Utah victims say N.Y. kid abuse laws too weak, join fight to enact Child Victims Act
by Kenneth Lovett
ALBANY — When the siblings making up the well-known classical piano ensemble The 5 Browns were looking into bringing sexual abuse charges against their father, they briefly considered New York before learning the state's weak laws wouldn't work.
The abuse — only some of which occurred in the state — took place just long enough before so that New York's notoriously weak statute of limitations on child sex abuse expired.
So instead, they chose their home state in Utah, where their father and former manager, Keith Brown, ultimately pleaded guilty in 2011 to sexually abusing three of his daughters between 1990 and 1998. He was ultimately sentenced to 10 years to life behind bars.
The experience is the reason why two of the siblings — Desirae and Deondra Brown — on Tuesday will be joining the fight in New York to pass the Child Victims Act that would make it easier for kid sex abuse victims to seek justice as adults.
The two women will take part with other survivors and advocates in a lobby day at the state Capitol Tuesday that will include a press conference.
"Once I realized how unfortunate the laws are here and how little recourse the children survivors have here, it just made sense for us to join the fight," Desirae Brown, who currently lives in Manhattan and has two young children, said during a recent conference call with Deondra Brown and the Daily News.
"The biggest message is our personal story," she said. "If everything that happened to us happened in New York, we would not have our father in prison right now."
Like many victims of sexual abuse, the Brown siblings didn't come forward for years. For a long time, each one didn't even know that they had two other siblings going through the same horror with their father.
It took them 10 years before they sought any charges. Some of the abuse took place when the five Brown siblings — there are two brothers — were all enrolled in The Julliard School in New York City from 2001 to 2006.
"We had looked into filing some charges in New York State early on," Deondra Brown said. "There was a possibility we could potentially have a case there with one of our sisters."
But ultimately, after having discussions with New York law enforcement and prosecutors, they learned "we would have a much better option filing charges and having our father being held accountable in the state of Utah," Deondra Brown, now 37 and still living in Utah, said.
"That was a real eye opener for us," she said. "We learned how different the statute of limitation laws were in different states. As we started researching, we realized that New York was one of the worst states in the country for us."
Desirae Brown, now 39 and living in Washington Heights, added that the statute of limitations in New York "had literally expired three months before we started investigating."
Under state law, child sex abuse victims have until their 23rd birthday to bring charges against their attacker. If the abuse took place in a public institution, like a school, it's even harder to seek justice in civil court since a victim would have to file a notice of claim to sue the entity within 90 days of the attack.
Advocates say it can be decades before a victim comes to grips with what happened in their youth and is prepared to move forward.
In New York, sexual abuse survivors have been pushing for passage of a Child Victims Act for a dozen years. The Democrat-controlled Assembly has passed a version several times during that time, including in 2017.
But each time, the bill, which has been opposed by a number of groups, including religious organizations like the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Jewish community, died in the Republican-dominated Senate.
A key roadblock is a provision that would create a one-year window for sexual abuse victims, like the Browns, who can no longer bring civil cases under current law to be able to do so.
Advocates are more hopeful a bill can pass this year after Gov. Cuomo included the Child Victims Act in his proposed 2018-19 budget.
His proposal would allow survivors to bring civil cases up to 50 years from the attack and would eliminate the statute of limitations for any felony sexually related offense committed against someone under the age of 18.
It would also include the one-year window to revive old cases and would treat public and private institutions the same when it comes to child sex abuse.
Desirae Brown called the measure's inclusion in the governor's proposed budget "very promising."
"We hope by telling our story we can help institute change," she said.
Deondra Brown said arguments that opening a one-year window to revive old cases would cause a flood of legal cases has not been borne out in other states.
"It's a good thing," she said. "It will allow these victims to see if they have a potential for cases. If they don't, the courts will throw it out. But the opportunity for victims to name their abuser, this is something that needs to happen. Victims need to be able to come forward and do something so the perpetrators won't continue to get away with it in our communities."
Months after their father's sentencing in 2011, Desirae Brown and Deondra Brown, who has a 7-year-old daughter, created The Foundation for Survivors of Abuse, a nonprofit group that advocate for victims' rights.
Deondra Brown said the group was part of the fight in 2015 that led Utah to eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims to bring lawsuits as adults. A year later, a law was passed creating a three-year window to revive old cases that had been time-barred under the old law.
"We realize what a big help it's been with our healing process to be able to be heard and be able go forward with charges and feel we can have other options available to us," Deondra Brown said. "Whether victims choose to move forward or not, it's so damaging to be told they can't have a voice and the doors have closed on their opportunity to be heard. We are a success story but we hope no matter where you live across the country, you'd be able to have those possibilities afforded to you."
State Senate Republicans, thus far, have not been receptive to Cuomo's plan.
State Senate Democrats on Tuesday are scheduled to hold a press conference with child abuse survivors and advocates calling on the Republicans to keep the Child Victims Act in the final budget that is due by April 1.
"The Senate Republicans have blocked this important bill for too long," said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. "Now is the moment to get this done and we cannot miss this crucial opportunity to provide justice to so many brave survivors. To remove this bill from the budget or water it down would be a disservice to New York."
Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif had no comment.
But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in December told The News "we're more than willing to sit down to have real adult discussions that inure to the benefit of everyone."
He added that "the specter of a good compromise is everyone walks away a little bit unhappy. Will we have discussions about it? Absolutely. Have we had them? Yes. Will they continue in earnest? I completely believe that 100%."
The Brown sisters, who are still performing with their siblings as The 5 Browns, join a growing chorus of other national figures who have joined the fight to enact the Child Victims Act in recent months. Others include actor Corey Feldman, who says he was abused as a child actor, Sunny Hostin, a co-host of "The View" who's also a former federal prosecutor, and television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz.
The Browns hope their stories and the changes made in states like Utah will convince the Senate Republicans to act this year.
"We realize it can be done even in such a conservative state as Utah, where we have people who are wanting to make sure that victims are protected," Deondra Brown said.
Proponents see tactical advantage for Child Victims Act
Cuomo's inclusion of CVA in budget puts it on path for a vote
by Brendan J. Lyons
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo's inclusion of the Child Victims Act in his executive budget this year has put the controversial legislation on course for its first potential vote by the state Legislature.
The proposed law would create a one-year period for alleged victims of sexual assault to file a lawsuit against their abusers or any organization that may have enabled the abuse.
The measure would also extend the five-year statute of limitations for prosecution of felony sexual abuse crimes that currently begins when the victim turns 18. The statute of limitations for civil cases would be extended to age 50.
For years, Republicans in the state Senate have blocked legislation similar to Cuomo's from being voted on, including at the committee level. The Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed its own version of the bill.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, who has sponsored the Senate chamber's version of the bill for years, said Cuomo's decision to include the legislation in his budget has changed the negotiating position for the bill's other supporters. Unless the legislation is detached from the budget as part of the secretive negotiations that will unfold over the next month, the Legislature would be poised to vote on the Child Victims Act as part of the overall spending plan.
Hoylman said that by having the legislation in the budget, the opposition may be diminished this year.
"It frankly gives a lot of of cover to potential opponents who may not want to vote for the Child Victims Act as a stand-alone bill," Hoylman said. "From a tactical standpoint it's a victory. The problem remains, in terms of negotiations, we don't always know what happens in those rooms behind closed doors. ... In a sense, it would be the first time that the Senate has ever voted on the Child Victims Act."
Many religious and educational organizations that had long been criticized for covering up child sexual abuse cases decades ago have waged fierce opposition to the legislation, in part claiming that frivolous lawsuits could bankrupt them or overrun the court systems. The years that have elapsed since the alleged abuse took place could also make it difficult for those who are falsely accused to defend themselves, they said.
Still, proponents of the law said those concerns have largely been unfounded in states that have passed similar measures to extend statutes of limitations or other laws that have enabled victims of past abuse to seek legal recourse.
"We share many of the same goals as the CVA advocates and would love to see legislation passed that extends criminal and civil statutes prospectively," said Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the state Catholic Conference. "We continue to oppose an unlimited look-back for decades-old claims. We think the Senate is right to focus on forward-looking solutions. Gov. Cuomo does deserve credit for his recent amendment that makes clear that public institutions would not be shielded from old claims should a window pass. There is no justification for treating survivors differently based on where the abuse occurred."
Senate Democrats have scheduled a news conference Tuesday afternoon to demand passage of the Child Victims Act.
Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, has carried a version of the legislation that differs slightly by proposing the creation of a commission that would make recommendations on civil claims for which the statute of limitations has expired during the one-year window for such claims.
Senate Republicans have defended their position against the Child Victims Act, saying they have "authored and approved common sense measures to protect children from sexual predators."
Pass the Child Victims Act
The trauma of childhood sexual abuse can fester and grow well into adulthood.
Yet perpetrators of this heinous crime can escape punishment in New York state if the statute of limitations for child sex abuse crimes runs out before a victim reports it.
This shameful scenario happens far too often because the majority of people who were sexually abused as children suffer in silence and never report it . For those who do speak up, it can be years or even decades before they find the strength to do so.
The Child Victims Act attempts to give those who endured childhood sexual abuse a greater chance to seek justice. If approved, the legislation would raise the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes to age 28 in criminal cases and age 50 in civil cases. The act would also create a one-year window for survivors previously restricted from coming forward because of their age to sue their accusers.
Albany lawmakers should pass this measure. The toll that childhood sexual abuse takes on people across our state demands it. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse have higher rates of problems with substance abuse, depression, suicide attempts and eating disorders.
By passing the Child Victims Act, New York would join seven other states who have already passed similar legislation. Sadly, versions of this bill have made the rounds in Albany for decades but none have ever made it through both the Assembly and the Senate. This must change.
Opponents of the current legislation have expressed particular concern that the one-year window for people previously restricted from coming forward would create an overwhelming deluge of cases.
"This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed," the state's Catholic Conference said in budget testimony last month.
Our legal system places the burden of proof on the accuser, not the defendant. As such, any argument against this worthy legislation that is based on hardship for the defense falls flat. Such arguments also raise the suspicion that opponents are more worried about their pockets than allowing victims of childhood sexual abuse the opportunity to seek some modicum of justice.
When it comes to childhood sexual abuse, we should not be concerned about the inconvenience and potential hit in the bank account that institutions might face. Instead, we should take measures to help survivors of childhood sexual abuse find solace.
Larry Nassar victims help unveil sweeping child abuse legislation
by David Eggert
LANSING, Mich. — Victims of imprisoned former sports doctor Larry Nassar helped unveil what they described Monday as a sweeping rewrite of Michigan laws related to childhood sexual abuse, saying the changes would ease the ability to stop abuse and bring justice to survivors.
Included in the bipartisan 10-bill package is a proposal to drastically lengthen the time limit for victims of sexual assault to sue. Survivors who were minors at the time of abuse and for whom the two- or three-year statute of limitations has expired generally must file a civil lawsuit by their 19th birthday. Under the legislation, minor victims could sue up until their 48th birthday while those assaulted in adulthood would have 30 years to file a claim.
The measures were unveiled the same day the U.S. Education Department announced a new investigation of Michigan State University, where Nassar was employed for decades and which has been accused of mishandling complaints that enabled him to continue molesting patients under the guise of treatment. He also worked at USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians and is the sport's governing body.
“We find ourselves at the top of a list we don't want to be on, as we rank among the states leading the nation in providing protective environments for predators to thrive and the worst environment for survivors to find justice,” said Sterling Riethman, 25, a former collegiate diver and Nassar patient who was among more than 250 women and girls who spoke at his recent sentencing hearings.
She was joined Monday at the state Capitol by legislators along with “sister survivors,” including 2012 Olympic gymnast and gold medalist Jordyn Wieber; Rachael Denhollander, who alerted The Indianapolis Star to Nassar in 2016; Larissa Boyce, who reported Nassar to Michigan State's gymnastics coach in 1997; and Amanda Thomashow, whose 2014 complaint against Nassar resulted in the school clearing him.
