Nicaragua's Sexual Abuse Epidemic Devastates Young Girls
by Carlos Salinas Maldonado
At sixteen, Agne Patricia Alvarez is the full-time mother of two boys: Yuleymi Marcela, 4 months old, and Edier Antonio, almost 3. When Agne was twelve, she was the victim of sexual abuse from her teacher Manuel Ortiz Hernandez, at the time the principal of the school where she was studying sixth grade. Edier was born as a result of this abuse. Agne Patricia's childhood world was torn apart.
Pull is a small community in the municipality of Altagracia on the island of Ometepe. It can be reached along a rocky path, surrounded on all sides by the island's extensive plantain orchards, an important source of income here. Agne lives in this community with her children, her mother and other siblings. The house is typical of poor communities in Nicaragua: constructed of cracked wooden boards and painted a turquoise color now somewhat faded by the passage of time, the humidity and the dust.
The house stands in the middle of a large yard, with a corral in the back full of chickens with feathers so white they shine in the sun. Raising these birds is the chief sustenance of this family. There are no luxuries here, none of the small pleasures considered normal in the city. Life follows a routine centered on keeping the house clean, raising the chickens, cooking beans over a pot and laboring in the plantain orchard. For a time, Agne had broken away from this routine with her schoolwork, sports, and the possibility of further study and a different life. This broader horizon was ripped away from her by her own teacher.
Manuel Ortiz Hernandez showed up one day in Agne's classroom in the locality's public school called San Juan Bautista . He announced that he wanted to form a soccer team with the students. Agne liked soccer and she signed up, together with some other female classmates. It was during the practices that Ortiz – chief authority in the school and a man who was well-respected in Altagracia Pull – began to pay special attention to Agne.
“He told me that I was pretty, asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend, told me that he was going to take me to visit many different places,” relates Agne, sitting in an old plastic chair in the small living room of their house, with her back to the dirty turquoise wooden wall where photos of the family's children are hanging.
Agne initially refused the attentions of her teacher, but he increased his insistence. The girl didn't complain to anyone and no one suspected his intentions. “He told me that we should have sexual relations, but I said no. He told me that he was going to show me something unforgettable that I should know, that he wanted to be the one to introduce me to that,” she recalls.
The young mother shows signs of nervousness as she tells her story. It's hard for her to talk about what happened. At one moment during the interview, she breaks into tears. However, she has agreed to tell her story because she doesn't want other young girls to suffer a similar kind of sexual abuse. Her teacher abused her a number of times, submerging her into a nightmare in which the girl sank ever deeper without being able to talk about it, until she became pregnant.
When she told Ortiz that she was expecting his child, he threatened to fail her in class. He demanded that she not say anything. And he even said that the pregnancy wasn't his fault. “He told me to say that it wasn't his, to find some boy and get him involved. He didn't want to take on the responsibility,” Agne explains.
She continued suffering her nightmare in silence. Her mother, Adelia Ojeda was unaware of what was happening with her daughter until rumors arrived that led her to confront Ortiz.
“I'd heard some commentaries, but I didn't believe what they said about him,” the woman explains. “The first time I heard the rumors, I went to school to see him. I trusted him, and I said: “Teacher, I want you to tell me the truth, because people are saying some strange things about you. They told me that you're going around trying to cozy up to my little girl,” Adelia recalls.
The teacher denied the accusation. “And I let it go,” Agne's mother recognizes.
We held this conversation with Adelia – affectionately known as “ doña Mari” in Pull – in the kitchen of her house, also constructed of old wooden boards, but in this case unpainted ones. The only furniture is a table that serves to hold the chicken feed. On the stove are large cauldrons blackened by smoke and years of use. Doña Mari still displays indignation because, she says, her hopes were placed on her daughter. She had made a great effort to keep Agne in school, buy her the dresses she needed during the schools' special holiday celebrations.
It was a neighbor who opened her eyes and submerged her in the same nightmare her daughter was suffering.
“She called me over to a quiet place and she said: ‘ Doña Mari , I want to tell you something. You don't know anything about Agne?' ‘No, I don't,' I answered. ‘What I'm going to tell you is difficult.' We sat down on a rock and she said, ‘You know, your daughter is pregnant.' That was very hard news for me,” she assures.
The neighbor accompanied her back home. When Agne saw them coming, she began to cry because she knew that her mother now realized what was happening to her.
Doña Mari supported Agne. With her help, and with economic and legal help from the Ometepe Women's Network, an organization that helps women fight against violence, the girl found the courage to denounce her abuser. Manuel Ortiz went to trial and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, a sentence he's still serving in the Granada penitentiary system.
Agne's dreams were shattered. Her pregnancy kept her from finishing secondary school. Today, at 16, she's a full-time mother, dedicated to caring for Yuleymi Marcela and Edier. She shares her days with her partner, Erling Obregón, age 27, who supports the family by working in the island's plantain fields. Agne assures that out of shame she doesn't want to return to school.
Sexual violence perpetrated against young girls is a daily reality in Nicaragua, to the point of being considered a serious public health problem. A study conducted by the organization IPAS Central America – an organization that supports women in the areas of sexual and reproductive health – has analyzed data from the Ministry of Health to demonstrate that in the last decade, 16,400 girls under 14 have given birth in Nicaragua's public hospitals.
According to the Code of Childhood Rights, all pregnancies in a minor should be considered legal rape, meaning that the State has an obligation to investigate each one of these cases. Nonetheless, feminist organizations affirm that the State forces maternity on these minors, to the detriment of the higher interest of their welfare as the Constitution establishes.
Marta María Blandón is the IPAS director in Nicaragua. She affirms that pregnancy in children has become “normalized” in the country, meaning that it's viewed by society as natural.
“So much so, that there aren't any options for a girl who becomes pregnant as the result of sexual violence. That's what the Police say, that's what the Ministry of the Family says, even her own family,” Blandon explains. “In the study we did, we interviewed fifteen girls. Every single one of the fifteen said that they didn't want to continue the pregnancy. However, no one recommended the interruption of pregnancy for them, no one encouraged them to do so because it puts their life in danger, because it's a torture, because it's impossible for a young girl to take on the physical, emotional and spiritual responsibilities of an adult woman,” she adds.
Blandón recalls what the prohibition of therapeutic abortions has meant for the women and children of Nicaragua. These have been penalized since 2006, when – in the heat of the presidential campaign of then-opposition candidate Daniel Ortega – the National Assembly representatives, including those for the Sandinista Front, voted for this reform to the Criminal Code.
The reform eliminated the possibility for women and children to obtain an abortion for therapeutic reasons, including minors whose pregnancies resulted from rape. The measure generated criticisms and complaints from international organizations such as Human Rights Watch. “The criminalization of abortion in Nicaragua is incompatible with the obligations of the Nicaraguan State under international law, because it threatens the right of women and children to life, health, equality, privacy, physical integrity and freedom of worship and of conscience,” affirmed the organization in an open letter addressed to the Supreme Court on August 29, 2007.
Blandón classifies obligatory pregnancy for girls who suffer sexual abuse as “torture”. “For ten years in this country, there's been no other road for these girls except to give birth. Further, once the girls do have the baby, it's also not seen as a good thing to offer her the option of giving the child up for adoption, because the stigma still exists that the mother who carried the baby has to raise it. That's how they treat a girl of nine,” the expert explains.
Carla Vanessa Calderón, 17, lives in the León neighborhood called “ Tomas Borge ”. The area is a living picture of extreme poverty in Nicaragua. Here there are neither paved streets, nor sewage systems. Dust, hunger and oppressive heat are daily realities, contrasting with the beauty of the colonial city.
Carla lives in a hut made from wooden boards, rusty sheets of tin, cardboard, and anything else that could help cover holes and protect from the rain or sun. The young woman spends her time caring for her children. The oldest, three years old, is called Rosa Isabel. She was born when her mother was fourteen, when she was raped by a family acquaintance, Máximo Rayo García.
This afternoon we find her with her hair in a bun, and wearing a torn and stained grey dress. Her round face, still childlike, displays beautiful dark eye that reflect a certain sadness, abandonment, loneliness. Her left hand has a large scar, and the fingernails are very short, with the skin swollen around the fingertips, sign of someone who bites their nails when nervous. Carla confides that the ghosts of her nightmare experience still visit her from time to time.
Máximo Rayo approached her for the first time one day when Carla was going to the house of her grandmother to help out with some of the domestic chores. “He made friends, he would give me clothes and other things. But I never thought he was going to do that,” the youth tells us, sitting on a wooden platform covered with a ripped curtain that serves as a sofa or bed, with a plastic fan rigged up to one side to alleviate the heat.
The young woman relates that starting with the first time they had relations, Máximo would accompany the sexual abuse with blows. The violence continued, but Carla Vanessa didn't have the courage to denounce him.
“He hit me when he was abusing me, when I didn't want to let him do anything. He punched me, he tied my hand and feet, he told me that he was going to kill me and my mother if I talked,” the young girl recalls.
The sexual abuse and the violence continued for almost a year. Even when the girl got pregnant, Máximo's blows didn't stop. “He hit me so that the baby would come out. He hit me in the stomach,” Carla Vanessa states.
The pregnancy worsened the nightmare as she didn't want to be a mother. “I felt bad, because I wasn't going to be the girl I was anymore. I wasn't going to go out and have fun, like when I would go out with the kids. For those reasons, when I was pregnant I thought that I wanted to get rid of the baby,” she affirms. “When my baby girl was born, I didn't feel affection or love, rather I thought that she had ruined my life. My mother said that I should give her love, that it wasn't the baby's fault that her father was a coward and that I had no reason to take it out on the baby. I said to my mother that I didn't want to see the little girl,” the young woman added.
Carla Vanessa's abuser was put in jail, went to trial and was found guilty with help of the organizations that offer support for victims of violence. He is serving a 15-year sentence in the Chinandega penitentiary system.
For Carla Vanessa, the sentence wasn't enough. “Even his being jailed doesn't take away all the things I feel, the things that sometimes grab me,” she says without hesitation. “But it's still a relief, because I know he's not walking around out there.”
Every year there are more cases of violence, partially because the women and mother have decided to denounce them legally.
Judge Luis Alvarado Palma assures that he hears daily cases of violence against children. He views the situation as concerning, although he also assures that the good news is that the women are ever more disposed to denounce the abuses. Judge Alvarado is exposed day after day to the worst manifestations of violence perpetrated against the most vulnerable. He himself assures that he's afraid to go out on the street, to permit his daughters to leave the house. We interviewed Judge Alvarado in his chambers, a small room full to bursting with documents, just before he was to preside over a hearing for violence – one of more than 800 cases that he officiates over in a year.
What's your appraisal of the violence that girls suffer?
The quantity of cases where this sector of the population has been victims is very worrisome. This is due to the vulnerability that children have. But the most disturbing thing is that these crimes often take place within the family. Every day here we have two or three cases of that. It's tremendous! Every day we have sex offenses.
Do you have sufficient resources to confront this avalanche of cases?
We have a very well trained staff, principally the members of the inter-disciplinary team of the Violence Tribunal. We have a social worker and we have a psychologist. They help to handle these cases. We have the help of the Supreme Court which gives us the means to visit the homes of each one of these persons to carry out a psycho-social investigation. I know that in some places these efforts are limited, but here we have worked well and we have fulfilled our jurisdictional function.
What happens when you run into resistance from the victim's families, when they don't want to accuse those who are sexually abusing minors?
When a father or mother doesn't want to accuse, which has happened to us already, it's important to remember that offenses perpetrated against children and adolescents are crimes of public action. This means that any person can put in the complaint, you don't need a denunciation from the father or mother of the girl in order to get the wheels of justice moving. Sometimes you can't persuade them, because they're already convinced that their partner wasn't the person that did it. There was one case, several years ago, in which a stepfather raped an eight-month-old baby. The mother of that baby was convinced that her partner hadn't been the one to do it, to the point where she quit her job so that she could use the final payout to hire a lawyer for him. She would visit him in his cell. The man was declared guilty, he was sentenced, and she still continued to support him and not her eight-month-old baby.
Now that the media talks more about sexual violence, would you say that abuse cases have increased?
Every year these cases of violence increase, primarily because the woman has decided to make the denunciation. This decision is the result of the awareness campaigns that are being held. They make women open their eyes and know that they have rights, that violence isn't a private matter, but a public one. There's been a greater opening on the part of the justice system as well, in the creation of the special courtrooms. But also, people are more aware of their rights. That's why there are ever more complaints filed of this type of crime.
How do you manage to keep your distance from the tough cases you hear, from the violence against children?
When children give their testimony in the courtroom, it tears you apart to listen. It's inevitable that in that moment you can't separate your judicial function from your personal feelings, although when we're acting as judges we have to function as such and demonstrate impartiality. But when one listens to a child narrate how the sexual violence occurred, it's hard. Even though you might not want to, you take these feelings home at times. And that's a concern, because it diminishes the quality of life we judges have with our family. However, it's inevitable that we carry these feelings home at times.
Does this violence affect you as well?
In my personal case, I don't even go out on the street because I'm afraid, because I think that if I go out on the street with my daughters, something is going to happen to them. This is because of everything that I witness every day here in the courtroom. I don't let my daughters go out alone anymore, because I've seen cases of girls who are going to study in other homes and something happens to them. It's inevitable that these negative sentiments creep into our consciousness when we're judges.
A Sudbury boy's stolen childhood
by Jim Moodie
It wasn't until he had his own child, relatively late in life, that Keith Vincent realized what had been lacking so much in his own youth -- and, indeed, most of his adulthood.
"In 2007 I had a son, who is now 10," says the 59-year-old Sudbury native, presently residing near Windsor. "When he began to be old enough to know who I was, and specifically that I was his dad, he would do things that I would never do. If he was on top of something, on a tree or on a car, he would jump and just automatically know that I would catch him."
Vincent himself never had that confidence in people -- not in his alcoholic parents, whose home he ran away from as young as 12, and especially not in the operator of a North Bay group home, who repeatedly abused him both sexually and psychologically.
He survived the horrors of his early teen years but struggled in any relationship that came later. "Whenever someone got close to me, where I thought I was going to get hurt, I'd get up and run," he says. "I'd move, I'd move, I'd move."
When he saw his son showing implicit trust, it was a turning point.
"I started realizing what had happened to me," he says. "Before that, I was just in denial, or survival, whatever you want to call it. But when he started to do that, I knew then that there was something wrong with me. I'd never had that (feeling of safety), even with the authorities who were there to protect me, namely the Children's Aid Society."
Carl Chadbourne, the foster home operator who abused Vincent, was convicted in the early 1990s on multiple counts of sex assault -- involving Vincent and other boys in his care -- and sentenced to an 18-year jail term.
That afforded some degree of justice and validation, but little in the way of compensation, says Vincent, and certainly did not erase the deep wounds inflicted by the abuse.
"The sad part about an abused person is we see through our eyes, looking out," he says. "We know our scars; we know our past. Anybody looking at you doesn't see it, but you don't know that -- you think they can see something, that there's some ability they have to recognize that."
Vincent struggled mightily as an adult. "I've lost marriages, I've spent time in jail," he recounts. "I've been to Homewood (Health Centre in Guelph) for depression and suicide attempts."
The survivor is now seeking therapy for his issues and he's also seeking $3 million in compensation through a civil suit filed against the Sudbury-Manitoulin Children's Aid Society, which he alleges was negligent in placing him in an abusive foster environment and keeping him there, despite multiple attempts to inform his case worker and others of the harm he incurred.
Chadbourne and the province are also named in the suit, although lawyer Loretta Merritt admitted it's unlikely the former group home operator would have much money and the province, while it could still face a default judgement, didn't defend the suit so is not a direct target.
None of the allegations made in the suit have been proven in a court of law, except in the sense that the transgressions attributed to Chadbourne were affirmed in the earlier criminal case.
The local CAS was invited by The Star to comment on the legal matter but no response had been received by deadline.
In its statement of defence, however, the agency argues it was not aware of abuse at the North Bay facility, which was called Northhome Lodge and listed at the time as "an acceptable residential service facility."
The CAS admits to placing Vincent at the home for a couple of years in the early 1970s, but contends "the plaintiff did not disclose and neither was information received that the plaintiff was mistreated at the group home facility."
Vincent says it was hard to get a private audience with his social worker, as Chadbourne would make a point of being present to intimidate the boys from speaking candidly, but insists he did speak many times about the hell he was experiencing.
"I tried to tell everybody under the sun -- from the Children's Aid Society to the police to my school teacher, my guidance counsellor, my parents, my aunts, my uncles," he says.
He also ran away "in excess of 30 times from North Bay," he says, on a couple of occasions hitch-hiking all the way to his uncle's home in Toronto. "But when I woke up Chadbourne would be standing over top of me. He'd grab me by the hair, throw me on the floor of the car, and curse and beat me all the way home."
Once back at Northhome, the fosterer would "put me in a room, shave my head, and leave me in there for two or three days in my underwear," he says. "That's the kind of s--- he did."
Actually it wasn't even the half of it. According to the statement of claim, Chadbourne forced Vincent to take showers with him and routinely subjected him to "sodomy and other forms of sexual assault."
Vincent says he was the first victim of Chadbourne at Northhome but far from the last. When he was interviewed by police in 1992 about his experiences at the facility, he learned "16 kids had the same story," he says. "They weren't there at the same time, but they all had the same story."
Vincent doesn't know the other victims but says part of his reason for pursuing a civil case and speaking about it publicly is to empower those other survivors to get help, and to heal.
"They might not know what they're entitled to, specifically in terms of therapy," he says. "I'm hoping this story hits enough kids who were in Northhome Lodge, and are suffering somewhere now, to speak out and not keep this hidden."
That he can speak out publicly himself is a new thing for the abuse survivor, as his identity was earlier protected by a publication ban and he couldn't talk openly to the press even if he wanted to.
On May 5, however, the Crown agreed to lift that condition so he would have the freedom to tell his story.
"It's newsworthy and, I think, quite interesting, that the court has set aside the publication ban," says his lawyer. "Complainants often want publication bans (at the time of a trial) but they aren't often consulted, and they in effect amount to gag orders for some people who may want to speak about it -- if not then, later."
Merritt has represented many sexual abuse victims in her practice, but says this case is unique in the degree of the abuse.
"Keith's is one of the worst cases I've been involved with," she says, noting the criminal sentence for Chadbourne speaks to that. "It's rare to see a term of 18 years, and the sentences often don't reflect the severity of the impact."
The case is also somewhat unusual in being "really founded in negligence by the CAS," she adds.
While the civil suit has been "dragging on forever," the lawyer says a trial date is now set for roughly a year from now, on May 7, 2018.
It would be unusual for it to reach that stage, however, as most cases of this nature are settled out of court.
"If it goes to trial I think this will be the first case against a CAS in Ontario," Merritt says. "I am not aware of any other civil cases against Ontario CASs that have gone to trial."
DA: Child abuse cases worsening
by Joe Pinchot and Melissa Klaric
MERCER – Although the state Department of Human Service's annual report shows Mercer County had fewer child abuse reports in 2016 than the year before, local officials said the statistic is misleading.
Kathryn Gabriel, administrator of Mercer County Children and Youth Services, said the report looks at numbers on a calendar-year basis, while her agency compiles them according to the budget fiscal year, July 1 through June 30.
“What we're seeing is not that they're down,” she said.
Mercer County District Attorney Miles K. Karson Jr. added that the cases that make it to criminal prosecution seem to be getting more severe.
“I think the cases seem to be worse to me as well and they are pulling on resources more – police resources, CYS resources,” Karson said. “When you're in law enforcement, you're going to put your time and energy into the more serious crimes. That's how it goes.”
The DHS report says Mercer County investigated 459 child abuse reports in 2016, down from 499 in 2015. The number for many years before that were in the 200s, but officials said changes in the law that increased the types of people who had to report crimes greatly boosted the numbers.
The number of founded cases – reports in which officials determined abuse occurred – stood at 64, down from 74.
Gabriel said her agency wants to dig into the numbers and try to get a breakdown into the types of abuse cases, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect that rises to the level of abuse.
One thing is clear, Gabriel said: “Drug abuse is absolutely one of our main factors in the majority of cases we're seeing.”
Drug abuse also is contributing to the increased severity of child abuse cases, Karson said.
From the law enforcement end, Karson has made county detectives available to police departments to help investigate these cases, and is assigning specific prosecutors to handle more of certain types of crimes, including child abuse.
“This office is heading in this direction because I need people who have more familiarity with the law in a particular area,” Karson said. These prosecutors also are developing techniques to deal with victims, he said.
“Victims are unique,” Karson said. “Children are unique. Victims of domestic violence are unique.”
At CYS, officials are examining the resources they have available and constantly work to cement relations with partners, such as the DA's office, Mercer County Behavioral Health Commission and police departments, and add more partners, Gabriel said.
An increase in reports is not necessarily bad because it reflects an awareness of abuse and neglect in society and the importance of reporting it, Gabriel said.
Child abuse is a topic that gets people's attention, Karson said.
“When we are heading into cases where children are victims, we all have an emotional reaction to this,” he said. “We're talking about the people in our community who are the most susceptible and vulnerable, along with elderly people.”
An apparent anomaly in the report specific to Mercer County is the number of investigations handled by the regional office of DHS. The office investigated 97 cases in 2016 in Mercer, scores more than the cases the state handled in any other western county other than Allegheny.
Gabriel said the state investigates any case where abuse is alleged to have occurred at a service provider CYS has a contract with.
“We can't do that investigation,” she said. “The regional office has to do that investigation.”
Rachel Kostelac, DHS press secretary, said: “Although we cannot speculate on all of the exact contributing factors to trigger investigations in Mercer County, George Junior Republic, a larger congregate care provider, is located in Mercer County.”
