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December, 2016 - Week 2
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.

Custody in crisis: How family courts nationwide put children in danger

In many cases across the country, family courts ignore evidence of sexual or physical abuse, putting kids in peril

by Laurie Udesky and 100 Reporters

Six years ago, in 2010, an appellate court in Tennessee affirmed a family court ruling that had awarded Darryl Sawyer primary custody of his six-and-a-half-year-old son, Daniel. (All the names of family members involved in custody cases mentioned in this article have been changed to protect the children's privacy.)

The court ruled in favor of Sawyer despite evidence presented by his ex-wife that alleged he had sexually abused their child. Three years earlier, Daniel returned from a visit with his father with suspicious bruises on his bottom. His mother, Karen Gill, immediately took the three-year-old boy to his pediatrician. “Your instant reaction is that you don't want it to be what it appears to be,” Gill said, choking back tears at the memory. “You really hope there's another reason for why he has these marks on him.”

But the doctor, Victoria Rundus, confirmed Gill's worst fears. Dr. Rundus reported to the Tennessee Department of Children's Services that she found reddish blue bruises on the child's buttocks that could only occur from an adult “holding his buttocks forcibly open.” Gill thus began a long, arduous battle – that continues to this day – to protect her son.

Gill expected resistance from her ex-husband, but was surprised and shocked to find herself facing an even more formidable obstacle to her son's safety in family court.

By the time the case was heard by a Tennessee family court judge in 2008, the state's Department of Children's Services had already investigated and had determined that Sawyer “‘was indicated' as the perpetrator of sexual abuse of [their son],” according to court records.

Nevertheless, the family court judge granted primary custody to Sawyer, warning Gill that if she wanted unrestricted visiting rights with her son, she had better quit talking with the boy about the alleged abuse by his father. What's more, she had to stop taking her son to doctors to be examined for signs of abuse.

Why did the court give the boy to his father despite credible evidence of abuse? It turns out the family court relied heavily on the recommendations of William Bernet, a psychiatrist and court-appointed custody evaluator. He convinced the family court to ignore the medical report, stating that Sawyer was not a pedophile or child molester and should be awarded custody of Daniel.

Other factors played into the court's decision as well. Gill had earlier tried to restrict Sawyer's access to the boy based on allegations that the court deemed unfounded. Gill's suspicions were aroused, she said, because Sawyer had told her of a family history of incest. She feared Sawyer, in turn, would abuse his own children. Other allegations included comments by her ex-husband that “Satan speaks to him,” physical and verbal abuse toward her and threats of suicide. None of this, the court said, could she prove.

Dr. Bernet declined to comment on the case.

Daniel's case is not unique.

In family courts throughout the country, evidence that one of the parents is sexually or physically abusing a child is routinely rejected. Instead, perpetrators of abuse are often entrusted with unsupervised visits or joint or sole custody of the children they abuse, putting children in danger of serious, often life-threatening harm, according to children's advocates.

Our two-year investigation – which includes interviews with more than 30 parents and survivors in California, Ohio, North Carolina, New York, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Maryland and New Jersey – uncovered stories of children consigned to suffer years of abuse in fear and silence while the parents who sought to protect them were driven to the brink financially and psychologically. These parents have become increasingly stigmatized by a family court system that not only discounts evidence of abuse but accepts dubious theories used to undermine the protective parents' credibility.

“Protective parents are asking the authorities to step in and protect their children and they're not,” said Kathleen Russell, executive director of the California-based Center for Judicial Excellence (CJE), a watchdog group that focuses on family courts.

In scores of cases, the consequences have been lethal. News reports alone, while not comprehensive, paint a startling picture. From 2008 to 2016, 58 children were killed by custodial parents after family courts around the country ignored abuse allegations by the protective parent, according to an analysis of news reports conducted by CJE. In all but six cases, protective parents were mothers who had warned family courts that their children were in danger from abusive fathers who later killed them.

“The authorities are blaming the protective parents and pathologizing them, and their kids are ending up dead,” said Russell.

How do family courts get away with these kinds of decisions?

“You can take the same amount of evidence to criminal court and a jury will convict beyond a reasonable doubt,” said attorney Richard Ducote , who represents protective parents trying to regain custody of their children. “And the appellate court will uphold the conviction and the sentence.”

But family courts have a different focus, explained Ducote, who also worked as a special assistant district attorney statewide in Louisiana prosecuting termination of parental rights cases. In theory they are supposed to consider first the best interest of the child. But in practice, Ducote said, “They're concerned with the reduction of conflict [within the family] and getting along, which is good unless there is someone you need to protect the child from.”

Court records are often sealed, a practice intended to protect the privacy of children. As this investigation shows, however, it's a practice that can put children in greater danger by blocking outside oversight.

Moreover, the high cost of litigation throws up a formidable obstacle for most parents fighting to get their children out of harm's way. There is little research on court costs, but a preliminary analysis of a national survey of 399 protective parents by Geraldine Stahly, emeritus professor of psychology at California State University, San Bernardino, showed that, for some 27 percent of these parents who ultimately declared bankruptcy, the costs were about $100,000.

No government agency tracks the number of children nationally that family courts turn over to their abusers, and existing academic research is largely regional. Advocates have tried to put a number on it by culling statistics from primary and academic sources. They estimate that at least 58,000 children a year end up in unsupervised visits with or in the custody of an abusive parent. A 2013 analysis in the Journal of Family Psychology cited studies that show that anywhere between 10 and 39 percent of abusers are awarded primary or shared custody of their children.

However difficult it may be to quantify, high-level government officials recognize the breadth of systemic failure. “It's a terrible situation,” said Lynn Rosenthal, who served as the White House Advisor on Violence Against Women from 2009 to 2015. Before going to the White House, Rosenthal personally saw the extent of the problem while working with many state coalitions on child welfare and domestic violence. “We saw this all over the country,” she said.

How do abusers get custody? A big part of the answer lies in the very experts that courts turn to for help in evaluating the fitness and safety of parents.

In sounding the alarm over her suspected abuse by her ex-husband, Gill ran squarely into an unexpected obstacle. Bernet and his colleague, James Walker, stated in a joint report that they used a battery of tests to evaluate Sawyer. They claimed that Sawyer tested as “low risk” for sexual offenses and was not a pedophile. These tests included a sex offender risk test known as the Static-99, the Minnesota Sex Offender Screening Tool, the Sex Offender Risk Scale and the Abel Exam for Sexual Interest.

But according to Anna Salter, PhD, who has conducted research with sex offenders for two decades, using such tests in family court is meaningless. “They can't be used to determine if someone is a child molester,” explained Salter, who is the author of “Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists and Other Sex Offenders” and a consultant with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Instead, she said, the tests were intended to evaluate people already convicted of child molesting to determine the likelihood of recidivism. The Abel exam, which tests for sexual interest in children, does not yield meaningful results, she said. “It is based on how long you look at the pictures of the children. There are now sites that tell you how to fake it – ‘just look away.'”

Beyond the tests, Bernet also wrote that Gill, not Sawyer, was causing harm to their son. “Since 2003, [Gill] possessed personality traits of parents who make false allegations of sexual abuse,” such as “strongly criticizing” Sawyer. Bernet also ascribed “narcissistic tendencies” to Gill, stating that she “appears to lack insight into the strong feelings and motivations that are driving her current behavior in casting [Sawyer] as a child abuser.”

Among his primary concerns, wrote Bernet, was that if Gill were allowed to continue questioning her son about his father's actions, she would “induce [Daniel] to share her false beliefs.”

Bernet dismissed Daniel's claim that his father had “put a stick in my butt,” writing that the child was, rather, making up a fantastical story under prompting by his mother. Similarly, he contended that an interview with Child Protective Services did not show Daniel was “capable of giving a simple, coherent description of a past event.” Of the bruises on the child's buttocks, Bernet noted that Sawyer said he thought they were from water slides at the two water parks that he and Daniel had visited two days in a row. His acceptance of Sawyer's explanation at face value appeared to ignore a physician's description in court records of bruises “shaped like thumbprints” that were “inside [Daniel's] buttocks.”

Child advocates say they regularly hear of custody battles similar to the Sawyer-Gill case in which an evaluator deflects the court's focus on potential abuse by alleging that one parent is brainwashing the children to believe that they are being abused. This behavior is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) by those who embrace it and deemed questionable science by organizations such as the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Psychological Association.

As far back as 1996, a Presidential Task Force found a “lack of data to support” the diagnosis of Parental Alienation Syndrome. Citing this report, the American Psychological Association in 2008 declined to take a position on the “purported syndrome.”

Bernet, however, is among a faction of family court professionals trying to get PAS accepted as a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of mental health practitioners. So far, he and other advocates of PAS have not prevailed. Bernet said in an interview that “the actual words are not in the DSM-V [the latest revised version], but the concept is,” pointing to what he describes as three new diagnoses that each have features of PAS.

Dr. Darrel Regier, vice chair of the DSM-V task force, said that the DSM acknowledges that alienation can figure into relationship dynamics. But “we were very careful not to include in there a diagnosis of PAS,” he said, adding that “the international community isn't buying PAS as a diagnosis either.” With respect to how it's used in family court to discredit abuse, he said, “If there's evidence of abuse, then that's what should drive the courts.”

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges cautions jurists in custody cases “not to accept testimony regarding parental alienation syndrome or PAS,” according to the guidebook Child Safety in Custody Evaluations. It adds, “The theory positing the existence of PAS has been discredited by the scientific community.”

Many courts, however, have paid little attention to these recommendations. “There's this myth out there that there's over reporting of abuse when in fact, statistically, there's an underreporting of abuse,” said retired Kentucky Judge Jerry Bowles, a co-author of the guidebook.

Judge Bowles, who trains his fellow jurists in domestic and family violence matters, said that it's common for courts to believe that mothers press for no contact with their ex-spouses for reasons other than safety. He ties this misconception to lack of training and understanding among jurists about violence in families.

A pilot study by Joan Meier, a professor of clinical law at George Washington University Law School, supports Bowles' observations. In analyzing 240 published rulings in an electronic search for cases involving custody and alienation, she found that more often than not, accusations of abuse did not block access to children in family court settings. In some 36 cases where a mother accused the father of abusing their children, the court nevertheless ruled in the father's favor 69 percent of the time. The tendency to discount the mother's accusation was even more pronounced where sexual abuse was alleged: In the 32 such cases Meier identified, the father prevailed 81 percent of the time. She is now working on an expanded study examining the same issues – including intimate partner violence – in some 5,000 cases with a grant from the National Institute of Justice.

Bernet's characterizations of Sawyer as the good guy and Gill as mentally disturbed are consistent with a troubling pattern that organizations fighting to reform the family courts see in these cases. They include the Center for Judicial Excellence, the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project and The Leadership Council on Child Abuse and Interpersonal Violence.

“The research shows that the family courts are a perfect place for abusers to get custody,” said former White House advisor Rosenthal. “They can manipulate the evaluator; they can manipulate the [court- appointed] guardian; they can manipulate the judge. They make themselves look good and they make her [the mother] look crazy.”

Cynthia Cheatham, a Nashville-based attorney who represented Gill in her appeals case and whose practice involves helping protective parents fight to regain custody, agreed.

“They have Mom, who looks like she just stuck her finger in a light socket, and the perpetrator, who may have stuck his finger in his kid's vagina, who looks like a very normal guy.”

Some custody evaluators appear to go to great lengths in their effort to normalize perpetrators' behaviors. Thomas Hanaway, PhD, also in Tennessee, wrote that a father who had already been substantiated as a perpetrator of sexual abuse by the state's child protective services “appears to be very fond of his children and even if he were engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with them, in my opinion, he would be doing it in a kind fashion.” (Emphasis added.) Hanaway did not respond to requests for interviews.

Alina Feldman, 16, of Dallas, Texas, wishes that disclosures of abuse she first made when she was four years old had been taken seriously by the court's therapist and custody evaluator. Had they done so, it might have spared Alina what she describes as years of severe abuse and misery in her father's care while separated from the mother she loved.

“He would hold a knife up to my neck and threaten to kill me,” Alina recalled. “He would take a knife and cut my arm. Sometimes he would choke me until I passed out. He would snap my wrists.”

Instead of taking her to a doctor, she said, her father would put her wrist in a brace until it healed. He would also twist her arms in different directions, she said. As she began puberty, he would sit on the toilet seat and watch her while she showered, she said. If she cried about missing her mother, she said, he punished her by withholding food.

Her father also kept Alina isolated, she said, adding, “If he checked the mail, I came with him every time. I was never alone. I didn't know my address. I wasn't allowed to know it.” Alina said she tried killing herself several times. “I'd take a bunch of pills, but I always woke up.”

Rachel Feldman, Alina's mother, had asked the family court years earlier to modify the joint custody arrangements she had with her ex-husband, Jack. Four-year-old Alina had come home from a visit with him in January 2005 and described how her father had spread his “butt cheeks,” inviting her to smell.

Records detailing visits between Alina and the court-appointed therapist, Gail Inman, showed that the child said that her “father puts her hand on his penis” and that “his privates feel squishy.”

Inman, however, testified in court that she didn't report the disclosures to authorities because it wasn't clear if the incidents were “purposeful or accidental” and seemed to have happened “a long time ago.”

Rachel Feldman filed a complaint against Inman for not reporting the disclosures.

Later, the Texas State Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors sent Inman a letter advising her to comply with the statute that requires reporting of disclosures of abuse by a minor. Inman did not respond to emailed requests for an interview.

The custody evaluator in the case, John Zervopolous, told the court that living with her father was “a much better fit for [Alina ] in terms of parenting situation.” His reasoning? The father was better able than the mother to control the child during their office visits with him.

During his one scheduled visit to observe the mother's interaction with her daughter, Zervopolous said the child resisted going into his office and also ran down the hall as her mother tried to coax her to come back, according to court records. Zervopolous acknowledged that he might have upset the child by asking her about the sexual abuse allegations in a meeting alone with her immediately before the family meeting. That the child was meeting alone with him prior to all of them meeting together was apparently unexpected, the result of a misunderstanding, and he said it also could have led to the child's behavior.

But whatever occurred on that visit, Zervopolous saw it as a problem with Rachel Feldman's parenting. He criticized her for allowing Alina to express anger and for giving her choices when she was acting up “instead of commanding her to do something.”

Zervopolous told the court that Jack Feldman's psychological test scores “were within normal range.” In contrast, he described Rachel Feldman's scores as indicative of people “who are immature…lack insight into behavior, have simplistic answers to problems and are often in conflict with others.”

Zervopolous wrote in an email response to a request for an interview that, “It is improper at best for me to comment on any case in which I have been professionally involved. Further, I don't wish to discuss any other family court issues.”

In 2006 Judge Susan Rankin awarded custody to Alina Feldman's father. In her ruling, Rankin said that Alina's mother would “endanger the physical or emotional welfare of the child if she spent time with her.” Rankin said that Rachel Feldman “has no insight into how her behavior impacts her child…coaches the child to say certain things … alienates the child from the father … creates the problems in her child that she complains of ….” Rankin also barred the mother from coming within 1,000 feet of her daughter. If she wanted supervised visits with her daughter, the judge wrote, she first had to post $50,000 cash bond. Why such harsh terms? The judge deemed Rachel Feldman a flight risk “due to her emotional instability and belief that the father is harming the child.”

Then, in April 2012, Alina reported to a teacher that her father had pinned her down on his bed the night before and that she fought him off, escaping to her room and locking it. “I thought, either way I am going to succeed in killing myself. If I tell, he's going to kill me. If I don't tell, he's going to kill me. I cannot take it anymore,” Alina recounted.

An affidavit to the court by her then court-appointed therapist, Donna Milburn, confirmed the disclosure. Alina described how her father insisted “she was going to sleep in his bed that night” and how frightened she was. Within a month of her disclosure at school, followed by her therapist's report to the authorities, Rachel Feldman petitioned the court to get sole custody of her daughter. Eleven days later, Alina's father signed an agreement to terminate his parental rights.

Alina says she's relieved to be living again with her mother, although she continues to suffer anxiety and depression. “I definitely get scared sometimes because I think I see him.”

Joyanna Silberg, PhD, a senior consultant for child and adolescent trauma at Sheppard Pratt Health System in Baltimore, has identified 55 similar cases where courts granted custody to alleged abusers, and where the children were taken back to safety after another intervention.

While some of those children are managing, she said, “all of them have severe mental health wounds that last a lifetime – the lifetime knowledge of the betrayal of the system against them, of people who are supposed to help them [who] actually harmed them, that their word was not accepted as true.” These children also suffer from the knowledge “that the person they loved most in the world, often the mother, was disempowered to do anything to protect them,” said Silberg, whose research was financed by the Department of Justice. Then there's the “repetitive knowledge of the actual abuse they suffered and the harm to their bodies and souls for that.”

Parental alienation syndrome also made its way into a Cleveland, Ohio, custody case involving physical abuse. Family court Judge Judith Nicely awarded Leonard Doyle custody of his two children in 2012. In her order, Judge Nicely quoted from a custody evaluator's report that the “mother was found to have demonstrated a pattern of efforts to alienate the children from their father, to remove father from their lives, and to convince the children that only she has their interest and safety at heart.”

Shortly after the court's decision, Doyle's 11-year-old son and his younger sister barricaded themselves inside their grandparents' house and called 911. Each held a knife to their own neck.

“If you make me go with my Dad,” said the boy into the phone, according to a 911 transcript of the call, “I'm going to kill myself.” The teen and his sister had just been told by their mother that their father – who had physically hurt them, causing injuries requiring emergency medical care – had been awarded custody of them and control of whether or not they could visit their mother.

Doyle was a man already known within the court system to be violent, to download child pornography and to have served time in prison for obscenity. A 2008 sentencing memo by the U.S. Attorney's office against Doyle said that an investigation of his computers by the FBI found that he had been downloading “numerous stories glorifying and salaciously describing sex between adults and children.” What made the material especially disturbing to the U.S. Attorney's office, according to the memo, was “the fact that he was the custodial parent of small children at the time,” a serious concern that, the prosecutor wrote, “mandates a five-year term of imprisonment.”

The sentencing memo noted numerous encounters between Doyle and police, including a disorderly conduct conviction in 2003 for an incident in which he dragged “a bleeding victim by his feet on the streets.” In 2008, he was sentenced to 13 months in prison.

Leonard Doyle declined to address questions publicly for this story, but rather threatened in a text message to file a lawsuit should “one false statement or misleading implication” appear regarding his case.

In late September 2008, not long before Doyle began serving time, his son called his mother, begging her to pick them up. According to court records, the boy said that his father had chased him over the lawn with his car. Frightened for their safety, Robin Doyle said that she picked up the children and took them to a domestic violence shelter, where they received counseling.

A doctor who had diagnosed the son with a mild concussion in another incident in 2010 testified in the 2012 custody case that she believed the boy when he told her that his father had hit him in the head. The incident had also generated an investigation that similarly determined that abuse was “indicated,” according to a letter by the Geauga County Board of Commissioners in March 2010.

The juvenile and family court judge's guidebook cautions courts weighing custody decisions that “any allegations of abuse, whether made by the at-risk parent or the child, should be taken seriously.” But Judge Nicely discounted the child's allegations despite a doctor's confirmation that he was injured. She relied instead on testimony of the court-appointed supervisor for the visit, who said she had not seen Doyle strike his son and did not think the incident occurred.

Despite the abuse report, the judge wrote that the father had been “extremely patient during these proceedings,” and that he had “appeared to have matured.” In contrast, she said, the “Mother has done nothing to encourage the children to have a positive relationship with Father after his incarceration and has actively sought to keep Father out of their lives.”

Regarding abuse of the children, the judge relied on a report by the guardian ad litem, Sandra McPherson. In her report, McPherson explicitly stated that she “works with the premise that domestic violence by [sic] Father against the children did not happen.”

As is common, the court has sealed all of the medical and psychological records relating to the children.

Robin Doyle has not seen her children since October 2015, when she saw them over a two-week period, when the local “hospital did not want the children to be in their father's custody,” said Doyle. At the time, her ex-husband had allegedly pushed their son, then 14, so hard that the boy's hand went through a window, requiring emergency surgery, the children told police in statements obtained through public records requests to the local police.

Several months later, the children ran away from home, escaping to the nearby woods with just snacks in their pockets. Picked up by police, the children were questioned and read their rights. In a statement to police, the daughter talked about the injuries to her brother, and wept that they were terrified of their father, and afraid to go home.

Robin Doyle filed a protective order on behalf of her children. Unbeknownst to her at the time, her ex-husband had filed a similar order against her. After two weeks, the children were back with their father.

“They won't take these children's pleas for help seriously,” said Robin Doyle, talking about the court. “They just ignore it.”

Joan Meier, who is also the legal director of the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project, and provided an amicus brief for the Doyle case, ties the court's actions to parental alienation.

“Once you're labeled an alienator, you're wearing a scarlet A and they will not even consider giving the children back to you even when it becomes obvious that the children are being harmed in the other parent's care, which is what you reported in the first place.”

In a recent interview, Doyle said that she prays daily for her children's safety. “I love my children more than life itself,” she told a reporter. “I miss them terribly.” She reflects on the comments of one attorney who said one day, she'll be able to let them see all of the years of court pleadings “and show them that I never gave up.” Doyle is trying to figure out her next move.

The outrage these family court decisions raise among children's advocates is palpable. “You have an entire branch of government that is completely unaccountable to the public it serves,” said CJE's Kathleen Russell. “You can't prosecute mediators, custody evaluators, judges, so these people operate above the law, and until there's accountability for these crimes against children, we're going to continue to see this happening.”

One solution is to get Congress to take action on reforming the nation's beleaguered family court system. A number of advocacy groups fighting child abuse and domestic violence, including Russell's, have made some inroads.

A resolution asking Congress to recognize that “child safety is the first priority in custody and visitation adjudications” has been introduced by Republican Congressman Ted Poe of Texas and Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York. The resolution asks Congress to recognize that more than 15 million children annually are exposed to domestic violence and/or child abuse; that child sexual abuse is “significantly under-documented and under-addressed in the legal system”; that research confirms that allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children “are often discounted” when raised in custody battles, and that “scientifically unsound theories like Parental Alienation Syndrome” are frequently used to discredit reports of abuse.

