Mom seeks justice in 11-year-old's suicide: Girl bully needs to pay
by Tresa Baldas
There were no signs.
In the busy household of Katrina Goss, a single mother of three sons in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, all seemed normal on the afternoon of March 14.
Her middle son, 11-year-old Tysen Benz, came home from school feeling proud because he had gone to tutoring on his own that day, Goss recalls.
Later that day, the two baked brownies and then Tysen went up to his room, where his mom presumed he was watching TV or playing on his phone.
But when Goss went upstairs to tuck her son into bed, her world went dark.
Tysen had hanged himself, apparently because his 13-year-old girlfriend allegedly faked her death. The online prank led to criminal charges this week against the 8th-grade girl who prosecutors believe crossed a line.
"I think she deserves the highest punishment that she can get for her age," Goss, 41, told the Free Press on Friday, saying she lost an amazing kid who had everything going for him. "He wasn't lonely" or without friends, she said. "He was the absolute opposite of that. He played hockey, travel soccer, golf. He was an excellent bike rider."
But he lost it all because of a bully, Goss said.
"Even when you're young you can still commit a crime," Goss said. "She's intelligent. She knows right from wrong. She's 13. She took advantage of a little 11-year-old. I feel like she deserves the full extent of punishment for her age."
Goss added: "I don't even think it's a prank. I think it's bullying."
The girl, who is not named, has been charged with telecommunication services-malicious use and using a computer to commit a crime, which carries a maximum punishment of one year in jail. According to authorities, it was the hoax -- making a false report about someone's death -- that triggered the charges.
"I just felt that we had to have an impact on the 13-year-old, not necessarily punitive, but for accountability," Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Wiese told the Free Press. "Posting this hoax of somebody dying was pretty reckless."
Wiese said that he also wants to send a message to parents and kids that "there can be serious consequences to reckless (online) behavior."
"I wanted to encourage parents to pay attention to this seemingly private world that our children exist in," Wiese said. "If we're buying them a $600 smartphone and giving them access to this digital world, we need to know where they're going, what they're doing and who they're talking to. If they're not open, then we have a responsibility not to give them access."
The girl's family could not be reached for comment. She reportedly is back at school and feels bad about what happened.
According to Goss, whose oldest son got a copy of the messages that were being sent to Tysen that night, here is what happened:
Tysen was texting or Snapchatting with a person he thought was his girlfriend's friend. He read a post that said his girlfriend had committed suicide. Tysen responded, saying he was going to kill himself, too. But those involved in the prank never texted him back that it was only a joke, nor did they alert any adult about Tysen's plan.
According to Goss, the person who wrote the post was actually the girlfriend, who had borrowed a friend's account, pretended to be her and faked her own death.
"She used her friend's account to make it look like she died. Even when he said he was going to kill himself, she didn't say, 'I'm just kidding.' She just left it alone," said Goss, stressing she's sharing this story to raise more awareness about the pervasive problem of cyberbullying.
People talk about bullying a lot, she said, but there are no real consequences.
"It's not dealt with, and I think it's a huge issue that should be dealt with nationally," Goss said. "Tysen should be the face of this issue. He is someone that you would never think that that would happen to. I just can't say it enough. He was amazing, and everybody adored him."
In 2015, bullying ranked as the second biggest child health concern for a second year in a row, behind childhood obesity, according to an annual survey conducted by the University of Michigan's C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. However, the study also found that parents nationwide are conflicted about what cyberbullying is and how it should be punished.
The poll found:
• 63% believed that a social media campaign to elect a student for homecoming court as a prank is considered cyberbullying,
• Nearly two-thirds said that posting online rumors that a student had sex at school is cyberbullying.
• Less than half of parents say sharing a photo altered to make a classmate look fatter or posting online rumors that a student was caught cheating on a test was cyberbullying.
In nearly all cases, mothers were more likely than fathers to label actions as cyberbullying. Opinions about consequences were also mixed. Parents believe the most severe punishments should apply to those who post online rumors about a student having sex in school.
Meanwhile, Goss, who runs her own home cleaning business, has received an outpouring of support from her Marquette community. When Tysen was hospitalized in Ann Arbor for weeks, his hockey team and classmates made T-shirts saying, 'Stay tough, Tysen.' Friends set up GoFundMe accounts, which have raised tens of thousands of dollars from donors worldwide. And strangers from around the world have taken to Facebook to offer condolences and in some cases, share similar stories of pain.
As one woman who lost a teen son to suicide wrote: "You described my son, although he was 17. I know your pain but yours ... 11 years old. My heart goes out to you all ... this is happening all too often and the worlds need education. My sincerest sympathies."
"That's been the most helpful is hearing fellow moms with similar stories. It's actually comforted me a little bit," said Goss, who is trying to hold it together for her two other sons, Aundraes, 10, and 14-year-old Julian.
"I have to be strong for them and take care of them," she said. "They're my world."
Goss said her children have been struggling to cope with the loss of their brother and the trauma they experienced the night she found him in his room.
"It was hysteria," she recalled. "It was so crazy, and I screamed. My oldest got to the landline and called 911. My little one was screaming and crying."
Tysen had a heartbeat. He was transferred to Ann Arbor, where he died on Tuesday.
"It's been really, really hard," said Tysen's grandfather, Christopher Goss, who believes charging the girl is a good thing "if something positive comes from it."
"I don't want to ruin anyone else's life," Goss said. "I'm not a vindictive person, but something terrible happened. ... He was a beautiful child."
If you or someone you know is showing warning signs of suicide, consider contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.
Child abuse cases go up by 50 every year
Coos County ranks number two in the state for abused children
by Jillian Ward
SOUTH COAST — Coos County ranks number two in the state for abused children per capita. That agonizing fact is reflected in the rapidly growing case load at the Kid's Hope Center, which increases by 50 newly reported abused kids each year.
This is the time of year when The Bay Area Hospital plants pinwheels representing those numbers to raise awareness of the issue. You can see them all over town. But there is a more harsh, stark representation, as well.
At the Kid's Hope Center, T-shirts and onesies are inscribed with short descriptions of what some of these children are facing and hung for display.
"My skull was fractured by my parents," says one. "I was sexually abused by Mommy's boyfriend," says another.
People may drive by and see the pinwheels spinning in the wind. But a tiny T-shirt with "A friend of my parents did yucky things to my body" sends a clear message.
That display was used on Wednesday as a presentation for why the Kid's Hope Center is here. Those shirts are just a few examples of what the center hears from children every day.
These are the most vulnerable of the population, those least able to defend themselves. Being confronted with one heartbreaking case after the next, the staff at the Kid's Hope Center looks forward to when they can go to trial and get the pedophiles and abusers sent to prison.
"We are helping these children," said JoAnne Shorb, the center's director. "That's how we can do this every day."
The Kid's Hope Center served 331 children in 2016, and 292 in 2015. Shorb acknowledged that it is a "big jump."
"Keep in mind, our population is unchanged for the most part," she said. "We haven't seen the population grow other than a few people moving in here and there.”
But why are we seeing such a big leap in the numbers? Because not every adult knows how to cope with issues. Shorb has seen that children often become the ones who reap the consequences of adult stress.
“That stress could be the loss of a job, money problems, loss of loved ones,” Shorb said.
Generational abuse is also to blame, where parents are third or fifth generation of survivors and excuse their own behavior because it still isn't as bad as how they grew up.
“We have also served parents who have come out of the homeless camps with their children,” Shorb said. “These are parents who are doing the very best they can to provide shelter and food, but it is still below the standard of what these children should have.”
Sometimes children growing up in the homeless camps are discovered by the Department of Human Services (DHS) and placed into foster care, while other times parents pull out of the situation. Either way, once children are in better living conditions they begin to talk about their experiences in the camps. That's when the Kid's Hope Center intervenes for forensic interviews.
“Numbers of abused kids have also gone up ever since the hospital took us in and took over the program in 2013,” Shorb said. “since then, we've seen an increase in cases partly because of marketing and awareness. We have focused on reaching out to community partners and putting a higher prevalence on things going on in the community like abuse.”
The Kid's Hope Center has worked on making the topic of abuse less taboo.
“This needs to be discussed, people need to feel able to report it,” Shorb said. “From the homelessness issue and poverty, to the number of kids in the foster system, it's a multi-dynamic cause for what we're seeing.”
Before the hospital took over the Kid's Hope Center, which investigates abuse cases and advocates for the victims, it belonged with the District Attorney's office.
The Kid's Hope Center
Since transferring to the hospital, Shorb has worked to adapt the program and becoming more of the primary intervention party when abuse is reported. Once a call goes in about domestic abuse across the street, or a strange bruise spotted by a teacher, the case is given to the center.
“We are partnered with a multi-disciplinary team made up of law enforcement, DHS, the DA, Coos Health and Wellness, the school districts, anyone who has a role in keeping kids in our community safe,” Shorb said. “We are just the deeper level of investigation.”
The center provides forensic medical examinations that give the child a head to toe check up. The center is also partnered with the North Bend Medical Center and the Bay Area Clinic who send pediatricians specialized in the signs and symptoms of child abuse.
“Their check ups are not invasive or traumatic, but establishes a health base line telling us whether or not we need to do tests, if there is scarring or tears,” Shorb said. “Then comes the child forensic interview, which is recorded both by audio and video. It can only be accessed by a subpoena for prosecution purposes.”
Children who are proven to be in an abusing situation don't always enter the foster system, but rather the center tries to find another parent or a friend of the parents who can take the child in.
“That way they don't have to go through the trauma of being in the foster system,” Shorb said.
However, when parents discover someone abused their child, the center educates them on what to look for in case the trauma starts to impact their behavior.
“Maybe parents haven't been sleeping as a result of the abuse coming to light and haven't noticed if their kid hasn't been eating or sleeping or started wetting the bed all of a sudden,” Shorb said. “We have counseling services for the kids and the families as a whole, and watch out for the siblings who may feel responsible and are suffering from secondary trauma.”
Because the center is a neutral party, since they aren't arresting anyone or removing the child, parents tend to be more open and transparent about their worries and fears.
It isn't common for children to come to the center straight out of the homeless camps, but it does happen. In 2016, the center reported 2 children who joined their case load who suffered abuse in the camps. Otherwise, when they move into a home, that is when they start disclosing what happened to them while they were homeless.
“They may not think there is anything wrong, because they were used to it, but once they have a stark difference to compare it to they realize that there is a change,” Shorb said.
Julie Marshall is the education coordinator for the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children program, which is run through the center, as well as the center's child and family advocate. She has seen three or four families living in one apartment, which is a situation included under the homeless definition by the state. Those situations are becoming more and more common in Coos County, bringing with them abuse cases.
The predominant age for abused children 6 and under, making up 90 percent of physical abuse cases, and sexual abuse makes up 51 percent of the cases.
“These cases, the different kinds of abuse, overlap,” Shorb said.
The mean age of children the center deals with are children 12 and under. That's not to say abuse isn't happening to teens or young adults, but they are more aware of the consequences of coming forward, especially with sexual abuse.
“They don't want to split up the family or move again, and the worst thing that can happen is to not be believed or to report it and nothing to happen,” Marshall said.
Often when these teens turn 18, they come forward in order to protect the younger siblings.
“A lot more goes into it as they get older and are more aware of what's going on,” Marshall said. “It's not like with a 6-year-old who will say 'this happened yesterday' as they are coloring because they don't have the filters of what to say and what not to say.”
If you see suspicious behavior, report it to law enforcement. Even though you may have reported it once or five times before, if you see it again, report it again.
“It is our collective responsibility to come forward and defend these kids,” Shorb said. "We have to defend them, all of us, because someone needs to."
Penn State's costs in the Jerry Sandusky scandal have hit $220 million; where'd the money go?
by Penn Live
The $200 million wrecking ball
Penn State certainly anticipated Jerry Sandusky's 2011 arrest on child sex charges would get costly.
But it's quite likely that the direct costs of the scandal - now exceeding $200 million - have exceeded even what the most worried trustees thought they were facing back then.
An unending trail of litigation, fines and civil settlements will do that to you.
Here's a look at who's been paid to date.
The Sandusky victims
Aaron Fisher is the victim who cracked the Sandusky case in 2008 and later stepped into the limelight and owned his story through his book, "Silent No More."
So we'll let him represent the 33 Sandusky victims who, together, have received a combined $93 million in settlement payments from Penn State, Sandusky's former employer.
Through June 2016, Penn State said it had been reimbursed $29.9 million, or just under a third of those costs, from its liability insurers.
Net cost: $63.1 million.
This may come down some more as a result of last fall's settlement with another insurer.
That money is starting to do good
At present, that fine breaks down like this:
$48 million paid to the Commonwealth, for use by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in development and funding of programs aimed at ending child sexual abuse.
In 2016, about $3.3 million was allocated to support the professionalization of police and child welfare responses to reported abuse cases at Child Advocacy Centers; direct support for child victims; and counseling or therapy for more than 200 adult survivors.
The other $12 million was retained by Penn State to help the university populate a new research center devoted to finding the best ways to treat abuse victims and abusers as they try to move on with the rest of their lives.
Net Cost: $48 million.
You could create a Sandusky Bar Association from the various attorneys who have been involved in civil or criminal actions flowing from this scandal, or simply helping Penn State and its board navigate a maze of investigative requests.
Here's an attempt to break down where the legal fees have been going.
The civil side
According to university accounts, Penn State has paid more than $33 million in legal fees for attorneys representing it in various civil actions and negotiations with groups like the NCAA.
These include the defense of claims made against the university by former employees - think former president Graham Spanier and former football assistant Mike McQueary; the cost to pursue insurance coverage - think Penn State vs. PMA Insurance Co.; the cost of the mediation with Sandusky's victims; and negotiations surrounding the consent decree.
Pictured above, from left to right, are Kenneth Feinberg, who mediated the civil settlements with most of the Sandusky victims; Lanny Davis, an early special counsel to the university trustees; and Nancy Conrad, PSU's trial attorney in the McQueary case.
Net cost: $33.9 million, minus an unknown-to-this-point deduction for insurance coverage, and the meter is still running.
Criminal defense work
In addition, the university was committed by past employment agreements to fund the criminal defenses of former President Spanier, seen here with his briefcase-toting attorneys Sam Silver, left, and Bruce Merenstein, right; former athletic director Tim Curley; and former senior vice president Gary Schultz.
Through June 30, 2016, that work had totalled nearly $14 million. That was before last month's criminal trial and almost-certain appeal.
Then there is another nearly $6 million in fees attributed to the attorneys PSU hired to respond to document and other requests in its post-Spanier era response to the ongoing criminal investigations.
Net cost: $19.6 million, again to be adjusted by insurance reimbursements and as-yet uncompiled costs.
Last fall, former Penn State football assistant Mike McQueary won $12.3 million in damages against his former employer in a whistleblower action.
McQueary has argued that the university's treatment of him after his identification as a key eyewitness in the Sandusky case sent out signals that have made it next to impossible for him to find a post-Penn State coaching job.
Penn State, which is appealing last October's verdict, has countered that McQueary has basically suffered from the same taint that scandal's shadow has cast on a lot of people affiliated with the university at the time. And that that wasn't the university's fault.
Net cost: $14 million, including a recent award of $1.7 million in attorney's fees.
The Clery Act fines
Penn State set a dubious record in November when the university was ordered to pay the highest-ever fine levied under the Jeanne Clery Act, a federal law mandating careful record-keeping and public disclosure of crime on campus.
Clery, the act's namesake, was murdered as a student at Lehigh University in 1986.
Probes kicked off at Penn State by the Sandusky scandal found PSU to be badly out of compliance with the federal law.
Net cost: $8.4 million, including roughly $6 million in legal and consulting costs, compliance efforts, and the eventual $2.4 million fine.
Louis J. Freeh
Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh won a big contract from Penn State to lead the university's internal investigation into its role in and responsibility for the Sandusky scandal.
He was paid nearly $8.2 million for his report that unmasked various missed opportunities by Centre County prosecutors and Penn State's senior leaders to stop Sandusky years earlier.
Freeh has also won the unending scorn of many PSU alumni along the way.
Net cost: $8.2 million
As nasty as the occupational divorce between Penn State and its former president has turned, it was always costly.
PSU's separation agreement with Graham Spanier, including five year's pay at $600,000 annually for a non-teaching faculty position, has cost the university about $6 million to date, money that the school has most recently decided that it wants to win back.
Net cost: Roughly $6 million.
The spin doctors
Ketchum, Kekst, Edelman... Penn State brought in some of the biggest names in the PR business to help navigate the troubled waters of the Sandusky scandal.
Some would argue this ultimately became money spent to sell a false narrative.
But, on the other hand, when you look at the way the university has come through it all in terms of fiscal health, student interest and even the health of the football program, the only conclusion can be that, from a strictly business standpoint, Penn State has survived the crisis as well as could be expected.
Net cost: $5.3 million
Firing the beloved Head Football Coach Joe Paterno wasn't free, either.
With an estimated $5.5 million termination payment to Joe Paterno's estate in April 2012, Penn State ended its contractual relationship with late and legendary head football coach.
The Paterno family's attorneys pointedly disputed the university's characterization of the payment as a settlement.
“It should be noted that this exercise was a straight-forward payment of monies indisputably owed to the Paterno estate,” family attorney Wick Sollers said at the time.
“The university had requested that the family agree to a full release in return for the payments under the contract,” Sollers said. “That request was declined and no release was signed. It would be incorrect, therefore, to characterize the payments as a settlement.”
The terms of the payout include a $3 million “career bonus” to be paid upon Paterno's retirement, the use of a Beaver Stadium suite by his family for 25 years, a $900,000 cut of television and radio revenue from the 2011 season, and about $500,000 in other bonuses and salary payments due from last season.
Net Cost: About $4.7 million
The independent monitor
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell drew the assignment of serving as an independent monitor of Penn State's athletics programs as part of the NCAA consent decree in 2012.
Mitchell's glowing reports of the university's serious efforts to implement the bulk of Freeh's policy and training recommendations were considered a major factor in the NCAA's willingness to consider early rollbacks of some portions of its penalties.
Still, former U.S. senators, and their law firms, don't come cheap.
Net cost: $4.7 million
Add these all up, plus an additional $4.3 million in the ever-popular "miscellaneous expenses" category, and you come to $220.2 million.
Again, there will be more costs coming in, and some deductions coming out as insurance claims are settled out.
But Penn State has basically lost something close to the equivalent of a full year's allocation of state aid thanks to Jerry's case.
It would appear that the worst is over for Penn State at this point.
Sure, the university noted in its June 30, 2016 audit that additional claims could be ordered - see McQueary case, above. And there are another year's worth of legal fees to be paid.
But there are far more fiscal threats from the Sandusky scandal behind Penn State now than in front of it.
That's a trend line that everyone can be relieved about.
By the numbers: Child abuse and neglect in Texas and Austin area
by the American-Statesman staff
With April declared National Child Abuse Prevention Month, child advocacy groups and Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas are calling for public vigilance against child abuse or neglect in their community. Some statistics for the state and Central Texas:
222: The number of children who died in Texas as a result of abuse and neglect from Sept. 1, 2015, to Aug. 31, 2016, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.
900: The number of children provided abuse consultations by Dell Children's Child Abuse Resource and Education team last year.
20.1: Number of Child Protective Services investigations of abuse or neglect in Austin metro area counties — Travis, Hays, Williamson, Bastrop and Caldwell — in 2016 for every 1,000 children.
22.3: Number of CPS investigations in Travis County alone in 2016 for every 1,000 children.
10,311: Total number of CPS investigations in Austin metro area counties in 2016.
6,356: Total number of CPS investigations in Travis County in 2016.
Our view: Fighting child abuse
by the Journal Editorial Board
“It starts with caring,” Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill said recently. “You have to care.”
He was speaking during a meeting last week to kick off Child Abuse Prevention Month, which is April, near his office in the Forsyth County Hall of Justice, the Journal's Michael Hewlett reported. And our DA was right on.
Child abuse consists of deplorable acts that scar children for life and betray the trust they place in their parents and other caretakers.
These are children, for Christ sakes, the little ones who can't protect themselves. It falls on us to protect them, and more of us need to be vigilant to the signs of abuse.
There are reasons behind abuse. Some abusers were abused themselves as children. But we can't ever tolerate any excuses for it. Nor can we turn a blind eye to children with black eyes and worse.
In Forsyth County, 2,174 children were the subject of a child protective services investigation in 2015 and 2016, according to the N.C. Central Registry and Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina. Across North Carolina, 126,962 children were referred to local Social Services departments in 2015 and 2016 for possible abuse and neglect, and out of those, 30,268 were confirmed as victims or found to be in need of services, the Journal reported.
There have been some heartbreaking cases of child abuse in our immediate area over the past few years. Thirty-two children were killed in 2015 by either a parent or a caregiver, O'Neill said at the meeting, four of them as part of a murder-suicide. And just over half of the children who were reported as abused and neglected were younger than 5.
Other recent cases include children literally chained in their houses and a disabled girl who died of abuse. Just last month, a Fayetteville man was charged with killing his 4-day-old and 2-year-old daughters.
Those who commit such crimes may be under intense pressures, suffering mental illness or victims of past abuse themselves. There are other contributing factors like poverty and a lack of education and parenting resources.
But there's no excuse for not stopping the abuse when we can and punishing the perpetrators. And with the right help, some abusers can even become the good, productive parents their own parents never were.
This month is a good time to familiarize ourselves with the organizations that work to increase awareness of child abuse. They include Family Services, Inc., Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Children's Law Center of Central North Carolina.
O'Neill “said parents should look for signs that their children might be abused and to trust their instincts if something doesn't feel right. He urged teen parents to seek resources to help them with parenting. He also told them to finish high school and seek higher education,” the Journal reported.
This is wise advice. It falls to the rest of us to help them accomplish this.
For more information, go to exchangescan.org.
Stephen E. Booker Child Abuse Response Team opens Child Advocacy Center for Jackson County children
by Katrina Goforth
The function of a new Child Advocacy Center is to provide a central location to conduct forensic interviews, medical evaluations, therapeutic interventions, and victim advocacy in a developmentally appropriate and non-intrusive environment.
“In a police station, it can be difficult for a child to understand they are not in trouble,” Melanie Lesley with the Department of Human Services said. “In a hospital, they might think that everyone knows why they are there. This way, there is a peaceful environment that is out of the way and private.”
Cultural Anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
The Stephen E. Booker Child Abuse Response Team, established in June 2015, made it a goal to establish a Child Advocacy Center in Jackson County. With a building available for the center and continued efforts to provide forensic interview training for the team underway, after four years of work, that goal has been reached.
Named for the late, former Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Stephen E. Booker, honoring his dedication to work on behalf of children, the team envisions a safe, friendly environment for the evaluation of child abuse in coordination with a team of professionals from the Department of Human Services and the District Attorney's office, working in coordination with law enforcement, mental health service providers and medical personnel.
According to Dennie Christian from the Oklahoma State Health Department, two nurses and a nurse practitioner are working on receiving sexual assault nurse examiner or SANE training in medical forensic care to work with victims of abuse. Pediatrics specialists, Dr. Lindsey King and Dr. Hokehe Effiong at Jackson County Memorial Hospital Pediatric Clinic will have been involved in the progress of the new Child Advocacy Center.
“We work together on the investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child abuse cases to ensure the best outcome in a safe and supportive environment,” Lesley said.
In 2015, child abuse and neglect were identified as an unmet needs in Jackson County through the Jackson County Community Health Alliance-Community Needs Survey taken that year.
