spills over into the neighborhood, risking witnesses. He spits: "This is what you do, you blame other people for your problems." In my dissociated state, he may as well be a serpent, and I a wounded mouse. I am fighting for my life.
When I was seventeen, my mother sent me on a service retreat to Costa Rica. Myself and some of the other boys on the trip brought home machetes as souvenirs. My parents confiscated mine immediately. On this day with the perfect blue sky, some fifteen years later, having confronted my father, I run to his closet to retrieve that machete from the place where it has been perched, at eye level, staring him in the face for nearly fifteen years. It is the first thing he sees each morning and the last thing he sees at night. It is in the same closet where he hides his pornography, tucked behind a heavy corded L.L. Bean sweater.
Earlier that week, I had disclosed my abuse, for the first time in my life, to my therapist. The world didn't end, as I genuinely feared it might. "It's like reality is right where I left it," I told him, intoxicated with the vivid feeling of finally being alive again. I left his office to walk back to my parents' house, and the full vibrancy of the world rushed back to me, like a time lapse of the twenty five years I had largely missed.
Not long after I confronted my father, I left the house. Forever. The machete came with me. It was eventually offered to the gods of rust, thrown into a river in rural Vermont.
There are a number of popular tropes around child sexual abuse inour culture. Two are preeminent: One calls us liars when we come forward, another calls us crazy. There is a notion that we should be skeptical when an adult comes forward and names their abuser, that we should carefully question their motivations lest we be duped by someone who is manufacturing, or at least strategically re-crafting, a story of abuse to shirk responsibility for their own transgressions. There is also the popular notion that "false memories" of child abuse are common.
When an abuse survivor's memories are fragmentary, as they so often are, they will often turn to Google for help—perhaps fearing that they're going mad, or at risk of wrongly accusing someone of child abuse. When they do, they are likely to stumble upon the website of a little group called the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which has been operating since the early 1990s. In fairness, they're a pretty ridiculous bunch.
Their story begins something like this: A young woman suffering from deep depression spontaneously remembers that her father sexually molested her. She withdraws from her parents, who ask her partner what is going on. He tells them what she recalls. All of this happens privately in the family home. Her father is an admitted alcoholic who reports that he quit drinking because he was having memory problems and is, himself, a self-described survivor of sexual abuse.
So the mother then does what any honorable, clear-seeing mother would: She writes an anonymous letter to her daughter's colleagues telling them that the daughter, a Ph.D. candidate at the time, is deluded and suffering from a neurological disorder. She goes on to found an organization offering camaraderie and community to anyone claiming to have been wrongly accused of sexual abuse.
So, what screening process do they use to ensure that those who come to them are not simply pedophiles who doth protest too much, you ask? Why, none, of course.
Early on in the group's history, an odd bird of a guy named Ralph Underwager is appointed to the board. A short time later, he is asked to resign after giving an interview to a Scandinavian magazine for pedophiles in which he encourages its readers to boldly proclaim that man-boy love, as it were, is a reflection of God's will.
A few days after confronting my father, I asked my still-stunned mother what he said when I left. She told me: "I knew it, I knew someone planted those memories in his head." This is a predictable dime-store script of a defense these days, and it's available to all.
In America, we are prone to theatrics. Fox News loves a good sociopathic pedophile story. Nancy Grace goes rabid Bride of Frankenstein for it, snarling updates every five minutes until some ghastly fucking shell of a man lays dead in a hailstorm of Amber Alerts and SWAT team bullets. The kids survive, and I imagine Nancy sighing with relief, stroking her ego to sleep, reassuring it there will be follow-up stories and voyeuristic interviews for years to come.
This works on television because it reinforces the notion that the sociopath pedophile is not like you or me. We watch and wonder who would be so obtuse as to let him anywhere near so much as a pet rock, let alone a child. Without fail, there is a curious aspect of elitism in the spectacle. I can't say Rupert Murdoch calls in the script himself, but I've noticed how effectively these tabloid abuse stories often provoke the smug pity of the educated urban intelligentsia as they watch the catastrophically bad judgment of their poor under-educated brethren.
The problem is, this has next to nothing to do with the sexual abuse that happens in homes.
Those of us who were abused by a family member, or a family friend, have shared banal time and space with the sort of people who molest kids. We have sat in their cars in traffic and gone to diners with them, watched them scarf cheeseburgers or try to quit smoking, need an aspirin. And mostly, they are not utter sociopaths or sadists.
We are in the paradoxical situation of being subject to pure evil and knowing from experience that its representatives are rarely pure evil themselves. No one is. We have almost certainly seen at least a flicker of innocent joy or generosity in their face. We have puzzled over this person who hurt us, and considered the fact that they too were children once. And we know that many of them were also sexually abused as children. At some point in healing, we just know that there will never be, could never be enough jails to contain this – that it would never work anyway.
We are left with a problem: The greater the tenor of condemnation against these perps, the higher the stakes in telling our own stories, and the higher their own stakes in defending themselves.
If Woody Allen is now written into history as a monstrous child molester, child abuse is more likely to continue. Because if we are unable to stomach the fact that Woody is not a monster but a human being who did something monstrous, we will continue to stoke the fires of archetype, perpetuating the notion of the picture-perfect pedophile, the one whose evil shines through like a 100-watt black lightbulb.
I admire Woody for rejecting Hollywood awards culture and consistently churning out reasonably watchable films. (Though I didn't care much for Blue Jasmine ; I prefer Match Point , which I suspect is closer to a darkness of which Woody is a part.)
Yet I know too that Dylan Farrow is telling the truth. And it makes me sick to witness the vile double standard by which our society measures abuse survivors – questioning their credibility based on their behavior, when that behavior is likely the result of the trauma they have endured. Who in the world finds it plausible that Dylan was an emotionally disturbed kid who concocted a false memory from her inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality, rather than a kid who had been systematically traumatized within the sanctity of an otherwise reasonably stable home and so could not fully integrate the experience?
We don't really just condemn the sexualization of children. Instead, we condemn the very existence of child abuse altogether. It's as if the crime includes being victimized by it, or responsible for bringing it into the light. We take an ontological roach spray to the whole event, either denying its status in reality altogether, or competing with one another to proclaim the most exquisite forms of torture for the perpetrators. I can't count how many times I've seen the most strident liberal break character to loudly call for the prison rape of perpetrators.
That this darkness is actually woven into and throughout the fabric of our society—that these abusers are among us—is simply too much to bear. So the darkness is ignored except for the most distilled, theatrical, and viscerally repellent cases.
This is why agnosticism reigns in the land of child abuse allegations. It is why a raging blowhard like Alec Baldwin can respond to Dylan Farrow as though this were simply a private family matter, effectively telling her to shut up and step back into the private family quarters where she was violated.
The loudest voices questioning Dylan's veracity sound uncannily like the same bloodthirsty mobs who seek the sadistic annihilation of confirmed, unambiguously guilty perpetrators. As though, were she able to proffer the forensic evidence they demand, they would swap out their moral subroutines and swarm Woody's doorsteps bearing torches, toting copies of Bananas and the Curse of the Jade Scorpion to fuel the bonfires.
There is an in-between, and it's where life is lived, for better and worse. The appropriate response toward someone who has molested a kid is not violence. And the primary concern when confronted with allegations of abuse shouldn't be to make sure that they justify the sacred level of condemnation we reserve for those we know for certain, without doubt, are wolves in sheep's clothing. Monsters.
Does it make sense to discard an entire oeuvre of work? Or does it simply reflect an inability to live with messiness and ambiguity? To chalk it up as nothing more than the work of a monster, to cast it out of the village, is to senselessly re-affirm the same basic strategy of denial and dehumanization that, ultimately, allows abuse to continue.
My own father is a reasonably distinguished medical researcher. Neither of us is in the public eye, yet even if we were, there would be little risk of his contributions being marred by any of it. I can't picture a terminal cancer patient refusing an experimental therapy on the grounds that its inventor molested a child.
Years later, my father broke down on the phone, crying, and acknowledged what he had done. That, the simplest truth, was all I ever wanted.
Not long after I disclosed my abuse to my now largely estranged sister, she explained her own cold response to me, saying, "I know those memories are real for you but it's a bit like you telling me you lived on a boat for several years as a child." The eye-roll that seizes me as I recall, and repeat, this sentence is lunar in scope. Picture the moon with a pupil, picture it rolling and I will have shared with you some sense of the utter humiliation involved in having your most formative experiences treated as imaginary.
Most of us would sooner discard all parties who have been tainted by this event than we would look at how tenuous the sanctity of children really is, how commonplace abuse is, or see the capacity for the mostly good to do periodic evil. We live in the same universe as those who abuse kids. We walk among them. If we want to end the sexual abuse of children, it will begin with the recognition that we are simply not that different from them.
William Warwick (the name is a pseudonym) is a sculptor and writer in Los Angeles. He believes Dylan Farrow entirely. Stardust Memories is his favorite Woody Allen film.
Woody Allen Abuse Defense: The Ice Cream Cone Made Her Do It
Rebuttal Lengthy and Unconvincing
By TheImproper Staff
Woody Allen addresses allegations that he molested step-daughter Dylan Farrow in a Sunday New York Times opinion piece that is as lengthy as it is unconvincing in rebuttal of her letter to The Times a week ago.
His credibility is not only strained by what he said, but what he didn't say in the 1,858-word article.
But first, let's get one bit of empathy for Allen out of the way. It's very difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative.
How can he convince anyone that he didn't molest Dylan? If it never happened. as he says, what possible evidence could there be to support him, except his own vehement denials?
But Allen is his own worst witness.
What was he thinking, for example, when he flippantly attributed the basis for Dylan's very serious allegations to an ice cream treat?
“Dylan told the doctor she had not been molested. Mia then took Dylan out for ice cream, and when she came back with her the child had changed her story,” he writes.
Is he serious? Maybe it was a sundae with nuts, chocolate syrup, walnuts and cherries. Even so, at 7, Dylan had to have some idea about the gravity of what she was saying.
Would she really viciously smear her father for some ice cream?
Then he invokes the “Who Me?” defense.
He was 56 at the time and had never been accused of child molestation before, he notes. The fact is, the vast majority of child molesters are never caught and do not have criminal records, according to the FBI.
He also notes, at length, how ridiculous it is to suggest he would molest Dylan in a small attic when he is obviously claustrophobic. He also makes it sound like the allegations involved a one-off incident.
In fact, the abuse had been ongoing, according to Dylan. “These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known.”
At the time, Allen also cites the fact that he was in the “blissful early stages of a happy new relationship,” but fails to mention that Soon-Yi Previn was still in her teens when they started dating.
Soon-Yi was adopted by Mia and composer Andre Previn at age 8 in 1978, and she was 10 when Woody and Mia started dating in 1980.
That means Allen and Soon-Yi clearly had an established parent-child relationship lasting years, before they developed “blissful” feelings for each other. What does that say about his character?
Finally, he asserts the “it's not me, it's her” defense, which has worked so well for him for all these years.
Oddly, he expresses hurt for having his character assailed, yet engages in the most vicious character assassination against Mia.
How convenient for his embittered ex-partner to raise the allegations “in the midst of a terribly acrimonious breakup, with great enmity between us and a custody battle slowly gathering energy,” he argues.
But what mother wouldn't be outraged if she found out one of her children had been molested? And, who wouldn't harbor bitter feelings forever, really, if the molester went unpunished? That's not really so out of character.
He makes a lot out of the fact that he took a lie detector test and passed (she refused), but has never addressed the fact a housekeeper witnessed him acting in an untoward manner with Dylan.
The fact that he interjects Ronan Farrow into the mix, questions his paternity and by extension Mia's faithfulness and moral character is nothing less than ad hominem character assassination.
But this isn't about Mia Farrow. It is, and always has been, about Dylan Farrow. Yet Allen brushes off her allegations (once again) by deflecting blame back at Mia.
“If from the age of 7 a vulnerable child is taught by a strong mother to hate her father because he is a monster who abused her, is it so inconceivable that after many years of this indoctrination the image of me Mia wanted to establish had taken root?” he writes.
Can whatever influence her mother had over her years ago, possibly be just as strong today?
After all, Dylan is 28, married, living away from her mother, and feeling healthy, for the first time in her life, she says. She makes clear it was her own decision to speak out in detail about what happened, not her mother's.
Allen also goes on to address, in a fairly straight-forward way, the findings of the Yale-New Haven Hospital medical team and the judge's reaction to him. But to suggest the Connecticut district attorney was “champing at the bit to prosecute a celebrity case” is clearly a stretch.
Then-State's Attorney Frank Maco said at the time he had “probable cause” to prosecute Allen, but was reluctant to do so because of the emotional toll it would take on Dylan, whom he judged to be very fragile.
As for Dylan's state of mind at the time, it's really no great surprise that she had difficulty articulating what happened. “I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters,” she writes.
“When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn't know the firestorm it would trigger,” she adds.
In the end, however, the passage of time is in Allen's favor, just as the confusion of a young child, repeated character assassination and his celebrity status have worked in his favor all these years.
He concludes by saying this is his final word on the matter. But after all that's happened in the past two weeks, the final word will ultimately rest with the public.
That's about as much justice as Dylan can hope for at this point.
What Would Make You Believe a Survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse?
by Andrea Grimes
I don't know if you know an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I don't know if you know what an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse looks, sounds, or acts like. So let me tell you who I am, and let me tell you what I am like.
I am a 30-year-old white woman who lives in Austin, Texas. I have bleached blonde hair with a coral-toned streak in the front—it's short, but I'm trying to grow it out (god, I wish it would grow faster). I work from home, but unofficially I office out of the back patio of a craft beer bar. I have a graduate degree in cultural anthropology. I am heterosexual and I am married, and together with my husband I own an old-ass house with a recent raccoon infestation. I have three cats who are named after boozy drinks.
I am an only child and I have awesome, twangy Texas-raised parents who Texas-raised me. My best friends are brilliant academics who sort of hate academia. I am overly friendly in awkward situations. I am funny and I love Star Trek. I throw big parties. I do yoga at home so I can skip savasana. I talk too much.
And when I was a kid, a relative sexually abused me. I don't know how long it went on. It started before I entered kindergarten but stopped sometime in elementary school. I remember feelings—dread, shame, embarrassment, panic, guilt—better than I remember incidents, but I remember some incidents too.
If you had asked me three or four years ago: Andrea, have you ever been sexually abused? I would have said absolutely not. Because it took me more than 20 years to admit to myself that what happened to me as a child was real, that it was abuse, and that it was not my fault.
Why 20 years? Why so long?
My abuser made me afraid of my own capacity to experience memories. My abuser made me afraid of what the inside of my own mind looked like. I built—like, really, purposefully built—delicate, intricate, elaborate mind-paths, each of which navigated away from and around one thing: my abuse. I did it consciously at first, and then as I became older, my brain seemed to do it for me, automatically.
Whenever anything would trigger an abuse memory, or memory-feeling, I would start down a pathway to, well, wherever: a song, a poem, a saying, a dance routine, lines from a play. Anything that was not the memory, or memory-feeling. Eventually those pathways filled up, and stacked these little piles of songs-poems-sayings-whatever between my present and that thing I never wanted to think about.
Maybe I could have lived my whole life like that. Maybe I would have, if I hadn't discovered feminism, if I hadn't discovered anonymous message boards, if I hadn't married someone I trust with my whole heart. But feminism, and the Internet, and being in an incredible relationship conspired together in this wonderful way and empowered me to say a combination of words I never thought I could say: I was abused as a child, and it was real, and it was not my fault.
Those are the hardest things to say, because I am saying them to the most scared, most ashamed, most terrified little 5-year-old version of myself, and she is so scared and ashamed that she can't hear it, refuses to hear it, because hearing it means it is real. My 5-year-old self is going to live 20 years before she lets herself back into her mind and her memories. Now, all I can do is tell her, over and over again: Yes, he hurt you. It was real. It wasn't your fault. It is a strange cycle; it is all over, and yet it is ongoing.
Despite what was done to me—I don't say “what happened” to me, because my abuse didn't “happen,” it was done to me by another human being—I always get the impression that people are a little surprised when they hear about it, as if I am not the adult survivor of child abuse they were expecting. Should I be wafting around like some kind of hollow-eyed ghoul? Should I be especially brave, especially vocal, stumping about my abuse at every opportunity? Should I be significantly fucked up in some easily recognizable way? Would that make it easier for people to believe that I was abused, that abuse exists, that adult survivors walk among us, live among us, drink craft beer among us?
