ICE nominated for 'Best App' in PR News' Social Media Icon Awards
WASHINGTON — Catching child predators? There's an app for that, and it's up for "Best App" in the PR News' 2014 Social Media Icon Awards.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) "Operation Predator" smartphone app is designed to seek the public's help with locating suspected child predators, and is one of eight finalists vying for the award.
This first of its kind smart phone app was designed and developed by ICE Web Content Manager Kevin Downey, under the supervision and direction of ICE Strategic Communication Director Cori W. Bassett.
"This app has been very well received by the public and has served to increase awareness of the need to locate and arrest criminals who are sexually exploiting children," said ICE Director of Public Affairs Brian Hale. "I applaud Cori and Kevin's creativity and dedication in making this app a reality. The positive attention that the app has already received and the recognition for being a finalist in the Social Media Icon Awards is really a bonus."
The Operation Predator app – currently compatible with Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch – lets users receive alerts about known fugitive and unknown suspect child predators, share the information with friends via email and social media tools and provide information to ICE's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) by calling or submitting an online tip.
Additional features of the app include news about arrests and prosecutions of child predators, and resources for the public from ICE and its global partners in the fight against child exploitation.
Download the app, newly redesigned and optimized for iOS 7, through Apple's App Store or iTunes. Users with the app already installed can check the App Store's updates list for the newest version. An Android version of the app is planned for the near future.
For information on Operation Predator, a nationwide HSI initiative to protect children from sexual predators, or to report suspected child predators, visit: www.ice.gov
Cory Booker, U.S. Attorney among speakers at Newark child abuse prevention summit
by David Giambusso
NEWARK — Roughly 6 million children are abused in America every year. More than four die from abuse and neglect every day.
In New Jersey, there were more than 92,000 reports of child abuse in 2012, according to the annual Kids Count, a yearly survey of child health and well-being.
Aside from the personal trauma those statistics represent for the children affected, the epidemic of sexual and physical violence toward children also bears huge costs for society in treatment, prosecution and the lasting effects on children as they become adults, advocates say.
Next week, Wynona's House in Newark — the state's only full-service child advocacy center — will host a two-day summit at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, titled “Invisible No More.”
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.) and Essex County First Assistant Prosecutor Robert Laurino are among political and law enforcement heavyweights scheduled to speak at the summit.
“This is our response to kids that have been severely sexually and physically abused,” said Evelyn Mejil, executive director of Wynona's House. “We want to raise awareness about child abuse and neglect.”
Mejil, herself a child abuse survivor, runs a carefully calibrated advocacy center designed to encourage children to feel comfortable and to limit the trauma they experience when reporting abuse.
The center, on Washington Street in Newark, is named for its founder, the late state Sen. Wynona Lipman (D-Essex).
It is filled with bright colors, toys, games and original art often created by the children who walk through the center's doors.
“When they come into our center they go through the forensic interview process,” Mejil said.
A child sits in a room with one interviewer, generally a mental health professional. In another room is a team of caseworkers, police officers and prosecutors who observe the interview and determine a course of action and treatment for children and families.
The process is purposely designed to limit the number of times a child has to tell his or her story.
“Every time a child tells their stories it becomes a re-victimization,” Mejil said.
The summit, which will be held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 7 and 8, will discuss best practices here and throughout the country as well as the societal effects of child abuse.
Dr. Robert Anda, one of the guest speakers, is a nationally recognized child abuse expert who since the mid 1990s has collaborated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego to conduct the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study — an ongoing evaluation of 17,000 abuse victims and the problems they experience later in life.
Major problems experienced by abuse victims include alcohol and drug abuse, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, suicide, sexual promiscuity, smoking, liver disease and heart disease. The CDC puts the total lifetime cost of child abuse at $124 billion each year.
Among the goals of the summit, Mejil said, will be to convince state legislators to make centers like hers legislatively mandated, which will help provide funding for the centers in New Jersey, which rely now on grants and philanthropy.
“This is not just a moral responsibility but it's a fiscal responsibility as well,” Mejil said.
Off-duty pilot convicted of groping 14-year-old girl on flight
SALT LAKE CITY – An airline pilot was convicted this week of two counts of abusive sexual contact for groping a 14-year-old girl while he was a passenger on a flight from Detroit to Salt Lake City last year.
Michael Pascal, who has homes in Park City, Utah, and Texas, was found guilty Thursday by a jury after a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City.
The girl told investigators that she woke up from a nap on an Oct. 26 Delta Airlines flight and found Pascal's hand under her, gripping her buttocks. She was sitting next to a window, and Pascal was in the middle seat.
Pascal, 45, who worked at the time as a pilot for a regional airline carrier that contracts with Delta, told investigators he fell asleep with his hands in his lap and doesn't know how one ended up underneath the girl.
He's scheduled to be sentenced July 29 and could face up to five years in prison.
The girl told authorities she elbowed Pascal after waking up with his hand underneath her and said, "What the hell are you doing?" court documents show.
She says Pascal pulled his hand out from under her and said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I was asleep, I have to use the bathroom."
She said the armrest that she had pushed down was in the upright position. Pascal said he pulled up the armrest between him and the girl because the man on the other side of him was taking up a lot of room, according to documents.
The girl, who was flying alone, told flight attendants what happened and changed seats. She maintained Pascal was "clearly awake" and put some of his body on her.
Pascal's attorney, Rhome Zabriskie, has said his client was in shock about being charged. He has a teenage daughter of his own, Zabriskie said, and any touching that occurred was inadvertent.
It took the jury a couple of hours to reach the verdict.
Quarryville teen overcomes child sexual abuse, wants others to know there's hope
by SUZANNE CASSIDY
When Kayla Schneider revealed on her 13th birthday that she'd been molested by a family friend, her shocked and devastated mother told her that her experience, while horrifying, wouldn't have to define her life.
She'd be able to have a bright future, her mother told her, but she'd have to fight for it.
And that's what Kayla did: She fought for it.
She told her story to a forensic interviewer at the Lancaster County Children's Alliance, and eventually in court.
And her testimony — along with that of three other girls — helped to secure the conviction of Michael Archacki, of Quarryville, a former police officer and firefighter, who was sentenced in December 2012 to up to 65 years in prison.
Kayla knows her fight isn't over. But she's finding her way. She's found her voice. And she intends to use that voice to let others who have been sexually abused know they can overcome their trauma.
She'll be speaking at the One with Courage Children's Summit on Friday, April 11.
The summit is being held by the Lancaster County Children's Alliance, a children's advocacy center, and Lancaster General Health's Nurse-Family Partnership.
It will aim to educate “adults on the courage that hundreds of children throughout Lancaster County have every year when they walk into the Lancaster County Children's Alliance,” says Kari Stanley, the alliance's program supervisor.
She says she hopes the summit raises awareness about the alliance's work, and encourages adults to recognize and report child sexual abuse.
“It is our hope (that) by taking action — no matter how small or large the act — we make a significant difference in the life of a child, in our communities and in the movement to end child sexual abuse,” Stanley says.
Kayla also plans to take part in the Run with Courage 5K on April 6, which will raise money for the Lancaster County Children's Alliance.
She says she wants to give back to those who helped her regain control of her life.
And she wants to offer hope to other sexual abuse survivors.
“I never want them to think they are alone,” she says.
Where the blame lies
In a recent interview at Solanco High School, where she is a sophomore, Kayla, 15, is thoughtful and remarkably poised.
Her mother, Christine Schneider, says that poise is hard-won; her daughter, she says, lost part of her childhood.
Kayla says she no longer blames herself for the pain her family endured when she revealed her abuse.
She knows the blame lies entirely with the grown man who took advantage of her and other children.
She was 12 when, in May 2011, she had to leave a softball game to play the violin in a concert. When the concert ended, she met her victorious teammates for ice cream.
A teammate and friend introduced her to her “like-Dad, Myke,” who was a father figure to Kayla's fatherless friend.
That evening, Archacki introduced himself to Kayla's mother.
A week later, he began texting Kayla; the texts eventually would number in the thousands.
“He offered to help me with any bullying issues at school, or issues with my parents, because he mentored other girls and was a police officer,” Kayla recalls. “He seemed to understand what I was going through. He also asked me if I believed in love at first sight.
“He said he saw me at my orchestra concert and instantly fell in love with me. Over time he acted like he was my boyfriend.”
He was three decades older than Kayla.
'He seemed everywhere'
Knowing that Kayla's mother periodically checked her phone, he directed Kayla to delete his texts.
“When I first met Myke, he seemed really nice, friendly and helpful,” Kayla says. “He made me feel good about myself. Before I knew it, I felt like he controlled my every thought and action.”
She says she had been an overweight kid, with self-esteem issues. She says she knew it was “weird” that a grown man would tell her he had fallen instantly in love with her, but he was an adult, and she was 12.
He was calling all the shots.
One night, she was invited to a friend's house to sleep over. The friend fought with her guardian, and called Archacki, who came to pick up the girls.
He brought them to his house, and introduced them to his girlfriend and their respective children. The kids danced and watched movies, and then went to sleep in the basement.
“Myke woke me up in the middle of the night and said he needed to talk to me,” Kayla remembers. “The rest I would like to forget.”
Archacki molested her.
“I was confused and paralyzed with fear. … I couldn't say a word. What was happening? Was it my fault? Myke told me he loved me and what he was doing was not wrong, it was normal.”
In the weeks that followed, Archacki insinuated himself into the lives of Kayla and her family.
He and his girlfriend began attending their church; Archacki offered to help with Bible school.
“Our families became friends and hung out with each other,” even going on vacation to the beach together, Kayla says. “He seemed everywhere.”
Truth comes out
In July 2011, Archacki told Kayla's parents that he had been accused of improperly touching a young girl. He proclaimed his innocence, and said he was sure the matter would be cleared up soon.
Shaken, Kayla's parents asked her if Archacki had ever done anything to her. She got upset, asking how they could believe a friend had done something so awful.
Archacki had told her that what happened between them was their secret, and if she revealed it, her parents would never look at her the same way again.
She says she didn't want to disappoint her parents.
But soon after, her parents — saying there were too many red flags — forbade her from going near Archacki.
Archacki was asked to stay away from Kayla's 13th birthday party.
At the end of the party, Archacki's girlfriend, who was a party guest, asked Kayla to come outside to the driveway with her. There Kayla found Archacki waiting to give her an 8-foot teddy bear.
Kayla's parents were furious. Her mother emailed Archacki to tell him he wasn't to have any contact with Kayla.
A few days later, on Kayla's actual birthday, she told one of her friends what Archacki had done to her.
And then Kayla told her mother.
“My parents' reaction was nothing like Myke told me it would be,” Kayla says. “They weren't ashamed of me. Instead they told me they were proud of me for telling the truth, and they loved me unconditionally.”
Christine Schneider remembers running across the family's yard, screaming, as she ran to get her mother to stay with Kayla, while she and her husband Joel spoke to the police.
“I believed her right away,” Christine says. “There was never a doubt. It was just the magnitude of it. It all came crashing down in an instant.
“I knew I could either cry, or I could take action. My husband, being the protector, grieved a lot. He felt like he let his daughter down.”
Says Kayla: “There were times when I would just cry into his arms, and keep on repeating to him that he was the best father.”
Christine and Joel Schneider are loving and involved parents who remain stunned over what happened to their daughter.
Christine says she had role-played, over and over again, with Kayla and her little sister, what to do if a stranger approached them.
She didn't realize that the real danger was the amiable and helpful guy, the family friend whose house was filled with trophies and law enforcement memorabilia.
A painful road
“The road to healing has been hard,” Kayla says. “I would like to tell you that after I told my mother that I was molested, everything was OK. I knew in my head I did the right thing. My parents and other people told me ... I saved other girls from being abused by Myke.
“But all I could see was pain around me.
“I felt exposed, embarrassed and ashamed. I felt I brought on this pain to my family. Kids made fun of me at school. Some kids — and even some adults — didn't believe me and the other girls because they thought we were doing it for attention. My friends didn't know what to say to me.”
Kayla says she had moments when she thought maybe her family would be better off without her; her pain led her to cut herself, in a futile attempt to replace her mental anguish with physical pain.
Her parents were afraid of leaving her alone, lest she hurt herself. Finally, they pulled her out of school so she could focus on counseling.
She was cyberschooled for the rest of eighth grade.
They also took away her phone for a while, so the bullying she'd been experiencing in school couldn't follow her home.
'A positive path'
Kayla began going to intensive therapy with Heidi Scott, of Morning Star Counseling in Quarryville. She joined a survivors' group.
“Kayla has worked so hard to not let this affect her in negative ways,” says the therapist, who commented with permission from Kayla and her mother.
“She has been determined from the beginning to use this experience to help others and I know she has drawn on that motivation to get her through the rough times. ... Kayla decided early on that she was going to choose a positive path.
“She has struggled through the memories and the shame and has always demonstrated tremendous courage, but it has certainly come at a cost.
“It has been painful and lonely at times, but she has never stopped fighting.”
Kayla says she learned in counseling to cope with her feelings, and with flashbacks. “I started to believe that I wasn't damaged goods and could be happy again.”
She says she came to realize that “God didn't desert me, and he loved me. Myke made bad choices and it was his fault, not mine or God's.”
She drew strength from the prayers of family members, friends and her “church family,” she says.
And now, she says, she's finally starting to feel like “a normal teenager.”
Having returned to school in the ninth grade, she's a member of Solanco High School's flag squad, orchestra and Link Crew (a mentoring program aimed at helping freshmen).
She had elbow surgery but hopes to be back on the softball field soon. She's looking forward to going to the prom with her boyfriend.
She's excited for the future, she says.
“I don't believe the road to healing will ever be over for me. I will never forget my abuse. But I am hopeful for the future and my life. I'm happy and now want to focus on helping others.”
The One with Courage Children's Summit breakfast will be held from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Friday, April 11, at the Eden Resort and Suites in Lancaster. Cost will be $20 a person. Register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 544-7972.
Healing group artists to present exhibit
— “Healing Trauma through Expressive Arts,” a traveling art exhibit created by adult survivors of sexual abuse from the Integrative Healing Group, will be on display from 4 p.m. Monday through noon Friday in the lower level of St. Francis Library and Learning Commons on the campus of St. Francis University, Loretto.
The university counseling center is hosting the exhibit, which is a free program for female adult survivors of sexual abuse. The exhibit has traveled throughout the community and will continue to travel in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
A program will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday when visitors will be able to meet the artists and learn more about the Integrative Healing Group.
The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Information: 472-3211 or email email@example.com.
Participate in ‘alienation' week
by Donna Tidwell Hickman
During a recent Florence City Council meeting, Mayor Mickey Haddock proclaimed the week of April 20-26 as Parental Alienation Prevention Week and more specifically, April 25, as Parental Alienation Awareness Day.
Some experts have called parental alienation “the worst form of child abuse.” Testimony from adult survivors who become released by this cruel form of indoctrination by one parent to hate the other say that awareness and discussion and education is what has freed them, though scars to the entire family remain.
Unfortunately, many adults fall under the manipulation of an obsessed parent willing to use his or her child to psychologically torment an ex-spouse and therefore aid the alienating parent in abusing the child or teen along with causing the target parent extreme pain. An alienating parent will often claim the target parent is mentally unbalanced and others simply believe it because who could believe someone would be so hateful and conniving and depriving?
Dr. Amy J. Baker's research shows the child will align with the abusive parent out of survival and confusion. Some alienated parents are even forced to let go of their child to allow that child to be free from being asked to make false testimonies in court and other unhealthy and immoral behaviors.
A child's right to freely love both parents is essential for their development and a healthy adulthood as well. Many teens having issues are quietly suffering. I hope the schools will participate.
Firing child -abuse workers goes far beyond 'oops'
Arizona's child welfare agency didn't need another black eye. Especially not on the face of the new office that's supposed to be an example of how things should be done.
Unfortunately, the black eye is one result of news about two investigators who worked on child abuse cases for months before being fired for making false claims to get hired.
If this is the only result of this folly, kids will suffer.
First, let's be clear: This is a big blunder from the state Office of Child Welfare Investigations, which earned kudos last year for revealing that more than 6,500 reports of child abuse and neglect were systematically ignored by the agency formerly known as Child Protective Services.
This revelation led Gov. Jan Brewer to name a top-level task force, rename CPS and ask lawmakers to permanently pull it out of the Department of Economic Security as part of a major reform. That process is ongoing.
So this is a particularly unfortunate time to learn that OCWI hired two investigators that likely wouldn't have made the grade if mandated employment checks had been properly done.
One provided a resume that falsely claimed he was a former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy. The other quit the Pima County Sheriff's Office rather than being fired after he sent a cell phone picture of his exposed penis to his girlfriend while on duty. He says nobody at OCWI asked, so he didn't tell.
The problems with both of these applicants could have been discovered if OCWI followed a 2012 law that requires "documented, good faith effort to contact current and previous employers." This goes beyond "oops."
The lack of investigators' credibility could damage cases against accused child abusers. State officials say no cases were compromised. Let's hope not.
Let's also hope that OCWI digs a little deeper into resumes from now on.
But here's the rub: Arizona was supposed to be beyond just wishin' and hopin' for better from Arizona's child welfare system. The governor promised big changes, and that led to big expectations.
This incident looks like the latest foul-up from system so far beyond redemption that even the reformers can't get it right. Such justifiable cynicism is one result of this dumb and potentially dangerous hiring mistake.
But it cannot be the only result.
In truth – and with no desire to excuse what happened – there are perils in ramping up a workforce quickly. That's what Arizona's child welfare agency has been authorized to do, and it is long overdue. But hiring in a hurry can result in subtle reductions in standards or scrutiny.
This incident is a reminder to guard against that – especially in the new office that focuses on criminal investigations.
The public – and lawmakers – need to guard against another peril of reforming a long-broken agency. It's important to have high expectations, but it can be counterproductive to expect an immediate turnaround.
There is a long road ahead for Arizona's child welfare agency.
The challenges faced by an agency designed to help abused and neglected children involve complex human relationships. Those formidable complexities are compounded by years of underfunding, inept management and a culture of secrecy at CPS.
It will take time to get reform right. This incident demonstrates why it will also take careful scrutiny, transparency, oversight and attention to detail.
Child abuse response times steady despite rising case numbers
by Adam Rodewald
Brown County child protection workers complete most of their abuse and neglect investigations on time despite an escalating number of cases.
The agency has one of the best response times in the state, according to the state Department of Children and Families.
State standards require social workers to make contact with families accused of child abuse within 24 hours to five days of receiving the report, depending on its severity. They then have 60 days to complete an investigation.
Brown County social workers have met those requirements 90 percent of the time in the past six months, the data shows.
Statewide, social workers made initial contact on time in 82 percent of cases and finished only 71 percent of investigations on time.
Local child protection workers said meeting timeliness requirements has been a struggle.
“I can tell you it has not been easy. The staff here are incredibly dedicated and good at what they do,” said intake supervisor Lauren Krukowski, who helps oversee abuse and neglect investigations. “We do the best we can to make sure children are safe, so we put in the hours. We don't go home until it's done.”
The number of child abuse and neglect cases investigated by the Brown County agency has increased 59 percent in the past five years, and the trend is continuing in 2014. Social workers have said cases are also becoming more complex.
Since noting the increase in 2012, the county has responded by adding more staff to conduct investigations and take reports.
The full-time equivalent of 16 social workers do investigations and three take and process the initial reports, Krukowski said.
That means social workers averaged 14 open cases per full-time worker over the past six months.
The county had a backlog of 14 cases waiting to be closed out as of the end of February.
“It's all about diligence and being dedicated to your job,” said social worker Kristie Sickel, who conducts abuse and neglect investigations. “I have a same-day case right now. I have until midnight to find this family. If I can't meet with this family initially, I will continue to work all day until I confirm (the children's) safety.”
Time management is key to keeping up with the demand, Krukowski said. Social workers have flexible job descriptions, meaning they can switch roles as case demands fluctuate.
“We have no control over what comes through the door, and we need to do what we can for staffing rotations so we have coverage for emergency cases that come in,” she said.
Krukowski said she couldn't say whether the rising number of cases will begin to impact the agency's response times. She said the county has so far been responsive to their needs.
“There have been times where it feels incredibly difficult. Right now it feels incredibly difficult. It is what it is, and we're lucky we have a team that's willing to step up and assist each other,” she said.
Junior League site targets local child abuse
by Amy Renee Leiker
Combating local child abuse is the focus of a new website launched by the Junior League of Wichita.
ChildAbuseWichita.org offers a one-stop community resource for victims and witnesses of child abuse, information on prevention and intervention, awareness events and fundraisers.
There is also information about volunteer opportunities, statistics on the prevalence of child abuse locally and a list of area organizations that serve abuse victims.
The site is a partnership between about 20 local agencies that provide services to victims of child abuse and the Junior League of Wichita, an organization of women devoted to voluntarism and community improvement. It can be accessed at www.childabusewichita.org.
“Child abuse is a complicated issue that affects every facet of our community,” Kristin Baker, chair for Junior League of Wichita's child abuse website, said in a news release.
“Our hope is that the website will serve as a valuable resource for many different types of people, and we are proud to give the site as a gift to our community.”
Baltimore center helping to heal the youngest victims of abuse
Group holding inaugural "hero" fundraiser featuring Sugar Ray Leonard
by Donna M. Owens
Maryland's own Sugar Ray Leonard is perhaps best known as a baby-faced Olympic gold medalist and champion prize fighter with a winning smile.
Yet for decades, the world-renowned boxer suppressed a devastating secret: Leonard had been sexually abused as a teen.
"I didn't scream. I didn't look at him," the athlete writes of one particular incident involving a male coach revealed in his autobiography, "The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring." "I just opened the door and ran."
Leonard, now 57, has become a national advocate fighting for children who have suffered abuse. Having grown up in Prince George's County, he'll return to the region as a celebrity guest when the Baltimore Child Abuse Center hosts its inaugural Be A Hero fundraiser at the American Visionary Art Museum on Thursday at the Inner Harbor.
Founded in 1987, the non-profit center serves victims of child abuse in the city — upwards of 1,000 cases annually. Accredited by the National Children's Alliance, it's part of a network of some 800 child advocacy sites nationwide. The Justice Department notes that approximately 293,000 youngsters utilized such facilities in 2013 alone.
A recent report from the Crimes Against Children Research Center indicates that one in four girls and one in 20 boys in the United States, experience sexual abuse or assault by age 17.
"Child sexual abuse is pervasive. It's an issue that affects the entire community," said Baltimore Child Abuse Center executive director Adam Rosenberg, a former city state's attorney who once prosecuted sex offense cases. "When a child cries out, we're here to help."
With nearly two dozen health experts, social workers, forensic specialists and other personnel, the team provides comprehensive interviews, medical treatment and crisis counseling services to youngsters and their families and caregivers.
Rosenberg, who has helmed the organization since 2008, explained that its original mission stemmed from growing awareness among advocates that sexually abused children not only suffered from its myriad effects, but were often re-traumatized by the lengthy, typically repetitive, investigative process intended to assist them.
"We have a coordinated, stream-lined response that results in a timely, child-sensitive investigation of sexual abuse," he said. "We're on call 24 hours a day."
The Be A Hero event aims to raise monies for the center's $1.8 million budget, which relies primarily on private and government funding, while honoring individuals in the local community who have demonstrated a commitment to protecting children from sexual abuse.
Honorees include Neil Meltzer, CEO of LifeBridge Health; philanthropist Ellen Wasserman; and Angelique Redmond, a businesswoman and activist.
The evening's honorary co-chairs are Debbie Phelps, educator and mother of Olympian Michael Phelps, and Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein.
Meltzer and Wasserman are being jointly recognized for efforts that resulted in a strategic partnership between the center, and the Herman and Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital at Sinai, part of the LifeBridge system.
Thanks to Meltzer's vision and a multi-year financial gift from Wasserman, the nonprofit has been able to make its medical director — a pediatrician with specialized expertise in child sex abuse — a member of the children's hospital faculty.
Meltzer says the arrangement saves the operation significant expense, and augments its ability to connect children with the best care possible.
"Unfortunately, there's a need for these services," said the CEO, who noted he was "stunned" to learn the center was acknowledging him. "It's a great organization. I'm not one to grab the spotlight, but this means a lot to me."
Redmond was equally surprised.
"I thought, 'me'?" said the owner of Kinkx Studio, a hair braiding salon in the city's Belair-Hamilton neighborhood that caters to a clientele aged14 and under.
Over the past year, center officials say Redmond has been integral to the success of its "Enough Abuse" campaign, an effort to heighten awareness and community dialogue around the issue of child sexual abuse.
She opens her shop for meetings, hosts discussions and rallies, and is a vocal advocate for inner city youth. "The well being of children is very important to me," said the wife and mother of three.
Organizers said the gala among is already sold out.
While that makes Rosenberg happy, he's unabashed about the center's ongoing fiscal needs as it works with children and trains the greater community to learn what they can do to help prevent child abuse.
"We're still trying to raise awareness," he said. "We want to build the next generation of child protection advocates."
For more information about the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, visit bcaci.org.
Child abuse awareness activities set for Lima this April
Children Services reports up 70% since 2008
by Megan Kinnear
LIMA — Child abuse. Neglect. The words alone are enough to make a heart heavy. However, for 967 children in Allen County, those words became reality last year.
According to Cyndi Scanland, director of intake and investigations at Allen County Children Services, 3,555 referrals and calls came into their office in 2013. Of those, 967 turned into reports where the agency found it appropriate to do a formal assessment. Hundreds of other calls were redirected to other agencies and resources to help with families' needs.
Scott Ferris, executive director of Allen County Children Services, said, “April is National Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention month, which began in 1983. In addition, April 9 is our third annual ‘Ohio Wears Blue' day. We want to be able to shine awareness on the problem.”
Donna Dickman, executive director for The Partnership for Violence Free Families, said, “We try and do something big during April to keep in the public's eye. Our coalition, which is made up of many agencies, works together to see what (events) are going on, and what more can we add. It's a big month. We really want to drive home the fact that this community is addressing (child abuse).”
Some of April's other events include: a flag-raising ceremony at noon Tuesday at the Allen County Courthouse to honor the victims of child abuse; a presentation of blue pinwheels at 12:30 p.m. April 7 at Lima Memorial Health System; and a “Spank Out Day” and healthy kids' day 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 26 at the Lima YMCA. These are just a few of the many awareness events and activities planned for the month. For a complete list, visit: www.pvff.org
According to Ferris, child abuse and neglect reports are up 70 percent from 2008.
He attributes it, in part, to “an economy tanking, stress factors, and bad decisions which lead to other bad decisions.”
Ferris also added that the calls that come in don't necessarily mean that there is more abuse than before. Perhaps there has been more awareness and resources for people to be able to report the abuse.
Staff at Allen County Children Services take calls around the clock for anyone to report violence or neglect against a child. A person can call 419-227-8590 any time to make an anonymous report.
“We take referrals by phone, in person or by letter. We prefer if people call or come in. We have two full-time screeners who are social workers and are excellent at what they do, “ Ferris explained. In addition, there are other highly trained and educated support staff members who assist when needed.
“A lot of times what's reported to us is not the problem, it's a symptom. Neglect might be a symptom of a deeper problem like substance abuse or financial problems,” Ferris said.
Recognizing Allen County families' desperate need for assistance on different levels, the agency adopted Alternative Response. This program is designed to be a proactive approach to keeping children safe. It helps families solve problems and connects them with community resources.
