From the Department of Justice
Member of International Child Exploitation Conspiracy Sentenced to 21 Years in Prison
A member of an international child exploitation conspiracy was sentenced to 21 years in prison today for his participation in two websites that were operated for the purpose of coercing and enticing minors as young as eight years old to engage in sexually explicit conduct on web camera.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente of the Eastern District of Virginia and Section Chief Calvin A. Shivers of the FBI's Violent Crimes Against Children Section (VCACS) made the announcement.
Brian K. Hendrix, 42, of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III of the Eastern District of Virginia, who also ordered Hendrix to serve a 10 year term of supervised release. Hendrix will also be required to register as a sex offender. In January, Hendrix was convicted at trial by a federal jury on child pornography charges. The investigation, Operation Subterfuge, identified more than 300 minor victims in the United States and an estimated 1,600 minor victims were lured to the websites.
According to evidence presented at trial, Hendrix's co-conspirators created false profiles on social networking sites, such as YouTube, posing as young teenagers to lure children to the websites they controlled. Once children were on the conspirators' websites, the conspirators, including Hendrix, showed the children pre-recorded videos of prior minor victims, often engaging in sexually explicit conduct, to make the new victims think that they were chatting with another minor. Using these videos, Hendrix and co-conspirators coerced and enticed children to engage in sexually explicit activity on their own web cameras, which the website automatically recorded. Conspirators earned points based on their contribution to the success of website objectives, which allowed them access to the sexually exploitative videos of children. Several of these sexually exploitative videos were found on digital devices belonging to Hendrix. Law enforcement agencies have disabled both websites.
Trial Attorney Lauren Britsch of the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Tracy Doherty-McCormick of the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case. CEOS Trial Attorney Ravi Sinha assisted with the prosecution.
VCACS special agents led the investigation with the assistance of the FBI's Operation Rescue Me and the FBI's Digital Analysis and Research Center. The South Africa Police Service, Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offenses, Gauteng; Dutch Police Service Agency, KLPD; Royal Canadian Mounted Police, National Child Exploitation Coordination Centre; and the Australian Federal Police, Child Protection Operations, Sydney were active partners in the investigation. The U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Tennessee contributed to the investigation and the prosecution.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit: www.justice.gov/psc
Joe Biden, Lady Gaga tour aims to stop sexual assaults on campus
Lady Gaga and Joe Biden have a mutual interest in preventing sexual assault and rape on US college campuses. They are touring together to bring the White House's "It's on Us" initiative.
by Christina Beck
In any other circumstances, Vice President Joe Biden and pop singer Lady Gaga would make an unlikely pair. During the “It's On Us” tour to end sexual violence, it could be argued that the two complement each other perfectly.
The two are touring the country, speaking at college campuses about sexual violence and the White House's “It's On Us” campaign to discuss the causes of rape and assault. The campaign aims to address student apathy and cultural and gender norms on campus that are seen as contributing to the problem.
Mr. Biden first introduced Lady Gaga at this year's Oscar ceremony, where she performed surrounded by sexual assault survivors. The singer and songwriter has spoken about her own past experiences with sexual assault before.
"Imagine the courage it takes for her to speak out and then imagine the courage it takes for her to sing a song, 'Til It Happens to You,'” said Biden, introducing Lady Gaga at the University of Las Vegas, Nevada, “that is branded in her heart,” the Associated Press reported.
Biden has been involved in the fight against sexual violence since he wrote the Violence Against Women Act, 22 years ago. In November 2015, he wrote a moving opinion piece on sexual assault for the “It's On Us” campaign, which appears on the White House website.
Biden spoke to the need to stop asking the wrong questions about what a victim did that caused rape or assault to happen, but rather ask questions about what makes perpetrators think that rape is ok.
“We have to ask the right questions – What made him think that he could do what he did without my consent? Why on Earth did no one stop him instead of standing by? What can we do to make sure everyone has the courage,” wrote Biden, “to speak up, intervene, prevent and end sexual assault once and for all?”
Several colleges and universities also printed Biden's piece in their campus newspapers.
At Thursday's event in Las Vegas, Biden spoke for forty minutes about the problems surrounding sexual assault.
After Biden's talk, Lady Gaga performed ‘Til it Happens to You.” The two have spoken and performed together at three campuses this week, as part of the “It's On Us” Week of Action, including the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
At every appearance, Biden asks attending students to make a pledge to be active in the fight against sexual violence. As of November, over 250,000 students had taken the pledge. The “It's On Us” website features videos by celebrities like Jon Hamm who have also taken the pledge. The campaign says that more than 300 campuses have hosted over 1,000 "It's On Us" events.
What can students do? Biden writes:
To intervene instead of being a bystander.
To recognize that any time consent is not – or cannot – be given, it is sexual assault and it is a crime.
To do everything you can to create an environment where sexual assault is unacceptable, and all survivors are supported.
Has the “It's On Us” campaign made a difference? It may be too early to tell. Critics of the program say that although it has garnered many celebrity sponsors, it has done little to generate real dialogue.
Biden and Lady Gaga are making the rounds to college campuses as campus rape cases continue to abound. On Friday, former Vanderbilt football player Corey Batey was found guilty of raping an unconscious student on the university's campus.
The victim says that while she does not remember the rape, she does remember waking up confused in an unknown room. She was dating another football player, Brandon Vandenberg, at the time. Vandenberg was also accused of rape.
According to the Associated Press, this case is unusual in that it features film and photograph evidence of the crime generated by the perpetrators.
The AP also noted that this trial "once again raised questions about bystanders in campus sexual assaults. At least five student athletes saw the unconscious woman in a state of distress but did not call for help, including several who testified that they saw her lying partially nude in a dorm hallway."
The Christian Science Monitor reported that new research shows that "women who experienced incapacitated rape before college were six times more likely to experience that again in college and four times more likely to be forcibly raped than women who had not been previously raped while incapacitated."
Colleges have been criticized, for instance, for focusing too much effort on teaching young women to avoid certain situations at parties.
“We need to really reframe how we think about risk reduction ... and focus more on who are the perpetrators and why are they ‘seizing the opportunity' of vulnerable populations,” says Jane Stapleton, co-director of UNH's Prevention Innovations: Research and Practices for Ending Violence Against Women.
U.S. Marshals: Rapist called 'Zombie Mike' may be in Sacramento
U.S. Marshals have reason to believe a man they accuse of raping a wheelchair-bound victim in her New York home may be somewhere in the greater Sacramento County area.
Michael Hawkins, 29, is accused of breaking into the victim's Schenectady home while her loved ones slept only feet away and assaulting her in June 2012.
The victim, who is also mentally challenged, reported the crime the next day and a warrant was issued for Hawkins' arrest.
Hawkins remained undetected by law enforcement until the next year when he allegedly sexually assaulted another victim, U.S. Marshals said.
In November 2013, Hawkins allegedly sexually assaulted the wife of a friend, who had invited Hawkins to his Rotterdam, New York home for a family gathering. In this case, he was charged with first-degree rape, according to Marshals.
Authorities have reason to believe Hawkins may have fled from the area of his crimes, noting the man has personal ties to Sacramento, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Florida; however, his whereabouts remain unknown.
Nicknamed “Zombie Mike” by his friends for his poor hygiene, Hawkins is described by authorities “as someone who can hide anywhere to include wooded areas and survive off scraps.”
Due to his past employment with traveling carnival companies based in New Jersey and North Carolina, he could be working and traveling with similar companies in Ohio, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, and states along the East Coast, Marshals report.
Hawkins is a 5 foot, 9 inches tall white man, weighing about 160 pounds. He has brown hair and brown eyes. His unique physical characteristics include a scar on his face, a burn mark scar on his right arm, and a chest tattoo of the Grim Reaper.
According to friends, he is known to have a temper and abuse alcohol.
“The Schenectady and Rotterdam Police departments, along with the Marshals, have dedicated countless man-hours during this fugitive investigation,” said McNulty. “With the public's help, we are confident Hawkins will be arrested.”
A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for information leading directly to Hawkins' arrest.
Marshals urge anyone with information related to Hawkins to contact the nearest U.S. Marshals office or the U.S. Marshals Service Communications Center at 1-800-336-0102, or email email@example.com.
Watsonville stops the silence with coalition-building walk
by Ryan Masters
WATSONVILLE - A little rain could not silence the crowd of supporters who gathered in downtown Watsonville Saturday to support young and adult survivors of child sexual abuse.
In its 10th consecutive year, the Walk to Stop the Silence has increasingly built public awareness of sexual abuse and strengthened prevention efforts throughout Santa Cruz County.
The annual walk is a keystone event supporting the Survivors Healing Center, which offers group therapy to survivors of child sexual abuse while working to prevent sexual abuse of children in the community through outreach and education.
“Every year we see more people coming in to take advantage of the services. People are empowered to talk about an issue that has historically brought a lot of shame,” said event organizer Maria Rodriguez-Castillo. “We want victims of sexual abuse to understand that it is not their fault and they are not alone.”
After initially convening in the Gene Hoularis and Waldo Rodriguez Youth Center on Maple Street, nearly 200 marchers streamed through City Plaza and down Main Street to a fusillade of honking from passing traffic.
While morning rain cut the number of participants, Rodriguez-Castillo said the walk has drawn more than 400 in the past and the crowd remained diverse and enthusiastic.
“When we began 10 years, there were maybe 90 people here, but not children,” she said. “Today we see a lot more families taking part in the walk. It's become less of a stigma. People used to be afraid of being associated with sexual abuse in any way. It's becoming OK to stand up and help prevent sexual abuse.”
The Santa Cruz Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse, an international organization devoted to supporting young victims of abuse, has participated in the walk since its inception.
“We get directly involved in the lives of abused kids. We support them, make them feel safe, even go to court with them,” said Mark Kastner, who is also known as “Joker,” and a member of the club. “The general idea is to let them know they're protected against the perpetrators of the abuse.”
Leslie Potenzo of Sin Barras, an organization devoted to the abolition of prisons and the prison-industrial complex, described the walk as a coalition-building event.
“We're here to support the Survivors Healing Center while getting our message out as well. It takes an alliance of organizations to build strong and healthy communities,” Potenzo said.
Richard Puccinelli, a representative for PAPÁS of the Central Coast, the father involvement and coparenting program, has taken part in the event for three years now.
“By coming out here and being seen and heard I feel like we give victims the courage to speak out against sexual abuse,” he said. “Silence only continues the injustice and pain they experience.”
For information about the Survivors Healing Center, visit: www.survivorshealingcenter.org
States encouraged to extend opportunity to ‘seek justice'
by Dave Sutor
Federal legislation has been introduced that would encourage states such as Pennsylvania to extend or eliminate statutes of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse.
It would amend the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, authorizing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to states that strengthen their statutes.
When introducing the bill in January, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid from Nevada said it would “give victims greater opportunity to come forward and seek justice.”
The proposal is supported by the Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, a nonprofit advocacy group.
“The federal government can incentivize states to look at their laws,” said Foundation for Survivors of Abuse co-founder Deondra Brown. “That is the path we have taken with Sen. Reid.”
During a recent visit to Johns-town, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat, said, “I certainly would not oppose the elimination of those statutes of limitations because of the nature of this crime. It's not only sexual abuse, but it happens to involve children.”
Casey previously introduced the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act, which would make states implement consistent standards for reporting child abuse by requiring individuals with responsibility over children to report suspected abuse and neglect directly to state authorities.
“We should make it a national standard that every adult who could conceivably come into contact with a child has to be a reporter,” Casey said.
Casey's and Reid's proposals could complement each other, according to Pennsylvania's senior senator. “I think between the two bills we've got a lot of good policy,” Casey said.
“The challenge is passing federal legislation that deals with child abuse.”
The statute of limitations issue has been brought forward locally in the aftermath of a grand jury investigation into an alleged decades-long coverup of child sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown. State Attorney General Kathleen Kane's office accused at least
50 priests and religious leaders of having abused children, which she claims the diocese actively tried to shield from the public.
However, only three minister provincials from the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, are facing charges of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children for allegedly letting Brother Stephen Baker be at Bishop McCort High School even though they reportedly knew allegations of child sexual abuse had been made against him.
All of the other individuals in the report – both accused abusers and those alleged to have participated in the cover-up – are either dead or their reported wrongdoings occurred beyond the statutes of limitations.
Currently in Pennsylvania, victims who were under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred can file civil charges until age 30. Criminal charges can be brought until age 30 by individuals who were born before Aug. 27, 2002. The criminal limit moves to age 50 for alleged victims born after Aug. 27, 2002.
On Tuesday, a bill passed through the state's House Judiciary Committee that would abolish the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution in future child sexual abuse cases and raise the limit to age 50 in civil cases. It will now be considered by the full House.
“I know there are great things happening in Pennsylvania,” Brown said. “This is something where we're pleasantly surprised to see Pennsylvania move in this direction.”
East Texas survivor explains impact of childhood sexual abuse on adult life
by Francesca Washington
EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - - Before his return to the courtroom, Bernie Tiede's defense team claimed sexual abuse while he was a teen may have caused him to snap and kill Marjorie Nugent. The alleged abuse lead the court to release him from prison in 2014 and call for the ongoing re-sentencing trial.
“It was just a bad situation, and it was just a one-time thing, and it just happened. I just snapped,” Bernie Tiede, said in a 2012 interview, describing the day he shot and killed Majorie Nugent.
Both Tiede and a psychiatrist say abuse he suffered by a family member when he was a teen may have caused that mental snap.
“It seems as though the emotion built up over time and in my opinion, that was a non-premeditated act," said Dr. Edward Gripon, in a 2014 testimony.
Tiede did not previously report the abuse.
Executive Director of the 1 in 3 Foundation Maya Bethany was sexually abused as a child; she said she didn't speak out until she was 21 years old.
“I did not tell a soul about any of the abuse for the entire time it was happening,” Bethany said.
The 1 in 3 Foundation works to help women who have been victims of sexual abuse. Bethany says abuse, no matter when it happened, stays with you for life.
“It's going to come back and manifest itself in some way whether you recognize it or not,” Bethany said.
Bilingual Therapist for the Children's Advocacy Center Keren Acuna says children who have been abused can suffer from PTSD. She says the trauma can disrupt whatever stage of development they're in.
“So, for example, if it was learning new boundaries at that developmental stage, it disrupts that and they have difficulty with boundaries throughout their life,” Acuna said.
Bethany says various factors can spark a memory or trigger an emotion for abuse survivors, for reasons they sometimes can't explain.
“There have definitely been those moments where the emotions have risen and I haven't been able to explain what it was. Whether it was a tearful episode or an anger episode just not violent,” Bethany said.
April is child abuse awareness month and sexual assault awareness month. Experts say the best thing a victim can do is to speak out and get the help they need.
Under his original life sentence, Tiede would not have been eligible for parole until 2027.
‘We have to make it right': Rep. fights to end time limits for reporting sexual abuse
by John Finnerty
HARRISBURG – Amid outrage over hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse committed by priests, lawmakers are now divided over how much time victims should have to seek justice.
A proposal to lift the time limit for prosecution of sex-abuse crimes, in current form, only looks to the future but does nothing for victims of long-ago crimes.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, calls it a “slap in the face.”
Rozzi, himself a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, has led efforts to eliminate statutes of limitations.
He plans a proposal to allow victims of old crimes to sue their abusers, he said, which will bring forward victims “from every corner of the state.”
Debate is unfolding in the aftermath of a grand jury's finding that priests in the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese abused hundreds of children, over four decades – actions that the report says were covered up by church leaders.
Those crimes happened too long ago to bring sex-abuse charges – in criminal or civil court. Legal limits depend on the age of a victim, who may seek criminal charges until they turn 50 and make civil claims until age 30.
The House proposal removes the age limit for criminal charges, and allows victims to press a civil claim until age 50.
But it would only apply to new cases.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the measure by a 26-1 vote on Tuesday.
David Hickton, the U.S. attorney in Pittsburgh, has said he is considering racketeering charges against church officials who covered up the abuse.
But Rozzi said lawmakers can allow victims in the diocese to seek justice, regardless of what the U.S. attorney does.
Barring old claims rewards the church for successfully covering up crimes until statutes of limitations passed, he said.
“Now that we have this information, we have to make it right,” he said.
Controversy over what should happen is dividing lawmakers who are normally close allies.
The Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance is among those backing Rozzi's effort.
“All victims of childhood sexual abuse should be afforded an opportunity for justice,” wrote Angela Liddle, the group's CEO, in a memo to lawmakers.
Lifting the time limit on criminal charges won't just force the church to confront its old sins, Rozzi said. Other churches and youth groups will be on the hook as well.
Still, Rozzi said, the strongest resistance seems to be coming from the church or its supporters.
Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown, also wants to change the proposal, but from a different direction. He said the state should allows victims to sue state and local agencies for negligence in covering up crimes or protecting child predators.
School districts and state agencies are now immune to lawsuits, a protection that Penn State didn't have as a state-funded but independent university. The state's flagship university has paid close to
$93 million to 32 sexual abuse victims of Jerry Sandusky, former assistant football coach, according to budget documents.
Barbin also said he plans to propose safeguards to ensure that old abuse claims have merit. Those include requiring that victims obtain “certificates of merit” from mental health counselors.
He may also propose a requirement that victims demonstrate that they sought counseling before age 30, if filing a claim as an older adult.
Rozzi said those suggestions are unnecessary and “muddying it up.”
“He's making more hoops for victims to go through. It could kill the legislation,” he said.
Rozzi may have reason to be concerned, said Cathleen Palm, executive director of the Center for Children's Justice in Berks County.
Allowing claims against schools and government agencies might force lawmakers who would otherwise reflexively support the bill to take a longer look, she said.
Rozzi said a similar amendment derailed a Colorado effort to allow victims of old sex crimes to file lawsuits. Roman Catholic lobbyists there pushed lawmakers to drop immunity protections for schools and government entities, he said.
Barbin said he's not trying to torpedo the proposal, and he's not working just to advance the cause of the church. Barbin said he's talked to people on all sides of the issue, including attorneys from the Catholic Conference.
Lifting the immunity for schools and government agencies is important, he said, because victims shouldn't be treated differently depending on where a predator worked.
“I can't worry about what Mark (Rozzi) thinks,” he said.
“I'm trying to figure out what is the best thing to do to protect the most people.”
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference doesn't oppose getting rid of the statute of limitations, said a spokeswoman, but giving new life to old cases is another matter.
“We are concerned about potential amendments that would retroactively nullify the civil statute of limitations that could lead to the closure of parishes, schools and ministries of today's Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago,” said Amy B. Hill, a spokeswoman for the Catholic Conference.
In Delaware, a similar retroactive law led to lawsuits against more than half of the parishes in the state, she said.
Those cases were settled as part of an agreement between the Wilmington Diocese and 124 victims.
The settlement, which included stipulations for significant changes to improve child safety in the diocese, was worth $77 million, according to the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse. Survivors received $75,000 to $3 million, depending on severity of the abuse.
Access to justice
Other advocates said any progress to stretch out the statute of limitations is welcome, as long as the debate doesn't completely derail the legislation.
Palm, of the Center for Children's Justice, said removing the limit for future cases “is an important step forward.”
“It is worth recognizing the big deal it is to say, in the future, prosecutors and victims will not be denied an important tool to achieve justice, healing and promote public safety,” she said.
But David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said removing a “window” on when charges may be pursued ensures that “sometimes, even decades later, wrongdoers may be held responsible for endangering kids, hiding predators and deceiving parents.”
“Bishops pretend clergy sex crimes and cover-ups are somehow ancient history. They aren't,” he said. “The three most important and chilling words in the Altoona grand jury report are these: ‘Nothing has changed.' ”
State Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, said victims of sexual abuse in his area should get the same access to justice as those in Delaware.
About 300 people have called an attorney general's hotline to report they are victims of sex crimes committed by priests in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.
Burns said three victims of sex abuse in the diocese have approached him but insisted that they won't alert authorities unless the law is changed.
“Do we want victims in the shadows?” he asked.
Abuse has ruined lives, he said. Victims have tumbled into alcoholism and drug addiction.
Some may have been reluctant to engage in normal relationships because of the abuse.
In some cases, he said, victims committed suicide.
“It's mind-numbing the chaos this has caused,” he said.
Focus on prevention to stop child abuse, neglect
In Montana, more than 3,000 children are currently in state custody – the highest number ever. The vast majority of these children are in the state foster care system because they have been abused or neglected by the people they depended on to care for them.
In Missoula, the number of child abuse and neglect cases jumped from 110 cases filed with the Missoula County Attorney's Office in 2013 to 173 cases in 2015. County Attorney Kirsten Pabst noted “a direct correlation between meth and child abuse and neglect and serious domestic abuse cases,” and subsequently increased the number of civil division attorneys handling child abuse cases to three.
State custody should be the last resort after all other options are exhausted. If a child cannot be safe with immediate family, then extended family or even close family friends should be considered before state care.
But what if at-risk children could stay with their parents, and be safe? What if Montana, instead of dedicating so many resources to punishing abusive parents and then trying to heal hurt children, could instead prevent abuse and neglect from happening in the first place?
