Put attention on abused child, not celebrity
by Darian G. Burns
Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard by now that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse after taking a switch to his 4-year-old child's bare buttocks.
In response to the indictment Peterson was suspended, then reinstated and then suspended again from playing.
Peterson denies that what he did was child abuse. He defends himself, says he was simply disciplining a child misbehaving and that, yes, he did get carried away in that discipline. But he insists, he never committed child abuse.
The court of public opinion has been swift and judgmental.
And, dare I say it? Hypocritical.
The only reason any of this is news at all is because Peterson is a celebrity football running back.
While I can not say much about Peterson, the Vikings or even the NFL's latest attempts to deal with its player's domestic lives, I can speak to child abuse. For the past 20 years, my parents have accepted abused children into their home. I have seen and experienced the abuse of children much more closely than I ever cared to.
While serving on a grand jury for three months, I saw photos of abused children so horrific that I could not sleep and lost significant weight. After completing my service on the jury, I encountered months of depression. Often, the sight of a child would trigger memories of those precious children in the photos I had seen. Children who had been used, abused and thrown away.
My grand jury service and the years of my parents caring for abused children has led me to one difficult conclusion. As far as I can tell, the court of public opinion doesn't care if you are a child being abused as long as your father or mother are not celebrities.
When I have tried to talk with others about what I saw in those pictures and what I have seen in the lives of children that have passed through my parent's home the response is, please, I just can't hear stories like that.
Child abuse is not limited to any one socio-economic group, either. So here is my point, the same people screaming and throwing a fit over a child being switched do not want to face and deal with what real abuse looks like.
The only reason people have an opinion about Adrian Peterson is because he's an NFL player. The focus isn't on the child. The focus is on the celebrity.
Five children will die today from abuse. Five American children will die.
So what can you do about it?
Well, you could become a CASA volunteer and advocate for better treatment. Larimer County's CASA program can be reached by calling (970) 353-5970.
If being an advocate is too much, you also can also donate or volunteer in other ways.
You can befriend the children in your neighborhood and their parents. Become engaged in our community. Be a safe haven for children in need.
You could educate yourself and then write letters to state and county elected representatives and demand they do better by our children.
You could become a foster family for children who have been abused like my parents have.
Or you could just rant about a football player who switched his son. That's probably the easiest thing to do. Just be aware that it is also the one thing least likely to affect real change for children at risk.
Darian G. Burns is a writer, poet and speaker who lives in Greeley. He writes regularly on faith and culture at darianburns.com.
Speaking out about domestic violence is crucial
Advocates for victims of domestic abuse in the Taunton area say that local community members can make a difference in the effort to stop the cycle of violence.
Marcia Szymanski, the recently appointed interim executive director for New Hope, said that men and women should speak out against domestic violence in all its forms wherever they see it, and should act as an ally for victims of domestic violence.
“I think one of the biggest things people can do is speak out,” Szymanski said. “If people are aware of it, they can reach out to that person, be a supportive ear, that you are there for them, that you can help them. If they think there is an immediate danger, they can refer them to New Hope. If they see something going on, they can call the police. That way, they don't put themselves in harm. We aren't asking people to put themselves in harm's way. But we should be speaking out and letting people know you are there for them and that domestic abuse is not acceptable.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month and it is being observed in Taunton through several events, including the 12th Annual Candle Light Vigil for Domestic Violence Awareness. The event, organized by Southeastern Massachusetts Voices Against Violence, is taking place on October 6 at 5:30 p.m., starting at St. Thomas Church., before participants will walk to the Taunton Green holding purple balloons, signs and candles to to draw attention to the issue and to honor victims killed in domestic violence.
In 2013, at least 22 deaths in Massachusetts were the result of domestic violence, according to the nonprofit Jane Doe Inc. One of those women was Taunton's Jennifer Martel, who was brutally murdered by her former boyfriend, Jared Remy, in the presence of their 4-year-old daughter, after a long history of abuse.
According to the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, nearly one half of women in Massachusetts have experienced rape, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lives.
Szymanski said that too often domestic violence is ignored. Szymanski said that whether it is an instance of domestic abuse against a friend, or a random domestic abuse situation seen on the street, bystanders can make a difference.
“That's what we call bystander intervention,” Szymanski said. “Most people know someone who has been in or is currently involved in a domestic violence situation. If you are aware when you're walking down the street that there is a family with domestic issues, you are more aware of what's going on, and you can take more notice if you hear something.
“This has happened to me: I saw a couple in what looks like an altercation. I will go around the corner and call the police, or pull my car up to them and say, ‘Are you OK? Do you need help?' Sometimes that startles them into stopping.”
New Hope offers crisis intervention, life transition and violence prevention programs for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence throughout the region, serving 54 communities in Central and Southeastern Massachusetts based out of its office in Attleboro. The nonprofit is marking its 35th year of service, and now has around 60 employees.
New Hope operates a 24/7 hotline at 1-800-323-HOPE to provide immediate help to victims, which often includes placement in a shelter and sometimes transitional housing, to get them away from their abuser and allow them to forge a new life. The New Hope hotline and others like it set up for other regions around the state get a total of about 500 calls a day, Szymanski said.
With recent high-profile domestic abuse allegations against NFL football players, and criticism of the league's reaction, Szymanski said that the news has provided an opportunity to create more awareness and correct misunderstandings about domestic violence.
“It's a bigger issue than Ray Rice,” she said. “It's a culture of how we resolve issues. Domestic violence is about power and control, someone feeling they need to exert power and control over someone.”
Szymanski said one of the best ways the culture can improve is by first learning never to blame the victim, and also to believe their claims of abuse.
“The very first thing you can do is believe a person and not make a judgment,” she said. “I think one of the things that's most frustrating about the NFL thing is the amount of comments that blamed the victim, saying that she is in it for money, why is she staying with him and that she must have provoked him. There is a tremendous amount of victim blaming. Believe the victim and don't make any judgment. I think those are some of the first things people can do.”
Szymanski said that men could play a tremendous role in combating domestic abuse, while also acknowledging that homosexuals and men can also be the victims of domestic abuse.
“I think particularly for men it's really important for men to speak out, and for them to say this is not acceptable,” she said. “I'm not trying to gender stereotype. There are also men victims of violence. Violence happens in a lot of different situations. It's also in same-sex couples. … (But) since the predominance is men violence on women, I think it's important that men have a really important role to play in terms of speaking out.”
Szymanski said awareness and prevention is not limited to responding to violence that can be seen in plain sight. It also includes improving the values of the culture and fostering respect toward women, in order to create an environment that is more resistant to and educated about all forms of domestic abuse.
“If you are hanging out with buddies, and you hear them starting to make derogatory comments about someone, you should say, ‘That's not cool, I'm not comfortable with that kind of behavior,'” Szymanski said.
Another important way to stand up against domestic abuse and sexual violence is to support organizations that are offering help to victims, and working to end the domestic violence epidemic in general.
New Hope, which also has two offices in central Massachusetts, served 359 individuals with counseling and provided advocacy to 224 individuals during fiscal year 2014, the group said. That includes medical advocacy for 21 sexual assault survivors, with counselors at Morton Hospital and Sturdy Memorial Hospital, Szymanski said.
During the last fiscal year, the group also housed 137 people in its shelter, including 92 adults and 45 children. In addition, last year the program served three adults and five children through a transitional living program, to get them away from perpetrators of abuse and to help them provide for themselves.
New Hope is holding a fundraiser on Nov. 21 at the Attleboro Lodge of Elks, called “Gourmet Guys,” which features chefs from the area who cook to help support the nonprofit's efforts.
“Some of the men have been doing this for 25 years,” Szymanski said. “This is what we are talking about when we are talking about men speaking out.”
The group is also co-hosting a free public event in Taunton at the Holiday Inn on Oct. 20, featuring the screening of a film about a woman's battle with domestic abuse, along with a discussion about the subject.
The Taunton event on Oct. 20 is being organized by New Hope and Southeastern Massachusetts Voices Against Violence, which was founded by Taunton's Annemarie Matulis, who has shared her own story as a victim of domestic violence. The group holds its vigil for domestic violence each year, along with other events, and makes efforts to raise awareness about domestic violence and other forms of violence in society.
For more information about Southeastern Massachusetts Voices Against Violence, go to their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TauntonVPTF
Southeastern Massachusetts Voices Against Violence is a program of the Greater Taunton Violence Prevention Task Force (VPTF), which was founded in 2003. The Taunton VPTF meetings on the third Monday of the month at 5 p.m. at the Coram Lounge inside the St. Thomas Church Hall in Taunton.
Montgomery County woman caught in sex trafficking when she was 8
by Marion Callahan
Time is money.
That's what she was told by the man who sometimes grabbed her by the hair and dragged her through the third-floor fire-escape window into his home, where strange men were lined up and waiting.
The man, a neighbor who lived just four houses away from her family's suburban home, sold her “like a product,” she said. Over two years, the man forced her to have sex with strangers and photographed her with men and other children, she recalled.
Still, she made it home for dinner every night — and she never said a word to her mother.
The nightmarish ritual started when Jen Spry was just 8. It took years before she realized she had been a victim of sex trafficking.
Spry, now 38, described the middle-class suburban street where she grew up as a place where neighbors knew and greeted each other. Her mother never let her play farther away from home than the church playground, just a few houses away. From there, she could hear her mother call her.
In fact, the church park is where she was heading the day she and her cousin met the man who would change her life. She never knew his real name.
“The guy asked us if we had seen a little dog on the way to the park and we both said ‘no.' After a little bit, he walked over to us and asked for help and offered to pay. He said he didn't want the dog to be scared or lost and he wanted to find him before dark. So we stopped what we were doing (and helped),” she recalled. “We felt bad for him.”
After the three unsuccessfully searched for the dog, the man invited the girls in for lemonade and cookies. He told them to climb the fire escape and come in through the third-floor window.
Once inside, Spry began to wander around the home.
“I went over and sat on the couch, where I saw hundreds of pictures of little kids undressed, kids doing sexual acts,” she said. “I slammed my lemonade down, ran out the window, down the fire escape and to my backyard.”
There, she said, she made a promise with her cousin never to return to that house. But they did return to the church park, and the man, who lived next door to it, walked outside with his arms full of toys.
“He said he was sorry and that he didn't want to scare us. He said he wanted to thank us,” said Spry, who recalled waiting until the man left the toys at the bottom of the fire escape and went back inside. “We counted to three and then we ran toward his house. We had so many toys, including Barbie dolls.”
At home, Spry offered her 6-year-old sister any toy she wanted so she would keep quiet about the gifts. She stuffed the packaging in her grandfather's garbage can. He lived next door. Then, she hid some of the toys so her mother wouldn't find them.
At least two weeks passed before Spry and her cousin headed to the playground again. The man called out to Spry, saying he wanted to take a picture of her and offering to pay her. She said she felt “partly obligated” because she had accepted the toys.
“We bartered back and forth on a price until he hit a number that sounded like a lot of money for us to do nothing,” she said. “He took the picture in his yard of me on a picnic table.”
He asked her to wear a dirty, red shirt, which she later learned was a clue to traffickers that she was a young girl.
“That was the first time he photographed me. It seemed rather innocent. But by taking that money, I already knew I was in the wrong, and that's where the secrets began.”
Threats followed shortly after that.
“This man threatened to kill my mother, kidnap my sister and leave me abandoned,” said Spry, who then agreed to come to his house daily and do as she was told.
“Many mornings, I would leave my front door, look at my mom and wonder if it was the last time I would see her.”
Some days, she said, he would inch up to the bus stop in his car, stop and stare at her.
“We would stand close to the crossing guard, but no one ever noticed what was going on,” she said.
Spry wasn't the only victim. She said other neighborhood children were also exploited.
“This man was forcing children and myself to perform sex acts with adults and with other children; all the while it was being photographed and videotaped,” she said. “His customers knew what age I was, and these men bought time to be with me.”
Sometimes, she said, he would pose the clients to keep their faces hidden.
“But there was always a full view of the children in the photos, and it was always violent. Often I had marks and bruises that I would try to hide. I had bite marks that I would hide from both him and my mom,” Spry said.
Spry said her mother thought she was outside playing in the yard or at the playground.
“My mother would call my name for dinner. I always answered the call and ran home,” she said. “When I couldn't hear, he would tell me to hurry up, get dressed and go home. I made it to the dinner table every night, filled with shame and fear. Yet no one ever suspected because no one could ever imagine what was happening.”
On school bus rides home, Spry said she experienced a sinking feeling of dread. Next came a wave of “numbness” that she said helped her cope with the violence. But Spry couldn't forget the apartment, the smells of urine and feces, the scattered beer cans, the clients exchanging cash and sometimes drugs for sex with her and other kids.
“There were always people rolling joints, drinking beer,” she said. “He was unclean and unkempt, but he pretended it was a business and he was a professional photographer and said he had customers and clients to please. We were just products. He acted like he owned us. We were so scared that we did everything that he commanded.”
Spry said she she felt like she didn't have a safe way out of the cycle of abuse and exploitation. At school, teachers began to notice she was acting distant and withdrawn.
“ ‘Are you all right?' they would ask. I would say ‘fine,' ” she said. “They (teachers) never told me what would happen if I told the truth. The fear of the unknown is sometimes more gripping than taking a chance. The fear of the unknown kept me in bondage.”
Spry said she didn't know how others could protect her.
“If someone said, ‘If this is happening to you, this is what we would do,' I would have listened to what they were going to do first. If I thought it would work, I would have told the truth, but no one ever told me how I would be protected,” she explained.
A doctor's visit didn't help.
“All the signs were there,” she said. “He saw signs of abuse, but didn't ask the right questions. He asked if something was happening. And I said, ‘It will never happen again.' ”
The doctor believed her and dismissed Spry, warning her that if he did see her again in that condition, he would “do something.”
“They believed a little kid. If you come directly at them, they'll (kids) shut down or defend. If you reason with them and tell them ways they would be protected, they would trust you more than the threats. I was never asked in a safe enough way that I could answer with the truth,” she said.
The abuse only ended two years later when Spry showed up one day to an empty house. The man had disappeared.
Yet, she was still afraid.
“I always believed he would show up at the bus stop and kidnap us,” Spry said. “Long after that day, I would still look at my mom and wonder if it was the last time I would see her.”
Spry, who told her story with a supportive staff of advocates from the Network of Victims Assistance, said she shared her experience so it might help other victims and their families.
“The mental and physical toll has led to a lifetime of recovery, including many medical procedures on my reproductive organs to treat what happened, and many years of counseling and care,” she said.
Today, the Collegeville resident isn't just a survivor of sex trafficking, she's a speaker, an educator and an advocate for victims nationwide. She graduated from a nursing program at Montgomery County Community College so she can be an advocate for victims in the medical field, too.
“I share this story, so if parents are reading this and have a child, they might ask the right questions and tell their children what they would do to protect them,” Spry said. “I wish someone would have done that for me. It could have been so different.”
In Wake Of Bell Mass Shooting, Could Fla. Be Considering Another DCF Legislative Fix?
by Sascha Cordner
State child welfare officials are looking into what went wrong in their handling of an investigation of a Florida man who shot himself and his family in North Florida. The Florida Department of Children and Families say they were actually investigating the man weeks before the mass shooting in Bell. So, in the wake of the deadly rampage, could lawmakers be considering another DCF legislative fix?
About a week ago, Don Spirit shot his 28-year-old daughter Sarah and her six kids ranging in age from about three months old baby to 11-years-old.
After calling 911 and warning the operator he would commit suicide when Gilchrist County Sheriff's deputies arrived on the scene, Don Spirit followed through and shot himself at his Bell home.
“Yes, ma'am,” said Spirit, heard in the recently released 911 call. “I just shot my daughter and shot all my grandkids, and I'll be sitting on my step, and when you get here, I'm going to shoot myself.”
“First deputy on the scene made contact with the subject who alter committed suicide. Deputies searched the residence which revealed multiple victims with apparent gunshot wounds inside the residence,” confirmed Sheriff Robert Schultz, following the incident.
The day after the shooting, Governor Rick Scott visited the north Florida town. And, speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, he said he's still in contact with authorities in Bell.
“I spoke to the Sheriff, the superintendent, and the principal yesterday to see if there's anything they needed from the state,” said Scott. “Both the superintendent and the principal said there's been a lot of grievance counselors that have come to the school because those children were going to an elementary school there and it happened after they came back from school that day.”
As details continue to unfold, it's been discovered that two weeks before the shooting, someone had called the Florida Department of Children and Families' child abuse hotline to complain that adults in the home were using drugs in front of the kids—a claim that state child welfare officials say they had been investigating.
In addition, officials say both Don Spirit and his daughter were the focus of several past abuse and neglect investigations.
Now, Governor Rick Scott says he has the agency looking into it.
“Right now, we ought to be praying for the family. We ought to be doing everything we can for all the survivors in the community. But, then do exactly what we're doing and do a thorough investigation to understand what happened because we don't want this to happen in our state again,” he added.
And, Stuart Republican Representative Gayle Harrell agrees. She was in charge of this year's effort in the House to overhaul DCF, after a series of investigative Miami Herald reports outlined a number of child-abuse related deaths that occurred under the agency's supervision.
The massive overhaul includes hiring more child protective investigators and putting together a child death's website. It also created a team to conduct an investigation following any child death to determine the root cause of the child abuse death and report their findings.
“A good example of the change that has happened is we have this Rapid Response Team out there doing the investigation, and so we should have within in the next week or so as to what exactly went on and what went wrong. It will help us make decisions and DCF make decision as to where to go from here,” said Harrell.
Still, she says moving forward, she expects there will be a lot hearings when the legislature next convenes, starting with committee hearings in January.
But, she says for now, she's taking a wait-and-see approach as to what shakes out from the DCF probe, especially given the new law reforming the system just took effect months ago.
“And, if the new law is not going to address that, we need to learn about that and perhaps take further steps, but let's see what shakes out of the investigation. And, also let's see how the changes in the new law could have had an impact. I think they will have a significant impact, and it makes me even more determined as we go down this road of reform in changing this system and making sure the safety of the child is paramount,” she added.
In addition to DCF, local authorities are also conducting their own probe. That includes how Don Spirit had a gun with a felony record.
The elder Spirit had a troubled past, which includes serving time in prison for accidentally fatally shooting his eight-year-old son in the head during a hunting trip in 2001.
Couple charged with child abuse after 11 CPS investigations
by BEN BOTKIN
Their history with Clark County Child Protective Services stretches back to 2008.
Las Vegas parents Donald E. Brown and Melissa D. Lawrence received 10 visits from CPS staff investigating allegations of possible neglect or abuse reported to the county's child abuse hotline from 2008 to 2012, according to police and court records.
CPS, part of the Department of Family Services, investigated the welfare of one of Melissa's daughters, who had injuries that included black eyes, bruises and a chipped tooth during that four-year period, court records show.
Court records also show the agency was aware during a 2010 investigation that Brown, 51, already had a criminal conviction in the death of another child. In 1984, he was convicted in California on a charge of manslaughter after his daughter died of multiple skull fractures, according to Clark County District Court records.
The two didn't face criminal charges in Las Vegas until January, following their 11th CPS investigation, which started in late 2013, and a Metropolitan Police Department investigation that led to their arrests. The charges allege abuse that unfolded during a three-year period from 2010 to 2013, largely the same period when multiple CPS investigations were unable to substantiate such claims.
The last CPS investigation of the couple showed the agency responded in December 2013 to a high school after Lawrence's daughter showed up with bruises under her left eye and an injury to her other eye. The investigation also found that the girl had bruises on her back.
CPS removed the girl and three other children from the couple's custody in January, nearly one month after the investigation started, police reports show.
Brown is charged in a 19-count indictment that alleges child abuse, neglect or endangerment and battery with use of a deadly weapon constituting domestic violence. The indictment also alleges Brown tried to intimidate the teen into lying to police about how her back was injured.
Lawrence, 34, is named in three various child neglect charges in the indictment that alleges she had a role in placing a child in a situation with the potential for injuries and delayed or failed to get medical treatment.
Police records indicate that Brown and Lawrence have been together for more than a decade.
Whitney Luksaik, a Department of Family Services employee since 2007, testified at a preliminary hearing for the couple in July about CPS investigating a call placed to the county's child abuse hotline in 2010.
“We did have concerns because we had multiple calls into the hotline and investigations that dealt with physical abuse,” she testified, according to a transcript of the hearing.
Luksaik testified she visited Lawrence.
“I had addressed with her the concerns of her husband, and knowing the history of his criminal offenses that he had been charged with in regards to another minor that had died, and she was fully aware of it,” Luksaik said.
One of the children interviewed in 2010 told Luksaik that Brown and Lawrence had said to say nothing if adults question her about what happens in the home, or she would get into trouble, according to Luksaik's testimony.
“I tried to explore what trouble meant, but she was pretty quiet and shut down at that point,” Luksaik testified.
Asked if the information rose to the level of removing the children from the house, she testified it didn't, and there was input from her supervisor.
She also testified that she did a safety plan during a subsequent investigation in 2010, and the child was removed for an unspecified period of time. In general, safety plans keep the department involved with a family, with an eye toward child safety.
Family Services spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said in a statement that criminal history alone doesn't determine whether a child's removal is necessary.
“Prior criminal convictions do not dictate the path a CPS investigation takes, but that information can show patterns of behavior that provide insight into a caregiver's willingness or ability to protect a child,” she said in an email. “That information alone cannot be used to entirely justify removing a child — it's just one factor of many taken into consideration when assessing for child safety to determine if a removal is warranted.”
She noted that factor varies based on the type of crime.
“For example, a financial crime is very different from a violent crime,” Jourdan said.
Jourdan was unable to comment on the specifics of this case due to confidentiality requirements of child welfare cases.
Brown's attorney didn't return a call for comment. Brown has denied the allegations in court records, contending there is “zero evidence.”
Since his 1984 conviction, Brown argues in court records, he has raised a son who is now an adult serving in the military.
Lawrence's attorney, Michael Gowdey, said, “No prior instances of CPS involvement ever resulted in a finding that there was abuse or neglect with this girl. In fact, there were witnesses to each and every one of the instances which showed that there was no abuse or neglect.”
“Melissa Lawrence is a good mother,” Gowdey said.
Records show Family Court has approved a reunification plan for the couple and their children, with oversight from CPS.
The two are scheduled to go to trial in October.
Abusive words can do lifelong damage
by Tom Krause
While physical abuse has been the topic of headlines lately, there is another form of abuse prevalent in our society that is just as harmful to its victims that gets little attention.
It is emotional/verbal abuse. I have recently been asked to speak on this topic to school students who are victims of this kind of abuse.
"Moron," "stupid," "retarded" "ugly" and others are words used by bullies. If it happens at school, the bully is disciplined. If it happens at work, the abuser is punished or terminated. But what if it happens at home? What if you are the child or a spouse of a verbal/emotional abuser? What if you are a senior citizen being abused by your children?
Emotional abuse, which includes name-calling and shunning, over time chips away at your self-worth until you're left feeling powerless or depressed. It is a form of manipulation.
At first you don't notice it. You just accept the hurtful remarks and move on. You start to seek ways just to please the loved one so you don't get hurt again.
Many times the victim will assume the blame in the relationship for not doing his or her part, and feel her or she deserves the abuse.
The victims of emotional/verbal abuse from loved ones can suffer for years, resulting in low self-confidence, the inability to make decisions, a fear of making mistakes, suicidal thoughts and/or depression.
Verbal abusers can have outgoing personalities. They take great pride in how many friends they have to appear popular. That is what makes it so hard for family members to believe how this person can be so different to loved ones at home. By the time they realize what is happening, they are trapped in the emotionally abusive relationship.
Victims stay in verbally abusive relationships for many reasons. They may feel that there is no way out. Children become dependent on their abusive parent. The idea of leaving the relationship may bring up feelings of anxiety or fear.
