From the FBI
‘Playpen' Creator Sentenced to 30 Years
Dark Web ‘Hidden Service' Case Spawned Hundreds of Child Porn Investigations
The creator and lead administrator of what was believed to be the world's largest child pornography website—with more than 150,000 users around the world—was sentenced this week to 30 years in prison.
Steven W. Chase, 58, of Naples, Florida, created a website called Playpen in August 2014 on the Tor network, an open network on the Internet where users can communicate anonymously through “hidden service” websites—where criminal activity is not uncommon. Chase ran the Playpen website, where members uploaded and viewed tens of thousands of postings of young victims, indexed by age, sex, and the type of sexual activity involved.
The case—and the thousands of follow-up investigations it has launched—is unprecedented in its scope and reach, FBI officials said. It represents the Bureau's most successful effort to date against users of Tor's hidden service sites. And it has opened new avenues for international cooperation in efforts to prosecute child abusers around the world.
“We were only able to pull it off with a lot of support from our international partners and field offices,” said Special Agent Dan Alfin, who investigated the case as part of the Bureau's Violent Crimes Against Children section.
The case opened shortly after Steven Chase launched Playpen in the summer of 2014. The FBI, which has numerous investigations involving the dark web, quickly became aware of the site, but “given the nature of how Tor hidden services work, there was not much we could do about it,” Alfin recalled.
That is, until December 2014, when Chase slipped up and revealed Playpen's unique IP address—a location in the U.S. The gaffe was noticed by a foreign law enforcement agency, which notified the FBI.
“From that point we took normal investigative steps—seized a copy of the website, served search warrants for e-mail accounts, followed the money—and everything led back to Steven Chase,” said Alfin. Chase was sentenced Monday in North Carolina in connection with engaging in a child exploitation enterprise and multiple child pornography charges. His sentencing follows those of two co-defendants who were also administrators on the website—Michael Fluckiger, 46, of Indiana, and David Browning, 47, of Kentucky—who were each given 20-year prison terms earlier this year.
Arresting Playpen's administrators, however, was only the beginning. In January 2015, the FBI, in partnership with the Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section, launched Operation Pacifier—an effort to go after Playpen's thousands of members. Using a court-approved network investigative technique, agents uncovered IP addresses and other information that helped locate and identify users. Investigators sent more than 1,000 leads to FBI field offices around the country and thousands more to overseas partners, Alfin said.
Arrests and other enforcement actions have occurred in countries far and near. Europol, the European Union's agency for law enforcement cooperation?, reported arrests, along with Israel, Turkey, Peru, Malaysia, Chile, and the Ukraine. International agencies critical to the investigation included CNCPO Polizia Postale e Comunicazioni of Italian State Police?, the United Kingdom's National Crime Agency, and New Zealand's Department of Internal Affairs.
Even some countries where law enforcement cooperation has been historically limited were, in this case, especially helpful in pursuing the FBI's leads on former users and contributors to Chase's Playpen site.
“Members of his enterprise who were raping children, who were producing child pornography all around the world—those cases continue to be indicted and prosecuted,” Alfin said.
In addition to taking down the website, the ongoing investigation, as of May 4, 2017, has produced the following results:
At least 350 U.S.-based individuals arrested
25 producers of child pornography prosecuted
51 hands-on abusers prosecuted
55 American children successfully identified or rescued
548 international arrests, with 296 sexually abused children identified or rescued.
The Playpen site has been down for more than two years. But similar sites continue to operate and proliferate on the dark web.
“It's ongoing and we continue to address the threat to the best of our abilities,” said Alfin. “It's the same with any criminal violation: As they get smarter, we adapt, we find them. It's a cat-and-mouse game, except it's not a game. Kids are being abused, and it's our job to stop that.”
Years After Boko Haram Kidnapping, Dozens of Girls Are Freed, Nigeria Says
by Dionne Searcey
DAKAR, Senegal — Dozens of the nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram militants just over three years ago in the Nigerian village of Chibok have been released as part of an exchange for detained suspects from the militant group, a statement from Nigeria's president said early Sunday.
If confirmed, the release of the girls is by far the biggest breakthrough in a tragedy that has come to define the nearly eight-year war against Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has burned, killed and kidnapped its way across parts of West Africa, killing thousands and causing millions to flee for their lives.
The government, after lengthy negotiations, handed over “some Boko Haram suspects held by authorities” in exchange for 82 of the girls, according to a statement from a spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari. The statement credited the government of Switzerland, the International Committee of the Red Cross, local and international nongovernmental organizations, the military and security agencies with facilitating the exchange.
The girls were expected to arrive in Abuja, the capital, on Sunday to meet with Mr. Buhari.
“The president has repeatedly expressed his total commitment towards ensuring the safe return of the #ChibokGirls, and all other Boko Haram captives,” the statement said, referring to one of the social media campaigns on behalf of the girls.
The girls were released near Banki, a town in northeastern Nigeria along the border with Cameroon, according to an official who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity. Some reports indicated that the number of girls released was closer to 60. The girls first will fly to Maiduguri, a major city in the northeast where Boko Haram is most active, the official said.
To much of the world, the mass abduction of nearly 300 girls from a Nigerian school as they prepared for exams three years ago was a shocking introduction to the atrocities and humanitarian crises caused by Boko Haram, galvanizing global attention to a militant group that had already been terrorizing Nigerians for years.
An international campaign, led by Nigerians but joined by prominent figures around the globe like Michelle Obama, then the first lady, demanded immediate action to bring the girls home. But the leader of Boko Haram scoffed at the world's sudden attention to Nigeria's upheaval and shrugged off the global outrage, vowing to sell the girls in the market and “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves.”
“We would marry them out at the age of 9,” warned the group's leader, Abubakar Shekau. “We would marry them out at the age of 12.”
Until now, only about 22 of the girls have been found or released, some with the help of the Swiss government and the International Committee of the Red Cross. And even with the dozens believed to be released on Saturday, well over 100 girls are still thought to be in Boko Haram's clutches, many possibly married to fighters or forced to become combatants themselves. Previously released girls have told family members that some of the girls from Chibok have died in childbirth or in military raids.
Beyond that, many hundreds, if not thousands, of other girls and boys have been abducted by Boko Haram over the years, forcing them to fight, to cook, to clean and to bear children. Pregnant young women, a woman with a baby on her back and even children as young as 7 or 8 have been used as suicide bombers by the group, deployed as human weapons who have brought destruction to markets and even camps of desperate people fleeing the violence.
Ayuba Alamson Chibok, a community leader in the village who had two relatives kidnapped from the school, said he was thrilled at the news of the release, saying that it “has already ignited yet another light of hope that the remaining ones would be released.”
A State Department official said late Saturday that the United States was monitoring the situation but had no further comment.
The Nigerian military has made major gains against Boko Haram in recent months, penetrating forest hide-outs and retaking territory once held by militants. Government officials had indicated that they were negotiating for the release of more of the girls from Chibok.
Officials have known the whereabouts of some of the girls for more than a year. Western diplomats had said that intelligence showed months ago that a group of dozens of the girls had been moved to a spot near the border with Cameroon. Sending in soldiers to free them was not a viable option because of worries that the fighters would kill the girls, or the girls would be killed during the operation.
Mr. Buhari vowed repeatedly to bring the girls home, but in recent months he has been ill, spending several weeks at the start of the year in Britain for undisclosed medical reasons. The release of the girls would bolster the presidency of the ailing Mr. Buhari, who has missed recent cabinet meetings though he was seen in public late last week.
The search for the missing girls has gone through may twists and turns over the years, sometimes resulting in false reports of progress. At times, government and military officials have been quoted in the Nigerian news media as saying that a cease-fire deal had been struck with the militants or that the release of the kidnapped girls had been arranged, statements that later proved to be untrue.
“I need to see it myself,” said Yakubu Nkeki, chairman of the Abducted Chibok Girls Parents Movement for Rescue, one of several groups working for the release of all the girls.
Chapel Hill author raises awareness, money to fight trafficking
by Tammy Grubb
CHAPEL HILL -- Alex Harrington thought the nightmare ended with her escape from violent kidnappers in Mexico.
But as “Brutal Silence” unfolds, Harrington realizes the terror of trafficking has followed her home to Dalton, North Carolina, and rests with those closest to her.
Chapel Hill author Margaret Dardess was introduced to the shadowy world of human trafficking by a young woman she met 13 years ago at a UNC conference. She spent six years turning that story into a novel, in the hope it would spur others to action.
“Her story was so horrendous, I left the conference furious and determined to do something about it,” Dardess said. “Since then, I've partnered with any human trafficking organization and ... I wrote my thriller with the idea of dramatizing human trafficking, because sometimes people can get messages that way when they don't receive them otherwise.”
A recent book launch and proceeds from sales of “Brutal Silence” are benefitting Make Way Partners, a international Christian mission working to prevent and stop human trafficking in Sudan and South Sudan. The countries are among the poorest in the world and a trafficking hotbed, with many women, men and children being sold or forced into the military.
However, human trafficking isn't just an overseas problem, Dardess and other advocates note.
North Carolina is ranked among the top 10 U.S. states for human trafficking, due to its transient military population, high demand for cheap farm labor, and convenient ports, highways and connections to larger cities. Gangs also feed the human trade, advocates said.
Exact numbers are elusive, but 20 million to 40 million people are thought to be trafficked worldwide. Many share prior experiences or family dynamics that give traffickers an advantage, including being young, homeless, sexually abused, or involved in the social services, foster care or juvenile justice systems.
Immigrants may be recruited legally using work and student visas but exploited once they arrive in the United States.
Linnea Smith, a Chapel Hill psychiatrist and the widow of the late, iconic UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, helped organize the trafficking conference where Dardess was inspired and has long advocated for survivors and victims of sexual violence. She also serves on the board of Make Way Partners.
Trafficking is the second-largest organized criminal activity in the world, Smith said. The most important thing people can do is “decrease the pool of vulnerable children,” she said.
“I think that's an important message, that one person can make a difference,” Smith said. “They were studying what makes some children become resilient and deal with their trauma, and many times, it was just the presence of one caring adult.”
But strangers aren't the only danger, advocates say.
Meredith Stewart, YMCA of the Triangle director of child safety, noted that one in 10 children experience sexual abuse before their 18th birthday. Roughly 90 percent of victims are abused by someone they know, she said, and 60 percent of those abusers are family members.
“The other thing that's essential about this is it's a community issue. It's not just particular families. It's not just these subsets of the population. It crosses all socioeconomic, racial and social boundaries,” she said.
‘Adrian's Act' would hold anyone who keeps quiet on child abuse accountable
by Megan Brilley
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- A young victim of extreme abuse, now we are seeing evidence of the trauma the little boy faced and why many believe one more person should be charged in his death.
Adrian Jones died in 2015. A year and a half later, a Kansas lawmaker is working on new legislation to prevent another child like Adrian from falling through the cracks.
It was in December of 2015, FOX 4 headed inside the home tucked away in rural Wyandotte county, where little Adrian Jones lived.
The Jones' landlord, Jennifer Hoevers, walked us through the home littered with dead mice, syringes and rat poison. We saw the deplorable conditions but never really knew what Adrian faced leading up to his death, until now.
"I was in complete shock."
Jennifer gained access to an iCloud account belonging to Adrian's parents, Michael and Heather Jones. In it, she found several hours of surveillance footage in the home.
The file shows videos of gruesome abuse. One shows Adrian standing naked outside in the cold, handcuffed, forced to lick water out of a bowl. Another video shows the little boy forced to stand in dirty pool water and pictures of a nearly unrecognizable Adrian.
"I had to shut the computer off and kind of get it back together for a least a day. Before I could open it up and figure out what to do," Hoevers said.
But then she found a video that highlighted another adult in the home, his great uncle Willie Flowers -- someone Jennifer said was also living in the home and witnessed the abuse.
"Heather did tell me that he assisted in keeping him locked up and after Adrian had died, he helped to dispose of the body."
"It makes me really angry. I don't understand how he's getting off free when he watched it happen for over nine months. He didn't try to save him or anything."
State lawmaker Louis Ruiz introduced new legislation this week called "Adrian's Act."
It would force all adults living in a home where a child is being abused to report it to police. Jennifer wonders if this legislation would've been active sooner, if little Adrian would still be here.
"Hopefully this passes maybe it'll save more kids."
Adrian's step mother Heather was sentenced to life in prison, with a possibility of parole in 25 years.
His father Michael will be sentenced on Monday.
Adrian's Act should be brought up in the house sometime next week.
County CYS director speaks out on state's child abuse report
by The Butler Eagle
The director of Butler County Children and Youth Services reacted Thursday to the state's annual report on child abuse, saying it shows how the office's workload has increased since the state revised its child protective services law in 2015.
The number of substantiated cases of child abuse and total reports of child abuse in Butler County both went up last year, according to an annual state report on the incidents.
Charlie Johns, the director of the county's CYS office, said the upticks continue a trend of increased workloads for county-level child protective services, and highlight a statewide struggle to deal with drug and alcohol abuse, which are present in most child abuse cases.
During 2016, Butler County had 502 reports of child abuse and 38 substantiated cases, according to the state Department of Health's Child Protective Services Report, which was released Wednesday afternoon.
Those totals were both increases from 2015, when the county had 422 total reports and 30 substantiated cases of child abuse.
Johns also responded to public criticism of the county's CYS office in the wake of the report. Some pointed to the county's substantiation rate of 1 per 1,000 children as evidence that the office was failing to adequately investigate reports of suspected abuse. Butler's reporting rate is 12.8 per 1,000 children.
Oregon's notion of family rips girl, 4, from 'Mommy and Daddy'
by Betsy Hammond
Oregon's top child welfare official has ordered a 4-year-old girl be taken from her Kentucky home -- and the aunt and uncle she calls Mommy and Daddy -- to be adopted by a foster family in Klamath County.
The state issued its ruling in order to unite the girl with a toddler brother she has never met.
The wrenching case involving Laila Sloan pits two of the most basic tenets of child welfare, enshrined in Oregon law, against one another : Children, whenever possible, should be with their siblings. And children should be kept, whenever possible, with their parents or caregivers with whom they have formed strong, loving bonds.
The state's handling of those competing tenets has brought two families to a crossroads with lifelong consequences. Should Laila's brother have gone to live with her in Kentucky, where she has spent the last 20 months bonding with her aunt and uncle? Should Laila be brought back to Oregon to join the foster parents who have looked after her brother since his birth 17 months ago? Or should the courts separate the siblings into different families forever?
Child welfare officials say the best decision is to have Laila join her little brother in Oregon. Laila's attorney concurs.
But that decision has left Laila's aunt and uncle, Angela and James Sloan, devastated by the prospect of losing her. Laila has lived with them in Kentucky since age 2, after she was taken from her neglectful and emotionally abusive parents.
The Sloans say the decision will traumatize the blue-eyed preschooler who speaks with a light Kentucky accent by tearing her from the only stable, loving home she has known. They have filed a court action to try to keep her with them.
Backed by a court order, however, Oregon child welfare officials have arranged for Laila to fly to Medford on Thursday, the Sloans say. She will live with her brother and the Klamath Falls couple raising him while the courts decide if they or the Sloans will be Laila's parents.
Laila doesn't know about any of this.
"I think she will be terrified and wondering, 'Why am I not with my mom and dad?'" Angela Sloan said Friday. "I wish I could protect her. I love her more than anything in this world."
Citing privacy issues, the state has kept the basis of its decision a secret – even from the Sloans. That adds to their frustration, the Sloans say, because they don't know why the state is taking Laila away and feel that much more helpless to stop it.
James Sloan says the once-fearful girl has thrived with them. She likes her Head Start classes. She plays outside, he said, and loves riding her scooter. Angela Sloan works as an emergency dispatcher for the state police, and her husband supervises dispatch operations for the county. They work opposite shifts so Laila can be with them as much as possible.
"This has been the most horrible nightmare," says Brenda Haskins, Laila's grandmother, who lives in Klamath Falls. "She will be devastated, devastated to be taken from Jamie and Angel," the names James and Angela are called by family and friends. "And why? So she can be with a little brother she doesn't even know?"
Barefoot and hungry
Laila Sloan was born in Washington, to a 28-year-old mother with petty criminal convictions mostly for drug and alcohol offenses, and her 32-year-old boyfriend, Justin Sloan, at times a meth user, according to court records and Haskins, who is Justin Sloan's mother. They were raising a 2-year-old boy from the mother's previous relationship.
When Laila was 1 ½, the family moved back to Klamath Falls, where Justin Sloan's sister and mother still lived. The family quickly got on child welfare workers' radar, and social service agencies tried to help, Haskins said.
But child welfare records show life was unsafe for Laila and her big brother: Justin Sloan would spend the rent money on drugs. He beat the children's mother in front of them. The family at times lived out of a car. The mother got caught up in her own needs and ignored the children's.
About six months into their time in Klamath Falls, the couple dropped off the children at Haskins' home with no particular plans for when they'd pick them up, Haskins said. It was November, but the children weren't wearing shoes, socks or coats and they acted, Haskins said, as if they were extremely hungry.
She called child welfare to report her own son as an unfit parent.
The children were placed in foster care. Klamath County caseworkers sought a more permanent foster care placement, preferably with relatives. Laila was 2 and her brother was 4. Justin Sloan's sister fostered them for months, with help from Haskins, but it wasn't a perfect fit.
James and Angela Sloan, meanwhile, were eager to welcome both children into their home. The couple were unable to have children of their own.
It took time, however, to get all the paperwork finished, under an official interstate agreement that required Kentucky child welfare workers to carefully document the Sloans' fitness to care for the children and to assess the safety of their home.
It was August 2015 before Laila and her brother moved to Kentucky. Everyone involved, from caseworkers to Laila's father, thought it would be forever.
"When they sent them out here, it truly was the happiest day of my life," James Sloan said. "In my eyes, that was my family. I was in a position where I could take care of them. I can't really explain it more than that. It was the greatest feeling, it was a blessing."
A new life, a new brother
Both children had attachment issues, anxiety and other challenges due to being exposed to domestic violence, neglect and other harm for the first years of their lives, confidential juvenile court documents obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive show. Records note the Sloans were conscientious about getting the children to their appointments with therapists, psychiatrists, doctors and dentists.
The older half-brother was a particular challenge, showing violent outbursts and sometimes harming his sister. The Sloans sought help from child specialists in Kentucky and in Oregon to help the boy, whom they and others described as sweet tempered despite extreme emotional and mental health challenges.
Three months after the children arrived, their mother gave birth to another child, a baby boy, back in Klamath Falls.
He was born with meth in his system, confidential court records say. The newborn went straight into the welcoming arms of a childless married couple in Klamath Falls, foster parents who'd been recommended by members of the Sloan family.
In Kentucky, raising the older boy remained a challenge. About six months after the children moved in with the Sloans, a Kentucky psychotherapist recommended that the boy be put on stronger medication. She told the Sloans the boy would need to be hospitalized for observation and treatment while his medications were adjusted, according to the couple.
Richard Garbutt, a well-regarded Klamath Falls attorney who represents all three children, said in an interview this is the pivotal time that raised serious questions about the couple's fitness as parents.
Garbutt said James Sloan spit tobacco juice in the boy's face and that both Sloans treated the boy badly . He told The Oregonian/OregonLive all people from Eastern Kentucky are "related to each other." He said the Sloans wanted the boy locked up in a psychiatric ward and out of their lives.
Nothing in records obtained by The Oregonian/OregonLive, however, shows anything like that.
Kentucky officials who certified the Sloans to care for Laila and her brother were asked to check again last July on the Sloans' suitability as parents. The officials there noted no concerns and issued approval for the Sloans to adopt. Teachers, neighbors, coworkers and counselors all wrote letters championing the Sloans as ideal adoptive parents for Laila.
Diana Bettles, an attorney representing the couple, said she hasn't seen any evidence to show that the Sloans are anything but fit parents. She got involved in the case only late last year and said she is not sure what Garbutt based his conclusions on.
Officials at the Oregon Department of Human Services, which oversees child welfare, said no one at the agency is permitted to discuss the case due to confidentiality and privacy issues as well as pending litigation.
The Sloans say they hospitalized Laila's older brother on doctors' recommendations. During his two-week stay in the children's unit of a Louisville psychiatric hospital, they called multiple times a day to check on him and made the 2 ½ hour drive to visit, they say.
At the end of that stay, the physician who treated the boy, then 5, commended the Sloans for their devotion. "Jamie and Angela Sloan have been extremely supportive and active in (the boy's) treatment," Dr. Sunil Chhibber wrote in the hospital discharge summary.
But Chhibber said the boy could no longer live with them, medical records show. "We do not recommend that he return to a home with his sister who appears to be a target for his behaviors or with any other younger children," Chhibber wrote.
The boy needed a structured, therapeutic setting, Chhibber concluded. The Sloans said they asked that he be placed in a therapeutic setting near them. But Oregon officials had already made arrangements for him to be flown straight from the hospital back to Oregon, the Sloans said.
When they found out, they bought expensive next-day airline tickets and flew to Oregon to see him and bring him his things.
Klamath caseworkers placed the boy in a series of specialized foster homes, but most of those placements were short-lived, according to child welfare records provided by Haskins, the children's grandmother.
The boy then went to a group home, records show, and later a Eugene-area residential center for children with extreme mental health problems. He remains there today.
The Sloans say they love him and would take him back in a heartbeat. The six months he lived with them was longer than any subsequent foster home placement that Oregon caseworkers arranged.
But mental health experts still say the boy, now 6, should not live in a home with a younger child or in any family setting.
Gaining independence, but not a little brother
Laila missed her older brother, the Sloans say. But she continued to thrive, improving with help from therapists, Head Start teachers and others in the Kentucky child welfare system. Laila had been extremely clingy, refusing to leave the presence of her uncle or aunt. But therapy helped her gain independence, and she cried less when dropped off at preschool. She even occasionally spent the night with her new "granny," Angela Sloan's mother, James Sloan said.
The Sloans and Haskins wondered why Laila's baby brother wasn't being relocated to be with his sister in Kentucky. Oregon rules say a child should be placed with relative caregivers, rather than non-relatives, if they are willing and qualified. And Oregon rules call for reuniting siblings whenever possible. Skype visits between Laila, then 3, and her months-old brother did nothing to truly connect them.
Haskins said officials in Klamath Falls told her the delay was primarily to give the baby's biological parents a real shot at connecting with him and potentially getting him back. But records show the birth parents had not gotten their act together. Neither showed up to see the baby. Justin Sloan was sometimes in jail. No one gave serious thought to reuniting the baby with them, records show.
Citing confidentiality rules, Oregon officials won't explain why they put off sending the young boy to live with his sister, aunt and uncle.
The official summary of a May 2016 review of the case shows that the Department of Human Services fully intended to have the Sloans adopt Laila and to place her younger brother with them for eventual adoption. Haskins, who was present during the review, was provided a copy of the record and shared it with The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The record refers to James and Angela Sloan by name as "adoptive parents for Laila." It also notes that, while the foster parents caring for the then 4-month-old brother "would like to be considered as a permanent" set of caregivers for the baby, an interstate agreement with Kentucky was "in progress" to enable Oregon to place the boy with his aunt, uncle and sister.
The volunteer citizen board that conducted that May review was largely content with how the children's cases were proceeding, but saw two problems needing immediate attention. The older brother needed his educational needs evaluated and met, they wrote. And the three children, all represented by Garbutt, needed "separate attorneys due to the apparent conflict of interest."
That never happened. The review board's field manager said assigning lawyers is the role of the court. Klamath County Circuit Judge Marci Adkisson said Klamath Defender Services, a nonprofit legal aid office, handles lawyer assignments. Garbutt said he helped create the nonprofit and works for it. He did not return calls Thursday or Friday to answer questions about why the children did not receive separate attorneys.
Looking forward to adopting their girl
Back in Kentucky , Laila grew closer to the people she calls Mommy and Daddy and more comfortable in her community.
James and Angela Sloan knew an adoption decision was pending and looked forward to Laila officially becoming their daughter. They had no clue that her younger brother's long stay with the Klamath Falls couple could jeopardize Laila's future.
Oregon has rules that govern how child welfare workers should deliberate when deciding whether to place a child such as Laila with a sibling: They should look at her current and lifelong needs, her emotional ties to her brother, and her ability to maintain lifetime ties to relatives. They also take into account what would give her continuity, familiarity, stability and permanency. Reuniting siblings is important, the rules say, but doing so should not override a child's best interests.
In November, the Sloans' world was turned upside down. They received a written notice that Oregon officials had decided against letting them adopt Laila. She would instead be adopted by the foster family caring for her toddler brother.
The Sloans were stunned.
Soon after, they learned of allegations that James Sloan had spit tobacco juice at Laila's older brother and that he had supposedly told Garbutt the couple didn't want the older boy. The Sloans were incredulous. Those were outright fabrications, they said.