Prevention. That should be the focus of Montana's efforts, its systems and its limited dollars.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and like communities across the United States, Missoula is participating in Pinwheels for Prevention. The county will be carpeted with 10,000 blue pinwheels for the month, and today, the Montana Children's Trust Fund will be covering the Capitol lawn in Helena with pinwheels.
The month will bring other special events focused on child abuse and neglect, including the annual Child Abuse and Neglect Conference organized by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. This year, the conference will be held April 19-21 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Missoula.
The aim of all these efforts is to not only raise awareness of the growing problem of child abuse, but to gather support for prevention. They happen to be taking place at a time of heightened scrutiny of Montana's child protection system.
Last summer, a group of grandparents in Montana got together to organize protests of the state's Division of Child and Family Services, saying the agency was shutting them out from decisions involving their grandchildren. A performance audit completed last November found serious problems with the agency's record-keeping and transparency.
At the end of this month, CFS Administrator Sarah Corbally will step down. She has spoken for years about the growing number of child abuse and neglect reports, the increasing number of children in state care and the need for more child protection social workers. The situation, Corbally has explained, has caseworkers overworked and is exacerbating the agency's problem with high employee turnover.
In fact, the agency's office in Missoula has been unable to hire enough new workers to fill all open positions before other workers leave, leading to chronic vacancies.
Before the previous legislative session Gov. Steve Bullock requested additional funding to improve the state's child protection system, and the legislature did eventually approve about $3 million after a House committee tried to cut it. Bullock also launched the Protect Montana Kids Commission to study the system and suggest improvements.
Their efforts to resolve the problems within the agency, especially those identified by the audit, must continue with urgency.
Meanwhile, it's time for Montana to get serious about prevention.
There are myriad ways of approaching prevention, of course. Missoula already has some of these, including parenting classes and family support services that cover everything from housing to employment and health care.
One of the most promising preventive programs concerns in-home visits, a proven effective method of providing direct support to at-risk children and their families.
It's time to ramp up these options.
Here again Bullock is keeping his nose to the grindstone of child welfare. Last week, in a joint announcement with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, he announced that Montana is set to receive more than $4.3 million for its Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.
The grant, administered by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration and the state of Montana, will help fund a program that provides in-home support services ranging from prenatal health to parent education, all on a purely voluntary basis, to the families of at-risk children.
Independent studies have shown that such programs result in better health, education and behavior outcomes for children, and substantially reduce reports of parental abuse and neglect.
Montana's Home Visiting Program provided nearly 300 families in 18 counties with nearly 2,500 home visits in 2014. At the same time, it managed to enroll almost 350 new parents and children in the program.
That's a good start, and the new grant money will improve on this success. But 3,000 children are in Montana's care right now, and it's clear more needs to be done. Let's start right here in Missoula, with a sustained community-wide call for more child abuse and neglect prevention efforts.
Family TIES seeks to break cycle of child abuse
by Hailey Van Parys
Family TIES in Gainesville hoped to shed light on child abuse prevention Saturday by setting up pinwheels in the front lawn of First Baptist Church in Gainesville and inviting an 11-year-old girl to recite her poem to her incarcerated father.
The event, “Seeds for the Family,” was put together by the organization's board members, volunteers and students of the group's parenting course.
The organization serves 2,000 families annually, according to Executive Director Dee Dee Mize, who also teaches some of the classes herself.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Family TIES, which stands for Teaching, Informing, Empowering and Supporting, is a nonprofit agency that helps families by providing counseling, educational and intervention services and parenting classes.
“We offer our services in order to prevent and break the cycle of abuse and neglect,” Mize said.
Struggling teens can also get help from the organization through Hall County Juvenile Court referrals. The Hall County Detention Center also helps residents by educating them in both parenting and anger management courses provided by the organization.
Ana Garcia is one parent benefitting from the courses. She's been taking the parenting class after she was required to by the court after her children had missed too many days of school.
“It was a tough time for me,” Garcia said.
The single mom has three children, and she said it became difficult for her to get her children to school when she lost her car. She was also going through a separation at the time.
She was told she had to take 35 hours of the course, which she hopes to finish by the end of this month. Since she began the course, her children haven't missed a day of school.
“It's a useful class,” the Gainesville resident said.
The course teaches parents how to care for their children, offering advice and giving resources for parents.
Garcia's 11-year-old daughter, Naomi, read her poem for the group. The poem, written in her black composition notebook about two months ago, was assigned by her Gainesville Middle School language arts teacher. She had written the poem as a letter to her father in prison.
“I was sad, and a little bit mad, but I forgive him,” Naomi said.
The poem itself reflected her feelings, with passages like “Where are you when I need you? Why are you never to be found? You're supposed to be my daddy but you're not even around.”
It also reflects a deeper problem within the Hall County community which Family TIES is trying to prevent.
The pinwheels they placed created an arc around a field of smaller plastic flower decorations and numbered 687 altogether. The pinwheels were meant to represent the parents and the flowers represented the children affected by abuse or neglect.
“We are trying to plant seeds of growth everywhere,” Mize said.
For more information on Family TIES, visit the website www.familytiesgainesville.org or call 770-287-3071.
Child abuse and neglect in Michigan at record levels
by Kristi Tanner
The number of abused and neglected children in Michigan has risen to its highest level in more than 25 years.
Across the state, 34,777 children were confirmed to be victims of abuse or neglect in the 12 months starting in October 2014, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.
The number of children victimized equates to a rate of 15.6 per 1,000 children statewide, the highest rate Michigan has seen since 1990, according to data reported by the Michigan League for Public Policy.
Eight counties have rates of child abuse and neglect that are at least twice as high as the state rate. Michigan had the lowest rate in 1993 when 7.7 out of 1,000 children statewide were found to be victims of child abuse or neglect.
In the 12 months starting in October 2014, the state investigated homes of 247,742 children reported to be abused or neglected.
GASP celebrates 10 years of advocating prevention of child abuse
by Jacob Runnels
Guardians Advocating Child Safety and Protection (GASP), a child safety advocacy group, celebrates its 10-year anniversary as an organization and plans to expand services past Summit County.
According to its website, GASP works to educate children about "dangerous situations, sex offenders, abuse and abduction" as well as addresses "bullying, internet safety, cyber bullying, gun safety, 'sexting,' and general child safety."
"We need to educate our children and empower them and give them tools to protect themselves when we're not around," said GASP director Deb Reiss. "We are mainly local but we have expanded ourselves, as we have reached out to the Stark, Medina, Portage and Cuyahoga counties."
GASP is headquartered at 53 University Ave. in Akron, on the fourth floor.
What GASP is all about
Reiss said the organization was founded by Fran Doll in 2006 after she heard about a case where a child in Florida named Jessica Lunsford was abducted and murdered. She said Doll worked with then Summit County Sheriff Drew Alexander to maintain services, such as fingerprinting sessions and education sessions with children about avoiding abduction.
One of the first goals of GASP, according to its website gaspohio.org, was to "provide trained volunteers to participate on search teams for missing persons."
Reiss said there are things GASP does now which it didn't do 10 years ago, such as going into schools and speaking to children, as well as improving its reach from 400 kids and families a year to nearly 11,000. She said GASP offers free 20-minute programs to teach children about "comfortable touching" and "gun safety," which is offered to seventh- and eighth-graders.
GASP also offers free fingerprinting services and had a station available at the Cuyahoga Falls Chamber of Commerce Community Expo March 26.
"What we'd like to do is reach out to different cities in Ohio and maybe have different chapters of GASP," she said. "I think that would probably be our first major step: reaching out to people close to us. But, going national? That's a dream/ and it's a long way away."
She said GASP looks forward to increasing its education presence in schools and to "grow our volunteer [base]." She said based on her research, education is "huge" but "education alone is not going to protect the children" as it "all starts with the family."
"That's a whole different discussion that GASP cannot do: we cannot get families back together and that's not who we are," she said. "If our kids are made aware that they cannot be taken advantage of/ then we've got to start when the kids are young."
According to GASP's website, only 4 percent of sexual offenses and abuse are by strangers, while 59 percent of those offenses and abuse come from someone in the family. With that, Reiss believes it's important to educate children about how sexual abuse "can happen in your household and it can happen to people you know."
"What we're doing is bringing up the issue that no one has the right to touch you/ [but] I would never say, 'Don't let your parents touch you,'" she said. "It could be somebody that you know and we'll put it in those terms. It could be someone you know or someone you just met off the streets."
Reiss said GASP is "very careful" about how its volunteers educate children about abuse in the home. She said GASP puts it into terms for 5-year-old children by saying the child is "old enough" to use the bathroom or to bathe themselves.
Dr. Eve Whitmore is a child psychologist working in private practice with 25 years of experience.
Whitmore said young children are not able to understand or differentiate between what's good or bad, so telling a child to tell their parents when they're confronted by a stranger is easy for them to understand.
She said "parents are the ones to determine" how young children receive this information.
Reiss said GASP's volunteers try to "touch on all bases" on how its volunteers put the information out, as well as how GASP encourages repetition of facts to let the information "sink in."
When new information about abuse comes out, Reiss said she tries "to let our board members and volunteers know about them."
"If there is an education piece out there, we will send people to go get educated," she said.
To contact GASP, call 330-247-1402, or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Shattered lives: Vulnerable victims manipulated into sex trafficking
It happens here
by Sarah Rafique
EDITOR'S NOTE: The anonymous sources cited in this story have been verified as victims through client listings of Voice of Hope: Rape Crisis Center and through police and court documents.
Roshell stood in the corner of a motel room in Lubbock and watched a teenage girl two years older than her have sex.
“If you don't like it, you don't have to do it,” the girl told Roshell. “And if you wanna do it, you can do it.”
Roshell wasn't interested.
“I thought it was nasty, gross,” said Roshell, who was 16 years old at the time.
But, she no longer felt she had a choice. Her father was dead. Her mother was in jail. After spending four years in Child Protective Services, Roshell had just run away from her foster mom.
She had nowhere else to go.
The older teen and her “boyfriend” put Roshell up in a motel room about a week earlier in March 2011. She was glad to be off the streets and have a safe place to stay, but she didn't realize what she was getting herself into.
After the guy paid the older teen, Roshell said she didn't want to have sex with strangers. But the woman's “boyfriend” — Roshell's soon-to-be pimp — didn't care.
“He won't let you stay here if you don't do this,” the older teen told her. “We make so much money and we give it to him and he provides the room and food and whatever we want.
“I was like, ‘Well if I don't do this, I'm going to have to be on my own again,' so I did it for the first time. It was scary, by myself; in the room by myself with that one person,” said Roshell, now 21. She agreed to talk to A-J Media with the agreement she be identified as Roshell.
A runaway looking for a place to belong, Roshell fits the profile of young teens and women who are preyed upon by human traffickers, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Steve Sucsy, who prosecutes child pornography and human trafficking cases in Lubbock. Sex trafficking involves a child or adult who is compelled to engage in a commercial sex act through means of force, fraud or coercion, according to the FBI.
There are currently 53 sex trafficking victims receiving services from Lubbock-based Voice of Hope: Rape Crisis Center, said Jaime Wheeler, a sex trafficking outreach worker and case manager.
Her position was added in October to meet the needs of sex trafficking victims as more are identified each year.
The organization assisted with 374 cases of sexual assault last year in Lubbock, many of which were victims who had been sex trafficked or exhibited signs of trafficking.
“A lot of people think it's a very small issue or only this certain group of people are out there buying sex, and in reality these guys and girls who are the pimps wouldn't be able to keep a job if there weren't a lot of customers that are buying sex on a pretty frequent basis,” Wheeler said. “A lot of these girls and women, they're seeing between five to 30 customers a day; that's a lot of money that they're bringing in and it's coming from this community and the West Texas community as well.”
It happens here
Pimps are experts at human nature.
They prey on runaways with low self-esteem and children who come from dysfunctional homes.
They manipulate women and children into thinking — or becoming — their girlfriends, Sucsy said. They provide the vulnerable girls, and sometimes boys, with food, shelter and drugs. And once they gain their victims' trust, the pimps manipulate them into being trafficked for sex.
“They tell them how wonderful they are, how beautiful they are, how special they are,” Sucsy said. “That's always been hard for me to understand; how a pimp can turn a girl into his girlfriend and then the next second he's advertising her for sex with strangers on the internet and he's also bringing in another girl who's doing the same thing.”
Traffickers often run a circuit between big cities, sometimes staying in Lubbock hotels for a week before moving to Amarillo and then down to Odessa in order to avoid being caught.
“There have been some investigations that have focused around the trucking industry, where a lot of the availability of the girls is made through truck stops,” Sucsy said. “There's more of those and bigger ones up in Amarillo than there are in Lubbock because the I-27 comes down and dead-ends in Lubbock, but they have a lot of interstate traffic on I-40 through Amarillo.”
It's a misconception that sex trafficking only happens in metropolitan cities and involves kidnapping or a traveling component; all it requires is a commercial sex act.
“We're not immune to all the big city problems. Many people think we live in a bubble out here because we're far away from a big city, but really if you think about it, it's kind of a perfect storm,” said Leslie Timmons, community educator and volunteer coordinator at Voice of Hope. “We have a lot of money here and what we've learned is they oscillate these kids from our area to Amarillo to Midland-Odessa, so there's a lot of money from oil and cattle and farming. There's so much rural area here where it's very easy to hide.”
Since traffickers use major interstates to transport their victims, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Sgt. Bryan Witt said troopers are increasingly gaining more training on how to recognize victims.
DPS teaches officers to go beyond traffic stops and ask questions, even if it might be out of the officer's comfort zone.
“If you get that feeling, just take the time and ask, ‘Whose kid is that? Why isn't this kid in school? Who does this kid belong to?” Witt said. “If you have to separate them from the child, yeah it's going out of your comfort zone because you are kind of stepping on toes of people that aren't doing anything wrong, but sometimes you have to do that to find these child victims that are being trafficked.”
Every Lubbock police officer receives basic training to recognize signs of human trafficking, said Lubbock Police Department spokesman Lt. Ray Mendoza. Undercover officers and investigators in LPD's Vice Unit go through extensive training throughout the year, with a key focus on the child being a victim rather than a willing participant.
LPD investigated five human trafficking cases in 2015 and has already started investigating three cases this year.
“It's been pretty steady,” Mendoza said. “What makes trafficking difficult is everybody has this misconception that trafficking means you have to transport them somewhere. We have (cases) here that the victim is from here … however, we don't know about the cases where they actually do transport (them) to Dallas, Houston to meet on the other end with the person partaking in this crime.”
How it begins
When the girls weren't working until 7 a.m. having sex with customers, it was like a sleepover for Roshell and the older teen.
On their time off, they would blast music and jump on the bed like the teenage girls they were.
But, the pimp was able to control Roshell by beating the older teen — whom he called his “girlfriend” — if Roshell didn't follow his orders.
“You have one girl who is referred to as the bottom girl who is theoretically the girlfriend of the pimp. ... She's sort of an organizer and maintains connection between the pimp and the other girls,” Sucsy said. “She may write the advertisements or make the posts. Since she's involved in the actual sex acts, she hangs around with the other girl or girls and, a lot of times, they form bonds or friendship.”
That is how the manipulation begins.
“It's more psychological manipulation, especially with the younger girls,” Timmons said. “They concentrate on what their vulnerability is, so usually pimps don't even have to use a lot of force or kidnapping techniques because they convince the person they're targeting or they're trying to recruit that they're in love with them and they're going to have a life together and things like that, so there's a lot of brainwashing.”
Another sex trafficking victim was 8 years old when she was molested, she told A-J Media. She was 15 when she started doing drugs and, by 18, she was addicted to cocaine and meth. She got kicked out of a treatment center after getting caught smoking. Other times she voluntarily fled centers in Dumas, Houston and Lubbock. At one of the many treatment centers to which she was admitted, she started dating someone — at least she thought they were dating. Soon, he was selling her for sex.
“It had become like second nature to me; sex in exchange for money, or sex in exchange for drugs,” said the now-26-year-old who received help from Voice of Hope in Lubbock and requested her identity be confidential. “I was so desensitized from what sex actually was that it was just a means to an end to me. It was something that had to be done in order to get where I wanted to go. ... All I really had to do was find, basically, any lowlife-looking guy.”
It wasn't until she got pregnant and had no clue who the father was that she realized her life needed a change in direction.
“Things like fear and brokenness really change you, yet on the other side, hope can really change you as well. That's what my son ultimately was for me,” she said. “He came out of something so broken.”
Within the last year, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services added sex trafficking to its legal statutory definitions for abuse or neglect. Teachers, nurses, doctors, employees of health care facilities or clinics that provide reproductive services as well as juvenile probation, detention or correctional officers are now required to report allegations of child sex trafficking to the state agency within 48 hours.
“We're definitely investigating more of it,” said Kristi Mailman, CPS investigator for DFPS' Family Based Safety Services. “It just finally got enough light and in the right person's ear that had enough power to do something about it, but these types of cases are extremely difficult to work. The victim doesn't see themselves as victims, they're petrified and scared.”
Timmons said the target age for trafficking victims is between 12 and 14, so a woman who may appear to be a prostitute could have been dragged into the industry as a sexually abused child.
In addition to children, pimps also exploit the vulnerability of adults.
“If I'm a single mom and I've got children and I'm struggling providing for them and someone offers what seems like a better life, it's very easy to get into that kind of life and become very manipulated,” Wheeler said. “A lot of these women have honestly been very brainwashed by this predator group of people, and that can be anybody.
“Nobody wakes up and says I think I want to be a prostitute today.”
Within less than a week of meeting her pimp, Roshell was advertised for prostitution under the “escorts” category of Backpage.com, a global advertising website that allows users to post personal items and services for people to purchase online.
Rochell's pimp used pre-paid cards that couldn't be traced back to him when placing at least six ads for the underage girl in March 2011, according to court documents.
“You can order a child like you can order a pizza,” said Kim Stark, executive director at Voice of Hope. “You can call or you can make contact on Backpage.com or one of those sites and they'll bring them straight to your house.”
The online transactions mean it's not always obvious human trafficking is occurring in Lubbock. But, online activity and IP addresses sometimes helpdetectives find traffickers and their victims.
“It's not like where an 8-year-old stands on the street corner and holds a sign that ‘I'm a child prostitute,' ” said Clint Cox, a special investigator with CPS. “With social media and information sharing ... now you can have (child pornography) on your phone. ... You can share stuff to the East Coast and back and forth. Just the freely sharing, that's one of the reasons why now it's able to be investigated more thoroughly.”
Some local advocates say websites used to advertise commercial sex acts aren't taking enough steps to protect underage victims.
But, a recent move by the U.S. Senate aims at changing that.
The Senate issued a subpoena requesting information about Backpage.com's editing process, including how the website screens advertising submissions for sex with adults and minors. The website refused to comply with the subpoena. Its refusal resulted in the Senate ruling March 17 to hold Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer in contempt.
Mendoza said human trafficking cases in Lubbock usually stem from online transactions through sites like Backpage.com, or through text messages.
“It's hard to track,” he said. “They put fake pictures up there so it adds another dimension to it. They try to dress them up to look older in those pictures. … You set up a sting and you might get an actual prostitution and not a trafficking case. Our officers try to do the best we can to set up those stings, especially if we get information that the child is being used for that purpose.”
Pimps also recruit, perusing social media sites looking for vulnerable girls and boys.
“Teens tend to overshare. … If they're in a fight with their parents they're going to post that, or with their boyfriend, they're going to post every drama that goes on in their lives and that's what pimps kind of look for,” Timmons said. “They'll try to make that connection with them, try to offer them at first a friendship and then it turns into let's meet up and it might turn into gifts. (The pimps) fill that void that they're looking for. … They may be looking for a father figure, a friend or a boyfriend.”
Roshell thought her pimp was “breathtaking.”
So, one day when she kept getting beaten up while in her foster mother's care, she devised a plan. She called him while she was on a group trip at a local arcade. She told the adults in charge she was going to the bathroom, but slipped outside when they weren't looking.
Her soon-to-be pimp was waiting for her outside.
He bought her a motel room and she stayed alone the first night. The next morning, his 18-year-old “girlfriend” introduced herself. She showed Roshell photos of her posted online and told Roshell she'd let her try on some of the clothes so she could make her own posts.
“She was explaining what she did for money and stuff. She was like, ‘It's fast money,' ” Roshell said.
Thinking it was “cool,” Roshell agreed to take the photos and post them online. And, even though Roshell said she wasn't interested in being sold for sex, the older teen soon told her it was the only way she could stay.
At first, Roshell saw how the pimp provided for the older teen. She wanted someone to take care of her that same way, so she stayed. But, eventually he started injuring the other woman, leaving her battered and bruised.
“He got mean,” she said. “He would bite her and just beat her up out of the blue. Once I noticed he started getting mean to her, I said, ‘We don't have to do this. We can find something else. We can do something else.' ”
But, they couldn't escape.
“I can't really give you an explanation as to why so many kids are runaways. They'll run away over, over and over again, but generally they won't run away from their pimp,” Sucsy said. “Well, if there's anybody you ought to run away from, it's a pimp. But it's just very easy to get in and very hard to get out.”
