National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

child abuse trauma prevention, intervention & recovery

NAASCA Weekly News
EDITOR'S NOTE: Every day we bring you news articles, opinion pieces, crime stories and official information from government web sites. These are highlights, and constitute the tip of the iceberg .. a small percentage of the daily information available to those who are interested in the issues of child abuse, trauma and recovery. Stay aware. Every extra set of "eyes and ears" and every voice makes a big difference.
programs / projects
together we can heal
help stop child abuse
a little about us
join us, get involved
Recent News - News from other times

December, 2016 - Week 1
MJ Goyings
Many thanks to our very own "MJ" Goyings, a resident of Ohio, for her daily research that provides us with the news related material that appears on the LACP & NAASCA web sites.


Scotland's Child Tsar demands new safety regime to tackle sexual abuse in sport

by The Herald

SCOTLAND'S children's tsar has laid out a three-pronged approach aimed at preventing sexual abuse in youth sport.

Child protection experts are also calling for greater vigilance and awareness following the revelations about historical sexual abuse that have rocked football.

Tam Bailey, Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, said the latest abuse scandal means it's time for an underlying change in our attitudes to children.

And he called for measures which would help combat abuse, advising that we should:

• Extend the existing disclosure system that checks whether employees who work with children have a criminal record to include an ongoing vetting of the behaviour of adults around children;

• Make sure parents are alert to any signs of favouritism or spending time alone with the coach, and of any changes in a child's behaviour;

• Reassure children they will be believed if they report abuse and make sure they know they can go to a trusted adult.

“We need to get the message out to children and parents that we are a society that takes its children seriously and respects their rights,” he said.

Young people taking part in football were particularly vulnerable to abuse, he added. “In these sporting situations, you have youngsters who dream of becoming a top sportsperson and coaches who hold the key to their dreams, which makes for a powerful imbalance.

“Coaches also have the opportunity to have unsupervised access to children. It's a situation ripe for predators to exploit, as they are tenacious, clever and adept at gaining the trust of the adults around children. We must be extra vigilant in these situations.”

And this includes a plea for parents to be on the lookout for any worrying signs in their children, including changes of behaviour.

The advice comes as Scottish police investigate reports of people claiming they were sexually abused as young footballers paid tribute to victims for having the courage to come forward.

Detective Chief Superintendent Lesley Boal, Police Scotland's lead for Public Protection, said: “I would like to thank and pay tribute to the courage of everyone who has contacted both us and the NSPCC with information about people who may have abused children in the past and who may pose a risk to children.

“Speaking out about any form of child abuse is incredibly difficult, and disclosures are often made many years after an incident took place."

Janine Rennie, chief executive of Open Secret, which offers support to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, is calling for a public awareness campaign about child sex abuse.

“Sexual abuse in sports clubs is something we have come across frequently. There are many fantastic sports coaches but sadly there will always be others who abuse and it is impossible to tell which is which, as child abusers are skilled at grooming children and parents to gain trust.

“We want to encourage our children into sport and don't want to think it could be a frightening environment for them, but it's important for parents to be aware and talk to their children about abuse.

“We need a campaign about child abuse in Scotland with the same attention paid to it as there is to rape and domestic abuse.”

sportscotland has set out child protection measures that sports organisations must follow. A spokesperson said: “sportscotland invests £125,000 per annum through[children's charity] Children 1st to educate, train, and support Scottish Governing Bodies (SGBs) for sports and ensure they have rigorous child safety procedures and policies which are reviewed regularly. Our Minimum Operating Requirements for child protection are consistent across the governing bodies. All qualified coaches involved in delivering youth coaching registered with the governing bodies are subjected to checks through the PVG scheme. And any clubs using local authority or leisure trust facilities must be compliant with their local child protection safety procedures and policies.

“In light of the horrific allegations of historic abuse in English youth football, sportscotland and Children 1st's Safeguarding in Sport team have provided further clarification and guidance for SGBs, clubs, and other partners in Scotland advising how to respond to allegations of historic abuse.”

Alison Todd, Chief Executive of Children 1st, said: “Sport can be an incredibly positive experience for children and the majority of adults involved in delivering sport are there with good intentions.

“Today sports bodies are much more aware of child sexual abuse and in Scotland, Children 1st continues to work closely with governing bodies of sport to ensure child welfare remains high up their agenda.

“But, sadly, it remains true that children continue to be abused today and that those who want to abuse children continue to seek positions of power and trust.

“Parents and carers should familiarise themselves with the child protection processes in place in the clubs their children attend and ask questions if they have concerns. And we all need to keep an eye out for signs that something might be wrong and encourage children to speak to a trusted adult about anything that worries them.

“We also need to urgently reform our justice and care system so that when a child speaks out about abuse, justice is done and children get the support they need to recover and move on with their lives.”

An SFA spokesman said: “Within the Scottish FA, we carry out PVG (Protected Vulnerable Group scheme) and other safeguarding checks for coaches working with U-18 players within our national and regional squads, performance schools and various programmes run with the regional and local authority areas.

“For each of our 88 member clubs where they have youth football teams or form part of Club Academy Scotland, they are individually registered with Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services to carry out PVG checks.

“The member clubs go through annual Scottish FA club licensing audits where an area of this addresses their practice and compliance with the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 legal duties.

“Each of our affiliated associations where children and young people are participating in youth football (Scottish Youth Football Association, Scottish Schools Football Association and Scottish Women's Football) are individually registered with Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland Disclosure Services. They carry out checks on behalf of their activities at a national level and also support their member and affiliated clubs with PVG checks.”



The five main things people say about child abuse... and why they shouldn't

'Wimp' tweet reveals how wrong people can be about child abuse

by Shane Dunphy

Former darts world champion Eric Bristow begrudgingly apologised last Wednesday for tweeting that the footballers in the emerging child sexual abuse scandal were "wimps" and demanding to know why they didn't "sort out" their abusers "when they got older and fitter".

Bristow claimed the comments, which he admitted were badly worded, were really an attempt to encourage children who had experienced abuse to come forward. The awful thing is, he could be telling the truth.

The spectre of child sexual abuse has become such an ever-present shadow over our society that it seems everyone has an opinion about how to deal with offenders, how to treat survivors, and how to make our world safer for all concerned.

To try to shed some light on this very dark subject, here are the five main things people say about child abuse - and why they probably shouldn't say them.

1. It's just about sex - people have meaningless sex every day, so get over it

Child abuse is not about sex, it is about power and dominance.

Many abusers have claimed the children they molested gave their consent, or even enjoyed the experience.

This is a lie. No child is in a position - emotionally, physically or psychologically - to give permission to an adult to perpetrate a crime upon them, and no one enjoys being physically overpowered and violated.

2. Survivors make up false allegations to get sympathy and attention

According to a survey carried out by international support and research body, Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse, not being believed is the fear that is most likely to prevent survivors of abuse from coming forward.

Anyone who believes that people make up these stories should consider some of the realities that a survivor would face daily. People cross the road because they are too embarrassed to face them; others suggest the abuse is their own fault, that they did something to make it happen; certain parents won't let them anywhere near their children, because don't survivors of abuse often become abusers themselves?

Do you still think people make these stories up?

3. You're an adult now - no one can hurt you unless you let them, so stop wallowing in self-pity and move on with your life

This is more or less what Bristow was trying to say, that when you were abused, you were a child and had no control - but that as an adult you are far better equipped to defend yourself, so you can stop being afraid.

What people don't realise is how insidious abusers can be. Many survivors attest to the fact that, when faced with the person who hurt them, even years later, they immediately become weak, vulnerable children again.

One survivor, who gave evidence in the Ferns Report into clerical abuse, was working in Dublin in his late 20s, and purely by chance ran into the priest who had abused him as a boy.

He was so terrified, he allowed himself to be coerced into getting into a taxi with the man, who invited him to go back to his hotel room.

Luckily, he found the strength to make his excuses and flee, but it illustrates the point - abuse preserves, amber-like, the hurt, frightened child that survivors once were.

4. It couldn't have been that bad if you didn't report it for 20 years

The vast majority of child sexual abuse is reported by adults at least two decades, sometimes even longer, after it happened.

Abusers tell children they prey on that they will die if they tell; that terrible things will happen to their parents; that no one will believe them (see number 2), and they may even be punished for what happened.

This brainwashing, combined with the physical and emotional impact of the abuse, causes the experience to be repressed - the child's mind walls up the memories and buries them deep in the subconscious while they try to carry on with their life.

Something so toxic cannot stay buried - it seeps out. Survivors of child sexual abuse are 59pc more likely to be arrested as juveniles and 30pc more likely to commit a violent crime than their peers who were not abused.

Some 80pc of 21-year-olds on the books of Tusla for childhood sexual abuse present with some degree of psychiatric disorder.

And 25pc of girls who experience childhood abuse are likely to experience a teenage pregnancy.

Adults usually report when their lives reach such a crisis point - they know they cannot continue without help.

So could it have been that bad? Yes, it could.

5. You're a survivor - you're still here. That's something to celebrate

Author and child protection activist Andrew Vachss has written about the language we use to discuss child abuse - and he drew attention to the term "survivor".

He pointed out that, in many instances, survival is a random thing, a stroke of luck rather than due to any purpose, talent or intent. Children who have been abused grow into adults.

Those among them who choose never to harm others, who rise above the pain they experienced and who make time to volunteer at youth clubs, share their stories with others who need support, perhaps even go on to become child protection workers (a common reason people cite when choosing a career in social care is to ensure their childhood experiences are never visited on others); people who exhibit this kind of compassion, Vachss suggests, are not survivors: they are transcenders.

Perhaps Eric Bristow should think about that.


United Kingdom

Southampton contact police over historical child abuse probe

by PA Sport

Southampton Football Club has contacted police after receiving information in relation to historical child abuse.

The club has said it will work with Hampshire Police as a major probe into historical child sex abuse in youth football continues up and down the country.

The news comes as West Midlands Police said it is currently "investigating four historical allegations of child sexual abuse in football" and Kent Police said it has also received reports of abuse within the county's football community.

A Southampton statement read: "Southampton Football Club would like to confirm that we have contacted Hampshire Police following information supplied to us in relation to historical child abuse within football.

"Hampshire Police and Southampton Football Club are committed to working together to investigate any historical allegations that may be brought to light in the Hampshire area.

"The club has informed Hampshire Police that we will offer our full support to any investigation they undertake, for as long as it takes, and with our full focus."

Two former Saints players were interviewed by BBC South on Thursday about sexual abuse they endured from an unnamed coach.

Meanwhile, a Kent Police spokesman said the force was reviewing the reports of abuse it had received, while the names of the football clubs linked to the claims and the number of allegations received have not been disclosed.

The spokesman urged victims in Kent who have not yet come forward to call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 023 2642.

Meanwhile, 10 suspects have been identified as the scandal continues to grow, and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said it was investigating reports from 35 people, with its inquiry growing on a "daily basis".

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) said it has seen a tenfold increase in the number of adult survivors of child abuse registering for their support groups - from 10 registrations a week to 100 per week, in the past three weeks.

Napac chief executive Gabrielle Shaw said: 'We are getting a lot of calls from young men reporting abuse and some are extremely distraught during the call.

"But this is not just about football - huge numbers of people suffered abuse in childhood, within the family or institutions. Survivors often feel shame, pain and confusion about what was done to them."

The National Police Chiefs' Council said around 350 people across the country had reported abuse allegations.

A former Chelsea striker claimed he was paid £50,000 by the club not to go public with allegations that he was sexually abused by its former chief scout.

Gary Johnson, now 57, said the Premier League club asked him to sign a "gagging order" and has called for "total transparency".

It was reported earlier this week that Chelsea had made a payment to an individual in the last three years following allegations regarding former chief scout Eddie Heath.

Speaking to the Daily Mirror, which reported that Chelsea had now waived the confidentiality clause in Johnson's settlement, which was made last year, he said: "I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this. Millions of fans around the world watch Chelsea. They are one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world.

"All their fans deserve to know the truth about what went on. I know they asked me to sign a gagging order and how many others are there out there?"

Chelsea said on Tuesday they had appointed an external law firm to carry out a formal investigation into a former employee, with the club refusing to comment on any of the details.

A club statement read: "Chelsea Football Club has retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased.

"The club has also contacted the FA to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation. This will include providing the FA with any relevant information arising out of the club's investigation."

Mr Heath, who was the club's chief scout from 1968 to 1979, died before the allegations were made.

On Thursday it was revealed that a dedicated NSPCC helpline for football received 860 calls in its first week.



Kansas Agency Denies Backlog At Child Abuse Reporting Center

by Meg Wingerter

A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Children and Families confirmed this week that a call center for child abuse reports had trouble keeping up with the volume of calls it received in September but denied the center had a “backlog.”

Foster care contractors learned of the issue in a Sept. 22 email sent by a DCF employee that said the call center was “experiencing a backlog in processing new reports of abuse or neglect, due to a severe staffing issue.”

The email asked family preservation workers with KVC Kansas, one of two foster care contractors, to use an online form for reporting child abuse and neglect instead of calling the Kansas Protection Reporting Center. The email has since been shared on social media and with Heartland Health Monitor partner KHI News Service.

Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for DCF, confirmed that the email did come from a DCF employee but said the call center wasn't experiencing a “backlog.” She said she defined a backlog as employees being unable to answer or respond to calls.

“That is not the case and was not the case in September,” she said.

However, Freed said employees were “struggling to keep up with the volume of calls” in September, because school was back in session and teachers are required to report signs of abuse or neglect.

At that time the call center had employees assigned to follow up immediately on “priority” calls, such as when a child had suspicious bruises, and family preservation workers were asked to use the online system to keep phone lines open for members of the public, she said.

Freed didn't respond to questions about staffing levels at the call center in September. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, DCF said last week that the agency had 463 staff positions open.

Sarah Coats, who said she recently was fired from her job as a family preservation therapist for KVC Kansas and shared the DCF email on social media, said at times the call center staff didn't call her back about a report for several days or never called back.

KVC officials declined to comment Friday on whether Coats had worked there.

Coats said she had difficulty getting someone from the call center on the phone for about a year. She said she never received a follow-up email indicating the call center backup had been resolved.

The online form also wasn't an ideal situation when she was meeting with children, Coats said, because she couldn't easily set aside time to write a report.

Several recent child abuse cases have drawn attention to how DCF handles child abuse reports.

A Legislative Post Audit report released in July found DCF hadn't always responded to calls in a timely manner from July 2013 to January 2016. Auditors took a sample of 40 cases that involved calls from more than one person and appeared to be high risk, based on the severity of the allegations.

In 30 cases, DCF followed up within the required time, which could be one day, three days or 20 days, based on the type of allegations. In five cases, staff didn't follow up in time, and the evidence was unclear for the other five cases. The call center handled about 170,000 reports during that time period.

“Even though we found only five investigations where follow-up was not timely, that number is still concerning,” the audit report said. “That is because the report center is a primary method used to help ensure that child abuse and neglect reports are addressed.”

Freed said anyone who suspects a child is being abused or neglected should continue to call the reporting center at (800) 922-5330.



Experts call sex trafficking a crime of psychology

by Joshua Polson

On the night of Nov. 18, 2014, hours after the Platteville girl told detectives the long story of how Paul Burman, 33, had forced her into sexual slavery in northern Colorado and Nebraska, she called them and said she lied.

She'd just been upset, she said, because Burman had a new girlfriend. She'd made the whole story up. She loved Burman. He was the father of her unborn child. She didn't know what she'd do without him, she said, according to an affidavit for Burman's arrest.

It's a conversation detectives sometimes have with sex trafficking victims.

Burman was convicted in August by a Weld County jury of 32 charges relating to sex trafficking and the pimping of women and underage girls. On Nov. 23, two years after the Platteville girl first told her story to law enforcement, Weld District Judge Julie Hoskins sentenced Burman to 248 years for his career as a pimp, during which he victimized at least nine women and girls.

Sex trafficking is defined as the use of “force, threat or coercion to compel another person to engage in … a commercial sex act,” according to the federal Trafficking Victim's Protection Act, passed in 2000. That clean, bland wording does not reflect the bitter realities of the crime. Sex trafficking, especially involving minors, leaves physical, psychological and emotional scars victims deal with for the rest of their lives.

Diana Laws, one of the founding members of the Northeastern Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking, said the effect the crime has on victims can make sex trafficking cases, especially those involving minors, difficult to prosecute.

“In court … (victims) don't always want to be there,” she said. “They don't trust cops a lot of the time. Their language may be terribly offensive, and you have to get a jury that understands all that going in.”

Victims can be difficult for a jury to relate to because they often appear distrustful. Sex trafficking, by definition, aims to control people through their vulnerabilities.

In the case of the Platteville girl, for example, Burman exploited the girl's desire for affection, as well as an economic need.

According to the affidavit, he friended her on Facebook in late 2013, and the two began talking. After a while they met and had sex. Burman was sweet and charismatic, and the girl was attracted to him.

She would later tell police it didn't take long until “it got crazy.”

She met with Burman again, and she took her mom's car without her mother knowing. Things were different this time. He'd obviously been drinking, and he was rude to her. She drove away, but he tailed her, even running a red light to keep up with her. The girl was pulled over and given a $240 ticket.

“Oh my god, my mom cannot find out about this, I need to pay it ASAP,” she later told detectives. “I told (Burman) my situation.”

It was the moment Burman was waiting for. He told her he knew people she could have sex with if she needed money. It wasn't the first time he'd done this. Burman was using a common technique among sex traffickers. It's called “boyfriending.”

“For a while, she's the girl,” Laws said. “Then she starts seeing he's got other girlfriends on the side, but he still treats her well, so she puts up with it. Then he says he needs money and he convinces her to help him out this one time by dancing in the club.”

Sex trafficking poses a major problem for police and prosecutors because victims often don't identify as such. Many times, they develop feelings for their pimp, which creates another hurdle for prosecutors, because it can be difficult to expose the manipulation.

The arrangement might look consensual to a jury and the public, Laws said. Laws remembered a time her granddaughters, who are also involved in anti-trafficking activism, were speaking at an event when they met with resistance from the audience, who questioned why victims didn't simply leave the situation. The story illustrates the lack of understanding many people have about how psychological trafficking can be.

“(Burman) twisted her thought process in such a severe way that she actually believed she was guilty for telling law enforcement (her story),” Weld Deputy District Attorney Tamara Love said of one victim Nov. 23 at Burman's sentencing.

Love added that victim spent a great deal of time on the witness stand, fighting to protect Burman.

Many victims do realize how toxic the situation is though. One of Burman's victims who spoke at his sentencing said she refused to let her experiences in the trafficking world define her.

“Try just for a second to put yourself in my shoes,” she said. “I lost everything from my job to my grandmother's ashes. (Burman) made me feel worthless as a human being.”

Laws and other activists saw the Burman sentencing as a victory, and applauded the Weld County District Attorney's office and the multiple law enforcement agencies for their dedication to the case. Far from resting on her laurels, though, she said the sentencing energized her to do more.

“We need to … educate future juries so we can get convictions like we did with Paul Burman,” she said.

Buried among the wooden, legal language of Burman's 11-page affidavit, there is a quote from one of his victims that goes a long way to explaining the complicated, poisonous relationship traffickers so often trap their victims in.

“I love him but he is ruining lives,” the victim told police. “Especially mine.”

Need help?

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center can be reached at (888) 373-7888, or by texting “help” or “info” to 233-733. In addition to providing information for victims, the center offers information to people who suspect they know about a trafficking situation.



Human sex trafficking is modern day slavery

by Deborah McKeon

Human sex trafficking is modern day slavery that entraps juveniles and others and, once snared, the pathway out is filled with danger, Traffick911 volunteer coordinator Laura Palmer said Thursday night.

It is entirely likely that everyone walks by sex trafficking victims, pimps (the traffickers) and johns and janes (the buyers) on a daily basis, Palmer said Thursday night during a presentation to about 50 people at Temple Bible Church.

The victims aren't just troubled children. They're children involved in church and school activities. They crave attention, and human sex traffickers, or pimps, are only too happy to give it to them to entangle and deceive them, Palmer said.

Most children lured into human trafficking are between the ages of 12 and 14, and their average life expectancy after being trafficked is seven years.

Some children are at higher risk, like those in the foster care system and those categorized as missing or homeless.

It's not always like it's shown in the movies. It's not always a dramatic kidnapping. Children are recruited by their friends in school, by people on social media, by their boyfriends and sometimes by their own family members to provide sex acts for something of value. That something of value could be money, drugs, gasoline or even food, Palmer said.

Traffickers aren't usually the guy wearing gold chains or the ones you see in jail mug shots. They come in all shapes and sizes, Palmer said.

Studies have shown that 47 percent of the buyers have college degrees and 53 percent are married.

Although Texas ranks second in the United States for human sex trafficking, there isn't a lot of help available yet for victims and their families, Palmer said.

Janiece Charlez, whose 21-year-old Temple daughter, a victim of human sex trafficking, was found murdered on Sept. 22 in Houston, said that agencies weren't able to help her in her struggle to rescue her daughter because Natalie wasn't a minor.

Currently, the Starry Counseling Program, located at 2027 S. 61st St. in Temple, provides free counseling for victims and their families, but the entire family must participate, Director of Counseling Services Angela Bulls said Thursday.

Kathy Ylostalo with the ARK (Acceptance, Restoration and Kinship) Foundation, located at 716 College St. in Belton, is working to organize a drop-off, daytime facility in Bell County, especially after Traffick911 had to close its aftercare facility because of legal roadblocks, which Palmer mentioned during the presentation.

Now, Traffick911 is geared toward prevention and rescue, Palmer said.

Volunteers are desperately needed to help with all different aspects of prevention and care in Bell County, Bulls, Ylostalo and Palmer said.

To volunteer, contact Bulls at; Ylostalo at; and Palmer at

Charlez wants to find a way to start a support group in the Central Texas area for parents of human sex trafficking victims, she said.



‘We lost one of our angels': Family claims Texas teen who committed suicide was cyberbullied

by Sarah Larimer

Jacqueline Vela heard someone crying, she told KPRC-TV, an affiliate in Houston.

So, the 22-year-old ran upstairs.

That, she says, is where she found her younger sister.

“And I looked in her room and she's against the wall and she has a gun pointed at her chest and she's just crying and crying and I'm like, ‘Brandy please don't, Brandy no,'” Vela told KPRC-TV.

But Jacqueline Vela's sister, Brandy Vela, fatally shot herself that November day. According to media reports, some of her family members were present when the teen committed suicide.

“We tried to persuade her to put the gun down, but she was determined,” Brandy Vela's father, Raul Vela, told KHOU-TV. “She said she'd come too far to turn back. It was very unfortunate that I had to see that. It's hard when your daughter tells you to turn around. You feel helpless.”

In interviews with local media outlets, Vela's family has alleged the teen was cyberbullied before her death, saying that she had been harassed for some time. And, in the wake of her death, police said they were investigating the claim.