George Junior is a residential treatment center in Pine Township for boys, many of whom are sent there by judges because of criminal offenses.
“The regional office investigates reports called in from George Junior Republic because Mercer County Children and Youth Services has a contract with the provider,” Kostelac said. “Due to this, Mercer could see a higher number in investigations than other surrounding counties that do not have contracts with providers.”
Child abuse linked to witchcraft a 'hidden crime'
Police unit focused on faith-based abuse has investigated more than 100 cases since 2005
by Christy Somos
Retired Det. Supt. Terry Sharpe of the London Metropolitan Police flips through a series of photographs showing household objects covered in blood.
"You can't bring Kristy back," he says, showing the pliers, hammer and other items used to torture the teenager before he died from his injuries.
"But you may be able to save somebody else if you had that little bit of understanding, [that] knowledge, about what causes this form of abuse."
Kristy Bamu was a 15-year-old who drowned on Christmas Day 2010 in London's borough of Newham.
He succumbed to his injuries after suffering days of beatings, cutting, psychological intimidation and having his teeth smashed out — all done by his own sister and her boyfriend to torture him into making a confession of being a witch, according to BBC reports.
Bamu is the last recorded case of a child dying from ritual- or witchcraft-related abuse in the U.K., a crime that is the subject of ongoing public awareness campaigns by London's police force and specialized charities.
"This is a hidden crime," Sharpe says. "Although I said to you we have 100 [cases] recorded, we know there are a hell of a lot more than that."
In 2000, eight-year-old Victoria Climbie died in London at the hands of her great-aunt, who believed that the child was possessed by evil. She was beaten, starved, cut, bound and made to sleep in a bathtub filled with her own excrement — with only a garbage bag for warmth.
Specialized task force
Following an abuse investigation in 2005, London's Metropolitan Police created a specialized task force called Project Violet — a unit focused solely on investigating faith-based abuse that has probed more than 100 cases of child abuse in the U.K. since its creation.
Sharpe, who retired from the unit in 2016, rifles through his papers and points at statistics his former team has gathered over the years.
"There has been a steady increase," he says, "but I put that solely down to the fact ... the work that we've done in raising awareness."
Current case numbers were not available from the Metropolitan Police. But a BBC report in 2015 cited police statistics showing 60 cases linked to faith-based abuse in the first 10 months of that year, an increase from 23 in 2013 and 46 in 2014.
Sharpe says that because the crimes are of such a heinous nature, members of a religious or ethnic community often do not feel comfortable approaching police to report them, severely affecting the ability of officers to step in.
In the U.K., certain African communities have embraced Christianity after centuries of colonization and have woven traditional, pre-colony beliefs within it.
One of those beliefs is Kindoki, a pre-colonial, traditional cultural belief in witchcraft and spirits. Kindoki has been woven within Pentecostal Christianity in Africa and spread to the U.K. with the many immigrants who choose to make London their home.
In a 2013 BBC documentary "Branded a Witch," that branch of Christianity is shown to be thriving in the U.K. and in Africa.
"If you're looking for Africans, you'll find them in a place of worship — whether a church or a mosque — we know that they have strong beliefs in their religion and strong beliefs in their local religious leaders," says Oladapo Awosokonwre, program manager at the London-based charity AFRUCA.
Since Climbie's death in 2000, the charity has provided training for 9,000 parents, 800 children and 2,000 police and child services workers in the U.K. about abuse stemming from spiritual beliefs.
"They believe they are doing the right thing," Awosokonre says. "In order to save the child, to get the evil out of them, or to stop them from being witches, the parents or the church will exorcise them. To them, they are not starving or beating the child, but the spirit that is inside them."
Sharpe likewise points to local church leaders as often being the catalyst for abuse initiated against a child in Africa and the U.K.
"A pastor will stand at the front of the church, and be in the middle of the sermon, will stop and point at a child in the crowd and denounce them as a witch or say that they are possessed," says Sharpe. It is after that announcement that a parent or family member will agree that "deliverance" or exorcisms must be undertaken.
"The family is unlikely to report [abuse] because the pastor is all and mighty within that community and [the parents] have actually just handed the child over," Sharpe says.
"There was a case in the Congo where a female pastor presided over an exorcism of a child, and they were kicking [the child] in the stomach, because that was breaking the telephone wire to the devil."
In the U.K., the 2001 discovery of a headless, limbless torso of a young black boy in the Thames River sparked an international investigation that has yet to be closed.
The little boy, named Adam by police investigators, was thought to have been trafficked to the U.K. to be used as a human sacrifice to bring luck or fortune, according to BBC reports and documentaries.
The boy's identity still has not been confirmed and no one has been arrested in connection with the case.
Awosokonwre and Sharpe both see the large number of African churches in the U.K as the breeding ground not just for beliefs in Kindoki, but the deadly effects of "deliverance," or exorcism as well.
"One day a warehouse will be empty," says Sharpe, "the next day there is a church in there — they just pop up everywhere."
The 2011 U.K. census showed a doubling of African Christians in England and Wales between 2001 and 2011, with the number rising from 330,000 to 691,000.
A study published in 2016 by the London School of Economics showed that London boroughs had 240 black majority churches, making it the area with the greatest concentration of African Christianity in the world outside Africa.
"The problem is," says Sharpe, "with globalization, people travel all around the world now and they take those very [strongly] held beliefs with them."
Richard Hoskins, an expert on African spiritual beliefs who has previously worked with Project Violet, wants to be clear that Africans are not the sole perpetrators of ritual-based abuse.
'In every culture'
"All of us who live in the West, there is a tendency to typecast and to approach for example African traditions through the lens of [author] Joseph Conrad," he says.
"We tend to think the heart of darkness is out there. It's in Africa in the darkest places furthest away from us. The reality is that we hold a mirror to ourselves and realize that perpetrators of crime exist in every culture, in every tradition and from every religion. And that isn't just political correctness, that is a genuine truth."
It is a sentiment echoed heartily by Sharpe.
"Child abuse is child abuse, in whatever language," he says.
"People cannot hide behind cultural beliefs, if a child is being abused, that should never be accepted — by any culture or religion or belief."
To that end, Sharpe says that every major city across the globe should initiate a task force like Project Violet to raise awareness about these complex and covert crimes.
"[Project Violet] is the advice area and expertise required when detectives investigate this type of crime [like the murder of Kristy Bamu] because it will happen again."
Tad Cummins kidnapping case spotlights child sexual abuse, sex trafficking
by James Bennett
The former Culleoka Unit School teacher faces up to life in prison if convicted. Since he has no previous record, Cummins might receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years for the 38-day, cross-country ordeal with his former student, Elizabeth Thomas.
The disturbing allegations, which started when Cummins was caught kissing the teenager in his classroom Jan. 23, have raised numerous questions about teacher-student relationships, improper touching in classrooms and even nightmarish thoughts of sex trafficking in southern Middle Tennessee.
A Maury County Public Schools task force created a protocol for reporting possible abuse. It has invited experts this summer and next school year to speak with faculty, staff and students about warning signs.
When Cummins, 50, disappeared with Thomas on March 13 and an Amber Alert was sounded for her March 14, no one knew his true intentions. He had been suspended from his job. He was broken in mind, heart and spirit, borrowing $4,500 on his wife's car and refilling his erectile dysfunction prescription.
When Cummins was caught April 20 in northern California, he was arrested and may never walk as a free man again. The student was recovered safely but with “significant psychological harm,” according to family attorney Jason Whatley.
The episode started a local conversation about the brutal world of sex trafficking. It cast a spotlight on adults who groom children for the purpose of abusing them. Cummins has been accused of pretending to be a father figure for the teenager, gaining her trust, then violating it cruelly and immorally.
Saturday, concerned residents listened to local experts decry the prevalence of child and teen sexual abuse. Hosted by God 1st Church at 1129 Trotwood Ave., City Councilman Tony Greene and abuse advocate Rachel Irby told harrowing stories of what they've seen.
Greene, who works as a school resource officer at Brown Elementary School in his role as a Maury County Sheriff's deputy, said many in the community remain reluctant to get involved when they see wrongdoing, despite having lived through the Cummins ordeal.
“I'm speaking as someone who has been in law enforcement for 18 years,” said Greene, a military veteran. “I am no expert on sex trafficking. But I know what goes on around here. What goes on in our community — the place we call home, the place we grew up — impacts all of us.
“I have taken an oath to protect my community, both when I was in the military and now in law enforcement. When I hear of instances of abuse, I am going to get under your skin and make you uncomfortable because I am going to find out about it and do something about it. I am going to speak out and protect my community.”
Greene said he has seen episodes of gang members preying on young girls. He has seen a case of a mother and stepfather selling their children for sex. He said he saw a substitute teacher getting too close and touchy with children at school.
“Some folks won't talk about it, but I am going to talk about it,” the Ward 3 councilor said. “And my message here today is this: Just speak up. I don't walk around with an ‘S' [for Superman] on my chest. You only need to call and report what you have seen ... to get the ball rolling in an investigation.”
Before Cummins, Greene said another teacher quietly was removed from the school system for improper behavior. He did not provide specifics.
Child advocates blast law concerning sexual abuse
by Dale Denwalt
OKLAHOMA CITY — A law scheduled to go into effect this November would make it harder to sue Oklahoma employers for negligence if their employee sexually abuses a child.
The bill signed into law this month raises the standard for those civil lawsuits from general negligence to gross negligence, a change that some attorneys say is unfair to victims of child sexual abuse.
Cameron Spradling, who represents six girls who are accusing a former Perry schoolteacher's aide of fondling them, has been pushing lawmakers and the governor's office to reverse the change before the Legislature adjourns on Friday.
Advocates say they never wanted the higher standard. Originally, House Bill 1470 was meant to extend the time a victim can come forward to the age of 45, but the amendments were added during its course through the Capitol.
A toxic mix: The internet, predators, children
The internet has given predators increased access to children and each other
by Lex Talamo
“I honestly hope and pray that I am the only underage girl you have done this to.” - 15-year-old K.G. to her 29-year-old predator.
Ron served as a pallbearer that afternoon in 2009 for his deceased friend. At the funeral, he offered condolences to the widow and her 9-year-old daughter, K.G.
Five years later, Ron ran into K.G. and her mother, Jane, at a gas station in Bossier Parish. As events soon would show, he apparently saw K.G. with new eyes. He struck up a conversation on Facebook with the Bossier Parish girl – telling her that she was beautiful, that her deceased father would be proud – before mother and daughter had even left the pump.
Over the next year, he used compliments and multiple social media platforms to build trust with the girl and to convince her that he loved her. That he would leave his wife and two children for her when she turned 18.
Ron was 29 when he asked K.G. to take and send nude pictures of herself.
She was 15 and in love when she did as he asked.
Smart phones and social media made their communications easy to conduct and conceal. Digital photography enabled K.G. to fulfill his requests easily and alone. Their relationship was a secret aided by the internet – until the teen posted about her love for Ron on Snapchat, a mobile instant messaging app, and someone saw.
That "someone" was one of Jane's close friends, who immediately reported what she had seen. Bossier Parish Sheriffs deputies arrived at the family's home soon after, confiscated K.G.'s phone and used the evidence they found to get a warrant for Ron's arrest.
“I hope you forgive me and don't hate me,” K.G. wrote to “Ron” after his arrest for indecent behavior with a juvenile. “I'm sorry and I love and care very deeply for you. I honestly hope and pray that I am the only underage girl you have done this to.”
Welcome to 21st-century sex crimes against children.
The rise of the internet, social media and mobile technology has given sexual predators increased access to children, often without their parents' or guardians' knowledge, as well as instant access to each other. A hidden layer of the internet, sometimes called the “dark web” or “deep web,” also has given sexual predators access to each other through peer-to-peer networks and file sharing sites.
Law enforcement, including the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office and the Shreveport office of the FBI, report that predators' new ability to network via the internet has resulted in a growing market for the production of increasingly violent child pornography, which many agencies now refer to as "child sexual abuse images."
The victims of these crimes are younger than you might think – as young as a few weeks old.
The data are alarming. From the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:
83 percent of victims in child sexual abuse images show children between 6 and 12 years old.
19 percent of child sexual abuse images involve children under 3.
80 percent of the images show the sexual penetration of a child.
20 percent of the offenders had images including violent rape or bondage of children.
If it's wired, no corner of the country has escaped these internet crimes against children. The market for child pornography, estimated to be worth billions of dollars but difficult to nail down because of its underground nature, has its own niche in Louisiana – with 223 arrests statewide in 2015 alone, according to the Louisiana Attorney General's office.
The Rise of Technology
A PREDATOR CONNECTS
The Bossier and Caddo parish jails housed 48 inmates for internet-related and indecent behavior crimes as recently as February. The two parishes, combined, have seen 167 indecent behavior, 28 computer-aided solicitation and 40 child pornography arrests since 2011.
Jane, the mother of K.G., said she knew about the Facebook message Ron sent her 14-year-old daughter at the gas station that summer day. She thought nothing of it at the time. She didn't suspect that a seemingly harmless compliment would be Ron's first step in soliciting her daughter.
The Times is withholding the identities of Ron, Jane and K.G. to protect K.G. (not her real initials), who is still a minor.
Jane first grew alarmed when Ron connected with K.G. on several other social media platforms and started "liking" all of her pictures. He also left messages, such as "Your father would be so proud of the beautiful young woman you have become."
She told Ron that his contact with her daughter was inappropriate. She told K.G to block him.
“She said she did,” Jane said in an interview. “I trusted her. I never had a reason to check.”
But her daughter's digital relationship with Ron continued.
“For over a year they kept this from me,” Jane said. “What's scary is that this is happening right in front of us, by people we know, and parents have no idea.”
Social Media and Cell Phones
A PREDATOR'S FRIENDS
Cell phones, social media and a proliferation of newly created apps have allowed online predators “almost unlimited access to victims,” said Caddo Parish Assistant District Attorney Holly McGinness.
McGinness said the No. 1 way technology has facilitated online exploitation is ease of access. Twenty years ago, child predators needed either direct access to children through activities such as coaching sports or babysitting, or they had to risk having a call to children at home being intercepted by a parent, McGinness said.
Today, predators can reach children through the children's cell phones, social media or websites and apps such as Snapchat, Kik Messenger, Skype, Omegle, Instagram and Facebook.
“Our children are literally walking around with the tools the predators need to access them in their pockets,” McGinness said.
That access often occurs inside children's homes and under the radar of caring parents, said Bossier Parish Sheriff's Detective Linda Hollifield.
“The victim is in their room, doing homework, free access to the internet with no interruption by the parents because they're ‘quietly doing their homework,' when they're really talking to the perpetrator on the phone,” Hollifield said.
Take Ron, K.G. and Jane. Months had passed since Jane had told K.G. to block Ron on social media. So she wasn't expecting the text from a close friend while attending a business conference in Houston: “Call me ASAP. I don't think they're friends. I think they're more.”
Jane burst out of the conference room and dialed her friend. The friend told Jane that K.G. had posted on Snapchat – an instant messaging app favored by teens – about an older man she “loved” and who was her “boyfriend.”
Jane hung up and called the Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office. A deputy told her that he would need permission from her husband – K.G.'s stepdad – to search the teen's phone for evidence. Jane called her husband and told him to call law enforcement.
K.G. heard her mother screaming through the phone. The teen ran into her bedroom. She locked the door.
Then she called Ron.
Deputies arrived a short time later. They questioned K.G., and they confiscated her phone.
“She mainly fabricated and withheld while talking to the police to make it seem harmless,” Jane said. “Then she walked out on the porch and started bawling because she knew she was busted.”
Jane said she and K.G.'s stepdad later found out that Ron and K.G. had made plans for him to sneak over and come in through her bedroom window after K.G.'s parents had fallen asleep.
Even then, K.G. still believed that she loved Ron – and that he loved her.
Online child predators work to “groom,” or build trust with, their victims through compliments, encouragement and “things that make that child feel special and important,” said Shreveport-based FBI Special Agent Chris Cantrell.
“It could graduate into gifts, sending money, sending actual gifts through the mail, paying for things online for this child,” Cantrell said. “In some cases to the point where they've groomed them to the trust level where they would want to meet.”
In K.G.'s case, Ron built that trust through compliments and by playing on the teen's memory of her deceased father, her mother said.
“She told me, 'He told me that Daddy wanted us to be together',” Jane recalled. “He was able to use her deceased father as a sick way to get to her. And it worked.”
From a letter K.G. wrote to Ron: “You helped me build confidence, you gave me some closure with daddy, and most of all you listened and cared about me. I hate that we got caught. You took me out of my comfort zone, and you let me be me.”
Jane intercepted the letter before it got to Ron.
Social media helps predators. Children's posts betray what they're thinking and feeling, enabling online predators to target children whose posts show vulnerability, Cantrell said, such as if they've recently fought with parents or friends, gone through a breakup or generally feel alone.
Cantrell said predators' initial care and attention can quickly shift once they have racy or nude pictures – photos that some predators then use to blackmail children in a new internet crime called “sextortion.”
“The sextortion piece would be that person, the perpetrator, saying, ‘Ok, you've done this for me, I want more,'” Cantrell said. “Or, ‘I want you to get a friend,' or worse case, 'get a sibling, and start producing pictures or videos and send them to me.'”
Jane said there's no evidence that Ron tried to sextort K.G. But that didn't prevent her daughter from being damaged, particularly when she heard about Ron's confession to the detectives about their “relationship.”
“He told the detective he was just messing with her and he didn't remember the pictures,” Jane said. “She wanted to commit suicide after that. She felt she had nothing to live for and that she had lost the love of her life."
Online predator communities
C onnecting and sharing images
Cantrell, the FBI agent, said child predators also use the internet to connect with each other and share child sexual abuse images.
The rise of file-sharing and peer-to-peer networks in the dark web has made it easier than ever for sexual predators to document, share and even sell images or videos of child sexual abuse – for up to $995 per item, according to a 2005 Department of Justice report.
Online predator communities in the “back alley” of the internet often require new members to prove they can produce child sexual abuse images to contribute to the network, said Corey Bourgeois, lead investigator in the Louisiana Attorney General's Cyber Crime unit in Baton Rouge.
?Online distribution platforms for predators include instant messaging services, peer-to-peer networks, online file storage or cloud services, photo-sharing apps and mobile-only apps, according to a 2016 U.S. Department of Justice report.
Connecting with the thousands of other members in the network sites allows child sexual predators to “normalize” their deviant interests, Bourgeois said.
?Melissa Welch, a detective with the Louisiana State Police, said online offenders also egg each other on to ever more egregious crimes against children to gain “status” in online groups.
“There's a hierarchy of predators in there, where you have established yourself by the type of child pornography you can add to the group,” Welch said. “The worse it is, the more violent it is, the higher up you are in the hierarchy.”
Welch said labels such as “kiddie porn” and even “child pornography” depreciate the serious abuse depicted in images.
“There's a misconception about what child pornography is,” Welch said. “It's not the 13-year-old standing in her bathing suit on a beach or the 16-year-old nude, lying in a bed. It's a 10-week-old being raped by a grown adult male.”
A Local Problem
"It's Happening Here"
Caddo Parish Assistant District Attorney Monique Metoyer said prosecuting child pornography cases shattered her illusion that images originate only in foreign countries, such as Russia or Thailand. Most of the child sexual abuse images she sees involve “homegrown American cases, American children” whose lives have been forever fractured by the experience, Metoyer said.
Bossier Parish District Attorney Schuyler Marvin said he's seen production cases come through his office.
“The most recent case we have involves some homemade child pornography produced right here,” Marvin said in an interview in January. “We're in the process right now of identifying who the kids are.”
The victims of internet crimes involving children can suffer lasting impacts, as can their families.
“You can look at those eyes of those children, and it's almost like there's a deadness there,” Metoyer said. “When you do something of this type of nature to a child, these child pornography and rapes of children, it's almost like you are trying to destroy their souls.”
Children who have been enticed online by predators or convinced to send nude pictures also can experience significant trauma.
Jane said she was afraid she would have to hospitalize K.G. in the few days following Ron's arrest. He was sentenced in Bossier's 26th Judicial Court in April, given a five-year suspended jail sentence and five years of probation. He also was ordered to register as a sex offender for 25 years, pay a fine to the sheriff's office and pay $1,500 to Jane for counseling for K.G.
He has not served time in prison.
K.G., now 16, has recovered. But her relationship with her mom has not.
“He turned her against me,” Jane said. “This has changed her, and not for the better. This has been one huge nightmare that I wish we could just wake up from.”
Lasting trauma for child victims
by Lex Talamo
The internet adds to the already formidable trauma for children who are victims of sex crimes, experts say.
“Because of the internet, when the hands-on offending is over, it's not over for the child," said Dr. Sharon Cooper, a forensic pediatrician in Fayetteville, North Carolina. "The children know that images have been made of their abuse, and they are constantly afraid that people will see those images. Children don't get over this easily at all.”
Cooper, who has testified as an expert in more than 300 child pornography cases nationwide, said the internet adds trauma to children whose sexual abuse images are shared on peer-to-peer networks in the Dark Web or sold to child exploitation websites.
Child victims are devastated when they learn – while testifying in court during victim impact statements, for example – that "more than 12,000 people" have collected images of their sexual abuse and also have potentially used them to “groom” other children, Cooper said.
The resulting trauma can manifest during the seemingly most innocuous school assignments, as when teachers have students browse the web, Cooper said.
“You have these feelings that no matter what they're looking for online, someone is going to come across your images,” Cooper said. “They just have such an anxiety and sometimes even a phobia about the possibility that others will see them.”
Tracy Thompson, an assistant U.S. attorney in San Antonio, described the trauma child victims face to a federal judge in December 2011. An offender had dozens of images of a child in what was named the “Vicky series,” a collection of child sexual abuse images involving the 10-year-old girl “Vicky” being bound, raped and sodomized.