The allegations so surprised and upset them, they said , they hired Bettles, the Klamath Falls lawyer who now represents them.
With her help, they appealed Oregon's placement decision. The recommendation was ultimately up to Lena Alhusseini, Oregon's director of child welfare, who'd been in that position for about three months.
She convened a second hearing by a second placement committee, made up mostly of child welfare workers not directly tied to the case.
Neither the Sloans nor their lawyer were allowed to be present, as is standard practice. But they provided the committee the report from the licensed clinical social worker who observed and interviewed them and Laila on multiple occasions before writing that "it would be extremely detrimental to remove Laila from the home of James and Angela. For all intents and purposes, they are her parents and she is their daughter."
The hearing was conducted in secret. The Sloans only know the ultimate decision:
"I have carefully considered the recommendations and am selecting the Oregon family" to adopt both Laila and her little brother "as being in their long-term best interest," Alhusseini wrote.
"It is clear that you care about (the little brother) and Laila," she wrote. "Our agency values children maintaining ties with relatives when such connections are consistent with children's needs for safety, permanency and well-being."
She suggested a mediator might be able to help them maintain ties to Laila. But the girl, now nearly 4 ½, would have to leave Kentucky.
After The Oregonian/OregonLive pressed for Alhusseini to explain her decision, the Department of Human Services said in a statement it followed its own rules and relied in part on the potential adoptive parents' "knowledge, skills and abilities to meet the current and lifelong safety, permanency and well-being needs" of the children.
The statement also said that the Sloans could challenge the ruling in court, which they are doing.
In the couple's court filing, they say the state broke its own rules by failing to place the youngest sibling with his relatives. They cite the state's policy of giving preference to relative placements and the study showing Laila's strong attachment to James and Angela Sloan as reasons Laila should be adopted by them.
In their response, state officials question the accuracy of the Sloans' assertions . They deny, for instance, that they ever told the Sloans that they were going to be able to adopt Laila and her little brother or that they told the placement committee the Sloans didn't want the older half-brother. They said there was "substantial evidence" to support the decision to allow the Klamath Falls couple to adopt Laila and her little brother.
Marion County Circuit Judge Mary Mertens James could hear the case as early as this summer.
In the meantime, Angela and James Sloan are trying muster the strength to tell their little girl why she has to go away.
Parents need to make time for their children
Psychologist warns of long-term implications of not spending enough quality time with kids
by Mary Achkhanian
Dubai: One third of parents in the UAE spend as little as five hours a week or less with their family.
How does that sound for an alarming fact?
The study, which was commissioned by Majid Al Futtaim, showed that residents do not prioritise enough quality time with their family. But this admission comes with a realisation: four-fifths (81 per cent) of people surveyed agreed that they need to prioritise more time for the people they love.
The consequences of parents spending less time with children are so well documented that you would wonder why parents would be guilty of it.
Gulf News spoke with Dr Rose Logan, consultant psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia, to know why parental inattention due to lack of time is so harsh on children.
“Research suggests that the first three years of life are the most influenced and that the relationships and experiences we have in that time lay down the [emotional/psychological] foundation for a lifetime,” said Dr Logan. “That is not to say that there are no other important phases in a child's development.”
Among the main consequences in early years, the lack of parental presence and a lack of another adequate caregiver can affect the formation of secure attachments, Dr Logan said.
“It can have a profound social, emotional, psychological, behavioural and educational impact across the lifespan.”
In fact, it can also affect the way the child will raise their own children, added Dr Logan.
Extended parental absences during the early years can also lead to weaker bonds between child and parent.
Children, said Dr Logan, thrive when there are consistent boundaries set for them in a stable environment.
“Children who have no boundaries, or inconsistent boundaries, are likely to struggle with school, peer relationships, behaviour and emotion regulation.”
When children are older, and parental absence continues, especially in times of transitions like adolescence, the child who feels unsupported may strive to seek attention and approval, which can lead to increased stress and pressure on them.
“They will learn to reach out to other people or sources for this support, further weakening the parent-child bond.”
This could also help usher in unwanted influences on the child, she said.
Secondly, she said, if parents are not present, they are relying on others to instil the values and morals that they wish their child to follow and internalise, and this means parents are going to be less able to guide their children and keep them safe.
“Children are likely to become disengaged from family life and will form their own moral compass around information and experiences that they encounter outside the family, including online.”
“Children are able to access inappropriate violent and pornographic material from the comfort of their bedrooms and the research is clear that this can affect behaviour, social relationships and in the case of pornography, be the start of a lifelong sex addiction.
“The media also often portrays an unrealistic expectation of life to a highly impressionable audience and with no parental buffer, children may come to hold unrealistic aspirations which can lead them to feel flawed and inadequate. It easy for this to turn into clinically diagnosed issues such as eating disorders and depression, anxiety, etc.”
What is neglect?
When a child's basic needs are not met, it could be deemed neglect, explained Dr Logan. Lack of time to devote to a child's needs could be construed as neglect, she explained. This is a form of abuse that has shown to be more detrimental to normal brain development than physical abuse.
“This is not the same as a child being left in the care of a trusted other. Children who suffer from neglect may not be adequately fed or clothed or provided with adequate health care or stimulation. They may not have adequate supervision and may not be protected from physical or emotional danger,” she said.
Children who experience neglect may:
1) Struggle with relationships
2) Are more likely to experience mental health problems and have poor cognitive functioning.
“They become shut down as they have learnt that the world will not interact with them and so there is no point in trying. When they do look for attention, they often do so in ways that are unhelpful such as alcohol use or unsuitable relationships, and may leave them open to further abuse as a result,” she said.
Dr Logan pointed that if a parent is unable to care for their child due to work, their own emotional or physical health or another reason, they still have the responsibility for ensuring that their child's needs, including emotional needs, are being met by caring, consistent figures.
“A lack of time could become neglectful but it does not have to. There is no harm in asking for help and if you know it is going to be hard to manage all the demands you have, invest in people [family, friends, nannies] who you can trust to take over when you are not able to.”
* 5 hours a week (or less) -- Time spent by one third of UAE residents with their family
* 93% -- of UAE residents are happiest when spending time with friends and family.
* 46% -- recognise they waste at least two weekends per month by not spending quality time with friends and family
* 48% -- turn down offers to meet loved ones at least twice a month
* 81% -- agree they need to prioritise more time for the people they love
Childhood Abuse Linked to Adolescent Self-Injury
by Janice Wood
Adolescents who were physically or sexually abused are more likely to engage in self-injury than their non-abused counterparts, according to a new study.
“We found that about one in three adolescents with mental health problems in Ontario engaged in non-suicidal self-injury,” said lead author Philip Baiden, a Ph.D. candidate at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto.
“We were surprised to find that only the experience of adversities directed towards the child — physical and sexual abuse — predicted non-suicidal self-injury and not adversities indicative of parental risk, such as parental mental health issues or exposure to domestic violence.”
Controlling for other factors, the researchers also found that adolescents who are female, had symptoms of depression, a diagnosis of ADHD, and mood disorders were more likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury.
However, adolescents who have someone that they could turn to for emotional support when in crises were less likely to engage in non-suicidal self-injury, the study found.
The researchers used data from a representative sample of 2,038 children and adolescents aged eight to 18 years referred to community and inpatient mental health settings in Ontario. The data was collected using the interRAI Child and Youth Mental Health assessment instrument.
“Depression is one indication that an individual is having difficulty coping with his/her life situation and being depressed can severely impact one's ability to regulate emotions and focus almost exclusively on the negative aspect of life,” said co-author Dr. Shannon Stewart, an interRAI Fellow and Director of Clinical Training, School and Applied Child Psychology at Western University. “Among survivors of sexual abuse, depression can also manifest itself as emotional pain, for which non-suicidal self-injury becomes an outlet.”
“Understanding the mechanism through which non-suicidal self-injury may occur can inform clinicians and social workers working with formerly abused children in preventing future non-suicidal self-injurious behaviors,” added co-author Dr. Barbara Fallon, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Child Welfare.
The study was published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
Child neglect not going away
by James Sprague
It has grown over the past couple of years, due in large part to the community's substance abuse issue.
And, much like that substance abuse issue, the situation of child neglect within Fayette County doesn't appear it will be going away any time soon, either.
Recently released figures for the month of February show Fayette County with the second-highest total in the six-county DCS Region 12 of substantiated child neglect cases with 14, trailing only Wayne County, which had 17 such cases.
It gives the county, through only two months, 20 substantiated cases of child neglect in 2017, coming on the heels of a 2016 which saw Fayette County with its largest figure of substantiated child neglect cases – 160 – in its history.
Child neglect, as defined by the state of Indiana, is when a “child's physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or seriously endangered as a result of the parent, guardian, or custodian being unable, refusing, or neglecting to supply the child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, or supervision.”
Many local officials have previously chalked up the situation with child neglect as a direct correlation of the community's ongoing issue of substance abuse.
Through the first two months of 2017, Fayette County also has three substantiated cases of physical child abuse, tying the county with Wayne County for the highest figure of physical child abuse in DCS Region 12 so far this year.
The county only had five such cases of substantiated physical child abuse for the entirety of 2016, per DCS statistics.
One encouraging sign, however, is the lack of substantiated cases of child sexual abuse thus far within Fayette County. The county has had no such cases, quite the contrast to other areas counties such as Franklin, which had four substantiated cases of child sexual abuse, per DCS, in February.
Overall, the state of Indiana had 2,081 substantiated cases of child neglect in February – slightly up from January's figure – along with 199 substantiated cases of child sexual abuse and 159 substantiated cases of physical child abuse, which were both slight decreases since January.
If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, call Indiana's Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-800-5556. It is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. You can report abuse and neglect anonymously.
Substantiated child neglect cases, area counties, Feb. 2016
Wayne County: 17
Fayette County: 14
Henry County: 10
Union County: 5
Rush County: 3
Franklin County: 3
Parents' drug use driving increase in abuse, neglect of children
by Kirk Johannesen
An organization that represents the best interests of abused and neglected children in the court system is facing a greater challenge than ever before.
The number of children served by Advocates for Children has nearly doubled in five years, with the primary driver drug use by parents.
From 2012 to 2016, the number of children served by the Columbus-based agency in Bartholomew County jumped from 225 to 436, which is a 94 percent increase. During that same period, the percentage of those children who have at least one parent with a substance abuse problem rose from 72 percent to 95 percent.
However, 274 Bartholomew County children remained on a waiting list for assistance as of March 31 because of a local shortage of Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) volunteers.
Advocates for Children assigns cases to CASAs, in which they represent one or more children.
“The need now is greater than ever. These are the most vulnerable children in the courts, within cases of substance abuse. It's important their voices be heard,” said John Nickoll, Advocates for Children's program director.
Statistics illustrate the increasingly difficult situation faced by Advocates for Children, which serves Bartholomew, Jennings and Decatur counties.Demographic data for Bartholomew County youths support Advocates for Children's data.
The child abuse/neglect rate per 1,000 children under age 18 increased from 7 percent in 2012 to 15.9 percent in 2015, according to the Indiana Youth Institute.
Cases of neglect, in particular, are on the rise.
Bartholomew County neglect cases substantiated by the Department of Child Services increased from 98 in 2012 to 247 in 2015, the youth institute reported.
None of this is a surprise to Krisha Eckrote, a CASA volunteer in Bartholomew County for three-and-a-half years.
“I have never had a case that drug use was not a part of,” said Eckrote, who has handled nine cases serving 19 children.
Methamphetamine is the drug most abused by parents in Advocates for Children cases, the agency reports, with heroin use also on the rise.
Drug abuse by parents in these cases had increased almost eightfold, from affecting 25 children in 2012 to 195 in 2016, according to Advocates for Children data.
This trend highlights a broader problem, said Therese Miller, Advocates for Children's executive director.
“We need a better continuum of services for drug treatment in the community,” Miller said.
Although Bartholomew County lacks an in-patient drug treatment facility, Miller said she is encouraged by recent local efforts to address the county's drug problem, particularly opioid abuse.
“Moving the Needle: Community Forum” drew 650 residents to The Commons on April 19, and local stakeholders have created a task force, the Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress (ASAP) in Bartholomew County.
Improving the community's continuum of services for drug addicts increases the likelihood that parents can kick the habit and be reunited with their children, Miller said.
“We need help providing stable homes for these children so they grow up as stable adults,” she said.
Impact of CASAs
Foster children without a CASA volunteer are 96 percent more likely to be arrested for violent crimes and 30 percent more likely to engage in substance abuse, according to Advocates for Children literature.State law requires that children have an unfettered voice from their parents in neglect and abuse cases, and CASA volunteers and Advocates for Children help fill that role, Bartholomew County Juvenile Magistrate Heather Mollo said.
“They're essential for the work we do,” she said.
The challenges Bartholomew County faces — more children in need of services, more drug abuse by parents and not enough CASA volunteers — is occurring in other counties across the state, Mollo said.
It becomes obvious when a child is missing a dedicated voice of a CASA volunteer focusing on their needs, Mollo said.
“We see a difference in the quality of recommendation, what is done about educational concerns and keeping the holistic picture of the child,” she said.
The goal for CASA volunteers always is to reunite children with parents, Miller said. However, reunification sometimes is a lengthy process, taking a year or two.
Some of the cases involve extreme circumstances, which is why children are removed from their homes by the Department of Child Services.
One child remained in foster care or with relatives for one-and-a-half years because the parents had trouble kicking their drug habits, Miller said.
Some children have lived in homes that were filthy and had been without heat or running water for an extended period of time, Miller and Nickoll said.
Motivated to help
Eckrote recalled a case in which a toddler and an infant were left alone for 20 to 30 minutes. The toddler was alone outside the home, and the infant was found alone inside the home. She said she has had other cases in which the homes had no working utilities and no food, and were filthy with drug paraphernalia present.Eckrote's reason for becoming a CASA volunteer is personal. Her niece and nephew were identified as children in need of services (CHINS) and paired with a CASA volunteer because her brother has battled drug addiction.
“They had a CASA in their case and I saw how hard they worked and tried to do what was best for the kids. I thought, ‘This seems to be a way I could do some good,'” Eckrote said.
Eckrote also saw her sister, Carrie Vawter, help neglected and abused children as a CASA volunteer a few years before she got involved.
Even though Eckrote works full time at Cummins Inc. as a project manager, and is raising four children with her husband — including her niece and nephew, of whom she gained legal custody — she makes sure to handle two CASA cases at all times.
Many CASA volunteers handle one family's case at a time.
“It's definitely a stretch to take two, but I hate that there is waiting list of kids,” the 35-year-old Eckrote said.
Eckrote said she spends about two hours per week on each case. That can include:
Visiting the children
Attending team meetings involving the parents and children
Attending court hearings
Reaching out to anyone who has contact with the child, such as school counselors, iGrad coaches and doctors
“I make a big effort to show the parents that I care about the child and the family and the relatives,” Eckrote said.
“These people, I know they love their kids and at the very least I can respect that and show I care,” she said.
Being a CASA isn't for everyone, but Eckrote said it's her passion, and a way to make a difference in the lives of children.
“I believe that this is my piece I am meant to help with,” she said.
About Advocates for Children
What: Organization that provides volunteers appointed by a judge, called Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs), to represent the best interests of neglected and abused children in the court system.
Where: Serves children and families in Bartholomew, Jennings and Decatur counties.
How: Uses CASA volunteers and paid staff called guardians ad litem to handle the cases. CASA volunteers spend an average of 10 hours per month on their cases, and remain with them until they are resolved.
CASA duties: Visit the children, attend team meetings involving the parents and children, attend court hearings, reach out to anyone who has contact with the child.
Information: apowerfulvoice.org, or 812-372-2808.
A Fearless Girl Named Amy: Fighting An Unjust System That Punishes Victims & Awards Abusers
by Brian Pacheco
“Everyone get out! That's it!” Those were the words that Amy Granberg's husband yelled at her family after the birth of their first son. Seeing his wife had become distressed, Amy's husband demanded her family leave and let her rest.
Amy was livid. What was supposed to be the happiest day of her life turned out to be a nightmare. Her then 8-year-old niece had come to visit Amy at the hospital to meet her new infant cousin. Amy says she noticed something was very odd with the interaction between her father and her niece, an uncomfortable dynamic that somehow seemed familiar.
In processing the moment, horrible flashbacks began to emerge: Amy alleges that her father, a retired Federal Marshall, had molested her on Easter when she was a young girl. She remembers the “big poofy dress” because she loved to show it off. She remembers sitting on his lap. She even remembers that it happened at her aunt's house right out in the open, in front of company.
I was able to have lunch with Amy on a warm Friday afternoon on April 28th, of this year. This was mere minutes after she attended a press conference at the Fearless Girl statue in lower Manhattan to demand that New York lawmakers pass the Child Victims Act (CVA).
In New York, most survivors have only until the age of 23 to come forward and file charges against their abuser. After that, the opportunity is forever lost. Justice denied. The CVA would eliminate the civil and criminal statute of limitations, creating a one-year retroactive civil “window” for survivors over the age of 23, like Amy.
At 5'10', Amy has a certain powerful presence about her. But as our conversation progressed, it became clear that it was the deep rooted pain from within that fueled her power. In her words, “I'm angry. But I want to channel that anger into advocacy.” ( In 2013, Amy told her story and testified at a New York State Assembly Public Hearing on the statute of limitations applicable to sexual abuse against minors.)
“Daddy did something to her!” Amy recalls the heartbreaking words of her sister (who she alleges was also abused by her father) as she entered Amy's house in a panic.
While Amy felt rage, she also felt “validated.” For so long, she says her parents had told her she remembered wrong, that it was just her brother. “I wanted to believe it was my evil brother [who Amy alleges also did abuse her], not my daddy. So I lied to myself and doubted my own memories… maybe I was crazy? I only came forward when I realized I wasn't crazy because my father had now abused my little niece who paid the price for everyone's denial,” she tells me.
Amy says the family tried to protect her niece on their own, without notifying authorities. “Everyone is all for locking up and prosecuting [abusers], until they are your uncle or cousin.” It then becomes even more complicated. “What if I told you that if you reported, you would become homeless? What would you do? That was the choice my family faced because he owned my sister's house. He owned my brother's house. Everything would be disrupted.'”
Amy chose to report, but says the allegations couldn't be substantiated and there was no physical evidence. Amy maintains that her family wouldn't cooperate with the investigation and were in denial. She says that when her family told her to leave the issue alone, she had a gut-wrenching reaction and rushed to reach out for help:
“Picture it…my family tells me I can't do anything about it. Eat it. Now I am having panic attacks and flashbacks. Now imagine trying to call different psychiatrists? They are like, ‘What's your insurance? And I am yelling, ‘THIS IS AN EMERGENCY!' I even call the hospital and they are like, ‘Do you have thoughts of suicide?' and I'm like NO! ‘Do you want to kill yourself?' and I'm like NO! I just yell and say, ‘I've been traumatized!' And so someone at the hospital says, ‘so you need to call a trauma unit!' and I am like, ‘What the heck is that?'”
Amy reached out to a friend who she knew was a domestic violence survivor who encouraged her to call Safe Horizon, a victim assistance organization. Amy was hesitant to reach out. “Is it going to be some type of counseling on the phone, talking me off the ledge?”
But her friend assured, “No, no they are amazing! I've heard great things about Safe Horizon. There is one on Staten Island I think.”
Still unconvinced, Amy quipped, “If the girl at the desk is snotty, I am going to lose it.”
Her friend snaps back, “So email them!”
Amy sent an email that changed her life.
Ten minutes after pressing send, then-case manager Amy Edelstein called her back. As she recounts this call to me, her voice cracks and tears well up in her eyes. “She said the only thing that no one else did. Everyone was offending me, and she was the only one that didn't, she said… ‘I am so sorry that happened to you.'”
“I am so sorry that happened to you.” Words that any survivor longs to hear but rarely does in a society that is plagued with victim blaming attitudes and ideology.
Finally connected to trauma-informed and expert help, Amy thought justice was right around the corner. After years of being told her memories were false, that she was dramatic—and being intimidated into silence—she was ready to report her childhood sexual abuse.
She recalls, “So, how does this go? What do I do? Do the police come to my house? Do I have to go make a report? Do you send me into a different area? And then Mrs. Edelstein tells me, ‘No, Amy,” and I said ‘What do you mean?' She was like, ‘Well, I just want you to prepare yourself, there are other avenues you can get your voice out, but when it comes to legally prosecuting your father, the statute is up.'”
Amy had no idea. She felt the law was unjustly punishing her for not coming forward sooner.
Finishing up our lunch, Amy and I talk about what it meant to stand by the Fearless Girl statue earlier in the day with other adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. “She's supposed to be fearless and I love that. But as victims and survivors, we're still afraid. But fearlessness is being terrified and speaking out anyway.
“I also think this represents going up against a huge unjust system, of a little girl standing up to a male dominated system.
“But she's coming forward. It's quite courageous.”
For the past 10 years, Safe Horizon and other advocates have been working tirelessly for an actual vote on the Child Victims Act.
Michael Polenberg, Vice President of Government Affairs at Safe Horizon has been at the helm of these efforts since the beginning and is now delivering an ultimatum; “Amy is an example of courage. It's time for the governor to follow her lead and survivors like her, and show lawmakers what true courage looks like and finally get this done. We need to send a clear message: ‘Stand with children, or stand with those who harm them.'”
Before ending our lunch, I asked Amy one last question. “If New York finally passes the Child Victims Act this session, what would you do?”
She responds: “…No matter what happens, I want that day in court.”
As I head back to work after our lunch, I can't help but silently give that fearless girl statue a name:
Visit www.nypasscva.com to learn about advocacy efforts to pass the NY Child Victims Act and how you can get involved.
Some signs of child sex abuse can include a demonstration of sexual knowledge, curiosity, or behavior beyond his/her age, isolation, or having pain in the genital or anal areas. If you suspect abuse, call the New York State Central Registry of Child Abuse and Maltreatment at 800.342.3720.
'No More Secrets' prayer for child sex abuse survivors
by Lauren Cross
HIGHLAND — It was a night of prayer for the 73 courageous children in Northwest Indiana who came forward earlier this year to report child sexual abuse — the result of the “No More Secrets” campaign school tour.
The campaign, launched in February by North Township Trustee Frank Mrvan, seeks to increase awareness about child sexual abuse in the Region.
Indiana has the second-highest reported rate of forced sexual intercourse among high school females in the nation, with 1 in 6 girls reporting to have been a victim of sexual assault by 18 years old.
Shaniqua Robinson, a minister-in-training with the Greater Destiny Bible Church in East Chicago, and other area clergy members prayed for others to have the courage to open up about abuse in the home.
“God told me this was not just going to be a day for no more secrets. This is going to be a day for no more shame, no more pain, no more guilt, no more feeling that it's your fault,” Robinson said.
Robinson said she was sexually abused as a child, told a school counselor, but didn't receive the help she deserved. Years later, she found God and slowly began to heal, she said.
The 7 p.m. prayer service and candlelight vigil at Wicker Park Social Center — held on National Day of Prayer — honored the 73 children who reported alleged abuse to the state's Department of Child Services as part of the “No More Secrets” campaign. In all, the campaign has reached 11,461 kids.
“It's important that when we educate people … that if someone comes to them and says 'I was a victim,' the first step is believing them and asking ‘What can we do for you now?'” Mrvan said. "They had to have enormous courage, trust and faith to come forward."
The campaign toured several schools in the Region to raise awareness about the issue and give children opportunity to confide in someone, he said. Children were also afforded mental health counseling on the spot and aftercare if need be.
Education as a weapon
Mrvan said he was motivated not by politics but because of his wife, who is also a survivor, he said. Mrvan, who added he had permission to speak about his wife's experience, said the “biggest weapon against a predator is education.”
The campaign also promoted Senate Bill 355 — a state mandate to provide age-appropriate sexual abuse prevention curriculum in schools.
In March, child sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn visited Purdue University Northwest as part of the campaign to talk about her experience with abuse and lobbying efforts to pass similar legislation in states across the U.S. Senate Bill 355, also known as Erin's Law, was signed into law by Gov. Eric Holcomb last month and will go into effect July 1, 2018.
The Times Media Co. is a partner in the trustee's campaign, along with local nonprofits, law enforcement and other media organizations. Other partners include Prevent Child Abuse Indiana, Geminus Corp., WJOB, the Regional Mental Health Center, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Indiana, and the Lake County Prosecutor's Office.
Isha Haley, a child sexual abuse survivor and consultant for Mrvan's office, said she was sexually abused by two family members while growing up in Yonkers, New York. She said she is proud of the work she's accomplished with Mrvan's office.
“Honestly, as much as this was politics (in getting legislation passed), it's also about the heart of the people. We would have done injustice to this campaign if we did not close it out in prayer,” Haley said. “We have a moral obligation to stand up and pray for them.”