Roshell initially saw customers with the older teen, but eventually she began having sex with men on her own.
One week into being trafficked, Roshell and the other teen continued the routine they had been conditioned to do. They secretly set up a webcam to record the sexual exchange, negotiated having intercourse and oral sex and patted the guy from top to bottom to make sure he wasn't an officer.
That's when Roshell heard the “boom.”
The next thing she knew police officers were in the room with guns drawn, telling her to get on the floor.
“That's exactly what you did, you got on the floor,” Roshell said. “I mean, it was the scariest moment of my life. My heart dropped into my stomach. Was I relieved? I was kind of relieved, but then again I didn't want to go back to CPS.”
That was the first time she was caught and arrested for prostitution.
But, Roshell was eventually released to a case worker, and continued her habit of running away.
This time, she had somewhere to go — another motel her pimp paid for. At least there she'd have shelter, food and someone to show her affection.
Four days later, she was busted again by an undercover agent.
“We got busted the first time and then it was traumatic from there,” Roshell said. “I got caught up in a whole bunch of wrong stuff that I wasn't even supposed to be doing.”
The likelihood of runaways and foster children becoming sex trafficking victims is high due to previous abuse or neglect, lack of support or being geographically displaced, Cox said.
Although foster children are among the most susceptible to trafficking, Cox said it is a widespread problem.
“People don't understand that it affects all walks of life. It's not one social-economic class or anything else,” he said. “It's not just where they're a victim on sexual abuse, they're physically abused, emotionally abused, every aspect is occurring to them. Some need a long-term therapeutic thing to finally realize, ‘Wow, I was a victim.' ”
Roshell promised she wouldn't run away this time, but prosecutors didn't believe her.
Before the trial, Roshell was apprehended outside of Lubbock on a prostitution charge. Officers likely didn't intend to pursue the charges; they just wanted to get her to Lubbock and detain her as a flight risk so she could serve as a key material witness in the case.
She was never officially charged with prostitution by juvenile or federal authorities.
“One of the problems in prosecuting these cases is that they're often important witnesses, the child themselves, even if they've cooperated with law enforcement and they're willing to testify, a lot of times it's very unclear that they'll be around by the time we get to trial because they would run off again,” Sucsy said. “It's really important to give them available counseling and also prospects for a living environment where they're not going to have to run away.”
Prosecuting the adult traffickers is an important part of helping victims recover and preventing others from becoming sex trafficking victims.
But, prosecutors can't do that without the child victims themselves.
“I think most of us now (in) prosecution and law enforcement feel like it is most useful to not emphasize any kind of criminality on the part of the child and instead emphasize the wrongdoing by the adults of the felony offense they're involved in,” Sucsy said.
The government ultimately had 25 people on its witness list, including Roshell, undercover officers, FBI agents and workers at the hotels where the sex trafficking occurred, according to court documents filed in a case against her pimp. They also utilized cellphone records, text message exchanges, online advertising transactions and jail call records.
On the stand, Roshell finally told the story of how she was lured into trafficking, how she stayed up until 7 a.m. having sex for hours and how she and the pimp's “girlfriend” made $20,000 a week, but never saw money themselves.
Her pimp was sentenced to nearly 34 years in prison for sex trafficking of a child.
“Was I scared? Yes ma'am, I was scared out of my mind,” Roshell said. “I was looking (the suspect) in the eyes and letting him know everything that he did to me that was wrong. Whenever I got out of all that trouble and I did what I had to do testifying, I told myself, ‘You have to straighten up. If you don't you're either going to wind up dead or in the penitentiary.' ”
March marks five years since Roshell was manipulated into spending a month being trafficked for sex; five years since she was freed from what advocates call “modern day slavery.”
Although she's sometimes haunted by the memories of sleeping with strangers out of fear of not having food, shelter or people who care for her, Roshell has moved on.
“It's something I never want to get caught up in ever again,” she said. “And if I could say it to the next person, that's not the way to go about life. … Life is a blessing to have because I've seen moments in life that I had that I didn't know whether or not I was going to wake up the next morning or not.”
Roshell moved more than 500 miles away from Lubbock and is engaged to get married next summer. She works part time as a way to get out of the house and said her fiancé treats her the way a man should treat a woman; not like a sex object.
“I met this wonderful, amazing man and he showed me that life does not have to be like that,” she said. “I have two wonderful kids that love me, for me and I don't have to do nothing for them but love them and show them that I love them with all my heart and I would never do anything bad.”
She tears up talking about not wanting her daughter to go through what she did.
“I try to explain it but I can't because it's hard,” she said. “I would never want my little girl to go through what I had to go through. I don't really talk about it that much.”
But, she knows she was a victim and knows how easy it is for vulnerable teens to get lured into trafficking before realizing the toll it will inevitably take on their life.
“You got some girls that's done it so long that this is all that they're used to,” she said. “But if you want to reach out, literally reach out from your heart and let someone know, ‘I am a victim and this is how things go and this is not what I want out of life anymore.' ”
The following events will give residents an opportunity to join the discussion and local movement to stop human trafficking:
Tuesday: Members of law enforcement and the trucking industry can receive training during a meeting from 10 a.m. to noon at the American Wind Power Center, 1701 Canyon Lake Drive. The event, part of Truckers Against Trafficking, will feature law enforcement, prosecutors and survivor panelists who will discuss sex trafficking scenarios in the South Plains.
May 3: Human Rescue Coalition meets from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at Catholic Dioceses, located at Fourth Street and Toledo Avenue in Lubbock. For more information, email email@example.com.
June 4: Running2Rescue will hold its annual 10K, 5K and Family Run on June 4 to benefit OneVo!ceHome, an upcoming West Texas shelter for victims of sex trafficking. Warm-up starts at 8 a.m. at Mackenzie Park. For more information about volunteering or registering for the event, go to www.running2rescue.com
For more information about OneVo!ceHome or to donate, go to www.OneVoiceHome.org .
Spot and report sex trafficking
Signs of women and children being victims of sex trafficking include:
Runs away constantly or is homeless
False or no identification
Lack of possessions
Posts sexually explicit photos online
Repeated absences from school, particularly on Fridays or Mondays when their pimp may be taking them out of town
Does not consider themselves a victim
Loyalty toward pimp
With an older, controlling person
Scars and bruising
Uses a lot of street language or terms common in the sex industry
Disconnected from friends and caregivers
Gives scripted or inconsistent answers
Loss of interest in age-appropriate activities
Has a prepaid cellphone
To get help or report a tip, call National Human Trafficking Resource Center's 24/7 toll-free hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tips can also be sent via text message between 3 and 11 p.m. at “BeFree” (233733).
Victims can also call 911 if they are in immediate danger. The Lubbock Police Department's non-emergency number is 775-2865.
By the numbers:
25 percent of human trafficking cases in Texas between 2007 and 2012 were filed in Lubbock County.
53 victims are currently receiving treatment from Jaime Wheeler, sex trafficking case manager.
5 human trafficking cases were investigated last year by the Lubbock Police Department.
3 human trafficking cases have been investigated so far this year by the Lubbock Police Department.
337 sex trafficking cases were reported in Texas in 2015.
255 victims of human trafficking in Texas called the national hotline for help.
4,136 cases of sex trafficking were reported in the U.S. in 2015.
25,696 sex trafficking cases have been reported nationwide since December 2007.
$4.2 million is the amount needed for a 100-acre ranch that will serve as a shelter for sex trafficking victims.
Schools might get anti-sex trafficking training
Rep. Susan Davis proposes bill for money to train teachers, staff to look for signs
by Joshua Stewart
SPRING VALLEY — San Diego County has up to 11,700 victims of sex trafficking each year, many of them underage girls in school.
Now federal legislation is being prepared to help schools protect students from being conscripted into prostitution.
Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, said that when the House goes back into session next week she'll introduce a bill that provides school districts with federal grants to train teachers, administrators, staff, coaches and others to spot the signs that a student is a sex trafficking victim and show them how to intervene.
“We can free a child from slavery or help them get free,” Davis said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
Her bill would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to give grants to school districts to create programs to identify human trafficking, or expand existing programs. Davis said it's not clear how much federal money will be available but she expects that many states and local governments will match federal dollars to bolster their training programs.
Many times when people learn that a student is a sex trafficking victim they ask what they could have done earlier to intervene, Davis said.
“‘If I had only seen the signs. If only I knew what to look for' … this really is the missing piece,” she said.
A three-year study by researchers at the University of San Diego and Point Loma Nazarene University released in December concluded that 8,830 to 11,773 victims, mostly underage girls, are trafficked in San Diego County each year. The illegal activity amounts to a $810 million industry largely run by gangs.
“This is all in plain sight. Young people show signs,” Davis said.
The study found that, on average, victims are first trafficked when they are 15 — the age of a high school freshman or sophomore.
Students who are struggling in school or are homeless tend to be particularly vulnerable, said Barbara Warner, collaborative coordinator with the Spring Valley Youth and Family Coalition.
Most victims are in school so it makes sense to look for signs of sex trafficking and to try to intervene in that setting, said Summer Stephan, chief deputy district attorney and chair of the Human Trafficking Task Force.
Many victims will fall asleep in class because they were out late night working, or will miss school on Monday or Fridays. They might have an older boyfriend, a “Romeo” who picks them up after school in order in order to put them into sex work. Some victims will have two cell phones, one for their personal use, and another so their pimp can stay in constant contact.
They might also show up with a new purse, a new hairdo, well manicured nails or new tattoos — expenses that would typically be outside of their means, Stephan said.
“There is no point to education if our kids aren't safe,” she said.
Davis said her bill has bipartisan support, and other members have consistently supported anti-trafficking bills. The House has been on recess since March 24 and goes back into Session on April 14.
Modern slavery: why we have to stop human trafficking
by William Bell and General Charles C. Krulak, USMC (ret.)
It was not that long ago that many Americans did not realize slavery existed as a real and rampant problem around the world. Thanks to the tireless works of advocates, including survivors, public awareness of human trafficking has grown dramatically. It is now more widely known among Americans that millions of people—20.9 million, according to the International Labor Organization—are enslaved. The United States is both a source and destination of victims.
Sex trafficking gets most of the attention, and understandably so: it is a horrific crime that accounts for two-thirds of traffickers' $150 billion in yearly profits. But many Americans are also beginning to understand that the products they use and food they eat may be tainted by trafficking. Late last year, an Associated Press investigation found that major American chain retailers and restaurants were selling shrimp harvested by enslaved workers in very dangerous conditions.
The increased awareness has led to important new laws that help protect victims. But it has not produced the kind of financial investment needed to begin to dismantle the business of human trafficking, the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Consider this: the U.S. government spends more money in the War on Drugs in a month than it's spent combating trafficking in the last fifteen years.
It is estimated that over the last decade all governments and non-governmental organizations have spent an average of $124 million a year combined fighting trafficking. It is no wonder, then, that few perpetrators pay for their crimes. According to the 2015 State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, there were only 4,443 convictions for trafficking globally in 2014.
While it is essential to invest in the rescue and care of victims, the virtual impunity for perpetrators means that they continue to prey on vulnerable people and every victim rescued is replaced with new victims. We need to flip the risk-reward equation for traffickers. Money alone does not guarantee success—this effort also requires innovative law enforcement, continued public pressure, international cooperation, and collaboration between government and the private sector—but an insufficient investment guarantees failure.
Because of the size of the American economy and the bipartisan commitment to fighting trafficking, the U.S. government is in a position to crack down on this insidious industry. Without sustained American leadership, traffickers will continue to be able to operate without fear.
Congress now has a chance to exercise leadership by sufficiently funding the Department of Justice's Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit (HTPU). The linchpin of the U.S. government's domestic anti-trafficking enforcement, the HTPU works with police and prosecutors to coordinate investigations. Crucially, it also leads 12 Anti-trafficking Coordination Teams (ACTeams), which enhance coordination with the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor. The ACTeams produced a 119 percent increase in investigations in their districts last year.
Over the last five years, the HTPU has faced a 62 percent increase in cases. Yet funding from Congress has remained flat since 2010, at $5.3 million. The HTPU estimates that with just a modest increase in funding—$2.8 million—it could increase the number of trafficking suspects charged by 49 percent.
Congress should be not just willing but eager to provide it. Under-funding it would send precisely the wrong message to trafficking perpetrators, their victims, and the American people about the priorities of the U.S. government.
At a certain point, it becomes difficult to reconcile the impassioned denunciations of trafficking in Congress with the low level of funding it allocates to fight it. As Vice President Biden said, "Don't tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I'll tell you what you value."
By giving the HTPU the resources it needs to succeed, Congress would put its money where its values are.
Samaritan Counseling's SafeChurch program has made churches a safer place for children
by Earle Cornelius
When leaders from more than a dozen churches convene today at Lititz Church of the Brethren, their discussions will focus on how they have made their houses of worship safer for children, how parents within their congregations have become more aware of sexual grooming practices by predators, how they have involved teens in those conversations and how adult survivors of sexual abuse have become church leaders.
The leaders invited to the event, called a convening, are members of churches that have participated in Samaritan Counseling's SafeChurch program.
Begun five years ago with a grant from the Ms. Foundation, SafeChurch has expanded to become part of the national Just Beginnings Collaborative, which is working to end child sexual abuse. SafeChurch recently received a three-year grant of $225,000 from Just Beginnings because of its work with faith-based communities to end child sexual abuse.
Creating a process
“We've developed what we call the SafeChurch process,” said Linda Crockett, director of Samaritan's SafeChurch/Safe Places initiative.
The goal, she said, “was to create churches that knew how to keep kids safe and actually could work on prevention while at the same time acknowledging there are many adults in congregations who have been sexually abused.”
It differs from the We Will Speak Out program that recently was unveiled at Lancaster's Parish Resource Center, in that it focuses exclusively on child sexual abuse.
Crockett, who is a state-certified sexual assault advocate and nationally certified coach and consultant, explained that SafeChurch is a nine-month program in which church teams from five to eight churches at a time undergo 21 hours of training. Safechurch also provides a training session for church staff and volunteers to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse and a half-day retreat for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Key among the issues they discuss is how to bring church policies into compliance with changes in state law that require staff members and volunteers to report abuse to state authorities.
Working with agencies
Although SafeChurch is a faith-based program, Crockett said they bring in speakers from government and social service agencies to discuss the “red flags” that indicate sexual abuse.
That includes Lancaster County President Judge Dennis Reinaker, who has addressed SafeChurch gatherings since the program began.
“I try to give them an overview of the criminal justice system,” he said.
Reinaker said there is a misperception on the part of the public that it is easy to spot a potential molester.
“In my experience,” he said, “that's never the case.”
Citing former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky's ability to groom victims through his athletic achievements and his work with the Second Mile Foundation, Reinaker said, “They're usually the last people society would suspect.”
Embracing the program
Crockett said churches have been “amazingly receptive” to the program.
More than 50 Lancaster-Lebanon-York congregations of various traditions, whose membeship includes 10,000 adults and 6,000 children, have participated in the program. Samaritan also has trained more than 120 SafeChurch facilitators in Pennsylvania and several other states. It has established programs in Western Pennsylvania, Harlem, Atlanta and Harrisonburg, Virginia.
“They want to shift the culture,” she said.
That includes discovering what drives young offenders. Statistically, she said, upwards of 35 percent of child sexual abuse victims are abused by a person under the age of 18.
The Just Beginnings Collaborative wants to compile data to determine what shapes perpetrators' thinking and how to change that behavior.
Crockett also supports state legislation to extend the statute of limitations to allow adults who were abused as children to file charges. Currently, criminal prosecutions for most sexual crimes against children can begin until the victim turns 50. Civil lawsuits can be brought until the victim turns 30.
“We need a window for civil suits,” she said. “We want justice for survivors.”
As a judge, Reinaker is limited as to what he can say about the legislation. But he said that justice “has a balancing interest” and that perhaps it is time to see if the interests of victims are taken into account.
A Maryland lawmaker raped as a child can't get his bill for sex assault survivors passed
by Petula Dvorak
For the second year in a row, he put it all out there: the shame, the fear, the self-loathing, the pain, the dark details of his horrific, repeated rape.
An Army veteran and attorney, Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) stood before his colleagues in Annapolis, confessed that he “really, really” didn't want to be there and told them why he doesn't sleep much at night. Why he hoped his children would never be boys. Why he knows he is “a monster on the inside.”
And for the second year in a row, lawmakers in the state legislature put all that in a drawer. And closed it.
“It's usually the case when we tell our stories,” Wilson said. “Nobody wants to hear this. And we want to be heard.”
Wilson wants his fellow delegates to understand what the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse endure. And what recourse they have years and years later. And for two years, he has sponsored legislation aimed at helping them.
As it stands, a criminal case against an abuser can be pursued anytime, no matter how long ago the abuse happened.
But a civil case — the kind of action that can get a patient's treatment paid for — has a statute of limitations. Victims have seven years once they reach adulthood to file a civil suit against a molester or a school, a team or a church that enabled that abuser.
And unless a victim comes to terms with the abuse, recognizes it, fights through it and files a civil suit before age 25, no dice. And that's a big problem. Because many victims of childhood sexual abuse repress the memories in order to survive. Some even kill themselves.
“I was 38 when I finally [talked about it],” Wilson said. He's 44.
He spent his early years in and out of foster homes. When he was at last adopted, his adoptive father — a man Wilson described to his colleagues as a churchgoing married man — repeatedly beat, then sodomized him from the time he was 9 until the year he left for the Army, when he was 18.
Tom Wilson, his adoptive father, is dead. Wilson never told anyone about the abuse while he was alive.
What followed was 20 years of bulking up in Army combat training, 20 years of womanizing, rage, short fuses, withdrawal, sleepless nights before he was ready to consider the possibility that all these demons inside him should be addressed.
And he's hardly alone.
About three-quarters of children who were sexually abused don't tell anyone for at least a year, about 45 percent keep it a secret for five years, and many never tell anyone, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
But Md. House Bill 1215 and its counterpart, Senate Bill 69, would give victims 20 years to file their suits once they reach adulthood. So, you'd have to decide to confront your abuser by the time you turn 38.
Like Wilson — 38.
A handful of other states, including Delaware, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, have extended or have no statutes of limitation. What's the holdup in Maryland?
Lobbyists representing the Catholic Church — which for years has been at the center of a global scandal over priests sexually abusing children — have helped block the bill.
Passing the legislation is “unwarranted and unjust,” the Maryland Catholic Conference wrote in testimony submitted last month against the bill.
Mostly, the church said, the bill unfairly targets it.
“Private, religious and non-profit organizations would face dramatically greater risks of potentially devastating civil claims,” according to the testimony. Quoting California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) when he vetoed a bill that would have suspended the statute of limitations for civil suits in child sexual assault cases, the testimony continued: “There comes a time when an individual or an organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits.”
The opposition matters. “Maryland is a Catholic state, you know,” said Del. Susan K. McComas (R-Harford).
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) has refused to put the bill up for a vote. He did not respond to my request for comment.
“Vallario knows it will pass,” Wilson said.
But McComas, who said she “may” support the bill if it were to come up for a vote, is skeptical that it would do any good.
“Money isn't going to cleanse any souls,” McComas said.
She said that was what she meant when she emailed John Plaschke, 50, a University of Maryland biotech researcher and a sexual assault survivor. He had written to McComas urging her to support the bill.
This is what she told him in the email:
I hope that you have sought treatment and have moved beyond the abuse. It is very much about your personal resilience to live and thrive. The best revenge is to be well and be happy.
I think that many of the Jews that survived the holocaust are wonderful role models of courage and survival.
That response made the rounds on social media. And McComas got slammed by survivors furious with her response.
“I meant it in a nice way,” McComas said.
But for Plaschke, for Wilson and for thousands of other survivors, it's a discouraging and insulting refrain: Move past it.
“We are victimized twice,” said Plaschke, who said he was abused by a priest in Illinois when he was 7. “Once as a child and again as an adult.”
The lives of those abused as children — their perspectives, their sexuality, their morality and their self-worth — were totally twisted when they were in their most delicate, formative years.
The survivors that McComas cited to Plaschke as examples of resilience — “They should look at the survivors of the Bataan Death March,” she told me — had a chance to form normal, moral foundations before they were traumatized.
Kids who were abused? Their entire foundation is corrupted. And they fight to right it their entire lives.
“I'm lucky I'm still alive,” Plaschke said. “A lot of us kill ourselves.”
Wilson said he struggles every day to move forward.
“I slept about an hour and a half last night,” he said. “I know, if I go sleep, I'm not going to dream. I'm going to remember.”
4 L.A. County Social Workers Charged With Child Abuse In Death Of 8-Year-Old Boy
LOS ANGELES — Four Los Angeles County social workers have been charged with child abuse and falsifying public records in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez three years ago, prosecutors announced Thursday.
Social workers 30-year-old Stefanie Rodriguez, 65-year-old Patricia Clement and their supervisors 36-year-old Kevin Bom and 60-year-old Gregory Merritt were each charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying public records, according to District Attorney Jackie Lacey.