Scanland said, “In June 2012 we began Alternative Response. We focus on soliciting families as partners. We try to engage families right from the beginning, from the first call to us.”
Jenny Knippen, intake supervisor at Allen County Children Services, said, “It's more difficult to engage and work with families if they have a negative feeling already.”
Scanland added that once families learn the agency is on their side, negative perceptions tend to change. When they learn about Alternative Response, they are overall cooperative because they understand that we to work with them to help them to keep the family unit together. “Our goal is to maintain kids in their home,” she said.
Scanland said there might be a perception from the public that if a report is made, a child will be taken out of the home — which is not usually the case.
Though the goal is to keep a child in his/her own home, the steps taken to investigate reports are thorough. If the staff at Allen County Children Services feels there is a dangerous threat to a child's well being, they will do everything necessary to ensure that child's safety.
The first step will be to help the family get the help they need. If things do not improve, they will look to place the child with family members.
“Foster care is a last resort,” Scanland said. “Our resources have evolved over the years. In addition, we offer parenting classes. There's no charge for our services.”
Knippen added, “We really can't tell (parents and guardians) that they can't spank. We will help them learn new non-violent techniques, though.”
Dickman explained that parents and guardians might have too high of expectations of their children. She said the best thing parents can do is to educate themselves on the mental and social development of their children.
“We can't expect a toddler to sit for an hour quietly at Walmart. They aren't supposed to be able to do it,” she said, and added that parents get mad if they don't behave like “little adults.”
Dickman said, “The largest time of brain development is from ages 3 to 5. Toddlers are testing out the world. They are learning to understand emotions and empathy. You can't expect a 2-year-old to play nicely. They can't do it.”
“We need to stop spanking. When anyone is hit, your brain shuts down with learning. IQs are lower in children who are hit,” Dickman said and added, “(Spanking) is also an opportunity for things to get out of control.”
Dickman said that children don't have the vocal capacity to explain their emotions but will model good behavior.
“Parenting is about consistency, and backing up between both parents. You can't threaten. If children understand consequences, they will listen at age-appropriate levels,” she said.
Dickman cited a past Ohio media campaign: “Just take a breath.” By this, she explained parents in stressful situations should step back, take a deep breath and put things in perspective. Also, parents should use community resources and supportive services. Visit www.pvff.org for a list of resources.
Ferris and the others suggested everyone should be wary of suspected child abuse in the community.
“If it's hot out and a child comes to school in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, it might be an indicator that they are hiding marks,” Ferris said. “It's natural for kids to get some bruises on legs and arms from playing, but marks that look like burns or are in unusual places like the backs of legs would be suspicious. Sleeping in school and/or school attendance issues are also causes for concerns.”
Knippen concurred that suspicious bruises are definite causes for concern, as well as inconsistent stories between the parent and the child of how an injury may have occurred.
Some people are required to report suspicious events. These “mandated reporters” are professional childcare providers, teachers, clergy members, or anyone who works with children as their job.
Others, such as family members, friends or causal observers in public places are encouraged to also report abuse but will have the choice to remain anonymous. Please call Allen County Children Services to report any violent act or neglect against a child. People are available to answer the phone seven days a week, 24 hours a day at: 419-227-8590. Call 911 if it's an emergency situation.
“When people see something in public, they tend to turn a blind eye because they don't know what to do. If there were more by standards who would step in, we could take care of this problem,” Dickman said.
For more information and resources, visit: www.allencsb.com
Ferris added that he hopes this month people will become more aware of this problem, but will do things to help change it every month of the year, not just in April. Also, he hopes people might simply show appreciation for the many advocates in this community.
“Say ‘thank you' to those who do this day in and day out,” Ferris said.
Columnist: You can be the one to report suspected child abuse
by Linda Braswell
Vigil held for 4-year-old boy found in. Mom charged in the death of 2-year-old. Prosecutor says man killed 4-year-old boy.
Headlines like those send shock waves to all who read them. These are stories that get your attention. They deserve it.
There are so many more.
Our Child Advocacy Center saw nearly 500 children last year and almost all were from Cumberland County. The center sees only the most serious cases of sexual abuse and physical abuse. That said, there are many more reported and investigated.
April begins Tuesday. It is Child Abuse Prevention Month and time to pause and think about what you can do to help ensure children are safe.
People of good will fail to act sometimes because they don't know what to do. Furthermore, they fear they might not be right or that reporting could get someone in trouble when there could be another explanation for suspicion. They may think reporting will only make it worse.
And it is hard to believe that sexual and physical abuse happens here in our community. It is easier to turn away, to not see or act.
As with so many other issues in life, knowledge and education strengthen resolve. So let's examine first how to recognize child abuse and how to report it when it is suspected.
The National Children's Alliance lists ten signs of abuse:
1. Unexplained injuries such as burns or bruises, especially in the shape of objects.
2. A child's behavior may change. Abused children often are scared, anxious, aggressive and depressed.
3. Regressive behaviors may occur. Children may return to earlier habits such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting.
4. A child may be afraid of going home.
5. A change in eating may occur.
6. A change in sleeping habits may happen.
7. Changes in school performance and attendance may be seen.
8. Changes in hygiene or personal care.
9. Risk-taking behaviors may be seen.
10. Inappropriate sexual behavior, along with explicit language, can sometimes be seen.
Does it make it any easier to know that our responsibility is to report it - not to investigate?
As responsible and caring adults, each of us is called upon to report suspicions to the Department of Social Services or to the police. They will take the information, which can be reported anonymously, and begin an investigation.
They will take on the role of protecting the child and prosecuting the offender. The Child Advocacy Center provides a safe, child-friendly place for children to tell their stories. The center also hosts the multidisciplinary team that assesses needs and coordinates care for the child.
Good care physically and emotionally can prevent lifelong bad effects. A phone call puts it all in motion.
Abuse of a child is intentional maltreatment. Anyone can be in the right place at the right time to help a child.
Linda Braswell is chairperson of the board of directors of the Child Advocacy Center in Fayetteville.
Openings abound to help CSRA's abused children overcome tragedies
by Dan Hillman
Child Enrichment is known for innovative and aggressive child advocacy programs. April is national Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Everyone can do something to help abused children.
Let's start with the question: Are children safe?
CHILD ENRICHMENT programs offer a safe haven for children who have been abused. Last year 639 child victims of abuse or severe neglect received our services. All of us see the headlines, read the news articles and watch the television coverage with the gruesome details of child abuse, child abduction, child sexual abuse and even murder. In the six weeks between Thanksgiving 2013 and Jan. 8, 2014, 10 men were convicted of sexually abusing children in Columbia and Richmond Counties.
There is a problem, and it is significant.
As professionals who work with victims of child abuse, we not only know about the reality and horror of the abuses perpetuated upon children, but we also must look into the eyes of the individual child victims, and hear of their experiences. In those eyes we see fear and stress and distrust, but we also see hope.
For Child Enrichment employees, board members and volunteers, it is all about hope.
The standards followed by Child Enrichment about child protection, and advocating for the respect of all children, are promoted beyond the walls of our buildings. In attempting to raise awareness in this community and with other professionals with whom we work, we continually aim the focus on the children and their needs.
Last year, Child Enrichment provided counseling, court advocacy and forensic interviewing, or found safe and permanent homes, for 639 children. Yet, we also worked with 333 of their non-abusing caregivers – helping them to keep the children safe, and to follow the recovery guidelines. Abused children can recover from even the most horrible abuse and torture. Child Enrichment programs prove this.
Children have died because of physical abuse this year in our community. In the United States, millions of children are physically abused each year, and thousands of children die because of physical abuse. Most children who die from abuse are younger than age 6.
THERE IS PROOF that hundreds of thousands of children are sexually abused each year, and it is estimated that millions of other cases go undetected. Many cases of child sexual abuse are not disclosed until the victim reaches adulthood. Children are most often abused by people whom they know and trust. How can this be?
As adults in this society, there is only one answer to these problems. All adults must step up and address the issue directly.
So, the answer to the question “Are children safe?” is: It depends. Yes, they are safe, if adults are doing everything possible to keep them safe; and, no, they are not safe, if the children are vulnerable, unsupervised, lonely, depressed or fearful.
For the most part, we should consider children to not be safe . Children are not capable of protecting themselves. Children need adults to protect them. Yet, most adults seem to fear getting involved.
If adults understand child abuse and child sexual abuse, they probably will do something to help a child. Regardless of whether you are capable of looking into the eyes of abused children, you can experience their hope, and you can help. Everyone can do something to help abused children. You can make a difference!
Maybe more adults would help if they knew how. So, here is how to help:
Make a donation. Funding is always a concern for non-profit organizations such as Child Enrichment, and with the recent trend of foundations and funders wanting to fund new or different charities each year, it is even more difficult to provide excellent programs to help child victims to recover. Donate and be a loyal donor to effective programs.
VOLUNTEER AT THIS or other child advocacy programs.
Learn about child abuse. Visit the Darkness to Light web page – www.D2L.org. Learn about effective strategies for families, religious organizations and programs to protect children.
Help make our community
safe for all children. Voice that expectation. Communicate clearly that adults who may harm children are not welcome and will be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.
These are all good beginnings.
(The writer is executive director of Child Enrichment Inc., the Child Advocacy Center and Court Appointed Special Advocates for abused children.)
Expert: Conversation Shouldn't Solely Focus on Child Sexual Abuse, but All Sex Crimes
by Jennifer Miller
While Pennsylvania has made progress in awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse in the wake of the Jerry Sandsuky scandal, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says it is critical to put a spotlight on all sexual abuse.
Following the arrest of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, who is now a convicted pedophile, Penn State University teamed up with PCAR to enhance awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse. The university and PCAR have both touted success through that partnership.
At the same time, Kristin Houser, spokeswoman for PCAR, recently told StateCollege.com it is critical for such initiatives to focus on all victims of sex crimes, not just children.
"Many people who commit sexual offenses are not pedophiles, but the damage they cause to the community is no less than child sexual abuse," Houser says. "I do think helping the community expand the conversation about sexual abuse beyond children to look at the lifespan is really important."
While the Sandusky case was a child abuse sex case, Houser says the reality is many people who commit sex offenses against children also abuse teens and adults, which can also include gender cross over. She says it's also important to highlight sexual abuse on college campuses, which is prevalent across the country.
Houser says around the world it is often said that children are innocent victims, which is true, however, she says such a statement can imply that adult victims are not as innocent. Just as an offender grooms a child, an offender grooms an adult in an attempt to get away with the abuse, Houser says.
"It sort of uncovers a lot of misinformation of adult sexual assaults," she says.
Additionally, Houser says it is important to change the double-standard for victims based on gender. For example, House says there is a stereotype that if a female assaults a male victim it equates to a "badge of honor" for the victim.
"It is damaging," she says. "Our societal standards make it much harder for that young man to come forward."
As part of Penn State's partnership with PCAR, over the past year more than 30,000 people affiliated with the university have received training to identify and report suspected child abuse.
Additionally, PCAR has used a portion of the $1.5 million provided by Penn State to fund several initiatives. The funds came from Penn State's 2011 share of the Big Ten bowl revenues as part of the university's effort to fight the crime of child abuse.
PCAR also is one of 18 sponsors of Penn State's upcoming third annual Conference on Child Protection and Well-Being to be held May 5 and 6 at the Nittany Lion Inn. The two-day conference will focus on "Parenting, Family Processes and Intervention" and feature presentations and panel discussions from top researchers in the field.
Congress Eyes Crackdown on Sex Trade Customers
by Maya Rhodan
While the federal government has taken steps to curb child sex trafficking, lawmakers agree a more aggressive approach is needed on the demand-side of the problem. Texas Rep. Ted Poe said Wednesday that customers of child prostitutes need to be held accountable
More needs to be done to prosecute those who purchase children and teens for sex, lawmakers in both parties agreed Wednesday.
“The kids are not for sale, period,” Texas Republican Rep. Ted Poe said during a meeting of a House Judiciary Committee panel. The hearing, during which Poe decried the “boys being boys” attitude taken when it comes to the men who purchase prostitutes, reflected a growing focus by policy makers on the demand-side of the sex trade.
While state and federal law enforcement officials testified Wednesday about the many ways they've altered their approach to victims over the years, none could give concrete answers to questions about how “johns” who purchase sex are prosecuted. Corporal Chris Heid of the Maryland state police's child recovery unit testified that the authorities rarely even arrest johns. Under federal law, those found guilty of engaging in sex with a minor can face between a 10- and 15-year mandatory minimum sentence, though in many states charges are now always pursued, officials testified.
Bringing charges more routinely, FBI Agent Michael Harpster said, would require a reallocation of resources. “Our resources are currently aimed at victims,” said Harpster, the chief of the FBI's violent crimes against children section.
Congress estimates 100,000 children are sold in the U.S. sex trade every year. Many exploited children come from the foster care system or are runaways from sexually and physically abusive homes. Out of the 450,000 youth that runaway from home each year, one-third are estimated to be lured by pimps within their first 48 hours on the street. Congress has already taken steps to fight trafficking in the U.S., having introduced and passed several anti-trafficking bills in recent sessions, though committee members said more must be done.
In 39 states, child victims of sex trafficking could face criminal charges if police catch them. Withelma Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, who was a victim of trafficking between ages 10 and 17, said Wednesday that her experiences behind bars were just as traumatizing as her experiences with her pimp.
“This is not prostitution and it should not be treated as such,” Pettigrew said. “This is child rape.”
Atlanta airport unveils sex trafficking signs
by Duffie Dixon
ATLANTA -- The next time you're at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and you enter a shop or restaurant notice the sign placed in front of the cash register. Look down slightly. There it is, in English and Spanish.
Its called a Human Trafficking Notice and the question is simple: "Are you or someone you know being sold for sex or made/forced to work for little or no pay, and cannot leave?"
Airport spokesman Reese McCranie said there's a reason the signs are all positioned at about four feet off the ground.
"They're at eye level for a child to actually see the print and the 1-800 number to call and get help if they think they are a victim of trafficking," said McCranie.
The airport is partnering with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation following a recent report that Atlanta has the biggest cash-based underground sex economy in the nation. The Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center reported street and online prostitution, brothels and massage parlors are bringing in $290 million a year.
"We've decided to partner with the GBI and they are responsible for the wording of the message. We wanted to make sure we did everything we could to help stem this tide," said McCranie.
In addition to the signs, airport employees including Larry Newman who works for We Juice It, are getting trained on how to spot possible sex trafficking.
"There are a lot of things to look for, like if a child is hesitant to talk without permission or if they look uncomfortable in the situation. Sometimes you may overlook that someone is actually in danger unless you know what to look for. What I learned in the training is there is more than one way that people might cry out for help," said Newman.
Alleged victim targets accused pedophile priest 30 years later
‘Brutal abuser' remains free while former altar boy fights for change in sexual-assault laws
by Jason Sickles, Yahoo
The Rev. James Brzyski allegedly began molesting John Delaney when the altar boy was 11, persuading the child to keep quiet by saying his parents condoned their sexual relationship.
“This guy had me all screwed up in my head,” Delaney said.
More than 30 years later, the now defrocked Philadelphia Catholic priest is still trying to manipulate the narrative.
When asked about Delaney by Yahoo News, Brzyski, 63, was silent for several seconds. Then he blurted out, “Quite a liar, John is,” and hung up the phone.
Delaney, now 42, brushed off Brzyski's denial.
“You tell him John Delaney's coming for him,” he said in a thick Philly accent. “I'm not a little kid anymore. You can't do this to me. I'm going to fight back now.”
Delaney getting his day in court will be easier said than done.
In 2005, a grand jury report made public by the Philadelphia district attorney's office alleged Brzyski had subjected Delaney and at least 16 other boys to “unrelenting abuse, including fondling, oral sex, and anal rape” while working as an assistant pastor at two churches in the late 1970s and early '80s.
The DA's findings were the result of a broad inquiry in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual abuse by Philadelphia's Roman Catholic priests.
The three-year investigation branded Brzyski as one of the “archdiocese's most brutal abusers” and revealed he could have had “possibly over a hundred victims.” The report states Brzyski admitted to a church official in 1984 to “several acts of sexual misconduct” with two boys, but was persuaded not to resign.
“Archdiocese leaders knew the names of many of his victims, and could have known the identities of many more had they simply followed up on reports they received,” the grand jury wrote.
Instead, the investigation concluded, the Philadelphia Archdiocese conspired to shield Brzyski and 62 other priests who had molested hundreds of children over three decades. The hierarchy “excused and enabled the abuse” by burying reports and “covering up the conduct … to outlast any statutes of limitation.”
Because the time to file criminal charges had lapsed, neither Brzyski nor the other priests were ever charged.
Delaney, who had shared his abuse in graphic detail with the grand jury, ran into the same roadblock in civil court. His lawsuit was thrown out because at age 34 he was 14 years beyond the cutoff.
“This has ruined so many things for me,” said Delaney, who had kept his abuse secret until the DA's investigation. “It was something I buried down deep.”
Fallout from the grand jury report did prompt legislative changes in Pennsylvania. Child sex abuse victims now have until age 50 to bring criminal charges. The civil statute was increased by 10 years to age 30.
“That was an awesome thing that came out of that, but it still leaves a guy like me where I never get my day in court,” said Delaney, who now lives in Tennessee. “For guys like me who came forward, who were the first ones, we never get our day.”
The remedy, Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi told Yahoo News, is to reform the law again by increasing the civil statute of limitations to at least age 50 or by opening a one- or two-year window for retroactive suits to be filed or refiled.
“In the best-case scenario, I'd like to eliminate the statute of limitations as it pertains to child sex abuse,” said Rozzi, who was molested by a Catholic priest in 1983. “My perpetrator is dead, but a lot of them are still running around out there abusing the next generation of kids.”
In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled retroactive extensions of the criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases were unconstitutional. But California, Delaware, Hawaii, Guam and Minnesota have allowed various overrides for "aged-out" plaintiffs in civil courts.
After learning that lawmakers had for years repeatedly rejected similar legislation in Pennsylvania, Rozzi decided to run for office in 2012.
“When I got elected this was the top priority,” he said. “They always come after the victims saying this is about money. For us, this isn't about money. We want validation.”
Delaney will be featured with other victims in a Rozzi-produced documentary next month, which they hope will help push legislators to broaden Pennsylvania's statute.
“It's unfair what they are doing to people like me,” said Delaney, the father of two teens. “If it was one of theirs, I guarantee they'd be real quick to change the law.”
Rozzi, who still considers himself a Catholic, maintains this isn't just about his church.
“My thought is if you protected pedophiles, I don't care who you are, you need to be held accountable,” he said.
Still, Rozzi said he believes it's lobbyists for the Catholic Church and for for-profit insurers who put up the biggest fight.
“The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference cozies up to all these powerful guys and then they refuse to pass legislation,” he said. “The only way I think we can win this is if the public understands why these bills aren't moving and who's responsible for not letting these bills move.”
Victims' advocates have used newspaper and TV ads to target Pennsylvania state Rep. Ron Marsico, who they maintain uses his position as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to stonewall proposed reform.
According to campaign finance records, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania contributed nearly $344,000 to 112 state candidates in 2012. Three donations totaling $2,250 went to Marsico.
In an email to Yahoo News, Marsico stated he has worked hard for several years on strengthening criminal statutes against child predators. However, he wrote, legislation allowing retroactive lawsuits is unconstitutional.
“While it might feel satisfying to pass a bill that includes a window, any such provision would simply give false hopes to a victim whose civil claim has been barred by the existing statute of limitations because it would later be declared unconstitutional by the courts,” Marsico wrote. “Those victims deserve better than to be given such false hope, only to see it snatched away.”
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law professor who runs a website advocating statute-of-limitation reform, has previously challenged Marsico to produce legal precedents supporting his claim.
“I am appalled that Mr. Marsico has chosen to misrepresent the constitutional law of Pennsylvania, and then say it is his ‘sworn duty' to do so,” Hamilton wrote in an email to Marsico's office in March 2013.
In Hamilton's opinion, retroactive civil legislation is constitutional if the legislative intent is clear and change is procedural.
Sam Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, says he feels switching deadlines after the fact is unfair to everyone.
“Insurers, policyholders and claimants need a predictable and stable liability system that provides the ability to cover, price and properly reserve for liability exposure in that system,” Marshall wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
Both Marshall and Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, noted that the state already allows victims more time to bring a civil suit than approximately 40 other states. Broadening the law would remove fairness, Hill says.
“Over time witnesses' memories fade, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased,” Hill responded in an email. “The passage of time makes it nearly impossible for an individual, a church or any organization to defend against allegations from decades ago.”
Delaney wants to forget, but says what happened at Saint Cecilia Parish in northeast Philadelphia still haunts him.
“I have anxiety attacks where I pass out and physically hurt myself,” said Delaney, who until eight years ago abused cocaine to escape the pain.
“The course of my life changed,” he said. “I didn't want to be a 42-year-old roofer living in Tennessee barely making it.
“They were supposed to be looking out for me. That's all I remember hearing about is that they're the shepherds of the flock and they're supposed to take care of the flock. Well, you didn't take very good care of me and a bunch of other people I know too.”
According to the grand jury report, a Catholic high school counselor who persistently reported names of Brzyski's victims to church officials was told not to initiate therapy for the boys. Even after Catholic officials institutionalized Brzyski for “a repressed personality with chronic immaturity manifested in … pedophilia,” orders from the archdiocese were to not actively seek possible victims.
For many years the archdiocese has provided counseling and psychiatric services to adult sex abuse survivors and their families.
“The archdiocese as well as Archbishop [Charles] Chaput and his predecessor, Cardinal [Justin] Rigali, have offered public apologies to victims of clergy sexual abuse on multiple occasions,” said spokesman Ken Gavin.
Records show Brzyski left treatment after a few months and withdrew from the active ministry in early 1985. But the archdiocese didn't forcibly laicize Brzyski until 20 years later when allegations during the grand jury investigation were found credible.
The grand jury warned that there would “likely be future victims of this serial molester and child rapist” who they said remained free and unsupervised “thanks to the Archdiocese's concealment of his crime spree under its auspices.”
Three months ago, some Dallas residents phoned the Philadelphia Daily News and told a reporter that Brzyski's behavior at their apartment complex had caused them to research his background. The story quoted neighbors saying Brzyski often played with boys in the apartment swimming pool and would brag about wooing what appeared to be underage males online. The neighbors said Brzyski moved from the apartment complex in December after they questioned him.
It was news that Delaney had feared for years.
“The fact that he's still wrecking kids' lives, it eats at me, it really does,” Delaney said.
Since leaving Philadelphia, public records show, Brzyski has also lived in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, Va., Kenosha, Wis., and West Hollywood, Calif.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2005 that a 17-year-old accused Brzyski of groping him in Virginia. But a 2002 attempted sexual battery charge was dropped after Brzyski accused the teenager of trespassing and kicking him. Public records show Brzyski was twice convicted of driving while intoxicated in Virginia.
Yahoo News discovered last week that Brzyski is currently wanted in New Mexico for failing to appear in court after a 2010 arrest. According to records, Brzyski was towing a U-Haul trailer through Truth or Consequences, N.M., when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash. Police arrested the former priest on charges of driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and operating an unregistered vehicle with no insurance. He spent six days in jail before being released on his own recognizance.
At his arraignment, Brzyski pleaded not guilty and was awarded a court-appointed attorney by claiming that he was indigent. On court records, Brzyski stated that he was disabled and receives $1,117 a month in government assistance.
From all indications, Brzyski has kept a low profile the past few years in Dallas. Records show he's never applied for a Texas driver's license, and his former neighbors told Yahoo News that he relies on public transportation to get around town. His new address, they believe, is off a train line west of the city.
“He needs to be in prison,” Delaney said. “I'm ruined with this every day. How can he keep getting away with it?”
Child abuse is a frustrating maze of complexities
by Barbara Blake
ASHEVILLE – There's that stereotype of a child abuser as the rage-filled man in a stained undershirt with a sixth beer in one hand and the other clenched into a fist ready to smack his kid against the wall and teach him a lesson.
He's part of the picture, for sure. But not the only picture. There also are the hard-working dads who lose their jobs and are frantic and angry that they can't pay the mortgage. The moms whose nerves are shattered by the incessant crying of colicky babies. The teen father who has no understanding of what's reasonable behavior to expect of his willful toddler.
There are many reasons adults abuse children — not one of them acceptable. The only thing certain is that abuse crosses all lines — gender, race, culture and socioeconomic — and that the young victims often suffer lifelong effects.
Even though children are being hurt behind the doors of mobile homes and mansions alike, nationally renowned Asheville pediatrician Dr. Olson Huff said he believes the causes of physical abuse are often tied directly to poverty, which in turn is tied to public policy and funding, and to changing societal norms.
“We have at least 3 percent more children living in poverty now than we did 20 years ago, and that's a tragedy in a country like ours, where more and more families and children are sinking to the poverty level, adding to the stress, anxiety, frustration, anger and all those things that are taken out on our most vulnerable, our children,” Huff said.
“If the family is suffering, it doesn't take rocket science to figure out all the things that go along with that can erupt in hopelessness, depression, drug abuse and marital discord, all of which are factors in child abuse,” he said.
Huff, for whom the Olson Huff Child Development Center at Mission Children's Hospital is named, said in addition to the trickle-down effects of poverty, modern times have led to “different ways of working and playing and living, and some of that may have a backlash on us in relationships, as far as how we get along with each other.”
“We have fewer people living in smaller communities and more living in more urban environments, in bigger cities with more traffic, more hassles that produce frustrations and challenges to basic, ordinary living,” Huff said. “And we have such a fear mentality — people carry guns all the time, and we have the instant news profiles of people blowing themselves up around the world.
“People are fearful, and they react and draw themselves in rather than engaging with each other, being positive, talking more actively with each other, being outside with their kids and walking in neighborhoods with their families,” he said. “We spend too much time simply watching TV all the time, and absorbing things we can't really interpret well.”
Bill McGuire, executive director of Child Abuse Prevention Services, said there is no single explanation for child abuse. “But physical abuse often occurs with folks under great stress, with poor impulse control, anger, frustration, lack of support systems, alcohol or substance abuse and individuals who themselves experienced abuse as children,” he said. “And often there is little knowledge of normal age-appropriate child development and parenting and unrealistic expectations of the child.”
Adults who abuse children sexually are in another league, with triggers based in more pathological and deviant behaviors, but they, too, span the spectrum of societal lines, McGuire said.
While Huff and other child advocates work to stop the root causes of abuse, nonprofits like Child Abuse Prevention Services are arming children with the tools they need to protect themselves and offering healing to those who have succumbed to abuse. And their numbers are “staggering,” McGuire said.
One in five children in America will experience abuse, half will be younger than 6 and four will die every day from abuse and neglect, he said. In 2013 in Buncombe County, 4,716 children were reported as abused or neglected, following 3,985 in 2012; nearly 4,000 in 2010; and 3,933 in 2008, McGuire said. Most cases involved neglect, followed by physical abuse, then sexual abuse.
CAPS reached 8,200 Buncombe County children in grades K-5 last year to teach them to protect themselves and recognize, resist and report abuse. Adult training was provided to 350 child care providers, including all Head Start staff, who learned to recognize and respond to abuse and how to handle disclosure.
