National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

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Recent News - News from other times

January, 2017 - Week 4
MJ Goyings
Many thanks to our very own "MJ" Goyings, a resident of Ohio, for her daily research that provides us with the news related material that appears on the LACP & NAASCA web sites.

From ICE

Victim Assistance Program leading ICE's fight to end human trafficking

Despair. Isolation. Feeling like nobody cares.

For the millions of women, men and children around the world who are subjected to forced labor, domestic servitude or the sex trade at the hands of human traffickers, those are just a few of a wide range of emotions they experience during and after being trapped in what is essentially modern day slavery.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) recognizes that severe consequences of human trafficking continue even after perpetrators have been arrested. ICE's Victim Assistance Program (VAP) helps coordinate services such as crisis intervention, counseling and emotional support to help human trafficking victims.

“Promoting awareness is a large part of our job,” said HSI El Paso Victim Assistance Specialist Laura Moreno. “When we collaborate with our law enforcement and nonprofit partners in the community, we are constantly promoting awareness.”

Those efforts to promote awareness and encourage partners to attend events can now be pointed to the month of January as it has been designated by the White House as National Human Trafficking and Slavery Prevention Month.

According to Moreno, setting aside time to bring awareness to human trafficking not only helps educate the public, but it also sends a message to victims that not only do you exist and have a voice, but there are people who are promoting awareness and being trained to recognize indicators of human trafficking and understanding the complexities of trauma.

“The victims are very surprised because they often feel like society has turned their backs on them,” Moreno said. “It's good for them to see that we are promoting awareness on their behalf.”

ICE established the VAP in 2008. Currently, the VAP has forensic interview specialists, victim assistance specialists and victim assistance coordinators located in HSI field offices throughout the United States. VAP provides support to HSI special agents and investigators if and when they identify potential victims. The two sides work together in partnership as special agents pass along information about the investigations and in return VAP educates the investigators about victimology and trauma.

With special agents dedicating long hours to working with offenders and investigating, the VAP addresses the victims' immediate needs, whatever they may be. VAP's forensic interview specialists work with victims through a trauma-informed interviewing style and trauma-informed care, utilizing HSI's Prepare and Predict protocol.

“I go in and start building the trust and rapport immediately and let the victims know ‘hey, I'm here,'” Moreno said. “I tell them I'm not your parole officer. I'm just here to support you and make sure nobody takes advantage of you. It allows them to open up and tell us what they need.”

Working with victims of human trafficking takes time and patience. Some victims open up naturally and share their stories immediately. However for others, there's an apprehension to talk to law enforcement, so it takes time to build trust before they are willing to open up. The process, especially early on, requires an ongoing dialogue with the victims.

“Our victims are always telling us there are more victims out there. They tell us ‘I know so many girls that this happened to who don't want to come forward,'” Moreno said. “I never turn it around like oh my God that happened to you. It's not a spotlight on the victimization. It's making sure it doesn't happen again.”

For many VAP specialists, the hardest part is to not have false expectations of victims. The role requires having realistic expectations about where the victims are emotionally and mentally. Working with victims requires the understanding that there are no two stories or victims that are the same.

It's a relationship that can extend for years after a case is closed. According to Moreno, she still keeps in contact with a victim from her days working with the state police department. Victim assistance specialists become part of victim's everyday lives as a result of the support provided in order to get them integrated with society.

“The victims will ask us ‘well how long are you going to be with me?' because sometimes with other agencies, once they're done at the shelter, that's it,” Moreno said. “We make sure they go to their substance abuse classes. We make them follow through with school and court dates.”

The work of the VAP is endless. The nature of the job, particularly the subject matter, requires self-care. VAP specialists are encouraged to take time off, check in with each other and get involved with whatever gives them peace. It can also be thankless. Some victims are very grateful, while for others, it takes years for them to come around.

The ultimate expectation of the VAP and its specialists is to empower victims and show them that what they have gone through is not the end for them. With the help of the VAP, victims can take the necessary steps to get rid of those feelings of being isolated and alone and start a new life.

“The end game is never ‘thank you.' It's the hope that they get back to normalcy, whatever that is for them,” Moreno said. “If they want to go to school, if they want to go to work, if they want to go back to their families, whatever it is. We'll know we've done something right.”


ICE / HSI combats modern day slavery with national and international training program

“Modern day slavery still exists,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Section Chief, Carlos. Ortiz, “it is ‘hidden' in plain sight.”

January is recognized as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month but ICE HSI will be conducting anti-human trafficking training throughout 2017 and beyond. In fact, HSI has a record high 22 international and 32 domestic training events planned for 2017.

HSI works with the U.S. Department of State's existing international law officer training programs, known as International Law Enforcement Academies, to take their human trafficking training module around the globe. Recognized as leaders on the topic, HSI personnel are the preferred source of instructors for the Department of State for these events.

Training is offered to foreign law enforcement officers, prosecutors and victim service providers in collaboration with HSI attaché offices. The training covers topics such as HSI efforts to combat human trafficking using a victim-centric strategy – including investigative techniques, bilateral investigations, indicators of human trafficking, victim identification and victim assistance with a focus on building the capacity to conduct human trafficking investigations with host country legal authorities.

HSI creates and develops tailored curriculum for two-or-five day teaching sessions at the Academies. In 2017, HSI will present in Bangkok, Thailand, Peru, Botswana, Hungary, El Salvador and Vietnam to name a few. They regularly visit countries in Europe, Central America, Africa and the Far East.

The women and men of HSI who know the victims of human trafficking understand there is no mystery to the crime. It is a crime of greed and for profit. Victims are emotionally manipulated.

The two prevalent categories of human trafficking in the United States are sex and labor. The persons who bring individuals into the United States do so by means of fraud and coercion and force labor and prostitution upon their captors.

Additionally, the victims are often conflicted and do not identify themselves as victims. They are making money to send to their families back home or pay off debts but can feel ashamed about the work they are doing. They may be able to move about freely at times but they are still beholden to their captors through threats, debt or event emotional manipulation. In some countries, there is almost a level of acceptance of the practice. There are many blurred lines between the perpetrators, the victims and profit.

Acting Section Chief Ortiz explained: “Someone is told they will be working at a bar in the U.S. and they are brought into the country. Their captors get them a job, a place to stay and food. The individual now owes a $10,000 fee for the smuggling plus rent and food. They are stuck. He/she has to work for this person paying off their debt. They are told they have to work five or 10 years for someone. It doesn't seem so bad, he/she is able to send some money home each month, but their life is not their own. He/she is trapped.”

Forced prostitution is a devastating reality of human trafficking.

Very young girls are not told the truth about their fate until it is too late. Once they are in the U.S. they are isolated without family, friends or resources. “Many of them end up addicted to drugs, jailed, sick and just don't make it,” said Ortiz, “people sometimes see prostitutes as willing participants and that is not always the reality. A lot of these women have no option to get out.”

Men can be victims as well. Not all prostitutes are victims of human trafficking but many are sex slaves who are beaten and drugged in order to carry out their job duties. By law, no one under the age of 18 can consent as a sex worker.

HSI takes a victim-centered approach to their training. They prepare curriculum according to their audience. If the law enforcement officers are from a source country, they focus on how to prevent removal of potential victims from the country, if they are from a destination country, they focus on how to assist victims and introduce new laws to combat human trafficking. They speak from experience; the U.S. is a destination country.

Rob Bentall, HSI, explained how these teaching sessions benefit HSI in more ways than one: “As we get to know law enforcement officers, attachés and administration personnel from other countries and regions we are teaching, we begin to form relationships and networks that can help all of us prevent human trafficking. We are setting up an international defense mechanism against those who want to enslave human beings.”

HSI ensures all its personnel are up-to-date with human trafficking prevention training. Every HSI Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in the field has outreach and training activities annually. Bentall said, “Last year, 2016, HSI had more than 9,000 contacts with other law enforcement, non-governmental and community organizations concerning human trafficking within the United States.”

HSI is also committed to the DHS Blue Campaign and provides continued support as part of the human trafficking outreach activities when needed.

“HSI's victim assistance specialists go out into the field and participate in task forces, give outreach and provides support to human trafficking victims when needed,” said John Pipkins, HSI.

HSI takes an active role in analyzing human trafficking data and intelligence as part of the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center (HSTC). The HSTC is an interagency fusion center and information clearinghouse focused on advancing and supporting efforts to combat human trafficking with a nexus to the United States.

When asked what the average American can do to fight human trafficking, Acting Section Chief Ortiz said the following: “Keep your eyes open. If you see something suspicious or alarming, call the HSI Tip Line or the National Human Trafficking Hotline immediately and provide as much information as possible. We need your help.”

If you would like to report suspicious criminal activity, please call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE (866-347-2423) (from U.S. and Canada), Call 802-872-6199 (from other locations around the globe). You may also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.


12 Confronting Child Sexual Abuse Statistics All Parents Need to Know

We must educate our children so they know to tell, and keep on telling until they are believed.

by Jayneen Sanders

As a parent and an educator I find the statistics below both confronting and horrifying. However, they do highlight the reasons WHY we need to teach the children in our care Body Safety from the earliest of years.

Such age-appropriate knowledge is empowering for children, and might well be the difference between a child becoming one of these statistics or not.

As an advocate for Body Safety Education in both homes and schools, I have heard many sad and crippling stories from adult survivors; but it's this one shared comment that stays with me, “If only I had known from the first inappropriate touch it was wrong, my life could have been so different.”

I am not a survivor of childhood sexual abuse but I am a mother and teacher who believes we can do better by our kids. We need to put our adult fear of this topic aside, and take on the responsibility of educating our children so they know to tell, and keep on telling until they are believed. We also have a responsibility to educate ourselves so we know the signs of sexual abuse and grooming. Believing a child when they disclose sexual abuse is of the utmost importance, as is our reaction to the disclosure.

These statistics are a call to action for parents, carers and teachers everywhere — let's educate ourselves and our kids in Body Safety, and like any good “ripple effect,” let's educate others to do the same! I am asking you to play your part. Ironically, you may never know but your advocacy could positively change a child's life forever.

1. Approximately 20 percent of girls (1 in 5) and 8 percent of boys (1 in 12.5) will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday (Pereda et al, 2009).

2. 95 percent of sexually abused children will be abused by someone they know and trust (NAPCAN 2009).

3. Of those molesting a child under six, 50 percent were family members. Family members also accounted for 23 percent of those abusing children 12 to 17 years (Snyder, 2000).

4. The most vulnerable age for children to be exposed to sexual assault is between 3 and 8 years with the majority of onset happening between these ages (Browne & Lynch, 1994).

5. Males made up 90 percent of adult child sexual assault perpetrators, while 3.9 percent of perpetrators were female, with a further 6 percent classified as 'unknown gender' (McCloskey & Raphael, 2005).

6. As many of 40 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful children. (Finkelhor, 2012) Note: with the easy access to pornography we are seeing more and more cases of child on child sexual abuse, and older children/siblings sexually abusing younger children. Twenty-three percent of all 10 to 17 year olds experience exposure to unwanted pornography (Jones L., et al 2012).

7. Eighty-four percent of sexual victimization of children under 12 occurs in a residence (Snyder, 2000).

8. In 98 percent of child abuse cases reported to officials, children's statements were found to be true (NSW Child Protection Council, cited in Dympna House 1998).

9. 1 in 3 adults would not believe a child if they disclosed sexual abuse (Australian Childhood Foundation, 2010).

10. Seventy-three percent of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least 1 year. Forty-five percent do not tell anyone for 5 years. Some never disclose (Broman-Fulks et al, 2007).

11. Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are 10 to 13 times more likely to attempt suicide. (Plunkett A, O'Toole B, Swanston H, Oates RK, Shrimpton S, Parkinson P 2001).

12. Children living without either parent (foster children) are 10 times more likely to be sexually abused than children who live with both biological parents. Children who live with a single parent that has a live-in partner are at the highest risk: they are 20 times more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than children living with both biological parents (Sedlack et al, 2010).

In my experience, children do not lie about sexual abuse and the research would indicate this. Please educate your child in Body Safety. I truly hope they may never need this knowledge but think of it as a safety belt — just in case.

We also know that children who are being sexually abused may first disclose to a friend. If that friend has been educated in Body Safety they will know to tell a trusted adult on their Safety Network. Educating children in Body Safety is in the best interests of all children.

If these statistics have raised any issues please, go to this links page. For more statistics and general information on child sexual abuse please visit Darkness to Light. To help get sexual abuse prevention education in all schools in the US please support Erin's Law.

Free My Body Safety Rules poster to download for the children in your life.

Jayneen is the author of children's books and a parent's guide on Body Safety.



Acting out

by Sowmya Rajaram

A look at drama therapy, which helps survivors of child sexual abuse work through their trauma

Maitri Gopalakrishna has a peculiar problem. When she gets very angry, she starts crying. It's frustrating because instead of expressing her fury, she finds herself having to defend her weepy self. An unlikely technique has come to her aid – embodying the rasa Roudram. The codified form of expression with its unique breath patterns and physical structures now help her transcend her tears and actually show her anger. The Rasa Theory is one of many tools that Gopalakrishna uses as a drama therapist while working with five adult survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA). The stories and experiences of these five women were worked through during a 12-week drama therapy workshop, to be staged as a performance called Positively Shameless which Gopalakrishna has co-directed with Shabari Rao.

The idea of using drama to work through traumatic experiences and heal emotional scars is not new but his project is unique in the way it situates itself. As she puts it: “It sits in the intersection of theatre; mental health and psychology; social change and social criticism.” As someone who straddles the twin worlds of psychology and theatre– she has an MA in Counselling Psychology, and a PhD in Drama Therapy is underway. She also works with adult survivors of CSA. And she does community theatre – Gopalakrishna had to deliver an ethical experience to the audience while ensuring an authentic process for her performers. This means that while they fictionalised and played with certain stories and themes, the essence remains what the group wants to honestly say. This was useful both therapeutically and as a dramatic strategy. “Is the performer overtly flooded with emotions? Then we need to pull it back. Is the performer too cognitive? Then we need to push them closer to emotion. Finally, each person needed to get to a point of aesthetic distance that worked both therapeutically and aesthetically,” she explains.

Telling and living

Drama therapy, says Gopalakrishna, can work by creating distance between the person and his/her story. Instead of telling the same story over and over, “isn't therapeutically useful”. A narrative approach to therapy gives a person the possibility to re-author their story. “We can't indulge ourselves. We have a responsibility to the audience. So when a performer says ‘I'm deciding what to say and how' it allows them to take a step back,” Gopalakrishna explains.

Disclosure, she believes, is a powerful thing: “Taking charge of your story, even if it's painful, of crafting and controlling it; taking ownership – chopping, cutting and pasting it and putting it out there for a public audience is both empowering and frightening. A process that will eventually lead the person on the path to resolution.”

Sharanya Iyer (35), architect, one of the cast members, agrees. In her case, the perpetrator was a family member, someone she still deals with “on an everyday basis.” Putting it out there in the public domain in front of 300 people was difficult she acknowledges, but also cathartic. “It helped me rid myself of all the baggage I carried, as well as the stigma and my self-criticism. Plus, the public shaming may, in the future, ensure that others don't do this again.”

Another participant, Vijji Chari (41), a leadership coach and storyteller also agrees. Acknowledging the biggest issue around CSA is the perpetuation of silence she believes this process helped her break the silence. Having done two and a half years of traditional therapy age 25 onwards, this time round, she found that she came to the process better equipped to deal with the disintegration she felt inside. “I was able to do this because I of the integration that had happened then,” she says.

