Ex-Oklahoma state senator gets 15-year prison sentence for child sex trafficking
A former Republican state senator in Oklahoma was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison Monday for child sex trafficking.
Ralph Shortey, 36, was also ordered to serve 10 years of supervised probation once he's released from prison.
U.S. District Judge Timothy DeGiusti also said a fine -- which could be as much as $250,000 -- will be imposed on the former two-term lawmaker at a later date.
Politician found in motel with underage male
Shortey appeared in court and made a statement saying he “hoped the sentencing will be closure to those involved,” FOX25 News reported.
Shortey pleaded guilty in November in exchange for prosecutors dropping three child pornography charges against him. He said at the time the plea deal was in the best interest of him and his family.
The former state senator, who represented southwest Oklahoma City, was arrested in March 2017 after police caught him in a hotel room with a 17-year-old male. Police said they went to the room after receiving a welfare check call placed by the teen boy's father. The officer said police smelled marijuana coming from the room.
Shortey, a father of four, was accused by officers of hiring the teenage boy for sex. He resigned shortly after the arrest and his wife obtained a divorce earlier this year.
The Moore Police Department released body camera footage of Shortey in the hotel room with the boy. He told officers he and the teenager were having a conversation in the room.
A police report indicated a search of the teen's tablet computer uncovered a series of sexually explicit exchanges in which Shortey referred to him as "baby boy" and offered him cash in exchange for “sexual stuff.”
The FBI became involved in the case following Shortey's arrest and searched his Oklahoma City home. The FBI discovered Shortey had previously used fake names to send and receive child pornography and to go on Craigslist to seek casual encounters with males, the “younger the better
Pennsylvania school holds active shooter drill to expose sound of gunfire to students
A Pennsylvania high school will undergo active shooter training on Thursday in which students will be exposed to the sounds of gunfire.
Bethel Park High School, roughly 10 miles south of Pittsburgh, will conduct an "A.L.I.C.E." drill alongside trained officials and school police, WPXI reported.
The drill, A.L.I.C.E. — alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate — will include police firing blanks into hallways "to expose everyone to the sound of gunfire in the building."
Officers will be firing blank rounds, but not directed at anyone.
A letter sent home to parents by Principal Zeb Jansante on Wednesday reportedly stated that students would be given a presentation in their homerooms ahead of the drill with information on what would take place.
Some parents say they're concerned the sounds could be traumatizing to students.
Other schools in the area have conducted similar training programs in recent months
Responding to Trump, survivors explain why they don't report sexual assaul
by Jocelyn Noveck
There are a myriad of reasons why survivors of sexual assault wait years to come forward — if at all. Indeed, about 7 out of 10 people who experience sexual assault never report it, according to Justice Department statistics.
So survivors responded with fury Friday to President Donald Trump's remarks challenging the veracity of Christine Blasey Ford, the accuser of Judge Brett Kavanaugh. The president said she would surely have reported the assault to police “immediately” if the attack was “as bad as she says.”
On Twitter, the hashtag “WhyIDidn'tReport” was trending, with survivors coming forward with their own reasons.
“Because he was a member of our family,” one user wrote. “Because he threatened to kill me,” wrote another. “He was supposed to be my friend, but he beat me when I said no,” wrote yet another.
One of the most searing came from Ashley Judd, the actress who was an early Harvey Weinstein accuser.
“The first time it happened, I was 7,” she wrote. “I told the first adults I came upon. They said, ‘Oh, he's a nice old man, that's not what he meant.' So when I was raped at 15, I only told my diary. When an adult read it, she accused me of having sex with an adult man.”
On Facebook, Kathy Gosnell, a retired newspaper copy editor in DeKalb, Illinois, was inspired by Ford's revelation to finally share with a group of Facebook colleagues — a day before Trump's tweet — that she had been drugged and raped, she said, by a colleague more than three decades earlier.
“It's time to say something,” Gosnell, now 73, wrote on Facebook. “In the early 1980s, I was drugged, beaten and raped by one of our colleagues at the L.A. Times. … Never again did I say his name or speak to him.”
In an interview, Gosnell said the man is now deceased and she still has no desire to say his name. He had invited her to dinner, she said, then gave her a drink, and that was the last she remembered until she woke up hours later in his bed, naked and bruised around her arms, chest and neck. She went home, “took seven or eight showers” and told no one until 15 months ago, when she told her daughter.
“I wanted to keep my job,” Gosnell said. “And I was afraid I would be ridiculed by colleagues, who might have said, ‘But he's a great guy!'” (The newspaper did not immediately respond to an email asking for comment.)
Gosnell said she's furious at the treatment of Ford, especially Trump's tweet. “Of course I understand why she didn't report. She must have known what would happen to her. And look what's happening to her now.”
Scott Berkowitz, president of the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN, said reasons for not reporting assaults include fear of retaliation, fear of the perpetrator attacking again, social pressure from peer groups and simple shame.
“The president is misguided about standard behavior following a sexual assault,” Berkowitz said of Trump's tweet.
There's also, Berkowitz added, a guilt factor: “People are often blaming themselves, even though they are clearly not at fault.”
The same reasons are only exacerbated when victims are in their teens, he said, adding that 54 percent of those under 18 who call the National Sexual Assault Hotline say they have not told a single other person.
Ford and Kavanaugh were high school students — she 15, he 17 — when she alleges the assault occurred. And that, Berkowitz pointed out, was decades ago, when the environment was even less welcoming than it is today for someone reporting an assault.
Katie Cogan, a trauma psychotherapist in the Washington, D.C., area, said teenagers especially “almost never tell anyone (about an assault), and if they do it's usually years later. They think it's their fault or try to convince themselves it was no big deal.”
Cogan said she received a number of calls on Friday morning, following Trump's tweet, from patients expressing distress over the comments and feeling anew that “they will never be believed.”
Lea Grover was 14 and a freshman in high school when, she said, she was raped at a basement party that she had agreed to attend to accompany a friend, who never showed up. She said her assailant fed her alcohol for several hours until she was extremely drunk, then led her into a utility closet where he assaulted her.
She had been saying “no” all evening, but finally agreed to go into another room with him, she said, thinking she could grab someone on the way and escape. But she didn't have that chance.
She was “paralyzed with fear,” she recalled. “I didn't think I had anywhere to go or any other option” but to submit.
She didn't report it — “I was utterly convinced it was my fault because I had gone to a party where I didn't know anyone,” she said. Soon after, she attempted to take her own life, she said
Sean Penn says #MeToo movement is trying to ‘divide men and women'
Penn appeared Monday in an interview with the co-star of the new Hulu show The First on NBC's Today show.
Natascha McElhone said her character is informed by the movement.
Penn disagreed. The two-time Oscar winner says he's “very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed onto in great stridency and rage and without nuance.”
“I'd like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo,” Penn said. “I think it's influenced by the things that are developing in terms of the empowerment of women who've been acknowledging each other and being acknowledged by men.”
The 58-year-old actor continued: “This is a movement that was largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious.”
“We don't know what's a fact in many of the cases,” he said, adding, “Salacious is as soon as you call something a movement that is really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations, some of which are unfounded. The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women.”
Penn says he thinks “it's too black and white.” He says it's “really good to just slow down.”
Morales disagreed, saying that, “Women would say it's united women.”
Penn argued that from the women he's spoken to, “of all walks of life,” he's learned that “there's a common sense that is not represented at all in the discussion when it comes to the media discussion of it.”
“The discussion where, ‘if Sean Penn says this, so and so is going to attack him for saying this because of that,'” he said. “I'm very suspicious of a movement that gets glommed onto in great stridency and rage and without nuance. And even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way, the nuance is attacked.”
Later in the interview, Penn said that he thinks the movement is “too black and white.” He added, “In most things that are very important, it's really good to just slow down.”
McElhone revealed that the #MeToo movement was actually discussed “a great deal” on set.
“I think what Sean was maybe alluding to is this sort of bubble of actors or people who are in magazines that have gotten a lot of attention from this,” she said. “Of course, it's terrific that they've put a spotlight on it. But now, it's we need to go into the places where this is happening behind closed doors, and it's not exposed and those voices aren't being heard.”
The First centres on a mission to Mars. The president of the United States and three of the five astronauts are women
Religion in the news
Jehovah's Witnesses ordered by jury to pay $35M to abuse survivor
The defendant said the church covered up her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member.
by Associated Press
HELENA, Mont. — The Jehovah's Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church's national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict.
A judge must review the penalty, and the Jehovah's Witnesses' national organization — Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York — plans to appeal.
Still, the 21-year-old woman's attorneys said Wednesday's verdict sends a message to the church to report child abuse to outside authorities.
"Hopefully that message is loud enough that this will cause the organization to change its priorities in a way that they will begin prioritizing the safety of children so that other children aren't abused in the future," said attorney Neil Smith Thursday.
$35 million sex-abuse verdict puts spotlight on insular Jehovah's Witness community
The Office of Public Information at the World Headquarters of Jehovah's Witnesses responded to the verdict with an unsigned statement.
"Jehovah's Witnesses abhor child abuse and strive to protect children from such acts. Watchtower is pursuing appellate review," it said.
The Montana case is one of dozens that have been filed nationwide over the past decade alleging Jehovah's Witnesses mismanaged or covered up the sexual abuse of children.
The case that prompted Wednesday's ruling involved two women, now 32 and 21, who allege a family member sexually abused them and a third family member in Thompson Falls in the 1990s and 2000s.
The women say they reported the abuse to church elders, who handled the matter internally after consulting with the national organization.
The elders expelled the abuser from the congregation in 2004 then reinstated him the next year, the lawsuit states, and the abuse of the girl who is now 21 continued.
The lawsuit claimed the local and national Jehovah's Witnesses organizations were negligent and violated a Montana law that requires them to report abuse to outside authorities.
"Their national headquarters, called Watchtower, they control when and if anyone within their organization reports child abuse," Smith said. "Watchtower instructed everyone involved that they were not to report the matter to authorities."
Attorneys for the Jehovah's Witnesses said in court filings that Montana law exempts elders from reporting "internal ecclesiastical proceedings on a congregation member's serious sin."
The church also contended that the national organization isn't liable for the actions by Thompson Falls elders, and that too much time has passed for the women to sue.
The jury awarded the 21-year-old woman $4 million for her injuries, plus $30 million in punitive damages against Watchtower and $1 million in punitive damages against the Christian Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses, another Jehovah's Witness corporation that communicates with congregations across the U.S.
The monetary award must be reviewed by the trial judge and could be reduced. A Montana law caps punitive damage awards at 3 percent of a company's net worth or $10 million, whichever is less. A legal challenge to that law is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.
The jury dismissed claims that the church should have reported the second woman's abuse by the same congregation member. Jurors concluded church elders did not receive notice of the 32-year-old woman's abuse in 1998 as she said they did, and therefore did not have a duty to tell authorities.
The third family member who claimed abuse was not a plaintiff in the lawsuit
Judge sentences leader of New Mexico religious sect
GRANTS, N.M. -- A New Mexico judge sentenced a paramilitary religious sect leader Wednesday to more than seven decades in prison after her conviction in a child sex abuse case that authorities say involved a victim who was taken from Uganda as a baby and mistreated throughout her life. KRQE-TV reports that the 72-year sentence for Deborah Green in Grants followed emotional testimony from a victim, who told the judge she had 11 surgeries for broken bones suffered during years of abuse. She also said she has yet to recover emotionally and physically from what she described as torture by Green.
On Tuesday, a jury found Green, 71, guilty of kidnapping, criminal sexual penetration of a minor and child abuse.
"A weaker person would not have survived," Judge James Sanchez told the victim. "That means you can continue on being strong."
Last year, authorities raided the Aggressive Christianity Missions Training Corps' secluded Fence Lake compound in western New Mexico after a two-year investigation into concerns about child abuse. Former sect members said the abuse dated back years, while Cibola County Undersheriff Michael Munk said the former members described leaders treating followers like slaves and physically beating children.
He also said the sect had evaded law enforcement by moving and operating in seclusion.
In Green's defense, her attorney said the accusations against her had stemmed from the vendettas of former sect members, and that the victim in the case had changed her story over the years.
At the sect's compound, some members called Green "mom" or "general," according to authorities. She also was known among followers as the "Oracle of God."
When members complained, Green would hold "trials" against them for questioning her authority, which Green asserted came directly from God, said Julie Gudino, who joined the organization in 1984 in Sacramento, California. She was a member for 20 years, and was among those who testified this week.
In closing arguments Tuesday, the Gallup Independent reports that the prosecutor told jurors that the victim had been taken from Uganda. It was Green's daughter who went to the African country in 1997, but Green who ordered that the child be "obtained" by deception, Assistant District Attorney Brandon Vigil said.