“Vicky,” whom law enforcement identified and rescued, tried later to attend college but kept having anxiety attacks, Thompson said.
“Right now, she can't even leave the house. She doesn't know how many people out there have seen the worst images of her life,” Thompson said, according to court transcripts from 2011. “It doesn't go away for these children ever. It affects them for the rest of their lives.”
The fear that others will see documentation of their sexual abuse – often by people they know and trust – plagues child pornography victims, said Shelley Allwang, an analyst with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Virginia.
“They live with that every day, not knowing whether their parents, their friends, their future significant others would ever see those files, and that's a horrific thing for them to have to live with,” Allwang said.
CARA Center physicians ask children if they have been videotaped or photographed. But they also ask, in child friendly language, if they've been exposed to child pornography, said the center's medical director, Dr. Sheila Farrell.
“A fair number of the children we see will have been shown pornography as part of their abuse, we think often to make the behavior seem like a normal behavior,” Farrell said.
Victims of child pornography can receive restitution from those who possess or circulate images of their abuse through the Violence Against Women Act, passed by Congress in 1994. Restitution ordered by courts often amounts to thousands of dollars per case.
Jay Glenewinkel, the offender whom Thompson prosecuted in Texas for receipt of child pornography including images from the "Vicky" series, was ordered to pay $2,500 in restitution under the Mandatory Restitution for Sex Crimes section of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, according to his sentencing documents.
Lt. Chad Gremillion of the Louisiana State Police's Special Victims Unit often handles cases involving child sexual abuse images. In April, he shared a letter from a young teen who had been a victim of sexual abuse, found in a spiral notebook while executing a search warrant. The teen had written: "P.S. If you are reading this, help me. I really need your help."
The impact on child victims often is evident in their eyes, said Detective Melissa Welch, who has investigated child pornography cases for the Louisiana State Police for the past decade.
“There's something about their eyes that tells it all,” Welch said. “You don't ever forget their eyes.”
Raymond Smith, an inspector with the U.S. Postal Service's Child Pornography and Adult Obscenity Unit, made a similar connection before Congress in 2006. He read the following words from a letter by a child pornography victim:
"When I was a little girl, and when I was being photographed and raped," the victim wrote, "I used to try to send messages with my eyes down the lens and hope that one day a good person might see and come to help us."
By the numbers
799 inmates in the Louisiana Department of Corrections for indecent behavior with a juvenile as of March 2017.
419 internet-facilitated crimes against children investigated by the FBI in Louisiana from 2011 to 2016.
335 inmates currently in the Louisiana Department of Corrections for child pornography-related crimes.
223 child pornography-related arrests statewide in 2016.
167 arrests in Caddo and Bossier parishes for indecent behavior with a juvenile since 2011.
112 identified child victims of internet-crimes in Louisiana since 2011.
68 internet-facilitated crimes against children investigated by the FBI in 2016.
62 percent of child sexual abuse images involve young girls.
48 inmates housed in Caddo and Bossier parish jails for child pornography, indecent behavior and computer-aided solicitation of a minor charges as of February 2017.
46 inmates currently in the Louisiana Department of Corrections for computer-aided solicitation of a minor.
40 arrests in Caddo and Bossier parishes for child pornography since 2011.
35 identified child victims of sexual exploitation in the Shreveport area since 2015.
28 arrests in Caddo and Bossier parishes for computer-aided solicitation of a minor since 2011.
21 percent of offenders had child sexual abuse images that included violence, bondage or rape.
14 percent of child sexual abuse images involve young boys.
Child neglect bill would offer harsher punishments for offenders
by Carrie Larsen
Attorney General Brad Schimel is teaming up with state lawmakers to fight child neglect.
Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, and Rep. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, were joined by Schimel Wednesday afternoon to introduce their new legislation. If passed, it would give prosecutors more resources to convict child neglect cases.
"It's long overdue to give prosecutors the ability to charge long term neglect as an ongoing course of conduct so that we can achieve justice for child victims and prevent offenders from committing future crimes against that child," Schimel said.
Currently, Wisconsin law requires the state prove a person who neglected a child did so intentionally. Those proposing the new bill said that neglect is unintentional by nature, and this new bill would get rid of any confusion.
The law also states a prosecutor can only charge a felony if the child has died as a result of neglect.
"In almost every case, neglect is only a misdemeanor offense no matter the consequences. As long as those consequences fall short of the death of the child," Schimel said.
The proposal would increase penalties for severe neglect and give less severe penalties for less severe cases. It also allows prosecutors to charge for multiple acts against the same child.
The bill comes with a drug endangered child component, which would protect children from neglect resulting from the use, distribution or manufacturing of controlled substances.
A similar piece of legislation failed last session, but lawmakers are confident the modifications will help it pass this time around.
The bill is currently circulating for co-sponsors and Schimel asks Wisconsin residents to look at the bill, which can be found on the state Legislature's website, then contact their state representative or senator if they want it to pass.
Senators' approval of harsher penalties sheds light on extent of sex trafficking in Nebraska
by the World-Herald News
LINCOLN — The days of fines and probation for crimes linked to sex trafficking are coming to an end in Nebraska.
State lawmakers last week passed a bill that dramatically increases penalties for those who create the supply and demand for human trafficking. A minimum of one year in prison is likely for panderers and solicitors in such transactions. If children are exploited, both the pimps and johns could spend the rest of their lives in prison.
One of the most significant bills of the 2017 session also marks a major achievement for state senators, law enforcement officials and women's advocates who have worked for more than a decade to reveal the extent of an invisible crime and take steps to eradicate it.
No votes were cast against Legislative Bill 289, sponsored by State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln. Still, a couple of senators raised a key question: Will harsher penalties for human trafficking make a difference?
“As a general rule, where there is a demand, a supply will develop,” said State Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, a former prosecutor. “It may be a bit of a deterrent, but a solution it probably isn't.”
Advocates and experts say they are unaware of research that would show whether tougher punishments produce a noticeable drop in trafficking activity. While more scientific studies on human trafficking are being done, it's still a growing area of research, one said.
But supporters of the bill, which awaits an expected signature from Gov. Pete Ricketts, also argue that the risk of significant prison time will almost certainly curb trafficking. And the legislation makes an important statement that Nebraska will no longer slap wrists when it comes to the exploitation of humans for sex or labor, said Meghan Malik, trafficking program manager for the Women's Fund of Omaha.
“It's child rape,” she said. “We're talking about children being raped multiple times a day, being beaten by their traffickers, being moved around and isolated. To think those individuals only could have gotten probation for that is unimaginable.”
Each month in Nebraska, 900 people are sold for sex, often more than once, according to a report by the Human Trafficking Initiative, a project of the Women's Fund. The report stated that almost 400 of those are considered at moderate to high risk of being trafficked.
The report also showed that Nebraska's commercial sex market skews toward children and minorities. One in five people is advertised on websites with phrases indicating that she or he is young. And African-Americans make up half of all individuals sold for sex in Nebraska, despite representing just 5 percent of the population.
“The average age when a child is first commercially trafficked and exploited is 13,” Pansing Brooks said.
Because those forced into sex slavery have historically been treated as prostitutes — defined as adults who willingly sell sex — helping policymakers understand what human trafficking is and that it exists in Nebraska was a challenge, said Al Riskowski, who worked on the matter when he was director of the Nebraska Family Alliance.
“It was hard, even for legislators, to comprehend the extent of the problem in Nebraska,” he said. “That was the first obstacle to overcome.”
Amanda McGill Johnson of Omaha, a former state senator from Lincoln who sponsored key trafficking legislation during her time at the State Capitol, remembered how 38 lawmakers voted for a bill in 2006 that would have allocated $1.5 million to services for women getting out of prostitution. But because the women were called prostitutes instead of trafficking victims, then-Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed the measure as an “objectionable” use of tax dollars. Support trickled away and a veto override failed.
McGill Johnson and other senators began working on the issue and gradually building support for bills to help victims. One measure started a volunteer task force to help define the extent of trafficking in the state. Another bill in 2013 — quickly signed by Heineman — increased penalties for those who sold children for sex. The same bill also made it so that children could no longer be charged with prostitution, recognizing that no child has the capacity to choose to sell herself or himself.
The Legislature adopted a similar bill, sponsored by Pansing Brooks, that gave adult victims of sex trafficking immunity from prostitution charges. That change was important because women arrested for prostitution often relied on pimps to bail them out of jail, which made it even more difficult to break away from the trafficking cycle.
Pansing Brooks and McGill Johnson said the fight against human trafficking got a boost when Attorney General Doug Peterson made it a key issue after taking office in 2015. Peterson has devoted full-time staff to combat trafficking and started a task force that has provided training to more than 600 law enforcement personnel and service providers.
Such training is critical so police and prosecutors can take effective action against traffickers and buyers. In addition, it's important to immediately address the needs of victims, who can be essential to obtaining convictions.
Now with the passage of LB 289, the state has made the punishment more closely fit the crime, supporters said. And the bill has taken aim at the patrons of commercial sex.
“I absolutely think we need to put pressure on the demand side,” McGill Johnson said. “If people weren't out there looking to purchase sex there wouldn't be an industry built up around it.”
Under current law, most offenses tied to sex trafficking carried no minimum penalties. The most severe punishment is one to 50 years in prison for trafficking a minor under 16 or using force to traffic a minor.
Those same crimes now will come with penalties of 20 years to life. Trafficking or soliciting an adult victim will be punished with a sentence of one to 50 years.
Someone convicted of pandering now is looking at probation or a maximum of four years in prison. Under the new law, pimps will face one to 50 years.
The new penalties are among the most severe possible for human trafficking, Peterson has said.
“That penalty is in measurement to how much we value the violation against our communities,” he said.
Equating the crimes of trafficking and soliciting while enacting longer prison sentences are trends in both the federal government and the states, said Shea Rhodes, director of the Villanova Law Institute to Address Commercial Sexual Exploitation.
A former prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, Rhodes said she believes the harsher penalties more properly fit the crimes. And she believes the movement to help the victims of sex trafficking can help law enforcement conduct effective investigations.
But there is scant research to suggest that tougher punishments will deter people from engaging in highly profitable criminal enterprises.
“I'm not even sure the penalties are something that's going to work, but I'm hopeful,” she said.
Crysta Price, a researcher at Creighton University and co-director of the Human Trafficking Initiative, said that as with most complex problems, policy shouldn't be viewed as a one-and-done fix.
“It's easy to dismiss legislation on the grounds that it won't completely solve a problem,” she said. “LB 289 is one piece, an important piece, to a set of policy solutions.”
While the bill primarily focuses on punishing offenders, it also includes several pieces intended to help victims feel confident about coming forward and assisting in prosecutions.
“Victims are more likely to disclose information about their trafficking experience with law enforcement if they're confident that they'd never have to see the trafficker again,” Price said.
Dave Lemoine of Omaha thinks the new penalties will work. The former FBI special agent successfully investigated a network of sex traffickers in Billings, Montana, in 1999, before the term was in wide use.
The investigation included local police, but because Lemoine was involved, the cases were prosecuted in federal court and the 10 traffickers received prison terms ranging from 10 to 20 years. Had they been charged under the Montana law at that time, they would have been out after six months.
But in 2001, Montana enacted much more stringent penalties for trafficking and soliciting. By the time he left Montana in 2005, Lemoine said trafficking activity in his area was practically nonexistent.
He testified in support of the Nebraska bill at a public hearing. He applauded lawmakers for getting it passed.
If it were up to the retired agent, those penalties would be posted on signs at every highway and bridge coming into Nebraska.
“I think it's a good bill, but it's only going to be as good as we publicize it,” he said.
Human trafficking victims see a Pillar of Hope rise
by Aaron Davis
ANTIOCH — For seven years, Debra Brown has been working to build a safe haven for human-trafficking victims, guided, she says, by a near-death experience and a divine message.
After her organization, Pillars of Hope, suffered a setback with a planned location, her first home for sex-trafficked women will open Sunday.
“We had a house last year and were two weeks away from opening it, but the location was compromised. Too many people were talking about it,” Brown said. “We had to pack everything up and put it in storage.”
Brown has learned from her experiences. She now has nondisclosure agreements with staff and volunteers so that the new location, wherever it is, can't get out to the public and to anyone in a victim's past who is trying to drag them back to that life.
For Brown, the home is a critical step in the path to healing for victims. Without a place to stay while they get counseling, training for a future job, and save up for the transition to public life, it's likely they will return to the source of income they knew, Brown said.
The Bay Area is one of three hot spots, along with Los Angeles and San Diego, that are responsible for 80 percent of human-trafficking activity in the state. With easy access to international travel and a thriving tourist industry, the Bay Area has become a magnet for human traffickers. The average age for girls entering into trafficked prostitution or pornography is 12 to 14 years old.
A lack of available victim housing often leaves underage victims of sex trafficking housed in juvenile detention. Contra Costa County currently has only one facility with six beds for underage human-trafficking victims.
With the opening of the Pillars of Hope house, Brown has doubled the number of beds for victims, but she doesn't plan to stop there.
Her end goal is a 10,000-square-foot facility that will house more than 30 people and is projected to cost $15 million to $20 million. She knows she will achieve it, because the vision, design and guidance on it came via divine message, she said.
“You will facilitate the opening of a safe house for human-trafficking victims,” was the message Brown describes as being sent to her by God.
Brown said that she had never been a particularly religious person before, even describing herself as “anti-religion” and “anti-church.”
In 2009, Brown was undergoing a spinal fusion operation when an artery was compromised. She was brought back from cardiac arrest twice. During this time, Brown remembers an out-of-body experience where she floated above her family members, the doctors and all else and wondered why she didn't die.
For a long time, Brown didn't tell anyone but a close friend about the experience. One year later, to the day, she was sitting in her hot tub and “sentences began downloading in my head.”
She was given instructions to build a safe place for victims of human trafficking.
“I didn't even realize what human trafficking victims were at the time,” she said. “I'd seen the movie ‘Taken,' which was based on a true story.”
Not long after, Brown said, she had another vision and began drawing a schematic for the facility that would provide shelter for 36 victims.
“I knew this was coming, I didn't even know how to draw a map before, and this was so amazing that my hand knew what to draw,” Brown said.
Since then, she has worked tirelessly on achieving the goal set before her. Friends and colleagues describe the former X-ray technician as relentless and driven.
“She just doesn't stop,” said Amy Lynch of ARM of Care, a nonprofit art therapy organization that cares for sexually exploited youths. “The people she's networked with, the resources she's created, a large bandwidth she's created over the last few years. She'll do whatever it takes to make sure the girls that are in her care get what they need.”
Lynch works with victims in the juvenile halls and sees many “end up back on the streets, in foster care or back in ‘the life' as they call it.”
Over the past seven years, Brown has raised approximately over $250,000 through anonymous donors, fundraisers and women's organizations. She hosts two larger fundraisers a year: A crab feed, normally in February or March, and a black tie event at the Oakhurst Country Club in Clayton, set for Nov. 11 this year.
Shortly, Brown is expecting a $100,000 donation from an anonymous donor that has already donated $60,000 to Pillars of Hope.
The Pillars of Hope house will cost approximately $308,000 a year to operate. Brown is not worried, though, because she believes that the project has a strong backer.
“God definitely told me this house is a go, so I know he won't let it fall. It's not Deb Brown's plan, it's God's plan,” Brown said.
Brown doesn't think that her mission is just to care for only victims of sex trafficking. She was told to build a facility for victims of “human trafficking”.
“Pillars of Hope will be multi-faceted,” Brown said. “There will also be a labor-trafficking house. There are victims in nail salons and massage parlors. A trafficker has them convinced that they will kill their family back home.”
A recently released report from the Polaris Project identified 36 categories of human trafficking in its The Typology of Modern Slavery. Types range from escorts and domestic workers to carnival workers and remote interactive sexual acts (the report can be read at http://polarisproject.org/typology-report).
Brown knows that the work is just starting and knows that it is an uphill battle. While the number of hidden, trafficked humans is difficult to determine, national and international agencies agree that the population of modern slaves continues to increase.
There is a positive note to the data on human trafficking: Community members are engaged in the fight against human trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 27 percent of all tips in California were from community members.
To learn to recognize the signs of human trafficking, visit polarisproject.org/recognize-signs. If you need help or would like to report any tip, great or small, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733).
Pillars of Hope will host a summer painting class on June 3 at the Galleria at Vidrio in Pittsburg. Registration costs $50, and 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to support sex-trafficked victims. To learn more or to donate to Pillars of Hope, visit www.pillarsofhope.us.
Police: Ohio boy, 5, helped save parents who were overdosing
Police say the 5-year-old saved his parents by walking two blocks in the dark to alert another relative because he thought his parents were dead
by the Associated Press
MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Police in Ohio say the 5-year-old son of a couple who overdosed on heroin saved his parents by walking two blocks in the dark to alert another relative because he thought they were dead.
Emergency responders used a drug-overdose antidote to revive the unresponsive pair Thursday morning after finding them on the floor of a home in Middletown, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Cincinnati. A 3-month-old baby was found in a car seat nearby.
Police say the couple acknowledged using heroin. They were jailed on child-endangering charges.
Middletown police shared the story on their Facebook page with a call for action, urging drug users to get help and their loved ones to intervene to help them.
We had a very disturbing call today and we are going to share it with you - We need to reach everyone with hope to stop this.
A 5 year old boy walked two blocks this morning barefoot at 5am in the dark to a relative's house to say that his parents were dead......Officers Ryan Morgan and Trey Porter arrived on scene along with the fire department and went to the boy's home and found that both parents had overdosed on heroin. Our Paramedics, doing what they do on a daily basis, were able to revive both parents.
Did we mention there was a 3 month old baby girl sitting in a car seat in this home with its parents passed out who are supposed to keep it safe out of harm's way? They are supposed to be her guardians and never let anything bad happen to her.
This 5 year old child, a hero, saved 3 lives today. How can something so awesome be so sad all at the same time? We brought the young boy and infant into the police department after the incident. He was given a badge for being so brave.The parents have been charged with Child Endangering. We are sick and tired of some people not caring about their kids enough to allow this to happen. Similar stories have popped up recently all over Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan.
IT HAS TO STOP! PLEASE get help before it's too late. Not only to save yourself, but to save your kids. Give these kids a chance by getting help. If you or someone you love has a drug problem, please seek help right now. Here are a few resources to help get you started in the right direction - Share them with those who need it:
Access Counseling Services
Community Behavioral Health
Choices Behavioral Health or call any of our churches, they will guide you in the right direction
Law calls for focus on child abuse prevention
by Leann Burke
INDIANAPOLIS — Tammy Lampert made her last trip to Indianapolis on Tuesday for a ceremonial signing of a child abuse prevention education bill she helped establish.
Over the last year, Lampert, director of Southwest Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition, has traveled to Indianapolis several times to testify before Indiana Senate and House committees on behalf of the bill — Senate Bill 355 — which requires that age-appropriate child abuse prevention education be taught annually in all Indiana schools. It's similar to Jenna's Law, a Texas law that passed after Jenna Quinn told the story of her years-long abuse by a close family friend. Quinn now travels the country sharing her story with kids and adults nationwide. She visited Dubois County in April 2016.
The idea for Senate Bill 355 came from a conversation Lampert had with Quinn during her visit. The two were talking about how Indiana didn't have a law like Jenna's Law. The next time Lampert saw State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, the issue came up in conversation and Messmer ran with the idea. He took the issue to the study committee during the 2016 legislative session to see if such a law would be possible in Indiana, and his office authored the bill that passed unanimously this year, with several other senators and representatives adding their names.
“It seemed well overdue and well justified,” Messmer said.
Lampert stayed active in efforts to get the bill passed. As director of SWICACC, she sees children after the abuse has been done. SWICACC brings law enforcement, prosecutors, Department of Child Services staff and medical staff together to help children who are victims of abuse. Lampert often conducts forensic interviews with victims which can be used in courts and keep victims from having to relive the trauma repeatedly. Last year, Lampert conducted 325 interviews, and more than 75 of those were with children from Dubois County. So far this year, she said, SWICACC has done 100 interviews. SWICACC serves Dubois, Spencer, Crawford, Daviess, Martin, Orange and Perry counties.
“There is child abuse that happens here every day,” she said.
When the idea for Senate Bill 355 first took off, Lampert called local school officials to see if adding the prevention education was feasible. They all agreed that it could be done. She also called Sandy Runkle, director of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana. Runkle tried to get a similar bill passed several years ago, Lampert said, but was met with opposition. Runkle warned Lampert that the new bill might not pass.
“She said, ‘I don't want you to get your hopes up. I just don't know. People give resistance to this,” Lampert recalled.
People often resist such bills, Lampert said, because people don't want schools giving students “the sex talk,” but that's not what prevention education is. At younger ages, she said, it teaches kids about appropriate and inappropriate behavior and where to go to get help. As students get older, topics such as trafficking and teen dating violence are added to the curriculum.
With their bill, however, Lampert and Messmer never saw resistance. In fact, people were receptive. As the bill went through the many stages to become law, senators and representatives added their names to it. By the time it went to its final vote in the House, more than five legislators' names appeared on the bill as either authors or sponsors, including Rep. Mike Braun, R-Jasper. That was a cool thing to see, Lampert said.
The one hiccup came when the bill needed to appear before the House Education Committee. Lampert got a call on a Saturday telling her there was a problem. The committee chair, Rep. Robert Behning, R-Indianapolis, wasn't going to put the bill on the agenda. If a committee chair opts not to put a bill on their committee's agenda, the bill dies. For Lampert and those working on the bill, having it die in committee wasn't an option. Several people made lots of phone calls that Saturday and got the bill on the agenda.
“Once he scheduled it, I knew we were going to get it through with no problem,” Messmer said.