Shame and the body

The project had an interesting genesis. From her days in community theatre, Gopalakrishna learned that people would often share traumatic incidents, either through words or play. “And I was not equipped to handle it,” she says candidly. But it whetted her interest and she decided to acquire tools to do just that, going on to study psychology and drama therapy. The play is born from her experience of doing workshops with adult survivors of CSA who needed therapeutic intervention, and is now part of her PhD project.

She realised that what causes pain 15-20 years later is not the act of abuse or the individual perpetrator, but the ‘fabric' around it: the threats or the insidious means by which perpetrators shame or blame victims; how they groom them; or when they are known or trusted by the family or might even have a high standing within it or even the ways in which perpetrators make victims feel special.

Plus, she points out that Indian society compounds the problem simply by obfuscating the conversation around sex. “We don't talk about sex, and certainly not to children. So what is the context in which child can even make sense of what happened to them? How do you develop a culture of conversation around sex, sexuality, body, desire, gender and consent? Genitalia and shame are connected. And a lot of it is done in benign ways which makes it even harder,” Gopalakrishna says.

“Shame gets embedded into the life and body of a woman. Then there's a layer of CSA, a layer of being a woman, a layer of being a good middle class woman who is virtuous… All of it jumbled up causes pain and inability to be who you want to be as an adult.”

Tools and techniques

Drama therapy helps unravel these layers of shame that become a stubborn part of the survivor's identity, and which they end up carrying with them. There are tools to overcome this to keep the survivor in the ‘distancing continuum', a few of which have been used in the play. One of them is embodiment. “If I'm
having problems with anger, I can be anger, get into it and embody it. That moves me emotionally closer to it. Or I could develop a sculpture of myself as anger and talk from it. I could step back and talk about my anger – that's distance,” she explains.

The therapeutic nature of rehearsals helped Chary deal with her ‘internal gremlins' which would surface from time to time. And since drama therapy involves a lot of use of the body, it helped her deal with her body shame. “Because the creative process is located in the body it makes it more impactful. When we articulate pain, we sometimes lose ourselves in our words. But what the body says can't be misinterpreted. The process honours the body as a bearer of resourcefulness and pain,” she says.

There are other techniques too. Represent your anger – maybe with a colour, or a piece of cloth: “Place it in a room, determine how big or small it will be,” she says. “For someone who is so angry and has so many barriers they can't get in touch with their anger. Embodiment might help.”

The play straddles this apparatus, switching between stylisation andnaturalistic bits; between intense under-distanced bits and even hilarity with a dark subtext.

The idea, Gopalakrishna says was to make sure the audience is “taken on a journey where they are able to keep up emotionally, cognitively and viscerally”. As she puts it, anything too intellectual would leave them cold. The result is a production loosely based on the self-revelatory performance. While traditionally, these are solo works, the choice to do this one as an ensemble was

conscious, to emphasise the idea of both – community solidarity as well as a problematic social reality and system of silence that we all play into.

For Iyer, who has taken therapy, the process of getting touch with the body was enlightening. “Most therapy is very verbal. But here, I was dealing with body image. The body remembers certain things – in a certain position it'll trigger a certain memory. Dealing with it this way was more playful, interesting and artistic. It didn't feel like therapy, while helping me work through an issue,” she says.

Sort and deal

In this case, drama therapy worked by taking residual issues from a scarring experience – in this case, CSA – and sorting them into themes. Some of the issues include an inability to say no or yes in life; a conflicted or complicated relationship with parents whom the survivor expected to be more supportive or whom in some cases even perpetrated the abuse; a complex relationship with sex and their bodies in which the survivor has dissociative or out-of-body experiences with sex, and a confused connection between sex, power and desire.

Taking apart these themes and putting them on stage, the play “makes transparent the therapeutic process,” Gopalakrishna says. Like in the story of the survivor who is angry with her father for not protecting her. “But she also has gratitude towards him for breaking with the social norms of his background and giving her an education away from her hometown; she also feels guilt for harbouring resentment towards him. There's also a part of her that wants to shut it all up – the face we call the normal survivor,” she says.

On stage, each of these emotions is pulled apart, and the performer has conversations with them and makes requests of them, “to a point where she can have an honest conversation with her father.” Here too, tools such as self-sculpt and psychodramatic elements are used.

It's not all grim. The ideas of playfulness, spontaneity and treating an intensely disturbing experience a little lightly are also used. While the outcome is not a resolution that can be neatly wrapped and tied with a little bow on top, and offered to the audience. Gopalakrishna hopes it will spark a positive change in the performers as well.



Letter to the Editor

Stop ignoring child abuse!

by Michael Robinson

Iowans can no longer look the other way when within weeks of the death of Natalie Finn, we now know Malayia Knapp was abused and beaten by her foster family. Stop it, Gov. Terry Branstad, and do your job. It is time for you to provide the leadership required to adequately fund the Iowa Department of Human Services. For too long, Iowa Child Abuse Services has been underfunded and understaffed.

The excuse is always the same: Iowa agencies have to tighten their belts. Gov. Branstad, stop giving our tax dollars to your corporate buddies. Stop throwing money at large corporations either to come to Iowa or remain. I say to the Republicans in the Iowa Legislature, "Stop it!" You are part of the problem since you follow Branstad's directions like a pack of lemmings when it comes to providing corporate welfare to private enterprise and ignoring the needs of our most vulnerable citizens, which includes children.

Judge Colin Witt, you are part of the problem, too. You have cleared the way for this abuse to continue by sending the remaining children back to Mindy and Anthony Knapp. These are the parents who brutalized Malayia, her sister and the other children. Mindy Knapp should be in prison, not on a probated sentence because she committed assault many times on Malayia and her sister along with her biological children. Enforce the law! Send a clear message that abuse and neglect of children will not be tolerated in Iowa.



‘Witch hunt' narrative helps protect abusers, but hurts victims of child sex abuse, says UGA speaker

by Lee Shearer

A “witch-hunt narrative” that's developed around the prosecution of child sexual abuse cases is overblown, a Brown University scholar told a University of Georgia audience Saturday.

“We need to talk more about false positives than false negatives,” said Ross Cheit, a professor of political science and public policy at Brown and the author of a 2014 book, “The Witch-Hunt Narrative: Politics, Psychology and the Sexual Abuse of Children.”

Cheit was the keynote speaker at a daylong conference sponsored by the UGA School of Law's year-old Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic.

The clinic represents survivors of child sexual abuse, including aiding lawyers prosecuting such cases in civil or criminal courts, and serves as a training ground for students who seek experience in that area of law.

High-profile cases in the 1980s and 1990s helped build the “witch-hunt” narrative in child sex abuse prosecutions, Cheit said – the idea that people were wrongly convicted of sex crimes against children because interviewers led highly impressionable children to say things that weren't true.

Psychological research has shown that children's stories and memories can be manipulated, but psychologists have leaned too far in the direction of protecting defendants' rights rather than obtaining justice for the young victims of sexual abuse, argued Cheit.

“There is a real bias for the defense in psychology,” he said. “People love the false conviction story, and they love it too much.”

The Brown professor examined some of the landmark cases he feels established that “witch-hunt narrative” in his recent book, arguing there was evidence of guilt against some of those exonerated.

His publishers correctly classified his book as “legal history,” he said. But, he added, “I think it still matters today.”



Empowering Children to Put a Stop to Abuse

by Liz Hume

On September 22, 2015, Michael Gardner pleaded guilty to a total of five charges related to sexual molestation of young girls. After the sentencing, the survivor's families released 60 letters written from prominent and elected officials from our community to the judge asking for leniency in his sentence. Gardner pleading guilty and the release of these letters, is what spurred a community member to start a GoFundMe site to support the girls with a red sign campaign stating “We Support the Girls.”

We Support the Girls, or WSTG, was an idea approved by the girls as way for the community to show their support for them. While the red signs may be a painful reminder to a few in the community who support Gardner, they are a powerful message to the girls that we support them and we will work to make sure that this does not happen in our community again. These signs are empowering not only to them but also for many in this community who are child sexual abuse survivors but never got justice or have been unable to tell their story. The signs are also an important reminder to the community that we need to do a lot more work to ensure that all of our children are safe from sexual predators.

The survivors are determined to forge something good out of this horrific crime with the goal of helping other child victims in the community. WSTG supports victims and empowers survivors. Its mission is to raise child sexual abuse awareness by encouraging parents to talk with their children and victims and their parents to report. It promotes access to educational materials and emphasizes how vital it is for communities to create a climate free from stigma. WSTG is not a political organization and does not endorse any local or national candidate. The advisory board is made up of community members from Arlington, Falls Church City and Fairfax.

WSTG does promote education and advocates for legislation crucial to protecting children from sexual abuse by ensuring that children, their parents and guardians, and their educators can recognize the signs of abuse and know how to respond. Child sexual abuse is a serious problem nationwide. An estimated one in 10 children will experience sexual abuse before the age of 18, yet only about one third of the cases are ever reported. The impacts are profound: the trauma of sexual abuse can increase the chances that a child drops out of school, experiences mental and physical health issues, or abuses drugs or alcohol at an early age.

WSTG supports Bill 828 sponsored by Virginia State Senator Jennifer Wexton. This bill known as Erin's Law will help address this threat to the safety of children through education. It directs public schools to implement age-appropriate programs for students from pre-K through 12th grade to recognize sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult. It also requires schools to train all personnel as well as parents and guardians to recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse and provides resources to assist them in helping victims. Erin's Law is vital to empowering children and those closest to them to put a stop to abuse.

Although it has been passed in 28 states, Virginia is not one of them. WSTG encourages everyone to educate themselves about the bill and contact their delegate and request support for this legislation.

On Saturday, February 11 from 2–4 p.m., WSTG will be hosting a community event at the Washington and Lee High School Auditorium 1301 North Stafford Street in Arlington. The goal of the event is to increase community involvement in the prevention of child sexual abuse by encouraging community members to become engaged, learn how to be a part of stopping child sexual abuse in Virginia and participate in a movement to protect all girls and boys in our state from child sexual abuse.

Additionally, we hope to energize the community to advocate for the adoption of Erin's Law. We encourage everyone to attend and find out what members of the community can do to support victims and empower survivors of sexual abuse. Peggy Fox (Channel 9 news) will moderate and special guests include Congressman Don Beyer and Dr. Lyndon Haviland, board member of Darkness To Light.

To request a red We Support The Girls sign, contact Jenni at

Further information can be found on the web site




Facing the abuser

by Hergott

West Kelowna -- Child sexual abuse is occurring all around us, but public awareness and discussion about the problem is horribly lacking.

We have become painfully aware of systemic child sexual abuse in residential schools.

We have come to grasp the scope of historic child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, most vividly through the Pulitzer Prize winning movie, Spotlight.

Child sexual abuse in other organizations has been exposed as well.

With the prevalence of child pornography coupled with the inherent vulnerability of children, it is small wonder how pervasive it has been.

Through that awareness, we have come to understand that no child should be in the care of adults without strict precautions to prevent abuse.

When on a cub scout outing a couple years back I saw those precautions in action. Leaders and parent volunteers were vigilant to ensure that no child was alone with an adult.

I am so very thankful to those victims of abuse whose stories of abuse have led to protections that have made our children safer when outside the protective safety of our family units.

If you watch Spotlight, you will learn that non-disclosure clauses insisted on by the Catholic Church as a term of civil settlements kept victims silent for far too long.

Those non-disclosure clauses delayed public awareness and therefore delayed the protection of countless children.

Tragically, the most prevalent and damaging child sexual abuse has remained unexposed to public awareness and protective action.

I am referring to abuse perpetrated within what should be, but so often is not, the “protective safety of our family units” by parents and other family members.

Work has been done to try to quantify the scope of this crime by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center in the United States, indicating that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.

I happen to have a more direct awareness, through child sexual abuse having occurred and been prosecuted within my own extended family.

Why are we not hearing the voices of the vast multitude of those abused victims?

There are undoubtedly many factors that would prevent the reporting of a father, uncle or other family member, even once the abused victim has become an adult.

I am horribly unqualified to speak for victims, but I understand that there may be feelings of shame and self-blame, along with the mess of destroying the lives of loved family members.

A factor I am more familiar with, and made the news this past week, is those darned non-disclosure clauses that so effectively silenced victims of the Catholic Church.

The few child sexual abuse victims who have the courage to bring lawsuits against their abusers are inevitably faced with settlement terms that prohibit them from ever sharing their stories.

Those settlement terms contribute to an unaware society that is complacent to the most harmful and prevalent child sexual abuse which is occurring all the time, all around us.

The news headline was about a British Columbia mother who is suing her own daughter for sharing her story of abuse. Her daughter had brought a lawsuit against her step-dad, alleging abuse from age 9 until age 13 or 14. The lawsuit included her mother, alleging that she failed to protect her.

A settlement included a term that if the daughter shared her story with anyone apart from a few family members and close friends, she would have to pay back every dollar of the settlement.

The daughter is defending the lawsuit, in part alleging that the non-disclosure term of the settlement should be found “void and unenforceable” on the grounds of public policy.

I am very interested to see how this lawsuit turns out. My hope, faint as it is, is that it will proceed to a trial where a judge will carefully consider the public policy issues that have been raised. Perhaps there will be a legal pronouncement that will prevent non-disclosure terms being used in these types of cases.

I say that my hope is faint, because more likely the case will settle, and perhaps the terms of that settlement will also include non-disclosure.

How about we not wait for a lawsuit to fix this problem. How about our public leaders carefully consider this issue and potentially enact legislation that would limit the use of non-disclosure clauses in child sexual abuse settlements.



Child abuse registry bill hits snag for now

by Jessica Banuelos

Members of a House committee on Thursday expressed support for a proposed Utah registry for those convicted of felony child abuse, but favored creation of a new registry over the initial plan to add these felons to the existing sex offender and kidnapper registry.

Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, is sponsoring HB149 and told the committee he believes it would help in efforts of child-abuse prevention and awareness.

JoAnn Otten, a grandmother from Manti, testified on behalf of the bill, talking of her personal experience, and saying "we have the obligation to take care of our children." Bikers Against Child Abuse also expressed support for the bill.

Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, encouraged the committee to delay a vote, saying he would prefer creation of a separate registry. He said the sex offenders registry, which he helped create, has become so cumbersome with a wide range of qualifying crimes so that "when you read the charges, you can't narrow it down to what the person did. … My fear is that somebody will see third degree felony child abuse and they'll assume it was sexual abuse of a child."

Lawmakers indicated Owens will return with a revised bill in line with the suggested change.



DA expands Child Abuse Unit as reports spike

by The Unionville Times

WEST CHESTER — Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan announced Friday that child abuse reports are continuing to increase in volume in Chester County — in part because of new state reporting requirements — as his office is moving to add resources to handle the additional investigative load.

“With the change in Pennsylvania laws regarding mandatory reporting of child abuse after the Sandusky case, we expected to see an increase in child abuse reports,” Hogan said. “This spike mirrors increases across the Commonwealth. More cases are being reported and the District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit has grown in size and sophistication in order to address the new case load.”

The District Attorney's Child Abuse Unit receives child abuse reports from multiple agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and the Chester County Department of Children, Youth and Families.

According to figures from the DA's office, complaints have grown from 291 in 2013 to 1,681 in 2016. Just in one year — from 2015 to 2016 — the county saw a rise in complaints from 1,306 to 1,681.

The increase in reports has resulted in a corresponding increased workload for the Child Abuse Unit and the local police departments. When there is a report of serious child abuse, the child victims usually are interviewed at the Children's Advocacy Center in the District Attorney's Office, a safe location specifically designed to be kid-friendly. The interviews are conducted by forensic interviewers, detectives who are specially trained to deal with children.