Because what I am seeing, with Dylan Farrow's recent open letter concerning the abuse she says she suffered at the hands of her father, deified American film director Woody Allen, is that a lot of people do not believe that we adult survivors live among them. That there is something adult survivors can do that will make us believable, but that one of those things is not, it seems, recounting our own stories and speaking out against our abusers. Especially if our stories contain, I suppose, “palpable bitchery” and not the correct, carefully measured amount of humility appropriate to a child who has had her entire life torn apart by the very people tasked with protecting her from harm.
Strange, how credible evidence against an abuser rarely seems to include the testimony of survivors, but frequently does include the “expert” opinion of people who were wholly absent from the situation, or of abusers who have a vested interest in, say, not being imprisoned. No, if we survivors remember too much, we are clearly sticking too close to an easily fabricated story, but if we remember too little, we are suspiciously devoid of all those details people say they hate to hear, but which people really, secretly like to hear.
I hear people say that Dylan Farrow must be lying—after all, it took her 21 years to write an open letter in the New York Times ! Well, it took me about that long to write an open letter to my own soul. I hear people say that Dylan Farrow must be lying—after all there is a video of her as a child, unable to recount her abuse in vivid detail, from start to finish, in one defiant take!
Oh, I cannot hear that one. I cannot hear it. There are no lengths to which 5-year-old Andrea would not have gone to prevent the details of her abuse from becoming known to others. In fact, every time I had a clear opportunity to out my abuser, and to detail my trauma? I denied it even more, created elaborate excuses, let details slip but then refused to cooperate. I lived in abject fear of being punished for what another human being had done to me.
I believe 7-year-old Dylan just as I believe 5-year-old Andrea, not because our stories seem to have a couple of parallels, but because I listen to survivors, and because of that, I believe survivors. I don't think, in the wake of Allen's recent Golden Globes accolade, that Farrow is being opportunistic. There is no such thing as an opportune time to have been sexually abused by your father, one of the most famous film directors in the world. There is no opportune time to have had notable public figures debating the possibility of your sexual abuse in glossy, thinky magazines, really trying to get to the crux of the question: Are you, or are you not, the calculating, lying daughter of a vengeful, spiteful actress?
Perhaps I am harming Woody Allen, and all his friends, by believing his daughter. Well, that's fine. If my belief in Dylan Farrow's story of abuse takes a little bit away from Woody Allen's lifetime of lifetime achievement awards and fawning hordes of celebrity fans, I think that is something Allen can spare. And if I'm wrong, and Allen is falsely accused? I ask you: If this is what Woody Allen's career looks like, having been damaged so egregiously by spurious accusations that he is a child abuser, what precisely do you imagine an untainted Woody Allen career would look like? Dude gets his face on an officially minted piece of U.S. currency? We rename the moon “Woody”?
Some research seems to suggest that rates of child sexual abuse are declining; while that is heartening, the truth is that however the numbers play out, child sexual abuse is shockingly common and grossly underreported. I believe Dylan Farrow not only because I find her testimony to be credible on its face, but because chances are, Dylan Farrow isn't lying.
Maybe some folks think it's a fun intellectual exercise to pick apart some kind of “he said, she said” brain teaser about the sexual abuse of children. How satisfying it must be for those folks to feel really confident in settling in for a gander every time Midnight in Paris comes on TNT. What a reward for running a 7-year-old girl through the ringer; how lucky we all are to have solved the mystery of Did Woody Allen Or Didn't He? Oh well, Annie Hall is on!
Here is what I know: I spent the last few days trying desperately to distract myself from just about everything besides my closest friends and most beloved books and activities, because I could not bear to watch my friends and family members tear Dylan Farrow apart on Facebook or Twitter, call her a liar, call her a fool, call her an opportunist. I am still fragile when I think of my own abuse, and I do not know who in my life I might lose to an errant rape joke or a speciously timed Woody Allen oeuvre fest. I hate that this is a fear I must live with and mitigate, daily. But this is the reality of rape culture.
I know there are lots of those people—people who would give the benefit of the doubt to literally anyone besides a scared, confused child or an adult survivor just coming to terms with their past. I wonder why there are so many of those kinds of people who seem unable to, simply, listen to survivors without transporting themselves into some crudely imagined, hyperbolic Law & Order: SVU episode full of idealized victims and nefarious abusers.
I wonder how we can change that, and I believe part of the solution is to help people who aren't survivors learn to hear stories of survival in productive, non-victim-blaming ways. We need to change the paradigm of reception, to empower people to hear the words “I was raped” or “I was abused,” so that they can hold them and experience them without defensiveness, panic, or pity. If we do this—give listeners a cultural script for hearing these stories—I think we will go a long way toward empowering survivors to tell these stories.
As an adult, after I had privately come to terms with myself about my abuse, I still feared—deeply, viscerally—talking about that abuse to someone else. I still have trouble disentangling it from victim-blaming language; in this very essay, I had to stop myself from “admitting” my own abuse, as if it is for me to seek absolution for a crime someone else committed against me. I dreaded the withering experience of managing other people's pity, other people's scorn, other people's discomfort.
I very rarely talk about my own abuse, but whenever I do, I talk about it with a mind toward making other people comfortable with my story. I wish I didn't have to, but I'm doing it for myself as much as I'm doing it for them. If we are going to do right by survivors, then we need to empower those who can support them. And to do that, we need to give our friends, family, and loved ones the tools they need to hear our stories.
The more stories survivors tell, the less aberrant we will be—though I contend this is an imagined aberrance. If we can tell our stories, and if those stories can be heard, we may someday stop this relentless “he said, she said” tug-of-war where no victim is ever perfect enough, no accused ever quite guilty enough. But I could not tell my story until I believed that there were people in my life who could hear it without putting me away in some cramped card catalog drawer, something marked under “T” for “tragic.”
This is a gift I wish I could give all survivors: a place for their stories to live that isn't in their head or on a police report or court petition. A place where their stories can be spread among other people, diffused, made real through their voluntary, consensual telling, to be heard by people who will not immediately file them under “L” for “liar,” or “O” for opportunist, or “B” for “bitch.”
This is the enduring story of rape culture, the eternal lie: Give us the perfect victim, and we will believe you! That's all they're asking for—just one perfect victim, and then we can talk about all of this rationally! Send us someone we don't have so many concerns about! This is a great deceit, and it is borne out of a cultural narrative that has no place for listening, only a place for victim-blaming, only a place for reinforcing stories that do not too terribly upset our Friday night movie binges.
I'm not asking you to decide, today, whether Woody Allen is a child abuser, or to preach fire and brimstone the next time someone picks up a copy of Manhattan . I am asking you to do something more powerful, more long-lasting, more revolutionary: Listen to survivors. Understand that our stories are not sad addenda, but part of our whole being, part of the people you love or hate or see in the elevator sometimes at lunch. See us not as victims, or characters, or some unidentifiable, sad and tragic “other,” but as the whole people we are, moving in and out of your lives.
Listen to us, so that we can listen to ourselves.
Dylan Farrow's Child-Abuse Accusations: What We've Learned About When and How Children Should Confront Abuse
Experts still don't have all the answers, but they have a better appreciation for how to help young victims confront their abuse experience
by Maia Szalavitz
Dylan Farrow's open letter responding to her adoptive father Woody Allen's lifetime-achievement Golden Globe award reignited the child-abuse questions that captivated the media in 1993, when Farrow's mother Mia, then Allen's girlfriend, split from the director. Then 7-year-old Farrow's claims that Allen had raped her became the linchpin of a bitter custody battle; Allen continues to deny the claims and was never prosecuted.
Farrow's letter provides an opportunity to understand what psychologists have learned about when it's too early to address child abuse with victims (making it too traumatizing) and when it can do harm (if children are forced to relive the experience without proper support). In the years since, some experts say, they have come to a slightly better, although still emerging sense of how reliable childhood memories and recollections are, and the lasting impact of abuse on survivors.
While cases of sexual abuse involving children have declined since Allen was first accused — between 1992 and 2010, the number of substantiated abuse cases fell by 62%, according to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System and other databases — around 1 in 5 girls in the U.S. still suffers at least some form of sexual molestation during childhood.
In about a third of those cases, affecting 6% to 7% of girls overall — the perpetrator is a family member, according to David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. But the most common perpetrator is a nonfamily acquaintance, such as a neighbor, the older sibling of a friend, a coach or teacher, he says. Abuse by strangers — the stereotypical accoster in the park or kidnapper in an unmarked van — only occurs in about 3% to 4% of cases.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the prevailing principle guiding sexual-abuse cases was “believe the children,” which experts hoped would give young victims the benefit of the doubt when confronting potential adult abusers. But that led to dozens of wrongful convictions, particularly of day-care personnel and in cases with little or no physical evidence. Now, says Finkelhor, “The field is much more cautious about child testimony.”
That's because psychologists are learning more about how repeated interrogation and the experience of testifying affects memory and recollections, particularly among young children. Studies showed, for example, that false convictions tended to result when children were constantly interrogated with leading questions or pressured to “tell the truth” that the interrogator wanted to hear. “There have been all kinds of protections developed in the last 20 years about how to talk to children in the course of investigations so as not to create confabulation or not to impair the testimony so it could be impeached in court,” says Finkelhor. For example, using anatomically correct dolls has been shown to produce false testimony, so investigators no longer use them.
Still, the truth is especially difficult to discern during custody cases. “The [studies] show that in some cases these are true allegations that emerge because the family is no longer trying to keep [itself] together and hide this particular secret, but that in some situations it seems to be an allegation that doesn't have support and is probably not true,” Finkelhor says. No one really knows how common false allegations are in custody trials — but clearly neither the extreme view that they never happen or that all reports are true is correct.
And since the end of the 20th century, dozens of studies have shown how fragile and unreliable memory can be. More work even shows that it is possible to implant false memories in both adults and children using very simple prompts and suggestions. In an interview with TIME last year, Elizabeth Loftus, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Irvine, noted that in her research, she was able to implant a false memory of witnessing satanic possession, albeit in only a minority of participants. “I've been planting bits of false memory in my experimental work for decades,” she said. In response to Farrow's letter, one of Allen's attorneys says Farrow's recollection of the abuse that occurred 20 years ago was planted by her mother.
But that doesn't mean that children — or adults for that matter — cannot ever testify accurately. The age of the child, his or her own level of maturity and the circumstances of the abuse all play a role in credibility. The older the child, the more reliable their memory can be, but unfortunately, child predators tend to prey on the youngest and most vulnerable who are least likely to be believed.
And that means that when a young child is victimized, it's difficult to determine whether subjecting him to a court experience, and forcing him to testify, will be helpful or harmful to their recovery. “These cases are very hard on children, whether they testify or not,” Finkelhor says. Research shows that testifying itself doesn't necessarily increase or decrease the child's trauma — but what does matter is how long the proceedings drag on and how the parents respond to the child. The longer the case takes, the worse the outcome — for instance, children can develop posttraumatic-stress disorder, depression, suicidal thoughts or addictions. Also important is how willing the child is to testify and what fears he or she has in connection with doing so. “Having support from their primary caregivers is crucial,” says Finkelhor.
Farrow wrote: “That [Allen] got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.” Would she have felt the same way if she had testified at age 7? That's an open question that experts are still trying to answer. Farrow, now happily married, credits the support of family and friends for helping her confront those emotions — as well as the survivors of sexual abuse who, she wrote, “have given me a reason not to be silent, if only so others know that they don't have to be silent either.”
An Open Letter to Those Defending Woody Allen
by Elisabeth Corey
When I read the article by Dylan Farrow, I was shocked by her bravery, honesty and resiliency.
I was surprised by how she was willing to stand up against someone who is revered by our society as a talented artist.
However, I was more shocked by those who are willing to defend Woody Allen, a man who has been accused of child sexual abuse by one adopted daughter and married the other one [Ed. - Allen was never Soon-Yi Previn's father, adopted or otherwise, according to both Allen and Previn.] . The myriad reasons for this defense show a complete lack of understanding for the complex trauma of a child sex abuse victim.
Let's discuss some of those reasons…
She is lying because she wants attention.
As a survivor of child sex abuse, sometimes I am asked if I want to be on television or in the newspapers. In reality, I actually do want to be on television or in the newspapers. But I don't want to talk about my childhood story of pervasive sexual abuse and trafficking. I want be on television because I have won the Nobel Peace Prize or cured cancer. Nobody wants to talk about being victimized, but there is a longing deep inside of a sex abuse survivor to speak the truth. In many cases, speaking the truth may be necessary to heal from the abuse. In some cases, speaking the truth may bring about the justice that was evasive for so long. It is not about attention.
She is lying because she wants money.
I don't know Dylan's financial situation. She is the daughter of Mia Farrow, so she is probably not starving or homeless.
However, I can speak to my own situation. When I choose to speak out against my abuser, money never crossed my mind. I thought about my father fulfilling the thousands of death threats from my childhood. I thought about retaliation toward my children. I thought about all the nasty comments from people like you. I thought about being excluded from my extended family for the rest of my life. But the money wasn't a consideration. If you have lived a normal life without abuse, money might drive your decisions, but for me, avoiding death is pretty high on my list of priorities.
She wanted it.
This is probably the most ridiculous of all the defenses. Children are not sexual beings. They are not “promiscuous.” They don't wonder how long they have to wait until someone invades their private parts again. Depending on their age, they may not even know what sex is, or that they are having it. They may know that this is a form of attention or affection, possibly the only form that this adult is capable of providing. But I guarantee they are not enjoying themselves. They are scared. They are children. They want to play. They want to learn. They want to have innocent and trusting relationships with adults. They don't want to have sex.
He could not possibly sexually abuse. He is too talented to do that.
As a society, we love to profile the pedophile. It gives us all a collective sigh of relief if we can say, without any doubt, this is what a pedophile looks like.
I have some unfortunate news for society. I was raped by a banker, an Air Force colonel, a car salesperson, a housing contractor, and many other people who purchased me with their middle-class, college-level incomes. I was never sexually abused by a creepy homeless person lurking in the bushes. It didn't happen. That is not what pedophiles look like. They are everywhere. They are talented artists. They are successful business people. They are military personnel. Stop putting your comfort level above the truth. The truth is never comfortable.
In a court of law, he would be innocent until proven guilty.
This is true — in a court of law. But there are rarely witnesses in sex abuse cases. It is the child's word against the adult's word. In our society, most are willing to believe an adult over a child. In the cases where the adult is particularly famous or powerful, the child is even less likely to be believed. In some cases, like the Allen case, justice may be avoided completely because of the defendant's status but be disguised as benefitting the accuser.
“We are saving her from a nasty trial and the publicity that will follow.” But in reality, children don't lie about this. They don't make up sexual abuse. They have no reason to make it up. They want to be validated. They want to be supported. In a court, an abuser may be innocent until proven guilty. But this is not a courtroom. This is a child's life.
Dylan Farrow is an adult. She can take some harassment and intolerance because she has a support network and coping skills. She will find a way to deal with the “Woody Allen defenders,” though it won't be without pain.
But if you don't believe her, what does that mean for the abused child who might choose to come to you for help? Will you stay in your comfortable world where bad things don't happen to children unless they ask for it, want attention or hang out in dangerous locations? If a child comes to you about their abuse, will you allow that child to continue experiencing trauma without support? Will you make a difference by changing your understanding, no matter how uncomfortable? Or will you perpetuate the pervasive scourge of child sexual abuse for yet another generation?
When ‘He Wasn't Convicted' Doesn't Mean ‘Innocent'
by Tara Murtha
After decades of silence, Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of actress and activist Mia Farrow and director Woody Allen, has stepped forward to publicly assert that Allen sexually assaulted her when she was 7 years old. The assault came after what she describes as a number of disturbing behaviors that sound like grooming, a term for the process predators use to initiate an abusive dynamic with victims, to encourage secrecy and test how much abuse they can get away with disguising as love. For instance, Dylan wrote of Allen putting his thumb in her mouth, of resting his head in her naked lap, and making her get under the covers with him while he was in his underwear.
In an open letter published on a New York Times blog, Dylan wrote of a childhood spent frightened and silent and hiding in small, dark spaces, under beds and in closets, trying to avoid her alleged assailant. “He always found me,” she wrote.
