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"News of the Week"  

June 2019 - Week 2
Terri Lanahan
Many thanks to NAASCA's Terri Lanahan, Butte, Montana,
for her research into the news that appears on
the LACP & NAASCA web sites.



Child abuse is a global epidemic — we need global action to eradicate it

In May of this year, a 3-year-old girl was raped in India.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child is sexually abused in India, my home country, every 15 minutes.

But India is far from alone.

The global nature of this scourge is laid bare in a report released by The Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Childhood Foundation. It takes place mostly in the shadows, but sexual violence against children is happening everywhere, regardless of a country's economic status or its citizens' quality of life.

In 2014, 1 billion children between the ages of 2 and 17 were the victims of physical, sexual, emotional or multiple types of violence. One statistic suggests that 200 million children worldwide face sexual violence annually.

Experts generally concur that sexual abuse is one of the most under-reported crimes in the world, and one there is a general reluctance to discuss. This means that the statistics are likely to portray only a fraction of the extent of this epidemic. Meanwhile, millions of children suffer in silence, sometimes living with their abusers, who can often be family members, neighbors, trusted friends and authority figures.

Human trafficking adds a further dimension of horror. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year, and many of them - particularly girls - are forcibly exploited for sex work.

The Internet has dramatically increased the scale of abuse, with INTERPOL's Child Sexual Exploitation database alone holding more than 1.5 million images of child sexual abuse. Analysis shows that 84 percent of the images contain explicit sexual activity and, shockingly, that the younger the victim, the more severe the abuse. The Internet Watch Foundation found that online material containing child sexual abuse increased by 35 percent between 2016 and 2017.

It is important to remember that the exploitation of children on the internet is often a for-profit enterprise. Moreover, once these images find their way to the internet, it is nearly impossible to completely erase them, victimizing these children in perpetuity, long after the physical abuse may have stopped.

Absent in all of this is a sense of urgent action from the world at large. From the institutionalized cover-ups in the Catholic Church to the victimization of children in war zones, we are failing to protect children. Especially when doing so runs contrary to Sustainable Development Goal SDG 16.2, which aims to "end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children."

Our collective failure to protect the most vulnerable among us is a disgrace. It is our moral duty to speak up and end this horror with a sense of urgency. Far from simply stopping there, responsible entities around the world, whether they be governments, international institutions or non-governmental organizations, must unite in order to act and eliminate this scourge from existence.

This global epidemic needs global action to eradicate. This can come in the form of pooling resources, such as funding and capacity. There can be concerted international effort from law enforcement and easing of restrictions to allow agencies in different countries to more freely share information when it pertains to exploitation of a minor. Countries can jointly pledge to more harshly prosecute and punish those exploiting children or those continuing to practice child marriage.

These are just a few of numerous actions that can be taken. The reality is that many of these are already taking place, but in discrete pockets, with countries coordinating very little with one another. What is needed to bring together all these actions is moral leadership and political will.

No child should grow up in the specter of violence and abuse. Regardless of where a child is born or the circumstances of his or her upbringing, their absolute right to a safe, happy and carefree childhood must be guaranteed.



Oxfam failed to report child abuse claims in Haiti, inquiry finds

Damning Charity Commission report warns incidents in country were not isolated events

by Rebecca Ratcliffe

There were “serious problems with the culture, morale and behaviour” of Oxfam staff in Haiti according to a damning report which has found that the charity failed to disclose allegations of child abuse.

The Charity Commission report surveyed 7,000 pieces of evidence related to allegations that Oxfam had covered up its investigation into staff paying for sex while working on the response to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

It is the most detailed report produced by the commission.

The Haiti scandal prompted resignations from Oxfam GB's chief executive, Mark Goldring, and its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, and caused the charity to lose UK aid. In the immediate aftermath of the allegations, the charity lost thousands of donors.

The allegations also placed the aid sector under intense scrutiny, and prompted the UK government to host a safeguarding summit to improve accountability.