In order to address the additional work, the District Attorney's Office has prioritized child abuse resources. In 2013, these were two prosecutors and two detectives (one investigator and one supervisor) assigned to the DA's Child Abuse Unit. As of 2017, the Child Abuse Unit has four prosecutors and four detectives (three investigators and one supervisor) assigned, effectively doubling in size.

The Chester County Commissioners previously authorized hiring an extra detective specifically to address child abuse cases.

“As the District Attorney has noted, we expected to see an increase in reports of child abuse because of the change in state laws, but those expectations don't make it any easier when we see the actual numbers,” Michele Kichline, Chair of the Chester County Commissioners, said. “One of the main priorities of the Board of Commissioners is public safety, especially the safety of our children. I thank the DA and his staff for prioritizing their resources and doing everything that they can to protect the children during the grueling and emotional – but necessary – process of investigation and prosecution.”

The rise in number of reports also has led to a rise in the number of child abuse cases being prosecuted. These cases are often complex, leading to an increased burden on prosecutors and the courts. The cases are always traumatic for the child victims, who are forced to re-live their abuse in court.

“In Chester County, we are fortunate to have the resources to deal with the complex issue of child abuse,” Hogan said. “In addition, we are surrounded by elected officials and civic leaders who understand the importance of protecting our children. However, talking to colleagues around Pennsylvania who already are overwhelmed by the heroin and opioid epidemic, it is clear that many rural counties and urban centers lack the resources to address the spike in child abuse cases. More resources need to be devoted to the investigation and prosecution of these cases. Even one child being hurt is one too many and no child predator should be allowed to roam the streets.”



Using the latest technology

Investigators focus on child abuse

by Mark Hughes

Two brothers with the Muskogee Police Department use the latest technology to uncover evidence of crimes recorded on cellphones involving minors.

Officers Joe and James Poffel spend a lot of time recovering deleted photos, text messages, emails and other forms of social media from cellphones obtained by a warrant or with the permission of the owner. They are on the hunt for people who deal in child pornography along with other crimes against children.

Joe has about 20 cases, and James has about 30. They specialize in crimes against children, but also deal with homicides and other crimes.

"Crimes against children are the most difficult cases to work but are the most rewarding," James said.

Their office — Internet Crimes Against Children — is located at Kids' Space, a nationally recognized children's advocacy center.

Because of the proliferation of child pornography and child sex abuse cases, the Poffels stay extremely busy.

"We examine phones, extract data and still do our investigations — there's not enough time in the day," James said.

The software the Poffels use allows them to download cellphones and recover almost any deleted items such as photos, text messages or email. In fact, the computer program can develop a concentric circle, with the suspect's name and phone number in the middle.

The next circle is the person most contacted, followed by the third circle, which is the third most contacted person, etc. James said they have had circles containing names from foreign countries involving child pornography.

Being able to download cellphones of a victim and witnesses helps corroborate testimonies, James said. The mass amount of information from the phone can provide the evidence necessary to help the court prove the elements of the crime.

"Everyone's got cellphones. They're an extension of our body," Joe said. "The phones provide good insight into certain cases and gives us a bigger picture."

Anything erased from a cellphone can be recovered, Joe said. Cellphones can only be searched if the owner gives their permission or if police have a search warrant.

Both brothers warn parents to monitor what apps their children are accessing and what kind of information they are providing to those on the other end. Child predators like to use Kik and Omegle, two sites that allow children to talk to strangers.

Omegle's website says a person must be 18 years old to use the website or 13 with parents' permission. It also cautions users not to give out their real name and warns them that predators have been known to use Omegle.

Kik's website says it's a chat network with more than 300 million registered users. The website publishes information from Forbes magazine that says that of those using the chat site, "50 percent are teens, representing four out of 10 teenagers in the U.S."

No where on Kik's website does it warn users of potential predators. It does say, however, that people will be able to see the user's first and last name, username and profile picture. But they can't see the user's email address, phone number or birthday.

Joe said he would like to have a class about the different apps kids use and warn the kids and parents that children sending nude photos of themselves is child porn. He said that children don't have the life experience that adults have, and opening something on social media that looks completely innocent could result in psychological or physical harm.

James said they have to look at child porn because that's their job.

"But you have to develop a healthy coping mechanism — no one can look at this without having some psychological effect on them," he said.

"It definitely impacts you," Joe said. When he's watching a child crime video "and you see a 2-and-half-year old crying, you shed more tears than ever."

Due to the stress of his job, James had a mini-stroke a couple of years ago. Now, he and his brother devotedly go to the gym and leave everything at work, especially the mental aspects of their jobs.

Kids' Space and Muskogee Police Department offers professional services to counteract their exposure to child porn, he said.

"As brothers, we know each other and can tell when the other one is struggling, and we pick each other up," James said.

James has eight years in law enforcement and 5 1/2 years with crimes against children. Joe has nine years on the police force with 2 1/2 years with crimes against children.

"As long as I'm helping the kiddos and feeling good about it, I'm going to keep on doing it," Joe said.



Felon gets life sentences in child abuse

by Tommy Witherspoon

A four-time felon who sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl 10 years ago was sentenced to consecutive life prison terms Thursday.

Jurors in Waco's 54th State District Court deliberated about 10 minutes before convicting Jose Manuel Fuentes on two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child by exposure.

The jury took 20 minutes to reach a punishment verdict, recommending that Judge Matt Johnson sentence Fuentes to life in prison with $10,000 fines on each of the first two counts and 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on the indecency charge.

Prosecutors Hilary LaBorde and Sydney Tuggle asked the judge to order Fuentes to serve the three sentences consecutively.

The judge agreed, meaning the 40-year-old former construction worker must serve at least 62½ years in prison before he can seek parole.

Fuentes was convicted of sexually assaulting a young family member on two occasions in 2006 and 2007 in Waco.

The girl, who is now 15, did not report the abuse for about five years. She told her friends, and her mother later discovered text messages between the girl and her friends on the girl's cellphone.

In seeking maximum sentences, LaBorde told jurors in closing statements that Fuentes' “violent, deviant acts” will affect the girl for the rest of her life.

“Unfortunately, we ask you to assign a number to what you think her innocence is worth,” LaBorde told the jury. “You get to write the last chapter of this terrible story.”

Trial testimony showed Fuentes also has prior convictions for felony theft, unlawful use of a motor vehicle, felony criminal mischief, felony DWI and a misdemeanor assault in which he kicked the same victim and beat her with a belt. Fuentes has served three previous stints in prison.

Fuentes' attorneys, Alan Bennett and Susan Kelly, declined comment after the four-day trial.


New York

DOI: Major ACS Reforms Needed After Agency's Handling of Deadly Child Abuse Case

A new report says the death of a 3-year-old boy last November is the result of systemic issues at the city's child welfare agency. NY1's Courtney Gross filed the following report.

by NY1 News

It may be the worst case of misdirection one can imagine.

Child protection workers knocked on the wrong door back in November after getting an anonymous tip of child abuse.

Two days later, 3-year-old Jaden Jordan was beaten so badly, he was put on life support. He died several days later.

The mother's boyfriend is charged in the case.

Now, an independent investigation has found the city's child welfare agency could have saved little Jaden's life.

The city's Department of Investigation found the "depth of errors over this two-day period was so significant" that they went to the heart of the agency's core mission of protecting children. It says this was another example of systemic problems at the agency.

"It is a sign that this is an agency that is still in denial of the grave problems at the agency," said Mark Peters, commissioner of the Department of Investigation.

It found child welfare workers had access to databases to check the Brooklyn address. It also found the unit this tip went to, which works on nights and weekends, is poorly trained and inadequately staffed.

"Quite frankly, it is shocking that in 2017, DOI would have to say to ACS, 'You need a fully staff intake unit on nights and weekends,'" Peters said.

This is just one of several devastating cases at the agency in the last several months. One after the other after the other, these little lives have ended. All of these families were familiar to ACS.

On Thursday, there was one more, another 4-year-old allegedly killed by his mother.

In response to this report, the city's child welfare agency sent a statement that read, "The loss of Jaden Jordan's life is deeply disturbing. From the time we received an anonymous report with various inaccuracies, to the 48 hours in which when we clarified data and visited the location, vital time was lost. We have reviewed and are implementing many of DOI's recommendations."

Six workers have been disciplined in this case.



Opioid Addiction And The Rise In Child Neglect Cases

by Jill Sheridan

Child neglect is defined as a type of abuse where people can lose custody of their children because they can't provide the necessary care. Zoey Meisberger's parents couldn't care for her because of their addiction.

In 2015, there were 17,491 Children In Need of Services, or CHINS, cases filed in Indiana. This is a nearly 23 percent increase over the previous year and a 97 percent increase over the past 10 years.

Chief Justice of the Indiana Supreme Court Loretta Rush, addressed this increase in this year's State of the Judiciary. She says the opioid epidemic is a contributing factor and is affecting people in all parts of the state.

“I have had friends, professional and personal, who have lost their child to heroin or cocaine or methamphetamine,” says Rush. “I think it's an insidious drug. It starts off, quite often, with prescription pills, and then it just escalates.”

That's what happened to Paula Meisberger's youngest daughter, Brooke. She became addicted to opiates after a doctor prescribed pain medicine post-pregnancy.

“I knew something was wrong with Brooke, I thought she was being overmedicated, she was dealing with post-partum but I had no idea it was heroin,” says Meisberger.

In 2013, Meisberger was on vacation when she got the call that police arrested Brooke and her husband after they found them passed out in a car where one of their friends had overdosed. Baby Estelle was in the back seat.

“Being as we were so far away at first I just wanted Estelle because some guy had died in the car,” says Meisberger.

Estelle was only 8 months old at the time, Zoey was 3 years old – old enough to remember times when her mother and father were using and she once opened up to a court advocate while playing with a toy.

“She told the worker that the baby keeps on crying and mommy and daddy won't wake up,” Meisberger says.

Meisberger and her husband legally adopted three of their grandchildren. Estelle and Zoey, now 4 and 6, and their brother, 2-year-old Raiden, who was born heroin-dependent.

The increase in cases is a strain on the Department of Child Services, or DCS. The ACLU is currently suing DCS on behalf of a caseworker who was assigned more than 40 children. Indiana law says the department must provide enough caseworkers so that the average caseload doesn't exceed 17 children.

DCS says it's complicated. Cases overlap and are always in flux, multiple people may be involved in a single case, and most workers realize their caseload may not be compliant with the standard. Right now they have around 2,300 workers with open cases.

Court Appointed Special Advocates or CASA volunteers speak for and represent the best interests of abused or neglected children in the courts.

Judge Loretta Rush said there are more than 5,000 children waiting for a CASA appointment, 75 of those children are in Monroe County.

Director of CASA in Monroe County Kristin Bishay says their caseload has doubled in the past two years.

“There are tremendous more cases, cases are staying open much longer, I can tell you that cases that were open due to some addiction of a parent used to be 70-75 percent of our cases. Now it's a good 95 percent of our cases,” says Bishay.

Brenda McLane is a volunteer for CASA, and more like her are needed in every county.

“Those kids faces,” says McLane. “For me getting to see those children and how they light up and to have fun with them, personally, that's my motivation.”

Bishay says Indiana's child abuse laws are too weak, and she would like to see stricter policies in place and more support for prevention programs..

Indiana law says everyone who suspects abuse or neglect of a child should report to the Child Abuse Hotline.

But the process of identifying abuse is difficult and determining intervention is complicated.

Susie's Place provides a safe place for children to be interviewed, to determine next steps. Executive director and founder Emily Perry says they are also seeing a rise in cases related to opioid addiction.

“Sometimes that means kids are staying at home and sometimes that means kids aren't able to stay home to ensure their safety, but what we do know is we'll never be able to investigate our way out of this crisis,” Perry says.

Susie's Place has locations in Avon, Bloomington and, soon, Terra Haute.

“What we know about kids that are going through serious abuse or neglect is that they are experiencing trauma on a very high level,” says Perry.

Perry says the cycle of addiction is troubling.

“So what we're seeing is kids that are struggling in a home where drugs are prevalent are the same kids that are sometimes being drawn into drugs themselves,” says Perry.

She says resources, prevention, intervention and treatment all have to be part of the solution.

The Supreme Court's annual report finds termination of parental rights has also increased by 18 percent.

DCS says it's federally mandated to make all attempts to reunify a child with their parents but that wasn't going to work for Paula Meisberger who insisted if she was going to take custody of the children it was going to be permanent.

“Our kids need a voice and until they put tougher laws in place, these kids don't have a voice, why do these little ones have to suffer and how are we breaking the cycle here,” says Meisberger.

DCS is asking for an additional $50 million from the Indiana legislature to cover the growing number of abuse and neglect cases.


New Jersey

CASA seeks volunteers for abused/neglected children

by Community Bulletin

CAMDEN - There are currently over 1,500 children in Camden County who have been removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect. Although Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) continues to serve more of these children each year, the need for CASA volunteers continues to grow as more children enter the child welfare and court systems.

CASA volunteers work one-on-one with an abused or neglected child, advocating for his or her best interests. Essentially, CASA volunteers "speak up" for these children in the court and child welfare systems, making sure they are safe and well-cared for, are getting the services they need, and are placed in a permanent, safe, nurturing home as quickly as possible.

"Our volunteers don't require any specific education. All they need is compassion, objectivity, and a commitment to children. We'll train and supervise them to be effective voices in court," says Jonathan Cummings, executive director for CASA of Camden County. "Our volunteers come from all walks of life, and diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. They are ordinary individuals who rise to the extraordinary by making a difference in the life of a child."

CASA of Camden County is currently seeking volunteers for its Spring Training Class which is slated to begin on Feb. 28 and will be held every Tuesday evening until March 28. Independent modules are also offered to those who cannot attend the traditional training class. Anyone interested in volunteer opportunities or to learn more about CASA should visit or contact B. Lauren Williams at 856-361-7180 or

CASA of Camden County is part of a statewide network of community-based, non-profit programs that recruit, screen, train and supervise volunteers to advocate for children who have been removed from home due to abuse or neglect. CASA is the only program in New Jersey that uses trained volunteers to work one-on-one with children, ensuring that each one gets the services needed and achieves permanency in a safe, nurturing home.



Lawmakers set to update child sex trafficking law

by Ruth Brown

BOISE — Lawmakers took steps Wednesday to clarify the language defining child sex trafficking, addressing a nationwide issue of child abuse.

Miren Unsworth, of the Department of Health and Welfare's Division of Family and Community Services, told legislators that Idaho needs to bring the Idaho Child Protective Act up to date. The act does not include child sex trafficking in its definitions of abuse or neglect.

The bill, unanimously approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, would change the definition and must now go to the Senate floor for a vote.

On the federal level, the Justice for Victims of Sex Trafficking Act of 2015 amends the requirements around the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act's state grant program.

The grant program requires states to consider any child who is identified as a sex trafficking victim also a victim of “child abuse and neglect” and “sexual abuse.”

In Idaho, there are already laws making sex trafficking, child neglect and child sexual abuse illegal. This bill is simply clarifying a definition, Unsworth told the committee.

“Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has received 366 referrals from Idaho,” Unsworth told lawmakers. “This includes reports regarding both adult and minor victims.”

While the number of sex trafficking victims remains unclear nationwide, some have been identified in Idaho. Since 2014, three children who entered the Idaho foster care system were previous victims of sex trafficking, Unsworth said.

In 2015, an estimated one out of five endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims.



Unlikely heroes...B.A.C.A travels to Sharp County

by Lauren Siebert

Windows rattled and the grounds of the Sharp County Courthouse shook Jan. 19 as a large group of Bikers Against Child Abuse [B.A.C.A] motorcyclists rolled on to the property preparing to be advocates and if necessary, protectors for a victim of abuse who was appearing in court.