As CBS News affiliate KRQE in Albuquerque reports, the abuse fist came to light in 2017 when a former member of the sect claimed years of sexual abuse by Green and her son-in-law Peter Green. That information prompted authorities to raid the Fence Lake compound, where they discovered 11 children -- some as young as 4 years old and being held against their will. KRQE reports the 11 children rescued from the compound remain in the custody of New Mexico's Children, Youth and Families department.
Green still faces a second trial in the death of 13-year-old Enoch Miller. Authorities said he died at the compound in 2014.
Green has been charged with child abuse resulting in death and tampering with evidence, and the Independent reports jury selection is scheduled to begin Thursday in the case.
The Child-Abuse Contrarian
Michael Holick, a renowned scientist turned expert witness, relies on his own controversial theory to help alleged abusers avoid prison and regain custody of the babies they were accused of harming
In September, 2016, Jenn Thompson and her boyfriend, Robbie Ray, discovered that she was pregnant. They had met just over a month earlier, through the dating app Tinder, and quickly became inseparable. Robbie would stay at Jenn's place several nights a week, and on the weekends they tailgated at football games. The pregnancy was unplanned, but both had recently turned thirty and were ready to start a family. When they went in for an ultrasound appointment, a technician pointed out two tiny circles on the screen: twins. They bought a baby Doppler and Robbie would hold the monitor on Jenn's stomach so they could listen to the two hearts beating in tandem.
They got married five months later, at the Lutheran church Jenn attended. Robbie moved into her house, in Columbia, South Carolina, across the street from her parents in a tightly packed development of modest, newish homes tucked behind a shopping complex. They converted the second bedroom into a nursery. Jenn found the crib she slept in as an infant and gave it a fresh coat of paint. The babies arrived more than a week early, by C-section—a boy first, and then a girl.
Over Memorial Day weekend, when the twins were three weeks old, half a dozen excited family members came to Jenn and Robbie's home and took turns cradling the twins. The girl seemed particularly fussy. At times, she cried so hard that she seemed unable to catch her breath. Robbie later called it a “scary cry.” But the couple figured she was just colicky. Then, the following Tuesday, as Jenn was feeding her, she noticed swelling and bruising on the baby's right leg. She told me that she called Robbie, who was at work, driving a truck for a uniform-supply company, to tell him that something was wrong. Jenn's mother came over and told her to take the baby to the pediatrician. The same doctor had examined the twins just a week earlier and found them to be in good health. This time, he told Jenn to take the infant to the emergency room at nearby Palmetto Health Children's Hospital immediately.
An X-ray revealed that the baby's leg was broken in two places, both near the ankle. The new parents said that nothing remarkable, no accidents, had occurred during the previous few days. Robbie wondered aloud if he had unintentionally hurt her while putting lotion on her legs or changing a diaper. Called in by the E.R. staff, Dr. Susan Lamb, a pediatrician specializing in child abuse, noted a pattern of bruising “consistent with an adult hand gripping the calf” and a fracture caused by “extreme” force, according to a South Carolina Department of Social Services report.
The hospital staff then examined the other twin. X-rays revealed a fracture in his left leg. A doctor found bruising on his back. The next day, as Jenn and Robbie sat with the twins at the hospital, social workers and security staff converged on the room. A sheriff's deputy handed the couple an emergency order to take the twins into state custody.
Some among the medical staff and social workers involved in the case thought that Jenn reacted strangely to the discovery of her children's injuries. She didn't show emotion or seem bothered. Her affect was “flat,” according to the D.S.S. report. The hospital's abuse specialist concluded the baby girl's fractures were “diagnostic of physical abuse” and that the bruises were “inflicted.” D.S.S. concluded the boy's injuries were also the result of abuse. A factor in this determination was that Robbie and Jenn did not have “a plausible explanation” for the injuries. “We had no idea,” Robbie told me later.
To find an explanation, the Rays said, they searched the Internet and eventually discovered a group called Fractured Families. The Web site was filled with stories of parents who were accused of abuse—falsely, it said—after their children were found to have bone injuries. Jenn told me that she was struck by how similar their experiences were to her own. Jenn made contact with several of the mothers in Fractured Families. They told her that there was a doctor in Boston who might be able to help her.
Michael Holick has a tenth-floor office at Boston University, where he is a professor at the medical school. His windows offer a view of the tree-canopied medical-school campus below. A makeshift system of plastic bags and buckets is rigged to collect the rain water that often leaks in. Gray tape binds the air duct, and the tiled floor is stained. Two lab coats hang in the corner and a stethoscope rests on a desk next to photographs of Holick's wife and two adult children. Holick has worked in this space since he first arrived on campus, thirty years ago.
In the past seven years, Holick said, he has consulted or testified as an expert witness in more than three hundred child-abuse cases throughout the U.S., as well as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Germany, and Canada. In almost every case, he has made the same finding: instead of blaming any injuries on abuse, he has diagnosed the child with a rare genetic disorder, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the connective tissues of the skin, bones, and joints. A handful of studies on adults have linked EDS to bone fragility, and Holick argues that children with the disorder have weaker bones, which can fracture from normal handling. So far, his theory is not supported by the scientific literature, but Holick is convinced that “thousands, if not tens of thousands,” of parents worldwide have been falsely accused of fracturing their children's bones. “It's just terrible,” he told me. “I feel so sorry for these parents.”
In all the cases he has worked on, Holick has never concluded that a child was being abused. On the rare occasions when he didn't diagnose EDS, he attributed the bone fractures to rickets or Vitamin D deficiency. Many geneticists and bone specialists find it troubling that he diagnoses EDS in nearly a hundred per cent of the cases he examines. According to the National Institutes of Health, EDS affects, at the most, 0.02 per cent of people worldwide. The rate at which Holick diagnoses the disorder “doesn't fall into the mathematical probability of chance,” Brad Tinkle, a clinical geneticist at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital, in Indianapolis, said. Holick retorts that his clients don't come to him by chance; parents contact him after doing their own research and realizing that they or their children have symptoms of EDS. He adds that he hasn't seen a single actual abuser pretending to have EDS and contacting him in search of a “get out of jail free” card.
Holick regularly diagnoses children with EDS without seeing them in person. “I already know on the phone they have EDS,” he said, adding that he questions the parents about potential symptoms. “I almost don't have to ask. I know the answer.”
In 2008, a father named Kenneth Grad was indicted for felony assault and endangering children after X-rays of his infant son, taken at Akron Children's Hospital, revealed twenty-six fractures of the fingers, arms, legs, ribs, and skull, according to court documents. Holick examined the baby's mother, Laura Grad, and diagnosed classic signs of hypermobility. Without examining the baby, Holick submitted an affidavit attributing the fractures to EDS. However, a test by the family's pediatrician found that the baby did not have hypermobility. Grad was convicted in December, 2014, and a month later was sentenced to twenty-four years in prison. “The mom has EDS and so too likely the child,” Holick wrote in an e-mail, adding that, if the injuries weren't due to bone fragility, “the amount of trauma to cause that number of fractures … would likely have resulted in the infant's death.”
In 2017, Holick co-published an article about his EDS work in the little-known journal Dermato-Endocrinology, where he is an associate editor. In the study, Holick examined the cases of seventy-two children who the authorities believed had been abused. He diagnosed sixty-seven of them with EDS. In a third of the cases, he based his diagnosis on physical exams of relatives of the children, not the children themselves.
“How can you do that without an exam?” Brendan Lee, the chair of the Molecular and Human Genetics department at Baylor College of Medicine and the director of the Skeletal Dysplasia Clinic at Texas Children's Hospital, said. He added that hypermobile EDS “is a diagnosis that is made based on a constellation of clinical findings, which you have to do by examination and history.”
Lee and several other experts said that hypermobile EDS typically cannot be diagnosed in children younger than five. Because infants are usually very flexible, they will likely score high on elements of the test given to older patients to determine hyper-flexibility, a key aspect of EDS. Also, symptoms of the condition do not usually manifest until later in childhood, or even adulthood. “I would not be comfortable, ever, telling a parent that an infant has [hypermobile] EDS,” Lee said.
There are four studies that Holick consistently cites to support his conclusions. I asked Rodney Grahame, the author of two of those studies and a former president of the British Society for Rheumatology, whether he finds Holick's theory of a link between EDS and bone fractures in infants to be reasonable. “Not at all,” Grahame responded in an e-mail. “It may ‘stand to reason', but it is not supported by published scientific research. In adults, other factors are at play including ageing and the menopause, alcohol, smoking which are factors associated with osteoporosis that are not present in infants.” Cristina Eller Vainicher, the lead author of another paper that Holick frequently cites, said that she can't entirely discount his thesis, because some studies have suggested that a subset of EDS patients experience fragility fractures during childhood. Still, she wrote in an e-mail, “This does not mean that we could state all children with hypermobile EDS are at high risk of fractures.”
Holick's credibility as an expert witness is buttressed by a formidable scientific résumé, mostly related to his work on Vitamin D. As a graduate student, at the University of Wisconsin, he discovered the active form of Vitamin D, which led to treatments for bone disease in kidney patients and for psoriasis. He later discovered that orange juice helps the body absorb Vitamin D, a finding that led to F.D.A. approval for Vitamin D-fortified orange juice. nasa tapped him to examine bone loss in space. When a mated pair of Komodo dragons at the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., failed to produce a live hatchling, Holick determined that their glass enclosure was inhibiting Vitamin D production. The dragons soon procreated.
Holick, who is now seventy-two, gives talks around the world on the importance of Vitamin D. He was billed as a “legend” at the most recent annual meeting of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. He has published more than five hundred articles in peer-reviewed journals and more than two hundred reviews and book chapters. Since 2011, other scientists have cited him almost a hundred and ten thousand times, making him one of the most frequently cited researchers in the world. He attributes his prolific output to his ability to function with minimal sleep. He has diagnosed himself with a sleep disorder that he said he shares with several notable figures throughout history, including Michelangelo. One day, when I visited him at his office, Holick said he had been there since two-thirty in the morning.
But Holick's career has also been dogged by controversy. He came under fire for recommending the use of tanning beds based on research he'd done partly with funding from a foundation established by the Indoor Tanning Association, a relationship that I reported on in the Wall Street Journal. He also published a book called “The UV Advantage,” in which he urged people to soak up unfiltered sun two or three times a week. “Do not be afraid,” Holick wrote. “You are not going to die just because you go out in the sun.”
Soon after Holick's book came out, Barbara Gilchrest, then the head of the dermatology department at Boston University, called Holick to her office to discuss it. The pair had previously collaborated on research, but now Gilchrest gave Holick two options: he could curb his sunshine proselytization or he could resign as a professor of dermatology, one of several positions he held at the medical school. Holick resigned. Gilchrest later publicly denounced his book as “shlock science.”
“He just went off the deep end and was a poster boy for the tanning industry,” she told me. Holick “ate up” the controversy, she said. “He loves being the provocative bad-boy character.”
Born in Jersey City, New Jersey, Holick knew from an early age that he wanted to be a scientist and a physician. His father, a machinist, and his mother, who worked part-time at a bakery, raised Holick and his four younger siblings. When Holick was five, the family moved to suburban Linden, New Jersey. He had an early fascination with dinosaurs, and “Jurassic Park” posters hang on his office wall. When he was in the third grade, his father bought him a chemistry set, putting him on a path to an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Seton Hall University.
Almost seven years ago, a couple from New Hampshire called Holick. They were seeking an expert in bone disease to figure out why their son at seven months old had suffered fractured bones in both arms from no apparent traumatic cause. Doctors believed that the fractures were caused by abuse, and social services had removed the boy from the home. Holick invited the parents to his clinic. When he shook the mother's hand, Holick recalled, he knew immediately what was going on.
There are thirteen types of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. The most common, and generally considered the least severe, is hypermobile EDS. The most remarkable feature of hypermobile EDS is joints that extend far beyond the normal range. Some people with the condition have made a living as side-show contortionists, using stage names like Elastic Skin Man and the Human Pretzel. That extreme flexibility can also be an advantage in sports like gymnastics and swimming, though the syndrome also makes it easy for joints to dislocate and for skin to bruise.
What Holick noted when he shook the mother's hand was that her skin was doughy and her joints were flexible—both classic signs of Ehlers-Danlos. He evaluated the baby and found that he also had flexible joints and doughy skin. Far from being abused, Holick concluded, the injured boy had EDS, and this condition predisposed him to weak bones that could fracture from normal handling.
“It seems so intuitively obvious,” he told me. “No one ever connected the dots. No one in the pediatric or child-abuse community ever made an effort to find other potential mitigating circumstances to explain these fractures, other than a rush to judgment.”
He testified in court on the family's behalf, and the baby was returned to his parents. Word of Holick's success began to spread. He now receives pleas for help from parents accused of abuse on almost a daily basis. Holick said he doesn't charge for his services, though he does solicit donations for his Ehlers-Danlos research. About a quarter of the funding for his EDS research in the past four years—about a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars—has come from two families who had abuse charges dropped after Holick intervened in their cases, he said.