“What went wrong in Haiti did not happen in isolation. Our inquiry demonstrates that, over a period of years, Oxfam's internal culture tolerated poor behaviour, and at times lost sight of the values it stands for,” said Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, which set up an inquiry into the allegations last year.

The commission expressed concern over Oxfam's internal investigation into the claims that staff in Haiti had paid for sex, and over its response to separate accusations relating to abuse of children in Haiti.

Two emails, dated July and August 2011 and said to be from a 13-year-old girl about herself and a 12-year-old girl, made allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving Oxfam staff. The email stated that the two minors had been paid for sex and had been “… beaten and used by two men who I know work for you …”

It was suspected by Oxfam at the time – but not then proven – that the allegations were not genuine, according to the report. However, the Charity Commission said the charity “should have tried harder to identify the source of the concerns and followed up the allegations”. Last year, the emails were referred to the National Crime Agency by Oxfam and the commission.

Speaking on behalf of former Oxfam GB trustees and senior executives, Alison Talbot, partner and head of national charities at law firm Winckworth Sherwood, said the emails were investigated by Oxfam's investigations team but “were proven to originate from outside Haiti”.

The commission issued Oxfam with an official warning, which will appear on the commission's register, and issued the charity with directions to improve.

Caroline Thomson, Oxfam GB's chair of trustees, said the commission's

findings into the organisation's behaviour “are very uncomfortable”, adding:

“What happened in Haiti was shameful.”

The watchdog stopped short of accusing Oxfam of a coverup over the allegations, but said the charity should have been “fuller and franker” in its reports to donors and regulators. Its handling of the allegations “was influenced by a desire to protect Oxfam GB's reputation, and to protect donor and stakeholder relationships”, the inquiry said.

An internal investigation into allegations that staff members paid for sex was launched by Oxfam in 2011. However, the commission expressed serious concerns about the experience of the investigators and the resources they were given.

During the charity's internal investigation, information was leaked, compromising the safety and confidentiality of a witness, and leading to witness intimidation, the commission found.

In its reports to the regulator, Oxfam said categorically that misconduct did not involve beneficiaries. However, the commission concluded otherwise. It added that the charity should have done more to investigate whether children were among those involved.

Oxfam's investigation concluded that four members of staff either did pay for sex or were suspected of doing so, including on charity premises. Three men, including the country director, Roland van Hauwermeiren, were allowed to resign, while four were sacked for gross misconduct.

The watchdog said it had found evidence to indicate that Oxfam “encouraged and facilitated” Van Hauwermeiren's resignation, warning that this suggested “more senior staff would be treated more leniently”.

The inquiry also examined Oxfam's wider approach to safeguarding and concluded that the charity's own commitments and promises in the past had not always been matched by its resources.

The commission instructed Oxfam trustees to submit an action plan to the regulator on how it would address concerns about its previous conduct, in an effort to “repair public trust and confidence” in the charity.

Stephenson added that “cultural and systemic change is required” to address the failings identified in the report.

In a statement, the charity said it has tripled its investment in safeguarding, created a new director of safeguarding post and accepted 79 detailed recommendations made by an independent review.

“Our first concern is for the security and safety of those we serve,” said Thomson. “We acknowledge and admire the courage of survivors, and ask anyone who has experienced or witnessed abuse to come forward. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing, we will take the firmest of action, including by reporting allegations to the relevant authorities where that is appropriate.”

Talbot said: “As trustees and senior executives, those of us then in office were appalled when in 2011 we found out about the behaviour of some of Oxfam's staff posted to Haiti. At the time, Oxfam was delivering water to half a million people in Haiti. These members of staff let Oxfam, and our beneficiaries, down badly. We apologise to all those affected.”