It's a dangerous situation to turn a particular case into a metaphor for a typical case, but as so often happens when recognizable names publicly wrestle with contentious issues, the Farrow-Allen dynamic is now a divisive flashpoint. For many, Dylan has become a symbol—a stand-in speaking the rage of countless victims of childhood sexual abuse who never saw justice, while Allen's the stand-in for every abuser who ever got away with it.
There are way too many people represented on both sides of that equation. Imagine any other violent crime where so few survivors saw justice. It's not an accident, though. It is, in part, by design.
It's obviously not my place to say if Woody Allen is guilty or not. But when the charge is child sex abuse, “he wasn't convicted” hardly means “innocent.” Our criminal justice system may be based on the presumption of innocence in the absence of contrary evidence in court, it's also built with laws designed to stop childhood sexual abuse victims from getting into a courtroom.
Historically, statutes of limitation (SOLs) on childhood sex abuse, the parameters for how long a victim has before criminal prosecution or a civil lawsuit, have been set so short that by the time an abused child becomes an adult, the option is gone.
Under Connecticut law, children assaulted in 1992, the same year that Dylan Farrow says she was abused by Allen, had seven years from the time of the assault, or two years after turning 18, whichever is shorter. (Farrow and Allen were in Connecticut at the time she says she was assaulted.)
A 7-year-old, as Farrow was, had until age 14 to pursue a court case.
How many 14-year-old kids do you know who would be able to not only recognize abuse that has been packaged as love, but be ready for the fallout?
Getting to that point is a psychologically and emotionally difficult process that often takes years —decades, even. In many cases, it's simply logistically impossible for a survivor to pursue a legal case.
In 2002, Connecticut's SOL had been extended, reflecting the trend across the country of dragging out, or even abolishing, statutes to reflect what we are learning about how survivors process trauma. (Check your state law here.)
We now know, for example, that childhood victims of sexual abuse often don't inform authorities, or anyone, about their abuse for years, especially when the abuser is a well-respected authority figure or family member.
We know, too, that children most scared of the consequences of reporting their abuse sometimes deny or recant their story, and that doesn't mean they're lying. A study that examined 250 cases of substantiated sexual abuse found that approximately 25 percent of the children recanted at some point, and the kids most likely to waver were the ones abused by a family member.
We also know that many victims don't disclose childhood abuse at all until adulthood, when they first experience the tentacles of that monster reaching out to destroy relationships because they can't trust, and destroy their bodies because they self-medicate with alcohol or drugs as they discover that commanding themselves to “get over it” doesn't work, no matter how hard they try.
Sometimes it “clicks” after a triggering event, such as a friend's revelation, or a big story like the Jerry Sandusky or Jimmy Savile case. Or, as Dylan wrote, when your assailant is so rich and famous and beloved that the world routinely stands up and claps for him at ceremonies that he doesn't deign to attend—all after marrying your adopted sister.
Even though SOLs have been extending, they don't apply retroactively, so they will most benefit future victims. In general, the law that existed during your abuse is the law that applies to your case. Just last August, for example, charges filed against a Connecticut school psychologist accused of sexually assaulting a middle-school boy were abruptly dismissed once the court learned the alleged rapes took place in 2000 and 2001, before the statute granted victims the right to come forward up to age 50.
In that case, as with all survivors who discover they've run down a clock they didn't know was ticking, the boy has suffered because of both his assailant and the special interests that have consistently fought against extending SOLs.
Who would fight against justice in this way? Well, besides Hollywood's elite, the Roman Catholic Church.
The reasons come with a lot of zeroes at the end: It's no wonder, for example, that the Catholic Church has been fighting SOL reform in Pennsylvania, given the forthcoming civil suits from the sex abuse crisis and the fact that not one priest identified in the 2005 grand jury reporting investigating the Philadelphia archdiocese was prosecuted, all thanks to SOLs. SOLs helped Sandusky as well.
In fact, SOLs on child sex abuse seem to help everyone but the survivors.
All in all, the odds are so stacked against survivors that only 3 percent of rapists ever spend a day in jail. There is a heavy thumb on the scales of justice. It is well-documented. To trot out “ but he wasn't convicted ” as definitive proof of innocence of child rape against the backdrop of this system amounts to willful ignorance, a cheap attempt to exploit what should be a sacred tenet of our legal system in an effort to dignify the rape culture myth that says victims are presumed to be lying until proven otherwise in a court of law— and by the way, good luck getting there.
10 reasons why our FGM law has failed – and 10 ways to improve it
Female genital mutilation has been a crime in the UK for 29 years. There are 65,000 girls at risk. There have been no prosecutions
by Dexter Dias, Felicity Gerry and Hilary Burrage
Female genital mutilation (FGM) has been a crime in the UK since 1985. An estimated 65,000 girls aged 13 and under are at risk of mutilation. So why has there been a grand total of zero prosecutions?
Here we list 10 problems that have plagued the fight against FGM and 10 solutions that could improve the situation.
WHAT THE PROBLEMS ARE
1. Complaints from survivors. Survivors are disempowered girls, with little voice, knowledge or social resources to make official complaints. Mutilated when young , these are often the children of those who organise the ceremony. They may be related to accomplices and be fearful of "cutters" who have status, authority, "mystique" in their communities. These children are confused with conflicted loyalties and scared of losing their parents .
2. Witnesses. Typically these are family members who believe stopping the practice can damage family's economic and social prospects. Mutilations either happen overseas or, if in the UK, in private homes (thus lack bystander evidence). Those relatives who might disapprove and report can face social ostracism and physical threats.
3. Professionals. Despite clear guidelines, many frontline professionals (GPs, midwives, teachers, healthcare visitors, social workers) are not trained, do not understand the law and harbour beliefs that FGM is someone else's problem. They are uncertain about the significance of "cultural" or "traditional" values and concerned about accusations of racism. Some worry about patient confidentiality and their role supporting socially isolated clients. Hospitals report a mere 5-10% of FGM cases to the police or local authorities.
4. Testimony of mutilated child. Children are unlikely to give evidence against parents or relatives for fear of losing their family or social group. Even if marginally more likely to give evidence against a "cutter", they face huge social pressure to keep silent in communities where FGM is perpetuated as a potent symbol of social solidarity.
5. No criminal propensity. Responsible adults in an FGM context usually have no history of offending, are likely to be otherwise caring and exhibit little external indication that they're about to commit a serious criminal offence against their child. Access for investigators may be tricky but not impossible. Until recently there has been a failure to build cases based on circumstantial evidence.
6. Identification. It cannot be assumed both parents were party to the mutilation. Sometimes mutilations are at the instigation of members of the wider family group and contrary to a parent's wish. If a child is found to be mutilated, it is a forensic challenge to prove a) who inflicted the injury and b) who was party to it.
7. Legal loopholes. In terms of mutilation abroad, UK criminal law applies to British national or "settled" children. Thus there is no protection if children from recently arrived or mobile communities are taken abroad to be mutilated.
8. Institutional culture. For decades there has been a disconcerting lack of appetite or expertise to deal with the problem by police and prosecuting authorities.
9. Lack of credible deterrent. Without evidence that FGM will be robustly prosecuted, the law's deterrent effect is nullified. Criminological evidence suggests that criminal sanctions do not deter for crimes that are opportunistic but FGM is a calculated decision, requiring planning. If there's a genuine prospect of children being taken into care and those involved in the mutilation sent to prison, a rigorously enforced FGM law would have a significant deterrent effect.
10. Cumulative effect. These factors are interlocking and mutually reinforcing. There also needs to be a proper understanding that law does not operate in isolation from wider community factors. FGM is a perfect storm of taboo subjects: gender violence, sexual liberty and race.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
1. Complaints from survivors. The burden of policing FGM should not rest on survivors. Investigation and prosecution demonstrates that complaints will be taken seriously; that FGM is a crime, child abuse and a serious human rights violation. Specialist support services, including remedial medical and psychological support, demonstrate that broader society is on their side. This may encourage older teenagers and young women survivors to come forward, and they can then provide support to children.
2. Complaints from witnesses. The law on "special measures" procedures to protect witnesses who testify should be explicitly applied to FGM cases, as it is in sexual abuse cases. These measures include pre-recorded testimony, TV link and, in appropriate cases, witness anonymity. The CPS should immediately declare that this is their approach.
3. Referrals from professionals. Voluntary guidelines have failed. Mandatory training is required to recognise risk. But the UK must also seriously consider a mandatory reporting (and data recording) requirement for professionals working in regulated activities (health, education, social services). A simple "traffic lights" system that removes next-step decisions from informants and allocates them to specially trained FGM protection officers could be rapidly implemented.
4. Dispensing with child evidence. Consideration should be given to creating a "failure to protect from FGM" law for cases where a child is mutilated when demonstrably in the care of parents but perpetrator identification is not possible. The forensic question shifts from who mutilated the child to why the child has not been protected. Such a provision would avoid the need for the child to testify. Such a law would require careful guidelines to avoid misuse.
5. Use of hearsay evidence. Cases can be built around circumstantial evidence. Such prosecutions can be strengthened by use of hearsay evidence which is already admissible and increasingly used. The court of appeal recently confirmed the conviction in a child rape trial where hearsay evidence from the traumatised child replaced the child coming to court ( R v Clifton: prosecuted by Felicity Gerry).
6. Innovative operations and sentencing. Greater use of intelligence-led police operations and surveillance, particularly against "cutters". Sentencing guidelines should emphasise the availability of significantly reduced sentences for former cutters or parents who co-operate with authorities.
7. Close the loophole. If someone in the UK is arranging for girls in the UK (but who are not yet British nationals) to be taken abroad for mutilation, it is absurd that FGM law does not apply. This loophole should be closed.
8. Preventative orders. Consider the creation of a new FGM prevention order system where authorities could apply for an order prohibiting the mutilation of a child where there is clear evidence of risk (cf sexual offences prevention orders). This allows the child to stay at home but puts carers under threat of prosecution. Crime prevention is always preferable to prosecution.
9. International reach. New legal powers equivalent to forced marriage legislation. Where there is suspicion that girls resident in the UK are at risk of being mutilated abroad ("holiday cutting") orders could be sought to prevent the child being removed from the UK and/or relatives compelled to reveal the overseas whereabouts of the child so that consular staff can intervene.
10. Honour international obligations. It is already part of the UK's international law duties to respond in a proactive way to eliminate FGM. In 2012 the UN resolved that state responses should be properly resourced. The UK must meaningfully honour its international FGM obligations to protect and empower women and girls.
NJ: Free training in identifying, preventing child sex abuse announced
by Jerry DeMarco
Free online sexual abuse identification and prevention training is being offered to all state residents as part of a “proactive approach to eradicating this abominable crime in the state of New Jersey,” Acting State Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced today.
In addition, all state Department of Law and Public Safety employees will be required to complete the online course, he said.
“Law enforcement will continue to crack down on this vicious crime,” Hoffman said. “Yet it is important to remember that it is everyone's responsibility — be it teachers, friends, relatives or neighbors — to recognize the signs of abuse and report it to the proper authorities.
“As law enforcement and as parents, we owe it to our children to expose the perpetrators who commit these hideous crimes and bring them to justice,” he said.
It is provided by Darkness to Light, a nonprofit with the mission of reducing the incidence of child sexual abuse through public awareness:
“This is an unprecedented statewide investment in the prevention of child sexual abuse,” said Jolie Logan, president and CEO of Darkness to Light.
“Many adults do not know how to recognize signs of sexual abuse, and most do not know what to do if sexual abuse is discovered,” she said. “There is no greater gift than providing safe communities for children to grow up healthy and whole.”
According to the non-profit group:
· One in 10 children will be sexually abused before his or her 18th birthday, studies show;
· Child sexual abuse is linked to a host of societal issues including teen pregnancy, depression, anxiety and suicide;
· Victims are three times more likely to have substance abuse issues, two times more likely to drop out of school, and are at greater risk for physical illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other serious medical conditions;
· In the U.S. alone, there are an estimated 42 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
· Child sexual abuse ranks second to murder as the most expensive victim crime in the U.S. Immediate and long-term costs exceed $35 billion annually.
Local YMCAs have been holding events around New Jersey to spread the word about the training.
“All of us have a responsibility to protect our kids,” said William Lovett, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance of YMCAs.
* * * * * *
The two-hour “Stewards of Children” training program — offered in both English and Spanish — can be found at: https://d2l.csod.com
* * * * * *
NOTE: If you suspect an incident of child sexual abuse, immediately contact your local police department or prosecutor's office. You can also call Darkness to Light's Helpline at 1-866-FOR-LIGHT
Local experts like new efforts to investigate child abuse, but they also call for prevention
by Joanna Dodder Nellans
Local experts say a new report about how to improve Arizona's child abuse investigations is a good start, but in the long term they'd like to see a much stronger focus on preventing child abuse in the first place.
"If we can do that, we can break the cycle," said Rebecca Ruffner, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona based in Prescott Valley.
"I think it's imperative CPS look at prevention," agreed Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, including prevention of substance abuse. "To me, it's obvious and it's just incredibly sad we have to wait until... a child is a victim of child abuse."
Arizona has some of the worst statistics in the nation when it comes to child abuse, Ruffner noted.
The new CARE (Child Advocate Response Examination) Team "Eyes on Children" report was produced by an independent team appointed by Gov. Jan Brewer, after it came to light last November that Child Protective Services (CPS) failed to investigate more than 6,500 child abuse and neglect reports. It was released Friday and is online at azcareteam.az.gov.
The study was led by Charles Flanagan, the director of the new Arizona Division of Child Safety and Family Services that Brewer created when she abolished CPS and removed it from the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES). She wants the Legislature to make the new division permanent. Ruffner and Polk agree that's a good idea.
The study recommends investigator training for child safety specialists, working with more partners, creating a better quality control process, improving the child abuse hotline process, and looking at ways to be more transparent.
"It's not about solving the problem of too many cases," it's about getting enough money and staff, Ruffner said. She's confident Flanagan will push for that.
"This current crisis is probably the best opportunity we've had in my life to... really move hearts and minds and the public purse," Ruffner said.
She's heartened to hear that the new division will include an Office of Prevention and Family Support, too.
More than 14,300 Arizona children are in foster care, and that's more than a 45 percent increase between 2007 and 2012, according to DES statistics. Only seven other states saw increases during that time period, and their increases all were below 20 percent.
Those are numbers produced before another 700 children entered foster care when the CARE Team got caseworkers caught up on the uninvestigated cases over the last few months, Ruffner noted.
More than half the foster care children are located in Maricopa County, with another quarter from Pima. Yavapai has about two percent.
Ruffner believes that heavy cuts in state government programs that help families is a major reason for the huge increase in foster care children in Arizona.
The Legislature "cut to the bone" services such as child care subsidies, Kids Care health insurance, and in-home intervention services such as Healthy Families, she said. Facing their own cuts, schools laid off nurses and counselors who are required to watch out for signs of child abuse.
"The safety net was virtually wiped out, and then families lost their jobs and a lot lost their homes," Ruffner said. And the number-one risk factor for abuse is poverty, she added.
Ruffner doesn't think the governor's budget goes far enough to restore services.
More than 80 percent of Arizona's child abuse cases involve extreme neglect as well as drug and alcohol abuse, Ruffner added. Polk agrees that abuse is a big part of the problem.
The state cut substance abuse treatment and prevention services, too, Ruffner noted. Parents in Maricopa County are on waiting lists for these services for months while their children end up in foster care, she said.
"So many of these cases could have been prevented in the first place," she said.
But instead, foster care became the state's main form of prevention, she said.
To help reverse the cycle, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona has helped create a new group called Yavapai Communities for Kids that aims to reduce child abuse in western Yavapai County through public education, Ruffner said. A DES grant helped.
The group's first meeting is Tuesday, and it already is planning a campaign for April's Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Prevention of child abuse must begin early
by Deborah Merrifield
I'd like to share the results from a 10-year review I did in 2003 as commissioner of Social Services, looking back at child fatalities in Erie County from 1993 through 2002 due to child abuse or neglect.
There were 28 deaths, with 89 percent of these children 3 years old and younger. Sadly, 57 percent were 6 months and under. What I have concluded is that most children didn't have a chance to be known to the Child Protective Services system because they were so new to the world.
Even for those families who had past reports against them, their latest children may not have been reported to the CPS Hotline because they were not seen regularly outside the home unless they were in kindergarten, day care or another early childhood education program. Days and weeks could go by without anyone seeing them outside the home.
