Inspector general investigates sexual abuse of kids in state care
by Joanne Young
The state inspector general for child welfare is investigating child sexual abuse and exploitation of children in state-licensed facilities and the child welfare system, Julie Rogers announced Wednesday.
Rogers said the investigation, prompted by an accumulation of 36 sexual abuse reports since July 2013, will show whether adequate steps are being taken by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to prevent and respond to abuse of youth in the state's care.
The sexual abuse or exploitation of children included youth placed in state-licensed facilities and group homes, and youth in foster homes and adopted from the child welfare system.
The sexual abuse cases have been reported to law enforcement and investigated. Several examples in that time period include foster parents and state facility workers who have been prosecuted for sexual assault or failing to protect a child in their care.
This year, a 34-year-old Beatrice woman was sentenced to two years in prison for negligent child abuse after her boyfriend developed a sexual relationship with her 14-year-old foster child when he stayed at her house.
A year ago, an Omaha foster father was convicted of two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child for impregnating his 13-year-old foster daughter.
And in August, a former therapist at Kearney's Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center was arrested for inappropriate sexual contact with a teen at the center. She resigned her position as a licensed provisional mental health practitioner shortly before she was arrested.
The number of reports that came to the attention of Rogers' office rose to the level of needing to do a full investigation of the system and how the state protects these children and youth, she said. The assaults and exploitations have involved foster parents, adoptive parents of foster children, group home or facility staff, and other youths in the system.
"These are horrific, or can be very horrific, situations, and there are numbers to show it's not just once in a great while," she said.
"What we're doing right now is looking to see if the system has gaps or if the system can improve to further protect these kids from sexual victimization."
She notified HHS and has asked for more data, and the office will begin to conduct interviews, gather and analyze data, and review all relevant information. The investigation will examine whether the state has enough safeguards to pick its caregivers, Rogers said.
Taylor Gage, Gov. Pete Ricketts' spokesman, said Wednesday afternoon the well-being of the children in the state's care is of paramount importance.
"In every case, DHHS conducts a thorough review of reported abuse so we can improve protections for state wards, and we welcome the (Office of Inspector General's) additional review and recommendations on how we can continue to improve Nebraska's child welfare system.”
HHS spokesman Russ Reno also said the care and well-being of children in the state's custody is of the utmost importance to the agency, which has an open relationship with the inspector general. Rogers' office receives all the department's critical incident reports, and HHS has provided the requested data for the upcoming report, he said.
HHS has been working on reducing the number of out-of-home placements and to make improvements, Reno said.
Those improvements included the alternative response program, the new intensive family placement, and an assessment of services available to families. Early next year, the department will introduce new services aimed at keeping children in their homes, Reno said.
"We look forward to continue working with (Rogers) and welcome the recommendations from the report," he said.
Recommendations by the inspector general's office will be made public in September, as part of the inspector general's annual report.
“We know that children and youth in the state's care — both in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems — are particularly vulnerable," Rogers said. "Many have already been victims of abuse or neglect, have experienced trauma, or both."
The investigation will focus on better understanding when and why certain youth under the protection of the state are being sexually abused and victimized, she said. The purpose of the investigation is to identify areas for improvement and how Nebraska can better prevent and respond to abuse of these children, she said.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, who has introduced bills aimed at inspector general position functions, said the investigation is exactly what lawmakers hoped Rogers' office would do, looking at data and digging to see what is creating any unsafe conditions for children.
"One sexual abuse when we take freedoms away from youth and take them out of their homes is too many, let alone 36 in three years," he said.
If it weren't for Rogers and the inspector general position, the sexual abuse issue might not be visible, he said.
"Kudos to her for the great things she does in watching out for our youth," Krist said.
Anyone with concerns about the safety of a child should immediately call the Nebraska Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-800-652-1999. Those with information relevant to the inspector general's investigation can contact the office through an online form, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by phone (1-855-460-6784).
‘Gaslighting' – a psychological and emotional abuse tactic
by Malinda Williams
Many of you know that domestic violence is a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over their intimate partner. One common tactic — “gaslighting” — is a type of psychological or emotional abuse a perpetrator of domestic violence uses to make the victim doubt their own memory, reality and, ultimately, their sanity. (The term comes from the title of an old movie in which a husband slowly manipulates his wife into believing she is going insane.)
Victims who are being gaslighted — overwhelmingly women — often appear to be nervous, unsure of themselves and may appear to be having a nervous breakdown. Their self-doubt may lead police, prosecution, family members and service providers to dismiss their reports of abuse.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline lists the following tactics to watch out for as signs of gaslighting.
• Withholding : The abuser pretends not to understand or refuses to listen, saying things like “I don't want to hear this again” or “You're trying to confuse me.”
• Countering : Questioning the victim's memory of events, even when the victim remembers them accurately. “You never remember things right.”
• Blocking/diverting : Changing the subject or questioning the victim's thoughts when the victim tries to bring up the gaslighting. “Is that another crazy idea you got from your mother?” or “You're imagining things.”
• Trivializing : Making the victim's needs or feelings seem unimportant. “You're too sensitive” or “Don't get upset over something so dumb.”
• Forgetting/denial : Pretending to forget what actually happened or denying things like promises made to the victim. “I don't know what you're talking about,” “That never happened” or “You're just making stuff up.”
Like any form of domestic abuse, gaslighting usually escalates slowly, with the abuser's forgetfulness or denials seeming harmless at first. Victims may think their partner is behaving strangely by denying events that obviously happened. Gradually, the victim becomes more confused, anxious and isolated. They may lose a sense of their own reality and have to rely on the abuser to define reality for them.
Many perpetrators of domestic abuse are especially good liars and often appear very charming. When a victim reports their abuse or confronts the abuser about it, the abuser lies so convincingly that even their victim may doubt reality. For those of us who do not have experience with such convincing liars, it is hard to believe people can lie so boldly about reality. Even when the victim was injured, the abuser will claim that the victim pulled out her own hair or hit herself in the face. And all too often, authorities do nothing because they see this as “he said/she said.”
In “Are You Being Gaslighted?” by Robin Stern, she outlines the following signs of being a victim of gaslighting.
• Constantly second-guessing yourself.
• Asking yourself, “Am I too sensitive?” multiple times a day.
• Often feeling confused and even crazy.
• Always apologizing to your partner. Often, the gaslighting abuser ends up somehow transforming themselves into the victim.
• Frequently making excuses for your partner's behavior to friends and family.
• Withholding information from friends and family so you don't have to explain or make excuses.
• Knowing something is terribly wrong in the relationship, but never quite knowing what it is.
• Lying to avoid the abuser's put-downs and reality bends.
• Trouble making simple decisions.
• The sense that you used to be a very different person – more confident, more fun loving, more relaxed.
• Feeling like you can't do anything right.
Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence (CAV), which offers free, confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; shelter; transitional housing; and a community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour hotline at (575) 758-9888 or go to taoscav.org.
Five minutes! prevent child abuse
by Princy Alexander
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Geo P George initially thought his life would move in a perfect circle - he would finish a course in clinical psychology and make a career out of it. However, he was thrown off track when he was flooded with stories of child abuse cases during his first year as a psychologist.
“The scenario was not good. Many youngsters, who were approaching me, were scarred for life because of minute incidents in their childhood. Suddenly, I felt very incomplete in my career,” says Geo, whose passion to provide children with a safe childood led to the creation of ‘5
This is a module which has been designed to teach children on how to respond to abuse. The module which is free and available both in print and online, has reached 6,300 parents and children across India. It has been created in several languages including English, Malayalam, Hindi, Tamil and Bangla. “The module is hardly five minutes but has five important messages. It can be taught at schools, colleges and homes by teachers and parents alike,” Geo says.
The target groups are children aged between 5-12 years and 12-17 years. There are also separate modules for parents and teachers. “I created a compact programme since I was aware that young children don't have a long attention span,” he adds.Though the module is short, it took Geo nearly eight months to complete the script. “I sought help from many friends since the subject was very sensitive and had to be handled carefully,” he says.
For children, aged five to 12 years, Geo has created a graphic image of private parts of the anatomy and how it was not okay for anybody to touch them there. For teenagers, he has prepared a more empowering module where he tells them not to tolerate abuse of any kind and be a fighter.
“Several child abuse campaigns have always portrayed victims as helpless and emotional. Through my module, I hope to empower the children and teach them to be survivors,” he adds.
Geo is grateful to his parents who have backed him in his choice. “When I told my parents that my career dream was to protect children from abuse, they didn't ask me the scope of it or the job security involved. There were only blessings and no questions,” he says.
Boston's architect of community well-being: Pediatrician Renée Boynton-Jarrett
by Christina Cissy White
The Aces movement is filled with pioneers. There are physicians, professors and researchers who treat, teach and study. There are leaders of non-profits who partner with individuals, neighborhoods and organizations. Volunteers who give time. Experts who draw on wisdom gained in academia, clinical practice, community work and personal experience.
But rarely does one person do all of these things while parenting three children under the age of thirteen.
Meet Dr. Renée Boynton-Jarrett. She does all of these things. Pediatrician, social epidemiologist, university professor, parent, and advocate for integrating the new science of human development in communities to help them become healthier.
This new science of human development includes the epidemiology of childhood adversity, how toxic stress from childhood trauma can damage the structure and function of a child's developing brain, how toxic stress embeds in a person's biology to emerge decades later as disease and violence, how the effects of toxic stress can be passed from parent to child, and how resilience research is showing how the brain is plastic and the body wants to heal.
This unified science of human development starts with the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study).
Boynton-Jarrett remembers when she learned about the ACE Study. It was the year 2000, when she was a graduate student in social epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“My concentration was the impact of community and neighborhood violence on long-term health outcomes,” she said, “and I was very interested in how community violence intersected with family violence, as well as interpersonal violence exposure.”
There had been smaller studies and other meaningful work that had a tremendous influence on Boynton-Jarrett, but the ACE Study was significant because, “It was showing the unified relationship between many types of adversity in early childhood and a range of health outcomes,” she said. And the large sample size, the health data and the mostly middle-class population made a big impression on her.
The ACE Study showed how childhood trauma is linked to the adult onset of chronic disease, mental illness, violence and being a victim of violence. It measured 10 types of childhood adversity, those that ochttp://acestoohigh.com before the age of 18. They are physical, verbal and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; a family member with mental illness, or has been incarcerated or is abusing alcohol or other drugs; witnessing a mother being abused; losing a parent to divorce, separation or death.
Of the 17,000 mostly white, college-educated people with jobs and great health care who participated in the study, 64 percent had an ACE score of 1 or more; 12 percent had an ACE score of 4 or more (i.e., four out of the 10 different types of adversity). The researchers found that the higher a person's ACE score, the greater the risk of chronic disease and mental illness. For example, compared with someone who has an ACE score of zero, a person with an ACE score of 4 is 12 times more likely to attempt suicide, seven times more likely to become an alcoholic, and twice as likely to have heart disease.
The study revealed a hidden epidemic: ACEs contribute to most of our major chronic health, mental health, economic health and social health issues.
Learning about the ACE Study also prompted Boynton-Jarrett “to think about how you could explore mechanisms for how violence exposure would get into the body,” she said.
Sixteen years later, she is a social epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center where she contributes to the body of research she once studied. She's published dozens of articles, including one that looked at the relationship between a mother experiencing partner violence and obesity in kids under the age of five, and another that explored the link between childhood trauma and obesity in adulthood. All of her research can be explored in depth here.
The second hat that Boynton-Jarrett wears is that of a researcher and an associate professor of pediatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine where she has worked since 2007. But her work is not purely academic. She is a primary care pediatrician, too, and sees patients weekly.
How does she use ACEs research when she sees families in her practice?
“I feel as though the ACE Study in many ways was a confirmation of what I was seeing with a parent who was really struggling with depression and struggling with addiction and struggling with intimate partner violence,” she said. “The pile-up of things really undermines the capacity of a person to keep overcoming and keep going forward.”
She talks with parents about the relationship between childhood adversities they have experienced and how that may have an impact on parenting.
“I frame things a bit more broadly than ACEs,” she said, “because I think it's very important to reflect on a broader number of exposures than were covered in the original study, such as poverty or structural violence and racism.”
She routinely screens parents for depression, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, separation of co-parent (immigration, incarceration or work-related traveling), as well as a lack of food and unstable housing. And she asks open-ended questions about parenting goals.
I wondered what her specific interactions with parents are like? As if reading my mind, she answered my question with the important one she routinely asks of parents and caregivers: “Has anything scary, upsetting, or traumatic happened to you or your child in the time since we last saw each other?”
Questions and conversations are how she builds the trust and relationships that give her a “much bigger platform to have difficult conversations” that are sometimes necessary”. That, she finds, is effective, whereas “slamming parents with tons of information about how they should do a million things differently in a 15-minute visit is not only not going to be successful, but you are not going to take any time to listen to that parent and know where they are coming from,” she said.
Here's one specific example of her ACE-informed and confidence-building approach:
“A lot of the time, I start by just catching a parent doing something good. You know, something they do every day for their children, maybe zipping up their child's coat or maybe they are pointing out a sticker… and I just take that moment and lift it up. It's something a parent is already doing that we know is enriching and positive in the life of the child, but it's not really going to be acknowledged, right? You're never going to get acknowledged for brushing your child's teeth. But the point is that it's an insight to the parent that where they are right now is the place to build off of, and so that's really important to me.”
She also screens children for their “exposure to community violence, including witnessing violence; (experiencing) child sexual and physical abuse and emotional abuse; and exposure to intimate partner violence.” However, children might not even be aware of the traumatic events that impact their lives, such as a homicide in the neighborhood. Even if the child doesn't understand or know about it, adults who do might be “behaving differently and interacting differently as result of that.”
She realizes that office visits can be short and people aren't always ready to disclose. “A pediatric visit is just one piece, one place” to support children and families, “it's not all of the places.”
“What I've learned from my perspective around prevention is that I have to put myself out there as a pediatrician in the community, and make myself accessible to parents outside my clinic, and make myself accessible to service providers and other organizing agents and agencies, because a trauma-informed framework can be really helpful for enhancing their work as well,” she explained.
Which is what her work as founding director of the Vital Village Network, the third hat she wears, is all about. A group of people and organizations founded Vital Village in 2010 to strengthen the well being of children, families and community within and across three Boston neighborhoods.
Vital Village made the news last Fall after being selected by the Health Federation of Philadelphia to join 13 other communities as part of the Mobilizing Action for Resilient Communities (MARC) project. MARC is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The California Endowment. MARC award recipients collaborate for two years as they implement trauma-informed programs and policies that address ACEs. Best practices will be shared with the ACEs community.
Central to the work at Vital Village is “viewing well-being, particularly social and emotional well-being, as the foundation of a lot of other things. The focus can't be only on poverty prevention but on creating capacity for individuals, organizations and the community,” said Boynton-Jarrett.
This is done in two ways.
To build the capacity of existing community institutions, agencies and organizations. For example, a school might also be used a neighborhood community center to empower parents and solve community problems.
To build the strength of individuals, especially as it relates to types of civic engagement that benefits kids and families. This can mean linking existing community assets with community residents. For example, evictions impact many low-income families; they can be connected with local legal resources and protections that they don't know existed.
“We have to set a more ambitious goal beyond simply providing a more intensive level of services to folks who have been involved in the Dept. of Children and Families,” she said, because so many adversities are interconnected. In addition, adversity can exist without parental abuse, because many systems are traumatizing families.
She explains: “If we provide children who have been exposed to violence with therapeutic interventions — therapy, and medication — but they still continue to live in a very unsafe housing development or feel very unsafe at school, we are actually not going to have the impact on their well being that you could have if you could work across systems to establish a safe environment for that child in addition to therapeutic approaches.”
In addition, she said, parents may simply have “inadequate supports in their efforts to be a great parent”. They may lose their jobs or lose their homes, and children suffer, even if the parents are interacting with their children in a healthy, positive way.
Many of us have faced the limits of fragmented approaches in our personal or professional lives and crave something different. She can relate.
“It really pushed me to think about the limits of any individual practice. Whether it's pediatrics or education or social services, separately they are limited in what they will be able to do to support families. “
This might discourage some people, but not her. It simply proves the it-takes-a-village notion.
For example, she asks: “Can a child really have success in school if they don't have optimal well-being? It doesn't matter what educational interventions you do, you're not going to get the benefits of that intervention if that child is not able to socially or emotionally regulate themselves, or they don't feel safe.”
Two schools in Roxbury that Vital Village partners with are Haynes Early Education Center, a pre-school, and Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School. Boynton-Jarrett has learned how teachers “often have a very strong intuition that something has changed about a child because they see the same children every day. Maybe they noticed a child losing confidence, getting quiet or having tantrums,” she said, “but they don't necessarily have information that abuse or neglect is happening.”
The Vital Village trauma-informed framework can validate that what teachers observe “might be significant.” And rather than having teachers wait for a child to exhibit more trauma symptoms, they will be encouraged to provide resources for a child whose behavior indicates trauma that teachers can't identify. Or teachers can be taught to respond to a specific event, such as helping a child who saw “a body in the street that wasn't covered up on the way to school,” she said.
When teachers “begin to see the work they are doing with children on a daily basis is a trauma-informed framework, that's very empowering to them,” she said.
Boynton-Jarrett is precise with words. When I said “trauma-informed care” she clarified, “We use trauma-informed ‘framework' instead of ‘care' because care is limited to more of a service position or clinical kind of setting.” A trauma-informed framework encompasses all parts of a community.
She herself has been on the receiving end of trauma-informed training provided by an interdisciplinary group of clinicians and service providers at Boston Medical Center, with a Vital Village community resident partner at the table. It was “a really important process,” she said, where they learned, for example, how a receptionist is the first person in the clinic to deal with angry parents, and to identify this as an area where additional resources are needed.
While Boynton-Jarrett speaks openly and eloquently about her work, it's difficult to get her to say much about herself. She has three children who are 5, 8 and 12 years old; her life-work balance, she said, is a “whole other story.”
I learned she used to drink more tea, but now starts the day with coffee, the New York Times and the daily digest from ACEsConnection.com. And that her favorite color is “probably purple.”
But I learned little else until I asked: “What brought you to the work?”
It went way back “before college” to her elementary, middle school and high school years in Englewood, NJ. “There were really smart, really capable kids who were really creative who were not able to be successful, who had a very different trajectory,” she recalled.
She felt “very thankful that I had these opportunities” in college to learn and explore, but she also felt “a big responsibility that everyone I went to school with should have had the same opportunities.”
“I was always interested in why there were such large gaps in the safety net and where that came from,” she said, and how “the reason these opportunities didn't materialize was not the fault of those individuals.”
She doesn't see herself as a success and some of her classmates as failures, as some people might when they look at what the students in her class are doing now. She saw a playing field that wasn't level. She sees it still.