Founded in Utah by a child therapist in 1995, in an effort to help children overcome the fear of being victimized again, the 501c3 consists of volunteers who wish to advocate.

According to Buffalo River Chapter President, Chris Stewart, also known as HeadCase, four chapters were present in Sharp County. Stewart said the international organization which has representation in 12 countries worldwide and 46 of 50 United States, is making a difference every day.

"We exist to empower those kids so they don't have to be afraid which helps them tremendously when they have to go to court and testify or talk to a judge," Stewart said. "Abuse has no socioeconomic background and is everywhere. We see that in our communities and see it in the news and in the papers and it's a way for bikers to unite against that and to make a stand for those children that have been stripped of their innocence."

In addition to representation from the Buffalo River group, there were also members from the Harrison, Toad Suck and Flatrock chapters present. With seven chapters existing in the State of Arkansas alone, a majority was represented, each of which is nearly a two hour journey from the grounds of the courthouse.

"We will go as far as we need to for an abused child. Distance isn't a factor if there is any way we can assist them to not be afraid and to tell their story. Court is a scary place for an adult just going for a speeding ticket, so put yourself in a child's shoes and then having to walk into a courtroom and tell their story takes an immense amount of fortitude. Most of the time that has to be done and if we deal with cases, usually they go to trial and they even have to testify in front of the perpetrator," Stewart said.

Once a child has been taken under B.A.C.A.'s wing, it is not uncommon for the members to do whatever is necessarily in order to break the chains of abuse and work to ease the damage done by it; from escorting a child to and from school to standing guard outside one's home around the clock.

"We maintain contact with our B.A.C.A. children at least until they're 18 and we attempt to break the cycle of abuse and the chains of abuse by helping them with therapeutic funds if needed. We kind of stick with those kids and they become part of our family," Stewart said. "They are referred by the guardians and a lot of kids come to us by direct referrals by DHS, their therapist, Child Advocacy Centers and organizations similar to that. Normally we will get contacted by the child's legal guardian at that time. We are a 501c3, so everything we do for these kids is funded though contributions. We work with entities like DHS, CASA, Court Systems and work closely with all state agencies to work with that child to give them the best chance to tell their story."

According to the website, the organization continues to grow and is always looking to expand their reach by adding chapters. Stewart said working with children in this capacity can be challenging, but ultimately the rewards outweigh the cost.

" is the best website to go to and we have chapter development officers everywhere. Ours in the State of Arkansas is out of Fort Smith and if someone is interested in persuing that trying to help a chapter get formed, they would need to contact the state chapter development which they can find on that website," Stewart said. "It can be difficult, but when you're in B.A.C.A. and hear the stories of these children, it absolutely makes them the heroes. That's what keeps us doing what we do is having a child that is scared to go to sleep at night and being a part of that empowerment to where they no longer have to be afraid."

According to testimonies on the website, thanks to the efforts of B.A.C.A and the organizations it has partnered with, numerous children have received justice by putting their abuser behind bars. Some children as young as five-years-old have been able to testify against those who have abused them mentally, physically or sexually.

Follow-up testimonies, social media spotlights, YouTube videos and other forms of documentation produced by the victims, their families or news media groups; attribute their successes to the efforts of B.A.C.A. with many of the children growing to become successful adults.

If you would like to know more, visit



An Alabama Attorney Filed Suit Today Against The Largest Online Marketplace For Illegal Sex Trafficking And Child Exploitation In The United States

by PR Media Release

Zarzaur Mujumdar & Debrosse, a Birmingham based litigation firm, announced today that it filed a lawsuit on behalf of a child survivor of human trafficking. This trailblazing lawsuit has been filed against the website,, a website for classified ads, which facilitated and financially benefited from advertisements exploiting and trafficking child victims. The plaintiff in this case, age 17 at the time of her abuse, is suing for their knowing participation in her trafficking, which occurred in the state of Alabama in 2013. The complaint alleges that generated approximately $3,100,000.00 in sex ads in just one week and at times received ninety-nine (99%) of its global income from its “adult section”. Gregory Zarzaur, attorney for the plaintiff, says that “it is inconceivable that this is happening in our Country. That would not only turn a blind eye to children being sold for sex, but that they would assist their users in doing so is appalling. They see this as an incredibly profitable business and unfortunately, they're right. The horrific reality is that in this venture, children are the commodity. What we are looking to do is remove the financial benefit of this illegal venture by filing lawsuits such as this and provide some relief to the survivors of these horrendous crimes.”

A recent United States Senate report concluded that knowingly facilitated sex trafficking and that it is a market leader, accounting for more than 80% of all revenue from online commercial sex advertising in the United States in 2013. The report also states that deleted incriminating words from sex ads prior to publication in order to evade law enforcement and coached its users and employees requiring them to sanitize their ads in order to conceal the illegal human trafficking of children that was being advertised on their site.

The complaint alleges that the owners of knew that its ads involved sex trafficking of adults and children and that they obtained significant financial benefits from these ads. As this lawsuit is being filed today in Alabama, other lawsuits are being filed nationally on behalf of survivors of sex trafficking. The Seattle based law firm of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC filed suit today against on behalf of survivors of sex trafficking.

Gregory Zarzaur of Zarzaur Mujumdar & Debrosse focuses his practice on representing victims of crime, human trafficking and child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, says Zarzaur, “most crimes are not random, they purposefully target victims, and holding the people responsible that commit them, or the companies that enable these crimes, should deter similar conduct in the future and help provide necessary compensation to survivors for their injuries.” Zarzaur Mujumdar & Debrosse is a litigation firm based in Birmingham, Alabama.



U.T. study sheds light on human trafficking in Texas


AUSTIN -- A newly released study by the University of Texas at Austin sheds light on the current extent of human trafficking across the state.

The study comes from the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, and states that there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking as well as 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking.

Existing data on human trafficking is helpful, but the UT study, started in 2014, determined that existing data sets only covered a fraction of the total extent of trafficking in the state. The problem, according to the study, is lack of data on the "hidden population that is historically hard to reach." This includes high risk groups such as homeless individuals, children in the foster care system and those who have experienced abuse.

To gather data on these harder to reach areas of the population, the study focused on federal and state data concerning child abuse, Texas Department of Family and Protective services statistics, and related sources. The study reported nearly 79,000 minors were victims of sex trafficking after combining data sets that included a look at 290,000 minors subjected to child abuse, 24,000 at-risk youth under care of the Department of Family and Protective services, and 14,000 homeless.

"This is our first glimpse into the scope and impact of human trafficking in Texas," said IDVSA director Noel Busch-Armendariz, who led the study, "Few states have this kind of insight into the number of people being exploited."

Researchers established benchmarks on the economic impact of human trafficking as well, estimating that $6.5 billion is spent on the lifetime costs of providing care to victims and survivors of minor and youth sex trafficking in Texas.

"And more importantly," Busch-Armendariz added, "each count reflects a human being living among us in slavery-like conditions. Our findings certainly give us all a call to action."

The study further concluded that labor trafficking is a significant issue for the state, stating that traffickers exploit approximately $600 million per year from victims of labor trafficking in Texas. Industries that see the most labor trafficking included migrant farm work, construction, kitchen workers and landscape service workers.

The full study is available on IDVSA's official website.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.



Bipartisan bill would push Wisconsin juvenile corrections officers to report child abuse

by Jessie Opoien

Juvenile corrections officers would be legally required to report evidence of child abuse under a bipartisan bill being proposed in Wisconsin.

The bill, currently being circulated for co-sponsorship, comes as the state faces a lawsuit from inmates alleging inhumane treatment at Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls. The facility, which houses juvenile inmates, is also under a federal investigation stemming from allegations of ongoing child abuse and neglect .

Under the bill, authored by Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, and Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, juvenile corrections officers would be added to the state's list of mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, which includes doctors, teachers, and child care providers.

"I think it's a huge priority in terms of trying to ensure some level of safety for those children at Lincoln Hills," Johnson said.

Johnson said she believes officials would have known about problems at Lincoln Hills much sooner if juvenile correctional officers had been required to report suspected abuse.

"Could that have made the difference for some of those children? I don't know. But to me, it's pretty stupid that that was never a requirement in the first place," Johnson said.

The impetus for the bill was the discovery that mandatory reporting from juvenile correctional officers was a "gray area in the law," Kleefisch said.

"Anyone who deals directly with children on a regular basis should have to mandatorily report if they see evidence of abuse," Kleefisch said.


New York

How ACS failed to save this 5-year-old boy from a house of horrors

by Tina Moore, Larry Celona and Danika Fears

Little Mikey Guzman lived in a Queens house of horrors where child welfare workers had found cuts, welts and bruises on some of his siblings, as well as signs of sexual abuse, before the 5-year-old was discovered dead, law enforcement sources told The Post on Tuesday.

The city Administration for Children's Services had investigated the family 13 times, and substantiated abuse or neglect in eight instances, yet never took any of the six children away, the sources said.

“The problem with ACS is their motto is, ‘Keep the families together' — they would have kept the Manson family together,” a disgusted source said.

“How many chances do you want to give these parents, especially when these kids are defenseless victims?

“They would be better off erring on the side of caution and taking the kids. You can always give the kids back. When they die, it is too late to take them.”

The city Department of Investigation announced Tuesday it is probing ACS' handling of Michael “Mikey'' Guzman's case.

His death follows a slew of high-profile child abuse cases involving kids whose families had past involvement with the beleaguered agency.

“We are focused on the critical issues of whether there continue to be systemic and preventable problems at ACS that place children in danger and whether ACS has implemented necessary changes noted in DOI's prior investigations,” DOI chief Mark Peters said in a statement.

Peters noted the recent abuse deaths of 6-year-old Zymere Perkins and 3-year-old Jaden Jordan.

“Reports on these children and at least five others are expected to be completed in the near future,” he said.

“These investigations will build on the findings we have already published regarding failures by ACS in its investigatory and foster care oversight; and will focus on the actions of ACS staff, what real-time actions they took in response, and persistent vulnerabilities within ACS that DOI's investigations continue to expose.”

Mikey Guzman lived in Jamaica with his parents, Phyllis Reinoso, 29, and Michael Guzman, 34, and five siblings.

The 13 ACS cases opened against the family, and involving Mikey's siblings — Jennifer Acevedo, 15, Jazabella Acevedo, 12, Maylee Acevedo, 11, Manny Prince, 9, and Mathias Guzman, 2 — occurred between October 2008 and January 2016.

Eight claims of abuse or neglect were ultimately substantiated, and in two of the cases, some of the older kids had visible signs of physical trauma, with cuts and bruises on their bodies, according to law enforcement sources.

There also was evidence that one of the girls had been sexually abused by a relative.

In addition, the parents were found at times to not be adequately feeding or clothing the kids and failing to properly supervise them.

Despite the many warning signs, Mikey, who suffered from epilepsy and frequent seizures, was never removed from the home, where he was found unresponsive in his bed Sunday.

His mom told cops she found her son unconscious at 4:15 p.m. with vomit coming out of his mouth, according to law enforcement sources.

Reinoso said she had left the home hours earlier with Mikey's dad, at around midnight, and returned at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, police sources said.

When she got back, she said, she noticed that her son was having trouble breathing — but he looked well and was able to walk to his bedroom to go to sleep, according to sources.

Reinoso said she was home with her son's dad Sunday, but they didn't check on Mikey until that afternoon because they figured he was sleeping.

One of Michael's siblings told cops a different story, saying Jennifer carried him to bed around midnight while the parents were out.

The city Medical Examiner's Office has yet to determine the cause of the boy's death, saying it “remains under investigation.”

Reinoso and Guzman were questioned Monday at the 103rd Precinct stationhouse and released, at least for now, sources said.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) blasted the city's child welfare agency, saying it's “unbelievable” that ACS didn't consider removing the children from the home.

“It is shameful that we have to keep hearing of a child's life being cut short due to a city agency's negligence,” he said.

ACS did not respond to questions about the DOI investigation or whether it needed to rethink policies on how allegedly abused children are removed from homes.

“We may remove a child from their home when there is imminent danger, and [court] approval is always required,” the agency said in a statement. “Even in the instance of an emergency removal, utilized in our most egregious cases, Family Court approval is required within 24 hours.”



Jury awards $1.25 million in school bathroom break lawsuit

by The Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A jury has awarded $1.25 million to a former San Diego high schooler who was denied a bathroom break and forced to urinate in a bucket.

The girl, then 14, used the bucket in a Patrick Henry High School supply room in 2012. A teacher had denied her request to leave a 25-minute class, believing it was against school rules.

Her lawyer said after the incident made headlines, the girl was mercilessly teased, traumatized and attempted suicide.

She sued the teacher and the San Diego Unified School District.

District lawyers said the teacher — who no longer works on campus — never intended to embarrass the girl.

The San Diego Union-Tribune ( says the district will consider whether to appeal Wednesday's decision.



Ex-foster kids: Abuse was routine in dismembered teen's home

by Michael Rubinkam and Maryclaire Dale

Before her torturous death, Grace Packer grew up in a hell of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, according to three children fostered by the adoptive mother who now stands charged, along with her boyfriend, of killing and dismembering the 14-year-old girl as part of a barbaric rape-murder fantasy.

Police say Sara Packer, a former county adoptions supervisor, watched as her boyfriend, Jacob Sullivan, beat and raped Grace, who was then bound, gagged and left to die in a sweltering attic. Returning the next day and finding Grace still alive, Sullivan strangled her, court documents say. They stored her body in cat litter for months, then hacked it up and dumped it in a remote area where hunters found it in October, police said.

In separate interviews with The Associated Press, the now-grown former foster daughters, all of whom lived with Sara Packer several years before Grace's rape and murder, said Sara abused her adopted daughter and clearly favored Grace's biological brother, who was also adopted.

"Her favorite child, and you could see it plain as day, had always been Gracie's brother," said Jade Tenezaca, now 27. "She was more demanding on Gracie to be normal. But Gracie is not normal. Gracie had a learning disability."

Tenezaca recounted an episode that, in hindsight, seems chilling. Sara was watching the TV crime drama "CSI" once and casually mentioned that if she ever killed someone, she'd dismember the body and burn the pieces to ash, Tenezaca said.

"It kind of freaked me out," she said.

Sara and her husband at the time, David Packer, fostered dozens of children before David was arrested in 2010 and sent to prison for sexually assaulting Grace and a 15-year-old foster daughter at their home in Allentown, about an hour north of Philadelphia.

Sara Packer lost her job as an adoptions supervisor for nearby Northampton County in April 2010, and she was barred from taking in any more foster children. But she wasn't charged with a crime related to her husband's abuse, and Grace and her brother continued to live in the home

Pennsylvania's child-welfare agency is investigating the circumstances around Grace's death.

The abused foster daughter, now 25, told the AP that the sexual abuse by David Packer began when she was 15, shortly after she moved into the home, and went on for years. The AP is withholding the name of the woman because she is a victim of sexual abuse.

David moved the woman to a third-floor bedroom near the one he shared with Sara, she said. He would tie her to the bedpost and leave her there all night, she said. He would tie her to a chair and gag her. He dressed her in revealing outfits and made her go on a diet. He sexually abused her.

She said she felt she had nowhere to turn.

"After a while, I just gave up, mentally and physically. What was I supposed to do?" said the woman, adding she twice tried killing herself while living in the home and was hospitalized.

Sara Packer, the woman said, had to know about the abuse. Prosecutors say Sara was aware of her husband's sexual contact with the foster daughter at least by the time the girl became an adult.

The now-grown foster daughter said she was unaware at the time that David Packer was also abusing Grace. But, she said, she did see Sara treat Grace horribly.

"Some parts of (Grace's) brain didn't work like ours, and you'd have to tell her more than a few times to do things. And Sara didn't like that. She yelled, she screamed. She hit her. She was just a big bully to her," the woman said.

