Turned in by mom, teen says he's molested 50 kids, police say
by Eliott C. McLaughlin
It was 3 in the morning, and a California woman was attempting to flag down a police officer; she wanted to report that her son just told her he had molested two boys.
The confession would go much deeper once Riverside police detained 18-year-old Joseph Boston on Saturday, authorities say.
Not only did he confess to sexually assaulting 4- and 8-year-old boys at a $65-a-night motel room about a mile away from the police station, but he also admitted molesting "upwards of 50 children since he was 10 years old in different cities where he had lived," according to Riverside police.
Those previous addresses include the Southern California cities of Lakewood and Buena Park, police said. Boston had been staying in Riverside, about an hour's drive east of Los Angeles, since earlier this month.
Boston had a room at the motel where he "befriended" the boys, who were staying with their parents, also guests at the motel, a police news release said. The children went to Boston's room Friday night, the statement said.
"Hours later, the suspect called his own mother stating what he had just done," the news release said.
The teen's mother took him to the closest Riverside Police Department station and told an officer she wanted to turn in Boston for suspected molestation, police said.
Boston confessed to molesting the boys in the motel before saying he had dozens of other victims, according to police.
Police charged Boston with two counts of oral copulation on a child under the age of 10, according to online records. He is being held at Robert Presley Detention Center. His bail is set at $1 million.
It was not immediately clear if Boston had an attorney.
Riverside County Child Protective Services took both victims into custody.
Detectives say they believe Boston has victimized other children and ask anyone with information about this case or any previous alleged crimes to contact Riverside police.
"This is going to affect not only the victims for a long time, but also our detectives and officers involved in this -- to hear someone just be very open about what they've done, and they're only 18 themselves," Officer Ryan Railsback told CNN affiliate KABC.
Africa: It's Do-or-Die! Trafficked Nigerians' Route to Slavery, Deaths in Libya, Mediterranean
by Victoria Ojeme
Almost one month after 26 women and girls, believed to be Nigerians, were allegedly murdered while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, the news has continued to send shock waves across the country. The news was swiftly followed by the report that hundreds of Nigerians, among many other trafficked Africans, stranded in Libya on their way to Europe, are being traded as slaves.
The bodies of the women were brought to the southern Italian port of Salerno by the Spanish ship Cantabria on November 5, and prosecutors opened an investigation over suspicions that the victims, some as young as 14, may have been abused and killed.
The bodies were recovered by Cantabria, which works as part of the EU's Sophia anti-trafficking operation, from two separate shipwrecks - 23 from one and three from the other. 53 people are believed to be missing.
Two men, named as Al Mabrouc Wisam Harar, from Libya, and Egyptian, Mohamed Ali Al Bouzid, are believed to have skippered one of the boats. They were identified by survivors who were among the 375 brought to Salerno by Cantabria.
The two men are accused of organising and trafficking at least 150 people on the two sunken boats, but prosecutors have not made a direct link between the two men and the women's deaths, said Rosa Maria Falasca, chief of staff at Salerno's prefecture.
The prefect of Salerno, Salvatore Malfi, told the Italian said the women had been travelling alongside men and when the vessels sank, "unfortunately, the women suffered the worst of it".
But in response to concerns that the women were being trafficked for sex trade, he added: "Sex trafficking routes are different, with different dynamics used. Loading women on to a boat is too risky for the traffickers, as they could risk losing all of their 'goods' - as they like to call them - in one fell swoop."
Marco Rotunno, an Italy spokesman for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said his colleagues were at the port in Salerno when the bodies were brought in.
"It was a very tough experience," he said. "One lady from Nigeria lost all her three children."
He added that 90% of migrant women arrive with bruises and other signs of violence.
"It's very rare to find a woman who hasn't been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are travelling with their husband. But also women travelling alone with their children have been abused."
Most of the survivors were either Nigerian or from other sub-Saharan countries including Ghana, Sudan and Senegal.
The survivors were among over 2,560 migrants saved over four days. People still continue to attempt the crossing despite a pact between Italy and Libya to stem the flow, which led to a drop in arrivals by almost 70% since the summer, according to figures released by Italy's interior ministry.
Back home in Nigeria and while the identities of the 26 deceased girls have not been disclosed, many parents, whose daughters have travelled to Europe in search of better life, have been gripped by apprehension. Some of the parents do not even know that their daughters, under the lure of searching for golden fleece, and the false assurances of human traffickers, are out there in the open hoping to cover hundreds of kilometres on the sea to get to Europe. Sadly, as some of the girls escape needless deaths by divine intervention, more are struggling to put themselves in the way of harm and death, all in the hope of finding greener pasture. The questions begging for answers are legion. How many times has the tragedy of this nature occurred this year alone? And how many times will it occur before the close of the year?
Abike Dabiri-Erewa, Senior Special Adviser to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, has, in the meantime, offered some words of assurance as she promised that Nigeria will investigate the 26 girls' death at the highest diplomatic level. But the announcement by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters, NAPTIP, that it has uncovered about 300 illegal routes in Katsina alone used by human traffickers to ferry their victims out of the country may have underscored the enormity of the problem. UNICEF, on its part, confirmed that there is one route for victims being trafficked from Africa and the Middle East to Europe which, according to the global body, has many tributaries.
Risky route taken by desperate people
"It (route) carries children and women from the hinterlands of Africa and the Middle East, across the Sahara to the Mediterranean Sea in Libya", a UNICEF report said.
"Every day, thousands travel this route with the hope of reaching safety in Europe. They flee war, violence and poverty. They endure exploitation, abuse, violence and detention. Thousands die. It is not only a risky route taken by desperate people, but also a billion-dollar business route controlled by criminal networks. It is called the Central Mediterranean Migration Route. It is among the deadliest journeys in the world for children. A lack of safe and legal alternatives means they have no option but to use it.
"In 2016, over 181,000 migrants " including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children " put their lives in the hands of smugglers to reach Italy.
"The most dangerous part of the route is a 1,000-kilometre journey from the southern border of Libya's desert to its Mediterranean Coast combined with the 500-kilometre sea passage to Sicily. Last year (2015), 4,579 people died making the crossing or 1 in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 children were among the dead.
"In Libya, security is precarious, living conditions are hard and violence is commonplace. The country is riven by conflicts as militias continue to fight with each other or with government forces. Different regions are controlled by conflicting militias who make their own rules, control border crossings and detain migrants for exploitation.
"On every step of this dangerous journey, refugees and migrants are easy prey. Children are the most vulnerable".
UNICEF staff on the ground working with children on this route claimed to have heard and documented many cases over many years of this abuse. "UNICEF works in the countries of origin, transit and destination protecting children from violence, helping them get an education and meeting their basic needs. To build on this work and to further gauge what was happening to migrant children and women who were making this journey, UNICEF's Libya Country Office commissioned a needs assessment survey in 2016?, the body said.
This gave the global body a window into the scale of the challenge.
The final sample comprised 122 participants, including 82 women and 40 children. The migrant children interviewed for the study represented 11 nationalities. Some of the child interviewees were born in Libya during their mothers' migration journeys. Among the 40 children interviewed, 25 were boys and 15 were girls between the ages of 10 and 17 years old.
The survey was conducted on the ground by a UNICEF partner, the International Organization for Cooperation and Emergency Aid (IOCEA), with support from Feinstein International Center at Tufts University. The assessment also incorporated interviews with government officials and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Survey of a journey
Though the UNICEF survey's scope, according to the body, was affected by security restraints and lack of access to militia-run prisons, it still provides important insights into the appalling situation women and children face as they journey along this trail.
"This child alert is not only based on this survey but also on our wider programme experience in North Africa and with children in Italy, and the stories and testimony our staff on the ground have heard countless times from very vulnerable children and adolescents", UNICEF stated.
'Pay as you go' arrangements
Three quarters of the migrant children interviewed reportedly said they had experienced violence, harassment or aggression at the hands of adults. Nearly half the women interviewed reported suffering sexual violence or abuse during the journey. Most children and women indicated that they had to rely on smugglers leaving many in debt under 'pay as you go' arrangements and vulnerable to abuse, abduction and trafficking. Most of the children reported verbal or emotional abuse, while about half had suffered beating or other physical abuse. Girls reported a higher incidence of abuse than boys. Several migrant children also said they did not have access to adequate food while on the way to Libya. Women held in detention centres in western Libya, accessed by UNICEF, reported harsh conditions such as poor nutrition and sanitation, significant overcrowding and a lack of access to health care and legal assistance. Most of the children and women said they had expected to spend extended periods working in Libya to pay for the next leg of the journey - either back to their home countries or to destinations in Europe. Although most of the married women (representing three quarters of those interviewed) brought at least one child with them, more children were left behind.
Sexual violence, extortion and abduction
Children and women making the journey, according to UNICEF, are forced to live in the shadows, unprotected, reliant on smugglers and preyed upon by traffickers.
Transport used by women and children interviewed in the survey were mainly trucks, taxis or private cars. About one third indicated that they had travelled long distances on foot or by motorcycle, boat or animals.
Travel through the desert usually required traversing rough sand roads while exposed to heat, cold and dust. Nearly one third of the women interviewed reported that they had experienced fatigue, disease, insufficient access to food and water, lack of funds, gang robbery, arrest by local authorities and imprisonment.
Children also said they did not have access to adequate food while on the journey.
The primary hazards encountered include sexual violence, extortion and abduction. Nearly half the women and children interviewed had experienced sexual abuse during migration - often multiple times and in multiple locations.
Women and children were often arrested at the border where they experienced abuse, extortion and gender-based violence.
Sexual violence was widespread and systemic at crossings and checkpoints. Men were often threatened or killed if they intervened to prevent sexual violence, and women were often expected to provide sexual services or cash in exchange for crossing the Libyan border.
More than one third of the women and children interviewed said their assailants wore uniforms or appeared to be associated with military and other armed forces. These violations usually occurred at security checkpoints within cities or along roadways.
Three quarters of child participants in the study said they had experienced harassment, aggression or violence by adults. Most of the child respondents had suffered verbal or emotional abuse, while about half experienced beating or other physical abuse.
Girls reported a higher incidence of abuse than boys.
Most of the women and children who suffered such abuse did not report it to the authorities. Many participants cited their fear of
being deported or placed in detention centres, and their feelings of shame and dishonour, as reasons not to report sexual violence.
The abuse reported by the children took place in several different contexts, with no definitive trends emerging. About half reported abuse that took place at some point along the journey or at a border crossing.
Approximately one third indicated they had been abused in Libya. A large majority of these children did not answer when asked who had abused them. A few children said they had been abused by people who appeared to be in uniform or associated with military and other armed forces, and several others said that strangers had victimized them.
Many refugee and migrant women and girls were prepared for this possibility and took precautions against it, depending on the routes they planned to travel. Some women and girls from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia who passed through Khartoum, Sudan, got contraception injections and brought emergency contraception with them on the journey.
Migrant women and children generally tried to travel together for safety reasons but would often be separated. Many women and children also travelled with men to increase their overall security.
Despite these efforts, guards often separated men, women and children from each other, once they arrived at detention centres.
Although it was rarely discussed, men and boys also experienced various forms of sexual violence.
"It is unclear from the survey how many of the 40 children interviewed had arrived unaccompanied in Libya. Almost half the children stated that they arrived with friends, suggesting that they may have arrived with other children. The other half reported that they arrived with parents or relatives", UNICEF said.
"Estimating the number of unaccompanied children in Libya is difficult. Of the 256,000 migrants estimated to be in Libya, 23,000 are children (9 per cent). One third is believed to be unaccompanied.
"However, the International Organization for Migration believed the actual figure is three times higher. The number of unaccompanied children who arrived in Italy in 2016 - more than 25,800, or three times the number believed to be in Libya - is, in itself, a clear indication of this.
Ninety-two per cent of all children who arrived in Italy last year were unaccompanied, in contrast with the number of children in Libya who are unaccompanied".
34 detention centres
Unaccompanied children, according to the global body, are especially vulnerable to all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking.
"They often have no choice but to beg for food and rarely have access to physical or mental health care", it stated. An estimated 34 detention centres were said to have been identified in Libya. The Libyan Government Department for Combatting Illegal Migration runs 24 detention centres. They hold between 4,000 and 7,000 detainees. Armed groups hold migrants in an unknown number of unofficial detention centres.
The international community, including UNICEF, only has access to fewer than half of government-run detention centres. Women interviewed reported harsh conditions with detainees suffering from the intense heat in the summer and extreme cold in the winter. They were generally not provided adequate clothes or blankets.
The women also reported a lack of food, confirming reports that inmates were significantly undernourished as the quantity and quality of available food were substandard.
The majority of women in the detention centres also reported verbal and physical violence perpetrated by the predominantly male guards.
Children did not receive any preferential treatment and were often placed in cells together with adult detainees, which increased the risk of abuse. Some observers also reported abandoned migrant children in detention centres and hospitals.
The survey confirmed that sanitation conditions were substandard and the centres were, worryingly overcrowded, increasing the likelihood of the spread of infectious diseases. This was compounded by the fact that health-care services were not available, leaving women and girls unable to access feminine hygiene products or medicines. It was estimated that 20 per cent of the detainees were women.
The detention centres often had as many as 20 migrants crammed into cells not larger than two square metres for long periods of time. This resulted in significant adverse health outcomes including the loss of hearing and sight, and extremely challenging psychological challenges.
The militia-run detention centres were no more than forced labour camps, farms, warehouses and makeshift prisons run by armed groups. For the thousands of migrant women and children incarcerated, they were living hellholes where people were held for months at a time without any form of due process, in squalid, cramped conditions. Serious violations, including allegations of violence and brutality, were commonplace.
UNICEF did not have access to these centres for security reasons, but reports by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights painted a systematic pattern of human rights abuses.
The militias developed their own detention centres because they could profit from migrants who wished to pass through certain areas. Each militia typically operates its own centre, detaining migrants on the perceived grounds that they bring disease, engage in prostitution and are criminals or mercenaries.
A report by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya revealed high levels of violence with many migrants including children receiving punishment, including torture, for no discernible reason.
Migrants were at a loss for words when attempting to explain why the torture or punishment was taking place.
Migrants were rarely addressed by name but instead were referred to using dehumanizing terms. Sub-Saharan Africans were generally treated much worse than other migrants from Egypt, the Gaza Strip or the Syrian Arab Republic.
Each woman, child pays $1, 200 to smugglers
When asked whether they paid anyone to help them migrate, nearly all the children surveyed indicated they had paid smugglers. Smugglers charged the women and children between US$200 and $1,200 each for the journey, though it was unclear whether the children had made the payment themselves.
In addition, about three quarters of the children reported that someone else helped them along the journey. Almost all those who had received additional assistance got it from family, neighbours or other relatives. Several children also reported that police or other government officials helped them at some point on the journey.
Additional $650 fee
Almost all the women interviewed indicated they had paid a smuggler at the beginning of their journey to reach Libya, after which it was expected they would have to work in transit to raise necessary funds to make the next leg of the journey to Europe.
The women and children reported that they needed additional funds to cover supplies on the journey including food and other basic needs. Nearly 75 per cent of participants borrowed on average US$650 from family, friends or neighbours to cover these costs.
Some interviewees reported abusive treatment by smugglers and said they were always fearful when moved from one location to another, then handed off to a different smuggler they did not know.
Militias also control or exploit 'connection houses' where migrants are transferred between smugglers. Smugglers have also been known to take migrants from detention centres to these connection houses where they are often forced to work for an undetermined period based on the smugglers' demands.
Recruitment in Nigeria
The link between smuggling and trafficking on the route through Libya, according to the UNICEF report, is unmistakable.
"Broadly speaking, smugglers charge people fees to help them cross borders and move through countries by illegal means - it is a business transaction used by people everywhere in the world to overcome barriers that prevent them from seeking safety, protection and new opportunities. Traffickers, in contrast with smugglers, will in addition exploit the people they are transporting, either during the journey or at the destination", the report said.
"Although very little information about human trafficking was gathered through the IOCEA interviews, other research confirms that Libya is a major transit hub for women being trafficked to Europe for sex. Trafficked Nigerian girls are being sent to Europe on the same route that the smugglers use.
"Nigerian criminal groups typically 'offer' victims an irregular migration package to Europe for an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Nigerian naira (roughly 250 euros) during the recruitment in Nigeria. Such a package promises land, sea or air transportation, making use of counterfeit documents or other means. The person accepts the price with the intention of paying it back by working in Europe.
"Once at destination, the debt is converted into 50,000 to 70,000 euros to be paid in the form of forced prostitution for a period that could last up to three years or longer".
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, when foreigners are trafficked, the human-trafficking flows broadly follow the migratory patterns. Some migrants are more vulnerable than others, such as those from countries with a high level of organized crime or from countries affected by conflicts.
Increasingly difficult crossing
A survey of migrants and refugees in Italy by the International Organization for Migration in Italy, between October and November 2016 revealed that 78 per cent of children answered 'yes' to at least one of the trafficking and other exploitative practices indicators in relation to their own experience.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Libya did not have provisions for a specific trafficking in persons' offence. In addition, the sea crossing from Libya is becoming increasingly difficult, with the European Union expanding its support to the Libyan authorities, including the coastguard. Along with the on-going conflict there, the lack of a codified trafficking offence will continue to make women and children attempting to reach Europe reliant on smugglers and some even knowingly on traffickers. This will make future improvements unlikely, at least in the short term.
Massive people smuggling operation
There is no let-up in the number of children and women, according to UNICEF, forced to make the journey to Italy.
"It has become a massive people smuggling operation, which has grown out of control for the lack of safe and alternative migration systems. It exploits porous and corrupt border security. In January 2017, the height of winter, 4,463 people had to rely on smugglers for the passage to Italy. In the last week of January alone, a staggering 1,852 people made the dangerous crossing, eight times higher than the same week in the previous year", the body stressed.
"The number of those dying during the crossing via the Central Mediterranean Route is climbing too. An estimated 228 deaths in all are reported so far this year " 1 in 21 migrants in January, compared to 1 in 24 in December 2016, and 1 in 41 for the entire year 2016. UNICEF estimates that 40 children died in January alone.
"The Central Mediterranean Route sparse Saharan terrain and the vacuum created by the Libyan conflict. It is time to stop the exploitation, abuse, and death of women and children on this route of misery. Women and children deserve to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse along their journey. "They should not have to put their lives in the hands of smugglers.They should be afforded safe and legal pathways to a better life".
As of September 2016, an estimated 256,000 migrants have been identified in Libya, out of which 28,031 are women (11 per cent) and 23,102 are children (9 per cent), with a third of this group including unaccompanied children. The real figures are believed to be at least three times higher.
Of the 181,436 arrivals in Italy in 2016 via the Central Mediterranean Route, 28,223 or nearly 16 per cent were children.
Nine out of ten children who crossed the Mediterranean last year were unaccompanied. A total of 25,846 children made the crossing, which is double the previous year.
An estimated 4,579 people died crossing the Mediterranean between Libya and Italy last year alone.
