Colorado Woman Gets 100 Years for Cutting Open Stranger's Womb
by ASSOCIATED PRESS
A judge on Friday sentenced a Colorado woman who cut a fetus from a stranger's womb to 100 years in prison, including the maximum penalties for attempted murder and unlawful termination of a pregnancy.
Judge Maria Berkenkotter said the harshest sentences for the most serious charges were justified by the brutality of the 2015 attack, which she described as performing a cesarean with a kitchen knife. Berkenkotter also said the victim, Michelle Wilkins, as well as her family and the community needed Dynel Lane, 36, to express remorse.
Lane murmured a "no" when the judge asked if she wanted to speak. Lane also did not speak in her defense during her trial, which ended in February when jurors found her guilty of attempting to kill Wilkins after luring her victim to her home with an ad for maternity clothes.
Jurors had heard that Lane went to elaborate lengths to feign her own pregnancy before attacking Wilkins. They did not hear that in 2002, Lane's 19-month-old son drowned in what investigators ruled was an accident. Relatives who spoke on Lane's behalf before the sentencing Friday said her remorse over losing her son may have led her to take an action they could not understand or explain.
Lane's attorneys did not dispute that she attacked Wilkins, but they argued there was no evidence it was a calculated murder attempt. They urged jurors to convict Lane of the lesser charge of attempted manslaughter.
Berkenkotter sentenced Lane to 48 years for attempted murder and 32 years for unlawful termination of a pregnancy. The remainder of her sentence was for assault charges in the attack. She was given credit for the more than a year she has served since her arrest.
Kathryn Herold, the public defender representing Lane, told the judge Friday she would appeal and that Lane had the right not to speak. Berkenkotter acknowledged that was Lane's constitutional right. But the judge said that in weighing her sentence she had to take into account that "people are hungry to hear from you, Miss Lane. Hungry, desperate to hear you express genuine remorse from the bottom of your heart."
Prosecutors said they were unable to charge Lane with murdering Wilkins' unborn girl because a coroner found no evidence the fetus lived outside the womb. That led Colorado Republicans to introduce legislation that would have allowed a murder charge. Democrats rejected the measure, the third time such a proposal failed in Colorado. Over the objection of abortion-rights supporters, 38 states have made a fetus' killing a homicide.
Wilkins focused on her unborn daughter Friday. She placed a large photograph of her dead baby, who appeared to be sleeping, on an easel next to the witness stand, then asked Berkenkotter to impose the harshest possible sentence.
Wilkins said after the sentencing that she saw the hearing as a day in court for her daughter, who she named Aurora.
"Judge Berkenkotter was clearly listening to everything that we were saying," Wilkins told reporters, adding she felt justice had been served.
In court, Wilkins had directed her words to Lane, who sat straight and showed no emotion as her victim spoke. Lane cried later in the hearing when a letter from one of her two daughters expressing love was read.
Lane's mother apologized in court to Wilkins and her family, as did her father in a letter his wife read.
Lane had posted online photos of herself with a distended belly and sent the man she said was the father of her child ultrasound images downloaded from the Internet. David Ridley, who lived with Lane and her two daughters, testified at trial that Lane claimed for more than a year that she was expecting a boy, whom they planned to name James. Friends even threw a baby shower.
Ridley had grown suspicious by the time Lane lured Wilkins to her Longmont home. Wilkins testified they chatted for about an hour before Lane hit, pushed and tried to choke her, then used two kitchen knives to cut the fetus from her womb.
When Ridley came home early from work that day to meet Lane for a doctor's appointment, he said he found the fetus in a bathtub and drove the child and Lane to a hospital, where she begged staff to save her baby.
Lane said nothing to Ridley about Wilkins, who was unconscious at her home. Wilkins regained consciousness and called police.
‘It's sickening': Mother arrested after deputies find toddlers tied up in back yard
by Elahe Izadi
The cries rang out in the dead of night: Someone reported hearing a child crying for “a long period of time” and that the sounds emanated from a San Antonio back yard, authorities said.
It was nearly midnight when Bexar County sheriff's deputies arrived at the house. Their knocks went unanswered, spokesman James Keith told the Associated Press, and then they discovered a terrible sight in the back yard: two children, tied up.
“One of the toddlers was chained to the ground; the other was tied to a door with a dog leash,” the sheriff's office said in a release.
“It's sickening. To call this horrific would be an understatement,” Keith told the San Antonio News-Express. “If it wasn't for our deputies and this caller who tipped us off, we know that this could have had an even worse outcome.”
Inside the house, deputies found six more children, ages 10 months to 13 years. No adults were at home, according to authorities.
The parents of the six children returned to the house early Friday morning, the sheriff's office said.
The mother, 34-year-old Porucha Phillips, was arrested Friday afternoon and faces two felony charges of injury to a child. Jail records show she is waiting to go before a magistrate to be officially charged.
“It's believed she was responsible for the care of the two children who were found tied up outside,” the sheriff's office said in a release.
The child tied up with a dog leash, a 3-year-old girl, had a broken arm, Keith told the News-Express.
A metal chain fastened to the ground had been strapped to a 2-year-old boy's ankle — “the same kind of setup you would use for a dog,” Keith told AP.
Deputies released both children, who were taken to a local children's hospital to be “treated for a variety of issues,” the sheriff's office said in a release. All eight of the children are in the care of Child Protective Services.
Earlier Friday, the sheriff's office said, “Investigators are also working to track down the parent(s) of the two children who were found outside.”
Keith told the News-Express: “We will dedicate every ounce of energy to making sure that those responsible are held accountable and that these children are never harmed again.”
Not All Wars Take Place on the Battlefield
by Dawn Daum
There is a misconception in our culture about who suffers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and what they look like. A quick Google search will lead you to believe that the majority of those living with PTSD are men in uniform. The reality is that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men, and not all wars take place on the battlefield.
We have seen great progress in the last few years in mental health awareness related to PTSD among veterans. We would like to expand on that progress to include all who suffer with PTSD. It's time to accurately represent the thousands of women and men of all colors, ethnicities, ages and socioeconomic background living day to day, while doing the best they can to manage flashbacks, constant triggers and the debilitating medical and mental health effects of this disorder. It's time to change the face of PTSD.
Last week a friend of mine, Christine White, wrote an article describing her irritation when a PTSD Google search resulted in the vast majority of the information being war-related. The image search results displayed men, almost exclusively, despite data evidencing that women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD.
Christine's article sparked a conversation about this misrepresentation among a group of us. We asked, “What about the survivors of childhood sexual/physical/emotional abuse, those who have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, war (as a civilian) and even murder, those who have been involved in fires or accidents or those who carry traumatic grief following the loss of a loved one? Why do people not associate traumas outside of war with PTSD?”
Having worked in the trenches of the mental health field for the past decade, I have witnessed firsthand how undiagnosed PTSD affects those in treatment. In my personal life, I survived ongoing sexual abuse for eight years, witnessed years of domestic abuse, was estranged from both of my biological parents by the age of two and lost my mother to cancer less than two years after reconnecting with her at the age of fifteen.
I spent my high school and college years in and out of therapy. No one suggested that I might have PTSD until, as a twenty-four year old adult, I interned under an elementary school social worker who noticed a pattern: without exception. I would call in sick the day after we had worked with an abused child. She told me she suspected I was experiencing PTSD. She also said I wasn't ready to become a social worker. I was pissed, but she was right, and that changed my life.
Trauma as a whole is ignored as a key factor to mental illness, despite a growing body of evidence to show there is a direct correlation between trauma and chronic mental and medical illnesses. The body remembers what the mind—or the survivor—forgets. Harvesting our experiences, good and bad, our bodies collect it all, and the energy created can manifest in ways that aren't easily identified as a symptom of trauma, but rather, as unexplained mental and medical malfunctions.
We need to start asking people, “What happened to you?” Not, “What is wrong with you?” Only then will we get to the root of peoples' experiences, and identify and treat PTSD. Google's search results reflect our culture's perspective on mental health issues, which only feeds shame and misconceptions.
Here's the good news!
We have the power to change it. We really do. It may take a little effort to convince ourselves (those of us who identify as having PTSD) that we carry scars—not blame—and it's ok to talk about it. But it can be done.
How you ask? Easy peasy. If you have, or currently are experiencing PTSD, share a picture of yourself on social media and add #FacesOfPTSD. Show us your everyday self, with whatever emotion you are wearing that day.
Yes, it may feel uncomfortable, and yes, people may ask, “Really? You don't act like it.” But isn't that the point we are trying to make? Most who deal with the effects of PTSD suffer internally, and in silence, alone. Most do not risk the judgment that comes with saying, “I'm not over it,” or “I can't get past this.” That admission, in our society, is a sign of weakness, and very unwelcomed.
We go to work, despite flashbacks, and carry on even when we're not sure we can take another step. We raise our children, navigating triggers. We live a “normal” life, because we have been conditioned to “deal with it” instead of recover from it, so at times, hidden away from the world, we fall apart. We self medicate, or do whatever we can to swim through the suffering, and the cycle continues...
If we can do one thing to help break this dysfunctional cycle of pain and suffering, shouldn't we do it?
Join the movement.
Like, join and share the #FacesOfPTSD event page. Let's kick off this campaign May 6th, 2016 with as many images as possible. Share to the event page and/or to your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc pages. When sharing, be sure to add the hashtag #FacesOfPTSD. Let's do this one little thing to help show the world what PTSD really looks like, and perhaps alter search engines to more adequately capture the faces of PTSD. Maybe then our culture will start to understand that not all wars take place on a battlefield, and all struggling with PTSD need and deserve representation.
**Please feel free to show your support for the #FacesOfPTSD campaign by sharing any of the images included in this post. If you would like to help us share the event page, here is a link to do so: https://www.facebook.com/events/1000290716727551/permalink/1000292133394076/
**If you would like to join our community of parenting-survivors, like our Facebook Page and join in the conversation. To read personal essays written by parents, about the challenges of parenting as a survivor of childhood abuse, get your copy of the Trigger Points Anthology on Amazon.
Get to know who lives in your community
by Donna Kshir
Our children will face many, many dangers in life but there are steps we can take to protect them from the 'unknown' of childhood sexual abuse.
Many parents think their child will not be affected by childhood sexual abuse but the truth is anyone can be abused and anyone can be an abuser; men or women; rich or poor; any race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, environment or background. Unlike people abuse does not discriminate.
Research has shown 60% of abusers are family members, close friends, neighbors, babysitters or someone the child knows well; it is estimated 1 in 4 boys and 1 in 6 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18; 30% of abusers are part of your own family and its estimated 10% are strangers. Many parents think it is just strangers you have to protect your children from, but 90% of all abusers are people the victim knows well. It is important to keep in mind not all perpetrators are adults. Research estimates 23% of abusers are under the age of 18 years old. Childhood sexual abuse affects approximately 300,000 children each year in the United States, but there are ways to protect your children.
Lee Roberts, the Vice-President and Co-Founder of Advocates United for Humanity, is a survivor of multiple forms of abuse at the hands of numerous perpetrators. The abuse began in what was supposed to be her childhood and continued through her adult years.
Her mission as a survivor and thriver is multifaceted as she speaks out against abuse in all its abominable forms. Lee speaks and writes the truth with no apologies. She fights for the safety and protection of the children and all survivors who are where she once was.
Roberts said, “As survivors we walk this journey together. Reach out, grab hold of the hand extended to you in your darkness and step forward into the light. Surround yourselves with the unconditional love and support you not only need but deserve as an individual and survivor. Allow yourself to unfold and begin to blossom as the precious soul you are.”
Roberts' non-profit organization, Advocates United for Humanity, provides vital resources for those affected by abuse. Their mission is to enhance quality of life for those affected by violence through positive social change and deliver value to their members through resources, services and networking. AU4H suggests all parents get familiar with and use the Family Watchdog.
The Family Watchdog is a free online service to help locate registered sex offenders in your community. AU4H encourages parents and care givers to use their website to help educate your family on the many possible dangers in your area. They also allow you to sign up and receive free notifications to keep update with offenders that move in or out of your area.
To search sexual offenders in your area, visit the Family Watchdog website.
News conference spotlights child abuse and intervention
by Matthew Umstead
MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Safe Haven Child Advocacy Center in Martinsburg served almost 200 new children in the Eastern Panhandle last year, with 89 reporting sexual abuse, officials said Friday.
Nearly 50 children reported physical abuse and 27 witnessed violence, Child Advocacy Coordinator Amber Gomes said Friday at the Martinsburg Children's Home Society of West Virginia.
Nearly 70 percent of the new children (137) served last year were Berkeley County cases. Among the 199 children, 129 were girls and 70 were boys.
“This a very real problem in our community that we are seeing kids being put in harms way,” Gomes said at a news conference aimed at raising awareness about child abuse and intervention efforts. “That's like four or five classrooms at a local elementary school, just those kids alone.”
A nonprofit program with a budget of about $200,000, Safe Haven's mission is to promote a child-focused approach to the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse by providing a safe, child-friendly facility, a multidisciplinary-team response to abuse allegations, and professional support, education and advocacy services.
Martinsburg Deputy police Chief George Swartwood, who lauded the work of the child advocacy center, said the law enforcement agency has embarked upon a number of intervention efforts aimed at protecting children in the community.
Swartwood said the department's “Handle With Care” project is designed to quickly alert school officials that a young child might been exposed to an incident at home, such as a domestic situation or violent crime, that required the agency's intervention.
“When the child comes to the school the next day, a heads up from our department is sent to that school simply letting them know ... that this child may be acting out (as a result of the incident),” Swartwood said.
Swartwood said the city's police and fire departments also have combined efforts to offer a unique youth explorer post for young people interested in a law enforcement or firefighter/EMS career. Swartwood said officers also visiting the Martinsburg unit of the Boys & Girls Club of the Eastern Panhandle regularly to foster stronger relationships.
“They're our kids ... and they are our greatest asset. They are our future and we're going to protect them,” Swartwood said.
In his remarks at the news conference Friday, West Virginia State Police Sgt. W.R. Garrett of the Crimes Against Children unit said he couldn't fully express the importance of the child advocacy center.
“We could not do half of what we do without them,” said Garrett, who is among four troopers assigned to the unit in West Virginia's seven most eastern counties.
From July 1 through last week, Garrett said there have been more than 1,000 child protective service referrals statewide in regard to child abuse that have required law enforcement review by the unit.
In the same time period, the state police has arrested 150 people on various charges of child pornography, child exploitation, abuse, neglect and sexual assault, Garrett said.
Children's house helps child abuse victims
OWANDA, BRADFORD COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) It's a growing problem in our area -- physical and sexual child abuse.
An issue that local experts say is rampant in our rural Pennsylvania communities.
Reporter Hayden Ristevski tells us more about this community problem and how a child advocacy center in Bradford County is trying to help.
"She didn't realize what was being done to her, she just knew that she never wanted it to happen again."
It's been almost 3 years since a Bradford county mother, who didn't want to be identified in order to protect her children, came to the heartbreaking realization that her five-year-old daughter was being abused by a close family member.
"I was devastated because i was hoping it wasn't true. I was hoping there was confusion or a mix up."
It wasn't confusion, the abuse happened.
And cases like this are becoming increasingly common in Bradford County.
In fact, the county has one of the highest rates of substantiated child abuse in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Dave Pelachick is a forensic investigator: "It's horrible to know how rampant things are in these rural areas. It really is disturbing."
In 2014, roughly four out of every 1000 children in Bradford county were abused.
Only two counties had higher rates.
Enter the children's house, a nationally accredited child advocacy center that works to help victims of child abuse cope with their trauma - starting with reporting the incident.
Interview rooms give the children the opportunity to talk about their traumatic experiences in a safe, comfortable place. But the technology used in these rooms gives law enforcement the opportunity to collect evidence in real time that can be used in these cases going forward."
Cpl. Douglas Smith, of the Towanda State Police Criminal investigations team: "The main focus of the house is to allow the victim to only be interviewed one time, then all the other participating agencies will get a copy of the interview."
"And if we can do that, that will reduce the trauma dramatically to the child in event there was something bad that happened to the child." Added Pelachick.
"My daughter having a safe environment to do an interview that she was so comfortable in disclosing the truth, gave law enforcement what they needed to go forward with their investigation." Our interview said.
In this case that meant a guilty plea and a conviction.
But to really tackle this problem on a larger scale, and stop victims from following similar patterns of abuse, experts say this must be seen as a community issue.
And the children's house is working to raise awareness.
Edith Jordan, is the Executive Director of The Children's House she told us "We need to make sure that we are addressing this and that these kids are going to get the help and services that they need so that we can bring that rate down. We need to address that problem here in the county."
The children's house hopes to open a satellite location in Tioga county in the near future.
The abuse rate there in 2014 was lower than Bradford County's, and falls more in line with the average rate for the rest of the counties across the commonwealth.
Group prepared to shed light on child abuse
Is knowledge power or ignorance bliss? When dealing with child abuse, complacent ignorance does not mean the problem does not exist, but merely that we refuse to see it. Knowledge really is power but it also requires action. Educating ourselves on the warning signs of abuse and abusers is one of the only paths to child abuse prevention.
How can we become educated and bring better child abuse prevention strategies to the Bartlesville area? Last week, two Ray of Hope staff members attended facilitator training in Darkness to Light's nationally recognized Stewards of Children program. Stewards of Children arms community members with the necessary tools to recognize and report child sexual abuse. Ray of Hope's newly credentialed facilitators can now offer the two-hour training to our community members locally.
So what does this mean for Bartlesville? Darkness to Light's research shows that the “tipping point” for true measurable impact in a community occurs when 5 percent of the adult population is trained on how to recognize and report child sexual abuse. For our community, that is close to 2,000 adults. Ray of Hope is ready to train, equip and empower adults throughout the Bartlesville area with the tools and knowledge needed to protect the children in their lives. Imagine if every educator, volunteer, coach, tutor, Sunday school teacher, mentor or Parent's Day Out teacher was well trained in protecting our children. How much different, how much better, could our community be?
Darkness to Light says the first key is to learn the five steps in protecting children from child sexual abuse. Those include:
1. Learn the Facts. 1 in 10 children in the U.S. is sexually abuse by age 18. More than 90 percent of victims are abused by someone known by the child or family. Teaching “stranger danger” is not enough.
2. Minimize Opportunity. More than 80 percent of child sexual abuse incidents occur when children are in isolated, one-on-one situations with adults or other youth. If we eliminate these situations, we dramatically reduce the risk.
3. Talk About It. Our relationship with children is one of the best protections against sexual abuse. Children often keep abuse a secret. If we talk openly about body safety, sex and boundaries, barriers can be broken down.
4. Recognize the Signs. The most common symptoms of child sexual abuse are emotional or behavioral changes such as “too perfect behavior” to anger and rebellion. Don't always expect obvious signs.
5. React Responsibly. Understand how to respond to suspicions or reports of child sexual abuse. Very few reports are false. Listen to the child. Stay calm. Tell the child “it was not your fault” and “I believe you”. Report the disclosure immediately to law enforcement or DHS at 1-800-522-3511.
For more information on how you or your organization can receive Stewards of Children training, call Ray of Hope at 918-337-6177.
Rhonda Hudson is the executive director for Ray of Hope Advocacy Center. Jordan Ihrig is co-owner of Musselman Abstract Company and a Ray of Hope board member. Both are mothers, native Bartians and advocates for children, teaming up to help you create positive relationships with children in your life.
Op-ed: Progress made in last 25 years, but child abuse remains underreported in Utah
by Deondra Brown, Rebecca Martell, Susanne Mitchell and Tracey Tabet
Twenty-five years ago, Utah's response to child abuse wasn't exactly first rate. Investigations seemed to further traumatize child victims, agencies did not coordinate with each other and families struggled to navigate a complex criminal justice system with little to no guidance. The problem was daunting. Utah officials sought an answer and found it in Alabama, in a breakthrough concept called the Children's Advocacy Center (CAC).
The CAC is a child-friendly facility where victims can be both interviewed and supported. There are warm rooms with bright colors and toys. Interviewing techniques are victim-sensitive and open-ended. At the CAC, the focus goes beyond investigation. A multi-disciplinary team of law enforcement, social services and medical and mental health professionals meet to collaborate on each case and to help both the family and the child. Incidents of traumatization to victims were drastically decreased under the CAC model. It only made sense to bring the model to Utah.
In Utah, CACs are called "Children's Justice Centers" (CJC). There are 22 CJCs serving 28 counties. A network of more than 800 centers provides similar victim-focused services throughout the United States to more than 300,000 victims annually. But as remarkable as this is, there's still a threshold problem: Reporting.
The numbers are shocking: one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually abused before age 18. When compared with what reports are being made, it is clear that most abuse is not being reported. This is not surprising. Most abuse occurs at the hands of someone the child knows, making the child feel isolated. That isolation works to the perpetrator's advantage by creating more opportunity to abuse the child and discouraging disclosure. Two out of every three adults who were abused as children never told anyone. Most perpetrators were family or friends.
April is national Child Abuse Awareness Month. It is a time to reflect and redouble our efforts for these victims. We invite everyone to evaluate what they can do and lend a hand. This is not a government-only effort. For example, Intermountain Healthcare, a valued partner in providing medical services to victims, has also donated homes, land and time to CJCs. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made several donations and tries hard to train its leaders to recognize and report abuse. Zions Bank — both through the company and its employees — has donated significantly to CJCs. We are deeply grateful to these and others who are helping.
As a community, we are responsible to assist these victims and stop abuse. Here are some ways to help:
Listen and believe • Make it easier for victims to come forward. Show support and caring. Don't question. Don't judge. Let them know you care and what happened to them was not their fault.
Report child abuse • If you know or even just suspect a child has been abused, immediately contact your local police department or call the 24 hour child abuse hotline at 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).