She added: “We recognise that the Charity Commission has identified weaknesses in the handling of the events in Haiti. We implemented a detailed action plan to address the wider issues identified by the investigation both in Haiti, and across our international programmes. As trustees and senior executives at the time, we were determined to tackle sexual exploitation and abuse, and we established a number of programmes and initiatives to prevent and identify safeguarding issues.

“Safeguarding is and remains a huge issue for all charities, and the commission has pointed out the need for greater resource, more rigorous investigatory procedures, and senior oversight and accountability. We recognise today that our efforts in 2011 and subsequently were insufficient, especially in the light of all of the information available to the Charity Commission in the course of this statutory inquiry.



With its apostle accused of rape and sexual abuse, La Luz del Mundo comes out fighting


For its faithful, the leader of La Luz del Mundo is “the apostle” of Jesus Christ. God made it so.

Hundreds of thousands of parishioners gathered in Guadalajara last month to celebrate their leader's 50th birthday. They filled the streets around the organization's towering, wedding cake-like temple — headquarters to the largest evangelical church in Mexico, with a strong religious presence in parts of Southern California.

When the apostle, Naason Joaquin Garcia, was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport this month on multiple counts of sexual abuse, including forcible rape of a minor, many of his disciples held firm.

They rushed to church — including those in East and West L.A. — to pray and proclaim his innocence.

“When David was going to fight Goliath, it looked like he was going to lose,” said Robert Pelegreen, a parishioner and retired military officer. “This is just another challenge. God has his plan.”

Since charges were filed by California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra, church officials have mounted an aggressive and public defense of their leader — calling the allegations falsehoods.

They've held news conferences, opened their churches to reporters and worked hard to present their community as a place that is welcoming to all.

Where other religious organizations, including the Catholic Church, have been increasingly careful to balance defending themselves with not appearing to minimize accusations, La Luz del Mundo has gone all-in to back its apostle

Spokesman and minister Jack Freeman, who has been with La Luz del Mundo for 27 years, views the allegations — and previous ones against Garcia's father — as part of a smear campaign.

“I believe in all my heart we'll find out he's innocent,” he said. “Unfortunately, there are people who don't understand this church, who don't comprehend why we would say he's an apostle.

“This is not the first time that this has happened and it's not going to be the last time it has happened. It's a common tactic to bring somebody down that's doing good.”

The decision to support the apostle is not altogether surprising for a church built on the foundation of Garcia's family. The leader's grandfather founded La Luz del Mundo — the Light of the World — in 1926. Since then, a charismatic aura has grown around the family.

The belief in Garcia's innocence is vital to parishioners, said Patricia Fortuny, a Mexican anthropologist who has studied La Luz del Mundo for decades.

It's also risky.

“They are in a very vulnerable position at this moment,” she said. “Unlike other Pentecostal churches, the apostle is the center of the doctrine, of everything, and he's in danger now, so the whole church is in danger. What will happen if he's guilty?”

It's a question that hangs in the air, and one that church officials have said they can't answer.

“I don't know what's going to happen,” Freeman said. “I'm very firm in my faith, even though I'm not a prophet, that we're not going to be alone. Whatever that means, you'll see.”

Garcia and co-defendants Alondra Ocampo, Azalea Rangel Melendez and Susana Medina Oaxaca — all of whom are affiliated with La Luz del Mundo — are accused of committing 26 felonies, including human trafficking and production of child pornography, in Los Angeles County between 2015 and 2018.

With the exception of Melendez, who is still at large, the defendants are detained and intend to plead not guilty. Prosecutors say Garcia's $50-million bail is to their knowledge the highest for any individual in L.A. County.

La Luz del Mundo claims more than 5 million followers worldwide, though some experts say those numbers might be too high.

Early on, the organization recruited from the jobless Mexicans returning from the U.S. around the time of the Great Depression. They were searching for a message and found it in Garcia's grandfather, the organization's first apostle.

The church has Pentecostal features, including the speaking in tongues, and is based on a strict interpretation of the Bible. Congregants pray on their knees and religious services are marked by singing and weeping. An annual gathering of hundreds of thousands, called the Holy Supper, commemorates the death and sacrifice of Christ.

