From the Department of Justice
Attorney General Holder Announces New AMBER Alert Partnerships with Facebook and Bing
Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the Department of Justice is partnering with Facebook and Bing in order to expand the reach of the AMBER Alert system—an early warning system designed to help find and return abducted children. Facebook, already an AMBER Alert partner, will now begin sending alerts, along with detailed information and photographs, to its members in designated search areas. And Bing will begin allowing users to access AMBER Alerts through its online tools. Attorney General Holder also noted that finding an abducted child and returning him or her to safety depends on a fast response, and he urged companies, organizations and citizens to step forward and do their part by offering whatever assistance they can provide. For more information on how to get involved, please go to AMBERAlert.gov or www.missingkids.com.
‘Consensual Incest' Is Rape
A New York Magazine piece about a father-daughter sexual relationship has readers wondering: is ‘consensual incest' a real thing? (The answer: No.)
Six years ago, Mackenzie Phillips, actress and daughter of the late Mamas and the Papas songwriter John Phillips, told Oprah Winfrey that her alleged sexual relationship with her own father had started out as rape but eventually “became a sexual relationship.” A year later, Phillips changed her tune after spending more time with incest survivors.
“[T]here really is no such thing as consensual incest due to the inherent power a parent has over a child,” she said. “So I wouldn't necessarily call it a consensual relationship at this time.”
In the wake of an explosive New York Magazine interview with an 18-year-old woman who has reportedly been in a sexual relationship with her once-estranged biological father for almost two years, the conversation around consensual incest has re-emerged once more and it's still just as fraught.
In the interview, the young woman describes her experience of reuniting with her father at age 17 after only having seen him on weekends for about a year as a toddler. After they re-established contact, the young woman and her father—then in his mid-30s—talked online prior to a weeklong visit at the father's house. Within a few days, they began to cuddle at night and, eventually, they formed a relationship. It is worth noting that prior to this relationship, the young woman had never had sex. Currently, the couple is planning on moving to New Jersey where adult incest is legal so that they can marry and have children and, technically, grandchildren. The young woman insists that she consents to this bond saying, “He made sure I wanted to do it” and, “When you are 18 you know what you want.”
By publishing this interview, New York Magazine has certainly blown the door wide open on a taboo topic, but a subject such as incest requires a special degree of care. In this case, that care does not seem to have been taken. As it stands, the inaccurate and under-researched presentation of the NY Mag interview does more harm than it does good.
In the mere days since its publication, the interview has already spread false and misleading information about adult incest. Although NY Mag 's Alexa Tsoulis-Reay takes a healthy skepticism into her interview with the young woman—pressing her, for example, on the fact that she took her father to prom even though she herself was conceived at her father's own prom night—she frames the interview in a way that lends too much credence to the notions of “Genetic Sexual Attraction” and “consensual incest,” terms that have little grounding in reality. The interview makes for an engrossing read, it's true, but it goes too far toward normalizing the behavior discussed within it.
For one, Tsoulis-Reay presents Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA)—the idea that relatives who have been estranged may experience a strong biological attraction upon being reunited—as a well-established scientific fact. As proof, Tsoulis-Reay refers to a Guardian article, saying that “experts estimate that these taboo feelings occur in about 50 percent of cases where estranged relatives are reunited as adults.” That's quite a staggering claim to be paired with such a vague citation and, unfortunately, the 50 percent statistic is currently being circulated in the media thanks to this brief mention. If we click through to the Guardian article, however, the foundation of the 50 percent statistic becomes even more questionable.
The sole academic champion of the concept of GSA referenced in the Guardian article is a British psychiatrist named Dr. Maurice Greenberg who published a 1995 paper on post-adoption incest in the British Journal of Medical Psychology . To this day, Greenberg's work remains one of the only scholarly references on GSA and, as a result, the GSA Wikipedia page has long been locked in debate over whether or not to delete the topic altogether given the lack of scientific evidence. If we consult Greenberg's original article , too, we can find that the 50 percent statistic that Tsoulis-Reay repeats as the opinion of multiple “experts” originally appears in a footnote with no empirical grounding:
“Some post-adoption counsellors [sic] reported to us that it was fairly uncommon, others that it was virtually universal when clients were asked sensitively. We would estimate from their reports that over 50 per cent of current clients seen in London have experienced strong sexual feelings in reunions.”
The Guardian article also makes reference to an estimate from the London-based Post-Adoption Centre (PAC-UK) that “up to half of reunions are accompanied by anything from temporary attraction to obsessive sexual obsession—and, very occasionally, even to the birth of a child.” There's quite a bit of leeway between “up to half” and “about 50 percent” but what's more concerning still is the fact is the fact that Dr. Greenberg was a former advisor to PAC-UK. The origin of the 50 percent statistic seems to be, well, a little incestuous in the more general sense of that term. In other words, it does not seem to be the case that multiple experts from different regions have independently verified a 50 percent rate of GSA, but rather that a localized and more or less anecdotal sense of its frequency has informally emerged.
It is clear by now that many estranged biological relatives do end up in sexual relationships after reconnecting—at least enough for the occasional exposé to appear online—and that the topic is worthy of clinical research. But GSA may not be the best rubric to use for further study. Even the term itself—Genetic Sexual Attraction—deserves further scrutiny as it was defined by a non-academic author named Barbara Gonyo who was sexually attracted to her own adult son, whom she had originally given up for adoption. There is, in fact, no proof that the basis of this sexual attraction is genetic. In this light, uncritically using the term GSA and floating the unverified 50 percent claim as fact is both factually incorrect and socially irresponsible, especially because adult incest advocates regularly parrot the 50 percent claim in order to legitimize incestuous relationships.
One of these adult incest advocates is a man named Keith Pullman, whom Tsoulis-Reay positions in the introduction to her interview as a man who “runs a marriage equality blog”—a generous description of someone whose blog focuses almost exclusively on protecting so-called “consensual incest” from criminalization. On his blog, Pullman regularly questions news reports of a relative allegedly raping another relative—even when one party is under 18—in order to raise the possibility that there could have been a consensual relationship involved. In one post, Pullman reacts with uncertainty to a New Zealand case in which a man was convicted on incest charges and one charge of rape that occurred later in their sexual relationship:
“Okay, if a jury in a court of law said it was consensual and convicted him of incest rather than assault/rape, why does the news article call it rape? Is this a bias against Genetic Sexual Attraction? As it turns out, if I'm reading it right, it looks like they believe it was an ongoing, consensual relationship that involved one incident of rape.”
Just one, he suggests, as if it mitigates the seriousness of the charge. In another post about a 32-year-old California woman who was charged with incest after allegedly performing oral sex on her 16-year-old biological son, Pullman also equivocates:
“There are 16-year-old boys who dream of this sort of thing, but that shouldn't matter. … I don't generally argue for changes to age of consent laws because the line has to be drawn somewhere. However, I don't think they should always be applied. Just as I do with cheating and GSA, I give special consideration here. … Ten years down the line, they could be a happy a couple, for all we know now.”
Pullman tries to boost his marriage equality credentials by also promoting the legalization of same-sex marriage but a more apt description of affairs would be that he wants to hitch incest to the same-sex marriage wagon. In his post “Gay Marriage and Incest in the US,” he tries to link same-sex marriage with incestuous marriage by saying that both take place “between consenting adults,” they “don't hurt anybody,” they are both “subject to discrimination,” and that there is “no rational reason” for their prohibition.
“Gays and lesbians do not choose their orientation and people do not choose the parents to whom they are born,” he adds, in a staggering leap of logic.
Referring to Pullman as a “marriage equality” blogger is ceding too much ground to a man who co-opts the language of the marriage equality movement in order to protect what he terms “consensual incest.” But rather than challenge Pullman's terms, NY Mag deploys them uncritically. Tsoulis-Reay writes, “Consensual incest between fathers and their daughters remains the least reported and perhaps the most taboo sort of GSA relationship.” Here, Tsoulis-Reay unblinkingly repeats Pullman's vocabulary instead of introducing the interview by casting suspicion on the idea that incest can ever be consensual.
As psychotherapist Robi Ludwig told CBS at the time of the Mackenzie Phillips story, “By calling incest ‘consensual incest,' [Phillips is] still protecting the person who abused her. … But you can't say it's consensual, because there's always a power imbalance when it comes to a parent and child.”
Placing the words “consensual incest” together in anything other than the scariest of scare quotes—as Tsoulis-Reay does—may be an oversight but it's also an ethical failure. Introducing this interview especially with that phrase threatens to normalize a situation that can be read as inherently abusive. There is a strong possibility given the age gap between the couple at the start of the relationship—she was 17, he was in his mid-30s—that he took advantage of her youth and emotional immaturity in order to cultivate a sexual relationship, a process akin to what survivors of child sexual abuse refer to as “grooming.”
Consider that the young woman's only early memories of her father are of him giving her gifts: “He spoiled me rotten. I had this giant storage tote of Barbie dolls and I had my own Mary-Kate and Ashley bedroom. It was a little girl's dream.”
Consider, too, that she is self-aware about the “abandonment issues” she has surrounding his childhood absence, that she “didn't really have a social life” as a teenager, and that he tries to re-initiate contact when she is “about 15.” Once they connect, he bonds with her over their favorite TV shows, cuddles with her overnight, and takes her shopping for shorts the next day. Of the young woman's own admission, she was isolated, depressed, and bullied in school but started to feel “more confident” and “much more attractive” after forming a sexual relationship with her father. The full context of the relationship cannot be fully ascertained from the interview but the details we do have could certainly be used to support an interpretation in which a man in his 30s earns the trust of his 17-year-old daughter only to abuse that trust—and her vulnerability—for sexual reasons.
By printing this interview, of course, New York Magazine is by no means endorsing the nature of this relationship. But by uncritically adopting the language of adult incest supporters in publishing it, New York Magazine has perpetuated misleading information about adult incest that could confuse our understanding of abusive situations. Genetic Sexual Attraction is not a scientific concept. Supporters of incest are not part of the marriage equality movement. And, once again, there is no such thing as consensual incest.
What 'sex trafficking' really means
The rise of the term has driven a sea change in policy, police work and politics. Some activists say the ideas it drives are often inaccurate — such as the common myth of trafficking during the Super Bowl — but they're just fine with that.
by Richard Ruelas
Carolyn Jones stepped up to the microphone to a round of applause to once again tell the story of selling her body on the streets of Phoenix.
Behind her sat an array of top law-enforcement officials: the state attorney general, the county attorney, the head of the state's homeland security division, an FBI agent. Over her head, a billboard flashed messages to commuters on Seventh Street about human trafficking — the issue and attention-getting device this January news conference was called to address.
From the temporary stage, Jones could see the downtown Phoenix skyline. She was in a parking lot just south of Chase Field, the city's major league baseball park. A memory struck her. About a mile north, just across the overpass above a series of railroad tracks, Jones had hit rock bottom.
She told this to the crowd. She was at the bus stop on Van Buren and Seventh Streets. It was 2003 or 2004. She was homeless and broke. Alcohol could no longer get her drunk. Drugs could no longer get her high. Customers were scarce. She screamed out in pain, asking God to rescue her.
"I was a human being who was thrown away," she said. "I'm hungry, I'm broken, I'm dirty, I'm nasty, I'm damaged goods. I feel like life is over. There's no reason to keep going on.
"Today, I stand here and say that I crossed that bridge."
When she finished her remarks, Jones received hugs from the law-enforcement officials on stage and Cindy McCain, the wife of U.S. Sen. John McCain, who has made halting sex trafficking her signature issue, particularly in Arizona during the past year.
Jones' story is not just one of a former prostitute turned survivor and advocate. It is also the story of an issue itself, and how changing messages on that issue have altered the way police, politicians and the public think about the ideas that today fall under the large umbrella labeled "sex trafficking."
A dozen years ago, working along Van Buren Street, Jones was a prostitute. Police were apt to arrest her. No politicians stopped to help her.
On this day, she was a survivor of domestic sex trafficking. She was worthy of praise, applause and embraces.
The shift to a trafficking-based vocabulary reflects a changing mindset about the issue. Prostitution was a nuisance and a misdemeanor, not much of a societal scourge. Child prostitution was rarely discussed.
But the fight against what activists often present as domestic minor sex trafficking has reached the highest offices in Arizona.
In 2014, both the governor and the attorney general pushed for long-stalled legislation meant to stem the problem. High-profile sports figures have filmed public service announcements aimed at persuading men not to solicit teenage girls. Police departments, even in places without a perceived prostitution problem, have set up stings aimed at curbing what is seen as a growing demand for underage girls.
And in meetings at churches and colleges, the public is hearing about what advocates call a hidden issue. Citizens hear statistics and stories from survivors of trafficking and vow to do what they can to end the scourge.
Such efforts have increased as the Phoenix area prepares to host the Super Bowl, which for years has been dogged by claims that it brings along with it a rise in underage girls for sale in any host city — an idea that even anti-trafficking activists now say isn't grounded in fact.
But tackling the problem started with redefining it. And that started with the terminology.
"It just has been a grammar change," said Dominique Roe-Sepowitz, a professor at Arizona State University who runs a center that studies the trafficking issue.
Roe-Sepowitz has spent her career working with abused women. She has studied prostitutes in state prison, figuring out what led them to "the life," as it is known on the street.
But, she said, society wasn't interested in those answers. People just didn't want prostitution near their homes or businesses and asked police to control the problem, she said.
"None of us said, 'Gosh, I wonder why that young woman is out there?' " Roe-Sepowitz said. "No one identified that this is a human being with children, or a drug addiction, or trauma history, or mental-health challenges. We didn't go into that depth."
But the shift to seeing the women as victims has brought more support from politicians, police, charitable foundations and private donors. "It really is about who becomes involved and how much investment we have from the community," she said.
Much of that involvement came from Peggy Bilsten, who was on the Phoenix City Council. The former kindergarten teacher had long been concerned about social issues involving women. She helped lead the city's efforts to tackle domestic violence.
Getting involved in that issue, she said, led her to examine the lives of prostitutes on the streets of the city. She said she was hearing from a vice detective who was finding teenagers on the streets. But she was not finding much political will to address the problem.
Then, in 2005, came a story that horrified Bilsten and the rest of the city, one that set her on a path toward changing everything.
The story started with a 15-year-old girl. According to court documents, she was angry with her parents for grounding her. She wanted to sneak out of the house for the night and stay with a friend.
The female friend drove up to get the 15-year-old, along with two other men, records say.
But once she was in the car, the girl's hands were bound with duct tape. Her eyes and mouth were taped shut. One of the men threatened to shoot her if she screamed. Later threats would involve hurting her family.
Forty-three days later, police would find the 15-year-old hidden in the hollowed-out frame of a box spring. Her captor had sold her as an adult prostitute through an online classified ad. She would have sex with as many as five men each day. At times in the first days of her abduction, she would be kept in a dog crate for hours at a time. The kennel was big enough for her to fit in only if her knees were held to her chest. Even then, records say, her legs would be pressed against the top of the cage.
The man who abducted the girl, Matthew Gray, was convicted of kidnapping, aggravated assault and sexual assault. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Bilsten was there when the girl was rescued from the second-story apartment off Interstate 17. She used the case to rally support for stricter laws — first at the city, where she pushed an ordinance that required customers caught soliciting prostitutes to have their vehicles impounded for 30 days, and then at the state Legislature, where she pushed for tougher sentences for those convicted of soliciting underage prostitutes.
Both ideas faced initial resistance, particularly from state lawmakers. So Bilsten began waging a one-woman public awareness campaign, visiting churches to discuss sex trafficking.
At these talks, she would bring along a prop: a dog crate.
She would then project on a screen the phone numbers of council members and state representatives who needed to be convinced this was a problem. Bit by bit, she said, opposition fell away. One lawmaker, she said, called her and asked what he could do to make the phone calls stop. Sponsor a bill, she told him.
Bilsten kept up the pace of her talks, sometimes hitting multiple churches in a week, motivated by thoughts of the girl rescued from the apartment. "I kept thinking of that young girl in the dog crate," she said. "It almost possessed me."
A city ordinance and a state law both passed in 2007. In 2010, Bilsten pushed for a tougher state law, closing what she saw was a loophole that provided an easy defense for those accused of soliciting a child. It finally passed in 2014, aided by pushes from Cindy McCain and Gov. Jan Brewer.
"It wasn't going to happen, the politics of it would not happen, without the outcry from the citizens," Bilsten said.
Bilsten's outreach to the faith community led to the establishment of the first residential shelter specifically designed to house victims of sex trafficking, StreetLightUSA, which began as the project of Christ's Church of the Valley. A second residential program for trafficking victims, Phoenix Dream Center, is also rooted in Christian faith.
Bilsten said most people saw the "dog crate" story as a kidnapping and series of rapes. She was able to get people, particularly in the faith-based community, to see what was happening with prostitutes on the street as the same thing.
Much of the growth of the anti-trafficking movement stems from the same shift in perception.
The official definition of a trafficking victim was codified in federal law under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.
It said a trafficked person was someone who did a commercial sex act or labor under terms of "force, fraud or coercion." It also said that a person younger than 18 working in the commercial sex industry was automatically certified as a trafficking victim.
That certification gives the victim access to federal funds and programs. Immigrant trafficking victims are given temporary legal status.
The law was intended to target international victims of trafficking brought into the United States under false pretenses or force. "Traffickers primarily target women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, the lack of access to education, chronic unemployment, discrimination, and the lack of economic opportunities in countries of origin," the 2000 language of the law reads.
In 2013, a re-authorization of the act included funding for domestic victims of sex trafficking. It said those would include minors and people younger than 20 who were initially trafficked as minors. It would not include an adult prostitute, 20 or older, who became trafficked as a minor.
But Roe-Sepowitz, said she would hope to expand that definition. Women should be seen as trafficking victims even if they are not actively controlled by a pimp, she said.
"We have to re-program our brain to say she was a victim of trafficking," Roe-Sepowitz said.
Roe-Sepowitz said her belief, widely shared by other activists, is that most women enter the trade at a young age, and that adult prostitutes could still be considered victims of that initial abuse.
"I believe every adult (prostitute), I believe almost every single one of them was trafficked," Roe-Sepowitz said. "Someone coached them into that life."
A victim should also be considered trafficked even if she is no longer actively controlled by someone, she said.
Instead, she said, women can be being forced into prostitution by their life situation. She referred to it as "trafficked by circumstances."
She acknowledged that the public perception of the problem is different from reality.
She said she once joked to a roomful of social scientists that people need to stop referencing the movie "Taken." In it, actor Liam Neeson plays a father who rescues his kidnapped daughter minutes before she is drugged and taken to the bed of a rich sheik.
If such cases happen, she said, they would be exceedingly rare. But, just like the myth of increased sex trafficking around the Super Bowl, Roe-Sepowitz said even distorted focus on the issue is worthy. "Most of us say, any attention is good attention," she said.
Studies have been critical of the federal law, saying that few sex trafficking victims have been helped. There are heavily-footnoted academic debates as to why: The law is too narrow, the requirements that trafficking victims aid prosecution are too strict. Some say the simple reality is that few true victims exist.