The campaign is far from over, she said. The next stop on the tour is May 22 at Munster schools.
Mayor Murray's Tactic of Attacking His Accusers Is Common, But Experts Say It Keeps Survivors of Sexual Abuse Quiet
by Heidi Groover
Mayor Ed Murray, the politician, believes in second chances. He cut his teeth working as a public defender in Portland. As a state senator, he sponsored a bill shortening sentences for inmates with good behavior. Last year, he formed a committee tasked with making it easier for people with criminal histories to access housing. After all, nearly a third of adults have a criminal record and people of color are disproportionately imprisoned.
But Murray, the defendant, doesn't hesitate to raise the criminal records of three men who went public with accusations that Murray raped and molested them when they were teenagers in the 1980s. Delvonn Heckard, who filed a civil lawsuit against Murray last month, is “troubled.” Jeff Simpson, who alleges Murray raped him when he lived in a group home in Portland, Oregon, “cannot be trusted.” (A fourth accuser who came forward this week says Murray paid him for sex, but it's unclear whether he was under the age of consent at the time of the alleged sex.)
While most local politicians and media have avoided taking sides on Murray's guilt or innocence—it's a court case, after all—the mayor's tactic of discrediting his accusers have been ripe for attack.
Calling for Murray to resign on Tuesday, Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant wrote that the mayor's legal strategy is “almost the textbook example of why abuse survivors rarely step forward.” In response to an editorial Murray published last month, LGBTQ activist and survivor Danni Askini wrote, “There are no perfect survivors.” Even the Seattle Times ' Jonathan Martin, a member of the paper's conservative editorial board, has said that Murray shaming of his accusers for their criminal records sends "a terrible message to victims of child sexual abuse, one that the Seattle establishment tacitly condones with its blue wall of silence.”
Despite the public distaste over the way Murray is handling the child sex abuse allegations, lawyers who work on similar cases say the types of attacks coming from the mayor's legal team are common and unlikely to stop anytime soon. That's despite a wealth of social research showing that victims of childhood sexual abuse suffer disproportionately from substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder. Lawyers who have worked with survivors of sex abuse also say that it's common for those victims to be targeted because of their existing socioeconomic disadvantage—a confluence of circumstances that can often lead to a criminal record.
Survivors of sexual abuse are a “target rich environment,” according to Michael Gustafson, a lawyer with Emerald Law Group who has represented victims of child sex abuse. He notes that “powerful people” often target people from “broken backgrounds” and “minority communities.”
“And then years later, it gets turned around on them: This is somebody who came from a rough background,” Gustafson tells The Stranger . “Look what they became in life. They were preyed upon because they were in a vulnerable position in life and then that gets used against them later.”
Three of Murray's accusers have all acknowledged their own criminal histories. The fourth is currently being held at the King County Regional Justice Center in Kent on a $15,000 bail for a failure to appear on a drug charge.
In court, legal rules limit the circumstances in which lawyers are allowed to use criminal records in court. Some have questioned whether those rules should be changed.
“Too much of a person's likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system is tied to their race, income and other external circumstances,” says Anna Roberts, an associate professor at Seattle University's law school who has studied the way lawyers use criminal histories to discredit people accused of new crimes.
Roberts argues criminal convictions are not a reliable indicator of someone's truthfulness and are skewed by disproportionalities in the criminal justice system. “You would hope judges as the drafters of evidence rules [which determine what's allowed in court] would acknowledge that… What I found in the law nationwide is judges just clinging to these old assumptions.”
In Murray's case, the court of public opinion comes with no such limits.
Darrell Cochran, a Tacoma-based attorney who says he's handled child sex abuse cases since 1993, including some involving foster care and priests, says Murray's response to the allegations is “completely in line” with alleged abusers he's encountered in his legal work.
“You often see someone who is justly accused going on the attack in dramatic fashion to distract everyone from the facts,” Cochran says.
Along with raising questions about his accusers' criminal records, Murray and his team have attempted to cast doubt on why it took them so long to come forward. Immediately after the accusations, Murray claimed that Heckard's lawsuit is politically motivated, while offering limited evidence. The lawyer representing Heckard has denied political motivation, as has Heckard himself. One of the mayor's other accusers, Jeff Simpson, approached an anti-gay pastor in 2008 but he says he didn't know the pastor's views at the time and was calling any pastor willing to listen to his story. The third accuser, Lloyd Anderson, now lives in Florida and says he's “not political at all, any way shape or form.” Anderson says he has nothing against gay marriage, and Simpson says he doesn't hold anti-gay views, either.
Murray's team argues that Simpson bringing up the claims in 2008 was directly related to Murray's support for gay marriage and that the case now is targeted at sinking his re-election campaign. Why else would they come forward now?
In fact, research suggests many sexual abuse survivors wait years to disclose their abuse. In one survey, about 21 percent of adults said they had disclosed the abuse within a month of it happening and 57.5 percent said they waited more than five years.
And child abuse survivors are likely to experience some of the life challenges faced by Murray's accusers. People who were abused as children have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders like PTSD and substance abuse. For example, one study found the rate of PTSD was 29 percent among men who experienced childhood sexual abuse compared to 4 percent among those who didn't experience abuse. That's nearly as high as the rate of PTSD among male veterans from the Vietnam era and higher than the rate among soldiers who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among women, 28 percent of those who experienced childhood sexual abuse reported “drug problems,” compared to 10 percent of those who weren't abused. And those who wait to disclose their abuse are more likely to experience psychological distress and post-traumatic stress.
In his initial complaint, Heckard notes that he has undergone counseling. Another accuser, Lloyd Anderson spoke with The Stranger about how, lately, he has had trouble sleeping. Simpson has spoken about his own recovery from meth addiction.
“We've learned so much about sexual abuse in many areas, but there are some things about the nature of child sexual abuse that seem like we've made very little progress on at all,” says Becky Roe, a former prosecutor who worked on sexual assault cases in the King County Prosecutor's Office before moving to civil practice.
Roe says she took a case a couple years ago in which a young girl who had been sexually abused by her adopted father. The jury, Roe says, “didn't understand why the first time he touched her, she didn't do something about it.”
“You try to explain to the jury, look… there was a relationship there that had many positive parts of it, particularly before the abuse started,” Roe says. “It's not something that just all of a sudden a child who's grown up with nothing but an abusive background and then there's an adult who shows kindness, interest, and attention [discloses immediately].”
Similarly, a record of criminal activity or substance abuse is unsurprising, Roe says. A 2011 review of research found that, across various studies, survivors of childhood neglect and abuse, including sexual abuse, are more likely to commit crimes as adults than the general population. In one 1999 study, researchers interviewed 211 male inmates and found that 40 percent of them had been victims of childhood sexual abuse. (The criminal records of Murray's four accusers take place mostly after they say the abuse began, according to public records, though most juvenile criminal records are not public and each man says he was a teen when Murray abused him.)
When I approached Murray's attorney, Katherine Heekin for this story, she took issue with my framing. Other cases, she says, are not relevant to the specifics of Murray and his accusers.
“I don't feel like the press is getting that,” Heekin said. “They want to lump [this case] into this known storyline of ‘people are attacking the accusers and that's really painful.' There's the flip of this. Maybe it's painful to people who are falsely accused. What's the evidence of that? How painful is it to be accused of something you never did?” (Research on the prevalence of false child sex abuse allegations varies, but estimates fall between less than one percent and less than 10 percent.)
In 2008, Murray paid Heekin and a private investigator about $18,700 to attack the credibility of two of Murray's accusers, Jeff Simpson and Lloyd Anderson, according to the Seattle Times and campaign records from the time. In the 1980s, Simpson told a group home administrator in Portland that Murray molested him and the police investigated. Prosecutors in Multnomah County “considered but rejected a felony third-degree sodomy charge” against Murray, according to the Seattle Times. The Times reports that representatives for Portland police and the state told the paper records in the case had been destroyed. In 2007, Simpson hired a lawyer to pursue a civil case against Murray but that lawyer dropped the case. Heekin claims there was also not enough evidence for this case; Simpson's lawyer from the time said he believed his client but dropped the case because of the statute of limitations.
In a letter dated December 4, 2007, Heekin wrote to Simpson's lawyer that Simpson's past criminal convictions “reveal that your client is totally untrustworthy and will lie, cheat, or steal as necessary to get what he wants.”
Today, Heekin says defense attorneys' use of accusers' criminal records is “not unfair or mean-spirited or dirty tricks or anything negative like I feel you're trying to portray it for lawyers to question the truthfulness of people involved in a legal matter. It's common place because the law is a truth-seeking process.”
Gustafson, who has represented survivors of sexual abuse, says the mayor should focus on facts. “Actual evidence to combat the allegations,” Gustafson says. “That's how the system should work, rather than attacking with a huge, broad brush everybody's credibility.”
Askini, who last month called on the mayor to resign and handle these allegations privately, says Murray could have defended himself without attacking his accusers.
“The way to respond to allegations like this is to respect the [legal] process and reaffirm that when survivors come forward they should be taken seriously,” Askini says. “That doesn't mean people should automatically rush to judgement, but people should take accusations of abuse seriously and [accusers] should not be attacked and discredited because of things that happened after the abuse.”
The prospect of being doubted and discredited, said the lawyers who spoke with The Stranger , contributes to people's unwillingness to come forward. Roe, the former prosecutor, calls it a “clear deterrent” for her clients.
“It's kind of a wonder,” she says, “that anybody comes forward.”
Why Would a Woman Want to Talk With the Man Who Abused Her?
In her new documentary, Attiya Khan does just that — and explores the possibilities of “restorative justice.”
by Angelina Chapin
Attiya Khan is about to have the hardest conversation of her life. She didn't sleep last night and woke up this morning covered in hives, little red spots that invade her body when stress runs high. Her breathing is shallow as she cycles through motivational mantras in her head: You can do this. You have the strength. You've come this far.
It's December 2014, and she's about to speak on camera with the man who abused her on a daily basis more than 20 years ago. The conversation is part of her documentary A Better Man, in which Khan and her ex-boyfriend, Steve, talk about his violent behavior. They met when she was 16 and he was 17 and began living together almost immediately — first with her mother, later on their own or with Steve's father. Just as quickly, Steve began punching her. It was two years before Khan escaped the relationship, with the support of her friends.
Now, in a Toronto studio with big windows and brick walls, they sit an arm's-length apart and face counselor Tod Augusta-Scott, who will facilitate the discussion. Khan's long career working with survivors of physical and sexual assault has mentally prepared her to talk about the abuse. But with the studio lights hot on her face, she searches for the courage to relive one of her most traumatic memories.
Khan begins to describe a day full of brutality in which Steve had smashed her heart-shaped jewelry box, dragged her over the broken glass shards and started to punch her repeatedly in the face.
“And then what happened in this incident?” asks Augusta-Scott, in a careful whisper.
Khan swallows hard, exhales deeply, and smiles uncomfortably at Steve.
“So our faces were really close,” she says, holding a hand up in front of her eyes, “and I remember just being done. I felt bruised everywhere. I felt limp. I had no energy and I'm lying there and I'm thinking please stop. Just please stop. Stop. I don't think my body can do this anymore. And, um, then I just remember — VOOM!” She mimics hitting her head with her left hand and looks directly at Steve. “And you head-butted me. And then that's when I think I was unconscious.”
Steve's eyes widen at the words “head-butted.” He shakes his head in shame, tucks in his lower lip and looks down at the floor.
Khan remembers that when she regained consciousness Steve cried and said how sorry he was. But his apologies never lasted long.
“What are you hearing in what Attiya is saying?” asks Augusta-Scott.
Steve swallows hard, looks at Khan and shakes his head. A moment of silence passes and he lets out a deep breath.
“You don't remember, do you?” Khan asks. She stares at him with a straight face: She can't believe that to Steve, the punches and blows so deeply etched into her mind are simply a blur. She wants him to corroborate the trauma she's been carrying alone for her entire adult life.
A Better Man , which runs until May 6 at Toronto's Hot Docs festival (and again at a Toronto theater between June 9 and 15), follows Khan's personal mission to heal as she bluntly confronts her trauma. The mediated conversations with Steve are interspersed with trips to their old high school and apartments — landmarks of their abusive past — and glimpses into how the violence still haunts her personal life. Though the film, which Khan also co-wrote and co-directed, is not an explicit work of activism, she ultimately hopes that her talks with Steve could help persuade counselors, experts, and advocates in the domestic-violence field that engaging with abusive men could actually help to keep some survivors safe — a process known in the legal world as restorative justice.
It works like this: A victim and offender have a facilitated dialogue, either between themselves or with a larger group that includes friends, family, and other members of their community. During meetings a survivor describes the crime and its effect on their life; the others who might be present talk about their experience as witnesses. The offender takes responsibility for the behavior and commits to an accountability program that often includes ongoing counseling, addiction treatment if necessary, community service, a formal apology, and in some cases, financial restitution. While the criminal system aims to punish an offender, restorative justice has the broad goal of healing a survivor, whether they want to stay in their relationship, leave, or hear the person who assaulted them own up to the abuse years later. Khan's case isn't typical — the violence happened decades ago, she and Steve spent time together without a facilitator, and they didn't develop an ongoing plan. But their taped conversations still follow the basic restorative-justice formula.
Countries such as Canada, New Zealand, Austria, and Finland have restorative-justice programs that handle cases of intimate-partner violence. But while hundreds of mediation and group conferencing programs exist in the U.S. today, these processes are typically only used here when dealing with juvenile crimes. Only recently have advocates and legal experts begun to consider them as options for survivors of domestic or sexual violence. In January, the U.S. Department of Justice announced for the first time ever a grant for restorative-justice programs that deal with sexual assault and domestic violence on campuses. The federal government's Office on Violence Against Women recently sponsored a national roundtable on the topic.
The American legal system first began to incorporate restorative-justice practices in the late ‘70s for civil cases and juvenile crimes. (A number of Indigenous groups have long used a similar process, often called “peacemaking circles”, to deal with crime.) And, at first, domestic-violence advocates tended to strongly oppose any form of mediation. After fighting for decades, they had finally convinced the legal system to treat intimate-partner violence as a serious crime instead of a personal feud; they were understandably wary of alternative solutions that might undermine that progress.
“They read [restorative-justice advocates] as saying ‘Well, let's just sit down and talk about it with these guys who are going to choke us to death,'” says Sujatha Baliga, a former lawyer who works at a restorative-justice research center in Oakland. Today, she says, “there is an openness to something other than the singular approach we've taken to domestic violence.”
By the mid-'90s, victim-offender mediation had been endorsed by the American Bar Association and was more commonly used in criminal cases. More importantly, though, women's-rights activists had become frustrated with the criminal system's response to domestic violence and wanted alternatives. They felt policies such as mandatory arrests and protective orders ignored survivors' individual needs, and that incarceration only exacerbated the issues of poverty and discrimination that lay at the root of much abuse. So a small group of advocates with backgrounds in the shelter movement, social work, and academia decided to see whether restorative justice could offer solutions.
Between 1998 and 2008, these experts launched short-term pilot programs in North Carolina, Arizona and Minnesota that used group conferences or “circles” to deal with cases of domestic abuse (including child abuse) and sexual violence. The results were promising: rates of PTSD among sexual-assault survivors went down by 20 percent; the group conferences, some of which separated the victims and offenders, lowered rates of domestic violence and child abuse; there were no violent incidents during the sessions or in the follow-up period that ranged from 6 to 24 months. While the programs helped some women stay safely in their relationships, it helped others feel empowered enough to leave. One participant in the Minnesota pilot left her abusive partner, saying the restorative-justice process “gave me the guts and — it give me back my sense of self-worth.” Over 90 percent of participants said that they felt the group sessions were successful.
While there is limited data on restorative-justice programs that deal with domestic violence, these findings mirrored research in other countries: A South African report found that none of the women were abused after going through victim-offender mediation. In a Canadian study the number of survivors who showed symptoms of domestic violence, such as feeling “fear and anxiety” near their partners, dropped by 60 percent after the group conferences. Other findings were more cautiously optimistic: an Austrian researcher concluded that mediation was helpful, but only in situations where both the offender and survivor wanted the relationship to change.
“A lot of women say ‘I just want the violence to stop' and ‘I don't want to end my relationship with them' and ‘I don't want to destroy my family,'” says Augusta-Scott, the facilitator in Khan's film who works as a counselor for domestic-violence offenders. He points out how the criminal system fails to accommodate a spectrum of situations that range from occasional, non-life-threatening attacks to constant physical and emotional abuse. “We've geared all our services around [the assumption that] if women don't want to leave they should want to leave. We've just missed the mark for so many women.”
While many survivors may want their cases to end up in court, others are dissuaded by the fact that judges and lawyers continue to blame victims and that conviction rates remain stubbornly low. They would rather hear their offender acknowledge the crime than navigate a criminal system that seems stacked against them. “Think about a trial — nobody says [to victims], ‘Now we want to hear from you for 15 minutes in your own words without a defense attorney interrupting you,'” says Mary Koss, a public health professor who ran the pilot project in Arizona for sex offenses. “Many victims say, ‘I want to tell my story to him, to the person who did this to me, and I want my family and friends to be sitting there so they can understand I am a legitimate victim.'”
Khan herself has worked as a counselor and coordinator for domestic-violence programs and she'd come to feel that the standard assumption in her field — that all survivors should call the police, leave their partners, and go to a shelter — wasn't actually working for many of her clients. “We didn't have enough services to accommodate the ways that women wanted to be either during abusive situations or after,” she says.
Khan knows she is different from many survivors, who might be drawn to a nonpunitive approach out of desperation (seeing a partner jailed can come at the cost of child support or rent). “I am healing and doing better and overall I'm in a good place,” she says. “I am so lucky and privileged.” Today, at age 43, she does work that she's passionate about; she's married, with a 10-year-old son; in person she's warm, often referring to people as “love,” and she exudes a sense of hypercompetence as well as physical strength. Still, she's been diagnosed with PTSD; she has panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares about her time with Steve. She thinks constantly about safety, especially in enclosed, crowded spaces like movie theaters — a common PTSD symptom.
“For the first few years I just wanted revenge, to be quite honest,” she says. Even so, “it would have helped me to actually see [Steve] in a controlled environment at that time and talk to him.”
Two years after Khan left Steve, when she was 19 and in college, she saw him in Toronto, walking toward her. She became faint and speechless. But over the next six years they bumped into one another a handful of times, and as they did, Khan's fear and anger began to dissipate. While her life continued to improve — she earned a degree, got a job, fell in love — Steve seemed stuck and unhappy, his eyes hollow. Gradually, instead of ignoring him, she'd say hello and exchange a few minutes of small talk.
In 2001, on one run-in, Steve asked if they could sit down. She did a quick safety gut check before agreeing. “I'm so sorry,” he said, once they were seated. He repeated the apology a few times before breaking into tears.
Khan thought about that conversation often in the years that followed, and wondered how talking more with Steve might help her deal with the lingering trauma. If she could tell him the graphic details of the violence that had haunted her for so long, maybe she would heal. If Steve better understood the roots and consequences of his own anger, maybe he would be less likely to hurt another woman. She wanted to capture dialogue on tape so it could be a resource for other survivors and offenders.
She made her pitch in 2013: Would Steve be part of a documentary exploring their abusive relationship? Khan remembers that she could feel her heartbeat as she waited for a response. After a long silence, Steve said he needed to think about it. Six months later he texted her back: “If you're ready to listen I'm ready to talk.” Two days later, they sat down in a coffee shop for their first recorded conversation. Khan used the footage of that meeting, shot by a friend, to persuade a producer and co-director to sign on to her project.
Using a restorative-justice model to take on domestic abuse is contentious even among restorative-justice advocates: “Domestic violence is probably the most problematic area of application and here great caution is advised,” wrote Howard Zehr, known as the “grandfather” of the field.
But part of the reason so few programs exist in the U.S. lies in a misunderstanding of what restorative justice means: The practice is often conflated with traditional mediation, which treats both parties as equally complicit in the problem rather than acknowledging a clear victim and offender. In fact, a few states, like Colorado and Vermont, have laws that explicitly preclude restorative justice from being used in cases of domestic violence; Title IX guidelines prohibit any process that resembles mediation in cases of sexual assault; and it's usually excluded from grants for government-funded programs to prevent violence against women. (The Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence plans to develop a restorative-justice pilot program in collaboration with the Vermont Department of Corrections and a few other groups in 2018, which means they will have to lobby the government to change its law next year. )
Another reason victim-offender and group conferences are seldom used for domestic violence is that many women's-rights advocates have traditionally opposed them. Critics worry that any contact could lead to more violence, and that facilitators who aren't trained in the complexities of intimate-partner violence will allow abusive power dynamics to go unchecked. “The victim may feel unsafe presenting any kind of challenge to the abuser, fearing that he will retaliate afterward by hurting her and/or her children,” write restorative-justice experts Alan Edwards and Susan Sharpe in a research paper. “This power imbalance may not be evident to the person(s) facilitating the victim-offender dialogue.” In a culture where victim-blaming too often prevails, women's advocates also worry that group-conference members are likely to excuse an offender's violent behavior rather than support the survivor. Then there's the issue of accountability: Does restorative justice send the message that violent abuse should be met with a slap on the wrist?
Experts in the field have worked to address these concerns. Domestic-violence professionals help to develop any program and train facilitators to spot coercion during sessions. Most restorative-justice organizations have some connection to the legal system for safety reasons: the most common model is that prosecutors or police recommend certain cases be diverted from the courts, but only if a survivor is willing to participate and an offender has admitted guilt. Other experts think restorative justice can happen in addition to criminal justice (and offenders who violate the terms of their accountability plan can face a criminal sentence). In the Arizona pilot program, sex offenders had to pass a psychosexual assessment during which time a stay-away order was issued. Conferences took place in a police station. Some programs limit cases to couples with children, juvenile, low-risk or first-time offenders to be extra cautious. According to Barbara Hart, the former director of law and domestic violence policy at the University of Southern Maine, the older a man becomes, the less likely he is to be changed by restorative justice. “We can work with young men … at the beginning of their relationships with young women,” she says. “[But] I think if you are a 30-year-old living without kids and you are still battering … restorative principles are not going to make a difference in your life.”
Baliga trains restorative-justice facilitators and she says that, if done right, the process should help survivors realize that they aren't to blame for the abuse. “I would say that the girls definitely have a feeling they deserved it somehow,” she said. “What I've seen is [that a] young man eventually breaks down and says ‘Help me not be like my father,' and you see her eyes get big and she's like ‘Oh, this isn't about me.'”
Augusta-Scott estimates that 98 percent of the men he works with “have experienced violent childhoods” in which someone told them they were “ugly and not worth anything.”
“They often come in with ‘This is just the way I am. I'm bad. And I've always been bad. I've been abused because I'm bad and now this is more evidence that I'm bad,'” he says. While there is no comprehensive research on the recidivism rates of domestic-violence offenders who go through restorative-justice programs versus the court system, advocates of the former take the position that demonizing offenders can actually fuel the cycle of violence. “The RJ model leans towards people's redemption,” says Baliga.
Back in the Toronto studio with Augusta-Scott and Steve, Khan continues to recount her most horrific memory of the abuse.
She describes passing out after Steve head-butted her and trying to run away once she regained consciousness. She was too weak, though, and Steve grabbed her. “Then you turned me around and that's when, you know, you gave me ‘the sleeper,'” she says.
“Steve, do you remember that?” Augusta-Scott asks.
Steve looks at Khan solemnly and nods.
Khan's eyes tear up and her face forms a pained expression. She looks down, breathes in deeply, and looks at Steve. “It's strangling until you pass out,” she says in a choked voice. She exhales loudly and whispers to herself, “Oh god.” “My neck was so swollen and used to it that you would just go like this,” she says, putting her right hand up to her neck, “and I would faint, you know?” Khan wipes tears from her eyes with her left hand.
“What's it like to recall that?” asks Augusta-Scott.
“Fuck, I hate that one, I just hate it,” she says, bringing both hands to her face to wipe away more tears. She lets out a deep breath, shifts in her chair and collects herself. “It's the form of violence that I feel like, it's very symbolic, you know? Like when someone has their hands around you, your life is literally in their hands. And I always thought, ‘Fuck, this is the way I'm going to die.'”
Khan turns to face Steve and tilts her head to the side with a sympathetic expression. “I always thought someone must have done that to you, you know, to do it to me.”
Steve's eyes pool with tears and he nods.
“You don't have to answer,” she says softly. “It's always something that I've wondered.”
“Steve, do you remember that?” asks Augusta-Scott.
Steve swallows hard, clears his throat, and pauses for a few seconds.
“I do now,” he says, his voice trembling. He turns to face Khan. “My recollection was I tossed you off the bed and you passed out. You cut your knee. I carried you to the hospital. It's much worse than that.” He looks down at the ground. “What you're reminding me of is the level of anger — not quite hate but anger.”