More than 250 families received parenting education, and 500 individuals — children, siblings and families who experienced abuse — received crisis intervention and counseling, including help for nonoffending parents, McGuire said.
Mary Trigg, community educator with CAPS, said a key piece in empowering children is “opening up an honest conversation about abuse and letting kids know that they can speak up.”
“Certainly, a huge piece of the program is providing kids with information, tools, a three-step personal safety plan and strategies for keeping themselves safe and getting out of unsafe situations,” she said. “But perhaps the biggest goal of the program is to get kids comfortable even talking and thinking about safe and unsafe touches and to de-stigmatize the conversation.”
Trigg said child abuse is almost a taboo subject on community, state and national levels because “it makes people uncomfortable to talk and think about, and because it's a heavy topic.”
“We've all heard plenty about ‘stranger danger' because it's easier to think of a big, scary, unknown bad guy; it's a lot harder to think that abusers are actually people we know, people who we see every day,” she said.
“If we were able to have more open conversations about what abuse really looks like, where it comes from, who it comes from, it would do a lot to start making the situation better,” Trigg said. “Of course, more funding and buy-in from policy-makers and funders would be fantastic, too.”
Staggering costs, financial and emotional
McGuire said the cost of child abuse in the U.S. is $250 million a day, or $95 billion a year. “This translates to the equivalent of $1,500 a year per family, yet we only spend $1 a year per family on prevention.”
For example, he said, there are only 30 programs like CAPS covering 100 counties in North Carolina and only about 1,000 in the country.
“It's not only the cost in dollars, but the emotional cost,” he said, referring to an Adverse Childhood Experiences study that showed a correlation between childhood trauma and adult health problems, including alcohol or drug abuse, depression, heart disease, relationship issues and suicide.
Ilene Procida, a therapist with CAPS who has worked with hundreds of families involved with abuse, said the impact on children can be lifelong, with increased incidences of depression, anxiety, early sexual behavior and higher rates of substance use and abuse. Recent studies have linked increased digestive disorders in adulthood to early abuse.
“And, perhaps most significantly, those who were abused are far more likely to become offenders, thus perpetuating generations of dysfunction and denial,” Procida said. “Even if no one else ever knows about the abuse, the child certainly does, and the effects are long term and damaging.”
Huff believes the costs incurred after abuse could be vastly altered by putting money into front-end programs that make systemic changes and are truly preventive, beginning with lawmakers charged with policy and funding.
“Many of us are fortunate that we don't need government help to put our lives and living situations together, but many do — subsidies for day care, for example,” Huff said.
“Good day care programs enrich the lives of children and integrate them better socially, and they provide a safe place for parents to have their children while they're working,” eliminating one huge stressor.
To cut preschool education programs is “counterproductive — it just doesn't make sense that we would take away the kinds of things that build a better environment for everybody and a better future for children educationally, socially and emotionally,” he said.
Huff said there is “regressive thinking” on the part of many elected officials who should be “strengthening the programs that aid people rather than shrinking programs to give others tax breaks.”
“Education and health care are pivotal. I think the failure of the state to take the Medicaid expansion is totally and completely insane,” he said. “We ought to be looking at what are the most pressing problems and put the maximum amount of attention to those, and I would argue that prevention of mental, physical and sexual abuse of children is a major place to put our focus.”
Huff said he believes most parents want the best for their children, and that even those who inflict abuse “aren't necessarily just bad people; they are sometimes overstressed and under-resourced people.”
“The more we can do to help each other, to look at the families in our communities and see what we can do to offer more care, compassion and understanding — and certainly how we can guide our policymakers to do the same thing — I think we could make some dents in this problem.”
|CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH
• Child Abuse Prevention Month kicks off at noon Tuesday at the United Way building at 50 S. French Broad Ave., with the tying of blue ribbons and planting of a “pinwheel garden.”
• The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners will proclaim April as Child Abuse Prevention Month at its meeting Tuesday; Asheville City Council will do the same April 8.
• April 18 will be Blue Ribbon Night at the Asheville Tourists game at McCormick Field, where CAPS staff and volunteers will hand out blue ribbons at the gate and will pin a ribbon on mascot “Ted. E.” on the field.
• The documentary film “Searching for Angela Shelton” will be shown at 6 p.m. April 22 at the United Way building, chronicling the Asheville native's nationwide search for other Angela Sheltons who experienced and triumphed over child sexual abuse. Free and open to the public.
• Build-A-Bear events will happen throughout the month, with volunteers and staff building teddy bears for children who have experienced abuse.
• A raffle for a vintage Volkswagen — The Blue Ribbon Bug — will be held during April. Tickets are $10.
• Blue ribbons and literature will be available during April at libraries, businesses, pediatrician offices and churches.
To take part in the month's activities or to learn more about the programs and services offered by Child Abuse Prevention Services, call 254-2000 or visit: www.childabusepreventionservices.org
Dads2Dads: Predator not always a stranger
by Tom Tozer and Bill Black
One of the joys of writing this column is to share information with moms and dads about other passionate movers and doers out there who inspire and educate people about successful parenting. We have said time and time again that Dads2Dads tackles the typical minefields of raising kids. However, there are areas that we won't cover because they require professional expertise and training. We are delighted and obligated to defer to those who can address problems that go beyond the typical realm.
A victim of childhood sexual abuse
We met David Pittman at the “Every Thing for Dads” conference in Florida a few weeks ago. When David spoke, he held every eye and ear captive in the auditorium, and the only sound was his emotional story. He addressed a family issue that often remains invisible, ignored, even discarded — yet, is a problem of epidemic proportions.
Pittman was the victim of sexual abuse by his youth minister for several years. The scenario was typical. He was made to feel that it was his fault. He was ashamed and humiliated. He was afraid to tell anyone for fear of retribution, embarrassment and disgrace. His self-image could not have been lower.
'Stranger danger' is a myth
Pittman, now heads a nonprofit organization called “Together We Heal.” He says one in every three girls and one in every six boys in our nation is the victim of childhood sexual abuse. The perpetrator is most often a family member or trusted friend. In other (most disturbing) words, sexual abuse occurs mostly at the hands of someone who is known, trusted and often loved.
What dads and moms need to know
Pittman launched “Together We Heal” to provide no-cost counseling for survivors of sexual abuse, to be a safe haven for sharing, learning and healing, and to educate through public speaking. The organization works with schools, religious groups, civic organizations, and parents to prevent child abuse and to help those who have been assaulted. His advice to parents is straight and to the point:
• Start young and talk openly and often to your kids about sexual behavior.
• Practice talking about it with another adult.
• Teach children that there are no secrets and no private time within the family.
• Use proper terms for body parts.
• Help your child create a “safety team” — a circle of trusted adults.
• Refer to sexual predators as “adults with touching problems.” For young children, it dilutes the elements of fear and danger and emphasizes the bad behavior of the person.
Pittman also sees a real need for state legislatures to change their statute-of-limitation laws on child molestation and sexual abuse. Lenient sentences need to be strengthened and time limitations on prosecutions need to be eliminated. Pittman's message to adults and children is that it's never too late to reach out and get help.
We invite you to visit: together-we-heal.org
Tom Tozer and Bill Black are authors of the new book Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter at Dads2Dadsllc. Contact them at tomandbill@Dads2Dadsllc.com
Training program to help faith communities combat child abuse
by Colette M. Jenkins
A special training program on child abuse and neglect is being offered by Summit County Children Services to the faith community.
The free program, called “Protect Your Church…Protect Your Children — complying with Child Abuse & Neglect Reporting Laws,” is 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Celebration Church, 688 Dan St., Akron. It is being presented as part of the 27th annual Child & Family Awareness Month celebration. The theme of the month is “A Family is a Tool That Can Fix Everything.”
The training program will be facilitated by Lisa Hamilton–Green, a licensed social worker and community educator for Summit County Children Services. In addition to information about mandated reporting rules, the program will cover indicators of child abuse and neglect, mental health and substance abuse issues, and how to prevent child abuse. Participants will also receive educational materials that can be shared with their congregations.
To register, call 330-379-2090 or go to: www.summitkids.org
Fort Thomas resident leads Take Back the Night march
by Chris Mayhew
FORT THOMAS – For Diane Fernandez, Take Back the Night means parents actually talking to their children about what sexual abuse is and the importance of telling a trustworthy adult.
Fernandez, 46, a Fort Thomas resident, is co-chair of the 25th annula Take Back the Night Cincinnati candlelight march starting at the World Peace Bell in Newport at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 24. The march will continue across the Taylor-Southgate Bridge and end at Cincinnati's Sawyer Point.
The march was started in 1978 to bring awareness to sexual abuse and domestic violence.
“I've been attending Take Back the Night for years because I was a survivor of domestic violence,” Fernandez said.
The verbal domestic violence was witnessed by two of her children, who were young at the time, she said. Her two oldest children are now ages 26 and 21.
“I know first hand that the violence can impact children,” Fernandez said.
Now Fernandez spends her time working on domestic violence and child abuse issues. She works full-time in health education for Humana in Cincinnati, and is works part-time as a therapy support counselor at Holly Hill Children's Services Family Connection Center in Highland Heights.
Fernandez said she wants people, especially parents, to know how important talking to children about what child abuse and sexual abuse is. It's equally important to tell children how they can react if something happens, she said.
“Have those kinds of conservations with your children, and that if it's something that happens, let them know it's OK to go to an adult and talk to them,” Fernandez said.
Often children don't feel they can trust an adult enough to tell them, Fernandez said. Children sometimes are being threatened by their abuser about consequences if they do tell, so it's important they know how important it is to tell an adult at a young age.
People are talking about child sex abuse more openly now, Fernandez said. The Family Nurturing Center in Florence, where Fernandez teaches parenting classes, has a program to speak to children about what is good and bad touching.
“No one came to my school and talked to me about htis and I know they went into my children's school,” Fernandez said. “So, the awareness is getting better.”
Bridgetown resident Heather Glenn-Gunnarson is co-chair of this year's Take Back the Night march. Glenn-Gunnarson, a 2003 graduate of Northern Kentucky University with a degree in political science, got involved in the march because of her minor in women's studies. Her studies led her to become a volunteer for the Women's Crisis Center in Covington.
Glenn-Gunnarson said it's important for her three children know that sexual and child abuse is an issue. “It's something that can be stopped if we all talk about it.”
She said the story about Doug Gildea, who, unknown to his family and friends, was troubled for years after being abused by a neighbor in his Springfield Township neighborhood at age 5. He killed himself in 1992, years after the abuse. His family discussed child sex abuse in a story appeared in The Enquirer Nov. 10.
“I don't understand why people don't read that and say stop, and this isn't OK,” Glenn-Gunnarson said.
Child abuse conference in Abilene has largest turnout in 15 years
by Ariana Garza
ABILENE, Texas - More than 60,000 children were confirmed victims of abuse in Texas in 2012, according to Champion for Children organizers who hosted a statewide conference to raise awareness Friday at the Abilene Civic Center.
Lori Bunton, conference chair, said more than 400 people are participating in the two-day conference. This year is the first time the conference has reached full capacity.
Law enforcement, social workers, child care providers, medical professionals, teachers and others who have constant professional contact with children were invited to participate and learn about child abuse, child sex crimes and bullying.
As social media becomes more popular and technology continues to advance, Bunton said children are finding their voice; however, they may not be corresponding with the right people when an issue arises.
“Children aren't communicating with parents as much as they could – or should – and/or teachers because they're relying so much on texting and all of those kinds of things,” Bunton said. “So we've lost that verbal communication and so our whole goal here is to educate others and to empower children to speak.”
Lt. Joe Tauer of the Abilene Police Department Youth Division attended the conference.
“Smartphones, the iPads, and all of this technology makes so many horrific things readily available,” Tauer said. “I know that the crimes that we've investigated that children are – that they are getting involved in – a lot of it has to do with technology because they're accessing things and getting educated at earlier ages on things that prior to (recent times), they did not have readily available.”
He also had advice for parents.
“Parents need to be extremely involved in their child's life and know what they're getting into – as far as the computers and iPads and smartphones – because what they transmit and receive over these devices can affect their child – not just being victimized – but also educating where they can actually become the perpetrator,” Tauer said.
Bunton said it is not only children who need assistance. That is why the conference theme for 2014 is “the power to cope.”
“We're covering some self-care things to help people that are in the front line on how to take care of themselves because they are exposed to much of this trauma themselves,” Bunton said. “We want them to be safe and help them so they can continue to help the children.”
Grandma not giving up battle to end child abuse
Grandson suffered a brain injury as result of abuse
by TERESA RESSEL
Her days of coming to the St. Francois County Courthouse for the criminal case involving the abuse of her grandson may be over but Ginger Brown's fight for Conner Zwierski, now 7, and other child abuse victims will not end.
Conner's father, Steven Roloff, was sentenced in 2011 to 14 years in prison for abuse of a child and second-degree assault. Brown expects he will be released from prison at the end of 2015.
On March 27, the seventh anniversary of when Conner was almost fatally abused, Brown stood alone outside in the wind at the St. Francois County Courthouse in a red raincoat holding tightly to a sign almost as big as her with the words, "CHILD ABUSE IS NOT OK!!!!"
A victim of child abuse and domestic violence, herself, Brown, 55, of Arnold, hopes she got the message across to someone. She said she will stand up against child abuse as long as God lets her.
She plans to write a book about the abuse she suffered, and the abuse her grandson suffered when he was only 10 weeks old. She feels the book is something she has to do. She has to get the message out there to people because "something has to be done."
In addition to the book, Brown is battling the Department of Social Services with a lawsuit.
Brown says when she reported alleged abuse of Conner when he was just a month old, a social worker told her to mind her own business. She said Roloff was hotlined after she said the baby was bit or given a hickey by Roloff. She said the social worker even noted a bruise on the infant's face but nothing was done. She now believes the boy had two previous skull fractures and electrical wire marks before the incident where he was shaken.
She said there is a lot of stuff Social Services didn't do and she wants answers.
"There's just something not right about the system," she said.
She doesn't know if it's just that the workers aren't being trained right.
But she is willing to fight for answers -- even if it takes her to Capitol Hill.
"(Conner's) civil rights were violated," she said. "He had a right to be protected that day and he was not ... That's what my fight is about and I stand alone."
Conner's life changed in an instant
Little Conner was taken to Cardinal Glennon Hospital at the age of 10 weeks after suffering from occipital hematoma, a left occipital skull fracture, seizures, respiratory problems and bilateral retinal hemorrhaging.
The situation was so dire that doctors really didn't think he'd live through the night.
Doctors determined that Conner had the symptoms of being violently shaken. Roloff immediately became a suspect as he was the one watching the child while the child's mother was at work.
Roloff has not admitted to abusing the child. In fact, instead of pleading guilty, he entered an Alford plea to the charge -- recognizing there was sufficient evidence for trial but not admitting any element of the charge.
As a result of the head injuries, Conner is blind in one eye and has cerebral palsy. He also has speech problems and anger issues. He wears braces due to the cerebral palsy and one leg being longer than the other. He gets confused easily and has problems with reasoning.
Conner gets in trouble at school for anger issues -- actions she believes are directly caused by his brain issues. She said there are just not a lot of resources out there to help children suffering from brain injuries. She desperately wants him to be seen by a neuroscientist and a neuropsychologist so doctors will treat his problems not his symptoms.
Lack of resources is a big problem when it comes to bills, too. While he has Medicaid, she's had problems getting insurance to pay bills. She tried to qualify for food stamps but got approved for just $16 a month. She said the health department is now stepping in to help her some. She just doesn't understand why it's that department and not other departments helping her -- like Social Services.
Conner is in first grade at Fox in Arnold where she said he has "awesome teachers." He undergoes occupational, speech and physical therapy.
He runs and plays like other children and doesn't like to sit still. Brown describes him overall as a happy little boy -- a boy who constantly amazes her.
"He tries harder than anyone I know," she said proudly.
Conner lives with Brown, his maternal grandmother, but gets to visit his mother and stepfather and two brothers as often as they can get together. His mother lives in another state.
Brown said Conner enjoys those visits and getting to visit the beach and hang with real-life Power Rangers his step-dad knows.
Abuse suffered as foster child haunts woman, inspires autobiography
by Dave Hinton
GIFFORD — Mother Teresa called it the greatest disease in the West — to be unwanted, unloved and uncared for. Angie Fry and her twin brother David knew that and worse. Far worse.
The children were born in a London prison to parents who were addicted to heroin. They had to be weaned off the drug and were adopted as foster children at 5 months of age.
Things just got worse from there.
Now married to Ralph Cox and living in Gifford, the former Angie Fry said her foster mother, whom she calls Mrs. Lawrence, had a special hatred for the children for some reason.
In her book "Surviving the Devil (An Account of Adoption and Abuse)," Cox said living with Mrs. Lawrence was like living face to face with the devil.
"Some people say she must have been mentally ill, (but) I won't give her that excuse," Cox said. "She had three biological children. She was so nice to them. She was only abusive to David and I. I just think she was pure evil. I lived with them for 14 years."
An example of the woman's behavior is portrayed in an incident involving a couple of bunny rabbits. Mr. Lawrence — whom Cox said wasn't abusive but wouldn't stop his wife — had given them to the children.
Mrs. Lawrence told the kids to go outside and feed their rabbits. When they did, Cox writes, the children found that Mrs. Lawrence had cut their heads off and left them for the twins to see.
The woman stood at the back door and laughed, Cox said, telling Angie and her brother: "I told you I would get you."
The abuse came to light in England when Irwin Mitchell solicitors won a court case filed against Social Services there for its failure to correct neglect and mistreatment of the children that officials knew was going on, Cox said.
They were each awarded a substantial amount, which Angie said helped her brother a lot in dealing with what happened to them.
"He was in bad shape," she said. "He was a bad recluse, and people would have to go grocery shopping for him. His doctors would have to go to his house. Very sad.
"Since the court case, he's almost had a feeling of definite justice. It's released him. It's acknowledgment saying, 'Hey, I'm sorry.'"
While she has forgiven the Lawrences, Cox said she can never forget. And she doesn't want the same type of abuse happening to other children. That's why she decided to write the book, which details all she and her brother endured.
Twenty percent of the book's proceeds will go toward child abuse awareness, said Cody Crawford of Tate Publishing.
Cox's publisher has asked her to write a second book. Its title — "Broken Until Heaven" — reflects how she will always bear the emotional scars from the abuse.
She still has nightmares.
"It's awful," Cox said. "If someone comes up behind me abruptly, it scares the living daylights out of me. If someone yells, I literally have to leave."
Her 'bright light'
Telling her story comes with a price, Cox says.
"When people find out about your abuse, there are people in the world who like to use it against you," she said. "There's always a stigma.
"So many people have said to me, 'You've got to get over this; you've got to get over this.' That's easier said than done."
The children never were allowed to celebrate their birthdays. They were never allowed to celebrate Christmas. They were never given presents.
And while the rest of the family had Christmas dinner, the closest Cox said she and her brother got to the food was smelling the wonderful aroma.
"There, locked in our room, we could smell the smells of the sausage rolls, all the bacon and turkey," Cox said.
The children were able to break free from the Lawrences at age 14 after Angie was raped by a group of boys at Kingsbury Secondary School. The case went to court, and Mrs. Lawrence blamed it all on Angie, saying, "my biological mother and father knew that David and I would turn out to be bastards and that is why God is punishing us for these things."
After police took the children to a hospital, where their abuse was verified by all of the scars they bore, they went to live with their biological grandmother for a short time. But they soon fled, Angie said, when their stepgrandfather made advances toward her, so they lived for several years on the street.
Angie said they left England for a couple of reasons. For one, they needed to get away from the Lawrence children, who were tormenting them. Second, they went to see her biological mother, who had kicked heroin and moved to the United States. (Her father died a heroin addict.)
The children went on "The Trisha Show" in the UK to tell of their search for their real mother. Show officials tracked down their mother in Colorado.
The reunion initially went well, but soon hit the rocks when it became evident that their mother only wanted to have a relationship with Angie and not her brother.
"She didn't care that we were abused," Cox said.
After that, she said, Angie nearly gave up. But while in Colorado, she was set up on a blind date with Ralph Cox. They have been married for 11 years.
"It was a match made in heaven," she said.
Angie is unable to have children of her own, and she and her husband adopted a 1-year-old girl, Amber, who is now 7.
"She's my bright light. She keeps me breathing," Angie said.
Tornado hits home
It hasn't all been smooth sailing in Illinois, by any means. The Coxes were among those who lost their house in the Nov. 17 tornado that tore through Gifford.
But the loss was mitigated somewhat by the fact that they were in the process of moving to another home — just north of Gifford.
Cox said she remains close to her brother, calling him the most important person in her life outside of her daughter. They speak daily despite living on separate continents.
Cox said people don't seem to understand the emotional trauma that abuse causes. Just escaping the scene doesn't cure all ills.
She has undergone eight surgeries — one to repair damage caused by being sexually abused repeatedly by Mrs. Lawrence.
She has scars from cigarette burns all over her body.
"Half of David's body has been burned with scalding water, and he was slashed with a knife," Cox said.
She doesn't leave the house any more than she has to — she takes anti-anxiety medicine, and her husband does all the grocery shopping. It was difficult just to show up for a book signing last week in Gifford, which about 150 people attended.
Cox looks back on those years of abuse and said she knows that if it weren't for God, she would never have survived.
"I just know that He's been keeping me strong," she said. "There have been times when I would cry out, 'Why? Why? Why?' Now I know what His purpose was. He needed me to be strong so I could help other kids. He knew what His plan was for me. If I didn't have the love I have for God and Jesus, I wouldn't be here today."
Angie Cox said she has forgiven Mrs. Lawrence.
"My hope," she said, "is that she asks for forgiveness."
No place to call home: Abuse in a Christian community
by Boz Tchividjian
A few months ago I was told about a new film that documents the sexual abuse perpetrated upon children at a place called Jesus People USA. At the time, I had never heard of Jesus People USA. So I made contact with Jamie Prater, a former resident of Jesus People USA, who has spent the past years pouring his life into making this eye-opening documentary. After watching No Place to Call Home, I learned that Jesus People USA is a Christian community on the north side of Chicago. It is a place that holds wonderful childhood memories for many of its former members. It is also a place where the bodies and souls of dozens and dozens of precious children were eviscerated through systemic sexual abuse. A place where sexual offenders roamed freely and had easy access to vulnerable little ones, who were often outside the care and supervision of their parents. This was no place to call home.
As I watched this film and listened to the many heartbreaking interviews, I found myself overwhelmed. If we are honest, I wonder how many other Christian environments may be No Place to Call Home for His little ones?
Below is my exclusive interview with Jamie Prater:
Boz: Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me. What is No Place To Call Home about?
Jamie: No Place To Call Home chronicles the lives of several people born and raised in Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church. The film begins in 2008 when I'm living in Asheville, North Carolina and follows my journey back to Chicago and through my discovery of what would be dozens upon dozens of cases of child sexual abuse.
Boz: How did you come up with the title?
Jaime: What drew me to No Place To Call Home as a title was that I've always felt like a stranger in the world, by nature of first of all, how I was raised, in an extreme religious, cult-like environment, to being biracial, and then being gay and knowing that since the age of 4. Since leaving Jesus People USA in August of 1999, finding home has been a struggle for me.
There's a beautiful song by Ray La Montagne called Empty, which perfectly captures what I've felt the entirety of my life. In essence, there is no place to call home, no history I can engage without it being highly painful. I look for home, I look for rest, I have not found it.
Boz: Tell us a little bit about Jesus People U.S.A.?
Jamie: Jesus People USA or the acronym as it's known by JPUSA is an intentional religious commune that resides in the Uptown neighborhood on Chicago's north side. JPUSA was founded in 1972 by Dawn Herrrin and her then husband, John Wiley Herrin Sr.
As an alternative to the sex and drug counter culture on the rise during the late 1960s and 1970s, JPUSA's answer was Jesus, and they traveled around the country on a big bus, preaching the gospel, and spreading Christ's love. One day their bus broke down in Chicago, and the Jesus People decided to stay. After staying at Faith Tabernacle for some time, the Jesus People began purchasing their own buildings to house their members. All of their members live together at the commune on a voluntary basis and any money they earn through commune owned businesses is pooled together to cover operating costs, food, housing, and shelter. The commune still operates in that same way today.
Boz: Does Jesus People U.S.A. have any type of leadership structure?
Jamie: Jesus People USA is governed by a board of leaders known as ‘The Council', all of whom are self elected, have perpetual terms, and a majority that are related by blood or marriage. Jesus People USA joined the Evangelical Covenant Church in 1989.
Boz: How did you first become acquainted with Jesus People U.S.A.?
Jamie: My parents were a part of an intentional community on Chicago's south side called New Life. Predominantly African American (with the exception of my mother) New Life was formed with help by JPUSA. In 1978, an agreement was made and New Life and JPUSA joined together. That was when I was 2 years old. I have no other childhood memories outside of my life at JPUSA. For all intents and purposes, I say I was born at JPUSA.
Boz: Why did you make this documentary?
Jamie: About a year after moving to Asheville, I began what would be a series of conversations with a person I had grown up with at JPUSA. Her name is Allyson, and we began to talk about our childhood experiences at JPUSA, both traumatic and enjoyable times. During those initial conversations, sexual abuse wasn't mentioned. However, during these discussions I realized that there was so much to process about our years spent at JPUSA. Our living conditions, being raised by so many people, having essentially hundreds of other siblings, and having the church control and inform every aspect of our young lives. When we really got into personal stories, it was like a light went on inside my head. Having always struggled for purpose in my life, knowing that God had put me on this beautiful planet for a reason, when I quickly came to the realization that I could put my film school and formal documentary training to use by capturing interviews of so many I knew and grew up with; It was like purpose was staring at me in the face for the first time ever. I soon made plans to interview as many people as I could and promptly moved back to Chicago in February of 2009.
As I say in the film, I wasn't at all prepared for what I would uncover in the process.
Boz: So we know what prompted the interest in collecting stories, but why make a film about them?
Jamie: That is a great question. Initially, my film, then titled 'Born: Growing Up In A Religious Commune' was more about the thoughts and impressions of people who had spent time as children at JPUSA. In the first version of the film, a woman named Heather Kool and I candidly spoke about abuse we suffered when we were children. At the time, I only had a vague knowledge of others who had also been abused.
When I made that first cut available to about 250 former members through a private Facebook page, it was only then, when so many more accounts of childhood sexual abuse poured out. Not long after, I heard back from 120 people who had spent time or grown up in Jesus People USA, of which 66 disclosed that they had experienced sexual abuse as children. That's over 50 percent! Since then, more have come forward and that number has risen to 73 occurrences. It was only after all of these accounts of childhood sexual abuse poured out that I realized what story I was supposed to be telling.
Going back to your original question of ‘why make it?' I've pondered that. There aren't many other films that tackle this subject, especially in the context of an extreme religious setting. I suppose my question in response would be ‘how could I not make this film?' What do I do with this information? Who do I give it to? I felt it my calling and duty in life to expose all of this to the light.
Boz: Were you sexually victimized as a child at JPUSA?
Jamie: I am the survivor of sexual abuse as a child. It only happened to me once, but it would alter the course of my life. I was ten years old when it happened, and the man I accused continued to stay in my bedroom, substitute teach me in school, and later live on my floor with his family.
Boz: Did being an abuse survivor have anything to do with why you made this film?