“I see many instances where a child has been let down by the fragility and inconsistencies of their environment. Have we decided that we're OK with the fragility of the system, the fact that it's gonna fail kids? Isn't the investment early in the lives of all children the long-term investment in our social well-being and success as a society?”
That a quote from the PBS documentary series, The Raising of America, in which she's featured.
In it, she speaks on behalf of children and asks:
“Is this a safe world?
What will happen when I feel afraid?
What will happen when I feel hungry?
What will happen when I feel scared?
Can I count on you?”
Her questions aren't pointed at parents, but asked of us all.
Her answer? Action.
“The only way to really prevent adverse childhood experiences is to collaboratively, actively promote optimal child and family well-being and to build community capacity to do that,” she said.
These are not just her words, but her life's work.
Drug-related child welfare cases have increased in Colorado, but connection to legalized marijuana is unclear
by Jennifer Brown
Colorado child-protection cases related to drug use have increased since the state opened recreational marijuana shops three years ago, yet it's unclear how much the uptick relates to pot.
Child welfare cases involving drug use by a parent or foster parent went up by about 2 percentage points from 2013 to 2015, even as the total number of new child welfare cases declined. That's an increase from 1,513 drug-related cases to 1,720 statewide. What's unknown is how many of those cases involved marijuana or any other number of drugs, including methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine and prescription painkillers.
Still, a Joint Budget Committee staff briefing this month suggested county child welfare departments use money from the state's “marijuana tax cash fund” because of the impact pot has had on abuse and neglect investigations. Child welfare caseloads have increased since marijuana legalization, “specifically cases related to child marijuana exposure,” according to the legislative briefing from budget staff.
Until the state collects better data, however, the precise impact of marijuana on child abuse and neglect cases is unknown. The state child welfare department's computer system does not track drug-specific information, although that will change next year.
Despite the lack of data, county child welfare workers report that legalized marijuana has complicated their jobs.
Colorado opened a new statewide child abuse hotline in 2015, a year after recreational pot shops opened. Since then, the state has seen a surge in calls alleging abuse and neglect, reaching about 17,000 per month. The timing of both events, and the scarcity of data, makes it difficult to sort out whether the increase in calls was all due to the new hotline or whether legalizing marijuana impacted the number of calls.
Reporting that a parent or caregiver uses marijuana is not in and of itself cause for opening a child abuse or neglect investigation — child welfare caseworkers only perform an “assessment” when there is concern for a child's safety. Marijuana has long been a part of the conversation as caseworkers determine whether to open a child welfare investigation, years before it was legal.
Legalized marijuana has added another layer in determining a child's safety, but child protection workers don't think it has single-handedly resulted in an explosion of abuse and neglect investigations. Child welfare workers get involved when a newborn tests positive for marijuana, when a child has ingested marijuana or when a caregiver's marijuana use harms a child's welfare.
“The drug use may be a factor, but are the kids getting to school every day, are they fed, are they cared for, are they running in the streets unattended, are there people coming into the home that are unknown to them?” said Barb Weinstein, associate director of Jefferson County's division of children, youth and families.
Legalizing marijuana has meant more kids are exposed to the drug — a JAMA Pediatrics study found that emergency-room visits and poison-control calls for kids ages 9 and younger who consumed pot in Colorado jumped after recreational marijuana stores opened. About twice as many kids visited Children's Hospital Colorado's emergency room per year in 2014 and 2015 compared with before the opening of recreational marijuana stores. Annual poison-control cases increased fivefold.
The Colorado Department of Human Services, which includes child welfare, did not ask for money from the marijuana tax cash fund in a legislative presentation this week, despite the Joint Budget Committee briefing suggesting that that makes sense. The fund had $92 million available for the current budget year.
Executive director Reggie Bicha told lawmakers the department would in July begin tracking drug-specific data on child abuse and neglect cases. The department's computer system includes detailed information about each child welfare case, including drug use or exposure, but the system cannot tally those incidents as aggregate data.
Marijuana, though, isn't the drug child welfare workers are most concerned about, Bicha told the committee. More than pot, they are seeing increased impact on children from heroin, meth and prescription drugs.
“We've always had marijuana impact many of the families that we work with,” he said. “That's not necessarily new.”
Several county child welfare departments were reluctant to discuss the impact of legalized marijuana, given the data deficiency.
Denver County's child welfare workers “have been working with legalized marijuana in our state in some form since medical marijuana laws were passed about 15 years ago,” said Amy Fidelis, deputy director of communications.
In Adams County, the “vast majority” of drug-related child welfare cases that meet the legal threshold for opening a case involve opioids, cocaine, meth or heroin, said spokesman Jim Siedleck. “Our initial review indicates we have not seen any significant increase in referrals due exclusively to marijuana use over the past two years,” he said.
Although the number of hotline calls regarding child abuse and neglect has climbed in recent years, the number of new cases in which caseworkers were assigned to protect children has declined. New cases dropped from 12,237 in 2013 to 10,625 in 2015. At the same time, open cases involving drug use increased by 194.
from Dept of Justice
Riverside Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison for Possession of Child Pornography
LOS ANGELES – A Riverside man was sentenced yesterday to 20 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography, the latest Inland Empire man to receive a substantial sentence for a child pornography offense.
Walter Klink, 42, was sentenced by United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips to spend 240 months in prison. Following his release from custody, Klink will be on lifetime supervised release.
Klink had previously been convicted by the United States Attorney’s Office for possession of child pornography. In 2007 he was sentenced by Judge Phillips to eight years in prison. After commencing his supervised release, law enforcement received evidence that Klink once again possessed child pornography, including pornographic images of his teenaged daughter.
“This defendant’s criminal conduct paused only while he was in federal prison,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Therefore, the sentence in this case will help protect the children of our community for the next two decades and will ensure the defendant is under court supervision for the rest of his life.”
This case against Klink was the result of a joint investigation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) team. The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Tritia Yuen of the Riverside branch office.
Klink is the latest man from the Inland Empire who has been convicted recently or currently face federal charges related to child pornography. In the other cases:
FROM: Wesley L. Hsu, Executive Assistant United States Attorney
· Jeremy Matthew Meyerett, 41, of San Bernardino, was sentenced December 12 to 20 years in federal prison for producing child pornography, including a sexually explicit pictures of a 5-year-old girl.
· 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.
United States Attorney’s Office, Central District of California (Los Angeles)
by The North Yorkshire Police
Reporting child sexual abuse to the police
If you have been a victim of child sexual abuse, you may not yet have reported what happened to you. There may be a number of reasons for this, and to take this step may be painful for you and require courage. You may, or may not, be ready to take this step now.
There are a number of routes you can take to report child sexual abuse to police, you can:
• Go to a police station,
• Call 101 (always call 999 in an emergency)
Whichever route you choose to report through, you will be listened to and believed. Any report made through any of the channels will be investigated based on what you have spoken about.
It will also be shared with Operation Hydrant, the national policing team set up to coordinate the investigation of non-recent child sexual abuse.
Why should I report what happened to me?
Many victims and survivors of child sexual abuse have said that simply telling someone about what happened to them, being listened to and believed, was a relief – even though the act of doing that can be painful and upsetting.
If the person you name in your account is alive, the police will consider whether there are safeguarding issues that need to be addressed. Many child sexual abusers continue to abuse, often into older age. Reporting what happened to you may help to protect other potential victims.
News of an investigation or arrest will often result in other victims and survivors coming forward. For the survivor of child sexual abuse it may be a huge relief to know that you are not alone.
Not every report to the police will result in a criminal trial. However, every week across the country it is a fact that people who have abused children are sent to jail by the courts. Many victims and survivors attend court to see the person who abused them sentenced and held publicly to account for what they did.
What will happen when I make a report to the police?
When you first make contact with the police, they will take an initial report, a ‘first account'. The force will then make contact with you to take more detailed information. This could be in a matter of days or weeks, depending on the force. Forces currently have a large number of people to speak to and they understand that this is a difficult time. However, they must ensure that this process is not rushed, is carried out sensitively and that all due care and attention is taken.
You can request how you would prefer to be contacted, and this will be passed on. However, there may be occasions when the local police force may contact you in a different way. This might be because they are unable to contact you through your preferred method, or they may need to speak to you more urgently due to a safeguarding issue. You can request to speak to a male or a female police officer.
The police will to ask you to provide a ‘first account' – they will ask you questions so that they can understand what happened to you. This might be over the phone, or an officer may come to speak to you at a time and place convenient for you. After this, you are required to provide a more detailed account to the police – this can be done through a range of ways, from a written statement to a video interview, however is best for you.
Will I have to go to a police station?
If you have made your report to the police at home, and you are happier in that environment, the police will come and speak to you there to take more details.
After providing your first account
When you have provided your account to the police, they will launch an investigation, which will seek to uncover any evidence relating to the allegations you have made. At the appropriate time, police will approach the person you have accused of abuse. The police will refer to the person you are accusing as “the suspect”.
Depending on the length of time since the offence(s) took place, the current status of the suspect, and your safety, the police will decide whether to arrest the suspect, or interview them “under invite”. The police need to meet strict criteria before they can arrest someone, therefore they may decide that “under invite” is more appropriate. However, this does not mean that they are treating the offence less seriously. The police will ask for your view on this, as it is recognised that this may not be the action you want taken, depending on the circumstances. However, they will also need to weigh up your views against other considerations, such as whether there is a continued threat to others.
The officer who is assigned to your case will make contact with you as soon as possible. They are known as the “officer in the case” or OIC.
The OIC will give you help, support and address any specific needs or wishes you have. They can also make referrals on your behalf to other agencies who are independent of the police who may be able to support you and meet your needs.
There are many groups who provide support – your OIC will be able to provide you with information regarding what is available in your area. This might include your local Independent Sexual Violence Advisor Services (ISVA). ISVAs can provide emotional and practical support to victims and survivors of rape, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.
The pathway of investigations will vary, depending on the practice of the local force and the specific details of your case.
Once the suspect has been interviewed, all of the witnesses or people with relevant information spoken to, and all the evidence collected, the investigation will be complete.
A decision will be made regarding whether there is sufficient evidence to charge. This is made by either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dependent on the particulars of the case.
If the decision taken is not to proceed to charge the suspect, the reasons for this will be explained to you by the officer in the case, and you will have the chance to ask questions and understand why. If you disagree with the decision that no further action should be taken against the suspect, you may challenge this decision via the Victims Right to Review Scheme. This gives you the right, under certain circumstances, to have the decision not to charge or prosecute a suspect reviewed.
If the police investigation results in charges, the case will proceed to court.
How long will a trial take?
How long a trial will take can depend on a number of things, but may include the number of charges the accused faces, and the number of victims and witnesses giving evidence. Trials can range from a few days to several weeks.
Will I be identified?
It is against the law for newspapers or television to use your name or any details that would identify you. All sexual offence victims have an absolute right to anonymity by law, regardless of whether a suspect is charged, and found guilty or not guilty. This means that while the news media may report on the criminal trial, and the evidence which is heard, they will not say or report anything which could lead to you being identified. If you choose to waive your right to anonymity, your OIC can discuss what this might mean for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if the person who abused me is dead?
Although a deceased person cannot be subject to a criminal trial, you should still consider reporting what happened to the police. This allows the police to check whether the person you are accusing was linked to any other abusers who may still pose a risk to children. You will also have the opportunity to receive the same support offered to victims and survivors where the accused is alive.
I reported the offences against me previously but nothing was done – why should I bother?
The police service, other agencies, and society have recognised that victims and survivors were not always listened to and believed in the past.
The police service has worked hard to change its approach, and to gain the trust of victims and survivors to come forward and report non-recent child sexual abuse. The fact that so many victims and survivors have come forward in recent years is partly as a result of that change in approach. Victims and survivors know that they will be listened to and believed, and an investigation will be launched.
What happened to me was so long ago – will I be believed if I come forward now?
The police service understands the importance of listening to, and believing, victims and survivors when they find the courage to come forward and report offences. National policy and guidance says that officers must believe the victim when they provide their account, and then launch an investigation. The police service also understands the many reasons why a victim or survivor of child sexual abuse may not report what happened to them until they are an adult – this will in no way detract from what you have to say.
Will Operation Hydrant investigate my allegations?
Operation Hydrant is the national policing operation which coordinates all investigations of non-recent child sexual abuse for the whole country. It does not undertake the investigations which may follow from your allegation. This is done by the force local to where the abuse took place. Operation Hydrant will pass the details provided to the local force
Criminal Injuries Compensation
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is a government funded scheme designed to compensate blameless victims of violent crime in Great Britain. The scheme can compensate blameless victims of violent crime or people whose loved ones have died as a result of violent crime, but to be eligible it requires all incidents to be reported to the police. If the crime for which you are seeking compensation has not been reported to the police the scheme cannot make a payment.
North Yorkshire Police now have a team dedicated to investigating non-recent child abuse. Read more about the team here.
Starved teen's death prompted 'personnel changes' at DHS
by Lee Rood
The Iowa Department of Human Services has made "personnel changes" in the wake of its investigation into the alleged abuse of a West Des Moines teen who starved to death, Gov. Terry Branstad said in a statement Thursday.
Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds said more information will be released once criminal trials involving Natalie Finn's parents, Nicole Marie Finn and Joseph Michael Finn II, are underway. But he said Human Services “has consulted with the county attorney on releasing information while criminal charges are pursued.”
Branstad said he and Reynolds were saddened by Finn's death and “the circumstances surrounding her case."
Asked how many employees might have been fired, a governor's spokesperson responded that "appropriate action" was taken with more than one employee.
What should the public know?
State Sen. Matt McCoy, ranking Democrat on the Legislature's Oversight Committee from West Des Moines, compared the governor's statement to a "warm bucket of spit" and called it “completely inadequate."
“If he's going to tell you that much, he deserves to tell you the rest of the story,” said McCoy, who is leading his caucus' probe into the case. “What were some of (Human Services') findings? If you terminate a person for cause, you should release the cause.”
McCoy said he spoke to Human Services Director Charles Palmer Thursday morning, and Palmer agreed to brief him Wednesday about the handling of the case.
He said Palmer indicated that Polk County Attorney John Sarcone is reluctant to release details of Natalie Finn's death for fear of tainting a jury pool.
But McCoy said that's not a good reason to keep the public from understanding what happened after a neighbor reported in May to West Des Moines police that Natalie Finn and her siblings were being abused.
Finn suffered cardiac arrest Oct. 24. But authorities did not arrest her parents until this month.
McCoy said the jury of “every high-profile homicide would have to be cloistered” if releasing details was a real issue.
“How is releasing what happened going to impact the seating of a jury? They've got more secrecy over this than anything I've ever seen," he said. "People are clearly nervous about something.”
Ben Hammes, the governor's spokesman, blasted McCoy's comments.
"Gov. Branstad tried to open up personnel files for just cause or public safety in 2014," Hammes said. "Sen. McCoy led the effort to prevent these files from ever being open to the public. For him to take this position now is either the worst kind of politics or a welcome change from his position in 2014."
Amy McCoy, a spokesperson for DHS, said personnel information is confidential under state law.
“We will not be discussing details of the case publicly until we can be sure it won't jeopardize the court proceedings in any way," McCoy said. "Our attorneys and the county attorney will assist us in making those determinations. Also, we are in contact with legislators who have oversight of DHS regarding the handling of the case."
McCoy said DHS understands “the public wants details, and they also want justice, so we are being very thoughtful in the release of information to protect the integrity of the prosecution.
“We will share information in a transparent manner and in the best interest of child welfare as soon as we are able. We are deeply saddened by the death of Natalie Finn, and we always work toward having the best policies, procedures and personnel in place to protect children amid challenging and changing family dynamics, behaviors and needs.”
She said child welfare is one of the hardest jobs in state government.
“We strive to keep children safe and help make families stronger,” she said.
Texas child abuse death rising despite governor's shake-up
by The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas — The number of Texas children dying of abuse and neglect has increased since Republican Gov. Greg Abbott began a shake-up of the state's beleaguered child welfare system a year ago, a newspaper reported Thursday.
Records obtained by The Dallas Morning News show that at least 202 children died because of maltreatment in 2016, compared with 173 the year before. At least 28 children who died of abuse or neglect had an open case with state child welfare workers, up from 19 a year earlier.
The worsening numbers have come despite Abbott placing the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services under his thumb since taking office in 2015. He hired a new commissioner, pledged an additional $40 million for child safety and embedded aides who track the daily work of the department.
The new figures cap a year of chaos due primarily to an exodus of hundreds of child abuse investigators, who cited low pay and untenable caseloads. Case backlogs statewide are also nearly twice as bad as they were in the fall of 2015, the newspaper reported.
Abbott spokesman John Wittman said the governor is making strides and more changes are coming. But some Democrats and child advocates say Abbott might have saved lives if he and other Republican leaders had heeded their warnings earlier.
“Had action been taken sooner, could deaths have been prevented? I have to believe yes,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Turner, who as early as April said Abbott needed to call a special legislative session to review caseworker turnover and pay.
Wittman said the governor was “continuing to work with DFPS and the Legislature to ensure that the necessary changes are being made to prevent child deaths in Texas.”
Briefing records and hundreds of emails, obtained by the newspaper under open records laws, show that at least six times, DFPS met with the governor's office to evaluate the year's negative trends in child deaths. The department also shared “hot spot” reports meant to predict problem counties, as well as reports tracking thousands of children who weren't being seen by caseworkers on time — or at all.
On Feb. 23, Abbott's Child Protective Services policy adviser wrote a sternly worded email after she was alerted to a child fatality, apparently appalled that the state knew about the parent's substance abuse but failed to act.
“I cannot tell you how frustrated this makes me,” Allison Bilodeau wrote in the email, in which she also said mismanagement and case backlogs in the Dallas region were deeply troubling.
As problems and bad press mounted, House Democrats and child safety advocates wanted to discuss emergency funding to keep good caseworkers and drive down caseloads. In mid-October, Abbott signed onto a joint letter to the agency, demanding change but failing to call for pay raises.
The commissioner came back with a plan for thousands of pay raises and more money to hire caseworkers and drive down caseloads. After weeks of negotiations, Abbott and legislative leaders embraced the plan. But more spending for the agency could be a steep climb next year as lawmakers will face budget constraints.
Victim 'wounds opened' by child sex abuse inquiry
by The BBC
An urgent review has been carried out by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse into its service in Wales following a complaint by a victim.
The victim, who wanted to remain anonymous, has criticised the "poor level of support" he received from the truth project - the arm of the inquiry for victims to share their experiences.
He said he experienced delays and his support worker broke down in tears.
An inquiry spokesman apologised to the victim and said measures have been put in place to prevent it happening again.
He spoke to BBC Wales' India Pollock.
Forcing kids to sit on Santa's lap could lead to abuse, agency warns
by Mario Sevilla
A New Zealand social services agency is warning parents that forcing children to sit on Santa's lap could lead to body autonomy concerns and leaves them vulnerable to abuse.