“Do everything you can to support and protect these victims and others just like them. Make the necessary decision to ensure that this never happens again,” said Thomashow, 28, who added that Nassar's survivors — who have sued the university, USA Gymnastics and others — “all deserve the same justice without a timeline for our grief or a deadline for our recovery.”
Other bills would:
— add college employees and youth sports coaches, trainers and volunteers to the state's list of people who must report suspected abuse or neglect to child protective services; and stiffen criminal penalties for those mandatory reporters who fail to act.
— eliminate or lengthen the statute of limitations for prosecutors to file charges in cases of second- and third-degree sexual misconduct.
— remove the governmental immunity defense for people and institutions that allow sexual assaults to occur.
— impose no time limit on victims who sue the state for sexual misconduct that occurred when they were under 18, create harsher penalties for child porn possession and let prosecutors introduce evidence of prior sexual assaults in cases where the victim is an adult.
Michigan State and Twistars, an elite Lansing-area youth gymnastics club where Nassar treated athletes, have argued in court filings that most of Nassar's accusers waited too long to sue. The university also has asserted immunity from claims made under state law, though interim President John Engler said recently he hopes mediation will result in “a just resolution” for the survivors.
The legislation is expected to win quick approval Tuesday from a Senate committee. The full Senate could vote as early as next week before the bills go to the House. Denhollandar called on lawmakers to pass the measures before their summer break.
A lawmaker who helped spearhead the bills, Republican Sen. Margaret O'Brien of Portage, said she is “very confident” they will be enacted, crediting Riethman and Denhollander particularly for pushing the policy changes.
Also Monday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced a new Title IX probe of Michigan State, saying investigators will look at “systemic issues” with how the school handled reports of sexual violence against Nassar.
“Every student across every campus should know that I am committed to ensuring all students have access to a learning environment free from sexual misconduct and discrimination and that all institutions that fall short will be held accountable for violations of federal law,” DeVos said in a statement.
The Education Department already had open inquiries into the school's compliance with Title IX, the law that requires schools to prevent and respond to reports of sexual violence, and its compliance with requirements about providing campus crime and security information.
The Michigan attorney general's office, Congress and the NCAA also are investigating.
“MSU will cooperate fully with this and all investigations,” said university spokeswoman Heather Swain.
It's Time For The #MeToo Movement To Start Talking About Children
by Sara Kabakov
When the #MeToo movement began, I watched, stunned. While in despair to learn of so many high profile predators using their power to intimidate and abuse women, I was also exhilarated; finally the world was opening its blind eye. Maybe my daughters will be able call out men who try to sexually intimidate them, and be believed.
But there was also a place inside me that could not feel anything, an empty place with no words, and no sound. A place I inhabited when I was a child , alone, trapped with a terrible secret, with no solution I could see, for getting out.
When I was 13 and 14 years old, a student rabbi in my community repeatedly molested me. He told me that if I told, no one would believe me and I would be blamed. And he was right. When I did tell, I was blamed. The well-meaning adults in my world were not attuned to the signs of sexual abuse, and did not know how to respond.
Tragically, the number of children who are at this moment, living through the imprisonment of child sexual abuse I did, is staggering. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, every eight minutes, Child Protective Services substantiates or finds evidence for a claim of child sexual abuse.
That is one hundred and eighty times a day.
Worse still, many cases of sex abuse are unreported, meaning this astronomical number is just a drop in the bucket; the scope of this problem is astounding. Meanwhile, groundbreaking studies of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) show the lifelong deleterious health effects on children who have endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
MeToo has taught us the importance of listening to adult survivors. Now we must apply the same principle to children when they disclose abuse.
Survivors of Larry Nassar's abuses, as far back at 1997, and as young as six years old, were speaking out to their coaches and parents. These girls' reports were often viewed with skepticism. Some were even forced to recant their claims. Nassar was able to convince entire communities that his “treatments” were legitimate medical procedures. Meanwhile, he continued to abuse, as many adults encouraged these brave youth to “keep quiet”.
Children are most vulnerable to collusion by onlookers who should be interrupting abuse, the kind of collusion that led to the Harvey Weinsteins of the adult world. For children, these colluders are often well-meaning adults who are blind-sided by the charisma of predators who “groom” children, and indeed entire families, organizations, and communities.
In our Jewish communities, this results in adults who fiercely stand behind rabbis, teachers and spiritual leaders who have groomed them, sacrificing children's safety.
In just the most recent example, it was not until the day an investigative report detailing allegations of sexual and physical abuse was published that a Baltimore Modern Orthodox day school terminated the alleged abuser, a teacher on their staff.
When I read that report, that soundless place inside me began to erupt with indignation. Perhaps it is easier to cast doubt on three children's stories than to fire a rabbi. After all, it's painful to believe that the man you have had coffee with in the teacher's lounge, who told you beautiful lessons of Torah or prayed alongside you in synagogue has also sexually abused a child. This cognitive dissonance is what puts Jewish institutions at risk for harboring child sex abusers well beyond a time when suspicions should be heeded.
I received a similar response in 2004 when, as an adult survivor, I spoke out about the sexual abuse I endured starting at age 13. Back then, survivors speaking out about sexual abuse were often doubted, and their abusers' denials believed. A chorus of world renowned and beloved Jewish leaders from across the religious spectrum rallied around my abuser, defending him and claiming, even with mine and other's testimonies in hand, that he had done nothing wrong. (Editor's note: He responded in an opinion piece in the Forward to her allegations.)
The #MeToo movement has encouraged us to look at allegations of sexual assault through a very different lens. I would like to think that thanks to #MeToo, leaders will no longer protect alleged abusers at the expense of survivors.
However, for New York's adult survivors disclosing about abuse they experienced as children, justice is still in the balance. New York's statute of limitations for the reporting of child sex abuse (before the survivor turns 23), among the worst in the country, protects predators and endangers children. It is time for our lawmakers to finally pass the Child Victims Act, like so many other states that have extended or eliminated the statue of limitation for the reporting of these crimes.
Additionally, adults within our communities must take action to ensure safe environments for children. All Jewish organizations, youth groups, camps and schools must have guidelines in place for the prevention and management of sexual abuse cases. On their website, Kol v'Oz offers sample guidelines for camps, male mikvahs (ritual baths) and synagogues during the High Holidays. These protocols are designed to keep children safe from sexual abuse in these locations, so that they can happily enjoy Jewish rituals and programming without harm.
If child sexual abuse is suspected, allegations should not be dealt with internally, but handed to professional investigators who have been trained to assess these reports. There also must be accessible support services for the families that do report, to help them manage possible backlash from their communities. The informative study of Institutional Abuse in the Jewish Community by Shira Berkovitz Esq., Ph.D., sheds light on trends of communal response to sex abuse or misconduct in Jewish communities. Her initiative, Safer Synagogues focused on community education, advocacy and prevention of abuse, offers an exciting step in a positive direction on all of these accounts.
This is just a beginning. Jewish institutions should be running workshops for parents, educators and community members, as well as for children, on the mechanisms and prevention of child sexual abuse. The more visible community guidelines and programming become, the more child predators will understand that those behaviors are not welcomed in our communities, and people who want to harm children will be much less able to get away with doing so.
Perhaps if such programming had been in place when I was a child, the abuse I suffered would never have happened. #MeToo has given a voice to thousands of survivors who were previously silent. Now let's do the same for children, and those who could protect them.
Sara Kabakov is an RN, a preschool director, an activist for the Child Victims Act, and a trainer for the Enough Abuse Campaign. She lives with her family in Ithaca, NY. Follow her on Twitter @SaraKabakov.
How strong neighborhood ties can help prevent child abuse
by Allie Nicodemo
A California couple charged with torturing their 13 children and holding them captive for years appeared in court again on Friday. The case has drawn international attention, with many wondering how such dark behavior was kept secret for so long.
The terrified and malnourished Turpin siblings were only discovered after one of them escaped last month and called the police. Neighbors have expressed disbelief that so many children were living in such unthinkable conditions, right next door to their homes.
“There are anecdotal reports now from neighbors asking, ‘How did we miss this? How did we not see what was going on? Why didn't we pick up on this?'” said Beth Molnar, associate professor in the Department of Health Sciences at Northeastern.
As a social and psychiatric epidemiologist, Molnar has been studying youth violence and child abuse for more than two decades. She said one factor known to protect against child abuse is the amount of intergenerational closure within a neighborhood. This concept refers to things like how well adults know the children in their neighborhood, or how well they know the parents of their children's friends.
“Perhaps if that neighborhood had more of this intergenerational closure—more of the social network among families—perhaps they might have seen signs earlier than when this young woman escaped,” Molnar said.
Most of the 13 children were homeschooled, making it even less likely that someone outside the family would learn about the abuse.
“The system that we rely on to discover most of this is our system of what we call mandated reporters. Teachers, physicians, social workers, anybody that works with children in a social services agency or a children's center are mandated reporters,” Molnar said. “It seems like this family was able to keep their children away from all of those categories.”
Molnar's work on neighborhood-level factors that could reduce child abuse was chosen as paper of the year in 2016 by the journal Child Abuse and Neglect. The paper describes Molnar's research examining families in Chicago over a 10-year period. One of the main findings was the importance of collective efficacy.
“This is the way people have confidence that their neighbors can work together on issues that are plaguing the neighborhood,” Molnar explained. For example, could the neighbors band together to prevent people loitering or committing crimes on a street corner? If the community fire station were at risk of being defunded, would the neighborhood convene to find a solution?
“The degree that people have this confidence in their neighborhood having these strong ties—that confidence is predictive of lower rates of violence,” Molnar said.
Mandated Reporters Get Training On How To Recognize, Report Child Abuse
by Justin Udo
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A local agency is taking steps to make sure people who work with children can better spot and report child abuse.
Nurses, teachers, therapists, and just about anyone in the state of Pennsylvania who works with children must be trained on how to recognize and inform authorities about child abuse.
“It's important for all of us to step up to the plate,” said Mark Castrantas with the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance. “Children who are abused are frightened, often times they are threatened if they report the abuse, they are going to get beat or abused or maltreated even more.”
Castrantas says since the Jerry Sandusky child abuse case, nearly two dozen new child abuse laws have been introduced in the state.
On Monday, Castrantas taught a workshop highlighting some of the changes to the law that professionals need to know when it comes to handling suspected child abuse cases.
“They now require abuse has to be reported immediately, it doesn't matter if it's second or third hand information. It has to be reported anyway, they've modified or changed some of the categories of abuse. They've added new categories of abuse,” he explained. “They've expanded who is a mandated reporter now, they've changed emotional abuse to serious mental injury, and they've also added human trafficking both sex trafficking and labor trafficking to the laws.”
Castrantas says if professionals who work with kids do not properly report suspected abuse cases, they can face repercussions for their actions or lack thereof.
“It's up to folks like us to step forward and try to help kids,” he said.
Words hit harder
by Lee Chonghui
An excited child runs towards the parent, saying, “Look at what I did for my school project today!” and receives a curt, dismissive, “Don't bother me, can't you see that I'm busy now?” response.
Does this scenario sound familiar? It probably is to many parents and children.
While this may seem insignificant, failure to take a brief interruption for the child will have negative emotional impact, and can accumulate.
When people think of abusive parents, they often think of physical or sexual violence. But, emotional abuse is also a form of violence which can have devastating effects on the mental health of an innocent child.
A research published by the American Psychological Association found that children who are emotionally abused and neglected, face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems with many of them suffering from anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, symptoms of post-traumatic stress and suicidality.
A true story
A few years shy of turning 30, Joyce (not her real name) says growing up with an emotionally abusive father was “frustrating”.