“I have a message for the four social workers: You brought this upon yourself. Your conviction will be our greatest victory,” said the victim's cousin Emily Carranza.
Prosecutors said as employees of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), Rodriguez, Clement, Bom and Merritt “had a legal duty” to protect Fernandez from the time the case was opened on Oct. 31, 2012, until he was declared dead on May 24, 2013.
Fernandez died from multiple injuries, including a fractured skull, broken ribs and burns over his body, prosecutors said.
Rodriguez and Clement are accused of falsifying reports that prosecutors said should have documented signs of Gabriel's escalating physical abuse and the family's lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to provide help to maintain the family.
“We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel's well-being,” Lacey said. “They should be held responsible for their actions.”
Prosecutors alleged that Bom and Merritt “knew or should have known” that they were approving false reports that conflicted with the evidence of Gabriel's deteriorating physical well-being and allowing him to remain at home until his death.
DCFS Director Philip Browning said the defendants failed to follow protocols, and changes have been made. “I think one thing that's different is the fact that that tragic situation has sensitized all of our staff to the consequences of actions which they take every day,” he said.
The four defendants' bail has been set at $100,000 each. They are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday morning.
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in state prison.
Kansans encouraged to wear blue for child abuse awareness
by Amanda Jaeger
With recent news reports of child abuse in the Wichita area, one Wichita groups wants to bring awareness to the abuse and ways to prevent it from happening.
The month of April is designated as child abuse awareness month and today, Kansans are encouraged to wear blue to increase awareness of child abuse.
According to the annual reporting data released by the Department of Health and Human Services, Kansas' rate of child abuse victims has risen substantially over the last five years.
Kansas is 1 of just 9 states to have more than a 30 percent increase from 2010-2014.
But the Kansas Children's Service League says by keeping a watching eye for the signs of child abuse, you can help protect Kansas kids.
"Here's always the logical physical abuse sings. The bruises that might be in unnatural places. There are also some signs of emotional abuse. Children who tend to shy away from their parents, strangers, or are very discouraging of people touching them in gentle ways like a hug or pat on the back," Pam Noble, with the Kansas Children's Service League said.
Other warning signs may include parents or caregivers who lack social contact outside the family, have alcohol or drug abuse problems or are excessively controlling or resentful of a child.
If you suspect a child is being abused, you are encouraged to call 911 and report to the Department for Children and Families report center at any time. You can reach them at 1-800-922-5330.
Report shows child abuse numbers in Greene County top KC, St. Louis
by Emily Wood
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - - In total statewide, 6,439 children were victims of abuse and neglect in 2014 alone, the most recent year for which we have statistics. That same year 32 children died as a result of neglect, according to a report from the Missouri Department of Social Services.
"I don't know if we'll ever make sense out of something so tragic happening. A takeaway for the community is if you are seeing stuff report it," said Amy Hathcock of the Child Advocacy Center in Springfield.
One of the most recent tragedies: a 13-month-old baby in Reeds Spring. Prosecutors say Justus Jackson's mother Bambi found him not breathing in his crib after no one had checked on him for 14 hours. Both parents are now charged with manslaughter and child abuse.
"With neglect cases it is very difficult to pinpoint everything, especially with an infant. They can't come in here and tell us their story and say, 'Mom, dad, whoever did this to me,' or, 'They're not providing these things for me,'" Hathcock said.
Hathcock sees hundreds of child victims each year at the Child Advocacy Center.
She said stories of abuse cross all socioeconomic lines.
"A lot of times people will say, 'Oh, they're a good family. They've got money,' or whatever, and that doesn't necessarily mean anything," she said.
Court documents also show Joshua and Bambi Jackson had been advised in the past to feed two of their older children more after someone made hotline calls to the Missouri Department of Social Services. Unfortunately, prosecutors said, those those calls were not enough to save baby Justus.
"If you're seeing a child that's significantly underweight, if you're seeing a child that consistently has poor hygiene, maybe in the same clothes the past three days, maybe that family does need some help and resources to get them moving in the right direction," Hathcock said.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. To report suspected abuse or neglect, you can call the state hotline. That number is 1-800-392-3738.
Death toll from child abuse greatly underestimated: pediatricians
The rate of child deaths linked to abuse or neglect in Japan is about five times higher than official government figures, according to estimates by the Japan Pediatric Society.
A panel investigating child deaths estimated about 350 children aged 14 or under across the nation possibly die from abuse every year.
The society drew its estimate of annual deaths from an assumption, based on government data, that about 5,000 children under 15 die in Japan every year.
The panel examined cases in Tokyo, Gunma and Kyoto prefectures and Kitakyushu, where pediatricians belonging to the panel worked.
With the help of hospitals, the society looked into the deaths of 368 children under 15 in 2011 and concluded that 27, or 7.3 percent, of those deaths resulted from acts such as violently shaking an infant, drowning due to inadequate parental supervision and failure to take a child to a doctor when they are ill.
“Many deaths due to child abuse are feared to have been overlooked, as information sharing and verification among government officials, those working in medical institutions and the police are insufficient,” an official of the society said, urging the central government to take more steps to properly log child abuse death cases.
According to the health ministry's data, deaths of children under 18 caused by abuse stood at 99 in fiscal 2011, 90 in fiscal 2012 and 69 in fiscal 2013.
“To reduce as much as possible abuse and deaths which could have been prevented, there is a need for various entities to cooperate in discussing and examining the causes of child deaths,” said Fumitake Mizoguchi, head of the society's panel which conducted the survey.
According to the health ministry, child consultation centers across the country received a record 88,000 reports of child abuse in fiscal 2014.
Suspected cases of children dying from abuse have been reported this year.
Regarding the death of a 3-year-old girl in Sayama, Saitama Prefecture that led to the arrest of the mother and her boyfriend, neighbors who heard the girl crying reported their suspicions to the police, but the information was not shared among institutions dealing with child abuse.
Child abuse advocates look to paint the country blue on Friday
by Lindsay Sax
TOPEKA, Kan.- Blue is the color of the day Friday.
Attorney General Derek Schmidt has partnered with the Kansas Child Death Review Board to encourage Kansans to wear their favorite shade of blue Friday to increase awareness of child abuse.
“We all have a responsibility to help keep children safe,” Schmidt said. “Keeping a watchful eye for the signs of child abuse can help protect our Kansas children.”
The Kansas Child Death Review Board says warning signs of child abuse include parents or caregivers who lack social contact outside the family, have alcohol or drug abuse problems, or are excessively controlling or resentful of a child. Abusive parents may also belittle their children, but disguise the criticism as humor. They may also rationalize their behavior as a form of discipline.
Parents and caregivers may also avoid talking about their child's injuries. Bumps and bruises on the knees, elbows and shins are common for children; however injuries on other parts of the body are cause for concern, including their stomach, cheeks, ears, buttocks, mouth or thighs. Black eyes, human bite marks and burns are rarely from everyday play.
“A variety of risk factors can increase the likelihood of child abuse,” said Sara Hortenstine, executive director, Kansas Child Death Review Board. “Caring for children can be overwhelming at times. Often parents and caregivers are facing multiple stressors and may have limited access to support. It is during these stressful times when the demands of parenting such as responding to a child's disobedience, crying or bedwetting may trigger abusive behaviors.”
Children that are victims of abuse may show a lack of trust, are fearful or anxious about going home, have uncontrolled emotions, and lash out in anger. Some may become depressed and withdraw from others. Neglected children may also often times have bad hygiene, wear ill-fitting or dirty clothing and have untreated injuries or illnesses.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Blue Ribbon Campaign to Prevent Child Abuse. President Ronald Reagan first declared Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983. The Blue Ribbon Campaign began in 1989 by a Virginia grandmother in memory of her grandson, who died due to child abuse.
To report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect, you can call the Kansas Protection Report Center at 1-800-922-5330. If you suspect the child is in imminent danger call 911.
Child abuse can take many shapes
by Kayla Glover
April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services takes this time to acknowledge the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families.
Abuse and neglect of children occurs in families from all walks of life. In 2014, more than 3 million reports of child abuse, involving more than 6 million children, were made in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families reported that in the year 2014 1,580 children in the United States died of abuse and neglect. Across the nation, a report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds.
There are four main types of child maltreatment: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect.
Physical abuse refers to physical injury (ranging from minor bruises to severe fractures or death) as a result of punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, burning, or otherwise harming a child.
Sexual abuse refers to activities done by another individual, such as fondling a child's genitals, penetration, incest, rape, indecent exposure, and commercial exploitation through prostitution or the production of pornographic materials.
Emotional abuse refers to any pattern of behavior that impairs a child's emotional development or sense of self-worth. Emotional abuse may include but is not limited to constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.
Neglect refers to failure to provide for a child's basic needs.
The Tennessee Department of Children's Services lists the following as possible indicators of abuse and neglect:
• child has repeated injuries that are not properly treated or adequately explained.
• child begins acting in unusual ways ranging from disruptive and aggressive to passive and withdrawn.
• child may have disturbed sleep (nightmares, bed wetting, and fear of sleeping alone.)
• sudden drop in school grades or participation in activities.
• child may act in ways that are developmentally inappropriate, such as sexual behavior that is not normal for his/her age group.
• child may report abusive or neglectful acts.
(NOTE: The above signs can indicate something is wrong but do not necessarily indicate abuse or neglect.)
Coordinated School Health (CSH) wants to raise the public's awareness of the devastating effects of child abuse. CSH wants to educate, empower, and encourage people to take a stand to help prevent all forms of child abuse and neglect from reaching our nation's children.
Communities have a great influence in families' lives. The theme for this year's National Child Abuse Prevention Month, chosen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau, is “Building Community, Building Hope.”
Everyone can get involved and play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect and promoting child and family well-being. Strong, nurturing communities that are supportive of each other can build and strengthen families. Be willing to get involved to strengthen your community.
Getting involved can be as easy as simply introducing yourself to your neighbors and/or participating in an activity at your local church, library, or activity center. For further information on how each one of us can get involved in preventing child abuse, visit www.preventchildabuse.org .
Childhelp, a national non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child abuse, offers a national child abuse hotline, 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who, through interpreters, can provide assistance in 170 languages.
The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, literature, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls made to the hotline are confidential.
Each one of us can provide a gateway to prevention, and each one of us can play a role in preventing child abuse and neglect. Raise the issue. Reach out to children and families in your community to build strong, healthy relationships.
Join community prevention efforts. Be willing to take action to help ensure that not only your children, but the children in your community, are safe and sound. For more information on ways to help prevent child abuse and neglect, visit www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth/. For questions or comments please contact your child's school nurse or call 644-3916.
KAYLA GLOVER is a registered nurse, the Henry County School System's family and community coordinator and nurse at Lakewood School. Her email address is gloverk@ henryk12.net.
Guilty By Passivity - Child Abuse Series #1
by Oluseye Ashiru
When it comes to Abuse, sometimes the only guilty ones are not the perpetrators of the act, those of us that sit down, fold our arms and watch are equally guilty.
Daily, we are bombarded with various scenarios where, as a result of negligence or not being vigilant, children suffer abuse from loved ones or even total strangers.
To abuse means to mistreat, maltreat, ill-treat, treat badly, ill-use or misuse. Any situation where a person is being treated with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly is abuse.
And contrary to popular belief, abuse is not necessarily physical, it manifests itself in various forms.
Over the next few posts we want to consider the different types of abuse and how to protect your child from the trauma of abuse.
Abuse can be:
If we can recognize these forms of abuse, then, we can take active steps to keep our kids away from such situations. Prevention they say, is better than cure.
In this post, I'd like to address verbal/emotional abuse.
Usually not so easily detected, verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse. It is often used by the abuser as a form of control on the child, stemming from some feeling of inadequacy and failure. And it can manifest in the form of:
Direct or Indirect Constant Criticism to the child or even to a third party
Rejection of the child by saying things like “I wish you were never born”
Yelling and screaming
Sarcasm and Mockery
Neglect of the Child
Most times emotional/verbal abusers are usually those closest to such children - school mates [for instance bullying], family members [including the parents].
“The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do great good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, a knife can cause great harm.” Exactly as it is with our words.” - Author Unknown
Sometimes, it could be overwhelming caring for children, especially the younger ones. But, as a mom, we want to protect our kids from an abusive environment and the long term psychological effects of abuse. So, what if you find yourself in this kind of situation? As difficult as that may be, you need to make some drastic behavioral changes to save yourself and your child from this kind of behavior.
So, what can you do?
Don't hesitate to offer your child an apology if you have lashed out inappropriately or in anger
Set realistic and age-appropriate expectations for your child. Understand that this child has his own limitations and there are certain things he cannot do yet. This will help you in your feelings of frustration when dealing with your child
Always take a short break to calm down on your anger before you respond to your child. This will help you to respond better and in a more loving way
Take a break to rest well. Sometimes, fatigue and sleep deprivation may lend a hand to your feeling of irritability, and consequently, angry responses.
Offer your child appreciation when they have done things worthy of commendation
What if you're not the one involved, and you just want to protect your child from abusive situations?
The safety of your child comes first. If your child reports any incidence of abuse to you, then take the report seriously, and don't shut the child up
Let your child know that she's not at fault for being emotionally abused
Report the issue of abuse to the appropriate quarters - for instance to the Head of School, if it's a teacher
Physically remove your child from that situation till the issue of abuse has been resolved with the offending party
Make sure you do something about it - don't overlook abuse!
Dennis Hastert accused of sexual abuse by at least 4, sources say
by Christy Gutowski and Jeff Coen
For months, federal authorities have hinted at the motive behind the hush-money payments former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has admitted to making: the sexual abuse of a teenage boy when Hastert was still a suburban high school teacher and wrestling coach.
But now, a Tribune investigation has uncovered new details of the case — at least four people have made what law enforcement sources say are credible allegations of sexual abuse against Hastert.
The Tribune has determined the identities of three of them, all men, whose allegations stretch over a decade when they were teenagers and Hastert was their coach. One is dead. The Tribune has approached the other two — described in federal court records as Individuals A and D — and confirmed their roles in the case.
The man who received $1.7 million from Hastert and is at the center of the federal indictment — Individual A — declined to be interviewed by the Tribune. Behind the government's carefully worded court documents, reporters discovered a sometimes-pained narrative of his life since his days as a standout wrestler in the 1970s and how his interactions with Hastert might have affected him.
Individual D has talked to the Tribune at length but has not agreed to be named, although he is considering speaking at Hastert's sentencing in federal court April 27.
The Tribune typically does not name victims of alleged sexual abuse without their consent and is not doing so here.
Hastert is alleged to have sexually abused the teens identified by the Tribune when he was a teacher and coach at Yorkville High School in the far southwest suburbs, decades before he became the longest-serving Republican speaker. Some of the alleged conduct, which prosecutors have not detailed, might come to light this week when prosecutors are expected to file sentencing memorandums.
One of the alleged victims served as a team equipment manager a few years after Hastert arrived at the school in 1965. Stephen Reinboldt died of AIDS in 1995, and his younger sister has long spoken out about the details she said he shared with her while alive. Two others, who came to the school later, were talented and popular student-athletes from well-known local families — the sort of combination that often bodes well for the future. They all graduated from college.
The identity of the fourth accuser whom authorities have deemed credible remains unknown.
In a statement, Hastert attorney Tom Green did not specify any sexual abuse by his client but did say Hastert was apologetic and had suffered humiliation and shame.
"Mr. Hastert has made mistakes in judgment and committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry," Green said. "He fully understands the gravity of his misconduct decades ago and regrets that he resorted to … an effort to prevent the disclosure of that misconduct."
In a small town where the Tastee Freez was a gathering place for local teens, Hastert taught many siblings of the alleged victims and knew most of their parents on a first-name basis. Each of the alleged victims identified by the Tribune had their struggles. Yet they all kept quiet about their hometown's favorite son and the inappropriate sexual contact that they alleged he had with them when they were high school students and he was in a position of trust.
Now 74 and said to be in failing health after suffering a near-fatal blood infection and stroke, Hastert has not been charged with harming a child. Such charges, according to legal experts, would be barred by statutes of limitation. Instead, Hastert pleaded guilty last year to illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank currency-reporting requirements as he pooled his money to give to Individual A as part of an agreement to keep him quiet.
It was nearly one year ago that the indictment against Hastert was unsealed. Prosecutors said only that Hastert had skirted banking laws and lied to the FBI to conceal misconduct against Individual A, who has known Hastert much of his life.
Adding to Hastert's alleged betrayal, Individual A is a relative of one of the retired congressman's friends.
Hastert agreed during a 2010 meeting with Individual A to pay him $3.5 million in a financial agreement sources described as more akin to an agreed out-of-court settlement rather than extortion.
The sources confirmed Individual A's identity to the Tribune.
When Tribune reporters approached the middle-aged husband and father in February, Individual A said he didn't want to be rude but was "not interested" in speaking publicly and walked away. His wife acknowledged that her husband was a "victim."
As for Hastert, a man who once was two steps from the presidency, the allegations force a re-evaluation of his life, as well as his reputation. Some 50 years ago, after he had graduated from Wheaton College, Hastert began working in Yorkville, making about $5,000 a year as a high school teacher, along with a few hundred dollars a year more to coach, according to personnel records obtained by the Tribune.
Most in town would come to know "Denny," as he was most frequently called, as the man who put Yorkville on the map by winning a 1976 state wrestling championship and bringing several other squads close to a state title. Dozens of wrestlers had great success individually as well.
Hastert was active in the community, too, as it grew during his 16 years as a civics teacher there. He drove his antique firetruck in parades, volunteered in local youth organizations and took groups of teenage boys on far-flung trips to the Bahamas for scuba diving or Canada for canoeing. His student-athletes often traveled with him to Colorado, Virginia and other destinations for wrestling camps and clinics.
As a result, Hastert had a ready-made base of support when he decided to make a run at politics in the early 1980s.
He served three terms in the Illinois legislature before being elected to the U.S. House in 1986. Hastert bestowed college scholarships and jobs on many former students and wrestlers, public records showed. He was speaker from 1999 until his retirement in 2007, then became a lobbyist.
Hastert coached Individual A in the 1970s. A student leader, Individual A graduated from college, and when he applied for his first job in the mid-1980s, he listed Hastert as a reference.
He got the job, but left a short time later because of an anxiety disorder he described at the time as devastating.
He went on to work various jobs as he and his wife raised their family but fell deeper into debt. Court records show they had significant financial problems.
Individual A returned to his original profession, but he continued to struggle, providing another possible explanation for the financial arrangement with Hastert that was soon to begin. He was convicted of misdemeanor drunken driving and was placed on 12 months' court supervision.
By March 2010, Individual A was on leave from his job for an undisclosed medical issue. He exhausted all of his paid time off by the end of the year and was terminated in 2011 after never coming back to work.
By then, he had begun receiving payments from Hastert.
For nearly two years beginning in June 2010, Hastert made 15 cash withdrawals of $50,000 each, giving the $750,000 to Individual A at meetings about every six weeks, according to Hastert's plea agreement with federal prosecutors. Then in April 2012, nearly two years after he had begun the withdrawals, bank officials warned Hastert such large withdrawals had to be reported to financial regulators.
So he began illegally structuring the transactions in increments of less than $10,000 to avoid the requirement. In the more than two years that followed, Hastert made a total of 106 withdrawals in sums of less than $10,000, totaling $952,000, which he gave to Individual A.
Authorities said the meetings in 2014 occurred about every three months.
In April 2014, a sheriff's deputy on patrol after midnight found Individual A parked in his van on the side of the road. A window was broken. Soon, additional deputies were on the scene.
During a search of the van, the deputies said they found three white envelopes containing stacks of $100 bills. The cash totaled $24,400, a report on the incident said. Asked why he had so much cash, Individual A said he was planning to sell one boat and buy another. During the stop, police found marijuana and related paraphernalia, and he was placed on court supervision for the misdemeanors, the police report said.
Individual A told authorities his only sources of income were disability payments and his wife's earnings.
By the time FBI agents questioned Hastert in December 2014 in his Plano home, he had paid Individual A about $1.7 million, or about half the amount the two had agreed on.
Soon, the investigation led agents to a former school cheerleader now living in Montana who had long alleged her dead brother was also one of Hastert's victims.
Her brother's keeper
Jolene Burdge, the ex-cheerleader, said one of her older brothers, Stephen Reinboldt, confided to her in the summer of 1980 that Hastert had sexual contact with him all through high school. Reinboldt, who graduated in 1971, was an equipment manager for the school's wresting and football teams.
His allegation came during a conversation outside a Yorkville bowling alley as he told her for the first time that he was gay, she said. Burdge asked "Stevie," as she still calls him today, about his first same-sex experience.
"He almost said it like, 'Oh, it was Denny Hastert,'" said Burdge.
Burdge asked Reinboldt why he never spoke up. He said no one in town would have believed him.
"And I knew he was right," she said.
A former classmate, Kevin Ross, who then went by the last name Hauge, confirmed the account, saying Reinboldt also confided in him about Hastert during Christmas break in 1974 when both were home from college. Burdge did not press her brother for specifics.