The Texas City Police Department last week said that officers arrived at a home on Tuesday and discovered an 18-year-old, identified as Brandy Vela, with an “apparent gunshot wound” to the upper chest. An investigation determined that the wound was self-inflicted.

“During the investigation Texas City Police Detectives were informed that the deceased was a possible victim of Cyberbullying,” the agency said in the release. “Texas City Police Detectives are currently investigating the allegations of the Cyberbullying.”

Raul Vela alleged in an interview with KHOU-TV that an online user or users posted “nasty things” about his daughter and set up a false account about the teen. He said the harassment sometimes kept her up at night, because her phone kept ringing.

Jacqueline Vela alleged similar incidents in her interview with KPRC-TV, saying that her sister would have to deal with fake dating websites that included her phone number and photo. Those websites, Jacqueline claimed, would suggest that Brandy Vela was “giving herself up for sex for free, to call her.”

“I'm glad you got what you wanted,” Brandy Vela's brother, Victor Vela, told KPRC-TV, in comments directed at the alleged online bullies. “I hope this makes you happy.”

Melissa Tortorici, spokeswoman for the Texas City Independent School District, said in a statement that Brandy Vela “had a lot of friends” and was “thought of warmly by her peers and teachers.” Before the Thanksgiving break, she did raise concerns about harassing messages on her cellphone.

“Our deputy investigated it and the app that was being used to send the messages was untraceable,” Tortorici said in the statement. “We encouraged her to change her phone number. I am not sure if that was done.”

Deputies from the local sheriff's department were expected to discuss cyberbullying with students next week, the statement read, and students have been taping blue hearts in the school's hallways.

“We are mourning the loss of a wonderful young lady. We are trying to take care of our students' needs on campus as they grieve,” Superintendent Cynthia Lusignolo said in the statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Brandy's family and friends. We appreciate the outpouring of support we have had in helping us take care of her teachers' and classmates' needs.”

Vela's father told the Galveston County Daily News that his daughter was a waitress at a local restaurant but hoped to become a vet someday. She was, Raul Vela told the newspaper, “doing what every parent would want their daughter to do.”

“Everybody is devastated, of course,” Raul Vela told KPRC-TV . “We lost one of our angels.”


South Carolina

Hundreds of children join in for Light the Way kickoff event

Nearly one hundred children and their parents came out to the Hilton Head Tanger Outlets Thursday night for the "Light the Way" kick-off event and tree lighting.

by Meghan Schiller

Bluffton, SC — Nearly one hundred children and their parents came out to the Hilton Head Tanger Outlets Thursday night for the "Light the Way" kick-off event and tree lighting.

WJCL ABC 22 is proud to announce a new holiday tradition – “Light the Way: Donations for the Children & Adult Victims of Domestic Violence”. The station is partnering in this effort with Tanger Outlets in Hilton Head & Savannah as well as the Tiffani Taylor Gallery and the Thibault Gallery.

The partners are hoping to gather items for those people being served by Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA) in Beaufort, SC and Safe Shelter in Savannah, GA.

At Thursday night's event, kids enjoyed cookies, hot chocolate, live music and a visit from Santa. All the festivities led to the main event: the lighting of the Christmas tree.

Everyone in attendance learned about the "Light the Way" initiative and several donated unwrapped gifts towards the cause.

The night meant a lot to survivors of domestic abuse like

"It was difficult starting over and we had some struggles," said Beth Young. "We had no money and no family, but CODA was there for us"

Fast forward several years later and Young is now the president of board for Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA). But despite where she is today, she said she will never stop helping the women and children who are going through the same thing she went through many years ago.

"He beat me with the butt of a shot gun and he broke my ribs and my jaw and busted my head open," said Young. "My daughters at that time were 4 years old and 6 months."

When Young recovered from her injuries about a month later, she said she reached out to CODA for help.

"The director at that time met me at the Taco Bell parking lot in Beaufort- not far from the shelter- and I've never looked back."

That's why Young is so excited to see community campaigns like "Light the Way" get started.

CODA's executive director, Kristin Dubroski, says any donated item will be put to good use.

"We're really excited about the 'Light the Way' campaign for a number of reasons: one being just the generosity of the community and really brightening the Christmases of the women and children who are in the shelter but also we're excited about raising awareness in the community about the issue," said Dubroski.

As issue, Young says, women can overcome with the help of CODA and caring people who can help turn that darkness into light.

"I have my daughter and my granddaughter here with me tonight and we just have nothing but love and happy memories now," said Young. "And this is another beautiful night that we'll get to share and they'll have forever."

Those donated items can be dropped off at the Shopper Services offices at the Hilton Head or Pooler Tanger Outlets.

Donations are also being accepted at the Tiffani Taylor Gallery at 11 Whitaker Street in downtown Savannah as well as the Thibault Gallery at 815 Bay Street in Beaufort.



Officials discuss screening of sexual abuse documentary offered to teens

by Erin Schmitt

Henderson County High School has more than 2,000 students.

If the students who temporarily attend Central Academy are included, the high school had 2,173 as of last month.

And, according to federal statistics, about one in four of the girls who attend HCHS is a survivor of sexual assault. About one in six boys is a survivor of sexual assault, based on statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That would mean roughly that 272 girls and 181 HCHS students would have been sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.

New Beginnings Executive Director Karla Ward recently reached out to Henderson County Schools with an offer to present the Netflix documentary "Audrie & Daisy."

The film is an urgent real-life drama that examines the ripple effects on families, friends, schools and communities when two underage young women find that sexual crimes against them have been caught on camera.

Ward recommended that the screening be held with both students and parents and to have the agency's and school counselors there as well to offer support. New Beginnings had already offered a similar service at Owensboro schools and there was a large turnout and response to the screening.

"We discussed and thought it would be something our community would benefit from and said yes to New Beginnings about the offer," said Jo Swanson, an assistant superintendent at Henderson County Schools.

The turnout for the screening in Henderson on Wednesday evening was sparse. Owensboro schools had offered extra credit to view the documentary, while Henderson did not.

For those who were able to watch the documentary, New Beginnings advocacy coordinator Terri Crowe said she hoped "they would get a realistic view of what sexual assault is and that it is often quite messy and complicated and not the stereotype that we see on 'Law and Order: SVU.' I would hope they would take away that there are people in the world that believe their disclosures and will do something about it."

New Beginnings is a sexual assault center that serves seven counties in the Green River Area Development District. It's part of a coalition of 13 rape crisis centers in Kentucky.

The agency offers free services to anyone that's been affected by sexual assault, including the primary survivor and their friends and family.

New Beginnings offers crisis counseling, educational prevention and and awareness programs. Officials will also go to the emergency rooms with someone in the emergency room as he or she is going through and evidence collection kit and attend court dates with survivors.

Sexual assault is an umbrella term, explained Crowe. Underneath it are different kinds of sexual assault, including inappropriate touching or fondling or rape which involves penetration, and non-touching types like voyeurism, exhibitionism and coercing a child to remove their clothes.

"We are teaching our children stranger danger, and it has its place, don't get me wrong. But statistically speaking for adults about 80-85 percent of the time the adult knows their perpetrator on some level, whether it's acquaintance or family member or co-work," said Crowe. "For children, that stat rises to about 90 to 95 percent of the time."

Another misperception that people have about sexual assault is that the way someone dresses "invites" the perpetrator to attack them.

"One of the things that people don't quite understand is because there is 'sex' involved that somehow it's a misunderstanding or somebody changed their mind," she said. "But really the sexual activity or contact is often the weapon used or somewhat incidental. These are really just crimes we are talking about."

Sex is kind coincidental in sexual assault, she said.

"It's just kind of a way the person is gaining dominance or control over another person," said Crowe.


United Kingdom

Everything to Know About Britain's Soccer Child Abuse Scandal

Around 350 victims have come forward since Nov. 17

by Kate Samuelson

Around 350 victims have reported child sexual abuse within United Kingdom soccer clubs, following a former player's allegation that he was sexually assaulted as a young boy by a coach in the 1980s. Here's everything you need to know about the ongoing scandal:

How did it start?

On Nov. 17, The Guardian published a front page story in which Andy Woodward, a former lower league soccer player, broke his silence to allege that he was sexually abused by a soccer coach as a young boy.

Woodward, now 43, told the paper that from the ages of 11 to 15, he was abused by Barry Bennell, now 62, who worked for north east England's Crewe Alexandra Football Club in the 1980s and 1990s. He was targeted by Bennell, whom Woodward said went for “the softer, weaker boys” and encouraged him to stay over at his house on weekends and summer holidays.

To ensure his victims did not out him, Bennell used violence and would threaten them with the future of their promising soccer careers, Woodward claims. In 1991 Bennell married Woodward's older sister and the two became brothers-in-law. ““I had to attend that wedding, standing in the church when I really wanted to rip his throat out. It was torture,” Woodward told The Guardian .

Woodward's career ended at the age of 29; he says he was unable to cope with his childhood trauma and suffered from depression and panic attacks. He decided to waive his anonymity last month to encourage other victims to come forward.

“Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden,” he said. “I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength.”

Has anyone else come forward?

Yes. Other former soccer players have waived their right to lifelong anonymity to come forward with claims that they were sexually abused by coachers as children, including midfielder Steve Walters, 44, former England and Tottenham soccer player Paul Stewart, 52, and ex-Manchester City striker David White, 49.

One player, Anthony Hughes, told the Sunday Mirror that Bennell abused him on a sofa while making him watch hardcore porn videos. Another, Chris Unsworth, told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire program that he “was raped [by Bennell] between 50 and 100 times.”

As well as allegations against Bennell, subsequent allegations include former youth coach George Ormond (imprisoned in 2002 for offences against young soccer players in the area) and a former scout of Chelsea Football Club called Eddie Heath. On Nov. 29, the club released this statement regarding Heath: “Chelsea Football Club has retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased.”

How widespread could the abuse be?

It's not clear yet, but there could be hundreds of victims. A new, 24-hour hotline run by a U.K. child protection charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in the wake of the allegations, says it has received more than 250 calls. On Dec. 1, the BBC revealed 350 victims have reported child sexual abuse within U.K. soccer clubs.

Within the first three days of the hotline launching, the NSPCC made more than 60 referrals to a range of agencies across the U.K. According to the BBC, this was more than three times as many referrals as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, during which 17 referrals were made.

The NSPCC said Saville, a former BBC presenter, abused at least 500 victims during his lifetime, including some as young as two. A report published by the Metropolitan Police in 2013 recorded 214 criminal offences, including 34 rapes, against Savile's name across the U.K. between 1955 and 2009.

When Woodward was asked during a television interview about whether the latest scandal could be ‘the Jimmy Saville [of] football,' he replied: “It's potentially worse than that. My heart goes out to all the ex-footballers and those footballers that haven't made it.”

Who is investigating this?

On Nov. 27, the Football Association (FA), the U.K.'s governing body of association soccer, announced it was carrying out an internal review. Individual clubs are also conducting inquiries. Fifteen police forces including Greater Manchester Police, Hampshire, Cheshire, Northumbria and the Metropolitan police have opened investigations. The Premier League said it was concerned by the allegations and urged those with information to come forward, the BBC reports.

Who is Barry Bennell and what will happen to him?

Bennell is a former youth scout and junior soccer coach, known for talent spotting. As well as working with Crewe Alexandra, he ran summer holiday camps in the U.K. and U.S. He has already spent years in jail for sexual abuses against children.

In 1994, he was charged with sexually abusing a 13-year-old British boy while on a tour to Florida. According to the BBC, when the 13-year-old returned home, he told his parents Bennell had sexually abused him and Bennell consequently served three years in a U.S. prison. In 1998, he was sentenced to nine years in prison after admitting 23 specimen charges of sexual offences against six boys aged nine to 15. A further 22 allegations were left to lie on his file. He was jailed for another historic case involving a 12-year-old boy for two years in May 2015.

Since these new allegations against him have surfaced, Bennell has been charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy aged under 14, according to prosecutors on Nov. 29. He is scheduled to appear before South Cheshire Magistrates' Court on Dec. 14.

Just a few days before, on Nov. 25, Bennell was found unconscious and taken to a nearby hospital where he received treatment. He has since been discharged.

What has been the reaction?

The soccer players have been praised for their bravery in waiving their anonymity, particularly by others in the sporting industry. Former England goalscoring legend Gary Lineker tweeted that his former teammate, Paul Stewart, was “extremely courageous in telling his appalling story.”

Although the public's reaction has generally been extremely sympathetic, darts player Eric Bristow, a five-time world champion, sparked outrage for posting a series of insensitive tweets. “Might be a looney but if some football coach was touching me when i was a kid as i got older i would have went back and sorted that poof out,” one read. Another tweet said “Dart players tough guys footballers wimps”.

Bristow has subsequently been sacked from Sky News, where he has contributed to the channel's darts coverage since the early '90s. “He was a contributor to our darts coverage in the past but we will not be using him in the future,” a spokesperson from Sky told The Guardian.


South Africa

How to spot and prevent abuse

by Aaron Damane

The 16 Days of Activism For no Violence Against Women and Children has started. People have been warned to prevent abuse of women and children. Many people commit abuse without realising it. Captain Piet Rossouw, communications officer at Vosloorus Police Station, gives the public some general abuse-prevention tips.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is generally defined as non-accidental injury, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or trauma inflicted on a minor by a parent or other care-giver. Several social factors contribute to child abuse. The most common are:

1. Substance abuse

2. Economic abuse

3. Stress

4. Lack of family support network

5. History of abuse

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is an attempt to hurt or threaten, attack or control the victim. It may include the following:

1. Domination by the abuser

2. Intimidation which plays on the victim's feelings of guilt

3. Abusive expectations – unreasonable demands

4. Name calling, shouting and swearing

5. Not taking the victim's concerns seriously.

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is the most visible form of abuse and may be defined as any act which results in a non-accidental trauma or inflicted physical injury (or death). It includes:

1. Hitting, beating or punching

2. Kicking, choking, biting or burning

3. Stabbing, shooting or using other weapons in violent action

4. Making threatening gestures, throwing something at someone that could hurt him/her

5. Abandoning the child in dangerous places to frighten and control him/her and his/her actions

6. Refusing to help a child when he or she is sick or injured

7. Raping a child.

Verbal Abuse

This is a form of emotional abuse, when the abuser abuses a child by calling him or her names, swearing at him or her and shouting at him or her. Verbal abuse takes the form of things said and done that destroy a child's confidence or self-respect. Victims may be:

1. Called names and may be insulted

2. Constantly criticised and embarrassed in public

3. Threatened or even thrown out.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is an act or acts that results in the exploitation of any person for the purpose of sexual satisfaction and always takes place against the victim's will and without his or her consent. It includes:

1. Any misuse of a person for sexual pleasure or gratification

2. Fondling or any other sexual contact or unwanted touching

3. Making of sexually demeaning remarks


Child Toll-free National Line: 0800 055 555

Gauteng: 011 645 2000



Private Investigator Believes Sex Trafficking Could Be Motive Behind Sherri Papini Kidnapping Case

by Diane Herbst

A private investigator and veteran human trafficking expert believes California mom Sherri Papini‘s case has the hallmarks of sex trafficking.

In a sit-down with The Today Show, Bill Garcia, who was hired by Papini's family during the 22 days she was missing, told the show, “I suspect based on the types of injuries Sherri incurred, the beatings, the broken nose, the cut hair, especially the chains and the branding, indicate that most likely it was one of these sex trafficking groups.”

Garcia is not involved with the current police investigation, according to The Today Show.

When asked at a Wednesday press conference if Papini's abduction might be related to a cartel or a sex trafficking operation, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko said, according to CBS , “We do not have specific information if it was related to a cartel or human trafficking.”

Papini vanished while out for a jog on Nov. 2. The mom-of-two was found around 4:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day on the side of a Yolo County road — about 150 miles south of her Redding home.

Papini told investigators the women who abducted her were Hispanic, armed and driving a dark SUV.

“There is a lot still unknown about her assailants,” said Bosenko at the Wednesday afternoon press conference.

Bosenko said Papini's alleged abductors had sometimes covered her face and had concealed their faces as well during her three-week ordeal.

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery in which people use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims and make them engage in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will, according to The National Human Trafficking Hotline.

In a sit-down with ABC's 20/20, Papini's husband, Keith, said Papini's captors pushed her out of a vehicle with a chain around her waist and a bag over her head on the day of her release.

They left her on the side of a road, badly beaten and bruised, her hair shaved off and her body branded, he said.

“She screamed so much, she's coughing up blood from the screaming trying to get somebody to stop,” Keith Papini said.

“And again, just another sign of how my wife is, she's so wonderful. She's saying, ‘Well, maybe people aren't stopping because I have a chain that looks like I broke out of prison,' so she tried to tuck in her chain under her clothes.”



Experts call sex trafficking a crime of psychology

by Joshua Polson

On the night of Nov. 18, 2014, hours after the Platteville girl told detectives the long story of how Paul Burman, 33, had forced her into sexual slavery in northern Colorado and Nebraska, she called them and said she lied.

She'd just been upset, she said, because Burman had a new girlfriend. She'd made the whole story up. She loved Burman. He was the father of her unborn child. She didn't know what she'd do without him, she said, according to an affidavit for Burman's arrest.

It's a conversation detectives sometimes have with sex trafficking victims.

Burman was convicted in August by a Weld County jury of 32 charges relating to sex trafficking and the pimping of women and underage girls. On Nov. 23, two years after the Platteville girl first told her story to law enforcement, Weld District Judge Julie Hoskins sentenced Burman to 248 years for his career as a pimp, during which he victimized at least nine women and girls.

Sex trafficking is defined as the use of “force, threat or coercion to compel another person to engage in … a commercial sex act,” according to the federal Trafficking Victim's Protection Act, passed in 2000. That clean, bland wording does not reflect the bitter realities of the crime. Sex trafficking, especially involving minors, leaves physical, psychological and emotional scars victims deal with for the rest of their lives.

Diana Laws, one of the founding members of the Northeastern Colorado Coalition Against Trafficking, said the effect the crime has on victims can make sex trafficking cases, especially those involving minors, difficult to prosecute.

“In court … (victims) don't always want to be there,” she said. “They don't trust cops a lot of the time. Their language may be terribly offensive, and you have to get a jury that understands all that going in.”

Victims can be difficult for a jury to relate to because they often appear distrustful. Sex trafficking, by definition, aims to control people through their vulnerabilities.

In the case of the Platteville girl, for example, Burman exploited the girl's desire for affection, as well as an economic need.

According to the affidavit, he friended her on Facebook in late 2013, and the two began talking. After a while they met and had sex. Burman was sweet and charismatic, and the girl was attracted to him.

She would later tell police it didn't take long until “it got crazy.”

She met with Burman again, and she took her mom's car without her mother knowing. Things were different this time. He'd obviously been drinking, and he was rude to her. She drove away, but he tailed her, even running a red light to keep up with her. The girl was pulled over and given a $240 ticket.

“Oh my god, my mom cannot find out about this, I need to pay it ASAP,” she later told detectives. “I told (Burman) my situation.”

It was the moment Burman was waiting for. He told her he knew people she could have sex with if she needed money. It wasn't the first time he'd done this. Burman was using a common technique among sex traffickers. It's called “boyfriending.”

“For a while, she's the girl,” Laws said. “Then she starts seeing he's got other girlfriends on the side, but he still treats her well, so she puts up with it. Then he says he needs money and he convinces her to help him out this one time by dancing in the club.”

Sex trafficking poses a major problem for police and prosecutors because victims often don't identify as such. Many times, they develop feelings for their pimp, which creates another hurdle for prosecutors, because it can be difficult to expose the manipulation.

The arrangement might look consensual to a jury and the public, Laws said. Laws remembered a time her granddaughters, who are also involved in anti-trafficking activism, were speaking at an event when they met with resistance from the audience, who questioned why victims didn't simply leave the situation. The story illustrates the lack of understanding many people have about how psychological trafficking can be.

“(Burman) twisted her thought process in such a severe way that she actually believed she was guilty for telling law enforcement (her story),” Weld Deputy District Attorney Tamara Love said of one victim Nov. 23 at Burman's sentencing.

Love added that victim spent a great deal of time on the witness stand, fighting to protect Burman.

Many victims do realize how toxic the situation is though. One of Burman's victims who spoke at his sentencing said she refused to let her experiences in the trafficking world define her.

“Try just for a second to put yourself in my shoes,” she said. “I lost everything from my job to my grandmother's ashes. (Burman) made me feel worthless as a human being.”

Laws and other activists saw the Burman sentencing as a victory, and applauded the Weld County District Attorney's office and the multiple law enforcement agencies for their dedication to the case. Far from resting on her laurels, though, she said the sentencing energized her to do more.

“We need to … educate future juries so we can get convictions like we did with Paul Burman,” she said.

Buried among the wooden, legal language of Burman's 11-page affidavit, there is a quote from one of his victims that goes a long way to explaining the complicated, poisonous relationship traffickers so often trap their victims in.

“I love him but he is ruining lives,” the victim told police. “Especially mine.”



Workshop explores sex-trafficking industry, ways to spot victims

by Meredith Shamburger

Sex trafficking in the United States is a "hidden epidemic," and fighting it is an ongoing battle, an official with a prevention organization told Longview-area responders Thursday during a workshop.

"No one is an expert in this yet," said Traffick911 Director of Programs Lindsey Speed. "We're constantly learning really what this looks like, and I feel like as soon as we learn the way pimps do their business, they change it up. It's this constantly evolving type of heinous industry."

Speed helped illuminate the issues surrounding sex trafficking and how people can spot signs of potential victims at a training workshop hosted by Partners in Prevention. The workshop was intended to help mandatory reporters — people working in schools, hospitals and other careers who are required to report observed or suspected abuse — learn more about the sex trafficking industry and its impact on victims.

Speed offered up sobering statistics about the industry: An estimated 100,000 children are at risk of being exploited, and the average age of a victim's entry into sex trafficking is 12 to 14.

But these numbers might not highlight the scope of the problem, Speed said.

"It's really hard," she said. "This is such a hidden epidemic; it's really hard to pin numbers to it. I always encourage people to take statistics when it comes to human trafficking with a grain of salt. It's just what we know, and there's so much we don't know."

There is no stereotypical sex trafficking victim or sex buyer, Speed said. But she pointed to several characters that victims often might have one or more in common, including if they are a victim of childhood sexual abuse, homeless, a juvenile delinquent, a runaway or in the foster care system.

For mandatory reporters who suspect someone is a victim of sex trafficking, Speed suggested he or she become educated and then let police and other officials handle it.

"You gather as much information as you can and then report it," Speed said.

Erin Ashley Yorn and Brittany Grimm work at Christus Health Trinity Mother Francis in Tyler. The pair came to the workshop Thursday and said they're going to use the training they received to help look for potential victims.

"It makes me now… things in the past I would have thought, 'That's just kind of weird or different,'" Yorn said, Now, "it'll help me just be able to look as it not as weird but as a potential red flag."

