Child's body found in Richardson is 'most likely' missing 3-year-old Sherin Mathews
by Eline de Bruijn, Claire Z. Cardona and Julieta Chiquillo
Less than a mile from the Richardson home where a missing 3-year-old was last seen two weeks ago, officials on Sunday discovered the body of a young child.
Police have not yet confirmed whether the body is that of Sherin Mathews, who has been missing since Oct. 7, but they indicated they have no reason to think it is a different child.
The medical examiner will determine the child's identification and cause of death.
"The indications are that it is most likely her, however, we have not had positive ID. So until we have a positive identification we are not going to say it is Sherin," Sgt. Kevin Perlich said.
The body was found about 11 a.m. in a culvert near East Spring Valley and South Bowser roads, east of U.S. Highway 75, with the help of search dogs.
"As the investigation continued to unfold, more and more stuff came to [the] surface and we followed up on that," Perlich said. "It led to the search of that area with canines, and that's how we came across the body."
The area was blocked off as a crime scene as police waited for the FBI response team to process the area. Late Sunday afternoon, a sheet-covered stretcher was loaded into a waiting van.
Sherin's parents have been notified of the discovery.
The girl's adoptive father, Wesley Mathews, was charged with abandoning or endangering a child after Sherin went missing. He was released from jail after posting bond and was required to wear an electronic monitoring device and surrender his passport.
No additional charges have been filed.
During a court appearance Monday, Sherin's parents learned that their biological child, a 4-year-old girl, will remain in foster care for another three weeks while Wesley Mathews looks for a civil attorney. Judge Cheryl Shannon has set a custody hearing for Nov. 13.
Wesley and Sini Mathews left the court separately. They declined to speak with reporters.
"Obviously he's mourning the death of his child," said Rafael De La Garza, the attorney representing Wesley Mathews in the criminal case.
Sini Mathews has also hired a criminal law attorney, though she doesn't face criminal allegations. The attorney, Kent Starr, said Monday that Sini Mathews was "distraught" about Sherin and was cooperating with police to identify the body.
When Child Protective Services removes a child from the custody of his or her parents, the agency prefers to leave the child with a family member. The agency indicated Monday that it's looking into conducting a home study in Fort Bend County, near Houston.
Starr said Wesley Mathews' bond conditions prevent him from living with his wife and that Sini Mathews wants their 4-year-old back.
"Of course she does," the attorney told reporters.
Wesley Mathews, 37, told police that he put Sherin in an alley near their house in the 900 block of Sunningdale where coyotes previously had been spotted to punish her after she wouldn't drink her milk about 3 a.m., according to the arrest warrant affidavit.
Mathews told police that he went to check on Sherin about 15 minutes later. When he didn't find her, he went inside to wait for it to get lighter outside to continue searching, or for her to return on her own, according to the account he gave police. As he waited, he did laundry, Perlich said.
The girl's mother was reportedly asleep at home when Wesley Mathews told the girl to go stand outside, but was unaware of what he was doing, police have said.
Wesley and Sini Mathews reportedly adopted Sherin about two years ago from an orphanage in India. She was said to have been malnourished and physically underdeveloped at the time and does not have the language skills of a typical 3-year-old, Perlich said.
The two-week search for Sherin has involved drones, cadaver dogs, an Amber Alert and teams from multiple agencies that swept fields and other areas around the girl's home.
They also solicited help from neighbors and nearby businesses that may have had footage of the family's maroon Acura SUV between the hours that Sherin was said to have been left outside and when her disappearance was reported to police.
The FBI seized 47 items from the Mathews' home, including "hair-like" fibers, a washer and dryer, five cellphones, three laptops, trash bags and a digital camera.
A radio module, display monitor and a seat belt were obtained from the SUV, in addition to a floor mat, USB drive and DNA swabs.
Two days after Sherin's disappearance, CPS took custody of her 4-year-old sister and placed her in foster care, agency spokeswoman Marissa Gonzales said.
CPS had previously had contact with the family, but further details were not released. Neither child had been in foster care before Sherin's disappearance, and Richardson police had not been to the family's house before.
After news spread that a child's body had been found, people gathered Sunday at the growing memorial of balloons, flowers and stuffed animals near Sherin's home.
Richardson Police Chief Jimmy Spivey said in a tweet that if the body is determined to be Sherin's, he is happy it has been recovered so she can be properly laid to rest.
“Will bring person(s) responsible to justice,” he tweeted.
This 'Stranger Things' Actor Handled A Sexual Assault Allegation Better Than Most Grown Men
by Danielle Campoamor
As a mother, I often wonder what the world will look like when my son enters into it free from my watch and, in turn, my care. As a sexual assault survivor wading through the triggering wake of multiple sexual assault, harassment, and rape allegations brought against Harvey Weinstein, spanning over 30 years — along with the infuriating silence of men who knew what was happening and did nothing — that future looks bleak, at best. And yet, Finn Wolfhard, the 14-year-old Stranger Things actor who is leaving his talent agency after an agent was accused of sexual assault, gives me hope. I cannot help but look at my son and wish with all I have that he will be better, do better, than the men who've become complacent participants in the systemic sexual harassment of women. So for me, hope is a powerful thing.
E! News was first to report that Finn Wolfhard was leaving APA after his former agent, Tyler Grasham, was accused of sexual assault. At 14 — the age when Molly Ringwald told The New Yorker a married film director stuck his tongue in her mouth on-set — Wolfhard has answered to Hollywood's culture of sexual abuse and harassment by gracefully refusing to go along with it. If only so many grown-ass men in his industry had done so, instead of refusing to act for more than 30 years while Weinstein was allegedly assaulting and harassing women. This young man, who cannot drive a car by himself, purchase a pack of cigarettes, or carry a case of beer out of a local convenient store, has outclassed them all. This is who I want my son to grow up to be.
I've shared my sexual assault story multiple times . I've whispered it amongst friends, told it to a detective as I sat on an examination table at a local hospital, and pushed it from my trembling lips into a microphone in front of 1,000 people. I am drained. I am angry. I am tired of cutting open the most painful parts of my past and bleeding publicly in the hopes sexual assault survivors and our stories are heard and taken seriously and amount to a substantial shift in a culture that refuses to acknowledge that an estimated 321,500 victims of sexual assault every year . And yet, to the mother of a son who will probably grow up to identify as a man in a patriarchal society that will undoubtably favor him and his privilege, allowing teachable moments about consent, sexual assault and harassment, rape culture, and the like to pass me by isn't an option. I just wish more men — fathers or not — felt the same.
If you doubt the lack of courage or conviction among Hollywood's powerful, consider the actions we have on record. According to The New Yorker's report of Weinstein and his misconduct, his treatment of women was a "well-known secret" in Hollywood . George Clooney said he heard "rumors" about Weinstein in the '90s, but "took them with a grain of salt" and said nothing of his harassment until Weinstein's alleged victims came forward. Clooney told The Daily Beast, " I've known Harvey for 20 years . He gave me my first big break as an actor in films on From Dusk Till Dawn , he gave me my first big break as a director with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind . We've had dinners, we've been on location together, we've had arguments. But I can tell you that I've never seen any of this behavior — ever."
Until Clooney — and arguably many men in Hollywood just like him — had definitive proof, which apparently means seeing sexual assault, harassment, and/or rape with your own eyes, he was going to give the benefit of the doubt to the assailant. He was going to err on the side of caution, which one could argue meant protecting his career and his fortuitous relationship with a successful Hollywood producer. The never-ending harassment and assault was a "woman's problem," and in certain instances nothing more than a bi-product of the industry. " A lot of people are doing the 'you had to know' thing right now, and yes, if you're asking me if I knew that someone who was very powerful had a tendency to hit on young, beautiful woman, sure," Clooney told The Daily Beast. "But I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened or victimized."
As a culture, we've come to accept a certain level of sexual harassment and assault as a regrettable inevitability, while simultaneously doubting victims when they come forward. "It's just part of the job," but also, "They're lying and accusing him for attention." It's, "Why didn't you come forward sooner?" but also, "How much were you drinking and what were you wearing and why didn't you stop it?" The confusing and hypocritical dynamic would be interesting if it wasn't so infuriating and, for a sexual assault survivor raising a son , terrifying. So a young man simply hearing about accusations of sexual assault brought on by a man he works with, and doing something tangible that not only holds the accused accountable for his alleged actions but sends a strong message, is what I hope to be the sign of a new generation of men: feminists who know systemic sexual assault and harassment isn't a "woman's problem." It's a human problem.
Because something has to change, and that change cannot be carried solely on the shoulders of women and sexual assault survivors. Men need to hold themselves and one another accountable in the spaces they inhabit. They must refuse to remain silent when they hear about or witness acts of sexual violence against women. They must do more than offer words of condemnation and after 30 years of sexual assault, harassment, and rape finally comes to an end. And right now, that means holding up a 14-year-old boy as an example for my son, instead of the 20 male actors and directors who worked with Weinstein in some capacity over the years and remained silent.
Because if a child knows better, and does better, so should adult men.
Bill mandating police report suspected child abuse stalled on Ohio House floor
by Jason Aubry
COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In 1962 two doctors published “The Battered Child Syndrome,” and within a year the Ohio legislature passed a law that mandated doctors and nurses report child abuse.
It has been more than 50 years since that legislation passed, and while more professionals have been added to the ‘must report' list; one group never has been.
Perhaps we take it for granted that law enforcement is always going to do the right thing, even if it isn't obvious.
Democratic State Representative Bernadine Kennedy Kent is sponsoring a bill as a freshman legislator that would add law enforcement to the list of professionals that must report child abuse even if it is just suspected.
According to the lawmaker, her time spent advocating for children suffering from abuse brought to her attention a situation in which police were called to a family's home more than 60 times for domestic disturbances and abuse. She says, the police never once notified child services.
There was no requirement for them to do so, and they may not have seen any effects of physical harm on the children at the time; but she says the violence of domestic abuse can be perpetrated on more than just one target in the home.
House Bill 137 would make it mandatory for those officers to notify child services so the organization can check on the children to make sure they were not being abused.
If they are not, then nothing will come of it; but if the children are, then the organization can take steps to end that abuse. That is something they could not do if they never learned of the abuse in the first place, according to the representative.
Several law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police support the bill, according to its sponsor, and it passed favorably through the House committee it was assigned to.
It has been just sitting there waiting for an opportunity to get a vote on the House floor for a few weeks now.
Two weeks ago, the House did not hold a voting session, and last week the bill wasn't heard. According to a GOP spokesman, no vote will happen this week for the bill either.
If it does eventually get a favorable vote on the House floor and pass the chamber, the legislation would then have to start the process over again in the Senate.
Few bills sponsored solely by a Democrat, that were not commemorative days or dealing with renaming roads and creating license plates, have made it through the GOP controlled legislature.
And as the first half of the 132 nd General Assembly approaches, the question now is; would there be enough time to get the bill through the Senate before time runs out?
Harvey Weinstein's alleged pattern of harassment echoes that of child sexual abusers
by Paul Mones
here are many striking aspects to the breathtaking fall of Harvey Weinstein — the volume of women who have come forward, the number of years his alleged behavior remained an open secret, the sheer brazenness of that alleged behavior and, now, the ripple effects it is having well beyond Hollywood.
But as an attorney who has represented scores of victims of child sexual abuse, sexual assault and sexual harassment across the country, here's what I find most remarkable: The similarities between the pattern of harassment that Weinstein allegedly engaged in, and the patterns of abuse that emerge in an entirely different context — namely, the sexual abuse of children in trusted institutions.
Although the specifics are different, the psychological and behavioral dynamics at play among the perpetrators and victims are virtually identical. The way in which Weinstein allegedly wielded power and relied on institutional silence echoes the manner in which Catholic priests were able to perpetrate grievous wrongs against generations of children.
Child abusers are consummately skilled in identifying vulnerable kids and knowing exactly what to say and do to accomplish their goals. Little is left to chance. They use their positions of power to cajole, knowing, for example, that praise and hints of special treatment are necessary in order to begin the process of initiating control.
With the obvious difference that Weinstein's alleged victims weren't children, he reportedly employed similarly manipulative tactics to achieve his ends, promising movie roles and attempting to normalize such propositions by rattling off the names of other actresses who had purportedly complied.
Some child molesters engage in overtly violent assaults, but it is far more common for the abuser to begin with seemingly innocent touches — the stroke of a knee, a rub of the shoulder, the casual tussle of the hair — before moving on to more invasive physical acts. Predators perfect their modus operandi through the exploitation of multiple victims, learning along the way how to break down a child's boundaries and resistance.
Although Weinstein allegedly used more of a shock-and-awe approach — the unbelted robe at the business meeting — he, too, appears to have homed in on a certain kind of victim and fine-tuned the process by which he allegedly lured them into rooms, enlisting the help of what a female executive at his company called a “ honeypot ” of assistants and others to lend such meetings legitimacy.
Fifteen years ago, the dirty secrets of the Roman Catholic Church exploded in big cities and small towns across the country. Since then, we have learned that the church is far from the only place where child molesters turn up. Almost no type of major institution serving children has escaped this shame: Public schools, including the Los Angeles Unified School District; private schools, including the Marlborough School in L.A. and elite New England boarding schools, such as Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter and St. Paul's School; the Boy Scouts of America and the Boys and Girls Club; USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics. The list goes on and on.
The perpetrators in these settings do not rely merely on the silence of their victims. They can also count on the inaction and complicity of others around them, including co-workers and superiors, for whom the avoidance of scandal and institutional humiliation is a strong motivator to look the other way. Tragically, this only strengthens the abuser's sense of omnipotence and reinforces the victim's fear and isolation.
While there is no doubt that child victims of sexual abuse are in an infinitely more vulnerable and powerless position than adults subjected to sexual harassment and assault, it is equally true that, with the exception of very young children, both groups of victims react in remarkably similar ways to their treatment and exploitation.
In the vast majority of these situations, victims do not react by physically or verbally resisting the offender, reporting the offender or even fleeing at first touch. Rather, victims become psychologically and emotionally paralyzed, overwhelmed by a combination of fear, self-blame, embarrassment and confusion. They become gripped by an emotional maelstrom in which unanswerable and destructively self-critical questions play over and over again in their minds, often for years on end: Why me? How could I let this happen?
As time goes by, without treatment, these feelings corrode the victim's self-esteem and dignity, and remaining silent becomes their default coping strategy. The perpetrators not only rely on such silence, they deliberately act to engender it.
It is widely believed by those of us who spend our careers working with victims of sexual abuse that most take their secrets to their graves. When survivors do gather the strength to come forward, it is typically only after someone else has publicly accused the same person, and even then only a minority speak out.
The majority of victims will never get any justice. Except in a handful of states, the statutes of limitations for sexual abuse, assault and harassment are draconian. For sexual abuse and assault, the time limits are generally just a precious few years. These fleeting windows of time do not take into account irrefutable evidence about the long-term effects of sexual abuse and trauma. We need to reexamine these laws even as we dismantle the institutional and corporate environments in which abuse and harassment are allowed to persist.
Amid Weinstein fallout, more sexual assault victims empowered to speak out
by Liz Skalka
STAMFORD — For the last two weeks, a man has followed Quentin Ball, the new executive director of an organization that counsels survivors of sexual assault, everywhere she goes.
People throughout Fairfield County are eager to talk about disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein — and that's fine with Ball.
“I haven't gone to any kind of event or function in the past couple of weeks without this being one of the principal topics of conversation,” she said, “which I think is incredibly encouraging.”
In August, Ball, 41, took over as head of the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education, a nonprofit that last year reached more than 20,000 adults and children in lower Fairfield County with its prevention programs. The center counseled 160 sexual-assault victims who called its anonymous hotline.
Ball hopes the dialogue sparked by allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein, including the “Me Too” campaign on social media, will encourage more victims to feel comfortable sharing stories of sexual assault, a term that covers sexual harassment and inappropriate touching, as well as rape.
“I am profoundly hopeful and positive about the way people are coming out of the shadows and talking about things that have happened to them,” she said. It's not easy. “Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie held onto it for 20 years, and they're incredibly powerful and have all the resources in the world at their fingertips,” she said.
What “Me Too,” a hashtag women and some men have used to share their experiences, has shown is these stories are not uncommon, Ball said.
Nearly 20 percent of Connecticut residents, male and female, have been sexually assaulted, according to the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence, which also reports that 24 percent of rape victims who never came forward didn't because they were ashamed. Many will never go to the police.
Stamford saw a rise in the number of reported rapes in 2016, which police attribute to victims feeling more empowered to come forward. The Stamford Police Department handled 29 rapes in 2016, versus 19 in 2015, according to FBI data.
Weinstein, who The New York Times reported earlier this month had reached settlements with several women, is accused of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact by actresses and women who worked for him. After another article appeared in The New Yorker alleging sexual assault, Weinstein was fired from the Weinstein Co., which he co-founded. Locally, Weinstein, who owns homes in Westport, was removed from the Avon Theater's Film Advisory Board.
The number of actresses who have shared their run-ins with Weinstein keeps growing, and includes Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Mira Sorvino and Asia Argento. In The New York Times last week, Lupita Nyong'o shared her encounter with Weinstein at his Westport home while she was a student at the Yale School of Drama. He asked to give her a massage in his bedroom, and when she countered with an offer of giving him a massage instead, he tried to take off his pants, the actress wrote.
