From the Department of Homeland Security
What Does Human Trafficking Look Like?
Human trafficking is a crime that affects victims of any age, gender, race, or immigration status. Human trafficking occurs in all parts of this country – from cities, to suburbs, to rural areas. Perpetrators of this crime relentlessly canvass ways to take advantage of people who find themselves in circumstances of extreme adversity or violence, experience discrimination, economic vulnerability, or dependence.
This summer, the Blue Campaign introduced a new phase of its national campaign to raise awareness of the full reach of this crime and promote new and innovative web-based educational resources to reach all communities across the U.S. Our new posters are available for download here.
Help spread the word about this crime of modern day slavery. Display these posters in your community to help combat human trafficking.
Learn more about the Blue Campaign, and how you can help end the heinous crime of human trafficking by visiting DHS.gov/bluecampaign.
Roundup: 41 arrested in online prostitution sting in Tennessee
by The Washington Post
41 arrested in online prostitution sting
Tennessee police have arrested 41 people in an online human trafficking sting in Nashville, with many suspects allegedly paying for sex with underage girls, authorities said.
The three-day operation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation netted 34 men, six women and one juvenile on prostitution-related charges, the agency said in a statement Friday.
Undercover agents posed as a juvenile girl in ads on Backpage.com. A total of 485 men answered the posted ads.
Eighteen men who responded to the ad paid to have sex with the invented underage girl, the statement said.
There's only one way to fix this child abuse debacle – listen to the victims
by Deborah Orr
This ill-fated inquiry must return to first principles. Record the dreadful narratives of what happened. Then the next steps will be clear
Dame Lowell Goddard, brought in to head the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse hasn't said much about why she has resigned, but criticism has appeared in the media of the amount of time she had spent abroad or on holiday. Maybe she's unfeasibly thin-skinned. Perhaps she has been looking for some time for a plausible reason to bolt. MPs who yesterday demanded an explanation may get to the truth.
Still, a year is good going for the New Zealander. The first appointee, Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, lasted less than a week. The second, Fiona Woolf, didn't quite make two months. Butler-Sloss resigned because it emerged that her brother, Michael Havers, had been attorney general during failed investigations three decades ago. Woolf resigned because she had social links to the family of Leon Brittan, whose own role at various times would necessarily be part of the investigation.
It's no coincidence that the inquiry has burned through three chairs already. The demands of the role dictate that any suitably experienced British head will be part of the establishment the inquiry is investigating. Yet it's hard to see how anyone who isn't British would have enough understanding of the general culture to grasp the enormity and complexity of the task. Or even grasp quite what the task actually is.
Sure, you don't have to have been a child in the 1970s to understand quite how ruthlessly Jimmy Savile dominated an enabling media, or what a self-deprecating renaissance man Clement Freud appeared to be, or what a trusted politician Cyril Smith was. But it helps. These men were at the heart of the establishment for most of their adult lives. And there were many more, some now convicted, others dead, and others, probability dictates, still sauntering away from justice.
Many of us grew up seeing or hearing active paedophiles being held up as success stories and societal exemplars. It's hard to grasp that they were so visible, so respected, so rewarded.
It would probably be simpler and more enlightening if someone were commissioned to investigate the factors that make the UK so extremely accommodating of child-abusing psychopaths, and so cavalierly indifferent to the testimony of their victims. I use the present tense advisedly.
The inquiry is looking into institutional and historical abuse. All three of these men lived at the heart of politics and the media, well into the current century. No allegations against them were taken seriously until they were dead. Yet here we are, struggling and failing even to launch an inquiry into whether there was ever one identifiable and structural problem at all, back in the past, when we didn't know any better.
It's a bitter irony that the Office for National Statistics this week published its first ever figures on how many people have experienced sexual abuse as children in England and Wales. The figures are staggering, even if you thought you understood how widespread the problem was. Seven percent of adults taking part in the survey – 11% of women and 3% of men – reported that they were sexually abused. I can recall four instances myself, two by bad men, as they were called in those days, two by other children.
I didn't tell my parents about three of my assaults. Two took place in the local woods, which I loved and didn't want to be banned from visiting. Parents are less casual nowadays about allowing their children to roam the countryside unaccompanied, but it's a shame that it's the freedom of children that is curtailed, and the fears of parents that are heightened, in order to lessen the risk.
One of the assaults against me, at the age of 12, was in my home, by the son of a family friend, and I did tell. The boy's mother excused her son by saying that I'd acted inappropriately myself, by pointing out a couple of cows and using the term “mating” earlier in the day. As victim-blaming goes, it's pretty rococo. My parents were upset, but they didn't know what to do about the matter, other than file it under Prank That Went Too Far. It certainly wasn't seen as a big deal.
The only crumb of comfort to be taken from the statistics is that the problem does seem to be abating for more recent generations. Reports of sexual abuse are fewer among younger people. But even that, may be illusory. It's hard to know, for instance, whether the knowledge of how much trouble perpetrators would now get into puts even more pressure on manipulated children to keep quiet.
Britain, we know, is still brilliant at ignoring and excusing child abuse, as the effort it took to expose paedophile gangs across England so recently attested. And crime generally, of course, has moved on to the internet. The children who are being abused may well be being abused far more often, far more systematically and far more seriously. And many are likely to be being abused abroad. Disgusting sex tourism remains rife.
This ill-fated inquiry more and more seems both far too sprawling and far too limited. Teresa May, home secretary when it was launched, and Amber Rudd, her successor, must make some decisions. The first thing, it seems to me, is simply listen to the testimony of the abused and record it. The nature and direction of further investigations can surely be dictated only by that.
Already another year has passed in which abuse victims have been denied the chance to offer their narratives. They're back at square one, as far as who to tell their stories to is concerned. Which means that institutional, historical abuse is still being enacted, and still very much in plain sight. The horror continues.
Police back campaign to talk PANTS
by Luton On Sunday
Bedfordshire Police has welcomed a new campaign from the NSPCC which encourages parents to speak to their children about their body.
The talk PANTS campaign aims to teach children important messages around keeping their body parts private and talking to a trusted adult if they feel uncomfortable.
The campaign urges parents to teach their children the PANTS pneumonic:
P - Privates are private
A - Always remember your body belongs to you
N - No means no
T - Talk about secrets that upset you
S - Speak up, someone can help
Detective Chief Inspector Liz Mead, of the Bedfordshire Police Public Protection Unit, said: "It can be really difficult for parents to know how to talk to children, particularly young children, about staying safe.
"The talk PANTS campaign is a fun, simple, and age-appropriate way to teach children vital rules that could help reduce their risk of becoming a victim of child sexual abuse.
"We're particularly pleased to see that the NSPCC has also produced guides for parents, and carers in many languages."
"For years sexual abuse was something that was rarely talked about, leaving victims to suffer in silence. By being open with children about topics such as this and talking to them about it from an early age, we will be able to prevent further people becoming victims of this abhorrent crime."
Statistics published as part of the Crime Survey of England and Wales show that hundreds of thousands of adults were victims of child sexual abuse when they were younger.
DCI Mead added: "We are aware that there are many people out there who suffered abuse as a child, who for whatever reason have never felt comfortable in coming forward.
"Although nothing can undo the horrors that they have suffered, we would urge them still to come forward to us so that we can investigate, take the appropriate action, and provide them with the support they need."
For more information about the talk PANTS, including to access their guides for parents and to watch the Pantosarous video, visit the NSPCC website.
You can also see updates from the campaign on social media using #TalkPANTS
Sexual predators left off list of banned USA Gymnastics coaches
by Mark Alesia , Marisa Kwiatkowski and Tim Evans
USA Gymnastics touts a list of coaches it has banned as a key safeguard to warn gym owners and parents about dangers, including sexual predators.
And to protect young gymnasts.
But an IndyStar investigation has uncovered one example after another of coaches who were not only suspected of abuse, but actually convicted of molesting children, yet they did not show up on the banned coaches list for years — even decades — after that conviction.
Vincent Pozzuoli was one of those coaches.
Pozzuoli, who coached in Connecticut, was arrested in 1994 and later convicted of battery for groping an 11-year-old boy at a gymnastics camp in Maine. But he kept on coaching. In 2011, he was convicted again of groping another young gymnast.
This time, Pozzuoli was finally added to a list — Connecticut's sex offender registry.
He would not, however, be added to USA Gymnastics' banned coaches list until earlier this year — or 20 years after his first conviction.
Jon Little, an Indianapolis-based attorney who has represented survivors of sexual abuse in lawsuits against a number of sports national governing bodies, said USA Gymnastics' banned list is "abysmal."
“It provides no useful information to parents," he said, "and should not be relied upon on deciding whether or not a coach is safe, because it doesn't tell you why the people are banned, principally."
In a "Safe Sport timeline" published by the organization, USA Gymnastics touts being the first national governing body in Olympic sports to implement a list of coaches and others permanently ineligible for membership.
Leslie King, vice president of communications for USA Gymnastics, said the banned list was started in 1990 and “has proven effective on a global level.”
She said the organization typically waits until criminal cases run their course before banning a coach. She did acknowledge, however, that “there have been times when it took longer than expected or desired to resolve matters.”
The shortcomings with USA Gymnastics' banned list represent just one of several gaps IndyStar found in the national governing body's efforts to protect gymnasts, many of whom are children. Others include:
USA Gymnastics requires criminal background checks only on "professional" and "instructor" members — mainly coaches at competitive and non-competitive levels — instead of all personnel at member gyms.
It does not publicize when a coach's membership is suspended due to an investigation into sexual improprieties.
In addition, USA Gymnastics has failed to alert authorities to many allegations of sexual abuse by coaches.
That last gap was revealed in an IndyStar investigation published Thursday that found USA Gymnastics has adhered to a policy of dismissing an abuse claim unless it came from a victim or the victim's parent. IndyStar found multiple examples where the organization was tipped off about a coach's disturbing behavior, did not report it to authorities and the coach went on to molest young gymnasts.
The investigation also revealed the existence of secret complaint files kept by USA Gymnastics that contain allegations against more than 50 coaches.
In addition to the Pozzuoli case, IndyStar found 18 other cases in which coaches were not added to the banned list printed in its two publications until more than a year after their criminal convictions. Five of those people's names didn't appear until more than a decade later.
USA Gymnastics implemented an expedited process in 2007, King said, for adding people to the banned list that has “helped this situation immensely.”
Still, IndyStar found recent examples of the problem:
Virginia-based coach Christopher Ford pleaded guilty on Oct. 22, 2010, to the assault and battery of a 12-year-old male gymnast, according to Fairfax County Police Department spokeswoman Tawny Wright. But he was not placed on the banned list until earlier this year.
Maryland-based coach Neil Frederick was convicted in 2002 of what's listed on the state's sex offender registry as a “third degree sex offense.” He was accused of fondling five girls, ages 9-10, at an elementary school where he was a physical education teacher. But Frederick didn't appear on the banned coaches list until this year.
107 on banned list
Being on the banned list isn't an absolute prohibition from coaching. It only prevents coaches from holding a professional membership through USA Gymnastics and from coaching at its sanctioned events.
But membership is a big deal.
As the sport's national governing body, USA Gymnastics sets the policies and rules for gymnastics from the highest levels to local gyms — a sweeping reach that takes in more than 121,000 members. The Indianapolis-based organization also controls the path to Olympic competition for thousands of young athletes, including gymnasts hoping to earn college scholarships or emulate their Team USA heroes.
Currently, there are 107 people on the list of banned members, nearly all of whom are coaches accused or convicted of sexual misconduct. Some, such as former Olympic team coach Don Peters, are well-known in the gymnastics community. Others coached at the local level.
People are added to the banned list when “a member's conduct is determined to be inconsistent with the best interest of the sport of gymnastics and of the athletes we are servicing,” according to the organization's website.
Gym owners said they check the list when hiring coaches, and parents can use it to assure their children are safe.
Jan Giunipero, a Florida-based former gym owner, told IndyStar she hired a coach believing his USA Gymnastics membership — and the fact he wasn't on the banned list — meant “he was a safe choice in all aspects.” And a Georgia mother, Lisa Ganser, told IndyStar she believed her daughter was in good hands because the girl's coach was a USA Gymnastics member in good standing.
They both were wrong.
Ganser said she felt betrayed when she learned that USA Gymnastics had received at least four warnings about that coach, William “Bill” McCabe, before he secretly took pictures of her daughter changing clothes and posted those naked pictures of the preteen on the internet.
McCabe's name wasn't placed on the list until after he pleaded guilty to federal charges of sexual exploitation of children and making false statements.
Partial background checks unsafe?
USA Gymnastics also faces some criticism over its policy on background checks.
Since 2007, USA Gymnastics has required national- and county-level checks in all the places where an applicant has lived for the previous seven years. Some checks can go back further, said King, the USA Gymnastics spokeswoman. The criminal checks are required as a condition of membership, and are conducted every two years.
The policy, however, doesn't cover all employees at the more than 3,000 gyms that also are USA Gymnastics members.
A separate organization, the U.S. Association of Independent Gymnastics Clubs, requires background checks for all employees of a gym — even the owner. Anything less than that, the group's website says , is "an unsafe practice" and fails to "meet the standards of care pertaining to child safety."
"For me, as a father and grandfather, I'm paranoid about these things," Paul Spadaro, president of the New York-based organization, told IndyStar.
And, he added, "My attorneys felt it's the stupidest thing in the world to check half of your employees. You're open to litigation about the other half."
Club owners in the association resisted the policy at first because of the expense of added background checks.
"I told them, 'Look what you get back,' " Spadaro said. "What are you telling parents? That you care about the kids."
When IndyStar asked USA Gymnastics why it doesn't similarly require background checks of all gym personnel, King said the organization “cannot oversee the private business practices of the clubs other than through their relationship to the organization.”
'You've shifted everyone off center'
Various awareness programs make up the other main thrust of USA Gymnastics' efforts to fight abuse.
In 2005, the organization began presenting sexual misconduct awareness sessions at its annual regional and national conferences.
USA Gymnastics took another step four years later by creating a participant welfare policy, which defines sexual abuse and includes recommendations for local gymnastics clubs to set policies to lessen the likelihood of abuse. It also provides guidance on reporting sexual abuse allegations, noting that anyone may notify USA Gymnastics about abuse involving a member.
And in 2012, the organization also launched a Clubs Care awareness campaign. One component of that campaign is encouraging gyms to immediately report abuse allegations to law enforcement.
Katherine Starr, a former Olympic swimmer and founder and president of Safe4Athletes, said USA Gymnastics' efforts fall short of what's truly needed to protect children. She said generic education about abuse isn't enough.
“They've manipulated and groomed the gymnastics community into a false sense of security,” she said.
When asked to comment on Safe4Athletes' concerns, USA Gymnastics said it was not able to comment at this time due to the hectic nature of preparing for the Rio Olympics.
It's imperative, Starr said, that education and policy focus on the unique dynamic between a coach and a young athlete. She noted that the featured video on USA Gymnastics' Clubs Care website is of Margaret Hoelzer, an Olympic swimmer who was abused by her friend's father, not a coach.
“Coaches and athletes spend an inordinate amount of time together in an activity that can be intense and emotional,” according to Safe4Athletes' guidelines for preventing abuse. “There is always the danger that the relationship between a coach and an athlete may cross the line from mentor-mentee to one that is based on total control, dependence and/or romance.”
Little, the Indianapolis-based attorney, said that while USA Gymnastics' policies don't meet best practices, they are better than those of many other national governing bodies.
"It's horrible," he said, "but it's not the worst."
USA Fencing, Little noted, does not have a banned list.
Indiana Senate leader seeks tougher child abuse law
by Tim Evans and Tony Cook
The top lawmaker in the Indiana Senate said Friday that Indiana's child abuse reporting laws should be strengthened in the wake of an IndyStar investigation that exposed USA Gymnastics' failure to report many abuse allegations it received about coaches.
IndyStar reported Thursday that USA Gymnastics has a policy of dismissing complaints as “hearsay” unless they are signed by a victim or victim's parent. Lacking firsthand information and a signed complaint, the organization's president, Steve Penny, said he didn't think there was a responsibility to report abuse allegations to police under Indiana law.
The law in Indiana, where USA Gymnastics is based, requires anyone with a “reason to believe” a child has been abused to report the allegations to police or the Department of Child Services, but Penny said without firsthand information that threshold isn't met.
That policy, administered by executives of the sport's national governing body, allowed sexual predators to continue coaching — and, in some cases, sexually abusing children — even though complaints had been lodged against them by gym owners and others, IndyStar found.
Long, R-Fort Wayne, called on lawmakers to tighten legal definitions and increase penalties for not reporting child abuse.
“The term ‘reason to believe' may not be strong enough,” he said. “We may need to define that better in the code. If you receive any notice that abuse is occurring, you have a responsibility to act on it immediately.”
Long also said the penalty for not reporting — currently a class B misdemeanor — is too weak. The penalty is up to 180 days in jail and a fine of $1,000.
“That probably needs to be increased to a Class A misdemeanor or Level 6 felony,” he said.
The maximum penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is one year in jail and a fine of $5,000, while a Class 6 felony carries a maximum penalty of 2½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Penny, in written statements replying to questions from IndyStar, said the organization has followed the law for Indiana and other states in responding to abuse allegations it receives.
IndyStar uncovered four cases in which USA Gymnastics compiled sexual abuse complaint files on coaches but did not report the allegations to authorities. Those four coaches went on to abuse at least 14 children. Evidence in the Georgia lawsuit showed the organization compiled sex abuse complaint files on more that 50 coaches during a 10-year period ending in 2006.
Yet USAG officials testified that they seldom, if ever, forwarded allegations to police.
Long called the findings in IndyStar's investigation of USA Gymnastics “troubling.”
“You err on the side of children — always,” Long said. “To the extent anyone has broken the law, they should be prosecuted. But most importantly, knowing it has happened in the past, what are they doing to change how they operate to make sure the children in their programs are protected?”
Suzanne O'Malley, deputy director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, said she could not comment on Long's proposal until the group's legislative committee could review a draft of his legislation.
O'Malley said the reporting law is actually better than it was in the past but acknowledged it still is not as clear as it could be.
When it comes to protecting children, however, she said the overarching message is clear: "Report. Report. Report."
O'Malley said individuals and groups do not need to investigate claims before deciding whether to report.
"The reality is that it's not your job to investigate," she said. "Let the experts who are used to talking to kids find out what happened."
Medical professionals not always trained to identify child abuse
Doctors required by law to report but not taught to recognize
by Sara Maslar-Donar
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Jefferson City-based Missouri Kids First is an agency that works to empower adults to protect children from child abuse.
"Many times I think we expect children to protect themselves from abuse by teaching them about body danger and potential predators," said Executive Director Joy Oesterly. "We firmly believe it's an adult's responsibility."