But Ross, now a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, said Reinboldt told him the first incident with Hastert began with a massage.
Reinboldt was well-known in Yorkville, his sister said. He worked at the Tastee Freez a couple of blocks from their home and was involved in school plays. Their home on Main Street, on the other hand, was filled with dysfunction. Burdge said their father was an alcoholic and often unemployed. Their mother, who struggled with mental illness, was often gone working to support the family. Both are now dead.
Burdge said Reinboldt protected her. There were the little things, like making sure she had a bathing suit in summer. And then there were the moments that haunt her still. Burdge can picture herself as a little girl, frozen in fear, as a fight between her parents broke out in their kitchen as she sat on the counter.
"He just literally danced me out of the room and got me out of danger," she said.
Her brother saw Hastert as a mentor. Hastert was about 11 years older than Reinboldt, still single and had been teaching a few years. Hastert married his wife of more than 40 years, Jean, two years after Reinboldt graduated.
Burdge said her brother left Yorkville right after graduation, and he never looked back. He graduated from the University of Illinois and moved to Los Angeles to try to make it in film production. He died of AIDS in August 1995 at age 42. She was at his side in an LA hospice.
Burdge said Hastert came to the visitation in Yorkville. As he left, Burdge chased him down in the parking lot. She asked Hastert why "you did what you did" to her brother.
"He just stood there and stared at me, stone-faced," she said. "Then I went on to say, 'The secret didn't die in there with (my brother), and I want you to know, I know.' He just looked at me and turned around and went to his car. It was silence then and silence now."
A decade passed in which Burdge said she watched as Hastert gathered power in Congress. She first tried to speak out publicly in 2006, after Hastert and other top Republicans drew criticism for their handling of a scandal involving improper advances by then-Rep. Mark Foley of Florida toward underage male pages. She said she contacted various media outlets and two prominent victim advocates but got nowhere.
It would take nearly another decade before anyone in authority listened.
Shortly before Hastert's indictment, Burdge said, authorities met with her to learn more about her brother's story. Burdge said officials found her through an old high school classmate — a man who also is friends with Individual A.
That friend had seen Burdge confront Hastert.
Now, Burdge's journey is set to finally end at Hastert's sentencing, when she will stand before him to read a victim-impact statement.
Tribune reporters spent 10 months contacting scores of athletes and students coached and taught by Hastert. The Tribune approached some in person to ask about their time with Hastert. Several still live in the Fox Valley. Reporters sent follow-up letters and emails to many.
The man whom prosecutors recently publicly described as Individual D has spoken privately with the Tribune in a quest to learn more about the scope of the case.
The alleged misconduct against Individual D would have occurred late in the coach's tenure at Yorkville High School. Hastert left in 1981 after he won election to the state legislature.
A few years younger than Individual A, Individual D was a popular student and good athlete. He grew up to marry, have children and become a successful businessman. Prosecutors have said his decision to recently come forward has been a difficult one, and they have offered him the option of keeping his identity under seal in court records or appearing in court to read a victim-impact statement.
Prosecutors have recommended a sentence for Hastert ranging from probation to up to six months behind bars — the lowest possible sentence under federal guidelines for anyone convicted of a felony. U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin has noted that he is free to sentence Hastert to as long as five years in prison. Although the case has been shrouded in secrecy, the judge acknowledged for the first time during an unannounced court hearing last month about Individual D that it involved allegations of sexual abuse.
"If Individual D wants to come in and talk about being a victim of sexual abuse, he's entitled to do so because that informs my decision about the history and characteristics of the defendant," Durkin said in a mostly empty courtroom, according to a transcript of the late March hearing obtained by the Tribune. "It's that simple."
It was the second time in a week the judge had held a hearing in the case without any public disclosure in advance. The hearing became known only after Durkin posted an order announcing Hastert's sentencing date had been pushed back to accommodate Individual D's schedule, should he appear for the sentencing.
Hastert's attorneys, at least preliminarily, said they didn't plan to contest any facts alleged by Individual D, according to the transcript.
With the sentencing hearing looming, a source said Hastert called one of Individual D's relatives, hoping to get a letter to show Hastert had done good things with his life; that letter could help persuade Durkin to give Hastert a more lenient sentence.
Individual D then made a call of his own. He told federal authorities he would prepare a statement to be used in court detailing what Hastert did to him.
Amberly's Place part of effort to help sexual assault survivors
by Rachel Twoguns
This year, the campaign uniquely focused on the public response to sexual assault, Start by Believing Day, has gone global, with Amberly's Place and others supporting and spreading awareness of the project's cause.
The Amberly's Place Family Advocacy Center is a victim center with a crisis response team to assist victims of domestic violence, child abuse, adult sexual assault and elder abuse.
The organization that brought forth the Start by Believing campaign, End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI), declared Wednesday as the first-ever global Start by Believing Day.
According to Trevor Umphress, marketing and fundraising coordinator at the Amberly's Place Family Advocacy Center, the campaign has been held in the past but not on a global level.
“They are making it global and they want people to comprehend the importance of Starting by Believing.”
The goal behind the campaign, Umphress said, is to educate the public on how to properly respond to sexual assault survivors after they reveal the incident.
“Because a friend or family member is typically the first person a victim confides in after an assault, each individual's personal reaction is the first step in a long path toward justice and healing,” Amberly's Place stated in a news release. “Knowing how to respond is critical — a negative response can worsen the trauma and foster an environment where perpetrators face zero consequences for their crimes. Because rapists attack an average of six times, one failed response can equal five more victims.”
Umphress explained that Start by Believing is a body of volunteers from several non-profits who came together.
“They noticed that there was a flaw in the system, that people were coming forward and telling their stories that they had been victims of sexual assault and weren't believed or they were being belittled or told it was somehow their fault. Because of that, there's a stigma placed upon them and unfortunately their case doesn't move forward.”
Umphress said there have been cases reported on the Start by Believing website of victims not being believed by family members and even law enforcement.
“The key thing is training our law enforcement and also our community as a whole to understand that we need to start by believing,” Umphress added, noting that responses such as ‘Well look what you wore,' and ‘Well look where you are at' can be harmful. “We're always giving excuses. We need to stop that process. It makes the victim not willing to open up and express or go into detail. They feel like they are not being believed, so they shut down.
“It's hard enough to come forward when you've been sexually assaulted, let alone you are not being believed by the investigator, your parents, your friend or your loved one,” Umphress added. “At Amberly's Place ... we're advocating for the victims. That way, they can report and they know where we stand, they know that we are going to start by believing and not by assuming guilt for them.”
Believing victims, Umphress said, can make a difference in their recovery.
“You are that one chance to make a difference. It empowers them to move forward and empowers them to go from being the victim to being survivor to overcoming this.”
Umphress said there are many resources and information on how to support this campaign on the Start by Believing website, www.startbybelieving.org - EVAWI can be reached at 509-684-9800.
The Amberly's Place Family Advocacy Center is at 1310 S. 3rd Ave. For more information on Amberly's Place, call 928-373-0849 or visit: www.amberlysplace.com
Child abuse reporting, investigation needs to improve
by Peter Herbst
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Despite the reality that children today are safer than ever, we still have a long way to go to keep all children safe from physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect.
We know how to prevent child abuse. Provide support and parenting information to at-risk parents. Teach children that they have a right to be safe and ways to keep themselves safe. Encourage parents to use positive discipline rather than spankings and beatings. Connect at-risk parents to effective community resources. Report and investigate all suspected abuse.
A primary weakness in preventing abuse is the confounding reality that a majority of children who are abused do not get investigated by child protective services.
According to the Congressionally-mandated 4th National Incidence Study, "The NIS–4 again verified (the) result...that child protective services agencies investigate maltreatment of only a minority of the (abused) children the NIS identifies."
The NIS study found that law enforcement and public housing, mental health and social service agencies had better reporting success than schools, day care centers and shelters.
The Reading Bridge is looking for volunteers interested in spending one hour per week reading books to first grade students at P.S 22 in Jersey City.
In other words, the organizations that interact with the most children on a daily basis need to do a much better job of reporting suspected abuse. Once a report is made, child protective services then need to make sure the correct decision whether or not to open a case.
Reporting child abuse is difficult for many people as they don't trust "the system," don't want to get involved or are not sure what abuse is. Also, some people fear consequences from the family, neighbors or employers.
Despite these difficulties, people must help keep kids safe. New Jersey law requires all people to report suspected abuse by calling 1-877-NJ-ABUSE (877-652-2873).
For more information contact the NJ Department of Children and Families or Prevent Child Abuse NJ.
Police: Alleged child abuse victim found with octopus lodged in throat
WICHITA, Kan. -- A Wichita toddler is in serious condition, and his mother's boyfriend is suspected of child abuse.
It happened Tuesday night at a home in the 4900 block of East Waterman. Police are still investigating what happened, but they said doctors found a two-inch baby octopus lodged in the boy's throat.
The two-year-old boy's mother returned from work to find her boyfriend giving the child CPR. The boy was not breathing.
EMS rushed the boy to a local hospital where doctors found the small octopus in the boy's throat and injuries to his face.
Neighbors say they saw police at the home Tuesday night and are stunned to hear of the allegations.
"I teach a lot of swim lessons with a lot of kids, shocking how someone could do that to kid it's just strange the situation," said neighbor Mitchell Wagner.
Jail records show 36-year-old Matthew Gallagher was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail on suspicion of child abuse. He has since been released, but jail officials provided no additional details.
Investigators said he was home alone with the boy while the child's mother was working.
Olympic chief: Child abuse laws as important as anti-doping
by The Associated Press
SYDNEY (AP) - The head of the Australian Olympic Committee says child abuse prevention needs to be elevated to the same importance as the anti-doping code within the Olympic charter.
AOC president John Coates gave evidence on Thursday at a national commission hearing which is investigating child protection policies and strategies within sporting institutions.
Coates, also a vice president of the International Olympic Committee, said he was helping steer the IOC to recognize the issue of harassment and child abuse in its ethical behaviors by-laws.
He said an amended code of ethics which covers the prevention and reporting of bullying and sexual harassment of young athletes will be trialed at the Rio Olympics in August.
“I have been involved in the legal side of these initiatives along with IOC Athletes', the Athletes' Entourage and the Medical and Scientific commissions so we can all better understand and deal with harassment and child abuse,” Coates said. “Reporting channels have been set up for the first time in Rio.”
An AOC statement said it was proposed that an IOC-appointed welfare officer will be stationed in the Olympic Village in Rio throughout the Games and will be responsible for following up alleged incidents of harassment and abuse.
Australian officials estimated about 10 athletes in its 450-member team for Rio will be under 18.
Online training for reporting child abuse launches in Vermont
DEC partners with KidSafe Collaborative
by Rachel Karcz
BURLINGTON, Vt. —The Department of Children and Families is teaming up with KidSafe Collaborative to launch an interactive training site on reporting suspected child abuse.
“You know if just one person, by making that call, is able to keep a child from being hurt, that is well worth it,” said Sally Borden, executive director of KidSafe Collaborative.
The most recent report by the department shows at least 73 percent of the calls were made by mandated reporters. But with the number of reports on the rise, officials want to get everyone involved.
“Our staff has worked very closely with them to create a training that will be really helpful and constructive for folks in the community,” said DCF commissioner Ken Schatz.
Through videos, quizzes and slideshows, the online course takes about two hours and covers everything from recognizing abusive situations to when it's time to contact DCF.
“We want to make sure whether you're in the northeast kingdom or the southwest corner of the state or wherever you are that you have that same information,” Borden said.
The hope is the more comfortable Vermonters are with recognizing signs of abuse and knowing who to call, kids will get the help they need before it's too late.
“This training is really an effort to ensure that every child is protected and if there's a concern that a child has been abused or neglected that we all know what to do, what to look for and what steps to take,” Borden said.
You can take the online course here.
County officials note rise in child-abuse cases
by Joe Mahoney
COOPERSTOWN —For all of the past four decades, Bill Hayes has been on the front lines of helping to strengthen the safety net for families in crisis.
This year, though, he is particularly concerned with a worrisome statistical barometer — a rapid escalation of reports of child abuse and neglect across Otsego County.
On Wednesday, Hayes, the chairman of the Otsego Committee against Child Abuse Neglect, brought the trend to the attention of the county's 14-member Board of Representatives.
He urged the lawmakers to support the Department of Social Services, its seven child protective services unit caseworkers and its eight preventive social workers placed throughout local public schools.
In the first quarter of this year, the county recorded 41 more cases of child abuse and neglect than it had experienced in the same period of 2015, Hayes said.
If that trajectory continues throughout 2016 , he noted, by the end of the year the county will have fielded 164 more reports than came in during 2015 — a year when the total number of reports stood at 1,184.
Hayes, a licensed clinical social worker who completed six years of post-graduate training in therapy, has rejoined the Bassett Medical Center staff on a per diem basis after retiring from the hospital in late 2014 following a 39-year career.
The fact that abuse reports are escalating swiftly, he said, is "the bad news." But on the positive side, he added, there are strategies and programs that can be used to counter the trend with the goal of knocking it back and providing the supports that can prevent such situations from ever taking place.
Because high turnover rates for case workers has been a chronic problem for social-service agencies, he suggested that the county leaders conduct a regional salary survey to document whether the salaries offered locally fall short of what neighboring counties are offering for the same skill sets.
He also urged the representatives to be supportive of training opportunities and preventive resources that could benefit caseworkers, noting that only two of the seven of the current crop of child protective social workers are "significantly seasoned."
At least part of the uptick in abuse and neglect reports, Hayes said, is driven by the heroin and opioid epidemic plaguing the region as well as alcohol abuse. He said there have been sad examples of babies born at local hospitals to mothers who used heroin shortly before delivering their children. Those infants ended up having to go through a detoxification process, he said.
Rep Katherine Stuligross, D-city of Oneonta, said it would be prudent for the county to have a full-time staffer who could be available to evaluate all women seeking maternity services, provided those women consent to such interviews.
"The mothers would have to agree," she said. "It would give them an opportunity to think, and be better mothers right from the start."
She said the county also wants to fortify a program in which teachers work with 3- to 5-year-olds with special needs.
"You want to have people who know what they're doing," she said.
Hayes said the Otsego Committee Against Child Abuse and Neglect has mapped preliminary plans for a conference this fall at the Holiday Inn in Oneonta that will be titled "The Impact of Parental Drug Abuse on Children."
To raise pubic awareness about the need for child abuse prevention, Hayes urged the public to view pinwheel displays at Annutto's Farm Stand on State Route 7 in Oneonta, the Mount Vision Garden Center on County Highway 46 and Melinda's Garden Barn and Landscaping on State Route 28 in Richfield Springs. Pinwheels have become the national symbol of the child-abuse-prevention effort.
We need to work together to stop child abuse
by Hallie Biden
Nothing mattered more to my husband, Beau, than protecting Delaware's children.
He knew it wasn't an issue many people liked to discuss, but Beau knew how important it was to protect the most vulnerable among us.
Beau Biden made keeping children safe from abuse his life's work.
After Beau died, our entire family wanted to make sure his fight to protect children continued. We formed the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children to continue the work Beau and his team started when he was Delaware's Attorney General. Beau shined a bright light on the problem of child abuse, and through the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, we will keep that light shining.
The work that Beau started, and that this foundation will continue, is so important.
Because although 1 in 10 children will be a victim of sexual abuse, the vast majority of the crimes against these children will never be reported.
The Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children is rooted in Beau's belief and work that no child should be threatened by a predator – either an adult or a peer. We believe that child abuse can be prevented through effectively educating adults and children, developing the next generation of child welfare professionals and strengthening child protection laws around the country.
Over the next few months, we will talk often about our three pillars: education, leadership development and advocacy. But today, we want to ask you for your help in eliminating child abuse in Delaware.
Beau knew the best way to prevent child abuse was to shine a light on it – to educate adults on how to spot the signs that a child is suffering from abuse and the importance of standing up for that child by reporting the abuse to authorities. In fact, Delaware law requires any adult or organization who “knows or in good faith suspects” that a child is being abused to immediately call the state's Child Abuse Hotline at 800-292-9582.
To help adults meet their moral and legal obligation to protect children from abuse, Beau and the Delaware Department of Justice partnered with Prevent Child Abuse Delaware in 2011 to bring the Darkness to Light Foundation's “Stewards of Children” program to Delaware. Stewards of Children trains adults on how to spot the signs of child abuse and how to report that abuse.
When Beau left office, 17,000 Delawareans had been trained through this program. The Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children plans to train thousands more because, as Beau wrote in 2014: “Getting more adults to go through the Stewards of Children training is the single biggest step we can take to protect more kids from abuse in Delaware.”
Over the next two years, the Beau Biden Foundation will have training seminars all over the state – from places of work to places of worship, and from schools to community centers. Our goal is to train an additional 18,000 Delaware adults in the next two years. We'd like you to join us.
This training program will change the way you think about child sexual abuse. It will make you uncomfortable, and that's the point. After going through this training, you will know the children in your life are safer.
To kick off our program, the Foundation has partnered with Delaware Law School and Delaware Technical and Community College to offer free Stewards of Children training this month.
Training will be held at the following:
Delaware Law School in the Ruby R. Vale Moot Courtroom on Monday, April 11, at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 13, at 11 a.m. and Thursday, April 14, at 7 p.m.
Delaware Technical and Community College Owens Campus in the Carter Partnership Center Lecture Hall on April 27, at 6 p.m.
Delaware Technical and Community College Terry Campus in the Corporate Training Center Room 407 on April 28, at 6 p.m.
Please register for one of these sessions by going to: www.BeauBidenFoundation.org/D2L
Together we can further Beau's commitment to keeping Delaware's children safe by stopping childhood sexual abuse.
Hallie Biden is a member of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children's board of directors.
SafeSpot helps child-abuse victims, families heal
by Brian Trompeter
When allegations arise that children have been physically or mentally abused, staff at SafeSpot Children's Advocacy Center of Fairfax County work to ascertain the facts and help those who have suffered.
“We ask, ‘How can we help these children navigate the criminal-justice system, and what happens next?'” said Michele Thames, who became its executive director last July. “They're dealing with the trauma of what happened. For the adults, having the bad guy go to jail might be enough, but for children, there are residual effects.”
The Fairfax-based non-profit, which aims to reduce the trauma and improve the life circumstances of abuse victims, served 299 children last year and interviewed 30 this past March alone, Thames said.
The organization is among 15 child-advocacy centers in Virginia and nearly 800 across the United States that belong to the National Children's Alliance.
SafeSpot staff conduct forensic interviews with children following reports they may have been physically or sexually abused. The goal is either to corroborate or refute allegations or suspicions of neglect or abuse, she said.
SafeSpot collaborates closely with police in Fairfax County and the city of Fairfax, as well as Child Protective Services, to conduct videotaped interviews with children who report having been abused.
Personnel from those other agencies may watch the interview remotely on closed-circuit television and relay questions to the forensic interviewer, but they do not interact directly with the children, Thames said.
Forensic interviewers are “trained in specialized protocols and ask questions in a neutral, non-leading manner,” she said. “There's a lot of open-ended narrative.”
If interviews determine abuse has occurred, SafeSpot will direct victims toward medical treatment and mental-health services.
SafeSpot is supported by grant funding from the Fairfax County government, the National Children's Alliance and the Virginia Department of Social Services. The group's board of directors also works to raise funds.
The organization has four employees and one dog, a Labrador-retriever named Pecos that came from the Canine Companions for Independence service-dog group.
“There's scientific research behind the human-animal bond,” Thames said. “Pecos provides that comfort [to interviewees] that as non-leading, neutral professionals we're not able to provide.”
SafeSpot staff has been dealing with younger children of late, Thames said. The organization's interviewer has received specialized training in child development and speaks Spanish, which allows the group to help an under-served part of the population, she said.
The group also hopes to provide trauma therapy to children via a Spanish-speaking therapist, she added.
Before becoming SafeSpot's leader, Thames spent 10 years working with the child-abuse program at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters in Norfolk.
Thames changed her life's direction after seeing an “Oprah” episode in 1999 or 2000 that told about a girl who was being mistreated and living in a dog kennel.
“I was thinking about law school, but decided to save children instead,” she said.
Tracy Leonard, public-education manager of Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) of Northern Virginia, said the region is fortunate to have SafeSpot helping child-abuse victims.
“They don't work in a bubble,” Leonard said. “They try to work with the greater community to ensure their families are getting all the care they need to heal from the abuse children are suffering from.”
The Board of Supervisors will give SafeSpot's leaders a proclamation April 5 in honor of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
To give the public a glimpse of its facilities, SafeSpot will hold an open house April 15 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the center, located at 4031 Chain Bridge Road, Suite 201, in Fairfax.
SafeSpot will hold a fund-raiser April 25 at Westwood Country Club, 800 Maple Ave., E., in Vienna. The group's Champions Fore Children Charity Golf Tournament already has sold out, but the group will offer cocktails and dinner afterward at the club.
Larry Michael, the voice of the Washington Redskins, will serve as master of ceremonies at the event, tickets for which are $60.
