From the Department of Justice
United States Hosts Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online Ministerial Conference
September 30, 2014
Today, United States Attorney General Eric Holder and European Union (EU) Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmström welcomed high-level government officials representing over 30 members of the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online to a ministerial conference in Washington. The Global Alliance was launched by Attorney General Holder and Commissioner Malmström in December 2012 with the aim of uniting decision-makers all around the world to commit to more effectively identify and rescue child sexual abuse victims, investigate and prosecute online exploitation offenses, increase public awareness of the risks posed by children's online activities, and reduce the amount of child sexual abuse images available online.
“Together, thanks to the hard work of the Global Alliance countries, this important, life-changing work has enabled us to intervene to rescue numerous child victims suffering at the hands of abusers; to arrest and prosecute those who did them harm; and to begin the long process of healing for each one of these survivors,” said Attorney General Holder. “I have no doubt that this work will continue – and be amplified – by the work we're discussing today.”
The conference was divided into two sessions. The morning session featured global leaders and experts from the investigative, public policy, victim advocacy and legal arenas, who shared insight and experience from the cutting edge of combating online child exploitation. They addressed a variety of topics related to the shared policy targets of the Global Alliance, including: investigative tactics that enabled the takedown of a hidden, highly sophisticated global enterprise of distributors of child sexual abuse images; the latest technological and tactical breakthroughs in identifying previously unknown victims of child sexual abuse online; and novel approaches to partnering with the private sector to combat the online proliferation of child sexual abuse images. The afternoon ministerial session featured keynote speakers from law enforcement and from the private sector with deep experience in combating the online exploitation of children. In addition, ministerial or other high-level government officials from each nation in attendance highlighted notable accomplishments over the past two years related to the Alliance's policy targets, as well as offering their vision for the Alliance's future.
“The threat to young people posed by online sex predators is on the rise,” said Commissioner Malmström. “Challenges are constantly evolving. Every time a picture of an abused child is shown that child is being abused, over and over again. The global alliance shows our collective willingness to fight this hideous crime, something we can only do by working together. Our collective promises must become a reality.”
The states participating in the Alliance include Albania, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Serbia, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Global Alliance: Greater Commitments for Better Results
At the conclusion of the conference, the 54 Alliance members endorsed a Ministerial Declaration that commits to addressing the transborder obstacles to identifying and rescuing victims of exploitation and to identifying and prosecuting offenders, by agreeing to pursue the following potential actions where and when possible, in full respect of due process and fundamental rights requirements:
Enabling law enforcement among Global Alliance countries to gain timely access to electronic information and evidence held by Internet service providers and other repositories of electronic information that is material to the investigation and prosecution of child sexual abuse offenses through central authorities and other legally authorized channels, so that no nation becomes a safe haven for such information;
Facilitating prompt and comprehensive exchange among law enforcement of information and evidence pertinent to child sexual abuse offenses featuring transborder offense conduct, victims, co-conspirators or evidence repositories;
Enabling Internet service providers and other repositories of electronic information to provide information pertinent to the identification, apprehension, and ultimate prosecution of online child sexual abuse offenders to law enforcement pursuant to legal process in a manner and time frame consistent with reasonable investigative and prosecutorial demands; and
Augmenting existing, collaborative and transborder efforts to identify and rescue victims of online child sexual abuse.
The United States, through the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Postal Inspection Service and other government agencies, in collaboration with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), industry and international partners, has made progress in combating all forms of child sexual exploitation.
For example, this past March, the Department of Justice obtained a 30-year sentence against a United States citizen who served as an English teacher in China, using that position of authority to molest children under the age of 12 and to produce child pornography. In July, the department obtained a sentence of 120 years against a noncommissioned officer in the U.S. military who had drugged and sexually abused children, producing images and videos of that horrific abuse.
A recent U.S. operation targeting offenders exploiting children on a global scale secured convictions of 30 and 40 years, respectively, for Peter Truong and Mark Newton. Truong and Newton were residents of Queensland, Australia who brought their five-year-old son to the United States and France to meet with other men from various countries, so that these persons could record the sexual abuse of the minor victim. Over the course of this scheme to sexually exploit their son, Newton and Truong were also found to have engaged in a conspiracy to transport the child pornography produced during these encounters to individuals around the world, including individuals living in Florida, Virginia, and Indiana. It was this trafficking of materials that alerted United States Postal Inspectors and Indiana investigators to the case, launching the two year investigation of Newton, Truong, and the other men who conspired to abuse their son. Prosecutions of these other men are ongoing.
In addition, the U.S. Congress has funded the creation of state-level task forces, known as the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Forces, which help state and local agencies to develop successful, long-term responses to online child exploitation. These task forces are supported by the Department of Justice, not just with funding, but with training.
As threats to our children continue to evolve in every corner of the globe, the Department of Justice is committed to drawing upon the collective experience of every country, and the cooperation of every community, to protect our young citizens and to hold abusers accountable to the fullest extent of the law. For more information regarding the Justice Department's efforts to combat child exploitation, please visit: http://www.justice.gov/criminal/ceos.
Attorney General Holder Announces $2.6 Million in Grants for Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention
(Video on site)
Domestic violence is a devastating crime that claims far too many lives, and the Justice Department is working hard to bring an end to this tragic status quo.
Today, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that four sites have been selected to receive a total of $2.6 million to implement promising models aimed at reducing domestic violence homicides.
Over the next two years, these sites-- Pitt County, North Carolina; Cuyahoga County, Ohio; Contra Costa County, California; and the Borough of Brooklyn, New York—will institute screening models and evidence-based strategies that will allow them to anticipate potentially lethal behavior, take steps to stop the escalation of violence, and – ultimately – save lives.
Sheriff's Office spotlights domestic violence
by JENNIFER HARWOOD
PANAMA CITY — No one seemed to see it coming before John Bowen, 46, shot and killed his long-time girlfriend Donna Merendino,44, twice with a short-barrel shotgun before turning the gun to end his own life on Sept. 26.
The murder-suicide of the Southport couple was the most recent domestic violence fatality to occur in Bay County among the 75 to 80 nonfatal incidents deputies respond to each month.
“That's the biggest victimization in this area,” said Chevina Jackson, victim advocate with the Sheriff's Office.
Bowen and Merendino did not have a history of domestic violence with the Sheriff's Office, and this type of tragedy is not common in the area.
But as the calendar rolled over from 2011 to 2012, a rash of six domestic fatalities changed the way the domestic violence unit thought of their work.
“We're also a homicide prevention unit,” said investigator Lt. Koren Colbert.
Jackson and Colbert presented at the 2014 Domestic Violence Seminar hosted by the Sheriff's Office on Saturday. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Deputies partnered with nonprofits to introduce community resources and services available to help turn victims into survivors. Speakers gave an overview of domestic violence, taught how to make a plan for safety, taught self-defense and talked about legal action taken in these cases.
Domestic violence is abusive behavior in a relationship in which people live together, such as a family or intimate relationship. Violence can be sexual, physical, emotional, economic or psychological in nature and covers a wide range of threatening or harmful behavior used by abusers to gain control of a victim.
Violence is commonly linked to substance abuse, alcoholism, unemployment and mental illness, especially in the elderly population.
Currently, about one in four women in the county are affected by domestic violence. Jackson said a rising trend involves people from outside the area.
“They may have met someone on a social media site and got here and realized they weren't Prince Charming,” she said.
Colbert said abusers have been held more accountable in recent years by evidence-based prosecution by the state in certain cases in which victims chose not to press charges.
“Domestic violence and sexual battery is something we tend to blame on the victim,” Jackson said.
Often, victims write off abuse as an anger problem.
“It's not an anger management issue,” Colbert said. “The abuser is choosing to direct their anger toward the victim, which is usually an intimate partner.”
She also said the most dangerous time for victims is when leaving, which is why having a plan and resources is so vital.
Jackson said victims generally don't leave abusive situations as soon as they'd like to see.
“On average, it takes a woman about seven times to leave her abuser,” Colbert said,
Too often, a fear of dying is what finally makes the victim leave.
“The best advice I have that women need to get is that these people do not change,” she said. “You can't love him through it.”
25 years later, Wetterling inspires child protectors
Jacob Wetterling seemingly dropped off the face of the earth nearly a quarter-century ago, but efforts to find answers to his unsolved kidnapping continue among his family, classmates and friends striving to make the world a safer place for children.
“There was a sense that Jacob never was able to demand justice, so we're doing it for him,” said Alison Feigh, a fifth- and sixth-grade classmate of Jacob's who now is program manager of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in Minneapolis. “It is the reason I have this job.”
Feigh, who has made it her career to fight to end the abduction and abuse of children, said during a phone interview, “So much of this work is to break the cycle. Our generation can do a better job. We hope we can keep the fire going.”
The depth of Feigh's dedication is not lost on Patty Wetterling, the mother of the 11-year-old boy a masked man kidnapped at gunpoint on Oct. 22, 1989, near St. Joseph, Minn., in one of the more notable abductions in recent decades.
“I just love her,” Wetterling said in a phone interview. “She does such a good job. Jacob would be so proud.”
Feigh, whose job includes presentations to parents and groups to halt child abuse and abductions, demurs and reverses the compliment, saying, “I'm blessed and lucky to have her as a lifelong mentor.”
Feigh also insists that she is not the only one of Jacob's acquaintances fighting in his memory.
“I've looked at other friends of Jacob, and they are working to make the world a better place,” said Feigh, who lives in St. Paul.
Feigh was on a family vacation when Jacob was snatched and said, upon her return, “It was like a cloud over the community. And not just the community, but the entire state.”
Despite the devastation, Patty and her husband, Jerry, projected hope and inspired children during the search for their son, Feigh said.
“They made it feel like we had a voice,” she said.
Four months after the kidnapping, the couple founded the Jacob Wetterling Foundation, with the name later changing to resource center. In 2010, it became affiliated with the Gundersen National Child Protection and Training Center, which is headquartered at Winona State University.
Being under the umbrella of Gundersen Health System is a natural for the Wetterling center, Patty said.
“You don't feel healthy if you don't feel safe — and think about all the people Gundersen reaches,” she said.
Patty, 64, acknowledged that October is a tough time for her, especially since this anniversary is the 25th since the second of her four children was grabbed on a moonless night.
The predator did so after stopping Jacob, his brother, Trevor, and a friend bicycling home from a convenience story. Singling out Jacob, the man commanded the other two to leave and not look back or he would shoot them.
When they had run far enough to feel safe, they turned around, but the man and Jacob were gone, without a trace — not even the sound of a getaway vehicle.
“This time of year, I have more trouble sleeping and not being sad. Does the pain go away? No. But I refuse to let the man take him,” she said. “I have a very long, clear memory of him.”
Sometimes, she peers into the faces of young men to see whether there might be a resemblance, that one might be her son, she said.
On the other hand, it was a jolt when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where she chairs the board, produced an age-enhanced photo of what Jacob might look like a few years ago.
“The first time we had that done, it was devastating,” she said. “It was incomprehensible. I just put it on the table and wouldn't look at it, but gradually I did. It looks kind of like a nephew, so that's good.”
Despite her own years of successful advocacy for children and legislation to protect them, Patty acknowledged continuing haunting feelings: “It falls back to the parents, asking what haven't we done? We never forget, and we have a bazillion questions.
“The trick is to try and find a balance. We're going forward, still looking. We're not fighting against, we're fighting for,” said Patty, who also has run unsuccessfully for the U.S. House twice and once for the U.S. Senate.
The Wetterlings also find solace and joy in their three other children — Trevor, Amy and Carmen — and six grandchildren.
“I'm tremendously proud of my children,” she said. “It was a tremendous strain on the family. Trevor witnessed his brother's kidnapping — nobody else has, or should, experience that.
“There has been healing for all of them. They found their childhoods. They found their souls,” she said. “They and our six grandkids mean the world to me.”
One of Wetterling's initiatives to fight for children is Team HOPE to connect parents whose kids are missing to those in similar circumstances for support.
“Nobody knows what it's like unless you've been through it,” Patty said. “You can't just call a neighbor and ask what they did when their child was missing. There are all different levels of healing. You can't make it about you, but about them.”
Team HOPE, which has helped more than 52,000 families, “also helps law enforcement because most of them don't know what questions to ask,” she said.
The questions can be tough, Feigh said.
“When Jacob went missing, the FBI asked Jerry and Patty, ‘Is there anybody who likes your children too much?' In most cases, the abuser knows the victim,” Feigh said.
“The focus needs to be more on the people a family opens the door to than people hanging out in an alley,” she said.
Some missing children are targets for sexual exploitation, while others may be runaways instead of kidnap victims, she said. Some run away because they are abused.
A high percentage of runaway cases involve adults who have befriended vulnerable youths either online or in person, she said.
“In sex trafficking, they may have bought a girl a sweater at the mall and said, ‘I did something for you, and now you have to do this for me,' and they get in over their heads,” Feigh said.
Whatever the case, all situations must be taken seriously to end abuse and protect the innocence of children, Feigh said.
As Patty Wetterling says, “It's not their job to not get kidnapped. It's our job to build a better, safer world.”
Tips for protecting children
The Jacob Wetterling Resource Center in Minneapolis, under the umbrella of the Gundersen National Child Protection and Training Center, offers for parents to help protect their children.
Abbreviated versions follow, and more are available at the center website at www.gundersenhealth.org/ncptc/jacob-wetterling-resource-center.
Check first — Children and teens should be taught to check first with parents and caregivers before going anywhere with anyone, accepting gifts or allowing someone to photograph them. If anyone attempts to force the child to go somewhere without being able to check first, the child should be taught to yell "call 911" or "help" in a low, strong voice and run to another adult for help.
Hang out in groups — Encourage children and teens to walk to and from school, wait at the bus stop, go out into the community and spend recreational time in groups. Parents should know the names and contact information of those their children like to spend time with both in-person and online.
Trust your instincts — Teach your children how to recognize their gut instinct or "uh-oh" feeling. If a child or teen is in a situation where their gut is telling them that something is wrong they should leave and check in with a parent or caregiver.
Talk about all secrets — There is never a good reason for a child or teen to keep secrets from their parent. If your child is asked to keep a secret, that is a red flag to leave the situation and talk to you immediately.
Say no, get away, tell an adult — Parents should talk to their children about times when they may need to say no to an adult. If a child is being tricked into confusing or harmful touch, he should be taught to say “no” loudly and tell an adult about the encounter.
Attention and affection trap — Adults use attention and affection as the primary way to exploit children and teens. Talk to your teen about the dangers of being in a "relationship" with an adult.
The Gundersen National Child Protection and Training Center, headquartered at Winona State University, provides education to prevent all forms of child abuse, as well as care and treatment for children, families and adult survivors.
Besides Wisconsin and Minnesota, it also has training centers in Arkansas, New Mexico, Ohio and Florida.
For more information on the Gundersen center, which has trained more than 100,000 child protection professionals since 2003, go to http://www.gundersenhealth.org/ncptc.
For more information on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, go to http://www.missingkids.com/home.
Two open cases in La Crosse
The disappearances of two girls in La Crosse remain open, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va.
Evelyn Hartley was 15 when she vanished on Oct. 24, 1953, while baby-sitting at a University of Wisconsin-La Crosse professor's house. A 20-month-old child she was caring for was unharmed. Although the case was never officially ruled a homicide, police believe Hartley was killed.
Madeline Edman also was 15 when she disappeared on July 29, 2005, after she walked out of a North Side laundromat while her mother stayed behind to finish the laundry. No one police know of has seen or heard from Edman since she left the laundromat at St. James and Caledonia streets.
Their stories were included in playing cards distributed in the state's prisons and county jails in 2011 in hopes that a prisoner might come forward with details. None has.
Nearly 700 children — 344 males and 340 females 17 and younger — were listed as missing in Wisconsin as of June 1, according to the National Crime Information Center.
More than 290 are listed as involuntary or endangered, possibly abductions by strangers or family members. Nearly 400 are categorized as juvenile, which may include runaways or those evicted by their parents.
In Minnesota, nearly 300 children were missing as of Sept. 1, including 127 males and 169 females. Three are listed as involuntary or endangered, while 289 are classified as juvenile.
Sources: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Breaking The Generational Cycle of Child Abuse
by M Dolon Hickmon
“How do you approach parenting in order to not replicate the abusive patterns of your past?”
This question was most recently posed to me by philosopher and Patheos blogger Dan Fincke, but as a father, who is also a survivor of- and an outspoken campaigner against religiously motivated child maltreatment , it's a question that I am often asked. Or, rather, it's the question that polite people should ask. Unfortunately, the sentiment is more often presented, not as an inquiry, but as a seemingly sympathetic statement: “You must feel very strongly about protecting your daughter from the horrors of your childhood.”
The constraints of time usually prevent me from properly answering.
I don't want my daughter or any human being to suffer maltreatment. But the unspoken assumption that underlies such questions and statements is that survivors' pasts exert an invisible pull that they must continually struggle against, lest they fall into the trap of behaving like their abusers.
As a father, I have never struggled – not even a little bit – with that.
Indoctrinate my daughter with the scary, demeaning religion of my childhood? Wouldn't even consider it. Whip my preschooler until she pleads to heaven for mercy? Don't even want to think about it. Allow my daughter to witness her parents verbally and physically abusing one another? Never going to happen.
And that is why this essay is not about how I fight the undertow of my past, but rather about why I don't have to.
There's no doubt that parenting can be uniquely difficult for child abuse survivors. It was for my mom and dad, who, between the ages of seventeen and twenty-two, went from a couple of abused adolescents to a pair of struggling young parents.
When they met, my parents were both shell-shocked, self-medicating alcoholics; my mother was months pregnant when they got married and after sobering up and buckling down to the task of raising a family, the couple discovered that their personalities were grossly incompatible. This fact, which would have been obvious to anyone who'd been nurtured in a well-functioning family, was papered over with denial – and later, religion – as my parents struggled to make their mistake work.
There was recognition that both had suffered multiple forms of abuse: I heard the stories throughout my childhood, usually as a means of minimizing the cruelties they inflicted on my brother and me. However, while my parents expressed plenty of negativity towards all four of my grandparents, they also seemed to have assumed that escaping their origin families meant their pasts were no longer a problem. Looking back through the lens of my own years of study, introspection and professional counseling, it seems clear that both of them were suffering with complex and untreated trauma-induced mental illness.
The stresses they faced as recently graduated, high school educated heads-of-household were fairly typical for the 1970s and early 1980s. Our family was never starving or without electricity, my brother and I were both bright and reasonably cooperative children, and my parents, while troubled and mismatched, were basically decent people. But in the lingering fog of undiagnosed and untreated PTSD, unavoidable inconveniences routinely erupted into shouting, shoving and hitting.