“Before we have had to send children to Lawton, Oklahoma City or Sayre because there wasn't a designated place for victims of child abuse in Jackson County,” Tonya Boots at Youth Care Oklahoma said. “Having an inconspicuous place to see these children will reduce the number of people they have to talk with and have a big impact on their care.”
After spate of high-profile Spokane child abuse cases, officials say help for stressed parents is available
by Rachel Alexander
Lately, 5-month-old Emma Ohnesorg has been exploring her full vocal range.
One day, she'll practice her pitch alternating between high and low screams and sounds. The next, it's all about volume. And sometimes, she'll start grunting and straining, making an odd noise that persists until her mother feeds her.
“It's like she's found some sort of new way to tell me she's hungry,” said her mother, Holly Ohnesorg.
Ohnesorg recounted this progress to Alisa Rasmussen, a nurse with the Spokane Regional Health District who does home visits for first-time moms. During the visit Thursday, Rasmussen laughed, playing with Emma while telling Ohnesorg that it's not unusual for kids to keep repeating odd noises if they've found them successful in getting food.
The program, called the nurse-family partnership, supports parents through pregnancy, birth and the child's first two years of life by tracking growth, answering questions and educating parents about everything from breastfeeding to child development.
Ohnesorg found out about the program while pregnant. She doesn't have family in Spokane and thought she could use the extra support with a new baby.
“Having somebody come by on a regular basis and tell me that my child is okay and the rash is normal … that sounds kind of handy,” she recalled thinking.
The nurse-family partnership is just one of the programs available to Spokane parents who may need extra support raising their children.
Following the highly publicized deaths of four children in the region from child abuse-related injuries in the past year, advocates and social service providers who work with children are working hard to get initiatives on abuse prevention up and running.
Many say that starts with programs like the partnership.
“We're not doing enough. To have one death in the community is a big deal but to have four within such a short amount of time is really an eye-opener,” said Dina Patrick, a board member for the Spokane Prevention Of Child Abuse/Neglect Council.
The message advocates want to convey is simple: It's okay for parents to ask for help or a break.
“If you feel like you're reaching your limit, I think a lot of people aren't aware that there's help,” said Chris Rocholl, pediatric emergency doctor at Sacred Heart Medical Center and a board member for Partners with Families and Children.
SPO-CAN, as the council is known, also runs Our Kids, Our Business, an educational arm which encourages all Spokane residents to act against child abuse.
The group will hold a free reception April 19 for National Child Abuse Prevention Month, which will recognize the work of advocates and discuss how to do more to prevent abuse.
In spite of education and awareness efforts in the Inland Northwest, rates of child physical abuse haven't declined much in years, said Keith Georgeson, a former pediatric surgeon who's now the chief executive of Sacred Heart Children's Hospital.
He said about 40 children per year are admitted to the hospital because of physical abuse. Children younger than 2 are most at risk for serious injuries and can suffer serious brain damage from shaking.
“The brain bounces around inside the skull and as it does that it tears vessels that nourish the oxygen to the brain,” Georgeson said. That causes trauma to brain tissue, as well as reduced oxygen supply from the broken vessels.
In younger children, it's often fatal. Most children who survive a head injury from abuse will have lasting, lifelong damage, he said.
It's tempting to think of abuse as a problem of bad or evil parents who maliciously set out to hurt their kids. But that's not usually the case, said Rowena Pineda, a co-chair of Our Kids, Our Business for the past three years.
“I don't think parents get up in the morning saying, ‘I'm going to hurt my children.' I may be really optimistic about that, but I don't think that parents say that to themselves,” she said. “So the question for me becomes, why does it happen? What are triggers? What's the underlying reason?”
Many social workers point to stress. Being alone with a crying baby for hours at a time is hard, even in the best of circumstances. Add in the exhaustion of being a new parent, worried about paying for or finding child care or any one of the dozens of other challenges going on in a parent's life, and it's not hard to see how people can get short-tempered or desperate.
“Parenting is hard and I think society does not acknowledge that,” said Amy Knapton Vega, executive director of the Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery. Parents feel social pressure to do everything themselves or tough it out, rather than asking for help or a break when they need it.
Some parents, particularly if they're younger or inexperienced, may not have an idea of how children develop. They don't always understand what children are capable of doing, how to get a kid to stop crying or how detrimental shaking a baby can be. Some grew up in abusive households themselves.
“Where do you learn to be a great parent if you didn't have that yourselves?” Vega said.
Child care is a challenge too. In many of the recent child deaths in the region, children were left alone with stepfathers or boyfriends who may be less invested in the child's well-being, or less knowledgeable about child care, than the biological parents.
“All four of those deaths have occurred because the child was placed in the care of someone who was not property equipped to care for that child,” Patrick said.
Parents often know better, but don't feel they have other options.
“I've had mothers leaving kids with people that they didn't feel safe with because they needed to go to that job interview or get groceries” said Rochella. He added, “Once the damage is done, it's not something that a surgery or medicine is ever going to fix.”
How can we do better? Most social workers and advocates focus on education, letting parents know that resources are available to help before they get to a point of desperation. Those include free parenting classes through Vanessa Behan, which talk about stress management, appropriate discipline and child development, and programs like the nurse-family partnership.
Partners with Families and Children offers an array of services for parents and children, including a Fussy Baby Network line to call for help dealing with babies who cry a lot and have trouble sleeping.
Vega wants parents to feel more comfortable calling the crisis nursery, even if they don't feel their situation is a true “crisis.” They care for about 5,000 kids per year for periods ranging from just a few hours to up to three days.
There's no income requirement to use the nursery, and though they're sometimes full, they can often provide support or refer to other services. Vega said she wants parents calling them anytime they're less than 100 percent confident about the safety of their child care.
“You don't perceive yourself as in crisis in that moment but the outcome was absolutely a crisis in every one of those cases,” she said.
Child protective services also plays a role. There's a common perception that all they do is remove kids from their homes and place them in foster care, but that's not the case, said Connie Lambert-Eckel, an administrator for the state agency that runs CPS.
For cases where children are being neglected, but there's not serious abuse occurring, CPS can do a family assessment and ask parents to participate in a voluntary program designed to give them support so they can meet their children's needs for food, medical care or anything else that's being neglected.
The program, which is rolling out across the state and has been in place in Spokane County for several years, gives CPS a tool to get involved with families before something bad happens. It's outside the court system, so parents don't end up with a permanent record. Instead, they're connected to things they might need, like food, caseworkers, mental health treatment and more.
If the situation worsens and abuse does occur, CPS can step in and investigate, but the goal is to avoid that.
In Spokane County, CPS received referrals for 7,242 children in 2016. Of those, 3,142 were referred to the family assistance program or investigated. Just 613 were removed from their parents' care, in most cases temporarily.
“Our goal is to get ahead of it as much as possible,” Lambert-Eckel said. People can report suspected abuse or neglect to CPS through their statewide hotline, 866-END-HARM, or 866-363-4276.
People who don't have children can help by looking out for the kids and parents in their communities, offering support like child care and letting someone know if they suspect abuse is occurring. Parents who are socially isolated are more likely to abuse their children, and it takes a community effort to stop that from happening.
“The more stress they have in their lives, the less social support they have, the more likely they are to not be able to cope with some of the challenges of raising their child,” said Sue Schultz, the program manager for the nurse-family partnership.
The nurse-family partnership serves 125 families like Emma's and has spots for more, but Schultz estimates they're only reaching about 10 percent of families who could benefit from their help.
“It really does take a community to be contemplative in what's happening in kids lives around us,” she said.
South AL man crusades to end child abuse
by Clare Huddleston
HOOVER, AL (WBRC) -- A man from South Alabama who uncovered years of child abuse in a Christian school for troubled youth is sharing his story in hopes of ending what he sees at a nationwide problem.
Former Prichard Police Captain Charles Kennedy spoke at the Marine Corp League meeting in Hoover Saturday morning. He is on a crusade to end brutal child abuse here in Alabama.
"Alabama doesn't care. Alabama cares no more for children in places like this. It cares more about chickens in a slaughter house and earthworms than it does for children. I may sound harsh but that's the way it is here," he said.
Kennedy is referring to the former Restoration Youth Association in Prichard and former Saving Youth Foundation in Mobile.
In 2011, Kennedy first heard about the RYA through a Prichard City Council meeting. He stopped by to learn more about the facility, and what he found shocked him to his core.
"I looked over there and here's a boy in this room, naked, curled up in a fetal position and I thought, 'what in the world is he doing in this room curled up,'" Kennedy recalled.
After interviewing some of the boys at the facility, Kennedy learned more about these isolation rooms.
"They let these boys out once a day for a two-minute shower. Other than that, they stayed in this room 24 hours a day with a light burning. Now in the Geneva convention of war crimes, that's listed as a war crime," Kennedy explained.
The leaders of this program were John Young, Jr., William Knott and Aleshia Moffett. Kennedy says Knott told him they would leave the boys in the isolation rooms until their attitudes changed.
"What they were doing was installing the Stockholm Syndrome. Stockhold Syndrome, as you know, is a matter of mind control. The thing to do was immediately break this boy down and make him understand you're under total control here," Kennedy said.
Kennedy documented everything, all of his visits to RYA.
Boys would also sneak him handwritten notes describing their abuse.
Kennedy says he turned in all this to the Mobile District Attorneys office, but nothing happened.
Kennedy says he wrote letters to the local and state DHR, the attorney general, the governor - anyone he could think of - still no action.
The only thing Kennedy could do was write negative reviews online so parents would know what they were getting their children into.
Kennedy says RYA's enrollment went from 76 to 26. That's when RYA closed and the three opened Saving Youth Foundation at Solid Rock Ministries in Mobile.
Kennedy says he would drive by there frequently - until one day in March 2015 - he drove by and his heart sank.
"As I passed by, I saw crime scene tape all around the building and Mobile police cars. I'm telling you right now I knew a child had been murdered. I said they have finally killed a child here," Kennedy said.
Thankfully, no one had died, but police were appalled at the boys' living conditions.
Police and DHR immediately shut down the operation and Young, Knott and Moffett were charged with felony child abuse.
A jury convicted them and a judge sentenced them to 20 years in prison.
Kennedy is happy these two facilities no longer exist, but he says this type of abuse is still happening around the country and Kennedy won't end his crusade until they're all shut down.
Teach Your Children Well During Child Abuse Prevention Month
by Gary DeMuth
Touch can be terrific. It also can be terrifying. Sexual abuse of our children is one of the most horrific things we can think about. But we must face our fears and arm them with good information and skills. We need to teach our children well.
Statistics tell us that one in four girls and one in five boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18. More than 90 percent of sexual abusers are people the child knows and trusts. Twenty percent of child sexual abuse victims are younger than 8. Most never tell. These are facts, whether we like them or not.
Don't think it can't happen to your child. You won't always be there to protect them. Quick “stranger danger” education will not take care of it. Perpetrators can come from our families, churches, or neighborhoods. Sexual abuse cuts across all economic, racial and social levels.
Turn your understanding, and even your fear, into action. Purposefully teach your child about preventing sexual abuse. You encourage them to wear their bike helmets for safety — think of this as a protective helmet for their sexual and emotional safety.
Empower your child
Teach children that their body belongs to THEM. And, teach them all about their bodies. Identify their private body parts with correct, anatomical “doctor names.” Begin this when they're young.
Why do we use silly names or say things like, ‘don't touch that, it's bad'? We do it because we are embarrassed and fearful. We need to get over it. For ourselves and for our children. They count on us.
First, we have to learn to respect our sexual selves. Ikt starts with words. We need to name all body parts like we name an ear or an elbow. Degrading, laughable names like “woo-woo” or “tiddlywinks” instead of “vagina” or “breasts” teach our children that those parts of their bodies are so upsetting that we can't name them.
Practice saying “vagina” or “breasts” or “penis” until you can say them clearly without giggling or turning various shades of red. Your kids need information, and if you don't give it to them, the world will. You may not like the “information” the world will teach, so you make sure you do it.
These honest discussions show our children that we're approachable. We can talk about anything in this house. This is crucial when they become teens.
Teachchildren to identify different kinds of touches to their bodies and what to do if given a “bad” touch—a touch to their private parts that isn't “helping” (the doctor check-up, parents helping them bathe, etc.). Teach them to “Say, NO!, walk away and tell someone you trust” is a necessary tool. Help our children learn to listen to their feelings, trust them and act upon them in appropriate ways.
Discuss how to walk away, all of the possibilities of who to tell (even dialing 911) and that we never keep secrets about touching. Ever. Sometimes children are afraid, ashamed or fear that they won't be believed. Assure your child that you will be a believer. Practice with your child. Make up scenarios where your child is with a baby sitter, a relative or a friend who tries to give them a “bad” touch. Act it out. Explain that if someone tries to give them a bad touch, it's not their fault. Your child didn't do anything wrong—someone else did.
Tell your child that you hope they never get a bad touch. But, isn't it good to know what to do if it happens? They will know how to help themselves or how to help a friend.
Child safety is the job of the parent. With training, much child sexual abuse can be prevented. Children can be empowered to say “no” to mom's boyfriend or Uncle Fred. Do you want your children to have the knowledge necessary to maneuver the rough waters of life?
Loving your child isn't enough. Teaching them skills is necessary. And, along with all this great teaching, make sure you are giving your child a steady diet of hugs, high-fives and handshakes—we don't have enough good touches in this world! THAT'S how they'll really learn that touch can be terrific!
Warning signs of child sexual abuse
by Brian Trauring
The case is raising questions about how to recognize if children are being sexually abused by adults.
The web site StopItNow.org recommends watching for warning signs that include unexplained bruises, bleeding, redness or sores around the genitals. Sometimes, children begin receiving money or gifts from a "new friend" that could be suspicious.
Lucas County Children Services issued a statement to 13abc on Friday. "We are always concerned about any reports of child abuse, especially in the month of April, when we focus our attention on child abuse prevention. In 2016, about 12 percent of the referrals Lucas County Children Services investigated involved allegations of child sexual abuse." The statement continued to say the agency's top priority "remains the safety of children, and we are cooperating with the law enforcement agencies that are investigating this situation. However, because this is a criminal investigation, we can't provide further information."
Studies have shown most child sexual abuse victims do not tell an adult until they are older. There can be many factors including a feeling of shame or guilt. If a child has sudden behavioral changes such as nightmares or sleeping problems, these could be additional warning signs.
The American Society for the Positive Care of Children organization reports 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Over 58,000 children were sexually abused last year.
If you know of someone that needs help, you can call 1-888-PREVENT. Lucas County Children Services can be contacted at 419-213-2273.
Police: Child cried for ‘mommy' during recorded sexual assault
by WCMH web staff
BURTONSVILLE, MD (WCMH) — The day after a confidential source claimed a man was sexually assaulting children and videotaping it, police got a warrant and entered the man's home.
There, investigators say they found videos showing 31-year-old Kyle Thompson molesting two girls under 5 years old, according to WUSA.
Thompson reportedly dated mothers and grandmothers and preyed on their young children.
In one case, the toddler cried “I want my mommy,” to which Thompson replied, “Your mommy can't save you.” Another video showed the same girl with her arms tied together with a belt, crying while Thompson performed a sex act on her.
FBI agents say they also found evidence of Thompson raping a 3-year-old girl, who was left with him while her relative went to the store.
“We believe he befriends women who have young girls in order to have access to them,” said Capt. James Humphries, commander of the Montgomery Police Department's Special Victims Investigation unit. Humphries was quoted in The Washington Post.
Officials believe the abuse occurred at various times over the past 2 years. Detectives say they believe Thompson also molested a girl sometime in 2013, according to the Post.
Thompson faces two counts of sex abuse of a minor, two counts of first-degree sex offense, and one count of third-degree sex offense. He reportedly denied the accusations when police confronted him.
Protecting the Innocent: What happens after a child-abuse or neglect complaint is made
by Stephanie Esters
PINCKNEYVILLE — Investigators and child-welfare advocates want the public's help in helping children who might be facing abuse or neglect.
They want people to call the state's 24-hour Chlid Abuse hotline at 800-25-ABUSE (800-252-2873).
But just what happens after that call is made?
The calls are received on the hotline, which is managed by the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.
Each day, that service receives from 600 to 900 complaints and runs around the clock, all year, said Nora Harms-Pavelski, deputy for child protection for the Department of Children and Family Services, who was once an administrator of the hotline. Of those complaints, 30 to 32 percent result in actual investigations, she said.
The trained call-floor worker who answers the call will decide whether there is enough information to take a complaint to open an investigation, Harms-Pavelski said. She said the DCFS is bound by various criteria, such as the age of the child and whether the alleged perpetrator has some relationship to the child; a child, for instance, being abused by a stranger would require a call to law-enforcement, she said.
Within 24 hours of a complaint being received and documented, a DCFS investigator starts an investigation, talking to the child and his or her parents or caretaker, Harms-Pavelski said. Part of that investigation includes talking to the child alone, away from the physical presence of his or her parent or the accused adult, Harms-Pavelski said.
A DCFS representative will also interview the person who made the initial complaint, Harms-Pavelski said; that person's identity is not disclosed.
"The reporter is very important to us," she said. "Within that first 24-hour period, we really want to talk to that reporter, because they may have more information. We want to confirm if the information that we receive was correct."
If the allegation involves serious physical or sexual abuse, DCFS steps in immediately, typically contacting its local Child Advocacy Center for assistance with the interview, she said. In the Murphysboro and Pinckneyville CAC offices, for instance, staff interview the child while law enforcement or DCFS representatives look on through a television in another room; they are also able to discreetly talk with the interviewer by asking that person questions, which can in turn be asked of the child, said Betty Mucha, director of the Perry-Jackson Child Advocacy Center.
After the interview, the law enforcement may receive a copy of the tape, which can be included in the file forwarded to the States Attorney if those investigators are seeking criminal charges, Mucha said.
If evidence of abuse is decided, the adult charged will be "indicated," Harms-Pavelski said. Depending on the nature and severity of the indication, a person could be listed with the State Central Registry for five to 50 years, Harms-Pavelski said. Inclusion on that registry could impact employment, particularly if the person on that registry is seeking employment working with children.
Law enforcement officials do not have access to this registry, but DCFS representatives might share information with them about an individual listed with the registry in the process of an investigation, Harms-Pavelski said.
Harms-Pavelski noted that parents or families can appeal any finding against them.
If the interviewing was done on behalf of a law-enforcement agency, that information is forwarded to them and they prosecute, as needed, based on the criminal nature of the offense, Harms-Pavelski said.
Groups such as the nonprofit Family Defense Center work to represent people who are charged with an abuse or neglect of a child, according to executive director Rachel Ruttenberg. This past summer, that nonprofit settled a class-action lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, challenging what it said was its safety plans policy that violated the civil rights of people charged with abuse or neglect. That agency's claim alleged that DCFS had parents agreeing to put their children into protective custody until an allegation could be proven or disproved.
This past year, the Family Defense Center had 500 requests for service, and took on 300 of those cases.
Ruttenberg said DCFS should better spend its resources, referencing the number of complaints initially shared with the Child Abuse Hotline, but are then not substantiated enough to move forward.
In the past four years, the hotline has received more than 1 million calls, about one in four resulting in a formal report and investigation, according to DCFS's May 2015 "Manual for Mandated Reporters."
According to that report, four percent of those investigations resulted in children being removed from their homes.
Overall, one of DCFS's goals is to keep the child with his or her family, where safely, possible.
"The vast majority of people who have accusations levied against them are indicate of these low-level neglect allegations and that's the vast majority of cases," Ruttenberg said. "So you really start to wonder what is the role of DCFS and how are they managing all of these families that have so many issues and often just need help and support… (They) are slipping through the cracks, in terms of the kids who are actually being abused and neglected and how are they getting helped.”
As a final note, Harms-Pavelski said, "DCFS is really there to help families, to be as non-threatening as possible."
Mother charged in toddler's OD death previously had 4 children removed from her custody
by Ashley Luthern
State child welfare officials got a complaint about child neglect three months before 2-year-old James Vessell Jr. died.
It wasn't the first one they had gotten about his mother, who previously had four of her six children removed from her custody and had been reported to the state repeatedly for more than a decade. From 2001 to October 2016, the agency received two dozen calls from people who had concerns about the safety of children in her home.
Despite that history, child welfare workers failed to fully investigate allegations that James and his brother were being neglected within the time frame set by the state Department of Children and Families. The case was still pending when the toddler overdosed on his mother's pills in January, agency records show.
Under the agency rules, such complaints are supposed to be investigated within 60 days. The fact that officials missed that deadline by 44 days came to light this week after the state Department of Children and Families released some of the documents related to the case.
The records show that although an agency worker called the boy's mother two days after the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services received the complaint, officials did not fully investigate the allegations that James and his 4-year-old brother were being neglected.
"You see this too often that kids are egregiously hurt or killed in circumstances where the state had an opportunity to intervene," said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee). "If that case wasn't closed after 60 days, the question is why?"
Joe Scialfa, a spokesman for the Department of Children and Families, said that under state law, the department cannot comment on specific cases.
After James swallowed pills he found in his mother's purse and died, child welfare officials removed his brother from the home. Their mother, Martis Dickerson, originally charged with second-degree recklessly endangering safety, now faces a homicide charge. Her attorney did not return calls for comment on this story.
Dickerson, 39, called 911 when she realized James was not breathing on Jan. 26. Paramedics could not revive him. Court documents and medical examiner's reports describe squalid conditions in the lower unit of a duplex on N. 41st St. near W. Center St.
The toddler was found on a bed with "secretions" surrounding him on the sheets. An ashtray, mop, purse and other items were strewn on the bed. The living room was "reasonably clean," but the kitchen was "filthy," with dirty standing water in the sink and butcher knives on the floor, the reports stated. There was no stove or refrigerator, only a small white cooler with milk inside. A crock pot with "rancid fluid" from a past meal was balanced on a low ledge.
Investigators with the Milwaukee County medical examiner's office interviewed a supervisor at the Division of Milwaukee Child Protective Services. The supervisor said the mother had been evicted five times, and the open case addressed her housing situation in addition to the allegations of neglect.
Other concerns included the mother's alcohol use and how she spent money because there was no food in the house, the children were dirty and they had no winter coats, according to the medical examiner's reports.
History of contacts
Records show Dickerson has had multiple contacts with protective services stretching back more than a decade. The family has a history with the agency prior to 2000 but those records were not available in an electronic database and were not included in a 90-day summary report released after the death of 2-year-old James.
Over a 15-year period, the bureau received 24 calls about Dickerson's family or her children. One of those calls involved an allegation of neglect of her now-adult son while he was in out-of-home care. A caseworker determined he was safe.
According to Department of Children and Families records:
In July 2001, a call alleging neglect of James' now-adult siblings was investigated. The worker who did the preliminary evaluation determined the children were safe. Over the next 15 years, that would happen eight more times. In one of those cases, from November 2004, a worker determined the children were safe but still provided "ongoing case management services." Child welfare officials sometimes provide help to families they believe need it, even if workers were not able to legally prove abuse or neglect.
Between August 2001 and May 2014, another 11 calls to the agency were "screened out," meaning the information in the call did not meet the "reasonable suspicion" standard to investigate further.
In the past 15 years, four calls led workers to determine neglect or abuse had occurred. In 2005, one of those calls led to children being removed from Dickerson's home. At the time of James' death, Dickerson's three older sons had been adopted and her daughter was in foster care, according to medical examiner's reports.
James was born on July 18, 2014. The agency had "screened out" three reports while Dickerson was pregnant with him, but if a family currently is not receiving services, no state law or agency policy requires notification that a new baby exists — no matter how many times the parents have been reported to child welfare authorities.