The wife of a verbal abuser may stay in an abusive relationship because she feels like she "can't make it alone" since she has been brainwashed by her spouse for a long time.
Abused men with children may be afraid to leave because of prejudices from a legal system to give custody of the children to an abusive wife and not being allowed to see them.
Senior citizens can become helpless when their children who now take care of them become abusive. Some states offer volunteer resources for senior citizens who are abused by their children.
What is the solution? It must be confronted. It needs to stop. But as you can see, it is complicated. Emotional/verbal abuse is a problem that doesn't get the legal or media attention it deserves.
If you have an opinion, please let your voice be heard. You may have a solution to help save a life someday.
Tom Krause is a former educator and a motivational speaker who lives in Nixa.
What Makes Mothers Kill Their Own Children?
by Fredrick Kunkle
Soon after Catherine Hoggle disappeared with her two young children, law enforcement officials feared the worst — that the severely mentally ill young woman might harm the children and herself.
More than a week after an intense search, and with no sign of 2-year-old Jacob or 3-year-old Sarah, investigators announced that they had begun preparing a homicide case against the Montgomery County woman, believing she may have committed one of the rarest and most repugnant of crimes.
And yet it's the third time in a matter of weeks in the Washington region that a mother has been suspected of harming her offspring.
The act of killing one's child is unthinkable for any parent, but owing to long-standing cultural, emotional and biological factors, a mother who kills her offspring has the power to inspire special shock and revulsion.
“Momma is the loving person, the giving person, the sacrifice person — for them to do something like that is like denying God or something,” said Bobby Hicks, former Union County deputy sheriff who was the first to interview Susan V. Smith, a South Carolina woman who killed her two children in 1994 by letting her car roll into a lake with the toddlers inside. “How could a mother do that to her children?”
Such a mother is seen as someone who is not only guilty of a crime but has violated a law of nature and rebelled against instinct.
But the motives behind maternal filicide, as it is known, are much more complex, even counterintuitive — and troubling, even for those professionals who have devoted their careers to trying to understand them.
“It's just such a delicate subject,” said Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of California at Davis who has conducted pioneering research on the evolutionary, psychological and historical factors in infanticide.
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The work of Hrdy [pronounced HURDY] has created controversy by demonstrating that under certain circumstances, infanticide could serve as an evolutionary adaptation, not necessarily a pathology, in the human struggle for existence.
In an interview and in her book “Mother Nature,” Hrdy said that infanticide is extraordinarily rare among primates, whose offspring are among nature's most costly to raise because of their long path to maturity. It is more common among other mammals, such as lions, that cull their litters.
But nature, over eons, has instilled hard calculations in primates and humans, too: A mother faced with inadequate resources to ensure survival of herself, the child or other offspring might feel compelled to abandon or kill it.
Hrdy's work also suggests, paradoxically, that those pressures may be greatest in patriarchal cultures where a woman's role as mother is idealized and she is under intense pressure to give birth to children and nurture them with self-denying devotion.
“[I]n societies where women have a lot of social support and also have access to birth control and education about birth control and the freedom to use it — in those societies, rates of child abandonment and infanticide are going to be very low,” Hrdy said in an interview. “It is in the societies where you don't have those choices where the rate goes up.”
Phillip J. Resnick, a professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University's Medical School who is considered to be an expert in the study of filicide, distinguishes between neonaticide, a term he coined to describe the killing of an infant by its parents within the first 24 hours of birth; infanticide, which involves a parent's killing of a child less than 1 year old; and filicide, which is the killing of a child up to 18 years old by a parent, stepparent or guardian.
Resnick also categorized five basic motives. There is “altruistic filicide,” when a mother kills in the belief she is saving her child from a fate worse than death; “acutely psychotic filicide,” in which a mother obeys voices or hallucinations commanding her to do so; “fatal maltreatment filicide,” in which a child dies from abuse or neglect; and “unwanted child filicide,” in which a mother rids herself of a child perceived as a hindrance. The rarest motive involves a mother seeking revenge against her spouse — like Medea, a figure in Greek myth who killed her children to avenge herself against their father after he had abandoned her for another woman.
“In reality there are both rational and irrational reasons,” Resnick said in an interview.
A statistical analysis by Brown University researchers of more than 15,000 homicide arrests over 32 years found that about 500 parental filicides occur annually, or about 2.5 percent of homicide arrests.
Just this month, Prince George's County authorities charged Sonya Spoon, 24, with killing her two toddlers — Ayden Spoon, 1, and Kayla Thompson, 3 — in their Cheverly home on Sept. 7. On Sept. 16, District police filed murder charges against Frances Lyles, 25, in the fatal beating of her son, Xavier, 3, in June. Earlier this year, Montgomery County police brought murder charges against a Germantown woman who allegedly killed her two toddlers because she believed they were possessed by demonic spirits. None of the defendants has entered a formal plea, online court records show.
Filicide goes back to the earliest days of human existence, its enduring grip on the psyche still preserved in myths and fairy tales. Even in the Bible, the stories of two key figures — Isaac and Jesus — evoke themes of sacrificial filicide.
In practice, the most common reasons for infanticide include disability, illegitimacy, lack of resources and cultural preferences for males. When twins were born among the Inuit, for example, the indigenous Arctic people sent one off on an ice floe because providing for two was too daunting, Resnik said. Hrdy cites a letter from a Roman soldier to his pregnant wife in the first century BCE with some blunt instructions: “If it is a boy keep it, if a girl discard it.”
By the 16th century, some European countries enacted laws making filicide a capital offense. But in 1922, Britain reduced penalties for maternal filicide, based on the presumption that a woman who killed her child must be imbalanced from the effects of giving birth — a stance that caused feminists to criticize lawmakers for treating childbirth as a pathology and assuming women were less able to govern their behavior than men.
“On the one hand, the mother is a nurturer and a protector, and if they violate that role the public feels they deserve the harshest punishment,” Resnick said. “And yet on the other hand, mothers unconditionally love their children, and there must be something very wrong, and so they deserve leniency.”
The British law reflected the sense that mothers who kill their children must be in the grip of a force strong enough to overpower the deep psychological, biological and cultural traits that normally bind them to their children, beginning in pregnancy. When a woman breastfeeds, her body undergoes changes that deepen the attachment further. Stress-related chemicals subside, and her body releases oxytocin, a potent hormone that promotes emotional bonding. The chemical reaction is so powerful that women who nurse their newborns are less likely to harm them in those first few days when infanticide risk is at its height.
To prevent maternal filicide, Resnick urged psychiatrists to be alert to the potential in mothers suffering from mental illness. Mothers who appear to be in the throes of severe depression, substance abuse or personality disorders should be queried about their child-rearing practices and parenting problems. Mothers who voice suicidal thoughts should be identified early, and perhaps asked about the fate of their children if the mother were to die. Resnick also urged a lower threshold for psychiatric hospitalization.
“Psychotic mothers who fear that their children may suffer a fate worse than death due to persecutory delusions should either be hospitalized or separated from their children,” Resnick wrote, in a paper he co-authored for the World Psychiatric Association's journal.
Society's profound ambivalence toward maternal filicide often plays out in high-profile cases, such as those of Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, a Texas woman who drowned all five of her children.
Smith initially told investigators that she had been carjacked by a black gunman who drove off with her two sons — Michael, 3, and Alexander, 14 months. Hicks, the former sheriff's deputy, said he believed her story until the moment she confessed nine days later.
“You have to understand: This is a small town. In small towns, you know everybody,” said Hicks, who lived less than a mile from Smith and attended church with her. “And you don't hear of mothers hurting their children.”
Prosecutors sought to impose the death sentence. But the jury that found Smith guilty elected to spare her life. She is still in prison for the October 1994 murders.
Andrea and Rusty Yates were a deeply religious couple whose lives revolved around raising and home-schooling their large family in a Houston suburb.
But Andrea Yates also had been treated for severe postpartum depression after the birth of her fourth child and again after her last.
On a Wednesday morning in June 2001, she filled the bathtub and drowned each child one by one. She called her husband, a computer specialist at NASA's headquarters, and told him to come home. She called police.
Debra M. Osterman, a psychiatrist with the Mental Health and Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County, Tex., said she diagnosed Yates with psychotic major depression that had so darkened her mind that she believed that killing her children, though against the law, could save their souls.
“She just had absolutely no idea that what she'd done was wrong. She said, ‘Maybe I could have just killed Mary, and that would have satisfied, that would have saved them all,'?” Osterman recalled. “It was weeks later before I felt like I was seeing any life behind her eyes.”
Yates pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Jurors found her guilty but spared her a death sentence. Her conviction was later overturned, and a second jury found her not guilty by reason of insanity. She has been in a psychiatric hospital since 2006.
Osterman said Yates has made progress since the trial, though like many other mothers who have killed their children she will always struggle under enormous guilt.
“She really believes she will be reunited with her children but only if she lives out her life and doesn't commit suicide,” Osterman said.
The larger lesson, if any, is that medical officials should have acted on warning signs earlier and intervened more dramatically, Osterman said. Less than 48 hours before the killings, a mental health worker failed to heed Rusty Yates's pleas that his wife should be hospitalized, Osterman said. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
“I think people really project a lot of archetypal things onto these cases,” Osterman said. “I think this is all very distressing to us because we all feel vulnerable as children. The danger is really right there in the house.”
A GoodTherapy.org Review of ‘A Secret Safe to Tell'
A new children's book, A Secret Safe to Tell , was written to help children understand that it's okay to tell someone when they have been hurt or inappropriately touched by someone who instructs them not to tell.
The book illustrates the story of a young girl whose adult friend makes her feel special and loved, and then confuses her with his touches and “games.” Believing she has done something wrong, the girl is afraid to tell anyone about what her friend did, and she feels very alone with her shame and worry. When she's finally able to share her secret, she experiences relief.
Author Naomi Hunter explains her motivation for writing the book:
Struggling and desperate to demystify the darkness and secrets embedded in my childhood, I felt isolated, full of fear and shame. My dream grew into creating a resource that could empower victims of all ages from childhood sexual abuse (CSA), break the guilt and disgust we carry, unite our journey with hope and gentle nurturing whilst educating and protecting our future generations from this horrific experience. I am deeply passionate about reducing the frightening statistics around CSA and empowering everyone to do their part. This is an issue that can be eradicated, it is preventable. We need to encourage parents and educators that it is safe to talk to their kids, provide them with the tools to protect themselves. It is vital that we act to spare our children from a lifetime of flashbacks, of a negative self-image and worth, from the disassociation from their beautiful bodies and the horrific nightmares that plague one's existence resulting from CSA.
Hunter closes the book with encouragement for children who may feel afraid to talk to someone about the abuse they experienced. She also includes a list of resources available to children in Australia, such as the toll free Kids Help Line.
When GoodTherapy.org Founder and CEO Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, reviewed the book, he was impressed with its simplicity, delicacy, and honesty:
A Secret Safe to Tell is so very well done, both in the beauty of its illustrations and the important message it shares with children and adults. In simple terms that children can understand, this book eloquently expresses what it's like for a child burdened by sexual abuse. Informative for children and adults, this book has the potential to help protect children preemptively, make it okay for a child to seek help, and to provide hope. I highly recommend this book to all parents.
The Hidden Consequences Of Domestic Violence Linger For Decades
by Tara Culp-Ressler
Thanks to allegations of domestic violence involving several football players, and widespread outrage over how the National Football League has chosen to respond to them, the country has recently been engaged in a national discussion about issues related to intimate partner violence. As the Associated Press reported this week, the renewed attention to the issue has had a “ripple effect” that has made people more comfortable sharing their own personal stories of abusive relationships.
But experts in the area say there's still a long way to go. While most of the discussion about domestic violence typically centers on the immediate crisis, and the issues facing victims as they decide whether to leave their abuser, there's perhaps less focus on the long-term effects of abuse that linger for years or even for decades.
Long-Term Health Issues
When most Americans think of the health consequences of intimate partner violence, they're likely picturing the bruises and broken bones resulting from the physical abuse in the relationship.
That's certainly true, but it's only part of the story. There's a growing body of research that confirms domestic violence victims also suffer from a host of more long-term health problems, even though many of their doctors may not initially realize that's the source of their issues.
“The research is really illuminating,” Lisa James, the director of health issues at Futures Without Violence, told ThinkProgress. “Now, we're understanding more and more that if you experience domestic violence, you're at a higher risk for some of the largest health problems that our country is facing today — including heart disease, chronic pain, asthma, and arthritis.”
Victims of intimate partner violence typically face high levels of stress, which can exacerbate any chronic health conditions they may have already had. After they separate from their abusive partner, they remain at risk for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Compared to the general population, they're fifteen times more likely to self-medicate by using alcohol and drugs.
And even years after the abuse, many survivors are also forced to deal with lasting reproductive health issues. One of abusers' strategies of control can involve interfering with their victims' sexual health — experts call this “reproductive coercion” — that can result in becoming pregnant or contracting a sexually transmitted infection.
Liz Roberts, the chief program officer at Safe Horizons, told ThinkProgress that she's frequently seen this firsthand in her work with domestic violence victims. “I've worked with survivors who had to hide their birth control pills, and when they were found, they were flushed down the toilet. I've worked with survivors whose partners had other sexual relationships outside of their primary relationships, lied about it, and refused to wear condoms,” she said. “There are so many ways someone can be placed at risk for an STI or an unwanted pregnancy, and that can obviously have great consequences down the road.”
Federal officials estimate that the United States spends $ 4.1 billion each year on the medical and mental health costs stemming from domestic abuse.
Problems Passed Down To Children
Domestic violence also isn't contained to the two people in the romantic relationship; often, it takes place in the context of a family where there are also children in the home. According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 3.3 million children are exposed to violence against their mothers or other female caretakers.
Witnessing that trauma has lasting consequences for those kids. A groundbreaking study on childhood trauma found that the types of things you live through as a child have a big impact on your adult life, and can even contribute to an earlier death. Other researchers have found that the children who grow up around domestic violence tend to experience higher levels of anger, hostility, disobedience, and withdrawal.
“We do know that growing up in a violent home does impact the health of children from a very early age — even, actually, in the womb,” James said. “Kids exposed to domestic violence experience a whole host of similar health issues as we see in adult survivors, like anxiety, sleep disorders, and mental health and behavioral health issues.”
Emerging research in the field continues to try to pin down the collateral damage caused by family violence. For instance, a recent study from researchers at New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that being exposed to conflict at home can undermine kids' emotional intelligence.
Children who are exposed to higher aggression in the household between parents are having more difficulty reading the signals or the signs of others' negative emotions accurately,” C. Cybele Raver, the lead author of that study, told ThinkProgress. “So if they're coming down the stairs at school and another child bumps into them, they may respond in an aggressive way.”
Plus, many of these children aren't just witnessing abuse; they're on the receiving end of it themselves. An estimated 40 to 60 percent of the men who commit violence against their female partners are also violent toward their kids.
“People who beat up their partners often beat up their children too — that's just the reality,” Roberts said.
Broken Family Relationships
According to Roberts, one of the most lasting consequences of domestic violence that doesn't often get discussed is the harm that it does to family bonds. When children witness violence committed against their primary caregiver — the person who's supposed to be able to protect them — that can compromise their attachment to that person. It sometimes even undermines their trust that their mom knows how to take care of them.
And even after a survivor has removed herself from her abusive relationship and gotten her kids to safety, she may be met with hostility and mistrust from the children she's working so hard to protect. Kids sometimes play into the victim-blaming that they learned from the abusive parent who was left behind.
“Abusers typically actively undermine the children's respect for and confidence for the adult victim,” Roberts said. “They'll say things like, ‘It's your mommy's fault that this happened' or ‘Your mommy is stupid, that's why she did that.' Or the children will overhear the put downs directed at the adult victim herself.”
“There's often a really long journey for families to heal those relationships and to rebuild their trust,” she added.
That's why experts are increasingly recommending domestic violence interventions to be partnered with parenting programs that can give families the support they need to rebuild. Futures Without Violence, for instance, works with parents who may have experienced violence a long time ago to focus on strategies to improve their parenting and avoid repeating the cycle of abuse. Home visitors sit down with new parents to give them tools to process any trauma they've experienced in the past.
“Parents are really trying to do right by their children in situations that can be really emotionally exhausting,” Raver noted. “Helping parents to navigate their romantic relationships and their adult partnerships is an important component of how we talk about parenting, and how we talk about supporting young children.”
A System That Isn't Set Up For Survivors
While the country has made some progress in finding avenues to support domestic violence survivors, advocates say we still need more programs to address the long-term effects of abuse.
“A lot of the resources that have been directed toward the issue of domestic violence are either directed toward the criminal justice response or toward addressing the immediate safety or survivors and their children. That's necessary, but not sufficient,” Roberts explained. “Safe Horizon operates a clinic in New York City that specializes exclusively in providing evidence-based trauma treatment to survivors of intimate partner violence. But we're the only clinic in the state that does that.”
Similarly, experts are still working to reorient the health care system's approach to domestic violence so that doctors will start connecting the dots when they see a patient who's dealing with chronic pain several years after leaving an abusive relationship.
There have been some recent policy improvements in this area; under the health care reform law, for instance, screenings for domestic violence are covered as a routine aspect of preventive care. There are an increasing number of resources to help educate medical providers about their role in identifying and intervening in domestic abuse. Lisa James of Futures Without Violence is optimistic about where the country will go from here.
“I think we've been seeing a sea change in terms of how health care providers and systems are addressing these issues — looking beyond the initial injuries to talk about how domestic violence is a public health issue,” she said. “There have really been some light bulbs going off in some of our clinic settings.”
Vatican criticizes UN panel on sexual abuse report
by Carol Glatz
VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has accused a United Nations human rights committee of sowing confusion and violating its own norms and the church's religious freedom with a controversial report into the Holy See's record on child sexual abuse.
The Vatican released its formal written response Friday to a February report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which, among other things, accused the Vatican of maintaining a “code of silence” that enabled priests to sexually abuse tens of thousands of children worldwide over decades with impunity.
The committee monitors implementation of the UN child rights treaty. The Holy See was forced to testify before it as a treaty signatory.
In its response, the Vatican insisted that it is responsible for implementing the treaty only within the tiny Vatican City State.
The Vatican criticized the committee's “grave misunderstanding” of state sovereignty and reiterated its concerns over “controversial new expressions” that threaten the unborn and religious freedom.
By insisting the Holy See should enforce the compliance of Catholics all over the world with international treaties signed by the Vatican, the committee “offers a controversial new approach to ‘jurisdiction,' which clearly contradicts the general understanding of this concept of international law.”
“The Holy See, in accordance with the rules of international law, is aware that attempting to implement the C.R.C. (Convention on the Rights of the Child) in the territory of other states could constitute a violation of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states,” the Vatican wrote.
The Vatican published its official response on its website.
On Feb. 5, the UN committee released its “concluding observations” and concerns as part of its ongoing process of monitoring states parties' adherence to the treaty; the Vatican ratified the children's rights treaty in 1990, making it one of the first countries to do so.
The six-page response reiterated the same concerns Vatican representatives expressed during an all-day testimony Jan. 16 before committee members in Geneva and concerns Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, articulated Feb. 7 after the committee published its observations.
One of the committee's major criticisms was that the Holy See and the pope, as head of the church, can and should order Catholic dioceses and religious orders around the world to implement all the policies of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which includes provisions against the sexual abuse of minors.
The Vatican always has insisted that church law requires bishops and religious superiors to obey local laws on reporting suspected crimes.
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In its Sept. 26 comments, the Vatican wrote that the obligations stipulated in the UN conventions it signs apply only to the 108-acre territory of Vatican City State, Vatican citizens and “where appropriate, the diplomatic personnel of the Holy See or its officials residing outside the territory of Vatican City State.”
In fact, the Vatican put a laicized papal ambassador, former Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, under house arrest Sept. 23 as he awaits a criminal trial for the sexual abuse of minors while serving as nuncio in the Dominican Republic.
In its written comments to the UN committee, the Vatican said, “The Holy See does not ratify a treaty on behalf of every Catholic in the world, and therefore, does not have obligations to ‘implement' the convention within the territories of other states parties on behalf of Catholics,” who are and should be subject to the national laws of the countries they find themselves in.
“Attempting to implement the C.R.C. in the territory of other states could constitute a violation of the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of states,” it said.
The Vatican said all states should be concerned with “the grave implications of this erroneous approach” by the committee, which is suggesting parties must be committed to implementing the treaty through all its individuals and institutions living and operating around the world.
Other concerns the Vatican had with the committee's “concluding observations,” include “controversial new expressions not contained in the convention and related principles, which contradict the ordinary meaning of the words in the text.”
It said it is “completely unacceptable” that the committee advocate for abortion when the convention's original language says children require legal protection “before as well as after birth,” have a right to life and should receive “prenatal and postnatal health care.”
The Vatican disagreed with the committee's observations that “subjective lifestyle choices and attractions” should be promoted as “a matter of ‘rights.'”
By insisting the Church change its teachings, reinterpret Scripture, and amend canonical laws to reflect current trends, the committee is infringing on “matters protected by the right to freedom of religion,” the Vatican said.
Saying the Church's position on certain issues justifies discrimination is applying the important principle of nondiscrimination “in an unprincipled way, namely as a sword against religious freedom,” it said.
Big prostitution bust nabs 91 alleged pimps, johns
by Angel Jennings
L ong Beach police announced Wednesday that officers arrested 91 suspected pimps and johns during an eight-month investigation aimed at combating sex trafficking.
Authorities also recovered 22 young women who they alleged were working as prostitutes.
Among those arrested, 20 were charged with human trafficking, eight were charged with pimping, 24 were charged with assisting a prostitute and 29 were arrested for soliciting a prostitute.
In one case, a man arranged to have sex with two children under the age of 10, authorities alleged. When the trunk of his car was searched, police said, a large roll of carpeting, several rolls of duct tape, handcuffs, and a magazine full of bullets were found.
"You can only imagine what his intent was," Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell told reporters at a news conference.
Authorities are providing services to the recovered women with hopes they will leave prostitution. One woman was a Chinese immigrant who came to the United States under the guise of gaining work as a massage therapist.
In February, the Long Beach City Council designated $650,000 to aggressively tackle sex trafficking. The Long Beach Police Department partnered with the federal Department of Homeland Security and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, creating a task force to tackle the issue.
"There are few things more disturbing than the buying and selling of children for sex," said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "We do not refer to them as prostitutes. They are victims.
Male sex trafficking victims the focus in Greenville
by Brandon Goldner
GREENVILLE, N.C. - A Greenville non-profit is raising money to build the nation's first shelter for male sex trafficking victims.
Restore One hosted a fundraiser Friday night at Rock Springs Center to raise $70,000 towards building the Anchor House, which will shelter boys ages 12 through 18 who are victims of domestic minor sex trafficking.
"Our society likes to focus on that men can not be trafficked; that men can not be abused; that men are the perpetrators, and that's their only role," said Anna Smith, co-founder of Restore One. "That's completely wrong."
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) reported last year, it received 623 phone tips from people in North Carolina reporting possible sex trafficking. That's the 12th highest in the nation.
Also, 18 percent of reported victims to NHTRC in North Carolina are men.
The fundraiser's master of ceremonies is Marq Taylor, a survivor of sex trafficking."It helps me to heal," Taylor said about telling his story. "It also helps me to be able to want to seek and understand others when they're crying out for help and trying to figure out how to help them."
HSI, 30 law enforcement leaders announce new Maine Human Trafficking Task Force
AUGUSTA, Maine — During a ceremony Friday at Maine's state capitol, Gov. Paul R. LePage issued a proclamation recognizing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) recently commissioned Human Trafficking Task Force. To commemorate the commissioning of the task force Gov. LePage declared Sept. 26, 2014, as Human Trafficking Task Force Recognition Day.