A two-month-old infant died last week after his parents described him as "non-responsive and shallow breathing." The father, Christopher Buxton, is now charged with murder after doctors at MU's Women's and Children's Hospital in Columbia identified signs of non-accidental trauma.
"A 2 1/2-month-old child doesn't roll around on the floor where they might roll around and hit themselves on a corner of a table," said Oesterly. "They don't have the physical development to be able to do those things."
Court documents also revealed a Columbia pediatrician saw the child in early July for a large bruise on his back. The pediatrician later admitted she advised the mother, Mary Buxton, to avoid going to the emergency room because it might trigger an investigation.
"People quickly dismiss what may be their gut reaction," said Oesterly. "I think a lot of times we do that because we don't want to accuse anybody of doing something wrong. It's a sensitive issue and we don't want to accuse somebody if they haven't done it."
Oesterly said there are also tens of thousands of mandated reporters across the state, but many of them don't know if they're required to report or not.
"They don't know what to do when they suspect child abuse," she said.
Missouri Kids First works with pediatricians who specialize in child abuse and have found out that even though doctors are mandated reporters, and can be punished by law if they do not report, they're not really trained to recognize the signs of child abuse.
"They will frequently tell us that in medical school pediatricians don't get very much education as it's related to child abuse," Oesterly said. "For the average pediatrician it would be uncommon that they have very much education about child abuse."
Oesterly said while it is troubling that the pediatrician wouldn't report the case, there's more to it.
"I think a reasonable person could expect a medical provider to take some action and it's unfortunate that it appears that happened," she said. "But the real crime here is that someone intentionally injured this child."
House Bill 1877, that goes into effect at the end of the month, will be part of a way to address these cases before they become fatal.
"We will be looking at all allegations of child physical abuse for kids 3 and younger," said Oesterly. "Those cases will get referred to medical providers who have specialized training in child abuse so that we can intervene earlier."
State sets model protocol for agencies involved in investigating child sexual abuse
by Deborah Highland
A child sex abuse victim in Morgantown should receive services including forensic interviews consistent with a child victim in Louisville or Bowling Green or Brownsville.
That's part of the rationale behind the Model Protocol for Local Multidisciplinary Teams on Child Sexual Abuse, adopted by the Kentucky Multidisciplinary Team on Child Sexual Abuse staffed by the Office of the Kentucky Attorney General. The protocol is the best practice standard that lays out the role of each agency involved in the process of serving the victim, known as multidisciplinary teams.
The teams in each county are comprised of representatives from law enforcement, child advocacy centers, prosecution, department for community based services, medical professionals, mental health professionals, victim advocates, education professionals and other related professionals whose participation on the team is deemed necessary.
The protocols are not new. There have been several released in Kentucky since 1998, the most recent in September. All of Kentucky's 120 counties were given an April 1 deadline to submit a protocol for their county based on the model released last year. The commonwealth's attorney's office for each county is responsible for writing the protocol that doesn't have to exactly mirror other counties but must at the very least include everything from the model created at the state level. As of Friday, five of the 10 counties in the Barren River region have completed their protocols – Barren, Butler, Monroe, Edmonson and Hart.
"Yes, we want to protect children," said Dawn Long, executive director of the Barren River Child Advocacy Center. "Yes, we want to hold people accountable who hurt children. But equally important is that we are providing services in the least traumatic way possible. If we stay in line with those national best practices standards, we have the best, highest likelihood of accomplishing that goal."
The protocol sets in place accountability for all of the agencies involved.
"This document is so important because Kentucky is starting to hold agencies accountable at the state level," Long said. "We are required to meet a higher standard.
"This protocol is really the closest that Kentucky has ever been within being in line with the national best practices standards. That's a big deal because Kentucky has really struggled to get there."
The work of the entire team matters to a community because children who don't receive proper intervention can become offenders, can endure chronic victimization leading to substance abuse and if an offender isn't stopped he or she will continue to reoffend, affecting other children and other communities, Long said.
Sexual abuse is the worst kind of childhood trauma, Long said.
"This (protocol) document and this effort is absolutely vital to children because we want to do no more harm to these kids," Long said. "We cannot change what's happened to this child when they walk through the door. The way in which we as an individual agency provide services ... we can and absolutely do have an immediate impact on how that child is going to get through that process. Are they to come out of that process on the road to healing and recovery, which is absolutely possible, or are they going to experience additional trauma going through that process which will potentially hinder that process."
Warren County Commonwealth's Attorney Chris Cohron anticipates having the protocol for Warren County completed within the next 30 days.
"As we've gone through multiple versions of protocols over the last few years, they have naturally expanded and tried to address emerging issues that our multidisciplinary teams face," Cohron said. "As child sexual abuse investigations have been modernized over the last 15 years, the protocol has been used as a best practices guide for handling all aspects of these cases."
The two goals for local multidisciplinary teams are safety and protection for child victims of sexual abuse and accountability of the child sexual abuse service system.
"Following this protocol makes sense and it's actually working," Long said.
Within the two primary goals of the model are several other objectives which include but are not limited to increasing the quality of sexual abuse investigations, prosecution and victim services, elimination of duplicate efforts such as one forensic interview conducted with a child, holding all professionals involved in the process to the highest standard of professional conduct and the continued implementation trauma-informed care.
"When a child enters the system, they are supposed to receive consistent services throughout Kentucky, and those services are based on national standards by discipline," Long said.
The protocol is a helpful resource for Tim Coleman, commonwealth's attorney for Edmonson, Butler, Ohio and Hancock counties.
One of the services Coleman appreciates the most from child advocacy centers is forensic interviews. For the counties in which he prosecutes child sex abuse cases, he expects all forensic interviews to be done at one of the two advocacy centers in his judicial circuit.
"Interviewing a child is never an easy thing," Coleman said. "You want to make sure it's done correctly. You don't want to have it called into question."
"It's immeasurable the help they provide," Coleman said of the advocacy centers in his circuit.
"It gives the children a much more relaxed environment. It helps a lot in that respect that they are being interviewed in a professional manner that's being videotaped so we don't have to put the child through multiple interviews."
All interviews at advocacy centers are conducted one-on-one between the forensic interviewer and the child and are recorded on video. Police, prosecutors and other members of the team who need to hear the interview may sit in another room and watch the interview from a closed circuit television. The children are made aware prior to the interview that people involved in the process of helping them will be watching from another room. Forensic interviewers at the Barren River Child Advocacy Center are highly trained and must undergo regular peer review.
"It's a structured, unbiased conversation with (the child) that helps them to be comfortable enough to tell their story, if they are ready," said Jacqueline Peterson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and one of the forensic interviewers who contracts with the center.
Peterson pulls videos of her most challenging interviews for peer review because she wants feedback that helps her improve her skills.
The interviewer will typically meet with police first and may wear an earpiece during the interview so that police or prosecutors can communicate questions to the interviewer that they have about the abuse. The interviewer asks only open-ended questions, careful not to lead the child in any direction.
Having those questions asked in a way that does not lead a child is important in the successful prosecution of perpetrators of the abuse.
"The vast majority of child sex abuse cases are delayed disclosures," Cohron said. "If you can ensure the child is safe and it does not impede the investigation, the best practice is for the the forensic interview to be done at the advocacy center. It is a safe environment and done by trained professionals in a setting that gives you a complete interview of the child.
"In acute cases you must have the flexibility in the model protocol to conduct those interviews outside of the advocacy center," he said.
The state model protocol allows for limited investigative interviews in instances of danger or risk of more abuse to protect the child from additional harm but the model clearly states that all efforts should be made to conduct interviews of child sex abuse victims at advocacy centers.
In Coleman's judicial district he prefers that those imminent danger interviews be conducted for minimal facts only.
"They do such a great job with interviews," he said of the advocacy center. "It's a child-friendly environment. They have the medical facilities and can get them set up with counseling."
The advocacy centers have all of the necessary information and professionals to make sure that the children receive every service needed and available to them at no cost.
"The centers are really important to our whole process and they do a great job," Coleman said.
Sex trafficking survivors spread the word
by Emily Mieure
Until just a few years ago, Wyoming was the only state without a law that provided criminal penalties for human trafficking.
House Bill 133 was signed into law in 2013 and made it a felony to knowingly recruit, harbor, receive or participate in other ways in forced labor or sexual servitude.
In an effort to raise awareness about human trafficking, a group of almost 200 people spent the week in Jackson.
“We're in town for the Freedom Challenge 2016,” said Tina Yeager, U.S. Director for the Freedom Challenge.
The organization based out of Atlanta, Georgia focuses on putting an end to human trafficking and the exploitation of women and children.
“If we do not raise awareness, human trafficking is not going to stop,” Yeager said.
Victims of sex trafficking are on average 12 to 14 years old, she said.
“It's such an ugly, dark issue,” Yeager said.
From when she was 7 to 12 years old, Yeager said, she was a victim of sexual exploitation.
“I wasn't trafficked. I was very blessed to have a family that took me in as a young child, but I could have been one of those victims,” Yeager said.
The Freedom Challenge arrived in town July 31 and spent the week hiking and climbing in Jackson Hole. The group left the valley Friday.
“It's very symbolic if you think about the climb some women take out of these dark issues,” Yeager said.
The movement also raises money to end sex trafficking.
“Laws can continue to change and people can work to prevent it,” she said.
Jackson is not immune to sex trafficking, according to officials.
“We might be in an isolated town, but this goes on here,” Becket Hinckley, Teton County Prosecutor, said.
In November 2014, Jonathan Kelly Massoletti, 31, allegedly ran a sex ring of at least four women. He ended up facing federal charges because of the young ages of the women and because of his multistate operation.
In August 2006, four men were busted for trafficking two teenage girls after an anonymous caller reported one of them as a runaway, police said.
“Human trafficking and prostitution happens in every community,” Jackson Police Cpl. Roger Schultz said. “And Jackson being a tourist and party destination, we have those same kind of issues like any town does. Even more so.”
There could be more cases that are going unreported, Schultz said.
“If you see anything suspicious, have police come check it out,” said Schultz. “If people don't tell us where we need to be, we may not know about it.”
The Freedom Challenge's next effort is a trip to Machu Pichu in September 2017. People can still sign up to join the trip. For details about the group, its Wyoming visit or its 2017 mission, visit TheFreedomChallenge.com.
'They destroyed us': Yazidi survivors rebuild lives after horror of Islamic State (IS)
Hundreds of Yazidi women and children have escaped IS since 2014. But for most, freedom is only the first step towards rehabilitation
by Wilson Fache
Sinjar, IRAQ -- Trapped in the house of her Islamic State enslaver, Nadia would hide when she wanted to pray towards the sun, despite being forced to convert to Islam. Today, the 34-year-old Yazidi spends as much time as possible outside her tent so she can enjoy the warmth of the sun, which she has had tattooed on her right hand as a symbol of her millennial religion.
For the first time in two years, Nadia is a free woman.
“Our life has totally changed," Nadia told Middle East Eye. "We used to be a happy family." Raed, her six-year-old son, sits on her lap as she speaks outside a makeshift shelter she has had to build herself.
Nadia now lives with her child and her sister-in-law's family just outside the Khanke camp for displaced Yazidis in Dohuk, northern Iraq, two years after IS launched a campaign to eradicate the community and captured thousands as slaves.
“He was just a normal kid before," Nadia said of her son. "But during his captivity he totally changed. He was brainwashed." Raed, who was only four when he was taken by IS along with his mother, still acts as if he was living in the “caliphate”, where he was told that his native language is not spoken in heaven.
“When we ask him something in Kurdish he doesn't answer so we have to speak to him in Arabic,” his mother explained. Just a week ago Raed, who sometimes behaves violently since his release, still referred to members of IS as “friends.”
Of Nadia's four children, Raed is the only one who is free. Her daughter is still a captive in IS-held territory: her two other sons and husband may have succumbed to the same fate as many other male Yazidis and be buried in a mass grave.
While thousands were killed, about 2,600 abducted Yazidis managed to escape between October 2014 and now, according to figures provided by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). But for most, freedom is only the first step toward rehabilitation.
“I am an adult but they still successfully brainwashed me," Nadia said, looking at her son. "They changed my mind. When I was in captivity, I thought I would never be the same."
UN: IS committing genocide against Yazidis
The Yazidi community, which draws some of its beliefs from the pre-Islamic religions of ancient Persia, considers Tawusi Melek, the "Peacock Angel," as a central figure to their faith.
But IS sees him as an equivalent to Satan. Regarded by the IS fighters to be “devil worshippers” and infidels, many Yazidis were killed and possibly buried in as many as 35 mass graves. Thousands more were enslaved while at least 400,000 had to flee when IS started attacking Mount Sinjar (Shingal), home to the majority of the world's Yazidis, in the early hours of 3 August 2014. The Kurdish Peshmerga fighters who were guarding the region fled instead of defending their positions, abandoning the Yazidis to their fate.
In June, a UN-mandated human rights inquiry concluded that IS is committing genocide against Yazidis that amounts to crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“The genocide of the Yazidis is on-going,” the report noted, adding that “over 3,200 Yazidi women and children are still held by ISIS. Most are in Syria where Yazidi females continue to be sexually enslaved and Yazidi boys, indoctrinated, trained and used in hostilities.”
Nadia and her family were captured one Sunday morning when IS fighters swept across the border from Syria into Iraq and seized her village. They managed to escape the first assault, but were eventually taken hours later: that was the last time she saw her husband and her other children.
That same day, Nadia was sent with Raed and Jalila, her sister-in-law, to Mosul. There she was sold at a slave market to an IS member she regarded as “better than some others”.
Jalila, in contrast, was sent to Syria and forcibly “married” to a Tunisian fighter and, later, two Syrians. Intially she would not wash herself to avoid sexual abuse. But eventually, she recalled, "one [of them] put a gun on my head and told me that if I don't take a shower he would kill me. I was so scared I did take the shower.
“They forced us, it was not our choice,” she insisted, as if she had to justify herself.
For the last three years Elham Ibrahim, a psychologist, has been treating Yazidis seeking support. She currently works in a clinic inside Khanke camp opened by the Jiyan Foundation for Human Rights.
Since the attack on Sinjar, Ibrahim said she had witnessed a dramatic increase in the need for her services. “They have nightmares, flashbacks, they can't sleep or eat properly. Sometimes even [their relatives] don't recognise them. They see them as strangers.”
Ibrahim is particularly concerned about the women who were enslaved and sexually abused by IS, not only because they have to overcome their trauma, but also because they sometimes have to face the accusing eyes of their own family in a region where rape survivors can be seen as culprits rather than victims.
“They ask: ‘Why were so many girls not raped but you were?' They keep blaming the woman. They say it was her fault, they say she liked it,” said Ibrahim, before adding that fortunately “many families accept it and have no problem with it.”
Ibrahim is h opeful but realistic and knows that more remains to be done before a sexually abused Yazidi woman can rebuild her life. “Without treatment she might very well kill herself,” she said, adding that some of her patients had attempted suicide.
'How can we ever be like before?'
Jalila's mother, the only member of the family who was not kidnapped by IS, welcomed her daughter home with relief but also sorrow: Jihane knew her daughter had changed. When Nadia later escaped with Raed, Jihane recognised the same lifeless eyes.
All of Jihane's 10 children were captured but for now Jalila is the only one who came back. Yazidis have been persecuted for centuries, but Jihane is in no doubt that her community has never suffered atrocities on such a large scale before.
“I don't believe the Yazidis will ever be like before. They destroyed us. How can we ever be like before? Just at look at us,” the matriarch raged before adding that it is “the worst genocide” her community has ever endured.
“When before were women sold, kids beheaded and families destroyed?" she almost yelled. "Never. It never happened this way before. It cannot be worse!”
A common claim among the Yazidis in Iraq is that their community has gone through numerous "firmamat", a term they coined and the translation of which, in this instance, would be "genocides”.
Mélisande Genat, a PhD candidate in History at Stanford University who has been conducting field work in Iraq since 2010, said that while the Yazidis were repeatedly targeted under the Ottoman empire and throughout the 20th century, the 2014 operation by IS must be seen as the first attempt to wipe out the entire community from Iraq.
"Yazidi history is replete with massacres, the scale of which may, in fact, often have exceeded what happened in 2014," Genat told MEE. Bu t, she explained, the internal dynamics of the Sinjar tribal fabric - alliances and conflicts between Yazidi, Kurdish and Arab tribes, as well as internal dynamics within the Yazidi community - have allowed for the continued presence of the Yazidis in the region of Shingal.
“In 2014, however, it is the first time that the Yazidi community has been targeted as such. Therefore, the term genocide is entirely appropriate."
Jihane has lost many family and friends during the past two years but her attention is now focused on Jalila, Nadia and Raed, who, months after their captivity, are still coping with the trauma.
“They are sad in the bottom of their heart. They are still tired, they are always thinking about their family in captivity,” Jihane said, a white veil covering her silver hair and a dash of hope sparkling in her dark-brown eyes. " They have been affected, but hopefully they will heal.”
The names of Nadia, Raed, Jalila, Jihane and Sana were changed to protect their identity and their relatives still in captivity.
Troy man to serve 18 years in prison
Sentenced on two counts of rape of minor child
by Melanie Yingst
MIAMI COUNTY — Miami County Common Pleas Court Judge Jeannine Pratt sentenced Thomas A. Contento, 49, on Monday to serve 18 years in prison for two counts of first-degree felony rape.
Contento pleaded guilty in May after originally facing a total of eight counts of rape. He was sentenced to serve nine years for each count and was ordered to serve the sentences consecutively. He was granted 188 days of jail time credit and is not eligible for early release.
Contento's guilty pleas were part of a plea agreement with the state, which dismissed the six other counts of first-degree felony rape. According to previous reports, the sexual acts were against a child under the age of 11.
Contento did not make a statement in court prior to the sentencing. The now adult victim tearfully read her account of the abuse she suffered as a child. She said she came forward to protect other children from Contento.
Miami County Assistant Prosecutor Paul Watkins said what the victim endured “was something no child should have to go through” and asked the court to uphold the joint recommendation.
Contento had no prior record. A pre-sentence investigation noted Contento failed to show remorse for his actions which he continued to deny.
Contento must register as a sex offender for 10 years and serve five years of mandatory post-release control following his release from prison
Queensland to allow class actions for the first time
by Amy Remeikis
After scrapping the statute of limitations for institutional child sex abuse survivors, the Palaszczuk Government is moving to add some pages to Queensland's law books and allow class actions.
As it stands, the Sunshine State has no class action structure in its legal system, forcing those who had cause, including the Queensland flood victims, to lodge their action in interstate courts.
After speaking to stakeholders following its announcement Queensland would follow New South Wales and Victoria and remove the statute of limitations preventing adult institutional child abuse survivors from applying for civil justice, Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the government would also introduce legislation to allow class actions to be filed in the Queensland court system.
