Sunday Conversation with Jennifer Swain
by Ann Hardie
No one likes talking about the selling of children for sex. Not Jennifer Swain, interim executive director of youthSpark. Since 2000, the nonprofit, based at the Fulton County Juvenile Court, has been on the front lines of protecting mostly girls but lots of boys from sex traffickers.
“People are uncomfortable with the topic because it exists in the first place or because it breaks your heart,” Swain said. “It breaks my heart.”
But the collective voice of youthSpark, public officials, advocates and increasingly survivors themselves is being heard, resulting in new laws aimed at traffickers and programs for minors at risk. And Georgia, once known as a hotbed for the exploitation of children, is drawing attention for its efforts to protect them.
Q: What is the biggest misconception about minors who are trafficked?
A: That they should just run away from these situations. These are kids being exploited for the basic needs of life — food, shelter, clothing. About 80 to 90 percent of victims have a history of sexual abuse. Many girls who come to our intervention program through juvenile court believe that that 30-year-old man really loves them.
Q: Is that man a pimp or a customer?
A: We have to change our thinking about what a pimp looks like. If you are looking for a guy in the purple suit with purple gators, you are going to miss the mark. Today a pimp can look like a woman or the guy walking next to you going to work. It can be child abuse and neglect and poverty or a lack of community support or parental accountability. We have to be as equally passionate about disabling the demand for prostituted children as we are rescuing and restoring them to the life they were designed to have.
Q: Do those kids ever get back to that life?
A: Yes they can. We use the word victim a lot but those who come out on the other side are really survivors. We have seen girls integrate back into a homelike setting, go on to college, go on to become great moms. We have seen more survivors speaking out, empowering other survivors not to feel ashamed.
Q: Does the discomfort in talking about this issue make it hard to tackle?
A: Initially. Because it is more visible, it is getting easier.
Q: Why is Atlanta such a hub for the sex trafficking of minors?
A: Atlanta has an international airport and about 1,200 miles of interstate connecting us to other major cities. We have a high convention and tourism industry. Atlanta has an overly sexualized or highly glamorized adult entertainment industry.
Q: How is that connected?
A: While there isn't a direct connection between the adult entertainment industry and the trafficking of children per se, at a high level, it really helps to desensitize how women are perceived as sexual objects.
Q: What do you want out of the Legislature this year?
A: We are going for a “Safe Harbor” law that says a minor can't be charged with prostitution. We already have a law that expunges the records of minors charged with prostitution. It just makes sense that minors should not be charged in the first place.
Q: How did you get to youthSpark?
A: I ask myself that all the time. I was working in the engineering department airing shows for a television news station in Alabama. It was a cool job but I wanted to feel connected personally and emotionally to my work. I took a temporary administrative position at youthSpark and learned there is nothing else for me.
Abuse victims identified on select committee website
Four survivors of child sex abuse say they have received more threats and online abuse after MPs inadvertently published their details online.
Their names were placed on the Home Affairs Committee website, but removed the next day after they complained.
The document appeared among papers the committee released as part of its probe into how the Home Office has handled the issue of historical child abuse.
It was supplied by a member of the government-appointed abuse probe panel.
But in a statement, the panel said the document was supplied "without permission or knowledge" of seven of the eight members or the inquiry secretariat.
In a letter to Home Secretary Theresa May, the victims said they had been left feeling vulnerable and exposed.
They added that views expressed in the documents by some of the panel members had added to their distress.
BBC home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said the row is the latest confrontation in a split between the groups preparing to take part in the abuse inquiry.
The home secretary is preparing to announce a new chairman, and the entire format of the inquiry could be reformatted.
The names and contact details of victims were released online last week.
Several of those named are active on social media but the material also referred to a woman who is not.
The Home Affairs Committee said: "The material included directions to panel members about how they should answer questions from the committee, as well as email exchanges between panel members about the panel's external communications strategy.
"These emails included the names of third parties who were not members of the panel.
"At the request of the individuals concerned, and of the panel secretariat, the material has been redacted to remove references to these individuals."
Author Naomi Hunter reaches out to children of sexual abuse
by Tracy Kiesler
Australian author Naomi Hunter is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Not only was she abused by a neighbor but she endured years of abuse from a family member, in fact her very own brother. It is estimated that approximately 15% of all people report some kind of sexual activity with a sibling in childhood. A 1991 study showed that between 2% and 4% of people have been sexually abused by a sibling. Leder, 1991. Finkelhor, 1999.
A Secret Safe to Tell is Naomi's book. She has taken on the challenge of reaching victims while they are still in childhood. Sexual abuse of children is such a taboo subject. It's very difficult to talk to adult victims. Even more delicate is the job of talking to young children about it. Naomi has managed to write a book about her story that is delivered in a manner that isn't frightening for youngsters. Naomi has kept in mind that while some of the children who hear her story will be victims of abuse, they may not recognize it as abuse. She is hoping they will identify with her story and be able to step out in courage to find the help that they need.
T.K . Did you always understand you were abused, or was it a revelation of sorts?
N.H . My older brother who is nine years older than me, abused me from such an early age that I just assumed that this kind of connection was ‘normal.' He had told me that this was the plan for my life, that's why I was born, we were ‘in love', I made him feel so good, that it was our future to be together and get married and be like ‘real lovers'… etc. I knew that it was our secret because I was told that even though our hearts were deeply in love, that adults wouldn't understand and we needed to wait until we were older to tell them. A neighbour began sexually abusing me too, in secret, so I was being introduced to all this secret sexual behaviour, pleasuring men and witnessing pornography. I just thought it was normal! I saw a TV show Degrassi High, in which a teacher was secretively making passes at a student and although I did not see anything that resembled my sexual abuse situation, I could relate to how the girl in the show was feeling. She told her mum so I felt like that was ‘the right thing to do'. I told her about our neighbour and I was instantly believed. The police became involved and it opened up a major investigation in our neighbourhood where 15 other children came forward too to say that it was also happening to them by this man. I didn't associate the two abusive situations… As an adult now, I still look back on this with amazement that I was so well groomed by my brother to feel like his abuse was love. I suffered a further two more years of him raping me and abusing me until I finally told my mum when I was 10. Her response will haunt me forever… She called me a liar and dragged me to school in a shockingly distressed state and informed my teacher that I wasn't to make up such hideous lies. So I learned that sexual abuse was wrong from our neighbour but OK from my brother. I learned that it was not ok to tell. So I suffered in silence and developed a major eating disorder to cope. My understandings of abuse were so blurred and confusing that I have only in the past few years, truly began to grasp the horror of such a revelation.
With all that being said, I would strongly recommend disclosing to a trusted person who can support and validate them. It is better to tell and share, than to live a life of silent suffering and denying yourself the connectedness with your body that everyone deserves.
T.K . Do you have plans on presenting a program to schools? I know you plan on writing more books on sensitive subjects for children. How do you envision getting your books to the kids?
N.H . We do have a goal to eventually conduct school presentations but at the moment we are concentrating on educating parents and care givers, empowering them with the knowledge and tools that it is OK to have body safety discussions with their children. We are currently running sessions at schools, child care centres etc. with educators, parents and care-givers coming along to find out how A Secret Safe to Tell is currently impacting children - helping them to feel confident and empowered to disclose abuse, helping parents to discuss body safety and helping adult survivors of CSA to feel less isolated, less ashamed and more empowered.
My husband and I are actually taking the opportunity to travel with our daughter to Africa next year to help run a little school in Tanzania. The school is in Bagamoyo, on the east coast and will be an incredible opportunity for our little family. We are going to learn so much about language, culture and life!! Tanzania is a fantastic place full of life, nature and sunshine. We are looking forward to living a year completely separated from our past 5 years. This time next year we will decide on our next adventure – possibly New York, Canada or Europe… maybe all of the above. It will also be a fabulous opportunity to connect personally with our global connections that we are making through my book, and present our information sessions all over the world. My book is already in the early stages of being translated into Chinese and will be released next year, I hope it to be the first of many different language translations!
T.K. How can people in the States order your book?
N.H. My publishers are working on a US distributor as we speak and I will update you on this as it progresses. In the meantime, people can contact me on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/naomihunterauthor), send me a message with their order and I can send a personally signed copy. Alternatively, orders can be taken directly through my publisher's website (www.classic-jojo.com). Kindle downloads are available on www.amazon.com.
Naomi's story is extremely inspirational. Watch for the follow up article (After the Secret) about the steps she took to recover and the tools she utilizes to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit. Recovery is a lifelong commitment. Naomi has done a wonderful job sharing her experience in hopes of living the fullest happiest life she possibly can. I believe it will be helpful for survivors to be able to learn from her life. It is in honesty and openness that we know we are not alone.
CAASA offers 'Darkness to Light' training
by Hanna Russmann
Centers Against Abuse and Sexual Assault will conduct a free community child sexual abuse prevention training session called Darkness to Light Stewards of Children at the Spencer Public Library from 6-8:15 p.m. Tuesday.
This is the second year CAASA will offer the training program designed to teach adults how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The training session will be lead by Kristi Neumann, CAASA sexual abuse prevention education coordinator.
"There has never been a person who walked away from this program and said they didn't get anything out of it," Neumann said. "It is time well spent."
She added, "We raise awareness to the fact that one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys will be sexually abused before they are the age of 18, and that is just the reported cases."
The training program is directed toward parents and organizations that work closely with children. Those who attend will view video testimonials of 10 child sexual abuse survivors and participate in a discussion.
"We will talk about the signs of sexual abuse," Neumann said. "We will discuss how to talk to children about sexual abuse, safe boundaries, healthy sexuality and that no means no."
Other topics include how to report child sexual abuse, what to report, what is reportable, how to set up a prevention plan and what types of situations to avoid in order to prevent child sexual abuse.
"For organizations that work with children, we will also talk about how to establish a code of conduct," Neumann said.
For more information about the training session or to register for the event contact Kristi Neumann at CAASA by email at email@example.com or phone at 712-732-8120.
"Children can't protect themselves from this type of abuse. It is up to adults to step up and prevent it," Neumann said.
No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute: A Perspective From the Bench
by Catherine J. Pratt -- Commissioner, Los Angeles Superior Court
I first met Rebecca when she was 14 and arrested for prostitution. Although most youth offenders charged with non-violent crimes remain at home while on probation, that wasn't an option for Rebecca. Both of her parents had substance abuse problems and lengthy prison records. Her grandfather tried his best with her, but a sick man in his 80's was no match for this street-smart teenager. Over the next few years, until she "aged out" of the system, I treated her like any other kid on probation, put her in custody when she didn't follow the rules, offered her counseling, encouraged her to go to school, but none of that helped her. I slowly learned about the reality of her life: her pimp expected her to return to him as soon as she was released from custody. She risked extreme violence if she did not report back to him as soon as she was free; the burn scars on her chest attested to that. On one occasion, he actually waited outside the courthouse to claim his property as soon as I took her off of electronic monitoring. She was his favorite, most lucrative girl and he vowed to find her anywhere. When I sent her to a safe haven in Phoenix, he picked her up within 2 days and put her back on the streets of Los Angeles within hours.
Shortly before her 18th birthday, I sent her to yet another group home. She left after 3 days, which was no surprise. The difference this time around was that she came back to us within a week, voluntarily. She wasn't back on the street, hadn't been arrested or physically beaten. Her spirit had been crushed though. This time when she returned to her trafficker/pimp, he rejected her. He told her that, at 17, she was too old to work for him. He had found another 14 year old and she was making lots of money for him. Rebecca was hurt and angry and told us that she wanted to kill him. I saw the silver lining: she had come back asking for help.
I am a court commissioner in Los Angeles and supervise juveniles who are on probation for anything from petty theft to murder. For many years, I assumed the girls before me who had been arrested for prostitution had chosen to be on the streets, that they saw this as a way to support themselves when their families failed to do so. Then I became aware of the repeated violence and trauma inflicted upon them over many years, by family members, trusted adults and gang-entrenched pimps. As a system, we focused on their faults and failures, completely overlooking how decades of poverty, community violence and our over-sexualized media helped to shape them. These children are the latest generation of "throw-away" kids that families, communities and child welfare systems don't know how to help. And so they end up in the juvenile justice system, charged with a crime that, arguably, they legally cannot commit. Because if you are too young to consent to sex it follows, logically, that you are too young to consent to sell sex. We lock them up, take away their ability to make any decisions for themselves and label them with some of the most shameful terms used to describe humans: "prostitutes" and "criminals."
In Los Angeles, some of us are trying a new approach. Very dedicated and specially trained probation officers, attorneys, counselors, group home staff and advocates meet weekly, in a collaborative, non-adversarial court setting and assess each girl individually. Many of the girls are traumatized, distrusting and downright prickly teenagers. They also have incredible talents to express themselves, to re-invent themselves and to survive. The common goal for each girl is for her to believe that she has the option to be something else, anything else, because despite the criminal and social label, she is not a prostitute. Progress is slow and setbacks can be heart-breaking, but we eagerly celebrate their successes, small and large. Some days, we celebrate graduations. Others days, we rejoice when a girl walks away from her pimp, or escapes, and asks for help. As for Rebecca, we are making plans to celebrate her 20th birthday. We count her as one of our successes.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Rights4Girls in conjunction with The McCain Institute. Join us in our campaign No Such Thing--that there is no such thing as child prostitute, only victims and survivors or child rape. For more information on No SuchThing, read here.
Lizbeth Benacquisto introduces bill to tweak evidence standards in child abuse cases
by Ryan Ray
Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto of Ft. Myers has filed legislation to change course in a difficult area of state law — the legal status of child abuse evidence recorded unbeknownst to the abuser.
A recent Florida Supreme Court opinion overruled the conviction of a Lee County man found guilty of sexually abusing his stepdaughter, finding that the audio recordings admitted into evidence against him should not have been considered by the jury, as they were taken without her abuser's consent.
“It may well be that a compelling case can be made for an exception … for recordings that provide evidence of criminal activity — or at least certain types of criminal activities,'' said wrote Justice Charles Canady for the majority. “But the adoption of such an exception is a matter for the Legislature. It is not within the province of the courts to create such an exception by ignoring the plain import of the statutory text.”
Benacquisto's bill, SB 542, seeks to create exactly the kind of exception Canady mentions.
“I will not stand by while child predators navigate loopholes in our legal system. Fear of not being believed prevents countless children from turning in their abusers,” said Benacquisto in a statement. “This bill will ensure Florida's children have a voice in our courts of law, and I am eager to work with Attorney General Pam Bondi to close this devastating gap in our child protection laws. Together, we will continue to make sure that Florida is the most unfriendly place in America for sexually violent criminals who prey on our children.”
Sen. Wilton Simpson of Trilby has agreed to co-sponsor the bill and lend to it his considerable influence in the Senate.
“In a recent case, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a child rapist because the evidence against him was recorded by his victim without his knowledge,” said Simpson on Wednesday. “This defies common sense and basic human logic. The purpose of this bill is to ensure sexual abusers convicted based on recorded evidence stay in prison, and far away from our children. The message to pedophiles is clear: You have no right to privacy. Your rights ceased to exist when you chose to destroy the life of a child through sexual abuse.”
Lauren's Kids founder and CEO Lauren Book responded to the filing with a statement:
“Last month's McDade vs. State Florida Supreme Court ruling prevents prosecutors from using secret recordings made by children to prove they are being abused – it's just not within the bounds of current Florida law, and that's just not acceptable. The Florida Supreme Court agreed, directly calling upon the lawmakers to fix it.
“The young survivor at the center of the McDade vs. State case tried to tell at least three separate adults on three separate occasions about the abuse she was enduring, but her voice was silenced until she created a secret recording on her cell phone, which was ultimately not admissible as evidence. We cannot allow even one more child's voice to be silenced. With 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys falling victim to sexual abuse before their 18 th birthday, the time has come to use every tool at our disposal to protect children from the horror of sexual abuse.
“For this reason, I urge the swift adoption of legislation that would allow courts to consider recordings made secretly by children as evidence that an adult has sexually abused them. Senators Lizbeth Benacquisto and Wilton Simpson, Representatives Jared Moskowitz and Carlos Trujillo, and Attorney General Pam Bondi are to be applauded for their immediate response in the drafting and filing of legislation for early consideration to close this terribly abusive provision.
“As a survivor and advocate, I fully recognize the myriad barriers that prevent children from coming forward and telling about sexual abuse. They face shame, ridicule, embarrassment, guilt, fear…the list goes on and on. Worst of all, as we saw in McDade vs. State and hear far too often from survivors, it's easy for adults to simply dismiss these accounts of abuse as the imaginings of confused, or rebellious, or spiteful children – not as the accurate, heart-breaking truths these children were forced to live through. The proposed legislation, by allowing children's secret recordings to be admitted into evidence, will empower children and give prosecutors a potent tool to put predators behind bars where they belong.”
Momentum for anti-trafficking builds, but ambassadorship still vacant
by David Abramowitz
This week marks the end of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Honorary months often seem to be a ritual of pronouncements and chest thumping, followed by little real action. Yet this year, it feels like we have reached a turning point in the fight to combat human trafficking.
Fifteen years ago, human trafficking was a niche issue with only a few members of the U.S. Congress paying attention. In the last few years, however, the circle of champions has exploded. Just this week, 12 pieces of legislation were considered on the House floor touching a wide range of issues, from child welfare to increasing the U.S. government's focus on trafficking to finding more resources for survivors. The Senate is also gearing up to move forward with its own bipartisan proposals (including the Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act), and the Obama administration has just released long-awaited regulations to implement the president's executive order to prevent human trafficking in federal procurement.
Civil society engagement in the field has also continued to grow. Human Rights First (HRF), a leader in human rights advocacy, is launching a new campaign to disrupt the business of human trafficking which will focus on more prosecutions of all perpetrators, promoting a victim-centered approach and pushing the U.S. government and businesses to do more to prevent and respond to modern slavery. (Full disclosure: I have been working with HRF to shape this new campaign.) Furthermore, philanthropic partnerships like the Freedom Fund (which Humanity United supports) are bringing further coordination and new funding to this field, both here and abroad.
