California parents sentenced to life for shackling, abusing 12 children
Daughter reported some of her siblings were chained to their beds and hadn't bathed in months
A California couple who for years starved a dozen of their children and kept some shackled to beds were sentenced Friday to life in prison, ending a shocking case that revealed a house of horrors hidden behind a veneer of suburban normalcy.
David and Louise Turpin were sentenced Friday during an emotional hearing that saw some of their children speak publicly, alternatively speaking of love for their parents and of what they had suffered.
The conditions of the Turpin home came just over a year after the couple's 17-year-old daughter jumped out of a window of the family's squalid home and called 911. She reported that some of her siblings were chained to their beds and that she hadn't bathed in months. None of the children were publicly identified.
One of the adult children who walked into court already in tears, holding hands with a prosecutor, said in court that, "My parents took my whole life from me but now I'm taking my life back."
"Life may have been bad, but it made me strong. I fought to become the person that I am. I saw my dad change my mom. They almost changed me, but I realized what was happening. ... I'm a fighter. I'm strong and I'm shooting through life like a rocket," the daughter said.
California parents plead guilty to shackling, torturing their children
The Turpins will be eligible for parole after 25 years.
Louise Turpin wept as she apologized for hurting her children, while her husband struggled to give a short statement.
His lawyer read part of a statement because he was too upset. "My homeschooling and discipline had good intentions," he said. "I'm sorry if I've done anything to cause them harm."
Louise Turpin spoke for herself, saying, "I'm sorry for everything I've done to hurt my children. I love my children so much. ... I only want the best for them.
"They are very smart, amazing individuals. I hope they get all the education they need to make their dreams come true. They deserve only the best in life. I don't want any of them to be sad or depressed because of all of this.
"I want them to know that Mom and Dad are going to be OK. ... I really look forward to the day I can see them, hug them and tell them I'm sorry," the mother went on to say.
Some of the other children said they still love their parents. One asked for a lighter sentence because "they believed everything they did was to protect us."
"I love both of my parents so much. Although it may not have been the best way of raising us, I am glad that they did because it made me the person I am today. I just want to thank them for teaching me about God and faith. I hope that they never lose their faith. God looks at the heart and I know he sees theirs. I pray often for them."
Another child said the following in their statement: "Sometimes I still have nightmares of things that have happened, such as my siblings being chained up or getting beaten. But that is the past and this is now. I love my parents and have forgiven them for a lot of the things that they did to us."
'Beaten, caged, and shackled'
It's the first time the children have spoken publicly since the arrest of their parents.
The home in a middle-class section of Perris, a small city about 96 kilometres southeast of Los Angeles, appeared to be neatly kept. Neighbours rarely saw the kids outside, but nothing triggered suspicion.
But when deputies arrived, they were shocked to find a 22-year-old son chained to a bed and two girls who had just been set free from shackles. Most of the 13 children — who ranged in age from two to 29 — were severely underweight and had not bathed for months. The house was covered in filth and filled with the stench of human waste.
The children said they were beaten, caged and shackled if they did not obey their parents.
David Turpin, 57, had been an engineer for Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Louise Turpin, 50, was listed as a housewife in a 2011 bankruptcy filing.
The teenage daughter escaped by jumping from a window. After a lifetime living in isolation, the 17-year-old did not know her address, the month of the year or what the word "medication" meant.
But she knew enough to punch 911 into a barely workable cellphone and began describing years of horrific abuse to a police dispatcher.
Deputies testified that the children said they were allowed to shower only once a year. They were mainly kept in their rooms except for meals, which had been reduced from three to one per day, a combination of lunch and dinner. The 17-year-old complained that she could no longer stomach peanut butter sandwiches — they made her gag.
The children were not allowed to play like normal children. Other than an occasional family trip to Las Vegas or Disneyland, they rarely left home. They slept during the day and were active a few hours at night.
Although the couple filed paperwork with the state to homeschool their children, learning was limited. The oldest daughter only completed third grade.
"We don't really do school. I haven't finished first grade," the 17-year-old said, according to Deputy Manuel Campos.
Investigators found there was no evidence the couple's toddler had been abused, but all of the children were hospitalized.
The lives of the children "have been permanently altered in their ability to learn, grow and thrive. You have delayed their mental, physical and emotional health. To the extent that they do thrive ... it'll be not because of you both but in spite of you both," said Judge Bernard Schwartz, during the sentencing.
"The only reason that your punishment is less than the maximum time in my opinion is because you accepted responsibility at an early stage in the proceedings to spare your children from having to relive the humiliation and the harm they endured in that house of horrors."
A Child Is Abused Every Four Hours In India. Banning TikTok Won't Fix That.
Panic over child sexual abuse online has led to TikTok being banned. But disturbing videos of children are still available on the app.
by Nishita Jha
NEW DELHI — A ban on new TikTok users in India over fears that the app was exposing children to porn and sexual predators will do little to address the country's crisis of child sexual abuse, while an abuse epidemic continues IRL.
The Chinese-owned video-sharing app, hugely popular with teens in the US and the world over, was pulled from the Google and Apple stores by the Indian government late on Tuesday, but that leaves 120 million people in India who have already downloaded it free to use the app as normal
Before the ban came into effect BuzzFeed News found material that violates the app's own guidelines, including videos of children set to sexualized songs and lyrics, videos of semi-clothed children, children performing violent acts on each other, and adults enacting violent situations with children and animals. TikTok itself purged 6 million videos earlier this week.
This material, while disturbing, is also available on other social media platforms and Indian TV. What makes the ban on TikTok particularly charged is the app's massive following in India — TikTok users in India account for a quarter of its total global downloads, making it the app's largest market. BuzzFeed News has spoken to some of the app's most avid creators for an insight into the app's popularity, and to understand why TikTok videos are an entire cultural moment in India.
The problematic videos that remain on the app despite the purge of offensive material can be found by using hashtags like “#cutebabies” (which returns almost 700 million videos), “#desikids,” “#cuteIndianbabies,” or by simply following the algorithm of trending hashtags.
But these videos barely scratch the surface of India's crisis of child sexual abuse, and point to the difficulty of tackling real-world problems with a digital ban. According to the latest official statistics, a child is abused every four hours. Banning TikTok is not going to solve that problem.
TikTok's popularity in India raises questions about what happens when the so-called “next billion” — a whole new strata of Indians, who own cheap smartphones with massive data plans — starts using the internet, with little to no digital literacy or awareness of personal rights. And at a time when many in the West are struggling to contain the deeply invasive ways in which social media affects the rights of women and children, TikTok's appeal adds a new dimension to the debate.
Even before the ban came in TikTok was in crisis-management mode. TikTok wants to manage not only its public reputation, but also what is said about the company by its most prominent creators. In almost every phone conversation that BuzzFeed News had with TikTok's content creators ahead of the ban, its PR company, Allison+Partners, insisted on vetting questions beforehand and being present on the call.
Likewise, Indian courts and the government have been in an increasing state of panic, culminating in this week's ban. Ministers had even suggested TikTok was a Chinese ploy to gain access to Indian data, while judges have said they are sick of children wasting time and are worried about strangers exploiting them on TikTok.
The ban on TikTok is not the first time India has tried to address a crisis of sexual violence with an internet ban. Last year the government banned hundreds of porn sites, arguing it would help tackle the country's epidemic of sexual assaults on women.
TikTok has also already run into serious trouble in other countries. In March, ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, was fined $5.7 million for violating child privacy laws in the US. The same month, a BBC investigation into TikTok in the UK found hundreds of inappropriate comments, posted on videos of children performing otherwise seemingly innocent videos.
On a call with BuzzFeed News, TikTok's international communication lead, Belle Baldoza, revealed that the company hoped to replicate what happened in Indonesia, where the app was banned for a week in July last year. Since then, the company has been working with the Indonesian government to tighten security on it's app and make sure all content is culturally appropriate.
ByteDance said it would challenge the court's order. Sumedhas Rajgopal, TikTok's entertainment and strategy lead in India, told BuzzFeed News that for now, it was “business as usual,” with celebrities and regular app users uploading new videos every minute despite the ban. “Safety has to be a community effort, we trust our creators to flag content that makes them uncomfortable, and out content moderators to remove it.”
Like all social media, TikTok is designed to be addictive. When you open the app, your phone's entire screen displays a seemingly endless scroll of scenes — weird, earworm-y and mesmerizing videos — of people lip-synching, miming, dancing, or performing scenes from movies.
And while sites like Facebook and Instagram are used by non-English speakers in India, if you speak one of the country's many regional languages the chances of going viral are far higher on TikTok. TikTok's easy interface, which works on the cheapest of phones, is perfect for people who live in the country's smaller cities, towns, and villages.
Despite India's unemployment crisis, optimistic, Bollywood-obsessed young people still believe in the dream that, with enough talent and determination, with the right audition or dance moves, anyone can beat the odds. Many users of TikTok are the same Indians who show up on TV dance contests, talent hunts, and comedy shows, hoping that a casting agent finds their profile, or that the internet does its magic and one day makes them go viral.