"At present, Queenslanders who wish to take class action lawsuits have to operate through other jurisdictions to do so," Ms D'Ath
"For people who are often involved in emotionally and financially difficult circumstances, this can limit their access to justice through unnecessary complexity and inconvenience.
"There can also be an additional cost burden for claimants who currently need to pursue class action matters through other jurisdictions.
"For cases that are particularly pertinent to Queensland, it will also allow the knowledge and expertise of our judges and lawyers to be better utilised."
In an earlier statement, Queensland Law Society president Bill Potts had said the "exclusion" of Queensland from class action was "a cause for concern".
"Class actions are often the only way that poorly resourced victims of disasters and other tragedies can uphold their rights, but for Queensland victims with a possible class action, the only option is to commence those actions in other jurisdictions." he said in May.
Mr Potts also dismissed concerns that following in the footsteps of New South Wales and Victoria would see "an explosion of litigation".
"In Australia, between judicial control and the general 'loser pays' rules, frivolous actions are few and far between," he said.
"The cost and complexity of class actions and judicial supervision that is seen in the other Australian jurisdictions tends to limit class actions to genuine matters.
"It is also fair to say that the potential adverse consequences of class actions tend to encourage responsible corporate behaviour - nobody wants to be on the wrong end of a class action, and this has the effect of encouraging more responsible corporate conduct.
"...Over half of all class actions in Australia over the last 11 years have settled," Mr Potts said.
"By definition, class actions do require more focus in handling the claims of a large number of people in one court case; this tends to bring more focus to bear on solution outside of trials."
The government is due to release a discussion paper which will look at extending the statute of limitation removal for other institutions – such as families, and broadening the scope to also include cases of physical and psychological abuse.
The LNP, which had also committed to removing the legal timeframe barrier for institutional victims as recommended by a recent Royal Commission, has indicated it will support Labor's first legislation, which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is due to introduce on August 16.
The Case of 'An Open Secret'
From Curiosity to Denial
by Thomas Britt
“Is it newsworthy? Yes. Are we gonna air it? Of course not. Why? Because he's not telling the truth? No. Because he is telling the truth. That's why we're not going to air it. And the more truth he tells, the worse it gets!”
—Al Pacino as Lowell Bergman in Michael Mann's The Insider (1999)
Privacy is long gone, in part because there are technological means to record, preserve, and disseminate all aspects of a networked existence. While the NSA story has become old news, there remain differing opinions of the ethics of examining private information. Thanks to whistleblowers, the ability to know who-knows-what represents some reclamation of power over things personal, even if that power is countered by ongoing targeting, tracking, and mining.
Most citizens lack the security clearance to learn who knows what and how and why. Many present their lives as content for social media consumption, often without considering what's being lost. In modern life, digital and virtual spaces complicate concepts of consent and violation.
Against the loss of privacy and discretion, it would seem that the role of the journalist to help prevent abuses of power and/or institutional abuse is more necessary than ever. At is best, journalism is not a mere document dump or an inconvenient truth buried on a minor page. Nor is it the stuff of an unreflective social media spree. Journalism involves discernment, narration, prioritization, perspective and point of view. The journalist tests evidence to find the truth. They consider causes and effects.
A judicious journalist would find little to gain by prying into or compromising the private life of a subject unrelated to a developing story. This line between private and public is a common theme of whistleblowing narratives. When a private person becomes a public person, there exists the question of consequences for participation in a media endeavor. The central conflict of Michael Mann's The Insider is not the conflict between truth and lie, but between the forces that have access to the information; in this case, the whistleblowing individual (spurned employee Jeffrey Wigand) versus the much more powerful corporate structures (Brown & Williamson, CBS) seeking to quiet the noise.
In a situation like this, if the mediating journalist mismanages the disclosure of information, then the individual whistleblower might become more damaged than if they had never chosen to speak out in the first place. Indeed, as CBS waffled in its commitment to Wigand, his personal and professional life fell apart. The journalist might also feel a loss, as did Lowell Bergman, the dogged 60 Minutes producer who succeeded in bringing Wigand's story to national attention. Played by Al Pacino in Mann's film, he answers his wife's concluding assertion “You won” with a question: “Yeah? What did I win?”
Spotlight, the reigning Academy Award winner for Best Picture, could be described as the most prestigious scripted American drama film about journalists to come along since The Insider . And yet the scale of Spotlight 's dramatic action is considerably different from Mann's film, which was adapted from a Vanity Fair article organized around the tale of lone whistleblower Wigand. Whereas The Insider focused on one informer and one reporter crusading against corporate interests to inform the nation about a public health concern, Spotlight is about a group of victims gaining the attention of a group of reporters armed with a “spotlight” incisive enough to break through the silence regarding sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church.
Additionally, the nature of the information being investigated sets Spotlight quite apart from other tales of insider whistleblowers. Child victims of sexual abuse are especially helpless. They cannot be seen as consenting participants, which is a distinction from other harm scenarios in which known risks exist—tobacco use, for instance, but also the use of prescription drugs, the hazards of certain workplaces and other instances that routinely appear in the news and in dramatic storytelling of imperiled citizens.
The abusers are also different because priests and assumed godly people in the Church's power structure aren't merely the sort of overstepping executives or corporate figures that normally populate whistleblowing stories. They are believed to be on the side of righteousness, perceived as mediators between man and God. Within the belief system, these men are next to God. As one adult survivor says in the film, “You feel trapped … How do you say no to God?” In Spotlight , the contrast between absolute helplessness and absolute power is conducive to powerful storytelling.
For the journalist-heroes of the film, the urgency to break the abuse story involves the potential to highlight past abuse and to save present victims and prevent future victims. The Boston Globe 's titular “Spotlight” team (played in the film by Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and others) is equipped to conduct deep investigations into stories that might otherwise go unnoticed. Early in the film, the story selection process for the team is described as finding “what's essential,” even if that essential story conflicts with other interests at the paper and in the community.
Nearly every line of dialogue, action, and image of the finely tuned script for Spotlight exists to illustrate how essential this particular story is. From the rare light moment (one staffer at the paper tells a member of the team to “go be curious somewhere else”) to scenes of grave importance (a victim asks “you really want to hear this?” during an interview), everything said is suggestive of a general complacency or an ingrained denial to report the truth about the pervasive abuse in particular.
Boston is rendered as a small place that takes care of its own (in a sinister sense) at the expense of the victims, who grow into adults that carry the effects of their abuse. Some of the offending priests, relocated but not disciplined in any real way, develop “odd rationalizations” for their actions, including having been molested when they were young. The greater community ensures that no one involved is in a position to accept responsibility or meet justice.
Spotlight is a film focused on the journalists that bring a story out of the darkness and into the light, so the primary dramatic arc of the film is not any single victim's story, but instead the realization that the truth-tellers themselves have been complicit. Early claims were buried. The facts were known, but never collected and shaped to inspire the sort of outrage that they might have stoked. The eventual triumph of the team of reporters is predicated on an admission that they, too, had for years been part of the denial.
In light of this recent history of acclaimed Hollywood films about truth-telling citizens and journalists, the reception of a recent documentary very much in the spirit of these films is a curious thing, indeed. Amy Berg's 2014 film An Open Secret was released last year in a rollout so small there aren't even statistics on Box Office Mojo to reflect its commercial performance. Berg, the Oscar-nominated director of Deliver Us from Evil, a thematic forerunner of Spotlight, executes An Open Secret with the same sort of crusading spirit of Lowell Bergman and the Spotlight team.
Yet the failure of her film to connect with a wide audience (and its present unavailability on home video formats) speaks to the persistence of denial when the perpetrators of child abuse populate the Hollywood power structure rather than another institution like the church. Such selectivity sends a message to viewers that the film industry will support and celebrate crusading storytellers so long as the truths they uncover don't expose Hollywood's secrets. This contradictory position on truth-telling only enhances the credibility—the essentialness—of An Open Secret.
As the title of the documentary suggests, the instances of child sexual abuse in Hollywood have been simultaneously known and ignored, exposed and suppressed. The film opens with evidence of this bewildering duplicity in the contrast of footage from Diff'rent Strokes ' pedophile warning episode(s) “Bicycle Man” (1983) and a present-day interview of star Todd Bridges, himself a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of the same show business that dramatized the issue in his television series.
Bridges has long been a subject of discussion about the rocky path child actors face as they grow up (and further into or out of) the entertainment industry. But viewers of An Open Secret needn't know the specifics of his hard times to understand the bind he was in, a bind shared by many other young performers. Berg and her co-writers and editors present the evidence. While some of the evidence in the film is anecdotal, and some of it has been publically challenged, the totality of the case the filmmakers make leaves no doubt that there is a child abuse epidemic in the entertainment industry.
Thus, the experience of viewing An Open Secret situates the viewer in a position much like that of the Spotlight journalists uncovering information that was hidden in plain sight. And in this case, Berg and her team assemble the argument so convincingly that anyone who enjoys movies and television shows involving young actors should feel some complicity in supporting an industry that stays silent on these matters. Perhaps the potential for outrage and action among the ticket-buying public is the reason the film itself was destined to become all but hidden. If we become too curious about the problem, mightn't that break through the denial?
One core theme of the film is the degree to which child performers are isolated from parents and other would-be protectors. Once isolated, they are subject to unsupervised grooming from adults in the industry. To reinforce the claim that the industry prefers “emancipated” kids who can be seen “as adults”, the film includes footage of casting director Krisha Bullock speaking at a Back Stage at the SAG Foundation video. She tells the audience, “Once you are eight you are responsible for your own career.”
Michael Harrah, one of the industry's first exclusive managers of child talent and the former chairperson of the Screen Actor's Guild's Young Performer's Committee, appears in a contemporary interview. He says, “Children are mostly willing to listen. They're ready to absorb things. They haven't yet developed any preconceived ideas about who they are and how they're going to get somewhere.” Add to these emphases on isolation and grooming the repeated notion that parents of aspiring performers are likewise ignorant of the system and require an education about the rules of the game, and a picture emerges of a power imbalance that would be easy for a person with ill intentions to exploit.
Considering these conditions, it's not surprising that sexual abuse of children is rife in Hollywood. Resources and materials for education and prevention of abuse often mention identifying or creating isolation being among the grooming tactics used by abusers. Marty Weiss, a manager of mostly male child actors, is described in An Open Secret as a man who “had sleepovers regularly”, a tactic shared by several other industry figures spotlighted in the documentary.
Harrah repeatedly evokes the issue of parents not being around to supervise as a key factor in abuse situations. Yet from home video evidence interspersed throughout the documentary, it's clear that Weiss was also often around the parents of his victims, to the point of having been symbolically adopted into their family structure (this too, is a tactic of abusers). Some viewers of An Open Secret might ask how the parents of the victims could not see what Weiss was up to. But the downside of allowing one's examination to drift to other influences or causes (like parental recklessness) takes the spotlight off of the known predators, and the filmmakers are careful not to let men like Weiss slip from blame.
Another theme An Open Secret shares with the scandal dramatized in Spotlight is the prevalence of rationalizations and excuses the abusers make to normalize the behavior. Some of the evidence of this sort comes from the first-hand testimonies of abuse survivors who courageously appear before Berg's camera. Nick S., whose screen credits included The Apostle and What's Eating Gilbert Grape , recalls being molested by Marc Collins-Rector, the founder of Digital Entertainment Network (DEN). Nick recalls that Collins-Rector would say, “Don't be scared, it's completely normal,” as he abused him in a home movie theater.
Other evidence of rationalization and normalization comes from the mouths of the abusers themselves. On a secretly recorded audiotape produced by another brave survivor, Evan H., we hear Marty Weiss admit to sexually abusing Evan when Evan was 12 year sold. Weiss suggests that Evan wanted it and excuses the sexual activity between himself and the 12-year-old boy by saying “it is a natural function… animals… if they like it, they go for it”.
One of the most shocking moments that Berg captures in contemporary footage is when Michael Harrah, the man who was a pioneer of managing child performers, appears to admit abusing Joey C., another survivor interviewed in the film. In the same scene, Harrah defends the actions of Bob Villard, a known abuser and child pornography collector/transporter. Harrah defends Villard's actions, saying, “I take these things with a grain of salt. I'm not sure how horrible they really are.”
These two themes—isolation and normalization—help to explain how the well-known abuse remains an open secret. Though the survivors featured in the film are distinctive and talented individuals, they do share the same narrative of having a dream to be an entertainer, meeting the men who could make that happen, and then for a time silently bearing the experiences of having been abused by those men. Thus, they also share the same stigma. More than one instance in the film (particularly the episode involving Brian Peck) speaks to the pressure young survivors of abuse feel to stay silent in order to continue working.
The victims' silence and shame coexists with an ever more open and obvious predation among the abusers. The researchers and reporters quoted in the documentary point out the layers of social and professional activity allowing these predators to act out in the open. This is another kind of evidence featured throughout the film— scripted and non-scripted footage from various DEN programs (“Chad's World”, “Rawleywood”) that depict or suggest the molestation going on among the network's circle of adult executives and their associates.
These programs, like the flow of headshots of shirtless young boys on online marketplaces and forums, show any observer precisely how these particular men are looking at young boys. Additionally, in the circumstance of DEN, An Open Secret illustrates what happened when that activity went unchecked: inappropriate and illegal sexual contact between adult male predators and child victims at the homes of the powerful men behind the network.
Berg and the other filmmakers behind An Open Secret organize the film in a responsible manner. They present the evidence in a journalistic way, occasionally editorializing to heighten the emotional content. But the film didn't reach the audience it might have reached, or rally celebrities to its cause, or win prizes. All of the curiosity exhibited by the filmmakers and courage shown by the testifying survivors resulted in a film silenced, overshadowed by the dubious allegations of one of Berg's survivor interviewees and the objections and threats made by SAG-AFTRA.
But neither the manufactured controversies that met the film's release, nor the changes requested and/or made to the film amid those controversies lessens the film's impact. A single unreliable source and a single offended union are not, nor should they be, substantial enough to distract the public from the truth communicated in the film.
A goal of speaking truth to power is to produce a turning point after which those in power will be more accountable to the individuals they serve or employ. At least that's the spirit the entertainment industry encouraged on Oscar night 2016, when Spotlight won Best Picture and Lady Gaga performed nominated song “Til it Happens to You”, a number appearing in a documentary about rape. Who better than artists in the spotlight to influence the pop-culture attuned public on such dire matters? But in the case of An Open Secret, the powers that be are that exact same entertainment industry , and here they seemed to have trounced the truth-teller on a technicality.
A year after its small release, the fate of the film corresponds to the implicit message that abuse survivors encounter within the industry: it's better to stay silent than risk the counteracting force of a business that produces, protects, and rewards abusers. For that reason, the survivors who share their story in the film are to be doubly commended for speaking out and for telling a truth so real, so essential, so swallowed up by the denial of an industry that isn't ready, or willing, to hear them.
One in 14 adults sexually abused as a child, research finds
by the Belfast Telegraph
Some 11% of women and 3% of men - an average of 7% - said they were sexually assaulted during their childhood, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
The findings of the annual survey also suggested that 567,000 females aged between 16 and 59, and 102,000 males in the same age bracket, suffered "sexual assault by rape or penetration" as minors.
The findings came after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) introduced new questions about childhood abuse in the survey for 2016, which was released on Thursday.
Javed Khan, the Barnardo's chief executive, said: " The sheer scale of those who reported witnessing or being abused as children is utterly staggering. It is everyone's responsibility to keep children safe."
Apart from sexual abuse, 9% of adults who took part in the survey said they had suffered psychological abuse and 7% physical abuse. Some 8% said they had witnessed domestic violence or abuse at home.
Other than in physical abuse cases, women were "significantly" more likely to report they had been an abuse victim than men, the ONS report found.
While it found that 42% of victims suffered two or more forms of abuse, more than half of sex attack victims suffered no other form of abuse.
Those blamed for psychological or physical abuse were most likely to be the person's parents.
However, rape and penetration attack survivors said the most likely attacker was a friend or acquaintance (30%) or other family member (26%).
Three in four victims of these assaults said they did not report what happened at the time. The most common reason given was "embarrassment or humiliation, or thinking that they would not be believed", the report found.
For other types of sexual assault, victims said the most common perpetrator was a stranger (42%).
The age at which boys were most likely to be abused was 11 (42%), while it was 14 (33%) for girls.
The report said older people were more likely to report having been abused than younger people, adding: "It is difficult to determine whether this indicates a reduction in the prevalence of child abuse in more recent years or whether it is due to survivors being more willing to disclose past abuse the further in time they are away from the experience."
An NSPCC spokeswoman said the report "confirms the horrifying fact that a vast number of adults were abused as children and that many told no-one about the ordeal they had suffered".
She added: "Whilst it's crucial that those who have suffered are heard and the perpetrators of these awful crimes are brought to justice, the authorities' primary focus must be on identifying those who are enduring abuse right now, helping them rebuild their lives, and catching offenders to stop them from inflicting even more harm."
Labour's Sarah Champion called on the Government to take action, saying: "If we are to prevent another generation growing up with the consequences of widespread child abuse, we have to teach children how to protect themselves from abuse.
"My research with survivors, experts and charities all shows that compulsory age-appropriate resilience and relationships education for every child is the biggest single step we could take to prevent abuse, but this was reportedly blocked by David Cameron."
Safeguarding minister Sarah Newton said: "This Government has done more than any other to lift the lid on non-recent child sexual abuse and ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated, including establishing the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. We have also increased funding for violence against women and girls' services to £80 million between now and 2020."
Crime victims find friend in local volunteers
by Kitty Bottemiller
You hear about disaster readiness for whole regions. Far less known is the work of more than 100 countywide volunteer advocates who stand ready year-round to help crime victims in the midst of their worst moments.
Trained by top-flight professionals, they work on behalf of the Pima County Attorney's Office, and last year responded to calls involving 9,000 people in the Tucson metro area, including Green Valley, Sahuarita, Amado and Arivaca.
Co-workers recall that Juston Knight, who served as a PCAO staff victims advocate in Sahuarita a few years back, had 525 calls one year from Sahuarita to the southernmost reaches of the county.
The advocates get an eyeful of some ugly stuff: revolting behavior, results of rage, jealousy, revenge, physical and verbal abuse, anxiety, abandonment, fights, uncontrollable emotions and random violence. Victims can be adults, children and even pets, often at their most fearful, said Shelly McCullough-Cruz of Sahuarita. A military combat veteran, she's volunteered as an advocate for crime victims since October.
“We see just about everything,” she said. Roughly 25 percent of calls involve domestic violence, and about 40 percent are crisis calls.