Nearly 80 law enforcement officers from 30 Maine and Canadian agencies partnered with the newly-commissioned HSI task force in order to combat this form of modern day slavery across the state. The task force is designed to bring together the expertise, training, experience and law enforcement authorities of the partnered agencies to help identify human traffickers, and prosecute them while also protecting and aiding victims.
John Morris, Maine commissioner of public safety, presented the proclamation to both HSI and the U.S. Attorney's Office on behalf of the governor. Bartholomew Cahill, assistant special agent in charge of Maine's three HSI offices and Col. Robert Williams of the Maine State Police also spoke to the group.
As part of the ceremony, the officers were inducted into the task force in a jacket and badging ceremony conducted by dignitary representatives of the five jurisdictional entities including federal, state, county, municipal and prosecutorial. Speakers included Williams, Acting Chief Patrol Agent Alfredo Casillas of the U.S. Border Patrol Houlton Sector, Maj. Ryan Reardon of the Kennebec County Sheriff's Office, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell, U.S. Attorney's Office Criminal Chief Jon Chapman, and ICE Chief Counsel Jo Ellen Ardinger.
Bruce Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI New England, approved the formation of the task force June 19, 2014. It will be led by HSI in partnership with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and will be chaired by Jeffrey Stillings, resident agent in charge of HSI Houlton. Stillings will be supported by Michael Lana the resident agent in charge of HSI Bangor and Shawn Meehan, resident agent in charge of HSI Portland.
"The State of Maine is pleased to participate with HSI to combat forced labor and sex trafficking and my administration supports the work of the new task force," said Gov. LePage. "Human trafficking is a horrific crime driven by a massive underground trafficking industry, and we hope with increased awareness and enforcement, we will better protect victims and hold their abusers accountable. I wish Special Agent Stillings and his team success and look forward to hearing about the progress of the task force."
"Our new human trafficking task force allows our many members to collaborate more effectively to carry out our investigations," said Foucart, special agent in charge of HSI Boston. "There's no substitute for this face-to-face interaction while investigating secretive human traffickers, and aiding their traumatized victims. Collectively, we are laying down the foundation for a very powerful tool to combat this manipulative and destructive type of crime, while putting existing traffickers on notice."
U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II announced: "The United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maine is proud to partner with HSI to establish a Human Trafficking Task Force for the State of Maine. The U.S. Attorney's Office has worked consistently with its law enforcement partners at the federal, state and local levels, as well as with non-governmental organizations, to combat human trafficking in Maine. We place a high priority on prosecuting those individuals who engage in human trafficking, and it is for that reason that we are pleased to work with HSI to provide training and education to members of law enforcement on this important issue."
During the week of Sept. 23, the new task force members participated in the HSI Title 19 Task Force Officer training program, held at the Kaplan University campus in Augusta. Each class day began with welcoming remarks from prominent leaders in government and law enforcement, to include U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Delahanty II, Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty, Augusta Police Deputy Chief Jared Mills, U.S. Senator Angus King, Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, and Auburn Police Chief Phillip Crowell. The 28-hour program allows state and local law enforcement officers to be federally cross-designated with HSI's unique Title 19 federal authority, which will result in a unified effort to identify, respond to, investigate, and arrest human traffickers with the support of its prosecutorial partners.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world today and occurs when a person is recruited, harbored, obtained or exported through force, fraud or coercion for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, involuntary servitude, debt bondage and other methods of slavery.
The following agencies are partners in the HSI Human Trafficking Task Force:
Aroostook County Sheriff's Office
Auburn Police Department
Augusta Police Department
Bangor Police Department
Bar Harbor Police Department
Canada Border Services Agency (Intelligence Sharing Partner)
Cumberland County Sheriff's Office
U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Office of Field Operations
Cumberland County Sheriff's Office
Cumberland Police Department
U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Diplomatic Security
Farmington Police Department
Gorham Police Department
Homeland Security Investigations
Kennebec County Sheriff's Office
Lewiston Police Department
Maine Attorney General's Office
Maine Computer Crimes Unit
Maine State Police
Old Town Police Department
Oxford County Sheriff's Office
Portland Police Department
Presque Isle Police Department
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (Intelligence Sharing Partner)
Saco Police Department
Sanford Police Department
South Portland Police Department
United States Border Patrol – Houlton Sector
United States Attorney's Office
Windham Police Department
Yarmouth Police Department
The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity and suspected human trafficking to the HSI Human Trafficking Task Force through ICE's 24 hour tipline, by calling 1-866-DHS-2-ICE. For more information on this topic, please visit the Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign website at www.dhs.gov/end-human-trafficking.
Montana teacher resentenced to 10 years in prison for raping 14-year-old girl
Last year, Stacey Dean Rambold was only sentenced to one month in prison for raping a freshman at Billings Senior High School by a victim-blaming judge. On Friday, he was resentenced to ten years behind bars.
by Michael Walsh
A former teacher was sentenced to 10 years in prison Friday in a student rape case that became notorious after a previous judge partially blamed the victim.
Stacey Dean Rambold, 55, grimaced as Judge Randal Spaulding delivered the sentence and was led from the Montana courtroom by deputies.
The new punishment comes a year after he served an initial sentence of one month. Many thought this was far too lenient for a man who pleaded guilty to one count of sexual intercourse without consent.
Authorities say Rambold raped a 14-year-old female student in his business class at Billings Senior High School in 2007.
The teen girl, Cherice Moralez, committed suicide in 2010.
Montana's Supreme Court overturned Rambold's earlier sentence in part because Judge G. Todd Baugh's suggested the high school freshman shared some of the blame for her rape. He also said she "appeared older than her chronological age."
Baugh's victim-blaming and lax sentence led to a one-month suspension and widespread condemnation. He will step down at the end of his term in January.
The outrage also revived the trial leading to Friday's sentence.
"No one can really appreciate and understand what it feels like to have so many people actually hate you and be disgusted by you," Rambold wrote in a letter to the court. "I do not mention this for the sake of sympathy, but it has been hard."
Initially, Rambold could have avoided prison altogether if he abided by the terms of a plea agreement that was made largely because the prosecution did not have its primary witness, the victim.
The deal mandated that he not visit relatives' children without authorization or start a relationship with an adult woman without informing his counselor. He violated both.
"The last thing we want to do is sit here in the criminal justice system and say, 'What is the age?' It doesn't matter. Fourteen is way too young," Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito said during the hearing. "There has to be punishment. ... Punishment means prison."
More Remains Identified at Dozier School for Boys
Researchers at USF say they've identified two more sets of human remains, that were buried at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
The team of scientists say they found the remains in some of the unmarked graves they unearthed on the campus within the last year.
As Jeff Patterson tell us, they used DNA from the families to ID the two boys.
At USF, after decades of being buried in an unmarked grave, researchers have been able to give a family closure.
"This has been a great moment for me"
At the age of 84, Richard Varnadoe has spent most of his life wondering what happened to his brother Thomas.
"I had to grow up without Thomas, I was only about five years old when they took him away."
Thomas and an older brother were sent to the Dozier School for Boys in 1934, accused of trespassing and stealing a typewriter.
"But there were two more boys in the neighborhood that actually did it, but I don't know where they put it. So, all of this over nothing, yea. Over nothing."
Just 34 days after he arrived, Thomas died and was buried at Dozier.
His grave was unmarked and forgotten until u.s.f researchers exhumed remains at the school.
DNA from Richard finally helped identify Thomas.
"During the past week we received DNA matches for two more of our unknown children."
Dr. Erin Kimmerle leads a team of researchers at USF working to identify the Dozier boys.
DNA also helped identify 12 year old Earl Wilson, sent to the school in 1944.
For Kimmerle, putting a name with the remains has become a rewarding moment in her career.
"It's wonderful. It's exactly what we set out to do and throughout this process we've come to know some of these families very well and so to be able to find their brothers and tell them and share this with them is very exciting."
The state has given USF researchers until August 2015 to look for more possible graves and remains on the Dozier campus.
21 IU fraternities issue statements denouncing sexual assault
by TheIndyChannel.com Staff
INDIANAPOLIS - Following last Friday's announcement of the It's On Us campaign against sexual violence, fraternity members at Indiana University are pledging their support.
The Sexual Assault Crisis Service Office at IU coordinated an effort to get all 21 of the school's fraternities to take a stand against sexual violence, the Huffington Post reports.
In response, each fraternity issued a statement explaining its position on sexual violence.
Here are some excerpts from some of the statements:
"The men of the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity are committed to living as 'men of principle' and upholding our values of mutual assistance, intellectual growth, trust, responsible conduct, and integrity. Our chapter does not and will not tolerate any acts of sexual assault by our members."
"Sexual assault is a criminal and cowardly act. The men of Delta Chi are committed to preserving a safe and responsible environment at Indiana University and will not tolerate sexual assault of any kind."
"The gentlemen of Phi Kappa Psi take this problem very seriously and will absolutely not tolerate any such immature and repulsive behavior."
"The men of Phi Kappa Sigma adamantly oppose all behavior and attitudes that endanger women or men sexually, be it physical, mental, or emotional, and will not tolerate any violation of our laws or values."
"There is no place in our (Tau Kappa Epsilon) chapter for any man who commits any action that is sexually aggressive toward any other member of our society."
Massachusetts teen sought after drugging, raping and beating girl with 2 others – and filming the attack
by Sasha Goldstein
(Picture on site)
A dangerous Massachusetts teen deviant is on the run after police said he drugged, beat and raped a 16-year-old girl, then snapped a video of the bruised and naked victim, and sent it to her friend.
Cops are hunting for Rashad Deihim, 19, after the disturbing Sept. 3 incident, which allegedly took place at a popular teen hangout in the woods behind a Saugus, Mass., elementary school.
Authorities have already charged the man's girlfriend, 18-year-old Kailyn Bonia, with assault to rape, indecent assault and battery on a person 14 or over, posing or exhibiting a child in a sexual act and kidnapping.
She pleaded not guilty Sept. 12 in Lynn District Court and is held in custody without bail. A third teen, a 17-year-old boy, faces the same charges, plus a count of dissemination of child pornography.
The brutal crime was filmed and sent to other teens on the Snapchat phone app. The popular picture and video application automatically deletes images seconds after they are received.
The implications of the sickening crime will last much longer than that.
The girl was barely breathing when she was found, fully nude, in some bushes behind the Douglas Waybright School in Saugus, the victim's mom told WHDH-TV.
“What they did was disgusting it was sick, I almost lost my daughter,” the mother told the news station. “She was barely breathing, she was found with nothing on. If she wasn't found when she was found ... she wouldn't be here right now.”
Cops were first notified of the incident after the girl's friend received a Snapchat showing the naked victim.
The Snapchat images show Bonia groping the girl, while a second shows her trying to force the victim to give oral sex to one of the other teens, the Daily Item of Lynn, Mass. reported.
Rashad Deihim via FacebookDeihim is considered dangerous and may have tried to leave the state, cops in Saugus said of the rape, kidnapping and assault suspect.
The friend told her father, who called police. Authorities found the victim badly impaired and had to pull her out of the woods on a backboard before rushing her to the hospital.
“She had fingerprints, at least two hands held down by her throat,” the mom told the Boston NBC affiliate. “Top to bottom bruised, her breasts were bruised, her whole body was ripped, shredded, broken toes.”
The hospital confirmed the sexual assault, and a nurse told WHDH that the girl was slipped an odorless, liquid drug — enough of it to reportedly take down two horses, the TV station reported.
She lost consciousness and was revived by two doses of Narcan, a drug used to reverse heroin and opiate overdoses, according to The Item.
Described as 5-foot, 8-inches tall with a skinny build, light skin and brown hair, Deihim weighs approximately 180 or 185 pounds and should be considered dangerous, police said. He faces the same charges as Bonia, and police fear he may try to flee the state.
To beat trafficking, change mindsets
by Cindy McCain
Editor's note: Cindy McCain is co-chair of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's Task Force on Human Trafficking and chairman of Hensley & Co. Watch her in a special town hall meeting at the Clinton Global Initiative hosted by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta at 4.30 p.m. ET Saturday. The views expressed are the author's own.
(CNN) -- The issue of human trafficking has exploded into the headlines in recent years. State and federal legislation has been passed helping to define trafficking more specifically and prosecute traffickers, while services enabling victims to lead productive lives, safely beyond the reach of their traffickers, have been proliferating.
Meanwhile, anti-trafficking organizations are using technology in exciting new ways to find and rescue victims and provide network linkages to prosecute their traffickers successfully.
Yet while such progress is welcome, many groups are only just beginning to focus on a crucial element of beating human trafficking -- cutting demand. After all, less demand means fewer trafficked victims.
Sadly, human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry, with some estimates suggesting more than 21 million people are enslaved worldwide. Here in the United States, between 100,000 to 300,000 American children are at risk of being trafficked each year, according to the Department of Homeland Security, with the average age of a child first being trafficked just 13.
Of course, while a trafficker can sell drugs or a gun once, sex with a child can be sold over and over again. It is hardly surprising then that there is also increasing evidence that many of the trafficking networks are interconnected with gang activity and drug and gun trafficking.
A child cannot choose to sell sex for money. A minor being sold for sex is by definition being trafficked. There is no such thing as a child prostitute, only a sex-trafficked victim. Thankfully, there is a much needed mindset shift taking place among law enforcement and treatment providers, a change being increasingly embraced by those trained to recognize trafficked victims, but which needs to be accepted by the global community for continued change.
In addition, more training is needed to identify human trafficking victims. Law enforcement, first responders, emergency room personnel, pediatricians, school personnel, foster care administrators, child welfare personnel, court-appointed advocates, hotel, airport and taxi staff -- many of whom come into contact with trafficked children without knowing it -- could all benefit from extra training. Increased awareness and proper protocols can help to identify correctly and get appropriate help to trafficked victims faster.
Many of these victims find themselves in the social service system, where opportunities exist to get them the help they need if they can be correctly identified. Too often, survivors recount how they crossed paths with adults who could have helped them escape but who didn't see the situation clearly enough to offer them assistance.
In the United States, Operation Cross Country, a joint sting operation between the FBI, U.S. Department of Justice and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has recovered more than 3,500 minors since 2003. The Innocence Lost program recovered 168 victims this summer and arrested 281 pimps.
Overseas, however, we have watched helplessly as Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls with the stated intent to sell them for sex. Four months later, and the international community has been unable to rescue them. The individual stories I've personally heard from trafficking survivors are heart-wrenching, yet it still happens every day in our country and around the world. Sometimes, one victim at a time, sometimes in large groups.
Survivors' stories tell us that some victims are sold into trafficking by family members, some lured by attention and promises of glamour by an "older boyfriend," only to be abused, branded and sold for sex; labor trafficking victims are often promised high-paying jobs far away from home, only to have their documents taken, their lives and families threatened and horrid working conditions waiting for them with no opportunity for escape. Runaways are often picked up by traffickers within 48 hours of running away from home, and no one is looking to find them. The common thread is that traffickers prey on society's most vulnerable.
So what can we do?
More than anything, it's up to us to do everything we can to protect our vulnerable citizens and continue this fight to make our communities and ultimately our world safer. It's up to us to be a voice for the voiceless. While we may not yet have a clear strategy for tackling Boko Haram, we can still be aware of the signs of trafficking and speak up in our communities when we see something that just doesn't look right. A shift in mindset about the definition of a trafficked victim, stronger legislation allowing better identification and services for victims and more vigorous prosecutions of traffickers offer a healthy start.
But we have a long way to go -- there is more to do on all these fronts.
Child sex trafficking survivor delivers life lessons to Texas A&M students
by Maggie Kiely
As a survivor of child sex trafficking, Holly Austin Smith refers to her life in two acts: before and after Atlantic City.
The New Jersey town, a town well-known for its casinos and nightlife, was where Smith was taken in 1992 as a 14-year-old by a man she'd met at a mall.
Smith believed she was meeting a man she'd met at the mall two weeks prior who she'd been talking to on the phone and had convinced her to run away with him to begin a career in the music industry, she said.
Later, she found out the man she met at the mall was the cousin of the man she'd been speaking with and the two were working together to traffic young girls, Smith said.
Once in Atlantic City, Smith said, she was introduced to a woman who put in her in a red dress, heels two sizes too big and more makeup than the teenager had ever worn, then sent Smith out with a much older man who'd hired her for prostitution.
Within 36 hours on the street, Smith was arrested for prostitution, she said.
"Who knows what my life would have been like," Smith said, adding the man she was with had planned to take her to New York City the day after she was arrested.
Smith -- who was in town with copies of her recently published book, Walking Prey: How America's Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery, presented "Human Trafficking 101" to a room full of Texas A&M students Tuesday night.
In many ways, recovering from the experience was harder than what she'd gone through, Smith said during an interview prior to the presentation.
Police and the court system treated her as a delinquent, her parents made her feel like a troublemaker, her therapist blamed her for running away, and "I was treated by people in the community like I was dirty," she said.
It took nearly two decades for Smith to realize she truly was a victim of child sex trafficking.
"I was what they call a 'willing victim,'" she said. "Willing victims don't get the attention they deserve."
Too often, Smith said, the media and advocacy organizations depict child sex trafficking as an issue that involves physically abused or helpless children.
But "just being a teenager" is a predisposition factor when it comes to a victim's vulnerability to child sex trafficking, she said.
Smith said she's a strong advocate for kids who insist they want to live the way they've been manipulated by an adult into living and has spoken to law enforcement throughout the country to raise awareness about those situations.
Finding a safe haven: Family Abuse Center aids victims of domestic violence
by Janet Meek Jones
The statistics from the Texas Council on Family Violence are startling. One woman among every three in Texas experiences family violence in her lifetime. In fact, 114 women were killed by current or former partners in 2012, according to the most recent statistics.
The same statistics indicate that almost 75 percent of Texans have either experienced domestic violence or know someone who has
Women are not the only victims. Anyone can be affected by family violence, according to Kathy Reid, executive director of Waco's Family Abuse Center. Victims of abuse can be men, women or children; young or old; poor or wealthy; and highly educated or school dropouts.
Reid, a Mennonite pastor, has managed the Family Abuse Center for five years. Her husband, Dr. Stephen Reid, is a faculty member at Baylor's Truett Seminary.
“If you could see our client list, you would be surprised by the number of prominent community members who have used our services or stayed in the center for a short time,” Reid said. “Domestic violence happens across the board.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and on Oct. 16, the Waco's Stars event will be held to raise funds for the organization. The Family Abuse Center's mission is to eliminate domestic violence in Central Texas by sheltering victims and by preventing abuse from occurring through intervention and education.
With safety, counseling and supportive services, survivors of domestic violence experience healing and empowerment, and decide for themselves to live free of violence. she said.
The Family Abuse Center, founded in 1980, offers a safe haven for adults and children seeking refuge from the ravages of abuse. Waco's center began as a small home with six beds on West Avenue. In 2005, the facility relocated to a larger, secure structure in an undisclosed location and includes beds for 55 individuals and six to 10 cribs for infants; office space for administration and direct services; a medical clinic; a full commercial kitchen; an emergency clothes closet stocked with various sizes for adults and children; and a three-acre site with a playground surrounded by 8-foot fencing.
The facility is named the Meyer Domestic Violence Center in memory of Waco civic leader international businessman and philanthropist Paul J. Meyer, who helped make it a reality. The center provides services to more than 500 clients each year. Fifty percent of them are children and 25 percent are under 5 years old. Reid said mothers and pregnant women will often leave an abusive situation to protect the children.
“Family abuse is twice as lethal in certain circumstances,” Reid said. “For example, tempers may flare when a pregnancy is involved because someone in the relationship either wants the pregnancy or doesn't want the pregnancy. Each year, six to eight babies are born to women while they are housed at the center.”
She said that another dangerous situation occurs when someone chooses to leave the relationship or get a divorce.
“A partner might adopt the mentality that ‘If I can't have her, no one can' and will use force and violence to prevent the other partner from leaving,” she said.
Most clients who come to the Family Abuse Center are traumatized, suffer from low self-esteem and lack the necessary resources like jobs, GEDs or bank accounts. so they feel trapped in violent relationships, Reid said. Mothers who are caring for small children may feel forced to stay with an abusive partner because they can't find work.
“Lack of money is the number one reason why victims stay in an abusive relationship,” Reid said. “Economically, a victim doesn't know how she and her children will survive without the financial support from her partner to pay bills and rent or to buy medicine and food.”
The center provides a safe and confidential temporary home for the clients and their children while they get their lives back in order. One recent client described the impact the center had on her ability to leave an abusive situation.
“I had no choice but to get out of the house before ‘he' came home,” she said. “Without this place, I would be homeless. The Family Abuse Center saved my life.”
Another client agreed.
“This is a safe place for victims and their families,” she said. “Being here has allowed me the opportunity to go to the Job Corps to learn a trade. I will soon have a career in welding.”
Women without children who are housed at the center often share rooms furnished with several twin beds. Mothers with small children stay in private rooms with bunk beds and, if needed, share the room with other families. Male clients stay in rooms in another area of the facility.
Three meals are served at the shelter each day, and approximately 25,000 meals are prepared in one year. The center receives food donations from Baylor's Campus Kitchen, Panera Bread, H-E-B, the Heart of Texas Builders Association, Waco ISD and Alpha Chi Omega sorority.
An urgent care clinic, staffed by volunteer physicians and nurses under the guidance of local obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Dianne Sawyer, is available on site to steer clients away from relying on hospital emergency centers for primary care.
Volunteers from the community provide approximately 1,000 hours each month to on-site services that are essential to the success of the center. The Family Abuse Center is funded through state and federal grants and individual, corporate and community donations. The Second Chance Thrift Shop, a resale store, is maintained by the center; proceeds go directly to support victims of domestic violence in Central Texas.
In addition to McLennan County, the Family Abuse Center serves Bosque, Falls, Freestone, Hill, Limestone, Navarro and Ellis counties through rural outreach offices in churches and county facilities. The center staffs licensed and/or certified professionals who provide case management, legal advocacy and counseling services. Victims of domestic violence who do not require safe shelter are also eligible to receive these services, including counseling for victims who suffered abuse many years ago. All services at the Family Abuse Center are provided free of charge.
The Family Abuse Center also provides transitional housing with rent support for qualifying clients and permanent supportive housing for eligible families. Case managers assist clients with job-readiness training, job-search assistance, bus passes to attend interviews, and a voucher for the Family Abuse Center's resale shop to purchase clothing for work.
“We do everything we can to give clients ‘a boost up' to becoming independent,” Reid said. “A good job can change their lives.”
Community awareness is a key component of preventing domestic abuse, Reid said. By understanding the warning signs, some violent situations may be avoided, she said.
“One red flag to look for is controlling behavior,” Reid said. “Someone who wants to make all the decisions in a relationship, who constantly demands to know the partner's whereabouts and who undermines having other friendships is someone to avoid. Abuse is about power and control through threats of violence. There is also a strong connection between pet abuse and spousal abuse — it involves the offender being able to control someone or something that is vulnerable.”
Another strong indicator of potential domestic violence is alcohol use, she said. One victim endured weekly beatings from her drunken husband for more than 20 years, Reid said. However, when she tried to leave the marriage, her pastor convinced her to “go back and be a better wife,” Reid said.
The most rewarding times, Reid said, are when clients find jobs, happiness and security after leaving the Family Abuse Center. She described a time when she was in a fast-food drive-through lane and discovered a former client was employed there. The client stuck her head out the window and said, “Kathy, I just wanted you know that I'm OK!”
Another time, a 12-year-old girl thanked her because she and her mother felt safe while she was housed at the center.
“Twelve-year-old children shouldn't have to worry about feeling safe,” Reid said. “Stories that have happy endings are golden moments. The toughest times are when I open the newspaper and see that someone has died from domestic abuse.”