We practically walked to Libya -- Pati, 16, from Nigeria
"The journey was hard, because we had to walk, no cars, without any drinking water. We crossed the desert walking, it took almost two weeks. Sometimes we had to walk a full day without drinking any water - sometimes we went two days without water - before we arrived in Libya. Without enough water, without enough food".
They treat us like chickens -- Jon, an unaccompanied child from Nigeria in detention in Libya
"In Nigeria, there is Boko Haram, there is death. I did not want to die.
I was afraid. My journey from Nigeria to Libya was horrible and dangerous. Only God saved me in the desert, no food, no water, nothing. The guy who was sitting next to me on the trip died.
And once one dies in the desert, they throw away the body and that's it. I have been here [in the detention centre] for seven months. Here they treat us like chickens. They beat us; they do not give us good water and good food. They harass us. So many people are dying here, dying from disease".
I did not know journey was this dangerous -- Aza, Kamis' mother
"I decided to leave Nigeria because there was no work. I wanted to work and help my children. I did not know the journey would be so dangerous. I realized it when we were approaching the sea and I thought that this was not going to be so easy. They did not tell me the truth.
They did not tell me the risks involved or the difficulties I would face. It all became a reality for me when I saw the situation. The sea that expanded right before my eyes. But once we were at sea we could not turn back. I paid US$1,400 for that trip. If I had decided not to leave, no one would have returned the money to me. I have done all this for my children and for their future, and I did not want to lose them".
I thought I would be a doctor in Italy but ended in Libyan dungeon -- Kamis, 9, from Nigeria
"My mother tried to bring us to Libya because of the difficult situation in Nigeria. We had no money because my mother was not working. We came from Nigeria to Libya via Agadez, Niger. A man died in our car. So we were sad. The men who pushed us on the boat told us to look at the stars. The boat was in the middle of the sea and everybody was crying. The wind was moving our boat, so everybody was shouting. Everybody was crying.
When we saw a small ship, we shouted: 'Please come and rescue us.' They rescued us and took us to dry land. Then, we were moved to Sabratha detention centre where we stayed for five months. There was no food and no water. In Sabratha, they used to beat us every day. There was no food there either. A little baby was sick but there was no doctor on-site to care for her. That place was very sad. There's nothing there. They used to beat us every day. They beat babies, children and adults. One woman in that place was pregnant. She wanted to deliver the baby. When the child was born, there was no hot water. Instead, they used salt water to take care of the baby.
What do I want to do when I grow up? I want to be a doctor in my future because I like medicine. Before we left Nigeria, I told my mother, 'I want to be a doctor.' My mother answered, 'Don't worry. When we reach Italy, you will be a doctor'".
'Repulsive' Playstation game slammed over child abuse depictions
by the New Zealand Herald
(Video on site)
A video game depicting child abuse and domestic violence has been condemned as "repulsive".
In one harrowing scene, a girl aged about ten is heard screaming as her father apparently beats her to death in her bedroom, the Daily Mail reports.
The multi-million dollar game, Detroit: Become Human, is likely to be a hit when launched next year by Japanese games giant Sony.
The UK's Childline founder Dame Esther Rantzen called the game – made for the PlayStation 4 console – "sick and repulsive" and urged publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment to either remove the child abuse scene or withdraw the game.
Dame Esther told The Mail on Sunday: "Violence against children is not entertainment. It's not a game. It's a real nightmare for thousands of children who have to live through these kinds of scenarios. The makers of this game should be thoroughly ashamed. I think it's perverse. Who thinks beating a child is entertainment?"
Andy Burrows, of the NSPCC, added: "Any video game that trivialises or normalises child abuse, neglect or domestic violence for entertainment is unacceptable."
But the man who wrote and directed the game tried to deflect the criticism of the abuse scene by describing it as "very strong and moving".
Set in the "near-future" in the US city Detroit, the game features lifelike androids which have become part of society.
Players take on the role of one of them, cyborg housekeeper Kara, and can decide how the story unfolds by making choices with their controllers, prompted by options flashing up on screen.
Kara goes to work for Todd, an abusive father, who orders her to clean the house and look after his daughter Alice. The storyline soon takes a dark turn with Todd exploding with rage over dinner and blaming his daughter for the break-up of his marriage.
By choosing from a variety of options, the game offers players the chance to prevent Alice's apparent death. Kara can run upstairs with the girl, for instance, or lock a door or try to reason with Todd. Each option has different outcomes.
Peter Saunders, founder of the National Association of People Abused in Childhood, said: "Abusers will get off on this stuff and the other thing we know beyond question is that videos games end up being played by children and, scarily, the proliferation of salacious and abusive images is actually encouraging violence and abuse.
"And we know that abuse in all its forms is escalating on this planet so why not help to tackle it constructively rather than sensationalise and make money out if it?'
The game has been developed by French firm Quantic Dream. One of their previous adventure games, Heavy Rain, cost $68.5 million to develop and market and ended up banking Sony more than $172 million.
Last night Quantic did not respond to requests by The Mail on Sunday for comment.
David Cage, who wrote and directed the game, has defended it. He told an interviewer: "If you look really into the game and if you play it you'll understand that the game is not about domestic abuse. It's a part of Kara's [the android's] story – she's not a victim and she has a beautiful story. Hopefully you will be moved by what happens."
Asked about the abuse scene, Mr Cage said: "For me it's a very strong and moving scene, and I was interested to put the player in the position of this woman. I chose her point of view."
He added: "What's important to me, and what's important in Detroit is to say that a game is as legitimate as a film or a book or a play to explore any topic such as domestic abuse."
But Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said that whatever the makers' motivations "it seems to end up in a clumsy, inappropriate and graphic gameplay that is no more than an unpleasant exploitative way of making money off the back of real suffering".
A spokesperson from New Zealand's Office of Film and Literature Classification said Detroit: Becoming Human has not been submitted for classification here yet and, "without examining the game we cannot comment on its likely classification".
WHERE TO GET HELP:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisisline operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine , free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok : Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti : Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisisline 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice : www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence : www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon : Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
'Child Sexual Abuse is about control and power and not mental disorder'
by Priyanka Dasguptal
KOLKATA: In the light of the incidents of child sex abuse, a very important issue has come to the forefront. Is Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) a result of a person unable to control his sexual urge? Is it a result of a mental disorder? Or is there more to it than what meets the eye?
Mental health activist Ratnaboli Ray put up a Facebook post to clear the air. According to Ray's post, "Child sexual abuse is about control and power. Child sexual abuse is a public health issue. Child sexual abuse is not a thing of perverted mind. Child sexual abuse is not about mental disorder neither it is about offender's inability to control sexual impulses."
She advocated that no attempts should be made to use a psychiatric lens to explain the offender's behaviour because "there is an inherent danger in viewing people sffering from mental illness as child sexual molesters or abusers". "By bringing in these arguments we are failing children, parents and society at large. We are also failing ourselves as activists and mental health service providers," Ray wrote in her post.
Meanwhile, RACSHA (Rise Against Child Sexual Harm and Abuse) - an advocacy group comprising organisations and individuals from all walks of life, has also addressed this issue saying that child sexual abuse can't be equated with paedophilia. "There is no specific type of people who commit sexual offences against children. The vast majority of offenders are known to the child but may not be paedophiles," RACSHA's statement said, adding that any attempts to explain the behaviour of the offenders of CSA in terms of having mental illness or a disease is "erroneous, stigmatising, and a gross over-simplification of a complex issue".
"These are heinous crimes and needs to be addressed in terms of vulnerability and power imbalances... There is hardly any evidence which indicates that psychological profiling of teachers/any employee of an institution would have any role in prevention of CSA. Schools of any establishments, coming in contact with children should have appropriate child protection frameworks and policies in place, accompanied by background checks and complaints redressal procedures," the statement from RACSHA stated.
According to Sreemoyee Sen Ram, co-founder & joint director of Mental Health Foundation, "I have been reading many articles where CSA is being equated to mental illness. Many are suggesting that this is a result of lust. All these statements are creating a lot of confusion."
Sen Ram, who is also associated with RACSHA, pointed out that CSA is a complex issue. "It isn't fair to treat it so simplistically. CSA is about control and power and not mental disorder. Power imbalance results in CSA. The deeply imbedded patriarchal attitude is also responsible for this. Statements suggesting otherwise are doing a lot of harm to how people in general react to those who are dealing with mental health issues."
We must listen to male sexual abuse victims #too
by Christine Wekerle
The #MeToo hashtag has created a space of female solidarity for victims who have experienced various forms of sexual abuse.
The dominant male response has involved a new hashtag — #HowIWillChange — where men are declaring their intention to stop sexualizing women and to stand in solidarity with them against assault. When men have stepped into the spotlight to say #MeToo applies to them too, as victims of sexual violence, they have sometimes been welcomed and other times less so.
Labelling the trauma may represent a first disclosure — a sensitive time period. The #MeToo space has evolved towards #HealMeToo , towards recognition of the struggle that sexual assault survivors live with, and the need for healing and on-going support and activism.
Yet for real healing to occur, I think we need to ask ourselves: Are we ready, as a society, to listen to the male victim? Can we create both virtual and face-to-face culturally safe spaces to listen, without co-opting the female space — to listen, especially to male youth?
This question resonates with me as a child abuse and dating violence expert. And it resonates with my team of researchers in boys' and men's health in McMaster University's Department of Pediatrics and the Offord Centre for Child Studies.
If we listen, perhaps we can transform the current of toxic masculinity towards the alternative — a compassionate masculinity.
Disrupting the cycle of toxic masculinity
A 2011 review of the prevalence of child sexual abuse around the world shows that it's a female-dominant issue — about one in five girls and one in 13 boys globally are sexually abused.
A more recent 2017 review shows male victimization rates of about five per cent of school youth globally, rising to 16 per cent among high-risk youth such as those forced to live on the street at times.
These statistics tell us that there are tens of millions of male children and teens who confront sexual abuse, as well as girls and young women.
To understand and prevent male violence against both women and men, and then to disrupt the cycle of toxic masculinity and trauma, we need to check our biases on who is socially “accepted” as a victim. The words of one victim summarize this: “A boy, being a victim, nobody really buys that, you know?”
The challenge we deal with is that there are two simple facts in sexual abuse:
(1) the vast majority of perpetrators are males, leading us to blame men and hold them accountable; and
(2) sexually attacking a person requires a significant degree of emotional distance, which is a key factor in the cycle of “toxic masculinity.”
This emotional distance manifests in many ways as low empathy, low compassion, victim-blaming, micro-aggressions and frankly assaultive behaviour, from “cat-calling” to rape.
In cases of child sexual abuse, or CSA, what I call the “want-take” violent dynamic is at its highest with total disregard for the vulnerability of the child or adolescent.
Young male victims of CSA then have to deal with the violent experience of toxic masculinity from the perpetrator at a time when they are forming their own identities as males, while they are experiencing toxic stress from being maltreated.
This occurs within a culture where boys are often asked to be tough and may have few male role models for healthy emotional expression. It's a culture in which men are primarily the perpetrators of violence and in which there may be few compassionate ears to listen.
So we must listen. Even if the young male victim first tries to push us away, we must persist in our message: “We are here for you — when you are ready to talk, we are here.”
Disconnected emotional lives
Our team brings Canadian researchers and projects together to tackle the “what about the boys?” question.
We used data from Québec City over a 10-year period, comparing child sexual abuse victims (at an average age of 10 years old) to children who had not been abused, following up with both groups five years later, in their adolescence.
Abused males were more likely to consult a physician for mental health problems and to be hospitalized for physical health issues than their peers who had not been abused.
When compared to female abuse victims, abused males were more than twice as likely to consult a physician for physical health problems, but 2.3 times less likely to consult one for mental health problems. Other results from our research are explained in this research to action video.
This leads to a series of questions: Are health and other service providers such as social workers and counsellors more likely to respond to physical health challenges in males, funnelling them towards less and less connection to their emotional life?
If we as a society cannot accept male emotional distress (and maybe the victims themselves cannot either), then what are we ready to listen to? The violence that ensues when these males act out instead?
Are we further stigmatizing marginalized and abused youth and steering them toward trouble with the law and juvenile detention when they are experiencing trauma symptoms of distress, fear and anxiety?
Sex as a coping strategy
Our prior research has shown that trauma symptoms in maltreated males partially explain the relationship between experiences of childhood psychological abuse and perpetration of adolescent dating violence.
Part of the opportunity for positive change may exist in how we support teens in their romantic relationships. With the current conversation in colleges about the need for a culture of consent, is there space to validate the male survivor?
Adolescent males who have experienced child sexual abuse are vulnerable to further abuse in their future relationships. They report more sexual coercion from their partners, and other forms of dating violence towards them, than do non-CSA teens. Many males also report feeling “scared” of their partner.
When it comes to why they have sex, teenage boys who have experienced CSA are more likely to report having sex to cope with negative emotions than teens who have not experienced CSA (but have experienced maltreatment).
Using sex to cope with negative emotions explains in part the relationship between CSA and adolescent sexual health risk behaviours, like multiple partners or unsafe sex practices, for both male and female victims.
Towards compassionate masculinity
Adolescence and young adulthood are windows of opportunity for positive change. The first step is to prevent sexual violence. To prevent is to intervene. But to intervene we — as parents, friends, teachers, service providers — all have to be ready to listen.
As our research-based understandings of gender and sexuality develop and expand, collectively, we have to be open to the male victim of CSA and to support their participation in the ongoing, important conversation of #MeToo.
As this cultural dialogue moves towards the practical strategies of #HowIwillChange, we can take this moment to pull back the cloak of invisibility from perpetrators, and to support victims coming forward with their stories. Most victims are motivated by a wish to prevent others' victimization.
If we listen, there will be a profound shift away from toxic masculinity and towards defining the alternative — a compassionate masculinity.
The Global Partnership to End Violence is gathering stakeholders worldwide so that all victims are heard.
Are we #ReadytoListen to male victims?
Survivors of child sexual abuse urged to come forward
Survivors of child sexual abuse in our region are being encouraged to share their experiences as part of a major inquiry set up by the government.
A campaign has been launched ahead of events in Newcastle next month where victims can speak, confidentially, to the Truth Project.
People from all walks of life experience child sexual abuse. Whoever you are, and whatever your background, the Truth Project is here to listen to you. The experiences victims and survivors share with the Inquiry will help us make recommendations to keep children safe in future, so that institutions and individuals can never again say, ‘We did not know.'
– Drusilla Sharpling, head of the Truth Project
The Truth Project is part of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which is looking into child protection failings within UK institutions, and will produce recommendations to the government on how to protect children better in the future.
May Baxter-Thornton is a member of the Inquiry's Victims and Survivors Consultative Panel.
She says she moved to the North East to escape sexual abuse at the hands of her father, which she believes happened when she was aged between 5 and 10.
I never saw a social worker, my teachers didn't notice what was going on. Back in those days people just didn't report child sexual abuse. Through this Inquiry I want to stop children from slipping through the net.
I was 27 before I said a word to anybody about it. It was massively important to share that load with someone else - and I think the Truth Project is really important because it gives someone the opportunity to tell an official body how they feel they've been failed.
– May Baxter-Thornton
Anyone who wishes to contact the Truth Project can visit the website truthproject.org.uk or phone 0800 917 1000.
My Turn: Child protection today and tomorrow
by Skip Berrien
With a myriad of political disruptions and global uncertainty portrayed in the media, it can be difficult to see what is going right. I want to report that there is a lot going right to help New Hampshire children be safe.
When I entered the Legislature in 2015 there had been two unfortunate deaths of young children at the hands of their caregivers. This captured the attention of many throughout the state, creating a cascade of actions that have resulted in significant improvements.
At the behest of then-senator David Boutin, a commission was created in 2015 that identified and corrected problems related to the interaction of law enforcement and child protection systems. This commission recommended creation of an Office of Child Advocate, which is on the verge of being implemented. Legislation also created a category of active cases in the Division of Children, Youth and Families where children remain in the custody of their parents while DCYF maintains oversight. The Legislature further advanced legislation that permits DCYF to start working with families involved with opioids before a child is hurt or neglected.
In the beginning of 2016, then-governor Maggie Hassan appointed Jeffrey Meyers as commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services and ordered an independent study of the investigation procedures of DCYF. Meyers worked with the legislative commission throughout 2016 to address a number of the most outstanding issues involving DCYF. This included expanded access to technology and creation of a 24/7 intake and response capability. In December 2016, the independent study made 20 major recommendations, all of which are being addressed.
Starting in 2017 there were major changes in DCYF leadership. Christine Tappan was brought on board as an associate DHHS commissioner. She has broad national experience in child protection and assumed complete oversight of DCYF pending the recruitment of a new DCYF director. Tappan's national perspective has permitted her to bring a systems approach to the protection of New Hampshire's children while implementing necessary changes within the agency. In the past month, attorney Joe Ribsam, formerly a deputy director of child protection services in New Jersey, has assumed the position of DCYF director.
The work undertaken by the staff at DCYF is complex, intense and emotionally laden. Despite all of the good intentions of staff and leadership, disturbing incidents and setbacks are inevitable. Hopefully these will become the opportunity for us all to learn how we make New Hampshire an even safer place for children.
At this time, there is a lot of optimism within the child protection community. But there remains a large amount of work for all to do to be sure that these initiatives translate into improved protection for all of our children. Recruiting qualified staff to fill newly created positions has been a huge challenge. Closing the backlog of cases continues to be a major hurdle as new cases demand immediate attention. The Legislature has a responsibility to find funds to expand treatment for families in need. The overstretched foster family network is in need of more support and resources. And the opioid epidemic spins out of control, creating more children at risk of abuse or neglect.
New Hampshire has an amazing array of services designed to address the safety of children, including family resource centers, home visiting, employment security, N.H. Children's Trust, N.H. Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Spark N.H. and many more. However, while working well within their defined sphere, these services find it difficult to collaborate in a manner that addresses the needs of families in a truly comprehensive way. Families and children do not exist in isolation nor should the services that serve them. A system is needed to permit service collaboration to comprehensively meet the needs of families.
Associate Commissioner Tappan has described the process needed for creating a strong child protection system as “transformational.” And to accomplish this transformation she points out that we need a major effort to go upstream to prevent children from falling into the river of abuse and neglect. No one wants their child to be abused or neglected. To prevent this from happening parents need resources and support for themselves and their families. As a state, as a community and as individuals, we have a responsibility to ensure that parents have what they need to successfully raise and nurture children. All children in New Hampshire are our children.
(Rep. Skip Berrien of Exeter serves on the House Children and Family Law Committee, Commission to Review Child Abuse Fatalities and the Oversight Commission for Children's Services.)
Maryland ranks 13th in sex-trafficking cases. Proposed legislation aims to stop it online
by Conner Hoyt and Michael Brice-Saddler
Last year, Maryland had the 13th-most sex trafficking cases in the country with 161, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
This year, the hotline reported 61 sex trafficking cases in the state as of June 30. Half of the incidents involved a minor, and about 84 percent included a female victim.