The celebrities who have come forward are credited with emboldening the “Me Too” movement.
“Social media is the vehicle that blew so much of this open, and it's also been the vehicle that people feel pretty comfortable reaching out on,” Ball said. It allows users to “feel more empowered and also hide a little behind your computer. It provides that extra boost to people who might not feel comfortable face-to-face revealing something that's happening to them.”
Yet it has also led to in-person talks, like the ones Ball has about Weinstein.
”I don't think I had ever had the conversation with my girlfriends about the ways we've been harassed sexually or the things that men had done to us sexually,” she said. “In the last week or two, I've been having these conversations with my girlfriends like, ‘I was at this party and this particular thing happened' or ‘I was just reading a friend's Facebook post where she listed 20 different things that happened to her and I had no idea.”
Ball, who replaced eight-year executive director Ivonne Zucco and was chief strategy officer at a Bridgeport charter school, has been on the job less than three months, but already has a vision for what she hopes to accomplish, including rebranding with a new name that emphasizes hope and survivorship.
Before the Greenwich resident started, the center had received $100,000 from Impact Fairfield County, a women's philanthropic group, to train nurses to administer forensic kits, also called rape kits, at Stamford, Norwalk and Greenwich hospitals. The center received 40 calls on its hotline last year from Stamford Hospital.
Hospitals often won't have a nurse working who is certified with rape kits, so victims will sometimes need to wait for six to eight hours before the kit can be administered, Ball said. The wait can turn away victims who would otherwise consent to it.
The center counsels victims of violent attacks and also workplace harassment. It can answer many questions through its hotline and will meet victims anywhere. No matter the concern, Ball said, the first step is always listening.
“The first thing we do with any of our clients is we validate their feelings,” she said. “That's consistent across all our clients, regardless of what they're going through. We let them talk and we listen to what they have to say.”
The next step is going over options, such as contacting human resources, locating an office discrimination policy or contacting an attorney.
“We're aware there are many shades of sexual harassment and sexual assault, but they're all legitimate and they all need to be addressed in appropriate ways,” Ball said. “We have people who come in who aren't dealing with harassment in the office and it just festers.”
Sexual assault in Connecticut
Term includes sexual harassment, unwanted sexual contact, child sexual abuse, incest and rape.
26% of women are sexual-assault survivors
24% of rape victims who never came forward said they felt ashamed
19% of all residents experienced sexual assault
If you have experienced sexual abuse, call the Center for Sexual Assault Crisis Counseling and Education hotline 24 hours a day for a confidential conversation in English at 203-329-2929 or in Spanish at 888-568-8332.
Awareness is Shedding Light on Child Abuse
by Haley Hughey
BENTON COUNTY -- The Children's Advocacy Center in Benton County said it's received a startling number of child abuse over the last couple weeks.
"Taking a moment to realize that these are children's names. These are real children who's lives are impacted," said Natalie Tibbs, Exec. Director at the Children's Advocacy Center of Benton County.
In less than two weeks, close to 50 cases have been reported in Benton County to the child abuse hotline.
"Thank you that somebody caused enough concern that they did report the abuse, where that hasn't always been the case," said Tibbs.
Those stats could be even higher. The center only sees child maltreatment, and sexual abuse cases."
Allowing that to sink in that wow that's right here. That's where I live. These are the families that I can see at the grocery store, or that my children go to school with," said Tibbs.
Just Monday alone, the advocacy center saw 5 different kids with cases of concern for child abuse.
Tibbs said there isn't necessarily more abuse happening in our community, but more cases are being reported.
"So many adults in our area will say I don't know what my role is, and I don't know what I'm supposed to do with that.. but we all can have the moral obligation to report suspected abuse," said Tibbs.
Tibbs said she hopes the rise in reporting means more people are aware of the problem.
The next step is making sure people are willing to take action.
"Our center can provide training on what to look for, how to report, and how to work with kids who've experienced trama," said Tibbs.
Twitter Is A More Comfortable Place For Perpetrators Than It Is For Sexual Violence Survivors
I've seen firsthand how the social media behemoth undercuts victims and enables rape apologists.
by Dani Bostick
Why aren't rape taunts considered harassment under Twitter's terms of service?
I joined Twitter in 2014 after I saw my perpetrator sentenced to 10 years in prison for the years of sexual abuse I endured as a young child. Since I allowed my name to be used in media coverage (somewhat rare for victims of sexual violence), I wrote an article about my experience for the “Washington Post.” Unsilenced and no longer ashamed, I spoke out against sexual violence and began to share my own story on Twitter.
When my account was small, I received positive responses from fellow Twitter users. In speaking out, I found a community. I learned that I was not alone. Now that my account is much larger, I have begun to experience the dark side of Twitter and have seen firsthand how the social media behemoth undercuts victims and enables rape apologists.
Under my TEDx talk about my experience as a child victim of sexual violence, trolls often taunt me, using aspects of my story to attack me. When I tweet about politics and other topics unrelated to sexual violence, trolls often choose to harass me by mentioning the crimes I endured as a child. This specific type of harassment is relentless and litters my mentions and DMs daily.
Sometimes, trolls follow me around Twitter, posting rape taunts under my Tweets and replies to other users. Even when these comments are numerous and their sole purpose is to terrorize me, Twitter does not consider them targeted harassment. When I report them, I receive an email from Twitter informing me that this type of rhetoric does not violate their community guidelines. Even a tweet from a user expressing his delight in the possibility that I could be raped and beheaded by ISIS was not removed the first four times I reported it (that tweet is down now, but the account is still active.)
If rape taunts and rape-related harassment do not violate Twitter's community guidelines, then it is time to accept that Twitter is an unacceptable community for victims of sexual violence. Twitter has locked or suspended the accounts of users who have called me hateful names, but has consistently refused to sanction accounts of users who mock my experience as a victim of child sexual abuse. How is it possible that Twitter could think that the c-word could be more hurtful than a series of tweets that my childhood abuser must have been a desperate man because of my unattractive appearance?
It is somewhat fitting that such harassment has littered the space under a talk about the challenges of being a victim of sexual violence beyond the fallout from the crime itself. The comments under my talk are a case study in victim-shaming and rape culture.
This type of harassment is not specific to Twitter. It happens in real life as well. When victims come forward, their credibility is questioned, their character is impugned, and their reputation is attacked. I have experienced it, as have many others who have found themselves revictimized after they muster up the courage to report their crimes. Recovering emotionally and physically from an episode or extended period of sexual violence is extremely difficult. Hateful, slanderous comments from an uninformed public or the perpetrators' enablers exacerbate the trauma of sexual violence.
Even with increased media attention about sexual harassment and viral hashtags like #MeToo, Twitter has no intent of changing their harassment policy to include taunts about rape. Twitter's plans to make their community a safer place do not include banning rape-based taunts and harassment. In November, Twitter will suspend accounts linked to violent organizations and update its policy to include hateful imagery and symbols, unwanted sexual advances, and hateful display names. In December, Twitter will start removing content that glorifies violence and expand enforcement of unwanted sexual advances. No part of their plan will change their current policy of accepting rape-taunts as harmless.
Twitter has made their online community a more comfortable place for perpetrators than it is for victims. According to the Rape and Incest National Network , sexual violence is under-reported. While victims want justice, most know as consumers of media and social media that they will be attacked again if they decide to seek justice. It is less of an emotional risk to stay silent.
Twitter is convenient platform for rhetoric that perpetuates the shame and stigma that victims of sexual violence often experience. If Twitter is genuinely concerned about safety, it needs to expand its definition of harassment. Their current policy harms individual Twitter users and strengthens the same culture that discourages reporting and keeps victims imprisoned by silence.
I will continue speaking about my experience. I will continue reporting the rape apologists who harass me. And — until Twitter changes its policies — I will continue to receive emails from Twitter letting me know that the harassment I reported isn't actually harassment.
In the Twitterverse, it is business as usual.
Need help? Visit RAINN's National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website .
Why all Metro Detroit adults should learn to recognize the symptoms of childhood trauma
by Claire Charlton
A screaming toddler commands the attention of everyone within earshot. Some have a fingernails-on-chalkboard response, others judge the parents. Everyone asks, "What is wrong with that kid?"
It's a fair question, but not necessarily the correct one—this behavior could be a reaction to something deeper. So maybe the question should be, "What has happened to this child?"
Children who have been exposed to adverse experiences, like domestic violence, emotional or physical abuse, even stress within the home, often suffer from trauma—an emotional response expressed through behavior. In Michigan, 28.5 percent of children are exposed to two or more adverse experiences, higher than the national average of 22.6 percent, according to the National Survey of Children's Health .
"Trauma will look different for everyone," says psychologist Christina Grim, director of clinical and trauma services at Starfish Family Services in Westland.
Some kids react with depression, others will have classic behavior problems, and some will be unfocused and distracted. The people most likely to witness these behaviors are teachers, librarians, school administrators, bus drivers, physicians, and many other adults in a child's daily life. It would be great if all adults who work with children were "trauma-informed," or skilled in recognizing and understanding trauma.
But experts say this is far from the case.
"We are not even at the starting line at this point," says Grim. "A lot don't understand the impact of trauma on children and what that means to their future. Without knowing what to do next, we are not doing a great service to children and communities."
Consider attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, which affects up to 12 percent of children , according to the University of Michigan Health System. Experts now believe that many of these children are not experiencing ADHD, but trauma.
"We are all familiar with ADHD. What's happening in some of these cases is [the child] will have a trauma background, and is not sure how to channel their energy, or the thoughts in their minds," says Grim.
When physicians and therapists correctly identify the underlying cause, treatment follows a more appropriate path. "Instead, we give them strategies and coping skills to learn how to re-channel those behaviors and the intrusive thoughts that are causing them to act out."
Starfish, like other organizations in Michigan , is working to become trauma-informed in every aspect of their work, and hope to spread trauma awareness throughout the region. "Ideally, we will all come in with a calmer voice and a caring response, so anybody who has a trauma background can feel supported or be in a judgment-free area," says Grim. "That is key."
Trauma-informed classrooms help kids thrive
Preschool classrooms are not immune to trauma-related outbursts. A little boy hears two children yelling, and responds by hitting and scratching. "He wants it to stop, but he's pre-verbal," says Michelle Smith, a teacher at Starfish Early Head Start Infant/Toddler in Inkster. "Instead of one fire to put out, we have two.
Physical outbursts or delayed social-emotional development are the most common responses in toddlers affected by trauma. Anxiety and insecurity can look a lot like stubbornness when kids feel unsafe and untrusting.
"Kids can be weepy, fall apart easily, and need a lot of support emotionally, or they use defense mechanisms and coping skills that show up in other ways," Smith says.
Last year, Smith, an early childhood educator since 1995, and her colleagues spent 10 months undergoing Trauma Smart , a program that provides skills to teachers that help children bond, attach, self-regulate, and build trust. In the classroom, they support activities to help rebuild brain pathways pruned as a result of repeated stress—damage which can be permanent for kids who don't learn coping skills and resilience.
Teachers validate students' feelings, and create refuge spaces in the classroom where kids can grab a blanket and a book and just calm down.
"To me, would you rather deal with a person who had trauma when they were three, or have them see a therapist when they are 20?" says Smith. "The time to help them and give them the coping skills is when they are young."
Early Head Start staff provides trauma-sensitive support to parents, too. "If mom is stressed out, so is her two-year-old, and it shows. For the parent who comes in the door and says she was late because they got evicted, well being on time is not on the priority list in that case," Smith says. "We are lucky enough to have services through Starfish, and a lot of parent support we can hook them up with."
Working to keep kids in school
The Student Advocacy Center of Michigan is a trauma-informed nonprofit in Wayne, Washtenaw, and Jackson counties that helps students find success in school. Most of the youth helped here have experienced trauma or toxic stress , which is the prolonged activation of the fight-or-flight response people feel when under threat. Their behavior often results in suspension or expulsion from school.
"We worked with a student who, because of his fight-or-flight response, needed to take a walk at times. It was a physical need, not an option, and his school suspended him," says executive director Peri Stone-Palmquist.
The student moved to a trauma-informed school, where his needs were better understood.
A trauma-aware school moves away from blaming the student and the family, and recognizes there is a reason behind challenging behavior. Anger, for instance, is a common response for a student who is teased or belittled at home. But after regularly identifying a trigger, kids will hopefully be able to identify them on their own.
A plan to help kids cope with trauma can be a guard against repeated suspension, a measure that isn't necessarily the best action for kids who need to stay in school. "We have definitely seen what can happen when a school gets trauma training, or when kids switch to schools that have a more trauma-informed approach," says Stone-Palmquist. "The difference in their behavior is so profound. We know how impactful it can be."
This year, a new law replaces Michigan's zero tolerance policies for student suspension and expulsion, giving districts more flexibility in cases of student misconduct. Schools can now consider many factors when determining appropriate disciplinary measures, which could pave the way for a more trauma-informed approach.
Still, trauma awareness trickles slowly into schools. "There may be individual people within schools, but some are just learning about it," says Stone-Palmquist.
Strength in self-healing
Mindfulness, the practice of paying attention to the present moment, often through breathing and yoga, is an innovative way to help trauma-affected kids build resilience and self-regulation. Since 2002, The Holistic Life Foundation has worked with Baltimore's most underprivileged kids. The school-based mindfulness program has shown benefit in a randomized pilot trial by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is currently in a second federally-funded research project.
"Children can use mindfulness as a tool to achieve some semblance of inner peace, a strength from inside they can always tap into," says Ali Smith, Holistic Life Foundation co-founder.
The program currently works with 7,500 children per week, and uses trauma-informed practices to help kids feel safe in their own bodies.
Michigan children, too, are expanding their social-emotional capacities through mindfulness with the help of Michigan Collaborative for Mindfulness in Education (MC4ME).
"If we think about the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and how we experience life with ruminating thinking," says Ann Arbor Public Schools psychologist Mary Spence, "we consider focus and emotional regulation as a skill set that is of benefit to those who have the additional load of trauma on top of life."
Spence, who is on the board of MC4ME, works with educators, administrators, and children using the Mindful Schools Curriculum . "I have worked with kids who have had terrible things happen to them, and it affects brain development. It does change how the body responds to the idea of threat and safety.
"We are working to give kids a space where they feel safe to develop a mindful practice."
This article is part of " Children of Michigan ," a series on the importance of health and wellbeing for Michigan's children. It is made possible with funding from the Children's Hospital of Michigan Foundation .
How Federal Law Protects Online Sex Traffickers
by Sen. Rob Portman
It is a stain on our national character that sex trafficking is increasing in this country, in this century, and experts say it is happening because of the internet and the ruthless efficiency of online sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking has moved from the street corner to the smartphone, and online sex trafficking has predominately occurred through one website: Backpage.com.
Headlines tell the tragic stories: In March 2013 , police reported that a Miami pimp forced a teen to tattoo his name on her eyelids. In June 2017 in Chicago, feds charged a man for prostituting a 16-year-old girl before her murder. That same month , three people were accused of pimping a pregnant teen for sex.
These heinous crimes, and countless others, involve Backpage, and yet the website has repeatedly evaded justice for its role in child sex trafficking.
The Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, investigated Backpage for nearly two years. The committee's groundbreaking report , released in January, found that the company knowingly facilitated online sex trafficking, coached its users on how to post so-called “clean” ads for illegal transactions, and covered up evidence of these crimes in order to increase its own profits.
Despite these facts, courts have consistently ruled that a federal law called the Communications Decency Act protects Backpage from liability for its role in sex trafficking. This 21-year-old law was designed to ensure websites aren't held liable for crimes others commit using their website. The legislation has an important purpose, but now, because of broad legal interpretations, it is used as a shield by websites that facilitate the sale of women and children for sex.
The Communications Decency Act should not protect sex traffickers who prey on the most innocent and vulnerable among us. I do not believe those in Congress who supported this bill in 1996 ever thought that 21 years later, their vote would allow websites to knowingly traffic women and children over the internet with immunity.
However, courts and attorneys generals have made it clear that their hands are tied. In the most recent example, in August, a Sacramento judge threw out pimping charges against Backpage because of the liability protections afforded by this 1996 law, and he invited Congress to fix this injustice. The court opinion stated, “If and until Congress sees fit to amend the immunity law, the broad reach of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act even applies to those alleged to support the exploitation of others by human trafficking.”
This injustice is why I, along with more than two dozen of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, introduced the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act .
The bill would do two things. First, it would allow sex trafficking victims to get the justice they deserve by removing the law's unintended liability protections for websites that knowingly facilitate online sex trafficking. Second, it would allow state and local law enforcement to prosecute websites that violate federal sex trafficking laws.
The bill will achieve these ends without threatening the years of progress we have made in creating a free and open internet. The standard for liability in our bill is a high bar to meet. It will protect good tech actors while targeting rogue online traffickers like Backpage. At a recent Senate Commerce Committee hearing on this bill, California attorney general Xavier Becerra testified to this point, stating, “The legislation that you have before you is very narrowly tailored. It goes only after sex trafficking.” I urge the committee to pass this bill soon, so that it can be voted on by the full Senate.