Two of the calls alleging neglect came after James was born. The agency investigated the first report and determined he and his 4-year-old brother were safe. The second case, made in October 2016, is the one that was still open at the time of his death.
After his death, the agency still determined the October allegation could not be substantiated. Child welfare workers treated James' death as a separate incident and did find neglect had occurred.
"This case really angers me," said Johnson, the state lawmaker from Milwaukee.
"If she had multiple reports of child abuse and neglect, you know that's either a close family friend or neighbor (reporting it) because the calls are consistent, and unsubstantiation doesn't mean abuse doesn't take place," she said.
Scialfa, the department spokesman, said that under state law, the agency cannot provide any more information about the case and family's history of services other than what was contained in the 90-day summary report.
Child welfare workers have an incredibly difficult job, said Susan Conwell, executive director of the Milwaukee-based child advocacy agency Kids Matter Inc.
"These are hard cases," she said. "You, as a child protection worker, can't do anything about too much oxycodone if there's a prescription."
In this case, she says, it appears based on reports as if people did have concerns about the mother's use of alcohol and drugs.
"We have to be doing a better job of helping family members and the community when a parent is struggling to that degree with drugs and alcohol and safety conditions," Conwell said.
Those workers who do the initial evaluation, known as "initial assessors," face a difficult choice: to tear a child's family apart or risk that child's safety and well-being. About three years ago, when the issues of staff turnover and backlogs exploded into the public, a former assessor told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she "lived in fear."
The number of backlogged initial assessments in Milwaukee County — assessments still open past the 60-day deadline set by the agency — peaked at nearly 3,000, Scialfa said.
As of last Monday, Milwaukee Child Protective Services had 673 backlogged initial assessments, which Scialfa noted represented a more than 75% improvement.
Staff turnover has been cited as a contributor to the backlog. At the start of the year, Milwaukee Child Protective Services had 103 workers assigned to initial assessment and since then 13 people have left, Scialfa said.
He said the bureau has taken steps to retain initial assessors, including: increasing pay, hiring assistants to help initial assessors, hiring supervisors and managers to oversee those assessors, offering safety training and adding trauma-informed practices to the workplace.
"We recognize that the stress and secondary trauma that our workers face on an everyday basis can cause staff to suffer compassion fatigue and worker burnout," Scialfa said in an email. "By becoming more trauma-informed, it is our goal to better help our staff recover from the trauma to which they are exposed and further reduce employee turn-over."
Sex trafficking survivor: It's ‘domestic violence on steroids'
by Nik Beimler
DOVER — Jasmine Marino was living a double life.
She tried to be normal around her family, but for more than five years she was the victim of sex trafficking throughout New England.
“People think, 'No way this is a problem around here, it's just a big city problem or only in other countries,'” Marino said. “The fact is that trafficking happens every day in our communities, and most people don't even realize it.”
Out of high school, Marino found herself in a difficult place with a hole in her life she struggled to fill.
“Many people think prostitution is a choice,” Marino said. “But it's our vulnerabilities that put us in situations that are very difficult to get out of.”
Marino said her vulnerability was the lack of parental guidance in her life and the need for someone to lead or guide her. That is what led her to become attached to a man she believed was her boyfriend, but eventually started trafficking her throughout New England.
“He took advantage of me by selling me a fake dream that I could have a lot of money and be happy, but it came at a price,” she said.
That is when, at 19, Marino began working in massage parlors near Hartford, Connecticut, where she would get paid for sex. She resisted at first, but her trafficker would not let her say no.
“It was like domestic violence on steroids,” she said. “In addition to physical violence, there was the shame associated with what I was doing, and the manipulation tactics of mental and emotional bondage. You can't go to the police because of the fear that prostitution is illegal. You can't tell on the trafficker out of fear for your life or your family's lives.”
Marino was then moved to the Kittery, Maine, area, where she continued to work in massage parlors, including the Danish Health Club in Kittery, as well as being trafficked online. She said she constantly escaped the trafficker and stayed with her mother, but she would always go back out of reliance on him and because he always knew where to find her.
She reached a turning point when she became pregnant with the trafficker's child, and he forced her to terminate the pregnancy.
“Everything leading up to that was awful, but to take a life was too much,” Marino said. “I realized that everything that he promised me wasn't coming true, and probably would never come true.”
She began preparing for her escape by burying some of the money she earned each day in potted plants for six months. Eventually, she had enough money to get her own apartment where her trafficker would not be able to find her. But living alone was not easy. After living her “double life” for five years, Marino was not able to easily transition into society.
“I was completely hopeless, suicidal, confused, scared,” she said. “I wanted to be normal so bad, but you can't just do that.”
In a moment of weakness, she called her trafficker, who found out where she was living and reentered her life. One night, Marino said the man was abusing her, and she built up the courage to call 911. The trafficker was charged with domestic violence, and Marino was able to get a restraining order.
But again, normal life did not come easy.
Marino fell back into a cycle of drug addiction and homelessness until finally breaking free. She said a major turning point for her was when her brother died of an overdose in 2006. That caused her to make a concerted effort to confront her addiction.
“I didn't want my mom to lose both of her kids,” she said.
Marino said she has been sober since 2007 and says she is constantly working on her recovery.
Now, with the help of family, support groups and a church community, Marino has started a new life. She keeps herself busy with two stepchildren and three children, the youngest of whom is three weeks old, in Saugus, Massachusetts.
Her book, “The Diary of Jasmine Grace,” came out in January. In it, she matches her journal entries from when she was a victim of trafficking with present day reflections to document her struggle through and out of the situation.
Marino, now 36, has also launched a charity called Bags of Hope, which she describes as an outreach ministry that provides care bags with items like soap, shampoo, clothing and resource guides to women who are victims of drug addiction, homelessness and trafficking.
“When people are in these situations, they're often so hopeless and coerced that they don't realize that there is a better way,” she said. “These bags offer them hope and show them that there is more out there.”
According to her website, jasminegrace.org, more than 3,000 bags have been distributed to women in need.
Marino said more conversation must take place to draw attention to the problem of sex trafficking, and she spends as much time as possible developing the dialogue by telling her story.
“A lot of people share my story, but don't talk about it,” she said. “I want to educate people and raise awareness of my story to empower women who need help. The scary thing is, a lot of times, they don't even know they're the victims of trafficking. They don't think of it like that because of their vulnerabilities.”
They Thought She Was Insane: Doctor Finds RFID Chip In Sex Trafficking Victim…
by Kalee Brown
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 20.9 million human trafficking victims worldwide and 4.5 million people trapped in forced sex trafficking around the globe. At least 100,000 children are prostituted annually in the U.S., adding to the $9.8 billion U.S. sex trafficking industry. This is an extremely lucrative business, as pimps typically make between $150K and $200K per child annually and exploit 4-6 girls, on average.
Human trafficking remains a major problem worldwide, and it's not just pimps and escaped convicts involved. It's politicians, the elite, wealthy businessmen, your neighbours, and oftentimes the people that you'd least expect. There was an astonishing 35.7% increase in the amount of human trafficking victims in the U.S. between 2015 and 2016, and that's just the known number of victims. This begs the question: Are we getting better at finding them, or are an increasing number of people being forced to sell their bodies? Sadly, statistics suggest the latter.
Technology has played an integral role in finding these victims in recent years; however, technology can also enable human trafficking through the dark net and even through the use of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips. One doctor recently came forward, whose identity will be kept anonymous, to share his story in surgically removing an RFID chip in a female sex trafficking victim. How can the healthcare system help these victims and what can we do to put an end to human trafficking?
Doctor Extracts RFID Chip From Sex Trafficking Victim
In October 2016, a 28-year-old woman walked into a hospital claiming that she had a tracker inside of her body. Although the doctor said the woman looked respectable, the nurses and doctors on site were still skeptical of her story, until they gave her an X-ray.
“Embedded in the right side of her flank is a small metallic object only a little bit larger than a grain of rice. But it's there. It's unequivocally there. She has a tracker in her. And no one was speaking for like five seconds — and in a busy ER that's saying something,” the doctor explained.
As it turned out, that small metal object was an RFID chip. “It's used to tag cats and dogs. And someone had tagged her like an animal, like she was somebody's pet that they owned,” he continued.
It's important to note that RFID chips aren't like every other tracking device or GPS system. The type of chip that was inside this woman could only have been used to track her if the person tracking her was nearby. This means that she was likely kept in a confined area with her captor, as if she truly were a pet who needed to be kept close to her owner.
In truth, she was forced into the world of sex trafficking by her boyfriend, who was acting as her pimp. He chipped her to ensure her compliance, forcing her to sell her body for sex and then give him the money. This isn't an unusual practice, either, as many industries, from prostitution to manufacturing to domestic service, will chip their “employees.” (source) Read more about RFID chips and their potential and current uses in our CE article here.
Already in use, RFID chips stand to become common technology. An American company called Applied Digital Solutions developed one the size of a grain of rice and it's already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for distribution and implementation. You can read more about that in our CE article here.
The potential issues regarding microchipping the human race are endless. Would we have any privacy? It's easy to imagine how the elite and the government could use microchips to further control the general population. Is it even safe to put inside of our bodies or would we experience another drastic increase in cancer rates? Plus, if this becomes common practice in the world of human trafficking, would this help us find victims or would it only help those controlling them?
Human trafficking has been a serious issue for decades, from underground elite pedophile rings to slavery to sex trafficking. The level of corruption may seem overwhelming, but there's always something we can do to help! One industry in particular that can help free sex trafficking victims is the healthcare system.
As many as 88% of sex trafficking victims end up in ERs while they're still being held captive. This means that hospital staff have the opportunity to interact with these victims and thus help them escape. The difficulty is identifying sex traffickers and then understanding how to get them the help they need.
A quarter of healthcare providers believe that their patients have been involved with human trafficking, yet very few are actually educated on how to correctly handle this situation. There are almost 6,000 hospitals in the United States, yet only 60 of them have specific protocols in place if they suspect one of their patients is a trafficking victim. As a result, an alarming 95% of ER personnel are not adequately trained in treating trafficking victims.
Unfortunately, it all comes down to lack of funding, as many hospitals simply cannot afford to run education programs for their staff or offer additional services to trafficking victims. Fortunately, that's not the case in every instance. A number of hospitals and doctors in Hawaii, New York, Texas, and Massachusetts have recently opened up free clinics for trafficking victims.
And it's not just healthcare providers that are stepping up; for example, Ashton Kutcher recently designed a software that is currently being used by 4,000 officers in the U.S., which allows law enforcers to reduce investigation time by 60%. Another tool that his company developed, Solace, is anticipated to be able to cut down investigation time from three years to only three weeks. You can read more about his technologies and his work fighting human trafficking in our CE article here.
Kutcher actually highlighted another industry that has the power to make a huge difference to the lives of sex trafficking victims during his speech to U.S. Congress — the foster care system. In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that one in six endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
Ashton states, “I was astonished to find out that 70% of the inmates in the prisons across this country have touched the foster care system and 80% of the people on death row were at some point in time exposed to the foster care system… Foster care children are 4 times more likely to be exposed to sexual abuse. That's a breeding ground for trafficking, I promise you that.”
Another trafficking pipeline he mentions is the lack of mental health support offered to both the victims and their perpetrators. We cannot just hand people prescriptions and assume that this will put an end to their nightmares. Anyone who is subject to this kind of abuse, or is the abuser themselves, will likely require long-term counselling and therapy.
This isn't just an issue of search and rescue, either. Human trafficking can only be stopped if we work toward fixing the entire system. This means understanding why this happens in the first place so we can prevent it from occurring as well as providing better support to victims and perpetrators after the fact.
Perhaps if the government allocated more resources toward finding these victims and preventing these underground rings from existing in the first place, human trafficking wouldn't be such a large-scale issue. However, the sad reality is, the U.S. government and the forces that control it are a huge part of the problem.
U.S. Government and Elite Involvement in Sex Trafficking
According to the Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection, the U.S. has the largest share — a whopping 50% — of commercialized child pornography websites in the world. Countless Americans each year will also engage in sex tourism, which is when someone travels to countries with less strict or no laws surrounding prostitution and child sex slavery, yet they're very rarely caught doing so.
There has also been a lot of speculation lately on child sex rings being used by the U.S. government. You may be familiar with the PizzaGate scandal, which allegedly unearthed a very high-level elitist global pedophile ring the U.S. government was involved in.
It emerged when Wikileaks released tens of thousands of emails from the former White House Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton, Jon Podesta, who also served as Hillary Clinton's campaign manager. It's because of these emails that many claimed Jon Podesta was a part of these child trafficking rings as well.
On site is a video of award winning American journalist Ben Swann explaining the Pizzagate controversy in detail:
This isn't the first time people were concerned over sexual abuse by government officials. Ted Gunderson, former FBI special agent and head of their L.A. office, worked to uncover years worth of information on high-level pedophilia, sexual abuse, and satanic rituals performed by the elite. You can read more about that in our CE article here.
Gunderson worked alongside Brice Taylor, a sex slave involved with an extension of the CIA program MK Ultra. You can watch her testimony on site.
Former U.S. representative Cynthia McKinney also knew about the government's relationship to human trafficking, and she actually addressed it in 2005. She grilled Donald Rumsfeld on DynCorp's child trafficking business of selling women and children (source).
Another individual involved in high-level trafficking was Jeffrey E. Epstein, who in 2009 pleaded guilty to charges of soliciting prostitution from girls as young as fourteen. He served just over a year in jail and became a registered high-risk sex offender. He was close to Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and many other elitists.
According to former U.S. State Department official Steve Pieczenik, the Clintons and many more “have been a major part and participant of what's called the Lolita Express, which is a plane owned by Mr. Jeff Epstein, a wealthy multi-millionaire who flies down to the Bahamas and allows Bill and Hillary Clinton to engage in sex with minors — that is called Pedophilia” (source).
Numerous victims involved in elite sex rings and occult sex rituals have come forward, exposing high-level corruption in regards to human sex trafficking and pedophilia. One of the more recent victims to come forward was a woman named Kendall who was sold at birth into a powerful, high-level international sex ring. You can read more about her story in our CE article here.
Where Do We Go From Here?
It's easy to get overwhelmed by all of the darkness in the world, and society often places the blame on others and demonizes those involved with these violent acts. We tend to dehumanize pedophiles, child molesters, rapists, and abusers, demanding punishment for their crimes and responding to their actions with hate and anger. However, if we fail to recognize the humanity in them, how will we ever learn why these violent acts occurred in the first place?
Have you ever made a mistake that forced you to really question your humanity? In reality, our mistakes don't dehumanize us, they're part of what makes us human in the first place. Our mistakes help us learn and grow as spiritual beings, which begs the question: Can we ever really make a mistake? Nevertheless, it's still disheartening that these “mistakes” include violent acts such as rape, pedophilia, and human trafficking.
We shouldn't be encouraging trafficking victims to hate their perpetrators, nor should we be judging or expressing hatred toward those involved with the facilitation of sex rings and human trafficking. By choosing hate, we end up bottling up anger and resentment, which ultimately hurts no one but ourselves. If we choose forgiveness instead, we can learn to better cope with the more difficult events in our lives. Even if you feel the perpetrator doesn't deserve forgiveness, I'm sure you can agree that the victim deserves freedom.
Choosing forgiveness doesn't have to mean compliance, either. We can still change this reality without attaching ourselves to our emotions. By shifting our consciousness and educating others, we can make a difference!
Suit charges Seattle mayor sexually abused teen in 1980s
by Daniel DeMay
A Kent man on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, charging that Murray sexually abused him in the 1980s as the then-teen battled drug addiction.
The 46-year-old man, who went only by the initials "D.H." in the suit, claimed that Murray "raped and molested" him for several years in exchange for $10 to $20 payments, starting when the man was just 15 years old.
In a statement, Murray's outside spokesperson, Jeff Reading, denied the claims and called the suit a “shakedown effort” that was timed not coincidentally within weeks of the deadline for Murray to file for re-election.
In a statement, Murray's outside spokesperson, Jeff Reading, denied the claims and called the suit a “shakedown effort” that was timed not coincidentally within weeks of the deadline for Murray to file for re-election.
"Mayor Murray has never engaged in an inappropriate relationship with any minor," Reading said in the statement. "Mayor Murray will vigorously fight these allegations in court."
Murray's private attorney, Robert Sulkin, later told media in a Thursday afternoon statement that "the accuser will have to explain himself.
"For 30 years, nothing is said and all of a sudden, an accuser comes and makes these allegations," he said.
Two other men also came forward with claims of sexual abuse by Murray, now 61, in the 1980s, according to a report by The Seattle Times , which originally broke news of the suit.
Those accusations first surfaced 10 years ago. Reading dismissed them as false allegations raised during the marriage equality campaign. Sulkin joined in blasting their credibility.
In the suit, D.H. said he met Murray riding the No. 7 Metro bus around Capitol Hill. He had recently dropped out of high school, was homeless and addicted to drugs, the complaint read. D.H.'s parents were also addicted to drugs, he said in the complaint.
Murray invited the boy to his apartment, where he propositioned him for sex for as little as $10, the complaint said.
In the suit, lawyers include details of the apartment that D.H. remembered, as well as Murray's phone number at the time.
Murray paid for sex with the man at least 50 times over the next four or five years, D.H. told the Times in an interview.
The suit includes specific details about the sexual encounters as well as descriptions of Murray's genitals and body.
D.H. said that another "apparent under-aged boy" was also at the apartment on at least one occasion, and he understood that Murray was also having sex with that boy for money, the complaint said.
Murray would have been in his early 30s at the time the man claims sex for money began taking place. D.H. came to know that Murray worked in politics "at a location 'across the street from the King County Jail,' at the time," the suit said.
D.H.'s lawyers admitted that he had been convicted of "various" drug charges and prostitution in 1990 during an unrelated sting operation.
The man decided to come forward after the death of his father "prompted moments of reflection and introspection," the suit read.
"These moments of reflection, and awareness that Mr. Murray maintains a position of authority, prompted the filing of this lawsuit in an attempt at accountability and to hopefully give courage for other potential victims to come forward and speak out," lawyers wrote in the suit.
Those same lawyers also noted that people will likely speculate that the suit is politically motivated. They argued that's not exactly true.
D.H. "believes the public has a right to full information when a trusted official exploits a child," they wrote in the complaint.
D.H. is represented by attorney Lawand Anderson of L.A. Law & Associates as well as attorneys Lincoln Beauregard and Julie Kays of Connelly Law Offices.
Beauregard and Kays have recently pursued claims of sexual misconduct or discrimination against several Seattle-area notables. The attorneys are representing the daughter of "Deadliest Catch" star Sig Hansen in a sexual abuse lawsuit, as well as several women pursuing sex discrimination claims against the King County Sheriff's Office. They recently won a $2.8 million verdict for two Seattle Police Department officers who claimed to have been retaliated against by department brass.
The lawsuit seeks damages to be determined at trial.
Calls for Football Association Wales to investigate historical child sex abuse claims
Steve Walters, who lives in Buckley claims the FAW are not doing enough to investigate allegations of historic sex abuse in the game in Wales
by Steve Bagnall
A former footballer who claims he was sexually abused as a youngster has called on the Football Association Wales (FAW) to launch a full inquiry into sexual abuse allegations.
Steve Walters, who lives in Buckley and is a director of the Offside Trust, claims the FAW are not doing enough to investigate allegations of historic sex abuse in the game in Wales.
He spoke after the English and Scottish FAs announced they will be launching full investigations and the Northern Irish Association pledged their support to a police inquiry into claims of sex attacks on youngsters.
However, FAW chiefs said they were committed to highlighting the issue and offering guidance to possible victims on how to report allegations and seek support.
Mr Walters said: “We have had a number of individual Welsh based ex players come forward to ourselves seeking support and it is for them that we are very keen to see an inquiry take place.
“The guidelines given by the FAW are very welcome but it's a case of dealing with the illness rather than the cause. Effective action can only be achieved following a full inquiry, which we urge them to undertake.”
Mr Walters spent time at several North Wales clubs including Rhyl , Airbus, Crewe Alexander FC and Buckley Town as a coach.
The former footballer co-founded the Offside Trust to help others say they suffered sexual abuse at football clubs.
Wrexham-based Stepping Stones charity, one of only two organisations in North Wales offering counselling and support to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, has backed Mr Walters calls.
Joy Dyment, director at the charity, said: “Although a full inquiry by the FAW is vital, our concern is for the historic survivors of these crimes, such as Steve Walters.”
Three of Wales police forces, including North Wales have revealed they are investigating historic football abuse allegations.
Sian Jones, FAW safeguarding manager, said: The Football Association of Wales is fully committed to safeguarding and ensuring the welfare of all participants in football.
“We take any allegation, suspicion of harm, or concern extremely seriously and ensure this is managed in the appropriate manner.
“Since the revelations of non-recent abuse within football we have written to each club detailing how support can be accessed and urge anybody with any concerns, queries, or those who require support to come forward.
“Additionally, we have provided clubs with details as to what information parents/guardians should be provided with, and encourage those to ask questions of the organisation that their child is a part of.”
Local organization working to put an end to child abuse
by Tamara Sacharczyk
HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Hundreds of thousands of children across the country are abused by their parents and caregivers each year.
Donna Lloyd's nieces were just 6 and 9-years-old when they became victims of physical and sexual abuse. “My oldest niece came forward and admitted that she had been sexually abused. It broke my heart, it was just very difficult to hear. I had suspected, but to hear the words come out of her mouth was horrifying.”
It's a painful memory for Lloyd to talk about, but she courageously told her story in front of hundreds of people at the 18th Annual Child Abuse Awareness Breakfast on Friday. The Children's Advocacy Center holds the breakfast every year, to try and raise awareness for child abuse, and prevent future cases.
Child abuse may be more common than you would think. The Northwestern District Attorney's office investigated reports of more than 400 cases of child abuse in 2016, and charged more than 100 people with offenses against children.
Maureen McGuinness is a board member with the Children Advocacy Center. She told 22News the Children's Advocacy Center allows abuse victims to only have to tell their story once, while health professionals and state agencies listen from a separate room. “Child abuse affects everybody in every community, and it's a silent effect because people don't always talk about it, but there's any army of people behind the scenes who are actually working to end it,” she said.
Donna Lloyd said because of the CAC, her nieces have started to heal from one of the most traumatic experiences a child can go through.
6th grader holds penny drive to help against child abuse
12-year-old girl raises money for Prevent Child Abuse Utah
by Surae Chinn
MAGNA, Utah (ABC4 Utah) -- Some students are learning that a penny can make a big difference. A little girl in Magna got her entire school to donate through a penny drive for a good cause.
The 12-year-old girl from Entheos Academy, chose Prevent Child Abuse Utah, a local non-profit organization, that brings awareness to child abuse.
Faith Luna wasn't satisfied by just sending a check in the mail, she wanted to do it in person. In turn, Prevent Child Abuse Utah wanted to go to her school and personally thank her.
Faith and her 6th grade class spent the last 3 weeks collecting money for Prevent Child Abuse Utah.
Faith, "we went to every classroom and told them to bring a penny or coin everyday."
And that's just what they did. 107 dollars worth of pennies.
Leslie Harris, "it makes me really proud of them."
It all started when her teacher, Leslie Harris had the students research and come up with 4 organizations they felt passionate about. Prevent Child Abuse Utah was the only one of the 4 that was local. Harris thought bringing the organization to them would be a great lesson they'd never forget.