Lampert traveled to Indianapolis to testify during the committee's hearing on the bill. She joined several other stakeholders, including survivors and parents of survivors, who spoke before the committee. One mother told the story of her son who told no one he'd been abused until he killed his romantic partner and himself years later. Disclosure of his abuse came in the suicide note. Survivor Isha Haley told her story and used her testimony to respond to a discussion the committee had been having earlier. Some of the representatives, Lampert said, had suggested that some of the kids with behavioral problems are just “bad apples.”
“I think it just got her,“ Lampert said. “She got up there and said, ‘How in the (heck) was I supposed to be a good student and focus and do everything they wanted and get great grades from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. when I was trying to figure out how I was going to protect myself from 4 p.m. until the next morning?'”
After the testimony, the bill passed the committee no problem and went on to unanimously pass the House, just as it had the Senate. Gov. Eric Holcomb signed the law shortly after. He also granted the ceremonial signing that took place on Tuesday. Messmer said it's difficult to get a ceremonial signing because the governor gets so many requests for them.
“We were very pleased that he saw the value of that bill and allowed our house and senate sponsors to be there.” Messmer said.
The bill takes effect July 1 and the Indiana Department of Education and local schools have until December 2018 to implement it. Both Lampert and Messmer are excited for the positive effects the bill will have. Studies have shown that prevention education increases reporting up to 95 percent, which Lampert thinks is awesome since research also shows only 5 to 10 percent of child abuse cases are actually reported.
“If this increases the number of reports, that's awesome,” she said. “That's more kids that are going to be able to get the treatment, the services and the counseling that they need and the safety to protect them.”
Increase of child abuse reported by Advocacy Center
by Amanda Purcell
HUDSON — Officials at the Dr. Stephen and Suzanne Menkes Child Advocacy Center in Hudson say that the new facility will help them serve an increased amount of reported child abuse cases in Columbia County.
The advocacy center, which provides Columbia County families with resources to report and stop domestic and sexual child abuse, moved to its new facility at 946 Columbia St. from 1A Milo St. in Hudson earlier this year after purchasing the two-story building and renovating it.
On Tuesday, local and state law enforcement and social services departments toured the offices where they will be working alongside trained child interviewers, advocates and counselors.
“You want them (children) to go to a place where they feel safe and comfortable and that's warm and friendly,” said Jeffrey Rovitz, executive director of the Mental Health Association of Columbia and Greene Counties. “We bought this place and renovated for the inherent purpose of making it more child- and family-friendly and we also wanted the additional space for meeting space and for our partners.”
The Child Advocacy Center's services include long-term counseling and trauma therapy, referrals to shelters, support groups, courtroom preparation, medical exams and caregiver support groups to children and their families.
The Greene County Child Advocacy Center is located at 905 Greene County Office Building, Cairo. The advocacy center provided assistance to 180 families in the Twin Counties in 2016.
“We've seen an increase in reporting,” said Julianne Baumann, program director. “We've seen children abused at younger ages. There's been an increase in what we call sexually problematic behaviors where children act out on other children. We've seen more child endangerment because of heroin and opioid epidemic.”
“Once a child comes here, we know that we are going to create a team for that child and their family to get through that process,” Baumann said. “And we're going to work with everybody to provide structure, and treatment and anything they need. That is the really nice piece of it. We not only want to show the community that we support the child and the family, but we also want to hold offenders accountable. We want to show the community that is not something that is taken lightly. If you are predator or if you go after some of our most vulnerable in our community, we are going to come back at you — hard.”
At the advocacy center, the child tells his or her story to a trained interviewer in a way that does not re-traumatize the child.
But, before Child Advocacy Centers were introduced across the state in 1996, that wasn't always the case. The child might talk to several people after an incident — CPS, nurses, doctors, police, and district attorney's office, according to Tom Hess, a board member of Columbia County's Mental Health Association
“The kid could end up talking to about 15 people about what happened to him or her and so they end up coerced out of talking by their offenders, or get tired of talking about it, or, in some cases, can become re-traumatized,” said Hess, who is also one of the first advocates for child advocacy centers across the state while working with New York State Office of Children and Family Services.
If you know of any child or family who might need this valuable service, call the Child Advocacy Center at 518-697-3320 in Columbia County or 518-622-9034 in Greene County.
Social Services discusses unborn child abuse judgment decision
by Abbey McEnroe
Vilas County Social Services met Tuesday to discuss how the recent unborn child abuse judgment decision will affect the services they can provide and the actions they can take involving pregnant women.
On April 28, a federal court in Wisconsin ruled a state law allowing the detention, forced treatment and incarceration of pregnant women as unconstitutional.
The law, called the Unborn Child Protection Act, otherwise known as Wisconsin Act 292, was passed in 1997. This made the state responsible in protecting fetuses at all stages of pregnancy. The law allowed the courts to force pregnant women with any history of drug use into drug treatment and into jail if treatment was refused.
The judgment decision specifically stemmed from Tamara Loertscher's case out of Taylor County. As a result of the law, Loertscher was incarcerated and held in solitary confinement while pregnant.
According to the Mother Jones article "A Judge Struck Down the 'Cocaine Mom' Law That Put Pregnant Women in Jail," Loertscher sought medical care after finding out she was pregnant and disclosed to the medical staff she had a history of methamphetamine and marijuana use but stopped after she realized she was pregnant. The courts and child services got involved and Loertscher was subject to juvenile court hearings.
When she refused to participate in an intreatment drug program she was jailed for contempt of court. A lawyer was then appointed to her 14-week fetus while Loertscher herself was not given legal council. She spent about three weeks incarcerated in a Taylor County jail and received no prenatal care. She eventually agreed to go through an intreatment drug program and all of her drug tests came back negative. She gave birth to a healthy baby in 2015.
She sued Wisconsin and Taylor County in federal court for violating her civil rights in 2015.
On April 28 of this year, a Wisconsin federal court ruled the law was unconstitutionally vague.
"They felt it didn't quantify when harm happened to the fetus well enough," Vilas County Social Services director Kathryn Gardner said.
Gardner said since the judgment has taken place Social Services has been warned not to bring anything forward regarding unborn fetus protection.
"Because the summary judgment stated that it's unconstitutionally vague ... we've all been advised by our corp councils that we are not to bring anything forward regarding unborn fetus protection," Gardner explained.
However, Vilas County is unique in having the county and the tribe. The tribe is a sovereign entity, meaning their courts do not need to follow the judgment.
"The issues that we may have is this does not affect the tribe," Gardner stated. "The tribe is sovereign and ... their court can continue to do what they choose with respect to this now."
"How does this affect full faith and credit?" Gardner asked regarding the tribe. "If we're supposed to give full faith and credit to court orders and the court gives us an order against a pregnant woman on a UCHIPs (Unborn Child in Need of Protection Services), and they're requiring or asking for payment or looking for some sort of thing from us, what are we supposed to do?"
The Full Faith and Credit Clause, Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, says states within the United States have to respect the "public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state."
In short, if the tribal courts rule against a pregnant woman on a UCHIP charge, Vilas County Social Services is put in a precarious position as they cannot even document it as a service report.
"Suffice to say, at this point we're kind of dead in the water on anything related to unborn CHIPS," Gardner said.
Gardner says the state plans on rewriting the statute, but there has been feedback regarding the science behind it.
"The state says they are planning on rewriting the statute, but there's a lot of feedback out there because this is such an imperfect science, and the fact that harm to the fetus relies on so many variables such as a woman's health, her genetics, her state of pregnancy, her weight - that in any given case you'd be hard pressed to kick that point..." Gardner explained.
"Even though the child when born is already addicted to the chemical the woman is using, that's not perceived as being a harmful activty?" board member Erv Teichmiller asked.
Gardner explained that birthing a child who is addicted to drugs or alcohol is not illegal in Wisconsin. However, after a child takes its first breath SS can intervene.
"Once the child takes their first breath then we have the ability, if it's a vulnerable child,and we get a report from the hospital that this is a vulnerable child, we have the ability to follow up," Gardner said. "Now we can't force services, we can't do anything at that point, we offer services that the child's going to need in order to mediate risk and then if the family does not have the supports in place to access those services or refuses to access those services then we could act."
Gardner said the law as it stands pushes women away from services that have the ability to help them and their unborn children.
"There's been a long, drawn-out, ongoing battle between doctors, and psychiatrists, and addiction specialists who have said that the law as it stands basically pushes women away from services, and that being the case, what would be more beneficial is to have a service system that women can access easily in-patient where they can bring their children, their existing children, without fear or risk that CPS is going to remove their children," Gardner explained.
The Menominee tribe's Maehnowesekiyah Wellness Center, a center dedicated to "alcohol, drug, mental health, adolescent, domestic violence treatment, education and support services," had provided drug and alcohol treatment to pregnant women in the past but now does not have the capacity.
Gardner expressed that, to her, treatment is a far better route than incarceration.
"To me, that is a better solution than to try and go the statutory route because whenever you do that, basically women go underground and ... then both their health and the health of the child is typically at risk," Gardner asserted. "So I see this as more of a service gap and a service issue and if we were able to provide the kind of services these women need, without fear of reprisal, we might be more successful and at least getting temperance during the period of time the woman is carrying, because then you've got doctors that can help mediate the situation, the addiction with medication that is allowable and not as harmful to the fetus."
Teichmiller conveyed that providing treatment instead of incarceration would require a change in law.
"Well that's going to be a change in the law to decriminalize chemical abuse and willingness on the part of people to start throwing some money at a treatment..." Teichmiller stated. "We have less and less money available for treatment and prevention."
Before the conversation began to repeat itself, chairman Alden Bauman stopped the discussion and told the board to put the item on the agenda for next meeting.
LePage push to treat drug, alcohol use during pregnancy as child abuse suffers setback
by Nok-Noi Ricker
AUGUSTA, Maine — A legislative committee dealt a blow to Gov. Paul LePage's bill that would designate drug or alcohol use by pregnant woman as child abuse.
In an 8-5 vote this week, the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee recommended against passage of LD 1556, which seeks to expand who is mandated to report child abuse to the Department of Health and Human Services, a legislative clerk said Thursday.
The bill would also require all mandated reporters to tell state health officials when “they know or suspect substance abuse by a woman during her pregnancy.”
The mandated reporting would apply even if the drugs were prescribed as part of a recovery program. Advocates and addiction treatment professionals said the change would scare away mothers-to-be, potentially causing them to avoid both prenatal and substance abuse care.
The bill is intended to get pregnant woman into recovery programs, the governor said, but it also means prenatal drug or alcohol exposure could be grounds for terminating parental rights.
The bill was referred to the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, which held a May 8 hearing where members of the Maine Medical Association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the Maine Hospital Association and others spoke against the measure.
The proposal now moves to the House and Senate for floor votes.
Hiding in Plain Sight: Reporting child sexual abuse
by 6 News Web Staff
Those who advocate for child sexual abuse survivors say, it's a crime that's hard to report and seeking justice isn't always that easy.
Year after year, sexual assault continues to be one of the most under-reported crimes.. If you ask any expert or police officer, they'll tell you that those numbers don't tell the whole story.
In fact they just tell a fraction of it.
On average in Michigan, more than 240 suspected child abuse and neglect complaints are investigated daily. In 2016, there were more than 25,000 confirmed cases of abuse and neglect. 39% of those abused were under the age of 4.
However, when looking at numbers across the United States, 68% of child crimes are never reported to police.
That means, thousands of children could have been abused and we won't ever know.
Speaking out is embarrassing for a kid, but sometimes they also scared of the person abusing them.
Dr. Mary Pulido says, when kids come forward to share their abuse it requires not only bravery and strength, but also a deep trust for the person they decide to tell. That's not necessarily easy.
So when a child does come forward, they should always be believed.
From there, it's up to that person to report the abuse to police.
That's where small talk, a child advocacy center in Ingham County, comes into the picture.
It's a place where kids who are at the center of child abuse investigations can share their stories, and can do so comfortably.
Alex Brace is the non-profit organization's executive director. He says Small Talk allows for a non-bias fact finding interview to see what is happening to a child.
According to Brace, the interview is different than your typical criminal investigation because the young victim is interviewed just once.
The reason for that is so that the child isn't re-traumatized. Brace explains that only the necessary people are there for the interview.
One of the people in the room is detective Annie Harrison from the Ingham County Sheriff's Office.
When conducts the interviews, Harrison makes sure it's open-ended, so the child can share their stories in their own words.
For those who think a child could “make up” a story of sexual abuse, both Harrison and Brace agree that it's highly unlikely.
After a child visits small talk, they are offered free counseling services. Being with the child from when they first disclosure and all the way through the prosecution process can make a world of difference.
Small Talk Executive Producer Alex Brace has found that it boosts their confidence and Small Talk provides one of the best approaches to these sensitive cases.
Detective Annie Harrison wants parents to know that in many cases, children share the story of their abuse with another child. Harrison believes it's important for children to know how to receive a disclosure and understand they aren't “tattling” or violating the trust of a friend.
There is hope for survivors of child sexual abuse
by Jo Vitek
When a child through absolutely no fault of their own is sexually abused, it pierces their very soul and impacts every aspect of their life in a very profound way.
The vast majority of child sexual abuse incidents involve a family member or someone else known by the child or family. One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused, resulting in a minimum of 4,000 children being abused each year in South Dakota.
In September 2014, I disclosed publicly from the pulpit of the First United Methodist Church of Watertown that I was sexually abused by an uncle. Looking back at my childhood, I exhibited behaviors indicative of child sexual abuse; however, in the 1960s, my parents didn't know then what we know now.
The first evidence-based research concerning adverse childhood experiences happened in 1998. Today, we know the adverse effects of child sexual abuse. There is staggering proof that health, social and economic risks are the result of childhood trauma.
In March 2016, Tony and I established Chief Jo's Hope, Healing & Hoof Prints (HHH) Fund at the Watertown Area Community Foundation. Now, whenever law enforcement from Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate or any of the 13 counties in northeast South Dakota investigates an incident of child sexual abuse, before that child “walks out of the door,” the child receives a gift of hope and healing – an equine experience at Joy Ranch. The footprint of our service area was greatly influenced by Jolene's Law Task Force (JLTF), which was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2014 to confront and tackle child sexual abuse head-on. Watertown was chosen as the location for a multi-disciplinary team to investigate and combat child sexual abuse in northeast South Dakota. Law enforcement officers will be trained at Lake Area Tech next month on child sexual abuse investigation protocol. A child advocacy center will be located at Watertown's Sanford Clinic. No longer will families and law enforcement officers have to travel to Sioux Falls for forensic interviews and examinations.
The synergy between Chief Jo's HHH program, Jolene's Law Task Force, Lake Area Tech's Title IX mandates and initiatives – coupled with political, religious and community support – served as a catalyst to prompt and inspire survivors of child sexual abuse and sexual assault to emerge in mass. In June 2016, Hope In God (HIG) came into being. It's a Christian network of women survivors who provide spiritual and emotional support for each other while increasing community awareness. It also serves as a resource for law enforcement and churches, and provides six offerings to survivors: weekly Wounded Heart book study; one-on-one mentoring; outreach awareness opportunities for churches, businesses, schools and organizations; indoor and outdoor activities; weekly circle groups; and diversity initiatives. In February 2017, the first-ever HIG Winter Retreat occurred at Joy Ranch. The women who attended were 18 to 83 years old. Various spiritually based offerings were provided, including a contemplative writing experience in which survivors learned how to write their stories with anonymity. “Courageous Women of the Prairie” will tell the stories of survivors. The book will help us to raise funds for future retreats at Joy Ranch.
We give thanks to God for meeting our needs through churches, foundations, organizations, and community members.
Gov. Daugaard, Attorney General Marty Jackley and Mayor Steve Thorson have been and continue to lead from the front, and they are making a difference in the lives of our kids in South Dakota. Everyone is chipping in and doing their part to include the churches, the Watertown School District and Lake Area Tech. During this school year, law enforcement students distributed sexual assault care packages to all police departments, sheriff's offices and tribal police in northeast South Dakota. Furthermore, they provided sexual assault awareness talks to LATI faculty, staff and students.
Now, thanks to the efforts of Shawn McCall, director of guest services at Joy Ranch, and Pastor Steve Biswell of the Watertown Wesleyan Church, HIG for men is underway. If you or someone you know is interested in knowing more, you can find us on Facebook @WatertownSDHIGtrees.
Child sexual abuse and sexual assault does not discriminate – it adversely affects all of us, all cultures, all ages. In hindsight, God knew exactly what He was doing when he led Tony and I from Central Florida to Northeast South Dakota. It just took us a little while to see His plan.
Jo Vitek is an LATI instructor and former Watertown Police chief.
7 Victims Name Priests Who Sexually Abused Them As Children
by Sharon Otterman
Seven men who were abused as children by priests of the Archdiocese of New York revealed on Thursday some of the details of the settlements they had received through the archdiocese's new sexual abuse survivor compensation fund.
Since October, more than 100 victims have settled their sex abuse cases with the archdiocese by taking their claims to the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program . But very few details have been revealed because the program keeps the cases confidential, and no victims have yet spoken out.
The seven victims who revealed details on Thursday did so through their lawyer, J. Michael Reck. He said that they had received settlements of $150,000 to $350,000 each from the archdiocese. And he named the men's abusers, saying his clients hoped that other possible victims would come forward and file claims.
“It's a public safety imperative, because these are individuals who in many cases have an extended history in the archdiocese,” Mr. Reck said.
The abuse in each of the seven cases took place in the 1970s and 1980s, but nearly all the priests continued to work until the 2000s or beyond. None of the priests are in active ministry, and five have been laicized, meaning they are no longer priests, the archdiocese said.
The seven victims sought settlements through the compensation program because under New York State law, they can no longer sue or bring criminal cases for their abuse. Despite years of efforts to change the law, New York has one of the most restrictive statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims in the nation, requiring that victims bring criminal or civil charges before they turn 23.
All six priests have been mentioned in past news media reports as suspects in abuse, though in some cases the archdiocese has said it was still investigating the abuse claims. Their employment histories were provided by Mr. Reck but were not confirmed by the archdiocese.
They include the Rev. John O'Keefe, who worked at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx from 1976 to 1991, and was the president of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, N.Y., from 1992 until 2004. He was then the pastor of St. Margaret of Antioch Parish in Pearl River, N.Y., for a decade before he was permanently removed over abuse allegations; he was laicized last year.
The Rev. Richard Gorman was the chairman of Community Board 12 in the Bronx and worked at Cardinal Spellman High School for more than 20 years. He was suspended from ministry in 2016 after allegations of sexual abuse emerged. The canonical case against him continues.
The Rev. Peter Kihm, who was laicized in 2016, bounced among parishes in Dutchess, Rockland and Westchester Counties for 34 years before being removed from his final parish, Good Shepherd in Rhinebeck, N. Y., because of multiple allegations of abuse.
The Rev. Gennaro “Jerry” Gentile was moved through seven different parishes through the 1970s and 1980s. He was sued by the families of two victims in 1997, and removed from ministry in 2002 when a confidential settlement was reached. He was laicized in 2005.
The Rev. Ralph LaBelle, who was accused by two of Mr. Reck's clients, worked in parishes in the Bronx, Staten Island and Manhattan. He was removed from Sacred Heart in Patterson, N.Y., in 2002 after several victims came forward, and was laicized in 2005.
The Rev. Francis Stinner worked in high schools in Goshen and Somers, N.Y., through the 1970s and 1980s. A parent first reported abuse allegations in 1988, but the archdiocese did not open an investigation until 1997. He was also laicized in 2005.
The seven cases were among 145 considered in the first phase of the compensation program, which weighed cases already known to church authorities, said Camille S. Biros, an administrator of the program. Of those, 118 victims have accepted settlements, in that way releasing the archdiocese of any further liability.
The second phase of the program is underway for new claims. So far, 154 people have submitted claims, of which 42 are eligible to move forward, Ms. Biros said.
The program considers only cases of abuse committed by archdiocesan priests and deacons, not members of religious orders or lay people working in the archdiocese. New claims must be submitted by July 31, she said.
Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that he hoped the news conference encouraged more victims to submit claims and that he had no problem with victims' wanting to publicize their abusers.
Participants in the program “have the absolute right to speak about their abuse and their abuser at any time, to whomever they want, however they want,” he said.
Australia does what US won't: Investigate Jehovah's Witness cover-up
by Trey Bundy
A former Jehovah's Witness in Australia is scheduled to appear in court this week to face charges that he sexually abused four teenage boys between 1993 and 2013, according to a news report.
The case is significant because it stems from an ongoing investigation by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which found that Jehovah's Witnesses do not report child sexual abuse to law enforcement as a matter of policy.
The commission obtained records from the religion's headquarters in Australia detailing allegations of child abuse going back to 1950. Investigators identified 1,006 alleged abusers, none of whom had been reported to authorities. The commission referred hundreds of those cases to law enforcement and now we're starting to see criminal charges filed.
“We hope that this arrest is one of many that police make against perpetrators within the JW faith that have got away with their crimes for far too long,” said Lisa Flynn, an attorney who has represented hundreds of victims of child sexual abuse, including former Jehovah's Witnesses and some who have appeared before the Royal Commission. “It is a very positive step that we are seeing police investigations, and now, subsequent arrests.”
Meanwhile, the U.S., which is home to more than a million Jehovah's Witnesses and the religion's global headquarters, appears to be doing nothing.
As part of a three-year investigation into the Jehovah's Witnesses child sexual abuse policies, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting contacted the FBI, attorneys general in New York and California, the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office and several members of Congress, and found no indication of a government investigation.
This despite at least 20 child sexual abuse lawsuits pending against the Jehovah's Witnesses across the country, including some in which the religion's leaders have violated court orders to turn over a national database containing the names and congregations of child abusers going back decades.