Each year, the Texas Council on Family Violence memorializes victims who have died during domestic disputes. The Family Abuse Center makes a wreath each October listing the names of all the women murdered by loved ones in Texas during the previous year. Recent victims from McLennan County are Carol Jean Wagner, who was suffocated by her ex-boyfriend Jerry Borchardt, and Kimberly Farr Petetan, who was shot and killed by her husband, Carnell Petetan Jr.
“We see some really horrible situations, but we also see so many joys,” Reid said. “My time here has been the most fulfilling and meaningful experience in my life. I wouldn't give it up for anything.”
What: Event to benefit the Family Abuse Center.
When, where: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Phoenix Ballroom, 401 S. Third St.
More information: Call 772-8999 or go online at familyabusecenter.org.
Help for victims
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, call the 24-hour crisis line at 800-283-8401.
More effort is needed to stem youth suicide
After a respite last year, Franklin County in 2014 has marked another tragic record high for youth suicides: There have been 11 cases of children younger than 18 killing themselves as of mid-September.
And with the overall number of suicides down, the percentage of those in the county that were committed by juveniles hit a shocking 10 percent — double the 5 percent rate in 2012, when youth suicides hit their previous record of 9.
The anguish these young people must have felt is matched only by the deep pain of the friends and loved ones they left behind. Many are left wondering why they didn't see it coming, and what they could have done differently. Franklin County Coroner Jan Gorniak, as she did in 2012, is looking to help do some good following these tragedies, by increasing public understanding about teen suicide and its warning signs. After a burst of action following the uptick in teen suicide two years ago, she says we've reverted to not doing enough to help prevent more young lives from being cut short. “If we don't talk about it, how do we break the cycle?” Gorniak asked a Dispatch reporter. “It has to be a continuing topic of conversation.”
That may be uncomfortable, but those who have studied the issue say worries that talking about suicide with youths could encourage more of it is unfounded.
“I think there's a misconception out there that if we talk about it, we put the thought in their minds,” said state Rep. Marlene Anielski, R-Walton Hills, who sponsored a bill in 2012 requiring suicide awareness be taught to public schoolteachers during state-mandated in-service training. That was a small step — just four hours every five years are devoted to covering suicide awareness, along with other topics such as substance abuse and bullying — but it's a start.
Gorniak says everyone in Ohio who interacts with kids should be educated about signs that children may be at risk of attempting suicide. These adults, including coaches, doctors and school-lunch workers, should know the signs, be taught what questions to ask and be told where to turn for help if they worry a child may be in danger, Gorniak says.
Among the warning signs, according to local and national health experts: changes in sleep or diet; mood swings, or increasing isolation; increased alcohol or drug use; and talk of feeling trapped, hopeless or being a burden to others. Organizations such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org) have information and links online; there is a local 24-hour suicide hotline at 614-221-5445, and a hotline dedicated to teen suicide prevention at 614-294-3300. The behavioral-health department at Nationwide Children's Hospital may be reached at 614-355-8080.
Resources also are available for family and friends who have been touched by suicide. This is particularly important for young people, as research has shown that a person's own risk increases after someone he or she knows commits suicide.
A local resource, the LOSS Team (for Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors), was founded by Franklinton resident Denise Meine-Graham a year after her 19-year-old son, Drey, took his life in 2012. The group sends volunteers to quickly assist parents, friends and loved ones with the aftermath of suicide. Meine-Graham also would like to encourage more young adults to speak to schoolchildren about the topic. The LOSS Team can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or for more information visit www.ohiospf.org.
Officials: 6,600 Ignored Child-Abuse Cases Closed
by BOB CHRISTIE
A team created after officials in Arizona discovered that thousands of abuse and neglect reports weren't investigated announced Thursday that is has closed all the cases and removed nearly 600 children from caregivers.
The announcement marked a major milestone in the revitalization of the state's child welfare efforts.
It came 10 months after the state's Child Protective Services agency was rocked by the discovery that workers had for several years been improperly marking some calls to a hotline as not worthy of being investigated. The scandal at the state's Child Protective Services department surfaced last November and led to the demise of the agency and creation of the Department of Child Safety, which focuses solely on that mission.
The discovery of the 6,600 uninvestigated cases was a major embarrassment for Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican who had championed efforts to deal with large backlogs at the department. She responded angrily, creating the team that resolved the cases while calling for the creation of a new and much better funded Department of Child Safety to focus solely on child welfare issues.
Brewer called the Legislature into special session in May to create the agency and fund it at levels about $200 million more than was dedicated to child welfare just two years before.
The legislation also added social workers and required greater accountability and transparency for the notoriously secretive agency.
Investigating all the ignored cases was a huge undertaking, and more than 13,000 children were seen by social workers.
"While it is disheartening that this crisis existed at all, I am proud of — and Arizona is grateful for — everyone who had a hand in the completion of these cases and the safety of these children," Brewer said in a statement.
Five senior CPS workers were fired after the director of the new agency determined they had created a system that misclassified incoming hotline calls. The workers defended their actions, saying they followed orders to create a system that culled out low-priority cases and lowered crushing caseloads.
The problems at the state's child welfare agency weren't new. The agency had been struggling after years of funding cuts, high turnover rates of social workers and a huge backlog of about 15,000 cases that hadn't been assigned to workers.
That number has been dropping steadily in the past 10 months and now stands at about 1,500, Department of Child Safety spokeswoman Jennifer Bowser-Richards said.
LAUSD's claim it shredded child abuse reports now in question
by Karen Foshay
Questions are being raised about LAUSD's claim earlier this year that it shredded 20 years' worth of suspected child abuse reports. In response to a judge's questions, about 100 current and former members of L.A. Unified's general counsel's office said they had no knowledge of the records being destroyed, and district officials have not answered similar questions posed by KPCC.
In April, KPCC was the first to report that LAUSD officials said the suspected child abuse reports, or SCARs, were ordered destroyed in 2008 after the district's general counsel concluded it was not legally allowed to hold on to them. The records dated back to 1988, according to a district spokesman.
L.A. Unified made its comments about the documents after attorneys representing dozens of children suing the district over the actions of former Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt requested that the school district produce all of its suspected child abuse reports.
In November 2013, Berndt pleaded no contest to one count of lewd acts upon a child and was sentenced to 25 years in state prison.
Since LAUSD's claim that it had destroyed the records, district officials said they subsequently discovered two sets of SCAR reports, involving hundreds of abuse allegations. Those discoveries prompted plaintiffs' attorneys in the Miramonte suit to ask L.A. Superior Court Judge Mary Strobel to find out what really happened to all of the reports.
Earlier this month, Strobel ordered L.A. Unified to ask approximately 100 current and former employees of the general counsel's office if they know:
Whether any SCAR reports destroyed;
If so, what exactly was destroyed;
When were they destroyed and by whom; and
Do any copies of the destroyed documents still exist?
The district did the polling via email September 12th, and according to a court document filed by L.A. Unified's attorneys last Friday, everyone said they did not know the answers to the questions, except for one employee on maternity leave who had not responded.
KPCC has repeatedly asked the district for specifics on who ordered the documents destroyed and when, and who carried out the order. To date, L.A. Unified has not answered those questions.
A KPCC public records request seeking all records related to the shredding of SCAR reports is still outstanding.
Last Friday's court filing by L.A. Unified said that two staffers had information about post-2002 SCARs, "and this led to discovering an additional 262 SCAR Reports that were never before located."
That news irritated plaintiffs' attorney John Manly. "They say they couldn't find child abuse records yet they now found hundreds," he said, asserting that this latest discovery just adds to the confusion over what happened to the thousands of suspected child abuse reports dating back to 1988.
This is not the first time L.A. Unified has gotten into trouble over its handling of evidence in the Miramonte civil suit. In May, district lawyers were fined $6,000 for not handing over hundreds of photographs of children L.A. Unified claimed it didn't have, but in fact did.
"You expect behavior like this from Enron," said Manly. "You don't expect this from a school district."
One of the two district staffers with knowledge of the newly-discovered post-2002 SCARs was Yolanda Hill, who said in a declaration that she has worked as a legal secretary in the general counsel's office for 18 years. Hill said that she reviewed SCAR reports and transferred basic information from them onto a spreadsheet.
Hill did not say how many reports she reviewed, but that after reviewing each one, she would place it in a small box. She believed she stopped working with them in 2007 or 2008, and at that point she recalled there being "between two and four of these small boxes of Suspected Child Abuse Reports." She added that "I do not know what happened to the SCAR Reports once I left to another work assignment."
Hill said "the vast majority" of the reports involved alleged neglect and physical abuse by "family members and not district employees."
The other staffer with knowledge of the post-2002 SCARs is Rosa Gianopoulos, a senior office technician in the general counsel's office, according to L.A. Unified. In the cover letter to its filing last Friday, the district's lawyers said a declaration from Gianopoulos was attached. But no declaration was attached; instead, the document said "declaration to follow."
Over the last several days, plaintiffs' attorneys pressed L.A. Unified's lawyers to produce the declaration. The district's attorneys provided an update on Thursday in the form of a message to Judge Strobel. It said while Gianopoulos "had no information regarding the disposal of any SCAR Reports, she did scan on to an LAUSD server and sort" the newly discovered SCAR documents.
The message went on to say that this past Monday, Gianopoulos provided L.A. Unified with a declaration describing how she carried out that work, "but we believe it to contain errors. Unfortunately, we did not have an opportunity to confer with Ms. Gianopoulos to make the appropriate corrections because she became ill on Monday, left to seek medical care and has not returned to work since." The note said she won't return to work until October 1.
Another plaintiffs' attorney, Luis Carrillo, will go to court Monday and ask Judge Strobel to compel the district to provide Gianopoulos' declaration. The district's lawyers said they will provide her statement if ordered to do so by the judge.
Officers Gain Child Abuse Investigation Insight
by Dave Perozek
BENTONVILLE -- Agencies involved in responding to reports of child abuse must maintain a cohesive approach to investigations if offenders are to be prosecuted successfully, according to those who presented at a training seminar for law enforcement officers on Thursday.
"It's not just one agency's responsibility to respond to child abuse," said Natalie Tibbs, assistant director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County. "There's lots of people that end up working with that child and family, so a big issue is that coordinated team effort."
About 20 officers representing six local police departments attended the free seminar provided by the Children's Advocacy Center and the Melba Shewmaker Southern Region National Child Protection Training Center at NorthWest Arkansas Community College.
Crucial to child-abuse investigations is limiting the number of times victims are asked to explain what happened to them, Tibbs said. The more they are asked to talk about it, the more frustrated they become and the more likely it is their stories will change.
Children reported to have been victims of abuse in Benton County are typically interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center in Little Flock, where forensic interviewers talk the children in a neutral setting to understand what abuse happened, if any.
The Children's Advocacy Center opened in 2000. Since then, prosecution rates of child-abuse cases have increased 2,000 percent, Tibbs said.
That's owed to the collaboration of a multi-disciplinary team that includes police, prosecutors, the state Department of Human Services and other investigators, Tibbs said. The team meets regularly to review high-priority cases.
Jeddi Thompson, Benton County investigations supervisor for the state's Division of Children and Family Services, listed the various kinds of abuse allegations her department investigates. Investigators consider 14 safety factors to determine whether a child should stay in the home when the department assesses situations.
"We're trying to keep children in their homes if they can be safely kept there," Thompson said. "We have a lot of ways we can help these families make better decisions to not hurt kids."
Hunter Petray, a Benton County Sheriff's Office detective, discussed some things officers should keep in mind when responding to a child-abuse complaint.
"When you're gathering facts from the parent, you don't want the child (victim) standing right there," Petray said.
It's also important to identify everyone who lives in the child's home and who else, such as neighbors, that could have come into contact with the offender, he said.
"Just remember each case is going to be unique," Petray said. "I've never worked a case that's been the same. Each case is different because there are so many dynamics."
Rita Farrell, forensic interview specialist at the National Child Protection Training Center, distributed cards to the officers listing the "ABC's" of information gathering and the most important pieces of information they should gather before contacting the state's child abuse hotline.
That information included the names of the alleged offender and child, the nature and extent of maltreatment, the location of the incident, and the name and address of the person who reported it.
Among Farrell's tips were to ask open-ended questions, pay attention to non-verbal as well as verbal responses, and avoid coercive techniques.
"The real goal when we talk to kids is to invite that narrative and have the child talk about that experience," Farrell said.
Lt. Joe Falcon of the Bentonville Police Department attended Thursday's seminar with two others from his department. They intend to share what they learned with the rest of their department's officers.
"They did a great job," Falcon said about the seminar presenters. "We came away with a really good understanding of the processes in place. It also allowed us to put together a training component. It's a great way of having cohesive training and dissemination of material so at the end of the day, whether it's a first-year officer or a senior officer, we'll be able to handle those investigations in the same manner."
The seminar is one of numerous kinds of training offered at the National Child Protection Training Center, which opened a facility at the college early this year. The center serves child-protection professionals in a 16-state region, offering training on how to recognize, report and respond to child abuse and maltreatment.
At A Glance -- Children's Advocacy Center
The Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County was the second children's advocacy center in Arkansas when it opened in 2000. In 2013 the center opened 646 cases, conducted 625 forensic interviews, performed 149 forensic medical exams and provided 1,513 counseling sessions to children and their families
Child abuse cases reported in TN are up
by Jessica Lauren
The number of reported child abuse cases reported in the state of Tennessee are up compared to last year's numbers, according to Child Protective Services.
A staff of 40- plus workers who handle child abuse and neglect cases for CPS in Hamilton County say their phones are always ringing.
Hope Tharp, a 27 year veteran at CPS has specifically noticed child abuse cases that involve a parent or close relative doing drugs is up. Statistics confirm, 7 thousand children throughout Tennessee needed to be placed in state custody as the result of abuse or neglect involving drugs. In Hamilton County, that number is nearly 300 children so far in 2014.
Thorp says, it's better to be safe than sorry, advising anyone who may suspect a child is in danger to call their anonymous hotline 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Not only is it the right thing to do but it's the law.
Thorp says, “everyone in the state of TN is mandated to report any harm towards a child. This means if they suspect abuse, even if they don't know for sure, they are required by law to report it.”
Their anonymous hotline number is 877-237-0004
The reality of male rape
by Megan Elli
With the case of a woman accused of raping her husband making it into the headlines, the issue of male rape has once again been brought to the fore.
While being much less prevalent than the rape of females, male rape remains a very real issue - with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey finding that one in 21 men (4.8%) report having been forced to penetrate another person. This excludes other forms of male rape.
Under its definition in South African law, rape is not limited to the gender of the rapist or victim.
Sexual penetration is defined as any act which causes penetration to any extent whatsoever by:
(a) the genital organs of one person into or beyond the genital organs, anus, or mouth of another person;
(b) any other part of the body of one person or, any object, including any part of the body of an animal, into or beyond the genital organs or anus of another person; or
(c) the genital organs of an animal, into or beyond the mouth of another person.
However, with the stigma and myths surrounding male rape, especially at the hands of females, the issue remains significantly underreported.
"The most common myth is that men can't be raped, particularly by women," says Sarah Strydom, Communications Coordinator at Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.
She says that patriarchy dictates that men should be tough and "macho", leading to fewer men reporting sexual abuse.
"This makes it very difficult for men to disclose that they have been raped - whether by a man or woman," Strydom says.
"Many men remain silent for fear of being called a 'moffie', or are reluctant to seek help because men are supposed to be strong and not talk about their feelings."
Rape of males, especially at the hand of females, is sometimes even deemed 'impossible' due to the misunderstanding that erections always equal arousal.
However, erection and orgasm are physiological responses and do not represent consent, with both male and female victims having been known to orgasm during rape.
"Orgasm is a natural response of the body, and does not mean that a person enjoyed it - no one enjoys being raped," Strydom says.
When you look at the issue of rape, it all comes down to consent.
"Society also believes that all men love sex and want it all the time," Strydom says.
However "consent is equally important for men".
She adds that there are multiple situations in which men can be raped by women.
"In reality there are many circumstances in which a woman may have power over a man, for instance if she is an adult woman and he is a child, if she threatens his life in some way, if he is an elderly man or is made vulnerable by a physical or mental disability, or even when she is his employer/teacher and he feels that his job or education is in jeopardy if he does not comply," she says.
Strydom says however that the way we negotiate sex and consent is very subtle and situation-dependent.
Therefore while some argue that the man who charged his wife with rape should be considered lucky that his wife performed sex acts on him while he was asleep, in his situation his right to choose was taken away and his wife's actions were a violation.
Furthermore, a variety of myths complicate the issue of male rape.
One of these is the idea that when a man is raped by another man, the victim is assumed to be homosexual.
"This issue is particularly difficult for male rape survivors who, like society, might also believe that they were raped because they were perceived as homosexual," Strydom says.
This leads to men not reporting rape out of fear that they will be persecuted.
There is also the myth that men who are raped become rapists themselves.
"The truth is that rape cannot automatically make you a rapist - just like it cannot make you gay, or make you straight, or make your hair change colour," says Strydom.
Rape is also more about power than sexual desire, so rapists and rape victims are not limited to a certain sexual orientation.
"The truth is that the act of rape is much more about gaining and demonstrating your control and power over someone - this is part of why rape is so prolifically in prisons and gang initiations," Strydom says. "Rapists and rape survivors can be heterosexual or homosexual."
Find out more
Rape survivors, female or male, can call the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust crisis line on (021) 447-1467 for support or to book a counselling session.
You can also download this helpful resource: The Road to Recovery: You & Rape.
Strydom, who says most survivors rely on the aid of NGOs like Rape Crisis in their recovery, adds that you can support the work of the organisation by buying a heart.
Preventing Child Abuse
by Amy Fox and Andy Shofstall
Reports of child abuse and neglect have risen dramatically across Southern Illinois in the past decade. In 2012 alone, there were more than 74,000 reports of child abuse in our region. That's a 20 percent increase from 2003. And those are just the reported cases.
The Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center in Pinckneyville helps hundreds of kids in abusive situations every year. Unfortunately, more children are coming through their doors.
Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center Executive Director Betti Mucha said, "When they come to us, they are typically in crisis mode, especially the family."
"It's human nature to believe that the problem exists somewhere else. In Chicago, Cook county, but not here. But the statistics do not tell that story," said Jo Poshard, Director of the Poshard Foundation for Abused Children.
In the last ten years, child advocacy centers in Southern Illinois have seen an increase not only in physical abuse, but in sexual abuse cases as well.
Mucha said, "It is difficult and it is trying for all of us."
"It's something that we can not ignore," said Poshard.
In 2012, the state's Child Abuse Hotline received less than 1,400 calls from a family, friend, or neighbor reporting sexual abuse. Eighty-two percent of reports came from professionals. Child advocates say more people need to speak out about what they witness.
Mucha said, "There are consequences for your actions and adults need to know that. Adults, if they see something and you don't report it, there are consequences for those actions and know someone may not find out, but you do have to live with that."
"The sooner we can intervene on behalf of the child, the greater likelihood that that child can heal and not carry the scars of this abuse into their adult life," said Poshard.
Potential signs of sexual abuse include: sudden change in behavior, depression, self-destructive behavior, and anxiety.
Poshard said, "Pay attention to the children you come into contact with. Your home, yes, even your family, your church, your schools, watch out to see if they need a helping hand."
"Children need to know that it's okay to stand up to people, that it's okay to tell how to protect their bodies and themselves," said Mucha.
If you do find yourself in an abusive situation and need immediate assistance, call 9-1-1. There is also a hotline you can call: that's 1-800-25-ABUSE.
Child abuse deaths continue
by The Courier-Journal
Child abuse and neglect continue to claim lives of too many of the state's youngest residents despite increased efforts to identify what puts children at risk and an ambitious effort to eradicate child abuse in the region.
In Kentucky, 12 children died and another 29 were severely injured from abuse or neglect over the past year, according to a report released this month by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
While the overall numbers of deaths and near-deaths from abuse and neglect were fewer than the previous year, the report cites this dismal fact: "In the past five years, there have been 350 fatalities and near fatalities due to abuse and neglect."
Parents are most often the perpetrators, abusive head trauma is the most frequent injury and battered children with multiple injuries account for 38 percent of the deaths and injuries. Such children are beaten, starved, shot or otherwise harmed by those entrusted with their care.
Small children, those age four or younger, are most likely to die or suffer the most serious injuries from abuse.
These grim statistics are found in the latest "Child Abuse and Neglect Annual Report of Fatalities and Near Fatalities" released each September by the cabinet. It measures abuse deaths and injuries for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The report includes this interesting finding: 28 of the children killed or nearly killed in the past year had already come to the attention of state social service officials at least once.
• Seven had been reported once before.
• Five had twice been reported to the cabinet previously.
• Six children had been reported 3 to 5 times. Five had been reported 6 to 9 times.
• And five had been reported 10 or more times.
This not only raises the question of whether state social service officials missed red flags before a serious injury or death. It indicates someone in the community or family knew about potential harm to a child and reported it.
The ongoing Face It campaign to end child abuse deaths and injuries, led by Kosair Charities, has pointed out that child abuse is everyone's problem and it won't end until everyone joins the effort to prevent and end it.
While it is the legal obligation of the cabinet to investigate, and the duty of the justice system to act against abusers, it is the responsibility, by Kentucky law, of anyone who suspects child abuse to report it to authorities.
Don't look away or assume someone else will report it. Don't let up if a problem you see does not appear to have been addressed. A child's life could depend on it.
The cabinet has provided a detailed report on the tragic outcome for children last year who suffered abuse and neglect.
It should serve as a guide for how everyone involved in the struggle can do better.
New state law aims to plug holes in child abuse reports
Child abuse reports will now be more thorough
by Lou Michel
From now on, when a complaint of child abuse is reported, child protective workers across the state will know if a previous report has been filed against the alleged abuser or whether past concerns have been raised about a child's well-being.
Workers at the state's child abuse hotline in Albany will forward not only the latest complaint, but prior complaints in order to provide CPS workers with a more complete picture of what they are facing in launching their investigations.
That is the effect of a law signed earlier this week by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, according to State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy.
Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, both Buffalo Democrats, crafted the legislation to help plug holes in the child protective system following the deaths of several Western New York children.
The new law, Kennedy said, will help already “overburdened” CPS workers by providing them with more time to spend in the field since they will not have to conduct their own internal review of documents to find out if prior complaints and concerns have been filed.
“Caseworkers are out there on the front lines doing God's work to protect our children and it's critical CPS agencies have previous reports,” Kennedy said of the latest reform that follows other recent changes and lays the groundwork for more changes next year.
Looking forward, the senator said proposed laws include:
• Increasing the qualifications to become a caseworker, requiring college-level training.
• Mandating continuing education to improve the skills of caseworkers.
• Requiring caseworkers to obtain photographic evidence of suspected child abuse during their investigations. This would not only strengthen investigations but serve as proof an investigation is underway or has occurred.
• Directing caseworkers to conduct separate interviews of the child away from the alleged perpetrator. At present, caseworkers have discretion and often do conduct separate interviews of children.
• Reclassifying the “excessive corporal punishment” statute as child abuse rather than its less severe current standing as child neglect.
“Thirty-three other states currently classify excessive corporal punishment as child abuse,” Kennedy said. “Reclassification would allow for more aggressive investigations by caseworkers.”
Changes to Social Services laws governing child abuse came to the forefront locally following a series of child deaths that included 10-year-old Abdifatah Mohamud and 5-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks, whose killer was convicted last week.
Ali Mohamed Mohamud, Abdifatah's stepfather, is serving 25 years to life in prison for fatally beating the boy more than 70 times with a baker's rolling pin two years ago. Matthew W. Kuzdzal, the live-in boyfriend of Eain's mother, is awaiting sentencing Oct. 28 after being convicted of sodomizing and murdering Eain, whose skull was cracked in an attack last year.
Both children were already known to Erie County CPS workers because of past complaints.
“There were at least 25 complaints filed by family, teachers and neighbors,” said Carolyn Spring, Eain's paternal great-grandmother, at Kennedy's news conference Wednesday outside his South Buffalo district office.