For more information about SafeSpot and its fund-raiser, visit: www.safespotfairfax.org
'Chemical castration' trial aims to prevent child sexual abuse
by PRESS ASSOCIATION
Paedophiles not convicted of any crime are being recruited for a new research project aiming to show that men at risk of sexually abusing children can be identified and treated before they target a victim.
A clinical trial looking at the effectiveness of a "chemical castration" therapy that cuts levels of the male hormone testosterone is already under way in Sweden.
Around the world, drugs are widely used to suppress the urges of sex offenders and one pilot scheme in Nottinghamshire is now being rolled out across the country, co-managed by NHS England.
But the Swedish scientists are taking the controversial further step of looking at whether men in the general population who are worried about their sexual urges can successfully be treated to prevent them committing crimes.
They also hope to pinpoint "biomarkers" - tell-tale substances in the blood or brain wiring patterns - that mark out individuals who could pose a danger to children.
The researchers stress that if such biomarkers are found, there is no question of them being used to conduct population screening for paedophiles.
However they could help psychiatrists or prison governors decide if certain individuals can safely be allowed near children, or who might benefit from a drug treatment.
Dr Christoffer Rahm, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who heads the "Priotab" project, said: "One in 10 boys and one in 20 girls is sexually abused during childhood. This issue is hard to deal with but we must, because it affects all of us.
"Child sexual abuse causes a lot of suffering for the victims and their relatives ... it also has negative consequences for the perpetrator, who risks becoming totally isolated, depressed and sentenced to imprisonment.
"Up until now most of the attention has been on how to deal with perpetrators while they're protected by the police or by the authorities, but by this stage children have already been harmed.
"With this research project, I want to shift focus and explore methods of preventing child sexual abuse from happening in the first place."
Paedophilia also incurred a high financial cost, he stressed. According to Home Office figures, a single offence of sexual child abuse cost an estimated £37,000 taking into account the police investigation, legal proceedings, and victim support.
Dr Rahm said a "handful" of men with paedophilic tendencies - none of whom had been convicted of any offence - had already been recruited by his team through a Swedish help line for people who fear their sexual appetites are out of control.
They were taking part in a study testing the effectiveness of degarelix, a prostate cancer drug that blocks signals from the brain that switch on production of testosterone. The male hormone is known to fuel the disease.
The aim is to compare 30 men receiving the drug with 30 others given a "dummy" placebo treatment.
The scientists want to see if the drug can help the volunteers keep their sexual urges in check without causing unacceptable side effects.
Three days after receiving an injection of degarelix, 97% of treated men have almost no detectable levels of testosterone in their blood. Unlike some other hormone treatments, the drug does not cause an initial "flare" that actually boosts levels of testosterone.
"The hypothesis we are testing is that this medicine has a clinically significant risk-reducing effect," said Dr Rahm.
The biomarker study, which was still at a "very early phase", would find out whether men who sexually abused children have any measurable traits that distinguish them from members of the general population.
These could include molecules in the blood, or specific patterns of brain structure or activity.
Part of the research will involve showing participants pictures of adults and children in swim suits while they undergo functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans, said Dr Rahm.
"In clinical cases where the interview-based risk assessment is deemed unreliable, a supplement with a biological marker for risk would be desirable, even if it only increases accuracy by a few per cent," he said.
The goal of Priotab was to establish an "evidence-based preventive treatment programme" that could be employed "before the damage is done", Dr Rahm added.
In 2008 a pilot project was established at Whatton Prison in Nottinghamshire which saw more than 100 convicted sex offenders receive medication to reduce their sex drive.
The scheme, co-funded and managed by NHS England and the National Offender Management System, is now in the process of being rolled out nationally.
Forensic psychiatrist Professor Donald Grubin, from the University of Newcastle, who is involved in the programme, said: "Typically we come in after an offence has been committed, and we try to pick up the pieces.
"It would be great if we could do something before that."
The Swedish scientists, who are in the UK to promote crowdfunding support for their work, acknowledge that the research involves serious ethical issues which will be explored as part of the project.
A UK organisation based in Wales, StopSO, already offers psychological therapy to paedophiles before they offend.
It has won the support of the father of murdered five-year-old April Jones, whose killer Mark Bridger is serving a life sentence.
Paul Jones, from Machynlleth, Powys, told the BBC's Eye On Wales programme: "It's a glimmer of hope in the future.
"They're trying to offer help to paedophiles before they become offenders - it's the way forward. Prevention has to be the key."
D.C. police to launch new search for missing Relisha Rudd
by Peter Hermann
D.C. police on Wednesday announced plans to conduct another search for Relisha Rudd, the little girl who disappeared 25 months ago with the janitor of a District homeless shelter.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier plans to address the media Wednesday morning before searchers fan out in a designated spot. Police would not identify the location of the site before police were in place. The chief has vowed that police will not stop searching for Relisha until all leads had been exhausted
The last full-scale search for Relisha, 8 when she disappeared, was in December at a 15-acre construction site a short distance from the hotel on New York Avenue in Northeast Washington where she was last seen alive with her abductor, who later was found dead.
Relisha disappeared in February 2014 from the homeless shelter at the old D.C. General Hospital, where she was living with her family. She was in the company of the janitor, Kahlil Malik Tatum, at the time, and was seen walking with him down a hallway of a Holiday Inn Express at Bladensburg Road and New York Avenue on Feb. 26, 2014. Relisha was last seen March 1.
Police efforts to find Relisha have focused on several areas of the city. After unsuccessfully searching the 700-acre Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in March 2014, police all but declared Relisha dead and described further searches as recovery missions.
In that earlier search, however, police found Tatum's body in a shed at the park. Police said he had committed suicide after abducting Relisha and killing his wife in a Maryland hotel room.
They said that Tatum, 51, had bought large trash bags and was seen on surveillance video at the Holiday Inn Express. That is across the street from the latest search in December.
Relisha's mother, Shamika Young, has maintained that her daughter is still alive. In February, she joined family and friends at the Deanwood Recreation Center to mark the two-year anniversary of Relisha's disappearance. “I still have hope and faith that she'll return one day,” she said at the time.
Young has long had a contentious relationship with city authorities, who accused her of misleading them about Relisha's whereabouts when the second-grader was discovered missing. The family had allowed the girl to be in the company of Tatum.
In the December search, up to 80 officers and cadets, some with dogs trained to smell cadavers, combed through weeds and over mounds of hard red clay. Police would not say what drew police to the site.
The construction lot was once considered for a Walmart store and was more active at the time Relisha went missing in March 2014. Police said at the time that a fence that now surrounds the area was not there, allowing easy access. The cadets spread out at arm's length and trod over the lot, stopping at anything that looked suspicious or interesting — such as a discarded sweatshirt — and marking them with red ribbons.
Pa. House committee passes bill to toughen child abuse penalties
by Steve Esack
Harrisburg- One month after a state attorney general's report accused two Catholic bishops of allowing priests to molest and rape children with impunity, a group of lawmakers has gotten tougher on child sex abuse.
A bill that passed the House Judiciary Committee by a 26-1 margin Tuesday would make it harder for some child sex abusers — and employers who protect them — to escape criminal and civil penalties.
But critics say the bill does not go far enough because it would only affect future crimes against children and does not help past victims with no legal recourse to seek justice.
The bill would treat future child sex-abuse crimes like murder, which can be prosecuted any time, by dropping the 30-year statute of limitations on when criminal sex-abuse charges can be filed.
The bill also would add 20 years to the 12-year civil statute of limitations that dictates when an adult who was the victim of child sex abuse can file lawsuits against abusers and institutions. The change means child victims who use the civil court system to pursue justice as adults would have until their 50th birthday to file a private lawsuit against the alleged abuser and institution that employed them.
Two separate amendments that passed in 20-7 votes would partially lift the sovereign immunity clause that prevents child sex-abuse victims from suing state and local governments.
The amendments say a victim could receive up to $200,000 and $500,000 from state or local governments, respectively, if they can prove in a civil lawsuit their abuse was caused by "gross negligence" of officials in responding to a child sex-abuse claim. The dollar amounts are already listed in laws that waive sovereign immunity for accidents on highways, sidewalks and in liquor stores.
The only reason the amendments were offered is because statistics show more abuse occurs in public schools than private institutions, said their author, Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Cambria.
The committee's vote came as a result of a March 1 grand jury report that accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown of allowing at least 50 priests and other religious leaders to sexually abuse hundreds of children for five decades. Based on the grand jury report, the attorney general's office on March 15 charged three Franciscan friars with child endangerment and criminal conspiracy.
But the bill would not help most of the Altoona-Johnstown victims who are too old, or soon will be, to have their cases brought before a criminal or civil jury. That's because the bill has no retroactive provisions allowing prosecutors to charge abusers for all past crimes, or to allow victims to sue in civil court no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.
The Altoona-Johnstown grand jury recommended lifting all statutes of limitations, and the same recommendations were made in grand jury reports detailing Jerry Sandusky's crimes and the sex abuse cover-ups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, said Marci Hamilton, a law professor at Yeshiva University and an expert on statutes of limitations. By focusing only on future crimes, Hamilton said, the bill does little to help current victims or to end what the grand jury reports show is Pennsylvania's long-standing practice of covering up child sex abuse.
The bill is a step in the right direction but the bill is not strong enough without retroactive civil lawsuit provisions, said state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a victim of clergy abuse.
"It's a start," Rozzi said after Tuesday's vote. "But it's still disappointing that the reason we are here today is because of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, where hundreds of victims have been abused and most of those victims have been timed out, and here we are passing bills that would do nothing to give those victims justice, to give those victims the help they deserve."
Rozzi vowed to offer an amendment that would allow retroactive civil lawsuits and said he is expecting a fight from lobbyists.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the lobbying umbrella group for every diocese and archdiocese in the state, does not oppose ending the criminal statute of limitations, spokeswoman Amy Hill said.
Hill declined to state the conference's position on the bill's provision to give two extra decades to file private lawsuits against alleged abusers. But, she said, it opposes Rozzi's amendment for retroactive civil suits.
"However, we remain concerned about potential amendments that would retroactively nullify the civil statute of limitations that could lead to the closure of parishes, schools and ministries of today's Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago," Hill said.
The Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, another lobbying group, is not opposed to the House bill, said Sam Marshall, its executive director. But Rozzi's proposed amendment is another matter. Insurance companies cannot retroactively charge customers for premiums and coverage plans to cover possible lawsuit payouts that occurred in years past, Marshall said.
"I have a lot of respect for Rep. Rozzi," he said. "I respect his goal of helping past victims, but the question of how to help victims of child sex abuse that already happened is a challenging question."
A vote on the bill could be held next week in the full House. It needs to be approved twice to move to the Senate.
Guardians of the Children put brakes on child abuse
by Josh Moody
KEARNEY — Thirteen members of Guardians of the Children roared onto the campus at the University of Nebraska at Kearney on Monday.
They rode motorcycles and wore boots, bandannas, leather chaps and vests adorned with patches.
They looked as if they'd be more in place at a motorcycle rally than a university campus, but they came to UNK with a clear message.
“This cycle of child abuse has to stop,” said a biker who identified himself as Hog.
Because of the work they do protecting victims of child abuse, Guardians of the Children members use road names rather than real names.
According to their mission statement, Guardians of the Children advocates for the recognition of child abuse and intends to educate people about it. The organization also aims to “provide strength and stability to families in crisis.”
Members do this in a variety of ways, including adopting kids into their program for protection. Victimized youths can call members around the clock for help or emotional support.
Guardians of the Children members also appear in court to show their support for abuse victims.
There are thousands of members nationwide, as well as chapters popping up internationally. The group that appeared at UNK is the Seven Valleys Chapter based in Callaway.
Members at UNK ranged from fresh-faced to gray and grizzled, but all shared concern for the safety of children and want to end abuse.
One biker — Guardrail — the grayest and most grizzled of the 13 members, broke down into tears as he expressed his concern for victims of abuse.
“Even bikers cry,” Hog said as Guardrail took a moment to gain his composure.
Stitch, a Guardians member and survivor of abuse, talked about how the organization has helped her find peace after years of abuse.
Stitch said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of abuse as both a child and adult.
Now an advocate for children, Stitch said survivors of abuse can recognize the abused and help them heal.
About 75 UNK students attended the Guardians of the Children presentation.
Catie Horacek, a freshman occupational therapy major from Kearney, described the presentation as emotional.
She added that she was particularly moved when Guardrail cried as he vowed to lay down his life to protect children.
Dallas Doering, a junior political science major from Trenton, also said that he was moved by the presentation.
“I really enjoyed that these men and women are willing to put their whole lives on hold for children in our own community,” Doering said.
Students in attendance came from two family studies classes taught by Jeanne Stolzer and Toni Hill.
Stolzer, who arranged the Guardians of the Children presentation, said that it was a surprise for the students.
She hoped that the presentation helped students to realize that there are ways to stop the cycle of abuse.
“There are ways to help kids. There are kids who are suffering. We can't keep our heads in the sand. There really are kids who are abused right here in this community,” Stolzer said.
Stolzer said her students come from a variety of majors, such as nursing, psychology, sociology, criminal justice and others.
She said she hoped this learning experience would allow them to see the efforts of child abuse prevention and think about actions they can take to stop it.
“What is an education if it's sitting in a room taking notes?” she asked.
Hill also said she hoped her students learned more about child abuse and how to help prevent it.
“It is vital for the students to know their responsibility as mandatory child abuse reporters, to know more about child abuse, and to know about programs like the Guardians Of the Children,” Hill said.
Though 13 members appeared at UNK Monday, Stitch said the current membership in the Seven Valleys Chapter is 22.
To become a member, applicants must pass a state and federal background check, which members say is necessary to ensure the best people are working with children.
New Massachusetts State Police unit will investigate child sex trafficking
by Shira Schoenberg
BOSTON — A new state police unit has been formed to investigate the sex trafficking of children. For the first time in Massachusetts, a child who has been a victim of sexual trafficking will now be treated as a victim of child abuse and cannot be prosecuted as a prostitute.
"This is an issue we need to bring to the forefront," said Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, in announcing the initiatives on Tuesday. "When you think about the sexual exploitation of a child, this is a crime in Massachusetts, this is a violent act, this is child abuse."
The changes are the result of a law that was signed by former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014 and are just now being implemented.
State officials say before the law change, a young woman who was forced into prostitution was at risk of being prosecuted. "Perpetrators of human trafficking have hid behind the fact that we weren't treating the youth as victims, we were treating them as part of the overall problem," said Public Safety Secretary Daniel Bennett.
Now, a woman who was trafficked cannot be prosecuted but will be treated as a victim. The state's Department of Children and Families has implemented a new policy, in which someone who suspects that a child is being trafficked is required to file a report. DCF is setting up teams that are now in five counties and will be expanded to all counties by the fall of 2018, which will work with non-profits to respond to these cases and provide services to the children. DCF will have to refer all cases of alleged trafficking to a district attorney for investigation, including when the person exploiting the child is a caregiver.
"What we're saying is that this is a form of child abuse and needs to be reported to DCF. They need to investigate it, provide services and supports to the child to get them out of that life and also ensure that criminal justice prosecutes the individuals who are exploiting the kids," said Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders.
DCF has received a five-year, $1.25 million federal grant to establish these teams and to provide assistance to each county and to DCF in developing policies and services to help trafficking victims. DCF already upgraded its systems to better track allegations of human trafficking of individuals for labor and for sex.
The state police is also setting up a four-person team, led by Detective Lt. Pi Downsbrough, to investigate human trafficking cases involving children under age 18. The state police will be the lead agency on larger investigations, and the team will provide support to municipal police forces in smaller investigations. For example, the state police might provide expertise in wiretapping that a town police force does not have. The teams will work with a human trafficking task force that is part of Attorney General Maura Healey's office. Anyone convicted of human trafficking is subject to a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and as much as 20 years in state prison.
Downsbrough said the new human trafficking police team started its work around six weeks ago.
Bennett said when the state begins using the new unit to prosecute people, it will send a message to other traffickers. "Nothing spreads among the criminals in this state faster than time spent at Souza-Baranowski," Bennett said, referring to the state prison.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, over 1,300 human trafficking calls have been reported in Massachusetts since 2007, mostly involving adult women.
Polito said child sexual trafficking is underreported, and state officials believe that number does not reflect the actual prevalence of trafficking. "It's an activity that's very much in the shadows," Polito said.
National Child Abuse Awareness month about bringing light to the issue
by Haley Herzog
April is National Child Abuse Awareness month and those who work with abused children or have personally experiences abuse say speaking up is the best way to combat it.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has a list of signs to look out for in children who may be abused.
The list includes signs such as lack of supervision, hunger, inappropriate dress, bruises, bite marks, low self-esteem, pain and itching.
No matter what the signs may be though, local survivors and those who work with survivors say there is no reason not to report it.
“If you think that a child is being abused, if you think even for a second, then there is no excuse not to deal with it,” Abuse survivor and Exec. Director of Firecracker Foundation Tashmica Torok said.
Torok was sexually abused as a child by her father, and she says despite multiple forms of healing, it has affected her into her adult years.
“I didn't know how to define my trauma, I didn't know how bad it was until I went to therapy as an adult,” Torok said.
One in three girls, and one in six boys, will be abused before they turn 18, and those who work with these children say abuse can become a cycle.
“Whatever idea that they have of adulthood that they come in here with, it is about changing that and showing them a different view of adulthood that maybe can help break that cycle that started with them,” Volunteer at St. Vincent Catholic Charities Josh Lown said.
One way to break that cycle is giving kids a safe way to report abuse. Attorney General Bill Schuette helped create the OK 2 SAY program, where kids can report any form of abuse.
“It really helps us talk to kids in a way they understand, it's all on the phone or on an iPod or Android, and it is really where kids are, and kids feel more comfortable talking to you when they don't have to be seen talking to an authority figure,” Attorney General Press Secretary Andrea Bitely said.
Torok agrees, saying to trust children when they do speak up.
“It is important to listen to them when they say there is a problem,” Torok said.
MDHHS has a hotline where anyone who has seen or experienced any form of abuse can call to get resources and help: 1-855-444-3911.
On-call for victims
by Dwight Baker
BAY CITY – For years, victims of sexual assault in Matagorda County had to travel to Ben Taub hospital in Houston, Victoria or Galveston to be examined and have forensic evidence collected. As traumatic as the experience itself already is, the lack of a qualified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, within a six county radius of Matagorda County added insult to injury.
Those days are gone now that Danielle Rodriguez is the County's first fully certified SANE, also called FNE or Forensic Nurse Examiner and was introduced at a press conference last Thursday morning. Forensic nursing is a specialty within nursing where medical care and law enforcement intersect. Rodriguez is an emergency room nurse at Matagorda Regional Medical Center, but will be an asset to law enforcement in Matagorda County.
Rodriguez will be involved in sexual assault or domestic violence cases from the initial report all the way to conviction of the perpetrator.
Forensic nurses treat victims involved in ‘interpersonal crimes,' including sexual assaults, domestic violence, child abuse, elderly abuse, human trafficking, etc. She not only treats the medical needs of the patient, but also collects evidence from perpetrators and survivors of violent crimes and testifies in court. Her work serves as the foundation for establishing legal causation.
“Imagine you have a victim here in Bay City who's just gone through this traumatic event and have to tell them, ‘Sorry, you're going to have to go to Ben Taub or Galveston because we can't treat you here.' We want victims to feel safe and protected right here in Matagorda County,” Rodriguez said. “We're now able to start that healing process a lot faster. Now they can come to Matagorda Regional and know they'll be seen right away, they won't be put off.”
The county has seen an increase in sexual assaults in recent years. Just last year, Bay City PD had 56 sex offenses reported and had reason to investigate 35 of them. The Sheriff's Office investigated nine cases and the Palacios PD had 10. Even Bay City ISD had a sex crime investigation. And these are just the ones that victims saw fit to report. Many more likely go unreported.
Victims do not have to go through law enforcement first to be examined by Rodriguez. They now can just walk into the ER, tell them what's happened, and they will arrange for Rodriguez to see them. Her first job is to provide medical care and support to the patient and then help them make an informed decision as to whether to alert law enforcement.
Regardless of their initial decision, an exam is done and evidence collected in the event a legal case is brought forward. The sooner the evidence is collected, the stronger the case. After 96 hours evidence is degraded, washed away or contaminated.
Rodriguez is also being provided with nearly $30,000 worth of new equipment, including a Secure Digital Forensic Imaging system or SDFI. This camera takes extremely high-resolution photos to document injuries and much more. The camera is able to look under the skin's surface and detect any bruising or other injury invisible to the naked eye using a negative invert filter.
“Before these systems, you used to not be able to see these deeper tissue injuries except on an autopsy table. This allows us to detect deeper injuries or older injuries that can help us in the court case,” Rodriguez said.
Matagorda County doesn't have a medical examiner, but as a licensed Forensic Nurse Examiner, Rodriguez can accompany law enforcement and collect evidence right away at the crime scene.
Rodriguez is on call around the clock as she the only SANE in Matagorda County, but the plan is to get two more nurses certified and rotate shifts. Rodriguez had to travel quite a bit to shadow other examiners and complete her clinical requirements to achieve certification. Future nurses won't have to do so as much now that Rodriguez can train them.