TikTok is also incredibly egalitarian, ideal for a country in which millions of people live in poverty. While TikTok's creators act, dance, and lip-synch their hearts out in the hope that the content they make will eclipse their backgrounds and their lack of polish, class markers are visible in nearly every video: cracking plaster on exposed brick walls, women with their heads covered, food cooking on fires instead of kitchen appliances, and clothes hanging off clothes lines inside bedrooms that double up as store rooms and kitchens.
This is what the new, new internet looks like — it lacks the filters and artifice of Instagram and the political engagement and armies of trolls on Twitter, and there is no fake new crisis like on Facebook.
Amid a culture struggling with masculinity and violence, TikTok users can find the Indian subgenre of boys who cry passionately. The country's most marginalized community — the Dalits — can be seen performing joyous, victorious dances praising the man who wrote the Indian constitution. Young girls whose lives are policed in a million different ways strut with complete abandon at home. Couples living in cramped, tiny homes with parents, children, cousins, and grandparents steal moments of intimacy making videos of themselves performing romantic duets.
In the hills of North India, Mujeeb Khan, a 25-year old musician, said he had hoped to use TikTok to get noticed and sign a deal with a record label, and take himself to New Delhi or Mumbai. That never happened, but he did find fame of sorts. TikTok's algorithm taught him what the internet really wanted — cute kids.
Khan's first #cutebaby video featured his 5-month-old niece Amyrah, the two of them dancing a sweet two-step to a Bollywood song. Within minutes of posting it last year, the video had received thousands of views. In two days, the figure had passed 1 million.
“I knew something special was happening then,” said Khan in a phone interview, while two of TikTok's PR agents listened in. “Amyrah is lucky for me.”
Around 80% of the videos Khan shares feature his niece — the others simply don't do as well, he said — but he doesn't mind. “I try to come up with scenarios that will make her laugh or smile, but she usually does that whenever she sees a phone or a mirror now.”
“Sometimes her parents stand behind the camera,” he said. “They love the fact that she's already famous, my sister dresses her up for our TikTok videos, and her husband loves staying up all night to read the comments.”
But the fact that the app is liberating to so many people allows a darker side of TikTok to thrive. While TikTok's management speaks regularly to its most popular creators, BuzzFeed News found dozens of other accounts, many with only a few hundred followers, that had uploaded disturbing content featuring children. Some of these videos included a toddler dancing in a towel that keeps slipping off, a young boy being punished while the camera zooms into his crotch, a child pretending to be an adult man beating his wife, who is played by his mother, a bearded man tickling an infant's mouth with his face, and children filmed without their knowledge in playgrounds.
The internet loves cute content, and videos and pictures featuring children perform well on all social media including YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. These companies also have serious problems with sexualized and abusive content, and have hired teams of moderators, while TikTok has been criticized for not taking the problem seriously enough, leading to the ban in India and action in other countries.
And while many of the videos on TikTok seen by BuzzFeed News are alarming to watch without any context, they are often no different from the dozens of reality shows on Indian TV, where children gyrate seductively, wear makeup, and crack bawdy jokes for panels of judges to reward them.
BuzzFeed News showed around a dozen of the more disturbing TikTok clips it had found to Vidya Reddy — the founder of Tulir, an organization that works on child sexual abuse in India, and a trusted content flagger for YouTube — to determine whether they should be removed. Reddy's answer says a lot about the complexities of dealing with content online. She said a lot would depend on who made the videos, and what their intent was, which is often almost impossible to answer online.
Reddy doesn't believe that banning apps and websites will do anything to address the real-world problem of sexual violence in India. “It is 100% a Band-Aid on a bullet wound,” she said.
“Twenty-thousand teenage girls have reported pregnancies ... in Chennai [a state in South India] between December and March. Can you imagine that number? Now tell me, how is banning an app going to keep these girls safe,” she said in a phone interview. According to Reddy, banning TikTok is “ludicrous.”
Reddy said it also shows how little India's lawmakers, judiciary, and police — which are dominated by older men — understand about the modern world. “There is a complete disconnect between the way the government, police officers, and courts think about the internet and the way young Indians use it,” she said.
She compared it to the time in 2015 when the Indian government decided to ban porn sites following a spate of violent sexual assaults. Reddy was a member of a consultation committee where members of parliament in the state of Tamil Nadu spoke to NGOs about online porn. “It was the most hilarious thing ever,” she said. “One minister actually suggested printing a physical directory of porn websites, so we could all know which sites not to visit.”
Ultimately, in October last year, India banned around 827 websites, most of which Reddy said were adult escort sites. Most porn sites are still easily accessible in the country.
“The fact we need to understand is that there is no distinction between the offline and virtual selves of children anymore,” she said. “Kids love seeing themselves on screens, parents and families love recording them. The internet has completely changed all existing rules of romance, social relationships and the way people think and behave. We live in a world where 9-year-olds run their own YouTube channels and their parents, who live in the same house, have absolutely no idea about it.”
Zohar Levkovitz, CEO of AntiToxin, an internet safety startup, told BuzzFeed News that the ease of access to disturbing content on TikTok required a dual approach: “First, ‘Duty of Car' regulation needs to be implemented to hold platforms accountable and ensure they can't abdicate responsibility. Second, the platforms have to develop or integrate third-party solutions such as video age analysis, content-sharing pattern analysi,s and other technologies that detect and hinder the spread of toxic behavior, so such content doesn't become fodder for predatory behavior.”
Over email, Levkovitz added that TikTok needed to handle this societal epidemic with urgency, “especially with the pervasive spread of content with children - which is only going to worsen as social platforms continue to grow in scale.”
In India, children have traditionally been treated by their families as creatures with no agency or autonomy. The rapid spread of easy access to the internet has raised all kinds of new questions. On the one hand, social media gives them a lot of control, while also making them vulnerable to adults who can easily contact them online.
Platforms like TikTok also allow adults to post endless videos of children — sometimes their own, sometimes complete strangers — without their consent. This is a problem around the world, where posting a cute video of a burbling baby could also been seen as a violation of its privacy. All photographs shared on social media platforms, no matter what privacy settings you use, are owned by the website, whether it's Facebook or TikTok. Children's photographs shared in good faith have been known to wind up on pornographic sites.
Anja Kovacs, director of the Internet Democracy Project, told BuzzFeed News she was baffled by how TikTok had become the focus of the Indian government's concerns, as if other social media platforms were not themselves deeply problematic.
“My gut reaction is always to be careful when children are used as an excuse for censorship, simply because emotions often flare (too) high,” she said via Twitter DM.
In fact, she argued that TikTok creators have often used it to make social commentaries that sets the platform apart. “The scale of abuse that many of us have gotten so used to on a platform like Twitter simply doesn't seem to exist on TikTok — at least not yet,” Kovacs said. “Research from Sri Lanka, news reports from India, as well as our own engagements with people in rural Jharkhand (in a workshop) also indicate that TikTok is used for all kinds of social critique — be it of gender, class differences, or other inequalities, often in lighthearted ways. I am not sure what is driving these differences, but surely these issues also need to be taken into account when assessing the value of the platform?”
For parents on TikTok, the app has become the place for showing off their children, not just for the occasional visiting relative, but for an entire breathless fanbase online. Particularly for women who are not in employment and taking care of young children, performing for an audience has given them a sense of identity too.
Before she got married, Moni Kundu, a 35-year-old mother of one from Jodhpur, a city in West India, had a brief love affair with theater in college. She gave that all up when she settled down, but TikTok was the perfect place for her experiment making short videos, which she would initially only shared with her friends and family over WhatsApp.
“No one ever knew that I could act,” she said, laughing as she recalled their first reactions. “But my family was so encouraging, I finally changed my TikTok profile to public and began uploading videos.”
Kundu had first discovered TikTok when she was depressed over her father's poor health. Waiting outside his hospital room, she would sit glued to her phone — watching strangers sing, dance, cry, and act in the 15-second clips, never failed to make her feel better. She soon wanted to give it a go herself. Now, Kundu, her husband, and their son are one of India's most popular TikTok families.
“When my husband comes home early from work, all three of us make videos together,” Kundu told BuzzFeed News over the phone. “My son Paramvir barely asks for his video games anymore.”
As the family's presence on the app has grown — they have more than 850,000 followers and almost 18 million “hearts” and spend every Sunday live-streaming videos from their home to talk to their fans — Paramvir's parents have a simple set of rules for keeping the 5-year-old safe: He's never allowed to go online alone, he doesn't have his own device. Paramvir's father, a bank employee who opted not to be named in this piece for fear of losing his government job, added a few more restrictions: Don't shoot Paramvir in his school uniform or in front of street signs that might give away the family's address or location, and don't use Paramvir's full name so that he can't be traced from his school records.
Paramvir is only allowed to make TikTok videos after he's eaten his lunch, taken a nap, and finished his homework. But otherwise, Kundu said, the app was a great place for family fun.