Volunteer • Contact your local CJC (or CAC if out of Utah) to do a service project or to volunteer your time. www.onewithcourage.org/find-a-center
Donate • All donations to the CJC are appreciated and contribute to supporting vital services that help child victims and their families. www.razoo.com/us/story/Friends-Of-The-Utah-Childrens-Justice-Centers
To locate a Utah Justice Center in your area, visit www.onewithcourageutah.org
Deondra Brown, Rebecca Martell, Susanne Mitchell and Tracey Tabet work with Utah's Children's Justice Centers.
Child Abuse: Where Is The Outrage?
by Carly Moore
MESA COUNTY, Colo. -- Protests and demands for justice broke out in 2009 when a dog was dragged to death behind a truck on the Colorado National Monument.
This year two children in Western Colorado have died from abuse or neglect, but there's been no public outcry.
It seems stories of animal abuse can elicit a stronger emotional response.
As child abuse awareness month comes to an end advocates said though tough to even imagine and talk about, it's an issue that simply cannot be ignored.
"I don't believe people in this community prioritize the life of a dog or animal more than a child but certainly the response does make one wonder what's happening,” said Janet Rowland.
Janet Rowland, a former county commissioner who now works as a child advocate recalls a case of animal abuse where the community demanded action.
"When Buddy died, there was almost a spontaneous unplanned protest that happened in front of the justice center," Rowland said
In 2009, Buddy was dragged to death behind a truck. The man who was driving the truck and his sister were criminally charged for their actions.
“In all of the years that I have been here and involved with child protection, I haven't seen anyone protest a case with a child abuser," continues Rowland.
The protests were paired with calls. Rowland said her phone rang with demands from residents that something be done.
During her 8 years in office, Rowland said 12 children died as a result of child abuse.
No protests. No calls.
"I don't know why there is this continual desire to push away and ignore the fact that the reality that we have horrific child abuse in Mesa County,” Rowland said. “It's too painful to think about, to talk about and they want to ignore it?"
A bronze statue on the lawn of the Old County Courthouse, placed by the 'How are the Children?' initiative is somethingresidents can't ignore.
From 2006 to March 2016 18 children have died. As case workers at the department of human services wrap up child abuse awareness month, it's their goal to protect kids all year long.
“It's a community effort, the bottom line is that the state has a mandate with what is child abuse and what is not, and we have to follow those regulations,” said Jacque Berry, the Child Welfare Supervisor of the Family Outreach and Receiving Team.
A new statewide child abuse hotline (1-844-CO-4-KIDS) launched last year hopes to help.
“I'm glad that people are taking a step to call, that's the first step in helping families,” Berry added.
According to the most recent data, over the last year and half, Mesa County has gotten about 950 child welfare referrals each quarter. While the call volume is not evenly distributed, that's on average about 15 referrals a day.
"The whole goal is to partner with the family and to say ‘I'm not here to remove your children I am here to help you be the best parent you can be.' And ‘how can we work together to achieve that? So we no longer get calls about your parenting or your family in our office again,'" Berry explained.
“The community issue is going to require a community response,” added Rowland. “I think people need to look beyond just the social impact but the entire community impact and what this says about our community."
Berry continued, "Child protection is here to react to abuse or neglect of a child; we cannot police the whole community. But you can, our community can.”
"I think it's time to have a broad community conversation about child abuse," Rowland pressed.
Nearly 1,000 child welfare referrals have been made in 2016, so far. With the alarming increase in child abuse incidents and the severity of those cases they are expecting at least 3,000 by the end of the year.
Resources for parents or concerned community members are below.
24-Hour Mesa County Dedicated Hotline: 970-242-1211
24-Hour Statewide Child Abuse Hotline: 1-844-CO-4-KIDS
Department of Human Services Main Line: 970-241-8480
Parent Help Line: 800-244-5373
Welfare Fraud Hotline: 970-256-2421
Or online at: humanservices.mesacounty.us
Teach Private Parts Safety to Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse
Former police officer and mother describes how to better protect your child from sexual abuse by teaching private parts safety.
by Kate Power
We've seen the headlines and heard the horrific stats about child sexual abuse. But for many of us, teaching our young children about private parts safety can fall into the "I must do that" bucket, which means it may never get done or when we do, it's not effective. There are lots of reasons why—we naively think, "it won't happen to my child"; we don't believe the statistics (1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys—how can that possibly be true?); we want to maintain our child's innocence; we may not feel comfortable with the subject ourselves; we have too many other priorities, etc.
But what if there was a way to make it simple, quick and effective? What if it was actually kind of fun for your child, easy for you, and you didn't need to go into the darkness of the subject matter? Here's how:
1. Lighten the mood
It's undoubtedly a serious subject, but young children seldom respond to, "Let's have a serious talk." And let's face it, our private parts are funny—they make funny noises and have funny names. Children know this too—they giggle about the subject and learn lots of different names from their family and friends, whether we like it or not. Acknowledging this first and allowing the laughter to get out of the way both engages your child and clears the path for the serious discussion.
2. Make it important
Our adult relationship with our sexual organs can be complex, but to a child, it's simple. They're important to our body's function, and they're vulnerable, so they must be protected. That's really all your child needs to know, but their importance needs to be stressed.
More from Parenting: Protect Against Child Sexual Abuse
3. Make it memorable
Think back to your childhood and reflect on the lessons you learned best. What made them memorable? Rhymes, colorful drawings and association with positive emotions are powerful memory tools. For example, I started my children's book, "My Underpants RULE!, with the following: "What's under my pants belongs only to me, and others can't touch there or ask me to see, but safe grown-up or doctor when I'm not healthy, What's under my pants belongs only to me...."
It is better to make a child feel empowered about their body than scared of the bogey man, which is a myth anyway (about 90 percent of offenders have a close relationship to the child). So give them simple, clear instructions that come immediately to mind whenever a difficult situation arises.
More from Parenting: 10 Myths About Child Sexual Abuse to Reject—to Help Keep Kids Safe
4. Teach clear action strategies
Empowerment comes from clarity of action. Research from survivors shows one of the most common responses when first confronted by a predator is to freeze, because they don't really understand what is happening. So the "What would you do if...?" game is a great way to trigger action in moments of stress, because it generates a recognition of the present danger. It's also important to make clear to your child what to do after anything happens—that it's essential to immediately tell someone they trust, who they can trust, and that secrets about private parts should never be kept.
More from Parenting: Protect Your Child from Sexual Predators by Breaking through Stereotypes
5. Reinforce with repetition
When your child wants to listen to her favorite song again and again, it's not because she's being annoying. It's because that's how young minds learn. Harness this and repeat what you want your child to learn often. I recommend at least once a month. You know a lesson is learned when she can teach it to you without hesitation. Your child will let you know when she's had enough, in any case!
6. Start young
The earlier we begin the conversation with our children about protecting themselves, the better. With studies showing the majority of onset of sexual abuse happening between ages 3 to 8, it's important to begin the discussion sooner rather than later. Also, an alarmingly increasing trend is of offenses being committed by another child. We want our children to socialize at an early age, so make sure they're aware of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.
7. Raise its priority for you
An educated child is far less likely to encounter difficult situations, because predators look for vulnerability. In fact, silence and vulnerability are what they prey on. Unfortunately, the offense of child sexual assault in the United States exists in all communities and it doesn't discriminate in terms of income level, race, creed or color. The estimates of 1 in 5 children being sexually assaulted in some way before they're 18 are frighteningly real, and many experts feel this is an underestimate. But this isn't about statistics; it's about your child! As a parent you are in the front line of defense against this scourge. Fifteen minutes per month can save a whole world of pain for your child and your family. This has to be a major priority, doesn't it?
Kate Power is co-creator of the revolutionary new children's book, "My Underpants RULE!, the easy way to teach kids to protect their private parts. A former police officer and mother of three, she aims to empower at least 1 million children by 2020.
New curriculum to combat child sexual abuse starts in May
by Haidee V. Eugenio
Public schools next month will start rolling out a new age-appropriate curriculum designed to raise student awareness about sexual assault and violence.
Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson and Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez said Thursday Guam may see a “spike” in the number of child sexual assault cases, but they said this could only mean the new curriculum is successful in teaching students how to better protect themselves and how to report any sexual assault if it happens to them or to someone they know.
The Guam Department of Education and the Attorney General's Office held a joint press conference at the ITC Building on Thursday to discuss the new curriculum.
Guam currently has one of the highest rates of rape in the nation.
Moreover, more than 80 percent of the more than 700 people listed on Guam's sex offender registry last year were listed for sexually assaulting a child.
“I don't doubt that we're gonna see a spike,” Barrett-Anderson said, but added that it's nevertheless “a good scare because it's about time.”
Underreporting has been an issue on the island.
“We can only try to pass the information on to the children,” Barrett-Anderson said. “Ultimately, it's their knowledge and their strength to be able to protect themselves and to understand what is happening to them if they are victimized …”
Fernandez said the lessons for each of the four program levels take approximately one hour a day over the course of four to five days.
Between 600 and 650 Guam Department of Education teachers have been or are being trained by the attorney general and Deputy Attorney General Carol Hinkle-Sanchez on how to properly teach the curriculum, the background to this work, the program materials, and how to properly deal with cases when students report sexual assaults.
The new K-12 curriculum, which is integrated into health classes, applies to all the Guam DOE schools.
Barrett-Anderson, however, said the curriculum would be made available to any school that wants to implement it. She said some private schools have already expressed interest in rolling out the program as well.
The curriculum's soft implementation during the first two weeks of May coincides with the observance of sexual abuse prevention month, Fernandez said.
This comes four years since the signing of a law creating the Lani-Kate Task Force, which is focused on the prevention of child sexual assault and sexual abuse.
Fernandez said the curriculum's full implementation would be in school year 2016-2017.
However, the interagency Lani-Kate Task Force is still discussing whether it will be fully implemented in the fall or spring, said Guam Department of Education deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction Joe Sanchez.
Fernandez said even though the focus is on curriculum and raising awareness about sexual assault, he wants to make sure that the community is cognizant of what this is really about.
“I attended a recent funeral for a young student and I think...that's where it really hits home, what we're talking about, because we see our students struggling with different issues,” he said. “Sometimes it leads to suicide, sometimes it leads to consequences at the school level whether it's behavioral, or the ability to succeed academically or a mix of all of these things. And we find that sexual assault, sexual violence played a role in many situations throughout our school system with our kids and it has consequences.”
He said in reflecting on the issue, he told a group of well-meaning adults that “sometimes, the issue is with us, the issue is with us as adults.”
“Are we saying what we need to say to our kids?” he said. “Are we having the conversations we need to have with our kids? Do they understand how to seek help?”
Fernandez said sometimes, family and cultural practices “go against what we talk about now, which is really helping our kids to understand that when they see these issues happen, when it happens to them or to their friends, it is important to understand it, talk about it, to report it and we're here to make this the expectation for all our students and keep our kids safe.”
The task force has generally named the curriculum, “My Body is Special: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum.”
But each curriculum level has a specific name. For example, “My Body is Special” is for pre-K to second grade; “My Body, My Boundaries” for third to fifth grade; “Respect: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum” for middle and high school.
Barrett-Anderson and Fernandez said the curriculum is based on Hawaii's curriculum, but has been modified to better suit the needs of Guam.
They added that addressing sexting and cyberbullying will eventually be integrated into the program.
The curriculum has been aligned to Guam DOE's content standards and performance indicators in health and physical education and to Guam laws.
Board of Education chairperson Lou San Nicolas thanked the partnerships among agencies in developing the curriculum.
San Nicolas, along with Board of Education vice chair Rosie Tainatongo, requested that parents also be educated or informed about the new curriculum.
The Lani-Kate Task Force, created under Public Law 31-97, has been meeting with Guam DOE since 2012. Among the agencies involved, besides Guam DOE and the attorney general's office, are the Guam Police Department and private and government social service agencies.
Dept. of Public Safety reminds Iowans to be vigilant of child abductions
by The Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald
From: Iowa Department of Public Safety
DES MOINES With warmer weather, children are outdoors more often participating in activities and sporting events, which takes their focus off of their surroundings, making them more vulnerable to abductors. The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) is reminding Iowans to be on the lookout for potential child abductions in spring and summer months, and to provide information to law enforcement when they see something that looks unusual.
DPS asks everyone to Speak Up for Children. Pay attention to unusual activity, and immediately call 911 if you think that a child could be in danger.
Thinking in advance about what facts you will notice can help to train your brain to see those things and to remember them in order to provide them to investigators.
Sometimes the incident turns out not to be an attempted abduction. It is better to report the incident to the police and have the child safe, rather than to avoid calling the police and have the child abducted. If a child abduction occurs, the first few hours are the most important. Immediate reporting and an immediate response can make a big difference.
The facts that will help law enforcement most:
Describe the vehicle: color, general description, make/model, and if possible, license plate number (even a partial number and a county can help to identify a vehicle)
Describe the people involved: Give the description of the driver and any passengers, as well as the description of the child and any other people in the area who might be witnesses. The description can include hair color, age, race/ethnicity, glasses, tattoos, features, clothing
Time and location of the incident: If you call 911, the time will be recorded. Tell the 911 operator the exact location of the incident, if possible house numbers, mile markers, cross streets.
Thinking in advance about what facts you will notice can help to train your brain to see those things and to remember them in order to provide them to investigators.
Two major, high-profile abduction cases in Iowa in 2012 and 2013 illustrate the need to focus on child abductions. A recent study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Chilren (NCMEC) reveals some alarming statistics on attempted abductions, nationwide. Data collected from 9,900+ incidents from January 1, 2005 December 31, 2014 show attempted abductions happen more often when a child is going to and from school or school-related activities. The data also found that attempted abductions more often involved children between the ages of 10-14 and happen more often to female children, with suspects more commonly using a vehicle.
The NCMEC Study found there were five most utilized lures during these attempted abductions:
-Offering the child a ride
-Offering the child candy
-Asking the child questions
-Offering the child money
-Using an animal
The Iowa Department of Public Safety's (DPS) Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) houses the Iowa Missing Person Information Clearing house which tracks all missing persons in Iowa. Currently there are 369 missing persons in Iowa; of those, 211 are juveniles, most of those are reported as runaways. To get up-to-date information on missing Iowans, you can visit the Iowa DCI Missing Person Information Clearinghouse Website or the Missing Person Information Clearinghouse Faceboook page.
Governor Terry Branstad highlighted the importance of prevention when it comes to child abductions and the Iowa's newly formed CART (Child Abduction Response Team) at his weekly press conference Monday.
Below is more detailed information on Iowa's CART.
What should parents tell their children about abduction?
It is not necessary to frighten children about the risk of abduction. But there are several things that parents can do to keep children safer:
When making arrangements to meet, tell the children that Mom or Dad will be there for you, or will tell you who else to look for.
Do not get in the car with anyone unless Mom or Dad has told you to go with them.
Develop a "code word" that the child will understand if Mom or Dad has authorized someone to take the child home, they can share the "code word" known only to the family. If the child does not hear the "code word," they should run away and scream.
Walk with other children, not alone.
Be aware of the common tricks used to lure children (free puppies, parent injured, etc.)
Speak up if someone makes you feel uncomfortable. Screaming is okay.
Tell children who to call if they feel they need help. Teach them their own address and phone number.
What else can parents do to protect their children?
Know the child's schedule, and when it changes, practice the new routine
Make online safety a priority.
Supervising children is expected.
Do not leave children alone in a car.
Have current pictures of the child, along with their height and weight, and be prepared to describe their clothing.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS) has numerous resources within its Divisions throughout the state to respond to child abductions. The DPS's Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation's (DCI) Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force has numerous safety tips at:
The DCI has a Top 10 Child Safety Tips Card and Child ID Cards for parents to document critical information about their children that can speed up the search process if a child is abducted. And, the DPS's Iowa State Patrol Public Resource Officers provide educational presentations at schools educating students on things to be aware of when it comes to potential abductions.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has several safety educational resources for both parents and children, including a Child ID Kit.
The Iowa CART program's sole mission and main goal is recovering and returning abducted children to their caregivers.
The purpose of the CART program and the goal of the DPS is to have readily trained experts in the field of child abduction investigations able to respond to the abduction immediately, assist the local law enforcement agencies for the duration of the event, and bring additional resources to the region to aid in the recovery effort.
CART programs are multidisciplinary teams made up of state, county and local law enforcement investigators, forensic experts, AMBER Alert Coordinators, search and rescue professionals, prosecutors, criminal intelligence analysts, sex offender investigators, mental health professionals, emergency managers and victim service providers.
CART deployment can be used for all missing children cases and is not dependent of an Amber Alert being issued. Information about the limited criteria for the issuance of an Amber Alert are on the DPS website: www.iowaamberalert.org/ Local law enforcement is encouraged to request DPS assistance immediately in cases of suspected child abductions. CART CAN ONLY respond to these incidents when local agencies, such as police departments or sheriff's offices, request the IOWA CART be deployed. Citizens are encouraged to contact their local police department or sheriff's office if they wish to have CART respond to an incident.
Dennis Hastert Sentencing: Here's What You Need to Know About Scandal
by TRACY CONNOR
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert will be sentenced in federal court Wednesday morning, capping a sex-abuse scandal that unspooled last May with an indictment detailing financial funny business — and hinting at a far more sordid secret.
Here's what you need to know about the case — from why they call Hastert the "Accidental Speaker" to the easy chair he positioned in front of a high-school boys' locker room.
Who is Dennis Hastert anyway?
Hastert, 74, was the longest-serving GOP Speaker of the House in history, presiding from 1999 to 2007. He was nicknamed the "Accidental Speaker" because he was catapulted from a junior position to a job two heartbeats away from the Oval Office after Newt Gingrich was forced out and a likely successor was doomed by an extramarital affair.
On Capitol Hill, Hastert was more often called "Coach," a nod to his humble beginnings as a teacher and wrestling instructor at Yorkville High School in Illinois before he became a state legislator and ran for Congress. Married since 1973, Hastert has two sons — both of whom joined pols like Tom DeLay and Porter Goss in writing letters asking the judge to spare him prison.
Will Hastert go to jail?
There's a good chance he will. Under the terms of Hastert's plea deal, prosecutors are recommending a six-month sentence. The defense, citing his statements of "remorse" as well as some serious health problems, is asking for probation.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin — who donated to Hastert's 2002 and 2004 re-election campaigns — has signaled that he's not inclined to go easy on the former politician, blasting him during one hearing for a lie he told federal agents.
Wait — only six months for sexually abusing four boys?
Here's where it gets complicated. Although prosecutors allege in court filings that Hastert molested four students decades ago, he isn't charged with any sexual crime because the statute of limitations has long passed.
He was indicted for "structuring" cash withdrawals — repeatedly taking out $9,000 from four different banks to avoid the requirement, under the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, that any transaction over $10,000 be reported to regulators. (Hastert, by the way, was a big supporter of the Patriot Act).
He was also indicted for lying to investigators probing the suspicious financial activity, though that charge fell by the wayside in the plea deal.
The FBI says it had no inkling of sexual abuse when it began probing the withdrawals. In fact, it was Hastert who led them down that road when he had his lawyers tell agents that he was being extorted by a former student who had made up a molestation claim. Investigators say they soon concluded the accuser was not lying and found others who said they were abused.
What do the four accusers say happened?
Individual A, the man who got $1.7 million from Hastert after confronting him in 2010, told investigators that when he was 14, Hastert arranged for them to share a motel room on a wrestling camp trip, massaged his groin under the guise of treating an injury and then stripped to his underwear and requested a backrub.
Individual B says he was also 14 when Hastert began massaging him after a workout to "loosen him up" and then performed an unspecified sex act on the teen.
Individual D says he was 17 when Hastert offered a massage to help him take off some pounds so he could make a certain weight, then performed a sex act on him.
The fourth accusation comes from beyond the grave. Steven Reinboldt, who died of AIDS in 1994, was the team equipment manager. His sister, Jolene Burdge, says he confided that Hastert molested him throughout high school.
Does Hastert admit he molested the boys?
Not explicitly. His lawyers released a statement on April 9 that said: "Mr. Hastert acknowledges that as a young man, he committed transgressions for which he is profoundly sorry."
In one defense filing, the lawyers suggest the encounter with Individual A might actually have been an innocent massage for an injury but add that Hastert "deeply regrets that the episode occurred." The same filing says that Hastert has no recollection of the incident with Individual D but does not contest that it happened. Prosecutors noted in court papers that Hastert denies he molested Reinboldt, the dead man.
Why did it take so long for these allegations to come out?
The lawyer representing Individual A in a $1.8 million lawsuit against Hastert said that like many who have been sexually abused, he likely blamed himself. He struggled with panic attacks and other problems for years and did not link them to Hastert — until a conversation in 2008 with another man who said he had been abused by the coach made him see himself as a victim, the lawyer said.
In 2010, Individual A confronted Hastert, who said it had been a "confusing and difficult time in his life" and verbally agreed to pay him $3.5 million for his "pain, suffering and harm," according to court papers. Over the next four years, Hastert paid about half the agreed-upon sum until the FBI probe brought the arrangement to a crashing halt.
The accusations might never have come to light if Hastert had not structured his withdrawals in such a way that it raised red flags. Individual A's lawyer told NBC News he had no interest in going public before the indictment and still wants to stay anonymous.
It's also worth noting that Burdge says she confronted Hastert when he attended Reinboldt's funeral — and that she tipped off at least one media outlet to what happened to her brother about nine years ago, while Hastert was still in office.
Will Individual A testify at the sentencing?
No. But prosecutors have said they expect Burdge and Individual D to take the stand.
It was D who provided prosecutors one of the most vivid details contained in the court papers, recalling "that defendant put a 'Lazyboy'-type chair in direct view of the shower stalls in the locker room where he sat while the boys showered."