Some in the tech community incorrectly claim that this bill will expose innocent websites to frivolous lawsuits. But my Senate colleagues and I carefully crafted this legislation to remove immunity only for websites that can be proven to have intentionally facilitated online sex trafficking. There are already exemptions in the Communications Decency Act's liability protections for intellectual property violations that exist without undermining the fundamental intentions of the law. It is unreasonable to suggest the result of a narrowly tailored exemption against knowing sex traffickers would be any different.
This bill's common-sense changes will help bring the 21-year-old Communications Decency Act into the 21st century. Thirty-five senators—more than one-third of the Senate, from wide-ranging ideological backgrounds—are cosponsors of this legislation. Additionally, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, 21st Century Fox, the Walt Disney Company, and IBM, as well as the National Urban League all recently endorsed this legislation, in addition to dozens of anti-human trafficking, faith-based, and law enforcement groups. I'm hopeful that more in the tech community will partner with us to hold these online sex traffickers accountable and protect the vulnerable women and children who are bought and sold online.
We have a moral responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us and combat this injustice. Every day we wait is too late for countless vulnerable women and children.
Vegas Gunman Stephen Paddock's Brother Arrested in Child Porn Probe
by Andrew Blankenstein and Tracy Connor
The estranged brother of Las Vegas gunman Stephen Paddock was arrested Wednesday on child pornography charges stemming from an investigation that predates the massacre.
Bruce Paddock, 58, was detained at a Los Angeles assisted-living facility, where he was awaiting surgery for spinal stenosis. A felony complaint said he had over 600 explicit images of minors in 2014 and had also swapped pornography.
He faces 19 counts of sexual exploitation of a child and one count of possession of child pornography, the complaint says.
The LAPD said the images were discovered inside a building where Paddock was squatting, but they could not find him at the time. After his brother's crime, they learned where he was and obtained a warrant, police said.
An attorney who Paddock said had represented him in criminal matters in the past told NBC News he is no longer representing him and declined to comment.
At the time of the mass shooting on Oct. 1 that left 58 dead, Bruce Paddock told NBC News that he had not been in touch with his brother Stephen for 10 years and had no idea why the professional gambler would have opened fire on music festival attendees from his room at the Mandalay Bay.
"I don't know how he could stoop to this low point, hurting someone else. It wasn't suicide by cop since he killed himself," he said at the time. "He killed a bunch of people and then killed himself so he didn't have to face whatever it was."
It was Bruce Paddock who revealed that their father was a bank robber who once made the FBI's most-wanted list and was judged by authorities to be "psychopathic" with "suicidal tendencies."
But he insisted that his brother wasn't "mentally deranged" and noted that Stephen had never been in trouble with the law like he had.
Court records show Bruce Paddock has a criminal record stretching back to the 1980s, with convictions for vandalism, criminal threats, theft and driving with a suspended vehicle and other arrests for which he was not convicted.
Paddock was annoyed that his brother's monstrous crime had brought attention to his own misdeeds, which he described as "minor." He had to scramble to pay a fine after it was reported that there was an active warrant for his arrest from a vandalism case in which he had failed to perform community service.
"I'm not proud of it," he said. "But I never went to prison."
FBI agents visited him twice after the shooting, he said, and were mostly interested in his brother's childhood.
In the days after the Vegas carnage, Paddock frantically tried to reconnect with members of his fractured family, leaving messages for another brother Eric and reaching out to the attorney for Stephen's girlfriend, Marilu Danley .
"I want to see if we could patch up what we destroyed so many years ago," he said. He added that he had only succeeded in reaching his elderly mother, "and she's yelling at me all the time not to talk to anyone."
Earlier this week, Paddock said he was concerned about the fate of his brother's remains and had reached out to the coroner's office in Nevada to see if he could claim them.
Calif. town repeals law prohibiting sex offenders from handing out Halloween candy
Registered sex offenders can now interact with trick-or-treaters after the Simi Valley City Council said the law preventing it wouldn't hold up in legal appeal
by PoliceOne Staff
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — An ordinance protecting children from registered sex offenders on Halloween has been overturned after city council said it wouldn't stand up against lawsuits.
CBS Los Angeles reported that the Simi Valley City Council voted to overturn a law that prevented registered sex offenders from answering their doors for trick-or-treaters, decorating the outside of their homes or having outdoor lighting on from 5 p.m. to midnight on Halloween.
A new strategy was recommended by the city to keep children safe. Their city website is now linked to the state's Megan's Law site, which lists registered sex offenders in the area, according to Ventury County Star .
However, police said 68 of the city's 165 registered sex offenders are not listed on the site, which excludes those convicted of certain crimes, such as indecent exposure.
Police added that they monitor all of the registered sex offenders, whether they are listed or not.
Child abuse images viewed by 'horrifying' number of people
Senior police officer calls for nationwide debate on how to address extent of online crime
by Mattha Busby
A “horrifying” number of people in the UK are looking at images of child abuse online, according to one of the country's leading police officers.
Dave Thompson, the chief constable of West Midlands police, told the Commons home affairs select committee that society at large needs to discuss the issue, which is about “much more than law enforcement”.
“I am staggered by what I see in terms of the operations the force carries out on the peer-to-peer sharing of images and more sensitive covert policing techniques we carry out,” he said. “The amount of men in this country who appear to show an active interest in this area is horrifying and the scale of it, I think, takes my breath away.
“There is a really big discussion I think, as a society, about how we deal with this, that's much more than law enforcement. Of course it makes us all feel deeply uncomfortable to think that people who have that involvement in those activities should in any shape or form escape punishment. But the scale of it is just absolutely huge.”
There was a 258% increase in the number of websites dedicated to the distribution of child sexual abuse imagery between 2015 and 2016 , according to the Internet Watch Foundation. However, the UK hosts less than 0.1% of the world's child sexual abuse images.
At the meeting the Tory MP Tim Loughton asked about suggestions that there should be alternative prosecutions for those guilty of viewing indecent images because those in denial were unlikely to be receptive to treatment.
Thompson said: “Everything as a police officer and a parent says that we need to do something urgently to deter people in this area.
“I think if people are in denial that they've got a problem, then we need to be really careful that treatment might not work, but I think the broader issue that's being raised is this is a massive challenge, I think, that goes far beyond policing.”
Charities including Stop It Now! work to eradicate child porn online and provide confidential support to users. The majorities of offenders avoid custodial sentences, with suspended sentences and community orders more common.
Police budgets, excluding counter-terrorism grants, have fallen sharply since 2010, amounting to a 20% cut from 2010-15 and police numbers continue to fall.
Gareth Morgan, the chief constable of Staffordshire police, said that the decision to prosecute those who view explicit images of children should not be based on whether police have the resources. “It has to be based on judgments that a range of people make, not just the police service,” he told MPs.
“And that's about how you best manage the risk of an offender going forward so there's a range of of options, and I think that's a decision that you take with a range of partners, not just the police on their own. And from my perspective that should never be driven by a resourcing issue because that's not the right reason to make the decision and it's certainly not taking the issue seriously.”
'We've never heard him admit it': Utah man pleads guilty to child abuse 29 years after her death
by Jessica Miller
For 29 years, Vanessa Nieto's family members believed they knew who was responsible for the toddler's death.
Louis Duran — who was dating the girl's mother — was the only adult at home Oct. 3, 1988, when the 15-month-old girl suffered devastating injuries that killed her.
Years went by. A police investigation languished. Charges weren't filed.
The girl's mother, Dawn Nieto, would call the police station every year on Vanessa's birthday or the date of her death and ask if there was anything new in the case. Usually, there wasn't.
That is until 2014, when a Salt Lake City detective reopened the case after finding old police files gathering dust on a shelf. Duran was charged that year with first-degree felony murder, accused of beating the child to death.
And on Tuesday, the criminal case against him ended in a plea deal — the now-57-year-old Duran pleaded guilty to two counts of third-degree felony child abuse and the murder charge was dropped.
For Vanessa's aunt Richelle Fernandez, even the admission of child abuse after all these years provided some closure for her family.
“Just him admitting it is something we all needed to hear,” she said after the hearing. “Especially my sister. We've never heard him admit it, take responsibility for it.”
Duran admitted in plea documents filed Tuesday that he sucked on the girl's cheek and bit her arm, leaving marks. On the day the child died, he said, he “was heavily under the influence of illegal drugs and slept much of the day, not providing care or supervision of the children or [Vanessa]. … During that time [she] suffered multiple bruises/injuries to her head.”
His “reckless failure to care” for the child led her to receive multiple injuries, the man admitted in court papers.
A medical examiner found that Vanessa had suffered fatal “high-impact blows” to her head — though an initial police investigation 2½ decades ago had concluded that the child died from sudden infant death syndrome, also known as SIDS.
Deputy Salt Lake County District Attorney Robert Parrish said Tuesday that a plea deal was the best option, rather than taking the risk of an acquittal if prosecutors had gone to trial on the murder charge.
“This is a 29-year-old case,” he said. “Any case that old is going to have problems.”
Duran faces a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 10.
Fernandez and Gina Kirby, Vanessa's aunts, said they hope he gets the maximum penalty — but no amount of time could make up for what was taken from them.
Vanessa was a beautiful little girl, they said Tuesday. They laughed as they remembered their niece, running around, swimming, swinging. She always wanted hugs and kisses, and she clung to her mother — “a momma's girl” who was at times spoiled, they said.
As they stood outside of the courtroom Tuesday where the man who harmed their niece finally admitted to what he had done years ago, the aunts cried, looking at an old, worn photo of Vanessa in a frilly white dress and bows in her hair.
“The hardest thing,” Kirby said, “is knowing that we couldn't help her.”
“She couldn't talk,” Fernandez continued. “She couldn't tell us what was happening to her.”
Auditor says DCF skips follow-ups on reports of suspected child abuse
by Chris Villani
The Department of Children and Families has failed to follow up on reports of suspected child abuse or neglect, according to state Auditor Suzanne Bump, citing a soon-to-be-released audit.
Bump told Herald Radio's “Morning Meeting” her office has been looking into whether the required reports were made to DCF — and whether DCF took steps to intervene — after examining Mass Health data.
“We saw that, according to Mass Health data, kids were being injured, were showing up in emergency rooms and yet there didn't seem to be a result of DCF action,” Bump said yesterday, noting the audit will be out in a couple of weeks.
“I can share with you, there have been some deficiencies in this regard,” Bump said without elaborating.
DCF attributed the issues to the administration of former Gov. Deval Patrick, saying in a statement: “Prior to the initiation of this audit, under sweeping reforms implemented by the Baker-Polito Administration, numerous policies were revised and updated, including the District Attorney Referral policy to ensure all referrals are appropriately made. The timeframe of this audit starts in the prior administration, and since taking office the Baker-Polito Administration has made systematic changes at DCF to lower caseloads, increase the number of licensed social workers, and revise clinical and operational policies. Continuing to work closely with the Commonwealth's Child Advocate and the State Auditor, we will closely examine the audit recommendations and prioritize the safety and protection of children.”
State law requires adults who care for children, including doctors, teachers and school officials, day care providers, and social workers, among others, to report signs of abuse and neglect to DCF.
Bump said the audit will be released early next month.
Church revamps child protection policy
by Haidee V. Eugenio
Child sexual abuse allegations against Archbishop Anthony Apuron went unchecked for years because of an inadequate policy for the protection of children and young people, according to Archbishop Michael Byrnes, who said the island's Catholic church has completely revised its policy.
Byrnes said the decision about whether to move forward with an investigation rested with the archbishop. That decision now will be made by an independent body, he said Tuesday.
Apuron, who is facing a canonical trial at the Vatican which could decide his future as a member of the clergy, has been accused of raping or molesting four altar boys in Agat decades ago, when he was a parish priest. The former altar boys and the family of a deceased former altar boy also have sued Apuron and the church in federal court, demanding millions of dollars.
Byrnes was appointed by the pope as Apuron's eventual replacement.
Under church policy, if an archbishop is accused of sexual abuse, the Vatican is to be notified immediately.
"So, if God forbid, one of our current clergy were to be accused of sexual abuse of minors, there would be an investigation that would be automatically prompted and the results of that investigation will go not directly to me, but to the independent review board, which is made up of a number of people who helped work on this policy," Byrnes said during a press conference Tuesday.
The revised policy requires employees and volunteers to immediately report any allegations of child sexual abuse by clergy to the archdiocese and to civil authorities.
Failure to report immediately could result in disciplinary action, including dismissal, and could result in civil or criminal penalties under Guam law.
The policies can be viewed on the archdiocese's website, www.aganaarch.org .
"These documents will help instigate a change of culture in our archdiocese," Byrnes stated in a cover letter for the policies.
The review board also decides whether accused clergy will be suspended while an investigation is conducted.
Byrnes said the appointed board members, including Juan Rapadas and Sister Trinnie Pangelinan, have already met.
The revised sexual abuse policy is fully aligned with the "United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People," which Byrnes said will be fully adopted by the archdiocese in February.
Some 500 to 800 archdiocese employees and volunteers who have regular interaction with young people will also undergo background checks, starting on Nov. 15, and will be required to complete a training module online.
During the press conference, Byrnes said he has not received any new communication yet from the Vatican as to the results of the canonical trial of Apuron, who's accused of sexually abusing altar boys in the 1970s.
Kids Count calls on Rhode Island legislature to increase foster care age to 21
by Frank Prosnitz
Kids Count, the statewide children's policy organization, today called upon the Rhode Island State legislature to restore foster care services to youth from 18 to 21, a population that Kids Count believes is at significant risk for failure in schools and the workplace, and more likely to engage in criminal activity.
The recommendation was among a series of suggestions rolled out today at a press conference unveiling the organization's 2017 Issue Brief: Adolescents in the Child Welfare System in Rhode Island.
“All teens need safety and consistency in their physical, emotional, and social environments and require stable and nurturing relationships with adults and/or caregivers to help them navigate life and grow into thriving and productive young adults,” the report said. “Teens in the child welfare system often have complex trauma histories and have experienced physical, emotional or sexual abuse, family violence, incarceration of a parent, systemic trauma, and/or neglect.”
Speaking specifically about 18 to 21-year old's, Kids Count said that “compared to their peers in the general population, youth who age out of foster care at age 18 face poor outcomes in employment, educational attainment, access to health care, safe and stable housing, and criminal justice involvement. Without permanency or stable adult connections, they often have to navigate the transition to adulthood on their own.”
Rhode Island had included 18 to 21-year old's in the foster care system until July 2007, when the age limit was lowered to 18, except for youth with serious emotional disturbances, autism, or functional developmental disabilities, according to Kids Count.
If kept in the system, Kids Count believes that those above 18 will have better outcomes, including higher wages and delayed pregnancy.
Kids Count said that currently 25 states, plus Washington D.C., provide foster care services to youth until 21.
The recommendation was among several the organization made that range from better placement for youths within the system to meeting the needs of LGBTQ youth, and restoring funding to the Department of Children Youth and Families to previous levels.
The report also details “out of home” placements, noting that it is more likely for minorities to be sent to group homes or residential facilities than into foster care. In fiscal year 2017, Kids Count said that 45.2 percent of Blacks and 39.7 percent of Hispanic children were placed in group homes or residential facilities, compared to 27.8 percent of white children.
The report also said that in 2016 there were nearly 3,000 children who were victims of child abuse and neglect, with 79 percent of those victims of neglect, 13 percent physical abuse, 4 percent sexual abuse, 1 percent medical neglect, 1 percent emotional abuse, and 2 percent other.
It also noted that nationwide one of the “most concealed forms of child abuse is “domestic minor sex trafficking.” In Rhode Island, the report said, “medical providers have observed an increase in the number of children and youth referred for domestic minor sex trafficking evaluation.”
More information is available on the Kids Count web page: www.rikidscount.org .
Report: 47 percent of children in Missouri have adverse childhood experiences
by Gabriela Mercedes Martinez
Almost half of children under 18 in Missouri have had at least one adverse childhood experience, according to the new National Survey of Children's Health.
The adverse childhood experiences — referred to as ACEs — included in the survey were:
Living in poverty (defined as living at less than 200 percent of the federal poverty line).
Divorce or separation of parents or guardians.
Death of a parent or guardian.
Incarceration/jailing of parent or guardian.
Witnessing violence in the home.
Being a victim of or witnessing violence in the neighborhood.
Living with a person who is suicidal or has a mental illness.
Living with someone who has an alcohol or drug problem.
Being treated or judged unfairly often due to race or ethnicity.
Over 27 percent of children in Missouri have had at least two adverse childhood experiences, which surpasses the national average of 21.7 percent in this category.
The relationship between adverse childhood experiences and negative health and well-being in adulthood can lead to a multitude of complications, including depression, obesity, liver disease, alcoholism and heart disease, according to the original study.
Jennifer Brinkmann is president of Alive and Well, a St. Louis-based nonprofit organization that focuses on the impact of trauma and toxic stress. When she first saw the data in the original 1998 study, she felt compelled to do something about the way toxic stress affects not just children, but all people. As a result, she started a nonprofit in 2014 to help prevent and treat adverse childhood experiences.
