Groups offer child abuse prevention training, programs
by Brooke Crum
There is no shortage of programs in the Abilene area to help prevent and address child abuse and neglect.
BCFS Health and Human Services and the Regional Victim Crisis Center both offer programs to educate children on how to recognize abuse and bullying and who to tell if they know of someone being abuse or if they are being abused or bullied.
The RVCC administers a program called We Help Ourselves, or WHO, at Abilene schools.
The center has been offering this evidence-based program for more than 25 years, and it is built into the Texas Education Agency's school safety and mental health plans because it addresses issues from bullying to suicide, child abuse and homelessness, said Lori Bunton, violence prevention director and certified victim advocate at RVCC.
"The kids love it, and the schools love it," she said. "One in 10 kids tell, but statistically we know victims tell others but no one helps them."
Bunton said 70 percent of children who are brave enough to make an outcry do not get the help they need from the people they tell.
"After a while, kids get tired of telling," she said, "and our goal is to get them to tell because we can't help unless they do."
Starting as early as age 3 and up until first grade, the WHO program teaches boundaries, safe places to be touched and the "icky" feeling kids get when people touch those unsafe places or stand too close, Bunton said.
The program uses videos, puppets and conversations with students so it doesn't even appear that they're learning. Shaun Bustillos, primary prevention educator with RVCC, recently brought the WHO program — and her puppets — to a Thomas Elementary first grade class.
When she asked the class who keeps the school safe, the students said grownups. Bustillos said, "No, it's you guys because you have more eyeballs."
Bustillos went on to teach the class about safe people to talk to — not strangers — and the differences between hurting someone on accident versus on purpose, secrets versus surprises, and good, bad and confusing touches.
"No one is supposed to hurt you," she told the class of excited first-graders. "If someone bullies you, lean forward, put your hand out and say 'please stop.'"
And if someone makes them feel "icky" or bad and asks them not to tell anyone, Bustillos told them to talk to their "safe people," like family members, teachers and police officers.
The RVCC also offers a specialized 12-week program for students who are at-risk of being victimized or who have been victimized called Promoting Alternative Thinking, or PATH. The evidence-based program is administered at two elementary schools during lunch and at two after-school programs to help the students learn empathy.
Additionally, the crisis center is one of 25 agencies in the state selected to build an evidence-based program to teach gender equality in middle school at Mann and Ortiz middle schools, Bunton said.
The program administrators will follow these students for three years to see if they can make "attitudinal change in their community to end gender equality issues related to violence," she said.
"The statistics show that for every individual that we can teach about child abuse and gender equality and all types of victimization...we have the potential to save 100 kids," Bunton said. "Everything we do is long-lasting."
The RVCC doesn't just teach about prevention.
It has a staff of licensed professional counselors who offer therapy to victims for the rest of their lives and certified victim advocates who go to court with them if the victims need support. The advocates receive certification through the state Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Victims of Crime in Washington D.C.
"A lot of time we're working with family members on how to deal with their feelings, their emotions, their myths," Bunton said. "It's not uncommon for the parents or the adults in the house not to believe or not be supportive of the children."
In conjunction with the Abilene Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the RVCC offers nurturing parenting classes on Thursday nights. The classes also are taught at Methodist Children's Home and Mission Church, Bunton said.
"These are families in which children have been pulled from their homes already, and they're having to do the class to meet the criteria to get their children back or close out (Child Protective Services) cases," she said.
The RVCC has a 24-hour hotline to respond to victims of violence of all ages: 325-677-7895.
BCFS works closely with the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, to provide programs, such as the Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support, said Emily Cole, North Texas regional director.
The community-based program teaches prevention primarily through parent education, talking to parents of all ages about the challenges and issues that arise with having children in the home, Cole said. Their youngest client is 13; their oldest are grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren.
Staff goes into the homes of these families and educates them based on the age of the child, ranging from when to take an infant to the hospital because of a high temperature and what can cause harm to children in the home, she said. For example, the largest instances of poison in the United States involve makeup.
"As women, we don't perceive it as a toxic thing, and we leave it lying around," Cole said. "It's a lot more accessible than the Clorox wipes because we know to put those up."
She said the program, which also emphasizes how to maximize parent-child interaction time, is empirically based and has high success rates of preventing abuse inside the home.
Moreover, BCFS partners with the YMCA, area psychiatric hospitals, the Boys & Girls Club, and Court-Appointed Special Advocates to teach children how to voice concerns if they are being abuse or know of someone being abused. The program is called Yellow Dino.
Another program, Stewards of Children, geared toward providers and caretakers of children focuses on sexual assault and educates them on how to recognize if someone has been sexually assaulted.
BCFS administers a 12-week group program called Fatherhood Effect in conjunction with Dyess Air Force Base and the Abilene Dream Center, a Christian program aimed to help drug and alcohol addictions, to teach fathers about what it means to be a dad in 2016 versus when they were growing up, Cole said.
Parenting has changed since the 1980s or 1950s with the introduction of technology, she said, and this program arms and prepares them for being a parent in this age and dealing with situations like divorce.
"We reiterate to them that an absent father has tremendous effects on children," Cole said.
Children who do not have fathers are four times more likely to go to jail and are just as likely to be abused, she said.
New Horizons, a local child-placing and foster care agency, provides the Services to At-Risk Youth program, which serves children, up to age 17, and families that need crisis intervention. The program offers counseling, emergency short-term respite care, and youth and parent skills classes.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PROGRAMS AVAILABLE IN YOUR COUNTY:
Preventing child abuse requires a societal approach
by Brooke Crum
Being a parent is not easy.
There is no handbook, no how-to guide.
There are no rules, no regulations, no role models every parent can embody.
And if a community such as Abilene, which has seen the highest rates of child abuse and neglect per capita in the state for the past five years, is going to make a dent in reducing those numbers, that fact must be acknowledged and accepted, according to Dr. Beverly Fortson, a behavioral scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Being a parent is tough, and it's important for all of us to support parents,” Fortson said. “Many times there's this notion of a family bubble and we don't want to interfere with what's happening in a family, but in fact everyone's children are going to do better when their neighbor's children are doing well or when their friend's children are doing well. Whatever we can do to support families to make sure everyone's children do well is important."
IT'S A SOCIETY THING
Fortson currently works on the Child Maltreatment and Sexual Violence Team in the Research and Evaluation Branch of the Division of Violence Prevention in the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
Her team recently published an evidence-based guide of various strategies known to prevent child abuse and neglect, called “Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities.”
The five doctors who developed the package examined the most effective strategies known to have the greatest impact in preventing child abuse and neglect, identifying five tactics with varying effect based on current evidence, Fortson said.
The strategies that have the most impact are ones that address societal problems, such as poverty and a lack of access to quality child care, Fortson said. Other strategies have less of an impact because they are likely to affect fewer people at a time.
Although research into how to prevent child abuse and neglect began more than 25 years ago, experts have only recently started looking at ways to support families and children at the community and societal level instead of just focusing on the parent-child relationship.
The Abilene-Wichita Falls region already may be doing this, which could explain why the area has the highest confirmed victim rate per 1,000 children in the state. The region has the highest reporting rate of abuse and neglect in the state, and caseworkers quickly make contact with children at risk of maltreatment, said Department of Family and Protective Services Commissioner Henry "Hank" Whitman.
A high reporting rate indicates increased awareness in the community and cooperation among the entities that investigate allegations of child abuse and neglect, such as Child Protective Services, police and the Child Advocacy Center.
STRENGTHEN ECONOMIC SUPPORT
The strategy Fortson and her team identified as having the greatest effect on preventing child abuse and neglect is strengthening economic support to families. Poverty is one of the risk factors associated with child abuse because it creates a plethora of problems, Fortson said.
When parents – particularly single parents – do not have enough money for quality child care or adequate education, their children suffer.
If a single mother cannot afford day care and leaves her child with a boyfriend or someone not biologically related, the chances of child abuse increase.
Financial insecurity also enhances parental stress and depression, other risk factors for child abuse and neglect.
Strengthening household financial security and implementing family-friendly work policies appropriately can prevent child abuse and neglect by improving parents' ability to meet their children's basic needs, Fortson said.
One study cited in the technical package found that mothers who receive child support payments were 10 percent less likely to have a report of child abuse or neglect that was investigated by Child Protective Services.
“It's something relatively small, but it could have a huge impact on rates of child abuse and neglect,” she said. “Tax credits for children and families are also something that has been tied to reductions in child poverty, and there is some forthcoming research from the CDC that suggests it may help in rates of child abuse and neglect also, particularly abusive head trauma."
Additionally, family-friendly work policies, such as paid leave and flexible schedules, can provide financial security for families while allowing them to maintain a work-life balance.
“Parents who work irregular shift times, in contrast with those with more standard, regular shift times, experience greater work-family conflict and are more likely to be stressed, which is a risk factor for child physical abuse and neglect,” the package states.
On the other hand, parents with flexible and consistent work schedules that better accommodate their lives tend to experience lower rates of depression and stress.
CHANGE SOCIAL NORMS
Another proven approach to reducing child abuse and neglect is changing social norms that accept or allow indifference to violence, such as how parents discipline their children.
Public engagement and education campaigns that seek to shift the perceived responsibility for children from personal to shared and reframe the way people think and talk about child abuse and neglect can lead to declining rates of child abuse and neglect.
“There is some evidence that those types of strategies can change social norms to support parents, to support positive parenting,” Fortson said.
The package cites a campaign that promoted the benefits of not abusing children and understanding the cycle of abuse, which led some parents to stop yelling at, swearing at or putting their children down and kept them from fighting or arguing in front of their children.
Moreover, legislative approaches to reduce corporal punishment can help establish norms about safe, more effective discipline strategies that are less harmful than harsh physical punishment, according to the guidebook.
Right now, no state limits the use of corporal punishment in the home, but some states have banned its use in foster care, day care, after-school care and juvenile detention facilities.
Fortson said that although many schools now don't allow corporal punishment, legislators should be thinking about whether that can translate beyond educational institutions.
“There is some suggestion that parents' lack of understanding of children's developmental needs puts them at higher risk,” she said. “If they're using harsh discipline — if you have a parent who thinks it's OK to spank an infant or 1-year-old — hostile care-giving can lead to perpetrating child abuse and neglect.”
A comparison of five European countries, three of which had bans on corporal punishment and two that did not, found that bans were successful in decreasing overall rates of corporal punishment, the package states. Countries where corporal punishment was lawful had higher rates of all forms of corporal punishment.
PROVIDE QUALITY CARE AND EDUCATION
Research suggests that states meeting the demands for child care assistance and neighborhoods with more licensed child care spaces relative to need had lower rates of child abuse and neglect.
Boyfriends or paramours in the home present one of the highest risks for child maltreatment, said Lori Bunton, violence prevention director and certified victim advocate at the Regional Victim Crisis Center in Abilene.
"Mothers are working really hard to figure out ways to survive to the point that we don't even teach stranger-danger," she said.
Instead, the center focuses on educating children about what child abuse is, how to recognize unsafe situations and know what to do, and who to tell, Bunton said.
"Most of these children are being left with strangers in their homes. It's the people we're inviting into our homes that these kids don't really know or that these parents don't know," she said. "It's known strangers, what we call 'familiars.'"
By providing quality child care and education early in life, children are not at as much risk for abuse and neglect, or worse, Fortson said.
In the CDC's National Violent Death Reporting System, many of the children who died were left with boyfriends or other caretakers who were not the biological parent and the mother needed to go to work, she said.
“Making sure we support parents in their role as parents, making sure they have access to child care and also good quality child care is important,” Fortson said.
Further evidence shows that preschool environments that engage families and show parents they have a role in their child's life and can be advocates for their children in the education process can prevent child abuse and neglect, according to the CDC guidebook.
ENHANCE PARENTING SKILLS
Early childhood home visitation programs — in which families receive help from health, social service and child development professionals through regular, planned visits — have shown evidence of reducing rates of child abuse and neglect, Fortson said.
“In those programs, parents can be recruited when they're pregnant or after delivery,” she said. “The identification happens dependent on when the programs are intended to impact.”
For instance, a program specified for someone during pregnancy would identify those families based on age, socioeconomic status and education level, Fortson said. Similar risk factors are used to identify parents for post-delivery programs.
A federal program — the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program — provides funds to states, territories and tribal entities to develop these programs for families with children from birth to kindergarten entry, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration website.
The Texas Home Visiting program received $17.2 million in federal funds in 2016 to operate four evidence-based models: Nurse-Family Partnership, Parents as Teachers, Early Head Start and Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.
Home visiting programs are available in 30 counties — just Wichita County in the Abilene-Wichita Falls region, according to TexasHomeVisiting.org.
Dr. Chris Greeley, public health pediatrics chief at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston and certified in child abuse pediatrics, said the most studied home visitation program is nurse-family partnership, in which a nurse is paired with a young pregnant woman and follows her through the child's first two years of life by making regular visits to the home.
Mothers who participated in that program demonstrated decreased rates of abuse, Greeley said.
According to the CDC's technical guide, the nurse-family partnership has documented a 48 percent reduction in child abuse and neglect, as well as decreases in risk factors associated with child abuse and neglect such as substance abuse, compared with women who did not participate in the program.
Greeley, who for four years chaired the Legislative Blue Ribbon Task Force that looked at ways to prevent child abuse and neglect, said parent-support programs that teach and improve parenting skills are another way to reduce abuse and neglect rates.
Prenatal classes are considered normal for first-time parents but not parent-support programs, which he said were like postnatal classes. Normalizing that concept would be a big step in reducing child maltreatment.
“Even if you feel like you've done this before or can handle it, let's have you come and take a refresher course on the basics of caring for kids and how you have to set your house up and what kind of relationships you want to have with people who can support you,” he said. “These programs can be individualized to specific families or often used for large populations.”
Greeley also was on the Department of Family and Protective Services advisory panel for prevention and early intervention of child abuse.
“When you can prevent child abuse and neglect, you're making life better for kids and families,” Fortson said. “When we provide essentials for childhood — which means a life free of poverty, a life where you have the support of parents and other important individuals in the kid's life, in addition to skills and other things that might be necessary for effective parenting — then you can not only prevent child maltreatment, but you can prevent lots of other things, as well, and support a healthy life and development of the child.”
At the CDC, preventing child maltreatment is an issue that calls for a comprehensive strategy, she said.
“You can do these various programs, whether it's parent-training or the Early Childhood Home Visitation programs,” Fortson said. “Those programs are likely to have an effect for some people, but if we also think about supporting some of these other strategies — poverty reduction, those types of strategies — then we can prevent even more and have an even greater impact.”
INTERVENE TO LESSEN HARM
The effects of child maltreatment can be long-term and even lifelong, according the Adverse Childhood Experiences study originally conducted by the CDC and Kaiser Permanente in the late 1990s.
“They found the effects of child abuse and neglect were actually lifelong, where individuals had problems with cardiovascular health, diabetes, with links to other common illnesses in adulthood,” Fortson said. “It's important, whenever possible, to try to get treatment early.”
But one of the greatest challenges in getting children treatment is a lack of qualified professionals with the skills necessary to help resolve the issues that arise with child maltreatment, she said.
Therapy that addresses the behavioral consequences of abuse and neglect has been shown to reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other trauma-related symptoms, such as fear, sexualized behavior, anxiety, shame and behavioral issues, according to the package.
“Making sure individuals get the right sort of treatment is important,” Fortson said. “Play therapy is not the type of treatment that has the most evidence in preventing the negative effects or helping kids long-term. But there's often a shortage of therapists and individuals who can provide those types of treatment.”
Play therapy is where children act out what they are going through by playing in a room set up strategically with toys as they are observed by a licensed professional counselor.
The Regional Victim Crisis Center in Abilene has a therapeutic play room with a dollhouse, puppets, art supplies and various other toys.
“All of the toys have specific themes that we, as the children play, observe and interact, but we're really seeing what themes they play out, whether they are themes of aggression or revenge, themes of nurturing or trying to master some skills,” said Stormi James, an LPC at the center. “You can really see what kids are processing because that's the way kids process is through play.”
Sometimes, the children act out the events that have happened to them, ones they have been told not to talk about, James said. The therapists tell them it's not their fault, that this is a safe place where they can say whatever they want.
“This isn't like other play,” she said. “They don't get in trouble. They get redirected.”
Programs that aim to reach children outside of the child welfare system, such as the Safe Environment for Every Kid program, can prevent child abuse and neglect and ensure that children receive appropriate medical care, Fortson said.
“Because we know that a lot of kids may not come to the attention of child welfare early on, this program has the potential to get individuals in a place where they might go already,” she said. “It's implemented in primary care settings, and it's for when people go to see their primary care physician.”
Pediatricians are trained to ask questions related to child maltreatment risk factors and can identify families at-risk and refer them to services that have helped reduce recurrences of physical assault. Additionally, they can make sure children follow up with immunizations and other basic medical care.
IDENTIFY AT-RISK FAMILIES
With child maltreatment, you can't really look at parents and say they are going to abuse their children, Fortson said.
But there are many risk factors, on an individual, family and community level, that have been identified.
Domestic or intimate partner violence puts children in the home at "gravely higher risks" of abuse and neglect, either from the abusing spouse or the victim spouse, Greeley said. Recognizing those families and providing services for them is another way to prevent child maltreatment.