“You feel at peace, knowing that all your brothers are around,” said Torrian Tatum, a medic in the U.S. Air Force who joined the church in 2014 and has attended the Holy Supper in Guadalajara. “You're bumping into each other because you're shoulder to shoulder, but you're happy.”

La Luz del Mundo has successfully appealed to working-class Latinos abroad and in the U.S. by promising to bring order to their lives. Congregants, experts say, benefit by finding support networks that help them rise professionally.

Though bishops and various types of clergy make up the church's order, it revolves around the apostle. In December 2014, Garcia rose to the head after the death of his father, Samuel Joaquin Flores, who had taken over after his own father. Garcia spends most of the year giving sermons to followers around the globe, according to ministers.

“They receive words from the apostle in their far-flung church with the same emotion you would imagine from early Christians receiving a letter from Paul,” said Daniel Ramirez, an associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University.

Garcia's father never faced charges when he was the subject of sexual abuse allegations. At the time, the church painted the accusers as unreliable and used that episode to point to persecution against the church, Ramirez said.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former prosecutor, said the church's decision to open its doors to reporters is not typical for religious organizations whose leaders have been accused of abuse.

“There's always a risk to this openness,” she said. “They might have convinced themselves there's nothing to see, but they don't know how it's going to be seen through the eyes of others.”

Unlike the Catholic Church, which can survive the conviction of priests, Levenson said, La Luz del Mundo's entire future could be thrown into jeopardy because its leader is on the line.

“This may be an all-or-nothing situation,” she said.

Other attorneys said that when religious organizations vigorously defend their leaders against accusations of sexual misconduct, they dissuade potential victims from coming forward.

“What the religion should be saying is let justice play its course, these are serious allegations, he's been charged,” said John Manly, an attorney who has represented hundreds of plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases.

Jason Dormady, an associate professor of history at Central Washington University who has researched La Luz del Mundo, thinks a conviction would result in schisms and loss of members but the group would survive.

He pointed to allegations that Garcia's grandfather had an affair with or raped a woman, which he and the church leadership denied at the time. In response, hundreds of members in Mexico left to form their own church or join another.

Other religious groups have continued after the fall of their own leaders, Dormady said. After the 1844 assassination of Mormon church founder and prophet Joseph Smith, for example, Brigham Young emerged as his successor.

For the members who remain with La Luz del Mundo, “I think what you'll see is them saying God has chosen a new leader for us, that the Holy Spirit has revealed it will be such-and-such, and they'll move on from there,” Dormady said.

But even if the church survives a conviction — perhaps by changing its structure or with a new apostle — the transition could weigh heavily on its members.

Mike Arias, an attorney who has represented victims of abuse, said that these types of cases are profoundly damaging for communities.

“When all the priest abuse cases were coming out, you had people question not necessarily their faith in the church but those who were leading the church, and how this could happen,” he said. “I don't know whether these people will question whether this is really an apostle of God.”

For now, that doesn't seem to be the case. Tatum, the parishioner, said he took personal offense when California's attorney general called the apostle “sick” and “demented” this month in a news conference, during which he asked potential victims to come forward.

“Naason Joaquin is a representation of the mercy and greatness that God brought to the Earth,” Tatum said. “He's a living example of Jesus Christ.”

He compared the allegations against the apostle to persecution that Christ's apostles faced in biblical times.

“You have an individual who is respected by millions and millions of people,” he said. “Someone who has that much influence around the world, without a doubt, sooner or later, allegations will come out.”



Sudan protests: Children killed and sexually assaulted in violent clashes, say rights groups

Reports come as military and opposition agree to resume talks

by Corazon Miller

At least 19 children are among the dozens killed in this month's violent crackdown on civilian protesters in Sudan's capital, the U.N. said, in acts of violence condemned by rights groups as 'barbaric".