Whatever the proof of the problem, and whatever age the ultimate victims, the idea of stopping sex trafficking — especially of children — has been an undeniably powerful political message.
Before Jones spoke at the Phoenix news conference, she was preceded by stern-sounding remarks from law-enforcement and political leaders on hand.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich: "We cannot tolerate this in our community. ... The time for talk is over and now is the time to be tough. And for those that mean to do our children harm, here is our message: We will find you and we will prosecute you. We will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton: "We know these large sporting events bring hundreds of thousands of people to our community. Unfortunately, they bring some people who want to do harm in our community. ... (The) people on this stage, the people in this community, we are not going anywhere until we end sex trafficking and human trafficking in the state of Arizona."
Cindy McCain: "These bad guys who are selling children do not belong here. ... We're not going to let you sell any more children."
With just more than three weeks to go before the Super Bowl, the billboard company Clear Channel announced it would donate 60 billboards around the Phoenix area to scroll anti-trafficking messages. The donation would be worth about $200,000 in advertising value.
The messages on the billboard were created by the Polaris Project, the Washington, D.C.-based organization that runs the federally funded national trafficking hotline. The group's CEO, Bradley Myles, was in Phoenix for the news conference and billboard unveiling.
But while he was glad for the attention to the issue, Myles said the notion of the Super Bowl bringing a rise in sex trafficking is overblown. Myles, in an interview after the press conference, said there was no evidence that attendees of the Super Bowl look to purchase sex with underage girls.
"I don't think you'll see sex buyers specifically request a minor," Myles said.
Indeed, he said, the issue of sex trafficking gets a disproportionate amount of media attention compared with the other major trafficking issue: labor.
And even in sex trafficking, he said, attention gets focused on prostitution sold on the streets or through the Internet.
There are other worlds of sexual slavery, he said: rings of Asian women brought into massage parlors, residential brothels populated by Mexican immigrants, sex rings controlled by gangs. "There's all these different venues of prostitution," he said.
Because of the recent focus on child sex trafficking, l ocal law enforcement often goes after traditional prostitution in an effort to find cases that fit the trafficking model, he said.
"They only go out and look for the street-prostitution case and try to find a woman who has a violent pimp or a woman who has been in the life since she was a child," Myles said. "What they're doing is only looking at a sliver of it."
And, Myles said, going after street prostitution doesn't necessarily get an investigation closer to a trafficking ring.
Myles understood why police don't typically go after the other types of sex trafficking cases. "It's kind of harder to find," he said.
As Myles spoke, the billboard behind him flashed anti-trafficking messages with the hotline number. Myles pointed out that the Polaris Project split the messages equally between preventing both labor and human trafficking.
In one billboard, a sullen woman talks about needing to leave "the life." In another, a mustachioed man talks about being forced to work.
Still, at the news conference, no one mentioned labor, which Myles said is the larger problem globally.
"Sex trafficking just dwarfs media coverage of labor trafficking," he said, "and law-enforcement attention on sex trafficking dwarfs law-enforcement attention on labor trafficking."
Some of the activism has focused on prostitutes, who often don't see themselves as victims, but can't be helped under anti-trafficking laws unless they can testify that they were trafficked.
Jones, during a recent walk along Van Buren, the street where she worked as a prostitute, said that when she reflects on that time, she sees that she and other women were, indeed, imprisoned. "We had our dog crates, too," she said. "You're in a cage in your mind. You're kind of locked up inside your self."
Roe-Sepowitz said that even those who have been involved in aiding street prostitutes for many years see that they have been affected by the contemporary focus on the terminology of "trafficking victims."
She recalled a research paper as recently as 2004 that used the term "underage prostitute."
"Now we call it commercial exploitation of children," she said.
When a reporter used the term in an interview, she stopped short.
"You're going to get killed if you call them underage prostitutes," she said. "I just want to warn you now. You'll be hatcheted to death by some of the people in our community.
"So: domestic minor sex trafficking victim. Go along with me."
Jackson County Prosecutors Office releases statement on disturbing trend of child abuse and death
by Fox4 Newsroom
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Jackson County Prosecutors Office released a statement Saturday, along with a list of recent cases, regarding the disturbing trend of child abuse and death which have occurred in the metro area of late.
“We have recently seen in our Metro area an alarming and disturbing trend of our children falling prey to horrendous acts of violence,” Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said in a prepared statement released Saturday.
“These children are an integral part of our community and they are defenseless, innocent and easily injured,” Baker continued. “Our children have been shot, beaten, burned and abused. Our metro area should not be a dangerous or perilous place for children to reside.“
“It is our community's duty to protect them, to look after them. We must secure our weapons, never strike them when angry, get immediate medical care when they are injured, and report, report, report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect. When kids are abused, neglected, in danger, shot, beaten, burned or abused, we should not walk to the police station to help; we should run for help.“
“Failing to protect these children is society's greatest failing. We must do better.“
What follows is just a partial list of the many recent cases in which child have become victims of violence or neglect:
Friday, January 16: a 2-year old child is shot inside his south KC home
Sunday, January 11: 7-year old seriously injured after being struck by gunfire on I-70
Sunday, January 11: 14-year-old Alexis Kane, was found dead outside a South KC Water Park.
Friday, January 9: 2-year-old Lorenzo Estrada was beaten and died of his injuries on January 10.
Thursday, January 8: 7-month-old, J.S., was discovered with burns from injuries occurring earlier in December.
Wednesday, January 7: 3-year-old T.D. shot inside her KCMO home at 38th and Chestnut.
Sunday, January 4: 7-month-old Jaquail Mansaw killed inside a KCK home.
Friday, December 26: 4-year-old boy was struck by gunfire as his home on Hardesty was fired upon.
Friday, December 12: 2-year-old K.G.K., from Independence, sustained burns.
Sunday, October 26: 10-year-old Machole Stewart killed inside a KCK home.
Friday, October 17: 6-year-old Angel Hooper killed outside a South KC gas station.
In addition, we remember 10-year-old Kavyea Curry who was paralyzed from a shooting that also killed his father on Friday, April 19, 2014.
A 5-year-old was also in the car. And we remember Damiah White, just 3, who was found murdered in her home during on Friday, August 23, 2013. Her and her mother's murder remains unsolved. We await your call. There is no statute of limitations on murder.
Full disclosure: Child abuse should not be kept under wraps
by James Eli Shiffer
More transparency. Less secrecy. Those are rallying cries of a task force examining how Minnesota could better safeguard the lives of its most vulnerable children.
That task force was launched after the Star Tribune's reporting last year on Minnesota's deeply flawed child protection system. That reporting would have been difficult if not impossible without juvenile court records, which investigative reporter Brandon Stahl relied on to tell the stories of children failed by the system.
Yet while that task force was meeting at the Capitol last fall, a different committee was drawing up plans to seal off many child protection records from public scrutiny. The reasoning: Protecting the privacy of abused and neglected children.
This spring, the Minnesota Supreme Court will adopt new rules of public access to electronic records, recognizing that it's time to join the mass migration of public records online. Access to child protection records could be collateral damage in the worthy goal of making court files in state courts available on the Web.
If the court follows the committee's recommendations, it would reverse more than a decade of openness in juvenile court that has served its purpose well.
To understand why restricting this information is such a troubling idea, it's helpful to know why these very sensitive records were made available in the first place.
After years of conducting child protection hearings behind closed doors, the court system began to experiment in 1998 with opening select courtrooms to anyone who was interested. It became statewide policy in July 2002.The result: The public could read the petitions when county social workers asked judges to take action to protect abused and neglected children. They could also read the reports prepared by these social workers and guardians ad litem, the advocates appointed to represent the children's interests.
“At the time, this was hailed throughout the country as a major reform,” said Mark Anfinson, a media lawyer who served on the court record public access committee. “It was largely predicated on the notion that problems which are kept invisible to the public are unlikely to receive a lot of public support and attention.”
These records make for difficult reading. They expose personal and painful details of the abuse and neglect of children, whose plight became a legal matter through no fault of their own.
Yet over the past decade, access to these hearings and records has not led to widespread invasion of privacy. In fact, it accomplished exactly what was intended: Provide a window into how Minnesota protects children, one of government's most important roles.
But a group of judges, government lawyers, court staff, family law attorneys and others who met last fall concluded that the openness experiment had gone too far. Under its recommendations, child-in-need-of-protective-services petitions would be remain unavailable on the Internet. More significantly, the social worker reports and guardian ad litem reports would become confidential.
The latter recommendation came on a 7-6 vote, according to a summary of the committee meetings. Members of the committee said in interviews that it was a tough call.
“I do think there's a real tension between the need for transparency in this system and protecting vulnerable kids,” said committee member Jessica Maher, a Minneapolis family law attorney. Said Joanna Woolman, a professor and director of the child protection program at the William Mitchell College of Law. “I am a transparency person. … You have to weigh that against having something remotely accessible. That's a kid that hasn't decided they want to put it out there publicly.”
According to its report, the committee acknowledged that some of these records remain mostly unexamined by outsiders, except for the Star Tribune's multiple requests last year. Still, the committee wrote that the reports are submitted mainly for internal use by the court and the task of editing out nonpublic info “renders public access impractical and inefficient.”
In a statement Friday, Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who's co-chair of the child protection task force, said her agency did not play a part in the committee's recommendation. “The recommendation to limit access to court records is not consistent with our efforts at DHS to increase transparency in the child protection system,” Jesson said.
If the high court approves the rules as recommended, the secrecy may protect children's privacy. But it won't protect their lives.
In filing charges, prosecutor draws attention to an alarming trend of child abuse
by Robert A. Cronkleton
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Saturday that the Kansas City area is seeing an alarming and disturbing trend of children falling prey to violent acts.
“These children are an integral part of our community and they are defenseless, innocent and easily injured,” Baker said in a prepared statement.
The comments came as she filed charges in two separate abuse cases involving child victims.
Baker announced she has amended the charges against Mirsad Hamidovic, 23, of Kansas City.
Hamidovic now faces the charge of second-degree murder and abuse or neglect of a child in the death of 2-year-old Lorenzo Estrada of Kansas City.
The toddler died Jan. 10 after being rushed to the hospital the morning before with head, brain and internal injuries.
Lorenzo was in Hamidovic's care overnight at an apartment in the 1700 block of Washington Street while the boy's mother was at work.
Lorenzo's funeral was held Saturday.
In the second case, Baker has charged Ernestine Swinton, 26, of Kansas City, with abuse or neglect of a child or in the alternative first-degree endangering the welfare of a child, both felonies. She also faces second-degree domestic assault.
Swinton allegedly failed to seek medical care for her 7-month-old son after his lower body was burned.
Swinton told police that she gave her son a bath on Christmas Eve in an apartment in the 1300 block of East 89th Street, according to court documents. The boy screamed after being placed in the water.
Swinton told police that she noticed the boy's skin peel off when she pulled him from the water and that she feared losing custody, so she treated the injury at home.
The baby didn't receive medical care until a concerned baby sitter called police on Jan. 8.
The boy will require long-term physical therapy to fully extend his legs and learn to walk, prosecutors said.
Baker said the community must do more to protect children from becoming victims of violence or neglect.
“It is our community's duty to protect them, to look after them,” Baker said. “We must secure our weapons, never strike them (children) when angry, get immediately medical care when they are injured and report, report, report any suspicion of child abuse or neglect.”
People should run to the police station for help when kids are injured, abused or in danger, she said.
“Our children have been shot, beaten, burned and abused. Our metro area should not be a dangerous or perilous place for children to reside.”
Child abuse victims have greatest need for support services in adult life
If neglect and poor learning were spotted earlier, the job of agencies would be easier – and cost less
by Hannah Fearn
Tens of thousands of people living in crisis, and heavily dependent on public services, have suffered abuse or neglect in childhood.
A major study of people in the criminal justice system found a huge overlap in the use of the services that support them. Researchers at Heriot-Watt University found that quarter of a million people in England had come into contact with two of three services dealing with drug addiction, homelessness and offending, while 58,000 were using all three.
Those working with multiple services were most likely to be white men aged between 25 and 44 – the majority of whom have been abused, starved, brought up by drug-addicted parents or forced out of education as children.
The researchers found that one third had parents who were violent, and another third had grown up in households with drug or alcohol problems. Two-fifths had run away while young, a quarter had experienced abuse and 17 per cent reported being starved as a child. Almost half were suspended from school.
“Most people facing severe and multiple disadvantage have long-term histories of economic, social marginalisation and childhood trauma,” the researchers found. “It appears to be in the realms of very difficult family relationships and very poor educational experience that we can find the most important early roots of severe and multiple disadvantage, with 85 per cent of people experiencing adverse traumatic experiences in childhood.”
The largest proportion of adults using multiple services were found in areas with existing high levels of deprivation. Blackpool, Middlesbrough and Liverpool top the list.
Julian Corner, chief executive of the charity Lankelly Chase Foundation which commissioned the research, said: “These aren't just people who have these needs separate from society, they correlate with poverty. So when councils are thinking about their wider response to poverty – and inequality – we ask that they think about people with this profile.”
Understanding why people access more than one service could help public services save money, according to Mr Corner. “We still have a homeless system, a criminal justice system and a drug treatment system all pursuing different strategies. If they can use this research to understand the overlaps... and start with the person and their needs and reform their services, then you end up with a more efficient system – and you also get some cost savings.”
He said it also made a case for investing in early intervention services to prevent young people developing chaotic lifestyles – especially as two-thirds of those with multiple needs had some contact with children.
The figures reveal one third of homeless people show up in all three systems. Jacqui McCluskey, director of policy and communications at the charity Homeless Link, said: “We know that, in many cases, the problems which combine and lead individuals to become homeless begin in early life. This needs greater recognition and there needs to be earlier intervention and support to tackle these issues before they become more complex, intractable and entrenched in later life.”
S. Korean gov't to toughen punishment of child abuse at daycare centers
SEOUL, Jan. 16 (Yonhap) — The South Korean health ministry and ruling party on Friday unveiled plans to toughen punishment of child abuse at nursery schools in response to a recent assault on a 4-year-old that sent shockwaves throughout the country.
The new “one-strike” guidelines would close any daycare center involved in even a single instance of child abuse, and permanently ban the perpetrator and facility's director from the sector, according to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the ruling Saenuri Party.
The current regulations allow for an institution to be shut down after three cases of abuse. Only a child's death or the conviction of a teacher for abuse can bring about the immediate closure of an institution.
The plan would also require all nursery schools to install closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and disclose footage on parents' request. According to data, only 9,081, or 21 percent, of daycare centers across the country currently have CCTVs.
“Currently, we tend to depend on judicial decisions for the shutdown of abusive childcare centers due to legal flaws,” said the health ministry. “We will revise the laws to empower the authorities to close such institutions and suspend the teachers.”
The government's move came days after the disclosure of CCTV footage of a 33-year old female teacher striking a 4-year-old girl at a daycare center in Incheon, west of Seoul.
The case caused widespread public outrage.
The police are planning to seek a warrant for the teacher on Friday on charges of child abuse.
Mother charged with murder in newborn's fiery death
by Claudia Vargas
Dave Joseph was sleeping Friday night when he was awakened by his mother-in-law. She told him a car was on fire outside their home in Pemberton.
Joseph looked into the darkness, he said, and saw what he thought was a brushfire in front of a parked car.
Then he saw a young woman.
Joseph approached and the woman said she was burning a pile of dog feces. When he ordered her to stop and leave, she poured water from a plastic bottle on the pile.
That's when Joseph's wife, standing behind him, heard a baby cry. And Joseph discovered one of the most disturbing sights he has ever seen:
An infant on fire.
"It's one of those things you never want to see," he said.
The baby was airlifted to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children in Philadelphia but died hours later.
On Saturday, Burlington County authorities charged the baby's mother, Hyphernkemberly Dorvilier, with murdering her newborn daughter. They said the infant, with her umbilical cord still attached, had been doused with an accelerant before she was set on fire.
Dorvilier, 22, of Pemberton Township, was jailed with bail set at $500,000.
The wailing ambulances and fire trucks racing down Simontown Road late Friday woke many neighbors, who are used to a safe and quiet neighborhood. On Saturday, they were in shock.
"There are just no words," said Pam Gregory, who lives on the street.
She said the area was tight-knit, with many lifelong and related residents.
But none of them knew of Dorvilier.
Neither did some of Dorvilier's own neighbors about two miles away.
Residents there and a law enforcement source said the woman lived with her parents and a younger sibling in a split-level house on the 200 block of Rutgers Street.
There was no answer at the door Saturday.
"It's a shock," neighbor Selena Middleton said. "You just can't imagine."
She said most people in the neighborhood, which has a more suburban feel than the rural patch where the baby was found, just "come and go."
She didn't recognize Dorvilier's picture but said she knew there was a mother and two sisters who lived in the house who did not interact with many other neighbors.
"It's too close to home," said Antwan Elmora, another neighbor who said he didn't know Dorvilier. "From someone who has kids, I can't understand who would do that."
Neither could Joseph, who said he tackled Dorvilier Friday night to make sure she didn't flee while his wife and sister called 911.
On Saturday afternoon, all that remained of the crime scene was a black stain about the length of a ruler. As he stood nearby, Joseph recounted the night but was reluctant to say too much about the woman, except: "She knew what she was doing."
Burlington County Medical Examiner Ian Hood was to conduct an autopsy.
Maryland woman committed after 'exorcism' murder guilty plea
by John Clarke
A Maryland woman will be committed to a psychiatric hospital after pleading guilty on Friday to charges of killing two children during what she said was an exorcism, according to a prosecution official.
Monifa Sanford pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder under a plea agreement, according to the state's attorney's office in Montgomery County.
As part of the deal, the defense and prosecution agreed that Sanford was not criminally responsible.
Judge Cheryl McCally of the county's Sixth Circuit Court ordered that Sanford be committed indefinitely to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital, according to Ramon Korionoff, a prosecution spokesman.
Sanford was one of two women charged in the attack last January.
Zakieya Avery, 28, the mother of the two children killed, told investigators that she and Sanford believed that evil spirits had possessed the children and that an exorcism was needed to drive the demons out.
Norell Harris, 1, and Zyana Harris, 2, were repeatedly stabbed at their home, a townhouse in Germantown, about 30 miles northwest of Washington, where Sanford also lived.
The children's siblings, aged 5 and 8, were injured but survived.
Avery has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. A hearing in her case is scheduled for early spring.
Prison inmates deserve equal protection against rape
by Trishna Buch
When one hears the term “prison inmate,” some people immediately think of murderers, child molesters and bank robbers. What many people fail or refuse to realize is that these inmates are human. Whether they are serving time for a minor infraction such as shop-lifting, or a major infraction such as murder — they are human.
The question that arises is whether or not these inmates deserve the same right as other individuals when it comes to certain acts, such as rape.
According to the Houston Chronicle, the problem of prison rape has been ignored for a long time. Federal statistics show that around 216,000 inmates — both adult and juvenile — are sexually assaulted each year.
The majority of these rapes are committed by prison staffers, who are mostly women, according to the U.S Department of Justice. The most vulnerable inmates include the mentally ill, juveniles and LGBT people.
Although a law was passed by Congress in 2003 to end the problem of sexual assault behind bars, it had been a topic of discussion for many years prior. Attitudes towards this act began to change in the '90s.