In a Facebook post on the page “ Safe kids, thriving families,” the agency says that letting kids decide if they want to sit on Santa's lap teaches them about boundaries and knowing what feels right to their bodies.
“Too many children are forced to sit on Santa's lap, even when they are deeply distressed and frightened. Visiting Santa is one of many opportunities we get to send super positive messages to our children that can help keep them safe from sexual abuse, long term,” the agency wrote.
“Even a visit to Santa can be a chance to let your children know that they are the boss of their body and they get to say what happens with it,” the organization said in a Facebook post.
The Facebook page is run by CAPS Hauraki, a New Zealand- based social service agency working to prevent child abuse by offering counseling, social work, parenting and youth support.
The organization bolsters their message citing a CNN report that warns about other possible effects including sexual abuse and bullying.
"When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend's feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them," said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International.
"This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so 'he'll like me' and kids enduring bullying because everyone is 'having fun.'"
Jennifer Lehr, a parenting blogger, told CNN that ordering children to show affection to an adult they don't want to touch “teaches them to use their body to please you or someone else in authority or, really, anyone.”
"The message a child gets is that not only is another person's emotional state their responsibility but that they must also sacrifice their own bodies to buoy another's ego or satisfy their desire for love or affection," Lehr said.
Shine Your Light: Young victims find help with Children's Advocacy Center of Smith County
by Jacque Hilburn
A hallway at the Children's Advocacy Center of Smith County speaks volumes without saying a word.
It's covered in small paper handprints of varying sizes, in a kaleidoscope of colors and designs.
Each outline represents an abused child and a personal horror endured.
Some prints taken from the youngest victims are roughly the size of a saltine cracker.
Physical and sexual abuse is an unfair sentence to place on anyone, let alone a child, said Children's Advocacy Center director Terri Smith, who walks past the handprints every day and knows they represent only a fraction of the victim population.
“I get really emotional about this,” she said. “Each child that comes here has their hand traced and it's put onto colorful paper.”
There were 384 children interviewed last year. Since January, there have been more than 500, almost enough to paper the wall that leads to Ms. Smith's office.
SHINING LIGHT ON ABUSE
The center is among 10 local agencies slated to benefit from this year's Shine Your Light Community Campaign, a fundraising effort that's raised more than $1.3 million for 20 local nonprofits since its 2008 inception.
Ms. Smith and her team help battered and sexually abused children by cushioning their journey through the judicial process.
The organization helps facilitate investigations, prosecutions and healing, not just for young crime victims but also their families.
There are 69 Children's Advocacy Centers in Texas. They serve 40,000 children.
Of those, 67 percent were female and 33 percent were male, according to statistics shared by the organization.
A key benefit rests in the structure of the center's services.
The center, which is located at 2210 Frankston Highway in Tyler, provides a highly confidential, child-friendly place for kids to connect with law enforcement, social services, investigators, prosecutors, therapists, volunteers and medical personnel.
This allows children to tell their story only once, instead of over and over and over.
The handprints that greet Ms. Smith when she arrives for work every morning belong to actual clients, who walk the same hall so they can see they are not alone.
“The children that haunt us, those are the children we don't see,” she said. “Those are the ones who tell someone, but nothing is done,” or maybe they are not taken seriously.
Statistically, one in 10 children will fall victim to a sexual predator, of which 90 percent of the time is someone they know and trust, such as a neighbor or relative.
That's a prime opportunity for emotional manipulation, such as threatening to hurt a child's family if they tell.
“Secrets are our biggest enemy,” Ms. Smith said.
ON THE FRONT LINES
Desiree Glaze is the center's clinical director.
She's a licensed professional counselor who oversees six staff therapists and two master's level interns.
They work as a team, to support children, families and themselves.
Her office is a wild hangout, complete with stuffed lions, tigers, jungle patterns and plants. There's also a nook for reading stories and a small table for art projects.
“We use it to elicit conversation,” she said of the various techniques used in play therapy. “We try to do what's best for the child.”
The atmosphere is both cheerful and soothing, a common objective across the center, for staff and the people they serve.
The center also has a new exam room and a specially trained nurse to help uncover the truth behind what happened.
Many cases are drug related. In some instances, the perpetrator is an adult, who was abused as a child.
Nurse Meghan, who asked that her last name be withheld for security purposes, is on the front line of helping sift through the facts.
The former emergency room and trauma nurse wears workout gear and Converse instead of clinical scrubs.
The exam room, intended for cases more than 96 hours old, is brightly painted and filled with toys designed for hugging.
The nurse checks for injuries and signs of transmitted diseases and then arranges for treatment, as appropriate.
Exams for recent, or acute, cases are conducted at area hospitals.
“I don't tell the kids that I'm a sexual assault nurse,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I'm here to help you and make sure your body is healthy.' It's nice getting to help these kids and letting them know they are healthy.”
People think this type of abuse doesn't happen very often, but the numbers speak for themselves, the nurse said.
In the last two months, for example, Meghan said she conducted 42 acute exams of both children and adults, at just one Tyler hospital.
The sobering fact is, only 20 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported, the nurse added.
Youngsters seen by the center get to select a new stuffed animal and blanket from a special cabinet packed with cuddly, donated teddy bears.
The center offers educational programs to help people identify signs of abuse, report suspected offenses and help children understand the difference between right and wrong touching.
Ms. Smith said she would like to see people in Smith County throw support behind a grant program that started recently in Fort Worth.
As part of that project, funds are awarded to redo a child's bedroom, giving children an opportunity to pick a new paint color and furnishings.
The goal is to help erase visuals that remind them of the abuse, such as replacing a child's bed.
“Many families can't afford to move,” Ms. Smith said. “I would like to see our community rally around that cause … it's a really neat program.”
Twitter: @TMT _ jacque
Warning signs that signal child abuse are sometimes difficult to spot, but with education the task of helping victims can be easier, according to the Children's Advocacy Centers of Texas.
In Texas, it's the law that suspected abuse must be reported to the proper authorities, with suggested contact information listed below.
The state's Children's Advocacy Center suggests a key way to curtail abuse starts with helping a child understand the difference between acceptable and unacceptable forms of touching. Here's how:
• Talk with your child about their body, and teach them the correct terms for their anatomy. Teach them about which areas are private and which ones are not.
• Teach them about boundaries and how to say "No" when they don't want to be touched.
• Give them the proper steps on how to report abuse.
• Encourage them to avoid keeping secrets from parents and caregivers.
• Talk openly with your children and be supportive.
There are certain signs that signal the possibility of abuse. Here are a few:
• Unexplained injuries
• Changes in behavior, eating and sleeping
• Fear of certain places or people
• Changes in school performance and attendance
• Lack of personal care of hygiene
• Engaging in risky behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol or exhibiting sexual behavior or language
Adults can be helpful in warding off abuse. Here's how to help your child:
• Learn about the frequency of abuse and how perpetrators can gain access to your children.
• Educate them about their body, boundaries and the types of abuse.
• Support their participation in school-based safety adn prevention programs.
• Minimize their time alone with adults and older children, other than with parents or caregivers, and choose group projects.
• Teach them internet safety - don't give out personal information or photos online.
• Stay familiar with signs and symptoms of abuse.
• Know how to respond if something seems wrong.
To learn more, visit www.cactx.org. If a child appears to be in immediate danger, call 9-1-1. For all other cases in Texas, phone the abuse and neglect hotline at 800-252-5400. Outside the state, visit www.onewithcourage.org for a list of resources.
CASA: Caring For Kids Caught In The Addiction Crisis
by Aaron Payne
The Ohio Valley's opioid epidemic has effects far beyond the individuals struggling through addiction, with families and children suffering as well. An organization that helps children in abuse cases now sees substance abuse as a leading contributor, and could be overwhelmed by the addiction crisis.
Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children — CASA for short — is a nationwide organization in which community volunteers are designated by judges to serve as the voice for children involved in abuse and neglect cases.
The opioid epidemic has contributed to an increased caseload for courts dealing with abuse and neglect cases. And in West Virginia, CASA programs are struggling to recruit enough volunteers to keep up.
“It's going to be a lot messier.”
Tessa DiTirro moved to the northern panhandle of West Virginia to become a journalist at WTRF-TV.
She had heard of CASA but it wasn't until after working on a story with the local organization that she decided to go through the 30 hours of training to become an advocate.
“I'm still on my first case,” DiTirro told me during a visit in December to the CASA headquarters for Marshall, Ohio, Tyler and Wetzel Counties in Moundsville. “I've been working on it since August.”
This case involves an infant and a young child who investigators determined were neglected due in part to a parent's struggles with addiction.
The aim of any CASA is to remain objective while getting to know both the children and parents.
But objectivity can be difficult, as DiTirro has seen first-hand the emotional effect the case has had on the oldest child.
“It was sad for him on his birthday,” DiTirro said. “His parents couldn't be there. His parents didn't even reach out to him, which really made him sad. But I brought him a little toy and we had a great conversation.“
She is able to remain objective thanks to the extensive training, which teaches advocates to learn about the whole family.
“Sometimes I do like to look at the other members of the family and balance it out,“ she said. “Because if I was just going by my kids, I would love to take them and go play and just have fun. But that's not what it's all about.”
The volunteer coordinator DiTirro works with is Erin Jordan, who started as an intern in January but became one of three paid staff members after graduating West Liberty University in May.
As advocates for the children, Jordan said objectivity is essential to building parents back up in hopes of reunification.
“Parents don't always deserve their kids, but kids always deserve their parent. So, let's not automatically write off the parents.”
Reunification is not always in the best interest of the child, however, and the region's addiction crisis is making it difficult.
CASA programs are more often scanning for cases like DiTirro's where the abuse or neglect can in part be attributed to a parent's addiction to opioids.
“My brain automatically shifts and I know that this case is going to be a lot harder than one where there's not drugs,” Jordan said. “It's going to be a lot messier.”
The epidemic is also leaving CASA programs with limited resources.
A Need for Volunteers
Neglect related to a parent's struggle with addiction is nothing new for CASA. Advocates nationwide have dealt with these cases since the program was founded in the late 70s by a judge in Washington.
But the CASA program DiTirro and Jordan work for has seen its caseload increase significantly due to the opioid epidemic.
“In 2016, we've served 322 children. That's 162 new cases. In 2010, we were serving 50 new kids a year,” Executive Director Susan Harrison said. “We're looking at about 90 percent of the kids on our caseload have drugs as an allegation in that petition.”
CASA encourages a one volunteer to one case ratio. (A case could include more than one child, as DiTirro's does.)
Harrison's organization was working with around 30 volunteers for 2016, as of December. Recruiting enough volunteers to keep up with the caseload has proven to be a challenge.
“When your caseload has doubled and then tripled just in two years, finding those CASA volunteers willing to give the time and energy to these cases is difficult,” Harrison said.
The more experienced volunteers have been put on multiple cases if Harrison believes the children will still be served. Jordan and the other paid staff member are on deck if needed.
The increased caseload stretches funding thin for the 11 CASA programs operating in 31 West Virginia counties.
West Virginia's programs are all nonprofits, most receiving the majority of their budget through the Victims of Crime Act Crime Fund and other grants.
The remainder comes through donations, which, while appreciated, can't quite cover the demand for CASA's service.
“We've grown from 50 kids to 300 kids and my budget has not quadrupled,” Harrison said.
The Mountain State is not alone in facing these problems.
An Unfortunate Opportunity
When directors for 40 CASA programs covering 47 Ohio counties gathered this month at a conference in Columbus it didn't take long for the opioid epidemic to come up.
“You all have been affected,” Doug Stephens, the statewide director who helps coordinate the local programs, said to the group.
The number of children served by Ohio's CASA programs has increased by 872 between 2012 and 2015, according to their data. Projections indicate 2016 will see another increase for a total of 8,500 children served.
Volunteers have not increased as the projections indicate 2,100 will have served this year, six more than in 2012.
“It makes it very difficult to serve all these extra children,” Stephens said. “More importantly, it tempts us to give more cases per volunteer. And that's the complete opposite of what we want to do.”
But Stephens remains optimistic and embraces the challenges presented by the opioid epidemic.
“We have wonderful community volunteers,” he said. “I think there are more out there, they just don't know us. I think the community is always looking for ways to support the children that are put into awful positions. The first step is we have to figure out a way to get more volunteers.”
Lawmakers in Columbus are taking notice.
One state senator has proposed providing $300,000 annually from Ohio's general revenue fund for CASA programs to be distributed based on need created by the opioid epidemic.
With Ohio anticipating a tight budget, that funding is not a sure thing. But CASA programs are pleased with the attention from the statehouse.
“We are fortunate and we do appreciative that we have a number of legislators that support us,” Stephens said.
A regional collaborative being developed in southeast Ohio could provide a new way to help manage resources and boost newer programs..
Athens County CASA, established in the 90s, is most experienced in the region and was approached about leading the younger programs.
“Having the opportunity to share our resources, share our lessons that we've learned, I think will only help those programs and get them a good leg off the ground,” Jenny Stotts, Athens CASA Executive Director said.
Sharing strategies to build up recruiting will be a priority.
Even with decent resources, expanding staff and support from the community, Stotts said even they could use more volunteers.
“I dream of the day that we will have a waiting list of volunteers waiting for a child to serve instead of a waiting for a list of children waiting for a CASA.”
Bluegrass Boost for CASA
Travel to Kentucky and you will hear similar stories from CASA program directors.
The caseload for the 18 programs currently operating across 41 counties has increased over the past few years without a significant increase in recruiting.
State lawmakers took notice recently and appropriated $3 million of state funding over the next two fiscal years for CASA. The move marks the first time CASA with be receiving state funds in 34 years of the organization operating in Kentucky. It also makes it the only such program in the region to receive money directly from their state.
The funding boost will enable CASA to expand with two new programs set to cover five counties at first, with plans to serve three more in the future.
Andrea Bruns with Kentucky's statewide CASA organization does not attribute the increased caseloads entirely to the opioid epidemic. But said they are noticing effects in counties with the highest addiction rates.
A Judge's Testimony
Judges around the Ohio Valley that appoint advocates from CASA programs in their courts are voicing their support.
Judge Robert W. Stewart presides over the Probate and Juvenile courts in Athens County. He has interacted with CASA for over a decade and speaks highly of the program.
“People who raise their hand and are willing to go through the training because they care about the idea of helping abused and neglected children is such a positive,” he said. “It's hard to think of anyone who would be against an organization like CASA.”
Stewart said the program provides practical services to the court systems in which they serve.
Volunteer work from CASA cuts down on court cost significantly each year.
Stewart estimates that volunteer advocates in Athens County put in somewhere around 7,000 hours of work between training, working with families and filing recommendations to the court.
Courts appoint a layperson or attorney as the child's advocate, or guardian ad litem, in counties without CASA programs.
Stewart estimates that hiring a guardian to work 5,000 hours to perform the services of a CASA volunteer would quickly become a burden.
“If I was paying a layperson to be a guardian ad litem, that would be $100,000 at $20 an hour,” he said. “If I was paying an attorney it would be a quarter of a million dollars at $50 an hour.”
Abuse and neglect cases involving substance use disorders are equally challenging for the courts system as they are for CASA, if not more so.
Stewart said with a noticeable increase in opioid-related cases, a trustworthy advocate helps courts keep the focus on the child.
“Having someone who is able to present it from the eyes of the child and look only at the best interest of the child is a very refreshing outlook.”
He encourages counties without CASA programs to do serious research and find out if they could benefit.
Making a Difference
The opioid epidemic creates challenges for CASA programs and volunteers that are not within their control: A lack of timely addiction treatment facilities for parents, a lack of housing and job services and a foster care system in need of more foster families.
But programs across the Ohio Valley will continue to focus on the changes they can make, starting with finding new advocates.
For Tessa DiTirro, balancing her job as a journalist and her work with CASA can be a challenge. She cautions those interested that it is not “light” volunteer work.
“I would say do it, but don't do it if you don't have the passion,” she said.
Volunteers are expected to work an average of 10 hours a month after the initial 30 hours of training plus time for annual training.
DiTirro said the work is rewarding. And to watch the positive impacts on a child who has experience abuse and neglect makes it worthwhile.
“It's fun to hear that he loves to do sports, that he loves math,” DiTirro said. “That's been the really rewarding part.”
More information about CASA programs in your state can be found at casaforchildren.org.
County likely to top 2015 neglect numbers
by Jim Sprague
Just when Fayette County thought child neglect was bad in 2015, it is appearing more and more that after an inspiring start, 2016 will end up even worse.
The Indiana Department of Child Services last week released its child neglect, child abuse and sexual abuse statistics for the month of November, and while Fayette County was in single-digits for the number substantiated child neglects cases during the month, its overall total for 2016 sits – with the month of December still to be figured – only one case off its record-high set in 2015.
Fayette County had eight substantiated cases of child neglect for November, which gave it the second-lowest figure for November in the six-county DCS Region 12, with only Union County having fewer cases with four.
But add that figure on to the county's running total of substantiated child neglect cases though October – which sat at 142, due to an October which saw 27 substantiated cases of child neglect – and it gives the county, through November, a total of 150 such cases – only one fewer than the county's record high of 151 set in 2015.
Child neglect, as defined by the state of Indiana, is when a “child's physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the parent, guardian, or custodian being unable, refusing, or neglecting to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision.”
As stated previously by outgoing Fayette Circuit Court Judge Beth A. Butsch earlier this year at a swearing-in ceremony for new Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers, the county's child neglect situation has been due to its ongoing drug abuse situation – and it appears that after an inspiring start to 2016, in which the county saw single-digit cases in both January and February, that situation is only getting worse.
The county also had one substantiated case of child sexual abuse in November, bringing the county's overall total in that category thus far to seven such cases in 2016.
Overall, the state of Indiana had 191 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse in November – down from 261 for October – along with 148 substantiated cases of child physical abuse, down slightly from October's 170 cases, and 2,031 substantiated cases of child neglect, down from October's 2,401 such cases.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call Indiana's Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can report abuse and neglect anonymously.
Substantiated child neglect cases, area counties, November 2016
Henry County: 25
Wayne County: 22
Franklin County: 15
Rush County: 11
Fayette County: 8
Union County: 4
Florida Woman Charged in Death of Infant in ‘Co-Sleeping' Case
by Christine Hauser
Early on Oct. 6, Erin Piche-Pitts was awakened by the sound of her baby crying. She later told the authorities in Florida that she had picked him up from a bassinet, prepared some formula in a bottle and settled back into bed with him, propping him up with a pillow and nestling his head in the crook of her arm. Then she dozed off.
Two and a half hours later, according to a Polk County sheriff's affidavit, Ms. Piche-Pitts, 25, woke up “in a panic.” Blood was on her baby boy, Javier, who was less than a month old, and vomit was coming out of his mouth, she told officials.
Ms. Piche-Pitts, of Winter Haven in Central Florida, said she tried to revive the boy, and called 911. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
When investigators interviewed Ms. Piche-Pitts about the baby's death, according to the document, she said, “It happened again.”