After graduating from advocate training, which entails lots of role-playing scenarios, McCullough-Cruz worked with a mentor for three months and has committed to fulfill the required minimum 20 volunteer hours monthly. She works largely weekend shifts; the mother of six is employed as a social worker and also serves with the VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) for the Sahuarita Police Department, along with her husband, Ken Cruz. Their youngest son, 17, lives at home; the rest of the children are grown.
On the job
Like all volunteers in the victim advocates program, McCullough-Cruz carries a cell phone and radio, and generally works with a partner. They report on teams of two or three at the request of law enforcement. Although the advocates are briefed before reporting to a scene, the reality can still be raw and wrenching.
They might be heading to a crash involving a DUI, a home, death, the desert at midnight, a hospital, trauma center, an apartment complex or parking lot.
PCAO volunteers have been deployed to help victims in the aftermath of major tragedies — the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, 9/11 attacks in 2001, and in standby mode for the Orlando nightclub shooting in June. They may be called upon at any time by the National Organization for Victim Assistance, which assembles teams to help relieve trauma and provide education after a critical incident.
In operation for 41 years, PCAO's victim advocates program was one of the first in the country, said Laura Penny, who heads its Victim Services Division.
Locally, the advocates have assisted after the 2011 Tucson shooting where U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 others were shot and six people died. In March, they provided counseling following an Oro Valley crash where a truck slammed into a group of 10 bicyclists stopped at a red light. Two were killed, three were injured and several witnesses were deeply shaken.
“Sometimes a call for crisis intervention is for those not physically injured but emotionally,” Penny said. After that crash, advocates were called to the hotel where fellow riders from New Mexico were staying.
Crisis teams are nothing new to McCullough-Cruz. As a field specialist in the Air Force, she saw plenty of people struggling to cope in and after traumatic situations. She already had a good skill set to address dangerous and volatile situations.
Her victims advocate trainer, from whom she learned of “wonderful services, helpful, and how important they are to the community,” was among those deployed after 9/11, she said.
McCullough-Cruz first heard about crime advocates while doing grad-level research for a degree in social work, which she pursued after retiring from the military four years ago.
Deciding to undergo basic advocate training, she quickly confirmed her first impressions of how well-structured it is, how strongly staff supports the program, how available resources are, and the extent to which volunteers are appreciated.
Even with her background and studies for social service, she found the county's training beneficial, “it was that sophisticated,” she said.
How does she do it, especially knowing the crime involved is serious, possibly violent?
McCullough-Cruz calls on her experience and time with her mentor, a victim advocate who by day is an accountant at Raytheon, and braces for it.
“I empty myself, mentally, emotionally so when I'm with the victim, I'm totally in the moment,” she said. “I think when people feel that they're being taken care of, it helps.”
Each team member goes in knowing their assignment. They head out together or meet up on the way, and never work alone.
Support-wise, “Laura (Laura Penny, head of PCAO Victims Services) and her team are two steps ahead going into this,” McCullough-Cruz said. “We're only doing what we're charged to do. There's no, 'Uh oh, we forgot about that.'”
They travel by van in case they need to transport someone to a shelter or other safe haven, and it's always stocked with a mini file cabinet of paper resources for counseling services, handling legal matters after a death, and the like. Also aboard are Kleenex, 911 phones for domestic violence survivors, blankets and stuffed toys.
On scene, responders are guarded, as any crime survivor scenario is potentially volatile. Even victims don't realize what a situation will trigger, she said.
Common scenes involve drug overdoses, suicides, DUIs, highway deaths and injuries from domestic violence.
Contact with victims can last 20 minutes or several hours, depending on the needs, and whether a few minutes of conversation are sufficient, or many calls are required to track down resources.
At a scene, “We're not only dealing with emotions, sometimes family members aren't playing very nice,” McCullough-Cruz said. “Law enforcement very protective of us,” particularly if a perpetrator is still at large.
A shift can be pretty slow, although McCullough-Cruz recalls one involving six calls in a little over 11 hours. An advocate's day can take them from Three Points to Catalina Foothills to midtown, or out to Arivaca and anywhere in between. You don't just clock out at a given time if you're in the middle of helping a victim, she said.
Occasionally, advocates are called to meet with a victim well after the crime. They may accompany a victim to initial court appearances or help relay a judge's orders if the victim chooses not to attend. PCAO staff accompany victims through the prosecution process.
It all takes a level head, compassion, attentiveness and ability to remain cool in a clutch. It's not for the faint-hearted, Penny said.
“Shelly's perfect for this work, her feathers don't get ruffled, she doesn't get rattled,” Penny said.
Advocates come from all walks — there's a retired engineer, retired lawyer, college students, retail and utility workers, stay-at-home moms and business owners.
McCullough-Cruz looks forward to time spent with victims, who “appreciate it a lot,” she said.
Unlike in her job as a social worker, where there's lots of follow-up and paperwork, advocate work mostly takes “going in and doing what you need to do,” she said.
Except for filing a team report at the end of a scene, the advocates typically move right on.
On shift, there can be down time during which advocates tend to chat about their encounters, adding to learning opportunities, McCullough-Cruz said.
Though the advocates try to put the gory details out of mind, impressions — a comment made, a victim's desperation — can linger.
McCullough-Cruz recalls the scene of a drug-overdose death involving a young adult male at the family home. She was tending to the mom while her partner saw to other family members. The deceased was in the room on the floor. The sound of an investigator zipping up the body bag jolted the mom. Mainly, she wanted to hold him for a moment, McCullough-Cruz said.
Such decisions are made by the powers that be; in this case, mom's request was granted. While she was with her son, the dad came in and took his son's hand.
Her combat thinking was still uppermost for McCullough-Cruz, “but as a mother, you see this woman rocking her child, stroking their hair. You need to posture for something like this.”
Helping someone even briefly during an awful time is rewarding for an advocate, although they often don't know the full influence they've had on the recovery process. Some victims never forget who helped them through their worst times, and express their gratitude in various ways. And because of that hand-up, a few become advocates themselves, McCullough-Cruz said.
Don't just get mad about child abuse
by Linda Valdez
Stories about child abuse get attention.
For a little while.
But each and every day, a whole city's worth of kids wait and wonder where they will celebrate their next birthdays.
Right now, there's lots of public outrage over horrible things parents did to their children – not to mention high dudgeon over the system's failure to protect those children.
Parents burned a 6-year-old boy's feet by forcing him to stand barefoot outside. A toddler is found wandering outside after parents left home to play Pokemon Go. A mother poisoned her child with methamphetamines.
We react to problems instead of prevent them
The children who come into state custody as a result of these recent news stories will join about 19,000 children in the foster care system in Arizona.
If you put all those foster children together, they would constitute a city bigger than Douglas, Arizona, and nearly the size of Nogales, Arizona.
The children who live in Arizona's Foster Care City are the invisible victims of a child welfare system that doesn't work right.
Arizona has one of the nation's highest rates of removing children from their homes. It also has prevention/intervention services that were inadequate even before being dismantled during the recession.
Those services – things like substance abuse treatment and in-home visits – can allow children to safely remain with parents who are willing and able to make changes for the sake of their children.
The parents in the recent stories of abuse may not have been candidates for help. But some of the parents of those other 19,000 kids probably were.
“We tend to react to severe problems rather than looking at how to prevent them,” says Rebecca Ruffner, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Arizona.
But there's something you can do to help
We also tend to wring our hands and point fingers when bad things happen to children.
Ruffner wants you to do something. She says a bill in Congress represents “a historic shift in federal funding policy for child welfare,” and it could help keep families together.
SB 3065 would enable states to shift some money to prevention/intervention services that is now earmarked for foster care.
"It's a huge deal," says Beth Rosenberg of Children's Action Alliance. The intent is to slow the number of children coming into foster care by providing services that help kids safely remain in their own homes.
So call Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake. Tell them to push this bill when Congress reconvenes in September.
In the meantime, remember the children who live in a lonely place where childhoods are spent waiting, wondering and wishing for a forever home.
Arizona is not doing its best for those children.
More than 19 percent of them (3,686 kids) have been in the limbo of foster care more than two years, according to the Department of Child Safety's own report.
Not all of them get the required monthly visits from a caseworker.
How Arizona fails its foster kids
In the most recent six-month reporting period, 432 children turned 18 and aged out of the system without ever leaving Foster Care City. More than half of them had been in state custody more than two years. On average, these young adults had been in more than four different placements before being cut loose.
The DCS report says the average child in the system will be in more than two different placements. The maximum number of temporary homes is 61 – a number that comes with a notation from DCS that “some children are so impacted by the severity of the abuse they have suffered, that they become unable to form meaningful relationships or to respond to services. . . “
All children in the system have experienced the trauma of being removed from everything and everyone familiar. If that trauma can be avoided without risking the safety of children, the children will be better off.
Most reports to the DCS hotline are about neglect. Prevention and intervention can make it possible for some of those children to stay at home.
That's where a shift in how federal funds are spent could make a difference. Congress needs to pass SB 3065.
But there's another shift that needs to happen.
Arizonans have to remember the children who live in Foster Care City.
Pender Co. sees increase in child abuse, neglect reports
by Hannah Patrick
PENDER COUNTY, NC (WWAY) — Pender County is seeing an increase in reports of child abuse and neglect.
Health and Human Services Director Carolyn Moser said the reports have been on the rise for the last six to eight weeks.
“Staff are stressed,” Moser said.
Moser is talking about the staff at the department of social services.
“They want to make sure our children are safe and when you have to take on an extra case load, then that just adds to their stress afraid that maybe they might miss something, that you know they could have addressed sooner,” Moser said.
Right now, Moser said that case load is growing.
“I don't think we can really pinpoint any single factor that could cause this increase especially in reports of child abuse and neglect,” Moser said.
She said it could be, because kids are out for the summer or tempers could flare, because of the extreme heat we're facing.
“Also, as we all know, there is an influx of heroin,” Moser said. “We're seeing high rates of substance use.”
Because of the influx in child abuse and neglect reports, Moser went to the commissioners for help.
“Commissioners approved us to contract with a professional staffing agency that employs professional social workers with a background in child protective services,” Moser said.
Moser said not everyone can do this job.
“You really need to know how to work with children and families,” Moser said.
Because she said it is their job to make sure the children in Pender County are safe.
Moser also said they are not the only county dealing with an increase.
She said it is a statewide issue.
Child Abuse and Pedophilia :Can Child Sex Dolls & Robots Prevent Pedophiles From Abusing Real Kids?
by Samantha Finch
Pedophilia is one of the world's ongoing problems. It's hard to stop people's twisted sexual attraction towards children, and some think that there should be a way to satisfy those individuals' dark desires without endangering children. This is where child sex dolls and robots enter.
Trottla said pedophilia can be lessened through sex robots. Shin Takagi, the company's founder and is also a pedophilia, said the world should accept that a person's fetish cannot be changed, Mirror reported. With this disposition in mind, Takagi's company created dolls that resemble children as young as five.
Takagi defended his stance and said that he is "helping people express their desires, legally and ethically," according to a separate report from Mirror. He added that life is worthless if you "have to live with repressed desire."
A technology expert said child sex dolls and robots could protect real children against pedophiles. Dr. Kathleen Richardson of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, meanwhile, stressed that child sex dolls could worsen the problem and would serve as "proxy" for the pedophiles. There would come a time that dolls and robots wouldn't be enough for pedophiles, forcing them to do extreme measures to satisfy their sexual yearnings.
In an interview with Women's Liberation Radio News, Richardson said that she doesn't think pedophilia can be deterred by producing child sex dolls and robots. The numerous amounts of child abuse photographs and images on the internet are proof of this, but it still doesn't stop pedophiles' sexual desires and worse -- it seems that it only exacerbates their urges.
Patrice Renaud, a psychologist at the University of Montreal, Canada, said pedophilia is "very difficult to treat" and that this sexual preference cannot be changed "in itself," Mirror further reported. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes pedophilia as a strong and recurrent sexual attraction to prepubescent children.
It becomes a disorder if it gives a person "marked distress or interpersonal difficulty" or if the individual acts on his desires, The New York Times reported. Pedophilia is different from child molestation in the sense that pedophiles can live with their condition and not act on it.
A website called AliExpress also sells child sex dolls that stand around 100-140cm tall, the average height range of young girls aged three to nine. The lifelike dolls' prices range between £390 ($518) and £650 ($864), according to The Daily Star.
The website said the dolls can be used for "emotional companionship" and sex. True enough, the website displays photographs of the dolls in lewd positions such as bending over in front of a mirror.
Child abuse in Japan hits worst level on record, rising by 16 per cent as psychological cases soar
Child abuse in Japan reached its worst level on record in the 2015 fiscal year, with the number of cases handled by welfare officials surpassing 100,000 for the first time, a government survey showed Thursday.
Psychological abuse, such as children's witnessing of domestic violence, showed a notable increase. Experts say growing income inequality and isolation of families from local communities are raising the risk of spousal abuses.
A total of 103,260 cases were handled at child consultation centres nationwide in the year through March 31, up 16 per cent from the year before and marking the 25th consecutive annual increase since the government started taking tallies in fiscal 1990, according to the preliminary report.
The number of psychological abuse cases made up nearly half of the total with 48,693, soaring 25 per cent from 38,775 cases reported the year before, followed by 28,611 cases of physical abuse, 24,438 cases of neglect and 1,518 cases of sexual abuse, the survey said.
The results also highlight the overwhelming workload of the country's roughly 200 child consultation centres that respond to children in need of help. Workers who had handled 36 abuse cases that resulted in children's deaths in fiscal 2013 were found to have been in charge of 109 cases a year on average.
Japan amended laws in May to involve a full range of specialists in handling abuse cases and set a target to employ 550 more child welfare officials by fiscal 2019.
The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry also created a fresh three-digit child abuse hotline in July last year in place of the previous 10-digit number for convenience. It said the number of consultation calls made last fiscal year nearly tripled from the previous year to 29,000.
Man charged with child neglect after baby nearly drowns
by Bismarck Tribune
BISMARCK -- A 40-year-old Bismarck man was charged with felony child neglect Wednesday, after a toddler was found unconscious by a swimming pool in Bismarck the night before.
Police allege Rolland Noheart was supposed to be caring for the 18-month-old, but did not immediately come to the child's rescue after he fell into an apartment building pool.
Video surveillance shows Noheart glance over twice as the child struggled in the water, according to police. The man allegedly pulled the child out of the pool with one arm after a bystander got his attention; the baby had already gone limp. He apparently sat the child on the concrete ledge and allowed the baby to fall over and strike his head.
When officers arrived, the baby was unconscious but breathing, and bystanders were giving first aid, police said.
The baby was taken to a local hospital by ambulance and placed in the intensive care unit, according to police. It was not immediately clear whether the baby would suffer lifelong consequences.
Noheart is expected to make an initial appearance in court on Thursday morning.
Tulsa mother claims voices told her to kill her 'evil, cannibal' children
by Fox 23
Police say just after 9 a.m., a maintenance worker heard a fire alarm at the Willowbend Apartment Complex near 31st and Highway 169 and found two small children, ages five and nine, home alone.
The stove was on at the time.
The children's mother, Kristan Kirk claimed “voices told her the kids were evil and cannibals," and that "they need to be taken care of.”
Reports claim that Kirt put metal in the microwave and on the stove, turned them both on and left.
The maintenance man who found the children said he later learned that Kirk walked across the street to watch and see if the apartment caught fire.
Police said she went inside and restarted the microwave when it didn't.
They said Kirk came back after officers arrived.
The children were taken into DHS custody.
Kirk, was arrested on complaints of attempted arson and child neglect.
I-Team: Grandmother believes child abuse claims against parents of grandson is conspiracy
by Vanessa Murphy
LAS VEGAS -- An infant is fighting for his life following a child abuse incident that police said was at the hands of his parents. However, 8 News NOW spoke with the child's grandmother, Tracy Leahy, who says it's all a conspiracy.
Leahy's grandson has what is being referred to as shaken baby syndrome. The child is in a long-term care facility. Police say he has had multiple surgeries but is not expected to survive.
"They took half of his brain; that's what they did," Leahy said. "I believe they were not necessary to do that."
Leahy doesn't blame the child's parents for her grandson's life-threatening injuries -- she blames doctors and police. Leahy's 22-year-old daughter Katie Maynard and son-in-law Robert Aufdenberg were arrested for child abuse. They're both in jail on $1 million bonds.
I-Team Reporter Vanessa Murphy: "You are 100 percent sure that your daughter and your son-in-law did not hurt this baby?"
Leahy: "I am 100 percent sure they did not."
Vanessa: "But you weren't with them the whole time."
Leahy: "It doesn't matter."
Police said the parents, have a history of child abuse, but the grandmother of the child claims the system failed her family three times.
Authorities said the parents were on probation for a separate child abuse case when their third child and baby boy needed emergency care in August of 2015. Their second child was taken away from them after they were charged with child abuse in 2014.
Their first child is being cared for by a family member. Maynard and Aufdenberg have had supervised visitation.
"They did not ever; they would not abuse; they didn't abuse the first kid," Leahy said. "They're not going to abuse this kid either."
According to Leahy,'s claims, at least two of her daughter's children have underlying medical conditions. She says that's what led to what she calls false accusations of child abuse.
However, a medical doctor testified in court that the third child's injuries appeared to be from a shaking and that the child could have been thrown, the doctor said describing the injuries which would have been painful to the baby boy as non-accidental.
Vanessa: "Do you see why it would be difficult for people to believe that they didn't hurt the child based on their past?"
Leahy: "Once they realize how CPS gets in people's lives and screws your family over, then they'll realize how much of it has gone on."
Vanessa: "Why should anyone believe you?"
Leahy: "I don't care if they do or don't. We know the truth."
Leahy says there are several doctors who will back her family's claims up. She says she plans on using that for her daughter's defense.
The next court date for the parents is scheduled for August 8. Should the child not survive, the case could turn into a homicide case.
6 teachers at Tel Aviv haredi school indicted for severe child abuse
(JTA) — Six haredi Orthodox teachers were indicted for abusing and assaulting children at the Hasidic school in Tel Aviv where they worked.
The teachers, all men, were indicted at Tel Aviv District Court on Tuesday, the Times of Israel reported. One, Avraham Rosenfeld, 49, was also charged with sexually assaulting a child under 16, indecent acts, extortion under threats and making threats.
The six are accused of abusing 22 boys ranging in age from 3-10 years old at the Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School, affiliated with the Belz sect, between 2000 and 2011.
According to Ynet, the indictments say the abuse was so pervasive that students referred to the school as “Bergen-Belsen,” an allusion to the Nazi concentration camp. They referred to Rosenfeld as “Rosenazi.”
Rosenfeld, the indictment states, ordered students to come with him to a school lounge, where he sexually assaulted them. He also is accused of beating students with wooden sticks or planks, which he made the students gather during recess.