Meanwhile, back in Tennessee, Karen Gill and her son, Daniel, are hoping for justice. The boy is back with his mother, and their case against Darryl Sawyer is now pending in criminal court.

Gill, a tall woman with a broad smile and dark circles under her eyes, remembers the years when she only saw Daniel on visits. He was different, more withdrawn than the happy little boy she had known. She was afraid to bring up her worries again for fear of losing contact with him entirely. But in 2011 – three years after Gill lost primary custody of her son – Daniel, by then eight years old, broke down on a visit with her and told her his father was sexually abusing him.

Wary of returning to family court, Gill contacted the FBI. An investigation, including forensic interviews with Daniel, led to a grand jury indictment of Sawyer on four counts of child rape and one count of sexual assault.

According to the FBI's report, Daniel said that Sawyer raped him on Saturday afternoons in the master bedroom and also forced him to watch “sex shows” on a laptop computer in the basement as he was being abused.

The report also stated that Sawyer, a veterinarian, put Daniel in a “dog cage” and shocked him with an instrument “because he had talked to his mother.”

A hearing in criminal court has been postponed several times for a variety of scheduling conflicts. Each failed court date, said Gill, has intensified an already oppressive anxiety in her. As long as Sawyer is free and not held accountable, she said, she will always feel vulnerable. “I feel hunted, like we're prey.”

Asked to comment on behalf of his client, Sawyer's criminal defense attorney, Ed Yarbrough, said “We're not going to try this case in the newsroom. We're going to try it in the courtroom.”

As for thirteen-year-old Daniel, he has waited four years to testify against his father. He's hoping that if and when he gets his chance, this time he'll be believed.


New York

Jerry Sandusky's Abused Son, 130 Advocates Tell Whole Foods: “Change the Culture of Sexual Violence”

by Monika Donimirska

New York, New York, December 6, 2016 ( – 130 advocates for survivors of sexual assault addressed an open letter to board members of Whole Foods Market and Conscious Capitalism Inc., the nonprofit founded by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, urging executives to “change the culture of sexual violence”:

An Open Letter to Whole Foods and Conscious Capitalism: Sexual Violence Accountability

“I believe this situation affords John Mackey, Whole Foods, and Conscious Capitalism an opportunity to create positive societal change. I ask these business leaders to join with myself and other signers of this open letter to start a meaningful dialogue on prevention and education efforts to eradicate the culture of sexual violence.”

Matthew Sandusky, Executive Director, Peaceful Hearts Foundation

Advocates object to CEO Mackey's association with accused sexual abuser, former rabbi and spiritual leader Marc Gafni, as first reported by The New York Times last December. ?

The Times reported Gafni describing one of his accusers:

“She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”?

The Times also reported:

“A co-founder of Whole Foods, John Mackey, a proponent of conscious capitalism, calls Mr. Gafni ‘a bold visionary.' He is a chairman of the executive board of Mr. Gafni's center, and he hosts board meetings at his Texas ranch.”

The New York Daily News reported Gafni denying allegations, stating his two underage accusers were willing partners.

The Washington Post reported on coordinated protests at Whole Foods stores in New York City and Los Angeles in May.

Mackey pledged his loyalty to Gafni in June , releasing a public statement, as reported by the Forward.

Sara Kabakov was the then-14-year-old girl whom Gafni described as “going on 35.” She came forward publicly for the first time in January in an article in the Forward: “I Was 13 When Marc Gafni's Abuse Began.”

According to a Whole Foods Market statement, Mackey is no longer on the board of directors of Gafni's nonprofit. On his Whole Foods Market Blog, Mackey describes his involvement with Gafni as a “personal relationship.”

The letter's signers urge Mackey to disavow Gafni, stating:

“In pledging his loyalty to Gafni, and protecting their ‘personal relationship,' as noted on his Whole Foods Market Blog, Mackey has inadvertently hurt survivors of sexual assault and obstructed efforts to change the culture of sexual violence.”??

Signers of the open letter include university professors, student advocates, CEOs, founders, and executive directors of advocacy organizations, including Faculty Against Rape (FAR), the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (NAASCA), and SNAP (Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests), the organization featured in the movie Spotlight.

Lead signer Matthew Sandusky, founder and executive director of Peaceful Hearts Foundation, and abused son of convicted pedophile, former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky, said:

“I believe this situation affords John Mackey, Whole Foods, and Conscious Capitalism an opportunity to create positive societal change. I ask these business leaders to join with myself and other signers of this open letter to start a meaningful dialogue on prevention and education efforts to eradicate the culture of sexual violence.”

The open letter, authored by San Francisco Bay Area activist Nancy Levine, was published on the website Feminine Collective on Saturday.


How Jehovah's Witnesses leaders hide child abuse secrets at all costs

by Trey Bundy

The leadership of the Jehovah's Witnesses has boldly defied court orders to turn over the names and whereabouts of alleged child sexual abusers across the United States.

Since 2014, courts have slapped the Jehovah's Witnesses' parent corporation – the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York – with multimillion-dollar judgments and sanctions for violating orders to hand over secret documents.

The documents could serve as a road map to what are likely thousands of alleged child abusers living freely in communities across the country, who still could be abusing kids. The files include the names of known and suspected perpetrators, the locations of their congregations and descriptions of their alleged crimes.

“I've been practicing law for 37 years, and I've never seen anything like it,” said attorney Irwin Zalkin, who represents victims of sexual abuse by Jehovah's Witnesses. “They do everything to protect the reputation of the organization over the safety of children.”

Zalkin said he believes that state and federal law enforcement agencies have a moral obligation to investigate the Watchtower's child abuse policies and seize its files.

“It's a public safety issue,” he said. “At this point, this needs to be investigated.”

Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting made repeated attempts to interview officials from law enforcement agencies who could potentially obtain search warrants for the documents – the New York and California attorneys general and U.S. Department of Justice. None of the agencies agreed to talk.

For more than 25 years, Jehovah's Witnesses officials have instructed local leaders – known as elders – in all of the religion's 14,000 U.S. congregations to hide sexual abuse from law enforcement. Instead, abusers were to be handled internally.

That secrecy is a tenet of the religion. Jehovah's Witnesses are taught to avoid the outside world. They don't vote or serve in the military and usually don't go to college.

Predators purposefully exploit that isolation, said Kathleen Hallisey, a London attorney spearheading similar civil lawsuits in England.

“I think they choose those types of environments very carefully, where they know they can operate with impunity, and unfortunately, the policies of the Watchtower allow them to continue to do that again and again and again,” Hallisey said.

In 1997, the Watchtower issued a directive calling for elders to report alleged child sexual abusers to the religion's headquarters in Brooklyn, New York. The form was to be mailed in a special blue envelope.

That directive is the foundation of a database the Watchtower has collected and maintained for almost two decades, according to Watchtower documents.

“Written, demanded, commanded policy. Very different. The Catholic Church, it was unwritten. They called it ‘viva voce' – by voice only. They didn't have it written down anywhere, it was just understood,” Zalkin said. “Here, it's in writing. I mean there's no question.”

Zalkin is quite familiar with the details of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. In 2007, he negotiated a $200 million settlement for more than 100 victims of clergy abuse. After that case made news, he began receiving calls from victims of abuse in all sorts of institutions, including universities and the Boy Scouts of America.

About a dozen of those calls came from ex-Jehovah's Witnesses. Several of them named the same abuser: Gonzalo Campos. Those cases led Zalkin to the Watchtower's secret documents.

Campos was a Jehovah's Witness who sexually abused at least seven children in San Diego congregations in the '80s and '90s. During that time, Watchtower leaders knew Campos was abusing children but did not report him to law enforcement, according to testimony by congregation elders. Instead, they promoted him to the position of elder.

Campos would groom his victims for abuse during Bible study sessions, according to court records. One of those victims was Jose Lopez, who was 7 when Campos abused him.

“The Watchtower or the organization, I think they should have contacted the authorities and, you know, had this guy behind bars,” Lopez said.

Campos has admitted to abusing Jehovah's Witness children in a sworn deposition.

In 2012, Zalkin filed a lawsuit against the Watchtower on behalf of Lopez.

During the case, Zalkin formally requested all the letters the Watchtower had received in response to the 1997 directive. He wanted to prove a pattern, and the documents would show what the Watchtower knew about the scope of child abuse in the organization.

In 2014, San Diego Superior Court Judge Joan Lewis ordered the Watchtower to hand over the documents. The California Supreme Court upheld the order. The Watchtower refused.

Lewis kicked the Watchtower out of court and awarded Lopez $13.5 million in damages. She expressed her own frustration with the Watchtower's tactics in her decision.

“Watchtower's actions or omissions were ‘reprehensible.' I think ‘disgraceful' may be synonymous with ‘reprehensible,' but I think ‘disgraceful' doesn't say enough about it,” she wrote.

“The award of punitive damages against them will hopefully send a message to Watchtower and its managing agents, the governing body of the Jehovah's Witnesses, that their handling of sex abuse cases within their congregation was absolutely reckless.”

The Watchtower didn't get that message. In Zalkin's next case, he again requested the Watchtower's child abuse files. Again, the Watchtower refused. This time, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Raquel Marquez threw the defense out of court. The cost of withholding the documents: $4 million.

Finally, in Zalkin's next case, it looked like the Jehovah's Witnesses had acquiesced. They agreed to hand over the documents. But with a caveat: Zalkin could not share them with anyone.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss agreed, and the Watchtower began sending the documents to Zalkin.

But as they arrived, he noticed something was wrong. The Watchtower had only sent four years' worth of files, instead of the 19 years the court had ordered. And the Watchtower had redacted some of the most crucial information in the documents: the names of the perpetrators and the congregations.

In June, Strauss ordered the Watchtower to pay $4,000 a day until it complied with the court's order. The Watchtower is appealing.

“They've made a business decision not to produce these documents,” Zalkin said.

Jehovah's Witnesses leaders have refused to discuss the cases. Last year, they issued a statement saying they abhor child abuse and comply with all child abuse reporting laws.

The Watchtower appealed the $13.5 million ruling in the Lopez case. The appeals court ruled earlier this year that the judge should not have thrown the Watchtower out of court before trying less extreme measures, such as daily fines until it produces the documents.

But the court also upheld the order for the Watchtower to hand over all its child abuse files, unredacted except for the names of the victims. The case is back in the lower court.

Meanwhile, Zalkin currently has 18 lawsuits pending against the Watchtower.

He also has four years of redacted documents locked in a filing cabinet in his office. The judge's protective order prevents him from saying how many documents he received or describing what they reveal about child abuse in Jehovah's Witnesses congregations.

“It's very frustrating to have seen what I've seen and to know what is going on in this institution and this organization,” he said. “It's very frustrating when I've got a gag in my mouth. It's pretty hard. We're trying our best to expose this truth, and they're doing everything they can to interfere with that effort, to block that effort.”



Agency chief: Kansas has no backlog of child abuse reports

by John Hanna

TOPEKA – The top administrator of the state agency charged with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect in Kansas is rejecting allegations that it fell behind in reviewing those reports and suggested that a legislative leader's criticism could hinder the agency's efforts to protect vulnerable kids.

Incoming House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, called on Republican Gov. Sam Brownback to fire Secretary Phyllis Gilmore at the Department for Children and Families. Ward was responding to newspaper reports about a DCF manager's internal Sept. 22 email saying agency centers in Topeka and Wichita faced a “backlog” in handling reports of abuse because of “a severe staffing issue.”

Gilmore and other agency officials said the manager's email was poorly worded and resulted from a staff meeting that discussed extra work created when the department's own employees filed duplicate reports on a single incident. To support their argument, they released another manager's internal Sept. 22 email that acknowledged “staffing struggles” but did not say there was a backlog.

Department officials said that “priority” reports of abuse, such as those involving a child with visible bruises, are being handled within hours. Decisions about investigating other reports also are made within 18 hours, they said.

Gilmore said during an interview that she worries criticism of the department over “something that was false to start with” could lower employees' morale and create a distraction for them as they handle reports of child abuse. She said Ward “seems to be obsessed with our agency.”

“We have staff who are doing such good stuff – not just trying, but succeeding,” Gilmore said. “Then there's this constant hammering, ‘Oh, they're awful, they're awful, they're awful.' That is what I find concerning because it's counterproductive to what we're accomplishing here.”

Ward, an attorney who's handled child welfare cases, said he believes the department doesn't have the staff or money to adequately protect abused and neglected children. He said his obsession is “protecting these vulnerable children” and argues that the department under Gilmore is “failing miserably.”

“The governor needs to fire Phyllis Gilmore,” Ward said. “Every time we've scratched the surface, we've seen significant – not minor – problems.”

A legislative audit in July suggested the department struggled to provide adequate oversight of private contractors who place abused and neglected children in foster homes. A follow-up audit in September said the agency was failing to meet some federal requirements. The department said it has addressed seven of the auditors' 18 concerns and will address the rest within the next year.

Brownback continues to stand by Gilmore, and she said Kansas has a good record of protecting abused and neglected children compared to other states. Among other things, DCF cited statistics showing that the state's rate of child deaths from maltreatment per 100,000 children was well below the national average from 2001 through 2014.

The state has reported five deaths from maltreatment for children in foster care since 2001, though three have been within the past three years.

The latest questions arose after The Topeka Capital-Journal first reported the internal Sept. 22 email saying the reporting centers had a “backlog.” The email was written by Candace Moten, DCF's family preservation services program manager.

Another DCF official, Susan Gile, who is assessment, prevention and interstate placements program manager, sent an email the same day to let other employees “know how we can help” the centers during “one of their peaks time of the year.” It said the goal was to “minimize duplicate work.”

“Any relief they can get will be helpful,” the email said.

The department has nearly 2,700 positions, but 463 were vacant as of late November. Fourteen of the reporting centers' 81 staff positions were vacant, though Leslie Hale, the department's director of prevention and protection services, said open jobs are being filled and employees are volunteering to work overtime in the meantime, typically four to six hours a week.

As for priority abuse reports, Hale said, “They're dealt with as soon as they get in the queue.”

Rebecca Proctor, executive director of the Kansas Organization of State Employees, said the state workers' union has not heard of a backlog in reviewing reports of child abuse.

But, she added, “We have heard in general that DCF is having trouble staffing and that most of their positions are understaffed.”


New York

State isn't spending enough to prevent child abuse

by Melanie Blow

As unfortunate as it is that Matthew Kuzdzal is likely to receive a new trial in the 2013 killing of his girlfriend's 5-year-old son, Eain Brooks, no one is questioning the wisdom of having that trial. When a child is killed, we respond.

When a child is abused, we have a federally mandated system that responds to keep further instances of abuse from happening. But when children are born into an at-risk family, where abuse is predictable, 95 percent of the time they won't receive the help that could prevent it.

Most of us see child abuse as an unimaginable act, but research shows it as very predictable. A parent who is without stable income or housing, a parent who was abused as a child, and a parent dealing with addiction, mental illness or domestic violence is much more likely to abuse, neglect, maltreat or poorly parent his or her child. But with intensive help, these things can be overcome.

Maternal home visiting programs, the biggest in New York being Healthy Families New York, do just this. They prevent abuse. They prevent the need for Child Protective Services involvement. They help prevent poor academic performance and delinquency. And they save taxpayer money.

But in New York, only 5 percent of eligible families have access to these programs.

Decades ago, when CPS was being developed, we didn't realize what the implications of child abuse are. We thought it caused tears and nightmares and the occasional fatality.

The Adverse Childhood Experience study of the 1990s proved that child abuse is strongly linked to drug addiction, mental illness, violent crime (both as a victim and a perpetrator), poverty, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In other words, the most pernicious and costly problems in our society.

For more than a decade, New York's investment in the maternal home visiting programs that prevent child abuse has been flat-funded. Preventing children from suffering a lifetime of ill effects has been seen as an expensive luxury.

But we spend money on the consequences of this abuse: treating opiate addiction, anti-poverty initiatives, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. And we spend money to try to imprison the people who murder children.

Our reluctance to prevent abuse – which thereby sentences staggering numbers of children to trauma and the significant consequences of it that mean they will live shorter, sicker lives – isn't financial. Rather it is a lack of will.

All high-risk families that want help giving their children a better life, a life full of security and free of trauma, should have access to the maternal home visiting programs that prevent abuse. Our children deserve nothing less.

Melanie Blow is chief operating officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign in New York City.



Could easier adoptions stem child abuse in Japan?

by Philip Brasor

The national news has recently reported a number of stories about young children dying at the hands of their parents or guardians, either from neglect or direct physical violence. It's hard to say if these tragedies constitute a trend since detailed child abuse statistics weren't really available until 2005, when the welfare ministry starting compiling them in earnest.

On Sept. 17, the Asahi Shimbun ran an article reporting that 71 children died of abuse nationwide in 2014, including those who died in so-called family suicides. When murder-suicides are not counted, more than 60 percent of children killed by parents are less than 1 year old. In 2014, 15 died within 24 hours of being born.

Asahi's research found that 90 percent of children who die of abuse are younger than 3 years old, and in 28 of the 39 cases it studied in 2014, the perpetrator was the biological mother. In 24 cases the reason given for the crime was that the child was the result of an unexpected pregnancy. Eighteen of these women said they did not seek medical care and many gave birth alone. Thirteen were not living with the father of the child and five didn't know who the father was.

In his book “Kichiku no Ie” (“House of Brutality“), Kota Ishii explains that the Japan Pediatric Society assumes that official statistics about infant and toddler killings are the tip of the iceberg. The real number of child killings is probably three to five times higher, because doctors who evaluate the deaths of very young children in emergency situations are reluctant to accuse parents of abuse, even if they suspect as much. An expert on child development told the Asahi that it's incumbent on social workers and teachers to be aware of this situation, because children who are the result of unexpected pregnancies are more likely to suffer abuse.

The welfare ministry is now formulating a plan to “support women who become pregnant but do not want to give birth,” part of which means dispatching social workers to “obstetricians' offices and midwife facilities.” Some may think the welfare ministry's plan refers to giving abortions, but in Japan the procedure is illegal. The reason they are performed so often is due to a loophole that allows women to terminate pregnancies because of financial difficulties. The irony is that national insurance doesn't cover abortions, so women of poorer means, which describes the majority of parents who kill their children, can't afford them and carry their babies to term — often in secret.

This year, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government assembled a children's welfare advisory panel, which has recommended that these children be placed in foster care at younger ages so that they can bond more readily with their new families. Traditionally, social welfare staff ensured children stayed with their biological parents, but this attitude is changing due to greater awareness of the prevalence of parental abuse, especially in the case of unexpected pregnancies.

The central government is also trying to make adoptions easier. A different Asahi article, which ran on Dec. 3, reported that the ruling and opposition parties have agreed to pass a bill to “regulate” agents who mediate between expecting mothers who don't want to keep their babies and couples who wish to adopt.

Currently, only public adoption services are subject to government control. Nonprofit organizations that act as go-betweens in such situations only need to “inform” their local governments that they are carrying out such activities. But in September, Chiba Prefecture ordered one such agent to cease activities after they discovered he received ¥2.25 million from a couple to move their name to the top of the list of people waiting to adopt. The bill compels adoption agents to “obtain permission” from authorities so as to prevent “improper business practices,” meaning trafficking.

The type of adoptions covered are those of newborns whose names can be immediately placed in a couple's koseki (family register) upon birth, meaning the child becomes the “natural” offspring of the couple. Because of the stigma of non-blood relations inculcated by the koseki system, these types of “special adoptions,” which can be carried out until a child turns 6, vastly outnumber those involving older children, whose status in the koseki indicates they were adopted.

A recent installment of NHK's news program “Close-up Gendai” addressed the Chiba case and the recent pattern of child killings. In one scene, the head of an Osaka NPO is waiting with an adopting couple at a train station for the mother to arrive with her newborn. There are tears, but the handover is completed in nine minutes.

This NPO, which launched two years ago, is famous for quick turnovers. Public adoption services take time. Staff ask penetrating, personal questions of both expectant mothers and adopting couples, and there are many meetings before anything is decided. In big cities, the waiting list can be 100 to 200 names long. A couple at the bottom won't receive a baby for at least five years.

Most of the Osaka NPO's screening work is done online, and they ask the couples matched with mothers to help defray the latter's living and medical expenses until she gives birth. The Osaka government has complained about the NPO's claim it will provide up to ¥2 million to mothers, because it makes it sound like a business. Nevertheless, it is the monetary aspect that appeals to mothers looking to give up their babies, since they often can't afford prenatal care.

It's not a solution that makes people comfortable. A professor of child welfare in the NHK studio watched the video of the train station transaction, and while initially encouraged by the NPO's streamlined approach he found the informality of the exchange distressing. “Maybe it should be more complicated,” he commented.

A gynecologist sitting next to him added, “Every day I see women with unexpected pregnancies choosing either abortion or raising a child on welfare. If they know they can get ¥2 million, I'm afraid they'll be persuaded to give their baby up too easily.”


United Kingdom

Police fly to Falklands to help with historical ‘child abuse' investigation

SCOTLAND Yard detectives are heading to the Falkland Islands to help with an investigation into historical child sexual abuse.

by James Fielding

Officers will travel to the South Atlantic next month to join local police in trawling through child protection files.

They have been called in by the Falklands government because of the complex nature of the operation that will review how allegations have been dealt with.

Details have so far been kept “highly secret” but officials are looking to appoint investigation officers, disclosure officers and an investigation supervisor on six-month and one-year contracts.

Interviews have already been held in London to assemble a suitable team who will be given a full briefing only when they reach the Falklands in the new year.

The probe follows allegations made last year of a paedophile ring that was allowed to operate with impunity on the South Atlantic island of St Helena.

A source said: “The Falklands investigation will probably be the most comprehensive of its type carried out on the islands.

“The finer points of the operation are highly secret. “All that is known is that it is to do with non-recent cases of child sexual exploitation and will begin in a month's time.

“Such an operation is too big for the Royal Falkland Islands Police to deal with themselves so the government is seeking help from detectives from the mainland, especially those in the Met, who have experience of dealing with child abuse investigations.”

The Falkland Islands has a resident population of more than 3,000, with 25 full-time police officers based in one station at the capital Port Stanley.

However, more than 1,300 military personnel are stationed in key Army, Royal Navy and RAF bases on the islands.