The millennial, who works in Mass Communication now, was monitored 24/7 by her father - who restricted her every move, from dressing to the people she saw.
She did not realise the way her father behaved was emotional abuse until she consulted a psychologist.
“I didn't understand why I was so angry all the time when at home, but felt so free and easy once I stepped out of the house, away from him.
“During my school days, my father would constantly put me down. He would also use threats such as if I were to make him angry or worried, I could cause his blood pressure to rise which could lead to a stroke or his death to ensure I'd follow his every instruction,” she says.
Joyce revealed that her father even threatened many times to terminate the father and daughter relationship or to kick her out of the house if she did not listen to his “advice”.
“I would be brushed off when I tried to express my thoughts. It came to a point where I didn't believe in myself and my self-esteem hit rock bottom,” she adds. She has since moved out after securing enough funds to buy a house.
Referring to Joyce's case, Malaysian Mental Health Association deputy president Assoc Prof Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj says it is an example of emotional abuse.
“There is also a component of threat and blackmail there, which is commonly known as emotional blackmail,” adds the consultant psychiatrist.
Puveshini Rao from Rekindle Centre for Systemic Therapy Malaysia, says the case may not constitute emotional abuse if Joyce does not react to it on an emotional level and still goes about her work as she pleases, while looking at her father's behaviour as old-school concern.
“But because Joyce is constantly upset about statements by her father, does not feel trusted and feels bad about herself as well as constantly worrying about her father's reactions, it does sound like emotional abuse,” says the therapist who provides employee assistance and organisational wellness programmes, and has had extensive experience working with children, adolescents and adults.
Invisible at most times, subtle at others
Although the scars of emotional abuse aren't as visible, it still can be damaging to a child's mental health.
Over time, the abuser will chip away at the victim's self-esteem, causing him or her to feel guilty, doubt themselves, and distrust perceptions.
But what exactly is emotional abuse?
Creativity at Heart co-founder and child therapist Priscilla Ho says emotional abuse includes name-calling, insulting and threatening children.
If a parent allows their child to witness the physical or emotional abuse of another, or to use illegal drugs, and anything else that leaves a negative impact, it is also a form of emotional abuse, she says.
“Children who are emotionally or physically abused and do not seek help can become abusers themselves as adults. They will have higher incident rates of alcohol and drug abuse.
“It's very difficult to know how common child emotional abuse is. A wide range of behaviours can be considered abusive, and all forms are considered underreported,” she says.
She shares that signs of emotional abuse in a child may include being fearful of parent; saying they hate the parent; talking badly about themselves; seeming emotionally immature when compared to peers; exhibiting sudden changes in speech, such as stuttering; and experiencing sudden changes in behaviour.
Meanwhile, signs in a parent or caregiver include showing little or no regard for the child; talking badly about the child; not holding the child affectionately; and not tending to the child's medical needs.
Though there are many forms of emotional abuse, Universiti Malaya Department of Psychological Medicine Assoc Prof Dr Muhammad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari finds neglect as one of the most common forms of it.
He says one of the worst case scenarios is parents neglecting how a child feels at home.
“When parents are too busy arguing over a chronic family discord, the home can become a hostile environment and this indirectly affects emotional development in children,” he says.
For Dr Andrew, emotional abuse refers to humiliation, threats, verbal abuse, name calling and aggressive demeanour.
He points out that there is a subtle difference between emotional and psychological abuse.
“Psychological abuse usually refers to manipulation, isolating , ignoring , and subtle psychological tactics and mind games to inflict psychological distress on another person.
“However, some clinicians do feel that emotional abuse is part of psychological abuse, which can be as damaging as physical abuse,” he says.
Sometimes the scars of emotional abuse remain even longer, he adds.
Puveshini agrees, saying emotional abuse focuses on planting an attack on one's emotions and feelings - directly or indirectly.
“It can leave one feeling constant fear, anxiety, insecurity on one end and severe detachment, numbness and indifference on the other.
“It is difficult to provide a hard definition as emotions are transient and exist in response to any experience one faces and there is an emotional and psychological component to any form of violence and abuse. It can be difficult to extricate one from the other.”
She believes that emotional abuse affects how one views themselves and can become a core belief that is resistant to change.
“In extreme cases, it can also cause the victims to believe that on some level, they deserved the abuse and the mistreatment because of who they are. This can lead to self-degradation, self-loathing, anxiety, depression, and anger at themselves and the world,” she says.
“Some parents may be unaware that what they are doing is not healthy for the child's emotional and personal growth.
“They go through the motions of what they think is best based on their own experiences and tell themselves - I turned out fine, so you would too,” says Puveshini.
She points out that it could be scary for parents to relinquish control on their children as they would no longer have a say in their lives.
“They then hold on too tight causing friction in their relationship. Sometimes it comes from a place of love, but everything in large quantities can be harmful, even love can turn to smothering, control and abuse,” she points out. However, people be clear on what is and is not emotional abuse.
Puveshini says scolding your child for a wrong doing is not abuse if it is followed up by constructive ways of what they should have done instead.
But constantly putting them down for their wrong doing, with threats, guilt-tripping, which does not teach them what's right, enables the perpetrator to get their way; that's abusive, she explains.
In the short term, children may react with shock and surprise at the behaviour, feeling scared, confused, fear, guilt and so on in reaction to the abusive episodes.
They may even react either with anger or compliance, depending on the nature of the child.
“However as they continue in the same situation, it can lead to them developing depression, having anger issues, underperforming at school, disciplinary issues, suicidal thoughts, and detachment from family,” she says, adding that coping mechanisms such as self-harm and substance abuse could be used as a form of escape and relief.
Dr Andrew says parents may not be aware that emotional abuse can have a long lasting impact on their children.
Dr Muhammad Muhsin says the social development of emotionally abused children will be affected after they've been exposed to repetitive emotional trauma.
“Emotionally abused children may face problems when interacting with people as they become scared to express their feelings. They also have difficulties in communication because they are afraid if they say the wrong words, they might be further hurt emotionally,” he says.
Beyond the family
Meanwhile, Ho opines that emotional abuse is an issue that concerns not just family members, but the society as a whole.
It happens largely out of broken self control, which is why families and other people should look out for each other and help out when they find a child in difficulty, she notes.
Undertaking parenting skills' courses to learn more on how to deal with growing children is also highly recommended.
“Families must pay attention to the needs of children, and the larger family should get involved with the activities of children,” says Ho.
While disciplining children is necessary, Dr Muhammad Muhsin says parents need to be aware of the words they use and actions they take.
He says parents have the responsibility of disciplining their children but they must distinguish between nurturing versus abusing.
“The hostility shouldn't cross a certain threshold and the intensity should be very minimal. We should refrain ourselves from using corporal punishment as the first solution,” he says.
“Parents, guardians and teachers should update their knowledge on how to best deal with their young using a healthy psychological method,” says Dr Muhammad Muhsin who is a parent himself.
He stresses that parents must listen to children's concerns and grievances instead of brushing them off, as well as allowing them to make decisions while guiding them along the way.
“Children brought up this way will grow up being able to communicate well with parents and will treat parents as friends, reducing the chances of emotional abuse because there is trust between both parties,” he says, adding that parents must also find a balance between when to parent and when to be a friend.
“If you lose your temper and say something in anger that wasn't meant to be said, be quick to apologise. It can help restore confidence and trust,” says Ho.
For parents to ensure they do not subconsciously inflict emotional abuse on their offspring, Puveshini says people should learn about themselves first and deal with their personal issues or emotional baggage and decide what kind of parents they want to be and whether or not they want to be parents at all.
Parents can ask themselves if what they are doing is for their child's best interest or due to their own needs and interest. Just because emotional and psychological abuse does not leave visible scars, it does not make it any less real or relevant, she says, noting that providing children with the basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothes does not equate to being an emotionally fulfilling parent.
“Children need love, understanding, trusting environments to grow,” she stresses.
Parents Are Getting More Involved in Youth Sports in the Wake of U.S. Sexual Abuse Scandals
by Sally Ho
(SEATTLE) — With Olympic prodigies having just dazzled audiences worldwide, parents in the U.S. are reconciling the thrill of the gold with their fears from recent sexual abuse scandals in elite youth sports.
Shannon Stabbert said her 6-year-old daughter wants to be a gymnast, but the Seattle mother has decided to put her in a martial-arts program instead.
“I have no doubt she will be quite amazing at gymnastics,” Stabbert said. “I just don't feel like it's a mentally, physically, emotionally healthy sport for girls.”
High-profile cases of sexual abuse and other predatory behavior in gymnastics, swimming and other sports have jolted many parents who believe athletics can be an important part of their child's development. Some now feel compelled to be more cautious in monitoring their child's contact with coaches and other adults.
Experts say the spotty rules and certifications for coaches and glorification of sports culture can make children who feel pressure to achieve even more vulnerable. No longer a casual pastime, sports teams can leave kids as young as 5 in the care of undertrained, undersupervised coaches.
Emmett Gill, a professor at the University of Texas and expert on the personal development of student-athletes, said success often means children leave their communities to compete, which can leave them at more risk.
“It's clear that the coach's responsibility, and their permanent goal, is to win, and that can sacrifice protecting vulnerable children,” Gill said. “We really have forgotten about that good, old neighborhood team. Now youth sports is a bunch of strangers on teams with the best athletes, with the purpose of winning.”
One national organization trying to prevent abuse of young athletes is the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a Denver-based nonprofit that formed last year.
It launched following the initial allegations of sexual abuse against Larry Nassar , the disgraced sports doctor for USA Gymnastics who will spend his life in prison after admitting he molested some of the nation's top gymnasts under the guise of medical treatment.
The U.S. Olympic Committee developed SafeSport, but it's now an independent organization that works with law enforcement to investigate abuse allegations for the 49 Olympic and Paralympic sports.
In addition to offering an online link for anonymous abuse reports, SafeSport also provides educational and training material for youth leagues nationwide. The goal is to prevent abuse altogether.
“We have got to get upstream and do more to educate athletes, to educate parents, to educate coaches and to educate sport administrators,” SafeSport CEO Shellie Pfohl said. “I want every parent to know what questions they should be asking when they sign their child up.”
Since its inception, SafeSport has received 470 reports of either emotional or physical abuse, including 165 reports this year and 222 active investigations overall. In some cases, the organization didn't have jurisdiction over a youth league to investigate an allegation.
Youth leagues outside Olympic and Paralympic sports don't have a national organization to investigate reports of physical abuse, harassment, hazing and other issues. Many of those leagues have spent years trying to mute overreaching parents through codes of conduct but now have to walk the line between input and child safety.
“There's a balance between appropriate parental involvement and engagement, meaning are there overzealous parents who may upset the team dynamic or be inappropriate in terms of their treatment of the coach or athletes, and balancing that with parental due diligence,” Pfohl said. “We want parents to be empowered to not only ask these questions but to hold people accountable.”
Gill, the expert on student-athlete development, urges all sports programs to create safety guidelines that clearly indicate the protocol for adults who suspect abuse. Though teachers and doctors must report it, coaches and volunteers do not.
“If we're really about youth development and character development, this is going to be in front — and the most important part — of our bylaws,” Gill said.
Even the regulators are not immune. The chief safety officer of USA Swimming, Susan Woessner, announced last week that she was resigning after revealing she had kissed a coach accused of sexual abuse and later assisted in the governing body's investigation of him.
Sean Hutchinson is under criminal investigation after Olympic swimmer Ariana Kukors said he abused her as a minor . Woessner said she wasn't in a relationship with Hutchinson.
USA Swimming also issued a letter to parents saying it had failed members and its system was “not flawless” and vowing to “ensure that there is never a lapse of a support system again.”
For many parents, they say they will look to set more boundaries and ask more questions.