Staff-on-inmate sexual assault was determined a criminal offense by over half the states. In 1994, it was ruled by the Supreme Court that reasonable measures had not been taken by federal officials to protect a transgender woman in Terre Haute, Ind. who was repeatedly raped when sent to live with the male inmate population.
The 2003 law's requirements include “increased training of staff about sex abuse policies” and “screening new inmates to determine if they're likely to commit sexual assault or be assaulted.” Failure to abide by this law would result in the loss of 5 percent of federal funds received for prison operations.
For individuals like Jan Lastocy, who served time for embezzlement and was raped during her time in prison, the law came as a blessing.
“I felt vindicated because I had been fighting so hard, and for so long, to bring attention to this issue and get justice for myself and for all survivors,” Lastocy said.
Communications senior Marilyn Faz said she strongly believes that all individuals — including prison inmates — deserve equal rights.
“I guess what it comes down to is just that rape is a serious issue; it's an absolutely heinous crime that no one should have to endure,” Faz said. “It doesn't matter if someone is a prison inmate or not, there should never be any sort of tacit acceptance of rape. You can't pick and choose types of rape to fight or what sort of victims/survivors to help.”
The problem that now arises is the proposal that Senator John Cornyn of Texas wants to introduce into the new GOP-controlled Congress a proposal that will reduce the financial penalties of failing to abide by this law.
There are a number of organizations — such as the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network — who lauded Cornyn for his proposal, primarily because they believe that prison officials will continue to work to protect inmates against rape, even without the financial penalties.
“There's no desire to do anything less than help victims,” said RAINN's vice president of public policy Rebecca O'Connor.
It's important to realize that prison inmates deserve the same rights as people who are not in prison. They should be given equal rights, regardless of their position as an inmate.
Before this proposal is passed, it must be made completely certain the inmates would still be protected from sexual assault despite the reduction of the financial penalties. If there is an inkling of doubt, then proper measures must be taken to tweak the proposal in order to meet the best interests of all victims.
And, as always, the funds being provided towards programs that help survivors of rape and domestic violence should not be tampered with in any way, shape or form. This is a matter of utmost importance to many individuals, including business management junior Justin Novosad.
“I support the funding of the grants,” Novosad said. “I think that even though the people end up in prison, they do not deserve to go through something like rape.”
This proposal still needs a lot of discussion before it is passed or discarded.
Lapsed child abuse prevention council regrouping in Kingman
by Kim Steele
KINGMAN - For Kelly Tanner, the faces of the abused boys she's worked with over the past two years are vivid reminders of her mission as program director of Harbor House in Kingman.
Tanner has seen those faces at the center, a place where runaway and homeless boys can stay up to 21 days in one of four beds. It provides safe, temporary shelter for those dealing with a variety of issues, especially child abuse. Harbor House works with youth and their caregivers to create an individualized life plan to reunite the boys with their families or with another trusted adult.
Because of her work, Tanner is one of several members of local social service agencies who are attempting to re-introduce a child abuse prevention council in Kingman. A busy council existed here about five years ago, composed of about 25 agency workers, law enforcement personnel and community members. It gradually declined and disbanded over the years.
"This is important because people in the community may not understand the severity of the child abuse problem here in Kingman," said Tanner. "It's hard to talk about, and our society likes to sweep problems under the rug rather than face them head-on. No one likes to hear about a neighbor being abused or being the abuser, but it happens."
Young boys who are victims of trauma, such as physical and emotional abuse or neglect, frequently come to Harbor House's door for help. Many times, their parents have given up on them, said Tanner, and if the council can stop that cycle, it will have done its job in bettering the community and improving the lives of its children.
In Arizona, more than 7,500 children last year had to leave home due to reports of child abuse, according to the Arizona Department of Economic Security Child Welfare Report. About 30 percent of these reports were of physical abuse; the rest were emotional abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.
A total of 92 children in Arizona died from maltreatment and 51 died from homicide last year.
In Mohave County, the number of new physical child abuse cases in 2014 doubled from the year before, according to the Mohave County Victim Witness program. There were 31 new cases of child abuse in the county in 2014, compared with 15 new cases in 2013 and 16 new cases in 2012.
Awareness is key
Noel Hughes, who works for Kingman Aid to Abused People as its shelter supervisor, is spearheading the effort to restart the council.
Currently, there is a child abuse prevention council operating in Lake Havasu City, but Bullhead City does not have one. The Kingman council is funded for $5,000 to $9,000 a year by the Arizona Department of Economic Security and the state's motor vehicle license plate fees for child abuse prevention.
The council's mission is to increase public awareness about child abuse and neglect, provide related resources and support any efforts in the community that have proven to be effective in preventing child maltreatment.
"The need is always there for the prevention of child abuse and neglect," said Hughes. "In Arizona, the problem is huge. It's important to get awareness out and educate families about the resources and assistance available for them. The council will have monthly meetings and try to do something regularly for youth and families in the community."
That includes education for parents and caregivers, such as training on shaken baby syndrome, and updates for educators and agency employees about mandated reporting of child abuse. It also includes presentations and information booths for youth at schools about teen dating violence and good and bad relationships.
Reigniting the coalition also attracted Jeanine Diaz, who is Mohave County supervisor of in-home and Arizona Families F.I.R.S.T. projects for Catholic Charities. Diaz, who attended the January meeting with Tanner and Hughes, said the risk of child abuse is reduced as more agencies join hands to support families in need of critical services.
"I would say there is a need for prevention in the whole nation," said Diaz. "And yet it's one of the areas where the problem is very unspoken. But if parents don't start talking about it, how do they know their instruction manual on raising kids isn't working? They think they're doing so much better than how they were raised, so they must be doing well.
"If we don't put this topic on the table, they won't know what's in the good range and what's too far out to be acceptable. We need to get this conversation normalized so we can deal with it."
Bill Would Change Domestic Violence, Child Abuse Prosecutions
by Madelyn Beck
Friday morning, Montana legislators heard House Bill 37, which would allow past evidence to be part of current cases of domestic violence and child abuse.
Gallatin County Attorney Marty Lambert testified that previous violent offenses could lead to more serious crimes.
“Domestic violence, it's always a tragedy, and it can lead to homicide, it can lead to severe assault.”
Lambert says offenders can avoid prosecution by threatening or cajoling witnesses, leaving prosecutors with little evidence if prohibited from using past convictions.
Niki Zupanic of the American Civil Liberties Union says this might be true, but bringing up old evidence could lead to unfair trials.
“The reason we would want to put such limitations on the prosecution is that we generally don't want people to be put on trial for things that they've been accused of in the past. You can be a bad person and still not be guilty.”
Zupanic also noted there are already exceptions to allow past evidence to be used, including child sexual abuse.
No immediate action was taken on the bill.
Child abuse inquiry panel cancels listening event with survivors
Cancellation of event after complaints meetings held with no support for victims who attend puts pressure on Theresa May
by Sandra Laville
The panel appointed by Theresa May to carry out the child abuse inquiry has cancelled a listening event with survivors on Friday after complaints the meetings were being held with no support in place for victims who attend.
The cancellation of the meeting in Birmingham comes as Theresa May seeks to reconstitute the inquiry to meet the demands of some victims for it to be statutory, and after complaints about the make up of the independent panel.
But the delays over the start of the inquiry's work, the controversy over the choice of chair and statements made in the media by some panel members raising doubt over the inquiry's future have all put huge pressure on vulnerable survivors of child abuse, according to groups who represent them.
Some victims have been hospitalised as a result of self harming over anxieties that the inquiry will not happen and they will lose their chance to disclose abuse that took place in an institution, according to survivor groups.
Lucy Duckworth, who works with the Survivors' Alliance, an umbrella group for some 200 organisations representing adult victims of child abuse, said the last minute cancellation of the panel listening event in Birmingham would only add to the distress of survivors. She said her organisation has complained about the lack of professional support put in place for these meetings. In its statement the inquiry panel said the meeting was being postponed because of the uncertainty over the future shape of the inquiry. The listening events are initial meetings designed to seek views from those attending particularly victims and their representatives, on how they would like the inquiry to engage with them.
Duckworth said: “I think all the listening events should be postponed until a proper structure is put in place and the inquiry secretariat and the panel respond to survivors' concerns. I think it is regrettable that this event in Birmingham was cancelled at such short notice because some survivors were preparing to go and many had taken the day of work to do so. I think the way all this is being handled shows a complete lack of understanding of the triggers of abuse and the lack of awareness of the mental health issues surrounding this.”
In its statement on the inquiry website, the panel said the cancellation was due to the “uncertainty on the future shape of the inquiry.”
The statement said: “We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused – those who were due to attend this event will be given priority places at future meetings.
“We would like to stress that this is only a postponement and we will post a further update next week.
“We know this will be really disappointing news but we want to reassure everyone who has attended, or wishes to attend, one of our listing events that we do value your contributions and want to ensure that we continue communicating with you in taking forward the work of the inquiry.” The panel said that in future there would be proper support put in place for victims who came forward to the listening meetings around the country.
“This is in response to observations made by those that attended previous meetings. We will now have two safeguarding support professionals at each. They will work to ensure that both male and female attendees receive support should they require it on the day.”
May is under huge pressure to save the inquiry, set up to investigate institutional culpability for decades of child abuse, after a series of controversies over the appointment of two chairs – Dame Elizabeth Butler Sloss and Fiona Woolf – who were seen to be too connected to the establishment to run the process, and over the make up of the inquiry panel.
At a meeting in the Commons on Wednesday, hundreds of survivors gathered to demand changes to the inquiry. Phil Frampton, from the survivors' groups said the inquiry was in a mess, and the home secretary should rip up the process and start again.
Pocono Family YMCA offers program to spot signs of child sex abuse
by Amy Leap
Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger. Abuse often involves adults using their power over children as objects for their own gratification.
Parents take their children for regular pediatrician visits, make sure they receive all their immunizations and eat nutritious food — all in order to protect their child. "But if parents are not educated on how to identify the signs of sexual abuse in children or what steps to take to be proactive and prevent it, they are unable to protect their child from abuse," said Susan Scarborough, executive assistant at the Pocono Family YMCA in Stroudsburg.
“Experts estimate one in 10 children becomes a victim of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday and 35 percent of child victims are 11 years old or younger,” she said.
Whether you work with youth, are a parent or are simply a member of the community, chances are there might be someone you know and care for who has experienced or is currently experiencing child sexual abuse.
One of Scarborough's responsibilities is to facilitate sessions for the nationwide non-profit organization Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children training.
“We teach parents that knowledge is power. Once they have the knowledge, they have the power to protect their child as well as other children. Educating the public can help stop it from happening," Scarborough said.
What the Pocono Family YMCA hopes to accomplish by offering the community the Stewards of Children training is to break down the barriers to open discussions on sexual abuse in children, she said.
“We want to make sure parents, and really everyone that has contact with children, learn the facts and how to be proactive in preventing the abuse in children,” Scarborough said.
The goal of the training is to teach skills on how to prevent the abuse before it happens, identify a possible victim and know how to handle the situation when you suspect abuse, said Brad Hildabrant of Saylorsburg, who raised his granddaughter and numerous foster children.
As an employee of the Stroudsburg School District, a karate teacher, Pocono Family YMCA summer camp director as well as an EMT, Hildabrant was required to take several training sessions on sexual abuse. “Of all the programs and training I have received, Stewards of Children is absolutely the most comprehensive training, covering all aspects of sexual abuse in children,” he said.
One of the misconceptions people have is the perpetrator is usually a stranger, which is not the case.
“Sadly, 90 percent of the children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser and 30 percent of those children are abused by a family member,” Scarborough said.
Another incorrect assumption, according to information published by The Nemours Foundation's Center for Children's Health is child sexual abuse happens in only certain sections of society.
“The reality is the abuse spreads across all sectors of society and includes all socio-economic and ethnic groups,” Hildabrant said.
You can't look at someone and know he or she is a sexual predator, and unfortunately, predators are good at spotting children who are lacking in self-confidence, shy or lonely and maybe don't fit in, he said. Holding a position of authority doesn't automatically guarantee the person is someone safe for your child to be around.
“When people live in denial of the world around us, sexual abuse in children thrives,” Hildabrant said.
During training, step one of the five steps Scarborough teaches is today's realities rather than passive trust should guide adults' choices about children's safety from sexual abuse.
Also, Stewards of Children training focuses on where and what type of jobs a sexual predator often has. “Those who sexually abuse children involve themselves in activities where they have easy access to children,” Scarborough said.
Some of the easiest places to have unsupervised contact with children is to coach in a sport league, volunteer in a youth program and clubs held after school, or serve as a spiritual leader in faith centers, according to the Stewards of Children training.
"In the training, I tell parents to ask questions about their child's caregiver or daycare provider," Scarborough said.
Talk to your child's teachers or caregiver, she said. You have the right to request your child is never left one-on-one with an adult.
“Don't be afraid to ask for copies of the required employee clearance from state and federal government as well as any references the teacher of caregiver has on file,” she said.
Child's point of view
Most children do not tell. Abusers can be extremely effective in making children too fearful to talk about what is going on, and because children do not have the words to use to let someone know what is happening to them, it is important parents and caregivers talk with the children.
"Talking to our children about sexual boundaries can be very difficult for some parents, but is one of the best ways to protect them," Scarborough said. "Most kids that grew up in the late '50s and early '60s were not especially encouraged talk about such topics, and you simply didn't share your family's personal business with other people."
Recognize red flags
If something seems to raise a red flag, address the subject with the child on his or her level, Hildabrant said.
It isn't always a grownup as the perpetrator. Sometimes the abuse is a teen babysitter or young person who spends extended periods of time with the child or invites him or her to go places.
Of course, it doesn't mean every babysitter or young person spending time with your child is an abuser, “but the Stewards of Children training teaches parents to be aware of situations that provide a child abuser easy access to a child,” Scarborough said
“In order to prevent child sexual abuse, parents might find themselves in the position of taking actions they have never taken before,” Scarborough said.
Abusers are usually older, bigger or more powerful than their young victims, who become afraid of what will happen if they don't cooperate with the abuser or if they tell someone about their abuser.
Sometimes abusers will threaten or hurt victims in other ways to make them do what they want.
What you can do
Once parents instill in their child that no one — including family members, friends, babysitters or strangers — has the right to inappropriately touch or force an activity the child knows or feels is wrong, the chances the child will be a sexual predator's target lessens, according to the National Center for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C.
The training also focuses on the action to take if sexual abuse is suspected. And, trainees learn to spot potential problems by an adult caregiver, relative or teacher who is crossing a child's boundaries.
“Children cannot protect themselves from predators. They are the victims, and as adults, it is our responsibility to be the ones who protect them,” Hildabrant said.
When someone expresses hesitancy about following through and going to the proper authorities when child abuse is suspected, Scarborough said she asks the adult participating in the training: “Would you rather be uncomfortable for a short time to save a child from a lifetime of emotional hurt and pain?"
Support for push to investigate links between sex abuse and suicides
by Joanne McCarthy
AUSTRALIA'S leading child abuse organisation has supported a Hunter group's push for an investigation into possible links between convicted and alleged child sex offenders and the suicides of more than 30 Hunter boys, teenagers and men.
Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA) president Dr Cathy Kezelman said it was vital because ‘‘when you're looking at including the voices of people impacted by child sexual abuse the voices of those who have not survived are harder to hear, but they're very significant voices''.
‘‘What is a more profound repercussion of the crime than someone losing their life?'' Dr Kezelman said.
ASCA supported the Hunter group's submission to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, for the families of those who had already died, and to help prevent further suicides.
She agreed with Hunter group spokesman Bob O'Toole, who said many devastated families had been silenced in the past because of the sudden, shocking and unexplained deaths of family members, often after troubling behaviour.
‘‘The link between child sexual abuse and the risk of suicide is well established with a 2008 Australian study showing the rate of suicide for child sexual abuse survivors was 18 times higher than that of people who have not experienced child sexual assault,” Dr Kezelman said.
‘‘The tragedy is that lives are lost because of the secrecy and silence around the crime of child sexual abuse as many victims don't tell anyone for a long time. The Royal Commission's interim report found on average there is a delay of 22 years in disclosure. Part of this relates to the inappropriate shame and self blame survivors often take on as well as the fear of not being believed.''
Help and support is available from the ASCA professional support line on 1300 657 380, 9am- 5pm Monday-Sunday. Or visit the ASCA website www.asca.org.au
Incest mom shows no emotion as she's sentenced to 219 years in prison for her role in major abuse ring
by David McCormack
An Alabama woman has been sentenced to 219 years in prison for her role in an incestuous sex ring accused of molesting children for years.
Wendy Holland, 35, showed no emotion as the judge condemned her on Thursday to what amounts to a life sentence. She must serve at least 50 years in prison before parole consideration, a prosecutor said.
Jurors convicted the woman of sodomy, sexual abuse and other charges last month.
Another defendant, William Brownlee, got a 20-year prison sentence. Brownlee, 50, was convicted of sodomy and sexual abuse in the fall.
The two were among 11 people charged with sex crimes following the disappearance in 2012 of a suspected victim of the ring, 19-year-old Brittney Wood. She remains missing and is presumed dead.
Baldwin Council Circuit Judge Jody Bishop gave both Holland and Brownlee the maximum sentence and said each deserved more time. Each still faces additional charges involving other alleged victims.
In a letter read in court, the underage female victim in both cases said years of abuse left her traumatized. She has a hard time trusting anyone, gets angry easily and rarely feels safe.
'I was a little girl being held down and raped,' wrote the victim, who was in court.
Authorities said the two were part of a group of relatives and friends who sexually abused children and swapped their own kids for sex for years.
Holland is the widow of the alleged leader of the group, Donnie Holland, who was Brittney Wood's uncle.
The teen went missing around the time Holland was found with a gunshot to the head; his death was later ruled a suicide.
Wendy and Donnie Holland's 22-year-old son Donald Paul Holland Jr. — charged with incest, rape and sexual abuse as another alleged participant in the ring — appeared before the judge in a closed hearing after his mother's sentencing.
He was seen being arrested and led away in handcuffs afterward, but the outcome of his case wasn't made public because he was handled as a youthful offender following a request by the defense.
Even without Brittney Wood to testify, two of her uncles and an older brother already pleaded guilty to sex charges before juries convicted Wendy Holland and Brownlee.
In the letter read in court, the underage teen abused by both Holland, a relative, and Brownlee, a family friend, compared her youth to being lost in a maze.
The teen said she felt like she was constantly looking into shadows around corners in fear of more sexual torture.
'The people who were supposed to protect me were the ones hurting me,' she wrote in the letter.
Last month a jury took just two hours to find Wendy Holland guilty of sodomy, sexual abuse, sexual torture and child endangerment.
The trial gave no clue as to the whereabouts of the presumed dead family member Brittney Wood, but it did give voice to abuse victims who claimed the sexual torture started when kids were still in diapers and involved family six-ways.
A teenager testifying to being part of a family sex ring told jurors Tuesday that she was first molested while still in diapers.