A House Energy and Commerce hearing Thursday examined legislation that would close loopholes in federal law that critics fear has allowed pervasive online sex trafficking.
Under current law, the Communications Decency Act does not hold online services liable for content that secondary users publish. Sites such as Reddit, Facebook and YouTube are not responsible for vile material that its commenters post in a thread or comment section.
Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri, introduced the “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act” earlier this year to make it easier for states to prosecute websites that facilitate sex trafficking.
The measure also would give victims the right to sue such sites.
The bipartisan measure has 171 House co-sponsors, including Maryland Reps. Andy Harris, R- Cockeysville, and Anthony Brown, D-Largo.
A member of the committee, Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, said in a statement that human trafficking inside and beyond the United States “is a scourge on society that preys on our most vulnerable. We must do everything we can to curb trafficking in all its forms, including sex trafficking online.”
“If Congress establishes a real tool to ensure that businesses cannot commit crimes online that they could never commit offline, fewer businesses will enter the sex trade, and fewer victims will ever be sold and raped,” Wagner said in her testimony.
Yiota Souras, senior vice president for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, said that over the past five years, 88 percent of the center's reports concerned online sex trafficking.
He said roughly 74 percent of the center's reports came from Backpage.com, a website that offers advertisements for dating, services and jobs, among other resources.
The ranking Democrat on the committee, Michael Doyle of Pennsylvania, citing a Senate report, asserted that Backpage's owners were aware of the sex trafficking taking place, and even encouraged sex-trafficking advertisers to falsify their postings to hide their true intentions.
Souras added that children online may be seeking attention that they are not receiving at home, and are vulnerable to false promises made by predators online.
“That's probably how they are lured, they're seeking the smallest remnant of kindness from someone,” Souras said. Online predators are manipulative and know how to extend that branch of kindness to their victims, she added.
Still, Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said in his testimony that Wagner's measure would “reinstate the moderator's dilemma,” which forces websites to decide whether to exercise full editorial discretion, or none at all.
Goldman added that leaving this discretion to websites could inadvertently increase online sex trafficking because it may be more favorable to leave users' content entirely unchecked.
Goldman also expressed concern that punishing these sites differently at the federal and state levels could damage the integrity of the Communications Decency Act, which he dubbed “one of the most important policy achievements of the past quarter-century.”
Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, said he saw firsthand the lasting impact sex trafficking can have on victims.
While in South Africa, his daughter was rushed by three men — one of whom brandished a pistol — but she was saved when one of the men yanked her backpack from her shoulder instead of grabbing her, he said.
The congressman's voice quivered as he recounted her experience. Although she escaped, Olson said, she “has not been the same.”
“(Sex traffickers) are devils, absolute evil devils,” he added. “This has to stop.”
Even if the law is changed, Souras said she knows that an online marketplace for sex trafficking will likely remain.
But she said she believes that the issue is rectifiable.
“It's important that there be a professional approach to this,” Souras said. “Sex trafficking is a multifaceted problem, it requires a multifaceted solution.”
Send a gift to a sex trafficking victim
by Anne Halliwell
This holiday season, Minnesotans can add a victim of sex trafficking to their gift list.
Mayo Clinic partnered with The Link, a nonprofit that fights poverty and crime, including sex trafficking and exploitation, to create the Rise Up gift registry for victims of sex trafficking.
The registry includes necessities such as clothing, winter coats, pillows and blankets. The Link will distribute the items purchased through the online registry.
Arne Graff, a doctor at Mayo Clinic who works with victims of child abuse and sexual abuse, said patients who have been sex trafficked are harder to treat than car crash victims.
"This population group has got so many things going on, between infectious disease risk, lack of education," Graff said.
Most sex-trafficked patients have been trapped, emotionally and physically manipulated and threatened with injury or death to keep them in place, Graff said. Getting out requires an immense amount of courage, but it's only the first step.
When people are trafficked, they "literally lose everything they own," Graff said. Although some are tempted into a situation with the promise of jewelry or gifts, once rescued, they own nothing but the clothes on their backs.
The registry launched Monday and will continue through February. The Women's Foundation of Minnesota and the University of Minnesota published research correlating large-scale events such as the Super Bowl with sex trafficking. However, Graff said this attitude can overshadow the daily impact sex trafficking has on communities across the country.
Every day, about five girls younger than18 are trafficked or sexually exploited, Graff said.
"Most people think that's an issue in metropolitan areas, and that's not the case," Graff said. "That's a lot of kids."
Mayo Clinic will continue to raise awareness with a social media blitz today at 11 a.m.
"We're not going to wipe out (sex trafficking) right now, but if we can make people aware, then we can put a dent in it," Graff said.
Parents express outrage after girl kills herself, leaves journal about bullying
by CBS News
CALIMESA, Calif. -- An Inland Empire family says their daughter committed suicide after years of bullying.
As CBS Los Angeles reports, now other parents are expressing outrage over the school and district's handling of it.
Rosalie Avila, 13, was a 7th grader at Mesa View Middle School. Her father said that she was bullied for years but that the district and school didn't do enough to help her.
Outside of the school on Monday parents from schools in the district held signs and encouraged community support for Avila.
"I will not let Rosie's name die in vain because that child should have never had to go through what she went through," said parent Robert Ellis.
Avila's parents said that their daughter kept a journal detailing the abuse she went through at school. Avila left a final note before taking her own life last week.
Parents at Mesa View Middle School like Ellis said the bullying problem has to stop before more kids take drastic measures.
Ellis' 13-year-old daughter is a 7th grader at Mesa View Middle School. He said she's been bullied for years and the district isn't doing enough to keep her safe.
"It breaks my heart to see my daughter fall apart when she comes home," said Ellis. "She used to love going to school. Now she can't wait for the weekend."
The principal said their number one priority is the safety of the children.
The superintendent of the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified School District issued a statement saying "we are working closely with detectives…in their investigation into allegations of bullying. This issue requires all of us to work together, to watch for signs and intervene when we see problems."
Parents at the protest said it is too little, too late.
"It breaks my heart because all this could have been prevented," said parent Jacqueline Godinez. "I tried a long time ago. They didn't even want to listen to me about my daughter."
The Long Shadow of Childhood Trauma
A new study suggests that stress experienced early in life damages the ability to assess risk, creating young adults with poor decision-making skills
by Mimi Kirk
Punishment—or the threat of it—is generally considered an effective way to shape human behavior; it is, after all, the foundation of our criminal justice system. But what if there's a subset of the population for whom this paradigm simply doesn't apply? New research suggests that there is such a group: survivors of childhood trauma.
University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor Seth Pollak worked with over 50 people around the age of 20, and found that those who had experienced extreme stress as kids were hampered in their ability to make good decisions as adults. Simply put, childhood trauma—due to circumstances like neglect or exposure to violence—created young adults fundamentally unable to correctly consider risk and make healthy life decisions—and no threat of punishment was likely to be effective in changing this deficit. For cities where fears of juvenile violence have transfixed residents and flummoxed city leaders, Pollak's results suggest that demands for stiffer sentences on youthful offenders are likely to be counterproductive.
The study's participants were already known to Pollak: He had worked with them as eight-year-olds, when he measured their stress levels as part of a study on the effects of stress hormones on children's development. The kids, from Madison and its environs, ranged from middle-class children who had experienced no trauma to kids who had dealt with extreme circumstances like abuse or a parent killed by gunfire. Extreme poverty tends to be associated with these traumatizing environments: Economic uncertainty puts parents under stress, which trickles down to children; food and housing insecurity can further exacerbate these stresses.
In revisiting the group, Pollak enlisted those who as children were at the ends of the trauma spectrum, either experiencing very little stress or copious amounts. The study had the now-adults engage in tasks such as gambling simulations, designed to assess their response to risk-taking, reward, and punishment. “We would give them clues as to outcomes,” said Pollak, “such as ‘When you see this shape, you're at risk of losing $5.'” Pollak scanned the participants' brain activity while they completed the activities.
The people who did not have stressful childhoods tended to pay attention to the clues and gamble wisely; those who had suffered severe trauma did not. They would, for instance, choose the shape that they had been warned against—and make the mistake again and again. They also took a great deal of time agonizing over decisions, and when they lost they became markedly upset.
The brain scans of this group showed less-than-usual brain activity during the period of decision making, and more-than-usual activity during the aftermath. “It makes sense,” said Pollak. “If you didn't pay attention to the cues indicating that you're about to lose, you're more surprised and then upset when you do.”
The study also explored the subjects' behavior in real life. They filled out a simple questionnaire about their propensity to drive without a seatbelt, avoid the doctor while ill, and other risky behaviors. The results mirrored the results of the games: The participants who made poor gambling decisions also made poor life decisions.
Pollak stressed that the findings aren't related to intelligence or IQ. “It's more like a learning disability,” he said. “The people were ignoring the signs that most people were taking as a warning. The information isn't getting processed.”
Most of the participants who had experienced trauma as children were now facing problems like criminal records, joblessness, and obesity—though a few had succeeded. “We even found one person who was studying at an Ivy League university,” said Pollak. But the research showed that regardless of current circumstances and stress levels, it was the experience of childhood trauma that determined how well the participants assessed risk.
Though it's well documented that children who experience high stress are at risk for behavioral problems, the neurobiological processes that contribute to this are poorly understood. Pollak's experiment addressed this by suggesting that altered brain activation leads to poor judgment in decision making. “Something about the stress of early childhood is changing the brain systems that allow us to attend to information that might signal potential risk or loss,” he said.
The study's findings also suggest that for cities, building more jails and ramping up punishments for juvenile offenders will do little to deter future crime. Research shows that the majority of youth involved in the criminal justice system—up to 90 percent—have experienced trauma. On these kids and young adults, the threat of inflicting further punishment won't have its desired effect. “It's like disciplining a child with something that's not meaningful to them,” said Pollak. “But we still hold them responsible for making the same mistakes.”
Instead, Pollak suggested training programs that foster the development of the brain's ability to make better decisions. “If we can teach people to do math, we can probably teach them to attend to things that might get them into trouble,” he said.
The research also points to a more effective way to decrease urban crime: limiting exposure to childhood trauma. Pollak noted the importance of social safety nets that shield children from stress, such as affordable housing, nutrition assistance, and health insurance. While these programs may seem costly, such expenses are dwarfed by the social costs of dealing with adults who who enter society and the workforce unable to attain education, hold down jobs, and maintain families and relationships. “This is powerful evidence that the problems of early life lead to other problems that don't go away,” Pollak said.
One silver lining? Because his research focuses on the developing brain—which transcends ideology, economic class, racial or ethnic groupings, and other potentially politically charged elements—Pollak holds out hope that those across the political spectrum will pay attention to his findings. “There's something about showing a biological effect in children that makes these policy issues nonpartisan,” he said.
Nearly 200 people held in UK-wide online child abuse operation
National Crime Agency says 245 children were saved from harm in October sting as it warns of danger of live streaming
by Jamie Grierson
Nearly 200 suspected paedophiles were arrested in one week, investigators have said, as they warned of a rise in the use of live streaming to sexually abuse children.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said a UK-wide operation in October had saved 245 children from harm and 192 people were detained.
Nearly a third (30%) of the cases involved the most serious offences including live streaming, blackmail and grooming and 18 of those arrested were said to be in a position of trust, working in areas such as teaching, healthcare and criminal justice.
Police believe dangerous suspects are using live streaming to bombard their targets with comments, using dares, threats or the offer of rewards such as “game points”, to try to manipulate them into nudity on a webcam.
Chief Constable Simon Bailey, lead for child protection at the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), said: “We need internet companies to help us stop access to sexual abuse images and videos and prevent abuse happening on their platforms. We need parents and carers to talk to their children about healthy relationships and staying safe online.”
The NCA and NPCC launched a campaign on Tuesday to encourage parents to be alert to the dangers of live streaming and warn their children of the risks.
An online survey, answered by 927 people, found 84% said they were alert to the online threats children faced but 58% were unsure if their internet security was strong enough and 30% said they had not spoken to their child about web safety in the last month.
“We know that as children's online habits change, offenders are adapting with them,” the NCA's head of safeguarding, Zoe Hilton, said. “These individuals are learning how young people communicate online and are using this knowledge to contact, befriend and abuse them.
“It's great to see that so many parents are aware of the potential dangers children face online, but with this campaign we're asking them to make sure they familiarise themselves with their children's online behaviour and keep that knowledge up to date.”
Google to hire thousands of moderators after outcry over YouTube abuse videos
The company, which owns YouTube, has endured a stream of negative press over violent and offensive content
by Sam Levin
Google is hiring thousands of new moderators after facing widespread criticism for allowing child abuse videos and other violent and offensive content to flourish on YouTube.
YouTube's owner announced on Monday that next year it would expand its total workforce to more than 10,000 people responsible for reviewing content that could violate its policies. The news from YouTube's CEO, Susan Wojcicki, followed a steady stream of negative press surrounding the site's role in spreading harassing videos, misinformation, hate speech and content that is harmful to children.
Wojcicki said that in addition to an increase in human moderators, YouTube is continuing to develop advanced machine-learning technology to automatically flag problematic content for removal. The company said its new efforts to protect children from dangerous and abusive content and block hate speech on the site were modeled after the company's ongoing work to fight violent extremist content.
“Human reviewers remain essential to both removing content and training machine learning systems because human judgment is critical to making contextualized decisions on content,” the CEO wrote in a blogpost, saying that moderators have manually reviewed nearly 2m videos for violent extremist content since June, helping train machine-learning systems to identify similar footage in the future.
In recent weeks, YouTube has used machine learning technology to help human moderators find and shut down hundreds of accounts and hundreds of thousands of comments, according to Wojcicki.
YouTube faced heightened scrutiny last month in the wake of reports that it was allowing violent content to slip past the YouTube Kids filter, which is supposed to block any content that is not appropriate to young users. Some parents recently discovered that YouTube Kids was allowing children to see videos with familiar characters in violent or lewd scenarios, along with nursery rhymes mixed with disturbing imagery, according to the New York Times.
Other reports uncovered “verified” channels featuring child exploitation videos, including viral footage of screaming children being mock-tortured and webcams of young girls in revealing clothing.
YouTube has also repeatedly sparked outrage for its role in perpetuating misinformation and harassing videos in the wake of mass shootings and other national tragedies. The Guardian found that survivors and the relatives of victims of numerous shootings have been subject to a wide range of online abuse and threats, some tied to popular conspiracy theory ideas featured prominently on YouTube.
Some parents of people killed in high-profile shootings have spent countless hours trying to report abusive videos about their deceased children and have repeatedly called on Google to hire more moderators and to better enforce its policies. It's unclear, however, how the expansion of moderators announced on Monday might affect this kind of content, since YouTube said it was focused on hate speech and child safety.
Although the recent scandals have illustrated the current limits of the algorithms in detecting and removing violating content, Wojcicki made clear that YouTube would continue to heavily rely on machine learning, a necessary factor given the scale of the problem.
YouTube said machine learning was helping its human moderators remove nearly five times as many videos as they were previously, and that 98% of videos removed for violent extremism are now flagged by algorithms. Wojcicki claimed that advances in the technology allowed the site to take down nearly 70% of violent extremist content within eight hours of it being uploaded.
The statement also said YouTube was reforming its advertising policies, saying it would apply stricter criteria, conduct more manual curation and expand its team of ad reviewers. Last month, a number of high-profile brands suspended YouTube and Google advertising after reports revealed that they were placed alongside videos filled with exploitative and sexually explicit comments about children.
In March, a number of corporations also pulled their YouTube ads after learning that they were linked to videos with hate speech and extremist content.
How to Cope With the Current News Cycle as a Sexual Abuse Survivor
by Deb Schwartz
T he current wave of sexual abuse news is causing thoughtful people everywhere to feel disgust, sadness and rage on behalf of those victimized. But for some of us who have endured such violence, the relentless coverage and subsequent backlash are taking us to an even more disturbing place. Here, we take a look at how survivors are affected and offer insights from mental health professionals and survivors on the best ways to cope.
How Media Coverage Affects Survivors
“It's really draining to just constantly be bombarded with it,” says Shanon Lee, a stay-at-home mother in Washington, D.C. and self-described “survivor activist” who wrote, directed, and produced the film Marital Rape Is Real. “Whether you're opening an email newsletter, or going on Twitter or Facebook, you can't get away from it.”
For some survivors, the flood of stories is only horrifying. But for others, there is some satisfaction in seeing the scope of the problem made public, getting real proof that they're not alone, and watching experiences that might have been downplayed, denied, or ignored in the past get some degree of recognition.
“Different individuals are experiencing this very differently,” says Beth Enterkin, a trauma therapist and clinical training specialist at Rape Victim Advocates in Chicago. Some are “glad that it's happening but they're also feeling overwhelmed by it and experiencing a real increase in their general level of anxiety,” she says, while others are having a much more severe reaction, including experiencing PTSD and trauma symptoms.
Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis, a Los Angeles-based psychologist, associate professor at Pepperdine University, and author of Surviving Sexual Violence is seeing something similar in her practice. “There can be a sense of empowerment, a sense of community because you realize you're not alone and how pervasive it is, but it's also depressing and can make people angry. And there's a healthiness to that outrage because it is outrageous. Not only that there are predators, but that we as society support predators with our silence. And worse than the silence is the shaming, blaming and disbelief that often confirms for people their decision not to tell their story.”
Lee adds that because the majority of the media coverage is focused on the experiences of young, cis-gendered white women, some survivors aren't feeling the same sense of support and community. Instead, she says, they're feeling downplayed, denied and ignored once again. “There's a huge group of people who just don't fit into the narrative that gets attention, and for people who are traditionally at greater risk—trans women and women of color—it's very isolating and that creates another layer of harm.”
Know That It's OK to Need Help
“I tell survivors the need for self compassion is essential,” say Bryant-Davis. “And some people will be very hard on themselves and say, ‘I thought I was over it,' but there's an additional layer of pain in not just being reminded of it but also in seeing the lack of response that other people received.”
The myth of sexual violence is that it is largely perpetrated by strangers who strike and then vanish. But as the recent coverage shows, Bryant-Davis says, “most of the time this isn't the case, and most of the time the offenders were known to [the victims] and the people around them, and these bystanders did or said nothing, and that brings back to the surface the disappointment and anger of not having been protected or given the care that they deserved.”
Whether you've been in therapy in the past or never gone, if sexual abuse is impacting your daily life—your state of mind, health, relationships, job or all of the above—now is the time to seek help. Yes, even if you've already gone through a therapeutic or healing process, or if the abuse you suffered happened many years ago. “Seeking therapy is not a sign of weakness, says Enterkin. “There's no timeline or expiration date on healing from trauma and nobody has to go through it alone.” Just as serious physical injuries need multiple interventions in order to ensure complete recovery, so do psychic ones. “There's the myth that time heals all wounds,” says Bryant-Davis. “There is this assumption that you should be over it. With other forms of trauma we have more compassion, but when it's sexualized violence or partner violence or child abuse, the response is very different.”