Although largely crime-free, in 2012 the then Falklands police chief Barry Marsden told a visiting delegation from the Caribbean that paedophile allegations were a growing concern, adding: “A lot of the child abuse we are investigating are historic cases.”

The Falkland Islands government says its investigation has been prompted by child safeguarding reviews carried out in 2013 and 2015 with the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, a charity which works to protect children from sexual abuse.

A government spokesman said: “These reviews made recommendations to assist the Falkland Islands government to ensure child safeguarding policies and procedures are delivering the best results for the Falkland Islands community.

“One recommendation was to carry out a review of historic social care files and ensure that all relevant information was properly identified, recorded and accessible to those professionals who are asked to help individuals in the community.

“This is a significant task and the review is expected to take a number of months.”



German man suspected of posing as young girl to sexually abuse 122 children across 3 countries


A 32-year-old German man is accused of persuading around 122 children to send him their nude photos and videos. The suspect likely pretended to be a young girl in an online chat which is popular among children.

Prosecutors in German's Lower Saxony filed the case against the man from the small town of Bad Iburg who reportedly chatted online with children and coaxed them into sending him nude photos or videos of themselves performing sex acts, local media reported on Friday.

The children aged between seven and 13 years old were from Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. The suspect allegedly used a fake name and showed them a video of a young girl he pretended to be so that victims trusted him.

He would sometimes offer to send children a kind of game currency for the material. Most of the female victims later said they thought they were taking part in a sexual game with a peer.

Police discovered more than 600 child porn files during a search at his house in February.

“We believe there are at least 122 victims,” chief prosecutor Alexander Retemeyer told Der Spiegel, adding that the police still needs time to match up each video file or photo with a particular person.

“Many of those whom we have identified are traumatized and are undergoing psychiatric treatment. We won't be able to find all of the victims,” Retemeyer said.

It was also established that the man had sex with a 15-year-old girl after consuming a lot of alcohol. It is not clear whether the man will be prosecuted for this as well. The age of consent in Germany is 14, which means if the girl does not make a complaint, the man won't face any charges for the episode.

The case, which qualifies as “cyber-grooming”, will soon to be taken to court with prosecutors expecting the suspect to be sentenced to several years in prison.

The alarm was raised by a mother of one of the victims from Bavaria in November last year.

In 2005, only 956 similar cases were registered in Germany while in 2015 the number went up to as high as 1958 such cases, according to German's Federal Criminal Police Office.

In September, the UK's National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children warned that the internet is fast becoming a “playground” for pedophiles that allow them to groom, view pictures and take advantage of children.

In October, UK police also warned that children as young as 10 are being tricked into sharing explicit images “virtually every day.” Online predators initially target victims with compliments and then, if they don't react, resort to threats, Scotland Yard's officer said.



Children's poverty crisis may worsen

by Paul Mann

EUREKA – Stubborn funding losses threaten to bloat Humboldt County's ruinously high rates of childhood poverty and lifetime trauma.

That is the fear of state Senator Mike McGuire (D-2nd District, Healdsburg) who represents the North Coast.

Humboldt's multigenerational health scourge, decades in the making, is about to collide with the accession in January of the entitlements-averse Trump Administration and the Republican-controlled 115th Congress.

“I don't want to get political in this room,” McGuire told a packed Town Hall at the Aquatic Center in Eureka last week, “but the fact is that whether it is issues of health care, dental [care], education, transportation [or] environmental funding, it's all at risk. And what I mean by ‘all at risk' are existing social services programs “and amendments that could be coming down [from Washington] or changes in funding.”

McGuire said the state senate is so concerned about what is in store that his colleagues were scheduled to meet over the weekend to discuss strategy in response to the incoming Trump Administration and the GOP majority House and Senate.

Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), President-elect Donald Trump's Cabinet pick to head the Department of Health and Human Services, is an arch-foe of Obamacare (the 2010 Affordable Care Act), Planned Parenthood and federal health funding of abortions.

As the nation's highest-ranking health officer, assuming his nomination is approved by the Senate, Price will be a proponent of ending Medicaid and Medicare as entitlement programs.

Hence McGuire's concern about “what's going to be coming down on the federal level.” He said protecting public education from funding slashes would be the number one priority in Sacramento. That drew applause and hurrahs at the Town Hall because Humboldt health and education officials see a direct correlation between wounded childhoods, academic failure and lifelong health problems, both mental and physical.

Federal funding losses surround education as well as health care. Trump's Cabinet nominee to be Secretary of Education is Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, a conservative school choice activist (vouchers and charter schools) who, like Trump, considers the nation's public school system “a government-run monopoly.”

The local nexus with these interlocking health and education budget risks is that Humboldt County's child abuse and neglect rate is nearly 50 percent higher than the California average, according to Mary Ann Hansen, executive director of First 5 Humboldt, the family support and child abuse prevention agency.

Among the state's 58 counties, “we have the highest rate of children identified with special needs,” she warned.

Yet First 5 Humboldt is struggling with continuing funding losses as service demands rise, resulting in what a report of the Center for Youth Wellness of San Francisco calls “A Hidden Crisis” of acute childhood impairment.

Hansen cautioned the Town Hall audience that First 5 dollars that flow into the county from the Proposition 10 tobacco tax have plunged 40 percent since Fiscal 2004.

In an interview with the Union just before the Town Hall, McGuire asserted, “There is a direct link between childhood poverty, childhood trauma – physical, emotional and sexual abuse – and a child's livelihood, short and long-term. What we know is that if a child goes to school hungry in the morning there is a great likelihood they're going to be challenged to be successful in class. What we also know is that the county of Humboldt has among the highest rates of child trauma in the entire state.”


“That is why we're here to kick off the conversation,” he said. “The state of California is just starting that research. We have not dug into the specifics here in Humboldt County yet, but here's what we know: If there is trauma or drug use in the home, it affects the brain development of the child. That development is crucial between zero and five years old. Because [Humboldt has] some of the highest rates, we see significant challenges in many of our school districts.”

Jon Sapper, assistant superintendent of the Humboldt County Office of Education and one of the Town Hall panelists, said, “Many young children in Humboldt County are experiencing significant trauma in their lives – physical, psychological, emotional, sexual abuse and neglect. We are noticing significant behavioral issues, learning disabilities, inability to pay attention and aggressive types of behavior.”

Sapper called “a shock to us all” the comprehensive data compiled over a four-year period by the Center for Youth Wellness, which found that Humboldt County, along with Butte and Mendocino counties, has the state's highest rates of what in health and medical jargon are called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) – verbal, physical, emotional and sexual trauma.

Fully 75 percent of Humboldt and Mendocino residents have suffered one or more adverse experiences, according to the center's figures. Only Butte County is higher at 76.5 percent.

Victims of four or more traumas are 39 percent more likely to be jobless; 12.2 times more likely to attempt suicide; 10.3 times more likely to use injection drugs and 7.4 times more likely to be alcoholics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta lays out three general categories, abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. They encompass domestic violence and multiple forms of neglect, whether physical, emotional, medical/dental or educational.

Humboldt's ACE levels, 2.5 times the state average, are symptomatic of a county sundered by disastrously high rates of drug crime, drug and alcohol deaths, murder, suicide and mental disorders.

More than 30 percent of our residents have experienced significant abuse and neglect, compared to 12 percent statewide, Sapper said.

According to health experts, these social pathologies maim emotional health, causing anxiety, aggression, drug abuse and binge drinking, delinquency, impaired relationships, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD).

Physical harm includes concussion, broken bones, deformed brain architecture and poor development of immune and hormonal systems.

Poverty exacerbates the impact, Sapper stated. “Children from impoverished, low income families are extremely over-represented in incidences of reported childhood abuse and neglect. We are not saying poverty is causal; possibly the opposite, where the family abuse and neglect may lead to increased poverty, compounding the effects of our changed economy.”

Sapper, McGuire and other officials underscored that the crisis is multi-generational and it will hang on tenaciously far into the future, 10, 20, 25 years.

“We have more kids in poverty in 2016 than we did before” the Great Recession of 2008, the senator said. “In both rural and urban areas those numbers have actually gone up” despite the recovery since the crash and the addition of 16 million jobs nationwide.

The calamity is not confined to children. “Adults in Humboldt County have some of the highest numbers of adverse childhood experiences as well, four or more,” McGuire said in the interview with the Union . “That impacts the long-term success of a human and their children; that is the cycle.”


When Your Mom Is A Bully

by LeNae Goolsby

Leslie's mother, Dolores, was the daughter of a single teenage mother who was herself motherless for the majority of her life. Dolores was never physically abusive, and like the compassionate adult children of many toxic parents, Leslie recognized that her mom did the best she could given her circumstances and situation. At the same time, Leslie knew her mother did abuse her emotionally and mentally.

The trauma from that abuse left her incapable of loving her mother in the way many of her girlfriends do theirs.

Mental and emotional abuse are far less easy to recognize than physical abuse, but the resulting damage is just as debilitating, even if neither party realizes that abuse is, or was, occurring.

It wasn't until Leslie became a mother herself that she realized one of the reasons she was plagued with feelings of unworthiness — as well with contempt for her mother — was the emotional abuse she'd endured as a child.

In emotionally abusive relationships, “The abuser projects their words, attitudes or actions onto an unsuspecting victim usually because they themselves have not dealt with childhood wounds that are now causing them to harm others."

Leslie told me that as a child she was sensitive, creative, and quiet. She was frequently criticized for being “too sensitive” and told to “lighten up.” Because of her mother's strict dogmatic approach to religion, Leslie was constantly edited, judged. and criticized for speaking her thoughts.

Her mother's need for constant control and domination left Leslie feeling powerless and crushed.

As soon as she was old enough, Leslie moved out of her parent's home, but to this day she struggles with moving in the direction of her own happiness rather than striving to do the right thing by her mother, who has not changed.

Dolores still criticizes Leslie for speaking her thoughts, as well as for raising her children in a spiritually-minded but non-religious home, for dressing according to her own style preferences, and more. Her mother continues to be the devil on her shoulder reminding her that she is unworthy, and shaming her for not returning her mother's calls, or for not spending the holidays at her mother's house.

As if this wasn't enough guilt and pressure on one person, Leslie's close friends would ask similarly shaming questions, such as:

•  “How can you not love your mother?”

•  “You really don't talk to your mother?”

Or they'd make mindless comments, like:

•  "But she's your mother.”

•  “You only have one mom.”

•  "MY mom is my best friend …”

Leslie has gone through cycle after cycle of trying to forgive and have a “normal” relationship with her mother.

After all, that's what a good daughter is supposed to do (thank you, society!). And every single time Leslie engages, the same old passive-aggressive verbal cuts come shooting towards her like arrows in the night. Inevitably, to protect herself and to keep her focus on what makes her happy, Leslie opts to cut the cord again. And again. And yet again.

Leslie knows that when her mother is out of sight and out of mind she feels more peace, confidence, and joy. It's not until someone chastises her that she feels even an ounce of guilt for refusing to allow her abuser entry into her life. It's not until Dolores begins to cyber-stalk Leslie and harass her with calls on her cell and at work that she gives her mom — her bully and her abuser — a second thought.

And why should she?

Society wouldn't criticize a teenage girl who was date raped for refusing to go out again with the guy who raped her.

Society wouldn't criticize a little boy on the playground for refusing to go to a playdate (and possibly subject himself to yet another round of black eyes) with the playground bully.

Society wouldn't criticize a violently battered wife who escapes her husband for finally making it out of the physical and emotional hell of their home together.

Yet here we are saying, “Oh my God, Leslie. You shallow, ungrateful, selfish, foolish daughter. Your mother birthed you, clothed you, and fed you. The least you can do is to show her love and gratitude and suck it up.”

“We cannot give that which we do not receive.” — Harve Ecker

I say, "No."

Bless the mothers of the world who, like Dolores, gave birth when they could have had an abortion.

Bless them for marrying the first guy who came along to try to make a tough situation better for themselves and their children.

Bless them for endeavoring to persevere and for doing the best they could with the resources available to them.

Bless them — and, yes, forgive them.

But by no means does any of that mean that their children, like Leslie, owe their self-worth, their confidence, or their beautiful, shining soul to anyone less than a person who showers them with unconditional love, support, respect, and honor — regardless of whether that person is their mother, father, brother, sister, Oprah or even the Pope.

*All names changed to protect privacy.



Hamilton County Juvenile Court cases of abuse and neglect cases up by 34%, trend continues

by Chris Graves

Magistrate Brenda Anthony is on after-hours phone duty this month in Hamilton County Juvenile Court. And she's holding her breath.

She'll be the one taking the late-night emergency calls when county social workers take abused or neglected kids away from their parents. She'll be the one to decide, during the taped, telephonic court hearing, if workers have cause to remove kids to keep them safe.

A couple weeks into the month and there's been a few calls, she said. But she's pretty sure that's about to change.

"I asked the magistrate who had the phone last month what to expect,'' she said on a break from hearing child protection cases. "He said one day he took eight calls. Eight calls in one night. "

Anthony shook her head.

There's a lot of head shaking and head scratching lately among those who handle these cases across the county's child protection system.

Heroin is not sole reason for increase

The number of neglected and abused children coming into the Hamilton County juvenile court system has skyrocketed in the last two years. In 2015, the number of new complaints filed by county social workers to remove children from their homes spiked by 34 percent and that number is on par this year. The heroin epidemic plaguing the region is a piece of the spike, but not the sole reason say those who work in the system.

"What do we think is driving this? It's not clear,'' said Tracy Cook, executive director of ProKids. "Everyone in the public wants it to be heroin. Is some of it heroin? Absolutely. But it's not all. It's not even half. There's no one reason."

Cook's agency advocates for kids in the child protection system. She and a group of other child protection leaders, court officials, retired businessmen and researchers have been quietly meeting over the last year to untangle the issue.

It hasn't been easy.

"I don't know anyone who isn't tearing their hair out about this," she said.

More cases, funding stagnant

Understanding what is fueling the increase is paramount to try and find ways to decrease it. Officials say there has been no change in policy or procedure that would make the numbers spike. And most agree the increases are tied to the complex issues of substance abuse, mental illness, the city's high poverty rate and domestic violence, but those issues are far from new in the world of child abuse and neglect.

On paper, the trend line since 2012 has inched up by a few dozen children each year. But then came 2015, when 1,367 new children entered the court system – a one-year increase of 385 kids – bringing to 3,043 the total number of all children in its child protection system, according to a juvenile court report.

With roughly a month left in 2016, that number was at 1,259 new kids and it will surely increase by the end of the month, said Carla Guenthner, chief juvenile court magistrate.

Since 2008, those annual numbers generally hovered around the mid-900s.

That troubles Cook and others who work in the system because while the number of children are continuing to increase, the number of court workers, social workers and service providers generally are not. Nor is county funding to help offset the cost of bulging caseloads and expensive services each child and parent requires by the time they enter the court system.

Hamilton County voters overwhelmingly approved the five-year Children Services Levy renewal in November. But that only sustained, and did not increase, the $40 million in taxpayer funding the agency will receive.

There has not been an increase in that funding since 1996, when the levy generated $43 million a year, said Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services.

Weir pulled together the work group of which Cook is a part. The group is delving into ways to try to speed up the process that kids are returned to biological parents, when that is suitable. And Cook said the juvenile court is expected to make some rule changes next month to help.

"Every number we have is going up,'' Weir said. "Our caseloads are high, our cases are complex.

"We are struggling,'' she said. "Everyone is struggling."

Drawing a line in the sand

Just ask Kim Helfrich.

As the director of the guardian ad litem program in the Hamilton County Public Defender's office, she worries daily about the needs of the children her 29 guardians are entrusted to legally look out for. She worries, too, about the guardians and when they will suffer burnout and hand in their resignation.

"I'm terrified. I'm waiting for the exodus to start,'' Helfrich said. "If I get two resignations tomorrow, well that means the needs of the kids are not being met.

"There is no one in the system who wants bad things to happen to kids,'' she said.

For the first time in its history, her office is now leaning on a panel of private lawyers to take on the new cases. Previously, those lawyers were pulled in to help in special circumstances when a public defender guardian had a conflict in a case.

The ideal caseload for a guardian ad litem is between 30 to 35 cases, which could equal 70 to 100 kids or more. This year "I've drawn a line in the sand and we will not go above 40 ... We are sticking to that as best as we can."

Burning out pretty quickly

Tiffany Evans, a guardian ad litem who works at Keating, Meuthing and Klekamp, currently has about 55 open cases, but only a fraction of them deal directly with issues of abuse or neglect. However, of those, she said about 35 percent involve physical abuse, 40 percent involve heroin and 15 percent were due to homelessness. Others include educational neglect, sex abuse and domestic violence.

The cases, which can involve multiple children, are emotional, she said.

"You can burn out pretty quickly and if you don't burn out, you can check out pretty quickly,'' said Evans, who said she is not burned out.

Helfrich expects to get one more lawyer in her office next year. But as soon as that person walks in the door, they will have a full caseload. And the cost to paying the private lawyers – who are each paid $50 an hour – will snowball as well.

Costs not just monetary

But the cost to taxpayers comes in a myriad of more insidious ways, Helfrich said.

"I am hugely concerned about these numbers for thousands of reasons,'' said Helfrich, a guardian ad litem herself for 19 years. "These kids and families and damage done over time concerns me greatly ... This is our future.

"We have three generations deep coming into the system and it's such a chronic problem. We are not good at raising kids. The system is not designed to do this,'' she continued. "The kids who linger become the next generation in the system. There is a financial impact on the community, how these kids grow up. The impact is felt by the entire community."

Total hard costs are nearly impossible to calculate. But by one measure, the cost of placing one child in foster care in Hamilton County with no behavioral, health or other issues is about $60 a day or $21,900 a year. However, that number can swell upwards to $577 a day or $210,605 annually for a child who receives a multitude of services, said Brian Gregg, Jobs and Family Services spokesman.

Cook, of ProKids, puts it more bluntly:

"We have to address this or we are leaving a very, very dangerous legacy to the generations that come after us."

Ways you can help

Local experts say you can help.

•  About 40 percent of Hamilton County children are housed in foster families outside of the county. To become a foster parent:

•  ProKids trains volunteers to advocate on behalf of the best interest of a child in the child protection system. This year they are expected to help 750 kids, up from 648 in 2015. To volunteer: or by calling 513-281-2000.


United Kingdom

Demand for child abuse recovery therapy increases tenfold in wake of football scandal

The recovery charity claim that more needs to be done to help victims recover childhood abuse

by Thomas Deacon

A child abuse survivors' group is to be launched in Cardiff next year by a leading charity – who say demand has increased tenfold in recent weeks.

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) say the number of adult survivors registering for their support groups has risen from tens per week to hundreds in the wake of the football abuse scandal revelations.

NAPAC are launching a survivor support group in Cardiff in January – although they claim more needs to be done to help victims recover.

NAPAC CEO, Gabrielle Shaw, said: “We've seen a tenfold increase in demand for our survivor support groups since footballer Andy Woodward went public about the abuse he suffered.

'Many people feel desperate'

“There is very little specialist support available for adult survivors across the UK.

“Many people feel desperate, yet there is minimal provision within the NHS and other sectors.

“It is time we stopped treating the symptoms of childhood trauma – such as depression, anxiety, self-harm and addictions – as stand-alone conditions and started offering people trauma-informed and focused support which addresses the childhood abuse that so often is at the root of these conditions.”

Funded by the Home Office, the support group will run for 12 weeks and will aim to address all types of childhood abuse – emotional, physical, sexual and neglect – and how they impact on adult life.

Ms Shaw said: “The problem is huge and it cannot solely be addressed by the voluntary sector – this is a public health issue and there are wider conversations we need to have about people's health needs being unmet.

'Unacceptable' for victims to have to fund own treatment

“It is unacceptable that so many people who suffered childhood trauma have to fund their own treatment privately or go without.”

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “The third sector and charities like New Pathways, which has facilities across Wales, contribute significantly to supporting and counselling survivors of historic sexual abuse.

“We have invested significant new funding in expanding mental health services, including an additional £3m to expand access to psychological therapies for adults over the past two years.

“Psychological and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, are widely used to treat people who have experienced traumatic events within mental health services.

“For those who wish to access self help there are quality assured books available in every public library in Wales on post-traumatic stress disorder/trauma and sexual abuse under the Book Prescription Wales scheme.”

Police chiefs announced on Friday that 83 potential suspects have been identified and 98 football clubs have been impacted in the wake of historical allegations of child abuse in football.



Childhood Trauma Effects Often Persist Into 50s and Beyond

by Emily Gurnon

ST. PAUL, Minn.--The responses to an open-ended online survey question were heart-wrenching.

“Those five years ruined everything. My self-identity is sad, melancholic, shy, retiring and angry… never content or at peace.”

“It has hampered me all my working life.”

“Problems with relationships with the opposite sex my whole life made me think something was wrong with me.”

“I will never know the person I could have become .. ”

Those comments were made by adult men who had experienced sexual abuse at the hands of clergy, particularly priests, when they were children. Collected as part of a 2010 survey, they illustrate the insidious harm that can follow individuals throughout their lives when they are badly hurt — physically or emotionally — as children.

Lasting Scars of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse is just one type of early trauma that can affect one's life for decades — even into middle age and beyond. Research has shown that childhood trauma, ranging from parents' divorce to alcoholism in the home, increases the odds of heart disease, stroke, depression, suicide, diabetes, lung diseases, alcoholism and liver disease later in life. It also increases risky health behaviors like smoking and having a large number of sexual partners. And it contributes to “low life potential,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

One more thing: Those traumatized as children die earlier.

From 1995 to 1997, the California-based health maintenance organization Kaiser Permanente conducted a survey of more than 17,000 of its patients.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE study asked respondents to indicate whether they had suffered any of the following during their childhood:

Emotional abuse

• Physical abuse

• Sexual abuse

• Mother treated violently

• Household substance abuse

• Mental illness in household

• Parental separation or divorce

• Household member in prison

A portion of the respondents were also asked about emotional and physical neglect. The most common experience reported was physical abuse (28 percent), followed by household substance abuse (nearly 27 percent).

The more Adverse Childhood Experiences a person reported, the higher the risk of experiencing poor psychological and physical health later.

A 2010 update found similar results.