“They are one of the root causes of health concerns,” she said. “The more people that understand ACEs have been scientifically linked to health problems, then more people will support prevention strategies.”
Brinkmann said the government, hospitals and other support systems must ask themselves how they can help families and children achieve well-being.
“We need healing spaces,” she said. “It's not just a call of action to health professionals, but to systems.”
Although there was a high prevalence of multiple adverse childhood experiences among children who are far below the poverty line, such experiences did not discriminate those with higher incomes. Forty-one percent of black children under the age of 18 and 400 percent above the federal poverty line still had at least one adverse childhood experience.
“Income doesn't shield us from disease or discrimination,” Brinkmann said.
Brinkmann said part of the answer lies in increasing educational competency on emotional health. It's not as simple as saying bad things happen and cause problems. More accurately, the bad things that happen to people cause a long-term biological response, and that has a negative impact on physical health.
Psychological trauma, physical reaction
“Child abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological, can affect brain development,” said Sean Marz, director of training and technical assistance for Alive and Well. Marz is also a therapist who specializes in trauma recovery, severe and persistent mental illnesses as well as co-occurring disorders.
Although it's easy to think of adverse childhood experiences in terms of mental health, people should think of them as a whole body experience, Marz said.
Marz emphasized the importance of healthy family routines in reducing or treating adverse childhood experiences.
“Coming home and knowing there will be an attuned caregiver to meet your needs is crucial for healthy child development,” he said.
Some aspects of healthy family resilience practices included in the report are no tobacco use, families sharing meals and no more than two hours of screen time a day for children. Building family resilience requires time and effort.
“Think about resilience as a muscle. ... It has to be developed, fostered and enhanced to be effectively practiced,” Marz said.
An emotional legacy
“Trauma is multigenerational,” said Dr. Chris Lawrence, a Columbia-based clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma treatment and prevention.
She works with clients at Lawrence, Oliver & Associates, LLC on 201 W. Broadway and runs a nonprofit called HeartSpacethis, which provides education, consultation and counseling on trauma and its effects.
Parents play a key role in providing the support that children need, but when a parent has not dealt with his or her own traumas, that can make it difficult to aid their own children, she said.
For example, foster parents who were foster children may relive the experiences they had as children, and it can bring up unpleasant or unexpected memories. This exposure to toxic stress can cause the health of the parent to deteriorate.
“There is a direct relationship between trauma and medical or mental health symptoms,” Lawrence said. “If the parent can be more grounded and regulated, that can help the child.”
Mitigating adverse childhood experiences requires a “multidimensional approach,” Marz said, including creating a “fostering environment” for the child while in utero and making sure parents or guardians have access to resources like healthy food after a baby arrives so they can take care of it and themselves, he said.
This is especially important in Missouri where the percentage of mothers whose health is described as “very good” or “excellent” is 41.3 percent, while the national average is 49.6 percent, according to the report.
“Empowering those who work with children will be important,” Marz said. “We have to work as a system to better inform ourselves. We all have a role in mitigating these issues.”
What Is a Domestic Violence and Abuse Shelter and How Do I Find One?
Shelters offer emergency haven in cases of imminent damger.
by Lisa Esposito
Somewhere in Arlington County, Virginia, there's a safe house for members of households affected by domestic violence. Eleven beds await spouses or partners, children or other family members at risk. In back is a kennel for pets of fleeing families.
"Our shelter is for folks who are fleeing imminent danger," says Christa Carlton, director of domestic and sexual violence programs with Doorways for Women and Families, a nonprofit community service group. "The abuse has escalated to a point where we're concerned someone is going to end up in the hospital."
Two safe apartments in other locations provide shelter alternatives when the main house is fully occupied, the abuser lives too close or for individual family reasons. "They're totally confidential locations," Carlton says. "We're not permitted to share them with anyone, not even law enforcement."
When people reach out to the program, the staff carefully evaluates their level of danger from violent partners, taking known risk factors – including threats of homicide or suicide, access to weapons and strangulation incidents – into account.
"Abuse escalates during pregnancy, so is there a pregnant person in the home?" Carlton says. "Has any of the abuse extended to a pet or to a child? Is there escalating violence? Is the person abusive in a public setting?" Stalking, extreme jealousy and substance abuse with unpredictable behavior also indicate potential for danger.
Meticulous planning throughout is essential for a safe transition. Household members at risk often flee to a local family or friend first. However, they can't stay there more than a day or two because the abuser will likely find them. "So then they call us from that location," Carlton says. "And we make a plan for them to come into our shelter."
Other times, people call directly from the household of abuse. "We can't establish immediate safety, so we make sure people know that law enforcement is a resource if a situation escalates and they need emergency assistance," Carlton says.
If possible, people gather their vital documents, medications and irreplaceable items before leaving. Depending on the location, the cab provided for their escape might have to be rerouted to ensure it's not being followed. "If the children are in a different place, we need to make sure they can get to us safely," Carlton adds.
Lengths of stay at the shelters vary. "Some folks come in just a few days for some peace after there's been an incident," Carlton says. "Then, maybe, they're going to go back and try the relationship again." Other residents might stay up to six months before they obtain permanent housing.
Women are not the only adult victims of domestic violence in need, Carlton points out. "We're inclusive," she says. "We have certainly served men in our safe house. Transgender folks are welcome. Any identity is served."
About one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, according to the most recent National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Unemployment, lower income or minority group status are among demographic factors tied to higher risk. Younger couples are more often affected. However, violence between partners also occurs among older couples and people from any socioeconomic or racial/ethnic group.
Irene Brantley is the program director for Women In Transition, a Philadelphia agency that runs counseling programs, including a hotline for women grappling with domestic violence or substance abuse issues. The program serves about 2,500 people yearly.
Nearly half of those who call fall between the ages of 35 and 44. "Almost 75 percent of them have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence," Brantley says. "In our demographics in Philadelphia, about 70 percent of our clients are African-American women."
By the time a woman reaches out to the hotline, she's probably already been through a series of incidents. "Then one thing sort of puts her over the edge," Brantley says. "It could be this person has been abusive to her but then threatened her child or threatened her parents."
Women In Transition is part of a collaboration of four domestic violence programs in Philadelphia. Two safe havens exist in the city, Brantley says. Each has an overall 100-bed capacity to serve at-risk partners and children.
"The reality here in Philadelphia is the shelter is full a lot of the time," Brantley says. "So we have to safety plan for shelter and we have to safety plan for the next 24 hours. Part of what we encourage callers to do is: Use what you already know. Callers have managed to be safe up to this point, despite some horrendous situations."
Planning ahead is crucial, Brantley emphasizes, rather than waiting for an emergency to ask for help. "Let people know what's going on," she says, as in telling neighbors: "If you don't see me for a day or so, knock on my door." Planning might include having code words with children in the event they need to be awakened in the middle of the night to get out safely.
Coming forward is difficult for women survivors who may face disbelief, victim-blaming and being judged by others. "It's a big misconception that it's 'her fault' she's in this situation," Brantley says. "We have seen some of the most powerful women come through these doors. Domestic violence is just one part of their lives – it's not who they are as people."
Deborah Capaldi, a senior scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, Oregon, is the co-author of a systematic review of evidence synthesized from dozens of studies evaluating adolescence and adulthood factors involved in intimate partner violence. Substance abuse – drugs more than alcohol – is a "substantial" risk factor. Dating couples are at higher risk than married couples. Separated women are the most vulnerable.
Women are slightly more likely than men to perpetrate intimate partner violence, Capaldi says. More injuries occur in couples when physical aggression goes in both directions. However, as forms of violence become more severe, women are more likely than men to be hurt and sustain serious or life-threatening injuries.
Capaldi has also conducted studies that directly observe how couples interact. "A lot of these younger couples have a very physical interaction style," she says. Minor aggressions, such as light slapping, quick little kicks or poking or pushing might be seen as "kidding," she says, but they can predict a higher likelihood of overt violence and injury.
If you need help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 is available to callers 24/7. To find a shelter near you, click on domesticshelters.org , an online, searchable directory of nearly 3,000 programs in the U.S. and Canada.
Anita Hildreth is the executive director of Theresa's Fund, the nonprofit group which hosts the Domestic Shelters website. If you feel intimidated or unable to rationally, safely and calmly express your feelings without fearing that your partner will verbally or physically abuse you, she says, then it's time to leave.
'80's star Corey Feldman set to 'name names' over Hollywood child abuse
by Stephanie Merry
Long before a tidal wave of women came forward with allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Corey Feldman was sounding the alarm about Hollywood sex abuse.
In his 2013 memoir Coreyography, he detailed how, when he and his friend and co-star Corey Haim were the biggest child stars of the 1980s, they were allegedly sexually assaulted by men in the industry. According to Feldman, Haim was raped when he was 11.
The Lost Boys star never revealed the names of the men responsible, however, and since the dam broke on the Weinstein story, the actor-turned-musician has come under tremendous pressure on social media to expose the guilty parties.
He's listened to the pleading, and he's ready to come forward – but not quite yet.
In an emotional video he posted to Twitter on Wednesday, Feldman said he wants to make a movie about his experience.
It will be the "most honest and true depiction of child abuse ever portrayed," he said. He plans to direct, produce and self-distribute it – "with your donations." He started an Indiegogo campaign for $US10 million that will be used for a legal team and security for him and his family, he said, plus funds to create the film.
"Right off the bat I can name six names," Feldman promised, "one of them who's still very powerful today." He also said he can show a link between paedophilia and one of the major studios.
He's hoping to bring down a paedophile ring with the movie, not to mention revolutionise the film industry, making it safer for child actors.
In the meantime, he's concerned for his own safety.
His band's tour bus was pulled over for speeding Saturday night and, after police officers detected marijuana, he and his crew were taken to a police station where they were charged with a misdemeanour for marijuana possession.
The next day, Feldman addressed reports of his arrest on Twitter. He explained that he and his crew simply paid a fine and that was that. But he also wrote that he found "the timing of all this ironic," considering it came on the heels of his announcement on social media that he was working on a plan to "shed some light on" Hollywood predators.
Since then, he also claims he was nearly killed by two trucks in a crosswalk, and that several band members quit, fearing for their safety.
"It's not easy," he said in the video. "I've been degraded at great levels. Rumours have been told, stories have been made up about me... all because they fear what I know."
"Justice will be served," he promised. "Because this is about good and evil."
Researchers looking at possible connection between child abuse and opiod epidemic
by Kelly May
DAYTON, Ohio (WKEF/WRGT) - Doctors at Dayton Children's Hospital said an alarming number of kids are suffering traumatic head injuries from abuse.
According to hospital research, they've seen double the amount of cases then any other pediatric trauma hospital in the United States.
Researchers are looking to see if it's a direct effect of the opioid epidemic.
Dr. Kelly Liker, medical director of child advocacy, said they can see numbers trending. That doesn't mean they can say for sure one is causing the other, but she did add that the numbers are alarming.
"We're trying to determine if there's associations between the numbers of people coming into the ER or dying of overdoses in the amount of child abuse and neglect that exists in the community," Dr. Liker said.
32 percent of all head trauma cases at Dayton Children's have been reported from abuse, compared to 14 percent at the 73 other pediatric trauma centers around the country.
"If you're a caregiver and you're using a particular substance," Dr. Liker said, "you're coping skills are different, your ability to be alert and aware all the time is impacted and we know that plays out and child abuse and neglect."
According to public health, overdose numbers and Montgomery County have been trending upward since 2012.
Dr. Liker said those numbers are concrete but there are social factors affecting a concrete answer on if overdoses affect childhood traumas.
"I think what we realize is that substance abuse and the caregiver is far more likely to result in child abuse or neglect in the home than in a home where a caregiver is not abusing substances," Dr. Liker said, "That's a concerning statistic."
FOX 45 is keeping up with hospital doctors as they continue their research.
Tale of two brains: One from normal child, another from abused child show impact of neglect
by the Genetic Literacy Project
(Pictures on site)
The primary cause of the extraordinary difference between the brains of these two three-year-old children [pictured below] is the way they were treated by their mothers. The child with the much more fully developed brain was cherished by its mother, who was constantly and fully responsive to her baby.
The child with the shrivelled brain was neglected and abused. That difference in treatment explains why one child's brain develops fully, and the other's does not.
The damage caused by neglect and other forms of abuse comes by degrees: the more severe the neglect, the greater the damage. Eighty per cent of brain cells that a person will ever have are manufactured during the first two years after birth. If the process of building brain cells and connections between them goes wrong, the deficits are permanent.
This discovery has enormous implications for social policy. It explains two very persistent features of our society. One is the way that chronic disadvantage reproduces itself across generations of the same families. There is a cycle of deprivation – lack of educational attainment, persistent unemployment, poverty, addiction, crime – which, once a family is in it, has proved almost impossible to break.
Neighbor: Death of baby found rotting in swing was "hush-hush"
by CBS News
ALTA VISTA, Iowa – Neighbors of the little boy found dead in a baby swing say they heard about his August death but that details were "hush hush," reports CBS affiliate KIMT .
According to court documents, Zachary Koehn, 28, called 911 on the morning of August 30 requesting an ambulance. Koehn told the dispatcher that his girlfriend, Cheyanne Harris, 20, had fed 4-month-old Sterling at 9 a.m., and he was fine. He then said she checked on the boy again at 11 or 11:30 a.m and he had died.
But a medical examiner's report disputes Koehn's account, finding that Sterling's body had maggots in various states of development on his clothing and skin, indicating that the child hadn't had a diaper change or been removed from the powered swing in the apartment in over a week. He weighed less than seven pounds at the time of his autopsy.
"The facts of this case go far beyond neglect and show circumstances manifesting an extreme indifference to human life," reads the criminal complaint.
The Des Moines Register reports that Sterling's body was found in a bedroom separate from the one the couple and an older child slept in. According to the Chickasaw County Sheriff's Office, the older child is "safe."
The newspaper also reports that court records state Koehn and Harris have a history of methamphetamine use, but no run-ins with local law enforcement or criminal convictions in the state of Iowa.
Neighbor Misty Bergmann told KIMT that she heard about baby Sterling's death in August but no one seemed to have details.
"We kind of heard right away that something had happened over there but everything was real hush-hush," Bergmann said.
Koehn and Harris have both been charged with murder and child endangerment resulting in death. They are both being held on $100,000 cash-only bond.
Chickasaw County Sheriff's Office told CBS News' Crimesider they were unable to provide information about why it took nearly two months for charges to be brought against the couple.
Conditions are dire within Kentucky's child welfare system. It was re-accredited anyway
by Deborah Yetter
Conditions are dire within Kentucky's child welfare agency, with caseloads soaring beyond acceptable national standards, according to a recent report by a legislative committee.
Turnover is high among social workers, and their numbers have been outpaced by the surging number of children removed from homes because of abuse or neglect, said the report by the state Legislative Research Commission. At least half the workers say their caseloads have become "unmanageable," and the agency doesn't have enough money to hire additional staff even as reports of child abuse and neglect have doubled in the past six years.
Earlier this year, the federal government found Kentucky failed to meet any of the seven standards it uses to measure basic child protection efforts.
But on Oct. 9, the state announced that the private Council on Accreditation had renewed the accreditation of the Kentucky Department for Community Based Services, the social service agency that includes child protection.
That means that the department's "child and adult protective services and foster care and adoption meet the highest national standards and deliver the best quality services to the community," according to a press release from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.
In a video the cabinet posted on its website announcing the results, Adria Johnson, commissioner of the department, said achieving accreditation for another two years is "a big deal."
"We are very, very proud," she said, "It means we are providing exemplary service to our consumers."
She added: "Congratulations, Kentucky!"
But others are skeptical, given the recent findings of a yearlong review of the cabinet's child protection system conducted for the legislature's Program Review and Investigation's Committee. The report, conducted by the Legislative Research Commission, was released at its Oct. 12 meeting.
State Rep. Jim Wayne, a Louisville Democrat and licensed clinical social worker, said the accreditation gives a "false impression" given the extent of the state's long-running problems with its child protection system, which some advocates have described as a crisis.
"I can't believe if you've got that LRC report showing all that information, how overworked the staff is, how they could be accredited by any national body," Wayne said. "It makes you wonder if we don't need to inform the accrediting body ... so they see how deficient they are."
Richard Klarberg, president of the New York-based Council on Accreditation, did not immediately respond to a request for comment after asking a reporter to email questions to him.
Cabinet spokesman Doug Hogan said the accreditation includes a broad survey of the department.
“The accreditation process looks at the whole child welfare and administration process to include items such as buildings, safety, training, ethics, personnel administration and other areas," he said. "We are extremely proud of the fact that Kentucky is one of only four states in the country to earn this distinction from the Council on Accreditation.”
But the LRC report noted several instances in which Kentucky appears to be out of compliance with basic standards of the accreditation council, including:
Caseloads. While the council recommends caseloads of no more than 15 cases per worker, Kentucky's numbers have consistently been higher, ranging from 25 to 32 cases per worker — also higher than the state's "target" of 18 cases per worker, the report said.
It said that excessive caseloads twice this year triggered a mandatory report social service officials must make to the legislature and governor when average caseloads per worker reach more than 25 cases for 90 consecutive days. The department made such a report in January, when the average number of cases was 29, and again in May, when the average reached 32, the report said.