Holick is one of the most prominent and sought-after expert witnesses for the defense in child-abuse cases. He told me that about half the parents he assists end up with a positive outcome, such as getting their children back or having abuse charges dismissed. However, he has sometimes claimed a much higher success rate. “Before I started testifying in these court cases on behalf of the family 100% of these cases had been won by the prosecution,” he wrote as part of an unsuccessful plea to the editor of a medical journal to publish his study on EDS and child abuse. “Now that I am testifying on behalf of the family 90% of the cases have been won by the parents and their children have been returned to them without further incident.”
Jenn Ray talked to Holick on July 11, 2017, about six weeks after the state removed the twins from their home. In September, Jenn and Robbie, along with the twins and Jenn's aunt, who had custody of the children, travelled to Boston to be evaluated at Holick's clinic. (Jenn and Robbie were allowed to be with the twins as long as the aunt was present.)
Holick noted that Robbie's skin had a doughy feel and his joints were extremely flexible—he could touch the floor with the palms of his hands without bending his knees. Jenn had a history of bruising easily and feeling lightheaded when she stood up quickly. These were all symptoms of hypermobile EDS. Holick diagnosed them both with the condition.
If one parent has hypermobile EDS, the chances of a child inheriting it are fifty per cent. If both have it, the odds increase to seventy-five per cent. Holick determined, with “a high degree of medical certainty,” as he wrote in a report, that the twins had the condition, too, and that their fractures could have been caused by bone fragility associated with EDS.
“It was a relief,” Robbie told me. Jenn finished his thought. “You are so lost and you're alone,” she said.
While state social-services officials believed that the injuries were the result of abuse, they could not identify a perpetrator among the people who came in contact with the twins that Memorial Day weekend. Officials did file a neglect charge against the Rays, accusing them of failing to seek prompt medical care for their daughter. The charge, if substantiated by a judge, could have prevented the Rays from regaining custody. A guardian ad litem, assigned by the court to represent the interests of the twins, recommended that the family be reunited. The guardian wrote that she had “witnessed the smile” the children gave when Jenn and Robbie entered the room. The twins' pediatrician, the guardian reported, did “not see any red flags that would suggest Jennifer or Robbie had anything to do with this.” Finally, the guardian cited Holick's finding that the children had symptoms of EDS.
Last December, the Rays accepted a deal with the state that approved the return of the children if the couple successfully completed counselling. Even before the counselling was finished, the state allowed the twins to come home for unsupervised weekend visits, starting at Christmas, as the first step toward a permanent reunion.
A 2008 article in the journal Pediatrics looked at some of the nearly forty-three thousand fractures in children under three in the years 1997, 2000, and 2003. Of those cases, the authors found that about one in eight was diagnosed as resulting from child abuse. That proportion doubled, to one in four, for babies who were less than a year old. Doctors say one reason for the difference is that children under a year aren't walking yet, so they don't fall on their own or run into things.
Researchers first linked certain types of fractures to child abuse in the nineteen-fifties. Since then, the methods for distinguishing accidental injuries from those caused by abuse have become more sophisticated, but there is no test or evaluation that can definitively determine whether a fracture is the result of child abuse.
Fracture cases are often contentious. Many of the children involved are too young to describe what happened to them, and there are usually no witnesses. There are also conditions known to mimic child-abuse injuries. Osteogenesis imperfecta, for instance, often called brittle-bone disease, is widely accepted to cause fractures in babies and infants from normal handling. Unlike with hypermobile EDS, there is a genetic test for brittle-bone disease, and many children's hospitals routinely check for it in potential abuse cases. It is extremely rare.
The easiest cases to diagnose as child abuse are the most brutal—those with devastating, widespread injuries. The truth is harder to discern when seemingly caring parents bring a child to the doctor for a different ailment and, upon being confronted with evidence of fractures, are at a loss to explain them. A sizeable chunk of Holick's cases fall into this category.
The parents who reach out to Holick have usually contacted other doctors for help, with no success. Often, they have been scorned by child-welfare officials and prosecutors who believe that abuse caused their children's injuries. They come to Holick looking for a miracle, and when he answers their prayers they react with unabashed gratitude.
“I truly believe you could be an angel put on this earth to show the justice and glory of the almighty,” a father from New Hampshire wrote to Holick, in 2016. “The good you're doing on this earth is amazing, incredible, inspiring, loving, noble, and even incomprehensible.”
The father had been charged with abuse after his four-month-old son suffered a broken arm. He said he had simply turned the boy over in the crib, and the baby wiggled and fell a short distance onto the crib mattress. The father heard a crack and the baby stopped moving his left arm. State circuit-court judge Susan Carbon initially considered it an unusual injury for a short fall onto a padded surface. “The question is whether the injury was intentional and whether there was more behind the explanation of the fall,” she wrote.
Holick examined the parents and the boy and concluded that they all had EDS. It “could easily explain” the fracture, Holick wrote. He then took the stand and awed the judge. She called his hundred-and-twenty-seven-page résumé “nothing short of stunning.” The analysis by the state's medical experts “pales in comparison to Dr. Holick's detailed explanation,” she wrote.
“In Dr. Holick's opinion, an infant with these conditions can easily sustain a fracture with ‘normal handling.' [The child's] skeletal structure, in Dr. Holick's view, is extremely fragile. Dr. Holick has seen numerous instances where lesser-trained persons interpreted injuries such as that sustained by [the child] as abuse when, ‘with a very high degree of medical certainty,' they resulted from EDS, not intentional abuse.” She dismissed the charges against the father.
Holick's legal victories have attracted widespread favorable publicity; ABC's “20/20” and numerous local news outlets have trumpeted Holick's expertise. One of his cases was featured on an episode of “Diagnose Me,” on the Discovery Life cable network. In a reënactment scene, an actor playing Holick tells a tearful mother that he has figured out why her child suffered broken bones. “You have Ehlers-Danlos syndrome,” Holick's character says. “It's a very rare disease, and in kids it's often mistaken for child abuse. I have testified about this before, and I would be happy to do it again for you.”
Like the Rays, many families find Holick through Fractured Families, a nonprofit organization founded by a group of five mothers whose children once had injuries that led to suspicions of abuse. Holick had worked with four of the five, and his intervention was critical in exonerating two of them.
Holick said he is careful to note in his expert reports that he doesn't know the families he evaluates and is only offering a medical perspective. Still, his tone is hardly neutral. In three recent reports, he referred to the mothers as “delightful.” In an e-mail discussing his testimony in a case in Alabama, Holick told a defense lawyer that he was “hopeful that this lovely family will be reunited as soon as possible.”
Holick does not hide his disdain for the child-protection system, nor his belief that the parents he works with are innocent. In the four months I corresponded with Holick, he frequently forwarded me e-mails from parents accused of abuse. He wrote atop one such message, “Does this sound like a mother who is abusing and neglecting her child?”
In June, a mother from the United Kingdom whose son had twenty-two rib fractures contacted Holick. The only detail of medical history she offered was that she found out after her pregnancy that she had been Vitamin D deficient. “It is certainly possible that the fractures were due to infantile rickets and vitamin D deficiency,” Holick responded. “It's also possible that he may have had a genetic disorder that predisposes him to having fractures. It's known as Ehlers Danlos syndrome.”
The mutual enmity between Holick and abuse experts at children's hospitals is hard to overstate. Lori Frasier, the head of the Division of Child Abuse Pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Medical Center, started encountering Holick in court several years ago. Frasier told me that she was struck by Holick's arrogance. “Maybe he is feeling like he is really, really smart and seeing something the rest of us can't see,” she said. He might view himself as “a Copernicus of this century, or Galileo, fighting the status quo.”
Holick describes specialists like Frasier as zealots who, because of their training, see abuse behind nearly every mysterious injury that comes through the hospital door. “I naïvely assumed people want to be educated,” Holick said. “They don't. They are child-abuse experts. They have to know.”
Unlike Holick, Frasier serves as an expert witness for both prosecutors and defendants, and recently testified in Nevada for a father accused of child abuse. (The father was acquitted in the case.) She also said that she and her team diagnose abuse in only about forty per cent of the cases they consult on. “We see everything,” she said. “We see mistakes in both directions.”
In May, 2016, Holick appeared on a Philadelphia television station, saying that a baby's injuries were likely the result of EDS and a Vitamin D deficiency, not child abuse. Two days later, Frasier sent a concerned e-mail to Karen Antman, the dean of Boston University Medical School. “Dr. Holick makes statements regarding the infant's medical condition that have no evidence base,” she wrote, noting that other experts had ruled out EDS in the case, and that even if the boy did have the condition there was no evidence it would make his bones fragile. “He is bringing the reputation of Boston University into disrepute.”
Antman replied with a defense of Holick and said she didn't need to know the particulars of his expert work. “As a private citizen and a physician, Dr. Holick is entitled to provide consultative services and testify as an expert witness,” she wrote. “As a member of the Boston University School of Medicine faculty, academic freedom allows Dr. Holick to espouse his views without censorship from the University.” Antman declined an interview request for this article but indicated through a spokesperson that she stands by the views she expressed in her e-mail.
The Philadelphia case soon took a turn, when the mother had another baby. At seven weeks, the infant was diagnosed with a fractured right leg. Holick was interviewed again and said there was “a very high degree of medical certainty” that EDS could explain the injury. “I wouldn't hesitate to have the children returned to the parents,” Holick said.
Seven months after Frasier complained to Holick's dean, a pediatric geneticist at the Children's Hospital at Albany Medical Center also raised concerns about him with B.U. Natasha Shur wrote in an e-mail to Holick's department head, Alan Farwell, that Holick's expert findings lacked scientific support. “I hope that you are interested in considering these issues, and the effect of BU and its involvement,” she wrote. Farwell replied that he was aware of Holick's work and encouraged Shur to invite Holick to an upcoming conference to discuss the issues she had raised. Farwell declined to be interviewed.
Shur, who now works at Children's National hospital, in Washington, D.C., is frequently called on by legal authorities to determine whether a metabolic bone disorder or other condition might explain injuries that look like they were caused by abuse. “In the majority of fracture cases, I don't make a medical diagnosis of child abuse,” she said. “Something else has happened.” Nevertheless, she finds Holick's assertions alarming. When she takes the medical histories of patients with EDS, she told me, they don't mention frequent fractures or brittle bones. “My patients are the first ones to state, ‘I never fractured as a baby,' ” she said. “They have had to deal with joint dislocations, joint pain, but as a whole have not had to deal with unexplained fractures.”
B.U., like most universities, guards the academic freedom of its professors by giving them wide latitude to express controversial views, particularly outside the classroom. B.U. administrators would have to show that Holick's courtroom utterances lack scientific merit or violate accepted professional standards in order to discipline him, John Wilson, the author of the 2008 book “Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies,” said.
But Holick's critics argue that his statements fall outside the bounds of academic freedom because they have profound repercussions for families and children. “Academic freedom is not just about saying what you want,” John Leventhal, the medical director of the Yale-New Haven Children's Hospital Child Abuse Program, said. In an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association last year, Leventhal and his co-authors said that academic medical centers should take some responsibility for the testimony of physicians who promote “flawed theories” in child-abuse cases. “If medical faculty at these institutions testified under oath that smoking did not cause cancer or that HIV did not cause aids, would such testimony be tolerated?” he wrote.
While the medical school has largely supported Holick, under the banner of academic freedom, the affiliated Boston Medical Center—where he is the director of the Bone Health Clinic—has taken a dimmer view of his outside work. The hospital has the busiest trauma center in New England, and its child-protection team reviews about eight hundred cases per year.
In 2014, Robert Sege, a pediatrician on the child-protection team, asked to meet with Holick. Sege wanted to know the basis of Holick's assessment that Ehlers-Danlos or Vitamin D deficiency could explain fractures in infants. Other than agreeing that Holick provided a detailed explanation of his thinking, the men have different recollections of the meeting. At the end of their conversation, Holick said, Sege “looks me in the eye and said, ‘Holick, it is my recommendation you cease and desist immediately. We are going to make your life miserable.' ”
Sege said that this confrontation never happened, and that he left the meeting thinking that Holick was “very convincing.” Sege's contemporaneous notes, which he shared with me, indicate that the conversation was “very cordial and collegial.” It wasn't until later, after reviewing relevant literature in the field, that Sege determined that he could not validate the link between EDS and infant bone fractures. “I believe this is his firmly held belief,” Sege, who is now a professor at the Tufts University School of Medicine, said of Holick. “It is not backed by evidence.”
Still, Sege said, one comment of Holick's unnerved him: Holick told him that he doesn't recommend that parents in potential abuse cases test for osteogenesis imperfecta, the disease known to cause injuries that look as though they might be the result of abuse. Holick acknowledges advising against testing for the disorder. “It's incredibly rare,” he said, and the test “will come back negative,” adding to the impression that “you are a child abuser.”
“That is a real red flag,” Sege said. “I am a doctor. I test for all things out there before I go to the thing that is my invention. I test for everything I can. It is alarming to tell someone not to get a test because it might impact your court case.”
In May, 2017, Boston Medical Center banned Holick from using “its facilities to treat or evaluate patients under the age of thirteen for any reason,” the hospital said in a statement for this article. It said that its “medical leadership” made the decision, but didn't explain why. Holick said that complaints about his child-abuse work prompted the edict.
The hospital did let Holick consult on one pediatric case that didn't involve alleged abuse, he and the hospital said. However, he infuriated higher-ups when, at a mother's request, he also examined twin two-year-olds who had allegedly been abused. According to Holick, the medical school's chairman of medicine, David Coleman, told him, “We would be thrilled if you retired and would leave.” He was warned that he would be fired if it happened again. Boston University declined to comment regarding Coleman and said that personnel matters are confidential.
Holick eventually won approval for a research project to study the genetic basis of Ehlers-Danlos, helping him to get around the ban. As part of that research, Holick now evaluates young children in suspected abuse cases in a building shared by Boston University and Boston Medical Center, just across the street from his office.
As concern about Holick's work has mounted, he has faced increasing scrutiny in court. Lawyers with the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families recently spent several days attacking his credibility and trying to persuade a judge in a child-abuse case not to allow him to testify. Holick said that they brought in other experts to challenge his credentials. They subpoenaed his boss, Alan Farwell, to testify. Finally taking the stand himself, Holick endured a withering cross-examination, he said.
At times, Holick appears surprised and wounded by the criticisms aimed at him. He called some of the e-mails written to his superiors “a little disappointing” and “vitriolic.” He said that those who find fault with his views should publish commentary in medical journals, or do studies of their own. Academics, he said, should want to learn from one another.
Holick compares the attacks on his work to the Salem witch trials. Then, as now, Holick said, “clueless” doctors who were unable to make a proper medical diagnosis blamed scapegoats. “With no experience or knowledge about metabolic bone disease the present day witch hunters will dam [sic] any parent who innocently brings in their child for evaluation,” he wrote to the editor of a medical journal.
Holick said that he has noticed cars lurking at the end of his driveway. He's tried to approach some of the drivers, but they sped away. “You know, maybe I'm a little paranoid these days,” he said.
This past January, Holick received a phone call so unsettling that he doesn't even remember who was on the other end. The caller said that the child of a family Holick helped in an abuse case was in the hospital with a serious brain injury, and the father had been arrested.
“Look what you've done,” the caller said, according to Holick.
The child was one of Jenn and Robbie Ray's twins. Officials in South Carolina had agreed to a plan to gradually reunite the family. They'd had three weekends of unsupervised visits. Now the local newspaper featured a mug shot of Robbie Ray in orange prison garb.
Holick said that he called Jenn Ray to find out what happened, and that he's confident the latest injuries weren't caused by abuse, either, but were another complication of EDS.
Holick told me that the girl, whom he described as about two years old, was in a swing and hit her head. Her father was with her, he said, “and I think that he brought her into the hospital and they gave a clean bill of health. And the next day the daughter had some significant neurological deficits and was bleeding in the head. And so, as a result, he was arrested for felony child abuse. But I believe that what likely happened is just like he was stating: that he was innocently swinging his child in the swing and bumped the head. Unfortunately, the pediatrician and/or emergency doctor didn't actually connect dots and didn't realize that, if that infant or child has EDS, and if they're having trauma, they should be more concerned about a brain bleed and not to have sent that child home.”
The explanation is, in many ways, typical of how Holick views these cases. He is quick to declare that a trivial accident has resulted in injuries that can be explained by his diagnosis, that the child has received incompetent medical care from less knowledgeable doctors, and that the authorities have rushed to judgment.
Holick's description of the incident, however, is largely inaccurate. The girl was eight months old, not two years. Robbie wasn't “innocently swinging his child in the swing.” By his account, he had strapped the baby into a motorized Fisher-Price swing, with the seat about a foot off the floor, while he sat on the couch and fed the other child. He didn't drive the baby to the hospital; he called 911, and an ambulance took her. In a recording of that call, Robbie seems to be sobbing as he tries to awaken his unconscious daughter. “What's wrong with her?” he asks the 911 operator. “What happened?”
There was no delay in treatment or missed diagnosis of a brain injury. When the infant arrived at the hospital, the trauma team met her and inserted a tube into her trachea to help her breathe. A CT scan showed that a hematoma on the right side of the brain was shifting the brain to the left.
Nor could Holick's comment that she “bumped her head” explain the damage to the rest of her body. Her right leg was broken near the thigh. A photograph from the hospital shows the infant lying on her back, with one eye swollen shut and bruises on her right eye and nose. There appears to be dried blood on her left hand.
Robbie's explanation for his daughter's injuries is that he forgot to snap in the right side of the strap, and she squirmed out, fell forward, and hit her head on the metal base of the swing. Robbie says he didn't see what happened, but heard a thud. When he looked over, the baby was face-down on the carpeted floor. He told state social workers, according to their report, that the baby wasn't crying or moving and, when he picked her up, her head was “just dangling back as he held her.” (Jenn told authorities that she was running an errand at Walmart when her daughter was injured, and showed them a receipt from the trip. As during the prior incident, hospital staff members found her demeanor troubling. She was noted to have a “flat” affect and to be “nonchalant and standoffish.”)
One of the emergency-room doctors who treated the child was skeptical about Robbie's story. She wrote in her notes that the “mechanism of injury”—a short fall from an indoor swing—“does not fit clinical presentation on arrival.” In a repeat of the first time the girl was brought to the hospital, six months earlier, Susan Lamb, the child-abuse specialist, was called in to evaluate. She didn't believe Robbie, either. The fall he described couldn't have caused the girl's injuries, she concluded.
“At this time with no plausible accident history, [the child] clearly has suffered abusive head trauma and physical abuse,” Lamb wrote.
Three days later, Robbie was at home and heard a knock on the door. He peered out a window and saw several police officers in tactical gear. Robbie was shackled at his wrists and ankles and led away. He was charged with abuse to inflict great bodily injury upon a child, a felony that carries a sentence of as long as twenty years in prison. He pleaded innocent and was released on bail.
Before Robbie faces a criminal trial, the child-abuse allegations will be weighed in family court. If the judge finds that there has been abuse, the D.S.S. has said that it will move to revoke the Rays' parental rights, which would likely lead to putting the children up for adoption.
Police and the D.S.S. haven't said what they think happened. When D.S.S. investigators came to the house, they wanted to know about the family's trip to see Holick, according to a recording Jenn made of the interview. They asked for dates, receipts, and the names of everyone who travelled to Boston.
I met with Robbie and Jenn at their home on a steamy day in May. The only sign that something was amiss was the Fractured Families window decal on the back of the Ford Explorer parked in the driveway. Toys were neatly stacked in the living room. The twins' bedroom remained just as it was in January, when their daughter was hurt. Photographs of the children adorned the refrigerator. Medical and court records were spread across the kitchen table, near where the mechanical swing was set up before police seized it.
Jenn and Robbie talked to me without a lawyer present, taking occasional cigarette breaks on the back patio. The only other people in the home were Jenn's parents, who stopped by toward the end of the interview, and who are draining their retirement funds to pay for the legal fight to return the twins to Jenn and Robbie. The twins, Jenn told me, are in foster care about ninety miles away.
Joking that she has earned a “Google medical degree,” Jenn offers detailed alternative explanations for her daughter's injuries and for the twins' prior fractures. She insists that mistakes by doctors aggravated her daughter's condition. The only time she became emotional was when talking about the stress that the abuse charges have put on her marriage.
Robbie and Jenn believe that Lamb, the abuse specialist, took an immediate dislike to them after the Memorial Day incident and saw the swing injury as an opportunity to separate them from their children permanently. Jenn called the doctor a “liar” who is “evil,” “wicked,” and a “narcissist.” A spokesperson for South Carolina's Department of Social Services declined to comment. Lamb said that medical-privacy laws prohibited her from discussing the case. A spokesperson for Palmetto Health Children's Hospital said that child-abuse experts there, including Lamb, are consulted roughly fifty times a year on suspicious injuries. Since 2007, they have found that abuse is medically indicated in about half of the cases they've seen.
The couple contends that their daughter suffers from a metabolic bone disorder—though not necessarily EDS—that worsened the damage from the fall. Jenn thinks the baby may have brittle-bone disease. An orthopedist who evaluated the child concluded otherwise, but Jenn wants a genetic test performed. Both the orthopedist and a new guardian ad litem representing the interests of the infant attribute the injuries to abuse, according to the guardian's report. Robbie said that he will fight the charges. “If anything, I saved her life” by calling 911, he said. “I would not hurt my daughter. And that's why I keep trying to tell people, I know I didn't do it. I know I didn't do anything wrong.”
Those weren't the only criminal charges that Robbie emphatically denied. I asked him about a 2015 misdemeanor conviction for public intoxication that had turned up when the police did a background check. A truck carrying Robbie and a friend, both drunk, had been found on its side in a ditch at 2 a.m., according to police. Robbie was adamant that he knew nothing about it and insisted that it must be a case of stolen identity.
But an intoxicated Robbie is clearly identifiable in a video taken by a police-cruiser camera. “I got really drunk,” Robbie told one officer. “I can't handle my alcohol.” The video shows him being handcuffed.
When I confronted Robbie about the video, he first reiterated that the incident was “news to me.” He eventually acknowledged that he was at the scene and offered a series of new explanations—for example, that a third person had brought him there after the accident—that are contradicted by the recordings. Nothing has surfaced to indicate alcohol was a factor in either of the alleged abuse incidents.
Holick will be watching the Ray case from Boston. Mistakes happen in medicine, but he realizes that one high-profile misstep on his part could greatly damage his credibility.
“I'm very, very concerned this could upend this whole activity, if even one of the cases of the hundreds turns out to be a child-abuse case,” he said. But he acknowledged the possibility that the case might not turn out as he would like. “You know, these types of things are going to happen,” he said.
In another conversation, he reflected on the impact of his crusade to reunite families divided by child-abuse allegations. “To date,” he said, “almost all of the kids I helped return to parents are happy and well.”
The Ford-Kavanaugh Hearings Will Be Remembered as a Grotesque Display of Patriarchal Resentment
by Doreen St. Félix
Judge Brett Kavanaugh is almost certainly going to be appointed the next member of the Supreme Court of the United States. Whatever Christine Blasey Ford said in her testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, and whatever Kavanaugh said in his, and however credible and convincing either one seemed, none of it was going to affect this virtual inevitability. The Republicans, if they stick together, have the necessary votes. A veneer of civility made it seem as if the senators were questioning Ford and Kavanaugh to get to the truth of whether Kavanaugh, as a drunk teen-ager, attended a party where he pinned Ford to a bed and sexually assaulted her, thirty-six years ago. But that's not what the hearing was designed to explore. At the time of this writing, composed in the eighth hour of the grotesque historic activity happening in the Capitol Hill chamber, it should be as plain as day that what we witnessed was the patriarchy testing how far its politics of resentment can go. And there is no limit.
Dressed in a blue suit, taking the oath with nervous solemnity, Ford gave us a bristling sense of déjà vu. “Why suffer through the annihilation if it's not going to matter?” Ford had told the Washington Post when she first went public with her allegations. With the word “annihilation” she conjured the spectre of Anita Hill, who, in her testimony against Clarence Thomas, in 1991, was basically berated over an exhausting two-day period, and diagnosed, by the senators interrogating her, with “erotomania” and a case of man-eating professionalism. Ford's experience—shaped by the optics of the #MeToo moment, by her whiteness and country-club roots—was different. The Republicans on the committee, likely coached by some consultant, did not overtly smear Ford. Some pretended, condescendingly, to extend her empathy. Senator Orrin Hatch, who once claimed that Hill had lifted parts of her harassment allegations against Thomas from “The Exorcist,” called Ford “pleasing,” an “attractive” witness. Instead of questioning her directly, the Republicans hired Rachel Mitchell, a female prosecutor specializing in sex crimes, to serve as their proxy. Mitchell's fitful, sometimes aimless questioning did the ugly work of softening the Republican assault on Ford's testimony. Ford, in any case, was phenomenal, a “witness and expert” in one, and it seemed, for a moment following her testimony, that the nation might be unable to deny her credibility.