Actor Andy Richter, a Yorkville High alum who briefly overlapped with Hastert, said on Twitter that he remembered the chair, which was supposedly there to stop boys from fighting.
"I'm just so struck by how easy it was to do that," he said. "Nobody questioned it."
Dennis Hastert Case Renews Questions About Nature of Sexual Predators
by Paul Caine
Former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert is going to prison for violating federal banking laws.
But at his sentencing yesterday, Hastert acknowledged that he sexually abused students during his time as a wrestling coach in far west suburban Yorkville.
Prosecutors say there were at least four victims, but is it likely that Hastert continued his predatory ways after being elected to Congress and later becoming one of the most powerful men in the country?
Hastert's high-profile disgrace has renewed questions about the nature of sexual predators and what parents and communities should know about them.
Char Rivette is the executive director of the Chicago Children's Advocacy Center, which coordinates the efforts of child protection staff, law enforcement professionals and medical experts in dealing with an average of more than 2,000 child sexual abuse reports each year.
Rivette said that there isn't just one profile of a sexual predator, but rather a spectrum.
“In general, a common profile is that the perpetrators are known to these children. Over 90 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by someone they know,” Rivette said. “It's not rape by a stranger, it's generally someone who has developed a relationship with this child, and usually their parents also, and who creates scenarios and contexts within which they can successfully groom and find situations where they can act out against these children.”
According to Rivette, Hastert might not fit the description of an outright psychopath or pedophile. But his apparent state of denial at Wednesday's sentencing is common for an abuser.
“Obviously Hastert was a coach, a teacher, a citizen of the community and he had to know that deep-down what he was doing was wrong and harmful and inappropriate,” she said. “Yet he was still compelled to do these things, so he must have come up with rationalizations to just kind of get him through this and allow him to do this without the guilt, without the shame, without the understanding that what he was doing was harming these children.”
When it comes to the survivors, Rivette said, it's also common for them to not speak out and to feel shame or guilt.
“Oftentimes, these children are just terrified. The really young children don't always even know what is going on. They wouldn't even understand it in the context of a sexually abusive relationship because it is completely outside their understanding,” Rivette said. “And then as they get older, they realize this is something that they shouldn't be doing, and the abuser is going to use that guilt and shame to try and blame the child.”
And it can very painful for a survivor of abuse to come forward once they are older because sometimes their loved ones – particularly if the abuser is a friend or family member – don't believe the survivor.
“If you are able to disclose and someone believes you, it's a big key to actually getting trauma treatment and actually moving on. If you don't, what I see is a lot of emotional struggles throughout life, a lot of inability to form healthy relationships as an older adult, really a lot of struggles with substance abuse,” she said.
But Rivette said the good news is that we're getting better at addressing these issues in the wake of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and now Dennis Hastert.
“I think it's slow and we have a ways to go, but statistically over the past 20 years [abuse] has gone down,” Rivette said. “There's a lot of concern about the statistics because the reporting is so low, but there's a lot of evidence that we do talk about it a lot more, we do a lot of education…So I think we've made progress.”
Also joining “Chicago Tonight” to give us more insight are:
Mary Jo Barrett, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Contextual Change. Barrett has been working in the field of family violence since 1974 and has experience working with both offenders and victims of child sexual abuse
Catharine Thomann, clinical director at La Rabida's Chicago Child Trauma Center, which provides trauma-focused services for children who have experienced medical trauma or who have been exposed to severe physical abuse, including sexual abuse.
Illinois AG Madigan Calls for Elimination of Child Sex Crimes Stattute of Limitations
by Sarah Schulte
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WLS) -- On the heels of the Dennis Hastert case, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan wants to eliminate the statute of limitations for people accused of molesting children.
Illinois took a huge step in 2014 when the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes was partially eliminated. However, Madigan and the victims' group SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) say the law doesn't go far enough. They hope the publicity surrounding the Hastert case will push lawmakers to make more changes.
Often, it takes high profile sex abuse cases - such as Roman Catholic priests, Penn State's Jerry Sandusky and now, Dennis Hastert - to change the law. Two years ago, the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in Illinois was abolished, but, not completely.
"You have until your 18th birthday plus 20 years to report, so after your 38th birthday, in most cases you are out of luck," Madigan said.
Madigan said it is time to lift the conditions attached to the current law and eliminate the statute of limitations for felony child sex abuse cases altogether.
"It shouldn't be that we put in place this arbitrary number of years after which you cannot seek justice, there won't investigation, there won't be prosecution, this person won't be held accountable and that is what we saw yesterday," Madigan said.
Because he is protected by statute of limitations, Hastert can never be charged with sex abuse and many of the victims will never get justice because their abusers are protected by the same law.
Experts say because most victims knew and trusted their abusers, it is common to come forward years later as adults. Hastert victim Scott Cross told his story publicly for the first time on Wednesday.
It took Bill Reidy decades to report abuse he says he endured at Loyola Academy in the late 70s.
"My father was high up in archdiocese, I didn't think if I told him he would believe me so I kinda of buried it," Reidy said.
"Just because it takes victims a long time to tell, it should not allow sexual predators to get away with crimes," said Barbara Blaine, SNAP.
The victims' group SNAP is pushing for the elimination of the statute of limitations to be retroactive, so adult victims can get justice. Unfortunately, Madigan says that is not legally possible.
Ohio University-hosted rape crisis center no longer considered 'confidential' resource
Program director says move may discourage rape survivors from getting help
by Conor Morris
A rape crisis center serving a seven-county area out of Ohio University is no longer considered a “confidential” resource due to the university's interpretation of state felony reporting laws, despite the center's director saying the opposite should be true.
While the center in question, the OU Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, remains open and can still provide resources to survivors of sexual assault, OUSAOP is now bound by OU's interpretation of Ohio law to report to law enforcement the names and details of people who report they've been victims of a felony (if the victim provides such information).
Catherine Wargo, the program's director, has said in a statement she provided The NEWS that allowing survivor advocates to keep their clients “confidential” is best practice, and argued that the move “may deter survivors” of sexual assault from wishing to come forward for support from OUSAOP.
OUSAOP typically provides the following services to non-OU student residents of Athens and adjacent counties: a 24/7 crisis intervention and advocacy support hotline (740-591-4266); accompanying survivors of sexual assault or other violence to the hospital; legal advocacy; mental-health counseling referrals; and transportation services.
According to a statement provided by OU spokesperson Dan Pittman, the OUSAOP program still offers the same services as mentioned above, but with one big caveat:
“Currently, we inform survivors of our change in confidentiality status immediately upon contact and ask survivors to remain anonymous, unless they are interested in moving forward with law enforcement/legal reporting,” Pittman wrote of OUSAOP's policies now.
According to one source close to the program who asked not to be identified, the changes mean survivor advocates from OUSAOP cannot be present in the room during a crucial part of the support process at the hospital. Specifically, advocates cannot be present when survivors are asked to provide information about themselves to a nurse during a medical examination. Otherwise, they would risk hearing details that would need to be reported to law enforcement.
OUSAOP Director Wargo initially declined to comment for this story, citing the need to provide information through OU's spokespeople (the usual rule for OU officials speaking about university policy).
However, after she provided that information to OU, she said her statement was edited – by either the university's communications department, legal department or other administrators – to remove her contention that the program should remain confidential.
OU also did not provide The NEWS with information that Wargo presented stating that, because OUSAOP accepts certain government funding, the program "agreed" to maintain the confidentiality of "client information."
Here's her original statement: "As a rape crisis center serving Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan and Vinton counties in southeast OH, the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (SAOP) has provided confidential services to survivors and co-survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking since August 2013," Wargo wrote. "Through receipt of funding from Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and Rape Crisis Trust Fund grants, SAOP agreed to maintain confidentiality of client information as required by federal and state law.
"In January 2016, Ohio University made the decision to discontinue confidential services through SAOP based on their interpretation of state felony reporting laws," Wargo continued. "As program coordinator of SAOP, I believe that confidential services are best practices for survivors of sexual violence. The move to non-confidential services may deter survivors from seeking services and hinders advocates ability to provide services that survivors may be requesting. I am hopeful that SAOP will provide confidential services again in the future."
That statement was edited into the following statement by OU, according to Wargo. However, this statement was never provided to The NEWS.
"As a rape crisis center serving Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan and Vinton counties in Southeast OH, the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (SAOP) has provided confidential services to survivors and co-survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking since August 2013. Through receipt of funding from Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and Rape Crisis Trust Fund grants, SAOP agreed to maintain confidentiality of client information to the extent permitted by federal and state law," Wargo's edited statement reads. "Applicable law mandates reporting in certain situations including child and elder abuse; imminent threat of harm to self or others; and, unless there is privilege, felony reporting. As program coordinator of SAOP, I believe that confidential services are best practices for survivors of sexual violence, but also respect the reporting requirements of state and federal law."
The non-confidentiality change to OUSAOP comes as a different program with a similar name, Ohio University's Survivor Advocacy Program (which provides similar services to OU students only), has been out of operation for almost a half a year after its coordinator left the school. OU has said the program will return fall semester 2016 with its confidentiality intact despite initial student and advocate fears of the opposite happening.
As for the other program, “The decision to discontinue confidential services (at OUSAOP) has been based on Ohio University's interpretation of state laws regulating felony reporting of crimes,” Pittman wrote.
Katie Hanna, executive director of statewide advocacy group the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, argued in an email this week that Ohio's laws allow OUSAOP to keep its confidentiality clause to protect the identities of survivors who come forward to the center.
"Trained rape crisis advocates are not violating the law by not reporting identifiable adult victim information to law enforcement,” she said.
She said automatically requiring survivor advocates to expose victims of sexual assault to law enforcement could have a “chilling effect” on future survivors who want to seek help.
“What we know about trauma is that when you have more confidential advocacy services in place, more survivors seek services,” she wrote. “Requiring an automatic report to law enforcement may have a chilling effect on victims seeking advocacy services and ultimately (their) ever reporting. If we want to make our communities safer, we must ensure that confidential, safe spaces, through highly trained rape crisis advocates at rape crisis centers, like those at OUSAOP, remain confidential places for victims of crime to receive the support they deserve.”
Pittman said that while the SAOP program is housed out of OU's Office for Diversity and Inclusion, its salaries and programming are funded through grants provided by Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds awarded by the Ohio Attorney General's Office and the Rape Crisis Trust Fund.
Hanna argued that because the program receives the rape crisis trust fund money, it is a “bona fide” rape crisis center, and thus is exempt from the felony reporting law requirement. The statement OU provided to The NEWS was scrubbed of any mention of OUSAOP being a "rape crisis center."
“Section G6 of the felony reporting law is addressing confidentiality (not necessarily privilege) for bona fide programs that provide (rape survivor advocacy) services in an ‘informal setting by a person who, by education or experience, is competent to provide those services,'” Hanna said. “This is widely interpreted around Ohio that the legislative intent for this section includes a rape crisis center (i.e. OUSAOP program serving multiple counties in southeast Ohio)…
“…For recipients of the Rape Crisis Fund, programs must certify that services will be provided to ALL victims, including those who choose not to engage with the criminal justice system."
Hanna explained that sexual assault nurse examiners at hospitals in Ohio are not required to give an adult patient's name to law enforcement when a sexual assault survivor goes to the emergency room to have evidence collected (a rape kit). She suggested that Ohio standards mean OUSAOP's program should have the same privilege.
“In Ohio, rape crisis programs are required to adhere to comprehensive service standards defined by OAESV and supported by the Ohio Attorney General's Office,” Hanna explained. “… The cornerstone of these services is confidentiality: the ability to maintain the privacy of the survivor's identity, identifying information, victimization experiences, personal history, and services sought and received. Survivors want, need, and deserve to discuss painful, personal information about their experiences under the assurance that this information will not be shared.
“Confidentiality is so important nationally that the Violence Against Women Act will not provide funding for rape crisis programs that do not ensure survivor/advocate confidentiality,” she continued.
OUSAOP employs two full-time staffers, a program coordinator and an outreach coordinator serving Hocking and Vinton counties, two part-time student office workers and “many” volunteer advocates, Pittman said.
OUSAOP serves Athens, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs, Morgan, Perry and Vinton counties.
Child abuse: What to look for
by Brad Zinn
Taking action is imperative if you suspect a child is being abused, but how would you know?
It might be a drawing with troubling imagery, something workers in our local schools or day care centers encounter. Or sexual talk that is out of character for a child of a certain age.
It won't be an outright report of what is being done to them, in most cases. About 90 percent of sexually abused children stay silent about it.
Instead, adults must look for possible warning signs in children, be it nightmares, weight loss, mood swings, a sudden influx of money, depression, inappropriate sex games with other children or a new fear of specific people or places, said Jenny Coleman, program director for Stop It Now.
“It comes down to breaking that cycle of secrecy pretty early,” she said. Coleman's agency is based in Massachusetts and aims to curb the sexual abuse of minors. They focus primarily on the role of adults when it comes to preventing child sexual abuse, and the agency's model is built around that concept, using parents, relatives, close family, child abuse survivors, law enforcement or professionals.
Creating a family safety plan is important, Coleman said, and it should focus on several areas including warning signs in adults, teens and children; keeping lines of communication open; setting privacy boundaries in bathrooms and bedrooms; and tactfully approaching others when abuse is suspected.
“That first response is really crucial,” she said.
Here are some things to look for, although be aware that these also can be signs of something completely different, like a divorce, grief over a pet's death, trouble at school or mental health issues like anxiety.
WARNING SIGNS IN CHILDREN:
Has nightmares or other sleep problems without an explanation
Seems distracted or distant at odd times
Has a sudden change in eating habits
Has trouble swallowing
Sudden mood swings: rage, fear, insecurity or withdrawal
Leaves “clues” that seem likely to provoke a discussion about sexual issues
Writes, draws, plays or dreams of sexual or frightening images
Develops new or unusual fear of certain people or places
Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older child
Talks about a new older friend
Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without reason
Thinks of self or body as repulsive, dirty or bad
Exhibits adult-like sexual behaviors, language and knowledge
SIGNS MORE TYPICAL IN YOUNGER KIDS:
An older child behaving like a younger child (such as bed-wetting or thumb sucking)
Has new words for private body parts
Resists removing clothes when appropriate times (bath, bed, toileting, diapering)
Asks other children to behave sexually or play sexual games
Mimics adult-like sexual behaviors with toys or stuffed animal
MORE TYPICAL WITH TEENS:
Self-injury (cutting, burning)
Inadequate personal hygiene
Drug and alcohol abuse
Running away from home
Depression, anxiety, suicide attempts
Compulsive eating or dieting
Any one sign doesn't mean that a child was sexually abused, but the presence of several suggests that you begin asking questions and consider seeking help.
Motivated adults are the key to success, according to two national agencies.
“At the end of the day, preventing child sexual abuse is an adult responsibility,” said Lyndon Haviland, CEO at the South Carolina-based Darkness to Light, an agency dedicated to preventing child sexual abuse.
It's that attention and drive to make a difference that can allow the adults in a child's life to provide a tipping point in the fight, experts says.
“It's not enough to empower children to take care of themselves,” said Johanna Schuchert, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Virginia. “We as adults have a key role in the community … we need to prevent it or keep it from happening again.”
A Sex Offenders Registry Won't Make Indian Women and Children Safer
by KAVITA KRISHNAN
While Sex Offenders Registries in the US or UK are aimed primarily at protecting children from sexual predators, in India the move seems motivated in large part by the wish to erode child protection and juvenile justice laws.
The government has informed the Rajya Sabha of its plans to introduce a ‘Sex Offenders Registry'. According to media reports, this will consist of a publicly available database of all persons, including juveniles, convicted for sexual crimes.
This move is touted as a ‘reform' triggered by the December 2012 case of gangrape and murder of Jyoti Singh; in particular, it was demanded by some as a measure that would allow the name of the juvenile convict in that particular rape case to be made public – a move that is proscribed under existing juvenile justice laws.
While Sex Offenders Registries in the US or UK are aimed primarily at protecting children from sexual predators, in India the move seems motivated in large part by the wish to erode child protection and juvenile justice laws.
No Data To Back The Argument
In India, there is no data to show that those convicted for a sex offence tend to repeat such offences. Instead, as we know, India's problem is that rape and sexual harassment trials drag on for years, with conviction rates being low. So, how on earth would a registry of convicted sex offenders help reduce sex crimes?
Research in the US by Amy Baron-Evans has shown that “Most sex offenders do not reoffend and sex offenders reoffend at a much lower rate than the general criminal population. …The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 5.3 percent of sex offenders were rearrested for a sex crime within three years of release, whereas 68 percent of non-sex offenders were rearrested within three years of release.”
We also need to question the assumptions that underpin ‘Sex Offenders Registries.' One of the arguments in favour of such a registry is that it will allow people to live in ‘safe neighbourhoods' by avoiding neighbourhoods where sex offenders live; avoid employing sex offenders; or weed out sex offenders from ‘safe neighbourhoods'. Such an argument rests on the misplaced notion of ‘stranger danger' – i.e. the notion that most sex offenders are strangers. In fact, in India and the world over, strangers form a very small percentage of sex crimes are perpetrated by strangers; most sex crimes against women and children tend to be perpetrated by family members or close acquaintances. Erica R Meiners has observed that “There is little to suggest that SORs (Sex Offenders Registries) reduce violence against women and children. Rather, evidence demonstrates that SORs participate in ignoring and even protecting a central site of sexualized violence, the patriarchal family.”
Meiners remarks “the sanctions against naming a family member are high,” and so the number of incidences involving family members or acquaintances is under-reported – this observation about the US is just as true of India. SORs are not designed to recognise and dismantle patriarchy or to protect women and children from abusive family members.
According to Baron-Evans, “Ninety-three percent of child sexual abuse victims are molested not by strangers but by family members or others they know and trust. The myth that “stranger danger” is rampant and is somehow controlled by public sex offender registries is incorrect and gives parents a false sense of security. Sex offenders with the highest likelihood of recidivism – strangers who molest boys – are also the most rare.”
Poorer more likely to be ‘registered'
It can't be forgotten that accused men who are more powerful and influential manage to defer and drag out trials, engage better legal counsel, and are less likely to be convicted in the first place. If convicted, these men are able to appeal the convictions in higher courts. The very existence of a Sex Offenders Registry is likely to deter convictions of such powerful and well-placed men, because in the view of courts, they are less likely to fit the (unstated) socio-economic profile of the ‘sex offender' who deserves to be on the Registry. The accused from weaker social and economic backgrounds are more likely to be convicted, and less likely to be able to appeal – and therefore less likely to be placed on the sex offenders registry.
Our criminal justice system rests on the idea that once someone is convicted of a crime, and serves out their sentence, they should be given a chance to reform. We have absolutely no data to show that it these convicted persons who pose a danger of sex crimes – if anything, the danger is from the vast number who remain unpunished thanks to under-reporting and low conviction rates. If convicted persons are put on a public registry, it is likely that they (and their dependants and families) will be denied housing, employment, and will be at risk from mob violence – this amounts to a virtual death sentence by the backdoor for anyone convicted of a sex crime.
The likelihood that names of those from oppressed castes and minority communities will be cherry-picked by vigilante groups and singled out for mob violence is a very real one in India. Baron-Evans has written that, “A substantial percentage of sex offenders, as a result of community notification, suffer job loss, homelessness, physical assault, threats, harassment, property damage, and harm to family members. A few have even been murdered, including a man whose offense was having sex with his fifteen-year-old girlfriend when he was nineteen years old.”
I recommend that readers watch the ‘Hope and Glory' episode of the American TV serial Boston Legal which is about an innocent Black man wrongly convicted of rape as a teenager when his white girlfriend came under parental pressure to declare her consensual relationship to be rape. His name on a Sex Offenders Registry causes him to be denied employment and subjected to harassment. Even after diligent lawyers get his former girlfriend to testify in his favour, leading to his name being taken off the registry, he is a victim of hate crimes – and is eventually killed. Such a scenario seems frighteningly likely to be replicated in India. A report in The Hindu showed that “the largest part of what is classified as rape is actually parental criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships, often when it comes to inter-caste and inter-religious couples. Yet India's official rape statistics are used as shorthand for a lack of public safety, not a lack of autonomy.”
‘Moral Panic' Makes For Bad Policy
Critiquing ‘Megan's Law' (the US law mandating sex offenders registries), Rose Corrigan, a scholar of Law and Society observes, “Perhaps the most commonly invoked criticism is that Megan's Law is a classic example of “moral panic.” This definition of “moral panic” perfectly describes the way in which Indian governments, media and some influential commentators and policy makers have tended to project ‘stranger danger' and ‘juvenile offenders' as the source of sexual crimes, in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
It is unfortunate that governments in India (both the UPA government and the present NDA government) tend to make laws and policies on gender violence, motivated by “moral panic” rather than in response to reasoned recommendations by women's groups and child rights groups working with survivors of sexual violence.
The Justice Verma Committee, which prepared an exhaustive and reasoned set of recommendations against sexual violence in January 2013, in the wake of the December 2012 gangrape, did not recommend a Sex Offenders Registry; and specifically recommended against death penalty for rape or sending juvenile rape convicts to adult jails. Yet, governments have preferred these measures, ignoring the pleas by women's groups to make police more accountable, increase the number of courts and judges and sensitise judges to make the experience of the justice-seeking rape survivor a better one. Governments have found it easier to play on the moral panic of ‘stranger danger' and ‘juvenile sex offender' rather than remove the offensive ‘exception' to marital rape in India's rape law.
It can only be hoped that the Indian government will engage in wider consultations with women's movement and child rights groups and rethink the misguided move to introduce a Sex Offenders Registry in India.
LDS Church issues written policy on handling of child abuse
by LAUREN STEINBRECHER
SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church talked about its written policy when it comes to how church leaders should handle child abuse cases during a meeting on Thursday.
The Church has been the target of lawsuits claiming it doesn't do enough in responding to or reporting cases.