“Sometimes you kind of wonder: Am I missing something as parent? Am I not looking? Am I not asking the right questions? Am I trusting too much?” said Lara Mae Chollette, a Seattle mother of three.
Chollette, who works in human resources, said she's also wondered lately whether parents should stay for lengthy practices. If someone else is watching her kids, she finds out the ages of the other siblings who may come along. Her husband also has made a rule against taking responsibility for another child for overnight trips.
As a coach herself of youth soccer and basketball, Chollette said she knows the schedules, other parents and how people come and go from the sports facilities, which is helpful.
“It's truly a commitment for us,” Chollette said of attending every practice, game and trip. “We see it as an educational element for our kids. There are things in sports that a teacher can't teach. There are things in sports that life can't teach.”
Humboldt County child abuse investigation reform: what will change?
by Will Houston
After a two-year investigation found Humboldt County's child welfare system failed in its duty to investigate reports of child abuse and neglect, the California Attorney General's Office is giving the county a tight time frame to correct decades-old systemic problems.
The state investigation that began in 2015 found that some child abuse reports fell through the cracks and went without investigation for weeks or months at a time as a result of poor communication between social workers and mandated child abuse reporters such as law enforcement; lack of training; poor case management; and large case workloads.
These issues have been repeatedly documented by the Humboldt County grand jury since at least the early 1980s. But with the California Department of Justice and court system now monitoring and mandating reforms, county officials said the changes must be completed.
A court agreement reached this month mandates the county Child Welfare Services division and county Sheriff's Office implement a list of reforms, several of which have already been made, according to county officials.
“We're making progress on that, but we're not saying we're there yet,” Child Welfare Services program manager Alison Phongsavath said. “We're not saying that the practice is where we want it to be or need it to be and we are deeply invested in getting it there with our partners.”
Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the agreement will “keep the spotlight on Humboldt County.”
“California's child protection laws require agencies to take immediate action when they learn about potential abuse or neglect. The institutions of Humboldt County entrusted to protect children failed them,” Becerra said in a statement earlier this month. “What can be more important than public agencies performing their duties to safeguard the security and welfare of our kids? We owe it to our children to enforce these laws vigorously.”
Mary Ann Hansen, executive director of First 5 Humboldt, the Humboldt County Children and Families Commission, said she was happy the county was moving forward with plans to ensure prompt and coordinated responses to reports regarding the welfare of children.
“While we are working to improve the child welfare system, we need to also increase the availability of preventative services and programs which would help reduce the high rate of child abuse and neglect referrals in Humboldt,” she said in an email to the Times-Standard. “By adequately addressing prevention with evidence-informed practices, we can begin to reduce these rates. Fostering the wellbeing of our children and families is not only the most compassionate thing — the right thing — to do, it also makes the best economic sense. What better investment can we make than in our young children?”
National Coalition for Child Protection Reform executive director Richard Wexler, who has been outspoken against placing children into the foster care system, has been critical of the county's Child Welfare Services Division in the past.
He said Friday that while some reforms in the state settlement will be “marginally useful,” he said the settlement ignores the county's high foster care placement rate , which was more than double than the state average in recent years.
“Humboldt County Child Welfare Services has become a machine for needlessly tearing apart families,” Wexler wrote in an email to the Times-Standard. “The settlement is devoted largely to making it a better-oiled machine.”
County Department of Health and Human Services public information officer Heather Muller said in response that the settlement focuses specifically on “ensuring the safety of children who are the subject of referrals to CWS, and that is work we will be pursuing.”
“The agreement does not extend to the sometimes necessary removal of children from their home for the purpose of keeping them safe, although that is one part of the work CWS does,” Muller said. “Our primary focus remains on strengthening families and moving systems upstream so that we have fewer referrals and fewer children in care.”
The Attorney General's Office states it fully expects the county to comply with the agreement. If the county does not, the state can seek to find the county in violation of the court order or potentially seek further consequences such as finding the county in contempt of court, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Child Welfare Services receives thousands of reports of alleged child abuse and neglect each year, but the Attorney General's Office found not all reports were investigated or investigated as quickly as state law mandates.
Child Welfare Services is required by law to immediately investigate a report in person if there may be an imminent danger to the child or within 10 days for all other cases. The investigation must be completed within 30 days at which time a final decision on whether to open a case must be made.
State investigators found that the county failed to meet these deadlines for a substantial amount of reports in past years.
Between 2010 and 2015, more than half of all reports that were investigated by the division took 63 days or more to close, “with a number of referrals that were left open for years,” according to court documents.
The county is now being required to complete investigations for all 436 of its open reports within the next year with benchmarks being set every three months.
About a third of the open reports pertain to people who have moved out of the county, according to Muller. Other reports were investigated and resolved, but the documentation demonstrating that was never filed in their case system, Phongsavath said.
“In no way are we saying that all of these cases are fine, look away,” Muller said. “We're saying that some of those cases were this ... that a considerable portion of them were not emergency situations.”
The state is mandating the sheriff's office and Child Welfare Services make several changes in the near future, including:
• creating a 24/7 emergency response system for child abuse reports;
• mandating social workers and investigators share and document reports in a timely manner;
• requiring supervisors to review all reports on a weekly basis to ensure they are being handled properly;
• requiring tribal representatives to be present in investigations involving children who are members of tribes or eligible to be;
• creating a social worker hiring plan and workload study;
• mandatory yearly trainings; and
• creating a community task force.
A third-party monitor — paid for by the county — will oversee the county's progress over the next three years and report back to the Attorney General's Office.
These changes are meant to address turnover of social workers, high case workloads, lack of training by sheriff's deputies and frustrations by mandatory reporters like sheriff's deputies and teachers about lack of response to reports.
Sheriff's Office Detective Scott Hicks said he has been the office's liaison with Child Welfare Services since January 2016 — about two months after the Attorney General's Office's investigation began. Hicks and Phongsavath said many of the reforms have already been made and have shown favorable results.
“Honestly in the past there was a decent amount of animosity between [Child Welfare Services] and the sheriff's office,” Hicks said. “Through this we worked together and are moving toward working well together in the future.
“... We're at a point where we can say everything is focused on the kids now and that we don't have any cracks,” he continued.
Hicks said the animosity stemmed from deputies not being able to contact social workers and each side not understanding the other's role. Part of the communication breakdown was caused by the two agencies cross-reporting by fax and by phone, Hicks said. Hicks said they now use an email system that allows him to track all the reports that come through their office.
A memorandum of understanding between the sheriff's office and Child Welfare Services also calls for the agencies to create an electronic system to make, share and receive cross-reports by August 2019.
Prior to February 2017, child abuse reports to Child Welfare Services were answered by clerical workers who would forward the information to social workers. The Attorney General's Office states in its court documents said this change was implemented shortly after it found that mandatory reporters were still not able to reach screeners to make their report. As as result, Phongsavath said that social workers now answer calls directly.
The county is now working to have social workers available 24/7 to answer emergency calls, which the state is mandating to be implemented by mid-March. Emergency calls are already being taken 24/7, Phongsavath said, but through the use of an answering service.
“Right now we have an intermediary answering service that takes the call and patches it through to the social worker or supervisor, and there have been misses with that,” she said.
The agreement also seeks to address the turnover of social workers and the case workloads. Currently, the county has 77 social worker positions for child welfare services with 13 vacancies, according Muller. There are currently no vacancies in the 15 supervisor positions, according to Phongsavath.
The state is mandating that the county to create a plan to increase it staffing levels to where it can operate the 24/7 emergency response system and then meet those goals within a year.
The county Department of Health and Human Services has been contracting with the National Council on Crime and Delinquency since June 2017 for training and assistance with the system reforms. The Board of Supervisors is set to consider an amended contract — mandated by the state — on Tuesday that will increase the contract from two years to three years and includes a workload study among other reforms.
The county would pay $783,000 for the contract that will be paid for through a combination of federal, state and local funds with no anticipated impact to the county's General Fund, according to the staff report.
A copy of the court agreement can be found online at bit.ly/2EwEvUO .
By the numbers
2015: The year the state began its investigation, finding that some child abuse reports fell through the cracks.
63: Between 2010 and 2015, more than half of all reports took 63 days or more to close.
436: The number of open reports in Humboldt County that must be completed within the next year.
77: The total number of Child Welfare Services social worker positions, with 13 positions vacant.
15: The total number of Child Welfare Services supervisors, with no positions vacant.
2019: CWS and the sheriff's office must create an electronic system to make, share and receive cross reports by August 2019.
$783,000: The cost of an amended contract mandated by the state for training and assistance with system reforms.
The abuse of children is not constrained by borders
With child exploitation rife among aid workers and tourists, better safeguarding by recruiters and governments is vital
by Chloe Setter
W hen sex offender Richard Huckle wrote an abuse manual entitled “Paedophiles and poverty: child love guide on how to select deprived victims and avoid detection”, he boasted that “impoverished kids are definitely much easier to seduce than middle-class western kids”.
It may seem unfair to mention a notorious criminal like Huckle alongside those implicated in the current aid scandal. Yet there are common structural problems exposed by these types of offences, which have contributed to an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality.
Perpetrators may not plan to go abroad to abuse children but, when in situ, they may take advantage of the chaos of a humanitarian crisis and the fact that children are already being exploited. Huckle began abusing children on his gap year in south-east Asia and continued to do so for nine years.
Abuse of children happens in a “blindspot” for authorities – we don't even have accurate data. A 2015 freedom of information request by Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (Ecpat) to the Foreign Office revealed that 154 British nationals were detained overseas for child sex offences. Yet such incidents are only recorded if the local police or the suspects themselves report them to the embassy.
It was shocking to hear about the scandal that has enveloped Oxfam over allegations that staff in Haiti paid for sex, possibly with underage girls. But why? We know abuse takes place in a multitude of settings – our homes, care homes, places of faith, our schools, our football clubs . Why are we surprised that it happens where there is war, poverty or natural disasters?
Evidence has shown that the root causes of trafficking are exacerbated after a natural disaster. In the 1990s and 2000s, a trafficking ring was exposed in postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina, with UN peacekeepers actually trafficking the victims themselves. In Haiti, where an estimated 30,000 children are living in mostly unregistered orphanages, reports of sexual abuse in camps and institutions following the 2010 earthquake were rife. Again, peacekeepers were implicated .
It is common sense to anticipate an increase in sexual violence in situations where child protection systems are weakened, children are separated from their families and there is an influx of foreigners working in aid settings. Abuse is as much about power as it is about sexual gratification. Ecpat UK has worked on countless cases involving individuals deliberately taking jobs in teaching, volunteering or setting up orphanages as a front for abuse.
The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into Oxfam and is yet to clarify whether any of the victims involved were under 18. Yet the issue of child exploitation by aid workers is not in doubt. A report by Save the Children a decade ago acknowledged that the scale of abuse was “significant” with “every agency at risk”.
In 2016, the first comprehensive global study on children exploited in travel and tourism found that “in an increasingly interconnected world, more people are on the move and even the most remote parts of the planet are now within reach, thanks to cheaper travel and the spread of the internet. As a result, the risks of child sexual exploitation are increasing.”
Such a large and endemic problem requires full commitment from governments, businesses and charities to create accountability and transparency. There must be enhanced checks when recruiting staff, as well as regular reviews. There must be safeguarding procedures followed, no matter the context. Organisations need to promote a culture of zero tolerance of sexual violence and inappropriate behaviour. There must also be mechanisms to allow potential victims to report abuse safely.
As individual travellers or tourists we have a role to play in reporting concerns and in calling on our own governments to collect proper data and prioritise this issue.
On 19 February, a child abuser was jailed after admitting 137 charges of online sexual exploitation. Matthew Falder, 29, used the internet to blackmail people across the world into providing footage of abusive acts. An international taskforce involving the UK's National Crime Agency alongside partners from the US and Australia worked together to identify and apprehend him.