Harris, "especially when you are a 6th grader you get caught up you don't see the good that you are doing. This actually helps lots of people."
Faith and her class got a big surprise when Mrs. Utah came too. She's not only the incoming board chairman of PCAU but a sexual abuse victim herself.
"you are such an example and led such an important project. When I was a young child I was sexually abused. I'm an adult survivor and it's why I'm so passionate about prevention of child abuse."
Mary Lucero, PCAU Executive Director, "if a school can raise $107 through a penny drive for PCAU then skies the limit of the Utah community and educating children."
PCAU is taking Faith and her schools generosity a step further, they created a website just today so that people all month can match the $107 contribution.
Knowing the Signs of Child Abuse
by Vanessa Paige
ABILENE, TX - “It is really a big, silent epidemic, and it is a big, prevalent issue, even in our community,” Monica Reid, director of the Regional Victim Crisis Center (RVCC), said.
In 2015, the Abilene region had one of the higher rates for child sexual abuse cases in the state.
The Taylor County Advocacy Center sees an average of 400 cases a year.
Abilene ISD educators say, often, they are the ones to notice when something isn't right.
“Classroom teachers are spending four, five, sometimes six hours a day around the same children,” Phil Ashby, Abilene ISD's Director of Communications, said.
They are trained to make sure students are safe.
“They see signs, and so it is their responsibility and their requirement to report,” Ashby said.
Reid says everyone should know the signs.
“Regressed in a behavior, if they are not eating well, sleeping well. If there are changes in some of those habits. If they're maybe avoiding people or places,” Reid said.
You might even notice a drop in their grades or interests
Sometimes, physical abuse is hidden.
“Bruising that seem unusual or maybe they're hidden with clothes, if they have long sleeves on,” Reid said.
If you suspect a child is being abused, Reid says pick up the phone.
“From older children's testimony, they sometimes say if enough people would have reported, things would have changed sooner,” Reid said.
You can report abuse anonymously by calling the victim crisis hotline.
Chief: If You See Child Abuse, Report It
by Bill O'Neil
If you see child abuse, report it. That's the plea from San Antonio Police Chief William McManus after the weekend death of a suspected 2-year-old victim of child abuse.
22-year -old Shari Newman and her girlfriend, Letica Young, have been arrested and charged with capital murder in the death of the girl Saturday at a local hospital.
“We didn't know about it,” said McManus. “When we find out about the child abuse, often times it's too late,” he said on the Trey Ware Morning Show on KTSA.
If you suspect a case of child abuse, “please, please call us and let us know before it's too late,” said the chief.
When officers respond to a suspected case of child abuse, they'll call Child Protective Services.
“If it comes to the point where we have to take the child from the guardian or the parent, we'll do that to protect the child,” said McManus.
Bexar County DA challenges public to take a stand against child abuse
by Melissa Vega
SAN ANTONIO -- Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood says his office is trying more child abuse cases and getting more convictions, but that's only addressing part of the problem.
Two heartbreaking child abuse cases have made headlines in the last few days.
Two-year-old Alaina Beauford-Rosebur lost her life, and at last check a 14 month old little girl is still on life support at University Hospital.
"It should affect us, but then we gotta do something about it," said Nico LaHood, Bexar County District Attorney.
LaHood says his office is holding abusers accountable. There were 87 felony child abuse trials in 2015, and 82 in 2016.
"Go get them DA, oh go get them Chief, go get them Sheriff, okay we are, so we're doing our job."
But with the death of Alaina, the DA's office gets the case after the fact.
LaHood says he's working with judges and children's advocacy groups to be proactive, but more needs to be done.
"Changing the moral compass of the fabric of this society. It's that simple. You have to have the village mentality, that is takes a village to raise a child. You can't say it's someone else's problem. It's not my business, I'm just like another day another dollar, that's people's mentality," LaHood added.
In the case of Alaina, police believe there was an on-going cycle of abuse. Investigators said the little girl had injuries all over her body in various stages of healing.
Child Protective Services tells News 4 San Antonio the agency never had an open investigation on Alaina.
"We can stay in our comfort zone and then be uncomfortable about the news and the results , or we can get uncomfortable and try to change the results. That's the challenge I have for people, get uncomfortable and change the results. Don't stay comfortable and deal with the results."
LaHood went on to say by law only certain people have a legal obligation to report child abuse.
"If you're just a citizen, there's not a particular duty to get involved."
But, imagine if you did - you may save a child's life.
If a child or someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1.
If you suspect child abuse and or neglect, you can call the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services hotline number.
The state number is 1-800-252-5400. You can also make a call in Spanish or any language because there's an interpreter line.
Light at the end of the tunnel of abuse
by Amanda Beam
As journalists, we often make open appeals for sources.
I did this on my personal Facebook page a few weeks back, asking for friends who had prosecuted their childhood sexual abuse perpetrator to speak to me about their experience.
In an hour, six individuals contacted me about telling their stories. I was both humbled and astounded. Only around 30 percent of victims report the crimes to authorities. If I had asked about the other 70 percent's tales, how many more survivors would have come forward?
Society wants us to believe that child molestation doesn't happen, and that when it does it's simply a fluke, an aberration of a sick, twisted mind.
Yet statistics say otherwise. One in four girls will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, research from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention tells us. For boys, that number is one in six.
Take a moment to let that sink in.
“Just because we don't hear about it everyday doesn't mean the problem has gone away,” said Dr. Bibuti Sar, a professor at the University of Louisville's Kent School of Social Work and a principal investigator at its Center for Promoting Recovery and Resilience. They provide free trauma-based treatment for children and youth, while also training the community in trauma-informed care.
“A lot of the resources available in our community are dwindling because of other priorities, but we should not forget this is a serious problem with long-term consequences in the quality of life the child has now, as well as the quality of life the child has as an adult," Sar said.
I'm one of the one in four, and understand all too well the impact of childhood sexual abuse. Like many, I didn't tell anyone about the incidents that happened in my home until I was in my 20s. Fear, shame and mistrust ensured my silence.
This isn't uncommon.
“The children are generally groomed and threatened and told not to tell about what is taking place, so there is a lot of fear children can experience,” said Jennifer Bobo, Project Director for CPRR.
Each of us who has survived child molestations deals with that pain in our own way. For some, it helps to talk about it. Others internalize their emotions.
“People process trauma differently, so even if this trauma occurred in childhood or adolescence, it may have taken this individual that amount of time to the place where they felt comfortable enough to come forward,” Bobo added.
Life, with all its unpredictability, happens as well. While I never filed a criminal report, my abuser died more than 15 years ago without ever accepting responsibility for his crimes. I can only hope justice of another sort was delivered after his passing.
But for those who choose to prosecute their perpetrators, a kind of righteousness can be found in courtrooms. In Kentucky, there's no statute of limitations on felonies, which means adults who were abused as children can still seek criminal prosecution for their offenders. It's up to all of us to support them during this emotionally difficult process.
For some in America, that remains difficult.
“When a kid does find the courage and summons the courage to tell this, look at what they're up against. It's easy for adults to not believe… We don't want to believe kids are hurt that way,” said Pam Darnall, President and CEO of Family & Children's Place.
With a mission to protect and heal Kentuckiana children and families affected by abuse, neglect and violence, her non-profit oversees the Kosair Charities Child Advocacy Center in Louisville. Here “compassionate, coordinated intervention and investigation” of child sexual abuse can be found. Providing forensic interviews, medical evaluations and mental health services, the Child Advocacy Center receives referrals from child protective services and law enforcement agencies. Last year alone, they served more than 1,200 kids.
“Overwhelming, research bears out when kids are telling us this, they are telling us the truth,” Darnall said. “We as adults can do a better job of making sure that our kids are heard.”
Two women agreed to talk with me about their experiences and agreed to be identified. (The Courier-Journal does not generally identify survivors of sexual abuse.)
For Amy Nash, that wasn't a problem.
In the late 1980s at a Jeffersontown at-home daycare, the owner's husband abused Nash. Around the time she was in second grade, charges were brought against the man. He would be found guilty for his criminal acts against Nash and two other young girls, and sentenced to three years confinement.
During and after the trial, her parents ensured she knew that in no way was she responsible for this man's actions, that he was inappropriate and not her. The school she attended also provided her with counseling as well.
“It was never put on me like it was my fault. I think I knew from an early age and the people surrounding me made it clear it was never what I did wrong. It was always he was wrong. The situation was wrong,” said Nash, now 33. “Establishing that in my head at a very young age, that's what helped probably the most.”
Fellow survivor Samantha Jackman had a different experience.
Jackman, 26, said her perpetrator warned her from an early age that no one would trust her or believe her story.
“I was taught to believe no one would believe me,” said Jackman. “They did absolutely believe me. It was the most comforting feeling in the world.”
In the fall, Jackman filed a police report alleging a family member sexually abused her beginning when she was 10 years old. In September, her purported perpetrator was arrested and is currently awaiting trial on four felony counts.
Only as an adult did Jackman find the will to go forward with criminal charges, she said.
“Once I started caring for children, I realized how sacred being a child is, and how I never had the childhood I deserved,” she said. “Now I feel that the more I talk about it, the stronger I get.”
That happens to many of us. Speaking out about our own abuse also offers courage to those who might not yet be able to share their stories. No, it's not without pain. A part of you hurts almost every time you think back to those dark times. But knowing we can provide support to another's healing journey can make the discomfort of disclosing our past worth it.
Together, despite our different circumstances and reactions to the trauma, we are stronger. And, with the community's help, we can confront this societal ill using honesty and compassion.
“It gets easier,” Jackman said. “There is a light at the end of the tunnel now when there wasn't one before. I have hope for the rest of my life.”
Principal Charged After Failing To Report Sexual Battery
(BLOOMINGTON) - The principal at Lighthouse Christian Academy in Bloomington was arrested Monday after police say she failed to report an incident of sexual battery.
Police issued Joyce Huck a summons to appear before Monroe County Circuit Judge Marc Kellams on a charge of failure to report, a Class B misdemeanor. She is scheduled to appear in court on May 9.
According to the probable cause affidavit, a parent reported on February 19 that her daughter was sexually battered by a fellow student during an overnight "lock-in" event at the school on February 11.
The incident occurred in a room without adult supervision, but there were other teens in the room when the alleged sexual battery happened.
A friend of the alleged victim told an adult chaperone the night of the incident and the chaperone then informed Principal Joyce Huck.
On February 28, deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff's Office questioned Principal Joyce Huck.
"While speaking with Joyce, she stated she was aware that the suspect touched (the victim's) buttock inappropriately on the night of the school lock-in," read court documents. "Joyce also stated that she did not report this to the Department of Child Services or Law Enforcement."
Monroe County Police say the boy admitted to touching the girl inappropriately. He was referred to juvenile probation.
The school board president Dr. Richard Holdeman released the following statement:
"We want you to know we take seriously our responsibility for the care and protection of Lighthouse students, which includes making a report of child abuse and neglect when appropriate. We have a well-established history of making such reports to the proper authorities when we have reason to believe a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect. While we work through the question of the legal duty to report in this instance, we hope you will understand that we cannot further comment on this matter until it reaches a resolution."
Success Story: Community Against Violence
Advocating for Children's Safety
by Andy Dennison
Community Against Violence (CAV) has been providing services for children and families affected by domestic and sexual violence in Taos County since 1978. A critical program that increases safety for children and families is CAV's Northern New Mexico Children's Advocacy Center (NNMCAC).
The NNMCAC is where children and vulnerable adults who are suspected to have been abused or neglected can come to share what happened in a specialized forensic interview as part of the investigative process.
This program, formerly known as the Taos Children's Saferoom, began in Taos County in 1997 when CAV staff recognized a need for a confidential, child-friendly place where children and vulnerable adults could be safely interviewed about suspected abuse — or where law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, and medical and advocacy professionals could coordinate their efforts on behalf of the children.
“There was no other program like this and I knew there was a huge need,” said Kat Duff, one of NNMCAC's first directors.
In 2000, the program expanded its service area to cover the entire Eighth Judicial District of Taos, Colfax and Union counties.
“The specialized interview for children and adults means that they don't have to go through the additional trauma of being interviewed over and over again by each of the different responding agencies,” said Executive Director Malinda Williams, who has been with CAV since 1994.
In 2005, the NNMCAC became the first such program in New Mexico to achieve national accreditation from the National Children's Alliance, an organization that supports child advocacy centers. Soon, the program widened its reach to encompass adults with developmental disabilities and dementia.
“Before this program, children would be expected to be interviewed numerous times by the police, by social services and then in court, usually by people who did not understand cognitive levels or how trauma affects a person's ability to recount their experiences,” said Program Director Julie Kay Vigil-Romero.
The program has continued to expand and now includes Río Arriba, Mora, San Miguel and Guadalupe counties. It also provides services to the Pueblos of Taos, Picuris, Ohkay Owingeh and other pueblos when requested. Its main offices are in Taos with satellites in Raton and Las Vegas. Throughout the service area, the NNMCAC expects to serve 200 children this year.
To lessen the child and family's stress, the Taos-based interviewers travel to the site nearest the victim's home, and locally based advocates link children, adults and their families with services for medical, counseling, case management and legal support.
“These services are for both the victims and their protective caretakers,” said Williams. “They are offered support to get through this difficult time in their lives.”
The whole process begins when law enforcement or child protective services opens an investigation into suspected cases of abuse or neglect of a child or adult with disabilities. When an investigation is initiated, those officials contact NNMCAC to conduct an interview. Personnel are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide interviews at the main site at CAV in Taos and at satellite offices in Raton and Las Vegas.
“They know that when they make the call, we will be there,” said Vigil-Romero, who has been at CAV for 11 years. “That trust between us and law enforcement is critical to the victim's welfare.”
Interviewing a person about a traumatic experience of sexual/physical abuse is a
delicate and daunting task. At each NNMCAC site, there are specific interview rooms for children, equipped with toys, play areas and stuffed animals to help them feel more at ease.
“It's important that our interviewers can talk in the child's language and at their developmental level so they feel as comfortable as possible,” Williams said.
This forensic interview limits “re-traumatization” of the victims and provides evidence that helps prosecutors build a case in court. An interview can contribute crucial corroborating evidence for the district attorney, and interviewers can testify about the interview in court.
Oftentimes, an interview of a child or vulnerable adult prompts other family members to speak up about violence: “After
an interview, we often hear from
parents that they experienced abuse as children, and we want to stop the cycle and keep from passing it on to future generations,” said Duff.
“We encourage the community to talk about abuse,” said Williams. “It's a big secret in most communities, something that's hidden and never talked about. So we talk openly about children's safety and how disclosing abuse, assaults or neglect will make all children safer.”
NNMCAC is part of CAV's expansive array of services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence that include advocacy and case management services; crisis intervention and safety planning; counseling and support groups; parenting classes; Batterer's Intervention Programs; and prevention and educational programs for the community.
In addition, counselors, attorneys, physicians and other professionals offer their services at no cost or reduced rates, and many businesses donate their services and goods. Volunteers, local donations, sales at the CAV Thrift Store and fundraising supplement funding and grants from various private foundations, corporations, and federal, state and local governments.
10 Things Sexual Assault Victims Want You to Know
When I posed a question about abuse on Facebook, I was inundated with responses.
by Karen Swallow Prior
As a professor, I like to use Facebook as an extension of my classroom, a place where I can offer interesting articles and challenging discussions. Because the Facebook Live rape case and other events have put sexual assault and predatory behavior all over the news lately, I recently posted this question:
“What do you wish people knew/understood about experiencing sexual assault?”
Given the private nature of the question and the public nature of the medium, I anticipated only a handful of responses. I was astonished that dozens and dozens of people responded, whether directly on the thread or in private messages. (I should also note that I know most of the respondents in real life, including many who have been my students.) Their comments altogether filled up 60 pages.
I was surprised—and yet not surprised. A few years ago, I conducted a similar informal survey on Twitter by sharing the story of being stalked by my high school teacher and using the hashtag #howoldwereyou. It generated an equally tremendous response. In my research for a related essay, I learned the sobering statistics about childhood sexual abuse: 7 percent of girls in grades 5–8 and 12 percent of girls in grades 9–12 report having been sexually abused, along with 3 percent of boys grades 5–8 and 5 percent of boys in grades 9–12. The numbers for sexual assault are only worse for adults, and college students are particularly vulnerable. The University of Texas at Austin recently released a report indicating that 15 percent of its female undergraduate students have been raped.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a good time to honor the many brave souls who shared their experiences with me. These are brothers and sisters in Christ who have suffered. By attending to their stories, listening to them and believing them, we honor them. Here's what they wanted us to know:
1. Sexual assault can happen within families.
“Our little secret” began when I was eight and my dad started by touching. It escalated and lasted for four horrendous years. My mom was aware something was going on and asked me straight out when it first began. … I ended up telling her and she asked where and how, etc. I was relieved.… A few days later, it began again, and she never asked me anything.
I was 12 when I became pregnant by my 20-year-old brother. The pregnancy, which ended in miscarriage at 14 weeks, was painful, hard on my twiggy body, and emotional beyond description.
Growing up, sexual sin was all around me. I was experiencing physical and verbal abuse as well. So when a family member began inappropriately touching and acting out against me when I was five, I honestly didn't know at the time that it was wrong. I knew that I didn't like it, but I never thought to tell anyone.
I was sexually assaulted by a relative when I was 13. ... I wish people understood the grooming process so that they would know how cut off the victim feels from any person who could help them; there is a fog that doesn't lift until some time after the relationship is escaped.
2. Sexual assault can happen to little children.
I was molested at four years of age by a neighborhood “grandpa.” And then again as a young girl at a sleepover. The culprit was my friend's stepfather. I never told anyone until became an adult.
I was molested very young, four or five. And I never really saw it as such until I was 36 years old and under a ridiculous amount of stress. One day, it was like God opened my eyes and spoke to me and said, “Sweetie, that wasn't a game; he wasn't playing a game with you.” And I was angry with that man. But at the same time, I felt like God had protected me from that knowledge all my life until I was ready and could handle it.
I was sexually abused from seven to nine years old. … What I want people to understand about sexual assault is the one thing I still find difficult to discuss. Sometimes, it felt good. By good, I mean I experienced a “positive” physiological and neurochemical response. ... Even knowing that, on an intellectual level, it's hard to fight the shame and admit that. The guy who abused me used that fact to further manipulate me and keep me silent. I believed my physiological response meant I had somehow wanted what happened to me, but that is NOT TRUE.
3. Sexual assault can happen to adults.
I was an honors student, two-sport college athlete. I was strong and smart. I had just come back from a two-month mission trip.
I was 23 years old and out on my own for the first time and entered into my first real relationship… when he turned on me and assaulted me.
There are more ways to use overwhelming force than sheer strength.
It can and does happen within the context of marriage. It's beyond time Christians recognize this.
4. Sexual abuse can happen to men.
I experienced molestation when I was 12. It was an 18-year-old boy who would follow me home from school each day and ask to hang out. Because I was experiencing the latch-key kid lifestyle it was nice to have companionship and attention. After six weeks of him making suggestions regarding sexual exploits, I gave in and agreed. This continued for three months until he graduated and moved away. People thought he was a positive influence on me and it was nice of him to give up his time.
I don't talk about my experience much because men just don't. But it happened when I was 17 (an older, larger, more muscular man assaulted me) and I didn't even know it was a “thing.” My reaction was shame above all else, and secrecy second. I couldn't tell anybody and had a hard time even admitting it to myself. I wrote about it in a novel, but until now I've never told anybody—at all—that it happened… 53 years ago. I am 70 years old now.
5. Women can be sexual abusers.
I was sexually molested by my mother when I was just a child. I had no idea it was wrong until I was about 14 years old. I knew something wasn't “right” but I didn't think that this was something my mom would do to her own child. I only thought this was something men did... NOT MY MOM.
6. Children can abuse other children.
In fourth grade, I had two separate incidents with different girls that were actually my age. And I didn't realize it until a couple years ago that this wasn't my fault, and I should have told an adult. I was scared of getting into trouble though.
I didn't even realize that I had been molested until I was in my 30s. I always saw it as a sexual phase that I went through, at the time. I was only 5 years old and the little girl down the street from me was maybe 13.
I as a boy didn't realize I was abused until much later in life when it occurred to me, “Hey, I shouldn't have been used like that,” but it occurred often enough and profound enough that I see its effects in adult life.
7. Sexual abuse can happen in public places.
At 17, I had a manager at the fast food place where I worked try to grab me and put me up against the wall—in the cooler.
I was groped while greeting customers at the front of the store where I was working. It happened in a flash… and I was so startled I really didn't do anything about it. Once I kinda “realized” what happened, I went to my manager, told him and asked to go into the back room. I was back there trying to gather myself, because honestly it was so different than [how] I had imagined sexual assault or harassment. ... Can your assault or abuse or fondling really only last as long as a high five?
Assault in a public place can't always be stopped by calling for help. Often, the assault can make you speechless with fear, especially when the person assaulting you is bigger and much stronger. You can be sexually assaulted on a bus and be too terrified to cry out. Telling people that they should have said something when it happened causes more pain and trauma for the sufferer and dismisses the very real fear they experienced.
8. The effects of abuse last a lifetime.
I can't handle being alone with a man I don't know. This is not because I'm afraid of all men or suspect all strange men of wanting to rape me; it's because my brain is still subconsciously coping with the trauma and trying to make sure it doesn't happen again.
One of the many reasons that I don't share my story is because I am still protecting the perpetrator. Another thing is that when you've kept a secret for so long, it's difficult to figure out what or how much to share once you begin to tell parts of the story. … Sometimes the memories come completely out of nowhere.
It is very difficult to feel safe in public or open spaces, especially when alone. I often feel anxious and tense. As a result, I have often skipped doing things I've really loved, particularly solo activities.
I hate how these people still control my life. My marriage suffers from this. I feel like I let my husband down when I can't be intimate with him, but whenever we do come together, I end up crying afterwards and feeling the same shame.I feel guilty for not reporting these people and often wonder who else they have done this to. I wonder if I am partially to blame for that.
9. Sexual abuse can happen within the church.
I was 15. He was 25. His wife was my Sunday school teacher, and he was a faithful church attendee.
I was dating a young man who was the drummer in the youth band and spoke of his call to ministry. He… had a pattern of seducing young women in the church. … Once he gained trust, he would create a story that would manipulate the women in his life to allow him into their apartments and homes. In my case, he showed up at my apartment … proceeded to rape me repeatedly throughout the night and held me in my own apartment against my will. The next morning, he told me that I could not tell anyone what had happened, and he threatened to destroy my life. In the next couple of weeks, he went to the youth pastor of the church and told him that we had sex and that he was terribly guilty over it and that he was seeking repentance. By the time I was included in the conversation, he already had people convinced it was consensual. I lost my job at the Christian school associated with the church, and yet it was later revealed that I was woman #4 that this had happened to.
10. The church's response can both harm and help.
Perhaps most compelling were the comments I received regarding the role of believers in people's abuse experiences. Some of the notes were critical: “As someone who came from abuse, and who came to faith later in life, I expect Christian men and the church to take these issues seriously, and when they don't, it feels like a deep betrayal,” one victim told me. Another person reported that “perpetrators often tell their victims it's their fault, so for the church (or anyone) to add to that is especially damaging.”
Others, however, told another story. “Seeing the church's heart for the hurting has been healing,” one victim told me. Another revealed that “the church has helped redeem my understanding of what a man and a father looks like.”