Paralyzed with Shame

Jim McDonough, 61, was a happy, inquisitive kid who earned excellent grades and loved the outdoors. A lifelong resident of St. Paul, Minn., he joined the Boy Scouts when he was 12, attracted by the prospect of frequent camping adventures.

But those camping trips soon became terrifying. The scoutmaster, on the pretense of separating a boisterous group, brought McDonough into his tent with him. He then sexually abused him. McDonough “froze,” he said. It happened repeatedly for four years. (See the video.)

Besides a brief mention to his wife years later, McDonough told no one.

“There's a lot of shame with that,” McDonough said in an interview. “[I thought] no one will understand this. The shame always comes back to, ‘Was it my fault?'”

A Secret Until Age 60

Not long after the abuse started, McDonough began sneaking alcohol from his father's liquor cabinet. He used drugs and booze for years to “kill the pain.” He married his high school sweetheart, but she could not put up with his drinking and the unpredictable bouts of rage.

After she left and they divorced, McDonough cleaned up his act. He went through chemical abuse treatment and the couple remarried. But McDonough, who serves as an elected member of the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, knew he still had not dealt with the deep wound of the sexual abuse.

“It takes a lot to come to terms with this,” he said. “I worked really hard on myself to be a better person, to really understand who I was.”

On his 60th birthday, McDonough held a press conference: He had filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Boy Scouts of America and the local Boy Scouts council. (A Minnesota law temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases.) Coming forward was “putting the shame where it belonged,” he said.

Indeed, the ACE data found that childhood sexual abuse was reported by just 16 percent of males and 25 percent of females. Underreporting of such abuse is common.

Trauma Hard to Divulge

Adults ages 50 and older are far less likely than younger people to reveal a childhood trauma of any kind, said Michael Barnes, clinical program manager at CeDAR, the Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation, at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo.

“I think some of that is generational and the view of counseling,” he said, “and there's a significant difference between men and women.” Women are more likely to tell others. Men are socialized to be stoic and not complain, Barnes said. He estimated that 30-to-90 percent of the patients seen at his addiction program on any given day had some sort of childhood trauma.

Scott Easton of the Boston College School of Social Work has studied how childhood sexual abuse affects men in later life. In one study, which received a federal National Institute on Aging grant, the men who were sexually abused as kids waited an average of 21 years before they told a single person about the abuse. It took them 28 years to give a fuller account to someone else.

“The longer they waited, the worse their mental health,” Easton said.

Emotional Effects in Later Life

Children don't know how to process a traumatic event or environment, experts say. Those who suffer childhood abuse or trauma often grow to distrust others, having been betrayed by the very adults who were supposed to teach, nurture and protect them, according to the Australian abuse support group Blue Knot Foundation.

A study of more than 21,000 child abuse survivors age 60 or older in Australia found they reported a greater rate of failed marriages and relationships. Abuse survivors were more likely to rate themselves “not happy at all” or “not very happy.” They attempted suicide at a rate four to five times higher than those who had not been abused.

Others with a history of child trauma may later experience problems such as these, according to experts:


• Sadness and depression

• Hypervigilance

• Drug or alcohol abuse

• Addiction to gambling or shopping

• Feelings of alienation

• Feelings of hopelessness

• Low self-esteem

• Adult relationships with abusers

Another common trait among trauma survivors is the need for control, Barnes said.

“Control can look one of two different ways: ‘I'm going to control everyone and everything around me, so I can feel safe,' or ‘I'm going to withdraw from everything and control by not participating,'” Barnes said. “So for a lot of older folks, they are underemployed [or] they may work in very independent kinds of work.”

Healing Is Possible

It's important to remember that not even adults are good at dealing with the powerlessness of traumatic events, much less children, Barnes said.

But there are a number of therapies and tools that can help trauma survivors. Barnes has seen great strides in mindful meditation as a later-life treatment for early trauma. Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy may also help, he said.

Coping strategies also include taking good care of your health, seeking joyful activities and learning a new physical skill, Blue Knot Foundation says. The group also recommends learning distress tolerance (or how to soothe oneself) and arousal-reduction tools (taming anxiety and anger).

This self-help guide from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers additional suggestions for dealing with trauma.


New York


Victims need more time to come forward

If state legislators don't want to extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes, then let them volunteer to put their child or grandchild in a room with Louis VanWie.

VanWie will be getting out of prison at the end of the month after serving 20 years for sexually abusing three children.

He actually admitted to abusing more than 300 children from the 1960s until his conviction in 1996. But because of short statutes of limitations on sex crimes in New York, only three of his victims were allowed to press charges.

Had the law allowed prosecutors to charge him with sodomizing and sexually abusing more children, he'd likely have not been able to abuse as many children as he did. And he'd likely be in prison the rest of his miserable life, unable to take advantage of the state's early-release laws and unable to prey on more children.

Instead, just four days after Christmas, he'll be out walking around our streets again. Maybe he'll be working in a fast-food restaurant or as a volunteer somewhere. More likely, the 74-year-old — who was denied parole fi ve times — will just be lying around all day, waiting for the next wave of urges to overcome him.

And then he'll strike again.

So here's a question for those state lawmakers who won't support legislation giving child victims of sex crimes more time to come forward: Can you live with that?

New York has some of the most lenient statutes of limitations in the country for child sex crimes. The Legislature has several bills to consider that would alleviate the situation.

One, the Omnibus Child Victims Act, (A9877/ S7296), would eliminate the state's statute of limitations for child sexual abuse in criminal and civil court. It also would give adult victims one year to sue their abusers and the institutions that facilitated their abuse. In New York, victims lose their right to take criminal or civil action when they reach age 23.

But if you're abused as an adolescent, and it takes you all of those 21 years to muster the courage come forward, you'll have lost not only your right to recover civil damages, but more importantly you'll have lost the ability to prevent people like Louis VanWie from committing more crimes and from being punished for their crimes.

According to the website,, survivors of child sexual abuse need an average of 21 years before they can come forward. That's in large part because they repress the memories, or they act out of fear of their abuser or out of fear of coming forward.

One of VanWie's victims, interviewed recently by The Record in Troy, said VanWie threatened to kill the then-8-year-old's parents if he spoke about the abuse. That kind of thing happens to child victims all the time.

That's why this bill — or others like it that provide victims with more time to come forward and law enforcement with more time to bring charges — must be passed during this legislative session.

Legislators need to be less concerned this upcoming session about giving themselves a pay raise and more concerned about ensuring that people like Louis VanWie stop getting away with destroying our children's lives.



Child Abuse Prevention Council: Helping children thrive

by Record Net

Agency name: Child Abuse Prevention Council

Contact: (209) 644-5318


History: On December 7, 1973, Latanya Smith was born to her unwed 15-year-old mother, Bernice Wiley. In December of 1976, Latanya was taken to the hospital by her grandmother with bruises and other injuries. After an investigation, Latanya was placed back into the custody of her grandmother while Bernice, her mother, went through counseling. Yet there was no counseling for Charles Johnson, the mother's boyfriend and the man who had beaten the 3-year-old girl.

On January 17, 1977, Bernice completed her counseling, and Latanya was placed back into her custody. Although no one can ever know the pain 3-year-old Latanya may have endured, we do know that on February 14, 1977, Latanya died from physical abuse.

Three members of the jury and other concerned community members were so moved by Latanya's case and by the fact that she could have been saved had she not "slipped through the system" that the Child Abuse Prevention Council was formed. The Child Abuse Prevention Council is now a place where families can turn in a time of crisis; a place where parents can learn to be better parents, children can heal from the wounds of abuse and neglect, and where families can improve their quality of lives.

Mission: The Child Abuse Prevention Council protects children and strengthens families through awareness and outcome-driven programs delivered with compassion. Protecting children, including our foster youths, has been a primary goal of our Court Appointed Special Advocates program.

Fewer than 50 percent of foster children graduate from high school and one in five will be homeless after age 18. The CASA volunteers advocate for kids in foster care. The council is actively working to change these statistics for San Joaquin County foster kids. Our CASA volunteers ensure that foster children are not forgotten, but rather are afforded every opportunity to have a happy and healthy life.

Sometimes that work includes attending meetings with teachers, doctors, attorneys or social workers. Sometimes it involves more.

One volunteer gives a story: After five months of building a relationship with my CASA kid, I had to take a trip to New York City and I missed our weekly get together. The following week when I returned, the child, we'll call him Joey, kept clinging to me throughout the whole afternoon. It was so much that after an hour I began to think maybe something was wrong and I needed to ask some questions. I looked down into his sparkling, energetic eyes and said ... "Hey Joey, what's up? I am noticing that you are more affectionate today than normal ... is something going on that you want to talk about?" He looked up at me with his arms wrapped around my waist and enthusiastically answered "Oh, no, Miss Beth, nothing is wrong! It's just that you are the only one that ever hugs me." As he ran off I had to choke back my tears and breathe in my disbelief. How can it be that a 7-year-old boy in foster care only gets hugged once a week? For that matter, how can it be that any child would have to wait once a week to receive affection? At that moment I realized that there were hundreds and hundreds of children in foster care, right here in our own community starving for love, affection and affirmation from a caring adult. And from that moment on Joey has received countless hugs during our times together, but, even better, he was recently placed in a new foster home with a loving, caring, nurturing - and hugging - foster mom.

You may not be able to foster but you can change the life of a young child. Your gift will help the CAPC keep its commitment giving every child the opportunity to thrive in a safe and loving environment, protecting children and strengthening families.



Erin's Law would help families recognize, stop child sexual abuse

by Iris Perez

(KMSP) - Do you or the children in your family know how to recognize sexual abuse? The tough question is one April Kane, a concerned south Minneapolis citizen, believes few can answer.

Kane wants to make sure everyone is equipped with the knowledge to confidently answer the tough questions around child sexual abuse.

“It's been an uphill battle,” Kane said of working to get Erin's Law heard in Minnesota.

Erin's Law, which has already passed in 28 states, would require all public schools to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program that would teach students pre-K through 12th grade how to recognize the silent epidemic – and if victimized – to tell a trusted adult.

“Pedophiles want to live in a state where the children aren't protected,” Kane said.

After three years of calling local lawmakers to hear more about the law, she sensed plenty of kickback.

“It's a topic that makes people feel awkward, and they don't want to talk about it,” Kane said.

Erin's Law would mandate age-appropriate curriculum.

“So you don't teach someone the same thing at 16 that you would at six," Kane said.

Erin's Law would also teach school staff and families warning signs of sexual abuse and connect them with necessary resources to support sexually abused children.

“A career pedophile in their lifetime can abuse 50 to 100 to 200 children over and over again when they don't speak out. And the reason they don't speak out is nine out of ten times it's a trusted adult,” Kane said of the silent epidemic.

A key player in making sure Erin's Law is heard in Minnesota is Rep. Jennifer Loon – the chair of education finance in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

“I'm happy to meet with advocates,” Loon said. She said a formal meeting to learn more about Erin's Law has yet to be scheduled, adding, “that happens with lots of pieces of legislation.”

Kane believes the legislation will stop people like Danny Heinrich, who confessed to sexually assaulting and killing Jacob Wetterling, in their tracks. Kane hopes the law will help victims of sexual abuse, who never address the trauma and instead continue the cycle of abuse by hurting others.

“If we could've saved him, could we have saved Jacob? And the answer is 'quite possibly',” Kane said.

Erin's Law is expected to pass in Wisconsin early next year.

Minnesota is one of only a few states that have yet to even have a hearing for Erin's Law.

The state's legislative session begins on Jan. 3.


from Dept of Justice


Southland Sex Offender Who Traveled to Cambodia to Sexually Abuse Young Boys Sentenced to 22 Years in Federal Prison

LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles-area man who traveled to Cambodia to engage in sexual activity with at least five boys has been sentenced to 264 months in federal prison after the court heard from four of the victims.

Erik Leonardus Peeters, 48, of Norwalk, was sentenced yesterday afternoon by United States District Judge Christina A. Snyder. In addition to the prison term of nearly 22 years, Judge Snyder ordered Peeters to pay $15,000 in restitution to his victims. Upon completion of his prison term, Peeters will also be subject to supervised release for the rest of his life.

Peeters pleaded guilty in March 2012 to two counts of engaging in illicit sexual contact with a minor in a foreign place. According to court documents filed in the case, Peeters traveled to Cambodia in April 2008 and within two months began seeking out youths for sex, targeting victims who were destitute and often disabled.

During yesterday’s sentencing hearing, four of Peeters’ victims, who are now young adults, described their feelings of fear and shame stemming from their encounters with Peeters, as well as the shame and social stigma their families also suffered. “I’m fearful, and I’m still ashamed,” one man said.

“The seriousness of this offense and the devastating impact the sexual assaults had on the victims cannot be overstated,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This defendant is a sexual predator who repeatedly victimized young boys, several of whom have physical disabilities, and all of whom come from deeply impoverished communities in the developing world. This lengthy sentence sends a message to all pedophiles in the United States that they cannot escape prosecution by traveling to other countries to engage in illegal and horrific sexual acts against children.”

Peeters was arrested by the Cambodian National Police (CNP) in February 2009 for violating Cambodian laws that prohibit sexual contact with children. Peeters was subsequently charged by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles with engaging in illicit sexual conduct with minors in a foreign country. Peeters was returned to Los Angeles from Cambodia in August 2009.

Years before he traveled to Cambodia, Peeters was convicted in Los Angeles County of lewd and lascivious conduct with boys under the age of 14.

The charges against Peeters resulted from an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Los Angeles and HSI Attaché Offices in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and Ho Chi Minh. The United States Embassy in Phnom Penh provided substantial assistance.

“This sentencing is a testament to the tenacity and tireless dedication of every law enforcement agency involved in this case, and further strengthens HSI’s resolve to investigate pedophiles who harm innocent children,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge of HSI Los Angeles. “Americans tempted to commit sex crimes overseas should understand that tough U.S. laws will ensure they pay a high price for their criminal actions. We owe it to the young victims, many of whom will bear the emotional scars for the rest of their lives.”

The case against Peeters was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Lana Morton Owens of the Violent and Organized Crime Section and Special Litigation Counsel Patricia Donahue.

Peeters is the third and final defendant sentenced as part of Operation Twisted Traveler, a joint initiative by HSI and the Department of Justice to identify and prosecute American men who traveled to Cambodia and engaged in sexual conduct with children there. The defendants were charged under the PROTECT Act, which took effect in 2003 and substantially strengthened the federal laws related to predatory crimes involving children outside the U.S. by adding new crimes and increasing prison sentences.

The other two defendants prosecuted as part of Operation Twisted Traveler, Ronald Gerard Boyajian and Jack Louis Sporich, who received prison sentences of 70 years and 10 years, respectively.

FROM: Thom Mrozek, Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California



Child abuse prevention efforts continue in Centre County

by Anne K. Ard

It is hard to believe that it has been five years. Five years since one of the worst scandals ever to hit our community shattered relationships, destroyed trust, left us questioning ourselves. Five years since Jerry Sandusky was arrested and charged with child sexual abuse. A lot can change in five years.

While certainly there are those in our community who are tired of hearing about child sexual abuse, wish the issue would just go away or just want to pretend it didn't happen, there are others who cannot and will not let it rest. They are the victims of Sandusky and others (and yes, there are many others) for whom rest doesn't come easily. They are the adults still struggling with nightmares, guilt and shame, physical and psychological health problems. They still struggle to understand why it happened to them, why no one noticed, why no one stepped up to protect them. Victims are also, however, moving toward becoming survivors; finding the help that they need, learning new coping skills, becoming advocates for others.

There are others in our community who will not let the issue of child sexual abuse rest. They are advocates and service providers who educate the community about the reality of abuse; counselors who respond and work with children and adult victims; community members who have taken it upon themselves to learn about child sexual abuse and who speak up in their schools, organizations and neighborhoods when they see a problem. They are part of the 6,600 Centre Countians who have completed the Stewards of Children child abuse prevention program, who gave two hours of their time to learn how to keep children safer.

In the past five years, much has changed. There is a much greater awareness of the danger child sexual abuse poses. Many more people understand the dynamics, know the signs, and will called to report it. Many more professionals have completed training to be Mandated Reporters of child abuse and they know how and when to make a report to Childline (800-932-0313 or Centre County now has a Children's Advocacy Center to provide state of the art care for those children who have experienced child abuse. And the Centre County Women's Resource Center has support groups and services for adult female survivors and has begun a partnership with the Peaceful Hearts Foundation and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to more effectively address the needs of adult male survivors of sexual abuse. A lot can change in five years — but it is not enough.

The number of people who have taken the Stewards of Children program is less than 10 percent of the Centre County population. Too many people still don't know how to report suspected child abuse or are afraid of what might happen if they do. And too many kids still experience the devastating abuse that can leave a lifetime of scars. If you would like to be part of the solution, you can find a Stewards of Children training at the YMCA of Centre Co. website, or go to the CCWRC website to find out how to become a counselor/advocate volunteer. The work is not done, the fight is not over, and it won't be until not one more child suffers at the hands of an abuser.


Report Sheds Light on Plight of Parents in Custody Cases Involving Child Abuse

A report from the investigative news organization 100Reporters throws light on complaints of a parent sexually or physically abusing a child being routinely rejected at family courts around the country.

by Auditi Guha

Content note: This article contains a graphic description of child sexual assault.

Karen Gill is undergoing a long, arduous battle to protect her son after a Tennessee court six years ago affirmed a family court ruling to give Darryl Sawyer custody of their 6-and-a-half-year-old son, despite evidence presented by his ex-wife that he had allegedly sexually abused little Daniel.

Three years earlier, a pediatrician had confirmed Gill's worst fears that the reddish blue bruises on the child's buttocks after a visit with his father occurred from an adult “holding his buttocks forcibly open.”

But William Bernet, a psychiatrist and court-appointed custody evaluator, convinced the judge to grant primary custody to Sawyer, “stating that Sawyer was not a pedophile or child molester and should be awarded custody of Daniel.” This despite the medical report and a Department of Children's Services report indicating sexual abuse of their son.

A new report from the investigative news organization 100Reporters throws light on complaints of a parent sexually or physically abusing a child being routinely rejected at family courts around the country.

“Instead, perpetrators of abuse are often entrusted with unsupervised visits or joint or sole custody of the children they abuse, putting children in danger of serious, often life-threatening harm,” writes Laurie Udesky, in the investigative report, titled “Custody in Crisis: How Family Courts Nationwide Put Children in Danger.” (The names of the family members were changed to protect the children's privacy.)

Udesky is an associate of the G.W. Williams Center for Independent Journalism, which worked with her to produce and report the story for 100Reporters.

The two-year investigation, which includes interviews with more than 30 parents and survivors in nine states, uncovered stories of children like Daniel who suffered years of abuse in fear and silence while the parents who sought to protect them were financially and psychologically drained.

“These parents have become increasingly stigmatized by a family court system that not only discounts evidence of abuse but accepts dubious theories used to undermine the protective parents' credibility,” the report states.

News reports indicated that 58 children between 2008 to 2016 were killed by custodial parents after family courts ignored abuse allegations by the protective parent, according to an analysis conducted by the California-based Center for Judicial Excellence, a watchdog group that focuses on family courts. “In all but six cases, protective parents were mothers who had warned family courts that their children were in danger from abusive fathers who later killed them,” the report notes.

The same amount of evidence in criminal court would result in convictions beyond a reasonable doubt, says attorney Richard Ducote, who represents concerned parents like Gill, in the report.

However, family courts have a different focus, according to Ducote. A former special assistant district attorney in Louisiana, Ducote says in the report that the courts usually try to keep families together although they are supposed to consider the best interest of the child first. “They're concerned with the reduction of conflict and getting along, which is good unless there is someone you need to protect the child from,” he explains.

Sealed court records, intended to protect the privacy of children, can actually put children in greater danger by blocking outside oversight, the report notes.

The cost of litigation is also a huge deterrent for protective parents. Some 27 percent of 399 parents who ultimately declared bankruptcy, spent about $100,000, according to the report.

With no state-by-state government data available, advocates estimate that at least 58,000 children a year end up in unsupervised visits with or in the custody of an abusive parent.

“A 2013 analysis in the Journal of Family Psychology cited studies that show that anywhere between 10 and 39 percent of abusers are awarded primary or shared custody of their children,” the report states.

“It's a terrible situation,” Lynn Rosenthal says to Udesky. From 2009 to 2015, Rosenthal served as an adviser on violence against women in the White House. “The research shows that the family courts are a perfect place for abusers to get custody.”

Nashville-based Cynthia Cheatham, who represented Gill in her appeals case, agrees in the report that family courts can manipulate the evaluator, the guardian, and the judge to make themselves look good and to discredit the concerned mother.

The investigation recommends reforming the nation's family court system, where some advocacy groups have made headway. Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), for example, have introduced a resolution to recognize that “child safety is the first priority in custody and visitation adjudications.”

“Protective parents are asking the authorities to step in and protect their children and they're not,” Kathleen Russell, executive director of the Center for Judicial Excellence, tells Udesky.

To be sure, the child welfare advocacy community holds widely divergent views on how to approach reform. Lillian Hewko, an attorney with the Incarcerated Parents Project, told Rewire in an email, “We need to work hard to find transformative justice strategies … that allow a community to respond to child sexual abuse in a manner that does not lead with prosecution, that creates real solutions.”

When possible abuse is identified, said Hewko, “we need options where a protective parent can insert a wrench into that cycle of abuse, where potential perpetrators can get help before they commit an act and work on their toxic shame that is leading them to often reenact their own trauma.”

Meanwhile, Rachel Ruttenberg, executive director of the Family Defense Center in Chicago—which seeks to “advocate justice for families in the child welfare system,” according to its website—said to Rewire that the problem is that child protection systems in the United States frequently remove children from parents as a first resort, not as a last—a claim that runs counter to the cases presented in the report.

Ruttenberg added that separation can result in too many children and families being traumatized, sometimes even as young as breastfeeding babies. Parents also lose custody of their children to state foster care systems due to poverty or because they are victims of abuse themselves.

Often fraught with emotions and agendas, child custody cases, especially those involving abuse, evoke a variety of strong opinions. The Leadership Council on Child Abuse & Interpersonal Violence, a nonprofit independent scientific organization, has outlined some of the myths that come into play to put children at risk during custody disputes. These range from allegations of abuse being rampant to the notion that good mothers usually win custody.