This case, like that of Huckle, shows offenders are not constrained by borders. Last year, police in the Philippines warned of a trend of westerners paying impoverished families to facilitate online abuse of children. “ Sweetie ”, a virtual 10-year-old created to snare paedophiles, received approaches from 20,000 men from 71 countries (110 men from the UK).
Up to 750,000 online users are searching for child sexual content at any given moment globally. Yet the potential victims remain largely voiceless in distant locations. We must stop operating as if child abuse isn't going to happen, and instead take preventive international action based on the sad reality that it happens everywhere.
ECPAT UK is a children's rights organisation working to end child trafficking and the abuse of children overseas by British nationals.
Local outreach says program helps combat child abuse deaths
by Whitney Miller
COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX) – A study released earlier this month shows the number of child deaths associated with abuse is on the rise across the country. The numbers were highest in Texas and Indiana.
According to the report, done by the Department of Health and Human Services, there were 1,700 fatalities resulting from child maltreatment reported in the fiscal year 2016, compared to 1,589 the previous year.
In Texas, fatalities jumped from 162 to 217, and in Indiana, it went from 34 to 70.
“Babies born to young teen moms face a high risk of abuse and neglect, nearly 80 percent,” said Kim Schams, the Executive director of Aggieland Pregnancy Outreach in College Station. "The majority of those are children under the age of three.”
Schams' outreach provides resources for pregnant teens, she says the work they do is helping to lower the abuse death rates.
"They get loved on, we teach them how to be good parents, they learn how much Jesus loves them and we connect them with mentors," said Schams.
Wednesday, the center received dozens of donations for their popular Mama Store, an incentive tool Schams says helps these young moms learn valuable lessons.
"They are motivated to keep coming back to the club and save so they can get what they want,” said Schams. “They can get car seats, strollers, and lots of cute baby clothes."
The mothers earn bucks for the store by participating in the program and completing enriching tasks like reading to their children.
"When people donate these items, they're helping a teen mom become a good mom," said Schams.
This summer, Aggieland Pregnancy Outreach will be moving to a new location on Harvey Road. To learn more about their outreach log on to their Facebook here.
Problem of child sexual abuse affects all
by Michael Baker
If you're like most people, you probably don't give much thought to child sexual abuse.
It's been half a decade since the Penn State scandal broke; it has been two years since Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture. But many children in Marion County don't have that luxury. The shocking reality is that statistics show one in every 10 children you know will likely be the victim of sexual abuse by the age of 18. Don't let that statistic fly by you; think of four girls you know, six boys you know. I want to stress the “boys and girls you know” part again. Child sexual abuse spans all geographic areas, races and classes. It happens in your schools, your churches and your homes. The chances that you will encounter or gain firsthand knowledge of a child being abused may be far greater than you would imagine. Now, think of what you would do if you discovered any one of them was the victim of abuse. For any caring adult concerned about a child's wellbeing, the discovery of abuse can feel scary and overwhelming, let alone for the child who is experiencing that abuse, but the Marion County Child Advocacy Center works every day to take a moment of crisis and trauma to turn it into the chance for hope and healing.
In West Virginia, and all across the country, children are referred to Child Advocacy Centers by child abuse first responders soon after an initial allegation of abuse or violence has been made. CACs are child-focused centers where children who have survived abuse, violence and neglect can begin the healing process.
How do CACs do this? They do it by serving as the community's coordinated response center to allegations of child abuse. At the CAC, children have the opportunity to talk to an interviewer who is trained to ask age-appropriate, non-leading questions in a way that reduces the trauma of telling their difficult story. The interview is recorded so the child doesn't have to repeat their story.
Then, based on the interview, a team that includes professionals make decisions together about how to best help the child and their family. Team members come together from law enforcement, prosecution, child protective services, victim advocate and medical and mental health fields. CACs offer a wide range of services like therapy, medical exams, courtroom accompaniment, victim advocacy and case management — depending on the needs of the child. And when needed, we provide support services, such as transportation to the center.
Prior to the Child Advocacy Center movement, children were moved from agency to agency and endured multiple interviews, which can create additional trauma. A CAC turns that model upside down by providing one safe, child-friendly facility where child protection, criminal justice and child treatment professionals work together to investigate abuse, hold offenders accountable and help children heal. CACs make it possible for children who have lived in darkness and pain to begin to have hope for a bright future.
In the neutral setting of the CAC, team members can collaborate on strategies that will aid investigators and prosecutors without causing further harm to the victim. This innovative, multidisciplinary approach significantly increases the likelihood of a successful outcome in court and long-term healing for the child.
Opened in 2006, the Marion County Child Advocacy Center is a nationally-accredited center that puts the needs of child first. Last year, we provided services to 200 children and their families. And, since opening, we've helped nearly 1,000 children and families in our area. We partner with the Marion County Family Resource Network, CASA of Marion County and the Department of Health and Human Resources through the Partners in Prevention Grant. By working together, we can serve these children in our community at a time they need us most.
For some, the path to healing is clear, and for others, the obstacles may seem insurmountable. Regardless of their trauma, their level of need or their ability to pay, the MCCAC is here to help.
To learn more about the services offered by the Marion County Child Advocacy Center, call 304-333-3936 or visit http://marioncountycacwv.com/ .
Experts: To Prevent Child Sexual Abuse, Start the Conversation Early
by Katie Gibas
Nationwide, one in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they reach 18 — that's according to Darkness to Light, a national nonprofit aimed at preventing child sexual abuse.
"The effects of that trauma can last through their lifetime if they don't get treatment," said Karen Yeversky, a Child Advocacy Program of Chautauqua County family advocate.
In an effort to stop the abuse, child advocates are working to help parents bring up the conversation with their children early.
"It's through talking about this that we make progress. Talking about good touch/bad touch or similar kind of language from very early on," said Dr. David Kaye, UB child and adolescent psychiatrist.
Yeversky said, "We recommend that it's a series of conversations that are age-appropriate from the time children are able to begin learning and using everyday situations to teach them. Beginning talking about sex and sexuality by the age of 8. The reality is kids hear about it earlier than we think they do."
Experts say use anatomical terms or say something like “no one should be touching your bathing suit area unless they're changing your diaper or giving you a bath,” and to speak matter of factly.
"Teach kids that their body is theirs, that it is private. That there are private parts of their body that only they touch or their parents touch, but there's another concept that I think is important, that no means no," said Kaye.
Yeversky said, "You can put your own values and instruction in there and you can be the person that they would come to ask those questions of rather than making it feel like an awkward thing that they wouldn't want to talk to you about."
Having that ongoing conversation will normalize the topic. Advocates say the most important thing you can do is believe your child and if they bring up an issue, support them, reiterate that it isn't their fault and reassure them that you will do everything to keep them safe.
"We have that natural reaction to turn away, that ‘no, this couldn't be true.' And it's frightening for parents too. And it's confusing," said Kaye.
Child Advocacy Centers, your pediatrician and a number of websites like d2l.org are just a few of the resources that can help you start and continue the conversation.
Boy Scouts to expand background checks to all adults chaperoning 3-day events
by Robert McCoppin
Boy Scouts of America plans to institute a new requirement that every adult — including parents with their own kids — must undergo a background check and youth protection training before participating in any Scouting activity that runs for more than 72 hours.
The change, to take effect at the start of the Scouts' summer camping season June 1, is a marked expansion of the requirement, which currently only applies to registered adult volunteers, such as troop leaders.
The new standards could be further tightened in the future, to require the training for any participating adult, according to an online announcement of the changes.
The training consists of a one-hour online course about protecting children from sexual molestation and other dangers, especially during high-risk activities like overnight camping.
“This is meant to enhance the ‘safe space' for overnight Boy Scout activities,” the Scouts said in an online statement. “While incidents are rare, this will serve as an added layer of protection for our highest risk activities.”
The new policy applies only to Boy Scouts, generally age 11 and up, rather than Cub Scouts, who are younger.
The Scouts already strongly recommends that all adults involved in Scouting take youth protection training. The Scouts also require mandatory reporting to local authorities of any suspicion or belief that a child has been physically or sexually abused or threatened.
Boy Scouts of America released a statement late Wednesday calling youth safety “our primary responsibility” and one that “requires sustained vigilance.”
“We consistently evaluate and reinvest resources where needed to strengthen our policies to ensure they are ahead of or in line with society's knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention,” the statement continued. “We also regularly consult with experts from law enforcement, child safety, psychology, and other relevant fields.”
The organization said it has expanded its youth protection training to cover the prevention of child neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to violence, “which experts agree are important to address in order to help keep youth safe.”
In years past, the Boy Scouts have been accused of covering up or ignoring repeated cases of sexual abuse of youths by adults.
The Los Angeles Times in 2012 reviewed 3,100 Scout case summaries of abuse complaints submitted from 1947 to 2005, and found hundreds of failures to report molesters, and a resistance to criminal background checks that let pedophiles into the organization. Offenders included trusted people such as doctors, lawyers, politicians and police. In many cases, the offenders spent time alone with their victims, a practice long prohibited by the Scouts.
From the time national background checks became widely available in 1985 until 1991 alone, the Boy Scouts admitted more than 230 men with previous arrests or convictions for sex crimes against children, who were later accused of molesting nearly 400 boys in Scouting, the Times reported.
The Boy Scouts did not require criminal background checks for all volunteers until 2008 — long after some other youth organizations started doing so.
The organization has tightened requirements for training adults and protecting children. Scouting officials have said previously that they have enhanced their policies over the years and tried “to ensure we are in line with and, where possible, ahead of society's knowledge of abuse and best practices for prevention.”
"Numerous independent experts have recognized that our programs for protecting Scouts from abuse are among the best in the youth-serving community," the statement said.
Peter Janci, an attorney in Portland, Ore., who participated in a nearly $20 million judgment against the Scouts over allegations of sexual abuse in 2010, said the requirements, which are common for school field trips and other youth settings, were long overdue.
“It's a step in the right direction,” he said. “Making sure they've vetted adults… can be helpful for a lot of reasons.”
Educating parents about warning signs of pedophiles, such as being alone with kids, giving them special attention or crossing social boundaries, can help to prevent abuse, Janci said.
State House passes update to Hidden Predator Act on crossover day
The bill would extend the statute of limitations from age 23 to age 38
by Tim Darnell
ATLANTA – The state House unanimously passed HB 605, an update to the state's Hidden Predator Act, on crossover day Wednesday.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), is the latest update to the Hidden Predator Act and provides provisions that would hold negligent or grossly negligent individuals or entities who conceal child abuse accountable.
“This measure would bring our state's laws in line with science and what real world experience has taught us about childhood sexual abuse,” said Spencer. “Oftentimes, the effects of childhood sexual abuse are latent, and these changes seek to acknowledge that the impacts of such abuse can lie dormant long after abuse. HB 605 would provide child sex abuse victims a pathway to justice.”
The House approved the bill on crossover day, when many proposed bills have to be approved by the House or Senate for them to be considered over the final four weeks of the legislative session.
HB 605 would update the current law to extend the statute of limitations from age 23 to age 38; increase the age of discovery for victims who discover psychological and emotional problems as a result of child sexual abuse from two years to four years; and create a one-year period for anyone who was time barred from filing a civil action for injuries resulting from childhood sexual abuse due to the expiration of the statute of limitations to file actions against an entity negligent or grossly negligent in such abuse.
The bill will now go to the Senate for consideration.
Police called to home over 50 times of 'dad' who chained, raped, impregnated twin daughter: DA
by Leigh Egan
New details continue to emerge in the case of a Minnesota man accused of chaining up his twin daughters for years, while beating and raping them. Police were called to the home at least 50 times, yet it took years before the victims were removed from the home.