My father displayed the classic cluster of hyper-arousal PTSD symptoms. In practice, this meant that everything about his housemates jangled unmercifully on each and every one of his nerves.
One morning the trigger was a broken yolk on his over easy egg. When our father went still and quiet, my brother and I automatically froze, our faces expressionless. He stood up from the table and took a step towards our mother, prompting my older brother and I to bolt from the house. Outside, we circled from window to window; at each, my brother would kneel, and I'd stand on his shoulders to peer inside. “Can you see them?” my brother would pressure, and I'd answer: “He's punching her.” A moment later: “He's pulling her hair. He threw her into the wall!”
Our mother's trauma-induced stress reactions were nearly as bad. She'd been raised on backbreaking farm labor and had contended with five brothers before joining the army. Aware that she was about to take a punch, she'd bow up, mouth off, and get right in her husband's face. She had a special talent for wounding words, weapons she had no problem aiming at her children and husband. Balled in a corner and ducking a rain of fists, she'd go right on snidely insulting my father's masculinity.
Arguments — usually over what was essentially nothing — ended with broken furniture, one or both of the participants bruised, and my father peeling out of our gravel driveway in his van.
If my brother and I were required to spend much longer than an hour in our father's presence, the irritation of our being made a butt-whipping inevitable. Often, the trigger was nothing more than the rustling of a crayon on paper or the sounds of our breathing.
During our youngest years, beltings consisted of a couple poorly-aimed pops, intended mainly to drive us towards the nearest exit. Being good students, my brother and I took to spending as much time as possible out of his sight, mostly by wandering the partially wooded acreage that was our backyard. When our presence was required, our father could summon his boys with a sharp whistle. Our dad counted himself strict, on account of the sheer number of whippings he gave, but the fact was that we could do anything we wanted, as long as it didn't force him to become aware of our existence.
For adults and children alike, time spent together was filled with constant tension.
Joining an independent fundamentalist Baptist church and seeking pastoral counsel was our parents' one significant attempt at obtaining relief. Religion was brand new to me and my brother, but not to either of our parents: my father was raised Baptist, with accompanying harsh physical discipline, and my mother's mother had put her children through the motions of being Catholic.
Unfortunately, the Biblical model of counseling, with its focus on ‘sin' and the dynamics of patriarchal authority, provided no benefit for my parents' PTSD. Understanding nothing of the neurobiological devastations of chronic childhood trauma, our pastor pitched forgiveness as a magical cure-all. Worse, he convinced my parents that the medical science that could have explained and treated their illness was actually a demonically inspired false religion. On the whole, his pastoral counseling was worse than inadequate: it threw gasoline on the raging fire of my parents' mental illness and stained them with a decades-long paranoia of the very firefighters who might have helped them.
Rooted in the same scriptures passages and traditions, our pastor's doctrines of thirty-plus years ago had much in common with the current teachings of Christian “experts” like Michael and Debi Pearl.
My indomitable mother was ordered — by “God” — to submit to her abusive husband. Her first duty was to never to “provoke” him — a feat that was impossible, short of literally removing oneself from his presence. Her second duty was to never question him — even when he was in the midst of physically abusing her and her children. Her third duty was to protect her children from abuse, not by intervening when they were abused, but by training them to behave in way that gave their father no reason ever to fault them.
My father received corollary messages: As husband and father, his decisions were above being criticized by anyone but God. It was improper for him to Lord his authority over his family, but not nearly as improper as their having dared to question or provoke him in the first place.
Equally ill-suited to the particulars of our family's circumstance was our pastor's advice on child discipline. Rather than curing what was at that time relatively minor abuse, the church's instructions turned our home into a gulag.
It was not enough for our father to use the belt to drive his children out of the house when their mere existence annoyed him. Rather, the children had to be “broken” to instant, unthinking obedience.
Our father was instructed to speak his commands softly and to whip on the spot if his children didn't immediately obey. He was told to use an object and hit hard enough to make us shriek involuntarily from the pain. To be effective, the blows had to be freely accepted, which meant demonstrating a willingness to stand still and go on indefinitely taking blows. To be silent was stiff-necked rebellion, but to sob too keenly was an attempt at “guilting” your parent, an equally wicked form of resistance.
On and on the whipping should go, until our father could hear, in his children's plaintive sobbing, that they would do anything to make the punishment stop. Only then was he to pause for a reading from scripture, on the ‘doctrine' of perfect obedience. This was to be followed by questions and a second pass through the entire ritual, should the child demonstrate a “wrong” attitude or give a wrong answer.
These cycles would continue until we'd convinced our father that we had surrendered even the desire to do, think, or feel anything other than what we were commanded. We were given a minute or two to compose ourselves then put through the process again if we could not.
Lastly, we were required to hug our abuser and acknowledge that he'd done all of this out of love.
Lying on the bottom bunk one evening, I heard my older brother being alternately beaten and read Bible verses for more than an hour. I kept time by the melancholy strains of horn music — titled Suicide is Painless — that played over the opening and closing credits of two consecutive half-hour episodes of M*A*S*H. When the door opened I was called by name to be next. When my brother passed me, I caught his eye: “Was it bad ?” Snot faced, he nodded, before turning his eyes back to the floor.
Whippings went from a few per month to almost daily, with the intensity rising off the scales. I began to feel physically ill at the sight of my own house. My father was also sickened by the deteriorating situation: “Why?” he would plead wincingly with me during the worst beatings; “After the way you were beaten the last time, why would you do the same thing again?”
His demands were impossible, but even if I'd understood this I wouldn't have dared to say it. Our father had been promised that he could command his children to do literally anything, and that once he'd made a decree — like “never forget to put the toilet seat down” — it became his duty to punish the inevitable resulting “disobedience”.
My brother and I were soon afflicted with the evidences of our traumas: bed wetting, baby talking, nightmares, and phobias — especially of the belt and anything associated with it. These signs of mental anguish were commanded not to exist and diligent attempts were made to beat them out of us.
Through all of this, our mother was consistently advised by the church that she should never intervene; however, on one Christmas Sunday, when I was five or six years old, she did. I recall that we'd been partway through getting ready for church, but nothing of the ‘disobedience' that prompted the whipping. That time, it went on until I honestly thought he would kill me. Finally, I began screaming in earnest for rescue. When my mother didn't come to my aid, I resorted to shrieking at the closed bedroom window, hoping that someone on the distant highway would hear and intervene.
Finally, my mother had heard enough. She'd barely burst through the door when Dad laid his hands on her and dragged her to the front of the house. He threw her out into the snow, dressed in her bra and panties, then locked the front door and returned to “disciplining” me. Mother re-entered through the back door then surprised my father by leaping on his back. He overpowered her then hurled her to her knees. She leapt up and rushed him, but this time he beat her down with his fists. Standing over her, he beat until she stayed on the floor. Yet, when he stormed to his truck and zoomed away, it was clear that she'd achieved what she'd set out to accomplish.
My mother crawled to the bathroom, her face a wet, swollen mess of blood. Looking directly at me, she sobbed and then opened her arms for a hug. To my immature senses, she resembled a monster. Like a sleepwalker, I went and sat in her lap. She shook, tears and blood falling on me.
This was the moment when I decided that I never wanted to be a father — a choice that would become the cornerstone of my own eventual recovery.
I remained committed to that seemingly odd decision for more than two decades. Keeping the promise came at a high price. Some of the costs I would not understand until puberty; other, more significant ones, became evident many years later, as I became increasingly involved in the joyful process of uncling my older brother's four kids. But for all the downsides to my costly commitment, putting off fatherhood was the foundation of my ability to overcome my own abuse and become a good parent.
During the fifteen years or so that passed between my first trip to group therapy and the day — at age thirty-five — that I finally held the squirming bundle of my own baby girl, I was able to work out the complicated details of my own recovery. The enormity of this task is such that time was literally a major ingredient: it was not only a matter of identifying the bad, I had to learn the better and then allow enough time for my mind to integrate the new knowledge.
It was not enough to physically leave my origin family. It was not enough to uproot and discard the dangerous Biblical superstitions that that had been beaten into me, much as they'd been beaten into my father. It was not enough to appreciate the medical reality that bad parenting had inflicted emotional and biological injuries on us all. I had to realize that loving one's children was not enough, because if it was, my own parents would have succeeded. I had to apprehend that raising children is like climbing Everest: you can't do it on willpower alone. You need a plan, a map, equipment and skills that I could not possibly have inherited from my own unprepared parents. I had to give myself everything — including empathy, mercy, and compassion — that my own childhood had been lacking.
Before I could parent a child, I had to re-parent myself.
In the process, I became something that my own mom and dad weren't until long after my need for them had passed: mature enough, mentally healthy enough, and knowledgeable enough about the needs of children to function as a decent husband and father.
It was a herculean effort, but it's worth it today.
So: How do I approach parenting, in order to not replicate the abusive patterns of my past?
I approach it with the same sense of joy, awe and gratitude with which I regard every freedom that I now have from my past.
Police Scotland sets up National Child Abuse Investigation Unit
A new national task force is to be set up to tackle child sex abuse in Scotland.
The Police Scotland National Child Abuse Investigation Unit aims to improve co-ordination and intelligence gathering.
The move follows concern about systematic child exploitation of the type uncovered recently in Rotherham.
Since April 2013, 283 people have been charged with offences linked to online activity.
Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham will appear before the Scottish Parliament's justice committee on Tuesday to explain what the force is doing to tackle child sexual exploitation.
He said the creation of a single force in Scotland was an opportunity to maximise specialist skills and expertise in keeping children safe.
This week new guidance was issued to police officers and staff to ensure a consistent response to children who may be vulnerable to child sexual exploitation.
Assistant Chief Constable Graham said: "Through our action plan, our aim is to improve our work in prevention, our training for our police officers and staff and our work with partners.
"A key part of our plan is the development of a National Child Abuse Investigation Unit which will lead and co-ordinate complex inquiries, develop good practice through making the maximum use of our specialist investigation skills and by improving our links with the third sector and local authorities we can improve our intelligence networks to proactively identify such cases."
In January, the NSPCC children's charity highlighted a rise in sexual abuse cases in Scotland involving children under the age of 13.
Police Scotland recorded more than 700 offences against young children in 2012/13. The charity also reported a rise in calls to its helpline.
The taskforce will build on the work of Operation Dash, a multi-agency operation led by Police Scotland, which is trying to determine the extent of child sexual exploitation in the Greater Glasgow area.
Assistant Chief Constable Graham added: "There is no doubt that across the globe the volume of offending through all forms of online activity, whether possession of indecent images of children, online grooming with intent to committing further sexual offences or the exchange of indecent images amongst groups is escalating due to increased access to mobile devices, improved download technologies and the development of sophisticated software to conceal activity.
"All law enforcement agencies recognise the challenge this presents but the solution will not be offered by one agency alone, but by working together across the justice sector, across the voluntary sector and with local authorities in tackling this issue.
"We continue to invest in developing technologies and investigation techniques and will learn from best practice across the world in order to target offenders to prevent crime."
Children in care
In a submission to Holyrood's justice committee, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said recent cases had highlighted the vulnerability of children living in care.
COPFS chief executive Catherine Dyer said: "They have multiple layers of complex needs and concerns.
"They can willingly associate with older males who offer cigarettes, alcohol and a night away from their residential home.
"Many of these teenage children do not realise that they are victims of exploitation and even when they commence engagement with the criminal justice system they remain extremely vulnerable and distrustful of all agencies."
A combined effort to prevent child abuse and neglect fatalities
by Michael Bennet
In 2012, Congress and the president authorized the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. Its mission is to study the issues related to abuse and neglect and develop a national strategy and set of recommendations that can bring about immediate change. Through the commission, we have a national dialogue that is raising visibility and awareness about the scope of the problem and identifying risk factors and best practices.
National estimates are that more than 1,600 children died from abuse or neglect in 2012. Every day, an estimated four more children lose their lives. A majority of these children are 3 or younger.
We've experienced tragic losses in Colorado: Chassie Pietrolungo, 2; Natalee Skinner-Hurst, 4 months old; Austin Davis, 3. All of whom died this year due to child abuse and neglect.
As parents, we view this news through the prism of our own children and are horrified. As a country, we must commit ourselves to addressing this terrible problem.
In 2011, El Paso County lost 10 children to abuse and neglect.
In response in 2012, the county, with the help of County Commissioner Sallie Clark and 4th Judicial District Attorney Dan May, created the Not One More Child Coalition. The coalition is made up of representatives from 40 organizations across a broad range of disciplines, including child welfare, public health, law enforcement, the judiciary, advocacy and more.
This week, the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities met in Colorado and heard from state and national leaders, including the El Paso County Coalition, which is working on the front lines of this issue every day.
Members of the Not One More Child Coalition were able to report that because of collaborative efforts from a wide range of organizations, including doctors' offices, the local media, faith-based and advocacy organizations, first responders and military organizations as well as the dissemination of targeted information through hotlines and other materials, the number of deaths in the county due to abuse has been dramatically reduced. It is a testament to El Paso County's hard work, compassion and common-sense approach to this issue.
But we can all agree that even one death is too many.
That is why efforts like those of the commission and the coalition are vital. They demonstrate the importance of working across systems and agencies to address child abuse and neglect fatalities. To be effective, particularly on a national level, stakeholders need to know the capabilities, resources and scope of work of their counterparts and colleagues. They also need a shared understanding of the problem - a goal that can be more elusive than it first appears.
While there are plenty of egregious examples of child deaths from parental abuse, there are many more gray areas. What if a child dies from co-sleeping with a parent? Or drowns in a swimming pool? Does that constitute neglect or a tragic accident? What if alcohol was involved? Does that change the way we view an accident? These are complex issues.
As the commission continues to study these and other complex issues in advance of releasing its recommendations, real progress will require a comprehensive effort across state, local, tribal, military and federal systems.
Any successful approach must involve a broad range of stakeholders who share a commitment to better understanding how and why these deaths occur, so we can put effective strategies into place to prevent them.
We hope that "not one more child" will become a national rallying cry and commitment to support the vital task ahead.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is a member of the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committees.
Sexual abuse -33% of kids are victims
About 33% of children in Ghana are said to have been sexually abused. The abuse includes rape, molestation, touching of private parts, watching pornography, the use of inappropriate language, and dirty jokes.
The victims comprise both boys and girls of various age groups.
The media are replete with ridiculous, improbable and frightening stories about child molestations. But day-in day-out, these stories standout clearly to remind Ghanaians of the dangers sex offenders are posing to the society.
George Baiden, Director of African Movement for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (AMPCAN), who disclosed this to Weekend Finder, said the findings were the outcome of a research conducted by a number of child-based organisations.
Two of such research, one in 1998 and the other in 1999 (Boakye, 2005), have shown that the prevalence of sexual abuse in Ghana is somewhere between 7 and 33%.
AMPCAN is presently doing a comprehensive study on the situation.
A report on sexual abuse among children in the country conducted by the non-governmental organisation Plan Ghana revealed that out of 100 cases involving children who had been molested or abused, 53 cases actually occurred at school.
The other 43 took place at home. A number of basic and senior high school students interviewed for the report also alleged that they felt safer at home than at school.
“Boys are abused as much as girls by people very close to them,” Mr Baiden emphasised, adding that, alarmingly, the abuse is often committed by someone that is known to the child, including parents, spouses or partners, other family members, caretakers, teachers, employers, law enforcement authorities, state and non-state actors, and other children, as well as priests and imams.
Mr Baiden said the perpetrators often abuse the children under the pretext of grooming them to become responsible adults, adding that most often the children do not complain or report for fear of being chastised by their parents.
In some instances, the said perpetrators begin by showing kindness to the victims, such as providing them with gifts, and when they get comfortable with them, they then take advantage of the cordial relationship and abuse the children.
He called for concerted efforts by stakeholders to fight the growing menace of child abuse, adding that if the phenomenon is not checked, the future of promising boys and girls would be jeopardised.
Mr Baiden admonished parents and guardians to educate children on their various body parts, including private parts, and encourage them to speak out whenever they are sexually abused.
He also charged parents and guardians to discuss child abuse issues and to team up with relevant bodies to fight the canker.
He stressed on the need to improve parent-child communication in the country.
Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit (DOVVSU) of the Ghana Police Service, ASP Irene Oppong confirmed that child sexual abuse is on the rise.
She said statistics available to the unit indicate a sharp rise in reported cases for 2013.
“Comparing last year to the first three-quarters of 2012, it shows an increase in defilement cases, and the Greater Accra Region tops the list.
“About 95% of the perpetrators are known to the victims, meaning that there is some sort of relation,” she said.
ASP Oppong, however, says the highest number of acts of sexual abuse recorded in the Greater Accra Region occurs between family members.
She said although her outfit is fighting to reduce the rate, the attitudes of witnesses affect prosecutions in court.
According to her, most complainants and victims “fail to appear” before the court to testify against the offenders of these cases, thereby “making it difficult for the prosecutor to prosecute the offender,” and impeding the efforts of the police officer handling the case.
Worldwide, child sexual abuse is one of the most common forms of violence against children (Boakye Kofi, 2005; Child Helpline International, 2012). Two studies in 1998 and 1999 (Pappoe & Ardayfio-Schandorf and Coker-Appiah and Cusack in: Boakye Kofi, 2005) have shown that the prevalence of sexual abuse in Ghana is somewhere between 7 and 33% for children between the ages of 13 and 18, depending on the type of abuse.
For example, 33% of the participants reported being touched on their private parts and 18% confirmed that their first sexual experience was by force. A research of Plan Ghana about sexual abuse in schools in 2009 showed that 14% of the school children between 10 and 17 years have been sexually abused in school, of which girls (55%) were more vulnerable to sexual abuse than boys (45%) (Plan Ghana, 2009).
Besides, research has shown that 31.8% of the children participating in the study knew of cases of sexual abuse in their schools (African Liberty, 2012); 52.7% indicated that the action taken by the school authorities in case of sexual abuse was far from being satisfactory.
Studies have shown that in the majority of the cases of child sexual abuse, the victim knew the offender (For example, 78% in Pappoe and Ardayfio-Schandorf, 1998 in: Boakye Kofi, 2005; Child Helpline International, 2012).
Acquaintances (friends of the family and neighbours) constitute the majority of this known group (54%), and relatives, including parents, uncles and cousins, formed the second-largest offender group (15%). Besides, of those who reported to be sexually abused, only one-third disclosed their experience to a third party. This third party was in most cases a parent or friend (Boakye Kofi, 2005).