The basic clinical requirements included 15 pelvic adult examinations, 15 pediatric examinations and 20 Well-Child examinations. Her advanced clinical requirements included 10 sexual assault forensic examinations of an adult and 10 child sexual assault exams, six of which must be of prepubescent patients and four adolescents.
CAA Observes Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month with a global theme of ‘Prevention is Possible When Everyone is Involved,' with the Centre Against Abuse [CAA] inviting the community to take part.
The month will culminate with the Arkley Side to Side 5K on April 30, with the CAA encouraging people on the island to “help with the prevention of sexual assault in various ways” throughout April.
A spokesperson said, “Understanding the basics of sexual assault is key to its prevention. Sexual assault encompasses any type of sexual contact or behaviour that occurs without the consent of the recipient. These behaviours include, but are not limited to forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, attempted rape and sexual harassment.
“Sexual assault is not about passion, it is about power and control by the perpetrator, who in most cases is known to the survivor. Sexual assault affects people of all genders, ages, races, religions, incomes, abilities, professions, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Sexual assault is a criminal offence, and has no statute of limitation for making a criminal complaint or prosecution; however, it is most often under reported.
“Global statistics indicate that 1:4 women and 1:6 males are sexually assaulted.
“In Bermuda we have a Sexual Assault Response Team [SART] which is a community based coordinated response team, for survivors of rape. This team is comprised of sexual assault nurse examiners [they obtain forensics], Bermuda Police Service [collects evidence and liaises with Prosecutions], Department of Child and Family services [supports survivors under age 18] and Centre Against Abuse [supports male and female survivors 18 year and older].
“SART provides immediate, on-site response to a survivor of rape. SART collaborate through regular monthly meetings to strategize ways to promote awareness, coordinate sexual assault training, research and adopt evidence based forensic practices, and keep abreast of technology.
“Since 2010 SART has conducted 97 sexual assault exams on victims of rape, and 14 of these examinations were conducted on minors under the age of 18.
“Centre Against Abuse [CAA] is a registered charity, and the only organisation in Bermuda that works specifically to provide support and prevention for adult survivors of sexual assault in Bermuda. Our services in this area include: 24 hour crisis hotline for survivors, counselling for survivors [includes adult survivors of childhood sexual assault], and provides community education for building blocks towards prevention.
“CAA has as its theme ‘together we can create healthy relationships'.
“Prevention of sexual assault is possible when everyone is involved; when consent is understood and respected; when individuals support changes; when misconceptions are eliminated; and when employers value everyone.
“During the month of April the Centre Against Abuse is inviting the entire community to help with the prevention of sexual assault in various ways, such as hosting a ‘Teal Tea' fundraiser at your home with friends and family; making donations to CAA at participating Golf Clubs [Belmont, etc.]; and participating in our Arkley Side to Side 5K on April 30, 2016.”
For more information, contact the Centre Against Abuse on 292-4366.
"Drowning" in child abuse cases, investigators say change is up to us
by Ed Pearce
This week Washoe County Sheriff's investigators tracked down and arrested a 36 year old truck driver, Joshua Larsen, on charges sexual assault and child pornography.
The victim was under the age of 14.
Sadly, there was nothing particularly unusual about the case and as, investigators close it, they face a stack of others.
"We're drowning in them," says Sgt. Dennis Carry, the sheriff's department Cybercrime Unit Supervisor. "The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force alone maintains a case load of anywhere from 100 to 150 crimes on any one day in northern Nevada,"
The manpower available to pursue that volume of cases?
Just two investigators in the sheriff's office, a handful in other local, state and federal agencies.
"We could probably increase this unit by 10 people and still not be at a level where we're able to get to the offenders as soon as we need to," says Carry.
So, investigators are forced to make gut wrenching decisions, prioritizing some cases, choosing one victim before another.
"When it comes to a child having to make the determination of what you can get to first when you can't get to both at the same time is really difficult."
The cases range from physical abuse to emotional and mental anguish. Sexual assault which can leave lifetime scars. Pornographic images circulated on the internet that never go away.
"One child pornography victim said as she walks down the street she wonders if that person walking the other way has seen her on the internet."
These crimes are among the most horrific, their victims the most vulnerable. The law and common morality mandate they be investigated, their victims removed from harm, but that mandate comes with no earmarked funding.
So these crimes compete with others for budget dollars.
And that math won't change, Carry says, until we demand it.
That means an earmarked tax or fee. Carry notes a few cents a month on a cell phone or other electronic device--smart phones and the internet have had a big impact on the problem-- could make a big difference.
"Until the community gets together and decides their priorities or until legislators get together and decide how they can properly fund child abuse prevention and investigation, we're going to be struggling."
Sadly, it comes down to simple arithmetic and priorities. As we ponder those questions we should note that this week starts National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Cases like this most recent one stem from someone alerting authorities.
There are a number of ways to do that. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a tip line.
Of course, there's Secret Witness or you can call law enforcement directly.
You'll find more information on our website--kolotv.com--under Hot Topics.
Hundreds come to Huntsville for International Symposium for Child Abuse
by Megan Brantley
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Thousands of children are abused every year in the United States. Hundreds of people have made their way to Huntsville for the annual international symposium on child abuse, to try and help stop it.
Huntsville is where it all started for children advocacy centers across the country. "What we started in this community, what we still do in this community for children in this community, is also a model for communities all throughout the world," said Chris Newlin, Executive Director for the National Children's Advocacy Center. This week is proof of that- with representatives from 48 states and 10 countries coming to Huntsville to learn new ways to end child abuse. "We're always working to have the most updated information on research," said Newlin. "And when they go home next week, they can make a difference in a child's life in their community."
From law enforcement, to child protective services, The Child Advocacy Center is working every day to provide the training to put themselves out of business. “Were still kind of a long ways away from that, and we're going to remain dedicated to making sure that children's advocacy centers in this community, state, country and world have the most updated practice information so they can do the very best job they can for each kid that comes through their doors," said Newlin.
The Children's Advocacy Center does more than 50 trainings a year. The symposium will continue through the end of the week.
Check out their website for more information: http://www.nationalcac.org/
N.H. Supreme Court to decide whether child abuse cases can be made public
Court to decide whether records involving child abuse, neglect can be made public
by JEREMY BLACKMAN
Rus Rilee and Charles Capace are preparing to sue the state on behalf of two adoptive parents whose children were abused before coming under their legal care. But under judicial protocol, the public will never hear about the case or have access to it.
On Tuesday, New Hampshire's highest court questioned whether it's time that changed.
At issue is the state's Child Protection Act, which requires case records involving abuse and neglect to remain confidential. Rilee and Capace claim those rules have been interpreted so broadly that the public rarely learns about problems in the state's protective services system. They say a child's identity can be protected even if a complaint is made public.
The litigation follows a series of high-profile cases, including the death of two young children and the sexual assault of two others. Rilee and Capace represent relatives in each case and are preparing a lawsuit on behalf of the two children who were sexually abused. The assaults occurred during an unsupervised visit with their birth parents, who were under investigation for child abuse by the Division for Children, Youth and Families.
The lawsuit is expected to allege that the agency directly placed the children in an unsafe environment.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court considered whether the suit has to be filed under seal or if it can be made public with the children's names and their identifying details redacted.
Justice Robert Lynn, in particular, seemed intent that the decision should be the family's.
“If a fit parent says, ‘I understand that these proceedings under the statute are confidential – that's designed to protect my child. I've decided it's more important to bring a lawsuit to make this process open to the public,' ” he said, addressing Assistant Attorney General MaryBeth Misluk. “What is the interest of the state in the face of that in keeping this confidential?”
Misluk said the law doesn't permit such a waiver. She added that the state's interest is in protecting the child and that confidentiality is the surest way to accomplish that.
“Once the bell is rung, it cannot be unrung,” she warned. “This information will be in the public sphere forever. It will follow these children forever.”
Lynn pushed back. “It does sort of seem like this is kind of Big Brother to interpret the statute in the way you want it to be interpreted,” he said.
“I would respectfully disagree,” Misluk replied. “It's not uncommon for the interests of a child and a parent to diverge. And that is why we have (court-appointed special advocates), that is why we have guardians ad litem.”
Justice Carol Ann Conboy suggested a middle ground: a temporary seal – 10 days, for example – after which, barring any objections, the case goes public. That would give the state and the court time to review the lawsuit and flag lingering privacy concerns, while also ensuring that the substance of the claim is eventually opened.
“There might be circumstances – not uncommon – for one parent to want records disclosed and another to not want it,” she said. “That's why you say we need to know what the complaint is, because if it's simply one parent trying to air dirty laundry, that might not be a sufficient interest to put the child's interest at risk.”
Misluk supported the idea. Court-Appointed Special Advocates of New Hampshire, a nonprofit that trains and supervises guardians, is also a party in the case. Its attorney, Daniel Deane, said it would also welcome it.
“The importance in this case is for the court, not CASA, to review the complaint,” Deane said after the hearing.
But Capace said the case should be open from the beginning. Period.
A temporary seal still “puts the shoe on the wrong foot,” he argued.
“The only thing that matters in terms of confidentiality is to protect the identity of the children, not to protect wrongdoings, misfeasances and malfeasances of DCYF and CASA,” Capace said outside the courthouse.
Child abuse prevention
by Andrew Warlen
Children are our future, and every child deserves a safe, stable, and nurturing relationship with their parents/caregiver and a healthy environment to grow up in. This positive relationship provides a buffer against adverse childhood experiences that may compromise long-term health.
Unfortunately, not all children are exposed to these positive relationships within their family unit. Child abuse and maltreatment is a serious public health problem. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2014, there were almost 650,000 reported cases of child abuse or neglect, and 1,580 deaths as a result of abuse or neglect in the United States. The majority of child abuse cases were in situations and conditions that could have been prevented with engaged and supportive community programs and systems.
Sadly, these cases represent only a fraction of the problem. Most child abuse cases go unreported, and, for this reason, child abuse and neglect remains a largely hidden problem.
First declared Child Abuse Prevention Month in 1983, April has become a time to recognize the importance of families and communities working together to prevent child abuse. A community that cares about early childhood development, parental support, and maternal mental health, for instance, is more likely to foster nurturing families and healthy children.
Child maltreatment includes all types of abuse and neglect of a child under the age of 18 by a parent or caregiver that results in harm or potential harm. There are four common types of abuse:
-- Physical abuse is the use of physical force, such as hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child.
-- Sexual abuse involves engaging a child in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities.
-- Emotional abuse refers to behaviors that harm a child's self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening.
-- Neglect is the failure to meet a child's basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care.
The first step in helping abused or neglected children is learning to recognize the signs of child abuse and neglect. The presence of a single sign does not prove child abuse is occurring in a family, but a closer look at the situation may be necessary when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination. The following signs may signal the presence of child abuse or neglect:
-- The child shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
-- The child has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention.
-- The child is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen.
-- The child comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
The parent shows little concern for the child.
-- The parent denies the existence of, or blames the child for, the child's problems in school or at home.
-- The parent demands a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve.
-- The parent and child rarely touch or look at each other.
-- The parent and child state that they do not like each other.
While some cases may involve temporary cuts, bruises or broken bones, physical injury is not the only negative impact of maltreatment — it can also affect broader health outcomes, mental health, social development, and risk-taking behavior into adolescence and adulthood. Abuse can leave a long and lingering emotional impact, including anxiety, depression, distrust and trouble forming positive relationships.
Child maltreatment causes stress that can disrupt early brain development, and serious chronic stress can harm the development of the nervous and immune systems. As a result, children who are abused or neglected are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These problems include alcoholism, depression, drug abuse, eating disorders, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, smoking, suicide, and certain chronic diseases.
Throughout April, people all over the United States wear blue as a symbol of the need to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Individuals and organizations in the greater Kansas City area, including Independence, are joining together and wearing blue on Friday, April 8, for Wear Blue Day. Wear blue on April 8 to show your commitment to Child Abuse Prevention Month and our shared responsibility to keep kids safe. It is not just about wearing blue but also telling people why you are wearing blue. Go to http://preventchildabusekc.org/wearblue.html to register to wear blue and show your support. Preventing abuse is important, not only April 8 or during National Child Abuse Prevention Month, but also every day throughout the year.
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers, an online resource found at http://www.cdc.gov/parents/essentials/. This resource allows parents to receive evidence-based parenting information from a trustworthy source. Let's work together as a community to protect our future and prevent child abuse in Independence. One person can make a difference and it can start with you. For more information, go to http://capacares.org/.
Andrew Warlen, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.
Don't discriminate against child-abuse victims
by Sue A. Fugate
The thought of child sexual abuse stirs emotions of fear and anger in me as a mother of two. The more I hear about this problem, the more troubled I am at its prevalence and the lack of consistency among institutions and governments trying to deal with it.
The recent grand jury report about crimes that date back as far as the 1950s in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is the latest revelation. I won't pretend to know the pain survivors of abuse experience or the helplessness their families feel, but I do empathize with their suffering and support their need for healing.
In the name of healing, some legislators propose changes to Pennsylvania law that would waive the civil statute of limitations for some - but not all - abuse survivors. To that, I respond as an attorney. I can't ignore the law, nor should any elected official pledged to serving the public good. After taking a long, hard look at the consequences of such proposals, I believe they should cause serious concern for anyone who believes the law must be applied fairly and equally to all.
Any such legislation would end up creating two classes of child victims in the name of a political quick fix wrapped in emotional expedience. It would also financially penalize innocent families - members of churches and parish communities - who had nothing to do with past evil actions by a criminal few.
The issue at hand is sovereign immunity, which allows public institutions to be treated far more leniently by courts than private ones. Sovereign immunity is meant to protect taxpayer dollars. But applied to the proposed legislation addressing the statute of limitations, it means that survivors of abuse in public schools and other public institutions would be left behind, as if abuse in public institutions is somehow less damaging than in private ones.
That group of survivors who suffered abuse in public institutions is substantial. The crimes against them are no less appalling than those perpetrated by private-school teachers, clergy, or camp counselors.
If we're going to address this issue, we need to look at the facts - and they are deeply upsetting. It has been reported that one in four girls and one in six boys will be subject to unwanted sexual advances in the United States by the time they are 18. This can happen in homes, in schools, and in communities. The abusers take advantage of two things: the vulnerable child and the vulnerable environment.
Most institutions have recognized this and created comprehensive policies and procedures to educate and train employees and volunteers in recognizing and reporting abuse. My children have attended both public and Catholic schools over the years. It was in the Catholic school system, not the public one, that I had to submit to clearances and background checks before I could volunteer for a school activity or attend a class field trip with students. Before the legislature passed new mandatory-reporting laws in 2014, I was already considered a mandated reporter in the eyes of the church.
These policies and others have significantly helped decrease the incidence of abuse in the church. In the United States in 2014, there were six substantiated claims of clergy abuse of current minors. Six is certainly too many, but consider the number found on the website of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which states that 168 public school educators were disciplined for sexual relations, assault, or consensual sex with a minor between 2008 and 2015. One can only imagine what the scope of those numbers might be through the decades. And yet the current legislation would leave these abuse survivors out of the equation.
The state legislature itself acknowledged the prevalence of abuse in public schools in 2014, when it enacted legislation prohibiting public schools from entering into confidential agreements with employees to terminate employment and requiring all former school employers to complete sexual misconduct/abuse disclosure releases before an employee is hired. Lawmakers clearly know that no entity or organization is solely responsible for abuse. However, they seem oddly willing to turn a blind eye to what is happening when it comes to their own public institutions.
Supporters of the bill who want to give public schools the special protections of sovereign immunity argue that without it, schools would be drained of precious resources that are provided for educating our children. That money, they say, should be spent on needed supports for students and families, assisting special-needs children with services, establishing communities of learners, and the comprehensive programming a public school provides. But that rationale falls radically and cynically short in terms of the grave inequity the bill would create between the survivors of abuse in private institutions and the survivors of abuse in public ones. It's morally outrageous to say one abuse is "worth more" - or, in the case of public institutions, is less grievous - than another.
It is human nature to right a wrong, but current legislative proposals are the equivalent of knowingly and willingly endorsing government-sanctioned discrimination.
Without including a waiver of sovereign immunity for public institutions, legislators who support statute-of-limitations legislation will be picking winners and losers among child-abuse survivors. This is hypocrisy.
Children who were abused in public schools should be treated with the same scrupulous attention to justice, and given the same means to seek recompense, as children who were abused in private ones - and vice versa. Any other path would be a travesty of justice.
Pennsylvania lawmakers: Victims of child sexual abuse deserve to have their day in court
by Lancaster Online Editorial Board
The movie “Spotlight,” which won the Best Picture Oscar this year, detailed the Boston Globe’s tenacious reporting on the sexual abuse scandal and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, under Cardinal Bernard Law. In 2002, the Globe wrote some 600 stories on the subject of abusive priests, and the church’s system of covering up the priestly abuse.
A similar pattern of cover-up took place in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. A statewide investigating grand jury determined that hundreds of children in that diocese were sexually abused over a period of at least 40 years by at least 50 priests or religious leaders.
“Evidence and testimony reviewed by the grand jury also revealed a troubling history of superiors within the Diocese taking action to conceal the child abuse as part of an effort to protect the institution’s image,” Kane’s office said in a March 1 statement.
If only “Spotlight” was a fictional creation of Hollywood, and not the all-too-real story of the Catholic Church’s systematic pattern of hiding priestly child sexual abuse.
If only the story told by The Boston Globe pertained only to Boston, and not to Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, and Los Angeles, and Altoona-Johnstown, and dioceses across the globe.
Unfortunately, wishing doesn’t make it so.
“Spotlight” highlighted just how essential newspaper journalism can and should be. It showed how the unglamorous work of poring through documents, filing Right-to-Know requests and doggedly pursuing sources can yield a story that changes institutions and, more importantly, people’s lives.
The Boston story told in “Spotlight” is playing out now in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
And the story about how the Catholic Church wields its power will play out this week in Harrisburg, as the state Legislature considers reforming Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse.
Advocates for victims of child sexual abuse have been pressing for such reform for years, arguing that it can take years, even decades, before victims of such abuse are ready to come forward, and so they must be given the time to do so.
Their efforts have been blocked largely by the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of Catholic dioceses in this state.
The church will not oppose any legislation to eliminate “the criminal statute of limitations, just as we did not oppose legislation in 2006 that increased the criminal statute of limitations to age 50,” said Amy Hill, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, in an email to LNP.
It appears, however, that the church will oppose any legislation that seeks to eliminate the civil statute, which now holds that victims only have until they turn 30 to file a civil case.
Hill said that in civil cases, “ anyone can file a suit,” and cases “can be filed against third-party organizations that benefit children even if the alleged perpetrators are deceased or there is little evidence to make a case. Defending these lawsuits costs millions in legal costs, even if no allegation is ever proven, and still no abusers will go to jail.”
She added: “It is particularly burdensome for these organizations if they have to defend cases retroactively.”
And sadly, there you have it.
The church has established a stringent zero-tolerance policy on child abuse, and now requires that any such abuse be reported to law enforcement, rather than be handled within the church, as it used to be.
We’re encouraged by these changes, and by the church’s emphasis now on protecting the child and not the institution.
But there are numerous victims of child sexual abuse in past decades who deserve their day in court, should they choose to ask for it. And by lobbying against giving victims that opportunity, the church once again appears to be placing its own interests before those of the child sexual abuse victims who have suffered great and lasting harm.
Past victims include state Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County, who writes persuasively in today’s Perspective section about the need to eliminate both the civil and criminal statutes of limitations and — crucially —to open a window to allow past victims to bring civil suit.
And they include Maureen Powers, the retired CEO of YWCA Lancaster, who wrote movingly in LNP on March 6 of her own experience of being sexually molested by a prominent priest in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese when she was between the ages of 12 and 14.
“Making the child sexual abuse statute of limitations reform retroactive would serve justice, especially in cases of deliberate, institutionalized cover-up such as has occurred in the Catholic Church,” Powers told LNP in an email last week.
The Altoona-Johnstown diocese, she noted, “callously allowed more than 50 priests to molest children with impunity for 40 years,” and “should be brought to justice. It is unlikely they will be unless the new law is retroactive. There is no statute of limitations on the damage done to the victims/survivors.”
She knows this, of course, not only because of her own abuse at the hands of a trusted priest, but as someone who led the YWCA — an organization that serves sexual abuse victims — for decades.
We urge our lawmakers, as they consider statute of limitation reform, to keep their focus on the victims of child sexual abuse, past and present.
The church and other institutions — public and private — must be held liable for their failures, even past ones, to protect children.
We understand that this will mean real costs for the insurance industry, too. But as Kristen Houser of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape says, “victims should have the right to try to recoup some part or form of what was stolen from them as children in front of the financial concerns of major corporations who are in the industry of profiting from risk.”
New York State
DA looks into allegations of possible sex abuse at All Saints Elementary amid baby porn case
by Douglas Dowty, Syracuse.com
The Onondaga County District Attorney's Office is probing whether any students at All Saints Elementary School were physically abused, an official confirmed.