The young woman, who is still a minor, said her earliest memories include having sex with adult relatives — one of whom was Holland. Despite that, the teen tearfully said she still loves Holland 'with all my heart.'
The state rested its case following a session during which the teen testified that her relatives often had group sex. She said it sometimes including Holland's missing 19-year-old niece Brittney Wood.
'We would be in a circle and we'd all switch up,' the girl testified.
Prosecutor Teresa Heinz asked how often such things occurred.
'It happened a bunch,' she said. A male relative who pleaded guilty later testified he once had six-way sex with a group of relatives that included the girl and Holland.
Crying, the teen had to stand up to see over the judge's desk to identify Holland as one of the people who abused her.
Holland dabbed at her eyes and looked at the girl only briefly.
Nephew Andrew Aikin, 23, who escaped the abuse, told MailOnline: 'Donnie was the cool uncle.
'We used to have huge barbecues. Donnie would invite us all out there.
'Us kids would to swimming and tubing and there were jet-skis. We had a lot of fun.'
But in February 2012, at aged 50, the facade began to fell apart - and within months Donnie was dead and a horrific trail of abuse beginning to unravel.
The first chink in the wall of silence came in March 2012 when Randall Scott Wood, then 42, alerted the authorities that a 13-year-old family member, with whom he admitted he was having a sexual relationship, was being abused by others.
Wood, a former member of the National Guard, had moved to Mobile to take up a well-paid job at the city's steel mill. His sister - Wendy - was Holland's wife.
What he told police was deeply unsettling - but as they began to investigate a far clearer picture of depravity emerged.
In fact, his testimony against a relative lifted the lid on an horrific lifestyle going on at Donnie Holland's home.
The innocent barbecues were only part of the truth - there were barbecues, but what happened later was not innocent.
Fathers and mothers, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters would end the evening revelling in group sex with children as young as four.
Groomed almost from birth the young victims would be told to watch the scenes of depravity from the end of the bed until until they were deemed old enough to take part.
Mobile Assistant District Attorney Nicki Patterson told MailOnline: 'What is so disturbing with this case is that we have so many people involved.
'They led a swinger's lifestyle. They would engage in adult group sex but Donnie Holland would involve the children frequently.
'There were children who were 14 or 15 years old which may have appeared to be young adults but there also there were children who were clearly prepubescent – as young as nine years old.'
She added: 'They barbecued a lot. They would have parties and then they would end up in bed together.
'Some of the kids' earliest memories at three or four years old are of abuse.
'Some of the women used sex toys on the kids to get them ready for sex. It was a very important thing within the family. They put an enormous effort in to get the children ready. It was very thought out.
'The mom, the aunt and children would get into bed and Donnie would tell them what to do.'
Donnie would often film the sex scenes to create pornographic movies.
One of the victims, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was abused so regularly it became her normal life.
Baldwin District Attorney Teresa Heinz told MailOnline: 'For these children this is what happened at the weekend. They did not know that other kids did not do this.
'The kids would be offered trinkets – more TV time, credit for their cell phone, presents – if they took part and punished if they did not.
'Brittney Wood was a victim as early as four, or five years old.
'Another girl was French kissed for the first time at the age of four. The sexual abuse started soon after.
'One girl told her mom, but there was such a colony of abusers there was no one to turn to.
'They were not held down and forcibly raped but coerced and indoctrinated.'
ARRESTS AND CHARGES IN THE WOOD SEX RING CASE
Chessie Wood, Brittney's mother: Two counts of sodomy and sex abuse of a child less than 12.
Derek Wood, Brittney's brother: Second degree rape and second degree sodomy.
Nelton ‘Butch' Morgan: Rape and sex abuse of a child under 12.
Dustin Kent: Two counts of rape, sex abuse, sodomy and production of obscene material of a person under 17. He allegedly raped a 13-year-old while her father looked on
William 'Billy' Brownlee: Two counts of rape, sodomy and sex abuse.
Mendy Kent: Sodomy and sex abuse.
Wendy Holland: Sodomy, sex abuse and child torture.
James Cumbaa: Rape, sodomy, and sex abuse.
Randall Scott Wood: Second degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter and second degree rape.
Jennifer Moore: Production of pornography involving minors and second-degree child abuse.
Donald Holland Jr: Incest and second degree rape
Md. Parents Under Fire After Letting Kids Walk Home Alone
by Christine Ileto
SILVER SPRING, Md. (WJZ) — What one Maryland family saw as a moment of independence for their ten and six-year-old, police saw as something different. Now Alexander and Danielle Meitiv are being investigated for child neglect.
The Meitivs call it “free-range parenting”. They allowed their children to walk home alone from a park. Their decision has created a firestorm of controversy.
The walk home from a Silver Spring park was one mile, but when ten-year-old Rafi and six-year-old Dvora Meitiv were spotted unaccompanied, separate callers alerted police and child services.
“They understand that they need to hold hands when they cross the street, they need to look both ways,” said parent Danielle Meitiv.
But just knowing the basics wasn't enough. Child Protective Services is investigating the Meitivs for neglect.
State law requires children under eight-years-old to be accompanied by someone at least 13.
“They came and they interviewed kids at school without our permission or knowledge,” said parent Alexander Meitiv.
The walk home from the park is one the parents say their kids knew well, but they only made it halfway back before they were stopped by police.
“The ultimate issue is how safe is your kid and how safe can you make them whether you're with them or not,” said Carolyn Finney, Family Tree director.
It's one of many issues Family Tree in Baltimore works with parents on. Finney says a child's age and maturity are critical.
“A major accident right in front of them could happen. An immature person might run towards the accident when that's not really what you need to do,” she said.
The Meitivs say a social worker made them sign a safety plan, acknowledging the kids wouldn't go unsupervised. But they stand by their decision, saying Child Protective Services is overstepping.
“We're not the only people who think this is outrageous,” Danielle Meitiv said.
The family has a meeting with child services next week.
A similar controversy happened in New York City in 2008 when a mother let her then nine-year-old son ride the subway alone. She believed in “free range parenting.”
Women wait 18 years to see Portland pastor face child sex-abuse prosecution
by Rick Bella
In February, a Happy Valley pastor goes to trial in a criminal case more than 18 years in the making.
That's how long seven women have lived in frustration and anger that the pastor wasn't charged after they told police that he sexually abused them in the 1990s.
But now, prosecutors have taken a second look at the complaints. And based on new allegations by one of the women, they are bringing felony sexual-abuse charges against Mike Sperou, charismatic pastor of a small, under-the-radar church community that lives and worships together in a network of rented homes in Portland and Happy Valley.
The seven women – who ranged in age from 11 to 16 at the time of the alleged abuse – and other former church members said Sperou claims deep emotional scars from childhood traumas and the Vietnam War. They said the church, originally called the Southeast Bible Church, seemed to start with good intentions. But they said the church evolved into a cult-like organization that dissolved family bonds as Sperou sank into heavy drinking, drug use, adultery and sexual abuse of children.
After the girls accused Sperou, an investigation by Portland police produced mixed results, and prosecutors deemed the case unwinnable. But the women went to police again in 2013. The old case remains closed, but one of the women made new accusations about incidents from the same period, triggering the current criminal charges.
The Oregonian / OregonLive generally does not disclose the names of alleged sexual-abuse victims. However, all seven women agreed to speak on the record, saying it's time the public heard their stories.
On June 20, a Multnomah County grand jury indicted Sperou on three counts of first-degree unlawful sexual penetration of a child under the age of 12 – two counts relating to incidents alleged to have occurred in 1993-94 and one in 1995-96. All are Class A felonies. The alleged victim, Shannon Clark, told police that she withheld information from investigators in 1997 because "the culture of the church was to please Sperou" and because sexual contact from him "gave her validation within the church."
Sperou, who married the mother of one of the alleged victims 16 years ago, continues to lead the church, now called North Clackamas Bible Community.
Initially, Sperou did not respond to requests for an interview. The Oregonian/OregonLive then sent the pastor and his attorney a list of 30 facts and assertions amassed over months of reporting, giving him the opportunity to respond to all of the allegations against him. Sperou, agreed to an interview and photographs -- but no video -- at one of the church member's homes on Dec. 16.
Surrounded by his attorney, his wife and several church supporters, Sperou admitted past drug and alcohol abuse but categorically denied ever molesting or abusing his accusers. He also denied each individual allegation of physical or psychological abuse.
Sperou said he would welcome all of his accusers back into the church "with open arms."
"I believe it is our mission to love God, to love the church and to love one another," Sperou said.
After all these years, the full truth of what happened during a period of upheaval in Sperou's church may never be determined. All of the original cases are closed, due to the statute of limitations, and the current case turns on conflicting accounts of years-old events.
Sperou's attorney, Steven J. Sherlag, said the women's recollections likely have been affected by passing years.
"Your memory doesn't get better over time – it gets worse," Sherlag said. "Memory isn't static – it's dynamic. It is something that is modified and changed every time incidents or situations are recalled."
Sherlag said individuals with false memories may truly believe they are telling the truth after coming to believe what they repeatedly have told themselves.
Of course, that cuts two ways and the same could be said of Sperou's memory.
A seductive mix
Sharon Garrett, and her husband, Ken, were early members of Sperou's congregation, drawn by the plain-language sermons that projected a deep commitment to faith. Sperou deftly cited biblical passages apropos of any modern crisis, sprinkled with words in Hebrew and Aramaic, they said.
"He was like the Pied Piper of Portland," said Sharon Garrett, attracting seekers "drawn by the music of community, spirituality, vision and purpose."
Renae Allen, who left the church in 2010, said established church members took prospective members out for what she called "love bombing," a wining-and-dining campaign that persuaded them to join.
Roger Whaley, a retired Gresham nurseryman who also left the church, said he now realizes he was taken in by Sperou's strong persona.
"He has an uncanny ability to read people and skillfully manipulate people," said Whaley. "We mistakenly thought he was very wise."
The Garretts, Whaleys and several other couples brought their children to live in rental houses on Southeast Flavel Street, Suncrest Drive, Idleman Road and Overlook Lane. The member-residents agreed to contribute at least 10 percent of their earnings to the church; others, they said, contributed much more.
Sperou lived in a house called "Portnomah."
Life upstairs in the house was spare, former church members said. Whole families crammed into single bedrooms, with children sometimes sleeping in windowless closets. While families scrimped and ate money-saving casseroles, they said Sperou enjoyed relative luxury, living alone in daylight-basement quarters with its own kitchen.
The seven women said they felt honored if Sperou invited them to spend time with him. They could watch pay-per-view movies on his big TV and eat take-out Chinese food, pizza and ice cream. They would cozy up with him in bed, they said.
In a 1997 interview with police, Sperou acknowledged that, "girls were encouraged to spend time with him," but said his wife or other adults were present when the girls came into his bedroom. He also told police that, "many times the girls would come down to his room to watch TV and while there would fall asleep and would subsequently end up spending the night."
When detectives asked him whether he put his hands underneath the girls' shirts while hugging them, Sperou told police that "he probably has" but that he "meant nothing by it." He also said the accusation that he put his hands on one of the girls' panties "could have happened," but denied using his finger to sexually penetrate another girl who fell asleep while watching TV with him in bed.
Sperou also acknowledged one instance of giving alcohol to the girls and confirmed to police that adult church members had confronted him about "touching the girls inappropriately when he had been drunk and wasn't aware of what he was doing."
The women said Sperou told them he suffered serious emotional pain and that they helped him find relief – a great compliment to young girls seeking approval from the church leader their parents so revered. In fact, they believed it was their "duty" to comfort Sperou, the girls told Portland police in 1997.
"He used to tell me that he loved me, that I was beautiful," said Jennifer Olajuyin. "He used to talk about sexual fantasies and sexual experiences he had."
Bryn Garrett, the daughter of Sharon and Ken Garrett, said she was so confused by Sperou's attention that she believed it would grow into a deeper, more meaningful relationship.
"He used to tell me I was beautiful," Garrett said. "He said I would grow up to be really sexy."
Renae Allen said Sperou once asked her to pick up a bottle of wine for him and a pizza for five or six of the girls. She said she was shocked to see him in his underwear, lounging on the bed with them.
"But by that time, they thought they should never oppose or challenge Mike," Allen said. "You didn't bring up his sins. I feel so stupid now for not being more suspicious."
At first, none of the girls thought it was odd that they and Sperou were in pajamas or underwear, lying in his bed together. They said they were completely in the dark about sex.
But it soon became uncomfortable.
Both Rachel Schackart and Shannon Clark said Sperou masturbated while holding them against him, which Sperou denied.
In 1996, the seven girls went to their parents. They told them that Sperou's initially harmless, affectionate gestures had crossed the line, that he was touching their breasts and genitals.
The allegations hit the church like a bomb, touching off the exodus of several families.
Portland police investigated and turned over their findings to the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office. That's when the case, which included no physical evidence or medical tests, failed to reach prosecutors' benchmarks for "winnability." After reviewing police reports, a deputy district attorney wrote a memo declining to prosecute.
"I have never seen a case where a defense attorney would have so much ammunition to create, maybe justly so, reasonable doubt," the memo reads .
A major stumbling block, the memo says, was the girls' own conflicting statements.
The women acknowledge today that they made poor witnesses.
"We didn't tell the police everything when they questioned us," Bryn Garrett said. "We denied a lot of it because we thought we were supposed to protect Mike. I really loved him, and I didn't want to get him in trouble."
It was easy for the prosecutor to drop the case, said Bryn Garrett's father, the Rev. Ken Garrett, who has since become pastor of Grace Bible Church in downtown Portland.
"It could have sounded to them like a bunch of disgruntled ex-church members," he said. "And most of the girls had trouble talking about it at all."
As the girls grew up, their feelings toward Sperou hardened. They blamed him for exploiting them and stealing their innocence. But they all had gone their separate ways and rarely spoke to one another. That is, until Jennifer Olajuyin and Bryn Garrett, both now in their early 30s, independently began to wonder if they had the basis of a civil lawsuit.
Olajuyin soon contacted all the women and then approached Lake Oswego attorney Kelly Clark. He already had championed the cause of sexual-abuse victims nationwide, suing the Catholic Church, Boy Scouts of America, Mormon church and school districts.
Clark was sympathetic, the women said, but insisted that they first exhaust all possibilities for criminal prosecution. Clark died a few months later, but by then, the women had contacted the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office.
All seven women unequivocally stand by their allegations. And this time, prosecutors' ears pricked up when they heard their stories. For one thing, the accusers are articulate, adult women. Meanwhile, social attitudes have changed as more victims have come forward, bringing cases against adults in positions of trust.
When Deputy District Attorney Christine Mascal met with the women, she found a basis for action.
"This is the kind of case that deserves our full attention," Mascal said.
Portland police Detective Heidi Helwig reinvestigated the case, saying she was impressed by the women's stories.
"It says so much that they would put themselves through this process again," Helwig said. "Why would anybody do that? They are amazing, articulate women who have survived and grown, except for that big hole where justice was never served."
But after Mascal evaluated the information Helwig assembled, she realized that the statute of limitations had run out on all but three new allegations from Shannon Clark.
After Sperou was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Justice Center Jail, he was released and resumed his pastoral duties. His trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 13.
The defense, however, hopes to block the trial before it ever begins. In pretrial motions scheduled to be heard next week, Sperou's attorneys are expected to ask the court to dismiss the charges, arguing that the new allegations aren't new at all. The defense already has asked for all records regarding the seven women, looking for information that could discredit them or show bias in any testimony they may give.
Pastor, criminal defendant
Michael George "Mike" Sperou, 64, is a complicated person, by any yardstick. By his own oft-repeated accounts, he has had a very difficult life – which he cites while counseling followers or even in casual conversation.
He was born in San Francisco. His mother died of cancer when he was 8, and he was shuttled through a series of Catholic foster homes, surviving, he said, on the considerable street smarts he picked up along the way. He graduated from Lynbrook High School in San Jose in 1968.
Sperou said he joined the U.S. Army after high school and served in Vietnam, where he said he was wounded in action. He said he "flipped out" when he returned to the states, gripped by post-traumatic stress disorder. He said he went AWOL, living in Big Sur for nine months.
While visiting Portland, Sperou experienced an epiphany and found Christ. He said he then surrendered to the Army, received an honorable discharge and moved to Oregon.
Returning to Portland, Sperou enrolled at Portland State University. He attended classes from fall 1973 to summer 1979, but did not earn a degree, according to university records.
Sperou also enrolled at Western Seminary, attending from summer 1974 through spring 1978, again failing to earn a degree, according to seminary records.
Regardless, however, Sperou's personal magnetism attracted a flock of followers.
Former church members remember mostly positive experiences from the early years in the church, but soon there were signs of trouble.
Former church member Paul Clark, the father of Shannon Clark and a recovering drug addict living in Central Oregon, said he supplied Sperou with Vicodin, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana over a period of about 10 years. They often took drugs together, he said.
"I started by getting him Vicodin," said Clark, 63, a church member for 16 years. "He paid top dollar for that. Later, I got him everything – coke, heroin, meth. He snorted it because he didn't like needles."
According to Portland police reports, Sperou told investigators in 1997 that he had drug and alcohol problems but said he had entered treatment in 1991 and drank much less since then, with a couple of relapses. In his interview with The Oregonian/OregonLive, Sperou denied using illegal drugs in the mid-1990s and beyond.
A church evolving
Some former church members said that as Sperou's power grew, those who questioned any doctrine or practice – especially women – were publicly belittled and threatened with expulsion, which was equated with spiritual death.
They said church members called them "unteachable" or "lower than a worm."
"The women were slowly beaten down emotionally, and we felt we were terrible wives, mothers and Christians," said Jeanie Whaley, Roger Whaley's wife. "Our self-esteem was trampled on, and we worked desperately to get approval from the pastors. In our eyes, approval from them meant approval from God."
At other times, the women said, they were treated harshly, disciplined by church elders who engaged in emotional abuse to break down their self-esteem.
Shannon Clark remembered being forced by church members to eat a communal meal of beef stroganoff – which she hated – until she grew nauseated.
"When I threw up," Clark said, the church members forced her "to eat my own vomit."
Others, still loyal to the church, dispute the accounts, saying the church provides a loving environment that nurtures personal growth and commitment to faith and community.
The women and former church members said Sperou brandished his PTSD like a bloody crutch, telling all he remained deeply wounded emotionally. They said Sperou's inner circle fended off any complaints about him by saying that failing to forgive his sins was far worse than the actual sins.
Eventually, the women and former church members said, Sperou used his status in the church and considerable charm to seduce the wives in several church families. This caused the breakup of at least two marriages, including Sperou's own, they said.
Amy Robinson, another of the women who accused Sperou of molesting her as a girl, remembers discovering Sperou with her mother in 1996.
"I walked in on my mom and Mike making out, with their clothes partially removed," she said. Robinson said Sperou stomped off to the basement while her mother tried to soothe her, saying that their affectionate outburst was like "brotherly and sisterly love."
Robinson's father moved out in October 1996, taking her with him, according to police reports.
Two years later, Sperou divorced his wife of 23 years and afterward married Robinson's mother, Judy. Together, they still lead the church.