Irwin Zalkin, a San Diego attorney who represents victims of abuse, has gone to court repeatedly to get the Jehovah's Witnesses to turn over their child abuse database. But so far, the organization has defied judges' orders to give up the names of any perpetrators. Zalkin worries that they could still be abusing children.
“It's a public safety issue,” Zalkin told Reveal last year. “At this point, this needs to be investigated.”
If the U.S. is looking for a model of how to turn evidence into prosecutions, it could look to the Australian Royal Commission, which investigates child abuse in secular, government and religious institutions, including the Jehovah's Witnesses.
In a statement reported this week by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Justice Peter McClellan said the commission – which he heads – has reviewed 1.2 million documents and heard evidence from 1,200 witnesses.
McClellan said the commission had referred 2,025 cases to law enforcement. So far, 127 of them had been investigated by the authorities.
“The volume of referrals is so great it will take some time before all matters are processed,” McClellan said.
In 2015, the commission found, among other problems, that Jehovah's Witnesses do not report child sexual abuse to police or other authorities and subsequently place children at risk of further abuse.
In their response, the Jehovah's Witnesses took issue with virtually all of the commission's findings, including the risk of further abuse of children.
“The mere presence of an offender within a congregation does not necessarily entail that other children in a congregation or the community are at risk,” they wrote in their response.
Islington kids' homes scandal: Why did police pull plug on new child abuse probe?
by Emma Youle
It can only be described as a perplexing sequence of events that has left survivors of the Islington kids' homes abuse let down – again.
From the 1970s to the 1990s an unknown number of children were abused sexually, physically, emotionally, or through neglect, in Islington children's homes. It is a scandal that leaves a stain on the borough to this day.
The number harmed stretches to at least 40 current members of the Islington Survivors Network (ISN) but they are feared to be substantially higher.
Yet only a handful of abusers were ever exposed, much less brought to justice.
Today, in significant new developments on the historic scandal, the Gazette can report:
• Islington Police began a new investigation in October to work towards criminal prosecutions, offering hope that after decades perpetrators of abuse might be tried in court;
• Two officers met Dr Liz Davies, an original whistleblower and key source of information on the scandal, to begin work;
• Together they created a secret list of 26 names of alleged abusers who may have committed grave crimes against children;
• But shortly afterwards the Islington police investigation closed without warning, again dashing the hopes of survivors.
The Gazette understands the probe was shut down after involvement from Operation Winter Key – the Metropolitan Police team linked to the national Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).
But police did not answer our questions or confirm if IICSA is investigating.
The position of survivors is far less opaque. They have called for the Met to re-open the Islington Police-led probe and bring the perpetrators of child abuse, rape and torture in Islington's kids' homes to justice.
Social worker Dr Davies, founder of ISN, said: “We need a proactive police-led investigation to achieve convictions and also disciplinary action against those who colluded with the abuse and facilitated it.”
She said new evidence that has come to light in recent years has left her shocked.
“I thought I knew a lot from the '90s, but now hearing account after account I know it was far worse and more extensive abuse than I ever imagined in my worst dreams,” said Dr Davies.
“These children were in effect handed over to predatory child abusers who passed them around to other abusers through holiday schemes, boat trips, work placements, swimming events and night hikes in forests. It was well planned and orchestrated.”
One survivor said: “ISN has statements from over 40 adult survivors who lived through years of cruelty, abuse and neglect.
“Not one person has told us that Islington Council contacted them and asked about his or her time in ‘care' and the effect it had on their lives. As ISN survivors we know there has been no justice.”
Despite the passage of time there is a realistic chance of prosecutions, as shown by the case of one ISN survivor who was repeatedly raped from the age of 12 in the 1980s while under the care of Islington social services.
The man who terrorised her and left her pregnant at 13 was jailed for 13 years in 2016.
It has also come to light that Islington Council has boxes of files in its archives relating to 13 inquiries into the abuse scandal carried out in the 1990s – which could contain key information.
Another survivor told the Gazette: “We are waiting for someone to examine the contents. The council acknowledges that it's really important to do this.”
ISN has asked for an amnesty for all current and former council staff who witnessed child abuse and did not report it at the time, in the hope new witnesses will come forward who can corroborate survivors' evidence.
The council vowed it would offer full co-operation.
A spokesman said: “We support police investigations into any new allegations relating to historical abuse of Islington children.
“We will offer all assistance to police and access to files to any police-led investigations.”
Scotland Yard gave this short statement in response to our questions: “Anyone who wishes to speak to police should do so directly through their local station, or by calling 101.
“To remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers.”
PAST POLICE INQUIRIES AND CONVICTIONS
Dr Liz Davies went to Scotland Yard with her concerns about the abuse of Islington children in 1992 and worked with detectives on two investigations.
Neither led to prosecutions.
The only person jailed over the scandal was volunteer canoe instructor Roy Caterer.
He worked at a boarding school used by Islington and was jailed for seven and a half years in 1991 for sexually abusing children.
Two other ex-Islington children's home bosses, now dead, fled to the resort of Pattaya in Thailand.
Nicholas Rabet, deputy manager of Grosvenor Avenue children's home until 1989, was investigated by Sussex Police in 1992 but never prosecuted.
Thai police brought charges for the alleged abuse of 30 boys, but he killed himself in 2006 before trial.
Bernie Bain, superintendent of Elwood Street children's home in the late 1970s and early 1980s, fled Britain in 1996 just before he could be arrested for the alleged rape of seven young boys in care.
He was briefly imprisoned in Morocco for child pornography but killed himself in May 2000.
VIEWS ON POLICE PROBE
Labour stalwart and long-serving MP Emily Thornberry has said her “heart goes out to those who suffered abuse in Islington's children's homes” as she responded to calls for a new police inquiry this week.
The Labour parliamentary candidate for Islington South and Finsbury said the Metropolitan Police must be free to take its own decision on whether to open a new inquiry free from political interference.
“However, I would hope and expect that the police will consider carefully and appropriately the case that has been made to them by the Islington Survivors' Network to re-open their inquiries, and provide a full response in due course,” she said.
Ms Thornberry said she fully supports efforts to uncover the truth.
“If that leads to the prosecution of guilty parties – whether responsible for abuse or for negligence – then I will be delighted to see justice done,” she said.
The Gazette also contacted Labour leader and Islington North parliamentary candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who was MP for Islington North when the scandal broke, for comment.
He did not respond.
* Did you suffer or witness sexual or physical assaults or emotional neglect at Islington children's homes? If so, you can contact the Islington Survivors' Network via islingtonsurvivors.co.uk, or Dr Liz Davies in confidence on firstname.lastname@example.org
Investigation finds child abuse can be tough to prove in Pennsylvania
They said their children have been abused, but they can't get child welfare authorities to believe them.
by Paul Van Osdol
PITTSBURGH — They said their children have been abused, but they can't get child welfare authorities to believe them.
Experts said this happens all too often and, in some cases, exposes children to harm and death.
Two twin girls, 3, seemed carefree as they played, but their mother said they and their 8-year-old brother are scarred by an abusive father.
Because of the nature of these allegations, Action News Investigates is not identifying the family.
“The fact that their father could do this. I mean, he's a monster,” the mother said.
She said the girls have repeatedly told her that their father sexually abused them, but the mother isn't the only one who has noticed.
A medical record showed the girls' doctor filed an abuse complaint with the state ChildLine abuse registry, when one of the twins said the father touched her inappropriately.
“Not only was he touching her, she actually showed the pediatrician him acting out,” the mother said.
But the girls would not repeat the claim to a child abuse investigator, so no charges were filed.
“It's a nightmare. My daughters are back to unsupervised visitations, and they're coming home, claiming their father is still sexually assaulting them,” the mother said.
Action News Investigates obtained records showing more than 20 ChildLine complaints involving the three children were filed in the past year by doctors, therapists and the mother.
Her son testified under oath at a protection from abuse hearing that his father sexually assaulted him repeatedly.
The judge handling the PFA case acknowledged that “testimony was presented from which the court could find that father abused his children."
But the judge said the father's "denials of abuse were credible," while the son's testimony was "not credible."
The boy's mother said the child does not understand why.
“And he keeps saying, ‘Why doesn't anybody believe me?' He goes, ‘I wouldn't make this stuff up,'” she said.
In court records, the father denied all abuse allegations. The father and his attorney declined to comment.
In another county, Children and Youth Services found a girl was mentally abused by her father.
According to court records, the father flicked the girl in the face and pulled her hair.
“My daughter asked, ‘Please, stop. Please, don't ever do that again,' and he said, ‘No, I'm not going to quit. Never ever will I quit,'” the girl's mother said.
A psychiatrist endorsed the CYS abuse finding. When the father appealed, an administrative judge threw out the abuse finding, saying CYS failed to prove the child suffered chronic, long-term anxiety and reasonable fear of her father.
The mother is appealing that decision, saying the judge focused only on the flicking incident and ignored "ongoing evidence of abuse."
The mother said it was not just one incident.
“This is a long history of dangerous behaviors towards my daughter,” she said.
In court, the father denied any abusive behavior. The father and his attorney refused to comment.
Child welfare experts said these cases showed how difficult it can be to prove child abuse.
Helen Cahalane runs the child welfare training program at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Instances of alleged child abuse and neglect are very complicated, extremely complicated,” she said.
Clarence Johnson said that's because sometimes it's not true.
No criminal abuse charges were filed against him, but civil court records showed the Westmoreland Children's Bureau found he abused one child who allegedly had 'bruising on the lower back and buttocks.'
In another abuse allegation, the children's bureau said he threatened a child with a kitchen knife.
Reporter Paul Van Osdol asked Johnson if he put a knife to his child's throat.
“I didn't, sir, not at all,” Johnson said.
Judge Tim Krieger agreed, calling the 5-year-old child's testimony "neither credible nor reliable."
As for the bruises, the judge said they were actually Mongolian spots, a kind of birth mark.
“It's been the allegations of CYS, making false allegations against me, to keep me away from my kids,” Johnson said.
The children's bureau refused to comment on Johnson's case. But bureau director Shara Saveikis said that, in general, "a finding by the family court, that there is not clear and convincing evidence, does not lead to a reversal of the indicated abuse report,"
Dr. Rachel Berger, who heads the child advocacy center at Children's Hospital, said Pennsylvania law makes it difficult to prove abuse.
“The children may die or nearly die, but as a state, for one reason or another, we don't indicate these cases, so we're not counting them as abuse,” she said.
The child welfare system may not count the 3-year-old twins as abuse victims, but their mother said they are suffering.
“The system has totally failed my children. They don't get another chance. I can't replace them,” she said.
Child abuse prevention program improving
by Tessa Duvall
After more than a year of scrutiny, staff turnover and struggle to meet benchmarks, the Healthy Families child abuse prevention program is receiving praise from the board charged with overseeing it.
The Jacksonville Children's Commission at its board meeting Wednesday received a report that shows Healthy Families, as run by The Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, is fully staffed and is about 50 families away from being at its full capacity.
The progress has become so encouraging that board Chair Matt Kane called it the “brightest bright spot in our last meeting.”
In March 2016, the commission first publicly laid out its concerns with The Bridge of Northeast Florida, which then operated Healthy Families, for its under-utilization of the program. By May 2016, The Bridge, which is now merging with the Boys and Girls Club, had shown little progress and the Healthy Families Florida organization had “grave concerns” about what was happening in Jacksonville. And so, the JCC board decided to re-bid the contract, worth more than $1 million, and the Healthy Start Coalition took over.
As a part of the statewide Healthy Families Florida initiative, the local program provides voluntary, home-visit services to high-risk families living in targeted ZIP codes. Services start during pregnancy, or shortly after birth, and can last up to five years. Program staffers help families with bonding and establishing a nurturing environment, and can help connect them with other services they might need, such as medical care, food and job training.
The program currently serves 323 families, said program manager Mary Nash, who said the number represents 83 percent of the capacity the current staff is trained to handle. Staff enrolled 43 new families in February — more than any other site in the state — and another 49 in March.
Nash termed the progress “amazing.”
One area that continues to be a challenge for Healthy Families Jacksonville is the home visit completion rate, which is still at only 63 percent, though the goal is 80 percent. Nash said with new staff, it just takes some time to build rapport with the families.
Board member LeAnna Cumber, who has been vocal in her concerns about the program since last year, said eventually, something other than waiting will have to be done to improve that metric. Nash agreed.
Preventing child abuse: Social workers will get special attention during 2018 budget session, Senate Health and Welfare chair says
by Nick Storm
Child abuse is a growing problem in the commonwealth; the General Assembly passed laws aimed at combating the uptick in reported abuse cases during the 2017 session, but Senate Health and Welfare chair Julie Raque Adams says there will be more work during the budget writing session next year.
The number of reported cases of abuse in Kentucky is staggering. More than 8,000 kids are in the care of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. The number of cases of abuse and neglect has been rising with more than 15,000 cases last year – a 55 percent increase from 2012.
Tens of thousands of Kentucky kids go abused or neglected every year, and Adams said one way to deal with the issue could be to shine more light on juvenile proceedings and revamping social work.
“We have too few social workers. We don't pay them enough money, and they carry too heavy of a burden with their caseloads,” Adams said. “It's almost unrealistic to think we put this pressure on this segment of state worker — that really they're doomed to fail, because we're not setting up a scenario where they can be successful.”
“I want to see a focus on case workers and how we do them better. How we get more in, how we pay them more,” Adams continued. “They really do protect our most vulnerable.”
Work over the interim months, should set the state up for “realistic figures” on how to pay social workers more money and lessen caseloads.
Adams said she thinks the Bevin administration has made the issue a priority, and she hopes the state can focus on social workers next session.
When asked if the Department of Community Based Services also needs to be reviewed when considering potential reforms to save the lives of children, Adams said top-down reviews can be beneficial for government.
Adams, said the General Assmebly passed legislation earlier this year that would require school districts, in-home care givers and or state supported parks to check with the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to prove they have no substantiated instances of child abuse.
The law requires new hires at school districts to obtain letters from the health cabinet indicating that they have no substantiated instances of child abuse or neglect on their records.
“I really feel as if this is a way we have been able to close that loop and protect kids better than we had been doing,” Adams said.
Sex trafficking happening in Nebraska's backyard
NORTH PLATTE, Neb. -- "Frankly, It's easy sex," Anne Power, Executive Director, Bridge Of Hope Child Advocacy Center, said.
Sex trafficking, it's a nationwide issue, and happening right here in Nebraska. The FBI calls it modern day slavery.
"We think about slavery, and think that ended years and years ago, but it has not," LeeAnn Nielsen, Salvation Army Fight To End Trafficking, said.
It's happening in rural areas, as well as urban.
"They do it through a merit of ways, either through abuse, exploitation, sometimes immigration, legal issues, and they use that as leverage and use it for forced labor or forced sex," Tanya Roberts-Connick, Chief Deputy County Attorney, said.
A report from Creighton University, funded by The Women's Fund of Omaha, shows every month in Nebraska, 900 people are sold for sex.
Happening even in our tiny towns, they travel wherever the business takes them.
"People think, "It cannot be happening in our tiny town", but it does. Traffickers may advertise in North Platte, but they are going to travel to where the business is," Nielsen said.
Interstate 80 acts as a pipeline, making it easy and profitable for traffickers to advertise in several areas along the interstate. "Being on i80, that really adds to the problem. It allows individuals not only in state to traffic easily, but also creates a network from state-to-state ," Nielsen said.
Many confuse prostitution with sex trafficking.
"People are being forced into doing this, or being coerced, or being threatened to participate in this type of activity," Nebraska State Patrol, Investigator Sgt., Clint Elwood said.
Tactics to trap victims vary from being tricked and lured online, to force from a family member or friend.
"They can recruit victims by using love, telling them, "I'm going to take you away, we're going to have a better life together. It can be plain force, it can be coercion or trickery, maybe they are told they are really pretty, and they have a modeling job for them. Online is a good way for traffickers to recruit victims as well. They play into people's vulnerability, people's need of wanting to be accepted, or loved, and promise them the world, we call them pretenders," Nielsen said.
All it takes is putting your trust in the wrong person for you to become a victim, and once trapped, the game changes.
"If they left something would happen to their family or someone else they cared about, that could be what is keeping them there," Elwood said.
"People that are trafficked are isolated. They don't where they are sometimes because they are just put into a vehicle and driven to a destination. Sometimes, they will be forced to use drugs and that way they are not in a sound mind. They will take them to their isolated areas where escape is virtually impossible for them," Roberts-Connick said.
"Creighton University, funded by The Women's Fund of Omaha, did a report, using Backpage.com, which is an internet hub, and 80% of the trafficking in Nebraska is advertised on the website," Nielsen said.
Advertisements are categorized under 'dating or escort services', and in ads, traffickers use their own language to disclose details like age.
"Younger individuals are sold for more money and in Nebraska 14-17 is a popular age for a victim," Nielsen said.
"We don't just patrol the interstate, we patrol the internet too. We are out there proactively searching for criminal activity and coming up with a plan of how to approach that and put together a criminal case to prosecute," Elwood said.
And big events, increase the demand, therefore increase the supply.
"It could be the Balloon Festival in Scottsbluff, or the Eclipse Viewing that is taking place and bringing in people. It's a money maker and they are looking for the market of where they are going to find buyers," Nielsen said.
It doesn't just happen off the interstate, but at motels and parking lots too. "One time we did recover a victim from a Walmart parking lot," Powers said.
So what's being done to tackle this widespread issue?
A billion dollar, money-making industry, that's hard to crack down, but now, a new statewide, and community based, push to combat sex trafficking.
"Just people in general, they shouldn't be sold, they aren't property, they are people," Roberts-Connick said.
"This is something that is very detrimental to families of all socioeconomic backgrounds, whether you're upper class, middle class lower class, it affects us all," Elwood said.
Now, a new push from The Salvation Army and Nebraska Attorney General's Office.
A grant from the U.S. Department of Justice pays for SAFE-T, the Salvation Army's Fight to End Human Trafficking program.
The funds created human trafficking task forces across the Cornhusker State. Nielsen is one of the specialists and covers 34 counties in Nebraska. "There are 3 of us that work for Salvation Army that offer services across the state," Nielsen explained.
The new community based initiative tries to reduce the demand and supply for commercial sex as well as offer victim services.
"This is a joint task force. It has members of the law enforcement community, members of my office, the legal capacity, anybody that you would need to help either recover and assist trafficking victims so they can be safe again and move forward with their lives, or the prosecution of it," Roberts-Connick said.
But it's not just organizations and agencies combating the issue.
"Most of the time, the sex trafficking cases we've uncovered they come from two ways, the first is people from internal investigations, and then the second are people just seeing something that you know isn't normal and calling in," Power said.
The public is helping to crack cases too.
"The public are our eyes and ears, they are where we can't be. We can't see all violations, all the time. We can't be everywhere all the time. A lot of the criminal cases we generate are from the assistance of the public calling in," Elwood said.
Being aware of this type of activity, and knowing some of the red flags, can help to expose traffickers.
"Awareness for citizens, awareness law enforcement, service providers, it's a community fight, that is the only way to do it," Nielsen said.
What to look for:
- The big thing, is that sense of control over another person
- Victims will be timid, they are told not to make eye contact with others
- If there is someone, who is not a family member, doing all of the speaking for an individual, or individuals
- Victims may not be dressed appropriately
- May look malnourished
"As much information as you provide to help us identify these individuals will help us build a case if criminal activity is afoot. If you have any suspicious, call. It might not be legit, but it just might be, and you do no harm by calling. If it doesn't look right and feel right, call," Elwood said.
If you are suspicious, take down a license plate number, get a good description of the people, but do not approach them, they can be extremely dangerous.
Prosecutions for these crimes can be difficult for a number of reasons.
"What we know, and what we can prove or two different things," Elwood said.
"You have victims that have been traumatized and that is difficult to ask them to relive what they went through and testify," Roberts-Connick said.
Right now, Nebraska lawmakers are working to pass a bill that would raise penalties, increasing prison time for those who buy and sell commercial sex.
All agencies and organizations involved trying to send a loud message to those purchasing and to traffickers.
"What we will do, is we will do our best every time we become aware of an incident. We will investigate and find the people responsible and make sure we do our best that they are held accountable and prosecuted," Elwood said.
Who should I call?
24 Hour Human Trafficking Hotline
You may also text "HELP" to 233722 (or BeFree) to reach the hotline.
The hotline provides for over 200 languages; call or text.
In the case of an emergency, please call 911 immediately.
Please call the hotline below and ask to speak to a specialist in Nebraska if you:
See something you suspect is human trafficking
Are under the control of someone else
Want to leave but cannot
About HTI Study:
The Human Trafficking Initiative (HTI) is supported by the Women's Fund of Omaha and funded by The Sherwood Foundation. The research of HTI is conducted through the Heider College of Business at Creighton University.
HTI uses data science to collect, analyze and evaluate the scope of sex trafficking across the United States and to identify effective policy solutions. The research initiative is directed by Crysta N. Price.
Austin Organization Sees Rise in Number of Calls About Sex Trafficking in Texas
by Elizabeth Jeneault
AUSTIN, Texas -- More young girls are being robbed of their innocence. That's according to one Austin area organization that says it has seen an increase in the number of calls about sex trafficking.
Cynthia Borsellino knows firsthand the horrors of sex trafficking.
"It robbed me of my full value," said Borsellino, a survivor turned advocate. "I didn't have any value, I felt like I was worthless."
She was trafficked for several years as a teen.
"That's why I go visit the kids in detention center, that's why I go search out and look around to see what I could do to help, my husband and I have taken people into our homes over the years," said Borsellino.
So too has the Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking. Four years ago, it announced plans for a therapeutic ranch just outside Austin.
Typically, the organization receives a call once a week asking for help. But last week, that number skyrocketed.
"Six different families where their kids were drugged, kidnapped and brought to Austin," said Steven "Flyer" Phenix, public relations and communications director for The Refuge.