Jamie: I would say that being a survivor isn't so much the impetus for me as much as having this instinctual need to expose the truth and correct a dark history that has been rewritten by those who refuse to believe that the horrors of abuse went on in such a place. We existed. What we suffered was real, we aren't liars, we aren't crazy. The world has to know.
Boz: Have you received any criticism for making this film? Explain.
Jamie: Yes, I have received criticism, and it's come in many forms. I've been accused of lying about my abuse for most of my life. That has undoubtedly been some of the most hurtful and emotional criticism I've experienced. Other criticism has been aimed at the other people who bravely chose to participate in this film by sharing their deeply personal and painful experiences. Some of these people have been called crazy, liars, unstable and other things. I realized that by making this film I was opening myself and others up for intense criticism, nasty attacks, and even in some cases outright lies. It's always hard to hear.
Boz: How do you deal with such seemingly painful criticism?
Jamie: I deal with criticism by letting it go. I can't dwell on it. I have to concentrate on moving forward, on finding a future for myself. Right now, to be completely honest, I've nothing left. This journey has taken more then it has given. I am without direction, and I'm trying to figure out what is next.
Boz: How has the abuse at Jesus People U.S.A. impacted your life? Is it something that you will ever be able to put behind you? Explain.
Jamie: That's another great question, and somewhat emotional for me. The abuse I endured only happened one time, and despite me telling the authorities, nothing was ever done, and everyone concluded that I had lied about the incident. I was not able to attend therapy at the time of my abuse. Therapy was not an option as it would draw suspicious eyes to JPUSA, and that would've required the JPUSA leadership believing the event happened for starters, and the leadership never wanted that. As a result of it (the abuse), I continued through my teenage years, exposing myself to strange adult men that leadership would place into my room. Despite knowing my same sex attraction from the age of 4, my abuse distorted my ability to engage in healthy relationships. Intimacy was pursued in many different unhealthy and destructive ways. This distortion would follow me into my adult life.
It has taken many years of processing this and introspection to correct this behavior. I have since learned quite a bit about myself and ways in which to find wholeness in terms of healthy romantic relationships. I think it is important to note that I was sexually abused once. I cannot begin to even comprehend the devastating lifelong impacts upon my peers at JPUSA who suffered from repeated abuse.
As far as putting the incident behind me. I don't know. I have forgiven the man, and I did so long ago. I don't have a great way of answering this question. It's an ongoing process for me.
I would also say that my experiences with Jesus People USA Evangelical Covenant Church have made me wholly untrusting of religious institutions and churches. I do not call myself a Christian; I have little faith in group thought. I have witnessed more lives damaged by religion then helped by it. I am a firm Theist. I believe in the life and works of Jesus. I aspire to be like him, but I additionally believe that god, whatever it may be, is big enough to speak to its creation any way it wishes to. I firmly believe that god has many voices and representatives in all faiths and cultures. I suppose however that a positive outcome of my time at JPUSA is that god became much bigger after I left and relearned what I had learned. Because of my upbringing, I had been taught that God acted and behaved certain ways. When I left JPUSA, I began what I can only describe as a regurgitation of that upbringing. I questioned all of it, all of the time. I had to believe it was true for me, not just because that's what I was taught. That process continues today. What I discovered is that God is bigger then what was always described, and the love of God is more overwhelming and positive then I had ever experienced.
Boz: In your opinion, what kind of spiritual impacts do children suffer from when sexually abused in a faith community such as Jesus People U.S.A.?
Jamie: The spiritual impacts I've seen upon those abused in religious cultures are largely a rejection of their faith and god. That's number one. Number two is lack of identity, and the inability to find a footing in life. Some of the people in my film have parents that still live in JPUSA and some of those parents choose not believe their child's disclosure of sexual abuse. Some times, parents' love and loyalty for the commune trumps their love for their own children. I am fortunate as my family is no longer a part of JPUSA and they've supported me in this endeavor from day one. I don't know how I would survive without their support, but instead was doubted and held in suspicion.
Boz: Do you have any positive memories from your time at Jesus People U.S.A.?
Jamie: There were so many wonderful aspects of communal living I remember as a young child. As mentioned earlier, growing up with so many siblings, feeling like I had so many parents, being a part of the neighborhood, communal parties, birthdays…there were and are amazing times experienced. I think it's important to see the good and discuss it while discussing so much of the bad.
I wouldn't change many of my happy childhood experiences.
Having said that, if given the chance I certainly would change how things were handled and how so many others and I were treated. I do appreciate growing up in such a unique way.
Boz: What do you hope will be accomplished by this film?
I just want to shine a light. That was always my number one goal. I want the truth to be heard and validated. I hope my film helps other abuse survivors who may have no connection to JPUSA find healing and wholeness. In many ways, that's happening right now. I also realize that these stories are just the surface. There is so much more here then just sexual abuse. I am hopeful that someone takes up the mantel to investigate and speak out about the many other damaging aspects and issues as experienced by so many other people while living at Jesus People U.S.A. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
Boz: Where can we find No Place To Call Home ?
Jamie: No Place To Call Home can be purchased for download through our website www.noplacetocallhome.com. Our official Facebook page is www.facebook.com/NoPlaceToCallHomeDocumentary
“Boz” Tchividjian is a former child abuse chief prosecutor and is the founder and executive director of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). Boz is also an Associate Professor of Law at Liberty University School of Law, and is a published author who speaks and writes extensively on issues related to abuse within the faith community. He is the 3rd-eldest grandchild of the Rev. Billy Graham.
Pedophile support programs challenge community hatred
by Daniella Miletic
Is redemption possible for paedophiles?
Barbara pulls a thick stack of handwritten notes from a cloth bag, places them on the table and starts talking in a voice that never rises above the softly conversational. On a warm Melbourne morning in a city cafe, she smiles comfortably but glances discreetly around, not wanting to be overheard. There are few topics, she says, that are more volatile than the one she is here to talk about.
She grips a small clump of her hair, saying it was fear that drained the pigment from these strands the day her husband told her his secret. The day she decided to leave. ''It caused instant menopause. I decided I was going to go,'' she says, and then stops. ''I love him. It's bloody hard.''
Even when pressed, she offers little more detail of that day, of that time, of the crime her husband revealed to her. ''The fact is, I knew he was in a bad place and I suppose my head didn't want to let the suspicions through. But once I knew, I told him what we had to do, and that was to hand himself in.''
Barbara convinced her husband to confess and he went to jail. She chose to stand by him because of her love and her religious faith, she says. If anything else had been wrong with him, if he were schizophrenic, an alcoholic, she knows she would have tried to help him. ''People might hate these men, but God doesn't,'' she says. ''And one of the reasons Jesus got nailed on the cross was for mixing with the wrong kind of people. Back then it was prostitutes and lepers.''
Today, it is paedophiles.
But Barbara believes in redemption. When she was growing up, her father worked in prison reform, helping criminals, mainly men, restart their lives outside prison. Often, he would take them into the family home. ''They would live with us until they got work. They were my friends,'' says Barbara. ''We wouldn't talk about their crimes, most criminals don't want to talk about that, but we often talked about their lives when their lives were good. Their memories.''
Since her husband's release several years ago, Barbara has dedicated her own life to his rehabilitation, learning about paedophilia and its treatments and watching him to make sure he never does anything like it again. She read about a Canadian program that aims to prevent child abuse by creating a friendship group around sex offenders. She felt there were similarities to Alcoholics Anonymous and believed it might work for her husband. Besides, no other treatment program was on offer except a Salvation Army course for drug addiction, which he also took on, because his was an addiction of a kind.
She has been unofficially mimicking the program since he was released, with just her and a counsellor as his support group. For years she has also been campaigning, pleading - with police, politicians, church groups - for help to start a group to make the treatment available for all child sex offenders in Australia once they get out of jail.
Barbara says she had not prepared herself for the hatred, sometimes the violence, she would encounter. ''I am trying to make sense of the monster theory, the rock spider thing,'' she writes in a diary entry almost a decade old. ''I have discovered a wall of suspicion, and an overwhelming resistance to viewing sexual offending as anything but the worse kind of intentional evil …
''The resistance is so great, that anyone who bears any other kind of message is viewed as naive at best, and plain evil at worst … The experts in this area stay very quiet for they also shrink from the hysterical reactions. Consequently most people do not doubt the monster model, and seem to prefer to believe that either these people are untreatable or that they don't deserve to be treated.''
This is why a treatment program like Circles of Support and Accountability, she says, one that carries the motto ''No More Victims'', can't seem to get off the ground here. ''It's madness,'' she says, shaking her head.
In 1994, the first support group or ''circle'' was formed around a paedophile named Charlie Taylor. A Mennonite pastor called Harry Nigh from Ontario, Canada, was asked to help Taylor, who had a low IQ, settle into a community upon his release. The people of the town knew he was coming and didn't want to have him. He had been in and out of jail for offences against young children since his teens.
Nigh set up a church group of about six volunteers to support Taylor, with one person meeting him each day to talk and do things that friends do like have coffees and take walks. And to monitor him. At the end of the week they would all meet for a meal and to find out how Taylor, ''the core member'', was doing. Taylor would talk about his problems.
He died in 2006. In the 12 years between his release and his death, it is believed that he never reoffended. The program began to spread. The method expanded across Canada, where studies demonstrated a 70 per cent reduction in reoffending rates, and also to the UK and the US.
After the death of Taylor in Ottawa, a handful of community and faith groups met in the late 2000s with the aim of starting a COSA pilot in Victoria. The group eventually disbanded without fulfilling their goal.
Criminologist Kelly Richards, of Queensland University of Technology, was a member of the group. Growing up in Western Sydney, Richards can remember becoming interested in sexual violence as a child - she recalls her mother switching off the television so she wouldn't see a news report on the gang rape and murder of Anita Cobby.
As she began her PhD on restorative justice, she became frustrated by what she describes as the ''pitchfork mentality'' when discussing the rehabilitation of child sex offenders in Australia. ''There is always this harsh, stringent approach from the public and it is primitive in a way, and this is an awful word to use, but the driving of (NSW paedophile) Dennis Ferguson out of town, over and over again, while completely understandable, was also, as I learnt more, so counterproductive.''
Often, she says, child sex offenders are released from prison with little planning, few skills or resources, lack of housing, small chance of employment and few social contacts. Child sex offenders, in particular, have often burnt their bridges with family, who are sometimes their victims.
She remembers reading about COSA programs for the first time and being startled by their results. One Ottawa study in 2007 found that sex offenders involved in COSA had an 83 per cent reduction in sexual reoffending compared with offenders who weren't in the program. Another review in the UK, where circles have existed under the radar for more than a decade, found that none of its 71 past clients had made another contact offence over a four-year period. A control group of 71 criminals with a similar offending history had committed 10 new offences in the same period.
In 2009 she received funding to travel to Canada, the UK and the US to observe meetings firsthand. What Richards saw was an approach familiar from a thousand TV police shows: good cop, bad cop. Most of the circles she observed appeared to consist of a softer, supportive volunteer and more direct ones, ''the bad guys of the group'', who felt more comfortable challenging the sex offender. Offenders would be asked about the challenges of their week, from work problems to their sexual fantasies. ''Apart from that, they will have a cup of tea and a general chat,'' she says.
During some meetings, she was shocked by how forthright some of the volunteers were. ''I had my doubts at first. As many volunteers come from faith backgrounds, I had suspected that they may be naive. But I was surprised that for the most part, volunteers were neither naive nor timid. One semi-retired Catholic woman had no problems confronting her 'core member' about his sexual fantasies and masturbatory habits.''
Barbara believes there are people in the Australian community who would be willing to be volunteers, perhaps retired legal professionals and social workers. She says her decision to stay with her husband meant, to almost everyone she knew, that she too was sinister, or at best misguided. She lost her job in teaching, her house (to victim's crime compensation), her friends.
She and her husband were forced to move states when their address was discovered by the media. As she recalls that night and her last move, she begins to cry.
''If a young man in school, growing up, started to realise that he had a problem, that he was attracted to young people, then we have made such a thing of it in society that he really couldn't put his hand up and say 'I need help' … if they have got this problem, what are they to do about it?''
Barbara says some offenders struggle with mental health issues and some are naive when it comes to relationships. She believes many offenders need help to learn how to relate to people appropriately.
Barbara says that like her husband, who was abused by a woman outside his family when he was a child, research points to abuse breeding abuse. ''I think this had a huge effect on him, he had no counselling …''
A 2012 study by the Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science in Melbourne found victims of child sexual abuse were almost five times more likely than the general population to be charged with any offence than their non-abused counterparts. The strongest associations found were for sexual and violent offences. One in 10 boys who are sexually abused after puberty go on to become convicted sex offenders, it found.
Barbara has had no formal training in how to best support sex offenders yet she now believes she knows this part of her husband's psyche as intimately as any person other than he could. She knows what sort of television advertisement might trigger his arousal. Once an ad with young children dressed as adults doing their banking came on, and she made him talk about it.
Part of the treatment she uses, based on COSA principles, involves talking exhaustively and preparing for all possible encounters with children. The couple went through thousands of scenarios where he might unintentionally encounter a child. And there have been unexpected encounters.
''He was asked by a lady and a whole heap of kids to drive them home one day, and one of the problems these men have … is that they are not very assertive. But he has learnt to be more assertive. So he rang me, and I took them home. He has had to learn little techniques.''
In an office at RMIT's Centre for Innovative Justice, former attorney-general Rob Hulls pulls out a thick folder he keeps full of documents relating to COSAs. His time in politics has left him with a belief that treatment programs for offenders should be better. He remembers having visited a transitional facility called Corella Place, near Ararat Prison, built to house sex offenders who are placed on extended supervision orders after they have served their sentence. In Hulls' mind, the residents were still captive.
''I thought: is this the only option we have with sex offenders? To incarcerate them forever? Create a legal myth, in effect, that they are living in the community, when in fact they weren't. The only people that they seemed to be interacting with, when I was there, was themselves. Almost like a lepers' commune.''
When he was made head of the centre he was funded by the federal government to research better justice outcomes in sexual assault cases, with a focus on giving victims better outcomes. It was around this time that he also started to investigate the idea of using trained community volunteers as part of treatment programs. ''It is actually ensuring that members of the community assist in taking responsibility for that person's behaviour and their rehabilitation.''
Hulls says the debate that informs the way Australians think and talk about sex offenders needs to be reframed. ''People take the view that if you are proposing things that are diverting perpetrators away from the criminal justice system you are soft on crime, or you are anti-victims,'' he says. ''Unless you are proposing things that only focus on victims' needs, you are a dirty rotten scoundrel who is on the wrong side of the debate. We have to reframe the debate and not pit one side against the other.''
The idea of a sex offender being a monster who can never be rehabilitated, Hulls says, appeals to many people who believe in electronic monitoring, naming and shaming, and vilifying offenders for the rest of their lives. But he says the issue is more complicated than that and that simply stigmatising and alienating offenders will not make us safer. ''We should all be about the same goal - no more victims. Reintegrating offenders and surrounding them with a COSA is likely to help in their rehabilitation, and therefore goes further towards this goal, which should be a joint goal of both victim and offender advocates.''
It is unreasonable to ask victims to turn their focus to offender rehabilitation when most survivors are keen to concentrate on their own healing, says Clare Leaney, of the victims' advocacy group, In Good Faith Foundation. In the three years she has worked trying to bring healing and justice to victims of clergy and religious abuse, she believes the most common view among victims is that there is no reliable form of treatment for sex offenders.
''Of course, from a victim's perspective, a lot of people we work with don't feel that it is possible for their offender to be rehabilitated, that is the predominant feeling,'' Leaney says. Even so, she thinks the idea of an offender taking accountability for their crimes, as is part of COSA treatment, would appeal to victims. ''We try to focus on a restorative justice process for the victims, and that does involve the offender, in some cases the institution, being accountable.''
Forensic psychiatrist Paul Mullen believes many sex offenders are able to control their sexual actions. His career, started by an interest in psychiatry after reading Freud's case histories at age 14, included being the director of the state's service for treating mentally ill criminal offenders. He has seen many child sex offenders and thinks the best treatment programs involve ''managing people''.
''For many of the people we see, their molestation arose from opportunistic, unthinking brutality,'' he says. They were drunk, they were frustrated, they had access to a vulnerable child. Often it isn't their first sexual preference, it is just that for one reason or another, that's how they acted.
''For that group, you have to increase awareness of the damage they're doing. Increase empathy for victims. Offer skills to direct their sexuality towards adults. Often managing their substance abuse and their difficulties relating to people assists.''
Like Barbara, Mullen believes in medication to reduce sex drive for men whose primary sexual desire is towards children. Part of the problem in being able to effectively treat child molesters, Mullen says, is that the public believe that treatment is a criminal justice issue. He believes the register of sex offenders is ''not much use'' in preventing child sex abuse and instead believes in such approaches as high school sex education classes. ''We forget that one of the largest group of molesters are adolescent boys, and we should be educating these adolescent boys about the damage it does, and importantly the damage it will do to them.''
The public, he says, also needs to better understand the issue, beginning with the knowledge that the risk of recidivism among child molesters is lower than they might think. Mullen says fewer than 20 per cent of first-time offenders who have sexually abused a child will do it again. COSAs, he says, would work best with people who have been through the courts twice or more - because he thinks these are the people far more likely to reoffend.
Barbara says she has hope - both for the program and for herself. ''There is so much more we could be doing to prevent this, that we are not doing, because we are too busy hating the men.''
In the meantime, there is love. The faces of the 100 family and friends who stood beside them as they exchanged vows at an impromptu wedding almost two decades ago have faded. Now it is just the two of them, sharing a love entangled with eternal vigilance. ''I try to think of a life without him, but it just doesn't work,'' she wrote in her diary once. ''I love that feeling when he drives into the drive and I feel complete again.'' She and her husband are building a home in the country. She wants to stay and watch the fig tree she planted grow. Every day, she says, he tells her he is sorry.
*Barbara is not her real name.
Escondido man accused of sex assault on LAX flight
by Allison Ash
SAN DIEGO - An Escondido man is in federal custody in Salt Lake City, accused of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old girl aboard a Delta Airlines flight from Los Angeles International Airport this week.
Sixty-seven-year-old Hans Loudermilk is charged with two federal counts of sexual abuse of a minor on an aircraft.
According to the complaint, when Loudermilk boarded Flight 2341 from LAX to Salt Lake City Tuesday, he stood in the aisle and asked the girl if she would move to the middle seat. The two began talking, but as the flight got close to its destination, the conversation turned sexual in nature.
The complaint says Loudermilk told the girl she should take a drive with him. He then added that in Utah, he could marry her at her current age.
As Loudermilk began touching the girl, the complaint says, he told her “that he could teach her things sexually that boys her age could not.”
He began touching her inner thigh. The complaint says the 15-year-old “got extremely nervous and wanted this to end.”
After the plane landed, the girl sought out a TSA officer and said she had been assaulted.
According to the complaint, when Loudermilk saw her talking to the agent, he stepped into a gift store, where he removed the shirt he was wearing and replaced it with a black jacket “as to possibly avoid detection by law enforcement.”
Loudermilk's sister, Lydia Vogt of Vista, told 10News Friday that the charges are “ridiculous.” She said the actions described in the complaint are “completely out of character” for her brother.
“Whatever happened, it seems it's been blown out of proportion,” Vogt said.
Vogt said she hopes her brother will be allowed to come home after he appears before a federal judge in Utah Monday.
From the Department of Justice
Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs Karol V. Mason Delivers Remarks at the 30th National Symposium on Child Abuse
Thank you, Chris [Newlin]. I'm delighted to be here in Huntsville and thrilled to join this large and distinguished group of child-serving professionals. It's inspiring to see the number of people from all over the country and around the world – and from across many disciplines – who work so hard every day to protect our children. I bring you the Attorney General's gratitude for the incredible work you all do.
I want to thank Chris, in particular, for his wonderful hospitality. As a fellow southerner, I feel right at home. As I'm sure everyone here knows, Chris is an amazing advocate for the work you all do and someone who cares deeply about the safety and health of America's kids. Thank you, Chris, for your terrific leadership and for all you do on behalf of our children.
And let me thank Marilyn Grundy, as well. I know Marilyn has been the chief organizer of this conference for about a quarter of a century. Judging by the number of people who come to Huntsville year after year, not to mention the impressive range of topics being covered, she has once again done us all – and all of America – a great service.
Finally, I want to recognize one of my own colleagues at the Office of Justice Programs. Many of you know Lou Ann Holland from our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. She is the program manager responsible for our work with children's advocacy centers, and she joins me on the dais. I want you all to know that she is one of the stalwart supporters of child advocacy centers in the federal government. You could have no better friend in Washington.
I want to say how proud I am to be with you today. I have long been a supporter of the work of our nation's child advocacy centers, and I know what an incredible asset they have been to child welfare and public safety in America. It's hard not to be a fan of the work you all do. Your mission is to help children who have suffered negligence, mistreatment, and abuse, and to get them through the worst times they will ever experience in their young lives. This is a tall order, and a great deal is expected of you – but you have risen to the challenge.
Thanks to your efforts, kids across the country who are brought into contact with our child protective and justice systems are getting the services they need to deal with the trauma they've experienced. They are receiving access to critical medical care. They are benefitting from more coordinated and more efficient case management and processing. In cases of child sexual abuse, they are seeing speedier filing decisions and much higher prosecution rates. And they are less afraid of being interviewed and of other aspects of the process – which is, in my view, one of the most important markers.
You are taking care of our kids when others have failed them. You play a vital role, and I, for one, am proud to be your partner. Last year, we awarded more than $5 million to the National Children's Advocacy Center and to the four regional child advocacy Centers, and we made additional funding through the National Children's Alliance to support local child advocacy centers and accreditation programs.
More funding will be available this year, and I am also pleased that President Obama's budget request for next year includes $11 million for programs to support responses to child maltreatment. This funding will potentially provide critical operational assistance to child advocacy centers and valuable training and technical assistance that will further strengthen the multidisciplinary response to child abuse cases.
We are standing with you because we share an important goal: an America where all children live without the threat of harm and where those who have encountered violence and abuse have the support and resources they need to survive and thrive.
This is a top priority of mine and of the Attorney General's. Since his days as a prosecutor, Eric Holder has recognized the terrible impact of violence, trauma, and abuse on children and the importance of coordinating our response to these cases. As Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno, he launched an initiative called Safe Start, which was designed to reduce the impact of children's exposure to violence.
When he took office as Attorney General in 2009, he picked up where he left off. In response to a study released that year by our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, he was determined to muster all available resources to address this problem head on. And so he launched an effort called Defending Childhood.
The goal of Defending Childhood is fairly straightforward: To improve our understanding of the impact of children's exposure to violence and to turn that knowledge into workable strategies and effective programs. In other words, we're working to find evidence-based approaches that will counter the effects of violence in children.
This work comes at a critical time. The study I mentioned a moment ago showed the astonishing prevalence of violence in the lives of America's children. More than 60 percent – that's six-zero – of kids in the United States are exposed to some form of violence, crime, or abuse, ranging from brief encounters as witnesses to serious violent episodes as victims. Almost 40 percent are direct victims of 2 or more violent acts.
I think you'll all agree that these numbers are alarming and unacceptable. Attorney General Holder put it best when he said that kids are “living with violence at rates that we, as adults, would never tolerate.”
I don't have to tell any of you that the consequences of this exposure can be serious. It can lead to poor performance in school. It can lead to drug and alcohol abuse. It can lead to long-term physical and psychological harm. And it can lead to involvement with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. And that's not even the full story. A growing body of research in developmental psychology and neuroscience is showing us that trauma does great harm to the brain and can have life-long consequences. Kids who are exposed to violence have higher rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other physical issues. They're at greater risk of future victimization and suicide. Exposure to violence damages a child's DNA the way smoking or radiation exposure does, which means it can significantly shorten one's life.
And this damage extends beyond the individual children who are affected. We all feel the effects in rising healthcare, criminal justice, and other public costs. And violence robs us of a future generation of leaders. This is a significant public safety problem that is fast becoming a serious public health problem – and it requires a full-throated response.
The good news is that we know that kids are resilient. When met with the proper response, they are capable of overcoming the challenges that violence presents. The key is to intervene with effective programs and as early as possible. Under Defending Childhood, we're supporting demonstration programs to help build our base of evidence about what works, and we're supporting research that will give us the scientific knowledge we need to improve our collective response.
One of the key elements of Defending Childhood was a national task force that held hearings across the country and examined the research on children's exposure to violence. The task force, which was co-chaired by Joe Torre and Bob Listenbee, who is now the Administrator of our Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and one of the most dedicated child advocates you'll ever meet, produced a report with 56 recommendations for researchers and policymakers and practitioners at all levels.
A theme echoed throughout the report is the need for trauma-informed care for those who experience violence – in other words, responses that take into account triggers of trauma and that work to avoid re-traumatizing those being served. Given the emphasis on this approach, it should come as no surprise that many of the recommendations have implications for child advocacy centers. This is further evidence that the work done by the people in this room is vital to the safety and well-being of our nation's children.
It also recognizes the vast scope of your efforts. Here in the U.S., child advocacy centers served more than 293,000 children in 2013 alone. Centers reach kids in 19 countries and in every corner of the United States, from the most populated urban centers to the smallest rural communities.
I'm especially grateful for the work being done in underserved areas like Indian country. One of the major findings of the National Task Force on Children's Exposure to Violence was the need for more work to understand and respond to children in tribal communities.
Rates of crime and violence in some tribal areas are alarmingly high, and while current research doesn't give us a complete picture of the scope of violence among native children, we have some evidence to show that they are particularly vulnerable. A 2008 report by the Indian Country Child Trauma Center calculated that native youth are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience trauma when compared with their non-native peers.
Because relatively little is known about violence against American Indian and Alaska Native children and because what we do know is of great concern, the Attorney General appointed a new task force specifically to study this issue. That task force is now holding hearings throughout the country, addressing issues such as the impact of child sexual abuse, the intersection between child maltreatment and domestic violence, and the impact of the juvenile justice system.
In conjunction with the most recent hearing in Arizona, my staff and members of the task force had the opportunity to visit a terrific child advocacy center in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. The center is run by a real dynamo named Sheri Freemont, who's the former chief tribal prosecutor.
The center is a wonderful example of coordinated, culturally-oriented services. The environment is child-friendly. The advocates are steeped in trauma-informed care. They handle all interviews on-site. They use technology to maximize information access. And their approach is built on both traditional values and evidence-based methods.
Ms. Freemont is an outstanding spokesperson for the child advocacy community. Her testimony before the task force emphasized the important work done by child and family advocacy centers and multidisciplinary teams. Hearing her, it was clear that, although there's a great deal of work to be done, there is no shortage of energy and commitment on the part of our tribal partners.
We must apply that same level of energy and commitment to all the children we serve. This goes especially for children living in disadvantaged communities, a disproportionate number of whom are children of color. Our intervention with these kids is critical because it can mean the difference between a life of frustration and disappointment and one characterized by opportunity.
The President is committed to seeing that minority youth have the same chance to succeed as everyone else and that their chances of success extend into their teenage and adult years. Last month, he announced a new initiative called My Brother's Keeper, which is designed to support young men of color who are willing to work hard and play by the rules. He's asked for support from businesses and philanthropies and he's directed federal agencies to focus on ways we can improve opportunities for these young men.
My Brother's Keeper is a natural next step in the work so many of you are already doing – meeting the needs of disadvantaged young people and helping them overcome the obstacles that have been placed in their way.