Leigh Ann Fry, executive director of the Noah Project, a domestic violence shelter and advocacy center in Abilene, created the Abilene-Taylor County Alliance to End Family Violence to address this problem. She reached out to judges, district attorneys, police, sheriff's office, CPS, the Attorney General's Office and any other groups somehow connected to family violence and child abuse. The group began meeting in November 2015.
"There is a direct correlation between family violence and child abuse. It's very rare if a mom is being beaten that the children are not in some way being impacted," she said. "Family violence crimes in Abilene-Taylor County are just through the roof."
The most challenging part of domestic violence situations is the fact that the law still allows the father to have access to the children, Fry said, which puts the mother in more danger because he is the person who beat, choked or stalked her.
A woman who came to the Noah Project from outside Taylor County revealed that the father had molested their child, and both CPS and the Child Advocacy Center confirmed there was abuse, she said. But the judge in this other county Fry would not identify did not believe CPS and allowed the father unfettered access to the child.
"That mom went back because it was the only way she could protect that child," Fry said. "She will say to your face 'I cannot leave because if I leave he will molest my child.' That's what they're up against right there. That mom was a soldier and just went straight back into battle. She straightened her shoulders, and she took a deep breath and off she went. And we just stood and collectively wept because there was not one single thing we could do."
Risk Factors for Victimization
Individual Risk Factors
Children younger than 4 years of age
Special needs that may increase caregiver burden (disabilities, mental retardation, mental health issues, and chronic physical illnesses)
Risk Factors for Perpetration
Individual Risk Factors
Parents' lack of understanding of children's needs, child development and parenting skills
Parents' history of child maltreatment in family of origin
Substance abuse and/or mental health issues including depression in the family
Parental characteristics such as young age, low education, single parenthood, large number of dependent children, and low income
Nonbiological, transient caregivers in the home (mother's male partner)
Parental thoughts and emotions that tend to support or justify maltreatment behaviors
Family Risk Factors
Family disorganization, dissolution and violence, including intimate partner violence
Parenting stress, poor parent-child relationships, and negative interactions
Community Risk Factors
Concentrated neighborhood disadvantage (high poverty and residential instability, high unemployment rates, and high density of alcohol outlets), and poor social connections.
Indiana DCS struggles to keep up with pace of child abuse reports
Drug crisis fuels growth in caseloads
by Virginia Black
For the first time in recent history and despite an emphasis in recent years on keeping troubled families together, the number of Indiana children in foster care has risen dramatically as reports of abuse and neglect continue to grow.
Department of Child Services Director Mary Beth Bonaventura told members of the General Assembly's budget committee last week that despite adding more family case managers in the last two years, the state's well-publicized opiate crisis has also dictated that more children be removed from their homes.
That additional stress on already-difficult jobs increased caseworker turnover by about 1 percent in fiscal year 2016, even as the agency has taken steps to be more supportive of its staff, raise pay and ramp up training of replacements. Right now, she said, 358 family case managers are in training.
"This is not a pleasant business," Bonaventura said. "The work is out there, and the crisis is right now."
Bonaventura said her agency is just beginning to better track when drugs or alcohol are factors in abuse and neglect cases in addition to the original reason for a report, such as domestic violence.
In 2013, 31.7 percent of cases of children taken from their homes involved substance abuse. In 2016, the number was 52.7 percent.
But "people in the business" believe substance abuse is more likely involved in up to 90 percent of child removals, she said.
Just a few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that the number of Indiana children in foster care saw the second-highest increase in the country, rising 37 percent from 2013 to 2015. Only Georgia's increase was higher, which officials there attributed to the consolidation of hotline calls and a high-profile child fatality.
Nationwide, the increase was less than 7 percent. The numbers of foster children in Georgia, Indiana, Arizona, Florida and Minnesota accounted for 65 percent of the rise nationally.
Indiana's DCS, following national child-protection trends, began to emphasize services to keep abused and neglected children in their homes or with relatives — instead of foster care or institutional placement — several years ago.
But DCS officials worry federal money that has been available for much of the cost of such services since 2012 will dry up in the coming year.
According to the agency's written report to the committee, a five-year federal waiver that expires in July has paid for many programs and services meant to keep a family together, such as to meet utility bills, child care, car repairs, cleaning services, and reunification and adoption programs.
If legislation being considered at the federal level does limit such spending, DCS might have to ask legislators for more state money, although officials said that cost is uncertain.
To add to money and turnover worries, DCS caseworkers in every geographic region still juggle more cases than state law mandates, Bonaventura acknowledged to the legislators.
In her 2015 report, the most recent available, DCS ombudsman bureau Director Alfreda Singleton-Smith cited staffing and case numbers as impediments to following practices such as adequate documentation, providing services to families, completing assessments and overseeing visitations.
Reports of child abuse, neglect
Calls to the DCS hotline — 800-800-5556 — have risen year over year since 2012, and this year appears to be on pace to continue the trend. Most recently, November 2016 calls statewide grew over those in November 2015.
Nov. 2015: 16,268
Nov. 2016: 19,843
Damage done: How KC detectives ‘dropped the ball' for child abuse victims
by Donna McGuire, Ian Cummings and Glenn E. Rice
After a 3-year-old girl accused a Kansas City man of molesting her in 2013, lab tests linked the man's DNA to a semen stain on the girl's underwear, court records say.
Yet the man, Parrish Smith, remained free.
Nine months after the DNA match, in summer 2014, three other girls accused him of touching them inappropriately.
Smith still remained free.
Another year passed before a 2015 phone call to a grandmother of two of the victims offered a glimpse into the troubled Kansas City Police Department's Crimes Against Children unit — troubles one police commander called the biggest systemic failure he had ever seen.
“I am picking up the Parrish Smith case because someone dropped the ball,” said the caller, whom the grandmother recalled as being a detective or Jackson County prosecutor.
The problems were so deep that the Police Department launched an internal affairs investigation and in January suspended seven of the unit's eight detectives entrusted to seek justice for raped, molested or otherwise abused children.
The Smith case is one of scores touched by those detectives winding through the courts, warts and all. Between those cases, and ones never charged, obstacles abound in obtaining justice, The Star found in a new analysis of the fallout of the unit's failures.
The Star first revealed the severity of the unit's problems three months ago, showing that the department in late 2015 identified nearly 150 “severely mishandled” cases, including “gross negligence” and even possible police deceit.
In its followup analysis, The Star interviewed prosecutors, talked to victims' families, examined court cases, obtained police reports and studied hundreds of pages of internal police documents so sensitive they've been sealed from public view by judges.
Among the findings:
? Prosecutors' frustration with slow and inadequate detective work and then a troubling phone call between Jackson County's top prosecutor and one detective triggered the internal investigation that consumed the unit.
? Detectives torpedoed their own investigations with long delays, lost evidence, incompetence and attempts to cover up mistakes, police memos show.
? Delays in cases left suspected child molesters free. At least one later hurt more kids.
? Fallout from the unit's problems continues to jeopardize prosecutions of suspects.
Police Chief Darryl Forté has said the department made significant changes within the unit to ensure that crimes against children are thoroughly investigated in a timely and appropriate fashion. Because the internal review is not complete, he said he could not comment further.
The internal investigation might not conclude until March, months later than originally expected, court records show.
Until then, the detectives — identified in the internal police documents as Gleanice Brown, Latondra Moore, Tamara Solomon, Amy Klug, Robert Roubal, Travis Menuey and James Foushee — remain employed with the department, reassigned since February to patrol units.
Police Department policy forbids the detectives from commenting while an internal affairs investigation is underway, according to an email from Roubal, who declined to comment further. No other detective responded to certified letters seeking comment.
The investigation could clear some detectives while costing others their law enforcement careers.
Internal police documents show that the severity of allegations against each varies. In court filings arguing that the internal affairs documents should not be released to defendants, police said the allegations against detectives had not been substantiated.
If Forté recommends any of the seven be fired, the detective can appeal to the police board. If the board upholds Forté's recommendation, the detective can appeal to the circuit court.
“Until it's finished, it would be premature and irresponsible to make any comments based on an incomplete internal investigation,” Brad Lemon, president of the Kansas City Fraternal Order of Police, wrote in an email to The Star. “… At this time, as the investigation continues no evidence of wrongdoing has been brought to our attention. These officers deserve due process before being tried and convicted in the media.”
Meanwhile, prosecutors are dealing with damage from years of failures in the unit.
In one reported crime, detectives waited about two years to arrest a man accused of raping a neighbor girl, said Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. During the trial, jurors took that delay to mean the detectives didn't believe the girl. The jury might have convicted instead of acquitting the defendant if not for that delay, several jurors told prosecutors.
“I have had to look at these victims before and tell them I wasn't successful, I didn't quite get there,” Baker said. “And I have crushed them. I have crushed them. … I had a kid say to me, ‘So they didn't believe me?' And I said, ‘Well, it is more complicated than that.' ”
For years, prosecutors had been concerned. Detectives finished cases too slowly. And they diverted too many physical abuse cases to city court, which could mean less work for police but also lighter consequences for abusers.
Prosecutors' complaints simmered until one troubling phone conversation last year between a prosecutor and a detective led to the Police Department's scrutiny of the unit — scrutiny that eventually revealed a backlog of cases, misplaced evidence, possible deceit and at least one detective's personal and professional dysfunction.
The spark came on a Sunday morning in September, after a bullet grazed a 7-year-old child inside a Kansas City home.
Normally, police alert prosecutors in Baker's office of such incidents. But that hadn't happened. Baker started making calls to find out why and eventually reached Detective Solomon.
The conversation did not go well.
“She was upset that I was calling and asking questions,” Baker later told internal affairs investigators, according to documents obtained by The Star. “I was just aghast that she seemed annoyed at the phone call.”
In an interview, Baker told The Star, “I got the distinct impression the case was not being handled with the kind of priority that I believe a 7-year-old who gets shot should get. And in my jurisdiction, I was not going to sit back and allow that.”
Baker complained to police officials. The next day, commanders sent a new sergeant and four detectives into the unit. They began to uncover the problems that eventually led to the detectives' January suspensions.
For Solomon, the January suspension was the second levied in less than two months.
In early December 2015, police went to her home on a domestic violence call. Although police arrested Solomon, prosecutors did not file charges against either adult in the home.
The investigation, however, turned up information that altercations between Solomon and her spouse had escalated to hitting, choking and threats with a loaded handgun, according to a letter Baker sent to Forté.
Baker told The Star she was concerned for the safety of the three children in the home, so she called the child abuse hotline.
Police suspended Solomon. By then, supervisors already had listed 31 of Solomon's cases — more than any other detective — among the 156 “mishandled” cases they'd documented. In their memos, they noted that two of her cases possibly involved deceit or suspicious activity.
With Solomon suspended, co-workers looked through her desk to see what work other detectives needed to pick up.
They found dozens of pieces of evidence, including many children's interviews on DVDs, that hadn't been properly logged. They found reports of crimes, delivered by other police agencies, that Solomon had ignored. And they found requests from Clay County prosecutors and Jackson County Family Court for more work on cases that Solomon also had ignored, the documents say.
Questioned in writing by a supervisor, Solomon repeatedly answered, “I have no explanation,” according to a copy of her responses. But she also cited as distractions a long list of personal issues, including a problem pregnancy, other medical challenges, a troubled marriage and her father's illness and death.
“To this day, I still feel lost, alone, scared, emotionally/physically drained and incomplete,” Solomon wrote on Dec. 22, 2015.
All the turmoil made it hard to do her job properly, she wrote.
Because of the domestic violence incident, Baker cited a conflict of interest that left her office unable to use Solomon as a witness on cases she had investigated. Baker asked the court to appoint a special prosecutor. As a result, the Missouri attorney general's office inherited 21 cases. Many remain pending, and some face challenges because of Solomon, court records show.
Among them is a child molestation and sodomy trial in which the defense wants Baker to testify about Solomon's domestic violence arrest and the conflict of interest situation.
That defense attorney, James Anderson, also wants police Capt. Todd Paulson to testify about Solomon's 2015 performance evaluation, which he scored “below expectations” before changing it to “unsatisfactory,” according to court records. Prosecutors oppose allowing Baker and Paulson to testify.
In a separate statutory rape case that Solomon investigated, the defense attorney requested a trial delay until after the internal affairs investigation ends.
Police have “discovered an extensive pattern of dereliction in the performance of the Unit's investigation work, as well as a possible pattern of dishonesty by various members of the Unit in attempting to cover up the abuses,” the attorney, Curtis Winegarner, wrote in a September court filing.
If internal affairs investigators determine that the lead detective in his client's case “engaged in professional misconduct or dishonesty,” the information could help him discredit the detective's testimony, Winegarner added.
“Defendant believes this is necessary to ensure that he receives due process, a fair trial and a meaningful opportunity to confront the evidence and witnesses against him,” Winegarner wrote.
The trial is set for May.
Since new Kansas City police detectives began working cases from the Crimes Against Children unit, they have completed many more cases. The quality has been superior as well, with prosecutors charging many more defendants.
‘It's over for them'
As the unit came under scrutiny in September 2015, detective Moore worked late into the evening, including once until 11 p.m., trying to get old cases off her desk.
Among her mishandled cases was a statutory rape by three men of a 12-year-old girl nearly three years earlier.
Police memos obtained by The Star detail how Moore's “gross neglect,” mistakes and actions that called her integrity into question crippled the pursuit of justice for the girl. Supervisors cited this as one example of the unit's failings.
Only when a Star reporter called in October did the girl and her mother learn that the three men had escaped charges.
“I want an explanation of why they felt it was OK to just drop it,” the girl's mother said. “What if these guys come back? They need to be punished. And if they're not, then shame on the Police Department.”
The girl had run away from home on Jan. 15, 2013. She met three men at a gas station. She told them she was 23. All three had sex with her. Back at home two days later, the girl told her mother. They called police.
“These guys passed her around,” the mother told The Star. “I mean, this is going to affect her for the rest of her life.”
Detectives Moore and Foushee went to the girl's home to investigate. Later, the girl recorded a video interview with a child interview specialist. She also identified one of the men in a photo lineup.
More than a year passed. The girl and her family heard nothing more from police or prosecutors. They assumed the men had been arrested and jailed.
Then into the Crimes Against Children unit came a squad of new detectives.
That is when Moore, who also has used the name Moore-Harrison, opened her file again and wrote a report saying that, nine months earlier, a Kansas City man had confessed to the sex. When he learned the victim's age, it “made him feel sick,” Moore wrote.
After adding this note, Moore sent the case file to Jackson County prosecutors for the first time.
Prosecutors rejected the case, noting that the file lacked the video of the girl's 2013 forensic interview.
Three months later, after police commanders suspended Moore and the other six detectives, a supervisor found the video on Moore's desk among other pieces of misplaced evidence.
New detectives submitted the case again, but prosecutors declined to file charges. Moore's decision to add a confession to the case file nine months after the fact could, by itself, have severely damaged an already difficult case, Baker said.
“First of all, her (Moore's) credibility is on the line,” Baker said.
Baker became so concerned about Moore and one other detective, Brown, that she wrote a highly unusual letter to Forté declaring the two detectives unfit for police work. Baker demanded that neither detective respond to 911 calls or handle evidence.
“It's over for them,” Baker told The Star.
“I have a responsibility to keep them away from any of my cases … because their credibility has already been impugned. Not by me, but by the Police Department themselves.”
Supervisors accused Brown and Moore of mishandling a total of 51 cases, including 34 that showed signs of suspicious activity or possible deceit.
The memos allege:
? Brown mishandled 29 cases. Eighteen sat untouched for at least a year. In nine, she mishandled evidence or didn't follow procedures. Twenty-one, including some she inherited from other detectives, contained signs of deceit or suspicious activity.
? Moore mishandled 22 cases, including seven that she did not work on for a year or more. She mishandled evidence or didn't follow procedures in five cases. Thirteen showed signs of possible deceit or suspicious activity.
Cases like that of the 12-year-old show how the detectives' sloppy work leaves behind a sense of injustice on top of damage done by rapists.
The girl felt traumatized, numb and lifeless, she said. She endured medical tests for possible sexually transmitted infections. She began therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. She spent a year in a group home and now attends an alternative school. The lack of charges tells her that no one cared, she said.
“I would say I'm curious and furious,” said the girl, now 16. “Curious, like ‘Why not?' And furious like … what more evidence do you need? What is it going to take for these people to be behind bars?”
In some cases, suspects who were allowed to remain free harmed other children while detectives did little or nothing to get them away from society.
“We know this about many child sex offenders, and that is that they reoffend,” Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd said. “So the quicker that we can, where possible, bring charges against an offender and very possibly take that offender out of the community, the more likely it is that we are going to safeguard other children from abuse.”
Consider the case of Jordan Lomas.
On a July day in 2014, two girls separately told Kansas City police that Lomas, then 18, sexually molested them.
Both girls recounted specific details of their assaults in videotaped interviews with social workers.
A 5-year-old girl remembered being asleep in her Tinker Bell pajamas when Lomas began touching “her wrong spot.” Lomas was on his knees trying to hug the child when she woke up, the girl said.
A 12-year-old girl detailed three assaults.
When Lomas' mother heard about the 12-year-old's accusations, she confronted Lomas.
“He ran out of the house because he did not think he could survive in jail,” a Platte County court document says. “He said he left for a month and when he returned, his mother did not talk to him about it again.”