Those families are scrambling for help in a state where help mostly does not exist.
The Refuge said currently in Texas, there are only 24 beds for full-time therapeutic care. The ranch is set to open in December and will add about 50 beds.
"A trauma bond forms between the pimp and the victim and that takes a while to break," said Phenix.
Borsellino said it makes her angry knowing sex trafficking continues to rise. She says more people need to be on the lookout for signs.
"Any first responders probably because they're going to see a lot, I would say hotels, for sure, airlines, truck stops," said Borsellino.
A recent University of Texas study shows 79,000 minors and youth in Texas are victims of sex trafficking.
"That's the size of the city of New Braunfels and if the city of New Braunfels just up and disappeared, we'd call out the National Guard."
If you suspect someone might be a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
For more information on how human trafficking is investigated in the state, visit the Texas Attorney General's website.
Call to support adult survivors of child sex abuse
by Flavia Munn
Nurses need to be ‘professionally curious' to help identify adult survivors of child sexual abuse
A fringe event at RCN congress on Tuesday heard of the vital role nurses have in assisting the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.
Inquiry panel member Dru Sharpling said the inquiry needed the help of frontline staff in raising awareness of its work to potential witnesses.
Ms Sharpling heads up the Truth Project, one part of the three-strand statutory inquiry, which is allowing victims and survivors of child sex abuse to share their experiences.
She said it was a ‘fundamental human need' for victims to gain justice by having their experiences heard and believed.
RCN children and young people staying healthy forum chair Leila Francis said: ‘As nurses, it will be us having to pick up the pieces and go forward in the future with the people who are victims of sexual abuse.'
Ms Francis said one in 14 adults are thought to be survivors of child sexual abuse.
‘We are going to come across them every day in the work that we do. Are we being professionally curious in unpicking that the people we look after now may have the problems they do because of what happened to them in the past?'
A member of the audience agreed that nurses need to be professionally curious. In her experience as a nurse examiner of 0-14 year olds, she said that ‘often children would be abused for quite a long time before even making a passing comment [about it]'
A preliminary report of the inquiry will be published next April.
Ms Sharpling added that there would be a seminar on health issues as part of the inquiry's work.
Archdiocese reaffirms church fully cooperated with 1969 murder investigation
by Christopher Gunty
As Netflix prepares to release a seven-part documentary May 19 about the unsolved 1969 murder of a Baltimore nun, officials of the Archdiocese of Baltimore reaffirmed that the church did not attempt to interfere in the investigation of the death of School Sister of Notre Dame Catherine Cesnik.
Sister Cathy, as she was known, had been a popular teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in the 1960s. She was on a year's leave of absence from the School Sisters of Notre Dame to teach in the Baltimore public school system when she was reported missing after she left her apartment Nov. 7, 1969, and never returned, the Catholic Review reported Jan. 9, 1970.
Related to the investigation into her murder are allegations that she was aware of alleged sexual abuse by a priest at Archbishop Keough High School, where Sister Cathy had taught. That priest, Father A. Joseph Maskell, was not a suspect during the original investigation of the murder in 1969-1970.
The Netflix documentary series, “The Keepers,” focuses on allegations of sexual abuse in the 1960s and '70s at Archbishop Keough High by Maskell and of a relationship between that abuse and Sister Cathy's death. As of press time, neither the Catholic Review nor the Archdiocese of Baltimore had been provided with an advance copy of the series, although advance copies were provided to other media outlets.
Maskell, who died in 2001, was permanently removed from ministry in 1994 by Cardinal William H. Keeler.
The first allegation received by the archdiocese regarding sexual abuse by Maskell was received in 1992, about 20 years after the abuse had occurred, according to Sean Caine, executive director of communications for the archdiocese. An adult survivor, who preferred not to be named, came forward to archdiocesan authorities and told them that she was in the process of recovering memories of abuse by a number of people, including Maskell.
The archdiocese encouraged the victim to report the allegation to civil authorities, which she chose not to do at that time. The archdiocese reported the allegation in 1993 when the Maryland attorney general clarified that organizations were required to report any allegation of child abuse to civil authorities, even if the victim was an adult and did not want to report.
In 1992, Maskell was sent for psychological evaluation and treatment. He denied the allegation, underwent months of evaluation and treatment, and was returned to ministry in 1993 after the archdiocese was unable to corroborate the allegation of sexual abuse through its own investigation and conversations with attorneys representing the individual who initially came forward, according to Caine.
He said the archdiocese continued to seek information about Maskell and when additional individuals came forward in 1994 to accuse him, he was permanently prohibited from public ministry. “The archdiocese subsequently made additional reports and has cooperated with civil authorities,” Caine said.
The archdiocese has no record of any report, verbal or written, by Sister Cathy.
Counseling for victims
“They removed Father Maskell (from ministry) and they offered counseling to victims,” recalled Dr. Mary Kay Finan, who was a member of the archdiocesan review board at the time. The board had been established by the archdiocese to independently review all allegations of sexual misconduct by clergy and other archdiocesan personnel and to advise the archbishop on the results of those investigations and to assist in the development of policy with respect to how to handle allegations of abuse.
“The archdiocese always has and continues to cooperate with the police in their investigations,” she said.
“It's hard to be on the board and to hear the cases and to hear the abuse, and yet it is so important to do it,” said Finan, who is a professor emeritus of Frostburg State University, with a special interest in early childhood education.
As early as the mid-1980s, the archdiocese was encouraging victims of sexual misconduct by anyone associated with the archdiocese to come forward and to report it to civil authorities, Caine said. Similar policies were developed in many dioceses around the country at that time, and were implemented nationwide in 2002 after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops approved the Charter for Protection of Children and Young People.
In September 2002, the Catholic Review published an extensive report in which Cardinal Keeler released the names and assignment history of 57 individuals “who have served in the archdiocese and, upon a review of our existing records, have been accused of child sexual abuse.” The report also noted that reports of sexual abuse had been levied after their deaths against an additional 26 priests and brothers, 14 of whom were priests of the archdiocese and 12 who were religious brothers, with some of those allegations dating back to the 1930s and '40s.
“A full disclosure came out in the Catholic Review naming all the priests who had been credibly accused and their faculties removed,” Finan recalled recently, “and that wasn't an easy thing to do.”
Jerri Burkhardt joined the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection in 2008 as associate director, and is now the office's director. She noted that in addition to the offer of counseling and financial support to any victim who comes forward, the archbishop has offered to meet with any victim.
One of the things Archbishop William E. Lori did in his first week in Baltimore was to meet with victims, Burkhardt said.
The archbishop has met with numerous survivors of abuse, including Maskell victims, Burkhardt said.
Archbishop Lori said he had not heard about Father Maskell's case or Sister Cathy's murder before being appointed 16th archbishop of Baltimore, but he learned soon after. “I have been briefed on this situation numerous times. I'm confident the church, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, responded quite appropriately in removing Father Maskell and also in cooperating with the authorities to try to get to the bottom of this.”
In 1994, when the first allegation that linked Maskell to Sister Cathy's murder surfaced, the archdiocese and Metro Crime Stoppers offered a $6,000 reward leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer. “The archdiocese cooperated fully with authorities investigating her murder and continue to offer full support for efforts to solve her murder,” Caine said.
Apology from the church
Archbishop Lori said, “Part of the conversation that I have with survivors always includes an apology. And you might say, ‘What kind of an apology is it if you were somewhere else?' I represent the church – there's a sense in which I represent the history of the church and the response of the church whether at the time it was inadequate or deeply flawed,” the archbishop said. “At least I can give voice to that. …
“I truly empathize and am sorry for the pain they (survivors) are currently going through.”
He said he tries to remember that for the victim in front of him, the event is not in the past but something they are dealing with every day.
Burkhardt said the archdiocese, through its child protection office, over the years has trained more than 100,000 people in safe environment procedures, including 51,000 employees and volunteers currently trained and screened via background checks.
She said the archdiocese has worked hard to help people maintain safe boundaries between adults and children. “We know that that's one of the most important ways of keeping children safe. … We take those situations where there is evidence of a boundary issue quite seriously. We train a lot about that and we hold people accountable when there's a failure to maintain appropriate boundaries and it's my hope that that is keeping children safe.”
Burkhardt added that society is a little more sensitive and attuned to signs of child abuse these days – the impact of child abuse and the risk of recidivism among offenders. People are also more willing to come forward with information than they were in the 1960s.
“In addition to the training of employees, volunteers and parents, the archdiocese does a significant amount of education of children. According to the bishops' charter, children in archdiocesan schools and faith formation classes in grades kindergarten through 12 are required to be educated about safe environments.
“I've seen children looking out for other children, or telling their parents when they see something is wrong. That's an important part of it too, is that children know when to tell a grown up about the way they are being treated or about the way a friend is being treated.
For more information about the archdiocesan response to “The Keepers,” including Frequently Asked Questions and video resources, click here .
House bill expands Kansas mandate on reporting alleged child abuse
by Tim Carpenter
The murder of a 7-year-old boy fed to pigs after his death in Kansas City, Kan., underscored testimony Tuesday on a House bill mandating adults residing with children to report suspected physical, mental or emotional abuse to authorities.
Existing law in Kansas requires teachers, social workers, firefighters, police, psychologists, therapists and other professionals — no laypersons — to forward information of alleged neglect or exploitation to law enforcement or state officials.
The House Federal and State Affairs Committee took up House Bill 2425, which would add to the list of mandatory reporters any adult residing in a home with children.
The death in 2015 of Adrian Jones, who was starved and subjected to horrific abuse, was at the forefront of the committee's deliberations. The boy's father and stepmother were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but evidence existed that a member of the household, believed to be an uncle, chose not to step forward to report treatment of the child.
“We have passed legislation to protect children from violent abusive situations,” said Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Democratic lawmaker from Kansas City, Kan. “It is time to add another level of protection to, hopefully, prevent this situation from ever happening again.”
Andrew Wiens, director of policy and legislative matters at the Department for Children and Families, said the agency wouldn't endorse or oppose the bill expanding the roster of mandatory reporters.
“This may strengthen the process to serve vulnerable children who are or have been victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation,” Wiens said.
Shawn Sullivan, budget director for Gov. Sam Brownback, said enactment of the measure could result in additional state investigations and more children being removed from homes and placed in foster care.
Adrian Jones, the boy who died, was enrolled in a home school operated by his father. The child died in September or October 2015, but the family didn't report the death. During a domestic violence call at the residence, police learned the boy was missing and found his decomposed body in a pig sty.
Video and digital photographs showed the child was beaten with a broom handle, prohibited with alarms from eating food in the house and forced to stand in rancid water up to his neck.
Phyllis Gilmore, secretary of the DCF, said in a statement the agency “thoroughly investigated” each incident of alleged abuse or neglect involving Adrian Jones. Gilmore said the family moved between Missouri and Kansas, which complicated oversight and delivery of services. DCF's last contact with the family was in 2012 — three years before the boy's death.
Mark Dupree, the district attorney in Wyandotte County, said the House bill fell short because it didn't change DCF protocol for investigation of suspected child abuse. He said DCF ought to be required to make in-person physical contact with a child suspected to be a victim of mistreatment.
The state should enhance oversight of physical and mental well-being of children in home schools, Dupree said. The boy's father registered such a school at the address where the body was recovered, and keeping the child out of public school may have contributed to secrecy about the abuse.
Dupree expressed concern that nonoffending adults living in a violent home environment might be placed at greater peril when complying with the bill's mandate that each disclose information to authorities.
“It (the bill) addresses a small subset of circumstances,” the county prosecutor said. “Oversight of nonaccredited private schools, coupled with specific changes to DCF policy requirements, would provide better tools for our state in combating abuse and neglect of vulnerable children.”
'Chaplains for Children' advocates for protection against child abuse
by Kaitlin O'Dougherty
TUPELO – Victor Vieth is, unfortunately, no stranger to the countless stories of child abuse in both the United States and the rest of the world.
Vieth, a former prosecutor, worked tirelessly to put these criminals behind bars. However, he was searching for something more – he wanted prevention.
Vieth founded the Gunderson National Child Protection Training Center to help others catch signs of abuse before they make it to the court room. He now serves as the center's senior director, and he continues to spread his message.
Vieth teamed up with the Children's Advocacy Centers of Mississippi this week to provide knowledge on this topic to the Tupelo area.
Karla Tye, CACM's executive director, said the Gunderson NCPTC has offered training in various places throughout the country, but this was the first time it was brought to this area.
The training took place on Tuesday and will continue today in the BancorpSouth Arena. The training included topics such as how child abuse affects faith, the impact of trauma on children and responding to allegations of child abuse.
The event focuses on abuse within churches and aims to provide the information necessary for religious leaders to handle abuse allegations, while also aiding in spiritual healing.
“We hope that our churches around the state will have tools and resources they can use to make their churches a safer place for children and families,” Tye said.
Tye also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lays out numerous tools and policies to help prevent child abuse in the churches.
These policies include always having two adults present when children are involved and limiting events at the home of the adult supervising.
Vieth said protection policies can also include proper screening of those working with children, monitoring of leadership, and being sure adults are careful in their interactions with children.
Vieth said he was called to the issue of child abuse after representing a case where a young girl was sexually abused by her father. The girl asked, “Am I still a virgin in God's eyes?” Vieth said he recognized many children who are abused have spiritual questions that need to be answered to help them heal.
The Gunderson NCPTC works to equip adults with the tools necessary to prevent the sexual assault of children. However, they also provide training for the cases that are not prevented and work to help the children heal both physically and spiritually.
The CACM works toward the same goals and is an umbrella organization that includes 11 child advocacy centers. The “Chaplains for Children” event will continue from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at Table 100 in Flowood. It will conclude at the same times on July 13 and 14 at the Courtyard Marriott Beachfront in Gulfport.
Faces of child abuse in York County
by David Weissman
A 3-year-old Jackson Township girl, a pair of Red Lion High School football players and three infant boys from West York, York City and Dallastown share a common thread: Each died as a result of child abuse, the York County Office of Children, Youth and Families has ruled.
The cases were highlighted in the state's child protective services report for 2016, released May 3.
The six substantiated abuse-related child fatalities represent the highest number recorded during a single year in York County since at least 2005, according to state records, and the highest in any Pennsylvania county other than Philadelphia since 2007, when Allegheny County recorded seven such deaths.
"Six is way too many," said Terry Clark, CYF director. "There really shouldn't be any."
Clark pointed out that the agency didn't see any themes among the deaths, which seemed to be isolated and random.
"There's nothing where we can say these deaths are all occurring because of this reason or that," he said.
Three of the children actually died during 2015, but the county's CYF office didn't substantiate child abuse in those cases until 2016.
According to the state Department of Human Services' annual child protective services report, substantiated reports refer to founded or indicated reports. A founded report means that there was court action, and an indicated report means the agency found child abuse occurred based on medical evidence, an investigation or admission.
Clark said state law requires York CYF to investigate any child fatality where child abuse is suspected, but that doesn't mean the family was known to the agency prior to the death. Even if the family was known, that doesn't mean the agency was actively monitoring the children, he added.
"The public needs to remember children and youth agencies are not responsible for children that are dead," he said. "No matter how many times we may visit a home ... the situation can totally change. ... It only takes a matter of seconds for a child to be killed."
The state Department of Human Services earlier this month released its annual report, which showed York ranks third among all counties in the state for reports and substantiated reports of child abuse despite having just the eighth-highest under-18 population.
Clark said if the agency knew why the county's numbers were so high, they'd be addressing the issues, but they're still looking for answers. Higher levels of poverty and crime in a certain area tend to coincide with higher rates of child abuse, he said.
The circumstances surrounding each child fatality and subsequent investigations are described in quarterly summaries on the department's website. The summaries do not identify the children, but previous news stories and coroners' reports were combined to identify each case:
Kayden Monte: Kayden Monte, of West York, died at 10 months old on Aug. 3, 2015, at Penn State Hershey Medical Center after being taken off life support.
York CYF determined on March 11, 2016, that the death was the result of physical abuse. The child's death was caused by traumatic brain injury and ruled a homicide, according to the Dauphin County Coroner's Office.
A preliminary autopsy report showed Kayden had a skull fracture with internal bleeding on the back of his head that would have taken 40 pounds of force to create. His caregivers were unable to explain the injuries.
Kayden's death is under criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed.
Isabel Rose Godfrey: Isabel Rose Godfrey, of Jackson Township, died on June 8, 2016, and her death was ruled a homicide, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
On July 15, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of physical abuse and named Isabel's mother, Regina Lester, as the perpetrator.
When police arrived at the scene June 8, Lester was found running around naked outside the home and screaming that she "had to do it to get the blackness out of her." Isabel, who was called Bella, was found unresponsive, with bruises on her forehead and under her eyes and what appeared to be a human bite mark on her right side.
Resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful, and Bella was pronounced dead at York Hospital.
Lester also allegedly threatened to kill a neighbor's children, police have said.
Inside Lester's home were open packages of synthetic pot — also known as spice and K2 — and a smoking pipe, documents allege.
Andrew Day, a neighbor who frequently baby-sat Bella, said Lester told him that "synth" was her "DOC," short for "drug of choice." It was Day's home where Bella's 6-year-old brother went for help, telling Day, "My mommy's killing Bella — you need to come quick,'” Day told The York Dispatch.
Lester's mother, Robin Godfrey, told The York Dispatch that synthetic marijuana changed her daughter's personality "like a light switch."
Lester was charged with criminal homicide, terroristic threats and endangering the welfare of children, but her preliminary hearings have been moved back multiple times because of behavioral health concerns.
The family was previously known to York CYF and Adams County Children and Youth Services, and Lester was being actively drug-tested by the York agency.
In December 2015, York CYF received a report with concerns, including several men entering and leaving the home, drug use, inappropriate supervision, mental health issues, and that Bella was being left with an inappropriate caregiver.
In April 2016, the agency received another report with concerns Lester was using and dealing drugs and that her cousin had overdosed in the home. During a follow-up visit on May 3, 2016, it was observed that Bella had scabs and bruising under both eyes and on the side of her head. Lester stated that Bella had fallen up the steps at the baby sitter's home and shared a text message from the baby sitter informing her of the accident.
Bella's 6-year-old brother was placed in the care of his maternal grandparents and is receiving ongoing general protective services from York CYF.
Stone Hill and Nicholas Mankin: On June 16, 2015, an intoxicated Stone Hill crashed his SUV into a telephone pole, killing himself and fellow Red Lion High School football player Nicholas Mankin.
On Aug. 23, 2016, York CYF indicated the deaths as a result of physical abuse and named the boys' friend's parents, Stephen and Jodie Tierney, as the perpetrators.
The Tierneys are accused of providing alcohol to a group of Red Lion-area teens, including their two sons, and also are accused of repeatedly allowing the teens to drink in their home and at their Adams County vacation cabin.
State police allege the Tierneys gave alcohol to Stone and Nick, both 16, who were killed in a fiery wreck when Stone's Toyota 4Runner crashed into a utility pole, flipped and burst into flames. It happened in the 200 block of Slab Road in Lower Chanceford Township just after 7 p.m.
The toxicology screen revealed that Stone had an alcohol level of .094 percent in his system.
The Tierneys were charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and furnishing alcohol to a minor. They are out on bail and awaiting trial scheduled for July 10.
Javon Thompson: Javon Thompson, of York City, died June 10, 2016, at 2 months old at Hershey Medical Center from multiple traumatic injuries, the result of homicide, according to the Dauphin County Coroner's Office.
On July 18, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of physical abuse and named the father, Jonathan Colby Thompson, as the perpetrator.
The 31-year-old Thompson, living in Maryland, was arrested in February by U.S. marshals in Baltimore, and he faces charges of homicide and endangering the welfare of children, according to court documents.
Javon was taken to York Hospital on May 25, 2016, and found to have acute and chronic subdural hemorrhages, as well as retinal hemorrhages that led the physician to suspect physical abuse.
The next day, he was transferred to Hershey Medical Center, where the child's breathing was erratic, and an electroencephalogram (EEG) revealed his brain activity was severely abnormal. X-rays revealed a subtle fracture to his right ninth rib and additional fractures to the left sixth rib and right leg.
Javon died four days after being taken off life support.
According to the investigation, Javon's mother told York CYF that she had left Javon with Thompson while she went to the store on the day of the incident. When she returned, Thompson was feeding Javon when the infant started coughing and choking and then stopped breathing.
Witnesses told police that Thompson was seen holding Javon upside down, picking up the infant by one arm and holding him by his shirt, York City Police said.
The family was previously known to York CYF, as the agency had received two reports during 2011 for concerns including environmental issues with the home and inappropriate discipline. Both reports were closed after an initial assessment with no services provided.
Javon had two half-siblings living in the home at the time of his death, and York CYF initially placed them in the care of their maternal grandmother with no contact to their mother or Thompson.
Once Thompson moved out, the siblings were returned to their mother, and the agency is providing ongoing general protective services.
Gideon Ladd: Gideon Ladd, of Dallastown, died Aug. 5, 2016, at 3 months old from sudden unexplained infant death (SUID) syndrome, according to the York County Coroner's Office.
On Oct. 4, 2016, York CYF indicated the case as a result of serious physical neglect and named the infant's baby sitter as the perpetrator.
Gideon and his twin brother were in the care of the baby sitter at an unlicensed day care facility at the time of his death.
The baby sitter told York CYF that she placed Gideon and his twin brother face down on a pillow-top mattress with comforters and blankets around them. Thirty minutes later, when she went to wake them up, she found that Gideon was gray and she observed blood.
Police were called to the residence. When they arrived, the child was in cardiac arrest. The baby sitter performed CPR on Gideon, and he was transported to the hospital, where he later died. The infant had a history of apnea of prematurity and neonatal respiratory distress syndrome, according to the report.