Dorothy Roberts, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, told Rewire , “I think the [“Custody in Crisis”] report shows that, despite the common assumption that judges always favor mothers in custody disputes, mothers are often devalued and silenced in both the private and public child welfare systems. I hope the report can be part of an effort to rid child welfare decision making of race, gender, and class biases, which systematically harm children and families.”

Meanwhile Gill and her son, now 13, are still seeking justice in Tennessee, this time in criminal court.

Since Gill lost primary custody of Daniel, then 8, he reportedly broke down during a visit and told her his father was sexually abusing him. Fed up with family court, Gill contacted the FBI, which conducted forensic interviews that led to a grand jury indictment of Sawyer on four counts of child rape and one count of sexual assault, the report notes.

Criminal court hearings have been postponed several times due to “scheduling conflicts,” according to the report. As long as Sawyer is free, Gill says that they will always “feel hunted, like we're prey.”



The Double Bind

Allegations of rape will get you an audience with the King County Prosecutor's office. But justice is more elusive.

by Sara Bernard

Editor's note: The following story contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault, and may be triggering to survivors.

It was the day the Seahawks won the Super Bowl, and Monique was hanging out at a house party with friends, drinking hard cider and eating chicken wings. She didn't have work the next day, so when she left the party, she didn't go home; the city was still out celebrating, so she went out to a bar, alone. It's a decision that, she says, “I will always second-guess for the rest of my life.”

She remembers ordering a champagne cocktail. She remembers someone offering her their extra shot of tequila. After that, things get very muddy. “I think I maybe ordered another drink? My bar tab seems to indicate that I ordered more than one, but I don't remember that.” Maybe there was some dancing; she thinks she was trying to send a text message to a friend before her phone died. Then she was in the bathroom, throwing up; then she was throwing up in the bar's entryway—she vaguely remembers the bartender escorting her out—then she was throwing up in the parking lot. It's all disjointed scenes, she says, like a muted, slow-motion dream sequence. “There'll be pockets of memories, but not one cohesive narrative of what happened.” The last thing she remembers “was seeing a pair of men's shoes. Like, I could see my own, and then there was another person.”

She woke up in the dark with a pounding headache. She was naked except for her socks. There was vomit in her hair, under her fingernails. A strange man was spooning her, his finger in her vagina. “Do you like that?” she remembers him asking.

“No. No. Stop.”

“Part of me just felt frozen,” she says now. “I still felt very out of it. Like, very cloudy … it felt like I was sinking into the bed, it was like quicksand, and I just weighed a thousand pounds.”

He tried to pry her legs open. “No, no.” As her head raced and pounded, her limbs like lead, she heard a snap, snap, the sound of a camera shutter—he was taking pictures.

She managed to get up, and there were her clothes, bunched up on the floor. She asked for the bathroom and, on the way, noticed a dozen loose bullets strewn on top of the dresser. Her heart was pounding. She had no idea what had happened while she was passed out, no idea if there was a gun nearby, no idea how she could escape, save running outside naked in 30-degree weather.

Monique went to the police almost immediately.

She told them she had “played dumb” and convinced the man who must have taken her home from the bar to drive her back to her neighborhood, as she somehow had no purse with her, no wallet, no keys. She had searched for clues next to the bullets on the dresser and found a hospital bracelet with a name on it; she also tried to memorize his street address and his car's license plate as they pulled away, as well as the time of day: approximately 5 a.m.

An ambulance arrived at the police station to bring her to the hospital, where sexual-assault nurse examiners documented a scratch on her back and a bruise on her shin, took swabs from her vagina and anus and boots, and took samples of her blood and urine. Monique—who like all the alleged victims in this story is not being identified by her real name—has worked as a prosecutor, and so was thinking, in those first hours, about evidence collection; she asked for a pen and paper as soon as she arrived at the police station and sent a very detailed statement within a day to investigators.

“I want to cooperate with authorities,” she wrote in the statement. “I don't want this assault to define me, and I definitely don't want this man to get away with thinking that what he did was okay… . I was clearly in no condition to consent [to sexual contact] at any point from when I left [the bar] up until when I reported to police. And this man should have known that.”

What Monique didn't know at the time was that her case was unlikely to go anywhere. In more than 50 percent of all sex-crime cases that come into the Special Assault Unit of the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, charges are never filed. And of the cases that are filed and pursued, few represent what Monique says she experienced, one of the most prevalent forms of sexual assault, particularly against young women: alcohol-facilitated rape. It's a crime that takes place while someone is extremely intoxicated, often in a private space, without weapons, without witnesses, and with an account of the rape that is impacted by significant lapses in memory. Washington, like most states, classifies this as rape in the second degree. Unlike in first-degree rape, there is no deadly weapon, breaking and entering, or serious physical injury involved; rather, the question is whether or not the victim was physically or mentally capable of consenting to sex. Because the evidence can be so limited, and because juries have long been reluctant to convict when a rape victim had been drinking, prosecuting this form of assault is especially, and in some cases, prohibitively, difficult.

Still, Monique's professional experience led her to believe she was doing everything right—things that most victims of assault might not think to do. She memorized numbers and addresses, took note of seemingly minute details, went immediately to police and to the hospital. She gave investigators the names and contact information of friends who had been with her that day; she followed up the next day with the bartender to make sure she had his name and information, too. But after nine months and what Monique believes was a minimal investigation, prosecutors ultimately declined to file any criminal charges.

She was told, among other things, that because she had such a limited memory of events, because she was passed out for much of the night, “I couldn't prove I hadn't consented” to sexual contact. “I didn't know what else to say, other than, like, ‘I was way too drunk, I was passed out, so I don't know how you can say that I consented when I was passed out?' ”

It was a warm summer night, and Laura had gone out with a girlfriend. She had four or five drinks over the course of many hours; her friend left, and she stuck around at a dive bar where she was a regular, playing ping-pong, chatting, meeting people. She remembers having a brief, friendly conversation with one man; they planned to sing a karaoke song together. She remembers going to the bathroom and asking him to watch her drink. She came back and they sang the song. “I remember nothing at the bar after that. Nothing whatsoever.”

The rest of the night sinks into a thick, black fog. She remembers “walking down the street, and he was walking with me, and I remember telling him, ‘I don't want to have sex with you.' ”

Then: “I'm laying in his bed with my tights and underwear pulled around my ankles with my shoes still on, and he's performing oral sex on me.”

And then: “An image of him standing next to the bed, naked. Buck naked. With a condom on.”

And then: “Sharp, stabbing pains … and him saying, ‘Hold on, I'm gonna get a towel.' And I look down, and there's just blood everywhere.” She remembers panicking, saying, “No,” and, somehow, leaping up and running out onto the street, where her mind was still so warped that “I couldn't physically figure out how to see a street sign.” She thinks she called a friend. Suddenly she was in her apartment, “crying and screaming, blood still all over the place”; she went to the bathroom and “a fist-sized blood clot came out.”

That's when she went to the hospital.

During the rape exam, nurses found a three-centimeter laceration in Laura's vagina that required stitches, as well as other bruising and abrasions. When they tested her urine, they also found alpha-hydroxyalprazolam (aka Xanax)—a prescription drug that when mixed with alcohol, can cause extreme fatigue, memory loss, and loss of consciousness—which she claims she has never voluntarily taken. Part of her cervix, according to the preliminary report, had “mild mottling consistent with trauma.”

She says her friend called the bartender the day after the incident to ask him what he remembered, and he'd responded, immediately, with “Is she OK?” because of what he'd perceived to be very intoxicated behavior, and because he suspected the man she was with was “not a good person.” Laura was determined to report the crime, and spoke with police within two days. She was able, eventually, to pick the man out of a police lineup.

The process took nearly a year, but, Laura says, “I kept thinking there was gonna be a trial. So I kept going over in my head: ‘What am I gonna say? What am I gonna do?' ” And then, when it became clearer and clearer that there wouldn't be any trial—or any criminal charges filed—“I would be thinking, ‘What do I say at the next meeting [with prosecutors]? ‘How can I convince them to prosecute this?' … I kept thinking there was something I could do. I kept thinking I could change this.”

But prosecutors decided that this case, too, would not result in any charges. The public document describing the crime and detailing prosecutors' reasoning for not pursuing the case, referred to as a “decline memo,” states that the bartender and others the police interviewed said Laura was “conversational and coherent” before she left the bar with the man, although she has no memory of it. It goes on to point out that Xanax can stay in the system for up to six weeks; there was no way to prove the suspect had put anything in her drink; the laceration in her vagina was not, definitively, the result of a sexual assault; and “although she is unable to recall much of what happened after she left the bar with the Suspect, she does have some fleeting memories of what occurred.” The presence of some memories, it turns out, can be among the counts against filing charges for second-degree rape.

Monique says she was essentially told she'd been too intoxicated to prove she didn't consent; Laura may not have been intoxicated enough to prove she couldn't.

Like Monique, Laura believed and “had read that the thing that matters most in these cases … is the willingness for the victim to cooperate … Yeah, it seemed like a hard case, and we knew there was a possibility he would get off,” but “I wanted to do it. I was still willing to go through with the process.” That is mostly because she thinks the suspect deliberately drugged her, and that this was not a one-time deal. “There's no way that I could possibly be the first person” he'd raped, she says. “And there's no way I'm gonna be the last.”

One in five American women has been raped in her lifetime, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other studies put that number at one in four, or even, in the case of campus rape, one in three. But very few perpetrators will ever spend a day in jail for the crime.

The fact that charges are never filed for more than half of all cases referred to the King County SAU, then, is not uncommon—and, since the SAU also prosecutes crimes against children, and police are legally required to forward any child-abuse allegations to prosecutors in Washington state, even without a shred of evidence, it could also be somewhat misleading.

King County is certainly not a worst-case scenario. Consider, for instance, Denver's alleged decline rate for felony sexual assaults a few years ago (71 percent, according to one investigation); or Salt Lake County, Utah, where one study found that, over a span of eight years, 75 percent of rape reports with DNA samples were never charged; or Missoula, Montana, which was under federal investigation between 2012 and 2014 for its alleged failure to effectively prosecute sexual assaults against adult women. Between 2008 and 2012, the Missoula County Attorney's Office failed to file charges on approximately 83 percent of all such cases referred to it by police.

All of this is in part because prosecuting any kind of sexual assault is notoriously challenging. Due to the nature of trauma, the effect of trauma on memory, and the social implications—especially because, studies show, most perpetrators are known to the victim—there are often major delays in reporting, resulting in a lack of physical evidence. A huge number of rapes occur when the victim is intoxicated, though the extent to which she was intoxicated can be difficult to prove, and most rapes have no direct witnesses.

Yet some victims and victim advocates contend—and some former prosecutors and others close to the office confirm—that even given their inherent difficulties, there has long been an unacceptable reluctance to pursue alcohol-facilitated sexual assault in King County. And in the process of declining, victims say and public documents suggest, the justifications prosecutors have used often place the burden on the victim's negligence, rather than the alleged perpetrator's actions.

“We have been hearing prosecutors who are in positions of power say things that are extremely concerning to us,” says Emily Cordo, former legal director with the YWCA program Sexual Violence Legal Services, who, as well as her colleague, Riddhi Mukhopadhyay, sat in on many decline meetings with victims in the King County prosecutor's office over a number of years. “Both in terms of how those statements are affecting the victims that are having to listen to them,” she says, “but also the concern that their decision-making is being guided by beliefs that don't, in my opinion, conform with either the reality of what rape looks like, or, in some ways, what the law says.”

Washington state law classifies a major tenet of rape in the second degree as when “the victim is incapable of consent by reason of being physically helpless or mentally incapacitated.” In practice, that means if a victim has a mental disability, or is under the influence of a significant amount of drugs or alcohol—as Monique and Laura say they were—she or he arguably could not have consented to sex. According to King County's filing standards, Rape 2 cases “shall generally be filed when the extent of intoxication is extreme (unconscious or nearly so) and that condition would be readily apparent to a reasonable person.” Physical helplessness and incapacitation is linked in King County, then, to near-unconsciousness—a full-on, fast-asleep state. This is a higher bar than what is required to file Rape 2 charges elsewhere in Washington. Such a distinction isn't made in neighboring Snohomish County, for instance, and several recent Rape 2 cases filed in Pierce County also make no mention of unconsciousness. King County Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Johnson, who heads the SAU, says that unconsciousness is not a requirement for these cases, per se; rather, it's an example of the level of incapacity required. “You can't just be compromised,” she says. “That's not enough for the law. You have to be incapable of consent.”

Still, defining “unconscious or nearly so” is where many King County cases seem to get stuck.

A victim's level of intoxication can be one way for prosecutors to get beyond a conflicting “he said, she said” version of events. But according to approximately two dozen conversations with victims and advocates and former prosecutors, as well as a review of hundreds of decline memos filed over the last two years, Seattle Weekly has found that alcohol-facilitated sexual assault often presents what Cordo calls “an impossible double bind”: Under King County's criteria, when a victim is so blacked out she can't remember much, that can doom the case, because there's not enough information about the assault to go on, and a muddled account of the rape compromises her credibility. But when she has a clear memory of the assault, or even mere “flashes” of memory, she often isn't unconscious enough for the assault to qualify as Rape 2.

“It's a lose/lose situation,” one alleged rape victim told Seattle Weekly . “When I went to the prosecutor … I remembered too clearly for alcohol to be involved. I knew too much of what happened. Which is funny, because if I had said nothing, if I had said I didn't know what happened, they'd be like, ‘We don't know what happened so we can't prosecute it.' What should I do?” she implores. “What do you want me to say?”

In 2016, recent data shows, rape reports are up in Seattle. As sexual-assault experts will confirm, this is unlikely to mean more rapes are happening, but rather that more people are reporting rape. In a world where two out of three victims of sexual violence never report the assault at all, this suggests that, to some victims and their communities, rape is more and more often being seen as a prosecutable crime.

Which is, King County prosecutors say, a very good thing. “We're seeing more cases come into us for review, which is great,” says Johnson. “We're trying to keep our head above water.”

Johnson says her office is aware of the concern that it too often dismisses alcohol-facilitated rape cases. She says she and colleagues across King County and the state have made significant changes in the past year to address it, including a renewed emphasis on the strength of police investigations, updates to the county's sexual-assault exam protocol, efforts to address the state's rape-kit backlog, and extra trainings, task forces, and internal conversations.

Yet questions remain as to where these new rape reports will end up, if—as some victims and advocates allege—society's longstanding beliefs about alcohol and rape exist inside the very prosecutorial unit designed to combat them.

For Laura, it's unclear where exactly things fell apart in her case. She didn't feel she was treated well at the hospital (the first place she went didn't do rape exams) or at the police department (she waited alone for hours, then was interviewed by someone with little experience in rape cases).

But when, four months later, she was finally brought in for a face-to-face meeting with a King County prosecutor, she felt completely alone. Believing, at first, that “I was going there to help the case,” she was swiftly told that there was no way they were going to prosecute. The reasons they gave were similar to those detailed in the decline memo: The injuries she'd sustained could be explained away because “he would just say I wanted rough sex,” and when she asked if they could perhaps use scientific research to demonstrate that nonconsensual sex is more likely to result in multiple injuries such as hers, she was told, “We don't use expert testimony.” Ultimately, Laura says, she was told her case was a “ ‘he said, she said,' and they wouldn't be able to prosecute unless they had video evidence.”

It was as astonishing as it was painful. “Essentially every argument I made, [the prosecutor] made the argument of the accused, that the defense would make, and then discounted it, as if because the defense would argue against it, it's not a valid argument, or not something we can do,” Laura says. She believes that detectives “did the bare minimum, and then threw it to the prosecutors, and then the prosecutors argued it all away.”

Laura kept fighting, however, with the help of victim advocates. In a subsequent meeting with a second prosecutor, she says she was told: “Well, you did drink excessively.” And then: “While it may be morally reprehensible to have sex with a drunk woman, it's not a crime.”

Likewise, Monique says a prosecutor asked about the amount of alcohol she'd consumed on the night of her alleged rape, and her seemingly calm behavior while at the man's apartment; she says she was asked “why I hadn't put up more of a fight.” And when she repeatedly insisted, “I'm sitting here telling you I didn't consent,” she says a prosecutor suggested that this man “probably … saw this drunk girl and thought that, you know, he could take advantage of her.”

Another victim says that she was told similar things: that her case rested on her testimony alone, and the perpetrator was going to say it was consensual, although she claims there were many witnesses who had been with her before the assault, knew how drunk she had been, and saw her sobbing and bloody afterwards. “They said … I wasn't fighting hard enough. I should have broken his finger, or something. I didn't say ‘No' enough times.” And then, when she was telling them about her level of intoxication, and she herself suggested “he was taking advantage of me because I couldn't fight that hard … they said: ‘Taking advantage of someone isn't rape.' ”

Another victim told Seattle Weekly that while, initially, charges were filed on her case—which she was repeatedly told was “very, very strong” because of the abundance of witnesses before and after the assault—they were subsequently dropped, in part because it seemed plausible that the fact that her friends “were aware of rape culture” meant that they “could have planted this idea in my head.”

Cordo says such language isn't uncommon.“Many of those things are things we hear repeatedly in numerous cases,” she says. “It's the thing that they say; it's not just a one-off, slip of the tongue. It's their point of view.”

At least six victims who spoke with Seattle Weekly for this story confirmed that at least five different prosecutors of the 16 who work in the SAU had said similar things, or made them feel culpable for the assault. Decline memos from the past two years contain similar assertions. Cases are sometimes declined in part because the victim “was observed to be very flirtatious” prior to the assault, for example, or because she “did not continue to express that lack of consent,” which “could have been construed … as changing her mind and now consenting.”

Presented with these claims, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Lisa Johnson says that this is not at all what prosecutors mean to say, nor what they believe. “Yes, that is part of the dialogue: If [a victim] had a lot to drink, and they had no memory, therein lies our problem of how we need to build that case otherwise,” she explains. “I can see [victims] hearing only: ‘It's because of what I did.' Which is not at all what we want them to hear—or [what we] think.” She says she is dedicated to improving the way that SAU prosecutors deliver bad news. “That's another conversation: how to deliver that kind of message without making somebody feel that they were responsible for their own victimization?”

Regardless of intent, victims and advocates say and decline memos suggest, King County prosecutors' comments are typically couched in the context of convincing a jury: These are things a jury would believe, that a defense lawyer would argue, and, if a case makes it to trial, what prosecutors would be required to guard against. In a sexual-assault case, which relies heavily on the victim's testimony, a key defense strategy is to attack the victim's credibility. Those “blame and believability factors” can be pivotal in whether or not a prosecutor chooses to press charges in the first place, according to multiple research studies on prosecutors' charging decisions in sexual assault cases across the country. As a result, this language may not be exclusive to King County. “I could not believe the things that prosecutors would say to victims,” says Joanne Archambault, executive director of End Violence Against Women International (EVAWI) and a former sex-crime detective in San Diego, Calif. “The stuff that you hear prosecutors say is amazing. It doesn't surprise me. It's just very sad.”

According to some critics, while language like this affects victims, it could have an unintended effect on detectives, too, who also see these decline memos and thus note the approach the prosecutor's office often takes on alcohol-facilitated cases. “What are you teaching law enforcement?” wonders Cheryl Snow, a former King County prosecutor, now a private attorney. She adds that a practice of “cross-examining or going after the victims” rather than putting the focus on “offender behavior” is concerning.

A number of victims and advocates told Seattle Weekly that police investigations indeed seemed lackluster. In one case, a college freshman says she was assaulted—twice—by another student. King County prosecutors declined to file charges, the young woman was told at the time, because “these ‘he said, she said' cases … it's not a popular case to take forward … you were drinking.” To the victim, “it was like they didn't really care.”

But because her father was irate about the lack of criminal prosecution—“the best [a university] can do is expel somebody,” he argues; “it doesn't deter them from doing it to somebody else, somewhere else”—he hired a private investigator to look into the alleged attacker's past behavior. The investigator was able to obtain seven signed affidavits from seven different women—three who claimed they'd been sexually assaulted by the alleged assailant, and four who'd witnessed various forms of sexual assault he'd committed. When this information was subsequently submitted to the prosecutor's office, prosecutors still declined to file.

Prosecutors, in Washington state and across the country, have both a legal and ethical obligation to charge cases they believe they can win at a jury trial. According to Washington state statute, they are to file charges for “crimes against persons” only if they believe “sufficient admissible evidence exists … to justify conviction.” And, according to national criminal-justice standards for prosecutors published by the American Bar Association, “A prosecutor should seek or file criminal charges only if the prosecutor reasonably believes … that admissible evidence will be sufficient to support conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Of course, there's tremendous discretion in a decision like that, says Johnson. King County filing standards on Rape 2 require the prosecution to demonstrate not only that a victim was incapable of consent, but that the perpetrator knew or should have known that she was incapable—something that Johnson cannot take lightly. “It's a high burden,” she says. “We have to take our responsibility seriously. It's not a situation … where you just say, ‘Somebody made a complaint, therefore they get their day in court.' We're not permitted to do that.”

King County prosecutors also confirm that their decision-making regarding alcohol-facilitated assault is heavily influenced by past experience with juries, who are reluctant to convict unless (and even when) a victim was nearly unconscious from drinking. “We have the benefit of the collected wisdom of many jurors that have heard these cases,” wrote Mark Larson, chief deputy of the criminal division, in an e-mail to Emily Cordo in 2015. “The history is pretty clear that jurors perceive the bar to be a high one.” Johnson emphasizes this, too: It is not enough to say that an alleged victim was impaired; she must have been truly incapable of consenting. One of the most surefire ways to prove this in court, short of video evidence, is witness testimony. In Monique and Laura's cases, although they lost significant amounts of memory, and Monique repeatedly vomited, witnesses at the bar described them as coherent.

One former King County prosecutor says that “the first thing I was told [after getting hired to the King County SAU] is you cannot prove these cases.” A case in which a victim had a startlingly high blood-alcohol content and a jury still acquitted was offered as proof.