Weeks later, the Child Protection Center sent DVDs of each girl's interview to Roubal. Yet nothing happened with the case.
Seven months passed — and another victim came forward.
This time, the mother of a 3-year-old girl alerted Kansas City police that Lomas had touched her daughter's crotch.
Police arrested Lomas two weeks later.
When Roubal asked Lomas why he thought he had been arrested, Lomas began listing possible accusers: the 3-year-old, two 5-year-olds, a 6-year-old and the 12-year-old.
A few weeks after Platte County prosecutors charged Lomas in one case, the mother of the 12-year-old asked that Lomas serve jail time and get counseling.
The incident, she wrote, “has caused emotional distress on my daughter as well as the whole family.”
In January, Lomas pleaded guilty to statutory sodomy. Prosecutors agreed not to file additional counts that could have labeled him a sexual predator and kept him behind bars for life.
He is serving a 15-year prison sentence.
Problems exposed in the unit have enraged victims and frustrated prosecutors and judges.
“We had lost some cases we felt we should have won,” Baker said. “We had holes in our evidence we couldn't explain.”
Earlier this year, a grandfather accused of molesting a boy walked out of Jackson County Courthouse a free man, acquitted by a judge who criticized the quality of the police investigation. Police hadn't interviewed all the witnesses, which left prosecutors with too little testimony or evidence to gain a guilty verdict, said Christopher Accurso, the assistant Jackson County prosecutor who tried the case.
“We had no explanation that could carry us through that,” Baker said.
The losses are especially hard when a child has had to endure a trial.
“When they were brave enough to walk into a courtroom and face their bogeyman … that weighs on you because, man, we don't want to do them more harm,” Baker said.
And the detectives continue to face scrutiny in court.
Prosecutors must turn over to defense lawyers any information that could potentially undermine the credibility of detectives who would be called as witnesses in court. The Police Department's internal investigation into the seven Crimes Against Children detectives fits that bill.
Prosecutors subpoenaed their personnel files so they could turn over any questionable and damning material.
Police argued against releasing the files, saying they were confidential and contained reports from an unfinished internal investigation.
But judges have sided with defendants' rights to some or all of the files. They ordered prosecutors to review the files and turn over anything defendants should have, with names of victims in unrelated cases blacked out. The number of criminal cases impacted has been “substantial,” prosecutors say.
“It's unclear at this point how deep the wound is,” said Dion Sankar, the assistant Jackson County prosecutor now assigned full time to review, redact and disperse the records.
As the department's internal affairs investigation lurches forward, the detectives' personnel files continue to thicken. As of late September, one detective's discovery file had reached nearly 500 pages, court documents show.
The many problems have compounded the already challenging work of obtaining a conviction in child abuse cases, where often there is little physical evidence, victims may wait years to reveal abuse and it's a child's word against an adult's.
But good police work can overcome challenges, prosecutors said. And since a new crew of detectives took over, area prosecutors have noticed striking improvements in the quality and quantity of that work.
In January alone, unit detectives sent Jackson County prosecutors nearly five times as many cases as the previous January.
“We were getting clobbered with cases that we didn't know existed before,” Baker said. “We worked with our staff … trying to keep them, you know, energized to do the work because we were not prepared for this influx.”
Overall, the number of cases sent to Jackson County has more than doubled this year — from 155 in 2015 to 325 through mid-November, according to data The Star requested from prosecutors.
And the percent generating criminal charges grew, too, from 41 percent last year to 50 percent this year.
Meanwhile, police and prosecutors continue to pursue convictions in some of the old cases. That includes the one against Parrish Smith, the man allowed to remain free many months after a DNA hit allegedly showed his semen on a young girl's underwear.
It wasn't until new detectives arrived at the unit that Smith was charged last December — 2 1/2 years after police first learned of accusations. Smith now sits in the Jackson County jail, awaiting a trial set for early next year on four child molestation and two sodomy-related charges.
The 55-year-old has pleaded not guilty.
Multiple detectives worked the case. Both Roubal and Solomon are listed in court documents as prosecution witnesses. Solomon's and Menuey's personnel records have been turned over to the defense, court records show.
And in August, when Smith asked the court to reduce his bond to $25,000 from $100,000, the judge agreed. Jackson County Judge John Torrence zeroed in on the long gap between accusations and charges.
“It took two years to get the case filed, and if it was … such a serious case and he is such a danger, I don't understand why it would take two years,” Torrence said.
The 3-year-old girl's grandmother and mother don't understand either — especially in light of the DNA evidence, which they didn't know existed until this year.
“If they would have told me in 2013 they had that in my child's drawers, he would have been in jail in 2013,” the mother said.
After the Kansas City Police Department began uncovering problems in its Crimes Against Children unit last year, supervisors identified 156 failed cases, including 148 they called “severely mishandled,” internal documents show. Those included 90 cases involving sex crimes against children, 24 cases of child abuse and 43 other offenses. Fifty sat unworked for a year or more, 43 showed signs of possible deceit and 26 included mishandled evidence or improper procedures.
Here is a breakdown of some of the failed cases by detective, with some of the problems police uncovered. The data is based on police memos written in October 2015.
Gleanice Brown: 23 years on the force, 17 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 29
James Foushee: 21 years on the force, 9 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 10
Amy Klug: 8 years on the force, 2 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 25
Travis Menuey: 9 years on the force, less than 1 year in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 15
Latondra Moore: 13 years on the force, 8 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 22
Robert Roubal: 13 years on the force, 7 years in Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 24
Tamara Solomon: 11 years on the force, 3 years Crimes Against Children, Total failed cases: 31
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.”
We Care for the Holidays: Parenting Place provides child abuse prevention services
by Tandy Khameneh
The Parenting Place has a history of providing child abuse-prevention services to families in Missoula and Missoula County since 1981.
It is a community-based nonprofit organization whose mission is the prevention of child abuse and neglect through strengthening families. The goals are to help families develop healthy parent-child relationships, to improve the futures of children and ensure healthy families.
The Parenting Place serves children in families where there is risk of abuse and neglect. Predominantly, these families are also very low income.
Criteria used to assess families at risk include the following: parents have a childhood history of abuse and neglect, families lack support systems, families are experiencing life crises, parents are not aware of nurturing child-rearing practices, families are socially isolated.
The target audience is at-risk families; however, the Parenting Place's services are open to all parents and children in need of support and education.
The Parenting Place could use diapers of all sizes, craft supplies, sports balls and Missoula Fresh Market gift certificates.
Bravery could help others avoid pain
by Liam Marlaire
This story ends relatively well. Many that cover the same ground do not.
Grant Abens, a 20-year-old Eau Claire North graduate, recently testified in federal court to help put Anton Martynenko, 32, behind bars. The mortgage broker from Eagan, Minn., had orchestrated an intricate sextortion scheme.
Martynenko got 38 years in prison thanks in no small part to Abens' courageous court appearance. He was one of at least 155 victims in the case and one of only two to testify in person.
A Leader-Telegram story by Eric Lindquist detailed Abens' role in the case. The following is a condensed version:
Initial contact was made via Facebook when Abens was 15. A modeling deal supposedly would pay up to $1,000 if he would go to the Twin Cities for a fully clothed photo shoot.
After hundreds of emails were exchanged, Abens agreed. He then was asked to set up a portfolio by filling out a questionnaire about his appearance and sending nude photos to prove he was a male. He did that.
After the nude photos were sent, Abens was approved for the modeling job and just had to get to the Twin Cities for the shoot. His girlfriend, who was of driving age, was suspicious of the arrangement and refused to help him get there.
Martynenko then said Abens would have to disrobe for the shoot. Abens refused.
Time passed, and Martynenko eventually posted the photos of Abens on his Facebook site and encouraged others to distribute them. Though Abens shuttered the site quickly, the damage had been done.
“For the next several months, every time somebody looked at me I was sure they were thinking about what they saw on Facebook,” Abens said.
Abens ultimately reactivated his Facebook account so he would know if the pictures got posted again. He received notifications that Martynenko, under an assumed name, had tagged him in a photo. Abens would click on the links but couldn't access the photos.
“He was just taunting me for not going along with him,” Abens said.
Martynenko was sentenced on Nov. 29. That ended a 4½-year ordeal for Abens, who spent much of that time in a state of worry — about whether he had done something wrong by sending the nude photos, about whether his family and classmates had seen them.
Martynenko's elaborate scheme involved fake websites and aliases. He managed to victimize at least 155 adolescent boys from Wisconsin, Minnesota and Illinois. Unfortunately, such crimes are not uncommon.
The Washington Post cited a recent Justice Department report — based on surveys of investigators, prosecutors and victim service providers — that found that “sextortion is by far the most significantly growing threat to children.”
In an FBI analysis last year of 43 sextortion cases involving child victims, it was determined that at least two victims committed suicide and at least 10 more attempted suicide.
“The threat of sextortion directed toward children is not just restricted to the immediate sexual and emotional abuse imposed by the offender on their victims,” reads the report. “Sextortion victims engage in cutting, have depression, drop out of school or grades decline, as well as engage in other forms of self-harm at an alarming rate.”
The offenders may not be acting alone and often are remarkably organized, The Washington Post story says.
“Forensic examinations of sextortion offenders' digital media commonly reveal thousands of organized folders containing videos and documentation of their contact with countless minors, often around the world,” reads the Justice Department report.
Other statistics cited in The Washington Post piece included:
• USA Today reported that the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force had recorded a 32 percent rise in sextortion complaints from 2010-13.
• The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received more than 800 sextortion-related tips between 2013 and 2015 — 78 percent of those victimized were female and the offender in three-fourths of the cases was seeking more explicit material, rather than money or sex.
“It's really important that victims report,” John Shehan, vice president of the exploited child division for the NCMEC, told the Leader-Telegram.
Ultimately, Abens did more than just tell someone.
The FBI called Abens in February to say he was one of Martynenko's victims. At least three were lured into performing sex acts with Martynenko and at least two committed suicide.
At the prosecution's request, Abens wrote a victim impact statement. Most victims declined to to appear in court; Abens didn't.
“I wanted to see this person and be in control of the situation,” he said, “and I wanted to make sure he went to prison for a long time.
“It just gave me a sense of freedom that I never have to worry about him again.”
Abens lives in Duluth, Minn., where he is taking a year off from studying engineering at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
Prosecutors said Abens' testimony carried a lot of weight in sentencing. He showed no less courage in agreeing to a front-page story and photograph in the Leader-Telegram.
This is not to admonish victims who do not come forward publicly; it's an intensely personal decision.
Hopefully, Abens has been provided some sense of closure. Undoubtedly, his willingness to open up about the case will raise awareness about a horrific crime that's becoming all too prevalent.
It's entirely possible it also will save lives.
Childhood Trauma Effects Often Persist Into 50s and Beyond
by Emily Gurnon
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:
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.
ACE Life Expectancy.png
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
Drug or alcohol abuse
Addiction to gambling or shopping
Feelings of alienation
Feelings of hopelessness
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.
With new money, state chips away at daunting backlog of rape evidence — but can't keep up
by Sara Jean Green
For years, hundreds of white cardboard boxes, each containing biological evidence from an alleged sexual assault, sat untouched inside the massive freezer at the Seattle Police Department's 26,000-square-foot evidence warehouse off Airport Way South.
One of those boxes held the swabs and samples taken from a Puyallup woman who was 21 when she underwent a sexual-assault examination at Harborview Medical Center seven years ago.
“It was a terrible experience over all,” she said of the invasive exam. “Being poked and prodded and photographed for hours is on nobody's wish list.”
Even after learning criminal charges would not be filed against the man she says drugged her at a North Seattle bar and then sexually assaulted her, the woman said she was never told whether the set of evidence from her sexual assault — called a rape kit — was analyzed by forensic scientists at the Washington State Patrol's Crime Lab.
Until last year, chances were good that the white box would have remained sealed with evidence tape, just like thousands of others stored in police-evidence rooms across the state.
But now, Washington law-enforcement agencies are slowly chipping away at the backlog of about 6,000 untested rape kits and submitting them for forensic analysis. Approximately $3.5 million in state money and federal grants have been put toward the effort.
At the same time, legislation that went into effect in July 2015 requires police to send every new kit to the crime lab, where DNA profiles from alleged perpetrators are entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a national database operated by the FBI.
Even with the added money, it's still expected the rape-kit backlog will increase by approximately 150 cases annually unless more resources are devoted to the effort.
It used to be up to individual officers or detectives to decide whether to send a rape kit to the crime lab for DNA testing — and the decision was frequently driven by whether an officer thought a case was likely to be prosecuted, said state Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, who has sponsored rape-kit legislation and who co-chairs a state task force on the untested kits.
The kits typically weren't tested if a victim knew her assailant because creating a DNA profile was deemed unnecessary.
But too often, Orwall said, the decision to request testing hinged on whether police believed a victim's account, or considered her credible enough to testify at trial.
Removing discretion over which rape kits get tested is meant to eliminate possible police bias while increasing the odds that serial offenders — especially those who claim to have had consensual sex with their accusers — can be connected to multiple cases through their DNA, Orwall said.
Despite earmarking $2.75 million over two years to hire seven more forensic scientists, working through the backlog while handling the influx of new kits is a slow slog at the State Patrol's five DNA labs. Chronic staffing shortages, heavy caseloads and federally mandated changes to the way DNA is processed have contributed to the delay.
Even after outsourcing some of the old kits to a private lab for testing and filling all of the positions, it's expected the rape-kit backlog will increase by approximately 150 cases annually, State Patrol Chief John Batiste wrote in a Dec. 1 report to lawmakers. He recommended hiring three additional forensic scientists to meet the growing demand and suggested contracting with another private lab to expand capacity.
It takes about two years of training before a forensic scientist is able to handle his or her own DNA casework. Once fully trained, each scientist can complete testing on seven rape kits a month, or 84 per year, according to Batiste's report.
As the lab works to expand its testing capacity, state lawmakers earlier this year also approved the creation of a rape-kit tracking system to enable victims to anonymously follow their kits online as they move from hospitals to evidence rooms and laboratories. With more than $3 million in funding over four years, the tracking system — which will be operated by the crime lab — is expected to be up and running by early 2018.
“We want to make sure they never sit on back shelves again and the only way to do that is to track every kit,” Orwall said.
The state task force is looking at when and how to go about notifying victims about the results of DNA testing on their rape kits, she said.
Addressing the issue of untested rape kits is happening on a national level, with a number of states working through their own backlogs. Unanimous passage of a federal bill of rights for sexual-assault survivors, signed by President Obama in October, ensures that survivors in federal rape cases have the right to have a sexual-assault examination, be told the results, have the evidence preserved until the statute of limitations runs out, and receive notification before a kit is destroyed.
But there's no uniform way jurisdictions are addressing the estimated 400,000 rape kits nationally that haven't been tested, some of them 20 or 30 years old, said Ilse Knecht, the policy and advocacy director of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
The foundation is behind the national End the Backlog campaign and is tracking progress across the country. While several states are instituting reforms, others haven't even conducted audits to count their untested kits, Knecht said.
“Victim-blaming is alive and well, unfortunately, so that factors a lot in this equation,” she said. “But we've actually made a lot of progress. The face of reform is exponentially increasing.”
Successes in places like New York City, Detroit, Cleveland and Houston — where police have been able to connect serial offenders to multiple crimes after testing old rape kits and getting “hits” in CODIS — are persuading other cities to look at the forensic potential sitting in their evidence rooms, Knecht said.
“We've learned from our mistakes and other jurisdictions' mistakes,” said Mitch Barker, who was a cop for 33 years and is now the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “I think we're better educated on the dynamics around rape. We're not there yet, but we're getting way better.”
Until the law changed, it was rare for kits to be tested in so-called “consent cases,” those involving a victim who reported being sexually assaulted by someone she knew and a suspect who claimed sex was consensual, Barker said. In other cities, though, police are getting hits from these cases, and connecting suspects to additional crimes, he said.
But DNA evidence alone isn't enough to charge someone with rape, and “just a hit (in CODIS) doesn't make a prosecutable case,” said King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Lisa Johnson. About 40 percent of sexual-assault cases referred by police to Johnson's office are prosecuted, but a large number of those involve child victims. Prosecuting adult cases is much harder, she said.
The most frequent defense in rape cases is that sex was consensual — and since rape is typically a crime committed in private, prosecutors have to be able to present evidence that the victim didn't consent to sex or that the defendant knew or should have known the victim was incapable of providing consent, Johnson said.
Harborview, which until 2009 was the only hospital in King County where sexual-assault exams were offered, sees about 500 sexual-assault victims a year and conducts 300 to 350 exams, said Terri Stewart, the coordinator of the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program. Four other King County hospitals now offer the exams, and more than 2,000 nurses have received SANE training statewide.
At Harborview, between 150 and 175 patients a year either decline an exam or come to the hospital after the five-day deadline to collect forensic evidence has elapsed, Stewart said. (The deadline is three days for child victims who haven't gone through puberty.)
Unlike many smaller hospitals, Harborview has the capacity to store rape kits for six months, sometimes longer if a victim requests it, Stewart said. That gives rape victims time to decide whether to report an assault to police.
“Being able to offer them time to stop and think is very helpful,” said Stewart of the decision to involve the criminal-justice system.
The kits can contain a variety of evidence, including underwear worn at the time of an assault, swabs of a victim's mouth, fingernails, genitals and any part of the skin where semen or saliva may be present. Blood and urine are also collected and bruises and other injuries are photographed.