Sara Packer's lawyer said he has not yet seen police or child-welfare files from the 2010 investigation of David Packer, and does not have evidence that his client was involved in wrongdoing. He noted she maintained custody of Grace and her brother after David went to prison.

"It's a good sign they investigated the family and didn't pull the kids," said the lawyer, John Fioravanti Jr. "That suggests they didn't think she was involved."

The defense team has only just begun to investigate Sara's life and the criminal charges, Fioravanti said. Her work history in Northampton County — rising from case worker to supervisor over seven years before she was fired amid her husband's criminal investigation — suggests she was a dedicated child-care worker, he said.

Given those accomplishments, he said, "it's just beyond belief that all of a sudden you have this monster."

Sara and David Packer divorced last year.

Crystal Rodack, a third former foster daughter, spent only a few months in the Packer home. But in January 2010, she said, she looked at David Packer's phone and found photos and videos showing him sexually abusing the other foster daughter. She alerted relatives, who immediately called police.

Rodack said she always felt uncomfortable in the home. And, like the other former foster children, she said Grace took a back seat to her brother.

"They were really mean to Gracie in the home. She was always in trouble," Rodack said. "They would hit her, they would ground her and take stuff from her and keep her in her room. I felt bad for her."

Yet the girl remained upbeat, Tenezaca said.

"Gracie was never in a bad mood. Gracie was always happy and fun, and she always wanted to be with the girls," she said. "She was warm. She would open her heart to anyone and everyone. If you gave her the chance, she would be your best friend."

Tenezaca said she gave birth while still in the Packers' care. Sara Packer urged her to place the child for adoption, Tenezaca said, with Sara as the adoptive parent. Tenezaca agreed but changed her mind and kept the child.

"I wanted to do it," she said, "but something in me said, 'Don't do it, don't do it, you're going to regret it.' And I'm thanking God I never did it."



Reporting child sexual abuse is mandatory under law, but the ill-equipped system often fails victims

The clause is well-intentioned but a survey revealed that 62.5% of minors who survived abuse do not have faith in it.

by Aarefa Johari

In June, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi controversially stated that a law criminalising marital rape would make no difference in India because women here would not use it to file complaints against their husbands. She supported this argument by saying that the law against domestic violence already had a provision dealing with sexual abuse within marriage, which had not been used till date.

Gandhi's view on the effectiveness of a separate law on marital rape is debatable. But it is a fact that wives do not specifically report sexual abuse by their husbands while filing complaints under the Domestic Violence Act, and it is worth asking why. Lawyers say that this is often because the women fear the possible consequences: being disbelieved by the police, humiliated in the courtroom and shamed by society, with no guarantee of a support system to fall back on.

There is often a huge gap between the way our laws are envisioned on paper and the way they are implemented. In a four-part series, will review four Indian laws specifically addressing crimes against women and children to better understand what ails the process of implementing well-intentioned laws. We start off with the problems surrounding a clause of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act that makes the reporting of such abuse mandatory.

Lata (name changed), who sold vegetables at an urban slum in eastern India, had a predictable daily routine that everyone in her neighbourhood was aware of. She would head to the wholesale markets before sunrise and spend most of the day at her vegetable stall. A single mother, she had no choice but to leave her seven-year-old daughter alone at home.

In mid-2015, Lata returned home from work to discover that her daughter had been raped by some men in the neighbourhood. The child confided in her and a frantic Lata approached the police. But the accused were well-connected, and instead of reporting the case, the police turned her away.

Distraught, Lata faced a painful dilemma. Should she spend her time pursuing justice for her daughter, or focus on earning their daily bread? With no other support system to fall back on, she was forced to go back to work.

A few days later, social workers from Aangan Trust, a national non-profit organisation working for child rights, heard about the incident. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, it is mandatory for every citizen to report sexual crimes against children. Since the police had turned Lata away, Aangan workers took the case straight up to senior police officials in the zone. A complaint was finally filed and the accused arrested. But for Lata and her daughter, this, too, meant trouble.

With the accused in police custody, their supporters in the neighbourhood started threatening Lata. Sensing more danger to her daughter, she was forced to migrate to another small town. In the bargain, she lost her only means of income. In the future, even if the men accused of raping her daughter are convicted and sentenced to long jail terms, Lata knows she can never go back to her old home – the men and their supporters will always pose a risk to them.

For Deepika Khatri, a training and impact specialist at Aangan Trust, this case illustrates some of the unfortunate consequences of mandatory reporting under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

“When this mother initially reported the crime, she was turned away,” said Khatri. “She didn't have the option of skipping work or of leaving the community, and couldn't do anything to get her child out of immediate danger. And when the case was filed, she was threatened anyway, and moving out wrecked her livelihood. With these levels of risk involved, for both victim-survivors and the community member who has reported the abuse, can people be expected to mandatorily report sexual abuse?”

What the law says

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act came into force in 2012 to effectively address the growing problem of sexual violence against children in a country where 53% of children face such abuse. Unlike relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code dealing with the subject, the 2012 Act is detailed in its definitions of various kinds of child sexual abuse, including the use of sexually explicit language around a child and the showing of pornography to minors. This law recognises sexual abuse by people in a position of power and authority as an aggravated offence. It is also gender-neutral, recognising that both boys and girls can be victims, and that females, too, can be perpetrators.

But for most activists working in this field, the Act's clause on mandatory reporting remains controversial. Sections 19-21 mandate that any person – including the child – with any apprehension or knowledge of an offence committed under the Act must inform the police or the Special Juvenile Police Unit. The law specifically makes such reporting obligatory for media persons and those employed with hospitals, hotels, lodges, clubs, studios and photographic facilities.

In 2013, the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development issued model guidelines for the implementation of the Act. These further specified that doctors, workers with non-governmental organisations, school personnel and other professionals are obligated to come forward with information of abuse, even if they have acquired that information through a personal, confidential relationship with the child. Failure to do so is punishable with a fine or six months of imprisonment, although this is not applicable to children.

In every country where mandatory reporting has been adopted, the impulse behind the clause has been well-intentioned. It is a means of taking action against abuse with as much immediacy as possible, preventing further abuse and helping survivors regain a sense of control. Since children may not often understand how to respond to abuse, mandatory reporting places the responsibility of action on the adults around them.

But despite the good intentions behind mandatory reporting, social workers see it as a problematic clause that is incredibly difficult to implement on the ground.

Ill-equipped system

“Inserting the mandatory reporting clause in the law simply does not work without a robust child protection system in place, which we do not have,” said Vidya Reddy, executive director of Tulir, a Chennai-based organisation that works for the prevention of child sexual abuse and the healing of victims of such abuse.

Once the matter is reported, the child is inevitably put through the wringer of the Indian criminal justice system, with all its flaws. On paper, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act makes numerous provisions for dealing with abused children sensitively – medical examinations must take place in the presence of a trusted caregiver, officials from the police or other agencies must be specially trained to interview children about their abuse, the interviews must take place in a neutral, child-friendly environment and trained counsellors must be made available for the child. Most importantly, the Act mandates that a “support person” be appointed to help the child navigate the pre-trial and trial process.

The reality on the ground, however, is often very different. The police and other officials are not sensitised enough, children are probed about their ordeal multiple times, and outside of urban spaces, there is a dearth of qualified counsellors. “At the district level, the child's statement is often taken inside the police station, or the police go to interview the child in uniform,” said Manisha Tulpule, a lawyer from Mumbai and a former member of a child welfare committee in Maharashtra's Raigad district. This is not only intimidating for a vulnerable child, but it can also expose the child's identity in a neighbourhood.

Another well-intentioned aspect of the Act is that it places the burden of proof not on the child but on the accused. But in practice, this can have an adverse effect. “Since abusers have to prove they didn't commit the crime, defence lawyers may end up shredding and decimating the child in court to get their clients off the hook,” said Reddy.

All these factors contribute to a lack of trust in an inadequate system, which was made evident in a survey on mandatory reporting by the non-profit Arpan. In the survey, 62.5% of child sexual abuse survivors claimed they were uncomfortable with the mandatory reporting clause. Many attributed this to an awareness of the lack of social support after the abuse has been reported. Others were convinced that the police are not equipped to understand the nuances of child sexual abuse.

Support persons

Support persons, the essential buffer between the child and the system, are to be appointed by district-level child welfare committees but this rarely happens.

Almost anyone can be a support person – a counsellor, social worker, organisation or someone trusted by the child – as long as they are familiar with criminal and legal procedures. Social workers from civil society organisations are most likely to be qualified for the job. “But are there NGOs all over India, in every district, to be able to help all cases of child sexual abuse?” asked Atiya Bose, director of Aangan, whose staff members have often been appointed as support persons in various cases.

According to Tulpule, the police are supposed to refer each case under the Act to a child welfare committee, which, in turn, must ensure a support person is appointed in each case. “But the police don't always report cases and often, the CWCs themselves don't know about the provision of the support person,” said Tulpule. “At times, judges don't allow support persons to accompany the child in court. Besides, the law says that the support person must be with the child from the pre-trial phase up to the end of the trial. But what happens after that?”

Need for healing

For children who have been sexually abused, the aftermath of a trial is perhaps of more concern than the act of getting justice through a potential conviction. This is particularly true when the perpetrator of the abuse is a relative or acquaintance known to the victim, as is the case with 95% of abused children, according to a National Crime Records Bureau report for 2015.

“For a child, stopping the abuse and punishing the abuser isn't the only important thing – a child needs healing, security and family both during and after trial,” said Bose. If the abuser is a family member, reporting the case would mean entering the home of the child, breaking his or her family and probably putting him or her in a shelter home, which can be traumatic for the child even if the abuser is jailed.

These concerns also often prevent adult caregivers from reporting abuse that a child may have disclosed to them.

Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, said Bose, the child's role is often inadvertently reduced to that of a witness in the trial, helping ensure that justice is carried out. “Provisions for support and child protection have been made for the duration of the trial, and rehabilitation is only mentioned in brief,” she said. “You can't just put in place a law without creating the environment needed to implement it.”



Study: Nearly 79,000 minors are sex trafficked in Texas


AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) — A new University of Texas at Austin study is shedding light and providing actual empirical data on the extent of human trafficking in Texas and its far-reaching effects. The study by the Institute on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault (IDVSA) at The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work states there are more than 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas, including almost 79,000 minors and youth victims of sex trafficking and nearly 234,000 adult victims of labor trafficking.

While existing data sets on human trafficking were helpful, the researchers in UT's study, which was started in 2014, determined those existing data sets only shed light on a fraction of the problem because it didn't include the “hidden population that is historically hard to reach.” To incorporate the “hidden population” into their study, researchers looked at risk indicators found in documented trafficking cases and use that information to define groups of people that are considered to be at higher-than-average risk of trafficking.

For minor and youth sex trafficking, the study focused on children in the foster care system, those who have experience abuse, and the homeless. To get the number that nearly 79,000 minors are victims of sex trafficking, the study used federal and state data indicating 290,000 minors were subjected to child abuse, another 24,000 are at-risk youth being served by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services and approximately 1,4000 are homeless. The study applied a 25 percent victimization rate developed from the Agency Survey to estimate the number of victims in those community segments.

“This is our first glimpse into the scope and impact of human trafficking in Texas. Few states have this kind of insight into the number of people being exploited,” said IDVSA director Noël Busch-Armendariz, who led the study. “And more importantly, each count reflects a human being living among us in slavery-like conditions. Our findings certainly give us all a call to action.”

Researchers also established benchmarks on the economic impact of human trafficking. The study states an estimated $6.5 billion is spent on the lifetime costs of providing care to victims and survivors of minor and youth sex trafficking in Texas.


Should Possession of Child Pornography Require Reparations to the Child?

by Sherry F. Colb

At the age of eight, "Amy" (a pseudonym) suffered sexual assault at the hands of her uncle, a man who was subsequently convicted and sent to prison. Amy's ordeal is not entirely over, however. While molesting her, her uncle videotaped his crimes and distributed the pictures (both moving and still) to consumers of child pornography. As a result, images of Amy's molestation continue to circulate on the Internet, over a decade after the abuse took place, and the images regularly emerge when police arrest and search people who are in possession of child pornography.

Amy has sought restitution (a legal term for compensation) from people who have been found in possession of her images in 350 criminal cases nationwide. Because of the Crime Victims Rights Act, victims receive notification when child pornography containing their images comes to light, and that is how Amy learned about some of the people who have pleasured themselves by watching her being sexually abused.

In seeking restitution from those caught in possession of these materials, Amy claims that the defendants owe her money because they have contributed to her suffering through their possession of the videos. Some courts have been very receptive to her arguments and have awarded generous restitution, while others have refused to award anything at all.

In this column, I will evaluate Amy's claims against those who have been criminally charged with possession of child pornography in which she appears.

Why Some Courts Resist Amy's Claims

Before seeking to understand why Amy might be entitled to restitution, it is useful to consider some of the arguments that opponents mobilize against a monetary award.

First, they say, the possession of child pornography does not itself inflict any harm on Amy. Rather, they contend, the harm began and ended with the sexual assault committed by Amy's uncle, and he is therefore, properly, subject to criminal punishment and whatever restitution she is able to exact from him. In other words, this argument goes, we have a perpetrator here, and that perpetrator is Amy's uncle, not the people who downloaded images of his crime.

Second, some argue in the same vein that those in possession of child pornography have no relationship to Amy or to any of the other victims who appear in child pornography. Those who endorse this argument suggest that one cannot owe money to someone with whom one has no relationship at all. An individual's possession of the images of Amy, on this approach, does not alter Amy's life for the worse at all.

Third, some have claimed that even if one believes restitution is, in theory, appropriate, it is impossible to calculate how much to award. As a result, they say, there will be wildly varying assessments of the proper amount of restitution by different judges – as, in fact, there have been up until this point. Two Florida judges, for example, each ordered convicts to pay her over three million dollars, while a California judge ordered a payment of only $5000, and a Texas judge refused to award anything. Awards will depend entirely on the subjective reaction of the criminal court judge, rather than on any predictable or uniform method for determining compensation. Given this inherent arbitrariness, some conclude, it does not make sense for the law to be involved in dispensing restitution.

And fourth, there are those who contend that any compensation should occur in the context of a civil lawsuit, rather than in criminal court. Criminal courts, they reason, are best suited to address factual determinations and penalties, and are far less able to determine issues of compensation than civil courts are.

Why We Criminalize Possession of Child Pornography

To respond to these arguments opposing Amy's claims, it is useful first to consider the reasons our society has for criminalizing the possession of child pornography at all. That is, if we are to understand the role of compensation in a criminal prosecution for possession, then we must first examine the "wrong" that we believe takes place when people possess the material at issue.

One reason to punish the possession of such material is that market demand (as evidenced by possession) drives at least some portion of the misconduct itself. If there were no market for watching child pornography, then those who commit acts of sexual molestation for the camera might not do so anymore (or might do so much less frequently than they do). Those who want to view the materials, and who act on that desire by downloading them, thus motivate the conduct that gives rise to the product that they possess. Accordingly, to the extent that criminalizing possession deters some people from demanding child pornography, this deterrence helps to reduce the acts of abuse that feed the supply as well.

A second reason to punish possession of child pornography is the invasion of privacy that watching someone being molested represents. As Amy describes it, the knowledge that people are watching her being sexually assaulted feels like an additional assault to her.

To appreciate the way in which possession indeed invades a victim's privacy, consider the pedophile who uses binoculars to peer into a child's bedroom across the street, through a break in the blinds, so that he can masturbate as he watches the child undress every night. In this situation, no one is physically molesting the child, and there is therefore no more salient perpetrator to distract us – in the way that there is in the case of Amy's uncle. Rather, the only culprit in this scenario is the pedophile who watches the child undress. The same is true when a Peeping Tom targets an adult male or female to watch with binoculars in this way.