Also, if you've done counseling in the past and are wary about re-immersing in the process—plus the time commitment and the money—know that it might not be as long-term a project as you think. Bryant-Davis advises people do a “check-in” with their counselors and assess their needs from there.
Set Boundaries With Media
Modulating your intake of stories about sexual abuse is really important. “You want to be informed, but it's also important to know what you can hold,” says Bryant-Davis. There are different ways to do this. Enterkin suggests that you set a limit on absorbing such media, maybe watching the news or reading posts on the subject for no more than an hour a day.
Lauren Appio, a New York-based psychologist and career coach who works with many adult survivors of sexual assault, says it's important to check in with yourself before, during, and after you check your news feeds. “If you are having urges to check social media or check news sites or engage in a lot of conversations with your coworkers around this, it may be good to just check in with yourself about how helpful and effective that is for you and how that's impacting your emotional state,” she says. “And it may be helpful for you to set some limits on that.”
“I just started blocking words on Twitter,” says Lee, including “sexual assault” and “any of the perpetrators' names—Spacey, Weinstein—anything that's going to continually bring up those stories on my timeline and on Facebook, I've been blocking trending stories from my feed.”
Set Boundaries with Friends, Family, and Co-Workers
Everywhere we go, the topic of sexual abuse is coming up, and even in the best case scenario, when the topic is treated with respect—which is definitely not a given—survivors can find it upsetting. “There can be an anxiety moment or even panic moment: ‘Should I tell? Should I talk about it?' It's OK to disclose and also OK not to,” says Enterkin. “It's important to listen to yourself.” Enterkin adds it's also OK to excuse yourself from a conversation if things feel overwhelming. You can do this without “outing” yourself, says Appio, and you can do it in a way that works for the situation at hand and works for you.
You can try, “I'm so tired of hearing about this or talking about this,” or, “this is getting to be a little too much for me, I wonder if we could switch the subject to something a bit lighter?” It's very possible other people are feeling the same way and will switch over to talking about something else, Appio says, “But if people say ‘No, we really want to continue this conversation,' then you could say—depending on if you're at work or in a social situation— ‘Okay, you know, I'm going to take a break, go get another drink or go send this email' or whatever. And then you can take a break, do some breathing, and then you can return to the conversation. And with friends, you could say something like ‘Okay, do we have to keep talking about this?' or just simply change the subject altogether, like, ‘Is anyone watching Stranger Things '?”
You can also ask close friends or family you've disclosed to to look out for you when the subject comes up in conversation in a group, says Enterkin. “You can ask them to check in with you when the subject comes up, or maybe you want them to ask them to be the one to change the subject. It's okay to ask for that kind of allyship from someone close and supportive.”
Know What It Means to Be “Triggered”
“Being triggered has become a common and kind of maligned term,” says Appio. “But being triggered is really about when our body is detecting some kind of threat around us and then moving into the fight, flight or freeze response as a way to protect us from that threat.” As humans, we are built to respond to real threats to our safety (say, an animal or human attacking us) in the moment by fighting, running away, or freezing. But Appio and many other mental health professionals agree that certain stimuli that take place only in the mind—for example, hearing or reading about sexual abuse—can trip or trigger false alarms in the mind and body that set off those same fight/flight/freeze responses, even when the danger isn't physically present.
“This can look slightly different for everybody,” says Appio, who cautions that the fight/flight/freeze trio of automatic responses don't necessarily show up as literally those actions. The fight response , she says, can manifest as anger, frustration, and irritability. The flight response probably won't cause you to actually run away, but you could feel antsy, have a sense of urgency, “that feeling of wanting to jump out of your skin and get the hell out of a meeting, like you can't sit still.” The freeze response often looks like spacing out: you can't pay attention in meetings or conversations. You might lose track of time and have a sense of helplessness or feeling trapped.
“Survivors who are feeling anxious may notice muscle tension or body pains, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and racing thoughts,” says Appio. “Folks who are feeling depressed may notice a sense of heaviness or numbness in their body and decreased energy along with low mood.” The current wave of media coverage might also cause people to be “preoccupied with thoughts of their own experiences of abuse, or with playing out scenarios in their mind of how they would respond if they face abusive behavior in the future. All of these factors can lead to sleep and concentration difficulties.”
Regardless of what form it takes for you, being triggered feels awful. You might feel like you're not in control, that you're in the grip of some unstoppable, body-snatching force. You might feel that whatever you experienced in the past is running your life, and feel 100% convinced that you will feel this way forever. The good news is that none of this is true. These fears might feel absolutely true in the moment, but they're not. And if you can learn to recognize the symptoms of being triggered—whatever they are for you—you are on your way to escaping their hold over you.
“As you become more familiar with the patterns of thoughts, feelings, and sensations that come up for you in those moments, you can notice it, be able to take a step back, and be like, ‘Okay, this thing is happening. I know this is my response and it may be related to this thing that happened in the past',” says Appio.
This moment of recognition brings you back into the present— I'm on the bus, looking at my phone, I'm safe— and gives you the opportunity to react to these signals differently. “You want to do this so that you don't misinterpret those sensations you're feeling as a sign that you are in danger, and so that you can instead decide how you want to respond in the moment.”
Think of the reaction and then the adjustment you make after hearing a fire alarm followed by an all-clear announcement. When the alarm goes off, you react instinctively: you jump, your heart pounds, you look for the exit. But once you get the all-clear signal or figure out it was a false alarm, you can take a breath, recalibrate, and go about your business, knowing that you're safe.
Don't Feel Like You Have To #MeToo
For many people, the #metoo hashtag was a revelation. The numbers were staggering, the stories appalling. But for many others, the fact that so many people had experienced sexual harassment and assault wasn't news at all. “There isn't a woman alive who hasn't been sexually harassed,” says Mary Majewski, a stay-at-home mother in Darien, Connecticut. She appreciates the camaraderie the hashtag created—“there's a lot of strength in people speaking up and coming forward and saying ‘I was ashamed to talk about this for a long time' and to know that it wasn't just you”—but acknowledges that even though she suffered abuse, she's in a privileged position. “I didn't experience a situation where my life was at risk. With me, it was more like someone overwhelmingly acting out of power and misogyny,” she explains. “It's not the knife to the throat; it's just the grandiosity of being a man. None of it is great but if I had to relive nearly losing my life [every time a new story of abuse surfaces], we'd probably be having such a different conversation.”
For some who experienced more blatant violence, reading #MeToo stories can create a sense of peer pressure and stir up all sorts of painful feelings around their decision to disclose or not disclose their story.
“It's not that I've definitely chosen that I'm never going to come out about what happened to me, but I'm definitely not doing it right now,” says Kendyl Coco, a 24-year-old retail worker in Philadelphia. “And I actually fear that I'm doing something wrong by staying quiet. I fear that I'm contributing to the problems in society by dealing with my problems in my own way, which is maybe the wrong way, and I feel guilty for being selfish by choosing to stay quiet.”
Resisting the social media pressure to constantly publicize the details of your life is a challenge for many of us, but when coming out about sexual abuse is held up as a political good and a disclosure campaign goes viral, the decision to share or not share can become extremely fraught for survivors. “The #MeToo campaign is so wonderful in bringing more awareness and we need awareness to bring about change,” says Enterkin. “But I think a lot of survivors of sexual violence—ranging from verbal harassment to sexual assault, rape, and trafficking—felt like they had to take part, that they have to come forward while they still live in a world that doesn't respect or understand their experiences, a world that can make them feel blamed or shamed or disbelieved.”
The pressure to disclose can come from family and friends as well. Recently, Coco wrote an email to her mother. “I told her very vaguely about what happened and how I've been doing the work to recover from this for a year and a half, and she said, ‘I can't believe you didn't tell me this, but now I feel like I don't have the right to know,' and I was like, ‘yeah, nobody does—you don't have the right.' I don't feel like I should have to say anything.”
“Survivors don't owe the world their stories of survival,” says Enterkin. “The world owes them dignity and respect. They should only share what they want to share about their experiences and only when they feel safe and respected enough to share it.”
Learn How to Breathe. Yes, Learn.
It's so common to be told to breathe or “just take a breath” when you're having a hard time. And if you can do this, if you can take a few deep, slow breaths, you might feel yourself start to calm down, to come back into your body and into the present. But sometimes you can't. Sometimes just taking a breath—this one simple, basic, life-sustaining thing—feels impossible. You're too angry, too scared, too upset, too checked out. Or maybe you try to do it and you can't and then you get even more upset: This is bad. I'm really messed up. There's something wrong with me. I'm never going to get over this. Why aren't I over this? This, clearly, is not helpful. What's a better option? Take ten minutes—preferably during a moment when you're not upset—to learn how to relax yourself with deep breathing and from that moment forward you'll have an amazingly powerful (and free) tool that you can take with you everywhere and use whenever you feel stress building.
Why learn how to breathe? When you practice deep breathing—specifically when you inhale and exhale for a specific number of seconds—you activate the parasympathetic nervous system which “puts the brakes on a fight or flight response,” says Appio or, in other words, chills you out immediately. Yogis have known and practiced this for eons; Western researchers are just starting to catch up.
How to do it: The internet is filled with all kinds of info on this practice, called variously Coherent Breathing, Controlled Breathing, Resonant Breathing, etc. and tons of and how-to videos featuring a variety of not-so-relaxing music and graphics; as an alternative, we recommend this one (you can also learn the exact same method—with a few modifications— from Dr. Andrew Weil). Try to learn this practice before you need it. You don't want to have to figure out how to swim after you've been tossed in the ocean. “I always recommend that people practice this daily when they are not stressed so that when they are stressed it's a familiar, natural response,” says Appio.
Appio also recommends a practice called grounding where you “use your senses to anchor your attention to the present moment.” When you feel yourself being triggered you can gain a feeling of stability by “really throwing all of your attention into—for example—feeling the floor beneath your feet or the chair you're sitting on. You can also look around the room and in your mind name the objects you see and what color they are or by really listening intently to the person who is talking to you. It's just a way to say ‘I am here and I am safe here.'”
Like deep breathing, grounding has its roots in ancient contemplative practices and can be practiced anywhere, in the middle of whatever you're doing. All you have to do is focus on physical sensations, whatever they are, in this moment. Start at the bottom: See if you can feel the sole of your foot inside your shoe, or the pressure and point of contact between the ground (or floor, or accelerator in your car) on the bottom of your feet.
Take a moment to do this. It sounds absurd, but most of us are rarely aware of what's going on in this body of ours. Shift your focus to your hands. Where are they? What are they up to? Are they curled into fists? Gripping your phone, holding a fork, steering a mouse? Are they hot? Cold? Sweaty? Dry? Itchy? Tingly? You don't have to judge any of these sensations—none of them are better or worse than any others. This practice isn't about that. This practice is just about getting yourself back into the here and now, away from going over and over things that have happened in the past or worrying about a million things that are probably never going to happen in the future.
For a lot of people, getting back into their body—whether it's something active like running, working out, or playing a sport—or something low-key like just moving, dancing by yourself in your bedroom, getting up and stretching, or taking an easy stroll, can help immensely. But sometimes the body can feel perilous or out of reach. In these moments, Appio suggests practicing grounding that's rooted in the senses of hearing and seeing—naming objects, listening intently to another person or the sounds around you as they come and go—rather than touch. All of these things work to bring you into the present moment.
“We know that depression and anxiety live in ruminating about the past and worrying about the future,” says Appio. “If you can bring yourself into now, into this moment you can get a little bit of distance from all of that.” For both of these practices, devote some time to learning them. It's unlikely you're going to feel totally 100% better in the first thirty seconds of doing them, but trust them, stick with them, return to them. These practices have helped countless people.
Know What “Self Care” Means For You, And Practice It
“‘Self care' is about defining for yourself what nourishes you,” Bryant-Davis says. “For you that could mean going to yoga; for someone else it could mean going to a prayer meeting or going to a rally. Sometimes when we're caught up in emotion we forget what's worked for us in the past.”
The inverse of this is that you shouldn't feel obligated to try a new strategy. If your friends are trying to get you to go to yoga class, but you're feeling tender and aren't sure you can deal with the yoga teacher's talking about “feeling into your pelvis” or sit bones, maybe suggest another class. “People should not feel pressured to do things that will only activate them more,” Appio says. “There's time and space to practice other strategies. Do what works. Do the lower risk thing first for sure.”
“I have been meditating almost every day which is nice,” says Coco. “And I'm going back to therapy soon. These are both things I'm doing to cope with the world in general, not just this thing.” And though she says she has moments of guilt for not “doing anything” in terms of activism, “I'm figuring out what I care about and what I want to do about it and how to put that energy into action.”
For Bryant-Davis, this deliberate process makes sense. “I will give a caution that sometimes people skip to activism and they haven't done any interior work, but activism is not a replacement for working through your stuff,” she says. “It can be very empowering in addition to doing the internal work for your healing. But to just skip over yourself and say ‘I'm going to advocate for others' is not a good idea. If we're in service while we're still very broken we can harm ourselves and often do harm to other people.”
“I don't know if I'm coping, honestly,” Coco says. “Is scrolling faster coping? Because that's what I do. I mindlessly scroll through things for five minutes—I don't read things any more—and then I turn my phone off and feel like I want to vomit. It's really bad. But I have been coping. I'm reading books and reading stories— Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine, Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis —and listening to podcasts about this and I'm like this is great! This podcast The Heart is great. Just hearing other people's stories about it in different ways and realizing I'm not alone, that helps.”
As a Muslim woman, it's my duty to speak out about the sexual abuse I survived as a child
We have talked about the abuse in the Roman Catholic Church for decades, now we Muslims need to talk about this on our own doorsteps. These men can't hide behind their beards anymore
From the outside, this man appears to the world as someone who cares about women. He is the director of a Muslim charity whose aim it is to improve lives, but they don't know how he destroyed mine.
Fleeting moments for him were the times he served me a life sentence. The day he imposed his perversion on me was my first sexual experience – he stole my own journey of discovery as a consenting adult. I was 13 years old.
When I was a kid I dreamed of being an archaeologist. I studied Hieroglyphics and dinosaurs in my spare time. I was so excited to see Jurassic Park , yet that darkened room was where he took my innocence from me. Images of dinosaurs now give me flashbacks. From then on every night he has climbed into bed behind me, cradling me, as I lay in terror.
After a career in child protection, my adult self sees his grooming efforts for what they were. I would bend down to pick up things he would drop on the floor. I'd arise to his groin in my face. He took his time with every brush, every touch.
He would tell me the stories of the women he groped on family shopping trips. The breasts he brushed and the apologies he gave, to which women innocently replied, “It's ok”. His brother would listen to his stories giggling. Like a peach he was preparing me, waiting for me to ripen so he could enjoy my young fruits.
It affected my education. I would sob in bed till the early morning and then go to school on three hours' sleep. My difficulties in school caused problems in my family. Later in life, the insomnia endured. It was never me and my husband in bed, it was always the three of us – I'm divorced now.
When I was sixteen I finally spoke out, I was made to swear on the Qur'an the truth of what happened. I saw my body in flames of fear in the after-life. He swore on the Qur'an too – his sister said that I made him touch me in those ways. All lies. I know that Allah sees all.
The Muslim world is very small and my path crosses with his more often than I would like. His mother once screamed at me that I was the pervert. He once goaded and harassed me at an event, behind the back of his family. He has shown no remorse for what he did.
But my faith is strong. Islam tells me that on the day of judgement, his good deeds will come to me, that I will be compensated for the hell of this life that he has put me through, and that his hands will bear witness to his actions, even if his tongue refuses to acknowledge them. Islam tells me the act of sex between a husband and wife is a blessed event when done by mutual consent and love. Islam tells me if I witness a wrong I must act in the interests of justice.
My imam told me that what he did was worse than murder, when you take someone's life you send them to Allah, to peace and justice in the afterlife. What he did tortures me in this life. It is our duty to act and speak against these crimes. These men, with their actions, throw away any entitlement to respect. They say the path to heaven lies at the feet of your mother, and if we are a nation of brothers and sisters, then all women are our mothers.
I want to be clear this is a universal problem that can be perpetrated by anyone, of any faith. Anyone can be a victim. We have talked about the abuse in the Roman Catholic Church for decades, now we Muslims need to talk about this on our own doorsteps. These men can't hide behind their beards anymore.
I am not alone, and I urge every survivor to speak. One in five girls will experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. That's 20 per cent of the female population. I talk about my experience for my sisters. We no longer feel shame; we will no longer keep the dirty secrets of men. I urge Muslims to stand up and speak out against those in positions of power. You have done nothing wrong. This everyday occurrence needs to be in our everyday conversations.
Let's choose to change the narrative. It's not #MeToo, as it's not a women's problem. It's a problem created by men. It should be #WhyDidYou?
Data mining program designed to predict child abuse proves unreliable, DCFS says
by David Jackson and Gary Marx
T he Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is ending a high-profile program that used computer data mining to identify children at risk for serious injury or death after the agency's top official called the technology unreliable.
"We are not doing the predictive analytics because it didn't seem to be predicting much," DCFS Director Beverly "B.J." Walker told the Tribune.
The $366,000 Rapid Safety Feedback program was central to reforms promised by Walker's predecessor, George Sheldon, who took office in 2015 following a series of child deaths and other problems.
Two Florida firms — the nonprofit Eckerd Connects and its for-profit partner, Mindshare Technology — mined electronic DCFS files and assigned a score of 1 to 100 to children who were the subject of an abuse allegation to the agency hotline. The algorithms rated the children's risk of being killed or severely injured during the next two years, according to DCFS public statements.
But caseworkers were alarmed and overwhelmed by alerts as thousands of children were rated as needing urgent protection. More than 4,100 Illinois children were assigned a 90 percent or greater probability of death or injury, according to internal DCFS child-tracking data released to the Tribune under state public records laws.
And 369 youngsters, all under age 9, got a 100 percent chance of death or serious injury in the next two years, the Tribune found.
At the same time, high-profile child deaths kept cropping up with little warning from the predictive analytics software, DCFS officials told the Tribune.
One child who did not get a high-risk score was 17-month-old Semaj Crosby, who was found dead under a couch in her Joliet Township home in April following at least 10 DCFS abuse investigations and an ongoing "intact family" care plan.
Another child the computers failed to flag was 22-month-old Itachi Boyle, who died a month after Semaj in Rock Island following eight DCFS mistreatment investigations into his home and similar "intact family" services from a nonprofit contracted by DCFS, the Tribune found.
"Predictive analytics (wasn't) predicting any of the bad cases," Walker told the Tribune. "I've decided not to proceed with that contract."
A May 2017 Tribune investigation found the arrangement with Eckerd was among a series of no-bid deals Sheldon gave to a circle of associates from his previous work in Florida as a child welfare official, lawyer and lobbyist. Sheldon left Illinois under a cloud a month later, and a July joint report by the Office of Executive Inspector General and the DCFS inspector general concluded that Sheldon and DCFS committed mismanagement by classifying the Eckerd/Mindshare arrangement as a grant, instead of as a no-bid contract.