As I read these and other responses, I found myself asking: What if the church were the first place an abuse victim knew to go to for help and healing? Local churches have an enormous opportunity and can address this grievous issue in a number of ways, by:
providing qualified counseling services for victims
offering Bible studies for those who have been abused (even years ago)
respecting and affirming women and men in such a way that they know they will be believed if they choose to confide their experiences
preaching and teaching on holistic and biblical ethics of sex and sexuality
Maybe the simplest and most profound act of Christian response is this: listening to those who have suffered. By listening to stories, we can learn. And by learning, perhaps we as local church communities can take proactive steps to prevent more abuse from happening and to help survivors find true healing in Christ. As one victim disclosed to me, “My church helped me to see how God sees me and who I am, instead of what I'm not.”
Local sheriff takes stand against child abuse
(Video on site)
WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Every 10 seconds, a child abuse report is made, that's nearly 700,000 children annually.
"I think sometimes people only think about one issue when it can be a wide scope of serious of issues that harm a child," said Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson.
Because it's so prevalent in Walton Country, Sheriff Adkinson is taking a stance and doing his best to put and end to it.
"Unfortunately there is a lot of child abuse cases that we deal with here in Walton County and quite frankly that's not any different than any of the surrounding counties. But that doesn't make it any less urgent to try and do something about it," said Adkinson.
Adkinson has been working closely with the local Children's Advocacy group to make an impact in the fight against child abuse.
"We've made a video we put out on our Facebook page and I think that it really talks about the issues involved and the many different forms of child abuse," said Adkinson.
He and his deputies highlight some of the disturbing child abuse facts.
"We're very cognizant of the different types of child abuse and I think sometimes we on think of sexual abuse to physical abuse, but there are other things like neglect, emotional abuse. All these things have an impact and they are compounding impact on the life of a child," Adkinson pointed out. "A lot of times I'll tell you, we see is they need guidance in how to be parents. Children don't come with instructions and quite frankly a lot of these people are ill-equipped to raise children. And they don't have that background and experience to be good parents."
State Senator George Gainer is also aiding in this fight, by simplifying laws that protect children.
"Currently we are working on transferring the duties of child protection investigations to the Walton County Sheriff's Office," said Adkinson. "We'd be the eighth sheriff's office in the state of Florida to have done that and what that means is the duties of child protective in investigations would come in the house to the sheriff's office."
Adkinson said he believes this legislation would help put everyone on the same page while keeping the children's best interest in mind.
He also urges people not to be shy about asking for help and said even if you're unsure abuse is taking place, he would rather it be looked into instead of overlooked.
Throughout April, Walton County Sheriff's Office employees will be seen sporting a blue ribbon in honor of child abuse prevention month.
Adkinson said if the legislation passes, it will go into effect July 1st.
If you or someone you know is being abused, you can call the child abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE, or contact your local law enforcement agency.
Turn awareness into action on child abuse
Pinwheels have been catching and refracting the sunshine on the Capitol lawn recently. The whimsical symbols of childhood are actually meant to catch the attention of visitors and direct it toward the difficult-to-confront reality that thousands of our kids are imperilled every second of the day in Kentucky and here in Franklin County.
There are many arresting statistics to consider, including that one in five Kentucky girls and one in 10 of the state's boys are victims of some kind of abuse. That is a total of at least 70,000 last year alone.
State Journal reporter Rosalind Essig reported last month that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service numbers show more than a 22 percent increase in the number of victims in the state from 2010 to 2014. Essig also reported that the number of victims in Franklin County has doubled since 2013.
“And just in the time that I've been here, and being in all the different courts, I can say that the amount of abuse — as far as domestic violence and child abuse — is definitely going through the roof,” said Skye Hanson, Franklin County's crime victims advocate.
Our underfunded and overwhelmed child protection system continues to struggle to keep up with the problems.
Forms of abuse may not have become more varied, but we have become more aware of the various and insidious forms of mistreatment. The internet has given predators new ways to hunt. Human trafficking has been exposed as an all-too-common scourge. Successive drug epidemics have only exacerbated problems that have always been fueled or made worse by substance abuse.
We have unfortunately seen heartrending examples of virtually every version of abuse in our pages recently.
As always, awareness is useless without action. There is a need for people to be both vigilant and brave in identifying and reporting the signs of abuse — both from the outside and inside families.
The numbers make it clear we all know someone who has been impacted. That places the responsibility squarely with all of us.
So you know
To report suspected abuse or neglect, call the Kentucky child protection hotline at 877-597-2331 or the Franklin County Office of Protection and Permanency at 502-564-6637. Find out more information about Child Abuse Awareness Month at: www.childwelfare.gov
Advocacy groups want more people looking for signs of child abuse
by Raven Ambers
AUSTIN, Texas — To kick off child abuse awareness month, advocates hung blue ribbons around the For the City Center in Austin to highlight each child in Travis County who was either abused or neglected within the last year.
Travis County ranks sixth in the state for having the most child abuse victims. Over 2,100 cases were confirmed in Travis County in 2016. Out of that number, more than 700 resulted in children being removed from their homes, according to Aaron Oeser at the DePelchin Children's Center in Austin.
Last year, CPS handled nearly 60,000 cases of child abuse and neglect in Texas.
This legislative session, Gov. Gregg Abbott has made CPS a top priority. "If you do nothing else this session, cast a vote to save the life of a child," Abbott said during his State of the State speech in January.
Oeser says one of the best things you can do to keep children safe is to report abuse when you see it.
"A lot of signs are pretty obvious -- bruises, scrapes, coming to school with soiled clothes. Things like that," said Oeser.
But sometimes the signs aren't so clear.
"There's other subtle signs that might not be so obvious, like a child that is withdrawing, a child that is sensitive to certain people, a child that has difficulty interacting with other kids," said Oeser.
If you need to report child abuse but want to remain anonymous, you can call the DFPS child abuse hotline at 1-800-252-5400 or online.
Heavy caseloads keep child abuse cases from trial
by Alicia Stice
In Larimer County, prosecutors find themselves staring down some 3,000 felony charges in a given year, and they effectively have four courtrooms in which to try those cases.
Some of these cases involve the alleged abuse of children, which, due to their complex nature, can take weeks to resolve in a jury trial and frequently involve allegations of additional crimes such as domestic violence. The cases can also require the testimony of the children involved, which leaves attorneys grappling with what effect taking the stand could have on the victim and the case.
"These children can get lost because everyone is so focused on the parent," said Lynn Oesterle-Zollner, former executive director of children's advocacy group CASA. "Even though the intention is all child focused."
The complicated nature of child abuse cases contributes to the high number of cases that end in plea deals.
“Plea deals are a touchy subject,” Larimer County Chief Deputy District Attorney Daniel McDonald said. “We basically have four courtrooms. We can't try everything.”
Prosecutors and judges dismissed roughly 70 percent of Colorado child abuse cases as part of plea deals, insufficient evidence and on judges' orders in the past four years. In Larimer County, about 50 people have been charged with child abuse at least twice in the past four years. Of the more than 100 child abuse charges, fewer than 30 percent resulted in convictions or guilty pleas.
More than half of the charges were dismissed for various reasons.
In plea deals, defendants plead guilty to some or all of the crimes of which they are accused, usually in exchange for avoiding the maximum prison sentence they might have faced otherwise.
Like other criminal charges, child abuse charges can be dropped as part of plea deals, due to a lack of evidence or because they are dismissed by a judge.
Child abuse cases are some of the most complicated and time-intensive undertakings the legal system encounters, and they involve multiple governmental agencies, McDonald said. Prosecutors and defense attorneys can find themselves juggling information from law-enforcement officers, children's advocates and the Larimer County Department of Human Services.
During an interview with the Coloradoan, McDonald gestured to a closed 3-inch binder stuffed with documents and a manila envelope packed with interview recordings. All that for just one child abuse case.
Beyond the logistical challenges child abuse cases present, prosecutors often find themselves trying to figure out what effect a lengthy trial could have on the child involved.
A 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision made it more difficult for prosecutors to tell juries about things children told other people — such as doctors or teachers — without putting the child on the witness stand. The logic was to protect defendants' constitutional right to confront their accuser.
McDonald said prosecutors consider whether the child is competent to testify and whether having them do so might be traumatizing.
“Maybe we have to put a 5- or 6-year-old on the stand,” McDonald said. “There's just a lot that goes into figuring out what you need to be doing.”
Voices Carry, a Fort Collins organization that operates independently from the District Attorney's office, works on many of these cases, but they also work on cases where children are the victims of sex crimes.
“These are complex traumas,” Program Coordinator and interviewer Isabelle Thurmer said. “When there's lots of different events they've been trying to manage and process for such a long time, it muddles how they process that experience.”
Voices Carry interviewers are trained to ask non-leading questions. These interviews can be admissible in court, but the defense has the option to call the child to the witness stand, executive director Mary Beth Swanson said.
“In most court cases, it doesn't play that well if the defense demands a child get put up there,” she said. “(With) the process of having a forensic interview … there's a chance the child might not have to testify.”
Child abuse cases also often involve difficult personal and family issues.
The Department of Human Services works to help parents tackle issues that might be contributing to their behavior while also trying to ensure children in the home stay safe.
“We obviously have bottom lines, like we can't have you using methamphetamine with your child,” social casework manager Catherine Weaver said. “But … maybe a parent says ‘I feel like I could really use some life skills development. I feel like that contributes to the chaos that leads me to substance abuse.' …There are families that works really well for.”
She sees many child abuse cases related to other problems, and as much as 30 to 40 percent of the CASA-affiliated cases involved some form of substance abuse.
“The majority of our cases have more than one thing going on,” she said. “It's substance abuse coupled with domestic violence. It's mental health and substance abuse. It's substance abuse and physical abuse.”
These cases can be further complicated when prosecutors find themselves dealing with defendants who have previously been convicted of child abuse. Colorado has a statute that allows prosecutors to charge people with multiple child abuse convictions as "habitual child abusers."
Sentence enhancers mandate harsher prison sentences if applied, but they are rarely used, in part, because so many cases end in plea deals in which prosecutors and defense attorneys have worked out what they believe are more fair sentences.
Take the case of Paul Aragon. In July, the Loveland man was arrested, accused of burning a boy so badly doctors feared the child would need skin grafts to heal.
In February, the case ended in a plea deal that shaved decades off the prison sentence Aragon would have faced if found guilty on all charges. Aragon, who had faced child abuse charges prior to his case over the summer, was originally charged with child abuse — knowingly and recklessly causing serious bodily injury and tampering with a witness. One of those child abuse charges was dismissed after he paid fines, spent time on probation and completed community service. The other was dismissed when he pleaded guilty to related charges from the same incident.
Because of his criminal history, he was originally charged as a habitual criminal — a sentence enhancer for defendants with two previous felony convictions in the past 10 years. That sentence enhancer would have forced him to serve three times the maximum sentence if found guilty at trial. Instead, Aragon pleaded guilty to negligently causing serious bodily injury and retaliating against a witness. He faces more than two decades in prison at his April sentencing.
“If this person is willing to take a plea deal that we think is appropriate, maybe that's going to prison for a number of years, and they agree to do six years when the range is two to eight,” McDonald said, speaking generally about the process. “We may not file that sentence enhancer because there may not be a point.”
This tension between the desire for punishment and rehabilitation, for protecting children and keeping families together, does not have an easy resolution
"When you get a file, it's a person," McDonald said. "You know what I mean? You have to remember, this is a person. This isn't just a file. ... Everyone involved in this thing is going to be affected by what we decide to do from charging all the way through sentencing. So when we try to make a decision on what to charge, how to charge, what offers are made ... We represent the people in the state of Colorado. That's everybody, and that includes the defendant."
CYFD looks into program to teach students about child abuse
by Lysee Mitri
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department is looking into new ways to work more closely with schools.
Part of that effort could include a new classroom curriculum to go straight to the source and educate children about child abuse.
CYFD said it receives 38,000 calls a year, which result in roughly 20,000 investigations.
Many of those calls of concern come from schools.
“There's always a steep drop-off of calls coming in during the summer months. That's because there are fewer eyes on these children,” said CYFD Secretary Monique Jacobson.
It was at school, KRQE News 13 learned, that someone first called CYFD about 10-year-old Victoria Martens and her sibling.
That was more than a year before the news of Victoria's murder, which police say involved her mother and two other suspects, left New Mexicans shocked.
A KRQE News 13 Special Assignment revealed CYFD saw Victoria at least four times but found no signs of abuse or neglect.
CYFD said it followed its procedures, but the agency is trying to do even more to reach families before it's too late.
By next school year, CYFD aims to launch a pilot program at some New Mexico schools to teach children about child abuse.
“It's tricky. These are tough issues to talk about with children,” Secretary Jacobson said.
CYFD is researching how to best explain what abuse is.
“It's a heartbreaking thought but, through talking to children that are in our custody, they didn't know that what was happening to them wasn't normal,” Jacobson said.
She said each county will now have a CYFD liaison to help educators in that area with questions about reporting abuse.
“There are times when families know what to say and how to say it. So, I tell people the more you call if you are truly concerned about this child, the better chance we have at getting a full picture of what's going on in that house.”
Packets of information on warning signs and how to report suspected child abuse also went out to schools throughout the state this week.
‘A place of hope:' GR center helps child sexual abuse victims
by Barton Deiters
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It's something no one wants to talk about: sexual abuse against children. But for nearly 25 years, Kent County's Children's Assessment Center has been doing just that.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As part of that, the center opened its doors to 24 Hour News 8 on Tuesday to show how it helps solve and prevent crimes against children and, just as importantly, provides healing.
“The kids are happy to be here and I think, for myself, that's one of the most inspirational things about working here is that this is a place of hope,” Amy Herring, the development director for the center, said.
The Children's Assessment Center is in an unassuming building in the 900 block of Michigan Street NE. From the outside, there's no clue to the intense work that goes on inside.
Every year, between 900 and 1,000 children — half of whom are younger than age 6 — are referred to the center by police after a report of sexual abuse. The children are sometimes victims of an adult and sometimes of another child. Sometimes, they themselves have perpetrated abuse against another child.
“We mostly see children who are survivors of sexual abuse within our center. These children have been abused by adults and adolescents and cope with their abuse in many different ways. We also see children who are struggling with exposure to pornography as well,” Lead Therapist Ashley Jansma said.
Most often, the abuser is not some shadow-shrouded stranger, but a trusted adult.
“A child feels like what's happening may not be wrong because this is an adult they look up to,” Jansma said.
With the advent of the internet, a whole army of abusers has a way to groom and attack children from miles away.
“It's a faceless crime in a lot of ways, too. The child doesn't necessarily feel victimized or that what they're doing is wrong or what's happening is wrong because they're so separated from it,” Jansma said.
But while the stories they hear will break your heart, the workers at the center see healing.
“I get to see children heal, so child sexual abuse is not a scary thing for me to talk about because I know that child is going to come out stronger and more empowered than they ever were before,” Jansma said. “It's my job to make sure they're educated on what healthy relationships look like so they can make informed and smart decisions moving forward.”
“There's every effort made to meet the child at their level and to give them back some of their own personal power that has been taken away,” Herring said.
The center has also started programs in 17 school districts and some private and charter schools. Their curriculum teaches kids how to identify a problem and seek help.
“If we've done our job well, they've had those tools so they can pull from that information and say, ‘You know what, something's not right here. I'm going to talk to a safe adult, a grown-up who can help me figure this out,'” said Tanya Muehlbauer, the Children's Prevention Program coordinator.
The center combines forensic investigation, medicine and therapy — all at no cost to the child's family and no matter how long it takes. Funding comes from taxpayer dollars, grants and donations. The coordinated, one-stop approach is estimated to save the county $1,200 per case.
How I found healing from child sexual abuse
by A. Crystal
I sat on the chair, fists clenched, hot tears streaming down my cheeks. How could they do this to me? I was just a child! They took away my innocence, my sense of trust and security, my safety. They took away my ability to love and receive love. They took away my life. How could they?
In the days, weeks and months following my discovery of childhood sexual abuse, I was caught up in a whirlwind of emotions. My heart was filled with rage, and I fantasised about what I could do if the perpetrators were paraded before me.
These fantasies gave me an illusion of control, but in reality, there was nothing that I could do. They had gotten away scot-free, and I'm left to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Child sexual abuse possibly tops the list of depravity because it robs children of their basic sense of identity and intimacy. When the most private parts of a child are violated, they lose the ability to draw the lines that are required to manoeuvre around the world.
They face difficulty in creating and guarding their boundaries. They struggle to find their voice and assert their needs. They go on endless attempts to find someone who can help them feel safe enough. They surrender their will to others, because they do not think they could protect themselves. There is no end to the damage caused.
I won't lie – I wanted revenge. For every time that they had laid their hands on me or made me do or watch things I shouldn't be exposed to, I wanted them to suffer even more. Don't I have the right to make them pay their dues? Who will repay me for all those years that were lost? How will I ever get back my childhood? Because of what they did, I felt dirty, worthless, and full of shame. Who can make me clean again?
The sad part of reality is that all these desires for revenge are nothing but fantasies. These monsters will never be brought to justice, at least not on this earth. They are free to roam the streets, while those they hurt are left to pick up the broken pieces on their own.
In my quest for justice, I became a prisoner of my own bitterness. My thoughts and emotions were consumed by hatred. The traumatic memories played over and over like a broken record.
My decision to forgive wasn't for them; it was every bit for myself. While I can't change the past, forgiveness allows me to re-write my future. I didn't heal overnight. I still have to face the same demons. But it was the beginning of healing.
I've heard from other survivors that you can never forgive or heal. But I believe forgiveness precedes healing. Without letting go, I could not move on. I was powerless when I was hurt as a child; now the only way to get my power back is to refuse to allow the perpetrators to continue hurting me. And the only way out of that is to forgive.
Healing is a long process. I learned that I have to consciously decide to forgive over and over again. Sometimes I thought I'd forgiven only to find that familiar rage rising. I do not know how long this will take, but I'll get there, slowly but surely.
Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. To forgive is a choice that I continuously make to cancel the debt, but I will never forget what had happened. The experience will always be part of the puzzle that forms my life. But I forgive so that the dark pieces will be essential pieces that complete my puzzle, and not just something I have to put up with.
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of forgiveness is letting myself go. Every child who has been violated will blame themselves for the abuse. Why didn't I run or yell for help? What did I do to make them treat me this way? Was I a bad, naughty child?
In order to heal, I had to learn to forgive myself. I was vulnerable and in no position to defend myself. I chose to place responsibility where it should lie. I've never had a childhood, but I won't hold it against myself anymore. It wasn't my fault.
The perpetrators do not deserve my forgiveness, but I deserve to be free. I don't need to waste more years locked up in the prison of my past.
Forgiveness sets the stage for my story of redemption. It allows the grace of God to be manifested through my pain. I don't want to be someone who had merely escaped a tragedy; I want my story to be victorious. And it begins when I unlock my prison doors and step out into a life that was originally intended for me.
If you're journeying with someone who has been through traumatic experiences, I hope that you will find the grace to walk through this path with them. While it is important to let go, don't ram forgiveness down their throats. Understand that they have every right to feel angry and sorrowful. In fact, these emotions are essential for healing.
Recovery may take months, even years. But there's no rush. Let recovery take its course. You may not understand what a survivor is going through, and you do not have to.
It is not an easy process, and I do not pretend to sail through it. I still have to face the anger and grief. Such traumas take time to heal. The perpetrators had meant to harm me, but God will turn it around for good. And wherever life's journey may take me, I will declare that all is well with my soul.
Bill advances that would take away time limit on child sexual assault lawsuits
by JoAnne Young
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist gathered enough votes Wednesday to advance a bill that would take away the time limit for child sexual abuse victims to sue their offenders.
"I brought this bill on behalf of people who were damaged as children at the hands of an adult. I brought this bill so that those people who suffered from those injuries could find their own peace in their life," Krist said.
The bill (LB300) would remove the statute of limitations for civil actions on child sexual assault causing injuries to the victim. Current law requires any lawsuit be brought within 12 years following the victim's 21st birthday.
As amended, it would also allow victims of child sexual assault that happened before the bill goes into effect to sue within 35 years after the victim's 18th birthday, or within three years after the bill's effective date, whichever is longer.
It was also amended so that any aspect of the bill found to be unconstitutional or invalid by the Supreme Court, would not affect the remaining parts of the bill.
Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers said victims should have a long enough opportunity to seek damages from harms. But at the same time, those accused of wrongdoing should have an opportunity to know, after a certain period, that their lives can go forward without more accusations.
Federal courts have said that in certain situations that period can be opened. But Hilgers does not believe the Nebraska constitution allows that retroactively, he said.
Sen. John Lowe said if he followed his heart, he would take those abusers into hell, where they belong.
But common sense says taking away the statute of limitations is not a good idea, he said, because memories get fuzzy after time.
"We need to get the victims to speak out sooner so that there are not more victims in the future," Lowe said.
Senators voted to advance the bill on a 29-3 vote, with Sens. Robert Clements, Steve Erdman and John Lowe voting no.
Between now and a second round of debate on the bill, Krist said he would talk to constitutional lawyers and university professors about whether the bill could apply to past child sexual assaults.
Yearly training to halt child sexual abuse could come to Texas schools
by Emily Donaldson
A Texas lawmaker is trying to implement annual training in schools to prevent child sexual assault.
Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, is sponsoring a bill that would require districts to host age-appropriate and evidence-based training annually so children can learn how to protect themselves against abuse.
The bill also aims to decrease the child pregnancy rate, or the number of pregnant youths age 15 and younger.
“Sexual assault is a crime that plagues our society in astonishing numbers and will continue to do so if the most innocent victims are not educated on how to handle it,” Parker said.
Before the age of 18, one in four girls and one in six boys experience some form of sexual abuse, according to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.
Sylvia Orozco-Joseph, the We Help Ourselves national director, is in charge of a large education program that already works to spread awareness on these matters.
She said WHO's program adjusts curriculum by the ages of students to teach basic concepts.
“For older students, we use a two- to three-minute videotape and role playing. … For pre-K through second grade, we use puppets,” she said.
Orozco-Joseph said 40 percent of children said the program helped them, and 25 percent said they used the information to help a friend.
The singular concern originated from Meagan Corser, a legislative analyst with Texas Homeschool Coalition. She had concerns that the bill might infringe upon the rights of homeschool parents but supported the bill's overall intent.
Corser asked that parents who homeschooled their children would be notified in advance of the class, lest they object to the content or nature of the training.
Judith McGeary, one of the witnesses who spoke during the public comment period, addressed about her own experience with child abuse in objection to this thought.
She said if her parents had been notified of such a class, they would have objected.
“It is not the right of a parent to deny their child access to something that could save their life … because I came very close,” McGeary said.
Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, who is a former educator, emphasized that it is often parents who commit acts of abuse. Allen said for this reason, parents should not be given the ability to choose if their child receives this training.
The bill was left pending in committee but is likely to pass.
Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, said he would be happy to address any issues anyone has with the bill.
“Who in the world would actually be opposed to this bill, and why?” Meyer asked.
Dept of Justice
Grand Jury Accuses Inland Empire Man of 17 Child Exploitation Offenses Related to Six Boys Coerced to Make Explicit Videos
RIVERSIDE, California – An Inland Empire man was named today in a federal grand jury indictment that charges him with a series of child exploitation crimes for allegedly coercing six boys around the nation him to send him sexually explicit videos.
Francisco Javier Soledad, 24, of Eastvale, was charged today in a 17-count indictment that alleges six counts of producing of child pornography, six counts of using the internet to induce a minor to engage in criminal sexual activity, two counts of advertising child pornography, two counts of distributing child pornography, and one count of possessing child pornography on an iPhone.