The research of Plan Ghana showed the same results (2009) and showed that of the 30% of the victims that report the abuse to a third person, only 2% goes to the police.
Official police statistics in Ghana from DOVVSU (Domestic Violence and Victims Support) show a downward trend in child sexual abuse between 2002 and 2005 (from 820 to 670) (Boakye Kofi, 2005). However, based on police reports, it is difficult to determine if there is an actual decrease in child sexual abuse or a decreased willingness among victims to report the abuse.
Besides, police reports show only the tip of the iceberg, since sexual abuse is generally underreported and most child sexual abuse cases never come to the attention of government authorities, because of fear, stigma and lack of trust in authorities (Unicef, 2011; UN Secretary General's study, 2006).
The above-discussed research from Plan Ghana also showed that victims of sexual abuse rarely report the abuse to the police. This suggests that the percentages given by the Ghanaian authorities highly underestimate the real situation.
So, however intriguing, the numbers available about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Ghana are limited and most statistics are dated. Besides, official statistics often do not show the actual situation and underestimate reality.
Even though it is hard to draw conclusions about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Ghana, it can be stated that child sexual abuse is prevalent in the Ghanaian society.
In the next section, a research will be discussed that studied the factors that influence the way child sexual abuse is being handled in the Ghanaian society, specifically how this influences the nondisclosure and underreporting of Ghanaian children in the case of sexual abuse.
Cultural factors related to the nondisclosure of child sexual abuse in Ghana In his article, Boakye Kofi studies the cultural factors that are related to the nondisclosure and underreporting of sexual abuse.
The factor that he explores thoroughly and he believes to influence the underreporting and nondisclosure in Ghana is the concept of collective shame: “This concept of collective shame may be defined as the tendency for individuals belonging to a particular group (family, clan, or lineage) to feel or express a strong sense of embarrassment following an undesirable attitude or behaviour by a member of the group, particularly those that are considered potentially damaging or threatening to the reputation of the group.”
With a survey in Accra among police officers, undergraduate psychology students, senior high school students, and street vendors, Boakye Kofi showed that they believed disclosure of child sexual abuse involving a family member or relative is likely to bring shame to the entire family. He states that this collective shame on child sexual abuse, especially within the family, is related to the underreporting and nondisclosure of sexual abuse.
This corresponds with the research done by Plan Ghana about sexual abuse in schools: 60% of the victims does not tell a third person about the abuse because they feel they can handle it, consider it to be normal and are afraid of being stigmatised (2005).
Besides, his study showed that the participants had several myths about child sexual abuse, such as ‘men can't control their sexual desires,' which also influences the underreporting and nondisclosure of sexual abuse.
Boakye Kofi states that children are socialised to accept this as part of men and therefore they don't understand or are unable to appropriately interpret the abuse perpetrated against them. For example, they might believe it is normal. This results in that they are unable to disclose their sexual abuse.
One of the main conclusions of Boakye Kofi from his findings, which was also recommended in the research from Plan Ghana (2009), is the importance of educating children about sexual abuse. With education, children learn from a young age that it is, for example, not their fault when they are sexually abused and that it is not normal, which hopefully in the end results in less collective shame and more willingness to disclose and report the sexual abuse.
Guards at Karnes immigrant detention center accused of sexual abuse
by The Associated Press
KARNES CITY, Texas -- A South Texas detention center is under investigation over allegations of sexual abuse.
A complaint filed earlier this week with the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement demands an investigation into guards at the Karnes County Civil Detention Center in Karnes City.
According to the complaint, women at the family immigration detention center are being sexually-assaulted and harassed. The holding center houses mothers and children who have fled violence and persecution in Central America and are seeking help in the U.S.
Lawyers with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the University of Texas Law School are representing immigrants who were held at the 500-plus-bed facility in Karnes City, which was converted from an all-male detention center Aug. 1.
Attorneys say women were removed from their cells at night to have sex with guards and staff. They also allege detainees were promised money or legal help in exchange for sexual favors.
ICE spokeswoman Nina Pruneda released the following statement to Eyewitness News:
"ICE remains committed to ensuring all individuals in our custody are housed and treated in a safe, secure and humane manner. ICE has a zero-tolerance policy for all forms of sexual abuse or assault and our facilities are maintained in accordance with applicable laws and policies.
Accusations of alleged unlawful conduct are investigated thoroughly and if substantiated, appropriate action is taken."
According to ICE, under national standards, all civil detention facilities are inspected annually "with safeguards against sexual assault as a primary concern."
The investigation is ongoing, so details of the case have not been released by ICE.
Karnes City is approximately 55 miles southeast of San Antonio.
Sex trafficking of minors a 'growing problem'
by Kevin Grasha
LANSING – As charges were announced Friday against a third person in a Lansing-based sex trafficking ring involving at least eight girls, officials called the crime a growing problem.
U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles Jr., in an interview, said his office, which covers 49 Michigan counties, has made prosecuting such cases a priority.
Child sex trafficking, Miles said, is becoming more prevalent through the use of social media as well as online advertising sites like Backpage.com and Craigslist, where criminals believe they can operate anonymously.
"Criminals are finding new avenues to advertise their criminal behavior," Miles said.
Payments also can be made anonymously, he said, through prepaid cards and Bitcoin, an online currency.
The three people charged in the Lansing-based ring — involving at least eight girls and one adult — used Backpage.com to advertise them, according to court documents. The girls ranged in age from 15 to 17, and prosecutors said they were enticed or forced into prostitution. Facebook was used to recruit girls.
No reliable statistics exist, but Miles noted that an estimated one in seven missing children are involved in sex trafficking.
Charges were announced Friday against 27-year-old Jonathan Purnell of Lansing. He is charged in 54A District Court with multiple counts of human trafficking as well as charges of encouraging minors to become prostitutes.
A 17-year-old Lansing girl also faces local charges in the case. Court documents say Mariah Haughton recruited girls on the street and at a juvenile center to work as prostitutes and regularly used Backpage.com.
A witness identified half a dozen girls, some under the age of 18, who allegedly worked for Haughton, the documents say.
The third person charged, 24-year-old Christopher Turryle Bryant of Lansing, faces sex trafficking and other charges in federal court. He also is accused of transporting a person to Arizona for prostitution. Bryant faces up to life in prison. Purnell and Haughton face up to 20 years in prison.
The alleged ring operated out of a Lansing apartment as well as various local motels.
Officials said the investigation — involving the Ingham County Sheriff's Office, Lansing police and the FBI — began in March after the family of a victim called the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
State Sen. Judy Emmons, who helped sponsor a package of human trafficking bills that passed this week and await the governor's signature, said the problem affects the entire state, even rural areas.
"As we go around and talk about the issue," said Emmons, a Republican whose district includes Clinton and Ionia counties, "invariably, someone comes up to me and relates their story."
She noted that "traffickers are looking for younger and younger victims."
The legislation increases penalties for human trafficking and provides assistance for survivors. It also eliminates the statute of limitations for victims who are minors.
At a news conference Friday, Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth urged parents to be vigilant about what their children are doing on the Internet.
"A lot of them get led down the wrong path," he said, "because nobody pays attention."
A preliminary hearing for Mariah Haughton is set for Oct. 10. A preliminary hearing for Jonathan Purnell is set for Oct. 16. The hearings, which determine if the cases advance to trial, are in 54A District Court.
Arizona police to receive sex trafficking training
by Megan Cassidy
In the past several years, a growing number of Arizona police agencies have operated on an understanding that women and girls who are paid for sex are victims of sex trafficking rather than accomplices of the men who buy and sell them.
This messaging will be soon be built into the curriculum of every new law-enforcement recruit in Arizona, according to a statement released Thursday by Gov. Jan Brewer's office.
The announcement comes at the recommendation of Brewer's Task Force on Human Trafficking, a group of advocates and politicians asked to identify opportunities to combat the crime in Arizona.
Starting in January, Arizona police academy training will include nine classroom hours on sex trafficking and exams on performance objectives for the 700-odd new officers that graduate each year. The Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board is additionally creating a sex-trafficking video to be distributed to agencies statewide to reach existing officers.
"There's a paradigm shift that we're acknowledging in this arena," said AZPOST Executive Director Lyle Mann. "There's the myth of prostitution being a victimless crime, and that's simply not true."
Few social issues have reaped as much political attention in recent months as sex trafficking. A host of public figures including Cindy McCain, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne have affixed their names to the cause.
And earlier this year, Brewer passed sweeping legislation that adds sentencing muscle against pimps and johns and provides sex-trafficking victims a legal defense against the crime of prostitution.
Thursday's statement additionally launched a website aimed to educate Arizonans on the crime, www.EndSexTrafficking.AZ.gov.
Horne's office released a team of sports-themed public-service announcements earlier this year, and the Phoenix City Council signed off on a five-year blueprint to combat the issue in Arizona's capital.
"It's a moral imperative that we do everything in our power to protect our state and our citizens from this horrendous crime against humanity," Brewer said in a statement. "Together, we can shine a light on human trafficking — educating and equipping the public and peace officers alike — and work to end the sexual exploitation of Arizona's most vulnerable."
Parents of Missing UVA Student Hannah Graham Plead for Help
by GEETIKA RUDRA
The parents of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham today asked anyone with information about where their daughter is to come forward.
"Somebody listening to me today either knows where Hannah is or knows someone who has that information," Sue Graham said. "We appeal to you to come forward and tell us where Hannah can be found."
The Grahams also thanked everyone who has helped in the search and investigation of their daughter's disappearance.
Hannah Graham went missing the night of Sept. 13, police said.
She was last seen after 1 a.m. with Jesse L. Matthew Jr., who has since been arrested and charged with abduction with the intent to defile, police said.
Police found surveillance footage and witnesses who allegedly saw the pair at a bar together. Police said Matthew was the last person seen with Graham.
Jerry Brown vetoes childhood sex-abuse lawsuit bill
by Jim Miller
For the second year, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Tuesday to give victims more time to seek civil damages against third parties in childhood sex abuse cases – typically private or public employers of the alleged perpetrators.
The Democratic governor, though, signed separate legislation increasing the criminal statute of limitations against perpetrators in such cases.
State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, the author of both measures, has said the civil damages bill, Senate Bill 924, responded to Brown's lengthy veto of last year's Senate Bill 131. Supporters said that allowing childhood victims to seek damages up to the age of 40, instead of the current 26 years old, would correct laws adopted in 1990, 1998 and 2002.
“Changing the law allows more adult survivors of childhood sex abuse to gain a measure of justice by pursing civil damages against their assailants,'' Beall said in a statement after the Legislature sent the bill to Brown last month. The Catholic Church and nonprofit organizations led opposition to the measure, contending that it “pays lip service to the interests of victims of abuse” while exempting state employees from its provisions. The measure passed the Legislature largely along party lines.
In a message accompanying his SB 924 veto, Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, wrote that “statutes of limitations exist as a matter of fundamental fairness.”
“As I wrote last year, there comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits. With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die,” Brown wrote. “There needs to be a compelling reason to lengthen the statute of limitations for civil claims against third parties. I do not see evidence of that here.”
Senate Bill 926, the criminal statute of limitations measure, passed unanimously and takes effect Jan. 1. It increases the statue of limitations from the victim's 28th birthday to his or her 40th birthday.
U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Ohio child abuse case
by Jack Torry
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether Ohio prosecutors acted constitutionally when they relied on what a child-abuse victim told his teachers to win conviction of a Cleveland man for felonious assault.
Acting on an appeal by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and prosecutors from Cuyahoga County, the justices agreed yesterday to hear the case, with oral arguments scheduled early next year.
The Ohio Supreme Court threw out the conviction of Darius Clark last year because he was not given the right to confront his accuser. Because the child was so young, he was not deemed competent to testify at the trial, forcing prosecutors to rely on what he told his preschool teachers about the abuse.
The 4-3 decision by the Ohio Supreme Court prompted a sharp dissent from Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, who wrote that “the very people who have the expertise and opportunity to recognize child abuse are now prohibited in Ohio from testifying about any out-of-court statements that a child makes about abuse or neglect when the child, for whatever reason, is unable to testify,” adding that children in Ohio “will go unprotected.”
According to case records, in 2008, Clark moved in with his girlfriend, who had a 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. In 2010, while his girlfriend was out of town, Clark dropped the young boy off at a Head Start center in Cleveland where one of the teachers noticed injuries around his left eye.
Eventually, the young boy said Clark had caused the injuries. Physicians later determined that both the boy and his sister were suffering from injuries.
Because the boy was not allowed to testify at Clark's trial, the judge allowed school officials to testify about what the boy told them. Clark was convicted of felonious assault on both the girl and the boy, who are not identified in court papers, and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
A state court of appeals threw out the conviction because Clark could not confront his accuser, and the state supreme court upheld that ruling.
Judge Rules Child Abuse Laws Don't Apply To Unborn
by Scott Waltman
A child abuse charge against a McIntosh woman has been dismissed by a judge who ruled that South Dakota's abuse and neglect laws do not apply to unborn children.
Marissa Sitting Dog, 26, had been charged with a federal felony child abuse count, because she allegedly consumed alcohol and used marijuana while she was pregnant. According to court paperwork, a physician told investigators he was relatively certain that Sitting Dog's child, born on March 30, 2013, suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. The physician based his decision, at least in part, on the child's facial deformities, the documents said. Those are thecircumstances that led to Sitting Dog being charged.
Aberdeen attorney Marshall Lovrien represented Sitting Dog. He argued that the state's child abuse laws do not apply to unborn children. Federal magistrate William Gerdes agreed and recommended that the charge be dismissed. Federal Judge Charles Kornmann adopted Gerdes' recommendation and granted Lovrien's request for dismissal.
Prosecutors had argued, according to court paperwork, that “South Dakota law recognizes that there are incidents which could happen to a child that has been conceived, but not born, which are worth protecting should the child be born. What interest can be greater to a child than to be born free from the debilitating effects of an abusive amount of drugs and/or alcohol?”
But in his recommendation, Gerdes wrote that, “Unborn children are clearly not included in the definition of ‘minor' under South Dakota statute that defines the criminal offense of abuse or cruelty to a minor. Even if there is an ambiguity (which does not seem to be the case), the statute must be construed in favor of the defendant.”
“Regardless of how much Sitting Dog's alleged actions may offend the sensibilities of society or of this court, the statutes under which (she) is charged do not apply to unborn children, and the indictment must be dismissed,” Lovrien argued in court, he noted in a news release sent out after the decision was issued last month.
Lovrien said he expects the state Legislature will address the statutes cited in the case.
“It is a fundamental principle of our legal system that criminal conduct be defined by the Legislature, not the courts, and in this case, the federal district court correctly applied the law as written by the South Dakota Legislature,” Lovrien said in the release.
Child abuse conference to focus on prevention, investigation
Susan McGrady, executive director of the Athens-Limestone Children's Advocacy Center, believes child safety is a team effort.
“If our children face problems, our community faces problems,” McGrady said. “There is physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, medical neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence, severe poverty and homelessness in our community.”
She believes specialized training in various aspects of child protection and abuse prevention is a must for anyone who deals with families and children.
That's why the Athens-Limestone Children's Advocacy Center is partnering with the Limestone County District Attorney's Office for the second annual Child Abuse Prevention and Investigation Mini-Conference.
The conference, “Protecting Our Children,” is slated for Wednesday, Oct. 22, at The Beasley Center, 202 W. Bryan St. in Athens.
Registration and breakfast start at 7:30 a.m. Presentations are 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.
The cost is $25 and includes breakfast, snacks and lunch. Continuing education credits are available for medical, mental health, attorneys, law enforcement and social workers.
Tops in the field
“Our goal, through these mini-conferences, is to educate by bringing in some of the top people in this field,” McGrady said.
Guest speakers are Dr. Marc M. Feldman, a clinical professor of psychiatry and adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, and Andra Chamberlin, a trainer and forensic interviewer for the National Children's Advocacy Center.
Feldman is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and author of 100-peer-reviewed, published articles.
His presentation will focus on “Parenthood Betrayed: The Enigma of Munchausen by Proxy Maltreatment.”
In Munchausen by proxy maltreatment a caretaker feigns, exaggerates or induces illness in a child or dependent adult because it is emotionally gratifying to do so.
The three-hour presentation will include case studies concerning the disorder.
Chamberlin specializes in teaching participants how to conduct developmentally appropriate, legally sound interviews that maximize the quantity and quality of forensically relevant information regarding alleged incidents. Her presentations are “Poly-Victimization of Children” and “Consensual but Unlawful.”
Chamberlin has worked in the child abuse field since 1989, has recorded forensic interviews since 1996 and has testified as an expert witness in criminal court.
Chamberlin's first presentation will focus on the fact that children, who speak in forensic interviews, are often victims of multiple forms of abuse or have witnessed violent crimes.
The workshop will teach teams to identify signs of poly-victimized children and discuss techniques for the best strategies for the investigation and prosecution of the crimes.
Her second presentation will cover how defiance, anger, silence and response can often derail an investigation. The goal is to discuss particular characteristics of adolescents that make them particularly vulnerable to victimization.
Who should attend?
“We often think of DHR and schools, when we think of places that work with children,” McGrady said. “However, these are just a couple of agencies that are dedicated to kids and their well being. This conference is offered to attorneys, medical and mental health professions, child and family advocates, law enforcement agencies, therapists and clergy as well as school personnel and child service workers.
“We welcome anyone, who serves in the role of caring for or protecting our children.”
To find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Child abuse deaths in Texas appear to have dropped for the second time
by Brian M. Rosenthal
AUSTIN — The number of Texas children who died from abuse or neglect appears to have dropped for the third consecutive year in the fiscal year that ended last month, state officials told a legislative committee.
The decline is welcome news for a state that in recent years has led the country in that type of tragedy, but advocates said it may be partially explained by a change in the official definition of neglect.
John Specia, commissioner of the Department of Family and Protective Services, told the state House Select Committee on Child Protection that a preliminary look at data that will be finalized this winter indicates that 149 children died in the past 12 months as a result of confirmed abuse or neglect.
That is down from 156 in the fiscal year that ended in September 2013, 212 in the fiscal year before that and 231 in the one before that.
Just three of the confirmed fatalities in the just-ended fiscal year were children in foster care, a stark dip from the record high of 10 in the fiscal year before that, Specia said.
Overall, reported child fatalities have dropped from 973 in fiscal year 2011 to 773 in the 2014 fiscal year, the commissioner said.
State Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, in response to the testimony, said, “This is pretty staggering to go down from 1,000 to 773 at a time when the population is increasing.”
Specia attributed the trend to renewed attention on the issue of child abuse as well as investment in prevention programs.
But Madeline McClure of anti-abuse advocacy group TexProtects said there may be reasons that are less impressive.
“Other factors may be at play, including a stricter definition of Neglectful Supervision Fatalities, and that medical professionals are better at keeping children alive who are near-fatal,” said McClure, executive director of the Austin-based group.
The issue of child abuse has gotten extra attention this year after a spike in abuse or neglect deaths of foster children, from two in fiscal year 2012 to the record 10 in fiscal year 2013.
Texas has also recently ranked first in the nation in total child abuse or neglect deaths — although not in per-capita deaths — in the Child Maltreatment report put out by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.
House Speaker Joe Straus created the select committee this spring. Monday was its last meeting before issuing recommendations.
Among those who testified was Susan Dreyfus, a former state health official in Washington state and Wisconsin and a current member of the National Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
Dreyfus said after the meeting that while she could not comment specifically on the Texas numbers, the national commission has found that reports of child abuse are dropping across the country.
“However, in many cases, recent changes in law or policy call into question whether these declines show a true drop in fatalities,” she said. “This is difficult when we cannot be confident that the same types of deaths are being counted in each state and each locality, in the same way, from place to place and year to year.”
Women's Resources of Monroe County see surge after NFL abuse cases
by Howard Frank
NFL star Ray Rice's knock-out punch to then fiancee Janay Palmer reverberated all the way back to Monroe County.
Call's to Women's Resources' abuse hotline surged following the appearance of a video showing Rice landing a vicious punch on Palmer's jaw, then dragging her motionless body out of an Atlantic City elevator.
“It made it easier for other women to come forward,” said Lauren Peterson, executive director of Women's Resources of Monroe County. The nonprofit organization provides shelter, counseling, a 24-hour crisis hot-line and crisis services to abuse victims and children.
“Women are seeing Janay Palmer and saying to themselves, that's me, that's what I'm going through. It allows them to recognize their own situations by viewing someone else's from the outside.”
The calls came from victims, their friends and their family members who saw the Rice story and want to know how to help. Some of Women's Resources' previous clients called too, the story having triggered memories of their own victimization.
The organization saw the same surge during and after the Jerry Sandusky child abuse trial.
‘For Sandusky, after the story broke, and especially when he was found guilty, adult survivors of child sexual abuse would call our hotline looking for help,” Peterson said.
“One would ask, why they would wait that long. Well, lots of victims of child abuse will wait years, if ever at all, before reaching out for help. Either they are still afraid, they don't think they'll be believed, or they think they'll just have to deal with it on their own.”
Rice and Sandusky aren't alone. Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, probably the best and most popular running back in the league, was suspended after his arrest for allegedly punishing his 4-year-old son too violently.
Jonathan Dwyer, also a running back, with the Arizona Cardinals was arrested for aggravated assault, accused of head-butting a woman last month. Defensive end Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested for allegedly hitting his pregnant fiancee.
The NFL's problems open the floodgates for organizations like Women's Resources.
“All across the country, domestic violence centers are seeing a rise in those reaching out for help,” Lauren Peterson said. “It's not necessarily because there's been a rise in these crimes, but rather the victims are more likely to reach out for help. Especially after news reports of events such as the NFL stance against domestic violence, victims feel more secure in calling for help when they feel they are more likely to be believed.”
Women's Resources is working with area schools to bring prevention education programs to students and to get them talking about domestic abuse issues.
More than 750 individuals received support from Women's Resources' 24-hour hotline last year. That was a 25 percent increase over the previous year. The 24-hour crisis hotline is 570-421-4200.
“No matter how long ago the events happen, they really change a person for life, and the scars go far beyond the skin,” Peterson said. “So when stories like Ray Rice happen and they are reported on by the news, there's always that possibility that someone watching could be very deeply affected by it.”
Rising child sex abuse toll in Jamaica reflects improved detection
The notable increase in reports of child sexual abuse in Jamaica in recent years is due to an improvement in detection systems and the growing responsibility teachers feel to help student victims, an activist told Efe Thursday.
Jolie Logan is the president of Darkness to Light, which offered this week in Kingston an educational workshop for teachers, parents, government officials and the general public, an event sponsored by the Women's Leadership Initiative of Jamaica.
The number of reported cases of child sexual abuse soared from 121 in 2007 to 3,386 last year, according to statistics from the Office of Children's Registry.
Girls were the victims in 59 percent of reported cases in 2013.
"If the reported statistics are alarming, one can only imagine how many children are out there who are suffering with their secret untold", Darkness to Light's Cindy McElhinney told Efe.
Logan acknowledged the work done by the Office of Children's Registry and the Government of Jamaica to improve detection systems, but recommended a comprehensive plan of action that includes tougher laws mandating protective and preventative measures.
"Research shows that children are more likely to disclose abuse to a teacher than any other group of adults. Teachers are critically important in the fight against child sexual abuse," she said.
On Oct. 11, the Jamaican organization Eve For Life will launch a nationwide awareness campaign against child sexual abuse under the name "Nuh Guh Deh," the Jamaican patois equivalent of "Don't go there."
The United Nations has proclaimed Oct. 11 the International Day of the Girl Child. EFE
Theo Fleury shaking the demons
Former superstar dedicating life to helping others who have been abused
by Katie Strang
CALGARY, Alberta -- It's been nine years and two weeks since former NHL star Theo Fleury had a drink. It's been almost 11 years from the time he bought a gun in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, pawn shop, drove home, put the barrel in his mouth and thought about pulling the trigger.
He doesn't miss the drinking. In fact, he said he doesn't even remember the last drink he had.
He no longer has suicidal thoughts. He never even really wanted to kill himself, he said. He just wanted to stop the pain that tormented him each and every day.
He doesn't seem to miss his NHL playing days either. Doesn't keep in touch with many of his old hockey buddies. His tight-knit inner circle now includes an Irishman who manages his band, Theo Fleury and The Death Valley Rebels, a Serbian peace officer he met at his sons' soccer game and a former AHL tough guy who now works in the drilling business.
Distance from his former life has provided him perspective. Fleury, 46, would be happy if none of the things from his past defined him. He'd be thrilled if, looking back at his life, someone were to remark: "Hey, you know, he was a pretty good hockey player too."
"I would love that," Fleury told ESPN.com in a lengthy sit-down interview last week. "Hockey was the vehicle and it gave me everything I have, but it was only the first 35 years of my life. I still have 35 years left to live, and I certainly want to make a difference in the next 35."
Though he leaves behind an indelible legacy on the ice, the former Stanley Cup champion, Olympic gold medalist, Canada Cup winner and World Junior champion has a new purpose in life.
He wants to help. He wants others to heal.
"I chose to live my life -- every little detail -- publicly because I know how many people it's helped. I know how many people have taken the noose off their neck, I know how many people have put the gun down, how many people that have not taken the whole bottle of pills," Fleury said. "What I want to encourage people is, it's OK to tell your story. One day you're going to tell your story, and it's going to save someone's life."
As much as his 15-year NHL career was first defined by success -- amassing 455 goals, 633 assists and 1,840 penalty minutes as one of the league's most fearless competitors, defying every skeptic who doubted he could make a difference at 5-foot-6 -- his life has also been defined by events that transpired before he burst onto the scene as a rookie and won a Cup in Calgary in 1988-89. Those events contributed to his wild and well-documented tailspin, leading to a career cut short by drug and alcohol abuse.
Fleury grew up in Russell, Manitoba, to a father who struggled with alcoholism and a mother who was addicted to pills. Life wasn't easy, but Fleury found hockey at a young age -- a passion so pure and blinding that he never once doubted he'd make it to the NHL.
Though Fleury now identifies his family as the genesis of some of his most deep-seated issues (Fleury says he grew up fearing abandonment, finding himself unlovable, not good enough), it was another particular trauma during his teenage years that compounded matters entirely.
Fleury was sexually abused by his junior hockey coach Graham James, a harrowing experience he detailed in his acclaimed 2009 book, "Playing with Fire." It shattered his belief system, his ability to trust others, and it triggered the self-loathing that would fuel his problems for years to come.
He speaks about the abuse now with little emotion or hostility. Though he spoke out against James' lenient sentence in 2012 (a judge increased the sentence in 2013 from two years to five years), Fleury is motivated less by the idea of justice and more by the idea of forgiveness and healing.
"I've come to the point where I realized what happened to me was actually a gift," Fleury said. "My family of origin was actually a gift. Graham James was a gift. Why? It forced me to look at who I am, the true me, and I like that guy."
* * *
"I am real/I am me/I am free"
-- "I Am Who I Am," Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels
* * *
Fleury met therapist Kim Barthel at a conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She was a keynote speaker on resilience and healing within the First Nations communities who, in light of a cancellation by another speaker, was asked to prolong her presentation.
She wasn't a hockey fan. Still isn't, despite her husband Bob's zealous fandom for the Montreal Canadiens . She remembered seeing Fleury's face on the cover of "Playing with Fire" and being so put off by his demeanor that she didn't even want to read it.
But Fleury sought her out after she spoke, telling her she had just changed his life. And that they needed to work together.
The two have since co-authored the book "Conversations with a Rattlesnake: Raw and Honest Reflections on Healing and Trauma," which will be released next month.
On the surface, the two have virtually nothing in common. The boisterous Fleury is a ball of energy, telling stories with a gravelly, Marlboro-studded distinction while interspersing curse words with the same frequency most people use commas. Barthel is a petite blonde who exudes both motherly warmth and a chic, worldly sophistication. She doesn't battle Fleury for the stage, but she skillfully interjects in a way that disarms him almost immediately.
"Maybe you'd like to share that story," she'll prod. "Would you feel comfortable talking about the time ..." and off Fleury will go, deconstructing his issues, talking about his progress and using terms such as "disassociating" and "attachment" in the process.
She doesn't flinch at anything. After working with trauma victims from multiple First Nations reservations in her native Canada and Inuit communities in the Arctic, there is little that rattles her.
Fleury and she do not have a traditional therapist-client relationship. Instead, they prefer to call it a "therapeutic friendship" in which they have "healing conversations." And at the end of the day, they are business partners. They will be trekking across Canada beginning next month for their upcoming book tour.
It's unconventional. But it works. The two are fiercely protective of each other and have slowly begun adopting the other's tendencies.
"Now I'm the one that says 'f---,' and he uses words like 'dopamine," she said, joking. "If I start getting tattoos, then we'll know I've really slipped over the edge."
That they can work together, and talk through personal issues that have plagued Fleury almost his entire life, is a feat in and of itself. Barthel said that when they first met, her probing would often be met with an abrupt, "I don't know" or "whatever," anything for him to avoid connecting an actual feeling and putting it into words.
On this day, she scrunches up her shoulders and wrinkles her nose, beaming with pride when Fleury expounds on his thoughts, a mark of progress that seems to have baffled them both.
"It's a f---ing miracle," Fleury said. Barthel nods.
That they found each other is something Fleury and Barthel find serendipitous. With Barthel's training and experience, specializing in relational trauma and sensory processing, and Fleury's high profile in the sports world and throughout Canada, they feel they can combine to make a difference in helping other victims of trauma deal with the pain.
* * *
"The long road to misery is one I know so well/You've got to keep on moving if you're going through hell"
-- "Road to Misery," Theo Fleury and the Death Valley Rebels
* * *
Some vestiges of Fleury's hockey playing days remain. Like the scar on his upper lip, his stubborn unwillingness to eat breakfast (unless his daily morning ritual of two coffees and a half-pack of cigarettes counts) and his superstition of smacking the dashboard of his car with his hand when going through a traffic light.
He wears flip-flop sandals, even with the temperature dropping to a brisk chill, like on this Saturday, when he visited the opening of the Be Brave Ranch in Edmonton, Alberta, an event so important to him that he wanted to be there in person to lend his support.
Fleury, bundled up with a blue velour blanket that earns him some good-natured ribbing from the hearty Edmontonians in the crowd, watches as each person who played a role in the ranch's long-awaited opening is recognized by founder Glori Meldrum. She is the founder of Little Warriors, a charity that "educates adults how to help prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse." Be Brave Ranch is her brainchild.
"If I could have had a left winger like Glori on my team, I probably would've won a few more Stanley Cups and gold medals," Fleury said, joking.
As Fleury tours the ranch, he stops for each fan who wants a picture. He stoops down to talk to a child who is also a hockey player. He stops to chat with practically everyone he sees, most of them people he has met through his advocacy work in the past.
He gives Kelli Benis a huge hug when they pass the entrance. The two met at the Victor Walk in Ottawa in 2013, an event that both credit as being a life-changing experience.
Benis, also a child sex abuse survivor, has never felt the same since deciding to join Fleury on his 10-day trek from Toronto to Ottawa -- a march to promote awareness and shed the shame for sexual abuse survivors. She said it helped her rid herself of the shame and guilt that she never even realized was causing her so much turmoil in her daily life. She believes Fleury's public battle with the effects of sexual abuse have emboldened others to get involved.
"I felt like mine was just one small voice," Benis said. "But for him, people definitely listened."
Then there's Alison Lee, a spunky, blond 17-year-old who comes bounding up to greet him as he arrives. Lee, an outspoken young survivor who helped raise funds for the ranch by selling sponsored Christmas lights, insisted on giving him a tour of the ranch personally and bosses him around gleefully with no thought to his star status.
"Get in here. You have to feel this carpet," Lee instructed, making Fleury feel the plush purple rug in one of the group therapy rooms.
The ranch, which Fleury helped promote and advocate, will provide a treatment center for child sex abuse survivors ages 8-12 to heal, along with their families. They will have access to music and art therapy and other amenities to aid in the "treatment and healing, aimed at the mind, body, heart and spirit of child victims and their families," according to the ranch's mission. The facility is outfitted with an ice rink (aptly named "Theo Fleury's Rink of Courage"), a sweat lodge and a playhouse.
"If I'd had a place like this, my whole life would've been completely different," Fleury remarked at the unveiling, speaking as much to himself as to anyone else.
The grand opening follows a long, arduous battle with the government for funding -- a fight that was unsuccessful, forcing Meldrum to raise the money privately.
Having Fleury's voice supporting her and spreading the word was a huge boost toward that end.
"Theo's just an authentic, true guy," Meldrum told ESPN.com. "He's just an honest, ethical person, and he's helped us a lot."
* * *
"Let them understand/All we wanna do/Is let the daylight in/So let the daylight in"
--"Walk with Thousands," Theo Fleury and Phil Deschambault
* * *
Fleury didn't always see this as his path.
Even when Fleury confronted his demons and publicly denounced James, he was terrified. When he detailed almost every painful and shocking element of his addictions in his first book (Fleury said he was addicted to it all: booze, drugs, women, gambling, food, you name it), he still didn't feel entirely secure with himself.
But at one of his first book signings, at a Toronto location of the Canadian bookstore Chapters, he was struck by something that happened.
He was surprised by the number of people who showed up, yet one man in particular caught his attention. The guy clutched the book to his chest fiercely but grew increasingly agitated as he stood in line, bailing on the queue and then finally returning to thrust the book at the table, leaning in to tell Fleury:
It would be the first of many times complete strangers -- adults, children, even offenders -- would confide their experiences to Fleury. He said there are few days now that he isn't approached, a fact that reaffirms just how widespread the issue is and how much of an impact can be had.
Fleury has found healing through helping, but that doesn't mean there still isn't plenty of room for growth.
He has not achieved some arbitrary form of enlightenment. Some days, those old doubts and fears creep up. He still finds himself being triggered with anger, though he is better equipped to handle his emotions and quell what use to surface as rage. He is still working on his relationships too, with his four kids, his mother and his second wife (they are in the midst of a divorce).
But despite the ups and downs, Fleury has found peace with himself, a priority.
"I like me for the first time in my life," he said. "I like me, and that was never the case before. That's why I did all the things I did. I didn't like me."
He's no longer deking past defensemen, scoring flashy goals or chirping at his opponents. But he's happy with all that he's left behind. He's found something that means, to him, so much more.
"I believe this was my purpose in life," Fleury said. "I mean, I'm a f---ing fighter, right?"
Oklahoma City grandmother accused of dressing as witch to abuse child
by Jesse Wells
OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma City woman is arrested on some truly bizarre claims of child abuse.
Officers were called to a home in southeast Oklahoma City after the alleged suspect tried to take the victim to Griffin Memorial Hospital.
According to the police affidavit, 49-year-old Geneva Robinson told employees at the hospital that she could not control the girl anymore.
The 7-year-old child looked to be malnourished and had numerous burns and bruises across her body, according to the police report.
The report says the victim's ankles had cuts around them and were infected.
Her wrists had marks “which had the appearance of possibly being bound.”
Authorities say the 7-year-old girl claims Robinson, her grandmother, would dress up as a witch and abuse her.
The girl told a DHS worker that Robinson would wear a green mask, take her to the garage, bind her wrists at night and make her sleep on a pair of pants because “she was in trouble.”
The child says the witch's name is “Nelda.”
“Nelda” would allegedly “take a pink dog leash and hang the victim in the middle of the garage underneath her arms” and tell the girl “the creatures in the attic were going to come get her.”
The child also said that she would be hit with an orange and black whip.
“If it wasn't serious, it would be laughable,” said Tracie Spillman, a neighbor. “I can't believe it. I just think that's not true.”
“I do not believe it,” said George Finley, another neighbor.
“I just don't believe the allegations against her,” said Heidi Campbell.
Several neighbors agree they've never seen any bizarre behavior from the alleged suspect or the three other young kids who lived in the home showed no signs of abuse.
“It's just something I don't believe because I've seen the kids and they look fine, they look happy,” said Campbell.
“I don't believe it at all. She's too nice and takes care of those kids,” said Finley.
“It's not true at all,” said Joshua.
Joshua, who refused to give his last name, actually lives in the home with the suspect.
He describes the alleged victim as a troubled child and denies the suspect had an evil witch alter ego.
“She's never dressed up as a witch to punish any of the kids,” said Joshua.
For their part, police claim what they found inside the home seems to back up the victim's story.
“The evidence at the scene corroborated what she was saying,” said MSgt. Gary Knight, Oklahoma City Police Department. “There were whips and chains and a witch's hat found there. Just a completely horrible situation for a child to be in.”
Another grown adult who lives in the home also allegedly told police he got the witch treatment, claiming the suspect kicked him in the genitals on a regular basis.
Robinson was booked into the Oklahoma County jail on a $10,000 bond.