By doing so, the joint report said, DCFS avoided state bidding transparency requirements, making it impossible to determine if Illinois could have obtained the same services from local companies at a lower cost, a requirement of the state's procurement code.
Predictive analytics has captured the imaginations of human services administrators around the globe and tapped an estimated $270 million state and federal government market for child welfare data collection and analysis. If it is possible to use big data to spotlight a child in trouble and intervene before he or she is hurt, then doing so is government's moral obligation, advocates for the technology say.
Eckerd Connects — which recently changed its name from Eckerd Kids — told the Tribune that variants of its Rapid Safety Feedback are used today by child welfare agencies in Ohio, Indiana, Maine, Louisiana, Tennessee, Connecticut and Oklahoma.
But some large child welfare agencies have balked at the expense and ethical questions about predicting children's futures based on the histories of their families. The algorithms could disproportionately select poor children of color for government intervention, critics warn, and automated decision-making may replace the judgment of experienced child welfare professionals.
The effort in Illinois unraveled following missteps acknowledged by both DCFS and Eckerd, Tribune interviews show.
The DCFS automated case-tracking system was riddled with data entry errors in both the Semaj Crosby and Itachi Boyle cases, the Tribune found. In addition, it did not link investigations about many children to cases regarding their siblings, or other adults in the same home.
These and other shortfalls undermined Eckerd's analysis. And state laws forced DCFS to erase "unfounded" child mistreatment investigations, giving the Eckerd analysts less data to work with.
The department is now moving to change the way it indexes and links investigations, and it is also considering legislative changes that would allow it to retain records of past unproven allegations.
For its part, Eckerd told the Tribune it regrets using stark language suggesting the company could predict the probability of harm to a child.
Illinois child care agencies told the Tribune they were alarmed by computer-generated alerts like the one that said: "Please note that the two youngest children, ages 1 year and 4 years have been assigned a 99% probability by the Eckerd Rapid Safety Feedback metrics of serious harm or death in the next two years."
"We all agree that we could have done a better job with that language. I admit it is confusing," said Eckerd spokesman Douglas Tobin.
Eckerd now says the 1-to-100 score is merely meant to represent how closely a child matches historical data on fatality and harm cases.
After the Tribune raised questions about the language Eckerd and Mindshare were using, Eckerd asked DCFS to strike that language from internal communications to child workers. "We are working to change that language," Tobin said.
DCFS used similar language about predicting harm or death in public budget statements as well as in federal court filings for the consent decree where the agency describes its programs and reform efforts.
While Eckerd says details of its risk-assignment algorithms are considered proprietary, the basics of its Rapid Safety Feedback are outlined in state procurement files, federal court reports and marketing presentations from Illinois and other states.
Eckerd retrospectively analyzes thousands of closed abuse cases and from them draws data points that are highly correlated with serious harm. The parents' ages could be a factor — or their previous criminal records, evidence of substance abuse in the home, or the presence of a new boyfriend or girlfriend.
DCFS gives Eckerd a nightly "data dump" from the state's automated case-tracking system, and the next morning Eckerd generates real-time scores flagging the most imperiled children.
Front-line caseworkers should never get those raw scores, let alone make decisions based on them, Eckerd says; the data instead should be reviewed by DCFS supervisors who are trained and coached by Eckerd to decide which cases need immediate attention and how to tackle them.
Even before arriving in Illinois, Sheldon had professional ties to both Eckerd and Mindshare.
He is quoted on Mindshare's website endorsing that company and its technology. And as head of Florida's child welfare agency, he worked closely with Eckerd, which runs child welfare programs in Florida's Hillsborough County under a $73 million state contract, using for-profit companies as subcontractors.
When Sheldon arrived in Illinois in 2015, he appointed Eckerd's Chief External Relations Officer Jody Grutza to a $125,000 senior DCFS position. While Grutza did not supervise the Eckerd contract, Sheldon put her in charge of overseeing other deals with Sheldon's Florida associates, including a Five Points Technology contract that paid $262,000 to Christopher Pantaleon, a longtime Sheldon aide with whom Sheldon owned Florida property, the Tribune revealed in a July report.
After a year in Illinois, Grutza returned to a top position with Eckerd in Florida.
In a brief interview, Sheldon said it was smart to tap Florida experts he trusted from previous work as he hit the ground running in Illinois, and that the Eckerd/Mindshare partnership had a good national reputation well beyond Florida.
In contract papers submitted to Illinois DCFS, Eckerd described the "remarkable" accomplishments of its predictive analytics method, saying Eckerd had virtually eliminated abuse-related deaths of wards in Hillsborough County since 2012.
But the Tribune's report in May report found at least five Hillsborough County children who died while under Eckerd's supervision in 2015 and 2016, including one whose foster mother faces pending first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse charges.
Eckerd said that four of those five fatalities were accidental deaths related to unsafe sleep or natural causes, and the alleged homicide involved a child in foster care who had not received a Rapid Safety Feedback assessment.
Despite her decision to end the predictive analysis program, Walker told the Tribune that Eckerd did provide useful case-analysis training that is currently being used by 15 agency staffers and three supervisors. This team is reviewing the roughly 2,700 cases of families receiving "intact family services" and prioritizing them to identify the highest-risk cases, Walker told the Tribune.
This review is "going to take several months" but "it's going to teach us a lot," Walker said.
Walker said she also is working to reduce the caseloads of investigators while improving communication between state investigators and the nonprofit organizations that deliver the "intact" services to troubled families.
Educating children could help protect them from sexual abuse
A West Virginia task force charged with developing a plan to combat the sexual abuse of children is expected to finalize its recommendations later this month, and one of the possible suggestions is bringing the subject into the state's schools.
If such a recommendation indeed is included, it likely will be a sensitive issue for many parents who may not welcome the idea that the topic should be broached in the classrooms. But the problem has become so pervasive that educating children and the school staffs responsible for their well-being certainly is worthy of a close look. After all, in a large percentage of child sexual abuse cases, the offenders are parents, other close relatives or family friends that the children should be able to trust. And offenders certainly aren't interested in protecting the children from abuse.
The task force working on the issue was a result of the legislature's passage in 2015 of what was called Erin Merryn's Law, named for an Illinois woman who works to pass sexual abuse prevention legislation. Specifically, she wants states to require sexual abuse prevention education in schools, but the bill passed in West Virginia didn't go that far, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail. It instead established the task force to study the issue. Its members include representatives from the state Department of Health and Human Resources; the state school board; teachers; principals; school service personnel organizations; social worker organizations; teacher preparation programs; the legal system and law enforcement; and organizations that work with victims of child abuse, domestic violence and sexual assault.
Many of the members as well as lawmakers who sponsored the legislation and are now responsible for moving forward with its provisions are hopeful that educating children and educators about sexual abuse and preventing it will be part of the road map. They believe it would be helpful to have age-appropriate curriculum for students and more information for educators about how to detect whether a child is being sexually abused.
What's clear is that more should be done to confront the problem. In the past year, West Virginia's 21 children's advocacy centers served 3,914 children, an 11 percent increase from the year before and about two-thirds more than were served five years ago. More than 60 percent of those children were victims of sex abuse.
What's most troubling is that 40 percent of offenders in all cases handled by the centers were the children's biological parents, while 16 percent were either a stepparent or a parent's boyfriend/girlfriend. The abuser was known to the victim in 99 percent of cases.
Many children simply can't trust the ones who are supposed to protect them. That's why trying to arm children with information so that they will know inappropriate behavior when they experience it is so important.
Child Abuse Prevention Hackathon Launched in Los Angeles
HackerEarth, National Association of Social Workers-CA Tech Council and various influential associations and nonprofits come together to bridge the digital divide in child safety
LOS ANGELES, Dec. 06, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- HackerEarth , a leader in innovation management software, has been chosen to host a Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) hackathon in Los Angeles from 9 th - 10 th December 2017. Other partners include The National Association of Social Workers - CA, Technology Council (NASW-CA Tech Council) and various influential associations, such as Anita Borg - Los Angeles. The program was officially launched today during the “Women Transform Tech - An Event For Child Safety” held at City National Bank in association with Anita Borg Institute - LA.
This unique hackathon is the brainchild of NASW-CA Technology Council who saw the need to address the fight against child abuse in the US through technology. The mission of CAP is to bring together child safety advocates and technology experts to create innovative solutions that will lead to reduction of child abuse and address the challenges of children when they are in imminent danger.
According to a report by the Children's Bureau, published in January 2017, the number of child abuse referrals has increased from 3.6 million to 4 million. The report also indicates an increase in child deaths from abuse and neglect to 1,670 in 2015, up from 1,580 in 2014. This hackathon aims to merge technology and child advocacy to prevent crimes against minors. The themes have been created to find solutions to the lack of technology-backed solutions which can improve response rates to abuse cases, link government agencies to maximize coordination and support nonprofit agencies for collaboration.
The hackathon has been divided into three distinct themes/problem statements:
Solutions to approach government agencies in times of crisis: Most government agencies are active only during business hours, which poses a problem to those who want to report a crime at night or on weekends.
Solutions for Nonprofit agencies to collaborate: Due to the lack of collaboration between nonprofit agencies, it has been difficult for them to pool in their efforts and resources to address the larger issues.
Solutions for first responders: In case of emergencies, first responders (federal, state, county, and municipal) and nonprofits are not linked together. Thus, it is difficult to coordinate and provide necessary services when children are in crisis or facing imminent danger. Most of the time, a band-aid approach is used. Lack of funding and resources can further delay processes. More often than not, the response itself is limited at best and may place the child at further risk and harm.
The hackathon has been designed to allow developers to strengthen the response system used by government agencies and nonprofit agencies during cases of child abuse. Without a robust process in place, it has become challenging for victims to report crimes and access the right organizations.
The Child Abuse Protection hackathon will be held in Los Angeles on December 9 th to December 10 th , 2017. Participation is open to coders as well as social workers. Mentors will be provided to the teams for guidance. Some of the transformational leaders who are supporting the event and will be giving feedback on the solutions are:
Dr. Diane Adams, Executive Board Member and United States Representative for the United Nations. She is also the founder for the American Public Health Association – Health Informatics Information Technology Section (APHA-HIIT)
Dr. Michael Durfee, MD Chief Consultant, Los Angeles County Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, ICAN
Telle Whitney, CEO/Cofounder, Anita Borg
To know more about the hackathon and register, please visit: https://www.hackerearth.com/sprints/child-abuse-prevention/
Sachin Gupta, CEO and Cofounder, HackerEarth
“We are extremely humbled to lend our expertise in conducting The Child Abuse Protection hackathon, along with other partners such as the NASW-CA Technology Council and the various associations that have united together to fight child abuse. Prevention of child abuse is no longer just the job of social workers and law enforcement agencies. Involving the tech community will help these agencies respond faster and quicker. This hackathon is the right platform for those individuals who are passionate about technology and would like to contribute to the society.”
Co-Chair, National Association of Social Workers - CA, Technology Council
Chair of Member, American Public Health Association – Health Informatics Information Technology Section (APHA-HIIT)
“HackerEarth has provided us a great platform to drive our hackathon. Reduction of fatal child abuse and severe violence is best addressed from a collaborative approach - social/human and health services, technology and data science. Together, we gain a stronger understanding of how to be the voice to the children in imminent danger. We hope to see a good participation from developers and are looking forward to receiving innovative ideas and solutions.”
HackerEarth is the leading provider of innovation management software to some of the world's foremost companies, including Pitney Bowes, Amazon, Walmart Labs, Honeywell, and more. HackerEarth has powered innovation and talent management for large enterprises across major industries such as financial services, retail, healthcare, and manufacturing. HackerEarth empowers businesses to connect with the developer community to crowdsource ideas into real-life products and helps them assess technical talent for hiring. For more information about offerings from HackerEarth, visit https://www.hackerearth.com
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Will abuse commission be another damp squib?
by Moira Rayner
Next Friday 15 December another Australian royal commission will report on how very badly some of Australia's once-respected institutions abused the trust of children.
On 14 December the commission will 'sit' to ceremonially end five years of public hearings, shocking headlines, hapless defences and interim reports and recommendations. Peter Fox, he whose outrage at the pact between his police peers and local church leaders to 'deal' with sex offenders in his town, has nonetheless been ritually reproved by his employers' chosen investigator as 'obsessed'. Such is the way of public life. Whistleblowing rules don't prevent whistle-blower retributive responses.
The commission has published recommendations for law reform, bundles of discussion papers, a collection of the voices of some of the victims and apologies by humiliated representatives of some of the ogres. One religious group has privately opined the result will be a 'damp squib'. But will it? Have we heard it all? Or enough?
But will the five years of scandal make a difference to today's children, or tomorrow's?
No fear of that, either.
Consider this. Just a few months ago the Prime Minister authorised a royal commission into the treatment of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory after truly disgusting visual evidence of the bullying, humiliation and torture of very young children in prisons. The criticisms were upheld but the commission's searing findings and recommendations about the need to close Don Dale and other children's prisons and to stop over-policing of vulnerable Indigenous children was not met with a full apology. Indeed Alice Springs police decided to use military tactics to 'police' groups of Aboriginal 'youths' around the town at night, on the basis of their being 'suspicious' to white home owners. Why? Because they can.
It seems that Australian institutions will not ever be empowered and encouraged to provide safety education and support to the Indigenous children and families who make up nearly 80 per cent of the prison population nationally. Children continue to languish in remand concentration camps or police lockups without being sentenced. Prison officers are picked on the basis of bodily strength. And the commission's recommendations, which are predicated on the 'Black Deaths in Custody' unimplemented report recommendations made more than 20 years ago, have not softened the public heart.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has changed the public response of religious institutions, not their culture. Nor has it altered the culture at the political pointy ends of state, territory or national government. The reason the current commission has recommended but no state has shown any real interest in a national compensation scheme of 'up to' $150,000 is quite simple. Governments don't care enough.
Institutions feel confident that most survivors of abuse don't sue, and most victims can't afford to. And in reality, no apology nor even bigly compensation can take away the pain or fix the damage done to a child when they were very young. What happened to so many of these children, much of the time, deformed their spirit. As an adult, a victim of sexual violence, humiliation and pain as a child shapes his or her life around great pits and scars of these experiences and the memories of confusion, shame and retribution.
The cause of the misuse of power over children was our refusal to take a child's world view as seriously as our own adult priorities.
I'm sure that there were some who felt that protecting their institutions and traditions was a higher good than listening with an open heart and soft eyes to what was rotting away the core of their personal vocation. That was why Cardinal Pell's interest in stories of abused altar boys and pupils was not 'piqued' as he infamously admitted.
Horror stories of past wrongs don't change much. Our prurient interest has but short life. We are as people quite hideously cold hearted to refugees, battered women, suffering animals and wars in other lands than our homes.
The 'parade' of damaged people has changed the commissioners who heard them, I have no doubt. Public release of their stories and the common man's response has challenged many a religious institution's pious immunity and wounded status. It has also tainted public trust.
Worse, though its known findings have largely vindicated Fox's outrage and actions to reveal them during the Gillard administration, it has not touched the heart of the problem.
This is at our own heart a cultural contempt for the little people that once, we all were. While we adults can shout at, ignore, smack, slap, coerce, threaten and disbelieve our own and others' children, and while our taxes are not put into don't training parents, teachers, officers of our public institutions and those who run services for children about their spiritual development and our common responsibility to preserve it, and while we do not provide the services every child needs to grow into the person they were meant to be in a family environment of love and understanding, because we don't prioritise it, these horrors will go under for a little while, and then come back.
Have you ever seen the light in a young child's eyes go out? I have. It is the saddest sight. What will it take to make this stop?
Corey Feldman's 1993 report of sexual assault found in Santa Barbara sheriff's office
by Maria Puente
The already murky story of whether former child actor Corey Feldman was abused by Hollywood pedophiles decades ago just got more complicated: The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office has just found evidence it previously said it didn't have.
Feldman, a child star from The Goonies and Stand By Me , has been saying for years that he and other child actors were sexually abused as minors by a pedophile ring in Hollywood.
He claimed he told his story to detectives in Santa Barbara County — and named names — in 1993, but they weren't interested. Feldman says they were busy investigating pop icon Michael Jackson for alleged child sexual abuse on his nearby Neverland Ranch (Jackson was acquitted of charges in 2005 and died in 2009).
More recently, the sheriff's office said they didn't have any record of Feldman naming a suspect in his allegation that he was sexually assaulted. Now the story has changed.
The sheriff's spokeswoman, Kelly Hoover, issued a statement to USA TODAY Wednesday confirming the sheriff's office had just found an audio recording of a 1993 interview of Feldman by detectives and has turned it over to the Los Angeles Police Department.
"Following the recent inquiries into the Sheriff's Office interview of Mr. Feldman in 1993, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office conducted an additional review for any stored items remaining from the Michael Jackson investigation," the statement said.
"In a container which included the original reports from the (Jackson) investigation, the Sheriff's Office located some detective working copies of audio recordings made during the investigation. A copy of Mr. Feldman's interview was located. The recording is being turned over to the Los Angeles Police Department."
Then the sheriff's office zipped up: "Due to the fact that this case involves the alleged sexual abuse of a child, we are unable to comment further and any documentation or evidence related to this case is exempt from release" to the media.
One of the many confounding aspects of the Feldman case is that it's not clear why he reported his allegations in Santa Barbara County if the alleged abuse took place in Los Angeles County. Also, there was initial confusion about whether Feldman told the Santa Barbara Police, which serves only the city, or the sheriff's office, which serves the rest of the county.
Feldman's sordid story of a long-running pedophilia ring targeting child actors is back in the headlines in the wake of the sexual harassment scandals currently consuming Hollywood and taking down scores of powerful industry leaders.
Feldman has been telling anyone who will listen, most recently in a November appearance on The Dr. Oz show about what he says happened to him and his friends. And he's started naming names after years of not doing so. He's even crowd-sourced a quarter-million toward his $1 million goal of making a film about pedophilia, which he labeled the "the No. 1 problem in Hollywood."
He also took his story to the LAPD, which confirmed it was investigating Feldman's claims and then almost immediately closed down its investigation. The LAPD said in a statement Nov. 9 that the California statute of limitations had expired on Feldman's allegations and detectives had no further avenues to pursue.
It's not clear whether Santa Barbara's belated discovery of a 24-year-old audio recording of detectives' interview of Feldman will change anything. Police in Los Angeles declined to comment on the development.
Feldman's rep did not respond to a request for comment.
A New Push to Expand New York's Childhood Sexual Assault Law
by Elizabeth A. Harris
Can the national outpouring of sexual abuse claims help move recalcitrant mountains in Albany?
For 11 years, activists and lawmakers in New York have tried and failed to pass the Child Victims Act, which would expand the legal recourse available to people who say they were sexually abused as children, who now face some of the most restrictive laws in the country. As the national conversation bursts with a reckoning over sexual misconduct, activists hope that this year they will succeed and are advancing a new, more aggressive strategy to pass the bill.