Relatives of now-4-year-old Jay J. Bolvin – who was left brain damaged by his father, whose crime prompted changes in state law for more severe sentencing of child abusers – also were present to offer support for the ongoing efforts to make the child protective system more accountable.
Kennedy said there are 700,000 cases of child abuse and neglect annually in the United States and 80,000 in New York State.
In offering proof that the state hotline can meaningfully help caseworkers, he cited findings from an investigation by the state's Office of Children & Family Services that looked at Erie County Child Protective Services following Eain's death. The probe found 72 percent of the existing reports sent to CPS in the county involved families with previous complaints of abuse and neglect. Of those families, 24 percent had five or more old complaints.
With the additional information, caseworkers will have a greater awareness of what has been happening in troubled families, Kennedy said. “These patterns of abuse are unacceptable and unconscionable,” he said.
Spring said she was surprised when she learned that the state child abuse hotline was not already forwarding previous complaints to local caseworkers.
“This is not the 19th century. This is 2014. We have computers,” she said.
Two recently adopted laws to improve CPS statewide include a requirement that counties provide an annual report disclosing workers' caseload numbers. If caseloads exceed the recommended state standard of approximately 15 cases per worker, a plan must be adopted to bring the county into compliance.
As of last week, the average number of cases per CPS caseworker in Erie County was 45. To help reduce those numbers, members of the county probation staff were assisting by working overtime in CPS, county officials said.
Also, 37 new caseworkers were recently hired and are receiving training to prepare them for the work. With the new hires, there are 151 front-line workers assigned to CPS with eight vacancies caused by recent separations and promotions, according to Peter Anderson, spokesman for County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
“We are confident that having 151 positions budgeted will allow Erie County to reduce caseloads to 15 per worker, and sustain that amount,” Anderson said.
The other new law, Kennedy said, has expanded the number of individuals in school districts who are mandated to report suspected cases of child abuse. Coaches and other district workers are now required to file reports with the hotline.
New Law Mandates State Hotline to Track Repeat Child Abuse Reports
by Ed Reilly
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) Governor Andrew Cuomo has now signed into law a mandate that requires the State Child Abuse Hotline to track repeated reports of abuse and neglect.
The legislation was sponsored by New York State Senator Tim Kennedy (63rd Senate District) and supported by Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
Before the law was in place, calls to the State Hotline were handled individually and passed on to local municipalities where it was up to local caseworkers to see if there was a connection - but the system was shown to be flawed after the murder of 5-year old Eain Brooks in September 2013.
Family members said publicly that teachers, neighbors, and relatives had tried to warn Child Protective Services that the young-boy was being abused by his mother's live-in boyfriend, 27-year old Matthew Kuzdzal.
Kuzdzal was convicted of 2nd degree murder and predatory sexually assault last week.
Under the new law, the State Office of Children & Family Services will examine the previous history of children listed in an abuse report and transmit all prior records to local CPS agencies for investigation.
NYS Senator Kennedy said it will allow local caseworkers to do their job "more efficiently and effectively."
Child abuse hotline returns to (800) RI CHILD number
by Donita Naylor
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The state's child abuse hotline is working again. The number is (800) RI CHILD, which is (800) 742-4453.
The technical issues that led to the use of a temporary alternative phone number for the state's child abuse hotline have been resolved and the hotline has returned to using the RI CHILD number.
Survivors spoke, and the archbishop listened
by Rubin Rosario
The two men, the embattled archbishop and perhaps his harshest critic, briefly walked around Crocus Hill before settling on a bench near the Cathedral of St. Paul.
There were no lawyers. There were no handlers. It was just two men conversing on a bench.
Bob Schwiderski, who prefers to call himself a survivor, and not a victim, of clergy sexual abuse, did most of the talking at the Aug. 20 meeting. John Nienstedt, who heads the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, did most of the listening.
Schwiderski is a former altar boy from Hector, Minn. He was repeatedly molested in the early 1960s by a now long-deceased priest also suspected of victimizing others during his parish assignments in Hector, Green Valley and other locales decades ago. Schwiderski has over the years carved a niche as the state's most outspoken crusader for survivors like himself.
He has very publicly locked horns with church leaders, lambasting them time and again for protecting abusive priests instead of vulnerable children. He would like to see Nienstedt resign in the wake of publicly revealed mishandlings of recent clergy sex abuse cases.
"We've had a history," he told me this week.
Yet, when asked, Schwiderski willingly offered Nienstedt some advice on how best to connect and meet with survivors like himself. He couched his response in hunting terms that day.
"When I go pheasant hunting," Schwiderski said he recalls telling the archbishop, "I put on the appropriate clothes; I oil up the old shotgun, get my hunting license and go to where the pheasants are.
You, on the other hand, get to wear the pretty clothes, are given a new shotgun with ammunition and then you sit behind your desk in Crocus Hill and think the pheasants will come to you."
Nienstedt apparently took the analogy to heart. On Saturday, inside a small conference room at Wayzata's downtown public library, Nienstedt met with nearly 20 survivors and relatives of survivors. As on the park bench last month, he mostly listened.
Fathers, sons, daughters, husbands and wives at the session spoke through tears but with moving passion and emotion about their own victimization and the ripple effects it caused them and their family. The ripples ranged from substance abuse, loss of jobs and broken or strained marriages to alienation from children and loss of trust in the church.
Most expressed what in biblical terms would be described as righteous anger.
"They have never sat down and shared their stories with a higher-up, no less the head of the church," said Schwiderski, who arranged the session. "Some told me it was the most emotional and also the most empowering support group meeting they have ever attended. I give Nienstedt some credit for showing up."
But he gives much of the credit to Vicar General Charles Lachowitzer for working behind the scenes to persuade Nienstedt -- not exactly a gregarious people person -- to leave the lawyers at home and reach out more to victims.
Schwiderski said he hesitantly reached out Lachowitzer after he read a profile of Lachowitzer in this column a few months after the longtime Eagan church pastor was appointed to the post late last year.
"I was cautioned that he might be just another slick guy, but he seemed like someone you could approach," Schwiderski said.
He and Lachowitzer met four times behind closed doors. Again, no lawyers in the room, just two men conversing.
"Unlike Nienstedt, he's the kind of guy you could almost share a blue joke with," Schwiderski said.
Lachowitzer agreed to attend a reconciliation and healing gathering with parishioners and a half-dozen survivors at the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake in early May. Seven adult residents of the area who had never before revealed their molestations took the opportunity to do so after the session, Schwiderski said.
"It was very powerful," he said of the revelations.
At this past Saturday's support group meeting, it was Nienstedt's turn to face the music. As a victim of childhood sex abuse and a raised Catholic, I was invited as long as I did not identify survivors and relatives in the room or disclose identifying details.
Wearing street clothes and a dark Knights of Columbus polo shirt, Nienstedt sat between Schwiderski and the Rev. Tim Norris, pastor of the Ham Lake church. He had a pained look on his face as men and women seated across from him and around a long rectangular table took turns giving victim-impact statements. Some had written down their thoughts. Others said what came to them.
He heard a lump-in-the-throat tale from a woman raped by a priest when she was a child. Her husband, in tears, spoke about how it took years for his wife to finally reveal the rape and for him to connect the source of the anger and other problems that almost cost them their marriage.
He heard from a young man who nearly destroyed his life with alcohol to kill the pain of the abuse. The man's father, who also attended, told Nienstedt he also was a Knights of Columbs member and was active in his church until his son disclosed what the family priest had done. He was disappointed that the church did little to the abuser and pretty much turned its back on his son when he reached out to officials for help.
"I'm no longer Catholic," he said.
"I'm so angry right now at you," said another man also abused by a priest. "But I also need to thank you for being here."
The father of a man abused by a church staffer when he was 12 held out hope that the session might lead to something constructive.
"I'm doubtful, but as a young man said at the meeting, this is an opportunity for him (Nienstedt) to do something," the man told me Tuesday. "This is the first support group that I have been where people actually went into the details of what happened to them. If he doesn't do anything with this ... well then, he's a monster."
Nienstedt shared that he long wanted to be a priest while growing up. He never imagined that priests could do such things. He thanked the survivors for helping him to better understand "such evil from a gut level."
"Their stories have been very touching and further encourage me to continue in our direction of protecting children from any abuse, and holding ourselves accountable for what has happened while attempting to bring hope and healing to victims and survivors, their families and their friends," Nienstedt told me in an email Tuesday.
At the meeting Saturday, Schwiderski pointed out to Nienstedt that the archdiocese, in spite of overwhelming evidence and three pending civil lawsuits, has yet to include his abuser on the list of credibly accused priests from Minnesota. He then handed Nienstedt documents about the priest, who died in 1979.
"Here," he said. "I'm sick and tired of carrying this. No longer. This is your burden now."
It was his way of putting the responsibility of ultimate accountability back at the source.
"I still don't trust they will get it all right," he said. "But at least he appears to be trying. There comes a time when you cannot just stay stuck in the past. You have to push forward and move on and hopefully make things better."
Meet Lauren Book — one of the 30 under 30 rising stars in Florida politics
by Peter Schorsch
The trauma of childhood sexual abuse has turned Lauren Book into a passionate advocate for children.
Her nanny abused Lauren for six years, starting at the age of 11. She went public with her story in 2002 and since then, through her foundation Lauren's Kids, has been working with legislators to pass laws to protect children and close loopholes in existing laws.
For instance, Lauren's family asked that her abuser be tested for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV but was told that they had no legal right to be told the results of the tests. Through Lauren's advocacy, victims and families are now given the results of those tests within 48 hours.
But for Lauren, it's not enough to change laws. She wants to prevent the sexual abuse of children by raising awareness among adults and teaching children how to recognize the danger signs.
“Ninety-five percent of abuse is preventable with education and awareness,” Lauren says.
Every spring, Lauren walks from Key West to Tallahassee, often accompanied by political leaders as well as families, to raise awareness about the issue.
And she is very proud that the curriculum Safer, Smarter Kids is being used in schools.
“I've dedicated my life and will work on this until I have no more breath in my body,” Lauren says. “Children do not have to suffer the way I and others have. It should not hurt to be a child.”
I am 29 years old
I am a proud, native Floridian. I live in Plantation, Florida and grew up in both Aventura (until 16) and Plantation. I have also lived in Orlando and Tallahassee. I graduated from the University of Miami with a bachelor's degree in Elementary Education and a Master's Degree in Community Psychology and Social Change.
I got into politics … Well, I'm not exactly in politics…I proudly advocate for issues related to children and families, with a primary focus on child sexual abuse prevention and child welfare. I first realized the immense power in legislative advocacy when I was fighting to right a wrong in my own life: as a survivor of child sexual abuse, I was taken aback by the victim's advocate in my sexual abuse prosecution case suggestion that I get an HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C test, shortly after my accused abuser was apprehended. While the test came back negative, thankfully, what I learned was that victims were not automatically entitled to the test from their abusers – something that was vitally important for me to see as a victim, as some of these viruses can lie dormant in your system. This occurred early in 2002, but late in the legislative session; however, the Florida Legislature heard my plight and through my encouragement changed the law to assure that victims, or in the case of a minor, the victim's family can get a timely HIV test of an accused (within a 48 hour time period). Since then, I have worked with Floridians and their legislators to advocate for the passage of nearly two dozen laws to better protect children and support abuse survivors.
One principle I always put above politics is… Honesty, love of family and commitment to helping others.
Person or people who gave me my first shot… The members of the 2002 Florida Legislature — having shared my story, they not only listened to me, they truly heard me. In particular, Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney who gave me my first opportunity to encourage and advocate for change, the two presiding officers allowed a late session waiver of the rules to allow a bill to be filed to fix the victims HIV/Aids Hepatitis C test guarantee. And of course my dad, who has always taught me to go into any fight with dogged determination.
I've already worked for/on… 2015 marks the sixth anniversary of my 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” journey across the state of Florida. Over the past six years, tens of thousands of Floridians, including thousands of survivors, have come out to walk with me and show their support for my mission to end child sexual abuse and help survivors heal. Walk in My Shoes has given voice to the unfortunate experience shared by 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys in the U.S. Armed with the knowledge that 95% of child sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness, I embark on an annual 1,500-mile walk across the state of Florida each March and April – National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month – to empower survivors, educate communities statewide from Key West to Tallahassee and advocate for legislative change.
I walk to protect children and to turn tragedy into triumph. After surviving six years of child sexual abuse at the hands of my live-in female nanny, I was empowered to use my own horrific experience as a vehicle to prevent child sexual abuse and help victims heal into survivors and thrivers. Step by step, mile-by-mile, day-by-day, we are walking toward a safer tomorrow. I thank the families who share their stories with me, and the legislators on both sides of the aisle who work to make Florida a safer place for us all.
When I begin a project or first work on a campaign, I look for… Outcomes are very important to me – whenever I embark on a new children's protection or prevention campaign or set out to develop a new program for children, I focus on the long-term impact, the longevity of the program and the real and measurable outcomes. I am proud to be able to say that my Safer, Smarter Kids Kindergarten/Pre-K abuse prevention program has been shown to increase children's knowledge of critical personal safety information by 77%, and I look forward to sharing effectiveness data for grades 1-3, which are currently being pilot tested, soon to be released to all Florida public elementary schools.
I've been blessed to have these people as my mentors… Among many mentors that I am so thankful for…
Dave Lawrence, Chair, The Children's Movement of Florida; Retired Publisher, The Miami Herald.
Sen. Bill Montford, CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.
Tracy Wilson Mourning, Founder of Honey Shine and wife of NBA Hall of Famer Alonzo Mourning.
The people I most admire in politics are: I remember visiting my dad in Tallahassee when I was young and walking by then-State Senator Wasserman-Schultz's office and seeing a nursery…it was in that moment that I realized the ability of women to be successful leaders and involved parents. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz is a bold, Broward-based elected official who has made a real difference in and for our community. I also look up to Rep. Erik Fresen, a champion for children and educational integrity at all levels, and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who has been an unwavering advocate and a voice for victims of sexual violence in Florida.
One lesson I've already learned is… I have come to learn the importance of remaining focused and unrelenting in pursuit of justice, while also staying true to myself and my beliefs. Above all else, listen to your guiding voice.
If I wasn't working in politics, I'd be working in (which field)… If I wasn't an advocate, I'd be teaching. The classroom is my first love and I believe there is nothing more important than educating our children.
In 10 years, you'll read about me… Being named the first UN Ambassador for Children and Child Protection. I've been honored to speak in Canada, the Netherlands, Barbados and now South Africa within the past year, and am proud to be a part of the international fight to protect childhood.
Project spotlights domestic violence
by Rachel Parker Dickerson
The Clothesline Project made its appearance at the University of Central Arkansas on Tuesday with more than 300 T-shirts representing victims of domestic violence homicide in Arkansas.
Beth Goodrich, executive director of the Women's Shelter of Central Arkansas, said the Clothesline Project belongs to the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and each year the women's shelter and the UCA Counseling Department borrow it and display it on campus to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which is October.
The shirts, which date back 10 years, have each been decorated by a surviving family member of the victim who died as a result of domestic violence. Some shirts draw attention to the violence with sobering scenes — a stick figure wielding a gun while another lies in a pool of blood; a child crying for her mother — while others present more calming imagery like a sunset or a butterfly to wish a peaceful goodbye to the victim. Even tiny shirts representing children were on display, as the victims of domestic violence are not limited to adults. Each shirt also has a newspaper clipping transferred onto it so viewers can read about the exact circumstances of the victim's death.
Goodrich said, “I like this project because it gives a visual representation of a problem that for many people is very abstract. It makes you think of it as a person. It's not just some number you heard and forgot.”
She said as she approached students and told them what they were looking at, they appeared very taken aback.
“You can just see the look of shock on their face, and they look around to see how many there are.”
She added the public as a whole is unaware about the facts of domestic violence.
“We tell people all the time that one in four women in the United States is a victim of domestic violence. That's a high number for people not to know. It's the No. 1 reason women visit the ER. It costs $5 billion annually in lost work productivity.”
She said suspended NFL player Ray Rice has been in the national media because of abusing his then-fiancée, and many have asked why she stayed with him.
“The reason they don't leave is because they're scared,” she said, explaining that abusers often threaten their significant other with “I will kill you if you leave me.”
Goodrich continued, “They believe it because they've followed through on other threats. They are 75 percent more likely to be killed while leaving or just after than any other time.”
At the women's shelter, she said, they do safety planning. Women living in fear can call and talk to someone who can help them think through their circumstances and figure out a safe way to leave. Goodrich said during a crisis it can be difficult to focus on logistics.
“Domestic violence is about control,” she said. “When a victim leaves, that's the ultimate taking away of control. That's why it's the most dangerous. Because the abuser will do anything to get control back.”
The Women's Shelter Crisis Hotline is 866-358-2265.
Breaking stigmas of sexual violence through art
by Celia Carr
Art is a powerful thing. It can trigger thoughts and emotions in people through its expression, so when art is used as expression for a good cause, there's no telling what the outcome might be. On Sept. 26, Mahtay Café will host to the annual event “Breaking the Silence on Sexual Violence” held by the Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre.
Breaking the Silence on Sexual Violence allows talented artists to perform through a variety of different expressive mediums in order to give a voice to the realities surrounding sexual violence. It's not always easy for victims or people who have been indirectly impacted by an act of sexual violence to come forward and talk about what they've had to deal with, therefore this event attempts to create a very open and comfortable environment in which people can openly discuss their experiences.
The event is open to all ages: whether they be individuals who have directly and indirectly been affected by an act of violence and anyone who wishes to learn more about how they can help. A donation of $5-8 dollars is asked for entry to the event which will go towards the Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre.
The Centre is a non-profit community organization that provides a safe, non-judgemental environment to anyone who has been affected by child sexual abuse, incest and adult sexual assault. In 2013, the organization served 8,000 sexual assault survivors of all ages and gender and expect this number to grow. They provide emergency services as well as individual and group counseling for anyone who may require it. They also provide advocacy through medical and legal proceedings for child survivors as well as adults. Spoken word poets, musicians, singers as well as guest speakers are among those currently lined up to perform for the event. They are still looking for more acts however, if anyone else is interested in performing to contact Mahtay Café who will include your performance in the lineup for the evening.
Mahtay Café is located in downtown St. Catharines at 241 St. Paul Street. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. and will run until 10:00 p.m. Though the topic of conversation is of a serious nature, it is nice to be able to get together with a group of like-minded people who want to make a difference in terms of putting an end to sexual violence.
Sexual violence is a serious and very personal matter. It's something that people don't always want to talk about but events like this will help to eliminate that anxiety. The Niagara Sexual Assault Centre would love your support at this event.
For more information about the event or to participate, visit Breaking the Silence on Sexual Violence on Facebook and for more information on where to seek help visit sexualassaultniagara.org
Former Vatican Ambassador Is Facing Sexual Abuse Trial
by Laurie Goodstein
The Vatican said on Tuesday that it had placed under house arrest and opened criminal proceedings against one of its former ambassadors, Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, who has been accused of sexually abusing boys he met on the street while serving in the Dominican Republic.
It is the first time the Vatican will hold a criminal trial on charges of child sexual abuse, and it comes as Pope Francis has been trying to set a new tone of rigorous attention in the long-running abuse scandal.
The case has received widespread attention in the Dominican Republic and in Mr. Wesolowski's native Poland, and officials in both nations have sought to have him tried in their courts.
Mr. Wesolowski is being held “in a location within the Vatican City State,” according to a statement issued by the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman. He added that Mr. Wesolowski had presented documentation attesting to a medical condition, and was confined to house arrest after a preliminary hearing on Tuesday.
The tiny Vatican city-state has no jail facility for holding prisoners on a long-term basis. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Mr. Wesolowski had been living in a convent. A bishop from the Dominican Republic said he had spotted the former ambassador strolling along a street in Rome in June.
That was the same month that Mr. Wesolowski, who is 66 and a citizen of both the Holy See and Poland, was defrocked in a canonical church proceeding. He is appealing that decision.
Father Lombardi said the arrest and trial of Mr. Wesolowski were “a result of the express desire of the pope, so that a case so serious and delicate would be addressed without delay, with just and necessary rigor.”
The former Vatican diplomat was secretly recalled from Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, in August 2012 after church officials in the Dominican Republic learned of allegations that Mr. Wesolowski had been picking up young shoeshine boys on the waterfront and paying them for sexual acts. The allegations came in a letter to church officials from a local deacon who was arrested while, he wrote, he was trying to procure child victims for Mr. Wesolowski.
The authorities in the Dominican Republic did not learn of the allegations until Mr. Wesolowski had left the country. The district attorney in Santo Domingo, Yeni Berenice Reynoso Gómez, said her investigators had identified at least four victims. She said it was “the most terrible case I have ever seen” because the ambassador was accused of bribing poor children for sex, offering money and, in one case, medicine to treat a child's epilepsy.
The Vatican claimed diplomatic immunity for Mr. Wesolowski until last month, one day after The New York Times reported on the case. A spokesman for the district attorney said in an interview this month that the Dominican authorities were requesting information from the Vatican about how the extradition of Mr. Wesolowski would proceed, but that the Vatican had not yet responded.
Child sexual abuse: women make up 10 per cent of perpetrators reported to royal commission
by Joanne McCarthy
A blind Vietnamese orphan who was five when she came to Australia, 11 when she was sexually abused by a Catholic nun and 35 when she received $15,000 in compensation for her "personal trauma" has spoken out for the 10 per cent of people reporting female perpetrators to the child sexual abuse royal commission.
"I want people to know a small percentage of women are just as capable of abusing power as men are," said Emma Pham, who was sexually abused by Dominican nun Sister Kay Fennell at the St Lucy's School for the Visually Impaired at Wahroonga in 1979.
"She knew she could do what she did to me, so she did, and that's the worst of it because I was so vulnerable, and so alone."
Ms Pham came to Australia in 1972 from a Vietnamese orphanage after Catholic nuns organised a passport. Her guardian, a nun, enrolled her at St Lucy's in 1973.
Another St Lucy's student and a former Maitland-Newcastle diocese employee, Catherine Mahony, remembers Ms Pham's vulnerability as the child with "nowhere to go for holidays and weekends, and no family".
In a Towards Healing complaint to the Sydney Archdiocese's professional standards office in 2003, Ms Pham said she was frightened of Sister Fennell from 1978, not long after the nun arrived.
The sometimes painful sexual abuse that Ms Pham alleged started in 1979, and continued until Sister Fennell left the school in 1981 to work at Maitland, often occurred at weekends in a transition house owned by the school.
"I used to get very upset about going to that house. She was able to come and go because she was welcomed in that house. I could not get away from her," she said.
Ms Pham became a state ward at the age of 14, trained as a telephonist with the then Royal Blind Society, and was still in her teens when she suffered her first emotional collapse because of the abuse.
In 1984, single mother Jennifer Sharland fostered Ms Pham, aged 15, and then adopted her.
"I just remember mum saying to my sister and I that there was this young girl who couldn't see, who needed somewhere to stay on weekends and holidays. Mum said, 'I think she needs to belong to somebody and somewhere,' " Mrs Sharland's son, Keith, said. Jennifer Sharland died in 1995.
By 2003, after Ms Pham had spent $10,000 on therapy and counselling, she made a Towards Healing complaint and alleged physical, sexual and verbal abuse. She asked for compensation to cover the money she had spent on therapy, an apology from Sister Fennell, and for the Dominicans to "take their share of responsibility for what happened to me".
In a letter in October 2003, Sister Fennell, who moved nine times in 22 years and worked at Maitland and Waratah, acknowledged sexual abuse occurred and sought forgiveness from Ms Pham "for the fear I must have instilled in you".
"I am consumed with remorse and I hope you can find in your heart the capacity to forgive me," Sister Fennell wrote.
The Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia paid $10,000 to compensate for money Ms Pham had spent on therapy, and added $15,000 for "the personal trauma you have been through".
But in a letter on November 24, 2003, then prioress Sister Rosemary Lewins made it clear the money and a signed deed of release would "record the settlement and bring the matter to an end".
The Dominican Sisters were true to their word. Apart from paying for extra counselling sessions, the nuns had not contacted her again, Ms Pham said.
She contacted The Herald (Newcastle) on behalf of victims of female sex abusers, after a private hearing with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
In its interim report in June, the royal commission noted that about 10 per cent of allegations in private hearings, or more than 220 complaints, related to female perpetrators.
Sister Fennell died in 2012. In an obituary she was described as a nun whose temperament "fired and energised her", but "the underside of this artistic temperament brought its own darkness".
Dominican Sisters prioress Sister Judith Lawson conceded on Tuesday that the order's 2003 response "would seem a little cold".
"If one looks at it in these circumstances then, yes, it wasn't the best for her," Sister Lawson said.
She was not aware of any other allegations against Sister Fennell, and the order was prepared to support Ms Pham and reconsider its compensation to her.
Ms Pham said she hoped there were no other victims from St Lucy's but had her doubts.
She asked to be named, despite concerns about negative comments.
"It doesn't affect other people, but it happened to me. I think I could have coped much better with the way my life turned out if this hadn't happened on top of it," she said.
Witnesses describe culture of sex abuse at court-martial hearing
by Jesse Bogan
FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. -- An alleged sexual assault victim on the stand here Monday described a world where Army drill sergeants command so much power that trainees aren't even supposed to ask them direct questions without permission first.
There's even a red line outside a drill sergeant day room that nobody is supposed to cross.
“You lived in fear, and you did what you were told,” said the specialist who flew in from Afghanistan to testify in a court-martial that has implications far beyond this base in south-central Missouri.
The woman also described how her former drill sergeant, Staff Sgt. Angel M. Sanchez, allegedly exploited his authority by sexually assaulting her and another trainee at the same time.
He had apparently invited them into the forbidden day room behind the red line. They were too scared to resist what they say happened next.
“I felt helpless,” the specialist testified of what she described as forced oral sex on Sanchez. “There was nothing I could do about it other than comply and hope it would be over soon.”
She testified that she had always wanted to be a soldier and didn't want to risk getting kicked out by immediately reporting the incident.
Third Circuit Court Chief Trial Judge Col. Jeffrey Nance asked the other alleged victim in that incident, who also testified Monday, why she didn't tell anybody until after an investigator contacted her about allegations against Sanchez.
“It's not really something you want to talk about,” she testified.
Hours before the court-martial started, Sanchez pleaded guilty to wrongfully engaging in conduct of a sexual nature with the two women and a third when they were trainees here between Sept. 17, 2013, and Jan. 31, 2014.
Sanchez, dressed in a decorated uniform, told Judge Nance that he was fully aware he had disobeyed orders by having sex with trainees.
But Sanchez, 30, stopped far short from admitting he had attacked or harassed anybody, which opened up the courtroom to an afternoon of graphic testimony that is expected to last a few more days.
Sanchez still faces 24 specifications of misconduct on three charges mainly involving sexual assault and harassment. He faces a maximum of 275 years in prison.
The eight women involved mainly knew Sanchez from his recent job as a military police drill sergeant.
During opening statements, Capt. Tyler Heimann described how the investigation unearthed a familiar pattern.
“Isolation and authority ... consider this theme throughout the case,” Heimann told the court.
Defense attorney Ernesto Gapasin passed on giving an opening statement, but he said previously that he thought prosecutors were overzealous.
Several other allegations were dropped against his client after a pretrial hearing in May.
During cross-examination Monday, Gapasin tried to pick apart witness testimony, including the specialist who flew in from Afghanistan who also claimed that Sanchez asked her to lift her shirt in a stairwell.
“Isn't it true that you lifted your shirt and teased him?” Gapasin asked.
The woman testified she hadn't. Then Gapasin showed her a previous statement she had made to an investigator that suggested as much.
“That's right, now I remember,” she testified.
But she testified that lifting her shirt was a way to buy time. Sanchez had separated her from the pack of trainees and told her it was OK to leave her battle buddy for a task.
“I was trying to use anything that I could to try to get out of the situation,” she testified. “I lifted it halfway and he lifted it the rest of the way.”
A medic Sanchez deployed with to Afghanistan accused Sanchez of forcing her to have sex with him while they waited to get evacuated from a combat outpost.
She testified that she didn't fight back and didn't report the incident until months later, when she faced repercussions for assaulting a military policeman while drunk in Alaska where she was based.
She mentioned three other men in the military who had assaulted her, but those claims didn't result in charges. She said the relationship with those men had been consensual at one point.
Pressed for more details about the alleged incident involving Sanchez, the woman testified that she had memory loss from being exposed to three roadside bombs.
“I don't remember step by step” of how it happened, she told Judge Nance from the stand.
More testimony is expected today, including a former fellow drill sergeant who alleges Sanchez touched her inappropriately for his own sexual gratification.
New campaign to raise child sexual abuse awareness
by Wilford Shamlin III
A new campaign aimed at raising awareness about the ramifications of violence against children kicked off this month.
“The purpose of town hall is to get the conversation started on the health and social impact,” said Joshua Brett, a spokesperson for AmeriHealth Caritas, which is co-sponsoring an educational program with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, Women Organized Against Rape, and Keystone First.
“It's the responsibility of all adults to protect children from sexual abuse,” said Cherri Gregg, a CBS3 reporter licensed to practice law and moderator at the kickoff event last week. “And I'm pleased to play a part by being here and facilitating the conversation on this issue.”
The program, “Parents in the Know,” is intended to provide families with information they need to protect their children from sexual abuse from anyone, not just strangers but biological parents and their spouses or dating partners.
In recent weeks, graphic headlines describe violence against women around the world, from gang-rapes reported in India, the abduction of schoolgirls in Somalia, rape and decapitation of nuns in Italy, and domestic violence cases involving pro athletes.
The workshops are intended to provide parents with information. They will learn how to promote safe and respectful behaviors, learn about questionable behaviors in adults and hear advice on talking with children about healthy sexuality, how to recognize questionable behavior in adults and how to protect themselves from sexual abuse, according to a flier circulated by AmeriHealth.
“That's when we really have the educational component,” Brett said.
The topic can make conversation uneasy for parents and children but local experts said it's a necessity. The next workshops in Philadelphia are scheduled from noon to 4 p.m., Oct. 11 and Oct. 18, at the Intercultural Family Services, 2317 S. 23rd St. There will be a panel discussion with local professional medical experts, followed by a question and answer session.
Workshops scheduled Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 at the Boys and Girls Club of Chester, 201 E. 7th St., Chester, will follow a similar format. Child sex abuse often goes unreported because it involves acquaintances who use familiarity and exert influence, sometimes in a social setting, to make sexual advances or engage in inappropriate conduct, gradually or suddenly, local experts say.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which labels physical, emotional and psychological abuse as adverse childhood experiences, can result in chronic health problems. A hotline is available around the clock at 215-985-3333 for anyone who wants to report child abuse or talk to trained staff members without giving personal information.
Statistics show women who have unmet basic needs are more likely targets for violence and have an increased likelihood of living in poverty, cope with periods of homelessness or unemployment, and experience interruptions to education and health. A link has been shown between poverty and sexual violence, according to experts at the seminar. Sexual abuses arises from a need to control, humiliate and harm, rather than genuine sexual desire, according to AmeriHealth Caritas.
Carole Johnson, executive director for Women Organized Against Rape, said sexual abuse remains a social taboo.
“This is probably the best thing I've seen happen in a long time,” Johnson said about the “Parents In The Know” program.
“It's so important that events like this happen more often, so people are aware that it is a major issue. Our rape crisis counselors are seeing more and more children than before,” she said.
Embarrassment and denials from loved ones prevent many survivors from reporting abuse to authorities, according to Johnson. She hopes the workshop sessions will spur more people to action and raise public awareness. Organizers plan programs in Reading, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Scranton.
“I hope they will be willing to share with the rest of the people in the workshop. I hope the public will address legislators about the issue of child sex abuse, and say, ‘We're tired of this happening,'” Johnson said. “As adults, we have a responsibility to protect our kids.”
Tweets joking about abuse lead to awareness opportunities
by Burt Constable
The winking emoticon ;) didn't make the tweet about domestic violence any easier to stomach.
"It's a knockout deal," read the tweet offering 20 percent discounts at Cheesie's Pub and Grub. "We're calling it the Ray Rice ;)"
"I was so sad to see that, because I personally love Cheesie's," says Karli Johnson, president and chairwoman of the Eva Alliance, a new DuPage County agency that raises awareness, offers prevention programs and works with the victims of domestic abuse, child abuse and sexual assault. "So I called immediately."
While many misguided tweets result in halfhearted apologies to "anyone who happened to be offended," Cheesie's issued a sincere apology and quickly put its money where its tweet had been, Johnson says. The popular Chicago eatery will bring its sandwich truck to the Oct. 4 "Take Back the Night" rally in Naperville, provide free sandwiches to volunteers and donate $1 to the fight against domestic violence and abuse for every sandwich sold. Cheesie's is making similar donations to similar events this weekend.
Not as quick to respond as Cheesie's, the National Football League slowly seems to be coming around on the issue as well, after weeks of indecision, embarrassment and harsh public criticism following the video of NFL star Rice knocking out his then-fiancee and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator. Swept under the rug a month ago, domestic abuse now has the attention of the NFL, which suspended Rice indefinitely and hired experts to deal with the glut of domestic violence and abuse cases involving football players.
A joke in poor taste pales compared to all the mismanagement of those cases, but jokes still hurt.
"Unless you work in this field, a lot of people don't realize why you can't make jokes about domestic violence," Johnson says. DiGiorno's pizza responded to the #WhyIStayed campaign of emotional stories from victims with the tweet, "You had pizza." The company then tweeted, "A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting."
Defenders are quick to blast political correctness and offer, "He's not a bad guy. He's just making a joke," says Alex Kumin, interim manager of outreach and education for the YWCA Chicago, which operates a YWCA in Glendale Heights and runs the state's largest rape counseling center. "But if you are sitting with four women or sitting with six men, it's likely one of them is a victim."
Statistics suggest that one in four women and one in six men know the heartache of domestic violence firsthand. Just as you don't have to be a particular race, religion or sexual identity to be offended by jokes aimed at those targets, you don't have to be a victim to be offended by domestic abuse jokes.
"That's your mom, your wife, your girlfriend, your daughter, your best friend," Johnson says. Jokes make light of that pain.
"If the NFL, police and authorities don't think it's a big deal, then survivors are feeling even more so that society doesn't care," Kumin says. "It can make people feel that what happened to them really wasn't serious."
A generation ago, drunken driving often showed up in jokes, or was dismissed as something "everybody" did. Groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving helped make people aware of the damage drunken driving caused and curbed many of those jokes.
As a girl growing up in the small town of Sherrard, near Moline, "I was taught, 'Don't go walking alone at night,'" remembers Johnson, 25, who says today's prevention programs now make it clear that 80 percent of sexual abuse involves "people you know." Instead of just focusing on what potential victims can do, prevention programs also educate potential offenders, too.
Teens in schools (and even adults in human resources seminars) sometimes respond to the awkward discomfort of talking about abuse by joking, Johnson says.
"We get rid of the myth that it only happens to young, attractive women, or even that it only happens to women," Kumin says.
"When we tell them, 'We deal with men all the time,' then they get that blank stare," Johnson says.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Take Back the Night event begins at 3 p.m. Oct. 4 with informational booths and displays in Central Park in Naperville, followed by speakers, a march through downtown Naperville and a candlelight vigil. For more information on the event, domestic violence, child abuse or sexual abuse, visit ywcachicago.org
"There's still a long way to go in terms of awareness and prevention," Kumin says. "But it's no longer in the shadows."
Someday, the topic might no longer be a joking matter, either.
Exposed Tour brings anti-trafficking message to Columbia
by KARA COLEMAN
When Rachel Irby posed as a 13-year-old girl in an online chat room a few months ago, she said all she posted was “Hi,” before a man sent her a private message.
“Within 30 seconds, there was a pimp grooming me, asking me questions,” said Irby, Executive Director of Unchained. “By the end of our conversation, he was ready to fly from California to Nashville to pick me up and take me. He said it was for modeling purposes, but we knew exactly what he was doing.
”Irby and the staff of Unchained, an organization originally from Phoenix, Ariz. but now based in Nashville, work to bring awareness to an issue that often goes unnoticed but exists in the United States: sex trafficking, especially of minors.
“Our minds typically go to Cambodia and Thailand when we think about sex trafficking,” Irby said. “We don't usually think about the United States. But it happens here. And the average age now for a girl to be lured into this is between 12 and 14.”
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's report “The Geography of Trafficking in Tennessee 2013,” more than 100 cases of juvenile sex trafficking occurs each year in four Tennessee counties.
“We can now make the distinction that sex trafficking is not solely an urban problem,” TBI Director Mark Gwyn wrote in the report. “Both rural and urban areas have reported cases of sex trafficking.”
With its population of 52,344 residents, rural Coffee County — just miles from Columbia — is in the same bracket as Davidson County, with its 612,884 residents in the urban Nashville area. The other two counties with more than 100 cases of minor sex trafficking each year are Knox and Shelby, according to the report.
Unchained makes its mission educating the public on the issue and helping survivors who have been victims of sex trafficking. One way the group does this is with its “Exposed Tour,” which will be in Columbia Sept. 25-27.
Exposed is a walk-through experience that takes about 25-30 minutes, Irby said. The free event will be held from 6-9 p.m. each night inside the Baker Building at Maury County Park.
“Actors will portray how girls get wooed into this activity,” Irby said. “Every participant is going to have the story of a real girl. They'll see these actors portray what happens to these girls while they're in the life. And at the end of the experience, they will see the face of the girl who's story they just learned.”
Irby recommended that participants in Exposed between the ages of 13 and 16 be accompanied by a parent or other adult, such as a youth pastor.
But the Exposed tour is not Unchained's first effort in creating awareness in the area.
Irby said the group held community awareness events in Marshall County recently.
“I spoke to their probation department and talked with teen girls,” Irby said. “One girl said she knew a pimp who was trafficking girls in Marshall County. And we want to say this stuff isn't happening.”
Marshall County Chief Deputy Bob Johnson said the problem is only going to continue to grow.
“I don't think people think it's an issue here,” Johnson said. “It may not be a big issue right now, but it's going to be. These people who were dealing drugs are now starting human trafficking. As bad as that sounds, it's like they've got a reusable commodity and they don't have to pay for it.”
Irby said the amount of money a trafficker can make in one night from one girl can range between $500 and $1,500.
“If a trafficker has more than one girl in his stable, he can make profits of up to $5,000 and $10,000 a night, if not more,” she said. “And the risk involved with traffickers is low, unlike selling drugs.”
Derri Smith, founding executive director of the Nashville-based group End Slavery Tennessee, said she believes sex trafficking is increasing in the United States for multiple reasons.
“All it takes to be in business is to pop up an ad on the Internet, on a site like Backpage,” Smith said in an email Sunday. “Traffickers can work out of any hotel or residential neighborhood.”
Smith also cited tourism as a factor in the growing number of trafficking incidents, saying that, “Tourists sometimes leave their morals at home.” Substance abuse is another contributing factor, she said, when parents and other family members sell their children for drugs and alcohol.
Finally, she said, some trafficking is fueled by gang-related activity.
“While gangs have long-trafficked weapons and drugs, the trend now is to traffic girls and sometimes boys to make money for gang activities,” Smith said. “Columbia is a hotbed for trafficking, much (of it) gang-related.”
Columbia police said that sex trafficking is not a prevalent issue they face.
“Without a doubt, I know prostitution goes on in Columbia,” Lt. Joey Gideon said Monday. “I can't say that our particular community is any worse than any of our surrounding communities.”
Assistant Chief of Police Michelle Jones agreed.
“This is not something that hits us regularly,” Jones said.
Maury County is not listed in the top 21 counties in the state for sex trafficking in the TBI's 2013 report.
Irby said that with minors having access to the Internet on their cell phones, predators have easier access to them than ever before.
“Facebook is a common place for girls to be lured in,” she said. “We're here to shed light on that. Most people don't realize it's an issue. (They) don't want to face this truth, because it is a hard pill to swallow.”
Children's Books on Wheels to host conference on teen and domestic violence, Oct. 11
by The Editor
CONROE, TEXAS (September 22, 2014) – In observance of National Domestic Violence Prevention Month, Children's Books on Wheels will host a collaborative domestic violence awareness event, The Snapshot Initiative: A Snapshot Look at Teen Dating Violence Conference, on Oct. 11 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
This event will be held at Booker T. Washington Junior High School located at 507 Dr. Martin Luther King Place N. in Conroe, Texas. The conference will include lectures on domestic and teen dating violence awareness, educational literature and supportive community resources. The conference will also cover the topics of teen human trafficking and internet safety.
“The work we do in these communities is vital,” said Rita Wiltz, Executive Director Children's Books on Wheels. “We have received recognition for guiding adolescent teens and adults in underserved communities to make life changing decisions about the direction of their lives as it relate to violent and unhealthy relationships. This event is just one more way to reach out and educate the public on this incredibly important topic.”
Most victims are women but there are also many men, boys and girls. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately 42.4 million women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime and one in three women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner. In addition, one in 10 men have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Dating violence can happen to any teen in a romantic, dating, or sexual relationship. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 10 American teenagers suffer physical violence at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend and many others are sexually or emotionally abused each year and nearly half of all teens in relationships say they know friends who have been verbally abused. The pain from dating violence is long-lasting, increasing the survivors' risk of substance abuse, depression, poor academic performance and experiencing further violence from a partner.
Donna Wick Milstead, owner of Donna Wick Public Relations in Spring, has been named the honorary chair for the event.
"I am honored to be working with Rita on this event," Donna Wick Milstead said. "Dating Violence, Breakup Violence and sexual assault plague our youth today. The world is a very dangerous place and adding the components of social media can make matters even worse. It's good to have a conference that empowers young ladies to pick and choose for themselves in their dating relationships and how to make those relationships best serve them."
Established in 2004, the mission of Children's Books on Wheels is to promote literacy by providing books to children in at-risk, low income, rural, underdeveloped and urban cities. Children's Books on Wheels is a non-profit 501c3 mobile literacy organization servicing Montgomery, Walker, Waller, Austin and Colorado counties. All services are in English and Spanish.
For more information on Children's Books on Wheels visit www.childrensbooksonwheels.org, call (281) 844-7596 or email email@example.com.
Mindfulness protects adults from physical, mental health consequences of childhood abuse, neglect
by Jane Ellen Stevens
Fact #1: People who were abused and neglected when they were kids have poorer physical and mental health. The more types of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) – physical abuse, an alcoholic father, an abused mother, etc. – the higher the risk of heart disease, depression, diabetes, obesity, being violent or experiencing violence. Got an ACE score of 4 or more? Your risk of heart disease increases 200%. Your risk of suicide increases 1200%.
Fact #2: Mindfulness practices improve people's physical and mental health.
Now, says Dr. Robert Whitaker, a pediatrician and professor of pediatrics and public health at Temple University, there's one more important fact: People who are mindful are physically and mentally healthier, no matter what their ACE scores are.
This study, to be published in the October issue of Preventive Medicine , is the first to look at the relationship between ACEs, mindfulness and health. And it has implications for anyone, and especially those who take care of children– teachers, parents, coaches, healthcare and childcare workers.
Many people think of mindfulness as people sitting and saying “Ommmm.” There's actually more to it, and it's worth explaining. People who are not mindful don't regulate their own emotions very well. Situations that trigger traumatic memories may cause a person to lose focus on what's happening currently, and lead them to make snap judgments and have knee-jerk reactions of anger, frustration, or fear, which can further the spread stress and trauma. They may not even be conscious that they're doing so. They also ruminate on situations they can't control, and can't let go.
Here's what it's like not to be mindful:
“My co-worker's angry today. I must have done something wrong. She's JUST like my mother: moody, angry, a screamer. Well, I'd better get my defenses up and give her a piece of my mind before she attacks me.”
“That kid keeps getting out of his seat and bothering the other kids. I know he's making jokes about me and turning the other kids against me so that they won't listen in class. He's doing this on purpose just to aggravate me. That pisses me off and I just CAN'T HELP YELLING AT THE PUNK and I can't WAIT to kick him out of class.”
“That guy just cut me off!! Well, f**** him and the horse he rode in on!! I'll show him. I'll speed up, pass him and throw him the finger! That'll teach him!”
Here are mindful reactions to the same situations:
“My co-worker's really upset today. She's snapping at everyone, including me. I wonder what happened to her? I'll see if we can find some quiet time and see if she wants to talk about it.”
“Brian seems unsettled today. He's jumping out of his seat and he's over-reacting to his classmates. He was happy and engaged yesterday. I wonder if something happened at home or on the way to or from school? I'll have a quiet word with him to see if he wants to talk about it and help him calm down.”
“That guy just cut me off. He's obviously in a hurry and isn't paying attention. I wonder if he's upset – that literally can cause tunnel vision. To avoid an accident, I'll just hang back and not get in his way.”
“People who have somehow become more mindful are able to disconnect from things that bug them,” says Dr. Bruce McEwen, professor of neuroendocrinology at The Rockefeller University in New York, NY, and one of the study's authors. And there's some important physiology behind this response: If the daily fluctuation of the stress hormone cortisol goes from low to high and back again, he explains, a person tends to be healthier.
“They can turn it off and on when they need it,” he says. “If you can't do that, if cortisol levels stay high or are inappropriately overactive, you're in trouble. Persistently high cortisol levels and flat, unchanging cortisol over the day hurt our neurological systems.”
Those who are mindful are aware of the present situation, they can focus on what's in front of them, and they observe while holding back on making judgments about other people or themselves. They react to other people's rage, anxiety, indignation, annoyance, frustration and aggravation – whether intentionally aimed at them or not — by turning those chunks of stress flying around them into tiny droplets of water that roll off their duck-like backs.
Mindful coworkers create environments that are calmer. Mindful bosses stay grounded and optimistic no matter what happens. Mindful teachers create a safe place for their students and remain calm when helping even the most frazzled of kids. Mindful parents react with concern, interest, compassion and assistance when their children scream, rage, or cry in fear. The parents may feel anger, frustration or exasperation, but they can control those emotions.
Most important, Whitaker's study shows that being mindful protects people from the physical and mental health effects of childhood trauma, which, according to the CDC's Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, most people in the U.S. have experienced.
The study's also important, according to Dr. Sandra Bloom, a psychiatrist and associate professor in the Drexel University School of Public Health and founder of the Sanctuary Model, because the results provide hope that people who have experienced abuse, neglect and other trauma in their childhoods and don't have mindfulness can learn a technique that can be easily taught at low cost. “It's a stress management tool that probably changes the physiology of arousal,” notes Bloom, who was not involved in the research.
“My perspective as a neuroscientist is on how brain function can be altered,” says McEwen. “That's why I'm so excited about the research. Now I want to know if we can reactivate plasticity in someone who has had a significant number of ACEs, and increase compensatory mechanisms to live a better life and be more mindful.”
The details of the study are interesting because of its participants: 2,160 adults (98 percent of them are women) working in 66 Head Start programs in Pennsylvania. Over half are 40 years old or older; 86 percent are white; 61 percent finished college; 62 percent are married.
Head Start is the nation's largest federally funded early childhood education program; nearly one million children are enrolled. The goal of Head Start is to prepare disadvantaged kids for school. More than 200,000 people – mostly women – work for Head Start. This includes teachers, managers, home-based visitors and family service workers.