Grimm said she learned earlier how extensive sex trafficking was, but Thursday's workshop was another reminder that keeps the issue on the forefront of her mind.

"It's just, every time you hear it, it just weighs even more on you, just hearing that," she said.



Wyatt's Law: A mom and a mission to stop child abuse

by Kristen Jordan Shamus

Erica Hammel hasn't stopped fighting for her son, for your daughter, for all of our children.

She's on a crusade to create a statewide online, searchable child-abuse registry, similar to the Michigan sex-offender registry, so anyone, anywhere can can find out if a baby-sitter, a friend, or even a romantic partner has been convicted of abusing a child.

Hammel took her nearly two-year-long campaign to Lansing last week, urging the state House of Representatives committee on Family, Children, and Seniors to approve the package of bills (HB 4973, 4974 and 4975) and push the legislation to the House floor.

Hammel's campaign was borne, like most are, of personal experience.

Her son, Wyatt Rewoldt, was violently shaken three years ago by her ex-husband's girlfriend, Rachel Edwards.

The abuse was so severe, Wyatt almost died. He had a fractured skull, a major brain bleed, suffered permanent brain damage, went blind in one eye, had broken ribs and continues to have severe cognitive and developmental delays.

It wasn't the first time Edwards had hurt a child. She was convicted twice previously for abusing the son of another boyfriend, but was sentenced only to probation in both instances.

Hammel, 28, of St. Clair Shores had no way of knowing that her ex-husband's girlfriend had a violent past.

"Had there been a searchable registry for convicted child abusers, I know this would have never happened to Wyatt," Hammel said. Edwards was convicted of second-degree child abuse in Wyatt's case, and was sentenced to 33 months to 10 years in prison for what she did to Wyatt; she could be paroled as early as March.

"If we cannot keep or put these people who are convicted — and I can't say that enough — convicted — of child abuse ... behind bars, then we as parents and guardians have a right to know who they are so we can keep our children away from them," Hammel told lawmakers as her son sat in a stroller nearby. Wyatt, 4, wore gun-metal gray glasses, and drank from a bottle that supplements his nutrition because he still has difficulty eating solid foods.

"With divorce rates as high as they are, and more people having children unwed, our children today can be exposed to a lot of different people coming in and out of their lives. Wouldn't you want to know if an adult around your child has a criminal history and was convicted of child abuse?"

State Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Center, chairman of the committee, said it's unlikely Wyatt's Law will get through the House in the few remaining weeks left in this lame-duck legislative session — despite moving testimony not only from Hammel, but from other child-abuse survivors and the mother of a boy who'd been abused.

But, Hooker said, "there is no doubt in my mind that this will see a resurrection in the next term. I wanted to give it an opportunity to be heard," he said, noting that there appears to be bipartisan support for a version of the bills.

One of Wyatt's Law's biggest advocates, co-sponsor Sarah Roberts, D-St. Clair Shores, is term-limited out at the end of this year.

For some, it would mean quick defeat. But Hammel made her case to Roberts' replacement, incoming Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores, and gained another ally.

"It's my intention to introduce the main bill as soon as I possibly can after taking office Jan. 1," Hertel said. "I will work across the aisle to build on the momentum that we've seen here now to ultimately ensure it's final passage."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, however, opposes the idea of a state-run child-abuse registry.

The costs — both human and financial — are among the reasons, Sherri Weisberg, political director for the ACLU of Michigan, testified Wednesday.

"I don't feel great being up here to be the one to oppose this," Weisberg said, "but I think there are very solid policy reasons."

Among them is that the registry would be expensive to manage and maintain, and the money used for it could instead be spent on helping abusers understand their crimes, and getting them help to change their behavior.

Weisberg also pointed out the long-running problems with the sex-offender registry. Among them is that people who have been convicted of minor offenses — such as public urination, or teens who engaged in sexual activity and separated by just a few years — are publicly shamed for a lifetime.

"The legislation completely copies the sex-offender registry" she said. "And, as many of you probably know, the sex-offender registry was itself started as a 5- and 10-year registry. It is a conviction-based registry. It did, in fact, have people who urinated in public on it and who are still on it.

"That public registry has evolved with a bunch of collateral laws, that have actually now done more damage ... than good. Mainly because people who are now left on the registry for life cannot get jobs, cannot get help, cannot live around their family, cannot live around the very resources they need to help them address their crimes and their behavior.

"We've ostracized them to the point where they get no help."

Hammel pointed out that though the child-abuse registry would be built using the same software the Michigan State Police use to run the sex-offender registry, it's not a permanent list.

Time on the registry would be limited to five or 10 years, depending on the severity of the crime, and, she said, only people who have been convicted of child abuse would be listed.

Those who are convicted and registered would be required to pay $50 annually to maintain it, which is more than the $35 fee sex offenders pay now for their registry.

The idea, said former state Rep. Derek Miller, who also was the Macomb County assistant prosecutor who tried one of the cases against Edwards, is to ensure the child-abuse registry doesn't become a financial burden on the state.

He estimates it will cost less than the $1.3 million the state pays each year to maintain the sex-offender registry for a few reasons:

•  The higher fee offenders must pay.

•  The child-abuse registry would list fewer people, and therefore take less time and effort to maintain it

•  The software and system is already in place to establish and maintain it.

Regardless of the cost, Miller said, "We have a duty as leaders to take every measure we can to protect our most vulnerable, our children."

The legislation comes at a time when child-abuse cases in Michigan are at a 25-year high. A Free Press analysis of child-abuse statistics reported earlier this year that 34,777 children were abused or neglected in the state in the 12 months following October 2014. In that year, 15.6 out of every 1,000 Michigan children was abused or neglected, the highest rate since 1990.

And support for public child-abuse registries are gaining momentum nationally. In Indiana, Gov. Mike Pence, now U.S. Vice President-elect, signed Kirk's Law in March. That state's registry is supposed to be online by July 2017.

Similar laws in other states — including in Utah and Kentucky — also are being debated.

"I truly believe this is going to become a ripple effect from state to state," Hammel said.

"What we have now in place is not good enough. That is why I'm here today — not just because of what happened to my son, Wyatt, but also to prevent another child and another parent from having to go through what Wyatt and I went through. Even if this legislation saved one child's life, it would be worth it. I truly believe it's going to save many lives."


If you have an opinion on Wyatt's Law, call your state lawmaker in the House of Representatives and tell him or her what you think.

To find contact information for your representative, go to or call 517-373-0135.

Sign an online petition in support of Wyatt's law on its page. To do so, go to

Follow Wyatt's progress on Facebook by joining a group called Wyatt the Warrior. You can do so by going to

How to get help

If you suspect the neglect or abuse of a child or adult, call 855-444-3911 toll-free at any time of the day or night. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services offers a list of common signs to watch for that could indicate abuse online here:



Mother not notified after Fort Worth police botch sex assault case

by Fox4News

An Arlington Heights High School student went to social media for help after she felt her cries for help to her school and police after a rape had fallen on deaf ears.

The girl was 15 years old when she was raped and she said the attack happened near campus.

"I was raped on Wednesday December 2, 2015,” the girl said. “I told the school thinking they'd help me."

Feeling ashamed and guilty, she didn't tell her parents and waited three months to report the incident to the school after hearing from friends that her alleged attacker did the same thing to other girls.

Fort Worth ISD filed a report with police, but FOX 4 learned Wednesday that the detective assigned to the case did nothing with it from there.

Police said the department fired former detective Dennis Hutchins in July 2016 for mishandling multiple child abuse cases.

"We've discovered there were several cases where the detective dropped the ball,” said Sgt. Marc Povero, Fort Worth Police Dept. “We've done our due diligence to go back through all the cases not properly handled or mishandled and we're re-investigating those cases, this was one of them."

However, FOX 4 found that even after a new detective was assigned the case, police never called the girl's mother to tell her that her daughter's case had not been investigated by Hutchins.

“I have a minor child who was sexually assaulted and I was not told,” the mother said. “She made a report and as a parent I could have provided her some emotional support, therapy, guidance to get through it, rather than watch her decline academically and not know what was going on."

The mother only learned that her daughter's case had fallen through the cracks, after FOX 4 called the police department.

“It's heartbreaking to me that my daughter went through this alone,” the mom said.

When the new detective took over he called the girl four months after her initial report had been made. With no parental guidance, she decided not to pursue the case.

"I was trying to forget about it,” the girl said.

The mother believes there should be a mandate that all parents are called if there is an allegation of abuse.

Police explained why they didn't reach out to the mother.

"We didn't have contact information for the mother, that's not to say we couldn't find it, but at that time we had a victim who was not cooperating with the investigation,” Sgt. Povero said.

Fort Worth ISD declined to comment on the case because of student privacy. The district did provide FOX 4 with its policy that says a parent is to be notified unless there is an objection, such as an allegation being made against a parent.


Artificial intelligence toolkit spots new child sexual abuse media online


New artificial intelligence software designed to spot new child sexual abuse media online could help police catch child abusers. The toolkit, described in a paper published in Digital Investigation, automatically detects new child sexual abuse photos and videos in online peer-to-peer networks.
The research behind this technology was conducted in the international research project iCOP - Identifying and Catching Originators in P2P Networks - founded by the European Commission Safer Internet Program by researchers at Lancaster University, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI), and University College Cork, Ireland.

There are hundreds of searches for child abuse images every second worldwide, resulting in hundreds of thousands of child sexual abuse images and videos being shared every year. The people who produce child sexual abuse media are often abusers themselves - the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that 16 percent of the people who possess such media had directly and physically abused children.

Spotting newly produced media online can give law enforcement agencies the fresh evidence they need to find and prosecute offenders. But the sheer volume of activity on peer-to-peer networks makes manual detection virtually impossible. The new toolkit automatically identifies new or previously unknown child sexual abuse media using artificial intelligence.

"Identifying new child sexual abuse media is critical because it can indicate recent or ongoing child abuse," explained Claudia Peersman, lead author of the study from Lancaster University. "And because originators of such media can be hands-on abusers, their early detection and apprehension can safeguard their victims from further abuse."

There are already a number of tools available to help law enforcement agents monitor peer-to-peer networks for child sexual abuse media, but they usually rely on identifying known media. As a result, these tools are unable to assess the thousands of results they retrieve and can't spot new media that appear.

The iCOP toolkit uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to flag new and previously unknown child sexual abuse media. The new approach combines automatic filename and media analysis techniques in an intelligent filtering module. The software can identify new criminal media and distinguish it from other media being shared, such as adult pornography.

The researchers tested iCOP on real-life cases and law enforcement officers trialed the toolkit. It was highly accurate, with a false positive rate of only 7.9% for images and 4.3% for videos. It was also complementary to the systems and workflows they already use. And since the system can reveal who is sharing known child sexual abuse media, and show other files shared by those people, it will be highly relevant and useful to law enforcers.

"When I was just starting as a junior researcher interested in computational linguistics, I attended a presentation by an Interpol police officer who was arguing that the academic world should focus more on developing solutions to detect child abuse media online," said Peersman. "Although he clearly acknowledged that there are other crimes that also deserve attention, at one point he said: 'You know those sweet toddler hands with dimple-knuckles? I see them online... every day.' From that moment I knew I wanted to do something to help stop this. With iCOP we hope we're giving police the tools they need to catch child sexual abusers early based on what they're sharing online."



Proposal: Cocaine, heroin & synthetic drug use could lead to child abuse assessments

by Steffi Lee

DES MOINES, Iowa — A workgroup is hoping its proposed recommendations to change Iowa law could help keep kids and families safer.

The Drug-Endangered Children Workgroup focuses on making recommendations to the legislature after examining issues and trends focused on the safety of drug-endangered kids. Last session, a bill that would've defined who a "drug-endangered child" was and would've also involved law enforcement in these cases failed to pass.

The workgroup hopes next session, lawmakers will take up their recommendations, which includes changing current Iowa law to include cocaine, heroin and synthetic drug allegations as factors that could warrant a child abuse investigation.

"Part of the focus of this workgroup was to move beyond looking at how methamphetamine impacts parenting and looking at some of the other substances by type and how those have long term effects on parenting," Janee Harvey, bureau chief of the Child Welfare and Community Services at the Iowa Department of Human Services, said.

State law for a "child in need of assistance" only lists amphetamines and methamphetamine as the "dangerous substances" that could lead to an investigation.

"When those drugs are used in the presence where a child could see the drug use, smell the drug use, hear the drug use, that's when the safety of those children are eroded," Harvey said.

Kristie Oliver, executive director of the Iowa Coalition for Family & Children's Services, is involved in the workgroup. She says current law was targeted to combat the meth epidemic in Iowa and this change is about trying to be proactive against other possible epidemics that are slowly coming into the state.

"You kind of think that Iowa's a bubble," she said. "That these types of drugs aren't infiltrating here. This would help some of those families that kind of are having parenting problems in regards to the drugs and the substances they're dealing with."

Harvey says it also paves way for more discussion about how drug use by caregivers could impact children, even if they aren't home.

"Even when a child is not home, those chemicals are really toxic to an environment," she said. "So a child can be in school, come home and we would still consider that child having negatively been impacted by drug use," she said.

Harvey hopes adding these substances onto the criteria list will help DHS and other stakeholders across the state work more efficiently with families who have children and have been alleged to have these substances in a home.

"If we are able to use a framework that says there are drugs that are dangerous substances that could imminently affect the safety and well-being of children, we can align the appropriate interventions to these families the first time around," she said.



Warning signs of sexual abuse in children

by Christian Henson

Shreveport, La. -- Bossier Foster parent, 51 year old Terral Anthony Parfait, was arrested on multiple charges of raping children and possession of child pornography.

The Gingerbread House in Shreveport is a children's advocacy center and they say there are some sexual abuse warning signs adults can be on the lookout for:

•  If a child is avoiding a certain person, throwing fits or faking illness to stay away from them

•  If a child is showing regressive behavior like wetting the bed or sucking their thumb after a long period of not having those behaviors

•  If a child has physical symptoms like stomach aches or headaches that can't be explained

Jessica Milan Miller, Executive Director of the Gingerbread House, said mostly parents and guardians should be aware of any major behavioral changes.

Milan Miller said "All of the sudden things aren't adding up. They're either misbehaving at school or being shy. Covering up with heavy clothing even though it's 90 degrees outside. These are all red flags. Means we need to look at it a little further."

All of these signs could be an indication of abuse but are not guarantees. These should only be a starting point to talk to your child.

The likelihood of a sexual predator having more than 1 victim is very high. 70% of sexual predators have between 1 and 9 victims. 20% of sexual predators have between 10 and 40 victims.

If a child comes to you and tells you they have been abused, asses the situation for immediate danger, then call the police.

Detectives determined Parfait has been engaging in sexual relations with young boys for at least seven years, possibly longer. They are asking anyone if you believe your child has been in contact with Parfait, either through the foster care program or visiting his home, please call Bossier Crime Stoppers at (318) 424-4100.



Our children: Puppet pals teach children resiliency, social skills

by Ann Zaniewski

Teacher Jackee Emard held up a gallon-sized plastic jug and rotated it to swirl the red liquid inside, captivating the 4- and 5-year-olds who sat around her feet on a blue rug.

"If you get really annoyed, and really frustrated, do you sometimes feel like you're going to explode?" she asked. Yes, the children responded in unison.

Emard slowly poured the concoction — vinegar dyed red — into a clear plastic cup filled with baking soda. A frothy pink foam rose up and bubbled over the sides, plopping down onto a plastic tray and drawing shrieks and laughs.

"Is that sometimes how you feel?" she said.

"Yes!" the class yelled.

The demonstration inside a sun-filled classroom in Lansing — about feeling annoyed and how to cope with it — was part of Al's Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices, a curriculum aimed at developing young children's social-emotional and problem-solving skills. The nationally recognized, evidence-based program is designed for all children ages 3 through 8, but it's especially geared toward helping high-risk students who live in poverty or may face other challenging situations at home.

The centerpiece of Al's Pals is three puppets: Al, the star and role model, and his friends Keisha and Ty. The characters act out scenes as part of lessons on topics ranging from nutritious eating to how to deal with anger and resolve conflicts peacefully. There's also a music component, with sing-a-long songs that have titles like "Stop! Think!" and "I'm a Healthy Child."

Two decades after it was created, the program is now in 38 states, Canada and Bermuda. In Michigan, it is used not only in the Lansing area but also Paw Paw, Westland, Mason, Redford and Hartford.

"We're developing those internal traits of social competence and problem-solving ability and a sense of self, a sense of future, a sense of empathy," said Sue Geller, Al's Pals creator and president of the Virginia-based company that produces it. "They're things that make good employees and good spouses and good friends. It's what you need for life, as well as to be successful in school."

David Rosenberg, chairman of psychiatry at Wayne State University and the Detroit Medical Center, said the brains of preschool-age children in particular are undergoing striking changes in areas related to decision-making, arousal and response to stimuli.

"It's an optimal time for hard-wiring positive, strong, good behaviors," he said.

Teachers conduct two lessons a week, each typically lasting 10 to 15 minutes. There are 46 lessons in all. Educators reinforce and model the behaviors shown in the lesson throughout the rest of the day. They then draw on the lessons as needed to address whatever problems might arise in their classroom, such as a dispute between two children who don't want to share a toy.

Sharing is an important but surely less-weighty topic than some of the others covered in the 23-week curriculum: violence at home, alcohol and drugs, child sexual abuse.

Teachers are specially trained to help strengthen children's ability to face, address and bounce back from troubling experiences. Each lesson is designed to help kids develop and nurture resilience-related skills when it comes to social competence, problem-solving, autonomy and a sense of purpose and future.

Rosenberg said scientists have theorized that resiliency originates from a mix of not only environmental and biological factors, but can also be genetic. During a trip to a Romanian orphanage in the 1990s, he met a boy who had endured horrific abuse and neglect but was a chess whiz and a leader among other children at the facility.

Resiliency — which Rosenberg defines as a person's ability to face both normally stressful and excessively stressful situations and still maintain one's true sense of being without being permanently scarred — can be learned.

For the lesson on being annoyed, Emard and a teacher assistant acted out a scenario relatable to any child — being teased by a peer.

"Good morning!" Emard said, using the Al puppet, which has a yellow skin tone and blue hair.

"Al, your shoe's untied," the assistant replied, her hand operating the Keisha puppet.

"No they're not!" Al responded.

After more taunting from Keisha, Al said, "Stop it. Teasing each other isn't any fun. It annoys me, and I don't like to feel annoyed."

Keisha replied: "OK, Al, I'm sorry. I was acting silly. I don't like to feel annoyed, either."

When the puppets were finished, Emard put them away as the students sang a good-bye song to them.

"He was getting annoyed and frustrated, wasn't he? He had a lot of emotion, didn't he? Do you ever feel annoyed? Give me a thumb's up if you've ever been annoyed," she said. Almost every thumb in the room shot up.

Emard discussed examples of feeling annoyed and asked the children to offer suggestions for how to positively deal with them. It's OK for people to feel annoyed, she stressed.

One child said feeling annoyed makes her feel like she wants to explode, and another equated feeling annoyed with her face turning red — the perfect cues for the baking soda and red vinegar demonstration.

Geller oversaw the creation of Al's Pals in the early 1990s while working at an institute within the School of Education at Virginia Commonwealth University. She and her colleagues received federal funding funneled through the state to build a program around substance abuse and violence prevention for young children. They initially aimed to create a teacher development program, but saw a need for a developmentally appropriate and interactive approach that would impact kids directly.

While developing the pilot, Geller and her colleagues interviewed teachers and principals who told unsettling stories about their work with high-risk children.

"We're talking about 3- or 4-year-olds who were asking for cocaine for Christmas, or bringing a hypodermic needle to school for show and tell. We still hear these stories," Geller said. "That's what kids do at a young age: They internalize whatever they're surrounded by."

Geller added: "We are not judging families. We are trying to provide families with every support that they need. People want good things for their kids."

She said the program is in some very affluent areas, as well as in rural and urban areas.

"We've worked with some Indian tribes and places that have large Hispanic populations. ... The puppets cut across those cultures," Geller said.

Emard said the 21 4- and 5-year-olds in her year-round Head Start classroom in a former elementary school relate to and respect Al.

"I like to talk to him. He's nice," Alina Dehuelbes, 5, one of Emard's students, said following the Al's Pals lesson about feeling annoyed. When it was time for Emard to put the Al and Keisha puppets away, Alina smiled sweetly and waved at them.

Each Al's Pals classroom has an "Al's Place" — a safe zone where a child can go to be alone and collect his or her thoughts.

In Emard's classroom, Al's Place is in a corner behind a short bookshelf. There's a blue, egg-shaped swivel chair that comes with an accordion-style curtain kids can pull down for privacy. An image of Al smiles down from a small poster, urging children to Be safe, Be kind and Be healthy. Another poster lists problem-solving steps: 1) Stop. Think about the problem. 2) Say how you feel. 3) Brainstorm ideas. 4) Try the best one. 5) What happened?

"We ordered from IKEA an egg chair for every single classroom, so if they transfer, they always know where the clam-down place is," said Deb Hill, education manager of Capital Area Community Services Inc., a Head Start and Early Head Start provider that serves 1,500 Head Start children in four Michigan counties: Ingham, Eaton, Clinton and Shiawassee.

The agency has used Al's Pals ever since the mid-1990s, when about a half dozen of its classrooms participated in the pilot program.

It also offers classes related to a companion program for parents twice a year. The program touches on topics such as setting household rules (with the input of their children) and dealing with emotions in a healthy way.

"Our overall goal is to give them tools to be able to feel comfortable in different areas working with their children and realizing they truly are the first teachers of their children," said Sharon Rogers, community resource manager for Capital Area Community Services Inc. "We kind of do it as a whole family working together kind of thing."

Emard says Al's Pals lessons stick. She said she's heard children who are quarreling on the playground repeat the "Stop! Think!" mantra that's part of the program's approach to problem solving.

"Preschoolers have a lot of strong emotions, and they don't know how to deal with them," she said. "A lot of them are tactile and they want to use their hands. We try to teach them how to use their words.

"We're showing them at a young age how we can talk back and forth and resolve things. Before Al's Pals, you would see a lot of kids using their hands and pushing. They don't know how to get the words out.

"But if we help them get the words out, they feel safer to be in our classroom."

Each teacher who will use the Al's Pals curriculum must undergo 14 hours of training before starting. Wingspan, the company that produces the series, also offers refresher courses.

"We train the teachers on how do they listen, how do they validate what's going on in a child's life, how do they guide a child through a problematic situation," Geller said.

Hill said Al's Pals provides lessons that children can draw on for the rest of their lives.

"The hope is that they internalize everything," she said, "and then they can use it in any setting, with anybody."

About Al's Pals

The impetus for the creation of Al's Pals came from early childhood teachers and administrators in Virginia who were seeking help to work more effectively with their young students, many of whom were living in impoverished, high-risk environments, where they were routinely exposed to substance abuse and violence. A look at the program:

•  The flagship curriculum is Al's Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices, a program designed to build resiliency in children.

