National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

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"News of the Week"  

January 2019 - Week 1
Terri Lanahan
Many thanks to NAASCA's Terri Lanahan, Butte, Montana,
for her research into the news that appears on
the LACP & NAASCA web sites.


Child abuse expert highlights grooming of sexual abuse victims

by Bill Miston

OKLAHOMA CITY - Hundreds of thousands of children are abused or mistreated in the United States each year, and tens of thousands of those children are also victims of sexual abuse. And those cases are the ones law enforcement knows about.

In Oklahoma, there are numerous stories of children being sexually abused or preyed upon: from teachers, family members, to even elected officials. And a recent case highlights how child abuse experts say abuse often starts: by grooming of the victims.

This past weekend, a 70-year-old Oklahoma City man was arrested at a northeast side movie theater on a complaint of lewd acts with a child. The man, Dwight Sulc, is accused of groping a teen girl who he had hired, along with her sister and their mother, to clean two properties he owns.

Police reports said Sulc "kept asking if the girls could stay the night with him at his house." They never did, but according to police, he would bring them to the movies. It was this past weekend the two sisters went to the movie theater with him.

"While they're sitting in the movie theatre, he reached over, groped her, touched her inappropriately. She told him to stop," said MSgt. Gary Knight. "Police ended up being notified."

News 4 made multiple attempts to reach Sulc by phone and at his home, but never got a response.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, more than 671,000 children suffered abuse in the United States. Of those, more than 57,300 were victims of sex abuse. According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice, 93 percent of child sex abuse victims knew the perpetrator, often a family member or acquaintance.

"Grooming is incredibly common in the world of child abuse. But there are signs and symptoms that even that is going on," said Stacy McNeiland, CEO of The Care Center, an Oklahoma City-based child advocacy non-profit.

"Have your alerts on for both situations," McNeiland said. "If you're a parent or caregiver, and you notice a teacher or anyone is paying special attention to your child, sending home gifts, always sitting in their lap in their classroom. I would have a red flag."

Precautions should also be paid to what types of technology children are using, especially internet connected devices, like cell phones and tablets.

McNeiland said secrecy is the enemy when it comes to technology.

"Shouldn't happen in a room, or behind closed doors. It should happen out in the family room and parents need to be actively engaged in what happens on that device.



Gooditis to introduce four bills to combat child abuse


Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, said she will introduce legislation to combat child sexual abuse when the 2019 General Assembly legislative session begins Wednesday.

During a press conference in Leesburg on Friday, Gooditis said she will introduce four bills that would:

• expand the definition of sexual abuse,

• require the clergy to report suspected abuse,

• retain records of complaints about child sexual abuse for a longer period of time,

• enforce a harsher penalty for those who commit domestic violence in the presence of a minor.

Gooditis said her brother, at the age of 11, was raped multiple times by the leader of a children's activity. Her brother later attempted suicide multiple times, and suffered from PTSD and alcoholism. He was found dead in March 2017, shortly after she announced her candidacy for the House of Delegates. Gooditis hopes to protect other children from a similar fate.

“My grief and loss have created an energy in me,” Gooditis said. “I couldn't help my brother. I couldn't fix it for him. If I can do anything to save that one child from being abused right now ... then I will do it.”

House Bill 1716 would expand the definition of sexual abuse for children under the age of 13. The current statutory definition defines abuse as touching “intimate parts.” The new definition of sexual abuse would include the intentional touching of any part of a victim's body either on the skin or the material covering the victim's body. Prosecutors will still have to prove the intent to sexually molest, arouse or gratify the victim.

“The first bill here would redefine sexual abuse so that we would be able to catch sexual predators at an earlier point before more damage has been done,” Gooditis said. “This to me is really vital. Why do we wait until the child has been spirit destroyed before we can arrest and prosecute these people?”

Gooditis said she was a victim of sexual abuse multiple times when she was younger.

“Men felt free to grab me,” she said. “The difference between my brother and me is he was a lot sweeter than I. He didn't fight. He froze. Which, sadly, is very typical.”

Her second bill, HB 1721, would require ministers, priests, rabbits, imams and duly accredited practitioners of any religious organization to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Exemptions will be made in situations where it is required by the doctrine of the religious organization or denomination to kept in a confidential manner or would be subject to 8.01-400 or 19.2-271.3 of the state code if offered as evidence in court.

Gooditis said during the conference that she would also consider adding computer technicians to the list of people required to report suspected child abuse, as they would be among the most likely to stumble upon child pornography or other forms of online child abuse while fixing computers.

The third bill, HB 1810, would extend the amount of time the Department of Social Services should retain records of reports and investigations of child abuse before purging them.

“If there is an accusation of sexual abuse for a child, at the moment if there is an investigation and nothing is found, the record is purged in a year,” Gooditis said. “This would change it to three years. Because let's face it, we know most child predators are compulsive and this is something they would do over and over again. So if we can hang onto those records a little bit longer, it would make it easier for us to catch someone on a repeated offense.”

HB 1808 would make assault and battery in the presence of a minor guilty of a class one misdemeanor for a first offense and a class 6 felony for a second or subsequent offense. The bill also provides that any person who commits a felony act of violence while in the physical presence of a minor and knowing or having reason to know that the minor may see or hear such assault and battery, be guilty of a class 5 felony.

“Domestic violence is a horrible thing in any case, but domestic violence in front of children damages those children even more,” Gooditis said. “If we can make that a harsher penalty, then hopefully we can discourage that from occurring in front of children and making those children's lives even more difficult.”

During Friday's press conference, Gooditis was joined by several government officials and advocates for children.

“Over one in 10 children nationally experience sexual abuse before turning 18,” said Ian Danielsen, an assistant professor of social work at Longwood University. “Those are conservative estimates. Up to 90 percent of the kids, the research tells us, don't tell until they reach adulthood. So we are talking about a serious epidemic.”

Gooditis anticipates bipartisan support for most of her proposed legislation, but has concerns about HB 1716's chances. She said some critics might believe that expanding the definition of sexual abuse would endanger casual affection toward children. She disagrees and feels it will be a useful tool in catching predators early, before any serious damage is done.

“I'd like to think that our court system and our law enforcement and prosecutors are intelligent enough to know the difference between grandma kissing her 8-year-old granddaughter lightly on the mouth and a kiss on the mouth that is intended to groom with sexual intention,” Gooditis said.

Phyllis Randall, chairwoman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, said a majority of people in prison had suffered abuse themselves. As a result, she said there is generational systematic abuse that needs to be stopped.

“When you can stop that abuse with one person, you stop that next generation from being abused also,” Randall said.


International Travel

Call to ban paedophiles from travel, after prosecutors drop international child abuse charge against convicted sex offender Benn Bathgate


A young woman wearing a "Stop Rape" t-shirt joins a protest march through the streets of the Fiji capital of Suva.

A predator accused of sex offending against a child in Fiji was arrested and charged back home in NZ – but authorities have now dropped the case.

Sean Smale faces sentencing this month on five counts of sexual offending against boys as young as 13, that occurred at alcohol and drug-fuelled gatherings at his Rotorua home.

But because he was likely to be convicted over those New Zealand offences, prosecutors decided it wasn't worth proceeding with the Fiji charge, laid under an unusual law amendment.

