Report: Multiple South Fort Myers High teens had sex in school bathroom
by Pamela McCabe
Multiple male students from South Fort Myers High School are believed to have had sex with a 15-year-old female in a campus bathroom after school ended Tuesday.
Principal Melissa Layner reported the incident to the Lee County Sheriff's Office's school-based deputy, Jarrod Cantrell, the following morning.
Using footage captured from a hallway camera, Cantrell “observed 25 male students go inside the restroom over the time frame of the female being inside the restroom,” an LCSO report stated.
Layner spoke with the female student, who “confirmed that she had sex with a number of willing males.”
Because of the female's age, the special victims unit was called in, and the incident was reported to the Florida Abuse Hotline.
With parent permission, detectives took a student's cellphone for evidence, and sworn statements were taken from some of the male students.
When asked how students were disciplined as a result of this situation, Lee schools' spokeswoman Amity Chandler said, “We are not going to discuss discipline in any capacity, including numbers.”
South Fort Myers' principal sent a message to parents shortly after 1 p.m. Friday explaining that she cannot speak about student discipline with the media or parents of other students. However, she said student discipline was "dealt quickly."
"The incident this week should not be a reflection on our combined efforts, administration, students, and teachers, to keep our building and students secure and safe," Layner wrote. "Providing our students cooperate with the expectations articulated to them each day, our school is a safe place for student learning and after school activities."
South Fort Myers is home to nearly 2,000 students, the principal wrote.
How the incident could occur on campus without staff knowing has been a talking point for many in the community. But as Chandler explained, while safety concerns fall on the school's shoulders if there is an organized event on campus, students still have expectations for how to behave while on school grounds.
"I think parents understand that we cannot control the behaviors of every student, and when students enter campus, they are entering into a relationship with school administrators where they are expected to adhere to some norms and some rules," Chandler said. "And these students did not do that."
"High schools," she added, "have all sorts of after-school activities — sports, clubs, tutoring."
While she would not pinpoint why the different students were on campus after hours, she said South Fort Myers students involved in extracurricular activities — athletics or otherwise — participate in a study hall from 1:47 to 2:30 p.m. This is roughly the time frame for when the bathroom activities took place, Chandler said.
No staff members have been disciplined.
Teen dad fatally shot his own stepson because toddler wouldn't stop jumping on the bed, authorities say
by Michael E. Miller
A Texas teenager fatally shot his own stepson because the toddler wouldn't stop jumping on the bed, authorities said.
George Coty Wayman, 18, was arrested on a charge of capital murder, according to a Clay County warrant.
The incident occurred Tuesday afternoon inside a trailer home in the tiny town of Bellevue, near the border with Oklahoma.
Wayman's 3-year-old stepson, Dominic Tra'Juan Castro, was bouncing on the bed when he was shot in the back of the head. After a 911 call, a helicopter ambulance rushed Dominic to a hospital 40 miles away but it was too late. The boy was pronounced dead Wednesday morning.
Witnesses initially told investigators that Dominic had been bouncing on the bed when he accidentally landed on the gun, causing it to discharge, officials told KDFX-TV.
After further interviews, however, witnesses admitted that Wayman had pointed the gun at the boy and told him if he didn't stop jumping on the bed he would shoot him, Clay County Sheriff Kenny Lemons said.
Deadline Looms, Pressure Mounts for Sex Abuse Survivors Thinking of Filing Claims
by Joe Augustine
Survivors of child sex abuse in Minnesota have only five days left to file a claim under a state law that opened a window for civil lawsuits outside the statute of limitations. A state lawmaker says it is doubtful survivors will have another opportunity to take legal action, and advocates say it's putting pressure on victims who may not feel ready to come forward.
The deadline to file civil claims under Minnesota's Child Victim's Act expires May 25.
Cordelia Anderson, a nationally recognized expert on child sex abuse prevention who has counseled adult survivors for forty years, says the deadline has created a “ticking time bomb.”
“What I've been hearing is just some painful pressure,” Anderson said Friday.
She believes the state should extend the deadline, re-open the window in the future or, in a perfect world, throw out statute of limitations in old sex abuse cases.
She says many survivors did not know about the state law or thought it only applied to victims of clergy abuse.
“There (are) people who never knew this was even an option, and now they hear it and it's almost gone,” Anderson said.
A man from Roseville who says he was abused by a former swim coach in the 1970's says he didn't learn about the opportunity to take legal action in Minnesota until earlier this year.
“If I had known about this three years ago, I would have come forward much sooner,” said Jon Landstrom, who filed a claim two weeks before the deadline.
He believes there are some survivors who may know about the law but do not feel comfortable coming forward yet.
Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) says it is “highly unlikely” another window will open in Minnesota to file sex abuse claims outside the statute of limitations.
Latz helped write the 2013 law and says it took a "Herculean" lobbying effort from advocates to establish even a three year time frame for survivors.
“I would have preferred a lifetime (window to file claims) had I been writing a law without needing to pass it through the legislature,” he said, adding that legislation that would have exposed organizations to open-ended liability was not a possibility.
“The institutions that could potentially be held liable wanted some degree of certainty to close out the past claims,” he said.
At least 880 sex abuse claims have been filed in the past three years, according to two prominent attorneys who represent the majority of survivors.
Most of the claims involve the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the Boy Scouts of America and the Children's Theatre.
The 2013 law did throw out statutes of limitations for sex abuse cases taking place after the legislation was passed.
Issues arise with South Carolina sex offender registry
by Ronamdo Dixson
Victims of sexual assault and anyone else who monitors South Carolina's sex offender registry may be viewing false information, The Greenville News found during a review of the state's sex offender registry.
The uncertainty arose as the state transitioned to new tracking software this year. In addition to misleading information, the state inadvertently published juvenile sex offender information online for nearly two weeks when the new system was rolled out.
Months into the changeover, The Greenville News found intrastate and interstate discrepancies in sex offender data, revealing a lack of communication between jurisdictions.
It's a chilling feeling when a victim sees conflicting information about their molester, said Tim Fisher, a Nevada resident who is a survivor of sexual assault and an advocate for victims. How is someone supposed to know which information is correct?
“Why scare me?” Fisher said. “When there's an offender who's listed as absconder in one state and compliant in another, nine times out of 10, your victim, your survivor, is not going to look at the other record. They're going to see the one red flag, and they're going to freak. These are mothers. These are kids like myself who grew up and are literally afraid of what our abusers can do because we know what they did do.”
The State Law Enforcement Division defended the accuracy of the new system, blaming discrepancies on sex offenders who failed to properly register with law enforcement.
SLED Chief Mark Keel said the inconsistencies could be found in any state.
“It's only as good as what information gets put in it,” Keel said.
The root of the problem
Until this year, South Carolina was among 21 states that used OffenderWatch to track sex offenders, according to Watch Systems, the company that provides OffenderWatch.
Once the state's business relationship dissolved with OffenderWatch, SLED mandated that starting this year every South Carolina county use the Sex Offender Registry Tool (SORT), a free application provided by the Department of Justice.
Within weeks of using SORT and encountering various issues, multiple counties agreed to a contract with OffenderWatch, a paid subscription service that previously was in effect statewide.
“And now we have a problem,” Fisher said. “Because now we have the state system, which does not communicate with the other systems.”
Keel said the state never would've left the previous vendor “if we had a system that we felt worked and was efficient and was accurate.”
“I wasn't going to be allowed as an agency head to be held hostage by a vendor who can go up on me, increase my cost, at any time they want to and there's nothing I can do about it,” Keel said.
The counties using SORT and OffenderWatch must update the systems separately.
Spartanburg, Anderson, Richland, Berkeley, Darlington, Dillon and Horry counties continue to use OffenderWatch for various reasons, said Joe Gauthier, director of client services for Watch Systems. The counties signed contracts based on population, adding an expense they didn't have when the state paid for OffenderWatch. Spartanburg, Richland and Horry counties paid $6,375 for a one-year contract, according to Gauthier. Darlington, Anderson and Berkeley counties paid $4,250, while Dillon County signed a $1,025 contract, Gauthier said.
The counties that resumed using OffenderWatch said productivity and efficiency dropped without it because many of the processes were automated, Gauthier said.
“Deputies were taken out of the communities and forced into a manual data entry role,” Gauthier said.
A benefit of OffenderWatch is that when a sex offender record is updated, the system updates the file in real time for every client in the OffenderWatch network, which includes 3,500 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the country. Most states in the Southeast, including North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia, have statewide contracts with OffenderWatch, according to the company's website.
Although SORT is a government application, SLED employs a programmer who builds the system, adds state-specific functionalities and addresses issues.
SLED said SORT also updates information immediately and has done so since it was implemented here. Gauthier said this does not happen with SORT.
The Horry County Sheriff's Office concurred with Watch Systems' assessment and renewed its OffenderWatch contract “while some of the issues with the SORT program are being worked out,” Sgt. Sherri Smith told The News .
“At the time we renewed our contract, our greatest concern was the ability to update the website in real time,” Smith said in an email.
The Anderson County Sheriff's Office uses every available tool to keep track of sex offenders, Lt. Sheila Cole said.
“That being said, we continue to use Offender Watch in addition to SORT because it provides functionality that allows us to more easily identify offenders who fail to register,” Cole told The News . “Also, Offender Watch allows us to perform searches based on a suspect description. It also provides our investigators (in the field) the ability to remotely verify and update the status of an offender."
SLED said SORT can perform searches based on descriptions but does not have the other two functions within SORT that Cole mentioned.
Keel said major advantages with SORT are: SLED maintains the database, can customize the software to South Carolina laws and create functionalities the sheriffs want. However, some of the customized options and improvements will take time to implement.
“When I talked with the sheriffs, I told them it would take us a year to get everything fully functional the way we wanted it to make the improvements,” Keel said, adding that counties have reported that system is efficient and easy to operate.
Any problems this year were “nothing more than what you would normally expect any time you change from one system to another,” SLED spokesman Thom Berry said.
However, the state had to deal with a new problem.
A data conversion issue caused information for juvenile sex offenders, more than 900 in the state, to be available for about 12 days in January, Berry said. The names, pictures, birth dates, addresses and physical descriptions — the same information available for adult offenders — was published. Oconee County authorities notified SLED, and state staff resolved the issue on Jan. 14, state officials said.
How the registry works
More than 15,000 individuals are labeled as sex offenders in the South Carolina registry, according to SLED records.
An individual is considered a sex offender in South Carolina if convicted of certain crimes, including, but not limited to: criminal sexual conduct, incest, peeping and voyeurism. Kidnapping and trafficking in persons, depending on the details of the case, may also land a person on the sex offender registry.
A judge has discretion to determine if someone found urinating in public would be required to register.
A South Carolina sex offender is required to register biannually for life, during the person's birthday month and six months later, according to state law. Some offenders are required to register every three months.
Sex offender registries exist, in part, to help the victims and communities keep track of offenders in their neighborhoods. The registries also serve as a tool for law enforcement.
The information on the South Carolina registry comes from local sheriff's offices, Berry said.
Laura Hudson, the executive director of South Carolina Crime Victims Council, described the state's sex offender registry as a "passive" system, meaning it's up to residents to find the information. It is important for the public to be diligent, she said, because sex offenders sometimes can move here from another state and "we don't know it."
The sex offender registry is a good tool for law enforcement, but is not the "end all and be all of safety," Hudson said.
"As far as I know, the material that is on SLED, I've never had anybody claim that it wasn't accurate," Hudson said. "I have had people say I know somebody that's a sex offender and they're not on there."
The News , by checking the different websites, confirmed multiple instances in the Upstate in which data for a sex offender conflicted with the information of other states. A review also found sex offenders listed as noncompliant or not registered in a county but compliant on the state's registry, creating confusion rooted in the fact that there are two different systems.
Fisher also found multiple instances in which data for an offender did not match up across state lines, including in Greenville County. One man, for example, was labeled as an absconder in Greenville County but compliant in North Carolina. In this case, the Sheriff's Office said it was aware of the individual registering in North Carolina. The South Carolina registry was updated after The News questioned the discrepancy.
“We are responsible for offenders in our county,” the Greenville County Sheriff's Office said in a statement, “and we periodically audit our non-compliant offenders to see if we can locate and verify that they are compliant in another state. We encourage anyone who has a question or concern regarding an offender to contact Beverly Pettit at 864-467-5192. The Greenville County Sheriff's Office investigates every tip and complaint that comes into our office regarding sex offenders.”
In one example, a man is listed as noncompliant and incarcerated on Spartanburg County's OffenderWatch site. The confusion arises when the information is checked against the state registry. The SLED site does not indicate the sex offender is an absconder, or noncompliant, because he's in jail, Berry said. But the state website also does not have a section to show that the sex offender is incarcerated, Berry said.
"It should be showing the address where the individual is incarcerated," Berry said. "If it does not, then that could be something the folks at the local departments can address."
Fisher found multiple cases involving inconsistent information between Spartanburg County and the state registry.
“When they're compliant and noncompliant in the same state, that should not happen,” Fisher said.
Users also may be confused because SORT and OffenderWatch have different formats.
"We went back to using OffenderWatch in conjunction with SORT at the beginning of February, which our agency pays for, because we felt like it is easier to read and is more user friendly,” Spartanburg County Lt. Kevin Bobo said in an email.
In another example, a man is listed as noncompliant in Spartanburg County and an absconder on the state registry. So the data matches within the state, although the verbiage is different. That person, however, is registered and compliant in Georgia, according to the national registry. A victim may wonder which one is correct.
Fisher said he did not notice these issues when South Carolina used OffenderWatch.
Fisher, who lives in Las Vegas, has audited sex offender registries nationwide for about six years. He says there is no method for how he chooses a state to audit. He may see something online or someone may bring an issue to his attention via Facebook.
He said he has built a rapport with the Department of Public Safety in Nevada. He sends them tips about registered sex offenders who are noncompliant in Nevada but compliant in another state. The state researches the tip and contacts the proper jurisdiction.
“They know my track record is impeccable,” Fisher said. “The hard part is getting law enforcement in other jurisdictions to accept that. Law enforcement, most often, believes that they're correct 100 percent.”
More than 800,000 sex offenders are registered in the United States, according to Parents For Megan's Law and The Crime Victims Center, a nonprofit organization committed to prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse and rape. Fisher said he has provided more than 900 tips to law enforcement nationwide.
?Fisher said law enforcement agencies need to do a better job communicating across state lines and with the offenders, especially when it appears they are trying to do the right thing.
“I'm thinking it's a major flaw in that we're not telling these offenders exactly what they have to do,” Fisher said. “If you're trying to hide, you're not going to register where you're going. But the jurisdictions don't communicate.”
Berry said SLED has the means to communicate with every state in the nation.
"We use SORT exchange to communicate with the other states, so, yes we do have that linkage," he said. "It's just not within SORT itself, but we do have the SORT exchange that we do use to communicate state to state."
Fisher said if the state websites have conflicting information then people cannot protect their children and they question the accuracy of the information.
“Each one of these offenders represents at least one victim,” Fisher said. “I was a victim for seven years when I was kid. Two other victims were found after I made my report, which meant that my offender took three kids over the course of 12 years and molested them. Each one of these offenders represents a victim or a survivor, depending on where that person is in their life right now. I know we use these tools, the sex offender registries, because we want to know where our bad guys are. It's not just for concerned parents living in this neighborhood or that neighborhood.”
Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle says he has doubts about eliminating child-sex victims' statute of limitations
by Kenneth Lovett
ALBANY — When it comes to dealing with child sex abuse victims, Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle says public and private institutions should be held to the same standard even while he opposes the idea of making it easier for some survivors to sue.