Meanwhile, the military and opposition groups agreed to restart talks, as strikes were called off.

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Despite a telecommunications blackout in much of the country, there have been reports of excessive violence against protesters at the hands of security forces, including the detention and sexual abuse of children.

Unicef's executive director Henrietta Fore said in a statement she was “gravely concerned” at the impact of the ongoing violence on the Sudanese children.

She said since June 3 at least 19 children had been reportedly killed and another 49 injured, with many more still in danger amidst the violent clashes.

“We have received information that children are being detained, recruited to join the fighting and sexually abused.

“Schools, hospitals and health centres have been targeted, looted and destroyed. Health workers have been attacked simply for doing their job.”

She said parents were fearful of letting their children out of the house, and water, food and medicine shortages were putting children's health and wellbeing at risk.

The latest unrest escalated when a raid on protesters sitting outside Khartoum's Defence Ministry saw dozens killed and hundreds injured.

Witnesses have described seeing government paramilitaries, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), take the lead in the violent dispersal of the civilians.

Opposition activists have also told The Independent that the RSF has been hiding bodies of protesters dumped in the Nile and has raped "dozens" of female doctors.

The latest clash has dealt a big setback to hopes of a transition towards democratic elections following the overthrow of veteran leader Omar al-Bashir earlier in April.

“Children throughout Sudan are already bearing the brunt of decades of conflict, chronic underdevelopment and poor governance. The current violence is making a critical situation even work

According to the opposition-linked Central Committee of Sudan Doctors (CCSD) at least 188 have been killed since June 3, many of whom were shot or severely beaten to death by members of the RSF militia.

The government confirmed 61 deaths.

Amnesty International secretary general Kumi Naidoo said what had been witnessed in the days since the violent crack-down was “horrific and barbaric”.

“The senseless killing of protesters must be stopped immediately, and those responsible for the bloodbath, including at command level, must be held fully accountable for their dreadful actions.”

In a statement on Twitter British ambassador in Sudan, Irfan Siddiq, said a political agreement was needed to put an end to the violence.

“If there weren't strong enough arguments for ending the violence in Sudan, the killing of 19 children in the last nine days should make all those responsible for the ongoing violence think long and hard about their actions.”

On Tuesday, an Ethiopian envoy said Sudan's military and opposition groups agreed to resume talks on the formation of a transitional council, as an opposition alliance said it was suspending its campaign of civil disobedience and strikes.

Sudan's Transitional Military Council also agreed to release political prisoners as a confidence-building measure, special envoy Mahmoud Dirir told reporters in Khartoum.

The military council has been bolstered by support from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs said on Tuesday his country was in contact with both sides and was seeking "a smooth organised political transition".

The steps appeared to show a softening of positions after talks between the two sides collapsed following the violent dispersal of the protest sit-in on June 3.

Stability in the nation of 40 million is crucial for a volatile region struggling with conflict and insurgencies from the Horn of Africa to Egypt and Libya.


Cathoilc Church

Challenges to seal of confession attributed to clergy sex abuse scandals

by Chaz's Muth

WASHINGTON, D.C. - For centuries, the Catholic Church has maintained that what a penitent says to a priest in the confessional is strictly confidential, but in 2019 that rite continues to be challenged by governments.

Church scholars assert the concept of the seal of confession was given to the apostles by Jesus, eventually morphing into the sacrament of penance, providing the faithful with an opportunity to confess their sins and to be reconciled with God.

The soul-cleansing, sacred practice is private, confidential and repeatable.

Governmental leaders have challenged the priest-penitent privilege of the seal of confession since at least the 14th century, prompting priests to sacrifice their freedom and sometimes their lives protecting that confidentiality.

In the wake of renewed attention on the clergy child sexual abuse scandals, 21st-century lawmakers in Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Chile, and the U.S. have introduced measures that would compel priests to report to civil authorities information related to child abuse and neglect learned in the confessional.