We know this is a huge challenge. Thousands of children – in communities across America – are in need of your services, and your response will help determine the course of their future, whether it will be one darkened by the violence and abuse they have experienced or one lit by the care and hope you provide.
I have no doubt, knowing the work each of you is doing already, that we are capable of great things. I know that we have a strong and ever-growing community of advocates striving diligently every day to help children in need. And I am confident that, working together, sharing ideas, and supporting one another, we will create a brighter future for the children who come into our nation's child advocacy centers.
Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service to America's children.
Nationwide manhunt for 'John Doe' child pornography producer who sexually abused infant and toddler ends with arrest in central Florida
MIAMI – A central Florida man was arrested late Tuesday by Polk County Sherriff's Office (PCSO) deputies and special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) after HSI's national Cyber Crimes Center in the Washington, D.C., area determined that the man was a prime suspect in a national "John Doe" warrant.
Benjamin Cuadrado, 40, of Lakeland, Fla., was arrested by PCSO on state charges for two counts of capital sexual battery of a child under 12. Federal child pornography production charges will also be brought against Cuadrado by HSI. HSI special agents in Miami discovered six videos of two infants being sexually abused by an adult male, whose face was partially visible in the videos, following an unrelated search warrant conducted by HSI, Secret Service, Miami Beach Police Department and Miami Dade School Board Police in August 2013. With assistance from a forensics sketch artist from Fairfax County Police in Virginia and the Department of Justice's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section in Washington, HSI's Cyber Crimes Center obtained the national John Doe warrant on March 20. On March 25, further analysis by the Cyber Crimes Center identified a potential suspect in Lakeland and notified HSI Tampa and Miami.
"Protecting children from sexual abuse and exploitation is one of HSI's most vital missions," said HSI Associate Director James Dinkins. "We are dedicated to working at both the local level and internationally to ensure that there is no refuge for child predators. These predators may think that they can hide behind the anonymity of cyber space, but we are happy to remind them how mistaken they are."
According to PCSO, Cuadrado admitted post-Miranda to sexually abusing two victims, ages 2 years and 13 months, and to videotaping the abuse. Cuadrado will remain in the Polk County Jail under no bond until his initial appearance this afternoon.
"This man is a monster. There are no other words to describe him," said BCSO Sheriff Grady Judd. "We commend the Department of Homeland Security for tenaciously following the trail that led to his arrest."
HSI Tampa and PCSO are both members of the local Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.
This investigation was conducted under HSI's Operation Predator, an international initiative to protect children from sexual predators. Since the launch of Operation Predator in 2003, HSI has arrested more than 10,000 individuals for crimes against children, including the production and distribution of online child pornography, traveling overseas for sex with minors, and sex trafficking of children. In fiscal year 2013, more than 2,000 individuals were arrested by HSI special agents under this initiative.
HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock by investigators. Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-THE-LOST.
For additional information about wanted suspected child predators, download HSI's Operation Predator smartphone app or visit the online suspect alerts page.
HSI is a founding member and current chair of the Virtual Global Taskforce, an international alliance of law enforcement agencies and private industry sector partners working together to prevent and deter online child sexual abuse.
ICE launches national cyber safety campaign to help protect kids from online sexual predators
Goal of Project iGuardian – teach young people to 'think before you click'
MISSION VIEJO, Calif. – Determined to curb the escalating number of children falling prey to sexual predators online, representatives from federal and local law enforcement, along with a leading children's advocacy organization, announced Tuesday the launch of Project iGuardian, a first-of-its-kind national cyber safety campaign spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC).
Project iGuardian is viewed as a vital next step in HSI's ongoing effort to combat online child sexual predation. Last year alone, HSI special agents logged nearly a million hours working child sexual exploitation cases, opening more than 4,000 investigations. Just last week, ICE announced a probe targeting a child exploitation scheme operating on the Darknet's Onion Router that identified more than 250 minors, in the U.S. and around the globe, who had been sexually exploited. As part of the scheme, the14 defendants allegedly duped and enticed the juvenile victims into producing sexually explicit material of themselves.
"The online sexual exploitation of children has reached epidemic proportions," said ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale. "Increasingly these incidents involve young people who are self-producing explicit images and sending them over the Internet. We can't arrest our way out of this problem. Raising awareness about the risks that lurk in cyberspace is key to helping keep kids safe."
As part of Project iGuardian, HSI special agents together with their law enforcement partners, will visit schools and youth groups across the country to provide children and parents with hands-on tips on how to avoid falling victim to online sexual predators. Using super hero-style characters and trading cards developed expressly for the initiative, the law enforcement personnel will remind young computer users to "think before you click." The presentations are age-appropriate, adapted for audiences ranging from grade school students to youths in their early teens
In companion briefings tailored for adults, Project iGuardian presenters will discuss resources parents can use to protect their children from cyber predators and monitor kids' online activity. Much of the material included in the presentations was originally developed by NCMEC, which provides Internet safety and prevention resources for families and professionals who work with children, through its NetSmartz Workshop.
"By educating families and children about the risks, we can arm them with information and strategies that empower them to make safer decisions online," said John Ryan, NCMEC president and CEO. "We applaud HSI for this natural next step in their work to protect children by delivering this information to communities nationwide."
HSI will be working closely with its partner law enforcement agencies from the 61 Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces nationwide to coordinate and conduct the Project iGuardian presentations. The initiative builds on the outreach already being conducted by ICAC personnel in local jurisdictions, giving the effort a national scope. According to the participating agencies, cyber safety education not only aids in prevention, it also frequently generates valuable case leads.
"Educating families as to the dangers that exist online continues to be of paramount importance," said Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. "The Project iGuardian presentations exemplify how the collaborative efforts of law enforcement can positively impact the future of online safety and prevention of sexual predation of our children."
HSI and the Orange County Sheriff's Department have already conducted more than a dozen Project iGuardian presentations for schools and youth groups in Orange County in the last several months, many on campuses within the Capistrano Unified School District (CUSD). Tuesday's announcement was held at CUSD's Newhart Middle School in Mission Viejo, which hosted a Project iGuardian presentation for students and parents in February.
"Predators are assaulting our children utilizing the same technologies that fuel innovation and advancement," said Anna Bryson, a member of the Capistrano Unified School District Board of Trustees. "We can't remove the technology, and we do not want to prevent young people from exploring these tools. That is why I, and my colleagues on the Board of Trustees, have long advocated for providing our children with the ability to protect themselves with the use of tools like Project iGuardian."
Organizations and schools interested in requesting a Project iGuardian presentation can do so using a link on ICE's website. At that link, users will also find general cyber safety tips for kids, parents and educators. Those seeking further guidance can use the link on ICE's website to access NCMEC's NetSmartz Workshop, which features more detailed information on numerous topics related to online safety.
Replacing misperceptions leads to greater understanding
April is the annual observance of both Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This likely came about as a coincidence; however, these issues have some things in common. First, both are surrounded by many and varied misperceptions. Second, both are far more prevalent than the reports that eventually become cases. Third, sexual abuse is among the many forms of child abuse.
A common misperception is that abused children and sexual assault survivors are not factual about what happened to them. Many situations involve a child or survivor's report versus the denial of an adult or person with more power. Because these are acts which are intentionally kept hidden, perpetrators often are practiced in concealing their abusive personas and what they do. The child or survivor's report may be fragmented, or may seem to have inconsistencies. Neuroscientific advances have shown that this can be a result of what happens in a person's brain during trauma, as part of the brain and body's protective responses. However, many children and survivors have been discounted and further traumatized by misperceptions about how they were “supposed” to react, respond or describe what happened to them.
This coincides with another misperception that children and survivors who reveal what happened to them are looking for attention. People who have been hurt want help, want protection, want to be safe, want to feel OK again. Children whose trust has been broken by abuse are likely to act out, become defensive or avoidant, become withdrawn and disengaged, or have a combination of these reactions, as well as regress in development. Many adults who were abused as children still are experiencing the post-traumatic consequences.
Survivors of sexual assault may have a wide range of traumatic reactions that vary with the person and what they experienced. Trauma changes people's minds, bodies, feelings and beliefs. The misperception of attention-seeking may result from observing the changes in children and survivors who experience the significant effects resulting from abuse and assault.
Other misperceptions surround why a child or survivor couldn't get away, fight back harder, or didn't tell sooner. People who have never been in a vulnerable situation with a predatory person think they know what they would have done. Until a person is in that situation, they don't really know. They don't know the level of threat, the impact of fear, or what their limited options might be.
Perpetrators set up situations to ensure they have maximum power and control. Many times perpetrators gain someone's trust before abusing or assaulting them. Perpetrators often use a specific leverage against the victim not to tell, something they know intimidates them. Those who do tell often find themselves humiliated, shamed, blamed, judged or disregarded by those to whom they go for help. Predatory situations in real life are not like the plots in movies or on TV where the lines are clear, and truth and justice ultimately prevail.
In Wisconsin in 2012, Child Protective Service agencies received a total of 70,266 referrals, of which 43,957 (63 percent) were screened out, leaving 26,309 (37 percent) which were screened-in or actually became CPS cases, according to the Wisconsin Child Abuse & Neglect Report, put out by the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families.
In 2013, HAVEN served 248 clients: 34 people for sexual assault, 87 people for both sexual assault and domestic violence, and 127 people for domestic violence. That means almost half of the adults and children who were our clients last year had been sexually abused or assaulted.
According to the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one of every six women and one of every 33 men in this country will experience sexual violence in their lifetimes.
It takes real courage for child abuse and sexual assault survivors to talk about what happened to them, whether past or recent. Advocates at HAVEN recognize this and are ready to listen with empathy, respect and support. We also provide individualized help to people of all ages impacted by abuse and sexual assault through information, counseling, support groups, legal advocacy and referrals to resources. A HAVEN advocate is available 24 hours a day at 715-536-1300.
Nancy Baacke is community educator for HAVEN, Inc., in Merrill.
Meet the woman behind 'Erin's Law' -- giving voice to sexual abuse survivors
by Jill Burke
Erin Merryn, the activist behind Erin's Law, was in Alaska advocating for passage of her sexual assault education law. She spoke with employees at Standing Together Against Rape, an Anchorage support center. Mar 25, 2014
Visiting Alaska this week, Erin Merryn is a long way from home, and even farther from the torturous past she endured as a sexually abused child. As an adult, she's reclaimed the voice her abusers tried to silence. Now she's on a quest to make sure lawmakers across America hear what she has to stay.
Merryn travels the country bearing witness to what happened to her in hopes of encouraging states to enact laws requiring sexual abuse education in schools. Sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, HB 233 puts Alaska among the states considering “Erin's Law” in 2014. Eleven states have passed the legislation. Children learn all kinds of safety lessons in schools, like how to deal with natural disasters, fires and strangers. Merryn believes more can be done to ensure children also learn how learn how to protect themselves from sexual predators.
In a Q&A with Alaska Dispatch before boarding her flight north, Merryn wasn't shy about sharing the difficulties she's experienced, including a suicide attempt, or the one thing that happened to make her finally tell someone she was being hurt. Here's a glimpse of her life and why she's on a quest for social change.
Alaska Dispatch: So often we hear about "helpers" who encouraged a victim to come forward, or reported for him or her. Did you have a helper or helpers in your life? Who were they? Should someone have known something was wrong sooner?
Merryn: What caused me to come forward was unfortunately finding out that my little sister was also being abused. She came to me after I had been abused for two years and told me words I never expected to hear, that she too was being abused by the same family member. Her courage breaking her silence allowed me to take a stand for both of us and be brave and tell her we can't keep this a secret, that we have to tell our parents. ... Someone should have known in my earlier years when I was being abused by an adult neighbor. I had all the warning signs of an abused kid -- labeled behavior(ally) and emotionally disturbed, given an IEP (Individual Education Plan) for that behavior, I had anger problems, put my hand through a window weeks after being raped at 7 years old and threw tantrums on the floors in school. But nobody asked those important questions.
The Children's Advocacy Center of Northwest Cook County, Ill. (there are 900 of these centers across America in every state), helped give me the courage in my forensic interview after my sister and I broke our silence to tell what had happened. I found hope and healing there and people that believed me. As I describe in my books, that center was the foundation of my healing.
Alaska Dispatch: Let's talk about two words we hear a lot when covering sexual abuse stories: victim and survivor. How do you identify? Do you believe one word is more appropriate than the other?
Merryn: I cover these two words in my second book, "Living for Today." I am a survivor. Victims are those who don't survive. I often say victims are those who are killed by their attackers. I survived it and eventually learned how to thrive from it by breaking my silence and putting a face and voice on this silent epidemic.
Alaska Dispatch: Silence is a powerful way in which sexual abuse is kept secret and is perpetuated. Why is it so difficult to talk about?
Merryn: There is so much shame and stigma attached to sexual abuse. We live in a society that keeps it hushed and (there is) so much taboo around it; people are afraid to speak up and say this happened to them. The shame is so overwhelming. When all you have ever been told by an abuser is to stay silent, no one will believe you, this is our secret, you learn to believe that, and (it) makes it extremely difficult to speak up about. Sharing those details can be difficult because as survivors, they bring us back to the place where we endured the horror. It brings it all back to the surface.
Alaska Dispatch: What can someone reading about this do in their own life, or change about their own perspective, to make coming forward easier for victims? What's your advice for sexual abuse victims who may want to come forward, but who feel the abuse is better kept secret or forgotten? What if their family is pressuring them to just keep quiet and get on with their life? These can seem like powerful forces to go up against. How do we lessen the control these pressures have on ourselves, our loved ones?
Merryn: The first thing someone can do is start talking about it. We live in a society that doesn't want to even address this issue. People would be amazed how many people this really does affect and that they know but have never come forward. Survivors need to know they have nothing to be ashamed of. By breaking your silence you are reclaiming your voice. As I often tell people, our innocence was stolen, (our) trust taken, but the one thing we can reclaim as survivors is our voices. The voice that was silenced for so long. Families pressuring loved ones to stay quiet is not uncommon, but as I often like to tell survivors, by speaking up you are not only helping yourself heal; you will help save other children from experiencing this same horror at the hands of their abuser. By speaking up even when family is against the idea, it is freedom for a survivor and allows them to reclaim a piece of their lives back.
Alaska Dispatch: When you broke your silence and spoke up, was it frightening? How and when did you do it first?
Merryn: I was terrified. I had only ever been told no one (would) believe me, I feared ruining our large extended family when they learned a family member (teenage cousin) was molesting my sister and I. Sixteen years ago, on March 29, 1998, my sister broke her silence to me. My sister and I told our parents the next day (and) we were referred to the Children's Advocacy Center by police detectives to be interviewed. I feared (they) would not believe us ... I was told repeatedly by my cousin that I had no proof, that he would deny it, that no one would believe me. As a young child from 6 to 8 (years old), when the neighbor was abusing me, he warned me if I told anyone he would come get me; he knew where I lived. I always feared he would come back.
Alaska Dispatch: You have since spoken up in a big way. You didn't just tell one person. You've grown into a powerful voice who is bearing witness to the nation. How did you find this voice? Who encouraged you to keep talking, to keep fighting?
Merryn: I reclaimed my voice in the Children's Advocacy Center. The day I left that place I took a piece of my life back, and that was my voice. It would be many more years until that voice would become the strong, confident woman that I have become. After years as a teen struggling with nightmares and flashbacks of my abuse, attempting suicide, self-injury, etc., I decided to use that voice to confront my abuser... For seven months we corresponded in letters. For so many years I stayed angry and bitter towards him. Confronting him empowered me and eventually allowed me to forgive him when he wrote a letter apologizing. Forgiveness set me free. I found (the) freedom and peace I had longed for. It allowed me to go on this mission to be a face and voice for millions by letting go of hatred and instead turning pain into a purpose. I was a senior in high school when I published my first book, my childhood diary where I kept my secrets of abuse with my cousin locked away. The book is titled "Stolen Innocence." Therapists (and) an amazing school psychologist in high school really helped me heal.
Alaska Dispatch: When you decided to confront and start corresponding with your cousin, how did it go at first? Did you ever wonder, or ever ask him, why he did what he did? What do you think made him want to apologize, finally? Do you know if it was as healing for him as it was for you? Do you still stay in contact with him?
Merryn: I didn't expect a response back from my cousin because my letter was very harsh filled with so much anger and rage. He did respond admitting what he did and saying he is using his past to not make the same mistakes now in his life. I continued to write him because I wanted answers. I wanted to know why, and when I asked if he was abused, he denied it and said he abused me out of curiosity and an urge of sexuality. I finally got, after seven months, what I had been looking for: an apology. ... It allowed me to let go of the bitterness, anger and rage I had toward him and find the freedom and peace I longed for and the ability to turn this painful event into something positive. Since going public 10 years ago, I have had no contact with him.
Alaska Dispatch: In your quest to get Erin's Law passed in every state, you must have encountered some surprising remarks. Has anything particularly heartened you? Caught you off guard?
Merryn: I have witnessed some lawmakers come in voting against the bill who got on their mic after hearing me testify and (told) me they had all planned to vote against this bill and that my testimony changed their mind. My favorite story is out of my own state of Illinois ... (One lawmaker) had been against school mandates her entire career, and (the sponsor) warned me, she is going to get on her mic and go on about how this should not be passed, schools should not be mandated to do things, etc. He told me, “Your goal is to convince everyone else.” Well, something shocking happened. This representative did get on her mic. But instead of telling everyone to vote against it, she told everyone to vote in support of this bill. She broke down and cried and said Erin's Law could have saved her as a child, but instead she only got the message from her abuser, who she knew, and stayed silent. It was the first time she supported a school mandate, and she retired later that year.
Alaska Dispatch: Do you think most lawmakers meaningfully comprehend the issue of sexual abuse? What are the most persistent knowledge gaps?
Merryn: Many don't realize that there are 42 million survivors in America  of child sexual abuse. That is just (in) America. Lawmakers are in the dark about this. It is when they hear my story of how I was raped, and how my abusers controlled the situation by being the only ones talking to me about what was happening, that they “get it.” My abuse first happened at weeks shy of my seventh birthday by a neighbor ... it went on until age 8 and a half. It happened again after we moved away, when a cousin started abusing me in my sleep when I was 11 years old. That happened until I was 13. My abusers threatened me, and I believed them. The only education I ever received about sexual abuse was when I became a victim, and the abusers threatened bad things would happen if I ever told. I really open lawmakers' eyes when I share this with them. I pull out my sixth grade DARE card and tell lawmakers I knew the eight ways to say "no" to drugs and have never tried even a cigarette and I am nearly 30 years old. But where were the eight ways on how to “get away and tell today?” They never came, so I stayed silent.
Alaska Dispatch: You were preyed upon not once, but twice (two different abusers during different stages of childhood). Was this just bad luck? Is there anything about your life circumstances that you think made you a target?
Merryn: This wasn't bad luck. Unfortunately, children who are abused once are at even higher risk of being abused again by someone else because they are vulnerable and easy to prey on. I came from a good home, two parents, good schools, safe neighborhood, etc. There is a misconception about this issue ... many people think sexual abuse only happens to the poor, to people who come from broken homes, etc. ... It can happen to anyone, which is why we need to empower our children with their voice to speak up and tell and to not keep it a secret if they are abused.
Alaska Dispatch: Thank you for reminding us that abuse happens across all socioeconomic conditions. I guess what I was trying to ask is, why do you think your abusers chose you instead of some other girl as a target? Did anything make you an attractive target, or particularly vulnerable?
My second abuser, my cousin, came from a family of all boys. My sister and I ... were the only girls that he was around all the time. The first abuser, our neighbor, is someone I think who did this to any girl he had access to. He was the father of my best friend. She was abused. I was abused. And a third girl I know was also abused by him. I think he knew that once he had us conditioned, we were easy targets. He got us quiet and continued to get away with it. Around the time we were getting ready to move away, my friend had a birthday party. Her dad singled me out during the party. While the party was going on, and my friend's mom was in the house, this neighbor cornered me in a bathroom and abused me. He'd conditioned and kept me silent for two years, so he knew he could get away with that behavior, even with so many people around.
Alaska Dispatch: Would something like what you are proposing -- Erin's Law -- have helped you? How?
Merryn: Yes. This law could have given me the ability to know I would be believed, that this is not a secret to keep, and how to report it. I feel it would have given me the voice that these men took from me. It would have given me courage to know that I didn't have to live in constant fear that they could hurt me, and hurt me even worse if I told anyone. One thing my abusers kept telling me was that I had no proof that they were hurting me, so why would anyone believe me? One personal safety lesson learned at school that actually helped me in life was “stranger danger.” It was taught every year, and when a creepy van pulled up when I was 12 having a lemonade and the man put his hand out the window asking me to take the change ... those lessons immediately played back in my mind. The yearly videos ... had educated me, so I knew to tell the stranger to keep his change.
Alaska Dispatch: Resiliency can be an important factor in how well survivors of abuse cope and in whether they go on to lead a healthy, happy life. You seem incredibly resilient. Have there been times in your life when haven't done well? What factors came together for you to be able to not only overcome what happened, but to also thrive?
Merryn: My resilience took a lot of psychological help growing up as a kid, teen, and young adult. The ability to forgive both my abusers set me free and gave me my voice back and the strength to speak out for others. But there were many years of taking razor blades to my wrists in high school or taking the bottle of pills at 16, wanting to end my life because the flashbacks haunted me daily... When people ask how I have overcome all that I have and doing what I am doing now, passing Erin's Law in 11 states, 26 introducing it and going to each capital to testify on it, I tell them all of this comes from our creator. God has healed me, made me whole again, and has shown me the ability to forgive, the freedom it brings yourself, and shown me my purpose in this life, and that is to give kids the voice I didn't have. I am so confident I will get this law passed in all 50 states, because God has already told me it will happen. I wouldn't have quit my job four years ago as a master's level counselor to go after this had I not been lead by the Lord.
Read more about Erin Merryn on her Erin's Law Facebook page  and her website . Alaska's version of Erin's Law is currently under consideration by the Alaska State Legislature as House Bill 233 .
Jackson's tale rivets assault discussion
by Meghan Irons
In Boston City Council chambers Wednesday, Roxbury district councilor Tito Jackson took the floor and began to speak. His voice shook a little, and he took a short break to compose himself as he stood before advocates, councilors, and public safety officials.
When he recovered, he began a story that hushed the room, of the day he found out that he was born to a 13-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted by two men.
It was the first time that most people in the audience had heard Jackson share his story. Speaking during a discussion on assaults on women, he wanted to make a point.
“In this city and in cities across the country, when women are assaulted, we give them whistles,” Jackson said, speaking to the men in the audience. “But, you know what, brothers? What we need to do is to step up and be the solution. This is not a women's problem. In fact, if you look at the statistics it is a men's problem.”
Jackson's startling revelation came at the start of Wednesday's council meeting on “White Ribbon Day,” an international campaign that targets men and urges them to pledge to keep women safe.
The campaign began in 1991 in Canada on the second anniversary of one man's massacre of 14 women in Montreal and spread to 60 countries, the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day Campaign said on its website.
Jane Doe Inc. launched this state's effort in 2008, focusing on “positive masculinity” and encouraging boys and men to speak out against violence, the website said.
Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley brought the effort to City Hall in 2010. A year later, she stood before a public meeting and declared she was raped as a college student.
Pressley, who had previously said she was a survivor of abuse as a child and adult, made the statement as she discussed an upcoming hearing on sexual assaults on local college campuses.
Jackson's story is a powerful testament, she said Wednesday.
“I think it's very brave when people share their story,'' said Pressley. “I know personally the impact that can have. You can tell his story impacted and captivated everyone. He had everyone's full attention.”
Jackson, who was adopted at 2 months old, said he first told of the violence against his birth mother during the hearing that Pressley called after she shared her own abuse.
“I think it makes me stronger every single time I say it,'' Jackson said after Wednesday's council meeting. “It means that this is a fight to redefine what manhood is to me. But it's a fight that every man should take.”
Jackson said he began inquiring about his birth mother while he was a student at the University of New Hampshire. At the time, he had gone to the doctor, and the doctor wanted to know about his family's medical history.
Jackson decided to contact the adoption agency that worked on his case to see what officials knew about his family's medical records.
“I got a letter [from the agency] that I was born to a 13-year-old mother who was sexually assaulted by two men,'' Jackson recounted.
At the end of the speech, the audience stood and clapped. Mayor Martin J. Walsh entered the council chamber and hugged Jackson tightly.
“As men, we have a responsibility to stand up for our women in our community, and we have a duty to teach boys that being a man it is our duty to treat women with respect,” Walsh said.
He then led the men in the audience to take an antiviolence pledge.
“I will speak out against attitudes and behaviors that contribute to sexual assault and domestic violence,'' they all said. “I will remind myself and others that gender violence is a men's issue that affects us all.”
Later, Jackson said it gets easier to talk about his history.
“For us guys, all of these secrets, this vulnerability, this pain, this toughness — all of those boxes we put around ourselves only damage us internally and cause loneliness and suffering and, often, depression,'' he said. “Everybody has something that is going on with them.”
Child Abuse: The Deadly Cost of Inattention and Inaction
by Bruce Lesley
President, First Focus & First Focus Campaign for Children
The Miami Herald series entitled "Innocents Lost" deserves a Pulitzer Prize for its investigation into 477 deaths of children that were a part of the child welfare system in the State of Florida over the past six years. More than 70 percent of the children who died were two years old or younger and completely defenseless.
The series reinforces two critical but basic responsibilities that we, as a society, owe children facing abuse and neglect:
First, we must strengthen families by preventing abuse and neglect whenever possible.
Second, we must take swift but thoughtful action that gives children the best possible chance to grow up in a safe, stable, loving and supportive permanent home.
The series also highlights another critical fact: money matters and the lives of our nation's most vulnerable children cannot be protected on the cheap.
At the forefront, family comes first and keeping families together should always be an important and worthy goal. As the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Jim Casey Foundation have written in a joint report entitled When Child Welfare Works:
|...All children need family. Removing children from their parents' care should only be considered as a last resort when all reasonable efforts have been made to support parents to safely care for their children.
However, as the Miami Herald documents, Florida embraced "family preservation" on the cheap. While the number of children in foster care dropped from 30,200 to 18,185 during a period that featured the Great Recession and increased family stress and difficulties, the state simultaneously and tragically slashed family monitoring and support services, resulting in more children left with substance abusing, neglectful, and violent parents. Tough times are the most important times to protect children, but Florida (and as noted later, the federal government) took the opposite approach during the last few years.
According to Audra D.S. Burch and Carol Marbin Miller of the Miami Herald , while Florida's overall state spending increased by $10 billion from 2005 to 2013, child welfare funding was cut by the Legislature by $80 million and grew to $100 million after Governor Rick Scott's vetoes last year. And, while "either drugs or alcohol came up in 323 of the child deaths," the state also "reduced funding for drug treatment."
For children, the consequences were tragic. As the Daytona Beach News-Journal concluded, "...the state tried to do it on the cheap... Hundreds of children paid with their lives."
Although foster care is expensive, the fact is that keeping families together, or supporting children in adoptive placements, also carry costs, if done correctly. Where Florida failed was that it divested in both foster care and family preservation supports, including family therapy, substance abuse counseling and the close monitoring of families on the edge of economic and personal crisis.