During the 1997 police investigation, some former church members described the church as a cult or cult-like. Investigators used the same words in filing reports, and a University of Oregon expert in religious studies said that the descriptions of the church appeared to agree with cult-like characteristics.
"When you have a charismatic leader ... people give up themselves for the good of the group," said Marion Goldman, professor emerita of sociology and religious studies at the University of Oregon and scholar in-residence at Portland State University's Portland Center for Public Humanities.
A half-dozen church members, unanimous in supporting Sperou at his interview with The Oregonian / OregonLive, all said the church has been a spiritual beacon in their lives, offering a clear direction for their faith and service.
Assistant Pastor Bill Hartman said that joining the church 29 years ago changed his life for the better.
"I never left the church," Hartman said. "I've made a lot of choices in my life, including some bad ones. This was a really good one."
While following progress of the revived criminal case, the seven women who came forward with the initial allegations have been renewing their friendships. But this time, Sperou isn't the keystone locking their relationships in place.
The women did a lot of catching up, comparing the wounds they said they bear from their time growing up in the church, while sharing ways they have been coping.
They discovered that most of them had sought temporary refuge in alcohol and drugs, learning how to numb their emotional pain. They found most had trouble budgeting their money because they never had any experience managing their own finances. They also learned that most had gone through periods of promiscuity, believing their own self-worth was defined by their sexuality.
Jessica Watson said she has tried to harness her negative experiences for a positive goal. She is active in Oregon Abuse Advocates and Survivors in Service and lobbied the Oregon Legislature in hopes of having the statute of limitations lengthened for victims reporting sexual abuse.
But she said she still has identity problems.
"I keep trying to remind myself of who I am," Watson said. "Even with a loving husband, I still have trouble."
Some, like Emily Bertram, said they have trouble trusting people – especially men – and find they're always bracing for betrayal.
"I've been married for 12 years, and I still feel insecure about it," Bertram said.
Bryn Garrett echoed many of the same feelings.
"I don't trust people," Garrett said. "I don't think people love me when they say they do. I just don't believe people."
And Shannon Clark tearfully admitted that she broke up with her last boyfriend because she had trouble being intimate with him.
Some of the women have been subpoenaed to testify at Sperou's trial. All of them said they want to attend, hoping to find some kind of closure.
"No matter what happens at the trial, we will feel better just having people hear our story," said Bryn Garrett. "Finally, everyone will know what happened."
Statute of limitations
There is no single statute of limitations for sex crimes under Oregon law. Instead, the state sets limits based on the age of the victim and severity of the crime.
Six years is the time limit for cases of criminal mistreatment, rape, sodomy, unlawful sexual penetration, incest, sexual abuse and promoting or compelling prostitution. However, if the victim was under 18 when the crime was committed the law allows prosecution within 12 years after it is first reported to police or the state Department of Human Services or before the victim turns 30, whichever comes first.
In the case of Pastor Mike Sperou, the 12-year limit applies, because his accuser is less than 30 years old.
The statute of limitations is four years for misdemeanor sex-crime cases of third-degree sexual abuse, exhibiting an obscene performance to a minor or displaying obscene materials to minors. And if the victim was under 18 when those crimes were committed, the time limit doesn't run out until four years after it is reported to police or the state Department of Human Services or before the victim turns 22, whichever comes first.
For more crimes and time limits, visit Title 14, Chapter 131 of the Oregon Revised Statutes.
New Children's Book Explains 'Good Secrets, Bad Secrets'
Greenville, N.C. (PRWEB) January 14, 2015 -- Childhelp, one of the largest victim advocacy programs in the U.S., estimates that between four and seven children die each day from child abuse in the U.S. This record is among the worst of any industrialized nation.
In an effort to improve this statistic, author Deborah J. Monroe releases her new book, "Good Secrets, Bad Secrets" (published by LifeRich Publishing), to introduce the topic of abuse to children and instruct them on what to do if they know of someone being abused.
"Good Secrets, Bad Secrets" differentiates between the types of secrets that children often share between them. The book explains why bad secrets need to be shared with an adult and assures children they are doing the right thing.
Monroe herself experienced the harrowing affects of child abuse and has since dedicated her life to stopping it. She hopes her book will help children understand what to do if they know someone being abused.
"Good Secrets, Bad Secrets"
by Deborah J. Monroe
About the Author
Deborah Monroe is a survivor of abuse. She is now an activist against abuse, a court appointed advocate for abused and neglected children, and she is also the founder of Victimize Me No More. She previously published "Hurt No More: The Healing Guide for Victims and Abusers." More information is available at http://www.victimizemenomore.org.
How to keep your child from being sexually abused
by James Johnson
LAREDO, TEXAS (KGNS) - According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center one in five girls and one in 20 boys may become the victims of sexual abuse.
The Children's Advocacy Center of Laredo is a local organization here to help.
It's every parent's worst nightmare, but it's a reality. The first step is knowing what to say if your child could be a victim of abuse
"I'm not going to get upset you need to come to me if anything is bothering you", said Burni.
Since its inception in 1995, the Children's Advocacy Center of Laredo's mission has been to educate parents on how to deal with suspected abuse and provide a safe and secure place for child victims. Executive director, Sylvia Bruni says they do this by breaking the cycle through education, training and prevention. It's all to stop abuse, and keep it from happening in the first place.
"Every year we help over 500 children children, the majority of them are children who are sexually abused", said Bruni.
Bruni says children who are victims of sexual abuse often show signs like unexplained personality changes or mood swings.
"Changes in behavior and that depends on what was normal for that child. If that child is normally outgoing and friendly and talkative, and at ease and all of a sudden that behavior shifts, behaviors change dramatically", said Bruni.
The Children's Advocacy Center says communication is key and why it's important to let your child know they can come to you for anything.
"Often times you ask a child why didn't you tell and some of the answers will be I was ashamed, I was afraid my mom wouldn't believe me", said Bruni
The majority of the children who come to the advocacy center are between the ages of 6 and 12-years-old and some even younger.
It's up to parents, teachers and other relatives to know what to do about it.
"If you have any cause to believe a child is being hurt you are obligated to report it" , said Bruni.
The Children's Advocacy Center offers a full range of services from counseling to a variety of community outreach programs.
The C.A.C. has treated more than 7,000 young victims of abuse.
The vast majority of them being sexual abuse victims.
Child sex abuse victim, now 24, sentenced to prison for molesting two girls on Umatilla reservation
by Bryan Denson
A federal judge on Monday sentenced 24-year-old Noelynn N. Begay to seven years in prison for the repeated sexual molestation of two girls – ages 4 and 5 – on the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Prosecutors recommended that U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman sentence Begay to the statutory maximum for the crimes – eight years imprisonment.
But Begay's lawyer, Assistant Federal Public Defender Thomas E. Price, explained that while his client committed "terrible crimes" against two little girls, he has long suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a victim of child sexual abuse.
"He is not a pedophile," Price told the court in an impassioned plea for leniency. His client, he said, is a binge drinker with a treatable psychosexual disorder, not a remorseless psychopath. "He feels worthless."
The answer for the Noelynn Begays of the world, Price said, was more support and treatment they are still children.
Mosman told Begay his crimes in 2012 and 2013 were very serious and that he was at risk to reoffend. He ordered him to get mental health treatment during his time in federal prison.
The judge said he also would recommend to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons that Begay get the help he needs in a special treatment program in Englewood, Colo.
Jailed for relationship with 17-year-old, lawmaker wins reelection
by Jeremy Diamond
It's not every day that a politician with a county jail-issued ankle monitor accused of having sex with his 17-year-old secretary campaigns for reelection, and wins.
But that's exactly what happened Tuesday in the Richmond, Virginia suburb of Henrico County, where Joseph Morrissey snagged 42 percent of the vote to win reelection to the state's House of Delegates, all while serving out a six-month jail sentence, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported. And he did it while running as an independent.
Morrissey, 57, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge last month to avoid a possible felony conviction after an alleged sexual relationship with his underage secretary caught the attention of her father, and soon enough, law enforcement. A nude photo of the young woman was found on Morrissey's cell phone, and she is now also pregnant, though the young woman has not confirmed the identity of the baby's father.
The House of Delegates is now considering measures to censure or bar Morrissey from serving in the legislature.
Despite Morrissey's Democratic and Republican opponents' best efforts, voters were apparently unfazed by the allegations and Morrissey's jail sentence, most already aware of their representative's record.
Morrissey was able to campaign by day and spend his nights behind bars thank to the jail's work-release program, which allows inmates to spend 12 hours a day working out of jail and will also reduce Morrissey's six-month sentence to 90 days.
Unattended toddlers die in house fire; mother arrested
BASTROP, La. (AP) — The State Fire Marshal's Office the mother of two toddlers, who died in house fire, has been arrested leaving them at home unattended.
Investigators says they are still piecing together their findings in Monday's tragic fire that claimed the lives of 4-year-old Ta'shae Thompson Johnson and her 3-year-old brother, Clifton Thompson Johnson.
Authorities say 21-year-old Ciarria Johnson left her children unattended for hours as she was having her hair styled.
Johnson was booked Tuesday on two counts of negligent homicide in the death of her children.
It was unclear whether she has an attorney.
Boy driven away in stolen car is found after answering phone
by Lindsay Whitehurst
SALT LAKE CITY— Authorities say they found a 3-year-old boy in a stolen car Tuesday after he answered his mother's cellphone and honked the horn to draw their attention.
The boy's mother left the car unlocked and running on a snowy morning as she dropped off another child, a baby, at a day care center around 7 a.m. in Ogden, police said.
When she walked out, she saw someone driving her car away with her son inside.
Police arrived and called her cellphone, which was in the car, hoping to reach the thief and negotiate the boy's release, Lieutenant Tim Scott said.
Instead, the boy answered the phone. He told officers he was alone after the thief ran away, but he didn't know where he was.
Officers told him to honk the horn, and they followed the sound to the car, about three blocks away. Officials are searching for a suspect.
When an Artist You Admire Is an Accused Predator
by Tanya Steele
Recently, I read “An Open Letter From Dylan Farrow' in the New York Times. Immediately, I posted it on my social networking accounts. I stopped paying to see Woody Allen movies when I learned of his marriage to Mia Farrow's daughter, Soon-Yi. The fact that he married his lover's child was enough to disgust me.
I was not aware of the other allegations until Ronan Farrow's Tweet the night of the Golden Globes: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute - did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?” Honestly, I thought he was referring to Soon-Yi. However, when I discovered he was referring to his other sister, I was not surprised. Offenders have patterns.
I am a former counselor to victims & survivors of incest. I also counseled sex offenders. At a very young age, I was trained to understand the culture that is created around sexual violence, how sexual violence is enacted and how victims/survivors respond. I was also trained to understand how perpetrators respond. Because of this, I try not to become too involved in discussions about sexual violence. Who did what? Did he actually do it? Is it a rush to judgment? Usually, from looking at the patterns of someone's life, professionals can identify a sexual predator. As a rule, I choose to believe the accuser.
I try not to become involved in discussions on these topics because the public is not trained to understand the dynamics of abuse, sexual violence or predatory behavior. And, people who are in denial about their own abuse, people who are predators or may be, unconsciously, acting in defense of a predator, in their own life, are also a part of the discussion. So, these discussions get stalled with word play, tempers, “you weren't there” type accusations. For me, it's best to avoid them.
Sexual violence happens in secret. It can happen to a child (includes teenagers); a girl or a boy. It also happens, primarily, to women and, yes, men. In this piece, I am not going to explain the dynamics of abuse. I will not explain why I believe Dylan Farrow and how I came to that decision. What I will do is try and help you find another way to approach the very complex terrain that surfaces when an Artist that you admire is labeled a perpetrator.
I was not aware that Marvin Gaye was involved with a 16 year old girl when he recorded the album ‘Let's Get It On'. Mind you, I learned this, casually, as I sat with a friend who is a musician. She said, “did you know that he is singing to a 16 year old?”. Stunned. The first reaction was guttural. No. No. Just no. I did the research. Yes. Wow. Okay. Breathe. That is one of my favorite albums. What was I to do? Marvin Gaye had already entered the most intimate aspects of my life with that album. I had grown to love Marvin through that album (clearly, never knowing him). But, the gentle, tender way that he sang his love was arresting. Not to mention the genius with which it was constructed and delivered. As an Artist, I admired the craftsmanship. As a woman, I admired the sentiment. I have been listening to that album since I was a child. Marvin Gaye's music was apart of me.
How was I to reconcile my beliefs with attachment to this music? Simply, I was not aware of his actions when I allowed the music into my spirit, into my soul. Marvin Gaye had firmly situated himself in my heart and mind long before I knew the transgressions in his life. This is not a question of my right and wrong, the issue is more complex. Marvin did not sing, “I am a 33 year old man molesting a 16 year old girl.” I had no knowledge of that. So, I won't allow myself to feel like I am in any way complicit with his actions. I did not cause them. I did not give consent to them.
He reached that place in me, that Artists do, the crevices of my being. They come into your life and situate themselves in your interior, sometimes, more than friends can. Music, film, painting, literature, we form connections to these Artists. They sing our life. They help us to understand what love is. How to express it. They even assist us while loving our beloved. I am aware of that. And, I respect that my relationship with them was formed before my knowledge of their personal behavior. One cannot take these connections for granted. They are very deep and personal.
For the longest time, I couldn't listen to the album. I couldn't. One day, a song from the album came on my Spotify station. I sang along. At the end, I realized, holy crap, what did I just do? I stopped. I forgave myself. Look, I did not molest and form a relationship with someone under age, he did. I am not, in any way, complicit with his behavior. Although, it is easy to get caught up in the ‘right and wrong' argument. I understand that Marvin Gaye was in my heart long before I knew what he did. I had to develop a way to reconcile these two worlds. So, what I do now is say, at this time, I choose to honor the 16 year old girl. So, I will not listen to the album. Slowly, this takes away my desire to engage with the Art. If I should listen, I make sure I'm consciously aware of the choice I'm making.
Similarly, as a filmmaker, I was influenced by Woody Allen long before I was aware of any of his behaviors. I stopped going to Woody Allen films when I learned that he married Soon-Yi. That was my choice. But, before this, he inspired me. There is one film of his that I love- “Broadway Danny Rose”. And, as a filmmaker, it is a reference source for me. “Broadway Danny Rose” made such an impression that I don't have to revisit it. I fell in love with that film long before I knew about Soon-Yi or the molestation allegations. The imprint of that film is in me and influences me. I can't feel guilty about that. I acknowledge it. And, I don't let it interfere with my support for his accuser.
I have not listened to R. Kelly for over a decade. If I am in a club or environment where he is played, I go and stand or sit in silence. I choose to honor the victims. And, that is what I say when I no longer listen to Marvin or watch Woody or, or, or. I simply say, right now, I am honoring the victim. It is a way to bring compassion to the victim. It is a way to relax that muscle that wants to flex in resistance because someone tells you you're wrong for listening to or admiring the work of an Artist you loved before their truth surfaced. It is a way for family members to not get caught in the web of deciding whether or not to continue a relationship with a family member who abused another relative.
As a child, I was best friends with my grandfather. He taught me many things. I loved sitting on the bathroom sink and watching him shave as I popped the peanut M&M's that he gave me. I loved my grandfather. Later in life, I learned that he beat my grandmother and molested children in the family. How in the hell am I supposed to reconcile that? He never harmed me in any way. Immediately, a burden is placed at my feet that I did not create. I have fond my memories of my grandfather. I hold them a little less dear because I honor the victims in my family. I give space to understanding the wreckage that he caused. When I'm in the presence of someone he abused, I do not mention him. I allow the survivor to speak in any way they choose to and I respect that. Their pain trumps anything in that moment. My memories of him will be what they are. I have enough space in me to allow their to grief to take center stage. My love is expansive enough to honor their pain.
Predators create a vortex. When it's a celebrity, we are invited into that vortex. They commit their violations in private and then create a web of confusion. They blame the victim, speak of being the victim and create smoke & mirrors to divert from the truth. Predators are cagey and tricky individuals. They only show their demon side to the child or adult that they violate. They make a conscious choice to enact their violence in private. And, on the most vulnerable among us- children. Silence protects them. If it comes to light, the rest of us are asked to side with or against them. The same choices we are presented with in the discussions around Farrow vs. Allen, are the same choices that are thrust upon us in our families. It is the other level of horror that the abuser creates. Choose. Choose your family or me. Choose my financial contribution to your life or lose it. Choose to believe a “fickle” child or me. Choose to engage with my Art or lose it.
Honor the victim. I understand the complex nature of abuse. The dynamics that are created. Most importantly, I understand the insurmountable pain it causes in the victim. I am the person who honors the victim. And, if I could erase the artistic contributions of the perpetrator to ease the pain of the victim- I would. The perpetrator has infected the life of the victim. The perpetrator, as Artist, infects, in a different way, our lives, too. I cannot erase the footprints that were laid long before the truth of an individual is revealed.
What can I do? Certainly, I can sacrifice a song or movie, in protest, as an offer of peace to another human being. I can stand with the victim. The culture has been terribly lacking in support of victims when it comes to celebrity. Why is this happening? I don't know. I think people are defending against the guilt they may feel for appreciating an Artist's work. I let go of that guilt. The artwork is not the act of molestation. But, it is created by the individual who did great harm to another human being. So, I close my senses and pocketbook to the Artist as a form of protest. And, I open my heart to the victim. It's the least I can do.
I do not want this piece to devolve into the right and wrong. What is true or not. I want this to promote understanding and healing for victims who live with a pain that is unfathomable. Certainly, we can figure out ways to honor victims without throwing them under the bus in defense of Art. In that vein, I ask you, how do you show support to strangers who are victims of sexual violence? How do you show support to your loved ones who are victims of sexual violence? How do you show support for yourself as a victim of sexual violence?
New Ways Of Treating Trauma: Try Some Yoga
by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
When a person experiences traumatic events, the aftermath can be extremely debilitating. Trauma not only affects the mind, but can have lifelong effects on the body.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who has been treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other types of trauma for more than 40 years. He founded the Trauma Center in Brookline, Mass., and is author of the new book “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” (read an excerpt below).
He tells Here & Now' s Jeremy Hobson about new ways to treat trauma, focusing on ways to making the body feel safe.
What is trauma?
“Trauma is an experience that overwhelms your capacity to cope. People feel helpless, overwhelmed, scared, horrified; at the core of trauma is horror.”
On how yoga heals trauma
It's not one size fits all. You need to find some way where your body once again feels like ‘I am in control of myself.'
– Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
“I didn't practice yoga myself and then we saw all these abnormalities in people's heart rate, their breathing patterns, the way they relate to their bodies. It was very clear that their bodies were on fire, their bodies felt deeply unsafe, so the enemy that was once living outside was now living within. And you need to befriend your body, you need to calm your body down.”
“Yoga was more effective than any medication… medication can be quite nice to sort of dampen some of the symptoms. But in the end, people need to own their bodies, they need to own their physical experiences. And, in order to overcome your trauma, it needs to be safe to go inside and to experience yourself.”
“What there is too much emphasis on is the capacity of the cognitive rational brain to conquer our irrational survival brain. Neuroscience has really helped us understand that you can't talk yourself out of being in love, or being angry, or hating particular people because these are not rational processes, and reason has only very limited capacities to override these more primitive survival issues. And so, you need to not rely on reason, you need rely on mastery of your body, safety of your body, finding peace in your body.”