Home visits. Personal contact between social workers and children and families they serve is a priority of the accrediting council, but Kentucky was penalized for the past two years for failing to complete the required amount of monthly visits by workers to children in foster care, the report said. The federal government cut 1 percent of the money sent to Kentucky in 2015 and 2016, resulting in additional state costs of $57,926 each year, the report said.
Lack of workers. The accrediting council recommends enough staffing to keep caseloads at 15 per worker but Kentucky — with about 1,135 workers in December 2016 — has nowhere near enough staff, the report said. At the time, it had 108 vacant positions but even with those filled, the average caseload would be around 23.
Meanwhile, demands are rising on social workers. About 8,500 children are in foster care, a 24 percent increase since 2011, while the number of workers increased only 7 percent during that time, the report said.
To get caseloads to 15 per worker, Kentucky would need to hire an additional 731 workers, bringing the workforce to 1,866, the report said. It also said the state needs to consider requesting enough money to hire more staff and increase compensation for social workers, who start at about $33,600 a year.
The legislative program review committee, which sought the report last year, has not acted on it.
Though it received the report Oct. 12, the committee skipped any discussion of it, using the entire meeting to grill Attorney General Andy Beshear about a $24 million settlement reached with a drug company by his predecessor, Jack Conway. Some Republicans on the committee told Beshear, a Democrat, they thought the settlement was too low although Beshear told them repeatedly he had nothing to do with it.
Rep. Lynn Bechler, committee co-chairman and a Marion Republican, said the report will be the first item on the agenda for the committee's next meeting Nov. 9.
Bechler said he's reviewed the report and found no surprises. Some of it mirrors issues he's heard about as a member of the House Adoption Work Group, appointed by Speaker Jeff Hoover to review obstacles to adoption and how to improve Kentucky's system to reduce the number of children in foster care.
Bechler, himself a former foster parent, said his impression is that the state's foster and adoption system isn't set up for the "best interests of the child" and believes that should be changed to cut the waiting time for children.
As for the report's call for more money for more social workers and better salaries, Bechler said he's not optimistic given the state's funding shortfall and the public pension crisis.
"That's probably a long shot," he said.
Other states stop school districts from blaming students for their own sexual abuse
by Scott Travis
Unlike Florida, many states do not allow school districts to blame children for their own sexual abuse — a tactic used widely by schools here when they are sued.
Courts in at least eight states have barred a legal defense that puts the blame partly or entirely on abuse victims.
Those states — California, Colorado, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Washington and Utah — all say that children are not mature enough to consent to sexual behavior, so they can't be blamed when they're victimized.
Florida courts have never ruled on the question. So school districts in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties all have pointed the finger at children – some as young as 6 – who were abused.
In one case, the Palm Beach County School District claimed in court files that four third-graders were “careless and negligent” and old enough to know better when a teacher molested them in 2005.
Two of the victims, now adults, said they felt ashamed and afraid after the schools blamed them. They said school districts that blame the victim deter others from coming forward if abuse occurs.
The state of Washington would not allow it. The Washington Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a 13-year-old girl “lacks the capacity to consent and is under no legal duty to protect herself from sexual abuse.”
In 2007, a Minnesota appeals court ruled, “We find it difficult to conclude that children could meaningfully assume the risks of sexual assault.”
And in 2015, a California appellate court ruled that "there is no case or statutory authority or persuasive reasoning supporting the notion that students sexually victimized by their teachers can be contributorily responsible for the harm they suffer.”
Florida, in contrast, allows victims to be blamed under a defense known as “comparative negligence,” which aims to split responsibility between the victim and the party accused of negligence — or to blame the victim entirely. School districts in South Florida have used the strategy in an attempt to reduce how much they have to pay the victims.
Florida law allows the defense to be used against people as young as 6, although the law does not specify whether it's allowed in sexual abuse cases.
Some lawyers and victims advocates argue that children can't legally be blamed because Florida criminal law presumes that anyone under age 16 is too young to consent to sex. They must be 18 to consent with someone over 23.
“We either mean it or we don't when we say a child under 16 can't consent,” said Palm Beach Gardens lawyer Michael Dolce, a critic of the defense. "You can't have it one way in civil court and another way in criminal court.”
Dolce researched the defense in connection with a case he was handling. He said he couldn't find any states where appellate judges have allowed defendants to blame sexual abuse victims. In Florida, he couldn't find any appellate ruling one way or the other, he said.
His research involved a lawsuit he filed against the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranches, which operates a group home in Polk County. Dolce represented a 13-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by an 18-year-old woman at the group home. Youth Ranches claimed the 13-year-old was “comparatively negligent.”
Dolce filed a brief opposing the use of the defense, arguing that a 13-year-old can't consent to sex. The trial court judge ruled against him without explanation. The case ended up being settled, so Dolce never asked an appeals court to address the issue.
Some victims' lawyers say it can work to their advantage when the victim is blamed.
“As the plaintiff, it's helpful if the defendant makes the arguments to a jury,” said lawyer Marc Wites, who represented the students abused in Palm Beach County. “Not only is the jury likely to reject it, but they'll probably become angry, and it ruins the credibility of the defendant.”
It's unlikely a jury in Florida has ever heard this defense in a child sex abuse case because those lawsuits are usually settled or dismissed before they make it to trial, legal experts say.
But the defense has been used regularly as an early response to a lawsuit. The South Florida Sun Sentinel identified 13 cases in South Florida. Palm Beach County schools made the claim against children as young as 6.
The practice should be outlawed, said Jennifer Dritt, executive director of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence.
“It's damaging to children to use this defense,” she said. “How is a 6-year-old in any way to blame for sexual assault? It's absurd.”
Dale Friedman, a lawyer who has used this defense in Palm Beach County school cases, said the purpose is not to assign blame but to reduce damages when children don't get psychological help or fail to quickly report an incident.
A lawyer who fails to raise it can be sued for malpractice, said Friedman, who works for the Conroy Simberg law firm in Hollywood.
“It's one of those affirmative defenses you've got to raise in case the facts support it,” she said.
Other lawyers question whether the defense could be used for anything other than victim blaming. They say the tactic refers to the actual incident, not what happens afterward.
Unless a school district is more specific in why it's using the negligence defense, “one has to presume they are alleging that the minor plaintiff is responsible at least in some degree for the sexual assault against him or her,” said Mitchell Frank, a professor at Barry University's law school in Orlando.
After the Sun-Sentinel uncovered the widespread practice of blaming victims, the Palm Beach County School Board agreed not to use it again in child sex abuse cases. The general counsel for the Broward County School Board said she plans to let a firm that handles liability claims know she also doesn't want it used.
The Miami-Dade County School District denied actually using it, despite it showing up in multiple lawsuits.
Sheriff's office cracks down on sex crime arrests days before Halloween
The Harris County Sheriff's Office is rounding up suspected and documented sexual predators to make the street safer for trick-or-treaters
by Margaret Kadifa
HARRIS COUNTY, Texas — The Harris County Sheriff's Office is rounding up suspected and documented sexual predators to make the streets safer for Halloween trick-or-treaters.
In partnership with the sheriff's office patrol unit and the Texas Attorney General, the criminal warrants division has an ambitious one-week goal to track down 55 unregistered sex offenders and arresting 90 people charged with sexual crimes, said Lt. Darren Chambers with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
The agency this week assigned all 13 of the sheriff's deputies who work in the field serving criminal warrants to sex-related crimes.
That's almost triple the agency's average monthly numbers. And six times the number of deputies normally assigned to the task.
The Halloween initiative began Monday and ends Friday.
At the forefront of the effort are Thom Smith and Don Bock, the sole sheriff's deputies assigned full-time, year-around to executing warrants related to sexual crimes.
Combined, the pair have more than 50 years on the force. They make about 50 arrests every month – a volume that outnumbers their peers, Chambers said.
The duo starts their days early. By 5 a.m Tuesday, Smith and Bock had hit their first house where they tracked down a man accused of two counts of sexual abuse of a child.
Three hours later, their peers nabbed an employee of a Chick-fil-A off of Beltway 8, near Aldine, who had been charged with two counts of sexually assaulting a child between 14 and 17 years of age.
Things slowed down later that morning. Smith and Bock, plus three state police, wound up at a nondescript office park off of the Southwest Freeway in an effort to find a man accused of possession of child pornography. That man was in New York on a business trip, said his manager, who did a double-take upon hearing the charges.
He'll be caught when he tries to board the airplane back home, Bock said, exiting the building.
A warrant for a different man with two counts of sexual assault and felony criminal mischief brought the pair of deputies to a ramshackle house in the Third Ward and led them on a fruitless chase across south Houston.
Hours later, the man's lawyers got the warrant retracted.
"Crap," Bock said, upon hearing the news over his cell phone.
Across town, another sheriff's team proved more successful. Deputies arrested a man in southeast Houston who had not registered as a convicted sex offender.
The criminal warrants division isn't tackling Halloween safety alone. As part of the initiative, patrol deputies are knocking on doors where registered sex offenders live to make sure their homes aren't decorated to attract Trick-or-Treaters.
The deputies arrested a total of about 10 people and cleared a handful more warrants on Monday and Tuesday – just a drop in the bucket of their ultimate goal for the week.
But Smith and Bock didn't seem concerned. In their half-dozen years serving warrants together, they've found some days they're luckier than others.
"A lot of our days are hit or miss," Smith said. "It's just the luck of the draw."
Sexual violence, bullying related
by Alicia Smiley
According to Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), out of 1,000 sexual assaults, 994 of the 1,000 perpetrators will walk free. Only 310 of the offenses will be reported to police. Of those, only 57 will lead to an arrest. Eleven of those cases will be referred for prosecution, but just seven will end with a felony prosecution. Only six of the 1,000 rapists will be incarcerated. ( https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system )
The #metoo movement put those statistics into even more sobering perspective. As millions of survivors, primarily women, identified as such using the #metoo designation, it became crystal clear how pervasive sexual violence is, including assault, abuse and harassment.
Our response to sexual violence too often involves victim-blaming, survivor-shaming and the communication of a million different messages calling the story of assault, abuse or harassment into question. The survivor's story is not believed on its face. And even when deemed credible, the survivors' behavior is questioned. You shouldn't go to bars, survivors are told. Don't dress provocatively. Be resilient. Get over it.
We do not shine the light of truth on the motivations or behaviors of the perpetrators. The same is true with childhood bullies.
Discussions about pervasive bullying in our classrooms, locker rooms and neighborhoods too often minimize the impact of the behavior. They center on ways of teaching the bullied how to be resilient in the face of torment, isolation and violence. School administrators conference with parents of the bullied children, writing the abuse off as “kids just being kids” and attempting to reduce the school's liability for the offenses being perpetrated. Get over it, bullied children are told. Stop causing problems.
Here's the thing — nobody sexually assaults, abuses, harasses or bullies someone they consider to be an equal. Conversely, inequality creates the fertile ground in which the systems of oppression, expressed through sexual violence and bullying, take root and flourish.
Sexual violence and bullying are expressions of power by the privileged over the marginalized and used to create the oppression that keeps victims in their place. The offenses sustain the power of the privileged, who have immunity from the harm caused.
Systems of differentiation — such as sexism and misogyny, racism and ethno-centrism, elitism, cis-genderism, ableism, faithism, adultism — advance the narrative that one privileged group is superior to, and therefore should be more powerful than, a particular marginalized and oppressed group. These hierarchies are alive and well in our classrooms, locker rooms and neighborhoods, as well as in our churches, civic organizations, political parties and legislatures.
Knowing this, how do we put an end to sexual violence and bullying? By creating true equality across all facets of life. Acknowledge privilege, particularly when it benefits you. End oppression, and create a community where all groups are valued. Commit to consciousness-raising, educating yourself about the experiences of the marginalized, including the experiences of those in the LGBTQ community, the young, the poor, the non-Christian, communities of color, the differently abled. Learn the words, and call these offenses what they are — not miscommunications or kids being kids, but demeaning, marginalizing and oppressive assaults.
Most importantly, speak truth to power. In your home. Within your family. At your workplace. Inside your classroom. On your team. Don't allow power differentials to silence you. See or hear something racist, sexist, belittling, dehumanizing, offensive to others? Say something. Be an ally. Stand up for others. Reject the notion of superiority of one group over another — particularly if you are part of the group deemed superior — and demand true equality for all.
By understanding trauma, Wisconsin youth find path to healing
by Rory Linnane
It was nine years ago, at the age of 11, that Meggi Lampen was sexually abused.
It was seven years ago that she first told anyone about it.
She withdrew and repressed what had happened. In the back of her mind, she knew something wasn't right. But she had no context to put it in – or let it out.
"At the time I was like, I don't know if this is normal,” said Lampen, who was assaulted by her brother's friend in Michigan. “I don't know if people come into other people's beds at night and do that."
Lampen now sees how the trauma she went through infused her mental health challenges.
"I was supposed to be having pool parties and being happy, and that wasn't the case," Lampen said. "At my lowest point, I was hospitalized for a week straight in an in-patient facility."
Her story is emblematic of a virtual revolution going on in understanding the long-lasting impact of childhood trauma. Specific incidents like Lampen experienced, and continuing conditions – such as poverty and exposure to violence – can lead to an array of health problems later in life.
Research also has confirmed that trauma literally changes the brain, adding anxiety to everyday situations as the brain anticipates another bad event. When survivors can identify and discuss trauma, they open a box of tools for calming their minds, finding safety and recognizing their strength.
Today, in her new home of Chicago, Lampen talks about sexual trauma, healing and safety as easily and naturally as the weather. She is studying psychology, creative writing and gender studies at DePaul University, while volunteering with OurMusicMyBody, which combats sexual harassment in music scenes.
In handmade booklets, the 20-year-old graduate of Homestead High School writes poems about the intricacies of recovering from sexual abuse. She sells them to friends and strangers on social media and a local zine festival.
"I'll come home and get a random Facebook message saying thank you for writing what I can't express," Lampen said. "All of that has just motivated me to continue to do advocacy and outreach."
As evidence piles up about long-lasting health impacts of childhood experiences, Wisconsin officials and advocates are putting more resources into understanding trauma and helping kids rebound from it.
Data released this month shows that about 40% of children in Wisconsin have had what researchers call "adverse childhood experiences," or ACEs for short.
ACE questionnaires are an increasingly common metric for determining how many potentially traumatic experiences a child has had.
There are different versions of the survey, but they generally count parent's divorce, death or incarceration of a parent, experiencing or witnessing violence, and living with someone who has a serious mental illness or drug or alcohol problem. In some parts of Wisconsin, it's not uncommon for people to have at least four or more such experiences.
The recent survey, conducted by the U.S. Census, also counted an adverse experience if a child had been judged or treated unfairly because of their race or ethnicity. Research has shown that racism — from offhand remarks to structural inequities — can significantly erode mental health over time.
Repercussions from these experiences can show up early on as behavioral problems. More than three out of four kids ages 3 to 5 who've been expelled from preschool also had at least one of the adverse experiences, according to the Child and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Youth with these experiences also face higher risk in their lifetimes for health problems such as depression, substance use disorders and heart disease. About 28% of Wisconsin children who had at least one adverse experience already had a chronic health condition, according to the group.
Health workers hope that by better addressing adverse experiences in children, they can mitigate long-term social problems that can cripple communities. And the movement is growing beyond just health care workers. Business, law enforcement and political leaders increasingly worry that childhood trauma is at the root of everything from an unprepared workforce to jammed jails to dysfunctional neighborhoods.
The goal of the growing "trauma-informed" movement is to reduce the harm as much as possible by supporting youth before, during and after the event or chronic stressor. A trauma-informed approach is meant to recognize that when someone is having an emotional, social or behavioral issue, it's because of something that happened to them. Addressing the root cause is more effective than punishing or blaming the individual.
There are many ways the strategy is spreading:
County and state employees are going through intensive training on trauma-informed care through Wisconsin first lady Tonette Walker's Fostering Futures initiative.
Schools are adopting trauma-sensitive approaches. Through online modules and staff training, teachers are learning about strategies to help kids recover and build resiliency, such as avoiding triggers and making sure each kid has a trusted adult to confide in.
The Wisconsin Black Health Coalition provides workshops about the historical, inter-generational and continual trauma of racism.
Clinicians are expanding use of trauma-focused therapy.
After a traumatic event, there are a couple ways the brain tends to react, therapist James Archer explained in a recent presentation to mental health professionals in Wisconsin.
As the brain anxiously expects a repeat dose of adversity, it stands at the ready to react with "fight or flight."
Some people tend to overcompensate with a readiness to "fight." As their brains are hyper-aroused, these kids may act out and disrupt classrooms with behavioral challenges.
Others may tend toward "flight," or freezing. They may withdraw, sometimes feeling entirely dissociated from their bodies. These kids can be harder to identify as they're more quiet in the classroom.
Every child reacts differently. Children may show a combination of responses or something entirely unique.
"Our kids are being misdiagnosed all throughout Milwaukee County with ADHD, bipolar, mood disorders," said Shawna Cravillion, a practitioner at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. "But really, these kids have the effects of trauma."
Cravillion provides trauma-focused therapy — a program introduced at Children's Hospital in the last year as providers realized they weren't always getting to root issues in regular therapy sessions.