In Thursday's meeting, the Church talked with the National Children's Alliance, as well as Children's Justice Centers in Salt Lake County.
As part of Child Abuse Prevention Month, the meeting included the Church handing out $125,000 in donations and, in the same breath, talking about resources the Church has put into play to help abused children.
A webpage link emailed out after the meeting highlighted those steps.
The Church said it has created a 24-hour professional help line a bishop can call if he suspects or learns of abuse.
“He will be put in touch with a professional counselor to help the victim, stop the abuse, and prevent abuse of others,” the site states. “In that phone call the bishop may also speak with a lawyer to make certain that all legal reporting requirements are observed.”
It also talks about how it handles members who have abused children.
The webpage states the Church will place an annotation on the membership record of any member who has abused children.
“This record follows them to any congregation where they move, anywhere in the world,” it says. “When a bishop sees the annotation, he calls the Church and is given clear direction that an individual who has abused children should not be given a position with children.”
It also explains that the Church will cover the cost of professional counseling for abuse victims.
Bishops are asked to interview youth leaders at least twice a year, the site says. For any youth activity, the Church said it requires two adults to be present.
The site states the Church will continue to identify and implement new tactics or approaches that decrease the potential for abuse.
When it comes to those claims and lawsuits of abuse, and accusing the Church of not handling abuse correctly, the site did say, “the great majority of these claims occurred decades ago, when society and the Church understood far less about abuse.”
While it's unclear when these policies were put into place, and when they were written and released to the public, a representative of the Church on Thursday told Fox 13 the policies have been around for quite a while.
Prosecutor starts endowment for child abuse center
by Traci Moyer
“If we cannot protect our kids and make our community a safe place, we are losing the battle,” said Rupen Shah.
Shah, the chief deputy commonwealth's attorney for Augusta County and a board member of the Valley's Children's Advocacy Center, has donated $1,000 of his personal money to start an endowment fund for the center. The move follows publication of an investigative series, "Prey," by The News Leader about Virginia's child sex abuse crisis.
Shah said there is a need to counsel and rehabilitate children after they have been victimized by a sexual crime, in order to allow them to become productive citizens in the future.
“For those reasons, the community needs to be involved,” he said. “The community needs to shore up the support.”
According to the Children's Advocacy Centers of Virginia, child abuse can leave invisible scars on the souls of children. Scars that “manifest themselves in disturbing ways” including crimes, emotional disorders and substance abuse.
“It is an alarming situation when a child has to go through the judicial process,” he said. “Now at least it is a softer and gentler experience.” Shah said he became personally devoted to improving the lives of children because of his work as an attorney battling juvenile and domestic cases.
Shah helped found the entity that is now the Valley CAC in 2002.
Prior to the local CAC, a child would have to talk to a number of different people about a crime — creating conflicting statements and a loophole where cases were lost. Shah said they knew the children were telling the truth, and they had to do something.
With a CAC, a child shares with authorities what happened to them only once.
But Shah said it has been a struggle to fund the needs and efforts of the agency, which is why the endowment fund was created.
Rebecca Simmons, executive director of VCAC, said the endowment builds and increases stability for the center.
“We want to make sure we have a diversified revenue stream,” she said.
Simmons said the agency relies heavily on grants, but if funding is not renewed for a particular year or reason, the services become threatened.
“One of our biggest goals is we want to have a space all of our own,” she said. “Right now we rent a location, and it's not ideal.”
Unlike short-term fundraising, endowment donations are pooled together and only the revenue generated from the overall investment is spent. This creates long term funding for the group. Donations to the nonprofit are tax-free.
Shah said gifts to the agency can also be restricted for specific uses by the donor.
“Let's say you are making a $100 donation,” he said. “You can say it can only be used for capital funds, counseling children, the building or fixed assets.”
Shah said any amount donated toward the endowment adds up, and even $1 can make a difference. Listing VCAC as a beneficiary in a will or on insurance policies are other ways people can help make a difference in the lives of victimized children.
“That will help this institute survive, thrive and perpetuate for future generations to get services,” Shah said.
To make a contribution, people can send specially designated endowment donations to VCAC, 1234 Middlebrook Ave., Suite E., Staunton 24401.
Simmons said part of the reason Valley CAC has been limited in its efforts to raise funding is because people confuse the agency with other services in the community. She said Valley CAC provides a specialized service for children which is not provided by other agencies.
“A lot of times people confuse us with CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates),” she said. “Sometimes we do share clients, but we are sort of like the beginning.
Rep. Wes Cantrell's child abuse bill signed into law
by the Tribune Ledger News
A bill authored by a local legislator that aims to protect records related to child abuse cases was signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Nathan Deal. The Child Abuse Records Protection Act, initially pushed by state Rep. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock, serves to protect the confidentiality of records held by Children Advocacy Centers in relation to child abuse cases.
With the new act, it is legally required that those who obtain the child abuse records only use them appropriately.
Cantrell said the previous statute was unclear and unknown to the people who have authority of the interviews.
“Consequently, these interviews can potentially wind up in the hands of the wrong people. If we do not clarify the law, child pornographers and others could develop a black market for these interviews and the damage done to the most vulnerable citizens in our society would be immense,” Cantrell said.
He considered it an honor to have helped develop and carry the bill on behalf of the advocacy centers.
“Over the last year, I have met with CAC personnel, prosecuting and criminal defense attorneys, representatives of (Division of Family and Children Services) and our Superior Court judges, and it has been an extremely helpful and informative process,” Cantrell said. “The Child Abuse Records Protection Act is dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable citizens in our society — children who are the victims of abuse.”
Children who have been the victims of sexual abuse, severe physical abuse, mental abuse or witness domestic violence or a violent crime are taken to CAC to help them recover from the traumatic experience.
The children are then interviewed by a trained expert and a video of the forensic interview is recorded at the CAC
Last year, Georgia CAC conducted more than 9,000 confidential and forensic interviews. The advocacy center began in 1989 with five centers and has grown today with 46 centers, which serve more than 90 percent of the state. Nancy Chandler, former CEO of the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy said the legislation tackled a most important issue.
“This legislation will go a very long way in protecting children from the unwanted disclosure of their most personal and often painful recollection of an abusive situation and further helps to ensure that a child's words can only be used in a legal, thoughtful manner,” Chandler said.
Best way to prevent child abuse? Step in early, cops say
by Mark Black
A boy sits in an interview room with an Aurora detective, his expression withdrawn, his thoughts all over the place, his injuries healing.
His grandmother alerted police to the boy's condition. She feared abuse after the boy's mother, unable to cope with the demands of raising her child, left him with a teenage friend who had "even less coping skills than she does," Detective Kevin Jenkins said.
"He hit this child with a spatula on his genitals," Jenkins said about the abuser in one recent case. "He just brutalized this kid."
Such situations occur throughout the suburbs, and it's never OK for onlookers to stay silent, detectives and child abuse prevention advocates say.
"If you see something, say something" applies not only to suspicious suitcases at an airport but also to situations in which children are being harmed.
Adults often hesitate to report abuse. They fear being wrong and directing undue attention toward the parent or person in question. They fear being outed as the informant. They fear the worst.
But what they should fear most, Aurora Detective Jennifer Hillgoth said, is being right but doing nothing.
"Don't take the chance not to call," she said, reflecting on the child protective work that's become her calling as police are in the midst of an April campaign for Child Abuse Prevention Month. "I fear we're missing the ones that are actually being abused."
Aurora police can't put a concrete figure to the number of cases they investigated last year because child abuse spans multiple crime categories. Abused kids can be victims of domestic abuse, aggravated batteries, sex abuse, endangerment, neglect -- so many criminal behaviors that it certainly adds up to hundreds of cases each year, Hillgoth and Jenkins say.
Categorized differently, the abuse cases share one thing: They're tragic.
"We see babies who are not even old enough to hold their head up with brain injuries and broken bones," Hillgoth said. "Neighbors call about kids who look like they're being neglected. They're outside in just a diaper and it's filthy and they're alone."
The time is now to prevent and report child abuse, said Deb Bree of the Kane County Child Advocacy Center, which steps in to help with all countywide cases of reported child sex abuse -- 295 of them in 2014 and 308 in 2015.
"If you can step in early," said Bree, the center's director, "you can help these children by preventing either further abuse or any abuse from starting."
National statistics cited by Aurora police show one in 10 children will be sexually abused before age 18, and five children nationwide die each day from abuse and neglect.
Hillgoth said the littlest children are most likely to be abused because they're the most vulnerable.
But among school-aged kids, the risk remains high -- especially if their parents or guardians use harsh physical discipline, abuse alcohol or drugs, belittle or insult their children, see children as a burden or seem unconcerned about their welfare.
Possible signs of child abuse are plentiful, though some are subtle: Nervousness around adults or fear of certain adults. Reluctance to go home. Anxiety. Sudden changes in performance at school. Unexplained burns or bruises, or any injury that doesn't match the explanation given. Some abused kids may show withdrawal and passive behavior, while others could exhibit aggression and disruptive behavior.
The key is to "trust your instincts" and report any child treatment that just doesn't seem right, Bree said.
Teachers and school social workers are among mandated reporters, required by law to contact the state Department of Child and Family Services if they observe or suspect abuse or neglect.
Social workers in Indian Prairie Unit District 204, which includes portions of Aurora and Naperville, stay on the lookout by developing a rapport with any student who is struggling at school. These professionals open up lines of conversation so the child can feel comfortable sharing problems at home, said Mike Treptow, social work coordinator.
In one case Hillgoth and Jenkins handled, police discovered ongoing sexual abuse against a teenage girl because adults at her school noticed she had begun self-mutilating. The girl told school officials and investigators about sexual abuse at the hands of her mother's boyfriend, and police found "old, healing injuries."
Victims of child sex abuse are all referred to counseling when their cases come to the Kane County Child Advocacy Center.
"Anything we can do to make sure victims are getting appropriate counseling and therapy goes a long way," Bree said.
A critical call
Adults who suspect abuse shouldn't hesitate to call the DCFS hotline at (800) 252-2873, or their local police department.
DCFS omits the name of the reporter in most circumstances -- even to police -- so there's no risk of being outed as the informant, Hillgoth said. And when calling police, tipsters always can remain anonymous.
Plus, Bree says the public can take comfort in the professionalism of everyone involved in investigating child abuse -- DCFS case workers, detectives, state's attorney's investigators, attorneys, counselors and child advocates, especially.
"The people who work in child protection are the most dedicated individuals I've ever met," Bree said. "They are clearly here to protect the child and do what's best."
Hillgoth and Jenkins say love for their own children -- Hillgoth's are 2 and 3, while Jenkins' are 31 and 33 -- motivates them to protect other kids from harm.
"The other day I was here for 22 hours on just one case," Hillgoth said. She's got files for 30 of them on her desk now. But "we are never, ever too busy to take on another child abuse case and look into it."
High-profile child abuse case sees call for elimination of statute of limitations
When former Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert was sentenced to 15 months in prison this week, the banking charges to which he pleaded guilty in federal court were likely the least of what captured people's attention about the case.
Government officials allege that Hastert, a former Illinois high school wrestling coach, practiced his creative accounting to help cover up allegations that he abused some of the young athletes entrusted to his care.
Though Hastert didn't specifically admit to abusing children, he did say at the sentencing, “I know I'm here because I mistreated some of my athletes as a coach,” according to a report on CNN.com.
One of those alleged victims spoke out in court about how the abuse has impacted his life over the years.
Afterward, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she thinks the statute of limitations should be eliminated when prosecuting alleged child sex crimes.
“The devastation caused by sex crimes is horrific and I think we got a little hint of that today,” Madigan said, according to WLS-TV. “And I hope that this becomes a wake up call to our lawmakers to shore up our laws.”
“Nothing is more stunning than to have the words ‘serial child molester' and ‘speaker of the House' in the same sentence,” District Judge Thomas M. Durkin said, in sentencing Hastert to 15 months in prison.
But for many, the idea of hearing such a thing about a politician is less horrific than hearing it about an educator or a clergy member. But those charges continue to be heard across the country. And in many of those cases, the allegations come from people who had to grow up before they could come to terms with what happened and make an outcry.
A statute of limitations can make prosecuting cases based on those outcries difficult, if not impossible.
Sherman Attorney Bobbie Cate, who has worked as both a defense attorney and a prosecutor, said the statute of limitations rules are meant to encourage the prosecution of offenses while evidence is available and fresh, which helps to ensure final and predictable outcomes for cases.
She said she believed that Texas had already done away with statutes of limitations with regard to one classification of sexual crime. Grayson County District Attorney Joe Brown said that classification is sexual assault in cases where the victim was a child. He said Texas made that change in 2007.
“The change was a good change for victims of child abuse, because the fact is that many child victims of abuse, for many reasons, do not report their abuse for years after it happens,” Brown said. “They block it out of their minds, or they are too young to understand the wrongness of what happened, or the other dynamics inside a dysfunctional family prevent them from coming forward. Some people think that abuse is something a victim should always tell about when it happens, but that is just not reality.”
However, he said, doing away with the statutes of limitations hasn't made it easier on prosecutors.
“Child abuse cases are already very difficult because there are almost never witnesses to the abuse, and rarely any physical evidence,” Brown said. “The older the case, the more memories fade, and that can be a challenge. However, victims of child abuse usually remember what happened very, very well.”
What it really comes down to, Brown said, is “whether there should be artificial time limits on justice. In these types of cases, where there are common reasons why cases may not get reported, and because of the seriousness of them, and the vulnerability of children, I do not believe we should be limiting the rights of a crime victim to see justice done.”
Pa. mom admits kicking 2-year-old-daughter to death
by John Luciew
The tragedy occurred Sunday afternoon. That's when police and emergency services in Bucks County were summoned by Kayla Moore because her 2-year-old daughter Athena Wolfe appeared to be in cardiac arrest, according to NBC-10 in Philadelphia.
The little girl later died on Monday. Meanwhile, police were investigating all along. Overnight, they made an arrest in the girl's death -- her own mother.
NBC-10 reports that Kayla Moore, 23, now faces homicide charges after admitting to police that she kicked her 2-year-old daughter in the head before her death.
Details from NBC-10:
Doctors were unable to save Athena and she died around 7 a.m. Monday. However, they noticed extensive bruising to Athena's face, back and chest and that she also appeared to be malnourished, said police.
Tests confirmed signs that Athena was "terribly battered and injured," and an autopsy determined her cause of death to be a homicide caused by blunt force trauma, according to the criminal complaint.
But the real clincher was when detectives spoke to Moore, and the 23-year-old mother admitted to kicking Athena numerous times in the head and torso just prior to calling an ambulance to their home.
She faces criminal homicide, aggravated assault and child endangerment charges.
State of the Young Child tackles child sexual, drug abuse
by Chelsea Davis
“When I came in here, I felt like my body was a big bag of heavy rocks. Now I'm leaving and I think what I did is I'm leaving those rocks here.”
That's what a 7-year-old boy told First Step Resource Center care coordinator MC Jenni about how he changed since he first walked through First Step's doors. He's one of hundreds of survivors of child sexual abuse in Missoula County.
Last year, First Step worked with 429 children, 301 of whom were from Missoula County.
Jenni spoke at the State of the Young Child event Tuesday at the University of Montana. It's an annual event that zooms in on the issues facing Missoula children and families today from experts in social work, nursing, nonprofits and marketing – and what steps need to be taken to solve them.
On Tuesday, they tackled child sexual abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome.
Child sexual abuse is “likely the most prevalent health problem for kids today,” said Parenting Place executive director Teresa Nygaard.
It's estimated that one in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18, according to a 2013 Darkness to Light study. The list of potential lasting impacts from child sexual abuse is long and heartbreaking: depression, suicide, substance abuse and more.
Events like State of the Young Child should open up a conversation that's long been taboo, Nygaard said.
“No matter how many times I say child sexual abuse, I feel a jolt of discomfort and shock,” Jenni said. “In isolation, ‘child' is a wonderful word. ‘Sexual' is a compelling word. And ‘abuse' by itself doesn't really bother me. But when we combine all three of those words, my thoughts get knotted up and I feel fear and anger.”
Of the people that First Step serves, 80 percent are children.
Of those children referred for child sexual abuse, the vast majority of the alleged offenders are people the child knows or is related to.
Missoula Mayor John Engen said he's met far too many “broken souls” in his work. Much of that “breaking happened when they were kids.”
Policies need to be enacted to help parents and children before a crisis occurs, said Missoula County Commissioner Stacy Rye, which she said should include universal prekindergarten, flexible work schedules and high-quality childcare.
The good news, she said, is that Missoula is packed with resources. The job now is to figure out how to use all of those resources to create change and prevent child abuse and neglect.
Neonatal abstinence syndrome affects babies whose mothers used opioids during pregnancy.
It's been on the rise for several years across the U.S., from 1.2 per thousand hospital births in 2000 to nearly 5.8 in 2012, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. There's also been an increase in admissions for NAS, from seven per thousand hospital admissions in 2004 to 30 in 2013.
If a mother is using opioids during pregnancy, when the baby is born it's the same effect as an adult quitting drugs cold turkey. The baby goes through withdrawal, exhibiting high-pitched continuous crying, extreme irritability, tremors, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures or other symptoms. These babies can also have lower birth weights, lower birth lengths, smaller head sizes and higher rates of prematurity.
That's where professionals in the NICU come in, helping the baby get through withdrawal. Those methods don't prevent NAS, but they help stabilize the child.
“We don't, unfortunately, know a lot about how what happens to these kids long-term,” said Community Medical Center neonatologist Dr. Bonnie Stephens. “All of us that work with children know that there is some effect, but unfortunately our ability to measure that effect in (these) populations is difficult.”
There are a number of variables with this population: a mother could use multiple drugs, making it hard to study the effect of one drug on a baby; the doses are variable; often mothers engage in other risky behaviors that can affect the baby; and follow-up isn't consistent.
While what happens to a child in utero can have damaging effects, Stephens said it's actually what happens after birth that typically has bigger impacts on a child.
Last fall, an organization formed, Wrapped in Hope, made up of St. Luke Community Healthcare in Polson, Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Polson, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, CSKT Tribal Health Department and Lake County Public Health. They're working together on preventing things like NAS through prenatal care.
A laundry list of people can make referrals to Wrapped in Hope, at which point a patient coordinator works with the mother to identify services she needs: Medicaid, addiction therapy, prenatal care, etc.
In 2013, St. Luke and St. Joseph started collecting data on newborns at risk for NAS. That year, 15 to 19 percent were at risk. In 2014, it jumped to 22 percent. Last year it was nearly one-third.
By January and February of this year, at St. Luke alone, nearly half were at risk.
“People who work with kids who are at risk in early childhood, where we're noticing tons of what (Stephens) just said: kids who are having behavior disorders, kids who have had learning difficulties, kids who were problematic in preschool settings … as the background got explored, the common thread seems to be substance abuse in pregnancy and premature birth,” said St. Luke's Dr. Cara Harrop.
Is Spanking a Form of Child Abuse? Here's What Experts Say
by CHELSEA HOFFMAN
Do you think spanking is a form of child abuse, or are you in support of this type of punishment? This long-debated topic is causing quite a ruckus on social media after a recent study has indicated that corporal punishment causes lasting harm. Global News Canada reports that the findings of a 50-year-long study published by Journal of Family Psychology have revived this discussion with great interest. Do you agree with the findings, or are you among those who think spanking teaches respect?
The findings of the study reportedly indicate that spanking doesn't appear to cause “long-term compliance” in children. If anything, the findings seemed to indicate that children who are spanked tend to become more defiant of their caregivers. Andrew Grogan-Kaylor of University of Michigan offered his comments on the study's findings.
This isn't the only study to indicate a link between child abuse and spanking. One from a few years ago indicated that children who were punished with force were more likely to have stunted IQs. They are also reportedly more likely to become criminals later in life.
What circumstances exist that make it acceptable, though? The mainstream media constantly reports on cases of extreme child abuse and even homicides that result from violent punishments dealt by the hands of the victims' parents. This seemingly endless list of cases exhibit the wide use of corporal punishment during moments of anger — something that experts warn against doing. For example, a Houston, Texas mom was recently charged with capital murder after she reportedly admitted to beating her five-month-old baby to death. Her reason for doing so? The baby wouldn't stop crying.
Social media is reacting with varied responses to this latest study. Numerous people are still expressing support for spanking children, which coincides with a 2014 UNICEF report which declared that approximately 80 percent of parents, worldwide, still spank their kids.
If multiple studies are showing that spanking equates child abuse, then should it be criminalized? So far, approximately 50 countries have criminalized this form of punishment. What do you think about this constantly-debated topic? Is spanking a child a form of abuse, or is it a necessary tool in raising children and teaching them respect?
Annual summit focuses on preventing child abuse
by Alicia Banks
The disappearance and slaying of 5-year-old Shaniya Davis in November 2009 is a case not likely to be forgotten any time soon.
Her mother, Antoinette Nicole Davis, admitted to giving Shaniya to Mario Andrette McNeill, a convicted drug dealer, so that he or someone else could have sex with the child. The exchange would cover a $200 debt Davis used for household expenses and child care. Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West spoke on the case Tuesday during the Annual Child Abuse Summit.
West prosecuted the case. He wanted to clear any misconceptions about sex trafficking while making attendees aware of the signs.
"It's not just young girls being brought from outside of the U.S. you see around hotels," he said. "It can be on a smaller scale where it's a parent responsible for a child, allowing them to engage in that lifestyle. You can't stereotype what these cases look like. You have to be aware it can come in different forms."
Nearly 300 people listened to West inside the John D. Fuller Recreation Center. The crowd of law enforcement officials, school personnel, social workers and more attended the all-day event of workshops and training with one goal: how to better help abused children from a holistic approach.