Morelle, a Rochester Democrat and the second most powerful lawmaker in the chamber, expressed serious concerns about doing away with laws limiting the window that adult child sex abuse victims have to bring civil or criminal cases.
Under current law, victims have up until their 23rd birthday to bring civil cases.
Morelle says he can support extending the timeframe for civil cases, but not eliminating it entirely, a position similar to one revealed by Gov. Cuomo this week. But Morelle opposes the idea of doing away with the time limits for bringing criminal charges on child sex abuse cases, a change the governor's office says Cuomo would like to see.
Morelle made his comments to the Daily News hours before the governor's office released a statement on the subject.
“With each passing year, it gets harder and harder to reconstruct the truth," Morelle said.
For that reason, Morelle also is against giving adult child abuse victims who no longer can bring a civil case under current law a one-year window to sue.
"The trouble I have with it, going back two or three decades, even in a civil matter, is that making sure there is due process is incredibly difficult to ensure," he said. "If you don't have due process, it breaks the basic tenants of our judicial process."
He's not the only state legislator to put the legal rights of accused child sex abusers over the victims.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), Sen. Neil Breslin (D-Albany) are among a number of others who have raised the issue with The News in recent weeks.
"Time tends to cloud memories and you don't have physical evidence to rely on,” Morelle said.
But Kathryn Robb, 56, an activist and child sex abuse survivor, said "without the (one-year) window, we will be ignoring justice to thousands of victims and, hence, allowing the perpetrators of those thousands of victims to continue to molest children.”
Morelle said he does support the need to treat abuses cases in public and private entities the same.
He called it unfair that adults who were abused as children in a private institution like a parochial school have up until their 23rd birthday to bring a case while someone abused in a public institution like a school must file a notice of intent to sue within 90 days of the incident occurring.
"The rules ought to be the same whether it's a public or private organization when dealing with child abuse, sexual or otherwise," Morelle said. "There should be a level playing field."
The time to act is quickly running out. Lawmakers have just 12 more session days scheduled before the June 16 end of the legislative calendar.
Supporters, critics begin the battle over Pa. sex abuse bill
by Maria Panaritis
HARRISBURG - Rep. Mark Rozzi turned to Phil Saviano, sitting next to him inside the Capitol. Like Rozzi, Saviano was raped by a priest decades ago, and has worked to expose such abuse.
But the Boston-area man's efforts had huge impact: They helped spark the global clergy-sex abuse scandal in 2002, and figured in this year's Oscar-winning film Spotlight .
Saviano was the marquee draw on a panel assembled Wednesday by Rozzi to support a high-stakes bill that would open a new window for adult victims to sue the men or women who abused them as children and the institutions that could have discovered or stopped it, but did not.
"You are keeping victims alive here in Pennsylvania," Rozzi told Saviano, "because they know they have opportunity here with this reform legislation."
Saviano's appearance capped an intensive two-day lobbying effort by victims' advocates to win over key senators on the bill, at the same time opponents - including the Catholic Church - are marshalling efforts to defeat it.
The Senate took no action before it adjourned for the month Wednesday. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has said he will bring the legislation before the full Senate when it reconvenes in June.
Greenleaf; his vice chairman, John Rafferty Jr., and minority committee Chairman Daylin Leach - all from Montgomery County - have declined to publicly take a position on the contested measure. Rafferty is the Republican nominee for attorney general.
Victims' advocates want the Senate to embrace a bill that overwhelmingly passed the House in April, in a historic turnabout for the deeply conservative chamber. Both houses are Republican-controlled.
The legislation would extend the state's civil statute of limitations to victims age 50 or under - it now applies only to plaintiffs 30 and under - and be retroactive. The result could be a flood of lawsuits by middle-aged accusers.
Key opponents include the insurance industry, questioning the constitutionality of such a law, and the Catholic Church, which has warned it could have a crippling impact on schools and parishes.
In a meeting this week with area priests, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who is credited with helping to defeat a similar law during his tenure in Colorado, urged clerics to share the message with worshippers.
"Parishioners will be hearing about the matter from their pastors in the course of the coming weeks," his spokesman, Ken Gavin, said Thursday.
Gavin said that message will include explanations of the impact of similar laws in other states, as well as reminders of the archdiocese's recognition of the past abuse and its efforts to address it-including spending $13 million since 2002 to support victims and their families.
"One important and overlooked fact is that the Catholic Church has accepted responsibility for past abuse," he said in an email. "It has worked very hard to support survivors and prevent abuse from taking place."
For years, opposition thwarted such a bill in Pennsylvania. But outrage over two grand jury reports and criminal charges this year by Attorney General Kathleen B. Kane in the Altooa-Johnstown Diocese providedkey in the House's reversal.
Victims' advocated on Wednesday said civil lawsuits are essential to rooting out abusers and delivering justice to survivorsl, who sometimes take decades to didclose their childhood pain.
saviano, 63, sai the civil lawsuit he filed in Massachusetts well into adulthood ultimately provided accesss to church documents revealing that his abuser, a priest in Worcester, had been shuffled across the country by bishops, only to abuse others time and again.
Before he filed suit, Saviano said, church officials had claimed they knew nothing about the priest who abused him for nearly two years, starting when he was 11.
"I learned that the way to challenge it was to file a lawsuit," Saviano said. "It gets you access to the personnel file. It gets you access to the truth."
They included George Foster, a businessman from the Altoona-Johnstown area, credited as a whistleblower whose efforts helped the state grand jury probe; attorney and victims' advocate Marci Hamilton; Patricia Dailey Lewis, who helped prosecute a Delaware doctor considered one of the nation's most prolific child abusers; and three graduates of the Solebury School in New Hope, where a grand jury probe was launched into decades-old abuse by staffers at the Bucks County School.
"Under the current statute of limitations laws, who is being protected?" said former Colebury student Nicki Rowel, now an elementary school counselor. "Is it actually the children? It sounds like it's the adults making horrendous choices."
The Problems Facing the New Breed of Vigilante Pedophile Hunters
by Matt Broomfield
Bringing pedophiles to justice might seem like a pretty black-and-white moral issue. But when you have neo-Nazis and drug barons on one side and innocent or psychologically vulnerable men on the other, the waters become a little murkier.
Yesterday, a vigilante pedophile hunter was jailed for life for stabbing an innocent man to death. In a seemingly typical ploy, 42-year-old Darren Kelly was lured to a property in Pitsea, Essex by a 15-year-old girl. But two things went wrong. Firstly, as a spokesperson for Essex Police makes clear: "Mr. Kelly thought he had been speaking to a woman [the 15-year-old girl's mother]. There was no evidence he was interested in underage girls."
Secondly, rather than a dressing-down on camera, Kelly received a beating at the hands of Chris Carroll and three teenagers, who cannot be named for legal reasons. Carroll, 20, then stabbed him with a hunting knife and fled the scene, but forensic detectives pinned him to the crime. Carroll will serve 21 years for murder, but his co-defendants were released without charge.
Anti-pedophile activism has been associated with illegality and violence in the past, and has been practiced by some of society's more unsavory characters. In the 1970s, for instance, the National Front picketed meetings of the Paedophile Information Exchange, and it was the NF, the British National Party, and the English Defence League that led protests in 2014 against the sexual abuse of 1,400 children in Rotherham—the fact the perpetrators were British-Pakistani Muslim men no doubt being a contributing factor.
In 2003, 60-year-old Scottish crime boss Maggie "Big Mags" Haney was sentenced to 12 years for running a drug-dealing ring which sold four-figure sums of heroin daily out of a base known as "Haney's Hotel." Before that arrest, the grandmother attracted headlines as a militant campaigner against child grooming on her Stirling council estate.
Other vigilante campaigns are less carefully-orchestrated. In 2000, an innocent man, Iain Armstrong, was targeted because he was wearing a similar neck-brace to a convicted sex offender. The same year, pediatrician Yvette Cloete was hounded from her home by impassioned but somewhat confused protesters. Bijan Ebrahimi, 44, was registered as disabled and unable to work when he arrived in Britain as a refugee in 2013. But when he photographed children vandalizing his hanging baskets, Bristol police took him into custody, carting him away in front of a crowd chanting: "Pedo, pedo."
Mr. Ebrahimi was soon released without charge. The night of his release, he was beaten, dragged from his home, and set on fire by his neighbor Lee James. James is serving life for his murder, and two police officers were imprisoned for deliberately ignoring a string of panicked phone-calls from the victim.
A more recent wave of anti-pedophile activists have been taking the fight from the streets to the internet. These vigilantes set up an online honey-trap, posing as underage children and arranging to meet adult men, before bursting out to confront them with a video camera. Many of those involved say they are themselves survivors of abuse.
The trend was popularized by 34-year-old vigilante Stinson Hunter, who started confronting alleged pedophiles in 2012 "to make waves and get parents, the government, and people who can change things talking." He feels the Carroll murder was an inevitable tragedy, as multiple copy-cat vigilantes have sought to emulate his work for less honorable reasons.
"It's getting out of hand," Hunter says over the phone, his voice rising with emotion. "It's heartbreaking. This guy got murdered, and for what? Because a bunch of muppets wanted a fast track to fame and to look cool in front of their mates."
Hunter says he "always talks to [his targets] like they're my best friend." While this might be stretching the point a little—friends don't often hit other friends with cars, which is what happened to Hunter when he went to confront a target in Warwickshire—he has certainly never laid hands on any of his subjects.
Other YouTube warriors are less pacifistic. Last year, a member of a group called "NWI Nonce Busters" was jailed for head-butting a man who thought he was arranging to meet a 14-year-old girl. His target lost his front teeth and 12 months of freedom, after a judge found him guilty of grooming. ("NWI" indicates a link to the " North West Infidels," one of the dominant neo-Nazi groups currently active in England, whose members have been imprisoned for moving cocaine across the north of the country.)
Nor are head-butts the worst of it. Michael Duff killed himself after being confronted by a group known as True Justice, and Gary Cleary committed suicide following an altercation with Leicestershire vigilantes Letzgo Hunting.
In a well-publicized case, Michael Parkes hanged himself while out on bail after being entrapped by Stinson Hunter. At the time, Hunter "accepted no responsibility" for Parkes' death, and he remains remorseless: "Yeah, a guy killed himself after talking to me, but he made his own choices."
But there is more than one way to catch a predator. Groups such as Dark Justice, Online Predator Investigation Team (OPIT), and Public Justice PHL (PJ-PHL, formerly known as Paedophile Hunters London) position themselves as the Co-ops of the crowded pedophile-hunting market, claiming to adopt a more ethical approach to extra-judicial crime-fighting.
"Shouting, 'Give me your fucking phone, you fucking nonce,' doesn't get you anywhere," says Jay, a member of PJ-PHL's two-man team. "The minute you attack these people it becomes a different kind of crime. You turn them into a victim."
Stinson Hunter pours scorn on groups who work with the police, and says he releases his videos before trial because his goal is raising awareness, not custodial sentences. (This contradicts his position in a 2013 Channel 4 documentary, where he wept with joy after securing his first conviction.) But all of these second-generation vigilante organizations withhold their video footage until the relevant court cases are closed, saying they prefer securing convictions to hogging the limelight.
"Everyone, including child abusers, has the right to a fair trial," says Callum, a member of Dark Justice. His team are advised by practicing solicitors and barristers, as well as human rights experts, and he claims to have secured 48 arrests and 22 convictions. (Stinson Hunter has racked up over 50 convictions.)
"Often, we don't release videos at all," says Brendan Collis of OPIT. "We get the evidence, get them prosecuted, and then release their details." His teenage daughter Leah was groomed by a 40-year-old man, who then abused her in a hotel room. Since that scarring attack, he and his daughter (who's now of age) have used old photos of Leah to entrap sexual offenders.
All of these groups rightly point to the failure of courts and police to adequately tackle sexual crime. "They need more funding, and they need more training," says PJ-PHL's Jay. He thinks a targets-driven culture forces police to focus on crimes that are easier to convict. Fewer than ten percent of child sex offenses in the UK result in a conviction.
But though all three organizations vehemently condemn Carroll's attack, no one seems sure how to stop a repeat of the Kelly murder. "That's like asking if the Loch Ness monster is real," shrugs Callum of Dark Justice. "No one knows." Brendan of OPIT doesn't think people will ever stop taking the law into their own hands: "Even the most placid of people will react. [Carroll and his co-defendants] might not have killed anyone, had they not been blinded by anger."
A spokesperson for the National Crime Agency's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command argues that amateurish vigilante action could have a number of other "serious consequences," including "the compromise of ongoing investigations into pedophile networks, abusers harming a child if they feel threatened, and individuals being mistaken for offenders."
American statistics also suggest that around 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know their attacker beforehand, rather than meeting them online. Even acknowledging the failings of the police and setting aside the issue of knife-wielding watchmen, it feels hard to be sure that vigilantes like Stinson Hunter and his successors are doing more good than harm.
Charities such as Circles, which provide sex offenders with small support networks, exemplify a more positive model for reducing rates of child sexual abuse. Speaking in 2013, Circles UK CEO Stephen Hanvey said: "Demonizing such serious offenders, even given the awful things they have done, renders them less safe, and less inclined even to attempt to lead offense-free lives. It has to be more about supportive vigilance than mere vigilantism." (A spokesperson for Circles told VICE they could not comment specifically on the issue of vigilantism.)
Online Predator Investigation Team have provided photos (above) of a firebombed car and a house daubed with graffiti. The property was targeted after the vigilante group revealed the identity of its inhabitant, a man convicted of sexually abusing a child. "There was a child in that house," says Brendan. "Who's to blame? The pedophile? Us? Or both?"
The names of vigilantes have been changed at their request.
Victims in horrific child-abuse case tell their story
by Rita Price
They didn't think their voices could matter to anyone else. The Ferguson children endured years of abuse — hit with ball bats, burned with irons, starved and forced to drink urine — and still kept the family secrets.
“It took awhile for us to crack,” Julius said.
The siblings' statements and testimony, along with the scars on their bodies, eventually helped put their adoptive parents in prison. James and Vonda Ferguson were convicted during separate trials in Clark County Common Pleas Court in 2008 and 2009 and are serving 65-year sentences for what investigators called some of the most horrific child abuse central Ohio had seen.
Five of the six children the couple adopted from foster care as infants and toddlers are grown now. Three who recently decided to share their stories say they're working to balance busy lives, bad memories, hope and a fresh desire to aid others thrust into public child-welfare systems.
“The reason I'm doing this is to give kids a voice who don't have one,” said Julius, 22, who lives in the Hilliard area. “We were those kids once.”
Because he was later adopted by another family, Julius' last name is Kissinger. He and two of his Ferguson siblings — East Side resident Jermaine Ferguson, 25, and Valnita Ferguson, 20, of Richwood in Union County — are among several young people posting accounts of their experiences as part of a nationwide foster-care awareness campaign.
“Part of the aim is to put a real face on foster care,” said Sandy Santana, executive director of the New York City-based legal advocacy organization Children's Rights. “These kids are, in many ways, invisible.”
Children's Rights pushes to reform troubled child-welfare systems, defending the civil rights of foster children and drawing attention to problems such as overburdened caseworkers, inadequate foster homes and placement instability that can cause kids to live in a dozen or more settings.
“The stories highlight some of the systemic issues, but they're also very hopeful,” Santana said. “There's great resiliency.”
Jermaine said he understands that foster care and adoption are complex, often-imperfect processes. “There's a lot of foster kids and not enough foster and adoptive parents; I get that,” he said.