Naturally, victim advocates “don't want prosecutors filing charges willy-nilly against people without any evidence to support it,” Cordo says. “I get that. But there is a big spectrum between that and saying, ‘We have to feel like it's a slam-dunk before we're going to do anything.' There's a lot of gray area there.” She notes that a very small number of sex-crime cases, in King County and elsewhere, result in a trial—and the King County SAU has a fairly impressive win rate for its cases that do. According to data compiled by the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center's CourtWatch program, between 2011 and 2015, no more than 8 percent of sex-crime cases have ever gone to trial at all, and no more than 2 percent of defendants have been acquitted through a trial. Cordo believes that part of the reason for this low number is that they are not charging difficult cases; they prefer, as Monique puts it, “cases that are just tied up with a little bow.”

In Joanne Archambault's opinion, prosecutors everywhere “are scared to death of these cases” in part because of the slim chance of success. “They don't like that juries do blame victims—that attitude that if you're drunk and you're that stupid, you basically deserve what you get.” Yet she believes a jury-blaming excuse is a “cop-out. My argument to prosecutors is: If you continue to say we can't take these cases, we can't educate the community, or these juries—we might as well pack up and go home.”

That there is often alcohol present and there are rarely direct witnesses “is the reality of rape,” says Patti Powers, a former prosecuting attorney in Yakima County and now an attorney advisor for AEquitas, a nonprofit resource for prosecutors addressing violence against women. Prosecutors of these crimes “have to look at the totality of circumstances. You look to secondary witnesses and corroboration. You need … to be able to represent a picture … of what level of intoxication, what level of impairment there might be.” While juries are reluctant to convict, prosecutors can (and should) “educate a jury on the reality of these crimes,” through, for example, expert testimony regarding alcohol, trauma, and memory. Ultimately, “there certainly is a potential of success” in cases like these, she says.

Lisa Johnson knows all this very well, and repeatedly points to the King County SAU's renewed efforts to be “more creative” and “think more broadly” with its approach to these cases. Still, she says, while “experts can be useful,” because there is nothing definitive about blood-alcohol numbers, and “there's always an expert on the other side,” it's not a first-resort trial practice for SAU prosecutors. “Really, we don't want it to be a battle of experts. Rather, how can we try to recreate what the situation was?”

One way to do that, of course, is through concrete evidence. While it is the prosecutor's ultimate responsibility, according to the American Bar Association, to ask police departments for more information if there's a clear need, some prosecutors say they aren't sure asking detectives to do more work is necessarily effective. Often, by the time a case gets to the prosecutor's office, if the evidence they'd need isn't already there—a bartender's clear recollection of a certain night, say—it won't ever be. That's why the King County SAU has put some effort over the past year into collaboration with sex-crime detectives, including creating a new checklist that details the evidence that police should look for immediately and obtain, if possible, for drug- and alcohol-facilitated assaults. Among the changes are new suspect-interview techniques; in the past, Johnson says, interviews with suspects would often rest on “It was consensual.” Now, police will be tasked with finding out why, exactly, a suspect believes that.

Regardless, there's no doubt that these are hard cases to win in court. “People are certainly very cautious when they label someone as a sex offender,” Johnson says. “They have a preconceived idea about what rape is, and it sometimes doesn't include these kinds of cases. They're wrong … but we need to prove [it] to them.”

One victim's father concedes that he understands, to some extent, what prosecutors are up against. Yes, juries struggle to convict when there's any question of intoxication. How do we know how they behaved when they were intoxicated? How do we know what really happened? Don't women who get drunk take that risk, basically? But as a society, “We've got to figure out how to change the attitudes,” he says. “Somebody's got to do it. And what's happening is victims are starting to do it” through advocacy, through the media. Rapists are often now “tried in the court of public opinion” rather than criminal court. And, it seems, “the legal system isn't quite catching up.”

Perhaps it is, at long last, beginning to. As a nation, “we are in a different place” when it comes to sexual assault, and even alcohol-involved sexual assault, says Archambault, who is in her 37th year of working on the issue. “I think we are in the midst of a sea change.”

She points to more and more media reports about campus rape, as well as those involving professional and college athletes—cases that in the past likely would have gone unreported. She points to federal investigations in Missoula, in New Orleans; to Human Rights Watch investigations in D.C.; to the fact that many law-enforcement offices across the country are participating in sexual-assault trainings. She lauds the Making a Difference Project, an EVAWI grant-funded collaboration among 16 different cities in the U.S. and Canada designed to develop more effective ways to investigate and prosecute alcohol- and drug-facilitated rape.

Also, more rape kits are being tested nationwide. In Washington state, as Johnson takes great care to emphasize, a bill passed this spring established the first state-level tracking system for rape kits in the country, as well as a Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Best Practices Task Force that includes victims, advocates, forensics experts, legislators, and law enforcement. One of its goals is to eliminate the discretion that law enforcement has had regarding when (or if) to test a rape kit, often influenced by outdated ideas about what counts as a “real” rape. While the backlog in Washington is enormous—some 6,000 kits remain untested—and even the top-priority cases will need to wait months, Johnson is optimistic that within the next year, her office will have a lot more information about potential serial offenders. That, and improved investigations and improved rape exams—just a few months ago, police, prosecutors, and sexual-assault nurse examiners decided that drawing a victim's blood and testing her urine during a rape exam will be standard; it wasn't before—suggests that, albeit slowly, things are changing. (Granted, some challenges to these changes still exist: The King County prosecutor's office expects a $1 million budget cut next year.)

But if sex-crime prosecutors everywhere are waiting for society at large—and the juries that that society produces—to change with it, they may be waiting a while. “I have been dismayed by the lack of progress on it,” says one former King County prosecutor, who's been in the business for decades. “People still incline to: ‘Why didn't you leave? Why didn't you scream? Why didn't you do this, why didn't you do that?' … I don't think the needle has moved that far, I'm sorry to say.” As a prosecutor, “You are still battling a lot of longstanding bias … without a very big set of weapons.”

No one—not victims, advocates, prosecutors, or detectives—will argue that the criminal-justice system is where rape victims should go to seek emotional closure or resolution. Many alleged victims have said that navigating the justice system left them feeling as if they were being interrogated—even by prosecutors—as if they were lying, though studies show the actual rate of false rape reports falls somewhere between 2 and 7 percent.

The justice system is, of course, and crucially, based on the premise that the accused is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet to not file charges at all, some argue—to not attempt to negotiate for some kind of consequence, be it a felony, a misdemeanor, or just a day in court—demonstrates just how much power prosecutors have to define the scope of a crime, and thus, for better or worse, shape a culture.

“This guy … knows there was something of an investigation, and he got away with it,” says Monique. “What does that do to his psyche? And what does it do to our collective psyche, as, you know, a county, a city, a society?”

Every time a case like this gets declined, argues one former prosecutor, “We are enforcing a community norm that it is OK to rape drunk people.” Because, “as long as the prosecutor said, ‘It's not rape,' it's not going to be rape.”

Laura and Monique, like many survivors of sexual assault, have continued to struggle. Laura went to therapy for over a year for PTSD “just to function again.” Monique cried herself to sleep for months, and then had to go on sleep medication because of the recurring nightmares. Both missed work, couldn't eat, blamed the world, and blamed themselves. Both know that this will affect them for the rest of their lives. And both confirm, as did every victim who spoke to Seattle Weekly for this story, that while the assault itself was horrific, the legal process was worse.

“The hardest part … was not the flashbacks, or anything,” Monique says. “It was the treatment I got afterwards … I'm fairly realistic about outcomes, and I'm not even sure what outcome I wanted.” Was it to put this guy in jail? Was it forcing him to register as a sex offender? Or was it, quite simply, an acknowledgement of the crime? “It would have been nice to have somebody else take up the banner,” she says, rather than seeming to twist the crime into an unfortunate event that, if she hadn't gotten so drunk, she could have prevented. “It would have been nice for somebody to stand up for me.”


United Kingdom

FIFA's Infantino urges zero tolerance for child abuse

by Reuters

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has called for "zero tolerance" of child abuse in football and promised to look into ways the global governing body can do more to prevent it in the wake of the scandal sweeping the game in England.

The English Football Association (FA) have launched a review into allegations of children being sexually abused at professional clubs, while British police are also investigating mounting accusations of pedophile activity.

"It has to be taken seriously. There must be zero tolerance from that point of view, from a football perspective, but also from a criminal perspective as well," Infantino told reporters in Singapore on Thursday.

"Those who have been guilty of abusing on children need to punished very seriously. They have to be out of football, that is without question, but also on the criminal side they need to be punished.

"There are not many worse things in life, not in football life but in life generally, than child abuse."

Infantino said that although child abuse was a scourge not limited to football, FIFA would not take the scandal lightly.

"The Football Association is already, of course, looking into that matter and this is something that to be taken very seriously," Infantino added.

"In football as well, we probably have to look into that with more care and more attention in order to prevent any potential child abuse in the future."



Report: Child abuse increasing in East Austin, rural Travis Co.

by Claire Ricke

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Last year, one in 107 children were mistreated in Travis County, which is higher than the statewide average, according to Child Protective Services.

While child abuse cases are decreasing in central Austin, they are increasing in East Austin and the rural areas of Travis County, states a report by Dell Children's researchers. The report highlights the “hot spots” for child abuse and neglect in Travis County; pinpointing causes and effects of abuse on local children. Key findings by the report shows that one of the factors might be a lack of community services on the east-side.

The majority of the mental health services and substance abuse help is located west of Interstate 35, while most of the children suffering from abuse are on the east-side. Researchers say there is an “East Austin Crescent,” which is a pattern showing the mistreatment of children corresponding to community violence, family violence, poverty, and a lack of education.

"Parents living the stress of poverty and lack of opportunity are more likely to commit child abuse,” said Karla Lawson, PhD, director of Dell Children's Trauma and Injury Research Center. “We can mitigate some of these stressors by bringing opportunity to areas of Travis County with higher rates of child maltreatment. Improving affordable housing, transportation, employment, mental health and addiction services these things can actually protect children from abuse and neglect.”

A lack of affordable housing has also been identified as a factor. The report says poverty, homelessness, and over-crowding are all risks for child abuse. It is suggested more subsidized housing would provide a home for numerous residents, which would help protect children from abuse.

Policy suggestions are made by researchers, which they say would give parents access to the tools to prevent child abuse. They hope by showing the map of where the most number of children are abused, that targeted help can be given that meet the needs of the community



MN Seeing More Child Abuse Investigations, More Foster Care Placements

by Lee Voss

Recommendations on improving the state's child protection system seem to be making a difference in getting kids out of abusive homes. But, it comes with another problem…more out-of-home placements.

The state of Minnesota made several recommendations to county child protection agencies after the death of 4-year-old Eric Dean of Starbuck in 2013. He was murdered by a stepmother after months of abuse which were never fully investigated. Among those recommendations were, more reports being “screened-in” for further investigation.

Jim Koppel is the Assistant Commissioner for Children and Family Services in Minnesota. He says increased training means more reports are being filed, more cases are being investigated, more children are being placed in foster care, and ultimately more children are being saved from abuse.

Minnesota has “screened-in” more than 7,200 additional child protection cases in the first two quarters of 2016 than the same period two years ago. It has also meant almost 2,200 additional foster care placements since 2014, or about a 25-percent increase.

A recent report listed Minnesota as one of five states with the biggest increases in foster care placements.



Child abuse panel finds 'evil' amid reviews

by Deborah Yetter

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Beaten regularly with a belt, pushed into cold showers, forced to drink garlic water and made to sit at a kitchen table for 12 to 13 hours a day writing sentences as supposed home schooling, the young girl from Southeastern Kentucky was nearly dead when she was admitted to a hospital last year.

"Basically, her body was shutting down," said Brenda Bremenkamp, an analyst who summarizes cases for Kentucky's 20-member Child Fatality and Near Fatality External Review Panel. "She was close to death."

Panel members, used to hearing heinous accounts of child abuse, appeared especially shocked at the plight of the girl, 9, who arrived at the hospital catatonic, covered with bruises and with open sores on her buttocks. They seemed equally shocked that the case appeared to have fallen off the radar of the child protection system.

"It feels like absolutely everything in this case that could go wrong did go wrong," said panel member Sherry Currens, executive director of the Kentucky Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "This was just evil. I don't see how it kept falling through the cracks."

The case was one of about 20 reviewed Nov. 21 at a meeting of the oversight panel, which is charged under state law with identifying breakdowns in the state child protection system and recommending improvements.

Plowing through details of some of Kentucky's worst child abuse and neglect cases — those which result in the death or the near-death of a child — panel members look for common causes, missed opportunities to intervene and ways to improve Kentucky's complex system of child protection that involves the courts, police, state social service workers, school officials, volunteers and others.

The panel, which holds public meetings, has brought added scrutiny to some cases that otherwise get little attention in the largely confidential world of child abuse and neglect investigations. It was created four years ago following a series of Courier-Journal stories about a lack of oversight involving child abuse deaths.

Recently, the panel brought more scrutiny to a case in which a 16-year-old disabled boy suffered two fractured femurs during a supposedly safe restraint by a staff member at a Jefferson County public school. Deemed a near-fatality because of the severity of the boy's injuries, the case remained unexplained after inconclusive investigations by police and state social service officials.

But after reviewing the facts of the case, the panel in July deemed previous explanations implausible and concluded that physical abuse was the cause. Louisville police and social service investigators have since reopened investigations into the November 2014 incident.

The case of the 9-year-old girl had a positive outcome. Removed from her abusive home, she recovered and is thriving in foster care. The responsible adults — her father and a live-in girlfriend — are in prison following child abuse convictions, panel members learned.

But many other cases have worse outcomes. For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2015 — the most recent year with complete numbers — 21 Kentucky children died from causes that included beatings or blunt force trauma, head injuries, drug overdoses, suffocation, medical neglect and accidents with an impaired adult at fault.

Another 53 children nearly died from abuse or neglect during that period, some permanently impaired by brain damage or other problems.

Hardin Family Court Judge Brent Hall, who joined the panel when it was formed in 2012 and whose term is ending, said while the panel has become better organized, its mission hasn't changed.

"It's important we set the bar that no child dies," he said. "I'm not sure we'll ever get there but that is the hope."

The panel has expanded its work, hired analysts to help the unpaid panel members from across Kentucky and has met 10 times this year — more than twice as often as the four meetings required by law — to review as many cases as possible for an annual report in December.

"We're growing," said Roger Crittenden, a retired Franklin Circuit Court judge who serves as chairman of the panel that includes social service officials, police, prosecutors, child abuse experts, medical specialists and others involved in the system that serves as the state's child protection network. "I think we're more focused now. It has been a real learning process."

Starting from scratch in 2012, the panel had to establish procedures including a system for reviewing the often-voluminous state records from a single investigation of a child abuse or neglect case by social service workers with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Members also consider records from family court or criminal proceedings against abusive adults and have become more experienced about dissecting how the system broke down.

After the first two years with no funding, the panel got about $400,000 a year from the state, which allowed it to hire analysts to review cases and present summaries to the members who still have access to the records and can review them individually.

That has allowed the panel to work faster and review more cases.

Dr. Melissa Currie, a forensic pediatrician with the University of Louisville, said the panel has become better at delving into details of what happened before the death or near-death of a child, rather than just the event itself.

"I think we're getting better at focusing on what happened beforehand," she said, adding that helps the panel identify ways to prevent a similar occurrence or find common themes. One common event that surprised even Currie, though she sees it regularly through her work as a forensic pediatrician, was the frequency of "co-sleeping" deaths where an infant dies while sleeping with an adult, usually through suffocation.

"Even though I knew sleep-related deaths were a huge issue, I'm still not sure I understood the magnitude of that problem," Currie said.

Among the panel's recommendations in its 2014 annual report was that the state conduct an extensive public education campaign to alert new parents to the danger of sleeping with an infant. State public health officials, joined by several hospital groups, launched a "Safe Sleep Kentucky Campaign" last year to encourage parents to place a baby on the back, alone in a crib with no clutter such as blankets, pillows or stuffed animals.

But Currie said the panel still finds a disturbing number of cases of infant death or injury from sleeping with an adult impaired by drugs or alcohol.

"There's so much overlap with substance abuse and sleep-related deaths," Currie said.

The panel plans to release an annual report in December that will include new recommendations for better protecting children.



A New Bilingual Voice Helping Child Abuse Victims in Murfreesboro area


Imagine your child or grandchild walking in the door of your home after school. The child sits next to you on the couch, says they have a secret to share with you, and tells you that a person you trust has sexually abused them. You feel betrayed, devastated, and like your world is crashing down around you. Now imagine that you do not speak English and you do not know where to turn for help.

In Rutherford and Cannon Counties you can turn to the Child Advocacy Center. In July, the Child Advocacy Center hired Puerto Rico native Uriel Arroyo to assist Hispanic and Latino families whose children were physically and sexually abused.

Arroyo stated, "I know how hard can be to move to a different country when you don't speak their language, when you have a different culture, when you have different ways to live your life. I know how hard it can be to leave everything behind looking for a better life, for better opportunities. As soon as I learned the [English] language, I said now it's time to give back, it's time to help. Now I'm more than happy to be helping children and families at the Child Advocacy Center. I speak Spanish, I come from a Hispanic culture, and they [Latinos] quickly learn they can trust me, they can open their heart to me, I can relate. I've been there."

Arroyo holds undergraduate degree and graduate degrees from the University of Puerto Rico and Metropolitan University of Puerto Rico.

Arroyo's responsibilities at the Child Advocacy Center include: assisting families whose children have been physically and sexually abused, helping parents with an addiction problem that want to stop using drugs, helping children learn to cope with their parent's addiction, and educating parents and grandparents how to prevent their child from being sexually abused.

Child Advocacy Center director, Sharon De Boer asserted, "Uriel Arroyo has a heart for children and a passion for helping Hispanic and Latino families. Arroyo is a well-respected member of the Rutherford County Child Protective Investigative Team. His strong connections with the Department of Children's Services, law enforcement, and the District Attorney's office help families navigate the systems that are in place to assist child abuse victims."

Arroyo said, ''I love helping people in my community. When I found this opportunity to help the Hispanic population within Rutherford County using my native language of Spanish, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I want to help breakdown the language barrier for the Hispanic children who have been child abuse and child sexual abuse victims and their families. I want to be their support, their connection, their advocate, their voice."

If your child is a victim of child abuse or child sexual abuse or you are a parent who wants to stop using drugs contact Uriel Arroyo at the Child Advocacy Center at 615-867-9000. To report suspected child abuse in the State of Tennessee contact the Department of Children's Services at 1-877-237-0004.



Local Police Star in Emmy-Winning TV Program About Child Sexual Abuse


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - The Tallahassee Police Department and Officer David Northway are part of Emmy winning television program created by a non-profit organization that's mission is to prevent sexual abuse through awareness and education.

The Emmy Award winning television program won in the "Societal Concerns" category.

The non-profit organization, Lauren's Kids created a program called "What If I Told You... How to Solve Child Sexual Abuse".

It highlighted facts and figures on how prevalent a problem child sexual abuse is around the state.

One disturbing fact being that in Leon County alone, with nearly 34,000 students in the area, around 5,5000 girls and 3,500 boys will likely experience some form of sexual abuse.

Officer Northway says children involved in these crimes are innocent victims.

Across the Sunshine State, more than 700,000 students will be victims of sexual abuse.


from Dept of Justice


Former Teacher’s Assistant Sentenced to 8 Years in Federal Prison for Distribution of Child Pornography

LOS ANGELES – A West Los Angeles man who previously worked as a teacher’s assistant was sentenced today to 96 months in federal prison for distributing child pornography via a peer-to-peer file-sharing system on his computer. The images involved in this case depicted children under the age of 15, including child images deemed to be “sadistic” under the federal sentencing rules.

Steven Petlak, 53, was sentenced by United States District Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald. Following the completion of his prison term, Petlak will be on supervised released for the rest of his life.

Petlak pleaded guilty in July to one count of distribution of child pornography. In a plea agreement filed with the court, Petlak admitted that, on multiple dates, he used peer-to-peer software on his computer hard drive to share graphic images of child molestation.

“Predators who seek out child pornography online threaten the safety and well-being of the most vulnerable in our real-world community,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This defendant’s conduct exemplifies a horrific and dark part of our society, and the sentence today reflects the harm caused by defendants who trade in these heinous materials.”

In court filings, Petlak admitted that he made an effort to seek out the worst types of child pornography he could find – in Petlak’s words, “the really dark stuff.” While on pretrial release in this matter, Petlak was caught by law enforcement looking at what appeared to be graphic images of a juvenile female.
Following his release from prison, Petlak will be required to register as a sex offender and to avoid places where children are present.

This investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Reema M. El-Amamy of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Section.

FROM: Thom Mrozek, Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California


United Kingdom

The impact of words on child abuse survivors

by Bolt Burdon Kemp

Eric Bristow is a former darts world champion and sports broadcaster who recently posted a number of inflammatory and wholly inappropriate comments on his Twitter account about the recent stories regarding child abuse within football, stating that darts players were “tough guys” and that footballers were “wimps”, seemingly blaming survivors for not being able to disclose their abuse earlier and also conflating paedophiles with homosexuals.

He has since been fired by Sky as a sports pundit and he has subsequently apologised for his comments.

The attitude displayed by Mr Bristow and others like him and the words with which he chose to express his views contribute significantly, in my opinion, to survivors feeling unable to disclose the abuse they have suffered.

In my view, the phrases below are particularly damaging to child abuse survivors:

•  Historic child abuse

•  Child sex

•  Child porn

Historic child abuse

This is a phrase that has always frustrated me as you never see the media referring to ‘historic murders' or ‘historic robberies'.

It is a term that insinuates abuse took place in the past but things are different now, things have moved on. This is wrong and ignores the fact that abuse has far-reaching consequences, regardless of when it happened. A survivor may no longer be suffering directly at the hands of their abuser but they continue to be affected by the consequences of the abuse on a daily basis and it can affect the decisions they make as to how they live their life.

The phrase has a negative influence on survivors by making them feel that they are raising an issue that is “historic” and therefore no longer of relevance, or something that should no longer have an effect on them. The abuse may have taken place when they were children but many survivors continue to feel the impact of the abuse in their adult lives and the term “historic” is therefore a wholly inappropriate way to define these abhorrent crimes.

Child abuse is “child abuse”, regardless of when it happened.

Child sex

I think the media has failed to appreciate the true significance of the phrase “child sex” when they are discussing adults who have had sexual intercourse with children.