The Army Community Services, The Florence Rogers Charitable Trust, Southern Regional Area Health Education Centers and the Child Advocacy Center in Fayetteville collaborated on the conference which has been in the community for more than a decade.
"With this summit, we help them refocus on the victim: the child," Roberta Humphries, executive director of the Child Advocacy Center, said. "Sometimes, it's not the severity of the physical act, it's the betrayal that's critical. It lives with the victim for the rest of their life. It's important to have these child centers to handle these cases."
Since December, Fayetteville police have charged two families - in which both mothers are Fort Bragg soldiers - in the deaths of two young girls.
Octavia Bennett-Smith and Jamarkus Meshawn Smith face first-degree murder charges in the killing of her 3-year-old Jourdin Smith. Jeanie Ditty and her boyfriend, Zachary Earl Keefer, both face first-degree murder and child abuse charges in death of Ditty's 2-year-old daughter, Macy Grace.
Both girls died within days of each other.
"Unfortunately, sometimes, we see these type of child abuse cases in the younger population," he said. "That's something we have to be aware of in Cumberland County."
And the same is true elsewhere.
Event keynote speaker Kevin Mulcahy, an assistant U.S. Attorney in Detroit who also prosecutes child sex abuse cases, was 9 years old when his best friend began sexually assaulting him in Livonia, Michigan.
It was his youth soccer coach, 26-year-old Randy.
At an overnight YMCA event, Mulcahy shared a sleeping bag with Randy.
"And for the next eight hours, my best friend sexually assaulted me," Mulcahy said. His voice wavered. "I didn't say anything. I didn't do anything. I just laid there."
Two years later, Mulcahy told his father what happened. The pair went to the police. Randy plead guilty to the crime and served a six-month sentence, Mulcahy said.
Mary McCoy sat silent in her chair during the speech. She's the section chief for children services, for the Cumberland County Department of Social Services.
Stories like Mulcahy's are the norm for her.
"This is a community problem," McCoy said about curtailing child abuse. "And it's going to take a community to address it."
At speech's end, Mulcahy told the crowd to be patient and supportive toward abuse victims.
"People say we're heroes," Mulcahy said to attendees. "I challenge you to earn your cape for every child. You're not here on accident. You're here on purpose. You will face these obstacles and those problems so God's works can be shown."
Conferences like the summit are crucial tools to combat the abuse, West said.
"We have to make sure, whether it be social workers, guidance counselors or law enforcement, that we are using the best practices across the nation," West said. "The most important part is that we are using the tools we have and making sure we are trying to prevent these terrible things from happening."
In addition to the summit, the Child Advocacy Center also celebrated meeting the Lilly Endowment Challenge Grant Goal from the Cumberland Community Foundation, Inc.
The center raised more than $50,000 by August 2015, a press release said. The nonprofit organization, focusing on bettering communities, will match the $50,000 raised.
To reduce child abuse, one group teaches inmates about child safety
A Path To Progress -- The hope is that the inmates will pass their knowledge on to friends and bring lessons to a wider environment, says a member of a child abuse prevention group in Indiana.
by Caitlin VanOverberghe
GREENFIELD, IND. — Ryan Quartier knows how to hold a baby. Carefully, with an elbow placed below her neck, and with a gentleness few but a father can possess.
His children are 8 and 2 years old now, but balancing a baby doll in his arms reminded him of all the diaper changes, the high-pitched crying when they needed something and the patience it took to be a good dad.
Quartier recently attended a child safety class offered to inmates at the Hancock County Jail in Indiana by Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County, a local organization that aims to teach community members about safe child care and the signs of child abuse.
The hour-long class focuses on safe childcare tactics, teaches inmates about shaken baby and sudden infant death syndromes and provides them information about where to turn for help when it's needed.
The hope is the inmates who sit through the class will carry its lessons outside the jail and pass their knowledge on to friends, said Linda Garrity, a member of Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County. The idea is that if more people hear the information and utilize it, instances of child abuse and neglect will lessen.
The classes are open to any inmate, not just those facing child abuse charges, said Garrity, a registered nurse and community education coordinator for Hancock Regional Hospital. The lessons are held twice a month, and roughly 10 inmates per month have opted to attend since the classes started in January.
Because he helped raise two kids of his own, Quartier said he already knew a lot of the information taught in the class, but he was grateful for the refresher.
"My kids are my life," Quartier said. "You can never be too safe."
The Prevent Child Abuse Hancock County organization was created last year with the goal of impeding child abuse in the area. As its first birthday looms, the organization's leaders say they are happy with the progress the group has made, and they're eager to see it grow.
Members make regular appearances at health fairs and volunteer events, where they engage community members in conversations about child safety, said Theresa Lueder, the organization's co-chair. Adding a child safety class to the list of services the jail provides was one of the group's many goals.
It's similar to a class Garrity leads at Hancock Regional Hospital for new parents. The course focuses on three topics: shaken baby syndrome, safe sleep practices and the state's safe haven law, which gives parents 30 days to legally and confidentially give up an infant at an emergency medical services provider.
During a recent class, Garrity used one of the hospital's demonstration baby dolls to show inmates what they shouldn't do when trying to comfort and calm a crying child. Babies have fragile heads, necks and spines, she told the inmates.
The primary message she hopes people participating in the class take away? Walk away for a few moments when you're frustrated with a crying baby.
And, if parenting gets to be too much to handle, call for help, Garrity advised.
Attendance at the jail class has varied with each session, but Sheriff's Capt. Andy Craig, the jail commander, estimated as many as 60 inmates have successfully completed the course.
Right now, the lesson is offered primarily to male inmates; men aren't traditionally the caregiver for a child, Craig said, and jail officials hope the classes will help inmates develop fatherly instincts, he said.
Inmate Ryan McCauley doesn't yet have children but has often helped care for his girlfriend's young kids. Completing the safety class makes him feel more prepared for the times when he's left alone with the youngsters, he said.
Jonathan Wright attended the class for similar reasons and said he learned a lot about safely caring for a child, but he admitted getting out of his cell block for a little while was another incentive to participate.
Garrity is sure a change of scenery is the reason many inmates sign up to participate in the class. But she'll take it, she said.
"The goal is to teach any person so they can spread the word," Garrity said.
China tops in reducing discrimination against child neglect
China ranked at the top in a survey of 18 countries in reducing discrimination against and neglect of children.
The survey conducted by leading NGO Save the Children released on Tuesday, showed that 74 per cent of Chinese thought things were getting better-the highest proportion out of all countries surveyed.
Other countries in the survey included the US, India and Britain, the China Daily reported.
The survey also found that 77 per cent of those who said they were affected by discrimination during childhood in China believed the situation in the country had improved-the highest level among the countries surveyed. India was second, with 61 per cent, and Nigeria third at 55 per cent.
Worldwide, almost 40 percent of adults said they were discriminated against as children because of gender, ethnicity, religion, disability or because of where they lived, according to the survey, which questioned 18,172 adults in the participating countries.
Nearly half of those surveyed in Asia said they faced discrimination as children. In China, the figure was 44 per cent.
The survey was conducted between March 23 and April 14 by the international opinion research and consultancy GlobeScan. It was the largest survey of its kind to be undertaken by Save the Children.
Wang Le, deputy country director for China at Save the Children, said it is clear that the country has made great strides.
"We think it is true that children's situation in China for health, education and development opportunities has improved a lot in the past several decades," said Wang.
The organisation said children with disabilities are among the most deprived groups in China and face particular challenges in access to and completion of a good education.
Dozens Arrested In Sex Trafficking Crackdown
by Alyssa Chin
A crackdown of sex trafficking ended with dozens of arrests. This happened during World Cannabis Week in Colorado, but the FBI is telling us about those arrests now.
The Colorado Springs Police Department was a part of this massive operation. Four prostitutes in our area were arrested.
In total, five kids were rescued from the sex trafficking trade and 35 adults were arrested.
Out of the nearly three dozen arrests, the FBI detailed the charges against James Anderson. Anderson reportedly made arrangements with an undercover cop to "purchase a 7-year-old for sex."
Anderson was part of a massive take down that spanned the Front Range.
The cooperative effort included participation from: Adams County Sheriff's Office, Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, Arvada Police Department, Aurora Police Department, Castle Rock Police Department, Colorado Department of Corrections, Colorado Springs Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, Colorado Trafficking and Organized Crime Coalition, Denver Police Department, Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Golden Police Department, Homeland Security Investigations, Jefferson County District Attorney's Office, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Parker Police Department, Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force, Rocky Mountain Safe Streets Task Force, and Wheat Ridge Police Department.
The FBI said because of the unofficial pot holiday 4/20, large-scale events brought in tourists, and with it, a demand for prostitution and child sex trafficking.
Nearly 40 percent of the suspects told police they came to Colorado for the special events.
Investigators say one of the children they recovered was a 15-year-old. That teen had been brought to Colorado from California specifically for 4/20 week.
The 35 people arrested across the state are facing charges for trafficking or prostitution.
Responding to Teen Sex Trafficking
Comprehensive approach seeks to educate teens
by Shirley Ruhe
In 2012 Fairfax County Detective William Woolf discovered a 16-year-old girl being prostituted by the M-16 gang. At the time there was little recognition that the problem existed locally. The girl was recovered and since then Woolf has interviewed 300 recovered victims, some as young as 12-years old. After the initial shock, Northern Virginia businesses, faith communities and educational groups sought to understand the extent of the problem.
While Woolf says there is evidence of teen sex trafficking in every high school in Fairfax County, Arlington County Police detective Danny Ohr says that in his 11 years with Arlington County he has never seen a case of teen sex trafficking. Senior Public Safety Information Officer Crystal Nosal of the Alexandria Police Department reports only three cases of teen sex trafficking in the last three years.
The solutions to teen sex trafficking involve education, prevention, law enforcement and rehabilitation. "I believe education is the key," Woolf said. “We want to stress prevention so it doesn't get to the law enforcement stage." To further this goal, Woolf, in his previous role as the only human trafficking detective in Northern Virginia, trained law enforcement officers to recognize the signs of human trafficking, serves as chairman of Just Ask, an organization established to educate and prevent teen trafficking and has worked with the school system to incorporate lessons on human trafficking into the middle and high school curricula in Fairfax County.
Elizabeth Payne, coordinator for Health, Family Life Education and Physical Education for Fairfax County said, “The human trafficking court cases started breaking in 2012 and involved so many of our students. The court cases just kept coming. We had to act. We had to ask what did we have in place. As a result, a new curriculum was designed for grades 6-12 grades that incorporated human trafficking into the regular lessons. It involved getting school counselors and resource officers up to speed. We had to train school psychologists. All of this snowballed." In addition, "we had to get over the shock and the myth that it doesn't happen here."
In the summer of 2013, a video was produced to examine the issues and detail the trafficking recruitment process. In March 2014, the new lessons were completed. Payne said all schools were required to have a preview night for parents where the new program was introduced. “Sex trafficking is embedded in the lessons about abuse and community safety," she said. Some parents, mostly of sixth graders, she said, reacted with "My child is too young for this, it isn't happening here, or my child doesn't need to know this." When staff explained the time between 6th-7th grade is when the students gain more independence and may be left at the mall for an hour or two, the messagr seemed to reach the parents.
The process involves a letter sent home about what the child learned that day with a link for parents. Payne said parents can opt their child out of a particular session or al of it. Last year, out of 13,600 children only 5.5 percent of sixth grade parents opted out, with 1.4 percent of seventh grade parents and .7 percent of 8th grade parents.
Payne said the system is starting to yield results. She said she spoke recently to five middle school girls who had run away and were at high risk. "They said no, no, no problems to me but as soon as I left it was reported to me they started talking about their concern about friends. There is a lot of shame associated with this and the trafficker may have threatened them. But we are finding sometimes they will go to a trusted adult at school," she said.
Arlington Public Schools updated its curriculum last year according to Deborah DeFranco, supervisor of Arlington County Public Schools Health, Physical and Driver Education & Athletics. "Arlington Public Schools has specific health units on human trafficking in grades 7 -10. Since it is part of the PE curriculum instead of Family Life, we didn't go through the same procedure as Fairfax County of parental notification — the opt out option and community input. We know sex trafficking is out there and we wanted to get out ahead of the problem. There are so many myths out there; we wanted to give the students facts,” she said.
In addition, DeFranco is participating in the Northern Virginia Regional Human Trafficking Task Force. The result of the group's work will be updated and incorporated into these units of study. “It is close by,” she said. “We know it is happening locally in south Arlington.”
She said they had members of the Arlington police gang task force talk to the teachers last spring about known incidents, arrest and inquiries in Arlington. DeFranco added, “We are working on sexual violence prevention. When a child comes to report, they can experience double victimization and we need to be aware of that to avoid it happening. I feel that Arlington Public Schools is ahead of the curve trying to bring awareness, education and prevention skills to keep kids safe from this dangerous trend in the secondary health curriculum.”
Education can take place in many different ways.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, who was involved in the enactment of legislation increasing penalties for trafficking while serving in the Virginia state legislature, said, "I try to inject this information wherever I am. You realize it is going on in your community so if you drive up to a hotel and see some creepy dude with three girls, start talking to them. What's your team or some conversation. You get vibes."
Chris Davies, supervisor of Counseling Services for Fairfax County remembers a story of someone who saw an older man drop a pick-up line on two young girls in a mall. After the man left, the person went over and told the girls what he had heard. He gave them the Just Ask website and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) human trafficking hotline (1-800-THE-LOST) in case they thought they might have been approached for sex trafficking.
“The community needs to know what to look for as part of the solution.” Davies said. “And the community also needs to change their own biases about who we might see as a prostitute.”
Beth Saunders approaches it from the business community. Saunders is president of Just Ask, a non-profit that was created specifically to work in Northern Virginia on education and prevention of teen sex trafficking. Saunders says the organization is broken up into sectors managed by volunteers and she is in charge of the business sector. "This is important because many of these kids' parents work in businesses. They can update their employees on the facts about trafficking."
Just Ask also has board members responsible for outreach to schools, churches and law enforcement. "When I was growing up the boogey man was tangible, something I could see. But now it is intangible with teenagers trusting what they share on the internet with no idea there are bad motives," Saunders said.
She emphasized, "The thing that matters for an organization like ours is hard core data like we got from Detective Woolf in law enforcement. People don't care what we think; actions have to be based on facts, statistics."
Woolf says churches also play a role in education because “it is also a morality issue and we're not educating kids on what sex is.”
Deepa Patel, director of Trauma and Hope in Springfield, says sexual normalization is a huge problem: “It's OK for girls to wear skimpy outfits and they slap each other on the butt which is perfectly acceptable for them. Rappers talk about money, sex and power as the three things you need and pimps on TV are glamorized.”
Michelle Knight, Social Justice and Outreach Minister for Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, says the church had a program Feb. 12 focusing on sex trafficking because churches have a responsibility. “We want to raise awareness, and it is a much bigger problem around here than most people think. I don't know if we are doing enough but we should be letting our youth know so that they can ask each other what's going on.” She said that churches teach respect and dignity — that each person is special and loved by God and it gives less of a need to respond to the traffickers.
Officials: Online sex trafficking has surpassed law enforcement
by Kristian Hernandez
EDINBURG — Buying sex online can be as easy as buying a used bicycle or booking a hotel, according to Sasha Poucki, who spent two years researching the role of technology in sex trafficking.
An Edinburg couple was arrested April 12 after two underage girls from Louisiana told police they were being forced into prostitution and advertised on multiple websites, including classifieds website backpage.com.
Abelardo Gomez, 37, and his girlfriend, Cerena Ortiz, 24, were both charged with multiple first-degree felonies, including four counts of trafficking of a child, two counts of engaging in organized criminal activity, and two counts of sexual performance by a child.
The girls said they were threatened to earn money in order to be returned home and were also forced to work at a local strip club. Gomez and Ortiz are accused of knowingly supervising, housing and transporting the juveniles from various locations while allowing the girls to prostitute themselves via social media, according to a criminal complaint.
Gomez and Ortiz face a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
Poucki said this online form of trafficking has exploded in the past decade and surpassed the resources and manpower law enforcement needs to contain it. Poucki is a native of Yugoslavia and a visiting professor in the division of global affairs at Rutgers University and is the recipient of a research grant from Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit to study the role of technology in human trafficking from 2012 to 2014.
“This form of trafficking 16 years ago was completely unrecognized and did not exist,” said Poucki, “Technology moves so fast and the everyday use of technology is exponential.”
Poucki studied how technology has made it easier for traffickers to recruit, groom and market victims while giving them a sense of security provided by the anonymity of the Internet.
“If you are a man and you are married or something, this is something you would hide. You would sit in the basement and do these kinds of things,” Poucki said. “You would not go to your colleague during your lunch break and say, ‘you know what I did.' But there is now a place where you can talk to thousands of guys like you, it normalized everything.”
Poucki explained how there are now websites where traffickers and their customers rate and review each other, almost like reviewing a hotel or a restaurant, and have created ways to verify each others' identities in an effort to protect each other from law enforcement.
Criminal networks, however, are not the only ones generating income from these illicit activities. Poucki said websites such as backpage.com and naughtyreview.com are responsible for hosting these posts and giving these communities a space to connect and grow.
More than 50 posts advertising women were added on Thursday alone in the escort section of mcallen.backpage.com. According to AIM Group, which owns the site and is not affiliated with The Monitor parent company AIM Media Texas, more than $3 million a month is generated from these ads alone. The online classifieds website backpage.com is similar to craigslist.com, which stopped selling ads for escorts and other adult services in September 2010.
“Five websites that carry prostitution advertisements in the United States set a record with combined revenue of nearly $3.3 million during January,” reads a post on the AIM Group website from 2012. “The total was up 1.4 percent from December and 3.3 percent from January 2011.”
Special agent Dennis Davidson said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security doesn't have the resources to investigate every single one of these ads. Homeland Security Investigations, a branch of DHS is the agency responsible for most human trafficking investigations nationwide.
“It's a huge trend that's been growing for the last couple of years, and we've heard a lot of it through the media or through law enforcement,” said Davidson who heads the HSI office in Harlingen. “The government is probably not as advanced as we investigators wish it to be.”
Davidson, former section chief of the human smuggling and trafficking unit in Washington D.C., said their department has been trying to apply the technologies they've successfully used to combat child pornography, but it's been difficult and ineffective.
Law enforcement agencies have been using PhotoDNA, a facial recognition software developed by Dartmouth College in collaboration with Microsoft and Swedish company NetClean in 2009, to combat child exploitation. The ads on backpage.com for instance are difficult to track because the faces are usually blurred or have images obstructing them in order to conceal the victim's identities.
“We'll find a lot of advertisements for prostitution or for sexual acts, which is against the law, but a lot of them don't meet our federal definition of human trafficking,” Davison said. “It's hard to go through thousands and thousands of pages to find the one trafficking case.”
According to DHS, human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.
Edinburg Police spokesman Lt. Oscar Treviño said Thursday the department also doesn't investigate online ads, including the ones used to advertise the two underage girls allegedly being trafficked in the city earlier this month.
“We don't have the manpower to have somebody looking into these websites and trying to determine whether any of them are illegal or not,” Treviño said. “The only time we'll conduct an investigation is if somebody files a complaint, generates a report, and then we'll go ahead and further the investigation.”
Investigators confirmed the juveniles were being promoted on backpage.com as escorts from March 28 to April 3, in the area of McAllen. Officers also found text messages that showed Gomez and Ortiz knew that the juveniles were promoting themselves online to engage in sex for money while living with them, according to the complaint.
Poucki said most law enforcement agencies lack the resources and the technology needed to combat this new kind of sex trafficking.
“They are not investing in the research to catch up with what is happening,” Poucki said. “They are not being proactive and catching up with technology and how it's being used by criminals.”
America Has a Critical Shortage of Medical Sexual-Assault Examiners
by Christina Cauterucci
The U.S. is facing a shortage of forensic examiners for sexual assault survivors, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. Most states don't even keep any data on their sexual assault examiners, who perform rape kit exams in medical settings, and though states can get federal grants to underwrite training and salaries for examiners, the few examiners that do exist are often given inadequate or inconsistent training.
Rural areas of the U.S. are most likely to suffer a lack of examiners, the report states. In Wisconsin, for example, almost half of the state's counties don't have a single one. All six states GAO studied— Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin—reported that their ranks of their examiners were not sufficient to meet their needs for sexual-assault exams. This poses more than just an inconvenience for victims and their medical providers: If examiners can't meet a rape survivor at a hospital in a timely manner, the state's case against the perpetrator could suffer.
Between 2005 and 2010, 80 percent of female survivors of rape or sexual assault sought care in a medical setting. There, a trained examiner is supposed to conduct a forensic exam, which could involve collecting samples of hair, blood, saliva, and semen; scraping under the victim's fingernails; recording any abrasions or bruises; and swabbing parts of the body. Examiners must log the evidence and keep a proper chain of custody in case it's used in a civil or criminal case against the perpetrator. If the survivor does go to the police, the examiner might testify in court.
That's why good examiners are trained in courtroom testimony in addition to preserving evidence integrity, providing testing and treatment for STIs, and being sensitive to the needs of a child or adult victim of recent trauma. But GAO found a complete lack of federal standards in examiner training or examiner availability in medical facilities, besides those in military, correctional, and Indian Health Services institutions. Most states don't have their own guidelines for examiner training, either.
The GAO report highlights a troublingly high turnover rate as one of the biggest barriers to an effective, robust lineup of examiners. Since there are so few of them, they're often on call for long, unpredictable shifts of emotionally draining work. Over two years in Wisconsin, GAO found, the state trained 540 examiners. At the end of the two years, just 42 of them were still active.
Though the Violence Against Women Act authorizes federal funding from three Department of Justice grant programs to be used to train and pay sexual assault examiners, five of the six states GAO studied reported trouble “obtaining support from stakeholders,” often because hospitals did not want to pay for examiners' training or salaries.