The person in possession of child pornography does not watch Amy in real time, of course, as the Peeping Tom would, but the harm is of the same kind. Someone who has no legitimate business or permission to be looking at her body is doing so. That he is watching her being violated, rather than just observing her living her life, does not mitigate the invasion. To be raped or sexually abused is both a violent and a degrading crime, and no victim wants a prurient audience to witness such an act.

How Defenders of Restitution Might Respond to Its Detractors

Carrying over these ideas to the restitution area, we can identify how defenders of restitution might respond to its detractors.

First, proponents of restitution could point out that the consumer of child pornography is not innocent of the molestation that takes place to produce the product. As discussed above, the consumer motivates the producer to produce, and the production of child pornography generally involves the sexual violation of children. It was the large numbers of people already interested in possession of child pornography that assured Amy's uncle that he could make a profit by producing more. And consumers are surely aware that their consumption drives the creation of more images.

By analogy, as I have discussed elsewhere, people who consume animal products are participants in the suffering and death of the animals who are tortured and killed to make the products. By eating eggs, the consumer motivates the producer to breed more egg-layers and to kill the male chicks born of the egg-layers (and to kill the egg-layers themselves, once they are "spent"), all of which is part of how a supplier can meet demand. By eating dairy cheese, the consumer motivates the farmer to impregnate the cow (or sheep or goat) and then take her baby away from her and kill him for veal or another "delicacy." And the same is true for consumers of fish, chickens, turkeys, and other sentient creatures. By reducing and ultimately eliminating the demand for animal products – that is, by being vegan – we can eliminate the producers' incentive to commit this violence against animals in the first place.

In the case of child pornography, there is a second reason to require the consumer to pay restitution to the particular victim who appears in the film that he possesses (as opposed to paying some other victim of the same sort of offense). The consumer of child pornography has a direct relationship with the victim of molestation depicted in the film: He is her Peeping Tom. Quite apart from the causal connection between consumption and production (or, in economic terms, "demand" and "supply"), then, the relationship is specific to the child or children being watched: By watching Amy getting sexual abused, the viewer invades Amy's privacy (in addition to motivating other child pornographers to victimize and film her and other child victims). In that sense, it is appropriate to ask the possessor of child pornography to compensate Amy (and any other victims who might appear in his films), because he violated her particular privacy by watching her being molested.

How Much Restitution Should Victims Like Amy Receive?

Some of the above objections to restitution have more to do with practicality than they do with justice. Closely examined, such arguments are unpersuasive. They say, for instance, that it is difficult to calculate precisely how much money Amy should receive, and therefore, that we should simply get out of the business of awarding monetary restitution.

To the extent that we agree, however, that Amy and those like her are owed something rather than nothing, we replace uncertainty and some arbitrariness with certain injustice when we eliminate the option of recovering restitution altogether. In other areas of law, we have rightly settled for estimation when perfect calculation seems impossible, as discretionary awards for pain and suffering attest.

Another argument of those who oppose restitution for victims like Amy is in tension with the "impossible to estimate" point. This argument holds that Amy should bring a civil suit, rather than ask for restitution in criminal court. However, if it is indeed impossible to calculate the "right" number to assign to the harm committed by a possessor of child pornography, then in what sense could we expect a civil jury to do a "better" job of accomplishing the calculation than a criminal court judge would?

Restitution Is a Win-Win Proposition

From the perspective of the victim of child pornography – the child and the adult that she later becomes, if she survives the assault – her assailant and every viewer have robbed her of something profound. They have all participated in her suffering and degradation, and they continue to do so as long as the material circulates. Because the Internet works as it does, this can mean the rest of a victim's life.

Though money cannot completely restore any victim to what she would have been in the absence of trauma, its award – whether through civil damages or restitution – represents a recognition of what has been unjustly taken from her. And that acknowledgement can, in and of itself, be a source of validation and comfort for a victim. The amounts will necessarily be indeterminate (as we have seen in the great disparities between awards granted in criminal courtrooms across the nation). Yet that indeterminacy does not negate the substantial benefits to victims of requiring perpetrators to pay them reparations.

In one sense, reparations also help to remind the perpetrator – in this case, the violator of a child's intimate privacy – that what he did harmed an individual – that his conduct was not simply a private, "victimless" transaction. In another sense, the availability of reparations expresses society's interest – as captured by the criminal court's involvement – in both protecting victims and redistributing wealth from those who have stolen what was never theirs to take, to those who represent the very real, individual victims of that theft.



Speaking up about child abuse

by Guest Contributor

It's not easy to speak up about child sex abuse.

In fact, finding the courage to come forward can take years, or possibly decades. And even then, feelings of shame, fear, anger, and isolation often resurface for survivors of abuse. Speaking up requires returning to a dark place, which is why reporting it to authorities can be so difficult.

Child sexual abuse knows no social or economic boundaries, and it is most often perpetrated by someone the child knows. Abusers can be manipulative, convincing their victims to stay quiet, or that the abuse is normal. They might isolate their victims and make them feel alone.

But the reality is that victims of child sex abuse are not alone. Every eight minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the United States. And for some, decades may pass before they are able to find the strength to speak out about the abuse.

Studies have shown that when childhood trauma occurs, long-lasting effects linger. Survivors of sexual abuse confront challenges throughout their lives, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, flashbacks, and depression. So even decades after the original abuse, speaking out about sexual assault can be extremely painful.

This process is often made even more difficult by unreasonable laws dictating the statute of limitations regarding child sex abuse crimes. In each state, the laws are different, but for many survivors, by the time they feel ready to speak out about the abuse they suffered, they find themselves unable to prosecute due to the length of time that has passed.

In March 2015, Utah's legislature approved HB277, a bill that eliminated the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits against perpetrators of child sexual abuse. This was a huge milestone for survivors in our state, enabling them to take civil action when they are ready. However, there is still much work to be done. Utah ranks among the worst in the nation for its rate of sexual abuse.

Local Utah residents and critically acclaimed pianists Desirae and Deondra Brown are well-known advocates for change and were instrumental in the passage of HB277. As members of The 5 Browns, they became famous before realizing both were survivors of child sexual abuse at the hands of their father. Each had kept the abuse secret for over 10 years. This revelation changed the trajectory of their future as they embarked on a public battle to seek justice and eventually see their father put behind bars.

Today, Desirae and Deondra are working on behalf of survivors across the country with their organization, The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse. Using their voices to speak up for change, the sisters have offered hope, encouragement, and empowerment to survivors everywhere.

This spring, our community will have the opportunity to hear Desirae and Deondra Brown perform and tell their courageous story at DOVE Center's annual gala, “Speak up for change: Ending sexual and domestic violence one voice at a time.” During this unforgettable evening, guests will learn how each of us can speak out against abuse and offer support to survivors.

For more information about the annual gala or to find out how you can help survivors of sexual and domestic violence, visit If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please call DOVE Center's 24/7 helpline at (435) 628-0458.



Texas Dad Accused of Abuse After Doctors Find His Infant Daughter Has 25 Broken Bones

by KC Baker

A Texas father is accused of child abuse after doctors discovered last year that his malnourished, 2-month-old daughter had 25 broken bones.

A warrant was issued Thursday for the arrest of Joel Ortiz Rodriguez Jr., in Austin, Texas, on a charge of injury to a child, a state jail felony, PEOPLE confirms.

Austin police say Rodriguez admitted to “pulling on [his daughter's] arms” when he was upset and had held her so tightly he heard her “bones pop.”

The investigation stems from the October hospitalization of Rodriguez's daughter, according to the arrest warrant affidavit, which was obtained by PEOPLE. Doctors told police — who were called to the Dell Children's Medical Center on Oct. 4 — that the hospitalized girl suffered from extensive bruising, her pelvis, ribs and wrist were broken and she had a cut under her tongue.

Doctors told police that tests showed the baby's enzymes were elevated, which is “associated with trauma to the internal organs,” according to the warrant affidavit.

The state's Department of Family and Protective Services soon removed the child from the home, according to police. She remains in foster care, a DFPS spokeswoman tells PEOPLE. The department continues to investigate.

On Oct. 6, doctors told police the baby had numerous bone injuries that were “both acute and healing,” according to the affidavit. Doctors said the baby was so small she was deemed “failure to thrive,” which is the result of inadequate nutrition, according to the Johns Hopkins Health Library.

Doctors later told police tests showed that the baby had suffered “25 different [bone] breaks” throughout her body, including to her ribs, arms and legs, the affidavit states.

When police questioned Rodriguez, on Oct. 11, he told them he had sometimes felt “frustrated” while caring for the baby and had gotten “too aggressive” with her, according to the arrest warrant affidavit: “He admitted to pulling on her arms by her wrist to pull her to him when he gets frustrated and stated it is too aggressive.”

Rodriguez said he had held his daughter so tightly that “he heard bones pop in her chest and back area,” the affidavit states. He also told police he thought the baby was losing weight and tried to force her to eat by pushing a bottle in her mouth.

At one point, Rodriguez told police he grew so frustrated when the child was laying on the couch and would not stop crying that he pushed down on her pelvic area with his hand, using his body weight, and pushed her away from him, the affidavit states.

But Rodriguez told police he “never meant to hurt the victim,” according to the affidavit.

On the same day as Rodriguez's police interview in October, the baby's mother told police she had “noticed a crunching sound in her daughter's ribs” about two to three weeks earlier but attributed it “to her daughter growing,” the affidavit states.

The mom said that around that time, the baby was beginning to have trouble eating, according to the affidavit.

She said that Rodriguez cared for the baby while she worked full-time and attended school and that she would care for the baby while he went to school, the affidavit says.

“She stated she noticed some of the bruising but didn't think that it was anything because she nor Joel do anything to the victim,” the affidavit states.

An Austin police spokeswoman tells PEOPLE that Rodriguez has not been taken into custody. She said the gap in time between the victim's hospitalization and the arrest warrant is likely due to a detailed investigation.

“As with any child abuse investigation, we have to be as thorough as possible and collect all the necessary information, which can take some time,” a child abuse detective tells PEOPLE in a statement. “We will continue to work these cases diligently in order to be effective at keeping children safe.”

It was not immediately clear why Rodriguez had not been arrested in this case.

Shortly after learning he had been charged last week, Rodriguez spoke with KXAN, saying: “I just needed to control my emotions right then and there. I was changing her, and when I told [police] that, I didn't think that they would take it like I did it intentionally to break her bones.”

Rodriguez told the station he was “never violent” with his daughter. “We never realized there was actually any broken bones,” he said.

“Yeah, I did push down on her, but I never intentionally tried to hurt her,” he told KXAN. “I didn't think I was going to do all that stuff, but that's what they charged me with.”

“Me and the mom should have been more careful,” Rodriguez said. “We should have realized the injures, we should have realized when she was crying and wasn't eating. We should have known that there was something wrong.”

Rodriquez has been able to see his daughter one day a week, he told KXAN. He said he is hoping to regain custody of the child and has been meeting with a parenting coach and baby-proofing his home.

(A Department of Family and Protective Services spokeswoman did not provide a further comment when asked about Rodriguez's claims that he may get custody. Efforts to reach Rodriguez by phone were unsuccessful, and he did not immediately return messages.)

“With how hard I work and with everything that I'm doing to get her back, I'm pretty confident that I'm going to get her [the baby] back,” Rodriguez told KXAN. His Facebook page appears to be full of photos of him and his daughter.

“The detectives can say whatever they want, they can think whatever they want,” he said, “but I'm just going to keep doing what I've been doing since day one.”


Federal Child Abuse Numbers Climb Again

by Jeremy Loudenback

A federal report published today by the Administration on Children, Youth and Families (ACYF) showed that the number of children in the United States who experienced child abuse and neglect rose for the third year in a row.

Using 2015 state data voluntarily submitted to the ACYF, the Child Maltreatment 2015 report (248 pages) offered detailed breakdowns of child victims of abuse, common types of maltreatment, rates of child fatalities as a result of abuse or neglect and the recipients of services from child-welfare agencies.

Nationwide, there were about 683,000 victims of child maltreatment in 2015, a rate that came to 9.2 victims per 1,000 children.

Data for the report was collected for the federal fiscal year (FFY) 2015, which ran from October 2014 through September 2015.

In 2015, both the number of estimated child fatalities because of abuse or neglect (1,670) and the national fatality rate (2.25 percent) were both the highest in at least five years.

States with the highest fatality rates per 100,000 children include Arkansas (5.67 percent), South Dakota (5.21 percent), Mississippi (4.82 percent), Georgia (4.51 percent) and Michigan (3.76 percent).

In tracking who reported allegations of abuse or neglect, educators made the most referrals to child-protective services at 18.4 percent, followed by legal and law enforcement personnel (18.2 percent), social services personnel (10.9 percent), medical professionals (9.1 percent), mental health professional (5.8 percent) and others.

Other report findings using the 2015 data included the following:

•  58.2 percent of an estimated four million allegations of child maltreatment were screened in by CPS agencies, resulting in 2.2 million reports of child abuse or neglect

•  3.4 million children received an investigation or an alternative response

•  402,330 child-maltreatment victims received services as a result of a investigation

•  148,262 child-maltreatment victims received foster-care services

•  58,544 nonvictims received foster care services as part of an alternative response

•  74.8 percent of all child fatalities were younger than 3 years

•  In data collected from 31 states, 12 percent of children who died as a result of maltreatment were part of families who had received family preservation services in the prior five years

To read the report, click here.


North Carolina


Congress needs to crack down on child sex trafficking

There should be no way for pimps to sell children and teens for sex in America. Period.

But they can, according to a detailed U.S. Senate report that asserts that, one of the biggest and most profitable online markets for commercial sex, sanitized ads from child sex traffickers so they could peddle minors. denied the report's findings, charging that it is a victim of censorship, but its decision to close its adult ad section has been called a victory by U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, the Republican from Ohio who chairs the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which initiated the report. said it would continue to fight in federal appeals court.

At issue is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). The section gives providers of interactive computer services, such as, broad criminal and civil immunity as long as they act in good faith when publishing content online that they do not originate.

However, according to the Senate investigation, has been using the federal law's provisions as a safe harbor while knowingly concealing evidence of criminality by scrubbing code words out of advertisements for child prostitution before posting them. If that isn't illegal, it should be.

The legal issues are murky enough that Congress needs to step in to provide clarity and close this loophole.

While the Washington State Supreme Court recently allowed underage girls to sue in state court for allegedly facilitating their sexual slavery by posting ads from pimps, other courts see it differently. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for instance, in a March 2016 ruling concerning ads, opined that Congress gave Internet publishers broad protections under the CDA for a reason, suggesting that "the remedy is through legislation, not litigation."

It's up to Congress to make sure the CDA doesn't give online companies cover to aid illegal acts. Portman and Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, who together spurred the investigation, say the company initially rejected child prostitution ads but switched policies sometime after 2006 to simply removing words such as "teenage" and "rape" from online ads submitted by child sex traffickers and pimps.

Yet that didn't change the facts for those minors subjected to the horrors of rape and sexual abuse. And despite 's recent decision to close its adult section, Andrea Powell, a Washington child advocate, told 's that those ads simply migrated to the dating section.

The sexual exploitation of children is not an abstract problem. The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center's Project STAR (Sex Trafficking Advocacy and Recovery) hotline received 246 calls from people attempting to escape trafficking situations or support survivors last year.

Portman wants to be prosecuted by the Justice Department, but if that doesn't happen, "he is actively exploring additional legislation to ensure that this kind of exploitation never happens again," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Portman.

The Senate report's findings are too important to ignore. The Justice Department should follow up on this report, and if it cannot or will not prosecute, Portman should go further: He should work with others in Congress to make sure the CDA does not continue to provide a haven for online companies to help predators buy and sell children for sex.



Grace Packer case raises questions about 2-year-old Pennsylvania child abuse law

by Newsworks

It's been a bit more than two years since Pennsylvania created a new law to protect kids from child abuse.

The law requires background checks for volunteers who work with kids. It also stipulates regular training for "mandated reporters" — people who under law are required to report suspected abuse.

The alleged rape and murder of 14-year-old Grace Packer — and the arrest of her adoptivemother, who used to be a child welfare worker — is prompting questions about how much a law can do to prevent abuse.

Experts say Pennsylvania's law is a good step, but perpetrators can deftly avoid getting caught.

"If you haven't been caught already, you're not going to be in the system," said Diane Vines, a program coordinator at the Child Trauma Academy in Houston.

She says abusers often hurt kids who aren't receiving the typical love and support other kids get. They pick kids who they think no one would believe.

"By the time these people get caught, they've abused quite a few kids."

In Pennsylvania, under the expanded law, mandated reporters have to go through periodic trainings on recognizing the signs of abuse. Vines says those trainings make a difference, because they replace a culture of silence with education.

"I've done trainings where I'm talking to a group of grownups, and somebody will come out later and say, 'I'm thinking about my niece,' or 'That happened to me when I was a kid.' And they hadn't told anyone before."

Vines says kids can show signs of sexual abuse when their grades drop suddenly, they become less compliant, or they know too much about sex for their age. Of course, these signs can also be chalked up to other problems as well, further confusing the issue.

"It's really not that specific. It could be caused by other types of things. That's what makes it so difficult to diagnose," said Dr. Pat Bruno, medical director of the Children's Advocacy Center of Janet Weis Children's Hospital in central Pennsylvania.

But he says there are things caring adults, and especially adults who work with kids, can do.

"If somebody tells you something like that, you need to report it," he said.

Diane Vines agrees. Beyond looking out for strange behavior, she says adults can empower kids to speak up.

"Send and live the message that your body belongs to you, and nobody should be touching it without your permission," she said.

The more people willing to speak up, the less likely it is kids will get abused repeatedly, but it's hard even for the updated law to prevent it completely. -



Bill Would Give Child Abuse Workers More Time

by Nate Hegyi

A new bill would give Montana's Child and Family Services Division more time to informally resolve child abuse cases before they are referred to the courts.

If passed, the bill would provide additional funding for a child abuse pilot project passed by the legislature in 2015.

The original pilot project gave social workers two days to resolve these cases outside of the court system. The new bill would extend that to 30 days.

Beth McLaughlin, a representative from the state's supreme court, likes the bill.

“What we find is that social workers don't feel comfortable within two days deciding whether a case can be handled outside the court system or not," McLaughlin says.

Maurita Johnson, the head of the Child and Family Services Division, also supports the bill.

“We really feel like this a bill that can help the greater system in terms of safely reducing the number of children in care and reducing the days that they spend in foster care," she says.

The bill's sponsor, Democrat Kimberly Dudik from Missoula, told the committee that the revised project would cost a little over $150,000 over the next two years. And, if it doesn't meet expectations:

“It is a pilot project and it will sunset in 2019 if we're not successful," she says.

The bill had no opponents and was tabled by the House Appropriations Committee without voting.



Michigan lawmakers seek to remove statute of limitations on child sexual abuse

by 6 News Web Staff

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Michigan lawmakers are looking to make it easier to pursue those who have sexually abused a child.

A Senate bill introduced to the Committee on Judiciary would remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

It would do this by adding any act of sexual abuse against a minor to a list of crimes that have a window of prosecution that does not expire.

Other crimes on the list include murder and terrorism.


Important new insights into the influence of poverty on child maltreatment

by Deborah Johnson

Decades of studies have established a strong link between poverty and child maltreatment.

But identifying connections is only half the battle; uncovering root causes is a key aim of child maltreatment research. A new set of studies published this week and edited by researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, is the first to try to get at the causal mechanisms behind the economic factors that are strongly associated with child maltreatment, either as a risk factor or an outcome.

Their findings, which are collectively presented in Children and Youth Services Review released this week, boost understanding of the role of income and poverty in child maltreatment.

The papers were presented at a workshop hosted by UW–Madison's Institute for Research on Poverty in August 2015 on the "Economic Causes and Consequences of Child Maltreatment." The event was organized by the journal special editors Kristen Slack, professor of social work and IRP affiliate; Lawrence Berger, IRP director and professor of social work; and Jennifer Noyes, distinguished researcher and IRP associate director.

"When people think about child abuse and neglect, they tend to focus only on deficiencies in parenting behaviors, and not a broader set of stressors that can create or exacerbate risk for children," Slack says. "Poverty and economic hardship need to be systematically considered in our efforts to prevent maltreatment or lessen its consequences. For some families, economic support can make a meaningful difference in whether children experience harm."

In the new studies, researchers asked: What is it about economic disadvantage and inequality that often leads to child neglect and abuse?

Their answers are grouped into the following five themes, focusing on links of:

•  Economic resources with child maltreatment and child welfare involvement;

•  neighborhood socioeconomic factors with child maltreatment;

•  the economy, income-related policies, and child maltreatment;

•  economic factors and out-of-home placement (e.g., foster care) outcomes; and

•  experiencing child maltreatment and out-of-home placement with young adult socioeconomic outcomes.

The studies reveal some common threads. Researchers found economic factors often play a large role, but income alone does not explain the poverty-maltreatment relationship. They also found that it is important to go beyond the individual and family level when searching for commonalties in child maltreatment cases to include where people live, work and go to school, and also where families fit into the broader context of society at large.

Several studies suggest that high earners and well-to-do neighborhoods have unexpected links to child maltreatment outcomes. Other studies found that children and families at risk for maltreatment or already experiencing maltreatment very often experience numerous poverty-related problems—such as unemployment, low education, disability—and many other risk factors that further complicate efforts to prevent child maltreatment and reduce its impact across the life course, which is the ultimate goal of all of this research.

To that end, findings from the studies also indicate that public policies that assist families through greater economic support have the potential to both reduce child maltreatment and promote family reunification when children are placed in foster care.


United Kingdom

Jehovah's Witnesses charity drops attempts to block abuse inquiry

Watch Tower's legal challenges have held up UK investigation into alleged sexual abuse for more than two years

by Alice Ross

The UK's main Jehovah's Witnesses charity has dropped efforts to block an investigation into how it handled allegations of sexual abuse, including of children, after a legal fight lasting more than two years.

The Charity Commission launched an inquiry into safeguarding at the religion's main UK charity in May 2014 after receiving allegations that survivors of rape and sexual abuse, including people abused as children, were forced to face their attackers in “judicial committees”.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, however, resisted the investigation into the Watch Tower Bible Tract Society of Great Britain (WTBTS), which oversees the UK's 1,500 congregations and is believed to play a key role in deciding how claims of abuse are handled.

The WTBTS, which had a turnover of more than £80m last year, launched a series of legal challenges to the inquiry. These included an attempt to challenge in the supreme court the commission's decision to start an investigation. The charity also fought in the lower courts against production orders that would oblige it to give the commission access to records showing how it handled the allegations.

The commission announced last week that, more than two and a half years after the investigation was launched, the WTBTS had shared some of the documents it had been seeking and the commission had since cancelled the production order. The charity had also dropped the last of its legal cases against the inquiry, the supreme court having refused to hear that particular case in July.

Although charities do sometimes challenge the commission's decisions in court, the extent and length of the Jehovah's Witnesses litigation were unprecedented in recent times, a commission spokesman told the Guardian last year.

A spokesman for the WTBTS said: “In light of the progress of the inquiry and the information obtained by the commission from Watch Tower and other sources, the commission has agreed to revoke the production order. Watch Tower has therefore agreed to withdraw its application for judicial review of the production order and a consent order has been filed with the high court to conclude the proceedings.

“Watch Tower will now work with the commission to explore the issues that are the subject of the statutory inquiry and to address the commission's regulatory concerns.”

The commission is conducting a separate investigation into the Manchester New Moston congregation, where three adult survivors of child sex abuse were allegedly brought face-to-face with their abuser shortly after he was released from prison after being jailed for attacking them.

He was later “disfellowshipped”, or expelled, from the church. But two women in separate cases told the Guardian last year that although the church can disfellowship people from the tight-knit congregations for minor offences, such as gambling, their abusers had been allowed to remain in the church. One, who was raped as an adult, said she had been urged by senior congregation members, known as elders, to face her rapist at a private hearing, leaving her “completely traumatised” and leading to the breakup of her marriage.

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses said last year: “We are in no position to, and neither would we wish to, force any victim of abuse to confront their attacker.”

Thomas Beale, of AO Advocates, who last year won a civil case that found the Jehovah's Witnesses had failed to protect a woman from sexual abuse that began when she was four, said the commission's decision to drop its production order could allow the charity to withhold further information.

“Of course we welcome the ongoing statutory inquiry into Jehovah's Witnesses' safeguarding policies and look forward to reviewing its findings,” he said.

“However, given our experience with Jehovah's Witnesses in litigation, we struggle to see how a thorough and robust investigation can occur now that the Charity Commission has decided to revoke its production order. We think the chance of full disclosure now by the Jehovah's Witnesses is very small.”

The organisation has faced similar claims overseas. Last year an inquiry in Australia found the organisation failed to protect children from sexual abuse, and that its weak internal procedures left abusers at large. Similar claims have emerged in Canada.

A spokesman for the Jehovah's Witnesses told the Guardian last year: “Congregation elders do not discourage [reports to the authorities] or shield abusers from the authorities or from the consequences of their actions.”

Fay Maxted, the chief executive of the Survivors Trust, said the WTBTS should apologise to those affected for the “appalling delays” caused by its litigation.

“Faith groups need to really take on board the huge damage and pain caused to victims and survivors when appeal after appeal is pursued in an attempt to prevent them from having to share information,” she said. “It is very difficult in such circumstances to believe that the best interests of the victim or survivor are in any way being considered.”

Maxted said she hoped the decision to share information with the commission signalled a change in their approach to the needs of victims and survivors.



MU strives to educate students, Greek life members about sexual assault

by Taylor Blatchford

COLUMBIA — Alicia Pitts was a freshman at MU in 2006 when, one night, she became worried about a friend of hers who'd gone to a party at a fraternity house. She decided to go look for her.

She began in the basement where the party was and then started going room to room. She found her friend in a bedroom, passed out. Four men were in the room in various states of undress, and one was having sex with her friend. Pitts started yelling and pushed the men away. They were too drunk to give her a fight.

She got her friend dressed and took her home.

They discussed going to the hospital, but her friend didn't want to because she couldn't remember what had happened, Pitts said. They didn't discuss reporting the assault to police.

Pitts now investigates crimes, including sexual assault and child abuse, as a forensic science consultant in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. She now has a better understanding of the boundaries of consent and said she would encourage her friend to report the assault were it to happen today.

Looking back, she's struck by the fact that she and her friend didn't realize what had happened was a crime.

"During college for me, that was just something that happened at frat houses," said Pitts, whose last name was Swartz when she was a student at MU. "In my mind at that time, I didn't realize that level of intoxication played a part of consent. Not being able to consent because of intoxication didn't click as being illegal. That was just something that was expected at frat parties, which is why I just didn't go to them, or didn't drink."

Witnessing her friend's assault has made it easier for her to empathize when she talks with victims, she said. But she thinks students need a better understanding of how often assaults happen because when victims realize they're not alone, it's easier for them to come forward, she said.

"I've told victims that true predators aren't going to stop offending until they're stopped by an outside force," Pitts said. "They have to have someone that says enough's enough — you're stopping now. Maybe a report can be that outside force."

Preventing sexual assault is a goal that's eluded universities as they've faced greater public scrutiny, and MU hasn't yet found an approach that has resonated.

In the past few years, MU has mandated bystander awareness training for all incoming freshmen, expanded its Title IX office and created a peer education program for fraternities.

But sexual assaults at MU remain higher than the national average for universities. In a 2015 report, 30 percent of MU female undergraduates reported being victims of nonconsensual sexual contact by their senior year. Nationally, 26 percent of undergraduate women reported experiencing nonconsensual sexual contact, according to a study by the Association of American Universities.

Preventing sexual assault in MU's Greek life community has been a narrower focus because of a higher rate of incidence associated with Greek life.

Members of Greek life made up 27 percent of MU's student body in the 2014–15 school year. However, 38 percent of reports of sex discrimination made to the Title IX Office that year involved members of Greek life in some way, Assistant Vice Provost for Civil Rights and Title IX Ellen Eardley said in a June 2015 campus sexual assault summit. The university has not yet released data from the 2015–16 school year.

New rules forbade fraternities from serving hard alcohol at their houses beginning in fall 2015. Nearly half of MU's fraternities have been placed on probation in the last two years, many for alcohol violations, some of which were related to sexual assault allegations.

Other proposals aimed at making fraternities safer were rejected in June 2015, included banning women from fraternity houses on weekend nights and drug-testing all students living in Greek houses.

Besides the policy changes, Greek life leaders and Title IX officials are using various programs to educate students on sexual assault: what it means, what the consequences are and how to prevent it.

A new approach to education

The Interfraternity Council, which is the governing body of 30 of MU's fraternities, took matters into its own hands in spring 2015 and created a peer education group to teach other fraternity members about sexual assault. Since then, the program has expanded to presentations that include alcohol and party culture, masculinity and mental health.

The men in the peer education group represent 13 fraternities. They visit chapters to facilitate group discussions about these topics, tailored to any specific problem a fraternity might be facing. The sexual assault program teaches men about bystander intervention, definitions of consent and gives information about Title IX. IFC Vice President of Risk Management Ryan O'Connor and Vice President of Programming Sean Miller led the group in 2016. Mike Pasternock will take over their roles in 2017, Miller said.

Kim Scates, MU's Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center's education coordinator, works with O'Connor and Miller to train the men in the group. They meet as a group every Wednesday and were presented to about one chapter each week this past semester.

It's easier for IFC men to engage and ask questions in the peer education setting because they know people presenting have probably been in similar situations, Miller said.

"I've gotten presentations about similar topics, and you could almost see people just (tuning out)," Miller said. "They see an adult who's spitting out numbers, and those numbers are really important, but a lot of times college students feel like the adult talking in the front of the room doesn't understand what college is like, right now."

It's up to the majority of men who will never sexually assault someone to stop the small percentage who will, O'Connor said. More than 60 percent of men at one university who said they had committed or attempted rape also said they had raped more than once, according to a 2015 National Sexual Violence Resource Center report.

O'Connor and Miller both said they've found that members have been engaged during the peer educators' presentations.

"What's inspired me is looking at a chapter during these discussions and just seeing light bulbs go on," Miller said. "Almost 100 percent of these guys understand that this prevention work is something important, it's an issue, but don't realize how much they can do to work toward stopping sexual assault. During our discussions, a lot of them realize how much power they have in this situation, and that's really cool."

Truth and consequences

Pitts agrees that good guys can and should use their influence.

"Nobody wants to say they have a rapist in their brotherhood or sisterhood," she said. "When you identify a predator, I would like to believe that the other people would be able to call those people out and weed them out."

There's a difference between predators, who assault women intentionally and repeatedly, and potential offenders, who may not realize that it is a crime to assault someone who cannot give consent if they are intoxicated, Pitts said.

"Predators are predators. You're not going to change that," she said. "But you can educate people on the circumstances so whenever they see that going on, then they can stop it."