“But in our case, there were some red flags, and someone needed to try to decipher that. Does adopting six kids make sense for that family? After one child allegedly set fire to the house, does it make sense for them to get another?”
Outwardly, he and his brother and sister say, the Fergusons appeared to be the perfect family. Church-going and hard-working, the parents presented an orderly facade as they regularly tortured the five oldest children inside their big Victorian house in Springfield and, later, at the Marysville home they moved to in 2003.
The three boys and two girls were beaten until they bled. Some were held under water or put inside a running clothes dryer. They were hit with hammers, duct-taped to beds, dangled over a banister and dropped. Tell anyone, the parents warned, and your brothers and sisters will get it worse.
Although court records showed that child-welfare workers might have had suspicions, the children weren't rescued until 2004. By then, one teenage girl — the Fergusons seemed to blame her and another son for their rages — already had been removed from the home and sent to a treatment center. The others were taken into custody in November of that year when Mrs. Ferguson didn't hang up after a phone call and was heard threatening to plunge a knife into Jermaine's chest.
In her new blog post, Valnita writes that the two months she spent in foster care with four of her siblings were “the best two months I'd had in a long time. Then we were split.”
The children, deeply bonded through their trauma, soon were scattered to different homes and experiences: Jermaine was taken in by a loving family who helped prepare him to be emancipated from the foster system; Julius moved around for years until he was placed with a family who adopted him at age 15; Valnita struggled through multiple placements and never did find the permanent home and parental guidance she craved.
“I have people I can go to, but it's hard not having a set place,” said Valnita, who has a 6-month-old son and is taking college classes. She aged out of foster care without having learned basic skills such as writing a check, filing taxes and cooking meals.
Julius is studying to be a paralegal. Jermaine, who spent three years as a Marine, is married and a new father. He said the transition from life with the Fergusons had an unfair, random feel, like a game of heads or tails that Valnita lost.
The three hear from two other siblings occasionally. But the family that adopted the youngest child shielded her from contact, Julius said.
James and Vonda Ferguson have reached out in letters and calls from jail. Warily, and only on their own terms, the siblings read and listen. “They don't deserve anything,” Jermaine said. “But I think part of their punishment is to see me successful.”
Elijah Wood: 'Hollywood in the grip of child abuse scandal similar to Jimmy Savile'
by Henry Bodkin
Hollywood is in the grip a child sexual abuse scandal similar to that of Jimmy Savile in Britain, Lord of the Rings star Elijah Wood has claimed.
The 35-year-old former child actor said paedophiles had been protected by powerful figures in the movie business and that abuse was probably still taking place.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Wood said he had been protected from abuse as he was growing up, but that other child actors had been regularly “preyed upon” at parties by industry figures.
“You all grew up with Savile – Jesus, it must have been devastating,” he said.
“Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood.
“It was all organised.
“There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind.
“There is a darkness in the underbelly – if you can imagine it, it's probably happened.”
Wood said the abuse was allowed to continue because victims “can't speak as loudly as people in power.”
“That's the tragedy of attempting to reveal what is happening to innocent people,” he said.
“They can be squashed but their lives have been irreparably damaged.”
Allegations that senior Hollywood figures have been protecting child abusers have gathered pace in recent years.
Anne Henry, co-founder of Bizparents, a group set up to help child actors, said Hollywood is currently sheltering around 100 active abusers and said a “tsunami” of claims was beginning.
Corey Feldman, another former child actor who started in films such as Gremlins, the Goonies and Stand by Me in the 1980s , has said that as a young teenager he was “surrounded” by abusers.
In 2012 he told a British tabloid that when he was 14 and 15 older men had been “leching around like vultures”.
The actor went on to suffer mental health problems, alcoholism and drug addiction.
Wood said he had been spared similar experiences while growing up because his mother had not let him attend parties.
“She was far more concerned with raising me to be a good human than facilitating my career,” he said.
“If you're innocent you have very little knowledge of the world and you want to succeed.
“People with parasitic interests will see you as their prey.”
What should you do if you see child abuse?
by Rhonda Hudson
Your ears perk up as you are paying for your groceries. A frustrated mother jerks her young son's arm and tells him to stop touching the candy. Now watching, you see her berate the 4- or 5-year old, ”Why are you so awful every time I take you anywhere? You're just a bad kid.”
You immediately feel sorry for the child but pay for your groceries and continue your day. In the parking lot, you see them walking toward their car. The mother's aggression is getting worse. Her words pierce and the insults fly. The boy walks silently and looks to the ground. The mother swings open the car door, grabs the boy's arm, throws him in the backseat then kicks him in further before slamming the door shut.
What do you do?
This question isn't easy. Is this just a horrible snapshot at a good but overwhelmed mother's worst possible moment? Or is that child going home to increasing aggression and definite abuse?
Last week, we discussed ways to support, instead of judge, stressed parents during difficult public situations with children. But what do you do when the situation goes beyond frazzled and frustrated? How should we respond when we see public child abuse?
Most of us when faced with public child abuse react with instinctive fight, flight or freeze. We confront the parent to tell them they are wrong. Or maybe, we simply walk away as quickly as possible. Some of us may freeze and stand watching in disbelief, unable to even process. Unfortunately, none of these options usually helps the child.
If you have witnessed non-accidental injury to a child by a caregiver, the best answer is to report the incident to law enforcement or DHS. Intervening or confronting the offender may put you or the child at further risk. Call 911 or the Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-522-3511. Try to remember details like a license plate number, description, time and place.
Oklahoma law mandates every person who has reason to believe a child is being abused or neglected report concerns to authorities. The law places this responsibility on all adults. Reports can be made anonymously, and reporters are provided immunity from civil or criminal penalties if reports are made in good faith.
As we mentioned last week, all parents have been in frustrating, overwhelming, embarrassing public situations with children who can be impossible to control.
Let's always remember to show compassion to support weary parents and diffuse those moments when we can. But let's also be willing to bravely stand up and make a report when we see a line crossed. We understand that line is very subjective and covered in grey area – we are not encouraging vigilantes out to persecute struggling parents. However, our community desperately needs loving neighbors who care enough to report when children are being purposefully injured. Let's use compassion and wisdom when discerning the difference and always leave further detective work to the authorities.
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.
We've been ignoring an epidemic of child sex abuse in Britain
by Joan Smith
At first sight, the figures are jaw-dropping: police in England and Wales are preparing to deal with 30,000 new cases of child sexual abuse. Reports are being passed to the police at a rate of 100 a month by the Goddard inquiry, which was set up after the exposure of Jimmy Savile. One senior officer told the Guardian he predicts that police will be investigating 200,000 cases across the country by 2020.
Some critics will regard these figures with scepticism, pointing to the botched inquiry into allegations of historical sexual abuse against a number of public figures, which has now been wound up. But the mishandling of that investigation does not mean we can ignore a mounting body of evidence that the scale of child sexual abuse is much greater than most people ever suspected.
The figure of 30,000 comes from Simon Bailey, chief constable of Norfolk and head of the national coordinating unit, Operation Hydrant, which is handling reports passed on by the Goddard inquiry. Justice Lowell Goddard is in charge of 13 investigations involving a number of institutions, including the Church, Westminster, the borough of Lambeth and a detention centre in Durham, along with allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, Devon, Cornwall, Oxford and Rotherham.
Two thousand victims have already contacted the Goddard inquiry and 600 have said they are willing to speak to its ‘truth project', which was set up hear detailed testimony of childhood abuse.
Bailey says he is surprised and shocked by the extent of the abuse being exposed. He's right to be - we should never lose our capacity to be shocked by crimes against the most vulnerable individuals in society. But this is not the first indication that the scale of child sexual abuse has been hidden from sight for decades.
In November last year, the children's commissioner, Anne Longfield, published a report which estimated there were between 400,000 and 450,000 victims of child sexual abuse in England between April 2012 and March 2014. The NSPCC estimates that for every child known to be in need of protection from abuse, another eight are suffering in silence.
This is a very dark picture of childhood and it is not surprising that some people are reluctant to acknowledge it.
But two things have come together to tear away the veil of secrecy. Operation Yewtree, the inquiry which uncovered the staggering extent of Savile's crimes, concluded that he had targeted 450 victims and committed more than 30 rapes.
At the same times, the activities of gangs of men who sexually exploited under-age girls have been exposed in Rotherham, Derby, Rochdale, Oxford and other towns. None of these problems was on the radar 10 years ago, and a handful of people who told the police they had been assaulted by Savile or tried to expose ‘grooming' gangs were ignored.
The idea that there is a pool of thousands of victims of child sexual abuse up and down the country is all too plausible, I'm afraid. In London, senior officers are already contemplating the possibility that they may have to handle as many as 15,000 new cases as a direct result of the Goddard inquiry.
But the implications for victims and the criminal justice system are even wider.
Child sexual abuse is not the only crime that has been vastly under-reported for decades; senior police officers believe that only one in five rapes is ever reported, and the same is likely to be true of serious sexual assaults. More women are going to the police than ever before, but low conviction rates and lack of confidence in the prosecution process still deter many victims.
They are more likely to contact a rape crisis line to ask for advice and support, and organisations that work with victims see many more women and girls than the police. They have argued for years that most rapists get away with their crimes, creating a pool of women who never see their attackers punished.
In London, almost 16,000 sexual offences were reported to the police last year, along with 5,410 rapes. If those figures represent only a fifth of the total, the true picture is likely to be very different: more like 80,000 sexual assaults and 27,000 rapes. The true number of rape victims in London alone each year is probably around the size of a small town, while a staggering number of perpetrators are walking around, free to commit further offences.
Like the failure over many years to properly investigate child sexual abuse, this is nothing short of a scandal.
The Goddard inquiry is finally beginning to make amends to children for years of neglect, but what it is uncovering applies just as much to adult victims of rape and sexual assault. The time for a public inquiry into how those cases are investigated is long overdue.
Record year for Meriter Hospital program that collects forensic evidence in assault cases
by Karen Rivedal
In her 11 years working as a nurse who cares for and collects evidence from some of the most vulnerable victims of violent crimes, Kim Curran has seen a lot of colleagues leave the specialty in the first two years.
Widely seen as one of the toughest jobs in nursing, being a forensic nurse means helping patients in the grip of what the profession calls “acute trauma.” They can be survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse or — worst of the worst — child abuse, sexual or physical.
But Curran, who both manages and works hands-on in the Forensic Nurse Examiner program at Meriter Hospital, is clear-eyed about what keeps her coming to work — even as victim caseloads rise to record levels. The program is the only one of its kind in Dane County and one of the few statewide with staff trained to work with child victims, many of whom travel two hours for care.
“We've all had times we've wanted to walk away,” Curran said. “Anyone who tells you they haven't is not being truthful. Some days are awful.
“But the good days outweigh the bad,” she added. “When a child hugs you at the end of an exam, there's just no words for how good that can make you feel.”
One of about 40 forensic nursing programs statewide, according to the state Department of Justice, Meriter's program sees the second-largest number of victims annually after Aurora Sinai Medical Center in Milwaukee, which did 736 sexual assault exams in 2015, plus 252 exams for domestic violence victims, officials said. Meriter completed a total of 518 victim exams.
The 15 forensic nurses who work at Meriter Hospital are seeing a steady increase in all types of cases.
Domestic violence showed the highest jump since 2012, increasing from 9 to 64 exams in 2015, according to program records. The rise was attributed in part to an increased emphasis by police and medical providers on investigating and documenting chokings.
Because being choked doesn't always leave marks, forensic nurses are trained to use special cameras to document injuries inside a victim's throat that could otherwise be missed — making for stronger court cases, police and advocates said, and possibly saving lives.
A history of strangulation attempts often precedes homicides in abusive relationships, advocates said. In addition, internal throat swelling after an attempt can continue for days and cause death if not treated.
“It's super critical work,” said Patti Seger, executive director of End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, about what forensic nurses do in choking cases. “They have the ability to know if somebody needs to stay in the hospital for observation. It leads to better health care.”
Created by Meriter Hospital and the YWCA in 1988 but run solely by Meriter for the past 20 years, the program's 518 victim exams last year were a record high. The total included 446 sexual assault victims, 64 domestic violence cases and eight child physical abuse exams. Patients come mainly from throughout south-central Wisconsin, officials said.
Meriter Hospital spends about $400,000 annually on the forensic nursing program, UnityPoint Health-Meriter spokeswoman Leah Huibregtse said. Financial support comes from sources including the hospital's foundation, donations and the state's crime victim compensation fund.
Madison's two other hospitals, St. Mary's and UW Hospital, routinely send their forensic patients to Meriter, or Meriter nurses travel to those hospitals to see patients. An exception is child abuse victims with severe head trauma, which is typically diagnosed and documented for court purposes through the UW Child Protection Program at American Family Children's Hospital, Curran said.
Another local partner with Meriter is Madison's Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center, where investigators take children who are suspected victims of sexual or physical abuse for forensic interviews by specialists trained to find out what may have happened by speaking with them.
Meriter's role in those cases typically is to provide the forensic exams for children who disclose sexual abuse, Safe Harbor program manager Jennifer Ginsburg said.
“Sexual assault (at any age) is one of those crimes where there's generally not a witness, so what you need is an element of physical evidence,” Ginsburg said.
The forensic exam for sexual assault victims of any age follows state-approved, standardized protocols for the collection and packaging of evidence for analysis by the state Crime Lab. Nurses can use medical swabs, fingernail scrapings, photographs, alternative light sources that can detect the presence of bodily fluids, and other tools to find evidence and document injuries.
But beyond the forensic exam, Safe Harbor relies on Meriter forensic nurses to provide emotional support and “head-to-toe wellness exams” for the young victims sent there, Ginsburg said. That could include treatment for diseases, pregnancy prevention and any injuries, she said.
“So many of the kids who are sexually abused — they feel like they're damaged,” she said. “So for them to have an exam that helps them know their body is OK, that's key.”
Meriter's program is available 24 hours a day to anyone who needs help, regardless of ability to pay or insurance provider, Curran said.
Last month, after nearly 30 years with the same moniker, Meriter's forensic nursing program changed its name to better reflect the scope of its services.
Known for decades by police, prosecutors and victim services providers by the acronym SANE — which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner — in early April it was rechristened the Forensic Nurse Examiner program.
Beyond victim exams, forensic nurses at Meriter provide training for law enforcement, serve as expert witnesses in court, do informational presentations for colleges and service providers, and connect victims with community resources, such as the Rape Crisis Center.
Meriter's forensic nurses “do a lot of training of newer officers, explaining how the exams work,” said Madison Police South District Det. Lt. Matthew Tye, who supervises sensitive crimes detectives citywide. “Things are constantly changing as science evolves, and they are critical in monitoring that and getting that information to police.”
The Madison Police Department is the most frequent law enforcement user of Meriter's program, out of more than 60 others that use it annually. Madison police last year took 178 victims for forensic exams at Meriter, for a third of the program's total exams. The next closest users were the Dane County Sheriff's Office with 17 and Fitchburg Police at 16.
Victims also are referred to Meriter's program through other agencies or arrive on their own. Sexual assault victims are not required to file a police report, Curran noted. Victims have 91/2 years to make a decision, in keeping with the state's 10-year statute of limitations on sexual assault, minus six months set aside for processing of evidence kits.
Since 2000, Meriter's program also has done exams to collect evidence from people suspected of crimes, including homicide. Law enforcement pays for suspect exams.