Prosectors say it was the second time an infant died under Ms. Piche-Pitts's care: Her 13-day-old daughter, Angelina, died of suffocation in 2009. That was ruled an accident. A spokeswoman for the coroner's office said Javier also died of accidental suffocation.
In November, Ms. Piche-Pitts was charged with felony aggravated manslaughter of a child. But the police did not arrest her until Tuesday, after prosecutors reviewed the affidavit and reports. She was scheduled to appear on Wednesday before a judge, according to Polk County's chief assistant state attorney, Brian Haas. It was not immediately clear whether she had a lawyer.
The case touches on a pillar of parenting: how to get infants to sleep, especially for newborns who may require late-night feedings. It also shines a light on co-sleeping, in which parents share a room or a bed with their infants. The practice is considered controversial for medical and cultural reasons. Family bed-sharing is common in many parts of the world, but it is generally discouraged in Western cultures, where children traditionally sleep in cribs in separate rooms.
Some parents say that co-sleeping helps to make babies more manageable at night, while others find the constant caregiving and interrupted sleep to be exhausting, a recent study found.
Approximately 3,500 infants die annually in the United States from sleep-related deaths, including sudden infant death syndrom, accidental suffocation and accidental strangulation in bed, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
To reduce the risk of those deaths, the academy recommends positioning of babies supine in bed, using a firm sleep surface, sharing a room without sharing a bed, and avoiding soft bedding and overheating.
The Piche-Pitts case presents prosecutors with the challenge of showing that co-sleeping was a form of neglect because the mother had been informed of the risks during both of her pregnancies.
“These are very, very difficult cases,” Mr. Haas said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “We are not charging parents with crimes because accidents happen. There has got to be something more to it.”
Mr. Haas said that the case was still in the discovery phase, and officials were gathering more information about what happened in October.
The affidavit charging Ms. Piche-Pitts said she had undergone counseling during both pregnancies. It said she had received information while she was pregnant with her first child about the “dangers” of co-sleeping with babies, and of the importance of placing infants on their backs to sleep.
But on Dec. 4, 2009, about two weeks after she had given birth to her baby girl, Ms. Piche-Pitts fell asleep while breast-feeding in bed, only to wake up and find the baby “cold and stiff to the touch” next to her, the sheriff's affidavit said. The baby died of asphyxia from “probable overlay” and “co-sleeping,” according to the medical examiner.
When Ms. Piche-Pitt learned she was pregnant in 2016, she received training through the Healthy Start program about co-sleeping and putting an infant to sleep safely, documents show. Her mother and doctor also advised her, the affidavit said.
In July, while pregnant, Ms. Piche-Pitts was arrested on a charge of possessing methamphetamine, the sheriff's office said in a statement.
The felony charge in Javier's death was based on his being “killed in the same manner as her first child, Angelina, due to her own culpable negligence and without lawful justification,” according to the affidavit. A spokeswoman for the coroner's office, Sheli Wilson, said the death certificate called it an accidental suffocation, but she added that an autopsy had not been finalized.
Relatives of Ms. Piche-Pitts could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
With New Money, State Chips Away at Daunting Backlog of Rape Evidence — But Can't Keep Up
NEW EFFORT: Victims Often Had No Idea If Evidence From Sexual-Assault Exams Were Sent to Overtaxed State Crime Lab for DNA Analysis
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.”
Brook Stagles to be featured on billboards nationwide to prevent child abuse
by Amy Hudak
Rochester, N.Y. — (WHAM) - Images of Brook Stagles, the Greece toddler who died after being abused, will soon be seen on billboards across the country, including here in Rochester.
Brook's grandfather, John Geer, said his mission now that his granddaughter is gone is to save the lives of children, prevent abuse and do what he can to reform Child Protective Services.
"The billboards show that no child should die from child abuse, especially how Brook Stagles did," John Geer told 13WHAM News.
The two people charged in the case - Erica Bell and Michael Stagles - were before a judge Wednesday. Jury selection and pre-trial dates were set for both.
Bell, the girlfriend of Brook's father, is charged with second degree murder and first-degree manslaughter in the death of Brook Stagles and was seen smiling in court. Michael Stagles, Brook's father, is charged with criminally negligent homicide.
For the first time, 13WHAM News also talked to Ashley Geer, the mother of Brook Stagles. She was visible shaken and said she is having a very difficult time coping.
John Geer is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to put the billboards up to raise awareness about child abuse. He said the signs will begin going up Friday and will eventually be in seven states including New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Ohio and North and South Carolina.
On one billboard, an image of Brook, happy and healthy is shown on the left and a picture of her dying in the hospital from abuse is shown on the right. A second billboard has a picture of Brook dressed as a doctor and reads, "Don't let children die from child abuse, like Brook Stagles."
Geer also purchased rights to a website, TrumpforChildren, which will be featured on the billboards. The site, he said, was created to be a portal for child abuse awareness and to illustrate what he calls the shortcomings of Child Protective Services and why reform is desperately needed.
Geer is also spending $150,000 of his own money for a ten-minute phone call with President-elect Donald Trump. Geer said he hopes Trump can appoint someone to reform CPS.
"CPS and DCFS are run like businesses and they are businesses that are failing." Geer told 13WHAM News. "Instead of losing money, they are losing children."
As Geer has maintained from the day Brook died, if CPS had done their job, Brook would be alive. He claims multiple calls about abuse went unnoticed and that CPS never entered the home Brook lives in.
"Erica Bell had a warrant for her arrest the whole time CPS was investigating her as we told CPS to look into her," John Geer said. "If they would have done that, there is a possibility they would have gotten her out of the house in time."
John Geer said his life and that of Brook's mother, Ashley, have been shattered.
"There are no words that I could say," Geer said tearfully.
Michael Stagles and Erica Bell will be back in court February 1 for a motion argument. Their trials are both set for sometime in May.
Lawmakers Plan Response to Report Claiming State Falls Short on Child Abuse Protections
by Jack Rodolico
An independent report on New Hampshire's Division of Children, Youth and Families says the state falls short of its obligation to protect abused and neglected children.
The report puts the responsibility for fixing that broken system – and protecting New Hampshire's most vulnerable residents – in the hands of lawmakers.
The report's conclusions were sweeping and blunt. It found the Division of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF) doesn't have the money, staff or legal authority to protect children who are abused and neglected.
Click here to read the full report.
This isn't news to Democratic State Rep Lucy Weber, who chairs the Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities.
"The problem has been created over time because we have over time starved that agency of resources that it used to have. And at the same time we have also been experiencing – mostly due to the opioid crisis – experiencing much greater need for the sorts of services that DCYF provides," Weber says.
Here's the big picture: The report found social workers are burning out left and right, largely because their caseloads are more than they can handle. Meanwhile, DCYF is facing a growing number of lawsuits for not protecting children who died or who were sexually abused while under state supervision.
While presenting the findings this week, the report's author said, “We're talking life and death of children.”
DCYF is housed under the state's largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services. Republican State Senator Sharon Carson says that department is simply too big a bureaucracy and DCYF has no direct line to state policymakers.
"They need to have their own advocate. They had this huge deficit in the number of people that they had and they needed more people but no one ever came to the legislature and asked for those positions."
Carson has sponsored a bill that would change that, making DCYF its own agency with its own commissioner.
"They would have been able to contact us directly and say, look, we have a problem, we don't have enough people, our work load is increasing – we, we, we just need help."
Another problem the report highlights goes deeper than just the staff on the job. State law doesn't give DCYF staff enough authority to take children out of dangerous situations.
Representative Weber says the law walks a tightrope between keeping families together and pulling kids away when they need to be protected from their families.
The statute as it now stands is balanced more heavily towards the preservation of family and is therefore less weighted towards the safety of children.
"So that means the legislature would need to change the law to make it easier to take certain kids away from family members – sometimes permanently."
Underlying all of this is money. Today, the Executive Council approved a $610,000 contract for an outside company to take calls relating to abuse after hours. That means soon, the state will soon have a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline to report child abuse.
But the legislature also needs to find the money to ease the workloads of existing social workers, to hire more social workers, and to better train and retain social workers on the job.
Steven Shurtleff is the Democratic leader in the house.
"Unfortunately I think a lot of times state employees have to do things quickly instead of maybe giving it the time you really need. It's better to take the extra time and do it in a more appropriate manner than to, you know, shortchange the children."
Shurtleff says he approves of an idea floated by Republican House Speaker Shawn Jasper to quickly create a committee to examine the report's findings and start changing laws and moving around money.
Republicans will control both chambers of the legislature and the governor's office starting in January, and so they'll hold the pen when a new two-year budget is written. Only then will it be clear exactly how much of a priority fixing DCYF is to lawmakers.
Contract approved for 24-hour DCYF child abuse hotline
by Allie Morris
A plan to keep New Hampshire's child protective services open around the clock could be in place within three months after the Executive Council signed off on a new contract Wednesday.
With no discussion, the five councilors unanimously approved spending $610,240 to have a Massachusetts nonprofit staff the agency's phones overnight and on weekends. Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said he hopes the call service will be operational by February.
The Division for Children, Youth and Families is currently open between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, meaning local police typically handle complaints of child abuse or neglect that come in overnight or on weekends.
The agency has been under pressure to better ensure the safety of children following two high-profile child deaths within a year. But DCYF has struggled for months to get a 24/7 coverage plan in place after the first request for vendors turned up nothing.
Under the newly approved contract, Wediko Children's Services will field after-hours complaints, but will not provide social workers to respond to cases in the Granite State.
The department plans to have its own staff on-call to work overtime as needed and will ask for additional staff in the budget, Meyers said. DCYF is currently in the process of setting up a second shift that will run until 8 p.m. Roughly half the required 15 staff have been hired, Meyers said. The call center contract lasts through September 2018.
DCYF is expected to be a major point of debate this legislative session. A long-awaited independent review released this week found DCYF is understaffed, doesn't adequately protect children at risk of future harm and often deems abuse reports unfounded, even when real evidence exists.
Republican Gov.-elect Chris Sununu voted for the contract Wednesday, but left the Executive Council meeting before taking questions.
In a statement earlier this week he said: “The recent report on DCYF identified a series of areas that are in need of improvement and provided practical recommendations that our team will closely evaluate in the coming weeks. I am confident we can implement real change that will provide for better protections for our children and families.”
Gov. Maggie Hassan applauded the decision.
“Any missed opportunity to save a child's life, or to save a child from harm, is a tragedy, and providing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week response to reports of child abuse at DCYF is critical to helping prevent such tragedies and ensuring the safety and well-being of our children,” Hassan said.
Tips to prevent child abuse increase during the holidays
by Orange Leader
AUSTIN, Texas — The holidays are upon us, which is good news for excited kids and family members anxious to reconnect. But many Texas parents struggle to find childcare while school is out and worry how they can afford the added expenses of holiday gifts and travel. The frustration and stress that many families experience this time of year often lead to more cases of child abuse or neglect.
More than 66,000 Texas children are abused or neglected each year. Economic and personal stresses are contributors to child abuse. For many parents, the holidays increase these stress levels because of the extra demands on their time, money and energy.
“Many children and adults have unrealistic expectations for a perfect holiday season,” Stacy Wilson, president of the Children's Hospital Association of Texas (CHAT), said. “Additionally, economic downtimes, arguments with family members, and possible dependence on food and alcohol—among other factors—can become catalysts for parents losing their temper.”
To minimize the risk of abuse, it's best to reduce unnecessary stress by planning ahead. CHAT recommends the following tips that parents can use to avoid having a holiday meltdown.
Establish a family budget for holiday spending, and be realistic about what you can afford.
Hold a family meeting to discuss holiday plans, and include the children in planning activities.
Post a calendar of family activities in a place where all family members will see it. Ask each person to remind you of school events, church activities, holiday parties, etc.
Limit travel. On top of everything else, long trips may be more than your family can handle. Suggest visiting relatives later in the year when things are calmer and you can enjoy the trip more.
Have your children make a list of elderly or shut-in neighbors in your area. Plan to share a meal, some of your time, or run errands for these neighbors. Explain to children that helping and sharing are important elements of special holidays.
Set family priorities for the season. One of the biggest causes of holiday stress is having too much to do in a short period of time. This year, sit down as a family and make decisions that are important to all of you.
Learn to say “no.” Fewer activities mean more time to relax and enjoy being with family.
If you do find that it is difficult to avoid being verbally or physically harsh with your children, stop and try the following:
Take a deep breath and count to 20.
Phone a friend.
Take a walk outside.
Ask for help.
Place your child in time out or a safe area, such as a crib, and leave the room.
Take a time out and leave your child with a responsible adult.
Catch up on sleep.
Local experts see rise in child sexual abuse during holidays
by Jazmyne Hankerson
Albany, GA — While the holidays normally bring happiness and cheer to families and children, local experts say they often see more sexual abuse reported.
“During the holidays [like] Thanksgiving and Christmas, any time that there's a holiday break, our numbers do skyrocket. We do end up seeing a lot more children during that time,” said Executive Director of Lily Pad SANE Center Mary Martinez.
Martinez about 90% of victims are abused by someone that they or the family knows and trusts.
She said statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys under the age of 18 will be sexually abused at some point in their life.
It's also estimated that 80% of children don't report their abuse.
Martinez said the best way to try to prevent sexual abuse in your home is to keep an open line of comfortable communication with your kids.
“Talk with your children and have an open dialogue. Make sure that they know what their body parts are called. Not fun names that they're called but the real body parts know what they're called and make sure that they know that their bathing suit area is their private parts and they don't have to show them [to anyone],” said Martinez.
Martinez said while there's not really one recognizable sign that a child has been abused, it's best to have open conversations and look for any change in behavior.
News 8 Investigates- Fighting for Victims' Rights
MAUSTON, Wis. (WKBT) - Imagine being the victim of a crime only to have the offender released years later a few miles or even blocks from your home.
That was the possibility two area women faced recently. And now they're fighting for changes in the system.
As a long-time reporter with the Juneau County Messenger, Eva Marie Woywod knows how to use the power of the pen. But it's her own personal story, one that goes beyond her byline, that's now helping give others a voice.
"I'm a survivor of child sexual assault and domestic violence and sexual assault as an adult," said Eva.
In 2007, Eva's husband of 18 years, a long-time alcoholic, attacked her in their own home.
"He was on a 3 day drinking binge and he came to the house, I was working on an article and I was on my laptop and something inside me said 'I need to record this,'" said Eva.
For over an hour, her husband physically, verbally and sexually assaulted her in front of their two sons who were 9 and 13 at the time.
"You can hear on the recording, my youngest son hitting his father with a baseball bat, trying to stop him."
Her husband was arrested and eventually agreed to a plea deal. He was sentenced to 8 years in state prison. Eva was left to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.
Eva says, "being part of a rural community, rumors spread kind of fast and when my ex-husband was arrested and put in prison, my children had to deal with the rumors, it was very hurtful for them at the time."
"There's just so, so much isolation in rural communities. You call the police, it could be the guy you sit next to at church, you go to human services, it's your abuser's aunt."
Eva knew she couldn't sit by quietly in the shadows. " I decided that I was going to take ownership of my story so I started a blog and I started telling my story and it was through that, I found healing."
Her blog led to something she calls "When I Became Free: the Heartland Project."
"I started thinking, I know there's other survivors out there and I know they felt as isolated as I did. I wanted to change the conversation from, 'why does she stay?' to "when I became free' whereas the victims have the voice," said Eva.
She uses the internet and social media to reach out to survivors across the Midwest to have them tell their story, survivors like Tomah's Kelli Bungert.
"I was sexually assaulted by my biological father, pretty much my entire childhood," said Kelli.
Eva's project helped Kelli break her silence about her own painful past. 6 days before her 18th birthday, Kelli gave birth to the first of 3 boys, all the result of her father raping her.
Kelli said, "after the first child was born, the cops and social services showed up again and he grabbed the baby. He said if you say anything, I'll kill him before they come up to get me so he was constantly threatening me."
When Kelli was 21, she was finally able to escape the nearly two decades of incest and threats with the help of someone she met in an internet chatroom.
Kelli's father ended up going to prison for 11 years.
"It took a lot for me to get where I'm at now. I was a cutter really bad. I ended up with a really bad infection and almost died from it and from that moment on, I've wanted to survive," said Kelli.
And while both Kelli and Eva survived, their nightmare wasn't over yet.
"As a victim, I feel like once the sentencing gavel hits, we're kind of left out in the cold. The system just kind of forgets about us," said Eva.
Earlier this year, Eva's now ex-husband was released from prison. And just two months ago, Kelli's father finished serving his sentence.
Both say the Department of Corrections left them in the dark as their abusers were about to be set free.
Kelli said, "they weren't informing me of anything and I had called his probation officer and nobody was telling me anything until the last minute."
"When they're released, they're released back to their community. I knew that's what D.O.C. was going to tell me, so I made that call, and that's exactly what they told me," said Eva.
In Eva's case, the D.O.C. was planning to release her ex-husband into what's called a Transitional Housing Placement or TLP. The only one in the area is just down the road from where she was living.
"Nobody was listening to me. This is 6 blocks from my house, this is a man who threatened my life for over a year, repeatedly telling me he was going to burn down the house after he killed me."
Kelli's father was set to be released just 10 miles from her home.
"Victims, I think, deserve after everything they've been through to know at least 6 months in advance what's going on with the offender reentry," said Kelli.
Eva said, "the process and the whole system, the way it's set up, works against victims. We legally have no say on where offenders should go."
Eva called D.O.C. officials repeatedly for about a year and even involved State Representative Ed Brooks, (R) Reedsburg, to try to get the placement of her ex-husband changed. It eventually worked.
"Victims shouldn't have to contact their legislator just to say my offender's being released, I'd like to have some knowledge, some input as to where that person is going to be released to," said Rep. Brooks.
Because of Eva's case, Rep. Brooks has come up with a proposal to try to give victims a voice in the offender re-entry process.
"We're moving forward to where we're going to be meeting with D.O.C. officials and ask them to change their policy and I guess as a back-up if they refuse, we're prepared to introduce legislation."
This might just be the most important story of Eva's career. One that might not appear on the front page of the paper, but a story that helps right a wrong.
"I'm a reporter, I know how to organize around a cause, what happens when it's a 20 year old girl who has no idea or people who haven't found their voice yet," said Eva.
Rep. Brooks met with D.O.C. officials last week. A legislative aide says the meeting was productive and he is hopeful to see some internal policy changes in the next couple of months.
The D.O.C. declined in on-camera interview request, but released this statement before their meeting with Rep. Brooks:
"The Wisconsin Department of Corrections has made a commitment to address the effects of crime on victims and the community and to strengthen community partnerships. The establishment of the Office of Victim Services and Programs within the department is evidence of this commitment. The Office of Victim Services and Programs directly assists victims, victims' family members and the community by providing notification services, information, and victim-centered restorative justice programming. Advocates in this office are dedicated to individually addressing victims' questions and concerns. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections as a whole is committed to working collaboratively with victims and stakeholders to be sure that victims' needs are a priority and that we are responsive and sensitive to those needs. We continually review our policies to ensure that victims are at the forefront of our mission and daily operations."