The faith community is also reaffirming a commitment to ending this terrible human rights abuse. Last Spring, Pope Francis met with trafficking survivors and in December hosted a convening of faith leaders to sign a declaration to abolish modern slavery by 2020.
With all this activity however, there is one glaring gap: the lack of an Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The so-called TIP ambassador position at the U.S. State Department has been vacant for two months, with even longer delays ahead given that the position requires Senate confirmation. The U.S. is considered one of the global leaders in combatting human trafficking and the absence of the TIP ambassador can jeopardize U.S. leadership.
Finding the right candidate is challenging. The TIP ambassador will need to help build this field and heal the remaining fissures that exist within it. Such a person must be committed to an inclusive and balanced approach to combat labor and sex trafficking of both adults and children. The ambassador will also have to be committed to improving services for survivors. Additionally, an individual who can focus on prevention of trafficking beyond deterrence could have a major impact on the field. And, of course, the ambassador must be able to produce a strong annual Trafficking in Persons report. The TIP report is one of the key tools for asserting U.S. global leadership in this space. Foreign governments may complain about their treatment in the report, but they respond when called out in this public manner. Given the diverse interests involved in combatting human trafficking, this diplomat will have to work across stakeholder communities, foreign governments, with the business community and even within the U.S. government so that the TIP report, the TIP office and thus U.S. efforts to combat trafficking are as strong as possible.
With so much ambition and enthusiasm around the fight to end human trafficking and modern slavery, we need an ambassador who can take this momentum and harness it. She or he must steer it toward meaningful, practical change for all victims of modern slavery suffering in terrible conditions; for survivors who are seeking to overcome their exploitation; for businesses with complex supply chains; and for governments seeking to address (or willfully ignore) the current manifestations of slavery within their borders.
The gains of the past 15 years are starting to bear fruit. Now is the time for action and sustainable solutions — and a new TIP ambassador can play an important role in bringing those solutions to reality.
Abramowitz is vice president for policy and government relations at Humanity United, a U.S.-based foundation dedicated to building peace and advancing human freedom.
I was six when a man first touched me. I didn't speak up until I was an adult
by Rebecca Carroll
I never felt like a victim, but long after I grew up, every sexual experience brought me back to that winter night I didn't understand
There's a reason why, when a woman whispers her story of sexual abuse, when she writes about it, when she Tweets about it or carries a mattress around on her back, calls the police or a rape crisis line, I believe her.
The reason is because it happened to me. And you didn't know, because I didn't tell you. I didn't tell anyone.
Uncle “Doug” was an old friend of my parents; he visited our family often and occasionally joined us for holidays. One evening, when I was six, he offered to babysit me and my older sister at his house.
Before bedtime, Uncle Doug told us both a bedtime story about a werewolf who howled at the moon in the bitter cold of winter on top of a snowy hill, just like the hill outside the window over the sink in Uncle Doug's kitchen. He could do these pitch-perfect character voices, and in that way, he was charismatic and appealing to children. The werewolf would howl, he said, his thirst for the blood of children relentless, until one night he came charging through a window of a house trying to catch the little girl inside. The broken glass pierced his throat, and then he was dead, his head hanging over the sill, blood dripping down the wall to the floor.
And then my sister went to bed, and I sat in his small, dimly lit kitchen, on his lap, as he nuzzled my hair and then my ear and neck, and squeezed me hard and soft at the same time. I remember staring fixedly at the window in his kitchen, into the dark snowy night, through a pane of cold glass, the moon casting shadows, a dark tree, listening for the howl of the werewolf, trying not to pay attention to what was actually happening.
What was actually happening is that he was kissing me, whispering in my ear things I didn't understand, and rubbing the tops of my 6-year-old thighs, right where my underwear started, while I sat on his lap.
Afterwards, he took to calling me his “wifey” and signed notes to me: “Love, your hubby”. There was never another physical encounter like the one at his house, but when he visited ours, he would request “private” viewings of me practicing my ballet and leer at me longingly in my leotard and tights; he looked for any opportunity to touch me – my hand, my shoulder, the small of my back. After a couple of years, when I started to understand how inappropriate his behavior was, I refused to have anything to do with him.
I never told my parents anything. My only act of acknowledgement that he did something bad was when I crossed out with a ballpoint pen the “Love, your hubby” at the bottom of a poem he had written in my autograph book when I was eight or nine. The poem: “Tulips in the garden, tulips in the park/But the best place for tulips, is tulips in the dark”.
Uncle Doug did not hurt me physically, but he laid the groundwork for who and what I would become with men throughout my adolescence and into my early adulthood – a wreckage of fondled girlhood looking out a dark window whenever a man was on top of me. His adult hand edging up my six-year-old thigh made it seem natural to me when much older men showed interest or pursued me as a teenager. Or perfectly normal for me to try to seduce a 35-year-old when I was 15.
I never felt like a victim – and I might even still argue that I wasn't victimized enough to claim that label, and instead call myself a product of a premature sexual experience. But for years, every time a man touched me – especially if he was older, even if I pursued him and told myself and him that it was ok – I'd catch myself looking through a non-existent dark window waiting for it to be over. Relationships came and went but never lasted, and I thought both that didn't have anything to tell, and no one to tell it to.
Eventually, I told someone: after about eight months of dating my now-husband, who was curious and emotionally invested in “us” in a way I'd never experienced, I proudly called myself promiscuous. He looked at me with compassion and confusion and said, “Really?”. I confessed: “Not promiscuous in the way you would think.” And then I told him the truth.
And then I told someone else. And someone else after that. I chose to narrate my own story, rather than let the one Doug told persist any longer in my own mind.
Doug, like most abusers, relied on me not telling. They all rely on us not telling – to save their reputations, avoid consequences, and keep on abusing. Those of us who do tell, who let go of the shame we know we're supposed to feel, are in such a minority that it enables the rest of you to disbelieve both those that tell and the existence of those who can't yet. It's hard for you to imagine being in a group of five women and knowing that one was sexually assaulted. It's hard for me to believe that we can just go unheard – our experiences unknown – without consequence.
But all of that is why it's so important for women, for abuse survivors, to tell our stories: because the more of us who do, the more we chip away at the ability to ignore or to choose not to believe. I believe – and I believe that you can choose to as well.
Murder trial begins in the case of Etan Patz, boy who disappeared 35 years ago
by Chris Francescani
NEW YORK — Thirty-five years after New York City first-grader Etan Patz vanished on a short walk to his school bus stop, sparking a national missing children's movement, a Manhattan prosecutor called it a “crime that changed the face of this city forever” in opening arguments Friday in the murder trial of a former bodega clerk whose attorneys say he is mentally disturbed.
“Etan was dead before his mom even knew he was missing [and] then his family and countless others spent the next three decades looking for him,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joan Illuzi-Orbon told jurors on Friday. “That journey ends here.”
Prosecutors say Pedro Hernandez, 53, who was a teenage clerk at a bodega near Etan's bus stop, lured the boy into the store's basement with the promise of a soda, and he then strangled him. Hernandez made a videotaped confession in 2012 and re-enacted the crime for investigators.
Hernandez's arrest, 33 years to the day after Etan disappeared, upended a long-held and widespread belief among many — including law enforcement officials, the boy's parents and a New York civil court judge — that another man was responsible.
For years, the heart-wrenching search for Etan riveted the nation. The blond, blued-eyed child was among the first missing children to appear on a milk carton. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan designated the day he vanished — May 25 — National Missing Children's Day. Yet after more than three decades of investigations, no trace of him has ever been found.
Defense attorneys for Hernandez say he is mentally ill with a very low IQ, and they contend that a videotaped confession he gave police after six hours of interrogation was coerced. Attorney Harvey Fishbein told jurors they would see no forensic, physical or eyewitness evidence linking Hernandez to the disappearance.
Etan had been bugging his parents to let him go alone for days, and on that day in May 1979, his mother relented.
Prosecutors said the little boy apprenticed as a junior carpenter with local handyman Othniel Miller and had earned a dollar working in Miller's basement shop the night before he disappeared. Etan left home the next morning with the dollar, telling his mother he was going to stop at the bodega to buy a soda before getting on the bus. His mother watched him part of the way. He never got on the bus.
When he failed to return home from school, a massive search was launched, and hundreds of police and volunteers blanketed lower Manhattan looking for him. Stan Patz, a commercial photographer, had recently shot a series of poignant photos of his son and soon the boy's cherubic face graced missing posters and newspaper front pages all over New York City, and then across the country.
In 1982, investigators began looking at Jose Antonio Ramos, a mentally disturbed Bronx man. He had dated one of Etan's babysitters, who would later accuse him of molesting her son. Police learned that Ramos had tried to lure some boys into a drainpipe in the Bronx and found pictures of young boys resembling Etan inside the pipe. Ramos also made incriminating statements to authorities, but never admitted to killing the boy — leaving prosecutors without enough evidence to charge him.
In 2001, Etan's parents had their son declared legally dead so they could sue Ramos in civil court. In 2004, the court declared Ramos responsible for Etan's death. Ramos served more than 20 years on a child molestation conviction in an unrelated Pennsylvania case. He has been ordered to testify as a material witness in the Hernandez trial.
Then in 2012, Hernandez was arrested and charged with Etan's murder and kidnapping after a relative called a tip in to police. At least three witnesses — Hernandez's ex-wife, a prayer group leader and a childhood friend — have told investigators that he confessed to them to killing Etan at various times going back to the 1980s. A new witness — identified this month as a fellow inmate — is also expected to testify that Hernandez admitted to killing the child.
“You will see and hear his chilling confession,” Illuzi-Orbon said. She also prepared jurors for apparent inconsistencies in Hernandez's alleged statements over the years, saying he always withheld some information.
“Inconsistencies?” she told jurors at the end of her hour-long opening statement. “Maybe. Or is inconsistency what the defendant wanted and maybe designed these answers to be?”
HSI seeks public tips to help locate 10 human trafficking fugitives
(Pictures on site)
WASHINGTON —U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) released the names and photographs of 10 fugitives wanted for human trafficking crimes, in the hope that tips from the public could lead to the identification and arrest of these individuals.
“The Department of Homeland Security and ICE take the crime of human trafficking very seriously. We have invested countless investigative hours and victim support resources into more than 1,000 cases this past year alone,” said ICE Director, Sarah R. Saldaña. “Now we are asking you to assist us in bringing these fugitives to justice.”
In fiscal year 2014, HSI identified more than 440 victims of human trafficking and arrested 1,770 perpetrators of this crime.
HSI is a leading agency in the fight against human trafficking and routinely works with federal, state, local and international law enforcement agencies, as well as non-governmental organizations, to identify and prosecute human traffickers and rescue their victims.
The agency's victim assistance program ensures victims receive services and access to resources in accordance with U.S. law.
Human trafficking victims are essentially modern-day slaves. They can be of any age, race, nationality or gender, although most sex trafficking victims are women. Victims of human trafficking are forced into prostitution, labor and other forms of servitude to repay debts. Vulnerable populations include at-risk youth, runaways and undocumented immigrants who may have been smuggled into the United States to an unfamiliar culture and fear law enforcement.
A significant part of combatting human trafficking is public education and awareness. By presidential proclamation, January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
Human trafficking investigations often result from a tip from the general public. HSI encourages the public to report suspicious activity by calling its toll-free number: 1-866-347-2423. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Tips can also be submitted online at www.ICE.gov/tips.
Human trafficking victim tells her story of family betrayal and abuse
Right now, "G" is probably somewhere smiling. She does so every day now. As G describes it, it's the best medication there is. But it was not so long ago that she had no reason to smile. For nearly five years she endured abuse and betrayal by those she trusted. She was a victim of human trafficking.
G (a pseudonym) is a 26-year-old Michigan resident who was forced into a horrendous situation that left her physically wounded and – five years later – still leaves her hesitant to fully open up and trust anyone – even those closest to her.
G's story began when she was a college student in Togo, West Africa. During this time, her father was in involved in an accident that resulted in him having to go through several procedures at various hospitals and left their family financially ruined. In the midst of their financial crisis, her father received a call from a cousin living in the United States extending the invitation for G to come live with him. The cousin, "Joe," (a pseudonym) assured G and her father that she would be able to continue school once she arrived.
"I thought was as long as I could finish school, I would be fine," G said.
With January being set aside for National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, ICE is serious about taking the necessary steps to end the crime. ICE relies on tips from the public to dismantle these individuals and organizations who exploit their victims and encourages education and awareness as part of the process to bring an end to this modern-day form of slavery.
Unlike many victims of human trafficking who are recruited for their services through force, fraud or coercion, G willingly immigrated to the United States with a Togolese passport under a different name and false documents with someone whom she believed to be a trusted family member. There was no indication that he had ulterior motives. What initially appeared to be a kind gesture to help her family out in their time of need turned into a living nightmare for G.
Just six months after arriving in Michigan, things begin to change as Joe became increasingly more aggressive and abusive. According to G, three other children were brought into the home, along with a "girlfriend" to form the appearance to the outside world of a functional, everyday family. But they were not allowed to tell anyone about their real living situation at home. What went on in the home was nothing short of terrifying. Joe gave them all passports with false names and dates of birth that showed they were his biological children.
"He pretty much put us through hell," G said. "There were days where we didn't even get to eat and were given tasks that were impossible to do."
Joe tasked G with housecleaning and cooking. She would wake up at 4:30 a.m. to start the household chores such as dusting before going to school. When she would get home from school, she would have to start cooking. Not only did she have to do chores for Joe, but his friends as well.
"On the weekends, we would have to take Joe and his girlfriend's cars apart and power wash the seats, both inside and the out, until they were spotless," G recalls.
In another case, one time she left the TV on while she was in the kitchen cooking and this small act of forgetfulness angered Joe so much he beat G with an ice scraper. That was G's reality for five years.
The isolation, heavy workload, abuse and sexual advances from Joe that forced her to wear layers of clothes as a defense mechanism to cover her body became a norm that she thought she would never escape. But she did.
"One day he came home really drunk and started asking me about my school work and I refused to answer," G said. "When I refused to answer him, he started to slap me with his bare hands and kicked me out that night."
As fate would have it, after her escape, the family who took G in knew about her. Joe had spoken to the family about G, but had only heard the false stories about why she had come to the United States.
"Joe told the family I'm now staying with that he needed their help to bring his wife and four children to the United States because of genocide in Togo," G said. "He told them I was part of his family that was in great danger. They actually gave him money for my plane ticket."
Joe was arrested in 2011 ICE agents raided his home and charged with enslaving four children in his home. In 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to 11 ¼ years in federal prison. G had to testify at the trial.
"It was really terrifying. I never thought I'd see him again," G said. "It was the worst thing someone could have to go through. To have to live that pain again was a struggle."
The transition back to normalcy for G was a long process and in many ways, that process continues today.
"It was really hard because I had to learn to open up and just tell people who I was, because I didn't know who I was," G said.
To the public, victims of human trafficking like G often go unnoticed as they are voiceless and scared because, in a blink of an eye, they are without the control of their possessions, money and have found themselves in an unfamiliar culture without identification documents and are afraid for their safety and the lives of their families.
According to Sharon Peyus, ICE Homeland Security Investigations' (HSI) Victim Assistance Program and Management Oversight Unit Chief, everyone has a role to play in combatting human trafficking, including school teachers, neighbors or local business owners. Knowing the red flags is a key step in identifying victims and helping them find the assistance they need.
For those who have experienced human trafficking, G has advice from someone who's lived it.
"Be careful with whom to trust and who you call your family," G recommends.
G makes a point of doing her best to look forward and not to look back. However, nearly four years later, there's not a day that goes by that G doesn't think about her five-year nightmare. Only now, instead of living in fear and wondering how she's going to make it from one day to the next, she's living her life free. And she is walking around with a smile on her face.
Survivors of child sexual abuse seek support at SHARE
A Castlebar based support group dedicated to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse says that it has seen an increase in the number of people contacting it for support.
Nick Groom, founder and chairperson of the group SHARE, said he believes the increase is due to the recent media coverage of cases of sexual abuse, such as the case involving Fiona Doyle.
Earlier this week, Ms Doyle welcomed a Court of Appeal decision to increase the prison sentence on her 74-year-old father, who raped her when she was a child.
“We always have people contacting us,” said Mr Groom. “However, there is a noticeable increase when there is extensive media coverage.”
Mr Groom said it can be traumatic and painful for an individual to seek help in dealing with his/her own abuse but he believes media coverage of childhood sexual abuse helps others to come forward and seek help.
Mr Groom said he was sexually abused when he was eight years ago.
He founded SHARE two years ago following his own search for a support group to attend.
“I had held on to my abuse for over 35 years until I couldn't cope with it any longer,” he said. “I went into therapy and after a while I felt I wanted to talk to others who had been sexually abused too. I wanted to talk to people who understood what I was saying and feeling.”
He decided to start his own group and called it SHARE. The group now holds weekly meetings in GMIT in Castlebar.
Dervilia Culloty co-facilitates the group with Mr Groom.
“It is in a central position and has enabled people to come not just from Mayo, but also Sligo and even Galway,” said Ms Culloty.
The group is open to anyone over the age of 18 who was sexually abused as a child and is seeking support.
Anyone who wishes to find out more about SHARE can contact Nick or Dervilia on (087 ) 1027604.
$4 billion needed for abuse victims
STATES and territories might have to pay almost half of a $4 billion national compensation scheme for victims of child sexual abuse.
IN a landmark consultation paper launched on Friday, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse outlined models for a compensation scheme that would exceed $4 billion across a 10-year period.
In one model governments would be "funders of last resort" - paying survivors when an institution no longer existed or could not afford to pay.
This would see states and territories paying $582 million above what they were liable for because of abuse in state-run institutions.
The extra would bring their total contribution to $1.971 billion of the $4.3 billion scheme.
Private institutions such as churches, charities, schools or other organisations where children were abused would pay $2.4 billion.
That model assumes 65,000 eligible survivors would receive payments of $65,000 each.
The scheme was modelled across a 10-year period with annual payments peaking at more than $600 million in some years.
"Although it appears that governments must accept a broader role in providing effective and fair redress, the primary responsibility is with the institution," commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said when launching the paper.