“It's pretty profound to swab the hands of someone who may have just killed a person,” Curran said. “But your job as a nurse is not to judge them. You are just very matter-of-fact about it. It's your job to be the neutral medical evidence collector.”
Focus on traumatic childhood helps victims heal and succeed
‘If you would've addressed my victimization as a child, I probably never would have ended up in prison,' one Wisconsin advocate says
by Dee J. Hall
The daughter of an alcoholic, abusive father, Tamra Oman remembers trying to protect her mother from his violent outbursts, even though she was not yet in kindergarten.
“I remember him choking her over the sink. Spitting out blood. Blooding coming out all over the place and landing on me,” Oman said, recounting one incident in her early childhood in Crown Point, Indiana. “I remember going into this situation trying to save her. Trying to jump on top of him and save her.
“I can remember what I was wearing,” she continued. “That's what trauma does. It also gets you stuck in those places.”
It was one painful episode in a childhood punctuated by sexual and physical assaults and teenage years tinged with cocaine use. Oman, now 45 and living in Fond du Lac, said she went to drug treatment more than a dozen times.
Wisconsin is part of a growing nationwide movement to adopt trauma-informed care, or using information about children's troubled pasts to improve mental health, provide social services and address a wide range of criminal justice problems. Research has shown that adverse childhood experiences can lead to a lifetime of problems.
For her part, Oman said the trauma she suffered as a young child set her on a path of self destruction. She sabotaged success by dropping out of a series of colleges. She committed crimes. Oman finally ended up in prison, including two and a half years at Taycheedah and Burke women's prisons for forgery and writing bad checks.
“If you would've addressed my victimization as a child, I probably never would have ended up in prison,” Oman said. “I became a perpetrator — not intentionally, but because that (trauma) never healed.”
In Wisconsin, trauma-informed care burst into the news in recent months with investigations into allegations of abuse at the state's juvenile prisons in northern Wisconsin.
Some staff there have blamed the more empathetic trauma-informed approach for breakdowns in security and discipline that they said led to assaults on workers and offenders. Those involved in the training counter that the technique was not properly implemented at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for girls.
For Oman, facing the trauma of her childhood helped her to heal. Her brother Brian, four years older, never “connected with his own pain.” Although he appeared successful on the outside, in 2000, Brian used a gun to take his own life.
Oman now works at the Wisconsin Resource Center for mentally ill offenders in Winnebago. She advocates and uses trauma-informed care to help people like herself move forward from terrible childhood experiences.
State pushes trauma-informed care
“Really, what we're trying to do, essentially, with trauma-informed care is to bring humanity back into human services, slow down and treat people with care, compassion and respect,” said Scott Webb, who has been leading Wisconsin's efforts to spread use of trauma-informed care across the state since 2014.
The state Department of Health Services spends about $112,000 a year, primarily on a contract that includes Webb's salary from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and related expenses, to encourage and train agencies to use trauma-informed principles.
The Department of Children and Families, through its Wisconsin Trauma Project, also is rolling out trauma-informed care. In 2015, the initiative provided training to 77 clinicians and 123 child welfare workers and caregiver parents in trauma-informed principles in Jefferson, Rock and Walworth counties.
The state Department of Public Instruction this year is training staff at 30 schools in how to use trauma-informed care to help children learn and heal as part of the School Mental Health Initiative, and another 30 will join the program in 2017, according to Nic Dibble, a consultant with DPI's school social work section. The effort is being financed with discretionary federal funds, he said.
The state Office of Children's Mental Health also is working to raise awareness among the public and service providers on how to recognize and help traumatized children.
The office is taking advice from “parent partners” such as foster mother Tina Buhrow of Chippewa Falls. Buhrow said one teenager who had experienced a lot of trauma recently summed up the approach well: “Stop labeling the child. Instead, understand their story.”
Trauma common, crucial
Trauma is common. Between 25 and 61 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States have experienced trauma, a percentage that increases with age, said Ernestine Briggs-King, research director for the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress at Duke University.
Speaking to a group of journalists in New York City last fall, Briggs-King defined trauma as a physical or emotional experience threatening the life or integrity of a child or someone she or he loves. Such events can evoke feelings including terror, powerlessness and being out of control.
Trauma-informed care “acknowledges and responds to the role of trauma in the development of emotional, behavioral, educational and physical difficulties,” she said.
Exposure to trauma is often measured in 10 adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs. They cover a range of bad circumstances children can experience: an incarcerated parent, hunger, divorce, domestic violence, parental substance abuse, and physical and sexual abuse. Some practitioners have added more ACEs to the deck, such as witnessing a shooting or other violence in their community.
“As the number of traumas increases, so do the number of problems,” Briggs-King said at the symposium on violence prevention by the Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the Solutions Journalism Network.
In Wisconsin, data from 2011-13 show 58 percent of adults reported at least one adverse childhood experience. But the results vary by race : Among respondents, 79 percent of blacks reported having one or more ACEs, compared to 56 percent of whites.
Studies have shown that adults with high ACE scores are more likely to suffer from poor health, be arrested, unemployed or have substance abuse problems. Trauma-informed care is seen as a way to halt the cycle of violence and dysfunction and improve quality of life for people who have experienced trauma.
“There's good stuff going on around the country … which, if adopted on a larger scale, we could chip away at this problem of violence,” Briggs-King said.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found many of the 569 perpetrators in gun crimes between 2009 and 2014 in Wilmington, Delaware, had significant trauma histories themselves, including child abuse or neglect; emergency room visits for intentionally inflicted injuries; and involvement with the social welfare system. The study suggests finding and helping such potential perpetrators before they commit crimes.
SaintA, a private nonprofit social service agency based in Milwaukee, is a national leader in the use of trauma-informed principles. Tim Grove, chief clinical officer for SaintA, told a group of Wisconsin juvenile justice and child welfare officials last fall that the relationship between high ACE scores and certain bad outcomes is “staggering.”
Grove said a person with an ACE score of 8 or above is 4,200 times more likely to use drugs than someone with a score of 0. An ACE score of 6 or higher is associated with a 20-year decrease in life expectancy compared to having no ACEs.
“These are powerful scientific findings — not theory, not hypothesis,” he said.
Stress, violence and one caring adult
David Murphey, senior research scientist for Child Trends, an organization that collects data and studies aimed at improving the wellbeing of children, told journalists gathered last fall that about 40 percent of U.S. children have multiple exposures to violence, either as a victim or witness.
If such experiences are frequent or severe, they can generate “toxic stress,” which causes learning difficulties, emotional problems, antisocial behaviors, poor health and even early death.
But a single supportive adult “can buffer the effects of toxic stress,” Murphey said.
Michael Lamb, executive director of Turnaround for Children, said when he was a young teacher at a school on Chicago's South Side, many of his students were locked in a “fight, flight or freeze” mode from exposure to trauma.
Because of his own inexperience dealing with traumatized children, Lamb said a mock trial exercise went badly awry, triggering a strong response in students not accustomed to “healthy debate that doesn't escalate.”
“Upon the first point of disagreement, all of the students started throwing books at each other. It was chaos,” recalled Lamb, who runs the program's Washington, D.C. effort to help struggling schools serve traumatized students.
“Students who've been through a lot of trauma … their bodies are flooded with cortisol, and the impact is both on the learning part of their brain as well as the immune system,” Lamb explained, referring to the hormone released in response to stress. “So every day it feels like the bear … is right in front of them because of what's in their brains.”
Lamb brought his mother into the classroom to calm his students and to humanize him as a teacher. He discovered one antidote to his students' violent reactions: Adults they could trust.
Trauma-informed Waupaca County
Chuck Price remembers hearing Wisconsin's first lady Tonette Walker speak about trauma-informed care about four years ago. Walker began the Fostering Futures collaboration of state agencies and private service providers in 2011 to raise awareness about the effect of childhood trauma on people's lives.
As the new director of the Waupaca County Department of Health and Human Services, Price believed the approach endorsed by Walker could become a “cornerstone” for the agency. His department manages mental health care, Medicaid, food assistance, child welfare, juvenile justice and other services for some of the county's 53,000 residents in this central Wisconsin county.
Now, trauma-informed care is infused in everything his department does.
Trauma-informed care is the reason for the brightly painted murals on the second floor of the Waupaca County complex leading to rooms where child victims of abuse or neglect are interviewed. Price points to a nature scene with 17 ladybugs hidden in it. He called it a “distraction element” designed to “make that a little less of a traumatizing walk.”
The approach also is reflected in the patience that operators at the regional call center are counseled to use as they help frustrated recipients access public benefits.
And it is in the partnership that the agency develops with parents facing loss of custody of their children after allegations of child abuse or neglect.
Season Westphal, who manages the foster care program, said Waupaca County uses the principles of trauma-informed care by taking a “much more humanistic approach” to allegations of child maltreatment.
“That means calling somebody over the phone to schedule an appointment, asking permission to talk to them and their child, as opposed to just doing it without permission or going to the school and interviewing children without parental consent,” Westphal said. “We've found that that isn't the best way to develop a good working relationship with the family and to earn trust with people.”
At the call center, operators are instructed to help resolve as many problems as they can themselves rather than pass a client off to another person or department, said Chris Machamer, the county's economic support coordinator.
“Many times, they (clients) are angry because they think their benefits are messed up or because they themselves maybe didn't follow through,” Machamer said. “And so, using a trauma-informed approach, rather than putting the blame back on them … we take the approach of, ‘How can we help you now?' ”
This more cooperative stance has resulted in a sharp reduction in formal complaints lodged against the agency, Deputy Director Shannon Kelly said. The department had an average of 10 to 12 per year in the past. There has been just one complaint in the past two years, she said.
“We're being upfront. We're not a ‘gotcha' kind of agency — no surprises back to the folks we're serving,” Price said.
Other metrics also are positive. Before taking a trauma-informed approach, just 21 percent of children in out-of-home placements were returned to their family home within 12 months. Now 73 percent are reunited within a year, said Alisha Haase, who manages ongoing child protection for the county.
Staff turnover also is down, Kelly added, while measurements of job satisfaction and well-being are up.
Price said the agency's goal is “making sure that we're leaving individuals and families better off having received services or having interaction with our agency than when they found us.”
Homeless, addicted — then hope
After 83 arrests, a stubborn crack addiction and 19 years living on the street, someone finally asked Tonier Cain, “What happened to you?”
The question, posed just over a decade ago, probably saved her life.
Since then, the deeply religious Cain has become an evangelist for trauma-informed care. She has spoken at conferences across the country and around the world. Her life has been featured in movies and an autobiography, “Healing Neen.”
Cain told her story to hundreds of juvenile court and child welfare officials in late September during a conference on trauma-informed care in the Wisconsin Dells.
She was the oldest of eight children of a single, alcoholic mother who sometimes left them alone and hungry for days in their apartment in Annapolis, Maryland. Her mother's boyfriends sexually assaulted her in the bedroom she shared with her younger siblings.
Although she was often unwashed — earning the nickname “Pissy Neen” at school — Cain developed an obsession with tooth brushing “to get rid of the smell of the men that forced themselves around my face, in my mouth.”
At age 9, she began drinking. At 16, she married a man eight years older. Cain thought he would save her. Instead, her husband “beat me down until he saw blood” during fits of jealous rage. At age 19, desperate for an escape, Cain discovered crack cocaine.
Her life spiraled even further out of control.
She traded sex for drugs, beer and cigarettes. Four times Cain gave birth; each time, she was forced to give up her baby. Another baby died in childbirth while Cain was strapped to a gurney during a jail stint.
Cain estimated she went to drug treatment 30 times. One of her counselors raped her. He was sent to prison. When not locked up herself, Cain lived on the streets and ate chicken scraps from the garbage “like a rat.”
Eleven years ago, while incarcerated and expecting another child, a therapist finally asked Cain about her past. Telling her story was cathartic. The two worked through the pain — the physical and sexual abuse, her mother's abandonment, the lost babies.
“I have four kids walking this earth. If I pass them in the streets, I wouldn't even know it. How do you heal from that?” Cain asked.
But she did.
“I was believed,” Cain said, “so I was able to begin healing that hurt.”
Today, Cain has multiple homes and a “really smart” fifth-grade daughter — the baby she was expecting when she halted the multi-generational cycle of trauma in her family. Cain's life now revolves around her child and telling her story — and getting people in charge to listen.
She showed one of her police mugshots on the screen of the conference room in the Dells.
“If this woman was yet again in your system … 83 times you've seen her show up. … My question to you this morning is simply this: ‘Would you be able to look at her and see me today?' ”
She ended the talk with this:
“Where there's breath, there's hope. Treat the trauma. You will get results.”
We need to tackle the victim blaming culture that perpetuates child sex abuse
One in three people who have suspected a child is being abused have done nothing to act on their suspicions – and we're not asking why
by Siobhan Fenton
Following high profile cases, such as the inquiry into career and crimes of TV presenter Jimmy Savile, police have been overwhelmed with reports of child sex abuse. New figures show that cases are now being reported at a rate of 100 a month; by 2020, police anticipate that they will be investigating a staggering 200,000 cases.
That news, however, is bittersweet. It is at once disturbing and heart-breaking to see how frighteningly common such crimes are, yet also a relief that many victims and survivors who have kept silent for fear of being ignored or ridiculed are now coming forward in the faith that they will finally be taken seriously.
On the same day that the police released these figures, another worrying statistic was revealed. Research commissioned by the Department for Education found that one in three individuals who have suspected a child they know is being abused did nothing to act on their suspicions. Fear of having misread a situation, potentially ruining someone's life by wrongly tarnishing them with such a serious accusation, is cited as the biggest factor which deters reporting suspected crimes.
More than a third (36 per cent) of people said they would find making an accusation about potential sex abuse more agonising than reporting a family member to the police for any crime. And 37 per cent said they would find it harder than delivering news of the death of a family member or friend.
Of course, no decision to report abuse will ever be easy. The sense of the magnitude of the accusation, and the awareness of the extreme repercussions for all involved, can be overwhelming. However, the seriousness of child abuse should mean that the question of whether to report should not be a question at all. We all have a duty to report our fears, despite our concerns that they may be unfounded.
It is troubling that, despite recent awareness raising and high-profile cases, ambivalence about reporting still exists. While victims are self-reporting incidents to the police in much higher numbers, those who are not victims are still deeply reluctant to “get involved”.
Recent changes in attitudes have empowered victims to self-report abuse in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously. We now need to empower all citizens to act when they witness concerning behaviour.
Putting responsibility on victims to report sex crimes, and therefore the responsibility to prevent abuse, perpetuates victim-blaming attitudes; it reflects the belief that the onus is always on the victim to stop their abuser by speaking out, rather than on society to protect its citizens in the first place and to be receptive to signs of abuse when they occur.
It absolves wider society of responsibility, in failing to acknowledge that child abuse is a far-reaching and important social issue. Instead, we are encouraged to think about abuse in terms of isolated events and disconnected individuals.
Delayed reporting puts victims at risk of further abuse, as victims may not realise they are being abused until long after it has ended, due to emotional manipulation and grooming tactics.
Just as we have encouraged victims to come forward and speak out about their experiences, we must now put an end to the bystander culture surrounding abuse.
If we are serious about eradicating abuse, collective cultural responsibility is just as important as individual victim empowerment. Every delayed report or silent witness could be a missed opportunity to save a child.
Filmmaker hopes his short film on clergy sex abuse will persuade lawmakers to reform law
by Ivey DeJesus
A New York filmmaker hopes his short film on the lifelong emotional ravages inflicted on victims of clergy sex abuse will persuade lawmakers to support legislation to reform Pennsylvania's child sex crime laws.