I have hopes that New York State will make universal prekindergarten and kindergarten mandatory, because these settings provide a great opportunity to reach children and their parents early, before things spiral out of control, resulting in abuse or neglect.
The analysis of 10 years of child fatalities and my own 34 years of child welfare experience lead me to recommend using a public health prevention model with priority given to children from birth to 3 years and their parents, and to teens who are the community's soon-to-be parents. A comprehensive public health approach could be very powerful in a partnership with schools, early childhood education providers and primary care doctors, especially pediatricians. These are the settings where there is the most potential access to all families with young children and to teens.
A review of current science and many studies strongly point to the first three years of life plus the child's experience in the womb as a highly changeable time for the brain, when our neurological, immune and endocrine systems are just getting set up chemically and physically. The roots of later violence and/or physical and mental health conditions can often begin during this stage of human development.
We have very little help for the mental health of children from birth to 3. There are emerging approaches, but we have a long way to go. With the changes going on in health care and health care coverage, I see a key role for insurers, public and private, who have a major stake in the health and mental health outcomes of all children. They have the same stake in the wellbeing and skills of parents who are essentially the frontline managers and protectors of their children's health and mental health on a daily basis.
Deborah Merrifield, past commissioner of the Erie County Department of Social Services, is executive director of the Family Help Center and chairwoman of WECAN, Western New York Ending Child Abuse and Neglect.
Mayor Berry to create child abuse task force
by Erica Zucco
On Thursday, Albuquerque mayor Richard Berry announced plans to start a task force focused on preventing child abuse. It comes in memory of nine-year-old Omaree Varela, who police say was killed at the hands of his mother.
“When you see and hear things like what happened to Omaree Varela, where he's consistently being beaten down emotionally and then physically and eventually the allegations are he died at the hands of a parent, it just breaks your heart,” Berry said. “It makes you mad.”
The Albuquerque Police Department is investigating whether two officers handled a call to the child's home correctly. Lapel camera video from that call shows Omaree watching as police question his parents for about eleven minutes without taking further action. The officers could face disciplinary action, and APD policies may be changed.
“But if we just stop there then we are not honoring Omaree's memory and we're learning nothing from this,” Berry said. “We have to start in my opinion from the time when a child died at the hands of a parent and go backwards from there, and find out where there were weak links in the system.”
The mayor says the city will spend $25,000-$50,000 on a task force, bringing in experts on abuse, poverty, hunger, substance abuse and the legal system, to fill in the cracks a young child slipped through.
“We may find out through this process that we already have procedures and policies that are state of the art, well guess what though? There's still a young man who died, allegedly at the hand of his parent - and that means we can do better,” Berry said.
Kick out those who sexually abuse children, U.N. panel tells Vatican
by Mariano Castillo and Richard Allen Greene
In an unprecedented report, a United Nations committee slammed the Vatican's handling of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and accused the church of protecting itself rather than the victims.
The Vatican should establish an "independent mechanism for monitoring children's rights" to investigate complaints and work with law enforcement, according to the report, which was released Wednesday.
It calls for the church to immediately remove all known or suspected abusers from its ranks.
The permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, said the Catholic Church has done much for the protection of children, but should do more.
"We have to continue to refine, to enact provisions that protect children in all their necessities so that they may grow and become productive adults in society and their dignity be constantly respected," he told Vatican Radio.
The report follows a hearing last month where Vatican officials were grilled over the church's handling of child abuse allegations.
The Vatican, as a country, is a signatory of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child, and it was the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child that published the report.
Clerics have been involved in the sexual abuse of "tens of thousands" of children, the report says, and the United Nations is concerned about how the Vatican has handled the allegations.
"The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which has led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators," the report states.
The Vatican on Wednesday said it will study the report. Tomasi said the church does more than "other institutions or even other states" to prevent further child abuse.
He criticized the U.N. report for saying the church should accept the practice of abortion.
"This is a contradiction with the principle of life that the convention itself should support, recommending that children be protected before and after birth," he said.
The report accuses the Vatican of transferring child sexual abusers from one parish to another in an attempt to cover up crimes, placing children at high risk for abuse.
"The Holy See has consistently placed the preservation of the reputation of the Church and the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests," the report states.
Closed-door proceedings have allowed a majority of abusers to avoid criminal proceedings, the report says. A "code of silence" within the clergy ensures that many cases of child sexual abuse are not reported to law enforcement, according to the report.
Last month, the Vatican acknowledged that close to 400 priests left the priesthood in 2011 and 2012 because of accusations that they had sexually abused children.
Since taking the helm of the Roman Catholic Church in March, Pope Francis has told a senior Vatican official to carry out "due proceedings against the guilty" in sexual abuse cases.
The report also called on the Vatican to make it mandatory to report all cases of suspected child abuse to law enforcement.
The report rejected a Vatican argument that it, the Holy See, is only responsible for people who live in the tiny Vatican city-state. The U.N. says the Vatican has supreme power over individuals and institutions under its authority.
One advocacy group, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the report is evidence that Vatican claims of reform are deceptive.
It is "utterly tragic" that a body like the U.N. must tell the church to kick out abusers, the group said.
"That is, of course, common sense and common decency," SNAP said in a statement. "That the church hierarchy must be told this is damning."
Vatican says U.N. report on child sexual abuse is distorted, unfair
by Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican said on Wednesday a scathing U.N. report on sexual abuse of children by clergy was distorted, unfair and ideologically biased.
Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, responding to criticisms in the report on the Church's stance on homosexuality, abortion and contraception, also said the world body cannot ask the Church to change its "non-negotiable" moral teachings.
The head of the Holy See's delegation to the United Nations in Geneva told Vatican Radio that non-governmental organizations which favor gay marriage probably influenced the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to reinforce an "ideological line" in the report.
Sexual abuse 101: Bill would require K-12 safety curriculum
by Jill Burke
An Anchorage legislator wants to make sexual abuse and assault awareness mandatory in Alaska's public schools. Sexual abuse of children has long been epidemic in Alaska.
Alaska State Rep. Geran Tarr has proposed legislation that would require schools in Alaska to teach students about sexual abuse and sexual assault beginning as early as kindergarten.
Tarr got the idea from a constituent. With Alaska's dishearteningly high rates of abuse against women and children, finding a specific way to try to stop the harm seemed like a good idea.
“I just became more and more convinced that if we want to make a difference, we need to start focusing on prevention,” Tarr said in a recent interview.
The sexual abuse of children can wreck a child's sense of self, safety and security for a lifetime. The damage is often done in secret, while the lasting effects can interrupt success in school, jobs and families.
How many children in Alaska are being harmed is unknown. Many children who suffer sexual abuse may never tell anyone about it. But it can be tracked, to some degree, when it's reported and investigated.
The Office of Children's Services, which only investigates cases in which the assailant is a direct caregiver, like a parent or other guardian, substantiated 139 cases of sexual abuse against children in 2013.
In 2013 the Anchorage Police Department, which investigates any report of harm against a child regardless of who the alleged abuser is, investigated 271 reports about children being sexually abused. Of those, 61 led to arrests.
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, investigators at OCS and the Anchorage Police Department are seeing more cases than in years past. This does not necessarily mean that more children are being abused now than in 2012, or 2011, or years earlier. It could mean that. But it could also mean that more children are coming forward, that more cases are being detected than were before.
Sgt. Cindi Stanton, who heads Anchorage's Crimes Against Children unit, has seen firsthand that educating students about abuse helps encourage victims to come forward.
“We in Anchorage and Alaska do a good job of trying to get people to report,” she said. When advocacy groups like Standing Together Against Rape are able to visit schools, reports come in. When groups like STAR don't make the school visits, there's a noticeable difference.
“Our reports declined because you didn't have people out there saying ‘Hey, this is not OK, and here is who you should tell,'” she said.
Such lags in outreach might be prevented with Tarr's proposed legislation, which requires schools to offer sexual abuse and assault training to students and teachers in grades K through 12.
“The school system often works because that's the one place where you capture everyone,” Tarr said.
Alaska isn't the first state to consider such a requirement.
Dubbed “Erin's law,” similar measures have already passed in nine states. The effort is named after Erin Merryn, a one-woman crusader out to give children the voices to speak up with that she'd wished she'd had as a young child.
Beginning when she was just 6 years old, a man started abusing her. She learned fear, suffered in silence, began to believe her body wasn't hers to control, and eventually started having behavior problems in school. Her behavior seemed like a mystery, but the solution was simple: She simply didn't know how to talk about it. And the adults in her life weren't asking the right questions.
“Growing up in Illinois public schools, every year I was educated with my classmates on tornado drills, fire drills, bus drills, stranger danger, and learned the eight ways to say 'NO' to drugs through D.A.R.E. As a child I never had to take cover because of a real tornado. I never had to stop, drop, and roll or run out of a burning building. I never had to evacuate a school bus due to an emergency, but I had the knowledge to know what to do if any of those situations happened. Where was the drill on how to escape a child molester? Where was the lesson plan on sexual abuse, safe touches, and safe secrets? It never came,” she explains on her website.
Alaska public schools are required by law to train their employees to be mandatory reporters of neglect and abuse, and some 2,500 employees receive that training each year, but “there is no state mandate that sexual assault (and) abuse awareness be taught in public school,” according to Eric Fry, information officer for Alaska's Department of Education and Early Development.
Schools are encouraged to offer sexual assault and sexual abuse curriculum, but the content and order in which it is taught is chosen at the local level.
The Anchorage School District is already doing much of what Erin's law calls for, and has for years, according to Melanie Sutton, ASD's health and physical education curriculum coordinator.
Lessons about sexual assault and abuse are bundled into age-appropriate personal safety units, offered through every phase of a child's K-12 school experience.
In grade school, lessons are given by a dedicated health teacher and reinforced by the classroom teacher. These young children learn about “safe touch,” “ouch touch” and “uh-oh touch.” Safe touch is anything that feels safe, like a high five or a hand shake. Ouch touch is anything that hurts, like a pinch of the skin or pulled hair. Uh-oh touch is anything that feels uncomfortable, or that takes place on a part of the body that a swimsuit would cover.
“It is important that students hear this message from a very young age because you want to reach them at a time when they are developing language, developing sense of self, and may be away from parents for the first time,” Sutton said.
At this young age, they are also taught it's OK to say no. OK to tell Grandma you don't want a hug, or your aunt you don't want a kiss, or anyone that you don't want to be touched.
Students are also taught about keeping secrets, and that, like touches, secrets that feel uncomfortable to keep are okay to talk about.
As the students mature through middle school and high school, so does the curriculum. They begin to learn about human development and what safe relationships look like.
The goal is to create in students a solid sense that their bodies are their own, how to take care of themselves in healthy ways, and that there is a wide network of support to turn to if they ever need help -- like parents, teachers, clergy, community members and health professionals.
National statistics suggest that one in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18. Fewer than 40 percent of child victims will make their abuse known.
“If we want to make progress, we have to stop these things from happening,” Tarr said.
House Bill 233, known as “Erin's Law,” is pending with the House Education Committee. Reps. Les Gara, Harriet Drummond and Andy Josephson are co-sponsors.
A closer look at a Texas statute protecting children from sexual abuse
by Colleen Nelson
Amarillo, TX - Just last year, The Bridge, a child advocacy group servicing the Panhandle, saw close to 1,000 children who had been continuously sexually assaulted. It's a problem that is far too common in our area.
But, with the introduction of a new statute, it's making it easier to put guilty people behind bars. Shelly Bohannon knows first hand the impact sexual assault can have on a child. She is the Managing Forensic Interviewer at The Bridge in Amarillo, which gives children who have been sexually abused or assaulted a chance to tell their story. "It's hard for children to isolate those incidents, specifically one from another, if it's been going on for a long time," Bohannon said.
She believes the State's statue developed in 2007 is another step in the right direction to stop sexual abuse in Texas. "That statute is just another tool that we have in helping to protect children from sexual assault," she said.
Since it was developed, Robert Love, the First Assistant District Attorney for Randall County says the statue has helped make prosecuting sexual abuse cases easier. "It allowed us to prosecute cases where children didn't remember the exact date of the offense. Before we had to prove on or around a specific day and it caused a lot of problems because the reality is kids don't keep calendars," Love told us.
Sentencing can range from 25 years to life in prison. But, there is something else unique about this statute, that makes it different than other sexual abuse punishments. "There is no parole. Whoever is convicted of this crime, has to serve the sentence day for day. If you get a 50 year sentence, it means 50 years," Love said.
Love says the punishment helps put those who are guilty behind bars, and out of the way of children who can so easily become victims. "We're not talking about the Romeo and Juliet dating relationship for a high school senior and a high school freshman. We're talking about hardcore child molesters that are going out and doing this on a repeated basis with one or more victims," he said.
The continuous sexual abuse of a young child statute specifically protects children under the age of 14.
Child trapped in prison of abuse
by Leslie Linthicum
(Audio of the 911 call on site)
People who study child abuse distinguish physical abuse from emotional abuse.
Physical abuse is the hitting, biting and burning that leaves physical scars.
Emotional abuse is the belittling, threatening, humiliating and terrorizing that leaves scars buried inside a child.
Researchers have found that rates of physical child abuse have dropped in this country while rates of emotional child abuse have risen.
And they have found that the emotional and psychological abuse of a child actually produces the most long-lasting effects.
We know, from his mother's own words, that Omaree Varela was kicked “the wrong way” on Dec. 27, the same day police found him cold and unresponsive at his home.
We know, from a doctor's examination, that the 9-year-old had old wounds; he had been abused before.
We know, also, that Omaree told a police officer and a child protective services investigator a year before he died that his mother had hit him in the face with a telephone, opening up a cut on his face that a school staffer saw and reported to the authorities. He was named as a victim in an aggravated battery report, but no one was arrested.
Now we know, because someone in his household dialed 911 and kept the line open for 21 minutes, that Omaree was screamed at, sworn at, threatened, belittled and told he was a worthless mistake by some of the grownups in his life six months before he died.
The tape was first made public by reporter Nancy Laflin at KOAT-TV and aired at length in their broadcast. It is on the Journal's website. If you think it's too disturbing to listen to, listen to it anyway because it's too disturbing to ignore.
Childhood is when future adults grow and learn and begin to form their assumptions about the world. We'd like to think that homes are warm places where kids feel safe and cared about.
But as Omaree's 911 recording illuminates, sometimes homes are terror-riven prisons where unpredictable adults strike out with anger and frustration and manipulate with fear.
“You make everybody sick around you Omaree. Everybody! You make me and your mom (expletive) sick man! I can't stand you Omaree.”
“You're gonna be a dumb(expletive) all your life.”
“I hate your (expletive) face. I (expletive) hate that kid!”
“And you want me to be your dad? (Expletive) you! I ain't gonna be (expletive) to you. Don't you even (expletive) look at me as our dad. (Expletive) you Omaree! (Expletive) you!”
“Yeah, (expletive) beat the (expletive) out of you Omaree.”
“Shut the (expletive) up before I really pop you hard man.”
“You're gonna learn, mother(expletive), one way or another if I gotta break your ass.”
Police presume the two adults heard on the tape are Synthia Varela-Casaus and her husband, Steve Casaus, Omaree's stepfather.
Varela-Casaus is in jail pending trial on charges of child abuse resulting in death. Her court-appointed lawyer, Jeff Buckels, says we need to step back and stop jumping to conclusions about who she is and what happened and give her a fair trial.
We should. We should also listen carefully to the words she directed at her son when she thought she was in the privacy of her home and the words she allowed her son's stepfather to use. And we should agree that they were disgusting.
And we should look at the public record that shows a 9-year-old child trying twice to ask people who wear badges and swear they will protect the vulnerable to help him.
Twice they left him in his prison of abuse.
No one can hurt Omaree Varela now. And no one can help him.
But we could have. And we can remember his words, “Stop, please!”
So much of what happens to children happens behind closed doors, but the door has been opened for a look inside Omaree's home.
I'd like to see us gather at the next City Council meeting with the command staff from the Albuquerque Police Department, the mayor and the officers who responded to those calls and made no arrests, including the two now on administrative leave while city officials look into their handling of the 911 response. As an opening prayer, we can bow our heads and spend 20 minutes sitting together and listening to that tape. And then we can start a discussion about how we can teach angry adults how to be parents and how we can do a better job of listening to the brave kids who ask for help.