Then Kavanaugh came in, like an eclipse. He made a show of being unprepared. Echoing Clarence Thomas, he claimed that he did not watch his accuser's hearing. (Earlier, it was reported that he did.) “I wrote this last night,” he said, of his opening statement. “No one has seen this draft.” Alternating between weeping and yelling, he exemplified the conservative's embrace of bluster and petulance as rhetorical tools. Going on about his harmless love of beer, spinning unbelievably chaste interpretations of what was, by all other accounts, his youthful habit of blatant debauchery, he was as Trumpian as Trump himself, louder than the loudest on Fox News. He evaded questions; he said that the allegations brought against him were “revenge” on behalf of the Clintons; he said, menacingly, that “what goes around comes around.” When Senator Amy Klobuchar calmly asked if he had ever gotten blackout drunk, he retorted, “Have you?” (He later apologized to her.)
There was, in this performance, not even a hint of the sagacity one expects from a potential Supreme Court Justice. More than presenting a convincing rebuttal to Ford's extremely credible account, Kavanaugh—and Hatch, and Lindsey Graham—seemed to be exterminating, live, for an American audience, the faint notion that a massively successful white man could have his birthright questioned or his character held to the most basic type of scrutiny. In the course of Kavanaugh's hearing, Mitchell basically disappeared. Republican senators apologized to the judge, incessantly, for what he had suffered. There was talk of his reputation being torpedoed and his life being destroyed. This is the nature of the conspiracy against white male power—the forces threatening it will always somehow be thwarted at the last minute.
The Hill-Thomas hearings persist in the American consciousness as a watershed moment for partisanship, for male entitlement, for testimony on sexual misconduct, for intra-racial tension and interracial affiliation. The Ford-Kavanaugh hearings will be remembered for their entrenchment of the worst impulses from that earlier ordeal. What took place on Thursday confirms that male indignation will be coddled, and the gospel of male success elevated. It confirms that there is no fair arena for women's speech. Mechanisms of accountability will be made irrelevant. Some people walked away from 1991 enraged. The next year was said to be the Year of the Woman. Our next year, like this one, will be the Year of the Man
Councils use 377,000 people's data in efforts to predict child abuse
Exclusive: Use of algorithms to identify families for attention raises stereotyping and privacy fears
by Niamh McIntyre and David Pegg
Vast quantities of data on hundreds of thousands of people is being used to construct computer models in an effort to predict child abuse and intervene before it can happen, the Guardian has learned.
Amid mounting financial pressure, local councils are developing “predictive analytics” systems to algorithmically identify families for attention from child services, allowing them to focus resources more effectively.
But while the new algorithmic profiling could be one way of helping social workers, it is likely to be hugely controversial due to its potential to intrude into individual privacy.
Child abuse algorithms: from science fiction to cost-cutting reality
There is also the risk of accidentally incorporating and perpetuating discrimination against minorities.
The Guardian has discovered at least five local authorities have developed or implemented a predictive analytics system for child safeguarding. At least 377,000 people's data has been incorporated into the different predictive systems.
Hackney and Thurrock councils have both hired a private company, Xantura, to develop a predictive model for their children's services teams. Two other councils, Newham and Bristol, have developed their own systems internally. Brent council is developing a system to predict vulnerability to gang exploitation.
One contract obtained by the Guardian reveals the sheer range of council data being considered for inclusion in a predictive model: school attendance and exclusion data, housing association repairs and arrears data, and police records on antisocial behaviour and domestic violence are all among the desired datasets, though some were later excluded from final models.
The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), which regulates the use of personal data by public and private bodies, said it would be asking questions of councils using predictive analytics to ensure they were compliant with data protection law.
“All organisations have a duty to look after personal information in their care but records involving children – often sensitive personal data – require particularly robust measures,” an ICO spokesperson said.
Advocates of predictive analytics argue that they enable councils to better target limited resources so they can act before tragedies happen.
“It's not beyond the realms of possibility that one day we'll know exactly what services or interventions work, who needs our help and how to support them earlier,” wrote Richard Selwyn, a civil servant at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, earlier this year.
But others warn that the systems inevitably incorporate the biases of their designers, and risk perpetuating stereotyping and discrimination while effectively operating without any public scrutiny.
“We talk about them like no human decisions have been made, and it's purely objective, but it's human all the way through, with assumptions about what a safe family looks like,” said Virginia Eubanks, an associate professor at the University at Albany and author of the book Automating Inequality.
In Thurrock and Hackney, the Xantura system operates by running its predictive model against a household in response to warning signs, such as a child being expelled from school or a report of domestic violence. The model's prediction is then passed to a social worker for potential action.
Hackney council said its system had generated 350 risk alerts for families in potential need of attention, while Thurrock said its system generated 300. A Thurrock council memo said earlier this year that all of its referrals to the government's Troubled Families scheme were now identified by the data analytics system and predictive model provided by Xantura.
Councils are adopting predictive systems at a time when local government budgets are under unprecedented pressure. By 2020 government funding for councils will have been cut by £16bn under the Conservative government's austerity programme, the Local Government Association has said.
The software can be used to generate revenue for the council through the Troubled Families payments-by-results scheme. Xantura's website advertises how its products can help local authorities “maximise PBR [payment-by-results] payments” from the government as well as reduce child safeguarding costs.
Under the Troubled Families scheme, councils are paid £1,000 for each family they sign up to the programme, with a further payment of £800 when the family meets certain criteria.
Last month, Northamptonshire county council, which is technically insolvent, announced plans to cut a further £70m from its budget and said that services for children and vulnerable adults could not be protected. East Sussex council also said it would cut services to “the legal minimum”.
Northamptonshire council explored implementing a predictive analytics scheme several years ago, and even commissioned a private provider to produce a pilot scheme. It later discontinued the scheme, in part due to a lack of funding
'See something, say something,' FBI fighting to end child abuse
The F.B.I. is raising awareness about how they fight crimes against kids
by Mckenna Eubank
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — Thousands of children fall victim to abuse every year, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Kidnapping, online predators, violent attacks or even sexual abuse are just some of the crimes these investigators face every single day.
The FBI's Exploitation Task Forces want to end those crimes against kids all around the world.
"We see a lot of child sex tourism that goes overseas and children become victims overseas," said Adam Aichele, a supervisory special agent with the FBI Task Force out of Tulsa.
"The citizens from the U.S. that went over there to conduct that behavior and that business, they can help stop it on their end and they can help us in making an arrest in a case on our end here."
There are 80 Child Exploitation Task Forces across the United States. They work internationally and team up with law enforcement agencies all the way down to the local level to bust crimes that our youngest citizens fall victim to.
"As a country, and in a global picture,” Aichele said, “Our children are our No. 1 resource and we need to protect them."
He added, the job can be a tough one, but well worth it.
"These cases are not glorious, not glamorous, and the individuals we have as part of the Task Force devote their entire lives to helping kids, and that's why we are so successful," he said.
Aichele also explained the importance of educating people — especially those who are around children every day — about red flags you might see when a child is going through abuse.
"With children, obviously if they withdraw from their activities, they show any kind of aggression toward their siblings or cousins or other relatives or other kids, if the school has concern about them, these are all kind of indicators. Maybe they're not involved in something that we can look at, but there's obviously something going on, and somebody needs to dig a little deeper," he said.
As a rule of thumb, he said, "Obviously, see something, say something."
"Even if they're not sure what's going on or they just have an inkling about what's going on, they can provide that information to us, or our local partners, and then that opens us up to be able to go out and investigate it," Aichele said
Child sexual abuse and the church: Impact on adults
Part 1 of this series considered the extent of child sexual abuse—how often does sexual abuse of children take place? The vast majority of experts on the matter agree sexual abuse of children is more extensive than most people realize, and, for a variety of reasons, a great deal of child abuse goes unreported.
Part 2 a described a set of common indications that a child or teen may have been sexually abused.
How does sexual abuse impact adults?
Impact of sexual abuse on adults
Like children and youth, adults experience a range of affects from childhood sexual abuse. Some individuals work through their abuse and experience minimal current impact. Others are devastated by the abuse and deal with the ramifications of it every day of their adult lives. Still others grow as a result of the abuse, even becoming advocates or helpers for other victims of abuse.
Researchers Laura Murray, Amanda Nguyen and Judith Cohen point out in their article “Child Sexual Abuse” in the journal Child and Adolescents Psychiatric Clinics of North America that adult survivors of sexual abuse can experience health problems, may struggle with drugs and alcohol, face marriage and family relational challenges, and are at increased risk for future sexual victimization and high-risk sexual behaviors.
Commonly, victimized adults have strong feelings of shame, which can lead to feelings of embarrassment and of being exposed. Adult survivors often are quite secretive about their abuse histories, sometimes not even telling siblings, closest friends or spouses.
Adult survivors often struggle to trust others. This struggle to trust can show up in relationships with others who they do not know well and also can occur with loved ones and family members.
Mistrust of others can appear in the form of rigid relational boundaries—not allowing anyone to get very close and keeping others at a safe emotional distance. Thus, some survivors become quite self-sufficient, not allowing anyone to do anything for them.
Lack of trust can also show up in the survivor's relationship with God. While others seem to trust God easily, adult abuse survivors may find trusting God extremely challenging.
Conversely, other adult survivors seem to function with absent relational boundaries. They trust others unwisely, allow others to invade their emotional and physical space, and have difficulty saying “no.”
Resilience & hope after being sexually abused?
After a number of devastating life circumstances, Joseph became a political and civic leader in Egypt. When he encountered his brothers, who launched his horrific journey by throwing him in a pit and selling him as a slave, Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Genesis 50:21, NASB).
Joseph emerged from his abusive past without bitterness, without seeking revenge and seeing a larger purpose God had for his life.
In recent years, childhood experts have begun talking about resilience, or a child's ability to withstand and grow despite terrible circumstances and tough odds. Despite the potentially devastating effects of sexual abuse, many survivors—children and adults—still grow and thrive.
The phrase Post-Traumatic Growth has emerged recently to describe the result of many trauma survivors, who—as a result of their adversity—become strong, healthy and capable of helping others.
Many adult victims face their abuse, go through the process of healing from the wounds, and then turn to help others. These individuals often become powerful agents of healing and advocates for others who have been victimized.
Yes, there is hope—even in the midst of the toughest circumstances
'Victims have waited long enough for justice,' say lawmakers and survivors of child sex abuse
State legislators show their solidarity with Rep. Mark Rozzi for an amendment that would retroactively reform the statute of limitations to child sex crimes laws - Senate Bill 261.
by Dan Gleiter
A cadre of Pennsylvania lawmakers - current and former - on Monday gathered on the steps of the Capitol Rotunda to urge lawmakers to support measures that would open a retroactive window for adult victims of child sex abuse to sue predators in civil court.
At issue was the recommendation by a recent grand jury report on clergy sex abuse to establish the temporary path to justice for victims time-barred out of the legal system.
The backdrop was the abbreviated legislative session, which kicked off Monday amid the growing calls from victims and advocates to more broadly amend Senate Bill 261 to include retroactivity.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, the Berks County Democrat who has spearheaded the reform charge and is poised to introduce the retroactive amendment, called the impending vote on his amendment in the House "a historic vote."
"This is the beginning of the end of our fight for justice for all victims of child sexual abuse," Rozzi said to a Rotunda packed with survivors of abuse, lawmakers and a throng of media.
Amid mounting public pressure, legislators prepare to take up retroactive reform to child sex crimes
With the cries of support from survivors at times echoing through the marble halls of the Rotunda, Rozzi urged fellow lawmakers to not hide behind arguments of constitutionality.
"That issue should be left to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to decide," he said. "Nothing and no one should stand in the way for an affirmative vote for a two-year window. Let's get this done and send a message to the Senate that victims have waited long enough for justice."
Giving a nod to Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who stood among audience members and whose office conducted the investigation into widespread clergy sex abuse across six dioceses in Pennsylvania, Sen. John Rafferty , a Montgomery County Republican, urged the Legislature to "act and act positively" for victims of child sexual abuse.
One of the few Senate Republicans to outspokenly support the retroactivity measure, Rafferty noted that the narrow definition laid out in the amendment would apply strictly to adult victims who were sexually abused as children and have timed out of the system.
He said state law was never intended to protect predators over victims.
"This is a sin against God. A sin against the individual," Rafferty said. "We in the Legislature owe it to victims to open that door."
The House on Monday afternoon was poised to take up Rozzi's retroactivity amendment on SB261 as well as a handful of other measures. The House could vote as early as Tuesday on the final bill.
Among the amendments on the table is a measure that would increase the penalties relating to the failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse; and others that would increase penalties for plaintiffs who make false swearing or unsworn falsification in connection with a claim of childhood sexual abuse.
The focus of the pre-session rally, however, was clearly honed on the retroactive component authored by Rozzi.
Rozzi's amendment would:
establish a two-year window in which civil lawsuits alleging childhood sexual abuse may be filed in court despite any otherwise applicable statute of limitations defense;
increases the standard of conduct for the waivers of sovereign and governmental immunity from regular negligence to gross negligence;
retain the current caps on damages for lawsuits brought pursuant to a waiver of sovereign or governmental immunity;
remove the statement of legislative intent.