Soledad was arrested on March 9 by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) after federal prosecutors filed a criminal complaint that accused him of one count of producing child pornography in relation to one 13-year-old victim.
The indictment filed today outlines how Soledad victimized six boys between the ages of 12 and 15 over the course of several months in 2016. Soledad allegedly found the victims, who spanned the nation from California to Georgia, on social media sites.
According to court documents, Soledad assumed different personas – sometimes a 13-year-old boy, and other times an adult woman – to convince the victims to send him explicit photographs and videos. Several of the victims refused demands to send additional images, which allegedly prompted Soledad to threaten to publish the previously sent images on social media platforms. In at least one instance, Soledad did in fact publish one of the victim's nude images on Twitter.
A search of Soledad's digital devices revealed thousands of images and videos of suspected child pornography. The majority of the child pornography images appear to have been self-produced by the depicted victims. Law enforcement has not yet identified all of the children Soledad may have victimized.
Anyone with information about Soledad – or his Snapchat handle, “linkinparkrocks” – is encouraged to call HSI's toll-free tip line 1-866-2DHS-ICE or 1-866-234-7423.
Soledad is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment on April 12 in United States District Court in Los Angeles. Soledad is currently free on a $170,000 bond.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The charges of producing child pornography and advertising child pornography each carry a mandatory minimum penalty of 15 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of 30 years. The charge of enticing a minor carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a maximum possible sentence of life. The charge of distributing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum sentence of 20 years. The charge of possessing child pornography carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Teresa K.B. Beecham.
FROM: Thom Mrozek, Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California (Los Angeles)
New Bill Allows Child Sex Abuse Victims To Sue Abusers
by Ava-joye Burnett
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A Maryland delegate's personal story of being abused as a child is helping to push through new legislation that may make it easier for victims to sue abusers.
Ava-joye Burnett tells us the bill which had opposition for years, finally received majority support in Annapolis.
Victims of child sex abuse will now have up to the age of 38 to file a lawsuit against an abuser. The bill finally passed this year after a consensus was reached with the catholic church.
The stigma of being sexually abused as a child is a battle this Maryland lawmaker says he knows all too well.
Shuffled from foster home to foster home delegate C.T. Wilson said he was abused from about seven all the way till he was 16.
“I can't sit here and describe to you the pain of being beaten, sodomized and molested for years,” says Delegate Wilson.
As he introduced a bill to help victims sue abusers.
“Very humiliating. People ask if it was cathartic, it wasn't; I could go a whole nother lifetime without people knowing my personal business,” he says.
The bill, which was signed by the Governor Tuesday, will give victims up to 20 years into adulthood to sue. Before this bill, they only had seven years.
The delegate has been introducing the bill here in Annapolis since 2015, but it got shot down two years in a row. He says the Catholic church had concerns it would always be the target of lawsuits, even if the claims were false. This new bill would also hold individuals accountable.
In a statement to WJZ, the Archdiocese of Baltimore wrote:
“The church supported the bill because it applied to both public and private institutions, thereby treating equally all victims of sexual abuse.”
Anti-child abuse advocates are calling this a win.
“In a nutshell, this is an important day for adult survivors of sexual abuse. It takes years for children to even understand sometimes that they have been a victim of sexual abuse,” says Adam Rosenberg with the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
Delegate Wilson hopes his actions have sent a message to others.
“I was able to hopefully change some lives today. If anything, you let the people, the quiet victims here in Maryland know that they are not alone.”
The delegate says this bill goes into effect July first.
This bill only applies to civil lawsuits because there are no statute of limitations on criminal cases.
This Documentary Tackles the Culture of Silence Around Child Sexual Abuse in Latinx Homes
by Raquel Reichard
When Jasmin Mara López was a child, she was abused by her grandfather, a beloved minister who regularly served his community. She didn't tell a soul. In fact, like many survivors of childhood abuse, López lived with those tormenting memories and the trauma it carried in silence for decades. It wasn't until 2014 when the New Orleans-based mexicana opened up about the sexual violence she had experienced in her youth. In doing so, she, unbeknownst to her at the time, allowed her relatives who had also suffered similar abuse in silence to discuss their haunting pasts and heal together.
But López , an award-winning journalist and producer, wants to explore the culture of silence around sexual abuse deeper, and she is using her family's history to do that. The 37-year-old is writing and directing a documentary about that past.
“Silent Beauty” is an experimental documentary about the impacts of trauma, and the healing that sometimes occurs when opening up about it. The film, which is expected to be completed in fall 2017, includes López's family's super 8 archive (silent home films), cassette tape recordings and interviews that offer a unique tapestry of film, sounds and voices from her past and present.
We chatted with López about her film, the need to ditch the culture of silence around childhood sexual abuse in Latinx homes, what she has learned in the process of making “Silent Beauty,” her distinctive use of sound in the documentary and more.
Why did you want to tackle the culture of silence around child sexual abuse in Latinx homes?
I wanted to explore the culture of silence within my own family. I wanted to learn about and understand my own experience. I was sexually abused by my grandfather, a highly regarded minister. Twenty-five years after the abuse, I realized I was living with the effects of trauma. The birth of my niece, Amelia , served as the catalyst for my coming forward in 2014. When I did, other survivors within my family began to do the same. I realized this was far greater than my own experience. I began to uncover sad truths: this had happened to the generation before mine, and no one really talked about it. If anyone tried to speak up, they were manipulated and silenced, made to feel ashamed. No one denounced the crimes. Misogyny, the need to preserve our family's image and stigma were at the root of this silence.
When it comes to child sexual abuse, stigma and silence exist across cultures. I wanted to encourage a dialogue around it and learn how it translated within other families.
How might this silence intensify an already traumatic experience?
When you silence victims, you cause further harm. Sadly, in my family's case, the complicit silence of the generation before me aided in the perpetuation of the sexual assault of children. I suspect that this is why so many of them still aren't talking about it or denouncing it today.
Personally, I didn't feel safe enough to talk about it, so I wasn't able to process the traumatic experiences and became confused. I felt unloved and extremely isolated. This affected my mental health and intimate relationships for many years. I blamed and hated myself, and eventually turned the pain outwards. This is a pattern that I'm finding among other survivors.
What do you think causes so many Latina survivors of child sexual abuse to keep the violence against them to themselves?
A lot of work has been done to break the stigma of child sexual abuse, but it still exists within our families and society. As a child, I remained silent because I feared and respected my perpetrator: my grandfather. I knew that he was revered by many, and I didn't think anyone would believe me. I also feared destroying my grandmother and family, and losing them all. Without realizing it, I convinced myself that it hadn't happened and carried this with me into adulthood.
More than 90 percent of child victims are abused by someone the family or child knows. These are complex relationships and situations that often prevent children from speaking up. Abusers often manipulate victims using a number of different tactics. Abusers might tell the child that the activity is normal or that they enjoyed it. An abuser may make threats if the child refuses to participate or plans to tell another adult. You grow up with these fears, or shame, so it's often difficult to break away from them, especially when you don't know if you'll be supported.
This film is based on your own experiences with child sexual abuse and your own family. How difficult was it for you as a journalist and producer to make something so personal?
It's incredibly difficult. I'm both the journalist and the subject of this project, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. It's like I'm working double time. I'm open to criticism and judgment, both as a survivor and a journalist. That can be scary. But I also charged myself with this task three years ago, so I have prepared significantly and am excited to heal and share what I learned.
What did you learn about your own family by making this film? Was there something that you learned about yourself?
What happened to me also happened to others. My cousins went through life with similar pain and isolation. We were alone, together. But we had the strength within ourselves to reclaim our life and make it beautiful. I also learned that there were people in my family who chose not to say anything. My uncles refused to believe me and tried to sabotage my coming forward. These were devastating facts to learn about my family. However, I also understand the fears and shame behind admitting that your father is a pedophile.
How has this project been healing for you?
Life will never be easy, but I continue to find beauty in myself and my life every day. I wasn't able to find that before coming forward. One example is when going through the super 8 film footage, I saw my mother in a new light, and it allowed me to have more compassion for her experience. From acknowledging my strength and worth to having compassion for my mother and her siblings, I'm able to heal. To be able to share my story with my older nephews, Jacob and Marcos , and hear them tell me that I'm the strongest person they know, brings tremendous amounts of healing.
What has been your family's response to your making this film?
When I first came forward in 2014, two uncles accused me and the other survivors of lying. They have since stopped speaking to me. I'm not sure if they are in denial, afraid of how this might implicate them or scared that this might damage their careers in law enforcement. But, despite my transparency and constant communication, they haven't spoken to me since I called them to tell them the truth. My mother, siblings and cousins, however, have supported me and this project. Friends and colleagues have also become extended family.
Can you talk about your approach to the documentary, because I know it uses a combination of silent home movies and sound design?
Using my family's super 8 archive – silent home movies – and my background in audio documentary production and sound art, I will produce this work with an experimental approach that brings forth my voice and the voices of family members. This film will also incorporate sound design that mimics the sounds I constantly hear because of my hearing loss. “Silent Beauty” will become a rich tapestry of sounds and voices that explore what my family went through and who helped me find healing in this process.
As someone who has in recent years experienced significant hearing loss, why was experimenting with sound important to this project?
In the time that I began to expose the sexual abuse in my family's past, I experienced the onset of hearing loss. Because of it, I entered a new form of isolation. I went inwards. I often found myself deep in thought while everything moved around me, examining my emotions or considering a deeper meaning to all aspects of my life. This loss was poetry because it created a space that brought depth, meaning and beauty. The film is also an acknowledgement of the power of silence and sound.
What do you hope viewers get from this documentary?
My hope is that survivors will be encouraged to continue their journey toward healing, justice and awareness. I hope that viewers will begin looking into this question of silence and how it might exist in their own lives.
These Texas counties have the most child abuse victims
by Fernando Ramirez
Child abuse in Texas
April is child abuse prevention month in the United States. In 2016, Texas saw 66,075 confirmed cases of child abuse, with 222 children dying.
Last week, Houstonians were reminded of a grim child abuse case where a Richmond-area couple allegedly locked seven special-needs children in a single room and only fed them beans and rice.
Their caretakers, 54-year-old Paula Sinclair and her 78-year-old husband Allen Richardson, had new charges brought against them, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault causing serious harm.
The news comes as we enter April, the federally recognized month for child abuse prevention. In Texas, health officials have begun a public education campaign taking aim at the widespread issue.
According to the Department of Family and Protective Services, Texas saw 66,075 confirmed cases of child abuse in 2016.
Of those cases, 52,173 or roughly 79 percent are categorized under neglectful supervision. Physical abuse accounts for around 17 percent or 10,907 cases, physical neglect — or the failure to provide a child with food, clothing or shelter — accounts for 4,582 or 7 percent of cases, and sexual abuse accounts for 5,721 or roughly 9 percent of cases.
The remaining cases are split between abandonment, emotional abuse, medical neglect, refusal to accept parental responsibility, and labor and sex trafficking.
Unfortunately, health officials found that in 2016 222 children died in Texas due to child abuse or neglect, which is why it's critical for Texans to be able to spot the general warning signs of abuse, which include a child whose nervous around adults, reluctant to go home, often tired, and is fearful and anxious.
Proclamation highlights child abuse prevention
by Job Vigil
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan declared April to be Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Mayor Dwight Livingston on Tuesday read a proclamation emphasizing the need to continue the initiative to prevent child abuse in North Platte and Lincoln County.
Matt Fosket of the Child and Family Therapy Institute of Nebraska said the proclamation was the kickoff for local efforts to focus attention on child abuse.
“Throughout the month different agencies are doing activities to bring awareness, not only to the epidemic of child abuse, but focusing on strategies to reduce and prevent child abuse,” Fosket said.
He said the pinwheel is one of the symbols of child abuse prevention. Pinwheels are used as reminders of abuse and the children who deal with it.
“There is also information about Child Abuse Prevention Month and about our organization and what our role is in preventing child abuse,” Fosket said.
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that in federal fiscal year 2015, an estimated 683,000 children were victims of child abuse or neglect, and 1,670 children died as a result of abuse or neglect, in the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Fosket said to bring more awareness to the information and help that is available, events throughout the month will focus on education.
“One of things we have going in is Celebrate Kids, which is our big event for the month,” Fosket said. “Celebrate Kids is a way to bring families together.”
Encouraging and promoting healthy family interactions helps in preventing abuse, Fosket said.
“When we can spend time playing and focusing on our kids, it actually reduces stress,” Fosket said. “We do this event to encourage parents to spend time with their children.”
Popular area songwriter and performer Rascal Martinez will be the main attraction at the event.
“Rascal does songs and activites throughout the performance that are getting the kids and families engaged, getting them active and performing with him,” Fosket said. “So it's an interactive event.”
Celebrate Kids, a free event for children and families, will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on April 21 at Bethel Church, 2700 W. Philip Ave.
More information can be found at the Lincoln County Child Abuse Prevention Council's website, lincolncountychildren.com.
Child abuse, neglect on the rise in Manitowoc
by Patti Zarling
MANITOWOC - Child abuse and neglect are on the rise in Manitowoc County, as throughout other areas of Wisconsin and the U.S. Local advocates say community involvement and awareness can play a big part in curbing those numbers.
According to the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, 571 cases of child abuse and neglect were reported in Manitowoc County in 2011. That number jumped to 624 by 2015, the most recent data available. The rate of abuse also saw an uptick, from about 33 incidents per 1,000 kids in 2011 to 37.3 incidents per 1,000 four years later.
Those rates follow the state's upward trends, although they are slightly above the state rates if 28.8 per 1,000 kids in 2011 and 32.8 per 1,000 in 2015.
"What I'm seeing is Manitowoc County numbers are trending up," said Julie Ribley, director of CASA, or the Court Appointed Special Advocate in Manitowoc County. "A lot of what we are seeing is drug abuse by caretakers or parents. A lot are incarcerated at the time we see kiddos."
The hope is to help and support families before children are neglected and abused or have to be removed from homes, she said. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Children's Safety Network is hosting a Hands Around the Courthouse event Wednesday. The event includes speakers, and the idea is for parents, children, teachers, business owners, government officials and others to hold hands to create a continuous circle around the Manitowoc County Courthouse to show a community-wide support for putting an end to child abuse or neglect and to encourage children's resiliency.
Hands Around the Courthouse is set for 4:42 p.m. and is free and open to the public.
Although abuse and neglect are on the rise, there are ways to reverse the course, Ribley said. The Lakeshore Community Action Program, or CAP, offers a variety of services to support young families, free of charge.
An important piece of prevention is "the Five Protective Factors," said Colleen Homb, interim executive director of Lakeshore CAP.
"One of the things parents need is to feel supported," she said. "A lot of the time, we connect abuse and neglect to poverty, but that's not necessarily the case."
Instead, sometimes families need better ways to focus on challenges or traumas within their circle.
So protective factors include things such as making sure parents take care of themselves. Stress affects parenting, she said, so parents need to make sure they have the social and community supports for themselves.
Social connections also are key.
"We want people to recognize they can be part of their community," Ribley said. "They can touch base with neighbors if they need transportation or help with the family. Those connections are important."
Knowledge of parenting and child development also are important, Homb said.
"To be a good parent, you want to be aware of where your child should be in terms of development," she said. "You can't expect a 1-year-old to make a bed or wash the dishes."
It's also important for families to know there is concrete support in Manitowoc when they need it. There are rental assistance programs, food pantries and school services for students who need additional help, Homb said.
"Knowing what is available can help minimize stress," she said.
A final protective factor is building social and emotional confidence in children, especially if they have experienced trauma, the advocates said.
"The goal is to help children communicate," Ribley said. "To help children learn how to regulate behavior when they feel anxious, to help them learn to recognize their emotions."
Many in the community want to know ways to help, she said, and CAP is hosting prevention training April 24 and 28. Call Ribley or Homb at 920-686-3737 for details.
"I'd like the community to know there's hope," Ribley said. "And they are part of that hope, working together."
Homb added: "It's as simple as reaching out. There isn't any great formula or mystery. Create friendships. Know your neighbors and know they're doing OK."
Open your heart to increased awareness of child abuse
by Brenna Griteman
There were 425 investigations into reported child abuse and neglect in Hancock County last year.
It's a staggering number by any account, and it's an increase from 2015 — in large part due to heroin use among expectant mothers.
“We have seen an increase in cases due to the opiate/opioid problem in Hancock County,” Karmen Lauth, a supervisor at Hancock County Job & Family Services, confirmed.
She explained any newborn who tests positive for an illegal substance is considered a case of physical abuse, referred by the hospital to Job & Family Services.
The idea behind this system is to provide the earliest possible intervention for both the mother and the child, Job & Family Services Administrator Angie Rader said. Even in this case, the agency's goal of keeping the family unit intact whenever possible remains front and center.
“Our mission is trying to make sure kids are safe while trying to preserve the family unit,” Lauth said. Based on the number of investigations opened by the agency each year, she said the majority of kids do get to stay at home with their parents.
The hospital reporting system is a strong example of what the agency refers to as “mandated reporters” — that is, groups of people who are required by law to report suspected instances of child abuse or neglect. All medical personnel fall under this category, as do teachers and other school employees and police officers.
The agency implores all community members to report suspected child abuse, however, and hosted its annual child abuse prevention breakfast Monday. Afterward, attendees tied dozens of balloons to the fence surrounding the Hancock County Courthouse, serving as a colorful representation of families being served by the agency and as a reminder to the public to remain vigilant in protecting the children of the community.
The balloons replace the pinwheel project of years ago wherein each pinwheel represented an investigated instance of child abuse. Rader said this year, the balloons don't represent specific cases or figures — just awareness in general.
“It takes several people to sometimes be involved with a child and a family.” Rader said. “If they have a concern, they should report. It's better to be safe than sorry.”
Rader explained abuse falls under three categories: physical, sexual and emotional. Neglect is the most commonly seen in Hancock County and involves things like lack of supervision, basic needs going unmet and poor housing conditions.
Signs of physical, sexual or emotional abuse may include substance abuse by the child's parents; unusual marks or bruising, especially in infants; inappropriate dress for the weather; self-harm; children displaying advanced sexual knowledge for their age; and children who are hyper-vigilant or flinch at sudden movements or loud noises. If you see a child in immediate danger, contact local law enforcement or call 911.
It's important to note that all reporters of child abuse are confidential, Rader said. Once a suspected case is reported, a team of social workers and staff begins conducting interviews and gathering information about the family in question in order to determine the immediate safety of the child and the level of intervention, if any, required. She said every effort is made to keep the child in their home or, if that's not possible, to place them in the care of relatives.
Once Job & Family Services opens an investigation with a family, case workers typically stay involved with that family for about two years, Rader said. Services provided may include counseling, general parenting classes, supervised visits, substance abuse treatment or domestic violence recovery.
Additionally, some mothers are referred to the Family Dependence Treatment Court. The specialized docket was created through a federal grant in September, and provides “intensive services for parents” of minors with an identified substance abuse problem, Rader said. It's a program the agency works closely with, although Rader notes a person does not need to be involved with the agency to begin working with the court.
In a show of support toward the agency's efforts to promote child abuse awareness, groups and individuals are asked to participate in “Wear Blue Day” on April 12. Be sure to share your photos using #OhioWearsBlue on Job & Family Services' Facebook page: Child Abuse Awareness, Hancock County.
To report suspected abuse or neglect, call 419-424-7022.
Tippecanoe Courtrooms Go To The Dogs
by Chris Morisse Vizza
Tippecanoe County is enlisting help from man's best friend to make court appearances less stressful for abused and neglected children.
Court Appointed Special Advocate Executive Director Coleen Connor says local members of Therapy Dogs International contacted her at the same time she and some volunteer advocates were investigating the idea of bringing a trained therapy dog into the courtroom to calm some of the most-traumatized child victims.
They tested the concept when a teenage ward of the court said he'd be glad to have dogs in the courtroom during his hearing.
“There were no signs of emotional outbreaks, nervous movement or emotional outbreaks that we've had in the past with this young man,” Connor says.
Connor invited Bessie, a traditional Chinese Shar-Pei, and her handler, Tom Roberts, to help convince the county commissioners to allow handlers and animals certified by Therapy Dogs International to be present during some court proceedings.
Roberts, of Carroll County, says he's been taking therapy dogs into several Lafayette-area psychiatric facilities for several years.
He says research shows humans experience a decrease in blood pressure, as well as positive changes in dopamine and serotonin levels – chemicals that communicate information through the brain and body.
“The big chemical change is in the reduction of cortisol levels,” Roberts says. “Cortisol is known as a stress marker, and the presence of a dog, after about 15 minutes, we'll see a real significant drop in that cortisol level.”
Roberts says the dogs are tested to ensure they are comfortable with people who display varying degrees of behavioral control.
County Prosecutor Pat Harrington says Roberts' therapy dogs have calmed victims of domestic violence and child abuse when they've been in court.
The commissioners on Monday agreed to allow certified therapy dogs in the courthouse when Connor or Harrington believe the animals' presence will benefit a child or adult victim.
Connor says the handlers and their dogs will be scheduled as needed and might be in the courthouse three or four times a month.
Our children are our trust
by Teratai Kota
“So often survivors have had their experiences denied, trivialised, or distorted. Writing is an important avenue for healing because it gives you the opportunity to define your own reality. You can say: This did happen to me. It was that bad. It was the fault and responsibility of the adult. I was - and am - innocent.”
- Ellen Bass, ‘The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse'
If you have been following closely news on child sexual abuse, you will know YB Azalina Othman Said has been fighting for the Sexual Offences Against Children Bill 2017 which will be tabled for the second reading today.
Around 5,000 children were sexually abused in 2016 alone and the number is rising every year. The rise in child sexual abuse cases was alarming, particularly those committed by paedophiles who preyed on the young.
It took me a while to write on this heavy topic. My heart was sinking. Reading cases after cases on how severe and how serious this issue is in our society. What gives?
“In 2016, a total 5,052 cases of child sexual abuse were reported and we view this as a serious issue,” said Noraini Ahmad (BN-Parit Sulong). Even scarier, between 70 and 80 percent of offenders were known to the victims and typically were parents, siblings, child minders, relatives or neighbours.
Most complaints of child sexual abuse in Malaysia do not lead to successful prosecutions, largely due to weaknesses in the nation's criminal justice system, police, lawmakers and child welfare groups say.
We are their voices. If we don't protect the children, who will?
Be kind. Be considerate. Never doubt how a small ripple will create waves that will bring the change. While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary.
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Mahatma Gandhi
D.C. missing youth cases highlight dangers for runaways
by Erin Donaghue
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Recent publicity surrounding missing children in Washington, D.C. has launched a firestorm of conversation and controversy about the issue in the nation's capital and across the country. Police have been quick to point out there's no uptick in the cases and no evidence of abductions or sex trafficking, but the cases highlight the problem of how jurisdictions deal with teens who run away from home – young people who police and advocates say are in peril despite a broad public perception that their cases are far less important than other missing child cases.
Though cases of “stranger” and family abductions can often generate media attention and are more likely to meet the criteria needed to activate local “Amber Alert” systems, runaways account for an overwhelming percentage of cases the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children assisted with in 2016.
Across the country, police departments have fielded concerns that teens are too quickly classified as runaways even though that may not be the reason for their disappearance. Derrica Wilson, president and co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, says her group finds law enforcement is more likely to classify black or Latino teens as runaways. Some families have said that cases of teens who do run away – especially teens of color – aren't taken seriously or investigated with the same resources as a suspected abduction would be.