Beloit newborn still missing; no suspects, no arrests
by TODD RICHMOND
BELOIT — Federal investigators have joined the search for a 5-day-old infant who disappeared from a bassinette at a home in southern Wisconsin.
The baby's 18-year-old mother called 911 after waking about 4:30 a.m. Thursday to find that her son, Kayden Powell, was missing from his bassinette in a room where she was sleeping at a home in the town of Beloit, authorities said.
Police said Thursday night that about 40 officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were working on the case, but no suspects have been identified and no have been arrests made.
The baby's mother, Brianna Marshall, and the infant's 23-year-old father, Bruce Powell, were staying at the house, Town of Beloit Police Chief Steven Kopp said. Investigators were questioning people who were at the house Wednesday night, Kopp told The Janesville Gazette.
Police said the infant's mother and father continue to be cooperative.
A woman who had been at the house but left around 1:30 a.m. Thursday — the last time people at the residence saw the baby — was questioned but is not a person of interest in the case, the police chief said.
Kopp told the Beloit Daily News that the woman was visiting the home Wednesday evening but left early Thursday for Colorado where she lives. Police were able to reach the woman on her cellphone, and she pulled off the highway in Iowa. Authorities took the woman into custody on an unrelated outstanding warrant from Texas.
The incident is not believed to be a custody dispute, Kopp said. An Amber Alert was not issued because the disappearance doesn't meet the criteria, he said. The FBI and Wisconsin Department of Justice are assisting with the investigation.
Police were still at the house on Thursday evening. Authorities kept media away from the small A-frame home.
The town of Beloit, home to about 7,700 people, is about 50 miles south of Madison near the Illinois border.
Amber Alert issued for 2 Pa. children
LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — Authorities in Pennsylvania who issued an Amber Alert for two young children reportedly taken from a central Pennsylvania home say the abductors may be returning to the commonwealth from neighboring New Jersey.
State police said 3-year-old Erielys Ahorrio and 4-year-old John Ahorrio were taken at gunpoint from a Lancaster home by two men at about 7:30 p.m. Thursday following an alteration.
Police said the abductors fled in a black Nissan Altima with Pennsylvania license JJG-8170.
Officials earlier said they may be traveling to Massachusetts but said later Friday morning that "it is believed they are travelling back into Pennsylvania from New Jersey."
Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think we'd see a day like yesterday?
by Barbara Blaine, SNAP -- Survivor's Network of thiose Abused by Priests -- www.snapnetwork.org
It's almost everything we had hoped for.
Yesterday, an unimpeachable world-wide authority on children solidly stood with children and victims and against complicit Catholic officials.
After a long investigation - that included both written and in-person data and testimony from SNAP - the United Nations panel of experts concluded that the Vatican:
|-- "still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse,"
-- "has consistently placed the . . . the protection of the perpetrators above children's best interests,"
-- "has policies and practices which have led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”
Here are just few of the hundreds of headlines across the world:
We've had good days before, lots of them in fact (Dallas in 2002, the Philly grand juries, the conviction of Bishop Robert Finn, and many state statute of limitations reform victories).
But until now, we have never had a respected international body really hear us, validate our experiences and explicitly blast the Catholic hierarchy for continuing to endanger kids.
Who would have thought 25 years ago that a tiny band of SNAP staff and a small but dedicated group of SNAP volunteers – all deeply wounded survivors who juggle recovery, jobs and families - could have made this happen?
It's a reminder that Dr. Martin Luther King was right when he said that “No lie lives forever.” And it's a reminder that determination does indeed make a difference.
We don't have to tell you that we need to press on - you know that.
We need to rampup our work to build a truly international survivors movement. We need to capitalize on this ground-breaking report and move to the next level, with new SNAP groups in ten more countries by the end of the year and at least five new groups here in the US.
You can help right now by giving either a one time donation or by becoming a recurring donor. Your gift of $25 dollars a month or more will help us grow so we reach and help more and more still-isolated survivors abroad. It will also enable us to develop a more predictable, sustainable budget.
It will take a relentless, long term effort to help children across the globe and to stop the rape of innocents. But over the past 25 years that we have been around we have proven that if there's one thing we excel at, it's being persistent.
So please help us today. Let's expand on this worldwide victory, with more media coverage, more police reports, more SNAP chapters to console more survivors and their loved ones around the globe.
At the same time, of course, we'll strengthen and deepen the work here at home – especially dealing with the younger and younger survivors that are coming forward every day. (Right now, we are working with at least ten survivors and their parents who range in age from 10 – 17. As you might expect, they need a lot more support than adult survivors.)
Please help us to do more to achieve real prevention, justice and healing. There are three ways to donate: Click here to make a donation through your debit or credit card, call the SNAP office at 312-455-1499, or write a check to PO Box 6416 Chicago IL 60680.
With your contribution we can move mountains - we just did it on a global scale yesterday.
PS- One grateful and excited supporter wrote "Your determination and perseverance is an inspiration to many in the world who finally saw the Vatican where it belonged today - in the unusual position of having to answer to others. Continue to speak your truth and speak it well. We shall overcome -someday. And the children thank you."
Survivor's Network of thiose Abused by Priests -- www.snapnetwork.org
Dylan Farrow: Open Letter Details Sexual Abuse by Woody Allen
by K.C. BLUMM -- People
There was a lot of debate earlier this month after Woody Allen
was given a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes.
While many applauded the honor, some – including his ex, Mia Farrow
, and their son, Ronan Farrow – were outraged
, claiming it was inappropriate to laud a man who'd been accused of child molestation years ago.
Now the person who was at the center of those allegations – Allen and Farrow's adopted daughter, Dylan – is speaking out in an open letter published in part in the New York Times
The charges arose in 1992, when the director was accused of touching the then-7-year-old inappropriately. He claimed that Farrow had come up with the allegations out of anger over his affair
with her adopted daughter Soon-Yi Farrow Previn (who later became his wife
). The claims were investigated, but a Connecticut prosecutor decided not to pursue charges because Dylan was too "fragile" to withstand a trial.
After a fierce custody battle, in 1993 a judge awarded Farrow custody of the children and denied Allen visitation with Dylan.
But Dylan – who previously spoke about the allegations in a Vanity Fair
interview in October – claims in her letter (which can be read in full here
) that the assault happened and it was far worse than people know.
"That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up," she says. "I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself."
"That torment was made worse by Hollywood," she continues. "All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye … Each time I saw my abuser's face – on a poster, on a T-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart."
Now 28, happily married and living in Florida under a different name, Dylan says she's speaking out because she wants to set the record straight. "I was thinking, if I don't speak out, I'll regret it on my death bed," she says.
"This time, I refuse to fall apart," she adds. "For so long, Woody Allen's acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual assault who have reached out to me … have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don't have to be silent either."
RELATED: Why Woody Allen Wasn't Prosecuted after Abuse Allegations by Daughter
RELATED: Ronan Farrow Tweets Support for Sister Dylan After Woody Allen Allegations
Fundraiser held to save Forensic Health Services: Program serves victims of abuse
by Maria Arcega-Dunn
DEL MAR, Calif. - Efforts were underway Saturday to save a critical crime fighting tool that is in danger of being cut.
Forensic Health Service is the only program in the North County designated as the first stop for child and adult victims of abuse or molestation.
"It was six years ago but it's still so vivid," said Crystal Harris, who was sexually assaulted repeatedly by her husband and then later forced to pay him alimony. It is a story 10News first exposed years ago.
The center's services were crucial in helping to convict Harris' husband and even prompt changes to legislation.
The Junior League of San Diego hosted "Casino for a Cause" at the Del Mar Marriott Saturday. The fundraising goal was just $2,000, but officials say it surpassed that the minute the event opened its doors.
The center in Escondido provides North County law enforcement a place to take both child and adult victims of abuse and sexual assault.
Tressie Armstrong understands the impact of the center's services.
The principal at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad tells 10News her students needed its services after a gunman fired on her playground packed with more than 200 children in October of 2010.
"Whether it's for our children or whether it's for women, that are victims of any kind of crime, is to have a place where they can feel safe with forensic interviewers who are skilled at nurturing and careful with them," said Armstrong.
The center is crucial in gathering evidence for criminal prosecutions and caring for victims like Harris.
"A lot of women don't get justice ... and the ones who are brave enough to even report the crime, obtaining the evidence to get the conviction is crucial," she said.
Harris is a survivor of domestic violence. The Carlsbad mother was sexually assaulted by her own husband and then forced to pay spousal support.
But Harris secretly tape recorded her husband during an attack. She used that evidence with the center's help to convict him.
"I know what it feels like to be in that position," said Harris. "I can't imagine another victim having to be put through any more trauma than they've already been through."
The center is only one of two accredited advocacy centers for forensic interviews in San Diego County, and it costs more than $500,000 a year to run.
On Feb. 13, San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts will meet with the Sheriff's Department, the District Attorney's Office and Supervisor Bill Horn's office to discuss and figure out community partnerships as well as more permanent funding sources.
Shift in policing turns up heat on sex trade
Prostitutes now seen more as victims, with criminal pressure applied on pimps
by John Hult
Three years ago, prostitution was an afterthought for Sioux Falls police.
There were six arrests in 2010: Four for prostitution, two for pimping.
Last year, Sioux Falls police made 99 arrests.
Police credit public awareness, cooperation from local hotels and motels and community education about sex trafficking as a factor in the success of the new-found focus on sex-for-money crimes.
The numbers are only part of the story, however.
Advocates for sex-trafficking victims say the attitude of street crimes detectives toward those involved in the sex trade has shifted, with prostitutes looked upon as victims instead of criminals.
Federal law defines those pushed into sex for money through force, fraud or coercion as victims, and has for more than a decade, but acceptance of that definition within law enforcement has come slowly.
Kimberly St. John, shelter director for Mita Maske Ti Ki, or My Sister Friend's House, said she and others who work with sex-trafficking victims now are seeing that shift in thinking from police.
“They don't want to take in women on prostitution charges. And historically, changing that — that's huge for this area,” St. John said.
Officers still make plenty of arrests for prostitution, said Lt. David McIntire, who heads the street crimes unit of the Sioux Falls Police Department. There were more arrests for prostitution than for pimping in 2013.
The goal of the arrests is different now, McIntire said. Victims often aren't ready to leave the life the moment they meet an officer, thinking that their pimps or “boyfriends” are there to take care of them, in spite of any physical and emotional abuse they might have inflicted.
Many are worried that they will lose their children if they speak out. Others are unsure of where they would stay if they left.
“If we can separate the person from that relationship and offer help, we have a better chance of breaking through to them,” McIntire said.
Change in emphasis and in training
The jump in prostitution-related arrests began in earnest in 2011, when police arrested 11 women in a sting operation.
The following year, officers began to focus their operations on johns and traffickers. The biggest formal change came last year, as U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson convened a human-trafficking task force, which included law enforcement from the state Division of Criminal Investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sioux Falls police and the Minnehaha County Sheriff's Office.
Officers took part in three training sessions last year: One in Minneapolis, another in Spearfish and a conference in Vermillion. Officers also took in tactical training on sting and undercover operations.
The four detectives and one sergeant who work in street crimes now check web sites nightly, looking for escort ads in the Sioux Falls area.
Community outreach has helped, too, McIntire said. The officers have given two seminars on human trafficking and began working with hotel and motel employees to educate them on what to look for and what to report.
“Education is key not only to successfully enforcing it but to stopping it,” McIntire said. “It takes an entire community watching for this.”
Helping to nurture community partners
Tim Nicolai, owner of the Arena Motel in Sioux Falls, is one of the hotel owners with whom street crimes detectives work regularly.
Nicolai, whose motel is along a Russell Avenue strip of motels near a Jefferson Bus Lines drop-off spot, said his employees constantly are sharing information about potential traffickers and suspicious behavior with officers and with the other motel owners.
“Since we're right down the street (from the bus station), we're some of the first ones to see them,” Nicolai said.
The practice of forced or threatened prostitution is one Nicolai sees as a community problem to solve.
“We want our community to continue to be a nice place to live,” he said. “I think it is a nice place to live. We want to do whatever we can to keep this from happening.”
Victims with children vulnerable
Focusing resources on sex trafficking has helped increase the number of arrests, but McIntire said there still is work to be done in the community.
There aren't enough safe and affordable homes for the women who want out of the life.
Victims with children, in particular, are a challenge for police. Pimps tell victims that their children will be taken away if they cooperate with law enforcement. Without a safe place for a woman and her family, those fears can overtake the will to get out of the life.
Advocates at Mita Maske Ti Ki, which has space for about 12 women on a temporary basis, work with trafficking victims. St. John said it will sometimes take two dozen contacts with a victim before she's ready to take the risk and leave.
“(The police) will give us referrals, but they won't all talk to us,” St. John said. “It's really scary for a woman to leave.”
Some women afraid to go to police
Kerry Stephenson, a legal advocate at the shelter, said the fear isn't only about losing children, finding a safe place to stay or being attacked by their pimps, most often referred to as “boyfriends” or “daddies."
Many trafficking victims have used drugs or been involved in petty thefts. Some have outstanding warrants and might not want to come forward for fear of being jailed.
“She's afraid to go down to the police department because she has some stupid warrant,” Stephenson said. “They feel like they don't have much to look forward to if they'll just get criminalized by the system.”
McIntire said he hopes the shift in attitude continues to work in the officers' favor. The task force against human trafficking includes local and federal prosecutors, as well, who scrub prostitution arrests from a woman's record for cooperation in targeting pimps.
“We have finally started to see, on a very small scale, women who will turn themselves in to us for help. That is the long-term goal,” McIntire said. “Until then, we use the means that are available, offering help to each victim we contact.”
Sexual Violence Survivor Seeks to Break Ultra-Triathlon World Record to Encourage People to Be Relentless in Fight Against Human Trafficking
Norma Bastidas, a 46-year-old single mom, survivor of sexual abuse and violence, humanitarian, and the first woman ultramarathoner to complete seven ultramarathons on seven continents in seven months in 2009, now seeks to break the world record for an ultra-triathlon by completing 3,536 miles (5,690 km) in 36-45 days. Her goal is to bring awareness to the fight against human trafficking in two countries – Mexico and the United States – and to empower victims and survivors of sexual violence and human trafficking across the world.
A dual citizen of Mexico and Canada, Bastidas (www.normabastidas.com) will begin her quest in Cancun, Mexico on March 1, 2014, where she plans on swimming 95 miles (152 km), averaging 8-10 miles per day. She'll then bike 2,740 miles (4,409 km), averaging 300-500 miles per day. Hoping to cross the border into the United States at Laredo between March 18-20, she will continue biking across Texas, through San Antonio to Houston and on to New Orleans, Louisiana. When she reaches Montgomery, Alabama, she'll switch to running and head for Washington, DC, 690 miles (1,110 km) away, attempting to average between 30-50 miles daily.
The current ultra-triathlon record listed by Guinness World Records is by David Holleran of Australia, who completed a triathlon of 26 mile (42 km) swim, 1242 mile (2,000 km) cycle and 310 mile (500 km) run (total 1,579 miles) in 17 days, 22 hrs, 50 mins., in 1998.
A documentary team from iEmpathize, a non-profit organization (www.iempathize.org) whose mission is to combat modern slavery and child exploitation, will accompany Bastidas to capture her event on film. While Bastidas was kidnapped and almost trafficked herself, the resulting film iEmpathize will release in either late 2014 or early 2015, titled Be Relentless (www.BeRelentless.iEpathize.org) will
feature not only her story, but the stories of human trafficking victims and their advocates in both the
United States and Mexico. These stories include a jungle raid and rescue in Chiapas, Mexico, the USC
law school's successful liberation of a Mexican trafficking survivor who was jailed for a murder her trafficker committed in front of her, and the stories of “everyday heroes” fighting one of society's greatest modern human rights violations. Money raised from the film will benefit prevention projects through development of materials, programs and curriculums for education projects, and empower survivors through scholarship funds.
“Ultras are tough, both physically and emotionally,” commented Bastidas, who was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Network and written up in Runner's World, “but the challenge is only temporary. After I finish an ultra, my life goes back to normal, but survivors have to keep overcoming huge challenges every day of their lives.”
Bastidas understands challenges. Born in Mazatlan, Mexico, the eldest of six children, she helped rear her siblings after her father deserted the family while she was still young. She experienced sexual abuse as a child, sexual violence as an adult and currently lives in Canada with her two sons, one of whom is losing his sight due to a congenital eye disease.