As CrimeOnline previously reported , the twin sisters are now in their 20s and live with limited behavioral and mental capacity after their father, 51-year-old Jerry Lee Curry, reportedly abused them for at least 10 years. In May, one of the twins managed to escape the south Minneapolis home and hide out in a Salvation Army shelter until authorities found her.
Charges filed against the suspect revealed that he impregnated one of the twins twice, resulting in one child being born in June 2014. Another child was born in October 2017. He also reportedly beat another daughter, 10, but the abuse was not as severe as what he doled out to the twins.
According to court documents, the abuse started when one of the twins began a sexual relationship with a boyfriend, and after Curry allegedly thought the girls were eating too much. The twin who gave birth to two of her father's children wrote that he started raping her when she was a teen.
“I don't ever remember having enough food. He forced me to have sex, [and] he has done this to me every day since I was [in my] early teens or so. He did this to my twin sister also.”
She added that not only was she “chained to the door and bed every day for as long as I can remember,” but that her father regularly threatened her with violence.
After being removed from the home, it took around nine months for all of the children open up and explain what they lived through.
“I am so afraid of my parents. I never want to be with them again,” one of the twins said, according to the Pioneer Press . “It feels so good to not be chained to the bed, raped and beaten every day.”
According to a experts at the Masonic Children's Hospital in Minneapolis, the twins physical and emotional injuries were “clinically diagnostic of torture.”
A psychologist at the clinic said that the twin impregnated by her father had “severely diminished intellectually” and behaved as a child of age six or seven would. The other twin was diagnosed with a “mild to moderate” intellectual disability. Both girls are unable to live alone and take care of themselves.
CBS Crimesider reports that since 2011, police have been called to the family home for domestic abuse and welfare checks over 50 times, according to police records. It's still unclear if the responding officers turned over the records to social workers.
Neighbors indicated they were frustrated that it took years for authorities to rescue the victims after witnessing one of the twins being pushed out of the home in only a bra and underwear. In another instance, a neighbor witnessed one of the twins sleeping outside on a porch after being locked out of her home.
Further, Curry is accused of selling one of his twin daughters for sex in exchange for drugs.
The children's mother, Sheila Wilson, who had limited legal guardianship, was arrested and charged with criminal neglect. Curry is behind bars and charged with abuse of a vulnerable adult, child endangerment, assault, and criminal sexual conduct.
Woman says she warned of possible neglect of girl who was later killed
by Callie Ferguson
The cleaning woman at the former Bangor apartment building of the parents accused of killing their 10-year-old daughter said she reported possible abuse to authorities.
Jill Reid, 45, said she spoke over the phone and texted with a social worker at the Department of Health and Human Services around six or seven times last year because she believed Julio and Sharon Carrillo were neglecting and abusing Marrissa Kennedy, Sharon's daughter and Julio's step-daughter.
“To DHHS, I said there's something not right. They're not sending her to school. Her sneakers are there in the hallway,” said Reid, explaining that she eventually called the department's child abuse hotline after overhearing what sounded like Julio beating his wife.
“I said, there's definitely abuse going on,” Reid said. “The police have been here multiple times,” she said.
The Carrillos were charged with Marrissa's murder the day after the couple reported her unresponsive body to police on Sunday afternoon at the Stockton Springs condo where they were living. The husband and wife later admitted to police that they regularly beat the 10-year-old as a form of punishment, according to court documents. Marrissa died of battered child syndrome, the medical examiner's office ruled.
Reid, who has cleaned the apartment entry areas and hallways about once or twice a month for about five years, never witnessed any abuse firsthand but repeatedly overheard yelling from the apartment. A DHHS spokeswoman declined to comment.
Bangor police responded to six calls to the 591 Main St., apartment 3, between Dec. 2016 and June 2017, the approximate period that neighbors recall the Carrillos living there, according a call log provided by the department. The calls were for three welfare checks, “a citizen dispute,” a “mental problem,” and a “juvenile runaway.” The department declined to provide the matching reports for those calls.
Ethan Miele, the couple's upstairs neighbor, said he called the police at least once to report a “noise complaint.”
“All I'm going to say is it's a tragedy and I did what I could do to make it stop,” he said.
Reid would exchange pleasantries with Julio in the hallways, but started avoiding him when neighbors told her they saw him strike his child, and police starting showing up at the house, she said.
A few months into their tenancy, she called DHHS and started texting with a social worker, she said. The social worker told her the police had also filed a complaint with the department, she said.
The day before the couple moved out, Reid said he called the Bangor police to let them know she was worried.
“I said, they're moving tomorrow. Can you please go down and check?” she said. “And they just said, ‘if we're in the area, we'll stop over.'”
Bangor Police Department spokesman Sgt. Wade Betters declined to comment on the case.
From the FBI
Child Sexual Exploitation Ring
Collaborative Law Enforcement Efforts Dismantle Conspiracy
In late 2015 through early 2016, vulnerable girls as young as 14 and 16 were being exploited as part of a sex trafficking ring run by a group of conspirators in Ohio and Indiana.
But thanks to a joint law enforcement effort conducted by the FBI-led Toledo Child Exploitation Task Force, the ringleader of the conspiracy as well as the other six participants were eventually brought to justice and sentenced to lengthy federal prison terms.
The case started in December 2015, when the Lima (Ohio) Police Department began investigating allegations of human trafficking and forced prostitution involving a juvenile victim. One of the Lima officers who originally interviewed the victim was also a member of the Child Exploitation Task Force. That officer—based on his previous task force experiences—understood that the interstate aspects of the case made it a good candidate for federal jurisdiction, which often results in enhanced investigative resources and stronger criminal justice penalties.
So the case was referred to the task force—specifically to Special Agent Devon Lossick, the task force coordinator who works out of the FBI Cleveland Division's Toledo Resident Agency.
According to Lossick, Lima resident Lorenzo Young was the leader of the group and was assisted, in varying degrees, by his longtime friend Aundre Davis, as well as by his girlfriend, mother, and three acquaintances.
“Members of the conspiracy would go after vulnerable and trusting young girls—usually runaways and others estranged from their families—by promising them money and then coaxing them into posing for sexually explicit photos,” Lossick explained. The photos would be posted to the adult entertainment sections of a classified ads website; when interested customers reached out, the girls would be transported to apartments in Lima or to motel rooms in nearby Fort Wayne across the Indiana state line.
“And the financial proceeds of the transactions would go straight into the pockets of Young and his co-conspirators,” said Lossick.
Once the task force was on the case, investigators began to question some of the victims, gathered motel records and receipts, reviewed video surveillance, and conducted physical surveillance and court-authorized electronic surveillance on the suspects.
At one point, Young suspected he might be under federal investigation and began instructing his mother to delete text messages and e-mails related to the criminal activity. Young also directed others in the conspiracy to post threatening messages on social media to discourage the victims from talking to law enforcement.
By June 2016, investigators had enough evidence, and seven individuals—including Young—were charged by a federal jury in Ohio. Five were indicted on human trafficking charges, and two on charges related to obstructing the investigation. Five subjects eventually pleaded guilty and were sentenced, but Lorenzo Young and his friend Aundre Davis opted for a trial. Both were convicted at trial in May 2017, and in December 2017, Young was sentenced to life in prison, while Davis received a 30-year term.
Lossick firmly believes that the successful outcome of this case was the result of “strong and collaborative relationships between the FBI and the law enforcement agencies on the task force—especially the Lima Police Department, who we worked with closely on this particular investigation.”
And of the ongoing work of the Toledo Child Exploitation Task Force, Lossick says that “it continues to be successful at getting kids out of harm's way and giving victims the support they need to get on with their lives.” In the Lorenzo Young case, FBI victim-witness specialists from both the Cleveland and Cincinnati Divisions worked with the juveniles exploited by Young and his crew, providing them with emergency support, crisis intervention help, social services referrals, information about their case, and other victim assistance services.
“Especially in these kinds of cases,” explained Lossick, “the victims always come first.”
#ChurchToo: Sexual abuse victims 'fed up' with silence
Social media advocacy empowers survivors, pedophile preacher's son says.
by Bobby Ross Jr.
For far too long, victims have been silenced.
Finally, they have an outlet to spotlight their painful ordeals.
That's how Jimmy Hinton characterizes the social media movements — first #MeToo and now #ChurchToo — where sexual abuse survivors are recounting their real-life nightmares.
“Quite simply, millions of abuse survivors are fed up with the church protecting abusers while shaming the victims,” said Hinton, minister for the Somerset Church of Christ in Pennsylvania, who reported his own father to police when he learned the longtime preacher was a child molester.
Hinton is a certification specialist with the advocacy organization GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment). He cites frequent private messages he receives “from survivors who were either not believed by their church leaders or, worse, were humiliated, shamed and blamed for the abuse.
“These survivors are desperate to know that not all church leaders protect abusers,” Hinton told The Christian Chronicle. “Because they know my story, I think they feel safe to share their stories. Many of them are left confused because of how the church responded to their abuse, and some have a distorted view of God. #ChurchToo has empowered survivors to stand up to the churches that keep attempting to silence them.”
A woman confided to Hinton in 2011 that his father, John Hinton — who spent 27 years as the Somerset church's preacher — had sexually abused her when she was young.
Jimmy Hinton's report to authorities prompted an investigation that resulted in the pedophile preacher, now 69, pleading guilty to sexually assaulting and taking nude photographs of four young girls, ages 4 to 7.
While his father serves a 30- to 60-year state prison sentence, Jimmy Hinton works to create awareness far beyond his hometown of 6,000, 75 miles east of Pittsburgh.
“As a therapist, I did not need #ChurchToo to tell me sexual assault is rampant in our churches,” said Christine Parker, a member of the Grand Central Church of Christ in Vienna, W.Va., and a longtime friend of Jimmy Hinton's. “I've heard story after countless story as the victims sit on my couch seeking hope for healing.
“Often, it's been years, even decades, since the assaults,” Parker added. “If they told anyone at the time, they often weren't believed. If they were believed, they likely were told to forgive at best. At worst, they were blamed and shamed.”
Parker praises Jimmy Hinton — who has offered predator recognition training at about 20 churches — for “speaking truth plainly and courageously while remaining steadfastly peaceful in the face of tremendous horror.
“His passion and kind care for the deeply wounded is unsurpassed,” she said.
Sam Pace, minister for the Northwest Church of Christ in Westminster, Colo., said Hinton “opened our eyes with startling awareness of our vulnerability to child predators.
“In short order, we implemented new practices aimed to train our children to be aware and report any inappropriate behavior or touching,” Pace said. “We followed Jimmy's direction or securing our facility and properly arranging adult/child interactions for safety.”
In an interview with the Chronicle, Hinton discussed social media advocacy, the sexual abuse problem, the Larry Nassar case and steps churches can take to prevent abuse.
Read the full interview here.
Tips for preventing child sexual abuse; April is Child Abuse Prevention & Awareness Month
by The Editor
Montgomery County, TX (February 28, 2018) - While it may be an uncomfortable topic, taking steps to prevent child sexual abuse is an important part of protecting children and keeping them safe. In recognition of April as national Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month, Victoria J. Constance, MSPH, PhD, Executive Director of Children's Safe Harbor, shares tips for what parents and caregivers can do to help reduce the likelihood of abuse.
Know the facts about child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is more common than people think. In fact, approximately 1 in 10 children will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18. Sexual abuse can happen to both boys and girls of all ages, races, ethnicities, and family backgrounds. Children are often too scared, confused, or embarrassed to report sexual abuse right away, so it often continues without parents/caregivers knowing about it.
Know the facts about perpetrators. Many parents/caregivers already warn their children to be careful around strangers; however, sexual abuse is usually committed by someone that the child knows and trusts. Perpetrators are often family members or close friends of the child's family. Perpetrators can also be older children or youth.