She also said she believes sexual assault education should focus on teaching men not to assault, rather than teaching females how to avoid being a victim.

"There are things you can do to make yourself safer, but you can only do so much against a predator who's going to offend no matter what," she said.

Ultimately, all students need to be made more aware of the consequences of sexual assault and the boundaries of consent, she said.

"Everybody's not going to get a break like Brock Turner," she said, referring to the Stanford University swimmer who was found guilty of three felony counts of rape but was released from jail after three months. "Eventually, society is going to catch up."

Eardley, who leads MU's Office for Civil Rights and Title IX, also presents to individual Greek chapters and said she believes it helps humanize her office. She said all students need to know what behaviors are prohibited and how allegations are handled. She also wants victims to understand their options and the privacy the office provides.

"Folks understand the process of engaging with our office," she said. "They learn that we don't immediately, necessarily, start the investigation so that people might feel more comfortable accessing resources that they might need to access. I also think that it's important for individuals who might be inclined to engage in behavior that is prohibited to know that we're serious and that we take these types of allegations very seriously."

Her office works in tandem with the Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center for campus education efforts, including in Greek life, she said.

"We would like to have enough staff to have regular outreach to every single fraternity and sorority," Eardley said. "We don't have that. We have a campus of over 50,000 people so we rely on the RSVP Center be a leader in this regard. In many ways, it's surprising to me there hasn't been more focus by the university on RSVP. It's one of the first organizations like it in the country."

Studying how men can advocate against gender violence is Jackson Katz's life work. In a speech at MU last November, he urged men to stop viewing sexual assault and domestic violence as "women's issues."

"We don't need all the men on the University of Missouri campus to become activists for gender justice," Katz said in an interview after his talk. "That's not a realistic goal. A realistic goal is to empower more men to start taking some risks and joining women who are the driving force behind the change."

He said he believes leaders of campus organizations, including fraternities and sororities, need intensive training on sexual assault prevention so they're prepared to navigate situations as they occur.

"If you haven't had training and haven't been pushed to think about your leadership role in that way, you're not often going to come up with (solutions)," Katz said. "Training has got to be expected, mandatory and organically embedded in the whole experience."

Many men in fraternities aren't comfortable with their peers' behavior, Katz said, but remain silent because they're afraid of how they'll be perceived if they speak up.

"One of the goals of prevention education is to empower people to not be silent, to take some risks and know they're not just speaking for themselves," he said. "They're speaking for men who haven't spoken up for one reason or another."



Alleged child abuse victim speaks out after Finn case arises

by Adam Brower

(Video on site)

Eighteen-year-old Malayia Knapp's allegations of abuse – that her mother had instructed her and her siblings to punish each other however they chose – eventually led to the April arrest of 38-year-Mindy Knapp on charges of assault causing bodily injury.

Malayia's came forward with her story after hearing about Natalie Finn, the 16-year-old girl who died of emaciation in October as a result, prosecutors said, of parental abuse, neglect and torture.

“They need to speak up,” Malayia said. “They don't need to be afraid to stand up for what's right. They don't deserve to have anything happen to them. They don't deserve to be abused.”

Natalie's parents, Nicole and Joseph Finn, of West Des Moines, face multiple charges, including kidnapping and child endangerment resulting in death, and are set to be arraigned Monday. The mother is also charged with first-degree murder.

The recent instances of child abuse have probed questions about the Department of Human Services' handling of such cases, and Malayia said she's reached out to state Sen. Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Polk County, in the hopes that tougher child abuse laws would be enacted.

Malayia, who was adopted when she was 10 along with her siblings, by Mindy and Anthony Knapp, said the abuse worsened in their Urbandale home after the parents threatened to hurt the children and encouraged the siblings to punish each other.

McCoy wants to prevent cases like that of the Knapp and Finn families by bringing up stricter monitoring.

“We need to follow these kids to 18 at a minimum,” McCoy said. “I want to have hearings, and I want to know we are doing all we can to make sure our systems are in place and that we are working to protect children.”




Dennis Hastert and child sexual abuse

It is way too late for Dennis Hastert to salvage his reputation. He is a disgraced criminal. But he's still clinging to his money, seeking $1.7 million in hush money he paid to a victim he sexually abused four decades ago.

Once one of the country's most powerful men, the former U.S. House Speaker is serving a 15-month sentence for violating banking rules to cover up the motive behind withdrawals totaling nearly $1 million.

Hastert, 75, is within his rights to seek the money, as disturbing as that sounds. Last week, his lawyer filed a counterclaim for the money and asked a Kendall County judge to throw out the breach of contract suit the victim brought against Hastert.

But in filing his claim, Hastert reminds us that he got away lightly.

For the banking violations, Hastert could have been sentenced to as many as five years. The statute of limitations had expired on sexual abuse charges. Otherwise, he would have faced decades in prison. It is alleged that Hastert sexually abused nine boys during his time as a celebrated wrestling coach at Yorkville High School.

The unnamed victim, known as Individual A in the federal case against Hastert, is suing for the remaining $1.8 million of the $3.5 million he says Hastert agreed to pay him for “pain, suffering and harm caused by Hastert.” The man alleges Hastert abused him when he was 14.

Through his lawyer, Hastert denies a “valid and enforceable contract” existed. If a contract existed, then Individual A “breached” it by breaking a confidentiality agreement.

Hastert will be a bully until the end.

His prison sentence is a blip compared with the trauma his victims suffered.

At Hastert's sentencing hearing, the federal judge called Hastert a “serial child molester.” Even then, Hastert didn't want to own his past. “I know I'm here because I mistreated some of my athletes,” he said, as if he were being sentenced for yelling at a student. In another instance, his lawyer referred to “misconduct” by Hastert.

When initially questioned about suspicious bank withdrawals by authorities, Hastert lied and said he was the victim. He said Individual A was extorting him. He was OK with inflicting more damage on his victim.

In August, Dennis Hastert will regain his freedom. His victims will carry emotional scars forever.



Child Killed By Train: Babysitter Charged With Neglect

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has announced an arrest in the death of a child struck by a train in December.

by Sherri Lonon

ZEPHYRHILLS, FL — A 26-year-old Zephyrhills woman has been charged in connection with the death of a toddler in December. The woman faces neglect charges after the 2-year-old boy she was watching was struck and killed by a train on Dec. 12.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office charged Heather Jean Henderson with aggravated child neglect with great bodily harm on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Henderson, who was also struck by the train, was watching Hunter Fink and his 4-year-old sister when the crash occurred.

Henderson “knowingly and willfully brought the 2-year-old child onto the railroad tracks, which (were) clearly marked with no trespassing signs,” the arrest report said. Deputies say Henderson and the child walked out onto a 200-foot-long trestle and were caught in the middle of it as a train approached.

“As a result of her culpable negligence, she and the child were struck by the train,” the report said. “The child sustained fatal injuries to his head and body.”

Prior to her arrest, deputies say Henderson admitted she knew she should not be on the tracks with the child, the report noted.

The incident occurred on train tracks near Pattie Road and Paul S. Buchman Highway in Zephyrhills just before noon on Dec. 12. Back in December, the sheriff's office said another adult, Cody Williams, was with Henderson and the two children at the time.

"When they realized a train was coming, Williams grabbed the 4-year-old girl and jumped off the bridge to safety (about an 8-foot jump)," a December email from the sheriff's office said. "Heather Henderson was holding Hunter but was unable to jump out of the way in time. They were both hit by the train."

No charges against Williams have been announced.

No further information is being released at this time.



Hennepin County leads Minnesota in 24/7 child protection response

Following a state mandate, Hennepin social workers now respond quickly to abuse calls.

by Kelly Smith

For years, some of the most seriously abused or neglected children in Minnesota couldn't get help from a social worker for days.

Across the state, child protection agencies would shut down on holidays, weekends and late at night. Calls for help would be forwarded to the police or a nonprofit under contract with the county, and information taken down to relay later to a social worker.

Not anymore in Hennepin County, which according to the state has launched the only completely county-run child protection response system in Minnesota that's operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The expanded program comes with a cost: $26 million for a five-year plan for reforms and more staffers.

“Kids and families don't rest; we were trying to push meeting their needs into a 40-hour workweek,” said Carrie Crook, who helps supervise the unit.

Of more than 84,000 child protection reports made last year in Minnesota, 7,400, or 9 percent, were received outside normal business hours or on weekends. It took some agencies more than 24 hours to respond face-to-face after a report was received.

Minnesota began requiring counties to respond round-the-clock to reports of a child in imminent danger back in the 1990s. But officials said the mandate wasn't being consistently followed.

“It hasn't been monitored and enforced,” said Jim Koppel, assistant commissioner for Children and Family Services.

According to a 2016 report, 91 percent of the state's counties in 2014 failed to comply with the law requiring a 24-hour to five-day response to abuse reports, depending on the severity of the case.

In November, state officials informed counties that they had to conform with state law by Jan. 1, clarifying that agencies must respond in person to reports of imminent danger within 24 hours. Counties may continue to have a contracted on-call system instead of staffers on site, but they have to establish responsibilities.

Hennepin is the only Minnesota county so far with an in-house child protection response system, according to the state. The county shifted its response last summer from workers for a nonprofit agency to its own social workers, months before the state rule went into place.

“They have a really excellent system and really stepped up to meet that need. … I suspect there will be other counties that follow it,” Koppel said.

The state also is exploring a statewide or metrowide system, which could result in a centralized response system or a single streamlined phone number for callers to report child abuse or neglect.

Agencies should respond more consistently no matter what the ZIP code, Koppel said. “Any child in imminent harm is going to be seen as fast as possible,” he said.

County ‘stepping up'

Hennepin County, which has the most child protection reports in the state, had one of the worst rates in the state and met the response deadline only about 60 percent of the time. So last year the county hired 11 new social workers. And starting Feb. 1, the county will increase the number of child protection workers who investigate cases.

One of the county's new social workers is Shanique Washington, a former nonprofit youth worker who applied for the job after hearing about Hennepin's hiring spree. In a sunny office in northeast Minneapolis, Washington and her colleagues work like 911 dispatchers, wearing headphone sets as they type up calls.

“Our job is to make sure kids are safe,” she said between calls on a recent weekend.

In 2016 the county fielded more than 21,000 child protection reports, double the number in 2008 and the highest number in recent history. Of those reports, 8,768 were found to require investigation or an assessment.

Most abuse or neglect reports came from schools, followed by hospitals, police and social services. About 60 percent of the reports were about neglect, 34 percent were about physical abuse or the threat of physical abuse and 12 percent were related to sexual abuse or a parental partner sexually abusing the child

Hennepin County, like the rest of the state, has seen a dramatic rise in the number of child protection reports. That's likely due to more people calling in reports because of media attention focused on child abuse deaths, as well as the state screening out fewer cases.

Not everyone is supportive. The county has heard from critics saying that Hennepin responds too much to suspected child abuse; others disagree with the additional spending. But it's also the community that's calling for a 24/7 response, Crook said.

“It's exactly what the community is pushing for and we're meeting them where they're at,” she said.

A big step forward

After a string of child deaths and heightened concern about abuse and neglect, Hennepin County officials asked a national child welfare organization to assess the county's system. That 2015 report by the Casey Family Programs recommended the county undertake 23 reforms, including “a re-visioning for its child protection system.”

That was when Commissioner Mike Opat first heard that Hennepin County lacked a 24-hour response.

“I was amazed,” said Opat, who later helped lead a committee tasked with coming up with reforms, one of which was moving to an round-the-clock response. “I think it's a big step forward.”

The county had a 24/7 response years ago, but resources were scaled back in budget cuts, especially as child protection reports declined.

Ramping up staffing again means that trained social workers will take reports immediately, giving them access to background information and expertise police officers don't have, Crook said.

“People like us are making the best decisions we can at that moment,” she said. “There shouldn't be a roadblock to getting kids help.”



Father and son accused of rape want ‘only law book that truly matters' at their trial: The Bible

by Kristine Guerra

A father and son accused of raping a teenage girl over a three-year period and keeping her shackled in a basement have made it clear that they don't have faith in the law or in the people who practice it.

When they face an Ohio jury as they defend themselves against criminal charges that carry long prison sentences, they will rely on one book: The Bible.

Timothy Ciboro and his son, Esten Ciboro, both of Toledo, are each charged with multiple counts of rape. The trial is scheduled to start this week, months after the girl, who is Timothy Ciboro's stepdaughter, managed to unshackle herself and escape while her alleged abusers were gone, authorities said.

During a hearing Friday, the Ciboros made the unusual request of having access to the Bible, which they plan to cite as they defend themselves in front of a jury. The Bible, Esten Ciboro told a judge, is “the only law book that truly matters,” the Toledo Blade reported.

“There's a great deal of strategy in Scripture and I use those strategies in everything I do,” Esten Ciboro told the judge, according to the Toledo Blade's coverage of the hearing. “It's a vital part of everything I do.”

Timothy Ciboro said he and his son intend to “use God's holy word to ask questions, questions that we believe are absolutely vital to our case,” the paper reported.

Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings has decided to allow the two to bring their Bible during the trial, but she told them that they can't use the book to question witnesses.

“It's the court's opinion that while the Bible is very important, it is not a law book in a court of law,” Jennings said, according to the Toledo Blade .

The Ciboros are accused of sexually assaulting the girl over a period of three years, from 2012 to 2015. They are each charged with three counts of rape, endangering children and kidnapping. Timothy Ciboro, who faces two additional rape counts, is also accused of sexually assaulting the girl's younger sibling during the same time period, the Toledo Blade reported.

The two men were arrested in May after the then-13-year-old girl escaped from the basement, where she allegedly was held for more than a year, authorities said. She was spotted about a mile and a half away, carrying a backpack and two bags, NBC affiliate WNWO reported.

She told police that she was fed spoiled leftovers and was forced to urinate in a bucket with ammonia.

The Ciboros were charged with kidnapping and endangering children shortly thereafter. They were indicted on rape charges in September.

The child's mother, Stafonda Hawkins, also was arrested on an unrelated parole violation, WTOL reported. The girl told police that her mother had left and that she had not seen her since 2012.

The father and son have been adamant about representing themselves despite repeated pleas from attorneys that having a lawyer is in their best interest.

During a hearing in November, Esten Ciboro said he would rather rely on his faith than on a lawyer.

“Professionals built the Titanic. Amateurs built the ark,” he told Jennings, the judge, according to the Toledo Blade.

Earlier, Jennings told Timothy Ciboro that he could not represent himself because of his strange behavior in court.

For example, during an October hearing at which he pleaded not guilty to rape charges, he said he was charged with “offenses against [his] children,” WTOL reported.

“What are the offenses that you're charged with against your children?” Jennings asked.

“Bad — things I don't want to talk about, your honor,” Timothy Ciboro responded, according to WTOL.

Ultimately, though, the judge allowed both defendants to represent themselves, with appointed defense attorneys on standby.

This is not the first time that religion has been used, in some way, in a criminal case.

Last year, for instance, an Indiana mother argued that her decision to beat her son with a hanger was driven by her religious beliefs.

Kin Park Thaing, through her attorney, asked a judge to dismiss charges against her, arguing that Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2015, protected her from prosecution. An Indianapolis judge later denied Thaing's request. She pleaded guilty to battery and was sentenced to a year of probation.

In November, an Indiana man accused of not paying more than $1,000 in state income taxes also invoked the state's controversial religious freedom law to avoid prosecution.

Rodney Tyms-Bey argued that paying taxes imposed a burden on his religious beliefs, although he declined to say what those beliefs were or how, specifically, they were affected by paying taxes.

It's unclear how Timothy and Esten Ciboro plan to use the Bible to aid their defense, or what part of it they plan to cite

Jury selection will start Monday.