Therefore, without support services for families, Florida, instead, relied upon so-called "safety plans." According to Burch and Miller:
|Rather than ask a judge to order parents' cooperation with services and supervision, [Department of Children and Families] often has troubled parents sign "safety plans" -- words scrawled on a form, sometimes illegibly -- pledging to become better parents. Many times, the promises are broken, and with fatal consequences.
In at least 83 cases over the past six years, children whose parents signed at least one such written promise died. But DCF continues to rely on the documents.
Nobody should accept this outcome, and yet, it gets worse. In 49 of the deaths, the Miami Herald documented cases where investigators for the Florida Department for Children and Families (DCF), doctors, and even judges urged the removal of children from a home, but were stymied by agency lawyers or the Attorney General's office from taking action because lawyers argued there was a lack of "legal sufficiency" to overcome the presumption of "parental rights."
Supporters of the "parental rights movement" should recognize that, while parental rights are important and we must avoid inappropriate removal of children from families, we must recognize and respect that children have rights too. Failure to do so clearly results in tragic and deadly consequences.
As Carolyn Lapsley, deputy commissioner for Children & Family Services for the Alabama Department of Human Resources, said to the Miami Herald , "Child safety trumps everything. We don't have a separate family preservation policy -- that is woven throughout our approach.''
There are solutions, such as this approach by Alabama. In addition, the Miami Herald cites a number of additional recommendations, including "fixing safety plans to require making them verifiable, which means mandating drug tests, having caseworkers make unannounced visits to the home, and other follow-ups" and to "enshrine in state law that when rights of parents clash with efforts to safeguard their children, the child's safety is paramount."
Furthermore, as the Miami Herald writes and we at First Focus support:
Advocates have argued, children should be entitled to the representation of a lawyer when they enter the child welfare court system. When a child is removed from his or her parents, or when DCF asks a judge to order parents to accept help from the state, the children are the only party to the litigation who do not have the right to a lawyer.
Other important recommendations include improving transparency and providing increased salaries, training, resources and oversight for child welfare investigators.
In short, we know how to make progress and should commit to building on what works and to fix what does not. For example, at First Focus, in partnership with a number of national and state advocates for children and with support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Jim Casey Foundation, we have developed the State Policy Advocacy and Reform Center (SPARC). Our goal is to create stronger advocates, better policies, and improved child well-being and outcomes. Information on a number of important issues related to child welfare can be found on the SPARC website.
But it is critical to note that states are not alone in this effort to protect vulnerable children. Unfortunately, at the federal level, funding has also been in sharp decline. According to data from First Focus' Children's Budget 2013, since 2009, funding for Payments to States for Foster Care have declined by 17 percent, funding for Promoting Safe and Stable Families has declined by 13 percent, funding for Abandoned Infant Assistance has been cut by 15 percent, and funding for Child Abuse and Treatment Act Programs have been cut by 27 percent. While there have been bright spots, such as increased spending for Kinship Guardianship in recent years, overall funding to address child abuse and neglect has declined by 12 percent since 2009 -- right in the midst of the last recession when kids need protection the most.
Federal action is desperately needed to improve child welfare financing and supports or the system will continue to falter. As the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Jim Casey Foundation point out:
Without action, systemic problems will only worsen, perpetuating inefficiencies in the system and denying children and families better opportunities to succeed. States receive federal reimbursement for fewer children in foster care each year. In addition, threats to key federal funding sources upon which state child welfare agencies rely make the potential impact of not passing comprehensive finance reform far worse than living with the unacceptable status quo. Until federal financing and desired goals are better aligned, sustained progress on improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families will remain difficult for states to achieve.
The financing proposal they put forth is intended to promote best practices in the following four areas:
Permanence and well-being, including reduced reliance on shelter and group care and time limits on foster care.
Quality family foster care, resulting from improvements to kinship licensing, targeted foster family recruitment to care for teens and better support for foster families.
Capable, supported child welfare workforce, improvements achieved by supporting training and skill development, encouraging solid casework and family engagement, reducing administrative burden and improving workforce retention.
Better access to services, with a focus on increased access to and accountability for social and therapeutic services.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Jim Casey Foundation in their Infographic entitled "The Cost of Doing Nothing", we really can't afford to wait for action at the federal level because the trajectory in funding and support is on a pathway for continued decline. As they point out, if we fail to act to change our "antiquated federal financing system for child welfare":
Less support will be available to states to care for vulnerable children and families; and,
Federal support for the child welfare workforce will continue to decline.
I would go further and argue that the consequences of inaction, as highlighted in the Miami Herald series, can be horribly tragic and even deadly.
Our choice is clear: either more children will be lost due to parental and societal neglect and inaction or we can build a system that reflects our values, where all kids are protected and safe and have a chance to reach their full potential.
Now is the time.
School child abuse reporting bill moves out of committee
by Matthias Gafni
Legislation aimed at requiring annual child abuse reporting training for school employees passed through a state education committee on Wednesday.
Sparked by two years of this newspaper's reports on school employees failing to properly report child abuse, Assembly Bill 1432 would change state law from "strongly encouraging" training to "requiring annual training," including yearly proof of such education.
In his introductory remarks at the Sacramento hearing, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, who introduced the legislation, praised the articles and editorials that helped create the bill.
"We owe a debt of gratitude to the Bay Area News Group especially," he said. "Their coverage really helped the process."
Numerous groups spoke in favor of the bill at the hearing, including a child abuse prevention agency, the state superintendent's office, a school insurance company advocate and the California Teacher's Association.
Assembly Education Committee members focused on two issues with the bill: Would there be any punishment to a district or to employees if someone did not receive training within the first six months of the school year, and what would the training entail?
"We won't make it onerous," Gatto told committee members, "it needs to have teeth, though."
Gatto said while the bill does not specify what penalties would fall onto an individual or district if compliance was not met, both would open themselves to liability if they didn't follow a standard of care statute.
The Department of Education would create the training standards and local districts would decide whether to allow teachers to train online, or through their own district or an outside agency," Gatto said.
The bill now moves to the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
You Can Make a Difference in Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect
On the news recently, a man described looking out of his apartment window on a freezing cold night and seeing a baby stroller abandoned in a neighborhood park. What he couldn't believe was that he thought he saw a baby in it. He went down and checked, and sure enough, someone had abandoned the baby in 30 degree weather. He called the local fire station and they came and took the baby into custody. This man prevented the death of that infant. He took action. He was not a bystander, he got involved.
Everyone has a role to play in protecting children; the case above is a good example. The government can't possibly be the only entity trying to keep children safe from abuse or neglect.
April is national child abuse prevention month. I encourage everyone to learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of child abuse and neglect. Our website offers a guide.
It's interesting to me that although the age of social media has dramatically lowered the thresholds on privacy, and although many feel it's their right to know all, many adults are still reticent about reporting their suspicions about child abuse. How many times do we hear on the news, "I knew something was wrong, but I never thought he'd hurt the baby," or, "They are always fighting in that house, but you are afraid to get involved, don't know if they could turn on you."
So, alarmingly, significant numbers of child abuse and neglect incidents go unreported. I am encouraging you to take action. When a child is brought to the attention of the authorities, the children and their parents can get the help that they need to prevent future abuse and strengthen their family. It can mean the difference between life and death for newborns and children under the age of four, when most fatalities occur.
Many people tell me that taking the step of reporting makes them anxious, and that is understandable. Perhaps you are not 100-percent sure about your concerns. Even if this is the case, you can and should take steps to help rescue the child. I counsel parents that if they have a "reasonable suspicion" that a child is at risk, that's enough to make a call to the state's child abuse hotline. Much child abuse occurs behind closed doors; therefore, it's important for concerned friends, family members and neighbors to be familiar with the signs. And children, particularly younger ones, who may not be in school yet, will probably not tell you that they've been hurt, so concerned adults need to be their advocates if they have suspicions.
Please learn the basic steps and take action.
First of all, if you see a child being abused or hear a child screaming in pain, call 911. If you have suspicions that a child is at risk, every state has a hotline that you can call to make a report. They will ask for your name and number, but you can choose to remain anonymous. Even if you are not certain about all the specifics, make the call. It's then up to the investigators to follow through.
Yes, taking action may be a bit upsetting. That's understandable, as it's such an important undertaking. Nevertheless, you'll rest easier knowing that due to your intervention, the child and their parent will be getting help and attention. Remember, child abuse is preventable. Everyone must be part of the solution.
For more information on keeping your child safe and to learn more about The NYSPCC's Annual Spring Luncheon on Thursday, April 10, 2014, featuring Aaron Fisher, Victim #1, the first child who spoke out against the child sexual abuse perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky, visit: www.nyspcc.org
Child sex abuse reports climbing in Doña Ana County
10 men indicted so far
by James Staley
LAS CRUCES -- Child sex abuse cases are climbing this year.
Since January the number of people reporting child sexual crimes has risen 30 percent, said Donna Richmond, director of La Piñon Sexual Assault Recovery Services of Southern New Mexico.
Though the first 12 weeks of the year, 10 men have been indicted by a Doña Ana County grand jury for sex crimes against children, including two last week. By comparison, seven were indicted on such charges in the last 12 weeks of 2013.
Last week, Las Cruces police arrested a man for sexually abusing a young boy since 2009, a case that likely also will result in an indictment.
But the growing stack of troubling cases — four of the men charged face at least 12 counts each — and the spike in calls to La Piñon don't necessarily mean child sexual abuse is becoming more common in Doña Ana County, officials said.
Richmond and Kacee Thatcher, a veteran Las Cruces Police Department detective, said that, over time, the number of sex crimes against children is steady. But in shorter intervals "it really fluctuates, the same with every other crime," Thatcher said.
These short-term variances are difficult to explain, officials said.
"I don't think that it's happening more," said Richmond, referring to the recent jump in reports of sexual abuse to La Piñon.
At the same time, "when it quiets down, I don't believe its not happening," said Thatcher, who investigates domestic violence and Internet crimes against children.
Richmond noted it often takes time for young victims of sexual abuse to disclose what has happened to them. The 30 percent increase Richmond had described was for what she called "delayed disclosure" cases.
Victims have to realize it's neither proper or "normal," Richmond said. Then they have to find somebody they feel comfortable telling about the abuse. All of this often occurs with the perpetrator pushing them, through manipulation or straight threats, to stay quiet.
This process can take years, Richmond said, and can be triggered for numerous reasons. Sometimes, she said, a high-profile case that makes the news can prompt other victims to come forward. That domino effect could explain the recent bump in child sex crime reports.
There have been plenty of high-profile cases indicted this year, including:
• Mario Villa, 41, of La Mesa, who is facing 96 felony counts for the sexual abuse of a girl that began in 2003, when she was 10.
• David Herrera, 33, of Sunland Park, remains at large but authorities have an arrest warrant on him related to 34 counts of child sex abuse, including incest.
• Fernando Muñoz, 33, of Las Cruces has been charged with 18 counts related to sex abuse of a young girl. He has an incest charge and a contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge because he allegedly gave the girl a drug to prevent her from becoming pregnant.
• Jaime Moore, 22, of Las Cruces is facing 12 child sex abuse charges, involving three children. Authorities say he raped one girl and made a young boy watch. He also made those two and another girl watch pornographic videos while he masturbated, police say. Further, Moore allegedly threatened to kill a family member of one child if his crimes were reported, then made one child make a false report against another man.
There is, however, a silver lining to this year's influx of reports, Thatcher said.
"It gives us reassurance that people are reporting it as they should," she said.
Thatcher said police are working on legislative initiatives to help prevent and weed out cases of child sex abuse. That includes state legislation that would make child enticement a felony and bolstering education programs for adults.
Richmond said its critically important for adults to pay close attention to children, and report to authorities anything that seems suspicious.
"If a child starts talking to you, listen," Richmond said. "Give the child your time."
She said it's easy to get caught up in the routine of daily life and disregard or miss hints that victimized children may be sending.
Said Richmond: "You may be the person that child is reaching out to."
James Staley can be reached at 575-541-5476
By the numbers
96: Felony counts against one the men indicted this year for child sex abuse
30: Increase since January, by percentage, of delayed disclosures detailing sexual abuse received by La Piñon
10: Men indicted on child sex crimes through the first 12 weeks of 2014
7: Men indicted on child sex crimes through the last 12 weeks of 2013
2: Men charged with incest related to their child sex abuse crimes
Contact La Piñon Sexual Assault Recovery Services of Southern New Mexico
- call 575-526-3437
- call or text 575- 636-3636, the KidsTalk number
N.D. 13-year-old weighed 21 pounds; mom accused in his starvation death
by Amy Dalrymple
A North Dakota woman is charged with Class AA murder for the death of her 13-year-old son, who weighed 21 pounds when he died in January of starvation, court records say.
Jessica Lee Jensen, 35, of Kenmare made her first court appearance Monday in North Central Judicial District Court.
State Forensic Medical Examiner William Massello III concluded that Jensen's son died from chronic starvation due to untreated juvenile appetite disorder and listed the manner of death as homicide.
The Ward County sheriff's office arrested Jensen late last week after the results of the investigation led prosecutors to file charges.
The son is not identified in court records, but an obituary identifies him as Aidan Edward Bossingham.
"Due to the age of the child, it's extremely tragic," said Capt. Bob Barnard of the Ward County sheriff's office.
Jensen, who has two other children, ages 14 and 7, also is charged with abuse or neglect of a child, a Class C felony. Court records say Jensen failed to provide proper education for the children. A bedroom in their home, which is about 50 miles northwest of Minot, was littered with garbage and smelled of feces.
The other children are now staying with relatives, Barnard said.
Court records say:
Jensen called 911 at 8:17 p.m. Jan. 12 to report that her son had "passed on."
A Kenmare police officer who responded said Jensen was sitting on a couch in the living room, holding a small child in her arms. The officer was unable to locate a pulse and attempted to open the child's mouth to administer breaths, but could not due to the onset of rigor mortis.
The child was taken by ambulance to Kenmare Community Hospital, where a nurse practitioner said he appeared to have been dead for some time. She reported the boy appeared to be 2 or 3 years old.
Jensen told investigators her son had a hormonal growth problem and his pituitary gland did not function properly. She said her son had always been sick and, for the past year, would hoard food and make himself vomit.
On the day of his death, Jensen said her son ate oatmeal for breakfast and later had a Sprite and yogurt. She said that about 6:30 or 7 p.m., she made him some homemade "Pedialyte" and he consumed about 4 ounces.
According to a court affidavit, the boy had not seen a doctor since 2008. During his early years, he was seen several times at Kenmare Community Hospital for a persistent cough. He was referred to a pediatrician at Trinity Health in Minot in 2006, weighing 29 pounds at the time.
The boy was then referred to Sanford Health in Fargo, where he was diagnosed with a human growth hormone deficiency and seen at that facility periodically through November 2008. Records obtained by investigators show Jensen stopped hormone treatments against medical advice and then resumed treatments when the boy returned to Sanford for followup care. A January 2008 chart note indicates "very poor growth because of lack of treatment."
Jensen told investigators she has been home-schooling the children for several years and had no regular doctor because she believes she can "solve the problems," court records say. She said she is separated from her husband, Charles Jensen.
Charles Jensen told investigators he had moved out in July or August 2013 and has no say in the children's care. The boy's father is no longer living, but Charles Jensen told investigators he raised the boy as his own child.
Autopsy results showed that the child's body weighed 21 pounds and his stomach was empty. Massello noted there was no injury to the throat that would indicate recent or regular vomiting. Massello said the conditions he identified were medically treatable, according to the court affidavit.
Investigators who searched Jensen's home found it to be dirty and cluttered, with an upstairs bedroom littered with garbage and smelling of feces.
The two oldest children had not attended school since May 2009. The home had one shelf that contained educational materials, primarily elementary-level workbooks. The youngest child could not spell her name to an interviewer and was not sure of her age.
Family members interviewed by investigators said Jensen treated her son differently from her other two children, and two relatives said they weren't able to see the children after they confronted Jensen about her son's medical condition.
Jensen's application for a court-appointed attorney has been approved, but she did not have a lawyer appointed as of Monday. Bond was set at $250,000 cash. Her next court appearance is scheduled for May 1.
New look at therapy for sexually abused teens
by Katherine K. Dahlsgaard -- lead psychologist of the Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, written for the "Healthy Kids" blog
Teenage girls are sexually assaulted with alarming frequency and many will go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If left untreated, PTSD can make life hell for the sufferer for years after the original trauma, and increase the likelihood of other problems; most common are anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and self-destructive behaviors.
But what treatment is appropriate and effective for PTSD in girls who have been sexually abused? An important study, recently done here in Philadelphia, points to a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy called prolonged exposure.
Typically, sufferers of PTSD go to great - and understandable - effort to avoid memories or reminders of the traumatic event. Even if the individual with PTSD attends therapy for relief, they will often avoid bringing up the trauma. Many well-meaning therapists, fearful of increasing their patients' distress, will allow the avoidance.
The problem is that avoidance doesn't work and tends to worsen the symptoms of intrusive memories, flashbacks and emotional numbing. In prolonged exposure, therapists encourage PTSD sufferers to stop avoiding and instead tell the story of their trauma over several sessions. By repeatedly recounting the details, sufferers can process their fear and learn firsthand that memories, while extremely upsetting, are not unsafe. PTSD symptoms decrease as a result.
There is much evidence that prolonged exposure is a highly effective therapy for adults with PTSD, but had not been researched with adolescents. Edna Foa and colleagues from the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania addressed this by completing a study with 61 girls ages 13 to 18 who had been sexually abused and were seeking treatment at Philadelphia's Women Organized Against Rape. The teens, after consenting to the study, were randomly assigned to get prolonged exposure therapy or traditional supportive counseling by WOAR therapists.
Results showed that the girls who received prolonged exposure did a lot better than those who got supportive counseling: They were much less likely to have PTSD - and depression - at the end of the study and at a follow-up one year later. Of note: none of the girls assigned to supportive counseling chose to describe their trauma during treatment.
The results are particularly important, says Foa, the study's lead author, because the therapists were counselors in a clinic that serves sexually abused survivors. Prolonged exposure in the hands of these counselors significantly reduced PTSD, depression, and dysfunctional symptoms more than supportive counseling despite the fact that the therapists, while proficient in delivering supportive counseling, were not familiar with prolonged exposure until they received a five-day workshop at the beginning of the study.
And on that, I will end this post with a special shout-out to all the counselors at WOAR who provided their services for the study and are daily on the front lines of treatment for sexual assault survivors. You are hometown heroes.
Prevent Child Abuse Porter County raising awareness
by Annette Arnold
VALPARAISO | Lu Ann Shirley has been involved with Prevent Child Abuse Porter County since it began 20 years ago in April 1994.
"We had our first meeting in April 1995 because it took us a whole year to get the charter and to get everything in place," said Shirley, president of the group. "It took a lot of meetings and work to get it going."
Although Shirley is the only original member left, she believes the group is growing again.
"We have had as little as five people in the group but now we are growing," she said.
Shirley said Kappa Delta sorority has stepped up to help the group after a recent community forum to raise awareness.
"We are a committed group of people," said Shirley. "We had thought about folding but we have too much in our hearts to do that. I know I am making a difference."
The group does education and awareness programs on preventing child abuse.
"We never really see the difference that we make but if you see healthy kids in the community, that is a good thing," said Shirley. "We stress having a support system in place with family and neighbors."
April is Prevent Child Abuse Month and events are in the making, including a stewards of children training, from 1 to 3 and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 22 at Dunebrook's office, 502 Wall St., Suite 105. There also is a walk to prevent child abuse at 10 a.m. April 26 at the Porter County Courthouse on Lincolnway in Valparaiso.
"We really want more members because there would be so many more things we could do," said Shirley.
The group is open to anyone and meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. the second Tuesday of the month at the Greg Philips Emergency Service Building, 1995 S. Ind. 2. Enter at the back door. For information about the group, call (219) 531-9012 or to report abuse, call (800) 800-5556.
Sex Abuse Survivor Walks Through Broward On A Mission For Change
FT LAUDERDALE MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A sex abuse survivor is on a mission that she's under taking one step at a time.
On Sunday and Monday, Lauren Book will walk through Broward as part of her annual 15-hundred mile “Walk in My Shoes” journey from Key West to Tallahassee to raise awareness and fight for victim's rights. She started her morning Sunday in Hallandale Beach and will host a rally at the Publix store on Las Olas Boulevard in Ft. Lauderdale at 1 p.m.
She started her South Florida swing last week in Miami.
Book's walk takes place in March and April, National Child Abuse Awareness and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, over a period of 42 days in honor of the 42 million survivors of child sex abuse in the U.S. and serves to raise awareness about child sexual abuse prevention, empower survivors and advocate for change in Florida law to relating to sexually violent predators and child protection.
Book was just ten years old when someone she loved and trusted, her nanny Waldeana Florez, began sexually and physically abusing her. She endured the abuse for six years before she was finally able to break away.
Book, founder and CEO of Lauren's Kids, launched the ”Walk in My Shoes” campaign in 2010 to raise awareness of the issue of sexual abuse and encourage victims to speak about their experiences.
Following a kickoff in Tallahassee on March 11 where Book praised Florida lawmakers for passing bills related to sexual abuse prevention and civil commitment of sexual predators in the first days of the 2014 legislative session, the Walk throughout Florida began on March 16th in Key West and will end in Tallahassee on April 22nd, with a rally on the steps of the state Capitol.
In new book, Brown University professor aims to discredit ‘witch-hunt narrative' of child sexual-abuse cases
by Kate Bramson
PROVIDENCE — For decades, a view has persisted that a series of child sexual-abuse cases connected with child-care centers during the 1980s were witch hunts, fueled by social hysteria, that ended in wrongful convictions of many innocent people.
A new book by Brown University professor Ross E. Cheit, “The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology, and the Sexual Abuse of Children,” explores the cases at the heart of that belief.
After 15 years of research into the history of child sexual-abuse cases, the political science and public policy professor seeks to discredit the “witch-hunt narrative.”
In an interview with The Providence Journal, Cheit said that those who believe this theory ignore even credible charges of child abuse and dismiss medical evidence that children were abused.
“I want to provoke discussion,” he said.
Much of the reason the witch-hunt narrative has prevailed, according to Cheit, is that it's easier for people to believe that child sexual abuse doesn't happen because the topic itself is taboo. Cheit cites the work of Dr. Suzanne M. Sgroi, who wrote in 1978 that “the sexual abuse of children is a crime that our society abhors in the abstract but tolerates in reality.”
Communities have been known to rally around people convicted of this crime, Cheit writes.
“We often minimize and deny so as to allow us to avoid seeing things we would rather not see. Turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children has a long history in this country.”
According to Cheit, the witch-hunt narrative often includes a “hero,” a journalist perhaps, who helps an innocent person escape a false conviction.
“We love this story,” he said. “My concern is we love it so much even when it isn't true.”
Cheit began his research inclined to doubt the witch-hunt narrative in part because he was abused as a child by an administrator of the San Francisco Boys Chorus' summer camp.
Repressed memories of that abuse, which took place when Cheit was 13, surfaced in 1992, after he had become a professor at Brown. He shared that experience in a Providence Journal series written by former reporter Mike Stanton in 1995.
Cheit eventually won a civil judgment in California against the man who abused him and reached a civil settlement against the San Francisco Boys Chorus, which agreed to promote awareness of sexual abuse.
“My own experience with an institution that displayed for me the depths of denial in the face of very strong evidence makes me naturally skeptical of an argument that says we've overreacted to child abuse, because that's not what I saw,” Cheit said.
In his research, Cheit adhered to a practice of Charles Darwin: posting notes for himself with evidence contrary to his own theories or expectations, forcing himself to examine the cases and arguments used to build the witch-hunt narrative.
“I'm saying, ‘I'm going to force myself to look at the cases that you say prove the witch hunt was true,'” Cheit said. “I'm looking at the cases where it absolutely ought to be crystal clear that this was a false conviction because that's what other people said.”
Labeling these cases witch hunts ignores credible evidence that children were abused, Cheit argues.
Take the famous 1983 McMartin Preschool case in Manhattan Beach, Calif., in which seven of the school's staff members were charged with child sexual abuse. Cheit reviewed 32 boxes of court documents including transcripts of hearings and two criminal trials, 17 boxes of documents and reports before charges were filed, medical records of children and copies of videotaped interviews with 15 children.
Cheit writes that five or six of the defendants were charged with “heinous crimes they did not commit,” but the witch-hunt narrative ignores the smaller story, the one that includes “evidence of abuse and the travails of the children.” No one was ever convicted in the case.
“It was tragic for the defendants who should not have been charged, and it was tragic for the children who were mistreated and those who were never appropriately vindicated,” Cheit writes. “But only one of those tragedies has been remembered over time.”
Over the years, 81 Brown University undergraduates have assisted Cheit in conducting what he calls the “extreme research” that helped him analyze dozens of decades-old cases including the McMartin Preschool case.
“This book is based on the first systematic examination of court records in these cases,” Cheit writes. “The book argues that even though many cases have been held up as classic examples of modern American ‘witch hunts,' none of them truly fits that description … In short, there was not, by any reasonable measure, an epidemic of ‘witch hunts' in the 1980s.”
Cheit is not alone with this belief.
Joan Tabachnick, who has worked for the past 20 years in the field of sexual-abuse prevention, avoids the witch-hunt term, she told The Providence Journal. Her work focuses on preventing child sexual abuse.
“I learned from very early on not to call it the witch-hunt narrative, only because the witches [in America's Puritan past] were innocent, and I would say that in many cases, there is that same sort of feeding-frenzy fury, but it doesn't mean the sex offender is innocent, the person accused is innocent,” said Tabachnick, of Holyoke, Mass., who is co-chair of the prevention committee for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers.
For the past 16 years, Cheit has taught an ethics class at the state prison to those convicted of sexual assault and child molestation crimes.
After The Journal series on Cheit's childhood abuse ran in 1995, the director of the sex offender treatment program at the Adult Correctional Institutions, Peter Loss, invited Cheit to visit offenders in the program.
Years later, Cheit still meets weekly with those offenders, mostly men. Sometimes the class focuses on a different virtue and dilemma each week, such as the meaning of courage and how donations raised for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks should be allocated.
“I call it the gray class because sex offenders are such black-and-white thinkers,” Loss told The Journal.
The offenders, Loss explains, have trouble seeing the complications inherent in relationships or the fact that an opposing side may present merits, something that complicates one's thinking.
The witch-hunt narrative, says Loss, who has read several drafts of Cheit's book, is also black and white.
But “in the end, this whole debate really isn't about witch hunts and cases … ,” Loss said. “It's about children. And I think [what's] been lost in this whole witch-hunt mentality is that children are involved.”
Cheit expects to discuss his findings with a panel of professors at Brown on April 1, with a reception and book signing to follow. His book will be released this month by Oxford University Press and is expected in stores by April.
How to cope with adverse childhood experiences
by Resmiye Oral
It has become clearer to the medical community over recent decades that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a significant impact on child health and also adult physical, emotional, social and behavioral health. But what are adverse childhood experiences?
Healthcare professionals and others who work with abused and neglected children — and the adults they eventually become — define these experiences as any combination of family dysfunction (substance abuse, mental illness, criminal activity, parental separation/absence and domestic violence), child abuse (physical, sexual or emotional abuse), and child neglect (physical and emotional neglect).