At the State Patrol Crime Lab in Seattle, Jean Johnston, the manager of the Patrol's CODIS lab, has noticed a sharp increase in police requests for laboratory testing of new rape kits.
Between July 24, 2014, and May 23, 2015, police across the state submitted 1,942 rape kits for forensic testing. During the same period a year later — after the new mandatory testing law went into effect — that number increased 62 percent to 3,154.
Statewide, police requested lab testing on 3,619 new kits submitted between July 2015 and September 2016, with testing completed on 1,065 of them, according to a report provided by the State Patrol. That's a 240 percent increase over the 1,065 kits submitted for testing between July 2013 and September 2014.
As for the state's roughly 6,000 previously untested kits, Johnston said the crime lab has so far sent 223 of them to a private lab in Salt Lake City. Some smaller agencies have sent 30 kits at a time to the FBI's laboratory in Quantico, Va., for testing through a National Institute of Justice program.
It's been slow going due to the crime lab's massive workload — and a shortage of the scientists needed to perform DNA casework, said Gary Shutler, technical manager of the Patrol's five DNA labs. There's been added pressure on the lab's resources as staff have also been working to implement federally mandated changes in the way DNA profiles are generated in order to account for increases in world population, he said.
Even though police are required to submit new rape kits for testing within 30 days of receiving them, Johnston said that's just not practical, given the labs' limited storage space. So instead, officers submit paperwork and each kit is added to the queue, then the physical kits are submitted when a scientist is available to analyze them, she said.
It's still too early to know how many of the old rape kits could lead to CODIS hits on suspects, but Johnston said the crime lab averages about 40 hits a month on a variety of crimes.
In Seattle, detectives recently finished submitting paperwork to the lab on 1,063 old rape kits, the oldest from 1996, said police Capt. Deanna Nollette, who oversees the department's Special Victims Unit, which includes 16 detectives who investigate sexual assaults.
Out of the 1,063 old kits, SPD has so far received results in 73 cases and the testing generated two new investigative leads, which have been assigned for follow-up, she said.
Last year, 203 rape kits were logged into SPD's evidence freezer. As of Nov. 1, the number was 185.
Nollette sees value in testing every rape kit going forward:
“The more samples that you have in any database, the better the information is,” she said. “Just because today was a consent case or was two known parties together doesn't mean that might not link to a stranger case at some point and help us solve a case, or show us a pattern of behavior.”
The Puyallup woman who was sexually assaulted in the summer of 2009 holds out hope that someday her assailant will be tied to other cases through DNA and be held accountable.
She doesn't remember her assault but woke up naked, with vomit and clothing strewn around her room and a condom wrapper on the floor. By the time she made it to Harborview, 10 hours had elapsed and no drugs were found in her system, though she remained violently ill.
When police interviewed the man, “He told them I wanted it, I begged for it,” she said. Without proof that he'd drugged her or that she hadn't consented to sex, no charges were filed.
“It was a bad situation and legally … there was nothing they felt they could present in court,” the woman said. “He knew exactly what he was doing and there's no doubt in my mind I'm not the only one he's done that to.”
Child Abuse Shows No Prejudice In Choosing Victims
by Jim Kent
It's the crime that keeps on giving – from the moment of impact and for the rest of the victim's life.
It never discriminates. Regardless of race, sex, religion, socioeconomic status, country of origin, in big metropolitan areas and, yes, in “Squeaky Clean, As Christian As They Come, Small Town, U.S.A.” as well.
It even occurs right here in the “S.” tate of “D.” enial – South Dakota - where “we have no problems…but if we do, they all take place on the reservations.”
Yet child abuse doesn't “just” take place in certain areas or among certain people. Sadly, it takes place everywhere.
If there was ever a situation crying out for recognition of the “perpetrator in the closet” it's child abuse. Be it sexual, physical, emotional or psychological it's a crime that's become systemic in our society and which sees more than 700,000 victims in this country every year.
Think about that number for a minute. Really. Look at your watch, PC or iPhone and count-off 60 seconds . .
In that time another child was abused somewhere in the U.S. Take an hour for lunch and two classrooms of kids were just victimized. While you're getting that beauty sleep to prep for another day at work enough kids were on the receiving end of someone's wrath to fill the elementary school in Hot Springs, S.D.
And despite this staggering reality, we still live with a “not in my home/my neighborhood/ my town” mindset.
Since someone close to me was a repeated victim in 7 different New York Cityarea foster homes, the issue of child abuse comes under review whenever it pops up on my writing rada – and all too frequently.
The most recent story to hit the news was the tragic tale of two girls on the Pine Ridge Reservation – aged 2 and 3 – found so malnourished that the pediatrician who examined them was reported to have compared them to prisoners in World War II concentration camps.
Who does this to children? Who starves a child? Who beats a child? Who has sex with a child?
Quite a few years back while producing a radio story about child abuse in South Dakota, I interviewed the director of the Northern Hills Area CASA Program – a group that identifies its mission as: “seeks to promote and protect the best interests of abused and neglected children involved in court proceedings.”
When I noted that I knew someone who'd suffered physical, sexual and emotional abuse in New York City as a child the director commented: “Well, fortunately, that doesn't really happen here.”
No…really. Those were her words.
So even entities that deal with child abuse don't want to admit that the crime actually occurs. As if all of the abused kids in their program were parachuted in overnight from some other “really nasty” state – but South Dakota kids abused? Impossible.
Actually, reality says otherwise.
According to the Child Welfare League of America South Dakota had 15,623 total referrals for child abuse and neglect in 2011 – the most recent numbers available. Of those, 3,907 reports were referred for investigation. Or about 10 reports of kids being abused every day.
“But that was all them Lakota,” some might say… and they'd be wrong. The fact that 28 percent of South Dakota children in “out-of-home” care are white shows the problem is not isolated to any one race.
That 3 South Dakota children died from abuse or neglect in 2011 makes the issue of “blaming” any one group a moot point. While the fact that 4 out of 5 abusers of children nationwide are their own parents should put all of us on guard.
This doesn't mean we need to start reporting “Mary” or “John” every time they give their kids a stern look or holler at them to “clean up that expletive yard”. But it does mean that we - as a community of mixed races, cultures, religions and political beliefs - need to accept the stark reality that anyone… that's anyone…can be an abuser.
While the first step toward assistance isn't in studying the parents or guardians. It's in observing the children. From noting bruises, burns, frequent hunger or poor hygiene to being watchful for behavioral signs like showing little or no emotion when hurt, being wary of their parents, stealing food or wearing long sleeves and trousers in hot weather (to hide bruises).
Children aren't just our future; they're our re-creation. And each time they're abused another piece of each one of us dies.
Monroe County child abuse program earns accreditation
by The Albia News
Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America) announced today that the Healthy Families America (HFA) affiliate, Monroe County HOPES-HFA Program, has been accredited as a provider of high quality home visiting services to families who want to improve their child's health, nutrition and developmental outcomes.
HFA is a signature program of PCA America that has been providing home visiting services for more than 20 years. Expectant and new parents have common questions about their child's development. HFA connects with families through community partners like hospitals and pediatricians to find the answers to their questions, meeting within the familiarity and convenience of the family's own home. HFA is an accessible, voluntary and well received service.
“The American Dream starts with a happy, healthy childhood,” said Dan Duffy, President and CEO of PCA America.
“As parents, we all have questions from time to time. Our HFA professionals offer evidence-based best practices to provide answers to questions, individualized support when needed most, and linkages to community services. As we congratulate Monroe County HOPES-HFA Program we also recognize the state and community leadership that has contributed to success in Albia,” said Duffy.
The accreditation process is based upon a stringent set of 12 critical elements grounded in more than 30 years of research. The process involves an in-depth examination of the site's operation, as well as, the quality of the visits made my HFA home visitors.
“We recommend the Monroe Co HOPES-HFA Program for opening itself up to such an intensive review process,” said Cydney Wessel, National Director of HFA. “We believe that all families and all communities deserve access to quality home visiting services.”
The Monroe Co HOPES-HFA Program is affiliated with Monroe Co Public Health and has been in Albia, serving families since 2009. The program is funded by 4 Counties for Kids-Early Childhood Iowa, Iowa Child Abuse Prevention Grant, Monroe Co Community Foundation Grant and Monroe Co Public Health.
Hundreds of US gymnasts allege sexual abuse
by The BBC
Hundreds of US gymnasts have come forward to say they were sexually abused by adults in the sport.
A nine-month investigation by the Indianapolis Star finds 368 gymnasts allege abuse over 20 years, by at least 100 coaches, gym owners and others.
The allegations come amid claims that the US body that governs gymnastics did not do enough to prevent the assaults.
But USA Gymnastics says it is "proud of the work it has done to address and guard against child sexual abuse".
The sport received huge attention earlier in the year due to the success of its women's team at the Rio Olympics.
The newspaper writes that gym owners and athletes were reluctant to come forward with their allegations for fear that they would attract negative attention and lose potentially lucrative sponsorships.
Those that did complain to USA Gymnastics felt that their claims were ignored, as the governing body failed to alert police to the alleged crimes.
"Some coaches are fired at gym after gym without being tracked or flagged by USA Gymnastics, or losing their membership with the organisation," authors Tim Evans, Mark Alesia and Marisa Kwiatkowski report.
Dozens of athletes say the powerful body - which determines who represents Team USA at the Olympic Games - never even replied to some of those making the claims.
Gymnastics officials dispute that claims were kept quiet in order to preserve the reputation of the sport.
"Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and chief executive Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone - coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials," the organisation said in a statement.
"We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career," USA Gymnastics said, adding that mandatory background checks are now being performed on all coaches.
Earlier this year, lawsuits were filed against doctor Larry Nassar, a former longtime doctor for USA Gymnastics, by women gymnasts accusing him of sexual assault, which he denies.
Rachel Denhollinder told the BBC she was sexually assaulted when she was 15 years old and went to see Dr Nassar while he was working at Michigan State University.
Ms Denhollinder said Dr Nassar sexually assaulted her while treating her, with her mother in the room.
"He would position his hands in a way that she could not see what he was doing," she said.
"It was very difficult to reconcile the person he was supposed to be and with what he was doing and so the only conclusion I could come to was that there must be something wrong with me."
Dr Nassar pleaded not guilty last month to charges of sexually assaulting a minor.
Coach Cleared of Charges He Failed to Report Child Sex Abuse
by Steve Megargee
Charges were dismissed Friday against a former Tennessee high school basketball coach who was accused of failing to report child sexual abuse after a freshman player was assaulted by older teammates.
Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Don Poole ruled that the law Andre Montgomery of Ooltewah High School was accused of violating did not apply in this case. Montgomery was indicted in May on four counts of failing to report child sexual abuse.
Poole said when a victim is 13-17 years old, the Tennessee statute that prosecutors relied on applies only to cases in which the attacker is a parent or someone else who lives in the same household as the victim.
"Now, that doesn't mean that there wouldn't be a moral requirement to report that. That doesn't mean there might not be a job or employment requirement to report that," Poole said. "But does this statute create a legal requirement on this defendant or anyone else to report it? I think the answer is no."
Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors would ask the Attorney General's office to review the decision for potential appeal. Prosecutors have 30 days from the ruling to file an appeal.
"Judge Poole applied the law," said Curtis Bowe, Montgomery's lawyer. "He read the law, understood it. If there are issues with the law, it's in the hands of the Legislature to fix."
The case stemmed from a Dec. 22 incident in a Gatlinburg cabin while Ooltewah's team was participating in a holiday tournament. Montgomery was Ooltewah's coach at the time.
Police in Gatlinburg, which is in Sevier County, said a freshman required emergency surgery after being assaulted with a pool cue by teammates in an apparent hazing incident. Authorities in Hamilton County, where Ooltewah is located, said four freshman players were assaulted during the trip.
One player was convicted in juvenile court of aggravated rape and aggravated assault in August. Two other players were convicted as juveniles only of aggravated assault.
Poole described the assault as "horrendous" and "horrific" even as he cleared Montgomery on the charge of failing to report the situation to Hamilton County authorities. He added that "it appears to me the statutes in question possibly are not properly worded and maybe don't come across as the Legislature intended."
Hamilton County officials charged Montgomery, assistant coach Karl Williams and athletic director Allard Nayadley in January with failure to report child sexual abuse.
Prosecutors dropped the charges against Williams in May. Nayadley entered a pre-trial diversion program in May with the agreement that the charges could be removed from his record if he complies with terms of that program, which include performing community service and taking a class on mandatory reporting.
All three officials, as well as the Hamilton County Board of Education, have been sued by the victim's family. The lawsuit says school officials knew Ooltewah athletes were being abused and did nothing about it.
State seeks to have suit against DCYF in child abuse case dismissed
by Dave Solomon
MANCHESTER — The state has responded to a lawsuit against the Division for Children, Youth and Families over the agency's handling of a controversial child abuse case, asking the court to dismiss the suit.
The state in its Dec. 13 pleading in Hillsborough County Superior Court claims the plaintiffs, adoptive parents of the abused children, have no standing to sue and that the DCYF cannot be held liable for the conduct of the biological parents, both of whom are now serving jail time for child abuse.
The lawsuit was filed in October by Bedford attorney Rus Rilee on behalf of the grandparents of the children, who completed a legal adoption process.
Rilee had to get a state Supreme Court ruling to enable him to file the suit in open court, due to the confidentiality that has historically shrouded DCYF proceedings.
The fact that the two children suffered horrific sexual and physical abuse by their biological parents during DCYF-authorized visitation is not in dispute. The adoptive parents, through their attorney, claim the abuse could have been avoided had the state's child protective services heeded obvious warnings, followed established procedure and properly supervised its employees and non-profit partner, Easter Seals.
The lawsuit was filed in October in Hillsborough County Superior Court on behalf of the grandparents, identified only as T.C. and D.C. Their names are not being published to protect the privacy of the children, ages 4 and 18 months at the time of the abuse, and identified only as N.B and J.B.
Rilee claims in the lawsuit that the DCYF and case workers from Easter Seals disregarded complaints from the adoptive parents and warning signs in police reports to allow unsupervised visits by the biological parents, when the worst abuse occurred.
In his response, Attorney General Joseph Foster moves to dismiss the complaint, claiming “the plaintiff's injuries were caused or contributed to by the actions of third parties “over whom the DCYF is not legally responsible.”
“DCYF cannot be held vicariously liable for the actions of the children's biological parents,” according to the state. “There is no relationship between DCYF and the biological parents — who committed the sexual abuse — that gives rise to vicarious liability for the abuse.”
The state also asserts claims of immunity granted to state employees conducting their official business in good faith.
“We think as a matter of law that the case should be dismissed,” said Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Mulholland, who wrote the response on behalf of the Justice Department.
The lawsuit seeks monetary damages for N.B. and J.B. for the “indescribable mental and emotional pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life that they are suffering and will suffer indefinitely into the future,” as well as therapy and medical treatment and lost earning capacity.
The biological parents pleaded guilty to felonious sexual assault charges and manufacturing child sexual abuse images in 2014 and were sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
DCYF had removed the children from the home of their biological parents and placed them in the custody of their grandparents, now adoptive parents, in 2012.
Attorney Charles R. Capace of Boston, who is co-counsel with Rilee in the lawsuit against DCYF, claim the response by the Attorney General contains an admission that will help the plaintiffs make their case.
Rilee and Capace have argued that Claremont police investigated allegations of child sexual abuse by the biological father at a homeless shelter in 2013, and that the DCYF should have investigated those claims before allowing any further unsupervised visitation.
In the state's response, DCYF admits that it did not independently interview the police or the individuals the police interviewed to determine the credibility of the allegations in the police report.
“The Claremont police sent a copy of their report directly by email to DCYF,” said Capace. “They acknowledged receiving it. It details in 16 pages the allegations being made against the same parents, only with respect to other people's children, while at a homeless shelter. The fact that (DCYF) admits it did not investigate the allegations of Claremont police is an extraordinary admission.”
Capace provided a copy of a DCYF policy titled “Subsequent reports during an assessment,” which states, “Any information gathered during the course of an ongoing assessment that indicates a new allegation must be reviewed by a caseworker with his or her supervisor ... including a new alleged victim or perpetrator.”
The Attorney General's office and DCYF declined to comment on the lawsuit beyond what is contained in the pleadings.
Rilee and Capace have until Jan. 6 to respond to the state's motion to dismiss.
Football child abuse hotline receives 1,700 calls in just three weeks
by Ewan Palmer
A hotline set up to deal with victims of child abuse within football has received more than 1,700 calls in its first three weeks.
The helpline, set up by the children's charity NSPCC and the Football Association, was launched after several former players, including former Crewe Alexandra's Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, spoke out about the alleged abuse they suffered as youngsters.
The NSPCC said it received a "staggering" 860 calls in its first week after it launched on 23 November. In its first three days, the line received three times more the number of calls than those made to a similar helpline set up into abuse by Jimmy Savile.
The charity said the figure now stands at 1,700 calls, with 94% of the referrals handed onto the police.
Manchester United striker and NSPCC ambassdor Wayne Rooney is one of those who is urging other victims to come forward. He said: "It's awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love. Andy [Woodward] has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC's new football helpline.
"It's important that people know that it's OK to speak out, there is help available and that they don't need to suffer in silence.