On Thursday, Sens. Patty Murray, Michael Bennet, and Al Franken sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. In it, they recommend establishing a task force to determine national standards of care for examiners, instituting best practices in evidence collection and preservation, and surveying states and hospitals that receive federal grants to identify challenges in providing examiner training, pay, and retention.
“Studies have shown that when exams are performed by medical providers trained to collect and preserve evidence, victims have better physical and mental health outcomes, higher quality evidence is collected, and prosecution rates are higher,” the senators wrote. “It is critical to survivors' recovery and their efforts to seek justice that the Department of Justice work closely in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services to better meet survivors' needs.”
Naval Academy teacher is removed amid widening sexual misconduct scandal
by John Woodrow Cox
A second U.S. Naval Academy instructor has been implicated in a sexual misconduct scandal reverberating across a military still struggling to hold service members accountable when allegations are made against them.
The instructor, Marine Maj. Michael Pretus, is being removed from his position by Naval Academy leaders who said they weren't aware of a former student's sexual accusation against him.
The reassignment comes after a new investigation of a fellow Marine, Maj. Mark Thompson, who was convicted in 2013 of having sex with two female midshipmen while he was a teacher at the academy. In a stunning reversal, Pretus — a key defense witness at Thompson's court-martial — has now agreed to testify against his longtime friend.
“I'm going to be a witness for the prosecution,” Pretus told The Washington Post in an interview Sunday.
Pretus, a decorated combat veteran, said that military authorities approached him after The Post's revelations about Thompson's case last month.
During Thompson's 2013 trial at the Washington Navy Yard, Pretus challenged testimony given by Thompson's accusers, Sarah Stadler and a younger classmate. Then, after being spotted by Stadler during the trial, Pretus himself was investigated for allegedly taking part in a threesome with her and Thompson in 2011. Under military law, an officer having sex with a midshipman is a crime, as is having a threesome.
The investigation, according to military records, ended after Pretus refused to cooperate. One year later, in 2014, the Marine Corps assigned him to teach history to midshipmen in Annapolis, where he has also served as a mentor to students who aspire to become Marines.
Officials at the Naval Academy, the Marine Corps, the Judge Advocate General of the Navy, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Pretus's former command in New Orleans have been unable to explain how he taught at the academy for two years after being accused of having sex with a student.
Amid the embarrassing fallout, Cmdr. John Schofield, a Naval Academy spokesman, said that Pretus would no longer be allowed to remain in the classroom. The school, Schofield maintained, had “no knowledge” of the accusation against Pretus before The Post's stories about Thompson.
“Under no circumstances would the Naval Academy have allowed for assignment on staff and faculty had there been disclosure of the circumstances and details of his involvement in that event,” Schofield said. “The Naval Academy immediately initiated administrative actions to reassign Major Pretus upon discovery of his past involvement with Major Thompson and Ms. Stadler.”
An NCIS spokesman said he didn't know whether investigators had informed the academy of the investigation into Pretus but called it the responsibility of Pretus's then-command, the Marine Corps Forces Reserve in New Orleans.
A spokesman there acknowledged that the command knew about the investigation into Pretus but denied that it was the command's job to inform the school of it.
“We wouldn't have ever informed them because we didn't have anything to do with the Naval Academy,” said spokesman Adam Bashaw. “We don't select the next jobs.”
The new assignment, Bashaw said, would have been the duty of officials at Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. That department said Pretus was “eligible” for the assignment but did not say whether officials there knew about the accusation against him.
A JAG spokeswoman declined to answer questions, referring them back to the Naval Academy. A spokesman for the Marine Corps, which is considering whether to bring new charges against Thompson, said officials there are working to determine the circumstances that led to Pretus's assignment at the academy.
Stadler first learned that Pretus had become a teacher at the school when she was contacted by The Post in January.
“I was incredibly disgusted and discouraged,” she said this week, “because I just couldn't believe someone who already broke laws and rules knowingly ... was now working at an institution where he was supposed to interact and influence young midshipmen.”
Bill Cosby's Sexual Assault Case Can Proceed, Pennsylvania Appeals Court Rules
by NICOLE WEISENSEE EGAN
On Monday, the Pennsylvania Superior Court refused to hear entertainer Bill Cosby's request to dismiss the criminal case against him and lifted the temporary stay on the criminal case, paving the way for his trial for the alleged sexual assault of former Temple University employee Andrea Constand.
"We are ready for that [preliminary] hearing and look forward to the Court setting a date so we can present our case," Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele said in a statement.
Cosby's representatives had no immediate comment.
Cosby, 78, is charged with aggravated indecent assault for allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting Constand, now 43, at his Elkins Park, Pennsylvania mansion in January 2004.
His attorneys were appealing a Feb. 4 decision by Montgomery County Judge Steven O'Neill, who ruled the case could go forward.
Cosby's attorneys argued authorities should honor a decade-old deal made by former Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. not to prosecute Cosby in the case. Castor testified for several hours about the deal but O'Neill ruled he was "not credible" and denied Cosby's request to dismiss the case.
Cosby has steadfastly denied Constand's allegations as well as similar ones from more than 50 other women.
Child abuse panel alarmed at DCYF staffing levels
by DAVID SOLOMON
CONCORD — A rising number of child abuse complaints is coming into a child protective system that is understaffed and plagued by high turnover.
That's the situation at the Division of Children, Youth and Families, according to Director Lorraine Bartlett, who testified Monday at the monthly meeting of the Legislative Commission on Child Abuse Fatalities.
The commission was formed by vote of the Legislature last year after two high-profile homicides in 2014 and 2015 involving children under DCYF supervision.
Seven of 12 district DCYF offices had turnover in the 50-percent range or higher in key social worker positions from 2013 to 2015, according to Bartlett, who presented on DCYF turnover and recruitment at the request of the commission.
Overall, 48 percent percent of child protective service positions turned over in the two-year period. “The workforce overall is constantly shifting,” said Bartlett.
She said it can take three months or more to fill a position, and three months of training and supervision after that before a social worker can act independently to keep up with caseloads.
As of the end of March, the department is only at 67 percent of capacity for assessment workers (those who determine if child abuse reports are valid) and 77 percent for family service staff, Bartlett said.
Meanwhile, the incoming calls are increasing at a dramatic rate, attributable in part to the opioid crisis that has created hundreds of new addicts who are also parents.
“The intensity of work for the assessment staff has been increasing on an ongoing basis,” said Bartlett. “Relative to the number of assessments, just in March of 2016, we've gone from 841 reports that went to district offices in February to 1,065 in March.”
She said the standard in the profession is 10 to 12 new reports per month, while social workers in New Hampshire on average are taking on 17 new cases each month.
The statistics alarmed commission members, who, although generally aware of the staffing problems, were shocked by the details.
“This looks like a situation waiting to happen,” said State Rep. Joseph Guthrie of Hampstead. “My view from what I know up to now is that we're going to do something to correct this or we are going to have another fatality, and I don't think you have control over whether there is going to be one. I think you need some help. It's a shame that people have to work under these circumstances.”
Commission member John DeJoie, representing the non-profit NH Kids Count organization, urged DHHS to press for additional resources immediately, and not wait for the next budget cycle as has been proposed.
“This is truly a crisis,” he said. “I don't know if waiting for the next budget is going to address the issue. I hope the director has spoken to fiscal (the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committee) about the ability to transfer some funding.”
Commission member Borja Alvarez de Toledo of N.H. Child & Family Services urged the agency to be more aggressive in sharing information with the public, to build support the funding measures that are likely to be forthcoming. Child and Family Services is a private non-profit that works to advance the well-being of children and families.
“I'm worried that this is going to get worse,” he said. “The numbers are showing an increase in assessments. We have a drug epidemic with heroin, and you are getting more cases. The numbers are compelling, so I would encourage you to make those public as often as you can, so the whole state can have the awareness that this committee has.”
The commission also heard a presentation by Gail Garinger, former Child Advocate for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. A subcommittee under the leadership of DeJoie has recommended a similar position for New Hampshire.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Mary Ann Dempsey, who serves as counsel to Gov. Maggie Hassan, updated the commission on the independent review of DCYF that will soon be under way by the Maryland-based Center for the Support of Families.
Commission Chair Sen. David Boutin expressed frustration that the commission had still not received assurances that the two fatalities from 2014 and 2015 would be included in the 100 randomly selected cases to be reviewed by the center.
“With all due respect, senator, we do have some assurances,” said Dempsey. “The random sampling is only one component. But I truly believe that that through seeking input from advocates, doctors, police and educators, that these child fatalities will definitely be a component of this review ... I don't anticipate any holes in the report.”
Training program at UIS aims to curb child abuse, neglect
by Chris Dettro
The small, nondescript house with blistering gray paint on the north end of the University of Illinois Springfield campus holds at the same time both hope and horror.
Fortunately, the horror — in the form of child abuse and neglect — is fabricated and is used as a training tool for students, state Department of Children and Family Services investigators and first-responders.
The training at the Residential Simulation Lab House, as well as in a mock courtroom established in the campus television studio in the Public Affairs Center, offers hope that improved training will enable investigators to better curb child abuse and neglect.
The simulated training house and mock courtroom, part of a DCFS Child Protection Training Academy pilot program designed by the UIS State Center for Policy and Leadership, was dedicated Monday, although training began in February.
The house, vacant since 2010, was formerly a branch of the Sangamon Schools Credit Union, which closed that year because of a problem with the septic system.
Betsy Goulet, clinical assistant professor in the public administration graduate program and coordinator of the Child Advocacy Studies (CAST) program at UIS, said discussion with DCFS about establishing such a program began several years ago.
UIS Chancellor Susan Koch said the academy “is happening because of her (Goulet).”
Goulet said when she was studying for her PhD, she learned about the program, which simulates real-life situations, and went through the training. With training for child-protection investigators considered inadequate, she wanted to apply the simulation training to improve the skills of present-day investigators.
Koch said that Goulet approached her about using the abandoned house for the simulation lab.
“I know Betsy,” Koch said. “If she wants the house, she can have the house.”
“Students have individualized opportunities to advance their skills, and it serves to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens,” Koch said. “I look forward to the impact it will have in the coming years.”
Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said the training labs “offer another option to expand our skills and knowledge by putting them through various scenarios to see how they respond.” He said he hoped to someday train police officers at the lab.
Seven cameras inside the house stream what's happening to a classroom where students watch the trainee's response to those scenarios. The house, which has two bedrooms, a living room, kitchen and bathroom, is sparsely furnished, and Goulet said there are things the academy would like to add to the house through a foundation that accepts donations.
It already has some props, including empty wine and pill bottles and even some fake marijuana that trainees might encounter.
Trainees spend two days in the house and one day in the courtroom, although Goulet said both trainees and the academy would like it to be more.
Child abuse and neglect isn't just a DCFS issue, but is a community issue, said George Sheldon, DCFS director.
He said that Goulet's idea of establishing the labs “was something that was embraced by the department and shows just how tenacious she is in getting things done.”
“This kind of hands-on experience is really critical,” Sheldon said.
He said the mock courtroom is another real-life experience for the new hires.
The courtroom utilizes a judge — usually retired Sangamon County judge John Mehlick — real prosecutors and defense attorneys and witnesses (a volunteer actor and actress from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine) to train investigator-witnesses.
Retired Sangamon County assistant state's attorney Sheryl Essenburg, who specialized in crimes against children when she was a prosecutor, designed the courtroom experience and works with the program.
“Those who have gone through it say it's the most real experience they've had,” Sheldon said.
Mehlick said he likes being able to tell the trainees what they could do to improve their testimony — something he couldn't do when he was presiding over a real case.
“I feel like I'm really helping,” Mehlick said.
“This puts a face on child-protective services and provides critical training on how to get into a house and not be confrontational,” Sheldon said, adding that no matter how good investigators become at their job, “some thing bad may still happen.”
“People on the front lines learn that going through a checklist can't always provide a black-and-white answer,” he said. “They've got to use their experience, training and judgment. This is the kind of training that can really make a difference in the quality of services we provide.”
The UIS/DCFS lab is only one of six such experiences in the country and one of only two stand-alone facilities, said Victor Vieth, founder and senior director of the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center. He cited data showing the inadequacy of child protective services training, including a U.S. Department of Justice report on family violence that said “all involved must dramatically improve training in all professions.”
He said the UIS CAST program is one of the most rigorous and one of just 37 such programs in the country.
The ceremony also included a tree-planting in memory of a boy who died because the system failed him through a series of errors and missteps that the training academy hopes to prevent in the future, said Susan Evans, head of the office of professional development for DCFS.
Those who have the new training “are able to see when we follow procedure, work with law enforcement and with doctors, we can have a better outcome,” Evans said. “Just so his death wasn't in vain.”
Chief Forté: 'I Can Predict The Outcome' Of Child Abuse
by Elle Moxley
Speaking Monday at an event to raise awareness about child abuse, Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté brought a prop to prove his point.
“This is an extension cord,” Forté says. “People actually get so-called ‘disciplined' with extension cords. Some of the people I was raised with, they still think it's OK.”
That's a problem, Forté says. When abuse is normalized, kids who were abused grow up to be abusers.
“If I beat you with this and I do other things with this over and over again, I can predict the outcome,” says Forté. “I can write the end of that story.”
He's often cited domestic violence as the root cause for the uptick in homicides in the city.
Cornerstones of Care organized the event to coincide with National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Forté says frustratingly little progress has been made during his 31 years on the force.
“We'll talk about it when something happens, when you say a 2-year-old or a 6-year-old (has died). But guess what? It'll be business as usual,” Forté says.
Forté says it's a form of abuse and neglect when a young child has access to a loaded gun.
Chiming in, Kansas City Mayor Sly James added that verbal abuse can be just as damaging developmentally.
“That's when we need to step up. It's not always comfortable, but it still needs to be done. If we don't do it, who's going to?” James says. “I'd rather make a mistake and interfere a little bit than miss an opportunity to protect a child.”
What other editors say — Lend your voice to prevent child abuse
We can't decide if the statistic is good news or bad news.
The 2016 Kids Count in Michigan Data Book, compiled by the Michigan League for Public Policy, says that 4,098 children in St. Clair County were living in households that were investigated for abuse or neglect in 2015. Of those, 527 — or about one in eight — were confirmed to be victims.
There are 36,784 children under the age of 18 in the St. Clair County, according to the Census Bureau's latest estimate.
That 4,098 number is good news if it means that family and community members are recognizing the signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect and are notifying authorities so that they can protect those children.
It's bad news if family and community members have reason to worry about the well-being of one in nine children living in our cities and towns.
It's worse news that two of our children died of abuse and neglect in 2015, and a third was saved only because the death of her 5-year-old sister caught the attention of authorities.
The two deaths have important differences.
Lukas Long, a 16-month-old fed a fatal overdose of Benadryl by his mother, had been one of those children investigated by Child Protective Services. In hindsight and from our perspective, the agency's safety prescription for Lukas and his siblings seems farcical. It required the children's father to phone home from work several times a day to make sure his drug-addled mother wasn't putting anyone in danger.
That order makes sense within the context of the agency's muddled and conflicting priorities. Protecting children, keeping families intact and keeping the foster care system afloat is a terrible and frightening balancing act.
Mackenzie Maison died before attracting the attention of social welfare workers.
She didn't starve to death in her parents' home without anyone noticing. Grandparents, aunts, others saw Mackenzie and her sister wasting away and said nothing. Their inaction is despicable.
The blue ribbons tied to downtown Port Huron lampposts remind us that April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.
They must also remind us that those who didn't speak up for Mackenzie can't be held accountable for her death under Michigan law.
How Black Boys Suffer Sexual Abuse in Silence
by Edward Wyckoff Williams
For many African Americans, recent allegations of child molestation against Afrika Bambaataa are deeply unsettling, and not just because they suggest abuse of the lives and bodies of innocent children. The accusations also represent an attack on a hero of the black community, a man generally regarded as a godfather of hip-hop culture. Compared with the Bill Cosby rape saga, there are real differences in scale of the alleged crimes on one hand, and the nature of the celebrity's star power on the other, but it's fair to say some of the same alarm bells are going off in black communities across America.
It should come as no surprise that the social malaise of sexual abuse is colorblind, even if white males are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual assault. Famed Hollywood figures Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Bryan Singer have been the subject of disturbing accusations of child sexual abuse over the years, but as Molly Lambert recently wrote for MTV News, "Bambaataa's position is more tenuous... because he is not protected financially or insulated from the backlash" in the way many white men are.
As a survivor of child sexual abuse myself, which began at the age of 13 at the hands of a trusted member of the clergy, the accusations against Bambaataa are less shocking to me than the fact that our society continues to ignore the prevalence of child molestation. And there appears to be a willful blindness, in particular, when that abuse targets young boys.
At issue in the allegations against Bambaataa is the statute of limitations in New York State. Despite its reputation as a center of liberal progressive politics, New York has the dubious distinction of having one of the most restrictive limitations on child sexual abuse—on par with that of Mississippi and Alabama. Victims can only sue until they reach the age of 23, and children who allege abuse in public institutions, like schools or foster care, are forced to file an "intent to sue" within 90 days of the original incident.
Ronald Savage, the New York native who was the first to bring claims of sexual assault against Bambaataa earlier this month—at least three others have since come forward—is sharing his story, in part, to bring attention to the statute and boost efforts to overturn it.
"I think the statute of limitations is unfair for victims," Savage told the Daily News. "It took me all of these years to speak about this. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed."
Given the psychological and emotional toll—and time—it takes for a child to admit to being abused, the restrictive statute seems to this survivor like a prima facie case of a law doing more to protect the perpetrator than the victim.
Bambaataa's accusers also seem to offer some insight into the suffering, in silence, of young black boys who are molested, raped, or sexually exploited. That image is not one with which American society in general, or the African American community in particular, has been forced to contend with any frequency.
Our media generally frames victims of sexual abuse as white and female. And the national discourse on the subject of molestation and rape is largely within a heteronormative paradigm. The concept of male-on-male child sexual abuse is seen as something that rarely happens; when it does, the perpetrator is often dismissed as a sexually deviant recluse.
The idea of mainstream, straight-identified men—prominent, successful ones, even—molesting young boys is still deemed an anomaly. That misconception may prove all the more confounding for young black boys in a society in which role models are hard to come by.
In 2013, Rutgers University research found that young black boys—regardless of sexual orientation—feel tremendous pressure to grow up and become strong black men who are "armored to battle racism and social barriers with a veneer of hyper-masculinity." The pressure to be tough, in control, and emotionally stoic is heightened, and in a society that has often rendered African American males invisible—that is, reduced to stereotypes and caricatures—it becomes increasingly burdensome for them to admit to being violated in the most intimate and intense ways fathomable.
Savage's tears, as he described to a New York tabloid his struggles with suicidal thoughts and an inability to maintain intimate relationships, seem to me a legitimate glimpse into emotional scars that never heal.
For his part, Bambaataa's attorney released a statement to Rolling Stone, insisting the allegations represent a "reckless disregard for the truth" and are being made by "a lesser-known person seeking publicity." Savage has since responded that he is not looking for a financial settlement, but instead seeks relief from the dark secrets that have haunted him. Another (so far anonymous) accuser bolstered Savage's claims when he told the same paper, "I know what Ronald Savage is saying is true because [Bambaataa] did it to me."
Another young man, Hassan Campbell, called Bambaataa "a pervert" and remembers being abused as early as 12 years old. For Campbell, the hip-hop icon served as a father figure before the abuse began.
This is the sad truth at the heart of these allegations: Afrika Bambaataa's legendary stature in the community meant people trusted him—a trust he had earned, but it appears may have also betrayed.
Bambaataa, 59, was born Kevin Donovan and grew up in the Bronx River Projects. He became a successful gang leader, but he famously sought a new path after a trip to Africa as a young man. That began with changing his name and disavowing a life of crime and violence, after which he turned to music and DJing—forming what is now the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN). His 1982 song "Planet Rock" and the 1986 album of the same name remain seminal works in the foundation of modern-day hip-hop music and culture. UZN has branches worldwide, spreading not only hip-hop musically, but also messages of empowerment, non-violence, community, and support for the rights of indigenous peoples.
Such is the dilemma for victims of powerful men: In the mind of a child, it is almost impossible to comprehend, let alone confront, the duality of being outwardly good while committing unconscionable evil.
Black Sexual Abuse Survivors (BSAS) is an online support network that allows victims and survivors to share their stories. Dwight, a 36-year-old musician living in Florida and active in the group's online forum, told me about his experience in light of the accusations against Bambaataa. Though he did not feel comfortable sharing his last name, he claims he was molested by a well-known minister in Philadelphia and Delaware, beginning when he was 11 years old. Dwight says state officials initially pursued charges when he was 15, but that the case was dropped for lack of physical evidence.
"As a musician, I have always admired Afrika Bambaataa, but when I read stories like those of the men accusing him, I see myself. I believe in my heart they are telling the truth, because as a survivor, I am finally telling my own."
Meanwhile, the truth remains elusive. Following the initial allegations, Bambaatta has doubled down on his assertion that the claims are false and suggested they're part of a larger plot against him. But due to the restrictive statute of limitations, no criminal trial is possible to bring evidence or discovery that might unveil what happened so many years ago. Perhaps, for this reason, we as a society must ask if the law is designed to protect the innocence of children or the deviance of perpetrators.
As Toni Morrison famously wrote, referring to the violent rape of a young black girl in The Bluest Eye, "We acquiesce and say the victim had no right to live. We are wrong, of course, but it doesn't matter. It's too late... much, much, much too late."
How to Educate Your Child About Sexual Abuse
by EMILY CLARK
Yoshi Skiraki, author of "My Body's Just for Me" and Susanne Mitchell from Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center talk about having the conversation with your kids about sexual abuse.