He said the commission understood the current economic climate ensures governments must be careful in committing public money to areas not presently funded.
But the fundamental object of redress "must be to help those who have suffered to heal and live a productive and fulfilled life".
The commission said a single national redress scheme administered by the federal government the ideal scenario would be, with institutions contributing based on their responsibility.
However, if that could not be put in place quickly an alternative scheme run by states and territories with oversight by an advisory body would be established.
Representatives of survivor support groups say they prefer a national scheme run by the federal government.
Leonie Sheedy, chief executive of Care Leavers Australia Network said, "Many people do not want to go back to the state governments to ask for their compensation when they were responsible for neglecting us".
She also questioned the caps in the model schemes, pointing out the federal government paid Cornelia Rau almost $3 million for six months' incarceration in a detention centre in 2005.
Adults Surviving Child Abuse president Cathy Kelzelman said while the figures presented by the royal commission seem substantial, they are modest when compared with the cost of inaction.
She said supporting survivors through redress made good economic sense when "the costs of mental and physical ill health, substance abuse issues, obesity, suicide and attempted suicide ... as well as the attendant loss of tax revenue is enormous".
The Truth Justice and Healing Council, which represents the Catholic Church at the commission, said it was crucial all governments in Australia make it clear they are willing to participate in the scheme.
Council chief executive Francis Sullivan says the commission's proposal is consistent with his calls for a generous national scheme.
Governments across the country have said they need time to go through the 312-page report before responding.
The commission has called for community and government responses to the proposals and will hold a three day public hearing in March to consider the feedback before making final recommendations on a scheme in June or July.
Wyoming lawmakers advance plan to toughen child abuse penalties
Proposal would increase maximum prison sentence to 10 years for non-aggravated offenses
by Trevor Brown
CHEYENNE -- A bill to double the maximum prison sentence for some child abusers passed a state legislative committee vote Thursday.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 9-0 to advance House Bill 142 and send the proposal to the House floor.
The legislation would cause nonaggravated child abuse crimes to be punishable by up to 10 years in prison instead of the current five-year maximum.
Wyoming has enhanced penalties for aggravated child abuse, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
But Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, the bill's sponsor, said that charge is rarely pursued because it requires a person to “intentionally or recklessly inflict serious bodily injury upon the victim.”
He and others testified that even severe child abuse cases do not meet this threshold because “serious bodily injury” doesn't always cover the trauma and lasting mental harm to the victim.
“I've talked with at least 10 different attorneys who practice in this area, and not one could remember us ever prosecuting aggregated child abuse because the standard is too high,” Zwonitzer said.
Lynn Huylar, the director of Safe Harbor, a nonprofit child advocacy center in Cheyenne, agreed that prosecutors will frequently pursue the lower-level statute, since it is so difficult to prove it's an “aggravated” offense.
She said she supports the proposed law change because she thinks there should be greater consequences for severe child-abuse cases.
“The trauma has already been inflicted, and it is already there,” she said. “But holding offenders accountable is very important because I think that people need to know that you can't do horrible things to kids and spend just a couple years in jail while that child lives the rest of their life with the effects.”
Wyoming Department of Corrections Director Bob Lampert said that about seven or eight people are sentenced to prison in Wyoming each year on child abuse charges.
He added that 29 inmates are serving time for child abuse, and eight of those are serving sentences for aggregated child abuse.
However, Lampert said inmates convicted of child abuse crimes rarely end up back in prison after their release.
“This is at least some suggestion that the current level of sanctions is appropriate and is adequate to deter future criminal activity,” he said. “As heinous as the underlying offense of child abuse is, the fact remains that once released from prison, and with supervision, this group of offenders very seldom returns to prison for any subsequent offense of any kind, including parole violations.”
Lampert also asked the committee to consider the financial burden of imprisoning inmates longer. It costs the state an average of $110 per day to incarcerate an individual.
“The question I leave you with is: Should prison beds, which currently are at a premium and are becoming increasingly scarce, be used for this category of offenders, or should they be reserved for other offenders who present an even greater risk of future criminal behavior?” he asked.
But several lawmakers on the committee said they supported the bill because it will give judges or juries more flexibility to set the punishment.
“I think this solution provides the courts with the latitude to reach that middle ground,” said Rep. Charles Pelkey, D-Laramie. “It just gives the court more latitude to address those horrible cases and to treat them differently than low-level child abuse cases.”
Lancaster County officials promise review of child abuse procedures after homicide of child
by Jeffrey A. Johnson
Lancaster County officials on Thursday released a statement in which they said they would work to come up with new procedures for child abuse cases after a report of abuse involving a child who authorities say was later killed by his mother.
Shondraya L. Dickson, 23, is accused of killing her 23-month-old daughter, Ja'Zirah Rodgers.
Thursday's statement was released on behalf of the Lancaster County Commissioners' Office. PennLive has posted it below in its entirety:
"The death of two year old Ja'Zirah Rodgers allegedly by her mother's hand is a true tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the child.
"There has been much discussion in the media and among the public regarding Children and Youth's involvement with this family, particularly following an incident of alleged abuse which Ms. Rodgers' father contends he personally witnessed.
"Charging documents and statements from law enforcement relate that the father called C&Y on Jan. 8 regarding the child, and then C&Y notified law enforcement to report the child missing on Jan. 22. Numerous questions have been raised about what was being done by Children and Youth between the Jan. 8 notice to C&Y and the Jan. 22 missing child report filed by C&Y.
"The Board of Commissioners share the concerns raised in the charging documents and in the public regarding the timeline, and has asked those same questions of its C&Y administrators and staff. In cases raising allegations of non-sexual, non-serious physical injury, abuse by a household member, state law is silent on when and under what circumstances police are to be notified by C&Y of the allegations.
"Where state statute is silent, however, the county is free to set internal policy regarding the timing of such notifications. While we have confirmed with the District Attorney and local law enforcement that our agency has typically had a very cooperative relationship with those agencies, everyone will benefit from a written policy which codifies the timeline in which C&Y should seek the involvement of local law enforcement and the District Attorney's Office, particularly in cases where the child victim has not been seen by C&Y within a defined time period after a report of abuse has been received.
"As such, the board, with the cooperation of the DA's Office, has directed CYA to engage law enforcement to establish a new standard protocol going forward setting forth the timeframe in which CYA will contact law enforcement for a family's failure to produce a child who is the subject of an abuse allegation. The public will be informed once this new standard protocol is set.
"Beyond that, while the county respects the interest the public has in ensuring the effectiveness of its public agencies, and in holding them accountable for documentable failures, state statute precludes us from discussing the specifics of any abuse investigation or interaction with a family.
"In particular, the Child Protective Services Law provides that all reports made and information gathered pursuant to the law are to be held confidential and not be disclosed except to certain enumerated individuals; neither the media or the public in general are included in that list of individuals entitled to this otherwise confidential information.
"The only information the CPSL specifically permits the county to release regarding the death of a child as a result of suspected or substantiated abuse is the name of the child (although only in the case of a fatality), the name of the agency if the child was in the custody of any agency, the identify of an agency and services provided by that agency to the child in the child's home prior to the fatality.
"Beyond that limited information, individuals who willfully release confidential information are guilty of a second degree misdemeanor, which carry a penalty of fines between $500 and $5,000 and up to two years in prison. In addition, that individual is barred from receiving confidential information under the CPSL in the future. For the Board of Commissioners, then, disclosure would not only have a personal impact in terms of fines and jail time, but it would also eliminate our ability to oversee the Children and Youth Agency on a day to day basis.
"From an agency perspective, disclosure of confidential information would lead to licensing violations that would affect funding from the state and federal government, and also our ability to provide services to the community in general.
"These are therefore circumstances which, in the best interests of the county and the community, we must avoid. Thus, while we have internally sought answers to the questions that many of you are asking about the actions of our employees in Ms. Rodgers' case, we cannot make any specific statement about this matter. However, the public should rest assured that the CPSL provides for a review of our actions in this case not only through our internal investigation, but through child fatality review panels.
"Under the law, a child fatality review panel made up of at least six individuals consisting of an agency employee, member of the agency advisory committee, a healthcare professional, a local school or early childhood development program representative, the DA or law enforcement representative, an attorney trained in representation of children, a mental health professional, a children's advocate, the coroner or forensic pathologist, a local domestic violence program representative, a local drug and alcohol program representative, an individual representing parents, or anyone else deemed necessary to assist the team in performing its duties, is to be established following a child fatality resulting from abuse.
"The team is tasked with reviewing the circumstances of the fatality, the delivery of services provided by the agency, the agency's compliance with statutes and regulations, as well as compliance with County policies and procedures. 23 P.S. §6365. After convening, the panel submits a report to the Department of Human Services within ninety (90) days regarding compliance with statutes and regulations, deficiencies in services to children and families, recommendations for changes to statutes and regulations to reduce the likelihood of future fatalities, monitoring and inspection of county agencies, and collaboration of community agency and service providers to prevent abuse and neglect.
"This report may be made public 30 days following submission to DHS, unless the District Attorney's office certifies that the release of the report would compromise a pending criminal investigation or proceeding. DHS is to provide a written response within 45 days after submission by the panel, and this report may also be made public unless subject to a similar certification by the District Attorney.
"In addition to the county-level child fatality review panel, the commonwealth, from time to time, creates citizen review panels that examine policies, procedures and practices of local agencies to ensure those agencies are effectively discharging their duties. 23 P.S. §6343.1. Citizen review panels at this level also examine child fatalities in a manner similar to the child fatality review panels mentioned above.
"The CPSL, in authorizing the child fatality review and citizen review panels, allows the specific information related to abuse investigations to be disclosed to those entities for review and consideration, and ultimately to the public following both a sufficient period for investigation and review and subject to the District Attorney's approval.
"In this way, the public's interest in accountability of C&Y agencies and employees is satisfied, we believe, although it limits our ability to discuss specific cases immediately after a death occurs. The Board of Commissioners places its trust in the work of these review panels, as well as in the District Attorney's Office and law enforcement in conducting the criminal investigation of this matter.
"We expect that these entities will obtain answers not only to the questions about C&Y's actions in this case, but also regarding the delay between the alleged abuse (Jan. 2) and the submission of a report of the abuse (Jan. 8), and any other questions that may arise regarding the cooperation and truthfulness of parties and witnesses during the investigation, and to make that information available to the public at the appropriate time.
"Certainly, of course, as the criminal process proceeds, more information will also be made public in the trial of any charges brought as a result of Miss Rodgers' death.
"What the Board of Commissioners can express in the meantime, however, is that our C&Y Agency strives to investigate every case in a timely fashion, as is required by the statute. Part of that obligation is to make efforts to see a child within 24 hours of an abuse report to the agency. Those efforts are sometimes hampered by the accuracy of addresses and other contact information provided in a report of abuse, as well as the cooperation and availability of parties and witnesses.
"Our agency must walk a line in determining whether a party's absence during this initial investigatory period, for instance, is reasonable or nefarious in nature; we have to make the same credibility judgments and rely on the circumstantial evidence in making these determinations, all of which can lead to errors when observed in hindsight.
"Beyond the 24-hour initial visit requirement, as with any investigatory agency, our efforts are impacted by the ongoing accuracy of information received from the parties and the cooperation of witnesses, as well as our need to coordinate with other agencies and entities.
"However, where our processes can be immediately improved, such as by reaching a consensus among all local law enforcement agencies regarding the point at which the Agency's inability to see a child due to the child or the parent's absence becomes either a missing person or criminal matter as C&Y has been directed, we will do so."
Private boarding school sued again for sexual abuse
by Beau Berman
LAKEVILLE – The exclusive “Indian Mountain School” in Lakeville is being sued once again for alleged sexual abuse and assaults on campus in the 1980s.
A federal civil lawsuit was filed Thursday by attorney Antonio Ponvert on behalf of client and alleged victim Peter J. Buck, Jr. The suit claims Buck was raped and drugged by teachers at Indian Mountain School at age 14.
“There was horrific wrongdoing done to little children at this school for a long period of time that was covered up,” said Ponvert.
Buck now lives in Colorado and his attorney said he did not want to comment publicly.
The alleged cover up spanned more than a decade at the school, which runs kindergarten through ninth grade, according to Ponvert.
The lawsuit claims Buck was molested by his English teacher, Christopher Simonds, and that it was ignored by headmaster Peter Carleton, as well as several other administrators. The suit alleges Simonds forced Buck and other boys to engage in oral sex with each other and with him, that he raped Buck and as many as 12 other young boys, and that he took pornographic photos of the acts to blackmail the kids.
Simonds allegedly also provided the boys with cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana as bribes. Another employee named Jim Hickey is accused of giving Buck heroin before trying to rape him.
“The complaint in this case is based almost entirely on admissions made by the school,” said Ponvert.
Ponvert is referring to a slew of lawsuits settled in the 1990s by a different attorney on behalf of other students, who filed anonymously. The testimony from those prior depositions, made under oath, will be used in attempting to prove allegations in two current lawsuits.
Ponvert is also representing former Indian Mountain School student Brewster Brownville, who is the alleged victim in a similar lawsuit filed against the school in October 2014.
But why are Brownville and Buck filing so many years later?
“It is very common in child sexual abuse cases that people do not come forward for a number of years and that's why the Connecticut legislature extended the statute of limitations to the age of 48. It takes them years and years and years of suffering, of humiliation, and shame and trauma and PTSD, to get to a point in their lives where they can handle coming out, speaking publicly and trying to take power over what has happened to them,” said Ponvert.
The current head of Indian Mountain School, Mark A. Devey, emailed a statement to Fox CT Thursday.
Recently we notified our school community that we were conducting an investigation in order to identify any alumni who may have been victimized while a student at Indian Mountain School in the past. We believe that it is best for both the school and its alumni to deal with these issues now.
It is heart wrenching to hear these allegations, and we are saddened by them. We will take the allegations very seriously, and we will support our alumni.
Both Simonds and Carleton are now deceased, so the only defendant named in the suit is the school.
“This may not be happening at Indian Mountain School anymore, but it's happening at other schools, right now, today, and I think the lesson is, let's protect our kids, let`s encourage people to come forward and let`s hold wrongdoers accountable,” said Ponvert.
Simonds was investigated by state police in the 1990s but never arrested, charged or prosecuted as the statute of limitations for criminal cases had expired.
But the civil statute of limitations allows alleged victims like Brownville and Ponvert to file suit as long as they haven't reached the age of 48.
Ponvert said both cases should go to trial within 12 to 18 months.
Authorities hope to combat sex trafficking with TAT program
Event scheduled for Friday at Evansdale Flying J
by Vanessa Peng
ALTOONA, Iowa —Officials said sex trafficking is a huge problem in Iowa, and they want truck drivers to watch out for victims.
“We have the two busiest interstates in the United States crisscrossed right here in Des Moines: Interstate 35 and (Interstate) 80, which provides an avenue to transport some of the human trafficking victims throughout the country right through our state,” said Dave Lorenzen, chief of Iowa's Motor Vehicle Enforcement.
On Friday, the U.S Attorney's Office and the MVE are joining forces to educate truck drivers about human trafficking and raise awareness about the crime. They will let truckers know about a program called Truckers Against Trafficking.
“The trucking industry is going to see things and be places at different hours that we can't be,” Lorenzen said.
On Thursday, truckers who were at the Flying J stop in Altoona had heard about the trafficking or had seen it.
“They usually knock at your window, and they just ask for a couple dollars and you tell them no, and they offer themselves to you,” said Mississippi truck driver Marcus Parson.
Clarence Bush, a truck driver from Alabama, said he is a member of TAT. He said he wants to see the sex trafficking go away.
“I've seen girls and boys, but girls 13, 12 out here being forced for sex, and they're drugged up,” Bush said.
Officials plan to hold Friday's event at the Flying J at 445 Evansdale Drive in Evansdale, Iowa, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Organizers said they will hand out wallet cards and window clings with information on how to stop and report human trafficking.
Women pose in life-size toy box for sex trafficking awareness
by Ally Hirschlag
(Picture on site)
While the Super Bowl is usually considered a time to get together and celebrate, many unfortunate women don't feel that way because major televised sporting events often lead to spiking numbers of human and sex trafficking.
There doesn't seem to be a simple explanation for this, apart from it's a high-stakes event where powerful people get together and spend a great deal of money on varying forms of "entertainment." In order to combat this, Shared Hope International (SHI) has erected a life-size pink toy box that will live at several colleges in Arizona during the week leading up to the Super Bowl.
Sadly, sex trafficking is a growing market, and thrives quite well even during lulls between sporting events. The $32 billion per year illicit industry, second only to drug trafficking, victimizes between 300,000 to 400,000 American children every year in some form of sex trafficking, according to the Blue Campaign, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security program aimed at educating the public about the crime.
In response to these appalling statistics and the possibility of elevated numbers during the game, SHI — a group that works to prevent sex trafficking crimes — launched their "Children Aren't Playthings" doll box campaign. Their 7-foot-tall pink doll box exhibit debuted on Monday at Arizona State, and several young female volunteers are taking turns standing inside it for hours on end to represent what the human trafficking market does to the world's children.
"It allows us to have a conversation about how children are viewed as commodities," Taryn Offenbacher, SHI communications director, told The Huffington Post. "This is a real person no matter how they're packaged."
It's truly an eye-opening image with which to be faced. SHI is hoping it will wake people up, and perhaps even help save potential victims from this revolting market. But will it be enough to make a dent in a business fueled by power and greed? It's a difficult war they're fighting, made more difficult by its elusiveness, and can only be won if everyone is made painfully aware of the situation. So to that end, here are some more terrifying statistics about sex trafficking that I hope get your attention long enough for you to take a stand against this injustice. You can support the cause at SHI's website.
8 Terrifying sex trafficking facts
1. The average age for entering into child prostitution is only 13 years old.
2. Last year, the number of prostitution ads on New York websites jumped by 50 percent over Super Bowl weekend.
3. During the Dallas Super Bowl in 2011 there was a 178 percent increase in internet ads regarding sex trafficking.
4. In the Florida Super Bowl in 2009 they were actually advertising a young woman as a Super Bowl special.
5. Flight attendants and airport workers are among those trained to recognize sex trafficking among the thousands heading to the Super Bowl.