“Now is the time,” said Bridie Farrell, a competitive speed skater who was abused by an older teammate and has been pushing the bill in Albany for years. “The people who are speaking up are famous people, with fortunes and legal teams and PR teams,” she said. And yet for years, she continued, “they were too scared to talk. So how do you expect a child to do it?”
Under New York State law, victims of childhood sexual abuse have until they are 21 to sue the institution where the abuse took place, like a church or a school, and until 23 to sue their attacker. Criminal charges, with the exception of rape, must be filed before a survivor turns 23. Activists say New York, along with a handful of other states like Alabama and Michigan, has some of the least victim-friendly laws in the country.
The Child Victims Act would allow survivors to sue until they turn 50 and let criminal charges be filed until they are 28. It would also create a one-year window during which cases from any time could proceed in court.
Some two dozen advocacy organizations and survivor groups are coordinating their efforts this year with the twin goals of convincing Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to put the Child Victims Act in the budget and creating the political space for it to succeed. A member of the coalition, Child USA, a nonprofit group led by Marci Hamilton, a legal expert in child sex abuse cases, has hired the strategic communications firm SKDKnickerbocker to coordinate the campaign. SKD has enjoyed a close relationship with Mr. Cuomo's office, and oversaw the successful effort in 2011 to legalize gay marriage in the state.
Child USA says that the law belongs in the governor's budget because current laws cost the state money. Some survivors of childhood sexual assault, who may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or other difficulties like addiction, often end up depending on state programs like Medicaid. Child USA argues that the Child Victims Act would shift that financial burden to the abusers and responsible institutions.
Last year, the bill passed in the Assembly by a vote of 139-7, and Mr. Cuomo offered his endorsement by introducing it as well. But the Senate speaker, John J. Flanagan, a Republican, has declined to bring it up for a vote in that chamber. A key piece of the proponents' strategy will be to aggressively target specific state senators, especially in competitive suburban districts, with efforts like digital advertising to get their support. Carl L. Marcellino and Elaine Phillips, Republicans from Long Island who won narrow victories in recent elections, are two senators on their list, according to coalition representatives.
“ I think we realize now that they really need to be called out,” said Stephen Jimenez, an abuse survivor who has been advocating for the bill for more than 10 years. “The question for us now is really blunt: Why are you protecting predators?”
Mr. Flanagan did not return repeated calls seeking comment.
Those pushing the legislation have met with Mr. Cuomo and his staff over the past year and a half, and they say that communication continues.
“It is outrageous that as a result of arcane laws, these victims have been denied their day in court,” Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo said in an email. “We are working with the advocates to determine the most effective way to achieve these much needed reforms.”
The measure, which has been spearheaded by the victim organization Safe Horizon for over a decade, has faced consistent opposition from the Catholic church and other groups that serve young people. Dennis Poust, the director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, said that while the state's bishops support forward-looking legislation to raise the statute of limitations, they opposed the window that might open the church up to decades worth of claims.
Activists say such a window is an important way to flush out predators who may have evaded detection, who may even still have access to children, and Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat from Manhattan and the bill's sponsor in the Assembly, called it a “moral responsibility” to allow victims the chance to seek justice. But Mr. Poust said that dioceses in Minnesota and Delaware had filed for bankruptcy after a flood of sexual abuse claims.
“We have to ensure that the church can continue to provide essential services, be it charitable, educational or sacramental,” Mr. Poust said.
As both sides gear up for the legislative session, the drum beat of assault allegations seems to quicken every day. Time Magazine named “The Silence Breakers,” who have called out abuse, its person of the year.
“I'm hopeful that because of revelation about widespread sexual abuse, the dam of resistance has been broken — there are no more sacred cows,” Ms. Rosenthal said. “If this isn't the moment,” she continued, “then we're doomed.”
America's sad history of looking the other way on child rape
by Markos Kounalakis
Child sexual assault is the most repulsive of crimes, and the global verdict on rapists and molesters should be overwhelmingly damning. But if you're surprised that the president of the United States and the Republican National Committee are throwing their support to a man who has been accused by multiple women, on the record, of pedophilia, remember that America has been looking the other way for a long time.
Why, for example, is the Pentagon suppressing a congressionally mandated independent report on Afghan allies who allegedly engage in systemic child sexual abuse?
Afghanistan has revived an old and long-outlawed practice of men buying young boys, dressing them as dancing girls to be used as sex slaves for American-armed Afghan security forces. The boys are regularly raped by these American allies, engaging in “bacha bazi,” or “boy play,” while U.S. soldiers avert their eyes and try to ignore the raw violence against underage innocents.
A recent analysis suggests that the U.S. military is preventing the report's release to avoid in-country blowback and consequential congressional action that could cut-off U.S. military assistance to Afghanistan.
While the Kabul regime may be the most egregious offender at passively condoning pedophilia, another open secret is that child sex tourism finds a home firmly within allied Southeast Asian nations. American citizens often travel to countries like Thailand to solicit sexual favor with children. Weak police enforcement and even official complicity in some Southeast Asian countries make combating child sex offenses extremely difficult.
Tactical advantage and strategic concerns often define how America deals with child sex issues both at home and abroad. Whether it's President Donald Trump's support for Republican Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, the U.S. troops' failure to report allies' involvement in human rights abuses and criminality, or a brisk sex tourism business with allies in strategic parts of the world, legal and ethical actions are often overruled by politics. Globally, moral outrage over sexual misconduct with minors is selectively expressed – whether in America's malls, Kandahar parlors, or Japanese townships. Political fortune is constantly weighed against criminal behavior in a dark and often cynical calculus.
There should, however, be no equivocation, anywhere, ever. Ivanka Trump is right when she says “there's a special place in hell for people who prey on children.”
A couple of American soldiers personally brought that hell to offending Afghans. Two soldiers were discharged for beating-up an Afghan commander who chained a boy to his bed and repeatedly raped him. Vigilante justice is not a solution, but these soldiers' anger drove them to take matters into their own hands when their superiors instead insisted they sit on their hands.
The U.S. military may be reluctant to release the new report and slow to respond to accusations and missteps, but unlike most other countries' militaries, processes are in place for the Pentagon to take corrective action, change, and attempt to right any wrongs. While U.S. soldiers avoid policing illegal behavior of natives in foreign countries, Americans are sometimes held criminally accountable for their acts by foreign courts.
In 1995, for example, the American service members were caught, convicted, and sentenced to many years in a Japanese prison for kidnapping and raping a 12-year old Okinawan girl. Twenty-two years later, the Okinawa rape case is still fresh in Japanese minds and it continues to plague U.S.-Japanese military relations. Those old wounds were reopened just last week when an American military contractor received a life sentence in Japan for the rape and murder of yet another Okinawan.
Japanese high moral ground is hard to hold, however, when reflecting on the country's own sordid history of sex slaves and industrial-scale rape. From 1932 through WWII, Japan enslaved underage girls and young women from occupied territories in military brothels for forced sex. While there is no definitive victim count, the “comfort women” numbered at least 20,000 and may have reached into the hundreds of thousands.
The military and foreign service get special protections when serving overseas – diplomatic immunity can protect a State Department employee from foreign legal infractions. But the U.S. can waive that immunity in special cases, as it did with the American service members in Japan. Foreign courts can also lock-up Americans' who transgress overseas. Further, since 2004, American law allows U.S. courts to convict citizens of sex crimes committed abroad.
American child sex offenders who go overseas to engage in criminal activity can be punished when they come home, but they are also more likely to be prevented from achieving their goal when traveling. The U.S State Department will soon make important changes in U.S. passports, as required by last year's International Megan's Law. Some passports will have a notation that states “The bearer was convicted of a sex offense against a minor.”
The scarlet letter passport may slow sex offenders from moving freely across the world, but it would still not prevent them from running for government office. One Alabama felon put up a candidacy in the recent past.
The electoral verdict on Roy Moore is days away. Internationally, beyond the Moore scandal, American conduct and honor in the Trump-era will continue to be judged daily.
Children on Sex Offender Registries at Risk for Suicide
Other risks include sexual assault and being approached by an adult for sex
by Elizabeth Letourneau, Ph.D.
A new study led by researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children who were legally required to register as sex offenders were at greater risk for harm, including suicide attempts and sexual assault, compared to a group of children who engaged in harmful or illegal sexual behavior but who were not required to register.
The most troubling findings, the authors say, pertained to suicidal intent and victimization experiences. The study found that registered children were four times as likely to report a recent suicide attempt in the last 30 days, compared to nonregistered children. Registered children were nearly twice as likely to have experienced a sexual assault and were five times as likely to have been approached by an adult for sex in the past year. Registered children also reported higher rates of other mental health problems, more peer relationship problems, more experiences with peer violence and a lower sense of safety.
The findings, which were published online last week in the journal Psychology, Public Policy and Law, highlight the consequences of placing children on sex offender registries.
“The process of subjecting children to sex offender registration and notification requirements not only conveys to the child that he or she is worthless, it also essentially alerts the rest of the world that a child has engaged in an illegal sexual behavior,” says study lead Elizabeth Letourneau, PhD, a professor in the Bloomberg School's Department of Mental Health and director of the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. “Not only is this policy stigmatizing and distressing, but it may make children vulnerable to unscrupulous or predatory adults who use the information to target registered children for sexual assault.”
Thirty-eight states subject children under age 18 to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in juvenile court while all states subject children to sex offender registration for offenses adjudicated in adult court (i.e., when children are waived to criminal court). This practice has been controversial from its beginnings in the mid-1990s due to concerns about the stigmatizing effects of labeling children—often for life—as “sex offenders.”
For the study, the researchers surveyed 256 children ages 12 to 17 across 18 states who had received treatment services for engaging in harmful and/or illegal sexual behaviors. Of these, 74 had been required to register as sexual offenders and/or subjected to public notification in which law enforcement alerted others to the child's status as a registered offender. Some children were even included on public sex offender registry websites. Five girls were included in the sample, although analyses were ultimately reported only for the 251 boys. Compared to nonregistered children in this study, registered children had worse outcomes on measures assessing mental health problems, peer relationships, safety and exposure to sexual and nonsexual violence.
To identify registered and nonregistered children for this study, researchers obtained referrals from frontline practitioners (e.g., psychologists, counselors, social workers) who treat children for problem sexual behaviors. Children completed surveys by phone, on hard copies or on computers and steps were taken to assure confidentiality. Most of the children identified as male (98 percent) and were on average 15 years old. Half were white, more than one-quarter were African American and 18 percent identified as Hispanic. Most participants, 86 percent, identified as heterosexual.
“Policymakers have argued that if sex offender registration improves community safety it is worth the costs associated with it, which begs the question, does registrations work? Does it make communities safer? The answer is a resounding no,” says Letourneau. “On top of that, our study suggests that these requirements may place children at risk of the very type of abuse the policy seeks to prevent, among other serious negative consequences. Our hope is that this study will convince even more policymakers that the time has come to abandon juvenile registration.”.
Previous research by Letourneau and others demonstrates that less than three percent of children adjudicated for a sexual offense go on to commit another. However, despite numerous studies, including this one, that have evaluated the effects of sex offender registration and notification policies, none have found any evidence that suggests that such policies prevent sexual abuse and assault or make communities safer and, in fact, the results from this study suggest that these policies may be harmful to children.
Previous research has examined the unintended effects of sex offender registration and notification on adults. This is the first study to look at the effects of registration policies on children.
“Effects of juvenile sex offender registration on child well-being: An empirical examination” was written by Elizabeth J. Letourneau, PhD; Andrew Harris, PhD; Ryan Shields, PhD; Scott Walfield, PhD; Geoff Kahn, MSPH; Amanda Ruzicka, MA; and Cierra Buckman, MHS.
The research was funded by the Open Society Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Moore Center for the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.
How Do You Care for Sex-Trafficking Victims if You Can't Hold On to Them?
by Nikita Stewart
MOUNT PLEASANT, N.Y. — Nearly every day, a teenager is missing from Hawthorne Cedar Knolls, a rehabilitation center for emotionally troubled children that sits on a sprawling campus in this Westchester County town.
Home to many young people who have been trafficked for sex, Hawthorne is supposed to help heal them and head off their return to prostitution and exploitation. But the center, run by a nonprofit group and intended to be a relatively open facility, has seen girl after girl, most of them from New York City, go missing.
People who have worked in child welfare in and around New York City say there is a pipeline from centers like the ones here back to the streets, where children fall prey to the abuse that they were supposed to escape. Over the last 18 months, the state, which oversees residential treatment centers like Hawthorne, stopped sending children to Hawthorne and to the nearby Pleasantville Cottage School. Among the 51 centers statewide, Hawthorne and Pleasantville are the only ones to have faced such severe sanctions over missing children in recent years.
By design and by law, conditions at residential treatment centers are less restrictive than those at many of the other programs for children with severe mental health problems. Residential treatment centers are not juvenile detention centers, and they are supposed to provide a homelike experience. Children cannot be locked down, and older children are encouraged to attend programs outside the campus and hold part-time jobs as part of their rehabilitation. But people who work with the residents said that a lack of rigorous, engaging programs, especially for victims of sex trafficking, had made their open atmosphere a liability.
Hawthorne was recently drawn into a trafficking investigation after a teenage girl who went missing from Hawthorne ended up in the Bronx with a 25-year-old man.
The man has been charged with sex trafficking, rape, prostitution and other crimes in a state case involving the girl, and he has been charged as a conspirator in a federal investigation of a Bronx drug-trafficking ring.
Prosecutors have not accused Hawthorne or its staff of any wrongdoing in connection with sex trafficking. But the involvement of a runaway from Hawthorne in the Bronx case underscored the challenges confronting such programs and the risks faced by some of the girls who are in them.
The investigation offers a glimpse into an underworld in which exploitation is hard to document and prosecute. Victims often fear retribution or are wary of law enforcement and refuse to cooperate with investigations, according to lawyers and social workers. But the exploitation is real, said Paul Oliva, the police chief in Mount Pleasant. “We had these girls leaving campus, hooking up with their pimps,” he said.
Instead of escaping sexual exploitation, some teenagers are recruited by their peers inside centers and group homes, said Ed Gavin, a former acting chief of staff at the Administration for Children's Services in New York City. A piece of the pipeline in the region flows north to south, from the leafy, idyllic surroundings here to gritty “trap houses” run by twentysomething drug dealers, Mr. Gavin said. “People think of human trafficking as foreign. Human trafficking goes on right in the neighborhood. It goes on in the Bronx,” said Mr. Gavin, who now works as a private investigator and specializes in finding missing children.
The girls at Hawthorne, who range in age from 12 to 21, have been sent there through the recommendations of child welfare agencies, Family Court judges and a special education panel.
The majority of the children return to their homes or are sent to a foster home or other setting closer to their families in less than a year, said David Rivel, the chief executive of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services, which operates Hawthorne.
Many children continue to run until they feel safe at the center, he said. “Kids are not running away from the campus, they are running away from the trauma and abuse they have experienced, which we are encouraging them to face,” Mr. Rivel said.
To prevent children from regressing, there must be a balance between tough love and tolerance of behavioral problems that stem from deep-seated pain, said Jonathan McLean, the director of Hawthorne.
The town of Mount Pleasant has long been home to Hawthorne and Pleasantville, which is run by the J.C.C.A., formerly known as the Jewish Child Care Association.
About two miles apart, the campuses opened more than a century ago to take in the orphaned children of Jewish immigrants.
About 80 young people children live at Pleasantville, while about 50 live at Hawthorne. The overwhelming majority of the residents there are black and Hispanic children from New York City.
In an interview, an 18-year-old at Gateways, a program on Pleasantville's campus for trafficked children, said she “sold her body for money,” new clothes, trips to the nail salon and food.
“I always have this thing where I bounce my way into stuff and bounce my way into this,” the teenager said. “It's hard to explain why people do it or why you do it.”
The teenager said she had enjoyed a visit by local volunteers who brought Jamaican food, cupcakes and pumpkins, but she said she wished some of the staff members were more empathetic. “Be more open and understanding of behaviors. Don't shut us out,” she said.
Making children feel wanted is key to preventing them from going missing, said Jim Purcell, the chief executive of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, an advocacy group. “For some of these kids, it's showing that someone cares,” he said. “Some of these kids AWOL to see if somebody is going to stop them.”
Chief Oliva said his department, which has 45 officers, was stretched thin by helping to investigate sex trafficking cases involving missing girls, and by responding to calls from the centers and complaints from residents.
To push the nonprofits to improve security, the town began charging them a fine of $250 last year for calls about missing children, he said. (As of October, the town had issued the fine 15 times.) The fines were instituted in part because residents had complained about crimes committed by children from the centers, but Mr. Oliva said it was important to remember that the children were being hurt or put in harm's way.
From July 2016 though June, about 73 percent of the 188 New York City children at Hawthorne were reported missing, a rate that was significantly higher than those for similar programs.
Mr. Rivel said the numbers at Hawthorne had been skewed by the “overreporting” of cases in which children had gone missing for just a few hours, but he did not dispute that the numbers reflected a crisis and that elected officials needed to help. “We have a real problem here, a real challenge here,” he said.
Last year, the Jewish Board and J.C.C.A. hired directors of security, new positions for both nonprofits.
At Pleasantville, the J.C.C.A. added more cameras, new lighting and new two-way radios. At Hawthorne, the Jewish Board began following children in a van on the 20-minute walk from the campus to the nearby Metro-North Railroad station. The board also installed a six-foot-high fence that stretches 200 feet through trees and brush.
The tactics have reduced the number of children who go missing, though the figure remains strikingly high at Hawthorne. Since the state allowed Hawthorne to begin accepting new residents in August, about 54 percent of the 79 New York City children living there have been absent at some point, according to city data.
But the idea of using highly restrictive security measures is at odds with a strong belief by many experts that emotionally damaged children should not be criminalized.
“Honestly, their goal is to protect these kids,” said Staca Shehan, the executive director of the case analysis division at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. “But at the end of the day, there hasn't been a way to force services upon them,” she said. “The field as a whole really doesn't have a consensus because running away from services is so prevalent.”
Advocates said there was a need for more state funding for programs that engage children. “Those are the things that get lost in the shuffle when there's no money,” Mr. Purcell said.
Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi, a Queens Democrat who is the chairman of the social services committee, said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has cut the operating budgets of the agencies that oversee troubled children by nearly 17 percent since fiscal 2012 to keep a vow to curb state spending.
The state described the cuts as “cost savings” unrelated to the direct funding of treatment centers.
The state provides money to local districts that negotiate annual rates with the nonprofit organizations that run the centers — the Jewish Board receives $419.78 per day for each child, and the J.C.C.A. receives $431.36. The state could set higher rates for the next fiscal year because of the cost of the new security measures at Hawthorne and Pleasantville, state officials said.