“When you look back at it as an adult, what were you taking out on Attiya?” asks Augusta-Scott.
“Absolutely everything,” Steve says.
“And what was everything?” Augusta-Scott asks. “Had you experienced violence?”
“Mmm-hmmm. Yeah,” he replies while nodding, knots of worry forming between his brows.
Augusta-Scott asks whether there's a relationship between the violence he experienced and the abuse he inflicted.
“Definitely,” Steve says. “It's an incapacity to deal with your own feelings in a productive way. It's just explosive. And it always happens to the one who's closest to you.” Khan looks at him with complete focus, like she's searching his face for more answers as she processes his words. He meets her gaze and says: “It's more about my experience before I came to live with you.”
Steve and Khan shot together for eight days over the course of a year and a half and even visited their old apartments. The process would have been intense enough off-camera, but being on film added another layer of anxiety. At points, Khan became depressed and exhausted. “For me things are physical and I'm heavy,” she said last March, after a long series of shoots. “I [keep] saying ‘I just want someone to take me by the feet and hold me up and let me float and let me drain.'”
Once the major filming ended last spring, Khan started to feel a new lightness — as if she were physically shedding the trauma from her body. Steve had helped answer questions she had been harboring for years. “I was so desperate to be in a supportive relationship, I used violence to keep you beside me,” he told her in one session. “I was just obviously going to do anything to keep you at my side regardless of how manipulative that was.” Now, he says, he consciously monitors his anger and slows down when his emotions flare up instead of resorting to violence.
The more they talked, the more Steve began to remember details of the abuse, which helped validate Khan's trauma. “Sometimes I would question myself like ‘Did it happen and was it that bad?'” she told him during a shoot. “And now I can move past it to think about the big story.”
But the most powerful part of the process was recounting the details of Steve's abuse to his face. “The feeling of being able to tell him ‘You hit me and you strangled me and you dragged me on the floor. You [are] the reason my knee has a scar' … It was huge,” she says. She doesn't think every survivor will benefit from a dialogue with their abuser, but does want every woman to have the choice.
Now that the filming is over, Khan thinks about the abuse less often and has fewer flashbacks and nightmares. Not long ago, when she went to see Moonlight, she didn't immediately think to sit near an exit. “I directly relate that to seeing Steve and being in front of a place he hurt me,” she said. “Confronting that, and leaving that behind.”
Immigrant Arrested For Raping Toddler And Videotaping The Sexual Assault, Las Vegas Police Say
by Tara Dodrill
A Hispanic immigrant has been arrested for allegedly raping a toddler in Las Vegas. The man accused of raping a 4-year-old girl and videotaping the entire sexual assault on his cellphone has been placed on an immigrant detainer. It is not currently known if the accused child rapist is a legal or illegal immigrant.
Julio Cesar Medrano, 23, also goes by the alias, “Julio Rodriguez.” The Las Vegas resident was arrested on child rape charges on April 21. The sexual assault happened on April 3, according to the time stamp on the 30-second cellphone video, police investigators.
Julio Medrano was arrested after a woman found the video appearing to depict the immigrant raping the child. A tattoo on the hand of the man in the alleged child rape video aided Las Vegas law enforcement investigators in identifying the suspect, the Daily Mail reports.
Julio Medrano has been charged with seven criminal counts in connection with the child sexual assault case. The charges levied against the Hispanic immigrant include sexual assault against a child younger than 14, child abuse or neglect, producing and possessing child pornography, possession of a dangerous weapon, and carrying a concealed knife without a permit, according to the Clark County Detention Center online records database.
Medrano is being held without bond pending the outcome of a preliminary hearing slated for June 1. The sexual assault suspect's relationship to the child remains unknown. Las Vegas police officers have not yet shared details about the toddler rape victim or the ongoing investigation with the media.
Three out of four American child sexual abuse victim are reportedly assaulted by someone they known. Children who do not live in a home where both parents are present, in a dysfunctional household, or a residence where domestic violence occurs, are reportedly placed at a higher risk for being sexually abused.
A Violence Policy Center study generated in 2014, found Las Vegas was one of the worst states in the union for domestic violence, the Las Vegas Sun reports. In 2013 alone a total of 540 substantiated child sexual abuse cases occurred in Nevada.
Clark County has just a slightly lower child abuse rate than the state average, according to 2016 statistics shared by the Prevent Child Abuse Nevada organization. Twenty percent of the 22,883 child abuse cases opened in Clark County last year were substantiated.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr , one of the most horrific child sexual abuse cases in the past decade occurred in the Nevada city. In 2015, A Las Vegas teenager victim gave birth to her stepfather's baby. The teenager and her child reportedly survived on water down baby formula, leaving the baby severely malnourished. The girl allegedly hid the corpse of her 3-year-old toddler, also conceived out of rape with her stepdad, in the family's garage.
Research by the Crimes Against Children Research Center revealed one in five girls in the United States have been a victim of child sexual assault. One in every 20 boys in America also reports being sexually abused. A study conducted by the center found 20 percent of women have been the victim of a childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault. Five to 10 percent of adult American males report having been sexually assaulted or abused as a child.
During a single year in the United States, a total of 16 percent of American youth aged 14 to 17 are sexually victimized, the same nationwide organization found through its research and studies. Children are reportedly most vulnerable to child sexual assault when they are between the ages of seven and 13, the Crimes Against Children Research Center also discovered.
The good fight: Francis Sullivan's mission for Catholic atonement
His mission: to ensure the Catholic Church atones for its sins. No wonder Francis Sullivan faces powerful enemies.
by Greg Bearup
There have been many grim days for Francis Sullivan over the past few years, but none worse than the day in 2015 when Gerald Ridsdale's face was broadcast live into a Ballarat hearing room from Victoria's Ararat prison. Sullivan works for the Catholic Church as the CEO of its Truth, Justice and Healing Council, and is tasked with dealing with the almighty mess of child abuse.
On this day, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse wanted answers from Ridsdale about what his superiors knew and when. Ridsdale is a child rapist, a Catholic priest convicted of abusing more than 50 kids, some as young as four. The first complaints to the church about his abuse were in the early 1960s, within a year of his ordination, and each time his crimes became an embarrassment he was shifted to a fresh parish where he offended again.
Sullivan, 60, was in the room with the victims, many of whom he's come to know. He freely hands out his business card with his phone number on it. They call at all hours and he listens. “It was the middle of winter, an already bleak day in Ballarat,” he explains, “and Ridsdale's image was beamed onto a big screen in the [royal commission] hearing room packed with many of his victims. It was the first time many had seen him since they were children and they were people my age. Some were dressed in their Sunday best, some as best they could.”
They sat, eyes glued to the screen, seeking answers. “The most galling thing was that he played them all again; the way he gave his evidence was so manipulative and I thought, ‘God, these poor blokes, this is so terribly upsetting for me, and he did nothing to me – what must it be like for them?' ” After all Ridsdale had put them through, he was not prepared to offer the solace of truth about how his offending had gone unchecked for so long. “I remember leaving the hearing and really feeling quite disoriented,” Sullivan says. “I looked at these poor blokes outside with the media all over them like a rash, which is good for them on one level, but then the circus moved on. They left and went back to their broken lives… I felt really, really bad that day.”
Sullivan trudged back to his hotel room, opened a bottle of red and wrote a poem, trying to make some sense of the misery. He thought about the failings of the church, an institution he still believes in. He thought, My mob has got to change.
Is the church ready for change? Some insiders still believe Catholics have been unfairly “set up” and see Sullivan as a “wannabe bishop” cynically using the issue of child abuse to advance his liberal agenda. But Francis Sullivan is a determined man, and he's not about to blow this chance for the church to atone for its criminal past.
Cardinal George Pell used to be the Catholic Church's front man in Australia before his move to the Vatican three years ago. In 2012, when prime minister Julia Gillard announced the royal commission, Pell called a press conference. He belligerently defended the way the Catholic Church had handled child abuse and said the claims against it were “exaggerated”. He denied the church had been involved in a cover-up. The royal commission, said Pell, “would separate fact from fiction”. It certainly would.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference met soon after the Gillard announcement and the Pell denouncement. They knew that if they took the same bellicose approach with the royal commission it would end badly. Many of the bishops knew Francis Sullivan, then into a five-year term as the secretary general of the Australian Medical Association. He had previously spent 14 years at the helm of Catholic Health Australia, a lobby group representing Catholic health providers. He had knowledge of the inner workings of the church and was an active churchgoer with a masters in theology.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, recalls that “the bishops and the heads of the religious orders thought we needed to work in a way that the whole church was involved” in responding to issues that would arise from the royal commission. They decided to set up a Truth, Justice and Healing Council, to be led by a lay person. Sullivan was the man for the job. “We felt that Francis, with his knowledge of the church, was the ideal person to be in the engine room,” Hart says.
The council would have a prominent board, headed by Barry O'Keefe, a former judge and head of NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption, who has since died, replaced by Neville Owen, a former judge who headed the HIH Insurance royal commission. It would have two bishops but would consist mainly of high-profile lay people, such as Melbourne businesswoman Elizabeth Proust and Professor Greg Craven, vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University. The purpose of the council was to provide a united approach for the Catholic Church at the royal commission, to identify the failures of the past and put in place systems to ensure they never happened again; to “promote lasting healing for the victims and survivors of previous abuse”.
If the church genuinely wanted to address the issue, Sullivan thought, it would be a massive change for the hierarchy. Archbishop Hart once told a woman, “Go to hell, bitch” when she knocked on his door at 1.30am to confront him about having been sexually abused by a priest. “That was an unfortunate comment, one which I've regretted long since,” Hart told an interviewer in 2013.
Sullivan initially turned down the offer but after long discussions with his wife, Susan, he changed his mind, knowing it would take a heavy toll. “I took it on because the church had been really good for us… It had given a lot of shape to our lives. It was time for me to step up.” For all its problems, he says, “I thought that in the history of the church in Australia there may have been maybe 100 paedophiles.” He would later break down and cry when speaking at the royal commission, detailing how the offenders, and the victims, numbered in the thousands.
If the bishops thought they were getting a PR man, a patsy, they were mistaken. Sullivan has become one of the church's harshest critics. “They knowingly covered up offenders – that's complicity,” he tells me. “They didn't [report] people to the police – that's complicity. They refused to believe victims… I see this royal commission as an exercise in social purging and the church has to really come to terms with itself. The Catholic Church is not great about telling the truth.”
Sullivan is physically unimposing, a small, neatly dressed man who keeps trim by cycling around his home town of Canberra. But he's not a person who can be bullied, according to Sydney obstetrician Dr Andrew Pesce, who was president of the Australian Medical Association from 2009 to 2011 when Sullivan was secretary general. “He has a very strong sense of ethics and values, which sometimes meant taking a stand that would upset some doctors,” Pesce says. “He always thought, ‘What would the good doctors want me to do?'”
Sullivan began his working life as a teacher in Perth. In the late '80s, he and Susan lost their second child, Simone, at the age of four months. They decided to sell up and move to the US, where they both studied at Loyola University Chicago – he did a masters in theology, she a masters in religious studies. “When we lost Simone we decided we needed to follow some of our own dreams,” Susan tells me. It was both a spiritual journey and a way of dealing with their grief.
The death of their daughter inspired them both to do something meaningful with their lives. Sullivan says the work he is doing now is the most important he's ever done. “He was very clear about his objectives from the start,” Susan says. “He wanted to speak the truth, allow victims to be heard, create a system where they could seek justice and redress and put in processes where the church could never cover up again.”
It has taken a toll on her husband, she says, but he is determined to see it through to the end. “There have been times when he's been deeply distressed by the things he's learnt… I would say he's probably keeping a lid on a lot of things at the moment for the sake of being able to stay focused and true to what the job requires of him.”
Sullivan was genuinely reluctant to speak to me for this article; it took weeks of cajoling before he agreed to talk. He didn't want a story about himself, one that pulled the focus from the victims he says have been ignored and dismissed for decades. “Before I started this job I probably never appreciated how powerless people are when confronted by the might of the Catholic Church,” he says.
Since 2012, Sullivan has spoken to dozens of gatherings of victims and church groups around Australia and has attended every day of the royal commission hearings involving the Catholic Church. He's now an authority on child abuse. “When you ask people who have been abused what they want, they will say two things: we want to be believed and we want to belong. That's powerful, right, and we as a church did not get that.”
But even now, after everything that has been exposed, there are those who question the figures. “Those who quibble just don't get it,” he says. “They haven't heard that cry.”
When the church was forced to rifle through its filing cabinets and hand over the information to the royal commission, it was found that 4445 people had made complaints against almost 2000 alleged perpetrators. These included claims of very serious crimes, such as child rape, many of which had been covered up and not reported to police. In some orders, such as the St John of God Brothers, 40 per cent of clergy were alleged perpetrators – the abuse here was predominantly against disabled children. In some of the larger teaching orders, such as the Marist Brothers and the Christian Brothers, more than 20 per cent of the clergy were identified as abusers.
But that's not the half of it. The royal commission has been investigating the implementation of a national redress scheme to compensate victims. Actuaries have crunched the numbers and estimated that 60,000 people across Australia may seek compensation under such a scheme. About 24,000 of those will be from Catholic institutions. “The largest institutional setting for abuse in Australia was the Catholic Church, no one else comes near it,” Sullivan says. “So it is very hard to believe even the current-day church leaders when they say they want to be open when none of them had driven a program of open exposure of that data.”
The man who appointed Sullivan, Melbourne's Archbishop Hart, is a quibbler. “Those figures, of course – there are lies, damned lies and statistics,” he says. “There was some discussion as to how the figures were weighted…” The church had held those figures in its records for decades, though; why had there never been an attempt by the bishops to collate them, to get a proper understanding of the extent of the abuse or to release the figures publicly? “I think the church is compartmentalised,” Hart says. “Every diocese is answerable to the Pope and they look after their affairs… the church hasn't been thinking corporately.”
Sullivan took a very different approach. “It's very easy to be a noisy church, it's a lot harder to be a listening church,” he says. One of the first gatherings he attended was in Melbourne, a group of abuse survivors brought together by the In Good Faith Foundation. There were 25 to 30 people at the meeting and Sullivan walked in alone. It was daunting, he says, but very important that he went by himself. He spoke, but mainly he listened. At the end, he recalls, one of them told him, “‘Francis, I think you are sincere'; he didn't say I was sincere. He said, ‘Don't you dare let me down again'. Those words haunt me every day.”
Sullivan says the church's moral leadership has “failed so consistently, so pervasively”. The inner workings of the church should be transparent, he says; he's also come to believe there should be more women in positions of power, and the laity should have a say in how church money is spent.
A few weeks ago, at a gathering in Hunters Hill, Sydney, Sullivan told a group of 250 Catholics that they needed to stand up and demand more of their bishops and priests. “If people of goodwill, the good priests, the willing religious, the enlightened leaders, but more importantly people like you – the engaged and informed Catholics – don't continue to push for change, then, as sure as night follows day, the reactionaries will overcome and nothing will change.”
He told the gathering he's often asked when the church leaders will summon the courage to foster a discussion about human sexuality in all its different guises. The Truth, Justice and Healing Council issued a report about celibacy that stated: “Obligatory celibacy may also have contributed to abuse in some circumstances.” When the report was issued, Sullivan said: “We've got to ask the question about whether celibacy was an added and an unbearable strain for some.”
“The sex abuse scandal is not the reason everybody has left the Catholic Church,” he adds. “The Catholic Church, in my adult life, has basically run a commentary on how I do life, rather than being a resource on how to help me do life.”
All of this has not gone down well with the conservative clergy. Glen Tattersall, a Melbourne priest and a member of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy, says Sullivan is cynically using the issue of child abuse to push his liberal agenda. “It's really the liberal-minded and their fellow travellers who have been wrecking the church over a number of years and we're just going to get more of the same,” says Tattersall. “In a way, Francis Sullivan strikes me as a kind of wannabe bishop, a lay bishop.”
The revelations of widespread child abuse exposed by the royal commission have largely been a hatchet job on the church, Tattersall contends. “I think people are quite angry about the way the church has been dealt with, actually,” he says. “They consider this has been pretty much a set-up.” Does he feel any guilt for the abuse that has taken place? “No, why should we be ashamed about something we didn't do?”
Tattersall blames liberals within the church and homosexuals for the church's woes. “If you're saying, ‘Let's have an all libertarian view to sexuality' well then of course you're going to get issues like this. Those who are more conservatively inclined, they're the ones who are going to uphold the church's teachings in this area.
“There are many people who are saying we need to lighten up about same-sex marriage, and same-sex relationships generally, and yet they're railing against sexual abuse – that's sexual abuse, isn't it?” he insists. “If there's a relationship between a priest and a boy in his late teens, how is it sexual abuse when a person is 16 or 17 and then it's a wonderful relationship when you're 19? I mean, it's ridiculous.
“I think what's been missed out in all of this is the link between homosexuality and abuse… Now, on the one hand, you have a situation where he [Sullivan] is promoting a loose sexuality and on the other hand he's railing against sexual abuse. Well, to me that makes absolutely no sense; it's contradictory.”
If Sullivan doesn't like the Catholic Church the way it is, he should leave, Tattersall says, adding that there's a church for married clergy and women in positions of power: “It's called Anglicanism.” Does he think Sullivan is dangerous? “Put it this way, I don't think he enjoys the confidence of the best priests in Australia… He strikes me as a typical post-Vatican-II bureaucrat. He's paid a big salary, no doubt, and he's going to push us all about. And he's got his own ideas about what Catholicism is and it's not helping the victims of sexual abuse. How's it helping them?”
Sullivan has heard the criticism against him. “I'm not Superman here, bullets don't bounce off me. I'm not interested in unsettling people's intimate appreciations of their vocation, but I feel that I just need to keep saying the things that are being said, not for any other reason except that you can hear in the reactionary voices how easy it is to drown out a feeble, quiet, tentative, scared, worn-out voice of a victim.”
Elizabeth Proust, vice chair of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, says Sullivan has the backing of the board. “If there is any reaction, and of course there is, it is likely to be people who didn't do anything about the abuse when it was occurring and turned a blind eye… Francis has our full backing, and if there are clergy and others who think it is not appropriate, they need to ask themselves: Where were they when the abuse was happening? Where were their voices condemning the abuse? And what are they doing to ensure it never happens again?”
Jesuit lawyer, priest and academic Frank Brennan says some clergy don't understand how damaging the revelations of the royal commission have been to the church, and that it has lost its moral authority in Australian society. Gone are the days when bishops could traipse down to Canberra and demand a say in the moral upkeep of the nation. Why, Brennan asks, would young people want to be associated with an organisation that has been responsible for such a scandal? “It has wreaked enormous havoc. It will take generations, if at all, before there is any recovery. When the very same church leaders were carping on about sexual morality they were failing to adequately put in place protections for children under their care. It just leaves the average parishioner, and the average punter, thinking: ‘What the hell is this all about?'”
Broadcaster and prominent Catholic Geraldine Doogue says the abuse revelations made many Catholics feel like good Germans did after World War II. “They looked around and they could see the catastrophe that had occurred. They may not have believed they had any role in it, but the point is they were still German.”
She agrees with many of the things Sullivan is trying to achieve and says he is “utterly honourable”. But she thinks he should be telling a broader story. “The church in Australia is the greatest supplier of social welfare outside the government… I think Francis has decided that he can't say anything good. It's a tactic in my opinion. I applaud it [what he's trying to achieve], but I don't think it's the whole story of the Catholic Church.”
With the backing of the Truth, Justice and Healing Council, Sullivan has been instrumental in driving the church to have a unified response to child abuse. He has pushed through changes that should have a lasting effect. He has rallied the church to support the national redress scheme, which could cost it billions of dollars in compensation.
Sullivan has introduced changes that are likely to see an end to the church's Ellis Defence, named after John Ellis, a Sydney lawyer who was abused at his Catholic school by a priest. When Ellis tried to sue the church, it fought him ruthlessly through the courts. In 2007, the NSW Court of Appeal found Ellis could not sue the Catholic Church for compensation because it was not a legal entity. “If a survivor wants to take a claim to court then at the very least they must have an entity to sue,” Sullivan explains. “This position has now been fully endorsed by the three major archdioceses in Australia – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – and by the Christian Brothers, the Marist Brothers and De La Salle Brothers.”
Sullivan has also instituted a new national audit body, Catholic Professional Standards, which will have the power to audit dioceses, parishes and religious orders and will publicly name and shame those who don't meet the highest standards of child protection. In many ways, the Catholic Church is now the leader of the pack when it comes to child protection. “We've had the most experience in this field,” Sullivan says wryly. Changing the culture of the church, which allowed all this to happen, will be more difficult. And whether it will be enough to satisfy the victims, and the royal commission, is another matter.
John Ellis now represents hundreds of people sexually assaulted by Catholic clergy. He believes Sullivan is a good man. “I think he is a decent fellow. I think he is genuine.” But he doesn't think the church leaders genuinely want reform. “The view of the church is that this is all a bit of a storm in a teacup,” Ellis says. “They may think that there have been terrible things that have happened, but it is not really all that bad and all the good that the church does far outweighs the few bad apples.”
The royal commission is yet to deliver its final report. Its commissioners have heard harrowing stories from thousands of people abused as children. Sullivan recently flew to Rome, where he was a keynote speaker at a conference on child protection opened by US cardinal Sean O'Malley, head of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Sullivan was scathing of the organisers for not inviting any victims to tell their stories. “We can't afford to let that keep happening,” he told the Rome gathering. “The fact that among the many speakers there aren't any survivors sends a very powerful message to me: we still haven't gotten it.”
Reporting suspected child abuse
by Jessie Wagoner
Editor's Note: This is the third article in a multi-part series regarding an investigation into alleged child abuse at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Emporia State University.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families is investigating allegations of child abuse at the Center for Early Childhood Education at Emporia State University.
The CECE, located in the Butcher Education Center at Fifteenth Avenue and Merchant Street, provides an early childhood environment for children of ESU students, faculty and community members. It was previously reported the CECE also serves as a practicum and observation site for ESU students training to be early childhood and early childhood special education teachers. ESU has clarified the CECE no longer serves as a practicum site. Approximately 60 children attend CECE from age 1 to 6 with a school age program offered in the summer.
DCF most frequently investigates suspected child abuse after a report is made to the DCF child protection and reporting center. While anyone can report suspected child abuse, there are some individuals in the state who are mandated reporters.
Lucas Moody, director of the SOS Child Advocacy Center, spends a good deal of time educating others on how to report suspected child abuse. In the last year, Moody has trained close to 1,000 mandated reporters on the process.
Parents of children identified as potential victims at the CECE have reported being told by DCF that teacher's aides reported suspected child abuse to the director of the CECE, who then failed to report the suspected abuse to DCF.
“We were told the teacher's assistants reported the abuse to the director and she said she would report it,” a father of a child in Toddler 1 said. “Then she didn't do it and it was 45 days before they reported it themselves.”
Kansas Statute 38-2223 (Child Abuse and Neglect) states, “When any of the following persons has reason to suspect that a child has been injured as a result of physical, mental or emotional abuse or neglect, or sexual abuse, the person shall report the matter promptly to DCF and/or Law Enforcement.”
Mandated reporters referred to in the above statute include:
A licensed professional that practices healing arts
Those involved with postgraduate training programs approved by the state board of healing arts
Chief administrative officers for medical care facilities
Licensed social workers
Licensed marriage and family therapists
Licensed professional counselors
Registered alcohol and drug abuse counselors
Teachers, school administrators and other employees of an education institution
If the above individuals fail to report suspected child abuse they can be prosecuted and face review by their licensing board. Moody said it is important for mandated reporters to remember a report should be made by each professional who has information about suspected child abuse. If three employees of the same agency have information about suspected abuse, all three employees are mandated to report.
“Often employers have policies separate from the statutes for reporting suspicions or concerns of child abuse or neglect, such as notifying a supervisor first,” Moody said. “It is important to note, any local policies or procedures do not supersede a mandated reporter's statutory requirement to report.”
In addition to mandated reporting, Moody also encourages “ethical reporting.”
“Even if you aren't a mandated reporter, you can be an ethical reporter,” Moody said. “We are all responsible for keeping children safe. If you suspect child abuse, you should make a report to DCF because it is the right thing to do.”
Anyone can make a report to DCF regarding suspected child abuse. Neighbors, delivery drivers, utility workers, anyone who has contact with a child and suspects abuse or neglect can make a report. Mandated reporters are required to provide their name when reporting. Others can make reports anonymously.
Moody said there is one very important word in the statute regarding mandated reporting — suspect. Reporters are not required to know for certain if abuse has occurred, they should not investigate abuse themselves. Rather, they should make a report if they suspect abuse.