As currently written, Senate Bill 261 would eliminate criminal statutes on child sexual abuse, largely classifying such crimes like that of murder, which carries statutes that never expire. The Senate GOP leadership opposes the retroactive measure, calling it a potential violation of the state constitution.
One by one, members of the Legislature and even Auditor General Eugene DePasquale took to the podium to urge passage of the measure.
"There is always a reason that can be found not to act," he said. "Every law had somebody argue against it. This is very simple. Are you on the side of the predators or on side of the victims?
Gov. Tom Wolf, who supports the retroactivity measure, earlier in the morning reiterated the importance of the look-back window.
"It's one of the four recommendations of the grand jury and it's one that seems to have elicited the greatest debate and controversy," he said. "I will continue to engage with the General Assembly. At this point, I think that's what we need to do. We need to go along with the full recommendations of the grand jury and that's one of them."
Scores of victims who gathered at the rally had moments earlier marched on the streets and up to the Capitol, carrying placards and shouting out demands in support of the retroactivity window.
Among the survivors were three Dauphin County sisters who were all sexually abused as girls by the same priest. Teresa, Carolyn and Patty Fortney echoed the sentiments from lawmakers at the podium and implored lawmakers in both chambers to open a path for them to seek justice.
"It's clear. There are victims. There are pedophiles," said Carolyn Fortney who testified before the grand jury. "You get to choose your destiny to be a hero or villain. It's up to you. Your legacy is in your own hands."
Her sister Teresa Fortney said: "If this was your grandchild, would your vote be different? It's a travesty if this does not pass."
The Fortney sisters are five of eight sisters in the family who were sexually abused by Father Augustine Giella in the 1980s. Their abuse was detailed in the grand jury report.
"This is not about money," said Patty Fortney-Julius. "This is about exposing pedophoiles that are out there now...they have to be held accountable."
Almost every lawmaker who addressed the crowd called out the work of Rozzi and Shapiro.
"Thanks for not giving up," Rep. Kevin Haggerty, a Democrat from Lackawanna County, said to Rozzi.
Shapiro more than once was recognized with thunderous rounds of clapping and cheers from the victims.
"You have given us our voice," Rozzi said to the attorney general. Dan Dyer, a lead investigator in the statewide probe was also singled out to a round of applause.
On Monday afternoon, a group of victims were poised to visit the office of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which historically has opposed retroactive reforms to the law.
The conference has more recently signaled a willingness to "reviewing all proposals introduced by the legislature."
One of the most compelling moments of the rally was offered by former state representative Bill Wachob, a Clearfield/Elk counties Democrat who served between 1978-1984.
Wachob for the first time in his life made public the story of his own sexual abuse at the hands of an older friend, who himself was being abused by a Diocese of Erie priest.
Wachob, who traveled from La Jolla, Calif., to join the rally, said that 40 years after his abuse, he now knows he is not "alone in having both lived through this kind of trauma, and understanding its long-term impact."
He warned members of the Legislature that if they did not act now, years from now they might find themselves asking another governing body to protect their own children or grandchildren.
"You have an opportunity, with the grace of God to begin a process that will ease the pain that has fallen upon our hearts for far too long
How Adult Survivors Of Childhood Trauma Forge Their Own Paths To Recovery
More people are aware of toxic stress in children – but adults who've been living with the effects of adverse childhood experiences have had to navigate a system that isn't well equipped for them.
by Caroline Covington
Mary Young, a trainer for Mental Health America of Greater Houston, experienced trauma as a kid and now shows teachers how to spot students in distress.
Just days before students came back for the new school year this August, Houston Independent School District teachers gathered at Houston Baptist University.
They were there learning things like how to better track student data and prepare kids for standardized tests. Mary Young was there to talk to teachers about trauma. Young is a school behavioral-health trainer with Mental Health America of Greater Houston.
“How many kids do you think have experienced any type of trauma, including everything?” Young asks the teachers. “So, we know that over two out of three – so almost every kid has experienced at least one traumatic event in their life.”
Young is an energetic speaker and somehow finds a way to make a very sensitive topic interesting to the dozen or so teachers listening. That's because she can directly relate. As a kid, Young's mother lived with bipolar disorder and she neglected and emotionally abused Young. Today, Young is thriving with a family of her own, but she still lives with the scars of childhood.
“Especially when I was a younger adult [it] made relationships difficult because I was … insecure, you know, are you going to stay, are you not going to stay?” she says in a phone interview. “We know that the effects of trauma last throughout our lives.”
We know that primarily because of a landmark study by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACE study. It was published exactly 20 years ago and was the first study to document the relationship between childhood trauma and the increased risk for things like heart disease, cancer or lung disease later in life.
Dr. Judith Herman is a Harvard psychiatrist who's studied trauma for decades. She says early trauma can also contribute to mental health problems, and for some, it can be the root of problems like addiction, depression or suicide.
“In the mental health population … they have very high rates of childhood trauma,” Herman says.
Herman says people who were traumatized as children can experience a complex from of post-traumatic stress disorder that's often misdiagnosed.
“You'll end up with people with multiple different diagnoses and multiple different medications and treatments that don't see the forest for the trees,” Herman says.
Herman says that's probably because their trauma was never discussed.
“They'll say, nobody ever talked to me about trauma, nobody ever put together that my symptoms are not just because I, for some unexplained reason have borderline personality disorder,” she says. “[They've] never had the kind of childhood care that helps children learn to regulate their emotions.”
Many kids who experience trauma move into adulthood without adequate support or tools to deal with its effects. Mary Young says mental health care in Texas is just starting to catch up with people's needs. She says there's only a small cohort of mental health professionals in Texas who treat adults with childhood trauma.
“There's not [a] significant amount of training that you can go to to get that additional skills …. When we're thinking about even more specialized therapists, you're then even more so raising the cost,” Young says.
That's despite just how common childhood trauma is. More than half of the thousands of people who responded to the ACE survey in the late ‘90s said they had at least one adverse childhood experience. That includes sexual, verbal emotional or physical abuse.
Kristina is a social worker and new mom who lives in Kyle. She's one of two people in this story who we're referring to only by first name for privacy reasons. Kristina says it took a lot of trial and error – and misdiagnosis – before she got proper help.
“By the time I finally found a counselor who understood, I was able to do many things different. Not be on all the medication for bipolar and be able to actually treat the trauma symptoms,” Kristina says.
Kristina used heroin off and on for years before she found trauma therapy. She says heroin made her feel better for a time, but it was also destroying her life.
“When you have overwhelming symptoms or things that you just can't cope with or don't know how to handle, you become willing to kind of do whatever to help. And so whether that means go to treatment or pick up drugs,” Kristina says.
Another reason PTSD from early childhood trauma goes unrecognized is because it doesn't fit the diagnosis for classic PTSD – that's the kind we associate with military veterans. Megan, who's a graduate student in her 30s, was sexually abused by a relative, and both her father and stepfather were abusive and controlling. She says the health-care system is just starting to recognize people like her.
“I, at seven years old was diagnosed with ADD … I did not have ADD. Looking back at my childhood, I'm like, I was sleep deprived, I was sleeping on people's floors,” Megan says.
Megan says despite the common symptoms shared by trauma survivors, recovery is a very personal process.
“Everything about my childhood says I should die 20 years early. I should have a heart attack or drug addiction or become a hooker …. And so I have to come back to a place of like, what does healing look like for me? What does it look like for me to be successful?” Megan says.
For her right now, it's pursuing a master's degree in clinical mental health at the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin.
“I was trying to decide between mental health and priesthood, and I met with someone who said ‘Why not both?'” Megan says.
Helping others seems to be a common path for trauma survivors: Nearly half of the more than two dozen people who participated in research for this story are either mental health professionals themselves or mental health advocates. Kristina, for example, has worked for ten years as a social worker in juvenile justice.
And then there's Mary Young. Her professional life has been devoted to helping kids.
“I finally had an opportunity to have a safe and secure home, and [was] really shown the love that I had wanted as a young individual. And then went to college and became a social worker to help support kids,” Young says.
Back at the teacher training, Young asked the Houston ISD teachers to say the negative words that came to mind when they thought of mental health. They shouted out words like “crazy,” “unstable,” “space cadet.”
“No wonder we don't learn about it or we don't think about them getting treatment because our society doesn't think this way first,” she tells the teachers. “Really think about how, as a society, can we can erase the mental health stigma?”
That's a long-term, societal goal, but there are signs of slow improvement now. Seton Shoal Creek Hospital in Austin recently started its RESTORE program, which treats PTSD in adults with trauma. Its Medical Director Valerie Rosen says she also hopes to start a larger trauma-treatment program at UT's Dell Seton Medical Center.
“I knew we had an untapped need,” Rosen says.
That's because Rosen says evidence-based treatment programs for PTSD in Texas are mainly for military veterans.
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.
Child abuse survivor helps victims find their voice
by Marie Sharp
A GRANDMOTHER who survived a childhood of abuse in the care system has told how she is using her experiences to support others as they give evidence in the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry.
Shirley Caffell, who now lives in Haddington, was just seven years old when her mother took her to a public park in Edinburgh and abandoned her with her five year-old sister and 18 month-old baby brother.
Alone and bewildered Shirley made her way from The Meadows to a house in Portland Place in the city, where she knew her grandmother lived, but when she arrived with her younger siblings the door was slammed in their faces.
As it began to get dark, Shirley returned to The Meadows where she approached two policemen for help.
It was a decision which would haunt her for over five decades as it was the catalyst of years of torment for her and her sister as they were abused in a care home and then foster care.
For Shirley, salvation came when she moved to Templedean Children's Home in Haddington, aged 12, and found security for the first time since she was abandoned.
Now Shirley, who still lives in the town, hopes working with other survivors to tell their stories to the inquiry will ensure her local authority and others learn the lessons needed to protect children in care in the future.
The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry, which is being run on behalf of Scottish Ministers, recently announced the addition of another former East Lothian residential children's home to its hearings – Carlekemp, North Berwick, which was run by the Order of Benedictines.
Other former residential homes currently on the list of those under investigation include Algrade, Humbie, and former Barnardo's homes Glasclune, in North Berwick and Tyneholme, Pencaitland.
To date no local authority run home in East Lothian has been included in the inquiry.
Shirley said: “The local authority home in Haddington gave me security for the first time.
“For years before that people in authority turned a blind eye to the abuse. I hear people now say it was a different time but that is not an excuse.
“All local authorities need to listen to the evidence which people are coming forward to give to this inquiry. Their voices need to be heard.”
Councillor Fiona O'Donnell, East Lothian Council's health and social care spokesperson, said it was vital local authorities addressed the wrongs of the past.
She said: “We have to face up to the harm that has been done and do everything we can to safeguard children and adults now and in the future. It is important that staff working in these services feel a responsibility and are able to report concerns.
“It can be difficult to speak out and we need to ensure that training in child and adult protection gives staff the skills to identify signs of possible abuse.
“Here in East Lothian we have a range of statutory and third sector services who can offer help to survivors at every stage of their life, including counselling, peer support and support groups.
“GPs can make referrals to psychological services, and for under 18s to the Rivers Centre. The Rivers is a specialist service for people affected by psychological trauma which adults can self-refer to on 0131 451 7400.
“In terms of the inquiry, I think it is vital that we face up to the abuse which has taken place where people should, above all, have been safe. The survivors who are giving evidence need to know that they are heard.
“Those who commit the abuse need to know that we have changed as a society and are ready to talk about these difficult issues.
“Here in East Lothian we will be keen to learn lessons from the inquiry and be ready to respond to its findings.”
Shirley sought help from Future Pathways, Scotland's In Care Survivor Support Fund, which helps those who were abused as children whilst in care providing counselling, support and practical help.
The counselling provided helped her understand that the abuse she had her younger sister went through was not her fault.
She said: “I carried this guilt over my decision to seek help which led to us going into the care system throughout my life. Through counselling I was able to understand that what happened afterwards was not my fault.
“I did the best I could and the only thing I could at that time, I was only seven.”
Shirley and her sister were initially moved into a care home in Edinburgh where a male who claimed to be related was given visiting access and sexually abused them.
Their ordeal continued when they were moved into foster care in Portobello and suffered years of physical abuse.
Shirley recalls developing rheumatic fever which was untreated and developed into chorea, a condition which robbed her of her speech and movement.
She said: “I was moved out of the house and onto a bed in the garden because they said I was disruptive. I couldn't talk, only moan, the other children were banned from coming near me. I spent an entire summer outside.”
They were moved to Templedean after what Shirley recalls as a “particularly horrendous beating” forced social workers to intervene.
Shirley now volunteers with INCAS – In Care Abuse Survivors – where she helps support people preparing to give evidence at the inquiry as well as those for whom the inquiry has brought childhood experiences to the surface.