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's take away message
“It's not one size fits all. You need to find some way where your body once again feels like ‘I am in control of myself.'”
Book Excerpt: ‘The Body Keeps the Score'
by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk
Chapter 13: Healing from Trauma: Owning Your Self
I don't go to therapy to find out if I'm a freak
I go and I find the one and only answer every week
And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But, oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself
— Dar Williams, What Do You Hear in These Sounds
Nobody can “treat” a war, or abuse, rape, molestation, or any other horrendous event, for that matter; what has happened cannot be undone. But what can be dealt with are the imprints of the trauma on body, mind, and soul: the crushing sensations in your chest that you may label as anxiety or depression; the fear of losing control; always being on alert for danger or rejection; the self-loathing; the nightmares and flashbacks; the fog that keeps you from staying on task and from engaging fully in what you are doing; being unable to fully open your heart to another human being.
Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself, of what I will call self-leadership
in the chapters to come.1 The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind—of your self. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without
becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most peoplenthis involves (1) finding a way to become calm and focused, (2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations that remind you of the past, (3) finding a way to be fully alive in the
present and engaged with the people around you, (4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.
These goals are not steps to be achieved, one by one, in some fixed sequence. They overlap, and some may be more difficult than others, depending on individual circumstances. In each of the chapters that follow, I'll talk about specific methods or approaches to accomplish them. I have tried to make these chapters useful both to trauma survivors and to the therapists who are treating them. People under temporary stress may also find them useful. I've used every one of these methods extensively to treat my patients, and I have also experienced them myself. Some people get better using just one of these methods, but most are helped by different approaches at different stages of their recovery. I have done scientific studies of many of the treatments I describe here and have published the research findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals. 2 My aim in this chapter is to provide an overview of underlying principles, a preview of what's to come, and some brief comments on methods I don't cover in depth later on.
A New Focus for Recovery
When we talk about trauma, we often start with a story or a question: “What happened during the war?” “Were you ever molested?” “Let me tell you about that accident or that rape,” or “Was anybody in your family a problem drinker?” However, trauma is much more than a story about something that happened long ago. The emotions and physical sensations that were imprinted during the trauma are experienced not as memories but as disruptive physical reactions in the present. In order to regain control over your self, you need to revisit the trauma: Sooner or later you need to confront what has happened to you, but only after you feel safe and will not be retraumatized by it. The first order of business is to find ways to cope with feeling overwhelmed by the sensations and emotions associated with the past.
As the previous parts of this book have shown, the engines of posttraumatic reactions are located in the emotional brain. In contrast with the rational brain, which expresses itself in thoughts, the emotional brain manifests itself in physical reactions: gut- wrenching sensations, heart pounding, breathing becoming fast and shallow, feelings of heartbreak, speaking with an uptight and reedy voice, and the characteristic body movements that signify collapse, rigidity, rage, or defensiveness.
Why can't we just be reasonable? And can understanding help? The rational, executive brain is good at helping us understand where feelings come from (as in: “I get scared when I get close to a guy because my father molested me” or “I have trouble expressing my love toward my son because I
feel guilty about having killed a child in Iraq”). However, the rational brain cannot abolish emotions, sensations, or thoughts (such as living with a low- level sense of threat or feeling that you are fundamentally a terrible person, even though you rationally know that you are not to blame for having been raped). Understanding why you feel a certain way does not change how you feel. But it can keep you from surrendering to intense reactions (for example, assaulting a boss who reminds you of a perpetrator, breaking up with a lover at your first disagreement, or jumping into the arms of a stranger). However, the more frazzled we are, the more our rational brains take a backseat to our emotions.3
Limbic System Therapy
The fundamental issue in resolving traumatic stress is to restore the proper balance between the rational and emotional brains, so that you can feel incharge of how you react and how you conduct your life. When we're triggered into states of hyper-or hypoarousal, we are pushed outside our “window of tolerance”— the range of optimal functioning.4 We become reactive and disorganized; our filters stop working—sounds and lights bother us, unwanted images from the past intrude on our minds, and we panic or fly into rages. If we're shut down, we feel numb in body and mind; our thinking becomes sluggishand we have trouble getting out of our chairs.
As long as people are either hyperaroused or shut down, they cannotnlearn from experience. Even if they manage to stay in control, they become so uptight (Alcoholics Anonymous calls this “white- knuckle sobriety”) that they are inflexible, stubborn, and depressed. Recovery from trauma involves the restoration of executive functioning and, with it, self- confidence and the capacity for playfulness and creativity.
If we want to change posttraumatic reactions, we have to access the emotional brain and do “limbic system therapy”: repairing faulty alarm systems and restoring the emotional brain to its ordinary job of being a quiet background presence that takes care of the housekeeping of the body, ensuring that you eat, sleep, connect with intimate partners, protect your children, and defend against danger.
The neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux and his colleagues have shown that the only way we can consciously access the emotional brain is through selfawareness, i.e. by activating the medial prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that notices what is going on inside us and thus allows us to feel what we're feeling.5 (Th e technical term for this is “interoception”— Latin for “looking inside.”) Most of our conscious brain is dedicated to focusing on the outside world: getting along with others and making plans for the future. However, that does not help us manage ourselves. Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves.
Befriending the emotional brain
1. Dealing with Hyperarousal
Over the past few decades mainstream psychiatry has focused on using drugs to change the way we feel, and this has become the accepted way to deal with hyper- and hypoarousal. I will discuss drugs later in this chapter, but first I need to stress the fact that we have a host of inbuilt skills to keep us on an even keel. In chapter 5 we saw how emotions are registered in the body. Some 80 percent of the fibers of the vagus nerve (which connects the brain with many internal organs) are afferent; that is, they run from the body into the brain.6 This means that we can directly train our arousal system by the way we breathe, chant, and move, a principle that has been utilized since time immemorial in places like China and India, and in every religious practice that I know of, but that is suspiciously eyed as “alternative” in mainstream culture.
In research supported by the National Institutes of Health, my colleagues and I have shown that ten weeks of yoga practice markedly reduced the PTSD symptoms of patients who had failed to respond to any medication or to any other treatment7. (I will discuss yoga in chapter 16.) Neurofeedback, the topic of chapter 19, also can be particularly effective for children and adults who are so hyperaroused or shut down that they have trouble focusing and prioritizing8.
Learning how to breathe calmly and remaining in a state of relative physical relaxation, even while accessing painful and horrifying memories, is an essential tool for recovery.9 When you deliberately take a few slow, deep breaths, you will notice the effects of the parasympathetic brake on your arousal (as explained in chapter 5). The more you stay focused on your breathing, the more you will benefit, particularly if you pay attention until the very end of the out breath and then wait a moment before you inhale again. As you continue to breathe and notice the air moving in and out of your lungs you may think about the role that oxygen plays in nourishing your body and bathing your tissues with the energy you need to feel alive and engaged. Chapter 17 documents the full- body effects of this simple practice.
Since emotional regulation is the critical issue in managing the effects of trauma and neglect, it would make an enormous difference if teachers, army sergeants, foster parents, and mental health professionals were thoroughly schooled in emotional- regulation techniques. Right now this still is mainly the domain of preschool and kindergarten teachers, who deal with immature brains and impulsive behavior on a daily basis and who are often very adeptat managing them.10
Mainstream Western psychiatric and psychological healing traditions have paid scant attention to self- management. In contrast to the Western reliance on drugs and verbal therapies, other traditions from around the world rely on mindfulness, movement, rhythms, and action. Yoga in India, tai chi and qigong in China, and rhythmical drumming throughout Africa are just a few examples. The cultures of Japan and the Korean peninsula have spawned martial arts, which focus on the cultivation of purposeful movement and being centered in the present, abilities that are damaged in traumatized individuals. Aikido, judo, tae kwon do, kendo, and jujitsu, as well as capoeira from Brazil, are examples. These techniques all involve physical movement, breathing, and meditation. Aside from yoga, few of these popular non-Western healing traditions have been systematically studied for the treatment of PTSD.
2. No Mind Without Mindfulness.
At the core of recovery is self-awareness. The most important phrases in trauma therapy are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Traumatized people live with seemingly unbearable sensations: They feel heartbroken and suffer from intolerable sensations in the pit of their stomach or tightness in their chest. Yet avoiding feeling these sensations in our bodies increases our vulnerability to being overwhelmed by them. Body awareness puts us in touch with our inner world, the landscape of our organism. Simply noticing our annoyance, nervousness, or anxiety immediately helps us shift our perspective and opens up new options other than our automatic, habitual reactions. Mindfulness puts us in touch with the transitory nature of our feelings and perceptions. When we pay focused attention to our bodily sensations, we can recognize the ebb and flow of our emotions and, with that, increase our control over them.
Traumatized people are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators (who, hopefully, are no longer around to hurt them) but their own physical sensations that now are the enemy. Apprehension about being hijacked by uncomfortable sensations keeps the body frozen and the mind shut. Even though the trauma is a thing of the past, the emotional brain keeps generating sensations that make the sufferer feel scared and helpless. It's not surprising that so many trauma survivors are compulsive eaters and drinkers, shun making love, and avoid many social activities: Their sensory world is largely off limits.
In order to change you need to open yourself to your inner experience. The first step is to allow your mind to focus on your sensations and notice how, in contrast to the timeless, ever-present experience of trauma, physical sensations are transient and respond to slight shifts in body position, changes in breathing, and shifts in thinking (chapters 16 and 20). Once you pay attention to your physical sensations, the next step is to label them, as in “When I feel anxious, I feel a crushing sensation in my chest.” And you can begin to notice how these sensations constantly shift and change.
Practicing mindfulness calms down the sympathetic nervous system, so that you are less likely to be thrown into fight-or-flight.11 Learning to observe and tolerate your physical reactions is a prerequisite for safely revisiting the past. If you cannot tolerate what you are feeling right now, opening up the past will only compound the misery and retraumatize you further.12
Once we arefuly aware thet the commotions in our bodies are in a constant state of flux we can tolerate whatever discomfort comes up. One moment your chest tightens, but after you take a deep breath and exhale, that feeling softens and you may observe something else, perhaps a tension in your shoulder. Now you can start exploring what happens when you take a deeper breath and notice how your rib cage expands.13 Once you feel calmer and more curious, you can go back to that sensation in your shoulder. You should not be surprised if a memory spontaneously arises in which that shoulder was somehow involved.
A further step is to observe the interplay between your thoughts and your physical sensations. How are particular thoughts registered in your body? (Do thoughts like “My father loves me” or “my girlfriend dumped me” produce different sensations?) Becoming aware of how your body organizes particular emotions or memories opens up the possibility of releasing sensations and impulses that you may have learned gto block in order to survive.14 In chapter 20, on the benefits of theater, I'll describe in more detail how this works.
Study after study shows that having a good support network constitutes the single most powerful protection against becoming traumatized. Safety and terror are incompatible. When we are terrified, nothing calms us down like the reassuring voice or the firm embrace of someone we trust. Frightened adults respond to the same comforts as terrified children: gentle holding and rocking and the assurance that somebody bigger and stronger is taking care of things, so you can safely go to sleep. In order to recover, mind, body, and brain need to be convinced that it is safe to let go. That happens only when you feel safe at a visceral level and allow yourself to connect that sense of safety with memories of past helplessness.
After an acute trauma, like an assault, accident, or natural disaster, survivors require the presence of familiar people, faces, and voices; physical contact; food; shelter and a safe place; and time to sleep. It is critical to communicate with loved ones close and far and to reunite as soon as possible with family and friends in a place that feels safe. Our attachment bonds are our greatest protection against threat. For example, children who are separated from their parents after a traumatic event are likely to suffer serious negative long- term effects. Studies conducted during World War II in England showed that children who lived in London during the Blitz and were sent away to the countryside for protection against German bombing raids fared much worse than children who remained with their parents and endured nights in bomb shelters and frightening images of destroyed buildings and dead people.21
Traumatized human beings recover in the context of relationships: with families, loved ones, AA meetings, veterans' organizations, religious communities, or professional therapists. The role of those relationships is to provide physical and emotional safety, including safety from feeling shamed, admonished, or judged, and to bolster the courage to tolerate, face, and process the reality of what has happened.
As we have seen, much the wiring of our brain circuits is devoted to being in tune with others. Recovery from trauma involves (re)connecting with our fellow human beings. This is why trauma that has occurred within relationships is generally more difficult to treat than trauma resulting from traffic accidents or natural disasters. In our society the most common traumas in women and children occur at the hands of their parents or intimate partners. Child abuse, molestation, and domestic violence all are inflicted by people who are supposed to love you. That knocks out the most important protection against being traumatized: being sheltered by the people you love.
If the people whom you naturally turn to for care and protection terrify or reject you, you learn to shut down and to ignore what you feel.22 As we saw in part 3, when your caregivers turn on you, you have to find alternative ways to deal with feeling scared, angry, or frustrated. Managing your terror all by yourself gives rise to another set of problems: dissociation, despair, addictions, a chronic sense of panic, and relationships that are marked by alienation, disconnection, and explosions.
Patients with these histories rarely make the connection between what happened to them long ago and how they currently feel and behave. Everything just seems unmanageable. Relief does not come until they are able to acknowledge what has happened and recognize the invisible demons they're struggling with. Recall, for example, the men I described in chapter 11 who had been abused by pedophile priests. They visited the gym regularly, took anabolic steroids, and were strong as oxen. However, in our interviews they often acted like scared kids;the hurt boys deep inside still felt helpless.
While human contact and attunement are the wellspring of physiological self-regulation, the promise of closeness often evokes fear of getting hurt, betrayed, and abandoned. Shame plays an important role in this: “You will find out how rotten and disgusting I am and dump me as soon as you really get to know me.” Unresolved trauma can take a terrible toll on relationships. If your heart is still broken because you were assaulted by someone you loved, you are likely to be preoccupied with not getting hurt again and fear opening your heart to someone new. In fact, you may unwittingly try to hurt them before they have a chance to hurt you.
This poses a real challenge for recovery. Once you recognize that posttraumatic reactions started off as efforts to save your life, you may gather the courage to face your inner music (or cacophony), but you will need help to do so. You have to find someone you can trust enough to accompany you, someone who can safely hold your feelings and help you listen to the painful messages from your emotional brain. You need a guide who is not afraid of your terror and who can contain your darkest rage, someone who can safeguard the wholeness of you while you explore the fragmented experiences that you had to keep secret from yourself for so long. Most traumatized individuals need an anchor and a great deal of coaching to do this work.
Choosing a Professional Therapist
The training of competent trauma therapists involves learning about the impact of trauma, abuse, and neglect and mastering a variety of techniques that can help to (1) stabilize and calm patients down, (2) help to lay traumatic memories and reenactments to rest, and (3) reconnect patients with their fellow men and women. Ideally the therapist will also have been on the receiving end of whatever therapy he or she practices.
While it's inappropriate and unethical for therapists to tell you the details of their personal struggles, it is perfectly reasonable to ask what particular forms of therapy they have been trained in, where they learned their skills, and whether they've personally benefited from the therapy they propose for you.
There is no one “treatment of choice” for trauma, and any therapist who believes that his or her particular method is the only answer to your problems is suspect of being an ideologue rather than somebody who is interested in making sure that you get well. No therapist can possibly be familiar with every effective treatment, and he or she must be open to your exploring options other than the ones he or she offers. He or she also must be open to learning from you. Gender, race, and personal background are relevant only if they interfere with helping the patient feel safe and understood.
Do you feel basically comfortable with this therapist? Does he or she seem to feel comfortable in his or her own skin and with you as a fellow human being? Feeling safe is a necessary condition for you to confront your fears and anxieties. Someone who is stern, judgmental, agitated, or harsh is likely to leave you feeling scared, abandoned, and humiliated, and that won't help you resolve your traumatic stress. I also don't think that you can grow and change unless you feel that you have some impact on the person who is treating you.
The critical question is this: Do you feel that your therapist is curious to find out who you are and what you, not some generic “PTSD patient,” need? Are you just a list of symptoms on some diagnostic questionnaire, or does your therapist take the time to find out why you do what you do and think what you think? Therapy is a collaborative process— a mutual exploration of your self.
Patients who have been brutalized by their caregivers as children often do not feel safe with anyone…….
Excerpted from the book THE BODY KEEPS SCORE by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Copyright © 2014 by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Reprinted with permission of Viking Press.
Boy's death leads to efforts to improve child abuse investigations
by Don Davis
The death of 4-year-old Eric Dean in west-central Minnesota is producing state legislative discussions about how to improve child abuse investigations.
"There has been a light shining onto the child protection system in our state," Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson told a state Senate committee Monday about the months since Dean's death became a statewide news story. "It should be on the top of the front page, the most emailed story. It should cause us to question what we can do better."
But senators' questions made it clear that the solution to improving the Minnesota child abuse prevention system would not be simple.
Sens. Tony Lourey, DFL-Kerrick, and Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said they are concerned about some proposals, such as one that would require law enforcement officials to get involved after many child abuse reports.
Lourey wondered if county social services officials could "call law enforcement and go on a fishing expedition" for family information.
Hayden, who is black, said people with his ethnic background and others in his Minneapolis community are not comfortable with police and he wanted more information before backing anything that could bring law enforcement into child abuse cases unless it was needed.
The issue arose after Eric Dean died Feb. 28, 2013. Last May, Amanda Peltier of Starbuck was convicted of the boy's death.
She received a life sentence, but will be eligible for parole in 30 years.
Peltier was caring for Eric at her Starbuck home in February 2013, when police say she became upset with the boy and launched him across a room.
It became a statewide story when the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported there had been 15 reports that Peltier had abused children.
Gov. Mark Dayton created a task force to look into how the state and its counties handle child abuse reports and investigations. The Senate committee heard about the first task force recommendations.
Jesson said that many Minnesota children are saved by the state system, but "our system is failing some children, and frankly too many children."
Kathy Johnson, who heads the Kittson County social services office, said that the most important job is to protect children, but those charged with that responsibility are overworked. Social workers "often do not have the time to meet the needs of their families," she said.
The task force is looking into whether state law should limit how many children each worker can handle, she added.
Among the task force recommendations, Johnson said, is to increase child protection training for social workers. Another idea is to mandate training for many professionals, such as teachers and police, required by state law to report suspected child abuse.
People testifying to the committee said that counties across the state vary greatly in how they deal with child abuse. It is not clear when child abuse reports should be investigated.
"The challenges in greater Minnesota are different, often, than they are in the metro," Jesson said.
Committee members also learned that counties pay more than half of the cost for state-mandated child abuse services.
Jesson said that one of the problems in reforming the child abuse system is that it "is a system that has been cloaked by law by a lot of secrecy."
With the commissioner said that secrecy is needed to protect families, it makes looking into how the system is performing much more difficult.
New Child Abuse Training to Be Offered in Charlottesville
Community members working with victims of child abuse will now have access to a new program.
Foothills Child Advocacy Center is launching a new Child Victim's Health Access Program. They are holding training sessions with medical specialists to help them learn how to minimize trauma, promote healing, and ensure child safety.