Children cannot legally agree to engage in having sex with someone as they are below the legal age of consent. The age of consent exists for a reason – to protect vulnerable members of our society who have not yet developed the emotional or physical maturity to engage in sexual relationships. Child abuse survivors are often assaulted by adults who are in a position of authority, power and trust in relation to them and these adults are of course older and larger than them and possess the emotional and physical maturity to make a decision to enter into sexual relations. Without consent from both parties, the act occurring is rape, not sex.

Child sex denotes that the child participated in the act on a fully informed and voluntary basis. This ignores the element of grooming and manipulation that frequently takes place over a period of time to obtain the trust of the child and their family, friends and local community and the fact that a child lacks the maturity to make such a decision.

The suggestion of consent places a notional element of blame on many survivors, who question whether they led their abuser on or if they did actually want the sexual acts to take place and/or enjoyed them. The fact is they were children who lacked the legal capacity to give consent to having sex and they are actually survivors of child abuse.

The correct phrase to use is “child rape” rather than “child sex” when discussing incidents where adults have had sexual intercourse with children. This emphasises the seriousness of these offences and the lack of any possible legal consent on the child's part.

By using the correct term of “rape” when an adult engages in sexual intercourse with a child, this may help better educate the public as to the fact that children cannot consent to taking part in sexual acts.

Child porn

I strongly disagree with use of the phrase “child porn” as it ignores the survivors who are in these images and videos, instead focusing on the sexual gratification that child abusers receive when viewing this material. In my view, the term “child porn” diminishes the severity of such appalling content and instead normalises it by making it sound akin to general adult porn, which is not illegal.

The children who appear in photos and videos of a pornographic nature were unable to legally consent to these images and videos being created, usually by an adult in a position of trust. They are victims and survivors in every sense of the word, with this material being easily spread far and wide with them having no control as to where it is distributed.“Child porn” should be regarded as documentary evidence of the moment a child's life is damaged, potentially beyond repair, due to sexual abuse.

The correct phrase should to use should be “child abuse images” or “child abuse videos”. This removes the sexual element of the material and refocuses the attention to the victims/survivors in the material, the immoral nature of the content, and avoids normalising the content.

The power of words

Survivors continue to struggle to disclose their abuse as they are worried how others will react and if they will be believed. The words surrounding abuse can add to these struggles if they focus predominantly on the sexual physical element of the acts instead of the psychological elements of the offence.

I urge the media and general public to consider these issues in the way we discuss child abuse because the longer we consider child abuse to be “historic” or just for sexual gratification, the longer we suppress the true impact on survivors and the reason why so many feel unable to disclose. This is a topic discussed on a daily basis in the news, each of us making these changes can have a wide and far-reaching effect on the way child abuse is perceived.

“If many start to whisper, together they'll be heard.”


New York

Brooklyn Borough President Launches Multilingual Anti-Child Abuse Effort

by Madina Toure

In the wake of the discovery of a three-year-old Brooklyn boy with a cracked skull earlier this week and the death of a six-year-old Zymere Perkins a little more than two months ago, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams unrolled a new multilingual outreach campaign to educate people on the signs of child abuse—arguing it is every citizen's responsibility to identify and intervene in such cases, not just the Administration for Children's Services.

As Jaden Jordan lies on life support after an alleged attack by his mother's boyfriend, Adams said there was “no greater partner in pursuing, investigating and bringing to justice” than ACS—despite recent heavy criticism by Public Advocate Letitia James of ACS Commissioner Gladys Carrion's performance. Still, he asserted the public must help the city in its mission to protect its most defenseless citizens.

“We all got involved in this, and when we permit ourselves to be detached from that responsibility and merely pick up the plate and paper and say, ‘Oh what a shame, that agency didn't do enough,'” Adams said. “‘Police didn't respond fast enough. The hospital didn't do their job quick enough. The investigator didn't do what they were supposed to do. No—what did we do? When a child dies, we fail. We are all in this together.”

Adams and Ama Dwimoh, founder and former chief of the Crimes Against Children Bureau in the Kings County District Attorney's Office, launched Operation C.A.R.E.—Child Abuse Response and Engagement. The campaign, they said, seeks to help people identify signs of child abuse and neglect in their communities.

He noted that as a former police officer, there were “no cases more horrific” than responding to a child who may have been a victim of a crime.

“Saving our children is an occupation that everyone must involved in and nothing could be more basic to the function of our society than to ensure the safety of our children—in fact, without them, there is no future,” Adams said. “And we've heard a series of cases that have taken place through the last year and even longer and the goal is how do we continue to build that partnership?”

Adams rattled off a list of signs for which individuals should look out, including aggressive or extreme behavior, constant hunger, eating disorders, depression or listlessness, underperformance at school and in extracurrivular activities, fear of going home, sleep disturbances, unexplained absences, poor hygiene, inappropriate dress and poor peer relationships.

He called on Brooklynites to call 911 or the New York State Central Register's public hotline and noted a phone number which mandated reporters should call. He also said his office can give Operation C.A.R.E. presentation, including civic organizations, houses of worship, schools and senior centers.

ACS said it received an anonymous report of a young girl in a cage at Jordan's residence on November 26. But the caller reported an inaccurate address.

The agency has since begun “a highly active investigation.”

The Jordan tragedy follows Perkins' death in September after ACS investigated five abuse allegations lodged against his mother. The agency has since put five child protective services staff on modified assignment and four others were suspended without pay for 30 days and demoted.

ACS reported that between July and September, there were 10,056 total reports to the New York State Central Register of suspected child abuse and/or neglect citywide—3,042 of which were from Brooklyn, coming out to 30 percent of the total. And at least one-third of the reports had one prior report connected to them.

James and Comptroller Scott Stringer both called on the agency to conduct a swift and transparent investigation into Jordan's death. Mark Peters, the commissioner of the Department of Investigations, also said his agency had asked the state to grant him access to ACS records to conduct his own probe.

At a hearing on Halloween, Carrión cried as she testified before the City Council on child abuse cases, calling Perkins' death “her responsibility.” The mayor said he would not ask Carrión to resign, dismissing James' assertion that Carrión has done a poor job as ACS commissioner as “dead wrong.”

James shot back at the time, “What's ‘dead wrong' is dead children.” At the hearing, she said she was confused by the fact that ACS the agency only pursues reforms when a child dies, although Carrión promised to cooperate with her.



Be aware of abuse a child may be experiencing

by Lauren Book

I'm very sad to say, but it was only a matter of time. The stories are different, but somehow always the same: a well-loved, well-trusted, often immeasurably talented individual infiltrates a youth serving organization to gain access to children. That person successfully victimizes, abuses and shames kids into silence, while receiving praise and respect from parents, the organization and often the community at large.

But it could never happen to our children. Never our coaches or counselors. Not in our community, right?


It could, can and does happen in communities just like yours, to children just like yours, with coaches just like the ones you know, love and trust. Sadly, it happens every day. It's a lesson the UK is learning right now, in one of the worst ways possible.

After several former pro soccer (football) players came forward in late November with allegations of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of childhood club coaches, calls from fellow former youth players began flooding hotlines.

In fact – a hotline set up specifically to receive information and counsel victims received 860 calls within the first hour of operation, resulting in 60 referrals to police. As of this week, more than 350 separate alleged victims have come forward to authorities. It is a number that is sure to rise.

How am I so sure?

Because the average child predator will offend against 117 children in his or her lifetime. Institutional pedophiles, like the coaches and leaders at the center of the UK youth soccer investigation, will groom and prey upon children for decades – a ‘fresh crop' of victims readily available once others age out of a program or leave due to the abuse.

You may find yourself skeptical, thinking surely the children would say something to someone. Sadly, children often try to tell or seek help in their own way, but adults miss the signs, or – in cases like Penn State – look the other way in favor of protecting a reputation or winning record. In other cases, shame, guilt, embarrassment, threats from an abuser or fear of not being believed keep a child silent for years, decades or a lifetime.

I praise the former players who found their voices and first reported the abuse they suffered, as they clearly empowered many, many other men and boys to come forward as well.

But I hope this national tragedy prompts the United Kingdom to do more than just seek justice for those involved. This should be a wake up call for our friends across the pond – and for us.

Here in Florida, we have already taken a big step toward safeguarding our children from abuse, and I urge other states, and countries, to employ it, too. That step is the expansion of mandatory reporting.

We led the charge in 2011, along with committed and engaged state legislators, to designate each and every Floridian a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse – with a 3rd degree felony for failure to report, and a $1 million fine for colleges and universities that knowingly cover up allegations of abuse. And, as I always explain, if we suspect a child is being harmed, it's not our job to know for sure and not our duty to investigate. It's simply our moral and legal obligation to report our suspicions.

Even if a report is not accepted – there is not enough information to warrant an investigation – a “flag” is created in the system. If multiple flags regarding a person, child or situation are generated over time, those dots are connected and an investigation is triggered. Something that could have possibly helped authorities in the UK uncover the abuse in youth club soccer decades sooner.

But laws can only take us so far.

Ninety-five percent of child sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness. What does this mean? That we must, each and every one of us, commit to educating ourselves, our children, and our communities on grooming behavior, red flags of abuse, how to avoid the traps predators set, and how to seek help if something is not quite right. We must let go of long held adages like ‘stranger danger,' and open our eyes to the fact that 90% of the time a child is harmed, it's at the hands of someone they – and their parents – know and trust.

Remember, no youth-serving organization or community program is immune from predators trying to exploit its mission to gain access to children, but with proper policies and procedures in place to protect children and identify abusers, we can create a safer environment.

Each and every one of us has a role in the safety of our children. And together, we can prevent abuse and protect childhood.

For information on how to develop policies and procedures to keep children, and organizations, safe from sexual predators, visit: If you suspect a child is being abused, visit to make an anonymous report. And for tips, tools and safety lessons parents can employ at home, visit:

Lauren Book is the founder and CEO of South Florida-based nonprofit Lauren's Kids and a member of the Florida State Senate. An educator, author, advocate and survivor of child sexual abuse, Book has dedicated her life to preventing abuse and protecting childhood. Reach her at


West Virginia

Children's Listening Place accredited by National Children's Alliance

by The News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG — The Children's Listening Place in Parkersburg has been accredited by the National Children's Alliance for quality and effective services to child abuse victims, officials said.

The Children's Listening Place, located at 4421 Emerson Ave., underwent an extensive application and site review process.

As the accrediting agency for children's advocacy centers across the country, the National Children's Alliance awards different levels of accreditation and membership. Accreditation is the highest level of membership with National Children's Alliance and denotes excellence in service provision.

The process usually takes five years, but was accomplished by the local agency, said Lisa Sutton, executive director of the Children's Listening Place.

“As a team of individuals dedicated to responding to child abuse, we recognize the importance of accreditation from National Children's Alliance and supporting the multidisciplinary team approach. Accreditation not only validates our organization's proven effective approach to responding to allegations of child abuse, but also provides consistency across the child advocacy center movement as a whole,” Sutton said.

Since opening in July 2014, the Children's Listening Place has conducted more than 400 interviews. Its growth has caused the expansion from one fulltime director to three fulltime employees. It moved from donated office space of three rooms to Emerson Avenue and now offers pediatric sexual assault medical examinations and therapy on site.

As an Accredited Member of National Children's Alliance, the Children's Listening Place is dedicated to providing comprehensive, coordinated and compassionate services to victims of child abuse.

The National Children's Alliance awards accredited membership based on compliance with 10 standards to ensure effective, efficient and consistent delivery of services to child abuse victims. The Alliance updated these standards in 2010 to reflect the most recent evidence-based practices in the field of child abuse intervention and prevention.

According to the standards, accredited members must utilize a functioning and effective multidisciplinary team approach to work collaboratively in child abuse investigation, prosecution, and treatment. National Children's Alliance also considers standards regarding a center's cultural competency and diversity, forensic interviews, victim support and advocacy, medical evaluation, therapeutic intervention, and child focused setting.

“The Children's Listening Place is to be commended for its excellent work serving victims of child abuse. As the national association and accrediting body for children's advocacy centers across the country, our goal is to ensure that every victim of child abuse has access to high quality services that result from professional collaboration,” Teresa Huizar, executive director of national children's alliance, said.

For more information about The Children's Listening Pace, visit

The Children's Listening Place is the 21st center in West Virginia. Its mission is to provide a neutral, child friendly location where children can be comfortably interviewed by use of a collaborative team approach. Children and non-offending caregivers are then referred for appropriate services. The goal of this approach is to minimize the trauma of reporting child abuse and neglect by providing a unitary response and eliminating repetitive interviews and procedures.

National Children's Alliance is the national association and accrediting body for the over 750 children's advocacy centers serving each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.


United Kingdom

Football child sex abuse claims: What has happened so far?

by The BBC

It is less than three weeks since ex-Crewe defender Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to say he was a victim of sexual abuse as a young footballer.

Since then, more than 20 former footballers - including ex-youth players, trainees and professionals - have also come forward with allegations of historical abuse in football.

The Football Association has announced an internal review; 350 people have alleged they are victims and 55 amateur and professional football clubs are linked to allegations of abuse.

FA chairman Greg Clarke says it is the biggest crisis he can remember for the organisation.

How did the news emerge?

On 16 November, former Bury and Sheffield United player Woodward, 43, waived his right to anonymity and told the Guardian he was sexually abused as a youth player.

Since he spoke out, several others - including former England and Tottenham footballer Paul Stewart and ex-Manchester City striker David White - have told their stories publicly.

On Monday, former Crewe Alexandra players Woodward and Steve Walters, and ex-Manchester City youth player Chris Unsworth launched an independent trust that will "fight for justice" and support victims.

The Offside Trust is asking for donations from the English Football League, Football Association, Premier League, Professional Footballers' Association and commercial organisations that profit from the game.

How many clubs are involved?

To date, there are 55 amateur and professional football clubs linked to allegations of abuse, with several having confirmed their own inquiries.

Chelsea have apologised "profusely" to former footballer Gary Johnson over abuse he suffered in the 1970s and are conducting their own review into the case.

QPR say they are taking allegations made against former employee Chris Gieler "very seriously" and will "co-operate fully in any forthcoming investigation".

Charlton Athletic, Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City have also opened investigations into allegations of historical abuse.

Southampton are "fully supporting" Hampshire Police in its investigations, and Newcastle say they will "co-operate fully" with the "relevant authorities".

Martin Glenn, FA chief executive, has said: "We have clear rules in the game and if there's any evidence of a breach of those - and hushing up would be one - when it's our turn to apply the rules, we absolutely will, regardless of size of club."

He later added: "I can't say if there has been a cover-up in the game but I doubt it."

What is the FA doing?

The FA has begun an internal review - led by Clive Sheldon QC - to look at what officials and clubs knew and when. It had been intended that Kate Gallafent QC would lead the review, but she was replaced because of other professional commitments.

The review will look at what information the FA was aware of at relevant times and what action was, or should have been, taken.

The FA has said it is working closely with police but added it "must ensure we do not do anything to interfere with or jeopardise the criminal process".

The Child Protection in Sport Unit, which has assisted the FA in relation to its safeguarding procedures since 2000, will also carry out an independent audit into the FA's practises.

BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme reported that the FA scrapped a major review of its child protection policies in 2003.

Are police investigating?

Twenty one police forces have opened investigations into the claims.

They are:

Devon and Cornwall, Warwickshire, Avon and Somerset, Essex, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, North Wales, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, West Midlands, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys, Scotland Yard, Police Scotland, Northumbria Police, Derbyshire Constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Which other organisations have acted?

A dedicated sexual abuse helpline, set up by the NSPCC and supported by the FA, received 860 calls within its first three days.

The organisation made more than 60 referrals to a range of agencies across the UK.

That was more than three times as many as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the charity said.

The chief executive of funding body UK Sport has said if any sport did not take enough action to deal with the issue of abuse it would reconsider its funding.

The national child abuse inquiry is considering whether to investigate abuse in football as part of its overarching probe, culture secretary Karen Bradley said.

What about the rest of the UK?

A former youth football coach and top-flight assistant referee has been accused of a catalogue of child sex offences in Scotland.

Pete Haynes, 50, claims Hugh Stevenson sexually abused him over a three to four-year period from 1979. Stevenson died in 2004.

Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan "apologised deeply" to Haynes, and told the BBC his organisation took full responsibility for child protection failings of the past.

Three of Wales' four police forces are investigating allegations of historical child sexual abuse at football clubs.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has started investigating a number of allegations linked to football clubs.

It told the The Nolan Show it had received a "very small number of allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse".

How widespread could abuse be?

Former Tottenham midfielder Stewart has said the sport could be facing a crisis on the scale of the Savile scandal.

After his death, former DJ and television presenter Savile was found to have been a prolific sexual predator.

A lawyer representing the Offside Trust told the BBC that "calls and emails are coming in all the time" from people claiming to have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements with clubs in return for compensation.

Edward Smethurst told sports editor Dan Roan he "could not make specific allegations" but revealed "several" victims had come forward.


South Dakota

Community members hope to end child neglect in SD

by Robert Grant

Rapid City, SD -- Community members gathered in Rapid City, Sunday - to make a difference in the fight against child abuse.

This comes after officials found two severely underfed children on the Pine Ridge Reservation last month.

Patty Pourier, the meeting coordinator, said "When children aren't taken care of - when they become teenagers, it sometimes ends up to be a hopeless situation."

Patty Pourier woke up to the tragic news in November - a 2 and 3-year-old found on the Pine Ridge Reservation weighing just 13 pounds each.

Pourier said "It just has haunted me and I decided I can make a difference."

So, the life-long Pine Ridge resident coordinated a task force - working to end the problem.

Pourier said "Talk is cheap, action makes a difference."

Leaders here say there's no solid data on the numbers effected by child neglect.

But reports do show 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys struggle with sexual abuse before reaching 18-years-old.

Tanya Fritz, with the Children's Home Society, said "You look around the room and it's almost impossible to be in a room with people where somebody has experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse."

Experts say child abuse is just one of the problems leading to the reservation's staggering suicide epidemic.

Coordinators here say up to 4 people attempt taking their own lives each week.

And there's several problems at the root of child abuse - including...

C.J. Clifford, a representative of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said "Alcohol and drugs have taken a major negative effect on us."

But members here say this is more than a Pine Ridge issue.

They met in 8 different groups - from professionals to foster parents - fighting for change, Sunday.

Pourier said "If you can share ideas with colleagues then we can come out with a better idea of what to do."

Clifford said "Building some dialogue so that we can move forward in a good positive way."

One idea is to increase the number of foster families in Pine Ridge.

There's just more than a dozen qualified parents - but officials need closer to 50.

And the solution starts with awareness.

Clifford said "Child welfare is a subject that has probably been long forgotten or pushed aside underneath the rug."

Organizers say there are many people helping, including graduates from Oglala Lakota College - now working in social services on the reservation.



A letter to the prime minister from a survivor of abuse

by Anonymous

Dear Prime Minister,

While getting ready for work recently, I listened with interest to your address to the White Ribbon Day Breakfast on television. White Ribbon is a cause that has been close to my heart for many years

As a teenager, I was sexually abused by an adult family friend, and more recently, in my late twenties, I was involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. Despite these experiences, most people who know me would be shocked if they knew what I've endured. I've completed two degrees. I've built a successful and rewarding career. My colleagues, friends and family would describe me as confident, smart and successful.

However, like many survivors of abuse, despite my outward appearance, I have struggled with intense feelings of guilt and shame, depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal ideation, and difficulties in all of my intimate relationships. Fortunately, I have received extensive support from family, friends and several psychologists. It is only now, in my early thirties, I consider myself to be in a relatively good place. Which is why I was surprised by how strongly I reacted to your address.

To be clear, this is not a letter about politics or policy. I applaud the Government's focus on eliminating violence against women, and the important role you and other male politicians play in this realm.

This is a letter about language and focus, specifically: “But above all as parents, we have to raise our sons from the earliest age to respect women - beginning with their mothers and their sisters - the women closest to them, the first women they meet, they learn to live with. They must be taught to respect them, and we must encourage and teach our daughters to have greater self-esteem.”

Daughters. Greater self-esteem. Those words have replayed themselves in my head countless times since i heard you speak. I have asked myself: Did I have low self-esteem as a teenager? If I had greater self-esteem, would I have been sexually abused? Acutely aware of the fact that survivors of child sexual abuse are at increased risk of re-victimisation in adulthood, I wondered: If I had greater self-esteem, would I have tolerated the emotional abuse I experienced as an adult? Or would I have had the strength to walk away?

In the last week, I have had difficulty sleeping. I have been crippled by chronic physical pain, not felt for years. I have cried. I have reached out to an old friend for support. I have disclosed my experiences to a new friend, seeking additional support.

What I have realised, thankfully relatively quickly, is that the answers to the questions I've been asking myself are irrelevant. They're irrelevant because there is nothing I said or did or didn't say or didn't do that caused the abuse. So what if I had low self-esteem? I know I am not to blame. And I know you know this too. I have no doubt your words were full of positive intent.

However, what I've realised is that those few words I heard were a huge trigger for me. They were a trigger because they took the focus away from men's attitudes and men's behaviours and placed the focus back on women. This is problematic because the majority of violence against women is perpetrated by men, and therefore men's attitudes are pivotal to accountability and responsibility for that violence.

Therefore, Prime Minister, my ask of you is simple. Please continue to use your influence to drive attitudinal and behavioural change among men. Please continue to focus on the positive role men can play to stop violence against women.

There is a statement that appears on the White Ribbon website: “We can empower boys to stand up and speak out [about sexist behaviour] and also empower young women to understand that they have every right to expect respect.” The difference between “expect respect” and “encouraging and teaching [our daughters] to develop greater self-esteem” is that, like all of White Ribbon's communications, the focus remains on changing men's attitudes and men's behaviour. “Expect respect” sends a vastly different message to “our daughters” about the role they play in violence against women, and the role they play in eliminating it.

Kind regards,

A survivor



Child abuse reports on decline in Gila Valley

by Reza Jazi

GRAHAM COUNTY — Law enforcement officials said reports of child abuse in the Gila Valley are on the decline. But one child advocate said that good news shouldn't mean people think child abuse is gone.

“Child abuse also surrounds maltreatment, not being fed, unsuitable living conditions like if there is feces on the floor, whether children are kept clean or in an environment that could be detrimental,” said Christy Maltos, First Steps program coordinator at Child and Family Resources.