"The NSPCC and FA are urging players and others involved in football from grassroots to Premier League to speak up and contact the hotline to get the help and support they need."
Fellow ambassador and former Newcastle United and England legend Alan Shearer added:"I've been shocked and deeply saddened to hear of the abuse that colleagues, and in some cases former team mates, suffered.
"All clubs now have dedicated people tasked with keeping kids safe but there's always more to be done. Every club – from the grassroots up – must continue to look at what they're doing to prevent abuse happening to any kids today and in the future.
"So to anyone who's suffered in the past or is suffering now from abuse in football, please call the NSPCC's new football helpline."
Several police forces and dozens of football clubs across the UK have announced they are looking into allegations of child abuse.
The Met Police, the biggest force in the UK, recently announced it is probing 106 separate allegations relating to people at 30 football clubs in London, including four Premiership teams.
Madison club to present speakers on child abuse
by New Jersey Hills
MADISON – The Thursday Morning Club invites the public to hear Susan Chambers, Chairperson of the New Jersey State Federation of Women's Clubs Special State Project: Ending Child Abuse, and Pamela Stalcup, Director of Development and Communications for Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, at the club's Madison Community House at 25 Cook Ave.
Chambers and Stalcup will discuss the club's 2016-2017 participation in a two-year statewide effort, in conjunction with Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey, to raise public awareness of child abuse and support fund-raising activities that will aid highly vulnerable New Jersey families.
The Prevent Child Abuse-New Jersey (PCA-NJ) project is “a dynamic, multi-dimensional initiative promoting positive parenting and healthy childhood development,” said Thursday Morning Club President Karen Jeisi. “Founded in 1979, it serves tens of thousands of children and families throughout New Jersey.”
Each Thursday Morning Club member is being asked to bring a baby item, such as an article of clothing or a package of diapers to the meeting to kick off the Madison club's own PCA-NJ initiative.
“The public is cordially invited to attend the informative meeting and enjoy a post-meeting luncheon served by the club's Catering Committee,” Jeisi said. The $15 luncheon fee will be collected the day of the meeting, but a reservation is required prior to Friday, Dec. 30. To make a reservation, call (973) 520-8087 or email email@example.com.
The Thursday Morning Club is a member of the General Federation of Women's Clubs as well as the New Jersey State Federation. The club owns and operates the Madison Community House, including its own Nursery School, at the 25 Cook Ave. location in Madison.
In Depth Look: Delayed Disclosure of Sexual Assault
by Kasey Kershner
JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. -- Kenneth Baker is behind bars tonight in the Jackson County Jail facing six counts of sexual abuse.
Reports say Baker met the victim through his church where he was a youth pastor.
It also stated that when the abuse started the victim was younger than 14, and it happened between 2006 and 2011.
However, there wasn't an investigation until five years later, which law enforcement investigators say they see frequently in these cases.
“Delay disclosure is not uncommon for these types of cases and actually it's probably more common than an immediate disclosure. So there's obviously some obstacles with the lack of physical evidence with years past when the abuse took place. However, like any other investigation we talk to any potential witnesses and anyone who might have information for us,” said Detective David Seese with the Jackson County Sheriff's Office.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Their statistics also say only 12percent of child sexual abuse is reported to the authorities.
It's also important to be aware of the red flags of children who are being abused like withdrawal from friends and family, changes in behavior, depression, anxiety, or attempts to run away.
If you want to report an assault in the state of Oregon you can call 1-855-503-SAFE (7233) to the Oregon Department of Human Services.
As a new legislative session begins, can lawmakers come together to help the abused and neglected kids in foster care?
by Dave Mann
She is identified in court records simply by the initials “S.A.” While we don't know her name, we do know a great deal about the emotional and physical abuse she endured in Texas's foster care system. She became the state's responsibility in 2001, when she was only five years old. There's no question she was rescued from peril; S.A.'s adoptive mother was arrested on outstanding warrants while trying to enter Mexico with her boyfriend, a registered sex offender. But she wasn't safe in the state's care either. When she entered the system, S.A., like every child, was evaluated to determine how much trauma she had experienced and how extensive her care should be. The state deemed that S.A.'s needs were “basic,” the lowest level. During the next thirteen years, she was moved 45 times through foster homes, residential treatment centers, and, finally, psychiatric hospitals. She stayed in some places as few as two days. She attended sixteen schools. In 2014 she aged out of foster care, according to court records, as an eighteen-year-old who was “severely damaged.”
S.A. is one of seventeen current or former foster kids—all identified by initials—named in a federal lawsuit filed against Texas by the New York advocacy group Children's Rights. The suit argues that the state's foster care system, by failing to protect children from harm, violates their Fourteenth Amendment rights. U.S. district judge Janis Jack, based in Corpus Christi, ruled in December 2015 that Texas's treatment of foster children not only violates their constitutional rights but “shocks the conscience.”
Attorney General Ken Paxton is contesting the case, arguing in a recent filing that the reforms suggested by two court-appointed experts are overly broad and too expensive and that the system, while troubled, doesn't need federal oversight. His office has spent more than $7 million on its various appeals. The legal issues remain unsettled, but the import of Jack's ruling, at the moment, may be more political. In her 260-page opinion, Jack uses tens of thousands of pages of government records to tell each child's story in horrific detail. The ruling should be required reading for state lawmakers, who will attempt to reform the broken Child Protective Services department during their five-month legislative session that begins on January 10.
The problems are plain enough: foster care has long suffered from a lack of resources. This has resulted in two huge shortcomings. The first is low pay and high turnover rates among CPS caseworkers, the people most responsible for steering children through the system and keeping them safe. The starting salary for CPS caseworkers is just under $34,000, and about a quarter of them leave every year. The turnover means that most of the caseworkers who remain must monitor more children than they can handle. In the bureaucratic speak of CPS, this is known as a high caseload. Experts say that one caseworker should handle, at most, about 20 cases. Yet around 40 percent of Texas caseworkers handle many more than that, some as many as 35 cases at a time. This leads to hurried caseworkers' giving kids only cursory checks—or none at all.
The second major failing is a critical shortage of places to put children, which is also a function of our leaders' refusing to spend the necessary money. Texas pays foster care providers only about 80 percent of what it actually costs to house children. The result is that foster providers lose money, cut corners, or make up the difference with private donations. The inadequate funding also makes it hard for Texas to recruit enough foster families.
Anyone who wants to understand how chronic underfunding of CPS affects children should read the court's ruling, especially the eleven pages that document the trauma inflicted on S.A. by the state agency tasked with keeping her safe.
It began in her very first foster home. Within four months of entering the system, S.A. reported being sodomized by an older boy in the home. The abuse allegation was bad enough, but then CPS compounded it by not properly investigating her claim. The agency asked the private organization that had placed S.A. in the foster home to conduct its own review, according to court records, and the organization “did not cite any noncompliances” and took no action. As the ruling notes, there's no evidence in any of the 33,000 pages in S.A.'s CPS file that she was interviewed about her allegations of sexual assault or provided a physical examination or medical treatment. CPS apparently did nothing. Worse yet, CPS allows private placing agencies to keep such investigative files to themselves, so S.A.'s future caseworkers may not have known about her alleged sexual assault.
It's not clear what actually happened to S.A. in that home, but Jack writes in her ruling that it seems unlikely a five-year-old could concoct such detailed allegations. Moreover, S.A.'s foster parents soon requested that she be removed from the home to “ensure her safety and [prevent] any possible contact between her and the other child,” according to Jack's ruling. Before long, S.A. began to display disturbing behavior, including, as Jack notes, “extreme tantrums where she tried to hurt herself and others.” S.A. was then hospitalized and later told a caseworker that she didn't trust CPS to “keep her safe.”
CPS's failure to properly investigate S.A.'s sexual abuse allegation isn't an isolated incident. The agency similarly did little to pursue alleged abuse perpetrated against other children named in the federal lawsuit. The precise reasons for this aren't evident. But the ruling describes how the foster home shortage makes it difficult for CPS to properly handle sexual abuse cases. That's because foster kids who have suffered sexual assault should be placed in homes without other children, experts say. That's to protect foster kids from further victimization but also to prevent them from abusing other children; kids who have been abused, some research has shown, are at greater risk of later becoming abusers themselves. But there aren't enough homes to allow for many single-child placements. S.A. lived in thirteen foster homes, and despite her history of alleged abuse, all of them had other kids.
By the time she was fifteen, S.A. had bounced through dozens of placements. The lack of stability in her life was taking a toll that S.A. herself recognized. According to Jack's ruling, S.A. told a psychologist, “I need a family.” Yet CPS botched several chances for her to be adopted because her caseworkers, who were constantly changing, didn't have her paperwork in order.
Two months after S.A. aged out of foster care, she attempted suicide by walking into traffic on a busy highway and was struck by a car. Thankfully, she survived. But she remains unprepared for adulthood. At the time of the court case, she was living in a shelter. “S.A., who aged out with no life skills and nowhere to go,” Jack writes, “is another example of the forgotten children in Texas's [foster care system].”
None of these problems are new. Many of them were well-known before S.A. entered foster care. In 1996 a committee formed by then-governor George W. Bush examined CPS and reported that caseloads were too high. A 2004 report from the comptroller's office reached a similar conclusion. In 2010 a commission formed by Governor Rick Perry issued fourteen recommendations for improving CPS; it turned out that eleven of those had also been made by the 1996 committee and had never been enacted. The 2010 report concluded that “there is increasing evidence to show that our foster care system is sometimes doing more harm to our children than good.”
The Legislature has made occasional stabs at reform that included small boosts in funding. But in the past few years, Texas's historic neglect of foster care has eroded into a crisis, with CPS having to stash kids in state offices and hotels; according to media reports, nearly a thousand children potentially in peril weren't visited by a CPS worker for nearly six months in 2016.
“This is as bad as I've ever seen it,” says Scott McCown, who served as a state district judge for thirteen years and presided over a docket of child protection cases. He authored a seminal report in 1999 advocating for increased funding for CPS and continued to argue for higher state spending while heading the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. He's now the director of the Children's Rights Clinic at the University of Texas law school. “I don't think there was ever a time where the department was adequately scaled to the size of the workload, but it has come closer than it does now,” he says. “We've got good policies and practices in place. We have better training. In some ways, it's a better system. But we have a rapidly growing child population, and we have a lot of kids living in poverty. We haven't funded the infrastructure needs.”
McCown believes the Legislature will need to allocate several hundred million more dollars for CPS. The keys, he says, are reducing turnover among caseworkers and thereby bringing down their caseloads. State leaders recently approved an emergency appropriation of $150 million for CPS to hire hundreds more employees and give caseworkers a $12,000 raise. In addition, Governor Greg Abbott's office allocated $8 million for a pilot program to provide better care for some of the children with the most-pressing needs. That's all an excellent start, but now they must follow through during the session by extending these emergency appropriations in their next two-year budget. The next piece, McCown says, is raising the compensation for foster care providers and recruiting more of them to alleviate the shortage. Finally, he says, the state should consider expanding a pilot reform program, currently in the Fort Worth area only, which prevents child-placing agencies from turning away or simply moving troubled foster kids; agencies that work with the state must take all kids and find appropriate and safe places for them to live. But that too costs money: the state can't hold child-placing agencies to such tough standards unless the agencies also get the money they need to meet those standards.
Showing rare and encouraging unanimity, the governor, the lieutenant governor, and the House speaker have all acknowledged that CPS is in crisis and needs to be addressed. And several hundred million dollars, while significant, won't break the bank (after all, we spent a record $800 million on border security last session, and lawmakers will reportedly consider a $200 million increase this time around). But as we all know, spending money has never been in vogue at the Legislature, especially after a Republican electoral sweep and especially in a tight budget year, when the state is expected to face a deficit. Some legislators will undoubtedly look for easy solutions and cheap fixes where none exist.
The CPS crisis will test whether our state leadership can function effectively. We've seen plenty of political pandering lately, but CPS is serious business. Everyone wants children to be safe. The question is, in this era of divisiveness and distrust of government, can state leaders work together for the greater good? We can only hope, because the consequences couldn't be more dire for thousands of children who depend on us to protect them.
New DNA testing planned in JonBenet Ramsey murder case
by The Associated Press
Boulder police and prosecutors are looking at new DNA testing technology that they hope will further the investigation of the unsolved 1996 murder of 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey.
The move comes after an investigation by the Boulder Daily Camera and KUSA-TV in Denver that the news organizations say uncovered flaws in the interpretation of previous DNA testing.
Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett and Boulder police Chief Greg Testa confirmed Tuesday that they have discussed the issue with Colorado Bureau of Investigation administrators, who are about to unveil more sophisticated DNA tests.
The tests also would tap into an FBI database that includes genetic profiles from more than 15.1 million known offenders and arrestees.
JonBenet was found dead in the basement of the Ramsey home the day after Christmas in 1996.
Supporting children exposed to domestic violence—call for stronger evidence base
by Medical Express
Services for children who are exposed to domestic violence and abuse are vital, but NIHR-funded researchers have found that there is little evidence for what support works best.
While there is much good quality evidence for the support offered to adult survivors of domestic abuse, there is very little evidence for what might help children from these families.
Children living in a home where there is domestic violence, even if they don't directly witness violent acts, are more likely to suffer problematic behaviour, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and educational problems. When they grow up, they are more likely to have mental health problems, to be unemployed, and to perpetrate or experience domestic violence than people who aren't exposed to domestic violence as children.
There are support programmes for these children, or children and their non-abusing parent, that can improve the child's behaviour and mental health in the short term. Some of these programmes have been tested in rigorous research studies (mostly conducted in North America), but many haven't. Although the UK already has a number of programmes for children exposed to domestic violence, it's not clear whether they are working as they haven't been properly evaluated.
Researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Cambridge, Central Lancashire and Canada's McMaster University, have examined all the existing studies on this issue, as well as interviewing parents, children and professionals in the field. Their report, IMPRoving Outcomes for children exposed to domestic ViolencE (IMPROVE): an evidence synthesis, was published in the NIHR Journal Public Health Research on 9 December.
They recommend that there needs to be many more in-depth studies in the UK to understand which programmes work, and which don't. They also recommend that the programmes' effectiveness should be measured against outcomes that children, parents, service providers and policymakers think are important, rather than researchers' priorities.
The team, led by Dr Emma Howarth from the NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) East of England and Professor Gene Feder, from the Centre for Academic Primary Care, University of Bristol, identified three different types of programme that they recommend are prioritised for further research in the UK.
group based 'psychoeducation', where children (with or without their non-abusive parent) discuss and learn more about their situation and the effect it has on their mental health, with the help of a trained health professional
parenting training combined with 'advocacy' for parents, where they are given practical support by a professional to understand their options and rights, as well as to explore their reactions to their situation
programmes with a 'whole family' approach, where the perpetrators of domestic violence are also involved
The team recommend that priority is given to studies focusing on the complex enironments in which these interventions are delivered. Rather than a 'one size fits all' approach, tailored services for different groups of children and young people should be explored. And professionals in the field must agree a standard way of measuring success and 'outcomes' for children in these services. The team are also calling for a pause in developing new interventions, unless they meet a clear gap in services, and for the systematic evaluation of existing programmes.
The team are calling for the stakeholders in this field, including funders, researchers, commissioners and service providers, as well as the children and parents themselves, to come together to address the barriers that have hampered the development of the UK evidence base.
Dr Emma Howarth, who worked on the project while at the University of Bristol and then NIHR CLAHRC East of England, said: "More research into how best to support these children is needed urgently. Children exposed to domestic abuse are very vulnerable. They are more likely to grow up with mental health problems and not achieve their full potential as a result. Some of the support programmes that the various studies looked at show promise, but without more in-depth, UK focused research, we can't be sure that services are supporting these children in the best ways possible."
The University of Bristol's Professor Gene Feder, a leading researcher in the field of domestic violence and abuse, said: "We already knew that there wasn't much evidence for what support should be offered to children exposed to domestic abuse, but our research has revealed just how scant that evidence is. There have been no major studies in the UK, only service evaluations.
"Internationally, there is increasing emphasis on reducing the mental health impact of adverse events in childhood, including domestic abuse, through early intervention. However, the funding cuts we've seen in the UK over the last five years mean that many children are not being helped. And when programmes exist, we don't know which programmes are the most effective in improving outcomes for which children."
More information: Emma Howarth et al. IMPRoving Outcomes for children exposed to domestic ViolencE (IMPROVE): an evidence synthesis, Public Health Research (2016). DOI: 10.3310/phr04100
Rape of teenager raises concerns about how Jamaican police respond to gender-based violence
by Emma Lewis
KINGSTON. Jamaica -- As the United Nations' 16 Days of Activism campaign drew to a close on International Human Rights Day, there remained much to be concerned about in Jamaica in relation to the issue of gender-based violence.
This was highlighted by the case in early December of a 14-year-old girl, who was abducted in Kingston and raped. When she reported her ordeal to the police, they drove her to the house where the crime was committed, and transported her back with the alleged rapist in the same police vehicle. On arrival at the police station, the man mysteriously escaped, allegedly because of a pair of defective handcuffs.
The incident not only pointed to the ongoing problem of the sexual abuse of under-age girls -- which, according to Joy Crawford of the non-govermental organization Eve for Life, has not diminished -- but also raised serious issues about how the police treat rape victims.