“The best part is when people tell me our videos help them through a bad phase,” Kundu said. “That's when I feel like I'm giving back to the community.”
Kundu no longer simply wants go viral — she wants to remind India what clean, wholesome family fun looks like. She's spent hours on the app studying what content does well and has learned how to edit videos and how to develop an audience. “I get calls from old schoolmates, people I knew in other towns and cities, strangers, it's incredible,” she said. “It finally feels like I am someone too.”
For Swati Sharma, a 25-year-old housewife from Jharkhand in East India, TikTok is also a source of income. Every day, she transforms into Queen Swati for the app, lip-synching to Bollywood songs, dancing, and re-creating scenes for her 2 million devoted fans.
Her videos, like most Indian TikTok videos, are similar to Indian reality contests and comedy shows. Performers make exaggerated sounds and faces, janky audio toots and tings, and a laugh track tells you every time a punchline is delivered. But the format is perfect for Sharma and her 4-year-old son, Shaurya, who frequently plays the role of an adult man in Sharma's videos.
Despite the fact that TikTok has recently introduced an option that lets users filter out abusive comments, Sharma, prefers to read all the comments she receives. “I'm the kind of person that just needs to know what people are saying about me and my family,” she said in a phone interview. Sharma said the negative comments would affect her initially, “A lot of friends advised me to grow a thicker skin. Now I just try to take it in my stride and make better, more positive videos.”
L.A. Startup Builds Digital Tools to End Online Child Abuse
Backed by the former president of eBay's foundation, Thorn has identified 18,000 victims of online child abuse and human trafficking
As CEO of Thorn, a Los Angeles-based non-profit committed to defending children from sexual abuse and sex trafficking through technology, Julie Cordua is making great strides toward this ambitious goal.
The sexual abuse and sex trafficking of children is horrific. As internet technology became more advanced over the last few decades, it created a vast new community for this viral content and its producers, the abuse and trafficking have proliferated at an alarming rate around the globe. Thorn's engineering, product, and data science team is combatting this explosion of exploitation. And their results are impressive.
Thorn's product Spotlight has helped law enforcement to identify victims of human trafficking. In the last three years, this tool has helped identify over 9,380 child victims of sex trafficking. This is an average of eight child sex trafficking victims identified every day. Spotlight also helped law enforcement officials identify nearly 11,000 traffickers.
Currently, thousands of law enforcement agencies from 38 countries are employing these tools and improving collaboration to speed up investigations. These tools can accelerate the identification of victims and perpetrators by as much as 65 percent.
“Every single day we know it's working by the stories we hear of the children who are identified, who now have a better chance at life,” says Cordua, who has played a crucial part in Thorn's growth since its inception in 2012.
The organization builds technology that utilizes smart algorithms to support law enforcement in their investigations. They also work closely with tech companies like Google.org, Facebook, Microsoft, as well as nonprofit partners to achieve their mission.
For all their groundbreaking work as “digital defenders of children,” Julie Cordua and the Thorn team are being recognized. Along with recipients from four other organizations, Cordua was presented with a 2019 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship. The Skoll Foundation, founded by former eBay president Jeff Skoll, grants the annual award which includes a $1.5 million prize to help social enterprises expand their impact.
This month, Thorn was also named one of eight organizations to share in over $280 million of funding through The Audacious Project, housed at TED. Each year, The Audacious Project identifies and invests in global changemakers with actionable ideas with the potential to affect millions of lives. Thorn's audacious goal is to eliminate child sexual abuse material from the Internet by empowering those on the front lines with the technology and data they need to find children faster and end the viral circulation of violent abuse content before it starts.
Moving forward, Thorn will also build on the development and distribution of its state-of-the-art technology tools as well as its programmatic work, further empowering it to realize a world where the depth of child sexual abuse is infinitely exposed, the systems that support it crumble, and abusers are exposed and punished. Thorn is working for a future where every child can just be a kid.
The Thai children putting a brave face on the horror of sexual abuse
Young survivors confront the world in their own hand-drawn masks for photographer Marieke van der Velden
by Kate Kellaway
When photographer Marieke van der Velden was asked by the Dutch charity Down to Zero to do an awareness-raising project on Thai children who had been victims of commercial sexual exploitation, she was uncertain how to proceed. For obvious reasons, her subjects' faces could not be shown.
At home in Amsterdam, she wondered: might the children draw masks? She had a go at drawing her own face (“completely impossible”) and took a snap of her husband, posed behind her mask. This made her smile. She decided the young people could choose to draw themselves or someone else – a person they would like to be. They were enthusiastic, she says: it must have been a surprise – a break from their harrowing stories – to be invited to pick up coloured pencils, to hide behind squares of paper. “It was fun,'' Marieke says (who thinks her earlier career as a primary school teacher may have sparked the idea).
This was a slow, benign, unusual idea. As a photographer, she has done reportage for NGOs and had often felt her work had been “too fast”, especially for children, whenever painful stories were being told.
Down to Zero is an alliance of five organisations working in 11 countries, supported by the ministry of foreign affairs in the Netherlands, and its website describes commercial sex abuse of children as a “complex problem with multiple drivers”. Two million children worldwide are said to have been victims of commercial child abuse.
Exploitation thrives along with the growth in western tourism and the explosion of the internet (smartphone usage and poverty are a particularly unholy alliance). The charity's aim is to enable children to defend their own rights, to make communities safer and to enable governments to improve and implement policies that prevent commercial sexual abuse. The charity also works in the private sector and with the tourist industry.
In Thailand, Van der Velden was photographing in two shelters – one a drop-in day centre. Some of her subjects were still at risk because, she explains, it is not a simple swap to move from street to shelter: “Some of them may feel they have a better time on the streets.”
Throughout the project, she was conscious of her privileged distance. She was glad not to be asking any of the children directly (she communicated via interpreters) about what they had suffered. “I felt we are from another part of the world,” she says. “Who am I to ask what happened? Too much for an afternoon.”
Most children drew other people: a Korean pop star Van der Velden had never heard of, Manga characters… They could not believe she did not know their heroes: what planet was she from?
She laughs and, as we talk, singles out her favourite portraits. Tas, 14, was “a shy guy” who had been trafficked with his cousin to a British man, via an agent who had found them on the beach. They were given $13 to perform sexual acts; this went on for a fortnight. Tas was 11 at the time and is slowly recovering from the trauma. He spent two hours working on his mask, elaborating it with shadows. He was “so proud of it that he seemed to be growing during the drawing”. He wanted to help Van der Velden with the composition, suggesting the addition of plastic flowers.
Beem, 13, with whom she had a special rapport, was a girl with an edge. Her mother was a hard drug user, and Beem “had to put on sexual performances for Asian and western tourists”. As early as 10, she had been roaring through the streets of Bangkok on a motorcycle. She made van der Velden impossibly sweet milkshakes and urged her to drink them. “She was a real street girl, yet also very kind and funny. If Beem is fighting, she will be fighting hard.”
She talks fondly about little Bon, 12. “He was a small boy and this is my favourite photograph.” Bon was insecure about his mask. He kept saying: “I am not sure if this is at all nice.” As an afterthought, he added teeth to his mask so he could bite when necessary.
Phed, 13, who had been assaulted by a foreigner in a temple and suffered from behavioural issues, was not taking any chances, insisting on being Godzilla – the ultimate bodyguard. Fon, 20, asked to be able to draw a house instead of a face. It makes poignant sense: she already had two children and was pregnant with a third. The shelter was helping her raise her children and send them to school. She told Van der Velden she wanted to draw a dream house for her husband – once he is released from prison.
Som, 16 – last and by no means quietest – behaved as if she was high on drugs (she had always been homeless and, at one time, a dealer). She drew her portrait at speed and would only stay three minutes while her photograph was taken – and then she was gone.
Van der Velden is, in all her work, driven by a fierce sense of the need for equality. She would love to believe that this project would make men think twice about what they are doing, but realistically considers the photographs she has taken as not “harsh” enough. Yet what matters in the photographs, as in their lives, is that the children are respected.
Van der Velden flinches at the knowledge that, for many of these children, sexual abuse was so normalised right from the beginning that it was only later in their lives that they realised what had happened to them, and only then began to understand that they had all been the victims of “such a big lie”.
Suzann Stewart: Family Safety Center looks for root causes of adult problems in childhood traumas
April is memorialized as Child Abuse Awareness Month annually. In Tulsa, we have a lot of experience with child abuse, but most of us hear of it only after the tragic death of a child by a caregiver, sometimes related, sometimes not. Some 2,700 kids report some kind of abuse or neglect annually in Tulsa County.
There is growing awareness of the high incidents of Adverse Childhood Experiences scores among our population and how high scores contribute to continued violence and abuse as adults. ACE is a survey of 10 questions generally given to an older child or more often an adult where each negative experience counts as 1 point.