Talk to your child about their body, about boundaries, and about sexual abuse. Teach your child the correct names for body parts, which parts of the bodies are considered “private” and that other people should not touch or see these parts of their bodies, except when it is appropriate (such as a parent helping with hygiene or at a doctor's appointment). People who abuse children often ask them to keep secrets; teach your child that they should never keep secrets from their parents/caregivers. Begin having these conversations with children at a very young age with terms that are appropriate for your child's level of development.
Support your child's participation in school-based safety and prevention programs. Many schools offer safety and prevention programs to children. You can increase the effectiveness of these programs by getting involved and talking to your child about what they have learned.
Take steps to increase safety in your child's environment. Understand that most sexual abuse occurs when a child is alone with an adult or older child. Consider minimizing situations in which your child is one-on-one with an adult (other than a parent/caregiver) or older child. Choose group activities or activities in public places when possible. Conduct background checks, interviews, and reference checks when choosing a childcare provider. Drop in unannounced when other people are caring for your child.
Teach your child about Internet safety. Teach your child about online predators who target children. Instruct them not to give out personal information or exchange photos over the Internet. Teach your child that they should never take photos of their private parts. Monitor your child's Internet use and apply parental controls.
Be familiar with signs and symptoms of abuse. Knowing the signs and symptoms of abuse may help you recognize abuse if it does occur. Visit www.onewithcourage.org/learn-the-signs to learn more.
Know how to respond to disclosures of abuse. If a child discloses that abuse has occurred, always believe the child. Listen to them in a calm and supportive way. Responding emotionally may cause the child to think that you are upset with them, that they did something wrong, or that they should not have told you. Remaining calm is important. Let the child know that they did the right thing by telling you. Always report the abuse.
Children's Safe Harbor's mission is to protect and enhance the life of every child who has the courage to battle sexual or severe physical abuse. As a nationally-accredited nonprofit children's advocacy center organization founded in 1998, Children's Safe Harbor is part of a nationwide effort to heal the trauma and facilitate justice for children ages 2 through 17 and their families.Children's Safe Harbor advanced their collaborative justice work in 2009 through the creation of an expanded co-located child-friendly facility serving children and their families all in one building – reducing the trauma by minimizing the need for children to retell their experience to multipleagencies while facilitating investigation, prosecution, justice and healing.
“As we approach our twentieth anniversary in August, we are embarking upon a campaign called ‘Know Us Before You Need Us' to promote our children's advocacy center as a resource that provides services for child victims of abuse,” said Dr. Constance. “We also offer volunteer opportunities and training for educators, local community members, and others interested in learning how they can make a difference for child victims of abuse.”
Remember, you are obligated by law to report suspected child abuse. If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, all 911. Or, in the counties of Montgomery, Walker, San Jacinto, call Children's Safe Harbor at 936.756.4644 , or throughout in Texas call the abuse and neglect hotline at 800.252.5400 . Outside of Texas, visit www.onewithcourage.org for a list of resources.
To donate or to volunteer, visit www.ChildrensSafeHarbor.org or call 936.756.4644, extension 234 . Financial donations can be mailed to the main office at 1519 Oddfellow, Conroe, Texas, 77301.
Confirmed cases of physical abuse of children jumped 52% in Maine over 8 years
Reports of possible abuse and neglect also rose, to 8,279 in 2016, with increased awareness of a growing problem that could be tied to the opioid epidemic
by Joe Lawlor
Confirmed cases of physical abuse of children in Maine increased by 52 percent from 2008 to 2016 even though the overall number of abuse and neglect cases declined slightly during that time, state statistics show.
For the same period, reports of suspected neglect and abuse – which the state categorizes as physical, emotional or sexual – rose by 31 percent.
The state's system to protect children is under scrutiny after two horrific cases of child abuse came to light in the past three months, most recently in Stockton Springs, where police say 10-year-old Marissa Kennedy had been beaten at home for months by her mother and stepfather before dying Sunday. Sharon Carrillo, 33, and Julio Carrillo, 51, were charged Monday with depraved indifference murder .
Neighbors told the Portland Press Herald that when the Carrillos lived in Bangor before moving to Stockton Springs last fall, they called police and the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to complain about suspected abuse, but it's not known why Marissa was allowed to remain living with them. In another case in December, a Wiscasset woman was charged with depraved indifference murder in the death of a 4-year-old girl in her care.
DHHS officials have refused to comment on their involvement in either case.
The DHHS data reveal that Mainers are more likely to report suspected abuse and neglect to Child Protective Services than in the past. CPS handled 8,279 reports of abuse and neglect in 2016, a 31 percent increase over the 6,313 cases in 2008. Maine's population and birth rate have remained relatively consistent during that period.
In that same time frame, physical abuse increased in Maine, while neglect and emotional abuse cases declined, according to DHHS statistics.
Physical abuse increased from 686 substantiated cases by CPS in 2008 to 1,042 cases in 2016, according to DHHS statistics. Sexual abuse cases did not show a clear trend, with 309 in 2008 compared with 280 in 2016, and neglect cases declined from 2,708 in 2008 to 2,274 in 2016. Emotional abuse declined from 1,580 cases in 2008 to 1,192 in 2016.
Overall, abuse and neglect cases have declined slightly since 2008. The numbers have gone up and down without showing a clear trend, with 2,527 substantiated cases of abuse of all types in 2008 compared with 2,268 in 2016, a 10 percent decline.
POSSIBLE LINK TO OPIOID EPIDEMIC
Dr. Lawrence Ricci, a pediatrician who specializes in child abuse cases with the Spurwink Child Abuse Program in South Portland, said child abuse is a major public health problem in Maine and across the country.
“I'm not surprised at all,” Ricci said. “We are seeing a lot of physically abused children. In our practice, we are very, very busy with physical abuse cases.”
It's difficult to determine what drives the child abuse and neglect numbers, but Ricci said they often correlate with the economy. In bad economic times, families in poverty become more desperate and the financial stress may lead to abuse.
But unemployment rates are currently low nationwide and in Maine, as the economy has markedly improved since 2012.
Ricci said it's possible that the opioid epidemic is related to the increase in physical abuse of children, although that's far from clear.
“If it's not the economy then one has to look at other stressors on families,” Ricci said. “In Maine, we have the stressor of substance abuse. It has had a profound effect on our state.”
Maine has been undergoing an opioid crisis over the past several years, with a record 418 overdose deaths in 2017, most caused by opioids.
“Child abuse in all its forms is the No. 1 cause of adverse health problems in adults,” Ricci said, but often it gets scant attention in the news, and from state and federal lawmakers. “Many of us talk until we're blue in face for the need to protect children,” he said. “If there's a sensational case everybody pays attention for a little while, and then it goes by the wayside.”
MORE INVESTMENT IN PREVENTION
Debra Dunlap, regional director of Community Partnerships for Protecting Children Southern Maine for Opportunity Alliance, a child prevention program that is scheduled to be eliminated by the LePage administration , said there are many trends happening at the same time, and no one really knows why the abuse numbers change over time.
“These issues are really complex and we have to be careful not to be speculative,” Dunlap said. “It is good that more people are making these reports (to CPS). We do know that families most at risk are those that struggle to meet basic needs, like having kids go to bed hungry.”
Ricci said more needs to be invested in child abuse prevention.
“There are so many opportunities for prevention that are shown to have real benefit for children,” Ricci said.
State funding for the $2.2 million CPPC prevention program is expected to end by Sept. 30, although children's advocates are lobbying for the LePage administration to reverse course. Maine DHHS officials argued Wednesday that the program duplicates other state programs and is not evidence-based, a contention strongly disputed by Opportunity Alliance officials and others.
Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Paul LePage, said in a prepared statement that it's possible a component of the CPPC program, the Parents as Partners program that connects parents with at-risk families, could continue in some way.
“The governor takes seriously the prevention of child abuse and the handling of child welfare cases, especially given his personal experience growing up in an abusive household,” Rabinowitz said in the statement. “A clear and effective child abuse reporting structure and intervention protocol is key to preventing further abuse and potentially saving the life of a child.”
Debate rages in Augusta about female genital mutilation measure
by Steve Collins
AUGUSTA — There are parts of the world where it has long been common for adult women to slice away girls' genital tissue with a sharp blade in a bid to dampen their sexual desires.
Though Maine is a long way from anywhere this has traditionally been a problem, a battle is raging among lawmakers about whether the state ought to have a law specifically barring female genital mutilation.
The operation to slice off all or part of a woman's clitoris and labia is prohibited under federal law and is almost certainly banned by existing, broader Maine statutes. In addition, there is no solid evidence that female circumcision is happening in Maine.
One provision in a bill legislators are eyeing would also make it a felony to take a girl outside Maine to have someone cut her genital tissue without a medical reason, which is already illegal under federal law.
Safiya Khalid, a Somali-American from Lewiston who serves on the city's library board, said Friday that “old school” women in her community “wouldn't risk” having the procedure done on a child in Maine, but some might take their daughters back to Africa for it. She doesn't know anyone who's had it done, she said, but she thinks it probably has occurred.
“It's a horrible experience,” Khalid said, typically done without anesthesia. “It's just terrible.”
There is an international consensus that it's an unacceptable practice that needs to be stamped out and major efforts are underway to convince people to stop it in the 29 countries where it is common.
The debate over the proposed state law is producing extraordinarily heated rhetoric. The Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee, which has listened to the arguments about the measure, plans to discuss it Monday. Lawmakers killed a similar proposal last year.
For Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon, the issue is “a no-brainer,” he said. “As a state, we need to do everything we can to protect young children from this barbaric act on our soil. It is child abuse, plain and simple.”
Those opposed to the bill said it's not only unnecessary, it may be counterproductive. They said it would hurt women and girls, not help them.
Critics of the proposal see it as a thinly disguised attack on African immigrants, especially Somalis who hail from an area where female genital mutilation is widespread, basically a swath from Somalia on the east coast of Africa to Sierra Leone on the west, an area that includes Muslims, Christians and animists.
There is an “insidious assumption that members of Maine's Somali community support this harmful practice,” Maine Family Planning's Kate Brogan told lawmakers.
A 2017 survey of the immigrant community in Maine by Partnerships for Health found that 71 percent think the practice is harmful and 82 percent believe it shouldn't happen.
The issue has particular resonance in the Lewiston-Auburn area given the influx of immigrants in the past two decades from countries where the practice is common. About 7,500 East Africans have moved to Androscoggin County and another 5,000 to Cumberland County in that time, according to the Immigrant Resource Center of Maine.
Some of the women and girls who moved to Maine underwent the illegal procedure in their home countries, though specifics are hard to come by. Khalid said she knows “a lot of friends and people who had it done” to them before coming to America.
The survey found most Maine physicians have rarely seen signs of it, but some in Lewiston and Portland reported that up to one in four of their patients had undergone the procedure, apparently before coming to the United States. It found no indication that female patients were circumcised in the United States.
Supporters of the measure, pushed in part by an anti-Muslim hate group, said girls need protection.
The bill , proposed by Rep. Heather Sirocki, R-Scarborough, and co-sponsored by Mason, would make it a crime for anyone to circumcise a girl in Maine or bring a girl anywhere else to do it except in the rare circumstance that a physician performs the operation to protect a girl's health.
Attorney General Janet Mills said prosecutors can already bring charges of child abuse or aggravated assault, felonies that could land a person in prison for years.
The Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the proposed law is pointless.
Walter McKee, chairman of its legislative committee, told legislators there is “no question that the crime of aggravated assault encompasses the very conduct in the proposed, brand-new statute here. There is no reason to add a new law to deal with more narrow conduct.”
“Muddying the waters by allowing this new statute to be placed in the criminal code would be unnecessary and unwise,” McKee said.
In the 26 states that have adopted legislation that specifically singles out female genital mutilation as a crime, all adopted after the federal government made it a felony in 1996, it doesn't appear there has been a single prosecution under any of those state statutes.