All four young kids who live in the home were placed in protective custody.
Search for Hannah Continues; Jesse Matthew Twice Accused of Sex Assaults
by WRIC Newsroom
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) - More than 40 officers combed the woods in Albemarle County searching for missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham Thursday.
It's been nearly three weeks since she was last seen.
Crews came back empty handed again yesterday.
The search has taken crews into Nelson County, after investigators got new leads there. Meanwhile, Charlottesville's Police Chief Timothy Longo urges everyone to continue checking their property.
"I still think there are people out there just maybe tomorrow I'll get to it," Longo said. "I can't have you wait 'til tomorrow, I need you to do it today. I need your help today."
Hunting season starts tomorrow, and police are hoping the extra eyes in the area will be able to help in the search.
In the meantime, the lawyer for Randy Taylor, the man convicted of killing Alexis Murphy, is asking authorities to check on a possible link between Hannah's accused kidnapper and Murphy's case.
In the letter sent to the Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney, Taylor's lawyer requests further investigating, including new DNA testing in the case and to have investigators look through Murphy and Matthew's social media accounts to see if the two had crossed paths and made contact.
The letter comes a week after the Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney issued a statement, saying that there is no connection between Jesse Matthew and the Alexis Murphy case.
Following the request from Taylor's lawyer, Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney Anthony Martin reiterated their position that there was no link between Matthew and Murphy's case.
"The Nelson County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office, the Nelson County Sheriff's Office, FBI and Virginia State Police again maintain that there is no credible evidence linking Jesse Leroy Matthew, Jr. for the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy in which Randy Taylor was convicted."
"In order to dispel any further speculation, I will be meeting in the coming days with investigators in the Murphy case. Even though the evidence on Randy Taylor... and Randy Taylor alone in the Alexis Murphy case is clear, the Commonwealth will make sure that scientific testing is done in order to bring closure to the speculation," Martin said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Taylor's lawyer said he bases his request upon recent reports of Matthew's connections to various sex crimes throughout the Commonwealth.
In 2002, Liberty University expelled Matthew after a sexual assault on campus. The Lynchburg Commonwealth's Attorney confirmed Matthew was a suspect, but said that they did not have any forensic evidence or eyewitnesses.
No charges were ever filed.
Michael Doucette, the Commonwealth's Attorney for Lynchburg, told ABC News that the incident report was "an issue of consent."
Several months later, Matthew transferred to Christopher Newport University.
The school issued a statement confirming that Matthew was a member of the football team for about a month. The statement said that "students don't usually leave in the second month of the semester or leave the football team within a month."
Christopher Newport University later made public a "criminal incident information" report that stated Matthew was investigated for an alleged sexual assault September 7, 2003, on campus.
The school said in a statement that it initially declined to release the report, but said, "The success of the criminal investigation is paramount at this time. The university has consulted with the Virginia State Police again today, and we are now releasing the following non-exempt 'criminal incident information.'"
At the time of the assault, CNU's President Paul Trible says he addressed the team twice on behavior issues he wouldn't elaborate on, but he says he remembers what he told them.
"I said, 'Gentlemen, we expect you to be good citizens on this campus. We expect you to respect the people on this campus and I'm not going to tolerate problems," Trible says. "If problems continue, I am going to end this team. I started football. I am going to bring it to an end."
After that speech, Matthew was off the football team and one month later, no longer at the school.
The president says that when a student is expelled or suspended, that reflects on their transcript to other schools. He would not say what was put on Matthew's transcript because of federal privacy laws.
Police in Newport News, where CNU is based, say they have no record of the assault because their department wasn't called in to help.
Virginia State Police also say that Matthew's arrest provided a "new forensic link," which gave way to "a significant break in the case" of missing 20-year-old Morgan Harrington.
2nd arrest in foster baby porn, molestation
FBI says Maryland man directed abuse of child under foster care in San Diego
by Kristina Davis
SAN DIEGO — A Maryland man suspected of receiving videos and images of a San Diego nurse's repeated sexual assaults on a newborn foster baby was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Baltimore, authorities said.
Stephen Schaffner, 34, is accused of exchanging several graphic text messages with the San Diego man, Michael Lutts, and of directing the molestation acts to create child pornography, according to the 10-count indictment.
Lutts, 50, has already been charged in the case.
Lutts, who worked as a pediatric nurse at Kaiser Permanente, brought home a 6-week-old premature foster baby on Aug. 4, authorities said. “Hey I have a baby for us,” Lutts texted Schaffner that evening, the indictment says.
Lutts began to sexually abuse the boy and sent images to Schaffner, offering to take “any pic you want,” court records say. At one point, Schaffner texts that he wishes he were there to hear the baby cry, the records say.
The abuse appeared to continue for two weeks until Lutts' arrest.
The FBI began to investigate Lutts while tracking the transmission of child pornography.
A search of digital media also showed photographs of Lutts abusing an 11-month-old girl about a month earlier, according to his San Diego indictment.
Schaffner worked for the U.S. Postal Service and at a motel, the records say. He was a licensed clinical counselor in Maryland and an associate counselor in Arizona until his licenses expired in recent years, prosecutors said.
Young sexual offenders move from downloading images to sexually harming children
There has been a “marked rise” in the number of 18 to 25 year olds looking for treatment
THERE HAS BEEN a rise in the number of young sex offenders seeking treatment, support group One in Four has said.
The organisation has seen more young men, aged 18 to 25, referred for its treatment programme, it confirmed during the launch of its annual report.
Last year, 30 sex offenders were given treatment by One in Four, which works with the Gardaí and the Child and Family Agency.
Executive director Maeve Lewis says the jump in numbers means that the age category makes up a quarter of all offenders.
“Many of these young men began offending as adolescents by downloading internet images of children being abused and then moved on to sexually harming children themselves,” she continued, noting that “serious questions” are posed for the digital-age society in terms of supporting young people to develop “healthy notions of sex based on consensual sexual intimacy”.
There has also been a shift in the profile of the survivors of child sex abuse that One in Four sees for psychotherapy services.
Previously, the group was closely associated with adults who were abused in the Catholic Church but last year, most of its clients were harmed within their own families and neighbourhoods.
This is the more accurate reality of child sex abuse in Ireland, according to Lewis.
“People who have been sexually abused in their family have very complex needs,” she continued.
They need support in dealing with the impact of the abuse in their adult lives, but their families also need support in coming to terms with the truth of what happened and in understanding the intricate dynamics that allowed family members to be sexually abused.
Altogether in 2013, 115 clients and 43 families were helped through the services. Separately, advocacy officers supported another 633 individuals.
Lewis is concerned that Ireland may become complacent, believing that children are no longer at risk because of the reports into clerical abuse.
“The experience of our clients shows that child sexual abuse sadly continues to be the reality for far too many children and we see the heart breaking consequences of that in our work every day.”
Lewis believes there has been a “notable improvement” in the way the new Child and Family Agency consistently deals with allegations of sex abuse. She said that retrospective allegations are “usually taken very seriously now” and that there is a recognition that those who harmed 15 years ago could still present a risk to children today.
One in Four says that child protection continues to be a major aspect of its work and 51 child protection notifications were made to the Child and Family Agency in 2013.
One in Four has again highlighted the problems with Ireland's justice system's handling of serious sexual crimes.
Of the survivors who deal with the group, just 15% have taken a complaint to the gardaí and even fewer have made it to trial (only 35 clients in 2013).
“Our advocacy officers regularly witness our clients being humiliated and their characters maligned during cross examination in a criminal trial,” explained Lewis.
“With all due regard to the right of an accused person to a fair trial, we have created a criminal justice system that so terrifies victims of sexual crime that most prefer to remain silent rather than seek justice for the terrible harm they have endured.
“This creates a culture where serious crimes are committed with impunity, surely an intolerable situation in a modern democracy.”
Safe Passage provides services for survivors of domestic violence
by Jaclyn Bryson
Sparked by the rising feminist movement and backed by the dedication of volunteers, Necessities/Necesidades first opened its doors in 1977 to spread awareness of domestic violence and lend a helping hand to those who needed it
Over 30 years later, the name of this group has changed, but the goal remains the same.
Safe Passage is based in Northampton and offers a variety of resources to those who are affected by domestic violence in Hampshire County. According to Executive Director Marianne Winters, these resources include a community program to help locals living with violence in any range, an emergency shelter which houses six families at a time and a prevention program called “Say Something,” aimed at preventing interpersonal violence.
“I'm really inspired by the idea of social change,” Winters said as to why she is promoting this line of work.
In the 2012 fiscal year, Safe Passage sheltered 44 adults and 35 children, answered 2,000 emergency hotline calls and helped 90 survivors get the legal help they needed, according to its website. According to Winters, these statistics generally remain the same annually.
“Our shelter is always full,” she said. “In our community program, different aspects… probably reach about 1,200 people overall in a year.”
And with the month of October dedicated to domestic violence awareness, all employees stressed the importance of reaching out to survivors and spreading the truth about the problem of domestic violence in this country. According to the Safe Passage website, one in four women and one in seven men are victims of severe assault at the hands of an intimate partner.
“Abuse sort of breeds in silence, whether that be silence on the part of the survivor or whether that be silence on the part of society and the bystanders that witness such violence happening,” Bridget Mulkerrins said. Mulkerrins is a children's advocate with Safe Passage for five years.
“Any way that we can break that silence, any way that we can give a voice to the voiceless, helps to end the cycle of violence,” she said.
But some want to stress that a month devoted to awareness isn't enough.
“I think that it shouldn't just be one month. I think that it should be day to day,” said Karen Lopez, who is the Latina counselor/advocate and has worked at Safe Passage for three and a half years. “We should make everyone aware of, ‘What is domestic violence?'”
Mulkerrins facilitates programs year-round, such as one on one counseling with children and the non-offending parent. She also works with a support group aimed at how domestic violence impacts children and how to intervene, community outreach to local schools and advocacy support. That may even include speaking to lawyers and the Department of Children and Families to make sure the child gets the support needed.
And these services are available to all.
“Some people have a misunderstanding that we only serve women but that's absolutely not true,” Mulkerrins said. “We serve all gender identities and sexual expressions. We don't turn anyone away.”
In order to make all these programs and services possible, Safe Passage staffs 12 full-time workers and 15 part-time workers, according to Winters. And in this line of work, no two days are alike.
“Day in and day out you don't know what you are going to come across through those doors,” Lopez said.
But despite being constantly around people who have suffered in their lifetime, for the employees at Safe Passage, it's all worth it. Lopez recalled recently meeting with one client, who she recognized as being someone she had helped about a year and a half ago.
According to Lopez, this survivor stopped by to say thank you.
“(Each day is) spontaneous. It can be crazy. It can be happy. It can be sad. It can be everything and anything at any given time,” Lopez said. “But the outcome – that's the reward.”
Safe Passage can be reached at 413-586-1125 and for those who need immediate help or advice, their 24-hour hotline can be reached at 888-345-5282.
by Erick Trickey
Michelle Knight swipes through the 2,035 photos on her giant Samsung smartphone, going backward in time.
Some pictures show her at Cleveland's zoo, posing languidly amid the RainForest's ferns. "Model shots!" she jokes. Next, she's taking a selfie in a shiny red Chinese dress.
She scrolls on, giving me an unguarded tour of her summer, narrating each picture with an enthusiasm her 4-foot-5-inch frame can barely contain. At a costume store, she's the short one wearing a tiger mask, posing with a friend disguised as a monkey, then with another dressed as a purple giraffe. A swipe and she's at Cleveland's Puerto Rican parade, wearing a red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag dress. With affection and excitement in her voice, she identifies the friends posing with her, including a local boxer and a reggaeton artist.
Another picture catches her eating a slice of pizza. A red and blue Icee cup stands in the foreground. It's not just any lunch, but another little victory, the moment she gained control over another memory of captivity.
"In the house, he fed me pizza from the garbage," Knight says, her voice suddenly flat and matter-of-fact. She knows she doesn't need to identify him or the house.
She is collecting joyful memories by the hundreds, even thousands — her answer to the 3,910 days Ariel Castro imprisoned her at 2207 Seymour Ave., days of isolation, death threats and unspeakable torture.
In the journals Knight kept as a captive, she wrote about all the things she wanted to do once she was free: run, shoot a bow, learn to swim and box, and see Joey, the son she gave birth to at 18. "Someday," she wrote then, "I will live my life like it's my last breath." Now she's plunging into adventures, pushing her freedom as far as her body will take her. She's experienced some of those dreamed-of moments, such as riding a Ferris wheel and a roller coaster (Cedar Point's Magnum XL-200).
Knight shows selfie after selfie from a trip to Kelleys Island. Her blond hair flies in front of her face, then flutters back, as the enormous blue Lake Erie horizon flows behind her. From there, she swipes over to a pencil sketch, a skillful self-portrait. I recognize her right away: the round cheeks, the big smile, the ring through her lip.
She presses play on a video of herself singing at a House of Blues karaoke night and sings along with the clip, creating a duet: "Far across the distance and spaces between us ... I believe that the heart does go on."
The song she's singing — Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On" — is special to her. It came on the radio inside Castro's house one night, seven years after Knight was kidnapped. The lyrics, Knight says, talked her out of suicide.
"I thought there was no hope," she recalls. "I didn't want to live on.
"That song happened to come on, and then I couldn't do it. I told myself I wouldn't want my son to know me as a person that failed in life, a person that gave up easily."
This spring, in one of the many extreme reversals Knight has experienced since her rescue, she met Dion backstage at one of the singer's shows in Las Vegas.
"Thank you for helping me in my darkest time," Knight recalls telling her. Dion responded that Knight was an inspiration to her as well. "That made me smile but cry at the same time," she says.
Two years ago, Knight was the forgotten woman among Castro's captives, the missing person whom no one was looking for. Liberated, she is embracing the sudden notoriety she didn't choose and living a very active, public life in Cleveland. Seventeen months after emerging from 2207 Seymour, Knight has written a best-selling book, traveled to four countries and conducted numerous TV interviews.
Because of a troubled childhood that included years of sexual abuse, Knight has chosen not to reunite with her family. Instead, the 33-year-old is creating a different life for herself: the single woman in the city. She has moved into an apartment downtown, enrolled in cooking classes, adopted a puppy and made new friends. Self-reliant, she has covered her arms with tattoos, reminders of her resolutions about how to react to hardship. She has changed her name to Lillian Rose Lee (Lily for short), part of her effort to move on from her past — though she still goes by Michelle Knight as an author and in media appearances (including, at her request, in this article).
Knight is constructing her future in public, in sometimes awkward but often poignant ways. She has embraced her strange celebrity as a sort of talk therapy, a path to self-empowerment and a way to deliver an inspirational message to a mass audience — and she's done it remarkably soon after escaping Castro's hell.
Despite her new freedom, and many moments of joy, Knight's life is difficult. Castro's abuse inflicted serious physical injuries. Terrible memories return. She is still learning how to trust. She's often out meeting people, and though many strangers are kind and encouraging, some are intrusive and disrespectful of her boundaries. She has the support of friends and advisers, but Knight is forging much of her new path on her own.
France and Germany were hard, with their strange food and languages she didn't understand. London was easier: friendly people speaking English, willing to help. On a bus tour, Knight marveled at London's sculptures and architecture, how it all fit together in a way she hadn't seen before.
Knight spent three weeks touring European cities this May to promote her book, Finding Me: A Decade of Darkness , A Life Reclaimed. Her lawyer, former judge Peggy Foley Jones; her lawyer's son, Mack; and the Rev. Angel Arroyo, a member of the Cleveland chapter of the Guardian Angels, came along as advisers and supporters.
The Paris leg, often overwhelming, came together for her one night during a cruise on the Seine River. The City of Light's gold-topped buildings dazzled. As she snapped photos, some music she liked came on. "We got up in the middle of the floor and we started dancing," she recalls, "and everybody on the boat was looking at us." She didn't care.
The trip, which also included a stop in Toronto, underscored the reversal in Knight's life: She traveled across borders and an ocean to tell her story of nearly 11 years trapped inside a sadist's barricaded house.
In Finding Me , Knight answers nearly every question the curious might have about her experience of survival. She describes the chains, the death threats at gunpoint, the physical degradations: eating spoiled food or a single daily fast-food meal, going months without a shower, sleeping on a filthy mattress. Some details she recounts about Castro's sexual assaults are too graphic to bear. She describes her pregnancies and the beatings that caused her to miscarry. She tells how she delivered Amanda Berry's daughter and revived the baby when she wasn't breathing.
Knight explains how she endured. She consoled herself by writing in journals, imagining conversations with her son and exchanging encouragement with Gina DeJesus, her cellmate in a tiny pink room.
The memoir also reveals that the trauma in Knight's life didn't begin when Castro kidnapped her at age 21. She grew up in a transient family in Cleveland, and she suffered years of sexual abuse by an unnamed male family member. She ran away for three months at 15, lived under the Innerbelt Bridge in Tremont and was taken in by a marijuana and Ecstasy dealer, who taught her to shoot a gun and had her run drugs. Her memories of life with the dealer and another 15-year-old are warmer and more poignant than her accounts of home. "They were there for me," she says. "They were more a family than my own family."
Knight has kept her distance from family since her rescue. "I still don't want contact with them," she tells me. "As much as I tried when I was little, I think there's no hope for the future for me and my mom and the family, 'cause I've still got that fear factor of being hurt over and over again."
The book is dedicated to Knight's son, Joey. She describes his birth, when she was 18, as the happiest moment of her life. She lost custody when he was 2, she writes, after her mother's boyfriend broke his knee and Knight lied to cover it up.
On Aug. 22, 2002, the day Knight accepted a fateful ride from Castro, she was trying to get to a meeting about regaining custody of Joey from foster care. The book describes how Knight's thoughts of her son sustained her in captivity. She talked out loud to him as if he were with her, addressed journal entries to him, dreamed of him at night and imagined their reunion.
Afterward, she learned he'd been adopted at age 4. Her book opens with the moment last year when she first saw pictures of him wearing a suit at age 7 and a baseball uniform at 14. But Knight has deferred to his adoptive parents' fear that a reunion might be too disruptive. She doesn't even know if Joey is aware that she is his birth mother.
"They want me to give him peace," she says. She hopes to reconnect with him once he's an adult. "I chose to let him, as he gets older, make the decision on whether or not he wants to see me."
Knight's book also describes her bittersweet reunion with the city of Cleveland. Four days after her May 2013 rescue, she moved from MetroHealth Medical Center to an assisted-living facility and saw downtown for the first time in almost 11 years. She cried when she realized how much had changed, from new buildings to new buses.