Oklahoma is one of three states with the highest ACE scores for children age 0-5 (National Survey of Children's Health, 2016). For our adult population, unmitigated high ACE scores continue the cycle of violence as victims or abusers and is one of the leading indicators of community “unhealthiness.” For example, those with an ACE score of four or more experience 400% to 1,200% higher risk for alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and suicide when compared with a score of zero.
At the Family Safety Center, we have had the opportunity over the past 2½ years to explore how ACE and other traumatic events impact and contribute to multiple kinds of adult trauma over the life span as part of a National Demonstration Project funded by the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime. The DOJ released a massive study in 2013 named “Vision 21” that has essentially changed how DOJ views trauma and its effects on crime victims and the perpetuation of violent crime.
Based on the recommendations of this report, the Family Safety Center joined five other cities and the Alliance for HOPE International in this competitive project to develop and implement an across-the-lifespan tool to assess “polyvictimization,” or multiple types of trauma, the attendant symptomology and provide appropriate treatment options.
According to David Finkelhor, Ph.D., director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, University of New Hampshire, polyvictimization can refer to the experience of “sexual abuse, physical abuse, bullying and exposure to family violence, not just multiple episodes of the same kind of victimization.”
As part of the demonstration project, our six sites, the Alliance and research partner University of Oklahoma-Tulsa HOPE Center reviewed more than 130 assessment tools used by professionals across the mental health and service provider spectrum and the ACE test. In the end, the assessment tool developed and now under implementation includes the 10 ACE questions and 16 other events (26 total) and 18 symptoms such as nightmares, sleeplessness and anxiety.
Family Safety Center navigators, who are licensed professional counselors and master's in social work professionals, deliver the questions in a conversation, allowing us to measure events that occurred as children that continued into adulthood, new events and those occurring to the victim in the past year, as well as attendant symptoms. We don't just ask about the specific event that brought them to us for service today, but what has happened in the past: community trauma, racism, homelessness, substance abuse, loss of family — things that most surveys don't ask.
The premise is that multiple types of trauma add complicated layers to the symptoms experienced by our survivors and impact lives more negatively than multiple events of a single type. That compounded trauma and those symptoms are much more complicated to identify and treat. And usually our survivors are totally unaware of the impact of these different types of abuse or neglect on their lives.
So far, our data of traumatic events (about 50 completed assessments) shows us this: Among children, clients experienced an average 6 of 26 possible traumatic events. The highest was 16. Among adults, the average was 12, and the high was 24. In the last year, the average was 8 and the high was 18. Our clients tell us, “No one has ever asked me about what happened before this,” and, “Now I understand better how come I'm here today.” We are able to provide additional psychoeducation about the effects of multiple trauma in a lifetime, and hand clients off to mental health and other counseling services to begin the healing process.
This also means we are identifying additional services our clients need, such as housing, mental health, addiction and substance abuse issues.
Family Safety Center and our partner agencies are leading the country in the development of cutting edge best practices for trauma informed identification and ultimately treatment options for victims of violence and neglect. Together we can and will break the cycle of violence that has insinuated itself in Oklahoma culture for too long. Together we can generate hope and provide a pathway to assure no child experiences violence or neglect in the future.
Suzann Stewart is executive director of the Family Safety Center and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces from Community Advisory Board members appear in this space most weeks.
Editorial: Ending impunity for child abuse
CRIMES AGAINST CHILDREN. When one has knowledge of a crime being committed against children, not reporting the crime, hiding the crime, transferring abusers and giving them access to minors they will abuse is a crime itself.
HELP a child being abused and report the crime to civil authorities.
In an article published in the January 2019 issue of the “World Mission” magazine, Fr. Shay Cullen of the Preda Foundation wrote that, “Every one of us has a solemn duty and responsibility to stop (child abuse).”
Twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, the member of the Missionary Society of St. Columban co-founded the People's Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance (Preda) Foundation, an Olongapo City organization promoting and protecting the rights of women and children.
Cullen singled out what should be the priorities in child advocacy: first, to rescue and provide “protection, care therapy, and support” to “child victims hurt, damaged, and traumatized” by the abusers living “in their own home, in the community and on the internet;” and second, to “(give) justice to the victims, (which) prevents the perpetrators from abusing more children.”
Threatening children are predators in all guises: “The biological fathers, live-in partners and community pedophiles are most frequent offenders but there are clergy too,” wrote Cullen.
Last February 2019, Pope Francis convened the three-day Meeting on the Protection of Minors in the Church. It was widely anticipated as a “landmark Vatican summit” to get the bishops to take concrete action to address clerical sex abuse.
In his presentation during the Vatican summit, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle admitted that the “lack of response of bishops to victims of clergy sexual abuse inflicts wounds on them,” reported “The Philippine Star” on Feb. 22. The priests abusing minors “inflicted wounds not only on the victims but also on their families, the clergy, the Church, the wider society, the perpetrators themselves and the bishops,” the same report quoted Tagle as saying.
Yet, despite the pope's release of a 21-point list of “guidelines”—which mentions, among others, “drawing up mandatory codes of conduct for priests, training people to spot abuse and informing police”—the February 2019 Vatican Summit was criticized for failing a crucial test: bringing to justice members of the clergy that perpetrated decades of abuse against minors.
“Most cases of child sexual abuse by clergy are rarely exposed and Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle says they are investigated internally,” wrote Cullen in an April 5, 2019 article posted on the newsletter of the Preda Foundation Inc.
Yet, the internal approach of the church to address charges of clerical abuse becomes part of the problem when a victim is asked by the parents or authorities, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to “forgive” the abuser, which means not formalizing the charges and starting the legal process to bring an abuser to justice.
“(J)ustice is what (the victims) deserve and need. If the abuser will confess his crime, go to trial, accept penance in jail then forgiveness may come,” wrote Cullen in the Jan. 2019 “World Mission” article.
The culture of silence and impunity that protects erring members of the clergy and other pedophiles preying on minors are rooted in the values of a community that turns a blind eye to the abuses of the powerful, blaming instead the victims for “tempting” the abuser to transgress.
Last December 2018, Fr. Kenneth Hendricks was arrested in Naval, Biliran Province for allegedly abusing dozens of boys. As Cullen wrote in the Preda newsletter, the crimes were first reported to the US authorities, who, after investigation, filed charges against Hendricks in Ohio.
The failure of the local laity, civil authorities, priests and religious superiors to act on the complaints of the Naval victims hints of the convoluted factors that make child abuse into a crisis that our society must grapple with, including those who supposedly minister to our spiritual lives
Let victims speak, German child abuse inquiry says
by Thomas Escritt
BERLIN (Reuters) - A girl on an East German cooperative farm beaten by her father, then raped and traded for sex by her brother. An emotionally troubled boy undressed in "counseling sessions" by a priest at his boarding school. A swimmer abused by his instructor.
These are just three of hundreds of stories revealed by Germany's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which issued an interim report on Wednesday after three years' work.
The 350-page report, based on testimony from 1,690 people, called for an end to taboos around discussing abuse, so people who had been failed as children should not suffer in adulthood.
But inquiry chair Sabine Andresen, an education professor, warned the inquiry had more to do, with the disabled and children in competitive sport being vulnerable groups the inquiry had not yet reached.
Whether because of their identification with a sport, or their successes in it, such children were often reluctant to come forward, her colleague Brigitte Tillmann said.
Abuse was often hereditary, the inquiry found, with family memories of war or Nazi crimes often at the root of abuse generations later.
Recommendations to the government centred on building support networks for victims to share stories and letting them pay for therapy with health insurance.
The inquiry, part of a global wave of accounting for abuse suffered by children at the hands of institutions of power and prestige, from the Catholic Church to university sports teams, was set up by the German government.
Some 83 percent of the victims it identified were female and more than half had suffered abuse within their family. Almost half were less than six when the abuse began.
The inquiry was originally intended to run for three years but has had its mandate extended to investigate other areas and come up with more concrete proposals for remedies.
"For people like me who had to experience sexual abuse as children, the work of the commission gives us hope," said Hjoerdis Wirth, a member of a victims' advisory board. "Finally to be noticed, to have the effects on our lives acknowledged."
For many victims the inquiry was a chance to address decades-old pain, as was the case with "Andreas" (a pseudonym), who was abused by his swimming instructor.
"I've never swam since then, even though it was my favourite thing," he wrote. "But the worst thing is that years of my childhood are missing. I know what he did back then, but I can't remember the two years before and after. I don't remember the good things
Ashton Kutcher's nonprofit gets boost to fight child abuse on internet
Group protects children from exploitation
by Sara Ashley O'Brien
Hollywood, Calif. - Ashton Kutcher's organization devoted to protecting children from exploitation is getting a funding boost to help fuel its efforts to eradicate child sexual abuse materials from the internet.
Thorn, the nonprofit co-founded by actor and tech investor Kutcher and actress Demi Moore, is one of eight new recipients that will get a portion of $280 million in funding from The Audacious Project. Launched by TED in 2018, The Audacious Project aims to supercharge social entrepreneurs and nonprofits seeking to bring about global change to help achieve an ambitious goal. In the case of Thorn, its goal is to eliminate online child sexual abuse materials in the next decade.