The Child Abuse Prevention Council reports that one in two children are likely to experience some form of abuse; and every 10 seconds, child abuse is reported in the state of Arizona.

The Gila Valley was the scene of one of the most disturbing cases of child abuse, when the body of a 3-year-old was discovered buried in a Thatcher back yard in 2014.

Investigation found the child, Makayla Sanchez, was killed by her mother's boyfriend, Joshua Matthew Cisneros, after the child had a bathroom accident while shopping. The forensic investigation determined Cisneros severely beat the child, which likely left her with broken ribs from either kicking or stepping his entire 190-pound frame on the girl's back. Cisneros told investigators Makayla's cries awoke him early the next morning, and that was when investigators believe Cisneros delivered the fatal blow that crushed Makayla's skull.

Cisneros and Makayla's mother, Anna Marie Sanchez, buried the child's body in the back yard of the home they were renting, where she remained undiscovered for two years.

Cisneros pleaded guilty to seven separate counts, including second-degree murder, child abuse, aggravated assault, abandonment or concealment of a body, unlawful use of food stamps and two counts of forgery. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Anna Marie Sanchez, 28, also signed a plea agreement in which she pled guilty to child abuse, abandonment or concealment of a body, fraudulent schemes, unlawful use of food stamps and two counts of forgery. She was sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Thatcher Chief of Police Shaffen D. Woods, whose department investigated the Sanchez murder, said, “There is a decline in abuse cases reported to our office. We have very few reports, so that is a good thing.”

In 2014, Thatcher Police received 14 child abuse reports, four of which were sex offense reports involving juvenile victims. That number sharply went down to five cases with two sex offenses in 2015. There has been only one report of child abuse in 2016 so far.

“Not all cases get prosecuted or have enough evidence to charge a suspect, and sometimes victims decide not to pursue charges,” Woods said.

Graham County Sheriff PJ Allred said reports to his agency are going down each year as well. GCSO received 16 reports in 2014, 15 in 2015 and 11 reports thus far in 2016.

Safford Police Chief Joe Brugman said his agency has received 39 child abuse reports since 2014, with 12 investigated.

“Eighty-five percent of those who abuse children are usually involved in substance abuse,” Maltos said, which is why she and her colleagues cooperate with the Graham County Substance Abuse to try to stop one of the biggest contributing factors to abuse.

Maltos said another contributing factor is that some parents — especially young parents — just don't have the skills to deal with children and lash out in frustration. Also, undiagnosed depression and postnatal depression in a parent can be a factor.

Arizona Early Intervention Program, Early Head Start, First Steps, Parents as Teachers, and Healthy Families are programs in which parents can enroll to get the skills to parent without abuse.

Mark Klym, prevention coordinator at Arizona Department of Child Safety, said there has been a total of 49,935 reports statewide of child abuse from July 2015 to June 2016, including 36 cases of abuse, 108 reports of neglect and 47 near fatalities.

Graham County had one fatality during that same time, while Greenlee County had none.


United Kingdom

David Beckham will highlight child abuse with his TATTOOS in new campaign for Unicef

The heavily inked hunk is showing how childhood abuse can mark someone for the rest of their life

by Catherine Wylie

(Video on site)

David Beckham's love of tattoos has inspired a film made to highlight how abuse can mark children forever.

Scenes of violence against children appear as animated tattoos on Beckham's body during Unicef's 60-second clip.

The former football star's own collection of tattoos were marks chosen to represent happy or important memories, and the charity points out that millions of children bear marks they have not chosen - the long-lasting scars of violence and abuse.

The animations in the film depict forms of violence that children endure in spaces where they should be safe, such as their homes, schools, online and in their communities.

Unicef goodwill ambassador Beckham, 41, said: "When I launched my 7 Fund with Unicef, I made a commitment to do everything I can to make the world a safer place for children and to speak out on issues that are having a devastating impact on children's lives.

"One of those issues is violence. Every five minutes, somewhere in the world, a child dies from violence. Millions more are in danger of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that could destroy their childhoods forever.

"Last year I visited Cambodia with Unicef where I met and listened to children tell me about terrible violence they have experienced.

"I was shocked by what I heard and I saw how violence can leave deep and lasting scars. No child should have to endure this. Yet in all corners of the world, in their homes, schools and on their streets, children are suffering similar violence.

"I hope this new project will draw attention to this urgent issue and inspire action. Violence against children is wrong and together we need to end it."

Using U-report, a messaging tool that allows young people to report on issues affecting their lives, father-of-four Beckham invited young people to answer questions on violence against children.


North Carolina

Prevent. Identify. Respond.

by Bill Cresenzo

Within the walls of even the most seemingly happy Alamance County homes, children are molested, assaulted and raped.

And to this, Kelly Stutts has this to say:

“Prevent. Identify. Respond.”

Stutts, who lives in southern Alamance County, has made it her mission to inform people about how to prevent sexual abuse of children, and how to identify children who may be victims of abuse.

Stutts talks to school, church and business groups to spread that message. She is a prevention specialist for the Alamance County Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Coalition, and a facilitator for Darkness to Light, a nonprofit group that trains people to prevent abuse and to spot children who may be victims of it. And she wants to talk to as many audiences as she can.

Stutts was born in Henderson, but has spent most of her life in Alamance County. (She was once a sales rep for the Times-News.)

“It doesn't matter their socioeconomic status or culture,” she said. “Everyone is at risk. People don't want to talk about sex in this way, and I never thought I would be talking to people about it in this way. But if we don't talk about abuse, we are letting it prevail.”

She understands the pain and difficulty involved in reporting suspected abuse, but that discomfort is nothing compared to what an abused child goes through.

“Children often feel guilty and ashamed. They feel like is their fault, and it's so important for them to know that it is not their fault,” she said. “They are worth fighting for. If you make a good-faith report, you are not going to be held liable if you are wrong. Of course, we hope we would be wrong, but it is our responsibility to speak up for that child and take that risk to protect that child."

Stutts stresses that she is not a sexual abuse counselor. Her job — which is unpaid — is to hold free seminars to give people the information they need to prevent abuse and to identify potential abuse victims.

According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, one in five girls and one in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse. And, according to Darkness to Light, more than 90 percent are victims of someone they know and trust.

“You can't [necessarily] recognize a perpetrator,” Stutts said. “You can't look at someone and know they are a pedophile. You have to take to take precautions to make sure children are protected. Often the abuser is someone who is known and trusted to the children and the child's family, who has access to them.”

Stutts encourages people to consider joining the CSA Coalition, and is available to speak about child abuse prevention and what people can do if they know about or suspect it. She can be reached at The web address for the coalition is



Researchers examine effects of toxic stress on children's brain development

by Science Daily

Ann Mastergeorge and Elizabeth Trejos-Castillo appeared to be in a scene from a dystopian novel.

They stood in a clean room on the upper floor of a new, government-built apartment building. From the window, it was a spare but pleasant space for somebody to make a temporary home.

One glance ut the window, however, showed a different world: crack addicts, just finishing a hit, sprawled on the pavement, many half-dressed. The pavement was heated to the point of pain by the 100-degree weather, but none were sober enough to recognize their skin was burning. Fumes filled the humid air, wafting into open doors and windows. Police watched nearby.

This was no dystopian novel. It was October in São Paulo, Brazil, in an area known as Cracklandia. And it wasn't just adults who lived and died there.

"We watched children," said Mastergeorge, chairwoman of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Texas Tech University. "It just broke my heart to look at these young children in abandoned buildings eating a piece of bread, and they're hanging their shorts out over this windowsill and the street is just filled with people who are abusing drugs. They're inhaling toxic fumes. That is what they witness every single day."

The two researchers -- Trejos-Castillo is a professor in the same department -- have spent their careers examining what's broken in schools, homes, government and society and the effect that damage has on children. More importantly, they look at what can be done to fix these problems.

That is how they came to be standing in an upstairs room of a detox facility in downtown São Paulo, looking at the scene in Cracklandia. Mastergeorge and Trejos-Castillo were among the half-dozen Texas Tech researchers who partnered with Brazilian researchers through the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP). FAPESP donated $20,000 over a two-year period through the São Paulo Researchers International Collaboration (SPRINT) program, and Texas Tech matched the money.

Trejos-Castillo and Mastergeorge, along with Andrea Jackowski, a researcher from the Federal University of São Paulo, are examining the effects of toxic stress on the brain development of children using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology. The Texas Tech researchers spent a week in São Paulo in October to meet with current and potential collaborators and see what the children whose brains they're studying see every day and how the experiences of these children could be applied to the world over. It turns out, it's not so different elsewhere.

"We have forgotten what the basic needs of a child are: feeling safe, cared for, loved, protected and supported," Trejos-Castillo said. "The very basic things that should happen in a family, we may be forgetting about these."

What is toxic stress?

Stress comes from the car breaking down and putting the repair on a credit card, setting you back financially for a couple of months.

Toxic stress comes from a constant, unending worry about money, wondering where food is going to come from, if there's enough money to pay rent, not being able to afford a much-needed doctor's visit, not being able to leave an abusive spouse because of a lack of resources.

The first, while difficult in the moment, does not consume a person's life. The end is in sight, and in the long run he or she will suffer little because of it. The second, if left unchecked, can literally become a part of the people struggling with it. Toxic stress is pervasive. It bleeds into every aspect of a person's life, offering no respite or recourse. There is no visible end. It is that person's normal.

Clinically, Mastergeorge said, toxic stress is defined as "unrelieved activation of the body's stress management system due to strong, frequent and/or prolonged adversity such as physical/emotional abuse, neglect, extreme poverty, exposure to violence and other traumatic events without adequate adult support."

There's also no outlet to relieve this stress, Trejos-Castillo said. People who experience stress or even trauma, such as witnessing a terrible car accident, usually are able to go home, talk it out with a spouse or friend, eat dinner with the family, cry, take a long bath or walk or find some way to release the stress of what they experienced. That's not true with toxic stress.

"In this case you're not able to de-escalate the stress," Trejos-Castillo said. "You're exposed to stress continuously for a long period of time, and then the body basically starts developing non-positive ways of coping with the stress."

The causes of toxic stress are varied. Abuse (verbal, emotional, physical and sexual) and neglect can cause toxic stress, as can extreme poverty or witnessing violence, including domestic violence between parents or violence in the community.

What is the effect of toxic stress on children?

Some of the effects have been determined, particularly in recent years. Improved technology and society's recognition that long-term exposure to trauma causes damage have led researchers in recent years to pinpoint certain effects of toxic stress. Children experience externalizing behaviors like aggression and internalizing behaviors like anxiety and depression.

The difficulty for many observers is these behaviors aren't exclusive to children whose development has been stunted by how they grew up, and often people see only an aggressive child who's acting out, not a child who's acting out trying to get someone to notice the constant pain he or she experiences.

The trauma causing toxic stress and its effects also can have the subtle but equally dangerous effect of normalization. Children who don't have a bigger worldview may come to think domestic violence happens in every family or people being shot in the streets is a part of life. They expect to get caught up in gang violence, go to prison or die young.

"Some talk about how long they're going to live," Trejos-Castillo said. "It sounds very pessimistic, but they say they don't expect to live more than 25 years because that's what they see."

What is perhaps scarier for the researchers is how insidious this toxic stress is. Jackowski collected fMRI data of children who experienced toxic stress, and Mastergeorge and Trejos-Castillo analyzed that data. What they see is unrelenting, unending trauma seeps into a child's brain development, altering his or her cognitive abilities and ability to function. A child reaches a point where trauma-affected behavior cannot be unlearned. The damage is already done.

Where are children most likely to experience toxic stress?

Syrian refugees have been exposed to trauma, both in their ISIS-controlled homeland and in the difficult journey away from Syria. Children who grow up in the favelas of Brazil, where drug- and gang-related crime are rampant, witness trauma that affects them.

It is not, however, a problem exclusive to the developing world. Children in the United States, including children in Lubbock, are exposed every day to the kind of stress and trauma that can damage their cognitive development.

Children in Texas are particularly vulnerable, both researchers said.

"Lubbock has one of the highest percentages of child abuse and neglect in Texas and in the country," Trejos-Castillo said. "It has to do, among other things, with a lot of ignorance and generational abuse in families."

It also has to do with the lack of funding and awareness from those making funding decisions, Mastergeorge said.

"Services have been cut at the state level, in particular to cities," she said. "We're learning from our international colleagues that we have much more in common than we would have thought."

Research so far hasn't shown much difference in how a child reacts to toxic stress based on geography. Children in East Lubbock who experience extreme poverty, children in south central Los Angeles and Brazil who see gang violence every day and children in Syria who see war all experience basically the same cognitive and behavioral effects.

"What's important for a layperson to understand is a child in East Lubbock who's experiencing toxic stress is very similar to a child you might see in another country who's homeless or who's been exposed to the bombings in Syria," Mastergeorge said.

"The way the body responds to toxic stress is similar across contexts -- we're all human beings; we're not very different from people in other parts of the world," Trejos-Castillo echoed.

What can be done to prevent or at least mitigate the effects of toxic stress? This is, after all, the million-dollar question. Knowing the effects is most valuable in how it informs the way society responds to these issues.

"It doesn't get better on its own," Trejos-Castillo said. "People feel like they'll grow out of that, it's just children and teens acting out."

Teachers, counselors, hospital workers

Much can be done by providing children with a safe space filled with people who can help them. To that end, Trejos-Castillo and Mastergeorge would like to focus on training school teachers and counselors to recognize the effects of trauma. Instead of taking a child who is acting out to the principal's office, calling his or her parents or sending the child to in-school suspension, a teacher may recognize the child is asking for help, albeit in a disruptive way.

"Probably the only place they actually feel safe and are able to show what they're going through is in school," Trejos-Castillo said.

Those who are in positions of authority should talk to the child, look for signs of trauma in their lives and take proactive steps to teach the children healthy coping mechanisms. Even actions as simple as explaining that what these children are experiencing is not normal can help.

"In a way it helps them realize what is going on in their house, although it's normal for them, it's not positive and it's not good, and they don't have to follow exactly the same kind of behaviors they're seeing," Trejos-Castillo said.

Teachers, counselors and religious leaders also need to know what challenges students are facing. Lubbock may not have the rampant gang violence that Brazil does, but for families in extreme poverty, the situations aren't noticeably different. However, poverty and its effects are less dramatic in terms of headlines and grabbing community attention.

"Hunger is a huge issue in in our culture that affects children every day," Mastergeorge said.


Get either of these women in a room with someone at the Texas Capitol and they'll give the same message every time: Texas needs to invest more money protecting and helping children and families affected by abuse, neglect and extreme poverty. If the state continues underfunding these programs, the children affected today likely will suffer the rest of their lives because of it, and the largely fixable problem will be passed onto another generation, thus exacerbating the problem.

"There's something called a return on investment, and it's true in development as well," Mastergeorge said. "We know if you invest early, the return on your investment is very, very high. We have data on that from economists and developmentalists; it's all been well-documented. I just hope the investment in funds for these families in need, especially in our state, is heard."

After media reports earlier this year showed almost 1,000 at-risk children in Texas had gone unseen by Child Protective Services employees for six months and the Department of Family and Protective Services had a budget shortfall of $40 million, the organization asked for millions to hire additional employees and pay their current employees more. Legislators have committed to take on the issue in the 2017 session.

It has to be a priority, Mastergeorge said.

"It's critical for our legislators and government officials to really understand the impact of poverty and stress, in particular toxic stress, on the outcomes for young children and children in general," Mastergeorge said. "If we don't do something to effect a more positive approach to children's development, we will continue to have long-term problems in our society."


All three researchers expect their work to advance the collective knowledge not only of the effects of toxic stress on children but also where this question is leading, informing other researchers on similar studies. It also may destroy some assumptions researchers have held previously that restricted the questions they asked and open the door to additional collaboration.

"The research we do, the impact it can have on the field -- it's substantial," Mastergeorge said. "We talk about impacting professionals and the community at large, but there are other scientists who do work in the field and they need this information to help propel them forward in terms of what they're going to be doing both clinically and in the field."

"This is not a group of researchers' problem," Trejos-Castillo said. "This is society's problem."

Prevention vs. Intervention

Most people agree preventing problems is easier and more cost-effective than fixing what's already broken. However, that doesn't always pan out in the real world.

"A problem with prevention is you don't see the effects," Trejos-Castillo said. "When we do intervention we can say we changed something, but when we do prevention we're trying to not have the problem. As a culture we are really backward about that."

While pushing for opportunities for prevention, they're taking the situation as it is now and looking at ways to mitigate the harmful effects of toxic stress. Mastergeorge is a frequent and vocal supporter of programs like Early Head Start, which helps provide children with a safe environment for several hours throughout the week, thus relieving some of the pressure, but also works with parents and families to break the cycle of poverty, drug abuse or domestic violence that contributes to volatility at home.

Regardless of the focus, this research and related studies have made one point clear: a significant amount of work remains to reduce the far-reaching effects of extreme poverty and the related issues of drug abuse and domestic violence on children and families the world over. It's a difficult subject for researchers to consider because of the emotions that came when studying children who are suffering, but one they can't let go.

"Basically, to do this kind of work you have to have hope," Mastergeorge said. "I have a lot of hope that the work we do can make a difference. Not only is it essential that we pay attention to these areas that are very difficult to pull the veil off of and really take a hard look it, but I do strongly believe based on what I have observed both as a clinician and a researcher and also just being in the trenches with families that the kinds of preventions and interventions we can provide really do have an impact.

"I think that's why we do what we do."



It takes a village

by Jessica Pounds

I've never had any children of my own, but I do know one thing that is for sure: they come first.

Once a man or woman becomes a parent, nothing else except for the wellbeing of their children should matter.

Most agree. But then again, there are some who just don't see it that way.

There are children in this world who don't know where they will sleep tonight. Some who don't know when their next meal will be. Some who are so used to being hit they no longer flinch when a hand strikes their body.

I've tossed and turned countless nights just thinking about that.

Over the years I've often heard from others that these men and women do not deserve to be parents.

For a long time, I agreed.

It wasn't until my husband, who lived with an abusive father as a child, said something to me over dinner one night that made me change my mind.

I was complaining to him about my disgust for parents who do harm to their children, either physically, emotionally or verbally.

I told him matter-of-factly that I believed people shouldn't have children if they don't want them.

He looked at me, almost angrily, and said, “If that's true, then that means that I shouldn't be here.”

Man, he really put me in my place and I felt awful.

But he was right — he surely did not deserve to not be alive because he had a worthless parent.

As angry or emotional as I may get when I see children who have been abused, I always try to remind myself of what my husband said to me that night.

It is never the child's fault. They are not born asking to be neglected or unwanted. They deserve a chance at a happy life as much as those who are born to good parents do.

I feel like we must come up with a solution to child abuse instead or reacting with our emotions.

First, people are going to do what they feel is right for them.

If someone thinks it is OK to take care of their wants before the needs of their children, how can we educate them so they understand the short- and long-term effects of that? Are there programs for at-risk bad parents?

It makes more sense to be proactive rather than reactive because there is so much on the line.

Also, for those who truly don't get it, I believe 100 percent that adoption would make them a good parent.

Despite how awful they have been, they can make one decision that their child would be forever grateful for.

Giving them a home with someone who will give them the love and care they deserve would be the best thing they could ever do.

For those on the outside of the situation, there are things we can do as well, especially here in Johnson County.

The Children's Advocacy Center of Johnson County — a place where children can tell their story of abuse and begin to reclaim their lives — is always in need of monetary donations to help the center expand.

The center provides forensic interviews, advocacy, medical evaluation and treatment and therapeutic intervention for child abuse victim and are available to the child for as long as needed.

Sadly, since the center first opened in 1998, the need for these services grows daily.

To donate to the CAC, visit

Located within the offices of Child Protective Services are Rainbow Rooms which store essential items needed for the kids whose lives are in crisis.

Sometimes, the difference between a child who goes to school and one who doesn't is a pair of shoes.

Sometimes, the difference between loving parents being able to maintain custody of their kids and having them removed is a bed.

Sometimes, the difference between an infant who is healthy and one who isn't is formula and clean diapers.

Rainbow Rooms provide these items and more to prevent children from being in crisis situations, which is made available through donations provided by the community.

If you would like to donate similar items, visit

There are so many other ways to help lessen the damage done to children in abusive situations and I encourage each of you to explore ways you can help.

It takes a village to raise a child and I believe if we all work together this will be a much better world for our children.


South Dakota

Community members hope to end child neglect in SD

Community members hope to end child neglect in SD

by Robert Grant

Rapid City, SD -- Community members gathered in Rapid City, Sunday - to make a difference in the fight against child abuse.

This comes after officials found two severely underfed children on the Pine Ridge Reservation last month.

Patty Pourier, the meeting coordinator, said "When children aren't taken care of - when they become teenagers, it sometimes ends up to be a hopeless situation."

Patty Pourier woke up to the tragic news in November - a 2 and 3-year-old found on the Pine Ridge Reservation weighing just 13 pounds each.

Pourier said "It just has haunted me and I decided I can make a difference."

So, the life-long Pine Ridge resident coordinated a task force - working to end the problem.

Pourier said "Talk is cheap, action makes a difference."

Leaders here say there's no solid data on the numbers effected by child neglect.

But reports do show 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys struggle with sexual abuse before reaching 18-years-old.

Tanya Fritz, with the Children's Home Society, said "You look around the room and it's almost impossible to be in a room with people where somebody has experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse."

Experts say child abuse is just one of the problems leading to the reservation's staggering suicide epidemic.

Coordinators here say up to 4 people attempt taking their own lives each week.

And there's several problems at the root of child abuse - including...

C.J. Clifford, a representative of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, said "Alcohol and drugs have taken a major negative effect on us."

But members here say this is more than a Pine Ridge issue.

They met in 8 different groups - from professionals to foster parents - fighting for change, Sunday.

Pourier said "If you can share ideas with colleagues then we can come out with a better idea of what to do."

Clifford said "Building some dialogue so that we can move forward in a good positive way."

One idea is to increase the number of foster families in Pine Ridge.

There's just more than a dozen qualified parents - but officials need closer to 50.

And the solution starts with awareness.

Clifford said "Child welfare is a subject that has probably been long forgotten or pushed aside underneath the rug."

Organizers say there are many people helping, including graduates from Oglala Lakota College - now working in social services on the reservation.