•  There are also three other programs: Al's Caring Pals: A Social Skills Toolkit for Home Child Care Providers; a program for parents called Here, Now and Down the Road ... Tips for Loving Parents; and Healthy Al, Healthy Me, a program aimed at combating childhood obesity.

•  The flagship curriculum is now in 38 states, Canada and Bermuda, its lessons reaching children in day care centers, public and private schools, community centers and Head Start classrooms, which receive federal government funding to serve low-income families.

•  Sue Geller, Al's Pals creator, and two colleagues wrote a 2004 journal article about a controlled study of the Lansing program. The article says children who participated in the program received lower teacher-reported problematic behavior scores for things such as self-centered/explosiveness, not paying attention, being antisocial or aggressive and social withdrawal and anxiety when compared with a control group.

The National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning reviewed and rated Al's Pals: Kids Making Healthy Choices in a 2015 report, giving it the highest possible rating for its effects on child outcomes. The report is a guide to help Head Start providers pick a curriculum.


from Dept of Justice


Alleged Pimp Arrested on Federal Sex Trafficking Charges Related to 16-Year-Old Victim Who Worked as Prostitute in Inland Empire

RIVERSIDE, California – Law enforcement authorities have arrested an alleged pimp who is charged with trafficking a 16-year-old girl and advertising her services as a prostitute in an online publication.

Lawrence Gunn Jr., 32, was arrested without incident Tuesday afternoon at a Woodland Hills apartment complex where he appears to have been residing. Gunn was arrested pursuant to a criminal complaint filed last week in United States District Court that that charges him with sex trafficking of a child by force, fraud or coercion.

The arrest of Gunn was announced today when the criminal complaint was unsealed. Gunn made his initial appearance in the case this afternoon in federal court in Riverside and remains in custody.

Gunn, who is also known as “Classified,” allegedly branded his prostitutes with tattoos of his moniker to mark his “stable” of sex workers.

The investigation into Gunn began in February when the 16-year-old victim was traced to a Moreno Valley motel, where authorities discovered five victims who were working for Gunn – three of whom were minors. Several of the victims had tattoos that read “Classified,” including the 16-year-old victim, who had the tattoo over her right eye.

The investigation showed that the victims had placed advertisements for commercial sex acts on and that Gunn had about a dozen women and girls working for him. One of the victims had posted hundreds of ads for sex services in states as far away as Alaska and Minnesota, according to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint. Several victims told authorities that Gunn took all of the money they collected from customers, with one victim using a wire transfer service to send more than $17,000 to Gunn over the course of three months.

“Every day, human trafficking victimizes large numbers of women and children, causing victims physical harm and long-lasting emotional trauma,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This case demonstrates that law enforcement has adopted a new approach that views the women and children as crime victims, but we will continue to aggressively prosecute their traffickers.”

A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.

The charge of child sex trafficking carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and statutory maximum sentence of life.

This case was investigated by the Riverside County Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, which include representatives from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). The Moreno Valley Police Department, the San Bernardino County Sherriff’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the Los Angeles Police Department assisted in the investigation.

“Forcing anyone, much less a child, to prostitute themselves under the constant threat of physical harm is not only criminal – it is morally reprehensible,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “That what amounts to modern slavery occurs here in our communities in the 21st century is inconceivable. HSI is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to ensure that those involved are held accountable for their crimes.”

This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tritia L. Yuen of the Riverside Branch Office.

Tracy Webb, Director of External Affairs
United States Attorney’s Office – Central District of California


from Dept of Justice


South Bay Man Sentenced to over 7 Years in Federal Prison for Receiving Child Pornography and Compiling Large Collection

LOS ANGELES – A Torrance man has been sentenced to 87 months in federal prison for amassing a collection of more than 20,000 images and videos of child pornography that he made available to others via the BitTorrent peer-to-peer file-sharing system.

Jace Jeanes, 39, was sentenced on Monday by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald. Following the completion of his prison term, Jeanes will be on supervised released for the rest of his life.

Jeanes pleaded guilty in July to one count of receiving child pornography. In a plea agreement filed with the court, Jeanes admitted possessing approximately 19,885 images and approximately 243 videos of child pornography.

In relation to the charge of receiving child pornography, Jeanes admitted receiving child pornography on his laptop computer in March 2014, specifically two videos depicting graphic images of child molestation. Days after receiving the child pornography, an undercover law enforcement officer used BitTorrent to download more than 2,800 images and videos of child pornography from Jeanes’ computer and two hard drives.

“Every act of child molestation is a heinous offense, and the victimization of the child continues when the act is recorded and the recording is shared or possessed,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “These images and videos are a permanent record of the initial crime, and my office is committed to prosecuting participants of the underground market of visual depictions of that crime.”

Following his release from prison, Jeanes will be required to register as a sex offender and to avoid places where children are present.

The investigation into Jeanes was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Christina T. Shay of the Violent and Organized Crime Section.

Tracy Webb, Director of External Affairs
United States Attorney’s Office – Central District of California



Let's Talk About It: 'Victim shaming' focuses blame on wrong person


When women began stepping forward accusing comedian and actor Bill Cosby of various incidents of sexual assault in the '70s, the public's opinion was swift and clear: These women were eager for their 15 minutes of fame. Or, they were seeking money. Many asked why the alleged victims waited so long to come forward with their accusations. It seemed few wanted to believe that Cosby could be anyone but the sweet and loveable father and husband he had portrayed on TV for so many years.

(Similar circumstances happened during the recent presidential election.)

Victim shaming happens across the globe every day — survivors of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence face ridicule and judgment for stepping forward and speaking out about abuse. Sometimes, this shaming comes from more than just anonymous commenters on the Internet, but also their own family and friends as well.

“Ignorance is the key reason people outside the relationship shame the victim,” says Margaret Bayston, CEO and executive director of Laura's House, a nonprofit that has offered shelter and services to domestic violence survivors in Orange County, California, for the past two decades. She says the horrible part about victim shaming is that many victims—like those in the Cosby (and Trump) situation—are afraid no one will believe them, which is why they don't come forward in the first place. “That's why they wait … and then get blamed for waiting.”

Bayston says victim shaming can also be the effect of denial by those who have never experienced domestic violence or assault. “They don't want to admit it can happen to them. But 24 people every minute are abused [by an intimate partner] in the United States,” says Bayston. “That's something to consider when people say ‘I'll never be a victim.'”

Victim shaming can come masked as seemingly innocent questions — what was she wearing? Was she drinking? “These comments assume the victim had a choice in this,” says Bayston. “As though, only promiscuous women get sexually assaulted. People want to distance themselves from (violence). They think, ‘If I don't dress that way, it won't happen to me.'”

In terms of domestic violence, Bayston says victim shaming can appear as pressure from friends and family to make a relationship work. Survivors end up feeling like the violence is their fault and that, if they open up about it, they'll let everyone down. Meanwhile, survivors are also judged for staying. “People see [survivors] staying with an abusive partner as weak and stupid. They say, ‘I wouldn't put up with it.' But it's never that easy.”

Victim shaming can come masked as seemingly innocent questions — what was she wearing? Was she drinking? “These comments assume the victim had a choice in this,” says Bayston. “As though, only promiscuous women get sexually assaulted. People want to distance themselves from (violence). They think, ‘If I don't dress that way, it won't happen to me.'”

The fact is: victim shaming makes it harder for the next victim to come forward. The first step in stopping the shame? Raising the bar for what's acceptable, says Bayston. Sexist jokes, demeaning women in the locker room, reinforcing the stereotype that men should be macho and dominant—all of these things set up a harmful rhetoric.

“We need to encourage [survivors], let them know it's not their fault and they've been mentally manipulated by their abuser. We need to let [survivors] know what options are available to them and that they're going to be taken seriously,” says Bayston. “We've all got to speak out against domestic violence.”

Relief After Violent Encounter – Ionia/Montcalm, Inc. offers free, confidential services and support adult and child victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Ionia and Montcalm counties. To learn more, call RAVE-I/M's 24-hour crisis line at 1-800-720-7233 (SAFE) or visit




Human trafficking in our community

by Montana Meeker

The International Labor Organization estimates that sex trafficking claims 4.5 million victims globally, with hundreds of thousands in the United States alone.

Data collected from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center's hotline places Texas second in the nation in human trafficking, and in an interview with KSAT 12, Chuck Paul, a former CPS investigator, called San Antonio a “hub” of trafficking activity, but few San Antonians know that this problem even exists in our community.

Other than the high percentage of victims who are homeless or in foster care, potential victims are difficult to identify because there is no typical profile: anyone can be a victim. The only universal commonality is vulnerability.

The target demographic for recruitment is children in middle school. Minors are the most desirable victims for traffickers as their youth makes them naïve and vulnerable. Pimps are masters of manipulation; they exploit people struggling with loneliness and insecurity by offering false love, affirmation and safety. Even children in secure, loving homes are targets of internet recruitment. One in five children who use the internet will be sexually solicited.

Adults, too, can fall prey to online threats. Fake job offers are one of the most commonly used methods of adult recruitment. In Texas, many trafficking victims are lured from Mexico with false promises of legitimate employment once they cross the border.

Once the victim is in the trafficker's grasp, pimps use a variety of methods to maintain control over their victims such as abuse, rape, substance addictions or even withholding food, water and vital medications.

Between long work hours, harsh conditions and frequent abuse, most victims are too weak, afraid and demoralized to attempt escape.

The public is a valuable tool in the identification and rescue of victims.

To help the public identify victims, the Alamo Youth Center Inc. provides a list of mental and physical indicators that characterize trafficking victims.

Health of a Trafficked Person

Trafficked persons are often treated as disposable possessions without much attention given to their mental or physical health.

Accordingly, they often have health problems that include:

• Malnutrition, dehydration or poor personal hygiene

• Sexually transmitted diseases / Signs of rape or sexual abuse

• Bruising, broken bones or other signs of untreated medical problems

• Untreated chronic illnesses (diabetes, asthma, infections)

• Post-traumatic stress and other psychological disorders

Know your ABC's

How to identify human trafficking…Awareness

You, your friends, your family, coworkers, people you do business with, everyone should be aware of the signs!

• Clothing may be too sexual, wrong size, not appropriate for the weather or place they are, or less expensive than the persons they are with. They also have few personal items.

• Victims may have “Branding” tattoos.

• Signs of poor hygiene; may look sick or use makeup to cover injuries.

How to identify human trafficking…Behavior

• Victims may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

• May be disoriented or confused, fearful, timid or submissive.

• No eye contact, looking at their feet or back to another person.

• Unease where there is visible security or law enforcement.

• May become verbally vulgar when challenged by an authority figure (watch for fight, flight & freeze).

How to identify human trafficking…Communication

• Often, victims can't provide details about where they came from or where they are going.

• Their answers appear rehearsed, and they will become nervous or angry if pressed for details.

• They appear to look to a companion for answers and they seem to be under that person's control; they may be closely watched or followed.

What to do when you see Human Trafficking?

• Never attempt to intervene or take the victim out of the situation by force!

• Call 911 and tell the dispatcher you are reporting suspected human trafficking, if the victim is a child tell the dispatcher.

• Become a good witness: look at details, colors, vehicle descriptions, direction of travel, hotel room numbers, etc.

• If possible, use your cell phone to take very discreet photos.

• After you report to the police, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888


• Text details to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at BeFree (233733)

While some operations stay localized, most routinely transport trafficking victims between multiple cities to expose them to new markets (which results in) highly mobile trafficking operations that are fluid and challenging to investigate and interdict.To shut down such operations requires communication of intelligence between police forces in different cities and a high sensitivity to possible indicators of a trafficking situation.

Police forces are growing in their knowledge of these operations, but traffickers are growing wiser in parallel.

To outpace them, more resources, time and thought need to be devoted to this cause.Fortunately, more people are recognizing this problem and directing their efforts toward a solution.

Alamo Area Coalition Against Trafficking is a coalition of governmental, non-governmental and community-based organizations that exists to prosecute offenders, prevent future exploitation and serve current victims of human trafficking.

In 2009, Texas created the Texas Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force, which is chaired by the Texas Attorney General and focuses solely on preventing this crime.

The solution cannot end there.

Without rehabilitation and recovery resources, sex trafficking almost universally ruins the lives of those affected by it. If victims do not die from enslavement or imprisonment, they perish from addiction or harsh conditions.Only four places in Texas are available for victims of sex trafficking to find help in the aftermath of their suffering; currently, these organizations cannot house even 100 victims.There is a great need for more resources for survivors of trafficking, and a few organizations are blazing a trail to provide them.

Ransomed Life is an organization whose goal is to help victims successfully recover from trafficking. They provide education and mentorship to girls who have been trafficked and raise funds to build a facility for girls to recover and grow in safety.

Another organization dedicated to creating a safe space for victims is called Alamo City Youth Center.

If these organizations achieve their goals it would mean a world of difference for the many victims here in San Antonio and across Texas.

In order for that to happen, more people are needed to volunteer, donate and raise awareness.

Sex trafficking is not just an issue in developing countries: It is here in Texas, in our own city.

It is up to us to help prevent this crime, aid those trapped in it and rehabilitate survivors.

We can help by spreading awareness, volunteering to help those most at risk and contributing to the rehabilitation efforts of others.

We can be voices for those who need us.

With education, involvement and awareness, we can take steps toward the eradication of this crime and brighten the future of survivors.

For more information on sex trafficking, signs of trafficking or how to report trafficking, go to http://traffickingresource


United Kingdom

Rudd announces £1.9m for licence to practise pilot for child abuse probe police

by The Press Association

Police investigating child sex abuse should be licensed in a similar way to doctors, the Home Secretary has said.

Amber Rudd, making her first address to the College of Policing conference, said the plans would ensure consistent standards across the country.

Her comments come amid police and Football Association probes into sex abuse in youth football, which Ms Rudd said showed the issue was "not going away".

The conference theme this year is vulnerability, which Ms Rudd described as one of the "most pressing issues" facing police forces.

The College of Policing, the professional body for police officers, will be given £1.9 million to fund a licence to practise pilot scheme.

Ms Rudd said: "It is important that only those who are absolutely qualified to perform critical roles dealing with the vulnerable are deployed to those situations.

"And that is why the Home Office and the College of Policing have been working closely together to develop a licence to practise.

"It will ensure that the public receive an assurance of competence and a delivery of consistent standards. It will also mean that police officers are not forced to take on roles that they are not prepared for or professionally trained to do.

"If your child was sick you wouldn't expect them to see a doctor with no experience in children's medicine and it's right to apply the same logic here."

An extra £26 million from the Police Transformation Fund, including the money for the College of Policing scheme, will be allocated to 28 projects over the next three years, Ms Rudd also announced.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall, chief executive of the College of Policing, welcomed the funding and said the scheme meant officers could be placed on a register similar to those in other professions and barred from handling investigations if they fail to meet standards.

"I think it's a fundamental missing element in high-risk areas of policing," he said. "In every other profession people carrying out high-risk roles will be properly qualified and registered with their professional body to carry out that role - medicine is a great example.

"We haven't got all of that in policing, we've got something similar in police firearms and public order and undercover. We should have it in public protection, particularly child abuse investigations."

The college would begin a consultation next month before the scheme is piloted.

Lorin LaFave, the mother of 14-year-old Breck Bednar who was murdered after being groomed online, backed the move.

The 49-year-old said: "I would welcome anything that would make grooming more understandable to people that are investigating because, especially in my case, it was not recognised."

Computer engineer Lewis Daynes was jailed for life last year with a minimum of 25 years for the murder of Breck, from Caterham, Surrey, who was found with a fatal neck wound at a flat in Grays, Essex, in February 2014.

Daynes, 19, groomed his teenage victim through an online gaming group he ran and lured Breck to his home despite Ms LaFave's concerns and her call to the police.

She addressed around 300 police officers and victims support workers at the conference, in Ascot, Berkshire, and stressed the need for call handlers to be more aware of the warning signs when potential abuse is reported.

Mr Marshall also announced new guidance on psychological stress for officers investigating abuse, as well as those working undercover, in firearms and counter-terrorism, would be published next year.

The guidelines for forces, adapted from a military approach, aims to support officers suffering mental health issues as a result of their work.

He said: "There is a rapidly increasing self declaration from people in policing about mental health issues.

"We know that in high-risk areas like investigating child abuse and looking at indecent images online that those police officers and police staff are subject to high levels of stress and a huge volume of disturbing cases and material.

"We think they need vastly increased psychological support."

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Ms Rudd's announcement was "piecemeal".

"The proposal for a licence for probing child sex abuse is welcome but this is not a strategy to tackle child sexual abuse," she said.

"This offering from the Home Secretary is a wholly inadequate response to the magnitude of the crisis in society and the tasks facing the police.

"The Tories have cut police numbers. Their Inquiry into child sexual abuse is failing and scandals continue to multiply. This is a piecemeal offering to the victims of child sexual abuse. They and we all deserve more from this Government."


United Kingdom

Tens of thousands of UK teenagers neglected at home, report says

Survey of year 10 pupils suggests one in seven experience some form of neglect, risking their physical and emotional health

by Haroon Siddique

Tens of thousands of teenagers in England are suffering neglect at home, putting their physical and emotional health at risk, according to a report from the Children's Society.

A survey commissioned by the charity found that one in seven 14- and 15-year-olds had experienced at least one form of neglectful parenting, the equivalent of three students in every year 10 classroom.

Neglect can include parents failing to monitor their child's activities outside the home, not making sure they get healthcare when they need it, not taking an interest in their education or failing to provide the emotional support by helping them with problems or offering encouragement.

Emotional and supervisory neglect were the joint most common forms reported by year 10 pupils and the former was associated with teenagers being more likely to engage in risky behaviour.

Those who said they had experienced emotional neglect were more than twice as likely than their peers to have got drunk recently, nearly three times as likely to have smoked and more than twice as likely to have skipped lessons.

Neglected teenagers were also significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their lives, pessimistic about their futures and lacking confidence in their abilities. Children who reported frequent support from parents were more likely to have higher levels of wellbeing. Young people who were materially deprived were more likely to be neglected than their peers.

The Children's Society said that the problems stem partly from an incorrect perception that teenagers needed less care and support than younger children. It wanted to see better support and advice for parents bringing up adolescents.

The Children's Society chief executive, Matthew Reed, said: “No child should be left feeling that no one cares about them. Teenagers are often seen as more resilient than younger children. But of course they still need care from their parents to meet their needs, support their education and keep them safe.

“Our research makes clear the central role of parental care and emotional support to the wellbeing of young people. With little dedicated advice readily available for parents of teenagers, we need to provide more support to parents bringing up teenagers, not to blame them. The government has a massive role to play in making sure the needs of teenagers, and their parents, are never forgotten. Society must not give up on teens.”

Recommendations in the report, published on Tuesday, include parenting classes for families with adolescent children, training on understanding adolescent neglect for frontline education, health and youth justice workers and more work to enable young people to to recognise neglectful situations and know what help is available.

The University of York polled a representative sample of about 2,000 young people aged 12 to 15 in 72 schools for the report, asking them about their experiences of being cared for by their parents.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “All children, whatever their age, must feel safe and supported at home. We are strengthening the child protection system to make sure children who are at risk are identified early and get the help they need – this includes support to help parents to better care for their children, where necessary.”


United Kingdom

Child abuse in football - and sport in general

by Bolt Burdon Kemp

In the last few days, there has been extensive disclosure of child abuse suffered by a number of footballers at clubs across the country. At the current time, it is understood four police forces are investigating the allegations and that an NSPCC hotline has already received more than 100 calls. Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association has recently said over 20 former players have disclosed child abuse and that this includes abuse at clubs such as Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City, Stoke City and Newcastle United.

These disclosures follow the Guardian's coverage of the abuse suffered by Andy Woodward and Steve Walters at the hands of Barry Bennell, a football coach at Crewe Alexandra FC. It is believed this is ‘the tip of an iceberg' with Bennell estimated to have abused hundreds of boys due to his powerful role as a youth coach and talent scout in football.

In 1994, Bennell served a four year prison sentence in Florida after he admitted to the buggery and indecent assault of a boy he was accompanying on a football tour. He then served nine years in England for 23 specimen offences against six boys aged 9 to 15. One of those boys was Andy Woodward. Bennell was most recently sentenced to two years in prison in May 2015 for sexually assaulting a 12 year old on a football course in Macclesfield. At the current time, Bennell is out of prison on licence.

Extent of abuse in sport

I am a solicitor specialising in child abuse cases and my firm has dealt with a number of cases involving child abuse within sport, to include:

•  Football

•  Swimming

•  Cricket

•  Rugby

•  Athletics

•  Rowing

•  Cycling

•  Karate

•  Canoeing

The key component in all of these cases is that regardless of the sport, there is always an adult who takes advantage of their position of authority as a sports coach to groom and manipulate a child before sexually abusing them.

Abuse sadly has no barriers, whether that be sport, sex, ability, age, nationality, race or any other factor.

The unique features of abuse in sport

Stranger danger when it comes to child abuse is largely a myth. We now know that abuse is carried out by people we trust and look up to, such as sport coaches. Their role also enables them to be trusted by the general public and parents to look after children and it allows them to in effect operate under a screen of respectability.

This power however can be used to groom and manipulate children, and to then sexually abuse them. This is sadly what we have seen recently in the child abuse cases in football.

Once the abuse has taken place, many survivors find it difficult to disclose their abuse for fear of not being believed and the reaction they will receive from the local community for making allegations against often a popular member of society. This often silences survivors for decades and sometimes forever.

Due to the macho environment of sport, it is difficult enough for people to disclose homosexuality as an active sportsperson, let alone disclose something like child abuse. As a large amount of abuse in sport is same-sex, this often causes sexual confusion in children and it also prevents them from reporting their abuse as they concerned how others will judge them or if they will be blamed for the offences taking place. It is never the fault of the child for sexual abuse taking place. We need an urgent cultural change to ensure that victims of these abhorrent crimes feel able to disclose their abuse and that they know they will be supported in doing so.

I have recently provided my comments on child abuse within sport to BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC World News and LBC Radio.

Please click here to view the video.

You will be believed

I support the Football Association's decision to conduct an inquiry and I would also ask the Independent Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry to expand their scope to include child abuse in sport.

In particular, I want an investigation into the alleged confidentiality agreements that a number of football clubs forced survivors to sign. These “gagging orders” are intended to purely silence survivors. It is my opinion that these “gagging orders” have enabled child abuse to continue and thrive in sport as a number of children would have suffered abuse in the fear nobody else had gone through what they had suffered or the fear they had not been believed. The life of a child should always be worth more than the prestige or finances of a football club. I think it is despicable if clubs have forced survivors to sign “gagging orders” to protect their own interests and reputation, and it is disgraceful that clubs could treat the lives of children as pure commodities or as an inconvenience that can be paid off and hidden from public knowledge.

I have never advised a child abuse survivor to agree to a gagging order and I will never do so – for far too long survivors have had their voices silenced and nobody should have the control to prevent them from being able to tell their story.