“They don't need to investigate — in fact, we discourage that,” Moody said. “If they suspect abuse or neglect they need to report it and let the trained investigators do their jobs.”
According to reports on the DCF website, 43,190 reports have been made so far this fiscal year throughout the state — 591 of those reports were made in Lyon County. Statewide 56 percent of the reports were assigned for investigation.
To report suspected child abuse or neglect, call 800-922-5330.
How to make a report to DCF
Fax: Sent to Kansas Protection Report Center 1-866-317-4279
On-line Web Intake: www.dcf.ks.gov Select “hotline numbers” and click the “mandatory reporters” link
Over 1,000 neglect, child abuse cases come from one San Antonio zip code
by Erin Nichols
SAN ANTONIO -- Last year there were more than 14,000 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect in Bexar County.
However, there's one zip code that stood out among other neighborhoods.
78207, located just blocks from the Alamo on San Antonio's west side, has historically been one of the poorest in the city.
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services takes note of all reports of suspected child abuse and neglect by zip code in the state.
For the last four years, 78207 has had the highest number of reports assigned for investigation in all of Bexar County.
In 2016, there were more than 1,000.
The second highest zip code, 78227, had only 663 reports.
“We've never seen a parent that intentionally abuses or intends to neglect. It's not premeditated or intentional,” said Nancy Hard.
Hard is the CEO of the Family Service Association, a nonprofit that runs The Neighborhood Place.
Located in the heart of 78207, The Neighborhood Place has made preventing child abuse its mission for a decade.
The organization serves about 70,000 people each year by providing services such as parenting classes, counseling, help with employment, and legal workshops.
“They come through these doors to find help, hope, sometimes answers,” said Hard. “Poverty itself is a really tough thing to manage and on top of that, parenting is probably the toughest job ever and there's no job description for it, so there's no training.”
District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales wants to make child abuse prevention her number one priority if reelected this month.
“The issue is not a new one, but it does seem to be coming to light as we're realizing the extent of the problem,” she said.
The city's 2017 bond proposal dedicates $2.5 million to upgrades at both The Neighborhood Place and the Battered Women and Children's Shelter, but Gonzales says more must be done.
“We are much more concerned with issues of streets and drainage and infrastructure, in fact we dedicate more money to Animal Care Services than child abuse in our budget, but those are policy issues that we can change and we can address,” Gonzales said.
Although funding is needed, Hard says the focus should also be on awareness.
And most importantly, neighbors offering a helping hand to one another when in need.
“It's not one system... Or the schools or Child Protective Services system, it's all of our responsibility to do something about it,” she said.
Fox San Antonio reached out to all the candidates running for city council district 5 about what they would do about child abuse if elected, but did not receive any responses.
Hundreds arrested in worldwide child abuse investigation
Over 360 people have been arrested across Europe as part of an investigation into online child sex abuse, with nearly 900 people arrested worldwide in a probe dubbed Operation Pacifier.
The investigation was led by the FBI and the US Department of Justice, and supported by Europol and other law enforcement agencies across the globe.
It followed the conviction of one of the lead administrators of one of the world's largest child abuse websites, which has more than 150,000 global users.
The administrator was sentenced to serve up to 30 years in a US prison. Two others have been sentenced to 20 years in prison in connection with the site.
Europol's role in the investigation was to analyse data it received in order to identify users in Europe.
In a statement, the agency said: "Intelligence packages were prepared and disseminated to law enforcement authorities in countries including Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the United Kingdom."
The operation has so far led to the arrests of 870 people worldwide, with 368 arrests in Europe.
At least 259 sexually abused children have been identified or rescued from their abusers outside of the US.
'Amazing Eight' sisters find strength
by Shannon Geisen
A long-kept family secret turned Wanita Nosbush's life upside down.
Wanita and her seven sisters were at a family baby shower in January 2013, a few months after the death of their father. The will was going through probate, waiting for signatures from their brothers.
That's when they discovered that six of the eight had been sexually abused as children by one or more family members.
"To me, it felt like a 1,000-piece puzzle dumped on the floor and I had to put it back together again, put my life back together," recalled Wanita, teary at the painful memories.
Growing up on the farm near Springfield between the 1950s and 1970s, each sister thought she was the only victim. They had told no one.
Wanita and her sisters "have always been so close."
Once they learned the secrets each had been carrying, that bond only grow stronger.
Statistically, said Wanita, when sexual abuse comes out, it tears a family apart.
"As is common, even though this happened decades ago, most of the sisters had not found true peace or healing," says their advocate, Denise Kerkhoff. "The realization that their sisters were also victims reopened wounds that had either partially healed or were scarred over. But it also served to form an incredible bond between them."
Kerkhoff dubbed them "The Amazing Eight."
On April 20, the eight women received the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault's prestigious AWARE Award.
The AWARE Award is given to individuals or groups to recognize the way in which awardees courageously responded to sexual abuse/assault and how they transformed their personal adversity into prevention.
Wanita and her sisters join a long and distinguished group. Past AWARE Award winners include Patty Wetterling, Minnesota Public Radio, Senator John Marty, Senator Al Franken and The Advocates for Human Rights, among others.
"While each, of course, sought personal healing, they had a strong desire for some form of justice as a family as well," Kerkhoff says.
The Minnesota Child Victims Act allowed Minnesotans who were sexually abused as children to bring civil lawsuits during a three-year window — now expired — against their abuser, no matter how long ago the abuse occurred. It encouraged victims to come forward and identify abusers who had never been reported or prosecuted.
The sisters decided to bring a lawsuit against their abusers.
"For the eight, the lawsuit was not really about the money," Kerkhoff said. "It was about coming out from behind the shroud of shame and secrecy that surrounds sexual abuse. It was about holding their abusers accountable and reclaiming their lives."
The sisters also became motivated to broaden their knowledge about sexual violence. They attended community and youth events that featured the voices of survivors.
"Hearing stories of other survivors, knowing they weren't alone, gave them both courage to speak out about their own abuse and the inspiration to help others speak out and know healing is possible," Kerkhoff said.
After the lawsuit was settled, each sister found different ways to "pay it forward." Several made generous donations to advocacy agencies so victims of sexual violence could get the help they needed.
Some became very outspoken. They knew it was important to let other sexual abuse survivors know there is hope and there is help.
"It's part of the journey, helping someone to find a voice," Wanita said.
Kerkhoff said they also realized there was a bigger, more societal, task at hand: Making sure youth and the overall community received education and prevention information on sexual violence.
"This is a commitment. This is important," said Wanita. "Education and using your voice and making it public. I know from personal experience as this has come out and we've talked to a number of young people we've helped start their journey toward healing."
In 2016, her sister, Joleen Amberg, organized two special events. Alison Feigh of the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center presented "Safe Not Scared" to over 700 Redwood Valley and St. John's Middle and High School students. That evening Patty Wetterling spoke to over 450 community members about "building a world that is worthy of its children."
"Wonderful woman," Wanita said of Wetterling. "The hope in her heart is amazing."
In 2017, Wanita's oldest sister, Laura Lee Bast, raised funds for two more educational programs. The Illusion Theatre Teen Troupe performed for youth in the Springfield and Red Rock Central school districts. Patty Wetterling, once again, offered her message of hope to about 1,200 residents in the sisters' hometown of Springfield.
Some children approached sexual abuse counselors after each program.
"It's making a difference, one little person at a time," Wanita said.
Nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men report experiencing an attempted or completed rape at some time in their lives.
"I'm not the only one. There are so many adults. What's been so comforting to me was to know I wasn't the only one," Wanita said.
Today, the eight women advocate passage of "Erin's Law." It is named after childhood sexual assault survivor, author, speaker and activist Erin Merryn of Illinois.
"Erin's Law" would allow all public schools to implement a prevention-oriented, age-appropriate child sexual abuse program which teaches students to recognize child sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult.
"That's one of the things we want to do as a group of sisters is to bring Erin's Law to Minnesota," Wanita said. "We need to write letters to our legislators, the governor. Kids need someone to tell and to listen. If you don't know where to go, what do you do?"
The bill is currently being reviewed by state legislature committees.
"We have to educate. First of all, it's very difficult to prosecute perpetrators and pedophiles. Second of all, the punishments aren't strong enough," Wanita said.
Through counseling and activism, the sisters continue the recovery process.
"It's been a wonderful journey with my sisters and their support," Wanita said, adding, "We have wonderful resources in Park Rapids."
She and her husband moved to the area in 1995. They bought a resort, which they've been operating for 23 summers.
Wanita credits Support Within Reach for helping her as well. Trained staff and volunteers are available 24/7 to answer questions, offer support.
Support Within Reach is a private, non-profit, community service organization serving those impacted by incidents of sexual violence in Aitkin, Beltrami, Cass, Clearwater, Hubbard and Itasca counties. Both Park Rapids, Walker and Bemidji have a toll-free hotline (1-800-708-2727).
"These eight women found the courage to find their voices, to come out of the silence and claim their lives back; they stepped out and they stepped up. They dedicated themselves to educating the public on sexual violence and to making sure those who are sexually abused do not suffer in silence. These sisters truly are 'The Amazing Eight,'" Kerkhoff said.
Child abuse cases up 11 percent in Lancaster County, with 146 confirmed reports in 2016
by Heather Stauffer
In Lancaster County last year, confirmed child abuse cases rose 11 percent even though reports of suspected child abuse dropped 3 percent, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
The department shows 146 substantiated cases including one fatality and three near fatalities out of 1,938 total reports in 2016.
That compares to 132 cases, one fatality and six near fatalities out of 2,001 reports in 2015.
The report does not identify by name either the children who died or their abusers.
Crystal Natan, executive director of Lancaster County Children and Youth Agency, said a new law that went into effect in 2015 lowered the threshold for lack of supervision to be considered child abuse if it created a likelihood of injury.
“It's not like you looked away for a minute,” she said, describing several a hypothetical situations involving drug use or overmedication that left children without adequate oversight. “We have received more of those reports.”
That law also required child abuse background checks for a much broader group of people who work or volunteer with children, and imposed criminal penalties for anyone who regularly works with children and fails to report a suspected case of abuse.
Total reports jumped sharply after it went into effect, and as a result Natan said the agency added two supervisors and about a dozen caseworkers in the last two years.
Department Secretary Ted Dallas said increased awareness has resulted in more people taking action.
“Although reports continue to increase, the incidents of substantiated child abuse reports are approximately the same as last year — 1.7 per 1,000 children versus 1.6 in 2015,” he said.
Lancaster County's ratio is lower, at 1.1 substantiated cases per 1,000 children.
The department also found an increase in fatalities and near-fatalities due to abuse statewide.
“In 2016, 46 children lost their lives as a result of abuse, up from 36 in 2015. Seventy-nine nearly died as a result of abuse, an increase from 57 in 2015,” the report said.
The report did not provide a county breakdown on investigation timelines, but showed statewide results similar to the previous year, with 43.7 percent of reports statewide investigated within 30 days; 55.8 percent investigated within 60 days; and 0.5 percent taking longer than 60 days.
The 2015 report did include county results, and showed that in Lancaster about 7 percent were completed in 30 days, with nearly 93 percent completed in 60 days and 0.05 percent taking longer than that.
Natan said that sounded about right for 2016 too, as “We want to make sure we cover all the bases.”
The department has started including general protective services reports — those that that do not rise to the level of suspected child abuse, but allege a need for intervention to prevent serious harm to children.
It shows 6,331 of those reports in Lancaster County, of which 551 involving 799 children were deemed valid.
That works out to 6.2 per 1,000 children here, compared to 17.1 statewide, with rural counties averaging 27.6 and urban ones averaging 13.9.
The report also said the department processed child abuse history clearance requests in less than six days, down slightly from the previous year.
Of 951,414 clearance applicants statewide, the report said 2,272 were flagged as child abuse perpetrators in completed or pending investigations.
Auditor General ‘Horrified' By New Child Abuse Report
HARRISBURG (KDKA) – Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is voicing concern over a new report on child abuse.
The annual report from the Department of Human Services found 46 children died from abuse in Pennsylvania last year, an increase from the previous year.
“I am horrified,” DePasquale said. “One child dying from abuse is too many; 46 is unconscionable.”
In addition, the report cited 79 substantiated near-fatalities across Pennsylvania last year.
In Allegheny County, there were three child abuse fatalities and 13 near-fatalities last year. Child abuse deaths were also reported in Armstrong, Fayette, Indiana, Lawrence and Westmoreland Counties.
DePasquale says child protective services agencies are struggling to meet demands for services.
“There is something systemically wrong if children and youth agencies don't have the resources to be able to fulfill their primary responsibility of protecting children,” DePasquale said.
The report states that more than $232.7 million was spent by state and county agencies to investigate reports of suspected child abuse, with the bulk of that money being spent by counties.
Turn the tide against child sexual abuse in Maine
by Molly Louison and Melanie Sachs
April was Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which means this is a great time to raise awareness about a topic our communities really struggle to talk about — child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is something that happens. A recent national study estimates that 42.2 percent of female rape victims were raped before the age of 18 and 27.8 percent of male victims were first raped when they were 10 years old or younger. We know that child sexual abuse has many long-term consequences if we do not take steps to address it.
Additionally, we've realized that part of what will eradicate child sexual abuse in our communities is to focus on adults and their behavior. Prevention education directed at children will help them to respond if someone attempts or perpetrates abuse against them, but true prevention is up to those in our communities who are supposed to keep children safe — the adults. SARSSM has great programs for parents and concerned adults to work on recognizing and responding to red flags in other adults and to help teach children about healthy sexuality and healthy relationships.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is how we respond to child sexual abuse. It is important for us to have a holistic response to child sexual abuse where not only are we holding offenders accountable, but we are also supporting children and their family members through that process. The Children's Advocacy Center of York County follows a nationally-recognized best practice model where representatives from many disciplines work together to conduct interviews and make team decisions about investigation, treatment, management, and prosecution of child sexual abuse. CACs are truly changing what it means to respond to child sexual abuse in Maine — and an effective and community-driven way that supports victims and increases successful prosecutions of offenders.
So, what can you do? In addition to supporting organizations like SARSSM and the Children's Advocacy Center of York County, we know that it takes a community to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. We have a few prevention tips that we talk through with parents, which we developed in partnership with the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault:
• Set and respect family boundaries. Everyone has rights to privacy in dressing, bathing, sleeping and other personal activities. If anyone does not respect these rights, an adult should clearly tell them the family rules.
• Demonstrate boundaries by showing children how to say “no.” Teach children that their “no” will be respected, whether it's in playing, tickling, hugging, or kissing.
• Use the proper names of body parts. Just as we teach children that a nose is a nose, they need to know what to call their genitals. This knowledge gives children correct language for understanding their bodies, for asking questions, and for telling about any behavior that could lead to sexual abuse.
• Be clear about the difference between okay and inappropriate touches. For younger children, teach more concrete rules such as “talk with me if anyone — family, friend, or anyone else — touches your private parts.” Also teach kids that it is unacceptable to use manipulation or control to touch someone else's body.
• Explain the difference between secrets and surprises. Surprises are joyful and generate excitement in anticipation of being revealed after a short period of time. Secrets exclude others, often because the information will create upset or anger. When keeping secrets with just one person becomes routine, children are more vulnerable to abuse.
Together, we can build safer communities for all of Maine's children, but it will take support and dedication for us to truly turn the tide against child sexual abuse in Maine. We can do it. Future generations and their well-being are counting on us.
Schools can help children break silence about sexual abuse
by Rubin Rosario
She was named after a love interest of Terry Lee, the protagonist of the long-defunct “Terry and the Pirates” newspaper adventure comic strip.
But April Kane has had little to celebrate about that parental decision.
She was given that name by her father, now deceased, a comic strip fan and the same man who sexually molested her at home when she was a small child. She was later raped by a reputed neighborhood sexual predator in the basement laundry room of the family's New York City apartment building.
She kept silent and kept her sexual abuse a secret for decades. That is the norm rather than the exception for childhood victims of sexual abuse. Then, this legislative session, the 53-year-old accountant from South Minneapolis felt compelled to speak out about it for the first time, in support of a proposed policy that has been already been passed by a majority of states.
“My mother saw I was upset but I had no vocabulary to describe abuse,” Kane told members of the Minnesota Senate Education Policy Committee during a hearing two months ago about the aftermath of the basement assault. “My mother simply said she would never allow me to go back to the basement again. I don't want that to happen to other children in Minnesota. I want them to learn a vocabulary to describe so that they can disclose when people are harming them.”
For the past three years Kane has been, well, raising Cain about the need to adopt Erin's Law. Named after Erin Merryn, a Chicago-based writer and social worker who was herself sexually abused as a child, the proposal mandates that all K-12 public schools train staff and implement age-appropriate curricula to teach students to become more aware about sexual abuse and how to come forward and report to a trusted person or adult.
Twenty-six states have passed the law since 2011. Minnesota is among 17 other states where the law or a version of it have either been introduced or awaiting legislative action.
A 2015 analysis written by Gwendolyn Anderson, a University of Minnesota-Duluth assistant professor and social work researcher, concluded that “more legislation, similar to Erin's Law, will be necessary to close the policy gap that has largely ignored primary prevention efforts to combat child sexual abuse.”
The study also noted that direct societal costs of child abuse and neglect surpass $33 billion annually.
I can hear a popular refrain now: “Oh, no. Not another unfunded ‘save the children' mandate that sounds well intentioned but isn't well thought out. How many more of these burdens will we load on teachers, school counselors and others?”
Well, whether good or bad, what's in play in Minnesota is a watered-down version of the policy. It's so watered down that one can question whether it will be effective.There is no requirement that districts or schools implement such a program under the proposed Minnesota bill. There is also no funding allocated for it, though it encourages schools to seek state or federal money to help pay for it.
The language right now is that schools “may” include it in their general health curricula. OK. For how long or often? Just one hour set aside in the academic year and presented in a classroom or general assembly setting.
Still, though she describes it as a baby step, Kane will take whatever progress she can. She has called, emailed, cajoled, lobbied and cornered legislators and their assistants from both sides of the aisle with little luck the past two years. Then she bumped into Minnesota state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, in a State Office Building hallway early in this legislative session and rang his ear in a nice way about the law.
Ingebrigtsen, a retired county sheriff, not only listened but then agreed to be the chief author. The proposed legislation has attracted bipartisan support and will likely be attached to an omnibus education bill.
“There's a silent epidemic in the U.S. involving the sexual abuse of children,” Ingebrigtsen told committee members at that recent hearing before Kane spoke.
“Every six minutes, a child is sexually assaulted in the U.S.,” he added. “One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before they turn 18.
“We teach kids about tornado drills, fire drills and drills pertaining to buses and how to get off of there in case of an emergency,” he added. “But we don't teach them about sexual predators.”
Now some might argue that schools should not be teaching this kind of stuff, that this is a job for parents. Well, given that nine out of 10 assailants who sexually abuse kids are known by their victims — in a good number of cases the assailants are parents, relatives and caretakers — I would argue schools just might be a proper setting for such instruction. Consider also the findings of a yearlong investigation released this week by the Associated Press.
The news service found roughly 17,000 official reports of sexual assaults by students on other students in elementary, middle school and, less so, high school from the fall of 2011 to the spring of 2015. Elementary and secondary schools have no national requirement to track or disclose sexual violence, the report noted. It also stressed that the number of documented cases do not represent the full scope of the problem because such assaults are vastly under-reported.
“Schools are required to keep students safe,” Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor and expert on school sexual misconduct, told the AP. “It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn't happening. Why don't we know more about it, and why isn't it being stopped?”
Jeanne Ronayne, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, praised Kane's activism and agreed schools must get involved.
“MNCASA agrees that children and youth need to be equipped with information to help keep themselves safer,” she said. “We also know that parents, teachers and other caring adults need to be a part of the equation to create a safer environment.”
April likes her first name, the one that came from a comic-strip character. It's her last name she doesn't like, because that was her chief molester's surname.
She doesn't know much about the comic strip though. “I have a book about it,” she said. “I just haven't gotten around to reading it.”
How can Iraq address child abuse, torture?
BAGHDAD — Child abuse has become an increasingly widespread phenomenon in Iraq, with social networking sites playing a major role in detecting any of the abuse and torture cases.
On April 10, the Human Rights Commission and the parliamentary Committee for Women, Family and Childhood condemned the rise of child abuse, describing it as brutal.
The abuse case of Zahra and Ghadir was documented and registered with the Iraqi court April 11. The two young girls were beaten by their father for over six months. The children's mother told reporters that her husband used to tie her hands, gag her and turn off the lights, and start beating the girls. As a result of the physical abuse, Zahra is suffering a fracture in her right thigh, according to the medical report of the hospital where the girls are staying.
In a video recording April 19, the father of Ali Abbas is seen torturing his son with sharp tools in the city of Kirkuk, for returning home late after a soccer game.
Another video shows the abuse of Ali and Banini in Baghdad at the hands of their father and uncles, who hung the children from the ceiling fan, kicking and beating them.
In Basra, southern Iraq, a 9-month-old toddler died after being tortured by her father. The child's grandfather told her mother that the father had been using crystal meth before he tortured his daughter until she died. A video on social media showed the child's injuries.
The Committee for Women, Family and Childhood said the number of cases of child abuse and torture are increasing and parliament is not taking any action.
Mohammed Abdel-Hassan, a sociologist at the Center of Research and Education Studies, told Al-Monitor, “This phenomenon is widespread among the poor as they suffer from illiteracy, a deteriorating economic situation and high numbers of births and children. Child abuse is also prevalent among people who lack knowledge and awareness of the concept of human rights.”
He said, “Some parents or relatives of the children suffer from mental disorders, which can cause their behavior with the children. Other parents have a misconception of parenting, whereby they tend to abuse their children in order to teach them."
Intisar al-Jabouri, a member of the Committee for Women, Family and Childhood, told Al-Monitor, “The issue of domestic violence against women and children is not something new in Iraq but was not much under the spotlight before. However, social networking sites expose these violations, which helps find solutions. The abused are afraid to file a complaint with the police and turn to social media to voice their concerns.”
She added, “The law against domestic violence has been put on hold for years. We need an effective law to reduce the crimes and violations against children and women.”
Legal expert Tariq Harb told Al-Monitor, “There is an old law on penalties for domestic violence, whereby perpetrators of child abuse receive more severe punishments. The punishments vary according to the degree of the abuse, torture and the age of the child. However, this law is not implemented on a large enough scale to work as a deterrent to the offenders.”
He noted, “We have domestic violence courts and the Interior Ministry has its own offices, which are not very useful as the victims are afraid to file complaints about the violence and physical abuse they are subjected to.”
The Interior Ministry said that domestic violence cases are handled based on how damaging they are to the children. Community police officer Khaled al-Mehna told Al-Monitor, “We distinguish between acts of violence leading to disability or marks on the body, and torture that causes lasting injuries to the child.”
He said that the police cannot conduct home visits without a court order. One of the ministry's departments is in charge of domestic violence cases and hands over abused children to social welfare centers in case it is no longer safe to leave them with their parents.
Mehna added, “Child abuse has been going on for years. Children are being trafficked by their parents, while others are burning their children's faces with acid and force them to beg in the streets.”
The videos on social media point to the intense brutality some children are subjected to, amid government silence and lack of legislation and deterrent measures to curb this disturbing phenomenon.
Child abuse accuser: How can the courts let my ex-foster father who tortured me and my brothers go free?
by Christopher Couret
One of Cesar Gonzales-Mugaburu's foster children writes about his years of alleged abuse and the state's statute of limitations law that blocked his testimony at the defendant's trial.
I feel like he's going to go free, and he's going to do it again. He pretty much got away with it.
What the hell is going on?
How can they believe him over the kids? Why did he have only boys in that house? How did they all tell the same story and the jurors didn't believe them.
I feel angry and frustrated (by the verdict). I was there. I lived it. Sometimes I let him abuse me so he wouldn't abuse the other children, my brothers.
I was tortured by him. I was just being used.
I knew something wasn't right during the trial. They said all of the children had low IQs. They made it seem like they lied or had mental issues.
I wasn't allowed to testify because they said too much time had passed (under state law). That law has to change. The statute of limitations has to change.
went to court, and they wouldn't let me on the stand. I walked away angry. It wasn't right. If they would have let me testify, I would have told them everything that happened.
If I had testified, it would have been different. They lost because they didn't put me on the stand. I would have had him locked up.
I feel like the courts let me down. The child agencies let me down. The lawyers let me down. Everyone let me down.
Who's listening to us? What can we do? I feel helpless.
Grassroots Fights Back Against Orthodox Child Sexual Abuse
by Barbara Finklestein
When a notable anti-domestic violence activist asked her father, the founder of a Baltimore yeshiva, how rabbis had dealt with child sexual abuse in prewar Europe, he told her, “We closed the shutters.”