The baby sitter is a certified nursing assistant, according to the report, and acknowledged she knew this was not an appropriate sleeping position given Gideon's age and premature birth, but did it knowingly — and despite the risks.
The York County District Attorney's Office did not bring criminal charges against the baby sitter.
York CYF ensured the safety of Gideon's twin brother by assuring he would have no contact with the baby sitter. The baby sitter is a mother to three children of her own, and the agency developed a safety plan to ensure the children only have supervised contact with her.
Talking about child sexual abuse remains a taboo even as cases surge in India
There were 14,913 reported sex crimes committed against children in 2015 against 8,904 the previous year,
by Nita Bhalla
Sexual violence against children remains a taboo subject in India despite reports of children being raped, molested and trafficked for sex surging by almost 70 percent in the latest data, activists and government officials said on Tuesday.
There were 14,913 reported sex crimes committed against children in 2015 against 8,904 the previous year, says the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), in the most recent published figures. These include rape, molestation, exploitation for pornography, and trafficking minors for sex.
But in India's socially conservative society, it remains ignored within families and communities, where victims are afraid to come forward for fear of being blamed for the abuse.
"From all the types of violence that we talk about when it comes to children's safety, this is the one that is least mentioned. This is the one with a 'hush hush' attitude around it," said Razia Ismail from the India Alliance for Child Rights.
"We are told not to talk about it as it will ruin and dishonour the family's reputation. But if we don't prevent it, doesn't it dishonour our society, doesn't it dishonour India?"
Ismail, who was speaking at the launch of a campaign by the charity World Vision to end child sexual abuse in India, called for civil society groups, the government and the public to break the silence around sexual abuse in order to end it.
Child sex abuse is widespread in India. A 2007 government survey found that 53 percent of children had faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, but few reported the assault to anyone.
The NCRB data in 2015 showed that almost 95 percent of child sex abuse crimes were committed by people known to the victims such as parents, relatives, neighbours and teachers.
The Indian media has in recent years voraciously reported cases of child rapes and other incidences of sexual violence against minors, but in most homes and schools, children are not given any type of sex education, say activists.
World Vision India Director Cherian Thomas said the charity's campaign would target five million children across India over the next five years.
"A lot of the work will be in the community because a lot of the abuse happens within the home," said Thomas. It will be in prevention, it will be in awareness, it will be in getting children to learn to say 'no'."
CONTACT 13: Child welfare system breakdown
by Darcy Spears
Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - Many say our child welfare system failed Aaron Jones--the 13-year-old boy taken from his parents over allegations of neglect and abuse but returned to his father. Aaron is dead now and his father is charged with the boy's murder. On May 12, a 3-year-old boy died and his father is also charged with murder. This boy also had a history with CPS investigating allegations of neglect.
Contact 13 talks to a Las Vegas man who grew up in the system. He says it's been broken for years and tells us his family may become the next tragedy.
When the child welfare system fails, it's truly tragic. Neglect, abuse, even death. That thought haunts Antonio Nieves, who says he's fighting to save his youngest siblings from what he worries will be an inevitable fate.
"The last time I was there, there was a huge bed bug infestation," says Antonio Nieves. "I can see bite marks all over my brother and sister."
His brother and sister are just three and six years old. Antonio says since the court returned them to their biological mother, they've been neglected.
And it's all he can do to answer their cries for help.
"'Brother, I'm hungry. Brother, I'm thirsty. Brother, I just want to feel warm water on my skin. Can you give me a bath? Can we go get some food? Brother, he spanks me too hard.'"
That was in March, just a few months after the two were given back to the mother they barely knew. The boy went into foster care at birth. The girl at age two.
But Antonio says problems started when he was a toddler.
"My mother has lost permanent rights to me plus five of my siblings. So this is a recurring theme in my mother's life," he explains.
Darcy: "But let's give her a chance with these two young children?"
Antonio: "With these two young children. Yes. That's what they decided was best for the kids."
Despite the fact that they were on the verge of being adopted by another family.
"They had very, very, very, very great hearts," says Antonio.
Contact 13 sat down with Ed Cotton, former Director of Nevada Child and Family Services, who we asked to review some of the court records in this case.
"The judge was really pushing on that word 'concerns'. The department, he said, kept saying all the time they had 'concerns' about the mother."
But Cotton says judges need more than concerns to terminate parental rights. They need evidence of specific problems.
And that, he says, may be where case workers didn't do enough.
"Unfortunately it's at the expense of--possibly the expense of--two children," says Cotton. "Which is too high a price."
Antonio says there's another major concern. The kids' father, Joseph Ultimo, was convicted of child neglect of another family member.
And Contact 13 uncovered a long criminal history including charges of battery domestic violence, drug possession, resisting arrest, burglary and more.
Neither Ultimo nor his attorney returned our calls for comment. We spoke to the mother at her home and she agreed to an interview, but her attorney later called and canceled.
"I'm just afraid something really drastic, really painful, is going to happen one of my siblings," says Antonio. "I don't believe they're in a safe environment. And I think it's just a matter of time before something like the unthinkable happens to one of them."
Clark County Department of Child and Family Services declined to talk with us on camera, citing privacy laws.
The mother's lawyer sent the following statement:
I represent [CLIENT NAME] in the dependency matter and have done so for many years. Rather than the story being a positive one about reunification of two children with their mother it seems that this is couched as a story of the evils of the "system" and the parents. To be candid, the Department of Family Services workers have long been my adversaries and I rarely, if ever praise them. However, in this case they have done incredible work to reunify the children with my client.
My client fully completed the case plan and is doing fantastically well. Keep in mind these children were actively alienated from my client, making reunification even more difficult. The children were told to call her [FIRST NAME] rather than "Mom." The children's names were even changed by the foster parents.
At visitations between the children and my client, she was stalked and watched even after the Department of Family Services AND the District Court allowed her unsupervised short duration visits. The Department of Family services workers were even changed after complaints regarding reunification. As such, we now have a yet another set of Department workers who agree with reunification.
There have been NUMEROUS prior Department workers in this matter. Reunification has also been sanctioned by the District Court.
Now, it seems, one of my client's adult children has made NUMEROUS unsubstantiated and blatantly false allegations about her. These wrongful accusations have been fully investigated by the Department and found to be false. This story appears to be merely another attempt to derail a successful reunification. This adult child is clearly aligned with the same people that wanted to keep the children from my client in the first place.
Contact 13 could not confirm if any specific allegations were determined to be false by DFS.
Royal commission has led to more than 100 child abuse prosecutions, says head
Justice Peter McClellan has referred thousands of incidents to authorities and will say he is confident the commission has made a difference
by Melissa Davey
The head of the royal commission into child sexual abuse, Justice Peter McClellan, has referred 2,025 incidents of abuse to authorities since 2013, provoking 127 prosecutions to date.
McClellan will share the figures at the National Council of Churches conference in Melbourne on Tuesday via a video address. He will tell the conference the volume of referrals was so great that there may be further prosecutions once they had been fully assessed by police.
The commissioners have held more than 6,700 private sessions for survivors of institutional abuse. While some survivors gave evidence during the commission's public hearings throughout the country, many more chose to give evidence to the six commissioners in private.
To date, the commission has analysed the information from 6,302 of those private sessions, and McClellan will for the first time reveal the breakdown of institutions in which those survivors were abused.
Thirty-two per cent of survivors who attended a private session reported abuse in a government institution, while 10% reported abuse in a secular institution. Religious institutions comprised 59% of reported abuse.
Of all those who attended private session 37% said it occurred in a Catholic church institution.
Nine per cent reported abuse in an Anglican institution; 4% in a Salvation Army institution; 3%t in an other Protestant institution; 2% in a Presbyterian and Reformed churches institution; 1.3% in a Uniting Church institution; 1% in a Jehovah's Witness institution; 0.6% in a Baptist church; 0.5% in a Pentecostal churches' institution; 0.4% in a Churches of Christ institution, 0.4% in a Seventh Day Adventist institution, and 0.3% in a Lutheran church institution.
Of those who reported child sexual abuse in a religious institution, 70% were male. Their abuse began at an average age of 10.
Almost 2,000 more private sessions will be held before December, when the royal commission's final report and recommendations are due.
The majority of the allegations received to date have emerged from faith-based institutions. “This inevitably raises the question ‘why',” McClellan will tell the conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts from around the country.
“Why is it that in institutions which proclaim faith in God and embrace the highest ethical and moral principles so many children are abused? Why do some people who proclaim their faith and have accepted a life of religious endeavour breach their obligations to children?
“Is there something in either the structure, culture, or personal qualities of members of the churches and other religious bodies, whether lay or ordained, that gives them such a prominent place amongst offenders?
He will answer those questions by saying that while children would always be vulnerable to abusing adults, they were extra vulnerable when the adult was perceived by the child to be a manifestation of spiritual good or chosen by God.
“The commissioners have heard many times from survivors who as children were told that if they tell anyone about the abuse they will be punished by God and may go to hell,” McClellan said.
“The calculated exploitation of a child's innocence is difficult to comprehend. The power afforded to the adult by the institution is corrupted and used to abuse the child.”
McClellan is often asked by people whether he believes that much will change as a result of the commission's work, and whether it has been worthwhile.
“... I am now able to confidently give a positive answer,” he will say. “As we have continued with our work we can already see fundamental change occurring in the way institutions are managed with the introduction of many practices designed to protect the safety of children.
“Although there may be some people in some institutions who resent the intrusion by the royal commission into their institution the overwhelming response is positive.
“What we can be certain of is that any institution which does not acknowledge past wrongs and the need for change will lose the confidence of Australians. The community will not accept the legitimacy of any institution which does not give priority to the safety and wellbeing of the children which for which it has responsibility.”
Reader's View: Demand that state lawmakers choose our children
by Sarah J. Burger
Nearly one year ago I published an article titled “Call to Action: Protect our children, not predators.” Unfortunately, in 2016 New York again chose predators by failing to pass the Child Victims Act. With just over one month remaining in the current legislative session, the state legislature needs to choose our children.
Presently, there are bills pending in the Assembly and Senate to eliminate the time restrictions in criminal and civil actions to prosecute certain sex offenses committed against a child less than 18 years of age. Under current law a victim of child sex abuse has only until age 23 to bring a case against their perpetrator. Since victims of childhood sex abuse do not come to terms with their abuse until well into adulthood this protects the predator and leaves many victims without recourse.
The proposed bills eliminate the time limit or statute of limitations to commence childhood sex abuse cases for future cases and allows a one year retrospective window to lift the statute of limitations on past cases to allow adult survivors to seek civil damages. New York remains one of a few states nationwide to have not enacted similar legislation. The most powerful lobby against the Child Victims Act is the Catholic Church who historically had covered up child sex abuse by shuffling the clergy predator from parish to parish. In the fall of 2016, the Archdiocese of New York announced an “independent program” to investigate sex abuse claims and compensate sex abuse victims in exchange for their silence and release of all claims against the Church. The timing is not a coincidence because the Catholic Church has initiated similar programs in other States whenever statute of limitations reform makes significant progress.
Spa City native and former speed skater Bridie Farrell's courageous commitment to changing the culture of sport to make it a safe place is unwavering. In 1997 and 1998 Bridie was repeatedly molested in Saratoga Springs, as well as other locations by her mentor No. 1 ranked speed skater and Olympian Andy Gabel. Since first publicly speaking about her abuse in 2013, Bridie has joined many other victims, advocates, and legislators in this civil rights reform movement.
The statistics are frightening. One in every four girls and one in every five boys are victims of sexual abuse. In 2016, another 8,000 cases of child sex abuse were reported in New York. The Child Victims Act has been percolating in the State Legislature for over 10 years. It is time that we demand that New York choose our children.
Please contact your state representative in support of the Child Victims Act: Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, (518) 455-5404; Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, (518) 455-5772; Sen. Kathleen Marchione, (518) 455-2381; Senator Jim Tedisco, (518) 455-2181; Senator Betty Little (518) 455-2811.
Sarah J. Burger is a local attorney and former candidate for Saratoga Springs commissioner of public safety.
Child Abuse Bill Becomes Law In Oklahoma, Amendment Sparks Controversy
by Jessi Mitchell
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Gov. Mary Fallin signed a bill into law last week, giving child sex abuse victims longer to come forward, but critics say an amendment to the bill may actually be detrimental to some of the victims.
HB1470 was part of the Hidden Predator Act, meant to increase protections to child sex abuse victims. A paragraph was added, however, that protects the employer of the abuser, and some attorneys fear that clause is unconstitutional.
In March, Rep. Kevin McDugle (R-Tulsa) opened up for the first time about being molested by his youth minister. McDugle shared how hard it was to talk about the incident for decades and urged his colleagues to allow victims up to the age of 45 to come forward.
“That one night, for me, took me 35 years to get to a point that I could actually openly talk about it,” McDugle said. “I'm a Marine Corps veteran, a drill instructor, so it's not a story that I wanted to tell.”
When the act passed through the legislature the bill's author Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa) commended voters in support of the bill in a letter, stating, “The Legislature has done right by the victims of these crimes, and I'm humbled to have played a part in extending the statute of limitations.”
There was one big difference in the bill's final draft that Gov. Fallin signed, though, which addresses lawsuits against the employer of a predator. The provision only gives victims until the age of 20 to file a claim.
The new paragraph reads:
“If the person committing the act of sexual abuse against a child was employed by an institution, agency, firm, business, corporation or other public or private legal entity that owed a duty of care to the victim, or the accused and the child were engaged in some activity over which the legal entity had some degree of responsibility or control, the action must be brought against such employer or legal entity within two (2) years; provided, that the time limit for commencement of an action pursuant to this paragraph is tolled for a child until the child reaches the age of eighteen (18) years, and damages against the legal entity shall be awarded only if there is a finding of gross negligence on the part of the legal entity.”
“I cannot help but feel that this legislature knew about the Perry case and purposefully created a law to punish these children so they couldn't sue their school,” said attorney Cameron Spradling, who represents 10 of the 24 victims who reported being molested by a Perry teacher's aide in class.
A closer look at the new law shows the victims must now prove the school district exercised "gross negligence" by failing to report the alleged abuse. Adults only have to prove simple negligence in similar lawsuits against entities.
Spradling explained with an analogy.
“There's a wolf outside the door,” he said, “and negligence would be you failed to lock the door to prevent the wolf to come in and eat the children. Now with gross negligence, you're going to have to prove that they knew it was a wolf and that they willingly opened the door and said, ‘wolf, come in and eat our children'.”
If the victim loses the lawsuit, they will have to pay attorneys' fees for the entity they sued, eliminating the so-called “American Rule.”
The woman behind the Hidden Predator Act, Ginger Lewis, tells News 9's Jessi Mitchell that the main goal was achieved by increasing the statute of limitations for victims.
Lewis admits, however, that the amendment was added later without her group's support.
“The primary focus of our bill was to simply get the age up to 45," said Lewis. "I certainly have no desire to make things any more difficult than they already are for survivors of child sexual abuse. I would fully support any initiative to revise the law.”
Gov. Fallin's office responded to the bill's passage with a statement that reads, in part:
"The governor felt such an important provision should be allowed to proceed to provide added protection for countless victims of child abuse. The governor's office notified authors of the legislation about the broadness of the language in the amendment and suggested they may consider correcting it in a trailer bill. Legislators who want to correct language in the amendment have several avenues they may pursue before the measure takes effect Nov. 1."
Mothers needed to help prevent sexual abuse
by Debra Todd
As a justice on the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, I can state with certainty that no cases have affected me more than those involving the sexual abuse of children. Throughout my 17 years on the appellate bench, I have been astounded by the sheer number of these cases that come before our courts.
These are, indeed, the most appalling of crimes, perpetrated upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society. As a judge and a mother, I am issuing a wake-up call to mothers.
For most of us, the thought of an adult sexually abusing a child is inconceivable. Yet, we see cases in our courtrooms that are too horrific to discuss in polite conversation. Regrettably, these stories repeat themselves day after day in our communities. Each year, thousands of Pennsylvania children are victims of sexual abuse. Statistics show that 67 percent of victims are under age 18; one-third are under 12 and one in seven cases involves children under age 6.
The impact on a child of sexual abuse is profound and long-lasting. It is often made worse by a conspiracy of silence among adults who look the other way or refuse to believe or protect the child. Sadly, most instances of child sexual abuse — 90 percent — never come to our attention. Victims may exhibit no physical signs of harm. Fear, secrecy and intense feelings of shame may prevent children, as well as adults aware of the abuse, from seeking help. Furthermore, assaults often go undetected because most occur in the privacy of the home and in the absence of witnesses.
Nearly all offenders — 96 percent — are male, regardless of whether the crime is committed against a girl or a boy. I have observed that a significant percentage of child sexual assault cases involve abuse by the mother's boyfriend, the child's stepfather, or even the child's father. This is why my wake-up call is directed to mothers.
Statistics support my observation, revealing that parents and other caretakers commit 26 percent of the sexual assaults on children, and, in cases involving children under seven, almost half of the offenders are family members. Sadly, the predator is most often a person the child knows intimately and depends on for love and protection.
For older children, the abuser is predominantly an acquaintance, such as a neighbor or a coach, a parent or stepparent, or another relative. Contrary to the perception of many, strangers are the least likely to sexually abuse a child.
Most adults, men and women, who parent and nurture our community's children are good people and loving caretakers, but some of our children are in jeopardy. Mothers may be too trusting and unaware of the dangers of exposing their children to predatory adults. These perpetrators may appear to be upstanding members of the community. They may be charming and appear to be genuinely interested in children. Sexual assaults often occur when mothers are at work or asleep and children are left alone with — and at the mercy of — their abuser. Tragically, sexual abuse can continue for months and even years before it is discovered, because children are afraid to speak up. Moreover, sex offenders who victimize children are more than twice as likely to have multiple victims as those who target adults.
In Pennsylvania, we strive to protect our children and we prosecute and punish those who harm them. The Legislature has enacted laws mandating reporting and imposing harsher penalties for sexual crimes against children and it is incumbent upon the courts to issue sentences that reflect the seriousness of these offenses.
However, the harm to a child cannot be undone, no matter the punishment imposed on the perpetrator. That is why my focus is always on prevention. We must bring this topic out of the shadows and make certain it stays in the forefront of our public consciousness, however uncomfortable it may be to discuss. Only then can we make progress in protecting our children from the nightmare of sexual abuse.
So, as we observe Mother's Day, I urge all mothers to be vigilant in protecting our community's children. Never leave your child in the care of someone whom you do not know well and trust completely. Make sure your children know they can come to you and that you will always keep them safe. Teach them that they have the right to say “no” to physical contact with others. And, if you suspect any child has been abused, please call the police or call ChildLine 1-800-932-0313 (You may remain anonymous).
Sensational cases of child abductions reported by the national media justifiably result in public outrage. Where, however, is the public outrage for the thousands of children abused each year in their own homes? Where are their advocates? These children, too, need a voice in the criminal justice system and a place in our public consciousness. Our community's children deserve to feel safe and secure. They deserve the carefree days of youth. Those of us whose voices can be heard must be vigilant in protecting these children — the most vulnerable among us. Our children are entitled to nothing less.
Verbal Abuse: A Silent Suffering
by Marlene Espinoza
Although relationships are based on communication with one another, disagreements can occur often. Some therapists may recommend discussing disputes, as the first step to a healthy relationship. But, what exactly determines a healthy relationship?
Miscommunication between couples can either alter, or damage a relationship. In fact, a quick exchange of harsh words can develop into verbal abuse, without even knowing. According to New York City Psychologist, Devon Mac Dermott, verbal abuse is chronic vernal interaction that is unwanted and makes the victim feel some kind of emotional harm.
Verbal abuse is so imperceivable to the naked eye. So, it can occur in loud to quiet comments and put-downs. However, it can decrease a victim's self-esteem and self-confidence. Put-downs give the abuser more power and control over his victim. This type of abuse particularly involves the need to control and to be superior. because the abuser can appear very affectionate at times and later become enraged, it can seem normal. But, it becomes a pattern. Therefore, verbal abuse can be undetected and continuous.
The most dangerous thing about verbal abuse is it can lead to physical abuse. Once the abuser discovers that he no longer has control over his victim and the emotional abuse is not as effective, violence comes to play. It is not only a pattern of abuse, but an indicator of an unhealthy relationship. Verbal abuse produces a toxic relationship, which involves anger, emotional manipulation, and other negative and hurtful feelings.
According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders , people, who were verbally abused as children, are at risk for depression and anxiety as adults. As a result, victims continue to be abused, become the abuser, or both.
Child Negligence can cause unending pain and a substantial aftermath. Because everything begins at home, parents are their child's first teacher. Therefore, a child will be taught what a relationship is by his or her parents'. Because nothing stays hidden from a child, watching body language and facial expressions will be noticed. Witnessing a parent being put- down, or insulted can easily display a poor perspective of a healthy relationship to a child. In fact, it can send mixed messages. It can accelerate to domestic violence and endanger the relationship.
Verbal abuse, not only affects your emotions, but, your thinking and beliefs. U.S. News.com., states that verbal abuse breaks your spirit. However, one can never tell whether they are a victim, or not.
In the beginning, the abuser can approach his victim in a smooth casual way. In fact, he might come on too strongly, or too soon. With a harsh response of shut up, verbal abuse can erupt in a relationship. Therefore, responding to such negativity can only add more conflict.
Name-calling is basically an act of gaining control. An abuser will always try to justify and rationalize his behavior. However, an abuser is not as superior, as he seems. In fact, he is just as fragile, as his victim. In comparison to his victim attempting to leave, he also attempts to hold on” to his victim. This puts the victim at risk and makes the abuser powerless. Unfortunately, the thought of killing his victim, or taking his own life can be a result.