Joe Capozzi, writer and producer of "Confession," last week sent all the members of the state Senate a link to his 15-minute film, which depicts the story of his own abuse at the hands of a priest.
"It's a tough film to watch but there's a purpose for it," said Capozzi, who worked on the film with wife Angelique Letizia. "Obviously it's not about entertainment. We wanted to give the perspective from a survivor and what goes on in their head...especially for people who don't understand. If someone can watch this film and still wonder whether statutues of limitations on child sex abuse should be reformed...if they still can say that, I would question their state of humanity."
The state House in April approved and sent to the Senate House Bill 1947, which would amend the child sex crime laws by giving victims of abuse a longer time window during which they could bring charges on their predators.
Capozzi said he had not heard back from a single senator, including Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Stewart Greenleaf and other leadership.
Capozzi said he was sensitive to the fact that lawmakers were busy and received a lot of correspondence. He said that while "Spotlight," the Academy Award-winning movie detailing the clergy sex abuse case out of the Boston Archdiocese, was difficult to sit through, his film is a mere quarter of an hour.
"Our feeling is that for 15 minutes, if you can challenge yourself, if you are voting on this issue and discussing it, this is one perspective you need to see."
"It's a tough film to watch but there's a purpose for it." - Joe Capozzi In particular, the film depicts why it takes victims so long to go public with their abuse.
In 2006, Capozzi agreed to a $50,000 settlement with the Archdiocese of Newark in connection to his abuse. Capozzi had told the archdiocese that Monsignor Peter Cheplic had molested him for two decades starting in the mid-1980s, when Capozzi was a teenager and Cheplic worked at St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York.
Capozzi last week did hear back from Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), an outspoken advocate who has pushed for reform and helped steer HB1947 through the House.
"I hope 'Confessions,' which provokingly portrays the 'grooming' process and how children unwittingly succumb to predators, will elicit understanding of how victims are affected for life and how predators continue don't stop abusing," Rozzi said. "We must pass HB 1947 to end this madness."
Rozzi, a survivor of clergy sex abuse, two years ago, distributed to all the members of the General Assembly copies of his 40-minute documentary "You Have the Power - To Make This Right". Few members attended the screening.
"That effort did not change minds," Rozzi said.
Like Pennsylvania, the New Jersey and New York Legislatures have proposed reform legislation pending.
This put on mindset that of someone that gone through struggles and why take so long for someone to come out ...it's such a complicated issue.
"The timing of everything just seems right," Capozzi said. "I feel hopeful that we are at a point where everyone will wake up and get the sense that we are protecting the wrong people."
At meeting, clergy hear of push to lift statutes of limitation on sex abuse cases
by Matthew Gambino
About 350 priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia attended two sessions this week designed to inform the clergy about pending state legislation to lift the statutes of limitation on cases involving sexual abuse of minors.
The afternoon and evening meetings on Tuesday, May 17 at St. Helena Parish's hall in Blue Bell were led by Archbishop Charles Chaput, archdiocesan officials and consultants, and were intended to equip the clergy to discuss the legislation immediately with parish pastoral and finance council members plus other parish leaders.
The speakers described House Bill 1947, which passed in the state House of Representatives in April by a 180-15 margin, and its potentially devastating effects to the Catholic Church and all other private institutions across Pennsylvania.
Parishioners throughout the archdiocese will be strongly encouraged in early June to contact their state senators and express opposition to the bill. It is now in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings beginning June 14 to study the constitutionality of the bill.
Speakers at the meetings described the dire financial impact upon Catholic parishes, schools and institutions that would likely result from an expected flood of civil lawsuits should the bill be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.
Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin confirmed in a statement on May 19 that parishioners will in coming weeks learn from their pastors about the issue “in a comprehensive way” and which will include “a great deal of information that's been absent from the public discussion.”
Media attention on the issue has tended to voice proponents' arguments for the legislation as a way to give victims of sexual abuse the ability to sue the church and other organizations as a means of healing from their experience and to force the church to change how it handles matters of sexual abuse.
Aid for victims of clergy sexual abuse
Gavin said it was an “overlooked fact” that the Catholic Church “has accepted responsibility for past abuse. It has worked very hard to support survivors and prevent abuse from taking place,” he said.
He pointed out the archdiocese had offered $13 million in aid to victims since 2002. Information from the archdiocese shows about $1.5 million is spent each year on services that included counseling, medication, reimbursement of travel and childcare expenses, vocational assistance and other forms of support.
A survivor's independent counselor or therapist indicates the needs of his or her client, and the archdiocese's Victims Assistance Program meets those needs for the individual and family members regardless of when the abuse occurred and without limitation on how long the services are needed, according to Gavin.
He further added that abuse prevention policies including mandatory education and criminal background checks for church workers and volunteers “have been more extensive and going on for much longer than in other institutions.”
Since 2003 about 192,000 adults and children involved in the parishes and schools of the archdiocese have received training to recognize, respond to and report child abuse and improper conduct immediately to law enforcement authorities. The archdiocese has spent $5.7 million on abuse prevention since 2004, according to church records.
“Those efforts exceeded what was prescribed by Pennsylvania law before it was changed a few years ago,” Gavin said. “In some aspects, archdiocesan child protection efforts still exceed state law.”
Proposed changes to PA law
Currently, Pennsylvania law allows criminal cases to be brought up to the victim's age 50, and civil lawsuits up to the victim's age 30. Statutes of limitation, a legal principle intended to ensure fairness, encourage suits to be filed within a certain time frame. The statutes bar suits reaching back many decades because witnesses may be dead or otherwise unavailable, memories may dim or change, and evidence may not be intact or available.
HB 1947 calls for abolishing all criminal statutes of limitation on child sexual abuse in future cases – a provision that the church in Pennsylvania does not oppose.
The bill also calls for lifting statutes of limitation until the victim reaches age 50. That provision is retrospective – plaintiffs could “look back” into an abuse case from decades ago and file suit against any private organization in the state. That includes religious organizations and individual churches, youth organizations, sports leagues and other private entities.
One provision of the bill would lift the statutes of limitation on public institutions such as school districts but only prospectively – going forward, not looking back. The current law would remain in force regarding monetary caps on settlements against public entities found to be grossly negligent in protecting minors from abuse: $250,000 per plaintiff or $1 million in total related claims for state agencies, and $500,000 for local and county agencies, including school districts.
Private organizations would face damages in an unlimited amounts.
The bill appears to establish two classes of victims. Under current law that would pertain under the new bill, people whose abuse occurred in a public organization must file their lawsuit within six months of the alleged abuse. Under HB 1947, victims within a private organization could file suits decades later.
In a few weeks when parishioners hear at their parishes more details about the push to lift statutes of limitation in Pennsylvania, “they'll be shown that the proposed legislation does not treat all survivors of child abuse in an equitable fashion,” said Gavin of the archdiocese.
“Parishioners will also certainly receive information about how the legislation might affect them, as well as the parishes, schools, and charitable works they love and support based on what has happened in other states,” he said.
New York State
NAASCA EDITOR'S NOTE: (from Bill Murray)
Many thanks to Govornor Cuomo (New York) for meeting with the survivor community yesterday in his mid-town Manhattan offices.
I hope our voices will be heard in Albany, as New York State re-considers the statutes of limitations (SOL) for criminal and civil cases in their state (currently among the most draconian in the country).
NAASCA was represented by Chris Anderson (Exec Director of MaleSurvivor) who is mentioned prominently and pictured in the article.
We'd also tried to send Matt Sandusky (Peaceful Hearts Foundation), adopted son of well-known convicted sex offender Jerry Sandusky, now serving a long prison sentence. But Matt ran into traffic and could not attend.
Marci Hamilton, also a NAASCA family member, had already been invited to the meeting and was there, too (SOL-reform.com)!
Today's Daily News article lays out the particulars:
Gov. Cuomo gives survivors hope with 2-hour meeting to discuss Child Victims Act
by MICHAEL O'KEEFFE and LARRY MCSHANE - New York Daily News
Survivors of childhood sex abuse felt a rare emotion Thursday in their fight for legislation targeting predators: Hope, courtesy of Gov. Cuomo.
The governor, leaving the bedside of girlfriend Sandra Lee after she underwent surgery, listened intently during two hours of meetings with five abuse survivors and two victims' advocates.
The Cuomo session stood in sharp contrast to the evasive state politicians reticent to back the proposed Child Victims Act before the current legislative session ends June 16.
“To be in that room and be heard by the governor was very powerful,” MaleSurvivor executive director Chris Anderson, one of the abuse survivors, said. “We felt like there was a lot of compassion in that room. I walked out really feeling that we all had been heard.”
Though specifics were not revealed, the delegation arguing for dramatic legislative change were touched by Cuomo's appearance following Lee's breast reconstruction surgery.
“We were moved by the fact that he saw us with his significant other in the hospital,” said advocate Marci Hamilton.
Lee underwent a double mastectomy last year.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) previously sent staff members to meet with advocates — and continued Thursday to issue vague, noncommittal statements.
Flanagan, without detail, released one promising to address the issue “in a comprehensive and meaningful way.”
But Cuomo, one of the state's famous “three men in a room,” made a point of sharing an actual room with child sex abuse survivors.
The governor “really cares about this issue,” said survivor Kathryn Robb, of Citizens for Children. “He gave me hope in leadership.”
Cuomo acknowledged the opposition of the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Jewish groups, but said he was willing to work toward a solution.
The group, including Hamilton and Safe Horizon vice president Michael Polenberg, initially sat with Cuomo's general counsel Alphonso David and chief of staff Melissa De Rosa.
Cuomo acknowledged the opposition of the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Jewish groups, but said he was willing to work toward a solution.
The group, including Hamilton and Safe Horizon vice president Michael Polenberg, initially sat with Cuomo's general counsel Alphonso David and chief of staff Melissa De Rosa.
“I don't think the issue is how legislators feel about it,” said survivor Stephen Jimenez. “I think the issue is that it is really time right now, given the large number of sponsors, for this bill to be taken to the floor for a vote.”
L.A. school district reaches $88-million settlement in sex misconduct cases at two campuses
by Richard Winton and Howard Blume
The Los Angeles school district will pay $88 million to settle sexual abuse cases at two elementary schools where complaints about the teachers behavior had surfaced long before their arrest, officials confirmed Monday.
The settlement with 30 children and their families, finalized over the weekend, is the second largest in district history, and brings a dark chapter to an apparent close.
The cases at De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington and Telfair Avenue Elementary in Pacoima, emerged in the aftermath of better-known sexual misconduct at Miramonte Elementary, south of downtown. Altogether, a spate of prosecutions and lawsuits led to huge settlements and spurred the district to announce a raft of reforms at the nation's second-largest school system.
"We're glad that we're able to resolve both of these cases so we can avoid potentially painful litigation and put these cases behind us," said Gregory McNair, a senior attorney with L.A. Unified. "We're turning a corner here because we've resolved the last two very large cases that were involving the district."
The abuse scandals prompted the school system to better document and retain allegations against employees.
The district also focused on better training on recognizing and reporting abuse and set up a special investigations unit.
Attorneys representing the students said the change was long overdue and they remain concerned.
Plaintiffs' attorney John Manly likened the district's handling of these cases to the Catholic Church's failure to halt abuse by priests.
“We feel this is an ongoing problem in L.A. Unified and we hope this amount of money will promote a change of heart and change of attitude when it comes to victims," said Manly, who represents many of the students and families.
The De La Torre litigation encompassed 18 children and 19 of their parents (who sued separately). The Telfair settlement involved 12 minors. The agreement provides for a process to distribute the money fairly, but the average payout will be about about $3 million per family, including sums that two of the Telfair students won through a jury verdict last year.
The two schools are at opposite ends of the sprawling school system -- Telfair in the north, De La Torre in the south. And Miramonte was miles from both. All three schools served predominantly low-income communities and involved veteran teachers who had been relatively popular, but whose conduct had raised questions in the past.
Miramonte teacher Mark Berndt attracted the most media attention after his 2012 arrest because of the bizarre forms of abuse into which he lured dozens of students. The payouts eventually totaled $175 million. Berndt is serving a 25-year sentence for committing lewd acts.
The district's reputation continued to be battered as details emerged about other accused predators. At the time, Telfair teacher Paul Chapel III already was facing sex abuse charges.
L.A. Unified had no record that it ever conducted an internal investigation about him despite his dismissal from a previous job at a private school and his later trial -- Chapel was not convicted -- on allegations that he abused a boy. District officials said that the earlier incidents did not involve conduct at an L.A. Unified school, which may have limited their attention to the matter at the time.
But court documents allege that there also were concerns at his L.A. Unified workplace. Teachers at his first district school, Andasol Elementary in Northridge, warned that Chapel was placing children in his lap, attempting to take them on unauthorized field trips and closing his classroom door with students inside during lunch and recess.
In March 2011, a parent complained to an administrator that Chapel would kiss boys and girls in class. Several children confirmed the allegations, but even at that point, Chapel remained in the classroom for six more weeks, according to court documents.
Questions about Chapel's subsequent quiet removal led to a specific change in district policy: Families are now supposed to be notified when an investigation of a teacher involves alleged sexual misconduct.
In all, Chapel sexually abused a dozen students over a decade, including acts such as kissing boys on their genitals. He is serving a 25-year sentence after a no-contest plea.
Robert Pimentel's case also involves a long chain of accusations that led to little or no action, according to court documents filed by the plaintiffs.
Former district Principal Irene Hinojosa fielded complaints about Pimentel's aggressive affection for children as early as 2002, when she documented a conference with Pimentel about touching and slapping young girls' buttocks and touching their calves.
The teacher admitted the conduct, according to the document, with the excuse that he was on medication, which increased his sex hormones. Three years later, Hinojosa received a search warrant requesting “Mr. Pimentel's employment and personnel files” because of an investigation into Pimentel's alleged abuse of a minor who was related to him.
In 2009, senior administrators learned of accusations against Pimentel from a report by social worker Holly Priebe-Diaz, who talked to a group of about 40 parents demonstrating against the principal.
An internal district memo, marked confidential, said soon after that “the district guidelines regarding reporting cases of child endangerment may not have been followed.”
Allegations about Pimentel filtered up through administrators Valerie Moses and Mike Romero -- all the way to senior regional administrator Linda Del Cueto. The complaints, although not lurid, provided more than enough grounds to launch a full investigation, plaintiff attorneys said.
About a dozen students complained about sexual misconduct by Pimentel that occurred after the 2009 allegations. In abuse cases, liability is not established by the acts themselves, but by whether a school system could have or should have known about a potential problem, according to experts.
The district administrators accused of inaction repeatedly denied wrongdoing or declined to comment.
Del Cueto, reached at the district on Monday, said that at this point she is unwilling to discuss the case.
Then-Supt. John Deasy removed Hinojosa as principal and she subsequently left the district for another job, according to state records.
Deasy suspended the three other administrators, along with current Principal David Kooper. Kooper was, for a time, an aide to school board member Richard Vladovic, who represents that area. Investigators apparently found nothing incriminating against either Vladovic or Kooper. Deasy demoted Romero and Del Cueto.
Deasy's successor, Ramon Cortines, restored them to more senior positions. Moses has retired, according to district records.
"The LAUSD is more interested in protecting teachers and administrators than in protecting the children within the LAUSD," said plaintiffs' attorney Luis Carrillo.
Pimentel pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting four girls, including a relative, and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The Connection Between Suicide And Childhood Sexual Abuse
by Adele Ryan McDowell
Circling the international news is the story of the assisted suicide of a young Dutch woman due to long-term childhood sexual abuse. This woman in her 20's asked for -- and was granted -- euthanasia by lethal injection.