Up until a few years ago, this selective blindness was the de facto rabbinic therapy for addressing child sexual abuse in the Jewish community. If you couldn't see the problem, you couldn't name it, and if you couldn't name it, it didn't exist.
But the same forces that rent the veil of secrecy over child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, Penn State University's football team and Great Britain's youth soccer system exposed the alarming reality of abuse in the Orthodox Jewish community. “Social media brought major awareness to the existence of child sexual abuse,” says Meyer Seewald, co-founder of Jewish Community Watch, a victim advocacy organization that takes a guerrilla approach to supporting victims, shaming offenders and rebuking rabbis who minimize the trauma associated with sexual crimes against children.
Indeed, grassroots organizations such as JCW have thrown open the shutters on a communitywide tendency to downplay victim suffering and perpetrator guilt for two arguably valid reasons: Rattling skeletons in the family closet compromises the marriageability of the perpetrator's children; and committing mesirah — turning over a fellow Jew to non-Jewish civil officials — is halachically taboo. Historically speaking, “squealing” on a fellow Jew to Diaspora authorities frequently did result in the punishment by death of the Jewish offender. Maimonides himself urged rabbinic authorities to kill Jewish informants.
Under the U.S. legal system, however, Jews fare no better or worse than any other ethnic or religious group, and the civic threat is more likely to come from victims themselves: With the support of advocacy groups such as JCW in the United States and Tzedek in Australia, victims are encouraged to sue the yeshiva or synagogue where the abuse took place. If not for the New York state statute of limitations restricting lawsuits to within five years of the victim turning 18, the number of lawsuits brought by victims could very well bankrupt many schools and synagogues.
Since 2011, the Orthodox world's biggest nightmare has been Manny Waks, founder of Tzedek. Waks mounted a media-savvy campaign against the Yeshivah Centre, a Chabad-run yeshiva in Melbourne where he had been abused repeatedly in the center's synagogue and mikveh between the ages of 11 and 14. In the wake of two Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentaries about Chabad's apparent protection of sexual predators, the school leadership all but resigned en masse. Worried that the abuse would eventually resurface, Waks kept up the pressure: This past January, through his political action organization, Kol v'Oz, he held a Global Summit On Child Sexual Abuse In The Jewish Community. And in March, Waks and other communal leaders told Australia's Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse that victims had been communally shunned after going public with their allegations and, moreover, that Chabad accused victims of engaging in malicious gossip — another halachic sin.
Initially, resistance to self-help advocates such as Seewald and Waks was automatic. Indeed, Rabbi Shea Hecht, Chabad's chairman of the National Committee For The Furtherance Of Jewish Education, believes that victims rights organizations exacerbate the problem of child sexual abuse by making it a kind of cause célèbre. “We know what has to be done, and we will do it very quietly, discreetly,” Hecht said. “We have to remember that even the victim doesn't want publicity.”
While secrecy remains central to the ultra-religious community's approach to dealing with domestic abuse issues, Hecht and many other communal leaders recognize that grassroots groups in fact have helped reshape community norms. Virtually no mainstream religious Jewish organization or sect publicly insists anymore that victims speak to their rabbi before going to the police. Thanks to grassroots advocacy, pastoral education programs have taken root at Chabad, Yeshiva University, and at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and Yeshivat Maharat, two Modern Orthodox rabbinical training schools. Many of these programs have been designed by psychologists, such as Shira Berkovits, and psychiatrists, such as Michelle Friedman — not by rabbis. As Berkovits, who has worked with Victor Vieth of the Gundersen National Child Protection Training Center to architect preventive policies and procedures, observed, “Rabbis increasingly realize that this issue must be dealt with by professionals.”
Admittedly, some rabbinic and lay individuals have been calling attention to child sexual abuse for years. Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual adviser at YU and a JCW board member, has long supported pastoral training so that “rabbis will know what they can do and can't do.” And David Pelcovitz, a professor of psychology and education at YU, has written and published extensively about the impact of sexual abuse on victims. For several years he has taught YU rabbinical students the theory and practice of pastoral counseling, with an emphasis on Berkovits's “safer shul” policy.
“What Orthodox communities are finally understanding is that the first responsibility is to the victims and their families,” Pelcovitz said. “The perpetrator has brought this trouble upon himself or herself.”
Rabbi Mark Dratch, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council Of America, acknowledges that grassroots organizations have helped bring the issue of child sexual abuse to light. “Now religious leaders have the greatest obligation to be educated and to respond so that religion becomes a help and support rather than a roadblock when dealing with issues of abuse,” he said.
Rabbis and advocates agree that while the Orthodox Jewish world has made progress in confronting child sexual abuse, many challenges lie ahead. For one, lay advocacy groups sometimes shame alleged perpetrators before victims have identified them and before they have been charged with any crime. A more stubborn problem concerns the five-year statute of limitation laws, especially in New York state, where the majority of observant American Jews live. Some 45% of victims do not talk about their abuse to anybody for at least five years, and some victims never disclose their abuse to anybody at all.
When it comes to child sexual abuse and other domestic abuse issues, change in Orthodox Judaism is slow and incremental, but if you look closely, it is real. Take Rabbi Elchonon Tauber, for example, a rabbinical judge in Los Angeles who told a group of Orthodox rabbis in February 2015 that anybody who does not report child sexual abuse to the police is in violation of Jewish law. The event he attended was hosted by Chabad and sponsored by JCW.
How can you tell if a child is being abused?
A child may be experiencing sexual abuse if he or she:
Exhibits unusual sexual behavior or knowledge.
Forces sexual acts on other children.
Avoids a specific place or person.
Expresses extreme fear of being touched.
Suddenly manifests defiance or temper tantrums.
Appears to lose a sense of self-confidence.
Increasingly withdraws from friends.
Unreasonably clings to parents or has difficulty being separated from them.
Engages in self-injury.
Has trouble sleeping.
Loses interest in school.
Complains of frequent stomachaches or headaches with no identifiable cause.
Shows unexplained bruises or welts.
Thanks to David Pelcovitz for this list of abuse indicators.
Ten-year-old survivor speaks out against child sexual abuse
by Kaleena McKell
Liliana Dingman was 8 years old when her 24-year-old cousin began sexually abusing her.
Dingman's cousin would tell her grandmother and aunt he was taking her to McDonald's. Although he did take her to McDonald's, he would take her to the liquor store afterward and then to a hotel across the street.
“He often put a gun to my head threatening to kill me if I did not do what he wanted,” Dingman said in a press conference Monday.
The abuse went on for one year before she gained the courage to speak up and seek help. Dingman is now coming forward to help other victims like her to feel safe. Time to Rescue held a live webcast press conference on its Facebook page Monday.
“Child sex trafficking is a real problem,” Dingman said. “I am a survivor. Because it happened to me I am not going to let it define me.”
Angela Kelly organized the event, works with Operation Underground Railroad and has been involved with nonprofits for many years. Kelly said they are working hard to raise awareness and to pass a new law targeting sex offenders, because Dingman's cousin served less than one year in jail.
Kelly met Dingman when Dingman's family moved into the home next door. When Dingman was playing with Kelly's daughter, Kelly asked about Dingman's family. Kelly said she saw a red flag when Dingman was reluctant to discuss her family and told Dingman she could talk with her about anything at anytime.
Three hours later, Dingman came back to Kelly's house and told Kelly everything she had gone through. Kelly, with the support of Liliana's mother and therapist, is helping Liliana tell her story in press conferences and events.
“This little girl is beyond brave and wants desperately to help other kids be able to come forward and for victims like her to feel safe,” Kelly said.
The press conference began with a musical number by singer Nadia Khristean, who works with different organizations to further their causes.
Former Mrs. Utah, Rachelle Rutherford, and Miss Utah, Kindra Kauer, then joined Kelly and Dingman onstage to commend Dingman for her bravery and talk about abuse issues. Both Rutherford and Kauer were victims of abuse and have championed platforms targeting various types of abuse while serving as Mrs. Utah and Miss Utah, respectively.
Rutherford was a victim of child sexual abuse and didn't come forward until she was 42 years old. Research conducted by the national Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18.
Kim Lowe, a member of the Utah School Nurse Association, joined Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, onstage to talk about Utah laws concerning the sexual abuse of children. Ivory, a member of the Utah House of Representatives from the District 47, spoke about two recent bills in the Utah legislature.
HB277, which passed in 2015, eliminated the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of children. Ivory said sexually abused children are shamed into silence and often, it takes decades for them to come forward. However, the bill only applies to those who were younger than 22 years old when the bill passed.
“I would get calls on a weekly basis, sometimes multiple times a week, after they found out we passed this bill,” Ivory said. “People would call and tell me their horrific stories and then they would ask, ‘Will this bill help me?' and I'd have to tell (those older than 22 when the bill passed,) ‘Sorry this bill doesn't help you.'”
Ivory set out to help victims who weren't covered by the bill passed in 2015 with help from his wife and other activists. In 2016, the Utah legislature passed HB279, which revives the statute of limitations to 53 years, and if a victim was already 53 years old when the bill passed, they have been given three years from that time to file a claim. Ivory said this opens the door for everyone who has been abused as a child.
Ivory said he is proud of Dingman for coming forward and sharing her story.
“One voice — even one 10-year-old voice — can change the world,” Ivory said. “We can change the laws, and we can change policy, and we can protect people … so this never happens to anyone else ever again.”
Time to Rescue will hold another live web stream on its Facebook page page with Dingman on Monday, May 8. Lowe's daughter, Anastasia Pollock, is the clinical director for Lifestone Therapy and will be speaking next week about her personal experiences. She will also speak on the importance of parental awareness to recognize the symptoms of abuse.
Boy Scouts Files Show Why Child Molesters Weren't Stopped
Riley Gilroy says it took three decades for him to learn the Scouts kept detailed records on the man who later abused him. Now he and four others are suing.
by Gaby Del Valle and Kelly Weill
In June 1979, Rex Black, an Idaho supervisor for the Boy Scouts of America, sent a letter to his supervisor. A child had accused Scout leader James Schmidt of multiple instances of sexual abuse, and Black reported he had confronted Schmidt about the allegations. Schmidt claimed innocence and was allowed to continue working with children.
In 1983, Schmidt was convicted of lewd conduct with a minor.
Schmidt was one of a group of Boy Scouts leaders in Idaho troops sponsored by the Mormon church who were accused of sexually abusing children in the 1970s and '80s. Recently unsealed files from the Boy Scouts of America reveal that the organization was aware of allegations against these leaders for years, but allowed them to continue working with children. In one documented instance, an abuser was promoted but the Scout leader who reported him was dismissed.
The files form the basis for a new federal lawsuit brought by five former Boy Scouts who accuse the organization and the Church of Latter-day Saints of fraud for promoting scouting as a wholesome, safe activity while covering up pedophiles in their ranks.
Riley Gilroy is one of two named plaintiffs.
“They knew about him prior to me, so why didn't they say anything?” Gilroy told The Daily Beast. “Why wasn't he stopped? Why was he allowed to go back into scouting? They had complaints and documentation, and a moral obligation to take these complaints to the authorities and they chose not to.”
The BSA has faced publicized sex abuse scandals since the late 1980s, paying out $18.5 million to a single victim in a 2010 case. Since the '80s, the organization has implemented new checks intended to prevent child abuse. In a statement to The Daily Beast, BSA leadership condemned the sexual abuse allegedly committed by Schmidt and other former scout leaders.
“In the many years since these actions occurred, we have continued to strengthen our efforts to protect youth,” BSA said. These efforts include “screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.”
The LDS church said it was still reviewing the filing.
“We have only recently learned about this legal action, and will take time to understand it fully and to respond as appropriate,” LDS spokesperson Eric Hawkins told The Daily Beast.
The Mormon church has partnered with the Scouts since 1928 and by the 1970s heavily encouraged children and adults to join the group as part of their development, the lawsuit said.
“This is not an optional program,” LDS president Spencer Kimball said in 1978, according to the lawsuit. “Scouting is no longer on trial. It is an economically, socially, and spiritually sound program.'”
But it would be the promise of trustworthy male leadership that led Gilroy to join the Boy Scouts.
“It was my mother, my sister, and myself in a single-parent family. My mother wanted me to have a good, strong male role model in my life,” Gilroy said. He joined the Scouts with his best friend as a young child. “Our mothers were best friends and thought scouts could be a positive influence on us.”
Instead of being assigned to a trusted role model, Gilroy was placed in Schmidt's troop. Over the course of two years, Gilroy claims Schmidt sexually and emotionally abused him and other boys.
Only by speaking with the other boys did Gilroy summon the courage to report the abuse, he said. Gilroy said he was 8 or 9 when he told his mother, who called the police. As a result of Gilroy's efforts, he told The Daily Beast, Schmidt was arrested in 1983 and convicted of molesting him.
Three decades later, Gilroy learned that his ordeal could have been avoided entirely. In 2012, a court order made public thousands of Boy Scout files on leaders accused of sexual abuse. One of the files was about Schmidt.
“That's why I'm coming forward now,” Gilroy said. “They had documentation about him, prior to him assaulting me, and they covered it up. The fact that they knew about that prior, and covered up.”
The Boy Scouts leadership kept “ineligible volunteer” files to “track a variety of transgressions” that adults committed against scouts. The files were subdivided into several categories including “perversion”—the category that encompases child sexual abuse. Gilroy's lawsuit claims that by 1972, BSA had thousands of perversion files, many of which were subsequently destroyed. According to Schmidt's file, his reputation as a sexual abuser was known even by other scouts, who urged leadership to remove him from his position.
During a 1977 camping trip, according to the files, a scout claimed Schmidt tried to molest him and other boys. The boy claimed Schmidt had “stuck his hands” down two boys' pants, the file said. “I knocked his hand away and rolled over,” the boy wrote.
That night, the boys slept in Schmidt's tent, where he told them the Camp Tapawingo site was surrounded by wild animals. “I was scared because of this and because he said there was something out there,” the boy wrote. “He said it was a wolverine but I knew there were no wolverines around that area.”
Schmidt's file also includes correspondence between BSA officials, letters from attorneys representing Schmidt's accusers, and news clippings about the abuse allegations. The file reveals how Boy Scouts leadership initially responded to the allegations.
Black, the Idaho supervisor who first forwarded the complaint to the Boy Scouts' national offices, wrote a letter in which he described confronting Schmidt.
“If he was guilty, he would probably back out” of the Scouts, Black wrote of his reasoning before discussing the allegations with Schmidt.
Instead, Black reported that Schmidt blamed his accuser.
“Jim said he was aware of the camp accusations but that they are two years old and that he had taken them to his lawyer and that he thought it had been cleared up,” Black wrote. “He claimed that the boys harassed him at the zoo and at other places.”
Black wrote he also reached out to the troop's sponsor, who “felt that the accusations [against Schmidt] were unjust but agreed to be alert to the situation.”
Schmidt reportedly agreed to stay out of Camp Tapawingo, but said he wanted to continue working with his own troop. His request was granted. “As far as I know, everything is under control,” Black wrote.
Three years later, Schmidt allegedly began molesting Gilroy and other boys in his troop.
Gilroy's story mirrors those of the four other plaintiffs, whose troop leaders were also accused of abuse and subsequently convicted of child molestation. The three other accused scoutmasters—Lawrence Libey, Doug Bowen, and Larren Arnold—were allowed to work with children for years before finally being removed from the Scouts program, according to the lawsuit.
Libey was even promoted after another scoutmaster reported him to the Elks Lodge board sponsoring their troop, the lawsuit alleged.
“The board chose Libey to lead the troop instead of the Scoutmaster who had reported his concerns,” the suit reads. “Shortly thereafter, Libey became the sole Scoutmaster of Troop 156.”
Gilion Dumas, one of the attorneys representing Gilroy and the other plaintiffs, said abusers had multiple ways of remaining in the program, even after they were accused of molestation. Leadership would regularly put scout leaders on probation instead of adding them to its growing pile of “ineligible volunteers,” Dumas told The Daily Beast.
“There was no set criteria for when they'd put somebody on probation,” she said. “They could put somebody on probation because he promised not to molest a kid again, or if he went into counseling, or if he was only caught showing kids pornography.”
After two years of good behavior, Dumas said, volunteers accused of abuse were reinstated and their probation files were destroyed.
“The only reason we even know that probation policy existed would be if someone was on probation and they got caught actually molesting kids, then there'd be a note in the permanent file that said they had been on probation,” Dumas said. An unknown number of permanent files were “systematically” destroyed in the '70s in what Dumas described as a “purge.”
Dumas said Boy Scouts leadership has been keeping files on scoutmaster misconduct since the 1910s, but the oldest files only date back to 1946. BSA did not respond to a request for comment on this allegation.
“They used to have a policy of systematically destroying the files if they learned a perpetrator had died or if they determined, from the date, that the man had turned 70,” Dumas claims. “They just destroyed the file with the thought that, ‘Oh, he's too old to abuse someone.'”
Gilroy said he hoped coming forward under his own name would encourage other victims to speak out.
“That's why I'm using my name, that's why I'm using my picture, is to embolden other victims to have the courage to step forward and say they were hurt, and not hide behind the shame,” he said. “Because there's been a lot of shame about what happened, and now's my chance to fix that. I know I have nothing to be ashamed of, but that doesn't mean I don't feel ashamed because of it.
“Now's my chance to step up, step forward, and try to be a voice for a lot of people who are too afraid.”
Effects of Child Abuse
by Michelle Pedraza
(Video on site)
LAREDO, Texas (KGNS) - According to the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse, there are over 42-million survivors of sexual abuse in America.
However, a big percentage of victims won't tell anyone about the abuse, making it one of the most under reported crimes of the century.
There are many reasons why victims of child abuse remain silent.
A local victim of sexual abuse says she has always feared of telling anyone and says it has affected her all her life.
The abuse started with her younger sisters when she was eight-years-old and her youngest sister was five.
Even though the woman tries to block out the incident, she still remembers the horrific abuse from her father.
The abuse continued for over six years.
The FBI states that in the U.S. alone only one in ten cases of sexual abuse is reported to the police, making it one of the most under reported crimes.
Being a 33-year-old victim, the women still struggles to understand, why it happened and who would want to cause such psychological problems?
The mother has found a positive in the situation by educating her daughters on what is correct and not and letting them know where they can get help.
Dr. Armando Garza, who's worked on cases with the Child's Advocacy Center advises parents to talk to their kids about sexual abuse the minute the child starts talking and understanding, usually at one or two years old.
Over the past 20 years, Dr. Garza says the majority of the cases he sees in Laredo are sexual abuse and 80 percent of the time the alleged perpetrator is a family member or someone well known to the family.
'Do better for the kids': Marion County steps up child abuse response team
by Whitney M. Woodworth
In the face of extremely complex and challenging child abuse cases, the Marion County District Attorney's Office is launching a pilot program designed to increase coordination during high-risk child abuse investigations.
Officials with the Marion County Child Abuse Response Team announced the pilot project Friday.
"We are proud to work with partners who continually seek to do better for kids," Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau said.
Child abuse investigations require the involvement of a wide array of agencies, including district attorney's offices, school districts, Oregon Department of Human Services and law enforcement. By law, child abuse multidisciplinary teams are required for every Oregon County.
Under the pilot project, law enforcement, child abuse prosecutors, Marion County DHS case workers and specialized child abuse medical personnel would work together to streamline and coordinate the county's most high-risk child abuse investigations.
In 2016, the Marion County District Attorney's Office filed 294 child abuse cases. During the same time period, almost 500 petitions were filed requesting children be placed in state custody. The filings only represent a sliver of cases investigated by DHS and local law enforcement, according to district attorney officials.
In addition to the existing multiagency teams, the Salem Police Department, Keizer Police Department, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Woodburn Police Department, Marion County District Attorney's Office, and DHS agreed to join a new specialized child abuse investigatory team.
The team will review daily the most at-risk cases known in Marion County and use Liberty House Child Abuse Assessment Center as its home base, which will allow investigators to collaborate with specialized medical personnel and quickly connect families and children to services.
Deputy District Attorney Brendan Murphy said the project has no increased costs and is instead using existing resources. Going forward, the district attorney's office will be seeking grants for funding.
Many people from several agencies were involved in the organization of the project, Murphy said, but ultimately it will be focused on having a core team of four or five people — a prosecutor, law enforcement officer, a DHS case worker and medical personnel — keeping a close eye on cases and taking action.
"(We're) committed to doing the best job we can for the kids," Murphy said.
Ultimately, it's about finding a better way of doing work to get better results for families.
"That's really what it comes down to," he added.
Beglau thanked the leadership at Salem Police, Keizer Police, Marion County Sheriff's Office, Woodburn Police, Marion County DHS and Liberty House for their involvement.
"Without their commitment to this effort, this opportunity would not have been possible," Beglau said.
Involving children in decisions 'will help protect them from sexual abuse'
by Melissa Davey
Involving children in the research and decisions that will impact their lives is essential to protect them from being abused within institutions such as sporting clubs, churches and schools, a symposium held by the child sexual abuse royal commission has heard.
On Monday researchers released the findings from three research reports ordered by the commission on the topic of child-safe institutions. The reports examined: key elements of child-safe organisations; the safety of young people in residential care; and disability and institutional child sexual abuse.
One of the six royal commissioners, Justice Jennifer Coate, told the symposium that survivors of child sexual abuse often shared their stories in the hope they could help stop the scourge of child sexual abuse into the future. As children, they were often unheard, or heard but ignored and punished.
“A key challenge for the commission has been the lack of research on institutional child sexual abuse to date,” Coate said. “There has been no large-scale, cross-jurisdiction focus on the topic.”
To address this, almost 100 research projects had been commissioned involving 40 universities and research centres, she said.
Protecting children in care
Researchers from the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University, Prof Morag McArthur and Dr Tim Moore, shared their findings from interviews with 27 children and young people living in residential care in Australia.
The children were asked about what they thought might prevent sexual abuse, what helped them to feel safe, how well their concerns were responded to, and what could be done to increase their safety.
“Residential care felt most safe when it was home-like: where young people felt welcome, where things felt ‘normal' and where adults looked out for them,” the researchers found.
“Participants stressed the importance of stability and predictability in residential care: where children and young people knew what was going to happen, where they felt that they knew their peers and how to manage their behaviours and where tensions could be resolved. Due to its highly chaotic and ever-changing nature, many characterised residential care as being unsafe.”
The researchers found routine, fair rules, an opportunity to have a say and a sense of control also helped children feel safe.
The researchers said much of the existing research relied heavily on the views of residential care staff and clinicians and on documents, but failed to consider the experiences of children.
“People are very worried about the vulnerabilities of children and that involving them might upset and re-traumatise them,” McArthur told Guardian Australia.
“They also question children's capacity to be engaged in these discussions. But children are capable, they want to participate, and they are agents who are active in their own lives. If we don't understand how children see and experience the world, we won't respond adequately and that means we can't keep them safe.”
The royal commission has previously found that although 4.7% of children in out-of-home were in residential care as of June 2014, 33% of child sexual abuse reports related to children in residential care.
Children with disabilities
New research was also presented about the prevalence and prevention of sexual abuse of children with disabilities in institutions. The research was led by Prof Gwynnyth Llewellyn from the University of Sydney's faculty of health sciences, and it too highlighted absence of child perspectives and ideas.
“Segregation and exclusion in closed institutional contexts away from public scrutiny leaves children with disability at heightened risk of violence and harm including sexual abuse,” her report found. “Further, when children with disability are stereotyped as dependent and passive and unable to ‘speak up', they are at heightened vulnerability to being segregated, abused, overlooked and not heard.”
Llewellyn told the symposium that data about the extent of the abuse was woeful.
“Right now the abuse of children with disability in Australia is not being measured, and what is not being measured cannot be counted,” Llewellyn said. “What cannot be counted cannot be monitored or evaluated.”
Her evaluation found that while there were many existing studies describing the issue of sexual abuse of children with disabilities, such studies could not produce evidence-based solutions. They could only propose solutions, she said.
“There was much less research using study designs which test interventions or solutions or evaluate policy initiatives,” her report said. “In other words, study designs that allow us to know what works, and ideally, for whom and under what conditions. Research that can determine what works and in which settings is urgently needed.”
Llewellyn's report also warned against thinking about children with disabilities as a special, distinct group. Doing so implied responsibility for special groups sat “outside” of mainstream services and that those services could therefore be “relieved” of their responsibilities to those children.
Through its work over the past four years, the royal commission identified 10 elements that were critical to making an institution safe for children. These elements included: child participation in decisions and a culture of taking children seriously; child-focused processes to respond to complaints of child sexual abuse; and the continuous review and improvement of child safety standards.
To check the veracity and feasibility of its findings, the commission asked the University of New South Wales social policy research centre and parent research centre to obtain independent feedback on the 10 elements from a panel of 40 Australian and international independent experts.
This research, led by Dr Kylie Valentine, asked the experts how relevant, reliable and achievable the child-safe elements identified by the royal commission were.