As a stress release, she began running when she was 38 and in a short span of time decided to become an ultramarathoner to raise money for organizations working to fight blindness.
In 2012, after facing the challenge of speaking about the sexual abuse, rape and near trafficking experience she suffered, she set out alone from Vancouver, BC to run to her birthplace in Mexico – a journey she made to empower victims to stand up against the violence they'd undergone and to fight human trafficking. She chronicled her trip in a book titled Running Home.
During that trip, iEmpathize provided Bastidas with support both in Los Angeles and in Tijuana, Mexico. Be Relentless is their first joint project.
“We had just wrapped up a project partnering with Mexico's Commission to End Human Trafficking, a national campaign focused in their federal district,” explained Brad Riley, iEmpathize founder and president. “And we wanted our next project to be something that would engage multiple sectors in
multiple countries, spread the message to an expanded audience, cause people to focus on the problem – without polarizing them or causing them to turn away — and then consider what their role could be in ending sexual exploitation. Be Relentless is that project, and Norma makes it a reality.”
Riley believes cultural perceptions surrounding the current condition of human trafficking in the United
States are inaccurate or reflect a gross misunderstanding of the rate at which this is occurring in our backyards. The Be Relentless project will work to demystify what a survivor is, how he/she becomes a victim, and then demonstrate that survivors – and virtually everyone everywhere – is capable of doing extraordinary things to make a positive impact in the fight against human trafficking.
“If Norma can more than double the world's record for the longest triathlon, most people should be able to find a way, albeit small, to transform themselves into ‘everyday heroes' and agents for positive change,” Riley concluded.
Bastidas believes this ultra-triathlon is a metaphor for life – anything is possible if it's broken down into small parts. She proclaims, “These victims are heroes, they are survivors, and hopefully people at the end of the documentary will change their perception of what a strong person, or a strong human being, or a strong woman is.”
Study Finds Signs Of Depression In Abused Caregivers
by Carolyn Freeman
Boston College doctoral student Jooyoung Kong, GSSW '16, recently published a study, “Caring for My Abuser: Childhood Maltreatment and Caregiver Depression” in The Gerontologist, a bimonthly journal of the Gerontological Society of America, and it has been making headway in the field of studying childhood maltreatment.
The study focuses on depressive symptoms among adults who provide care to formerly abusive or neglectful parents. The study also examined coping mechanisms these adult survivors used in working as a caretaker—Sara Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of sociology, co-authored the study.
Kong, who is a third-year doctoral student in the Graduate School of Social Work, decided to study this topic because it has not been examined closely in the past.
“I came up with the idea that those who experienced abuse or neglect from their parents during childhood—it might be particularly difficult to care for their parents because they basically have to deal with their former abuser,” she said in an email. “However, I also assumed that these people cannot just walk away from the situation because it is their parents who need their support. I was very fascinated by this topic, which didn't show much research in the aging literature.”
The number of caregivers who were maltreated in childhood is surprising, Kong said. About 20 percent of caregivers reported physical, sexual or emotional abuse, while about 10 percent of caregivers reported neglect.
“This was beyond what I expected, and it made me wonder even more why the caregivers choose to care for their parents despite abuse/neglect in childhood,” she said. “I speculated that these caregivers choose to provide care to their parents because they want to live a good life, which is different from their parents. They may take appropriate moral actions based on filial responsibility.”
The study concluded that persons who had a history of abuse who are now caregivers for aging parents had significantly more depressive symptoms than those who were not abused by their parents. This trend was also true for those who reported childhood neglect—those who were neglected had higher rates of depressive symptoms than those who didn't. She also concluded that this group uses their emotions as a coping mechanism through avoidance, disengagement, or denial.
“For the abused/neglected caregivers, the use of emotion-focused coping was associated with more frequent depressive symptoms,” she said. “This may imply that difficulties in emotional regulation may negatively impact interaction with their parents; however, it is also important to note that emotional regulation deficiencies are one of the possible consequences of childhood maltreatment.”
Kong moved to the United States from Seoul, South Korea five years ago to earn her Master of Social Work degree at Washington University in St. Louis. She became interested in social work because her father, who is a Presbyterian pastor at a church in South Korea, runs a temporary residence for runaway children. Kong's parents take care of the needs of these children, who have nowhere to go.
“I grew up watching my parents take special care of these vulnerable children and provide for their needs,” she said. “After realizing I inherited the same heart and vision of my parents, I decided to enter the field of social work.”
Kong came to America to earn her doctorate and to become a scholar in social work, especially in the field of gerontology. She began the doctoral program at BC immediately after finishing the program at Washington University. She is especially interested in issues relating to older people, such as parent-child relationships and problems with caregiving.
Kong conducted her study using the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which was a random sample of 10,317 high school graduates in Wisconsin. The study surveyed the respondents and their family members periodically between 1957 and 2011 and garnered a massive amount of information about their family background and social relationships, among other things. Kong used a sample of 1,001 caregivers who provided care to their parents from the 2004 to 2005 wave of surveys.
The project took her about one year to complete. Kong spent one semester drafting the study and one semester polishing it to fit with the standards of the journal.
She first began to think of the idea for the study during her second year of the doctoral program, because she needed to write a publishable paper and a dissertation to fulfill the course requirements. She originally wanted to focus on the general topic of “coping in later life.” While in the brainstorming process of the study, she began to work on a research project about the long-term effects of sexual abuse in male survivors. This project sparked her interest, and she then came up with the idea of abuse survivors caring for their parents and the ensuing effects.
“Being exposed to the issue of trauma, which was new to me, actually broadened my perspective and allowed me to link issues in the two different fields: trauma and aging,” she said.
While conducting the study, Kong was fascinated to come across different perspective on human behavior and motivation. She speculated that the abuse survivors might still care for their abusers due to a feeling of responsibility to their family. Moorman, however, argued that they are probably forced to do it or no one else will, Kong said.
“I am sure there will be hundreds and thousands of different stories and interpretations related to the issue, and I wish to come up with a theory that can best explain this particular phenomenon,” she said.
Kong hopes to continue research on parent-child relationships throughout their lifespans. She also wants to create a social work program for these previously abused caregivers in order to lessen their burden and stress and to help with their caregiving duties.
“I believe that social work research has its meaning when it is tightly linked with social work practice and our clients,” she said. “I would like to continue my endeavor to bridge between research and practice.”
Another Miramonte child abuse case emerges from the shadows
Obscured by the publicity surrounding teacher Mark Berndt is the case of Martin Springer, whose criminal trial is set to begin this week.
by Alan Zarembo
The 2012 child abuse scandal at Miramonte Elementary became the biggest and costliest in the history of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Police said third-grade teacher Mark Berndt conducted lewd classroom games with dozens of students. The district replaced all 85 Miramonte teachers for months to assure parents that their children were safe. So far, L.A. Unified has paid $30 million in civil settlements.
Obscured in the flood of publicity, however, has been the case of another third-grade teacher at Miramonte: Martin Springer, who came to the attention of investigators as they questioned students.
Springer's criminal trial is scheduled to begin this week.
Only the outlines of the case against Springer are known, gleaned largely through a preliminary hearing and civil claims against the district filed by 13 alleged victims in the wake of his arrest.
There is one accuser in the criminal case — a girl who said Springer touched her leg on several occasions. He has pleaded not guilty to three felony counts of committing a lewd act. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in prison.
In pre-trial legal filings, prosecutors described the contact as "minimal" and wrote that there was no evidence that Springer threatened the girl. Nonetheless, they pointed out, "some pedophiles are capable of limiting their behavior as needed" and use "the most minimal touching to achieve sexual gratification."
Prosecutor Alison Meyers declined to discuss details of the case.
The school district has fired Springer, now 51, and moved to strip him of his state teaching credential. It already has paid six children $470,000 each to settle their claims involving the teacher.
Springer's lawyer, John Tyre, said that innocent behavior had been "blown out of proportion" because of the Berndt case.
"There is nothing to indicate that there was any sexual intent," he said during the preliminary hearing, suggesting that Springer's accuser and her family may be motivated by financial gain.
He told The Times that Springer had been a teacher at the school for 26 years and had no complaints about his behavior until the frenzy over Berndt.
"It comes down to a witch hunt," he said.
The Miramonte scandal came to light after a drugstore photo technician developed a batch of 35mm film and noticed some suspicious images — children blindfolded, gagged with tape or posing with a white liquid on their mouths.
The photos belonged to Berndt, who was arrested after a yearlong investigation. Police said he fed students cookies topped with semen. In November he pleaded no contest to 23 counts of committing lewd acts and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After his arrest, school officials asked students to write about their feelings. That led detectives to a fifth-grade girl, who told them she and a friend had been touched by Springer in the third grade.
The friend told investigators that at the time of the alleged incidents, she had been helping Springer in his classroom during recess several days a week.
On up to a dozen occasions when she approached him with questions, the girl testified during a preliminary hearing, Springer would crouch in front of her and — for about five seconds — place his hand on the back of her leg, between her knee and the bottom of the rear pocket of her pants.
The girl's father testified during the preliminary hearing that he took her to the LAPD's 77th Street Station after one alleged incident but that detectives told him there wasn't enough evidence to take action. The girl returned to Springer's class the next day and continued to help him at recess
Now 12, the girl testified that she sometimes was scared of Springer and that the touching made her uncomfortable, although she also said in court that it wasn't that big a deal.
Her friend who wrote the original diary entry later recanted to investigators about having been touched.
Sgt. Peter Hahn of the L.A. County sheriff's special victims unit said detectives interviewed 102 children, including several with pending civil cases, but were unable to support more criminal charges. "We talked to everybody in his classes," he said.
The criminal case against Springer will be a tricky one for prosecutors to make, according to legal experts. The difficulty lies in proving a sexual intent when the alleged touching was not overtly sexual. Intent is usually established through a pattern of activity, character witnesses or other circumstantial evidence.
"If all they have is one kid saying, 'He touched the back of my leg,' that may not be enough," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School.
At the preliminary hearing, a detective testified that he questioned Springer before his arrest and asked him if he had any sexual intent while touching female students. "He said he was uncomfortable answering that question," the detective said.
Tyre said his client was simply surprised by the interrogation.
Meyers, the prosecutor, said that not all the evidence has been presented. "You cannot judge a case based on the preliminary hearing," she said.
Last July, her team filed three misdemeanor charges of child annoyance, to offer jurors an alternative to finding guilt on the felony counts. Each new charge carries a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Michael Kraut, a former L.A. prosecutor, said the new charges suggested the criminal case against Springer is weak.
Under California law, child annoyance does not have to involve touching and can be used to cover any sexually motivated conduct — a leer, a text message or suggestive comments. The victim does not have to be bothered by it, but a reasonable person would be.
"I'm highly skeptical," Kraut said about the criminal case.
A conviction on any of the charges would require lifetime registration as a sex offender.
Other allegations against Springer have come up in the civil cases filed against the school district.
A 26-year-old woman has alleged that when she attended Miramonte, Springer would press himself against her while in a sexually aroused state, hug her and walk around campus holding her hand.
In a suit filed in October, a man accused Springer of molesting him in a locked classroom two or three times a week between 1996 and 1998. It also alleges that Springer would call the boy to his desk and force him to view computer images he had taken of himself masturbating.
Springer threatened to have the boy's family deported to Mexico if he told anybody, according to the lawsuit.
John Manly, an attorney representing five boys who allege that Springer fondled their genitals, said the $470,000 settlements paid to other children lend credence to allegations against the teacher.
"That's a lot of money," he said. "That should tell you a lot."
But Daniel Kolodziej, who is representing Springer in his fight to keep his teaching credential, said the district's willingness to pay large settlements was inviting questionable claims. "Everybody is looking for a payday," he said.
District officials said that all of the settlements were based primarily on sworn statements by the alleged victims and their families. L.A. Unified officials interviewed Miramonte teachers and staff and found no evidence of sexual misconduct by Springer, district spokesman Sean Rossall said.
Still, flooded with civil complaints involving Berndt, the district agreed to include claims naming Springer in a deal to settle 61 cases last year.
Rossall said the district moved relatively quickly on the payouts because "we wanted to do everything possible to help that community and continue to move forward."
Three of the settlements — including one to the accuser in the criminal case — involved allegations against both teachers, although investigators have found no connection between Springer and Berndt other than working at the same school.
Three other settlements were based on accusations against Springer alone.
One of those alleged victims would say only that Springer was a "bad man" and that "there were stories in the news" about what he did, according to district records reviewed by The Times.
But his family concluded from his behavior — accumulating absences at school, touching a male cousin in a questionable manner and becoming increasingly angry — that Springer had engaged in "sexual molestation" between 2008 and 2010, according to the records.
When detectives interviewed the boy, he did not accuse the teacher of anything, Hahn said.
He said detectives did not question the boy's older brother, who also received a settlement. The brother's claim alleged that Springer sexually molested him between 2007 and 2012 but offered no details.
USC law professor Tom Lyon said that under different circumstances, the district would have been less likely to quickly settle cases naming Springer.
"Berndt swept everybody up into this horror," he said.
Was former teacher mandated to report student-coach sexual relationship?
by Maureen Downey
The state Supreme Court will hear arguments tomorrow on a case out of Cherokee: A Cherokee County high school teacher is appealing a trial court judge's refusal to drop criminal charges against her for failing to report that the school wrestling coach was having sex with a 16-year-old student. The teacher argues the state's mandatory child abuse reporting statute, as interpreted by the trial court, is unconstitutional and discriminates against teachers.
The court is looking at two questions in this case: Under the state's mandatory reporting statute are “school teachers” mandatory reporters in all circumstances or only when they have a relationship with the child by virtue of their employment as a school teacher; To prove that one “knowingly and willfully” failed to make a report under the statute, must the state prove that the defendant acted with an evil purpose or with the knowledge that the law required her to make a report?
An odd element of this case: The student confided her sexual relationship with a male wrestling coach at a Cherokee high school to a former female teacher at the school. That teacher was also having an affair with the coach at the time. The student had transferred to another high school in Fulton County so the teacher maintains they no longer had a student-teacher relationship.
Here is a summary of the case provided by the court:
FACTS : Sixteen-year-old P.D.M. was a student at River Ridge High School in Cherokee County where she described Kristin Lynn May as her “favorite teacher.” Robert Leslie Morrow was a paraprofessional and wrestling coach at River Ridge. At the end of the fall 2010 semester, P.D.M. transferred to Roswell High School in adjacent Fulton County. During the Christmas break, she and Morrow began a sexual relationship. (The parties dispute whether P.D.M. officially withdrew before or after the break and therefore, whether she could or could not be considered still a student at River Ridge when the sexual relationship began.) In January 2011, after P.D.M. had started at her new school, she returned to River Ridge to attend a basketball game.
While she was there, she told May at least some of what had transpired between Morrow and her. May, who was married, was having an affair with Morrow at the time, and rather than report the alleged abuse to her supervisor or police, she texted Morrow about what P.D.M. had told her. Two months later, May spoke with P.D.M. at a softball game, and told the girl she did not want to talk about the situation because she could lose her job.
In April or May 2011, May e-mailed P.D.M. and asked whether she and Morrow were still involved. In July 2011, P.D.M. made a report to the Woodstock Police Department about the sexual conduct with Morrow.
Both May and Morrow were subsequently arrested and May was charged with failure to report sexual abuse. May filed an action in court, challenging the indictment, in part based upon her claim that she was not a mandatory reporter because she had no student-teacher relationship with P.D.M. at the time the girl told her what was going on.
May also argued that because the statute did not require such a relationship, it was vague and arbitrary and violated her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The trial court ruled against her, finding that the State could make a criminal case against her by showing that May was employed as a teacher, suspected abuse, and failed to report it. May then asked the Georgia Court of Appeals for permission to appeal, which it denied.
The state Supreme Court, however, agreed to review her case, asking the parties to answer two questions: (1) Under the state's mandatory reporting statute (Official Code of Georgia § 19-7-5), are “school teachers” mandatory reporters in all circumstances or only when they have a relationship with the child by virtue of their employment as a school teacher; (2) To prove that one “knowingly and willfully” failed to make a report under the statute, must the State prove that the defendant acted with an evil purpose or with the knowledge that the law required her to make a report?