According to the legal papers, Rosenfeld also tied students to chairs or desks with ropes or cable ties, then force-fed them black pepper or soap.
He is also accused of abusing animals, including a cat that he beat and killed in front of the students.
The other five defendants are Yisrael Haim Shapira, 65, Haim Fishgrond, 69, Moshe Hirsch, 39, Menachem Alberstein, 63, and Avraham Pinchas Deytsch, 53.
Ynet reported that the six defendants, who were arrested two weeks ago following a month-long undercover investigation, said they were innocent of the charges.
Rosenfeld's lawyer, Yehuda Fried, to that “the acts described in the indictment are exaggerated. Regarding his family, the accusations are completely made up by those seeking to get between him and his wife.”
Government consults on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect
by Eversheds Nicola Lashmar and Zoe Dakin
Those working within the education sector have always been on the front line of child protection, but the signs of abuse and neglect can be hard to spot, and a joined up multi disciplinary approach, involving teachers, social workers, police and doctors is vital if we are going to adequately safeguard our children. Since the Baby Peter investigation in 2007, the issue of child abuse and neglect, in any of its many forms, has rarely been off the front pages.
In recognition of the difficulties in spotting the signs, correctly assessing risks and sharing information across agencies, the Government has just announced a full public consultation on reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect. Alongside the reforms which are already in progress relating to stronger training and recruitment programmes for those on the front line, including teachers, the Government is seeking views on whether to introduce:
a mandatory reporting obligation, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to report child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place; or
a duty to act, which would require certain practitioners or organisations to take appropriate action (which could include reporting) in relation to child abuse or neglect if they knew or had reasonable cause to suspect it was taking place.
The introduction of a statutory duty would be a big step and the consultation seeks views on whether a new statutory measure should be introduced.
In relation to the option of mandatory reporting the government has identified and invited views on the possible benefits (increased awareness, more cases identified, a higher risk environment for abusers and ensuring those best placed to make judgments about whether abuse and or neglect is taking place do so) and risk areas (including an increase in unsubstantiated referrals, diversion of resources, poorer quality reporting, focussing attention on reporting rather than improving interventions and dissuading children from disclosing incidents).
The alternative duty to act would be broader than a mandatory reporting duty since although required actions could include reporting they would not be limited to this. Again the consultation identifies possible benefits (strengthening existing mechanisms, increasing awareness of the importance of taking action and changing behaviours of those covered by the duty by putting in place a clear requirement to take action) and possible risks (increase in unnecessary state intrusion, those bound by the duty feeling less able to discuss cases openly, incorrect judgements and limited benefits for further raising of awareness).
There is a helpful section in the consultation on the key differences which the Government envisages between a mandatory reporting duty and a duty to act.
The Government has outlined who it proposes either duty should apply to and for education the institutions given as examples are schools (including maintained schools, independent schools, academies and free schools), 16-19 academies, FE colleges and sixth form colleges. The examples of professional roles given are teachers, teaching assistants and senior managerial and administrative/support roles.
But what would such mandatory reporting/action mean for those working within the education system? Would its introduction be one burden too far for an already stretched workforce? Are the headlines in fact created by failures further up the chain, where incidents which are reported, are not then properly followed up? Where does the Government propose to obtain the extra funding required to police such a statutory framework? Would those funds be put to better use in supporting our teachers, social workers and others at the forefront of child protection, with more training and cross agency information sharing processes?
This consultation is clearly an important one but whether introducing a statutory requirement to report will produce the outcome hoped for is far from clear. The consultation is open to the public with the Government stating it is particularly interested to hear from children and young people; social care, education, criminal justice, and healthcare professionals; the police; and from victims and survivors of child abuse. The consultation closes on 13 October 2016.
An Upstream Approach: Using Data-Driven Home Visiting to Prevent Child Abuse
by Daniel Heimpel The Chronicle of Social Change
Los Angeles County's Board of Supervisors will vote on a motion to move 103 public health nurses from the Department of Children and Family Services to the Department of Public Health.
While largely administrative, the development sets the nation's largest child welfare system up for a much broader discussion about how public health strategies can help break the intergenerational cycles of abuse that result in preventable child maltreatment.
In particular, data identifying heightened maltreatment risk for children born to young mothers who have experienced abuse themselves provides an opportunity to better target the county's home visiting programs. While the county appears to be getting it right with pregnant foster youth, two premier home visiting programs do not triage their severely limited service capacity based on families at the highest statistical risk for abuse.
If Los Angeles County were to do something new on this front, it would be following the lead of the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities. That body issued a report in March calling for the expanded use of home-visiting programs to prevent child maltreatment.
The commissioners, appointed and by members of Congress and the White House, recommended that the federal government “permit Medicaid reimbursement for evidence-based infant home visiting services provided to youth in foster care who are parents (Medicaid-eligible by definition) to promote expansion of home visiting services to this high risk population.”
In addition, the commission called for deployment of home visiting programs to all children under the age of 5, and to those with prior reports of child maltreatment.
The commissioners were largely influenced by groundbreaking research coming out of the University of Southern California School of Social Work's Children's Data Network.
In 2013, the data network released a set of studies that pointed to the heightened likelihood of child abuse for babies born to teen mothers who had experienced abuse when they were children themselves.
To accomplish this, a research team led by USC's Emily Putnam-Hornstein engaged in some complex data-linking. The team looked at all the birth records of babies born to first-time mothers ages 15 to 19 in Los Angeles County in 2006 and 2007.
Excluding the 532 young mothers who were already in or were placed in foster care after conception, the data network determined that 24,767 babies were born to first-time teen mothers.
More than a quarter of those young mothers had either been reported or substantiated victims of child abuse between age 10 and the age when they gave birth.
Then the researchers followed the lives of the babies born to those moms. The results were startling.
Nearly 40 percent of children born to young mothers who had been substantiated victims of child abuse would be referred to L.A.'s child welfare system for possible abuse. One in five would be substantiated victims.
Babies born to young mothers who had been substantiated victims of abuse were 2.5 times more likely to be reported for maltreatment than their peers.
The findings offered an opportunity to “risk-stratify adolescent parent populations for targeted maltreatment prevention services,” Putnam-Hornstein wrote in the 2013 report.
An Administrative Move in Context
The motion that L.A.'s supervisors will mull today would direct a handful of county agencies to report back after spending 30 days studying the “feasibility, benefits and detriments, if any, and fiscal viability” of moving more than 100 public health nurses currently employed by the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to the Department of Public Health (DPH).
This matters because the motion comes in response to a report that had a much broader set of recommendations, including a re-envisioning of the role of public health in child protection.
The original recommendation was made by the county's Office of Child Protection (OCP), which was created to orient all child-serving agencies toward better preventing and responding to child maltreatment.
Another one of OCP's recommendations was to terminate an experimental program that paired public health nurses with social workers on investigations of child abuse for babies and toddlers under age 2.
The idea there was to use the nurses to target the children at most risk for subsequent child maltreatment and death: those under age 2. But, as the OCP report and reporting in The Chronicle of Social Change suggest, the program's implementation seems to have impeded its ability to live up to expectations.
In a letter accompanying the report, OCP Director Michael Nash wrote that the county should engage in further discussions “as to how PHNs [public health nurses] can be more efficiently and effectively used within existing resources.”
Narrowing Home Visiting's Focus
When it comes to preventing child abuse, there are very few programs that have been proven effective through rigorous research. Among the most promising are home-visiting programs.
So, as the county supervisors consider Nash's recommendation to rethink the role of public health nurses, they should also consider the use of those involved in the county's highly impacted home-visiting programs.
Home visiting encompasses a range of strategies designed to provide health-related services to high-risk pregnant mothers and families with very young children. They are voluntary, meaning that participants have to opt in to receive services.
In 2010, as part of the Affordable Care Act, the federal government enacted the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting program, known as MIECHV. Since FY 2010, MIECHV has provided over $2 billion to fund state-run implementation of 16 evidence-based home visiting programs. The program's goals are broad, ranging from improved newborn health to reducing crime and domestic violence.
Karen Howard, vice president of early childhood policy at the D.C.-based advocacy organization First Focus Campaign for Children, said that while the program was a substantial boost to the federal government's investment in home visiting, it only serves about 2 percent of the families who meet income eligibility criteria.
Howard's answer to the gaping shortfall is to dramatically increase funding to the program, not to more narrowly focus it on a particular outcome like child maltreatment prevention.
“You don't want to turn MIECHV into a child welfare program because it is larger than that,” Howard said. “But, states and communities have broad leverage to address what they want.”
In Los Angeles, a small portion of that money partially funds two county-based programs: the Nurse Family Partnership (NFP) run out of the Department of Public Health and Los Angeles Unified School District; and Healthy Families America, offered through a network of private providers.
NFP has been shown to improve outcomes for children through early and long-term engagement with families. Nurses start visiting at-risk mothers in the first trimester and meet with them as frequently as every week, with visits tapering off as needed until age 2.
Through a series of random control trials, the program has been consistently shown to reduce child abuse rates and even maltreatment-related fatalities.
Of the two programs, NFP is more targeted, but a source within L.A.'s program said that who they serve comes down to referrals. Their client base is not derived from a formalized effort to proactively target the pregnant mothers whose children are at the highest risk of being abused.
Unlike NFP, Healthy Families America uses a mix of nurses, social workers and early childhood experts to provide home-visiting services to at-risk families either before or after birth.
Kathleen Strader is the Healthy Families America's (HFA) national director of implementation and accreditation. Strader said that there is no real rubric to decide which families receive services.
Instead, the 100 or so home visitors in the county field referrals. They then go out and conduct an assessment with the family, called the Parent Survey.
Through a structured interview, the Parent Survey helps the home visitor decide whether the family's needs are great enough to warrant the intervention.
Strader was intrigued by the idea of using the data uncovered by the Children's Data Network to better streamline HFA's work, but had some reservations.
“How could that data better inform and help in a stronger next edition of a tool like the Parent Survey?” Strader said. “Where I get concerned is in labeling around particular metrics.”
In many cases clients will refuse services if they are offered in a way that is stigmatizing, Strader said.
“We need to be sensitive to the way we approach families,” she said. “We want to take the path of trust-building, because we see it work. It is only through relationships that parents experience positive outcomes.”
Going Further Upstream
Despite this lack of targeting by the federally recognized home-visiting programs in the county, it seems that the county's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) has had success in referring pregnant and parenting foster youth to home-visiting programs.
In an email statement, Donna Fernandez, a manager with DCFS' Child Welfare Health Services Section, said that her unit was focused on ensuring the department's pregnant foster youth are at least offered home-visiting services.
In a separate statement, DCFS said that there were 400 parenting foster youth, and that another 60 were currently pregnant. Fernandez said that 62 percent of pregnant youth had been linked to a home-visiting program over the past six quarterly assessments. In the latest assessment the number went up to 73 percent, she said.
“It is impossible to link all pregnant youth because the home-visitation programs are voluntary and not all youth agree to participate,” she said in the email. “Furthermore, some youth have more challenging circumstances, such as the babies being detained after birth, the mothers being runaways who cannot be linked until they agree to return to placement, or youth who reside outside of L.A. county.”
DCFS' apparent attentiveness to the home-visiting needs of the most vulnerable young parents is a promising first step. Working in concentric rings of risk, starting with pregnant foster youth, and then moving to those mothers who had experienced abuse themselves, the county could focus its highly limited home-visiting service slots.
To accomplish this will require overcoming real concerns about the stigma attached to those mothers who are offered services – even if voluntary.
The question remains: will county leaders use the current debate about the role of public health in child maltreatment prevention to go further upstream?
Talking about sexual assault, especially of children
by Nicholas Johnson
Local law enforcement officials say that while their handling of sexual assault cases has matured over the past 30 years, many people still struggle to confront the subject head-on.
“Let's talk about it,” says Shane Stevenson, a Jefferson County Sheriff's Office detective who specializes in forensic interviews. “Talk to your friends and family about it. We can help more people by talking about it openly, rather than treating it like some taboo subject.”
Stevenson and City of Port Townsend Prosecutor Chris Ashcraft spent an hour on July 22 talking to a group of about 15 people about something many avoid thinking about, much less discussing openly.
“It's interesting to look at what society believes is going on and what's actually going on,” Ashcraft said, noting that 75 percent of sex assaults are committed by someone known to the victim. “We all have that image of the creepy guy who hides in the bushes and jumps out and drags people into the bushes under knife point. While those guys do exist, they are the vast minority.”
Ashcraft and Stevenson primarily focused on cases of child sexual assault, noting that one in six boys and one in four girls are sexually abused before age 18.
“Who are they with all the time?” Ashcraft said. “They're not wandering around through parks with strangers. They're with people they know who are supposed to be taking care of them and protecting them, and a lot of times, they are victimized by those people.”
Sixty percent of perpetrators are known to the child but are not family members, such as family friends, babysitters, child care providers and neighbors, Ashcraft said. Thirty percent are family members. Ten percent are strangers.
“It's really rare that it's just somebody random,” he said. “I can't even remember one that we've prosecuted where it was a total stranger.”
About 18 percent of women in the U.S. have been raped, Ashcraft said, and one in five female high school students report being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
About 23 percent of the time, perpetrators of child sexual abuse are themselves minors, Ashcraft said.
“It can be very cyclical, where the perpetrator is 16 but was a victim when he was like 8,” said Ashcraft, who is also a former juvenile prosecutor. “I don't think I ever dealt with one of the child offenders who wasn't also a victim before.”
70% NEVER REPORTED
Seventy percent of all sex assaults are never reported to law enforcement, Ashcraft said.
“Even if disclosures are made to family members or parents, it doesn't always mean it's getting to law enforcement,” Stevenson said. “There's this mentality that we'll deal with it in the family, because you don't want the neighbors and friends and everybody to know about it.”
Sometimes, a strained family dynamic can discourage children from coming forward.
“We've dealt with a case here where the child made a disclosure, but mom was fully against it and was fighting us every step of the way,” Ashcraft said. “When we could get the child alone, they would talk to us. The moment mom got involved, that kid shut down and wouldn't talk anymore.”
Boys, in particular, are less likely to come forward, Ashcraft said.
“You know the whole tough guy thing where boys don't cry; well, boys also don't talk,” he said, adding that shame and embarrassment keep many victims from coming forward. “There's the immediate trauma and then it can linger. It can linger for days, months, years, a lifetime. It's an issue that requires a lot counseling and support. Don't go through this alone. Get help.”
Parents need to be ready to listen to and support their children, he said.
“If a kid starts to make a disclosure, be open to them,” Ashcraft said. “When they do disclose, there's a misconception that they'll just sit down and say, 'Mom and Dad, I want to have a talk.' What kids will do is they'll drop a hint. They'll test the fence, so you've got to be open to that.”
Some victims, however, do not show any signs of abuse.
“You see in the movies that this happens and they're devastated, their whole life falls apart,” Ashcraft said. “While a lot of that is true, in up to 40 percent of cases, people are asymptomatic. You would never know from the outside what's going on.”
TALKING TO KIDS
Although sexual abuse cases saw a 56 percent decline between 1992 and 2010, Stevenson said, abuse remains prevalent and parents should remain vigilant.
“In years past, these kinds of crimes weren't being investigated like they are now,” Stevenson said. “Even with the instruction that we give our kids about boundaries and their bodies, these things still happen.”
Typically, sexual assault is not reported right away, Stevenson said, making it difficult, if not impossible, to collect forensic evidence that will hold up in court. That's why Stevenson employs interview protocols from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
“Innocent people have been convicted in the past because of the way interviews were done, and guilty people have gone free because of the way interviews were done,” he said.
For parents, the first step is being aware of who is around your kids and what their relationship looks like.
“You have to trust your instincts,” Stevenson said. “I think we have all been in a situation where we've seen somebody around kids and our spidey senses went off. A potential offender is going to groom them, give them presents, have a special relationship with them.”
The second step involves exercising self-control, knowing what questions to ask a child and how to ask those questions.
“As human beings, when we become emotional, our rational judgement goes down in almost equal increments,” he said. “Even if you think you have good intentions, you're likely going to influence the child. You want to remain calm. You want to ask open-ended, non-suggestive questions. You'll have an idea what happened, but don't get into specifics, and stay away from yes or no questions. Let them give you the story. Don't feed it to them at all. I would rather have a parent know how to ask the questions than know everything that's going on. All you need is enough to report it to us.”
Once you suspect foul play, stop questioning the child and contact law enforcement, Stevenson said. He also recommends calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visiting online.rainn.org to chat with someone who understands.
Dove House Advocacy Services as well as victim advocates in the Jefferson County Prosecutor's Office can also help victims of sexual assault and their families navigate these issues.
“By talking about it, we can make it easier for people to feel comfortable with what happened to them, to move on and not feel there's something wrong with them,” Stevenson said.
Man Arrested, Accused Of Trying To Flush Baby Down A Toilet
by Christine D'Antonio
Attempts to flush an infant down a toilet during a domestic dispute led to a SWAT situation in Mount Washington.
Police say a man and woman were arguing at a home in the 100 block of Southern Avenue around 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.
During the argument, police say the man pulled out a gun and also attempted to flush a 6-week-old child down a toilet.
The woman got out of the home with the infant and called police.
They were both checked by paramedics and the child was taken to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh as a precaution.
When police responded, they say the man initially refused to come out of the home and SWAT was called.
Pittsburgh Public Safety Spokeswoman Sonya Toler says negotiators helped bring the incident to a peaceful end.
“Our negotiators worked hard to convince the actor to come out and surrender, which he did eventually. There was no deployment of gas or anything like that,” Toler said.
The man finally surrendered around 2:41 a.m. and was taken to the Allegheny County Jail.
It's unclear exactly what charges he'll face.
Abuse survivors welcome Qld reforms
by Jamie McKinnell
Sexual abuse survivors, lawyers and child safety advocates have welcomed moves in Queensland to lift restrictions on when perpetrators can be sued for child abuse.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk on Monday announced she would personally introduce into parliament the legislation in two weeks, in line with a key recommendation from the child sexual abuse royal commission.
"The statute of limitations has effectively barred these victims from seeking justice," Ms Palaszczuk said.
Currently, survivors of institutional abuse can only sue the perpetrators within three years of their 18th birthday.
But Bravehearts criminologist Carol Ronken said research showed it can take more than 20 years for some survivors to confront and speak about their abuse.
"The application of any limitation provisions to deny adult survivors access to redress is theoretically, practically and morally unjustifiable," she said.
Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said the government would release an issues paper on whether the same restrictions should be lifted for other forms of abuse, including physical and psychological.
The removal of limitations applying to sexual abuse survivors was "long overdue", she said.
"People have been waiting and calling for these reforms."