Eva continues to focus her efforts on her project of documenting other survivors' stories.
Kelli is raising a son with her girlfriend.
The children that were born as a result of the incest are living with an adoptive family.
She lost parental rights in the aftermath of the abuse, but she does receive some periodic updates on how they're doing.
Sheriff says toddler locked in box is worst case of child abuse he's ever seen
(Video on site)
PULASKI COUNTY, Ind. (WNDU) - It's a troubling case of child abuse. Early Wednesday morning, sheriff's deputies executed a no-knock search warrant at a home in Pulaski County. There they discovered a three-year-old girl who was being kept inside a wooden box.
The search warrant came after a tip was received by the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department.
Nine people at the home, including the toddler's father, were arrested for charges of neglect and failure to report child abuse.
It is so disturbing, Sheriff Jeffrey Richwine says this is the worst case of child abuse he can recall.
"Never seen anything like this. It's one of those deals, you go there and think, 'hopefully this is not true,'" said Sheriff Jeffrey Richwine, Pulaski County. "Nobody's going to have a small girl in a box, that's just not going to happen. And you go there, when they say it, you just don't believe it, you're thinking, 'my god, who would do this?'"
In the attached video clip, you'll see the plywood box that police say the child was kept in during the evenings and for extended periods of time.
"I've seen people treat their animals better. It's like a nightmare and I wish I'd wake up," said Frank Jackson, the toddler's grandfather.
Frank Jackson is the toddler's maternal grandfather and claims that in the last few years, Christopher Short, 25, has hardly let him see his grandchildren. He says this came after his daughter passed away.
"What kind of health issues are my grandkids going to have later in the future because of this? It could affect them for life. I pray not," said Jackson. "We would love and care for them kids in a flat minute."
Richwine says when deputies arrived at the home, located in the 7000 block of West 800 North in North Judson, they found the little girl curled up inside the box with the lid shut.
Lining the box is only a dirty blanket and pad; and if you take a closer look, you'll see dead bugs filling the corners.
Richwine believes the box was sometimes locked so that the toddler could not get out.
"It would loop over this, then come into that eye and then you'd actually have a small screw that you tighten up that makes it a complete circle to where it can't open," said Richwine.
In court documents, Christopher Short, the toddler's father, claims he did not know anything about the toddler being put into the box...rather he says she would climb in and out by herself.
Donna Short, 42, who also lives at the home and was arrested Wednesday, stated that the little girl chooses to "stay in the box all night."
Richwine says he fears that this child will end up in the hands of the same family members, and worries the cycle will repeat.
"This is definitely a problem, that somehow we've got to get this figured out where we're not putting kids back in these same messes and then letting it start all over again," said Richwine.
Tuesday, Deputy Director of Communications for Child Protective Services, James Wide, said per court order, he cannot release where the three-year-old girl is right now.
He says CPS looks for relative placement first, and if they cannot find a relative then they will look into a non-relative option. He says most importantly, they work to find a safe place for the child.
Wednesday, December 14, the following people were taken into custody in connection to this case of abuse:
Neglect of a Dependent, Level 5 Felony
Donna Short, 42, North Judson, Indiana
Christopher Short, 25, North Judson, Indiana
Patricia Meeks, 18, North Judson, Indiana
Failure to Report Child Abuse
Michael Meeks, 19, North Judson, Indiana
Thelma Meeks, 38, North Judson, Indiana
Derrick Butala, 36, North Judson, Indiana
Shawn Griffin, 18, North Judson, Indiana
Anna Senesac, 19, North Judson, Indiana
Timothy Senesac, 18, North Judson, Indiana
The following is a press release from the Pulaski County Sheriff's Department:
On Tuesday, December 13, 2016, the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office received information in reference to possible child abuse in the area of County Road 750 West and County Road 800 North.
Information was obtained in reference to a three-year-old female being kept inside of a locked wooden box at the residence. The information stated the three-year-old female was locked in the box during the evening and for extended periods of time.
A search warrant for the residence was issued out of Pulaski Circuit Court with the assistance of the Pulaski County Prosecutor's Office.
Deputies from the Pulaski County Sheriff's Office executed the search warrant in the early hours of December 14, 2016. During the execution of this search warrant a three-year-old female was located inside of a plywood box found in the living room of the residence.
Deputies located multiple adults inside of the residence as well as a vehicle and camper on the property. All adults located during the execution of the search warrant were taken into custody and transported to the Pulaski County Jail.
Deputies located five additional juveniles and the victim inside of the residence. The juveniles were released at the scene into the custody of the Pulaski County Indiana Department of Child Services.
Youngest 'victim' in football child abuse investigation is four years old, says National Police Chiefs' Council
by Telegraph Sport
The age range for potential victims in the football child abuse scandal starts at four years old, the National Police Chiefs' Council has announced.
The scale of the scandal continues to grow as the latest figures from the NPCC show significant increases in the numbers of clubs implicated, referrals, suspects and victims.
According to the information gathered by Operation Hydrant, the UK-wide police investigation into non-recent child sexual abuse, 148 clubs are now involved, with 155 potential suspects and 429 victims, aged between four and 20.
These figures are the result of 819 referrals to Operation Hydrant, with about three-quarters of those coming from the dedicated helpline set up by the Football Association and child protection charity NSPCC last month and the rest from police forces.
Today's numbers show approximate increases of more than 50 per cent on the last update from the NPCC on December 9, when there were 98 clubs implicated, 83 suspects and 639 referrals.
In a statement on the NPCC website, Chief Constable Simon Bailey said: "Allegations received by police forces across the country are being swiftly acted upon.
"We continue to urge anyone who may have been a victim of child sexual abuse to report it by dialling 101, or contacting the dedicated NSPCC helpline, regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place.
"We will listen and treat all reports sensitively and seriously. Anyone with any information regarding child sexual abuse is also urged to come forward."
Bailey added it was important that anybody with information gets in touch with the police in order to ensure there are no current safeguarding risks but acknowledged that the "higher than usual" number of calls is causing delays in doing follow-up interviews.
This issue has been flagged up by a number of the former footballers who have come forward publicly to tell the stories, with some still waiting to give formal statements more than a month later.
The NPCC data covers all tiers of football, from the Premier League to the grass-roots, and 98% of those identified as victims are male, aged from four to 20.
The NPCC confirmed that other sports have also been mentioned.
Did USA Gymnastics Do Enough to Prevent Child Abuse?
by S.E. Smith
The Indianapolis Star has just released the results of an incredibly detailed and damning investigation that reveals a systemic culture of child abuse in USA Gymnastics.
Journalists pored over court reports and other legal filings, talked to gymnasts and took a deep — and terrifying — look at the inner workings of the gymnastics community.
The findings? A clear record of tolerating child abuse.
Considering that the organization serves as the national authority for the sport and selects gymnasts for the Olympics, such a discovery is especially disturbing.
When USA Gymnastics failed to act, as the newspaper suggests, gymnasts were afraid to report abuse for fear they might be penalized.
In a sport where most elite athletes start training as children and perform at their peak as young women, it is perhaps unsurprising that the over 100 coaches, doctors and other adults were accused of sexual assault and abuse targeting primarily female gymnasts.
One gymnast who spoke with espnW on the condition of anonymity painted a horrifying tale of being sexually abused by her coach, starting at age 14. While he was ultimately convicted of sexual assault after years of abuse, she was still unwilling to go on the record, fearing retaliation.
The gymnast noted that while her coach was expelled from USA Gymnastics, he continued to train athletes under the banner of other organizations. Fellow coaches reportedly stood by him even after the conviction, as though it didn't matter.
Over the course of 20 years, the Star alleges, almost 400 gymnasts complained of sexual abuse. They claimed that when they spoke out, USA Gymnastics often ignored them.
Even when coaches were punished with a firing, they weren't necessarily expelled from the governing body of American gymnastics — and consequently were rehired at other gyms to repeat the abuse all over again.
The abuse, they noted, wasn't confined to USA Gymnastics. For confidentiality reasons, it wasn't possible to confirm that every accusation was linked to the organization, but the evidence they collected suggests that this was a sport-wide problem that wasn't limited to a single group.
USA Gymnastics responded to the report with a statement expressing concern about the welfare of gymnasts and indicating that background checks and trackable banned lists will reduce the risk of future sexual abuse.
The organization also touted “education.” The Star's reporting found a pattern of relying on education instead of setting and enforcing clear codes of conduct, including the establishment of firm rules at gyms. USA Gymnastics says this isn't possible, since gyms are independent, but experts in the field argued otherwise.
The Star also found that it wasn't just athletes who were worried about retaliation — gyms afraid of reprisals and retaliations tended to quietly fire coaches instead of reporting abuse, ensuring that they didn't get identified and tracked by the parent organization.
Because of its size and weight in the sport, USA Gymnastics stood at the focus of the report, but the researchers and journalists also emphasized that the organization wasn't alone.
Gymnastics is filled with vulnerable young people, predominantly women, who have a singleminded dedication and focus on their sport — and a fear of being penalized if they don't perform as desired.
Some might have been flattered by attention from coaches, while others might have been too afraid to say anything, given the potential consequences of disrupting the gymnastics ecosystem.
Gymnastics likely isn't the only sport with a sexual assault and abuse problem. This thoughtful, incredibly meticulous reporting illustrates the need for governing bodies in sports to set out detailed and clear codes of conduct, with appropriate framework for enforcement. This information also needs to be communicated to people who work with children, and across the organization.
A coach accused of abuse, for example, should be withdrawn from duty until the situation can be investigated. If the coach is guilty, the governing organization should expel him or her — and flag the situation so that the abuser can't simply jump to another professional affiliation and continue working with children.
13 years since boy's death, work continues to prevent child abuse
by Emily Baucum
SAN ANTONIO – He was a little boy, tied up and starved, who collapsed while walking to the tree Christmas morning.
It's been 13 years since the death of Jovonie Ochoa shocked the community into action, and the work to prevent child abuse continues.
Child advocates gathered on the city's south side Tuesday evening and paused to remember the youngest victims of abuse.
They sang Christmas carols and made sure their neighbors have the tools to prevent tragedy.
“Jovonie Ochoa died on Christmas Day 13 years ago,” State Senator Carlos Uresti remembers.
Jovonie was only four years old. He weighed just 16 pounds.
“Starved to death by his grandmother,” State Sen. Uresti says. “She tied him to his bunk bed by his wrists and ankles and duct taped him, and systematically over several months starved him to death.”
For the lawmaker, the tragedy was a call to action. Since Jovonie's death, the state has reformed Child Protective Services and the city has rallied behind awareness campaigns.
But State Sen. Uresti cautions as long as children are still being abused, “our work is never done,” he says.
Former CPS caseworker Carrie Wilcoxson is now part of the Blue Ribbon Task Force to prevent child abuse.
“We want our families to be able to find and identify resources easily and not be overwhelmed in that process,” she says.
The task force transformed its website, BlueRibbonTaskForce.com, into a one-stop resource. It breaks down challenges that lead to child abuse and connects families with help.
As they sang Christmas carols, task force members passed out fliers in south side neighborhoods with information about the website.
“This is about prevention. This is about getting way ahead before anything tragically happens,” Wilcoxson says.
So no child suffers the same unimaginable abuse as little Jovonie.
Advocacy Center, District Attorney Partner to Better Address Child Abuse
by Matt Trotter
A nonprofit helping abused children in Craig, Mayes and Rogers counties got a boost Tuesday from agencies it works with.
A sexual assault investigator and a special prosecutor from the district attorney's office are now under the William W. Barnes Children's Advocacy Center roof.
"Let's say you have an investigation that comes in or a child that comes in to be interviewed. We have a DA investigator there that can immediately assist with that ... , and we've also got a prosecutor there," said District Attorney Matt Ballard. "From the time you have somebody coming into the center, you have people on site that could investigate it and then will be the ones that actually prosecute the case."
The center serves around 350 children a year, many of them victims of sexual abuse. The center was busy even Tuesday when the partnership was announced.
"They had interviews booked all day, starting at 11:30," Ballard said. "So, they have a a lot of kids, unfortunately, that come through there, but it's a great resource for law enforcement in the community."
A Cherokee Nation Indian Child Welfare Specialist is also working out of the advocacy center now. The center staff includes a forensic interviewer, family advocate, therapist and doctors.
Reports of child sex abuse cases rising
by Karina Bolster
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Over the last few months there have been several sexual abuse cases in the Lowcountry, many involving teachers and students.
The most recent case December 17, when a North Charleston teacher was arrested after police say he demanded a 13-year-old girl send him naked pictures of herself.
Behavioral and social media professionals say the exposure of these inappropriate relationships are becoming more common.
"It's an age where they're looking for an adult figure to kind of guide them," said Erika Rowell, Director of Programs at Darkness to Light. "So perpetrators will see that vulnerability and take advantage of that situation."
Some people may think the number of cases are increasing, but professionals say the exposure of these relationships means another thing.
"We've actually found that more adults are getting educated to they're able to make reports," Rowell said.
Data from the state's Department of Social Services shows between 2007 and 2012 there was a rise in reported cases in the Tri-County. During the five year stretch, the number of reported cases of sexual abuse per 10,000 children rose by roughly 20.
Professionals say these numbers suggest prevention training for adults has helped the reporting rates; During those years almost 34,000 adults in the Tri-County completed Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training.
"They learn what are the signs of sexual abuse," Rowell said.
Some of those signs may be emotional or behavioral changes. One of the first steps in picking up on these cues is being as open as possible with your kids.
"If their kids are on social media accounts make sure the parents know which accounts their on, what the social media passwords are for each account," said Jenn Steere, Director of Content Marketing for The Modern Connection.
Some kids and parents may think it's an invasion of privacy, but professionals say perpetrators are using modern technology to move forward with inappropriate relationships, especially on social media apps like SnapChat and Facebook.
"Sexual abuse doesn't just happen overnight," Rowell said. "It's something a perpetrator sets up over a period of time through grooming behaviors."
"Make sure that all your information is private so that only your friends and you can interact online," Steere added. "So that if you had that rogue teacher or bus driver that is online and was trying to follow a student that they can't see what you're posting."
Steere adds don't post anything to the internet you wouldn't want your parents to see.
According to numerous reports there are a number of fake accounts on social media apps, which Steere said has led to extreme inappropriate relationships between minors and adults.
Both Rowell and Steere said understanding what an appropriate relationship looks like between adults and children can help prevent future abuse.
They also add having a procedure in place with how to interact with certain people, like teachers, bus drivers, and coaches can aid in prevention.
"Instead of a front hug, maybe [give them] a side hug; a high five instead of a front hug," Rowell said. "We give very specific examples of how you can change your behavior to be more appropriate."
All teachers and staff in Berkeley, Charleston, and Dorchester County School Districts have taken a training course through Darkness to Light which addresses child sexual abuse.
Rowell adds they have done some training with private charter schools, but not all.
10,000 in C.O. trained to prevent child sex abuse
KIDS Center, a child abuse intervention center, reached a milestone this month as 10,000 adults in Deschutes, Crook and Jefferson counties have taken Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children®. This training is vital to ensuring our community is prepared to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child abuse.
When 5 percent of any population is trained, as Central Oregon is now, positive cultural shifts occur in addressing this serious issue.
KIDS Center, dedicated to preventing, evaluating, and treating all forms of child abuse, is a regional leader in training adults to better protect children from sexual abuse through their facilitation of Stewards of Children ®. Since 2005, KIDS Center has facilitated Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children® trainings and grown their educational and prevention community resources. Kim Bohme, Prevention and Education Coordinator at KIDS Center, stated:
“We are very proud of the over 10,000 adults in Central Oregon who have learned how to protect children from child sexual abuse. However, our work is not done. Statistics suggest that 1 in 10 children in Central Oregon will be sexually abused before the age of 18, making this one of the most prevalent health problem children face. There is another 95% of adults in Deschutes, Crook, and Jefferson counties that can learn how to create a safer place for children.”
The Stewards of Children ® program lays the foundation for a proactive, community-wide approach to the prevention of child sexual abuse and builds momentum toward educating and empowering all adults to protect children from abuse. In Deschutes County alone, 6,506 adults are trained to create environments that reduce the risk for abuse and allow children to live, learn, play, and worship in safety. Bohme adds:
“Our goal is to continue to train people in preventing child sexual abuse in Central Oregon until every adult has experienced this valuable and important training. Our immediate goal is to ensure that an additional 1,000 adults participate in Stewards of Children ® in 2017! KIDS Center is committed to the total health and well-being of the children and families in our community and beyond–we are ramping up our educational outreach in 2017 to reach as many adults as possible.”
Upcoming training dates:
January 10, 2017 Madras 4-7pm
February 9, 2017 Bend 6-9pm
With grant support from The Ford Family Foundation, Cow Creek Umpqua Indians Foundation and, Pacific Power Foundation, KIDS Center is able to offer Darkness to Light's Stewards of Children® program to community members as a three-hour training. Registration can be found at kidscenter.org/trainings.
Those interested in participating in Darkness to Light Stewards of Children® trainings and other child abuse prevention programs and/or volunteer opportunities can contact Kim Bohme, KIDS Center Prevention and Education Coordinator, at email@example.com or at 541.306.6062.
Five malnourished children found living in car at Greenacres' Walmart
by Jorge Milian
GREENACRES -- Two adults were arrested Sunday after a deputy found five malnourished children living in a vehicle, including a 14-year-old boy who weighed only 50 pounds, according to an arrest report.
Donell Barron, 34, and Rikki Hart, 34, are being held in the Palm Beach County Jail in lieu of $1,000 bail. Both are facing five counts of child neglect.
The relationship between Barron, Hart and the children — ages 14, 8, 6, 5 and 4 — is blacked out in the police report.
A Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy found Barron, Hart and the five children inside a Toyota in the Walmart parking lot on Forest Hill Boulevard just east of Jog Road. The area is plagued by crime and narcotics activity, according to the report.
As the deputy approached the Toyota, he detected a strong odor “similar to that of homeless camps.”
Barron told the deputy the family lost their home in Port St. Lucie a year ago and had lived at hotels until running out of money, forcing them to live inside the car for about two months. Barron said the children bathed irregularly at Okeeheelee Park and had never enrolled in school. Instead, the children were home-schooled inside the vehicle, Barron said.
Each of the five children were termed in the report to be underweight, except for the 14-year-old who was “severely underweight to the point that his bones were clearly visible.” The boy stands 4 feet 5 inches and weighed only 5 pounds more than his 8-year-old sibling, according to the report.
Deputies were told that the children ate about once a day and only salad and bread. The children had not seen a doctor in “years,” the report said.