6. In Boston, a child prostitution ring was smashed and 86 children were freed after an airline worker noticed a man traveling with two crying children.
7. Out of 987 ads reviewed in the New York/New Jersey area last year pre-Super Bowl, 97 percent indicated prostitution and 84 percent indicated possible sex trafficking. Five percent of the ads were flagged as potential minors.
8. Obtaining exact sex trafficking figures is notoriously difficult, because it's a crime that occurs behind closed doors and victims are often reluctant to come forward because they fear being treated as criminals.
11 Human-Trafficking Bills Passed by U.S. House Tuesday
The good, the bad, and the worse
by Elizabeth Nolan Brown
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a spate of bills addressing human trafficking. Though politicians on both sides of the aisle have been crowing about their good work here, the bills do very little to address labor trafficking, which comprises the majority of human trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department. Rather, most focus on the more salacious prospect of sex trafficking, especially the sex trafficking of minors.
The sheer number of anti-sex trafficking bills that have been introduced in the new Congress (17), by both Democrats and Republicans, should tell us something. Either sex trafficking has suddenly reached epidemic proportions in America, or it's become the showboat du jour for preening politicians. Most signs point to the latter.
Of the 11 anti-trafficking bills passed by the House yesterday, few seem likely to really help victims or make any actual dent in the problem. But they do a fine job of making it look like legislators are doing something. They have snazzy, important-sounding names like the "Human Trafficking Detection Act of 2015" and "International Megan's Law to Prevent Demand for Child Sex Trafficking." They mandate reports! reclassifications! distance-learning courses on preventing trafficking!
As you'll see below, most of the bills merely add layers of bureaucracy and authorize funding to pad these layers. A few provisions may benefit trafficking victims. A few create perverse prosecution incentives that may swell the federal jail population, but not with sex traffickers. Here's a brief breakdown of the individual bills:
H.R. 181, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.): Changes federal criminal code to subject anyone who "patronizes or solicits" commercial sex from someone under 18-years-old to a mandatory minimum federal prison sentence of 10 to 15 years (up to life). Raises the standard under which a defendent charged with soliciting commercial sex from a minor must prove they didn't know the minor's age, from "a preponderance of the evidence" to "clear and convincing evidence."
The bill, known as the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015, would also give more money to state and local law enforcement for anti-sex trafficking task forces, rescue missions, and prosecution units; set up special court programs that include "continuing judicial supervision of (people) who have been identified by a law enforcement ... as a potential victim of child human trafficking, regardless of whether the victim has been charged with a crime related to human trafficking"; and create state-administered outpatient treatment centers for trafficking victims, among other things.
H.R. 515, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.): Creates an "Angel Watch Center" within the Department of Homeland Security which will "facilitate the implementation of an international sex offender travel notification system in the United States and in other countries." The center would notify foreign countries whenever a U.S. citizen convicted of a child-related sex crime was traveling there, as well as collect such information from other countries (and provide money to other countries to help them comply)
H.R. 159, from Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.): Allocates money for the development and creation of a "national human trafficking hotline." Authorizes the Attorney General "to give preferential consideration in awarding Community Oriented Police Services grants" to applicants in states that treat minors engaged in prostitution as victims rather than criminals.
H.R. 460, sponsored by Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.): Implements a training program to help Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection officials learn "how to effectively deter, detect, and disrupt human trafficking."
H.R. 469, from Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.): Conditions eligibility to receive state grants for child abuse prevention on the state having a law or program dedicated to identifying and providing services for child sex-trafficking victims. Requires the HHS Secretary to report to Congress on child trafficking prevalence, state anti-trafficking practices, and "any barriers in federal laws or regulations that may prevent identification and assessment of children who are such victims."
H.R. 514, from Rep. Christopher Smith (R-N.J.): Changes the status of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to a Bureau to Monitor and Combat Trafficking and changes the way we classify foreign countries on our "special watch list" for those not living up to U.S. trafficking-elimination standards.
H.R. 357, from Rep. Sean Maloney (D-N.Y.): Requires certain federal personnel to take "a distance learning course on trafficking-in-persons issues," U.S. ambassadors to receive "specific trafficking-in-persons briefings," and "at least annual reminders" to various federal personnel about "key problems, threats, methods, and warning signs of trafficking in persons."
H.R. 468, from Rep. Joseph Heck (R-Nev.): Requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to give priority to staff training projects that relate to sex trafficking and authorizes the Secretary to make grants to private nonprofit agencies providing services to "runaway and homeless, and street youth, who have been subjected to, or are at risk of being subjected to, sexual abuse, prostitution, or sexual exploitation."
H.R. 246, from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio): Changes the language the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children must use for its "cyber tipline" from "child prostitution" to "child sex trafficking, including child prostitution."
H.R. 350, from Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.): Requires the Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking to survey "state activities to deter individuals from committing trafficking offenses," review the "academic literature on deterring individuals from committing trafficking offenses" and identify "best practices and strategies." Also requires the Government Accountability Office to report to Congress about trafficking issues and authorizes grants for programs that assist trafficking victims with housing.
H.R. 398, from Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.): Allocates funding for the development and dissemation of anti-trafficking training for health care professionals.
The bill that worries me the most is the first one, H.R. 181. Making it a federal crime (with a minimum 10-year prison sentence) to so much as solicit commerical sex from a minor is exactly the kind of thing federal officials will use to entrap folks into agreeing to sex with an imaginary 17-year-old and then send them to prison for a few decades. Why would they do this? Because it's easier than catching actual sex traffickers, and they still get to indicate that they caught sex traffickers on all these new reports they have to submit, plus use the evidence of their good work to get more of the new funding going to the issue.
That may sound paranoid to some, but every week I read multiple local-news reports from around the country about "sex trafficking stings." And in all but the rarest of instances, these stings result in nothing but the arrest of adults engaged in consensual prostitution. Yet neither the cops, the "rescue" nonprofits they've consulted with, nor the media reporting on these stings make much of the distinction. Adult sex workers are frequently given the choice of prostitution charges and possible jail time, or programs for "trafficking victims." Then these programs—and the police departments and government agencies backing them—use all the women they've coerced into attending to artificially inflate the numbers of "victims," which in turn serves as evidence that more money, more stings, and more legislative effort needs to be expended. This is basically the incentive system that H.R. 181 would be federalizing.
Guide Shows Educators How to Recognize, Prevent Child Trafficking
by Evie Blad
If a student in your school was a victim of child trafficking, would educators there recognize it? Do they know the warning signs?
It's more common and more difficult to identify than many people realize, experts say.
The U.S. Department of Education released a guide this week to help educators recognize, respond to, and prevent cases of child trafficking—"modern day slavery" that "involves exploiting a child for the purpose of forced labor, commercial sex, or both." An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide, the agency said, and it's not uncommon in the United States.
"School personnel are uniquely positioned to identify and report suspected abuse and connect students to services—actions that can prevent trafficking and even save lives," the Education Department said in a statement. "Everyone who is part of the school community—administrators, teachers, bus drivers, maintenance personnel, food service staff, resource officers, and other school community members—has the potential to be an advocate for child victims of human trafficking."
The guide, released during Human Trafficking Awareness Month, can be downloaded as a PDF or viewed online.
"Few crimes are more abhorrent than child trafficking, and few crimes are more challenging for communities to recognize and address," the guide says. "For many people, the reality of trafficking in their community is difficult to comprehend, let alone confront. For educators and school personnel, the reality of these crimes and the severity of their impact are cause for a call to action."
The guide explains the difference between sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and it explains how traffickers groom and recruit children.
It includes a sample school district policy for responding to suspected trafficking. It also busts myths. For example, not all traffickers are adults; students have been arrested for pimping other students.
The guidance also lists risk factors and indicators of specific forms of trafficking. Here are a few warning signs the guide lists for sex trafficking:
a sudden change in attention to personal hygiene
tattoos (a form of branding) displaying the name or moniker of a trafficker, such as "daddy"
hyperarousal or symptoms of anger, panic, phobia, irritability, hyperactivity, frequent crying, temper tantrums, regressive behavior, and/or clinging behavior
hypoarousal or symptoms of daydreaming, inability to bond with others, inattention, forgetfulness, and/or shyness
an inability to attend school on a regular basis and/or unexplained absences
frequently running away from home
references made to frequent travel to other cities
And here are some warning signs for labor trafficking:
not being in control of his or her own money
living with an employer or having an employer listed as a student's caregiver
a desire to quit a job but not being allowed to do so
Scots historical child abuse inquiry seeks feedback
by The Editorial Team
The Scottish Government is today inviting survivors and relevant organisations to offer their views on the terms of reference, and attributes of the Chair and Panel for the National Inquiry into Historical Child Abuse.
Scottish Government officials are also working with a range of support organisations across Scotland and with the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland (CELCIS) to organise a series of events and meetings to hear directly from survivors and others.
What has happened so far?
A great deal of work has already been done in Scotland to look at the experiences of children in care. There is on-going work with adult survivors of abuse, and extensive engagement with other organisations that have an interest, including those who provide institutional care for children.
There have been previous public inquiries – notably in Edinburgh, Fife and at the Kerelaw School. And in 2004, the then First Minister, Jack McConnell, issued an apology on behalf of the people of Scotland for past child abuse in residential care homes.
A review published last year, focused on progress over the past 25 years, to protect and safeguard children and young people in residential and foster care. Read the review here.
Small local events and larger regional events will be organised from now until end March 2015 to give survivors and relevant organisations an opportunity to have their views heard.
Survivors and relevant organisations can write or email their views using the feedback form provided, by contacting: Survivor.Engagement@scotland.gsi.gov.uk or by writing to:
The Scottish Government
The National Inquiry into Historical Child Abuse
Area 2A North
To find out more about the Inquiry, and how you can offer your views:
Proposed Bill Would Teach Sex Abuse Education In Schools
DENVER (CBS4) - A bill being debated at the state Capitol would teach children as young as five about sexual abuse. Some lawmakers call it the biggest public health issue that no one is talking about and they believe it's time children learned about the threat in school.
An estimated one in five children will be sexually abused, 90 percent of them by someone they know.
“Every step of the way of this journey has been really difficult and really transformative,” said abuse survivor Jenny Stith.
Stith was sexually abused as a child and testified before lawmakers on Wednesday. It was the first time she talked about what happened publicly.
“I was taught never to talk to strangers as a child, but never taught that sexual abuse would likely happen to me by someone I know,” said Stith.
Stith is supporting the bill that would teach students about sexual assault in the classroom, including rape and incest. The bill would create a position within the Colorado School Safety Resource Center to develop age appropriate curriculum and training for schools.
“Is there anything more important than the safety of a child? How can a child learn if they are holding this secret?” asked Sen. Linda Newell, a Democrat representing Littleton.
Under the bill sponsored by Newell, schools would not be required to participate. Stith hopes most will so other abuse victims will get the help she didn't.
“When a child in that situation without being prepared for it, it's too late because it's overwhelming, it's scary, it's confusing,” said Stith. “At the end of the day I look at child sexual abuse prevention and intervention as a social justice issue and the problem is when we can't have that conversation with each other and with our kids, we literally push this issue onto the shoulders of children.”
The Senate Education Committee will hear the bill on Thursday. Republicans are expected to kill the measure, in part because of the cost, $85,000.
Stith heads up an organization called WINGS that works with adult survivors, many of whom suffer from substance abuse, eating disorders and domestic violence. Problems Stith believes cost the State of Colorado more, an estimated $21 billion.
Boy Scout's 'Perversion' Files Reveals 'Sordid History of Sexual Abuse' in Organization, Says Lawyer
by Leonardo Blair
In a controversial and attention-getting decision, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow gay members in May 2013. Openly gay leaders are still banned from serving.
An attorney involved in a civil lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America over the sexual abuse of a 13-year-old boy by an adult volunteer says documents kept by the organization for nearly a century known as the "perversion files" reveal a "sordid history of child sexual abuse."
The attorney, Tim Hale, made the statement in California Monday at a civil trial on behalf of the victim who is now 20, according to the Associated Press. The victim, who was not identified by the AP, but listed in court documents, is suing the Boy Scout of America as well as a local scouting council for punitive damages for the 2007 abuse. He alleges the Boys Scouts were negligent because they failed to warn and train parents and volunteers about sex abuse.
Hale is being allowed by the court to access 30 years of "perversion" files which include 16 years of documents from 1991 to 2007 that have never been seen before.
"The Boy Scouts of America has a long and sordid history of child sexual abuse committed against young Scouts, committed by Scout leaders and that timeline goes back, the files show, until at least the 1920s," said Hale.
"What has not been going on is notice to the public and notice to (the plaintiff) and his parents," he added.
The victim in the case testified that during the 2007 assault at a Christmas tree parking lot he suffered a bruise and laceration. He still struggles with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
"It was a 13-year-old's word over a Scout leader, an adult," the victim noted on the stand. "He was someone people looked up to."
Nicholas Heldt, an attorney for the Boy Scouts, highlighted in his opening statement that the "perversion" files were created to keep children safe as people entered on a master list were marked as ineligible to volunteer with the Scouts.
He said the organization had acknowledged mistakes in the handling of sex abuse allegations in the past but a strong child protection program was now in place.
He noted that of some 1.5 million volunteers with the organization nationwide only 27 were booted annually from 2003 to 2007 for sexually abusing Scouts.
"This case is about training and whether training would have made a difference," Heldt told jurors.
"I think this is a case in which the one instance of sexual abuse against (the plaintiff) could not have been prevented, and it wasn't prevented," he said. "But the training program may have helped prevent the second or the third instance of sexual abuse."
Sex Workers Get Shut Out of Seattle's "Sexual Exploitation" Conversation a Second Time
by Sydney Brownstone
Prostitutes are victims, according to King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg. "Today our goal is to identify women who are being prostituted and treat them as the victims that they are , and give them the services that they so desperately need," he told a packed Town Hall audience in attendance for an anti-sex trafficking panel on Monday night.
But then Satterberg added a weird qualifier, perhaps anticipating the criticism that some sex workers don't identify as victims. Even if happy sex workers do exist, Satterberg said, he personally does not know them . (Hooray?)
"I know that there is a small group of women who are saying, hey, this is okay, this is a profession that I chose; it doesn't hurt anybody," Satterberg said. "And my answer to that is that if there is one percent of women who are being sold in prostitution who are happy with that life, if one percent— I don't think I've ever met anyone who is —but if there is one percent of them, that doesn't mean we should turn our backs to the 99 percent of them who continue to be abused in our community."
Sex trafficking is serious abuse. It's a pernicious kind of forced labor that regularly preys on people who already have few employment opportunities or those who have histories that put them at risk for being re-victimized. But Satterberg's statement was an illogical one at best. (How does acknowledging the existence of consensual adult sex workers nullify all anti-trafficking efforts? And hey, was he just making that 99 percent vs. 1 percent stat up, or is it grounded in real data?) At worst, it contradicted the panel's own stated intentions of respecting marginalized individuals' humanity.
But let's back up for a minute. Satterberg's comments came at a time when state and city legislators are ramping up their efforts to crack down on the sex trade. Unlike earlier attempts to do so, this time courts and law enforcement say they aren't going after the workers themselves. Instead, the new efforts focus on punishing and deterring johns. Earlier this month, state legislators introduced bills that would elevate buying sex to a more serious crime (a gross misdemeanor), and allow seizure of property as punishment. City Attorney Pete Holmes also reclassified the misdemeanor of "patronizing a prostitute" to "sexual exploitation."
The panel, which featured Satterberg, Holmes, an anti-trafficking business consultant named Dan Arkless, and staffers with the Organization for Prostitute Survivors (OPS), along with other anti-trafficking activists, did not include any current sex workers. Noel Gomez, OPS co-founder and trafficking survivor, spoke to her own devastating experiences of abuse and why "the life" is harmful to all. The rest of the two-hour event mostly probed the minds of mostly white men on how to protect a group they contend is mostly women and children who are coerced into sex work.
Some sex workers in the audience, however, had different opinions about how to best protect—and distinguish—at-risk youth and self-employed adults. During a question-and-answer period at the end of the panel, a volunteer with the Sex Workers Outreach Project of Seattle first thanked the panel for the work that they had done to end trafficking, then asked if sex workers might be part of the ongoing policy conversation .
"Being told that as consenting adult sex workers [we] are fictitious or don't exist or that there's only one percent of us— I don't think that's an actual statistic —it feels as if our realities as consenting adult sex workers who have not been disempowered or disenfranchised or victimized are brushed aside," the volunteer said.
Val Richey, senior deputy prosecuting attorney for King County, replied that "some 90 percent of people, according to the research" are coerced into prostitution. Legalization attempts, he added, have failed. "No one is entitled to buying sex from another human being," he said. "We shouldn't give that act the credibility of official endorsement."
Those stats and conclusions are less straightforward than they may seem. According to one major study of minors working as prostitutes in New York City, 90 percent said they wished they could leave "the life." But the problem wasn't coercion into sex work—it was the lack of other kinds of stable employment, education, and affordable housing. That same New York City study found that only 14 percent of the sex workers had pimps. Another recent, qualitative study published in the British Medical Journal found that, out of a small sample of street sex workers in Vancouver, police attempts to crack down on johns actually prevented sex workers from screening their clients thoroughly and forced the workers into more dangerous situations. Conflating consensual sex work and trafficking, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, "leads to inappropriate responses that fail to assist sex workers and victims of trafficking" and can actually block efforts to counter sexual slavery.
This wasn't the first time that sex workers have been denied entry to policy decisions governing their actions. Recently in Olympia, a public hearing on the bills mentioned above concluded before any SWOP volunteers waiting in line to testify could speak.
But the truth is that many more voices were missing from that Town Hall auditorium, like pretty much anyone who wasn't a well-educated white person at little risk of being trafficked (this, I'm aware, very much includes myself). So it's a big issue, and not everyone has the privilege to attend meetings like these. At the same time, if lawmakers are going to make efforts to "protect" people, shouldn't they at least hear what those people have to say? You know, stakeholders! Outreach! Then again, lawmakers could also assume—like some on the Town Hall panel seemed to—that those stakeholders a) don't exist if they have not met them or b) can't make informed decisions for themselves.