The city had moved on without her.
Knight is wearing green, size 2 1/2 bowling shoes and staring down a shiny lane at downtown's Corner Alley. Nicho, a shy, dark-haired 5-year-old boy who is the son of a friend she met at a wedding, stands next to her. She hands him a 6-pound green ball. "Throw it as hard as you can!" she says. When he knocks down six pins, she cheers.
She shows him how to "throw like grandma" by holding the ball in the air between her feet and chucking it forward with both hands.
Knight greets some Corner Alley employees by name. It's one of her favorite spots in Cleveland. She lives downtown, and she sounds as excited about its revival as the residents who watched it evolve. "You can bowl down here, you can karaoke down here, you [can] dance," she says. "There's so many things that you can do now."
Knight is extremely social. She attends Trinity Cathedral and sings in its choir. She's gone to Cavaliers, Browns and Indians games. She's met Kyrie Irving downtown and befriended local boxers.
"I feel most at home when I'm with my friends," Knight says. Staying home alone, she gets bored, feeling she's holding herself back. "Doing fun and joyful things, that makes me feel more alive."
She's adopted an adorable off-white, 2-month-old puppy she's named Snow White. She's reunited with a few old friends and made new ones. "My friends," she says, "are my chosen family."
She has even run into Charles Ramsey, the Seymour Avenue neighbor who helped Berry escape Castro's house. But she found Ramsey overwhelming. She says he saw her at the Corner Alley, invited himself to bowl with her and dropped an extraordinary number of curse words. Ramsey's recent claim on Reddit that he sees her around town "several nights a week" isn't true, she says.
Today at the Corner Alley, she's taking it easy, bowling two-handed because she's wearing fake nails. The lane bumpers are up to help Nicho. "He's like a child to me," she says. "I go over to the house, we chill, we have fun, we watch movies. It's awesome."
Since gaining her freedom, Knight has been drawn to friends with children. She's watched a friend's son pitch a high school baseball game — the next-best thing to seeing her own son play.
"It's amazing to be able to do something that you [weren't] able to do for a long time," she says, "even if it ain't with the person that you really wanted it to be with."
Arroyo, the Guardian Angel, says Knight has gotten to know his wife and children, including Angelise, born in winter 2013. "She got to see my daughter grow up," he says. "She loves children."
David Rosa, a cable TV supervisor and music promoter, met Knight at a fundraiser. He's taken her to a World Cup party at the Horseshoe Cleveland and to the park with his teenage daughters and introduced her to the Grammy Award-nominated hip-hop artist Fat Joe, a client of his, via Skype.
Since Knight doesn't have a driver's license, Rosa drives her around on errands. "She needed help, because she didn't have nobody," he says.
Foley Jones, a former judge, has been Knight's lawyer since September 2013. Knight chose her quickly. She walked into her law office, asked questions about pictures of her family and hired her.
"It told me she had a good gut instinct about herself and about life," Foley Jones says. "She's smart as a whip. She's got street smarts."
Foley Jones' role goes beyond normal legal advice. "For a very long time, she didn't really make any decisions about her life, because she couldn't," she says. "Now she has to make a lot of decisions, and she needs — I don't want to say motherly help — but guidance. She asks for guidance."
Foley Jones has helped Knight find her apartment, get to medical appointments, enroll in culinary school and write her book. "She's getting more and more independent, though, which is great."
Knight has always been the most public of 2207 Seymour's three adult survivors.
On the video they released in July 2013, Knight spoke the longest, announcing she would "help others who have been in the same situations I have been in." She was the one victim who spoke at Castro's sentencing the next month, where she memorably warned him that while she had spent nearly 11 years in hell, he would face hell for eternity. On the morning Castro's house was demolished, Knight handed out balloons on Seymour Avenue, dedicating them to still-missing children. Last November, a mere six months after her rescue, she described the tortures of the captivity on Dr. Phil McGraw's talk show.
Berry and DeJesus have reunited with their families and chosen to recover in private. They've granted no interviews and are working together on a memoir scheduled for publication in 2015.
But seclusion and quiet do not fit Knight's outgoing personality. Since May 2013, she's been living with gusto, charging into new experiences, figuring out life as an independent adult at age 33. Her goal of finding herself — announced in her book's title — includes developing her personal strength but also finding ways to help others.
When she's out in Cleveland, Knight tries to balance her desire to connect with people and an insistence on boundaries. The public's role in her recovery is more complicated than simply leaving her alone. She often meets people who thank her for inspiring them. Some tell her their stories of abuse and ask for advice. Many cry.
"Grown men and women give her high-fives and ask for help," Arroyo says, "and say, 'I respect you, Michelle. You're my reason for moving forward.' "
Others snap smartphone photos, hug her and kiss her without permission — perceived as invasive behavior toward anyone, especially a sexual assault victim. "The only thing I ask for is the respect that I deserve and need to heal," she says.
She doesn't go out alone. "I don't want to be treated as a celebrity," she says. "I don't want to be treated as somebody that is broken that needs to be fixed. I don't want people to feel sorry for me."
She prefers people call her Lily, her new name. She doesn't mind talking with people about their lives or how she has persevered. But she won't answer certain prying questions.
"If it's not in her book or on the TV show she's done, she probably didn't want to speak about it," Arroyo says. "Sometimes people become rude."
Strangers ask her about Berry and DeJesus, presuming that she is in touch with them. She isn't. They were last in public together in February, when all three received the Ohio Courage medal from Gov. John Kasich.
In Finding Me , Knight says she and DeJesus spoke on the phone several times after their rescue. Knight, lonely while recovering in the assisted-living home, wished she could talk with DeJesus every day, but the calls dwindled. Eventually, she writes, "I had to respect her choice to move on."
Knight wants to leave it there. The public may think of Knight, DeJesus and Berry as a trio, but that's only because Castro forced them together. "That's a subject that's not really good right now," she tells me.
Knight rolls up her red sweater's sleeve and shows me one of her many tattoos. A green dragon, with red eyes and a fiery belly, stretches up her forearm.
"My protection dragon is for everything that's darkness in my life," she says. It is there to drive the darkness away, to bring her life back into balance.
Her resolve, her positive thoughts and the affirmations inked on her skin cannot always protect her from the memories of trauma. When Knight postponed our meeting one afternoon this August, Foley Jones arrived instead to say that Knight had been awake all night, dreading the impending anniversary of her kidnapping.
We met a few days later instead. "Sometimes," Knight tells me, "I pull myself back, 'cause I need to take time for myself to heal." When a rough day comes, she needs to understand and overcome it, she says, "before I'm able to talk to somebody else and I'm able to say what I need to say."
At Castro's sentencing, a trauma specialist, Dr. Frank Ochberg, testified that Knight, Berry and DeJesus would all face flashbacks of traumatic memories and difficulty knowing who to trust. "With the love and support of this whole community and what they bring to the table, they have a good chance of a good life," Ochberg said, "but that doesn't mean they will ever be free of the damage that was done."
Without prompting, Knight tells me she reads people carefully, listening for lies, watching for changes in facial expressions. She's questioned the motives of some old friends who've asked her for money or support.
"[They] used to treat me like a trophy," she says. "They showed me around to people. They really didn't care about how I felt. I need people to understand that I'm not a trophy. I'm not a victim. I'm not a diamond ring that you can just pawn off to your friends. I'm somebody."
She struggles with physical limitations because of Castro's abuse. "I can't eat right," she says. She had a stomach infection when rescued. Now, there are many foods she can't tolerate. She no longer eats meat.
Her hands shake. "My nerves are shot. I have a lot of trouble writing and drawing, and writing and drawing is my favorite thing to do."
Her eyesight deteriorated during the almost 11 years she went without glasses and saw little sunlight. As we talk, her gaze is off to one side, not quite focused. "I'm going partially blind in one eye," she says. "It's harder to be out in the sunlight. ... It's like somebody burning your eyeballs."
She's not looking for pity. She rolls up her pant leg to reveal another tattoo: two Old West-style revolvers, barrels lined up back-to-back, on her shin. "Know me as a victor," read the cursive letters, bent like hooks, "not a victim."
Knight's financial security is sound for the foreseeable future. The Cleveland Courage Fund, created to support Knight, DeJesus, Berry and Berry's daughter, has raised donations of $1.4 million, so her one-quarter share is at least $350,000. Donations to her through the Dr. Phil Foundation, after her appearances on his talk show, topped $400,000. Royalties from her best-selling book, which debuted at No. 2 on The New York Times best-sellers list in May, are unknown but almost surely into six figures.
In a year and a half, Knight has gone from no freedom to many opportunities, including travel and a large amount of money. I ask what advice people have given her.
"Even though you have this amount of money, don't treat anybody any different," she says. "And don't ever regret what happens in life, 'cause it helps you down the line."
Knight has an unusual way of talking: halting but fast, full of digressions. She can seem scattered. But a careful listen usually reveals that she's very self-reflective. I ask again about advice, and her answer is that of a 33-year-old woman who feels she's often not taken seriously enough and who shrugs off overprotective concern.
"To be honest with you, I really don't listen to most of them," she says. "I want people to understand that the choices I make are the choices that are best for me. Like, if I buy a dog, it's for my companionship, for me to have somebody that's there when nobody else is. Or if I want to go out to see a movie, I want to be able to make these choices without somebody saying, 'Well, this is something you shouldn't go see because of this reason and that reason.' "
A friend warned her not to see the movie If I Stay in which a teenage girl, the only survivor of her family's car crash, has an out-of-body experience and weighs whether she wants to live. "But I found it to be liberating and quite good," she says.
Like a college freshman, Knight is trying on ideas about her future. She'd like to own a restaurant someday. For now, she wants to resume cooking classes, which she didn't finish due to her travels. She is recording a song she wrote, "Starlight," about her experiences. She wants to be a boxer, even though she's only 4-foot-5.
"I'm really not afraid at all," she says. "The person I was held captive by was taller than [me], and I took him down."
Knight still aims to help others who've endured suffering like hers. "I want them to know that they can have the same courage and strength that I did to overcome anything, no matter how hard it is," she tells me. "And life is hard."
She doesn't just mean missing people. "I'm talking about everybody that has pain," she says. "I know what it feels like to be trapped, mentally and physically, to where I can't move, I can't function."
Other well-known former abductees have emerged as advocates. Jaycee Dugard, rescued in 2009 from an 18-year captivity in California, now runs a foundation that helps families recovering from abduction, natural disaster and difficult transitions from military to civilian life. Elizabeth Smart, kidnapped at age 14 in Utah and recovered nine months later in 2003, has testified before Congress and advocated for sexual-abuse victims and the prevention of crimes against children.
Arroyo, the Guardian Angel, says he hopes Knight, Berry and DeJesus all become advocates for the missing someday. "Those are the people who are able to tell police and organizations what to look for," he says. "Their advice is more important than any other specialist." But, he adds, if Knight "wants to be good ole Lily from the neighborhood, I'll support her."
One of Finding Me 's most disturbing revelations is how frequently Knight says Castro took her from his house into the backyard, where her chances of rescue were greater. In one harrowing scene, Castro dressed her in a wig and huge sunglasses, slipped his gun into his back pocket and took her outside. On a cold day, she wasn't wearing a coat. A neighbor saw them both but said nothing. Knight hoped the strange scene would bother the neighbor enough to call the police, but nothing happened.
Knight tells me that Castro would send her behind the house to work on the yard or on his cars. She says he guarded her closely, always carrying his gun, sometimes standing just inside the door and listening in case her creaky pushcart stopped moving. She says she tried to signal neighbors to call 911 — flashing nine fingers, then one finger, then one finger, then pantomiming a phone call by raising her hand to her head with her thumb and pinky finger out. But if anyone saw her — and it's hard for her to say, given her bad eyesight — no one rescued her.
I ask Knight the question that haunted Clevelanders after Castro's crimes were exposed: How could someone be held captive in a city neighborhood for nearly 11 years?
"We overlook things that we can't explain," Knight says. "You don't want to ignore anything that you see odd or out of place."
In her book, Knight recounts being chained and gagged in the basement and hearing relatives visit Castro, one of whom asked him to unlock the basement door. She wishes his family had read the signs and called the police: "the boarded-up windows, the chains, the alarms, the couch cushions and couches sitting in a hallway, crammed up in one area so you can't get into a place, doors locked."
Knight wants to help police get better at finding the missing. She, better than anyone, knows what Cleveland learned after Anthony Sowell's serial murders, that missing adults are not searched for as intensely as missing teens and children.
"They need to understand an adult could be missing the same way a child can," she says. (Cleveland deputy police chief Ed Tomba, who took a leadership role in the Castro investigation, says Knight is "more than welcome to help us out and provide any type of insight she may have.")
Knight still wants to be a motivational speaker, a goal she announced on Seymour Avenue the day Castro's house was demolished.
"Slowly but surely, I'll start to talk to people," she says.
Her song, "Starlight," is meant "for every person out there that ever felt bullied, mistreated, abused," she says, "to understand that they've got the same strength to overcome those obstacles, like I did."
Knight's message is a simple one, learned by many people who have suffered before her: Even those who cannot escape suffering can choose their answer to it.
"Terrible things can strike at any point in time," she says. "So live your life while you can, and always remember that it's not the situation that happens to you in life, it's what you do about it. Because if you choose to live in the darkness, you're going to let it consume who you are."
Governor signs bill requiring annual child abuse reporting training
by Matthias Gafni
SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday requiring that all California teachers and school employees receive annual child abuse reporting training.
Spurred by more than two years of this newspaper's reports on incidents where school employees failed to properly report child abuse, Assembly Bill 1432 will change state law from "strongly encouraging" training to making it mandatory within the first six weeks of each year for certificated and classified workers. The requirement will begin next school year.
"We've seen too many tragic cases in recent years," said Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Burbank, the author of the bill. "Anyone who cares (about preventing child abuse) thought about what could make this system better."
While the law has no formal punishment against districts that fail to train teachers and employees or fail to properly report abuse, it establishes a "statutory standard of care" that leaves a district open to increased liability in a lawsuit, Gatto said.
He added that the bill's intent is to not allow an employee to work until the training is completed within the allowed time period.
The state superintendent's office will create a uniform training program that will be made available to all districts by Jan. 1, 2015.
"I really think this bill was a product of many elements of society working together, and a big portion of this came from the reporting done from your consortium of newspapers," Gatto said in a phone interview.
A Bay Area News Group survey last year found that fewer than half of 94 Bay Area school districts trained their employees on the identification and reporting of child abuse. The survey also found that training standards varied by district.
The newspaper reported on cases of unreported physical and sexual abuse by teachers in Bay Area school districts, including cover-ups of reported incidents, investigations of abuse by district leaders instead of police and obfuscation of other agencies' investigations.
The required training must include a reminder that failure to timely report suspected child abuse is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison or a fine of $1,000, or both.
The Contra Costa Child Abuse Prevention Council, which offers free training to school districts and other agencies, hopes the law will spur increased participation in its program throughout the East Bay.
"I think it's a great law," Director Carol Carillo said. "Any effort to encourage and help school staff train on how to report child abuse is great."
Carillo said it's important that the training go beyond online courses to include discussions about reporting child abuse.
Her agency expects to work with more than a dozen school districts by the end of this calendar year, including a juvenile hall and detention center.
"We're hoping in Contra Costa to engage with other school districts that we haven't been involved with and maybe expand into cities and youth organizations," she said.
Colton Turner's family says they want new law
by Sophia Beausoleil
AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Tuesday for more than eight hours, state lawmakers met at the Capitol, heard and discussed ways to cut down the number of abuse and neglect cases that lead to child deaths in the state. During public comments, they also heard from Colton Turner's great aunt, who said she wants to change policy.
“We told them we did not know Megan's location, but that Colton was in serious, serious danger.” said Raquel Helfrich, whose 2-year-old great nephew's body was found in a shallow grave in Southeast Austin. Helfrich's niece, Megan Work, is Colton's mother. She remains in jail on charges of tampering with evidence along with her boyfriend, Micahael Turner who is in jail too. Their first court date is October 30th.
“When I found out it only took the police two days to locate him, Colton, once they were notified, I didn't understand why it took CPS all these months,” said Helfrich who said she and her husband contacted Child Protective Services in May after they received pictures of Colton with bruises on his body.
Helfrich said she believes her niece knew CPS was looking for her from a prior open investigation and was constantly on the move so they couldn't find her. She said she couldn't file a missing child report since she was not the legal guardian of the two-year-old.
Colton's great aunt said she feared that he might die, but is now directing her pain to try and change the way the state handles cases. Helfrich said ‘Colton's Law' would act as a safety net for kids who can't be located after or during a CPS investigation.
“What I wanted to do was help push for a law that's put into place so that if there's an un traceable child, rather than have everybody refer you to CPS for case workers to look for a missing child, it would automatically push to a state law enforcement agency to locate that child.”
The Department of Family Protective Services states on its website that if there's not enough information to find a child or their family , it goes unassigned. It's not yet known if Colton's case was labeled “unassigned” but in the coming weeks new details will shed light on how the state agency handled the open investigation and what happened the months leading up to the 2-year-olds death.
“There's no worse day for a commissioner when you find out about a child death in an open case,” said Department of Family Protective Services Commissioner John Specia who admits there were problems with the way the state handled Colton Turner.
“We will look at this case, we will learn from this case we will go forward, we made mistakes and we will be open about the mistakes we made,” said Specia who said they're coordinating with the Travis County District Attorney's Office on when to release those documents.
“If something good has to come out of this, this has to change,” said Helfrich. “This needs to be a wake up call for the system.”
State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale passed along condolences to Helfrich on behalf of Rep. Dawna Dukes, D-Austin, and the committee. Rep. Tony Dale, R-Cedar Park also said he plans on meeting with Colton's family to hear more about their ideas on what needs to change.
“As a parent myself it tugs at your heart strings when you hear these kinds of stories,” said Rep. Dale to reporters in regards to not only Colton Turners case, but other abuse and neglect incidents that happen in his district around the state. “We've determined through an outside consultant, that case workers only spend about 29 percent of their time with families and children. That's not enough time, clearly.”
DFPS said in 2013 CPS completed 160,240 cases of child abuse and or neglect. There were 804 child fatalities state wide in 2013. That number included kids in CPS, child care facilities and adoptions.
The state said 156 of those deaths were the direct result of either abuse and or neglect. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services found neglect led to 59 percent of the cases where a child died because of an unsafe sleep environment, a drowning or some sort of medical neglect. In contrast, 41 percent of cases were tied to abuse. That includes stabbing, suffocation and blunt force trauma.