Their probe comes amid a federal child pornography case against school aide Emily Oberst, 23, who was fired Monday after being charged with sexually exploiting a 16-month-old girl.
Oberst, of Syracuse, is accused of helping Jason Kopp, 40, of Liverpool, sexually exploit the young girl for pornography.
A letter sent to All Saints parents Monday warned that students might also be victims.
"Unfortunately, this morning in a meeting with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we learned that there may be additional victims of Miss Oberst's criminal activity, including students at All Saints," the school's letter read.
First Chief Assistant District Attorney Rick Trunfio said that the DA's office is looking into the reports of abuse.
"We are actively investigating any and all allegations of any sexual abuse of any children in this case," he said.
For their part, federal authorities have remained tight-lipped. Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Southwick confirmed today that the FBI is investigating matters involving Emily Oberst at the All Saints school. He would not comment further.
All Saints is housed in an old parochial school building at 112 Wilbur Ave., but is not sanctioned by the Syracuse Catholic Diocese.
Syracuse.com is continuing to reach out to school administrators. Check back to Syracuse.com for more details as they become available.
Whole Foods 365, millennials, and the alleged child sex abuser
by Nancy Levine
On December 25, 2015, The New York Times reported Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey's affiliation with alleged child sex abuser, former rabbi Marc Gafni:
"He [Gafni] added, 'She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.'"
"A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni 'a bold visionary.' He is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni’s center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch."
After The Times story broke, Mackey issued a statement on his Whole Foods blog, declaring his affiliation with Gafni "strictly a personal relationship." Whole Foods Market's logo, however, is atop the list of "Premium Sponsors" of Gafni's 2014 Success 3.0 Summit. The webpage for the 2016 Summit says it "is being hosted by John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods."
Gafni's nonprofit Center for Integral Wisdom website was scrubbed of all executive board members' profiles in January. Here is a screenshot of Mackey's board profile on Gafni's CIW site from January 3, 2016.
A group of more than 100 rabbis authored a petition, demanding that Whole Foods and Mackey sever ties with Gafni. Sara Kabakov was the girl Gafni described in The Times as "14 going on 35." She came forward publicly for the first time in a first-person essay published in the Forward.
Jill Tolles from the University of Nevada said in her TEDx talk, Finding Courage to Talk About Child Sexual Abuse:
"If silence is a predator's best friend, and if shame and denial are the ingredients that help this epidemic to grow, then how can any of us stay silent? Maybe instead of just focusing on how uncomfortable this conversation is, we could focus on how this is an opportunity to have courage."
The first of Whole Foods' 365 Stores, its initiative to lure millennials, is scheduled to open in Los Angeles in May. But millennials are leading the orchestra of culture change, speaking up about sexual violence.
At the Academy Awards ceremony in L.A. in February, Lady Gaga performed her Oscar-nominated song "Til It Happens to You" from the movie The Hunting Ground, about rape culture on college campuses. Gaga was joined by a group of 50 young survivors who modeled courage by stepping forward publicly.
On behalf of all survivors, and to help bring an end to this epidemic, I implore Whole Foods and John Mackey to muster the courage to break their silence.
BishopAccountability.Org: Making Children Safer: More Prosecutors Are Charging Catholic Officials for Enabling Abusers
by Anne Barrett Doyle
A victory for children occurred last week in Johnstown PA. The state’s attorney general pressed criminal charges against three former Catholic church officials — not for molesting children themselves, but for failing to stop a serial child predator whom they supervised.
The three former officials are charged with child endangerment and criminal conspiracy for enabling an already-accused cleric, Brother Stephen Baker, TOR, “to have contact with children and the public as part of his ministry.” [See the grand jury presentment.] The three consecutively led from 1986 to 2009 a small group of priests and religious brothers, the Third Order Regular Franciscans, Immaculate Conception province, based in Hollidaysburg PA.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called the charges by PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane “one of the broadest-ever drives to hold [the] Roman Catholic church accountable for clergy abuses of minors.”
The province knew of alleged child sexual abuse by Baker as early as 1988. A church-paid psychologist who evaluated Baker in 1991 urged that he not have one-on-one contact with children. Baker’s superior at the time, Minister Provincial Anthony J. (Giles) Schinelli, Jr., TOR, appears not to have taken the recommendation to heart. The following year, Rev. Schinelli assigned Baker to teach at Bishop McCourt High School in Johnstown. The results were catastrophic.
From April 1992 to January 2010, Baker allegedly abused more than 100 children in the area of Johnstown, including 88 students from Bishop McCourt, where he taught religion and acted as an unofficial sports trainer.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the cleric lacked “any professional qualifications, and under the guise of offering massages or other treatment, Baker handled boys’ bare genitals with his hands and digitally penetrated their anuses, among other offenses.”
Rev. Schinelli and his successors never reported Baker to law enforcement. Baker killed himself in January 2013, shortly after his crimes were first made public.
The filing of charges against Schinelli and his successors by Attorney General Kane was as unusual as it was bold.
In the 13 years since the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team published the secret files of Cardinal Law, hundreds of bishops and other senior Catholic officials have been named in court actions, news reports, and grand jury investigations as enablers of child sexual abuse.
Astonishingly, though, fewer than ten Catholic church officials and dioceses have been criminally charged for their roles in managing the cover-up.
But today, ever so slowly, this accountability gap is closing. In the last few years, we’ve seen more determined public prosecutors like Kane. They are the vanguard of a societal shift: an increasing willingness to insist that religious institutions obey the same child protection laws that apply to everyone else.
~~ Last June, Ramsey County MN Attorney John Choi announced criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis on six gross misdemeanor counts for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” done to three children who were sexually molested by Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in 2010.
~~ Last April, Bishop Robert W. Finn resigned as leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph MO diocese, a belated measure of ‘bishop accountability’ by Pope Francis. Two-and-a-half years earlier, Finn had been convicted for violating the state’s mandated reporter statute. He is the first (and still the only) U.S. bishop to be convicted for not reporting a pedophile priest.
~~ And last week, Philadelphia district attorney R. Seth Williams signaled his intent to fight the latest setback in the Commonwealth’s long and winding case against Msgr. William J. Lynn, Cardinal Bevilacqua’s Vicar for Clergy 1992-2004. In 2011, Williams indicted Lynn for child endangerment and criminal conspiracy, becoming the first prosecutor in the U.S. to charge a senior Catholic official for enabling abuse. Lynn was convicted of child endangerment in 2012, but the case is hardly resolved. Last week, Williams appealed to the state’s Supreme Court to reverse a December ruling by the Superior Court overturning Lynn’s conviction. It’s the second time the Superior Court has tossed out Lynn’s conviction, and the second time that Williams has appealed their decision.
The French Spotlight: “They thought that it was enough to relocate him …”
Early signs of a shift toward prosecuting institutional enablers of child abuse are happening outside the U.S. too, including an extraordinary example unfolding now in France. The daily newspaper Le Figaro iscalling it the French Spotlight.
Early this month, the public prosecutor of Lyon launched an investigation of possible criminal wrongdoing by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the country’s most prominent Catholic cleric. In his capacity as archbishop of Lyon, Barbarin allegedly kept two known abusers in ministry, including a serial abuser named Fr. Bernard Preynat.
A longtime leader of a local Catholic Boy Scouts troop, Preynat is believed by a survivors’ group to have sexually assaulted 60 boys between 1986 and 1991. Barbarin didn’t remove Preynat from ministry until May 2015, although his crimes long had been an open secret. The priest had confessed to church superiors in 1991, and even sent letters to the families of children he had molested, admitting to his crimes.
Last month, the priest’s lawyer, Frédéric Doyez, bluntly blamed the cardinal and his predecessors. “If justice has not been rendered until now, it is not Father Preynat who prevented it. From the moment he was uncovered, he confessed. He is a man who has been living with the offenses that he committed for over 25 years. The odd thing is that he was granted a great deal of trust, as if nothing had happened. They thought that it was enough to relocate him, for things to fall into oblivion.”
A child protection initiative unlike any we’ve seen in the United States
However, the world’s pacesetter in terms of holding religious and other institutions accountable for child protection is Australia. Since January 2013, its Royal Commission has been waging an extraordinary inquiry into “institutional responses to allegations and incidents of child sexual abuse.” It is investigating most of the country’s major religious and child-related secular institutions, including the Catholic church.
The Royal Commission has muscle and resolve unlike any government-led child protection initiative we’ve seen in the United States. It has compelled production of secret documents and published thousands of pages on its website, along with transcripts of testimony. It has forced the nation’s most powerful institutional leaders to testify, and many of the hearings are live-streamed.
With still more than a year of hearings to go, the Commission already has had enormous impact. It has made 961 reports to police and other authorities, many of which have resulted in arrests and charges.
Earlier this month, in a four-day live-streamed public hearing, the Commission grilled one of Pope Francis’s top aides, Cardinal George Pell, former bishop of Melbourne and Sydney.
The Commission members questioned Pell from Sydney via video-link, while he sat in a hotel conference room outside of Vatican City. In the room with him were more than a dozen survivors of the priests he allegedly protected. After Pell had said he would not be returning to Australia to testify, citing bad health, the Commission granted the survivors permission to attend the hearing in Rome. A crowd-funding campaign paid for many of their flights.
Pell was questioned in careful detail about his knowledge of a priest sex ring at a Catholic school in the city of Ballarat, where he began his priesthood. He was also asked why as auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, he had ignored repeated complaints about a gun-packing abuser named Father Peter Searson, who terrorized children at a primary school in the poor migrant town of Doveton.
Whether the Royal Commission will recommend criminal charges against Pell remains to be seen.
Pope Francis’s tribunal for bishops is “going nowhere fast”
While Pope Francis has said repeatedly that bishops must be held accountable, it is becomingly increasingly clear that he has neither the political capacity nor the personal conviction to do so.
The Pope raised the hopes of survivors and Catholics everywhere last June when he announced a new Vatican tribunal to judge bishops who fail to protect children.
But according to a devastating article on March 9 by Nicole Winfield, the Associated Press’s respected Vatican reporter, the tribunal has not gotten off the ground. Nine months after it was announced, there has been no follow-up, Vatican sources told Winfield. Indeed, it seems unlikely ever to be implemented.
“It’s a victim of a premature roll-out, unresolved legal and administrative questions, and resistance both inside and outside of the Holy See,” Winfield reported.
This news, along with the recent revelations about Cardinal Pell, Cardinal Barbarin, and the former religious order officials in Johnstown, is bleak confirmation of what we already know. When it comes to child protection, the Catholic church cannot police itself.
That is why it’s crucial that this shift continue — that more civil authorities recognize their duty to hold Catholic officials accountable for reporting allegations and removing abusers. We need more actions like Attorney General Kane’s, and the U.S. needs a broad, powerful, neutral national inquiry similar to the Royal Commission.
More high-ranking officers being charged with sex crimes against subordinates
by Craig Whitlock and Thomas Gibbins-Neff, The Washington Post
The U.S. military has stepped up investigations of high-ranking officers for sexual assault, records show, curtailing its traditional deference toward senior leaders as it cracks down on sex crimes.
Since September, the armed forces have court-martialed or filed sexual-assault charges against four colonels from the Air Force, Army and Marines. In addition, a Navy captain was found guilty of abusive sexual contact during an administrative hearing.
Historically, it has been extremely rare for senior military officers to face courts-martial. Leaders suspected of wrongdoing are usually dealt with behind the scenes, with offenders receiving private reprimands or removal from command with a minimum of public explanation.
“There’s not a lot of transparency when it comes to senior-officer misconduct,” said Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force who now is president of Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates for victims of sex crimes in the military. “They don’t like the American public knowing what’s going on, so they drag their heels in getting information out.”
That has gradually changed as the Defense Department — under pressure from Congress and the White House — has revamped its policies to prevent sexual assault and to hold perpetrators accountable.
During the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 116 officers of all stripes were court-martialed, discharged or received some sort of punishment after they were criminally investigated for sexual assault. That was more than double the number from three years earlier, according to Defense Department figures.
Of last year’s cases, eight were against senior officers holding a rank equivalent to colonel or Navy captain or higher. While that figure may seem small, it represented a fourfold increase from 2012.
Overall, the vast majority of troops investigated for sexual assault are enlisted personnel, who accounted for 94 percent of all cases last year. In the active-duty military, enlisted troops outnumber officers by a ratio of 4.6 to 1.
But high-ranking leaders are finding they no are longer off-limits as allegations of cringe-worthy behavior increasingly come to light in military courtrooms and public records.
This month, during a court-martial at Fort McNair in Washington, an Army colonel who worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a 15-year-old girl and taking photos of her nude. He was sentenced to eight years in prison.
In February, the Marine Corps charged the commander of its Wounded Warrior Regiment with sexually assaulting a female corporal, violating protective orders and other misconduct.
In January, at a disciplinary hearing, the Navy found the former captain of a guided missile cruiser guilty of abusive sexual contact and sexual harassment. An investigative report chronicled in embarrassing detail how he got drunk with crew members at a Virginia bar and brazenly pressured a junior officer to have sex with him to advance her career.
In December, the Air Force charged a colonel at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado with raping or assaulting four victims, committing adultery with four other women, and taking photographs of himself in uniform at his office — with his genitals exposed.
Pentagon officials say the rash of cases is evidence that senior officers will be held to the same standards as everyone else in uniform.
“We’ve made it abundantly clear that this is not tolerable,” said Nathan Galbreath, senior executive adviser for the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. “The numbers suggest that people are reporting when they see the officers appointed above [committing a crime], and they really do expect that their bosses walk the walk and talk the talk.”
The unofficial taboo against putting senior leaders on trial in sex-abuse cases was shattered three years ago when the Army prosecuted Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair on charges of forcible sodomy, adultery and other offenses. It was only the third time in 60 years that the Army had court-martialed a general for any type of offense.
Prosecutors ended up dropping most of the charges and cutting a plea deal that spared Sinclair jail time. But the spectacle of a general sitting in the dock as witnesses testified about his volatile affair with a junior officer captivated the military.
Since then, the Defense Department has tried to reassure lawmakers, the public and its own troops that it takes sex-assault allegations seriously. It has expanded awareness training, bolstered support for victims and required command-level review of all investigations.
There are signs that the training is starting to pay off.
Crew members from the U.S.S. Anzio, a guided missile cruiser, blew the whistle on their commanding officer for sexual misconduct last year, leading to his removal from the ship and his probable ouster from the Navy.
According to a Navy investigative report, the Anzio’s captain, Brian K. Sorenson, got drunk Aug. 30 at a pub party in Yorktown, Va., and began to make advances toward a female sailor who needed his approval to become certified as a surface warfare officer.
The sailor told investigators that Sorenson asked her how many people she had slept with, whether she liked having sex with women and whether she would let him have anal sex with her.
Her account was buttressed by an eyewitness who said he overheard the captain saying, “Does anal interest you?”
At some point, he also grabbed the woman on the buttocks and told her to report to his quarters on the Anzio the next morning, where he again pressured her to have sex, the Navy investigation found.
Crew members quickly intervened at the pub, with one telling investigators that the situation resembled a scene from “one of the Navy’s Sexual Assault Bystander Intervention Videos.” The ship’s executive officer grabbed the captain, and the party ended.
During the van ride back to the ship, however, an intoxicated Sorenson kept acting out and asked the male driver if he “liked anal,” according to the investigation.
As rumors spread on the ship about the captain’s behavior, crew members revolted. Other officers confronted the captain in the ship’s wardroom and demanded an outside investigation.
Sorenson apologized to the officers for his conduct the night before, according to the Navy’s investigative report. But he also blamed them for not intervening sooner.
“He said it was our fault for letting him drink too much,” an unidentified officer told investigators.
After an administrative hearing in January, Sorenson was found guilty of sexual harassment, abusive sexual contact and conduct unbecoming an officer, Navy officials said. He faces discharge proceedings from the Navy.
In an interview with Navy investigators, Sorenson admitted to drinking that night but declined to answer questions about whether he pressured the female subordinate for sex.
His attorney, Greg McCormack of Virginia Beach, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Other cases indicate that military investigators are pursuing evidence more aggressively than they may have in the past, regardless of the rank of their target.
During a court-martial at Fort McNair last week, Army Col. James C. Laughrey, a career intelligence official, pleaded guilty to child pornography charges and abusive sexual contact with a 15-year-old girl.
According to court documents, his actions started in 2009 and came to light years later only by chance. The victim, then a young adult, took a polygraph test during a job interview with an intelligence agency and was asked if she had ever been the victim of a crime.
The woman divulged the abuse but didn’t want to cooperate with an investigation or press charges against Laughrey, according to his defense attorney, Haytham Faraj. The intelligence agency nevertheless reported the matter to the Army, which found corroborating evidence on Laughrey’s computer.
“Frankly, they harassed her,” Faraj said, calling the case “an abusive government investigation.”
Laughrey admitted to his actions in court. When asked by the judge why he did it, he replied: “Your honor, I cannot give you a good answer for that. I do not understand or defend why I did it.”
Under the military justice system, senior officers are responsible for deciding whether individuals under their command should be prosecuted.
Some lawmakers and advocacy groups are pushing to strip commanders of that power and to give it instead to uniformed prosecutors. The Pentagon has resisted such proposals, saying they would undermine command authority.
When senior officers themselves are charged with sexual assault, it “makes it appear as if the fox was guarding the henhouse,” said Christensen, the president of Protect Our Defenders, which has lobbied Congress to change the law.
He cited the case of Col. Eugene Marcus Caughey, formerly the vice commander of the Air Force’s 51st Space Wing. In December, Caughey was charged with rape, assault and other charges in a case involving four women in Colorado, where he served at Schriever Air Force Base.
According to charging documents, Caughey raped one woman as he held her against the wall and floor, groped women on two other occasions, and violated an order from a two-star general to stay away from another victim.
In addition, the married colonel is charged with six counts of adultery — a crime in the military — for allegedly having consensual sex with four other women, according to the documents.
A preliminary hearing was held Friday to determine whether Caughey will face court-martial. A decision is pending. His attorney, Ryan Coward, declined to comment.
In other cases, even after charges have been filed against senior officers, the armed forces still cling to their old habit of trying to shield commanders from public embarrassment.
In November, the Air Force announced in a news release that Col. David S. Cockrum, former commander of the 51st Medical Group at Osan Air Base in South Korea, had been charged with sexual assault. The Air Force said he had been previously relieved of command for “fraternization” and “unprofessional relationships” but gave no other details.
When The Washington Post requested public records in the case against Cockrum, the leadership of the 7th Air Force, which oversees operations in South Korea, at first refused, citing a need “to protect the rights of Col. Cockrum and the integrity of ongoing legal proceedings.”
After repeated appeals, however, Air Force officials released documents showing that Cockrum had been charged with sexually assaulting men in two separate incidents in South Korea in 2014. He also had been charged with conduct unbecoming an officer.
Cockrum’s court-martial is scheduled for April 11. His military attorney did not respond to requests for comment placed through the Air Force.
The Marine Corps filed criminal sex-abuse charges on Feb. 12 against Col. T. Shane Tomko, the former commander of its Wounded Warrior Regiment in Quantico, Va.
The Marines kept the charges a secret, making no public announcement about the case. In response to a query from The Post last month, Marine officials at the Pentagon confirmed that Tomko had been charged with abusive sexual contact, obstruction of justice, illegal possession of steroids and other crimes.
Officials also revealed that Tomko had been relieved as commander a year earlier because of “a loss of confidence in his leadership.” But they would not provide other details or release public records in the case.
According to a copy of Tomko’s charging documents, seen by a Post reporter, the colonel was accused of sexually assaulting a female Marine corporal in October 2014 by forcibly kissing her on the mouth. He later referred to her as “a hot intriguing dyke who makes me wish I were a woman,” according to the documents.
Tomko faces a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 23 to determine if he will be court-martialed.
His military defense attorney, Marine Col. Stephen Newman, declined to comment.
Documents filed in civilian court show that Tomko has also been investigated by the Marines on allegations of sexually assaulting other women after he took charge of the Wounded Warrior Regiment in July 2014. As commander, he was responsible for overseeing battalions across the country that care for wounded and injured Marines.
According to a lawsuit filed against him in Circuit Court in Prince William County, Va., Tomko allegedly got drunk during a official trip to London in September 2014 and assaulted a civilian woman who worked for him by “shov[ing] his face into her breasts.”
Tomko denied the allegation in court filings and noted that the woman had also filed an administrative discrimination complaint against him with the federal government. The woman withdrew the lawsuit in January.
In an interview, the woman said she dismissed the lawsuit because her discrimination complaint was subsequently upheld. (The Post has a policy of not identifying victims of sexual abuse.)
She also said that Tomko had been disciplined — but not charged criminally — by the Marines last year for sexually assaulting her in London, as well as for a separate incident involving another female civilian working for the Wounded Warrior Regiment.
The Marines, she added, were slow to pursue her complaint against Tomko and dragged the case out.
“He’s the commander, that’s why it went on so long,” she said. “He’s the kind of guy everyone loves.”