Native Americans Are Some Of The Most Vulnerable To Sex Trafficking
by Laurel Morales
When Lynette Greybull was 17, she lived on the streets. She said she was lucky friends took her in and kept her from falling into a life of sex trafficking.
“I became really close friends with young women that were trafficked,” Greybull said. “They weren't human trafficking victims to me. These were friends. And some are not here today.”
Greybull became an advocate for young women like them and started Not Our Native Daughters, an initiative against sex trafficking. Greybull said since there are few opportunities on the reservation, young girls are lured into trafficking, often through social media.
“The devil never comes dressed as a devil,” Greybull said. “They come in their trickery, in their craftiness, in their charisma, their promises.”
Greybull said traffickers prey on girls, mostly, many of whom already have been sexually abused, don't have decent family support or are in the foster care system. Native American children enter foster care at twice the rate of all children in the U.S., according to a Government Accountability Office study. Greybull said many of these young people have to fight for shelter, food and protection.
“And you have someone come along that takes you out to eat, that gets your hair and nails done, gives you a phone, gives you shoes, clothes you well, treats you well, gives you affirmation. It's almost like a hero has been sent to you,” Greybull said.
This year Navajo leaders discovered several cases of sex trafficking on the reservation, but they had no way to fight it. So the tribe passed a law to make human trafficking a crime. Many other tribes are doing the same. Congress also plans to consider legislation that would give states the authority to prosecute traffickers.
Sex trafficking is not new to Native Americans. When Europeans began to colonize in the late 1800s, many Native women and girls became a commodity. Lisa Heth runs the Pathfinder Center, a refuge for human trafficking victims in South Dakota.
“They couldn't feed their families,” Heth said. “And so then some of the mothers were starting to sell their daughters to some of the soldiers.”
Today, history is repeating itself.
“Families will sell their young daughters for alcohol or drugs,” Heth said. “We're seeing that more and more on our reservations.”
Many Cases Unreported
A recent Government Accountability Office study found only 14 federal human trafficking investigations in Indian Country between 2013 and 2016. During that same period the FBI investigated 6,100 elsewhere.
But the watchdog group found many cases likely have gone unreported on reservations, like the Navajo Nation that only recently made it a crime. And Heth said many girls are reluctant to come forward.
“They're fearful of reporting it because of retaliation or that they're going be blamed. In the past we know that women have come forward and they've even been blamed by their own family members,” Heth said. “‘You shouldn't have been drinking. You shouldn't have been doing this and that.'”
The National Congress of American Indians said Native Americans are one of the most vulnerable populations to sex trafficking because of the significant poverty rates, high numbers of runaway youth and low levels of law enforcement.
In Arizona, Cindy McCain has taken up the cause. McCain spoke to a recent U.S. Senate Committee, which included her husband Sen. John McCain.
“I witnessed with my own eyes six little girls lined up against a wall inside a casino just outside of Phoenix on display for customers,” Cindy McCain said. “These children were silent and visibly scared.”
The McCain Institute has partnered with other groups to develop an algorithm to help police identify minors who may be trapped in a sex trafficking situation. McCain also spoke out against websites like Backpage.com, that make sex trafficking easy.
“Over 75 percent of trafficking victims tell us they were sold online,” Cindy McCain said. “We have found it easier to sell a child online for sex than it is to buy a bicycle or a sofa.”
The legislation Congress is considering — the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act — would allow states to crack down on these websites, or anyone who facilitates sex trafficking.
Lynnette Greybull said she's worked with sex trafficking survivors from many tribes.
“The common thread there is that ‘nobody cares,'” Greybull said. “Being a homeless youth myself, I know what that feels like. You think that if something happens to you, nobody would even shed a tear for your life.”
Greybull tries to convince them that's not true and to help them find their purpose.
Cambridge students create database of rape, abuse and sexual harassment in 1,000 films and TV shows from Last Tango in Paris to It's a Wonderful Life
by Keiran Southern
It is one of the most famous Christmas movies of all time but It's a Wonderful Life has been added to a database of films that contain scenes of rape, abuse and sexual harassment.
And it is not the only beloved film on the list.
Oscar-winning Good Will Hunting, starring Matt Damon and the late Robin Williams, has abuse as an 'underlying theme'.
While 1990s road movie Thelma and Louise contains a 'lengthy and upsetting rape'.
Students from Cambridge University have compiled a database containing more than a thousand films and television programmes that show non-consensual sexual interactions, according to the Times.
The project is aimed at helping sexual assault survivors avoid any potentially traumatic scenes that could trigger flashbacks.
Described as a 'search engine for sexual violence', Unconsenting Media was launched to allow survivors to vet what they watch in case there are any offensive scenes.
It comes as Hollywood is embroiled in the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal which has already seen several high profile stars accused of sexual impropriety.
House of Cards actor Kevin Spacey has seen his career left in tatters.
The scandal has brought a change in attitudes towards sexual abuse and sparked debate on issues including sexual consent on university campuses and behaviour in the workplace.
Samantha van Staden, the site's director and a human, social and political sciences third-year student at Newnham College, told the Times: 'We want to give survivors the agency to make choices about the kind of media they engage with.
'A lot of this came from our own personal experiences, knowing people who were survivors of rape and sexual assault.
'There's a lot less attention given to the smaller struggles of recovering normal life than there is to the broader process of recovering from an experience like that.'
Figures show almost one in five women in England and Wales has been a victim of a sexual offence as an adult while one in 14 adults were abused as a child.
The database, established by Rose Payne, a Cambridge linguistics student, is now publicly available online.
The activists insist they do not want to censor sexual violence or harassment on screen and their only wish is to allow victims of abuse to make informed decisions on what they watch.
They pointed to the fact potentially disturbing scenes pop up in unexpected programmes - such as in Channel 4 comedy Peep Show.
The show portrays a man being raped by a woman.
Unconsenting Media classifies content by categories including rape off screen, rape on screen and sexual harassment.
For example It's a Wonderful Life makes the list because it contains scenes in which 'a man chases a housekeeper and insists he is in love with her' and a woman is ogled on the street.
The organisers say they have received abuse on social media but overall the reception has been positive.
This Is Survival
by Aly Raisman
E veryone is a survivor of something.
Everyone is battling something.
Everyone goes through ups and downs in their lives. The hard parts are scary and uncomfortable to talk about, but they are part of the fabric of our lives. The tough times make us stronger and make us who we are.
I've chosen to open up about my experience because I want change. It is very hard and uncomfortable to talk about. I have learned that everyone copes differently. There's no map that shows you the path to healing. Some days I feel happy and protected for sharing my story. Other days I have bad anxiety and either feel traumatized from Larry Nassar's abuse or I fear something else will happen in the future. When I have these scary thoughts, I try my best to find things to help me manage my fears. I go for a walk outside. I read a book. I meditate and practice my breathing exercises. I take a hot bath. I draw. I hang out with family and friends. And I remind myself I am in control and that I will be O.K.
I also want people to understand that abuse is never O.K. One person is too many and one time is too often. We must protect the survivors and people who are suffering in silence. We must support those who come forward, whether it is today, tomorrow, in three months, one year from now, 10 years from now. Whenever it is, everyone must show support. Victim shaming must stop. There are those who ask tough questions. Why didn't you speak up? Why are you just speaking now? Are you nervous this will define you? To them I ask that they consider how complicated it is to deal with abuse. Abusers are often master manipulators and make their survivors feel confused and guilty for thinking badly of their abusers. And the abusers also often make everyone around them stand up for them, leaving the survivor afraid that no one will believe them. That needs to stop. Those who look the other way must stop and help protect those being hurt. Abusers must never be protected.
The power needs to shift to the survivors.
Sexual abuse isn't just in the moment. It is forever. Healing is forever.
Soon after Larry pleaded guilty to federal child pornography charges, I was informed that I could submit a Victim Impact Statement to the court for sentencing consideration. If I wanted, I could also request to read the statement in court on the day of sentencing. Deciding to write the letter was a relatively easy decision. Deciding to read it in court, in front of Larry, was not easy. After some internal back and forth, I decided I wanted to go to the sentencing and read the letter. I submitted my statement and waited.
It is up to the judge to decide if victims can read statements. I assumed the judge would allow myself — and the other five survivors who made the same request — to speak. I felt the judge would agree to have Larry listen to these survivors, to hear their stories about the harm he inflicted … not just in the moment but in their everyday lives. I wanted to be present to not only show him I was strong, but also to explain how his abuse still impacts me today.
As the date of the sentencing approached, there was still no word from the judge. Not knowing caused me anxiety. I needed to mentally prepare myself for speaking in front of this monster. I knew the court had my letter, and I knew the judge was taking my statement under consideration when determining Larry's sentence. Around this time, Larry pleaded guilty to a number of criminal sexual assault charges. After Larry entered a plea, he was allowed to speak. This is what he said:
“For all those involved, [I'm] so horribly sorry. This was like a match that turned into a forest fire, out of control. And I pray the rosary everyday for forgiveness. I want them to heal. I want this community to heal. I have no animosity. I just want healing. It's time.”
He abused so many over the span of decades and he's sorry that things got out of control? And he holds no animosity? Does he think he is the victim?
I began to doubt if speaking in front of Larry would offer me any comfort. Seeing him would be scary and extremely traumatizing. One week before his sentencing, I was told the upsetting news that the judge had denied Larry's survivors an opportunity to speak. I was also disappointed that the other survivors wouldn't be given the choice to speak because they may have found it healing in some way.
Today, Larry Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison on child pornography charges.
I am not a victim. I am a survivor. The abuse does not define me, or anyone else who has been abused. This does not define the millions of those who've suffered sexual abuse. They are not victims, either. They are survivors. They are strong, they are brave, they are changing things so the next generation never has to go through what they did. There have been so many people who've come forward in the last few months. They have inspired me, and I hope, together, we inspire countless more. Surviving means that you're strong. You're strong because you came out on the other side, and that makes you brave and courageous.
Now, we need to change the cycle of abuse. We need to change the systems that embolden sexual abusers. We must look at the organizations that protected Nassar for years and years: USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic committee and Michigan State University. Until we understand the flaws in their systems, we can't be sure something like this won't happen again. This problem is bigger than Larry Nassar. Those who looked the other way need to be held accountable too. I fear that there are still people working at these organizations who put money, medals and reputation above the safety of athletes. And we need to change how we support those who've been abused. I want to change the way we talk about sexual abuse and I want to change the way we support survivors of any kind of abuse.
I didn't get to read my letter in court. But I don't want it to go unread. I've shared it with you below. This was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. Every time I share my story, it feels like the first time. I relive years of trauma. But this is part of my truth and part of my healing.
This is survival.
Below is the statement that I was prepared to read at the sentencing hearing.
Realizing that you are a victim of sexual abuse is a horrible feeling. Words cannot adequately capture the level of disgust I feel when I think about how this happened. Larry abused his power and the trust I and so many others placed in him, and I am not sure I will ever come to terms with how horribly he manipulated and violated me.
Larry was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and the U.S. Olympic Team doctor. He was trusted by so many and took advantage of countless athletes, and their families. The effects of his actions are far-reaching, since abuse goes way beyond the moment, often haunting survivors for the rest of their lives, making it difficult for them to trust others, and impacting their relationships. It is all the more devastating when such abuse comes at the hand of such a highly respected doctor, since it leaves victims questioning the organizations — and even the medical profession itself — upon which so many rely.
I am writing this letter to share some of my story, in hopes that it will help others understand the profound impact Larry's abuse has had on me, how his betrayal of trust has changed me and how his actions years ago continue to affect my daily life.
From the age of eight, all I wanted to do was go to the Olympics. I loved gymnastics with all my heart, and worked as hard as I could. Larry, you knew how badly I wanted to be the best I could be, you knew how hard I worked, and that I would do absolutely anything to be on the team. You were my doctor, and like most people, I was taught to trust doctors. I believed that you had my best interests at heart, and you made sure that message was reinforced, insisting your inappropriate touch was for medical reasons and that your care would help me get to the Olympic Games. You promised me that you would heal my injuries. You gave me gifts to make me think you were a good person, to make me believe you were my friend. You were nice so that we would trust you, to make it easier for you to take advantage of so many people, including me. But you lied to me. You lied to all of us.
And because of you, I now have a hard time trusting other people. When I go to the doctor, especially a male doctor, I am scared and uncomfortable. Even if that doctor is recommended as the best, I am skeptical because I was told you were the best, and you certainly weren't. I am afraid that another doctor will mistreat me and abuse his power like you did. In turn, I feel guilty that I harbor these doubts and suspicions.
This mistrust and guilt has had a very real impact on both my physical and mental well-being. For example, when I started to realize what Larry had done to me, I avoided certain treatments that gymnasts rely upon, especially during intense Olympic training. I should have gotten massages three times a week or so, but I was too afraid (even if the therapist was a woman). I lost confidence in my recovery, and this uncertainty began to undermine my training. Even today, I find myself scared that something bad will happen to me when I seek any medical treatment.
The stress of training to make an Olympic team and competing in the games is all-consuming, and success demands laser focus. As my training ramped up, my stress about the competition increased. But added to that was the stress that came with trying to come to terms with the abuse, and constantly wondering how such a thing ever could have happened. This added layer of stress was more than I could handle. It was as though I couldn't begin to let myself believe what had happened to me. It was too much to bear.
I have come to realize that everyone deals with trauma differently. As a gymnast, we train to control our emotions under pressure. We become good at compartmentalizing. I became almost numb to my feelings. It was the only way I could survive the Olympic process. It was exhausting. The stress of constantly keeping certain thoughts in the back of my mind may have allowed me to focus in the moment, but it became more and more painful over time, both physically and emotionally. I knew when I finally allowed myself to feel again, it would be one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
I was right. When I allowed myself to start thinking about what Larry had done, I was overcome by anxiety. I felt like I couldn't breathe, like someone was pushing on my chest and my throat was closing up. I couldn't sleep well because I would have terrible nightmares. I never felt rested. The anxiety got so intense that I needed to see a doctor — a female — who prescribed anxiety medication so that I could function, and sleeping medication to help resolve my extreme exhaustion. After adjusting the dosages of some of the medication, I had a bad reaction and lost consciousness. I woke up to my terrified mom calling 911. I was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital, where the doctors realized the issue was a side effect from one of the medications. My doctor has recommended that I try other medications to help me cope, but the trauma of what happened with those medications put me over the edge. It just added to the list of things I was anxious and stressed about.
After this experience, I decided I needed to allow myself to feel what I had been suppressing for so long. I had spent so much time and energy trying to block out all the pain and trauma, and I realized it was just too much for me to contain. It was the most difficult period in my life. I was exhausted, barely able to do things I loved. I had no energy. I felt sad, anxious and confused. I couldn't understand how someone could be so evil. And, painfully, Larry and his actions made me hate gymnastics for a time. Larry, you made me feel so uncomfortable and sad, and you made me believe the sport had let me down.
I am trying now to take back my control, to remind myself that Larry has no power over me. It is never easy, but I am fighting to believe that the sport — which I do love — is independent of Larry and those who allowed him to do what he did. I've decided that I can't let him take gymnastics away from me.
Despite my best efforts to regain control, I still have my triggers. My work requires frequent travel, and I feel anxious traveling by myself. I find myself constantly looking around, paranoid and afraid to be alone. When I am at a hotel by myself and I order room service, I worry a male will deliver the food. I've had to develop strategies and coping mechanisms. If a male knocks on the door, my heart begins to race. I hold the door open as he drops off the food and keep it open until he leaves. I often wonder if I am hurting their feelings by being so obviously distrusting of them. I always used to give people the benefit of the doubt, but if a decorated doctor who served on the national team for over 30 years turned out to be a monster, then how can I trust anybody? Now, I'll often catch myself being scared that people I meet are like Larry. And I hate that. I hate that Larry took away my trust of others.
One of my best friends is also a victim of Larry — or a survivor, as I prefer to say. I thought we would be friends forever because we had gone through the best and worst moments together. But I think I remind her too much of what Larry did to us, and our friendship has suffered. Abuse isn't something you can just bring up with anyone, and I often wonder if I ever will find anyone like her who gets me so well and knows just what to say to make me feel better.
This situation has also affected my relationship with my parents, with whom I've always been extremely close. Over the last year, so many of my conversations with my parents have been about dealing with the trauma of what happened. I'm so grateful for their love and support, and I know I wouldn't be able to get through this without them, but I don't want to talk about him all the time.
Still, there are so many moving parts to figuring out how to process and understand the abuse. While training I was often away from my family. Now that I finally have a more flexible schedule, I try to make up for lost time with my parents and siblings. I hate that Larry's abuse has affected my relationship with my family, and how we interact. My sisters are in high school; one of them is in her senior year, a very exciting time. A lot of this past year has been about Larry, processing and dealing with his abuse. I try to discuss it with my parents when my sisters aren't around, but sometimes they walk into a room when we are talking about it and I can't help but feel bad that they have to worry about this. It is not fair. Abuse impacts the whole family.
I want more than anything to make sure the next generation never goes through something like this. I don't want anyone to experience the pain, anxiety, fear and other horrible feelings that stem from abuse. Every 98 seconds another person experiences sexual assault, and sexual violence affects hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. That is hundreds of thousands too many. One in four girls and one in six boys will be molested before they turn 18. Too many abusers do horrible things and get away with it. Too many abusers are master manipulators, who somehow make those they abuse feel guilty. And worse, many find a way to convince adults to support and protect them. Larry's abuse started 30 years ago. At least that is the first reported incident. In those 30 years, many survivors came forward about Larry's abuse. Adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected this monster, telling each survivor it was O.K., that Larry was not abusing them. Larry was decorated by USA Gymnastics, by the United States Olympic Committee — he was even named to an advisory board to come up with policies that would protect athletes from this kind of abuse! Knowing this is like being violated all over again. How many hundreds would have been saved if even one adult had listened and acted? It sickens me to know that for years and years, so many put an institution, or an organization, or medals, money and reputation, above the safety and welfare of young, innocent people. We must listen and take proper action. Shame on all those who actively protected Larry and shame on all those who looked the other way. Those who looked the other way are just as guilty. And shame on you, Larry, you are the worst example of humanity.
Maybe by speaking out, by sharing my story and the way my daily life continues to be impacted by Larry's depraved actions, I can help other survivors feel less alone, less isolated, and encourage them to speak up and to get help.
I ask that you give Larry the strongest possible sentence (which his actions deserve), for by doing so, you will send a message to him and to other abusers that they cannot get away with their horrible crimes, that they will be exposed for the evil they are, and they will be punished to the maximum extent of the law. Maybe knowing that Larry is being held accountable for his abuse will help me and the other survivors feel less alone, like we're being heard, and open up pathways for healing.
I hope today you impose the maximum sentence the court allows and I hope people begin to talk about how common and insidious abuse is. Every person we hold accountable for abuse makes a difference.
Audit: DCF failed to report child abuse cases to DA's
The 19 cases involve sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect, according to audit
by Elisha Machado
BOSTON (WWLP)—A recent state audit found that the Department of Children and families failed to report more than a dozen cases of abuse to district attorneys, including multiple cases in western Massachusetts.