Some statistics about child abuse:
37,350 child abuse complaints are filed every year in Utah alone. Sadly this number is growing.
3 million reports are made nation wide and growing.
Child abuse has increased 134% since 1980.
90% of sexual abuse on children is done by someone they know and trust. (This is why proper communication with our children is SOOOO important. Children need to understand they can come to us if it happens to them.)
1 in every 4 girls and 1 in every 6 boys will be a victim of sexual abuse by the time they are 18 years old.
2/3 of child abuse victims sadly will keep it their abuse a secret and often times the abuse goes on for years and years.
The Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center helps over 3700 people every year. Sadly this number is growing as well and due to the growing number of children needing help, The Children's Justice Center is trying to expand it's facility to be able to help all of the children who need help.
My Body's Just For Me website www.protectourangels.com
Salt Lake County Children's Justice Center website www.cjcslc.org
As many as 1-in-4 children are victims of sexual, physical abuse
by Dr. charles Nemeroff
As many as one in four children in the world are exposed to child abuse.
This includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect.
Child abuse occurs across all socioeconomic and ethnic groups, and both girls and boys are at risk. The negative consequences of such early life trauma include a significant increased risk for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and drug/alcohol abuse, as well as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and obesity.
Studies have shown that child abuse and neglect can significantly impact the brain and the body, as documented in brain imaging studies and measuring hormones and markers of inflammation. Patients with depression and bipolar disorder with a history of childhood maltreatment exhibit a more severe course of illness, including an increased risk for suicide, more frequent psychiatric hospitalizations and a poorer response to both antidepressants/mood stabilizers and psychotherapy.
Human trafficking of children for commercial gain, in the form of the illegal sex trafficking or labor trafficking business, is the second-largest illegal industry worldwide and a major problem in South Florida. Current estimates of victims in the United States are 100,000 to 300,000.
It is important to educate parents, teachers, nurses, clergy and, of course, children about the warning signs of child abuse and neglect and the necessity to report concerns to mental health, law enforcement and health care authorities. Treatment of victims of child maltreatment, both children and adults, can be helped to lead fulfilling and happy lives.
Boyfriend arrested in child's death: 'I loved Lily'
by Tanya Eiserer
DALLAS — Charles Phifer says 4-year-old Leiliana Wright was his little buddy and he would have never hurt her.
“I loved Lilly like she was my own,” says Phifer. “I miss her every day. I still can't quite believe that this has happened.”
Phifer 34, spoke to News 8 Monday from the Dallas County Jail against the advice of his attorney. He says he did so because he wanted to tell his side of what happened the day Leiliana died last month in a case that has galvanized renewed attention on the failings of the Child Protective Services system.
Phifer and Leiliana's mother, Jeri Quezada, are accused of first-degree felony injury to a child. If convicted, they could spend the remainder of their lives in prison.
On the day Leiliana died, court records show she was beaten with a belt and a bamboo stick after drinking her 18-month old brother's juice. She was lifted by her throat and thrown against a wall. She was bound by the wrists and thrown into a closet. The abuse lasted for hours until her little body could take no more.
Leilliana's mother, Jeri Quezada, acknowledged to Grand Prairie police she took part in some of the beating, but laid much of the blame on Phifer, her on-again off-again boyfriend.
He calls her a liar and says he was in a drug-induced stupor for much of the day.
“I didn't do it," he said. “There's no way. Anybody that knows me, knows that there's no way I could do this to a child.”
Phifer, a former oil field worker, says he got addicted to prescription painkillers several years ago after serious car accident. Eventually, he found himself addicted to heroin.
He says he came into Lieliana's life after his release from prison in September. He'd served time on drug convictions.
“She my little buddy,” he said. “She loved to play games. I couldn't play a game without her being right here.”
Leiliana was born in January of 2012 in a Galveston prison hospital, where her mother was serving time on a six-year-sentence on a burglary conviction.
At two days old, she was placed with her paternal grandparents, Alise and Craig Clakley, according to a court affidavit filed by the Clakleys.
“We treated Leiliana as if she were our own and gave her a good home and watched her grow into a great toddler,” Alise Clakley wrote in the affidavit.
At two, when her mother was released from prison in December of 2013, she was returned to her mother. Quezada was soon pregnant with another child.
“She is so happy to come visit and when she knows it's time to go home, she melts down,” her grandmother wrote.
The affidavit was filed in November 13, 2014, when the Clakleys sought custody of Leiliana within days of Quezada's arrested in Tarrant County on a possession of methamphetamine charge. The Clakleys say they'd been told that Quezada's then-boyfriend, who was also a convicted felon, had a bad temper and hit Quezada, as well as his own mother.
“Leiliana's emotional status is not good and she needs to be taken out of harm's way,” Alise Clakley wrote. "I pray the court protects our granddaughter from what she is going through and what she is facing.”
The judge did not heed the warning.
In October of 2015, Tarrant County District Court Judge Bill Harris ordered that Leiliana remain in Quezada's custody but that the Clakleys would have Leiliana two weekends a month.
After Phifer's release from prison, he says he and Quezada moved into a Grand Prairie home that had belonged to Quezada's late grandmother. He says they lived together for several months.
He says twice during that time he saw Quezada slap Leiliana. He says when he said something to her about it she told him to mind his own business.
“[Leiliana] was afraid of her,” Phifer said. “She done her best to do whatever she was told, especially if it was Jeri telling her.”
Several months ago, she moved back in with her mother. He says Quezada came over frequently so they could do drugs together.
Meanwhile, the mother was getting back on the CPS radar.
In early January, CPS referred a referral from a law enforcement agency, letting them know that the children had recently been living with someone who had been accused of sexually assaulting a different child. The case was assigned to CPS caseworker Claudell Banks.
In February, a CPS special investigator was asked to assist. He found bruises on Leiliana's face. He gave the information to Banks.
Yet no action was taken to remove Leiliana, or her brother, from the home.
Phifer says he had been in contact with the Clakleys because he was trying to help them get Leiliana back. He didn't tell Quezada what he was doing.
“I was afraid of what she would do,” he said. “At the very least I would have lost my place to stay.”
Last month, Grand Prairie police responded to a medical emergency at a home in Grand Prairie to a report of a 4-year-old child who was having difficulty breathing. When paramedics arrived, Leiliana wasn't breathing and had severe bruising to her face. Quezada told paramedics that Leiliana had fallen in the shower.
Later, when questioned by detectives, Quezada repeatedly changed her story.
She said she went to visit Phifer the day before, bringing along Leiliana and her 18-month-old son. She told police that she and Phifer shot heroin and then beat Leililana because she had drank her brother justice. Quezada said she left Leiliana with Phifer because she didn't want to take her in public because of the bruising on her face.
Her version of events placed her outside of the home for much of the day. She also laid the blame on Phifer for most of the physical violence.
She says she left the children with him while she ran errands and took a nap. She says she returned to find Phifer had tied Leiliana up and put her in the closet. She says she then had a shot of heroin before they released her from the closet.
When the closet door opened, she saw the child tied up with her wrists behind her back, attached to a coat rod, preventing Leiliana from sitting down, the warrant says. She claimed that Phifer was the one who threw the child against the wall and threw her back in the closet, according to the warrant.
On that awful day, when Leiliana died, Phifer says he was in a heroin-induced stupor for much of the day.
“I woke up to her saying, ‘Lucky, help me. She's not breathing,'" Phifer said.
He says he ran into the hallway and started trying to do CPR on Leiliana.
“She had her laying on her back and that's when I really noticed how bad her face was beat up,” Phifer said. “You shouldn't never have to see anything like that.”
With days of Leiliana's death, CPS caseworker Claudell Banks and his supervisor, Amber Davila, were fired.
According to the heavily redacted records related to Banks' firing, CPS had received a law enforcement referral. The records state that Banks did not “making adequate attempts” to locate the children to ensure “child safety.” It also states that he took no action after being notified by the special investigator of what he saw.
There was no indication that Banks or his supervisor reviewed the prior CPS history, the records state.
The special investigator, Shane Fortner, resigned.
Phifer says he had no idea that Quezada had previously lost custody of other children in another state. Leiliana's 18-month-old brother is now in foster care.
Asked if the CPS system had failed Leilliana, he responded, “I believe they did. Miserably.”
He says he failed Leiliana, too.
“There were so many turning points that this could have went different and I'm not one to really talk because I was one of them,” he says. “If I hadn't have been strung out like I was then I should have been able to change something. It's heartbreaking.”
Reuniting families with community support
by Anne Hillman
For most children who enter foster care, the ultimate goal is to reunite them with their families. But getting to that point takes a lot of work. Parents have to follow case plans set up by the Office of Children's Services and meet requirements like getting substance abuse treatment.
Parents also need to maintain relationships with their children and sometimes that requires a little community support.
Princess Taala entered the foster care system two and a half years ago. The 14-year-old says she was upset about it, but she understands why it happened.
“There was some neglecting issues and physical abuse and emotional and verbal abuse. And I understood it wasn't healthy for anyone to be in those kind of situations,” she recalls. “When I was little my dad abused my mom, so it was kind of a chain reaction.”
Princess lounges on the couch of a large playroom filled with a mock stage, toys, books, food — anything that helps families interact. It's a space run by a local Christian nonprofit Beacon Hill to give foster children a place to visit with their parents. Six other children zip around Princess, asking her questions and some jumping on her lap. She keeps talking about a pretty rough topic, completely unfazed. No one in her first four foster homes would probably guess she could be so forthright.
“In my other foster homes, I would never utter a word other than ‘yes,' ‘no,' or ‘thank you.' Just those simple answers.”
Now she chats with her mom and her siblings and her new extended family, the Stones.
“I would say there was an instant connection between the children. It was really fun,” says Crystal Stone. She first met Princess when she started volunteering with Beacon Hill.
Here's the idea behind the organization: many families that get involved with OCS don't have healthy support networks. No one intervenes when there is a crisis, and so the situation becomes unsafe for the children. At Beacon Hill, they want to help parents build those networks so when they are reunited with their children, they're more likely to stay together. The Stones decided to volunteer with Beacon Hill just to befriend Princess and her family, but the relationship grew quickly because they had so much in common.
“Music, our faith,” she lists. “Birthdays. Ages of the children. Interests that the children enjoy. Dance. I mean, a lot of it.”
After about a year, Princess's two youngest siblings were also taken away from their mom. Instead of them going to an unfamiliar foster family, they went to live with the Stones.
Madison, the Stone's oldest daughter, says the transition wasn't always easy. “You don't get a lot of attention. That's for sure. Sometimes you like it because they're not always on you. But other times when you want help with things or you want to talk, you kinda have to wait your turn.”
But Crystal says they make it work by showing all of the children love and making them feel like a giant family. But they also ensure that Princess's siblings remember their mom. They put up photos of her and the older siblings. They sing songs about weekly visiting days.
“You don't want to talk bad about the other parent because that doesn't help that child,” Crystal says. “That doesn't build them up or help them feel secure. You want to be as fair as possible.”
She's interrupted by her son, Prince, Princess's little brother. The 5-year-old grabs onto Crystal for a kiss before running off to see his biological mom and plays with his two sets of siblings.
The families are going through a transition. Princess and her 10-year-old sister are back with their mom, and Princess says she's thrilled to be home.
“It was fun,” she says of her first night back. “The first thing I did was grab all my stuff and put it in her room and spend the night with her because I haven't cuddled with her in a long time.”
The younger two, who live with the Stones, may have overnight visits with their mom and siblings soon. Crystal says she's happy they'll be reunited, but after more than a year together, it's an emotional change for all of them.
“So we just talk about it. ‘This is hard. This is good. These are the pros and the cons and this is how we're going to get through this.'”
Both families say this will not be the end of their relationship because, as Princess says, they rely on each other.
The Stones “help us in a lot of ways. They give my mom advice and they talk to her when she has no one to talk to. They're like our second family.”
Princess says during her time in foster care, she needed a strong, solid connection with her mother. But through her bond with the Stones and other caring adults, now she realizes that family extends beyond blood. It includes those who support and encourage you when you feel like no one else will.
Parents of suicidal teens say they feel alone. Here are resources to help.
by Jody Allard
When I wrote about my son's depression and suicidal ideation, I was afraid to read the comments. I expected the Internet to tell me what I still feared deep down: it was all my fault.
What I received instead was a flurry of messages from mothers all around the country. These women didn't contact me to criticize or accuse me, and none of them wanted to tell me what I could've done better for my son. Every woman who reached out to me did so with a single unifying message: “I felt like I was the only one.”
As I replied to these women and learned more about their suicidal teenagers, I decided to talk to a few experts and compile a list of resources for parents of suicidal teenagers. Although I hadn't found many myself, I assumed they must be out there. What I discovered instead is there is no such thing as a roadmap, just parents doing the best they can in a system that's plagued by funding crises, a scarcity of mental health providers, and little to no help beyond the creation of an immediate safety plan. It shouldn't have been a surprising discovery in a country that's known for its mental health stigma, but it was.
Some of these solutions are still in development, but they are reflective of a greater movement toward openness about mental health.
Find parents like you. No matter how alone parents may feel, teen suicidal ideation and attempts aren't rare. The Jason Foundation's parent resource program indicates that suicide is the second leading cause of death in children age 10-24 years old and the CDC's 2013 national Youth Behavior Risk Survey (YRBS) reported that 17 percent of teenagers have seriously considered attempting suicide.
Despite these statistics, every mother of a suicidal teen I spoke to emphasized how isolating the experience was. Many of these parents have been forced to remain quiet because their children begged them not to tell anyone, including their closest friends and family members.
Even when parents are able to talk about what's happening, many of them say their friends and family don't want to hear about it or don't know how to respond. Parents tell me they miss their friends deeply but don't know how to talk about their children when their lives have veered so wildly off course. One mother, who asked that I refer to her only as Mel, said: “I miss those talks, but how can I share stories about how my daughter insists she'll get pills or a gun from a friend to finish the job, or about how she stashes razor blades in books and under her mattress?”
To get real support, parents frequently need to look outside of their usual support networks and find other parents who are in the same boat. Local YMCA chapters often have support groups for parents and teens, and they are located throughout the country. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can also connect parents with support groups in their area. For parents who don't live near in-person support groups or don't feel comfortable going to them, the Balanced Mind Foundation's online support groups come highly recommended by other parents of suicidal teens.
Understand this may be a long haul. When my son was discharged from an in-patient psychiatric hospital after a few days, we left with a safety plan, a prescription for an antidepressant, and a few phone numbers to call in an emergency. That was the beginning and end of our post-discharge support, and the ins and outs of parenting a child who wanted to die were left entirely up to me. Before my son left the hospital, his clinicians assured me he would be fine. They told me we had caught it early and they acted like he would make an immediate, complete recovery. Many parents I spoke to said they were told the same thing when their children first entered mental health treatment. Some of these parents have since been by their children's sides through multiple suicide attempts; one has parented her son through 15 suicide attempts over a 15-year period. Although clinicians should be up-front with parents about the fact that depression and suicidal ideation aren't quick-fix problems, that type of candor doesn't always occur. Annemarie Matulis, director of the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention in Massachusetts, emphasizes how important it is for parents to set appropriate expectations for themselves. “It's a rare case that there's one episode and then it never happens again,” she said. “We need to be okay as a society with saying that we need to take this a day at a time. Things may get better but there may be some bumps on the road.”
Focus on yourself, not just your child. When your child's life is at risk, it's almost impossible not to enter crisis mode. I let everything else fall by the wayside as I focused on getting my son help, but after a few weeks I realized I was hanging on by a thread.
If parenting a suicidal teenager is a marathon, not a sprint, parents need to learn to take care of themselves, too. It requires an enormous amount of resilience to parent a suicidal teenager and you need to take care of your emotional health to be an effective parent. Therapy is often recommended for suicidal teenagers, but it can be just as helpful for their parents. Therapy is by no means a magic bullet, however. My therapist focused on helping me keep my son safe instead of encouraging me to process my emotions. This disconnect isn't rare for parents in my shoes. “Therapists try to talk to [parents] about signs and symptoms of suicide,” Matulis said. “They know the signs and symptoms. They are living with the signs and symptoms.”
If therapy isn't helping you take care of yourself, there are other ways to engage in self-care. Devoting small amounts of time each week to activities that leave you feeling replenished can make a big difference for parents who are living on the emotional edge. Jonathan Alpert, Manhattan psychotherapist and author of the book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days, says parents often fail to recognize how important it is to take care of themselves during a crisis. “Parents shouldn't overlook just how powerful basic stress management can be: eating healthy, getting proper sleep, exercise, and having a strong support system,” he said. Other methods of self-care that can be helpful are journaling, massages, bubble baths, reading, coloring, or taking a walk. Even just setting aside one hour per week to sit alone in a coffee shop can help so much in what sometimes feels like an endless cycle of crises and appointments.
Let go of your sense of control. When our children are young, we control every aspect of their lives. As they get older, it can be hard to know where they begin and we end. If our children struggle with mental illness, it's even easier to assume their problems and try to control the outcome. It's only natural to do everything we can to save their lives. The problem with this line of thinking is that it places the responsibility for keeping our kids alive squarely on our shoulders. When teenagers become suicidal, it can be impossible to prevent them from succeeding in their suicide attempts, no matter how hard we try. Doing the best we can, while acknowledging our lack of control, is how we can learn to forgive ourselves for our children's struggles. One parent, who asked me not to use her name, told me she began to accept her own lack of control over her son's suicide attempts when she attended a local support group. At that meeting, she heard another parent speak who had been convinced her son was better after a few years of suicidal ideation in his teens. He eventually committed suicide at 28 years old. “The reality is you just never know when it might happen,” she said. “You really have to accept it and make peace with it.”
Find creative ways to get help. Depending on a family's circumstances, there can be an astonishing number of barriers to accessing mental health care and services. Despite people like Matulis who are actively working to remove these barriers, there won't be a magical solution to this problem any time soon.
In the meantime, there are a number of innovative and creative ways to help your child (and yourself). Parents I spoke to recommended everything from bio-feedback to hiring parenting coaches to help them navigate day-to-day parenting challenges. If those methods aren't practical for your family, you can find a variety of helpful resources online. One of these is a powerful documentary, spearheaded by Matulis, called A Voice At The Table. This film highlights the stories of four suicide attempt survivors. Since the film's release, the response has been so overwhelmingly encouraging that Matulis is now in the process of developing four spin-off documentaries, one of which will focus on young adult suicide attempt survivors. Matulis is also working to create more resources for parents. She recently launched a workshop called Is This The Night that focuses on the unique experience of parenting suicidal children. Alongside the workshop, Matulis is releasing a workbook that can either be used by parents on their own or by clinicians who want to lead similar workshops in their own areas. The workbook heads to print in a few weeks and will be available on her website.
Many teens won't participate in therapy or support groups, but they are open to using their phones to manage their mental health. There are a number of apps already on the market that are designed for teenagers with mental illness. These apps primarily focus on crisis intervention and daily mood check ins, and they can be particularly useful tools for teens who don't feel comfortable talking to their parents about their feelings.
The problem with existing apps is that none of them support peer-to-peer interaction. Jennifer Oko, a mother with her own mental illness history, hopes to change that. Oko and co-founder Sharon Cichy have created a new app that allows mentally ill teens to connect with their peers in a moderated and safe setting. When I showed my son the app, Psych.E, he was enthusiastic and said he would gladly use it when it becomes available. Although Psych.E is still only in the fundraising stage, it has promise for teens who are most comfortable using technology to interact with each other. “Peer-to-peer engagement is the single most effective kind of therapy for teenagers,” said Oko. “We need to provide a safe, positive way to do that in the world they work in.”
Above all, parents need to remind themselves that depression and suicidal ideation are epidemics among teenagers. Connecting with other parents in their shoes will help them remember that their children's mental health challenges aren't their fault.
Jody Allard is a former techie turned freelance writer living in Seattle. She writes primarily about parenting, recovering from childhood abuse, and life with a chronic illness. She can be reached through her web site, on Twitter, or via her Facebook page.
Raped by iconic high school basketball coach, ex-Queens resident can't sue in N.Y.
by Michael O'Keefe
Bob Oliva is seen as hoops coach at Christ the King High School in Queens in 2006. He pleaded guilty in Boston of child rape and now lives in South Carolina.
Bob Oliva is seen as hoops coach at Christ the King High School in Queens in 2006. He pleaded guilty in Boston of child rape and now lives in South Carolina.
Many childhood sexual abuse survivors dream about confronting their predators in a court of law.
Jimmy Carlino actually got that opportunity five years ago, when legendary New York basketball coach Bob Oliva pleaded guilty in a Boston courtroom to two counts of rape of a child.
“I now realize I lost my childhood to Bob Oliva,” Carlino said, sobbing as he read an emotional victim impact state on April 4, 2011, after the Christ the King Regional High School icon — who coached Lamar Odom, Jayson Williams and dozens of other players who went on to Division I and NBA teams — acknowledged that he had sexually abused the then-14-year-old during a 1976 trip to Massachusetts.
Carlino, a former Queens resident, may have had an opportunity to confront his sexual predator, who now lives in South Carolina and was sentenced to five years of probation.
But he hasn't been able to escape the depression and anxiety he says is linked to the abuse that has dogged him for decades.
Thanks to New York's statute of limitations, which bars sexual abuse survivors from pursuing civil lawsuits or criminal charges after their 23rd birthday, Carlino, who now lives in Florida, is unable to pursue compensation for the damages he says Oliva caused to his emotional and financial health.
“If I was financially secure I think my life would be better,” Carlino said. “It's not going to heal me, but I wouldn't have to worry about my bills at the end of every month. I'd have money to help myself and help other victims.”
Mitchell Garabedian — the Boston sexual abuse attorney featured in the movie “Spotlight” — announced immediately after the 2011 guilty plea that he had filed a $20 million lawsuit on behalf of Carlino against Oliva, Christ the King, the Diocese of Brooklyn and other Catholic institutions in New York Supreme Court.