Smale, 48, is not the first to escape conviction under the law empowering the courts to punish so-called "sex tourists" who abuse children overseas. It's a name that belies the true horror of the crime, where men travel overseas, often to poor developing countries, to sexually abuse children.

A Stuff investigation shows that in 23 years, just three men have been convicted under the 1995 amendment to the Crimes Act; another 15 have been acquitted or had their charges dropped. Sean Smale is the 16th.

Now, there are calls to ban paedophiles from overseas travel.

Ian McInnes, chief executive of aid organisation Tearfund, said authorities had no idea on how many New Zealand citizens travelled overseas to commit sex abuse crimes. New Zealand should follow Australia's lead by stopping those on the Child Sex Offender Register at the border, he argued.

The 2002 Fiji charge against Smale was withdrawn before reaching trial as prosecutors focused on the local charges they were sure they could prove.

The difficulty, say legal experts, is that this is a law created to provide justice for children who are have no protection in their own countries – but New Zealand Police must rely on those same ineffectual overseas police forces to help them investigate the crimes.

The details of Smale's alleged offending in Fiji were spelt out in his initial charge documents: "Being a citizen of New Zealand, did outside New Zealand, in Fiji, an act to or in relation to a child under the age of 16 which would, if done in New Zealand, constitute an offence against Section 128 of the Crimes Act 1961."

In the end that charge was dropped as the Crown – correctly – deemed they had a strong enough case to convict him with just the New Zealand charges.

Auckland University of Technology law programmes professor Kris Gledhill said the amended law came into force specifically to tackle "sex tourists".

"In light of the fact that some countries were not properly enforcing their laws relating to child sex offences, the countries from where the tourists were coming to commit the offences were encouraged to introduce offences," he said.

Gledhill said he wasn't surprised at the low conviction rate.

He said getting witnesses and evidence from overseas was difficult and, as happened with Smale, "the suspect may have other offences that are easier to charge and prosecute because they occurred in New Zealand".

A further complicating factor is the requirement for that charge to be signed off by the Attorney-General, Gledhill said, usually to obtain international cooperation in evidence-gathering and deciding where any prosecution should take place.

He backed the process of focusing on charges with the highest probability of securing a conviction, rather than pursuing the overseas charges. "Very little is gained from it in light of the fact that judges will often impose sentences that are served concurrently. One more conviction will add nothing to the punishment imposed."

There was another pragmatic reason too. he said. "It may seem like someone 'getting away with it', but in fact it means that resources can be put into some other investigation."

Ian McInnes said he too was not surprised at the low conviction rate, citing "less robust" justice systems in many developing nations.

He also said that when charges are dropped for a lack of evidence it's understandable, however it could sometimes be "a missed opportunity to send a message to those considering the sexual exploitation of children that they risk being caught and prosecuted if they plan to commit this abhorrent crime".

Minister of Justice Andrew Little told Stuff that overseas travel to abuse children was a matter the Crown took extremely seriously. "Eighteen attempts to prosecute – it does look like the Crown is looking to send a signal," he said.

Little acknowledged the Government has no idea how many New Zealanders may be travelling overseas to abuse children. "It's not going to be a declared intention," he said.

He said it was an extremely complicated area of the law and that "considerable caution" has to be given to issues such as the quality of evidence provided from overseas agencies.

He also hit on one of the flaws in a system that relies on overseas enforcement agencies – corruption.

Only three men have been convicted and sentenced here for overseas sex crimes.

The most recent was the March 2012 sentencing of Glenn Roderick Holland to three years' imprisonment at Auckland District Court. He was sentenced for offending that took place in the Russian capital Moscow in 2007 where he photographed children being exploited.

Stephen John McDonald was sentenced in the High Court at Christchurch in December 2008 to seven years imprisonment on four charges of sexual violation, one indecent act and two charges of possession of objectionable material.

His ethnicity, and the country the offending took place in, are both subject to legal suppression and cannot be revealed.

The first New Zealander to be sentenced on this charge was Mark Spencer Rotherham in August 2007.

He received two years and three months imprisonment for abuse that took place in Japan.

Sentencing Rotherham at the Manakau District Court, Judge Charles Blackie described the charge as a "new development in New Zealand law".

"This was brought about in order to bring some control over what was regarded as sex type tours to Asian countries by New Zealanders and it was to make people accountable for their actions."

The devastating effects of "sex tourism" were also spelt out in a 2008 report by ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes). "Regardless of the background of child victims of sex tourism, they all experience severe emotional, psychological and physical consequences as a result of their exploitation," the report said.

"The consequences of child sex tourism on children are severe and their health, wellbeing and future opportunities are all jeopardised by the exploitation to which they have been subjected."

It's a view echoed by evidence from one of the victims Smale was found guilty of abusing, a man whose life had been marked by crime, drug addiction and prison.

"I could have turned into a lot worse person, but I also could have been a whole lot better if this didn't happen."



Friday Report Cards Line Up With Child Abuse Cases


A year-long study finds a correlation between child abuse cases and the dates elementary schools issue report cards—but only when grades come home on a Friday.

On Saturdays following report card Fridays, cases of child abuse in Florida were four times higher than other Saturdays. The state's Department of Children and Families verified the abuse cases.

When report cards were issued earlier in the week, there was no increase in abuse cases according to the study, which appears in JAMA Pediatrics.

“It's a pretty astonishing finding,” says Melissa Bright, a research scientist in the University of Florida's Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies. “It's sad, but the good news is there's a simple intervention—don't give report cards on Friday.”

To extend the research, Bright wants to look at data in other states. She also wants to pinpoint the underlying causes of the link between report cards and physical abuse. She and her colleagues suspect that parents or guardians are physically punishing children for their grades, “but it might be something else we don't know about,” she says.

In addition to distributing report cards earlier in the week, schools could consider including messaging to help prevent corporal punishment that crosses the line into abuse. But that's a sticky issue in Florida, where some counties still allow corporal punishment in public schools.

Florida is not alone: 19 states still allow school personnel to hit students, according to a report from the Gundersen Center for Effective Discipline.

Additional researchers are from the University of Florida, Georgia State University, and Harvard University.



Japan to boost measures to prevent child abuse

Locked in a room without a heater in the cold of winter, having been beaten and not given enough to eat, Yua Funato cried and begged for her parents' forgiveness.

"Please, please, please forgive me. I will make sure I can do more things tomorrow than today without daddy and mummy having to tell me what to do," the five-year-old wrote in a diary entry, ostensibly blaming herself for her parents' abuse in a heart-wrenching plea that shocked Japan this year.

Her diary entries - which also include one that read, "I am sorry that I played so much like a fool. I will stop doing a foolish thing like playing." - were found after she died on March 2 from blood poisoning caused by pneumonia, which had been triggered by malnutrition.

She weighed just 12.2kg - the healthy weight of a two-year-old.

She had lived with her stepfather, Yudai, 33, and birth mother, Yuri, 26, as well as her one-year-old stepbrother who, in contrast, was doted on. Both parents, who were unemployed, were arrested.

Yua's case, which fell in between bureaucratic cracks after the family moved from Kagawa prefecture in central Japan to Tokyo, sparked a national backlash so severe that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed it in Parliament, vowing to strengthen child abuse prevention measures.

Last week, a panel from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) finalised draft measures that will form the basis for revising the Child Welfare Act.

One of the suggestions is to give staff at a network of 212 child welfare consultation centres nationwide more powers so that they can separate parents from children who are suspected to be at risk.

