Stop child abuse in group homes
Unthinkable things can happen to children in group homes. They can be beaten, molested, drugged and neglected.
But in South Carolina, information about such incidents is kept secret. That means parents are in the dark — and people who want to address the problems don't have the information they need to do so. The S.C. General Assembly needs to recognize that state law intended to protect children is actually putting them at risk.
Last year, the Senate investigated the Department of Social Services after hearing allegations of mismanagement, unworkable caseloads and deaths of children under the agency's authority. Lillian Koller resigned as director under pressure from lawmakers who were exasperated by her refusal to provide data about social workers' staggering caseloads.
Her replacement, Susan Alford, faces an uphill climb. The more forthcoming she is about the system's shortcomings, the more likely the Legislature will work to make beneficial changes, starting with changing the law.
She also should realign the DSS budget so that more children can be taken care of in homes of relatives or foster parents, and fewer in group homes.
Studies show that children do better in home settings than they do in group homes. That's reason enough.
But an investigation by reporter Lauren Sausser revealed that group homes across the state have been the subject of multiple complaints. And while administrators say that most of the complaints are unfounded, the public has no way to find out if that's true. DSS, which is responsible for group home oversight, will say, for example, that New Hope in York County has been investigated for 119 allegations of abuse in the past 15 years. But it will not say how many allegations were unfounded or how serious the allegations were.
That would be an easy fix — were it not for state law that calls for the information to be withheld. It should be changed.
Certainly the state should protect children by keeping private their names and details of alleged abuse. But there is no reason not to have a place people can go to check out group homes before making decisions about placing children there. The database could contain the number of abuse allegations, their severity and their disposition.
Many children in group homes are troubled. It stands to reason that some allegations will prove untrue. The public deserves to know that. And group homes that are protecting children should have the satisfaction of the public knowing they've been cleared of charges.
Ironically, the state pays five times as much money keeping children in group homes than in foster homes, and the outcome is usually inferior. Particularly young children (those up to 13 years of age) are more apt to thrive in foster homes than in group homes. Unfortunately, South Carolina puts children in group homes and institutions at a rate higher than any other state in the country.
Hence the reallocation of money. DSS needs to recruit more foster parents and pay them better. Some receive as little as $12 a day to feed, clothe and care for a child. Only five states pay less for foster care.
By reducing the number of children in group homes significantly, DSS would save tens of millions of dollars that could be used to beef up foster care.
The children under the care of DSS are among the state's most vulnerable. Many have been abused, yet they are being put in group homes where they risk further abuse. The likelihood of that abuse is classified information.
DSS has a new director. And the Legislature has demonstrated a genuine concern for addressing DSS problems.
It's time for dramatic changes that will protect children and spend tax dollars more effectively.
Child abuse investigations are emotional, take time
by Rosalio Ahumada
When authorities revealed – after the deaths of five people last weekend – that suspect Martin Martinez was believed to be responsible for the October death of a little boy, the question swiftly arose: Why hadn't police arrested him sooner?
The answer, authorities say, is simple, though the reasons are complicated: They couldn't.
Child abuse cases, particularly those in which the victim dies, are difficult and complex. The family involved might tell investigators it was an accident, but it really isn't supported by the facts. There may not be any external signs of trauma. That's why forensic evidence is crucial in determining the cause of death, Sheriff Adam Christianson said.
“Getting that work done is … a very methodical and tedious process,” the sheriff said. “It takes time, and that's really what people need to remember.”
Martinez pleaded not guilty to the October 2014 death of Christopher Ripley, 2. While he is charged only in that case, Martinez, 30, also is suspected in the July 18 deaths of Christopher's mother, Dr. Amanda Crews, 38; her two children, 6-year-old Elizabeth and 6-month-old Rachael; Martinez's mother, Anna Brown Romero, 57; and a 5-year-old girl believed to be Martinez's niece. Authorities have not released how they died. Two days prior to the deaths, Modesto police detectives received verbal notification that Chrisopher's death was a homicide caused by injuries consistent with the boy's head hitting the tile floor as a result of abuse. But that finding is only part of the process.
Christianson said you can't take away someone's civil liberties without probable cause. He said the system is designed to protect people. Not only to prove a crime was committed, but also to exonerate a suspect if he hasn't. And to gather either incriminating or exonerating evidence takes time.
“It's not like television,” Christianson said. “It's not ‘CSI.' We cannot get DNA results in less than an hour minus four commercial breaks.”
Christianson said investigators work methodically, often with the help of experts, to deliver a prosecutable case to the district attorney. Once the case goes to court, the investigation isn't over. While their theories can be vastly different, prosecutors and defense attorneys are looking to answer the same question: What happened to this child?
While the case against Martinez is pending, attorneys with experience in similar cases spoke to The Modesto Bee in general terms about child abuse cases and what goes into investigating, prosecuting and defending these types of allegations.
“Everyone has a protective feeling toward children,” said Deputy Public Defender Greg Spiering, who has defended a variety of clients accused of abusing children. “Even when it's an accident, there's a moral responsibility if not a legal responsibility.”
Investigating allegations of abuse is a painstaking process for both sides, especially when the child is dead and the only other person around when the fatal injuries occurred is the defendant. That's what happened in the case of Martinez, who was home alone with Christopher when the boy suffered a head injury that led to his death two days later, authorities say.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys look at the child's injuries, examine medical records, speak to those with access to the child and rely on reports from qualified experts examining the case.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees, who prosecutes crimes against children, still remembers the first child autopsy she had to observe in the death of a little girl. “I still remember the tiny painted nails and the curly hair,” the prosecutor said.
Kirk McAllister, a prominent Modesto defense attorney with a long career that includes more than 10 years as a prosecutor, also remembers the first child autopsy he saw.
“The autopsies are worse than other cases, because it's a child,” McAllister said. “It's just something that nobody should ever have to see.”
The investigations from both sides typically start with the child's injuries. Investigators examine bruises, blood loss, fractures – all in an effort to determine the cause and manner of death, also referred to as the “mechanism” of death.
Prosecutors look to child abuse experts, such as pediatricians trained and experienced in handling suspected child abuse cases. Rees said these experts have the ability to differentiate common, accidental child injuries from those that appear suspicious and similar to injuries suffered by other children proved to be victims of abuse.
For instance, a child's burn from a curling iron: Rees said the expert has to determine whether that burn appears to be accidental or intentional.
While prosecutors will usually start their investigation when the suspected abuse is reported, defense attorneys typically start their investigations once an arrest has been made. McAllister said the defense has to start from scratch; it cannot rely on information gathered in the prosecution's investigation.
Defense attorneys will hire their own forensic pathologists familiar with child abuse cases to review the autopsy report, examine the child's medical records and look at photographs of the injuries. McAllister said gathering and examining that information, along with producing their own findings, can take at least several months. The defense investigation can delay the start of a trial.
Rees said the prosecution's case can also take up a lot of time. Prosecutors have to obtain medical records or speak to school officials or day care providers, information that is not always easily obtained. Privacy and liability issues can stall the investigation.
“We can't necessarily just walk in there and say ‘Hey, tell us about Jane Doe,'” the prosecutor said.
That type of information can be crucial as investigators try to determine whether any pre-existing medical condition could have caused the child's death. Speaking to school officials or day care providers helps investigators learn if there were any previous signs of abuse. The investigators also want to know if the child ever exhibited visible injuries or behavior typical of abuse victims.
The prosecutor said they will also run tests on the deceased child's body to determine whether there were any unknown genetic conditions that could have caused the death. All this information-gathering takes time, and it's investigative work usually done before an arrest is made.
Before charges are filed, Rees said, prosecutors have the ethical standard of having an expectation that they can secure a conviction based on evidence that goes beyond a reasonable doubt.
Without a confession supported by the evidence, it can be difficult to understand what caused a child's death when nobody other than the defendant was around, Spiering said.
That's why defense attorneys will hire a biomechanical engineer to look at the physics involved. Spiering hired such an expert while defending Maria Elena Torres, who was accused of beating to death 18-month-old Alexandra Medina-Cisneros. Torres was baby-sitting the girl when she suffered her fatal injuries. The baby sitter told investigators she momentarily lost sight of the child, who fell down a flight of concrete stairs.
John Gardiner, the biomechanical engineer, testified that the child's injuries could have been caused by a fall down concrete stairs, because pediatric abdominal organs are more vulnerable than adult organs.
The toddler's injuries included the tearing in half of her pancreas and left kidney, which prosecution experts testified could not have been caused by a fall. Rees, who prosecuted the case against Torres, said testimony from biomechanical engineers is based on an imperfect science. They can't experiment on a child, so their findings are really inconclusive, the prosecutor said.
A jury last year decided that Torres was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, not murder as she was originally charged. Spiering, at the time, said the jury's verdict clearly indicated that this was not a purposeful beating of the child but a death caused by negligence.
“It's sad and emotional,” Spiering said while recalling the Torres case. “Understanding and forgiveness are hard to come by when you're talking about the death of a child.”
But that's why there are two sides to these criminal cases, Spiering said. Motive can play a key role in child abuse cases, because investigators are ultimately trying to determine why this adult would purposely injure a child.
Investigators look to see if the defendant has a criminal past or incidents of violence or threats of violence. If an investigation is being done properly, you have to speak to a lot of people, the defense attorney said.
Inconsistent statements from defendants don't necessarily point to guilt, Spiering said. Traumatic events can affect a person's memory of the incident.
McAllister said sometimes potential witnesses might have seen the injuries occur, but may became reluctant to speak out as soon as ambulances and police show up.
You go find these witnesses, McAllister said. “Was this person (the defendant) really the only one there?”
Finding reluctant witnesses and waiting for young witnesses to be ready to talk can also take up a lot of time, Rees said.
But child witnesses could be traumatized by the death of a brother, sister or other relative. Rees said pushing these children to relive such a tragic event too soon after could retraumatize them. They also might be too young to articulate what they actually saw. Time can sometimes help these children heal emotionally, so they can provide more accurate information.
Preventing child abuse and neglect is a moral and economic imperative
by Tonette Walker
There is nothing more important than the health and happiness of our children, and what they experience in their early years helps build the foundation for them to grow into strong, confident adults. But every year, more than 650,000 children across our nation suffer from abuse and neglect, and more than 1,500 die from this abuse. We are only recently becoming aware of the long-term impact of these preventable tragedies on our nation's physical and economic health.
We were honored to host the Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities in Madison recently. The commission, formed by the Protect our Kids Act of 2012, is charged with developing a national strategy and recommendations for reducing fatalities. Members are currently working to raise visibility and awareness about the problem, review data and best practices to determine what is and is not working, and identify solutions. The commission will issue a report to the president and Congress in early 2016, complete with findings and recommendations that can drive future policy.
We were pleased to share with the commission the impact of Fostering Futures, which I helped establish in 2011 in partnership with Angela Carron of the Fostering Hope Foundation and Laurene Gramling Lambach of SET Ministry.
We launched this effort in response to research showing children within child welfare are exceptionally vulnerable to the effects of chronic toxic stress resulting from abuse and maltreatment. Furthermore, research shows toxic stress has a long-term negative impact on a child's healthy growth and development. This evidence-based research into Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is at the forefront of a new paradigm in child welfare called trauma-informed care.
The ACE Study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente's Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess the long-term impact of childhood adversity. The study looked at more than 17,000 patients who received a comprehensive physical examination at a health maintenance organization and correlated their childhood experiences of abuse, neglect and family stressors. The findings indicate that ACEs, a proxy for overwhelming stress, are major risk factors for the leading causes of illness and death across the nation.
When children are worried about getting enough to eat, living with an abusive family member or witnessing domestic violence in their home, they see the world as a dangerous place. As a child experiences ACEs over and over again, his or her toxic stress level continues to rise. These children develop defensive, aggressive behaviors and are less trusting of others. They cannot focus on learning or building healthy relationships with others because they are too distracted worrying about surviving.
The impact of this trauma is long-term and measurable. According to the CDC, the economic cost of child maltreatment and abuse was $124 billion in 2008. This cost was calculated as a result of impaired cognitive, language, and socio-emotional skills among abused children, disabilities resulting from head trauma and higher risk for diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Abused children were also more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking, drug and alcohol abuse and high-risk sexual behaviors.
An estimated 80% of young adults who had been abused were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts and actions, according to the CDC. They were also 25% more likely to experience delinquency, teen pregnancy and low academic achievement.
In response to this data, Fostering Futures brought together key stakeholders across the state, including birthparents, foster parents, social workers, clinicians, school administrators, policy officers, social service agency staff and state health and social service staff to learn more about how trauma and chronic toxic stress were impacting Wisconsin's children and what could be done to reduce intergenerational cycles of harm within families.
We found that traditional approaches to providing services to children affected by maltreatment and other ACEs were inadequate. In fact, it was emphasized that some interventions may actually exacerbate trauma. The two-year Fostering Futures pilot project was proposed as a result of these sessions.
Ultimately, Fostering Futures seeks to develop community capacity to integrate trauma-informed care principles into all public and private systems of care affecting children and families, leading to the long-term goal of improving well-being for Wisconsin children and their families.
This means raising awareness, not just among child welfare and child safety organizations, but across multidisciplinary systems, including educators, health care workers, law enforcement, the judiciary, family members and neighbors. In short, everyone who touches the life of a child can play a role in influencing the child's life for the better.
We all have a role to play here — and with the commission, our success can strengthen and inform practice and policy, not just statewide, but nationwide.
We can reduce the harm children experience by creating trauma-informed services and educating communities to ensure our most vulnerable citizens have access to hope, healing and a healthy future.
Tonette Walker is the first lady of Wisconsin and co-founder of Fostering Futures.
Foxboro seeks stronger child abuse law
by Frank Mortimer
FOXBORO — Scarred by a long-ago teacher and Scout leader's sexual crimes against children, Foxboro hopes to press on with its child protection campaign with a plea to exceed state law reporting requirements.
Selectmen unanimously agreed this week to consider sponsoring a Home Rule petition on this fall's special town meeting warrant. If approved by voters, the town would ask the Legislature to allow Foxboro to close what advocates see as soft spots in Massachusetts law.
“From Day 1, we noticed that there is incompleteness in the state law regarding who is mandated to report abuse when they see it,” selectmen Chairman Jim DeVellis said by email. “This flaw has allowed people who work with, or are in contact with our kids to look the other way and not get involved if they see a situations of sexual abuse.”
As an example, DeVellis said, a school teacher is already mandated to report an incident by law and is protected from legal “backlash.”
However, currently other people who, as a result of their position, are more likely to be aware of abuse or neglect, such as youth coaches or Scout leaders are not required to report a sexual abuse situation if they are aware of it, he said.
“We want to close that gap in Foxboro. If we are successful in bringing this petition through town meeting and then to the state with anticipated assistance from Representative Barrows and Senator Timilty, we will continue to take the responsibility to provide training and in return, those new groups added to the list of mandated reporters will be required to report incidents under the same Massachusetts law.”
Simply put, he said, a child predator in Foxboro will have to get by adults who have a higher level of training and awareness, and who “will say something if they see something because Foxboro has taken this step.”
Bob Correia and former Selectwoman Lynda Walsh appeared before the board Tuesday night to discuss the work of Foxboro's Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Committee, a group DeVellis initiated.
The committee was created after numerous men, raised in Foxboro, alleged to police and school officials of sexual horrors inflicted on them as children in the 1960s and 1970s by then teacher, Scout leader and swim coach William Sheehan.
Police and prosecutors went to Florida in 2012 to interview Sheehan about the allegations, but found him in an advanced state of dementia in a nursing home and ultimately decided not to bring him to trial.
Over the past couple of years, DeVellis said, the committee “has trained hundreds of individuals throughout Foxboro on how to protect our kids from child predators. I am proud of the committee's work and the people who gave of their time to go through the training. All are contributing to a stronger and safer community for our kids.”
Music mogul in fight to expose child abuse
THE mentor of singer Jessie J has told how the abuse he suffered at a children's home linked to a Westminster paedophile ring has inspired him to fight for justice for the victims.
by James Fielding
Music mogul Raymond Stevenson, who discovered the former Voice judge when she was 15, said he and his friends were regularly beaten and drugged at Shirley Oaks in Surrey.
Dozens of others were sexually abused and Raymond, 51, believes the investigation is being hampered because it reaches into the heart of government.
He said “very powerful people” were involved in the abuse and the cover-up, including a Labour minister known as The Godfather.
Jimmy Savile also visited the home.
Police are investigating the allegations of abuse at the home near Croydon, which closed in 1983.
Raymond and author Alex Wheatle, another victim and former resident, are helping to run campaign group the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association.
They are producing a report which they plan to hand to the independent inquiry into sexual abuse headed by Lowell Goddard, a New Zealand High Court judge.
Despite the setting up of the inquiry, Raymond fears the cover-up is still going on.
He warned: “There are still people pulling the strings. The fear is that the authorities are hell bent on covering up their failings of the past because it implicates too many powerful people.”
His suspicions have been exacerbated by a break-in four months ago at his offices in Camberwell, south London, in which three computers and hard drives were stolen.
The thieves have not been caught.
Shaking his head with a weary smile, Raymond added: “Several thousand pounds worth of studio equipment and lighting were left untouched.
“There must be about 100 other offices in this business complex yet nobody else was hit. They knew exactly what to target. What does that tell you?”
Raymond, who left Shirley Oaks aged 13 in 1978, started looking into abuse claims after speaking to a friend who said he had been molested.
Within a week he had met more than 20 former residents who all gave horrifying accounts of abuse.
The total is now nearer 100.
He said: “We have spoken to over 300 people who went through Shirley Oaks and other south London children's homes and the stories would make the most frightening horror movie seem like a walk in the park.”
Three paedophiles were convicted after a police investigation into Shirley Oaks in 1999, including William Hook, a swimming instructor.
Author Alex said: “Hook actually sat in council case review meetings and had a say in what other homes children were sent to.”
Raymond said: “It went right to the heart of Lambeth council and beyond that into Westminster. We believe one former Labour minister in particular, The Godfather, organised children who had been moved from Shirley Oaks to other homes in Lambeth to be taken to parties in central London.
“These gatherings were attended by very powerful people, supposedly the highest members of society, who were indulging in the most depraved acts. On top of that Jimmy Savile visited Shirley Oaks on at least one occasion in 1968, according to a former member of staff.”
On Wednesday, Raymond and Alex appeared alongside three other former residents and abuse victims at Brixton Town Hall to address Lambeth councillors.
About 80 other former residents packed the public gallery.
They asked the council to lift a 100- year secrecy order placed on Shirley Oaks files and to explain why the files of Peter Davis, a young boy who was found hanged in suspicious circumstances at the home in 1977, are missing vital documents.
Raymond's revelations follow reports that former Scotland Yard detective Clive Driscoll tried to raise concerns about sex abuse in Lambeth children's homes in the 1990s but was moved off the investigation and transferred from the borough.
The Shirley Oaks Survivors Association is appealing for victims to come forward to appear in a music video aimed at raising awareness of historical abuse.
The campaign track, Don't Touch It – It's Mine, features haunting testimonies from victims.
It can be heard on http://www.shirleyoakssurvivorsassociation.co.uk/
“Cries Unheard” sparks conversations about child abuse, racism and bullying
by Melissa Crash
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTHI) – A local film maker is shining light on a few very serious topics.
“Cries Unheard” can start conversations about child abuse, racism, and bullying.
The scene is set in 1979 in Alabama.
“Cries Unheard” is a 26 minute short film about an 11-year-old girl, who's being abused at home by her mother and bullied by her classmates.
Writer and CEO of Dreams Come True Films, Candy Beard, says it's time people take a stand.
“Most people don't want to know what goes on behind closed doors. But, we need to. Even if we think it's none of our business, it really is everyone's business,” said Beard.
Dreams Come True Films is busy prepping for the premiere and finishing final touches on the film. Beard says, her dream couldn't have come true without help from the community.
“He said hey, you can film your movie in my house, because it's empty,” said Beard, “That was over on North 26th Street. So things, just as simple as loaning us a location, we've had people loan us cars.”
After months of planning, editing and filming, it's time for the reveal. After watching a sneak-peak clip of the movie, it leaves Beard with goose bumps.
Beard said, “Just saying the harshest things to her daughter, that's when I start to tear up and I don't stop.”
The film encourages folks to have a voice, so in the future children's cries, will not go unheard.
The red carpet premiere is set for August 1st at the Paris Theater. It's a free event. Two theater rooms will be open on premiere night at the theater.
For a copy of the film, you contact Dreams Come True Films. T-shirts and movie posters are also available.
To contact Candy, click here for the Facebook page, or go to www.dreamscometruefilms.com.
Domestic Abuse May Go On After Separation When Kids See Dad
by Janice Wood
A new study has found that contact between children and their fathers in families with a history of domestic abuse can “facilitate” the continued abuse of women and children.
The research, conducted at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland, raises the question about whether visits with their fathers should automatically be considered to be in children's best interests where there has been a history of domestic violence.
The challenge is to promote contact in a way that delivers benefits to children while not jeopardizing their safety or wellbeing, according to Dr. Stephanie Holt, an assistant professor at the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the college.
For the study, survey questionnaires were completed by 219 mothers regarding their 449 children. The researcher also conducted face-to-face interviews with 61 children, mothers, fathers, and legal, health, and social care professionals.
The findings highlight clear evidence of post-separation contact facilitating the continued abuse of women and children, according to Holt. It also highlighted a lack of attention from support services to the parenting of abusive men who were struggling to realize their fathering aspirations, she said.
The type of father-child contact reported by participants ranged from overnight and non-overnight visits, telephone calls, texting, email, and the sending and receiving of photographs and letters.
According to the researcher, 68 percent of mothers who participated in the study expressed concerns for their children who engaged in contact with their fathers. The predominant concern was for the emotional welfare of the children, according to the study's findings.
Participants described children's continuing exposure to the verbal abuse and denigration of their mother when contact was being arranged, at hand-over points and during contact, Holt noted.
Four of the six fathers who participated in the study acknowledged their abusive relationship with their child's mother. Their responses ranged from guilt and shame at what they had exposed their children to, to a sense of injustice and indefensible marginalization from their children's lives.
According to Holt, it's more important to focus on the “reality of abusive men's behavior rather than an ideology of involved fatherhood in children's lives.”
“This demands a significant paradigm shift to prioritize the construction of fathers as ‘risk' in the context of post-separation father-child contact,” she continued.
“Doing so does not mean finding ways to exclude fathers from children's lives, rather what is critical is to find ways to ensure and be assured that children are safe and that abusive men can be ‘good enough' fathers.”
The study was published in the journal Child Abuse Review.
In Tampa Bay, this is what child poverty looks like
by Caitlin Johnston
Nearly 1 million Florida children were living in poverty in 2013.
Ashley Corbett is a single mother raising one of those kids, Jayden, 3. Soon she will have two. The 29-year-old is seven months pregnant with her second child.
When things get tight, she reaches out to social services. They helped her find two part-time jobs, one at McDonald's, the other at a day care center.
There, she got 50 percent off. It still wasn't enough.
The day care worker could not afford day care.