“There are many reasons why we are seeing challenges to the seal of confession today,” said Father Ronald T. Kunkel, theology professor at Mundelein Seminary at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Illinois, near Chicago.

The Church has suffered “self-inflicted wounds” to its reputation and credibility from the clergy sex abuse crisis, making the seal of confession vulnerable to governmental intrusion, Kunkel told Catholic News Service in an April interview.

“There have been terrible sins and crimes that have been committed, including by members of the hierarchy,” he said. “But, I think in many cases this is being used as an excuse in order to further marginalize the Church in our society today.”

That reaction has been echoed by countless theologians, canon lawyers, priests and penitents throughout the U.S., particularly in California, where a bill is making its way through the state legislature that attempts to amend its mandatory reporting laws to require priests to provide civil authorities with information about child abuse or neglect confessed by priests or co-workers during the sacrament of penance.

Critics of that legislation, S.B. 360, call it governmental overreach that clearly violates religious freedoms enjoyed in the U.S., as well as its tradition of separation of church and state. Some also fear that authorities could send someone in to confess to abuse in order to prosecute the priest for failing to report it.

Supporters of the California bill say it closes a loophole in a law that provides cover for pedophile priests - and other criminals - who receive absolution from the sin of child sexual abuse without being held accountable by society. They believe it emboldens such penitents to continue to victimize others.

Laws making it an offense for a priest's failure to report the confessions of child sex abuse have already been passed in three Australian states and similar acts are being considered in Chile.

“I think it's worth noting that the mandatory reporting statutes, the clergy-penitent privilege, and the seal of confession, these three doctrines if you will, are all in tension with each other,” said Mary Graw Leary, a professor of law at The Catholic University of America in Washington and a former prosecutor specializing in the abuse and exploitation of children and women. “They all serve very positive social goods. But, these kinds of circumstances bring them in tension with each other and it's a very difficult problem to solve.”

Pope Francis's new universal Catholic law Vos estis lux mundi (“You are the light of the world”) - released in early May - says that every priest or member of a religious order who knows of a case of clerical sexual abuse of a minor or who has good reason to believe that such abuse took place must report that abuse to the bishop of the place where the abuse occurred; if the accused abuser is a bishop, the report must be made to the metropolitan archbishop or the Vatican nuncio.

Bishop Juan Ignacio Arrieta, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, told CNS that the Catholic Church also obliges all of its members to act in accordance with local civil law on mandatory reporting.

The seal of confession, however, remains inviolable and is not affected by the new norms.

The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse issued a report in 2017 recommending the Catholic Church change the Code of Canon Law to allow priests to break the seal of confession when a penitent confesses to the sexual abuse of minors.

That recommendation also has been championed by Father James E. Connell of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, a canon lawyer, who says protecting the innocent should be the Church's first priority.

However, Connell seems to be in the minority of Catholic clergy and canon lawyers advocating for such a change in church law.

“There is no indication the Church will change canon law regarding the seal of confession” and it shouldn't, said Dominican Father Pius Pietrzyk, a canon and civil lawyer who teaches at St. Patrick's Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California.

In the sacrament of reconciliation, the penitent is communicating with God himself and the priest is simply acting as an intermediary, Pietrzyk told CNS in a May interview.

“The priest may never act as if that information is his,” he said. “It is a terrible affront to God and it's a terrible affront to the dignity of the penitent.”

There is no evidence that laws requiring priests to report child sexual abuse heard in the confessional will actually protect children, said Msgr. Stephen J. Rossetti, a psychologist and expert on the spiritual and psychological health of priests, who is a theology professor at The Catholic University of America.

It would be rare occurrence for a pedophile to confess the sin of child sexual abuse, Rossetti told CNS in an April interview.

“They are in such denial that what they are doing is child abuse, they just don't confess that,” he said. “I have never heard it in the confessional. I never will. None of the priests I know have heard it.”