65,431 - Number of child abuse cases last year that the police referred to child welfare consultation centres.

Separately, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government wants to go even further by banning the physical and verbal abuse of children altogether, in what is said to be the first prefectural law of its kind in Japan.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said of the Bill to be tabled in the metropolitan assembly in February: "Physical or verbal abuse, which some people say is a form of disciplining, can cause trauma to children and parents can go too far."

Yua's death has sparked a bout of national reflection as children are increasingly a precious resource in Japan, which is grappling with a plummeting birth rate.

But the child abuse situation has been worsening. MHLW data shows that in the fiscal year ended March, child welfare consultation centres handled 133,778 cases - the 27th straight year of increase and a 9.1 per cent jump from the corresponding period a year earlier.

A mother and her child mourn for Yua Funato in front of an apartment where she died in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo on June 26, 2018.

Most children of single mothers are, on average, poorer, less educated and have fewer prospects - an underclass in a wealthy and ageing nation that can ill-afford to lose a significant chunk of its future workforce.

Separately, police said they were called in for 65,431 cases of child abuse last year, which they referred to the child welfare consultation centres. This was the 13th straight annual increment and a 20.7 per cent rise from 2016.

But of these, only 1,116 ended up as criminal cases, the Justice Ministry said in a White Paper this month - though this was up 7.2 per cent from 2016. The low figure implies a reluctance by prosecutors to pursue criminal charges for child abuse cases.

Yua's case was referred twice by Kagawa prefectural police to prosecutors, but both times they did not press charges against Yudai.

Yua was also twice taken into custody by Kagawa child welfare officers, who had flagged her case file to their counterparts at the Shinagawa centre in Tokyo for a follow-up.

But the Shinagawa officers were turned away on Feb 9 during a house visit, with Yuri telling them that Yua was not at home.

The Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial that child welfare officers are overworked - the number of child abuse cases rose 3.3 times in the last 10 years, while the number of personnel increased only 1.5 times.

The government plans to add 2,000 more child welfare workers to its current 3,200 personnel by March 2023, though the newspaper said it was also urgent to address such cases as when "parents deny abuse and refuse to let their children be interviewed", or when children "deny they are abused because they want to protect their parents".

Dr Mayumi Taniguchi, a sociologist from Osaka International University, told The Straits Times that societal understanding of what constitutes child abuse has been rising, resulting in "more cases where the surrounding community feels compelled to raise their voices".

Dr Emi Kataoka from Komazawa University in Tokyo said many couples, who face financial constraints given stagnating wages, have come to see kids as a burden: "As they lose latitude in their finances, personal time and mental health, such mounting pressures can easily drive parents to child abuse."


Australia / South East Asia

'I am a survivor': NRL referee opens up in fight against child abuse

by Nick Bonyhady & Christian Nicolussi

NRL [Rugby] referee Gavin Badger has revealed he was the victim of sexual abuse as a child.

Badger opened up about the issue for the first time by posting a message on social media from Bali, where he was participating in a charity event to raise funds to fight child abuse.

"The first week of January is child abuse awareness week, a subject very close to my heart," he wrote on Instagram. "It's not something I have ever put out there publicly, but I feel comfortable enough to finally say it out loud: 'I am a survivor of child sexual abuse'."

The senior referee, who has been in charge of more than 300 NRL games, paid tribute to the struggles of all abuse survivors.

"I feel like I am one of the fortunate ones though as 2000 people a day die from child abuse, by either suicide or at the hands of their abuser," Badger said.

Badger's wife Kasey, who is also an NRL referee, expressed her support and admiration for her husband, also via social media.

"I could not be prouder of the man I get to call my husband," she replied on Twitter.

Badger spoke about his experience after participating in a Paddle Against Child Abuse event in Bali.

The event, founded by endurance athlete and abuse survivor Damien Rider, works to raise awareness of child abuse.

It is based on Rider's experience of paddling from the Gold Coast to Sydney in 2015 by hand.

Rider, who said he had tried to take his life on four separate occasions, told the Herald from Bali on Friday night he was delighted Badger had taken part in the paddle.

"Gavin came along for the paddle and there was a big amazing powerful ceremony with a traditional Balinese priest," Rider said. "I asked everyone to yell out 'freedom' because it's not happiness we're looking for but a peace of mind and a freedom from ourselves and the past so we can keep moving forward. I think that's what really connected with Gavin as well.

"With Gavin working in a 'blokey' sport, I think he would have thought, 'right, it's time for me to talk up because if this guy is talking, I can talk as well'.

"In the last 24 hours I've had about 300 messages from people who have [reached out] for the first time, and it's mostly men. I've been doing this about four years and 80 per cent of the time it's females who come forward. Now more males are speaking out. They have to do it in their own time."

Badger also expressed his support for Project Karma, a charity that describes its mission as fighting against child sex abuse both in Australia and in South East Asia.

Rider received tremendous feedback when he addressed some rugby league players on the Gold Coast last year.


Washington DC / Virginia

Proposed laws in D.C. and Va. would require clergy to report sexual abuse

by Michelle Boorstein

In response to recent Catholic Church clergy sex abuse scandals, lawmakers in the District and Virginia say they will soon propose legislation that adds clergy to the list of people mandated by law to report child abuse or neglect.

Both efforts hit at the hot-button intersection of child protection and religious liberty, but lawmakers are expected to give them an open reception at a time when recent sexual abuse scandals in churches and others involving athletes have prompted conversation about broadening legal responsibility to extend beyond positions such as teachers and doctors.

The ideas under consideration by D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine include not exempting confidential conversations for any mandatory reporters, possibly including those that occur in the Catholic Church's confessional. Texas, West Virginia and a few other states do not exclude the confessional in mandatory reporting laws, but it has been a stumbling block in many other places.

Under D.C. law, anyone 18 or over who knows or has reason to believe that a child under 16 is a victim of sexual abuse is required to report it to civil officials. But the requirements of mandated reporters are more extensive, and Racine is considering taking them much further.

An eight-page presentation of key goals shared in recent weeks by Racine's office with some D.C. faith groups proposed expanding the law to say mandated reporters must report suspected abuse, even if they don't know the child themselves, or even if the child is now an adult. It also suggested requiring mandated reporters to tell their own boards of directors so their institutions become responsible as well; increases the penalties for people who fail to report and requests funding for training so mandatory reporters understand what that term obliges.

A few weeks after circulating the presentation, which was obtained by The Washington Post, Racine's office emailed some faith leaders to say the proposal was still a work in process and that a final version would be introduced for consideration by the D.C. Council early in 2019.

“Everything is still in the conversation,” Elizabeth Wilkins, Racine's senior counsel for policy, told The Post when asked whether confidential conversations could still be included. “We think this is an urgent issue. If there are weaknesses [in the current mandatory reporting law], we want to fix them.”

Virginia's narrower proposal, which will be considered by the state legislature after the session begins Jan. 9, is sponsored by Sen. Janet D. Howell (Fairfax County) and delegates Karrie K. Delaney (Fairfax County) and Wendy Gooditis (Clarke), all Democrats.

As written, it will simply add clergy to the list of “persons who are required to report suspected” abuse, with an exception for when a faith's doctrine requires the report “to be kept confidential.” The carve-out, lawmakers said, was added specifically to protect the confessional – a sacrament in Catholic doctrine.