In 2010, the Iowa Department of Public Health and a number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations began to investigate, on a statewide basis, the occurrence of adverse childhood experiences in Iowa. A research team analyzed the data from 2012, which revealed astounding results: Fifty-five percent of Iowans have experienced at least one type of ACE. In addition, 15 percent of the surveyed population reported four or more ACEs, which increase the risk of such things as smoking, lung disease, heart disease sexually transmitted infections, and obesity, and also perpetuate substance abuse, violence exposure and depression affecting generation after generation.
The University of Iowa Child Protection Program, which I direct, has a long tradition of dedication to acting in the best interest of all children locally, regionally and globally. We're involved in multiple projects and multidisciplinary teams including the Iowa Perinatal Illicit Drug Screening and Intervention Program, the Iowa Shaken Baby Syndrome Prevention Program, the Drug Endangered Children Alliance, the Iowa Child Protection Council, the Turkish Child Protection Collaboration, as well as collaborations with the Portuguese Institute of Legal Medicine and other international teams.
We'll be hosting the 2014 Provost's Global Forum on “Child Protection: A Global Responsibility” in Iowa City Wednesday through Friday, with many programs and activities open to the public. For information on sessions and speakers, please visit http://international.uiowa.edu/research/child-protection.
Presentations and discussions will focus on how experiences that harm children's social and behavioral functioning lead to physical and mental health issues in adulthood. We believe that recognition and management of ACEs will rule how medicine is practiced in the next decade and that, in order to tackle the huge burden of today's adult ailments that cause so much unnecessary suffering and cost, we have to address ACEs as early in life as possible.
The WorldCanvass program at 5 p.m. Friday in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Museum will provide an excellent opportunity to see how child abuse and neglect, and the long-term effects of such experiences, are being addressed here in Iowa and internationally. The program is free and open to the public and you can find information on the guests and topics of discussion at http://bit.ly/1emQ1No.
I look forward to seeing you at some or all of these events.
Dr. Resmiye Oral, is a professor of pediatrics and the director of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Child Protection Program.
Her mission: Keep children safe
Dr. Gladstone works to identify abuse and neglect
by Karen Dandurant
EXETER — Doctors are often the front line of defense for children, suspecting child abuse long before anyone else might notice or report it.
That makes medical professionals very important when it comes to protecting children. And leading the charge in New Hampshire is Dr. Wendy Gladstone.
Gladstone had a long career and is well known in the Exeter area as a pediatrician. Then she decided the state needed a dedicated person to address child abuse cases.
"I love children and parents," Gladstone said. "I have been a practicing pediatrician since 1978, doing primary care for 30 years. In 2008, I switched my scope of focus to child abuse. The question of known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect raised a big need in my mind for this type of specialty. It can be darker but you can make a real difference in the life of a child."
Gladstone's area of practice is primarily in the Seacoast. She has offices in Manchester, Exeter and Dover, with another location at Dartmouth in Lebanon.
In her role as a child abuse expert, Gladstone is often called to court to testify, to present her medical findings before judges and juries. She works closely with Child Advocacy Program, or CAP, and is the only dedicated professional in the state in this field of practice.
"More often than not I am testifying on behalf of the prosecution," Gladstone said. "If I make a diagnosis of abuse, it will usually end up in court. Sometimes I might be asked to review a case for a defense lawyer or a public defender."
Most of Gladstone's referrals come from other doctors, nurses and general medical practitioners, as well as from CAP.
"I see a lot of kids," she said. "It's sadly, very busy. The risk incidence is definitely going up. On average, I see 350 cases a year. Each investigation is a long process. For every hour spent for an office visit, there is two more hours for reports, legal consultations and multidisciplinary meetings."
Gladstone's case load represents a mixture of sexual, physical and neglect abuse referrals. She said that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are 324 child abuse cases for every 1 million of child populations, making her work very important to her.
"Neglect is the most common type of child maltreatment," she said. "That can include emotional abuse, which is when the child is belittled, yelled at and told no one loves them. That's very hard to measure."
As one example of her case load, Gladstone said imagine a baby is brought to the emergency department because he has been vomiting his feedings.
"An exam shows bruises on his forehead," she said. "Sometimes babies vomit because of a head injury. I must determine if that might be the case here? If so, was this accidental? Or is the bruising a sign of a bleeding disorder? Did someone hurt the baby? If the bruises are suspicious for abuse, what tests are needed to look for other injuries that might not be apparent on a physical exam? If it is determined that someone injured him, when did it happen? How much force did it take? Could he have been hurt by a sibling and if so, was that because the children are not being supervised adequately? Should other children in the house be checked for injury, too?"
Or, in another example, Gladstone said if a girl starts having behavior upsets and is acting in a sexualized manner, and when asked if anyone touched her, she says "That's a secret," it raises a red flag.
"It hurts when she uses the bathroom," Gladstone said. "She needs a medical evaluation to figure out why she's having pain. As part of that visit, it's important to ask about whether she might have been abused without leading her to say something inaccurate. How should those questions be asked? What should the provider look for during an exam" What tests should be done? Who else should be involved in her care?"
In order to begin protecting a child when abuse is suspected, Gladstone will call the state Division of Child and Youth Services and get it involved in the process. If she suspects a crime, she will involve police. If it's sexual, she will contact Sexual Assault Support Services.
"It's a multidisciplinary team process," Gladstone said. "DCYF is the agency who will make the determination as to whether or not a child should be removed from the home. My recommendations are based on the clinical findings of an exam. I will say what I think happened and what force was required."
Gladstone said she loves her work. She said she knows she is making a difference and that is very rewarding to her.
"We don't want to need this, but we do need it," she said. "I know what I do can make a helpful contribution to the safety of a child. That's why I do it."
Crossing the line online: When teacher-student exchanges become improper
Technology, social media provide easy pathway for inappropriate teacher-student relationships — underscored by the cases of two Pierce County educators charged recently with sexual misconduct
by DEBBIE CAFAZZO
Texting takes just a few seconds. Maybe a tad longer if you're tapping a tiny phone keyboard while drunk.
But writing an old-fashioned letter of apology about those texts takes considerably more time — and 10 pages of neatly lettered notebook paper.
Such a letter, from former Lincoln High School teacher Meredith Powell to the girlfriend of one of her students, is contained in documents released by Tacoma Public Schools as part of its investigation into the 24-year-old math teacher's alleged misconduct.
In it, Powell wrote she was sorry for behaving badly: “Obviously nothing physical or emotional ever happened between (the boy) and I, nor would it ever, but the fact that we ever text at all about non-school related things, or that we ever sent inappropriate messages, under joking pretenses or not, was completely unprofessional, inappropriate & wrong.”
Pierce County prosecutors allege Powell was doing far more than drunk texting with some of her male students.
Hers was one of two back-to-back cases in February in which Pierce County teachers were charged with sexual misconduct.
In both cases, technology didn't directly cause the alleged inappropriate behavior but may have abetted it.
Court documents accuse Powell of misconduct with three boys, ages 15 to 17. The allegations range from kissing, groping and oral sex in her Lincoln classroom to sending out pictures of herself in the bathtub and in bed through an application called Snapchat, designed to deliver images that disappear from a recipient's electronic device in seconds.
She pleaded not guilty last month to two counts of third-degree child rape and one count of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. She quit her job and surrendered her teaching license.
In the other case, 33-year-old former Curtis High School biology teacher Michael E. Allen pleaded not guilty to charges that stem from what prosecutors allege was a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female student.
Court and University Place School District records point to a relationship fueled by text messages and cellphone calls. According to a report by the school district's attorney, Allen logged 1,972 minutes connecting with the girl's cellphone between Nov. 20 and Jan. 16, and they exchanged more than 2,436 text messages between Dec. 19 and Feb. 11.
Allen pleaded not guilty last month to five counts of sexual misconduct with a minor. He also resigned his position.
His misbehavior allegedly did not stop there, nor did his use of technology to secretly continue his relationship with the girl. Last week, Allen was charged with violating a court order to avoid contacting her.
Court documents say that after Allen was released on bail in February, he used a Twitter account to communicate with a friend of the girl. According to documents, the friend told detectives that Allen used her as an intermediary to give a pre-paid cellphone to the girl. The girl's mother said she caught her daughter talking on a cellphone, and the girl admitted talking to Allen and meeting with him once, according to court records.
Terri Miller, who heads a Nevada-based national organization aimed at preventing teacher sexual misconduct, said technology is playing a growing role in such cases.
“Before there were cellphones and social media, there was limited access (between students and teachers),” said Miller, president of SESAME: Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation. “Now, with 24/7 access, it's presenting a huge problem.”
Tacoma Public Schools attorney Shannon McMinimee said that in nearly every instance of staff sexual misconduct the school district has investigated in recent years, “there has been some form of inappropriate communications via electronic means.”
According to court and school district records in Allen's case, the girl told investigators she first got the teacher's phone number from another student, and that she called and texted Allen.
“They began calling and texting each other, and that progressed to them running and walking together,” according to a University Place police report.
The pair then turned from running partners into sexual partners, complete with make-out sessions in the carport at the girl's home, according to police and prosecutors.
A University Place mom first emailed school officials about Allen's alleged behavior, saying the teacher had been seen leaving a student's house.
But even before she mentioned the house call, the mom raised an alarm of a different sort: “There is a teacher at the school who has students as ‘friends' on his Twitter account. Is this OK with school policy?”
It was not.
Allen told an attorney hired by the School District to look into his behavior that he tweeted homework assignments and responded to students' tweets. But he said he had deleted the account.
The attorney's report said Allen stated that about 80 current and former students followed him on Twitter, and that he followed students' own Twitter feeds.
“Mr. Allen admitted to me that these Tweets did not have any educational value or legitimate professional purpose,” the attorney wrote.
The attorney uncovered student tweets from or to Allen in student timelines. While some messages related to course work, others contained messages from kids in typical teen vernacular: “ILYSM (I love you so much)” and “BFFs (Best friends forever).”
A student told the attorney that she and other girls found Allen “super attractive” and started following him on Twitter. Two female students posed with him for a “selfie” self-portrait, then posted the picture on Instagram. One student shot short videos of Allen, including one in which he attempts to catch a piece of candy in his mouth.
According to the report, he admitted taking part in the calls with the 17-year-old girl. But he said he didn't know the identity of the person on the other end. He said a female had begun calling him in November, and that he thought the anonymous caller was a Curtis graduate.
The attorney's report said that after school officials placed Allen on leave during their investigation, Allen and the girl stayed in contact via text. They talked about the conversations they'd had with investigators.
Among the excerpts:
Her: What kind of lawyer did you already talk to? When I talk to the police should I say nothing more than I already have? I was never going to say we had sex or anything.
Him: I know, but just talking about it with a minor I believe is cause to be arrested. I'm not sure though. Did we ever say that we did or were going to?
Her: We did say we loved each other, though.
Him: Yes but that's not sexting. I don't know if we actually sexted.
POLICIES FORBID IT
Experts say texting, tweeting and social media forums such as Facebook and Instagram create an environment that is both intimate and impersonal. While users offer up their innermost feelings, the screen creates a buffer — and a false sense of privacy — that lets them say or show things they might wish they hadn't.
“People tend to say things on Facebook and Twitter that they would never think of saying if they were face to face,” said SESAME's Miller. “Boundaries become very skewed when you are not looking at that child in the face.”
More states are passing laws aimed at preventing sexual abuse by educators. Miller calls Washington — where it's illegal for school employees to have sex with a student, even if the student is 18 and the sex consensual — one of the more progressive.
Both Tacoma and University Place school districts have policies that prohibit teachers and students from sharing private contact information. Teachers who violate policy are subject to discipline or dismissal.
Both districts offer regular training on the subject. Both Powell and Allen had gone through their district's training, although Allen allegedly discounted its value in his interview with the School District's investigative attorney.
“The training did not impress on me the need to be professional,” Allen said, according to the attorney's notes from their exchange.
University Place labels it a “boundary invasion” for teachers to maintain personal contact with students outside school by phone, email, chat rooms and similar means “particularly if the parent/guardian is not copied on the communication.”
Tacoma says teachers maintaining contact by electronic means outside school or sending messages unrelated to school work is unacceptable conduct that can invoke discipline or firing.
Tacoma further advises: “Staff should use school email addresses and phone numbers, and the parents' phone numbers, for communications with students, except in an emergency situation.”
Coaches and student body advisers might have Twitter accounts so they can communicate legitimate activity-related messages to groups of students, said Tacoma's McMinimee.
“But they can't ‘follow' kids or ‘friend' them,” she said. “And they are not supposed to use direct messaging. It has to be open.”
She said one reason for clear policies and frequent training is to protect the innocent, as well as smoke out the guilty.
She points to cases of inadvertent problems, such as the Tacoma teacher who accidentally linked his personal and school online calendars, allowing students to glimpse embarrassing information about his personal life. Or, there's a possibility a teacher could accidentally send a sexy message due to a device's “autocorrect” feature.
“We want to make sure the truly innocent have a chance to go on with their life,” McMinimee said.
A WORLD OF TEXTING
Like many teens and young adults, 18-year-old Wilson High School senior Sabrina Wilson believes it sometimes can be easier to text than talk.
“You can't always call someone,” she said. “Everybody's really busy.”
Wilson sees texting for teens as a kind of guilty pleasure. While she prefers face-to-face communication, she said many teens feel compelled to share details of their lives through texts.
Younger parents and early-career teachers also have grown up as “digital natives.” For them, texting is as natural as talking.
Whether they're comfortable with the technology or not, teachers today are being pushed to embrace it as a way to connect with students and the world in which they dwell.
Two tech-savvy Tacoma teachers agreed to talk anonymously to The News Tribune about some of the issues raised when teachers and kids text.
Both women said it's relatively easy for a student to obtain a teacher's cellphone number, such as through a parent or a parent's phone.
One teacher said she gives her number to parents as a precaution when she takes students on field trips. Another said she was part of her school's PTA, and parents needed a way to contact her.
Sometimes texting is the only way a teacher can communicate with a student or family. Not every family has email or a computer, one teacher said, but even families of modest means usually have a text-enabled phone.
One teacher said she kept in touch with a homeless elementary school student via text — with the full knowledge of her boss.
“He slept in a parking lot, in a car. He was from a gang-involved family,” she said. Texting a trusted teacher kept him connected to school, and the student is now in high school.
Just as cellphones have their place, using social media can be a powerful educational tool.
Some classrooms in Tacoma are experimenting with a “bring your own device” approach to education. Students are asked to take phones, iPods and other electronic tools to class so they can access educational materials or take part in class projects.
New schools are being designed with USB ports inside student lockers.
But teachers can be torn. Some are simply not part of “generation text.” Others worry that they will run afoul of district rules or leave themselves open to false accusations.
Still, one teacher said, it's easy for well-intentioned teachers to stay within the boundary lines. They can tell the difference, she said, between “a reasonable text, as opposed to a creepy text.”
PROS AND CONS OF BANS
Miller, of SESAME, would like to see states enact an outright ban on teachers sharing private contact information.
“There is no reason for educators and students to be communicating privately through private cellphones or Facebook,” she said.
Others would not take such a hard line.
Frank LoMonte, director of the national Student Press Law Center, said teachers have a legitimate need to meet students where they are — and these days, that's in cyberspace.
He said it's important at least to consider First Amendment rights any time a government agency tries to regulate what public employees say and how they say it.
“I would hesitate to adopt a blanket rule that says under no circumstances may a teacher engage in (those kinds of) communications,” LoMonte said. “Sometimes, that communication is a lifeline.”
A few years ago Missouri enacted a law that attempted to ban private messaging between students and teachers. It was repealed because of protests over free-speech rights.
LoMonte said “people raised a host of practical problems about why it was unenforceable.”
Troy Hutchings, a former high school teacher in Arizona who now studies teacher misconduct, said asking teachers to “Just Say No” to social media is unrealistic. Instead, he argues that teachers must learn the fundamentals of how to use powerful electronic tools wisely.
Attorney Fred Lane of New York is a member of SESAME's advisory board and an expert on the legal and ethical minefields social media can create. His next book, due out this spring, is called “Cybertraps for Educators.”
He believes education is only now beginning to embrace the importance of social media and the role it plays in students' and teachers' lives.
“I believe strongly in the need to incorporate cyber-citizenship into every level of the curriculum — from kindergarten on up,” Lane said.
Federal law and Washington state policies require students to have instruction about safe online and social networking behavior. In Tacoma, school librarians teach those concepts to students.
Lane said educators must be cautious in allowing extracurricular contact with students.
“Teachers want to reach out to kids using the means by which kids are communicating,” Lane says. “I understand that. But at the moment, the risks outweigh the benefits.”
Project iGuardian – A partnership with you
Project iGuardian helps kids, teens and parents to be smart about online safety and stay safe from online sexual predators.
HSI is committed to combatting the sexual exploitation of children; as such, investigations of child sexual exploitation are among HSI's primary investigative priorities. The sexual abuse of children impacts the most vulnerable segment of our society.
HSI recognizes the importance of education and community awareness regarding the dangers of online activity. Project iGuardian aims to counter a disturbing fact: many online child predators are able to find victims online because children are not aware of how dangerous online environments can be.
HSI believes that providing children, teens, parents and teachers with information regarding the dangers of online environments and how to stay safe online can help prevent many instances of this crime. That is why HSI has partnered with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children's NetSmartz and the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces to develop Project iGuardian.
To request an iGuardian presentation at your school or organization, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To report a crime, call 866-347-2423 or visit the HSI Tip Line
Suspected child sexual exploitation or missing children may be reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, an Operation Predator partner, via its toll-free 24-hour hotline, 1-800-843-5678.
Pope Francis appoints former child victim to church group on sex abuse
by Steve Scherer
VATICAN CITY — Marie Collins was abused as a child by a priest while she was growing up in Ireland in the 1960s. As an adult, she has long campaigned for the protection of children and for justice for victims of clerical pedophilia.
On Saturday, Pope Francis named her and seven other people to a new panel to help the Catholic Church combat sexual abuse of minors by clerics.
The formation of a group of experts, initially announced in December, comes just over a month after the United Nations accused the Vatican of putting the church's reputation before the well-being of children and imposing a “code of silence” among clerics on the issue of sexual abuse.
Francis has called sexual abuse of children “the shame of the Church” and has vowed to continue procedures put in place by his predecessor, Benedict XVI. But he seemed to pay less attention to abuse than to other reforms. Defensive testimony by Vatican officials before the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child in January set off a wave of criticism that he was not bold enough on the issue.
“Pope Francis has made clear that the Church must hold the protection of minors amongst her highest priorities,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said in a statement.
Lombardi said the group would consider options such as criminal action against offenders, education about child exploitation, best practices to screen priests and a clear definition of civil and clerical duties within the church.
Collins, a founding trustee of the Irish abuse victims support group One in Four, has urged the Vatican to punish bishops who fail to implement church rules on finding pedophile priests and protecting children.
The United States-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) welcomed Collins's appointment but said the pope still had to “take strong steps right now to protect kids, expose predators, discipline enablers and uncover cover-ups.”
Along with Collins, the three other women and four men on the panel hail from eight countries and also include Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley, former Polish prime minister Hanna Suchocka and Baroness Sheila Hollins, a noted British psychiatrist.
O'Malley is a member of the pope's “kitchen cabinet” of eight cardinals. In 2011, he published an online database of clergy in his Boston archdiocese who had been accused of sexual abuse of minors.
Also on the panel are French child psychiatrist Catherine Bonnet, Italian canon law professor Claudio Papale and two Jesuit priests, Argentine moral theologian Humberto Miguel Yanez and German psychologist Hans Zollner.
Innocents Lost: Florida's undercount of child abuse deaths
by Carol Marbin Miller and Audra D.S. Burch
This story is part of the Innocents Lost investigative series. Read an enhanced version of this story here.
Nubia Barahona was found on Valentine's Day in the flatbed of a pest-control truck. She had been imprisoned and starved, beaten and tortured, then doused in toxic chemicals before her corpse was disposed of in a black garbage bag.
The 10-year-old's death in 2011 was so gruesome — and the Department of Children & Families' role leading up to it so inept — that it sparked firings and resignations, a series of angry public hearings, new state laws and a public street that bears her name. To this day, the name Nubia is a rallying cry to some, symbolizing everything that is wrong with DCF.
It turns out she also personifies something else: DCF's penchant for minimizing the number of deaths of children it was supposed to protect. Last month, Florida marked the three-year anniversary of Nubia's passing and the state has yet to send her case to the Florida Child Abuse Death Review Committee, which catalogs child deaths.
The death review committee has a somber but important role: Besides keeping a count, it studies such tragedies in hopes of learning lessons that will avert similar deaths in the future.
“This is an insult to her memory,” said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri Beth Cohen, a 15-year veteran of child welfare court who chairs Miami's foster care oversight board.
How is it that Nubia didn't count?
The committee operates under the umbrella of the Florida Department of Health with data provided by DCF. Its annual report, submitted to the governor and the Legislature, is the official word on how many children die of abuse and neglect in Florida. That information should arm lawmakers with the information they need to make decisions on funding and improving DCF.
Since the beginning, the report had a category stating how many abuse or neglect deaths involved victims from families with a prior DCF history. That number — “deaths with priors” — is a key benchmark for evaluating DCF's effectiveness.
The Miami Herald's yearlong investigation of six years of Florida child deaths revealed that the governor and Legislature were being supplied incomplete, artificially low numbers in this category.
For instance: In 2008, Florida's total number of “deaths with priors” was 79 in the official report. The Herald counted 103, using DCF's own records. In 2009, the report cited 69 deaths. The Herald counted 107.
After 2010, the report no longer separated out “deaths with priors.”
Because it takes time for DCF to “verify” that a death resulted from abuse or neglect, it isn't surprising that some last-minute deaths wouldn't make the annual report. Some, however, sit on the shelf, still “open” in the parlance of the state, for months — and, in Nubia's case, years.
“They are not willing to admit how bad things were or how bad things still are. But that's the first step in improving. You have to admit you have a problem before you can make an attempt to fix it,” said Paul Neumann, who was Nubia's court-appointed guardian.
“They don't want the numbers because they make the state look bad,” said Manatee County Sheriff's Maj. Connie Shingledecker, who oversees that county's child protection program for DCF and served 10 years on the statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee, four of them as chairwoman.
Not counting child fatalities, Dr. Bruce McIntosh wrote in a June 2013 email to other public health officials, “will have the effect of causing these preventable deaths to disappear from public awareness.”
McIntosh, medical director of the Child Protection Team in Jacksonville, added that DCF “will not change this policy of its own will. Thus, while DCF statistics will appear to show a decrease in infant and child deaths, those deaths will continue, and efforts at public education to prevent them will not be supported.”
DCF's interim secretary, Esther Jacobo, said there is no conspiracy.
“I am aware of the critics, and I know the death review folks have long wanted us to verify more [child deaths] so they could see more,” Jacobo said. “I can't imagine that we are quite that organized to have that kind of large conspiracy where we are cooking the numbers. There are too many people involved with it.”
She acknowledged that what is seen as verified child abuse in one part of the state might be viewed differently elsewhere. Each region has its own staff of investigators and administrators who review child deaths before they are sent to the state committee, and they often interpret the agency's policies differently.
The disparities have been marked: Since 2008, the Herald counted 51 child deaths with a DCF history in Broward County, compared to 25 for Miami-Dade, which has 30 percent more children.
Broward, where DCF outsources the investigation and verification of child deaths to the Broward Sheriff's Office, had at least 14 more fatalities with a prior agency history than any other county in the state.
Former BSO Cmdr. James Harn, who supervised protective investigators before retiring when a new sheriff was installed last year, said disputes over verification of child deaths usually involve cases in which a parent's drug use or inattentiveness resulted in the death. “They certainly didn't want the child to die,” Harn said, “but neglect led to the death, so we're going to verify it.”
Administrators at BSO reported 23 abuse or neglect deaths to the statewide Child Abuse Death Review Committee in 2012. DCF leaders in Miami reported three that year. Miami's three deaths verified as abuse or neglect emerged from a pool of 285 overall child fatalities; Broward investigated 181 that year.
About nine other 2012 Miami-Dade deaths remained “open,” or pending, by the fall of 2013, meaning they aren't accounted for in the yearly tally.
The backlog of death investigations became so acute that members of Miami's Local Child Abuse Death Review Team, which studies such deaths in concert with the state team, complained in a series of September 2013 emails that they had nothing to study.
“This is a waste of a precious resource in our community,” said one email, from a member of the team to DCF.
In late January 2014, the Herald asked Jacobo about the status of one case, the Nov. 13, 2012, killings of sisters Daniela and Julia Christina Padrino. Police say the girls' estranged stepfather, Alberto Sierra, suffocated mother Gladys Machado with a plastic bag, and then asphyxiated the girls. Sierra confessed.
Machado had been the subject of four reports to DCF in 2010 and 2011, mostly involving allegations of domestic violence among Machado and at least two men — one of them Sierra. He had been arrested 15 times since 2000.
Sierra had bitten Julia on her arm in October 2011, according to a report to DCF, leaving a visible wound. Although DCF verified that October allegation as child abuse at the time, the agency took no action to protect the girls, concluding the sisters were safe while Sierra was in jail on a probation violation. Machado promised to divorce Sierra and keep him away from her daughters. She changed her mind after he was released from jail.
The day after Daniela's fourth birthday in November 2012, Sierra killed the three in a fit of rage after Machado took a phone call from another man, Sierra told police. All three were found stuffed in the closet of an abandoned home. DCF verified the two girls' deaths as abuse or neglect — so they could be studied and included, finally, in the yearly tally — a week after the Herald inquired about them, and more than a year after they occurred. Sierra is awaiting trial.
Also pending in Miami-Dade, according to the local death review team: the Feb. 20, 2013, shooting death of 11-year-old Stefan Zuniga, allegedly by his father; and the May 16, 2013, hypothermia death of Bryan Osceola — police say he baked in his mother's sealed vehicle two months after she had been charged with driving under the influence with Bryan unrestrained on her lap.
Still others pending: the June 20, 2013, death of Ezra Raphael, allegedly beaten by his mother's boyfriend; and the July 17, 2013, death of Jayden Villegas-Morales, whose father is awaiting trial on manslaughter charges. After a sibling suffered a broken leg while in the care of his mother, DCF placed Jayden in his father's one-bedroom efficiency, joining eight other children, two adults and a puppy.
Based on these circumstances and their families' prior contact with DCF, the Herald included Bryan, Ezra and Jayden in its count of 477 neglect and abuse deaths.
A DCF spokeswoman, Alexis A. Lambert, said that such cases remain open while the agency awaits “additional information” on them.
An email to Lambert and Jacobo on Friday afternoon asking the status of the Nubia Barahona file went unanswered.
AT RISK, WITH INTENT
Another reason to question DCF's oft-stated assertion that child deaths are declining: In September 2010, DCF's top death review coordinator, Keith Perlman, wrote new guidelines for investigating child deaths that redefined neglect.
The new protocol states that DCF should only verify drowning and accidental suffocation deaths if a parent deliberately placed his or her child in danger. A child's drowning is considered the result of neglect if the caregiver understood the child was “at risk, and, with intent, allowed the child to be placed at risk,” Perlman wrote.
Perlman also said that a child smothered by his or her parents while “co-sleeping” in an adult bed did not necessarily die of neglect if the parents' behavior met a “socially acceptable threshold.” If other parents sleep with their small children in an adult bed, he wrote in the September 2010 memo, then such behavior — while dangerous — is not neglectful.