Three months ago, CPS approved several changes to better manage the foster system. They include conducting extra interviews with a foster parent's friends and family and a review of the household finances. Those changes went into effect on September first.
The committee also listened to national leaders who said there's still a lot of data missing that would help contribute to strategies that would help curb child abuse and neglect deaths.
“Everybody is accountable, everybody is responsible, but we're going to do as a federal commission is try to pull it all together in terms of what needs to happen in practice, what needs to happen in policy, what changes need to happen on a regulatory and in our fiscal environment if we're going to stop these tragedies from occurring,” said Susan Dreyfus, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Children and Families. She is also a member of the Federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities.
“When you really get underneath these child deaths and you really look at them, it's multidisciplinary. There's no one agency that's singularly responsible, and if we're really going to get underneath this, there's a role that we all play and part of that is the data sharing that will have to go on between agencies, child welfare, the medical community, education community, law enforcement partnership is key in this,” said Dreyfus.
Click here for presentation from DFPS at Select Committee on Child Protection hearing
New initiative to cut down on sexual child abuse
by Lyndsey Price
SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. - Child abuse is something that can affect children of all ages. In some circles it's known as ‘the silent crime'.
Tracy Haraz is a child abuse investigator at the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office. She has handled cases with children from 3 to 16. "The last couple I've had was probably age 3 to 5. I get a lot of kids in ages that you would not think that would be happening to," he said.
Many cases reported involve the sexual abuse of a child. So far this year the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office has received calls and tips for around 80 cases. "I see a lot of sexual abuse. I see a lot of physical abuse and even physiological abuse," adds Haraz.
That's why education coordinator, Michelle Turner with the Children's Advocacy Center in Sullivan County, says they started a new initiative. "Darkness to Light: End Child Sexual Abuse." "It is a prevention program its free training it teaches them the five steps of being able to identify child abuse and how to report it," says Turner.
Turner says the CAC received a grant from the state that helps them train officers, teachers, and other community members about child abuse. "React, report, and respond effectively are the three main points that we want everybody to know," she said.
Turner calls child abuse 'the silent crime' because in the past people haven't talked about it. "When we get a report of a child abuse case it's really big for that time when it happens, but for those of us who work here, it's a headline for us every day we come to work," she said.
That's why Detective Haraz is reminding everyone that it's your duty to report any suspicions you have about child abuse. "A lot of them are afraid. They'll tell somebody that they feel like they can confide in, and if someone comes to you like that it is very, very important that you call it in," he said.
If you live in Tennessee and want to report any suspicion of child abuse you can call a hotline and remain anonymous. You can call 1-877-237-0004 or 1-877-54ABUSE (1-877-542-2873). Click here to visit the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.
Eric Holder Warns New Data Encryption on Phones Could Endanger Children
Attorney general criticizes tech companies for locking the back door to user data.
by Laura Ryan
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is worried new data-encryption features on phones that claim to lock out law enforcement officials could place children's lives in danger.
These kinds of measures could get in the way of a kidnapping or child-abuse investigation, according to Holder.
"When a child is in danger, law enforcement needs to be able to take every legally available step to quickly find and protect the child and to stop those that abuse children," Holder said during remarks Tuesday at the Biannual Global Alliance Conference Against Child Sexual Abuse Online.
"It is worrisome to see companies thwarting our ability to do so."
Although he did not explicitly point fingers at Apple and Google, his comments come shortly after the two tech giants unveiled new phones with enhanced encryption that deliberately make it difficult for law enforcement officials to access users' data. With this feature, data on the new models can only be unlocked by a passcode held by the phone's owner.
"It is fully possible to permit law enforcement to do its job while still adequately protecting personal privacy," Holder said.
Holder's remarks echo a growing chorus of criticism from other top law enforcement officials who are concerned the police-proof security measure could keep them from investigating a crime.
"I am a huge believer in the rule of law, but I also believe that no one in this country is beyond the law," FBI Director James Comey said last week. "What concerns me about this is companies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law."
Holder said new technologies, like the cloud and mobile devices, "embolden online criminals" and make it easier for them to get away with criminal activity.
"Prevent Child Abuse" Plates Available In Oklahoma
by Associated Press
The Oklahoma State Department of Health Office of Child Abuse Prevention is offering specialty license tags to raise money to help prevent child abuse in the state.
Applications for the specialty tag called "Start Right" are available at local tag agencies.
The specialty license tag costs $35. Of every tag purchased, $20 of the proceeds will go into the child abuse prevention fund to support prevention programs across the state.
State officials say that last year, there were more than 11,400 confirmations of child abuse and/or neglect in Oklahoma.
The agency also is seeking volunteers and active participants for year-round to help plan ways to reach local communities with information about positive parenting and child abuse prevention programs in their area.
Warren County faces additional allegations of sexual abuse in sheriff's department
by Edward Sieger
Warren County faces another lawsuit over allegations of sex abuse within the Warren County Sheriff's Department.
Attorney Brad Russo filed a tort claim notice Sept. 15 with the county, alleging sexual abuse of a teenage boy, while in the custody of a sheriff's department employee.
The name of the employee has been redacted from the notice as required by state law, but the details resemble a similar claim and criminal charges filed against former county Sheriff Edward Bullock.
Authorities charged Bullock in March with three counts each of first-degree aggravated sexual assault and second-degree sexual assault. The 85-year-old has since pleaded not guilty and remains free on bail, living in his Ocean County, N.J., home.
Bullock is accused of assaulting a 10-year-old boy between December 1986 and January 1988, while the boy was in Bullock's custody. A tort claim notice filed in 2012 that preceded the criminal charges alleges a county employee had transported the victim - identified only as "W.M." - from the Hackettstown Police Department to a county-run youth homeless shelter in Oxford Township.
Court papers indicate the boy had been abandoned by his father and that his mother was an alcoholic. The notice filed earlier this month notes the accuser, identified only as "C.C.", did not have a father figure in his life as his parents divorced at a very young age.
It's been unclear how many accusers there may be, but the tort claim notice filed this month references "most of the alleged victims."
The claim alleges the county employee selected C.C. from a holding cell at the Warren County Courthouse and took the boy back to his office, where he gave him back rubs and attended a court appearance. The employee then volunteered to return the boy to Warren Acres, the county's former juvenile facility, according to the claim.
The notice alleges the employee transported C.C., while he was 14 and 15, on four separate occasions in an unmarked vehicle without handcuffs during which time varying degrees of molestation occurred. In one case, the employee pulled his car to the side of the road next to the Pequest River and in another turned down a dirt road near Warren Acres and the Warren County Children's Shelter.
The tort claim notice filed in 2012 alleges that victim told a county shelter employee about the assault, only to be punched in the stomach and told never again to make such allegations. The notice filed this month alleges C.C. reported the abuse to a Warren Acres employee, who yelled at the boy and told him to "stop looking for attention."
The fourth assault allegedly took place after C.C. appeared before a county judge after running away from the Warren County Children's Shelter because he feared staff would either not believe or take no action to stop the abuse. The employee is accused of assaulting the boy on the drive back to the shelter, according to the claim.
A few days after the fourth assault, C.C. tried to commit suicide by swallowing a bottle pills, according to the claim. He was taken to Hackettstown Hospital for treatment and eventually transported to Carrier Clinic Behavioral Unit.
The claim accuses county employees of facilitating the abuse by assuring it did not become public and failing to report the assaults. Both claims reference the employee's known "sexual pedophiliac tendencies" of its employee; the county shelter, which has since closed, failed to report the incident or take other proper actions, according to the filings.
Michael McDonald, Warren County's first assistant prosecutor, would not comment Tuesday on whether the office is investigating further allegations against Bullock.
Neither Russo nor county attorney Joseph Bell immediately returned phone calls seeking comment, and Freeholder Director Ed Smith said he could say very little about the newest allegations.
"Anyone is free to file a tort notice against the county and it's required they do so if they intend to take legal action against the county," he said. "It's a very preliminary step in the legal process."
In statements made to a private detective working on behalf of the victim's lawyer in the civil litigation, several former county officials were aware of Bullock's reported interest in young boys. County officials are accused of "passive child sexual abuse" by failing to assist the victim and instead criticizing and chastising the child for reporting the abuse, according to the claim.
The claim seeks damages for medical expenses, costs of counseling, lost wages, trauma and "diminished childhood."
Brooklyn Tech Teacher Charged With Criminal Sexual Acts Against Students Held On Bail
NEW YORK – A Brooklyn Technical High School teacher accused of sending an explicit photograph to a student is now being held on $750,000 bond after being charged with more than 36 additional sexual crimes against students.
Sean Shaynak, 44, was in court Tuesday for allegedly sending a nude picture of himself to a 16-year-old female student when police charged him with the 36 new counts, including kidnapping and criminal sexual acts.
He pleaded not guilty in August to charges including dissemination of indecent material to a minor. On Tuesday, Shaynak pleaded not guilty to the new charges. Bail was also set at $250,000 for the previous charge.
Investigators seized three computers and two phones and discovered thousands of text messages, as well as hundreds of photographs and videos, after the East Flatbush man's Aug. 26 arrest , according to prosecutors.
An investigation revealed that Shaynak had allegedly victimized six teenage girls, ranging in age from 13 to 19, between 2011 and 2014, prosecutors said.
“It is shocking that a public high school teacher allegedly sexually preyed on vulnerable students. We will now seek to vindicate the rights of those students,” stated Kings County District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson.
Prosecutors allege Shaynak asked two girls to have sex with each other, took a 15-year-old student to a nude beach in New Jersey without her parents' consent, sent explicit photos to four students, inappropriately touched and kissed students, and gave alcohol and cigarettes to minors.
Shaynak is also charged with reckless endangerment and menacing for allegedly terrorizing a former student with whom he had a prior relationship, prosecutors said.
“These alleged actions are completely unacceptable and have no place in, or outside of, our schools,” City Department of Education spokeswoman Devora Kaye said. “The DOE took swift action to immediately reassign Mr. Shaynak following his initial arrest. He is not, and will not be, in contact with students. Student safety remains our top priority.”
City nonprofit works on changing ideas of sexual violence
by Jessie Forand
This month the White House launched a celebrity-studded video as part of its campaign to end sexual violence on college campuses. The video comes after a task force formed in January to tackle the issue of sexual assaults of students.
The White House and others cite studies that say one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college. Rape is in the headlines globally, from college campuses to reports of rape as a means of intimidation and violence at the hands of the Islamic State — also known as ISIL or ISIS in the Middle East.
To learn more about what is being done to address the issue of rape and what is left to do, the Burlington Free Press turned to Cathleen Barkley, executive director of H.O.P.E. Works, a Burlington nonprofit dedicated to ending sexual violence. H.O.P.E. stands for healing, outreach, prevention and empowerment. Below is an edited excerpt of an email interview with Barkley.
BURLINGTON FREE PRESS (BFP): Because it is so often contested, how would you officially define "rape?" How would you define "consent?"
CATHLEEN BARKLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, H.O.P.E WORKS (CB): We tend to use the term sexual violence which encompasses rape, attempted rape, stalking, sexual or street harassment, child sexual abuse, etc. Basically, it is any sexual act committed without the other person's consent. Consent is the voluntary, positive agreement between the participants to engage in specific sexual activity. Vermont state statutes and FBI definitions are different.
BFP: What trends are you seeing? Are rape cases at an increase or decrease? How does this compare to the national average?
CB: We are seeing a trend of serving more youth than in previous years. Last year, 53 percent of the people we served were children and youth, ages 24 and under. I think that this trend has more to do with greater awareness and outreach than an actual increase in sexual violence, although it is sometimes difficult to know since sexual violence is such an under-reported crime. It is my opinion that what we see in Vermont is similar to national trends.
BFP: Who are the major players in rape cases? I'm thinking of college campuses as places where we often hear of sexual assaults, for example. What do you see as far as aggressors and victims — females versus males? Ages?
CB: Of the people we served last year, 83 percent were women, 14 percent were men, and 3 percent identified as transgender youth and adults. Thirty-seven percent of the people we served last year were ages 18-24 which is the largest age group that we serve. On average 8-9 percent of the people we serve every year are University of Vermont students.
BFP: What keeps people from calling the police or seeking help elsewhere? What should someone do if they suspect they or someone else has been the victim of rape?
CB: National statistics typically say that approximately 25 percent of assaults are reported. I have seen some that say it is higher and some that say it is lower. I will say that many of the people we serve decide not to report for a variety of reasons.
Being raped or sexually assaulted is a horrific and traumatizing experience. However, you are not alone. Talk to someone you trust. Tell them what happened and talk about your feelings. Talking to someone you trust is important because it is often your first step in healing. You may want to talk to a friend, family member or rape crisis advocate. Getting emotional support through counseling, therapy or a support group can assist you in dealing with this trauma and can facilitate the road to recovery and healing. HOPE Works advocates are available to help you get in touch with a therapist or support group that fits your needs. You can survive this.
Seek medical attention: A medical exam after an assault is recommended to:
• Detect and treat injuries;
• Discuss the possibility of sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy and provide treatment;
• Discuss your risk of having contracted HIV from the assault, and possibly offer you HIV prophylaxis;
• Discuss the possibility of rape drugs and testing;
• Gather medical evidence if you choose to report.
Sexual assault nurse examiners are specially trained nurses on call 24 hours a day. In order to be effective at collecting evidence of the assault, the medical exam should be done within 72 hours of the assault — and the sooner the better. It is best not to shower, wash your hands, douche, brush your teeth, drink anything, change the clothing you were wearing at the time of the assault, or go to the bathroom before the examination, because this may wash away some of the evidence of the assault. Even if you have done these things, you should still consider seeking medical attention.
In Chittenden County, if the assault has happened in the last 72 hours, you may have a medical exam performed at the emergency room of Fletcher Allen Health Care. It is also recommended that you receive follow-up medical care two weeks after the initial sexual assault exam. The initial sexual assault exam and two follow-up medical exams can be paid for by the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services if you would choose.
You may reach a nurse by calling the Fletcher Allen Health Care Emergency Department at 847-2434 and asking to speak with a sexual assault nurse examiners nurse. If it has been more than 72 hours, you can make an appointment at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England at 863-6326, Women's Choice Gynecologic Associates at 863-9001 or the Community Health Center of Burlington at 864-6309.
Consider legal action. If you report a sexual assault in Chittenden County, your case will most likely be handled by the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations (CUSI). The detectives at CUSI are trained to handle sexual assault and abuse cases. If you file a report, you will be asked to give a detailed account of the assault, but your report is not a commitment to go to court. HOPE Works Legal Advocate is available to answer your questions and help you with the process of reporting to the police. People who meet certain criteria may also be eligible for legal representation as they consider their legal options and/or participate in the prosecution of the offender. Advocates are also available to accompany and support you to court dates. You can reach the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations at 652-6800.
We also offer our 24 hour hotline, support, referrals, support groups, emergency short-term housing, support in accessing relief from abuse orders, and stalking and sexual orders, and economic empowerment programs.
BFP: Can you talk about victim blaming — where do we see it most, why does it happen, how can we make it stop?
CB: Sexual violence is a terrible crime and it is difficult for people to accept that there are people who live in our community (who may be our family members, our neighbors, our children's teachers, our spiritual leaders, etc.) who would perpetrate such crimes. Its frightening to think about the reality that anyone can be a victim at any time. So, one way that people cope with this is to blame the victim for the assault in order to distance themselves from the thought that they, too, could be a victim.
In other words, someone may say, "I would never go on a date with that guy/girl (dress that way, drink that much, stay with an abusive partner, so what was he/she thinking?)." It's a psychological balm that some wrap themselves in in order to deny the reality that they, too, could be a victim one day. Victim blaming is one of the biggest reasons why, in my opinion, sexual violence is so under-reported. We have to build empathy and come to understand that victim blaming only puts us all at greater risk for being assaulted (or risk of our loved ones being assaulted.) It is exactly what rapists want us to be doing because it helps them operate undetected.
BFP: An finger nail polish that detects date rape drugs has been making headlines recently. What are your thoughts on this?
CB: I think that it is normal for people to want simple solutions to a complex problem. I think that we should be focusing our efforts towards creating a culture in which sexual violence is not just an every day hazard of being a woman. We should all take an interest in the issue of ending sexual violence and looking at the cultural norms that support violence. If nail polish helps to get people talking about the issue of rape, then great. If it gives women a false sense of safety, doesn't actually work, or continues to hold only women accountable for ending sexual violence, then I think that there is a potential for more harm than good.
BFP: What will it take to combat rape, ultimately? Do you see this ever becoming a non-issue? What is being done to change views and what sort of outreach do you do to spread prevention work?
CB: I wish that I could say that there may be a time when there is absolutely no sexual violence but I think that we are a very long way away from that. I think that we need to look at the culture that normalizes sexual violence and work to change that. We need to have more accountability for perpetrators and that will mean making the criminal and civil justice systems more friendly to victims while offering adequate resources to victims as they move through the process. Our outreach and prevention work looks at gender norms, power and oppression in our society, media literacy, how to safely and appropriately respond to a situation of sexual violence, how to support a loved one (no victim blaming!) exploring what consent means, and looking how we all can work towards a community in which sexual violence is not accepted.
To learn more visit www.hopeworksvt.org. If you need help, call the 24-hour hotline at 1-800-489-7273.
My mother was sexually abused, says Jane Fonda
by Rachel Clun
Actor Jane Fonda has revealed her mother was sexually abused and committed suicide.
Speaking at an event celebrating the 40 th anniversary of the Rape Treatment Centre, Fonda revealed the personal details to a crowd of philanthropists and activists.
The yearly fund-raising event for the centre, which provides free treatment for victims of sexual assault, was held in Beverly Hills at the estate of billionaire Ron Burkle.
The 76-year-old fitness guru said she made the discovery about her mother's past while she was writing her own memoir. Fonda's autobiography, My Life So Far, was released in 2005 and details her youth, as well as her many years in the spotlight.
While researching the book, Fonda uncovered medical records of her mother Frances Ford Seymour and discovered she had been sexually abused when she was eight years old.
Fonda's mother committed suicide while in psychiatric care aged 42.
The actor said making the discovery helped her understand her mother's behaviour and why she committed suicide when Fonda was 12, in April 1950.
"The minute that I read that, everything fell into place," said Fonda from a podium set up in Burkle's backyard.
"I knew why the promiscuity, the endless plastic surgery, the guilt, the inability to love or be intimate, and I was able to forgive her and forgive myself."