The research found a high level of support for the elements if they were implemented well, but concerns were also raised about the level of resourcing needed to implement them.
“They support mandatory and comprehensive implementation, but with the recognition … that some organisations that provide very important services to children and their families – for example, sport and recreation clubs and childcare centres – will in fact be poorly resourced and not able to support implementation themselves,” the report found.
Valentine told Guardian Australia that it was also essential that children had the opportunity to opt out of research.
The research will help inform the royal commission's final report, to be tabled on 15 December, which will include a volume dedicated to making institutions child safe.
Traumatic early childhood experiences can shape children for life
by Steve Johnson
We learn how to be good — or bad — at a very early age, and any effort to improve public education, reduce crime or improve health care must begin almost at birth.
That's the message of a two-day program focusing on adverse childhood events, or ACEs, the traumatic experiences that can warp a baby's emotional and physical development.
"Brains build over time from the bottom up, skills beget skills," said Dr. Pat Levitt, an expert at the University of Southern California and at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles, on how experience and genetics shape the brain. "For children and infants and toddlers and adolescents, this is critical," Levitt told a lunchtime forum of doctors, nurses, child welfare advocates and educators.
If infants don't have interaction with adults and their environment early on, critical connections and pathways in the brain fail to form, Levitt said, and the baby's emotional and physical health may be stunted.
The process begins early. At 16 months, there is no difference in most children's understanding of language, no matter what their socioeconomic condition. But by 36 months, the gap is tremendous between those children raised by college-educated parents versus those who are working class or on public assistance, based on "hearing words in the context of life going on around them," Levitt said.
Chattanooga pediatrician Dr. Allen Coffman, president of the Pediatric Health Improvement Coalition for the Tennessee Valley, said his group surveyed the metro area to determine in what ZIP codes children were most likely to face adverse childhood experiences. The top five — Highland Park, East Chattanooga, East Lake, South Brainerd and Alton Park — closely tracked the neighborhoods where the city's gang violence is highest, neighborhoods with a high percentage of single parent families, low education and high unemployment or underemployment.
What some infants miss is what researchers call "serve and return" interactions, where a child makes a face or coos at an adult and the adult responds in a positive way, Levitt said. The more that happens, the more the child is encouraged to continue the activity and learn how to interact with adults, other children, and their environment.
When it's absent, children often have high stress levels that can result in physical consequences. A long-term study of a group of almost 1,000 people over 40 years found a link between high blood pressure and the quality of early childhood education they received, Levitt said.
Parental neglect is actually much more harmful to a child than physical abuse, Levitt said.
"The regular absence of care from adults sets the stress response system permanently on high alert," he said. "Areas of the brain dedicated to learning and reasoning are weaker and fewer in number."
The United Way, the Regional Health Council and the Chattanooga- Hamilton County Medical Society are sponsoring meetings, which include a public discussion today from 5:30-7 p.m. at Memorial Auditorium. Organizers hope to help local child welfare, education and health care groups to coordinate their efforts to better detect children who are vulnerable to adverse childhood experiences.
In his research, Levitt said, his team has been trying to determine if a simple two-minute monitoring of what an infant is looking at can develop patterns that would wave a red flag.
"What infants pay attention to and for how long is important," he said. If problems are seen, "pediatricians can start looking to see if we need a better intervention."
One issue child welfare professionals face is that the parents themselves often do not have adult skills, Coffman said.
"The kinds of programs we are doing involve adult capacity building, watching the interactions between a young parent and child," he said. "We don't spend a lot of time saying, 'Don't do this,' we spend more time saying, 'Do this more.'"
This week's programs are part of the state of Tennessee's Building Strong Brains initiative.
Idaho men file sex abuse lawsuit against Boy Scouts, LDS church
by Marissa Morrison
BOISE, ID - A new lawsuit claims The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and The Boy Scouts of America knew about sexual abuse going on the Boy Scouts but did nothing to stop it.
Five Idaho men, who say they were sexually abused as kids while in Boy Scouts, are suing the organization and the Mormon Church because they say both groups fraudulently presented the Boy Scouts as a safe, wholesome activity for boys.
One of those men is Riley Gilroy.
Gilroy alleges he was sexually abused as a nine-year-old member of an Idaho Boy Scout troop.
The lawsuit states Gilroy was sexual abused by a Scout leader on many camping trips. The lawsuit also claims Gilroy witnessed the leader abuse other scouts on the same camping trips.
"When I found out that they knew about [James] Scmidt, in particular, prior to him hurting me... and they've been covering it up the whole time... when I found out about that, I was like, oh heck no," Gilroy said.
Gilroy is now 44, but he says the abuse he endured as a Scout has had lasting effects.
"My ability to trust, to have an emotional relationship with someone, even raising my own children, it's had a profound effect on my life," Gilroy said.
The attorneys for the five plaintiffs are accusing the LDS Church and the Boy Scouts of fraud and constructive fraud. An attorney for the plaintiffs, Andrew Chasan, says records of known child abuse were kept by the organizations.
"For The Boy Scouts of America in particular, that organization has known for decades... that they had a problem with pedophile Scout leaders because they kept files on them," Chasan said.
Gilroy says it wasn't easy coming out as a victim of abuse, but he hopes doing so will inspire other victims to come forward.
"I hope to right a wrong, that The Boy Scouts of America and the LDS Church will be held accountable for failing to keep kids safe," he said.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints responded to our request for comment stating:
“We have only recently learned about this legal action, and will take time to understand it fully and to respond as appropriate.”
The Boy Scouts of America responded to the lawsuit today:
“The behavior included in these allegations is abhorrent and runs counter to everything for which the Boy Scouts of America stands. Nothing is more important than the safety of our youth members. The BSA is outraged there have been times when Scouts were abused and we sincerely apologize to victims and their families.
“In the many years since these actions occurred, we have continued to strengthen our efforts to protect youth. We seek to prevent child abuse through comprehensive policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse. These include a thorough screening process for adult leaders and staff, criminal background checks, requiring two or more adult leaders be present with youth at all times during Scouting activities, and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse.”
The BSA offers assistance with counseling to any Scout, former Scout, or the family member of any Scout who suffered abuse during their time in Scouting. The BSA has a toll-free help line (855-295-1531) and email contact address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for these sensitive matters.”
California Senate Passes Senator Toni Atkins' Bill to Help Convict Sex Traffickers
The legislation would help prosecutors consider a sex traffickers' prior activities as evidence related to their current ones.
by Cassia Pollock
A bill to help prosecutors convict predators who traffic in sex slavery passed in the California Senate Monday, announced a representative for Senator Toni Atkins.
Atkins created SB 230 to add sex trafficking, pimping and pandering to the list of crimes that does not allow character evidence to be used in a trial.
That helps add these sex trafficking crimes to a list of other offenses that prohibit character evidence, including cases involving sexual offenses, domestic violence, elder or dependent abuse and child abuse, said the statement.
"As a result of the complex and exploitative relationship between victims and their traffickers, cases of human trafficking, pimping and pandering are notoriously difficult to prosecute," Atkins said on the Senate floor.
"Additionally, much like victims of other sexual offenses, many victims of sex trafficking have been groomed, controlled or even brainwashed by their traffickers and do not see themselves as victims – at least not initially," added Atkins.
"Thus, securing victim testimony in human trafficking trials is difficult."
The bill will help prosecutors consider a sex traffickers' prior activities as evidence related to their current ones, explained the statement.
"I want to thank my Senate colleagues for their bipartisan support for this sensible measure to help bring sex traffickers to justice," Atkins concluded after the vote.
Next, the bill SB 230 will be considered at the state Assembly, announced the statement.
In late March, Atkins introduced three measures aimed at combatting human trafficking. According to Senator Atkins, San Dieo is one of three California cities on the FBI's list of top 13 cities in the country for sex trafficking.
'Eyes and ears' of the highways: Truckers stand against sex trafficking
by Stephanie Dickrell
The problem of sex trafficking can seem daunting: There are an estimated 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking globally.
In the U.S., experts estimate the number of victims in the hundreds of thousands. Those victims are being moved across nearly 4.1 million miles of American roads.
How can law enforcement keep up?
With a little help from the nation's 3.5 million truck drivers.
That's the thinking behind Truckers Against Trafficking, said Lyn Thompson, founder and communications specialist for the nonprofit organization.
Truck drivers log more than more than 279 billion miles each year. They see a lot.
"They're the eyes and ears of American highways," Thompson said. "If we train them and educate them, they can really have a critical role in this."
Across the country, truck drivers are being asked to say something if they see something. In Minnesota, the effort can trace its origins to St. Cloud and Brenny Transportation Inc.
Owner Joyce Brenny was chair of the Minnesota Trucking Association in 2012 when Kendis Paris, executive director of Truckers Against Trafficking, approached the MTA board.
"She was kind of happy we finally have a woman in a leadership role," Brenny said. "Being women in trucking — and there's not a lot of women in trucking — that we had the opportunity to talk about something that not too many men maybe think is important."
Paris asked the association to support Truckers Against Trafficking and to spread the word to its members.
"Just having been in the trucking industry for at that point, probably 30 years, ... I just knew there was an issue with this. I've seen it first-hand..." Brenny said.
The association's board said yes.
"We were one of the first state organizations to become involved," Brenny said. Her company followed.
"Brenny was the first corporate company ... to become involved with Truckers Against Trafficking across the U.S.," she said. Truckers Against Trafficking was already supported by vendors and non-corporate drivers, but getting bigger trucking companies on board was key.
As a company, Brenny Transportation works to stop and prevent trafficking in its own communities.
"I always knew it was going on in the truck stops across our country. But now to see it happening so much in St. Cloud, in the Central Minnesota area, is really, really disturbing," Brenny said. "So whatever we can do to help, that's where we're at."
Now, Truckers Against Trafficking has support from national organizations including the American Trucking Associations, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the Truckload Carriers Association, numerous state trucking associations, and large companies including Ryder, Werner, J.B. Hunt, TA/Petro, Bridgestone, and more. Truck driving schools are getting involved, too.
Truckers Against Trafficking is also working with truck stops, travel plazas and the law enforcement agencies that investigate trafficking cases on their lots.
It has also helped develop a model for state transportation departments to get the word out among the state's drivers. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have adopted at least part of the model. In July 2016, Truckers Against Trafficking training became a requirement for new commercial drivers in Ohio, one Thompson hopes more states will adopt.
See something, say something
The idea is relatively simple: If you see something, say something. Truckers are trained in signs of sex trafficking and asked to call a national hotline if they suspect trafficking is going on.
"We're in a unique situation because of where we travel and how often we travel through the same place," John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, said. "We notice things that seem not right, patterns that might be suspicious and have established relationships to know what's going on. ... We often travel the same routes, deliver to the same customers. We get to know other drivers and establish relationships. We know shippers and receivers. There is an active community out there that looks out ... for each other."
The National Human Trafficking Hotline started in 2007. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar championed a 2015 law that connected the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline with federal, state and local service providers and law enforcement centers, making it a permanent source of help.
Between December 2007, when the hotline began, and December 2016, truckers made nearly 1,590 calls, reporting 503 potential cases of human trafficking. Staff of the National Human Trafficking Hotline identified nearly 1,100 potential victims, almost 300 of them juveniles.
However, before 2009, when Truckers Against Trafficking began, the hotline reports they had received only three calls from truckers.
Truckers learn that if they get a knock on their cab door from someone offering sex, they should think of that person as a victim first. In the past, truckers may have brushed off these people thinking they were trying to make money for themselves, not someone else who had control of their lives.
Other signs they are asked to look for:
The person has no knowledge of the community they're in or their whereabouts.
Tattoos with a brand or a trafficker's name on their neck.
Talking about a quota.
Acknowledging someone's controlling them.
Training teaches truckers to ask:
Do you know where you are?
Do you get to keep this money?
Do your parents or relatives know where you are?
When is the last time you saw friends or relatives?
Are you being abused?
In the 2015 annual report from Truckers Against Trafficking, staff detailed the story of Florida-based driver Kevin Kimmel, who spotted a battered RV with blacked-out windows at a Virginia truck stop. He saw a man knock on the door and soon the whole vehicle started rocking. A few minutes later, he saw what he thought was a girl's face in the vehicle's window. He called law enforcement.
Police found a scared and malnourished 20-year-old woman who had been kidnapped a few weeks earlier in Iowa. She had been abused and was prostituted. The couple that was holding her is serving prison sentences of more than 40 years.
"She was rescued because of his call," Thompson said.
The nonprofit also offers truckers window decals that have a helpline number for victims of trafficking. Thompson said she's had drivers report girls writing down the number.
The number one thing to do: Act right away. Truckers and other travelers don't have to be the experts, deciding whether something is or isn't trafficking. That's up to law enforcement.
"Make the call. Your inactivity can take that potential victim and that trafficker many states away by the time you call. Then it's too late," Thompson said.
"The hotline people will tell you ... we'd rather have you make the call than miss one," Thompson said.
Other advice: Take down the details, including the license plate, car make, model and color, how many people you're seeing and other details. Give the best possible information on where you are.
Trainers don't want observers to attempt a rescue themselves, Thompson said. Alerting law enforcement enforcement is safer and can lead to trafficking networks beyond one victim.
"Traffickers can be very ddangerous. They can hurt the child if they think the child had any part in the rescue attempt. We ask that people leave that to law enforcement," Thompson said.
"The people's first instinct, the drivers, they just want to take these girls and boys and help and just get them the heck out of there," said Brenny Transportation Safety Manager Sarah Wischnefski said.
For the most part, people have been receptive to the training.
"Truckers and truck-stop employees have been seeing things. They just didn't know what they were seeing," Thompson said. "The same thing could be said of law enforcement."
The education may stop drivers from buying sex, too, by dispelling myths about the women and children being prostituted.
Trucking associations have a role to play, too. The Minnesota Trucking Association uses its monthly print publication to disseminate information, said John Hausladen, president. Hausladen hopes to see widespread training. Because of the transient nature of traffickers and the limits of state laws, everyone has to be involved for it to be effective, Hausladen said.
"That's why it's important for every trucking association to train drivers," Hausladen said.
At the moment, the association is researching policies or rule changes that would require training or other actions. They're still in preliminary conversations with the Minnesota State Patrol and the Department of Transportation and getting the message out, Hausladen said.
Why do it?
"Because it's the right thing to do," Hausladen said. "To have anybody involved in human trafficking — this is not a choice they want to make. This is not something they want to do. ... It is evil and wrong. To help people break free from that is very important."
Initially, it took some convincing to get the Minnesota Trucking Association on board, Brenny said.
"There was just a little bit of push-back, because, more so the fear of the bad people," she said. But there isn't evidence of retaliation, "and once I told a few of the stories of some of the things I witnessed and the passion behind it, they were on board fairly fast."
St. Cloud connections
In St. Cloud, Brenny Transportation is training all of its staff and drivers. Brenny estimates her drivers make an average of two to three calls to the hotline a month.
Truckers were surprised about the age of victims, Wischnefski said.
"It's probably the point that drivers bring up the most,' Brenny said. "(One driver) literally had tears in his eyes. 'That little girl looked younger than my granddaughter who is 13.'"
"Our drivers are husbands, grandfathers, dads," Brenny said. ?"We don't get too many shady characters when you have a woman that owns a trucking company."
The company has a handful of women drivers. In training, staff does discuss the issue of truckers buying sex, behavior that the company doesn't tolerate.
Law enforcement will work to help as many victims as possible. They may follow traffickers as they travel to truck stops and rest areas, trying to learn more about the network.
"That was kind of the eye-opener to me. You just want to take them and just protect them and bring them to law enforcement, but that's not helping the bigger picture," Wischnefski said.
Having women in leadership positions in the trucking industry is important.
"Without getting into too much detail, Sarah and I both have been victims of sexual abuse," Brenny said. "So we have a passion to help others. Everything happens for a reason and I don't think you .. truly have the passion to help others unless you've experienced some form of the bad stuff. Rising above it is what is healing. Helping others is what's healing."
Brenny said a July 2016 St. Cloud Times series about sex trafficking in Central Minnesota has bolstered their efforts to combat it.
"We shared that information with our team members, our drivers. It made them feel really empowered, too," she said.
Brenny said she was shocked to see the number of men charged with buying sex in Central Minnesota, a list published with the series.
"It was very sad to see that some of those individuals were people we do business with, people that should be an example of leadership in our community," Brenny said.
Brenny said reports of increased trafficking activity locally have turned some of their efforts inward. She wants her team to brainstorm more ways to help.
"So now that this awareness is coming forth, it's obvious that we can and should do more," Brenny said.
Thompson said there is potential in other industries to train employees to watch for trafficking in businesses such as hotels, restaurants and car and taxi services.
"Each one of those needs someone working in that industry to give specific training and tips, to walk through them, prepare materials, help with the training all the way through," Thompson said. "We're so busy with trucking."
Airlines have been training flight crews to recognize sex trafficking for several years. Thompson suggests training airport vendors and maintenance people as well workers in the shipping and rail industries.
Here in Central Minnesota, Brenny sees the training as an investment in safety.
"You can go to the Clearwater truck stop, you can go to the rest area there. You can go to Albany rest area. You can hear it on the (radio)," Brenny said. "You get someone to sit in a truck and put the CB on channel 19, you're going to start hearing stuff going on. It's just scary that it's that close to us. And who are these poor individuals?"
How to help
To report suspected trafficking, call 1-888-3737-888.
Truckers Against Trafficking accepts private donations and sponsorship fro the trucking industry. Grants can be difficult to get because the nonprofit is working within industry.
To donate, visit www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org or make checks payable to: Truckers Against Trafficking, P.O. Box 816, Englewood, CO 80151.
Victims of trafficking can find help at National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1-888-373-7888 or National Sexual Assault Hotline, 1-800-656-HOPE.
Locally, contact the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center:
24/7 crisis line: 320-251-4357
Text line: 320-297-4357
15 Riverside Drive NE
Open 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday
If someone is in danger, call 911. If you are worried someone is involved in trafficking, advocates suggest sharing these resources with the person, or reaching out to the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center for information/guidance.
Shame often keeps sexual assault survivors quiet
Abuse leaves ‘a very big hole in my spirit'
by Colleen Uechi
The abuse started when Kema Jamal was just 4 years old. She'd visit her father and his new wife in Colorado, and as soon as the adults were out of the house, her stepmother's teenage brother would molest Jamal. He told her never to tell anyone, or he'd kill Jamal's mother back home in Wyoming.
“As a young kid, you can't protect yourself,” Jamal said. “Even though you feel like it's wrong, you can't verbalize it's wrong because of the fear that's put in you. I truly believe growing up that there was already a big hole in my spirit.”
Jamal has spent her life escaping sexual assault and abuse. But she won't call herself a victim or let her history hold her back. And as Sexual Assault Awareness Month draws to a close, Jamal is trying something that for years she was too ashamed to do: talking about her past.
Dani Riggs is the clinical director of Child and Family Services, which runs the Maui Sexual Assault Center. He said it's hard for survivors to speak out because many of their experiences don't fit the oft-reported story of a young woman getting attacked on her way home from a bar.
“While those kinds of stranger danger assaults happen, they are by far the minority of sexual assaults,” Riggs said. “Most sexual assaults occur in the home. Oftentimes it's the victim's own home, and usually the victim knows the perpetrator. That can make it difficult to talk about if it's your uncle, your coach or somebody from church.”
In the United States, 7 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.
Knowing her attacker kept Jamal in silence for years. Jamal grew up in Casper, Wyo. Her parents separated when she was very young, and her father moved to Colorado and remarried.
During the holidays, Jamal would visit him. That's when her 17-year-old stepuncle began molesting her. As time went on, the attacks grew worse.
“I learned from a very young age what it is to be tainted,” Jamal said. “I didn't trust adults. I held it in because he threatened to kill my mom. The older I got, the more I felt like it was my fault.”
Jamal's mother had signed her up for ballet classes in Casper, and that became Jamal's saving grace. It empowered her.
“My beauty and my strength comes from movement,” she said. “I think it saved me with my self-esteem and my confidence, because one thing I knew about me above anything else was that when the music came on and the choreography started, I could do it.”
Her mother gave everything so Jamal could dance: enduring old pairs of shoes so Jamal could have new ones, offering to clean the studio when she got sick and couldn't afford Jamal's classes.
“She believed in every dream I possibly had,” Jamal said.
The only thing Jamal never told her mother was that she'd been molested.
Jamal tried to avoid visiting Colorado. When she was 7 or 8, she convinced her mom to let her visit her grandmother in Los Angeles instead. California was a safe haven.
Jamal poured her heart and soul into the arts. After graduating from San Diego State University with a degree in dance, she moved to New York at age 26 to perform with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Company. She and musician James Blood Ulmer created “Dialogue, Dance and Music,” a unique blend that allowed Jamal to bring her story and messages to the stage. But parts of her past remained unresolved.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Fast forward to age 32. Jamal's mother died, and she was left “in search of something other than truly what I needed.” She turned to alcohol, unable to ask for help.
Jamal got married shortly after, and the abuse started immediately. During her first pregnancy, her husband beat her until she lost the baby at his aunt's house in Florida.
“Every pregnancy he beat me,” Jamal said. “I was seven months pregnant with my third pregnancy, our son, and was holding our daughter in my arms, and he took the back of his gun and hit me in the head.”
His constant abuse left her with permanent trauma to the left side of her face.
“He would tell me I made him do it and would tell me because I drink too much. That's why he beats me,” she said.
“I see how people can go, ‘How'd you let that happen? Why didn't you just leave? It starts young. The thinking, the behaviors, everything starts young. The psychological processing of what you'll allow in your life.”
Jamal finally fled to Maui, where her son was born in 2009.
She faced another manipulative relationship before she decided she could take no more. Someone who was supposed to help Jamal took advantage of her instead, using a position of power to get sexual favors. For 4¢ years, she was told to keep silent.
“How do you get out? Nobody came down and said, ‘Here's a life jacket.' I had to truly advocate for what happened to me . . . and say, ‘No more.' I was so tired of making the same choices over and over again that got me the same results.”
Women Helping Women threw her a life jacket, Jamal said. She took classes for survivors that helped her come to terms with her past. Despite winning sole custody of her children after her divorce in 2013, Jamal later lost parental rights in a move she believes did not go through the proper legal channels. Her children now live in Texas with her ex-husband.
“I haven't seen them in three years, and I'm working on that,” she said. “And I refuse to allow my past to dictate how that will roll out. . . . I don't wish for my kids to not understand our family history, because it can't be erased. But it doesn't have to be a devastating horror film. It can be one of triumph.”
She's determined that the abuse will not pass on to the next generation. She wants to raise her son to treat women equally and with compassion, to learn that relationships have “boundaries, respect and integrity.” She wants to teach her daughter “that she doesn't have to hold secrets,” and that her worth comes not from physical beauty but from “being a decent and honest young girl.”
On Maui, she's branched into art therapy, molding honest pieces that reveal her backstory. She runs a dance class called “Kematherapy” at the Malama Family Recovery Center, and now sponsors two women who've dealt with similar issues. She's been sober for two years, though she makes it clear she's “a woman in recovery” from alcohol abuse and her past life.
Her biggest hope for survivors is that they realize “you can get help, and you can heal.”
RAISING A VOICE
Dr. Lisa Ponichtera is the clinical director of the Malama Family Recovery Center, an addiction and substance abuse treatment center for women and children on Maui. She's helped Jamal and many other survivors of sexual assault. Those with jail or drug history struggle with speaking out because they know they'll be questioned “and all the negative in their life brought up,” Ponichtera said.
“The people I work with are already at such a low place in their lives that they don't feel they can stand up for themselves,” she said. “Many have been abused from when they were little, and their parents didn't believe them.”
And as the cycle of abuse and disbelief continues, they stop asking for help and often turn to drugs or alcohol. Then, when the abuse comes to light, people will say, “You're an addict, and you asked for it,” Ponichtera said. “That's not the case. Unfortunately, that's a lot of times what they get.”
Experts like Ponichtera help survivors find healing by expanding their circle of trust. The more people they have listening and telling them what they experienced is “not OK,” the more they'll be empowered to say no to the abuse.
“Healing happens at a community level,” Ponichtera said. “We need to understand that it's not OK. We need to listen. We need to take care. And just because someone is an adult woman, (we shouldn't) shun her and say, ‘You're a bad person.' It affects the woman's psyche on a deep level, and it makes it so she can't become her fullest and become her best.”
Unfortunately, sexual assault is “universal,” Riggs said. It can happen to children, adult women and men, heterosexual and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and people who are questioning their sexuality. The transgender community is especially at risk.
The best thing that family and friends of survivors can do “is start by believing,” Riggs said.