A big component of Cravillion's therapy is helping kids construct their "trauma narrative."
"These kids can say, 'Oh wait, I'm experiencing this because of the trauma I've endured, not because I'm a bad kid,' " Cravillion said. "I can now link my behavior to my trauma triggers."
When youth can put words to what happened to them and discuss how it makes them feel, they can move on to the next step: finding coping skills. Strategies such as meditation, talking to a trusted adult, journaling, drawing, fidgeting or exercising can help quell that fight-or-flight urge and calm the brain.
Another step in the process for many youth is sharing their story with people they trust.
"Then it's this huge celebration because someone else is listening and validating that they've experienced it, they've survived it, and now they're thriving and moving forward," Cravillion said.
Teachers step in
Every day around the state, students come to school with trauma on their brains, which can distract them from academics.
"It's extremely hard to learn when you're either really amped up or completely checked out of your body," Archer said.
On one survey, a third of MPS middle schoolers said that in the last year, they'd felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for at least two weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. These are symptoms of depression.
While MPS offers mental health services to students with the highest needs, staff are being trained in trauma sensitivity to benefit all students.
SaintA, a human services agency in Milwaukee, has been at the forefront of training school staff about trauma. Sara Daniel, a senior trainer with the agency, said interest in the subject has "exploded."
Daniel hopes teachers walk away with renewed empathy for why students might be behaving in difficult ways, as well as tools to help kids feel safe and calm. She also explains the importance of kids having someone at school who they can trust and connect with.
"It's that coach, that teacher, that person who believed in me, that great group of friends, that team: those are the reasons people make it," Daniel said. "Those are things we have control over."
Many districts have also turned toward mindfulness, which has a basis in brain science. It helps kids (and teachers) calm frenetic flight-or-fight responses so they can focus and find patience. Techniques include breathing exercises; meditation; tightening and relaxing muscles; or focusing on an object, sound or sensation.
Lampen, who found help at Rogers Behavioral Health, said talking about her experience and practicing mindfulness techniques have been a pivotal part of her recovery.
"Yes, I did go through something that I shouldn't have had to. And I survived from it," Lampen says in a video message meant to reduce stigma around mental illness. "When younger people hear my story, I want them to realize there are people out there just like you or me who have gone through this."
Lampen finds mindfulness in journaling, which has helped her better process her emotions and thoughts — a practice that has benefited those who've read her poems or listened to her story.
"That is the root of all our efforts: to be like, I know you went through this really bad thing, or you are experiencing these mental illnesses," Lampen said. "When you meet the right people, and don't bottle up your emotions then you're set on a really beautiful path."
TAKE THE TEST: Find your own ACE score
Prosecutor creates safe place for child abuse victims
by Caitlyn Stulpin
WOODBURY - The Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office opened a Child Advocacy Center, where children believed to have been abused can be interviewed in a safe and child-friendly setting.
The center, located on Cooper Street, is decorated throughout with art made by local school children, complete with brightly colored murals donning the hallway walls.
"This center will help us prosecute child abusers more effectively while coordinating the services we can provide to child abuse victims in Gloucester County," said county Prosecutor Sean F. Dalton."It will be a place where adults listen, children are safe and trust is built.
"There will be no harm and it's a place where healing will start."
The prosecutor's office created the center thanks to a $300,000 competitive grant received from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families.
Because of the new center, interviews will be conducted in a child-focused setting.
"This building is peaceful," said Dan Christy, freeholder and liaison to the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office. "It provides an optimal space for children to open up and talk."
Interviews previously were conducted in a room on the second floor of the Prosecutor's Office. However, that setting exposed children to the normal activities of law enforcement, officers with guns and badges and suspects entering and leaving the building.
"Think about it, a child is taken from their home to the Prosecutor's Office, in a law setting, into interview rooms," Christy added. "It promotes fear and confusion."
The new center also makes space available to other agencies including the state Division of Child Protection and Permanency and the Center for Family Services.
Wall art was arranged through an elementary school drawing contest. The prosecutor's office is also working with Rowan University art students for an indoor mural that could be seen from the street.
The center was officially opened following a ribbon cutting ceremony on Thursday afternoon.
Child abuse is everyone's business
by Charita Goshay
It was all I could do last week to read the details of the torture and abuse inflicted upon Owen Buggey, a 3-year-old Canton boy who died as a result of punishment that would have buckled a man's knees.
No crummy childhood, no addiction, no sob story of any kind excuses it.
No matter how many hundreds of stories a journalist covers, those are the ones that stick, that haunt and follow you all the days of your life.
In Owen's case, even people outside of his house of horrors saw what they suspected were incidents of abuse at the hand of his mother's boyfriend, who is on trial for his death.
At least one neighbor was so concerned, he recorded an incident of Owen being hit.
But in too many cases, people don't get involved, and even parents boast of what will happen if someone dares to interfere.
Some of the conundrum is generational. Those of us of a certain age see a kid getting a swat at the grocery store, and it reminds us of our own childhoods, when there was no such thing as a “time out.”
We see a screaming toddler spread-eagle on the floor of the food court, and we mutter to ourselves ”...Just give me five minutes...”
We think about how we wouldn't have dared to act out in public because there was no one to save you. Kids who ignored this soon learned there were only other adults, nodding in agreement that you got what was coming to you.
Because we believe kids require some discipline, this mindset in some cases has led to our being hesitant to get involved in how other people correct their children.
Certainly, there's discipline, and then there's what Owen Buggey endured.
No tantrum, no misbehavior by a 3-year-old warrants what Summit County Medical Examiner Lisa Kohler described as a “constellation of injuries,” including a perforated intestine, a missing tooth, head-to-toe bruising, septic shock, and a head injury.
Last week, Owen's siblings testified in court that they were repeatedly punched and whipped by their mother's boyfriend.
We wouldn't tolerate this for a dog.
The story of Owen Buggey is also the story of bad choices, and the kind of chaos and instability so often produced by poverty.
It's a plot that has become so tragically common we could write a master story and simply change the names and the dates:
Mother has more kids than she can afford or handle.
Mother moves in a man she's only known for a short time.
Mother works, boyfriend doesn't.
Boyfriend is left to babysit children he doesn't know, nor is equipped to handle.
Someone ends up dead. Then come the lies about how it happened.
In Owen's case his mother refused to seek medical treatment for fear her four children would be taken.
But a complete stranger couldn't have done any worse.
If you have a feeling, an inner nudge, or you see anything that doesn't sound, look or feel right, act on it. Call Stark County Job & Family Services' 24-hour Child Abuse and Neglect Report Line at 330-455-5437, or 800-233-5437.
Childhelp, the National Child Abuse hotline, may be reached at 800-422-4453.
It is better to be over-cautious and cause some inconvenience than to be ambivalent and let a child die.
Owen Buggey couldn't defend himself. That's what we adults are for.
Investigating child sex crimes
Inside the Mississippi organization fighting child pornography in an internet age
by Sarah Fowler
In downtown Jackson, in an office towering above High Street, a live chat room is open.
An alert, incessant and persistent, sounds every few seconds. With each ding, someone in Mississippi is actively searching for child pornography.
On a daily basis, agents with the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force log into those chat rooms, tracking predators in Mississippi and across the globe.
Commander Jay Houston doesn't sugarcoat it. Child pornography is everywhere, and the number of offenders is mind-boggling.
In the darkest corners of the internet, child predators log into live chat rooms. These rooms, with names such as “12 and up” or “third grader,” offer members live video of a child being sexually abused. Membership often requires viewers to show a live video of themselves molesting a child or “holding up a nude child” for the camera, Houston said.
“Usually, they're in these live stream rooms masturbating to what's going on,” he said.
Houston and his team have investigated countless cases involving child exploitation. Since the task force was first established in 2007, the number of cases in the state has grown exponentially. Houston and ICAC Assistant Commander Angela Williams attribute that to the internet.
According to the state attorney general's office, in FY 2008, the year ICAC was created, the cyber crimes unit opened 93 investigations. It is unknown how many of those investigations were related to child exploitation.
In 2016, ICAC opened at least 158 cases and garnered 12 convictions.
"Everybody was working on computers, floppy disks, the older stuff," Williams said. "Now, they're migrating to thumb drives and cellphones because basically your phone is a computer in itself."
Attorney General Jim Hood said that as part of the investigation process, the unit will "dump a phone" every day for evidence of child pornography. The suspects are indiscriminate.
"That happens every day," he said. "It's people in a position of authority that are sexting these kids. Teachers and cops and preachers."
In fiscal year 2017 — July 2016 to June — the task force conducted 294 investigations and 457 forensic examinations, Hood said.
Often investigations will lead the task force across state lines and, in some instances, involve international scenarios.
In 2008, all of the cyber crime unit's suspects were in Mississippi, Houston said. That's no longer the case.
"What used to be regional, our targets were here, our victims were here, they were collecting material. It's now become, we are literally investigating crimes that occur all over the U.S., all over the world," he said.
"While we still have those jurisdictional boundaries of Mississippi, our suspect could be in another state, our victim could be in another state. The only nexus we have here is somebody saw it or reported it in Mississippi, so now we have to figure out, 'What nexus did Mississippi have?' Was our suspect here? Was our victim here? Was a witness here?"
The internet's effect
The internet has not only created a flood of pornographic images but a complex issue of tracking down offenders, with electronic service providers often creating a roadblock.
As a result of the Electronic Communications Act, several internet companies don't respond to Mississippi search warrants because the federal law extends government restrictions on wiretaps from telephone calls to include transmission of electronic data by computer. The act also prohibits access to stored electronic communication.
If a company is based in California, for example, it doesn't have to respond to a Mississippi search warrant. It does, however, have to respond to a subpoena. The extra legwork and maneuvering can be time-consuming, taking up to three weeks, Houston said, and it also wastes valuable time.
"We're not talking about private messages or direct messages or content … We're talking about what was the email account," he said. "These crimes that we're investigating are not like a stolen cellphone ... These are child exploitation investigations, and it seems now that electronic services providers — not all, some — are doing things to make it harder for us to obtain the information."
Houston offered the live chat as an example. If 50 people are in a live chat, investigators have to determine how to categorize the alleged offenders. That category then reflects the response.
If someone in the live chat is molesting or assaulting a child or that child is in imminent danger, the situation is classified as an emergency. Subpoenas are issued for the user's IP address, and the person's name and address are tracked and a search warrant is issued for the suspect's address. Agents can be at the offender's home "in no time," Houston said.
"It's just so much to think about it on the court side, on the prosecution side, about what you should do up front," he said. "And that's just one particular case. There are tons of websites out there that we could go to right now."
Through undercover operations, agents can track a predator for months, establishing a pattern against a "high-value target" who has spent an extended period of time downloading multiple images of child pornography.
Agents tracked Grantham Mitchell across several states for 19 months. Mitchell, 20, of Hattiesburg, uploaded child sexual abuse material to his Dropbox account, according to AG spokeswoman Margaret Ann Morgan.
Mitchell was interviewed by agents in Hattiesburg in 2012 before he fled to Arizona. He was later arrested in Arizona and extradited to Mississippi.
According to the FBI, which also was involved in the investigation, Mitchell admitted producing a video of himself and a minor child engaging in sexually explicit conduct in Orange Beach, Alabama, in 2012. Mitchell also possessed numerous images and videos of minor children, as young as 12, engaging in sex with adults.
He pleaded guilty to production of child pornography and possession of child pornography and was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.
Kenneth Cooper, 30, of Collins, was arrested in his home after a months-long investigation, Morgan said. Cooper had downloaded numerous images and videos of child pornography onto his computer.
He pleaded guilty to one count of child exploitation and was sentenced to 40 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections, with five years in prison and 35 years on post-release supervision.
When investigators go to search a house or make an arrest, suspects may often claim the child pornography is the result of a computer virus. Agents then have to look for forensic evidence to prove that's not the case, Houston said.
"They may have a computer virus on their computer, but those computer viruses do not go out and download child pornography and store it in a folder on the desktop called 'child pornography.' You can't use a computer virus as a formidable defense," he said.
While agents have seen instances where individuals accidentally downloaded an image of child pornography they thought was someone of legal age, that's the rare exception. Often, suspects have thousands of images of child pornography they've been collecting over a series of months or even years.
"You can't inadvertently download child pornography 1,000 times," Houston said. "You can't inadvertently do anything 1,000 times."
While suspects eventually may be tracked and arrested because of their IP addresses, a countless number of victims may never be identified.
"We may identify another 200 or 300 images of kids that we'll never figure out who they are," Houston said. "What used to be one guy sitting behind one computer with a couple of thumb drives, CDs or floppys downloading child pornography has now become the guy that is sitting there with a phone using these apps, getting in these groups and, inside of these groups, he's trading pictures back and forth."
While sexual predators can lurk across the internet, cellphone apps create a different problem.
In the age of sexting, many teenagers take nude pictures and send them to someone they think is trustworthy, either through texting or an app for a messaging or social media service. Houston said those photos can easily end up in the hands of a predator.
"You have so many teenagers that are using some apps to take nude pictures and send them," he said. "As they're sending them, their friends are showing their buddies … Then, you have these whole groups of internet predators out there that are pretending to be 14-, 15-year-old boys and pretending to like this girl, and they're convincing them to take nude pictures and they're blackmailing them with those."
Houston said predators are savvy and often can convince a teenager they're someone else. The teenager, who is usually a girl, Houston said, will then send the imposter a photo without her shirt on. Once the predator has that photo, he will blackmail her into sending more graphic photos by threatening to share the photos he already has with her parents or school officials.
"Then, (the victims) get afraid and start sending those other pictures that they're asking for," Williams said.
"You'll see series of pictures, hundreds of pictures, that a seemingly normal 14-year-old would never take unless they were being blackmailed," Houston said.
Parents can unknowingly expose their children to predators by allowing them to be on apps where they don't meet the age requirement.
Houston compared the problem to a 16-year-old being in a bar for 21-year-olds and older. If a 10-year-old child encounters a predator on an app where users are supposed to be 13 years old or older to have an account, the accused's attorney can attempt to use that as cause to throw out the entire case.
"If while on that app, they come across an internet predator, which has happened in the past … when we identify a suspect, the very first hurdle that we have to jump through is the fact that the child is 10, which is against their terms of service to begin with," Houston said.
Hood stressed that parents need to have conversations with their children about what they're looking at online and internet safety.
State at forefront ...
As part of the task force, agents travel around the state and the world, speaking in schools and to law enforcement agencies about child exploitation. They've been to Brazil, Ecuador and Australia teaching their skills and techniques to law enforcement agencies. In Mississippi alone, the task force works with 60 local, state and federal agencies that all receive grant funding from the state AG's office to conduct their own forensic work.
Mississippi was one of the first states in the nation to establish a task force and, as a result, "we've been kind of at the forefront of technology since then," Hood said.
"Believe it or not, Mississippi is on the forefront of child exploitation investigations," Houston said.
"If we could have a revenge porn law, that would be great," he said. "If we could beef up our cyberbullying law more, to where there were some teeth in it, then I think that would be fantastic, but as far as the child pornography statutes, we have some of the highest sentences for people that possess child pornography, the highest fines."
Among those getting stiff sentences was Robert Hinger Jr. , 48, of Pascagoula, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison with 12 years suspended after pleading guilty to four counts of possession of child pornography and one count of production of child pornography. Hinger emailed pornographic images and took "inappropriate" pictures of a 15-year-old girl, Morgan said.
Russell Haley, 67, of Gulfport, was sentenced to 40 years in prison with 30 suspended after pleading guilty to one count of child exploitation. Haley was also ordered to pay fines totaling $52,000. Haley was arrested in 2015 at the Diamond Jacks Casino in Vicksburg after a joint investigation with agencies from two states discovered he was using free Wi-Fi at casino hotels in Mississippi and Louisiana to download hundreds of images of child sexual abuse, Morgan said.
...but for how long?
The task force may soon be in financial jeopardy. During the 2016 legislative session, legislators voted to sweep monies from 16 state agencies into the state's general fund.
Before the passage of Senate Bill 2362, state monetary assessments totaling approximately $1 million were deposited into a Special Cyber Crime Treasury Fund for the purpose of supporting the attorney general's Cyber Crime Division.
"They (lawmakers) don't have any money, and that's true and I understand that … but there's another question there," Hood said. "The money we used to have, where did it go? They gave it away. I do blame them. They're short-sighted and not looking down the road."
As a result of the legislative move, the AG's office has seen a 28 percent cut in funding and subsequently has had to cut back on training and equipment, Hood said.
The unit is getting by, he said, but it isn't taking the steps needed to keep up with the latest trends in technology. Staffed with nine investigators, three attorneys and one legal secretary, the unit has a budget of approximately $1 million for FY 2018.
"We're saving, we're making do, but we're not doing things that the future requires, and that's just short-sightedness on the part of the Legislature," Hood said. "Over a quarter of the funding has been cut when, in fact, we really need it to be growing to be dealing with the new challenges of cyber crimes. That's where the criminals are going,"
While many suspects are identified quickly, several remain elusive, using the latest technology to cover their tracks. There is one suspect in particular who is downloading thousands of images of child pornography in Mississippi, but investigators don't know who the person is or where he or she lives. For Houston and his team, frustration sets in. Then, determination takes over.