"Time is of the essence and capital helps us move faster. The funding allows us to internally build faster," Kutcher wrote in an email to CNN Business. "This is no longer a blind unintended consequence of the democratization of information ... We need to make it a priority."
Thorn has been tackling the intersection of child abuse and the Internet for the past seven years. Thorn helped create a software tool, Spotlight, which is used by hundreds of law enforcement agents across the United States and Canada to find child sexual abusers. Thorn has helped fuel collaboration among tech companies on the issue. In 2012, Thorn worked with companies such as Facebook and Google to create an "industry hash sharing system" to voluntarily share datasets of identified child abuse images in order to combat the spread on other platforms. The system was adopted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Still, there's a lot of work to be done: Leveraging information available there can be difficult for small and medium sized companies that don't have the resources to build their own content moderation systems. To address the gap, Thorn introduced a new tool, currently in beta, called Safer, that aims to help small and mid-size companies weed out child abuse content on their own platforms.
With the new funding, Thorn said it hopes to scale Safer, and eventually charge for it to help diversify its revenue stream.
Additionally, Thorn aims to expand its Spotlight product, as well as build out its research and development to stay on the forefront of new technologies and platforms being used by predators.
In 2015, the organization announced its own innovation lab in Silicon Valley, where it would employ engineers and data scientists to experiment with new technologies to identify and deter criminal behavior directed at children online. At the time, the organization had just eight employees. Today, it has 36 employees but hopes to double in size over the next year, Thorn CEO Julie Cordua told CNN Business.
Cordua says their audacious goal is "difficult" but "totally possible if we're able to mobilize the field, the industry and governments around the world."
For a sense of scale of the issue: Last year, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children CyberTipline says it received more than 18.4 million reports relating to apparent child sexual abuse images, online enticement known as sextortion, child sex trafficking and more. When tech companies become aware of child pornography on the platforms, they're required by law to submit a report to the CyberTipline.
Prior to the new funding, Thorn has raised about $27 million to date. The portion of the funding that will go directly to Thorn is undisclosed.
More than 1,500 applications were submitted for consideration of The Audacious Project's funding and support.
Child sexual abuse in the institutional Church
by FR. SHAY CULLEN, SSC
There are serious and profound changes taking place in the Catholic Church to acknowledge and prevent child sexual abuse by clerics and lay people, prosecute the perpetrators and help the victims in their healing process. It is the belated result of generations of historical clerical child sexual abuse and the denial and cover-up of their crimes by some bishops and cardinals around the world. It has become a crisis for the Church as an institution.
Pope Francis approved recently a new law to protect child victims and prosecute any clerical suspects accused in the Vatican State. Before this, there was no such law protecting children in the Vatican. But the new law is a model for others and is a zero-tolerance law. Every complaint of child abuse must be reported and investigated immediately.
In the Philippines, the arrest and detention of an American priest, Fr. Kenneth Hendricks, 78, in Naval, a town in Biliran province, on Dec. 5, 2018 for allegedly sexually abusing dozens of boys has focused attention on the culture of silence, cover-up and inaction by fellow clergy, officials and Catholic townspeople.
The alleged crimes were first reported to authorities in the United States who carried out a quiet investigation and filed charges against Hendricks in Ohio, where a judge issued an arrest warrant.
The fact that no local people dared accuse the priest despite local knowledge and complaints by several alleged victims indicates the fear of retribution of going up against a priest of the Catholic Church. That era of fear and impunity is coming to a close in many countries, but not yet in the Philippines.
Most cases of child sexual abuse by clergy are rarely exposed, and Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle says they are investigated internally. So no civil punishment for the abusers and no justice for the victims. Impunity reigns it seems and that will have to change.
For some Catholics, the worldwide shame and widespread history of clerical child abuse has weakened and challenged their faith. Some have even left the Church. The nonabusing clergy are deeply ashamed by the terrible crimes against children that many of them allowed to happen either by their ignorance, inaction or silence. They were afraid or ashamed to report a fellow priest and cowardly shied from protecting the child victim. That silence is a form of consent. Now, dioceses have strict rules and regulations to report child abuse and prosecute the offender in civil courts.
Child abuse less 'forgivable' than murder and rape
Christian faith helped her forgive her son's killer
Child abuse is considered "impossible to forgive" by nearly nine out 10 British adults - more than murder and rape - a poll for the BBC suggests.
Eight out of 10 people said sexual abuse, including rape, was unforgivable compared with just over seven out of 10 for murder.
One in four women found infidelity unforgivable compared with fewer than one in five men.
One in 10 of the 2,042 polled by ComRes could not forgive social media abuse.
The poll for BBC local radio asked how willing people would be to forgive someone for actions ranging from swearing to child abuse.
More women than men found child abuse impossible to forgive, with 89% of women compared with 80% of men.
Women were also more likely to find sexual abuse, including rape, impossible to forgive, with 83% compared with 75% of men.
Fewer men found infidelity impossible to forgive, with 19% of those responding compared to 26% of women.
Murder more 'forgivable' than child or sexual abuse.
People were asked to state whether each action was impossible, difficult or easy to forgive or whether there was no need to forgive.
Half of people surveyed said lying was difficult to forgive. Three in five women also found verbal abuse difficult to forgive, whilst only two in five men did.
'I have forgiven my son's killer'
After 14-year-old David Idowu's death in 2008, his mother Grace said she forgave her son's killer, then 16-year-old Elijah Dayoni.
"I have forgiven Elijah for a long time, even before I met him," she said.
On meeting Dayoni, Mrs Idowu found out he attacked her son because a boy from David's school had beaten up his brother on the same day.
"It was so painful to see that it was a senseless killing but I'm glad I know the truth," she said.
"It give me more strength to carry on with the work I do now."
Mrs Idowu set up The David Idowu Foundation with her husband, to teach young people about the dangers of gun and knife crime.
"We should have a place in our hearts to do a little bit of good and whoever has offended us we should sit down, meditate and put ourselves in that person's position," she said.
'It's about you'
Simon Edwards said before he went to prison for armed robbery, his view of forgiveness was "warped".
The 43-year-old now runs Walk Ministries, a rehabilitation programme in the Midlands for former prisoners.
"I suppose it was the culture that I lived in on an estate and growing up as a criminal," he said.
Mr Edwards, who was abused as a child, said now he was a father he understood why people found this the most impossible action to forgive.
"I forgave the people who did that to me but it took me a long time," he said.
"One of the big things I've learned about forgiveness is how it makes you feel.
"The moment I realised I had a choice to forgive, the whole of who I am changed. It's not about the other person, it's about you."
'Protecting the young'
Ann Macaskill, professor of health psychology at Sheffield Hallam University, said there may be a "biological" reason why child abuse was deemed unforgivable by more people than murder.
"I think there's something about protecting the young," she said.
"It's seen as a violation of trust, which is why forgiveness is quite difficult.
"By abusing children, you're leaving them with problems that most of them are going to have for life and the abused child learns the world is very unpredictable."
Dr Anneli Jefferson, research fellow at the University of Birmingham's Department of Philosophy, said while murder was "more final" than sexual abuse, abuse tended to involve a "more vicious mindset".
"Murder is obviously really bad, but the motivations people have, such as anger, aren't that far removed from what we feel," she said.
"In the case of sexual violence and child abuse, they are much worse because you're taking advantage of someone.
"We find it harder to think about why people might act like that."
The poll was commissioned for Palm Sunday.
Fewer than half of Christians who answered the survey believe Jesus died on Good Friday "for the forgiveness of their sins".
However, almost nine in 10 Christians who said they went regularly to religious services did believe it.
The proportion fell to a quarter among all the people surveyed.
Two thirds of British adults polled said they never attended religious services, excluding special occasions such as marriages or funerals.
ComRes surveyed 2,042 adults in Great Britain online between 4 and 5 March.
Child abuse offenders ‘inadequately supervised' in detention centre
Staff at Colnbrook IRC were unaware of risk to children during visits, watchdog finds
by Mattha Busby
People convicted of child sexual abuse being held at an immigration removal centre have been inadequately supervised, a watchdog has found.
In one case, a detainee was transferred to prison following an allegation of grooming, HM Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) said after an unannounced inspection of the privately run Colnbrook IRC in west London, near Heathrow.
“There had been inadequate supervision of some detainees who could have presented risks to children and others in the visits room and around the centre,” the inspectorate's report said.
Inspectors examined the records of two detainees who had been convicted of sexual offences against children. Both of them had notes placed on their electronic records to inform staff that visits should be supervised. However, staff supervising visits were unaware that these records should be checked or of the risk the detainees could pose to children and others, particularly during visits to the centre.
“No other measures were taken to supervise these detainees, one of whom was subsequently found downloading inappropriate content in the internet room,” the report said. “He was banned from further use of the facility, but no further restrictions were placed on him. He was transferred to prison some days later, when an allegation was made that he was grooming another detainee.”