“Let the person know that you're there for them, that you believe them, that you want to help them and that you want to do whatever you can to see that they get help,” Riggs said. “And then refer them to us. . . . That's the biggest message anyone can give a victim. And if it happens to be a child victim, do those same things and report it.”
Here are a few Maui social services agencies that specialize in helping survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence:
Child & Family Service — Maui Sexual Assault Center
Location: 392 N. Market Street, Wailuku; or at 20A Ala Malama St., Kaunakakai
Phone: 877-6888 for Maui office, 553-5529 for Molokai
Hotlines for Maui: 873-8624, Molokai: 495-3340, Lanai: 1 (866) 443-5702
Friends of the Children's Justice Center of Maui
Location: 1773 Wili Pa Loop Unit A, Wailuku
Malama Family Recovery Center
Location: 200 Ike Drive, Makawao
Phone: 877-7117 • Hotline: 1 (800) 753-6879
Parents & Children Together
Location: Family Peace Center (for domestic violence)
270 Hookahi St., Suite 201, Wailuku
Phone: 243-7001 or 244-2330
Women Helping Women
Location: 1935 Main St., Suite 202, Wailuku
Phone: 242-6600 • Hotline: 579-9581
For more resources, visit the state's anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault website at hawaiisaysnomore.org.
Local Law Enforcement Share Ways to Spot Child Abuse
by Senait Gebregiorgis
CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCCU) — The death of a one-year-old in a southwest suburb of Chicago has been raising questions and concerns. Semaj Crosby's body was found in her Joliet home just one day after she was reported missing.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services said they are currently investigating the mother of Semaj for an allegation of neglect.
DCFS spokesperson, Alissa Calderon, said in a statement:
“We have had prior contact with this family including four unfounded investigations for neglect and two prior pending investigations for neglect opened in March 2017, DCFS had been at the home on April 25 at approximately 3:20 p.m. and had seen all three of the mother's children including Semaj.”
While that investigation is ongoing and the death is being treated as suspicious, local law enforcement are sharing tips for what to watch out for if anyone is concerned about a child's safety. One of the most important things to look at is the child's living conditions.
“If they haven't seen the child out or the children out that's a sign that maybe there's something else going on,” Lieutenant of patrol division at Champaign County Sheriff's Office, Brian Mennenga, said. “If they're school aged children and they're not going to school when school's supposed to be in session maybe there's some type of abuse going on there.”
The Champaign County Sheriff's Office works with local agencies to ensure every child's safety.
“The sheriff's office and the law enforcement community here in Champaign-Urbana work very close with DCFS to investigate child abuse or neglect cases,” Mennenga said. “Along with the state's attorney office -- if there's certain situations -- we'll get them involved.”
The Crisis Nursey in Urbana is a local resource anyone can take advantage of.
“Our main goal is to work with families before a child is in a situation where they can be abused or neglected so we want to be on the prevention side of things,” executive director of the nursery, Stephanie Record said. “If a family is really feeling stressed or overwhelmed we want them to call us before they get to a point where a child might be harmed.”
DCFS said if anyone suspects abuse happening in a household, call them at the 1-800-252-2873.
It takes a Madison County network to prevent child abuse, neglect
by Brittany Johnson
Combating a complex issue is never an easy battle, but a number of organizations have made it their mission to win the fight.
Organizations across the state not only help families who fall victim to abuse and neglect, but those agencies work to address a number of issues contributing to the issue, providing a refuge for the community.
With years of experience under his belt, Madison County Sheriff John D. Lakin weighed in on the trying situations children face.
Previously, Lakin was deputy sheriff at the Madison County Sheriff's Office from 1989 to 2011 before working in Glen Carbon as police chief until 2014. Lakin took office as the county's sheriff in December 2014 and currently supervises investigations.
For Lakin and his department much of their prevention efforts comes from conducting interviews with children affected by abuse, neglect or sexual assault.
In order to safeguard children, the interviewing process is lengthy and calls for support at times.
“We have a great working relationship with the (Madison County) Child Advocacy Center,” Lakin said. “We have an excellent, if not best, agency in Illinois. They are good at opening up that line of communication between the child and specialists.”
Lakin said specialists must gain a sense of trust especially with children. That trust allows children to open up about situations that they have experienced.
“I've went into these homes and have seen some deplorable living conditions, where children aren't old enough to care for themselves,” Lakin said. “We look out for the people who can't take care of themselves, whether that's the elderly, handicapped or children.”
The time spent in and out of various positions brought Lakin closer to the fact that child abuse and neglect occurs.
“In reality we know this is happening.,” he said. “A big part of it all is prevention and it is our number one goal. One of the other issues is the reports on child abuse, people are afraid to report. We encourage people not to be afraid to get involved… Please pick up the phone and call.”
Lakin said educating people is part of prevention, which is noticing signs of abuse and neglect and then acting on those observations.
“Unfortunately, we are experiencing that drug epidemic in Madison County, but it is taking place in other counties, too,” he noted. “When there is heroin or other illegal drugs in the home, children may not be experiencing abuse, but there is some sort of neglect there. The heroin addiction will overcome their ability to care for a child.”
The rise in substance abuse has lead to near-death experiences. On a positive note, these deaths are not all that common in the county.
Madison County Coroner Steve Nonn said when it comes to adolescent death, most cases are not coming out of the foster care system, but out of the home, from neglect or accidental circumstances. As a coroner, Nonn stressed that deaths from abuse are not common at all in the county. Nonn also is the chairman of the Southern Illinois Child Death Investigation Task Force. The task force is a tool used to assist police investigations and also smaller police departments.
“Sometimes organizations don't have the manpower to investigate severe child abuse or, in some cases, child deaths,” Nonn said.
Nonn has served as chairman for about two years and on the Southern Illinois Child Death Investigation Task Force's board for about six years.
Wood River-based Riverbend Family Ministries houses a restorative program called Refuge, along with the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program. CASA educates volunteers who care about abused children throughout legal and social service systems or children who get overshadowed in neglectful foster care homes. CASA is made up of citizens, appointed as advocates by judges, volunteer their time, keeping the program alive, similar to the county's Restore Network.
Emmanuel Free Methodist Church organizes the Restore Network program, recruiting Christian families to ensure that children removed from detrimental environments have a safe foster home. The program's goal is to nurture children while their guardians receive the restorative help they need to adequately care for the kids.
Katie Myette, executive director of Restore Network, said the program was born out of the church seeing a need and being called to get involved.
The network focuses on reconciliation through ministering. The network's goal is recruiting foster care and adoptive families and helping them through difficulties.l. Reconciliation of the family is the aim in direct opposition of the statistics Madison County faces.
“Foster care is reconciliation,” Myette said. “We minister to both families and children in these vulnerable situations. We wrap support around the birth family so the children can return to their homes. If that doesn't work out, we recruit adoptive families to these children for a lifetime, not just a season. Adoption is different than foster care.”
Last year, efforts led to servicing 96 youth, 66 foster care families and 171 support volunteers, she said.
Work began in 2009 toward recruiting foster families, adoptive families and supportive team members to meet vulnerable families' needs.
In 2014, the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) reached out to the church's project, developing a relationship with one another to beef up the needed recruiting efforts in Madison County, and then the Restore Network officially began.
The network successfully operates through a support team to aide families through the rigors of fostering and adopting children. Education through workshops, spending time with the families at their homes, hosting parties, providing clothes and food and other resources are some of the Restore Network's supportive methods.
Restore Network has grown from a once-small church ministry to a community of partner churches, acting as a network to care for vulnerable kids. The churches choose to be actively involved by giving financially, recruiting families and overall supporting the need.
Adopting a new name more than a year ago, Centerstone in Alton is a part of a nationwide nonprofit, providing care to a wide spectrum of people in need.
Centerstone is in Alton to deliver care that changes people's lives, said Clinical Manager Stephanie Terry. Previously known as Wellspring, Centerstone plays the role of educating and preventing child abuse and neglect in the community.
One of Centerstone's main ways to do this is working with the Child Advocacy Center, where if a youth goes through their agency, Centerstone can follow-up with counseling and services as needed.
Terry said the organization provides a multitude of services such as mental health care, psychiatric, crisis intervention and a range of substance abuse services. The services, a lot of times, are administered after the trauma has occurred, she said.
Centerstone also provides school-based services, in which instructors or family can request help for a student.
The 550 staff members serving at different locations in Illinois aide in promoting awareness and help operate a “one-stop shop.” Centerstone houses a doctors' office, laboratory services, pharmacy and an open-door program for people without medical insurance coverage.
“We try to provide all the resources you would need to help people be successful and function,” Terry said.
Centerstone locations across Illinois have reportedly served 14,000 people in need.
Roxana School District Director of Special Education Services Laura Ballard said the district provides universal curriculum to all our students as part of Illinois code.
“Safety is a basic need that must be met before learning and development can occur,” said Ballard.
The Madison County Child Advocacy Center (CAC) specifically works with sexually abused youth. Its mission is to provide a professional environment, assist in the investigation of allegations of child abuse, raise awareness and provide helpful resources.
The center utilizes a team model in which members focus on limiting conducted-child interviews and generating results in regards to allegations and getting a better handle on cases.
CAC Executive Director Carrie Cohan said the model helps ensure a coordinated, comprehensive and well-planned process.
Awareness is a major part of CAC's efforts, described Cohan, whereas prevention is harder to accomplish at the center due to lack of funding.
“It's an amazing community and it is a complex issue and it takes a lot of angles to raise awareness,” said Cohan, about the many organizations involved.
Prevent Child Abuse Illinois is a Springfield-based chapter of the nationwide organization where primary prevention is a focus where education is taught to anyone interested.
Director of Prevention Awareness and Education Denise McCaffrey has worked to generate awareness throughout her 16 years of work within the agency.
“All children deserve great childhoods. We provide people with what they need to succeed,” McCaffrey said.
As far as prevention goes, McCaffrey said it is hard to prove a specific issue has been affected, but believes reported cases of abuse in Madison County may go up due to effective education.
McCaffrey said the agency conducts general campaigns such as never shaking a baby and substance abuse affecting families and has training on such. One particularly noted was “The Happiest Baby on the Block” training where parents are taught techniques on calming their babies properly, in an effort to prevent shaken baby syndrome and other abusive instances.
“We are a small organization, but we work hard to support children, they are our future,” McCaffrey said. “All involved in health and safety of our community are doing a good job in this area. I think more kids are being identified and that is a good thing.”
Thousands of children sexually assaulted at school, AP finds
by the Associated Press
BRUNSWICK, Maine -- Chaz Wing was 12 when they cornered him in the school bathroom. The students who tormented him were children, too, entering the age of pimples and cracking voices.
Eventually, he swore under oath, the boys raped him and left him bleeding, the culmination of a year of harassment. Though Chaz repeatedly told teachers and administrators about the insults and physical attacks, he didn't report being sexually assaulted until a year later, launching a long legal fight over whether his school had done enough to protect him.
Chaz's saga is more than a tale of escalating bullying. Across the U.S., thousands of students have been sexually assaulted, by other students, in high schools, junior highs and even elementary schools -- a hidden horror educators have long been warned not to ignore.
Relying on state education records, supplemented by federal crime data, a yearlong investigation by The Associated Press uncovered roughly 17,000 official reports of sex assaults by students over a four-year period, from fall 2011 to spring 2015.
That figure represents the most complete tally yet of sexual assault among the nation's 50 million students in grades K-12. But it also does not fully capture the problem: Such attacks are greatly under-reported, some states don't track them and those that do vary widely in how they classify and catalog sexual violence.
And with school reputations and funding at stake, there is tremendous pressure to hide such violence. Even under varying state laws, acknowledging an incident can trigger liabilities and requirements to act.
"No principal wants their school to be the rape school," said Dr. Bill Howe, a former teacher who spent 17 years overseeing Connecticut's compliance with a federal law that helps protect student victims of at-school sexual assault. "It's the courageous principal that does the right thing."
The attacks AP tracked ranged from rape and sodomy to forced oral sex and fondling. Assaults occurred anywhere students were left unsupervised: buses and bathrooms, hallways and locker rooms. No type of school was immune, whether it be in a wealthy suburb, inner city or farm town. And all types of children were targeted.
Children remained most vulnerable to peer-on-peer sexual assault in the privacy of a home, AP's analysis of the federal crime data showed. But schools were the No. 2 place where they were sexually violated by other children.
About 5 percent of reported attacks involved 5 and 6 year olds. Incidents jumped between ages 10 and 11 -- typically the start of middle school -- and continued rising until age 14, when they began dropping as students progressed through high school.
Unwanted fondling was the most common form of assault, and about one in five of the abused kids were penetrated in some way.
The data also showed sexual assaults by peers were more common than those by teachers, which receive far more attention. For every adult-on-child sexual attack reported at school, there were seven by students.
"Schools are required to keep students safe," said Charol Shakeshaft, a Virginia Commonwealth University professor who specializes in school sexual misconduct. "It is part of their mission. It is part of their legal responsibility. It isn't happening. Why don't we know more about it, and why isn't it being stopped?"
Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia tracked student sexual assaults, AP found, though some only when incidents led to student discipline. Some of the nation's largest school districts claimed zero sexual assaults over several years, even though AP found cases in court records or local media reports.
States varied widely in whether they required any training to stop or address student-on-student sexual assault; only 18 told AP they did.
"Everyone feels like we don't have a problem, and the reason they feel that way is they have their heads in the sand," said Oregon psychologist Wilson Kenney, who has developed student intervention programs.
The AP found that schools often mischaracterized sexual attacks as bullying, hazing or consensual behavior, and broadly interpreted privacy laws to withhold basic information from their communities.
In multiple cases, districts bungled investigations, failed to supervise students they knew were trouble, or neglected to inform parents or authorities of an assault.
Prosecutors can be reluctant to charge juveniles, and families face high legal thresholds to successfully sue school districts for not maintaining safe learning environments.
In Maine, Chaz Wing and his family battled the Brunswick school district for four years -- first before the state's human rights commission and then in federal court.
From almost his first day of sixth grade in 2010, kids harassed Chaz about his weight and labeled him as "gay," according to deposition testimony and other government and school records AP reviewed. Complaining to teachers and administrators at Brunswick Junior High School did not stop the abuse, he said.
The bullying escalated to three bathroom rapes during seventh grade, according to sworn testimony by Chaz and statements he made to police, doctors, a child-abuse specialist and a state investigator. Fearing the bullies' threats, he said, he kept quiet about the sexual violence, sliding into depression and refusing to go to school.
Finally, in October 2012, after his mom found him curled up in her bed, he confided through his tears, "They hurt me."
Sexual abuse allegations can be difficult to investigate. Because many accusers initially keep quiet, physical evidence can be lost. Often, there are no eyewitnesses, leaving only the conflicting accounts of the accuser and the accused.
Brunswick school administrators said they had promptly looked into Chaz's bullying complaints -- and that they immediately investigated his sex assault allegations once his mother contacted them.
The school's principal, who had no experience investigating sexual assaults, testified he found the denials of the accused boys "very credible." He concluded, after speaking with staff and surveying sites of the alleged attacks, that Chaz's claims were "very unlikely."
Police investigated but pursued no charges, despite the child-abuse evaluation that found Chaz's statements "were clear, consistent and provided idiosyncratic and sensory details." The examiner also found "strong evidence" Chaz had been sexually abused.
In 2014, the Maine Human Rights Commission ruled that the district had failed to see "the overall picture" of bullying and allowed "a hostile education environment to persist."
The state commission made no determination on the sexual assault accusations, saying the verbal and physical harassment were "pervasive" enough to grant the Wings a right to sue. Its investigator did note that Chaz's ongoing treatment for depression and a scar he said resulted from the first rape "tend to support his allegations."
After legal wrangling, the sides settled last year: Brunswick would make safety improvements, and Chaz would get $50,000 -- though not the apology he wanted.
Brunswick officials declined AP's interview requests. So did parents of some of the accused students, except to say their sons were innocent.
In an email, district lawyer Melissa Hewey told AP that "there is -- as there should be -- always an inclination to believe allegations of sexual assault at the outset. But sometimes, the evidence compels the conclusion that those allegations are false."
"The little boys who were accused," she said, "are the real victims in this case."
The AP does not usually name alleged victims of sexual assault. But Chaz, who turns 18 in a few weeks, and his parents decided to speak publicly in hopes of helping others.
"I don't want this to happen to other kids," said his mom, Amy Wing.
What to do if your child is sexually assaulted at school
by The Associated Press
What can parents do if they believe their child has been the victim of sexual abuse at school? Here's advice from Adele Kimmel, a senior attorney at the Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization Public Justice who is an expert on school bullying:
-- Discuss with their child what action the child is comfortable taking.
-- Report it to someone in authority, such as the school or district's Title IX coordinator, or a principal, assistant principal or superintendent.
-- Push for a prompt investigation by the school, regardless of whether the abuse has been reported to police. Schools have an obligation to conduct their own investigations. In most cases, students are not required to report such abuse to police.
-- Make sure the school provides accommodations so your child can continue their education in safety. This could include an order that the accused attacker have no contact with your child, as well as a change of class or schedule; counseling and health services, academic tutoring or homeschooling at no expense to you; and greater security. The burden is not on the victim to change classes or transfer schools.
-- Document all conversations with school officials and save all related emails to preserve a written record of what happened, including your efforts to alert school officials and get them to take action.
-- Consider contacting a lawyer if a school refuses to conduct an investigation, won't make accommodations or punishes your child.
Wayne County's child neglect cases still rising
by Jason Truitt
Substantiated cases of child neglect were up almost 50 percent in Wayne County through the first quarter of this year as compared to 2016.
According to the latest data acquired by the Palladium-Item this week from the Indiana Department of Child Services, Wayne County has had a total of 73 substantiated cases through the year's first three months. For the same time period last year, that number was 49.
The number of neglect cases has been on the rise across Indiana for a number of years now. For the entire state, instances of child neglect went up 58 percent from 2013 to 2016. Wayne County nearly tripled that number with an increase of 169 percent over the same time frame (112 cases in 2013 to 301 last year).
Although there's been a sharp rise in the number of substantiated child neglect cases so far this year, the county actually is on pace to come in slightly behind last year's total. That's because the instances of neglect in 2016 didn't take off until April, a month that saw 34 substantiated cases and kicked off a run of five out of seven months in which 30-plus cases were recorded.
"The increased number of children coming into the system is consistent across Indiana and across the country," James Wide, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, told the Palladium-Item for a story published in February.
"There is no one specific factor; however, the increased substance abuse is a key in the number of youth coming into our custody," he said. "Again, this is a trend being seen across the nation, not just Indiana."
Karen Bowen, the director of Wayne-Union County Court Appointed Special Advocates called the growth in case numbers "phenomenal."
"I want to say it's unmanageable, but we have to manage it," she said in February. "It's just huge."
The state's child services division also reports numbers for substantiated cases of sexual and physical abuse. Those numbers for Wayne County have been significantly smaller than the neglect cases. So far this year, there have been five documented cases of sexual abuse and four of physical harm. That compares to two and three, respectively, from 2016.
INNOCENCE FOR SALE: The victims of sex trafficking
by Erinn Callahan and Jessica Kuhn
She wasn't yet old enough to take a driving test, utterly alone in a juvenile detention system that threatened to swallow her whole. Her grandfather had sexually assaulted her after she moved into his house as a child, yanking her entire support system out from beneath her when other family members refused to believe he would do such a thing.
An older girl in detention took her under her wing, and before she realized what was happening, she was lying on a hotel bed surrounded by drugs, guns and older men, watching police officers storm through the door.
When Kerri Taylor met the now 14-year-old at the Brazoria County Juvenile Detention Center in Angleton, the girl still didn't realize just how narrow her escape had been.
“I looked at her and said, ‘I know being in detention isn't fun and you probably resent being arrested, but that's the best thing that could have happened to you, because you were about to disappear forever,'” said Taylor, director of UnBOUND Houston, a nonprofit organization aimed at preventing child sex trafficking.
The older girl had been a “recruiter” for a pimp, working to gain her trust before convincing her to join a ring of other underage girls engaging in commercial sex acts. Lonely and confused, the teenager had mistaken the girl's sales pitch for friendship — probably the most common tactic used by traffickers and their accomplices, Taylor said.
“She was a perfect example of someone who's naive enough and lonely enough and without knowing that strategy, they are completely vulnerable to it,” Taylor said. “She would have been gone.”
Almost 700 human trafficking cases in Texas were reported to the National Human Trafficking hotline last year, according to online data. Of those, two-thirds — 473 — were sex-trafficking cases.
High-risk populations, such as runaway and homeless youth, account for the majority of those victims, said Aaron Arizmendi, a Texas Department of Public Safety special agent and full-time task force officer with the FBI's Houston office.
Girls coming out of Child Protective Services are particularly vulnerable to the lure of sex traffickers, said Delma Garza, an Angleton licensed professional counselor and former Harris County juvenile probation officer.
“They have nowhere to go and they age out, so it's the streets,” Garza said. “If they are in an environment when they are 17 that they don't want to stay in, they don't have to.”
This doesn't mean children from upper socioeconomic levels are immune — quite the opposite, Brazoria County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Varon Snelgrove said.
“I think a big misconception with the general public, especially when talking about the victims, is they look at them like they are hardcore drug users looking to make a dime to buy their next hit, and that is not the case,” Snelgrove said. “A lot of the victims come from influential families. They are not trying to get their next bump of crack.”
For Taylor, nothing underscores the extent of the industry's reach more than one Brazoria County woman whose dreams of an athletic scholarship to a Division 1 university were dashed by sex trafficking.
A high school breakup led to cyberbullying and public humiliation for the woman, Taylor said. Sensing weakness, the sex traffickers moved in. They spent six months grooming her for prostitution until her 18th birthday, Taylor said. By that time, it was too late to save her, she said.
“They can't get her out. She's gone,” Taylor said. “She was this beautiful girl with everything and she became prey for that one period of time where she was real vulnerable.”
It's a common technique for traffickers, Taylor said — targeting girls on the cusp of adulthood and preparing them for the commercial sex acts that will begin after they are no longer protected by child sex trafficking laws.
“They'll be patient enough to groom them while they're minors, but they will wait until they're 18 to actually move them into the sexually oriented work,” Taylor said. “By then, they're so bonded with the trafficker that they won't testify.”
Sex trafficking will send its victims down a rabbit hole of depression, drugs and a general sense of hopelessness, Garza said.
Those factors, combined with a lack of steady income and diminishing self-worth, often tether the girls to the only lifestyle they've known, she said.
“They are not going to be making much money, so they are going to have to live where they live,” Garza said. “Their self-esteem and self-worth go down. They stay where they are because they feel trapped, like there is nowhere else for them to go.”
Many victims also suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the mental and emotional toll, Garza said, which is even more disruptive to their everyday lives.
“It definitely is a very traumatic event,” she said.
The higher likelihood of pregnancy also can perpetuate the cycle that initially led the victims to sex trafficking, Garza said.
“You have to hope they are going to use condoms, but who is to say?” she said.
Some of the more fortunate girls find someone willing to lead them to a different path, Garza said, but too many of them end up brutally raped or murdered.
“If they are lucky, they might have someone that points them in the right direction and gets them into counseling, but how many of these girls are lucky enough to find a mentor?” she said. “There is so much tragedy that can come along with it, and these girls are just wanting to be loved.”
THE OTHER SIDE
Legal repercussions aren't limited to pimps and trafficking victims, a fact Taylor said is sometimes lost on younger men in the middle of the “pyramid.”
“You think you're not really part of the problem if you just drive a girl to an appointment,” Taylor said. “They may think they're not participating in trafficking, but they are.”
Recruiting, transporting, harboring and benefiting financially all fall under sex trafficking according to the U.S. Code, said Special Agent Richard Rennison with the FBI's Houston office.
“If you're the main pimp and you're running 15 girls, or if you are the pimp's flunky that gets a bag of weed for driving these girls, you are charged exactly the same as the main pimp,” Rennison said. “At sentencing they look at your role in the organization, but that activity makes you culpable.”
Those convicted of sex trafficking are facing a minimum of 10 years in a federal prison with the potential for a life sentence — and there are no early releases from the federal penitentiary, Brazoria County Sheriff's Investigator Francine Vargas said
“The thing about a federal charge is, it's a day-for-day sentence,” Vargas said. “There's no chance of parole.”
However, most men Rennison has encountered have been willing participants in sex trafficking cases, he said.
“The pimp is the cool kid on the block, so they jockey for a position to help out,” Rennison said. “They want to be next to the guy with all the dope, all the money, all the girls.”
Even so, Angleton ISD Superintendent Pat Montgomery is hopeful a community effort can keep her students — boys and girls — from taking the first step toward a life of sex trafficking.
“Some of our boys are getting dragged in with the best of intentions,” Montgomery said. “There are so many things that teenagers do because they're teenagers. Even good kids make really horrendous decisions and we want to make sure the decisions they make don't destroy their lives.”