"They need to understand how child abuse is diagnosed. They need to understand all the possibilities so that they can better know how to serve the family," said Cathee Johnson Phillips, the Executive Director of the Foothills Child Advocacy Center in Charlottesville.
The program hopes to recruit a child abuse specialist pediatrician. There are only three of those in Virginia.
Foothills Child Advocacy Center hopes to launch the Child Victim's Health Access Program this year.
Milton mom says she feared being reported for child abuse
KINGSTON -- Kaitlin Wolfert testified Monday that she knew there was something wrong with her 2-year-old son, Mason DeCosmo, at least a week before he died, but didn't take him to the doctor because she was worried she would be reported to Ulster County Child Protective Services.
Wolfert, of Milton, who faces charges of severe child abuse, also said that she didn't see the more than 60 bruises that covered her young son's body in the days before his death.
Mason DeCosmo died on Aug. 5 as a result of severe “blunt-impact injury of the head, torso and extremities,” according to an autopsy report by the Ulster County medical Examiner's Office.
Authorities said the child had as many as 60 bruises to his head, face, torso, back and extremities. He also had a severe internal injuries, including lacerations to his liver and pancreas, and was suffering from pancreatis as a result of those injuries.
Kenneth Stahli, 27, who lived with Wolfert on Walnut Park Lane in the Marlborough hamlet of Milton, faces second degree murder charges and abuse charges in the toddler's death.
The Ulster County Department of Social Services is looking to sever Wolfert's parental rights to her younger son, Jaxon DeCosmo, who is now living with his father, Louis.
“She is not capable of having any children in her care,” said Heather Harp, an attorney for the Department of Social Services. “She has no concept of how to care for a child.”
Wolfert spent the entire day on the witness stand in Ulster County Family Court Monday, recounting the events leading up to her son's death — at times offering seemingly contradictory testimony about events and at other times saying she couldn't recall key events or statements made to police investigators.
Wolfert testified that Mason began exhibiting symptoms of illness a week before his death, — “he was up and down,” she said — but declined to call the doctor because she was treating him holisticially with “coconut water,” and because she was concerned that Child Protective Services would be called because the boy had a black eye. She said she was also concerned about taking time off from work because she was still in training. She said she had finally decided to take the child to urgent care after she got out of work on Aug. 5, but the child died before she had finished her shift.
Authorities say that Stahli had abused Mason for up to two weeks before the boy's death.
Wolfert testified that she invited Stahli to move in with her and her two young children about a week after the two began dating — and a few weeks after they reconnected on Facebook.
“That's not a very long time to make a judgment on whether that would be a safe decision,” said Harp.
“I saw how he was around my kids. I didn't have any reason to believe he would be bad around them,” said Wolfert. “I based my decision on multiple things, it wasn't just his interaction with my kids.
Wolfert said that the decision to leave her children in Wolfert's care was a “last resort,” because she couldn't arrange for other daycare.
She said even after Stahli started sending her text messages of injuries to Mason she had no reason to be concerned because “he explained them.”
State police Investigator Mario Restivo testified during an earlier criminal proceeding against Stahli that Stahli said that on the day of Mason's death, he pushed down on the child's body with enough force to break a bed in an effort to make the boy stop biting him.
Restivo also said testified in that hearing that Stahli admitted hoisting the boy up by the arm and knocking him down with a pillow, causing the child to hit his head, in the days prior to the boy's death.
Wolfert testified that on the day before Mason died, he asked his mother not to go to work.
“He said ‘no bye-byes, no bye-byes,” she recalled through tears.
Wolfert is expected to return to the witness stand on Thursday.
Alliance pushes to minimize trauma for child sex crime victims
by YESENIA AMARO
A local child advocacy organization is lobbying to improve how authorities interview child victims of sexual assault.
Resources need to be expanded and more training for law enforcement officers and first responders should be provided, said Denise Tanata Ashby, executive director of the Children's Advocacy Alliance.
The organization is pushing to ensure the every child in a sexual assault case is questioned by someone who has been trained in forensic interviewing.
This would help to stop traumatizing children made to tell their story multiple times and prevent children's statements from being excluded by courts during the prosecution process, Ashby said.
“Often these kids are faced with having to retell their story over and over again, and you are inflicting trauma on that child every time they retell their story,” she said.
In addition, “that initial interview with a victim of sexual assault is needed in criminal cases for prosecution, and we've seen a lot of these interviews actually get thrown out of court because they are not conducted appropriately.”
A forensic interview is a structured conversation with the child that is designated to elicit accurate accounts of events, according to the National Children's Advocacy Center. The goals are to collect information that will corroborate or refute allegations of sex crimes or abuse and to determine the identities and behaviors of all those involved.
The interview requires special techniques used by trained people because sometimes it's a victim's parent or relative accused of abusing them, people the children don't want to get in trouble even though they are being hurt, Ashby said.
Clark and Washoe counties have children's assessment centers, which offer resources and the environment for a forensic interview. The interview can be observed or recorded, limiting the trauma on the child, Ashby said.
The Southern Nevada Children's Assessment Center, however, only has two forensic interviewers.
The rural areas across the state are a separate issue because they lack assessment centers, Ashby said.
Faiza Ebrahim, a forensic interview specialist and administrator at the center in Clark County, didn't return several calls last week seeking comment. Law enforcement officers and Child Protective Services personnel can refer children to the center.
“There could be more training, we could train more people, even with (Family Services),” Ashby said. “Other jurisdictions have multiple children's assessment centers, and we have one.”
The center mitigates some of the repetition of interviews and has trained individuals to elicit information from a young child who has been traumatized and ask questions in a way that will make those statements acceptable evidence in a criminal prosecution, Ashby said.
The Children's Advocacy Alliance also has seen cases where police have been called, the issue of sexual abuse arises, and the child is interviewed in front of the alleged suspect, she said.
Officers receive training now, but more is needed, she added.
Miguel Garcia, spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department, said Friday no one was available to comment on the issue.
Clark County spokesman Erik Pappa on Friday said the Clark County Department of Family Services provides forensic interview training to Family Services caseworkers and Child Protective Services investigators.
He wasn't able to provide the number of children who come through the center annually. The center is located at Child Haven, the county's emergency shelter for abused and neglected children.
According to a brochure about the center, it helps more than 700 children under the age of 18 every year. The center partners with local agencies such as Family Services, the Clark County manager's office, the Clark County district attorney's office and local law enforcement agencies.
The center also offers resources to children and families such as support, advocacy and community referrals.
Ashby's organization had planned to get a bill drafted for the 2015 legislative session to seek expanded training and services but was unsuccessful. There's still a possibility that changes can be included in another bill draft, she said.
The organization will continue to push for improvements at the local level with the hope of policy changes, Ashby said.
“We just want to make sure that our kids have access to the best possible resources that will reduce the amount of trauma that they receive,” she said.
Police investigate shooting, owner of gun charged
CHESTERFIELD – Police are investigating an incident in which one juvenile male shot another juvenile male at a residence in the 7500 block of Bensley Park Boulevard on Sunday, Jan. 11.
At about 8:50 p.m. Sunday, police responded to a reported shooting at a residence in the 7500 block of Bensley Park Boulevard. Upon arrival, officers learned that a 5-year-old male, who lived at the residence, had been shot by another 5-year-old male, who was visiting. The victim was transported to VCU Medical Center with non-life threatening injuries.
The investigation indicates that several adults, including the owner of the handgun, were downstairs while three 5-year-old males, including the victim, were playing upstairs.
The juveniles located the handgun, which was not secured, and began playing with it. As they played with the gun, the victim was shot.
William C. Griffin, 28, the owner of the firearm, was arrested and charged with abuse and neglect of children, a felony. Griffin, of the 1100 block of North 29th Street in Richmond, is being held at the Chesterfield County Jail.
Victorian child abuse victims call for royal commission regional hearings
Survivors of child abuse have urged a royal commission to hold public hearings in regional Victoria to allow them to tell their stories in their local community.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse has held a number of public hearings in Melbourne since it was established in early 2013, but hearings in regional areas have been conducted behind closed doors.
Abuse survivor John Coon used a private hearing in Melbourne to share his experience of being molested at the Ballarat Orphanage as a 10 year old.
Mr Coon said it was important the local community also knew what happened.
"An open hearing would do the world of good because people will know exactly what you went through," Mr Coon said.
"It's a damn good idea for everybody to know what is going on."
The commission has private hearings scheduled for regional areas from the end of January but has not released details of the planned locations.
Lawyer Penny Savidis said many of her clients in regional Victoria wanted them to be made public.
"Many of the worst institutions in Victoria were based in those districts and survivors have told us that they would prefer to deal with their experiences of abuse sometimes in a public setting in their local communities," Ms Savidis said.
She called for public hearings to be held in Ballarat, Geelong and across western Victoria.
"A lot of survivors did not complain publicly when they were children - some of our clients have told us they were too scared to complain or they were threatened with the consequences of complaining by their abusers," she said.
"As adult survivors to be able to tell their stories is of immense value and especially in a public setting where they were gagged as children."
Mr Coon said public hearings might also encourage other local victims to come forward.
"I felt disgraceful when I was molested at 10," he said.
"I didn't think anybody would want to know me if I told anybody.
"But now about once a month they are charging a priest for doing the wrong thing many years ago and that is how I came out with my story."
Experts: Human trafficking found everywhere, even in the Q-C
by Linda Cook
Human trafficking occurs all over the world — even the Quad-Cities. More than 90 guests learned disturbing facts about how young people are forced into the sex industry during “Breaking Free: A Conference on Human Trafficking” Sunday at the Center for Active Seniors Inc., or CASI, 1035 W. Kimberly Road, Davenport. Newcomb Presbyterian Church in Davenport hosted the conference that was free and open to anyone.
“(Human trafficking) is a modern form of slavery that takes place in the United States,” said Carol Smolenski, executive director of ECPAT-USA, or End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children. The New York-based group's mission is to protect every child's basic human right to grow up free from the threat of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
“Poverty is certainly a contributing factor. But there are other factors as well,” Smolenski said.
Often children who have been sexually abused become involved in prostitution. “Many are kids who don't come from a protective background,” she said.
Smolenski said that preadolescent and other young people are integrated into the adult sex market. Instead of being arrested and prosecuted, she said, they should be referred to the child-welfare system.
She showed a video in which women who had been trafficked told their stories. One, a child of divorced parents, said that the other women she knew in the sex trade also came from broken homes. “The traffickers fill that void,” serving as father figures or “boyfriends,” she said.
“Much of our work is about protecting vulnerable people from being sold,” Smolenski said. “Men, for the most part, are the buyers.”
She encouraged everyone to start talking about this issue, and to raise this “really troubling” discussion about the sex industry with people they know.
She suggested purchasing from fair trade stores, such as the SIS International store in downtown Davenport, to ensure items aren't produced by slave labor. She also encouraged those attending to simply mentor a child.
Also speaking was Jane Hoffman of Braking Traffik: Stopping Sexual Exploitation in the QCA, whose mission is to support and enable the discovery of and response to incidents of sex trafficking through a victim-centered, multidisciplinary, and collaborative community effort on both sides of the river.
“It is our mission to eradicate sex trafficking in the Quad-Cities,” she said.
About 100,000 American children are trafficked every year, she said.
She showed “Any Kid Anywhere: Sex Trafficking Survivor Stories,” a film that features three young women from Cedar Rapids, Dubuque and the Quad-Cities.
Sharon Larrison of Davenport, a member of Newcomb Presbyterian Church, said that, after she learned about deplorable conditions of human trafficking, she asked, “How can this exist in the world without people knowing about it?
“I thought we needed a conference to educate,” she said. The Presbyterian Church, she said, has an association with ECPAT. She considers human trafficking to be a faith-based issue and said that “the natural worth and integrity of every person” should be recognized. She was pleased with the attendance.
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig, director of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations, also spoke. The ministry works to advocate within the United Nations community, guided by policies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, and to equip Presbyterians to live as global disciples.
Also represented at the conference were Family Resources SafePath Survivor Resources and Rick's House of Hope, a regional center for grieving and traumatized youth.
Uncertain refuge: Abused, neglected Muskegon County children with tentative net since Child Haven closure
by Stephen Kloosterman
MUSKEGON, MI – On Jan. 24, 2013, the temperature dropped to 4 degrees, and a pipe burst at the children's shelter on Terrace Street.
The occupants of Child Haven, minors taken from their families because of suspected abuse or neglect, were evacuated from the building. They were sent to other shelters and foster homes, and they never came back.
The facility did not re-open. Its employees were laid off. And ever since that cold night two years ago, the building on Terrace Street in Muskegon has remained empty.
Child Haven was a temporary home for children who were in transition after being removed from their parental homes. Children whose placements in foster homes or with relatives had been disrupted were also residents, and some parents seeking respite also voluntarily placed their children in the shelter. As a safety net, Child Haven seemed to catch quite a few of these children: It housed an average of seven children at a time in 2010 and 2011, according to an email between two human services officials that was obtained by MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Children stayed an average of eight days before moving on.
Public officials still haven't finalized plans to replace it. Just a few shelters or child-receiving facilities are still operated by counties in the state of Michigan.
MLive Muskegon Chronicle obtained emails exchanged by Muskegon County and the Michigan Department of Human Services in the year that followed the evacuation of Child Haven. Those communications show sporadic concerns -- and sometimes, urgency -- about finding homes for the children.
During the 2013 calendar year, about 100 children were re-directed directly to foster homes or emergency foster care, according to a state Department of Human Services spokesman at that time.
They were left in the lurch while officials at several government agencies at that time tried to coordinate a permanent fix.
These are children that the state believes have suffered, children that the state is trying to protect. Their faces and names are protected by government and media alike. They remain anonymous and their individual stories rarely become public.
But as a group, these children have a story, too.
In an attempt to shine a light on Child Haven, MLive Muskegon Chronicle conducted an investigation, using Freedom of Information Act requests and interviewing multiple government and agency officials.
Finding foster care
The family court is responsible for taking children out of homes where they're being abused or neglected. Most of the children removed from parental care end up staying with other relatives, according to the Michigan Department of Human Services. A minority – about 40 percent – have gone directly to foster homes since Child Haven was shut down.
In the meantime, DHS has developed a system for children separated from their families. Some are immediately matched with long-term foster care. Others have to be placed in emergency foster homes.
And when options run out, a few have to be placed outside of the county.
The Department of Human Services declined to release the locations where the children were placed, citing a clause in the Freedom of Information Act that protects foster children information.
"Whether the home belongs to us or a PAFC Agency, we are looking for homes in Muskegon County, as this is the child's residence," then-DHS spokesman Dave Akerly wrote in early 2014. "We may go into Ottawa/Oceana here and there, but not very much with Kent. However, if we found an appropriate relative located in Kent County, we would certainly pursue this, as opposed to an unrelated foster home in Kent County."
Even so, according to DHS officials, six of the children have ended up spending the night at a Grand Rapids home.
"After exhausting all possible placement options available to the Muskegon County DHS, the children were placed with KidsFirst in Kent County," the department said in response to a FOIA request.
Soon after Child Haven was evacuated, DHS Foster Care Program Manager Shelly Fraser wrote in a memo her organization had met with all of its licensed foster homes, and that "15 homes with 23 beds available" had indicated they were willing to provide the short-term emergency care that had previously been provided by Child Haven. Other agencies were stepping up to help. KidsFirst in Kent County was contacted for help as a "back-up plan and last option," according to the memo.
Jane Johnson -- DHS director for Muskegon, Mason and Oceana counties – said that the emergency placement process has worked.
"There are times that our staff and resources are challenged but we have been able to meet child needs," she said.
Written messages between Muskegon County and Department of Human Services document those challenges in finding places to put the children.
The six children from Muskegon County homes were placed at Grand Rapids' KidsFirst Emergency Shelter soon after Child Haven shut down in January 2013. In March 2013, Johnson wrote in an email to county officials that "KidsFirst has been full and unable to take our children."
"We contacted Kids First to assist with a placement and they were not available to us," she wrote. "We found a solution but the pressure has increased this week."
A year later, in March 2014, Johnson wrote in an email to then-Muskegon County Administrator Bonnie Hammersley that at a meeting of county, court and DHS officials Johnson "informed the group that we are struggling with Emergency Placements and would like to move our Child Haven planning ahead."
This month, the planning process did finally seem to move ahead as Johnson said she toured a county building that could house the facility.
But to consider where Child Haven is headed in the future, it's important to look at its past.
Arn Boezaart was hired by the DHS in Muskegon in 1969 – just a few years after Child Haven opened. In 27 years with the organization – what was then called the Department of Social Services – he eventually became the shelter's supervisor.
"Child Haven was a real bright star for a long time," he said. "The beginning of Child Haven comes from the federal government. ... One decision that was made was that the state would take a greater interest in cases of child abuse and neglect."
Federal dollars paid for construction of Child Haven's first facility at 1894 Apple Ave.
"The beauty, I'll tell you, of a place like Child Haven, is you could take kids there any time of day or night and you could receive them properly. You clean them up, you evaluate them.
"Many times, these kids come in as sibling groups of two or three at a time," he added. Not all foster parents are prepared to take more than one. "What they would do before Child Haven, or what they would do today without Child Haven is, they'd have to place them with foster families. You end up with scenarios in which kids under the most dreadful of scenarios are split up."
Child Haven in those days was a 24-hour facility, with a supervisor and half a dozen county employees, Boezaart said. Medical personnel visited regularly.
"The late 1960s were pretty heady times in the world of human services," he said.
By the 1980s, administrators were looking to cut costs. Early attempts to close Child Haven in Muskegon met with public protest. In the 1990s, a private organization on Terrace Street, Child and Family Services, went out of business, and Muskegon County moved Child Haven into that smaller, leased building. Child Haven's building on 1894 Apple Ave., that had been built with federal money, was demolished. The Apple Avenue lot was sold, and a strip mall was built there.
It wasn't just Muskegon. A facility in Grand Rapids went through a mid-life crisis of that kind. "We found that the cost of providing care could be handled slightly more efficiently by the private sector," said David Gabrielse, the former supervisor of that facility. The child shelter in Kent County transferred to the private sector in 1998.
Now in Muskegon, the building on Terrace Street isn't being used.
The county has buildings and space enough to potentially re-establish a facility like Child Haven, but planning isn't complete. It could still take months to shift programs between buildings and ensure a new building meets the state's specifications.
'Not an ideal solution'
Officials closest to the children involved have mixed feelings about the temporary placement system that's been used for almost two years.
Child Abuse Council of Muskegon County Executive Director Kyleen Gee said she wasn't concerned.
Some of the children served by her agency used to be placed at Child Haven, but now the council's advocates just travel to wherever they are placed – in relatives' homes, foster homes or emergency foster homes.
"From our standpoint, our advocates are going to go wherever we are placed," she said. "Our kids are getting served, from what we're seeing."
Chief Circuit Court Judge William Marrietti oversees the family court that decides when to remove children from their homes or parents. He said that referring the children directly to emergency foster homes isn't optimal.
"That's, in our opinion, not an ideal situation," he said.
At the same time, he understands why time delays have occurred.
"There's a lot of fiscal restraints involved," he said. "There are a lot of things we'd like to have done long ago."
Like county and DHS officials, Marrietti has a positive outlook on plans for the future -- plans that after two years, don't have a deadline for completion.
Shut down since January 2013, planning has continued to drag on. At some times, Department of Human Services' top local official, Johnson, couldn't say if Child Haven would ever re-open. "We have learned more about our needs through this past year and continue to assess," Jane Johnson wrote to the Chronicle in a June 2014 statement. Months later in November, she didn't have any updates.
It wasn't until this month that Johnson reported some progress after touring a building owned by Muskegon County. Johnson said she was working on a new program that would occupy the building and working with a licensing consultant on the next steps to re-open Child Haven.
"We are pleased to report we are moving forward," she wrote. "We are glad to be reestablishing this resource for children and families."
Sex Trafficking Victims, Not ‘Prostitutes,' Finally Getting Help (and a New Name) in Court
“I don't believe anyone's open to prostitution unless you've been traumatized or abused. You'd beg, you'd go on welfare, you'd shoplift, for goodness' sake. These people need to be treated as victims.”
by Batya Ungar-Sargon
Lillin was 14 years old when she was kidnapped from her Mount Vernon home. She was tied and handcuffed, and taken to Queens, where she was kept for a year and forced to have sex with her abductor. When she managed to escape and return to her conservative family, the cultural shame associated with what happened to her kept her father from going to the police.
A few years later, Lillin was lured from her home by a friend with whom she used to do homework. The friend introduced Lillin to a man who turned out to be the friend's pimp, who already had pictures of Lillin and her family. He threatened to kill them if Lillin didn't turn tricks for him, and so she did, for over two years. In the ensuing years, Lillin has been arrested over 50 times for prostitution and has accumulated 12 convictions. She is now 22 years old.
Lillin is exactly the kind of woman New York's Human Trafficking Intervention Initiative is designed to help. Sex workers are identified as victims of trafficking rather than criminals, and the initiative is designed to connect those arrested for prostitution-related charges with counseling and social services in lieu of jail-time. Piloted in Queens and New York, the program was launched by New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in September of 2013, and it's working.
New York will be a trail-blazer, Lippman believes—the first state in the nation to create a statewide system of courts designed to intervene in the lives of trafficked human beings and to help them to “break the cycle of exploitation and arrest.” The Human Trafficking Courts (HTIC) will assist sex workers in pursuing “productive lives rather than sending them right back into the grip of their abusers.” Lippman promised that the new initiative will stop the pattern of “shuffling trafficking victims through our criminal courtrooms without addressing the underlying reasons why they are there in the first place.”
Eleven Human Trafficking Intervention Courts have since been established, each with a judge who presides one day a week over all individuals arraigned in that borough for prostitution. And while law enforcement still arrests people for prostitution, they are now sent to counseling sessions rather than jail. Upon completion of the mandated counseling sessions, defendants are eligible to have their records sealed, provided they are not re-arrested for six months. Defendants also have the option of rejecting the mandated services and proceeding to a trial by jury, but the judges greatly encourage them to go the route of services.
Judge Lippman clearly had in mind women like Lillin, who had been trafficked heinously and against her will. But what about those who choose to work in sex industries?
“There's a tension between whether they are technically being trafficked in a totally involuntary way, and other women who see this as another way to survive,” said Judge Shari Michels, who presides over the HTIC in the Bronx. But because those who choose sex work were at one point trafficked, Judge Michels says, these individuals are already immune to the trauma, or what would be trauma for another person.
Or, as an HTIC judge who requested to remain anonymous said, “I don't believe anyone's open to prostitution unless you've been traumatized or abused. You'd beg, you'd go on welfare, you'd shoplift, for goodness' sake. These people need to be treated as victims. They have already lost their dignity.”
I asked Lillin how she feels about being called a victim. “It's OK by me,” she told me outside a Brooklyn courtroom.
But other sex workers balked at even the nomenclature—let alone the turn toward rehabilitation the courts have taken. One woman in Michels' courtroom couldn't help but roll her eyes when Michels asked her how the counseling sessions were going. Michels gave the woman a lecture in response, exhorting her to arrive on time to her next court appearance as part of her “transformation” and telling her that there wasn't a person in the courtroom who would be without benefit from some form of counseling.
And while many see any alternative to jail time as a net gain, the court has not challenged the law against prostitution. “As judges, we have to follow the law,” Judge Michels said. “It's a transition. It's up to society to decide how to treat these people.”
The women at the courts were often reticent to speak about their experiences and why they were there, but most seemed relieved not to be facing jail time.
And yet, the major difference between the new courts and the old ones is more a shift in attitude than anything else, says Audacia Ray. Audacia is a former sex worker and the founder and director of the Red Umbrella Project, a peer-led sex-worker organization. She says law enforcement is still treating sex workers as criminals, despite redefining prostitution as victimization.
“People who are in the sex trade are the only folks who are being identified as victims [and] are getting arrested for that fact,” says Ray. “The event of an arrest is really traumatic, and perceived as punitive. It just doesn't matter how much the court is saying, ‘You're not going to jail.' People are still getting handcuffed, and that's something that seems like it's a punishment. And they're still in court.”
There's a misconception about where the violence in the sex industry comes from, Ray says. “In reality, most sex workers we know fear police and fear the different systems they have to interact with much more than they fear individual clients.”
Without significantly altering the way sex workers are treated by law enforcement, the courts are defining them as victims and taking away their agency, Ray says.
“A real tenet of providing support to victims of violence is to give them choices,” Ray says. “The court system is stripping that from people. It's saying, 'These people are so traumatized that they don't get to have any choice in what happens next.' And that is exactly wrong. Part of giving people support should be restoring their ability to have decision-making power in their lives. Services should be voluntary, not coerced.”
And the messaging—that people engaging in sex work are too traumatized to be making decisions—infuriates Ray as a former sex worker.
“Trauma doesn't negate autonomy,” she said.
Leigh Alana has been a sex worker since she came out to her parents as bi-sexual in college and they “didn't take it well.” She needed to find a way to get herself through college.
“It certainly started out a necessity in the sense that I didn't have access to another job that would both meet my needs and allow me the time to go to classes,” Alana says.
But now, seven years later, she says the work suits her. Alana is a dominatrix. She says there are aspects of the work that she enjoys and is good at, and that it allows her time to do other things.
“And the pay is better than any other work I can realistically access,” she said.
She has no plans to quit.
She doesn't see herself as a victimized by sex work. For her, sex work was a route out of victimization, a stabilizing force. But she admits that she is not the typical sex worker likely to pass through the courts. Her work is indoors—niche work that isn't being stringently policed.
Alana says that the courts are failing to address the major reason people go into sex work: It pays.
“A five or six week counseling course that talks to you about why what you're doing is bad for you doesn't actually solve any of the problems,” she said.
Or, as Audacia Ray put it, “Therapy is not a way to get a job.”
The courts have a number of more practical problems too. According to a report by Ray's Red Umbrella Project, they have done nothing to ameliorate racial profiling. Black defendants in the Brooklyn HTIC faced 69 percent of all charges and were 88 percent of the defendants who faced three or more charges. Ninety-four percent of charges for loitering for the purpose of engaging in prostitution were brought against black defendants. The report found that there have been problems procuring translators for defendants, too.
Maybe most disturbingly, the study found that there are no publicly established standards for the social services that are mandated for defendants. There's no telling that the state-mandated help is helping at all.
The Center for Court Innovation did not respond to requests for comment. But Crystal Deboise, the managing director of the Sex Workers Project, a non-profit that provides legal and social services to sex workers, had a more equivocal take on the new courts. From her work with sex workers Deboise said that the new court system is a clear win for most clients. But she says that the implications of using the criminal justice system as a method for social intervention are huge.
“I think it has pretty serious implications for who we are as a society,” she said. “Do we say the way to assist those abused in the sex industry is by arresting them?”
There are serious consequences to arrests. It makes it difficult for women to find employment, which leads ironically to more sex work.
“We would love to see that attention given to the community as a place where solutions can be found,” Deboise said. “But counseling is better than jail time.”
Laws stir debate on progress against sex trade
by Gary Heinstein
Lansing — A package of tough new laws Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette expects to make a major dent in human trafficking and sexual coercion will take effect this week, but some supporters worry the moves don't do enough.
As the new Legislature opens its session Wednesday, 18 of the 21 anti-human-trafficking bills Gov. Rick Snyder has signed will become law. They range from harsher penalties for perpetrators of the modern-day version of slavery to state protection for juveniles rescued from the sex trade.
"I'm elated by the strides we've made and that it has been victim-centered and bipartisan," said Schuette, who announced the legislative anti-trafficking initiative in November 2013. "When you meet with a victim and listen to her, it makes it real. This is somebody's daughter. It shocks your conscience."
The governor was similarly effusive when he signed the bills in mid-October.
"I'm extremely proud to sign this comprehensive bipartisan bill package, making Michigan one of the leading states in fighting this tragic crime," Snyder said then. "This effort holds criminals accountable while giving victims the support they need to overcome these horrific experiences."
But there are questions about how effective the laws can be unless lawmakers and Snyder follow up with significant state funding to provide shelters and other services for victims. The money wasn't included in the legislative package.
National advocacy groups such as Polaris Project and Shared Hope International say sheltering victims and providing mental health services and life skills training are crucial. Without them, advocates say, women freed from servitude are less likely to act as witnesses against traffickers and are vulnerable to being lured back into exploitative situations.
Michigan's efforts are a start, particularly in making the public aware that human trafficking is a real problem, said Jane White, director of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.
The legislative package "does not, however, make Michigan in the forefront of human trafficking laws," White said, because it doesn't provide "the kind of relief that supports victims of trafficking, who must have support services in order to become survivors."
Neighboring Minnesota, which the advocacy groups cite as a national leader in battling human trafficking, appropriated $2.8 million for victim services in 2013 and recently increased it to $5 million.
Services found lacking
A 2013 report from Michigan's Commission on Human Trafficking found that local services particularly lacking for victims were housing and "trauma-informed programming." The deficiencies were "largely the result of significant funding limitations among Michigan-based providers," the panel said.
University of Michigan professor Bridgette Carr, who served on the state task force whose report on human trafficking helped form the legislative package, would like the new laws to have gone further toward ending criminality for young women in prostitution cases.
While the legislation is a "huge step forward," it doesn't provide as much protection as federal human trafficking laws for girls younger than 18, said Carr, director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School.
Federal law assumes girls under 18 have been coerced into prostitution, but under Michigan's new law they still will bear the burden of proving they're human trafficking victims, she said.
Prosecutors can have them placed on probation, after which further criminal proceedings can be dismissed if they are first-time offenders and comply with court orders. It could include drug treatment or mandatory counseling — for which they must pay reasonable costs.
"It's impossible to help them if we retain the criminality of it," Carr said. "We wouldn't stand for" similar treatment of victims in other types of criminal cases, she said.
Schuette said Michigan had lagged other states in coming to terms with the problem, but argued that solutions must be shared by the private and public sectors, as well as nonprofits.
He said services are available in some places from nonprofit-sponsored facilities such as Vista Maria in Dearborn Heights, Kent County's Manasseh Project and Oakland County's Common Ground crisis center.
"It may not happen in every city, but I think there will be safe havens," Schuette said, noting how donation-funded shelters for domestic violence victims have spread around Michigan as awareness of that issue increased. "There's certainly more to do, and I'm not going to give up," he said.
Aimee Nimeh, director of crisis and advocacy at Common Ground, said she hopes the legislation will lead to more money to aid people who escape servitude. Common Ground, which provides crisis services in Oakland and Genesee counties, has a 24-hour crisis line that can help connect victims with services such as court advocacy, counseling and housing.
"We've always come into contact with survivors of human trafficking," Nimeh said. "A year ago, we got connected with people who wanted to do more for adults who were coming out of these situations. They would need shelter and some immediate services.
"What we saw was there aren't a lot of services for adults," she added. "The landscape wasn't as rich as it should be, given how pervasive the situation is with human trafficking."
State Sen. Judy Emmons, R-Sheridan, who has made anti-human trafficking efforts her crusade as a lawmaker, acknowledged that funding for housing and programs still is needed. She said lawmakers tried but weren't able to make it part of the package, and she intends to continue pushing for it.
Fee proposal resisted
Emmons said one proposal was to require adult entertainment establishments to collect a state fee of $3 to $4 per customer as part of their cover charges, but it faced "considerable pushback from the industry." In addition, Emmons said, conservatives objected to it as a new tax and liberals worried that owners of the establishments would extract the money from their employees' pay.
"We're coming back and we're going to revisit that," Emmons said.
Emmons says Michigan has made real strides since the effort began more than a year ago.
"We've talked to people whose own families had offered them (for sex for money); they didn't even recognize it's wrong," Emmons said. "The key is recognition and, once there's recognition, to have the tools to deal with the needs of the victims."
¦ What: Forcing people below age 18 into labor or services whether in factory or agricultural work or in the sex trade. Sex trafficking means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion.
¦ Signs: Little or no pay; restricted movement; long work hours; harsh working conditions; security measures in the work area; worker exhibits fear; workers show poor physical health; workers don't control their money or identification; workers aren't allowed to speak for themselves.
Source: Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force
The new Michigan human trafficking laws taking effect this week include:
¦ Removal of the six-year statute of limitations on prosecution of anyone forcing girls 16 or younger into prostitution. Those committing this crime against minors will be subject to prosecution at any time.
¦ A change from misdemeanor to felony status for the crime of prostituting girls younger than 18. It will carry new penalties of up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine or both.
¦ A state human trafficking commission housed in the Attorney General's Office and a central data collection system to provide a clearer picture of the size of the problem in Michigan.
¦ A provision that adds forcing of a child into sexually abusive situations to the kidnapping law. Kidnapping carries penalties of up to life in prison and/or a $50,000 fine.
¦ A law change to treat underage girls as victims rather than criminals in prostitution cases. It says girls under 18 will be "presumed to be coerced" into the sex trade and eligible for state juvenile services such as foster care and state-sponsored psychological or medical care normally available only to Medicaid recipients.
¦ A new law allowing the government to seize money and other assets associated with human trafficking and sexual servitude from those convicted of such crimes.
¦ A legal specification that testimony from a victim isn't necessary to prosecute someone accused of a human trafficking crime, and that the victim's resistance or lack of resistance cannot be considered relevant in court.
Prince William schools educate staff, students and parents on human trafficking
by Jim Barnes
Jessica Woelkers, a social worker with Prince William County schools, asked a group of middle school staff members last month whether they knew the average age at which children enter into human trafficking. One hazarded a guess: 16? Another suggested 15.
“It's age 13,” Woelkers replied. “For both males and females.”
Woelkers was presenting a training session on human trafficking to teacher assistants at New Dominion Middle School, an alternative school in the Manassas area. It was part of a grant-supported program the school system has initiated to educate students, parents and school employees about human trafficking and to increase awareness of the problem.
Prince William schools started the trafficking prevention program in response to a 2012 Virginia General Assembly mandate that school systems educate students about the hazards of getting involved in teen trafficking, Young said.
Woelkers said that trafficking takes two main forms: labor and sex. In labor trafficking, people are coerced into performing work for which they do not receive a fair wage. This has been a problem for day laborers and domestic workers in Northern Virginia and in businesses such as restaurants and spas, she said.
Most of the training session focused on sex trafficking, in which teens are lured into the commercial sex trade, which includes prostitution, pornography and performing in strip clubs.
The common thread, Woelkers said, is coercion, often involving fear or threats.
Betsy Young, supervisor of social workers for the school system, told the class that teen trafficking is a problem even in relatively affluent counties such as Prince William.
“Trafficking cuts across all socioeconomic lines,” Young said. A human trafficking operation broken up by the FBI in 2012 — the largest juvenile sex trafficking bust in the United States up to that time — involved girls from Lorton and Woodbridge, she said.
It is difficult to collect accurate data on human trafficking in Virginia because the state does not have a specific human trafficking code, Woelkers said.
“They have to use abduction, [prostitution] or other categories, not trafficking, so we can't get a comprehensive number,” Young said. “It's very hard for us to show that there's an issue, [although] we all know there is.”
Woelkers said traffickers have three main ways of controlling victims. The first is “boyfriending” or “girlfriending,” where a trafficker might trick a girl into believing he is her boyfriend before coercing her into performing sex acts for others.
The other mechanisms are family control — in which someone in a caregiving role exploits a child and control by a gang. Woelkers said she is seeing all three situations in Prince William.
A common misconception is that teen trafficking mostly involves runaways, Young said.
“These girls are remaining in school, at least in the beginning, and they may be trafficked out on weekends,” Young said. “In the beginning, they think the trafficker is their boyfriend. A grooming process occurs. Eventually, threats start occurring.”
Traffickers commonly approach girls through social media, such as Facebook and Instagram, start by telling them they are pretty and then follow up with gifts and promises of a better life, Young said.
The traffickers typically threaten to post revealing pictures of their victims on the Internet, to go after a younger brother or sister, to kill the family pet, or to report parents who are undocumented, Young said, to coerce their victims into working for them.
The Potomac Health Foundation has provided more than $132,000 in grant funding over two years for Prince William's awareness campaign. The funding has paid for public service announcements at movie theaters and a billboard along Route 1 in Woodbridge, Young said. It also enabled the school system to hire Woelkers to serve as a social worker dedicated to human trafficking, she said.
Woelkers, 29, of Gainesville has a master's degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh. She has worked extensively with victims of physical and sexual abuse and with homeless families.
She has provided training on human trafficking to school social workers, teachers, nurses, bus drivers, administrators and other employees, as well as to parents and students, Young said. Prince William was the first jurisdiction in the state to provide lessons on trafficking for students and staff members, she said.
“Other school jurisdictions are now following, but we were the first. We're really proud of that,” she said.
Woelkers also presented the human trafficking lesson to 4,800 students in ninth-grade health and physical education classes last year, mostly in the eastern part of the county. The program is expanding this year into high schools in the Manassas area and the western part of the county, Woelkers said, and she is also developing a lesson for middle schools.
At the end of the classes, Woelkers gives each student a slip of paper with a box they can check to indicate that they would like to speak to someone, Woelkers said. They might know someone who has been approached at a mall or on social media, or they may have been approached themselves, she said. Last year, she said, 100 students came forward, and 41 of those were identified as at risk.
“We have a whole array of supports for the kids when they come forward,” Young said. “We do whatever we need to do to make sure that they get the support that they need.”
The school system has partnerships with several agencies to provide services, Young said, including Child Protective Services, the Prince William County Police Department, Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Services and the Greater Prince William Community Health Center.
Ana Cody, senior manager for outreach and community engagement for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that Prince William's emphasis on classroom instruction about trafficking sets it apart from other school systems, which focus more on awareness campaigns using publicity materials.
“I haven't seen anything like that, because usually when people say, ‘Do something about human trafficking or sex trafficking,' schools or communities tend to [focus on] awareness, [such as] posters . . . and that doesn't really do much, in my view,” Cody said.
The school system is “targeting kids who could be at risk,” she said. “That's very important, because they're acting before the situation could happen.”