Blogger Dennis Jones spoke bluntly on the issue, seeing it as an example of police inefficiency and incompetence. In a letter to the editor, he wrote:
“A 14-year-old is raped, and a suspect is caught, and the two people are transported TOGETHER to the police station. What could go wrong? Everything! And it did. The culprit escaped from a set of defective handcuffs. Result: a traumatised family and a police force with a severe case of egg on face.”
He amplified the issue in his blog, concluding:
“People have in their sights an escalating murder rate, but my concern is that the many little things that the police are supposed to do daily and in dealing with a wide range of matters of public order keep showing them up to be less than competent. For an economist, it would be an easy thing to argue the function of policing ought to be taken away from the body that is now in charge of it.”
Governments, rightly, are wary of tampering with police powers, but at some stage, with any organization, one has to ask if the present set-up can take you where you want to go.
Human rights activist and blogger Susan Goffe reflected that this reported case may well be the tip of the iceberg, as many instances of rape are not reported.
In a blog post on the UNICEF Jamaica website, young lawyer Adley Duncan shared a long series of his own tweets that describe the exhausting, traumatizing procedure that begins when a person reports a rape. He prefaced the list by saying:
“Many girls (and boys) find themselves in cycles of sexual abuse. It is a horrendous rite of passage for many young persons in Jamaica. Some of the people we know, even our friends, might be fighting personal battles they feel unable to speak about.
“Child victims of abuse grow into adults, bearing the abominable consequences of harm. They are, throughout their lives, reminded by triggers of the abuse they experienced, often at the hands of adults responsible for protecting them.
“Statistics from the Office of the Children's Registry suggest that only one adult in ten reports child abuse brought to his or her attention. The nine in ten who make no report reflect the pernicious Jamaican culture of silence.
“My involvement in the justice system as a criminal law practitioner gives me some familiarity with some harsh Jamaican realities for children.”
This year, the UN's 16 Days of Activism campaign was particularly active in Jamaica, with many events reflecting different aspects of violence against women. Yet, although the specified period is over, the undercurrent of gender-based violence persists, regularly surfacing in the media. One Jamaican woman tweeted:
Contrasting the response in Jamaica to the increase in violence against women and the soaring crime rate in general with the reaction in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago, blogger Annie Paul shared on Facebook:
“What's remarkable to me is how Trinis are mobilizing against high murder rate in their country, motivated by yet another killing of a young woman whose body was discovered a couple of days ago while we do… NOTHING but make excuses about men being abused [too]. Where are the battered, murdered male bodies pray?”
While Gender Affairs Minister Olivia Grange expressed outrage at the size and persistence of the problem, non-governmental organizations such as WE-Change organized a series of special events, tweet chats and more to raise awareness on social media and beyond.
Among these, at the second edition of “Orange Lights” (a storytelling event co-sponsored by UN Women's Caribbean office), survivors of gender-based violence shared their stories through poetry, prose and song. Tamika Pommels-Williams, a Jamaican gender-based violence survivor and author of the recent book “Unearthing the Diamond” in which she recounts her childhood trauma, shared on Facebook and thanked the media for its support:
“I am really happy to see the media highlighting Unearthing The Diamond and by extension the elimination of violence towards women and girls […] there is a change in the air. Finally this taboo topic is being highlighted. Spoken about in public and giv[ing] women in hiding a voice. […] No need to stay in hiding. I am free at last. It is great to be in the open.”
Nevertheless, there is much work to be done. In acknowledgement of this, a #Beyond16Days hashtag seemed appropriate for Jamaica and elsewhere. WE-Change held a Violence Against Women Awareness Walk in Hope Gardens on Sunday, December 11, 2016.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Children's Advocate says it is investigating the rape of the girl and the police handling of the matter.
Up To 1 In 5 Army Child Abuse Cases May Never Be Investigated
by Tara Haelle
Just one in five U.S. Army soldiers' children who received a medical diagnosis of child abuse or neglect had a corresponding report substantiated by the U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program, found a new study. That suggests that the vast majority of children being physically, emotionally or sexually abused, or being severely neglected in Army families may not be receiving help from the agency best tasked with helping them — despite being identified by medical authorities as potentially in danger.
“I was really surprised just the overall low rate of linkage that we saw,” said lead author David Rubin, MD, director of PolicyLab at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. That “linkage” refers to the proportion of medical diagnoses that were linked to a report in the Family Advocacy Program files. “To me what's most concerning in a study like this is that we don't know if there are kids at risk out there.”
The U.S. Army Family Advocacy Program (FAP) was established in 1981 to help families experiencing any form of partner, child or other domestic abuse. They work to prevent, identify, report, investigate and treat all abuse reported in military families. An estimated 15,000 reports of suspected child abuse undergo investigation annually by FAP, and about 45% of them result in a substantiated report of maltreatment. At this point, FAP works with the local civilian child protection service (CPS) agencies to help the family and ensure the children stay safe.
“FAP can only help families that it knows about, and they're actually better positioned to help the military family because the families move around a lot,” Rubin pointed out. “If that kid moves away, who tracks that kid? That other state doesn't have the CPS history from the first one. If the kid has been reported multiple times across different states, the only agency that could register that is the Family Advocacy Program.”
An extensive investigation into child abuse in the Army conducted by Military Times in 2013 found that the rate of abuse among Army minor dependents was 4.5 cases per 1,000 children in 2011, considerably lower than the 27.4 per 1,000 children reported among civilians by the Children's Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Met police receive 106 allegations of sexual abuse at football clubs
Police say claim linked to individuals at 32 named clubs or teams in London, including four in Premier League
by Jamie Grierson and Libby Brooks
Metropolitan police officers are investigating 106 separate allegations of historical sexual abuse at football clubs in London.
Britain's biggest police force said the allegations were linked to individuals at 32 named clubs or teams in London, including four in the Premier League.
Two allegations have been made against Championship clubs, three against clubs in Leagues One and Two and 21 other clubs including non-league or non-professional or amateur teams were involved, the Met said.
The update from Scotland Yard comes nearly four weeks after the former Crewe defender Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to tell the Guardian that he had been a victim of sexual abuse.
DCS Ivan Balhatchet, of the Met's sexual offence, exploitation and child abuse command, said: “The Met take all allegations seriously, and specialist officers will work through the information passed to them.
“The number of referrals, pieces of information and allegations will change. Officers will continue to work through the information that has been reported.”
The Met refused to name the clubs involved or the number of allegations against each club.
Last week, police chiefs confirmed 83 potential suspects had been identified in connection with allegations of historical child sexual abuse in football.
After Woodward spoke out, former Crewe player Steve Walters alleged he was abused, also in an interview with the Guardian. Other players, including Paul Stewart and David White, then came forward to the Guardian and other media.
The Guardian subsequently reported that an unnamed former Newcastle United player had contacted police with allegations against coach George Ormond, who was jailed for six years in 2002 for numerous assaults over 24 years.
The Football Association appointed Kate Gallafent QC at the end of November to help with its internal review of historical child sexual abuse allegations. Twenty-one police forces have launched investigations into the claims.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Football Association has announced an independent review into allegations of child sex abuse within the sport.
In a statement released late on Tuesday afternoon, the SFA said Scottish football was “a safe and enjoyable environment for children”, but added that it was taking “initial steps towards establishing an appropriate scope and terms of reference for an independent review”.
“It is imperative that we take the necessary time and guidance to ensure this review complements the work of Police Scotland and focuses on processes and procedures in place both currently and historically in Scottish football,” the SFA said.
Police Scotland is currently investigating a series of allegations of historical sexual abuse at football clubs in Scotland.
Partick Thistle admitted firing one of their employees in 1992 over abuse claims. That employee also worked for Motherwell, who are holding their own investigation.
A former youth coach for Celtic, Hibernian and Falkirk was charged last Wednesday with a child sex offence in Northern Ireland and has been remanded in custody.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: “Police Scotland has reaffirmed that it is the investigatory authority regarding reports of child sexual abuse in football and it is therefore crucial to draw the distinction between their ongoing investigation and what lessons football can learn from historic allegations.”
from Dept of Justice
San Bernardino Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison for Producing Child Pornography involving 5-Year-Old
A Half-Dozen Defendants from Inland Empire Have Been in Federal Court This Year After Being Charged with Child Exploitation Crimes
LOS ANGELES – A San Bernardino man has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for production of child pornography, including a sexually explicit pictures of a 5-year-old girl.
Jeremy Matthew Meyerett, 41, was sentenced yesterday by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips to spend the 240 months in prison. Following his release from custody, Meyerett will be on supervised release for 20 years.
Meyerett pleaded guilty in June to the production of child pornography in a case that arose from an undercover investigation by the Queensland (Australia) Police Service. According to court documents, Meyerett discussed sexually molesting a 5-year-old girl, and a subsequent search of an online account by federal law enforcement yielded child pornography depicting the young victim.
“Child exploitation offenses such as those prosecuted in these cases are a scourge on our community,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “My office will continue to protect vulnerable child victims of these heinous crimes by seeking lengthy sentences, such as the one imposed this week, for these criminals.”
This case against Meyerett was the result of a joint investigation by the Riverside Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Teresa Beecham, a Riverside County deputy district attorney who is also a member of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team. The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office dismissed a related state case against Meyerett in favor of federal prosecution.
Meyerett is one of a half-dozen men from the Inland Empire who recently have been in federal court on charges related to child pornography. Three other defendants received sentences of at least 10 years in prison.
“The lengthy sentences given to these defendants are a gratifying outcome for the HSI special agents who work tirelessly to identify child sexual predators and bring them to justice,” said Joseph Macias, special agent in charge for HSI Los Angeles. “The sexual exploitation of children is a despicable crime and, as these sentences make clear, there are serious consequences for those convicted. HSI remains committed to working with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners to aggressively pursue those who victimize the most vulnerable members of our society, our children.”
In the other Inland Empire child exploitation cases:
• James Gregory O’Neill, 58, of Riverside, was sentenced on May 2 to 10 years in federal prison for his third conviction of possessing child pornography. When authorities discovered the pictures on O’Neill’s phone, he was on parole after being convicted in Riverside Superior Court of possessing matter depicting a minor in a sexual act, a crime that led to a two-year sentence. O’Neill had also been convicted in federal court in 2003 of distributing child pornography, a conviction that brought a 40-month prison sentence.
• Andrew Harrison Fowler, 26, of Perris, a convicted sex offender who was convicted of having sex with minors in San Diego Superior Court, pleaded guilty on April 18 to possession of child pornography, with some of the images depicting victims younger than 10. Fowler came to the attention of law enforcement after his employer discovered that he was distributing and possessing child pornography while using a computer at his job in Corona. Fowler was sentenced by Judge Phillips on June 27 to 12 years in federal prison and a lifetime of supervised release. Fowler was on parole in the San Diego case when he committed the offense in the federal case. This case was investigated by the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office Sexual Assault and Felony Enforcement/Internet Crimes Against Children Unit, which includes special agents with HSI.
• Anthony Michael Scotti, 22, of Murrieta, pleaded guilty on April 4 to possession of child pornography. Scotti, who was previously convicted in Riverside Superior court of distributing lewd material to a minor, admitted that he had images on an iPod that was seized by law enforcement last August, and that he used the Kik messaging app to distribute images of children engaged in sex acts with adults. In a plea agreement, Scotti also admitted that he used text messages to convince a 15-year-old girl in another state to take sexually explicit pictures and send them to him. United States District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez is scheduled to sentence Scotti on January 23, at which time the defendant faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, and prosecutors have recommended a sentence of 14 years. This case was investigated by HSI.
• Angelo Harper Jr., 21, of Moreno Valley, was found guilty after a two-day bench trial on charges of advertising, distributing and possessing child pornography. Trial evidence included an explicit six-minute video depicting a man with a pre-pubescent boy, as well as evidence showing that Harper used the Messenger to access a chatroom for those interested in nepiophilia, which is a sexual interest in infants and toddlers. Harper “possessed 8,260 images and 520 videos of child pornography,” according to court documents. “This collection included violent depictions of the rape and assault of babies and toddlers.” Harper was sentenced in October by United States District Judge R. Gary Klausner to 235 months in federal prison. This case was investigated by HSI and the Riverside Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement Task Force.
•Nathan Charles Longino Barba, 21, of Rancho Cucamonga, pleaded guilty in August to possessing child pornography. Barba received images and videos depicting child pornography over the Internet. “Some of the images depicted children under two years old being used for sexual acts,” prosecutors said in court papers. “Other images of child pornography portrayed sadistic or masochistic sexual conduct involving the minor children.” Barba is scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips on January 30. Prosecutors have recommended a sentence of three years in federal prison. This case was investigated by FBI.
FROM: Thom Mrozek - Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California
Charity tells Bascomes: the shame is not yours
by Jonathan Bell
Brothers Andrew and David Bascome have been applauded for their bravery by the sexual abuse charity Scars.
“I want to praise them for having the courage to reveal this secret that's probably haunted them for life,” Scars chairman Jon Brunson said after the brothers told a press conference they had been molested in their early football careers.
“If I could give one message to Andrew and David, it would be that they did nothing to deserve what happened to them. They were children, and their innocence was taken. The shame is not theirs. Now they can really transition from victim to survivor.”
Given the football coaching brothers' stature in the community, Mr Brunson said the ripple effect of their claims would be “huge”.
Noting that the North Village football club had been “very proactive” in getting sexual abuse awareness training in place, Mr Brunson added: “I have been aware that this issue was prevalent in Bermuda's football arena.
“I would not be surprised that, as a result of their courage to speak out, it will empower others to talk about what happened to them as young players.”
Parents, he said, “need to demand that the people and organisations that they are entrusting their children with, have done the appropriate reference and background checks”.
“This is a tipping point to drive home the importance of parents doing their due diligence. Football is not a babysitting service. We must take responsibility for the wellbeing of our children — take ownership, and know who is watching your kids.
“Sexual abuse does not discriminate, and a person's social standing does not make your child safe.”
Mr Brunson was emphatic that “the system has to change”.
“Legislators need to do the right thing, and they are taking too long to do it. Every day that they wait means greater risks for our children.”
Speaking after an emotional press appearance yesterday, Andrew Bascome said that he had been molested by an older football player in the 1980s.
Mr Brunson said that older children could often exhibit predatory behaviour, underscoring the need to put in place “the rule of three”.
“The greatest risks are one-on-one scenarios. We encourage organisations to have two adults for every child, two children with one adult.”
Reports of abuse can be taken to two organisations: the Bermuda Police Service, and the Department of Child and Family Services.
One of the strongest indicators that abuse has occurred is “dramatic behavioural change over a sustained period of time”, Mr Brunson said: fear of the dark where phobias had not been seen before; bed wetting or abruptly not wanting to undress in front of parents.
“Parents know their children better than anybody. If they notice these changes, they should seek to clarify them by having an open-ended conversation with their child, by asking questions like ‘did something happen that caused you to feel this way'?”
Debi Ray-Rivers, the charity's executive director, said that the brothers' candour was a sign that “the walls are coming down”.
“We need to say how courageous these men are to speak the truth. They are a voice for many,” she said.
“We are so very proud of these brothers — as survivors, it is not our shame.”
Ms Ray-Rivers had high praise for North Village as “the first football club that required their coaches to get trained in sexual abuse prevention”.
“They made the changes that will reduce risk,” she said. “They're sending a strong message that they care for children.”
Missaukee County Child Abuse Victims Will Soon Have More Help
by Veronica Meadows
A dream years in the making for an organization that helps victims of child abuse is finally coming true.
The Northern Michigan Mobile Child Advocacy Center in Clare County now has a traveling motor home that will come to victims and make the difficult process that much easier.
The motor home will help investigators and child abuse victims in Missaukee County.
The goal is to bring the services to the children who don't have access to services of their own.
Soon victims of child abuse in Missaukee County won't have to go anywhere to get the help they need.
"They've been through enough they shouldn't have to pull their kids out of school to travel a significant distance to get services, and interdisciplinary services like law enforcement and protective services don't have the resources to travel out of the county," Said Bethany Law.
The Northern Michigan Mobile Child Advocacy Center, decorated with bright colors with kids toys on display, is a safe space for a trained interviewer and a victim to talk.
"We aren't a very mobile community and we don't have public transport so this lets the mobile unit go to the children instead of transporting the children to the interview," said Melissa Ransom.
The victims of abuse will be interviewed by just one other person to make them feel more comfortable. But the interview will be recorded so that in a separate room law enforcement and other investigators can hear what's going on and find out more information.
"A lot of our officers aren't trained to forensically interview these children in this way, this will help police it will help the prosecutor child protective services so it will be one interview and used for all the agencies," said Sheriff Jim Bosscher.
Meaning the child only has to answer often painful questions once.
The organization hopes to bring mobile centers to other counties.
In the immediate future, the Missaukee County prosecutor hopes it helps kids in her community.
"Hopefully it provides more comfort and services for the victim while also helping us get it right the first time to get a conviction," Melissa said.
Pro Bono Lawyers Take On Registry of Child Abuse, Maltreatment
by Jeff Storey
A spokesman for a state agency estimated that "hundreds of thousands" of people have been added to a central registry of child abuse and maltreatment since 1995, but could not readily provide a count of how many are on that list.
The registry "isn't driven by that sort of list-keeping but rather as a means of preventing abuse and maltreatment," said Craig Smith of the state Office of Children and Family Services. "Names are kept on record but not a running tally."