Survivors deserve justice and closure, and this includes finally obtaining answers as to how abusers were able to harm them without risk of repercussion for such a long period of time.

I urge every survivor of abuse, whether that be at the hands of a sports coach or anybody else, to disclose their abuse in the knowledge that they will be believed and that the police will investigate their allegations. It is only by discussing child abuse in public will we ensure that children know they are not alone and that nobody should suffer abuse in silence.



Our Children, Ourselves

More than 180 kids are born in Colorado every day, and as many as one in four will be abused or neglected by their caregivers during their early years. Why is it so difficult to stop this from happening—and even harder to find justice for victims?

by Natasha Gardner

When 67-year-old Wayne Sperling appeared in a Denver courtroom for sentencing on December 30, 2014, his long, snow white beard and button nose made him look like a real-life incarnation of Kris Kringle. But he more accurately resembled a sinister character from Oliver Twist. Sperling faced 10 felony charges related to child abuse but pleaded guilty to just one, a Class 5 felony that carried a sentence of up to eight years in prison. He'd already lost custody of his children. Now the judge would determine what justice would be in a case that had horrified the Denver community.

It wasn't the first time Sperling had appeared in court; it wasn't even the first time he'd lost custody of his kids. In 2006, two of his children—four and two years old—were found playing without supervision on East 18th Avenue, the one-way, multilane road that shuttles more than 14,600 vehicles a day between City Park and downtown. The call prompted a child welfare assessment of his family. Sperling and the children's mother, Lorinda Bailey (then in her late 20s), received probation, were advised to attend parenting classes, and retained custody of their three kids, including a three-month-old baby. By 2008, as the couple's problems persisted, child welfare officials had moved all three of the children into foster care.

Sperling and Bailey retained custody of a fourth child who had been born in 2007, and they subsequently had three more sons. Denver Department of Human Services (DDHS) received more reports about the couple in 2011, 2012, and 2013 that expressed concerns about the family. DDHS assessed just one of those referrals, in which someone reported seeing unsupervised children on a window ledge about eight feet off the ground. When Bailey took her youngest son—who was two years old—to nearby Saint Joseph's Hospital on September 29, 2013, there were no open cases on the family.

Bailey said the child fell off the toilet and hit the left side of his head. While stitching up the cut, the emergency room doctor noticed bruising and swelling on the boy's right ear. Bailey claimed one of the boy's brothers had thrown a toy at him, but the doctor thought it looked more like he'd been pinched, which initiated a series of events fairly typical in cases of suspected child abuse or neglect, starting with a home visit by a DDHS caseworker and some cops.

When the door of the Uptown apartment opened, a smell so foul wafted out that the visitors lurched back. Inside, the odor was worse. The floor was covered with a thick layer of feces, pools of urine, and maggots. Amid the filth was a thin pathway to the bedroom, where it appeared that all the children slept on mattresses on the floor and in a crib. One mattress had moldy stains, flies were everywhere, and about a half-dozen cats wandered around. Sperling told the visitors he tried to keep the place clean but having four boys between the ages of two and six made it difficult, which was why the apartment wasn't “spotless.”

Even more troubling was the boys' health. The officials removed the children for examination, and the resulting reports described them as “feral,” malnourished, and suffering from what was later determined to be lead toxicity. The boys needed substantial medical attention. Despite their age differences, some of the boys were roughly the same size, a possible indicator of developmental delays. None of them were potty trained; even the six-year-old wore a diaper. Although their list of ailments went on, one of the most shocking revelations was that the boys didn't appear to know how to talk, communicating instead with grunts and gestures.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS) prepared a 19-page report of the incident that called the case “egregious.” CDHS routinely investigates child fatalities, but after a series of deaths in 2012 heightened urgency among state legislators to reform—or at least improve—Colorado's child welfare programs, CDHS also began addressing “near fatalit[ies]” and “egregious incidents.” The adjusted approach is designed to catch system failures before children die at the hands of caretakers, and it also reveals how child abuse often occurs behind closed doors—or, in Sperling and Bailey's home, how it continued.

Bailey ultimately pleaded guilty to two Class 5 felonies and received 90 days in jail. Judge J. Eric Elliff sentenced Sperling to five years, meaning that at his mandatory release date, his youngest child will be seven years old. (Sperling may not serve that full term; he became eligible for parole this fall.) At the sentencing in 2014, before Sperling left the court, Elliff said, “You've got to treat your children with dignity and respect. They're not pets. They are not possessions. They are human beings that need to be carefully nurtured.”

Spotting child abuse not easy

If you think spotting child abuse or neglect should be easy, consider this hypothetical: After a long day at work, you come home and notice your neighbor's eight-year-old sitting under a tree, crying. You're friendly with the kid; he likes to help you drag the trash to the curb each week, and you stop to chat. You notice his cheeks are puffy, presumably from crying. His shirt is dirty and torn at the collar, and it looks like he hasn't bathed. A gash on his arm is bleeding, and another bruise, turning green and yellow at the edges, looks a bit older. Is this child abuse—or just a kid who fell while climbing a tree?

Or let's say you and your five-year-old daughter attend her friend's birthday party. The parents settle in with a round of beers while the kids bound upstairs to play. You give your daughter your phone to take pictures of her friends. Later, you realize that one of the photos taken at the party is of a girl's naked torso. When you ask your daughter about it, she says, “Hannah always takes off her clothes for pictures.”

Which scenario indicates abuse? The answer is neither, or both. That ambiguity—where privacy, parenting, and the public interest in children's well-being intersect—is under continual debate. Although the federal government has established basic guidelines for identifying child abuse and neglect to determine prevention funding amounts, the responsibility for defining child abuse falls on each state. About 702,000 kids are abused in the United States each year. Based on anonymous, self-reported behavior, six percent of parents in Colorado engage in child abuse that could legally qualify as criminal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that public expenditures for child maltreatment are about $210,000 per abused or neglected child. Prevent Child Abuse America, a national advocacy group, estimates that child abuse and neglect can result in investigations, medical treatment, foster care, and more that could cost the United States around $200 million per day.

Our judicial system long ago established and enforced the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit. “Parenting your own child and being raised by your own parents is a constitutional liberty interest in the United States,” says Katie Smith, director of the Human Services Section of the Denver City Attorney's Office. “You have a right to raise your children unless there is evidence that you cannot do so.” Although there is no direct mention of “child” or “offspring” in the Constitution, most famously in Meyer v. Nebraska, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in 1923 that parents have the right to “establish a home and bring up children.” The message is persistent and simple: Stay out of my house.

Simultaneously, the American government has also said that to protect a child's well-being, it will invoke a legal concept called “parens patriae,” Latin for “parent of the nation.” That idea helped created a preventive, sometimes punitive, system that mandates child removals, family supervision, interactions with human services departments, and criminal prosecutions. Under certain circumstances the government will intervene in your home in the most personal of ways—by taking away your kids.

Dr. Kathryn M. Wells steps into a small room at the Family Crisis Center in southwest Denver and flips on the light. Painted on the wall is a soothing beach scene unlike anything you'd see in Colorado. A seagull perches on a log. Brightly colored umbrellas poke out from the sand as the ocean laps against the shore. On the room's examination table, a roll of crisp white paper is stretched lengthwise, like a beach towel laid in the sand.

Next to the table is a piece of medical equipment called a colposcope. During routine annual exams, OB-GYNs use the instrument to take photos and videos of cervixes and vaginas, as does Wells; the difference is that she's investigating allegations of trauma and sexual abuse of children. As one of only eight board-certified child abuse pediatricians in the state, Wells and her staff handle the medical examinations of many of the Denver youngsters who enter the child welfare system. In 2015 Wells' office saw 925 patients for abuse or neglect, conducting 598 physical abuse evaluations and 85 sexual assault investigations.

Wells' speech usually matches her stride: precise and fast, as if she doesn't have time to waste on small talk or ambling steps. But if she thinks she's lost you or is moving too quickly, she'll slow down. Keeping conversations moving without losing her listeners is a savvy tool when working with patients, and even more so when she interacts with law enforcement, politicians, district attorneys, caseworkers, and anyone else trying to identify, stop, and punish child abuse.

Child abuse pediatricians often work in limbo, simultaneously within and outside the system. Wells works at both Denver Health and Children's Hospital Colorado. If she's seeing a child, that means a civil proceeding with the kid's caretakers may have begun, and what Wells finds during her examination may prompt a criminal case. She's interested in the incident—abuse, assault, neglect—that brought the child to her, and she's a medical version of Sherlock Holmes who works to glean whatever information she can about a child's health. She uses what she finds to create medical passport files, which she calls “medical homes,” for children that will follow them from placement to placement—or back to their families.

From a legal perspective, one of Wells' tasks is to identify serious bodily injury (SBI). If she discovers it, the DA can pursue up to a Class 3 child abuse felony. Absent SBI, charges can drop to a lesser felony, which comes with substantially lower penalties, or even to a misdemeanor. The medical definition of SBI is fluid. Some doctors limit SBI diagnoses to egregious injuries like lacerations of the liver, multiple rib fractures, or subdural hematomas. Concussions are trickier; doctors often overlook the symptoms—they miss up to 30 percent of abusive head injuries—because in young children, head trauma often looks like the flu. Other doctors might consider a scar on the face to be SBI because it's permanently disfiguring, but not scars on the back, which can be hidden. Malnourishment and delayed development might qualify as SBI, but probably only if another injury is present.

Identifying child abuse is more of a nuanced evaluation than a definitive diagnosis, which can flummox doctors who are intent on identifying symptoms and prescribing treatments; they can sometimes be less concerned with what caused the injury than with how to fix it. And if an injury isn't going to kill the child that day, doctors might be less inclined to indicate SBI, especially if they don't have training in child abuse, which many do not.

Child abuse pediatricians, though, are trained to sort through confusing injuries to see what's troubling, what's typical, and what's not. Identifying bogus abuse claims is also part of their job. “I technically don't have to make that definitive diagnosis that it's absolutely this,” Wells says. “I don't have to prove it was abuse or neglect to make my referral; I just have to have reasonable concern.”

If a kid ends up in her clinic, it means another health-care provider, a cop, a DA, or a caseworker has requested the evaluation, and Wells is constantly educating people about building better communication and cooperation between the medical community and the legal system. She sits on numerous child welfare committees, including Denver's Child Safety Net Impact Team. But she's acutely aware of where her job ends and an investigation begins. “We're very careful about saying things like, ‘A plus B plus C equals abuse,' ” she says. “My role is to help people understand the medical aspects of those things.”

The quality of the footage — taken on April 30 in Colorado — is grainy and rough. There's a living room and what looks like a kitchen, all cast in an orange-yellow hue. The screen shakes. Dogs and people wander in and out of the frame. In the background, a voice, both shrill and gravelly, screams:

“You fucking bitch!”

“You're going to die!”

“Where's my fucking charger?”

“I'm going to kill you!”

“You're a fucking piece of shit!”

The shouts are directed at a two-year-old boy. After nine minutes and 41 seconds, the boy's mother, 27-year-old Katrina Flores Kennedy, “raises the booster chair above her head and violently slams it into the playpen near or on the victim,” reads the arrest affidavit from police in Lochbuie, a town northeast of Denver. As the child cries, Flores Kennedy walks away but returns and “begins to hit on or around the victim again and again.”

Usually, law enforcement would collect video evidence like this, make an arrest (or not), and file charges (or not), all without the public ever hearing about it. That is probably what would have happened here, but someone uploaded the Flores Kennedy video to Facebook and YouTube and it went viral, garnering more than 400,000 views within days.

An online petition circulated asking why Colorado law doesn't consider the behavior shown in the video as felony child abuse. (Flores Kennedy was charged with three misdemeanors and pleaded guilty to one in October; the child was temporarily removed from the home after Flores Kennedy's arrest.) The answer lies somewhere between the parallel judicial systems that protect kids: criminal and civil. Detectives and DAs work on the criminal side. Caseworkers, guardian at litems (court-appointed advocates that represent children's interests), and human services reside in the civil realm. Both systems are reactive: People call in reports, they get investigated, and families become case numbers.

The CDHS has distributed a flowchart of the civil process that tracks what happens once they receive a report. It includes more than two dozen possible pathways to the final tier, which lists “reunification with family” and “independent living” as goals. The chart only briefly notes the criminal process.

If that track were fleshed out, it would explain that cases begin with investigations, which in the Denver Police Department (DPD) are often handled by the Missing and Exploited Persons unit staffed with people such as 15-year veteran Detective Teresa Gessner. She doesn't dress like a cop, opting instead for tailored slacks and shirts, but her clipped way of speaking makes her sound like one. She's got a quick laugh that softens her face, a mannerism that must come in handy when interviewing witnesses and victims.

This wasn't Gessner's dream career. If anything, it found her. She was working as an EMT in New York City and remembers holding the hand of a girl all the way to the hospital after she'd suffered a subdural hematoma from being thrown down a flight of stairs. “Every time she breathed, it was a little cry,” Gessner says. “That stuck with me for years.”

She was still thinking about it after she moved to Colorado, where she joined the DPD and eventually ended up investigating child abuse allegations. Now she spends each workday tracking down information about crimes that her colleagues don't want to hear about over beers after work: Kids covered with bruises from being hit with cables. Families in which one kid is beaten and not another. Sexual abuse allegations that expand to multiple victims.

Once someone has been arrested for alleged child abuse, Gessner has just 72 hours to compile enough evidence to present her findings to the DA. “I always start from a place of believing the child,” she says, although she knows that identifying false outcries (reports of abuse) is an important part of her investigation. She sometimes interviews victims but also relies on using a forensic interviewer, an independent contractor trained to ask nonleading questions to minors. In Denver, most of those interviews happen at the Denver Children's Advocacy Center (DCAC), a mini-campus of three Victorian homes that have been converted into high-tech recording studios, medical exam rooms, and therapy spaces. Jodi Byrnes, the DCAC's forensic interview program director, has conducted more than 1,000 such interviews and testifies in court several times a month. “The more they talk and the less I talk, the better interview I have,” she says of her process. “We want their words, not mine.”

Byrnes records her interviews; there's even a ceiling camera that zooms in on children's drawings—useful tools for explaining what happened when they don't have the vocabulary to describe it. Occasionally, nothing criminal has occurred. Sometimes kids are ready to tell the story about the worst thing that ever happened to them. Others are more reluctant; maybe they're protecting someone they love, or maybe they don't comprehend that their experiences aren't normal.

Gessner watches it all on a screen from a back room and takes notes on things to follow up on. Because reports about abuse are often delayed, it's not unusual to find no physical evidence. Children may be unable to pinpoint exactly when an attack happened, but without those details, Gessner likely won't have a case.

So she starts to dig. She notes small details the victim mentions: It happened before my little brother was born. It was in the winter because I had my blue coat with me. It was in the bedroom because there was a picture of a Broncos player on the wall . Then she circles back to the adults to confirm details. Of course, that means relying upon family members being truthful and not covering for the accused. Gessner keeps asking questions until she thinks she has enough facts to say what happened and when—and maybe even get a confession. “Sometimes you are absolutely disgusted,” Gessner says. “I'll go out after the interview and wash my hands because I feel so gross.”


There might be no better place than Denver to stop child abuse. That's because our modern understanding of the problem—and the efforts to remedy it—developed here in the early 1960s. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children dates to 1875 and was modeled after an existing effort to prevent cruelty to animals. But it was parents raising baby boomers in the comparative comforts of a post–World War II world who shifted child-rearing trends away from basic daily survival to “what's next?” questions.

The person who brought child abuse into the public discourse—into living room conversations—was C. Henry Kempe, a Denver pediatrician. Kempe began to notice patterns in certain children's injuries that seemed to defy what can naturally occur with the myriad bumps, bruises, and scratches all kids accumulate. In particular, he noticed some children under three years old showing “poor skin hygiene, multiple soft tissue injuries, and malnutrition.” In 1962, Kempe, with several co-authors, presented his findings in the Journal of the American Medical Association in an article titled “The Battered-Child Syndrome.” The authors laid out how to obtain diagnoses by identifying fractures, subdural hematomas, skin bruising, and other evidence of trauma. The article also began to bridge the legal and medical fields—acknowledging that these diagnoses could lead to legal action—and gave doctors a veritable decoder to do so. “To the informed physician,” they wrote, “the bones tell a story the child is too young or too frightened to tell.”

Kempe's report didn't just incite conversation—it prompted legislation. By 1970, every state had enacted a law about reporting child abuse. In 1974, Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (it has been renewed several times, most recently in 2010), which clearly outlined the federal government's interest in preventing, identifying, and investigating child abuse. Two years before that, Kempe had founded what is now called the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, part of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. From the beginning, the center has helped advance the idea of child abuse as a public health issue, which enables the creation of widespread programs and policies to address the issues on a national—or even global—level. The CDC agrees and said in 2014, “Child maltreatment is a significant public health problem in the United States and around the world.”

Executive director Dr. Desmond K. Runyan joined the center in 2011. During more than three decades of experience in pediatrics and child abuse research, he's seen firsthand how our ideas about child abuse have expanded and evolved. “People don't do this stuff to be a problem; they do it to solve problems,” Runyan says. “They don't shake babies because they think it would be fun to see what happens or they are trying to damage their kid. As one mother said to me, ‘I would never hit my baby, but he needed to be quiet, so I shook him.' ”

Runyan believes that clearer understanding about child abuse and when it starts could end the problem and put him and the Kempe Center out of business (which he says he would welcome). He advocates treating child abuse like an epidemic that can be cured, similar to how we lowered automobile accidents via seat belt laws and auto industry safety improvements. “We need to re-engineer the family in the same way that we've re-engineered cars,” Runyan says. “We need to set the environment differently.”

To some extent, we've already accomplished that. The practice of disciplining your child with spanking was quite commonplace through the 1980s, but over time, research has helped us better understand how our bodies and brains work together—and how our experiences can actually change our physical health. A 50-year study recently showed that spanking can increase aggression and antisocial behavior in children; today, only about half of parents in Colorado do it.

That connection between long-term health and trauma was confirmed in the adverse childhood experience (ACE) study, which released its 17-year findings in 2012. The project started at a California weight-loss clinic when Dr. Vincent Felitti noted that a good number of his patients were also survivors of sexual abuse and other childhood traumas. Intrigued, he eventually partnered with the CDC to create a study that tracked health backwards: Using people with conditions like heart disease and obesity, the study asked respondents if they'd experienced certain traumatic events as children, including being victims of child abuse or witnessing domestic violence. The study found that certain conditions in adulthood could be byproducts of earlier traumatic events; people who have endured more than four ACEs are 740 percent more likely to be addicted to alcohol, 1,220 percent more likely to attempt suicide, and 460 percent more likely to experience depression.

Much like Kempe's report in 1962, the ACE study results are only a starting point for how we perceive and address child abuse. Offshoot studies are examining the impacts of repeated exposure to ACEs and the resiliency of individuals, because a high ACE count is a risk assessment, not a guarantee of future problems. We know that about a third of child abuse victims will later abuse their own children. So what makes the remaining two-thirds of these kids resilient enough to avoid repeating those mistakes once they become parents?

Latisha Mead didn't want to go. When the cops showed up at her family's apartment in 2001, she'd been focused on getting her two-year-old brother to quiet down. She was just eight, but as the second oldest, she felt responsible for her four siblings. That already was her way: focused and pragmatic, but with a need to make things right and to take care of the people she loved.

Her parents were gone again. They said they were going to get food and took the baby with them. That was hours earlier. But it also wasn't the first time they'd left her and her siblings at home, so Mead wasn't too worried, even when her little brother started to cry. (She legally changed her surname to Mead in 2014.) She tried using her big-sister tricks—playing with him, soothing him—but she couldn't get him to stop wailing. She searched around the filthy apartment for a bottle, hoping that the sucking would quiet his hunger, but she couldn't find one, so Mead and her other siblings rigged up a Gatorade container with a plastic nipple. Problem solved.

The ruckus must have gone on for too long, because now cops were in the doorway asking where Mead's parents were. She tried to convince them she was 13; Colorado doesn't have a minimum age for leaving children unsupervised, but 12 years old is a standard principle. The petite girl was small for an eight-year-old, and when they asked what year she'd been born, she froze and didn't do the math in her head quickly enough. The cops entered and saw the condition of the place—the piles of dirty clothes and dishes—and that the children had no food. They started gathering up clothes and kids and put them in squad cars. Mead was sitting in the back seat when her parents finally returned. She scrambled out, screaming, and ran toward the apartment complex.

That first removal, Mead now recalls, lasted about 10 days before her parents did everything the caseworker asked: bought food, cleaned up their apartment, and promised it wouldn't happen again. But it did. Over the next four years, Mead would be removed several times as her parents struggled to maintain a regular residence, keep a clean home, and address their drug issues. They also went on to have three more kids, who joined Mead and her four other siblings in the revolving door of out-of-home placements. (Such removals happened almost 5,000 times in the state of Colorado in 2015.)

At first, Mead didn't get why the counties—at least two became involved as her parents moved around the metro region—cared so much about her family. Sure, they moved a lot and there was never enough of anything (food, clothes, soap), but her mom was only an occasional yeller and didn't hit her. Mead thought her parents sold food stamps and whatever else they could to get drugs, but she'd long ago learned to ignore their erratic behavior. She does recall feeling abandoned mentally and emotionally by her mom; sometimes she'd go check on her while she slept to make sure she was still breathing.

The old adage “we know what we know” is a particularly apt description of victims of abuse and neglect whose “normal” is shaped by what they experience. To these children, household violence or dangerous living conditions are ordinary. (The DPD's Gessner notes this while describing a child who once told her, “I love Mommy, but I don't think she loves me.”) An encounter with the legal system—civil or criminal—could be the first time these children's brains register that what they've been living with isn't normal and might be something that everyone around them finds abhorrent. The realization itself can be traumatizing.

That helps explain why, when Mead was taken from her parents at age 12 for the last time on May 11, 2005, she was no longer fighting or screaming; she was resolved. After nearly a dozen foster care placements and revolving visitation with her parents, she craved stability. She found it in fleeting moments, like when she anxiously called her foster parent because she couldn't find a sponge in the house. When she discovered that there were extras, stashed away for just these moments, it was an epiphany. “I finally saw a different way,” Mead told me. “I finally saw the life I wanted. I finally saw not living in filth without food in the fridge, not living without having my basic necessities and needs.”

During all the time spent holding tight to her family through the placements and moves and caseworker meetings, Mead had become used to other people making decisions for her, her personal choice or independence was never an option. But now Mead wanted out. Not necessarily forever, but she knew she needed to help herself heal and grow. She asked her mother to relinquish her parental rights. “I made it clear to her that it doesn't mean I don't love you, that it doesn't mean I don't want you in my life,” Mead recalls now. “It just means for me to feel completely successful in my life and go where I want, I can't keep going back to you guys. I can't keep going back to that lifestyle.” Her mother signed the papers and her parental rights were terminated in 2008. At 16, Mead was free.