She requested an end to her life due to intractable trauma (i.e., severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and concomitant medical issues (i.e., advanced anorexia, chronic depression and hallucinations) that left her primarily bedridden.
Her story has raised questions and concerns.
As a mental health professional who has worked first-hand with childhood sexual abuse survivors, I have witnessed the repercussions of the compounded and complicated trauma of childhood sexual abuse. In fact, I have never met a childhood sexual abuse survivor who has not been suicidal. This is not surprising: inordinate pain (of any kind) and unabated trauma are primary factors in suicidality.
In my experience, childhood sexual abuse survivors are highly intelligent, deeply sensitive, intuitive, creative and protectors of the innocents. They are also dissociative, prone to self-harm, frequently anorexic and struggle regularly with suicidal thoughts and feelings. As one survivor told me, "Suicide is always an option."
And why is this?
Sexually abused children are violated in every possible way. They can no longer trust. They have been lied to, threatened and sworn to secrecy or someone else in the family will be hurt. Their small bodies have been exploited, sometimes shared, photographed and repeatedly injured, often irreparably, due to sexual violence.
The abuser(s) constantly programs the child's thinking, manipulates situations and entrains the child to never speak out or cry as the retributions will be dire. It is a no-win, powerless situation that is utterly terrifying. The child believes what he or she has been told. The child is made to feel at fault. There is precious little safety, control or peace. Every day is on high-alert.
Childhood sexual abuse is a perpetual, ongoing horror which leads to many years, if not a lifetime, of sleepless nights, flashbacks, nightmares, body memories and triggers that can send a survivor into a well of despair, physical pain, and unrelenting panic and terror. Anorexia or other eating disorders can be a kind of coping response in order to garner some kind of control over one's world and feelings when everything inside says die, die, die.
Potential danger is everywhere. The adult who was a sexually abused child might see their abuser's face at the market, on the bus, around the corner. This is the nature of trauma, to be locked into a place of huge fear, feeling with absolute certainty that harm and pain are imminently close. In short, you never feel safe.
This complicated and profound trauma captures the brain. We recognize and acknowledge this kind of trauma in many of our combat soldiers as well. However, the trauma of childhood sexual abuse is often relegated to a back corner. The reality of childhood sexual abuse makes people very uncomfortable.
Some adults minimize the accounts of their children because they think the children are prone to exaggeration and, equally, they cannot accept that these horrific acts would have ever been done by another adult within the family circle. Some parents carry their own history of childhood sexual abuse and are frozen in their ability to respond or take action. There is no easy answer, but the truth is childhood sexual abuse, in varying degrees of severity, exists worldwide.
I have worked with parents who have blatantly refused to acknowledge the reality of their child's experience. And if, in fact, they do believe that their children are telling the truth, there is the bigger problem of why are the grown-ups, frequently parents, doing this to their children. All the way around it is a nasty, harmful business that crushes a child's soul and hijacks their animating life force.
And those who survive the abuse and live to tell their truth and reclaim their bodies have strong, enduring wills. It takes tremendous courage and fortitude to do the intense psychotherapeutic work of dealing with the deep-seated memories, the trauma, the betrayals and to defuse the layers of terror and horror. This work can literally take decades. It is painful unto itself. This work is not a straight linear path, but more of a serpentine, multi-layered exploration where the light is practically non-existent and the footing is tricky.
According to the press reports, the young woman was in her early 20's and endured sexual abuse from ages five to 15. That is 10 years, 10 formative years of constant abuse. The doctors deemed her incurable, which is rare and, also, speaks volumes about the deeply wounded state of her being. This young women had sought professional help, but, alas, in her particular case there was no lasting gain and she slipped further away, locked in a dark world of terror.
I have enormous compassion for this young woman and her final choice. Sometimes, too much is simply too much.
This young woman found a hard-won peace on her own terms. I'm heartbroken for her pain and the suffering she endured. However, she has left a powerful legacy. She has made the world more aware of the severe, life-threatening trauma of childhood sexual abuse and the indelible marks it leaves on the psyche.
May she rest in peace, at long last.
If you or someone you know is at risk please contact your nearest Crisis Centre.
Research Pinpoints Highest Risk Areas For Child Abuse In Dallas
DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – New research obtained exclusively by CBS11 News pinpoints the Dallas zip codes where children are most often abused in the city.
“We know that child abuse is becoming drastically worse in Texas and the system is broken right now,” said Ashley Brundage with United Way Of Metropolitan Dallas.
An alarming three children a week in Texas are dying from abuse, according to experts.
CBS11 spoke to a 20-year-old mother who lives in the West Dallas 75211 zip code where statistics show more children are victims of abuse than anywhere else in the city.
“If they are in human enough to hurt you, what's to say they won't hurt your children,” said Brandi Williams, who just left an abusive relationship.
High risk zip codes like Williams' are the focus of the new prevention program called Dallas HOPES. With abuse cases increasing at a frightening rate, according to child welfare groups, the program is long overdue. The program is funded by a $3 ½ million grant and will hopefully help parents like Williams and her children with voluntary home visits and support programs.
(scroll over the map and click on individual counties to get specific information)
The HOPES grant, the largest ever received by United Way, will develop and implement systems-level, county-wide efforts aimed at increasing community awareness and outreach, coordinating and aligning child abuse and abuse service providers, and ensuring health care providers are trained to identify early signs of maltreatment.
“It's the biggest grant we've ever gotten,” said Brundage. “I think it will make some kind of difference.”
Dan Patrick is blind to child abuse crisis
by Chuck Smith
Last year, 171 Texas children died of abuse and neglect.
Unfortunately, none of them were in a public bathroom.
They were the most helpless and fragile victims. Their deaths were preceded in the five years before by another 800 small caskets, the tragic markers of a state's failure to protect child victims of horrendous abuse.
If they were only in a public restroom, perhaps Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick might have taken up their cause, drawn a line in the sand and rallied Lone Star pride to say “no more".
But no. Patrick has declared it is bathroom use for transgender people that is “a come-and-take-it” issue, a priority of the highest order that caused him to invoke Texas heroes of independence.
He has held or issued half a dozen press conferences and media releases, saying that he is all about protecting children.
Patrick is opposing Fort Worth ISD superintendent Kent Scribner, who is actually trying to protect children, those who are vulnerable and fragile. Scribner clarified school policies that allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity and to protect them from bullying, harassment and even physical harm.
For this, Patrick has called on Scribner, repeatedly, in front of every camera he can find, to resign. This is where Patrick says he's all about protecting the children, unless they're the ones he's vilifying.
Last December, a federal judge in heart-wrenching detail declared Texas had failed abused and neglected children by drugging them instead of addressing their trauma, by placing them in harmful settings and then ignoring their cries of sexual abuse, and by leaving them ignored by overwhelmed caseworkers, sometimes for years.
After that court ruling, Patrick held no press conferences. There's no public statement on his website. He waved no banner for their well-being.
While Patrick has no authority over schools, he is a powerful force over the Department of Family and Protective Services and its Child Protective Services division.
This year 4-year-old Leiliana Wright of Grand Prairie was tied by her wrists, choked, left in a closet and slammed into a wall until she was fatally injured. Her abuse had been reported to CPS months before.
Yet, the lieutenant governor was silent.
Last year, two-year-old Adrian Langlais of Fort Worth was brutally beaten to death. Again, a few months earlier, CPS had been sent pictures of bruises all over his body.
The lieutenant governor chose not to weigh in.
Texas has more than 108,000 confirmed cases of abused and neglected children. Dan Patrick hasn't mentioned that figure. He's more obsessed with the figures that move in and out of bathrooms without anybody noticing.
Nobody has been injured in the bathroom wars, which isn't much more than a political grandstanding farce.
Of course, children really could be hurt if you count the potential loss of billions of federal education dollars. Those could disappear if Texas willingly discriminates against transgender children.
But Patrick would rather place his energy on political farce instead of the real danger to children in this state. And ironically, he appears more than willing to flush education money down the toilet to get there.
Sen. Bob Casey wants to adopt Pennsylvania child abuse laws at federal level
by James Boyle
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey wants the country to adopt some of Pennsylvania's child abuse laws and create a uniform definition of which adults are expected to say something when they see something.
Stricter child abuse laws broadening the definition of mandated reporters — professionals required to directly contact a hotline number when they suspect abuse — went into effect in Pennsylvania in 2015 following recommendations of a task force in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
If the current level of oversight existed before, Sandusky could have been stopped after his first victim, said the head of a Montgomery County-based child abuse crisis center where visited Casey on Monday.
"Pennsylvania has a long list of mandated reporters," said Abbie Newman, executive director of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center in East Norriton. "These are people required to help if they suspect someone is suffering from child abuse and report it to the relevant state agency."
Casey applauded the 2014 state law expanding the list of stakeholders required to act on suspicions of abuse, reaching past law enforcement, health care and education professionals and including librarians, attorneys and independent contractors who have direct contact with children. He used the model for his bill, the Speak Up to Protect Every Abused Kid Act, first entered in 2011 and reintroduced in 2014 and 2015.
"Some states only have three categories of mandated reporters," Casey said Monday surrounded by Mission Kids' leaders and staff, local law enforcement and Montgomery County's Office of Children & Youth. "The Speak Up bill creates nine categories that will be required of any state that wants federal funding."
States that request money from the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act would need to adopt Casey's list, which includes day care workers and attorneys who work with children. The bill also would solve any jurisdictional disputes between law enforcement agencies when abuse occurs outside the victim's home state.
"The new standard will give jurisdiction to the state where the abuse occurs," said Casey. "We should be doing everything possible to create the resources to help the victims. It's what every child deserves, and I am grateful we have those resources and expert personnel in Pennsylvania."
Casey toured the facility on West Germantown Pike. According to Newman, the 12-person staff investigated nearly 600 claims of abuse in Montgomery County in 2015 — up almost 20 percent from the previous year.
"I don't think it's a case of more incidents, but more people reporting the abuse," said Newman. "A stigma still exists around the topic. People don't want to talk about it. We need to bring it out of the closet and continue to shine a light."
Newman said 10 percent to 20 percent of children will be abused in the U.S., with approximately 50 percent of the incidents involving a family member.
The center uses forensic interviewing skills to talk to victims, providing a comforting environment in one of two rooms monitored by closed-circuit cameras. A caseworker speaks to the child while experts watch from monitors and look for telltale signs of abuse. The recordings can go a long way toward bolstering a criminal case, said Newman.
"It's a powerful tool to corroborate a victim's story," said Newman. "Defense attorneys usually accept a plea deal after they see the tape. If a case goes to court, the video supports a victim who might have difficulty on the stand."
84 perverts arrested across Lancashire in fight against online child abuse
Police arrested nearly 90 suspected paedophiles across Lancashire in five months as part of a strategy to thwart global child abuse.
The shocking figure is revealed as the force continues to work alongside the National Crime Agency (NCA), to use new ways of identifying potential online offenders who download and share images of abuse.
It has been hailed a major success by a senior detective.
Detective Supt Andy Murphy, head of public protection at Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Protecting the public, especially children, from harm and abuse is an absolute priority for Lancashire Constabulary and with our partners we will continue to proactively target offenders who use the internet to view or exchange indecent images of children and help safeguard those children who have become, or are at risk of becoming, victims.
“Between April and
September last year Lancashire police carried out 75 warrants, made 84 arrests and, importantly, safeguarded 64 children who could have been at risk.
“These arrests show our continuing intent to stop offenders viewing indecent images and abusing children, and a new sophistication in our tactics.
“Many of the people we arrested in this operational activity were not previously known to law enforcement in relation to child abuse.
“If we hadn't gone out looking for them as we have done, they would have remained under the radar and the nearly 70 children we safeguarded would still be at risk.
He added: “It is important to remember that these figures are just one snapshot of what we do and just one strand of our investigations into the sexual exploitation of children. In addition to proactively searching for online offenders, we receive around 1,500 referrals a year which we act upon and we will continue to prioritise this work to ensure that we safeguard those at risk.”
Details of the tactics used to identify offenders are not being disclosed, in order to protect their effectiveness in future investigations.
Derek Greer, 70, of Daisy Meadow, Bamber Bridge, accessed illegal images and was given a three-year order with supervision and a sexual harm prevention order after admitting three counts of making and two of possessing indecent images.
Richard Turner, 53, of Vicarage Close, Euxton, Chorley, also downloaded illegal images and was given 10 months suspended for two years and a sexual harm prevention order after admitting three counts of making and one of possessing indecent images and must take part in an internet sex offender treatment programme.
In December, the National Crime Agency published figures on operational progress by the NCA and 40 police forces citing 700 potential online offenders had been identified nationally under suspicion of accessing indecent images of children, 104 in positions of trust.
One of them, bus driver Kieron Smith, 28, of Northgate, Leyland, was jailed for eight months in April. A spokesman for the NCA said: “We do a lot of work with local forces to identify offenders who download and share images of children. It is daily business for us and something we have been trying to pursue since the NCA's inception in 2014.”
Suicide rates on rise, especially among young girls
by Dr. Kate Cronan
Suicide is a troubling topic, a hugely difficult conversation, a “that could never happen to my child” pronouncement.
But with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announcing that suicide rates in the U.S. are steadily on the rise, the time is now to confront this issue with your family – especially with your pre-teens and teenagers.
The CDC reports that from 1999 through 2014, suicide rates have increased for both males and females and for all ages 10–74. While this is concerning news, perhaps most troubling is the fact that the suicide rate among girls aged 10-14 tripled during this timeframe and had the largest percent increase (200 percent).
And although suicide is relatively rare among children, it is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10 – 24, after accidents and homicide.
Who is at risk?
Do you remember what it was like to be a teenager? The pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically and to act responsibly … it can be quite easy for some kids, but for others that gray area between childhood and adulthood can seem like a difficult hole to crawl out of.
Adolescence is also a time of relationships, sexual identity and a growing desire to be independent that often conflicts with the rules and expectations set by parents, teachers, and other adults.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness. Mental health problems – such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or insomnia as well as drug and alcohol abuse – can put young people at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts. Teens going through major life changes (parents' divorce, moving, a parent leaving home due to military service or parental separation, financial changes) and those who are victims of bullying are at greater risk of suicidal thoughts. Other risk factors can include:
• feelings of distress, irritability, or agitation
• feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that often accompany depression
• a previous suicide attempt
• a family history of depression or suicide
• emotional, physical or sexual abuse
• lack of a support network, poor relationships with parents or peers, and feelings of social isolation
• dealing with bisexuality or homosexuality in an unsupportive family or community or hostile school environment
What are the warning signs?
Suicide among teens often happens after a stressful life event, such as problems at school, a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, the death of a loved one, a divorce, or a major family conflict.
Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs. But boys die by suicide about four times as often girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms.
This is why it's important to keep track of all medications in your home. And if you keep a gun in your home, it should be unloaded, locked, and kept out of the reach of children and teens, at all times.
According to NAMI, warning signs of mental illness and/or thoughts of suicide can include:
• Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks (for example, crying regularly, feeling fatigued, feeling unmotivated).
• Trying to harm oneself or making plans to do so.
• Out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors that can cause harm to self or others.
• Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart, physical discomfort or fast breathing.
• Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight; significant weight loss or gain.
• Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships.
• Repeated use of drugs or alcohol.
• Drastic changes in behavior, personality or sleeping habits (such as waking up early and acting agitated).
• Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that can lead to failure in school.
• Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities like hanging out with friends or going to classes.
What can we do?
It's easy to blow off some of these warning signs as “teen angst” or “just a phase.” And while that is a possibility, it's important to understand that if teens feel ignored when they are seeking attention, it could increase the chance of them harming themselves (or worse).
Keep a close eye on a teen who seems depressed and withdrawn. Always keep the lines of communication open and express your concern, support, and love. If your teen does confide in you, show that you take those concerns seriously.
If you suspect your child isn't comfortable talking to you, suggest another family member, a clergy member, your school's guidance counselor, or your family doctor. You can also ask your family doctor for a referral for a mental health specialist.
If you learn that your child is thinking about suicide, call your child's doctor or therapist right away. If your child is in crisis, you can call (800) SUICIDE, or get to an Emergency Department.
Finally, don't be afraid to ask questions.
You won't “plant the seed of suicide” by asking if they've had thoughts of ending their life or hurting themselves. In fact, it might be just the prompt a teen needs to feel like someone cares and wants to listen. Of course, it's hard to ask. \
Maybe they won't answer you, but maybe – just maybe – they will.
Dr. Kate Cronan is a pediatric emergency physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and senior editor of KidsHealth.org.
Child abuse experts say recent S.A. cases were bad — but not rare
by Bruce Selcraig
Each case was completely different and yet alike, the details as repulsive as the sense of familiarity.
On April 29, near midnight, Bexar County sheriff's deputies rescued two toddlers, ages 3 and 4, who had been tied up like dogs and left outside for hours in a storm. They and six other children found unhurt in a filthy home were taken into state custody. Two mothers and a father were arrested.
Five days later, Blanco police found 1-year-old Sunny Dakota Flade-Bort unresponsive on the floor in her mother's home, with wounds to her head, a spinal injury and broken arm. She died the next day of a cerebral hemorrhage. The mother and her boyfriend were arrested.
On May 5, Arjunkumar Rana, 19, was charged with capital murder in the March 24 asphyxiation death of his infant son, to which he confessed — then recanted. And on Wednesday, Bexar County sheriff's deputies arrested two more parents, Marquita and Qwalion Busby, in the Dec. 23 death of their infant son, who investigators had found malnourished and dehydrated.
The natural impulse of those outside Bexar County's child welfare system was to search for a common thread in the recent cases, some over-arching truth about child abuse.
Some could point to just-issued statistics from the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities that found 27 percent of children in Bexar County live in poverty. Others could observe that Bexar County had 9.9 confirmed child abuse victims per 1,000 population, compared to a rate of 5.3 and 8.6 for Harris and Dallas counties, respectively.
But many who work with abuse cases say they're too inundated to hunt for explanations or identify corrections or reforms. Several doubted there were any to find that haven't been known for decades.
Outside the crowded courtroom Wednesday where a weeping Cheryl Reed, 30, the mother of the two chained-up children, had been told she had no right to see them, her court-appointed attorney, David Willis, said he was likely to have 20 to 35 open cases with Child Protective Services any time of the year.
“I've been doing this about 25 years, and I don't have the answers,” Willis said. “I don't take everything home with me each night. I'm able to sleep. But … we've always had this number of horrible cases.”
Kim Abernethy said spikes in publicized child abuse cases don't often spur an increase in volunteers at the offices of ChildSafe, the non-profit that helps CPS caseworkers and law enforcement help abuse victims, where she is CEO.
“Sometimes we get a spike in giving,” she said. “You would think raising money for abused children would be easy, but it's still an uncomfortable subject for a lot of people.”
“We see this level of extreme cases all the time,” Abernethy said. “But it's unusual that so many hit the media all at once. I hope the cases are coming to light because we've raised so much awareness … and really worked on prevention, but with (more reporting) we also thought that cases might go up before they came down because now more people are prepared to speak up.”
State District Judge Peter Sakai, who has dealt with such cases as a prosecutor and a judge for some 30 years and has long sought remedies to CPS worker turnover and burdensome caseloads, said society can't ignore underlying issues such as generational poverty, homelessness and job loss that can combine to make some parents feel hopeless.
“But the top three factors we find in most child abuse cases have never really changed over the years — alcohol and drug addiction, lack of mental health services and the culture of domestic and family violence,” Sakai said Thursday.
Asked if he knew of a major U.S. city with extensive poverty such as San Antonio's that doesn't also have elevated rates of child abuse, Sakai paused and said: “No, I do not.”
“But I reject the premise that poverty causes child abuse and neglect,” he added. “People hear that and say, ‘Hey, I grew up poor and our parents didn't abuse us.'”
Sakai said San Antonio's poverty does create “a huge demand on services.
“But we also live in a city with a lot of heart. We have people and businesses with a lot of compassion, which we see in their support of non-profits. And I think that's why you won't see the crisis in our local CPS system that has been seen in places like Dallas or Houston.”
Drugs and alcohol are involved in a large number of child abuse cases, Sakai said, adding, “If we can just get people to be clean and sober, they have a very good chance of getting their children back.” Bexar County's family drug court, where defendants are drug tested weekly, has shown early success in curtailing further criminal behavior and those lessons could be applied to the child welfare system, he said.
When told that new figures show the San Antonio region for Child Protective Services experienced nearly a 25 percent turnover rate for staff in 2015, Sakai was unsurprised.
“If there's anything consistent,” said the judge, “it is that CPS is underfunded, the caseloads are way too high and there's far too much turnover.”
Susan Skaer, a former CPS caseworker, in a recent Express-News opinion column, said she put a note in her employment file that she “could not be held accountable” for a workload of 50 cases that included legal matters, foster care children, home services following abuse and neglect, and investigations of new complaints. With fewer cases, “I could have helped so many more people live more secure lives … I plead with the Legislature to increase funding for CPS.”
Abernethy said when caseloads rise, she watches for staff burnout. “We call it secondary trauma,” she said. “And when bad things happen out there, like the deaths of children, we pull in our people and talk to everyone. No one here says, Oh, it's just another week.”
Yet, as several local child advocates pointed out, a fully-funded, low-caseload CPS doesn't guarantee prevention of the kind of egregious cases that have captured the public's attention.
None of those accused in the recent child beating deaths and chaining of toddlers had prior CPS involvement in this area, to Sakai's knowledge. In particular, with Reed's tied-up children and the other kids found unattended April 29 in the house in the Camelot II subdivision, “I know the community is horrified by that case, but the CPS system worked and I am very proud of them,” he said.
“First, we had neighbors call 911 and report the abuse, then we had deputies look over their fence and save those children, and then finally we saw the CPS system put those children in a better place,” Sakai said.
Sally Justice, appointed as the “ad litem” attorney for all eight of the children has said the siblings found chained in the yard were adjusting well with their temporary foster families and were eating “like they had not seen food before.”
Such improvement is among the rewards of her job, Abernethy agreed.
“Within about six months a lot of these abused kids show real progress,” she said. “We have to remember that the average length of time that abuse goes on without it being reported is about two years, so the sooner we get them, the better they do.
“But we do get to see some of them walk out of here. They graduate from high school. They send us photos. They get scholarships. Kids really are very resilient.”
Susan Sarandon Hits Out at Woody Allen Over Child Abuse Allegations
by Tufayel Ahmed
Since Cannes Film Festival began last Wednesday with Woody Allen's Café Society as the opening film, a cloud has hung over the movie industry's annual self-congratulatory getaway in the south of France as allegations of child sex abuse returned to haunt Allen. And on Sunday, actor Susan Sarandon became one of the first prominent Hollywood names to publicly admonish the filmmaker.
Allen's premiere last week was somewhat overshadowed by an essay written by his estranged son Ronan Farrow, revisiting his sister Dylan Farrow's accusations of molestation by her adoptive father during his relationship with actor Mia Farrow in the early 1990s. In the piece, published by The Hollywood Reporter, he claimed there was whitewashing of the allegations—with the media failing to bring Allen to task and actors continuing to line up to work with him.
On Sunday, however, during a Kering Women in Motion Talk panel at Cannes celebrating the 25th anniversary of Thelma and Louise, Farrow gained something of an ally in Sarandon, who told reporters she had “nothing good to say about Woody Allen.”
Sarandon, 69, was asked by one journalist what she thought of Allen recently saying he “didn't really have anything to draw on” to make a film about an older woman and a younger man. His protagonists tend to center on a younger female with an older man.
The Guardian quotes the actor as saying: “I have nothing good to say about Woody Allen, so I don't think we should go there.”
Pressed further, she added: “I think he sexually assaulted a child and I don't think that's right … It's gotten very quiet in here, but that's true.”
Dylan Farrow's claims of abuse were investigated by police in 1993, following his split from Mia Farrow and subsequent relationship with Farrow's adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, but no charges were brought against Allen.
In 2014, Dylan publicly penned a letter about the trauma she purportedly experienced. Allen again denied any wrongdoing.
Royal Commission on child sex abuse to target military
by David Wroe
The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse is set to probe claims of widespread assault in the Australian military, including against young defence force cadets in recent years.
The commission, which has been running since 2013, has called on victims of abuse in the military to apply to be witnesses in a public hearing starting next month.
In a statement, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said the hearing would "inquire into the experiences of men and women who were sexually abused as children" within Defence.
The commission will focus on Australian Defence Force cadets since 2000. It will also investigate the experiences young sailors at Fremantle naval base HMAS Leeuwin during the notorious period of the 1960s and 1970s, and the Army Apprentice School Balcombe in Victoria in the 1970s.
The hearing will likely reignite what has been a bruising period of self-reflection for the ADF as it tackled decades' worth of abuse claims, flowing in particular from the Defence Abuse Response Taskforce set up by the former Gillard government.
The commission will also examine how the ADF has dealt with child sexual abuse claims.
There are currently about 25,000 ADF cadets.
Australians can now join the ADF at age 17 but can become cadets from the age of 12 years, six months for the Navy and 13 years for the Army and Air Force.
The modern ADF cadet program was established in 1976. It is unknown why the hearing is focusing on cadets' abuse allegations from 2000.?
Defence said in a statement that it was helping the commission and "fully supports its objectives to safeguard children".
"The safety and wellbeing of children involved with, or working in, Defence is paramount," it said."Defence's senior leaders have clearly and publicly stated that unacceptable behaviour, including sexual misconduct, is not tolerated in any form."
In February, the commission's CEO, Philip Reed called on defence child abuse victims to come forward. "If you were sexually abused as a member of the Australian Defence Force Cadets when you were a child, the Royal Commission would like to hear from you," he said.
The Defence Abuse Response Taskforce issued a report in 2014 that described an institutionalised system of horrific abuse spanning more than two decades at HMAS Leeuwin.
The report concluded that sexual assault, violence and bullying were "much more serious and widespread than previously thought".
Both HMAS Leeuwin and the army apprentice school at Balcombe on the Mornington Peninsula used to accept people as young as 14.
The DART has previously expressed particular concern about the "extent and nature of abuse that was carried out in the context of hazing or initiation by groups of senior peers at the Army Apprentice School at Balcombe".
Survivors have until September 30 to apply to tell their stories to commissioners in private hearings. Chairman Justice Peter McClellan made the announcement last month, saying that its commissioners would have limited time to devote to the high demand for private sessions amid final hearings and preparations for their final report next year.
Wasted Youth: The Coming of Age in a for Profit Prison
by Jerika L.H.
It was about 4am when Samantha was jolted from sleep- the liminal threshold of time between January 4 th and January 5 th of 2005. Roused from dreaming, she awoke into a real life nightmare that would forever change the trajectory of her being. A kidnapping in the most unique sense of the word. As her mother shook her to coherence, she suddenly realized they were not alone. Two strangers stood at the door. They had been summoned to take Samantha away. Tears swelled in her eyes as her parents explained that she would be leaving. She had fallen short of their traditional Christian standards. The house she grew up in was no longer to be regarded as home. She managed to grab a few belongings before swiftly being transported off to an unknown fate; leaving behind the violin she had spent all her life mastering and the friends she had held so dear. Her childhood ended there.
“I remember my parents standing at the top of the stairs. They could barely look me in the eyes. I gave them this look of ultimate betrayal as these people led me away and put me in the back of their car. It had child locks on the door so that I couldn't get away. It really was a true kidnapping, but with my parents' consent. It was unbelievable. I couldn't stop crying. We got to the airport and one of the guards in the security line asked me if everything was OK. I wanted to scream that I had been kidnapped, but all of this was legal.”
Samantha was a Stockton high school junior at the time. As most of us have done, she was living out her rebellious stage. Her strict, Christian upbringing forbid much of the self-experimentation that naturally accompanies the coming of age. The sneaking out, the secret phone calls to your boyfriend, the weekly hair dying, the weekend spats of drunken youth that offered the first glimpses of unchaperoned freedom. Her gothic esthetic and amorous relationship raised fear in her family that eventually culminated into the intervention they hoped would “set her on the right track”.
She soon came to realize the price she would pay for her turbulent and restless formative years. Samantha has lived with the trauma of their well-intended misstep for over a decade now. The teenage gulag where she was deposited as “damaged goods” would later be shut down for unethical treatment and abuse. Her story, however, does not start there.
After being taken from her home in the middle of the night, she was flown to Utah. Upon being stripped searched and subjected to other humiliating tasks administered by strangers which she cannot bring herself to recount in detail, she was driven miles out into the desert. Her final destination was a wilderness retreat.
It was a stark change from the normalcy of home life. There was no privacy and friendships were brief. As soon as Samantha got close to others, she was ripped away and placed in another block. For a teenager, social isolation can be one of the worst forms of emotional torment. That was just the beginning.
While it may be difficult to believe, she recounts this portion of her journey as the most ‘pleasant', the most bearable given what she had in store. She achieved some self-reflection in the wilderness and felt she was ready to return home to try and mend things. At that time, there was still light at the end of the tunnel. Her parents had promised that 6 weeks of wilderness camp and she would be back home, with a new outlook and a collection of survival skills to boot. But the passing of time delivered another gut-wrenching blow. Samantha would be going to boarding school. The wilderness camp was just the holding center until she was admitted into the real program.
Soon she was off to Montana. Her ‘therapy' came in the form of manual labor with the occasional psychological evaluation. More intensive rounds of traumatizing group therapy sessions coupled with backbreaking grunt work. Her slender frame did not render her exempt from the grueling physical punishments. Cutting down pine trees, stripping bark, and moving rock piles from one corner of the grounds to another- all while being told it was good for her. It was what she needed. That she was sick and this was her second chance. Her old self must be buried so her new improved version would emerge in between cementing bricks and bucking down lumber. A version of herself that her parents would like- the product they paid for. But Samantha did not want to die. She did not want to transform. She was just misunderstood; a teenager, after all.
She exercised a short lived hunger strike in civil disobediance. She even tried running away; risking the unknown of the vast Montana wilderness in a desperate attempt to save her old self from destruction. Always being drug back to through the entrance- met with more and more demerits and endless, arbitrary labor. Dig up a tree stump. Reposition boulders. While the manual tasks may have toughened her muscles, the verbal abuse only broke her down more. “You're a piece of shit – no wonder your parents didn't want you.” The public humiliation, the spiritual debasement. No one ever asked why she was rebelling or what from. Death started to look like sweet release.