For some victims, walking away from an abusive relationship is difficult. Because they have been longtime victims, they have grown accustomed to such behavior. Although they find it hard to trust again, they continuously find themselves in similar relationships of abuse.
Identifying verbal abuse, before it chooses you, can help save your life sooner than you think. Paying attention to allegations of past relationships is definitely a lifesaver. Especially, if the abuser claims his ex is insane. When it comes to a police report, or allegation, there are no fabrications. In fact, it remains on file.
Feeling a bit confined and having to neglect time with family and loved ones because of your partner can be another early sign of abuse. The abuser may begin to determine who and where you should spend time. To gain more control, the abuser can get the urge to approach his victim with an ultimatum to either change, or he will leave. What he is actually saying is Please leave because I am not going to change.
In every relationship, couples should feel free to discuss any issues between each other. Each partner should be able to decide for his or herself. One should never be in control over the other. Communication is the key to a healthy relationship. But, trust is what keeps the communication going.
A healthy relationship brings healing to the soul and joy to the spirit. No one should have to endure abuse. True love never causes pain, or hurts. Living with insults and fear is not healthy! Be in control and say no to verbal abuse!
Mumbaiites, speaking up about child abuse can be cathartic, says activist Harish Iyer
Every time I spoke, it helped someone else to speak up too, says the activist
by Harish Iyer
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse, an activist and a face for the cause. But that is today.
It used to be difficult to remember the abuse. It was like parts of a cryptic puzzle, a maze in my head. I would remember some parts but get headaches until I recollected the complete picture. One incident, one person, one location — they would all trigger memories. It wasn't easy at all. But it was important that I completed that picture in my head.
It took me many years to complete the picture and to confirm to myself that yes, I had been gang-raped as a child.
As the world celebrated its new millennium, I was cursing my newly found adulthood and the memories that came rushing with the maturity it demanded. I would speak up about my abuse as a means to complete the picture in my head.
Speaking about the abuse can be cathartic and therapeutic. I spoke to anyone and everyone who came my way. Every time I spoke, it helped someone else to speak up too. Soon, I realised listening to others was the best way to heal.
But how did the rest of the world treat me in this most difficult time of self-discovery?
I found all the support I could in my dog. I was very upset with my mom for not understanding me when I told her I was bleeding from my private parts, or when I said my uncle hits my back. I understood later that she never knew that male children could even be abused.
My father asked me – “if you were quiet for so many years, were you enjoying it?” My friends started avoiding me.
And that was when I realised how little people knew about child abuse, especially of boys. It was so important for me to speak up and share.
Today, I speak to 60-70 new adult survivors of child sexual abuse. The fact that I had been through something similar but have my life together gives them hope.
School sex complaints to federal agency rise — and languish
by Emily Schmall and Reese Dunklin
HOUSTON (AP) — Hector and Itza Ayala sat in a conference room at Houston's prestigious high school for the performing arts, clutching a document they hoped would force administrators to investigate their 15-year-old daughter's claim of a classroom sex assault.
It had been four months since the girl reported being attacked by another student. School district police had been notified, but administrators said they could do nothing else to protect her from the boy, who was still in school. Frustrated, Itza, a teacher in the district, scoured the internet for help.
A Google search led her to the website of the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights.
"As I read more and more," she said, "I thought, 'This is exactly what happened, this is exactly what they're not doing. Somebody can help me!'"
Three years earlier, the office had issued detailed guidance on what schools must do upon receiving reports of student sexual violence in K-12 schools. An elaboration on years of legal and regulatory precedents, the guidance specified that a police investigation did not absolve a school from conducting its own review of whether a student's right to an education free of sex discrimination had been violated.
That 2011 guidance triggered a conservative backlash but also a rise in the number of sexual violence complaints reaching OCR, as the office is commonly known. It did not, however, lead to widespread reforms.
Short-staffed, underfunded and under fire, the office became a victim of its own success as it struggled to investigate the increase in complaints and hold school districts accountable. An Associated Press analysis of OCR records found that only about one in 10 sexual violence complaints against elementary and secondary schools led to improvements. And nearly half of all such cases remain unresolved — the Ayalas' among them.
"The critique is that we've gone too fast. The reality is that we've gone too slow," said Catherine Lhamon, the former head of OCR. "I am painfully aware of the kids we didn't get to reach."
One month after Donald Trump was elected president, about 200 government employees, lobbyists and advocates gathered at the Education Department to reflect on the civil rights legacy of the Obama administration. The mood was a mixture of pride, nostalgia and apprehension.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, praised the department's Office for Civil Rights — responsible for enforcing a half-dozen civil rights education laws — as among the most effective in federal government. But she warned of "some real bad days ahead."
Many worry the Trump administration and, especially, its education secretary will not support the department's focus on combatting sex assault in schools .
"It is very likely that Title IX sexual assault requirements will be cut back very seriously and probably even eliminated," said John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University.
Best known for ensuring gender equity in federally funded sports programs, Title IX became the government's tool for cracking down on sex assaults in schools. In 2009, OCR began tracking sexual violence as a distinct category of the sexual harassment it already was monitoring.
"We felt a sense of urgency because of the sheer tragedy of the complaints we were learning about," said former OCR head Russlynn Ali, noting a gang rape outside a high school homecoming dance in California in October 2009.
In consultation with the Justice Department, Ali and her staff attorneys spent 18 months talking to counselors at school districts and universities and researching the breadth of their authority to find ways to prevent and respond to school sex assaults.
The result was the 2011 guidance , which specified that elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities must conduct their own investigations of student sexual violence and take "immediate action" to prevent it or address its effects.
The guidance said school administrators should train staff in Title IX and use a preponderance of evidence as the burden of proof in investigations rather than the beyond-reasonable-doubt standard applied in criminal cases.
In 2014, the White House created a task force on student sex assault and launched a website with prevention strategies and legal advice. OCR issued a new round of guidance, reiterating that all public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges and universities receiving federal funds must comply with Title IX.
Schools under investigation were publicly identified, and reform agreements were posted online.
The backlash was fierce, especially in universities. Opponents charged that the education department was trampling the due process rights of the accused and subverting Congress by making new law. OCR said it was simply explaining how to apply existing law to school sexual violence cases.
"We hadn't exactly expected the flood of complaints, or the blowback," Ali said.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos' private foundation is helping fund a lawsuit aimed at dismantling the department's sex assault guidance. During her January confirmation hearing, the billionaire Republican was asked whether she would support continued enforcement.
"It would be premature for me to do that today," she responded.
Education Department spokesman Jim Bradshaw said OCR officials were not yet ready to comment on the agency's future direction.
Unlike the furor in Congress and on college campuses, the 2011 guidance received far less attention in the offices of elementary and secondary schools. Some schools, the AP found, weren't even aware of it.
But still, the department's public awareness campaign bore fruit, with the number of sexual violence complaints against those schools nearly doubling between 2012 and 2013, according to an AP analysis of OCR records. Between 2014 and late 2016, complaints increased roughly fourfold.
Anyone can file a complaint with OCR — victims, families or school personnel. The sharp increase in complaints taxed an already stretched operation and delayed justice for some of the very students the administration sought to help.
Nearly half of the 275 sexual violence complaints filed from October 2008 to mid-November 2016 — 132 — were unresolved, AP found. OCR doesn't specify in its data if attackers are fellow students, but the Government Accountability Office in 2014 cited OCR officials as saying they received "many more" complaints of student rather than adult attackers — a trend AP also found in records OCR agreed to release under a public information request.
Of the 143 complaints that were resolved, AP found, most were closed or dismissed with no investigation. In OCR terms, a "resolved" investigation is one with any kind of outcome, including complaints tossed for missing filing deadlines or insufficient detail.
Only 31 of the sexual violence complaints filed with OCR resulted in an agreement by a school district to make improvements like overhauling response protocols or paying for victims' therapy. And no district faced the most extreme sanctions possible: a federal funding loss or Justice Department referral.
In the final few years of the Obama administration, OCR prodded fewer school districts to make improvements and took longer to do so, the AP found. Only two improvement agreements with school districts were logged in the fiscal year ending September 2016 — down from 10 in 2013.
Lhamon, who stepped down in January as OCR's top official, noted that because of the increased volume of complaints and lengthy investigations required of sexual violence inquiries, "the time lag between opening an investigation and closing it can take longer than we would like."
The office, which handles tens of thousands of civil rights complaints, also noted that congressional funding had not kept pace with its caseload. In a report late last year, OCR said it had 563 full-time employees compared to 630 in 2006. Its 2017 budget is $107 million, only slightly up from $91 million in 2007, though OCR said its caseload increased 188 percent during that time period.
Tired of waiting or losing faith in both schools and the government, students who file sexual assault complaints sometimes turn to the courts, as the Ayalas did last year.
The couple's daughter, whom the AP is not identifying because it does not name sexual abuse victims, had been ecstatic to enroll in Houston's High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, which counts Beyonce among its alums. In 2013, she joined the visual arts program.
A few weeks before her sophomore year, she was on campus helping with student orientation. So was Sharif Stallworth, an incoming junior she had exchanged texts with over the summer.
"The texts began pretty innocently but the last few texts included some mature remarks on the part of both students," school counselor Travis Springfield said in a statement obtained by AP. The final text from Sharif was sexually graphic.
"Wow. LOL," the girl responded. The next day she wrote, "I don't think this is going to work. I don't want a person in my life right now."
On the morning of the Aug. 15, 2014, orientation, Stallworth asked the girl to help him find an amplifier for a school performance. Inside an empty music room, according to a police probable cause affidavit, he pushed her to the floor, pulled down her pants and, despite her protests, raped her with his finger. The assault lasted four to five minutes and was interrupted by a staffer and student entering the room, according to police and school records.
In the school counselor's office, the girl gave a statement and shared the text exchanges. At Texas Children's Hospital, she was diagnosed with "sexual abuse of child or adolescent, initial encounter," according to medical records the family shared with AP.
In the weeks that followed, she began to have seizures and was diagnosed with epilepsy. She regularly missed school, and her grades suffered.
The school rejected the family's requests for special accommodations or escorts during class changes, saying it could do nothing pending the police investigation. So the girl memorized Stallworth's class schedule and charted alternate routes to avoid bumping into him. But in February 2015, she did.
The "brief but powerful encounter" triggered a seizure, the family's lawsuit said. And later that day, as her father drove her home, the girl jumped from the car, fracturing her skull and shoulder, the family said.
She finally was allowed to transfer to another school and graduated last summer. Her parents declined AP's request to interview her, saying it would be too stressful, but did allow contact by email.
"People who have gone through the same thing should remember that even though we get hurt we can always come back," the girl wrote. But rather than a career in the arts, her goal now is to live "a simple life."
Stallworth, now 19, was indicted on a felony sexual assault charge and is awaiting trial. He graduated in 2015 and enrolled in college. His lawyer did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.
School officials also did not respond to requests for comment, and it is not clear if the school took any action or changed any policies. An assistant principal said in an initial incident report that school district police told her not to notify Texas Child Protective Services and that the school would "follow up" after police finished investigating.
OCR would not comment on its investigation of the school's handling of the incident, which began in March 2015, except to say it was ongoing.
The family wants damages and accountability.
Hector Ayala, an Army Iraq War veteran and offshore oil rig technician, says he has had to turn down jobs that would have taken him far from home. Itza quit her teaching job. They've spent untold hours in therapy.
"It's frustrating to see that the adults who were supposed to protect her and help us out didn't do anything," Itza said.
Community must fight child abuse
by Darci Thompson
Many thanks to the McLean County region for supporting Children's Home + Aid's annual blue bow campaign against child abuse and neglect. The blue bows tied around trees during National Child Abuse Prevention month in April remind us of the hidden bruises of abused children.
In 2015, McLean County reported over 1,600 cases of child abuse and neglect. At Children's Home + Aid, we're committed to ending child abuse through our parent support programs, like our crisis nursery and Parents Care + Share support groups.
Our crisis nursery — the only one of its kind in the region — offers free, 24-hour childcare in a safe environment for children under 7 in times of family crisis. Just over 220 children were admitted to the nursery in 2016. The result? The overwhelming majority of parents — 87 percent — said the break they received from the nursery prevented them from possibly abusing and/or neglecting their child.
In our Parents Care + Share support groups, more than 240 local parents in 2016 came together to listen, learn and encourage each other through the stresses of parenting. The results? A high 75 percent reported an improvement in their parenting skills.
And these are just a few of our many programs to protect children and move families forward. But we need your help in continuing our fight against child abuse and neglect in our community. If you are interested in volunteering or making a donation please visit us childrenshomeandaid.org or call us 309-827-0374.
18 arrested in 'Innocent Justice' child abuse offender roundup
by Cory McCord
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Texas - April was National Child Abuse and Sexual assault Awareness Month.
In recognition of the proclamation, the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office Records and Warrants Division, Homeland Security, SWAT and the U.S. Marshal Service combined their efforts to target people wanted for various crimes against children in Montgomery County.
"Our children should be the most protected members of our community. We each have a duty to identify and report anyone who would do them harm," Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson said.
As a result of the efforts, 18 people were arrested.
Authorities called the project, "Innocent Justice."
Henderson thanked his staff and the other agencies for taking the dangerous offenders out of the community.
Doctors urged to help child abuse victims
by Sarah Wiedersehn
Australia's leading child protection advocate Hetty Johnston has pleaded with the medical profession to better educate themselves on the issue of child sexual abuse.
Doctors must not ignore their role in helping victims, she says.
"It is a human right of of every survivor to have medical professionals in their life who understand what's happening for them," Ms Johnston said.
"Undertake some training so you know what it looks like. It's not the big scary monster you think it is when you understand what it is and how to respond," she said.
Speaking at one of Australia's largest gatherings of specialists in Brisbane, Ms Johnston said the medical fraternity would be across this issue in a "nanosecond" if it was seen as a terrible disease striking down 59,000 children per year.
"I just hope that the medical profession embraces this issue," she said after earlier noting the relatively small number of physicians to turn up to her talk.
"Educate yourselves, please, encourage your peers to educate themselves, listen to people who are speaking on this issue, please understand it's real," she said at the Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (ANZCA) annual scientific meeting.
Sexual abuse survivor and former drug addict Ms Cynthia Morton says a GP was instrumental in her recovery because they "knew what was going on".
The founder of the award-winning Emotional Fitness Program - once funded by the Howard government - told the conference that educated doctors can be part of the solution.
More importantly, discussing sexual abuse in the open takes away a victim's shame, Ms Morton says.
"It's so important to help people once they are in recovery to help them find their voice."
Attorney's confidential files on abused children scattered on street
by Gabrielle Fonrouge, Kevin Fasick and Natalie Musumeci
A court-appointed lawyer left documents containing the names and addresses of child-abuse victims — and even explicit details about their cases — to be scattered along a busy Midtown street, The Post has learned.
The alleged breach of confidentiality involved 13 city and state case files that detailed juvenile-delinquency and custody cases, too.
“That lawyer should have shredded those files .. Anybody could get [my son's] information now and do anything with it,'' fumed a 46-year-old woman whose child was the 13-year-old victim of a 2009 physical assault detailed in one file.
The records came from the nearby office of state-appointed lawyer Robert F. Himmelman, who litigated the cases.
Himmelman told The Post that he put the documents in large plastic bags and left them on the 23rd floor of his Madison Avenue office to be recycled.
“I don't know how they got on the street,” he said. “They certainly don't belong in the middle of the street. I'm sorry they wound up there.”
A passer-by stumbled on the large envelopes blowing around East 41st Street between Madison and Park avenues around 9 a.m. Tuesday.
“The first thing I saw was medical records,'' the man told The Post. “There are investigation reports about children being sexually abused. It's bad.”
Some of the envelopes had tire tracks on them.
The files included copies of birth certificates, Social Security numbers and details involving alleged abuse cases with the Administration for Children's Services. They were dated between 2007 to 2011. All were closed.
One file involved a 2009 ACS case that described in graphic detail how a child was sexually abused at the hands of her alcoholic father between the ages of 12 and 14. The victim's medical records from Montefiore Medical Center were included.
A 23-year-old man who was arrested as a young teen and whose mug shot and other personal information was included among the files, said, “It was just irresponsible. I feel like my privacy has been exposed.”
Court sources said such files should be shredded.
A state court rep said: “Should we be officially notified, we would provide notification for this to be reviewed by a third party.”
An ACS spokesman added, “The loss of this private attorney's confidential files is concerning, and we will review what occurred and take appropriate action.''
Himmelman said he “wasn't aware” that the confidential files should have been shredded.
“I think I probably should look into getting some company that specializes in disposing this kind of paperwork,” Himmelman said.
Sex Trafficking, Child Marriages Linked, Study of Mexico Finds
NEW YORK — Girls being trafficked for sex in northern Mexico often have been forced into exploitation as under-age child brides by their husbands, a study showed on Thursday.
Three out of four girls trafficked in the region were married at a young age, mostly before age 16, according to Mexican and U.S. researchers in a yet-unpublished study.
Human trafficking is believed to be the fastest-growing criminal industry in Mexico, and three-quarters of its victims are sexually exploited women and girls, according to Women United Against Trafficking, an activist group.
Under a 2012 anti-trafficking law, those convicted of the crime can spend up to 30 years in prison.
380,000 people believed enslaved
Nevertheless, nearly 380,000 people are believed to be enslaved in Mexico, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index published by rights group Walk Free Foundation.
The researchers interviewed 603 women working in the sex industry in the Mexican cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, both along the border with the United States.
Most said they had been trafficked as under-age brides, often by their husbands, said Jay Silverman, the study's lead author and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
In about half the cases, the brides were pregnant, so healthcare workers could play a critical role in thwarting sex trafficking, the researchers said.
“Within being provided pregnancy-related care, there's the opportunity of interviewing that girl to understand her situation,” Silverman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We can support and assist those girls to reduce the likelihood that they will become trafficked,” he said.
Parents can allow young marriages
Under a 2014 law, the minimum age for marriage in Mexico is 18 but girls can marry at age 14 and boys at age 16 with parental consent.
The researchers include members of the United States-Mexico Border Health Commission, a joint effort launched in 2000 by the two nations' governments to improve health and quality of life along the border.
They also came from Mexican economic institutions, and one was a medical doctor.
Hotel group joins the cause
A recent initiative between the Citizens Council of Mexico City, a civil society group, and the Mexico City Hotel Association, which brings together 251 hotels, aims to train at least 2,000 hotel staff to spot possible signs of human trafficking.
Staff in at least six, mostly high-end hotels have been trained in trafficking since the initiative started in March, said Luis Wertman, head of the Citizens Council, which provides the training.
“We view the crime of human trafficking as a chain. And every chain is made up of several links. One of the most used links — tools — that traffickers have are hotels,” said Wertman.
Wertman said when hotel staff ask guests questions in the right way, it can help detect possible cases of trafficking.
“Not questions like, ‘‘Are you here against your will?' But more like, ‘Excuse me sir, what's the relationship between you and the guest,'” he said.
“From those quick questions and answers you can notice when something is not right.”
Hotel staff send confidential reports of suspected trafficking to the Citizens Council, which then passes them on to trusted authorities, including police and prosecutors, who investigate, Wertman said.
Human sex trafficking, right under your nose
by Mike Magnoli
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — It's the worst kind of crime and too often it's happening in plain sight or right next door.
Runaway kids here in the US, and victims from South and Central America-- forced into the sex trade.
Right now a Riviera Beach man is behind bars. He is the latest major arrest in the county.
36 year old Andre Benjamin is charged with Human Sex traffiking.
PBSO says he was running a "trap house" where teenage girls and women were forced into having sex with men-- that house was also a drug den and a 15-year-old girl was being used as a drug dealer.
Here are some fast facts about human sex trafficking.
The National Human Traffiking hotline receives an average of 100 calls per day.
Florida ranks third in the nation for trafficking activity.
Since launching a new collaboration between PBSO and the Catholic Charities in September, 10 victims in PALM BEACH COUNTY have been removed from human trafficking circles.
And officials say thats just scratching the surface.
CBS 12 is investigating the crime pattern and getting an inside look from a crime fighter, a former cop turned private eye whose mission in life is getting these victims off the street.
His stories about his undercover work and his videos -- are so disturbing because sex slavery is not taking place in abandoned warehouses, its happening in shopping plazas, maybe the one you visit every day.
"One [case] was in a shopping plaza five doors down from a state representative's office, the other one was 10 feet away from a girls ballet studio."
John Rody is a private investigator now, but for more than 20 years, he worked in the vice squads for Metro Dade police and Hialeah PD.
Many of his current cases involve busting suspected human sex traffiking rings.
One that he's particularly proud of-- where he intervened just in the nick of time-- involved a runaway teenaged girl from Naples. She was being held for over a week inside of a motel room.
"She was in so much fear for her life and this gentleman told her 'don't call anybody don't you leave the room, we have a guy at the elevator who's gonna watch you, so you can't escape,' she even thought about jumping out the window, but she's on the fourth floor window so of course she couldn't do that," Rody said.
John posed as a customer, got to the room, got police to the scene, she was reunited with her family, her captor arrested.
"We were able to rescue her, I would say another couple of weeks, they would've found her in the morgue," Rody said.
Rody showed us some videos of other sting operations he has lead--going into south Florida businesses.
In the videos, the girls are naked, offering sex, they advertise on Backpage.com.
Sometimes the girls go out with their handlers, John says they sometimes get a dinner at a restaurant. Maybe to meet a client or maybe because they can't be left alone--
"16 or 17 years old, with an adult and the adult seems to be controlling, very possessive of that person-- that may be a signal that somethings not right," Rody said.
If you see something like that, call and report it: The National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1 (888) 373-7888
When victims are rescued, they can find help through the Catholic charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach.
And something we learned thats important, if the victims were brought or came to the United States illegally, they can get protection, to avoid deportation. The diocese is helping 3 victims in Palm Beach County in that very situation.