The children were taken to Palms West Hospital in Loxahatchee and are in the custody of the Florida Department of Children and Families. Greenacres Fire Rescue personnel told deputies that one of the children — presumably the 14-year-old boy — was emaciated and had unusually high blood pressure for somebody his age and stature.
The report states that, unlike the children, Barron and Hart seemed clean and in good health.
While being questioned by PBSO, Barron made a series of bizarre statements. Barron said he is Native American with a given name as well as a “corporate” name while adding that he is “not property of the U.S. or any corporation.” Barron added that he practices law “but not as a lawyer.”
1 in 3 children investigated for abuse/neglect by 18
by Neil Schoenherr
The first academic study to estimate the cumulative lifetime risk of a child maltreatment investigation, completed by researchers at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, reveals that 37 percent of U.S. children prior to their 18th birthday are the subject of an investigated child neglect and abuse report — and 53 percent of black children.
“This study provides the first definitive answer to a question that has been asked by researchers for decades,” said Hyunil Kim, PhD student in social work and lead author of the study, Lifetime Prevalence of Investigating Child Maltreatment Among US Children, to be published in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health. It was released online Dec. 20.
“That question is, ‘Why do retrospective reports of child maltreatment yield far higher estimates than official count of maltreatment reports?' The answer is that they don't,” Kim said. “The estimates from these different sources are actually very close — if you look at investigations across the entire lifespan.”
The research team examined reports of abuse and neglect that were investigated. The study includes all Child Protective Services maltreatment investigations, rather than only substantiated investigations, and provides the first type-specific estimates: neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse.
In addition to Kim, the co-authors include: Brett Drake, professor at the Brown School; Melissa Jonson-Reid, the Ralph and Muriel Pumphrey Professor in Social Work and director of Center for Violence and Injury Prevention at the Brown School; and Christopher Wildeman of Cornell University.
“We found the cumulative rate for experiencing a maltreatment investigation is three times the rate previously established for substantiated investigations,” Kim said. “Our investigation-based estimates (compared to prior substantiated investigation-based estimates) are far closer to estimates based on retrospective data from nationally representative samples, which are generally in the 30- to 40-percent range.”
In the past, Kim said, researchers and policy makers have often looked only at officially substantiated cases in counting children who are maltreated or are at risk for maltreatment.
“We now know from a number of studies that unsubstantiated and substantiated reports are actually more similar than different in terms of risks to the children,” Kim said. “These recent findings may explain our finding that official investigation rates are very close to self-reported maltreatment rates.”
Maltreatment data were obtained from the 2003-2014 National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System child files, which includes reports from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Child sex abuse victims more likely to suffer additional abuse
Rape Crisis Network report finds children also have abuse perpetrated for longer time
by Kitty Holland
Child victims of sexual violence are more likely than adult victims to experience additional abuse, including psychological and emotional abuse, and to have it perpetrated on them for a longer time.
These are among the findings in the 2015 annual report from the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, published on Monday.
It finds that 1,384 people attended the 11 Rape Crisis Centres last year, which is a 3 per cent drop on the 2014 figures. More than 1,300 people availed of counselling and supports, and 180 people were accompanied to services such as the courts, the gardaí, sexual assault treatment units and other medical services.
The slight drop in the number of people attending the centres, says the report, is most likely due to decreased resources rather than any decreased demand, as waiting lists remain active for all centres.
The majority (88 per cent) of people using the service were female and 12 per cent male, with almost one-fifth (19 per cent) children under the age of 18.
Adult sexual violence
The majority of the survivors (62 per cent) were subjected solely to child sexual violence, with one-third solely to adult sexual violence and one-in-10 subjected to sexual assault in both childhood and adulthood.
“Sexual violence is rarely perpetrated in isolation,” says the report, with younger victims the ones most likely to have experienced additional abuse to the sexual violence.
“Survivors of child sexual abuse most commonly disclosed that they had been subjected to emotional and psychological abuse in addition to the sexual violence, 60 per cent of under-13s and 66 per cent of 13- to 17-year-olds.”
The younger the person at the time of the abuse, “the more likely it is that the abuse was . . . over a number of years (86 per cent of under-13s compared with 32 per cent of 13- to 17-year-olds)”. In contrast survivors of adult abuse most commonly said it happened over a number of hours (69 per cent).
Young children (under-13) most commonly disclosed that they had been abused within the abuser's or their own homes (44 per cent and 36 per cent), while 13- to 17-year-olds most commonly disclosed abuse that took place in the survivor's home (14 per cent), abuser's home (34 per cent), outside locations (33 per cent) and other locations (19 per cent).
Female survivors were more likely subjected to rape (54 per cent) than sexual assault (42 per cent), while male survivors were more commonly sexually assaulted (55 per cent of males were sexually assaulted and 41 per cent raped).
The Impact of Child Abuse Can Last a Lifetime
by Steven Reinberg
MONDAY, Dec. 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- The traumatic effects of child abuse and neglect can persist for decades, often with substantial economic consequences, researchers report.
"We found associations of child neglect and abuse with adult socioeconomic circumstances at age 50," said lead author Snehal Pinto Pereira.
Physical, social or emotional abuse in childhood was linked at midlife to a greater risk of time off from work due to long-term sickness, said Pereira, a research associate at University College London's Institute of Child Health.
Mistreatment in childhood also lowered the odds of owning a home, she said.
"The associations for child neglect were linked to their poor reading and mathematics skills in adolescence, which in turn could hamper their ability to find work and progress in the job market," she explained.
The research is only observational and doesn't establish a direct cause-and-effect relationship. Still, it appears that children who suffered more than one type of abuse were most likely to be thwarted economically.
"The risk of a poor adult socioeconomic outcome was greatest for those experiencing multiple types of child maltreatment," Pereira said.
These findings are important because "such disadvantage could in turn influence the health of individuals affected and also that of their children," she said.
The study was published online Dec. 19 in the journal Pediatrics .
Child abuse and neglect are major public health problems in the United States, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2014, around 700,000 American kids suffered from abuse or neglect. More than 1,500 died from it, the CDC said.
Toddlers younger than 3 account for more than one-quarter of victims, the agency said.
One study estimated that 1 in 4 children experiences some form of child abuse or neglect in their lifetime, according to the CDC.
For the new study, Pereira and her colleagues collected data on more than 8,000 British children born in 1958. Up to age 16, the researchers looked for evidence of physical and emotional neglect, such as withholding affection; sexual and physical abuse; emotional abuse; and witnessing partner abuse.
Then they examined the associations of child neglect and abuse with adult job absenteeism, unemployment, education, income, finances, social standing and social mobility.
The researchers found that 1 percent of the children had been sexually abused, 10 percent had suffered psychological abuse and 16 percent had experienced neglect.
Overall, one out of five experienced some type of abuse, while 10 percent experienced two or more forms, according to the report.
Prevention of abuse and neglect is the key step to stopping this downward spiral, said Dr. Jefry Biehler, chairman of pediatrics at Nicklaus Children's Hospital in Miami. Barring that, it's critical to identify and help abused and neglected children as soon as possible, he said.
"What many of us in the field have been working for and asking for is that we not limit ourselves to protecting children from abusers, but to go beyond that to take care of the abused child beyond the court system," said Biehler.
These children need medical and psychological help and support from foster families or their own family members, he said.
They may also need academic remediation to make up for any mental or developmental deficiencies, he added.
"In addition, we need to do anything we can to normalize their life and make sure they recover from the trauma they experienced as much as possible," Biehler said.
Many children miss out on needed care, Biehler added. Access to care and cost of care are two common barriers, he noted.
"Sometimes it can be poor recognition by families or others about the long-term needs of the child. Even pediatricians may not recognize the long-term impact on these kids," Biehler said. All have a responsibility to try to make sure that doesn't happen, he said.
"The work we do early on does have great meaning, and the impact we have in helping people recover from these terrible events is important," he said.
For more on the long-term consequences of child abuse, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Child abuse: Documenting Australia's shame
by Phil Mercer
In Australia, a boy of 10 is raped by an Anglican clergyman, who cuts his victim with a small knife and smears blood over his back in a twisted ritual to symbolise the suffering of Christ.
This happened in the 1960s in Cessnock, a former mining town in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, but only now has this and other decades-old stories of sexual violence and degradation been heard, catalogued and, crucially for many victims, believed.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is an unprecedented investigation into an epidemic of depravity across Australia.
The far-reaching inquiry began in 2013 and has heard from thousands of survivors of paedophiles who worked, or volunteered, in sporting clubs, schools, churches, charities, childcare centres and the military.
It has the power to look at any private, public or non-government body that is, or was, involved with children. The Commission's task is to make recommendations on how to improve laws, policies and practices to protect the young.
To date, it has held more than 6,000 private sessions, along with several high-profile public hearings.
Paul Gray told investigators that between the ages of 10 and 14, he was sexually assaulted by Father Peter Rushton in Cessnock every one or two weeks. Sometimes, his attacker had an accomplice.
"I was chased by two men to the edge of the cliff and I hid in the bushes.
"After a while they dragged me from the bushes and I was raped by the two men, and while I was being raped I could hear another boy screaming," said Mr Gray, fighting back tears as he recounted memories that have burned inside him for half a century.
Too ill to travel from the Vatican to Sydney to give evidence, Australia's most prominent churchman, Cardinal George Pell, was questioned via video link by the Royal Commission over what he knew about alleged abuse and cover-ups within the Catholic Church.
For four days earlier this year, the senior Vatican official was quizzed, denying any personal wrongdoing but conceding the organisation had made grave errors.
"I am not here to defend the indefensible," said Cardinal Pell. "The Church has made enormous mistakes, is working to remedy those, but the Church has in many places - certainly in Australia - mucked things up."
When he was 13, John Ellis, a former altar boy, was molested by an Australian monk who was also implicated in a suspected paedophile ring at a former Catholic boarding school in the Scottish Highlands.
Now a solicitor, Mr Ellis works with other victims, and we meet at a public hearing held by the commission on the 17th floor of Governor Macquarie Tower that stands over central Sydney.
Presiding over the session is the chief royal commissioner, Justice Peter McClellan, a judge of appeal in New South Wales. He is one of six commissioners; two women and four men, and they include a former Queensland police chief, a consultant child psychiatrist and a retired federal politician.
They have fanned out across Australia to document a nation's shame.
"The most important thing for people in being invited to give their own stories and having their stories valued is that somebody cares," Mr Ellis told the BBC news website.
"For many, many years people have been silenced, people have been fearful of what reaction they will get if they were to tell their truth. The overwhelming emotion people have when they have had that opportunity is empowerment."
When it hands down its final report at the end of 2017, this painstaking inquiry will have lasted for almost five years. Already, more than 1,700 cases have been referred to the authorities, including the police.
More prosecutions will almost certainly follow, but many victims will never savour justice.
Dr Wayne Chamley, from Broken Rites, a group that gives a voice to the abused, said decades of brutality had left a terrible legacy.
"When you look at the rate of suicide for men who had these experiences and compared it with age-matched data from the coroners' courts, their risk factor is 20 to 40 times higher for suicide," he explained to the BBC.
"There are townships where there have been waves of suicide with hundreds of men. [In] Ballarat [in Victoria state], at least 50 or 60 suicides across just three classes in the primary school - just three classes of boys who became men. Bang. Devastating."
Gerard McDonald, 52, is a survivor of abuse, and one of thousands of people who have told their stories to the commission. His attacker, a Catholic priest, has spent 14 years in prison for attacking 35 boys.
"After every other altar boy practice in 1975, before dropping me home Father (Vincent) Ryan would sexually abuse me. All I could do was think about running to my mate's place and getting the biggest two knives he had and killing him," he said.
While this harrowing process is undoubtedly cathartic for Australia - and it's inevitable that legislation and procedures will eventually change to make children safer - campaigners insist many youngsters today still remain at risk from predators in institutions, while paedophiles stalking the internet continue to groom the vulnerable.
Preventing sexual child abuse as cases spike
by Melissa Hodges
WALB - The holidays are a time when people gather together and celebrate the season, it's also a time when the number of child sexual abuse crimes spike.
But there are things you can do now to help protect the children in your life from sexual predators, and if you suspect abuse.
The Executive Director of the Lily Pad Mary Martinez, won't likely spend her holidays with her family, she will spend it assisting other families after a child has been sexually abused.
"Unfortunately, we see higher numbers during those times," said Martinez. "I've spent the last few Thanksgivings here at the Lily Pad and last Christmas, as well."
That's because 90 percent of children who are sexually assaulted are abused by a person they know and trust.
"Unfortunately, most children are abused by someone that they know and that they trust and when more and more family and friends come in for the holidays, our numbers just skyrocket," explained Martinez.
Martinez said that you can protect your children, and it all starts with a conversation.
"First and foremost, the most important thing you can do with your children, grandchildren and loved ones is have an open dialogue. Talk about body parts and their safe zones, and how they don't have to hug or kiss anybody," explained Martinez. "And sure that children know their body is their own body. And, that they can always tell mom or grandmother or someone they know about things that make them uncomfortable. That is where it starts, that open dialogue."
And since Martinez said there are no real warning signs of child abuse, the child has to be willing to talk.
"80 percent of children never tell. 80 percent never ever tell," Martinez said. "Communication is key."
If you suspect a child has been sexually abused, you need to call law enforcement or the Division of Family and Children Services.
You can also call the Lily Pad, and someone at the center will help guide you through the process.
This year, the center saw more than 250 children.
Growing number in Foxboro trained in spotting child abuse
by Stephen Peterson
FOXBORO — About 1,200 people in town are now trained to be the eyes and ears for child sexual abuse.
The child sexual abuse awareness committee, in its third year and formed out of the Bill Sheehan sexual abuse case, gave its annual report last week to selectmen who formed it.
A key goal has been to train as many adults as possible, including parents, volunteers, and town and school employees, “so we can as a village protect our children,” Spinelli said.
Residents at last February's town meeting near unanimously approved a home rule petition to expand who is a mandatory reporter of abuse and neglect. The measure is pending at the state level.
The measure would make everyone over the age of 18 who works with children or youth in a professional or volunteer capacity in Foxboro a mandatory reporter.
On the school side, even cafeteria workers and bus drivers have been trained, the superintendent said.
Town employees have clearer expectations of their duties as well.
“We received a lot of support from town departments,” Spinelli said. “All library employees are now trained. That is a big hangout for kids and unfortunately predators.”
Also, a few times a year there are training sessions for youth sports.
Foxboro began focusing on combating child sexual abuse as a community after dozens of people came forward, beginning in 2012, alleging that former Foxboro teacher, aquatics director and scoutmaster Bill Sheehan had molested them in the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
Childhood Neglect and Abuse Have Long-Term Economic Consequences
by Janice Wood
People who suffer neglect and abuse in childhood are much more likely to have time off work due to long-term sickness and are less likely to own their own homes when they reach middle age, according to a new study.
Published in the journal Pediatrics and undertaken as part of the Public Health Research Consortium, the study showed that the potential socioeconomic impact of child neglect and abuse may persist for decades.
Researchers at University College London found that neglected children often had worse reading and mathematics skills in adolescence than their peers, which could hamper their ability to find work and progress in the job market. These factors did not explain the poorer standard of living for those reporting child abuse, the researchers noted.
For the study, the research team followed 8,076 people from birth in 1958 until the age of 50, examining key socioeconomic indicators.
A person's economic circumstances at the age of 50 are important because this is close to peak earning capacity in the UK, the researchers explained. Poor living standards at this age can signal hardship and associated ill health during old age.
The research found adults who had been neglected in childhood were approximately 70 percent more likely to have time off work due to long-term sickness and not own their home at 50 years, compared to their peers who had not suffered from child abuse and neglect.
Also, the risk of a poor outcome was greatest for people experiencing multiple types of child maltreatment. For example those experiencing two or more types of child maltreatment, such as child neglect and physical abuse, had more than double the risk of long-term sickness absence from work, compared to those experiencing no maltreatment.
“Our findings suggest that maltreated children grow up to face socioeconomic disadvantage. This is important because such disadvantage could, in turn, influence the health of individuals affected and also that of their children,” said Dr. Snehal Pinto Pereira of the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, who led the research. “As well as highlighting the importance of prevention of maltreatment in childhood, our research identified poor reading and mathematics skills as a likely connecting factor from child neglect to poor adult outcomes. This suggests that action is needed to improve and support these abilities in neglected children.”
DCYF Review Identifies Gaps in State's Ability to Respond to Child Abuse, Neglect
by Casey McDermott
An outside review of New Hampshire's child protective services agency, the Division of Children Youth and Families, identified a number of red flags in how abuse and neglect reports are handled.
Outside reviewers found that many cases reported to the agency were not brought forward for further action, even when the agency's own assessments found that kids were at high risk of harm.
(Click here to read the full 103-page report on DCYF.)
"We're not talking about the risk of harm that's on the mild side of the spectrum, " said Jerry Milner, who presented the report on behalf of the Center for the Support of Families, the Maryland-based agency behind the review.
"We're talking about risk of harm where there are very often significant underlying issues, underlying family dynamics, that in our opinion often place children at a risk of harm where some intervention is actually needed in order to ensure that their situation will not escalate to an immediate or imminent danger kind of situation."
The review also found an agency stretched thin – with not enough staff to handle all the reports it's receiving, and not enough training to ensure staffers can investigate and respond to incoming cases. (This echoed the findings of an interim report released several months ago as part of the same DCYF review.)
Reviewers also pointed to gaps in state laws defining child abuse and neglect, noting that the language left too much room for interpretation, making it difficult to bring cases forward.
To remedy these and other issues, the reviewers called upon the state to hire more staff and supervisors who can make sure cases are being thoroughly investigated.
They also say more treatment services are needed, especially around substance abuse and mental health, to ensure that when problems are identified families have somewhere to go for help.
Another recommendation in the report encouraged the state to move forward with plans to position itself to respond to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
DHHS Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers says a contract with an outside agency to provide round-the-clock coverage is expected to go before the executive council for approval this week — as long as that gets the green light, Meyers says he expects to start phasing in that extended coverage sometime in January.
"We're going to look at phasing it in some high-need areas of the state," Meyers says. "I'll be reaching out to law enforcement in those areas and working with them to ensure a smooth transition, and I hope by early February, mid-February, we'll be able to phase it in even more so."
The review was prompted by the deaths of two separate toddlers — three-year-old Brielle Gage of Nashua, and one-year-old Sadie Willott of Manchester – that raised questions about DCYF's oversight when red flags were brought to the agency's attention. Gov. Maggie Hassan announced that the state would pursue a formal DCYF review in October 2015, and a contract with the outside review agency was approved in March.
The review did not directly address either incident, and state officials involved declined to comment on the connection between those deaths and the findings of the report, citing ongoing criminal investigations. Meyers did confirm that the reviewers spoke to law enforcement officials all across the state, including the areas where those incidents took place.
Milner, one of the outside reviewers, said he couldn't guarantee tragedies like that wouldn't happen again.