The shackles that bound her were no longer symbolic. After her third attempt to run away, she was chained and taken to the holding jail for dereliction. Her short stint in the lobby of the police station afforded her the gift of simple pleasures long negated: the taste of real food, the ability to speak freely, the kind demeanor of an old-timey sheriff. She was even allowed reading material. But the brief reminder that she was actually a real person was short lived. She was quickly reclaimed by the juvenile institution and recollected as property. Once again, two strangers stood in wait. Once again, she drove off to an unknown destination. The agents becoming incrementally harsher with every new encounter. In this instance, bitterly shushing and mocking her as she cried herself to sleep in a backwoods motel. By this time, Samantha had learned to weep in silence.
The journey halted briefly about 20 minutes outside of Salt Lake City. Unsure of what to do with “the problem”, the juvenile detention agents locked Samantha in a basement for a week while they awaited orders from her parents. Finally, a decision was made. A payment was processed. Receipts were faxed over for her family's accountant to make things easy during tax season.
The end of the road was Conroe, Texas.
Once she arrived in Conroe, all her experiences leading up to then soon became mere child's play in comparison. Her orientation included the same humiliating repertoire as before: the cavity searches, the scared-straight tactics. She was accosted with rules and verbally excoriated as she entered, being told she would be shot if she tried to run away again. Pelted with insinuations that the institutions rural neighbors would gladly rape the beautiful 15-year-old if she was found unaccompanied, Samantha got her first taste of the correctional facility ironically named Excel. A place that would become synonymous for what she remembers as ‘a sea of the child abuse and misery'.
Children who were daring enough to talk back were met with corporal punishment. The most common exhibition being what Samantha calls ‘the dog pile'.
“One staff member would be at each limb and usually someone sitting on top of their chest and the kid would be screaming and screaming –sometimes cussing sometimes crying out from the pain they were in from having 5 adults crushing them. The rest of us would be sitting around doing homework- or at least pretending to do homework. You don't watch. You pretend like it's not happening. I can't even count the amount of times that I just sat there staring blankly at my book while things like this were going on.”
Like a marine boot camp brigade, the group was often punished in mass for the infractions of one. The children were often sent into impromptu worship groups to shield them from particularly harsh punishments that could become questionable if done with an audience. She would be forced to write God's prayers continuously. “God have mercy on [the name of the inmate]' over and over again, a thousand times in silence as they listened to the isolated student's punishment . When it was all over, they were called back to formation.
Samantha's memories bleed together. There is simply too much for her to recount in one sitting. Trauma has taken its toll. Energy must now be spent on rebuilding. But even so, some images still stick with her.
“There was a time when they punished an entire group of kids and forced them to stand next to their beds all night long. Sleep deprivation was definitely a favorite tactic of theirs. There were a couple of times that a girl tried to commit suicide. One girl tried to drink the bleach water that we cleaned up with. It was so watered down though that nothing happened. She ended up hanging herself some years later. Another girl tried to strangle herself with a scarf she had knitted. The staff would blame us for one of our fellow students going astray like this and would punish everyone. The girl who either tried to commit suicide (or sometimes it was a run away case) would sleep in the middle of the room and we would all have to take shifts staying up through the night to watch her. They also had an isolation room where kids would just disappear for sometimes weeks. I saw it once. It had nothing in it except a flimsy mattress and a big Alcoholics Anonymous book. They would make us do calisthenics in the blistering Texas heat, and we would do them till we puked.”
Samantha describes the institution as a fanatically religious cult, a distorted spin-off of AA. The visceral recollections are still with her. She gags whenever she smells canned tuna. Regimented eating was commonplace at Excel where she was hungry all the time. But what difference did her biological needs matter? She was scum. Unwanted. Completely alone surrounded by other empty human vessels that Excel sought to mold. A place where young ladies were constantly labelled “whores” and non-alpha males were ridiculed as “fa–ots”. Sexually degrading verbal assaults were the daily bread and butter. Bodies were to remain 10 feet apart. McCarthism was rewarded. Friendship was forbidden. There was only the bible.
“There is no way that you can know what a place is really like. My parents had no idea for a long time what they were really doing to us at Excel. All of our phone calls were listened to and all of your visits, until you were there for 6 months, were chaperoned. It took a very long time for me to communicate that I needed to get out of there, mostly because I was scared they wouldn't believe me. I had seen it happen before where kids tell their parents about what was happening. Outraged, the parents would confront staff and obviously the staff would say we were lying and manipulating our way out of there. That's why we were there in the first place, right? We were bad, lying kids. Then the kid would lose all of their phone calls and visits for however long they thought was appropriate. A month? 2 months? I never even tried until my first or second visit that I had alone with them. So I was there like 7 months before I even started easing them into it.”
Soon enough, or should I say ghastly overdue, Excel was publically exposed. The county sheriff's deputy who had been moonlighting at Excel was indicted on charges of official oppression in 2008. The physical wounds of a sexual assault perpetrated on a male ‘inmate' could not be explained away- it was the final nail in Excel's coffin. It is now permanently closed.
Since 2008, scores of former prisoners have come forward with their stories of abuse. Frequently gathering on an online forum called HEAL, their testimonials of survival are affirmed and corroborated by young adults from all over the nation. Survivors are now getting the group therapy they were promised so many years ago in the rehabilitation brochures that convinced their parents to shipping them of “for their own good”. Even former employees have taken to the website to voice regret and sorrow over their actions or speak to the things they witnessed. While each story is similarly unique, they all resolve with the same plea. “Please put a stop to abusive juvenile detention centers”, “This is more common than people think. It forever changed me”, “Never send your child to a correctional facility- it will only damage them”, “if your child is acting out, figure out the core of their pain instead of shipping them off to be spiritually destroyed and abused”.
Samantha's story is testament enough. After years of being beat in the head with the idea that it was all her fault, the aftermath of her ordeal has stimulated reflection on where exactly things went wrong for her. “I just should have been raised differently. I was in a really oppressive, sheltered environment. If they felt like they needed to stage an intervention (which I don't feel like I needed one), I wish they would have tried something less drastic than sending me away. Get me together with my whole family and a therapist… Intervention TV show style. Scaring someone into submission doesn't really fix the problem and that's really all these places do. Its partially a power thing. Parents don't feel like they have control over their kids anymore so they prove otherwise. It's more than that but it's definitely part of it. They wanted to get rid of the burden, basically. My parents found the institutions through a special school counselor. There are for-profit companies that deal specifically with troubled teens and place them in schools.”
In the end, Excel did nothing to mend the relationship Samantha's parents sought to rekindle. After all, how affective is fighting trauma with trauma. “My parents ended up kicking me out of the house shortly after I came back- or rather I left because they threatened to send me back and I couldn't live with that over my head all the time. I barely graduated high school. I mostly only did because my teachers knew what I was going through and just let me pass. I was living with my best friend and her mom. If I wasn't a drug user before, I certainly became one after I was back. I had no one to talk to, and no one understood what I was going through or cared. I had no way to cope with the PTSD that I didn't even realize I had. It could have been worse though. I am grateful to my friend's mom for taking me in. My parents and I didn't really speak much for a few years. I've tried to tell them how damaging it was for me, but they just can't hear it. Its guilt, I'm sure. We get along fine now, but things get pretty tense if Excel is ever brought up.”
It has been 10 years now since Samantha left Excel. She prides herself in being somewhat healed at present- no small feat for the parentally financed abuse that overshadowed her for a decade. Even still, debilitating panic attacks come and go. Sometimes it's hard to breathe. The room begins to spin as the “trapped” feeling sets in. Angst intermittently peppers the quotidian life of the young lady now in her mid-twenties. Samantha no longer relies on drugs to self-medicate and numb. She is a new mother; married now with a beautiful family of her own. She has slowly worked her way towards a concept that was once so foreign: happiness.
In the end, dreams of happiness may be what motivate overwhelmed, ill-informed parents to send their children away. The attempt at a perfect relationship like the ones depicted in the rehabilitation center's website are presented as the perfect prescription. Words like r e-education, new beginning, therapeutic resort , and structural awakening are powerful conducers. Excel's headline was too persuasive for many parents to pass up. “Throughout their stay at Excel, students begin to see their parents in a new light. They become grateful that they have loving parents and want to repair and improve their relationships.” They never show the orange jump suits. The verbal assaults are nowhere mentioned in the informational packet. The recruiters are in fact sales people playing off the age old exploit of supply and demand.
It is no farfetched exaggeration to say that many kids have died at the hands of juvenile correction agents. Ethical violations, sexual assault, and physical abuse within youth rehabilitation institutions have become a common news headline. The US Justice Department has enacted lawsuits against countless facilities all across the United States for abusive, harmful, or negligent treatment of the children in their care. The total control and surveillance that surrounds inmates makes it nearly impossible to tell anyone on the outside what is really going on. Cruel and unusual punishment charges are brought into court for legal judgment on a monthly basis. By the time parents find out, it's too late. That is presupposing that the parents care. Many young people currently living in lock down have done nothing more than committing the crime of an unwanted presence. They will be released out into the world at 18 without a soul to go home to.
“In a nationally conducted survey, the Associated Press contacted each state agency that oversees juvenile correction centers and asked for information on the numbers of deaths as well as the numbers of allegations and confirmed cases of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by staff members since January 1, 2004. According to the survey, more than 13,000 claims of abuse were identified in juvenile correction centers around the country from 2004 through 2007—a remarkable total given that the total population of detainees was about 46,000 at the time the states were surveyed in 2007.”
And yet, for profit correctional facilities still abound. Excel is just one among a sea of others with many more being built as we speak. Not only have they gotten ahold of desperate parents, but more and more judges have been caught sending children to for profit prisons in exchange for money and bribe gifts. In the balance sits countless young lives. Children who are still forming, still growing, still learning. Young people who have acted out because of abuse, trauma or neglect. The thought of others going through their nightmare is a second hand injury for many who endured Excel. Many want to help but are unsure how they can. Samantha abides. “It breaks my heart knowing that there are kids at those schools right now. I have considered many times getting into some sort of organization that helps kids who went through this stuff or tries to get these places closed down, but I've just sort of avoided it because it's kind of triggering and I wanted to just leave it in the past.”.
While Samantha and many others lived it first hand, for the rest of us it is a lesson that can be partially summed up by the new California ad campaign that has been raising billboards across the state. “School, not prison”. California alone spend $62,300 per year towards every juvenile offender in detention centers. It would cost only $9,100 per year to enroll them in community college and provide them with housing. Self-love based therapy is actually quite affective for troubled youth. Group settings make young people feel like they're not alone. Hugs are free. Caring adults are often times a first for many young people who were not spared the rod. Most juvenile offenders are willing to dig deep to understand why they are so angry. Some already know why: years of neglect, never having enough, sexual molestation, verbal and physical abuse. The answers are never too hard to find, but, in most cases, no one has ever asked. But Samantha's story illustrates an important component: soul searching usually does not start in prison for youth who are victims of circumstance.
As we see corporal punishment caught on film in the classroom and videos of police body slamming youth for mouthing off, few among us seems to question why young people have formed such attitudes. Why the anger? What is going on at home? Why the pain? How quickly the roles become reversed when it comes to practicing what we preach to young people.
Samantha reflects. “I feel like if they had tried to accept me for who I was instead of trying to mold me into their version of a perfect child, I wouldn't have acted out so badly in the first place.” Out of the mouth of babes.
Sex-trafficking survivor helps others identify victims
by Susan Abram
That summer between 8th and 9th grade, Holly Gibbs met a man at a local mall. She was shy and insecure. He was kind and complimentary.
“He said I was pretty enough to be a model,” Gibbs said. “He said things that made me feel really good about myself.”
Two weeks of words and promises were enough for Gibbs to be swayed into leaving her South Jersey home with him. But within a couple of hours of running away, Gibbs was forced into prostitution in the casinos of Atlantic City. She was 14.
It can happen in a flash. A teenager from a bad home or a little bit of insecurity meets a man who says he'll always love her, care for, give her all she needs. Days later, she's working on the circuit, on the well-known prostitution tracks of Fresno, Los?Angeles, Compton, Anaheim, and the city of San Bernardino, another victim of sex trafficking.
Gibbs said she was lucky. She was saved two days later. She went to high school, to her prom, then college. But there are those trafficked for weeks, months or even years who go unnoticed. One place where they may get help is at hospitals, Gibbs said.
For the last 18 months, Gibbs has worked within Dignity Health's Human Trafficking Victims Program, believed to be one of the biggest such initiatives in the West.
Her job is to train health care professionals across the system's 39 hospitals in California, Nevada, and Arizona to look for the red flags of a sex trafficked victim: a gangmember's name tattooed on a girl's face, bruises, hunger and expressions of fear.
As a sex-trafficked survivor herself, Gibbs, now 38, said she met with others who survived across the country and learned that they could have been saved earlier.
“Most of them went through the emergency department several times, and some went through labor and delivery,” she said. “These were all opportunities when they could have been identified as a victim and someone could have intervened.”
So far, she's trained hundreds of staff in emergency departments at all Dignity Hospitals, including those in Glendale, Long Beach and Fontana. Now she's in a second phase of the program, which is alerting nurses in maternity clinics. Gibbs spoke to maternity staff at Northridge Hospital Medical Center last week, which already operate the well-regarded Center for Assault Treatment Services or CATS, a program that provides support for sexually and domestically abused women and children 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.
In the last few years, more awareness has been raised surrounding sex trafficking through the courts and legislature. Law enforcement officials are now more aware that youth caught in prostitution are victims, not criminals. The Los Angeles County District Attorney's office conviction rate of those who pimp and pander nearly tripled from 2013 to 2014, from 28 convictions to 75. States have increased the sentences of those convicted of pimping and pandering, from what used to be a few months to nearly life sentences. Earlier this year, California Attorney General Kamala Harris launched an initiative called Truckers Against Trafficking in Alameda County, and the Federal Aviation Administration alerted airports on how to spot victims.
Hospitals add another layer to that awareness, said Nancy Bussani, the head of philanthropy for the Dignity Health Foundation.
“Within the system, we had lots of things happening to help people who are victims of human trafficking but we didn't have a sense of what was working well,” she said. “We know virtually every victim is going to come to a hospital or clinic, and if we're not recognizing what works, then we can't help them.”
The foundation hopes Dignity Health's program will become the national model but they need to expand the program. A fundraiser will be held in San Francisco on Wednesday to help bolster money for the program, Bussani said. She also said the hospital system needs greater community support so that once released from medical care, survivors can find work training programs, housing, and other resources.
“It couldn't be solved by hospitals alone,” Bussani said. “We're not the whole solution,”
Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the Orange County District Attorney's office and co-founder of the human trafficking unit there, agreed that the entire community needs to be aware that sex trafficking can happen anywhere. Even in Anaheim, near Disneyland, she said. She said since her office began the human trafficking unit in 2013, there have been 130 convictions of those who try to sell youth into commercial sex. Men who are caught soliciting youth, known as “sex purchasers,” have their photograph taken and placed on the District Attorney's website, an idea first used in the Inland Empire.
“The stunning violence and the lack of humanity that these animals have against these victims ... They are told when to eat, what to eat,” Schroeder said of those who pimp victims. “The victims are so brainwashed and so damaged, that they need resources.”
National organizations against sex trafficking have found that 72 percent of the victims identity their country of origin as the United States. Still, the public believes it's a foreign problem.
Years after she was arrested for prostitution, Gibbs said she never realized she was a victim of sex trafficking until 2009, when she saw a documentary about it. That's why she wants to share her story, and to educate the public about human trafficking in general, which includes people who are forced into slave labor.
“By all means, we have to educate teens about the tactics used by pimps and gangmembers to lure victims into prostitution,” she said. “But we also have to educate kids about human trafficking in general. They should know about worldwide trafficking. We have to be aware in our communities. If we're not paying attention, who is?”