But the New York court dismissed the case against the deep-pocket institutional defendants because of the statute of limitations.
The only defendant now left is Oliva, who lives in South Carolina and, according to his attorney, doesn't have any money.
“He's an older guy with nothing but Social Security,” lawyer Henry Weil said.
The lawsuit has been stalled for several years, said Carlino's current attorney, Michael Dowd, because Oliva has refused to sit for a deposition, citing poor health.
Some of Oliva's former friends believe the longtime coach has more money than Weil says.
“Oliva was a guy who bragged about all the money he made from the summer camps he ran at Christ the King,” said sports TV producer Sam Albano.
“My question is, ‘What happened to all that money, Bob? You sure bragged about it.' If Bob had his teams play defense the way he is playing defense on this lawsuit, his teams would have gone undefeated.”
New York law-enforcement officials were unable to pursue criminal charges against Oliva after Carlino, who says the coach molested him hundreds of times from 1974 to 1978, accused him of sexual abuse in 2008 because of the statute of limitations.
But Boston prosecutors didn't face such hurdles because the statute of limitations clock stops ticking when a suspect leaves Massachusetts, and Carlino said he is grateful that Beantown prosecutors helped him get justice.
Leora Joseph, the former Suffolk County assistant district attorney who prosecuted Oliva, said the case was complicated because witnesses die, memories fade and evidence is lost. But she said barring sexual abuse survivors from pursuing cases after their 23rd birthday is unfair.
“When you are 23 years old, you are not a fully-formed adult,” says Joseph, now a prosecutor in Colorado. “Coming forward is a bold step at the beginning of adulthood. It is a step that needs strength and gravity that people may not have when they are 23. It's just an arbitrary number and it should really be based on science and reason.”
Carlino said he is glad the sexual abuse he said has left him emotionally crippled is no longer a secret. He said he appreciates the support he received along his journey — particularly from Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol Ball, who hugged him after he read his victim impact statement.
He's also a fan of New York Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, whose Child Victims Act would eliminate the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases and open up a one-year window for older victims to pursue litigation.
“She's a hell of a woman and a great advocate for sexual abuse victims,” Carlino said.
Carlino said he has mixed feelings about that morning five years ago when he saw Oliva, a longtime family friend, plead guilty to sexual abuse.
“It felt good to hear him say he was sorry,”Carlino said. “I didn't want to hurt him. I wanted to make sure he didn't do it to other kids. Part of me is sad that he went through that and is all alone.
“Then I say to myself, ‘F--- him.'”
Were you a victim of child sex abuse but couldn't press charges or sue because of New York State's statute of limitations? Tell us your story at :
Only 1 NYC district attorney supports fixing state law to help child abuse victims seek justice
by STEPHEN REX BROWN
One of the city's district attorneys is in favor of extending the criminal statute of limitations on charges of sexual abuse of children — but the others refused to take a stand.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown's support of overhauling the oft-maligned law barring criminal charges after the victim turns 23 years old comes as the state Senate considers a bill to do just that.
“We have long been supportive of extending the criminal statute of limitations for young victims of sexual abuse,” Kevin Ryan, a Brown spokesman, told the Daily News.
But other district attorneys were more reluctant to tackle the issue.
The offices of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark all referred The News to the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.
The association occasionally issues position statements on legislation under consideration in Albany.
But when it comes to victims of child sex abuse holding their abusers accountable, the association does not plan to take an official position, according to Executive Director Robyn Pangi.
“People want to be able to bring these prosecutions, but as you know, a lot of these cases are 30 or 40 years old. It's very difficult to collect evidence, find appropriate witnesses and build a case,” Pangi said.
She vowed that district attorneys were committed to doing everything in their power, whatever the law may be.
“We certainly want to ensure the victims feel we will be able to prosecute their case effectively,” she said.
Doug Auer, a spokesman for Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, echoed that sentiment.
“Regardless of whether the statute is changed, we will continue to do our utmost to do justice for the victims of these crimes,” Auer said.
Individual district attorneys do often take stands on certain issues — just not this one.
In recent months Vance has been among the leading voices in the city calling for law enforcement to have access to encrypted smartphones.
The DAs' reluctance to take an official position comes as the Senate considers a bill to do away with the statute of limitations to bring criminal cases or civil suits in cases involving adults abused as children.
Previous efforts to reform the law have failed as GOP lawmakers have signaled they are against the legislation. Advocates say that is in large part due to the opposition of the Catholic Church and a consortium of yeshivas.
The issue came to the fore recently after Suffolk County authorities charged Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu with sexually abusing seven foster children that had been in his care.
Authorities said at the time they couldn't bring charges in connection to additional victims of Gonzales-Mugaburu, 59, because of the statute of limitations.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Seven Life Terms For Man On Child Abuse Convictions
by John Thomas
MOUNT VERNON, Mo. (AP) - A 36-year-old man from Lawrence County is sentenced to seven life terms for child abuse involving two girls and two boys.
Marcus G. Yoder was sentenced after pleading guilty to 7 charges this week.
Lawrence County Circuit Judge Jack Goodman sentenced Marcus G. Yoder to the concurrent life terms at a hearing Wednesday.
Yoder pleaded guilty earlier to four counts of first-degree statutory rape and three counts of first-degree statutory sodomy.
Prosecutor Don Trotter says the convictions pertain to the sexual abuse of two girls and two boys.
He says some of the victims had been foster children.
A probable-cause affidavit said Yoder began molesting one girl in 1992 when he was about 12 and the victim was 6.
Viewpoint: Connection between child abuse, domestic violence
by Linda Baechle
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Last year there was a billboard that stated “Domestic Violence is Child Abuse.” I wondered if people truly understood the link between domestic violence and child abuse. It's quite simple really — men who batter their wives and girlfriends also are very prone to batter their children. What the billboard could not fully explain is that the perpetrator is to blame for exposing his children to domestic violence, not the victim. Battering your wife in front of your child is child abuse, and having a child witness domestic violence upgrades the domestic battery charge from a misdemeanor to a felony. This upgrade is appropriate because of the devastating impact to children from seeing their mother attacked by their father.
For some mothers being battered in front of their child is not something preventable, and she may not leave right away. Please do not blame the victim for the violence in her home. “Why doesn't she just leave if she doesn't like it? Why expose her children to that?” Here is the thing: victims don't always leave right away. Sometimes they are just too frightened to leave. Sometimes they have no money and no job. Sometimes they know their children's standard of living is going to be drastically impacted. Typically mothers who are being abused try to shield their children in every way possible from what is happening. They can't, of course. The children know.
Exposure to the violence is both stressful and traumatic for the children and physically dangerous. Children are injured trying to intervene when Dad is beating Mom. They are pushed into a wall, or a piece of furniture. They are shoved out of the way. If they are not physically injured they are emotionally traumatized. Unfortunately the YWCA works with children suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder every day. Boys witnessing domestic violence are learning what it means to be a man, but not a good man. Girls witnessing domestic violence are questioning their self-worth. While it is appropriate to hold the perpetrator accountable for making his children witness the abuse, please do not blame the mothers for not leaving. When they do leave it is frequently for the children.
One way to prevent further injury to children is for everyone to clearly understand the inter-relatedness of domestic violence and child abuse. If Dad is abusing Mom there is a 30 percent to 50 percent chance he is also abusing the children in the household. The abuse may be physical, sexual or emotional. If you know or suspect domestic violence also suspect child abuse and act accordingly.
Unfortunately many who are in a position to intervene and prevent further injury to the children do not realize this devastating link. All who are working with children and families including judges determining visitation, health care professionals, law enforcement agencies, teachers, and child welfare agencies need to be knowledgeable about the co-occurrence of these two types of interpersonal violence. Although it is possible a man can be a “good dad” and a woman-beater there is a greater chance the man is not good at one thing and bad at the other. Assuming he is entitled to visitation, joint custody, involvement in family therapy sessions, involvement in the child's medical treatment decisions fails to acknowledge the real risk that these situations present to children and their mothers. It is not always in the best interests of the child to have two involved parents when one is abusive to the other.
Do not blame the mother for exposing the children to her abuse. It is never her fault that she is being beaten. There are good reasons she may be too terrified to leave. Help everyone get out of the situation — the mother and the children and err on the side of protecting the children. And if you are a woman experiencing domestic violence please know that the YWCA is there to help you and your children. Just call 1-866-YES-YWCA. We are there for you 24/7/365.
Linda Baechle is president and CEO at YWCA North Central.
Child refugees face sexual abuse in EU: British politician
The leader of the Liberal Democrat political party in the United Kingdom says thousands of unaccompanied child refugees currently stranded in Europe face sexual abuse and that the UK should legally admit a portion of them in to protect them from such abuse.
Tim Farron made the remarks ahead of a vote at the UK's House of Commons on whether to admit 3,000 unaccompanied minors into the UK on Monday night.
He said that about “30,000” unaccompanied children are now in Europe, adding that at least 10,000 of them have already disappeared and some of them have been subjected to sexual abuse.
“We reckon that 10,000 of those 30,000 have gone missing and they will be in the hands of traffickers, some of them sexually exploited,” he said.
Farron backed the proposal of taking the 3,000 lone minors, saying Britain must accept its “fair share.”
“[Home Secretary] Theresa May and [Prime Minister] David Cameron have the opportunity to help those children and prevent that trafficking [from] taking place,” he said.
Farron ruled out the possibility that the move by the UK would encourage families to send more children to the EU unaccompanied, arguing that just a quarter of the total number of refugees who flee conflict zones head to Europe and that the continent is not their sole destination.
The German news organization Funke Mediengruppe reported on April 11 that 5,835 refugee minors from countries in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia had gone missing in Germany in 2015, of whom 555 were under the age of 14 amid concerns that they might have fallen into the hands of criminals and human smugglers.
The majority of the missing and unaccompanied minors were from Afghanistan, Syria, Eritrea, Morocco and Algeria.
In February, the EU police agency Europol said more than 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children had gone missing after arriving in Europe over the previous 18-24 months.
Several members of the European Parliament said late last month that missing underage refugees might be victims of criminal organizations involved in the slave trade or organ trafficking.
Europe is facing an unprecedented influx of refugees.
Many blame major European powers for the unprecedented exodus of the refugees from their home countries, saying the policies of the European states have led to a surge in terrorism and war in those regions, forcing people to flee their home countries.
The Criminalization of Parenthood: Why Are Good Parents Being Charged With Child Neglect?
A generation ago, letting your child play unsupervised was commonplace. Today it's likely to get you in serious trouble.
by Lenore Skenazy
It was a steamy August day in the sleepy town of Hood River, Oregon—perfect for Erika Doring to take her almost-three-year-old, Elaina, to the local lake. She buckled Elaina into the car seat and was on her way when Doring, then 45, suddenly realized: She'd forgotten her daughter's life jacket.
It was in the back of the children's consignment shop she owned, a few blocks down the street from their home. She parked her car with Elaina inside, left the AC on, and ran in, not even stopping to say hi to her employee—just, “I've got to grab the life jacket!” Racing out a few minutes later, Doring saw the neighborhood parking enforcement officer standing beside her car. Her heart slammed in her chest. Had something happened?
A few moments later, two police officers arrived (the parking officer had called them). As Doring tried to explain, they looked at her coldly. “I would never leave my kids in the car, even in the driveway,” one said, according to Doring.
The officer handed her a citation: She was being charged with child neglect. The doting mom—a part-time social worker who worked closely with child protective services, or CPS—had 24 hours to turn herself in at the local police precinct.
A Pendulum Swung Too Far
Doring's story is emblematic of a disturbing trend. Parenting practices common a couple of decades ago—letting your child play outside or stay in the car so Dad could run a quick errand—are now considered neglectful, even criminal.
“The pendulum has swung hard in favor of highly protective parenting,” according to David Pimentel, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho and an expert on how the legal system addresses child neglect. “The legal standards for child protection and the agencies entrusted with it are likely to keep it there, despite compelling evidence that it should be allowed to swing back.”
Parenting practices common a couple of decades ago are now considered neglectful, even criminal.
I get at least one e-mail a week from parents like Doring. They stumble upon me—the founder of the movement Free-Range Kids and the accompanying book and blog—while Googling late into the night, too upset to sleep. “I just ran in to drop off a book at the library … ” or “I didn't want to wake up my son,” their notes begin.
It's hard to estimate how common this trend is because neglect is classified differently from state to state and because the reasons parents are charged vary widely, but dozens of experts I've interviewed—including lawyers, economists, sociologists, and embattled parents—agree it's a growing problem. Take Illinois: In 2012, there were 26,343 reports of inadequate supervision made to the state's Department of Child and Family Services. But only 26 percent were “indicated”—meaning that some level of neglect was found, according to a 2015 analysis from the Family Defense Center, an advocacy group for families in the child-welfare system.
National data on the number of kids taken away from their families by CPS show a troubling increase. In 2003, about 206,000 children were removed from their homes following investigation (for reasons including but not limited to neglect), according to government data. Five years later, that number rose to 267,000—a nearly 30 percent increase. But more than 41 percent of children removed were not found to have been mistreated.
That statistic is even worse when you consider the consequences parents face. Being investigated can add your name to a child-abuse registry, which comes up during employment background checks. There's the threat—or reality—of being separated from your children. Legal fees. Criminal charges. Erika Doring was ultimately acquitted of her child- neglect charge, but only after she spent a quarter of her annual income on legal fees.
Of course, no one wants to stop CPS from intervening where there is legitimate emotional or physical abuse or neglect. But that's not these folks.
“Parents feel like they don't have the option of leaving their ten-year-old home to dash out to the store, because somebody could call the cops and start some legal nightmare,” says Pimentel. “They can't let their kid walk home from school, because what would the neighbors think?”
Bullied into Overparenting
That's exactly what happened to Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, a Silver Spring, Maryland, couple who made national headlines after they let their then–ten- and six-year-old children, Rafi and Dvora, walk home from a park in December 2014. The Meitivs believe in giving their kids freedom to help them become independent. “I see a lot of kids who don't have confidence or competence,” Danielle told me. “I want my children to be able to take care of themselves.”
The kids had made it only about halfway home when a police officer stopped them after a call from a worried onlooker. A couple of hours later, the local CPS agency showed up; a worker required Alexander to sign a “safety plan” promising not to let the kids out of sight for 48 hours. Alexander says CPS told him that if he didn't comply, his children would be removed. A few months later, police picked up the kids while they were walking home from a different park; the children were detained by the police and CPS for more than five hours before they were reunited with their parents.
“What CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander told the Washington Post. “We feel we're being bullied into a point of view about child rearing that we strongly disagree with.”
All charges against the Meitivs were eventually dropped, but it was an emotionally traumatic six months. CPS workers visited their home on multiple occasions, insisting on searching it. Social workers went to the kids' school—without their parents' knowledge—and even pulled the kids out of class to interview them. The Meitivs had to hire lawyers. The children had nightmares and saw a therapist. Parenthood itself has been criminalized, says Danielle. And even worse, she adds, “it's the criminalization of childhood. In one generation, we have changed the definition of what it means to be a child.”
Are Kids Really Unsafe?
On the tape recording, the bystander who called about the Meitiv children tells the operator he was walking his dog and spotted “two kids that are unaccompanied, and they've been walking around for about 20 minutes by themselves.” He doesn't seem sure this merits a call but doesn't want to be an apathetic onlooker in case, God forbid, something terrible happens. But therein lies the problem. Our assumptions about threats to children's safety are totally out of whack.
In 2008, the Bureau of Justice Statistics' National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that the rate of violent crime was 19.3 per 1,000 people over age 12—less than half the rate from 1973, when the agency began tracking data. Kids under 12 are much safer: Their assault rate is about one seventh; their robbery rate, about one twelfth; and their forcible sex rate, about half, according to George Mason University economics professor Bryan Caplan, PhD, in his book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Stranger kidnappings—the threat parents fear most—are much rarer than people think. They account for only one-hundredth of 1 percent of all missing children, according to David Finkelhor, PhD, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
Our assumptions about threats to children's safety are totally out of whack.
You might be wondering: Could crime rates be down because of stricter, more supervised parenting? Experts like Caplan and Finkelhor, who've extensively crunched these numbers, say no. They attribute the decline in crime rates to more policing, aggressive prosecution of wrongdoers, the prevalence of cell phones, and greater use of psychiatric meds.
So objectively, childhood has never been safer. But media reports that misrepresent risks about kidnappings and other dangers get burned into parents' minds—and those of community members who might call the police when they see kids alone or even those of jury members who have to decide whether a parent behaved negligently.
“If the public is misinformed about the risks children face in the world and driven by irrational fears inflamed by sensationalistic media reports, the jury may be in a poor position to judge the actions of a parent,” Pimentel has argued. “Because jurors can quickly and easily recall examples of child abductions, they will assume that such events are common … and will be quick to condemn parenting choices that fail to guard against such ‘common' and well-known risks.”
This can unintentionally expose kids to more harm. A perfect example: Letting your kid walk to school is dangerous, right? She could be hit by a car or abducted by a stranger. But statistically, being driven to school in a car is the most dangerous way to get there. According to an American Academy of Pediatrics report about school transportation safety, 75 percent of fatalities and 84 percent of injuries to kids occurred in passenger vehicles. Just 6 percent of injuries occurred among walkers.
The Decline of Neighborliness
Thirty years ago, if an adult saw a kid wandering around the neighborhood, he or she might have said hi and asked if the child needed anything. Call the cops? Never. For one thing, the adult didn't have a cell phone tucked into his or her pocket. But chances are the adult also knew the kid—and his or her parents—much better than neighbors know one another today.
Only about 20 percent of people regularly spend time with those living next to them, and one third report never interacting with their neighbors, according to a 2015 report from economist Joe Cortwright. Four decades ago, one third of Americans hung out with their neighbors at least twice a week, and only 25 percent had no engagement.
“There's a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood,” Michael Brendan Dougherty, a senior correspondent at theweek .com, wrote recently. “A neighbor's interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.”
The Way to Real Reform
So what can a bystander, like the dog walker who called the police about the Meitiv children, do differently? For starters, take a step back. Is the kid really in danger? Would you still call if you knew his family might face a months-long investigation? If you're worried, talk to the child—and try to also talk to his parents—before you call the police.
“Say ‘Hey, it looks like your kid might be lost or frightened,'” suggests Pimentel. “Then the worst thing is maybe you've made the parent unhappy because you're being too nosy, but calling the police is such a terrible act of aggression. And it's a series of events that can't be stopped once you make that call.”
Policy changes are also necessary. State laws need to define neglect with more specificity, agree Pimentel and Diane Redleaf, executive director of Illinois's Family Defense Center. The Family Defense Center calls for clearer guidelines to help CPS investigators evaluate the actual likelihood of harm to a child as a result of being left alone—not just a theoretical threat. “If a child is entirely unharmed by being left alone, if a child felt safe in the situation, if the parents made a deliberate decision to let the child be alone, and if there are no reasons to believe the child was in danger, there should be no basis to find neglect,” the group says. “When these factors are present, investigations should end.”
Redleaf also argues for removing personal judgment from CPS investigations. “It's a problem anytime the child welfare system decides ‘I wouldn't let my children do this' but doesn't at the same time say ‘But a reasonable, non-neglectful, caring parent who has his child's best interests at heart might decide to do this.' We want a system that lets parents make their own decisions for their children without being second-guessed,” she says.
Pimentel calls for CPS to be rebranded as an agency that supports parents in the difficult task of raising kids rather than an adversary that threatens to break up families through child removal. For that to happen, he told me, “it almost certainly requires a statutory change. Elected officials have to say, ‘Parents are the most embattled people in our community, and we need to stick up for them rather than threaten them.'”
The Town That Got It Right
Several months ago,” the e-mail to me began, “our youngest son was accosted by an officer for riding his bicycle in front of our house. The officer told my husband, who was home at the time, that our son wasn't allowed to play on the sidewalk ‘without supervision.'”
The writer, Heather Head, went on to describe two occasions when her older son, age ten, was stopped by the cops while walking a few blocks from home. Both boys became too scared to leave the house alone. This was in Belmont, North Carolina, a suburban town of 10,000 outside Charlotte with a bustling Main Street, a beautiful botanical garden, and summer concerts held downtown.
“Let me publish this on my blog!” I wrote back. But Heather wasn't sure that humiliating the police or lawmakers was the way to go. Instead, she spoke to the city manager and assistant city manager. They, in turn, talked to Belmont's chief of police. Heather and her husband began encouraging their boys to walk to the park, the library, and the convenience store by themselves again. “It took some convincing, but gradually they started to feel comfortable,” Heather says.
Then, a few weeks ago, Heather's seven-year-old charged rosy-cheeked into Heather's room after a walk to the park by himself—to tell his mother he'd been stopped by a police car. “My heart pounded, and I held my breath,” she told me. She had to restrain herself from running outside to confront the cops again. But Heather wanted to hear her son's story first.
The police car stopped beside the boy when he was halfway between his house and the park. The officer leaned out the window and asked him if he was OK. He said yes. Then the officer asked him if his parents knew where he was. Again, yes. Then the officer did something shocking.
He said, “Great. Have a nice day.” And went on his way.
Heather's levelheaded tactic worked. By harnessing the impulse that had precipitated all those interventions—concern—she helped get the town's government and law enforcement on board to bring kids back outside. If Belmont residents see children playing unsupervised, now they might be encouraged to ask “Hey, how are you doing?” instead of dialing 911. If the Belmont police are nonetheless called, they can ask the same thing, instead of assuming the worst of the parents. And if child protection workers are summoned, they, too, can proceed from an innocent-until-proven-guilty stance rather than the opposite. The love we feel for kids can be turned into a safety net—instead of a snare.