"I'd be a fool to say to you or any other child welfare agency in the country that you're not going to encounter some of those very difficult situations where children suffer as a result of actions that were taken or not taken," Milner said at the presentation of the report on Monday.
The hope, Milner said, is that the reforms proposed in the report will help DCYF be more proactive, less reactive, in preventing dangerous situations in the future.
Sex-trade sting ends with arrest of 114 people
by David J. Neal
A father who told his wife he was going out to buy his kids Christmas presents. A future father who left his pregnant wife, due that day, at home. A man expecting a sexual rendezvous with a 14-year-old girl. A man expecting the same with a 14-year-old boy.
The Polk County Sheriff's Office says those are four of the 114 people arrested in “Operation Not So Silent Night,” a Dec. 8-13 sting operation that featured undercover officers taking on the roles of prostitute, customer or potential juvenile sex victim online.
The arrested included 51 men as prostitution customers and 50 on prostitution charges. As for the goal of disrupting human trafficking, five men arrested were charged with deriving support from prostitution. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the department found four potential victims of human trafficking, the most his agency has identified in such a sting operation.
“If that's all that occurred out of that operation, it would be a huge success,” Judd said.
Judd pointed to the social services involved in the sting operation and said, “We are immediately turning our potential victims of human traffickers over to social services even at the undercover location.”
Two other men, Debraione Fulmore and Travis Mays, have warrants out for pimping. Each evaded arrest after allegedly dropping off a prostitute. Mays also is looking at aggravated battery and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer from actions as he escaped capture.
“Mays is the one who traveled armed with a .40-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber handgun and this AK-47-style rifle,” Judd said during a news conference, holding up the weapon. “He's 29 in the company of a 17-year-old who is HIV positive.”
There's a $5,000 reward for tips leading to their capture via Crime Stoppers, 800-226-8477 or the website.
Some of the arrested were caught on video, such as Matthew Irvin of St. Cloud. In video released by the Polk County Sheriff's Office and shown by Orlando's WFTV-Channel 9, Irvin can be seen groping an undercover officer's breast. Irvin, cops say, was supposed to be shopping for his kids' Christmas presents.
“I can assure Matthew there's nothing his children want or need at the location he was shopping,” Judd said.
Kissimmee's Erik Hernandez told detectives he hurt his back setting up his 9-year-old daughter's birthday party and was just looking for a massage, Judd said. “Well, I know birthday parties for 9-year-olds can be stressful. But I don't think soliciting sex is the proper stress relief.”
The Polk Sheriff's Office charged Massachusetts' Thomas Davis, a 48-year-old photographer, with five felonies: use of a computer to seduce a child, use of a two-way communication device to commit a felony, traveling to meet a minor, transmission of harmful material to a minor and lewd battery.
Davis is accused of driving to an undercover location expecting to engage in sexual acts with a 14-year-old girl to whom he had sent nude photos of himself during an online conversation. The 14-year-old girl was an adult undercover detective, just like the 14-year-old boy that Haines City's Oscar Gonzalez allegedly thought he was meeting for sex.
Gonzalez also will meet with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Detectives say he is in the United States illegally from Mexico.
Sex-Trafficking Victims Press Supreme Court To Hear Appeal Over Backpage Ads
by Wendy Davis
Lawyers for a group of teen sex-trafficking victims are making a final push to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on whether classifieds company Backpage can be sued for allegedly enabling crime.
The teens are trying to revive their 2014 lawsuit accusing the company of encouraging sex trafficking through the design of its Web site. The teens, who said that pimps posted ads about them in Backpage's escort section, argued that the company created an online marketplace "devoted to facilitating the sale of children for sex."
A trial judge in Boston dismissed the case, ruling that Backpage was protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which immunizes Web platforms from liability for users' activity.
A three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling earlier this year. "Congress did not sound an uncertain trumpet when it enacted the CDA, and it chose to grant broad protections to internet publishers," the appellate judges wrote in a unanimous decision.
After Backpage prevailed in that court, lawyers for the teens asked the Supreme Court to hear the case. Earlier this month, Backpage opposed that request, arguing in court papers that the earlier decisions are in line with numerous other rulings that dismissed cases against Web platforms.
Last week, counsel for the teens fired back against Backpage, arguing that the company's interpretation of the Communications Decency Act is too sweeping.
"Broad immunity from liability for criminal conduct is a rarity in our law, especially for private entities," they say in new court papers. "It was error for the court of appeals to confer such immunity on ISPs."
When the case was pending in front of the trial judge, Backpage drew the support of digital rights advocates including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Center for Democracy & Technology. Those organizations argued that Web sites would lose their ability to serve as a forum for unfiltered speech if operators had to police the sites for crimes.
“If online service providers were required to engage in protracted and expensive litigation whenever plaintiffs alleged that they were harmed by user-generated content hosted or transmitted by intermediaries, these online platforms for users' speech would inevitably become more expensive, more restrictive, and ultimately less available for individual expression,” the groups said in a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the trial judge.
But lawyers for the teens are dismissive of that argument. "Establishing clear boundaries between claims that would hold ISPs liable merely for hosting others' content and claims that hold ISPs liable for their own criminal actions would protect rather than inhibit, lawful commerce and innovation on the internet," they write.
The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on whether Section 230 immunizes Web companies when users post unlawful material. But courts have sided with numerous other Web companies -- including AOL, Craigslist, MySpace, Google and Facebook -- on that issue.
Australian cult-leader, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, stole children at birth, drugged them with LSD and oversaw beatings and starvation
Anne Byrne 'collected' 28 children and kept them in cruel conditions
by Emily Fairbairn
LYING in her nursing home bed, robbed of her mind by dementia, 96-year-old Anne Hamilton Byrne has her loyal friends by her side.
But this seemingly vulnerable old lady is “the most evil person with the most evil set of crimes”, according to one detective.
As leader of The Family cult, she stole babies at birth, drugged children with LSD and oversaw a wicked regime in which youngsters were beaten and starved.
The “friends” at her bedside are the few remaining followers she has.
Claiming to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Byrne “collected” 28 children and would dress them in matching clothes and bleach their hair white.
She also scammed millions of dollars out of her loyal followers, handpicked from among Melbourne's wealthy elite.
But she has never been brought to justice and has only one minor criminal conviction to her name.
Lex de Man, one of the senior detectives who tried to bring charges against Anne, said: “She is the most evil person with the most evil set of crimes I have ever investigated. If you want to know the definition of evil, you look at Anne Hamilton-Byrne.”
So how did she get away with it? The story begins in Sixties Melbourne, Australia, where charismatic yoga teacher Anne started playing on her wealthy devotees' desire for alternative spiritual fulfilment.
Preaching a mishmash of Christianity, Eastern mysticism and apocalyptic prophecy, she promised salvation to those who joined The Family — a doomsday cult with the motto “unseen, unknown, unheard”.
By recruiting Brit Raynor Johnson, a physicist from Leeds who was based at Melbourne University, Anne gained access to well-heeled, professional circles — and a veil of respectability.
Her followers were no hippies. They were doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers, nurses and social workers.
Anne, along with third husband Bill Byrne, was able to squeeze her flock constantly for donations and membership fees, growing fabulously rich.
As well as sprawling property in Australia, she had a mansion in Langton Green, Kent, and an estate in the Catskills, US, all paid for by followers.
Ex-member Fran Parker said: “We hear about ancient enchantresses who could enslave people with one glance. There was a glamour about Anne that meant everyone was besotted.
“We didn't see ourselves as a cult, that would be ridiculous. This was a very gradual immersion in new values.”
Her middle-class followers — who included the stepfather of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange — would have been horrified to find out the true scale of the abuse Anne was overseeing at the cult's isolated wooden lodge at Lake Eildon, north-east of Melbourne.
From the early Seventies, Anne started to “collect” children, through bogus adoptions or “gifts” from followers, and house and school them at the lodge.
Cop Lex explained: “You had babies delivered by sect doctors, given to a sect nurse, handed to a sect social worker and then taken straight from the hospital and given to Anne Hamilton Byrne.”
Cult lawyers would then draw up fake adoption papers.
Most of the children, who were dressed in identical, Von Trapp-style outfits, were told that Anne was their birth mother.
An army of “Aunties” — middle-aged followers — kept the children in check by doling out vicious beatings and limiting food supplies to two plates of vegetables a day.
Children who broke the rules, by committing such minor offences as getting their clothes dirty or not screwing the toothpaste cap back on, would be starved for several days.
Survivors recall eating leaves and grass or gnawing on bones left out for the dogs.
One recalled: “Denial of food was a very large component of control. It's better to keep your victims weak so they have less ability to fight back.”
As if that wasn't enough, the children were given daily doses of Mogadon — used to treat insomnia — and Valium to keep them docile. Most disturbing of all was The Family's ritual of giving children enormous doses of LSD when they reached the age of 14 as they underwent formal initiation into the cult. Some claim to have been dosed up from age eight.
LSD was also given to new adult followers, all as a means of reinforcing Anne's status as the female Messiah.
At a private Melbourne hospital run by three cult psychiatrists, LSD was dished out to potential recruits.
Anne would then appear in the doorway of their room in the middle of their trip, dressed all in white, promising salvation.
Many of them believed she was the female Jesus and promptly signed up.
The daughter of a railway guard and a mother who spent time in a mental hospital with schizophrenia, Anne spent time in orphanages as a child.
Her obsession with gathering children around her stemmed from her envy of conventional families as a child.
She would do whatever it took to control her perfect “family”.
Another cult survivor, David Whitaker, described what was expected of members once they joined.
He said: “There was only one rule: Do absolutely everything Anne said. That included what to think, what to wear, what to eat, who to marry. Total obedience.”
Anne's activities continued until 1987 when the police, acting on information from two child escapees, raided the cult and freed the remaining kids.
Anne and Bill promptly fled overseas, leaving Lex and his team to piece together a case against them.
The potential charges against Anne were severe. They included physical and emotional abuse of children, perjury, providing false birth documents and falsifying adoption documents.
However, to Lex's immense frustration, they needed a rock solid case to extradite Anne back to Australia and the most serious charges wouldn't stick.
The children were deemed to be too traumatised to be reliable witnesses to child abuse, and Anne's Mafia-like hold over her adult followers meant there were no willing witnesses.
She was eventually arrested in upstate New York in 1993 on relatively minor fraud charges, involving conspiracy to falsify birth certificates. The court in Australia was only able to hand her a £3,000 fine.
Lex claims the system let the victims down. He said: “That is going to be with me for the rest of my life.”
Bill died in 2001, while Anne has advanced dementia. She has lived in a Melbourne nursing home for the past 12 years, confined to a wheelchair.
Ben Shenton was one of the children rescued in the 1987 raid. He recently visited Anne at the nursing home and says he finally has closure on his horrific upbringing.
He said: “What she did was totally evil and wicked. But I cancelled the debt. I said, ‘Anne, you no longer owe me anything. And therefore you no longer have the power to keep me bitter and cause hate.'”
Child abuse 'affects health decades later'
by Hannah Richardson
People who were maltreated as children are more likely to have poor health and living standards decades later, a study suggests.
The researchers tracked 8,076 people born in 1958 until the age of 50.
Those who had been abused were 70% more likely to have long-term illnesses and to not own their homes by the age of 50 than those who had not, they found.
The University College London team said those who had experienced more than one form of abuse had doubly bad outcomes.
This was compared with those who had suffered no abuse or maltreatment.
The study, published in US journal, Pediatrics, and undertaken as part of the Public Health Research Consortium, showed that the potential impact of child neglect and abuse could have socio-economic impacts for decades.
The researchers found that neglected children often had worse reading and maths skills in adolescence than their peers.
This could hamper their ability to find work and progress in the job market, they said.
But these factors did not explain the poorer standard of living for those reporting child abuse, they added.
A person's economic circumstances at the age of 50 are important as it is close to the peak earning capacity in the UK, the study said.
Poor living standards at this age can signal hardship and associated ill-health during old age, it added.
Dr Snehal Pinto Pereira, of UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, who led the research, said: "Our findings suggest that maltreated children grow up to face socio-economic disadvantage.
"This is important because such disadvantage could in turn influence the health of individuals affected and also that of their children.
"As well as highlighting the importance of prevention of maltreatment in childhood, our research identified poor reading and mathematics skills as a likely connecting factor from child neglect to poor adult outcomes.
"This suggests that action is needed to improve and support these abilities in neglected children."
With child abuse or neglect you must make call
by Chris Anderson
I nearly killed a young child one brisk morning last week.
He looked to be about 14 months old and was wandering across a busy stretch of U.S. 301 in Newtown. He was wearing a leaky diaper and a thin blue T-shirt and I was heading right for him as I slammed on the brakes.
My first reaction still haunts me: It was to stop the car and let him continue to cross, like he was a baby duck or something. Then I thought maybe his mother was standing in the median, waving him safely over, and she had it all under control. Only there was no mother, just speeding cars approaching fast from behind.
Finally grasping the reality of the situation, I stopped my car, opened the door, and talked him off the dangerous road. We moved to the corner of a side street, where my wife wrapped the boy in a coat to keep him warm and I called 911.
An elderly lady stopped by. She was taking her husband to have bloodwork done. She held the boy's hand, afraid he would start crying if she left him.
She asked the child his name. He said nothing. She asked where he lived. He pointed nowhere. He never cried for mommy, never screamed for daddy. He just stood there, silently, on the corner, with urine running down his leg, dried mucus under his nose.
A man stopped next. He got out of his car and then bent over to pick up the lighter that had fallen out of his pocket. He looked at the child, said nothing, and then walked down to a house that was a short distance from the corner. Apparently he recognized the child, knew the mother. He knocked on her door, got back in his car and drove away without saying a word.
A woman who appeared to be the boy's mother then walked over in sweatpants and a tank top. She smelled of urine and it was quite apparent she had been sleeping while her infant son was crossing 301 at 10:30 in the morning.
She picked up the child and said "Why are you always getting out when we're sleeping?" She didn't acknowledge or thank anyone who helped the child, and she wasn't embarrassed or apologetic either. She simply walked back to her home with the boy in the leaky diaper and that was it.
The police finally arrived. They asked what happened, but didn't have any follow-up questions. They mentioned they knew of the house, said they had been there before, and that was it for them too. They walked to the lady's house and I went back to my car.
As I drove away, still startled by how easily I could have killed this kid, the strangest thought popped into my head: Manatee High School.
Remember the incident a few years back when an assistant football coach at Manatee was accused of inappropriately touching female students and several administrators were criminally charged with failure to report suspected child abuse?
It was a highly-publicized case that deeply divided the community and now that it's been over for quite some time I've always wondered: What good ever came from it?
People's careers and reputations were ruined. A school was tarnished. Female students were affected. The school district paid out over a million dollars in settlement money and back pay. I saw people cry, lose hair, go on antidepressants, quit their jobs - people you would never think would get so upset over it.
I'd always hoped, if nothing else, that the whole ordeal would at least raise people's awareness about calling the state child abuse hotline. Anyone who suspects abuse or neglect is obligated by law to call.
And so I called. This child appeared to be - at least in my view - a product of neglect, but it's not up to me to decide that. It's up to the investigators from the Department of Children and Families to make that determination. It's only my responsibility to call, and quite frankly had the Manatee High ordeal never happened I never would have.
That's because I never would have known, and perhaps one day someone else would come along and see the child in the leaky diaper wandering across busy 301 like a baby duck.
Only this time it would be too late to stop.
New Zealand child sexual abuse charity urges parents to not force children to hug and kiss other adults
by The New Zealand Herald
An online campaign urging parents to stop forcing little children to hug and kiss adults against their will is making a special appeal to protect children ahead of Christmas family gatherings.
New Zealand child abuse charity CAPS Hauraki is behind a viral social media campaign warning parents they could be setting up children for a life of abuse if they insist their offspring have no say in hugging or kissing other adults.
The controversial campaign uses a pretty five-year-old girl as the face of every child.
In it she speaks directly to adults about consent and the importance of not being made to dish out hugs and kisses against her will.
"I am 5. My body is my body. Don't force me to kiss or hug.
"I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life."
It has been followed with a similar style message in time for Christmas from a grandparent's perspective respecting the wishes of children if they do not want to give a hug or be tickled.
Another message warns a visit to the mall to sit on Santa's lap can be distressing and encourages parents to give their children a choice so they know they are the boss of their body.
The simple but arresting message has sparked a storm on the internet with adults polarised over whether children should be made to kiss relatives and family friends as a matter of respect.
In just over nine weeks it has been shared by more than 51,000 users on Facebook and amassed nearly 500 comments.
The organisation, which works with child abuse victims, said the campaign was not about banning children giving adults hugs and kisses but intended to change community cultural attitudes to consent and body ownership in order to protect children.
It was vital to keep children safe from a life of abuse and was important to normalise a child's right to do what they wanted with their own body.
"We are not against affection. WE LOVE HUGS AND KISSES! But they must never ever be forced upon a child," it posted on its Facebook page.
It has made a special appeal at Christmas time to extended families to not act against children's wishes.
"It is that wonderful time of year when families visit each other- and when we have a golden opportunity to teach our children about consent!! This holiday season we need grandparents and family members who understand that children shouldn't be forced to do things, even harmless hugs and tickles, against their consent."
The organisation also said the message wasn't about "inappropriate touching" but "forcing" children to engage in affectionate behaviour when they clearly didn't want to do it.
It was important children were taught they were the boss of their own body and shouldn't be forced to do anything with it against their will.
"The "inappropriate touch" is another very important message that we get across too. The consent message is about changing the culture here in New Zealand where 1 in 3 girls are victims of sexual abuse by the age of 16. Let's get this straight; we need our children to know that when they say "no" it counts," posted CAPS Hauraki in response to a cascade of comments on its Facebook page.
The messages have drawn a slew of comments from across the globe.
"As a person who works at a sex offender treatment facility and with most of the offenders being family members, some of you need to rethink this notion of teaching your child to comply with family members wishes. Normalising physical affection against their wishes is setting children up for failure," posted Kisha Harp.
"Remember who the majority of child abusers are. People whom your child could have been told to 'give a kiss' or 'give a hug' to when it was unwarranted. Just because they're little doesn't mean they can't decide for themselves. They're people, not just your kids," posted Michelle Lewis.
But the message hasn't met with universal approval by all posters.
"The fact that they aren't old enough to make their own decisions makes children CHILDREN. By following this logic of children "not being forced to do anything they didn't want to" is ridiculous , children need to be taught that compassion and love are important parts of life , and just because they don't "want to " give grandma or grandpa a kiss on the cheek ,doesn't mean they shouldn't," posted Alexa Dolcimascolo.