HMIP reported that the centre was largely indistinguishable from a prison, with male detainees locked in cells for long periods, staff reporting that the availability of drugs was a problem and a threefold rise in self-harm since 2016.
Conditions were described as “austere for most prisons”, with poor ventilation, sealed windows and limited outdoor space. The Home Office is planning to build a new centre to replace Colnbrook and the neighbouring Harmondsworth.
Detainees at Colnbrook, run by facilities management company Mitie, had been held for an average of 75 days, longer than at other centres. Seven had been in detention for more than a year, including two for more than 24 months, inspectors reported.
Some had been UK residents for many years, including an ex-offender who had lived in the UK since the age of three months whom the Home Office was seeking to deport.
After examining 12 cases, HMIP concluded that the Home Office had “failed to act diligently or expeditiously” in five of them.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “We do not detain people indefinitely, and the law does not allow it. In 2018, 92% of those detained left detention within four months and 69% in less than 29 days.
“We have always been clear that we expect the highest standards from detainee custody officers and others who work with detainees, and we are working closely with Mitie to make sure that all high risk detainees are properly supervised at all times.”
A Mitie spokeswoman said: “To ensure adequate supervision during family visits, adults with children now have a designated area in the visiting hall.
“Other detainees are not permitted in this area. Detainees known to be a potential risk due to previous offending behaviour are allocated visiting areas adjacent to staff to ensure they are adequately supervised.”
An inquest found last month that a catalogue of failings contributed to the killing of a man at Colnbrook in 2016. His killer – who was known to mental health services and had 16 previous convictions for 33 different offences – should not have been placed in detention, a jury concluded.
World Health Organization
WHO considers adding 'parental alienation' to new diagnostic guide
An emerging mental health issue in which one parent turns a child against the other parent could be added to the international standard for diagnostics next month.
"Parental alienation" may be among an updated list of diseases and related health problems when the World Health Organization votes to accept the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in May.
The issue is a kind of psychological manipulation of a child. It occurs when one parent systemically "badmouths" the other parent. In extreme cases of high-conflict divorce and separation, the child may align with one parent and reject the other. Mental health experts and law professionals are lining up to label it as a form of emotional abuse that can damage the mental health of children.
Research in the field has labelled parental alienation an "unacknowledged form of family violence" and has found long-term mental health consequences for children who experience it, including anxiety, lowered self-esteem and general quality of life, as well as a greater risk of depression.
"Some of the stories are heartbreaking," says Barbara Fidler, clinical-developmental psychologist in Toronto who has specialized in high-conflict parenting. She says her caseload is growing. "I actually lose sleep over these families. We are losing sleep because children are suffering."
The issue has faced much debate -- what to call it and how to define it -- within the intersecting fields of health and law as parents and children become embroiled in family courts. An international meeting on the issue will take place in Toronto next month. Fidler is working on a special issue of the Family Court Review due early 2020 with Queens University law professor Nick Bala. They hope the collection of all the latest data on parental alienation will inform family lawyers, judges and therapists around the world.
"This is clearly a big problem," says Bala. "I get emails from people coast, to coast, to coast and internationally, raising concerns about being cut off from their children, being cut off from grandchildren."
Research shows that alienation doesn't happen all at once, says Fidler, but it may develop quickly. Experts should focus on the behaviours being exhibited by the children, she says.
These may include:
Rejection and denigration of a parent for reasons that are trivial
Rigid refusal to consider alternative views or explanations
Repetition of the favoured parent's words
Rehearsed (or it sounds like rehearsed script)
Relatives are included in the rejection (even pets)
Little or no regret or guilt regarind behavior towards the parent being rejected.
Denigrate the other parent
Encouraging child to denigrate parent
Arranging conflicting activities
Inducing guilt about visits with other parent
Portraying other parent as dangerous
Involving child in spying
Alienating parents may not speak positively about the other parent, support the child's relationship with them, encourage cooperation or problem solving over conflicts with them, or even have photos of them visible.
A growing body of research is illuminating the effects of parental alienation on children, says Fidler, including:
Self-hatred and self-esteem issues
Higher rates and risks of depression, relationship difficulties and substance abuse
Loss of guidance and support of one parent
Loss of relationship with extended family
Inability to develop and sustain healthy relationships
Fidler and Bala say there is a need for more research into how to better define alienation in its various forms, since not all cases look the same. It's not just a mental health issue, but a legal issue that should require better training for family lawyers and judges, who can put a stop to alienation early.
"We need to recognize the problem earlier so that we can provide the education and in some cases therapy early on," said Fidler.
In Canada, a proposal to reform the Divorce Act outlines the importance of a child's relationship with each parent. "It is generally important for each parent to support the child's relationship with the other parent," an overview of the objectives of Bill C-78 reads online. "If a parent actively attempts to undermine their child's relationship with the other parent, courts may need to consider this in making a parenting order."
There is at least one high profile case in the U.S. that some experts point to as a case in point for a better understanding of parental alienation: Hollywood A-listers Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. In June of 2018, court documents obtained by The Blast showed that a judge in the stars' divorce case said the couple's children "not having a relationship with their father is harmful to them" and that Jolie should help mend their relationship with their father.
Child sexual abuse: 'I sometimes wonder how I managed to survive'
by Francesca Gillett
How do people sexually abused as children start to repair the psychological damage done in those early years? Three victims tell how they have used creative pursuits - art, poetry and playwriting - to channel their feelings, while a doctor explains the logic behind the method.
Jemma's house in Lancashire is full of laughter. Warm and chatty, she sits on the sofa surrounded by pieces of her colourful art, as family members come and go.
Her home is unlike the house she was taken to as a schoolgirl, where she was plied with alcohol and groomed for sex by a man eight years her senior.
"No carpets, just floorboards," she says, describing the house. "Lights were every now and then broken or smashed. Nothing in the kitchen. Empty.
"Upstairs just a bed. No sheets. And a mattress. It wasn't a home, just a house".
She was 15 when the grooming began, although she says she did not recognise it for what it was.
He was 23, and they had met through a mutual friend. He invited Jemma - and others around her age and younger - to the house, where he was joined by older men.
"In my eyes it was just an older male who was paying attention to me and I think I thrived off that," says Jemma.
"Having an older male that would buy me things - buy your fags, buy your alcohol, give me his bracelet that he claimed were really important to him."
Alcohol was shared - "drink up, drink up", he used to tell her - and soon the sex started. If Jemma resisted, he was not violent but would "throw sarky comments out there and be a bit nasty".
Jemma says things she had witnessed in the house - involving other teenage girls - "will probably stay with me for a long time".
The pair fixed up meetings, after school and late at night, using a mobile phone he had secretly given Jemma. But it all ended when Jemma's mum discovered what had been happening and the police were called.
Jemma's abuser pleaded guilty and was jailed for five years for sexual activity with a child and child pornography charges. At the time of the court case, Jemma earned an A* in her GCSE art. Now 24, she has just finished a masters in textiles.
At university, she started working with textiles - "it was the most expressive" - and also Aboriginal art, which uses symbols to tell tales and convey warnings.
For her masters project, she decided to use symbolism to tell her story and warn others. She describes art as "like therapy".
"All my designs are bright and colourful because I wanted everyone to discuss child sexual abuse openly and it not to be a sore subject that everyone avoids," she says.
Jemma, who is married and a mother, says she has come to terms with what happened, although still asks the question "Why me?"
There are too many false stereotypes, she says, of what a victim of grooming looks like - someone in the care system or involved with the police. But she had a happy home life, a good support system and was doing well at school.
Strong winds rail against the windows of Ruby's apartment block in north London as she tells her story - it's the week Storm Gareth hit the UK.
Ruby says she was first sexually assaulted aged five. By the time she was 10, she was being raped regularly. At 13 she became pregnant.
"It was very difficult. I didn't know exactly what sex was," says Ruby, now 62.
"He'd been doing this to me for a while, I didn't know what it meant. And then it started dawning on me, maybe it was age 11 or a sex education class, I started thinking is this the thing that can make a baby?
"And I went with my friend to the library to look up the reproductive system. There was a sort of horror as it dawned on me that this is the thing that makes a baby. So when my periods stopped, I put it together with what I read."
She saw a doctor and underwent an abortion.
The tale of her abuse is horrific. She says she felt "utterly powerless" and, looking back, thinks that she disassociated from her body when the abuse happened.
But the impact stretched far into her life, even years after it ended.
"Having been forced to accept the unacceptable and having lived it for so long, it sort of continues," she explains. "I was out and about on my own, very, very vulnerable. Homeless really. Sofa-surfing.
"All the violence and adrenaline and everything that went on, that's what I was used to. And I continued putting myself in a lot of danger. I really sometimes wonder how I managed to survive that."
She says she was unable to make decisions in her own interest, and was left "depleted" by her relationships with men.
Her journey to recovery has been long. Ruby says only in the past five years has she found the right type of therapy.
"I've wanted to write this story, my story, since I was in my early 20s," she says. "I've always felt in shock about it, I'm still in shock now, 55 years later.
"And I think [child abuse] is something that needs to be brought to the attention of society, to say, 'you call yourself a civilised society? This is uncivilised.'"
In 2006, she made a start on a book - producing a 40,000-word manuscript - and later started writing poetry.
"I think in truth, how the poetry started was 'this book is taking forever, I want to do something that I can finish'," she jokes.
She now attends a monthly poetry workshop, and has had her poetry published in anthologies.
Why write? "It's the C word: cathartic. It's this outpouring. Especially as having had to suppress so much under these circumstances, it's liberating.
"And there's something about putting it down in black and white. It never completely leaves you but it lightens your load."
She adds: "Also, I do feel a campaigning aspect. I don't want to force it down anybody's throat but I do want to be part of a movement, energy, organisation that helps to reduce and stop child sexual abuse.
"And it's not going to reduce and stop so long as it's kept secret and kept quiet."
Ruby says there is a "bitter-sweetness" with, as an adult, learning that child sexual abuse was so widespread.
"On the one hand it's awful, it's uncivilised, that it's terrible that it's widespread. But on the other hand, as a victim, you don't feel so alone."
"One of the most moving pieces I have ever seen," was the verdict of comedian Sandi Toksvig on seeing the show Groomed.
The one-man play is written and performed by theatre director Patrick Sandford. It tells his story of being sexually abused, aged nine, by a teacher in the 1960s.
"I would have to stand behind the table in front of the class and read to the class," says Patrick, now 66.
"While I was reading, he would hold the side of the book. With his right hand, he used to slip his hand up my leg and into my shorts and play with my genitals.
"Of course it was the most embarrassing and terrifying experience for a nine-year-old.
"He would say how clever I was and how well I was reading and how he would make me top of the class."
Patrick says when the abuse stopped - "I was thrown away for a younger model... I knew I was no longer his favourite pupil" - it was "devastating".
"It was, I think, in many ways, as catastrophic psychologically as the actual abuse. It made me feel worthless. What had I done wrong? I felt hideous and ugly."
For 15 years, Patrick did not allow anyone to touch him physically, except for a handshake or peck on a cheek.
"I was repressed completely sexually. I felt I was hideous. I had terrifying body dysmorphia. I used to carry a newspaper so that people wouldn't see my face."
His recovery started when he began working professionally in the theatre - what he calls his "survival strategy" which gave him "a reason for living".
He underwent therapy and later he started to write the play Groomed as a "therapeutic, cathartic exercise".
"I read it to my therapist, in a tiny little room and he said you have to do it, you have to perform it. I did it for three friends. Then I did it for my agent.
"Gradually people said I have to do it. I said I only want to do it if I can have a saxophone. I wanted no depressing music - it can be melancholy, but that's not the same thing.
"I didn't want it to be self-indulgent… it's so easy to write about misery, everybody gets challenges and misery."
Perhaps astoundingly, Patrick also performs the character of the teacher in the play.
"I didn't want it to be black and white, the man who abused me is the baddie and I was the innocent goodie. I think it's more complicated than that."
He adds: "Doing the play can be completely cathartic but it can also be quite churning. It feels like opening a wound and cleaning it out but ultimately it's very healing having these conversations.
"Suddenly my experience is being believed. It's lovely to be heard."
How can creativity help?
Dr Rebekah Eglinton is the chief psychologist to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and explains how creativity can help recovery.
"The one thing that is really powerful is the use of symbolism," she says. "What I mean by that, is sometimes it can be very difficult to talk directly about 'me' and about things that might feel completely overwhelming.
"But if I can tell a story through the medium of poetry, for example to talk about what has happened, I can talk about it indirectly. It means it's easier to communicate."
She adds: "It's a bit like the story of Perseus slaying Medusa. If you think of Medusa as the trauma, looking directly at the trauma can be so utterly overwhelming because the trauma is so horrific.
"But by looking indirectly [using a mirror], he's finding a way to speak the unspeakable."
But she emphasises that everyone is an individual: "Recovery and that journey from trauma into wellness - whatever that looks like for someone - is an incredibly individual journey.
Family center ‘muddied the waters' on eliminating child abuse statute of limitations
A bill that would remove the statute of limitation for civil suits related to child sex abuse in Vermont — both in the future and retroactively — hit resistance from an unlikely witness in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday: a community resource center in Bennington.
Merrill Bent, an attorney for the Sunrise Family Resource Center, said it supported efforts to hold people accountable for child sex abuse, but believed the bill as written would quickly cause the center to close its doors, punishing the hundreds of community members who rely on its services for education, housing and family support.
“What we want you to understand is that, as written, this is a zero-sum issue for Sunrise, and for many other organizations like it,” Bent told the committee via telephone, along with Denise Main, executive director of the center.
Allegations of sexual abuse were made against an employee at the center in 1988, leading the state's Human Services Board to conduct an investigation. After holding a hearing with parents, teachers and medical professionals, the board concluded that no abuse had occurred, according to the testimony from Sunrise.
However, in the past two years, three children who were subjects of the investigation in the 1980s filed lawsuits against Sunrise over the same allegations. Bent laid out a scenario in which removing the statute of limitations would expose the center to crushing legal liabilities, leading to bankruptcy and possible closure.
“We are here to emphasize that without a statute of limitations, Sunrise will be required to defend against 30-year-old allegations without the benefit of the contemporaneous evidence that we know based on the Board's findings would have been exculpatory,” she said in a prepared statement.
“We are not asking that members of the Legislature vote against this bill,” she added. “What we ask is that that the bill be shaped to take into consideration the competing policy interests in order to keep some important protections in place for just such a situation as Sunrise now finds itself in—which is going to be very common should this legislation be enacted as written.”
The bill, H.330, was passed by the House last month. It completely removes the statute of limitations, which is currently set at six years after a person realizes they have been impacted by abuse as a child. It has strong support from survivors of Catholic Church sexual abuse.
Sunrise suggested changing the law to extend the limit only to people who are 30 years old, giving them 12 years as an adult to come to terms with their abuse and take legal action.
How the law would impact abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church came up repeatedly in the committee Thursday morning. Burlington lawyer Jerome O'Neill, who has filed some four dozen priest misconduct claims against Vermont's Catholic Church in the past quarter-century, told the House last month that most child abuse victims are well older than 30 when they finally bring legal action against their abusers and those who enabled them.
“The shame and the fear and the unwillingness to kind of delve into it themselves and deal with it, is such that the average age that people are really ready and able to delve in and deal with it is in their 40s,” he said on March 6.
The retroactivity of the proposed law would also impact the insurance market for institutions and entities that care for children, according to Kevin Gaffney, deputy commissioner in charge of the insurance division at Vermont's Department of Financial Regulation, who also testified Thursday.
Gaffney said such entities would likely have their insurance plans changed to exempt child abuse from coverage, or they might be forced to look to specialty insurers or create custom insurance plans that can cover the breadth exposure to child abuse claims without legal limitations. He also said that determining which insurance companies were on the hook for incidents that occurred decades ago could be tricky.
“I unfortunately, am an insurance geek,” Gaffney said. “So I know who my insurance carrier was in 1984. But, but most people wouldn't know.”
Depending on the insurance plans entities had at the time of the alleged abuse, and what plan it has when a lawsuit is brought, Gaffney said the legal costs could be covered by one or the other, or neither.
Sears said Sunrise's situation left the committee with lots to think about. “Well, I don't have any other questions,” he said at the end of their testimony, “but you certainly have muddied the water a little bit on what was a simple little House bill.”
Committee members — who appeared to be unanimous in support of the bill's intent — said they would consider five questions as they continue testimony next week, before revising the bill and sending it to the Senate floor.
• How should “entity” be defined in the bill? Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, asked whether a two-person operation with he and a secretary would be considered an entity, according to the bill.
• Should entities that employ an alleged perpetrator be subject to a different statute of limitations than the perpetrator? Sears signaled that he wanted both to have no limitations, noting that he did not want the Catholic Church to escape accountability.
• Should entities be held to a “negligence” or “gross negligence” standard under the bill? The House bill as introduced had the higher standard of “gross negligence,” but that was changed to “negligence” by the House Judiciary Committee.
• Is retroactively removing statutes of limitations even constitutional? Sunrise suggested it was not, however legislative counsel Eric Fitzpatrick said his research on a change to the statute of limitations in the late 1980s suggested it was constitutionally OK.
• Should the law allow defendants to collect attorneys fees from the plaintiff if the case is found to have no basis in fact? Benning noted that a similar code in Delaware had such a provision, and he felt Vermont's law should as well.
Kentucky and Indiana
Kentucky and Indiana have highest child abuse rates in the US, report says
A new federal report shows Kentucky and Indiana, respectively, have the highest and second-highest rates of child abuse in the country.
According to the "Child Maltreatment" report from the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Kentucky had 22,410 victims of child abuse in 2017.