"I would take him to my mom's because it was so expensive to take him in with me," Corbett said. "Trying to make ends meet, it's a struggle."
The story of her children is the story of Florida children mired in poverty, growing up with the odds already stacked against them.
The latest study of how hard life is for the state's children and families comes from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which last week released the most recent statistics available.
But that's just data. Tampa Bay's parents, social workers and educators fill in the rest of the picture.
They talk about children who go hungry when they can't eat at school, who don't visit the doctor for routine checkups, who are less likely to attend preschool or even graduate high school.
"These children, their physical needs aren't being met, nutritional, emotional and otherwise," said Erika Remsberg, a social worker who works with homeless students in Pasco County. "We're dealing with parents who are really just trying to survive."
In Florida, one in four kids lived in poverty in 2013. That year, the poverty line for a family of four was $23,550.
The 2013 data was the last year the Casey study could examine. Florida was ranked 37th in the country in overall "child well-being,'' which measured indicators such as education, economics and health. The state's ranking reflects high instances of children falling behind in school and living in single-parent families without secure employment.
The report also showed that nearly 250,000 more Florida children were living in poverty in 2013 than in 2008. That year, amid the Great Recession, 721,000 kids were impoverished in Florida.
Those numbers do not surprise social service providers working in Tampa Bay.
"We knew that the recovery wasn't for everyone," said Kelley Parris, executive director of the Children's Board of Hillsborough County. "There is a segment of the population that's not recovering nearly as quickly or as prosperously as others."
Though the report said that the child poverty rate "has remained stubbornly high," it projected that the 2014 numbers would "show some improvement." That was due to a decline in the unemployment rate from 7.1 in June 2013 to 5.5 in June 2015.
Many providers said they have yet to see that change. Some have seen conditions worsen.
• The Children's Board of Hills-borough County saw a 58 percent increase in people who used its services from 2013 to 2014. The organization helps connect families with educational, health and child care services.
• From 2013 to now, the Pasco County School District saw the number of families with homeless students rise 19 percent, from 1,285 to 1,582. These families lack permanent housing. They often move three to seven times a year, jumping between family and friends' houses, weekly hotels and their cars.
• The numbers for the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County remain fairly consistent, serving 38,014 children in 2011 and 37,105 in 2014. The board oversees and funds a variety of groups that help needy children in areas ranging from school readiness to prevention of child abuse.
The Pinellas board's executive director, Marcie Biddleman, said it will take a few more years for providers to see a tangible improvement in the lives of those they serve as the country eases out of the recession.
"There's this shadow that's still lingering," Biddleman said. "People don't recovery that quickly. What they're thinking about is not the education of the child, but how do they feed them tonight.
"At that point, you're not into recovery, you're into sustaining your family for the day."
School cafeterias may present the clearest picture of child poverty. More than 50 percent of students in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties receive free or reduced-price meals. That's more than 221,000 kids across the bay area. The greatest share are in Hillsborough, where 61 percent of the county's students — 127,778 children — qualify for help.
Those free lunches are life savers for parents like Flavio Irizarry, 57, who lives with his wife and six children in the Pinellas area of Highpoint at the northeast corner of U.S. 19 and Ulmerton Road. When the food stamps run out for the month, when the pantry is bare, Irizarry knows his kids will still eat at school.
For children in poverty, time spent at school is often the most stable part of their day. There, they have two hot meals. They see the same teachers and support staff. Even the lunch lady is a familiar face. They know they will be safe and fed and cared for.
At home, it's different. Meals aren't guaranteed. Neither is having a bed for the night.
It's worse in the summer, when school is out. Regular meals can be hard to come by. Temperatures rise as Irizarry tries not to run the air conditioner. Laundry is limited to once a month. The water heater must stay off as much as possible. Energy bills are expensive.
Irizarry lives in a constant state of anxiety compounded by frequent visits to the Veterans Health Administration. Somehow he must pay the family bills and provide for his children on a monthly $1,100 disability check. Paying for rent and food each month is hard enough. Throw in a higher auto insurance premium following a crash, or a teenager's infected tooth, and life becomes precarious for the family of eight.
"Right now, I'm worried about everything," Irizarry said. "I'd be happy just to catch up so I don't feel like we're always behind."
Education is often touted as the surest way out of poverty.
But the odds are stacked against these children from birth, when their mothers don't have access to sufficient health care and can't afford preschool or accredited child care.
"The opportunities are just not there for these children," said Lindsay Carson, CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Pinellas County. "From an early-learning perspective, those disparities show up as early as 18 months old."
Children in poverty tend to receive lower-quality child care, Carson said, stunting their intellectual growth. By the time they enter school, they're already behind. From there the disparities keep building. The risks of drug and alcohol addiction, teen pregnancy and run-ins with law enforcement rise.
In 2013, the report said that 61 percent of fourth-graders in Florida were not proficient in reading and 69 percent of eighth-graders were behind in math.
"If they're not prepared, they're more likely to fail and drop out," Carson said, "and then, of course, they're more likely to continue the cycle."
Fewer parents are unemployed now than in 2013, but many of the jobs that are available — part-time positions in low-wage industries such as agriculture or tourism — don't pay enough to provide for families or pay the high cost of child care.
"There are lots more jobs out there now, and that's great," Carson said, "but they're not all paying a living wage.
"The cost of child care is so high that, for many of them, it's the decision between whether they keep working and devote 30 or 40 percent of their paycheck to it, or quit their job and go on unemployment."
Kimberly Shephard of Clearwater works full-time in a dental office. Technically, the single mother of two lives above the statistical poverty line. But she also spent last week cobbling together the $309 she needed to keep her electricity from being shut off.
Three agencies had chipped in to help Shephard pay the bill. But she was still $30 short. So she swallowed her pride and asked a friend for help. The electricity stayed on, at least for another month.
Her kids, 11 and 14, don't understand why their mom eats less than they do (so they can eat more) or why they can't play sports like other kids do (because the leagues all have hefty fees to join.)
"They know when I'm struggling," said Shephard, 40. "They don't understand why mom can't give them the things they need."
Woman charged with sexually assaulting 3-year-old posts bond and is released from jail
by Jessi Dreckman and Sue Ann Jones
(Picture on site)
Crystal Gayle Boulay, a 28-year-old Theodosia-area woman charged with sexually abusing a 3-year-old girl, has been released from custody of the Ozark County Jail after posting bail July 15. Ozark County Prosecutor Tom Cline requested that the court order Boulay to have no contact with the victim, the victim's family or any individuals under the age of 12, and Associate Circuit Judge Cynthia MacPherson ordered the special conditions. Boulay is scheduled to return to court for a criminal setting on July 28.
She was originally held on a $50,000 cash-only bond after two counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a child were filed against her on July 2. During an arraignment hearing, Boulay's bond was amended to allow the defendant to post the bond with 10 percent cash or corporate surety. Online records indicate that Boulay is represented by Missouri Public Defender Lauren Kate Welborn.
The child's mother told the Times this week that she had known Boulay for quite a while and her husband had worked with Boulay's mother at a local restaurant for a couple of years. The child's mother knew Boulay had babysat for other area families, and when the mom had asked around, she'd heard no complaints.
Boulay babysat the 3-year-old several times during the six months or so before the late-June incident, and everything seemed fine, the mother said. “When we would come home and get ready to drive Crystal back to her house, [our daughter] would run to hug her and say good-bye,” the mother said.
But when they returned home on the night of June 28 after Boulay had been babysitting the 3-year-old, instead of enthusiastically hugging Boulay good-bye, the little girl “ran into the laundry room and closed the door and wouldn't come out until Crystal had left,” the mom said. “That was my first sign that something wasn't right.”
Her husband noticed a substance on the floor that turned out to be bubbles, a soapy liquid children blow through a wand to send bubbles floating into the air. “When Crystal came around the corner and saw us looking at the bubbles on the floor, she tried to distract us. We realize that now,” the mom said.
A medical professional later would tell the parents the bubbles were apparently used as a lubricant for Boulay's alleged sexual contact with the child, the mom said.
After Boulay was taken home that night, the girl's mother noticed a substantial amount of redness on the girl's skin while she was changing the child's pull-up diaper. Her daughter started crying and complained of pain in her genital area and then described to her parents the actions Boulay allegedly had committed. The child told her mother “Ms. Crystal told her not to tell mommy and daddy,” according to the probable cause statement filed with the court.
The mother called the Ozark County Sheriff's Office, which advised her to seek immediate medical attention and then to contact the sheriff's office again when they returned from the hospital.
The parents took the child to Baxter Regional Medical Center in Mountain Home, Arkansas, and medical professionals there sent them on to the Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock. The BRMC staff had told the parents the child would be sedated during the exam at the children's hospital “because in her eyes, the exam would be like the whole thing happening again,” the mom said. Instead, the children's hospital staff declined to use sedation and conducted the exam while the child was awake.
The mother said she “pushed the issue” with the Little Rock medical staff, “but they said they weren't going to sedate her.” The resulting examination “messed her up,” the mom said of the child. “It has left [an emotional] scar on her for a fear of doctors. She thinks everyone who comes around is going to touch her and look at her.”
A nurse conducted the exam on the girl and the pull-up, according to the probable cause statement filed with the court, and an ER nurse told local authorities the child's injuries were consistent with the details the 3-year-old had provided about Boulay's alleged actions.
During a subsequent visit to the family's home by Cpl. Kenny Hannaford with the Ozark County Sheriff's Office, the mother told the deputy the child had told her Boulay had put two necklaces around the child's hands and feet and that Boulay had also told the child she was going to “bust mommy in the face,” according to the probable cause statement.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol reportedly conducted a polygraph test on Boulay on July 2, and the officer who conducted the test reported that the defendant showed deception during the exam. After the test, Boulay reportedly described an incident of sexual contact with the girl when the child “was sleeping beside her on the couch,” according to the affidavit. Boulay reportedly told the officer she was sorry, and she “did it because she loved [the girl],” the statement says. Boulay asked for a lawyer, and the interview ended.
Advice for parents
Meanwhile, the mom says in the future she will avoid leaving her children with anyone but her parents. She urged other parents to “listen to your children. Pay attention to their actions, even if the child can't really talk yet. You might be surprised what all your children know.”
She has been told that the Children's Division of Missouri Department of Social Services has put Boulay's name on a registry (believed to be the Family Care Safety Registry) so that Boulay “can never be a nurse or work with children or the elderly again,” the mother said. At press time Tuesday, the Times was unable to confirm Boulay's status on the registry, but the registry is mentioned on the department's website at http://dss.mo.gov/fsd/formsmanual/pdf/fcsrbrochure.pdf .
Information at the site says anyone “hired as a child-care worker” is required to register with the department “within 15 days of beginning of employment.” It also says “any person planning to hire an individual to work with children or the elderly can request and receive information on a registrant's background,” but information will only be released “to persons calling for employment purposes. … If the person is registered, the caller will then be told whether the person's name appears in any of the background checks and, if so, which one(s). Specific information will only be given out after the registry has received a signed request from the caller.”
Since the incident with her child occurred, the mother has been told that Boulay does not have custody of her own child, or children. The victim's mom doesn't know why Boulay doesn't have custody, but she says, “that would certainly have been a red flag for me, if I'd known that.”
Do you need custody support? YWCA can help
by Gail Saukas
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (WOTV)- The Safe Connections Program at the YWCA was started by Kent County family court Judge John Zemaitis, who found a need to protect victims of domestic violence when it was necessary to interact as part of co-parenting their children. The program provides a safe location for victims of domestic violence to exchange children for parental visits and also provides supervised parenting time if ordered by the court. This program is totally free for low income families, but if you don't meet the income level subsidy for the service is often available in cases involving domestic violence, sexual assault or child abuse so contact the YWCA directly at 616-426-3748.
Referrals come from the Family Court, Department of Human Services, attorneys and other service agencies as well as individuals. If you feel unsafe when you exchange your child with your ex due to emotional abuse, verbal abuse or physical threats or violence, or there is substance abuse or mental health issues involved, call the YWCA and they will happily evaluate whether your circumstances would warrant using their services. Parents do not meet during exchanges or visitation sessions and safety is their ultimate goal.
In addition to supervised visitation and safe child exchange, the YWCA provides counseling services if the form of group and individual therapy for survivors of domestic violence and support groups and batterer's intervention counseling for those seeking to stop abusive behaviors. A 24 hour, confidential Crisis Line can be reached at 616-451-2744 (IF YOU ARE IN IMMEDIATE DANGER, DIAL 911). They also assist in finding safe shelter for victims and their children who are fleeing domestic violence and need a place to stay as well as temporary shelter for pets.
This fabulous program struggles with funding (they are funded primarily through the Office of Violence Against Women) and they appreciate any donations. If you would like to give to a very great organization that is helping to protect women, children and even men who are victims of domestic violence please log onto their website at www.ywcawcmi.org/dv-services.php and make a donation.
Hope and Empowerment For Alienated Parents and Their Children
by Dana Laquidara
When I was almost four years old, my father threw my mother out of our home, quite literally. It was late at night. It was loud and volatile, my father full of rage. She had betrayed him.
We lived upstairs from my paternal grandparents, and my father quickly gathered his allies in casting my mother out. His family, friends, neighbors, and teachers all saw him as the "favored parent," the "good parent." After all, it was my mother who had abandoned me.
In the months that followed, when he had to tear me off of my mother after our scheduled visits, he repeatedly told her that I was better off without her. He told her she was hurting me by making me have these painful goodbyes. Broken and intimidated, she began to believe him. She showed up to see me on my fifth birthday and my father had remarried. His pacing and clenched jaw told us all that my mother was not welcome there. I wasn't supposed to love her anymore. I wasn't allowed to.
Not all alienation cases are this dramatic. Many alienating parents use subtle tactics, especially if the children are older. But the results are the same: the child-parent bond is disrupted, causing trauma to the child and the rejected parent.
My mother was essentially bullied out of my life, eventually only sending cards and letters that I never received. I was helpless to change the situation. I couldn't ask for her. I couldn't even grieve. I associated her name with my father's rage and it did not take me long to learn- to know - that my father's love was contingent upon me rejecting her.
And this is what all alienated parents need to be clear on: your children are being forced to reject you. Alienation is an extremely sophisticated and cruel pathology inflicted by the alienating, narcissistic parent. Your child is essentially held hostage by a psychological threat. They need to be rescued from this. It is up to you to acquire the tools you will need to do this. You cannot afford to stay stuck in victim mode.
I urge you to educate and empower yourself by gathering the information that you need. Dr. Craig Childress is a leading expert in this field and has written a brilliant and powerful book, An Attachment- Based Model of Parent Alienation: Foundations. This book is a tool that will make rescuing your child possible: http://www.amazon.com/Attachment-Based-Model-Parental-Alienation-Foundations/dp/0996114505
I also highly recommend watching his videos. Most are directed at the alienated parent, but Childress also has a series of videos in which he speaks to the child. Each of his videos holds valuable information. This information will be a great source of power in combating the pathology that has overtaken your child.
We must expose the psychopathology of parental alienation and break through the ignorance. Ignorance and secrecy make this trauma pathogen possible. The alienating parent depends on the ignorance of their allies. The allies may include stepparents, family members, the mental health system, and even the legal system. The children themselves have become allies as well, believing that the rejected parent is the source of their angst. But it is the disrupted bond with the "bad" parent that is the source of their misery and anger.
Childress, as well as other experts on this subject, are doing their part in exposing parent alienation. They are breaking through the ignorance in the mental health field and the legal system as best they can. But it is an enormous task, and alienated parents must do their part in reclaiming their children.
Adult alienated children, such as myself, have a responsibility as well. We must face the truth, figure out how to heal, and when we are ready, reach out to our alienated parent. Then we must do our part in shedding light on this psychological and emotional abuse. Doing nothing feels like allowing it.
I have told my story at a Boston Moth Story Slam and placed first. I have published excerpts from my memoir-in-progress. I am speaking at a support group for alienated parents next month. I don't do this for sympathy, or simply to share the drama of my childhood loss. I don't do it out of any sense of vengefulness either. I forgave long ago. I forgave my father for pushing my mother out of my life, even though he feels justified in doing so. I forgave my mother for giving up too easily, for not standing up to my father because she sensed he would 'win' at all costs. I know what happened was born out of wounds and human flaws.
But forgiveness does not mean I won't tell my story. It doesn't mean I won't speak of the truth of my experience. I will not allow ignorance to rest in its ugly place while innocent children are victimized.
I share my story to shed light on this terrible syndrome that affects so many children and parents, both mothers and fathers. I do this because it is my responsibility to break through the ignorance in order to reunite parents and children with each other. I will speak and write tirelessly, because it is my turn to do so.
Even when I heard hushed words about my mother being inadequate, the "bad one", the one who must not have loved me enough to stay, I knew that wasn't the truth. I knew because I remembered her love. To all estranged parents, your child remembers your love. I promise they do.
Woman wants law changed
by Ian MacAlpine
An alleged sexual assault survivor is speaking out about changing the criminal code in Canada to keep sexual predators behind bars for an indeterminate amount of time.
Alycha Reda is now 26 years old and living in Alberta, but 10 years ago, as a vulnerable Kingston teenager, she says she was sexually assaulted by Mark Bedford in his Glengarry Road home.
The 29-year-old Kingston native is due to be released from prison Aug. 22 after serving his full sentence.
As an alleged victim of crime Reda's name was protected under a publication ban but a few years ago she went to court and had the ban lifted so she could speak out about her case and help survivors of sexual assault.
Since then she has travelled across Canada as an advocate for young victims of cybercrime.
Bedford was first sent to prison in 2008 after he pled guilty to 10 crimes after it was discovered that Bedford, a St. Lawrence College computer student at the time, was sexually exploiting and extorting hundreds of young girls on two continents from a computer in the basement of his family home.
He also blackmailed girls as young as nine into performing sex acts in front of webcams. He also hacked into the girls' friends list then pretended to be them with their friends to get them to perform sex acts as well.
He was then able to blackmail the girls into performing more explicit acts.
He was released from jail in 2011 but sent back to prison in 2013 after he breached two conditions of his release.
At his 2013 trial on the breaches Crown attorney Gerard Laarhuis commented at his sentencing that "Mr. Bedford is essentially an untreated sex offender."
But the Crown did not apply for dangerous (sex) offender status at the time of sentencing, which is the only time that tag can be placed on an individual.
According to the Pubic Safety website, in the dangerous offender provisions of the criminal code individuals convicted of these offences can be designated as a dangerous offender during sentencing if a sentencing court is satisfied that the offender constitutes a threat to the life, safety or physical or mental well-being of the public. Where an offender is designated by the court as a dangerous offender, the offender may be sentenced to an indeterminate sentence of imprisonment.
But the law cannot be applied after an offender is freed from prison.
Reda would like to see the law changed to keep sexual predators behind bars.
"I feel it's a very lax law, I feel like sexual offenders have more rights than victims do and it's just something that needs to be (re)looked at because we have too many sex offenders coming out right now and they're just being let go right out back into society without any treatment and without any monitoring," Reda said in a phone interview from her Alberta home.
Currently the law says that if an offender gets a third conviction for a violent or sexual crime it should be presumed the individual should be declared a dangerous offender.
The offender will be given an opportunity before the court to refute those charges.
If the court is satisfied that the offender meets the dangerous offender criteria, in all cases the individual will be designated a dangerous offender. The designation is for life.
The offender can receive a seven-year sentence with no chance of parole or a regular sentence of imprisonment for the offence, plus a long-term supervision order in the community of up to 10 years after the regular sentence has expired; or, a regular sentence of life imprisonment for the offence.
Reda is concerned that many predators who already have two convictions against them for sexual crimes have to commit another one before they can get dangerous offender status.
"Now it's a waiting game, it's a ticking time bomb," she said. "It sounds horrible that, yes, I have to wait until a child gets abused or a woman or a man gets abused in order for this person to have the DSO label gets put on."
"That's where we need to figure that out."
Reda was 16 years-old when she says she was asssaulted in 2005.
She was on the social media site Nexopia, which caters to young Canadian adults.
She said Bedford first approached her online and Reda started communicating with him because she knew him from around the area. She knew that he went to Loyalist Collegiate and would see him playing basketball in front of his family home or out walking the dog in the neighbourhood.
Reda had a family member at the time that lived close to Bedford's Strathcona Park home.
"It wasn't like I was talking online and I was talking to people I didn't know. I felt safe talking to this person, he looked normal, he was a good-looking guy, he had a Justin Bieber baby-face kind of look to him."
Soon her online conversations with him started getting graphic and seedy.
"I should have put two and two together when things started getting sexual online," she said.
"He started asking me to go on webcams and flash him and what I didn't know he was obtaining images of me while he was grooming me."
The term grooming essentially means Bedford was trying to gain Reda's trust.
About a month went by before Reda met Bedford in person. She brought a male friend with her to Bedford's home.
When they met Bedford at the door her friend didn't want to come in the house but Reda told him, 'I'm a big girl, I think I can handle this.'
That was the day that Reda said she was sexually assaulted by Bedford.
In his 2009 Parole Board hearing seeking an early release Bedford was asked about the alleged assault.
He said the girl was likely confused about his age; he was 19 at the time.
"She started it," he said. "She exposed her breasts."
Reda said that was not how it happened.
"It wasn't consensual at all, I told him no several times."
Reda says Bedford told her he wanted to have intercourse with her but didn't have a condom. He then committed other sexual acts on her, according to Reda.
"When you're in a situation like that, honestly you don't know whether you'll come out dead or alive," Reda said.
She believed Bedford took advantage of her vulnerability at the time.
"When I was 16 I didn't have a normal lifestyle, my parents were divorced and I suffered from mental health problems so I went online for my problems."
She felt loved in the cyberworld as opposed to her real life.
"No one wanted to know Alycha Reda offline so when I met Bedford I felt someone understood me."
During that year she was also being bullied online by a hacker and says she realized it was Bedford.
Bedford also impersonated her online and told Reda's friends to perform sex acts for the webcam. Reda said her friends were skeptical that she would ask them to do that.
It took her a year to report the alleged sexual assault.
She was told to keep the alleged assault quiet at first by a family member, It took her a year to report the incident, something she says now that was wrong and feels some guilt for not coming forward earlier.
"You don't hold stuff like that back, don't be afraid to tell, always come forward."
"I didn't realize after that for an entire year after hundreds of girls were going to be assaulted," Reda said.
"For years I had that thought in my mind that because I didn't go to police it was my fault they got assaulted. For years I had to teach myself that it wasn't my fault and I wasn't responsible for those girls being victimized."
Her accusation never went to trial because she was told by court officials that her allegations would delay Bedford's trial by two years.
"The Crown was basically being lazy and I say that to this day."
Bedford faced 11 charges, including her sexual assault but that charge was settled in a plea bargain. The charge of sexual assault was withdrawn and she was told by the Crown attorney that there wasn't enough evidence in her case.
"It was that day that my rights as a victim were getting squashed and no one was listening to me."
Reda didn't see Bedford again until his 2008 sentencing when she read out her victim impact statement in court.
Reda said she was the only person to read her impact statement in court. The other victim's statements were read out by the victim's parents.