Intense emotions

Given the intense emotions child abuse evokes, prosecuting such cases might seem like an easy task. In reality, the process is complicated, even when doctors like Wells identify SBI or detectives like Gessner find evidence that corroborates a victim's forensic interview. Even in graphic cases such as Sperling's, the DA still may not be able to file charges that would lead to convictions with long sentences that could keep perpetrators imprisoned until their victims reach adulthood.

If a child dies, DAs can file Class 1 or Class 2 felony charges, which carry presumptive mandatory sentences ranging from 16 years to life. If a child lives and SBI was checked off by a doctor, a Class 3 felony, whose sentencing ranges from 10 to 32 years, is the most punitive charge an abuser will face. (Child abuse has more severe punishments than a typical Class 3 felony because it's categorized as an “extraordinary risk” crime, along with aggravated robbery and stalking.) Minus an SBI distinction, a lesser felony or misdemeanor must be charged; there was no official SBI diagnosis in the Sperling and Bailey case.

As with all prosecutions, the level of charges relies on what DAs think they can prove. Colorado state legislators have slightly lowered that bar by not requiring the prosecution to prove intent in Class 3 felony child abuse trials. They still must demonstrate that alleged abusers knew they were doing something that could cause an injury.

It can be a difficult concept for juries to accept, especially when tearful, maybe even remorseful, parents relate their versions of events in court. Jurors might remember that one time they left their kid in the car when they went into the gas station to pick up milk. Or the morning their dad hit them so hard it left a mark. Because one in four people are likely victims of abuse, many voir dire sessions feature frequent private meetings between the judge, attorneys, and potential jurors who recount stories of their own abuse so that the parties can assess their impartiality. Whether these people display empathy or more of a “lock them up” or “I survived worse” attitude, they can be dismissed and often are.

These trials may have few witnesses and, especially in sexual abuse cases with delayed outcries, scant physical evidence. DAs present wide timelines to accommodate children's imprecise memories—Class 3 child sex abuse felonies are often charged as occurring over a two- or even five-year period—and all these factors can foster reasonable doubt. “I think the tendency is to see the injury and the horrific nature of it and maybe jump to a conclusion that it should be an easy case to win,” says Christine Washburn, a 17-year veteran of the Denver DA's office who's spent much of her career with the Family Violence Unit. “There might be a lot of complexities about proving that A) This was actually abuse, or B) The person being charged is the right person. Or maybe's there's a little bit of both happening.”

Jurors must also weigh the courtroom testimony of alleged victims since a 2004 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington changed the way that child abuse cases are tried. The ruling clarified when hearsay evidence (statements made outside of a courtroom) could be admitted as evidence. In child abuse cases, with some exceptions, it meant that although forensic interview tapes qualify, a defendant has the right to hear those claims in court. This means that accusers as young as four might have to testify, and it's the DA's job to make sure that child goes into as much detail as possible and isn't coerced. Naturally, defense attorneys try to undermine such testimony, albeit very carefully. “You can't go in all guns blazing,” says criminal defense attorney Jeffrey Wolf, who has practiced law in the metro area for nearly a decade and says about a third of his practice relates to child abuse charges. “The best word for it is ‘icky.' It's not appropriate, and it's not what the jury wants to see.”

Breathing is something we take for granted. Our minds and bodies handle the logistics of pulling oxygen into our lungs, through our cardiovascular systems, and into the very essences of our beings. Without this unconscious process repeating itself hundreds of times every hour, we cannot survive. But how often does anyone remember a single breath?

Latisha Mead does. After leaving her parents' home for good, she still saw them occasionally on weekend visits. It was a way to stay connected with her siblings and her mom, like she promised. She was still sorting through what “normal” would be for her and figuring out what wasn't OK about her childhood. It would be almost three years before she fully revealed the abuse she'd suffered from her father. She might have kept it a secret if not for the fear that he'd do the same thing to her younger siblings.

Her protective side took over. When she was 15, Mead told her foster parent what had happened to her—and what was still happening during those weekend visits. The legal response was swift. Police arrested Mead's father on June 19, 2008, and the DA filed more than a dozen charges against him. Mead remembers hoping that her father wouldn't see the arrest coming, that he wouldn't be able to escape.

During a four-day trial that November that featured Mead's testimony, her father decided to plead guilty to four charges, including two Class 3 felonies for knowingly or recklessly causing SBI to a child and two Class 5 felonies for attempted sex assault on a child. On December 12, 2008, he was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison (but could be paroled earlier). As her father exited the courtroom, Mead suddenly felt able to breathe again. “It was difficult, but at the same time it was very healing to be able to physically see him leave and the door shut,” Mead says. “It brought closure. Safety. Security. It brought me peace.”

Child welfare and abuse is a frequent topic during each legislative session in Colorado, and the battles surrounding how it's defined, who will get funds to prevent it, and how tough on perpetrators we should be have been legendary. In 2012, former Aurora legislator Debbie Stafford told the Denver Post that “it's a game of hide-and-seek, and it's going to be played over the bodies of dead and injured children.”

State Senator Linda Newell knows the clashes well. First elected in 2008, she quickly adopted child welfare issues as one of her signature causes. Her business consulting background inclined her to tackle inefficient systems, she cared about kids, and a constituent convinced her early on that the Legislature needed a new bulldog for the issue. What seemed initially like an easy win was thornier than she expected. “It was very clear to me that for some people, this had nothing to do with kids but everything to do with power and control and dollars,” Newell says today.

Term limits are ending the eight-year senator's tenure next month, which has given Newell time to reflect upon her legislative career. She recalls one bill that would have expanded the state's mandatory reporter list for suspected child abuse. (The list now includes nearly 40 professions, including doctors, teachers, dentists, and therapists, and failure to report is a Class 3 misdemeanor.) Newell was trying to whip up support for the bill with a fellow legislator who was not going to vote for it. She countered the lawmaker's argument with a “What about the children?” speech, but her colleague remained unswayed, telling a stunned Newell that if the law passed, the legislator might have to report somebody. “Are you freaking kidding me?” Newell says now. “You would rather protect a family member than you would that child?”

Newell went on to help pass adjustments to the mandatory reporting rules and create the Colorado Child Protection Ombudsman (CPO) office. What was originally proposed as an independent agency fell under the supervision of the CDHS, effectively limiting the CPO's watchdog capabilities. But Newell and her allies persisted, and this year the office moved into the judicial branch.

With Newell's departure, it's unclear who the state Legislature's most vocal child welfare advocate will be. Colorado's Legislature is a part-time affair; many lawmakers hold down other, full-time jobs when not in session, and the learning curve for novices is steep. It doesn't help that two other legislators who focused on criminal justice issues, state Senator Pat Steadman and state Representative Beth McCann, are also term limited, although McCann was elected in November to be Denver's new DA. “My focus [as DA] would probably be more on looking at the system as a whole,” McCann said while campaigning this past spring. “Are we incarcerating the right people for the right reasons, and should we be providing other alternatives that might be more effective in actually reducing crime long term?”

When the 2017 session convenes next month, there will still be a few veterans of the child welfare wars at the Capitol. One of them is Longmont-based state Representative Jonathan Singer. A former child welfare caseworker, Singer has seen firsthand what works—and what doesn't—when the government gets involved with a family, and his inclination is toward preventive solutions. “I've seen just a very underwhelming under- reaction [to child abuse] from law enforcement and prosecutors,” Singer says. “At the same time, in my world now, every dollar we spend on putting someone away is a dollar taken away from helping kids reunite with their parents when the real issue may be [something like] alcohol addiction.”

Singer's professional experience is one reason he backed a statewide audit of caseworkers' workloads. The results were definitive but unsurprising: Caseworkers and their managers are so taxed that the state would have to hire 574 more of them to just meet basic needs. CDHS officials say they've added 185 caseworkers since the report—Colorado's recent population boom might require even more hires—and Singer hopes the additions will allow caseworkers to focus more on families instead of acting like police officers.

Legislators have also created a statewide hotline for suspected child abuse. Reports to 1-844-CO-4-KIDS route all child abuse calls to a state-run call center, which disperses the claims to individual counties for investigation. The seemingly obvious solution helps alleviate confusion the general public has had about reporting abuse; pre-hotline, abuse calls might have ended up with ERs, 911, 311, or any of our 64 counties.

One reason people had been unclear about whom to call is that the CDHS supervises the 64 county-administered departments. Thus, the state doles out the money—in fiscal year 2015, it allotted $448.3 million to child welfare—but each county is responsible for hiring caseworkers, managing workloads, interacting with law enforcement, and so on. The setup is especially complicated in the Denver metro area because at least six county systems can be involved as people in the system move around the region.

Proponents laud the Colorado model for giving counties autonomy, especially in rural areas, and Colorado is just one of nine states with this system. Others aren't sure it's the best approach. “Many of us would prefer it as state- and then region-based,” Newell says. “But the counties have such a huge hand over the gold dome that they're a very, very powerful lobby.”

The hotline creates a sort of hybrid system of state- and county-run processes, and so far it's been successful. Most calls—65 percent of the 172,177 made between January and October of this year—come from mandatory reporters, but the number of private citizens calling in has also increased. The hotline enables the state to more accurately track multiple abuse complaints and keep tabs on children whose families move across county lines more effectively.

Neither centralizing the system, nor increasing penalties for repeated child abuse, nor making child abuse investigations mimic domestic violence calls (which require a mandatory arrest) will likely be on the legislative agenda in 2017. But other anti-child-abuse efforts should have a chance. Singer wants to increase communication between law enforcement and caseworkers by enforcing the requirement that each county have an interagency agreement between human services departments and law enforcement. These documents can be critical to investigating, prosecuting, and preventing child abuse because the agencies have separate data systems that don't talk to each other, and a 2014 Colorado Office of the State Auditor's report showed that 12 counties were not complying.

What sounds like bureaucratic minutiae actually explains why these cases are so difficult to prosecute. Separate record-keeping means cops can't access confidential health information and caseworkers can't discover someone's criminal history. This often makes these investigations play out like a high-stakes version of Go Fish. For example, a detective can ask if there is pertinent drug use in a home, and a caseworker may confirm it. But the caseworker probably wouldn't volunteer that information without being asked the right question—and in some cases, they may not know. Conversely, caseworkers can't see municipal court records—which can include disorderly conduct and restraining orders—to know that a parent isn't supposed to be at a residence.

There's tentative but widespread support for better record-sharing, from detectives to doctors. How it might work is where things get murky. The Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center (RMCLC), a child welfare advocacy group that provides free legal representation for children, holds regular think-tank meetings to introduce legislators to child welfare concepts and motivate them to do something about it. “I think a lot of people want to help,” says RMCLC executive director Becky Miller Updike. “But until one of them says we're going to put the hammer down and make this a priority, and we're going to fund it— that's a huge piece.”

On a mild July night, in the kitchen of her cozy two-bedroom apartment, Latisha Mead preps steaks for the grill while her partner, Courtney Becker, chops up a salad. They met two years ago when Mead was in San Francisco for a conference about technology and foster kids. She was 21, newly single, and decided to go out to a bar to unwind. The two talked, danced, and kept in touch. After six months of dating, a getaway to London and Paris, twice-monthly trips to visit each other, and hours and hours of phone time, Becker moved to Denver and now works in business development at a tech company.

The apartment in southeast Denver features dozens of pictures on the walls of their life together. It also has a patio with enviable views of the Rocky Mountains. In winter, through the bare tree branches, you can spot the Cash Register building amid downtown's other glass-and-steel skyscrapers. In summer, they watch the setting sun reveal its full spectrum of brilliant colors.

Mead minds the grill, her long, mocha brown hair tied back. She looks taller than her petite five feet three inches, probably because of how she holds herself: always upright, like a sentinel. But her demeanor softens when she looks at Becker shooing their two dogs—Jax and Balto—away from a cheese tray on the coffee table.

Her resilient life defies what statistics say about children who are removed from their homes. Unlike many abuse victims, Mead graduated from high school, went to college, and is now hoping to become a nurse. She's got a full fridge, an orderly apartment, and is saving to buy a home.

Propped against the sectional in the living room, 15-year-old Rigo stretches out his legs. He's Mead's younger brother—the infant who was with his parents that first night the cops came. He's been living with the couple for a few months because, in a move that redraws the conventional family tree, Mead and Becker—23 and 24, respectively—are now his foster parents. After visiting him in one of his foster homes, Mead and Becker knew they wanted more for him. They took about four months of classes to become certified by DDHS and surprised him with the news that he could live with them, if he chose to.

He accepted. Now Rigo talks about a pickup softball game this summer when he nearly hit the ball out of the park. Mead beams and playfully ribs him about how far the drive went. “I feel bad for your kids when they're teenagers,” Rigo teases back.

It's only been a few months, but the young family already has rituals, including regular Super Smash Bros. video game battles. Mead and Rigo each swear they are the household's top player; Becker surprises them both with the occasional victory. The trio has even created a custom level in the game that's unique to them. Floating platforms drift up and down as the animelike players leap around with swords and weapons, tumble down, and leap up again, a fitting virtual reality example of the constantly shifting and moving landing spots this atypical family has had to master.

Today, Mead has regained more of her family than she ever thought possible. She worries about Rigo as only a mom or an older sister can. She has flower tattoos on her torso for each of her seven siblings so she can always keep them close. For Rigo, she picked a rose because the boy she remembered from childhood was so sweet and loving. When he first moved in, she had trouble seeing that sensitivity in the teenager he'd become, but now she says that while they are still relearning how to live as a family, her rose is back.

She also knows that her story is far from complete. As the ACE research indicates, the abuse and neglect she endured as a child could one day impact her long-term health. Or not. Regardless, she's not taking chances. She keeps her mind organized and is adept at analyzing and finding solutions so that whatever happens to her next will be on her terms. Justice—for her and so many other abuse survivors—extends beyond a courtroom to the opportunities she will have as an adult.

Mead realizes her outcome isn't typical. So much of her life has been determined by what has happened to her: events, moments, and incidents beyond her control. Now she's starting a life defined more by what she's done. “I've been victimized, but I've never been a victim,” Mead says. She talks about what happened to her because she wants to protect families, get parents help when they need it, remove kids when their homes aren't safe, make sure foster kids have a better chance at graduating, lock up serial abusers…her list goes on.

She wants to find the kids like the ones in Sperling's Uptown apartment, or the boy in the Flores Kennedy video, or any child in need, before they become headline news. It might seem Sisyphean, but as Mead stands with Becker and Rigo on the balcony watching the sun shoot streaks of red, ochre, and orange across the distant Rockies, it seems possible—even plausible. “I don't come with woes,” she says. “I don't come with sorrows. I don't come with problems. This is what happened. Now what can we do?”



With new enforcement regulations for child trafficking in place, task force considers additional measures

by Thomas Friestad

When Rick Walter logs onto Craigslist, he's not just looking for cheap housing or a missed connection. Instead, the Scott County sheriff is investigating for telltale signs that a user may be trafficking underage children.

If Walter catches a trafficker, they can now be charged with a felony thanks to House Bill 1562. The bill, which became law Aug. 28, expands Missouri's definition of human trafficking to include "advertising the availability" of a child for sex acts. Previously, trafficking itself was a felony crime in the state, but advertising was not. Aggravated stalking of a minor who is "alleged to be the victim of an offense" is also now a felony thanks to the bill.

This is the second time Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, filed this bill, after an unsuccessful attempt in 2015. Haahr, who serves as chairman of the Human Trafficking Task Force, said he was inspired to pass HB1562 after studying legislation other states, such as Oklahoma, had passed to combat human trafficking.

This law marks the latest in a series of efforts the Human Trafficking Task Force has undertaken to crack down on the issue in state — and it's not done cracking down yet. At its latest meeting on Nov. 15, the task force analyzed different bills its members could pitch to the General Assembly in the new year. These included training for law enforcement officers, tougher penalties on traffickers and decriminalization of prostitution.

Walter, a task force member, said oftentimes it's not difficult for law enforcement to find child sex act advertisements because "certain things" can tip investigators off. For example, Walter said underage trafficking victims will often have their faces covered in the ads. Other times, he said, the price listed will be noticeably high if the victim is younger — 12 or 13 years old, for instance.

Walter said that during investigations law enforcement will try getting in contact with both trafficking victims and traffickers, which he also referred to as "johns."

"We work both ways; if we're looking for (the victims), we'll go on these back pages like Craigslist and say we're interested," Walter said. "If we think someone is being trafficked, we'll offer services and try to get them out of the life. We've also arrested a few johns, and what we do in that respect is we put out info that we're local girls selling ourselves, and they come in to buy."

Emily van Schenkhof, deputy director at Missouri KidsFirst and a task force member, said that though the bill has value in tightening Missouri's anti-trafficking laws, it will still take time and effort to continue combating the issue in-state.

"Within two or three years, we'll have a better sense of how (the bill) is working and if we're doing a better job," van Schenkhof said. "However, it's still going to remain a challenge to use. It'll require long-term strategy."

One challenge she mentioned is that human traffickers are often penalized at the federal level, rather than being charged under state laws for trafficking. Another is that state law enforcement is still learning how to recognize different symptoms of human trafficking.

As of Sept. 30, Missouri ranks 16th in frequency of human trafficking out of the 50 states in 2016, with 106 reported cases, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

In a meeting the task force held earlier this month, its members discussed a series of long-term strategies it could pursue in the coming year.

Bringing trafficking to a standstill

Kelly Schultz, ?director at the state Office of Child Advocate and a task force member, has worked with other local agencies in combating human trafficking in Boone County.

Schultz said residents are often surprised when they learn that trafficking occurs in their own backyard. When their backyard includes I-70 as a convenient travel route, however, trafficking becomes more than just a problem residents can see on TV.

"If you asked the general public what (human trafficking) looked like, they'd start telling you 'Law & Order: SVU' stories, about young girls brought over internationally or brought around in a van night to night," Schultz said. "That would be the assumption. We're getting everyone to understand that we're talking about local children and the customer is our neighbor."

Schultz said it's uncomfortable for residents to process that local children are being trafficked, sometimes using local hotels, but that raising awareness of this reality can be a step in reducing trafficking.

At its recent meeting, task force members agreed that one key group to educate more on human trafficking is law enforcement officers. Van Schenkhof said she thinks more comprehensive training for new officers is "the most significant" anti-trafficking item that could be pursued.

"It's important that when law enforcement is investigating cases like this, they're using as wide a lens as possible ... some cases involve parents trafficking children for money or drugs,” van Schenkhof said. "It's important that they're obtaining all information related, not looking at it as straight child abuse."

Schultz agreed with van Schenkhof and said that, oftentimes, human trafficking can fall under the radar when other, more visible problems are at play with the children. "Oftentimes, we miss the very, very initial identification of a victim because we see things like truancy, substance abuse and running away," Schultz said.

"One thing I talk a lot about across the state is that there are some really important questions law enforcement should ask at the get-go. You want to ask where (the child) is sleeping, who's providing food and transportation. People don't take children in from the street out of the kindness of their heart sometimes. If we instead focus on the kids being 'bad' and running away, we're going to miss victims because they'll clam up."

Van Schenkhof said it's also important to clarify that trafficking is an issue that affects children and adults alike. According to her, the state budget currently allocates about $100,000 to officer training, but the money is only to be used with relation to adult victims.

"I'm concerned about any training that doesn't address both adult and child trafficking," she said. "We can't define the problem for law enforcement as something only adults are facing."

Task force members unanimously supported pursuing tougher penalties on traffickers in 2017. For them, one nuance in this discussion is finding a way to punish traffickers without catching trafficking victims in the crossfire.

Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, said that because of how state law is currently written, an individual can be arrested for soliciting sex acts, even if someone is forcing them to solicit against their will.

"I hope we change the law so that these victims aren't the ones being arrested, and that we go after the folks soliciting them instead — the johns in the situation," she said.

An approach task force members contemplated in this regard was decriminalizing prostitution — it would remain illegal, but officers would have greater discretion in handling individuals they discover soliciting sex acts.

Haahr said he believes decriminalizing prostitution would be "a non-starter" with the Missouri General Assembly because residents could interpret the change as a "soft on crime" approach. Still, he said he believes the task force should do a "deep dive" into how other states have approached decriminalization to see what options exist.

However, Bruce McKinnon, a task force member and the chief juvenile officer of Audrain County's Juvenile Office, said other solutions would function as "Band-Aids" while prostitution remains illegal.

"The problem is that the victims end up having to prove they're under duress; they have to prove their innocence," McKinnon said, describing the matter as a "challenging gray area."

Though Schultz said some cities are able to handle human trafficking efficiently at the local level, resources vary between communities. She suggested that statewide protocols would come in especially handy in making sure underage trafficking victims have access to the services they need across the state.

"That will look different for each community, based on their needs, which can include medical needs, forensic interviews, medical detox and mental health treatment," Schultz said. "If our younger survivors have been out of school, even McDonald's wants a GED. We don't do anyone favors by recovering them and then saying 'good luck.'"

Keeping Momentum

The Human Trafficking Task Force is set to expire on Jan. 1. But its members say that its work isn't done yet. Haahr said that he will likely file a bill to renew the task force for one more year so it can continue investigating human trafficking in Missouri and recommending legislation to push against it.

"You have to keep reminding people of (human trafficking) as an issue," Haahr said. "It's a combination of statistics and also putting a face on it. We have trafficking survivors testify at committee hearings, which reminds people of how much a problem it is in the Midwest, and that if we're not constantly updating techniques to push back, traffickers will gain a stronger foothold in the state."

The task force members discussed other ways anti-trafficking initiatives could be pushed.

One suggestion included a paid government position for an 'Anti-Trafficking Coordinator' whose key responsibility would be bringing together different state organizations for anti-trafficking efforts. As an alternative, members suggested funding initiatives through nonprofits rather than the government.

Van Schenkhof discussed the pros and cons of both possibilities, saying that nonprofits could be more flexible in anti-trafficking efforts but less able to attract public attention. Meanwhile, she said a paid position would give the issue more of a statewide presence, but persuading the Missouri General Assembly to fund the position could be a challenge.

Haahr said any budget requests the task force ends up making of legislators will be "laser-focused" so that they're more likely to prove successful.

"We plan on making the requests very easy to justify and (focused on) things that we have no problem convincing people are essential," he said.

Should legislators approve the task force for one more year of work, Schultz said one hope she has is that more human trafficking survivors are brought onboard as members.

"It's challenging, because you have very few survivors willing to publicly pick up the mic and say, 'I'm a survivor of human trafficking,'" Schultz said. "We've tried to make sure hearings are open and everyone's invited, because there are survivors who can speak eloquently and pointedly about what their needs were and still are years after they've recovered."



Vigilance is a price worth paying to protect children

by Rosemary Goring

LISTENING to former footballers reveal the sexual abuse they suffered when they were young, it felt as if the last illusion had been shattered. One by one national institutions and organisations have made headlines this past decade as their record of child abuse has emerged: the Catholic Church, BBC, myriad private and religious schools, Scouts, politicians, youth groups and now, inevitably, major sports clubs.