The FBI said that two Southern Californians pleaded guilty in 2005 to charges related to a plot to allegedly perform the mutilation on two children. The following year, the FBI said, an Ethiopian man living in Georgia was convicted on charges of aggravated battery and cruelty to children for performing it on his 2-year-old daughter.
There is also a case, brought last year in Michigan, against two doctors and another adult involved in performing the illegal procedure on two 7-year-old girls, according to CNN. Their criminal case is still pending.
Khalid said that even if somebody wanted to have the procedure done in Maine, she can't see how it could occur. They typically have an older woman do the cutting while a child is held down by four other women, she said.
Finding a woman willing to participate in this country strikes Khalid as extremely unlikely.
“Where are they going to find the lady who does it?” Khalid asked. She said nobody would take that risk because everyone knows it is illegal — and hard to conceal.
Girls who have been cut, she said, spend “days and days and months” walking peculiarly, she said, to minimize the pain and impact. Plus, she said, schools and others would probably find out through everyday observation.
The World Health Organization says that more than 200 million girls and women who are alive today have been cut in various ways in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
Typically, the WHO says, it is performed on girls between infancy and age 15, usually carried out by traditional circumcisors. Though many of the victims are Muslims, experts say the practice has no religious basis. It is common, for example, in mostly Christian Ethiopia.
The procedure “has no health benefits, and it harms girls and women in many ways,” the international health agency says. “It involves removing and damaging healthy and normal female genital tissue, and interferes with the natural functions of girls' and women's bodies.”
Some worry the focus on the issue may cause women circumcised as girls in other lands to steer clear of physicians.
Brogan said that her organization, a sexual and reproductive health care provider, is “very concerned about legislation that could potentially deter Somali youth and women from accessing vital women's health care services.”
“If we create an environment where simply walking through the doors of a health center can bring law enforcement and criminal justice engagement to the family and community, we guarantee that those affected by (female genital mutilation) will avoid needed medical care,” said Evelyn deFrees, policy advocate for the Maine Women's Lobby.
“This is not just conjecture,” she told legislators. “Survivors of child sexual abuse routinely engage in unexpected behaviors in order to protect the parents and family members who provide their care, even if those individuals are also abusers or aware of the abuse.”
DeFrees said that if officials “truly want to support survivors of FGM, we will make it easier to access health care, reproductive care, and mental health care. When we erode those relationships — which criminalization of parents will do — we make it harder for survivors to receive the care they need.”
In much of the push for the proposal there is an assumption that the practice is happening in Maine.
For example, Gov. Paul LePage said in a radio address last month that a federal grant for an education program about the practice “has not stopped the mutilation of children” and insisted “we must be able to prosecute.”
But the attorney's general office and the Department of Health and Human Services say they haven't ever received a report that girls have been subjected to the practice in Maine.
Nonetheless, the governor, pointing out that other states have passed specific laws, warned that Maine should follow suit so it won't become “a hub for female genital mutilation procedures.”
LePage did not explain how Maine could become a hub for those practicing the already illegal circumcision of women.
Even compared to the heated rhetoric that has often surrounded the issue in Augusta, a news release this week from the Maine Republican Party stood out.
In it, the GOP's state chairwoman, Demi Kouzounas, begged opponents of the proposed law to “put politics aside for once and stand for our girls. Let's protect our daughters.”
She accused the Maine People's Alliance — described by the Republicans as an “extremist, socialist nonprofit arm of the Maine Democratic Party” — of betraying women with its testimony against the bill.
Kouzounas said critics of the measure “turn a blind eye” because “it's a young girl's private area.”
“This practice is horrific and torturous, and I'm ashamed that anyone would defend it — especially any woman. It's barbaric!” she said. “It is unconscionable that extremist organizations can promote safe spaces for people's feelings while opposing safe spaces for our daughters from razor blades.”
Kouzounas' comments don't reflect the testimony given to the committee recently by the MPA's legislative director, Taryn Hallweaver.
Hallweaver told the panel that “female genital mutilation is a practice that violates fundamental human rights.”
She focused her words, however, on her concern that the measure targets a problem that may not exist in Maine for the purpose of slurring Muslim immigrants, not helping them.
She pointed out that the United Nations Children's Fund has warned the success in the international effort to stamp out female genital mutilation by 2030 seeks to do so through education and empowering victims.
Hallweaver said the legislation ought to include prevention and education measures, including language to combat discrimination against women, girls and immigrants.
Nowhere in her testimony did Hallweaver defend the practice.
Jennifer Jones of Falmouth called for legislators to shelve Sirocki's bill. She said it serves merely to divide people.
“lt denigrates a certain population of citizens and by extension, it demeans all of us,” Jones told legislators. “It inflames racial tensions. It leads to racial stereotypes that are incorrect. It is unnecessary. It is causing further fear and trauma to a group of people who have been repeatedly targeted and vilified.”
But Beverly Cowan of Rockland had a different take.
“We must have protections in place for the people who are trying to escape torture in their homeland,” she said. “Instead, they have come here and faced the same problems that they left behind in the name of multiculturalism. In cases of FGM, we need to protect children from their parents.”
Report Finds DHHS Missed 'Red Flags' in Multiple Child Abuse Cases
by Patty Wight
A recent report from the Maine Children's Ombudsman found that the Department of Health and Human Services failed to follow proper assessment policy in multiple child welfare cases, including children in their parents' care.
Earlier this week, a 10-year old girl from Stockton Springs was found beaten to death in her home, after months of abuse. Former neighbors and school officials say they contacted DHHS with concerns about possible child abuse. Several lawmakers are now calling for an investigation into DHHS's handling of the case.
In her 2017 report, Maine's Child Welfare Services Ombudsman Christine Alberi said multiple child abuse cases involved the department's “failure to follow assessment policy, failure to follow safety planning policy, or failure to recognize risk to children in their parents' care.”
Of particular concern, said Alberi, were cases involving highly vulnerable children.
The extent to which DHHS was involved with 10-year old Marissa Kennedy is unclear. Her mother and step-father are now charged with her murder. But Republican Senate President Mike Thibodeau says he thinks her death could have been prevented.
"There were red flags. The system failed this little girl."
Marissa Kennedy attended school in Bangor last year and more recently lived in Stockton Springs. Several former neighbors from Bangor told reporters this week that they witnessed or heard what sounded like abuse in the home and repeatedly called police. On Thursday, Bangor Schools Superintendent, Dr. Betsy Webb, issued a statement that staff contacted DHHS on several occasions to report suspected abuse while Marissa Kennedy was a student. Senator Thibodeau now wants Governor LePage to investigate DHHS's handling of Kennedy's case.
"We want to make sure that the chief executive, this is high on his priority list, and that he takes a personal interest in making sure and understanding what has happened, and being absolutely committed to improving the checks and balances. Because this can't happen again."
Thibodeau isn't the only lawmaker calling for an investigation.
Democratic Representative Patty Hymanson is co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. She says she wants to know DHHS protocol after someone makes a call to report suspected abuse.
"What was the problem that broke down?” asks Hymanson. “Are other case workers overwhelmed? They are wonderful people, and I'm sure they're up at night because of this tragedy."
Hymanson is sending a letter to the Government Oversight Committee to ask them to conduct an expedited review of DHHS's process.
A spokeswoman for Governor LePage issued a written statement saying that DHHS is conducting a thorough internal investigation, as is the Child Death Review Panel, an independent body. The findings will be reported to the governor for his review and action.
DHHS did not respond to a request for comment about the call for the investigation. But in 2017 the Department did provide a response to the assessment from the Maine Children's Ombudsman's report. It said its Office of Child and Family Services engages in monthly face-to-face contacts in critical cases, and actively works with staff "to promote improvements where needed."
Sex trafficking study reveals 77% increase in reported LA juvenile cases
by Ryan Naquin
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -
The number of reported cases of people victimized by human trafficking in Louisiana is growing, according to the Department of Children and Family Services .
The annual report showed cases of people 18 and older increased 41 percent in 2017 compared to 2016, and reported cases among children 17 and younger grew by 77 percent.
"It is scarily surprising how easily a child can be blackmailed," DCFS consultant and author of the report Walter Fahr said. "I think it was up to 60 or 70 kids 12 and under who were identified as confirmed victims or at-risk victims. That's even a much younger group than most people think about."
Orleans Parish ranked number one in the study with 104 reported cases, followed by Caddo Parish and East Baton Rouge Parish.
Jefferson ranked fourth with 25 reported cases, and St. Tammany Parish rounded out the top five with 16 reported cases in 2017.
In total, the study found 438 confirmed cases of human trafficking victims in Louisiana, 219 cases of prospective victims and 24 cases that were not reported.
One of the reasons for the uptick is because seven organizations not included in the 2016 report turned over their numbers for the 2017 report, but less than half of the agencies in Louisiana dealing with human trafficking victims will reveal the number of reported cases because of confidentiality issues
"This is just the tip of the iceberg," Fahr said. "Just from even the providers we are not getting all of the data we think we should be getting, but then again, we're not necessarily getting all of the disclosure from the actual victims out there either. It's only dependent on whether they are able to seek services from providers."
A majority of those trapped in sex trafficking come from less affluent backgrounds or foster homes, according to Fahr.
But he also warns that children have become victims by sharing nude photographs on social media, which can then lead them to being blackmailed and lured into off the sex trade unknowingly.
"I've seen some testimony of some older people who had that experience coming from upper middle class homes," Fahr said. "The risk for kids who are runaways or on the streets is much greater that's true, but I don't think we can let our guard down for our kids across the board...There is a lot of naivety about what is happening on social media and how people misrepresent themselves and who they are on that and how vulnerable kids truly are."
"The youngest victim we've had is 13 years of age," New Orleans Covenant House Executive Director Jim Kelly said. "That's an 8th grader."
Kelly was not surprised by the increase number of reported cases.
"Over the course of the last two year's we've cared for 155 trafficking victims. I think people would be really surprised by that number," he said.
Kelly is a part of the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force. The group is holding a summit at the Lakeview Christian Center at 5885 Fleur De Lis Drive on March 8th.
Florida Man Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison for Using an Infant and a Toddler to Produce Child Pornography
A Middleburg, Florida man who used an infant and a toddler to produce child pornography was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison yesterday, to be followed by a lifetime of supervised release.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department's Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez of the Middle District of Florida and Special Agent in Charge James C. Spero of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Tampa, made the announcement.
Andrew Leslie, 23, a former software engineer, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Brian J. Davis on Oct. 21, 2017.
“Andrew Leslie committed unspeakable crimes against the most vulnerable of victims, children so young that they literally cannot speak for themselves” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan. “Our prosecutors and law enforcement partners are committed to identifying and prosecuting offenders like Andrew Leslie and securing sentences like today's, which ensures that he will never harm another child.”
“Yesterday's sentence demonstrates the severity of the crimes committed in this case,” said U.S. Attorney Lopez. “We intend to continue our pursuit in prosecuting such egregious crimes as this, in hopes that justice will be served for the victims.”
“This predator has committed atrocities that are beyond comprehension,” said Special Agent in Charge Spero. “We hope yesterday's sentencing can bring some solace to the victims in their recovery process.”
According to admissions made in conjunction with the guilty plea, during the execution of a federal search warrant at Leslie's Middleburg residence, agents located a digital camera next to Leslie's bed. Inside of the camera was a memory card that contained a series of images depicting Leslie sexually abusing two children, one of which was an infant child and the second who was approximately two years old. The two-year-old child, whom Leslie admitted was in bed with Leslie at the time law enforcement agents entered the residence, was found in the residence and rescued. Forensic analysis of other digital devices seized from the residence revealed that Leslie had produced, received, distributed, and possessed numerous images and videos depicting child pornography.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations and the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
Trial Attorney Lauren E. Britsch of the Criminal Division's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney D. Rodney Brown of the Middle District of Florida prosecuted the case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys' Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc .