National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

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"News of the Week"  

September, 2018 - Week 2
MJ Goyings
Many thanks to our very own "MJ" Goyings, a resident of Ohio,
for her daily research that provides us with the news related material that appears on the LACP & NAASCA web sites.


Hearing others' stories, priest sex abuse survivors come forward with their own

by Tim Darragh, Riley Yates and Christine Schiavo

For the past 20 years, Diana Vojtasek could barely speak about the sexual abuse she says she suffered as a Catholic high school student during a vulnerable time in her life.

When she married in 1997, her husband, Mark, didn't know about what she would later describe as forced sexual encounters with a priest, who has since been defrocked.

And when a civil lawsuit she filed in 2004 failed to advance because it missed a legal deadline, she said, “I just kind of went back into my little hole.”

With three little children at the time, Vojtasek, who lives near Reading, said she became consumed with protecting herself and them.

“Honestly, it was absolutely paralyzing,” she said. “For a time, I didn't want to leave the house.”

But the grand jury investigation into child sex abuse in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania broke the dam holding Vojtasek's fears and shame. In the month since the report went public, she and others who had previously kept their abuse hidden have stepped forward as they find a supportive community.

“Anytime you have a high-profile case of sexual assault, it almost always inspires people to disclose in one way or another,” said Kristen Houser, chief public affairs officer for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. “That might be making an official report to law enforcement or an institution. It might be sharing with friends and family for the first time.”

The grand jury's report, naming 301 allegedly abusive priests and conservatively estimating 1,000 victims, “validated” the struggles that silent survivors had been feeling, she said. “That creates an environment that many survivors have been waiting on.”

This week, the hotline established by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro for clergy sex abuse complaints topped 1,000 calls, a spokesman said. That gives a sense of the impact of the report and also how many people are “coming out of the woodwork,” said the spokesman, Joe Grace.

Grace could not discuss what investigators are finding in the calls, but said agents would delve into complaints where appropriate — meaning, when they are within the statute of limitations.

Some calls have come to attorneys and local district attorney's offices. Richard Serbin, an Altoona attorney who has represented numerous sex abuse victims, said his office has fielded a number of calls in recent weeks from people alleging new cases of abuse.

Immediately after the report's Aug. 14 release, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli said his office received a handful of phone calls from people who said they were abused but did not want to give their names. At least seven reports of abuse were forwarded to him, largely from the Allentown Diocese, but also one from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and another from a church in New York.

The reports involve allegations that stretch as far back as the 1950s, Morganelli said. None contains accusations that can be investigated criminally, given the passage of time, he said.

Survivors also have been calling the Allentown Diocese. Thirty-eight people have called its victim assistance coordinator (800-791-9209) in the month since the report came out, although not all were about sexual abuse, spokesman Matt Kerr said. Of those callers, he said, 26 said it was the first time they contacted the office.

The long journey from scared victim to emboldened survivor likely will be repeated by hundreds, if not thousands more people touched by the Pennsylvania scandal, said Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston lawyer portrayed in the 2015 movie “Spotlight,” who continues to get new clients nearly 20 years after the Spotlight story broke.

“Victims are going to be coming out because of the Pennsylvania report for decades to come,” he said. “This is not going to be done in one fell swoop.”

Targeted in school

As a 16-year-old high school junior in 1990, Vojtasek was struggling emotionally as her parents' marriage deteriorated. From her first day at Reading Central Catholic High School, she said, the Rev. James Gaffney took an intense, personal interest in her. On that first day, she said, Gaffney grabbed her in a crowded hallway, put his arm around her and told a nun, “Don't we make a nice couple?” Vojtasek said.

Under the guise of counseling, Gaffney — who had already faced questioning over inappropriate sexual relationships in the 1980s, according to the grand jury report — drew Vojtasek toward him in private settings, she said. He turned conversations to sexual matters and coerced her into having sex in parks, in a car and other places, she said.

Called by subpoena to speak to the grand jury in 2016 and 2017, Gaffney admitted to having sex with at least one female student “in a car, on school property, and at other locations,” the report said.

“Yes, it is possible” that he had sex with other minors, Gaffney told the grand jurors. He said he couldn't remember specific details.

Gaffney's pursuit of Vojtasek continued after her high school years, with Gaffney writing letters to her while he was “in treatment,” she said. She would eventually leave Pennsylvania and then returned to the Reading area, still wracked with guilt and shame, and drinking to excess.

When The Boston Globe's 2002 Spotlight reporting put the story of sex abuse by priests in the headlines, Vojtasek's buried feelings resurfaced. She and others filed civil complaints in 2004 against the diocese, but the cases never had a chance. Vojtasek turned 30 a few months before filing her complaint, making her too old to file a child abuse claim.

Seeing the diocese's legal reply to her complaint, denying all of Vojtasek's claims, devastated her. “That absolutely crushed me, that they would deny every complaint I made, essentially calling me a liar,” she said.

Again, she buried her feelings. But remarkably, she kept her faith. She found comfort in the Bible, and her Christian faith allowed her to forgive the church, even though, she says, she still has not received a personal apology.

In 2016, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office contacted her about speaking before the grand jury, which once again raised her anxieties. She then asked for and received approval for the diocese to cover the cost of her therapy. She is one of 31 people who have had their therapy paid for by the diocese since 2004, Kerr said.

Her goal now, Vojtasek said, is to support other survivors and to let them know they can let go of their guilt and shame.

“I can't live in those fears anymore,” Vojtasek said. “I'm so tired of being this little girl cowering in a corner.”

Meanwhile, Gaffney abandoned his ministry in 2002, the report says, and landed a teaching job at Albright College in Reading. The diocese did not warn the college of his background, it said. Gaffney resigned his teaching position in February 2017, a college spokeswoman said — in between his two appearances before the grand jury. He could not be reached for comment.

Man with a secret

David Zernhelt's past is a troubled one, and he was in and out of psychiatric care throughout his adolescence. Many of his suicidal episodes played out in public, with newspaper articles from the early 1990s documenting the Allentown teen's several run-ins with the law, including a case in which he pleaded guilty to the indecent assault of a 13-year-old girl.

But missing from that story was a secret that, even today, is difficult for Zernhelt to talk about. For five years starting in the late 1980s when he was 13, Zernhelt said he was sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas J. Kerestus, his family's pastor at Sacred Heart parish in Allentown. To this day, most of his family know nothing about what he endured, he said.

“It destroyed a lot of my life,” Zernhelt, 44, said in his first public account of the abuse. “I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed that the church tucked it under the rug. I'm ashamed that no one came back and ever apologized.”

The grand jury's report references Zernhelt — though not by name — as one of three victims of Kerestus, who was 72 when he died in 2014 at Holy Family Villa in Bethlehem, a retirement community for priests. But unlike many of those who shared their stories with the grand jury, Zernhelt was unaware his case was in the Allentown Diocese's secret files until contacted this month by a reporter.

Citing the diocese's records, the grand jury said Zernhelt reported his abuse to the church in October 1992 when he was 18 years old. In a phone call to St. Ann's rectory in Emmaus, Zernhelt named Kerestus, “spoke in detail about the relationship” and “sounded disturbed,” according to a memo sent to then-Bishop Thomas Welsh.

Today, Zernhelt lives in the Easton area and has a 9-year-old son. He remains under psychological care, takes four medications a day, and sees a therapist every two weeks and a psychiatrist every month.

Zernhelt said he wanted to speak publicly so that people would understand what he was going through at the time. He said he hopes his story inspires others to break their silence.

“It still impacts my life today. I still get nightmares. I still get sad,” Zernhelt said.

Despite his past, he said he is as happy as he can be.

“I have no choice but to move forward,” Zernhelt said. “The here-and-now and the future, that's what I have to focus on.”

‘I can't go to church'

Stephanie Bartek isn't sure how old she was when her grandmother took her to a little house in the Coal Region, where the Rev. Joseph Sabadish apparently was expecting her.

She vividly recalls a bed so tall she could barely see above the mattress. And Sabadish lying naked upon it. He had been a frequent guest at her grandmother's house and had been assistant pastor at her grandmother's church, Sacred Heart in Bethlehem Township.

Another man, wearing a priest's black clothes and white collar, was present, Bartek said, when the door closed behind her.

“They told me he was sick and I had to make him feel better,” Bartek, 42, of Bethlehem, said. “I remember him saying he loved me, he loved God, and this is how I show I love God.”

Bartek isn't sure if that was the first time Sabadish had sexually assaulted her or if she was too young to remember when it started. She knows there were other episodes in the years Sabadish was attached to her family, even joining them on vacations to the Jersey Shore.

As a child, she tried to tell her family about the abuse but was “hushed,” she said. In 2014, she told her story to the Philadelphia Archdiocese, and she said it has been paying for her therapy since 2015. She also told it to the Bucks County Courier Times. And then to an agent with the state attorney general's office. But when the grand jury report was released last month, Sabadish's name wasn't in it.

“I just have to tell people,” she told The Morning Call last week. “It's not a secret anymore. Telling is helping.”

Sabadish died in 1999 at 80. In 2005, he was alleged in a Philadelphia grand jury report to have abused two children, a brother and sister, in the 1960s, years before he abused Bartek.

Four times during his 54 years in the priesthood, archdiocesan records show, he was removed from ministry or on leave for health reasons. During one of those suspensions, which archdiocesan records show was between 1976-1979, Sabadish simultaneously was assigned to Sacred Heart in Bethlehem Township, where Allentown Diocese directories listed him as assistant pastor.

Kerr, the Allentown Diocese spokesman, couldn't say how Sabadish was allowed to serve at a parish while he was under suspension in another diocese.

“All those who would have been involved in 1976 are deceased,” he said. “Therefore, we cannot reconstruct the decision-making process at that time.”

According to the Philadelphia Archdiocese, Sabadish was suspended in 1976 for improperly handling parish money, said spokesman Kenneth A. Gavin. But the suspension was lifted that same year by Philadelphia Cardinal John Krol, Gavin said, enabling Sabadish, who was from Schuylkill County, to serve in Bethlehem Township.

Bishop Joseph McShea, then-head of the Allentown Diocese, accepted Sabadish, Gavin said, but later suspended him for again mishandling parish money. By the end of 1979, Sabadish was working at a parish in Chester, Delaware County.

Gavin said that at the time of those transfers, there were no abuse allegations in Sabadish's file.

As for why Sabadish's name doesn't appear in the recent grand jury report, Grace, the attorney general's spokesman, said the report “focused specifically on priests against whom [the grand jury] uncovered the most documentary evidence from the dioceses.” He noted that the grand jury heard accusations about more than 400 priests, though it identified only 301 by name.

Archdiocesan records show Sabadish returned to ministry after his various leaves and suspensions, ending his career as parochial vicar at St. Stanislaus in Lansdale. Presiding over his funeral Mass there was Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, then-archbishop of Philadelphia, according to an obituary in the Pottsville Republican.

By contrast, Bartek spent the decades fighting heroin addiction and feelings of worthlessness. The grand jury investigations have helped her better understand what happened to her, she said, and to realize her story is one of many.

“It's good to know that it wasn't me,” she said. “But it makes me sick that that many people had to live the hell on earth that I live.”

A mother of two grown children, Bartek long ago severed ties with the church but still chokes up when talking about her faith.

“I believe in the prayers and the songs and all that part of the church,” she said, through tears. “But I can't go to church. I just can't,amp.html



Accusations of decades of child abuse at Vermont orphanage lead to investigation

by Laura Ly and Chuck Johnston, CNN

(CNN) Repeated and inhumane beatings. Traumatic sexual abuse of minors. A child being pushed out a window to his death.

That's what several former residents of St. Joseph's Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont, say happened at the hands of nuns and other staff for decades before the orphanage, run by the Catholic Church, closed in 1974.

The accusations, the subject of a Buzzfeed News article published last month, have prompted the creation of a joint task force to investigate survivor stories and decide on any possible criminal prosecution, Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan announced Monday.

The Vermont Attorney General's Office, the Burlington Police Department, the Vermont State Police, and the Chittenden County State Attorney's Office will make up the task force, Donovan said.

There is no statute of limitations involving murder cases in the state of Vermont. That's one reason Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said investigating the accusations of abuse is important, even if they happened decades ago.

"These children were some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and our community failed to protect them," Weinberger said in a statement. "There may still be an opportunity to secure justice for some orphanage victims. If it is possible to make murder charges at this point we will, whether the perpetrators are living or dead."

Burlington Bishop Christopher Coyne has pledged full cooperation with the investigation.

"The fact that those events happened over 50 years ago does not lessen the horror and grief we all feel at the thought of innocent and vulnerable children suffering abuse at the hands of those who should have cared for and protected them," Coyne said said in a statement posted on his website. . "I offer to these authorities our cooperation and I pledge that the Diocese of Burlington will be forthcoming with anything that can be helpful in resolving the allegations about these matters."

Donovan said the joint task force was formed after the publication of a Buzzfeed article entitled "We Saw Nuns Kill Children: The Ghosts of St. Joseph's Catholic Orphanage."

The BuzzFeed News article includes accusations of abuse toward children by nuns and other orphanage staff, including claims of staff throwing children into lakes, forcing children to eat vomit, and repeatedly physically and sexually abusing them. Former residents of the orphanage said they saw nuns suffocate a newborn and throw a child out a window to his death. CNN has not been able to corroborate any of these reports.

A hotline will be set up this week for survivors to report their stories, Donovan said. Anyone with information relating to incidents at St. Joseph's Orphanage can also make reports to the Burlington Police Department online.



Oklahoma Couple Arrested For Child Abuse; Boy Found Hiding In Washing Machine

by kymills

MIDWEST CITY, Ok. (KFOR) – A couple in the Oklahoma City area was arrested this week on child abuse charges after police were tipped off by a relative.

Taylor Ainsworth, 23, and her boyfriend Cody Wayne Hudson, 28, were booked into the Oklahoma County Jail, each facing one count of child abuse by injury.

NBC affiliate KFOR-TV reports that Ainsworth's sister called Midwest City Police on August 27, claiming Ainsworth admitted to their mother that she had beaten Hudson's 9-year-old son. The sister said she had seen the boy the day before and was “covered in bruises,” according to court documents.

When officers showed up to the home in the 1400 block of McGregor Drive to do a welfare check, Ainsworth and Hudson claimed the boy had been at Ainsworth's mother's house since the weekend. Police searched the house and left after not finding the boy.

“We're getting the runaround. Nobody wants to tell us the truth,” said Midwest City Assistant Police Chief Sid Porter. “They say he's not there, (with) someone else. Officers leave and then turnaround and go right back three minutes later because they find information he wasn't somewhere else.”

The officers searched again and found the boy “in the washing machine covered by a blanket,” according to court documents, where he was allegedly told by Ainsworth and Hudson to hide while police were at the home.

“The child was covered in bruises from the top of his head to the bottom of his legs,” wrote an officer in a probable cause affidavit. “He had multiple large bruises on his face and a black eye.”

“To put clothes in front to try to hide him, so the police can't find him, and threaten him if he says anything, it's just very sad,” said Porter. “This poor little boy had marks and bruises on him.”

Hudson allegedly said “It was all me” while Ainsworth — who is six months pregnant — said she didn't do anything to the boy and thought he was with her mother, saying she had been ordered on bed rest.

However, according to court documents, during an interview with police the boy said Ainsworth bit him “numerous times and choked him, stomping on his left leg and telling him to ‘shut up or I'll beat you more.'” He also told investigators Ainsworth chokes him with his own shirt while hitting him with a spatula and yelling no one likes him.

The boy said both his dad and Ainsworth beat him with a belt and his dad made some of the injuries, but most came from Ainsworth, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. He also said he's made to sleep on the floor near the front door or on the bathroom floor.

The boy, as well as three other children, have been placed elsewhere by DHS.

Ainsworth and Hudson both have bond set at $10,000



Talking about child sex abuse is the only way to stop stigma

Child Victims Act is once again a topic in Albany


There are millions of adult survivors who carry shame and guilt that doesn't belong to them.

Let's destroy the stigma and shame and stop the suffering.

Sue Fort White is executive director of Our Kids.

What if I told you one in four girls and one in seven boys will be sexually abused by age 18?

Would you believe? Most people don't.

At Our Kids, this jarring fact challenged us to start a conversation about child sexual abuse in this country. We know silence and secrecy are the weapons of abusers. We also know talking about the issue is the only way to stop the stigma and suffering this epidemic causes daily.

As Our Kids begins its fourth decade as a leader treating the medical and emotional needs of children and families affected by child sexual abuse, we want to do more to bring attention to the issue.

So we created a beautiful, startling video that tells the truth about child sexual abuse.

The stirring narrative, brought to life by Creative Communications, speaks to the traumatic impact of child sexual abuse and amplifies the resilience and courage of children and adult survivors.

We want this video to have a national impact, and as a small nonprofit, we needed help to make that happen, and Nashville stepped up.

This spring, the organizers of Craft Content Week selected Our Kids as the beneficiary of Design-a-thon. During the 14-hour pop-up shop, 12 volunteers focused on graphic design, web development, social media and content.

We left that day with a website that holds vital information about how to report sexual abuse, learn more about the issue and connects adult survivors with support and information.

This journey has been an important one for Our Kids. We know this movement is not about us. Rather, it is about the one in four girls and one in seven boys who will experience child sexual abuse.

We feel strongly that, at this point in our 31-year history, it is time to start this conversation. Parents and loved ones can't protect the children in their lives if they don't know that child sexual abuse is a reality.

There are millions of adult survivors who carry shame and guilt that doesn't belong to them.

As the "What If I Told You?" video says: “Believe and protect the child. Embrace the adult. They are courageous. It's never too late to heal.”

"What If I Told You?" is an opportunity for this country to finally acknowledge and address the complex and tragic reality of child sexual abuse.

It is time to affirm and support adult survivors everywhere. Silence and secrecy are the vehicles of abuse, betrayal and exploitation. Let's destroy the stigma and shame and stop the suffering, starting right here in Nashville when we launch the national campaign Sept.


United Kingdom

UK Child Trafficking Cases More Than Double Over Last Year

by Megan Davies

Child trafficking cases reported to UK authorities have increased by 66 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to a new report by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group.

According to the report, 2,118 minors were found to be victims of trafficking in 2017 – making up over 40% of potential victims reported to authorities. It also raises concerns about protection and prevention provisions in place.

National Referral Mechanism (NRM) figures from the National Crime Agency record both the number of potential cases that are reported to them, and the number of people who are found to be victims of modern slavery.

Last year's figures had already shown a 30% increase from 2015.

Although national statistics don't provide exact numbers, it's believed that many of these children are victims of county lines trafficking. This means they are sent to sell drugs out of town, in rural and suburban areas, often operating from a vulnerable person's home.

Although there have been new trafficking laws, the charity Anti-Slavery International claim that their implementation is inconsistent and have condemned the UK's treatment of child trafficking cases.

A Human Rights Violation

The UK is signed to the 2005 Council of Europe Trafficking Convention, which outlines three levels of prevention, aimed at groups ranging from the general population to victims of trafficking.

The Convention treats trafficking as a human rights violation, which requires comprehensive prevention, including socio-economic strategies that target at-risk groups.

Modern Slavery - A Human Rights Problem

Slavery is a huge violation of our human rights – something which is set out in human rights law. Article 4 of the Human Rights Convention, which was incorporated into UK law by the Human Rights Act 1998, specifically prohibits slavery and forced labour.

PM Theresa May has previously vowed Britain will lead the way in defeating modern slavery around the globe too, which can take various forms. More than 13,000 people in the UK are thought to be victims.

While there were positive examples of prevention efforts, efforts to track trafficking, and give adequate support to victims, the report raised concerns about “fragmented” efforts to combat child trafficking, saying that they are “disjointed” and suffer from the lack of a comprehensive UK-wide policy.

Further, there is criticism that the topic of human trafficking has been absent from Brexit debates, despite the potential harm to the country's ability to combat trafficking.

Long-term support for victims is said to suffer under a governmental focus on immigration control, as protection measures are often only accessible for those with a right to work and residence permit. This excludes “a significant number” of trafficking victims.

There is, according to the charity, neither a standardised risk assessment before returning victims to their countries of origin, nor a follow-up and data collection on re-trafficking. This impacts whether prevention efforts can be measured successfully.

Anti-Slavery International has found in the past that victims of human trafficking are viewed “through the context of their immigration status”. In practice, this means that non-EU nationals are up to four times less likely to be recognised as victims of human trafficking.

Data is ‘Extremely Limited And Too Generic'

The report finds that trafficked asylum-seeking children in care go missing regularly, highlighting the high risk of re-trafficking. More broadly, it criticises the lack of attention paid to underlying and structural causes of child trafficking.

Campaigners called the data collected by NRM “extremely limited and too generic.” Crucially, it doesn't divide data by type of trafficking or by age beyond the adult/child distinction. Numbers are difficult to obtain and sometimes unclear, it finds, as they are held by local authorities – the practices of which can be patchy and inconsistent.

Jasmine O'Connor, CEO of Anti-Slavery International, said: “Having no clear plan in place to prevent child trafficking in the UK when we literally find over 2,000 of children in a year – and rising – who fall victims of ruthless criminals, should shame this Government”

Catherine Baker, Policy and Campaigns Officer of the children's rights organisation ECPAT UK, added that it was “time the government viewed this issue as one of child abuse and a violation of children's rights, and prioritised resourcing those working at the frontline to safeguard children at risk.”

“These children have often suffered unimaginable abuse, yet unlike for adult victims, there is no guaranteed specialist support provided to them once they are identified as victims.”

Anti-Slavery International have recommended that the UK government develops a UK-wide prevention strategy and a child-specific strategy, as well as reviewing legislation around trafficking.

They also pushed for the creation of unified tracking and guardianship schemes, and guaranteed assistance and support to victims



Breaking the silence

by Brenda Battel

UPPER THUMB — Cindy Smith did not want to tell her story.

But for the sake of her own healing and helping others, she recently realized she had to tell it.

Smith, 62, has been haunted by nightmares and flashbacks most of her life.

She has no memory of the period from age 8 to age 10. That is, except for one memory she's been trying to escape a majority of her life.

At age 8, Smith was playing with some siblings in the haymow on her family's farm in rural Ubly.

"It was either spring or fall," she recalled the warm, early evening.

Suddenly, her second-oldest sister, then 12, threatened Smith and told her to lie down.

She did.

Her sister then held her down and shoved straw into her mouth while Smith's older 15-year-old brother molested her.

“I just remember running downstairs when they finally got away from me, and I went and screamed to my mom crying," she recalled. “It's like, I'm eight years old and I didn't have (any) idea of how to even put this into words ... I didn't say anything because they had threatened me.”

She has spent a lifetime not wanting to think about the abuse. Or about the time she walked in on one sibling abusing another.

“It went away,” she said. “ ... I kind of put this in its place ... I didn't think about it for a lot of years. On and off, I'd get flashbacks.”

“ ... You'd think I would have put this all away a long time ago. But I never expected when my mom passed away for all this to come back up again,” she said.

When her mother died in March, she had to be around her five siblings — including the ones that had harmed her.

“It wasn't pleasant at all,” she said.

That brought back a lot of emotion tied to the abuse.

“It all came back at that point, and that's when I found a counselor," she said. “He said, ‘You've got to do something with this. You buried it ... With all the MeToo movement, here's your chance to get this out and help somebody else.'”

He told her if she keeps burying it, it will keep coming up.

“I'm 62 years old ... and I'm thinking, how many little girls ...” Smith paused, and began to weep. “How many of them are going through this — little boys and little girls?”

“ ... Somebody's got to get this out there," she added. "Somebody's got to start helping these kids that are going through this ... maybe this (story) would start a conversation between some moms and their daughters — dads and their sons.”

Smith plans to seek further treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder in Florida, where she now calls, "home."

“I moved to Florida because I didn't want to be around any of them,” she said. “I got down there, and I found a lot of peace.”

She made it clear that she has two supportive sisters who recently learned of the abuse.

“I was just able to tell them since my mom died,” Smith said. “People say, ‘Why don't you just move past it? It happened a long time ago.' I would really like to. I wish I could, and I've tried everything I could possibly do to do that.”

She hopes to turn her pain into a path of help for other victims, to whom she would say:

“Get some help. It doesn't leave you. Get out there and talk to somebody that knows how to deal with this because you've got to find a place you can put it so it doesn't keep haunting you ... They need professional help.”

“ ... The purpose is to get it out there to help somebody else," she added. "I'm sure I'm going to get backlash from some of my family members, saying, this is probably ... not accurate.”

Smith has shared her story with people who didn't believe her.

“It doesn't matter to me. You take it from here wherever you want to," she said. "... If you have a problem with it, why don't you just read the story and move on ... Why would it bother you?”

“You look at your big brother and sister, and you think they're supposed to protect you. That's not what happened. They used me.”

Smith has done her best to break the cycle of keeping secrets with her three sons.

“I think that's because I've gone through this," she said. "I think that's really helped. We're open. We talk about our family, and anybody's free to say anything ... We deal with it.”

“People don't understand the shame to it," she added. "You just feel so shamed, and it's like, this is my family. You don't want to have a family that's got secrets and horrible stuff going on. You want a family that's a normal family.”

“ ... You just carry that shame. And you know, once you open it up, the whole family's exposed. It's not my intent to throw anybody under the bus ... Now I'm finding out that it's not just our family. It's a lot of families.”

Local Resources

If you are a victim of abuse, or suspect that someone is being abused, contact your local law enforcement agency, or one of the following agencies:

• Huron County SafePlace 989-269-5300 or 888-849-SAFE.

• Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) Central Intake Center for Child Abuse and Neglect: 855-444-3911.

• MDHHS 989-269-9201; Nights and weekends, call 800-322-4822.

• Thumb Area Assault Crisis Center: 800-292-3666.

• Huron County Sheriff's Office: 989-269-9910.

• Huron County Prosecutor's Office: 989-269-9255.

• Anyone in immediate danger should call 911.

• Preventative services are available through the Huron County Child Abuse/Neglect Council (CA/N), which can be reached at 989-550-6261.

MJ Story, shelter operations manager for Huron County SafePlace, told the Tribune that SafePlace is a good starting point for those who have been abused, or suspect abuse.

They can speak anonymously, when they call, and do not have to provide anyone's name.

“Making that phone call is easier knowing they don't have to disclose anything they don't want to disclose,” she said.

Along with shelter and other help, SafePlace offers legal assistance — as does the Huron County Prosecutor's Office, which has a domestic violence advocate on staff.

The Child Advocacy Center of Huron County (CAC) is an offshoot of the CA/N Council. CAC is now being formed, and is not yet available to the public. Its mission is to minimize trauma to children who have experienced or witnessed abuse. The center will provide intervention, advocacy, treatment and education.

The CA/N Council sponsors a program for Huron County elementary students that teaches them about preventing child sexual abuse, said Elizabeth Herd of CAC. CA/N also has programs for adults that teaches them how to respond to children who are victims.

Getting Involved

The CA/N Council will host a fundraising dinner at 5 p.m. tonight at Verona Hills Golf Club for the CAC. It will start with a cash bar and silent auction, followed by dinner at 7 and a live auction at 8. Tickets are $25.

SafePlace will conduct a candlelight vigil Oct. 9 in front of the Huron County Building in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

SafePlace's annual appreciation banquet will be at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 7 at Verona Hills Golf Club. Dinner is free and open to the public.

Gaining Closure

This week, Smith was able to confront her abusive siblings.

When the time came, her other two sisters stood by her side supportively.

"Not one of them denied it or said anything, except, one (sibling) said, 'Okay, I'm going to leave,'" Smith explained.

That night, for the first time in years, she slept for more than eight hours straight.

"So peaceful," she noted. "(It) felt like a boulder lifted off me. I had no idea how freeing it would be ... I just hope I get the chance to help others


Aurora, Colorado

Sex trafficking survivor shares a horrifying story of abuse and courageous recovery

by Rob Low

AURORA, Colo. -- A mix of "kidnapping, torture and sex trafficking" is how 25-year old Lizi Mooney describes her three week ordeal in 2011.

Seven years later the Colorado survivor is finally able to share her memories as a naive teenager who hopped a bus near Colorado Springs and arrived in Denver's Civic Center Park just after New Year's 2011.

"I had tried most every drug about once ... like most 18 year olds I thought I knew it all," said Mooney before adding, "I wanted to be free so I decided to just run away."

Mooney told FOX31 she knows in hindsight her decision to run away from parents who cared about her doesn't sound rational but explained she was an 18-year-old who had been sexually abused by a friend's father and had a history of substance abuse, so she wrongly assumed she could find a better life on her own. "For some reason I had this picture in my head of me with thousands of dollars."

Lots of money is exactly what Mooney said she was promised by strangers she met at the McDonalds on the 16th Street Mall. Instead they took her to an apartment in Aurora where she met a woman named Misty Harris, who Aurora Police records show immediately turned Lizi Mooney into a slave.

"Misty Harris took my cell phone, ID, she read out my address ... 'if you try to run when you owe me money. I will kill your family,'" is what Mooney remembered Harris telling her.

Mooney said she was forced to live in a tiny two-bedroom apartment with five other adults and six children. "When I tried to leave out the door it was blocked ... I was made to sleep on the floor. I was starved."

Lizi said she was forced to prostitute herself on Colfax Avenue and have sex three times a day with strangers for money that went straight to Misty Harris. She also was sold online through, a website the FBI shut down earlier this year and she was also forced to advertise her services through a phone service called Vibe Line.

"Hi my name is Lizi. I`m blond, I'm 18 years old," is what Mooney remembers she was forced to say. "Apparently I didn`t say it sexy enough. We were sitting about as close as we are and she (Misty Harris) punched me in the face. She said say it again."

Mooney said she was forced to approach men at truck stops but said there is one thing that sticks with her more than the forced sex, "It`s almost like having sex with strangers wasn`t as bad as the abuse and absolute torture."

At one point she said Misty Harris got so mad at her, Mooney was forced to roll naked in a dirt alleyway and when she was brought inside the apartment the abuse only got worse. "I licked my own blood and the dirt from the alley outside off the wall," remembers Mooney, "And she was just laughing and having a fun time, everyone seemed to be having a fun time. I don`t see how anyone could enjoy that unless they are seriously mentally ill."

After three weeks, Mooney said she managed to escape and walked into a nearby convenience story where she asked the clerk to call police. Eventually in 2014, Misty Harris and two accomplices were convicted and sent to prison.

Lizi Mooney told FOX31 she struggled with drugs for another two years after her escape and even embraced racist beliefs getting a Swastika tattoo on her back because at the time she blamed all African-Americans for her torture and sex abuse.

"I think that I put that on the rest of the African-American race because I couldn`t put it right on Misty," said Mooney before explaining, "I was just so full of hate I couldn`t see the full picture and I`m still working on that."

Lizi would eventually meet her husband in rehab and said together they've stayed clean for five years. But she admits her history of addiction, cutting her arms with a razor and all the trauma she's endured will be a life-long struggle.
"Your story and telling police makes a huge difference," said Mooney who said it's important to encourage victims to speak up.

Mooney hopes to write a book about her experience and recovery.

As for Misty Harris, she was sentenced to 12 years in prison for Pimping and Assault. She had a parole hearing in June but the parole board denied her an early release


Buffalo, New York

Another Voice: Statutes of limitations are unfair to victims of childhood sex abuse

by Rebecca Stevens

Child Advocacy Centers are the nation's local care centers for child victims of abuse. The work we do is to help provide children with healing, justice and trust at what's often the toughest time in a child's life.

A recent grand jury report in Pennsylvania named 300 priests and presented evidence of their alleged sexual abuse of children in their congregations. This abuse mirrors earlier institutional abuse episodes in Boston, Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, and in many ways dwarfs them. More than 1,000 children were found to be victimized over 70 years in this report, and I know as well as anyone who serves abused children that, because they are so reluctant to disclose, the true number is likely much larger.

Another tragedy is the fact that, for many of these adult victims, there will be no justice. Existing statutes of limitations mean that after a certain defined period of time, the state cannot pursue criminal cases against their abusers, or that plaintiffs cannot seek civil damages. The shape of the change we hope to see everywhere is an end to criminal and civil statutes of limitations. New York, Pennsylvania and a handful of other states have kept statutes of limitations for allegations of child sexual abuse on the books long after many states have eliminated them.

We know that for many children and the adults they become, the trauma of child sexual abuse is so painful that it may take years for them to come forward. Whenever a victim steps up to share the crime committed against them, they should be able to seek justice and healing. And beyond seeing an individual offender held accountable through a criminal case, civil lawsuits against institutions are likewise important.

Civil suits are not just about compensating victims — although it is true that without appropriate interventions like the services our agency provides to child victims, the lifetime cost of suffering the abuse of trauma can be substantial in terms of lost wages, health-care cost and even shorter lifespans. Allowing these lawsuits to move forward is important for a far more critical reason: While a criminal conviction can protect children by removing the abuser from the community, a civil action may be the only way to make the institution act to prevent abuse from happening again. Make it costly for the church, the school, or the university to fail to prevent abuse and suddenly it begins to take abuse seriously.

While it's regrettable that institutions so often concern themselves with protecting their own financial position and reputation more than protecting victims, state lawmakers have the final say on how long institutions can be held liable for things that happen on their watch.

Rebecca Stevens is director of the Child Advocacy Center in Buffalo



Childhood sexual abuse: ‘If you would see true courage, look at the survivors'

Dr Chris Hogan reflects on the impact of childhood sexual abuse for White Balloon Day.

by Dr Chris Hogan

White Balloon Day is Australia's largest campaign dedicated to preventing childhood sexual abuse.

One of my ethics teachers had strong views that stuck with me. ‘Evil hides wherever you do not look for it,' he said.

True to this dictum, most of the people who have abused children I have met in my work as a long-time GP were hiding in the open. They were often pillars of society and very good with children. They wanted to be so respectable that everyone would doubt that they were capable of such things.

The concept of ‘stranger danger' is so off the mark, in my experience.

People who abuse children are rarely strangers. More often, they are members of a family or very well known to the family whose trust they betray. They tend not to use aggression – initially, at least. They instead rely on a variety of cruel strategies and nasty tricks, playing on the power imbalance between adult and child.

For my fellow GPs: if you see a child whose school performance has suddenly deteriorated or who suddenly become indiscriminately aggressive or who acts in an overly sexualised manner or who suddenly becomes self-harming or excessively hygienic or excessively unkempt, find out why.

Do not put their problems in the ‘too hard' basket. Look, listen and offer assistance. Seek advice. Refer to appropriate local services.

Most of all, if a child reveals anything that sounds like inappropriate behaviour from an adult or post-pubertal teen – seek urgent advice. Do not ignore it. You may have detected a paedophile's actions. Acting now may not only save the child in front of you but so many more other victims.

Childhood sexual abuse is not rare. For 70 years, surveys have indicated that 10% of people report an unwanted sexual experience from an older person before the age of 13 years.

But many people do not speak out about it until later in life, if at all.

Many times, I have had adult patients come to me with recurrent trivial issues provoking huge anxiety, or sexual dysfunction. They may be overprotective of their children, or have a resistance to bringing children into the world. They may have chronic non-specific pain, insomnia or drug dependency.

Whenever a patient like this comes to me, I know something else may be at work.

I listen and wait, support and offer what I can: comfort, simple suggestions and structure. I have learnt to wait for the time when they trust me enough. When I judge that the time is right, I ask something like: ‘Is there anything old or new bothering you? Something that you have not yet mentioned?'

It is so important to make space for people to come forward, if they want to.

I've seen what can happen otherwise.

Growing up, I saw too many die before 30 from drug overdose, single-vehicle collisions and suicide. I did not know why they died then, but I do now.

And now, I see too many whose personalities are damaged, who suffer from what looks precisely like post-traumatic stress disorder.

I see isolated people who find it all but impossible to maintain a close relationship or a steady job. But they survive.

If you would see true courage, look at the survivors. Every day is a victory


United Kingdom

‘It never stops shaping you': the legacy of child sexual abuse – and how to survive it

Child sexual abuse is frighteningly common and hugely damaging. But a new project is collecting survivors' stories – and revealing what is needed to heal

by Gaby Hinsliff

The first thing Sabah Kaiser does after sitting down at the table when we meet, is to pick up a pen, and write her name on the nearest sheet of paper. She does it almost unthinkingly, and only later will it come to seem significant.

When she was a little girl, Kaiser wrote her name a lot. She scrawled it defiantly on the wall at home, balancing precariously on a banister four floors above the ground to reach the wallpaper: “Sabah is the best.” Later, she wrote it in foster homes: “I would find the hardest place that I could reach, or the most beautiful or lovely area, and write ‘Sabah is the best'.”

It was a coping mechanism she learned young, without really understanding why. But now, at 43, she recognises it as a way of fighting the feelings of worthlessness and shame so many child abuse survivors experience. “It was saying: ‘Look at me, I belong here; I can do the same as you, if not better.'”

The name she writes now is not, however, the same one she had then. Kaiser changed it by deed poll years ago, borrowing inspiration from Keyser Söze, the character in the film The Usual Suspects who has a double life. Kaiser, she explains, means king; above other men, but below God. It is a powerful name, and the one under which she approached the Truth Project.

Set up by the government's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the project gives individual victims and survivors a chance to be heard; to share stories in confidence, helping inform the inquiry's investigation into the widespread failure of institutions from churches to boarding schools to halt abuse. So far it has collected more than 1,000 stories (and remains keen to hear more), and while the details are often harrowing, they are striking in what they reveal about the lifelong consequences. As one survivor says in the report published this week by the Truth Project, it's “like pebbles thrown into a pond; the ripples keep on getting bigger”.

Last week, the World Health Organisation formally recognised the existence of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition from which it is thought many survivors of childhood abuse suffer. It differs from other forms of PTSD in that sufferers tend to have “a completely pervasive and rigid negative belief about themselves”, says the inquiry's chief psychologist Bryony Farrant. They may struggle with managing their feelings, trusting others, and with feelings of shame and inadequacy holding them back in school or working life. An analysis of Truth Project participants found that 85% had mental health problems in later life, including depression and anxiety, while almost half struggled with education or getting a job. Four in 10 had difficulties with relationships, with some avoiding sexual intimacy altogether, while others had multiple sexual partners; some suffered difficulty eating or sleeping, were dependent on alcohol, or were drawn into crime. One in five had tried to kill themselves.

Surprisingly, other research has shown survivors are at greater risk of illness, including heart disease and cancer, with years of chronic stress taking a physical toll on their bodies.

Farrant stresses that not every survivor's story ends badly, and that their fates are certainly not set in stone. “I feel very hopeful and positive that people can recover, and certainly in my clinical work I've seen that,” she says. “The brain is far more plastic than we've previously understood, which means there are far more opportunities for people to repair some of the impacts from childhood trauma.”

But if a new technology, drug or junk food were doing such damage, it would be classed as a public health emergency. It is striking, then, that the toxic legacy of child abuse gets less attention than theories about whether social media makes teenagers anxious or skinny models fuel anorexia. “For me, this is the most public secret we have,” says Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, a town still grappling with the aftermath of the child sexual exploitation scandal uncovered seven years ago. “I think people recognise and understand it, we're just not prepared to confront it.” The Truth Project is trying to bring it out of the shadows.

Kaiser remembers clearly the bedroom where it all started; at the top of the four-storey house she shared with her mother and five siblings (her father died when she was a toddler). After an older sister ran away from home, the room was left empty – and supposedly out of bounds – but she would sneak up. “In the room, there was a glass cabinet that had two shelves in – probably 4ft high – and books behind the glass. One on the train robbery, and a book about Tutankhamun. I'd sit crosslegged and just stare at my father's books – never touch.” She was seven years old, she says, when a male visitor to the house first abused her there. Over the next six years, she told the Truth Project, she was assaulted by three other men, both in Britain and when visiting Pakistan. She always felt that to tell would put her mother in danger.

Kaiser remembers clearly the bedroom where it all started; at the top of the four-storey house she shared with her mother and five siblings (her father died when she was a toddler). After an older sister ran away from home, the room was left empty – and supposedly out of bounds – but she would sneak up. “In the room, there was a glass cabinet that had two shelves in – probably 4ft high – and books behind the glass. One on the train robbery, and a book about Tutankhamun. I'd sit crosslegged and just stare at my father's books – never touch.” She was seven years old, she says, when a male visitor to the house first abused her there. Over the next six years, she told the Truth Project, she was assaulted by three other men, both in Britain and when visiting Pakistan. She always felt that to tell would put her mother in danger.

On the surface, Kaiser's was a strict upbringing; if anyone kissed in a film, an adult would instantly switch off the TV. “There were no relationships outside marriage, no boyfriends and girlfriends of any kind, no untoward touching. Those lines were not blurred at any time. That act of touching, there's so much onus on it – literally, the respect of the household is put on it,” she explains. “There were lines that were drawn, and then there were areas that were just ... no-go areas, and it was able to breed and occur as it did because there were no repercussions. Nobody saying stop.”

Years ago, in Pakistan, she heard a story that she didn't understand at the time about a man caught abusing his toddler granddaughter. When the child's mother confronted him, “she was beaten to a pulp. That was a no-go area. It was ‘you didn't have the authority or the right, how dare you have the audacity to bring that up with me'. It was as if there was a place for men, and those men have their reasons.”

Initially, she interpreted the abuse as some kind of punishment, “like I was a bad child, that I was doing something wrong”. As she got older, she drew on her experience as a British Asian straddling two cultures to separate herself from what was happening. The girl at home enduring unspeakable things – withdrawn and always frowning – became separate from the popular, more assertive girl at school. “When I'm in my own home, the colours, the smells, the sounds are completely different. But once I step out of my door into the street, I'm in England, and everything looks and smells and sounds different. It was about being one person inside the house and, as soon as I stepped outside, I'm not that person.”

It was a school sex education lesson at 13 that finally provided words for what was happening. She walked out in the middle of it, and not long afterwards summoned the courage to tell her mother. The only time her voice quavers is when she describes her mother's reaction.

“My mother was a seamstress, she sewed Asian women's clothes. At any point of the day or night you would find her at her sewing machine in her bedroom and that's where I went. I sat down on this little cushion by the gas fire and started to tell her. I didn't quite know how to explain. The words I used were: ‘What a man and wife does in their bedroom to have children, is what he's doing to me.'”