ARGUMENTS: May's attorneys argue that the trial court misinterpreted the statute and that based on the history of the statute, if a mandatory reporter is not responsible for the care and protection of the child at issue, there is no duty to report. The statute itself refers to school teachers as being mandatory reporters “because” of their direct relationship with the child abuse victim. “The General Assembly intended that the mandatory reporting requirement of § 19-7-5 arises when a school teacher attends to a child abuse victim pursuant to [his/her] duties as a school teacher,” May's attorneys argue in briefs. Here, P.D.M. was not in May's care in May's capacity as a teacher working in the high school where she is employed. “The student attended a different high school in a different school district. [May] had no official authority over the student.” May's due process rights have been violated because the statute as interpreted by the trial court judge is overly vague, her attorneys argue. The statute lists numerous categories of mandatory reporters of child abuse, including some as broad as “volunteers,” making a reasonably intelligent person unsure whether she is a mandatory reporter or not. On the other hand, if the statute is interpreted to require a current and direct relationship with the victim through the reporter's employment or status, the statute is clear and not unconstitutionally vague. Also the trial court's interpretation of the statute violates the Constitution's equal protection clause because it arbitrarily discriminates against teachers. If the duty to report is so broad as to require reporting even when a teacher has no direct relationship with the child abuse victim through her employment, then the State is discriminating against teachers, the attorneys argue. The trial court also erred because under the mandatory reporting statute, the State had to prove that May acted with an evil purpose or with the knowledge that she had a legal duty to report. The statute makes the otherwise legal activity of failing to report suspected child abuse illegal if a mandatory reporter “knowingly and willfully” fails to report.
The Solicitor General's office, representing the State, argues that whenever a teacher in connection with her employment learns or suspects that a student was abused, she has a duty to report that, whether or not she has a current relationship with the student. This is exactly the type of case for which the General Assembly intended a mandatory report, the State argues. May acquired knowledge of the abuse precisely because she was considered by the victim to be her “favorite teacher,” and she learned about the abuse at a basketball game at the school where she taught.
The purpose of the mandatory reporting statute is to protect children. May's claim that the duty to report only applies to teachers who have a current and direct relationship with an abused student undermines the broad protective policy underlying the duty to report. “While at a school event on the property of the school where she taught, [May] acquired specific knowledge of the sexual abuse of a known school student,” the State argues. “The fact that the student had several weeks previously transferred to an adjoining district with new teachers should not render [May] a disinterested stranger or a discretionary reporter.”
In response to the second question asked by the state Supreme Court, the State responds that to “prove that a teacher ‘knowingly and willfully' failed to report child abuse in violation of § 19-7-5, the State must prove that the defendant acted with an evil purpose. The State must show that defendant intended to not report known or suspected abuse and knew or should have known that her conduct was wrong.” However, the State is not required to prove that May knew of her legal duty to report. “Ignorance of the legal duty to report is not a defense to prosecution,” the State contends.
Assembly Passes Cooley's Legislation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse
by Trent Sunahara
On Wednesday, January 29, the Assembly passed on a bipartisan 76-0 vote, Assemblyman Ken Cooley's legislation to prevent child sexual abuse. Assembly Bill 883 (AB 883) helps protect California's children by creating a pilot program in up to three counties to specifically address child sexual abuse prevention.
Although the state aggressively prosecutes child sexual predators and requires mandated reporting for suspected abuse, there is a lack of focus on preventing the abuse before it occurs.
“Childhood sexual abuse is devastating to the victims and the victims' family,” said Cooley. “Often, children who are sexually abused have physical and mental health issues long into their adult lives. By putting resources at the local level into community collaboration and prevention, we have the chance to make a difference in the lives of California's children before they become victims to sexual abuse.”
AB 883 creates and funds an optional pilot program in no more than three counties, designated by DSS based on the agency's determination that the county has significant incidences of child sexual abuse or sexually exploited minors and has a public, private, or nonprofit organization with experience in child sexual abuse issues that is designated to act as the primary administrator for the pilot program. Qualified pilot programs, working where possible with existing private and public programs and providers, must prepare a multi-year plan to address child sexual abuse in the community. These multi-year plans will emphasize community collaboration and education, training on identifiable risks and warning signs, local prevention plans, and data collection and measurement.
“Nearly a half million cases of suspected child abuse are filed in California every year — and these are just the reported cases,” said Sheila Boxley, of the Child Abuse Prevention Center. “It is critically important that resource providers have the funding they need to protect children from abuse. Small investments now can save lives and lead to millions in savings down the road.”
Valley View Offers Child Sex Abuse Workshop to Staff, Community
Free event is March 28.
by Shannon Antinori
As Valley View School District 365U prepares to launch a state-mandated child sexual abuse awareness program for students in pre school through fifth grade, the district is also embarking on a campaign to help community and staff members prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
On Friday, March 28, VVSD will sponsor a free “Stewards of Children Workshop” conducted by experts from the Advocate Health Care Family Care Network. The workshop is designed to generate an increased awareness of the prevalence, consequences and circumstances of child sexual abuse. Participants will learn how to take action by developing a personal action plan.
“Unfortunately without being educated, most children will be repeatedly abused for years because often the only message they get comes from their abuser threatening them into silence,” said Erin Merryn, the nationally-recognized champion of child sexual abuse prevention whose efforts led to the passage of what is known as “Erin's Law” in Illinois. “We teach children on bullying intervention, stranger danger, internet safety and drug abuse, yet we fail to give them a voice if someone is violating them.”
Space is limited at the March 28 session which will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the VVSD Administration Center, 755 Dalhart Avenue in Romeoville. Reservations must be made by March 2 by contacting Linda Daniel at 815-886-2700, Ext. 245 or DanielLJ@vvsd.org. Valley View staff members may register using Wisdomwhere.
“Current statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys endure child sexual abuse prior to their 18th birthday,” said Michele Bochnak, VVSD's Community Outreach Coordinator. “We all need to make a difference by developing skills to protect our children.”
Monsters Hiding in Plain Sight
by Michael Reagan and Jerome Elam
In the darkest recesses of our minds we have always known that monsters exist. It is only when we are involuntarily thrust into an unfolding human tragedy that shocks our senses and devastates our hearts that we truly acknowledge their presence.
Our collective eyes have been opened by the discovery of monsters lurking at Penn State University in the form of Jerry Sandusky, in an Ohio house of horrors run by Ariel Castro, and the list goes on. But have we as a society drifted into a false sense of security with the removal of these harbingers of evil or do we realize that the next monster is just waiting to strike?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that there are currently 617,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and typically 100,000 of those are unaccounted for.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before the age of 18, and 550 million children worldwide are survivors of child sexual abuse. Only one in 20 cases of child abuse is reported, and every victim of child abuse has to tell an average of seven adults before they are believed.
If as a society we allow child sex abuse to drift to the “back burner,” we unknowingly permit the proliferation of an evil that corrupts humanity at its very core. We invite a path of devastation that vandalizes childhoods and permanently eclipses the innocence of infinite generations.
I am a survivor of child sex abuse, and the pain of my stolen childhood haunts my hours to this very day. In reflecting on my life I have been fortunate to survive the devastating effects abuse victims suffer such as increased rates of drug abuse, alcoholism, incarceration and suicide.
In my darkest days I sat alone in a self-imposed desolation thinking no one could love someone as damaged as I had become. In the end it was the hand of God that guided me on the path to healing and taught me a profound sense of peace and happiness by bringing my wife into my life and giving me the blessing of my children. Every day I work to protect innocent children because God has steadied my wayward course in this life by giving me a purpose and that purpose is to not allow one more child to suffer as I have.
To prevent the epidemic of child sex abuse from continuing, education must be the first line of defense. We must open a dialogue that empowers both parents and children. We also need to inspire those trapped by fear and guilt to break their silence, and that is best accomplished by hearing those who have survived child sex abuse speak out.
In this great country of ours we have changed history through the force of our collective wills. We now face an enemy that attacks the most precious gift we have, the manifestation of our hopes and dreams — our children. We must once again join together to make sure that our history is not written on the doorstep of defeat but in the arms of victory.
Please join me in the fight to save innocent children by educating yourself about the signs of child abuse. If you suspect a child is being abused call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). Visit the Childhelp website at http://www.childhelp-usa.com or Arrow Child and Family Ministries in Texas (www.arrow.org/mrc/Overview.html); and the Joyful Heart Foundation (http://www.joyfulheartfoundation.org) to learn more about how you can save a child from a lifetime of pain and guarantee them the right to embrace happiness and not spend countless years just wanting to be loved.
Cabarrus Co. buys iPads to help investigate child abuse cases
by Tenikka Smith
Sorting and scanning documents is a big part of how social workers input and gather information for child abuse investigations in Cabarrus County.
But soon, a group of investigators will be able access to those critical files and more with a few taps on an iPad.
Social workers currently use a system called Compass CoPilot to manage data and files. County commissioners recently agreed to spend more than $180,000 for a mobile version of the system. It will be downloaded onto 19 iPads. The cost covers the tablets, training and tech support for a year.
Derrick Heath is the program manager for Child Protective Services and helped push for the technology.
"Right now they are using their own personal phones or cameras issued by the agency to take pictures of homes or children with bruises," he said.
He also said the iPads will allow them take pictures, video, record interviews, access a family's case history or check state databases in a matter of seconds.
"We envision doing the program will help speed up the process for making on-the-spot decisions for investigations when investigating abuse and neglect cases with the supervisors," said Heath.
In order to protect the information, the county has a secure system that allows them to wipe the iPads if they are lost.
Channel 9 spoke to one Cabarrus County mother who was glad to see the county investing in new ways to keep children safe.
"I think that's awesome. Anything to make the community and homes safer for kids, obviously as a parent, that is what's most important," said Heather Leavitt.
Channel 9 learned Mecklenburg County DSS is also looking into similar technology and hopes to implement it on a small scale later this year.
Savage toll of abuse for children in DCF care
More than 95 have died since '01, state reports say
by Jenifer McKim
Kadyn Hancock's aunt said she repeatedly tried to warn state officials that the 13-month-old's mother might hurt him . But no one heeded her pleas, and Kadyn's mother killed her baby in 2010.
Last summer, child advocates questioned why social workers did not remove 3-month-old Chase Gideika from his troubled home before he was brutally killed , allegedly by his mother's boyfriend.
Now the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver — missing and feared dead after social workers allegedly failed to check on him for months — is once again raising alarms that the state is unable to protect some of Massachusetts' most vulnerable residents.
Though Governor Deval Patrick last week described Oliver's disappearance as a unique tragedy in which state officials failed to do their jobs, state records show that children under the watch of the Department of Children and Families actually die with alarming regularity.
Since 2001, more than 95 Massachusetts children whose cases were overseen by state social workers have died directly or indirectly because of abuse or neglect, according to state statistics. The death toll probably is considerably higher because state officials have not revealed how many died from 2011 to 2013.
Some of the deaths make headlines, but many more children die anonymously, half of them before they celebrate their first birthday, according to state reports.
Over all, children who received services from social workers at DCF in 2010 were about six times as likely as the general population of Bay State children to die from maltreatment, according to the state's own calculations.
And while the state provided mortality data only through 2010, there is evidence that the death rate among children under DCF supervision has not declined from the average of 9 or 10 a year for the past decade. The number of “critical incident reports” that DCF workers must file when children are killed, injured, or otherwise traumatized has increased since 2010.
State officials say it should come as no surprise that children in families under DCF supervision are at higher risk to die from abuse and neglect because the agency looks after Massachusetts' most troubled households. The vast majority of children receiving state services come from homes plagued by dysfunction that is often exacerbated by poverty, domestic violence, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Moreover, there is no accurate state-by-state comparison of deaths among children receiving social services, making it difficult to compare Massachusetts with other places. Over all, Massachusetts children die from maltreatment far less frequently than the national average, state records show.
But child advocates have long said that DCF leaves too many children with caregivers who could hurt them, sometimes with lethal results.
“We know that the situation in Massachusetts is dangerous for at-risk children,'' said Marcia Lowry, executive director of Children's Rights, a New York-based watchdog group that filed a federal lawsuit alleging that DCF “routinely” places children in “dangerous and unstable situations.'' The lawsuit was recently dismissed, though group is appealing the ruling.
The agency's defenders say that DCF social workers agonize over every death, doing their best to protect children in dangerous situations even as they endure budget cuts. DCF's budget fell from a high of $836.5 million in fiscal year 2009 to $737.1 million in fiscal year 2012, according to the state, though Governor Patrick has proposed an increase for next year.
“There is good work going on there,'' said Susan Pederzoli, a licensed independent clinical social worker who works as a DCF consultant. “It's a field where the people are very dedicated and care about the kids very much. It is not an easy job. You have to love it to stay in it.”
Gail Garinger, head of the state's Office of the Child Advocate, agreed that DCF does its best to prevent fatalities, but she said that may not be enough.
“A rate of child death due to maltreatment that is six times higher” than the general child population “is very concerning and needs further attention,” said Garinger, whose office does its own review of child deaths each year.
And Laurie Myers, founder of Community Voices, a child protection and victim advocacy organization in Chelmsford, said the sheer number of child fatalities in Massachusetts points to a failing system. She believes the state needs to shift its focus from keeping families together toward simply protecting children.
“We have to do a better job,” she said. “We can't say they are dying just because they are vulnerable anyway, and they don't matter.”
DCF reviews all deaths of Bay State children whose demise is linked to abuse and neglect, partly to review the safety of other siblings in the household. However, because of state and federal confidentiality laws, most details of these cases remain hidden from public scrutiny.
Yet, in several cases in recent years, troubling details have emerged about social workers who failed in the basics of their jobs.
Authorities learned Jeremiah Oliver was missing in December after his 7-year-old sister told Fitchburg school officials that she and her siblings were being abused. Jeremiah's mother's boyfriend, Alberto L. Sierra, has been charged in Fitchburg District Court with abusing the little boy, and his mother, Elsa Oliver, is facing charges of abuse as well as failing to protect her son. Both have pleaded not guilty and their next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 21.
After Oliver's disappearance was discovered in December, the state fired the social worker overseeing his case and two supervisors for what the DCF commissioner described as “gross disregard of duty.” Already, the tragedy has brought to light the fact that Massachusetts social workers apparently failed to make nearly 1 in 5 of their required monthly home visits in 2013.
Patrick last week said he believed Jeremiah's case pointed more to problem employees than a systematic failure in DCF. Nonetheless, he said the tragedy has provided an opportunity to review the child protection system as a whole. He has requested that the Washington-based Child Welfare League of America carry out a full review of the agency that employees more than 2,000 social workers and serves some 100,000 children a year.
Jeremiah's story, Patrick said last week, “points to other weaknesses in the department that we're trying to locate and to determine whether they are in fact out of line with what the best practices are in the best places in the country.”
Likewise, Waltham resident Andrea Rizzitano, 42, believes her 13-month-old nephew Kadyn Hancock was failed by the system. Hancock was allegedly beaten to death in 2010 by his mother, Christina Hancock, who pleaded guilty last year to involuntary manslaughter and is serving up to 10 years in state prison.
Last year, Rizzitano filed suit in US District Court against the state Department of Children and Families and Governor Patrick for failing to protect the boy from his troubled mother, who Rizzitano said fractured his arm several months before his death.
She claims she called social workers dozens of times, concerned that Kadyn was not safe — particularly after her nephew went to the hospital with a broken arm. She alleged in court records that after the incident DCF removed Kadyn for a week and then returned him to his home.
State officials declined to comment on Kadyn's case. Last week, Judge Joseph Tauro dismissed the claims, arguing in part that public employees are immune from legal claims of negligence. Rizzitano plans to appeal the case or fight the dismissal by a motion in court next week.
“This isn't over, believe me. There has to be accountability,'' she said. “Kadyn was robbed of his life.”
The debate about child welfare workers' failings takes place against a more heartening backdrop: The number of deaths from all causes among children with an open or recently closed DCF case dropped from 84 in 1989 to 30 in 2010, according to the state.
But few child advocates believe the decline reflects significant improvements in preventing child abuse. The decline is partly attributed to a reduction in sudden infant death syndrome fatalities, which fell precipitously nationwide in the 1990s with the launch of a US “back-to-sleep” campaign, urging parents to put children to sleep on their backs.