That represents about 22.2 victims per 1,000 children in Kentucky, first among all states in 2017 and more than double the national average of 9.1 victims per 1,000 children.
Indiana followed up in second nationally with 18.6 victims per 1,000 children in 2017.
Indiana had an estimated 29,198 child abuse victims in 2017, an uptick of about 34 percent from the 21,755 victims identified in 2013.
The estimated 22,410 child abuse victims in Kentucky in 2017 marks an increase of about 27.5 percent from 2013, when 17,591 child victims were identified in the commonwealth, according to the report.
Data for the "Child Maltreatment" report has been collected every year since 1991 from child welfare agencies in all 50 states along with Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
States provide the data through the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System, which clarifies that child victims are counted if a state is able to determine a "substantiated case" of abuse or neglect.
In a statement provided to the Courier Journal, Kentucky Department for Community Based Services Commissioner Eric Clark said his department "remains committed to raising awareness, developing necessary interventions, and identifying prevention programs and services to reduce incidents of abuse and neglect within the Commonwealth."
"While DCBS plays a key role in this effort, we alone cannot be the only solution," Clark said. "We also need our families, neighbors, schools, churches, and others within their communities to also commit to being engaged in this issue and invested in the solution. Child welfare belongs to all of us."
Noelle Russell, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services, told the Courier Journal in an email that a state-led policy group made recommendations last summer on ways to improve child welfare in the state.
Gov. Eric Holcomb allotted $25 million to DCS to help the department implement recommendations from that report, Russell said.
The federal report said the number and rate of victims have fluctuated during the past five years.
Across the country, 2013 had an estimated 656,000 victims of child abuse or neglect, and 2017 saw an estimated 674,000 victims.
For 2017, an estimated 1,720 children nationally died of abuse and neglect, a rate of 2.32 per 100,000 children.
Indiana ranked third in the country in 2017 child abuse death rates, with almost five deaths per 100,000.
Nationally, Arkansas had the highest child fatality rate, with 5.24 deaths per 100,000 children.
The Hoosier State reported 78 child abuse deaths in 2017, nearly three times more than the 28 child fatalities in 2013.
For Kentucky, about one child per 100,000 died in 2017.
The Bluegrass State's 10 child abuse deaths in 2017 marked a decrease from 23 reported child fatalities in 2013.
Nationally, the 2017 data show 74.9 percent of victims are neglected, 18.3 percent are physically abused and 8.6 percent are sexually abused.
The report noted victims may suffer one type of "maltreatment" or a combination of several types of maltreatment.
Parents were the vast majority of perpetrators of child abuse nationally in 2017, according to the report, with nearly 410,000 parents representing about 78 percent.
Child abuse, recurrent depression linked to similar changes in brain
by Tamara Mathias
(Reuters Health) - Abuse during childhood may cause physical changes to the human brain that in turn may render adults more vulnerable to depression, research suggests.
In their study of people with major depressive disorder, two separate aspects of patients' history were both linked with alterations in brain structure: childhood maltreatment, and more severe and recurrent depression.
"It has been established for a very, very long time that childhood trauma is a major risk factor for the development of depression, and also that childhood trauma is associated with changes in the brain," study author Dr. Nils Opel from the University of Münster in Germany told Reuters Health in a phone call.
"What we did was to actually show that the alterations in the brain are directly connected to the clinical outcome. This is new."
The two-year observational study enrolled 110 patients, ages 18 to 60, who were hospitalized following a diagnosis of major depression. At the start, all participants had magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and answered a questionnaire that assessed the level of maltreatment they experienced as children.
Over the next two years, more than two-thirds of participants experienced a relapse, according to a report in Lancet Psychiatry.
The brain scans showed that abuse during childhood and recurring depression were linked to similar reductions in the surface area of the insular cortex - a part of the brain believed to help regulate emotion and self-awareness.
"I think the most important implication of our study is that we can show that traumatized patients differ from non-traumatized patients in a way that they are at increased risk for more recurrent depression and that they are also different in terms of brain structure and neurobiology," Opel said.
It's unclear, however, whether the findings will eventually lead to new treatment approaches.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Morris Zwi, who recently retired from The Whittington Health NHS Trust in London, said that while the study results don't indicate whether changes in the brain observed can be reversed, they provide a starting point for more research.
"There is a lot of interest in brain plasticity at the moment, a concept about the potential for brain cells to regenerate or change to meet the needs of the affected brain," said Zwi, who was not involved in the study.
"This is why it is important to know whether the changes observed in association with trauma and depression are transitory or permanent, which this study cannot show."
Zwi said therapy, or drugs targeting changes to brain structure, may hold some promise for these patients.
Opel also sees potential in tailoring treatment to individual patients based on information from their brain scans.
"What would be great in future is if we could use these data to predict which patient might need intensified or specialized care and then come up with personalized treatment approaches," he said.
Healing work to be recognized at child abuse and family violence summit
by Evan Schreiber
It was a closer look inside the room where secret stories are shared. There are toys and games to lift the tension.
At Children's Center in Oregon City, Amanda McVay sits one-on-one with children - some of whom are going through some of the worst emotional and physical trauma imaginable.
"I believe it's their story. They know what happened to them. They should be offered the opportunity to be heard," she said.
McVay, the Child Forensic Interviewer at Children's Center, works tirelessly to open those lines of communication.
"Children's Center is a private, non-profit child abuse intervention center accredited by the National Children's Alliance. Children are referred to us by law enforcement agencies, child protective workers, parents, teachers, health care providers, and others concerned for their welfare," the organization's website explains.
As a member of the team, McVay hears the traumatic experiences from kids as young as two-and-a-half years old and even adults with developmental disabilities who might cognitively function as a child. The non-profit organization partners with law enforcement should a criminal case need to be built.
"Just talking to them, engaging with them, getting to know them a little. It's not just, 'let's go talk about what happened.' It's, 'let's get to know you a little and try,'" McVay said, explaining her technique. "Sometimes, some kids, have a lot harder time getting comfortable."
She was left speechless, herself, when she learned she'd be honored for her incredible work.
The "Champions For Children" award will be handed to her Thursday morning, April 18, at the 20th annual Child Abuse & Family Violence Summit hosted by the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office. The summit brings together professionals and educates them on the complex issues associated with child abuse and family violence, to broaden each professional's knowledge base in multiple areas, and to increase understanding of the other agencies' roles and responsibilities, the summit organizers said.
On Thursday morning, the summit will also present "Champions for Children" awards to:
Chief Greg Graven, Yamhill Police Department
Dr. Shirish Patel
Amy Wolff of the Don't Give Up Movement
Superintendent Travis Hampton, Rebecca David, Jodi Sherwood, Wendy Landers and Dominique Millette of the Oregon State Police for their work on the SafeOregon school-safety tip line
In McVay's case, a positive light is being shined on a closeted, confidential subject. She takes on an emotional role, that could take its toll on her life, if she took that emotional work home with her daily.
"Somehow I'm able to separate it and put it into its own little box, for lack of a better word, so that it's put away and taken care of," she said.
"She has this amazing presence about her. She's so good at making children feel comfortable and safe. That is so important - what we're all about is making kids feel like they have a good environment," said Children's Center communications manager Sarah Creedican. "She is really one of the first faces that they see. She's speaking with them and so her work is so vital to what we do and so vital to helping kids heal."
McVay is able to gather the information law enforcement and therapists need to help families rebuild - one step at a time.
"So I feel like I'm just a puzzle piece that fits with the bigger picture to help kids in our community."
Pinwheels for prevention: Children learn about child abuse prevention and awareness
by McKenzie Nelson
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every ten seconds, a report of child abuse is made nationwide. To spread the message during Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention month,
St. Luke's Crittenton Children's Center visited with sixth grade students at Plaza Middle School on Tuesday.
"It's a great opportunity for kiddos to take a look at what real world, real life scenarios might include and what they might be faced with and how they can be everyday heroes," said Stephanie Clippard, Gifted Facilitator for Sixth Graders, Plaza Middle School.
"We're just here to raise awareness to get the idea and thought into kids brains and to make them aware of their surroundings, make them aware of their friends, with the goal being safety," said Marion Morris, Supervisor of Family Engagement, St. Luke's Crittenton Children's Center.
The visit focused on warning signs and how to report abuse. Morris said abuse can be physical, verbal, emotional or psychological.
Every year, more than 3.6 million abuse cases are reported to child protection agencies nationwide. Those cases involve more than 6.6 million children.
"If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, if you have a gut feeling that someone in your life is not okay, go to them, ask them, talk to them," said Morris.
According to the Missouri Department of Social Services, reports to the Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline show nearly 74,000 reports were made involving more than 106,000 children — an eight percent increase from 2017.
"If nobody reports it, we're not going to know about it. We're in the business of keeping children safe because children need to be safe," said Morris.
There are mandated reporters, but reporting abuse is not limited to teachers, nurses and coaches. Crittenton Children's Center encourages everyone to use their voice and help put an end to child abuse.