Australian Lawyers Alliance Queensland president Michelle James said the reform would give survivors renewed hope they can access justice.
"We are very pleased the state government has not waited any longer for the Commonwealth to act," she said.
Queensland's Liberal National Party (LNP) opposition announced the same policy two weeks ago.
LNP leader Tim Nicholls said the government's "belated" changes were proof Labor was merely following his party's lead on something that was "morally and legally" the right thing to do.
But he conceded the main thing for survivors wasn't which party made the announcement first, but that they had the right to make a claim.
NSW and Victoria have already lifted the limitations and the ACT on Tuesday announced its intention to do the same.
Ms Palaszczuk also called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to develop a national redress scheme.
A $100 million state-based redress fund set up after the Forde inquiry almost 20 years ago attracted 7453 claims, of which just over one third related to sexual abuse.
The changes will mean those who received a payout have no legal barriers to pursuing further civil claims, but Ms D'Ath said it was a difficult thing to cost and not everyone would want to go down that path.
Ms Palaszczuk said for some victims, who may have "met with tragic circumstances", the changes might have come too late.
"I think we should also stop and take note that some of this horrific abuse has taken a toll on families and a toll on people's lives," she said.
The Worst Trigger of All…
by Sarah Burleton
I've written extensively about triggers and flashbacks in my blogs and in my books. You know, those little noises, songs, or smells that take you back to a time and place in your life that brings you great joy, or maybe that song or smell takes you back to a time you'd rather soon forget. I've written about being triggered by smells and sounds or being triggered when a reader writes to me about my book and shares their personal abuse story; but the one thing I have never been able to write about is how it makes an abuse victim feel when they witness someone else getting abused. I've never been able to write about it because since my childhood; I have never witnessed abuse of another person first hand.
That all changed this past Saturday.
My fiancée, our children, and I all went to a very popular buffet restaurant this past Saturday night. I would mention the name of the restaurant, but that would defeat the purpose of this blog. As we were walking into the restaurant, a tall man came out of the front glass door, gripping the arm of a young woman employee, cussing her out and calling her names the entire time. I felt myself get tense and I bristled when I heard him call her a “dumbass” as he drug her outside.
My fiancée and I watched as this man stopped right outside of the front door and pushed the young woman to the side. We watched and watched customers behind us gather as the man continued to scream and yell at this young woman over money. I wanted to interject, tell her that she didn't deserve to be screamed at like that and get that man out of her face, but a fear of not wanting to get involved just consumed me. They were adults and sometimes adults yell; it wasn't my problem.
But it was about to become my problem.
My fiancée turned away from the door for a split second while I kept one eye on the man outside and the other on our children. And in that split second, I watched in horror as the man balled up his fist and slammed her right in the face.
I didn't even think. I stormed out the front door and put myself in the middle of the man and this young woman (whose lip was bleeding and already starting to swell). My fiancée would later tell me that I ran out yelling, “No, no no! He hit her! He hit her!” I don't remember any of that, I just remember wanting to protect this girl at all costs. The man looked at me and his eyes were as wide as saucers. “You piece of *##^!” I screamed at his face. “You don't hit women!”
The young girl let me hold her by the shoulders as me, my fiancée, and other customers ran this abusive woman beater off, but once he was gone, she pulled away and wiped the blood from her lip. “I'm fine,” she sobbed. I shook my head and my eyes filled up with tears. “You aren't fine; you don't deserve to be hit. There are places you can go.” But this girl wasn't listening and stubbornly shook her head. “I just have to get back to work.” I looked at her tear streaked face and the blood dripping from her lip and I began to tremble. I wanted to grab her up and shake her, make her realize special she was and how treatment like that is never OK, but her manager came out and took her away before I could get on my soapbox.
After everything had calmed down and the girl had been walked away, I walked back into the restaurant, trembling uncontrollably and sick to my stomach. I have never seen a grown man hit a woman before, EVER. I have never seen a person get punched like that, but I knew what it felt like. I knew how her lip felt, I knew how ashamed she was, I knew how bad it was going to be when she went home that evening; I knew every feeling she was feeling and it made my heart break in two.
Seeing that girl getting hurt took me back to a feeling of helplessness and shame. Seeing physical and mental abuse firsthand like that took me back to a place of darkness and violence. Seeing it made me remember how it felt to be hit.
But you know what? Even though I was triggered, I tried to help. My gut reaction was not to run and hide and watch from a distance, my gut reaction was to get out there and help someone who couldn't help themselves at the moment. My gut reaction was not fear, it was strength, and it made me realize how far I have come in defeating the demons left over from my childhood.
I'm no hero; I'm simply sharing this story to show abuse survivors that we are so much stronger than we even realize. We have the unfortunate luck of understanding what it feels like to be hit, hurt, and screamed at, and our instinct is to reach out and help those who can't help themselves. We should be proud of ourselves for this because we are survivors and we are doing our best to stop the wretched cycle of abuse.
The girl? I called the restaurant this morning to check on her and I'm still waiting on a call back. I hope she gets out of her situation, I hope that she uses the wide range of resources available to get that abusive man out of her life, and I hope that seeing strangers run off her abusive boyfriend helped her realize that abuse is never acceptable.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from abuse or domestic violence, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE.
UNSEEN, UNHEARD, UNKNOWN: The Children Left Behind In Melbourne's Most Notorious Cult
by Tara Watson
Premiering at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival, ‘The Family' carries disturbing revelations of stolen children, child abuse, and LSD use in Melbourne's most notorious cult – writes Tara Watson.
Anne Hamilton-Byrne was beautiful, charming and charismatic, but she was also delusional and dangerous. Convinced she was a living God, Anne along with her husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne, headed up an apocalyptic sect dubbed The Family, which rose to prominence in Melbourne through the 1960s and 70s.
Through the sect, Anne acquired numerous children, through adoption scams, and babies born to cult members- and she raised them as her own. The children of The Family were always dressed eerily in matching outfits and had their hair identically dyed blonde.
They grew up in secluded sect homes just outside Melbourne in the Dandenongs and Lake Eildon, isolated from the outside world, and were allegedly beaten, starved and injected with LSD.
The children were eventually rescued during a police raid in the mid 80s, while in 1994 Anne and her then-husband were extradited from the United States to Australia and plead guilty to perjury.
But what happened to these kids, and the sect that still exists today, along with cult's leader ‘Aunty Anne'? Australian documentary The Family will have its world premiere at Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) and attempt to shine a light on the how the cult was born and what came next. Through the film, survivors and cult members tell their stories on camera, many for the first time.
Melbourne director Rosie Jones, from MIFF 2011 film ‘ The Triangle Wars' , has spent years researching the disturbing mysteries of The Family. She worked alongside Former Victoria Police Detective Senior Sergeant Lex De Man, Former Detective Senior Sergeant Peter Spence and journalist Marie Mohr who worked the case in the 1980's.
Jones investigated the still-operating sect but also the conservative Melbourne community that allowed The Family to flourish. She spoke to us about the process and why she was drawn to the cult.
Jone's said, “This was a story that began in the 1960's and some people would think that it was sort of closed down in 1987, but in fact the long term effects of that background stay with people for generations.”
The film features in-depth interviews with the children that have now grown up, and the impact of their childhood trauma, caused by the physical and psychological abuse they endured. Interviews with survivors include Adam Lancaster, Ben Shenton, Leeanne Creese, Fran Parker, Barbara Kibby, David Whitaker, and daughter of the son of Bill Hamilton-Byrne, Anouree Treena-Byrne.
Jones said it was important to build the trust for the people she interviewed.
“I was very aware that you're dealing with real people that have been through a difficult childhood, I didn't want to cause extra trauma,” she said.
“I sort of circled around the edges of the group and started talking to other investigators, the journalist that had worked on the case. So I sort of worked my way towards the children, trying to get adults to talk to me. Some of them were quite ready to talk to me, but some of them took a bit longer. A lot of time was spent building relationships with people.”
Growing up, The Family's matriarch ‘Aunty Anne' told cult member that she was Jesus Christ incarnate, and connected to Jesus's bloodline. In reality she was a railway yard workers daughter and her mum was a mental patient.
Survivors have said that she fantasized about living a privileged life with an idyllic family. Jones spent years studying Anne and found her an enigmatic character.
“Clearly she was charismatic, highly intelligent I think. I'm not a psychologist so I don't want to start to bandied around terms, but she was ruthless.
I think she was ruthless. While she may have started out with good intentions, she was a control-freak clearly, and I think the power and the ability to boss people around and do her will, got out of control.
“Her family has a history of mental problems. I think she was mentally unwell but obviously she had her positive and charming side as well or she wouldn't have been able to attract so many people and get them into the group.”
The ability to entice so many followers was aided by the use of LSD, which was growing in popularity in 1960's in Australia. It was under LSD that Anne would exploit people into believing that she was some kind of holy being, and to submit to her teachings.
“Under LSD people become quite malleable, and she was able to convince them that she was Jesus Christ reincarnated, which is pretty amazing. Without the LSD, they would have been more rational, so I think it[the use of LSD within the sect] was incredibly important,” she said.
One of the more intriguing characters in the film was Roland, the son of one of the cult's aunties. He had only left The Family in recent years, after long defending the cult. But he recently spoke out against the treatment of some of the children and how the extensively-connected sect was forcing adoption on mothers and literally stealing children from public hospitals.
He was a fantastic character in the film, because he was up at Lake Eildon, then he was thrown out of there and passed around to cult families. Then he had to make all these decisions as an adult and learn to live in the world.
It was almost like an alien world for him, because he didn't know how to navigate it; he didn't know any other values then what he'd been taught in The Family,” she said.
The treatment of the children of The Family has left scars of PTSD, depression and even suicide. Detectives counted around 14-15 children at the time the house was raided, but Anne has said as many as 28 children had lived within The Family at any one time.
Living within the sect, children were subjected to years of abuse and social isolation. Jones said one of the worse cases she had heard, was in the case of Roland.
“Something that stayed with me was actually something to do with Roland,” she said.
“He had his fingers held over a flame after doing something naughty. He had his fingers held over for several minutes by Anne and Elizabeth Whitaker, who was his own mother. The other children were made to watch. That's not within the normal bounds of punishment, that is sadism in anybody's book.”
While The Family may have started in the 1960s, it is still in operation today. The leader Anne Hamilton Byrne is still alive, living with dementia. The documentary invokes issues on why it took so long for revelations of child abuse on such a massive scale to finally surface, and what went on in regards to the community responsibility for reporting abuse.
“I mean the sect motto was ‘Unseen, Unheard, Unknown' and that's how they operated. That's how they continue to operate because it's very convenient to just not talk.”
The Family is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival, for more info visit the festival's website.
Woman charged with child abuse previously investigated by DCS
by William Pitts
PHOENIX - A woman who was arrested for child abuse had been the subject of 30 prior communications to the Department of Child Safety, court documents revealed Monday.
Doug Nick with DCS contextualized that number Monday, saying there were roughly 30 communications to DCS, but far fewer reports defined as allegations of abuse or neglect.
Sarah Simmons, 30, and her husband Mark are accused of forcing their 6-year-old son to stand on the hot ground as punishment. Mark Simmons is the boy's father and Sarah is his stepmother.
Court documents said the boy burned his feet, but neither parent sought out medical treatment for 24 hours until his injuries became infected
According to DCS, the child is now safe.
Sarah Simmons is accused of cutting blisters off the boy's feet and threatening to send him outside again to make the burns worse.
In the probable cause statement attached to Simmons's paperwork, the arresting officer noted Simmons had been reported to DCS approximately 30 times before this incident.
Child Abuse team leader fights for abused children
by Ralph Schaefer
Child abuse prosecutors are special people.
They must be able to prosecute those accused of horrific crimes while ferreting out abuse claims against those falsely accused.
Tulsa County Assistant District Attorney Sarah McAmis, as leader of the child abuse team, has those dual responsibilities. The guilty must be prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison. The life of a person wrongly accused will be changed forever when they are found innocent because of the stigma related to the charge.
McAmis and her team have been helped by the vertical structure now used by the DA's office because they can focus on issues in each case.
Other team members include assistant district attorneys Andrea Brown, Mark Morgan and Tanya Wilson. Victim advocates are Sally Van Schenzk and Cassie Coplin.
Crimes against children is a specialized area, McAmis said. The dynamics are so different than other cases. Prosecutors must specialize so they can understand and relate to victims under 18.
While McAmis has been specializing in crimes against children for a number of years, other team members, prior to the vertical structure, would find themselves prosecuting other criminal cases. That meant they would have to “retrain” to be able to handle the next child abuse case.
Prosecutors need to be familiar with physical abuse cases to understand the mechanisms and forms of the injury they are dealing with so any false allegations can be ruled out.
Child abuse team members see cases that McAmis calls “the worst of the worst.” Victims are innocent, she said, and have done nothing to deserve what adults do to them.
“The things we see and hear truly are heartbreaking,” she said. “It is unimaginable what people do to innocent kids. The only way to continue to effectively prosecute these cases and handle the personal emotional toll is to focus on getting justice for the victims, being that just, that friend, a beacon of light that helps them through the process so they can hopefully start rebuilding their lives.
“The court process is part of a surviving child's journey. If we can help them through that process, to help them understand they didn't deserve what happened to them, that someone is standing up for them, then I think that is what keeps us on track to fight for the next victim.”
McAmis said she truly believes that children who are murder victims “are watching us from heaven and truly believes they know we are able to get justice for them.”
McAmis' passion to do that began in 2001 when, as an assistant district attorney in Lincoln County, she was assigned a complex child abuse case.
“I was told that I was assigned the case because I was the only woman in the office,” she said. “I didn't have any idea how to handle the case and I had to learn for myself.”
McAmis met the little girl and knew instantly that she had found her calling. The case was difficult because everyone knew everyone in Chandler, she said, and the mother offered her child to her boyfriend and both abused the child. McAmis successfully prosecuted the pair. Both still are in prison.
She later worked as an assistant attorney general and then at the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office before coming to Tulsa in 2009.
A graduate of Jenks High School and the University of Oklahoma College of Law, McAmis was drawn to a legal career because she felt she could make a comfortable living and “make lots of money.” She laughed at that thought now because as a prosecutor, “you don't make a lot of money.”
But she realized she had found her calling and helping people, especially children, was more important.
“There is no way to explain what people do to kids,” she said. “Some defendants try to blame their actions on alcohol, drugs or how they were brought up. But that is no excuse, no justification, for physically or sexually violating a child.”
Children who are old enough to speak for themselves testify in court. Cases involving babies too young to do so or murder victims are heart rending.
Prosecutors gather as much information as possible from families, look at pictures and listen to stories. It provides personal connection and the case is not just a file number, a piece of paper.
“You can't give up or back down when you are fighting for that child,” she said.
Court dogs are a valuable tool for the prosecution. They are patient and trained to be a companion to the child during the legal process.
“You can almost see the look of relief on a child's face when he or she first meets the dog,” McAmis said. They are with the dog during interviews as they tell about the horrific things that happened to them. They hold onto the dog's hair, pet the dog and it is possible to see that it is easier to talk about past events.
The dog goes with the child into the courtroom filled with strangers and the person accused of the crime staring at them. The relationship with the dog makes everyone more comfortable.
McAmis wished she had an answer that would break the child abuse cycle that would put her out of a job — something that isn't going to happen.
She is disturbed when mothers enter into a relationship with a man they don't know very well, then choose to look the other way instead of seeing warning signs that their child is in harm's way.
“I wish parents would inherently understand that it is their duty and obligation to protect their children above anything else,” McAmis said. “It is more important than their own personal safety, money or addiction issues. If you bring a child into this world, you must do everything necessary to protect that child.”
The child abuse team also is alert to false accusations, which often occur during custody disputes. McAmis hopes that all are discovered before they are filed, but she also is concerned that some abuse issues are hidden and the accusations not immediately discovered.
“We work closely with the Child Abuse Network detectives, child abuse pediatricians, forensic interviewers, Department of Human Services investigators so each case is reviewed through the eyes of various professionals,” McAmis said. “We look at all different angles and hope nothing is missed.”
Cases that keep her awake at night are those where she feels something has happened but incidents could not be proven. These are the cases that must be declined for legal and factual reasons.
“There is nothing more heartbreaking when we have one of those categories and the child comes through CAN, victimized again,” McAmis said. “I would like to think there would be a time when there would be no further need for me or my team. But I now have more child abuse murder cases pending than I ever had at one time in my career. There has been increasing violence against children and the heinous nature of those cases is just beyond comprehension.”
This Catchy, Happy Kids Song Is Actually An Anti-Child Abuse PSA
Aardman Animation uses a cute "Pantosaurus" to raise awareness of risks facing young children.
by Jeff Beer
(Video on site)
WHAT: A happy-go-lucky, four-minute animated music video by Aardman Animation that's actually an anti-sexual abuse PSA for the U.K.'s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
WHO: NSPCC, Aardman Animation, Adelphoi Music
WHY WE CARE: As the best PSAs have taught us, there are plenty of different ways to get across an important message, raise awareness of an issue, and have that information stick in people's memories. Here, Aardman—the studio behind Wallace and Gromit, among many other animated hits—takes the cheerful route of a catchy song to address a decidedly less-than cheery topic.
Pantosaurus sings us through all the steps to take if someone inappropriate asks to see or tries to touch anyone's private parts, but does it in a way that uses positive encouragement of open communication, as opposed to instilling fear of what might happen.
‘Virginia Takes the Lead' aims to fight human trafficking
by Jonathan Costen
RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Human trafficking is a problem that hits closer to home than many realize. That's according to Barbara Amaya, an expert on the issue and also a survivor of human trafficking.
“The summer I turned 12, let me repeat that the summer I turned 12 in July, I ran away from home and eventually fell under the control of traffickers in D.C. who sold me to a trafficker in New York, where for the next decade I was trafficked in the streets of New York,” she said.
In the Student Commons of VCU, a group gathered on Monday to discuss the issue at a forum called Virginia Takes the Lead, or V.T.T.L. The group wants to fight human trafficking in the state of Virginia.
“The newest figures say there are some 36.9 million people trapped in some form of slavery, labor trafficking or sex trafficking,” explained Laura Lederer, a nationally known advocate in fighting human trafficking. “Although we don't have solid figures for the U.S., we know that it's 100,000 to 200,000 per year that are entrapped in some kind of trafficking.”
“In Virginia, I think we know even less about what's happening.”
Speakers at the forum said trafficking is not only an issue in the city, but it's a problem in the suburbs and even in rural areas.
“You might think, ‘oh, that 12-year-old that 13-year-old, she has troubles, she's a prostitute, a child prostitute … There's no such thing as a child prostitute, those words don't go together. Victim of human trafficking,” Amaya stated.
Amaya added that the internet has it easier for predators to target vulnerable children.
“I would say, sadly, it's in your living room, it's on your computer,” she said. “When you're a child, your son or daughter, goes on that computer and says, ‘I hate my mother, I hate my father, they're so mean,' there's someone in that chat room that might say really? Tell me all about it.
“Before you know it, they're on a train or a plane going to meet this person who they think is their best friend, because they get into their head and tricked them,” said Amaya.
Henderson parents on probation in prior child abuse case when newborn suffered injury
by Kimber Laux
The baby boy born to a Henderson couple in August was never supposed to leave the hospital with his parents.
The couple had abused another infant son in Texas and were being monitored by Child Protective Services. The agency was supposed to take custody of the baby immediately after his birth, according to authorities, and had alerted area hospitals not to let the pair leave with the newborn.
But something went terribly wrong.
Katie Maynard, 21, and Robert Aufdenberg, 22, and their newborn were discharged from St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena campus, the day after his birth. Within a week, the infant had suffered a traumatic brain injury in his parents' care.
Doctors are not optimistic about the child's future.
Where the system failed is not clear. Because of patient privacy laws, neither St. Rose Dominican Hospital nor Child Protective Services will discuss specifics of the case, though the Clark County agency confirmed that it sent an alert to area hospitals.
“Katie admitted to knowing that she had been flagged in the system and they (the hospital) still allowed them to go home,” a February arrest report said. “For unknown reasons, the safety plan of prohibiting Katie and Robert from removing (their son) from the hospital failed and he was released to them in the company of other family members.”
In May 2014, Maynard and Aufdenberg were convicted of felony child abuse involving the second of their three children in Texas. When the couple moved to Nevada, Child Protective Services in Clark County took over the case.
According to Maynard's arrest report, the agency had been involved with Maynard and Aufdenberg since January 2015. Maynard told Henderson police that she had given her due date to her Clark County caseworker, but was not contacted when she was near the due date or after the baby's birth Aug. 18.
In an email, county spokesman Dan Kulin said Child Protective Services sends a “hospital alert” to all area hospitals “at the point of pregnancy when it is believed that the fetus is viable,” or when a woman is about 24 weeks into her pregnancy.
Kulin said he could not discuss specific details of the case, but he confirmed that Child Protective Services had sent an alert notifying hospitals that Maynard might be giving birth soon.
Hospital spokeswoman Katie Ryan, citing patient privacy laws, said she could not comment on whether the hospital had received an alert.
After the hospital allowed Maynard to leave with her son, she and her family came up with their own safety plan, her arrest report said. Aufdenberg's mother would spend the night at their house, or they would spend the night at hers, so that the couple would never be alone with their son.
But Henderson police do not believe the family was following the plan when the newborn was shaken so hard he suffered a serious brain bleed. Using cellphone records, police determined that Aufdenberg's mother was not with the others until the next morning, when they went to the pediatrician for the baby's 1-week checkup.
Maynard's mother picked the trio up from the trailer about 8 a.m. on Aug. 27 and took the family to St. Rose's Siena campus, according to the arrest report. The baby had an episode while at the pediatrician's office, and medical staff told the family to go immediately to the emergency room.
The infant then was taken by ambulance to University Medical Center, where he underwent surgery.
William Smith, the neurosurgeon who operated on the baby, told police “the child is likely to survive but will probably be devastated.”
It was the doctor's opinion that the baby's injuries had happened within 24 hours, and more likely within 12 hours, of the time he performed the surgery. Medical records indicated that the injuries were caused by nonaccidental trauma.
“Although it's hard to predict on children, Dr. Smith advised that the child may end up not functioning higher than he is now,” the arrest report read. The baby was still in 24-hour medical care when the report was written in February.
Neither police nor Kulin would comment on the baby's current condition or whereabouts.
Initially, Aufdenberg and Maynard, who had been together for five years before marrying in March 2015, denied ever getting angry when their baby cried.
In an interview with police the day the infant was hospitalized, Aufdenberg said he might have brought his son to his shoulder too abruptly when trying to get him to stop crying the night before.
“The only time is when I picked him up too fast,” he told police.
He denied becoming frustrated to the point of shaking the infant but said he bounced the baby up and down. He was not sure whether he bounced his son hard enough to shake the baby's brain.
“I never intended to intentionally hurt any of my children,” the father told police.
Both parents were arrested March 17 by Henderson police. On Thursday, a Clark County grand jury indicted them on felony child abuse and neglect charges and a judge scheduled an Aug. 8 hearing in district court.
In court Thursday, Chief Deputy District Attorney David Stanton said the baby “has massive, permanent, irrevocable brain injuries which will, according to the testimony presented to this grand jury, cause an expedited death in his life.”
Another prosecutor in the case, Dena Rinetti, asked a pediatric abuse specialist whether the baby's injuries could have come from being rocked to sleep, according to court transcripts.
“No. I mean every single one of us is rocked to sleep at some point in our lives,” said Dr. Sandra Cetl. “This would be an extreme amount of force, an extreme amount of shaking, nothing gentle or just kind of normal every day baby care.”
Maynard's attorney, Samuel Frank Stapleton, said Wednesday that he's waiting on an expert's medical opinion to determine his defense strategy. His client's mother has spent “hundreds of hours doing research” on children with symptoms like her grandson's, he said.
“The shivering, the discolored feet, the same symptoms — it's a birth problem more than anything else, not abuse by Katie or her husband,” Stapleton said. “But I've gotta have a doctor tell me that.”
Aufdenberg's attorney, Keith Brower, refused to comment on the case.
GUILTY PLEAS IN TEXAS
On April 2, 2014, the couple's second child, an 11-week-old boy, was taken to Hopkins County Memorial Hospital in Sulphur Springs, Texas, with multiple fractures and burn injuries.
“His left arm was markedly swollen with considerable deformity,” Dr. Matthew Cox, a certified child abuse pediatrician who testified in the case, wrote in his report. “His right lower leg was swollen and tender. His eyelids were swollen and red.”
Cox documented a large burn to the right side of the infant's head that appeared to be several days old, newer burns to both feet that indicated he was placed in “scalding hot water,” and multiple bone fractures that had occurred at three different ages. The boy's broken bones included six fractured ribs, two fractured vertebrae, a broken left arm and fractures in his lower right leg.
“There was also significant delay in seeking care for many of his injuries — particularly the left arm injury and the burns,” Cox wrote. “The majority of his rib fractures are at least 2 weeks old. … His left arm fracture was approximately 7 days old.”
“In my opinion the medical findings are indicative of inflicted injuries and child physical abuse,” he concluded.
Maynard and Aufdenberg each struck a deal with the Hopkins County district attorney's office and pleaded guilty in January 2015 to a second-degree felony of recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child under 14 years old. The boy has since been adopted, Stanton said Thursday.
The parents were each given 10 years of probation and a suspended sentence of 10 years in prison.
Hopkins County Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Clay Harrison said his office is aware of the new charges and could use the case to revoke the couple's probation if they are convicted in Nevada.
In a Facebook post in January, Aufdenberg professed his love for Maynard and wrote that he was sorry their first child was a daddy's girl.
“But the boys will love and look up to mommy and be mama's boys,” he wrote.
Aufdenberg and Maynard are being held at the Clark County Detention Center on $1 million bail. Their daughter, now 3, is in the care of her great-grandparents, according to Stanton.
Head of inquiry into child abuse in Australian detention centre steps down due to lack of support
Aboriginal leaders had said they would not cooperate with the inquiry unless they were represented on the commission
The head of an Australian inquiry into the abuse of children in detention resigned on Monday, four days after being appointed to investigate prison video of aboriginal boys being abused, citing his lack of support from the country's indigenous leaders.
The Royal Commission will now be conducted by two commissioners, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda and retired Supreme Court judge Margaret White, Attorneys General George Brandis said on Monday.
Aboriginal leaders had said they would not cooperate with the inquiry unless they were represented on the commission and were unhappy that the inquiry was not national.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered the probe last week, after prison CCTV footage showed guards tear-gassing six aboriginal teenage inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded boy to a chair at a Darwin youth prison in the Northern Territory.
The footage sparked renewed criticism of Australia's treatment of Aborigines and their high imprisonment rate.
Aborigines comprise just three per cent of Australia's population but make up 27 per cent of those in prison and 94 per cent of juvenile inmates in the Northern Territory.
“I'm not the only person who can conduct this Commission effectively and competently and it is critical that whoever is appointed has the confidence of those who are vitally concerned with this matter,” retired judge Brian Martin told journalists in Darwin, announcing his resignation as head of the inquiry.
Since the broadcast of the prison video last week, the United Nations Human Rights High Commission has called on Australia to compensate the victims and protests have been held in Australian capitals.
Rise in child sexual abuse cases threatens other policing, warns chair of commissioners
Vera Baird QC says growing cost of tackling exploitation could treble to £3bn a year by 2020 and calls for Home Office to investigate its impact
by Amelia Hill
Police struggling to cope with a huge escalation in the number of child sexual exploitation cases fear it “may grow to threaten other aspects of effective policing”, the new chair of police commissioners has warned.
Vera Baird QC, in her first public statement since being elected chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) last month, said the cost of police efforts to tackle the “growing and tragic menace” of child sexual exploitation could treble to £3bn a year by 2020.
Baird, who is also the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria, is calling on the Home Office to urgently consider how the financial pressure of investigating more child sexual exploitation cases could affect other branches of policing. “Such totals place significant strain on police resources – especially as PCCs are also responsible for commissioning services for victims – and may grow to threaten other aspects of effective policing,” she writes in a piece for the Guardian.
“The home secretary may wish to consider this as a matter of urgency, to ensure forces are adequately resourced to deal with these investigations and provide care for victims. PCCs do have concern over the impact this may place on overall force budgets, and are keen to safeguard our ability to continue to provide the most effective overall service to the public.”
David Lloyd, PCC for Hertfordshire and leader of the Conservative group of the APCC, agreed with Baird. He said that his total policing budget was £200m a year. “If investigations into child sexual exploitation continue to rise at the rate they are predicted to do, they will swallow up … 15 police forces the size of Hertfordshire-worth of cost,” he said. “Police budgets are unlikely to rise, so these costs will have to come from other policing areas.”
That financial pressure is why, Baird writes, she is on Monday launching a campaign to pressure the government to make sex education compulsory in all schools, at both primary and secondary levels. “It is imperative that there should be more action through health and education to prevent these crimes taking place in the first place and to arm potential victims to resist them,” writes Baird.
Sex education is currently only compulsory in maintained schools from the age of 11. Academies, which make up the majority of secondary schools, and free schools are not required to give students any personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.
Earlier this year, England's then-education secretary rejected MPs' calls to make sex and relationship education compulsory in all schools. Nicky Morgan infuriated campaigners by making her decision despite four key House of Commons committees, which pressed for sex education to be made statutory in primaries and secondaries.
Baird's call comes just days after more than 500 children were identified as “victims or potential victims” of online sexual abuse, and 77 people arrested and charged as part of an important investigation in Scotland after 30m indecent images were recovered. “Online child sexual abuse is a national threat,” said Malcolm Graham, the assistant chief constable who led Operation Lattise. “The reality is it is happening now, not only in Scotland but across the world, to children of all ages, from infants to teenagers.”
Also last week, 28-year-old Daniel Rodriguez was sentenced to 16 years in jail for grooming five teenage girls using social media. Det Supt John Macdonald, of the Metropolitan police, said: “Unfortunately this is a pattern of abuse we are increasingly seeing. Social media enables people who want to have sex with children to approach scores if not hundreds or thousands of them online in an attempt to meet up,” he said. “[These crimes] are greatly underreported to the police.”
On Monday, supported by PCCs across the political divide, Baird is calling on anyone “who cares about protecting our young people” to email her personally to discuss how to persuade the government to make PSHE a compulsory part of the national curriculum.
“If you are a teacher, parent, classroom assistant or just someone who cares about protecting our young people, get in touch,” she writes. “It may be that we can tip the desirable into the attainable if we all act together now. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “High-quality sex and relationship education (SRE) is a vital part of preparing young people for life in modern Britain – helping them make informed choices, stay safe and learn to respect themselves and others.”
What is emotional abuse, and how does it happen to children?
by Bill Fortune III
Emotional abuse of a child (also referred to as psychological abuse) is defined as a pattern of behavior by parents, caregivers, or significant others that seriously interferes with a child's emotional and social development.
Even though it doesn't carry the same social taboo as sexual and physical abuse, emotional abuse has the same harmful effects on children. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study, one in 10 children are emotionally abused. Emotional abuse may include any or all of the following:
Verbal abuse. Adults who use intimidating, threatening or demeaning language when speaking to a child, or are constantly belittling, shaming, ridiculing or verbally threatening a child, are engaged in emotional abuse.
Rejecting. This is an active refusal to respond to a child's needs (e.g., refusing to touch a child, denying the needs of a child, ridiculing a child).
Isolating. The parent or caregiver consistently prevents the child from having normal social interactions with peers, family members and adults.
Exploiting or corrupting. In this version of emotional abuse, a child is taught, encouraged or forced to develop inappropriate or illegal behaviors.
Terrorizing. This involves threatening or bullying a child and creating a climate of fear. Terrorizing can include placing the child or the child's loved one (such as a sibling, pet or toy) in a dangerous or chaotic situation, or placing rigid or unrealistic expectations on the child with threats of harm if the child does not comply.
Ignoring. The parent or caregiver does not respond to the child. He or she may not look at the child, and may not call the child by name.
Emotional abuse is most destructive for children up to age 5, but its negative impact continues into the teenage years and beyond. Four factors influence the effects of emotional abuse and influence the risk of poor future outcomes for the child: 1) the quality of early caregiving experiences; 2) the frequency, intensity and duration of the abuse; 3) the child's temperament, coping strategies, and self-esteem; and 4) external factors such as a positive school experience and supportive relationships in the neighborhood and community.
Symptoms of Emotional Abuse
A child may be experiencing emotional abuse if they appear withdrawn, anxious, clingy, depressed, aggressive, have problems sleeping, or have eating disorders. Children may also wet the bed, soil their clothes, take undue risks, miss school, change eating habits, engage in obsessive behavior, or have nightmares. Children who are emotionally abused often use drugs or alcohol, and may have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
The most important factor in building resilience to emotional abuse is the presence of at least one person who can give unconditional love or positive regard, thinks well of the child, and makes them feel safe, important and cared for.
The Resilience Guide of the American Psychological Association suggests that adults:
• Teach children how to make friends, and monitor and support their efforts in doing so. Encourage children to help others and be a friend in order to get friends. Encourage self-care. Eating properly, enjoyable exercise, and rest are important for everyone. Make sure children aren't scheduled every moment, with no down time to relax and have fun. Caring for oneself helps children stay balanced and better prepared to deal with stress.
• Nurture a positive self-view. Help children remember ways they have successfully handled hardships in the past. Stress that these past challenges help strengthen them for future challenges.
• Encourage empathy, the feeling of another's pain. Discuss your own or others' painful experiences in real life, books, or movies.
• Keep things in perspective. Even when children face painful events, help them look at the situation in a broader way and see a long-term view of life. Although a child may be too young to consider a long-term perspective on their own, let them know that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good. You are there to help them create a good future.
Bill Fortune III is a member of the ACEs and Resiliency Coalition and the Circle of Parents Advisory Committee, Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project and Crow Wing Energized Mental Fitness Goal Group.
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How Unstable Parents Hurt Kids
They're unable to do the job, and our foster care system is overwhelmed, too
by Deirdre Reill
Kansas mom Odalis Sharp this week lost permanent custody of seven of her 10 children after they leveled disturbing accusations of physical and mental abuse against her.
The kids were frightened, beaten, slapped. The sad case illustrates just how vulnerable children are to emotional and mental instability in their parents.
These Midwestern children will now join an over-burdened foster care system that is the recipient of more and more wounded and scarred children like them — all cared for at taxpayer expense.
“The breakdown of the traditional family leaves some parents who aren't stable with nothing to model — nothing to aim for,” said one Boston mother of four. “Parents are working harder than ever, but can't afford therapy or other services that might be supportive. People may laugh at an ‘Ozzie and Harriet' ideal, but you can't say children weren't cared for in that scenario.”
The Sharp family became notorious this past January. Known as the Sharp Family Singers, they headed west to Oregon to perform their gospel music for armed occupiers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, who were holed up in Malheur National Forest after seizing control of a federal park building.
In May, the state was given temporary custody of those Sharp children under age 18 who still lived with their mother (the other three children are over 18). The children told the judge of beatings with metal rods, and how they had to remove the family guns from the home after their mother's cruelty to them worsened. In April, five of the Sharp children ran away, frightened by their mother's erratic behavior.
This week, their vivid examples of mental and physical cruelty were enough for the judge to order the kids to remain in state custody.
The mother's instability has caused these siblings to lose their home and their sense of security — something that is all-too-commonplace in today's fractured society. A child who is constantly vulnerable to a parent's emotional and/or mental instability suffers problems ranging from anxiety, depression, behavioral and social problems — even learning issues.
"The intense and dramatically fluctuating moods of the emotionally unstable parent permeate and dominate the household and can overwhelm the child, particularly when the emotions the parent is expressing are destructive ones, such as hatred or suicidal despair," psychologist Mark Hosier told Childhoodtraumarecovery.com.
"The child can be made to feel trepidatious, anxious or fearful, never knowing what to expect ... A lack of control over one's emotions is sometimes referred to as emotional dysregulation," he continued.
Sadly, almost half a million children are in foster care in the U.S. today, and their problems are increasingly serious, mirroring the increasingly unfortunate state of many American families. In June, the Texas foster care system was so stressed that 16 displaced children had to sleep in Child Protective Service offices, according to The Dallas Morning News. There were no foster families or residential care facilities to take them in.
That was on the heels of the removal of children in January from several residential treatment centers run by Children's Hope, a non-profit operating in Lubbock and Levelland, Texas, after reports of broken toilets, strong urine smells, and even injuries to children surfaced.
Texas is so dependent on each foster care residential center currently under contract that licensing officials have to think twice before shutting them down, The Morning News reported.
"Our state's case worker turnover rate also almost tripled to 57 percent — we lost those who were our first responders," Dimple Patel told LifeZette. He is a senior policy analyst with TexProtects, an organization working to reduce and eliminate child abuse and neglect.
"Many case workers were overwhelmed, or just realized the job is not for them. They leave behind a workload that gets re-appropriated, and the cycle continues."
Patel continued, "It's not Texas' basic and moderate kids that we're having trouble placing — it's our special needs kids, and we have more and more of those. By special needs, I mean those who have behavioral and emotional problems that need a more intensive level of care. We have more each year — and kids are getting worse in foster care, not better. We are looking for ways to actively help them get better. The longer they stay in care, the deeper their problems become emotionally."