"We'll catch them," Houston said. "We'll catch them."
Williams added, "It will take a little time, but we'll catch them."
Sex education not optional AG rules
by Evie Andreou
The attorney-general has ruled that parents should have no say as to the content of sexual education modules taught in state schools, nor do they have the right to request that their children be exempt, an education ministry official has said.
The ministry requested the opinion of the attorney-general earlier in the year after more than 150 parents sent, through a lawyer, a joint letter to Education Minister Costas Kadis, asking whether they should have the right to exclude their children from class during sex education if they consider that this is against their religious or philosophical beliefs.
Following this letter, the education ministry sought advice from the attorney-general and the Commissioner for Children's Rights.
Both authorities ruled that this was not possible.
“According to the attorney-general's ruling, parents have no right by the law to express their opinion either on the way sexual education is being taught nor on the material,” an official of the education ministry said.
She also said that there is no law provision to oblige the school to take permission from parents or guardians for teaching sex education to children.
Sex education, the ruling said, is no different than any other subject on the school curriculum for which sole responsibility of choosing is that of the education ministry.
Sexual education is being taught in state schools – primary and secondary education – since 2011. It is taught as a module in the subjects of health education in primary schools, in home economics in high schools and family education in lyceums.
But the commissioner for Children's Rights, Leda Koursoumba, also said that the exclusion of children from sexual education programmes in schools would be a violation of their rights.
Koursoumba had said that adjusted sexual education, which would be integrated across the whole range of the curriculum, even from pre-school age, serves and safeguards the child's interests. The exemption of any child from sexual education programmes due to parental interventions would be contrary to the child's interests.
According to the education ministry, sex education in schools aims at ensuring the health of children and it is also a measure against child sexual abuse and exploitation.
“Sexual education in primary school deals with teaching children their body, which parts are private and what is a good or a bad touch,” the official said. She added that children are also taught who they can talk to in the case they experience behaviour that makes them feel uncomfortable.
In high schools and lyceums sexual education includes family planning and sexual and reproductive health.
The official refuted claims that sexual education encourages children to be sexually active earlier in life.
“On the contrary, research showed that when they receive timely information, children protect more their selves, while unwanted pregnancies are prevented,” the official said.
“We want the children to take informed decisions for their lives,” she said.
The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (Enoc) called on governments last month to ensure children's right to Comprehensive Relationship and Sexuality Education (CRSE).
Enoc said that schools must have mandatory, consistent, systematic plans and content based on the needs of children, as CRSE provides extensive support for the development and growth of children and young people.
Betrayed and broken: Healing the wounds of child abuse
by Misha Pillail
CHANDIGARH: "I was a quiet child. Too quiet for my own good. On the outside, life was good. Inside, it was festering. With both parents working, I was frequently left in the care of elderly neighbors. Their son, who played with me every day, took the game to an entirely new level, whispering into my ear that I had to keep it to myself. The 'game' was played again and again. With time, the players changed. But the injunction was the same. There were chocolates, threats and helplessness."
Aashna, (name changed), who recounted years of abuse at the hands of close friends of the family, turned out fine. Her parents dote on her and do not know about the nightmare she lived for years. Her occasional spells of anxiety are attributed to eccentricity. That is just about it. Others are not so lucky though, such as the 10-year-old mother of a baby, the girl raped by her stepfather, the 14-year-old who got pregnant after being raped by a cousin and more.
Living with trauma
Cases of child sexual abuse are as common as they are shocking. In most cases, the abuse remains hidden. Victims rarely tell anyone and when they do, the emotional trauma is rarely addressed.
"Such abuse leads to major emotional disturbances, with victims developing trust issues. They become frustrated, impulsive and reactive. Personality disorders are common in the long term," says Dr B P Mishra, a psychologist based in Ludhiana who takes up cases of minor victims of abuse.
According to him, there's a time frame to minimise emotional damage to victims. Children less than 10 years of age are comparatively more resilient, so they can be treated up to one year after the abuse (depending on its severity). Children above the age of 10 need to be counselled up to six months after or as soon as possible. If this window of opportunity for emotional healing is lost, they will carry scars for life," he says.
Dr Mehak Bansal, a doctor from Ludhiana who works to create awareness about child sex abuse at government schools warns that victims typically do not resist. This is all the more so because the abuser is generally a trusted member of the family or part of the close friend circle.
"Children either become too withdrawn or too aggressive. If they do not receive the psychological help they need, they are likely to be either chronically depressed or prone to depression throughout their lives," she explains.
Aarti Anant, an activist who works to engender awareness about child sexual abuse throughout the country has encountered several cases of victims unable to come to terms with their emotions.
"They are fragile, even as adults. As parents, they may be too casual or too protective. They associate shame with their bodies from a tender age and harbour that feeling in the long term. They are also prone to substance abuse," she says.
According to experts, victims tend to blame themselves for the abuse. A complex set of factors, including familiarity with the abuser, fear of not being trusted and victim shaming, which is an all too common response to sexual molestation, exacerbate the pain. Parents, caregivers and teachers have to be vigilant to behavioural changes.
"Parents have to watch out if children start avoiding them and prefer to remain alone. They may also develop unusual fear, which they project to someone else," says Dr Mishra.
Given the demands on parents, particularly if both are professionals, this is easier said than done.
"Parents do not have much time these days and are dependant on others to take care of their children. In fact, a child spends a major part of the day with others," he says.
When the subtle signs are not registered, it is often injury to the body that alerts parents and family members to the abuse, says Dr Mehak.
However, there are times when there are no symptoms whatsoever, given the naturally high resilience children have.
"Children cope really well. The healing process is good, especially if the child is healthy. If the abuse happens early in life, the child actually feels it is 'normal'. In fact, a child can go and play shortly after being molested. Also, abusers don't hurt or harm the child right away. The victim and the family are made to trust the abuser and the abuse starts slowly. There is a lot of mental manipulation involved. Therefore, parents have to make sure they bond with their children really well so that children confide in them," says Arti Anant.
Regardless of demanding lifestyle and biased reports, there are certain sure signs to watch out for. --Inability to trust close family and friends
-- Difficulty in maintaining relationships
-- Poor body image
-- Anger management issues
-- Need for control
-- Substance abuse
-- Developing harmful sexual behaviour
-- Marital issues
-- Anti-social behaviour
Scale of abuse
A 2007 study by the NGO Prayas and UNICEF, which studied 12,447 children in 13 states found:
-- 2 in 3 children are physically abused
-- 88% by parents
-- 65% by teachers
-- 66% are emotionally abused
-- 53% sexually abused - 47% girls and 53% boys
-- 21% of all respondents have reported severe sexual abuse
-- Abuser is usually in no hurry to start abusing children. Spends time to gain trust
What can be done:
-- Name body parts
-- Talk to children and don't associate shame with body parts
-- Respect children, listen to them
-- Tell them about boundaries
-- Make sure they don't feel too scared to talk to you
-- Give them sex education
-- Make sure teachers are trained in detecting abuse
-- Give them a happy environment
United Arab Emirates
Juvenile crimes drop in Abu Dhabi after child rights law
The new law was put into effect in June 2016, to protect children from abuse and neglect.
by Ismail Sebugwaawo
There has been a significant decrease in juvenile crimes and a rise in reports of child abuse in Abu Dhabi since the introduction of the Child Rights Law - popularly known as the Wadeema law - last year, according to judicial authorities.
The Abu Dhabi Family Prosecution said juvenile crimes constituted 36 per cent of the total cases they received in 2016, which was lower compared to the 43 per cent recorded in 2015.
Reports of children being abused rose from 4 per cent in 2015 to 9 per cent in 2016.
Authorities have attributed the positive change in the figures to the tougher punishments through the new law, increased awareness on child rights and the need by parents to take good care of children, through awareness campaigns and workshops.
During the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department's monthly meeting titled 'Towards a stable family and a safe child' recently, Alia Mohammed Al Kaabi, head of family and child prosecution, said that the introduction of the child rights law has contributed a lot to child protection efforts. This has resulted in more reports filed about children being abused and a decrease in juvenile crimes.
The new law was put into effect in June 2016, to protect children from abuse and neglect and support their right to safety, shelter, health care and education. Anyone who breaks the law faces a fine of up to Dh50,000, and up to 10 years in prison for physical/sexual abuse or criminal negligence of children. "The new legislation has helped in providing more protection to children," said Al Kaabi.
"Previously, there were no legal sections that allowed for criminalising and prosecuting certain behaviours such as neglect towards children, or laws that safeguarded the rights of children who had been physically abused by their parents."
She said more child abuse cases have been reported to the child affairs prosecution offices since the new law was introduced last year, and authorities have dealt with people mistreating children. "People who witness a child being abused and fail to report it are prosecuted under the new child rights law," said Al Kaabi.
"It is good that people seeing children being mistreated by their parents, guardians or other persons report them to authorities, for the protection of the abused child and also to avoid legal action on their part."
The official noted that the establishment of a child affairs prosecution in Abu Dhabi last year, which investigates and deals with cases involving children, has also led to the increase in people reporting parents or guardians abusing or mistreating children.
Three child prosecution offices have been established across Abu Dhabi.
According to authorities, the child affairs prosecution responsibilities include dealing with all forms of child abuse, whether physical assaults, verbal insults, emotional or mental and whether intentionally or due the neglect of their parents, caretakers or those in their surroundings.
Social workers are also available at the child prosecution offices to offer assistance and investigate cases that involve children.
The child affairs prosecution also holds children who have committed offences under the juvenile law accountable. Previously, such cases were dealt with by the family prosecution court.
Crimes against children are unpardonable offences. The criminal justice system has taken cognizance of cases of sexual assault and abuse against children by framing tougher laws. Offenders will face its full force, the primary reason why cases have fallen. We are all responsible for protecting children. Don't remain silent when you suspect something is amiss with your child, any child. Speak up.
A cheerful setting for a very dark time
by RaeLynn Ricarte
"The Columbia Gorge Child Advocacy Center looks like a typical day care when one first walks in the door: the room is brightened by primary colors and hundreds of stuffed animals line shelves and window sills.
It's hard to see the cheerful space at Woods Court in Hood River and believe it is a place where children who are in trauma come, and that is exactly the point.
“We've worked very hard to make it a welcoming place. I'd like to say that this is the first step in the healing process,” said Beatriz Lynch, director of the CGCAC.
The center has deliberately created a serene and child-friendly environment where young victims of sexual and physical abuse can receive the services they need to get their abusers prosecuted.
The interview room at the CGCAC has wall hangings that are soothing but also intended to absorb sound if the child becomes emotional.
"There are crayons and a coloring book on the table in front of two plush armchairs. Some children use coloring as a distraction while they are disclosing what happened to them, said Lynch.
All interviews are recorded and monitored while they are happening by law enforcement and child protective workers, who may suggest questions.
Lynch is one of three people trained to conduct the interviews, which she said can be tough because most of the children are under 8 years of age. In addition, their entire family is in crisis — either one of the parents has been implicated in the abuse or they are trying to grapple with the pain of knowing that someone has hurt their child.
“Their world's coming apart,” she said.
She said the interviews can be especially heart-wrenching when a parent doesn't want to believe what the child is saying about a spouse or life partner. And that leaves the boy or girl without anyone to turn to during a time of great stress, Lynch said.
After the interview, there is a forensic examination “from head to toe” of the child in a private room outfitted with equipment for that purpose.
Dr. Michele Beaman of Providence in Hood River performed the exams for seven years but stepped down at the start of 2017.
That has left the CGCAC with a crisis of its own, said Lynch, because none of the hospitals in the Gorge will examine children for sexual abuse, and sometimes they even turn away physical abuse assessments.
If the primary doctor of the child does not agree to perform the exam, Lynch said the families, law enforcement officials, prosecutors and child service providers must travel to Portland to get the evidence needed to build a case.
“We really need two or three doctors right now to split up those duties,” she said.
Wasco County?Sheriff's Detective Scott Williams said, once the doctor crisis is resolved, it will be beneficial for investigators to have all the services they need in one place. “It's really all about the kids,” he said.
Lynch said 73 children were seen at the center in 2016 and there have been 51 this year — mostly for physical abuse.
With Wasco County now added to the mix, she said the numbers could double. She is writing grants to supplement the $30,000 per year that the county will provide.
“It's awesome that we're able to work together now,” said Lynch.
Mandatory reporters, such as schools, the Department of Human Services and child care providers, among others, usually refer cases to law enforcement entities, which arrange for the child to be interviewed and examined at CGCAC.
“We greet them when they walk through the door and give the family a tour,” said Lynch. “Then we sit down and explain what's going to happen. Nothing's a secret; the parents know, and the child knows.”
When the child is relaxed, and a rapport has been built with Lynch or the person who will be doing the interview, he or she is taken to the room where their conversation can be recorded.
“We ask open-ended questions, so the child is telling the story in his or her own words,” said Lynch, who is bilingual and assists with cases involving Latino families.
She has undergone 40 hours of specialized training to learn how to follow Oregon Forensic Interviewing Guidelines, and there are other regular training opportunities.
Three times a year, tapes of interviews are reviewed by the entire team, so they can look for ways to improve the process and debrief about situations that were upsetting.
“It's fantastic because you come back with really good ideas and support,” she said.
The CGCAC also helps families access counseling, medical assistance and other resources they need during the prosecution of a case. Families do not pay to have a child assessed at the center, although insurance providers are billed.
Knowing that children are spared the trauma of being interviewed at the emergency room or a police station is enough to keep you going on rough days, said Lynch.
“I'm just thankful we've gone as far as we have in our society to have a place like this.”
Why are we so !$#%ed up?
by Alvin Charles
To those who abuse: the sin is yours, the crime is yours, and the shame is yours. To those who protect the perpetrators: blaming the victims only masks the evil within, making you as guilty as those who abuse. Stand up for the innocent or go down with the rest.” These are the words of author, abuse survivor, and child advocate, Flora Jessop.
Have you ever thought to yourself that there must be more to the depravity and violence (toward others and self-inflicted) which pervade our society? That beyond the obvious motivations which typically inform our remedial efforts, there must be deeper connective causes? There must be a reason for the prevalence of incest, statutory rape, and other forms of sexual assault in our society. What makes so many of our young people consider death rather than persist beyond their momentary darkness to the awaiting dawn; to choose oblivion over the sweet complexity of life? What motivated a married minister of government and former STAR Person of the Year to allegedly sext with an 18-year-old girl? Why did a seemingly sane combatant in the lunchtime political spin wars feel compelled to brag about masturbating in a public toilet? Why do so many bus drivers betray the responsibility entrusted to them by offering special rides (wink wink) to underage fares? This is obviously not normal behaviour! Or is it? Why are we so damn screwed up?
Over the past ten years we've had an average of 147 reported cases of rape per year, including 80 cases of statutory rape, fifteen involving children under the age of twelve. Beyond the reported cases of sexual assault, there are endless whispers of sexual impropriety, from homes to schools. We record an average of forty murders annually.
Psychoanalytic theory suggests that these perverted proclivities are conceived from stolen innocence and born of the resultant mental illness. Psychoanalysis aims to resolve this mental illness by investigating how subconscious thoughts and motivations inform conscious actions and inclinations. It is only by truly understanding the underlying reasons for a problem that one can hope to resolve it. Thus, though it is necessary to commit time and resources to the symptoms of said problem, the focus should be on eradicating the disease.
The subconscious mind is like an infinite memory bank where we permanently store our experiences. Even those experiences we cannot readily recount are securely tucked away in this latent depository. Every time our flesh is blistered by things better suited supporting fruit or supplying energy to appliances. Every act of castration of our individualism. Every disappointment. Every wish realized. They are all saved.
Over time this mental account accrues emotional and psychological interest: insecurities, confidence, diffidence, distrust, hope, cholericness, timidity etc.
Before every decision we make and every action we take we unwittingly withdraw from this accrued interest for investment in our cognitive process. Insecurities predispose us to ostentation, abusive behaviour and hesitancy in taking difficult principled stances, while hope, confidence, and humility foster reception to new ideas and self-reflection.
If you are unconvinced by the conclusions of psychotherapy – no matter how well researched or widely accepted – consider the findings of a science which specializes in studying the physical properties of the nervous system (the brain included): neurology. Neurologists have identified a mutated variance of a gene on the X chromosome which influences behavioural responses, called the warrior gene. They have determined that carriers of this gene are predisposed to aggression and risk-taking. In addition, they discovered that a part of the brain, called the right amygdala, is responsible for sexual urges.
Now, let's be clear: merely possessing the warrior gene and a right amygdala does not mean criminal deviance and perversion are inevitable. The predisposition to aggression and risk-taking could instead be channelled to protect the weak or champion the disenfranchised.
How you are raised is a vital amplifying determinant of the path you ultimately take. It is worth noting, since women have two X chromosomes (men just one), they are more likely to have a warrior gene-free X chromosome, hence are less likely to be affected. This helps to explain, in part, why women typically only make up less than 5% of the occupancy of the Bordelais Correctional Facility.