The plaintiff in a 1993 federal court case claimed without objection from the state that there were 2 million people on the list at that time. See Volante v. Bane , 18 F. 3d 992 (2d Circ. 1993). Two lawyers who deal with the registry said that number is unlikely to have decreased since then; Smith said it's probably too high.
Whatever the actual number, "so many people are caught up in this," said Maxine Ketcher, Legal Services NYC Bronx, who has worked to get people off the registry and trained other attorneys in the cases.
And they can be caught up for a long time. The subjects of indicated reports remain in the registry for 10 years beyond the 18th birthday of their youngest child.
Lawyers frequently are successful in challenging inclusion of clients in the registry. But most of the people suspected of child abuse or maltreatment who challenge the action do not have lawyers.
"There is an enormous need for pro bono assistance to ensure that poor parents are not treated differently by the government than wealthy parents would be," co-director of New York University School of Law's Family Defense Clinic. Gottlieb's clinic handled 15 registry cases this year.
In 2012, the New York County Lawyers' Association established a special pro bono program to represent people placed on the registry. The program received a 2014 New York State Conference of Bar Leaders Innovation Award.
Attorneys from Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler and White & Case participate, along with individual NYCLA members.
According to Lisa Cleary, Patterson Belknap's co-chair and managing partner and chair of NYCLA's pro bono committee, 41 of the 49 clients that the program has represented have had their cases expunged from the registry. It has been unsuccessful in two cases. Six are ongoing.
All of the NYCLA program's work has been on the administrative level, none in court. It was not involved with the recent Appellate Division, First Department, case of In re Natasha , a decision rejecting inclusion in the registry of a woman who was caught shoplifting with her son.
Cleary acknowledged that there are people suspected of child abuse or maltreatment who belong in the registry but said the inclusion of many is an "injustice" NYCLA is working to remedy.
Patterson Belknap associates Ashley Ochs, secretary of NYCLA's pro bono committee, and Jane Metcalf share responsibility for coordinating the NYCLA program at the firm. Its co-chair, William F. Cavanaugh, serves as supervising partner for the firm's registry work.
Sylvia Chin, counsel at White & Case, who is also a member of the NYCLA pro bono committee, leads that firm's effort.
Most of the cases so far have been done by Patterson Belknap. The firm has had 41 attorneys working on registry matters.
Some have been disposed of quickly, without a hearing. Others have had complex fact patterns and taken more time.
Ochs said the firm successfully has addressed cases where parents were the victims of false accusations by foster children and where abused mothers have been faulted for exposing their children to domestic violence.
Other successful representations have involved allegations of educational neglect for school absences, failure to obtain proper medical care, excessive force for restraining children with behavioral or mental disabilities, leaving children with an unfit caregiver, malnutrition and messy homes.
Cleary said the work is particularly rewarding because it removes a barrier to getting a job.
Left in the registry, people who should be supporting their families "can't get on with their lives," Ketcher said. "I don't think society wants that."
Stand up for children everywhere
by David Beckham
I first started working with UNICEF when I was playing football for Manchester United. During a preseason tour with the club to Thailand in 2001, I visited a local child protection center that was providing vital support to children as young as five who'd experienced violence and abuse. Seeing the organization's incredible work firsthand had a great impact on me, especially as my son Brooklyn was just 2 years old at the time, and as a new father I wanted to do what I could to help.
Fifteen years later, I feel extremely proud to still be involved in the work UNICEF does for children and last year I stepped up my commitment by launching 7: The David Beckham UNICEF Fund to help protect children from danger.
When I was asked to become a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 2005, by then-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, it was one of the proudest and most memorable moments of my life. UNICEF has done more to help children than any other organization in history and to join the ranks of UNICEF ambassadors such as Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn was a huge honor.
During my time in this role, I've seen the lorries delivering aid, met the dedicated staff on the ground and seen how they just won't stop until every child has been vaccinated, has access to education, clean water and life-saving food. Until every child is safe.
I've met children and mothers in Swaziland living with HIV, children living in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, severely malnourished children in Sierra Leone and children who've experienced violence and abuse in Cambodia. I won't ever forget these children, their resilience and determination against all odds.
Seventy years ago, UNICEF was founded to meet the desperate needs of children whose lives had been torn apart by World War II. It didn't matter what country those children lived in or what role that country played in the war. What mattered was reaching the children at greatest risk and in greatest need.
Seven decades later, UNICEF is working for children in 190 countries to bring life-saving aid, long-term support and hope to children whose lives are in danger. Working to stand up for children everywhere, and for every child.
I feel privileged to be able to help shine a light on the great progress that has been achieved for children over the last 70 years. Since 1990, the number of children dying before their fifth birthday has halved and hundreds of millions of children have been lifted out of poverty. I've met children who have been helped in so many ways. Children like 13-year-old Remi, who was born free from HIV thanks to UNICEF's work to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to their babies.
Yet despite this significant progress, too many children are still being left behind. The last time I attended the United Nations I spoke about the need for world leaders to put all children, especially the most disadvantaged, at the heart of the new Sustainable Development Goals. Children like those I met when I visited Cambodia last year, who have experienced horrific violence and abuse, often at the hands of the people who should be keeping them safe. No child should endure this.
Yet shockingly, 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. To help draw attention to this urgent issue, last week I launched a new film which shows how violence and abuse can mark children forever. I hope it will inspire action to help end all forms of violence against children.
I created my fund with UNICEF because I want a world where children grow up safe: safe from violence, war, poverty, hunger and preventable disease. A world in which every child has the opportunity to reach their full potential. Together we need to imagine a better future for every child and make sure that together we achieve it.
Police urge members of the public to report their suspicions over child abuse
by Abigail Weaving
The message comes after the force revealed 625 cases of emotional, physical, neglect and sexual abuse of children were investigated across the county between January 1 and November 30.
An average of almost two cases a day.
Detective Sergeant Sherrie Nash, from Cambridgeshire Constabulary's Child Abuse Investigation and Safeguarding Unit, said: “Protecting children from harm, keeping them safe and investigating child abuse crimes in all forms is and will always be a priority for us.
“We have a dedicated team who take a child-centred approach to ensure the welfare and well-being of the child is core to every investigation.
“We also work closely with our partner agencies in social care, education and health to manage the safety of children and investigate criminal offences.
“The voice of the child is extremely important, they have a right to feel safe and not be in fear. Any form of abuse will have an emotional impact on a child but this may not always be evident on first glance so we urge people to be aware of any subtle changes in a child's behaviour and report this to a professional.”
The force added that members of the public don't have to be absolutely certain of their suspicions, but that if they feel something isn't right can call police on 101.
The NSPCC, Childline and local authorities are also available to talk to.
Austin police officers donate bikes to abused children
by Noelle Newton
Austin police are making sure children pulled from crisis situations will not go without this Christmas.
APD officers unloaded a trailer full of bikes in the parking lot of the Helping Hand Home for children Monday. As fun as some of the officers had trying out the gifts, one can only imagine the faces of the children who will receive them on Christmas morning.
"They'll be amazed when they see all the bikes together,” said APD Commander Todd Gage.
Commander Todd Gage is one of 21 officers who serve as a Blue Guardian. Guardians meet weekly with one of the 41 children at the home. The kids, ages four to 13, have all endured physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect or abandonment.
"This allows the officer now to have the opportunity to feel like they're doing something for the kid. Before we felt our hands were tied and really didn't have a lot of say in what happens to the child after we took the bad guy away. This allows us the ability to have an influence on a child throughout the process after they've suffered something like that and to be able to be a part of this progress in this process for them is unique and special for us,” said Gage.
Retired Assistant Chief Jessica Robledo started the program a couple of years ago. She, like the children, had a difficult upbringing.
"I felt something in my heart. I knew I could relate to the children who are housed here,” said Robledo.
"You know, these kids are without their families. They live here. They're not here for a weekend or a month. They're here for a year or two helping to deal with the complex trauma they suffer from,” said Helping Hand Home for Children Executive Director Ted Keyser.
The children are hesitant to accept the officers at first as they are viewed as someone who took them away from their parents. Once trust is established, a beautiful relationship evolves.
"To see what a community can be like. To see what a family could be like. To see what love could be like,” said Chief Brian Manley. "It's so special that at this time of the year with the holidays upon us that we're able to do today and let these kids feel as special as they should feel. Feel that they're valued and do understand that people do care and love them."
Thanks to the "blue" the kids will experience a Christmas that will be anything but.
This is a part of the Blue Santa program. This year APD will provide gifts for four-thousand families and 20-thousand children.
Mexican Authorities Target Sex Trafficking
Could Tijuana's legal prostitution promote underage sex trafficking?
by Alejandro Alejandre and Wendy Fry
The U.S. Department of Justice has made combating sex-trafficking a top priority, pouring resources into stopping it in San Diego and along the U.S. Mexico border.
But then, just on the other side, about 20 miles away from downtown San Diego, Tijuana is a premier world destination for those looking to buy sex.
Teenagers as young as 13 are being bought and sold as sex slaves by the hundreds in our region, according to federal law enforcement on both sides of the border, but domestic cases typically stay in the country where they originated.
Only about 20 percent of domestic sex trafficking cases involve the border, according to San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan. The vast majority, the other 80 percent, involve girls from the U.S. being trafficked in the U.S. by gangs and other criminal organizations. The criminal activity generates an estimated $810 million a year for those organizations.
Still, some question whether legal prostitution in Tijuana attracts a dangerous clientele to our region.
Prostitution is tolerated in certain areas in Mexico, often known as “zonas de tolerancia” or “zones of tolerance.” Buying or selling children for sex is not legal anywhere, but the problem is rampant in both Tijuana and San Diego.
In Tijuana, District Attorney Hector Orozco prosecutes cases of child-trafficking.
“It is very difficult,” he told NBC7 exclusively. “After something has already happened to the child, the damage is irreversible. It is something that affects the victim forever.”
He said his most emotionally draining and difficult case involved a mother who sold her teenage daughter for a hit of drugs.
Orozco said the trafficking of minors is not done out in the open in Tijuana's “Zona Roja” or red light district.
“This part of it is very clandestine,” he said. “It's not happening out in the public. They do it in motels, in houses. They go do that where it cannot be seen.”
But NBC7 showed Orozco images we took of the word “child” scrawled in graffiti on the wall of a building adjacent to a world-famous sex club, Hong Kong.
At first Orozco said he did not believe the word indicated trafficking was taking place there, but when he viewed our material, he said his office would investigate.
“If someone reports possible activity to us at a location involving minors, we respond,” Orozco said.
Since 2011, Orozco and his investigative team have rescued 246 child sex-trafficking victims, and prosecuted 116 traffickers, including putting the mom who sold her daughter behind bars for 24 years.
Stephan, who is Orozco's counterpart on the U.S. side in San Diego, said Tijuana's Zona Norte or Zona Roja remains a very destructive problem because the majority of the women are not there by choice, even if they are adults.
“No girl wants to grow up and be a prostitute,” Stephan said. “They don't want to be sexually abused. This is not a choice for them. You can put a bow on it, but still these women were girls that were exploited and then had no other choice.”
Some say legal prostitution in Tijuana may protect adult women somewhat in that it is partially regulated. Sex workers are required to obtain a permit and receive monthly health check-ups in Tijuana.
Stephan said the women are mostly controlled by their pimps and cannot escape the lifestyle, even if it is legal.
“They're watching them, just like they always watch them here also. They're watching them to make sure they get every penny of their money; they're not talking to police; they're not talking to someone that can offer them resources to help them get out of this particular life,” Stephan said. “They want them to have no choice.”
NBC7 Assignment Editor Pablo Key contributed to this piece by assisting in translation and voicing the translated portions of broadcast piece.
For Good: Classes on human trafficking offered in South Hillsborough County
by Imelda Dutton
Seeking to educate the community in Hillsborough County about how to effectively combat human trafficking in the area, the Campaign Against Human Trafficking-Sun City Center/South Shore is offering two free four-hour courses on Jan. 11, 2017
Florida is one of the leading states in the nation for human trafficking activity and Tampa Bay is a hub for child sex trafficking and Internet pornography, according to a documentary aired by PBS in 2013 titled “Too Close to Home: Human Trafficking in Tampa Bay.”
Children may have been picked up in malls, off the streets or from connections on the Internet. They may believe they are headed for a fun afternoon, a cute date, or maybe they run away and are found by a pimp (usually within 48 hours of being on the street). Some have been labeled as “throw-away” children, those whose parents have kicked them out or sold them off. The average age of a trafficked child is 12, and many will never live past their 19th birthday, according to data posted on the CAHT Website.
The stories are heartbreaking. Hoping to combat this phenomena, the Campaign Against Human Trafficking-Sun City Center/ South Shore founded by June M. Wallace works to bring awareness about this criminal activity and educate the community on how they can actively work to put an end to human trafficking.
“The Many Faces of Human Trafficking” from 8 a.m. to noon is open to all community members, and will focus on providing an understanding of the origins, methods of operation, and indicators of trafficking along with an understanding of the unique victimization process. An emphasis will be placed on the importance of building alliances and coalitions as part of a coordinated community response to human trafficking using case studies as examples.
“Introduction to Human Trafficking,” from 1-5 p.m. is exclusively for law enforcement and victim services. This course will focus on an overview of best practices for investigating cases, legal remedies for trafficking victims, and interviewing victims. Special attention will be placed on human trafficking being a victim-centered crime.
Both courses are sponsored by the Florida Regional Community Policing Institute, which is part of St. Petersburg College's Center for Public Safety Innovation, and will take place at SCC United Methodist Church, 1210 Del Webb Boulevard West, Sun City Center.
“Human trafficking educational opportunities of this caliber are becoming difficult to find,” Wallace says.
To register for the “The Many Faces of Human Trafficking” training, click on this link.
To register for the “Introduction to Human Trafficking” training, click on this link.
For questions about these courses, please contact Laura Heisler at 727-341-4437.
The Campaign Against Human Trafficking fosters community and faith-integrated actions to end Human Trafficking in Hillsborough County by providing support to the Tampa Bay Task Force on Human Trafficking. The organization also focuses on raising awareness, education, victim services, and fundraising.
Sexual abuse survivor hits out at lack of support for adult victims – ‘general mental health support is not enough'
by Sheridan Robins
Steve Payton, aged 54 and from Burnham, wants to speak out about his experience and so sought support, which he now says is ‘lacking' in Somerset.
Via a Freedom of Information request, Steve was informed none of Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), North Somerset CCG and Somerset County Council provide specific services for adults who have suffered abuse as they do for children.
He told the Mercury he suppressed memories of his abuse for many years as a form of self-preservation, and added: “It was only in the past couple of years I have found those memories and feelings beginning to surface, despite my best efforts to keep them down.
“As they did my own mental health deteriorated and I began looking for support and help only to find that there seemed to be no help tailored to adult survivors of abuse in Somerset.”
He said he was ‘amazed' the CCG – which is responsible for commissioning health services – had no support for adult survivors in place, and said: “Instead it seems to think that general mental health support is enough.”
A spokesman for Somerset CCG confirmed it does not commission any specialist services for adult survivors of historic child abuse and has no plans to do so in the next two years.
They added: “However, each year for the next five years some £50,000 is being invested by Somerset into the county council's public health team in order to support child victims of child abuse.”
This prompted Steve to find out if this was the same in North Somerset.
Angela Kell, transformation and contract lead for North Somerset CCG said it is ‘committed' to providing ‘high-quality and accessible' mental health services in the district.
She added: “Our mental health providers, Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust, provide an extensive range of mental health services to support and treat people with mental health problems.
“The services offered to each individual are based on their needs rather than their diagnosis or history.
“The clinicians are skilled in supporting people with a wide range of symptoms, including those whose current mental health may have been affected by historic sexual abuse.”
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, ProtectNYKids.org, 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.
Healthy Holiday Season: Child Safety
by Fox 8
The holidays can be stressful, especially with family visiting, a busy schedule of festive activities, and having children off of school for a long period of time. During this time of year, adults can feel overwhelmed and may be more likely to unintentionally hurt or neglect children if they don't have an outlet. Abuse can come in many forms, including physical, emotional or as neglect. Having a support system in place can help take the pressure off the parent, and local pediatricians and primary care providers can help guide parents to local resources, such as the Family Services of the Piedmont.
Keep in mind that healthcare professionals are legally required to report all suspected cases of child abuse to the appropriate county or state authorities.
The holidays also give adults the opportunity to spend more time with their children or children in their extended family. Understanding the signs of abuse can help you recognize red flags and bring it to the attention of someone who can help. Signs of abuse can vary depending on the type of abuse, but can include:
Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
Social withdrawal, or a loss of interest or enthusiasm
Lack of clothing or supplies to meet physical needs
Lack of appropriate attention for medical, dental or psychological problems, or lack of necessary follow-up care
Emotional swings that are inappropriate or out of context to the situation
If you notice any of these indicators, and you feel comfortable, talk to the child's parent. It's not easy to tell where the abuse is coming from, but express your concern for the safety of their family. If you are still concerned, or if the parent doesn't seem to be worried, call a 24-hour hotline such as Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (800-422-4453).
To help prevent abuse, parents should create an open relationship with their children, and put together a support system for themselves when they need help. Unrealistic expectations can burden the child and create tension that can lead to negative interactions. There are many parenting resources that can help parents when they aren't sure, such as http://www.triplep-parenting.com.