Still, some high-profile deaths have prompted change in the child protection system — or at least soul searching. Patrick created the Office of the Child Advocate in 2007 in the wake of tragedies including the death of 4-year-old Dontel Jeffers in 2005 after only nine days in a new foster home and the death of Rebecca Riley, 4, of Hull who died in 2006 after her parents, who were also under state supervision, deliberately gave her a toxic overdose of psychotropic drugs.
More recently, the governor called for a review of DCF's decisions in the death of Lynn baby Chase Gideika, who died in July from massive head injuries allegedly inflicted by his mother's boyfriend, Anthony Gideika. DCF workers had chosen to leave the baby in the home even though he was born with drugs in his system.
Jetta Bernier, executive director of the Boston-based advocacy group, Massachusetts Citizens for Children, said each time a high profile child death occurs, public officials promise action, but that determination wanes with time.
“During recent public hearings, legislators were quick to make blustering criticisms of DCF,'' said Bernier, who heads the group also known as MassKids. “Where was all this indignation when decisions were made to reduce its budget and cripple it with 200 less social workers? Everyone has to take responsibility here.”
Lawmaker Says Bill to Prevent Child Abuse in Schools Mothballed by PA House
by Mary Wilson
A state senator is urging his House colleagues to get moving on a proposal to prevent child abuse in Pennsylvania schools.
Philadelphia Democrat Tony Williams says his measure aims to stop what's called “passing the trash” — allowing people accused of child sexual abuse to relocate to another school without their new employer being aware of their history.
He says his bill would require more thorough background checks, and make school districts exchange any records they have on prospective hires.
"Mine is allowing employers to share information which is traditionally not done," Williams said.
Williams touted his proposal alongside federal legislation with similar intent being pushed by Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey.
A bill has been passed by the U.S. House that would require state and federal background checks for school employees in all states.
It would also prohibit schools from knowingly recommending a known pedophile to a school in another state.
CHIEF'S CORNER: The scourge of child abuse
I am sure many of you have followed the recent news stories about the shocking deaths of a number of our Western New York children who were victims of child abuse. The most recent abuse victim was a 3 year-old girl beaten to death in her own home in Amherst.
As a police officer I can tell you that there is nothing that makes your blood boil more than when someone mistreats a child. Unfortunately, despite our proactive approach, increased awareness and the stiff penalties for all forms of child abuse, it continues to occur all too frequently. It is a crime that can occur at every socioeconomic level, across all ethnic and cultural lines, and within all religions and all levels of education.
It can be difficult for child to tell anyone about the abuse because it occurs mainly in the privacy of a home and is generally perpetrated by an adult known to the child. According to various sources, a complaint of child abuse is received every 10 seconds in this country. More than four children die each day from abuse and these statistics may be low due to underreporting and because many abuse cases are not recognized as abuse.
Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse cases are the most obvious and receive the most attention due to the visible injuries and scars, other types of abuse such as emotional abuse and neglect also leave deep, lasting psychological scars. In fact, about three-fourths of all abuse cases are classified as emotional abuse.
Emotional injuries are not obvious and they are difficult to treat. Ignoring children's needs, putting them in unsupervised or dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also examples of child abuse. Regardless of the type of abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.
Abused children are nine times more likely to engage in criminal activity, tend to suffer psychological disorders and have a greater chance of abusing their own children.
The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and end the cycle of abuse. That is why it's important to recognize child abuse in its earliest stages and report it to police.
One of the most obvious signs of child abuse is unexplained physical injuries. Children are always falling or bumping into things. I made a number of trips to the emergency room with my own children for various bumps, bruises, and the occasional stitches incurred during sporting events or from general roughhousing. However, children exhibiting constant injuries such as bruising or broken bones that are explained away as “normal” may be suspect.
Another telling clue is changes in a child's behavior. Abused children often are afraid to go home and appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive. Changes in eating or sleeping are also indicative of possible abuse.
The best method to prevent child abuse is to be alert to the problem and if you see something or suspect something, call someone. As police officers, we always hear the statement from people that they “don't want to get involved”. However, in cases of child abuse it is imperative for you to get involved and follow your feelings. If you suspect something is wrong, it probably is! In cases of child abuse, you may be the only hope for a child trapped in an abusive household. In fact, the simple act of picking up the phone and calling police may save the life of a defenseless child.
If you suspect that a child is being abused, please call the Lockport Police Department at 433-7700. You may also contact the New York State Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-342-3720. Depending on the severity of the reported child abuse, hotline calls are referred to the proper police agency within a very short period of time.
I can assure you that no matter how we receive information, any complaint of child abuse will receive our highest priority. With your help, we will continue to work diligently to uncover any type of child abuse and end this destructive practice.
Number of sex-abuse allegations is disheartening
by GAIL ROSENBLUM
More allegations of clergy sex abuse arose this week and I know I'm not the only person suffering from a queasy sense of hopelessness about it.
Will. It. Ever. End?
The Ramsey County attorney's office and St. Paul police are reviewing documents suggesting that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis failed to notify authorities of a child sex-abuse accusation against a St. Paul priest within 24 hours, as required by law.
Another potential coverup. More grief forced upon victims.
It's tempting to run away as fast as we can, to hope that someone else will stop it, fix it, assure that no child is ever again harmed. But talking with sex-abuse experts who step into this world daily reminded me that we need to stay invested.
They believe that we return to this place of unease, again and again, because sex abuse is an incredibly complex issue, with no singular solution. And research on sex abuse remains relatively new.
To make real change requires digging deeper with our questions and keeping our minds open to answers that might surprise or upset us. It also means consistent, unambiguous accountability by those in power.
To begin, we all want to see a profile of “the” sex offender and what exactly drives “his” behavior. We aren't going to get that.
“There are many differences in who sex offenders are and what motivates offending behavior,” said Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA).
Some perpetrators are motivated by power and control. Others face mental health issues or sexual confusion. Some are pedophiles, although not all.
“When we think that the whole anti-sexual-assault world opened up just over 30 years ago,” Dunn said, “it is easy to understand how the research is just now starting to touch on issues we didn't know much about before.”
For instance, while we commonly believe that most sexual offenders were once victims of sexual abuse, that is more myth than fact. Most victims are female; the lion's share of perpetrators are male.
“A tiny minority of victims go on to become victimizers,” said David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).
Most victims more commonly turn their pain inward and blame themselves, he said. Some exhibit self-destructive and numbing behavior, including drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual activity, cutting and suicide.
“Many become misanthropes, living alone,” he said.
A sex offender, on the other hand, did not become one in isolation. This is a tough but important concept to get our arms around.
While the needs of victims must come first, Dunn and Clohessy agree that attention also has to be given to perpetrators and proven prevention strategies. Those strategies need to begin early and receive adequate funding.
“When someone has been harmed in this way, the community has an obligation to ensure a safe and healing environment,” Dunn said. “But our main prevention focus is really about preventing perpetration — changing the environmental factors that may play a role in supporting, teaching or ignoring offending behavior.
“So who sex offenders are, how they come to be sex offenders, instead of boys who grow into safe men, is very important to us.”
Yvonne Cournoyer, MNCASA's sexual violence prevention coordinator, adds that we can learn a lot from those who have offended, as well as from those who work with them. “They know more about what leads to this behavior and how they gain access to victims,” Cournoyer said. “That's information we can use in terms of prevention.”
This means we need to resist the easy “us-vs.-them” dichotomy. Clohessy began this work because he was victimized by a priest for four years as a boy. His younger brother was molested by the same priest. That brother grew up to become a sex-offending priest who was suspended in 2002.
“Everybody looks at the child sex offender as the other, as a real deviant who is in no shape or form like the rest of us,” said Clohessy, 58. “It's not helpful to demonize them.” Neither is it helpful to excuse them, he said.
“We can forgive a school bus driver who gets drunk and causes kids to be hurt,” he said, “but we cannot give that person keys to another school bus. If we have a choice to err on the side of complacency or err on the side of prudence, let's err on the side of prudence.”
It tears him up that not everyone is following this path.
“It's very simple. Whether it's a bishop or a CEO, we throw the book at those who ignore and conceal child sex crimes. Those who protect predator priests do no one a favor — not the victim, the family, the parishioners or the offenders themselves.
“They only kick the can down the road, leaving their successors to deal with the dozens of victims who come forward.”
Salvation Army in Australia 'rented out' boys for sexual abuse
by Michael Stone
Pedophile network: Children at a Salvation Army boys' home in Sydney were "rented out" to strangers who sexually abused them, according to a report issued Jan. 30 by ABC.
The victims of child abuse in Australian Salvation Army homes spoke about their horrific experiences in the first public hearing in Sydney before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse for 2014.
Abuse victims claimed young boys were kept in cages for days and raped in Salvation Army homes during the 1950s, 60s and 70s.
Shocking treatment at some of the Christian organization's boys homes included rape, beatings, and, in one case, forcing a boy to eat his own vomit, the commission was told earlier this week.
Children were sodomised with a garden hose, locked in outdoor cages and savagely beaten by Salvation Army majors in graphic cases of abuse.
The hearing was told both Salvation Army officers and older boys were the perpetrators of sexual abuse at the home, and that older boys and Salvation Army officers often threatened and intimidated the younger boys, forcing them to perform sexual acts.
The Salvation Army isn't denying the abuse, admitting that hundreds of boys suffered in its care. Kate Eastman, counsel for the Salvation Army at the Royal Commission, offered an “unreserved apology” for the “horrific experiences” of victims.
“We acknowledge that it was a failure of the greatest magnitude,” she said, insisting that today's Salvation Army had strong policies in place “so that children will never be placed in situations like this again.”
Fayette couple Bohon, Dodson challenge sentences in daughter's death
by Liz Zemba
A Fayette County couple who are challenging their 9-year sentences in their child's death told a judge they had second thoughts on pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter once they were sent to state prison.
“When you are in Fayette County, you can't find out anything,” testified Tammy Jo Bohon, 37, formerly of Point Marion, during a hearing before Judge Steve Leskinen on Wednesday. “When I got to Muncy, I started looking, and I found out there were things (my attorney) didn't do.”
Bohon and Robert D. Dodson, 58, are serving 4½ to nine years in prison in the Jan. 6, 2011, death of their 15-month-old special needs daughter, Madison Violet Dodson.
The girl died of malnutrition and dehydration because of neglect, according to an autopsy report.
Madison had multiple health problems and required a feeding tube, according to testimony at a preliminary hearing in November 2011. The feeding tube was not connected for most of the day leading up to her death, and she was vomiting and had diarrhea, according to court records.
Bohon told police that she planned to take her daughter to the emergency room, but she instead went to Masontown to smoke crack with a friend and fell asleep. Dodson told police that he rigged a replacement feeding tube with tape and went to sleep.
The pair avoided trials on homicide charges by entering guilty pleas to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
After they were sentenced, each obtained a new attorney. The attorneys filed petitions under the Post Conviction Relief Act seeking new trials or sentencing hearings, claiming their clients received inadequate representation when they entered guilty pleas.
During Wednesday's hearing on the petitions, Bohon and Dodson testified they had less than a day to decide whether to go to trial or take the plea offer.
Dodson said he is innocent of the charges, but he took the plea offer because he felt it was in his best interest.
“Now I find out I should have gone to trial, but (my attorney) didn't even prepare for trial,” Dodson testified.
Dodson's attorney at the time of the plea, Jack Connor of Uniontown, testified he was not prepared for trial when prosecutors offered the plea. Had Dodson opted to go to trial in lieu of taking the plea offer, he testified, he would have asked for a continuance so he could prepare.
“I'm not going to prepare for a trial just for the fun sake of doing it when it looks like a case is going to resolve,” Connor said, noting that if he prepared every case for trial, he would have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Bohon testified her attorney, Dianne Zerega of Uniontown, failed to request cellphone records or to interview witnesses she said would have proved she was not at home when Madison died. Zerega testified she did not believe Bohon's absence would have been helpful because Bohon had medical training and prosecutors were alleging neglect.
“It wasn't an issue that she was not in the home,” Zerega testified. “The problem was, the child had been sick during her care. She had been throwing up. She had terrible diarrhea. When she left, she left the child in the care of her two older daughters.”
Zerega and Connor said they advised the couple during a joint meeting they could receive 20 to 40 years in prison if they went to trial and were found guilty of third-degree homicide. Connor testified Zerega feared Bohon would be found guilty of murder, while he felt Dodson would may have been found innocent at trial.
Connor testified he left it up to Dodson to decide whether to take the plea.
“It was entirely his call,” Connor said. “I could never tell him what a jury was going to do.”
Leskinen did not immediately rule on the couple's request. The couple's new attorneys, Vincent Tiberi and Kimberly Kovach of Uniontown, have 30 days to file memorandums in support of their arguments.
Bohon is serving her sentence in the State Correctional Institution at Muncy and Dodson is in the State Correctional Institution at Albion.
Will Hollywood Ignore Woody Allen's Daughter's Sexual Abuse Allegation Again?
In her first public declaration, Allen's daughter Dylan Farrow has accused him in The New York Times of sexually assaulting her when she was 7. Cate Blanchett, Emma Stone, and the other actors she has called out for being complicit have not yet commented.
by Kate Aurthur
In the most personal terms imaginable, Dylan Farrow has called out the Oscars, critics, actors, TV networks, and all of Hollywood for continuing to praise and work with her father, Woody Allen. And so far, none of those she has accused have responded.
Using The New York Times ' Nicholas Kristof column as a bully pulpit, Farrow has detailed the sexual abuse allegations the world has known about — and has largely chosen to ignore — for more than 20 years.
“When I was seven years old,” she wrote, “Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother's electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we'd go to Paris and I'd be a star in his movies.”
Last month, Dylan Farrow's mother, Mia, and her brother, Ronan, criticized the Golden Globes for celebrating Allen. And Dylan Farrow's column is as devastating as a piece of writing can be. Yet, as with Mia and Ronan's comments, it's also likely to be dismissed by the people the Farrows are damning: the Hollywood creative community.
For the rest of the column, Farrow describes how painful and damaging it's been to see Allen, whom she calls both “my father” and “my abuser,” continue to thrive as a director. Most pointedly, she rhetorically asks some of Allen's recent actors — Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Louis CK, Emma Stone, and Scarlett Johansson — to imagine how they would feel if their child had been sexually abused. She specifically writes to Diane Keaton, Allen's former girlfriend and muse, who recently feted him (in absentia) at the Golden Globes, “You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?”
I emailed contacts for Keaton, Baldwin, CK, Johansson, Baldwin, and Stone to ask whether they had any comment on what Farrow wrote. I also emailed a representative for Allen. Baldwin's PR rep has been the only one to respond so far, saying, “No comment as of now.”
In the column, Farrow only glancingly mentions her sister, Soon-Yi Previn, one of Mia Farrow's other adopted children, with whom Allen began having a relationship when she still lived with Mia Farrow. Previn was either 19 or 21 — she was adopted from Korea, and it wasn't clear at the time — when she and Allen began the relationship. Farrow discovered naked pictures Allen had taken of Previn, which caused their split. Allen and Previn have been married since 1997.
The 1992 Vanity Fair story (by Maureen Orth) that exposed all of these revelations begins with the sentence “There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow's house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan.”
The article went on to tell the exact same story as Farrow now has in 2014:
“As soon as Mia asked Dylan about it, Dylan began to tell a harrowing story, in dribs and drabs but in excruciating detail. According to her account, she and Daddy went to the attic (not really an attic, just a small crawl space off the closet of Mia's bedroom where the children play), and Daddy told her that if she stayed very still he would put her in his movie and take her to Paris. He touched her ‘private part.' Dylan said she told him, ‘It hurts. I'm just a little kid.' The she told Mia, ‘Kids have to do what grown-ups say.'”
At the Oscars on March 2, Cate Blanchett is favored to win Best Actress for Blue Jasmine , in which she played Jasmine, a mentally ill wreck who ruined her life by turning her husband in for his (financial) crimes. The movie ends with Jasmine talking to herself on a park bench, and for those of us who saw real-life parallels in the story, and who also thought throughout the movie that Blanchett physically resembles Mia Farrow, it does feel like a revenge fantasy on Allen's part.
Dylan Farrow wrote that people have been able to work with Allen by accepting “the ambiguity” of the public and ugly split between him and Mia Farrow (which included the sexual abuse allegations), and by saying “who can say what happened.” While Allen's current wave of success is probably unstoppable, his daughter has certainly condemned those who separate the artist from his art. And she's made sure that those who do business with Allen in the future will have her words ringing in their ears, even if they choose to disbelieve or ignore them.