Countless studies confirm that on average one in every three children who grow up experiencing (directly or indirectly) sexual, physical, verbal and/or psychological abuse go on to abuse others. The studies went on to indicate that 100% of these children of abuse grow into otherwise maladjusted adults. They seek out unhealthy relationships. Suffer from debilitating depression. Struggle with anger management and conflict resolution.
While there is no shortage of studies on the effects of abuse, there have not been many focussing on how acute the problem is in Saint Lucia. The few which have been done paint a tragic picture.
A study carried out by Basilyous and Durgampudi of the Department of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, St. George's University, Grenada focussed exclusively on the prevalence of abuse – particularly sexual abuse – in Saint Lucia. In the survey 1,526 primary and secondary school children were asked about their sexual activity – uninvited sexual activity in particular. Of the surveyed, 62% of the girls and 24% of the boys reported that their first sexual experience was against their will. The findings went further to disclose that 56% of the girls and 77% of the boys who admitted to uninvited and unwanted sexual attention did not believe they were sexually abused.
The first thing which needs to be pointed out is that people are generally unwilling to volunteer such personal and potentially embarrassing information. Thus, the problem is likely even far greater than the bleak statistics indicate. Secondly, the abused are often in denial about the abuse. In many cases they believe that they were in some way complicit in the abusive acts. They didn't say no loudly enough – or maybe not at all. They indirectly asked for it in some way. That irrespective of the difference in age, maturity, and clearly defined moral and legal situational responsibility, what they experienced was not abuse.
I am certain that you have at least one friend who is abusive to his or her partners. Perhaps you've witnessed the abuse. Did you attempt to stop it? Did you even admonish the behaviour?
How many of you know men who are in sexual relationships with underage girls? Can you say, truthfully, your own hands are not dirty with the smut of lewd impropriety? The sad truth is, we don't castigate this abhorrent behaviour with appropriate passion because subconsciously we identify with it. We instead turn a blind eye or cowardly retreat
to our respective private enclaves uncomfortably to laugh. If we didn't identify with it, would the wanjman henomenon be so prevalent? We routinely partake in financial wanjman by accepting compensation for the innocence of our children and enjoy wanjman of the conscience by the normalization of this repugnant behaviour through our collective indifference.
Perhaps the tag line simply sinful was as apropos as it was ill-advised. After all, our society is an unapologetic paradise for perverts. We select our masters based on the hue of their ideology instead of the content of their character; repeatedly rewarding the ability of some in their ranks to be in touch with the fairer sex, despite how unwelcomed or illicit the touch.
We wholeheartedly embrace and celebrate the legacy of the sugar daddy of the nation – immortalizing him with busts, statues, and as an eponym of structures of import.
Predatory wolves clothed in piety such as the now deceased convicted child molester, Fr. William Hodgson Marshall, and alleged sodomite, Fr. Stephen Quinlan, are the ones we have traditionally turned to for spiritual guidance.
Gomorrah burning! This time I fear that the destruction will be inescapable. Not from the hellfire of righteous retribution, but rather from the self-ignited social and economic wildfire of neglect and abuse. There will be no Zoar for there are no innocent among us. Those who started the blaze; those of us who have abandoned the victims through our cowardly resignation to the woeful reality – temporarily comforted by the fact that the fire is not yet at our doorsteps; and those who maleficently fan the flames, will burn all the same.
How I wish I could have told you that everything will be OK. But alas, like our unassuming health minister, I was forced
to be the bearer of bad news. However, while it may be too late for us, future generations need not share our fate. We need a functioning department of human services. Victims of all ages need to be encouraged to speak their truth. Moreover, it is imperative that we have an engaged minister of health who does more than merely read prepared speeches at perfunctory media events. An unambiguous and emphatic message needs to be sent to those who would defile our children: the legal and social tolerance for despoilment of the innocence of our youth will be zero!
19 children died after Ohio welfare agencies returned them to birth parents
by the Statesman
After a 2-year-old in Cincinnati was murdered just two months after being reunited with his parents in 2011, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine launched an exhaustive overhaul of Ohio's child welfare system .
He offered condolences to the foster parents who had raised the child, Demarcus Jackson, and held town hall meetings throughout Ohio, hoping to draw attention to the welfare of the state's children.
But while a bill that grew out of those meetings became law in 2014 and resulted in some minor reforms, DeWine admits the effort fell far short of its goal.
“One of the things that we're going to have to do is that (funding) number is going to have to get raised,” said DeWine, who is now running for governor of Ohio.
Joseph Tye, Demarcus' foster father who was forced to give him up when the boy was returned to his birth parents, gave a more critical review.
“It hasn't changed nothing,” he said of the reform efforts.
A months-long investigation by the Dayton Daily News found hundreds of children have died in Ohio at the hands of adults whose histories were well known to agencies designated to protect the welfare of children.
In fact, more than half of the 474 Ohio children who died from suspected abuse or neglect between 2009 and 2016 had been on the radar of a local child protection agency prior to their deaths, according to the Daily News' examination of state records.
In 85 cases, a children services agency had investigated multiple reports of abuse or neglect before the child's death.
And in at least 19 cases, the child had been initially removed from the home because of an unsafe living situation and then returned — sometimes just days before their deaths.
Children services leaders say there is no way to foresee every death, and that multiple steps are taken to ensure children are in a safe environment.
“The system will never be fail safe,” said Moira Weir, director of Hamilton County Job and Family Services. “Sometimes those in the child welfare system can make all the right decisions and take all the right precautions and a child may still die.”
Hundreds of children trafficked for sex in Dallas; new center open to help
by Monica Hernandez
DALLAS -- When you meet Robbie Hamilton, you'd never know such an upbeat, confident woman was once living on the streets, addicted to drugs.
"People say, 'Wow you must have lived a really great life.' I say, 'Yeah, except for those homeless years,'" Hamilton laughed.
It was a downward spiral she never expected when she was lured into the sex trade in Dallas around age 15.
"When you slowly get reeled into the life like that, you don't know how to get out," she said. "I remember not feeling like I was going to be accepted back into society, because I was bad, I was dirty."
Then, at age 41, her fourth felony arrest in Garland led her to New Friends New Life , a Dallas non-profit near Mockingbird Station that empowers sex trafficking survivors, connecting them to counseling, shelters, and careers. They provide help to women and girls.
Nearly 15 years later, Hamilton getting ready to help other victims in an expanded location specifically for girls ages 12 to 24, slated to open next week, thanks to a new initiative and grants from Governor Greg Abbott's office to combat sex trafficking.
"There's nothing more healing than someone looking at you and saying 'Me too. I know,'" she said.
It's important work, because young girls are being bought and sold on the streets of Dallas more often than you might imagine.
Dallas police estimate 400 girls are being trafficked on the streets of Dallas every single night, said New Friends New Life CEO Katie Pedigo.
"We have seen girls as young as nine," said Pedigo. "The average age a girl is trafficked in Dallas is 13 years old."
The common thread between many of the girls who come to New Friends New Life is a history of abuse or dysfunction in their home from a young age.
"It can be any girl in our city, it can be any part of our city, it can be North or South Dallas, East or West," said Pedigo.
"Trafficking is not always grabbed and being thrown into a car," said Hamilton. "Trafficking is being groomed. I just knew it was attention, and I craved more of it."
"Sometimes it's not that scary bad guy we see in the movies. Sometimes it could be another woman. Sometimes it could be somebody that looks like a friend to them, that's recruiting them into the sex trade," said Pedigo. "I would tell parents to keep their eyes open. Be vigilant with their little girls."
Social media can make it even easier for pimps to find their victims, with promises of friendship, love, and money. By the time girls realize what's happened, it's often too late.
"If you're talking about a young girl under the age of 18 who is selling her body day in and day out, up to 10,11, 12 times a day, there's no choice in that," said Pedigo.
That's why New Friends New Life's new center for youth is so important. Once it's complete Nov. 1, it will give girls a place to relax, three hot meals a day, snacks, clothes, counseling, even art therapy and yoga. And of course, the first face they'll see is Hamilton's, someone who can relate.
"It took a long time for me to be able to put down the shame. It took a long time for me to talk about it after I got sober," said Hamilton.
Promise House just opened a similar drop-in center for sex trafficking survivors in Dallas this week, also thanks to grants from the governor's office.
If the girls need a place to sleep, they'll be referred to shelters for sex trafficking survivors, or they can enroll in one of the Promise House's programs.
A long-term solution, Pedigo says, is to work together to address the problem.
"Once you know and once you start to care, you have to do. You have to do something about it, that's what we're asking and telling our community, is find out the facts, get the true information and then do what you can do," said Pedigo.
Why Austin's child sex traffickers aren't getting jail time
Dozens of children are identified as trafficking survivors each month. Their pimps are rarely punished.
by Erica Proffer
AUSTIN - Toni McKinley gently held the pendant around her neck. The tiny, heart-shaped locket would make anyone believe she kept her closest love near her heart.
“I never put a picture in it,” McKinley said. “I didn't know who to put in it. I didn't know who I love. I didn't know who loves me.”
She said she hasn't worn the necklace in years, but felt like putting it on for this day -- her birthday.
“When I was 16-years-old I was in a girl's home. I spent my 16th birthday there. I was just thinking about it, about how no one celebrated my birth,” McKinley said.
McKinley is a child sex trafficking survivor.
“I was trafficked by a family member at a very young age in elementary school,” McKinley said.
She didn't want to name which member of her family sold her for sex.
“I would be in the car taken to what seemed like an auto parts store. That's where they would meet,” McKinley said.
Then, the buyer would utter the coded message: She's beautiful.
McKinley's trafficker was never caught by police. Her family moved, and the abuse stopped.
The trauma remained.
McKinley became a chronic runaway as a teenager. Then, she met another predator.
“I was 15-years-old just out at an apartment complex at the pool waiting for friends to come home,” McKinley said.
She said she didn't know at the time the man would eventually force her into the sex trade.
“It seemed safe because there were other girls that were my age with him,” McKinley said.
Austin police Detective Doug Novielli said this is how many sex trafficking girls fall victim in Austin today.
Det. Doug Novielli works with a team of eight detectives who focus on trafficking and child exploitation crimes in Austin.
“It's steady throughout the year,” Novielli said. “Sometimes it's somebody they know that might be involved in it so they're introduced into it that way. Sometimes they meet other kids who have been surviving through that.”
Austin police count only a few dozen child sex trafficking cases per year, but workers at the not-for-profit service “Refugee Services of Texas” said they talk to 10 to 15 girls per month.
“Starting in April, the State of Texas really began to pay attention to child sex trafficking. So, they really took initiative in bringing all of these service providers and first responders at the table,” said Rachel Alvarez, STEP Coordinator for Refugee Services of Texas.
Identifying the crime doesn't stop it. These cases are different from other types of criminal enterprises. It's more difficult to prosecute.
Abigail Akin 'Abbey' Fowler leads prosecutions against accused sex traffickers in Travis County.
The victims are often criminals: Juvenile delinquents, runaways, vulnerable kids who try to avoid the law.
“A lot of times they won't tell us the whole story,” said Abbey Fowler, Travis County assistant district attorney.
Fowler is the prosecutor for all human trafficking in Travis County.
Out of the approximately 100 known victims identified by non-profits each year, only 11 child sex trafficking cases were brought to court in Travis County since 2016.
“The detectives have been working really hard at trying to form relationships and really making sure that they can build a trust so slowly, they can find out what's been happening to these children,” Fowler said.
Of the 11 cases brought to court, only three defendants served jail time. The other eight got probation or their charges were waived or dismissed.
“The first and biggest reason really is based on the victim. It's their story and if we don't have the nerve to tell their story we can't prove it to a jury,” Fowler said.
Police and prosecutors said the survivors often run away or refuse to be a witness. In Austin, immigration also plays a role.
Workers with the Refugee Services of Texas said U.S. citizen children who are trafficked are sometimes afraid to speak out if their parents are in the country illegally.
“I have had minors come and speak to us and say, ‘My mom doesn't want to work with law enforcement,' or ‘I didn't call police because I'm scared,'” Alvarez said.
Jose Antonio Vega:
Police said he forced a 17-year-old girl to prostitute herself in Round Rock and Austin motels and an arrest affidavit said he kept the $500 to $1,000 per day earnings. Police arrested Vega in 2013 for compelling prostitution of a minor. He pled to a reduced charge, and was sentenced to probation.
Brianna Nicole Williams:
Police said she handled communication between a 17-year-old and the "johns" before she was arrested in an FBI sweep called, "Operation Cross Country." She was sentenced to probation.
Pate was arrested after two women escaped. Among the victims was an 18-year-old who had two kids while she was trafficked. He was given probation in 2012. He re-offended in 2016.
Successful prosecution begins with rehabilitating the survivors.
In Texas, housing and counseling is limited. While Texas has a wide range of laws against the sex trafficking of minors, the minors are subject to prosecution for prostitution and may face barriers to treatment and victims' compensation to fund their recovery, according to Shared Hope International .
“What we find is our biggest need is the safe places for these victims to go,” Novielli said. “When a 15- or 16-year-old has nowhere to go, they're waiting for the next pimp to come around and find them.”
HOW TO HELP
“I know of six girls right now that need a place. Currently, there is no place for these children to go,” said Brooke Crowder, founder of The Refuge for Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST).
The only facility, Freedom Place, is dedicated to housing domestic child sex trafficking survivors in Texas. It's located outside Houston. The recovery center can hold 30 girls.
Next year, Austin will have a place.
“A family called me and asked me if I wanted 50 acres to build a healing community for children,” Crowder said.
The phone call triggered years of developing a plan and raising money to build. The Refuge Ranch for DMST will launch in November 2018.
The purpose of The Refuge is to give survivors of sex trafficking long-term housing with on-site services.
Their website said, “Each girl in our care will have her own plan of restoration, which we call her Circle of Care, unique to her age, situation, and needs. A University of Texas Charter School, a People's Community Clinic, therapeutic programs that include equine, art, music and pet therapy, along with one-on-one counseling and group therapy with licensed professional therapists will all be a part of our long-term, residential care.”
McKinley will help counsel girls there.
“I think being here is very healing for me, too,” McKinley said. “To be able to come full circle from being in a place that would not do me any good to coming to a place where I can make it with the help of all of our team the best healing place for them as possible.”
Click here for more information about the refuge and how you can help them build. Click here for more information about Houston's Freedom Place.
Buy sex, go to school: Anti-trafficking classes target johns
by the Associated Press
COLUMBUS (AP) — On a recent Saturday, about two dozen men are stuck in a dark auditorium near downtown Columbus for a combination of detention and education.
The men — a mix of races, ages and economic status — are in the Franklin County Justice Center because they'd been arrested for trying to buy sex. Some were caught in an online sting that lured them to a hotel room. Others approached an undercover female officer on the street.
The first-time offenders were given a choice: attend a mandatory daylong seminar and the arrest is removed from their records.
“Welcome to the human race,” Columbus assistant prosecutor Michael Allbritain says as he opens the session. “Everybody makes mistakes. It's what we learn from our mistakes that defines us.”
So-called john schools have been offered around the country for more than two decades. They're part of a criminal justice trend that targets buyers of sex — almost universally men— as well as prostitutes.
The U.S. currently has about 60 john schools serving more than 100 cities and counties, according to Demand Abolition, a group fighting to end prostitution.
Often a one-day class, the schools are sometimes criticized for taking a superficial approach to a serious problem.
In Seattle, after Peter Qualliotine grew frustrated operating a similar school, he co-founded the Organization for Prostitution Survivors about three years ago. Today, he runs a 10-week program.
“When they're given the space to really reflect and unpack what this practice is about and what the particular experiences are about, they recognize that there's a whole host of reasons that they were buying sex,” Qualliotine said.
In general, john schools focus on the side of prostitution that buyers don't see: the drug addition, violence, impact on neighborhoods and health dangers.
Recidivism rates are low, although john school organizers acknowledge there's no way of knowing how many men continue to buy sex and just aren't caught. In Columbus, only about a dozen men have been rearrested out of nearly 600 that have taken the class.
In San Francisco, the daylong First Offender Prostitution Program meets every other month, mixing lectures from public health nurses and former prostitutes with smaller discussion groups for the men, who pay up to $1,000 in exchange for completing the class and having charges dropped. The fee goes to programs that help women leave prostitution.
In St. Paul, Minnesota, former stripper and prostitute Vednita Carter has been running a john school for nearly 20 years. In her presentations, she emphasizes the revulsion women experience as they're forced to have frequent sex with strangers.
“You have to give yourself to someone you do not know, time after time, five, 10, 20 times a day,” said Carter, founder of Breaking Free, a program that helps girls and women leave prostitution. “That is the harm in prostitution.”
In the Columbus program, men give a variety of reasons for soliciting prostitutes, according to their responses on questionnaires handed out by Allbritain: “My wife doesn't pay attention to me.” ”It was the thrill of the hunt.”
A married man in his 40s who attended the Columbus class earlier this month said he answered an online ad out of frustration over a lack of sex with his wife. He was arrested immediately after telling a woman in a hotel room — who turned out to be a police officer — that he wanted to pay for oral sex. He said it was the first time.
The man said the experience of being handcuffed was a wake-up call by itself. But the class also opened his eyes to things he hadn't thought about, including what the women go through. He agreed to be interviewed only on the condition his name wasn't used.