Parents, step-parents, relatives account for 60% of child abuse cases
by Vathani Panirchellvum
PETALING JAYA: Shocking statistics from the Welfare Department show that more than half of reported child abuse cases were committed by parents of the victims.
Statistics for 2015 show parents were the perpetrators in more than 51% of cases, and the percentage rose to 60% when step-parents (4.6%) and relatives (4.5%) were factored into the equation.
"It's not surprising because most of the time the children live with their parents," a Welfare Department spokesman told theSun .
Statistics show that physical, emotional and sexual abuse are mostly perpetrated by parents, step-parents, boyfriends of the child or relatives.
From a total of 4,453 cases reported in 2015, mothers were the abusers in 1,422 cases and fathers were responsible in 878.
Alarmingly, 20% of these cases (912) involved sexual abuse of the victims and the figure has been consistently rising between 2011 and 2015.
In 2011, parents were identified as the culprits in 1,520 cases (44%) of a total of 3,428 ( see chart ).
"As such, there is a need for the neighbours or the community to step up and report suspected abuse to the authorities.
"Only if suspected cases are reported can we conduct investigations and early intervention.
This can save a child from serious injuries or even death," he said, adding that through intervention , the department can provide rehabilitation and counselling for both the abusive parents and the children.
Reasons for abuse of children include:
» family disputes;
» a mother following a boyfriend in hurting or neglecting the child;
» carelessness of parents or guardians;
» financial problems;
» drug and alcohol addiction.
"Family disputes usually occur when parents are stressed especially in urban environment where they have to earn a living or are living in poverty'" he said.
Also, such stress is common among urban nuclear families which do not have the benefit of grandparents or other family members helping to take care of the children while the parents are at work.
"With the harsh environment setting, a family is easily exposed to disputes especially between parents where the children will become victims," he added.
Proposed amendments to the Child Act (Amendment) 2016 are also meant to address the problem of child abuse in a family where it is an offence for family members to condone such abuse.
Under the proposed amendments, stiffer penalties for offenders are on the cards as a deterrent.
Ahead of the game on sex trafficking during Super Bowl
by Stephanie Dickrell
Minnesota's fight against sex trafficking is gearing up for the February 2018 Super Bowl in Minneapolis.
That event, which may bring visitors to St. Cloud too, is like other conventions and large gatherings that attract traffickers who see potential for higher demand of their services. Research has found that online ads for adult services increase for big events — many of which advertise trafficked women.
Ahead of Super Bowl 52, planning has begun in a human trafficking prevention committee, which is learning all it can from past Super Bowl hosts. The committee has yet to issue its recommendations, said Terry Williams, vice president of strategic initiatives at the Women's Foundation and co-chair of the trafficking committee.
But already Minnesota is in a better position than previous hosts to tackle the issue as thousands of football fans descend on the state. Minnesota leads the nation on addressing sex trafficking, and its practices are looked to as a model for other states.
Minnesota agencies will see the progress they've made in recent years bolstered by national attention. Some of that progress has been in Central Minnesota, where law enforcement has stepped up investigation and prosecution of sex trafficking as well as prevention programs.
Starting in 2011, the Women's Foundation raised awareness of sex trafficking with its MN Girls Are Not For Sale campaign. Then, in 2011, That was also the year when the state's new Safe Harbor law started to treat sex trafficking victims under the age of 18 as victims, not perpetrators. Later legislation extended those protections to women up to age 24 and provided funds for training, best practices development and victim services.
That means housing and care can be provided to survivors while law enforcement has what it needs to investigate and prosecute traffickers.
"As a state, we're seen as a national model," Williams said. "I think we have so much to be proud of and so much to share with the rest of the country."
The Super Bowl is a chance to educate and target demand for trafficking directly, by educating men and boys about the negative impact and consequences.
"It's a conversation I'd love to have ... how do we start at that, how do we get upstream," Williams said, and prevent the damage from happening in the first place.
While the committee's plans are in early stages, this much is known:
Part of the plan could include increasing resources available to survivors leading up to the Super Bowl and long after it's over. With many of the services in place, the planning group's focus is capacity.
Increased law enforcement efforts are likely.
The group intends to engage Minnesota's business community. That could include training for employees in the hospitality industry, including hotel and restaurant workers, airport and airline employees, and people who work in transportation such as cab services. Previous efforts, including in Ramsey County, have shown phenomenal results, Williams said.
In the end, Williams hopes it will be a model that can be replicated in other cities.
"It will live on and have some life, so that other communities can use for conventions ... or any time large numbers of people gather," Williams said.
It's important that any work on sex trafficking around the Super Bowl builds on what we already know about exploitation, trafficking and victims' needs, said Jeanne Ronayne, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“It can still be more Hollywood than real,” she said. The reality is more grim than “Pretty Woman.”
"It's intrinsically violent and dangerous and really important for the general public to know this is why," said Abigail Kuzma, assistant attorney general and chief counsel for the Division of Victim Services and Outreach for the Office of the Indiana Attorney General.
It also invokes harmful stereotypes. Many people believe most trafficking victims are from foreign countries, but 83 percent are U.S. citizens. They are kids that are often running from something, or potentially to something, like a trafficker or pimp pretending to be a caring, older boyfriend.
One program in Indiana found that 75 percent of kids had been sexually exploited while they were running and 50 percent of those had been advertised on Backpage.com, Kuzma said.
Data has informed Super Bowl trafficking issues here and elsewhere.
The Women's Foundation commissioned a study to investigate the often-quoted claim that Super Bowls are the single-largest trafficking event of the year.
What it found: There's a short-lived uptick in online advertising during any large event, not only Super Bowls, but also trade shows and other conventions.
"It's not unique to the Super Bowl. It's every political, religious, sports, conventions or events," said Rebecca Kotz, trafficking services coordinator at the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center
"It's not necessarily more people or new people being trafficked. But whenever there is a big event where single men are congregating to a certain area, (traffickers are) going to move all of those already being trafficked to this destination, just because the demand is higher," Kotz said. "That's why we see an increase up here during deer-hunting season and fishing opener."
Indiana officials used the Super Bowl they hosted in 2012 to look at how major events impact demand for commercial sex, and whether demand is increasing year over year.
Researchers counted the increase in adult services ads placed during the time period of the Super Bowl. While they can't identify which ads involved people who are trafficked, researchers do know trafficked victims are commonly sold on sites like Backpage.com.
Years following the Super Bowl have shown an exponential increase in adult services ads, Kuzma said. In 2013, an informal survey of the number of "adult services" Backpage.com ads in Indiana found 90,000 ads per year posted for Indiana, excluding the area closest to Chicago.
When they repeated the research in 2016, the state had more than 380,000 ads — about 1,041ads per day.
“It's proliferating largely because of the anonymity it provides the users," Kuzma said.
The volume makes it difficult to handle from a law enforcement perspective.
"We're talking about more than 300,000 ads in one small state in a year," Kuzma said. "It's almost impossible to regulate or for law enforcement stings to make an impact,"
Much of the work Minnesota has already done was started in other states only after they were Super Bowl hosts. It became an opportunity for agencies to interact and work together.
Still, previous host cities can provide lessons to Minnesota:
San Francisco, California, Super Bowl 51, February 2016
The San Francisco Bay Area hosted the 2016 Super Bowl. The city has been identified as a hot spot for sex trafficking, human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.
"The Super Bowl, it was a catalyst. Everybody was more interested at this point, to jump on the bandwagon and get everyone involved," said Brian Wo, co-founder and director of partnerships for the Bay Area Anti-Trafficking Coalition in San Francisco, California.
So, Bay Area officials had a large task ahead of them, complicated by the fact that the game was actually 50 miles to the south.
"It was a multicounty event, and multicounty work was necessary," Wo said. The region covers up to nine counties. In total, 63 groups and agencies were involved in planning.
The group focused on:
Data: There's a lot of anecdotal evidence about an increase in trafficking around major events, but there's little hard data, Wo said. It can be difficult to assess, because some areas may not have a baseline to compare new data to.
Coordination: He said cooperation and coordination between agencies has been slow, but steady. Officials ran a base of operations for law enforcement from all levels, local to federal. The FBI coordinated about 18 operations in the three weeks before the Super Bowl.
Assistance: Organizers also set up a service provider headquarters. "We wanted to make sure that any victims that were recovered were offered services," Wo said.
Buy in: The committee created a resolution for cities and counties to adopt, to commit to training their law enforcement on trafficking. In total, 25 cities signed it. Volunteers talked to city councils. The committee created public outreach materials, which they've given to volunteer groups to get out to the public. They can be used beyond the Super Bowl.
Training: They also did a major push to train people in the hospitality industry as well as airline and airport personnel. One survivor organization put together a retreat for survivors on how to interact with the media, when and if they're ready.
Phoenix, Arizona, Super Bowl XLIX, Feburary 2015
When Jan Brewer was governor of Arizona, she created a human trafficking task force to evaluate the state's response, and in 2014, a formal council was created, said John Raeder, deputy director with the Governor's Office of Youth, Faith and Family.
The group focused on training, outreach and awareness, victim services and policies and legislative issues.
"We know that the Super Bowl is not the cause of human trafficking, but it's a good opportunity to raise awareness," Raeder said.
Law enforcement worked with the state's Peace Officers Standards and Training board so that all recruits receive basic training on the dynamics of sex training and to make sure some detectives are specially trained to address the issue.
About 1,100 workers in the Arizona Department of Child Safety were trained, as were mental health and medical professionals were trained, Raeder said. The idea was to provide training wherever a victim might encounter a professional, so the professional is able to identify the victim and respond.
Preparation included training Super Bowl volunteers as well as workers in the hospitality industry and other businesses.
A multi-jurisdictional task force planned enforcement operations. Officials worked with service providers to make sure adequate beds were available, if and when victims were identified.
Efforts continued after the Super Bowl. Many relationships created between agencies around the Super Bowl have continued. Training of the hospitality industry and law enforcement continues, and now includes other first responders.
Indianapolis, Indiana, Super Bowl XLVI (46), February 2012
Indianapolis is the most recent Midwestern city to host a Super Bowl. In the four years since the event, officials have had time to evaluate their work, which Kuzma considers a success.
"In tracking the internet chatter, not just the sites, that pimps were literally telling each other not to go to Indianapolis," Kuzma said. "So yes, we had that impact. There was no street prostitution during the Super Bowl. It just didn't happen."
During the Super Bowl, information on helplines and services was distributed wherever a victim might come in contact with it — in public bathrooms and hotel rooms, on soap bars and cards that fit in a shoe.
"It's important to do that," Kuzma said. "If you are distributing thousands of cards and one person is recovered, it's totally worth it."
They trained people in the hospitality and transportation industries. Truck drivers, flight attendants and cab drivers are in key positions to identify victims.
Cab drivers serving the stadium area were required to train on what trafficking looks like, why it's harmful and where to call with tips for law enforcement.
Efforts have continued since the Super Bowl. Kuzma said state legislation is a very important tool, and the state is constantly refining it to do a better job of protecting victims. For instance, they can now charge people with trafficking if they offer food or lodging in exchange for sex, even if no money changes hands.
As Indiana and other states try to deal with sex trafficking, the planning for Super Bowl 52 continues in Minnesota. Officials stress they don't want momentum gained during the Super Bowl to decline after it's done.
"Sex trafficking isn't about the Super Bowl," Williams said. "It's what happens every single night to kids in Minnesota."
Inside New York's bustling but unseen world of human trafficking
by Sarah Grochowski
Iryna, a bashful 19-year-old New Yorker, was approached by a charismatic young man at a bustling Midtown train station in 2008. He started by asking for directions, and then continued the conversation with a fixed interest on the details of her life. The young blonde was charmed – but little did she know he was a pimp on the prowl.
He asked her on a date and the romance intensified. He was her first boyfriend. He made her feel special. “He swept me off my feet. He would kiss my hand in public and open car doors for me,” said Iryna, who asked not to publish her last name.
But Iryna's seemingly charming suitor was actually a pimp – manipulating her vulnerabilities to control and exploit her.
“As girls, we grow up with ‘Cinderella' stories. And the traffickers know that,” Iryna said, explaining how teenage girls especially are susceptible. “As psychoanalysts and unlawful businessmen, they are very good at picking their victims.”
While Iryna, now 26 years old, was able to break free from her oppressor, countless others aren't so fortunate. A special NYPD Vice squad has spent the past decade cracking down on trafficking and prostitution, focusing on hotel hot spots and digital solicitations. But victims such as Iryna are often hidden in plain sight – forced into a cycle of shame and degradation, subservience and fear.
The Daily News doesn't typically identify victims of sexual assault but Iryna has previously spoken to media outlets about her experiences as a survivor.
Human trafficking cases in New York City are up 50% this year with documented cases totaling 84 in comparison to last year's 55. The same goes for trafficking-related arrests, according to the NYPD. The Deputy Commissioner of Public Information stressed that case numbers quantify suspected reports of trafficking from various outside sources and don't necessarily result in the squad pursuing the case.
“The reality is, most victims are betrayed by those who they have grown close to, either through friendship or romance,” a spokesperson of the NYPD said in a statement. “The first time being forced to commit sex acts is usually masked behind the false, ‘Just this one time for financial reasons' and ‘If you love me, you'll do this.' Once the act is committed, that becomes another tool of manipulation by utilizing threats to expose their actions to those who know them. Physical violence is not required (though often used), but the fear of violence is ALWAYS present.”
For Iryna, she was too engulfed in her first relationship and her boyfriend's prior kindness to believe any differently.
The pimp isolated her from friends and family, phoning her numerous times a day to ensure he knew her whereabouts. Friends commented on the strangeness of Iryna having to pick up the call on the first ring to report where she was and who she was with.
He said he owned her from head to toe, that he had total ownership over her body. He exerted that control by setting her up with partners, a “paid rape” of pimping her out of a bare-bones motel near Canarsie.
“He never battered me – he didn't have to,” she said, going on to later mention that none of the profits the pimp made from her victimization reached her hands, “He kept everything.”
Iryna never pressed charges due to fear of retaliation from the pimp.
Detective Rose Muckenthaler – one of eight detectives assigned to the Vice Major Case/Human Trafficking Team – is baffled by what's going on behind the closed doors of some no-frills hotels in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
“The hotel clerks don't ask questions and there is no security screening,” Muckenthaler said in a private interview. “Men can just come in.” The short-stay hotels offer hourly rates that facilitate a revolving door of Johns who purchase time with the abused women and girls. “It's happening so much in New York. It's happening right now in our backyards,” she said. “And it's the 13-14 year old girl – someone's daughter – that's being forced into prostitution.”
Backpage.com and other websites are used in New York City to solicit young girls and women online, police said – adapting traditional “street-walking” for our increasing mobile world.
Though terms on Backpage require users to refrain from posting ads for services or sales prohibited by law, public controversy ensues in the U.S. over whether the site, and others like it, makes it easier for pimps to sell women and children for sex in cities like New York.
Let My People Go recently organized a coalition of non-governmental organizations, anti-trafficking detectives and various religious leaders for a panel discussion on web-based solicitation, prostitution and human trafficking in the city.
“Everyone has vulnerabilities,” said Raleigh Sadler, host of the event and executive director of Let My People Go, which works to empower churches to fight human trafficking. “If you address vulnerability you are addressing prevention, intervention – everything at once.”
Women who are trafficked often can't or won't self-identify, Sadler commented. That idea was underscored by a police spokesperson who said, “Victims are taught to blame themselves for their situation and rarely self-identify as victims. This poses an incredible challenge to law enforcement and service providers because the victims often see themselves still in the relationship with the individual they identified initially, rather than the monster they've become.”
For Iryna – a friend of Sadler – the abuse eroded her confidence and sense of self-worth.
“My mind was just consumed with surviving,” she told The News.
Members of the NYPD's human trafficking team say city's brusque attitude – the “New York way” of minding one's own business – in some cases means turning a blind eye to victims. The squad is appealing to the public for tips on any suspicious activity.
“Just call 9-1-1. It's okay if you're scared. I know you're afraid of being wrong… but it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to identifying these victims,” said Lt. Greg Graves of the NYPD Task Force.
Iryna was able to break free from her abuser after she connected with a woman near the Canarsie hotel. The two began to talk, the neighbor listening without judgment or blame.
After the two became closer, Iryna says, the woman told her what was being done to her was not her fault.
The woman's trust helped her begin the long process of leaving her pimp's coercive control.
“A shift took place – hope came in,” said Iryna. Though the years following her exploitation were just as hard as the abuse itself, “I was defeated and depleted, a lot of depression and self-loathing set in. I want to live.”
It took Iryna eight months to withdraw completely from the back-and-forth dependence she had to the pimp who fooled her.
“Each and every person has susceptible vulnerabilities regardless of your origin, sex, culture, income, sexual identity, or appearance,” said a spokesman from the NYPD. “A trafficker's method of execution is to exploit those very vulnerabilities to the point of complete dependence on them, allowing the traffickers to turn you into their slave.”
She left with the support of NYPD detectives and a newly expanded community in Brooklyn.
Iryna is now enrolled in a master's program for social work, with the hopes of addressing the vulnerabilities in young women and girls headed down a similar path.
“You go from a victim to a survivor, and it's still labeling ... a lot of people live in the ‘survivor' label. I don't.” Iryna said. “There is a life beyond that.”