Many families just can't take the pressure and responsibility of caring for a special needs foster child.
"A foster family may eventually say, 'I just can't meet this child's needs anymore,'" said Patel. "Perhaps originally the child came in at basic level of need, but with all the original trauma of being abused or neglected combined with losing their family and perhaps even their siblings, they only worsen, emotionally. What we really like to see is more of a one-on-one family situation for the child, rather than residential treatment."
The numbers of children needing care and placement is rising in America — not declining.
"We've seen more kids coming in this past year than ever," Patel noted. "It's hard to find a relative who is willing to take that child, and it's hard to get that relative the support they need, as well."
Families don't need to be perfect — this is, of course, an impossibility. But they need to reach out for help when problems first surface.
"Healthy families are not problem-free; they just admit to problems and get the help they need to solve them," Kay Kuzma, a child development expert, noted in Appleseeds.org, a Franciscan University website. "The longer a problem drags on without a solution, the more discouraging family life becomes. Do not allow this to happen."
Early signs of success in foster care prevention program
by Justin A. Hinkley
LANSING – Alyssa Lovely and her toddler son were in danger.
A couple years ago, she was in a long-term relationship that had turned violent, and Michigan's Children's Protective Services was worried about the risk to her son. Her boy could have ended up in foster care, she in court trying to prove to a judge she was a worthy parent.
Instead, she was placed in a program called Protect MiFamily, which redirects federal foster care dollars to programs meant to prevent kids from becoming state wards. Her son stayed home and she and her son each received counseling. Her son received speech therapy. She was trained in budgeting.
"I was at an all-time low, I guess you could say," the now 23-year-old Kalamazoo mother said last month. Her caseworker in the program "was a great friend, a greater supporter. They helped me realize I didn't need to go back to that relationship. I could do it on my own."
State child welfare officials are hoping for more success stories like that as they celebrate several positive announcements in recent weeks.
Last month, a progress report showed the Protect MiFamily program halved the share of kids who were removed from their homes and placed in foster care, among other signs of success. If such trends continue, it might help the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services sell lawmakers on the continuation of the program after the pilot ends in 2018.
That report followed the June passage of the 2017 state budget, which set aside money for the state to expand its Family Reunification Program from just about half to nearly all counties in the state and to expand its Parent Partnership Program from Wayne County to four additional counties.
The programs, especially Protect MiFamily, have been criticized by state employee unions as part of move toward full privatization of child welfare work.
DHHS denies that, and says the programs are needed to keep kids safe and at home.
Michigan posts mixed results on child welfare. In 2013, the most recent year for which state-by-state data is available, the state had the 12th-lowest rate of kids entering foster care, but the 12th-highest rate of kids awaiting adoption because their parents' rights to them had been terminated in court.
The recent developments mean "we will be able to better support families, keep kids safely in their homes, get them out of foster care more quickly, all the things that we prioritize in Michigan," said Stacie Bladen, deputy director of the state's Children's Services Agency.
'We're encouraged by it'
Protect MiFamily launched in 2013 after Michigan was one of nine states given a waiver to certain requirements attached to federal foster care dollars. The waiver allows the state to spend those dollars on 15 months of intensive services to keep kids out of foster care in the first place.
DHHS is testing the program in Kalamazoo, Macomb and Muskegon counties. The families of 300 young kids at risk of abuse or neglect are randomly assigned to the program each year. Services are provided by two of the biggest names in child welfare nonprofits: Catholic Charities of West Michigan and Samaritas, which was formerly called Lutheran Social Services.
Families are happy with the program, according to the progress report released July 13. About nine in 10 said in surveys that they're getting the services they need.
For families that completed the entire program, just under 5% of kids had to be removed from their home because of maltreatment concerns, compared to just under 11% of kids in a control group not participating in the program, the report said.
Bladen said she was especially pleased to see that about 30% of kids in the program showed improvements in their social and emotional well-being as measured by a commonly used assessment.
"Often, the criticism is, 'Fine, you kept the child home, but what have you done to improve their well-being?'" she said. The report showed "a modest gain, but we're encouraged by it."
Other results were mixed: Protect MiFamily seemed to make no difference in whether or not parents faced another allegation of mistreating their kids, for example.
Bladen said DHHS officials will have "really detailed discussions" into 2017 about "some fine-tuning we need to do" and what could be next for the program, including whether or not it would expand to additional counties..
Overall, Protect MiFamily "is doing what we had hoped it would do," she said. "We are hopeful that we could continue this intervention in some shape, form or way."
Legislation pending in Congress would allow the waiver program to continue, or "we would look at what our current funding streams are," Bladen said.
'Ride those waves'
While the future of Protect MiFamily is being worked out, two long-established programs are expanding with $6.1 million in new money in the state budget that takes effect Oct. 1.
The state's Family Reunification Program, a four- to six-month intervention program that's been around for years, will expand from 41 to 73 of Michigan's 83 counties.
The Parent Partner Program, currently only available in Wayne County, will expand to Genessee, Oakland, McComb and Berrien counties. In that program, parents who have successfully won their kids back from foster care provide guidance to parents who just entered the system.
The money is listed as one-time funding, but Bladen said she expects the programs to be able to continue. Lawmakers often peg money as one-time so they can evaluate the effectiveness of the investment.
It's important to offer "an array of services" in child welfare, Bladen said, because not every program can work for every parent. The Family Reunification Program, for example, is a shorter-term effort that may not work for a parent battling addiction and the almost guaranteed relapses that come with it. In the longer-term Protect MiFamily program, however, "we can ride those waves with the families," she said.
'100% my will'
Protect MiFamily and other programs have been controversial.
The union representing state child welfare workers pointed to the big contracts for private providers as a sign that DHHS wanted to outsource more of the highly sensitive child welfare work. Union officials called that dangerous because, they said, there's less transparency and accountability in private contracts than with state employees.
But DHHS officials said Protect MiFamily and other programs are meant to supplant, not replace, the work done by state employees. Currently, all investigations and recommendations for the removal of children are done by state CPS workers, management of foster care cases are split about evenly between state workers and contractors, and 100% of adoption services are handled by private agencies. Bladen said DHHS does not plan to change that balance.
"We have no blueprint or plan to privatize further," she said. "We have no goals to do that."
There are other weaknesses in the child welfare system – many of them outside the control of DHHS.
Only about 5% of CPS cases end up in court. But, for those hundreds of parents every year whose kids are placed in foster care and who have to appear before a judge to prove their worth as a parent, the system is heavily stacked against them, the LSJ reported earlier this year after a months-long investigation. Parents have difficulty managing the bureaucracy and are asked to trust the very people who took their kids away. They are typically represented by underpaid, overworked public defenders. And the state's burden of proof is much lower than in criminal cases, though the consequences can be lifelong.
Lovely, the mother who kept her son through Protect MiFamily, said that no matter what the state does or doesn't do for parents, moms and dads must do the work to keep their kids.
"One hundred percent of it was my will," Lovely said. "I didn't have to do anything they suggested to me; it was up to me."
Abuse leads to animal cruelty
by Sorayo Solomon
Acts of cruelty such as the killing of the dog named Sam by children confirms the state of chaos within our society and illustrates just how much is going wrong within our communities and families, and how much danger South African children find themselves in.
Troubled children who have either witnessed or experienced abuse are far more likely to mistreat animals.
Society struggles to understand why any child would mistreat an animal. The motivation for this kind of behaviour can broadly be classified into three categories:
Curiosity or exploration, where the animal is injured or killed in the process of being examined. Children in this category are likely to be young or developmentally delayed, poorly supervised and lacking training on the physical care and humane treatment of animals, especially family pets, stray animals and/or neighbourhood wildlife.
Humane education interventions (teaching children to be kind, caring and nurturing towards animals) by parents, caregivers and teachers are likely to be sufficient to prevent animal abuse in these children.
Young children might tug the cat's tail or pull the dog's hair out of curiosity or mischief. These can be moments for parents or other adults to teach children about empathy by pointing out the animal's feelings and needs.
Pathological animal abuse is usually, but not always, perpetrated by older children. Rather than indicating a lack of education about the humane treatment of animals, animal abuse by these children may be symptomatic of psychological disturbances of varying severity.
For example, a number of studies have tied childhood animal abuse to childhood histories of physical abuse, sexual abuse and exposure to domestic violence. In these cases, professional, clinical intervention is warranted.
Delinquent animal abuse is most likely to be inflicted by adolescents whose animal abuse may be one of a number of antisocial activities. In some cases, the animal abuse may be a component of gang/cult-related activities, such as initiation rites, or less formal group violence and destructiveness.
The use of alcohol and other substances may be associated with animal abuse for these youth, and they may require both judicial and clinical interventions.
In South Africa, cruelty towards animals can be seen to be rooted in the notion that violence in South Africa, whether perpetrated against a person or animal, has become normative rather than deviant.
However, when a child of any age shows intentional cruelty towards animals that is repeated, severe and without remorse, this should be taken very seriously.
It is not only crucial to keep animals safe, but childhood animal abuse is linked to other forms of violence and psychopathology. Animal abuse is often the first manifestation of serious emotional turmoil that may escalate into extreme violence.
Research shows that 10 to 25% of children in mental health facilities have perpetrated some form of animal cruelty. It is estimated that one in four children and adolescents with conduct disorder has abused animals. Children who have been physically abused and exposed to domestic violence are at even higher risk to abuse animals. In an assessment of 1433 children ages 6 to 12, research found that among abused children, 60% had abused animals. Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people.
Since the 1970s, research has consistently reported childhood cruelty to animals as the first warning sign of later delinquency, violence and criminal behaviour.
Almost all perpetrators of violent crime, including Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (the Boston strangler), David Berkowitz (the Son of Sam) and Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, had a history of animal cruelty in their profiles.
Cruelty to animals is not inherent, but learnt. What is done to you, you very often do to others. Teaching kindness and respect for animals, in our schools and homes, will foster empathy and the ability to understand what someone else feels.
Incorporating the simple concepts of kindness and respect into our daily lives and teaching our children to respect and protect even the smallest and most despised among us, will help children value one another.
Soraya Solomon is the chief executive officer of Nicro, the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders.
His boy dead, all dad wanted was for someone to listen
by Mike Kilen
Dillon Wyckoff, a plumber from Madrid, is the father of a 2-year-old son, Mason, who was found dead July 22. A funeral was scheduled Saturday in Des Moines.
Faced with a profound tragedy, all week he continued to answer reporters' calls and text messages. He wanted to talk about how this could happen. He vows to find out what can be done to stop it from happening to other children.
The first thing he wants to change?
“I want someone in my position to get listened to,” he said.
Wyckoff, 36, said he went to police, the courts and the Iowa Department of Human Services for help with Mason's mother, Stephenie Erickson, who he said was dealing with serious mental health issues. Erickson, who was found unresponsive with Mason in the Grimes home they shared, died at a hospital several days later.
The tragedy raises a familiar yet troubling dilemma. From 2010 to 2015, 27 Iowa children were killed by their parents. What can family members or friends do to help a person who may be unbalanced — and protect a child in their care? Many hurdles have been erected to protect due process rights and medical privacy.
“Our system leaves it up to the (ill) person to decide to get help for themselves,” Wyckoff said.
The two deaths are under investigation by the Polk County Sheriff's Office. Authorities haven't said that Mason was killed, only that no one outside the home was involved.
“The family is broken by this tragedy, and we have no comment,” said Erickson's aunt, Patty Brown.
Wyckoff was not married to Erickson but lived with her until nine months ago. He said the potential that Erickson would harm Mason was what his family feared most during a heated custody battle with Erickson.
He and his mother, Michele Cunningham, have been outspoken about how authorities responded to their pleas that the boy needed protection.
Cunningham, of Redfield, spoke by telephone after returning from holding her grandson in the funeral home. He was a blue-eyed cherub who liked to play baseball, swim and fly kites.
“I kept telling (officials) that she was going to harm him,” Cunningham said. “We were more or less treated as if we were overreacting.
“What we would like to find out is a way to make it easier, to prevent this from ever happening to other children in the future.”
Earlier signs of trouble
Wyckoff and Erickson lived together in Granger for four years before he moved out last fall. She had custody of Mason, Wyckoff said, but he spent nearly half the days of the week with the boy.
Some troubles started long before. Erickson, 33, had been convicted of harassment, drunken driving, disorderly conduct and assault as well as other offenses in the past 10 years, according to online court records. She was divorced from Jeffrey Erickson in 2012 and had two other older children. There was another unharmed child at the scene when police found Mason.
Law enforcement agencies were called to her Granger address 10 times in 2015 and 2016. Wyckoff said the situation worsened when he threatened to move out. In September, he went to the Dallas County Courthouse to sign papers for her involuntary civil commitment for mental health problems but he said Erickson found out and was going to retrieve Mason from day care.
In a 911 call obtained by The Des Moines Register, Wyckoff told an emergency operator that Erickson threatened to drive off the Saylorville bridge if she was committed, and he would “never see Mason again.”
Erickson and Mason were unharmed after authorities intervened, he said.
Troubles continued in Grimes, where law enforcement was called to her home five times earlier this year — three times for welfare checks. Wyckoff said he alerted the DHS to investigate what he viewed as Erickson's improper care of Mason, but they found no evidence that the child was in danger.
Wyckoff said he had not yet taken official steps to gain custody of Mason but told Erickson he was planning to initiate the court proceedings.
By July 21, Erickson posted on her Facebook page about her “ongoing problems with Mason's father … We are both very scared what he will do next.”
Two minutes later, she posted a close-up photo of a smiling Mason, shyly covering his eyes with his hand. She also wrote these words: “I love this little angel more than words could ever describe.”
The next morning, Mason was found dead.
What can someone do?
So why didn't someone do something? Many people have asked the same question in earlier cases when children have died at the hands of their parents. Of the 27 Iowa sons and daughters killed by their parents from 2010 to 2015, all but three were minors. Only six deaths were due to negligence.
Police are often called to respond to people with mental health issues, but they aren't trained mental health professionals.
“We are often the first and the last resort,” said Officer Kelly Drane of the Des Moines Police Department. “If there is not a crime, we are limited. Being mentally ill is not a crime. We just make sure everyone is safe. If it's unsafe, we don't just walk away.”
She helped launch a mobile crisis team in 2001 to assist police in assessing mental health situations, and last year the team made about 2,000 visits in Polk County. But even they can be fooled.
“There are people who put a mask on it, and you are convinced you are talking to someone who is OK,” she said. “They can keep it together for a short time.”
The DHS faces hurdles as well. The department's investigation of children who are thought to be abused or in danger has an assessment that must meet specific criteria before a child is removed or a case is referred to law enforcement.
“Suspecting a mental illness is not part of our criteria,” said DHS spokeswoman Amy McCoy. “The parent's actions or lack of action in providing care for the child is what may constitute abuse.”
A DHS checklist of what qualifies as “denial of critical care” doesn't include potential mental health issues of providers, but focuses on the physical and emotional needs of the child. DHS investigators don't perform psychological assessments during an investigation, but mental health is a factor in assessing a child's safety, McCoy said.
Another avenue is involuntary civil commitment, which is decided by a judge.
“Any interested party, anybody” can file papers to have someone committed, but they have to have “firsthand knowledge of the relevant facts,” said Daniel Flaherty, an assistant Polk County attorney who specializes in civil commitments, of which there were nearly 900 last year in Polk County.
The person must suffer from a mental disease or disorder and must be in danger of injuring themselves or others or of causing serious emotional injury to family members, or be unable to care for their needs to keep them from injury.
“Absent (these), you can't hospitalize someone against their will,” he said.
Emotional custody battles
Some parents choose to try to remove the child through the courts in custody hearings. That is also fraught with peril.
“It's one thing to fight about money, but another to fight for children,” said Tom Levis, vice president of the Iowa State Bar Association. “That is the most important thing in their life and won't stop them from doing anything.”
He said custody lawyers counsel clients to get law enforcement involved if they see a threat from the other parent. When the troubled party is a client, attorneys are advised to seek mental health treatment for the person.
But often the cases are so emotional, it's difficult to distinguish between real danger and angling for advantage.
“Judges don't even want to hear it, even if you have evidence,” she said. “Lawyers even counsel their clients not to bring it up or you will lose the child.”When one party claims that the other parent is abusive or dangerous to the child in custody battles, the complaining party is often accused of fabricating it and may be punished with an unfavorable decision, said Kathleen Russell, executive director of the Center for Judicial Excellence in California, a nonprofit that advocates to protect children in family court.
She said judges should be better trained to spot real threats to children's safety.
Her organization tracked 364 child murders in the U.S. from 2008 to 2015 that were committed by parents during divorce or child custody proceedings or looming battles over the children.
Hurdles exist for a reason
One mental health advocate said there is good reason for all these hurdles.
Peggy Huppert is executive director of the Iowa chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
People naturally want to blame someone after a death, such as law enforcement or human services officials. But advocating for law changes to let authorities more easily take children out of homes of mentally ill parents is dangerous, she said.
“I'm very concerned about due process and not throwing the term 'mental illness' out to try to take kids away,” she said. “The fact of the matter is, there are millions of people living with mental illness just fine. Having a mental illness doesn't mean you can't take care of your kids.
“And sometimes they can be accused of being mentally unstable when it is a vendetta situation.”
Mental illness is not the cause of all crime, she added; some people are simply angry or hateful.
“The process is deliberative, and it's for a reason,” she said.
But Iowans who have faced tragedy in their families because of mental illness insist that changes are needed.
Joan Becker has been leading a fight in Iowa to improve the mental health system and allow family members to be more involved in their loved one's care.
Her son Mark shot and killed his former Aplington-Parkersburg football coach, Ed Thomas, in a highly publicized murder in 2009 after being released from a Waterloo hospital's psychiatric unit. He is serving a life sentence after a jury rejected his insanity defense.
“Obviously, what we are doing doesn't work,” Becker said.
She said “baby steps” were taken recently with three bills that passed the Iowa Legislature, which allow mental health professionals to order a person taken into custody if they are a danger to themselves or others, psychologists to prescribe medications and professionals to share medical records.
But more psychiatric beds and funding for mental health is needed, she said. Becker would also like to see longer stays when a person is committed for mental health issues.
One improvement doesn't require more laws, and it's one Wyckoff mentioned after his son was killed.
“The biggest barrier is getting people to listen,” Becker said.
Medical professionals hide behind patient privacy laws, she contended, and they forget it's OK to listen to family members.
“When you have an alcoholic family member, they have family counseling. They include everyone to get to the true source of the problem,” Becker said. “They don't do that with mental illness.”
For Mason Wyckoff, it's too late. His dad had taken him to the park the Sunday before he died. Dillon Wyckoff put him on the slide and watched him gleefully go down it.
He promised to see him at the end of the week. But he never saw him again.