Twenty-eight states make clergy mandatory reporters, according to the Children's Bureau, an arm of the Department of Health and Human Services that works to combat child abuse. Those measures vary widely on allowances given religious leaders – in particular whether their confidential conversations are protected.

Efforts to craft such proposals veer into questions of whether the constitutional privileges religion gets in America extend to clerics' conversations with parishioners.

Experts and lawmakers who have followed this issue for years say the climate has changed. Recent child sex abuse scandals, including those involving athletes and Catholic clergy, and the overall decrease in power of and deference towards religious institutions, are making it harder for faith groups who want to limit civil oversight.

In both Virginia and the District, some faith groups have had the chance to weigh in with concerns, and most are generally supportive of new requirements.

The Catholic Church's primary issue is protecting the confidentiality of the confessional. Some other, non-Catholic faith leaders have expressed concern about the religious liberty of Catholics, and have suggested society will lose a resource if people – victims or perpetrators – don't know for sure whether they can speak candidly to a cleric without fear of criminal repercussions.

Under D.C. law, anyone 18 or over who knows, or has reason to believe, that a child under 16 is a victim of sexual abuse. is required to report it to civil officials, The requirements for mandatory reporters are more extensive.

Howell has been unsuccessfully proposing similar measures since 2003. She called the issue a “major brawl” in the past, with Catholic and Baptist organizations opposing such measures – for either the protection of the confessional or because, she said in the case of Baptist clergy, they felt it was a secular intrusion and “they answered only to God.”

Howell thinks the new measure has a good chance of passing this upcoming session.

“Between the investigations going on [of the Catholic Church] with attorneys general and the outrage of the public about what's happened, the times have changed a lot,” she said.

Jeff Caruso, director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, which lobbies for the Church in Richmond, said the Conference is in favor of adding clergy to the list of mandated reporters, so long as the clergy-penitent relationship is protected. The state's two dioceses have a similar requirement, he said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2005 approved a document requiring allegations of youth abuse be reported to civil authorities, but church lawyers and lobbyists have continued behind the scenes to advocate against more civil requirements, said Marci Hamilton, a church-state lawyer at the University of Pennsylvania.

The issue comes up, Hamiltion said, if clergy wind up in court and are accused of failing to report. Then they may employ arguments about the need to protect the priest-penitent relationship, or they'll cite a state law, or the First Amendment. “There's almost always a loophole,” she said. Hamilton, who wrote a book about legal tensions over how far religious exemptions should go, said Catholic and Mormon officials are the leaders in pushing more autonomy for faith groups.

The archdiocese of Washington, with two top cardinals having lost their positions this year amid complaints of abuse scandal and mismanagement, declined to comment becasue no final bill has been made public. But spokesman Ed McFadden denied accounts by other city faith leaders that the Catholic Church has had complaints about Racine's presentation. .

“It would not be accurate to state that the Archdiocese or our clergy are ‘fighting it' as we don't know what the actual proposal or legislative language entails,” McFadden said in an email to The Post. In a later email, he said that the archdiocese “looks forward” to reviewing future drafts and sharing feedback “on what we hope will be a collaborative process given the Archdiocese's more than 20-year record in implementing strong child protection and mandatory reporting policies.”

Some Jewish groups in the District also talked about the need to protect privileged conversations while seeking justice for victims.

Officials with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington said the measure seeks “a very difficult balance,” said Ron Halber, the council's leader. “The Jewish community is fully supportive of this legislation. And most faith groups feel the same way. But in some traditions there are privileged communications that take place between religious authorities and parishioners. We want to make sure there's nothing blocking free exercise.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, a leader in the region's Modern Orthodox movement, said he was taking a wait-and-see attitude but that “turning clergy into policemen is very dangerous.” He also said the requirement that clerics pass on unproven suspicions to their institution's board, and ti be required to report abuse that had nothing to do with one's own institution – for example something the cleric heard, from another time or place – made little sense.

“There is real value in someone feeling they can speak to clergy in privilege in terms of trying to improve as human beings; we want to help people grow,” said Herzfeld, noting he wasn't talking about active situations where abuse was still happening.

But what if clergy don't report on past offenses? How do clergy know abusers won't abuse again?

“Children and families and society work better when they're healthy. If we try to hurt how religious societies function, it will hurt children,” Herzfeld said.



Letter to the editor:

Arrest Trump for child abuse

The president must be held accountable for the deaths of two children in U.S. custody.

Donald Trump admits that his administration is taking children away from their refugee parents as his way of punishing them and as a warning sign to parents not to dare to attempt immigration.

Once again, he has acted without considering the consequences. He has shown no concern about the devastating impact he has had on refugee children and their families. Rather, he's acted as if these children don't exist. His focus is on his wall and keeping the promise he made to his wall supporters rather than the thousands of children who've been torn from their parents.

Agents have reportedly lied about where the children will go and when they will see their parents or family members. The children don't know who they can trust and may not understand English. They are locked into facilities not suited for children and often with staff not trained to care for them or administer needed medical care.

Two children have now died in custody, and many more risk malnutrition, dehydration and possible physical and sexual abuse. Those who survive will likely have post-traumatic stress disorder for years to come and, given their experiences, they may have attachment disorders and difficulty trusting people as well.

Child abuse is a reportable crime, and Trump should be charged, tried and punished for it. He is not above the law, even though he may think he is.



Adult Survivors of Child Abuse Focus of New Endowment Fund

by Hillary Gavan

BELOIT, WI - "These people are worth looking for and worth waiting for."

That's what Katherine Swain, 64, said about adult survivors of child abuse and neglect. It's part of the reason she saved for a decade to create a unique endowment with help from the Stateline Community Foundation. The Katherine Ann Swain Endowment for Adult Survivors of Abuse and Neglect was launched this fall after growing in an acorn fund for more than a decade.

Swain, a retired Parkview educator and current School District of Beloit substitute teacher, launched the new endowment to offer survivors unique ways to be uplifted and aided in their healing.

"The goal for this endowment is to help adult survivors move from survivor status to overcomers. This will be accomplished by providing grant support to rectify the wrong and repair some of the damage done by abuse or neglect," Swain said. "Somebody will say 'I believe you, it shouldn't have happened to you and it's not too late to fix it.'" Swain as well as Stateline Community Foundation (SCF) Executive Director Tara Tinder are spreading the word about the new endowment and many other endowments at the foundation which help community non-profit agencies, fund scholarships or, like Swain's grant, target specific and unique needs.

Those who want to contribute to or apply to receive help from the new endowment can go to or call the foundation at 608-362-4228.

Swain has always been passionate about child abuse victims and said there are few supports for adults who may still be suffering effects of the abuse.

No matter how many years one accrues, the hurting heart of a child can remained buried deep within. Although lots of resources are in place for children, adults can suffer alone. They may be in need of therapy or medical procedures stemming from trauma while at the same time not being able to find others who will believe their stories.

"You are not believed, especially when you are functioning," Swain said.

Swain knows that healing can come in all shapes and sizes and made her unique endowment reflect that. Adult survivors benefiting from her endowment may receive a grant for a medical treatment, plastic surgery or dental repair which is needed after physical abuse. It could also help pay for therapy or counseling stemming from that abuse. Abuse victims may also obtain a grant for a special trip, music or athletic lessons or anything which would restore their spirits.