She said: “I can relate to people and understand what they have been through and are experiencing when they call for help.
“I find being able to help others find their voice and speak out has helped me feel empowered.
“It is important and the work INCAS does and Future Pathways provides to help support peopleand let them tell their stories is vital.
”It is a first step in ensuring these mistakes are never made again and children in care are protected in the future
‘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
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.
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
As adult survivors join #MeToo, children listen — and confront their own abuse
Gemma Serrano, a 19-year-old college student, took notice last fall as female celebrities accused Harvey Weinstein of being a serial sexual predator. She paid attention when Reese Witherspoon recounted being sexually assaulted by a director at 16 years old. She watched intently as young women recently lined up, one after the other, to give searing personal statements at the sentencing hearing of former U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
Serrano noticed, perhaps more than other teens, because she shared something in common with the women in the news: A man she once trusted abused her, too.
Serrano reported that abuse, which occurred when she was a child, to a school psychologist, who then informed authorities. From ages 13 to 17, Serrano attended Camp HOPE America, a program for traumatized children created by Alliance for HOPE International, a San Diego-based nonprofit that aids survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, sexual abuse, and human trafficking. Serrano went on to intern with the organization for two years, but she'd never publicly identified herself as a survivor until one day in mid-October when she used social media to declare "#MeToo."
"I feel ... almost a sense of liberation," she says. "It was [once] a topic you shouldn't be speaking about. Seeing [the older generation] come out and talk about their experiences -- if they can do it, then I can do it as well."
While the #MeToo movement often feels like an adult conversation about the assault that grown women (and men) endure, particularly in the workplace, it's clear that many children and young people are listening. The stories they hear on social media, through television, in school, and in conversations around their own dinner tables can feel empowering. Those stories can also traumatize, especially when young people feel they have no means to stop abuse or report it.
Historically, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys were victims of child sexual abuse by age 18. While that abuse has declined significantly over the past few decades, thanks in part to improved prevention, detection, and intervention efforts, 10 percent of all American children will still become victims of sexual violence by the time they reach adulthood. The perpetrator is most often someone in their social circle, a biological or nonbiological parent, or someone known to the child's family.
While the taboo of discussing child sexual abuse still persists, Casey Gwinn, president of Alliance for HOPE International, says #MeToo marks a tipping point he's never witnessed in his decades-long career advocating for survivors of sexual violence.
In the last year, Gwinn says campers and kids involved with Alliance for HOPE International have been increasingly interested in discussing their most painful experiences, their candor growing rapidly in the wake of #MeToo.
"I do think there is a cultural shift that is happening," he says. "The more [young people] see high-profile people, or the victims of Nassar, or Olympians and celebrities talking about sexual harassment and assault, I do think it is creating a platform — almost an invitation for kids to be more open about what they've experienced."
"I do think it is creating a platform — almost an invitation for kids to be more open about what they've experienced."
Gwinn says his staff has adapted its Camp HOPE America program, which is offered in 15 states to children between the ages of seven and 17. The weeklong retreat is designed to make kids "feel safe, seen, encouraged, and loved," and uses curriculum to help foster their self-confidence.
Counselors are receiving additional training so they're better prepared to respond to campers who want to discuss sexual violence and others types of trauma they've endured. In previous years, campers usually stayed silent about those experiences, focusing instead on activities like rock climbing, creative arts, campfire sing-alongs, and discussions about resilience and empowerment.
Chris Newlin, executive director of the National Children's Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that trains law enforcement and child abuse professionals to prevent and respond to maltreatment with a coordinated approach, says that one teenager cited the Nassar case when she recently reported sexual abuse to the center's forensic interview specialist.
"If they can talk about this, then so can I,” she said, referring to the young survivors of Nassar's abuse.
Yet Newlin is skeptical of #MeToo's impact on children. He associates the movement with efforts to stop workplace harassment and assault, as well as the Time's Up campaign, which is focused on securing equal representation for women in American life.
Newlin believes it's impossible to attribute a single cause to trends in the detection or reduction of child sexual abuse. Kids, he says, are constantly flooded with media, including the news, movies, and television shows, that might prompt them to reflect on and disclose their own trauma. What they see could be related to #MeToo, but it might have no relationship to the movement. Either way, Newlin welcomes the public conversation about sexual violence.
His chief concern is making sure that children who do report abuse aren't re-traumatized by their experiences with law enforcement and frontline professionals. He's also passionate about helping young people understand and come to terms with their experiences, rather than feeling defined by them for a lifetime.
"There is hope in moving forward," Newlin says. "I would want [survivors] to know that they're not alone. While they may feel alone, there are lots and lots of people who have gone through that."
Staffers for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline have seen signs of a shift among young people in the past six months. By January, overall usage of the hotline had risen nearly 50 percent compared to the previous January. The number of kids contacting the hotline similarly increased by 45 percent during the same timeframe, and by mid-February, Larry Nassar's name overcame Bill Cosby's to become the most cited name in the hotline's history.
"There's a greater understanding that it's OK to ask for help."
"One of the big evolutions we've seen, particularly in the wake of #MeToo, is a greater belief that if you come forward and talk about what happened, you'll be believed," says Scott Berkowitz, founder and president of RAINN. "That kind of message has trickled down to kids. There's a greater understanding that it's OK to ask for help."
For children, seeking such help may begin with contacting a hotline, or confiding in a friend or trusted adult. Many professionals, such as hotline staff, school counselors, and physicians, are mandated by the government to report suspicion or evidence of child abuse to law enforcement or child protective services.
When the subject comes up on the RAINN hotline, whose staff is mandated by state law to report the abuse of a minor when given detailed information, many young people try to work through their options, weighing the perceived or real risk of involving the authorities against trying to stop the person abusing them. They may fear being removed from their home and placed in foster care, being blamed by others for the arrest of the family's breadwinner, or making an accusation that's not taken seriously and having no means to escape their abuser.
While these unique concerns aren't reflected in the broader conversation about #MeToo, children may silently agonize over them while reading and hearing about the movement — and there are few places for them to share that burden with others.
Serrano is trying to provide such an outlet for a small group of teens that she mentors through the Alliance for HOPE program. She says that prior to #MeToo, their conversations were casual and meant to be fun. Participants rarely discussed what they'd endured. That began to change last fall. Of the 10 teens she mentors, a few of them started talking about their traumatic experiences. Now Serrano listens and comforts as they express feelings of empowerment and grief.
"In the end, it was never their fault."
"I think what I hope for young people to get out of [#MeToo] is to be able to talk about their situation in an environment where nobody is judging them, and maybe even become community leaders," she says.
"I would tell them not to be afraid," Serrano adds, addressing young survivors who are grappling with their abuse in the age of #MeToo. "In the end, it was never their fault
New Whitney Houston documentary reveals she survived child sexual abuse. But the silence around it harmed her.
Despite the growing awareness about sexual violence, child sexual abuse remains a taboo topic.
Child sexual abuse is one of the most silent pandemics in societies because most survivors are often taught and usually expected to keep that devastating secret at all costs, in the name of familial love and protection. There are approximately 42 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the United States; girls, boys, transgender and gender non-binary children are sexually abused on average every minute of every day.
And, as a survivor of both incest and adult rape, I was devastated when I read in Vanity Fair that Academy-award winning filmmaker Kevin Macdonald's new documentary “Whitney” reveals that Whitney Houston and her half-brother Gary Garland-Houston were sexually abused as children by their cousin Dee Dee Warwick, the sister of Dionne Warwick.
Though I have not yet seen the film (the first documentary approved by her estate, it premiered at Cannes on May 16 and is scheduled for theatrical release on July 6) its revelation about the child sexual abuse of the Houstons provides me with a missing link about the phenomenal singer's painfully complex life.
Like many people, I always wondered if Houston's inability to be out as a bisexual woman — a rumor confirmed by the documentarian in the course of filming — caused so much strife in her life.
It seems that Houston's childhood sexual trauma and her decision, conscious or not, to not fully disclose what happened and receive support was also a festering wound that she could not heal.
So much emphasis is still placed upon protecting “the family” instead of the victim, letting both the perpetrator and the bystanders who either look the other way or condone the sexual harm off the hook.
Despite all of the powerful, survivor-affirming awareness around sexual violence that has been growing, child sexual abuse — especially in families — remains a very taboo topic.
So much emphasis is still placed upon protecting “the family” instead of the victim, letting both the perpetrator and the bystanders who either look the other way or condone the sexual harm off the hook.
Instead of having their pleas for help as children or as adults acknowledged and acted upon, child sexual abuse survivors are often vilified. We are often told that we are confused, mentally unstable and/or don't care about those “who love us the most” — our families — though they are the ones hurting us the most.
For survivors of color there is another unfair burden of “protecting the family.” The impact of white supremacy in our communities means that there are complicated feelings about involving the very system that disproportionately incarcerates Black, Indigenous, and Latinx men, women and children to address child sexual abuse.
Additionally, a new study revealing that police killings of people of color exceed accidental gun deaths, highlighting why there is an understandable fear of involving the police to interrupt or stop child sexual violence. Since relying upon the police is presented as the main option to stop violence, most victim-survivors, especially those of color, suffer in silence to protect themselves and their loved ones from police violence.
But other stereotypes continue to harm child abuse survivors. As evidenced in “Whitney,” (and recounted by other celebrities, like Tyler Perry, Charlamagne Tha God and Lecrae) perpetrators are not only men, but they are also women. If we continue to be in denial that both men and women are capable of committing sexual harm against children, we will not create space for those victim-survivors who've been sexually abused by a woman to recognize the abuse and feel safe to disclose it. It is difficult not to wonder if, in addition to being her cousin, the fact that Dee Dee Warwick was a woman played a role in Whitney Houston's silence about her sexual abuse.
All of this reinforces a loud silence that, without adequate support, will leave a detrimental, indelible imprint on the victim-survivor's life beyond that of the abuse itself.
And, if child sexual abuse survivors are also LGBTQ, we have to fight against our sexuality or gender identity being used as a weapon to discredit our abuse testimonies, or have our abuse called the cause of our not being heterosexual or cisgender. These struggles can prevent LGBTQ survivors from disclosing because we are literally caught between being disbelieved or blamed because of our sexuality or gender identity. I encourage people to compare the global statistics of sexual violence and compare those rates to the numbers of LGBTQ people in the world. If sexual violence “made” people lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, many more people in the world would be LGBTQ.
More often than not, child sexual abuse survivors with disabilities have to navigate their abuse and the likelihood that they are more interdependent than average on their abuser and bystanders for their literal survival. This interdependency with caretakers isn't solely based upon age, but it's also based upon the survivor's physical and/or mental abilities. This can result in further unrecognized sexual abuse, under the guise of caretaking, confinement at home or, if removed from the home, in institutional settings,
All of the above reinforces a loud silence that — as seen in “Whitney” — without adequate support, will leave a detrimental, indelible imprint on the victim-survivor's life beyond that of the abuse itself.
Silence is not, and never was, the answer to healing families and abuse survivors.
Similarly to Houston, my divorced parents traveled frequently and extensively, albeit for their international human rights work and not in the entertainment industry. When my parents were on the road, I stayed with family or family friends and, while I was raised in a metaphorical village, it was my paternal grandparents who provided me safe sanctuary the most. But it was there when I was 10 years old, that my Pop-pop molested me for a period of two years (though the emotional, mental, and psychological terror of my not knowing if I would be molested again continued for many years after the abuse ended). Unlike Whitney Houston, I told my parents what my grandfather was doing shortly after the abuse began but, tragically, they never addressed the abuse nor removed me from the situation.
I'm still healing 39 years later, and my parents and I are struggling in the aftermath.
Were it not for 26 years of continuous work with Dr. Clara Whaley-Perkins, a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual trauma, 25 years of consistent involvement as a survivor-activist and filmmaker in global anti-sexual violence and LGBTQIA movements, and a 16-year vipassana meditation practice, I know that I could very easily taken a different, more self-destructive path in life; I've seen that result for too many other survivors.
Silence is not, and never was, the answer to healing families and abuse survivors. We must make a societal commitment to compassionately and humanely address child sexual abuse through an intersectional lens, which uses community accountability and transformative justice as viable alternative options to the criminal justice system. If we do not begin to change how we support survivors, I don't believe we will ever eradicate all forms of sexual violence
A 'Tale' Of Child Sex Abuse Was Inspired By Filmmaker's Real-Life Trauma
The HBO film The Tale stars Laura Dern as a woman who realizes later in life that a relationship she had at 13 years old with two adults was child sexual abuse.
In 1973, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox wrote a story for her eighth-grade English class that alluded to a young girl's intimate relationship with a middle-aged man and woman. At the time, Fox's teacher assumed the story was fiction.