State Auditor Suzanne Bump said children are at risk under the care of the Department of Children and Families after a recent audit found the department was unaware of 260 serious injuries to children in their care.
It also found DCF failed to report 19 cases involving of sexual abuse, physical abuse and neglect. Two of the cases occurred in Hampden County and one case in the Northwestern District, including Hampshire and Franklin counties.
“If these cases aren't prosecuted, it is a failing on the part of DCF,” Bump said. “They are failing not just the children, but they are failing the public by keeping dangerous people at large.”
According to an agency spokesperson, DCF made several reforms during the audit. The investigation took place between January 2014 and December 2015, four months after the Baker-Polito administration launched policy overhauls, made new hires and increased funding.
In a statement to 22News, DCF Spokesperson Andrea Grossman said the agency relies on mandated reporters, such as health care providers, physicians and teachers, to report suspected abuse and neglect so they can respond.
DCF is considering suggestions from the state auditor's office, including using MassHealth data to identify child abuse and neglect.
Sandusky's son sentenced to prison for sexual abuse of girls
by the Associated Press
A son of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, serving decades for child molestation, was himself sentenced to prison Friday on child sexual abuse charges.
Jeffrey Sandusky was sentenced to three and a half to seven years in prison after pleading guilty to pressuring a teenage girl to send him naked photos and asking her teen sister to perform a sex act.
Jeffrey Sandusky, 42, pleaded guilty on the eve of his trial in September to 14 counts, charges that included solicitation of statutory sexual assault and solicitation of involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.
The Centre Daily Times reported Jeffrey Sandusky's attorney said there was never any physical contact between his client and the victims.
Authorities said he knew the girls through their mother, and that a year ago their father turned over incriminating text messages sent by Jeffrey Sandusky.
A court affidavit said Jeffrey Sandusky told the girl he pressured for photos last year that "it's not weird because he studied medicine." He directed her "to not show these texts to anyone," police said.
Jeffrey Sandusky is one of the six children adopted by Jerry and Dottie Sandusky and has been a stalwart supporter of his father, often attending court proceedings.
He will be on probation for a year after release.
Jerry Sandusky is serving 30 to 60 years in prison for sexually abusing 10 boys.
He maintains his innocence but recently lost an attempt to have charges thrown out or a new trial under the state's Post Conviction Relief Act.
The Corrections Department said Friday that Jeffrey Sandusky was fired as a Rockview State Prison guard late last month. He had been with the agency since August 2015.
Woody Allen's 'exemption' from Hollywood sexual assault crisis criticised by adopted daughter Dylan Farrow
Farrow alleges her adoptive father sexually abused her
by Marwa Eltagouri
The New York Times exposé in October alleging film producer Harvey Weinstein used his position to sexually harass and abuse aspiring young women sparked what Farrow calls a "revolution:" In the months since, dozens of prominent men in Hollywood, the media and the political sphere have resigned or been fired.
After Weinstein's demise came that of Mark Halperin. Then came Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer. On Tuesday, Time magazine named "The Silence Breakers" as its 2017 Person of the Year, recognising the women - and some men - who came forward with stories of sexual abuse. The magazine called them "the voices that launched a movement."
On Thursday, Senator Al Franken announced he would resign amid several accusations that he touched women inappropriately. And Representative Trent Franks announced the same day he would step down after acknowledging in a statement that he discussed surrogacy with two female subordinates.
So what about Woody Allen?
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, Farrow wondered why the filmmaker appears to be sheltered from the storm of accusations hitting others. Reports alleging Allen molested Farrow when she was a child made headlines in 1992 as part of the celebrity coverage of Allen's split from his girlfriend, Mia Farrow. While Dylan Farrow herself first wrote about the alleged abuse in an open letter published in the New York Times in 2014, she wrote in the L.A. Times op-ed that she "told the truth to the authorities then, and I have been telling it, unaltered, for more than 20 years."
Farrow alleges that when she was seven years old, Allen led her away from babysitters who had been told not to leave her alone with him and into an attic, where he sexually assaulted her. She accused him of putting his thumb in her mouth and climbing into bed with her in his underwear, and said the behaviour was witnessed by friends and family members. Farrow said three eyewitnesses supported her claims, including a babysitter who saw Allen's head buried in her lap after he had removed her underwear.
Farrow said Allen refused to take a polygraph. Although a Connecticut state's attorney in 1993 said he had "probable cause" to prosecute Allen, he ultimately did not file charges, choosing to spare the young girl of "the trauma of a court appearance," according to the New York Times.
"Why is it that Harvey Weinstein and other accused celebrities have been cast out by Hollywood, while Allen recently secured a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with Amazon, greenlit by former Amazon Studios executive Roy Price before he was suspended over sexual misconduct allegations?" Farrow wrote.
"It is a testament to Allen's public relations team and his lawyers that few know these simple facts," she wrote. "It also speaks to the forces that have historically protected men like Allen: the money and power deployed to make the simple complicated, to massage the story."
Allen has long denied the allegations and declined to comment on the op-ed before its publication.
When the accusations first made headlines in the early 1990s, some predicted Allen's career would collapse. In 2014, after Farrow wrote an open letter about the alleged abuse, several stars were quiet or neutral on the subject.
Allen's latest movie, a 1950's set drama titled Wonder Wheel was released on the first of December. It stars Kate Winslet, who told Variety in the days after the Weinstein allegations broke that the fact that women began speaking out about his sexual abuse was "incredibly brave."
But when asked by the New York Times about the accusations against Allen, and whether she considered them before accepting the "Wonder Wheel" role, Winslet said she "didn't know Woody and I don't know anything about that family."
"As the actor in the film, you just have to step away and say, I don't know anything, really, and whether any of it is true or false," she said. "Having thought it all through, you put it to one side and just work with the person."
Her response fell in line with what many actors who enjoy working with Allen but who wish to separate themselves from the allegations have said.
Farrow wrote that she feels disappointed when women and men she admire work with Allen and then deflect questions about the accusations.
"It is also our collective choice to see simple situations as complicated and obvious conclusions as a matter of 'Who can say'?" she wrote.
"The system worked for Harvey Weinstein for decades. It works for Woody Allen still."
#DontLookAway: The difference between paedophiles and sex offenders
by Tebogo Monama
Johannesburg - Every now and then police report busting international paedophile rings. The details are gory, adults - usually men - sharing pictures and videos of young children being abused.
In one of the cases early this year, one of the worst paedophiles was sentenced to 32 life sentences and a further 170 years for, among other things, sexually abusing his girlfriend's two-year-old daughter. Other than raping her, he used a toy dinosaur, thermometer and a sex toy to penetrate the child.
The man, who claimed in court that he needed help, was busted by US authorities who tracked him down after he shared pictures and videos of child pornography on the internet.
Recently, Simon Mofokeng resigned as Emfuleni mayor after he shared semi-naked pictures of a 14-year-old girl on a WhatsApp group.
Mofokeng is accused of grooming the child. After the news broke, a 28-year-old woman came forward, claiming that Mofokeng also groomed her. According to a report by the Saturday Star, the woman now has an 11-year-old child with Mofokeng.
Despite numerous reports on paedophiles and sexual grooming of children, clinical sexologist Dr Marlene “Dr Eve” Wasserman says there's still confusion on what the difference between a paedophile and a child sex offender is.
Wasserman said: “One needs to make a clinical assessment to be able to tell the difference between a paedophile and someone who is sexually violent. Child abusers or violators are much more prolific than paedophiles.”
Wasserman said the majority of child abusers who went through the justice system were not paedophiles.
She said paedophilia was a sexual orientation and those with paedophilic disorders have a mental disorder in which they can't control their urges to have sexual relations with minors. The disorder usually manifests during adolescence and the children they are attracted to have to be at least five years younger.
“Paedophiles are a specific group of people who have a sexual attraction to children that is only about sexual orientation in terms of their love and lust,” Wasserman said.
“Paedophilic disorder occurs in people who recognise they have an attraction to children and can't control acting out on it. It is not about them being violent.”
She said child molesters were those who opportunistically preyed on children and they were unlikely to be paedophiles.
Wasserman said the stigma around paedophilia is what stops those who have the disorder from coming forward so they can be taught ways to manage their condition.
“People are scared of coming forward because they never receive good treatment. We want people to come forward. If you know from a young age that you are attracted to children, you must come forward. We want to make the world a safer place without the stigma,” she said.
Wasserman stressed: “Coming forward is about managing their behaviour before they act out. Sometimes it can be rehabilitation and (we) teach them skills to live in a world where they cannot sexually act out.”
She said arresting paedophiles didn't assist in removing the stigma from the condition and it did not help them to live normal lives. Therapy, Wasserman said, helped such people to go through life without acting out sexually.
She admitted there were a lot of misconceptions about how to help paedophiles. In other parts of the world, paedophiles were encouraged to have child sex dolls in an effort to stop them from acting out on children. In some parts of the US, child sex offenders and paedophiles were sometimes moved to communities where they lived alone without any children around. Wasserman strongly disagrees with both methods. “The doll method is nonsense. There is no evidence that a doll is going to ‘help'.
“Making them live alone is also terrible. It's just terrible. It's stigmatising them,” Wasserman said.
She said other misconceptions were that paedophiles were abused as children.
“Paedophiles are not abused but sexual abusers have been abused. Jails all over the world are filled with men who are there because of childhood trauma either sexual or emotional abuse, neglected or bullied. It's a terrible circle,” Wasserman said, stressing that paedophiles were born that way.
Wasserman's advice to people who think they might be paedophiles is: “Go to therapy, get support. Don't let the stigma get to you. You need professional management. It will help you not act out and distract you from being criminalised.”
Labrador retriever supports children suspected of suffering from abuse, neglect
by the Canadian Press
HALIFAX -- He loves yoga, squeaky toys and long romps in the woods.
But the newest employee at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax has a special place in his heart for kids.
Dorado, a three-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, provides comfort and support to children suspected of suffering from neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Kathy Bourgeois, Dorado's primary handler and a social worker at the hospital's SeaStar Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, says the dog has a calming effect on children, youth and families and reduces anxiety and trauma.
Dorado, which means golden in Spanish, is the first accredited facility dog in Atlantic Canada and one of 29 dogs across the country supporting trauma victims.
Bourgeois says he's a hybrid between a therapy dog, providing affection and comfort, and a service dog with access to institutions and public facilities such as transit, hospitals and court rooms.
She says Dorado rides the bus with her in the morning and works regular hours. But at the end of the day, when she takes his service vest off, Bourgeois says "he's just a dog."
"In our yard or at an off-leash park you can see he's very fast and he loves to jump and play and run through the forest," she says, adding that he stretches with her when she does yoga.
But Dorado must follow a strict diet that only allows him to eat kibble, his secondary handler, Angela Arra-Robar, says.
"He doesn't get cheese, dog treats or milk bones," says the clinical nurse specialist. "He's got a very specific diet that we have to follow and we have to keep his weight in a certain range."
While children quickly understand his dietary restrictions, Arra-Robar says adults sometimes need reminders that he's not allowed any treats.
Starved, beaten and forgotten: Child deaths in Missouri and Illinois expose how predators exploit home school system
by Christine Byers
In January 2016, someone from the Jerseyville public school district called child protective services concerned that Michael and Georgena Roberts didn't have enough food in their home.
Investigators concluded the couple's then 5-year-old son Liam had a medical condition that caused weight loss.
Soon after, the Robertses opted to home-school him and two of his siblings.
Early last month, Michael Roberts brought the body of 6-year-old Liam to a hospital. The boy weighed 17 pounds. His 7-year-old brother was hospitalized for severe malnutrition.
His father and stepmother are now charged with murder and child abuse. Liam's siblings are living with relatives.
It was at least the third case this year involving the long-term abuse and death of a child who had been home-schooled in Illinois or Missouri.
When such shocking cases come to light, people wonder how no one saw the warning signs.
But states such as Missouri and Illinois have made it easy for families to hide in the unregulated world of home schooling.
Parents in Missouri, Illinois and nine other states are not required even to notify their local school district if they are home-schooling their children.
In June, the decomposed remains of Alysha Quate, 6, were found inside a plastic storage bin hidden in an abandoned garage in Centreville. Police found Alysha's 12- and 13-year-old sisters malnourished, pale and abused at a Las Vegas apartment. Their father claimed to be home-schooling them.
In August, cadaver dogs discovered the remains of 16-year-old Savannah Leckie in a burn pile at her mother's farm in Ozark County. Her mother has been charged with her murder. Police say she killed Savannah in mid-July and used a meat grinder and lye from her soap-making business to dispose of her remains. Rebecca Ruud told authorities she had home-schooled her daughter.
The Coalition for Responsible Home Education, a nonprofit founded by home-schooled alumni, says basic requirements, such as reviewing any child protective service inquiries before families can educate their children behind closed doors, could make a difference.
“The ideal is to find a way to prevent abusive parents from home-schooling while only requiring nonabusive parents to do things that responsible home-schooling parents will already be doing, like educating their kids, keeping records of that and taking their kids to the doctor,” said Rachel Coleman, executive director of the coalition and a home-school alumna.
Other home-school supporters believe in-home education should stay as is. The Home Schooling Legal Defense Association fights efforts to regulate home schooling — which typically follow sensational cases like Liam's, Alysha's and Savannah's.
“The freedom of parents to raise their children as they see fit is one of most important fundamental rights we have in this country, and that right has been under attack in the past couple decades,” said senior counsel Michael Woodruff. “One aspect of a parent's rights is the right to decide how their child should be educated.
“We believe that every parent should educate their child in good faith, and we believe there should be consequences if they don't. It's like any other freedom, if they abuse that freedom, there are consequences and laws like that are already in force in all 50 states.”
Out of sight
Many states don't keep records, but estimates from the National Center of Education Statistics, show that about 1.7 million children, or 3.3 percent of all school-aged children, were being home-schooled in the 2015-2016 school year.
It's voluntary, but many Illinois families fill out home-school registration forms to stop public schools from counting their kids as chronically absent and avoid visits from truancy officers, said Michelle Mueller, a former principal who is now regional superintendent of the Regional Office of Education District 40, serving Calhoun, Green, Jersey and Macoupin counties.
“As a principal,” Mueller recalled, “it scared me to death when a family would elect to home-school, because in a district (school), there is follow-up … and when you turn them loose to home schooling, your hands are tied.”
The Robertses registered as home-schooling parents with Mueller's office after social workers investigated the lack of food in their home.
In a jailhouse interview, Jason Quate told the Post-Dispatch he filed paperwork to home-school his daughters in Belleville after someone at their school told the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services that he had open-mouthed kissed one of the girls while dropping her off.
Illinois law classifies home schools as private schools. There are no requirements for bookkeeping, testing, instruction time or parent qualification.
In Missouri, home-schooling parents are to provide 1,000 hours of instruction every school year. Students' academic records may only be inspected as part of a legal investigation.
Some states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, require academic assessments. Those laws help ensure children are seen outside the home, but they're not impervious, Coleman said.
The argument for home-school regulations may have gained an ally in Jersey County Prosecutor Benjamin Goetten, who charged Liam's parents with his murder.
“Do I think if these children were in school they would have gotten to this level? No, I don't,” he said. “It's come as a shock to learn that there are no rules when it comes to home schooling.
“The loss of one child's life is worth the minimal regulations that the Legislature could put in place to monitor home schooling,” Goetten said.
Regional superintendents such as Mueller can send a truancy officer to a home school if someone complains that the children aren't being educated. But their ability to investigate is limited, Mueller said.
A network of Illinois home-schooling support groups called Illinois H.O.U.S.E., or Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience offers parents guidelines on “What do I do if a truancy officer comes to my door.”
“Make your children unavailable to them,” is among the group's tips.
Cody Maguire, a truancy officer for five years in Mueller's region, says it's rare for a home-school family to shut him out.
“The people who are truly home schooling are not afraid when truancy officers show up at their door. It's the parents who pull their kids out of school and are not actively educating them in the home,” he said. “As soon as they say the words, ‘We're home-schooling,' our whole philosophy and reasoning shifts ... within the realm of what I can do with my job, I'm very limited.”
Sometimes relatives of home-schooled children call, concerned that their young loved ones aren't being educated, Maguire said.
In cases of extreme abuse and neglect, extended family members often say they are cut off from home-schooled children. Relatives of the Quates said they hadn't seen the children for years.
Neil Skene, special assistant to the Director of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, said in a statement: “Any circumstance that keeps children out of public view makes it all the more important that people call the child-abuse hotline if they see something that gives them a reasonable basis for suspecting abuse or neglect.”
In Illinois, dodging a truancy officer can help build a truancy case against a home-school family, which could lead to a misdemeanor charge. But regional superintendents such as Mueller must prove it.
“Can you prove three days were missed at the kitchen table doing homework?” Mueller said.
“Taking away home schooling is not an option,” she continued. “There are plenty of legitimate reasons why parents choose to educate their children at home, and most legitimately do, but how do we remedy this problem and afford these choices and still avoid situations like this?”
Wagner's bill on online sex trafficking gets key test in House next week
by Chuck Raasch
WASHINGTON -- Rep. Ann Wagner's attempts to go after internet sites that advertise illegal sex, including child sex trafficking, will get a test in Congress Tuesday when the House Judiciary Committee considers her ‘‘Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017.”
The legislation is similar in intent to a bill in the Senate supported by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Roy Blunt, R-Mo., and roughly 50 other senators, and supported by the Internet Association.
But Wagner's bill also includes a provision aimed at giving state and local prosecutors more power to go after internet sites that act in “reckless disregard” of state and federal laws prohibiting sex trafficking, including that of children.
Wagner, R-Ballwin, expects her bill, if it passes out of the House Judiciary Committee, could hit the House floor for a full vote either the week before Christmas or sometime early next year.
At the center of the debate is Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which defines internet sites as third-party hosts of others' content, and therefore not generally responsible for that content.
Wagner and McCaskill have led efforts to change that law, arguing that it was written at the dawn of the internet age before sex traffickers moved to the internet. They have aimed much of their criticism at Backpage, an online site that was the target of a critical report by McCaskill and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, earlier this year.
But courts have largely ruled in favor of Backpage, saying the Communications Decency Act gives it and other internet sites broad protections.
Backpage lawyer Liz McDougall said the company would have no comment on either bill. But she has previously argued that by targeting Backpage, politicians and law enforcement officials risk pushing online sex activity into harder-to-find places on the internet.
The Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and a phalanx of other Big Tech companies, reversed course earlier this fall and said it would support the Senate legislation. That association did not immediately respond to questions about its position on Wagner's bill.
But the congresswoman's office said a number of groups support her effort, including the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, Concerned Women for America, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, and the internet startup group, Engine.
Wagner, in a statement, said: “If we are serious about helping victims, we must be serious about creating laws that allow for robust state and local criminal enforcement.” She said her bill has received “positive feedback from the Department of Justice, local District Attorneys, and victim advocates."