Swain said she realizes survivors come from all walks of life and achievement levels. She stresses there are no gender, age or financial restrictions for those applying for the grant.

To help find people who may be in need of the grant, Tinder helped facilitate finding the perfect recipient.

"When we knew this was going to be available, I called different non-profits that service adults. HealthNet had a client who fit the desire of the donor," Tinder said.

"Thanks to the $350 grant from the Stateline Community Foundation, HealthNet was able to meet the medical-social needs of one particular patient, who has struggled with past abuse. We are currently working with her on trauma associated with abusive relationships, while meeting her basic medical needs. This funding has helped us provide extra attention to her case through our case management staff and translators, while meeting her costs associated with counseling and her diabetic care," said HealthNet CEO Ian Hedges.

Swain is eager to help and knows a lot about healing. By the time she graduated from Custer High School in Milwaukee in 1972, she was the second born of eight children born to her mother, father and a step-father. By this time also, she had nine different addresses, four of them being foster homes.

As a child, she took solace in her quiet moments in the classroom where she learned education was the key to success. She later became a teacher herself while forming a happy life with her husband of 47 years in Beloit. Although her life has been a success, she wanted to help abuse victims and was moved by the generosity and support of her friend Linnae Byrns.

Byrns became a major contributor helping to get the fund to endowment status. Byrns said she likes giving donations to help those locally in Rock County and was happy to help a good friend build her gift.

Tinder said to start an endowment requires $20,000.

Tinder said Stateline Community Foundation features more than 139 endowments, of which 37 percent are scholarships.The remainder cover a breath of projects such as arts, health and human services, economic development and funds targeted for specific non-profit agencies.

"There isn't a category that isn't covered," Tinder said.

TInder said endowments are wonderful ways to give back to the community, with gifts that remain in perpetuity. She said Beloit is rich with these many gifts.

"It's amazing in a community our size that we have over $12 million held in endowments and are responsible for having given out $15 million. People continue to give, people like Katherine, who are wanting to make an impact."



Sheri Carson Sheri Carson, a clinical instructor in the College of Nursing, was honored for creating child abuse screening protocols.

Sheri Carson “walks the talk” when it comes to children's health advocacy.

Carson, a University of Arizona College of Nursing clinical instructor, was named Arizona Pediatric Nurse Practitioner of the Year last month by the Arizona chapter of the National Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Carson's research to more accurately identify early signs of child abuse by improving the screening process in hospital emergency departments was one of the reasons Mary O'Connell, senior lecturer in the College of Nursing, says she nominated Carson for the award.

All health-care workers, teachers, social workers and law enforcement are mandated to report suspected child abuse. But suspicion and screening are not the same thing, Carson says.

Prevention methods aren't working to stop child abuse either, she said.

“Until we can prevent it, we need to be screening and catching it early.”

Studies show that U.S. health-care providers miss 11 percent to 64 percent of cases in emergency departments. If the abuse isn't caught early, 30 to 50 percent of those children are at risk for subsequent abuse and up to 30 percent of those children will die from abuse-related injuries.

Carson noted that the numbers are likely underestimated because not all cases are reported.

“Those statistics were the push I needed to get more involved,” she said.

To improve those statistics, Carson developed an evidence-based screening program and tested it at a local hospital.

Carson says she learned that there are three crucial ingredients to a successful screening program.

One includes the use of a “validated screening tool.” The evaluation tool she chose has proven to be 99.2 percent accurate in identifying children at high risk for abuse.

Then, health-care providers are aided by a standardized screening protocol.

“I developed it to take health-care providers from the point when the child arrives in the emergency department” and walk them through what to do at each step depending on the outcome of the screening results.

But before either of these are implemented, health-care providers must be given educational training on signs and symptoms of abuse and how to implement the screening tool and protocol she developed.

She found that her methods produced an improvement in knowledge and awareness in recognizing signs, symptoms and risk factors of abuse.

If screening results are positive, health-care providers then perform a medical examination before officially determining if the child's injuries are abuse-related.

Carson said her program has gotten pushback at times.

“A lot of times, the concern is by that by screening, we'll inundate an already overwhelmed system (of child protection), but truly, I hope that people find that if you start to screen you might see an influx of reports because we're catching the cases we would have otherwise missed.”

She said that some of the hardest abuse to identify is inflicted by someone other than a parent, so even the parents are unaware of the harm.

Moreover, she said, screening also helps the health-care system more accurately screen out the children who are not at risk.

Making change

Carson hopes that the award will bring attention to her program so it can be rolled out statewide, especially in hospitals that don't specialize in child care.

But ultimately, she wants nationwide improvement in screening, she said.

O'Connell said that another reason she nominated Carson was because she is politically active.

Carson worked to make state politicians aware of the statistics and hopes they will push policy through to mandate screening.

She also participates in the Child Abuse Review Education Committee and contributes evidence-based advice articles to educate parents on a variety of health issues.

Carson says she has always enjoyed caring for others. As a girl she observed the care given to her grandmother, who was in a nursing home, and her grandfather, who had a prosthetic leg. She decided that was the work she would do.

In nursing school, Carson became passionate about pediatrics when she was tasked with caring for a little girl who spoke Spanish.

They taught each other a word in their native languages every day.

Despite the language barrier, “I felt like I was making such a difference in their lives,” Carson said.

“I thought I'd go into cardiology or the intensive-care unit, but ended up falling in love with the whole care of the family, not just the child.”

O'Connell said that besides Carson's patients, her students described her as “patient, kind and encouraging.”

Carson volunteers to supervise medical students in the Tot Shots vaccination and sports physical clinic and also mentors local and rural high school students who are interested in pursuing medical careers.

“She goes so far above and beyond,” O'Connell said.


Washington D.C.

DC lawmakers consider requiring priests to report child abuse revealed in confessional

by Zelda Caldwell

Washington, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine is considering a proposal which would require Catholic priests to reveal suspected child abuse revealed in the confessional, according to a Washington Post report.

The proposal could be part of draft legislation designed to address the recent sexual abuse scandals in churches and among athletes, which is expected to be introduced early this month.

While 28 states require clergy to report on suspected child abuse, all but a handful of those that do make an exception for information received in the confessional. West Virginia, New Hampshire and Guam do not allow clergy to exempt conversations that take place in the confessional from mandatory reporting requirements. North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Texas deny all evidentiary privileges except for attorney-client privilege.

According to The Post's report, the draft proposal under consideration would also require mandated reporters to report suspected abuse, even if they don't know the child themselves, and even when the is now an adult. Also under consideration: a proposal requiring mandated reporters to report any suspicions of abuse to their own boards of directors so their institutions become responsible, an increase in penalties for people who don't report, and an increase in funding for training on what it mean to be a mandatory reporter.

The issue of confidentiality in the confessional would be expected to raise concerns from religious leaders, and is still being considered by Racine's office.

“Everything is still in the conversation,” Elizabeth Wilkins, Racine's senior counsel for policy, told The Post, when asked specifically about the confidentiality question by the Post reporter.

“We think this is an urgent issue. If there are weaknesses (in the current mandatory reporting law), we want to fix them.”

Archdiocese of Washington spokesman Ed McFadden told the Post that the archdiocese “looks forward” to reviewing future drafts and sharing feedback “on what we hope will be a collaborative process given the Archdiocese's more than 20-year record in implementing strong child protection and mandatory reporting policies.”

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, of the Modern Orthodox movement, voiced concerns about mandating that private conversations with clergy be reported.

“There is real value in someone feeling they can speak to clergy in privilege in terms of trying to improve as human beings; we want to help people grow,” Herzfeld told The Post.

“Children and families and society work better when they're healthy,” Herzfeld said. “If we try to hurt how religious societies function, it will hurt children.



Delaware ranked among the 10 worst states for raising a child, according to study

Study: Almost half of Delaware children experience trauma, stress


Almost half of Delaware children experience some type of traumatic or stressful moment growing up that could influence a child's overall health, according to a new study.

Delaware ranks as the eighth-worst state for raising a child, according to a recent study., an organization of home security experts who aim to make communities safer, examined data on child abuse, homicides, school shootings and poverty to determine its rankings of the best and worst states for raising children in the United States.

New Hampshire topped this study, which included the District of Columbia, and Louisiana was at the bottom.

The top 10 best states

New Hampshire
North Dakota

The top 10 worst states

New Mexico
West Virginia

Four of the top 10 states are in the Northeast, and more than half of the bottom 10 states are in the Deep South, noted

Here is how Delaware did in the study:

Child abuse

Delaware had 6,971 reports of child abuse in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' "Child Maltreatment 2016" report referenced by

In 2016, the state had 1,572 child abuse victims, down 32.7 percent from the 2,335 victims in 2012, according to that same report. did not provide a ranking of the states in the area of child abuse.

It did note that a child abuse report is made every 10 seconds in the United States.


In 2016, Delaware had four homicide victims younger than 18, according to the FBI data referenced by did not provide a complete ranking for the states' homicides, but the group did provide lists of the top 10 and bottom 10 states.

Top 10 states:

(1) North Dakota – which reported no youth homicides in 2016
(2) Maine
(3) Connecticut
(4) Rhode Island
(5) Oregon
(6) Nebraska,
(7) Massachusetts
(8) Washington
(9) Minnesota
(10) New Hampshire

Bottom 10 states:

(50) District of Columbia – with more than 1,200 homicide victims younger than 18 in 2016
(49) New Mexico
(48) Illinois
(47) Louisiana
(46) Vermont
(45) Idaho
(44) Nevada
(43) Wyoming
(42) Missouri
(41) Oklahoma

Florida did not report its numbers to the national database, and the 2010 figures were the only ones available for Alabama.

School shootings used the Washington Post's database to study school shootings.

There have been more than 400 school shootings in the United States since Columbine in 1999, according to the database.

Delaware is one of the 13 states that have not had a school shooting. The others are Alaska, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming. ranked the states that had shootings according to their total casualties (deaths and injuries). Connecticut had the highest rate of casualties, and New Jersey had the lowest.

Top 10 states:

(1) New Jersey
(2) Virginia
(3) Massachusetts
(4) New York
(5) Arizona
(6) Utah
(7) Arkansas
(8) Wisconsin
(9) Missouri
(10) Hawaii

Bottom 10 states:

(38) Connecticut
(37) Colorado
(36) District of Columbia
(35) Kentucky
(34) Oregon
(33) New Mexico
(32) Minnesota
(31) Florida
(30) Louisiana
(29) Nevada


About 1 in 5 children live in a household where the income is below the federal poverty line, noted. In 2016, that figure was $24,339 for a family of four with two children.

In 2017, Louisiana led the nation with 28 percent of kids living in poverty while New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 10 percent, according to the Kids Count data cited by Delaware was tied for the No. 28 spot with 18 percent.


New York

What the Child Victims Act could mean for NY sex abuse investigations


Some 38 priests in the Syracuse Diocese, all credibly accused of sexual abuse, once served in the Southern Tier, and this reveal earlier in December begged the question: Can these abusers be charged with a crime?

The short answer: no. The statute of limitations had long expired, regardless of whether the priest was still alive — the list stretched back to 1950.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has listed among his priorities in 2019 passing the Child Victims Act, legislation that would widen the timetable for child sex abuse victims to press charges, a bill that has been kicked around in Albany for over a decade. Senate Democrats, who will take over control of their chamber in January, have signaled support.

"A horrific pattern of child sexual abuse scandals has shown us that now more than ever we need to change how we view the statutes of limitation in cases of child sexual abuse," the legislation states. "By eliminating the statutes of limitation in childhood sexual abuse cases, victims of these horrific crimes will get their day in court and finally be able to seek the justice they have been denied."

Southern Tier law enforcement officials and victim advocates aren't calling the proposed Child Victims Act a universal fix, but one that could likely encourage more victims to come forward.

Why might a victim keep their abuse a secret? Often, perpetrators are exploiting a position of trust, and victims fear they won't be believed or will get in trouble if they disclose what happened.

The Advocacy Center, which assists victims of domestic violence and sex abuse in Tompkins County, shares a comforting message to victims who do.

"This wasn't your fault; it wasn't OK they took advantage of you," said Kristi Taylor, the Advocacy Center's education director. "There's people who can and want to help."

What is the Child Victims Act?

The Child Victims Act would change the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse crimes to age 28 in criminal cases, and 50 in civil cases.

Under the current law, once a sex abuse victim turns 18, he or she has five years to report the crime to law enforcement officials. After that, the statute of limitations kicks in, and the perpetrator can't be prosecuted.

Approximately 1.8 million adolescents in the U.S. have been the victims of sexual assault, according the U.S. Department of Justice. In a majority of sexual abuse cases, the perpetrators are known to the child, some of them being family members.

As a result, disclosure of sexual abuse is often delayed, usually until adulthood.

How victims are groomed

Perpetrators "groom" their victims in order to gain access and ensure the victim will stay quiet about the abuse, Taylor said. The abuser makes the victim feel wanted, accepted, "part of the group," and tells the victim how special, beautiful or handsome he or she is.

"Offenders are very good at identifying vulnerabilities in kids," Taylor said. "It's not hard to draw young victims into abuse, because the victim becomes part of it — they might even be lying to their parents about what's going on."

Here are some of the warning signs:

Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child's age.

Bedwetting or soiling the bed, if the child has already outgrown these behaviors.

Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior.

Tries to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe.

Other red flags include:

Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics.

Resuming behaviors that they had grown out of, such as thumb-sucking.

Nightmares or fear of being alone at night.

Excessive worry or fearfulness; self-injury behaviors.

Don't brush off the instinct if something doesn't seem right, Taylor recommended; people shouldn't let the social worries of "being rude" get in the way. It's OK to intervene, even if it turns out something criminal isn't really going on.




I thought sexual abuse only happened to other people's children. Then I woke up.

by Ronald L Book

Nearly 17 years ago, I woke up from a nightmare I didn't realize I was in. If you're a parent whose child has suffered sexual abuse at the hands of someone you know and trust, you will understand what I mean. Sitting in a family counselor's office, the world as I knew it came crashing down as I learned that my eldest daughter, Lauren, had been sexually, emotionally and physically abused nearly every day from the ages of 12 to 16.

I worked hard to provide my family with a wonderful life and to create a loving and safe environment for my children to grow. I made sure to get references and background checks on everyone interacting with my daughters or son. But I was unable to protect Lauren from the monster living in my own home.

It never occurred to me that sexual abuse could happen to my family, let alone to my children. That is the message I want to send to every other parent out there: Don't think this can't happen to you or your children. Child sexual abuse happens in every ZIP code, in every religion and at every socioeconomic level.