"This is absolutely terrible advice. Encouraging your kid to kiss and hug their loved ones teaches them AFFECTION. I can understand that many kids are shy when it comes to strangers, as usually a high-five will be sufficient... but to be distant from family members, including parents? How will we be able to trust and love one another when kids at crucial development stages are taught to be distant from one another?" posted
Across region, outdated sex abuse laws have loopholes
by Todd Wallack, Honathan Saltzman and Jenn Abelson
Laura and Antonio Siracusa were horrified when then discovered their teenage daughter was in a sexual relationship with her Spanish teacher from Cardinal Spellman High School in Brockton seven years ago. The daughter and teacher denied they were a couple, the Siracusas said. But the parents eventually found evidence they couldn't ignore, including a hotel receipt and graphic photos of the teacher taken with their daughter's phone.
The Catholic school fired the teacher after administrators saw the photos, according to the Siracusas and their attorney. But the teacher refused to stop seeing the Siracusas' daughter.
Yet, when the parents contacted a lawyer and police to intervene, they got an ugly surprise: There was nothing authorities could do. In Massachusetts and some other states, it turns out, it's legal for a teacher to have sex with a high school student, as long as the student is at least 16 and consents.
“It was unfathomable to us,” recalled Laura Siracusa, who told her story to state legislators last year in an unsuccessful effort to persuade them to change the law. “We couldn't get our arms around the fact that we had no legal options.”
Attorneys, police, and child welfare advocates say the age of consent law in Massachusetts is just one example of how outdated statutes and regulations sometimes enable educators in both public and private schools to exploit students with impunity.
Massachusetts and many other states also impose strict time limits on when victims can seek criminal charges or file lawsuits. Most states, including Massachusetts, allow schools to keep incidents secret by demanding confidentiality agreements as part of settlements with abuse victims. And across the country, school officials are often reluctant to warn their peers about accused teachers for fear that they could be sued.
The problem is that many sexual abuse and privacy laws weren't written specifically to deal with misconduct by educators, advocates say, and sometimes seem tone deaf to the unusual power that a teacher has over a student. In addition, private schools are often exempt from many rules that do exist, such as requirements to license educators.
“There are too many loopholes,” said Terri Miller, president of Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation, an advocacy group based in Nevada that is pushing for stronger laws nationwide.
A recent wave of high-profile sex scandals at private schools, including St. George's School in Rhode Island, has highlighted the limits of child protection laws as well as disagreements about what they require. Rhode Island State Police, for instance, investigated alleged sexual misconduct by 11 former employees and students at St. George's in the 1970s and 1980s but brought no charges because the incidents were too old or were not clearly illegal under the laws at the time.
Investigators also found the school failed to report many cases of abuse to authorities. But the school faced no penalties either. After the scandal became public, some Rhode Island officials argued state law only required schools to report child abuse by parents and guardians, not school employees. That prompted lawmakers to clarify the law last summer to say that schools must report abuse by anyone.
Allegations of sexual misconduct at schools are widespread. A Spotlight Team investigation this year found at least 110 New England private schools faced allegations that educators committed sexual misconduct in recent decades, affecting more than 300 students.
A national study suggested sexual misconduct is common at public schools as well. But many perpetrators are never prosecuted, even when schools have enough evidence to fire them. And the Globe found more than two dozen cases where private school employees went on to work at other schools after being accused of sexual misconduct.
Advocates say much more needs to be done to overhaul the laws and regulations covering sexual abuse of students, including making it illegal for teachers to have sex with students who have yet to graduate from high school.
Dudley Police Chief Steven J. Wojnar has been pushing to change the age of consent law in Massachusetts for more than a decade — ever since his department investigated a case involving 31-year-old public school teacher having sex with a 16-year-old male student.
In that case, prosecutors were eventually able to charge the teacher, Amber Jennings, with distributing pornography to a minor because she admitted to e-mailing photos of herself in the nude to the student. But Wojnar was surprised to learn during the investigation just how few restrictions exist for teachers having sex with older students in Massachusetts.
In this state, the age of consent for sexual contact without penetration is just 14. That means it's potentially legal for a teacher to kiss and fondle a student as young as 14, so long as the teenager consents. And teachers can legally have sex with students who are 16 and older.
“It's ridiculous,” Wojnar said.
Sexual abuse allegations are widespread
Several states, including Connecticut, Maine, and Texas, have revised their age of consent laws over the years to bar teachers from having sex with students, regardless of their age.
But again and again, Massachusetts lawmakers have let similar bills languish even though the Dudley police chief said there has been no formal opposition.
“I am hopeful, after a dozen or so years, something will finally be done,” Wojnar said.
Even when sexual misconduct is clearly illegal, prosecutors and attorneys are often barred from pursuing legal action because victims miss the legal deadlines to come forward. In New York, for instance, prosecutors can't charge abusers with some sex crimes committed against children after the victim turns 23. And student victims are often barred from suing schools in Rhode Island after they turn 21.
The limits have been an issue even in states with more generous statutes of limitations, such as Massachusetts, where criminal sexual abuse charges involving children can be brought up to 27 years after the fact — and even later if there's corroborating evidence, such as video or DNA. Nonetheless, Middlesex County prosecutors determined they could not pursue allegations that Arthur P. Clarridge, the assistant headmaster of the Fessenden School in Newton, abused a former student in 1970 because too much time had elapsed. Prosecutors sent the alleged victim a letter in July noting the statute of limitations had expired.
“I was crushed,'' said the former student, John Sweeney, of New London, Conn., who went to authorities only after the Globe recently chronicled multiple allegations of sexual abuse at Fessenden in the 1960s and 1970s, including his. “I wanted justice.''
Statutes of limitation exist for a reason, of course: It can often be difficult for people to defend themselves against charges that are decades old. Memories fade over time. Witnesses die. Documents are no longer available.
But advocates say the restrictions often make it impossible to hold abusers accountable for their crimes and prevent them from abusing other children.
“Statutes of limitations bottle up information about who the perpetrators are and which institutions are covering up the incidents,” said Marci Hamilton, chief executive of Child USA, a think tank devoted to child protection that is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.
Some experts have also proposed increasing state licensing requirements for private school educators, so state regulators would have the legal authority to investigate complaints about sexual misconduct and discipline teachers even if they work in private schools. (Currently, most states do not require private school teachers to be licensed.)
In addition, some advocates have proposed strengthening laws requiring educators to report sexual misconduct to the state, such as increasing the penalties for flouting the law.
Finally, some state laws actually discourage schools from reporting problem teachers, as Pomfret School in Connecticut recently pointed out.
In September, Pomfret told alumni that a seven-month investigation found four teachers likely engaged in sexual misconduct with students, one in the early 1970s, two more in the 1980s, and a fourth after 2000. In some cases, the school acknowledged it gave the teachers recommendations to help them find new jobs. The letter did not name the teachers.
But a school spokeswoman told the Globe that Pomfret could not even not warn other schools where the educators are working today because of state privacy laws, which generally bar employers from disclosing confidential personnel information without written permission from the workers.
Connecticut attorney Morgan Rueckert, whose law firm represents more than 30 private schools in the state, said other institutions generally have a similar interpretation of the law.
The head of Connecticut's private school association said he thinks the privacy law should make exceptions for schools that want to warn peers about employees who have abused or harassed students.
“I think the protection of children trumps personal privacy,” said Douglas J. Lyons, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools.
Some schools also claim they have to remain silent because of sweeping confidential settlements they negotiated with the school employees or victims. One agreement signed by the Brooks School in North Andover in 1995 was so broad that it even barred the victim from contacting any government agencies, including the police.
Victims' lawyers argue such agreements could potentially enable people accused of sex abuse to escape prosecution and continue to abuse other children.
“Confidentiality agreements perpetuate the cover-up by the pedophile and the institution,'' said Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents victims of sexual abuse.
A few states have passed laws banning confidentiality agreements or requiring schools to disclose sexual misconduct when their workers apply for new jobs. But some of the laws, including one in Connecticut, apply only to public schools or do not cover situations like the one involving Pomfret, where teachers have already moved on.
With so little government oversight, some private school officials continue to maintain a veil of secrecy over allegations of sexual misconduct.
Cardinal Spellman, where the Siracusas said their daughter became romantically involved with her Spanish teacher when she was about 17, refused even to confirm that the teacher ever worked there, let alone that he was fired for sexual misconduct. That's despite the fact that the teacher was listed on the school's website at the time.
“We do not comment on personnel matters involving any current or former employees in our schools,” said Terrence Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston.
That's no comfort to the parents, who said they haven't heard from their daughter in more than six years.
After she turned 18, she moved in with the teacher and broke off contact with her family, explaining in court documents in 2010 that the teacher and his wife gave her “a safe place to stay.”
Now 25, she is still living with the couple, according to public records.
Neither the teacher nor the daughter responded to e-mail or certified letters, and no one answered the door on a recent weekday.
“I remember the parents feeling helpless,” said Christopher D. Delmonte, police chief in Bridgewater, where the Siracusas live. “I would have felt the same way.”
Age of Consent
The age of consent, typically 16 to 18, is the age at which a person is able to legally consent to sexual activity. But many advocates argue educators should not be able to have sex with high school students of any age.
ConnecticutThe age of consent in Connecticut is generally 16, but K-12 school employees are barred from having sex with students who attend the same school, regardless of the student's age.
MaineThe age of consent in Maine is generally 16, but it is a crime for K-12 educators to have sex with their students, regardless of the age.
MassachusettsThe age of consent in Massachusetts is generally 16, even in cases involving school employees.
New HampshireThe age of consent in New Hampshire is generally 16. But people are also barred from using an authority position to coerce a child under 18 into having sex.
Rhode IslandThe age of consent in Rhode Island is generally 16, even in cases involving school employees.
VermontThe age of consent in Vermont is generally 16, but increases to 18 for certain cases in which the offender is in an authority position over the teenager.
Statutes of limitations
States typically set a deadline for filing a civil lawsuit or criminal charges. But advocates say the deadlines pose problems for children who were victims of sex abuse because it can often take them decades to come forward.
ConnecticutVictims who were sexually abused as children must generally file civil suits before they turn 48 (unless the defendant was convicted of first degree sexual assault for the crime). There is no criminal statute of limitations for prosecuting class A felonies, such as aggravated sexual assault of a minor. However, lesser offenses must normally be filed by the time the victim turns 48 or five years from the date the incident is reported to police, whichever is earlier. Tighter deadlines may apply to offenses committed before May 23, 2002, when the law was changed.
MaineThere is no statute of limitations for abused children to sue either the perpetrator or employer. There is currently no criminal statute of limitations for sex offenses involving victims under 16 (though the deadline may have already passed for some offenses before the law was amended in the 1990s). Sex offenses involving victims 16 or older must generally be prosecuted within three to six years.
MassachusettsVictims who were sexually abused as children must generally file civil suits within 35 years after they become adults (by age 53) or within seven years after discovering the harm the abuse inflicted, whichever is later. There is no blanket statute of limitations for criminal prosecuting defendants for sex crimes involving children under 16, but independent corroborating evidence is needed for incidents that happened at least 27 years ago. Tighter deadlines may apply to offenses that occurred prior to Dec. 20, 2006, when the criminal statute of limitations was last changed.
New HampshireVictims of sex abuse as children must generally sue perpetrators or employees by the time they turn 30 or within three years after they discover the harm the incident caused, whichever is later. Prosecutors can seek criminal charges for sexual assault against children so long as the victims are under 40. Note: In some cases, different deadlines may apply to older incidents that occurred before the current statutes of limitations were put in place.
Rhode IslandVictims who were sexually abused as children must generally file civil lawsuits against the perpetrators within seven years after they become adults (25) or within seven years after discovering the harm the abuse caused. Victims must generally sue employers within three years after they become adults (21). There is no criminal statute of limitations for many sex crimes, including rape, first degree sexual assault, and child molestation sexual assault.
VermontVictims who were sexually abused as children must generally file civil suits by the time they turn 24 (or six years from the date they discovered the harm from the abuse, whichever is later). There is no criminal statute of limitations for aggravated sex assault on a child; some other crimes must be filed within 40 years. However, the statute of limitations may have already expired for some offenses, before the law was changed three years ago.
Public school teachers are generally required to be licensed, allowing the state to investigate complaints of misconduct and ban educators who are found guilty. Some experts say private school teachers should be licensed or registered with states as well.
Connecticut - Private school teachers are generally not required to be licensed.
Maine - Private school teachers are not required to be licensed if the school is accredited by the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools.
Massachusetts - Private school teachers are generally not required to be licensed.
New Hampshire - Private school teachers are generally not required to be licensed.
Rhode Island - Private school teachers are generally not required to be licensed.
Vermont - Private school teachers are generally not required to be licensed.
Some states have privacy laws that discourage schools from warning other schools about teachers who have been fired for misconduct. In addition, most states allow schools to reach confidential settlements that can keep incidents secret. Some advocates are urging states to pass laws banning confidentiality pacts and requiring schools to disclose misconduct to other schools.
Connecticut - The state recently passed a law barring public schools from signing confidentiality agreements that would suppress information about sexual misconduct by staff members. The law also requires educators, when they are seeking new jobs, to provide a list of past employers and give those employers permission to disclose any information about past misconduct. But the provisions only apply to public schools, not private schools. And a separate law bars employers from disclosing personnel information without written permission from the worker.
Maine - There is no legal requirement for schools to warn other institutions when a worker who has been accused of sexual abuse applies for jobs elsewhere. Nor is there any law barring schools from signing confidentiality agreements to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
Massachusetts - There is no legal requirement for schools to warn other institutions when a worker who has been accused of sexual abuse applies for jobs elsewhere. Nor is there any law barring schools from signing confidentiality agreements to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
New Hampshire - There is no legal requirement for schools to warn other institutions when a worker who has been accused of sexual abuse applies for jobs elsewhere. Nor is there any law barring schools from signing confidentiality agreements to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
Rhode Island - There is no legal requirement for schools to warn other institutions when a worker who has been accused of sexual abuse applies for jobs elsewhere. Nor is there any law barring schools from signing confidentiality agreements to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
Vermont - There is no legal requirement for schools to warn other institutions when a worker who has been accused of sexual abuse applies for jobs elsewhere. Nor is there any law barring schools from signing confidentiality agreements to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.
States generally require certain professionals, including educators, to report cases of child abuse to state welfare officials. But some advocates say the laws do not always include tough enough penalties or rigorous enforcement.
Connecticut - If educators fail to report sexual abuse of a student by a school employee, they could face a fine of up to $500. The state has prosecuted a number of people for violating the mandatory reporting law in recent years.
Maine - If educators fail to report abuse of a child, they could face a fine of up to $500. State and county officials could not identify any examples where educators have been prosecuted for violating the mandatory reporting law.
Massachusetts - If educators fail to report abuse of a child under 18, they could face a fine of $1,000 (or criminal charges in the event of the child dies from the abuse). At least a half dozen school officials have been charged for violating the law in the past three decades.
New Hampshire - If school officials fail to report sex abuse or child abuse, they could face a fine of up to $1,000 and up to a year in prison. The state could not provide any examples of cases where schools or administrators have been criminally prosecuted for violating the law.
Rhode Island - If people fail to report abuse of a child under 18 within 24 hours, they could be charged with a misdemeanor, facing up to a year in prison and a $500 fine. Until recently, some argued the law did not cover sex abuse by school officials - only abuse by parents and guardians - but the legislature recently amended the law to eliminate that concern. State law also requires any person to notify police when they witness an assault or attempted assault.
Vermont - If educators fail to report abuse of a child under 18, they could face a fine of $500. If there is an “intent to conceal abuse or neglect,” it could result in up to six months of imprisonment or a fine up to $1,000. There have been criminal charges filed at least twice against school officials for failing to report an incident.
Parsing Language and Measures Around Child Maltreatment
by Kristine A. Campbell, Tonya Myrup, Lina Svedin
In this issue of Pediatrics , Dr. Pinto Pereira and colleagues describe important associations between maltreatment experiences in childhood and work–life circumstances in adulthood. The strength of this work lies in a unique British birth cohort followed over 50 years. Using exposure variables collected both prospectively (child neglect) and retrospectively (child abuse and emotional neglect), the authors identify differences in employment, financial stability, social class, and social mobility at 23 and 50 years of age after adjustment for early-life confounders. The authors go on to explore how mental health and cognitive capacities in adolescence may serve as mediating factors between these childhood experiences and adult socioeconomic outcomes.
The findings, particularly those prospectively collected on neglect, add to growing evidence that child maltreatment contributes significantly to the trajectory of a child's life. As the literature of child maltreatment, adverse childhood experiences, and social determinants of health expands, however, it is worth critically examining the measures used to define these childhood experiences. In their work, Pinto Pereira and colleagues rely on parent and teacher reports of limited parental engagement and unkempt child appearance to define neglect at 7 and 11 years of age. Emotional neglect is identified with recollections of poor parental affection during childhood by 45-year-old participants. Abuse, in all forms, reflects physical and sexual maltreatment by a parent recalled by that same 45-year-old adult.
Although few would argue that these experiences reflect positive childhood experiences, many will also recognize that these measures are likely to both over- and undercount experiences that would be recognized as child maltreatment. Definitions of physical or sexual abuse that exclude injuries inflicted by a child's uncle or a mother's boyfriend clearly miss important events that we count as child maltreatment. On the other hand, definitions of child neglect may capture much more than child maltreatment. Does a child's “scruffy or dirty” appearance reflect child neglect or household poverty? Similarly, do rare outings with a parent indicate neglect or unsafe neighborhoods? Finally, does a lack of parental interest in education indicate neglect, or the reality of work hours that do not accommodate parent–teacher meetings or illiteracy that makes helping with homework a futile and humiliating experience?
As professionals working to strengthn the culture of health around children, we recognize that bad things happen to far too many of our kids: child maltreatment, adverse childhood experiences, toxic stress, social determinants of health. How much does it matter what we call these things? As professionals working across disciplines, we argue that this choice is not simply an issue of semantics. Our words matter.
Words matter because they shape our practice. For US readers, experiences defined as child maltreatment trigger a mandated referral to child welfare agencies in the community. For some families, this referral is absolutely appropriate and can provide critical resources and support to protect the physical and emotional wellbeing of a child. When we begin to see every childhood adversity as a form of child maltreatment, however, we are failing our children and their families. A referral to child welfare may simply pass an under-resourced family from the clinic to a caseworker, who has no more ability to fix social inequities than does the referring physician. Framing those childhood adversities associated with household poverty, poor education, and parental mental health as social determinants of health, rather than forms of child maltreatment, returns them to the medical setting, where emerging research suggests that well-designed interventions can improve health and reduce risk for future child welfare involvement.
Words matter because they shape our policies. In their final paragraph, Pinto Pereira et al 1 note that their findings on “the full costs of child maltreatment” should help refine policy priorities. Policy priorities change, however, if the true exposure is not child maltreatment, but is household poverty, neighborhood safety, or parental mental health. Policies that simply ask more of our colleagues in often underfunded child welfare agencies because of ever widening definitions of child maltreatment help no one. We should all work toward effective, evidence-based policies to address child health, and that begins by not collapsing the full spectrum of social determinants of health under one umbrella term: child maltreatment.