“Increasing school readiness for children living in poverty is a tough mission and Head Start staff work for low wages in stressful jobs that have low prestige,” says Whitaker. “Yet, many people are asking why the program is not more effective. As a pediatrician, one of the first things I noticed when I spent time with Head Start teachers is that many of them looked really weary. When parents or teachers are worried, tired, stressed and preoccupied, they are not at their best and most of them know it. I felt it was important to understand how the teachers were doing. That included asking about childhood trauma, because we know it is common, can affect health and functioning, and can be reactivated in the workplace.”
Most of the kids who attend Head Start – including Early Head Start for children 36 months and younger – live in underserved neighborhoods and low-income families. Many have experienced – and continue to experience — complex trauma. Normal responses to complex trauma include erupting into anger, inability to focus or sit still, withdrawing, and distrust of adults. This adds an additional level of stress to Head Start staff, because they must keep their own emotions in check while they teach children how to recognize and regulate their feelings. And this is difficult if they have similar history that's being triggered by the kids they work with.
Before this study, Whitaker had published information about the health of these 2,160 adults. It showed they had higher than expected rates of stress-related health conditions including obesity, asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, headaches or migraines, low back pain and depression.
In the current study, Whitaker and his co-authors assessed eight ACEs (physical, sexual, emotional abuse; a family member who had problems with alcohol or drug abuse, who was depressed or mentally ill, or was in prison; witnessed a mother being abused and had parents who were separated or divorced) and mindfulness (using the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale-Revise), and then looked at the prevalence of multiple health conditions, health behavior and health-related quality of life.
The mindfulness scale measures a person's experience of her or his emotions or thoughts in four areas—focusing attention, being oriented to the present moment, being aware of an experience, and having an attitude of acceptance or non-judgment toward an experience. For example, two of the statements that people can agree or not agree with are: “I can accept things I cannot change”, and “I am able to pay attention to one thing for a long period of time.”
Of the 2,160 participants, almost 25 percent reported three or more ACEs, and almost 30 percent reported having three or more of seven stress-related health conditions — obesity, asthma, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, headache, or back pain.
But among the participants with the highest level of mindfulness, the risk of having multiple health conditions was nearly 50% lower compared to those with the lowest levels, even for those who had many ACEs. Those who were more mindful reported more positive health behaviors – getting enough sleep, exercising more, and less smoking, binge drinking or binge eating – no matter how many ACEs they had.
The study's results show that “it's possible that mindfulness-based interventions may help people who have adverse childhood experiences have better health and functioning,” says Whitaker.
One of the questions that arises out of the study is how did the healthy people with high ACE scores become mindful? “I do not know,” says Whitaker. “I can only speculate.”
“What we know from other research is that the presence or connection with other adults who can help make sense and meaning of one's life in the context of suffering helps a child become resilient,” he says, “a compassionate response from a person with whom the child feels safe.”
Even if there's ongoing trauma in the household, says Whitaker, being heard, being seen, and being valued by an adult such as a caring teacher in a place that's physically and emotionally safe, such as a trauma-informed school, will build resilience in a child and help that child grow up into a resilient adult.
A person's genotype may also contribute, says McEwen. “A more reactive child may do very well in a supportive environment and worse than average in a dysfunctional environment.”
Whitaker and McEwen emphasize that this research is not just about Head Start and early education. “It's important to consider the introduction of mindfulness and related practices for people,” especially for anyone who works with children, including parents, says McEwen, “not just for Head Start workers.”
Many of the Head Start workers who participated have found the research “very informative and helpful,” says Paula Margraf, program director of Community Services for Children, a large Head Start/Early Head Start program in Allentown, PA.
“It gave us great insight into the thinking, beliefs and attitudes of our staff,” she notes. “It helped us to understand how stressful their jobs are, and how this will impact on their interactions with children and parents.”
Mindfulness is now at the top of the agency's agenda. The staff launched a wellness committee that promotes information and training about healthy behaviors, and for the last two years, a Pennsylvania State University professor has trained all staff members in mindfulness.
SoCal Nanny Wanted in Child Abuse Case
Last month, the nanny, Elizabeth Norma Sanchez, 41, failed to appear in court for her arraignment on child abuse charges
by Robert Kovacik
(Picture on site)
A Southern California nanny is wanted by police for child abuse for allegedly giving two young children regular doses of adult cold and flu medicine before their nap time, police and the family of the children said.
The boy's parents believe their young children were being drugged by the same woman they trusted for more than a year to care for them.
The parents claim she gave their 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter daily swigs of adult strength over-the-counter cold and cough medicine so they would nap.
"I never in a million years would have thought something like this was going on," said the mother, Jeni Waters.
Waters said that when she asked the nanny why the kids seemed mellow, she always had the perfect excuse.
"Oh, yeah, I wore ‘em out at the park," the nanny would say, according to Waters.
Waters and her husband consider themselves to be protective parents. There are cameras in every room of their home, except the children's bathroom.
Jeni Waters was surprised when her husband, Brian, found a bottle of cough medicine well hidden in that bathroom.
"When he pulled out the bottle he didn't know what it was because he knew it wasn't ours," Jeni Waters said.
As soon as the father found the bottle, he took out his cellphone and recorded what his young son told him about "the medicine."
In the cellphone video the family shared with NBC4, the boy tells his father the nanny gave it to them every week day, "…cause 'I don't want you getting sick.'"
Dr. Steven Jensen, the medical director of pediatrics at Miller Children's Hospital, says using antihistamines on young children can have dangerous, even deadly, consequences.
Some children are so sedated that they might not breathe and you might have a fatality, or some might have hallucinations, heart arrhythmias or seizures, he said.
The Waters took their cellphone video and went to the police. They say the detectives were planning to confront the nanny at the family home, but she never came to work again.
The mother fears because she had told neighbors what happened, word spread.
"She definitely was tipped off," she said. "We never fired her. She never quit. She never collected her last paycheck."
Last month, the nanny, Elizabeth Norma Sanchez, 41, failed to appear in court for her arraignment.
Following her no-show at court, bail was set at $20,000 and a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Jennifer Manzella, a spokeswoman at the Newport Beach Police Department, said having a warrant in the system allows police to broaden the network of people who can be looking for Sanchez.
Sanchez is charged with two counts of child abuse.
Superior Court Makes Child Abuse Evidentiary Standard Clearer
by Janes W. Cushing
Child abuse is a terrible scourge on our society and being labeled as a child abuser can be a terrible burden on one's life if the label is incorrect. In the recent case of In the Matter of L.Z., Appeal of L.R. , No. 473 EDA 2012, the Pennsylvania Superior Court made it clear as to what is required for one to be deemed a child abuser in the context of a dependency action.
In December 2011, a child, L.Z., was taken to Abington Memorial Hospital for injuries, and staff alerted Child Protective Services (CPS) and the Department of Human Services (DHS). The injuries included a deep cut to the base of his penis, a bruise on each cheek, severe diaper rash, a yeast infection and general dirtiness.
An adjudicatory hearing was subsequently held where testimony and evidence were heard. The evidence revealed that the child's mother was residing with her paramour for the two days prior to the incident that led to L.Z.'s examination in the hospital. The mother, L.R., provided various explanations for the bruises and rash (of questionable credibility) but had no explanation for the penile cut. Investigation into the matter revealed that CPS indicated the child's aunt was the perpetrator of the abuse to the child.
The hearing also included testimony from a pediatrician certified as an expert witness. She testified that the penile cut was extremely uncommon, non-accidental in nature, very painful, and caused by another person (i.e., not the child). The doctor believed the cheek bruises to be the result of an adult grabbing L.Z.'s face very tightly. The doctor also testified that the diaper rash was the result of the child being left in a diaper wet with urine for extended periods of time. None of the above, per the doctor, appeared to be accidental.
Based on the adjudicatory hearing, DHS filed with Juvenile Court to have L.Z. declared dependant as a result of child abuse. The Juvenile Court found that L.Z. was the victim of child abuse, and therefore dependant, and that the mother perpetrated the abuse. L.R. appealed and the decision of the appellate court is the subject of this article.
After the mother decided to voluntarily relinquish her rights to the child, the only remaining issue was whether the mother was the perpetrator of L.Z.'s abuse. The court first has to determine whether this issue was moot due to the voluntary relinquishment of rights. The court determined that being labeled a child abuser has long-lasting and wide-ranging effects beyond the effect it has within the discrete confines of the litigation; including but not limited to being placed into a statewide registry, being prohibited from working at certain jobs, and possibly having to report it to employers or other parties. As a result, the issue on appeal was not moot. As noted by the court, it may consider collateral legal ramifications of its orders, which is to say the effects an order may have on things outside of its direct scope and purpose.
The court indicated that, in order to be determined a child abuser, the evidence for the abuse must be clear and convincing. The court reviewed the law (specifically, 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 6303) and noted that a finding of child abuse requires an action/inaction upon a minor child that is non-accidental in nature and causes the child serious physical injury (and/or imminent risk for the same) and/or serious physical neglect. The court further observed that the law defines serious physical injury as something that causes a child severe pain and/or significantly impairs physical functioning.
In its review of the evidence on appeal, the court made separate findings for each alleged instance of abuse. The court found that the penile cut was non-accidental and the cause of severe pain and was, therefore, the result of abuse. By contrast, the cheek bruises, though non-accidental, did not cause severe pain. The record did not reflect that the yeast infection resulted in any injury to the child. As far as the claim that L.Z. had diaper rash or was dirty or unkempt, the court found that these conditions did not cause the child any physical injury or impair his development or functioning. Consequently, based on the above, the court found that the only instance of child abuse supported by the evidence was the penile cut.
Upon a finding of child abuse, pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 6381, a finding that a parent or caretaker committed the child abuse requires only prima facie evidence to support it. The prima facie standard is not substantive law but merely an evidentiary presumption that may be rebutted if the evidentiary record fails to establish that the child was in the parent/caretaker's care at the time of injury. Indeed, the court noted that the presumption mentioned above does not apply where the possible perpetrators could be one of several adults. The evidence in this case, as mentioned above, revealed that the mother was not with L.Z. when he was abused but was with his aunt instead.
The court conceded that the mother did not provide the child with proper care, indeed L.R. concedes as much as well, but the court further noted that simply failing to provide proper care is not the same as perpetrating child abuse. Instead, the court held that it must be clear that the caretaker suspected of abuse must have been responsible for the supervision and control of the child at the time of the abuse. The court found that the evidence in the record in this case revealed that the child was not with the mother at the time he was abused; therefore, L.R. cannot be found to have committed child abuse and receive the label of child abuser. The court rejected the argument that L.R. should be held responsible for allowing L.Z. to be cared for by an abuser as there was no evidence in the record demonstrating that she knew the aunt was an abuse risk.
A dissent was entered arguing that the court should have focused on the entirety of the child's circumstances, and all of the various forms of discomfort the child suffered as described above, which were committed and/or allowed by the mother. The dissent believed the cumulative effect of the mother's action/inaction led to all of the various abuses and discomforts suffered by the child, and is the reason why the evidentiary presumption was merely, by statute, prima facie. Clearly, the majority opinion did not find this argument persuasive.
James W. Cushing is an associate at the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, research attorney for Legal Research Inc. and sits on the board of directors of the Christian Legal Clinics of Philadelphia.
Child abuse is often a question of how, not why
by Elizabeth Findell
One father slapped his 5-year-old, leaving on the boy's face a telltale mark noticed by child welfare investigators.
“We validated it as abuse,” said Julie Evans, executive director of the Alliance for Children, who helped with the case as an investigator more than a decade ago.
The father acknowledged what had happened and agreed to undergo counseling and take parenting classes. Because the family had no history of child abuse allegations and the injury was minimal, law enforcement officials did not file any formal charges, Evans said.
That case bore some similarities to a more recent one, involving a single dad who hit and injured his school-aged child after hearing the child had gotten into trouble in class, said prosecutor Leticia Martinez, chief of the Tarrant County district attorney's office Crimes Against Children Unit.
But that case, still under investigation, could have a different outcome. Authorities have already found that the dad has faced a previous investigation for child abuse — a red flag, Martinez said.
Such are the subtleties that come into play when law enforcement, child advocacy organizations and the legal system try to define what constitutes child abuse and how to respond to it.
The issue has been the talk of workplaces, TV news shows and sportstalk radio since Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was arrested in Montgomery County and charged with injury to a child for beating his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, leaving welts across his legs, back and genitals. Peterson, who is on an indefinite leave of absence from the Vikings, acknowledged the beating and said he was not an abusive parent, but merely disciplining the little boy.
Texas law excludes “reasonable” discipline from its definition of abuse.
Difficult to define
In Tarrant County, where child abuse rates are above average for Texas counties, those involved in investigating and responding to it were consistent with many of their counterparts nationwide in describing the factors that define abuse.
“The law really does allow for physical discipline, so spanking in and of itself is not abuse,” said Evans, whose Tarrant County-based organization works as an advocacy center for children. “Where that rises to the level of concern is the presence of physical injury — bruises, scrapes, cuts, things of that nature — especially if it's in a vital part of the body.”
Investigators consider whether the injury appears to be part of a pattern or an isolated incident, whether they believe the child will be in danger in the future and the child's age — as younger kids are less able to understand why they are being punished and to ask for help, Evans said.
Where children are hit — and how they are hit — can make a difference.
“Cases we are less likely to consider reasonable are when objects are used — electric cords, belts, when injuries are on parts of the body other than the behind,” Martinez said.
She remembered only a dozen or so cases she had personally handled where a parent used the “reasonable discipline” provision as a defense, and did not remember ever bringing a case like that to trial. Much more common is to see children with injuries that clearly constitute abuse, but it's impossible to prove who did it, Martinez and Evans said.
There can be differences in how various agencies consider suspected abuse as investigations work their way through the system. Often cases begin with Child Protective Services, which must determine whether there is a “preponderance of evidence” — or, more reason to believe than not — that abuse is occurring, while courts must prove to juries beyond a reasonable doubt that a suspect abused a child, Evans said.
A Texas Department of Family and Protective Services report last year found that Tarrant County has a rate of child abuse and neglect of 10.9 victims per 1,000, above the national average of 9.2. Child deaths from abuse were also higher, at 2.7 per 1,000 compared to 2.1.
‘If it leaves marks, it's abusive'
Many children with injuries are referred to the Cook Children's Medical Center CARE Team, a unit of colorful, stuffed-animal-filled exam rooms specifically dedicated to evaluating abuse cases.
About half of the 1,400 cases that came through the doors last year involved suspected physical abuse or severe neglect, while the rest involved sexual abuse, said Dr. Jamye Coffman, who heads the unit.
She also looks for patterns — patterns in injuries and in whether they match with the story of how they occurred, to determine if injuries came from abuse or an accident.
The shape of brusing may be able to tell if it came from a hand or a belt. A type of bone break can show if it came from blunt force, twisting or bending. A baby may not be developmentally capable of doing what an adult said he did to hurt himself. A child may be severely bruised but have a blood disorder causing the bruises.
In about 40 percent of the physical cases she evaluates there's either no abuse or it cannot be determined, Coffman said. Occasionally, parents acknowledge what happened as discipline or punishment. She tells parents not to hit their children with objects, because they cannot tell how hard they are hitting and to only hit them on the bottom.
“From the perspective of a pediatrician, if it leaves marks, it's abusive,” she said. “I don't try to make parents not spank their child because I know they're going to tune me out, but I do say if you're going to discipline your child in that way, you need to do it in a way that's not abusive.”
Personally, Coffman doesn't believe in hitting children and said she thinks more people are starting to agree with her, at least in certain areas. She said she has seen corporal punishment become increasingly unaccepted in higher socioeconomic groups, but doesn't believe those changes are universal.
She noted that hitting an adult for any reason is likely to result in an assault charge.
“It just drives me crazy that the rights of children are nowhere near the rights of adults and they're the vulnerable party,” she said. “I look at those pictures of the Peterson boy and go ‘Who can say that's OK?' ”
Many parents who have run into trouble for how they act with their kids are referred to The Parenting Center, which provides classes and other resources for parents in Tarrant County — both those who want to learn skills before they have kids and those who have had challenges in the past.
“It's usually a surprise to them that this has happened,” said Suzanne Stevenson, family life education program manager at the center, of parents sent there by authorities. “They didn't necessarily believe what they were doing was abusive, certainly didn't think of themselves as abusers. They thought they were just disciplining their child, but their child got injured.”
The Parenting Center does not advocate spanking or any form of corporal punishment and instead encourages parents to use time-outs, conversation and other methods to deal with misbehavior.
Stevenson noted that it's been societally common to hit children throughout history, and only in recent decades has it begun to be considered abusive.
“I think people are starting to realize that they don't need to parent the way their parent parented them, particularly when it comes to corporal punishment,” Stevenson said. “Spanking is quick, but teaching a child how you actually want them to behave is longer.”
Child abuse inquiry told of sexual assaults, beatings in Darwin home
Commission is hearing from members of the stolen generations who say they were abused in the Northern Territory
by Helen Davidson
Indigenous children were beaten, sexually assaulted, stripped and chained to beds, and forced to eat their own vomit, it has been alleged at the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Monday.
The 17th public hearing of the royal commission began hearing from members of the stolen generations who say they were sexually abused at a Darwin home.
It's examining how the government and administrators responded to the allegations of child sexual abuse by employees at the Retta Dixon home between 1946 and 1980, when it closed.
Retta Dixon was one of the main government-run homes for children of mixed Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent forcibly removed from their families. Established by Christian missionaries in the 1930s, it also housed unmarried mothers and their babies, and temporary visitors. At its peak it held 120 people, according to the federal government's 1997 Bringing Them Home report.
“It is important to acknowledge and understand that most of the children … were also members of the stolen generation, to understand the full impact of the alleged abuse on them,” said counsel assisting the commission, Sophie David, SC.
However, David said the inquiry would not focus on government policy and legislative framework beyond the establishment of the Retta Dixon home.
Under the spotlight are the responses of the Australian Indigenous Ministries, formerly the Aborigines Inland Mission (Aim) and the Northern Territory and commonwealth governments to allegations raised at the Retta Dixon home, as well as responses from the NT police force and director of public prosecutions (DPP) to specific allegations against Donald Henderson, a house parent in the 1960s and 1970s.
Henderson was prosecuted in 1975 for sexual offences against numerous children and again in 2002, Davis told the hearing. In both instances, conviction was not pursued. In 2002 the DPP did not proceed with prosecution on the basis that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
Henderson, who is alive and has been notified of the inquiry, maintains his denial of the allegations.
A witness, referred to as AKU, told the commission she was physically and sexually abused by Henderson from the age of five until she was 13, including being forced to eat her own vomit.
“Don Henderson would come in to my bedroom on nights when [his wife] was out and say, ‘[AKU], come here' and I would have to get up and follow him into his bedroom,” she told the commission.
AKU said children were beaten as punishment for even minor transgressions every day, including being caned until their hands bled, or punched.
“I can't just turn it off,” she said, telling the commission she still has nightmares about the Retta Dixon home.
“The abuse I suffered at Retta Dixon took my childhood away,” AKU told the commission.
“I can't get that back.”
Sandra Joy Kitching told the commission that because she and other children were “half caste”, she believed staff “thought they could beat the colour out of us to make us white”.
“At least that's how I thought of it. That's why they took us from Alice to Darwin,” she said.
Kitching alleged that a house parent, George Pounder, would watch the young girls shower and chain them to their beds as punishment for transgressions.
Attempts to report abuse to the superintendent, Mervyn Pattermore, were ignored, including Pounder driving her to school alone every day.
“He would touch me every time I got in the car to go to school,” she said.
“When I think back about that, I think I was lucky that I used to not give in because I wonder if he would have maybe taken me to a side street somewhere and done something. He just made me sick. I don't know if he did it to any of the other girls.”
Kitching alleged Pounder force fed a child, and when she tried to intervene he stripped her and chained her up, saying “that's what Aboriginal people deserve”.
Kitching said never reported the abuse to anyone other than Pattermore.
“There was no one else to report to,” she said.
“No one ever said, ‘If you have issues, you come and see me'. We wouldn't have known what was acceptable anyway, there was no guide or standard to tell us what was allowed and what wasn't. I wouldn't have trusted the authorities even if they did speak to us because they were all white people.”
The public hearing began with testimony from a former resident, Lorna Cubillo.
In 1947, a nine-year-old Cubillo was taken from a central Australian Aboriginal settlement and put in the Retta Dixon home.
In her testimony Cubillo described being taken from her grandmother, and the abuse she allegedly suffered at the home at the hands of a missionary employee, Mr Walter. Walter is alive and has been notified of the hearing.
Cubillo described Walter's wife as a “lovely person” who taught her about puberty, and said she felt like they were sisters. However, she said Walter was abusive, and would beat her with a buckle. When she reached puberty Walter began sexually assaulting her as well, Cubillo said.
“He flogged me that much that after a while it didn't hurt any more. I didn't cry though, because he was not winning,” Cubillo told the commission.
Describing another incident, Cubillo said: “Mr Walter stopped punching me to get his breath back and I punched him with all my force.”
Hitting Walter in the diaphragm, he dropped to the floor, Cubillo said. Terrified of repercussions, she fled, but was not punished on her return. There was no action taken by staff despite them treating her visible injuries from the beating.
Cubillo told the commission she believed she lost a court case against Walter in 1998 because she was “too ashamed” to tell anyone about the abuse she suffered at Retta Dixon.
Despite eventually reconnecting with her family, Cubillo said her enforced removal to Retta Dixon meant she had lost connection to her people and her country.
“I'm very sad about the loss of my culture. I've never been initiated in a tribal way.
“While I'm welcomed by my family, I cannot regain my losses.”
She said she felt unable to express a loving and affectionate relationship with her children as a result of her time at the Retta Dixon home.
“I loved my children, but it's the way you kiss and hug them like their father did,” she clarified.
“I'm sorry I didn't do that.”
Cubillo's son was in attendance at the public hearing.
At the end of her statement, Cubillo was asked what she would like to see happen as a result of the inquiry. She said she would like an apology from the government and Aim.
“I'd like a fair system. We were denied many things,” said Cubillo.
“There was so much cruelty. Much more than what I've said here. I hope that never occurs again.”
The inquiry is being held in Darwin's supreme court building, the same place where almost 15 years ago Cubillo and an Indigenous man, Peter Gunner, lost a joint federal court battle for compensation against the federal government as members of the stolen generations.
In total, the hearing will hear from nine former residents and a former house mother. It will also hear testimony from current and former government and law enforcement authorities, including the general director of Aim, the Rev Trevor Leggott; the CEO of the Department of Attorney General and Justice for the NT, Gregory Shanahan, and the territory's children's commissioner, Howard Bath.
Community announcements in Yolngu Matha and Modern Tiwi began airing on Northern Territory radio stations in Darwin and more than 40 remote locations last week.
It is the first time the commission has held a hearing in the Northern Territory. It is also the first public hearing to predominantly involve Indigenous people.
A number of Aboriginal women gave evidence at the inquiry into the Parramatta Girls Home and Hay Institute.
Of all the people who have contacted the commission, 827 (18%) are Indigenous, the chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, said as he opened the public hearing on Monday morning.
He added that 9% of people coming to private sessions are from Aboriginal communities.
The inquiry into the Retta Dixon home is expected to run for about two weeks.
Child abuse inquiry told children raped by other children in Darwin home
Witness recounts numerous incidents of boys molesting girls at the home and said the superintendent never took any action
by The Australian Associated Press
Children as young as seven were raped by other children at the Retta Dixon home for Indigenous wards of the state, the child sexual abuse royal commission has heard.
Veronica Johns, 56, had two supporters sit with her in the witness box as she gave evidence of the abuse she suffered at the Northern Territory home, where she lived from the age of three to 15.
She was seven when she was twice raped by an older boy at the home, which was operated in Darwin by the Aborigines Inland Mission from 1946 until 1980 for mixed race Aboriginal children who had been taken from their families.