A monster living in our home

In the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente, nearly 25 percent of women and 16 percent of men reported childhood sexual abuse — which means there are also many parents in our country whose worst nightmare came to life, just like mine did.

It seems every day a new abuse case dominates the headlines, from the Jeffrey Epstein allegations in Florida to USA Gymnastics to the Ohio State University wrestling allegations, and countless less-publicized stories. Clearly, the way we teach children about abuse prevention must change. And, as parents, our views about abuse must also evolve.

The person who destroyed my daughter's childhood was not a stranger, not a man loitering around the playground or someone claiming a lost puppy. Instead, she was a seemingly loving and dedicated woman living inside my home who was deemed trustworthy to care for my three children. But people deceive us. According to a 2012 report by the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center, in 91 percent of sex offenses against juveniles, the perpetrator is someone the child knows and often trusts.

We thought we knew and trusted Lauren's abuser beyond the shadow of a doubt. She lived in our home and was like family to us — she even came on our family vacations.

But rigorous vetting, references and a background check couldn't protect Lauren from the monster living in our home. Our nanny, Waldina Flores, was a pedophile who destroyed my daughter's childhood with frequent sexual, physical and emotional abuse. Waldina moved into our home when Lauren was 11, then the grooming started. A few months later, at 12 years old, the abuse began. When she was 16, Lauren gathered the bravery to disclose the abuse she had been suffering.

Waldina fled, and the police found her in a different state coaching a girls' soccer team — looking for her next victim. My daughter endured the emotionally draining legal process, but Lauren's abuser was eventually sentenced to 25 years in prison.

I always considered myself close to my children. I thought they knew they could tell me anything. But for five years, my daughter was forced to keep a terrible secret out of shame, guilt and fear of not being believed. Predators are master manipulators and excel at brainwashing their victims. As parents, we can't just wait for a sign to appear — we must know what to look for, and keep our eyes open.

I taught my children to listen to the adults in their lives, that they must always be obeyed and respected. What we didn't talk about were the exceptions to that rule, about unsafe secrets and unsafe touches. I wish I told my kids that no adult should ever ask a child to keep a secret from their parents. I wish I told them more directly that their body belongs to them, and that if anyone ever touches them in a way that feels uncomfortable or confusing, it is always OK to say no and to come to me.

Preventing future child sex abuse

I used to think I would never overcome the “what ifs” that keep me up at night, and the all-encompassing rage I feel over what happened. Sometimes I still feel that way, but there is hope and healing.

That's the message my daughter works to send to survivors in her role as the founder of Lauren's Kids, a foundation that aims to prevent child sexual abuse through education and awareness. It's something I want to convey to parents, as well. In part, this mission has resulted in the Lauren's Kids Guide to Hope and Healing, a free resource to help families report, respond to and recover from sexual abuse.

To all the survivors of child sexual abuse, know that I support and believe you. My daughter and I will always fight for you. To all the parents grappling with their horrific new reality, know that I stand with you. The fury, guilt and sadness will never fully go away, but we can channel our anger to create sustainable change and protect other children from abuse.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Both father and daughter are NAASCA family members. Ronald L. Book is a Florida lobbyist and the chairman of Lauren's Kids, a foundation that aims to prevent child sexual abuse through education and awareness. Lauren's Kids was founded by Book's daughter, Lauren Book, a Florida state senator and child sexual abuse survivor.


United Kingdom

Slavery victims ‘drawn back to exploitation' after Home Office cuts

by May Bulman

“Once someone has been recognised as having been trafficked, we are in the process of helping them to recover from a huge human rights abuse, and slapping a fee on them for registering to be in the UK seems to be yet a further barrier to that recovery,” she said.

“This is a huge harm that's been done to an individual regardless of their immigration status and we need to do everything we can to help the fastest recover possible, and not subject them to stringent immigration controls.”

Kate Roberts, head of the Human Trafficking Foundation, echoed her words, saying those who have recently escaped slavery would struggle to afford immigration fees, and that seeking fees could “exacerbate debt bondage and exploitation”.

She added: “The government's lack of regard for people it has conclusively identified as having been trafficked or enslaved is increasingly undermining its stated commitment to prevent trafficking and modern slavery.”

Mr Blomfield said: “It's a shocking indictment of the priorities of the Home Office. They claim to have set aside resources to assist the process of settled status. If they can't actually find it within that budget to waive the fee for victims of trafficking, then it raises questions about their commitments to tackling modern slavery.

“We're talking about a relatively small sum of money from for a relatively small number of people but it would make an enormous difference to some of the most vulnerable European citizens in the country.”

Ms Nokes said the EU Settlement Scheme would adopt a “flexible approach” to evidence of both identity and residence, accepting alternative evidence of identity and nationality where the applicant is unable to obtain or produce the required document due to “circumstances beyond their control”.

“Furthermore, arrangements are being developed for a range of support to be offered by the Home Office and third parties such as community groups and charities,” she added.

“These include direct support arrangements to assist vulnerable individuals throughout the application process, through tailored telephone advice and support, attendance at one of our assisted digital centres, or where necessary, officials visiting the individual at home.”



'It's a very big torture': the children growing up in hiding in Dubai

With sex outside marriage punishable by jail, migrant workers who become pregnant are often forced to keep their babies locked away

by Katie McQue

A sweltering, windowless room in an old district of Dubai, no more than 5 metres by 3 metres in size, is home to nine people from the Philippines. Eight are adults, working long hours in low-paid jobs so they can send money home to their families. The ninth is a six-year-old boy.

His name is Jerry and he shares a tiny bed with his mother, Neng. Jerry loves dancing, Peppa Pig and doughnuts. This small dark room is the only home he has known, as he's spent his life in hiding as a stateless child. Growing up without a birth certificate or any other identification means he has no access to education and has never visited a doctor. Officially, this little boy does not exist.

Of the UAE's 9.4 million inhabitants, about 70% are low-paid migrant labourers. As a vital part of the economy, they normally work in construction or retail, or as maids and taxi drivers.

Neng was one of them. A decade ago she came to the UAE from the Philippines to work as a domestic maid but ran away because her employers were abusive, she says. Having no job meant losing her visa and living in the country illegally. She got involved with a man who took her into his home but then he threw her out after she got pregnant.

Now pregnant outside of marriage, Neng knew she had broken the law in the UAE for a second time. Having sex outside of marriage is a crime under the country's Islamic laws, with convictions resulting in prison terms of up to one year.

“The moment that you get pregnant, and you cannot tell anyone and you don't know what to do, it's a very big torture,” says Neng.

The legislation prohibiting sex outside marriage in the UAE is known as the Zina law and is often rigorously enforced. In some cases, even reporting a rape has been regarded by the authorities as illicit sex, and has led to victims being jailed.

Doctors in the country who diagnose an unmarried woman as pregnant are obliged to turn them over to the police. They can then face jail and deportation.

Some women opt to leave the UAE before the pregnancy becomes visible and backstreet abortions are also common.

Figures supplied by the Philippines Consulate in Dubai indicate several hundred migrant workers a year like Neng make the decision to go into hiding after they become pregnant outside of marriage.

“They are afraid of losing their jobs because that's the only means to support their family back home. To them, deportation is like the end of their life,” says Barney Almazar, a lawyer at Gulf Law, who provides legal aid to migrant workers in UAE.