"The Tale," as it was called, was based on Fox's own experiences with her male running coach and female horseback riding coach — which Fox considered normal at the time: "I wrote at 13 with no concept of abuse at all," she says. "It was a love story; it was a relationship."
Fox's initial interpretation of the story lasted for decades. Then, when she was in her 40s, she reread "The Tale" and had a completely different understanding of what had happened to her.
"When I looked at it with my adult eyes, there was abuse all over it," she says.
Now Fox is revisiting the abuse she experienced in a fictional memoir film for HBO, which has been nominated for two Emmy Awards. The film, also called The Tale, goes back and forth in time, telling the story from the perspective of the 13-year-old Fox as well as from her 40-something self, played by Laura Dern.
Fox hopes her film will change the way people understand child sexual abuse. "We never talk about how a child can love his or her abuser," she says. "That's a piece of the story that has not been included in any of the tellings, and if we don't understand that, we don't understand how abuse happens."
Let's go back: 1973, affluent, white suburbs ... a good private school ... and this kid who's kind of dark and bright sends in a story — a very complex story — and what [the teacher] wrote on the back, I remember very clearly, she wrote, "If this is true, it's a travesty. But since you're so well-adjusted it can't be true."
So obviously she questioned it and quickly said, "Can't be possible." Now, in 1973 that is how someone would react. Just as my mother ... also had suspicions and thought, "How is this possible? I'm overreacting." That was 1973. Now today, in 2018, we know differently, and no teacher would react like that. I don't blame my teacher at all, and I don't blame my mother.
On whether writing "The Tale" was a cry for help
I think as adults we think always anything like this is a cry for help, but honestly, when I dig into my own self and go back, I think that I was doing what I've done all my life ... using storytelling to try to make sense of something I didn't understand.
I don't think I wanted the adults to find out. ... I thought I would be made to be a victim, and would be psychoanalyzed, whatever, and I knew that the adults would get it wrong. I can't really articulate it more than that, but adults come in with these big boots thinking they're going to fix something and they make a mess. ...
I don't think I wrote this story as a cry for help. I think I wrote it as a young artist trying to figure out and put into order as art does a story that was very complicated for me.
Why don't children speak and why didn't I speak? There was this profound inner code that this was our secret — and I loved [the two coaches]. I know that's amazing to say and I didn't want to hurt them and the world wouldn't understand. And I carried that code till my 40s.
On why she refers to herself as a "survivor" rather than a "victim"
I think the word "victim" scares me more than the event itself. It's ... hard to find words, but by putting the word "victim" on a child — or even an adult — you take away agency. And even though technically, I had little agency, because I was too young, ... the false ... belief that you have agency is what keeps us alive and keeps us actually surviving and going beyond trauma. So when you make a child a victim you destroy the thread that they have to get out of suffering. ...
I want to say that every survivor should use the language that works for them, but for me, I really use the word "survivor" because that's what happened. ... It doesn't mean there isn't damage. It doesn't mean there isn't hurt. It doesn't mean there aren't things that I was traumatized about. But let's preference the story of the muscle and the strength — and not preference the story of the weakness.
On why she doesn't use the word "rape" to describe the abuse
Technically it is statutory rape, but I think when we use that word, we deny all the manipulation that goes on for sexual abuse to happen. It was not an experience of violence, and that's why a lot of survivors of sexual abuse will kind of get their ire up when you use the word "rape." It takes away all the coercion and manipulation that goes on with sexual abuse, and we need to really understand that as different from rape. ...
I think it behooves us to understand the delusions that predators have in order to be able to stop it, in order to be able to change that people act like this. These are delusions, just like I deluded myself that it was love for 30 years. You know, we have to begin to really understand the psychology of it in order to change it.
On why it's so hard to prosecute child sexual abuse
What happens ... is that there is a slow manipulation into the child's world by the adult in which the adult is showering love and attention on the child and making them feel special. And that's why it's often — if you talk to any prosecutor — hard for children to prosecute their abusers because they feel such a complicated feeling of love and appreciation and respect, and often, that person may seem to the child to be the only adult that loves them
Adults Owe Child Sex Abuse Victims More Than Awareness
by Alex Livesey
When I was eight years old, a parent from the YMCA reported concerns about my swim coach to law enforcement. This parent's suspicions were correct ? I was being sexually abused by a predatory coach. My perpetrator had rendered my family dependent on him after he moved into my childhood home under the guise of helping my newly divorced mother. He found numerous ways to isolate me, taking me to travel meets alone, providing nearly all of my transportation to swim practice and babysitting when my mom was at work. Acquaintances described him as “touchy-feely” and many remarked on how quickly he could gain the trust of children.
Unfortunately, my encounter at that time with law enforcement did not result in his arrest.
Decades later, I came to terms with this abuse and reported my perpetrator to the police. The charges, guilty plea and sentencing were all covered by news media. When I ran into people who knew me as a child, they invariably said, “We knew this guy wasn't right.” Others even said, “I hate to say it, but I'm not surprised.”
Since my main coping mechanism was perfectionism, I did not fit the stereotype of an abuse victim. While my perpetrator's behavior was suspicious to some, my own behavior provided an inadvertent cover for him.
I am not alone in my experience. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 683,000 children experienced some form of child maltreatment in 2015. Child sexual abuse is just one kind of maltreatment, and it happens with alarming frequency. Because of the stigma associated with child sexual abuse and children's dependence on their perpetrators, this type of crime often goes unreported. It is estimated, though, that one in five girls and one in 20 boys are sexually abused. This kind of early childhood trauma has been documented to cause life-long mental and physical health problems for victims well into adulthood.
Child victims of abuse are rarely in a position to advocate for themselves.
Adult intervention is key to saving children from this kind of abuse and giving them a chance at a healthier, happier outcome. Mandated reporting laws support this type of intervention by requiring certain adults to tell the authorities about suspected child abuse. Some states also allow mandated reporters to be held civilly liable for damages resulting from failure to report. All states require teachers to be mandated reporters, but states vary in requirements for other professions.
On the federal level, the recent passage of the Safe Sport Act makes it a crime for representatives of youth sports organizations to ignore suspected abuse. Unfortunately, there are factors limiting the effectiveness of these laws.
There is no federal law requiring training for mandated reporters, so requirements vary by state and profession. Teachers in Virginia, for example, are only required to complete mandated reporter training when they first earn their license and when they renew it (generally every five years). Many trainings are web-based and can be completed without much focus.
USA Swimming recently launched a mobile platform for their Safe Sport training. Maggie Vail, a Safe Sport education specialist, said via SwimSwam, “The mobile-friendly platform allows us to cater to on-the-go members by taking Safe Sport courses and other valuable classes whenever their busy schedules allow.” Considering what is at stake, children deserve that the adults who are supposed to protect them receive training that is meaningful and not merely a check-the-box task.
Perfunctory training might be convenient for adults, but it can undermine the goal of mandated reporter laws. Researchers have found that teachers feel ill-equipped to identify abuse and are unaware of both the signs of it and the threshold for reporting. Research also shows that teachers tend not to report abuse when there are no bruises or other physical signs and avoid contacting authorities based on suspicions alone even though mandated reporting laws require them to do so.
Adults also often believe common, unhelpful myths about abuse that organizations should work more consistently to dispel.
For example, adults I encountered as a child assumed that high achievement is incompatible with an abuse history. A consequence of this false belief is that children of color living in poverty are overrepresented in reports of suspected abuse.
Improved mandated reporter training, however, is useless if there are systemic, institutional flaws incompatible with the protection of children and prevention of abuse. Too often, organizations that serve children are focused on limiting perceived liability and protecting their image.
Revelations that USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics ignored hundreds of reports of child abuse in their ranks have sparked outrage. The twisted, self-serving culture that put so many swimmers and gymnasts at risk is not anomaly. It is pervasive, common even in our schools. A Government Accountability Office report from 2010 revealed that school officials often opt to retain abusive teachers or provide them positive references to work elsewhere in order to limit the expense of potential lawsuits. This practice is so common that it has a name ? “pass the trash.”
All states require teachers to be mandated reporters, but states vary in requirements for other professions.
These types of egregious failures happen despite the laws in place to deter mandated reporters from shirking their responsibility. But few convictions result from these laws, allowing mandated reporters ? and the organizations they represent ? to ignore abuse without consequence.
From 2004 to 2014 in Colorado, there were only 65 charges stemming from a mandated reporter failing to report. This is a nationwide problem. Representatives from schools and other organizations that serve children often get away with their failure to protect children, continuing their careers even though they have failed in their most basic responsibility.
Organizations will protect themselves above children until it is more inconvenient for them to ignore abuse than it is for them to address it. It is a move in the right direction to enforce and expand penalties for adults who enable predators by ignoring reports or suspicions of abuse. Likewise, organizations that avoid hiring personnel with a history of child abuse should also avoid hiring, retaining and promoting the allies of child abusers ? the adults who have covered up or ignored abuse.
Child victims of abuse are rarely in a position to advocate for themselves. Since their safety depends on adult intervention, it is absolutely critical that mandated reporters receive frequent training and accurate information to identify abuse. It is even more important that schools, youth sports organizations and other entities that serve children prioritize safety above self-interest.
Why It's So Hard For Victims Of Extreme Abuse To Leave
What child abuse experts have to say about the distressing case of the Turpin family
by Anna Almendrala
When police entered the home of David and Louise Turpin in Perris, California, they encountered 12 siblings who were being held in filthy, dark conditions ? some chained to furniture. The youngest was only 2 years old, and officials said they were shocked that seven of the emaciated victims turned out to be adults, ages 18 to 29.
The 13th child, a 17-year-old who police said looked to be about 10, had jumped out of a window to call police to the home.
As more details begin to surface about the torture and confinement the children endured, as well as the seemingly normal and fun vacations and outings they participated in as a family, a familiar question is emerging about the victims, especially the adult children: Why didn't they just leave?
The parents, who have both been charged, are accused of torturing their children with physical restraints, beatings and strangulations. But the psychological control the parents had over their children must have been immense to keep anyone from speaking out or escaping earlier, child trauma experts say.
What's more, it's typical in domestic violence situations for some of the stronger victims to put off leaving for fear of what might happen to the smaller children left behind, explained Chandra Ghosh, who is associate director of the Child Trauma Research Program at the University of California, San Francisco.
“When we think about legal adults not walking away from [abusive] situations, what we know is that many women live in that situation and don't walk away, sometimes to protect their children,” Ghosh said. “We don't know what [the Turpin children] were told in terms of harm to possible younger siblings ... but the idea is that you have the possibility of walking away, but the smaller children do not.”
Compounding the childrens' vulnerability is the general erosion of community support in the U.S., Ghosh said.
Every minute that passes in the U.S., an average of 20 people are the victims of intimate partner violence, while an estimated one in four children will experience some form of maltreatment during their childhoods. While cases of abuse in total isolation are exceedingly rare, they're just on the extreme end of a spectrum of abuse within families.
The parents' total control over their children's interactions with the outside world — which extended to exclusively home-schooling them and forcing them to sleep during the day to be awake at night ? makes it all the more remarkable that one child was able to escape and call for help, said Sarah Enos Watamura, a developmental psychologist who researches stress and health at the University of Denver.
“While you might feel that your situation is unacceptable or really painful and difficult, you'd still have to think that another reality is possible for you in order to act on that,” she said.
“Why did the -year-old reach out? What is it about that individual child that gave her the impetus to feel that she has the advocacy to do something?”
While Watamura allows that we may never know what prompted the teen to take charge of her own rescue, officials are calling her “courageous” — not only for being strong enough to escape but also for being wise enough to take photos as evidence.
What makes the Turpins' case all the more unusual is that the children were imprisoned in a community where one might expect frequent passers-by or encounters with neighbors on a regular basis. Indeed, neighbors who have talked to news outlets about the Turpins said that they occasionally greeted the children when they were in the front yard but got no response.
“It's just easier to do that when you're socially isolated out in the country or sometimes in a very, very highly populated urban area where people just don't know anyone else,” said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire. “The fact that they pulled it off once again shows the extreme level of not just physical control, but I think cultural control that they maintained over their family.”
While nobody could have expected the Turpins' neighbors to report the strange interactions they had with the family, the community is coming to terms with the horror taking place in its midst. Perris residents who are discussing the case with journalists are expressing a mix of shock, anguish and grief over what police found in that home.
“I would've put my life on the line to see that they were freed from this kind of bondage,” one man told KTLA reporter Courtney Friel.
But the truth is that in the U.S., we're no longer expected to know our neighbors' names — let alone their struggles. Ghosh hopes that this case alerts Americans to the reality that domestic violence and child abuse are incredibly common, and that neighbors can do something about it. But first they have to get to know each other.
“Violence is happening all around us, and these are the severe cases that kind of wake us up,” Ghosh said. “We want to know our neighbors and help our neighbors so that we can help each other and support each other, not so that we can judge each other.”