If there had ever been any scintilla of doubt that child abuse is like Dutch elm disease, toppling one institution after another as it spreads malignantly across the face of the land, here was proof that the malaise is universal.

Not everyone, of course, will be surprised that football clubs have harboured sex offenders.

I heard of a club where the trainer was told by other coaches to leave the junior rugby club because he showed excessive eagerness to join the boys in the showers. When he protested, he was told that refusing to depart was not an option.

I would like to say that stern words alone were enough to see him off, but as I understand it, fists flew before he admitted defeat and retreated.

Better informed as we now are about sexual predators, it seems unlikely his proclivities had been dealt a knock-out blow.

When you look back down the years, the extent of public naivety and ignorance on this issue has been staggering. Yet it is not as if paedophilia was unheard of.

When I was a child it seemed that every village or town had a so-called “pervert”, whom children were warned to steer clear of on their way home from school, though we never exactly knew why. Whether they were a serious threat, or merely scapegoats I do not know, although our nearest unsavoury individual, who invited me and my friend Judy into his garden shed to show us dirty pictures, and unzipped his fly, clearly fell into the first category. Not long after he was jailed, presumably for going considerably further than that.

Yet who could have predicted the epidemic of cases that has filled the papers in recent years? I suspect that even professionals who work in child protection will have been shocked to learn the extent of Jimmy Savile's crimes, or those of his ilk, who flaunted their activities under viewers' noses, thereby adding to the thrill.

It is tempting to assume that such behaviour is on the increase, with the dark web's torrent of child pornography and the ease of meeting fellow paedophiles online. Perhaps there is some truth in this, but the cases that have recently rocked the public took place long before the internet. In those days, childhood was considered a time of innocence and freedom, and the thought of sexual abuse was for most parents almost literally unthinkable. Knowing as we now do that children are most at risk from relatives, that cosy, misinformed picture has been shattered too. But it nevertheless remains the case that until the past two or three decades, people were reluctant to believe an adult could have a sexual interest in the children in their care. Instead, youngsters were taught to trust them and do whatever they were told. Now, of course, the reverse is true. Consequently, where single or married men would once happily coach football or take groups on summer camps, they think twice before appearing keen to be in close proximity with youngsters. Primary school teaching has been irreparably damaged by the climate of mistrust that surrounds men and children, as have many charitable organisations.

Misery memoirs, and the autobiographies of those who rose from lowly or painful beginnings – the David Copperfields and Oliver Twists if you like – tend to focus more on what you could call “traditional” abuse of children: being beaten, locked up, or sent hungry to bed, or falling victim to sibling incest. These were bad enough, and could traumatise someone for life. Today, though, I wonder if some acts were simply too shocking to put into print. Was sexual abuse implicit in some of the worst scenes in Dickens's novels? Did some who pulled themselves up by the bootstraps deliberately erase what had happened to them, or find it impossible to commit such events to paper? Or was their experience hinted at, discernible by those who knew the depravity of which those with power over children are capable?

When I came upon an eight-year-old one winter evening, sobbing on his way to the park for a football lesson, I did not dare hold his hand, nor suggest that after the class, instead of catching a bus home in the dark – what was his mother or father thinking, sending him out on his own? – he could get a lift from me. It was a sharp reminder that the once natural relationship between a well-meaning adult and child, where you would be quick to offer comfort and help in loco parentis, has been utterly destroyed.

It is one of the unspoken sorrows of our times that childhood is no longer seen as a time of trust, but of threat. Where in the past a neighbourhood would act as an extended playground, with kids running in and out of houses and gardens, this easy-going, safe and rewarding network has gone. In its place is a mood of hyper-vigilance, anxiety and suspicion.

Not that this is all bad. Thanks to reading the news, I would no more allow a young relative to go alone into the house or car of someone I don't know well than I would put my hand in boiling tar. Surely, as a result of heightened awareness and caution, the tally of victims of abuse must decline. After all, since the revelation of savage, ongoing rape and sexual assault, from Savile to Rotherham, to Fort Augustus Abbey, few of us are starry-eyed about figures of authority. Nor would we automatically dismiss accusations from children who would once have been considered fantasists and liars.

While we have good reason to mourn the passing of a more casual and relaxed time, it was this unquestioning culture of deference and security that allowed celebrities and priests, sports coaches and teachers and others in positions of power, to get away with unspeakable deeds.

Today, those intent on causing harm will manage it some way or other, but it will be harder.

If in the process of protecting our young we have hobbled the way in which we interact with them, we should remember that this is our loss, not theirs. As we begin to appreciate the prevalence and cunning of abusers, countless better-guarded children will be given a safe and happy childhood. Ahead of them lies an unblighted future, the sort of which unlucky ones from less-informed and more credulous ages can only dream.



Indiana child abuse cases nearly double in decade

by Dan Carden

INDIANAPOLIS — Child abuse and neglect cases filed in Indiana courts have increased 97.4 percent in the last 10 years.

Data recently released by the Indiana Office of Court Services show 17,491 Child in Need of Services (CHINS) cases were opened in the state's 92 counties during 2015, up from 8,861 CHINS filings in 2006.

"The CHINS cases have just really exploded," said Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, who lived in Munster as a child. "I think it's directly related to the opioid crisis that we have going on now."

CHINS cases are up significantly in both Lake and Porter counties, while LaPorte County saw a drop in 2015 after hitting an all-time peak in 2014.

It's undisputed that Hoosiers increasingly are addicted to opioid pain relievers and, when those aren't available, heroin. The drug abuse has led to numerous overdose fatalities, near-deaths and contributed to a major HIV outbreak in Scott County.

Rush said a pilot program that drug-tested all newborns at an Indianapolis hospital this year found 25 percent were born drug exposed.

She said juvenile court judges across Indiana are struggling to keep up with Department of Child Services requests for abused children to be classified as CHINS and removed from homes deemed unsafe for them to live in.

"We don't have sufficient resources to meet the needs right now," Rush said. "The surge in heroin, methamphetamine, fentanyl, parental substance abuse is just really taxing the system."

Last year, there were 1,439 CHINS cases filed in Lake courts, up from 1,320 in 2014 and well above the county's 2010-14 average of 1,172 annual CHINS cases.

Porter reported 175 CHINS filings in 2015. That's more than two-and-a-half times the county's 69 CHINS filings of 2010.

There were 155 LaPorte CHINS cases last year, down from 228 in 2014, but still in line with the county's five-year average of 158 annual cases.

State lacks treatment centers, child advocates

Rush said Indiana's courts and legislature have taken steps to mitigate the drug crisis, but she admitted, "We have a lot of work to do."

She noted that the state still does not have enough drug treatment centers and even is short of volunteer advocates to assist abused children at court hearings.

"We are listening to all the different players to come up with a plan, but I still think we're behind given that blip (in CHINS cases); what I hope is a blip, I hope we don't continue to see that," Rush said.

Moreover, Rush said CHINS cases today are more complicated than the traditional abuse, or even "messy house" cases, that she encountered when first serving as juvenile court judge in Tippecanoe County in the late 1990s.

"There's very few cases that come up with just one issue. It might be mental health and substance abuse, there's poverty ... just multiple issues that these case managers are dealing with," Rush said. "I would love a messy house case."

Under Indiana law, any Hoosier who suspects a child is a victim of abuse or neglect has a duty to report their suspicions to authorities.

The Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline, at (800) 800-5556, is answered 24-hours a day, every day of the year.

On a positive note, Rush observed that juvenile delinquency cases have dropped 49 percent in the past decade to 14,297 statewide last year, which she credited to juvenile detention alternative programs.

"By making smarter decisions with regard to kids, not taking low-level offenders and putting them in with high-level offenders, what we're seeing is we're reducing recidivism," Rush said. "So it has been a very successful program."

Juvenile delinquency cases in Lake County fell to 1,047 last year from 1,734 in 2010; Porter recorded 397 cases in 2015 from 497 in 2010; and LaPorte courts handled 206 delinquents last year down from 458 in 2010.



Jewish communities discouraged survivors from reporting child abuse, commission finds

Report finds those who reported abuse at Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne were often met with disapproval or treated as outcasts

by Christopher Knaus

A strict adherence to Jewish law led two ultra-Orthodox communities to treat child abuse survivors as outcasts and discouraged them from contacting secular authorities, the royal commission has found.

On Tuesday the commission released its report on Yeshiva Bondi and Yeshivah Melbourne, two communities belonging to the Chabad-Lubavitch orthodox movement of Judaism.

Chabad communities imposed on their members a strict adherence to orthodox practices and laws, encouraging modesty and gender segregation, while discouraging contact with non-Jews or any discussion of sex, the commission found.

Rabbis were found to have discouraged members from coming forward about abuse and a number resigned during last year's commission hearing.

The royal commission examined how both communities responded to abuse complaints against David Cyprys, David Kramer and Aron Kestecher in Melbourne, and Daniel Hayman in Bondi.

Chabad-Lubavitch communities required disputes to be handled internally according to Jewish law rather than secular Australian law, the commission found.

Members were prohibited from informing on one another to secular authorities and discouraged from speaking negatively about others in the community, even if what they said was true, the report found.

The royal commission found that these practices greatly affected the handling of child abuse complaints.

“The evidence strongly suggests that, because of the way those concepts were applied, some members of those communities were discouraged from reporting child sexual abuse,” the commission found. “We heard evidence that some members of the communities believed that those who were understood to have communicated about child sexual abuse were acting outside the bounds of acceptable halachic conduct (that is, they were sinning).”

Those who reported abuse were often met with disapproval or treated as outcasts once they had reported their experiences, the commission said.

Reporting abuse would hurt the marriage prospects of children and publicly calling for people or institutions to be held to account for failings was considered a sin. Sinners would then be shunned socially, economically or religiously.

The royal commission heard from four survivors, including those who were abused in synagogues and ritual bathhouses.

One survivor, Manny Waks, was abused by two adults in the Melbourne community for years, including his martial arts teacher Cyprys, who was eventually convicted in 2013.

Waks was bullied and tormented when he first told a fellow student of his abuse and later, as a teenager, rejected his religion, struggled with feelings of helplessness and despair, and turned to alcohol.

Years later, Waks told his father and they went to Victoria police, who investigated his complaints but did not lay charges.

He said during the hearings he also told Yeshivah Melbourne's rabbi, David Groner, who allegedly instructed him to “do nothing” because Cyprys was being dealt with. Waks went public about his treatment 15 years later, the first time anyone had spoken out about abuse within the community.

Yeshivah Melbourne has since apologised for “any historical wrongs that may have occurred” in a 2012 letter. It has encouraged its members to report any allegation of child abuse to authorities.

Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, the leader of Yeshiva Bondi, has also apologised to children that the community had failed.

At the commission's public hearing last year, Feldman vowed “to do everything in our power both to protect the children in our care and to support those who have suffered”.

“I would like to now publicly state as not just a position of Jewish law but the official policy of the Chabad movement in New South Wales: the reporting of cases of abuse to the authorities is not just ‘permitted' but an ‘obligation', a holy obligation that will keep our children safer and our communities healthier,” he said.

The royal commission found the Melbourne community has taken significant steps to improve its child protection policies and procedures but said evidence of the response in Bondi was less clear.

Waks issued a statement on Tuesday evening welcoming the commission's findings, describing them as complete vindication for him and other survivors.

The commission's report made clear the “abhorrent, hypocritical, and irreligious” treatment of victims, their families and supporters, Waks said.

He called for an unequivocal personal apology to his family, who the royal commission found had been made secondary victims through their treatment.

“Until all of this occurs, any statements of regret or promises of change on behalf of Yeshivah do not reflect the reality on the ground,” he said. “I thank the royal commission for completely vindicating the actions of myself and other victims and holding Yeshivah and its leadership to account.”

Both communities will be examined again in a second inquiry in March next year.


United Kingdom

How do you talk to your children about sexual abuse?

by The BBC

Allegations of sexual abuse in football have raised concerns about children's safety. But how and what should parents say about sexual abuse without frightening their children?

"Parents shouldn't leave it up to teachers," says Jon Brown, head of the NSPCC's sexual abuse policy.

The risks are real and parents should have "simple conversations" with their children from the age of five right through to adulthood, he says, adding that "children who have the words to speak are less likely to be abused".

"Bath-time, walking home from school or in the car are all opportunities to have that first talk.

"Avoid scary words but say that their body belongs to them, and that they can say no if someone tries to touch them."

Stranger danger

Dr Nina Burrowes, a psychologist who specialises in child sexual abuse, says parents often cling to the "myth of stranger danger" and teach their children to be wary of people they don't know.

But "what if the perpetrator is someone they do know?" she says.

The most common form of abuse comes from within the family and as the wave of ex-football players who have recently spoken about alleged abuse have claimed, it can come from someone who is well-known and trusted in the community.

She says parents should talk about sexual abuse in the same way they teach their children about bad behaviour.

•  Introduce the subject by saying "can I talk to you about this - because it's important to me"

•  Approach the conversation in the same way you would teach children how to play with others and explain where it is ok to touch people

•  Tell them the difference between a "good secret" - like a surprise party - and a "bad secret" - one which you can never tell anyone

Talking pants

The message "keep your pants private" may be something that sounds familiar to parents of primary school

-age children. The NSPCC's Talk Pants campaign uses the message:

•  P - Privates are private

•  A - Always remember that your body belongs to you

•  N - No means no

•  T - Talk about secrets that upset you

•  S - Speak up, someone can help

"It doesn't mention sex or abuse, it's fairly fun," the NSPCC's Jon Brown says. "This makes a scary message easier to speak about."

It is not compulsory for schools to teach lessons about sexual abuse and while many teachers say they are "aware of the importance" of arming children, many do not feel they have the right training.

The NSPCC recommends parents access the campaign online or use bed-time stories to tackle the issue.

Gemini, a primary school-age child in the book Whisper , is one character designed to help with this. Gemini finds a monster in the garden but "feels like the monster had to be hidden or people might be angry".

Like Pants, it doesn't mention abuse or sex, but by concealing a secret it touches on the feelings a child victim might have.

"I desperately wanted a resource parents can use without frightening children," says Michelle Denny-Browne of One in Four, the abuse survivors' charity that published the book.

"Sometimes children just feel funny and this book speaks in their language," she says.

Sex abuse in figures

•  More than 90% of abuse cases involve someone the child already knows, such as a family member or close friend

•  Police recorded 47,008 sexual offences against children in the year to April 2015

•  This is a 29% rise on the previous year and the highest rate recorded in a decade

•  More than 11% of young adults aged 18 to 24 have experienced contact sexual abuse during childhood

Source: NSPCC

How to talk to older children

The language of pants and monsters may not be relevant to children as they become more sexually aware and get freedoms online but experts say the conversations should not stop.

"Parents should keep talking about sex abuse right through to university-age," Jon Brown says. "Issues like sexual consent and harassment are only recently being recognised as a problem by universities."

Tom Squire, from the campaign Stop it Now!, says parents should talk about the dangers posed by smartphone and internet use.

"Another school pupil Like Pants, it doesn't mention abuse or sex, but by concealing a secret it touches on the feelings a child victim might have.

"I desperately wanted a resource parents can use without frightening children," says Michelle Denny-Browne of One in Four, the abuse survivors' charity that published the book.

"Sometimes children just feel funny and this book speaks in their language," she says.

Sex abuse in figures

•  More than 90% of abuse cases involve someone the child already knows, such as a family member or close friend

•  Police recorded 47,008 sexual offences against children in the year to April 2015

•  This is a 29% rise on the previous year and the highest rate recorded in a decade

•  More than 11% of young adults aged 18 to 24 have experienced contact sexual abuse during childhood

Source: NSPCC

How to talk to older children

The language of pants and monsters may not be relevant to children as they become more sexually aware and get freedoms online but experts say the conversations should not stop.

"Parents should keep talking about sex abuse right through to university-age," Jon Brown says. "Issues like sexual consent and harassment are only recently being recognised as a problem by universities."

Tom Squire, from the campaign Stop it Now!, says parents should talk about the dangers posed by smartphone and internet use.

"Another school pupil could be a potential abuser, especially if a child has been persuaded to share naked pictures or is sexting."

Talk to teenage children about it by referencing a celebrity who has recently shared naked photos, he suggests.

Or, use an embarrassing story from your childhood as a cautionary tale.

"We've all done reckless things as children," he says. "But explain that online behaviour can be shared and saved permanently."

But he adds it is important not to "shame" a child's behaviour if they do something wrong online.

"If they feel they're likely to be punished or ashamed, they're less likely to come and talk about it."

Helplines for children and parents

•  Childline - 0800 1111 - for children to access advice or talk to a counsellor

•  Stop it Now! - 0808 1000 900 - for parents to asks questions or raise concerns



Schools teaching sexual assault awareness K-12

by Greg Reilly

Sexual abuse education for K-12 evoked reactions of both ‘too much too soon' and ‘too little too late' from Board of Education members. Sexual abuse education will be added to curriculum for the early grades in response to Erin's Law and it will be intensified for seniors. The topic was discussed after a health education presentation at the Board of Education meeting on Monday, Nov. 21.

Under Erin's Law, as of Oct. 1, 2016, each school district is “responsible for implementing a sexual assault and abuse prevention and awareness program” for K-12. The law — Connecticut General Statute Sec. 17a-101q — requires training staff, accessing resources and supplying educational materials. The law states it will be “responsive to the needs of each community.”

Erin's Law is named after childhood sexual assault survivor, author, speaker and activist Erin Merryn. She introduced the legislation in her home state of Illinois, and legislators passed and named the bill after her. Erin's Law has caught on nationwide with 26 states passing it, including Connecticut, and 17 other states are considering it.

The State Department of Education published guidelines this past summer. “The Health Committee in New Canaan has been reviewing the guidelines and will need to develop developmentally- and age-appropriate lessons,” said Dr. Jill Correnty, assistant superintendent in a follow-up email to the Advertiser. “Time is needed in the development stage before we can begin implementation,” she wrote.

Slow and cautious

Concerned about the youngest students, board member Maria Naughton asked how the Erin's Law program will be “incorporated into the K-12 curriculum—especially in the younger grades.”

By taking a “slow approach,” advised Correnty at the meeting. “We are trying to make sure that it ties into our current health curriculum” and not “teaching something as stand alone, because we just don't think that would be very appropriate.”

“We are very cautious as we are moving forward in being compliant with the new outline of the law,” said Correnty and she added, “but we also understand that we have to be developmentally appropriate.”

Correnty anticipates that “it will probably be a phase-in for us.” The educators will start “with very basic things in kindergarten,” such as “simple trust triangle lessons” she said. “A trust triangle is having students identify adults in the home, school and community who can they can go to for help,” she wrote in the follow-up email. They may add “a little bit more in the health unit that happens in fifth grade,” she said at the meeting.

The state guidelines:

The Connecticut State Education website lists the statewide K-12 Sexual Assault and Abuse Prevention and Awareness Program Guidelines. Erin's Law requires that all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program, which teaches:

•  “Identify trusted adults in home, school and community. . .”

•  “Identify and describe functions of body parts” including “parts of the body that are considered private.”

•  Learn “to ask trusted adults for help.”

Guidelines for first to fourth grade include:

•  “Use proper names for body parts including specific anatomy and parts that are considered private. . .”

•  “Explain that everyone, including children, have a right to tell others not to touch their body . . .”

•  “Demonstrate refusal skills.”

•  “Define sexual mistreatment, grooming, harassment, abuse, assault, and exploitation. . .”

Too little too late?

The educators plan to be more direct with seniors on sexual abuse than in the past because, “they go to college and a lot of these students get hit with very different programs and education about sexual violence,” said board member Penny Rashin, “and it's a vastly broader and scarier world to students.”

“What are we doing in this curriculum to bridge that gap?” asked Rashin.

The educators are considering a daylong seminar for seniors that would take place between the end of AP exams and the beginning of internships, according to Jay Egan, athletic director and K-12 wellness coordinator. He wants to give the students the sexual education they need for when “they go off to college to keep themselves safe.”

He added, “Give them a little more time to start to think about things to maybe be a little more prepared for all these changes.”

The students in New Canaan High School have a “homogenous environment where they all know their friends and it's very safe — to other environments where they don't know everybody, they are making new friends; it is a lot more a of transition than we may give it credit for,” said Egan.

“I think the knowledge component is there,” Egan said. He explained that knowing healthy behaviors is different than actually doing them. “Continuing to work with young people to develop refusal skills and self advocacy skills is really all we can do,” he added.



Over 20% of children are sexually abused, do I have your attention now? What you can do.

by Carter Lee

Full disclosure: I am a child sex abuse survivor (from the hands of a pedophile), so the topics of rape and child sex abuse hit close to home with me. But the below commentary on rape and child sex abuse is not based on my opinion, but rather, extensive research and facts. Through hard work I transcended through my issues, and I share my story through my book and speaking engagements. But you don't have to be a survivor or professional to help. There is something we all can do to help change the horrific statistics, and to help victims.

Rape and child sex abuse are taboo topics that are horrific and disturbing, and because of this, it is hard to listen to and tempting to ignore. Just the words “rape,” “molestation,” “sex abuse,” and “pedophilia,” are likely to make people cringe or to become nauseous; so I get the desire to not think about it. But far too many people are victims of these deplorable acts, and not taking action is no longer an option. The numbers and statistics below are stunning, but I urge you to keep reading so you can learn how to help others and how you can make a difference.

Rape And Child Sex Abuse Statistics

Because so many victims of child sex abuse and rape don't report it, it's hard to get a handle on how many people are victims of these atrocities. But there is data out there that gives us an idea, and the results are eye-opening. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has reported, and the majority of professionals agree, the following child sex abuse statistics.

“1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18. However, because child sexual abuse is by its very nature secretive, many of these cases are never reported.”

The majority of child sex abuse victims, approximately 75 percent of reported cases, know their perpetrator. Often, they are either a direct relative or someone who is close to the family or the child. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that with rape, “91% of the victims of rape and sexual assault are female.” And in “eight out of 10 cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them.”

These numbers are unacceptable.

What You Can Do

Often when someone who is not a victim of sexual abuse or rape hears the statistics, their heart goes out to the victims and then they feel like there is nothing they can do to help. This isn't true. The Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute shares the following statistics.

“Fact one: Today, 95 percent of child molestation can be prevented. We have the knowledge to stop it. Fact two: Today, living in the United States, there are 39 million adults who have survived child sexual abuse. Fact three: Today, more than three million American children are victims. Most of them are children, struggling alone, believing there is no adult who can help.”

They also have found that, “child molesters exist in every part of our society,” and that “they molest children close to them, mainly children in their family or in their social circle.”

One of the main reasons that 95 percent of child sex abuse isn't being prevented, is that people are ignoring the uncomfortable topic and not taking action. So it's time to take action, because there are things you can do to prevent your child, or a child close to you, from becoming a victim of child sex abuse.