After carrying her baby to term having accessed no healthcare services, Neng gave birth to Jerry in a friend's apartment with the help of an informal midwife and without any pain relief.

Unable to find a job through official channels, Neng eventually managed to find work as a housekeeper and nanny for a fellow Filipino family, who live in a house 10 minutes' walk from her home. Her employers know she's illegal and can therefore get away with paying her just AED 1,000 per month (£216) for working 10 hours a day, five days a week. Often she is not paid on time. But she has no rights and cannot complain to the authorities.

With rent for their bed costing AED 500, the mother and son struggle to make ends meet. When she can, Neng tries to send AED 190 home to her family, who live in Zamboanga Sibugay, one of the Philippines' poorest provinces. This small amount of money is enough to compel her to stay in Dubai.

Neng and Jerry's bed is a lower bunk, just under a metre wide. Makeshift curtains made of bedsheets hang over the front of the bunks to provide a little privacy. Meals are eaten in the room, and cockroaches and other bugs scuttle across the floor.

These living conditions have blighted Jerry's childhood. He is often overwhelmed with worry, which makes him ill. “I don't feel anything. I'm sick but I can't get better,” he says.

Neng is preparing to surrender to the authorities, which will allow her to leave after serving a jail sentence, and obtain exit visas for herself and Jerry. Despite her difficult life in Dubai, she is reluctant to return home. The future there seems even more bleak to her. Her extended family don't have room to accommodate them and extreme poverty in her province will make life difficult.

Fearful of being caught by the police and unable to look after their children while working, many of these unmarried new mothers resort to abandoning their babies, leaving others in the community to look after them.

One such informal adoptive mother is Joanna. She is a Filipina nurse and has been living in Dubai for 10 years. For the past 15 months she's been bringing up a baby girl called Rosamie*.

Joanna lives in a room with five other women in the Al-Karama area of Dubai. A year-and-a-half ago a newborn baby girl appeared in the room. The mother was a friend of her roommate and, after leaving the baby, she became uncontactable. “It was 1am and [the baby] was crying and had been left alone,” says Joanna. The baby was gone the next day, but she reappeared one month later and then again the next month, Joanna says.

“During that time she had been passed around to other houses. The third time I saw her she was covered in a rash.” Joanna started to look after the child, expecting her mother to collect her soon.

“It was difficult that the baby is with us without documents. After two weeks I asked the Philippines Consulate what to do. I was told, ‘Just wait, the mother will come,'” she says. “At this point, I decided that maybe this baby is for us.”

Through Joanna's work, Rosamie has access to medical care. She is also very well looked after. The talkative little girl can sing her ABCs and speak English in sentences. She loves wearing dresses and her favourite toy is a doll that she calls Baby Princess. Each night Rosamie and Joanna sing You Are My Sunshine to each other before going to sleep.

“I'm proud of being her mother. I always tell her that I love her very much,” Joanna says. “She's so very sweet, she's lovely. I want her to have a normal future, not like this.”

Joanna is very aware she could be jailed for keeping a baby that is not legally hers. She is desperate to find a way to legally adopt Rosamie but only Emirati nationals are permitted to adopt children in the UAE.

Other women looking after abandoned children in Dubai have approached Joanna, looking for advice. “So many kids here don't have documents,” she says.

It is almost impossible to know how many parents and children are in the same position as Neng and Jerry across the country. Each month, about 40 mothers with children born out of wedlock seek advice and assistance from the Philippines Consulate in Dubai and the embassy in Abu Dhabi, according to a spokesperson for the consulate. This figure is likely to be a fraction of the number of mothers who are living in hiding in the country with their children, Almazar says.

At present, child and baby facilities in Dubai's jails are full, because of the high number of mothers who have come forward to surrender, so that they could leave the country after completing a custodial sentence. This has created a backlog of cases, the spokesperson says.

Yet there are signs of hope for these families. The Dubai Foundation for Women and Children is a government-run charity and shelter, which, in addition to rehabilitating human trafficking victims and caring for abandoned or orphaned children, deals with “tens” of cases of mothers who have had babies out of wedlock a year, says Ghanima Hassan Al-Bahri, its care and social services director. In all of the cases the foundation has worked on, the courts have been flexible and the mother has not served a jail term. This approach could be rolled out for wider implementation, she adds.

“I cannot speak about the police or the prosecution about whether they arrested women, I don't know. But from our experience, at the foundation, whenever a woman has called us, it is not like that,” says Al-Bahri. “I do believe there is room for improvement .. What's the point of putting them in jail?”


New South Wales, Australia

Sex abuse victims can finally sue churches in NSW as 'Ellis defence' abolished

Previously churches were protected from being sued by a legal precedent which said they did not legally exist

by Helen Davidson

Victims of sexual abuse can finally sue the Catholic church in New South Wales after the state government abolished the infamous “Ellis defence”.

In October the NSW parliament passed laws to allow survivors to seek justice and sue unincorporated organisations, including churches, following recommendations by the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

The laws came into effect on 1 January and are retrospective, allowing past victims to seek justice.

“I'm pleased my first item of business in 2019 is to condemn the ‘Ellis defence' to the scrapheap and create a fairer civil litigation system for all child abuse survivors,” the NSW attorney general, Mark Speakman, said.

“This means all survivors of institutional child abuse in NSW will now have the same access to compensation through civil litigation, no matter what kind of organisation is responsible.”

Previously, churches were protected from being sued by a legal precedent which said a church, the assets of which are held in a trust, could not be sued because it did not legally exist.

The precedent was set when the Catholic church won a legal battle against John Ellis, a former altar boy who was sexually abused at the age of 13 by the former Bass Hill parish priest Father Aidan Duggan.

Ellis sued Duggan, the trustees of the Roman Catholic church for the archdiocese of Sydney, and Cardinal George Pell, but the NSW court of appeal found Pell and the trustees were not proper defendants in the proceedings. It ruled the trustees didn't control Duggan and weren't responsible for his conduct, and couldn't be sued.

Duggan died in 2004, soon after proceedings commenced, and Ellis was left with no one to sue over the abuse he suffered.

Under the new laws an institution must now identify a defendant with sufficient assets to pay any potential claim, or have the court appoint associated trustees who can access trust property.

“We are now going to see a pathway to justice for survivors of abuse that they haven't had in the past,” said Ellis. “It's been a long, long battle.”

He told the ABC he had felt a sense of responsibility because his case put it “in black and white” that the church could not be sued, but in the years since, and particularly during the royal commission, he felt very supported.

The survivor advocacy and support group Care Leavers Australasia Network welcomed the change and thanked Ellis. However, it also noted many survivors were “too old [and] frail to sue” over abuse from decades ago.

The NSW legislation also established statutory liabilities for child abuse, which the NSW justice department said would “establish more fair and certain avenues for survivors to pursue civil action”.

“It is also to encourage institutions to do everything they can to prevent the abuse from occurring in the first place.”

The new laws stipulate a duty of care on organisations which exercise care, supervision or authority over children, to prevent abuse perpetrated by individuals associated with it. It reverses the onus of proof onto institutions, requiring they prove they took reasonable steps to prevent abuse.

It also extends vicarious liability to cover abusers who are not employees but whose relationship with the organisation is “akin to employment”.

Victoria passed laws to close the legal loophole in May. In June Western Australia became the final state to sign up to a national redress scheme.