State data shows child abuse reports continue rising
by Adam Rodewald
New state data suggests that as many as 28 children in Brown County were suspected of being abused or neglected last year.
That would amount to a total of 2,247 kids whose families were investigated for possible abuse or neglect just in the past 12 months.
In reality, the numbers aren't quite that high. County child protection workers said the numbers are misleading because they don't account for children referred to the department multiple times.
Nevertheless, the numbers are worth consideration for trends they show.
The county received a total of 3,748 referrals – again, a single child could have been referred more than once – in 2014. That's the highest number in at least six years.
Over the past year I have closely examined this trend. Brown County stands out from other parts of the state because the volume and severity of cases is rising.
The number of cases investigated by county child protection workers has increased for at least six consecutive years now, climbing 60 percent since 2009, state data shows.
Among the 10 largest counties, only three others saw any increase in the number of cases. None grew as much as Brown County. Dane County had an increase of 31 percent, Marathon County grew 28 percent and Kenosha County grew 5 percent.
Statewide, the number of cases has grown about 4 percent since 2009, and most of that occurred in the past year.
There's a sliver lining in all of this data, which was released earlier in January. Child abuse and neglect cases in Brown County rose at the lowest rate in six years — a little more than one-half of a percent.
That's a much different story than I reported earlier this month, when preliminary counts provided by the county showed a 3 percent increase over 2013.
Child protection officials have been up front about the fact they don't really know why the trend line has sloped this way. It could be that increased prevention efforts have led to a boom in referrals into the department. Or, it could be tied to spreading poverty or the proliferation of heroin use. Most likely a there's a combination of factors at play.
Press-Gazette Media and I are committed to reporting on this problem because the impact of child abuse is so pervasive, from the life-lasting trauma on these kids to the toll it takes on schools to the strain it places on tax-funded safety nets.
We will continue to track this trend and provide analysis of what it means. For starters, please check out an updated interactive map showing child abuse rates for all counties across the state.
Texas children forced to drop pants after feces found in school gym
by Rick Couri
GUSTINE, Texas — The Gustine, Texas, school district is investigating after about 24 elementary students reportedly were told to pull down their pants when feces were found in a gymnasium.
Angry parent Maria Medina claims the actions were taken after teachers reported "finding poop on the gym floor." She said workers told the kids to “pull down their pants to check them to see if they could find anything."
Medina told WFAA that her 11-year-old daughter, Eliza, was one of the students searched.
"I felt uncomfortable, and I didn't want to do it," Eliza said. "I felt like they violated my privacy."
Medina's feelings were stronger. “I was furious. I mean, I was furious," she said.
The boys are girls reportedly were separated for the inspection.
District Superintendent Ken Baugh said the students were told to lower their pants “just a little.”
That didn't assuage Medina. "Wrong is wrong," she said.
Baugh confirmed the district is investigating the matter and agreed with parent's concern.
"That's not appropriate, and we do not condone that,” he told the station.
The topic is likely to be on the agenda at the school board meeting Thursday night.
"Maybe we can find a much better way to solve this” Baugh said.
Child Abuse And Neglect Laws Aren't Being Enforced, Report Finds
by Pam Fessler
Laws intended to protect children from abuse and neglect are not being properly enforced, and the federal government is to blame. That's according to a study by the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which says children are suffering as a result.
The numbers are grim. Almost 680,000 children in the United States were the victims of abuse and neglect in 2013. More than 1,500 of them died.
Federal officials say they're encouraged that the numbers are lower than they were in 2012. But children's advocates say that abuse is so often not reported that it's impossible to know if there's really been a decline.
"This is just something that's chronically underreported," says Elisa Weichel, a staff attorney with the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law, which published the report Tuesday.
She says abuse and neglect cases — especially those resulting in death — are often not disclosed as required by law. That lack of information has led to other problems in the system.
"It all boils down to having the right amount of data about what's working and what's not," Weichel says. "And when your data is flawed, every other part of your system is going to be flawed."
Her group has found plenty of flaws. The institute conducted a three-year study and found that not one state has met all of the minimum child welfare standards set by the federal government. Those standards include such things as timely investigation of reports of child abuse. The institute blames Congress and the courts for failing to get involved.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which reviews state programs, declined to comment on the report.
But there's broad agreement among those involved in child welfare that the system is in desperate need of repair, agencies are underfunded and caseworkers are often overwhelmed.
"Whether or not individual states can meet a reporting standard to us is not where the emphasis ought to be," says Ron Smith, director of legislative affairs for the American Public Human Services Association, which represents child welfare administrators.
"It needs to be on making sure that the kids who need assistance are getting assistance, and the families that need assistance are getting the assistance," he says.
Smith says state and local officials complain that they spend too much time filling out federal forms and trying to meet requirements that aren't necessarily best for kids.
Instead, he says, they want flexibility on how to spend federal funds so they can focus more on keeping families together, rather than on helping kids after they've been abused and removed from their homes.
Ron Zychowski of Eckerd, a nonprofit company that runs child welfare services in three of Florida's largest counties, agrees that change is needed. Eckerd has developed a new system to identify which of the 5,000 children under its care are at the highest risk of serious injury or death, so they can fix problems quickly.
"And I'm very pleased to report that in two years we have not had a child death from abuse or neglect in any of our cases," Zychowski says.
That program is getting lots of national attention, including from a new commission set up by Congress to help eliminate abuse and neglect deaths.
But Zychowski warns, in this field there's no silver bullet.
"Bad people will do bad things to children," he says. "We're not going to catch them all, and we're not going to stop them all."
There was a horrific reminder of that earlier this month. A Florida man was accused of killing his 5-year-old daughter by throwing her off a bridge. Zychowski says the family was not in the child welfare system.
Ex-Boy Scout describes mental scars left by abuse at trial
by GILLIAN FLACCUS
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — A California man suing the Boy Scouts of America over sexual abuse suffered at the hands of a volunteer Scout leader was so scarred by the incident that he once threw up outside a Taco Bell when he saw someone who looked like the man, he testified in the opening day of a civil trial.
The 20-year-old man, who was 13 when he was molested in 2007, told jurors Monday that shortly after the abuse he secretly taped the Scout leader making a partial confession because it was "a 13-year-old's word against a Scout leader, an adult."
Then, he dropped out of baseball — which had been his passion for seven years — stopped hanging out with friends and eventually enrolled in a home school program after the Scout leader began showing up in a parked car outside his high school.
"I felt scared. I felt like he was coming after me. I remember just hiding until his car went by (and) I felt kind of sick, he said. "One of the times I threw up just seeing his car."
The Scout volunteer, Al Stein, pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009 and is now a registered sex offender. He did not attend the trial Monday.
The victim, who is seeking punitive damages, was the first to take the stand in what is expected to be a monthlong civil trial that will center on whether the Boy Scouts were negligent in educating, warning and training parents, Scouts and volunteers about the dangers of sexual abuse.
The plaintiff's attorney, Tim Hale, won the right to draw from more than 30 years of "perversion" files as evidence as he tries to make the case that the Scouts knew the dangers of abuse within scouting were real and didn't do enough to prevent it.
The files that were allowed in by Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Donna Geck earlier this month include 16 years of documents — from 1991 to 2007 — that have not been made public previously. Hale told jurors they would receive a CD of 100,000 pages to review during deliberations and, in some cases, would be the first people in the United States to see the files outside the Scouts and attorneys on the case.
The Scouts maintain that the boy's abuse could not have been prevented in the first instance and that their youth protection program worked because he recognized the abuse, resisted and told his mother, thus preventing further abuse and more victims.
Hale told the jury in his opening remarks that when they deliberate they will receive a CD of 100,000 pages of files to review and will be the first people in the U.S. outside Scout leadership and attorneys to see the documents.
Hale said the Scouts recorded between 9,000 and 10,000 such files between 1920 and 2007. An attorney for the Scouts put the number at 7,500; the discrepancy wasn't explained.
"The Boy Scouts of America has a long and sordid history of child sexual abuse committed against young Scouts committed by Scout leaders and that timeline goes back, the files show, until at least the 1920s," he said.
"What has not been going on is notice to the public and notice to (the plaintiff) and his parents," the lawyer added.
The victim's name is being used in court, but The Associated Press does not generally name victims of sexual abuse.
An attorney for the Boy Scouts said in his opening statement that the "perversion" files were created to keep children safe by maintaining a master list of people ineligible to volunteer with the Scouts.
The organization acknowledges mistakes in the way sex abuse allegations were handled in the past but now has a robust child protection program, attorney Nicholas Heldt said.
From 2003 to 2007, a key period for the lawsuit, only 27 adult volunteers were kicked out annually for sexually abusing Scouts, although there were at least 1.5 million volunteers nationally, he said.
When the plaintiff was abused, the youth protection training worked because the boy recognized the abuse, resisted and told his mother, Heldt said. She, in turn, told local Scout leaders who informed law enforcement.
"This case is about training and whether training would have made a difference," he told jurors.
"I think this is a case in which the one instance of sexual abuse against (the plaintiff) could not have been prevented, and it wasn't prevented," he said. "But the training program may have helped prevent the second or the third instance of sexual abuse."
The current lawsuit alleges that Stein, now 37, pulled down the plaintiff's pants when he was 13 and fondled him while the two worked in the Christmas tree lot.
Stein pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009 and was sentenced to probation. He served time in prison after authorities discovered photos of naked children on his cellphone.
Pedophile Rings in Thatcher's Britain—Myth or Fact?
The UK's establishment stands accused of rape and murder—but the tale sounds suspiciously familiar to those who recall America's "Satanic abuse" hoax.
by Philip Jenkins
Leon Brittan, who died last week, had a very distinguished career in British public life. Among other things, he served as Margaret Thatcher's Home Secretary and later became a member of the European Commission. It is startling, then, to find that among the standard eulogies for the great and the good, some news headlines reporting his death feature such unexpected words as “abuse ring,” “pedophile,” and “child murder.” Brittan had the misfortune to play a starring role in a long-simmering sex scandal currently fascinating that country's media.
For years now, rumors have been floating about a “Westminster Pedophile Ring” that supposedly operated in the 1970s and 1980s and which included senior politicians, civil servants, and military figures, mainly right-wing Conservatives. Recently allegations reached new heights when police said they were seriously considering claims that the group had murdered several young boys. As the Independent headlined, “Tory MP Killed Boy During Sex Attack.” In themselves, these horrific charges contain nothing flagrantly impossible. Yet we need to be very careful indeed about accepting a story that depends on thorny issues of evidence and credibility that will be deeply familiar to American observers of our own country's sexual politics.
The whole dreadful affair has now developed a complete mythology, with two pivotal hero figures. One was flamboyant Member of Parliament Geoffrey Dickens, who in 1984 compiled a massive dossier about pedophilia in British public life, with details on some 40 allegedly tainted politicians. He gave this to Home Secretary Leon Brittan, whose department promptly misplaced or buried it, supposedly as part of a general establishment cover-up. Only in recent years has the affair returned to life. The other key figure is the pseudonymous “Nick,” supposedly one of the abused boys from that earlier era. Finding his chilling account of witnessing murders “credible and true,” British police have now reopened the investigation, in the process generating sensational headlines.
Parts of the story are plausible. We know that in that era—roughly, the decade following 1975—several British public figures were indeed involved in outrageous and exploitative sexual misbehavior, including some cases of child abuse and child pornography. One horrific example was Liberal MP Cyril Smith, a 300-pound blimp with a penchant for spanking teenaged boys. Although such cases of sexual malfeasance were well-known to police and media, they were thoroughly hushed up, a process made vastly easier by draconian British libel laws.
The “pedophile ring” rhetoric is, though, misleading. If we look at the known sexual scandals from the politics of this era, they tended not to be “pedophile,” in the sense of involving someone sexually focused on children at or below the age of puberty. The word is thus chosen to maximize seriousness, implying young child victims, compulsive serial offending, and incorrigibility. In fact, the recorded cases commonly involved homosexual men interested in male teenagers or young adults, usually male prostitutes. That does not for a second excuse the behavior, but it does put it in a different category from molesters preying on infants.
That distinction is significant in light of the claims made about Geoffrey Dickens, who is today presented as a near-prophetic champion of decency and child protection confronting a perverted ruling class. Dickens was in fact an outrageous demagogue, who never found a sensational issue or moral panic that he failed to leap on. His special bugbear was homosexuality, a broad category that, for him, included pedophilia as one of its subsets. If we actually had a copy of the legendary dossier, we can be quite sure that it included very few actual pedophiles and a great many homosexuals. Almost certainly, too, the impressive-sounding term “dossier” dignifies a generalized rant.
Charges of rings and conspiracies should also be treated circumspectly. The “elite pedophilia” charges circulated very widely in tabloid media of the 1980s, usually in the context of lunatic theories of Satanism and supposed “ritual child abuse,” sometimes linked to anti-Masonic hysteria. Then as now, these fevered rumors Named Names, including Cabinet members and members of the royal family, as well as prominent Jews, like Brittan himself. It's not surprising, then, that law-enforcement officials at the time were profoundly (and rightly) skeptical of any new nuggets Dickens had to offer.
But let's move to the present day, and especially to “Nick,” the main (and seemingly only) source of the murder charges. I personally have no idea of Nick's identity, or of his veracity, and it is possible that every appalling word he is uttering is grounded in truth. But based on the extensive media reports of the affair, I do have concerns.
I read, for instance, the accounts of the homicidal orgies attributed to the elite ring, in which at least one boy was strangled. This gives me a mighty sense of déjà vu because I know identical stories of actual, confirmed incidents that happened in London at this exact time and which have been known in the public domain for decades. Those crimes, though, involved a quite genuine pedophile crime network that was as far from “elite” as it was possible to be, a group of underclass trash who hung around fairgrounds to find child victims. They indeed killed repeatedly, in exactly the ways now credited to our “elite” perverts, and the similarity between those stories and the current charges bothers me. If someone were inventing “pedophile ring” crimes, this is what they would come up with.
Recently, one of the leading detectives in the renewed investigation remarked that “I believe what Nick is saying to be credible and true.” Based on reports to date, police have never referred to any actual corroboration of the charges, any piece of evidence that Nick gave that he would not have known if he had not been present at these crimes. Rather, we hear repeatedly of his “credibility,” a word that is thoroughly subjective: “I believe.”
When I say that X is “credible,” what we mean is that I find what he has to say believable, and that fact depends as much on my willingness to accept his statement as on any quality in his character or demeanor. This is a familiar theme in contemporary American debates over sexual assault, as when Rolling Stone found a witness who recounted fraternity rape stories, declaring her “credible” because it fitted their ideological needs to do so. Editors and journalists simply wanted and needed to believe. Seeking corroboration was unnecessary, and the mere suggestion of doing so would have blamed and demeaned the victim.
In Britain, too, there are ample reasons why authorities would now find Nick “credible” in the way they would not have done a decade or so back. The main new factor is the appalling case of disc jockey Jimmy Savile, who used his celebrity status to carry out a career of rape and molestation lasting half a century. Since 2012, desperately anxious to avoid new attacks on their integrity and competence, law-enforcement agencies have sought out and prosecuted celebrity sexual crimes from bygone years, commonly relying on the uncorroborated testimony of reported victim and survivors.
Sometimes, this exhumation of past horrors has undoubtedly served the cause of justice, but questions remain. Should an individual really be tried and convicted on the unsupported, uncorroborated evidence of alleged victims who report crimes from 30 or 40 years ago? Surely, we can now point to enough cases where such testimony has proved to be wholly fictitious, and malicious, so that real injustice resulted. Witnesses fantasize, and witnesses lie.
Perhaps British politicians of the Thatcher era were indeed sexual monsters. But we should pause before accepting what, on its surface, looks like a deranged fantasy.
Philip Jenkins is the author of Images of Terror: What We Can and Can't Know About Terrorism. He is distinguished professor of history at Baylor University and serves as co-director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in the Institute for Studies of Religion.
Egypt court convicts doctor of female genital mutilation
by SARAH EL DEEB
CAIRO (AP) - An Egyptian appeals court on Monday convicted a doctor of manslaughter and performing female genital mutilation that led to the death of a 13-year-old girl, sentencing him to two years and three months in prison in the country's first case that came to trial over the widespread practice, defense lawyers said.
The doctor, Raslan Fadl, was initially acquitted of the 2013 death of Sohair el-Batea in a village in the Nile Delta province of Dakahliya. He was not present in court Monday and his whereabouts were unknown.
Monday's verdict was "a triumph for women," said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki, who represented the deceased. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world and criminalized the practice in 2008, but it remains widespread.
"I am really happy," el-Danbouki told The Associated Press following the ruling. "Here is a judge that understands."
The lawyer said the court also fined Fadl $70 and ordered his clinic closed for a year, and handed el-Batea's father a three-month suspended sentence for complicity in subjecting his daughter to the procedure.
Rights advocates said the ruling could serve as a deterrent for doctors and families against the practice. The trial was the first in Egypt on charges of breaking the 2008 ban on the practice. The case came to trial only after significant pressure from rights groups.
The U.N. Children's Fund hailed the ruling as reflecting the willingness of Egyptian authorities to enforce legislation that criminalizes the harmful practice.
"The verdict is a precedent and sends out a strong signal that FGM, which still affects the lives of so many girls each year, is no longer to be tolerated," UNICEF representative in Egypt, Phillipe Duamelle, said in a text message to the AP.
More than 90 percent of women in Egypt are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation. International women rights group Equality Now said in an email that almost one in four survivors of female genital mutilation in the world is from Egypt.
"It is fantastic news that Sohair has finally been given justice. This is a monumental victory for women and girls in Egypt," said Suad Abu-Dayyeh, the Middle East and North African consultant for Equality Now.
"The country has shown that it will implement its laws and we hope that this is the first step toward ending this extreme form of violence against women once and for all," Abu-Dayyeh added.
The practice generally involves the cutting off of all or part of the clitoris and sometimes the labia. It is performed on both Muslims and Christians and is believed to control a young woman's sexual appetite.
It is practiced in 29 countries, mostly in East and West Africa, but also in Iraq and Yemen. Rights groups see it as a way to control female sexuality that causes physical and psychological damage.
Despite the trial, Fadl had continued to work in his clinic. An employee who answered a call to his center Monday said she had no information on the ruling and declined to discuss Fadl's whereabouts. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to media.
Westmoreland County adds 5 caseworker positions as child abuse cases increase
by Joe Napsha
Five caseworkers will be hired to help a staff of 50 handle the rising number of cases of abused and neglected children investigated by the Westmoreland County Children's Bureau, officials said Thursday.
“We've asked for five assessment caseworkers to handle 22 amendments to the state's Child Protective Services law. We've got an increase in referrals,” said Charles McCallen, assistant director of the Children's Bureau.
The number of cases from September to December 2014 rose to 931, up 14 percent from the 809 cases in the same period in 2013, McCallen said.
“We anticipate more (of an increase) in 2015,” he said.
Children's Bureau officials say the increase resulted from the state tightening regulations regarding the reporting of child abuse and neglect in response to the sex abuse scandal involving former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. The 70-year-old was convicted of child molestation charges in 2012 and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, effectively a life sentence.
Changes in the law require caseworkers to investigate reports of child abuse that previously were referred to law-enforcement agencies, McCallen said.
With the expectation of even more cases this year, the salary board approved the hirings.
As of Jan. 16, the Children's Bureau has had 29 percent more referrals of child abuse and neglect cases than in the entire month of January 2014, said Dirk Matson, the county's human resources director.
The hiring of five caseworkers will cost the county $198,705 a year, while abolishing four vacant positions in that office will save nearly $146,000 annually, according to the board.
McCallen attributed some of the increase to a heightened public awareness of the issue. But he's not certain that the accompanying increase in the amount of documentation benefits the children, he said.
“I don't like to see an increase in the amount of paperwork. That doesn't keep kids safe. Face-to-face contact by the caseworkers, seeing the family and seeing the kids” is what keeps children safe, McCallen said.
Tara Breitsprecher, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The county will hire the caseworkers from eligible candidates who have taken a state Civil Service examination. Matson said he hopes to fill the positions by spring.
The decision to hire the caseworkers was part of the salary board's moves to abolish 12 vacant positions, while creating another 12. Among the positions created, a parks assistant's job involved only a title change and an interim park police corporal's job will be abolished once a full-time employee returns. One lieutenant sheriff will be paid an annual salary of $41,371, but that rate applies only to the current employee.
“There were no layoffs,” Matson said. “The positions were vacant by attrition.”
The county will incur about $8,200 in additional employee costs as a result of all of the employee moves, Matson said.
Bill would extend statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims
Victims of childhood sexual abuse would have additional time to seek damages from their abusers under legislation introduced in the Georgia House on Monday.
House bill 17, by Rep. Jason Spencer, R-Woodbine, would extend the statute of limitations for civil suits from five years to 35 years for anyone who is sexual abused before the age of 18.
The bill, which has bipartisan support, also provides a two-year window for past victims to seek damages if they have not yet come forward.
The bill would apply to victims of rape, sodomy, child molestation, pandering, incest and sexual battery.
Finally, victims of childhood sexual abuse would have access to records of any investigation related to the case.
Part 1 of 3
Punishment lacking in child sex assault cases
by Ariel Cheung
Police identified three young victims who named Ronald Kupsky as their assailant, but Kupsky did not serve any time in prison for his first conviction.
Ronald Kupsky is a free man, despite having sexually assaulted a 9-year-old girl and facing pending charges of a second child assault and an investigation into a potential third victim.
Kupsky is not on Wisconsin's sex offender registry and has no probation agent. He is required to follow certain rules as part of his bond — including no unsupervised contact with minors — but prosecutors say he violated the conditions before.
A Post-Crescent Media review found that Kupsky's case is not isolated. While prosecutors and defense attorneys debate the need to protect the public while ensuring a presumption of innocence for the people accused, the review showed that convictions on original charges are rare, and plea agreements allow some offenders to avoid prison or sex offender registration.
The newspaper found that in the 153 child sexual assault cases filed in Outagamie County between September 2009 and August 2014, more than half of the defendants were released from jail during court proceedings. Of those, 43 received signature bonds and 34 were granted reduced bonds upon request.
One in four defendants had multiple child sexual assault cases on record and 30 percent re-offended or jumped bail during the five-year period — although that doesn't necessarily constitute a new sex-related offense.
Post-Crescent Media also found that those facing serious child sexual assault charges in Outagamie County often avoided trial through deferred prosecution or plea agreements. In 32 cases, judges did not require offenders to register.
The first girl to accuse Kupsky of molesting her was a neighbor in his Kimberly apartment building. In September 2013, the girl told police Kupsky approached her when she was playing outside and touched her genital area.
"This guy touched me in the wrong place," she told police.
Kupsky, then 26, told police he might have "flicked" the girl's genitals while ashing his cigarette, but denied any intentional action and continues to maintain his innocence.
"It was a very weak case on the part of the state," said Steve Brown, Kupsky's attorney. "This alleged touch was accidental. It was momentary. It was just a brush, if you will."
Still, it troubled the girl. She told Kupsky, "Please stop. I don't like that," and he apologized. The child then ran back inside, the criminal complaint states.
In Wisconsin, sexual contact with a child under 13 years old is a felony that carries a maximum of 60 years in prison. It is in the same classification as manslaughter, kidnapping and armed robbery — one felony class below murder.
In late 2013, Outagamie County Judge Michael Gage reduced Kupsky's $50,000 bond to $10,000 — allowing Kupsky's Nov. 14, 2013 release so he could treat a respiratory ailment and return to active duty for the Wisconsin Army National Guard, according to court records.
But Post-Crescent Media learned Kupsky had already completed his enlistment before the bond hearing and was discharged Nov. 4, 2013.
Maj. Paul Rickert, spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs, said he couldn't discuss the nature of Kupsky's discharge. Rickert said soldiers aren't required to be present for their last drill to complete enlistment, meaning Kupsky could have been discharged while still behind bars.
Brown said he couldn't comment on whether Kupsky was aware his enlistment already had been completed at the time of the hearing because he was represented at the time by public defender Robert Welygan, who declined comment.
Outagamie County jail personnel said the facility is equipped to treat respiratory ailments. The exception is if an inmate has a contagious ailment such as tuberculosis, said Gail Craft, director of the jail's nursing service.
Kupsky was ordered to live with his mother in Green Bay and refrain from unsupervised contact with minors, a condition that was relaxed as part of the bond modification. When Kupsky was initially arrested, he was ordered to have no contact with children.
It's unclear why that condition was relaxed. Gage declined comment, saying it wouldn't be appropriate for a judge to discuss a specific case. Either way, Door County prosecutors say Kupsky didn't comply with the requirements.
Phone records provide key evidence
As an episode of "Teen Mom" flickered on a television in a Sturgeon Bay home in January 2014, Kupsky targeted another potential victim — two months after he was released from jail, authorities claim.
Kupsky was watching television with his girlfriend and her 12-year-old cousin when the girl said he reached for her hand under the blanket and placed it on his genitals. When the girlfriend left the room, the child told police, Kupsky rubbed her chest and genitals and took off her clothing, took photos with his cellphone and showed her pornography, according to a Door County criminal complaint.
The girl said she told him to stop, and he demanded she keep the incident a secret. When Kupsky's girlfriend returned, the girl said she tried to tell her what happened, but Kupsky would not let them talk alone.
After the girl told a social worker about the incident, police seized Kupsky's cellphone and said they found photos and videos of sex between Kupsky and a third girl they say is 13 or 14 years old. Police say they were able to identify the location as Kupsky's former apartment and believe he was committing the acts, the complaint stated.
The girl has yet to be identified, and charges have not been filed. The case is under investigation.
Sturgeon Bay police arrested Kupsky late last January, and he was charged with bail jumping for having unsupervised contact with the 12-year-old. After posting his $3,000 bail in Door County, Kupsky was released on Jan. 29.
On May 15, Door County prosecutors filed additional charges against Kupsky of first-degree child sexual assault, causing a child to view sexual activity and 14 counts of possessing child pornography. The pornography charges were dismissed Dec. 18.
Door County District Attorney Ray Pelrine declined to comment.
Kupsky claims innocence
Despite the additional charges, Kupsky remained free even after his Outagamie sentencing in June, when he pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum nine-month jail sentence.
"This whole issue has been extremely traumatizing for me as well. I mean being on bail for over the past year, I've been trying to stay in shape and everything," Kupsky said at the hearing. "But I agreed to this so that I can move on with my life, and I don't believe sitting in jail is going to allow me to do that."
Gage spared Kupsky from registering as a sex offender and placed him on probation for two years. Kupsky would have been required to register if he had been convicted of a higher degree of sexual assault, but the decision is left to the judge for the misdemeanor conviction.
Shortly after the June sentencing hearing, Kupsky rejected probation, complaining he would not be allowed to continue online college courses because being on probation banned him from using computers.
Gage altered the sentence to nine months in jail, with work and school release privileges, and gave Kupsky credit for two months served in jail before he posted bond. Within a month, Kupsky had three major rule violations, and jail officials revoked his work release.
After serving five additional months, Kupsky was released Dec. 14.
He appealed the conviction and asked to withdraw his plea, claiming he was misinformed about the consequences. Kupsky said he would have insisted on a trial if he'd known the misdemeanor was punishable by up to two years of probation, rather than the one-year term his public defender said he'd likely receive, court records stated.
Although Kupsky has already completed his sentence in Outagamie County, his request is still pending, and he says he wants to take the case to trial to prove his innocence. If Gage grants the request, Kupsky could face the original first-degree child sexual assault charge.
"From the very beginning, he said, 'I did not do it.' This guy is so adamant he didn't do it, he's actually willing to risk a felony-level trial to proceed," said Brown, Kupsky's attorney. "I see a man very focused on asserting his innocence on the matter of principle."
In Door County, Kupsky pleaded not guilty to the charges and said Dec. 18 he intends to see the case through to trial.
Child sexual assault in Outagamie County
Today: A detailed examination of charges involving Ronald Kupsky, whose two cases are part of a six-month Post-Crescent Media investigation into the county's child sexual assaults. Police identified three victims between 9 and 14 years old who were molested or raped and named Kupsky as their assailant. Reduced bonds and plea agreements allowed Kupsky opportunity to offend again.
Tomorrow: From frequent and drastic bond reductions to dismissed cases and dropped felony charges, an overview of Outagamie County child sexual assault cases over the past five years highlights an imperfect system.
Tuesday: Widespread misconceptions about sex offenders and a lack of viable defenses lead to serious consequences for some offenders who don't fit the stereotypical ideas of evil and untreatable rapists — from teen offenders jailed for high school relationships to others plagued by an unforgiving system.
Part 2 of 3
Reduced charges common for child sex assault
Experts say faulty sex offender registries and plea agreements can be problematic.
by Ariel Cheung
Dozens of defendants in Outagamie County charged with child sexual assault have gone largely unpunished during the past five years, a Post-Crescent Media review found.
Some cases were dismissed when traumatized victims decided not to testify. In other instances, defendants accepted plea agreements to reduced charges with lesser penalties.
A Post-Crescent Media review of child sexual assault cases filed from August 2009 to September 2014 also found:
Over half of defendants were released from jail during court proceedings.
One-fourth of defendants had multiple child sexual assault cases on record.
Nearly one-third re-offended or jumped bail during the five-year period.
Forty percent of those convicted were not required to register as sex offenders.
Experts say this makes for an offender registry that provides a false sense of security to the public, while prosecutors say frequent releases and short sentences are the result of outdated laws and a focus on victim protection over conviction rates.
Interactive graphic: A closer look at 24 child sexual assault cases
"As much as my focus is on holding offenders accountable, I'm never going to force it to the detriment of the victim," District Attorney Carrie Schneider said. "We make it very clear to victims that it's their choice (to testify), and I can't force them to."
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argue that such cases are overcharged and yield overly harsh sentences with no viable defense for offenders who had no idea they were committing a crime.
Murder defendant unregistered
Plea agreements not uncommon
Plea agreements are pervasive in the Outagamie County criminal justice system. Nearly all of the 132 resolved child sexual assault cases involved a deal between attorneys to avoid time-consuming trials or prevent a dismissal.
In exchange for a defendant's plea of no contest or guilty, prosecutors sometimes agree to reduce charges or recommend a shorter jail sentence. In more than half of the 153 child sexual assault cases examined by Post-Crescent Media, deferred prosecution or plea agreements led to reduced charges.
"I think sometimes the benefit of negotiations that involve reduced charges reflect a defendant's willingness to accept responsibility," Assistant District Attorney Andrew Maier said. "There's a lot of connected things: a victim doesn't have to testify and we eliminate doubt about the jury and what it's going to find."
Such deals can significantly reduce an offender's consequences. Second-degree child sexual assault carries up to 25 years in prison. Third- and fourth-degree sexual assault convictions have maximum sentences of five years and nine months, respectively.
"So if you think your case is worth a double-digit sentence, you (don't want to make a deal). But you may have to," Maier said.
Chong L. Lee was involved in such a case. Originally charged with second-degree child sexual assault in 2012, Lee pleaded no contest to fourth-degree sexual assault. He was accused of impregnating a 15-year-old girl.
The victim did not want to testify, citing "concerns about how the defendant's family would treat her," prosecutor Chuck Stertz said in a July 2013 memo. Her worry was not unfounded; after Lee's first court appearance, prosecutors said family members followed the girl from the courthouse and harassed her, blocking her car from the exit.
If Lee, then 26, had been convicted of the original charge, he would have faced 25 years in prison and mandatory registration on the state's sex offender registry. Instead, he was not required to register and served three months in prison for a parole revocation stemming from the conviction.
Two months after Lee got out of prison, police said he gunned down Joshua Richards inside Luna Lounge, an Appleton nightclub. Lee's trial is set for March. His brother is accused of threatening witnesses at Lee's request.
The reduced convictions and shorter sentences can also take a toll on victims and their families. During a 2013 sentencing hearing for Justin Douglas, the victim's mother voiced her concern.
"My biggest concern is that he was on probation before and it didn't work out so well because he still found her," she said. "My daughter will never be the same, ever. I just hope that he doesn't get the chance to do this to anyone else."
Old law traumatized victims
Change allows judge to find probable cause without victim's testimony
Lee's victim was not alone in having difficulties with court proceedings. Prior to 2012, state law required victims to testify during preliminary hearings, an early step in the judicial process. Hearsay testimony — in which an officer could explain what a victim told police — wasn't allowed.
"A lot of times, we'd have a 14-year-old on the stand, and she barely makes it through the preliminary, and her parents afterward say she can't testify again," Maier said. "And then we're stuck with a situation maybe down the road where we're forced to do something we don't want to because we had her go through testifying before trial."
First-degree child sexual assault charges against Michael T. Stevens were dismissed in 2010 after two victims struggled to testify during the preliminary hearing. Police said Stevens drugged and raped two female relatives. One of the girls recalled 25 assaults in Grand Chute, De Pere and Illinois, and Stevens was charged in all three jurisdictions.
Transcripts from the June 28, 2010 preliminary hearing reveal the distress each girl experienced while on the stand.
As Maier asks the older girl to describe the assaults in detail — "Did something that you think was wrong happen? Where were his hands?" — she broke off the testimony.
"I can't do it anymore," she said. The court took a short break, and when the girl returned, she declined to speak further about the incident. The second girl also struggled to detail what Stevens allegedly asked her to do before asking for questioning to cease.
"He raped me. I don't know what you want," she said. "I just did what he told me to do."
Maier recommended dismissing the Outagamie County case due to a lack of probable cause. Brown County consolidated its charges with the pending case in DeKalb County, Illinois, where Stevens faced five felony sexual assault and abuse charges.
As part of a plea agreement in Illinois, Stevens was convicted of misdemeanor battery and the other charges were dropped. He was ordered to pay fines and given a two-year conditional discharge which, like Wisconsin's deferred prosecution agreements, can result in dismissed charges if successfully completed.
Two years later, Wisconsin passed a law that allows a judge to find probable cause without the victim's testimony. Now, a police officer will often testify about the circumstances that led to an arrest.
Assistant District Attorney Melinda Tempelis was instrumental in getting the law passed, Schneider said. In addition, having a Child Advocacy Center where victims can make video-taped statements about the assaults has helped drive convictions.
"In the first seven or eight years the center opened, we only had one case go to trial where we had videotaped interviews," Schneider said. "Even with (the defense) knowing they could still have the kid come and be subject to cross examination, the video is so strong."
Bonds often reduced, defendants go free
Defendant can request lower bonds if he or she believes it's excessive
Before a preliminary hearing, bond is set during a defendant's initial appearance in court. The bond is meant to protect the public and ensure a defendant will appear for hearings, but is not an indication of guilt or the severity of the crime.
Of the examined cases, two-thirds received a cash bond averaging about $60,000 and ranging from $300 to $500,000. One-third of defendants received a signature bond, which does not require cash to be posted for a defendant's release.
Court commissioners are supposed to impose a signature bond unless they think a defendant is unlikely to appear in court without cash on the line. If a cash bond is necessary, state law says it should be reasonable and "only in the amount necessary to assure the appearance of the defendant."
If a defendant thinks the bond amount is excessive, he or she can request that it be lowered.
"The argument by the defense is fairly consistent: bond is too high to post, so (the defendant) should be released," Maier said. "But a decision that agrees with that doesn't necessarily take into consideration the interest of public safety, the feedback of a victim and concerns we may have about the defendant reoffending."
In fact, it's not supposed to, defense attorney Steve Brown said.
"The Legislature makes it clear: You may not consider the severity of the crime or the protection of the public when setting the amount of cash," Brown said. "It has to be solely predicated on the likelihood he's going to be showing up to court, but my experience has been they just ignore what the bond statute says."
Of the 104 defendants who received a cash bond during the five-year period, 46 requested bond modification, and 74 percent of requests were granted. On average, the bonds were lowered to about 30 percent of the original amount.
Neenah's David Morrison was granted two bond reductions in 2011, bringing his original $50,000 bond to $1,000, which he posted seven months after his arrest. Prosecutors said Morrison, then 39, drank 26 beers in a day, then sexually touched a girl he was babysitting.
Morrison denied the allegations, and when the victim's family moved to Georgia, prosecutors lost touch with them and ultimately dismissed the case.
"If (a family) is in a place where they're never going to have contact with that person because it was a neighbor, they're not going to put their child through coming back," said Schneider, the county's top prosecutor. "And if (the defendant) is not going to take a plea, we may have to dismiss it."
Overall, 79 defendants were released from jail during court proceedings. Of those, 75 percent were eventually convicted or received deferred prosecution agreements, meaning the court acknowledged their guilt but dismissed charges after a period of good behavior.
"From the victim's side, it's comforting knowing the person who did something bad to you is not going to be out (of jail). You don't have to worry about seeing them when you come home from school or seeing them at the grocery store," Maier said. "And then hearing that person was let out 'just because'? I don't think we take that into account often enough."
Outagamie County is not alone in releasing defendants during court proceedings. At least 21 local cases involved defendants charged with sexual assault in other counties since 1988.
Jose A. Ferrer, now 25, was charged with child sexual assault in Milwaukee and Outagamie counties in 2010. Ferrer told police he was 16 when he and a 12-year-old relative began having a sexual relationship in 2006. He was also accused of fondling the girl in 2009.
He was released on a signature bond in both cases and ordered to have no contact with minors.
Less than two months after his release in Milwaukee, Ferrer, then 20, began dating a 15-year-old girl, picking her up from a Waukesha high school when she was supposed to be in class. The girl later told police Ferrer had sex with her repeatedly after she turned 16.
By the time charges were filed in Waukesha County in June 2011, Milwaukee officials had deferred prosecution, and Ferrer was sentenced to one year of probation in Outagamie County.
For the Waukesha County charges, Ferrer was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2011. He was released in June and is living in southern Wisconsin, according to Department of Correction records. He is a lifelong registered sex offender.
Prosecutors make changes to avoid missteps
Missteps, lost contact with witnesses, credibility of victims can lead to dismissed charges
Occasionally, missteps by the prosecution resulted in bungled or dismissed cases. At times, lost contact with witnesses or issues with a victim's credibility pushed the state to dismiss charges.
In one instance, prosecutors appeared to simply lose track of the case.
Christopher J. Howard, 31, was accused of raping a young male relative in 2008 and charged with first-degree child sexual assault.
Prosecutors dismissed the case eight months later because it required additional investigation, court records state. At the time, Howard was also facing cocaine delivery charges in Brown County, and prosecutors hoped a conviction in that case would resolve both matters.
The Outagamie County case was never refiled, and Howard served no additional jail time in the Brown County case.
Local prosecutors were attempting to work with officials in another county where the boy made a more specific statement about the abuse, Maier said. Since the case is still within statutory time limitations for prosecution (charges can be refiled until the victim turns 26 years old), Maier declined further comment.
In one case, police said 55-year-old Gary Mayberry molested two young relatives in 2008 and 2009.
In one instance, Mayberry had the girls strip and helped paint them and asked them to paint him, court records state. Mayberry was also accused of taking pornographic photos of the children.
Three days before Mayberry's 2010 jury trial, prosecutors told the judge they'd failed to subpoena a witness who was on a family vacation and unavailable to testify.
Prosecutors dismissed the charges and re-filed them a week later. In January 2012, a jury found Mayberry guilty of two counts of child enticement.
Judge Dee Dyer later overturned the verdict, deciding police mishandled evidence and failed to present a photo found on Mayberry's computer showing him in jean shorts, which conflicted with the girls' testimony that he was naked.
While prosecutors contended just because Mayberry wore jean shorts at one point didn't mean he hadn't taken them off, they dismissed the case instead of proceeding with a second jury trial.
"It always concerns me when someone has manipulated that position of trust or authority, I worry they're going to do that again and think the child will hide it," Schneider said. "I worry on my felony OWI cases if they ask me to reduce bond — what if they go and kill someone in another OWI? That's always on the back of our minds, but we have to trust our judgment."
When Mayberry's first case was dismissed due to the unavailable witness, prosecutors changed the technical process of reviewing and serving subpoenas to prevent the mistake from reoccurring, Maier said.
"You don't just blithely walk away from court and go on to the next one," Maier said. "You learn something from it."
Sex offender registry no guarantee
Conviction does not always result in being added to registry
The state's sex offender registry is one tool judges have to discourage repeat crimes.
Depending on the severity of their crime, registered offenders must report to parole agents on a regular basis and abide by other restrictions. Police will also inform the public when the worst sex offenders are released from prison.
But the system is not perfect; those initially charged with serious offenses are not guaranteed to end up on the registry. For example, a search of the Wisconsin Sex Offender Registry will yield no results for Joseph G. Skenandore, despite the 32-year-old man admitting to assaulting two children.
"Just because you know about the convicted sex offenders doesn't mean you can let your guard down and relax," said Kenneth Lanning, a former FBI special agent and expert on child crimes. "It gives a false sense of security."
In 2010, Skenandore kidnapped and molested a 3 1/2-year-old boy just days after Skenandore was moved into a nearby home for developmentally disabled adults. Police found Skenandore and the boy within an hour in Kiwanis Park, where he later told police he planned to escalate the sexual assault and probably would have killed the boy.
The child's family and neighbors were outraged to learn Skenandore was criminally charged six times in the past, including for a child sexual assault in 2003. Each time, he was found mentally incompetent to stand trial, and the charges were dismissed.
In 2003, Skenandore was accused of having sex with a teenage boy in the Town of Oneida. The court approved Skenandore's placement at a group home and appointed an aunt as a temporary guardian. Since he was institutionalized and never convicted, however, Skenandore was not placed on the registry.
After Skenandore was discharged in the 2010 case, Judge Nancy Krueger placed him in state custody, and officials said public safety would be a priority in determining his next home. While Skenandore remains unregistered, he was placed in a "much more intensive, secure setting," Schneider said.
Experts say the national model for the sex offender registry is flawed. Many offenders do not have a history of sexual abuse, making assessment scales inaccurate. In addition, while many types of sexual offenders have low rates of re-offending, identifying those with a high risk is difficult with current assessment tools.
"If you can identify this (offender) as the caricature of the sex offender we all have in our minds, this predatory guy going after little boys and girls, I have no problem with (registration)," said defense attorney Brown. "But there are good people, too. Sometimes they're young at heart and ... they figure or just assume this individual is part of their circle."
Lanning said there are different types of sex offenders, some of which might not need the rigorous monitoring because their offense was committed under a unique circumstance.
"Some sex offenders will have molested one child and will never do it again. Other offenders, as best we know, victimized 100 kids," Lanning said. "Some sex offenders can be treated, and some can't. The greatest problem and challenge is figuring out which is which."
Part 3 of 3
Flaws surface in sexual assault justice system
Sex offenders are a varied group, but misconceptions about the crime can have serious consequences. Experts call for more accurate assessments when determining the level of supervision needed.
by Ariel Cheung
There are few viable defenses in child sexual assault cases.
"It's a strict liability crime. You don't have to have the purpose in mind to do something criminal," said defense attorney Rod Streicher. "And those crimes rarely rise to the felony level. Like a speeding ticket, you could not know you're speeding, but it doesn't matter."
The belief that every sex offender is a dark, evil predator can have serious consequences, said Kenneth Lanning, a former FBI special agent who spent 20 years analyzing crimes against children and sexual victimization.
"I see it as problematic," Lanning said. "Some sex offenders will molest one child and will never do it again. Other offenders, as best we know, victimized 100 kids. The greatest problem and challenge is figuring out which is which."
People charged with child sexual assault aren't as uniform a group as they are often perceived. Some are high school students who said they were engaging in consensual acts with a slightly younger girlfriend. Others face decades in prison for contact they say was momentary and unintentional.
The state needs a better way of differentiating child sexual offenders and must strengthen rehabilitation efforts, experts say. They cite the life-ruining effects of landing on the state's sex offender registry or serving lengthy prison sentences.
Older victims blur lines
Streicher and Steve Brown, both of Brown Legal Group in Appleton, represent Ronald Kupsky and Steven Pillow — two defendants among 153 Outagamie County child sexual assault cases filed from September 2009 to August 2014. Post-Crescent Media's analysis of the cases showed that some offenders charged with the worst assaults received less severe punishments than other offenders.
Pillow was charged in 2013 with repeated child sexual assault and child enticement involving his 15-year-old babysitter when he was 28. The girl told police she and Pillow started dating and having sex a couple months after meeting, and she would stay overnight with Pillow and his children.
Pillow denied the contact to police. Brown said the teen was a willing participant and initially told both Pillow and police she was 19.
"Steven Pillow is kind of what I see to be a quintessential problem with our law," Brown said. "When you have somebody using affirmative representations about their age to deceive someone else, for me, none of us feel it's morally incorrect if the man is operating under reasonable assumption about the other person's age."
But that information doesn't come into play during trial, and mentioning it to a jury could result in a mistrial, the attorneys said.
"You have no choice but to raise it at your sentencing hearing and hope the judge cares," Streicher said. "And at that point, the judge has no idea what (the victim) looks like, and they're thinking, 'Well of course you're going to say that.'"
Lanning, who continued consulting with law enforcement and other agencies following his FBI career, said the public still grapples with cases that don't fit black-and-white scenarios of sex offenders and victims.
"Society prefers (to believe) all the children are good and sweet and innocent and the adults are evil, but there are so many cases where that doesn't fit," Lanning said. "The reason we protect children isn't because they're innocent angels; it's because they're developmentally immature and they don't understand the consequences of their behavior."
In several Outagamie County cases, offenders said sex with an underage victim was consensual, although Wisconsin law states that juveniles under 18 are incapable of giving consent. Whether a sexual act was forced, the result of grooming or a willing exchange is irrelevant.
Post-Crescent Media found that those convicted of child sexual assault involving victims between 13 and 16 years old received significantly shorter sentences than those charged with first-degree or repeated child sexual assault, which typically involved pre-teen victims.
"I think sometimes we, as a community, are a little harder on teenage girls than we ought to be," said prosecutor Andrew Maier. "We have to remember that these are seventh- and eighth-graders. We say well, this girl knew what she was doing when she walked into that room. But I think that's a little bit unfair."
Half of the 66 defendants with resolved second-degree cases did not end up on the sex offender registry, including 26 who received a deferred prosecution agreement or were convicted of a misdemeanor as part of a plea agreement.
Outagamie County victims between 13 and 16 years old saw their offenders imprisoned for, on average, less than four years, Post-Crescent Media found. Of the 46 convicted offenders, half served no prison time.
Teens punished for sex with peers
At least 25 Outagamie cases involved teenagers willingly engaging in sex that resulted in criminal charges. In 31 of the 81 second-degree cases, the offender and victim were fewer than five years apart in age.
Unlike first-degree and repeated child sexual assault, which involve offenders in their 30s on average, second-degree cases were against defendants with an average age of 24. Many were under 21.
Tyler Hutchison was 16 years old when he began having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend, court records state. The girl's mother discovered the teen was pregnant and reported it to the high school's liaison officer.
When the officer interviewed Hutchison in January 2012, he admitted to the crime and was arrested for second-degree child sexual assault. The case was resolved later that year, when Hutchison pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of fourth-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to two years of probation, with a chance to have the case expunged from his record upon completion.
"Law enforcement does a really good job of sorting out the cases that should even come to us," said Outagamie County District Attorney Carrie Schneider. "Usually ones that do (get charged) have some underlying issue, like violence reported by the victim or some teen pregnancies. It's somewhat fact-driven or dependent on the difference in age."
There's somewhat of a Catch-22 when it comes to considering a teenager as a victim or a perpetrator of a crime, Lanning said. If a 15-year-old has sex with an adult, they're a victim in the eyes of the law because they cannot consent to the act.
But when it comes to violent crimes, a 15-year-old can be tried as an adult.
"A lawyer's answer is that humans become competent to make different decisions at different ages," Lanning said. "At age 10, you're competent to know you shouldn't murder somebody, but not competent to choose a sexual partner until you're 17 or 18."
Those numbers vary across the country. Wisconsin is one of 12 states where the age of consent is 18. In 30 states, including Indiana, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio, the line is drawn at 16. Illinois' age of consent is 17.
With limited resources, the district attorney's office also has to consider what evidence is available when deciding which cases to prosecute. For defendants whose victims are less than two years younger, for example, there is an exemption from the sex offender registry.
"If the parents have made sure these kids are not going to see each other again, we don't intervene," Maier said. "We have to be somewhat understanding that there's hormones raging, and we will have put a lot of resources into a very harmful outcome to someone who probably doesn't deserve it."
Often these cases are resolved by deferred prosecution agreements, in which a defendant acknowledges his guilt but ultimately has charges dismissed after a period of good behavior.
Deferral is usually offered to teenage defendants who were dating a single victim and had non-forced sexual contact, Maier said.
At least 15 Outagamie County cases were resolved through deferred prosecution agreements, and all but one involved teenage defendants. Victims in four cases said they did not want the sexual contact, but the majority considered themselves to be dating the offender and consenting to the acts.
Adan Trinidad was arrested at 17 after having sex with a 14-year-old girl who became pregnant in July 2011. Eight months later, Trinidad agreed to a two-year deferred prosecution, and the charges were dismissed in March 2014.
"I wasn't a victim. I knew what I was doing, and I was never, ever forced," the girl wrote in a victim impact statement. "I don't want him in jail because of my fault. He is a nice guy and doesn't deserve this."
Cases aren't always clear cut
Post-Crescent Media's analysis found the most common offenders were those who target family members or acquaintances.
"When I began studying in the early '70s, there was a focus on stranger danger, the idea that child molesters are dirty, old men in wrinkled rain coats," Lanning said. "Gradually, what began to change was an increased awareness of child abuse perpetrated by parents, guardians and caretakers of children."
Of the reviewed cases, nine in 10 involved offenders who were known to the victim, like a family member, babysitter or neighbor. In cases of repeated assaults — involving at least three incidents — the assailant was most often a family member, while cases involving teenage victims more frequently involved acquaintances or a dating relationship.
The cases aren't always as clear cut as some might assume, Lanning said. If a case doesn't fit a stereotype of a young, helpless victim forced to perform an act, it can be seen in a more forgiving light.
In such situations, the public's perception of rape can have grave consequences for cases that don't fit the stereotypical bill.
"These children are being victimized in ways the law says is a crime, but these cases don't get prosecuted because it doesn't fit our preconceived notions of what it should be," Lanning said.
"You have to make it fit the simplistic scenario where all the children are good and sweet and innocent and adults are evil, but there are so many cases where that doesn't fit."
Allowing affirmative defenses for child sexual assault cases — similar to self defense or insanity pleas in other crimes — would create a more balanced system. It would be a chance for a defendant to explain factors like teen relationships or a victim misrepresenting his or her age, Streicher said.
"Otherwise it allows the state to get convictions without any proof of a criminal mental state whatsoever," he said. "For those facts to not come into play legally, it's a big-time fault of the system."
Lanning said the national model for sex offender registries needs an overhaul and should base registration and community notification on an evaluation of the offender, as opposed to the convicted crime.
"I'd feel a little better about it if it was more offender-based and less offense-based," Lanning said. "If on this registry in the same category is a guy who abducts and violently rapes a 6-year-old girl and a guy who had consenting sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend, and the registry doesn't distinguish between them, you've got a piece of garbage."
Schneider agreed, yet said repeat offenders deserve harsher punishments.
"To say (an offender) successfully completed probation last time doesn't mean he should be given that opportunity again," she said. "If one resolution didn't work, you shouldn't be able to get the same resolution. Maybe some other message needs to be sent."
But punishments can be taken too far, she said. Requiring registration for all sexual assault convictions, for example, would create a different set of problems.
"I think you would flood the Department of Corrections, and services would come to a screeching halt," Schneider said. "If they added different tiers (of registration) instead of lifetime supervision, that might be appropriate."
Officials said while risk measurement tools can be accurate for crimes like theft or OWI, they are less effective for sexual assault and domestic violence cases.
"For a lot of the people we see with sexual assaults, especially child sexual assaults, they don't have prior records. It's a family member or a family friend, people who typically will have a job, a stable residence," Maier said. "They have all the things we look at when you measure the risk factors. The nature of the charge is such that it kind of skews things."
But changes that could be unpopular in the public eye are hard to push through legislation.
"The system isn't run by doing a scientific study of 5,000 cases over the last 50 years," Lanning said. "The way it's done is by finding some mother of a child murdered by the sex offender released on bond and pass a law and name it after her daughter. They don't deal with evidence and research, but with emotion and politics."
My Therapist Assaulted Me -- And I Passed A Law To Keep It From Happening Again
by Heather Lynette Sinclair
I went into therapy as a 26-year-old mother of two suffering from extreme bouts of depression. My life wasn't the problem. It was my past that haunted me and held me captive, leaving me unable to break free from the chains of oppression.
I'm a survivor of childhood abuse, sex trafficking, and childhood homelessness. Though I had a turbulent start in life, I was determined to become a normal, functioning adult.
I had trouble sleeping, a fear of intimacy which, in a marriage, can and did have devastating results. I distrusted everyone around me and I lived my life in isolation because of that fear. I had the kind of tired that sleep couldn't remedy. To be able sleep, you have to feel safe, and it's not safe at shelters or sleeping in the car when you're a teen girl.
Enter the therapist. Because I have trust issues, I made sure to check out my therapist. I searched practitioner databases that rate and review health-care professionals. I looked up his credentials, peer reviews, and consumer reviews. This professional was exactly what I needed. An older male in his 50s, Christian, a Ph.D with over a decade of experience. I had finally found someone that could help me work through my trauma, which had largely been brought on by males.
I needed him to be different and help me heal. Since males abused me and caused me to be the way I am, perhaps, it would be a male who could help me heal through it.
Therapy was working for me. I felt better than I had ever felt in my life. I felt my burdens begin to lift as I told him my secrets. I felt empowered instead of ashamed of my past. It felt so good to feel like someone knew my secrets and still liked me. He went above and beyond to make me feel safe, valued, and respected.
Most of all, he made me feel special. That sounds silly, right? I'm an adult. Why would I need to feel special? Well, first of all, we all need to feel special, and we need it even more when we didn't get it as children. I grew up feeling like a burden as well as a protector. I took on the role of the adult long before my teenage years.
One time that I remember like it was yesterday, I was awoken to the sound of screaming. In a panic, I ran down the hallway to see my mother grabbing the phone trying to call 911 as my father had her in a choke hold.
He quickly managed to rip the phone cord from the wall.
"Heather, Heather, help me, plug the phone back in," she screamed. I dashed toward the floor and grabbed the phone cord and plugged it in and grabbed the phone and dialed 9-1-1.
The next thing I knew my tiny body was flying through the air from the kitchen into the living room. I saw the wooden arm of the sofa coming toward my face. Lights out. My mother cradled me in her arms crying, but she never called the police.
These are the kinds of memories that I shared with my therapist. I needed so desperately to heal from these traumas to be able to be the person I could have been if not for my life going the way it had.
Along the way in therapy, I started to notice some behaviors that made me uncomfortable. He began making a lot of comments about my physical appearance and asking about my sex life. I didn't like this part of therapy. I liked how it used to be, when I felt like he was my biggest supporter.
Each therapy session he would cross the boundaries a little bit more and each time, I told myself that it was me who had the problem. He was a professional with years of experience, education, and training. He knew what he was doing, and I was the one that needed help.
He started making demands and his attitude went from cheery and supportive to brash and critical. I started to feel like he would punish me in therapy if I didn't do what he wanted me to do outside of therapy. I started to feel rebellious toward him and angry.
He would ask sexual questions or make sexual jokes, and I would just stare at him from across the room. He was turning my therapy into something that existed for his own pleasure.
I'm not a quitter, though. I stayed in therapy and relentlessly tried to get back to where we were. The question is not why didn't you leave?, but with the life I had experienced, why wouldn't I stay?
Then in June 2011, he sexually assaulted me in his office. That day had been a good one. I was celebrating my recent weight loss and promotion. I walked into his office, and he asked to see the print of my dress. Without hesitation, I walked over to him and did a twirl in front of him with a big smile on my face. It was almost like I was a child waiting for her father's approval.
As I went to turn away, he grabbed me bear-hugging my legs. I was in SHOCK! I thought about hitting him, but I didn't want to hurt him. I thought about screaming for help, but I didn't want to get him in trouble. I just wanted him to stop.
He rammed his fingers inside me, and I pushed him away and said, "Please stop, I don't want to have to scream." He wouldn't let go, and I had to step out of my panties and pushed to get away from him.
He said, "I'm sorry, nothing like that has ever happened to me before. I've been doing this [therapy] for 12 years and I've never had that happen. There is something about you that made me do that."
I believed him because I had been repeatedly victimized before. It took months before I was able to get the courage to report him to board. He guilt-tripped me, begged and pleaded for me not to report him. "You'll hurt my family," he said. "Think of my kids".
When that didn't work, he turned to scare tactics to coerce me into not filing a complaint. He told me he was a convicted felon who had spent 4.5 years in prison for assault on a child. He threatened to harm my family.
In November 2011, my therapist was reported to the board, but it wasn't until July 2012 that the board allowed him to voluntarily surrender his license in lieu of criminal prosecution.
I would never see justice. He would never face a jury and never spend one day in jail.
How did a violent convicted felon get a license to become a therapist?
The reality is not many states actually require criminal background checks for all mental health professionals and none have a prohibition from violent felons, sex offenders, or anyone who surrendered or had a license revoked in another state for a crime of moral turpitude from getting a license in another state.
State boards don't communicate with one another and that makes it all too easy for professional predators to state-hop. I found others just like me who have been sexually abused by a mental health professional and they, too, were denied justice.
Often times, even when the sexual abuse involves a child, the professional gets a slap on the wrist and is allowed to regain their license. The National Practitioner Databank houses all the disciplinary records of all health-care professionals, but it remains closed to the public.
I started Lynette's Law two years ago in Maryland. It's a two-bill package piece of legislation. One bill requires criminal background checks for all mental health professionals and the other criminalizes sexual exploitation in therapy. I passed HB 56, which required criminal background checks for mental health professionals in Maryland in 2013. I'm still fighting to pass the bill that criminalizes sexual exploitation in therapy in three states which mental health associations largely oppose.
If you or someone you know is a victim of abusive therapy, please go to our website.
Maine Voices: DHHS should investigate every report of child sex abuse – and quickly
The department's current practice of discretionary assessment may leave some victims vulnerable.
by Beth Alison Maloney
KENNEBUNKPORT — As so many sadly know, childhood sexual abuse crosses all socioeconomic lines. To protect children from their alleged abusers, the state should mandate timely assessments by the Department of Health and Human Services whenever a physician reports suspected sexual abuse.
At present, DHHS assessments are discretionary. They need to be made mandatory in order to help place all of Maine's children in a better position to be protected. A discretionary review policy protects mostly those sexually abused children whose parents don't take the “right” steps.
If the DHHS is alerted to possible sexual abuse, perhaps through a school or a neighbor, the agency will – hopefully – follow up. Red flags will fly if the parent has not taken the child to a pediatrician, or filed a police report, or applied to the district court for a protection-from-abuse order on behalf of the child. A DHHS investigation will probably take place in those circumstances.
But what about the child whose parent does try to take the right steps?
For that child, the DHHS will most likely not get involved. And that's not always good for the child – because taking appropriate action and successfully protecting a child may well be two different things. Here's why.
When a parent calls the DHHS for help with the possibility of sexual abuse, the parent will likely be told to take the child to the pediatrician. If the pediatrician feels that concerns about sexual abuse are legitimate, the pediatrician will generally make a report to the DHHS; make a referral for an evaluation by the Spurwink Sexual Abuse Clinic in Portland; and instruct the parent to prohibit contact with the alleged abuser.
The parent may then petition the court for a temporary protection-from-abuse order, preventing further contact; schedule the Spurwink appointment, and report the incident to the police. If the facts stated in the petition are compelling, the court will issue the temporary protection order. The court hearing on whether that order should become final will be scheduled within 21 days, as mandated by statute.
If there are no concerns about the reporting parent (such as a DHHS history), the DHHS is unlikely to investigate. After all, the parent is doing all the right things. But the 21 days are passing, and the court hearing on finalizing the protection order may take place before Spurwink has completed the evaluation, let alone made the results available.
The child's pediatrician will be reluctant to get involved without the Spurwink determination. And Spurwink discourages any other involvement prior to its assessment (no police interviews, no counseling sessions). It feels those outside discussions may taint its own process.
So there may be nothing ready to present at the 21-day hearing and, without “evidence,” the judge has little choice but to dismiss the temporary protection order.
Therein lies the problem – especially when there is conflict among the parents about whether the abuse occurred.
When a protective parent does everything right, the DHHS does not get involved. Yet it is only with DHHS involvement that an alleged abuser might successfully be kept away – because a finding by the DHHS that sexual abuse has likely occurred will probably be sufficient for the court to at least extend a temporary protection order, pending the availability of more evidence.
The only other option may be to subject the child to testifying in court and cross-examination by the alleged abuser's lawyer, whose goal will be to attack the child's credibility. The risk of inflicting this added trauma is one that will cause most responsible parents and the court to pause long and hard before having a child testify.
While there are other complex and expensive legal maneuvers that might be employed in an attempt to protect a child, these rarely streamline the process.
There is, at least, a partial solution: a legislative mandate that when a physician reports suspected sexual abuse of a minor, the DHHS must assess the situation within five business days. In short, eliminate the department's discretion to forgo an investigation when a physician reports.
This simple mandate will not be a perfect or complete fix (caseworkers do make mistakes, and some parents will abuse the system), but I believe it would be a good step in the right direction for protecting all of Maine's children, including those with parents who try hard to do the right thing.
About the author
Beth Alison Maloney is a Kennebunkport attorney with a background in child advocacy and the author of two books on pediatric mental health disorders: “Saving Sammy” and “Childhood Interrupted.”
Parents can use this app to protect their children from sexual abuse
A new app claims to help parents protect their children from sexual abuse. The SafeParent app created by Jeff Herman, child advocate and attorney for victims of sexual abuse in US, has a quiz for parents to take with their kids.
The quiz contains a series of questions regarding ‘red flag' behaviour about an adult in their child's life. The answers are weighted based on the statistics relating to the seriousness of the red flag.
"When you're finished, the SafeParent meter will score your answers and calculate a concern score ranging from low to immediate threat," its creators said. "Most children are groomed before they are sexually abused," Herman was quoted by 'hlntv.com' as saying. The grooming process follows typical patterns that can be identified as red flags."After representing hundreds of victims of sexual abuse it became readily apparent to me that many kids can be protected from sexual abuse if their parents recognised these red flags and responded," said Herman.
The score of the quiz is less important than learning about what is a red flag and whether the red flags are present in your child's life, said Herman.
Suicide among the young — searching for answers
More than 50 experts meet to seek solutions
by Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje
Last spring, a member of the Child Fatality Review Team, which examines child deaths in Bexar County, approached Marian Sokol and asked a concerning question: What might be fueling a spike in the number of youth suicides?
In 2014, nine children under the age of 18 took that most drastic and irreversible of steps — ending their young lives. That was more than twice the number of any given year in recent times, and approached a high point of 12, set in the early '90s.
Sokol, head of the Children's Bereavement Center of South Texas, called two longtime child advocates in San Antonio, asking, “Who is the local leading authority on youth suicide?” They didn't know. She called her friend Helen Loring Dear, vice president of Porter Loring Mortuaries, and asked the same question.
Dear didn't know either, but spoke of the emotional pain she'd witnessed in families who'd had to bury young ones lost to suicide.
Together, the two set out to find out the main repository of knowledge about youth suicide in San Antonio, and came to a startling conclusion: There was none. In its place was a hodgepodge of local and state agencies and nonprofits, all working on the problem of youth suicide in their separate silos, usually not communicating across lines, often duplicating efforts.
On Friday, Sokol, Dear and more than 50 representatives from a host of entities — mental health groups, state agencies, school districts, advocate organizations and more — came together to confront youth suicide with one voice and perhaps come up with a coordinated solution.
“I want to see something happen sooner rather than later,” Sokol told those gathered for the first roundtable, which convened in a large conference room at Valero. “Our children can't wait.”
After a nearly five-hour meeting, the group arrived at a host of possible goals, including reducing the stigma around mental illness and suicide among youth, fostering collaboration between the various groups, and improving access to mental health and substance abuse treatment for families.
Sokol said the wealth of information would be analyzed and summarized, after which the new coalition — headed by the bereavement center, Clarity Child Guidance Center and Voices for Children of San Antonio — would reconvene to plan a course of action.
Dr. Anil T. Mangla, assistant director at Metro Health, peppered the group with alarming statistics from the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which drove home the urgency of their discussion.
The survey, based on the self-reports of high school students across the U.S. every two years, shows that students in Bexar County are in line with national percentages when it comes to being at risk for considering and attempting suicide.
For example, almost 30 percent of high school students in the county said they struggled with feelings of sadness and hopelessness in the past year, one of the major markers for suicide risk, Mangla said.
“That is dangerous,” he said. “Kids who felt hopeless were seven times more likely to attempt suicide compared to other kids.”
When it came time to talk about solutions, Victoria M. Bustos with the Region 20 Education Service Center suggested taking the survey data to state legislators. School counselors already are overloaded with cases, she said, and plans to saddle them with even more academic-related work will further strain their ability to help troubled students.
“The data will talk,” she said.
The conference began on a personal note when Ellen Harris of North Richland Hills, a suburb of Fort Worth, whose daughter, Jordan, killed herself in 2012 after enduring six months of depression, urged those assembled to battle the shame that surrounds suicide.
“Our most important mission is to bring this conversation to light,” said Harris, co-founder of the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation, a nonprofit that supports research and education on depression and suicide prevention. “People don't want to talk about this, but most have some sort of personal story about how mental illness or suicide touched their lives.”
Verbal domestic violence more serious than name indicates
by Susan Marks
Several years ago, local law enforcement officers responded to a domestic violence call for service: the wife had left the husband a month prior to this call, and had returned to the home to gather personal items for herself and their child. The husband was refusing to turn over some of the wife's personal items, and she didn't want to leave the home without them.
The police officers followed protocol, and separated the wife and husband to interview them about the incident. The husband stated that the wife was free to go, and that he had not physically harmed her that evening. The wife agreed with this statement, but also shared with police that her husband had been abusive throughout their relationship, using tactics of domestic violence including controlling and manipulative behavior, stalking and physical assaults. She stated several times that she was afraid that her husband would kill her.
The police officers believed the victim, and, worried for her safety, arrested the husband for disorderly conduct. However, since the husband had neither committed a physical assault, nor made any specific threats, he could not be arrested for or charged with a domestic violence crime. He was released from jail the next day; several weeks later, he killed his wife.
Though the outcome of this domestic violence incident is more extreme than most, the basic facts are common.
Eight calls per day
New data released last month shows there were nearly 3,000 domestic violence calls for service to Whatcom County law enforcement agencies in 2013, an average of eight calls for help per day. More than half of these domestic violence calls (1,608) were domestic violence “verbals,” which are defined as domestic violence incidents where law enforcement determines no physical assault or other conditions that warrant arrest have occurred.
According to Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo, “Verbal domestics are more serious than their name indicates. They are often a sign of the presence of domestic violence, which includes emotional abuse, manipulation and coercive control, and all too often leads to physical assault and, in some cases, much worse.”
The Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence recently convened a multi-disciplinary fatality review panel to examine intimate partner homicides in Whatcom County. In two of the three homicide cases reviewed, law enforcement had responded to domestic violence verbal calls for service shortly before the murders occurred, but the abusers were never arrested for or charged with domestic violence assaults in any of the three cases reviewed. The panel identified verbal domestics as an extremely important opportunity to identify seriously dangerous domestic violence abusers, and to connect victims to advocacy services.
To reduce the potential lethality in domestic violence calls, including verbal domestics, all Whatcom County law enforcement agencies have recently implemented the new lethality assessment program. Using this program, law enforcement officers ask questions to determine the victim's level of risk for serious injury or homicide. If the victim screens in as high risk, the officer connects the victim by phone to a domestic violence advocate for immediate safety planning and on-going advocacy services.
“In the first 9 months of 2014, our officers identified 16 victims of domestic violence as high risk; this includes victims who have experienced verbal domestics,” noted Chief Michael Knapp of the Ferndale Police Department. “Victims, their children, and our community are safer because we take all forms of domestic violence seriously.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Marks is the director of the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence. The commission provides leadership in community efforts to reduce and prevent domestic violence. For more information online, go to: dvcommission.org
The data on domestic violence calls for services is available in the annual benchmark report titled Domestic Violence in Whatcom County, 1998 – 2013: Eleventh Annual Report on Trends in Our Community Response. Further information on domestic violence homicides is available in It Happened in Our Town: Findings and Recommendations from the Whatcom County Domestic Violence Fatality Review. Both reports were compiled by the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission Against Domestic Violence and can be found at dvcommission.org/resources.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call one of the local 24-hour helplines: Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services at 306-715-1563 or Lummi Victims of Crime at 360-312-2015.
Couple pleads guilty to child abuse, felonious restraint
by Chilton Tippin
Two Albany County residents pleaded guilty to one count each of felonious restraint and felony child abuse in connection with allegations they kept a 7-year-old boy in an outdoor cage.
Jena Harman, 31, the boy's mother, and Alexander Smith, 38, Harman's boyfriend, changed their pleas to guilty for those counts during a Friday hearing in District Court.
Prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining two counts of felonious restraint in both cases.
Both defendants face a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment and/or a $20,000 fine.
The allegations stem from Albany County Sheriff's Office deputies discovering Harman's son July 24 in an outdoor cage. The cage was on a property on Fox Creek Road, about 32 miles west of Laramie.
The boy told deputies he had been in the cage off and on for three weeks to a month, using the restroom, eating and sleeping overnight there — even during rainstorms, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
The defendants appeared Friday in Albany County District Court before Judge Wade Waldrip of Carbon County.
Albany County District Court Judge Jeffrey Donnell recused himself from the Harman and Smith cases because his son, an Albany County Sheriff's deputy, was an arresting officer.
Donnell has not presided over any of the hearings regarding either defendant.
During the Friday proceeding, Waldrip also heard arguments on revoking Harman's bond.
Harman was released from custody January 14 on a $25,000 signature bond.
Albany County Prosecuting Attorney Peggy Trent said witnesses saw Harman drinking alcohol at a Laramie bar Jan. 18, in violation of her bond conditions.
Trent said the bartender who saw Harman was present in the courtroom and prepared to testify in support of the motion.
Additionally, witnesses from the boy's school reported feeling unsafe with Harman out on bond, Trent said.
“We have officers patrolling the school,” she said. Officers are also patrolling the location where the child is housed, Trent added.
She also argued to revoke Harman's bond on account of Harman posing a flight risk.
Harman's attorney, Ross Roome McKelvey, from the Wyoming Public Defenders Office in Cheyenne, argued against revoking her bond. He said Harman showed up for court Friday knowing her bond could be revoked. This was proof she did not intend to flee, McKelvey said.
Regarding the witnesses feeling unsafe, McKelvey argued there were no instances of Harman threatening anyone.
“I don't know where that comes from,” he said.
McKelvey also told Waldrip he received the motion to revoke the bond that day in court.
Waldrip ruled against revoking bond, saying McKelvey did not have the motion for long enough to prepare a defense.
Waldrip added, however, that he would set a special hearing for the bond-revocation motion, at which point arguments would be considered again.
In the meantime, he tightened the conditions of Harman's bond, saying she could not go in to any establishment serving any alcohol whatsoever — restaurants included — in addition to numerous other conditions.
With sentencing looming on the horizon, Waldrip warned Harman of the consequences in the event she violates her bond conditions.
“The next 10 years of your life is what's at stake here, and so is your relationship with your son,” Waldrip told Harman.
Smith remains in custody on a $25,000 signature bond. Both defendants await sentencing in District Court.