In addition, the media is often less likely to cover a missing person of color, Wilson said – though they are more likely to disappear. African-Americans make up 13 percent of the population, but nationally 38.5 percent of missing youth are black, according to the FBI. Wilson cited the case of Natalee Holloway, a white teen whose 2005 disappearance in Aruba garnered intense media spotlight.
In Washington, the issue rocketed to the forefront last month, when an Instagram post inaccurately claiming 14 black and Latina girls went missing within the space of 24 hours went viral. On social media, several celebrities used the hashtag #missingdcgirls to help raise awareness, and emotions boiled over at a town hall meeting March 22 at a Washington school amid public outcry over a lack of media attention to the cases.
Police rushed to calm fears and prove the claim false, saying a new initiative to share cases of critically missing people on social media may have given the wrong impression that there are more of those cases in recent months. They cited police data that shows the number of missing child cases in the District actually dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016. Of the 574 young people reported in the District missing since the beginning of 2017, 10 of those cases remained unsolved as of Monday -- most of those children of color. Many of the cases involved runaways who left home voluntarily but returned, police said.
But that's done little to assuage the concerns of advocates, who say the fact that there's been no increase doesn't detract from the severity of the longstanding problem.
“I think the outcry is that the community didn't realize this was such a huge issue,” said Wilson, of the Black and Missing Foundation. “The fact of the matter is this has been going on for years.”
The concern also spurred a letter from Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond, D-La., and D.C.'s Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey asking them to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed,” the AP reported.
When it comes to both the media and police departments, missing children of color can be treated with a “veil of suspicion,” said Vanetta Rather, a Washington, D.C. community advocate and founder of My Sister My Seed, which advocates for the safety of women and girls.
“We don't look at girls of color as children in need of assistance, we're looking at it suspiciously, like ‘What did they do?'” Rather said. “Like we have to pass some respectability test in order to see our young girls as worthy of being treated the same way as other girls are treated. They're just children and they need to be found – we don't need to screen them first.”
Cmdr. Chanel Dickerson, who heads the Youth and Family Services division at Washington's Metropolitan Police Department, has said she's heard those concerns, and that's why her division aims to investigate each case equally – regardless of race, immigration status, or whether the person is a runaway – because it's always a possibility the person could be in danger.
“It's dangerous out there, and young people are vulnerable,” Dickerson said. “I just think they can be taken advantage of and pulled into a situation they don't realize the seriousness of until they're already in it.”
The MPD has said there's no evidence to indicate any of the teens were abducted or lured into sex trafficking. But some community advocates say children who run away are still at risk of falling prey to predators -- or may be leaving home because they already have. Since some of the teens remain missing, they say, there's no way to know they haven't been trafficked, and the longer they remain on the street, the greater the risk.
Police agree, and they say that's why they've increased their efforts to spread the word about cases deemed “critical” – people 15 or younger, 65 or older, or those who may be particularly vulnerable – on social media. Dickerson told Crimesider she implemented the policy shortly after she took over the department's Youth and Family Services division in December.
Though the push may have contributed to fears, it did help publicize the cases. Previously, Dickerson said, police commanders only publicized critical cases at their discretion – it wasn't a requirement.
When Dickerson took over the division, she took note that a large number of the cases appeared to be girls – particularly girls of color, though boys have also been reported missing – between 12 and 17. Some had been reported missing multiple times.
While the FBI law enforcement database that tracks missing kids doesn't use a specific classification for runaways, it recorded 465,676 reports of missing children in 2016 and 460,699 in 2015, numbers that include multiple reports for the same child if that child ran away more than once. NCMEC says they assisted law enforcement and families with more than 20,500 cases of missing children in 2016, and of those, 90 percent were endangered runaways. 6 percent were family abductions, and one percent were non-family abductions.
“Obviously a very young child who may be abducted from a street corner is going to garner a lot of media attention, and for good reason – the risk that child faces is astronomical,” said Robert Lowery, a vice president of the missing children division at NCMEC. “But when we think about runaway children, we don't always consider the risks those children face.”
Of the more than 18,500 runaways reported to NCMEC in 2016, one in six were likely victims of child sex trafficking, the group says. Tina Frundt, who founded Courtney's House, a District organization that supports sex trafficking survivors, says she receives four to six referrals a week – all girls and boys who left home, many because they were “groomed” by a sex trafficker they met online or in the community.
Advocates say it's important to hone in on the reasons why a child may run away—they may be fleeing abuse or neglect, or may have been lured by a predator over social media.
“They're either running from something, or they're running to something,” said Frundt.
Despite these risks, law enforcement and advocates often confront a “desensitized public” when it comes to runaways, Lowery said.
“When you say the term runaway, the natural inclination is the child is a behavioral problem – that broad interpretation is oftentimes wrong,” Lowery said.
The longer a child is away from home, the more at risk they are, because they need to find ways to provide themselves with clothes, shelter and food. They're more likely to be victimized, lured into gangs or to become involved with criminal activity, officials say.
“I think what's more important is we need to remember we're dealing with children who are going to gravitate towards those they believe will care for them, when it fact often times that's not going to be the case,” Lowery said.
Dickerson said she's concerned when she sees comments on social media asking whether a missing teen is “just a runaway.”
“People talk about runaways like this negative connotation –maybe people are looking at it and not taking it seriously,” Dickerson said.
Even if a teen is a repeat runaway, it's possible the child was being “groomed” by a predator who at first poses as a friend to gain their trust, but later abducts them, she said.
“I say this to the men and women working in Youth and Family: We have no idea when that one case may be ‘the case,' where someone is abducted and held against their will,” Dickerson said. “We have to treat every case the same.”
Most children who leave home are generally found within a short period of time, at a rate of about 98 percent, Lowery said. That was the case for District teen Jacqueline Lassey, 15, whose case was among those that generated the recent media attention. When the teen didn't return home form her northeast Washington school on Friday, March 10, her mother Tawana Lassey immediately reported her missing.
By that Sunday, the teen had returned home, Tawana Lassey told Crimesider. She said the girl had been at a friend's house, and she suspects an adult made her daughter return home after seeing the case on the news.
Jacqueline Lassey told Crimesider she wanted to get away for a few days, but didn't say why she left.
“I didn't go missing like some of these, I just didn't call home and tell them where I was,” the teen said.
Tawana Lassey said she felt police took her daughter's case seriously and searched for her. She said she's relieved her daughter is safe.
But not all cases are so quickly resolved, and many have tragic results.
Maryland teen Damaris Alexandra Reyes Rivas left her Gaithersburg home in December of 2016. Her mother told CBS affiliate WUSA9 the 15-year-old had become involved with the notoriously brutal MS-13 gang, and said the teen ran away when she learned of her mother's plans to send her to live with family members in Texas to get her away from gang members. Rivas' body was found in February in a Springfield, Va. industrial park. Fairfax County police say they believe the girl was held against her will, taken to the park and then slain in a killing they called “savage.”
“Take care of your kids,” the girl's mother urged parents in an interview with the station. “I tried to take care of mine.”
In Massachusetts, 16-year-old Lee Manuel Viloria-Paulino was found decapitated along a Lawrence riverbank Dec. 1 after being reported missing by his family Nov. 18. A 15-year-old classmate of Viloria-Paulino's has been charged in his murder.
The victim's family has criticized the Lawrence police department, saying that officers didn't take the case seriously enough because they at first thought the teen was a runaway.
“We are poor. We are Hispanic. They considered this a normal runaway case. I told them from day one that it wasn't,” the teen's grandmother, Ivelisse Cornielle, told the Boston Globe.
Lawrence Police have disputed they mishandled the investigation, calling their search “relentless.” Lawrence mayor Daniel Rivera has since announced an independent investigation into the handling of the case.
In Washington, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser last month announced several new initiatives aimed at missing young people and runaways. They include increasing the number of officers assigned to the Youth and Family division, adding support systems after a missing youth returns home to try to reduce the instances of repeat runaways, and establishing a task force aimed at at-risk children, said Bowser's spokesman Kevin Harris.
Harris says he hopes the District's new push will fill the gap for children who go missing, but don't meet the criteria required to activate “Amber Alert” systems. While each jurisdiction is different, the DOJ issues suggested guidelines for the criteria, which include evidence of an abduction, a description of the suspect and suspect's vehicle, and that the child is in “imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.”
Those guidelines have come under fire from advocates who say they ignore the risks faced by missing children who aren't abducted.
“I think all youth who are missing meet that criteria,” Rather said. “When a young person is away from home, with all the predators we have in this country, to say that's not imminent danger, to me, I don't know what imminent danger is, then.”
Harris said the District agrees that the Amber Alert system “doesn't fit the reality of why it is a lot of children of color go missing. What we've done in the District of Columbia is adjusted policies locally...to ensure our children don't fall through the cracks.”
“This is not just an issue in the District of Columbia, it's an issue nationally,” Harris said. “What makes D.C. unique is not the fact that we have this problem, but how we're addressing it. We believe the current system is inadequate to address the number of young people who go missing who left home voluntarily but are still in danger – it shouldn't take an abduction or something worse for a missing child case to get the level of attention it deserves.”
Journey of courage: Child abuse survivor helps others heal
Blue Ribbon Campaign shines light on dark subject
by Michaela Beechem
BEND, Ore. - April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. KIDS Center and MountainStar Relief Nursery are coming together to get the community talking about and helping tackle the difficult topic of child abuse.
A local woman, Sally Lemos, was sexually abused when she was 3 years old by a family member. Her abuse continued for nine years. Today, she is a therapist for kids who have gone through abuse.
Lemos talked about her journey from then to now on Monday with NewsChannel 21.
"I think people who knew me when I was young and knew my family, I know a lot of times they were shocked" when they learned what had occurred, she said. "There were not a lot of outward signs until the eating disorder, when I lost so much weight so rapidly. "
During the 1970s, there wasn't a lot of help for people in Lemos's position. In fact, the topic of child abuse was hidden in the dark.
These days, there's much more help for and awareness of the issues, You may have seen blue ribbons downtown, which is all part of the Blue Ribbon Campaign, which runs throughout the month of April, helping shine light on a dark topic.
One organization taking part in the campaign, KIDS Center, helps area police and the Oregon Department of Human Services. At KIDS Center, provide therapists for both children and families, as well as medical exams for kids who were abused.
"There is no predictability about when child abuse happens or how it's disclosed," said KIDS Center Executive Director Shelly Smith. "We do know the more our community is educated and the more adults can speak up and say something or bring a child situation to the forefront, the more children we will see."
KIDS Center said in 2016, there was a 10 percent increase in child abuse cases reported in Central Oregon.
Several area organizations deal with the issues of child abuse, including MountainStar Relief Nursery, Mary's Place, Saving Grace, Healthy Families, Country Behavioral Health, COIC Family Support, Cascade Youth and Family, CASA, Deschutes County Behavioral Health, Child Welfare- DHS, Victims' Assistance, foster care programs and Family/Drug Court.
Together, the organizations are putting on events throughout the month of April:
Darkness to Light training on April 11, 10 am-1 pm, April 27, 6-9 pm, May 15 5:30-8:30 pm at Bend KIDS Center, where adults can receive tools for recognizing the signs of sexual abuse and responding to suspicions.
Spark is a conversation to examine challenges families face and the resulting impact for our community. You can sign up to be a part of that organization on mstar.org/april. There are limited spots available.
Internet Safety on April 21, 12:30-2:30 pm, May 11, 5-7 pm at Bend KIDS Center, where they will train parents and caregivers to become more aware of the dangers that exist online.
Let's Talk About It on April 18, 5-5:30 pm dinner, 5:30-7:30 pm training where participants learn what are developmentally appropriate sexual behaviors in children two to seven years old at Bend MountainStar.
There will also be tours you can take part in at KIDS Center on April 20, 5-6 pm and May 5, 12-1pm or tours at MountainStar April 12, 8-9:15 am or April 18, 4-5:15 pm.
If you are being abused or someone you know is, please reach out to one of these organizations or to the police. In the end,
Lemos tells kids to always have hope and keep going,
"It's a journey, and it takes courage, but there are people willing to work with them to give them space to be okay," she said. "They can be anything they want to be."
Learn more at: http://www.kidscenter.org
Community must unite to battle child abuse
by Mary Beth Bonaventura Department of Child Services
Reports of abuse and neglect have steadily risen since the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline (Hotline) was centralized in 2010. Last year, the Hotline received 225,152 reports of alleged child abuse or neglect, compared to 202,493 reports in 2014.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month, and the Indiana Department of Child Services works closely with local Hoosier child advocacy groups in each county to educate communities on the role we all play in protecting children from abuse and neglect. In short, if you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, don't wait. There is no need to spend time debating whether what you see or hear is abuse or neglect, just make the call to 800-800-5556. There are trained child abuse and neglect Family Case Managers to take your call and assess the information.
When DCS gets involved, our priority is ensuring child safety. If we are involved, that means a child has already been harmed by abuse or neglect. As of the end of February 2017, there were 23,289 children in need of services (CHINS). To put that number in perspective, Bankers Life Fieldhouse (where the Pacers play) has a seating capacity of just more than 18,000. That is 23,289 children too many.
This month, local DCS offices along with child advocacy groups are hosting events to provide resources to communities, in an effort to reduce the number of children that need DCS protection. Preventing child abuse and neglect is the responsibility of everyone in the community. Don't be afraid to make sure children in your community are safe.
Children are 100 percent of our future and deserve the best that communities can offer. We all have a part to play in protecting them, not just during the month of April, but every day. To find out where prevent child abuse events are being held in your community, visit http://in.gov/dcs/3486.htm.
Remember, if you see or suspect a child is in danger, don't wait; make the call to 800-800-5556, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Mary Beth Bonaventura is director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Former Social Workers To Be Charged With Child Abuse And Cover-Up
Two LA County social workers and their supervisor are scheduled for arraignment for allegedly falsifying paperwork in murder of boy.
by SoCal Patch (Patch Staff)
LOS ANGELES, CA — Two former social workers and their supervisors are scheduled to be arraigned Monday on charges of falsifying records and child abuse stemming from the death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy whose mother and then-boyfriend are charged with his murder.
The social workers and two of their supervisors --- Stefanie Rodriguez, 31, Patricia Clement, 66, Kevin Bom, 37, and Gregory Merritt, 61 -- were fired from their jobs following an internal investigation into the May 24, 2013, death of Gabriel Fernandez.
All four are charged with one felony count each of child abuse and falsifying records and face up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
On March 20, they were all ordered to stand trial following an extensive public hearing. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge M.L. Villar found that the social workers and their superiors had a duty to protect the boy and had plenty of reason to suspect that the youngster might be seriously injured or killed.
"Red flags were everywhere, yet no referrals were ever made for a medical exam," Villar said, citing reports of injuries by Gabriel's teacher, who took photos, and a welfare office worker.
"The abuse was clearly escalating. Reckless and criminal negligence is found here," the judge ruled.
The boy's mother, Pearl Fernandez, 33, and her then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are awaiting trial on a murder charge stemming from her son's death. The District Attorney's Office plans to seek the death penalty against the two.
Gabriel's death prompted a firestorm of criticism of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services over reports that social workers repeatedly visited the family's home in response to allegations of abuse but the boy was left in his mother's custody.
One of Merritt's two attorneys, James Barnes, told reporters that Villar's ruling was "totally incorrect legally," contending the legal duty that the social workers had was not to the child, but to control the mother's behavior.
There was simply not enough evidence for the Department of Children and Family Services to take the child away from his mother, the defense attorney said.
He said the escalating violence cited by the judge occurred months after Merritt had already closed the case file on Gabriel. The only complaint his client was aware of was bruising on the boy's bottom, and parents are allowed by law to use corporal punishment, Barnes said.
"My client and the others are being scapegoated," he said, calling the case an excuse for DCFS's lack of sufficient staffing to handle child abuse cases.
Palmdale elementary school teacher Jennifer Garcia testified during the preliminary hearing that she called Rodriguez multiple times to report that Gabriel said his mother punched him and shot him in the face with a BB gun. Her first call came more than six months before Gabriel was killed.
An autopsy showed the child had a fractured skull, several broken ribs and burns over his body, according to authorities.
Villar said records were incomplete and inadequate, parties weren't talking to one another, incidents went undocumented and some people who are mandated to report abuse failed to do so.
Defense attorneys argued that others were culpable in the boy's death and were better positioned to have saved the boy.
"Gabriel was certainly not left on an island by himself" when the case was transferred to another DCFS unit, argued Merritt's other attorney, Joseph Gutierrez. He said one therapist failed to report serious injuries because her supervisor told her not to.
The case was transferred to the Family Preservation Unit to "put more eyes" on Gabriel, said Rodriguez's attorney, Lance Filer. "`(Rodriguez) was the only one ... to substantiate any of the claims ... she did exactly what she was supposed to do and had been trained to do."
Gabriel was seeing a counselor twice a week and a sheriff's deputy stopped by at one point to check on the boy and found no evidence of abuse, according to the defense.
"This was unanticipated, not foreseeable," Gutierrez argued, adding that it's "contrary to human nature, to human reason" that a mother could kill her child.
"I don't think there's anyone who feels worse than these four social workers," Gutierrez said.
But Deputy District Attorney Ana Maria Lopez accused the defendants of making "a deliberate choice to circumvent the system," taking shortcuts and violating procedures.
Prosecutors allege that Rodriguez and Clement falsified reports that should have documented signs of escalating physical abuse and the family's lapsed cooperation with DCFS.
Prosecutors also contend that Bom and Merritt knew or should have known they were approving false reports that conflicted with evidence of Gabriel's deteriorating physical health, allowing the boy to remain in the home until he died.
An investigation revealed that at times over an eight-month period preceding his death, Gabriel -- among other instances of violent abuse -- was doused with pepper spray, forced to eat his own vomit and locked in a closet with a sock stuffed in his mouth to muffle his screams, authorities have said.
"It was their responsibility to protect Gabriel," Lopez said, "to remove this child and put him in a safe place. That's where they failed."
The prosecutor accused the social workers of "professional arrogance" and questioned whether they were "covering up their own misbehavior" in failing to reconsider their earlier decisions when the violence began to escalate.
Child abuse prevention group seeks volunteers outside of Roseburg area
ROSEBURG, Ore. -- In recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Douglas County's Violence Prevention Coalition, “Up2UsNow,” is seeking volunteers from communities outside of the Roseburg area to collaborate on efforts to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Up2UsNow was formed in 2009, sponsored by Mercy Foundation from multiple grants by Catholic Health Initiatives. Since then, it has grown to include employees and volunteers from dozens of agencies, forming multiple sub-committees on projects such as healthcare, information-sharing, human trafficking, domestic violence and substance abuse.
As Douglas County is the fifth-largest in the state, with a population ranking of about ninth, this current project involves recruiting volunteers from communities as far away as Glendale, Reedsport and Drain to advise the coalition on the dynamics and needs of their communities, and hopefully help mitigate the causes of child abuse and neglect across the county.
Up2UsNow will be hosting an initial meeting of interested volunteers later this spring. Interested parties should contact Lieutenant Patrick Moore of the Roseburg Police Department at (541) 440-4242, or Violence Prevention Specialist Marion Kotowski of the Mercy Foundation at (541) 677-6531 for details.
House endorses 'No More Secrets' call for child sexual abuse education
by Dan Carden
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana House agreed Monday that all Hoosier schoolchildren in kindergarten through 12th grade should receive annual, age-appropriate instruction in child abuse and child sexual abuse identification and prevention.
Senate Bill 355, sponsored by state Rep. Julie Olthoff, R-Crown Point, would require public, charter and private schools to teach every child about abuse starting in 2018.
Current law limits mandatory abuse instruction to students in grades two through five.
Olthoff said child abuse is on the rise across Indiana with some 17,500 cases reported last year, or approximately 47 incidents each day.
"These innocent children live in fear, their homes are not safe places," Olthoff said. "Let's help empower Hoosier children to understand what safe and unsafe touches are, and what safe and unsafe secrets are."
The measure was approved by the House, 93-0, after previously passing the Senate, 49-0.
It now returns to the Senate for lawmakers either to consent to House changes, which would advance the legislation to the governor, or to send it to a conference committee where members of both chambers would work out a compromise final version.
Among the revisions adopted by the House is a recommendation that a legislative study committee determine how much training the state obligates teachers to undergo concerning student behavior and health issues.
Enacting the child abuse education requirement is a top priority for the "No More Secrets" campaign, led by North Township Trustee Frank J. Mrvan, that seeks to end child sexual abuse in Northwest Indiana.
Time for other options on preventing sexual abuse of children?
by SBS World News Radio
Yvette Strawbridge's son died when he was 25 years old.
He took his own life in 1994 after he could no longer live with the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and teenager from a neighbour.
His parents had no idea why he killed himself until another sexual offender mentioned their son's name to a police officer in 2011.
That offender, however, was also a victim - of the same man.
As is often the case, the abused became a perpetrator, and Yvette Strawbridge, despite the pain she and her family endured, reached out to him in prison and his mother.
She told a first-of-its-kind symposium in Perth that offenders need help before it becomes too late.
"I have a belief in birth being an original blessing, not an original sin. And so when something happens to compromise or shape an individual's early life negatively and then their behaviour is deemed to perhaps be sexually abusive, they need a level of compassion, understanding and appropriate treatment, just as we currently provide for domestic violence, drug and alcohol abusers."
Yvette Strawbridge is a former nurse who became a counsellor.
She told the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Symposium her son's fellow victim had tried to get help after he first offended but was never asked if he had been offended against.
"From a professional, clinical counselling perspective, I, and others, believe it is critical trauma experienced particularly in childhood for whatever reason is recognised and identified as such, appropriate support and counselling is offered and made available to enable healing to occur."
Psychologist Christabel Chamarette spearheaded the symposium, which heard from psychologists, former police officers and child-protection specialists.
She says the root causes of most sexual offending need to be addressed.
"We need to look in a more detailed way at child sexual abuse and how to prevent it in our community beyond the stereotyping and stigmatising and the criminal-justice-system emphasis to actually healing for families and support for families where child sexual abuse has occurred or might occur, to give people an option of getting help beforehand, before offending happens, rather than long years afterwards."
Christabel Chamarette says society needs to shift its thinking as it did with drug and alcohol abusers, as well as victims and perpetrators of domestic violence.
She says offenders who find children sexually attractive are actually rare.
In her experience, Ms Chamarette says, young teenage boys who sexually abuse family members are the most common offenders.
She says a variety of factors, including the development of their sexual awareness, past abuse or undealt-with trauma, and emotional immaturity leads to the offences.
"One of the things that people find difficult is the recognition that, if we don't get offenders proper help to prevent them offending, we're actually leaving it to their victims to keep themselves safe. The earliest intervention you can get is in the mind of somebody who might be at risk of doing something. We need to make a society where people can know how to ask for help and get help before it's too late, before they've actually offended."
Western Australia's Chief Justice Wayne Martin also attended the symposium.
He says the courts continue to hand out heavy punishments for child sexual-abuse cases but the number of known offenders continues to rise.
"Oh, it is a sensitive subject, but it's a very important subject. I think one of the things that people who don't work in the system don't understand is just how big an issue this is within our community. It's a very significant problem. The numbers continue. And, of course, we're probably only seeing about one in 20 of the cases that actually occur, because report rates are very low in this area for lots of reasons. So, it's a big problem that we need to be conscious of and address effectively in order to protect children. That's really what it's all about."
The Chief Justice says he does not shy away from punishing offenders but there should preventative, rehabilitative and therapeutic services as well.