She recounted numerous incidents of boys molesting girls at the home and said the superintendent, Mervyn Pattemore, never took any action.
Her younger brother, Kevin Stagg, 54, told the commission he was about four when he was taken to the home.
The environment was highly sexualised among the children, he said, and games and conversations had sexual connotations.
He told the commission under privilege that a house parent, Donald Henderson, was a large, intimidating man who raped him when he was seven while collecting eggs from the chook shed.
At the same time, three older boys were grooming him for sex and he then became the “property” of an older boy, who raped him three times.
He was sexually molested twice a week until he was about 10, and hassled and set up for punishments if he refused, he said.
“If you let them abuse you, life was a lot easier,” Stagg told the commission.
Once he was taken to hospital after a rape by Henderson, who wouldn't let him speak to hospital staff and told them other children had done it, Stagg told the commission.
“Sometimes we had to wear diapers ... to school so the blood didn't come out on the school uniform,” he said.
He tried to tell Pattemore about Henderson, but says the superintendent accused him of lying and caned him until he said it was the other boys who had done it.
Stagg never reported the incidents to police: “They are the authorities and the authorities are the people who abuse you.”
After leaving the home he was imprisoned several times for various crimes and developed heroin and alcohol addictions.
Stagg said he hadn't really been a father to his 15 children.
“I'm not proud of that, I'm disgusted by it,” he wept.
“I have to live with the fact that I was brought into this world to be somebody's sexual plaything, and as a result I have gone out into the world and been involved in sex, drugs and violence.”
The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse hearing in Darwin continues.
Record of Abuse Accusations Preceded Florida Killings
by FRANCES ROBLES
MIAMI — The Florida man who killed his daughter, her six children and himself on Thursday was accused of hitting one of the children with a belt last year, according a report by the state child welfare agency, which said there was an open investigation into the family at the time of the killings.
On Thursday, Don C. Spirit, 51, killed his daughter Sarah, 28, and her six children, who ranged in age from 3 months to 11 years, in Bell, a small rural community west of Gainesville.
The killings culminated a cycle of domestic abuse that spanned at least two decades and involved several perpetrators, court and the state social service agency's records show. The family was dogged by drug abuse, financial problems and violence, which repeated interventions by the Florida Department of Children and Families failed to stem. The killings took place just two weeks after a social worker's visit, the record shows.
The agency on Monday released an incident report that gave a brief outline of its prior involvement with the family.
The agency's latest investigation of the family was focused on Ms. Spirit and her boyfriend, James Stewart, who was the father of the three youngest children. Both parents abused drugs, and there were reports of domestic violence between the two.
“Although there have been a variety of reports involving Ms. Spirit as a caregiver, the allegations consistently centered around concerns with regards to supervision issues, medical and general neglect issues, substance abuse issues and domestic violence issues,” Lisa Rivera, the agency's fatality prevention specialist, wrote in the incident report, which was dated Friday.
Ms. Spirit had been referred by the agency for “voluntary services” in 2007, 2012 and 2013, but the services were not “fully engaged” last year, the report said.
Earlier this month someone reported to the agency that the parents were using drugs.
Ms. Spirit and Mr. Stewart tested positive for synthetic marijuana and were arrested because both were on probation at the time, court records show. When Ms. Spirit returned from jail, she and her children were kicked out of the property where they were living, so she and the children moved in with her father, whom she accused of domestic violence in 2008, the agency's report said.
Mr. Stewart remains at a local jail. The older children's father is also incarcerated.
It is unclear whether the department tried to prevent Ms. Spirit from moving in with her father, who was convicted of child abuse in the 1990s. Court records show that Mr. Spirit had been found guilty of depriving a child of food and shelter. He had a history with the social service agency regarding his treatment of his own children, and he also served three years in prison on gun charges after he killed a son in a hunting accident in 2001.
Last year, he was accused of hitting and bruising one of his grandchildren with a belt, but the report does not say what, if any, action the child welfare agency took.
“A review is currently being conducted by the Critical Incident Rapid Response Team with regards to the family's prior and recent history leading up to the circumstances surrounding the children's death,” Ms. Rivera wrote.
The Gilchrist County Sheriff's Office said it had no developments on the case and had not determined what had led up to the killings.
Federal Spending on Kids to Increase Only 2 Percent Over Next Decade
by Gary Gately
Children's programs are projected to receive only 2 cents on every dollar of a $1.4 trillion increase in federal spending over the next decade, says a new Urban Institute report.
During the same period, overall federal spending is projected to increase a whopping 41 percent, to $4.8 trillion, owing largely to spending on programs for the elderly, the national debt and higher interest on it, the Washington-based think tank's Kids' Share 2014 report says.
Spending on children will rise by about $26 billion, or just 2 percent, between now and 2024, it says. That compares with an increase of about 10 percent on federal children's spending from 2003 to 2013.
Julia Isaacs, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and a co-author of the report, said it underscores the need for the federal government to make some hard choices: raising taxes, slowing the growth of programs serving the elderly like Social Security and Medicare — or both.
“They're a very hard sell, and so the danger is that we will do nothing, and children's programs will continue to be squeezed,” she said.
But, Isaacs said: “We're a very rich nation. We have a lot of resources. We have the economic capacity to be investing more in children.”
A vice president at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities believes that the federal government needs to raise more revenue to meet the needs of both populations.
In 2013, federal expenditures on children totaled $464 billion, up slightly from $460 billion the previous year, but well below the peak of $499 billion in 2010. (All the report's figures are in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, and projections are based on Congressional Budget Office estimates.)
As a share of the gross domestic product, federal spending on children is expected to decline from 2.1 percent in 2013 to 1.7 percent in 2024. By contrast, combined spending on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are expected to rise to more than 10 percent of GDP.
“The projected declines in federal expenditures on children over the next decade are troubling,” the report says. “Without changes to current law and a righting of the structural imbalance between revenues and spending, we risk not only the well-being of our children but the well-being of the nation as a whole.”
Sharon Parrott, the vice president at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the report clearly shows federal “underinvestment” in children, particularly low- and moderate-income children, who rely on federal funding more than higher-income ones. It reflects the reality that Social Security and Medicare costs are rising with the aging of the baby boomers.
“In our system, for better or for worse, the federal government provides health care for seniors but not for other people, and we know that seniors have higher health care costs than kids,” Parrott said. “Kids are very inexpensive to cover in terms of health insurance.”
Arguing that the nation spends too much on Social Security and Medicare begs the question of whether that's a good use of that money, she said.
She said higher revenues, from higher taxes, would be necessary to “maintain a safety net for seniors and adequately invest in kids.”
“And I think part of what's happened is people say we've historically had revenues at a certain level of the economy and therefore we should never go higher, but the circumstances of today are just different. We have different demographics and different health care costs than we've had in the past.”
The federal gap between increases in spending for the elderly and for children can be attributed largely to built-in increases in funding for Social Security and Medicare and the lack of such increases for discretionary programs, which Congress must fund annually, Isaacs said.
The majority of funding for children comes from state and local sources: In 2011, the report said, 62 percent of spending on children, excluding tax expenditures, came from state and local sources, almost all of it for education or health.
But even when combining federal, state and local funding, the amount spent on the elderly is more than twice that spent per child (about $29,000 per capita to $12,770), Isaacs said.
She said Congress has enacted legislation to help children in the past, pointing to the child tax credit, increases in the earned income tax credit and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) as well as spending targeting children in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or the federal stimulus.
“So I think that we've seen examples in the past where Congress passes legislation that invests more in children, and Congress could do that again in the future,” Isaacs said. “The point is that if they don't do anything, that's how children will suffer.
Edward Lorenzen, a senior policy advisor at the Washington-based Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, agrees that with built-in increases, spending on programs for the elderly “grows on autopilot and it's squeezing out the discretionary budget … and Congress has failed to do anything to control the growth of those programs.”
“We need to step back and decide what our priorities are and how we would allocate the budget from a clean slate instead of having so much of it already baked and locked in by formula,” Lorenzen said.
The report points to rising debt and interest rates and says with revenues continuing to fall short of spending and current low interest rates expected to rise, spending on interest payments on the debt are expected to exceed spending on children in 2017 and thereafter — and by larger amounts each year.
Spending on children is expected to fall in the next decade in all categories except health, for which spending will increase almost entirely due to Medicaid for children.
The biggest decline in federal children's spending will be in funding for K-12 education, which is projected to fall by about 12 percent, from $43 billion in 2013 to $38 billion in 2024, the report said.
Census: Nearly 1 in 5 Children in U.S. in Poverty
by Gary Gately
Nearly one in five children in the United States lived in poverty last year, with a much higher proportion of poverty among African-American and Hispanic children, new U.S. Census figures released Tuesday show.
Overall, the number of children living in poverty declined slightly from 21.8 percent of all children, or 16.07 million, in 2012 to 19.9 percent, or 14.66 million, in 2013, the new figures show.
Nearly 37 percent of African-American children and just over 30 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty in 2013, determined by the income of their household.
“We have what we're calling Depression-level rates of poverty for those groups, and we can't forget about that,” said Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Washington- based Coalition on Human Needs.
Weinstein, whose coalition is an alliance of national organizations that press for public policies that address the needs of low-income and other vulnerable populations, noted that African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnic groups that used to be referred to as minorities now constitute a majority when viewed together.
“This fall, more than half of America's schoolchildren —50.3 percent — were Asian, African-American, Latino, Native American or other so-called ‘minorities,' ” Weinstein said.
“As their numbers grow in the U.S. population, if their poverty continues at such high levels, the U.S. will be a poorer country, marked by more and more inequality. Addressing child poverty in the new ‘majority' should be an urgent priority.”
And First Focus, a bipartisan, Washington-based advocacy organization that strives to make children and families a priority in federal policy and budget decisions, also expressed concern over the disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic children in poverty.
“High and persistent child poverty among Latino and African-American children is especially alarming,” said Ed Walz, a First Focus spokesman, said in an e-mail. “So, to the degree that Congress isn't delivering child poverty solutions that work for African-American and Latino kids, they're not solving the problem.”
The overall poverty rate for all Americans declined last year from the previous year for the first time since 2006, the U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday. But there were no statistically significant changes in the number of people living in poverty or in real median household income.
For children under 18, the poverty rate dipped from the previous year for the first time since 2000, but, again, only slightly.
The poverty threshold for a family of four in 2013 was $23,834.
Speaking of the overall childhood poverty rate, Walz said: “This data is alarming because research shows that growing up in poverty has lifelong effects — less academic progress, worse health and lower wages as adults. Congress' failure to address child poverty today will cost the nation for decades to come.”
He said First Focus is urging lawmakers and policymakers to take a new approach to reducing childhood poverty, modeled on a decade-long British effort. Walz said the British effort has relied on a combination of welfare-to-work programs, improved tax credits for families, early-childhood programs, education and other priorities.
Childhood poverty in Britain declined more than 50 percent during the effort's first decade (1999-2009) while America's child-poverty rate rose by 20 percent during the same period, Walz said.
The new Census figures showed a 9.5 percent rate of poverty among senior citizens, less than half that of children, First Focus said in a news release. The federal government makes much more substantial investments to reduce poverty among the elderly than among children, it said.
Weinstein called on House lawmakers to support unemployment insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), both of which have reduced poverty.
She pointed to new Census figures showing nearly 6.5 million children live below half the poverty line – or $9,500 in income for a family of three. “That's hard to imagine somebody living on that little, but there are 8.9, nearly 9 percent of children who are that poor."
Vermont legislators question rate of child abuse intervention
by Lisa Rathke
MONTPELIER — A special legislative panel is expected to hear more this week about the rules governing Vermont's child welfare agency as it probes child protection issues following the deaths of two toddlers who had been in the state's care.
Some lawmakers have questioned the high percentage of abuse and neglect calls that are not accepted for intervention by the Department of Children and Families. Last year the department received 17,458 calls, 10 percent more than 2012. Of those, 70 percent were not accepted by DCF for an investigation or assessment.
Committee member Senator Peg Flory, Republican of Rutland, wanted to know why other cases weren't investigated in a bid to make sure serious accusations weren't overlooked based on outdated rules.
‘‘Is there criteria that ought to be updated?'' she asked. ‘‘Are we dismissing ones that shouldn't be dismissed?''
The committee is seeking solutions to a child protection crisis following the deaths of 2-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, in April. DCF was involved with both children.
Peighton was found dead of head and neck trauma less than an hour after a DCF worker had visited his home because hospital workers noticed bruises on his neck during an emergency room visit two days earlier.
Records show Dezirae had a history of child abuse injuries, and her mother was convicted last year of cruelty to a child. An investigation has revealed that a DCF official was told in 2013 that Dezirae was abused by her stepfather, but that information was never given to the family's social worker or the child's court-appointed attorney before the child's death.
The attorney general's office found no criminal conduct by department staff, but found a lack of communication among social workers, the courts, law enforcement, medical personnel, and others.
Second-degree murder charges have been filed against Dezirae's stepfather and Peighton's mother in the two cases. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Building strong families to curb child abuse, neglect
by Thomas Schneider and Jay Scott
In the course of our work, we encounter many families struggling with poverty, substance abuse and mental illness.
Even when families deal with these challenges admirably (and most do), these circumstances can create a chaotic environment for children to be born into. Too many of those children start life behind their peers and never do catch up.
As a result, we see far too many crimes that might not have happened if the offender had grown up with a strong, stable family structure around them.
That's why it's critical to assess what works to strengthen at-risk families and make sure they get off to a good start. One such proven strategy is called home visiting.
Home-visiting programs provide support for new, at-risk families. They pair young, often first-time mothers with a trained home visitor who works with that family from pregnancy into the second or third year of the child's life.
The mother is connected to services she needs to address housing, health and education needs, but she is also given coaching and guidance on her baby's development and health.
Research shows that high-quality voluntary home-visiting programs dramatically can reduce child abuse and neglect and even reduce child deaths.
Children from families who participated in the Nurse-Family Partnership program were also 58 percent less likely to be convicted of a crime when they grew up than kids from families left out of the program.
That's why we owe it to our communities and our children to make sure these programs reach more at-risk families.
Fortunately, there has been some federal funding for these efforts in Macon County, which was selected as one of six communities in the state to receive federal funding to expand home-visiting programs. The grant, known as the Maternal, Infant, Early Childhood Home Visiting program targets communities that have high need and a strong infrastructure for service delivery.
The Macon County grant is administered by the Macon County Health Department, which works in conjunction with a number of social service agencies throughout the county.
This funding has allowed home visiting to reach hundreds more vulnerable families with this effective program.
The original five-year federal funding for the program equipped Illinois with $31 million to research, improve quality and expand access to home-visiting programs. Congress, with the support of the president, took the smart step earlier this year of continuing support for one additional year.
As law enforcement leaders, we stand with thousands of other prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs who are members of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids in urging our members of Congress to find a way to continue support for the program once again.
These investments in the infrastructure of life not only will save children's lives and cut down on abuse, but also will make our neighborhoods safer places to live for years to come.
Thomas Schneider is sheriff of Macon County. Jay Scott is the Macon County state's attorney.
Say it with me: Child abuse is never love … never
by STEVEN KALAS
Everything we need to know about how and why Adrian Peterson could and did deliver a savage beating to his 4-year-old son is summed up in the words of Peterson's lawyer, Rusty Hardin: “Adrian is a loving father who used his judgment as a parent to discipline his son. … He used the same kind of discipline with his child that he experienced as a child growing up in East Texas. Adrian has never hidden from what happened.”
Indeed. Hardin has just summed the very nexus of the last several centuries of barbarism found in Euro-American child-rearing patterns.
The Peterson story is a prototype of my life's work. It's why I'll always have a job.
Over and over do adult patients sit in my office and struggle — decades later — with the torturous, confusing collision of love and violence. Love and humiliation. Love and sadism.
Or, more accurately, the failure of love. The failure of empathy. The gross abuse of power.
Egregious injustice, treacherously disguised as love.
“Now, I know my father/mother loved me,” patients will plead, as if saying it over and over again will make sense of being made powerless. Being abused. Being degraded.
It's all I can do not to say, “Great. Your father/mother loved you. But in that instance, the love contained a most consequential pathology. Love became twisted.”
That. Wasn't. Love.
I do sometimes say it.
“Adrian has never hidden from what happened.” Really? Let's talk about hiding. While we're at it, let's talk about how tons of us are hiding, even as we tweet, call radio shows and otherwise weigh in on this matter.
If you think this debate is about parents' rights to discipline their children, you're in denial. Hiding. No one is suggesting parents don't have the right to discipline their children.
And our collective tribe still has this knee-jerk, vehement, irrational response to photos of bruised, welted, bleeding lashes across the legs and buttocks of a 4-year-old because …
… we are hiding. Specifically, we are protecting the people who hurt children. Often, the people who hurt us.
If I hear one more person say “My mother/father (punished me similarly) all the time, and I turned out OK,” I'm just gonna lose it. Because it's not OK. It's never OK. Doing violence to children is a moral wrong. Degrading and humiliating children is a moral wrong.
Child abuse is not about information; it's about denial. You cannot “educate” abuse out of abusive parents; those parents must be transformed. And, to be transformed, that parent must find the radical courage to confront his/her own childhood history. Peterson cannot merely say, “That's the way I was raised.” He must find the gumption to say, “The way I was raised was wrong.”
Hiding? Peterson tweets: “I am not a perfect parent. But I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser. I am someone that disciplined his child and did not intend to cause him any injury.”
Since when does a parent's motive define child abuse? Since when does a parent's intentions define child abuse? This is the rhetoric of denial. You disagree? Read Alice Miller's book “For Your Own Good.” Actually, you don't have to. It's all in the title. Western civilization has been justifying child abuse for centuries behind the rhetoric of good intentions.
Also in Peterson's tweet: “I understand after meeting a psychologist that there are other alternative ways of disciplining that may be more appropriate.”
May be more appropriate? Was your therapist going for irony?
OK, Adrian. I'm in. It may be more appropriate to first conclude that, regardless of your felt intentions, what you did was despicable. And to then conclude that, in principle, it will never happen again. To tell your son that you were wrong. That, while you love him, this wasn't love. And that you will spend the rest of your life redeeming that moment. (Children, when equipped with truth about their parents' failings, are amazingly resilient and absurdly forgiving.)
It may be appropriate for you to confront your own childhood history. If what you did is indicative of what happened to you, then my heart breaks for you. Feel what you need to feel.
Because parents who can feel their own outrage and sadness about injustices they received as children are ever so much less likely to bequeath those same injustices to their children.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing”
Senate passes bill to combat child sex trafficking
Other goals: more adoptions, better child support collection
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate approved bipartisan child welfare legislation Thursday night aimed at reducing child sex trafficking, increasing adoptions and improving child support collections.
The legislation was approved by the House on July 23 and now goes to President Obama for his signature
Specifically, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act (H.R. 4980) would encourage states to combat sex trafficking among youth in foster care; promote normalcy for foster youth; help move more children from foster care into adoptive homes or the homes of relatives; and, increase the amount of child support provided to families in which one parent resides outside of the U.S.
"The legislation is fully paid for," Friday's announcement stated.
In June, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., and Ranking Member Sander Levin, D-Mich., along with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Orrin G. Hatch, R-Utah, announced the bipartisan legislation.
The legislation, which ultimately passed both the Senate and House reconciled differences on three bills previously approved by the House (H.R. 1896, H.R. 3205, and H.R. 4058) and the Senate Finance Committee (S. 1876, S. 1877, and S. 1878).
he following are key provisions of the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act. The bill was introduced in the House by Camp, Levin and House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Ranking Member Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas:
Title I: Protecting Youth at Risk of Sex Trafficking
· Requires state child welfare agencies to identify, document, and determine appropriate services for children in foster care or who are otherwise involved in the child welfare system who are victims of child sex trafficking or at risk of becoming victims.
· Requires state child welfare agencies to promote "normalcy" for youth in foster care allowing them to more easily participate in age appropriate social, scholastic and enrichment activities.
Title II: Improving Adoption Incentives
· Improves the adoption incentives program and extends it for three years. It also extends the Family Connection Grant Program for one year.
Title III: Improving International Child Support Recovery
· Requires states to make necessary changes to implement the Hague Convention in enforcing international child support cases, increasing the amount of child support collected for families.
· Requires data standardization within the child support enforcement program, improving administration. This would streamline the child support programs with federal programs including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families(TANF), child welfare, Unemployment Insurance and food assistance programs such as SNAP.
· Requires all states to implement electronic processing of income withholding, as most states already do; this will improve the collection of child support and save taxpayers $48 million over 10 years.
· Creates a task force to explore ways to improve the effectiveness of the child support enforcement program.
Overall, the entire bill would save $1 million over 5 years and $19 million over 10 years.
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden said: “This sends a clear message that states can't turn a blind eye to child sex trafficking, and that there's a responsibility to identify victims and build a systemic response. This law will help also foster children build stable relationships with permanent families, where they are much less likely to fall victim to pimps and traffickers and other predators. I urge the President to quickly sign legislation which Congress has enacted with overwhelming support and will help keep vulnerable children from ending up in the streets, homeless shelters or the juvenile justice system by creating permanent, healthy, and supportive relationships.”
Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Hatch said: “This bill takes crucial steps to improve the lives of children and youth in the foster care system who are vulnerable to sex trafficking and other negative outcomes. I am pleased that a number of provisions I introduced last year in my bill, I O Youth , are included in this legislation. While there is more to be done to reform child welfare, such as ending the over-reliance on group homes, this bill takes a critical step forward.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Camp said: “We must do all we can to protect and improve the lives of children in foster care. This bill will help protect vulnerable youth from becoming victims of the horrible crime of sex trafficking, as well as ensure that foster youth have a better chance of living safe, healthy and normal lives. Importantly, it will encourage more adoptions of children in foster care so they can live in permanent, loving homes. I am pleased we have done this in a bipartisan, bicameral way so this bill can quickly become law.”
House Ways and Means Ranking Member Levin said: “This legislation will help protect vulnerable children from exploitation, move foster children into permanent homes and strengthen child support enforcement across international borders. I hope we can use a similar bipartisan process to further strengthen families, reduce hardship and safeguard children.”
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Reichert said: “The Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act makes key changes to our nation's child welfare system to improve the lives of kids in foster care. We have committed to protect these children and we are responsible for their safety and success, yet for too long we have not lived up to that that promise. This legislation will help protect children from the horrors of sex trafficking and give them opportunities to lead more normal and successful lives. It also encourages states to move children into permanent, loving homes more quickly. Passage of this bill is a victory for America's children, and the President needs to sign this legislation without delay.”
House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Ranking Member Doggett said: “Much more is needed to protect vulnerable children, but this bill represents a constructive step forward.”
The legislation enjoys widespread support within the child welfare community, and its supporters include (in alphabetical order):
American Psychological Association
Association on American Indian Affairs
Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
Children's Advocacy Center of Suffolk County
Children Awaiting Parents
Children's Defense Fund
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
Eastern Shashone Tribe
First Focus Campaign for Children
Fort Belknap Child Support Program
Foster Family-Based Treatment Association
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community
Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa
Menominee Tribal Child Support Agency
Mescalero Apache Tribe
Meskwaki Nation Child Support Services
National Adoption Center
National Child Support Enforcement Association
National Foster Parent Association
National Indian Child Welfare Association
Nebraska Families Collaborative
Nez Perce Tribe
North American Council on Adoptable Children
NYS Citizens' Coalition for Children
Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin
Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center
Penobscot Nation Child Support Agency
Red Cliff Tribal Child Support Services Agency
The Adoption Exchange
The Attachment and Trauma Network
The California Alliance of Child and Family Services
The Child Welfare League of America
The Donaldson Adoption Institute
The National Crittenton Foundation
Tribal Child Support Enforcement, Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma
Voice for Adoption
You Gotta Believe
The text of the legislation is available here.
A CBO score of the legislation is available here.