Fonda says there is an "epidemic" of sexual violence, and vowed, "I will support the Rape Treatment Centre for the rest of my life".
Fonda was introduced to the backyard stage by fellow actor, co-star and old friend Lily Tomlin. Other celebrity guests included The Newsroom actor Sam Waterson, and actors Viola Davis and Emmy Rossum.
Former Friends actor David Schwimmer and Will & Grace star Eric McCormack also spoke at the fund-raising event.
The actors asked the crowd to show their support, and five people donated US$100,000 ($115,000) on the spot.
The money will go towards helping the centre offer free mental health, medical and legal support for child and adult victims of sex abuse.
The Rape Foundation Centre also provides free training for sexual assault prevention programs across the United States, as well as free training for first responders.
Founder and president Gail Abarbanel introduced a number of rape survivors who also spoke at the brunch event.
One of the speakers was the mother of the 2012 Steubenville High School assault victim.
She said her daughter was brave to stand up and press charges against her attackers, who were star football players who had community support behind them.
Fonda has long been a supporter of feminist causes.
The outspoken actor has been a member of the V-Day movement to stop violence against women since 2000, and has travelled the world on behalf of the organisation.
She also founded the Jane Fonda Centre for Adolescent Reproductive Health in 2001, which provides research and develops training programs.
Fonda has also donated time and money to teenage pregnancy prevention campaigns.
America's dirty little secret: Sex trafficking is big business
by John W. Whitehead
“For every 10 women rescued, there are 50 to 100 more women are brought in by the traffickers. Unfortunately, they're not 18- or 20-year-olds anymore. They're minors as young as 13 who are being trafficked. They're little girls.”—25-year-old victim of trafficking
“Children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day.”—John Ryan, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
The mysterious disappearance of 18-year-old Hannah Graham on September 13, 2014, has become easy fodder for the media at a time when the news cycle is lagging. After all, how does a young woman just vanish without a trace, in the middle of the night, in a town that is routinely lauded for being the happiest place in America, not to mention one of the most beautiful?
Yet Graham is not the first girl to vanish in America without a trace—my hometown of Charlottesville, Va., has had five women go missing over the span of five years—and it is doubtful she will be the last. I say doubtful because America is in the grip of a highly profitable, highly organized and highly sophisticated sex trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.
It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged sex workers in the U.S. The average age of girls who enter into street prostitution is between 12 and 14 years old, with some as young as 9 years old. This doesn't include those who entered the “trade” as minors and have since come of age. Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. As one rescue organization estimated, an underaged prostitute might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.
This is America's dirty little secret.
You don't hear much about domestic sex trafficking from the media or government officials, and yet it infects suburbs, cities and towns across the nation. According to the FBI, sex trafficking is the fastest growing business in organized crime, the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns. It's an industry that revolves around cheap sex on the fly, with young girls and women who are sold to 50 men each day for $25 apiece, while their handlers make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year.
In order to avoid detection by police and cater to male buyers' demand for sex with different women, pimps and the gangs and crime syndicates they work for have turned sex trafficking into a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked girls, boys and women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country. The Baltimore-Washington area, referred to as The Circuit, with its I-95 corridor dotted with rest stops, bus stations and truck stops, is a hub for the sex trade.
With a growing demand for sexual slavery and an endless supply of girls and women who can be targeted for abduction, this is not a problem that's going away anytime soon. Young girls are particularly vulnerable, with 13 being the average age of those being trafficked. Yet as the head of a group that combats trafficking pointed out, “Let's think about what average means. That means there are children younger than 13. That means 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds.”
Consider this: every two minutes, a child is exploited in the sex industry. In Georgia alone, it is estimated that 7,200 men (half of them in their 30s) seek to purchase sex with adolescent girls each month, averaging roughly 300 a day. It is estimated that at least 100,000 children—girls and boys—are bought and sold for sex in the U.S. every year, with as many as 300,000 children in danger of being trafficked each year. Some of these children are forcefully abducted, others are runaways, and still others are sold into the system by relatives and acquaintances.
As one news center reported, “Finding girls is easy for pimps. They look on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networks. They and their assistants cruise malls, high schools and middle schools. They pick them up at bus stops. On the trolley. Girl-to-girl recruitment sometimes happens.” Foster homes and youth shelters have also become prime targets for traffickers.
With such numbers, why don't we hear more about this? Especially if, as Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children insists, “this is not a problem that only happens in New York and Los Angeles and San Francisco. This happens in smaller communities. The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it.”
Unfortunately, Americans have become good at turning away from things that make us uncomfortable or stray too far from our picture-perfect images of ourselves. In this regard, we're all complicit in contributing to this growing evil which, for all intents and purposes, is out in the open: advertising on the internet, commuting on the interstate, operating in swanky hotels, taking advantage of a system in which the police, the courts and the legislatures are more interested with fattening their coffers by targeting Americans for petty violations than actually breaking up crime syndicates.
Writing for the Herald-Tribune, reporter J. David McSwane has put together one of the most chilling and insightful investigative reports into sex trafficking in America. “The Stolen Ones” should be mandatory reading for every American, especially those who still believe it can't happen in their communities or to their children because it's mainly a concern for lower income communities or immigrants.
As McSwane makes clear, no community is safe from this danger, and yet very little is being done to combat it. Indeed, although police agencies across the country receive billions of dollars' worth of military equipment, weapons and training that keeps them busy fighting a losing battle against marijuana, among other less pressing concerns, very little time and money is being invested in the fight against sex trafficking except for the FBI's annual sex trafficking sting, which inevitably makes national headlines for the numbers of missing girls recovered.
For those trafficked, it's a nightmare from beginning to end. Those being sold for sex have an average life expectancy of seven years, and those years are a living nightmare of endless rape, forced drugging, humiliation, degradation, threats, disease, pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, torture, pain, and always the constant fear of being killed or, worse, having those you love hurt or killed. A common thread woven through most survivors' experiences is being forced to go without sleep or food until they have met their sex quota of at least 40 men. One woman recounts how her trafficker made her lie face down on the floor when she was pregnant and then literally jumped on her back, forcing her to miscarry.
Holly Austin Smith was abducted when she was 14 years old, raped, and then forced to prostitute herself. Her pimp, when brought to trial, was only made to serve a year in prison. Barbara Amaya was repeatedly sold between traffickers, abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, and jailed all before she was 18 years old. “I had a quota that I was supposed to fill every night. And if I didn't have that amount of money, I would get beat, thrown down the stairs. He beat me once with wire coat hangers, the kind you hang up clothes, he straightened it out and my whole back was bleeding.”
As McSwane recounts: “In Oakland Park, an industrial Fort Lauderdale suburb, federal agents in 2011 encountered a brothel operated by a married couple. Inside ‘The Boom Boom Room,' as it was known, customers paid a fee and were given a condom and a timer and left alone with one of the brothel's eight teenagers, children as young as 13. A 16-year-old foster child testified that he acted as security, while a 17-year-old girl told a federal judge she was forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a night.”
One particular sex trafficking ring that was busted earlier in 2014 caters specifically to migrant workers employed seasonally on farms throughout the southeastern states, especially the Carolinas and Georgia, although it's a flourishing business in every state in the country. Traffickers transport the women from farm to farm, where migrant workers would line up outside shacks, as many as 30 at a time, to have sex with them before they were transported to yet another farm where the process would begin all over again.
What can you do?
Call on your city councils, elected officials and police departments to make the battle against sex trafficking a top priority, more so even than the so-called war on terror and drugs and the militarization of law enforcement.
Insist that law enforcement agencies in the country at all levels, local, state and federal, funnel their resources into fighting the crime of sex trafficking. Stop prosecuting adults for victimless “crimes” such as growing lettuce in their front yard and focus on putting away the pimps and buyers who victimize these young women.
Educate yourselves and your children about this growing menace in our communities. The future of America is at stake. As YouthSpark, a group that advocates for young people points out, sex trafficking is part of a larger continuum in America that runs the gamut from homelessness, poverty, and self-esteem issues to sexualized television, the glorification of a pimp/ho culture—what is often referred to as the pornification of America—and a billion dollar sex industry built on the back of pornography, music, entertainment, etc.
Stop feeding the monster. This epidemic is largely one of our own making, especially in a corporate age where the value placed on human life takes a backseat to profit. The U.S. is a huge consumer of trafficked “goods,” with national sporting events such as the Super Bowl serving as backdrops for the sex industry's most lucrative seasons. Each year, for instance, the Super Bowl serves as a “windfall” for sex traffickers selling minors as young as 13 years old. As one sex trafficking survivor explained, “They're coming to the Super Bowl not even to watch football. They're coming to the Super Bowl to have sex with women and/or men or children.”
Finally, as the Abell Foundation's report on trafficking advises: the police need to do a better job of training on, identifying and responding to these issues; communities and social services need to do a better job of protecting runaways, who are the primary targets of traffickers; legislators need to pass legislation aimed at prosecuting traffickers and “johns,” the buyers who drive the demand for sex slaves; hotels need to stop enabling these traffickers, by providing them with rooms and cover for their dirty deeds; and “we the people” need to stop hiding our heads in the sand and acting as if there are other matters more pressing.
Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (SelectBooks) is available online at www.amazon.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com
High court to hear religious man's child abuse case
by Stephen Herzog
Missouri's Supreme Court will hear arguments this week regarding whether a Springfield man who practiced a certain type of Christianity is guilty of abusing his children.
Peter D. Hansen, 50, was convicted by a jury in 2011 of abusing one of his children by locking him in a bathroom “for days at a time” and restricting what the child could eat. Judge Dan Conklin suspended a three-year prison sentence and placed Hansen on five years probation with 100 days in the Greene County Jail.
Hansen, who is a Seventh Day Adventist, argues that his religion encourages vegetarianism and that the punishment of his children does not constitute child abuse.
Court records show Hansen was married and had two children from a previous marriage. The family was evicted from their home in April 2009 and lived in a car for a couple of weeks before their local church allowed them to live in the building.
“The family had little money, but continued to live by the principles of their church in that environment, eating mostly vegetables, grains, legumes and some fruit, two meals a day, drinking water and exercising,” Hansen's appeal says.
Prosecutors say the boy was limited to about two cups of food per day.
The children were sometimes punished by being placed in one of the church's bathrooms, which was not large enough for the children to stretch out.
Prosecutors say there is sufficient evidence to prove Hansen “inflicted cruel and inhuman punishment by locking the minors in a small, dark and cold bathroom for days at a time.” Prosecutors also say Hansen's withholding of food was a cruel and inhuman punishment.
Hansen says the state's evidence failed to prove either of those convictions.
Springfield police and Children's Division investigators arrived at the church the day before Thanksgiving in 2009 on a call of possible child abuse.
Hansen's wife, Melissa, answered the door and said Hansen's daughter was in a partitioned area and Peter and his son were “out of town working on a construction project.”
Investigators found the daughter sitting at a desk working. She said she was often punished by being isolated from the rest of the family or being restricted from eating “luxury foods like fruit, or butter.” The girl said she was often hungry, according to court records.
She also told investigators that her brother was in the building next door. When investigators went to that building, they found that it was held to about 54 to 58 degrees.
Investigators say they found the boy in a bathroom and it appeared that he had been sleeping. There was a sleeping bag, foam pallet and pillow on the floor, along with some books, utensils and dishes.
Documents say the bathroom was about “six by seven, or five by six” feet in size.
Peter Hansen arrived while investigators were talking to the boy. Hansen said the bathroom was “like a hole for a 14-year-old and I'm OK with that.”
Hansen said the children were bad and had bad attitudes and were being punished.
At that time, the children were taken into protective custody and the parents were arrested, according to court records.
The children were taken to the hospital where a doctor determined the children were “receiving inadequate calories for appropriate weight gain and growth.”
A nurse noted the boy's ribs and shoulder blades were “visibly prominent,” according to court records.
During the trial, the jury watched videotape of the girl's interview at the Child Advocacy Center.
She said the children were placed in “lockdown,” either in the bathroom or in a partitioned area in a classroom.
“I had already been in the bathroom,” the girl said. “I was going on my third week. After I had been put inside the walls, I was told no communication, and my brother was put in what we called ‘the hole.' After that, they decided to put my brother outside. After being put in my area for a week, they decided to let me out. It was only for the weekend, though. Monday afternoon, I was put back in because I was struggling with some math and English.”
“The walls” the girl references appears to mean the partitions that were put up in the classroom to seclude her.
The girl said she was let out for about 30 minutes each day to ride her bike or run. Otherwise, she was kept in the bathroom to do homework.
She said she would knock on the door when her homework was finished.
“After all my school work was done, I would have to turn the light off and sit there on the hard floor and think about what I had done, “ she said. “It got pretty cold in there.”
The boy reported similar punishments, according to court records.
When police interviewed Peter Hansen, he admitted he put the children in isolation for punishment, but he denied withholding food.
Some church members said they often saw the children outside and that they appeared healthy.
A jury eventually found Hansen guilty of two counts of child abuse.
Hansen was sentenced on May 31, 2012, and since then has appealed the ruling.
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on Wednesday.
Federal suit: Suffolk workers missed signs of abuse before death of child
by LAURA FIGUEROA
The beating death of 18-month-old Roy A. Jones III in 2010 could have been prevented if social workers, physicians and day care providers in Suffolk County had reported signs of abuse to the state child abuse hotline, according to a federal lawsuit.
Marie Jones of Shirley, the boy's paternal grandmother, is pursuing the suit in U.S. District Court in Central Islip against the Suffolk County Department of Social Services, Stony Brook University Hospital, Southampton Hospital and Hollywood Nursery in Riverhead.
The suit, filed in 2011, claims workers who treated the boy before his death on Aug. 1, 2010, observed signs of physical abuse but did not report the information to state child protective service authorities as required by state law.
Newsday has reported on the boy's death and the 2012 criminal trial that found his mother's boyfriend, Pedro Jones Jr., guilty of fatally beating the child, but the federal lawsuit has not been reported.
Depositions of the boy's family and other witnesses are scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, said Michael J. Collesano, a Manhattan attorney representing the boy's estate. Marie Jones is seeking an undetermined amount of money in damages, Collesano said.
"The doctors and nurses didn't report what we believe were pretty straightforward signs of physical abuse," Collesano said. "If they had collectively done so, there is no question that it would have sent up a red flag that could have saved him."
Jones declined to comment.
County and hospital attorneys argue in court filings that they upheld their responsibilities.
"The defendants at all times acted in good faith in that they reasonably believed that they were exercising and acting within their statutory and constitutional powers," Assistant Suffolk County Attorney Arlene S. Zwilling wrote in an Aug. 13, 2013, court document. Spokesmen for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone did not respond to requests for comment.
Child advocates say the lawsuit highlights the need for stricter enforcement of the state's "mandated reporter" law, which requires health care workers, educators and social workers to notify the state's child abuse hotline of suspected abuse.
Violators of the reporting statute face misdemeanor charges carrying up to $5,000 in fines, up to a year in jail time and revocation of their professional license.
"These kids are vulnerable and cannot speak up for themselves, that's why we need teachers, doctors, guidance counselors . . . to make these reports," said Anthony Zenkus, education director for the Bethpage based Safe Center LI, a nonprofit that provides counseling to abuse victims.
'Signs of physical abuse'
Roy A. Jones III died after Pedro Jones Jr., who was not related to the child, punched the boy in the chest. A Suffolk County Court jury found Jones, 24, guilty of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison.
The lawsuit argues that health care and social workers could have intervened on multiple occasions before the murder.
In November 2009, the boy was "treated at Southampton Hospital suffering from injuries that indicated initial signs of physical abuse," according to the suit.
On July 19, 2010, the boy was vomiting and taken to Southampton Hospital before being transported to Stony Brook Hospital. There, he was "diagnosed with a fractured skull and the doctors . . . also noticed other signs of physical abuse," the suit says. A day later, the boy was returned to the custody of his mother, Vanessa Collins Jones, and her boyfriend.
The lawsuit also claims two Suffolk Child Protective Services workers assigned to the boy were negligent by not enforcing a Jun. 4, 2009, court order of protection that stated the boy was "neglected" by his mother and father Roy A. Jones Jr.
Requirement to report
Collesano said he requested and received the boy's child protective services record from the state, but that confidentiality laws prevented him from releasing them. The State Central Registry hotline was established in 2007 and provides county child protective service workers with a database to track abuse complaints.
Anyone who suspects abuse can call, but certain workers -- including teachers, doctors and social workers -- are required to report their suspicions. Once a complaint is received, county CPS workers have 24 hours to investigate and determine whether the child is in peril and needs to be removed from the household, or whether the family is in need of other social services such as counseling.
Stony Brook University Hospital settled with the family for $40,000 in the State Court of Claims, Collesano said. A hospital spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the federal lawsuit.
Southampton Hospital spokeswoman Marcia Kenny said the hospital could not comment due to the federal suit. In addition to Bellone's office, Hollywood Nursery did not return requests for comment.
Palmer man gets 88 years for decade of child sex abuse
by Chris Klint
ANCHORAGE -- A Palmer man originally charged with sexually abusing a boy and a girl dozens of times over the course of a decade faces close to a century in prison as part of a plea deal, according to Alaska State Troopers.
A Monday AST dispatch says 49-year-old Robert Cunningham pleaded guilty Friday to two first-degree counts of sexually abusing a minor, as well as one count of possessing child pornography. The victims, a 5-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy at the time of the initial offenses, are now 19 and 23 respectively.
Troopers had been investigating the case since being informed of it in January 2013. An indictment against Cunningham in April of that year included 46 counts of sexual abuse of a minor -- 41 in the first degree and five in the second -- plus two counts of possessing child porn. The specifications describe a variety of sex acts against the victims, both relatives of Cunningham.
“Cunningham fled Alaska during the investigation and was subsequently located in Oregon,” troopers wrote. “With assistance from the Oregon State Police, (Cunningham) was taken into custody without incident. (He) was subsequently extradited back to Alaska.”
A memo from Cunningham's sentencing Friday says the victims were not present, with a prosecutor presenting five sealed sentencing exhibits. After presentations by both sides' counsel and a 12-minute period off the record, Palmer Superior Court Judge Kari Kristiansen pronounced her sentence.
“Kristiansen imposed a sentence of 88 years to serve in jail, 15 years of probation and lifetime sex offender registration,” troopers wrote. “Cunningham is still awaiting sentencing in federal court for a related child pornography case.”
Kristiansen previously issued an arrest warrant for Cunningham on $100,000 cash bail when he left the state. He also has a 2001 federal conviction for possession of child pornography.