Of course, you can't protect your child 100 percent of the time, which is why it is vitally important to take every measure you can to keep them as safe as possible. There are also steps people can take to make themselves less likely to be raped or sexually assaulted.

Educate Your Child At An Early Age

As parents we try to protect our children, and because of this, sometimes parents don't bring up serious topics when their children are young. This is a grave mistake. A child is never too young to learn about this topic. ChildMind has plenty of great tips on how to teach your kids about child sex abuse, like “talking about body parts early, teach your child body boundaries, body secrets are not okay, teach your child how to get out of scary or uncomfortable situations,” and several more.

It is also important to become very involved in your child's life. Know who they are hanging out with, including other children, and those children's parents. Ask questions frequently about the kids they go to school with, the parents, the teachers, and coaches. When you ask about these people openly and often, your child will feel comfortable sharing stories about them and are more likely to come forward if they feel uncomfortable being around someone.

Screen Caregivers Very Carefully

Whether it's a babysitter, daycare, or an after school program, screen the caregivers of your children carefully. The Rape Abuse and Incest Network has great materials for screening caregivers which will help prevent child sex abuse.

Know The Signs Of Child Sex Abuse

If a child has been sexually abused then the earlier they get help the better. It doesn't matter how close a child is to you or how strong that bond is; to assume that they would tell you is another mistake that parents often make. So it's important to know the following signs of child sex abuse.

•  Acting out in a sexual manner with toys or objects

•  Sleeping issues or constant nightmares

•  Becoming withdrawn or very clingy. Often, parents excuse this behavior as just thinking their child is shy. And it might be that they are just shy, but look into it to make sure.

•  Your child becomes very secretive.

•  Regressing with certain behaviors like bed-wetting.

•  Unexplained fear of specific people or places.

•  Changes in eating habits and outbursts of anger.

•  Unexplained gifts or money from a new friend (often older).

•  Consistent pain during urination or bowel movements.

Parents Protect provides other signs of child sex abuse.

Listen And Believe The Victims Of Rape And Child Sex Abuse

Children rarely make up stories about being sexually abused, but often it's easier for a family member to believe it is a lie. Because it's easier to accept that a child made up a story, rather than face the fact their child was a victim of abuse. So if a child tells you that they have been abused — believe them.

It's also important to understand that most people who are sexually abused do not become abusers. Abuse victims often have a troubled life centered on violence or illegal activity, but the sex abuse is not “passed on.” Most men don't admit that they were sexually abused for a few reasons. One of them being that they have a fear that others will assume they also have that desire. This myth needs to be disposed of because it is toxic.

Most women don't make up stories about rape. Again, it's easier for people to think that their friend or spouse is inventing a story rather than have to face the fact that this deplorable act happened to them. Roger Williams University reports that a study of rape found that, “statistical studies indicate false reports make up two percent or less of the reported cases of sexual assault. This figure is approximately the same for other types of crimes.”

So if a woman close to you says they have been sexually assaulted or that they are the victim of rape — listen. Believe them, because they need your comfort and understanding more than skepticism. Simply listening to someone sharing their story of rape, and acknowledging it, does more for the victim than you realize.

Although most rape victims are women, there are a great number of men who have been raped as well. Police and Public Safety has many tips to help prevent rape and sexual assault.

Resources For Victims

The National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse is a great resource for those who are victims of child sex abuse. The Rape Abuse and Incest National Network has many resources for victims of sexual assault or rape. I know how hard it can be to admit that you were a victim of these crimes, but it's not your fault. It's very important that you reach out and seek help so that you can begin to heal.

The Bottom Line

There are great measures we can take to help our children from being the next victim of child sex abuse. There are also steps we can take to help prevent sexual assault or rape. Use the resources in this article to learn more so that you can become involved and help. But ignoring these issues only makes the situation worse. And for those that feel this topic is just too unbearable to think about, then think about this; by the time it took you to read this article there has already been another victim of rape or child sex abuse.



Proposal: Expand Child Abuse Reporting to Include Mother's Alcohol Use

by Joyce Russell

Women who use legal drugs such as alcohol during pregnancy could be reported for possible child abuse under proposed legislation state lawmakers may be considering in January.

Currently, mandatory reporters of child abuse must speak up if it appears an infant is born with exposure to illegal drugs.

However, mandatory reporting does not kick in if the baby is showing signs of withdrawal from other substances.

“An infant who is jittery due to alcohol exposure or a legal substance such as a prescribed drug like methadone or oxycodone, those infants would currently not necessarily brought to the attention of the DHS,” said Janee Harvey, Child Welfare and Community Services Bureau Chief at the Iowa Department of Human Services.

Harvey says such children have already been negatively affected and the change would enable the DHS to make recommendations for treatment and care before any abuse has happened.

“What we would like is more uniformity in the mandatory reporting training so health care providers are bringing these cases to DHS attention,” Harvey said.

The proposal is part of a package of changes under consideration by the Iowa Drug Endangered Children Workgroup.

The group is also considering a change in Iowa law to trigger a child abuse investigation for homes where cocaine, heroin, or opioids are present.

Current law covers only the use, sale, or manufacture of methamphetamines.



Center's goal: Minimize trauma in child abuse investigations

Colorful parrots and toucans, large dragonflies and wide-eyed frogs adorn the lobby and exam rooms at the new Child Advocacy Center in Sartell.

by Stephanie Dickrell

Colorful parrots and toucans, large dragonflies and wide-eyed frogs adorn the lobby and exam rooms at the new Child Advocacy Center in Sartell.

This place immediately signals to kids that it's designed for them.

It's a far cry from the sharp corners and granite of the St. Cloud police station. It's also not a space that reflects doom and gloom, or the trauma that comes with childhood abuse and sexual assault.

In a building separate from any law enforcement office or medical offices, children can be interviewed and given support services after accusations of abuse arise, the St. Cloud Times reports. The center is new for Central Minnesota. Other areas of the state have similar programs, and there are nearly 800 in the U.S.

By design, it avoids the intimidating and busy atmosphere of a police department and affords privacy that might not happen in a busy clinic waiting room, director Katie Boecker says. Police officers lock up their guns before entering rooms with the kids.

Children don't face a panel of interviewers or have to retell their story over and over to police officers, attorneys, social workers and doctors.

They tell their story once, to one person, in a quiet, private room. Their interviewer is trained to be neutral, to allow the child to lead the interview. It's designed so as not to lead a child to a story that isn't true, and to allow the child to share the stories they're ready to tell.

From another room, relevant members of the multidisciplinary team — law enforcement officers, prosecutors, child protection workers, medical personal and advocates for the child — observe via an audiovisual system. DVD copies of the interview can be made immediately and taken with them, for purposes of reports, investigation and filing charges.

In a separate room, the child's caregiver — a non-offending parent or family member, a foster parent or a social worker — can talk to another member of the team and hear about the medical and mental health services available to the family.

Before the story is finished being told, the family can already start to heal.

Next door, a child can be get a well-child exam by a doctor trained to work with children and victims of abuse. Previously, a child might only have a medical exam for the purpose of gathering evidence and had to see a doctor in the Twin Cities. But here, all children can be examined, close to home. If needed, more sophisticated imaging and other medical services are just blocks away.

"The overall message is: It's going to be OK. Your body is OK," Boecker said.

The center is one of seven in Minnesota. They're designed with the same, child-focused, multidisciplinary model and accredited through the National Children's Alliance. The local center will apply for accreditation in March next year.

The Central Minnesota center started seeing clients in September. As of Nov. 18, staff had handled 20 cases. So far, it's been working great.

One case dealt with an unlicensed daycare facility where a number of kids were allegedly abused, said Matt Engelking, chief of the juvenile division for the Stearns County Attorney's Office.

"In at least one of those instances, during a well-child exam, they disclosed some additional injuries which led to additional disclosures," he said. "That's the benefit of bringing these under one roof."

A key piece of the center is the forensic interview, designed to get as much relevant factual information from a child as possible. Some local law enforcement are trained in the technique.

"They come in with a very neutral approach," Boecker said. They'll start with a question like: "Do you know what brought you in here today?"

The goal is not to push an agenda, but to listen to what the child has to say and wants to say. If a child isn't ready to talk, then so be it. The interviewer doesn't go in looking to make a case. Perhaps, the incident was a misunderstanding or it was a false allegation.

"Sometimes, they'll walk out and not say anything," Boecker said.

Boecker's role is not only to manage the center but to focus on the healing of the child.

"A lot of this is just listening to them," Boecker said.

Sometimes the child's primary caregiver is too traumatized to offer the support a child needs, or they're the one causing the harm. The help extends to siblings and other family members as needed, just as the harm can.

"Victims receive wraparound services from the beginning," said Dave Hartford, director of St. Cloud Hospital Behavioral Health. The idea is to intervene early, to prevent further trauma or negative impacts down the road.

Certain therapeutic approaches aim to reduce negative emotional and behavioral responses following child sexual abuse, domestic violence, traumatic loss or other traumatic events. That could include nightmares, bed-wetting, no appetite or refusal to eat, stomach aches or missing school.

The center's location happens to be near the new site of CentraCare's behavioral health department. That means Boecker can actually walk kids and caregivers over, introduce them to staff and therapists and help them set up an appointment. That takes away from the anxiety leading up to an appointment.

It reduces fear for adult and child. They already know where to go, what the office will look like, who the staff is. That makes their chances of showing up for the appointment that much greater, Boecker said.

The center makes referrals to any appropriate service in the community, including the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center and Anna Marie's Alliance. In the past, it may have taken several months for a child or caregiver to even get in to see a therapist.

"They don't have three months," Boecker said. "They need that immediate follow-up. That's the role of the advocate."

There's some education to be done for the non-offending caregivers as well.

"That parent has to know how to help that child," Boecker said.

They also know the impact isn't over when the family leaves the center. Advocates serve as a main point of contact throughout the life the case. And Boecker says some may not need any follow up.

All of this comes out of more research and understanding in the medical community on how trauma can negatively affect kids well into adulthood.

"We've known for a long time, there are literally physical manifestations of childhood trauma and the medical community really hasn't gotten a good hold on it," said Janelle Kendall, Stearns County attorney.

The cases usually end up in the criminal justice and child protection systems, not necessarily in health care settings.

Trauma research includes the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, which looks at the effects of physical or sexual abuse. Kendall, members of law enforcement, public health and other county departments have been working to make the county more responsive to those needs.

"It's just kind of the 'Aha!' moment," Kendall said. "It just makes sense when you've been reading police reports your whole career."

She has witnessed victims and offenders who can't reason through things or see the options they have.

"When you look at how the human body would form if it's in fight or flight mode constantly," Kendall said, "it made a lot of sense. ... Physically, they don't have the capacity that other people may have. It's just outside their experience."

Child advocacy centers were one way to get directly at that issue of childhood trauma. There was a big hole of coverage in the middle of Minnesota, Kendall said. Child advocacy centers already operate in Fargo, Bemidji, Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and Winona.

The group received a $130,950 grant from the Minnesota Office of Justice Programs for startup costs for the center.

Current staff includes Boecker, a nurse and a child advocate, all employed by CentraCare. They're still looking for a medical director. Two local pediatricians work part-time at the center — Dr. Geri Jacobson and Dr. David Kruse. Both specialize in pediatrics for CentraCare Health.

One of the next steps for the team is identifying ways to make the center sustainable, through grants, fundraising and other means. Eventually, Kendall sees the center needing to handle 400 to 500 cases a year, easily.

The center is starting work in Stearns County, but hopes to expand to surrounding agencies. Agencies that want to use the child advocacy centers must agree to bring all child abuse cases to the CAC. Referrals come from child protection and law enforcement.

Kendall said funding for the center could be something they bring to county boards, especially if the center can show concrete savings in how child protection cases flow through the system.

Insurance can be billed for some of the health services, but that covers only a small percentage of the cost for the center, Hartford said. Families are not charged to use the advocacy center services.

There's a lot of work to getting all those systems to jive together.

"The model presupposes that law enforcement and child protection will allow health care into their investigations," Kendall said. "It has been a fascinating experiencing."

Each agency has a different objective. Law enforcement wants to identify crimes and evidence. The attorney's office is looking to prosecute. Child protection wants to protect the child and prevent more abuse. Medical services are concerned for the physical well-being and mental health.

"It was extremely complicated," Hartford said. "We had to work together to create something new that was really a collaborative effort."

The center helps agencies work across county lines — a key advantage because St. Cloud is in three counties.

Multiple agencies can get information without requiring the family and child to retell traumatic experiences.

"We are collapsing time frames, coordinating the information sharing with professionals, minimizing the amount of trauma," Engelking said. "It will all occur seamlessly under one roof."

The research tells them that prosecutions should become more efficient, with improved quality of evidence. It makes it easier for a family to go through the criminal justice process, too.

"Conviction rates end up being higher because the family sticks with it," Kendall said.

Members of the team have been passing along a story about a recent visit from a little girl. After a long day of interviews and exams, the child walked out of the center with a smile on her face. She said, "I love this place. When can I come back?"

"She felt safe," Boecker said. "We gave her exactly what we wanted."



Victims caught in legal catch-22s after reporting sexual abuse to authorities

by Michelle Brown

The royal commission examining institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard from survivors who were caught in a legal "catch-22s" after they reported their abusers.

The inquiry is looking at how aspects of the legal system could be reformed to provide better outcomes for abuse victims, without prejudicing the right of the accused to a fair trial.

Two survivors told the inquiry they had spent years trying to forget the abuse they received at the hands of clergymen as children — before deciding to make complaints.

The inquiry heard this often prevented survivors from providing the courts with enough specific detail to satisfy the requirement for proof of an offence "beyond reasonable doubt".

In one case described as "particularly striking" at the inquiry, a judge acquitted priest Christopher Rafferty of six counts of sexual abuse against a survivor codenamed FAB at St Patricks College, in Goulburn, between 1984 and 1987.

This was despite the judge saying that he was "well satisfied that the accused did sexually abuse the complainant at school".

The judge said, however, he could not be satisfied of particular incidents beyond reasonable doubt.

It left FAB confused and hurt.

"No-one told me the level of detail I was required to go into on each of the incidents of the abuse.

"I was asked questions about the nitty gritty of each particular incident such as whether it happened on the morning or the afternoon, or the colour of Rafferty's pubic hair."

FAB conceded his evidence probably did not come across well, setting up doubt in the judge's mind.

"I spent my whole life up until that point trying to forget what happened at the school so I could get on with my life," he said.

Punished for coming forward

Another recent case before the inquiry is that of a former altar boy, codenamed FAA, who told the inquiry he felt let down by the legal system after complaining of abuse.

His case showed the after-effects seeking justice could have.

Now aged 42, it took FAA more than 20 years to decide to complain about his abuse by a deacon in Newcastle in the 1980s.

FAA went to police the day he read a newspaper article about a priest accused of abusing boys during wrestling sessions in the presbytery.

He said he came forward because the details were so similar to his own experience.

Despite this, FAA's case was heard separately from the other alleged victims, whose cases were run in two groups of three, and were ultimately successful. FAA's was not.

FAA told the inquiry he had suffered in several ways after coming forward.

He said he had lost friends, turned to alcohol, lost his job and battled stress and anxiety.




The hard truth behind 134 Arizona children's deaths

Arizona's look at how 768 children died last year is an alarm bell.

The Arizona Child Fatality Review's newly released numbers for 2015 show a continuing increase in child suicides and deaths from maltreatment — an increase that represents a challenge to all those in the state who say the lives of children matter.

These deaths are preventable.

Suicides by children increased 26 percent from 2014 to 2015, when 47 children ended their own lives. Since 2009, Arizona has seen an astonishing 81 percent increase in child suicides.

Who are these children who thought death was their best option?

Why are more teens taking their lives?

Children aged 15 to 17 accounted for 74 percent of the suicides last year. Seventy-two percent were boys and 64 percent of them were non-Hispanic white children, which is disproportionately high compared to the population.

The most common contributing factors in child suicides were a history of drug or alcohol abuse (40 percent), followed by family discord (38 percent) and parent divorce (23 percent).

“There are ways to help children, youth, and their families strengthen protective factors and prevent suicide,” the report said.

For parents, it's about paying attention and seeking treatment for mental and physical health problems, as well as substance abuse issues. It's also about building strong family support.

For schools, it's about collaborating with proven suicide prevention programs and making sure teachers and staff know what to look for and how to help.

For elected officials and policymakers, it's about making sure there is adequate funding for “behavioral health and substance use assessment and treatment services for youth and their families,” according to the recommendations.

Despite focus on child welfare, more are dying

Of course, you've heard those kind of recommendations before. Yet the state power structure remains notoriously stingy to schools, as well as social and human services.

Which brings us to another shocking set of statistics. These are about child maltreatment.

The 2015 numbers continue a trend that pushed the death rate from abuse and/or neglect up by 43 percent since 2009. This happened during a time of heightened focus on the state's child welfare system.

It raises questions about the effectiveness of the Department of Child Safety, which was created in 2014 to correct the problems with the agency that preceded it. Just like the old agency, DCS continues to be understaffed and underfunded.

The 15 percent increase in the rate of child deaths from abuse and/or neglect from 2014 to 2015 suggests that Arizona still hasn't got this right.

Sixty-one percent of the 87 children who were determined by the review team to have died from maltreatment were from families that had previous involvement with a child welfare agency, including 32 percent who had an open case at the time of death. Both of those statistics represent an increase over the previous year.

These warnings have been ignored before

Not all these cases were handled by DCS. Eight of the 87 deaths involved children under the watch of tribal or out-of-state child welfare agencies. Black children and Native American children were over-represented in maltreatment deaths.

It's worth noting that the review counts drowning and motor vehicle crashes in the category of neglect.

The review found that the most common preventable factor in maltreatment deaths was substance use or abuse, which was associated with 61 percent of the deaths last year.

It's not surprising that the report's recommendations include providing sufficient funding for behavioral health and substance abuse treatment, as well as ensuring adequate funding for DCS, the juvenile court system, the Attorney General's office and community-based prevention services. Assuring parents have access to safe child care is also essential.

Such recommendations have been made before — and ignored by the governor's office and the Legislature, despite assurances from both branches of government that child safety is a priority.

This review of how children die in our state offers yet another reason for Arizonans to put pressure on those who write and sign the state's budget.

There are families in need of help in our state, and providing that help may save the lives of children.



Does this Malayalam film on a woman's sexual awakening condone child abuse?

The film is about a young woman's memories of her sexual awakening but a particular episode has upset a lot of people.

by The News Minute

(Video on site)

A Malayalam short film, "Memories of a Machine", shot by Shailaja Padindala is generating a lot of debate on the Internet. The film, which is available on YouTube, features a young woman (Kani Kusurti) speaking of her sexual awakening to her husband who wants to capture it on film.

Here's what's upsetting some people though: the young woman speaks of an encounter with a school peon when she was around eight years of age. She says that as a child, she had a crush on him and that one day, he made her sit on his lap and touched her. However, the young woman says that she did not feel traumatized by the incident and that it led to her exploring her own body for pleasure.

She also speaks of other instances, like when her parents discovered her masturbating, and when a boyfriend of hers slut shamed her for being too "open" about her sexuality. She takes off her bra casually when speaking about all this, sighing for a moment with relief when it comes off.

Does the film question patriarchy and its control over a woman's sexuality or does it justify and even romanticize child sexual abuse?

Writer NS Madhavan tweeted that the film should be taken down as it "pardons pedophilia".

Historian, feminist and social critic, Devika Jayakumari has also commented on the issue. She points out that while children do have sexual feelings and have sexual pleasure, the power dynamics in a child-adult, heterosexual encounter cannot be ignored: "...children's sexuality and pleasure are totally enmeshed in power relations, all of it, from thumb sucking to masturbation. That is, children's sexuality is shaped by the relations they have with their caregivers, who are adults and older and younger children, and none of these relations are power neutral. So let us not assume that a child's sexual encounter with an adult , if s/he finds it enjoyable, is powerfree!"

Devika ends her comment saying, "But perhaps a ban is a very bad idea. maybe the film should carry a warning that it may be disturbing to some, especially those with memories of unequal sexual encounters as children?

Counselling psychotherapist Gayathri Narayanan has said in Azhimukham, "Cinema has always glorified the stalker, passing it off as pure love. This has also shaped public perception to a great extent. The same is the danger with this film as well, what is the impact the film will have on a an abuser? Because a lot of abusers justify their actions claiming that the victim enjoyed the violation. This film encourages this very discourse." She adds that the film might give the abuser the idea that his victims will think back about him fondly when they grow up.

Actor Kani's father expressed his view on the film, requesting people not to see it as a defence because his daughter had acted in it.

An excerpt from his comment:

"I am going to hold the bull by the horn, If children can be 'nurtured and taught' by adults on every other subject why not on sexuality, why every sexual encounter between adults and children should remain in the framework of sexual 'exploitation' only? What happens to the 'right' of a child to have the 'choice' to have sex with anyone irrespective of age, sex and gender? Being life's only way of continuing existence why every sexual experience of a child should remain under 'taboo'? Hundred years back every male, including Gandhi and Sri Ramakrishna could be 'caught' and punished as pedophiles. We ought to know that a 'crime' exists only after a law is formulated, hence there are no eternal crimes, only changing 'perceptives' of crime. There are very many 'right' ways to live at the same time in any given historical context. I leave it here and invite you to read the subject proper. Let us learn to live in a 'plural' society accepting each other than to live under a monolithic one dimensional 'right'..."

Another person who feels that the film doesn't promote pedophilia, Ravi Shanker N, says:

"My overall impression is that this film is a critique of Patriarchy's control over the means through which a woman finds pleasure. Man would like her to feel it through their medium. Even in the case of the Peon chettan, the viewers are disappointed that the girl didnt crack down under Patriarchy. They also don't like the fact the girl simply sidestepped Patriarchy or ignored its mammoth presence in the form of the Peon Chettan's hard tool. The film cheated them of their favourite stances."

Responses to the film from survivors of child sexual abuse have been varied. One person said that while the film made for a "disturbing watch", she stood by the filmmaker's and actor's right to experiment and that "every artist has the right to fail."

An activist who works with child sexual abuse survivors and who did not want to be named said that the movie was simply about a woman's experiences and not on abuse: "Children are sexually aware is a reality that we need to accept. Most abusers behave the way the peon did, they groom children to like them. Also, everyone does not perceive or react to 'abuse' the same way. Many do not even categorise it as abuse. Why should all reactions be the same?"

Meanwhile, speaking to Narada News, director Shailaja has said that her film does not make excuses for pedophilia: "I do not support child abuse or rape. I know the pain. If I ever see a child being abused, I would protect him/her with brickbats. Memories of a Machine does not intend to send a message or to romanticise child abuse. It is an attempt to portray a child's natural thought towards sexual pleasure. Of what a child might feel before it is confronted with societal norms and morals."

Released in February this year, "Memories of a Machine" was screened at Seattle South Asian Film Festival and Bangalore Queer Film Festival 2016, among other platforms.