"I think Australians do have an understanding of complex social problems, and I do think we can respond to them. I think some of our health models in the past have been pretty good. If you look at smoking, AIDS, things like that, we have developed very good and effective health models, and, if it's right that a lot of these perpetrators have previously been victims, then one way of reducing the risk of further reoffending would be to adopt a therapeutic approach at least until offences have been committed, after which you have to have a combined approach, both a therapeutic and a punitive approach."
Protecting our children is nonstop task
by Tami Silverman
The number of cases of abused and neglected children in Indiana continues to grow, and 2016 marked the fifth straight year of increases statewide. For every 1,000 children in Johnson County, there were seven cases of child abuse or neglect in 2015.
While the statistics are staggering, the individual stories are heart-wrenching. April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, and clearly more needs to be done to protect our children.
Every adult in Indiana is a mandatory reporter of suspected child abuse and neglect. Many children in such situations understandably are too frightened to tell anyone what is happening. But how do you know what actions correspond to the legal definitions of abuse or neglect?
Indiana's Child Abuse and Neglect Law lists definitions for child neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment and sexual abuse. Prevent Child Abuse Indiana's website, www.pcain.org, offers straightforward lists of physical and behavioral indicators.
Signs of neglect include persistent hunger, developmental lags and consistent fatigue, while unexplained bruises, bruises in various stages of healing, and marks on many surfaces of the body may be signs of potential physical abuse.
Sexual abuse indicators include the child having sexual knowledge advanced for his or her age, a preoccupation with the body, and acting out sexual behavior. Although each of these signs may be found separately, they often occur in combination.
The complexity of child abuse cases has increased in recent years. In 2016, Indiana's child advocacy centers served more than 10,000 children for the first time. Historically, most of the cases centered on child sexual abuse. Today, cases often involve parental addictions, children witnessing domestic violence, and human trafficking. There also has been an increase in very severe neglect cases.
“We're talking about the serious neglect cases where kids are locked in a room and forgotten,” said Emily Perry, founder, executive director and child forensic interviewer for child advocacy center Susie's Place.
“Parents aren't feeding them for days or weeks because (the parents are) strung out on drugs.”
In 2016, 52 percent of children removed from their home by the Indiana Department of Child Services were removed because of parental substance abuse. This is a 65 percent increase from 2013. In 2015, DCS substantiated 52 cases of sexual abuse, 20 cases of physical abuse and 211 cases of neglect in Johnson alone.
As all adults are mandatory reporters, it's critical that we be familiar with how to report child abuse. A hotline report must be made if you have a reasonable suspicion that child abuse or neglect has occurred. You don't need to have direct knowledge of abuse or neglect.
James Wide, ?Deputy Director of Communications for DCS says, “That's the main, core message. You don't have to do a lot of deliberating and thinking about ‘Is this right? Is this wrong? Is that abuse?' Just call. You just call.”
Hopefully, the increasing number of hotline calls are an indication that more Hoosiers are stepping up to help protect our children.
Horrific stories of child abuse and neglect could easily immobilize us. Yet our children's safety requires action. As a caring family member, neighbor, teacher, coach or youth worker, you may be in the ideal position to see that something is not right in a child's life.
Call the Indiana Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. Locate your nearest PCAIN Prevention Council or Child Advocacy Center ( www.incacs.org ) to donate and/or volunteer.
April is designated as Child Abuse Prevention Month, but the work of protecting our children is something we must all do 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Chicago police looking for second juvenile in alleged Facebook Live gang rape
by Aamer Madhani
CHICAGO — Police said Sunday that they have identified and are searching for a second juvenile suspect in an alleged gang rape of a 15-year-girl last month that was streamed on Facebook Live.
The development came after Chicago Police Department announced late Saturday that they had charged a 14-year-old boy with aggravated criminal assault, manufacturing of child pornography and dissemination of child pornography for his part in the chilling incident that investigators said was viewed by dozens on the popular social media platform.
The younger suspect appeared in juvenile court Saturday and was ordered held in custody at Cook County's Juvenile Temporary Detention Center, said Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney.
Police described the second suspect as a 15-year-old boy, and like the 14-year-old, he will be charged as a juvenile. Because of the suspects' ages, police did not release their names.
Authorities said that they are looking to identify several other juveniles — and at least one adult — who lured the girl to the basement of a residence on the city's West side on March 19 before assaulting her.
The girl knew one of the assailants responsible for the attack and was prevented from leaving the residence where she was assaulted, said Commander Brendan Deenihan, who leads the CPD division investigating the incident.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson described the attack as an act of “savagery” and said he was inspired by the girl's strength in working with detectives to help identify suspects in the case.
“They humiliated themselves, they humiliated their families, and now they are going to be held accountable for what they did,” Johnson said. “While I know the emotional wounds caused by this savagery will take long to heal, I'm hopeful her story can be an inspiration to so many other young women who are victimized by bullying and sexual assault.”
Police announced on March 21 that they were searching for five to six individuals for the assault of the girl soon after the victim's mother approached the superintendent with still frames captured from Facebook.
The girl, who had gone missing March 19, was found by Chicago detectives two days later.
After the girl was reunited with her family, they endured online taunts and harassing messages, Johnson said. The video, which has been removed from Facebook, was also viewed in real time by dozens of people, but no one called authorities, police said.
Deenihan said charges could not be filed against individuals who have taunted the family because no specific threats were made against the girl or her family.
It will also be difficult to pursue charges against any individuals who watched the video. Prosecutors would have to prove that individuals who viewed the assault on Facebook Live knew that the victim was a minor and that they were in fact in control of their account at the time of the assault, said Anthony Guglielmi, the police department chief spokesman.
The department says it has worked with the State Attorney's Office and the city of Chicago to provide support for the girl and to help relocate her and her family.
“We have a very good idea of who the other (suspects) are,” Deenihan said. “Working with this victim at this time is very, very slow because she does not want to talk about what occurred for obvious reasons. She's traumatized. She's going to need help for a long time after this.”
Andrew Holmes, a community activist who is serving as spokesman for the family, urged others involved in the alleged assault to turn themselves in. He also suggested that he stood ready to publish images of some of the assailants that appear in the video.
“I'm giving you a strict warning,” Holmes said. “You know you were in that basement, you are in that video, you assaulted that woman … If you don't turn yourself in sooner or later, I'm going to do the same thing you did with that baby. I'm going to snapshot your pictures — each and everyone of you. Your pictures will be circulated all over the city. I'm going to Facebook your pictures and see how you feel.”
How to spot child sex trafficking and abuse
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) -- For days, you've been hearing about a Tennessee teen, who went missing along with her teacher.
Phoenix Rising is a domestic Anti-Trafficking organization led by survivors, who spoke with 13 News on the signs to look for.
"We've had children that have been used for sex trafficking, right here, on Scottsville Road," Survivor Leader, Vicki Patterson said.
It's a simple tip, but something all parents need to be doing - keeping an eye on what their children are doing on social media.
"The virginity thing is a very big problem with Junior High and High School girls. They're selling their virginity online," Patterson said.
Phoenix Rising says that there's a few signs you can look for in victims of sex trafficking, like branding and tattoos.
"Bruises, broken bones, any type of medical care that they might need," Patterson said. "Someone that is doing responses or has to have someone speak for them," Patterson added.
A child or young adult being put into sex trafficking or child abuse can be done by someone they trust.
"I was used in the 1950's and the 1960's in child pornography. And it was my mother, that had put me in the child pornography," Patterson said.
In Elizabeth Thomas's case, it was her teacher.
"He preyed on her. He was the authority figure. He was the one that should not have even made any attempt to do anything with one of his students," Patterson said.
Children who have a troubled home life, are even more susceptible to be a victim of sexual abuse.
"He may have told her, 'oh I love you' and made her think she's special. And showered her with whatever to get her hooked. And so, then there's the emotional tie that comes in," Patterson added.
But it's important to always remember.
"She was not the problem, she was the victim. And know that as a victim, you can becone a survivor, and then a thriver," Patterson said.
Phonix Rising encourages you to learn more about sex trafficking, buyt clicking on the links attached.
Europe overtakes U.S. to become global hub for child abuse websites, study finds
by Eleanor Ross
Europe is now the global hub of websites hosting child pornography, after a 19 percent jump in content since last year, a new report has found.
The report, conducted by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), found that Europe hosted the greatest number of websites with graphic images and videos of children. The Netherlands has become the country with the most online sexual imagery of children in Europe. (For the purpose of the report, Europe includes Russia and Turkey.)
The IWF is a non-profit, responsible for finding and removing graphic sexual content from the internet.
Until recently, most child sexual abuse images were found in the United States (57 percent), but this has now shifted to Europe, which hosts 60 percent of all material says the report.
Child abuse content has fallen in the United States partly because of work undertaken by the U.S. industry to tackle the problem. Susie Hargreaves,director of the IWF, told the BBC criminals are forced to search harder for host websites where they can upload child pornography. Just 37 percent of abusive images now come from the United States.
"The situation is reversed from previous years. Europe is not wht biggest host of child sexual abuse imagery, rather than North America," Hargreaves told the BBC. There have been no changes in Europe's policy that would explain the shift, according to the IWF report.
The report also noted a 258 percent increase in new website domains being bought specifically to show the abuse of children.
In 2016, the Internet Watch Foundation reported that they had removed 5,335 webpages of children-fewer than previous years. The report adds that this doesn't account for the increase in individual images however.
More than half of all images of children reviewed by the IWF report were under 10 yeats old. Nearly one third of images depicted child rape or sexual torture.
More Valley kids are in foster care as child abuse rises
by Christina Mullen
WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – April is National Child Abuse Awareness month — and for an idea of how big of a problem it is in the Valley — Trumbull County Children Services has seen 55 percent more kids in their care within the last two years.
The most common abuse is neglect.
“It has definitely gotten a lot worse given the issues we are dealing with,” said Renee Bastonis, supervisor of Trumbull County Children Services.
To help raise awareness about child abuse, on April 7, the Trumbull agency will be placing 1,600 pinwheels on the front lawn of Warren City Hall to represent how many children are victims to abuse.
Nowadays, much of it stems from parents choosing to use drugs.
“There was less drug activity. And now that has increased, which has caused an increase in child abuse as well,” Bastonis said.
In 2014, there were 1,485 children in foster care. That number grew in 2015 to 1,624.
Last year 1,637 were abused.
“We're seeing a lot of families struggling with homelessness, criminal activity — there's a lot of children placed in unsafe environments,” Bastonis said. “So it is a huge issue we're dealing with.”
When parents use drugs, you may not think of how much that effects the child.
“The children are struggling because of the environment that is caused due to the drug abuse,” Bastonis said. “The environments are unsafe [when] parents are engaging in criminal activity.”
Bastonis said she sees cases where some children have to learn how to take care of themselves.
“A child as young as 7 and 8 will become parent-fied,” she said. “They will have to learn how to parent their siblings due to the neglect from individuals who choose to use drugs.”
'Everyone has a role to play'
by Jo Poshard
As a past board member of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, on which I served for eight years, I would like to share with you some valuable information from their website (www.preventchildabuseillinois.org) about state and national Child Abuse Prevention Month which begins annually on April 1.
Illinois participates in a national tradition of observing April as Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Month. Since 1983, communities across the country have used this month-long observance to increase awareness of child abuse and its prevention. It is a time when individuals, schools, businesses, hospitals, religious organizations and social service agencies join together to educate everyone about child abuse and neglect prevention. April is devoted to celebrating everything we can do to transform our communities into places that care about and actively support families and children. By making sure all parents in our communities have access to quality childcare, affordable health services, parenting education resources, substance abuse treatment, and mental health programs, we make progress toward what the month stands for — preventing child abuse.
Child Abuse Prevention Month is about connecting all of these things so that solutions to child abuse receive the attention that we need and that people expect. It is not enough to care about the problems of child abuse and neglect and to address the consequences. We also have to pay attention to the kinds of efforts that will prevent it from happening in the first place. It's a shared responsibility. We all play a part in caring for our nation's children and supporting families.
The theme of this Child Abuse Prevention Month is "Everyone Has a Role to Play." Recognizing that everyone can participate in helping to strengthen families can have an enormous impact on our children's health and success.”
As the director of The Poshard Foundation for Abused Children, I can report from personal experience that the requests received in our office from agencies all over Southern Illinois on behalf of abused children have increased over the last 18 years. Although many of our friends and neighbors would like to believe the problem of child abuse only exists “somewhere else,” we know that isn't true. According to DCFS statistics as of March 2017, there are currently 2,581 children from the lower 34 Southern Illinois counties living in “out of home care” to include foster care, relative care, group homes and institutions.
I believe we can do better in supporting our children and families.
We ask you to help prevent child abuse by taking several basic steps. Be aware that abuse comes in many forms — physical, emotional, sexual, as well as neglect. Recognize that most often abuse doesn't appear as “stranger danger” but rather is at the hands of someone the child knows, such as a parent, relative, neighbor or friend of the family. Take time to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of abuse to include unexplained burns, bruises, black eyes or other injuries, sexual knowledge or behavior beyond what is normal for the child's age, sudden changes in behavior or school performance, saying there is no one at home to take care of him or her, or lack of emotional attachment to the parent.
If you suspect child abuse and neglect, call the DCFS hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE. You do not have to have proof of the abuse. If you suspect a child is being hurt, call the hotline. Provide the hotline with as much information about the abuse and the person responsible for the abuse as possible. You can make a report to the hotline without giving your name if that is a concern. You may be the one to change the course of a child's life forever.
Go to the website for the Center for the Study of Social Policy at friendsnrc.org if you'd like to view their research in the field of child abuse and neglect, prevention, and family resiliency. They spent more than two years investigating protective factors and doing hundreds of interviews with experts, practitioners, and parents on how to keep children safe. Their results identify six protective factors and ways to help build healthy children and strong families in our communities.
Participate in National Wear Blue Day on April 7 or in National Blue Sunday Day of Prayer for Abused Children as a reminder of the seriousness of child abuse and neglect and the need for its prevention.
Remember, “Everyone Has a Role to Play.”
Clash looms over child sex abuse reform in Pa.
by John Finnerty
HARRISBURG – With the state House poised to take up legislation to reform the state statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, supporters are preparing a final push to make the bill cover old sex crimes and not just future abuse.
The state Senate unanimously passed a statute of limitations bill last month that would give victims until the age of 50 to file lawsuits against abusers or their employers if there were allegations of cover-ups.
Under current law, victims have until the age of 30 to sue for old sex crimes. The Senate bill also eliminates the statute of limitations entirely for criminal investigations of child sex abuse.
But controversially, the measure provides no retroactive relief. If the statute of limitations has expired on old child sex cases, the law change doesn't help those victims seek justice.
The House judiciary committee is scheduled to take up the Senate bill on Tuesday. Ahead of that vote, supporters of an effort to get a retroactive window opened for victims of old child sex crimes will rally Monday at the Capitol. The push for rewriting the rules regarding how long victims have to sue for child abuse reignited last spring after revelations that the Catholic Diocese of Johnstown-Altoona had covered up decades of abuse of children by priests. On Monday, a busload of victims and their supporters is expected to travel from Johnstown to join the Capitol rally.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, said that the Senate bill will likely be changed in the House. If the measure isn't amended in the committee meeting, lawmakers will vote on whether to change it on the floor of the House, he said.
Rozzi said he hopes those changes include opening a one- or two-year window for anyone, regardless of how long ago they were victimized by an abuser, can file a lawsuit.
A similar window was included in a Delaware statute of limitations rewrite a decade ago, said Sister Maureen Paul Turlish. She is a nun from Wilmington, Del., who is a founding member of Catholic Whistleblowers.
Turlish said she feels she must speak out for the reforms even if it means breaking ranks with church leaders.
“It's not a theological question. This is a moral issue. I don't need the permission of anyone,” she said.
Turlish spent decades teaching art in Catholic schools. “I was very comfortable,” she said. Learning about the church abuse scandals and the cover-ups surrounding them jarred her into activism, she said.
“Society has a responsibility to protect its most vulnerable,” she said.
Rozzi said the retroactivity is important because it will create a formal way for victims to get the crimes against them acknowledged openly.
“For most of these people, it's about closure,” he said. “This is our way to expose the perps. At the end of the day, if you are raping a child or covering it up, you need to be held accountable.”
Business groups – including the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business, the Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association – have joined the church lobby in opposing the measure.
In letters opposing the retroactivity provision last spring, the business groups called it “the antithesis of promoting stability and predictability in the state's business and legal environment.”
While the business groups have weighed in, supporters of the change say the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the lobbying organization for the Catholic Church in the state, has been the most actively opposed to the move.
Amy B. Hill, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said the retroactivity measure would “conflict with the (state) constitution.”
She added though that the church has taken steps to help victims.
“The Catholic community has a sincere commitment to the emotional well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, regardless of how long ago the crime was committed,” she said.
The state's Catholic dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on support services for victims and their families.
“Millions more have been negotiated in settlements with survivors,” she said.
Retroactivity divides experts
Lawmakers, particularly in the Senate, opposed to including a retroactive component in the reform bill, have echoed the concerns about whether it would pass constitutional muster.
Legal experts are divided on the question of retroactivity.
In a legislative hearing last summer, Bruce Castor, who was the state's solicitor general at the time, testified that he believed the provision would be illegal.
He was joined at the hearing by St. Vincent College law professor Bruce Antkowiak. On Wednesday, Antkowiak said that Pennsylvania courts have been consistent over the years in making decisions suggesting that the retroactive provision proposed by Rozzi and his supporters would be illegal.
Antkowiak said the Legislature could extend the statute of limitations in cases where it has not run out. But absent a Constitutional amendment, he doesn't think the Legislature can extend the period for victims to file lawsuits once the statute of limitations has expired.
“It's very clear,” he said.
Other experts think it's less clear.
That includes Kermit Roosevelt, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I don't think it's possible to be completely confident in what the (state) Supreme Court would say about this but my guess is that a window limitations law would be permissible under the Pennsylvania Constitution,” he said.
The biggest reason for this is that judges have usually viewed alterations to the statute of limitations as a procedural rather than substantive change, he said. Procedural changes are generally allowed, he said.
Roosevelt said that while it's likely the law would be subject to a legal challenge, that's also not always stopped the Legislature.
“If they think a law is a good idea, they will do it anyway,” he said.
Let facts guide child neglect, abuse policies
by Lynda Waddington
Seventy percent of the roughly 1,600 children who die in the U.S. each year from abuse or neglect are under the age of three.
Those most likely to die from neglect or at the hands of an abuser are infants not yet a year old.
These and other statistics are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And sadly, according to national officials, many more cases go unreported. Because of that, in 2014, the agency estimated that one out of every seven children will experience some form of abuse or neglect.
This is the type of information Iowa lawmakers should use when considering new or expanded prevention laws. Instead, a well-intentioned update of Iowa's Safe Haven law that allows infants to be voluntarily relinquished at hospitals and other facilities sets an another arbitrary time limit.
Under Senate File 360 infants up to 30 days old could be given to medical or emergency services personnel with no legal repercussions, doubling the state window of opportunity for such dire action.
Every state has some version of the Safe Haven law, although time frames vary. Nearly all were passed in response to news reports of newborns being left to die in toilets, trash dumpsters or, in the case of Iowa, a snowbank. State officials say about 20 infants have been taken in since the law began in 2002.
And while I understand Safe Haven laws aren't without critics — conservatives concerned about increased promiscuity, adoption advocates worried children can't access genetic histories, men's rights groups uneasy with lax regulations to inform or gain paternal consent, etc. — I remain mostly supportive. But I also wonder if this well-intentioned system is the best we can do, and acknowledge that the laws' inherent secrecy makes it difficult to determine who is using the policies and why.
Does postpartum depression or other behavioral illness play a role? Is the woman coerced to relinquish a child she would otherwise keep, or forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term without medical care? Is there a father or other family member that should be contacted? Does the woman need other assistance?
Safe Haven laws require no answers.
And, yes, I understand the thought process of wanting to help or save “even one child.” But if that is the driving impetus behind such laws, then why rely on arbitrary time limits when statistics show instances of death from abuse and neglect remain elevated for a child's first year or more?
A better option might be digging into the root causes of child abuse and neglect to develop policies that address known risk factors.
All of us, but especially lawmakers, have opportunities to strengthen economic supports for families and provide quality early childhood education, both of which combat abuse and neglect.
Unlike arbitrary and possibly ineffective Safe Haven laws, comprehensive approaches take political will and taxpayer investment.
As state government gravitates toward policies that limit access to affordable birth control and reduce consumer and worker protections, we should prepare and invest now for the long-term ramifications.
Bill would devise plan to recognize signs of human sex trafficking
by Freddy Monares
HELENA -- A bill aimed at raising awareness about human sex trafficking in Montana by starting in schools is making its way through the Legislature.
Senate Bill 197 would require the Office of Public Instruction to devise an education plan for faculty, staff and children. The plan hopes to help them recognize signs children often exhibit when they are being recruited for sex trafficking.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in February and had its first hearing in the House Friday. The House Judiciary Committee did not immediately take action on the bill and there were no opponents at the hearing.
“This is a training and education bill, and this is our best weapon against a $32 billion industry,” said Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-West Helena, who is carrying the bill.
Gauthier said four months ago he had no idea what the term trafficking actually meant, and was reluctant to carry the bill. But he said after hearing what was happening to victims, something needed to be done about it.
Abigail St. Lawrence, lobbyist for the Montana Association of Christians supported the bill.
“Make no mistake, this happens in Montana,” St. Lawrence said. “Unfortunately with us being both on the I-15 and I-90 corridors, those are pretty substantial corridors for moving these youth - both girls and boys.”
Brian Kahn, host for Home Ground Radio, supported the bill and said he was also unaware the practice was happening in the United States.
Kahn said the recruiting procedures for human trafficking rings are predictable and take time.
“And that's a key, because in that time that it takes there are changes of behavior that are seen in the child,” Kahn said. “So you can forewarn the child about the pitch.”
Dept of Justice
Inland Empire Dentist Pleads Guilty to Possessing Child Pornography and Admits Distributing Images on Computer Network
RIVERSIDE, California – A dentist who formerly lived and worked in Temecula pleaded guilty this afternoon to possession of child pornography, including videos of children under the age of 10 engaged in sexually explicit conduct.
Milan Irvin, 34, who currently resides in Rancho Cucamonga, pleaded guilty this afternoon to one count of possession of child pornography and admitted in a plea agreement that he “downloaded, received, possessed and distributed images and videos of child pornography using the internet.”
Irvin specifically admitted possessing a sexual explicit video depicting a girl under 10 and distributing another video involving a girl between 10 and 12. Irvin possessed approximately 200 images and 50 videos of child pornography on a computer.
Irvin pleaded guilty today before United States District Judge Jesus G. Bernal, who scheduled a sentencing hearing for July 10.
The charge of possession of child pornography carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. The plea agreement calls for a prison sentence of three years to five years, to be followed by 10 years of supervised release. The actual sentence will be determined by Judge Bernal, but if the court decides to deviate from the agreed-upon sentence, both parties have the option to withdraw from the plea agreement and proceed to trial.
Once he completes his prison sentence in this case, Irvin will be required to register as a sex offender and will be prohibited from associating with people under the age of 18.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which received substantial assistance from the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, Sexual Assault Felony Enforcement (SAFE) Team. Irvin came to the attention of investigators during an undercover investigation involving the Ares peer-to-peer network.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant United States Attorney Teresa K.B. Beecham.
FROM: Thom Mrozek, Spokesperson/Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney's Office, Central District of California (Los Angeles)