The policy shifts came at a time when the agency was under fire for failing to prevent child deaths.
A DCF employee, who had written several emails criticizing the agency's policies, said the decision to exclude some drowning and unsafe-sleep deaths was explicitly designed to improve DCF's image.
“Secretary [David] Wilkins asked how would we look if we did not include unsafe sleep and drowning deaths,” Ron Hardcastle, a then-DCF public assistance employee, wrote in an April 2011 email to DCF's then-child welfare chief documenting a meeting with the secretary. “The Secretary indicated we ought to consider excluding these deaths.”
Wilkins said he recalls discussing child protection with Hardcastle, but denies ever suggesting his agency suppress numbers. “That, of course, is not true,” said Wilkins, who resigned last summer amid an uproar over child deaths.
Records obtained by the Herald show that in June 2010 DCF codified the new definitions of neglect into the written procedures that govern how child deaths are classified. For example, for an in-bed smothering to be verified, the new rules state, the death must result from “a willful act of the caregiver.” Florida's child abuse criminal statute, on the other hand, requires no such willful act to charge a parent with a felony.
In the ensuing months, the number of child deaths reported by DCF declined.
One 2-year-old drowned in her uncle's pool in August 2011 when his mother wasn't paying attention. A half-year earlier, the mother had been the subject of a report that her drug use and improper supervision endangered the child.
“The death did not appear to occur as a result of a direct willful act of the caregiver,” a DCF investigation of the drowning concluded. “It was a result of not providing essential supervision for her.” The death was not verified as neglect.
In another uncounted death, the mother of a 1-month-old Pinellas County girl had signed a “Safe Sleep Notification Form” twice, affirming that she had been warned of the dangers of sleeping in the same bed as her newborn. It was especially unsafe because the 23-year-old was taking methadone every day to wean her off a years-long pain pill addiction.
The mother had a lengthy DCF history, including allegations that she abused marijuana, ecstasy, and painkillers “on a daily basis in the presence of her children,” injected drugs into her veins, had left one of her children unsupervised at a Walgreen's, and breastfed another infant while abusing drugs. The woman, a report said, “had criminal charges that involved violent and drug-related” offenses. A report that the mother had locked one of her children in a dark attic so she could do “grown-up stuff” was still pending when DCF received its next report, the household's sixth, about a death.
On March 31, 2011, the mother went to bed — with her newborn beside her and a 1-year-old sleeping on a tiled floor. When the mother awoke, her infant was “unresponsive and turning purple in color,” a report said. The cause of the newborn's death was accidental asphyxia, precisely the tragedy the safe-sleeping pledge was intended to prevent.
When the case was closed unverified, an investigator asked the woman to sign another safe-sleeping pledge — her third.
During Memorial Day weekend in 2011, the mother of a 1-year-old boy was texting at poolside during a holiday cookout at a community pool. Her toddler went under the surface and didn't come up. A 10-year-old boy discovered him at the bottom of the pool, jumped in and retrieved him.
“Law enforcement officials indicated that there were approximately 20 adults present at the party, including [the boy's] mother, who was reportedly sitting in a chair away from the pool texting on her cell phone,” DCF reports on the incident stated.
Medical personnel told DCF the boy had been in the pool “for quite some time” before his limp body was found, judging from his body temperature.
DCF declined to verify the boy's death as stemming from neglect, reasoning that the behavior of his 24-year-old mother was no more neglectful than other parents visiting the public pool.
“Along with [the boy],” a report said, “there were several other children in attendance that were likely not supervised properly.”
McIntosh, the medical director from Jacksonville, believes the agency's reasoning is flawed.
“Just because a lot of people leave children unattended by swimming pools does not make it right,” he wrote in a memo to child death reviewers.
“There was a time when parents did not have to buckle their children into car seats, during which time thousands died annually in car accidents,” McIntosh wrote. “These deaths are now prevented. We are tasked with identifying avoidable death hazards that need to be corrected, not simply accepting the way they are.”
JUST AN ACCIDENT
DCF declined to count one suffocation fatality as neglect because investigators could not determine which parent was responsible.
On Feb. 22, 2013, a 35-day-old boy was smothered after his parents placed him in an adult bed between them, a report said. The newborn's mother awoke to find him not breathing and “white in color.” Official cause of death: accidental suffocation and strangulation. Both parents tested positive for drugs: the mother, for marijuana, the anxiety drug benzodiazepine and methadone; the father, for marijuana and benzodiazepine.
“Case is being closed with not substantiated findings of death, due to not being able to determine which caregiver was responsible for the rollover onto the child,” a report said.
Even after a case has been verified, it can be unverified by high-level DCF administrators.
Harn, the former BSO commander, said DCF death reviewers in Fort Lauderdale sometimes took issue with his unit's findings, determining that some drowning or co-sleeping deaths were not neglectful, and should not count.
“They gave the rhetoric that it was truly just an accident,” Harn said. “We refused to change them.”
Nevertheless, they were changed. Harn said that in at least two cases, DCF administrators entered the agency's computer system and shifted child deaths from verified abuse or neglect to unverified. Lambert, the DCF spokeswoman, said she was “not aware of any policy” that addressed whether an agency employee could reverse a verified death finding after a case was formally closed.
Shingledecker, the sheriff's major who supervises child protection in Manatee, openly criticized DCF's then-top child welfare administrator, Alan Abramowitz, in a death review committee meeting around the fall of 2010 when he allowed his agency to remove one drowning death from the list of cases her committee had already analyzed. “We reviewed it. We agreed it met our criteria,” Shingledecker said. Discarding the case “didn't seem appropriate at the time.”
Abramowitz, who is now the statewide director of the Guardian-ad-Litem Program, which provides lay advocates for children in court, remembers the dustup. “It was the only case ever where I said this does not make sense,” Abramowitz said. “It was the only case I ever made a big deal about.”
Although Broward County leads the state in verified abuse and neglect deaths, Kim Burgess, the Department of Health's drowning prevention coordinator in Fort Lauderdale, said that dubious distinction derives from BSO investigators counting most drownings as neglect, while counties in which DCF investigates deaths often do not.
“They're not counting them. They don't want to count them,” said Burgess, who also chairs the Broward child fatality team. “To them, drowning is not an issue.”
The result, Burgess said, is that health and child welfare administrators in many parts of the state have done little to sound the alarm about the potential dangers of unsupervised children around pools and canals. “Every child death, especially drowning, needs to be investigated,” Burgess said. “A child has died. We need to know how that happened, why that happened, and whether it was preventable.”
She said the agency also needs to present a full tally to the governor and lawmakers to justify adequate child welfare funding.
Reviewing child deaths, “allows us to do educational activities, and to, hopefully, prevent some of the deaths — which is, ultimately, our goal,” said Dr. Mary Stockett, who was medical director of Brevard County's Child Protection Team until last year.
“If there is any justice for the deceased child and what he experienced in his life,” she said, “it is that, maybe, it will allow some other child to survive and not succumb to the same fate he did.”
Wife of "D.C. Sniper" to speak at child abuse conference
Monday is last day to register for this Sierra Vista event
by Adam Curtis
SIERRA VISTA — Mildred Muhammad, who was married to the “D.C. Sniper,” will speak at the 19th annual Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Conference on Friday.
Organized by the Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Army Community Service, the all-day conference will start at 8 a.m. inside the Cochise College student union located on its Sierra Vista campus. Monday is the last day to register, for $25, and anyone interested can contact Nilda Townsend at (520) 249-2834. Lunch is provided.
The event sets the stage for April, which is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and will also feature guest speakers Linda Lopez, a former state senator; and Diedra Calcoate, acting child welfare program administrator for the Division of Child Safety and Family Services, according to Lana Tompkins-Stutzman, president of the Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse.
“We have worked hard this year to bring you high quality speakers who can share what they have endured, their resiliency in overcoming adversity, and knowledge that everyone can use to make our community a better place for children,” said Charlotte Taylor, vice president of the committee. The conference offers a chance to exchange information and build relationships with people who share a passion for keeping children and families safe.
A nationally-recognized speaker, Muhammad's children were kidnapped by their father John Muhammad, the D.C. Sniper, Tompkins-Stutzman said. After locating and gaining custody of her children, Muhammad spent years supporting and caring for them as they worked through the trauma caused by their father's actions.
Aside from the speakers, the conference will feature discussions of foster care, community networking and skills for success, in addition to information tables hosted by local service providers.
UNH forensic scientist targets worldwide sex trafficking through DNA
by Rachel Chinapen
NEW HAVEN -- Victims of human trafficking are often stripped of their passports, identification, and ultimately, their identities.
DNA is the one thing that remains with a victim, and for that reason and others, it can be a powerful tool in combatting human trafficking, according to forensic scientist Timothy Palmbach.
Palmbach, chairman of the Forensic Science Department at the University of New Haven, set out last year to test the use of DNA analysis in identifying victims, prosecuting traffickers and ultimately, developing a DNA database of victims and at-risk persons. Palmbach retired from the state Department of Public Safety in 2004, last serving as a major in charge of the Division of Scientific Services.
The number of victims trafficked worldwide remains unknown, but a 2012 figure from the International Labour Organization estimated 20.9 million victims are enslaved in the modern-day form of slavery.
“It's going to take bold, large-scale initiatives to make this thing work, and DNA's going to be a big part of that,” Palmbach said.
During an eight-month sabbatical, Palmbach ventured to a number of places, including Costa Rica, Nepal and Djibouti to see if he could successfully identify and obtain DNA samples from victims and possible perpetrators.
“The question was: Could we do that with the ultimate goal of getting enough evidence available for a particular country, so they could actually proceed with cases against the perpetrators?” Palmbach asked.
The short answer, he said, is yes.
DNA has “value on a multitude of fronts” and can serve as an “objective” tool to support a victim's testimony.
“Up to this point and time, the only successful prosecution requires that this victimized child or woman testifies in court in front of the accusers, and it's extremely difficult for them to do that, and it's really difficult for them to do that powerfully,” he said. “So we're going to add to that the support of forensic evidence, mainly DNA evidence, to prove what happened.”
Palmbach used NetBio Rapid DNA analysis to perform DNA typing within 84 minutes. The results obtained do not disclose personal traits such as mental illness or eye color, Palmbach said.
Mario Gaboury, dean of Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, said witness testimony is good for the sake of putting a face to the issue, but this forensic evidence can spare the victim the “he said, she said, you're a liar” experience.
“Science can definitively put the person at that point and time and say an awful lot about what their contributions were to the criminal acts that occurred,” Gaboury said.
The ultimate goal of Palmbach's research is to “create a sustainable model,” attract funding, and teach agencies in other countries how to use DNA typing to fight human trafficking, he said.
When venturing out of the United States, Palmbach made a connection with government in the country first. A student club, Coalition to Combat Trafficking in Persons, used open-source data to research the nuts and bolts of each country's services: after-care programs, laws, arrest rates, prosecution rates and more.
“At the end of the day, it's their jurisdiction, they're in control,” Palmbach said.
If the local or federal police needed certain information to prosecute an open case, the team went after it.
For instance, in Costa Rica, where prostitution is legal, Palmbach said federal police asked for help investigating a hotel known for sex tourism. The hotel was rumored to use underage girls.
When Palmbach arrived, the hotel was swarming with hundreds of women, he said. With a little prying, he eventually found himself alone with a 14-year-old girl. Under the disguise of a customer Palmbach learned the girl's story: she never knew her father, her mother died a couple of years ago and her brother was killed.
“She went on to explain that she was $400 an hour, and I said ‘why $400 an hour? ‘And she said, ‘because I'm special,'” Palmbach recalled. “I really almost started to cry.”
“I just saw the depravity of the situation and how much it's all driven by money and demand,” he said.
In places where the team conducted field work, Costa Rica and Nepal, Palmbach said they did turn over case investigative files in the end to authorities.
In other places, such as the Balkan Region and Djibouti, Palmbach said the team was working with the government to establish programs, but didn't conduct any research.
In the long term, Palmbach said DNA analysis alone won't end trafficking, and it will take different agencies and fields collaborating.
“Ultimately, we want to gather the evidence to take the network down,” Palmbach said. “We don't want to close one brothel; we want to close all 50 that are operated through this organized network. That's the only way you're going to really make a long-term dent in it, and that's going to take multiple years of investigative efforts.”
Rep. Maloney Pushes Bill That Would Send IRS Against Human Traffickers
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A human trafficking survivor joined U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) Saturday to advocate for a bill that would send the IRS after pimps and traffickers for tax evasion, and provide aid and protection to survivors.
In a news conference at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, at 40 Centre St. in downtown Manhattan, Maloney was joined by sex trafficking survivor Shandra Woworuntu in talking about the Human Trafficking Fraud Enforcement Act of 2014.
The bill would give the IRS more funding and resources to target pimps and traffickers for taxable income, and give financial aid and whistleblower protections to survivors of human trafficking.
Maloney noted that Al Capone was eventually busted using tax evasion charges, and the IRS can also be used to follow the money and catch sex traffickers too.
“We must use every tool at our disposal to crack down on the underground commercial sex economy,” Maloney said in a news release. “This illegal industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While Shandra, an inspiration to all of us, was able to escape her trafficker, who was later imprisoned, she struggled financially for a significant amount of time, as no compensation was ever provided to her.”
Woworuntu is originally from Indonesia. She is college-educated and had worked as a financial analyst there, but lost her job due to political instability and racial persecution, Maloney's office said.
Worowuntu came to the United States in 2001 and had planned to take a hospitality job in Chicago, but she never made it there. She was kidnapped at John F. Kennedy International Airport, her passport was stolen, and she was forced into sex slavery in the Tri-State Area for nearly a year, Maloney's office said.
Woworuntu escaped her trafficker by climbing out a bathroom window in Brooklyn, but struggled financially after breaking free, Maloney's office said. She was finally able to get back on her feet and reunite with her daughter with the help of the nonprofit Safe Horizon, and now lives in Elmhurst, Queens and works as an activist and public speaker, Maloney's office said.
“While I am happy now, leading a life providing support and education for survivors and the public, I struggled for a while after escaping my trafficker,” Woworuntu said in the release. “My trafficker was eventually put in jail, but I never received any money and was at a point where I was homeless, before I got help and got back on my feet.”
Maloney's bill would authorize $4 million to set up a specific office in the IRS to prosecute sex traffickers for tax violations. It would also set up stiffer penalties – including fines of up to $50,000 and prison terms of up to 10 years – for sex traffickers who fail to file returns or pay taxes.
The bill would also set up a new felony – aggravated failure to file – in cases where income is derived from criminal activities and is not reported.
The bill would further give sex trafficking victims up to 15 percent of the fines levied against their abusers.
Enslaved: Agents, lawmakers seek new tools to fight human trafficking in Wisconsin
The hundreds of men, women and children in Wisconsin identified as victims of human trafficking are some of society's most vulnerable, yet their stories are rarely told and their cases are rarely prosecuted.
But police in Wisconsin are now learning to better identify victims, and new legislation could help prosecutors hold traffickers accountable for their actions.
“That person you thought was just a runaway or a delinquent? That person might be a victim of trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Julie Pfluger, who investigates and prosecutes federal child exploitations in Wisconsin. “Investigators need to ask the right questions.”
Pfluger is teaching police how to ask those questions as a regular part of monthly task force meetings, which draw investigators from throughout the western district of Wisconsin, including Marathon County.
“We're working to educate people to think about trafficking in a new way,” she said. “Investigators need to ... look beyond the obvious answers, because this isn't something that's just happening somewhere else.”
In Wausau, several trafficking cases have been reported in recent months, largely through the efforts of undercover officers targeting the illegal online sex trade advertised on the Internet classified ad site Backpage.com.
Kristin Jensen, 25, of Mosinee was one of three women arrested Sept. 27 at a Wausau hotel after undercover officers responded to an ad for adult escort services. Jensen admitted to investigators that she worked with two pimps — Kristen Boyd and Aaron Brown, both of Wausau — who placed online ads on her behalf and set up appointments with men for sexual favors.
Jensen, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor prostitution charges in November but has not yet been sentenced, told police she was desperate for money after losing her job as a nursing assistant. Brown, a former boyfriend of Jensen, promised her “all her financial needs would be met” if she agreed to have sex for money, according to court records.
Jensen worked an average of six days a week, bringing in as much as $1,200 a day as an adult escort, according to the police report. She never saw the money; instead, police said, she turned it all over to her two pimps.
In return, Brown gave Jensen cigarettes and food and claimed to make car payments on Jensen's vehicle. The car was repossessed in September.
Boyd and Brown both face felony pandering charges, one of several crimes the Wisconsin Department of Justice classifies as related to trafficking. Other crimes that fit the trafficking classification are sexual assault of a child, incest, keeping a place of prostitution, soliciting a child for prostitution, using a computer to facilitate a child sex crime and possession of child pornography.
Marathon County Deputy District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon, who prosecutes the bulk of sex-related crimes in Marathon County, said local police and other law enforcement agencies are becoming increasingly aware of the scope of human trafficking in the community.
“Trafficking is a fairly new concept to think about,” Wetzsteon said. “You might think of someone who is shackled or enslaved physically, but there's much more to it than that. I think we're all slowly realizing what can fall into that statute.”
Dispelling the myths
Dispelling common misperceptions about human trafficking is the best way to identify victims and combat the issue, Plfuger said. Too often, victims are overlooked, discounted as consenting adults or dismissed as criminals who choose to engage in illegal acts.
“There's this idea that this is a choice they made,” Pfluger said. “But particularly when you're talking about 12-, 13-year-olds, this is not a choice that anyone would make, especially at that age. Our job as prosecutors is to help juries understand what brought this youth to the brink and how that led to their exploitation.”
The FBI is also active in combating the problem. In July, federal agents conducted a three-day, nationwide sting aimed at combating underage prostitution, an effort that concluded with the rescue of 105 sexually exploited children and the arrest of more than 150 pimps, according to the Department of Justice. The sweep took place in 76 cities including Milwaukee, where 10 children were rescued.
Milwaukee had the second-highest number of exploited children discovered during the operation, topped only by San Francisco, where 12 children were found. But Milwaukee isn't the only city with a problem, Pfluger said.
“We've seen it in rural areas, in tribal areas,” she said. “It's everywhere.”
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, a toll-free hotline that answers calls and texts 24 hours a day from people who want to report trafficking or who are seeking help, received 124 calls from Wisconsin in 2012. That number included three calls from Stevens Point and one from Wausau.
Calls also originated in Appleton, Eagle River, Green Bay and 24 other cities scattered throughout the state. Overall, the center received 20,652 calls nationwide in 2012, the latest year for which city-by-city data are available.
A change in legislation
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, a federal statute signed into law in 2000, offers some protection for victims of human trafficking, but only those who admit to participating and who cooperate in the prosecution of the trafficker — something that is historically problematic, Pfluger said.
“Victims often do not view themselves as victims,” Pfluger said. “They begin to identify with the trafficker. Sometimes, they come from an already bad situation. Law enforcement and prosecutors have to do a better job of looking at corroborating evidence, which might be how many times the victim visited the ER because he or she was beaten by a pimp.”
Some are victimized by family members; others are escaping a life of tragedy and see their abusers as saviors who are helping them. Some victims cope with their situations by claiming it was their choice.
“Sometimes victims come around,” Pfluger said. “More often, they don't.”
Jacqueline Blake-Weston, 22, of Milwaukee is one who does not see herself as a victim. Blake-Weston has repeatedly denied allegations that she and another woman were abused by 40-year-old Derrick Thornton, who is currently serving a 17-year prison sentence on sex trafficking charges.
Blake-Weston told police she met Thornton when she was 17 and on probation for prostitution, according to court documents. Thornton was charged after he was accused of kidnapping a 22-year-old woman in Milwaukee and forcing her into prostitution before she escaped at a Wausau hotel in October 2010.
But Blake-Weston called Thornton a “mentor” she consulted for advice and help.
“(Thornton) is too nice sometimes,” she testified at a November 2013 hearing for Thornton's appeal.
Many victims are extremely fearful of retaliation, either against themselves or their families, if they cooperate with authorities, Pfluger said.
Compounding the problem is the real threat victims face that they, too, could be prosecuted — something that a group of Wisconsin lawmakers is looking to change. A human trafficking bill, spearheaded by state Sen. Jerry Petrowski, R-Marathon, aims to ease potential penalties for victims while cracking down on traffickers. The bill cleared both houses of the Legislature and is expected to be signed into law in the coming days.
The Petrowski bill would eliminate the need for prosecutors to prove the victim did not give consent. The new law also would limit the ability of prosecutors to charge minors engaged in prostitution, give victims greater rights to confidentiality and allow victims to have their records expunged if they are convicted of prostitution while under a trafficker's control.
More funds, a shift in strategy
The state Department of Justice is also taking aim at sex traffickers, said spokeswoman Dana Brueck. The DOJ in September published the results of a statewide assessment on human trafficking that outlined deficiencies in training for people who respond to reports of trafficking and a lack of adequate services for victims.
Statistics on sex trafficking in Wisconsin are also sparse, according to the study.
“Though some agencies in the last two years have begun tracking this type of activity, not all agencies keep statistics under a label of ‘human trafficking,'” the report found. “Further, even those who keep human trafficking statistics may not be able to easily differentiate between cases that involved minors and cases that only involved adults.”
The DOJ also successfully lobbied the state Legislature for money to hire additional special agents and analysts to focus on child sex trafficking, Brueck said. The agency also has nearly 200 affiliates in a statewide Internet Crimes Against Children task force, almost 10 times more than the number of agencies it had in 2007. Marathon County joined the task force in February 2013.
“The growth is significant from an investigative perspective but also in heightening awareness of the many issues involved in child exploitation,” Brueck said. “We have that many more agencies educated and involved in investigating and preventing child victimization.”
Police in Wausau have made a clear shift in investigative tactics to target customers who make trafficking profitable. In January, four men — including a University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point educator who has since resigned — were arrested when they tried to hire one of two undercover police officers to perform sex for money, according to court documents.
Human trafficking is a case of supply and demand, said Wausau Police Lt. Matt Barnes.
“As long as there is a demand and money to be made, there will continue to be a supply,” Barnes said.
The key, he said, is to go after those who pay for the services.
“You can arrest all the prostitutes you want, but unless you go after the johns who hire them, you'll never get a handle on it,” Barnes said.
Stand against human trafficking
by Carissa Phelps
The kidnapping of a child doesn't always start with someone grabbing that child from the street or a playground. For a 12-year-old runaway girl the simple offer of a ride to an unknown destination was enough for her to surrender her freedom and become a commodity to one, and then to many.
This story, my story, would be part of my past, if it were not repeating itself over and over, minute by minute. I tell my story because I am not a statistic; I am human. Victims of sex trafficking are human, too. They laugh, cry, breath and dream, just like we all do.
I was 12 years old and jumped into a man's car. He offered me a hot dog and soda in exchange for "taking care of him." Unable to escape through the bathroom window of the old motel room he had rented, I was kidnapped, but no one was looking for me. I was forced, and upon his departure and vows to return, I managed my escape only to find myself soon manipulated by a battered woman and the pimp trafficker who had assaulted her.
Having been sold for sex, raped and traded for crack cocaine, I eventually found my way out. On my journey through graduate school, more than 15 years later, I thought I had buried this story. But instead I found myself compelled to speak, to share, and to inspire others to do the same. I wrote Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets to share my story because there is no such thing as a "child prostitute." What I was and what I am today is a survivor of kidnapping, sexual assault, child endangerment, and commercial sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is a deplorable crime against individuals, against children, and against society. Yet buyers and sellers continue to benefit, and good people turn a blind eye to how sex trafficking actually happens in their own community. Like any other scammer or criminal, traffickers want us to believe the false story - that someone we ignore as a victim must have been at fault, or at least made a choice to run away, be on their own, or accept a ride to an unknown destination. The real story is one in three runaways will be lured toward sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home.
Today, many more women and men, stand alongside each other as survivors of human trafficking. Once painful, forgotten or buried experiences now take on a purpose. The reach of our stories of suffering, survival, and against-all-odds success goes far beyond any lie told by traffickers. We proudly show them there is a way out and when they are free, they join us with a new purpose and destiny to be lived.
Statewide, survivors are joined in this effort by the California Office of Emergency Services, which has committed more than $5 million through nine human trafficking task forces. In addition, California's network of regional fusion centers, including the State Threat Assessment Center, through many channels including survivors' experiences, works to better understand the evolving threat, the criminals, their techniques, tactics and procedures and shares this information across the state.
Only through collaborative efforts and partnerships with law enforcement, victim service providers, survivors, non-government organizations and academic institutions can we bring light to this dark and hidden crime, take a stand by raising public awareness, and make community members aware of what is happening in their own backyards.
If you have been a victim of human trafficking, or know someone who has, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, 1-888-373-7888 or text Be Free (233733). This line is open all day, every day of the year. Through the hotline, more than 75,000 calls have come in to identify nearly 9,000 survivors.
Each of the 9,000 survivors has a story. Do you know enough to recognize it? Stockton and San Joaquin County have more than their share of human trafficking and must continue to actively work together as a cohesive community to combat and end modern-day slavery.
After graduating from UCLA with a joint MBA and law degree, Phelps authored Runaway Girl: Escaping Life on the Streets. In 2012, she founded Runaway Girl to create employment opportunities and organize survivors of all forms of human trafficking around resources, networks, businesses and local efforts to protect and care for survivors and victims within their own communities.
Coast-to-coast walk brings attention to human trafficking victims
by CHANCE HORNER
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Traveling coast-to-coast takes a couple hours by plane, and a few days by car.
It takes much longer on foot.
"Out of about the last 200 days I've been walking, I've had about two or three [times when] I've been out in the middle of nowhere, my calves are burning and I thought, 'What am I doing out here?'" Chance Stephens said.
He embarked on a cross-country walk to raise awareness about human trafficking — an issue that hits close to home.
"I have three friends that were sexually abused as children and this is my way to fight back," Stephens said.
He's walking to Palm Bay, Florida and then on to Virginia Beach, Virginia after starting his journey in Santa Monica, California in September 2013. Stephens is sometimes offered a place to sleep by friends or supporters, but most nights are spent along the side of a road.
"Things need to change," Stephens said. "For me to save up a little cash and walk across America to speak out against human trafficking, no big deal."
Along the way, he suffered a hip injury. A supporter who heard him speak at her church offered to let him stay her house until he was well enough to continue. That is where he met the man that would partner with him in his journey.
"Their son Jacob was like, 'I want to go with you,'" Stephens said. "And I said, 'Pack your bags, man!'"
Jacob Leonard recently dropped out of college and was living at home. When he heard about Stephens' story, he felt inspired to go with him.
"This is my calling to go do something like this," Leonard said. "This is my go. This is what I need to be doing."
What was once a solitary journey is now a shared experience.
"A lot of people have to go through something difficult before they would prevent it from happening again," Stephens said. "But if I can be one of the people to stand up right now, maybe I can get more people like Jacob to join in."
Stephens and Leonard are raising money for Tiny Hands International, a non-profit organization that helps victims of the sex trafficking industry.
"I want people to stand up and say, 'I don't agree with trafficking,' and 'I don't agree with women and little girls and boys being exploited sexually. Just so one man can get rich'" Stephens said. "Why can't we just stand up? Why can't we just tell them it's wrong?"
You can find out more about Walk America and see an updated map of Stephens' progress at the A Chance For website.