Her mother did confront the man, Kaiser says, asking if he had “touched” her. “He went into this tirade about how if I was raised in Pakistan, I wouldn't be saying these things; how living in England ruins girls.” She realised that her mother was not going to back her up, and that in effect the subject was closed.

So she started fighting at school, skipping lessons, waiting for someone to notice. Someone did, but she says the teacher appointed to counsel her then abused her all over again; she was eventually taken into care aged 15, after months of shuttling between foster families and home. If new acquaintances asked about her parents, she would say she was an orphan. At 19, Kaiser found herself pregnant by an older boyfriend who had no idea of her history.

She struggles to forgive the social worker who, on learning of her pregnancy, told her to get counselling or she might abuse her own child. (Perpetrators are disproportionately likely to have been abused as children, but the idea of the cycle repeating itself is a sensitive one, says Farrant: “The research doesn't support that abused people are highly likely to go on to abuse other people. Often it's such a harmful narrative, and it intensifies the sense of shame and guilt.”)

With that warning ringing in her ears, Kaiser suffered postnatal depression after her son was born. “I could barely touch him; I couldn't breastfeed him because I felt that every time I did, I was abusing him. I loved him so much, there was this fear that I was going to hurt him because there was something wrong with me.”

But she went on to have a second son, and this time it was easier, because she had learned that there were places not to go in her head. “If I didn't close those doors, I'm not sure who would be talking to you today, it would be a completely different story. That's what tends to happen to children like me. We become damaged goods, broken beyond repair.”

And yet she did not break. Kaiser now works as a translator, and volunteers for a survivors' charity; she is proud of her two grown sons and is on good terms with their father, from whom she later separated. However, she has had another relationship that she describes as highly abusive, but realised during counselling that she was unconsciously mirroring her childhood experience. Adult survivors are, she says, vulnerable to predators because of their desperation to be loved: “I don't think it ever stops shaping you. Just the impact is different.”

What saved her, Kaiser thinks, was being reconciled with her mother in her late 30s. She won't call it closure – “for me, it would be for my mum to say she believed me and that she was sorry, and she never said those words” – but it meant more to her than she can describe to be mother and daughter again. After years of anger, she now feels “love and respect” for her mother, wondering what experiences drove her response. “There was never a time when I didn't feel her love. Even though there were times – years – when I didn't feel it for her. I don't believe for a second that she didn't care.”

Two years after she got back in touch, her mother died, and when Kaiser subsequently saw adverts for the Truth Project, she felt ready to talk. “It was almost like I had chains around me, and it was her passing that made me feel I'd broken free.”

Survivors can choose how and where they talk to the Truth Inquiry as a way of returning the control that was brutally denied them as children (Kaiser deliberately picked a town four hours' drive from home). They are asked beforehand about objects that might trigger disturbing memories, and staff adapt accordingly; if an abuser carried rosary beads, nobody in the room can wear beaded jewellery. Some people can't ultimately go through with it and that's fine, says Farrant. It's no good rushing people who aren't ready, since the impact of a “bad” disclosure can be immense. The inquiry has heard over and over again from survivors saying that being disbelieved or rejected was “just as, or in some cases more, traumatising” than the abuse itself.

Support workers will call before and after survivors share their stories to see how they're coping and, if necessary, refer them on. Farrant is pleased that complex PTSD was officially recognised by the World Health Organisation, potentially leading to more research and better treatment for sufferers.

But beyond the auspices of the Truth Project, NHS mental health services remain overstretched, struggling with demand as historic abuse is brought to light. In Rotherham, Champion says there is a seven-month wait for the main specialist local abuse counselling service – and that's the tip of the iceberg. “A lot of survivors can't begin to unpick what happened to them. They're just very aware that they struggle to hold down jobs or relationships, that they might have drug or alcohol dependency. A package to deal with those issues is needed.”

Meanwhile, as survivors become parents themselves, some are coming into conflict with the very social services that failed them as children. “There's this assumption, particularly if they have been involved in gang grooming, that somehow they're going to be a bad mother, whereas if they'd been raped [in other circumstances] people wouldn't think that at all.” She wants a one-stop centre in Rotherham, bringing together multiple agencies under one roof to offer early support rather than “deal with the symptoms 10 or 20 years down the line”.

What she is talking about is essentially a public health approach, recognising the sexual abuse suffered by an estimated 7% of children as a significant hidden cause of mental and physical illness, just as tobacco is the underlying cause of many cancers.

If all forms of so-called Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – both sexual and physical abuse, or neglect – could somehow be eliminated overnight, the results would be transformative. Public Health Wales estimates it could reduce high-risk drinking by a third and heroin and cocaine use by two thirds, plus almost halving unwanted teenage pregnancies and slashing prison populations.

“When we know these things underpin the problems so many people are suffering, we're really treating consequences, not causes,” says Dr Mark Bellis, director of policy research and international development at Public Health Wales and a leading expert on ACEs. “We don't think about what's driving people towards drugs; we might think about regulating access, when actually it's the consequences of something that happened to someone as a child.”

Abused children often become hyper-vigilant, Bellis explains, knowing survival may depend on seeing trouble coming; and that affects both neurological development and hormone levels. “If your experience of life is fear, it's not unusual to develop a more cautious approach to things. But there are physiological changes, too. The way I explain it is if you set any system on a high alert, it wears out more quickly. If it's permanently running on high alert, it's producing particular immunological responses or proteins which seem to be higher in people who are exposed to these traumas in early life.” Since these are also linked to higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, survivors' risk of physical illness increases.

But that chemical response may also help explain why abused children who had at least one adult they could trust and relax around – leaving behind that state of high alert – seem to have better prospects of recovering. Other protective factors, he says, include feeling connected to a wider community or “if you can see a way out of things, being able to set your own destiny; if you feel you've got a pathway out, maybe through school”. It is important for survivors to know, he says, that there is hope. “The more we understand about things like resilience, the more we know there are things in children's and in adult lives that can counteract this. You are not on a set course.” Children and adults do not have to be broken beyond repair. And it is not beyond society's means to mend them.