She said she still suffers from PTSD from constant flashbacks.
"That's the new battle I'm dealing with right now is mental health," Reda said.
"People don't realize that after you're sexually assaulted it doesn't end there, you can't just pretend it never happened, you have to go to therapy, you've got to talk to counsellors, you sometimes have to take medication to calm you down."
If Bedford does re-settle in Kingston upon his release, Reda thinks the public should know.
"Under the laws in Canada we don't actually have the right to know where our sex offender lives."
Reda thinks victim's rights have to be respected.
"That's another reason I'm coming forward. Rights for victims, there are no rights for victims, there's no such thing," she said.
She said she's contacted Sue O'Sullivan, the federal Ombudsman for victims of crime as well as members of parliament and members of provincial parliament.
She's said she's written Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the issue.
She only got a automated Facebook response from Trudeau's people.
"No one cares, no one wants to listen to me."
"I'm hoping that with me coming to the public about this I can have the government sit down with me," she said.
"No one knows what we are talking about until they have walked in our own shoes or who have experienced it themselves or to a loved one."
Girl's walk on a leash in park prompts child abuse probe
(Video on site)
Russian authorities are investigating a possible child abuse case after a video showing a lady walking her granddaughter on a dog's leash surfaced online. In her defense the grandmother said that this was just the way the girl enjoyed playing in the park.
The video, which was captured during a mid-afternoon stroll in the park in the city of Yekaterinburg on July 20, shows a young child wearing protective mittens on her hands racing on all fours while being led on a leash like a dog by an adult lady.
A local resident, Aleksey Vlaskin, captured a short clip as he was passing by the pair, eventually sharing it online. In an interview with local news he described how he was following the odd couple for over ten minutes, during which the “child was running around on four limbs.”
Noting the girl's skill in running around like an animal, Vlaskin said other kids were feeding the child something from their hands, most likely bread. He however said that all the kids were “obviously having fun,” and the girl herself was apparently “enjoying ” the situation, as she had been “running towards them like a dog.”
After the video was shared online by E1.RU, more alleged witnesses who saw disturbing couple materialized. One lady contacted the news outlet to tell them that the “dog walker” in the video was actually the child's grandmother, and that she met the family in a child development center. While calling the five-year-old girl “a little aggressive,” she described her grandmas “strange.”
The incident stirred controversy and debate because there were those who claimed it was normal for kids to play pretending to be, as long as they enjoyed it, and people who believed no decent parent would treat a kid like that in the middle of a street.
Local police meanwhile confirmed that the lady in the video is indeed the girl's grandmother. Authorities also established the identity of the kid's mother, who is, they say, currently on maternity leave.
During police questioning the grandma explained that she was “playing” with the girl, Interfax reported citing a regional police spokesperson, Valery Gorelykh.
Russian children's rights ombudsman Pavel Astakhov however urged the local authorities to investigate the episode, which he called “ unacceptable and criminal.” A criminal investigation was launched with police checking whether neglect and possible child abuse charges should be pressed against the family.
Aylesbury child sex abuse case: Six men found guilty of child abuse on a 'massive scale' at Old Bailey
by Doug Bolton
Six men have been found guilty of abusing two schoolgirls on a "massive scale" in a child sex ring which mostly operated in Aylesbury.
Vikram Singh, Akbari Khan, Asif Hussain, Mohammed Imran, Taimoor Khan and Arshad Jani were all found guilty at the Old Bailey.
The court heard how the abuse had gone on for years, and had involved rape, child prostitution and the use of drugs to "stupefy" a girl in order to engage in sexual activity.
The offences, which were denied by all the defendants, took place in vehicles, flats, and sometimes in the girls' homes in Aylesbury.
A total of 11 men went on trial for 51 offences, committed between 2006 and 2012, which included the multiple rape of a child under 13.
Six defendants were found guilty, four were cleared, and the jury was unable to decide on one of them. The sentencing of the six guilty men will take place on September 12.
Some of the men used the services of Urdu, Hindi, Pashto and Punjabi interpreters, and gave no reaction as the guilty verdicts were delivered.
Both victims came from troubled backgrounds, and were befriended by the guilty men, who groomed them and gave them gifts, which included alcohol and occasionally drugs.
When she was 12 or 13, one of the girls was passed between 60 mainly Asian men for sex, having been conditioned to think it was normal.
Most of the charges related to this girl, identified only as A, while three charges related to the other, known as B.
Many of the defendants were friends from the Aylesbury area. Some worked in the local market, and a few worked as taxi drivers. Some were even married, and had children.
Prosecutor Oliver Saxby QC told the jury the youngsters were "easy prey for a group of men wanting casual sexual gratification that was easy, regular and readily available".
He said the girls' ideas of what was right had been "completely distorted", and that they thought what was happening was "normal" and "natural".
Speaking outside the Old Bailey, David Johnson, head of Buckinghamshire Council's Child Services, issued an apology.
He said: "We want thank the police and comment the women for their bravery for speaking to the police and relive their experiences through this trial.
"I want to thank each of them, but also to apologise to each of them for any opportunities the authority missed whilst they were going through this very troubled period in their lives and the offences that were committed against them."
"We want to also say that we now know a great deal more about child sexual exploitation and that we want to make sure that other young people and victims come forward and talk to about anything they are worried about, whether it is themselves or anybody else."
"We will listen to you, we will look into any concerns that you raise and we will jointly work with other agencies, especially the police, investigating these matters."
A serious case review has been launched into the women's cases, and others stretching over a 15 year period, has now been launched by Buckinghamshire's safeguarding board.
It is expected to return its findings "within months".
The list of verdicts read:
Vikram Singh, 45, of Cannock Road, Aylesbury, was found guilty of four counts of rape and administering a substance with intent.
Asif Hussain, 33, of Hodge Lea, Milton Keynes, was convicted of three counts of rape.
Arshad Jani, 33, of Cousins Drive, Aylesbury, was found guilty of rape and conspiracy to rape.
Mohammed Imran, 38, of Springcliffe Street, Bradford, was convicted of three counts of rape, one count of conspiracy to rape and one count of child prostitution.
Akbari Khan, 36, of Mandeville Road, Aylesbury, was found guilty of two counts of rape, administering a substance with intent, conspiracy to rape.
Taimoor Khan, 29, of Highbridge Road, Aylesbury, was convicted of one count of sexual activity with a child.
Sohail Qamar, 41, of St Anne's Road, Aylesbury, was cleared of two counts of rape, and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
Sajad Ali, 34, of Brockhurst Road, Chesham, was found not guilty of sexual activity with a child.
Faisal Iqbal, 32, of Pixie Road, Aylesbury, was cleared of rape and sexual activity with a child.
Harmohan Nangpal, 41, of Langdale Drive, Hayes, was cleared of rape and sexual activity with a child.
The jury could not decide on charges against Jerome Joe, 35, of Pightle Crescent, Buckingham. He denies one count of rape and a single count of sexual activity with a child. The Crown announced that it will seek a retrial for him.
Breaking cycle of child abuse requires effort from all
by Kurt Senske
The narrative around foster care in Texas usually centers on overloaded caseworkers, traumatized children and a flawed, underfunded state system. However, few of us wonder what we can do to improve the lives of Texas children in foster care. I challenge you to think and act differently, starting now.
Upbring, the largest nonprofit foster placement and adoption agency in Texas, believes we all share responsibility in helping to raise healthy children prepared to embrace successful lives.
Lubbock has are some wonderful stories of families stepping in to fill a great need. Patricia Moreno's family has fostered more than 100 children. While many stories stand out, 4-year-old Jessie's is unforgettable. The day he was placed, Patricia's husband asked if he'd eaten anything. “Yeah, I ate some chicken bones,” he replied.
While Jessie was not available for adoption, the Morenos treated him like one of their own. Their son, Eric, became very attached to Jessie, too.
Then there's Carolyn Gilbert. She became a licensed foster parent in 1996, shepherding more than 60 children. When Julie first moved in 1999, they grew a bond. Her time with Carolyn greatly influenced her, and today Julie serves in the community as a nurse, owns her own car, and is in the process of buying her first home. Julie still makes time to visit — roses in hand — to express her gratitude to Carolyn.
As locals have long known, Lubbock is home to many generous souls; another tireless volunteer was Lee Ruth Krieg, a faithful friend and Upbring colleague, who died Monday after a valiant battle with cancer. Lee Ruth joined the LSS/Upbring Board of Directors in January 2010. She was a dedicated volunteer with all of Upbring's programs in Lubbock, including Neighborhood House, Health for Friends Clinic, and on behalf of our Foster In Texas program. Her energy, tireless spirit and dedication to children will be sorely missed.
We are privileged to work with numerous families throughout Texas like those of Patricia and Carolyn.We need more families like theirs as well as greater participation from every sector of our community. We're calling on you to help us improve the odds for children in need.
Our mission is to break the cycle of child abuse by empowering children, families and communities. With more than 13 percent of U.S. children subject to abuse or neglect by a caregiver each year, maltreatment of children is a pervasive problem affecting kids of every age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background.
We know 30 percent of people who were abused as children become abusers themselves; nearly 70,000 Texas children were confirmed victims of child abuse and neglect last year, most for the first time; nearly 18,000 Texas children were removed from their homes in 2014. As the result of a recent study, we now know over their lifetimes, this abuse and neglect costs the Texas economy an estimated $454 billion.
To break the cycle of child abuse, we must be comprehensive in our strategy. Kids enter the child welfare system at different stages of their lives, and we must address the full spectrum of their needs. Upbring has established an innovative continuum of services and partnerships tracking progress in five key markers of: safety, life skills, education, health and vocation.
Currently, there is surprisingly little long-term data on Texas foster children, or what strategies prove successful in serving them. In order to fill this void, Upbring is partnering with The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work on a first-of-its-kind-in-Texas study that will track the progress and wellbeing of foster children.
We recognize we can't meet needs alone. Giving vulnerable children the support and opportunities each of them deserves is more than one organization or government can do.
We need businesses willing to train and employ 18-year-olds as they exit the foster care system; medical institutions eager to partner with us to improve the health of children in foster care; legislators prepared to support the needs of foster children in a complex system; and volunteers passionate about lending their time and skills to a cause bigger than themselves. And of course, we need more Texans like Patricia Moreno and Carolyn Gilbert, whose love and devotion as foster parents has raised expectations for what a childhood can be.
KURT SENSKE is president and CEO of Upbring, a faith-based nonprofit organization devoted to breaking the cycle of child abuse.
Establishment Names Revealed Ahead Of Investigation Into Historic Child Sex Abuse
by Simon Kent
The long-awaited UK inquiry into allegations of historic child sex abuse in establishment circles has barely begun, yet already names are being revealed of senior politicians who may figure in deliberations. One is the Westminster MP protected by MI5 when suspected of child abuse, the late Conservative MP Sir Peter Morrison.
According to The Times, a Whitehall investigation was carried out in the mid-1980s after two sources approached senior officials with reports that Morrison had “a penchant for small boys”. NSPCC head Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC were tasked with examining how the Home Office dealt with files alleging child abuse from 1979 to 1999.
The official review was carried out last year but new material has since emerged including files about former MPs – Morrison, Home Secretary Leon Brittan and Sir William van Straubenzee – as well as former diplomat Sir Peter Hayman. The contents of those papers are, as yet, unknown. All four named are dead.
The fact that Morrison, van Straubenzee and Brittan – all Tories – are named in the papers is yet another blow to the establishment grandees of the Conservative Party who have been desperately attempting to silence truth tellers on this issue for some time. Further well-connected names are expected to be revealed in due course.
As Breitbart London previously reported, the trawl of Whitehall documents is part of the Goddard enquiry tasked with investigating the extent to which institutions have failed to protect children from sexual abuse. The inquiry is independent of government. It is led by New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard DNZM who is supported by a Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel and other expert advisers.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse will investigate whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse in England and Wales. The focus now on Whitehall has also made other stunning revelations.
Tony Blair's government was briefed about a paedophile investigation in which a minister was a suspect before it was halted, previously secret documents seen by the Daily Mirror reveal. Scotland Yard's anti-corruption command are investigating claims that evidence the minister was part of a paedophile ring in Lambeth, South London, in the 1980s was covered up.
Retired detective Clive Driscoll says he was stopped from investigating the Labour star in 1998 after he named the politician as a suspect.
The Daily Mirror has obtained papers which prove for the first time that Mr Driscoll's children's home probe was being monitored by senior civil servants and ministers before it was halted. They include briefings written for the Blair administration just hours after the detective allegedly first named the minister as a suspect.
The officer was removed from the investigation three months later.
On July 9 Justice Lowell Goddard outlined the possibility that one in every 20 children in the UK has been abused. She also said she anticipated her work to take five years although it may go even further given the sheer weight of evidence already coming forward.
As the Independent has already noted, from the institutional abuse in children's homes, to the grooming of underage girls in Oxford, Rochdale and elsewhere; from the disgrace of Jimmy Savile and other stars of the 1970s, to the historical allegations of horrific abuse by senior politicians and public officials, all will require careful examination.
The pity for many who will be appearing to give evidence is that the accused died – like the late Tory MPs Morrison and Brittan to name just two – before they were required to face the allegations in a public forum.
How to keep your kids safe from sexual abuse
by Holly Brockman-Johnson
“Recent arrests for possession of child pornography of seemingly normal citizens on Cape Cod should heighten our awareness that this criminal activity takes place here in our backyard and is victimizing our own children,” said Stacy Gallagher, director at Children's Cove, the Cape and Islands Child Advocacy Center.
“What's most important to us is how to protect the children of the Cape and the Islands from child sexual abuse,” Gallagher said. “We offer these tips for parents and caregivers.”
There's no perfect age for speaking with your children about body safety; it should be part of an ongoing dialogue from their early years through their teens. Engage your children, talk with them about their bodies, show that you're available to answer questions, and always create an atmosphere of trust. The following tips are not meant to be a complete answer, but are some general guidelines for speaking with your child.
• Talk with your child at a quiet time, without distractions, so that you have their attention. Remember the importance of the subject, but be yourself.
• Talk about which parts of their bodies are considered “private” and which are not private, using whatever terms are common within in your home.
• Talk about who CAN touch your child's private parts, such as a doctor as part of an exam or parents and caregivers who might assist with toileting or bathing. Distinguish between those normal activities and inappropriate touches.
• Talk about how it is not okay for anyone else to touch their private parts, including other children.
• Talk about what your child should do if someone touches them, who they should tell, and where they can go. Make sure they know they can always talk to you, no matter what has happened.
• Emphasize that it's never safe to go into another person's home or car without your knowledge. Make it clear this includes neighbors, friends, family members and acquaintances.
• Become familiar with the symptoms of sexual abuse, such as changes in behavior or sleeping habits.
• Show support for whatever your child tells you. Try not to show that you're upset as their truthful disclosure and emotional recovery depend on your love and support.
• DO NOT ask direct questions, such as “Has Uncle Bob ever touched you?” Inquire in general about different people that your child is in contact with.
• DO NOT use dolls or stuffed animals to demonstrate. This can invite “magical thinking” into the scenario as children commonly engage in pretend play with these toys. If your child does disclose something of concern, avoid the temptation to ask direct or leading questions.
For more: www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-5mdt9YN6I
“Small Talk” helps children speak out about sexual abuse
by Christa Lamendola
INGHAM COUNTY, MI (WLNS) – One in four girls and one in six boys have been sexually abused.
But many children who suffer from the horrendous abuse are too afraid to tell anyone.
It's not just a problem we can brush away and say it only happens elsewhere because it is happening locally.
6 News Christa Lamendola talked with members of the Ingham County Prosecutor's Office Thursday to see how they are making these tough conversations a little easier for children.
Sexual abuse among children in Ingham County has been so prevalent the prosecutor's office has hired additional attorneys to work on cases.
But before they can take the perpetrators to court they need testimony from the child on what happened, an experience that can not only be traumatizing, but can be hard and intimidating to do in a setting such as a police station.
Books, toys and games, it's a place where children suffering from severe physical and sexual abuse come to tell officials what happened to them.
“To tell their story is a big first step for them to know that someone hears them, someone believes them,” said Alex Brace, executive director, Small Talk.
The unfortunate truth is in Ingham County, these rooms get a lot of use.
“We do about 200 interviews a year.”
That's more than double other counties in Michigan.
The program is called Small Talk, a non-profit geared at making it easier for even the smallest victims to talk to police, prosecutors and child protective services in a comfortable, child-friendly environment
“To tell about something really horrible or traumatic that's happened to you to a stranger, that takes a lot of bravery for the kids and a lot of patience.”
The interview room is set up for one on one interviews, but there's a camera so detectives, prosecutors and investigators can ask questions from another room while keeping the child comfortable here.
Lisa McCormick, the chief assistant prosecutor in Ingham County says having a child feel comfortable is a vital part of their interview.
Testimony can be key in investigations to find evidence and bring justice in court.
“We want to put together the best case so that we can put these perpetrators behind bars for as long as possible but we also want the kids to heal,” said Lisa McCormick, chief assistant prosecutor, Ingham County.
Healing afterwards is also a priority. Small Talk offers free counseling for every child who walks through their door.
The 200 interviews from Small Talk are only the serious, severe cases of physical and sexual abuse.
McCormick says there are many other cases out there in the county.
A careful grace: Accountability for sex offenders in the church
by Boz Tchividjian
Many churches are faced with a terribly difficult dilemma of what to do when a sex offender wants to become part of the church community. In my experience, most churches have little to know understanding of the many complex issues related to such a decision. As a result, churches often make decisions that result in great harm to the children and abuse survivors in the congregation.
Simon Bass is a dear friend and colleague who spends his life protecting children on the other side of the pond. He is the Chief Officer of the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), which is an amazing organization that is transforming churches in the United Kingdom into much safer places for children and survivors. I am thankful to God for introducing me to Simon and believe that his thought provoking guest post will help spark a much needed dialogue in this country on a topic many would prefer to ignore. – Boz
For many years, I have worked with churches, advising them on how to receive sexual offenders into their congregations. I have also met and worked with many sexual offenders. In 1999, a church contacted me to help them with an offender who had downloaded child pornography (i.e. child abuse images). The offender had been convicted as part of Operation Ore, the UK response to Operation Avalanche in the United States. At the time, we were only beginning to understand the Internet's harmful impact and could never have anticipated the proliferation of such images. Since then, barely a week goes by without a church contacting me about a sex offender in its congregation. Whenever I help a church, I urge them to extend a careful grace to sex offenders, including those convicted of online offences.
Child pornography is nothing less than the recording of the sexual abuse of children – each picture is a crime scene, a depiction of real children's molestation. Sadly, such images show extreme, sadistic, and violent abuse against children. Viewing child abuse images is not a victimless crime; thousands of victims of sexual abuse continue to be re-victimized when perpetrators share those images. People who view such images demonstrate that they have a sexual interest in children, and they often have convictions for similar sexual offences. Unfortunately, a significant number of offenders will also have held positions of trust in churches, giving them access to children.
Recently, I learned about a pastor of a large church in the United States who publicly praised a church volunteer who is also a convicted sex offender for possessing child pornography. This church's myopic understanding of care for the sex offender struck me. The church seems to have focused upon caring for the sex offender without considering how doing so impacts survivors or poses risks to children in the church. This church honored a sex offender in such a way that lessened the impact of his crime. This behaviour insults all survivors of sexual abuse who demonstrate real heroism in overcoming their abuse.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to minister to everyone in church including sex offenders, but we should never do so in isolation from child protection professionals or in ignorance of the harm done to their victims.
In fulfilling God's mission, we should open wide the church doors as we minister to anyone who calls upon Jesus' name (Romans 10:13). God's grace through the sacrifice of his son, Jesus Christ, makes a way for all who have sinned, even if that sin is also a heinous crime (Ephesians 2:8). God wants us restored to him, and in right relationship achieved through our willingness to repent and seek forgiveness. I am so grateful that we serve a God of second chances. In the story of the prodigal son, Jesus teaches that God will always welcome with open arms those who come to him with an authentic, repentant heart. This includes sexual offenders (Luke 15:21-22).
When churches minister to sex offenders, they must implement a careful grace that is based upon an educated understanding of offenders and how they act. A careful grace starts with putting the needs of children and survivors first. A careful grace embraces the reality that actions must have consequences. A careful grace requires church leaders and workers to be trained in child protection, and our churches to have clear and effective child safeguarding policies and procedures. Only within a context of careful grace can churches effectively care for sex offenders. What does careful grace require of churches who minister to sex offenders?
In order to protect children, churches should require sex offenders to sign a written contract that articulates clear behavioural boundaries relating to any church-related function with consequences for failing to comply and that articulates on-going pastoral care that the offender must receive from the church. Church contracts for sex offenders enact Galatians 6:10, doing good to everyone as we have opportunity. Being a good steward in church includes stewarding risky conduct. We should not place a convicted sex offender in a place of temptation; we need to be wise (Matthew 10:16).
Contracts should be in place for anyone who the church knows has committed any type of sexual offence, whether against an adult or a child. Sexual offences should include both physical, sexual abuse and online abuse (i.e. child pornography). Such contracts should remain in place indefinitely, and be reviewed on a regular basis, irrespective of whether or not the offender is under the jurisdiction of the court.
A risk assessment should be a condition of any offender contract, with the understanding that the church may decide that the offender must worship somewhere else. Most sex offenders want to be accepted into the church and will likely attempt to minimize their crime. Thus, it is critical for the church to ascertain whether or not it is even possible for the offender to join the congregation. When evaluating an offender for membership, a church should obtain a professional risk assessment from the offender's probation officer or any other professional whom the court has ordered to supervise and manage the sex offender.
Church contracts should also severely limit sex offenders' participation in any form of public ministry in the church. The contract should outline the service boundaries sex offenders must keep in the church and in the wider church family. Sex offenders commonly target children in the church in order to gain their trust for the purpose of eventually abusing them outside the church building. Therefore, an offender must never be placed in a position of trust or responsibility that in any manner communicates to children that they are safe.
A church should not ask a sex offender to be part of the public platform. They should not share their testimony about their offences for a number of reasons:
An offender's testimony is insulting to survivors of abuse who hear offenders describe their past sins.
An offender's testimony may give the impression to kids and parents that the church considers the offender to be safe.
For some sex offenders, they will get sexual pleasure in re-telling their story.
An offender's testimony can distance survivors in the church, who rightly will be asking where is their opportunity to share their stories about the harm done to them, and God's healing.
An offender's testimony can also cause disunity in the church as people have very strong emotional responses to sex offenders, with the result ranging from vigilantism towards the offender to people leaving the church.
Truly repentant sex offenders will understand and accept the limitations within the contract. Churches who implement contracts for sexual offenders are not being judgemental. Instead, they are recognizing that true repentance is demonstrated by embracing accountability and a lifetime process of authentic transformation. Most critically, churches who implement contracts for sexual offenders understand that the principle aim of such a contract is the protection of children who are a precious part of the church family.
Andy Bhatti to cycle across Newfoundland for child sexual abuse survivors
by CBC News
A man from British Columbia is getting ready to cycle across Newfoundland in bring attention to something this province is missing — a special centre to help and treat children who have been sexually abused.
Vancouver's Andy Bhatti survived sexual abuse when he was a child, and said he couldn't believe it when he heard that children in this province have to be sent away to get the expert treatment they need.
"I was going to die an addict, and I was useless, and there was no hope for me, and nobody cared for me, and nobody loved me," Bhatti said.
Bhatti went down a road of cocaine addiction, crime, and jail, after he went through four years of sexual abuse by a Big Brother.
At the age of 24, Bhatti began to improve his life and dedicated his time to helping others who have suffered similar abuse.
Recently he was contacted by the mother of a 12-year-old boy in this province who went through much the same abuse, also by a Big Brother.
The mother told him there was no expert treatment for her son here and he would have to leave the province.
"What 12-year-old kid wants to leave home to go to Toronto, right?" Bhatti said.
Bhatti will be joined by Bev Moore-Davis, who runs a local foundation which offers peer group support for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, on the journey.
She agrees there's a need for a well-coordinated program for sexually abused children.
Bhatti will begin the ride from Port aux Basques to St. John's on Saturday.
All proceeds go to the Miles for Smiles Foundation and Thrive.
Why the New Case Against Bill Cosby Is Different
by Eliza Gray
After facing years of sexual abuse accusations from dozens of women, comedian Bill Cosby may be forced to give a deposition under oath next month in a case that will put him under unprecedented scrutiny, in which he is alleged to have molested a 15-year-old girl.
Cosby's lawyer tried to get the case dismissed on procedural grounds, but on Wednesday the California Supreme Court declined to hear the petition, paving the way for the case to go forward, if Cosby's lawyers aren't able to stop it.
Gloria Allred, the attorney representing the alleged molestation victim, who is now in her 50s, told TIME her team plans to ask Cosby not just about the specifics of the case but also about the similar claims made by dozens of other women, who have detailed encounters in which Cosby plied them with drugs or alcohol and then assaulted them. She hopes to depose Cosby in August and will seek permission to videotape the proceeding.
“We have wide latitude in the deposition to ask any question of Mr. Cosby that is relevant or will lead to discovery,” Allred told TIME. “I believe it is relevant to inquire about accusations of other accusers, in order to establish pattern and practice, as well as a motive.”
Cosby's representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
The details of the case
Judy Huth was 15 when she and a 16-year-old friend met Cosby in 1974 at a Los Angeles park where he was filming a movie, according to a December 2014 court filing. The girls both told Cosby how old they were, the filing says.
Cosby invited Huth and her friend to his tennis club the following Saturday. They met him there and the trio played billiards. Cosby also gave them alcohol, playing a game with Huth that involved her drinking a beer every time he won a game of billiards. Afterwards, he took the girls to the Playboy Mansion, where Huth said he invited her to sit beside him in a bedroom suite and molested her, according to the filing.
Why this case is different
Huth's case is unique among the many other claims against Cosby because she was so young when the alleged abuse occurred—it is currently the only civil case pending against Cosby that involves child abuse. The statute of limitations has expired on other sexual assault claims against Cosby, leaving three women who say they were assaulted by Cosby in the 1970s to sue him for defamation instead, because he called them liars when they recently came forward. But Allred is arguing that the statute of limitations on sexual abuse should be extended for Huth, because she is an “adult survivor” of child abuse.
The law gives people who were assaulted as minors more time to file a suit, said Anne Bremner, an attorney in Seattle who is representing another Cosby victim in a case she has not yet filed. “It takes [minors] longer to put together, what happened to them,” Bremner told TIME.
In a countersuit, Cosby has argued that Huth tried to sell her story to the tabloids a decade ago, meaning that she would have realized the psychological damage back then, so the statute of limitations is up.
Why the deposition matters
If Cosby is deposed under oath next month, as Allred plans, the results could be damaging for the comedian, adding to the firestorm that has built as many women have come forward and stated their cases publicly. In a deposition Cosby gave in 2005 in a different civil case, which only recently came to light, he admitted to purchasing quaaludes with the intent to give the drug to women he wanted to have sex with. In subsequent court filings, Cosby's attorneys have argued that quaaludes were a popular drug in the 1970s clubbing scene and that Cosby's admission was not proof of wrongdoing.
But the deposition excerpts were damaging nonetheless, and Cosby's attorney's are likely to do everything in their power to stop Cosby from answering Allred's questions. Robert Shapiro, a Los Angeles-based litigator who has represented O.J. Simpson but is not involved in the Cosby case, said Cosby can avoid responding to tough questions by settling the case or pleading his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
“His lawyers are going to do every single thing to block him answering any questions regarding the drugging or sexual assault of any victims,” Shapiro told TIME. If Cosby decides the plead the Fifth, Shapiro added, “then the matter will go before a judge to see if he can be compelled to answer those questions.”
If Cosby is compelled or chooses to answer questions, it is unlikely that he would be able to keep the deposition under seal to stop it from becoming public, which would have to be done by court order in California. “The courts in recent years moved away from the sealing of anything. You have to have really substantial compelling reasons to seal anything these days” Bremner said. “The fact of the matter is, he's a public figure. It's a civil case, and generally civil depositions can be given to anybody.”
Cosby's lawyers, Monique Pressley and Patrick O'Connor, and his public relations representative, David Brokaw, did not respond to requests for comment. Allred wouldn't speculate on whether Cosby would cooperate with the deposition, saying only: “We'll see what his next move is.”
We All Have Our Part to Play in Keeping Our Children Safe From Abuse on the Internet
by Claire Lilley -- Head of Child Safety Online At NSPCC
It's two years since the Prime Minister urged industry to 'obliterate' child abuse images from the internet and make the web a safer place for children.
But, as our snapshot today shows, sadly it is still far too easy to access, download, and share these images.
The Prime Minister made a bold attempt to tackle this problem head-on, promising law enforcement agencies more powers and challenging search engines to stamp it out.
As a result positive steps have been taken; images are being seized and offenders convicted of these horrendous crimes.
However, the scale of the problem is proving to be massive. The 1,000 cases we looked at - from a sample of 100 criminal cases - revealed that police seized a staggering 4.5m images. One in three of those caught held positions of trust, or had roles that allowed them access to children.
The number of cases reaching court are just a fraction of the overall level of offending with police estimating that around 50,000 people in the UK are thought to be making and sharing the shocking images.
So, what do we do about this problem that's blighting our society?
One of the major challenges facing police forces is that as technology advances offenders are inventing new ways to commit crimes. We heard cases about offenders live streaming abuse or grooming children through social networks under fake identities.
We want all UK forces to step up to the challenge of tackling the vast amount of online offending taking place. But they need support. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) recently published a report into how the UK's police forces deal with the online sexual exploitation of children. Over half of the case files they looked at (52%) were judged to be inadequate or needing improvement. These are 20th Century tactics for a 21st Century crime.
We want proper training and resources for officers, ensuring as many victims and offenders can be identified as possible when these crimes are being investigated. Latest technology can help. The new Child Abuse Image Database will enable quicker identification of images and victims. It's not the whole solution but it's a very positive step.
We also want offenders to get the message that this is not a victimless crime. Offenders should stop convincing themselves that there is no harm in 'just looking'. In every image there is a child who has been the victim of sexual abuse, and every time an adult looks at an image they risk desensitising themselves to that child's horrific experiences. Just by looking, they increase the demand for more children to be abused, more children to endure this terrible crime.
They also run the very real risk that when caught they stand to lose everything - their liberty, job, home and even family.
These figures can feel overwhelming but parents must not feel powerless in the face of them. We all have a part to play in keeping our children safe and there are a variety of things that parents can do to help protect their children.
At the NSPCC we're encouraging parents and young people to be 'Share Aware.' That includes checking privacy settings and making sure your child knows how to block someone and report anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Those online aren't always who they say they are so remind your child to be careful of who they accept or add as a friend.
Keeping our children safe from this torrent of vile images and bringing those involved to justice is a massive task that requires work at all levels. We owe it to children everywhere to make sure that they are able to experience all that is wonderful about the internet, safe from abuse.
Man behind the camera of viral child abuse video is wanted by police
by Eryn Taylor
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Police are searching for the man they say recorded a child abuse video that went viral on the internet.
Police have obtained an arrest warrant for Christian Banks.
The 28-year-old will be charged with aggravated child abuse neglect and endangerment.
WREG first showed you just parts of the horrifying video that made the rounds on social media.
In the video, you could see a Memphis mother who appeared to be having a mental breakdown and roughly handled her 19-day-old child.
At one point, she even threw him across the room.
The children in the video were eventually taken from the home.
Police said Banks, the baby's father, called 911 before he started rolling.
After 12 minutes, he finally got the baby.
The Deputy District Attorney General Jennifer Nichols told WREG Banks could face up to 15 years in prison for not doing something.
Cleric suspected of child abuse in US imprisoned in Australia for molesting 3 school children
by The Associated Press
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — An American clergyman suspected of child sexual abuse at a Pennsylvania school was sentenced on Friday to three years in an Australian prison for molesting three children in Melbourne more than 30 years ago.
Brother Bernard Hartman, 75, a member of the Roman Catholic Marianist religious order, had pleaded guilty in the Victoria state County Court in Melbourne to four counts of indecent assault involving two female students at St. Paul's College in the late 1970s. A jury found him guilty of one count of indecent assault and two of common law assault for abusing a male student in 1981-82.
Judge James Parrish ordered one year of the sentence to be suspended, but Hartman will be supervised for three additional years after his release.
Hartman is the subject of a credible allegation of abuse from when he taught at Pittsburgh's North Catholic High School, the city's Roman Catholic diocese said in April last year. That complaint had been turned over to authorities.
He is one eight religious brothers accused of molesting 19 students at the school.
A former student at the school, since renamed Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School, came forward in March last year as the diocese was preparing a letter sent to North Catholic alumni to alert them to the Australian allegations.
Pittsburgh church officials said they were unaware of Hartman's past until then, even though his St. Louis-based religious order knew of the Australian allegations in 1997 and pulled him out of the Pittsburgh school.
Hartman taught science classes at North Catholic in 1961 and 1970, and then from 1986-97.
The Marianist Province of the United States has acknowledged removing Hartman from the Pittsburgh school without publicly explaining why.
The religious order said he has since been given treatment and barred from teaching under a "safety plan," during which he performed mostly clerical work, none of which involved children. For most of that time he lived in Dayton, Ohio.
The letter to North Catholic alumni last year prompted another 18 former students to level sex abuse allegations against another seven brothers who had worked or taught at North Catholic.
All but one of the former brothers are dead.
The head of the religious order that runs 19 high schools in the United States, Rev. Martin Solma, has apologized to the former students.
Child abuse unit still struggling
Heavy caseloads and blown deadlines are the norm at CPS; data shows little improvement since deaths of three children
by Charlotte Keith
Kim Henderson lasted a year as a caseworker investigating allegations of child abuse and neglect.
She was assigned more cases than she felt she could handle. Many of the cases she inherited were poorly documented. And many of the families she was assigned to work with hadn't seen a caseworker in months.
Henderson quit her job with Erie County Child Protective Services two weeks ago, worried that too many families with children at risk weren't getting the help they needed.
“Sometimes the kids hadn't been seen for months on end – it was terrible,” she said.
Henderson's experience is not unique among the more than 130 caseworkers employed by Child Protective Services. A two-month investigation by Investigative Post found the department, which has been under increased scrutiny over the past three years after the deaths of three children on its watch, continues to be plagued with serious problems.
Key findings include:
Caseloads have jumped over the past two years from an average of 15 to 27 per caseworker, which is nearly double the workload recommended by the state. The average caseload has fallen from its peak of 51 in May 2014, however.
CPS is failing to meet state-mandated deadlines for completing preliminary assessments of abuse and neglect complaints nearly two-thirds of the time. The on-time completion rate was 79 percent in 2013; since then it's been less than half that rate.
Similarly, the on-time rate for completing investigations has dropped from 92 percent in 2012 to 44 percent this year.
Erie County's on-time completion rate is by far the lowest among counties the state considers statistically comparable.
The 133 caseworkers currently available to investigative complaints, while up from two years ago, is short of the 151 that Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has pledged.
The numbers notwithstanding, Erie County Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger said, “We're on a really good path to be where we want to be as a department.”
“You can't just look at the numbers. We have to look at the story behind the numbers.”
But that story, according to 12 current and former CPS workers interviewed by Investigative Post, is one of sleepless nights, impossible workloads and endless missed visits to families.
Their main concern: Mounting caseloads compromised their ability to keep families safe.
“The caseloads mushroomed to where it was unmanageable,” said Duane Dunaj, a veteran supervisor who retired last November.
Most of the dozen caseworkers interviewed said the department has been functioning no better in recent months than before the state intervened in September 2013.
This story is based on documents and data obtained from state and county social services agencies through seven Freedom of Information requests, as well as interviews with 22 people, including social services administrators, current and former CPS workers, child welfare advocates and families who have had cases with CPS.
Poloncarz, who has made reforming CPS a priority, refused an interview request.
CPS workers were assigned an average of 27 cases in May this year, according to figures the Department of Social Services provides to the Erie County Legislature. The state recommends a caseload of no more than 15 per worker.
Caseloads were close to that recommended level until the September 2013 death of five-year-old Eain Clayton Brooks – whom CPS workers decided was safe at home despite numerous reports of abuse – triggered an unusually intensive state review of CPS. The state examined all 894 open CPS investigations.
The thoroughness of the audit had an unintended consequence: the county was not allowed to close cases while the review was underway. That created a backlog. In addition, the more-thorough investigations recommended by the state meant that cases took longer to close.
Caseloads skyrocketed in the months following the audit, peaking at an average of 51 in May 2014. Some workers were handling up to 90.
“When you have 90 cases, you're not going to remember the kids' faces, let alone their names or their needs or their medical histories,” one former caseworker said.
Over the past two years, CPS has added 32 caseworkers and supervisors and 12 part-time investigators. Those hires have helped cut the number of cases assigned to workers almost in half since this time last year.
But the average workload remains much higher than it used to be. As recently as May, one in seven caseworkers were assigned at least 45 cases – triple the maximum workload the state recommends.
Such a heavy workload “is unacceptable. We've said that all along,” said Lynn Dixon, chairman of the County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, which oversees the Department of Social Services.
Dirschberger, the commissioner, maintains that only a few caseworkers still have high caseloads and that he expects a “significant” decrease in caseloads by the end of the summer. He also said overstretched workers will be assigned fewer new cases until their workload has been reduced.
There is, however, widespread skepticism among CPS staff regarding the caseload figures. All 12 of the current and former workers interviewed said they believe average caseloads had been – and continue to be – significantly higher.
“The average caseload was not 27 in May – no way,” said Henderson, the former caseworker.
One consequence of the mounting caseloads was that workers began missing deadlines.
Under state law, caseworkers have seven days from the filing of a complaint to complete an initial assessment of whether children are in any immediate danger. CPS completed 79 percent of those assessments on time in 2012 and 2013. That number dropped to 35 percent last year and stands at 36 percent for the first five months of this year.
“The seven-day assessment is the quick and easy one,” said Ashtin Penelton, a former caseworker who was fired in October 2014. “If that's not being done on time, it's because of the caseloads.”
The state also requires that investigations be completed within 60 days of a complaint being filed. Workers completed 92 percent of investigations on time in 2012. That completion rate dropped to 35 percent in 2014 and has increased to 44 percent for the first five months of 2015.
Erie County's on-time completion rates are much lower than comparable counties upstate and on Long Island, where rates of 70, 80, and 90 percent are the norm. For example – Monroe County, which includes Rochester – is completing investigations on time at almost twice the rate of Erie County.
Even with caseloads of 15, child protection is an inherently stressful job.
Workers go into strangers' houses with nothing more than a plastic badge and a notebook. Most cases require difficult decisions and hours spent entering notes into the state's notoriously temperamental computer system. Workers must document everything they do: every phone call, every visit, every conversation with a family member, doctor or teacher.
The mounting caseloads inevitably took a toll on workers. They were offered unlimited overtime to tackle the backlog of open cases, but many said late nights, missed lunch breaks and working on weekends became necessary just to keep up.
Dunaj, the retired supervisor, said he used to joke that caseworkers should be given catheters because they barely had time to go to the bathroom.
It wasn't unusual, workers said, to see colleagues in tears in the corridors, or to hear them sobbing in the bathrooms.
“It's almost like instead of saying good morning, people talk about how horrible the job is,” recalled LaRusha Blakely, one of the new trainees, who was dismissed in March.
Until last month, workers were supposed to visit families assigned to them at least every 30 days. But with so many cases to manage, workers said they couldn't make those visits as scheduled. Many workers fell weeks, even months, behind on their paperwork.
“You can't see 80 families in 30 days,” said Blakely. “You just can't.”
A policy change implemented in June means that for families deemed low-risk, a phone call or email contact with a child's teacher, guidance counsellor, or an “unbiased relative” can now replace a home visit.
One former caseworker, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, described the months during the winter of 2014 when she was working on 97 cases.
“I was waking up in the middle of the night in a dead panic,” she said. “This broke me.”
A major source of anxiety, the former worker said, was that her workload compromised her ability to investigate each case properly.
“When you have such high caseloads, it's easy for things to slip through the cracks,” she said. “You miss things you might have seen normally.”
When she asked supervisors for help, “they didn't want to hear it,” she said. “But I told them: ‘I'm not keeping anybody safe like this.' ”
She resigned this spring, taking a lower paying job working night shifts at another human services agency.
“I thought our job is to protect kids,” she said. “If we can't see them, how can we protect them?”
Backlog of cases
When Henderson finished training, she – along with many of the new caseworkers hired last summer – was put to work tackling the backlog of open cases that had accumulated in the wake of the state audit.
While the number of overdue case has been cut almost in half since its peak last June, there were still some 1,600 overdue CPS investigations at the end of May of this year.
Many trainees said they were taken aback by the problems they found in these case files.
“These were cases that had been sitting for months,” Henderson said.
The state's 2013 review had identified “minimum compliance with the regulatory requirements, rather than thorough and complete assessments” of families as one of Erie County's weaknesses. But the increased workload made achieving that almost impossible, caseworkers said.
“Often stuff just wasn't done right at all,” said Penelton, one of the new trainees who did not pass probation.
Scheduled visits had been missed. Progress notes had been started and never finished – or were so brief as to leave the family's actual situation unclear.
Some families had gone months – even sometimes up to a year – without being seen by anyone from CPS, former workers said.
Families are understandably angry when their cases are left open for so long.
“You have to walk through the door apologizing,” said Blakely, a former caseworker. “They'd say: what do you want? I haven't heard from anybody in months.”
Some said the cases that were left open tended to be low-risk and, therefore, a low-priority for over-stretched workers, who had to triage their cases. Others saw it differently.
“Just to let a case sit for months, something devastating could happen,” Henderson said.
Short on bodies, experience
Poloncarz, in response to the state's critical audit, pledged to hire more caseworkers and, in fact, 44 full- and part-time positions have been added in the last year-and-a-half.
But CPS remains understaffed: The county executive has said the department needs 133 workers taking cases to get caseloads down to 15. Due to turnover, however, there were only 122 workers in May taking cases – about the same number as in October 2013, before new workers were brought in.
A shortage of experienced caseworkers exacerbates the problem.
Thirty-five percent of the staff has less than one year's experience, according to county figures.
Many former workers say it takes at least a year or two to become proficient, and that there are some things you can only learn on the job.
“No one can train you to walk into a dirty house and see kids playing with their own dirty diapers and come out and be the same,” said Kevin White, a veteran caseworker who was dismissed last year.
Dirschberger insists he is not discouraged.
“For us as a department, we're looking forward, we're taking a positive spin on this,” he said.
The state audit, he added – despite its negative consequences – “has made us stronger.”
Most of the CPS workers interviewed by Investigative Post disagreed. They said the department has yet to recover from the impact of the state's intervention.
“When the commissioner is saying, ‘Everything is OK' – it's not. That's not what I see,” said Henderson, the caseworker who left last month.
“Everything is not OK.”
Warehousing Our Children
South Carolina laws hide child abuse inside group homes
by Lauren Sausser
An untold number of foster children in South Carolina custody are neglected, drugged, beaten and molested in group homes and institutions where the state warehouses them for millions of dollars a year at taxpayer expense.
What's more, South Carolina keeps the abuse these children suffer secret by using state laws that shield group homes from almost any scrutiny.
Court records shed light on some of the worst cases, but this state-sanctioned secrecy makes it impossible for the public to weigh the difference between well-run group homes and those that resemble a Dickensian orphanage. Even parents who reluctantly send their children to these facilities for treatment can't figure out how to keep them safe behind closed doors.
When Jessica Freeman placed her daughter in Springbrook Behavioral Health last year, she had no idea the state had investigated the Greenville County home 95 times since 2000 for possible abuse and neglect — more than almost any other residential treatment facility in South Carolina. That's because the state Department of Social Services doesn't make the few records that are public readily accessible.
Freeman pulled her daughter from the facility last fall after a therapist told her that several Springbrook staff members had beaten an autistic child in an incident caught on a security camera.
“That's ridiculous,” Freeman said. “You can report a bad hamburger easier than you can report someone abusing your child.”
Springbrook administrator Mike Rowley would not discuss any specific case, but said most allegations made against the facility are cleared by the Department of Social Services.
“If we have anything substantiated, those employees are immediately terminated,” Rowley said. “We don't want them around other children.”
Two Springbrook employees have been fired for child abuse or neglect in the last three years, he said.
Despite stories such as Freeman's, South Carolina continues to send its youngest foster children into group homes and institutions at a higher rate than any other state in the country, federal data shows. This trend persists even though a growing body of evidence points out that children should grow up with their own families or in foster homes.
That's why other states have reduced their reliance on group homes by expanding foster family programs or finding relatives for these children to live with. But South Carolina has largely resisted change, dumping tens of millions of dollars every year into privately-run group homes for no other reason than that's how this state has always done it, some experts say.
“I can say, having done this work for 15 years nationally, that South Carolina is possibly the worst I've ever seen on that front,” said Ira Lustbader, the litigation director for Children's Rights, a New York advocacy group.
More than 100 group homes and institutions are scattered across the state, ranging from rural farms to sophisticated psychiatric compounds. At any given time, they house about a quarter of South Carolina's 4,000 foster children.
While group-home supporters acknowledge that some problems persist within the industry, they insist these facilities provide desperately needed services for troubled children who aren't suited for normal homes and have nowhere else to live.
But even Susan Alford, named the new Department of Social Services director late last year, finds South Carolina's numbers problematic.
“Our rate is too high,” Alford said. “We put too many children — especially in the 0 to 12 (age) range — we put too many of them in group homes. Our aim would be to try to decrease that number.”
South Carolina isn't the only state faced with these problems. Published reports across the country detail a litany of horror stories in which children and teenagers in group homes have been overmedicated for mild behavioral issues, raped by their peers and lured into prostitution while their temporary guardians aren't watching. But many other states are moving away from this model. Meanwhile, South Carolina continues shoveling hundreds of children a year into a system rife with complaints and concerns.
The Post and Courier reviewed lawsuits, visited group homes, filed open records requests and interviewed dozens of state leaders, child welfare experts, parents and former foster children for this series. Among other things, the newspaper's investigation found:
- Nearly a quarter of the children under 13 years old who entered the foster care system in 2013 were placed in group homes and institutions in South Carolina — by far the highest placement rate for this age group in the United States. By comparison, only 2 percent in Tennessee and 3 percent in North Carolina were placed in similar settings. The national average is 4 percent.
- Some children live for months, even years, in group homes because South Carolina fails to recruit enough foster families and the state pays them so little to participate. Some foster parents are paid less than $13 a day to raise a child.
- The South Carolina Department of Social Services spent $28.1 million in 2014 placing children in group homes — more than five times the amount the agency paid foster families. Group homes earn at least $86 per child per night.
- The Department of Social Services reviews hundreds of allegations of child abuse and neglect in group homes, institutions, foster homes and day care facilities every year, yet the agency's team of 10 investigators rarely finds enough evidence to support those claims. The state has investigated 484 allegations of abuse and neglect in group homes and institutions in the past five years, but has only been able to find evidence to prove 44 cases.
- South Carolina makes it easier to know which restaurants are infested with cockroaches than to pinpoint where children have been neglected, or worse, physically and sexually abused.
- Court records allege children who disclose that they've been abused in group care — by adults and each other — are often ignored because state caseworkers are so overloaded that they don't have time to weigh the allegations.
In January, Children's Rights and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center filed a federal lawsuit against South Carolina on behalf of 11 foster children who allegedly suffered from the Social Services agency's “dangerous deficiencies.”
The complaint contends children were abused, overmedicated, separated from their siblings, kept in solitary confinement, fed moldy bread — and the worst of it happened in group homes.
One 16-year-old girl reported that children at the Jenkins Institute for Children in North Charleston hoarded food because they were “frequently deprived.” The group home denied her medicine and feminine hygiene products, and she said a maintenance worker there asked her to take naked pictures of herself on a cellphone, according to the lawsuit.
Johanna Martin-Carrington, director of the Jenkins Institute for Children, said the allegations aren't true. “Children make those claims,” she said. “But we know it didn't occur.”
The lawsuit also alleges that a teenager at Epworth Children's Home in Richland County was prescribed a “powerful psychotropic medication for the first time in his life.” The drug is used to treat bipolar disorder, even though the child had never been diagnosed and hadn't received a mental health evaluation at the group home, the complaint contends.
At Helping Hands, a group home in Aiken County, the lawsuit claims that a 9-year-old boy's toothbrush was smothered with feces.
Epworth Children's Home and Helping Hands did not respond to messages about the lawsuit.
The original complaint also contends that several unnamed group home employees and state caseworkers did nothing when some children tried to report the abuse. One caseworker allegedly told a child, “She had a lot of children on her caseload and so was limited in what she could do to help her,” the lawsuit stated.
Paula Fendley is the executive director for the Palmetto Association for Children and Families, an organization that represents many group homes in South Carolina. She said similar cases filed by Children's Rights in other states have been settled before trial.
“You can allege anything in a lawsuit, but you have to be able to prove it,” Fendley said. “If these things are, in fact, true, then I guess all of that will come out in the court.”
Alford and Gov. Nikki Haley, both named defendants in the lawsuit, agreed to participate in early court mediation, public records show.
Haley's office directed questions about the lawsuit to the Department of Social Services.
Alford would not discuss the pending litigation. “Those are things that I just can't talk about,” she said.
Funding foster families
The federal lawsuit hinges on the widely-accepted premise that social services caseworkers in South Carolina are overwhelmed with work. They don't have time to keep track of all the children that they're charged to protect.
A Legislative Audit Council report published last year shows more than 30 percent of caseworkers statewide were each assigned at least 50 children to monitor, and a few were assigned more than 75. The Child Welfare League of America, a national advocacy group, recommends each caseworker manage no more than 17 families per month.
The Legislative Audit Council report and a string of child deaths prompted Statehouse hearings and calls to reform the child welfare agency. Former DSS Director Lillian Koller, who tried to scale back the number of foster children in group homes, resigned under pressure last year.
Still, the General Assembly has failed to pass any sort of major legislation to reform the Department of Social Services.
“It's not something that legislators get excited about because there's no glory in this,” said Sen. Katrina Shealy, R-Lexington, a member of the Senate DSS Oversight Committee.
“I know that everybody wants to talk about roads and jobs, and we do need to talk about those things and those are important, but if we don't save our children, we don't need our roads.”
Appleseed Legal Justice Center Director Sue Berkowitz said the Legislature needs to broaden its probe into the state agency because child deaths aren't the only problem it faces.
“There's so much more going on,” she said. “What hasn't been focused on is what's happening to our kids once they go into the system.”
Data provided by the Department of Social Services shows about a quarter of the 4,000 foster children in South Carolina lived in a group home, an emergency shelter or an institution on April 1. Experts, including the Department of Social Services director, say that's too many.
“The goal in child welfare is for you, as much as possible, to keep kids in families,” Alford said. “If you can't keep them with their biological family or put them in kinship care, then you're looking at foster care as the next best alternative. That should be your first priority.”
A national report published by the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation this year said group homes aren't designed to offer the “individualized nurturing” that children need.
“In many cases, a child ends up living in a group placement simply because an agency has not found an appropriate facility,” the report's authors wrote.
On May 1, 2,310 foster homes were licensed to accept children in South Carolina — too few for the nearly 4,000 children in the system. But the child welfare agency can't recruit enough families, partly because they're paid so little to participate. Foster parents only make between $12.77 and $17.27 per child per night — no more than $6,303 a year to clothe, feed and care for a child.
In response to a public records request filed by The Post and Courier, the Department of Social Services said it spent $28.1 million in the 2014 fiscal year to house children in group homes and institutions, but only $5.5 million on foster families.
Critics argue it makes no sense that the state spends more than five times the amount of money to house less than a quarter of all foster children in group homes because many of them shouldn't be there in the first place.
“It's bad for kids, but it's also a total waste of taxpayer money,” said Lustbader, of New York's Children's Rights. “That's the part that doesn't get as much attention as it deserves.”
Some group facilities for children earn additional income from other agencies. The state Medicaid agency, for example, spent $23 million during the 2015 fiscal year on South Carolina children in psychiatric residential treatment facilities, which offer the highest level of care.
Most “Level 3” group homes — a step down from residential treatment facilities — pull in $151 per child per night, or more than $50,000 per child per year. “Level 1” and “Level 2” group homes largely accept children without any psychological problems and earn either $86 or $98 per child per night.
Meanwhile, a 2012 national report shows only five states paid foster families lower rates than South Carolina. Even some group-home advocates acknowledge these foster family payments aren't sufficient.
“It's less than you would pay to board your dog,” said Deborah McKelvey, the executive director of Windwood Farm, a combined “Level 3” group home and psychiatric residential treatment facility for boys in Awendaw.
South Carolina needs more foster families, she argued, but some group homes offer children a measure of security that a traditional family can't provide.
“I know the national picture says children under 12 shouldn't live in a group setting,” she said. “I say children under 12 frequently are too afraid to bond with a family. They feel safer in a group setting where they know somebody is awake 24 hours a day watching their back.”
Children eat family-style meals together at Windwood Farm, she said. They go to the beach. Windwood almost resembles summer camp, complete with an obstacle course, ponds for swimming and fishing, and a fitness trail, she said.
Jody Tamsberg, chairman of the Windwood Farm board of directors, said that even though South Carolina agencies pay Windwood significantly more than foster families to care for children in state custody, those payments don't cover its bills. The nonprofit group home still must raise at least $500,000 a year to break even, he said.
“I love good foster families and there are lots of them, but even the good ones, they can't take a kid that's been abused, that's on eight medications, that's totally out of control,” Tamsberg said. “There's got to be a place where they can come, stabilize, be safe and have skilled professionals — nurses and doctors — tend to them.”
Brendin and Faith
Brendin Cecere and his mom, Faith Rice, moved out of their Summerville house right before Thanksgiving three years ago following a physical fight between Rice and her ex-husband. The ordeal was particularly traumatic for Brendin, who is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
“Brendin's whole world that he knew was done. Everything that was familiar — his routine, his home, his neighborhood — everything that he was familiar with, with the exception of school, was out of sorts for him,” Rice said. “By January, he pretty much broke down.”
Brendin, now 13 years old, threatened his mom with a knife. He hurt the dogs. He threatened to hurt himself, too.
“At that point, there wasn't anything more I could do but place him in a facility,” Rice said. “As much as it killed me, there was nothing more I could do.”
Brendin spent nine months at Three Rivers Behavioral Health, a psychiatric residential treatment facility near Columbia, and more than a year at Willowglen Academy, a similar facility in Kingstree. Rice believes he was abused at both homes.
At Three Rivers, Brendin's arms and chest were bruised, he told her, by a nurse who hit children with an open hand.
At Willowglen Academy, Brendin said a staff member broke his arm.
The Department of Social Services investigated Brendin's allegations at Willowglen Academy but determined his claims were not credible, Rice said. The group home told Rice that he fell out of a window and that children with behavioral issues or special needs like Brendin tend to embellish the truth.
“I said, 'What about these other kids that can't defend themselves, who are not verbally expressive like my son?'” Rice said.
She couldn't even get a copy of the official 11-page state investigation into Brendin's injury, she said. A Department of Social Services supervisor in Williamsburg County told her the document was protected by state law because the case was determined “unfounded.”
Three Rivers Behavioral Health and Willowglen Academy, both owned by out-of-state, for-profit corporations, did not respond to questions about Brendin.
The Department of Social Services opened 100 investigations into alleged abuse and neglect at multiple Willowglen Academy facilities and 97 investigations at Three Rivers since 2000, but the agency would not tell The Post and Courier how many of these allegations it could prove.
Brendin left Willowglen Academy late last year to live with his grandparents in Simpsonville. Rice, who was recently diagnosed with cancer, didn't feel safe choosing another group home. She's still trying to figure out what really happened last fall.
“I spoke to the SLED (State Law Enforcement Division) department. I spoke to Nikki Haley's office, who bounced me to Lindsey Graham's office,” she said. “Both offices told me they are not able to handle cases like this.”
'Looking for loopholes'
The South Carolina Department of Social Services receives hundreds of reports alleging abuse and neglect in foster homes, institutions, group homes and day care centers every year. But 10 years of DSS data shows the department rarely finds sufficient evidence to prove that a child has been abused in one of these “out-of-home” settings.
In 2010, for example, the department investigated 132 reports of abuse in group homes and institutions, but found enough evidence to prove only six cases. In theory, some cases were handed to local law enforcement agencies for investigation. But the Department of Social Services would not tell The Post and Courier how many abuse reports were handled by police or which agencies were involved.
Four years ago, this prompted some child advocates in South Carolina to question if these reports were always properly investigated. They wanted to know why the number of “founded” cases was so low.
The South Carolina Citizen Review Panels, three independent groups set up to evaluate child protective services, were particularly worried by a report that boys in a group home were sexually abusing each other as an initiation ritual.
At the time, Social Services explained that the incident was not “indicated,” or proven, by its Out-of-Home Abuse and Neglect division because child-on-child abuse is not specifically addressed in state law.
“They were looking for loopholes so they don't have responsibility. That's just crazy,” said Donna Xenakis, a former chairwoman of the Lowcountry Citizen Review Panel.
Only 13 reports of abuse in group homes and institutions were determined “indicated” or “founded” last year.
A team of 10 investigators at the Department of Social Services examined fewer than half of all reports filed in the 2014 fiscal year for out-of-home abuse and neglect. Some of the reports were “screened out,” the agency explained, because they did not meet the “statutory criteria” to warrant an investigation.
'Never going to change'
Jessica Freeman's adopted daughters Jaylin and Olivia were discovered bound together with a bungee-cord in their Tennessee home before they were taken into state custody more than 10 years ago.
“Jaylin came to me at 5 years old. She weighed 22 pounds and had STDs,” Freeman said.
Olivia, 4 years old at the time, weighed 23 pounds and also was sexually abused.
“They didn't talk,” she said. “They weren't potty-trained.”
The girls, now teenagers, require out-of-home treatment in group facilities in North Carolina.
“Both of my girls are going to need care like this for the rest of their life,” Freeman said. “It's overwhelming, as a mom, because you want to protect them and you want to keep them safe and you reach a point when you can't do that anymore.”
Last year, Jaylin lived at Springbrook Behavioral Health in Upstate South Carolina until her therapist told Freeman that staff members beat an autistic child in front of other children in the gymnasium.
“The reason why this stuff continues is because the children don't have a voice to speak up,” Freeman said. “I think as long as people are quiet it's not going to get any better.”
Mike Rowley, the administrator for Springbrook, said the facility takes every allegation seriously and self-reports any suspected child abuse case to the South Carolina Department of Social Services.
“I don't think there's anything we do that should be secretive,” Rowley said. “It's a great place for kids.”
The Department of Social Services denied an open records request filed by The Post and Courier to review any “Out-of-Home” abuse reports, even reports that determined abuse allegations in the group homes were valid. State law exempts these documents from disclosure, the agency's lawyer said.
“Confidentiality is such a big thing in child welfare,” Alford said. “By statute, a lot of what we do is not considered to be public knowledge. That's one barrier. I think the department is trying to be a lot more transparent.”
Alford acknowledged that potential child abuse in these facilities keeps her up at night.
“We have to be concerned with their safety all the time,” Alford said. “We're legally responsible for that by statute. We're morally responsible for it. Of course it concerns me.”
Berkowitz, the Appleseed Legal Justice Center director, said the Department of Social Services needs to admit its problems before the agency can solve them. She doesn't trust the department's own data.
“These are our poorest kids, our most vulnerable kids,” Berkowitz said. “I have heard so many people over the years and seen so many reports. 'We're going to fix this. We're going to fix that.' And I just think unless there is some structure that will require this to happen it's never going to change.”
Bill Cosby Forced to Testify on Sexual Assault
by Tessa Berenson
The California Supreme Court just cleared the way for one of the mounting sexual assault cases against Bill Cosby to head to litigation.
The Court denied Cosby's petition to review the case Wednesday night, which means the civil suit can continue to the trial phase, CNN reports. Although many women have come forward with sexual misconduct allegations against the comedian, this particular suit was filed by Judith Huth, who claims that Cosby sexually assaulted her at the Playboy Mansion in 1974 when she was 15 years old.
According to Business Insider, Huth's attorney said they plan to take Cosby's deposition under oath within the next 30 days.
While Cosby has admitted to giving a woman Quaaludes before having sex with her, he has continued to deny all allegations of sexual impropriety.
California case against Cosby can proceed
by Sonia Moghe, CNN
(CNN) The California Supreme Court has denied comedian Bill Cosby's request to review a case against him, which means the civil suit filed by Judith Huth can continue at the trial level.
Huth claims she was 15 years old when she was sexually assaulted by Cosby at the Playboy Mansion in 1974. Gloria Allred represents Huth, and called the court's decision a "huge, huge victory" for her client. Allred said she hopes to schedule a deposition for Cosby in the next 30 days.
Huth's suit alleges that Huth was with a 16-year-old friend when they met Cosby while he was filming a movie at Lacy Park in Los Angeles, and that Cosby invited the girls to his tennis club the next weekend where "he served them alcoholic beverages and played games of billiards" with Huth -- and the terms of the game were that she "was required to consume a beer every time Cosby won a game of billiards."
She claims that she and her friend both told Cosby their ages. The suit also alleges that Cosby then took the girls to the Playboy Mansion. While there, Huth claims she went to use a restroom in a bedroom, as directed by Cosby, and that when she emerged from the restroom, Cosby was sitting on the bed and asked her to sit next to him.
"He then proceeded to sexually molest her by attempting to put his hand down her pants, and then taking her hand in his hand and performing a sex act on himself without her consent," the suit alleges.
Cosby's attorneys petitioned the court to review the case in June for several reasons. Among them, they felt Cosby should not have been publicly named in the suit, in accordance with a California law on childhood sexual abuse cases. Cosby's attorneys also claim Huth "10 years previously had attempted to sell the same story" to a tabloid, which his attorneys said would mean the statute of limitations would have expired on Huth's case.
This case is separate from a lawsuit against him in 2005 filed by a woman named Andrea Constand, who similarly alleged that he sexually assaulted her. That case settled in 2006, but Constand's attorney has filed motions requesting that a deposition that Cosby made in the case should be released, and that Constand should be allowed to speak to the media. The nearly 1,000-page deposition that Cosby made over four days in that case was released and obtained by CNN through the court reporting agency that recorded it.
Calls and messages to Cosby's legal team were not immediately returned Wednesday. Cosby, through his lawyers, has denied all allegations of sexual misconduct.
Child Abuse Laws Must Be Taught to All EMS Providers
by Keith Wesley, MD, FACEP & Karen Wesley, NREMT-P
In this study, the authors conducted an anonymous online survey of EMS providers in North Carolina to determine if and how well they knew their service's policy on child abuse reporting. It also sought to determine the reasons an EMS provider might not report suspected abuse.
A total of 740 EMS agencies received the survey and were asked to disseminate it to their employees; 444 (60%) surveys were completed. Of those, 90% of the respondents were frontline staff and over half had more than 10 years of EMS experience, with a quarter of the respondents having more than 20.
When asked whether or not their service had an abuse reporting policy, nearly two-thirds (61.9%) of respondents said yes, 18.7% responded no, and 19.4% responded that they didn't know if there was a written protocol.
Of the EMS providers who believed their agency had a written policy, 75% correctly stated it was the responsibility of the person with firsthand knowledge to make the report. The remaining 25% believed it was the responsibility of the provider's supervisor or another agency such as law enforcement or the hospital.
The authors concluded that EMS providers should be provided additional education in child abuse reporting.
Medic Wesley Comments
According to data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), an estimated 1,520 children died from abuse and neglect in 2013. How is it possible that we in EMS may have missed opportunities to prevent many of these deaths or at least stop suffering in those who survived? This study depicts the result when EMS education fails to address important medical-legal issues. It demonstrates how a lack of understanding of the law may be wrongly translated during training and education, and how providers may misinterpret it.
We stepped up our education on pediatrics years ago when it was clear EMS was mistakenly treating children like small adults. With child abuse and neglect, the patient is often a silent victim unable to share their complaints of pain and suffering. Most often the history is provided by parents or caregivers who may be the perpetrators of these crimes.
Additional hours of training are needed to engrain the responsibility we have toward our most vulnerable patients. Most of all, maybe it's time states develop rigid instructor training in the legal aspects of EMS. Or, maybe it's time to have the legal experts provide all of this type of training to providers.
Either way, we have to change the statistic of 4–5 children dying each day of abuse or neglect.
Doc Wesley Comments
Some may criticize this study as only being applicable to North Carolina, and you might be right. However, I've had the opportunity to travel across the U.S. and ask questions similar to those in this survey and found that a significant percentage of our providers are either not aware of their state's mandated reporting law or have misunderstood who is to report what to whom.
The agency responsible for taking reports is clearly stated in every state's law and is almost always the Department of Social Services. Law enforcement should be contacted in cases where there's a suspected immediate life threat. Far too many providers believe telling the hospital staff of their concern meets their legal obligation. Unfortunately, this information may not always be acted upon and the case simply falls through the cracks. Every EMS agency should have a clear step-by-step process for reporting your suspicions.
The most common reason providers don't report is because they're not confident in recognizing abuse or they wrongly believe they must be certain of the abuse. Detecting abuse, both adult and child, has been incorporated into EMS education delivered in classes such as prehospital trauma life support (PHTLS) and geriatric education for EMS (GEMS). Additional education can usually be obtained from county social service workers
Some are concerned about the civil liability if they wrongly accuse someone of abuse despite the universal provision of immunity in state reporting laws. I hope each of you will review your state's law and agency policy to ensure it addresses the concerns raised by this study.
Small Northland town steps up to tackle sex abuse
The resilient Northland town of Kaikohe is taking the bold step of speaking out on all forms of sexual abuse and sexual violence against its girls, boys and women.
A march up Kaikohe's main street at 10 am on Thursday 23 July will be followed by an evening public meeting at the local RSA, to explore ways to end sexual abuse within their community. These events roll-out an initial 6-month project.
This local initiative comes on the back of the recent 17-day MASsiVe (Men Against Sexual Violence) hikoi. It is also the result of ongoing collaboration between Stop Demand Foundation and the Kaikohe community.
Kaikohe community leader, Mike Shaw, says, “There are many good men in our community who have remained silent too long. It's not someone else's problem, it's our problem. As men we need to address this hidden hurt that is devastating the lives of our boys, girls and women. These are our sons, our daughters, nephews, nieces and sisters. We have to face it and bring healing to survivors and perpetrators.”
Stop Demand founder Denise Ritchie says, “The community of Kaikohe is showing stunning leadership in declaring that it will no longer tolerate any forms of sexual abuse against women and children.” Ritchie says , “Kaikohe has not been singled out as a small town worse than any others; rather, it is a town that is willing to grab hold of a vision and say ‘yes, we want that for our community'”.
Stop Demand says government figures show that across New Zealand around three-quarters of victims of sexual assault which result in conviction, are children aged under 17. Denise Ritchie says, “Our mental health systems and our prisons are full of damaged adults who were sexually molested as children. For many victims, childhood sex abuse represents the genocide of childhood. The tragedy, yet also the hope, is that these crimes are preventable. But it needs buy-in of family/whanau to say ‘no more.'”
Agencies and individuals working with both victims/survivors and perpetrators of sexual crimes, form a crucial part of the Kaikohe project.
Stop Demand Foundation calls for action to stop sexual violence, sexual exploitation
and sexual denigration of women and children www.stopdemand.org
Former UK spy chief warned of political embarrassment risk over child abuse claims
by Kylie Maclellan
A British spy chief warned Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s that allegations of a lawmaker "having a penchant for small boys" risked causing political embarrassment, according to a review of government documents.
Britain has been rocked by a series of child sex abuse scandals dating back to the 1970s involving celebrities and politicians. Various institutions have been accused of failing to follow up abuse allegations and, in some cases, of actively covering them up.
Last year a review by Peter Wanless, the Chief Executive of anti child-cruelty charity the NSPCC, and lawyer Richard Whittam into the handling of allegations of abuse by politicians found no evidence of a high-level cover up.
But since that review was published, the government has uncovered extra files and passed them to Wanless and Whittam.
Lawmaker and Thatcher-aide Peter Morrison, diplomat Peter Hayman, interior minister Leon Brittan, MI6 spy agency chief Maurice Oldfield, and lawmaker William van Straubenzee, who are all now dead, were named in the files.
"There were a number of references across the papers we saw that reinforced the observation we made in our review that issues of crimes against children ... were given considerably less serious consideration than would be expected today," Wanless and Whittam said in an update to their review published on the government's website.
The pair highlighted an example of a letter from Antony Duff, then director general of the MI5 spy agency to then cabinet secretary Robert Armstrong in 1986 about claims from two sources that a named lawmaker had "a penchant for small boys".
"Matters conclude with the acceptance of his word that he does not and the observation that 'At the present stage ... the risk of political embarrassment to the government is rather greater than the security danger,'" Wanless and Whittam said.
"The risk to children is not considered at all."
Speaking on BBC Radio on Thursday, Wanless said this was "not necessarily" evidence of a cover-up but demonstrated there had been more interest in the reputations of individuals and departments than what might be happening to children.
Wanless said the documents would be made available to a major independent inquiry into child abuse that was launched earlier this month and is expected to take around five years to complete.
Expert says potty training a common cause of child abuse
by Sophia Beausoleil
AUSTIN (KXAN) — A man is behind bars after police say he hit his child causing her critical injuries after the 20-month-old girl had an accident on the living room floor. Experts with Center for Child Protection said issues with teaching children how to use the bathroom is one of the largest causes for child abuse.
“I think it's horrifying for the child not only today, but for their future,” said Amanda Van Hoozer, Director of Program Services with the Center for Child Protection. “What's going to happen to this kid? How is this kiddo going to be effected by what has happened?”
U.S. Marshals took 27-year-old Bryant Keith Davis into custody Tuesday after his 20-month-old girl needed to be revived following cardiac arrest related to severe bodily injury.
On July 9 around 3:15 p.m. Austin-Travis County EMS was called to an apartment at 8907 Tronewood Drive for a child having a seizure. EMS transported the child to Dell Children's Medical Center, where she went into cardiac arrest.
The child was found in a severe state — with 16 rib fractures, liver and spleen lacerations, a possible collapsed lung, facial bruising and a brain bleed, according to an official Austin Police Department warrant.
Van Hoozer said she's not only concerned for Davis' little girl, but other children going through similar situations.
“Thing that tends to go through my mind are the kids who things like this happen to everyday that maybe don't make the news, that maybe other people don't' know about or maybe it's not quite as severe, it's bad but it's not to the level of hospitalization and those kids have some of the same difficult outcomes,” said Van Hoozer.
Court records state Davis told investigators he took his daughter to the bathroom and forcefully sat her down on the toilet, causing her to hit her head on the lid.
“I think parents, depending on how they've been parented and what they're skill sets are, have this thought that a child is having an accident to spite them or make them angry because they can control it, and the truth is they can't,” said Van Hoozer. “There's a huge window of time when a child can be potty trained and it's anywhere from sometime around two-years-old to sometimes around 4 years.”
Van Hoozer said every child is different and parents need to be patient and suggested taking a moment for themselves if they get frustrated.
“Put your child in a place that's safe, and take a break,” suggested Van Hoozer. “Sit outside, go drink a cup of coffee, do whatever causes you to relax and to just calm down and step away from that situation because we lose control over things that we have no control over. We're setting our kids up to be injured and I think many times that's not initially what a parent plans to do but they become so angry and so enraged that tragic things happen.”
The Center for Child Protection said people can report abuse to 1-800-252-5400 or report online.
Child Protective Services told KXAN it was their first time encountering Bryant Davis. They are now investigating the situation and have removed a three-year-old who was also at the home into protective custody.
CPS said they're considering filing a order with a Family Court judge to permanently remove both children from where they live now.
One path to green card: Cite child abuse
by Carol Marbin Miller
Fredy claimed his parents were unfit to raise him. Violent, organized youth gangs were terrorizing the boy's neighborhood, he said, and his parents “ignored his pleas for help and protection.”
Fredy sought shelter and security in a Miami courtroom, where he asked a judge to declare him a ward of the state.
His parents consented — from their home in a Honduran village.
A label mostly scorned and feared by mothers and fathers in the United States, the designation “offending parent,” is being embraced and sought by parents thousands of miles away.
Fredy is among a rapidly growing number of children who entered the country without their parents — and without immigration documents — who have used a little-known provision of the state's child welfare statute that allows them to file private petitions to be placed in state care. Once declared a “dependent” of the state, the children qualify to remain in the U.S. permanently.
Critics of the program, as well as a growing chorus of state judges, call it a “back door” to citizenship when the front door is bolted.
In an opinion Wednesday, a West Palm Beach appeals court said “judicial resources too often are being misused to obtain dependency orders for minors who are neither abused, neglected or abandoned, and who seek a dependency adjudication... not because they are endangered and need protection but because they want preferential immigration treatment.”
The opinion added: “While this court is sympathetic to the plight of alien minors seeking the opportunity of a better life in the United States, the role of the trial judge is not to set immigration policy or to decide whether, as a humanitarian gesture, any particular alien minor should be permitted to stay in the United States.”
In a strongly worded concurring opinion in a separate case last week, the Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal's chief judge, Frank Shepherd, said bluntly: “These cases are immigration cases, pure and simple.” He added: “The authority to control immigration — to admit or exclude aliens — is vested in the federal government,” not the state.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cindy Lederman rejected a dependency petition from a migrant child in February, saying the boy, F.J.G.M., had allegedly suffered abuse in the very distant past. Granting requests such as F.J.G.M.'s, the judge wrote, would be “far beyond any reasonable limit, and would endorse a rule permitting the adjudication of dependency for any child ever subjected to abuse, abandonment or neglect by a parent.”
Advocates for the migrant children counter that state child welfare law pivots on the protection of children, regardless of how they came to be in need. And for most of the displaced youths seeking permanent residency, becoming a dependent of the state is clearly what is best for them.
“The most basic concept in child welfare is the best interests of the child. These kids are fleeing horrific violence,” said Randolph McGrorty, an attorney with Catholic Legal Services in Miami who has represented migrant youths. “Their parents are making decisions about the safety of their children, knowing these kids are making a journey that is so horrific that they are risking their lives — but also knowing that staying may be more horrific.”
McGrorty added: “We are following the law, and not trying to do anything underhanded. We are not trying to win with a technicality. We are trying to make sure the law does what it is supposed to do, and that is to protect children.”
Under state law, the lion's share of so-called dependency petitions — written requests for a judge to declare a parent, or parents, unfit, and to take children under the wing of the state — are filed by the Department of Children & Families. DCF investigates reports of child abuse and neglect, and can remove children from parents it deems dangerous.
Florida's child welfare statute also allows private citizens, including family members, to file such petitions and be heard by a judge. As recently as a few years ago, such petitions were rare.
The dramatic rise in such petitions has been fueled largely by spiraling violence in Central America. The U.S. Administration for Children & Families reported 57,496 referrals for unaccompanied migrant children in budget year 2014, with the largest share, 34 percent, coming from Honduras. Guatemala and El Salvador followed closely behind. Only 6,000 such children made the journey three years earlier.
The Congressional Research Service reported 73 dependency petitions involving unaccompanied minors in budget year 2005 — a number that jumped to 3,432 in 2013. Lawyers and advocates say such requests have certainly risen sharply since then, though records are not available. In Miami-Dade County alone, DCF recorded 62 such private petitions over the past year, a spokeswoman said, adding the agency often is not notified when they are filed — meaning the real number almost certainly exceeds 62. Similar statistics statewide, or for previous years, were not available.
“These types of petitions have become increasingly common,” a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal wrote Wednesday, in a case involving a 17-year-old from Guatemala, O.I.C.L., who said his father had abandoned him, and whose mother forced him to drop out of school to work “in the fields” in the sixth grade. O.I.C.L. was not found to be dependent. The opinion added: “Courts are likely to continue encountering more of these cases in the future.”
Many of the requests are approved, leaving the children with a direct path to residency, and citizenship.
In 2013, two sisters — identified as M.A.S.-Q. and Y.E.S.-Q. — asked to be declared dependent after fleeing to the United States from Central America. In a petition, the girls claimed they had been both physically abused and abandoned by their birth father in El Salvador, and later by a stepfather in Guatemala. One of the sisters alleged she also had been raped by her uncle, and both sisters said her parents had allowed them to go hungry.
The girls' mother, identified as P.O.Q., “immediately consented” to the dependency petition, saying the designation “is in the best interests of my children.”
A lengthy opinion in the case, written in 2014 by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman, acknowledged that much of the abuse the two girls suffered had occurred, though far in the past. But, the judge added: “The severity and consistency of this abuse, abandonment and neglect demonstrates that these children remain at risk if returned to their country of origin, an almost certain outcome absent the entry of [a dependency] order.” The sisters were allowed to remain here.
A great number of the petitions, however, have been rejected, often because judges remained unconvinced the youths were in real danger, or because the abuse they alleged failed to meet the statutory requirements for protection from the state.
Fredy, whose full name is not being used to protect his privacy, told the judge in his case, Hanzman, that his neighborhood in Honduras was in the grip of the Mara-18 gang, also known as the 18th-Street Gang, which, he said, was “known to kill people for no reason.”
Fredy, court documents say, “was forced to witness people being killed in the streets of his neighborhood, and his older brother was shot in the leg by gang members in order to steal his bicycle.” His mom and dad “ignored his pleas for help and protection,” the teen said.
“Fredy had no choice but to leave his home country,” the teen's petition said.
In the short term, at least, fleeing Honduras was no salvation.
Fredy, records say, hopped a train called “The Beast,” that traversed Central America. He remained on the train for several days, witnessing “kidnappings, robberies, and fights amongst gang members who would force people to pay quotas in order to stay alive,” records said. “Fredy sustained permanent psychological damage caused when he witnessed dead bodies thrown off the train, and a woman being raped.”
“Needless to say,” Hanzman wrote,” the child undertook a treacherous and horrific journey in order to cross the border into the United States.”
He just wasn't a child abuse victim, the judge added.
Fredy's lawyers had argued that under the state's dependency law, Fredy's parents could be declared unfit because they had failed to protect him from the dangers of his gang-ridden neighbprhood. But, the judge wrote, state law does not, and cannot, require parents to protect their children from harms that are largely beyond their control. Asking the family to, say, move to a safer neighborhood is asking too much.
“In an idyllic world, all children would live in peace and tranquility regardless of where they and their family reside,” Hanzman wrote in an order earlier this month. “But we unfortunately do not live in an idyllic world where all children are sheltered from criminal activity, violence and other perils.”
An attorney for the teen, Carlos E. Verdecia, said he understood the reluctance of child welfare judges to open “a Pandora's box” by lifting “the floodgates” to Central American children fleeing violence. Honduras alone has one of the highest homicide rates — by some estimates, the highest — in the world, and accepting every youth being conscripted into youth gangs could burden any state's social service net.
But, Verdecia added, “it is the reality that these children are at risk every day that they're out there. That's just the reality.”
Prevailing in such cases may have become more difficult. Last week, the state appeals court based in Miami handed down two separate opinions denying state protection to two children who fled Central America without adult supervision, B.Y.G. M., a 17-year-old from El Salvador, and K.B.L.V., also 17, from Honduras. In both cases, a three-judge panel said the youths were not in need of protection from the state. Rather, they were seeking protection against unwelcome deportation.
B.Y.G.M., like Fredy, fled “threats and harassment” from violent youth gangs in her native El Salvador, records say. But when she arrived in the United States, she was reunited with her mother, who had been living here since the girl was 3.
“There is no evidence that B.Y.G.M. is at substantial risk of imminent abuse, abandonment or neglect,” a three-judge panel wrote in last Wednesday's opinion. “She is secure and safe in the custody of her mother, who provides supervision and care.”
And this Wednesday, the appeals court in West Palm Beach delivered bad news to O.I.C.L., in an opinion that one judge said was “ rooted in a perceived frustration” that the state's burdened court system was being “misused.”
Police say be on the lookout for child abuse during summer
by Bethany Teague
CHRISTIANSBURG (WSLS 10) – Police and social services workers are asking for help keeping children safe during the summer.
Most child abuse cases during the year are reported by adults who work in the school system. Reports greatly decrease during the summer months. Police say not because the abuse decreases, but because there are less people around to detect it.
Social services want all adults to be on the look-out for things like unusual bruising on a child, a sudden tendency to act out or an abrupt change in routine or behavior. Those workers say do not be afraid to ask appropriate questions about how the child is doing.
If someone reports child abuse to child protective services, they may remain anonymous throughout the process.
Child Advocacy Center discusses handling of child abuse cases
by Sarah Bleau
Thousands of you followed our stories after a disturbing Facebook video of what appears to be child abuse was sent to FOX13. It shows a mother throw her infant son while the father recorded.
“The importance is that we always put the child's welfare above all else,” said Beryl Wight, Communications Coordinator at the Memphis Child Advocacy Center.
Wight could not talk specifics about two-week-old Christian Moore's case. She did tell FOX13 they are seeing an increase in caseloads because more people are reporting child abuse, adding there are still some afraid to report.
“It's important that we make every effort to take swift, appropriate action and get help …help a kid if there's abuse going on,” said Wight. “People are afraid that reporting is going to come back on them. All reports are confidential.”
FOX13 asked Memphis police for updates in their investigation, but we are still waiting to hear about any charges. The grandmother told FOX13 she currently has custody of the infant.
Wight told FOX13 child abuse investigations vary in length. Some are wrapped up quickly while others take time.
“They (investigators) want to make sure it's thorough. I think if you were to talk to law enforcement, for the Department of Children Services, the interest is in that it's thorough,” said Wight.
In baby Christian's case, his grandmother told FOX13 his mom does have mental illness and was off her medication when the disturbing video was recorded.
The Memphis Child Advocacy Center provides families coming to them with an advocate and therapist.
“Our therapists are all master level social workers so they are trained to be able to recognize illness and issues like that,” said Wight.
Wight told FOX13 they interviewed 1,100 children in cases last fiscal year; again, she attributes the high case numbers to more people reporting child abuse.
If you see child abuse, call local law enforcement or the child abuse hotline (1-877-237-0004). Wight said people reporting child abuse are kept confidential.
Three-year-old sexually abused by close family friends
by Tricia Harte
It's a parent's instinct to protect their children from every imaginable harm, but what happens when the unimaginable takes place right under their roof?
Psychologists say child sexual abuse can take a physical and emotional toll, not just on the victim, but on the victim's family as well. One Michiana mother whose three-year-old daughter was sexually abused said the guilt can be difficult to handle.
For the sake of privacy, NewsCenter 16 will refer to the mother as “Carol” and her daughter as “Katie.”
Carol sat in bed with her young daughter Katie before naptime. The girl gathered the blankets between her legs, punched a dent in the middle and told her mother: “Mom look at my big vagina.”
As the words came out of the little girl's mouth, Carol said she was shocked and alarmed.
“I knew there was something wrong. So I got down right at her level to talk. She just said mom, I saw someone play with their vagina,” trying to conceal her alarm, Carol calmly asked Katie to explain what had happened to her.
“She started on her forehead—which wasn't that scary—she said ‘she wanted to lick me here, then she wanted to lick me here,' she was pointing to her shoulder and her elbow and her hand. Then she started at her feet, her knees, her thighs, and progressed,” ultimately Katie told her mother that two family friends performed oral sex on her. The most alarming part of the story, the two abusers were 12 ad 15 year old girls.
Carol immediately called the Department of Child Services (DCS) and arranged for Katie to speak with a forensic interviewer and give a statement. Katie didn't say much to the interviewer and Carol didn't want to wait for the system to place her daughter in therapy so she set up an appointment with local psychologist, Dr. Erin Leonard.
“It happens in daycares, it happens in schoolyards. It happens in homes, it happens in friends' houses, relatives' houses and so it's really important to help your child be aware if something like this does happen, what they do, what they say, and then to practice it with them,” Dr. Leonard says the conversation about “good” and “bad” touches needs to happen early.
Within three sessions with Dr. Leonard, Katie articulated the abuse without using therapeutic dolls to assist.
“They had oral sex. The way my daughter described it was ‘licking' and then she described digital penetration,” Carol said the news was difficult to learn.
The two girls responsible for the abuse were close family friends. Not quite babysitters, and typically when they were over, Carol said they spent time together.
“I was horrified” Carol explained, “you can't imagine how guilty you feel when you know that you allowed people that do so much harm to be near your child, let alone to have inflicted life-long scars.”
In 23-percent of child sexual abuse cases the perpetrators of the offense are under 18 years old. Still, Carol said she never thought twice about the adolescent and teenage girls spending time with her daughter.
The abuse mirrors a similar situation in which Carol grew up. In the 1970s her father sexually abused her two brothers. She watched her brothers struggle with self-acceptance, confidence and self-worth. At the time, Carol's mother never thought her husband would perpetrate on her sons because they were male. She felt significant guilt when she discovered what happened.
Not a “male” problem:
The biggest take away from her daughter's sexual abuse is the misunderstanding of child sexual abuse as a “male problem.”
Too often Carol said people will trivialize her daughter's assault because of the gender of the offenders.
She hopes parents understand that it's not just male family members, friends or teachers that could be sexually abusive to children, but girls and women are just as fault at times.
Traumas, such as sexual abuse, are difficult to overcome because the memory of the incidents becomes fragmented. Instead of filing away into long-term memory, traumatic memories can pop up at inopportune times and delay recovery.
Carol noticed Katie created imaginary friends after the abuse, she suffers from night terrors and daytime flashbacks. Most alarmingly, Katie has a heightened sexual awareness for someone her age. She is preoccupied with the female form.
“It's very scary and it's so hard as a parent to know what to do. There's not a pamphlet out there, at least that I'm aware of, that tells you this is how your child might behave. Maybe there should be,” said Carol.
As the parent of a victim, Carol said she needed assistance to pull herself together to be strong enough for her daughter.
Dr. Erin Leonard said the trauma needs to be a topic of discussion in families, not a dirty secret. Whether families turn to professional psychologists for assistance, or they cope with the problem at home, sexual abuse shouldn't be ignored.
“At each developmental phase that a child progresses through, the trauma needs to be readdressed. Not necessarily through formal treatment; but when the child grows and develops cognitively and emotionally the trauma needs to be reprocessed at that level,” Leonard explained.
A teenager who may be thinking about their first sexual encounter that has experienced sexual abuse when they were younger will likely need to reprocess the abuse at that developmental stage of their life.
Leonard says it's also important to practice “saying no” with young children so they feel confident if and when they're ever approached with inappropriate touch.
Katie is now four-years old. She recognizes that what happened to her is a so-called “adult problem” but she doesn't fully understand the sexual nature of the assault. Carol said the biggest difficulty for her daughter is accepting that the two former role models are no longer friends.
Carol's desires as her daughter grows older and develops into a mature woman is that the incident doesn't inhibit her from reaching her potential: “ I want her to know that what happened to her isn't a sentence, she'll be okay; that she's strong and capable and lovely and vivacious, and I don't want her damaged soul to remove her spirit.”
DCS is still investigating the case of Katie's sexual abuse. The two adolescent girls have not been charged with anything.
Bill Cosby files legal papers against sex accuser for 'obvious attempts to smear him'
Comedian seeks court sanctions against Andrea Constand over leak of his admission under oath to obtaining Quaaludes with intent of giving pills to young women in order to have sex
Bill Cosby has filed legal papers against a woman accusing him of sexual assault, condemning her "obvious attempt to smear" him.
Cosby, 78, made the filing in US District Court in Philadelphia on Tuesday against Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee who has alleged the comedian tricked her into taking drugs before he sexually assaulted her.
Cosby claims Ms Constand breached their confidentiality agreement in the leak of his full deposition from a 10-year-old civil case to the New York Times.
In 2006, a lawsuit brought by Constand against Cosby was settled for an undisclosed sum. All documents from the litigation were sealed until a federal judge on July 6 released limited redacted excerpts from Cosby's 2005 deposition testimony in the case.
Those excerpts included Cosby's admission under oath that he had obtained Quaaludes, the brand name for a sedative widely abused as a recreational drug in the 1970s, with the intent of giving the pills to young women in order to have sex with them.
On July 8, Constand filed papers in court seeking to unseal the entire deposition and her settlement agreement with Cosby, as well as to free her from any confidentiality restrictions.
The New York Times has since obtained its own record of Cosby's deposition and posted additional excerpts on its website, revealing testimony in which the entertainer described how he had pursued women and how he obtained Quaaludes.
Cosby's own court filing on Tuesday stressed that the deposition excerpts so far unsealed by the judge contain no testimony that he engaged in any non-consensual sex or gave anyone Quaaludes without their knowledge or consent.
"Reading the media accounts, one would conclude that Defendant has admitted to rape," the document said. "And yet Defendant admitted to nothing more than being one of the many people who introduced Quaaludes into their consensual sex life in the 1970s."
The memorandum goes on to call Ms Constand's request to open the entire Cosby settlement to public scrutiny an "obvious attempt to smear" the performer and says she should be sanctioned for leaking the nearly 1,000-page deposition transcript to the New York Times through her "own hired court reporter."
More than 40 women have come forward in the past year alleging Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted them in incidents dating back decades.
He faces at least four civil lawsuits stemming from such allegations. Cosby has never been criminally charged.
His attorneys have consistently denied the accusations, which have left in tatters the career and public image of a once-revered entertainer best known for playing the lovable father figure Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the hit TV comedy series "The Cosby Show" in the 1980s and '90s.
Cosby has said little in public about the scandal, telling ABC television in May that he did not wish to discuss allegations.
Bill would stop confidential medical treatment info from going to spouses, parents of adults
by Shira Schoenberg
BOSTON - Annie Lewis-O'Connor, founder and director of C.A.R.E. Clinic at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which treats women who have been victims of violence, recalled treating a college student who was sexually assaulted. The student had serious injuries, but wanted to be treated without telling her mother, who was undergoing chemotherapy.
Another patient with fractured ribs was told by her abusive husband that he would kill her if she told a doctor what happened.
In those cases and others, Lewis-O'Connor said she had to come up with workarounds so insurance companies would not send an explanation of benefits to the parent or husband who was the primary insurance subscriber.
Current law, which allows insurers to send medical information to the primary subscriber, is "definitely impeding access to health care" for patients who do not want to disclose information to family members, Lewis-O'Connor said.
A bill pending before the Massachusetts Legislature would prevent insurers from sharing confidential health information with anyone but the patient, in cases when multiple people are on one insurance plan. Supporters of the bill say this is necessary because insurers currently send explanation of benefits forms to the plan subscriber – which could be a patient's parent or spouse. These forms include the type of medical services received and their cost.
Alyssa Vangeli, senior health policy manager for the liberal-leaning health care advocacy group Health Care for All, said that creates a "significant confidentiality breach."
The bill, S. 557, was sponsored by Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, with a House companion bill sponsored by Rep. Kate Hogan, D-Stow, who chairs the Joint Committee on Public Health.
"Patient confidentiality is a foundational element of the patient provider relationship, and it's essential in helping patients feel comfortable accessing the true health care that they need," Spilka told the Joint Committee on Financial Services at a hearing on Tuesday. "Insurers' current billing and claims practices unintentionally but routinely violate basic confidentiality protections for anyone covered as a dependent on another person's policy."
The bill directs the state to come up with a common "summary of payments" form to be used by insurers. It would allow a patient who is not the primary insurance subscriber to choose the method of getting the form – by mailing it to the primary subscriber, or by mailing it to an alternate address or getting it electronically, if the insurer is able to do that. For example, a college student could request the statement be sent to his dormitory. The patient could also ask that a summary of payments not be sent.
The summary of payments would not include a description of sensitive health services, a category that includes treatment of substance abuse disorders, mental health problems, sexual or domestic abuse, reproductive or sexual health issues or infectious diseases.
Supporters the bill include organizations that deal with populations experiencing sensitive medical procedures – such as reproductive or sexual health care, AIDS treatment or mental illness. They also include general health-related organizations, including the division of Boston Children's Hospital dealing with young adult medicine, an association of college health administrators, the Massachusetts chapter of a national organization representing social workers, and Partners HealthCare System.
Supporters of the bill say without guaranteed confidentiality, young adults are more likely to forego medical care for sensitive issues, such as testing for sexually transmitted diseases, if they are worried their parents will find out. Victims of domestic abuse are less likely to seek treatment if they are worried their abuser will find out. The bill could also alleviate burdens on publicly funded community health centers, since currently some privately-insured individuals seek care there because they are worried that care covered by their insurance is not confidential.
Kim Daly, a nurse practitioner at Salem State University, said she saw one female college student who was forced to tell her parents about a sexual assault because an insurer sent home an explanation of benefits. A transgender student paid $1,600 out of pocket for a college health plan to avoid having his parents receive insurance statements. She has seen students reluctant to start medication for depression, anxiety or substance abuse.
While doctors are required to keep a patient visit confidential, "Once a patient leaves the room, we have no control over (explanation of benefit) practices," Daly said.
Daly said the problem has become worse under the Affordable Care Act, which allows young people to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26. So a graduate student seeking contraception might have that information sent home to their parents.
"There's no benefit to parents being aware of the sexual activities of their 25- or 26-year-old 'child,'" Daly said. "They're consenting adults."
Lora Pellegrini, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, said insurers that belong to the trade group already have procedures in place to address concerns about sensitive health information, including issuing the summary of payments to members, not the primary subscriber, and allowing members to request that summaries be sent to an alternative address. Some insurers use generic descriptions for all services and others do not include details for sensitive services.
Pellegrini said the association wants to reduce complex and unnecessary administrative costs, but also appreciates the confidentiality and privacy concerns. "We believe that we can work with the sponsors of the legislation to find common ground that meets the interests of our members while also ensuring that members can also understand in a transparent way the services, costs and cost sharing that may be associated with the medical care they received," Pellegrini said in a statement.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey supports the bill. Testifying before the legislative committee, she said it is important for survivors of sexual or domestic assault, young people seeking reproductive health care or mental health services and others.
"(Current practice) can dissuade young people from seeking or obtaining health care they need," Healey said. "I don't believe that's good for them or for the health and well being of our communities."
The bill has support from 75 lawmakers, including numerous lawmakers from Western Massachusetts: state Sens. Ben Downing, D-Pittsfield and Eric Lesser, D-Longmeadow, and state Reps. Stephen Kulik, D-Worthington, John Scibak, D-South Hadley, Ellen Story, D-Amherst, Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, Jose Tosado, D-Springfield, Brian Ashe, D-Longmeadow, Smitty Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and Carlos Gonzalez, D-Springfield.
Can a 17-year-old girl be a pimp?
by Gaye Clark
Michigan Judge Joyce Draganchuk sentenced Mariah Haughton, 17, to four to 20 years in prison last week after she pleaded guilty to human trafficking and transporting a female for prostitution.
“This offense is sickening,” Draganchuk told Haughton.
The Lansing State Journal reported the sex trafficking ring operated between March and July 2014 and involved at least three 16- and 17-year-old girls. Haughton actively recruited girls at a juvenile center and on the street. She then took photos of girls, posted them to Backpage.com, and scheduled customers.
Haughton's trial and subsequent conviction sparked controversy over whether she should have been pitied as a trafficking victim or tried as a perpetrator. Defense attorneys called Haughton “impressionable” and said her male co-defendants deceived her. Prosecutors acknowledged the girl might also be a victim but declined to comment further because a third defendant is still awaiting trial.
But the judge did not see Haughton as a victim.
“The difference is that you took a management role instead of an employee role,” Draganchuk told her.
Susan Norris, a human trafficking advocate who has worked extensively with survivors, believes the issue is one of freedom.
“If she was never trafficked, chose to participate, and had complete freedom to do so or walk away, then she is a trafficker,” she said.
In the hierarchy of a sex-trafficking ring, one victim often sees fewer clients in exchange for managing a pimp's “herd,” a term traffickers use to refer to the girls they control, Norris said. But the manager remains under the same threat as the other girls. If the pimp controlled Haughton in this way, “she is most likely victim,” Norris said.
One of Haughton's co-defendants, Christopher T. Bryant, had a well-documented history of controlling his victims with violence. They described multiple instances when he threatened, beat, or strangled them to force them into prostitution. Bryant also controlled his victims with alcohol and drugs. Last year, a federal judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison.
Commentaries filled the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force Facebook page, lamenting Haughton's incarceration and noting she needed treatment. “It's not a leap to assume the same things (physical abuse and threats) were happening to this 17-year-old,” one commenter wrote.
It is unlikely Haughton will receive counseling in prison. Michigan is one of nine states that automatically tries 17-year-olds as adults. Only a small number are girls, but most of them enter the system with histories of violence and sexual victimization. They do not receive counseling or other restorative services, a recent study noted.
In 2014, the advocacy group Shared Hope gave Michigan's anti-trafficking provisions an “F” rating. In October, Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation to reform Michigan's sex trafficking laws in an effort to make them more victim-centered and increase penalties leveled against traffickers. In March, Snyder announced the formation of a new human trafficking commission.
Haughton's case is rare but not unique. Although adults typically lead prostitution operations, enterprising teens sometimes figure out how to get money for sex on their own. A Canadian high school girl was convicted for using Facebook to lure teens as young as 13 to have sex with men for money. Last November, authorities arrested two Florida high schoolers on suspicion of trafficking their classmates.
Anjan Bose of ECPAT International, a nonprofit network that helps sexually abused children, believes both teen prostitutes and teen pimps need help to leave the business.
“A child cannot consent to prostitution,” he says. “We have to look at them as being victims.”
Drug use seen fueling Vigo's higher number of child abuse-neglect cases
by Sue Loughlin
Data gathered by the Indiana Youth Institute show a troubling increase in child abuse, neglect and Children in Need of Services cases in recent years.
The number of substantiated child neglect cases soared from 276 in 2010 to 522 in 2013. The number of CHINS cases identified by the state Department of Child Services also increased significantly in that time frame.
The child abuse/neglect rate per 1,000 children under age 18 went from 16.1 in 2010 to 28.2 in 2013; the number of substantiated child sexual abuse cases increased from 55 to 64 (in 2012, there were 46 cases).
“Probably the biggest culprit of the increased abuse and neglect cases is drugs,” James Wide, deputy director of communications with the Indiana Department of Child Services, said in an email. “Vigo County is not immune to this awful trend. Unfortunately, parents are choosing their drug of choice (especially the heroin and meth) over the safety and care of their children.”
Vigo County's Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program is feeling the effects of the increase; the program and its volunteers advocate on behalf of Children in Need of Services.
Nikki Fuhrmeister, CASA director, also attributes the increase to drug use by adults and domestic violence. “We're seeing heroin and cocaine back in the picture along with a lot of meth,” she said. “We are seeing re-abuse cases,” in which children re-enter the system. She explained that involves families that had problems with abuse, resolved those problems and did well for a while, but then problems returned.
The agency now has a waiting list of 89 children. “We're trying to get all these kids covered,” but more CASA volunteers are needed, she said. Some children “are not getting any advocacy at all” because of too few volunteers.
One challenge she sees with the new generation of volunteers is that they may not be willing to commit the time that is required to be a CASA volunteer.
She provided some additional eye-opening statistics for Vigo County CASA:
• In 2013, the agency served 574 CHINS kids, with 97 cases involving domestic violence.
• In 2014, CASA served 682 CHINS children, with 227 cases involving domestic violence.
• So far in 2015, CASA is serving 622 kids, with 157 cases involving domestic violence.
“We need to look at this as a community,” she said.
Scale of child abuse images online is 'shocking', says NSPCC
Charity claims there are two convictions each day for indecent images and calls for urgent action two years after government promised crackdown
by the Press Association
Two people are being convicted of child abuse image crimes every day on average, two years after a government pledge to crack down on the offence, the NSPCC says.
The charity said its analysis of news reports showed there had been at least 1,000 court cases involving indecent images of children since David Cameron's July 2013 speech in which he threatened to impose tough new laws on internet companies if they failed to blacklist key search terms.
The NSPCC said a snapshot of 100 cases revealed that 4.5m child abuse images were discovered among them, with one in three of the 101 convicted criminals involved having held a position of trust or a role that allowed them access to children.
Claire Lilley, head of child safety online for the NSPCC, said: “The scale of the problem is shocking and even more so because of the number of people who hold positions of trust in our communities. This is just a fragment of the hundreds of other similar convictions during the same time.
“It is a myth that there is no harm in just looking at these images. Defenceless babies and children are being molested to feed the appetite of offenders and that demand is just not going away.
“The prime minister made a bold attempt to tackle this problem, but it is clear that, two years after he called for a crackdown, the scale of the problem is proving to be massive. We need urgent action to prevent this horrendous abuse from appearing online.”
The NSPCC said those convicted of abuse image crimes in the last two years included doctors, teachers, scout leaders, clergymen, police officers, a magician and a Santa Claus. Only two were women.
Six out of 10 were jailed. Those convicted included a father and son, and a teenager who confessed to viewing such pictures from the age of 12. More than a quarter were also convicted of other sexual crimes, including grooming, voyeurism, and indecent assault, and one in six already had criminal records for similar offences.
In July 2013, Cameron called on internet companies to protect children from “poisonous” websites that are “corroding childhood”, including introducing family-friendly filters that automatically block pornography unless customers choose to opt out.
In a speech at the NSPCC headquarters in east London, he acknowledged the issue of extreme and child abuse images is “hard for our society to confront” and “difficult for politicians to talk about”.
Karen Bradley, minister for preventing abuse and exploitation, said on Wednesday that the government was leading the fight against online child sexual exploitation.
“At last year's #WeProtect summit, the prime minister announced a series of new measures to improve the global response to online child sexual exploitation, including funding of £10m for further specialist teams within the National Crime Agency (NCA).
“Measures also include new collaboration between the NCA and GCHQ using the latest techniques to target online offenders, making it illegal to communicate sexually with a child, and technological developments to ensure victims of online abuse can be identified more quickly and offenders are subject to speedier justice.
“The government has also prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat and is due to make live streaming of abuse images punishable in the same way as recorded images, in order to ensure perpetrators face the toughest possible sentences.”
Infant safe after abuse caught on camera
by Rose Eiklor
(Video on site)
MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) -- The video has been watched over 100,000 times on Facebook. A woman was abusing an infant, throwing and kicking her 19-day-old baby.
She can also be seen praying over it. At one point, the mother asks another child to kick the baby, who refused.
Police said they were called to the home Friday night by a family member who reported the abuse. They said at the time, they took the proper steps to protect the child.
The mother was detained and taken to a psychiatric facility while police continue to investigate.
Child Protective Services and the Attorney General's office are also part of the investigation.
WMC Action News 5 asked police if the man filming the abuse will be facing charges.
"He took the proper steps, maybe not as quick as he should have, but he called police,” said Memphis Police Colonel Marcus Worthy. “He did get the child away from her and he did ask others outside if anybody else was in the house. If anyone witnesses child abuse, it will only help the family."
CPS has not released any information about prior cases with the mother but they said both children are safe with family and they are working closely with police on this investigation.
Victims urged to contact child sexual abuse inquiry
The South East Wales Safeguarding Children's Board is encouraging anyone in South-East Wales, who has experienced sexual abuse, however long ago, to contact the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse.
They are also encouraging any professionals who used to work with children and who felt obstructed or silenced in their handling of child abuse cases to contact the inquiry.
The inquiry covers both England and Wales and wants to hear from anyone who was sexually abused as a child in an institutional setting such as a care home, a school or a religious, voluntary or state organisation.
They also want to hear from anyone who reported their sexual abuse as a child to a person in authority like a police officer or teacher where the report was either ignored or not properly acted on.
Duncan Forbes, who chairs the South East Wales Safeguarding Children's Board, said: “Those who have experienced abuse may be concerned about confidentiality. They aren't expected to give information in public and nothing will be published about them which could identify them without their permission. You can tell the Inquiry as little or as much as you want about your experiences.”
Anyone wanting to provide information can contact the Inquiry using their helpline number: 0800 917 1000, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to them at Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, PO Box 72289, London, SW1P 9LF.
New organization aims to help victims of child abuse
by Ryan Moore
HATTIESBURG, MS -- A non-profit organization has opened its doors in the Pine Belt and aims to help kids deal with traumatic experiences.
Kids Hub Child Advocacy center is an organization devoted to providing forensic interview services and advocacy to children that have been victims of child abuse.
“We are dedicated to servicing child abuse victims, we service children that have been physically abused, sexually abused or that have been a witness to a violent crime,” Executive Director Didi Ellis said.
The center, located at 2052 Oak Grove Road, is the only one of its kind in the Pine Belt.
Ellis said before this facility opening, law enforcement and DHS employees and victims would have to travel to the coast or to Jackson for the services.
The facility, which was constructed from a house on Oak Grove Road, provides a warm, friendly environment. Everything in the house has been donated, and the center relies solely on contributions from the community and grant funding.
“It is friendly here, we have multiple rooms set up for interviews, as well as a room where each child get to choose their own teddy bear when they leave,” Ellis said. “We really just want the child to be comfortable and to be in an environment to take the stress or trauma out of the situation."
The forensic interviews are monitored by law enforcement and DHS employees.
“The interviews are monitored so all the questions can be asked and answered in one instance, that way the child does not have to be re-questioned about their traumatic incident,” Ellis said.
Ellis expects having several hundred cases by the year's end, and already started booking appointments a week ago.
The facility services children that are from the ages of two years and eight months to 18 years old, as well as vulnerable adults, with the only requirement being the victims have to be verbal.
“We want to reach more children, we know when we see the reports that have come in and we have staffed the cases one thing we can say is we can service those kids because we know about them,” Ellis said. “We want the community to realize that there is a resource here locally in our community and so if you have questions, if you suspect abuse if you have concerns, let us help direct you to how to handle those cases."
Minority and male advocates sought for child abuse victims
by Maki Somosot
Terrebonne and Lafourche CASA officials are seeking more minorities and men to help advocate for abused children as they navigate the legal complexities of the foster care system.
CASA, which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates, is a national program that trains residents to advocate for the best interests of child victims and offer child-specific recommendations in the courtroom. Volunteers undergo an extensive training process where they learn about the social, environmental and psychological factors involved in child abuse, consider its legal ramifications and learn how to formulate court recommendations.
"National CASA has always encouraged diversification," Terrebonne CASA Executive Director Nicole Wesley said. "But a large majority of our volunteers has always been female and white."
While most local kids requiring a CASA are white, Wesley said diversity has been a key focus since she became executive director of the Terrebonne branch last year. An all-inclusive plan has resulted in more racially diverse advertising and targeted outreach to minority places such as black churches, as well as to fire and police stations.
There is a need to represent the ever-growing population of biracial and Latino children in the parish, given its constantly evolving racial makeup, Wesley said. The number of boys have also stayed consistent.
"It's more than a color issue. It's a matter of representing all the children in our area," she said, adding they are also looking for volunteers from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
Wesley remembers at least one black and one male volunteer in each of the past CASA groups over the past seven years of her work at CASA. There have only been about two volunteers of Asian descent thus far.
However, this year's most recent cohort-in-training has proven to be the most diverse one thus far, with four black women, one Asian woman and one white man, Wesley said.
"We believe pairing kids with volunteers of similar backgrounds is significant because it builds rapport and relateability," she added. "At this point, relating to kids who have been abused or neglected at any level is significant."
Lafourche CASA Executive Director Aimee Lemmon agreed, adding that cultural competence helps a kid value his or her culture in the future and maintain a sense of belonging.
While Lemmon did not specify the number of Lafourche minority volunteers over the years, she said that over 60 percent of their CASA kids have been boys. There are only about six men out of 35 volunteers this year.
As such, due to the consistent numbers of male child abuse victims, Lafourche and Terrebonne CASA have started refocusing their recruitment efforts on men. However, residents from diverse cultural, socioeconomic and professional backgrounds in general are encouraged to apply.
"The more the word is out, the more we need a diverse pool. We're committed to getting the word out," Wesley said.
Contact CASA of Terrebonne at 876-0250 or CASA of Lafourche at 446-6600 with questions or to volunteer.
This is child abuse... to be injured by your own family will leave a powerful sense of betrayal
by Fionola Meredith
It's a repugnant, dangerous practice with lifelong consequences, but there's still little widespread knowledge of FGM - female genital mutilation - in Northern Ireland. But just because we're not aware of it doesn't mean it isn't happening.
The NSPCC says it has had calls from people in Northern Ireland who are concerned about the risk of girls living here being forced to undergo the dreadful procedure.
That's why Justice Minister David Ford's intervention, introducing a new FGM protection order, the breach of which is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years in jail, is a welcome move.
It couldn't come at a more timely moment. The summer holidays are - to use the chilling phrase - "the cutting season".
Schools are closed, and girls from families who cling to the belief that this barbaric practice is a necessary part of their daughters' upbringing may be whisked away abroad without too many questions being asked.
There they are subject to a monstrous abuse of their human rights: being held down while their genitals are mutilated, in the name of 'purity' or 'hygiene' or 'enhanced femininity', or any of the other spurious reasons offered for what is basically a brutally primitive way of controlling female sexuality.
The physical side-effects are bad enough - pain, infection, incontinence, in some cases even death - and later, there may be difficulties with sex and childbirth. But the psychological effects are devastating.
To be deliberately injured in such an intimate way, on the instructions of her own family, must leave a young girl with a powerful sense of betrayal, rage, fear and shame.
This is not just a one-off trauma. The consequences will echo throughout her life.
It's vital that we don't turn a blind eye to issues like FGM, for fear of offending cultural sensitivities.
Yes, it is important to respect difference, but there is no religious or cultural defence for such an assault on young girls' anatomy and autonomy. It is child abuse, plain and simple.
Anti-FGM campaigner Leyla Hussein says that she was cut when she was seven years old.
"Four women held me down," she writes.
"I felt every single cut. I was screaming so much I just blacked out. I didn't know what female genital mutilation was until the day it happened to me."
There's no justification for this act of gross barbarity. It has to stop.
When institutions let child sexual abuse happen, that should be a crime
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has published a research paper that suggests organisations be held criminally responsible when their negligence results in harm to children. Released on July 17, it proposes, among other matters, the creation of offences that would hold organisations criminally responsible for the creation and/or management of risk of harm and for their response when harm is done to a child.
To date, most of the research and all prosecutions in relation to child sexual assault have focused on individual offenders. The criminal law is primarily concerned with the responsibility of the individual or individuals accused of committing offences. Because the criminal trial centres on the guilt or innocence of the accused, it rarely addresses broader causes of offending behaviour.
Focus shifts to institutional culpability
Where cases of sexual abuse of children happen in institutions, they are frequently rationalised as being aberrational or isolated instances of bad behaviour. The offender is typically characterised as being a “rotten apple” in an otherwise healthy “barrel”. But pathologising offenders is a convenient way of diverting attention from the systemic forces that produce crime.
The federal government appointed the royal commission in early 2013 to inquire into how institutions with a responsibility for children have managed and responded to allegations and instances of child sexual abuse. The commission was particularly directed to investigate systemic issues and make recommendations to improve laws, policies and practices to prevent such offences in institutions.
There are many legal difficulties inherent in ascribing criminal responsibility to organisations, especially those not incorporated in the traditional sense. Despite these difficulties, the proposal to hold organisations criminally responsible in such cases is based on the belief that state governments should make an effort to create new offences to cover such conduct.
If effective responses to institutional child sexual assault are to be developed, we need to move from an understanding of institutions as merely places where child sexual abuse may occur to places where the institution itself is conducive to crime. And if institutions or organisations are directly or indirectly responsible for criminal behaviour such as child sexual assault, the law should hold them to account.
What would new offences cover?
The basis of culpability would be criminal negligence. This involves a failure to meet the standard of care expected of an organisation in the circumstances. The offences would cover an organisation's failure to protect a child, its conduct in concealing crimes and its conduct in expressly, tacitly or impliedly permitting a child sexual offence.
The scope of such offences would be far-reaching. It would include any organisation that exercises care, supervision or authority over children. This would cover churches, religious bodies, schools, children's services, out-of-home carers, youth organisations and government departments.
The aim is not necessarily to punish or deter organisations, given that institutions cannot be imprisoned. Rather, by focusing on organisational responsibility, these laws would recognise that the organisation itself, its culture, policies and practices, may have been criminogenic. It is these cultures, policies and practices that must change if the behaviour of individuals in that organisation is to change.
What sort of sanctions might apply?
There are many precedents for creative organisational sanctions that can provide a more responsive, effective and publicly acceptable response to organisational offending. The new offences would attract a range of sanctions involving some form of court or government supervision, organisational change or reparation to the community. Options include probation orders, supervisory intervention orders, community service orders and enforceable undertakings.
All of these sanctions are already used in other contexts. A feature of many of these orders is the setting of conditions relating to compliance programs.
The purpose of such orders is to ensure that persons within an organisation are made aware of their responsibilities and obligations in respect of the contravening conduct. They may require one or more of the following actions:
implement education and training programs;
revise internal operations;
appoint qualified staff or consultants;
undertake risk assessments; or
implement complaints handling systems and like programs.
National guidelines for building the capacity of child-safe organisations, as part of the National Framework for Creating Safe Environments for Children, could provide the basis for such a compliance program.
The emerging and persuasive evidence of organisational responsibility for child sexual abuse calls for policy responses that move beyond the conviction and sentencing of individual offenders.
Traditional criminal law offences have proven to be inadequate to the task. New offences need to be created, if not to remedy past offences, at least to protect children who may be at risk in the future.
Child sex abuse victim was seen as ‘naughty child' by South Yorkshire Police
by Rob Parsons
A report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary published in September last year raised “serious concerns” about South Yorkshire Police's approach to child protection.
Now the inspectors have returned to the force and found signs of progress but also concluded there is “still important work for South Yorkshire Police to do to improve the protection of children”.
Of the 27 cases looked at linked with last year's recommendations, two were assessed as good, 19 “requiring improvement” and seven as inadequate.
Inspectors said the force often failed to recognise the “vulnerability of an adolescent at the earliest opportunity”, adding: “In some cases, the behaviour of adolescents was seen as a problem rather than a potential symptom of wider safeguarding concerns”.
The report said: “For example, a 15-year-old girl was demonstrating signs of vulnerability due to sexual exploitation and drug taking. She was characterised as a ‘naughty child' on police records and her behaviour was viewed in that context.
“There was insufficient consideration given to the pattern and meaning of her behaviour in the early stages of her involvement with the force, and she was not believed by officers when she made allegations about physical abuse by her stepfather.
“As a consequence, the allegations were not investigated and safeguarding action was not considered at an earlier stage.”
HM Inspector of Constabulary Mike Cunningham said: “It is common knowledge that South Yorkshire Police's approach to protecting children has been severely lacking. In September last year HMIC raised serious concerns about the way the force was approaching this kind of work, which was undermining the service it provides to children.
“We carried out this post-inspection review in order to understand what progress South Yorkshire Police had made since our initial inspection, and we found there were still areas that need major improvements.”
Mr Cunningham said: “I am keen to stress however, that the situation in South Yorkshire is not irretrievable.
“There are tangible signs that the force is improving its service to children in some elements of its service to children, so I am encouraged that the senior leadership of South Yorkshire Police demonstrated the determination to make improvements.
“HMIC will continue to monitor South Yorkshire Police approach to child protection.”
Today's report, which follows an inspection review in April, found improvements to the force's initial response when attending incidents involving children at risk, that child protection has been prioritised and there is a strong desire to improve outcomes for children who are at risk of harm.
It also found that the force is developing new joint working arrangements and structures to improve consistency.
But the inspectors also found there had not been improvements to practice in relation to children in care homes, the force was still failing to recognise risks to some children and recording practices remained poor, which “limits the ability of staff to make good decisions about children”.
The report said the force had trained its staff to raise awareness about bringing their concerns to other agencies when children were considered at risk of harm.
It said: “We were encouraged to find that in one case, during a strategy discussion, officers had challenged children's social care services about the suitability of a children's home for a 15-year-old girl who had been regularly reported missing and found under the influence of drugs.”
HMIC said that since last year's review another 62 investigators had been brought in to work in child protection, as well as extra public protection staff, bringing the total to 302.
Last year's HMIC inspection report found that South Yorkshire Police had “limited understanding” of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children while officers showed an inconsistent response to child sexual exploitation.
South Yorkshire Police was heavily criticised in last year's Jay Report, which exposed how at least 1,400 children had been subjected to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
Professor Alexis Jay criticised officers for “regarding many child victims with contempt”. Her report provoked a wave of condemnation which resulted in a series of high-profile resignations.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission is currently investigating how South Yorkshire Police officers dealt with cases in Rotherham and the National Crime Agency has begun a major fresh investigation of allegations of child sexual exploitation in the town. A separate review has been set up by South Yorkshire's police commissioner.
In its summary, the watchdog said it “recognises that South Yorkshire Police has faced unprecedented demand following the reviews in Rotherham and by the National Crime Agency”.
It added: “It is clear that the force is committed to improving the protection of children. Child protection has been prioritised and there is a strong desire to improve outcomes for children who are at risk of harm.
“Much work is underway to improve the protection of children and there are force and multi-agency plans in place. Some important steps have been taken to implement the majority of the recommendations from HMIC's inspection in April 2014 and some improvements were evident.
“However, this body of work has yet to translate into improved practice on the front line and some children have been left at risk of harm.
“Force leaders now need to accelerate the pace of change across all child protection matters with an unambiguous focus on improving the quality of services on the front line.”
South Yorkshire Police's Assistant Constable Ingrid Lee responded to the findings by stating that the wellbeing and safeguarding of vulnerable children “is at the heart of everything we do” but agreed more progress is needed.
She said: “The force has made significant progress in protecting children, however, we agree with HMIC that more needs to be done.
“There has been a considerable increase in the number of police officers and staff in our public protection units, and also staff dedicated to tackling child sexual exploitation. We are absolutely committed to achieving justice, stopping harm and preventing future offending.”
She added that there are currently 164 live investigations relating to child sexual exploitation and in the last three months alone a further 19 people have been charged relating to those.
Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “This report paints a mixed picture. This should not surprise us because it comes at a particular moment in time.
“The initial inspection was in May last year. But it was overtaken by the Jay report which came out in August. That changed everything. For the first time the full extent of child sexual exploitation was revealed. Since then South Yorkshire Police have had to look at every area of their practice, past and present.
“The report shows the force where they have made progress but more particularly where improvements still have to be made. Part of my task will be to ensure that what is recommended is implemented.
“Since the follow-up inspection on which this report is based there has been further progress.
“This month we began to see perpetrators arrested and charged. Prosecutions will follow later this year.
“We are also having better partnership arrangements. Police officers and social workers are being located together in the same buildings across the four district authorities. The Rotherham Children's Commissioner has said this is working well there.
“I have put extra resources into work with vulnerable people, including victims of CSE.
“I set up a Victims, Survivors and their Families panel. This month they met with police officers for the first time so that the force can hear directly from them about their experiences. This will enable the police to learn how to improve their response to victims, so they are treated with sensitivity and respect.
“I recently announced the Drew Review. Professor John Drew will be looking across the whole of South Yorkshire – Barnsley, Doncaster and Sheffield as well as Rotherham - to assure me that South Yorkshire Police are doing everything that can be done in each of the districts.”
Karen Froggatt, director for child victims of sexual exploitation at the independent charity Victim Support, said: “There's an urgent need for a shift in attitude from all agencies to recognise that young people are vulnerable and often drugs, alcohol and threats play a part in the lead up to abusive behaviour.”
Sex trafficking: The new American slavery
by Leif Coorlim and Dana Ford
Watch "Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking" -- July 21 at 9 p.m.
Atlanta (CNN)The pathway leading to the dark corners of human trafficking began in the fluorescent-flooded hallways of a Florida middle school.
Sacharay, which is how she wants to be known, was 14 years old and looking for a friend.
"I used to get picked on a lot about being dark-skinned. I started wearing glasses and was called 'four-eyes.' And then they knew because I was so sensitive, they knew it was getting to me," she said.
But when an older classmate approached her and offered to be her friend, Sacharay thought maybe her fortunes had finally started to turn.
"I thought she was like my best friend because I could tell her everything. One day she asked if I wanted to skip school and have fun, you know, so we went to the barber shop. When I was there, she introduced me to these guys," said Sacharay, now 19.
One of the men, in his mid-30s, immediately took notice of Sacharay. He soon began courting her with gifts, paying her compliments and offering advice on the daily dramatics of adolescent life.
"If me and my sister would be arguing, he'd be like, 'You can't get into an argument with your sister like that.' He was more like a dad, but then again we had sex, so it wasn't. It was just in the communication and how he talked to me," she recalled.
It was child rape.
But this subtle, subversive mix of romantic love and parental care can create havoc in the mind of an adolescent, said Anique Whitmore, a forensic psychologist in Atlanta.
"What we know about sex crimes is that it's not about sexual pleasure. It's about control," said Whitmore. "What is similar to some of those girls that I work with is their self-esteem or lack thereof. You either become vulnerable to a man on the street or a man you meet in school. You become vulnerable because you're looking for attention."
Soon, Sacharay's trafficker began asking for "favors" -- asking her to help make some money for him, by sleeping with another man.
"He was like, 'I love you for that, I love you so much,'" said Sacharay. "Then he would slowly put two, three more guys. I got upset when I first realized what he was doing, but I kept doing it because he made me feel like I was special."
The exploitation continued to escalate. Sacharay soon was being sold to dozens of men a day. She would meet these sex buyers in motel rooms near a freeway, or even sometimes in the back of the barbershop.
"One day I was like, I can't do this no more. I was in pain. I had sex with almost 40 guys in one day, and I was so tired, and I said, 'I can't do this no more.'"
Her trafficker didn't care. He made sure she knew leaving was not an option.
"He went into the other room, came back with a gun, and he was like: 'If you go somewhere, we'll see.'"
Why Atlanta is a 'hub' for human trafficking
More than 3,500 sex trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center last year alone.
Under federal law, anyone under 18 years of age induced into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking -- regardless of whether the trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion.
Sacharay's exploiter eventually brought her and another teen to Atlanta, because he could command higher prices.
According to a 2014 study by the Urban Institute, some traffickers in Atlanta make more than $32,000 a week.
The study also cited research findings from 2007 that Atlanta's illegal sex industry generates around $290 million a year.
"It's a big city. There's a lot to do in Atlanta. A lot of conventions, a lot of hotels, a lot of parties going on, a lot of events," said Sgt. Torrey Kennedy with the DeKalb County Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. "So just like any businessmen, these traffickers know that."
A big part of Atlanta's draw is the airport, which is the busiest in the world.
"(A) man could get on that computer, anonymously, say, 'I'm coming in to go have sex with this child.' He'll fly in on a 3:00 flight, meet the child at 6:00, and be gone on the 8:00," said Dalia Racine, assistant district attorney for DeKalb County, which includes part of Atlanta. "How are we to ever find them? How are we to ever know who they are?"
Victims, not prostitutes
Racine and Kennedy often work together to identify and then prosecute human trafficking rings.
As part of an investigative series, the CNN Freedom Project followed Kennedy and his team on raids for more than a year. According to Kennedy, it's not unusual for a teen selling sex to deny that she's working for someone, even if it's against her will.
In June 2014, DeKalb County's ICAC and Vice Unit conducted an operation to find underage victims. The team went exit by exit along I-285, the perimeter highway, to hotels where undercover agents had arranged "dates" through an Internet escort site. In several of those meetings, the escort who showed up turned out to be underage.
Georgia law gives authorities the opportunity to grant leniency if a girl is willing to go to a safe home. But if she declines, their hands are somewhat tied.
Kennedy encountered this heartbreaking situation on the raid, when a suspected victim of trafficking didn't want any help.
"We don't want to arrest her. But she would rather go to jail than a treatment facility. She said she's 'happy being miserable."'
Investigators believe a local trafficker bought the girl in question a bus ticket from Detroit to Atlanta, gave her a puppy and paid for the hotel room where she was found.
"She has one tattoo on her knee, we've seen multiple times in this area, and it's likely it's a brand from a local pimp," said Kennedy. "That's one of the new things from pimps. They put their logo on their girl. ... The tattoo is fresh, which tells me that he just got his hands on her."
Struggling, but stronger
Sacharay has her own tattoos dating back to the time she was being exploited.
Her journey away from exploitation started at the doorstep of a sanctuary run by the nonprofit organization The Living Water Center.
The organization provided her with two things that didn't seem possible just a few years ago: a GED and a job.
"I used to hate looking in the mirror at myself," said Sacharay. "I still struggle, but I can say I'm stronger, I'm wiser and I can honestly say I do love myself. And I have hope for myself."
Sacharay now has a new focus, and a new tattoo on her forearm that says "Free to Be Me."
But for every Sacharay, there are countless young women still trapped in this dangerous and illegal trade.
CNN dives into that world in the documentary "Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking."
It airs July 21 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
"We're starting the process of getting people aware of what is happening at certain levels, so as the layers of the onion continue to get pulled back, we'll continue to learn and understand how this works," said actress Jada Pinkett Smith, who partnered with CNN for the film.
To find out more, and what you can do to help, visit: cnn.com/freedom
Local agency director offers tips on abuse prevention in wake of pastor's arrest
by Allen Wallace
A Columbia church is taking steps to offer support to its congregation in the wake of a pastor's arrest.
Walter Ballenger III, a pastor at Grace United Methodist Church on Harbison Boulevard, faces charges of criminal sexual conduct after allegedly touching children inappropriately.
The South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church “is providing guidance and resources to assist the church and those impacted in this difficult time,” according to a statement released by Bill Walker, the Grace United office manager.
The conference's district superintendent, Rev. Cathy Jamieson-Ogg, preached at both Sunday services at Grace United, according to Walker. Walker said Jamieson-Ogg was accompanied by Rev. Diane Mosely, a member of the South Carolina Response Team, which provides support and help in times of church crisis.
Mary Dell Hayes, director of development for Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, said offering counseling and support in situations like this is crucial.
“Often, issues like this bring up old trauma for survivors. It's hard for anyone to find out that a trusted leader would abuse that position,” Hayes said. “That can make them feel very vulnerable and bring up those feelings again.”
Hayes said churches are intended to be a place of safety, not just for children but for other vulnerable populations like the elderly and people dealing with addiction or abuse.
“People often turn to a church when they're at their most vulnerable” and seeking sanctuary, Hayes said.
Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands offers support for churches and other organizations in developing policies and procedures to protect vulnerable people. Hayes said training adults who work with vulnerable groups is crucial.
“They are able to offer a more educated support than somebody who's just trying to do the right thing,” she said. “It's so much more extensive than just giving somebody a hug.”
Grace United had a Safe Sanctuary policy in place, requiring at least two adults to be present with children at all times.
“You have to prepare for it,” Hayes said. “You can't say ‘That could never happen here.' ” She said the slightest suspicion of abuse should be reported to law enforcement, and never handled internally.
“The rules are for everyone, to protect everyone,” she said.
MSU's skull fracture research could impact child abuse cases
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The years that Todd Fenton, Roger Haut and their research team spent smashing infant pig skulls in a lab at Michigan State University could change the way forensic scientists interpret skull fractures in children and the way they determine what's child abuse and what's not.
What they found was that multiple skull fractures and fractures that aren't connected can come from a single impact. They found that the greater the impact force, the more fractures there were, and that the direction — or line of the actual fracture — pointed back to the location of impact, the Lansing State Journal (http://on.lsj.com/1gj8u1R) reported.
Currently, when medical examiners or doctors see a child's skull with multiple fractures, it's an immediate red flag for child abuse, said Fenton, director of the MSU's Forensic Anthropology Laboratory.
"It might have happened that way. But it also might have been from one blow," he said. "Knowing what we know now, our fear is that there may be people that have been wrongly accused of child abuse based upon those protocols."
Fenton and Haut, a professor of biomechanics, use the example of half an orange peel placed on a table with open end facing down. If you press on the top, the force puts a strain on the peel at its edges. If it gets great enough, it will crack, but at the edges and not the location of the initial force.
Their research could make it possible for forensic scientists to prove or disprove child abuse by examining the location, number and direction of skull fractures, something the researchers call the "fracture patterns."
There are two general standards for forensic evidence to be admitted as evidence in a trial, both requiring that it be accepted by its scientific community, said Fred Fochtman, director of the Forensic Science and Law Master's Program at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.
"Scientists are always open," he said after hearing a summary of Fenton and Haut's research. "They're rarely skeptical, unless it sounds weird. And this doesn't sound weird."
It was frequent trips between their two offices on the fourth floor of East Fee Hall that set the project in motion a decade ago.
Determining the circumstances of a child's death are difficult, so as early as 2005, Fenton said he found himself walking down the hall to talk with Haut, an engineer, whose expertise was helpful even though it wasn't related to child abuse.
"It became very clear at that point that we could probably pull together and solve this scientific gap, or fill this scientific gap," Fenton said.
The research was funded by the National Institute of Justice and used infant pig skulls, which were struck with varying force and with instruments of varying sizes. The researchers then recorded the fracture patterns.
Fenton and Haut were careful to note that all the skulls were from infant pigs that died by accident and weren't euthanized for research purposes.
According to their research, instead of several fractures being a sign of several impacts — a possible sign of abuse — it can be a sign of a single incident, like a child falling out of bed.
What their model doesn't show is intent, as in did someone intend to drop a child, Haut said.
"We can maybe help determine what actually happened," he said. "And then we can compare that to testimony, either from a defendant or the prosecution."
Fenton and MSU's Forensic Anthropology Laboratory consult with medical examiners and law enforcement around the state to help identify human remains and determine the circumstances of death.
But whether Fenton and Haut's model makes it into courtrooms will be up to prosecutors or defense attorneys.
If it's helpful for a jury to understand the charges and it's evidence a scientist can discuss, then it might be worth trying to admit as evidence, Eaton County Prosecuting Attorney Doug Lloyd said.
"But in the back of their mind they know there will be motions about whether to accept it," he said. "Even if it's successful, there's a good chance it's appealed."
The recent trend in expert witness testimony is to discuss how confident the expert is in the findings rather than giving definitive determination, Fochtman said, because any science has its limits.
"Obviously they can examine the evidence and present the scientific findings," he said. "The term science now is tantamount in forensics. Is there any kind of uncertainty associated with it? In true life, in real circumstances, there is always some uncertainty."
Fenton and Haut's model is accurate with the infant pig skulls, depending on the factors, between 82 and 95 percent, according to their research.
If they get additional funding, they'll begin working on fracture patterns in adult pig skulls.
They're also working with computer scientists to build and expand their database of the recorded skull fractures to make analysis easier and available across the country. They call it the Fracture Printing Interface — a nod to fingerprinting, a staple of forensic science.
"Pediatric deaths have been and still are quite challenging to determine the circumstances of death," Fenton said. "And often times, when those cases go to trial, expert witnesses line up on both sides and it can become really contentious.
"Before we started to do our work, the foundational basis for interpretation of cranial fractures really wasn't out there."
Ex-Believers Accuse Jehovah's Witness Leadership Of Covering Up Sexual Abuse
A group of ex-Jehovah's Witness members have assembled on Reddit to place a billboard calling out leadership in the church for failing to adequately address sexual abuse — and even for actively covering it up. The billboard points viewers to a website that offers evidence for the claims. The group hopes for the message to make an impact during upcoming conventions, which thousands will attend.
The goal isn't to make more Jehovah's Witnesses leave the religion, but to hold Elders accountable for failing to report sexual abuse. The website makes a case for failure to report incidents of sexual abuse, listing a number of cases in which victims were awarded large sums of money when courts determined that Jehovah's Witness leaders failed to make a necessary report.
It goes on to explain that Elders are instructed to only turn over to authorities cases in which there are two witnesses — which means that in addition to the victim, either the perpetrator must confess, or the abuse must have been performed where another church member could witness it — something most sexual predators know to avoid.
In general, members of clergy are considered mandated reporters — that means that in most cases, if church Elders are aware of abuse, or have reason to believe a child is being abused, they're expected to report it to authorities. This isn't universal — state laws vary, and may include exemptions for “privileged” conversation, such as a confession of sin by the perpetrator. However, in many cases, simple failure to report may be a violation of law.
The basic goal of the group is simply to make more Jehovah's Witnesses aware that there are cases where their church Elders are failing to report, choosing to focus on the act as a sin rather than a crime. These ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, with their own experience of the religion, feel that few members have any idea of the extent to which abuse is covered, and wish to bring it to the attention of the public. Further, they're asking every Jehovah's Witness who views the information to contact the governing body of the church and call for change. Members are asked to call for Elders to be ordered to report every incident, with or without a corroborating witness.
“The makers of this web page urge you to consider waking up to the possibility that only by confronting these issues and saying ‘enough is enough' can we bring about change and safeguard children of Jehovah's Witnesses from those who would do them unspeakable harm.”
According to the Friendly Atheist , the billboard — which is certainly striking — was placed on June 15, and will be present through two Jehovah's Witness conventions. The first of these takes place on July 31, and the second on August 7.
Runaway Teens At Large: Interview with Greenwich Commissioner Alan Barry
by Katherine Du
With runaway teenagers in recent headlines, we talked to Dr. Alan Barry about the issue. Teenage runaways fall into two categories: chronic and episodic.
Chronic running away is a routine power ploy that could involve substance abuse, while episodic running away involves isolated incidents in which a humiliating event, such as a pregnancy or fear of parental disapproval, triggers a teenager to flee home.
“Running away is faulty problem solving. When teenagers make a mistake, they should face up to it rather than run. They have to develop more constructive problem solving and coping skills, and it's on the parents to work with teens, to let them know it's okay to make a mistake as long as they own up to it,” said Alan Barry, Ph.D., Commissioner for the Greenwich Department of Social Services.
Although emerging teenagers are more critical of and resistant to their parents, Barry stressed that open lines of family communication are paramount. Establishing and maintaining support systems steers teenagers toward facing, rather than escaping, their problems.
In today's media-saturated world, teenage risky behavior often springs from technology as well.
“We haven't really dealt completely with the technology aspects of social media. With cyber-bullying and instant information, I think there's a lot more stress. It's toxic stress: the more stress kids have in their lives, the less they're able to cope,” said Barry.
Acknowledging and tackling stress is no foreign ground for Barry, whose department's Community Partnership Program has consistently supported TeenTalk , a mental health program providing crisis counselors to Greenwich's Western and Central Middle Schools.
“In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, there was quite a bit of attention and resources toward school security. I felt that at the same time, what was not really being addressed was mental health support for adolescents, and we already had an excellent program with TeenTalk providing a counselor at Western Middle School,” said Barry, who pushed for TeenTalk's expansion to Central Middle School in 2014 and Eastern Middle School in August 2015.
Barry seeks to spread TeenTalk and other social emotional learning programs to Greenwich's elementary schools and preschools. Such an extension would identify children with learning or behavior issues as soon as possible, allow counselors and families to work on resolving child developmental problems, and equip children with healthy decision-making skills for life.
The shortfall: the Greenwich Department of Social Services lacks enough mental health consultation programs working alongside these social emotional learning programs.
“When a child is identified with having behavior problems, we don't have enough resources at this point to provide direct assistance for the child and family… and problems get more complicated and difficult to resolve later on, especially for a teenager who has a lot of stress,” said Barry.
Escalating unemployment rates fuel Barry's desire to work with kids virtually from the womb.
“To resolve the achievement gap and employment challenges, the two key areas for us to work on are education and employment. Many of the job opportunities that were here, such as manufacturing jobs, are no longer available because of the changing global environment.” –Alan Barry, Ph.D., Commissioner for the Greenwich Department of Social Services.
Barry, whose department provides case management services that help clients build long-term self-sufficiency and economic independence, aims to direct children from a young age to a college or vocational track.
“It's important to start thinking earlier,” Barry said.
RGV Empowerment Zone - Victims of Crime Program meets monthly in Alton
ALTON — The Rio Grande Valley Empowerment Zone Corporation — Victims of Crime (RGVEZC-VOC) Prevention and Restoration, continues to provide needed services to victims of crime. The State Criminal Justice Department funded the program allowing it to provide services to homicide survivors and other victims of violent crimes.
Jessica Torres, interim regional VOC program coordinator, has been successful in providing services to homicide survivors and facilitates support group meetings. She is a former Law Enforcement Officer and continues to hold her TCOLE license current. Torres also has extensive experience as an advocate giving her dual insight form the perspective of the victim and law enforcement.
The focus of the RGVEZC-VOC program is to serve all victims of crime, including survivors of homicide victims, family violence, sexual assault, stalking, teen dating violence, human trafficking, child abuse, sex trafficking, forced labor/modern slavery, and other violent crimes. While RGVEZC believes in the need to assist and provide crisis intervention services to homicide and other victims of crime it is equally important to address prevention and restoration services/programs. For homicide survivors the program offers other direct services in addition to the support group meetings. The death of a loved one also results in health, mental, emotional and financial hardships that arise. Our Support group meetings are held at our Alton office from 6 to 8 p.m. every second Wednesday of the month.
An important program activity of the VOC is to provide training to professional law enforcement and non-professional law enforcement employees in order for them to understand how the loss of a loved one affects family and friends of the victim. Education and training is critical to the survivors of homicide, other crime victims and program advocates.
Although the RGVEZ cannot help everyone, it looks at each case individually. If the RGV-VOC program cannot help, Jessica Torres will work with partner organizations to secure needed resources and referrals.
The Alton office is main office for the program with a satellite office in Starr County also providing the same services. If you are a victim of a violent crime in Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy and Cameron County, contact Torres at (956) 424-3276 or email: email@example.com