Furthermore, if Catholics believe there is even a remote possibility that a priest will be obligated to report to authorities what they say during penance, they will lose faith in the sacrament of reconciliation and will be unlikely to incriminate themselves, said Auxiliary Bishop Peter L. Smith of Portland, Oregon, who also is a canon lawyer.

Because the Code of Canon Law states the penalty for a priest who violates the seal of confession is automatic excommunication - which can only be lifted by the pope himself - most members of the clergy would go to jail rather than comply with these laws, said Father Thomas V. Berg, professor of moral theology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

There are currently seven U.S. states that have laws requiring priests to report criminal information gained in the confessional, which are New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

There are no reports that priests in those states have reported to civil authorities information learned in the confessional and to date no members of the clergy have been charged with failing to do so.

It's unclear if these statutes would survive a legal battle in the U.S. courts or be ruled unconstitutional, Graw Leary said.

It's also uncertain if these laws will have any impact on the safety of children, she said.

“Right now, with the statutes on the books, it may have no effect whatsoever because it may just not become a factual circumstance that will arise,” Graw Leary said. “However, if a priest were to be forced to disclose (information gained in the confessional) or were to be legally punished for failing to comply with the mandatory reporting statue, that could produce some kind of precedence.


Southern Baptist Church

Southern Baptist Convention wrestling with sex abuse crisis of its own

by Brian Friga

Southern Baptist Convention wrestling with sex abuse crisis of its own

Southern Baptist pastors gather June 9, 2019, in Birmingham, Ala., during a conference ahead of the denomination's June 11-12 annual meeting, which drew more than 8,000 delegates. The Southern Baptist Convention has been rocked by recent media reports that revealed pastors, church employees and volunteers sexually abused more than 700 people, mostly children, over the last two decades. (Credit: CNS photo/Matt Miller, courtesy Baptist Press.)

As the U.S. Catholic bishops met in Baltimore to discuss new mechanisms to hold themselves accountable on sex abuse, the Southern Baptist Convention was wrestling with the same vexing issue at its annual meeting June 11-12 in Birmingham, Alabama.

Rocked by media reports that revealed Southern Baptist pastors, church employees and volunteers sexually abused more than 700 people, most of them children, over the past two decades, the nation's largest Protestant denomination took new steps to expel member churches that cover up or mishandle sexual abuse allegations.

“This was a defining moment for the Southern Baptist Convention,” said the Rev. J.D. Greear, the pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, who serves as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Greear told reporters that the Southern Baptist Convention wants to ensure that its member churches are safe environments for children and vulnerable people, and that the convention will consider “all solutions” that could include advocating for legislation to amend statute of limitations on sex abuse crimes.

“We are going to be people who are marked by awareness, transparency, a willingness to own mistakes that are made and a desire to treat each other charitably,” said Greear, who last year formed an advisory group to draft recommendations on how to confront the sex abuse issue.

Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the moral and public policy entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, said during a news conference that having member churches report sexual abuse complaints “right away” to civil authorities is “a major part” of the convention's new Caring Well education curriculum to prevent sex abuse and care for survivors.

“That's a key piece of this moving forward,” Moore said, adding that he and other Southern Baptist leaders also have been keeping a close eye on the recent developments regarding accountability measures for Catholic bishops in the United States and around the world.

“It's in everybody's interests for the Catholic bishops to get this right, not only that, but for the Catholic Church globally to get this right,” said Moore, who noted that he has seen a growing awareness in evangelical circles that clergy sex abuse is not just a “Catholic problem.”

“I do not find that attitude among evangelicals right now and I think that's a welcome development to see,” Moore said. “There is no section of religious life, of secular life, that's invulnerable to predation. … We ought to be hoping the Catholic Church will act in a just way on these things.”

During their June 11-13 spring assembly in Baltimore, the U.S. Catholic bishops voted to implement an independent third-party system that will allow people to make confidential reports of abuse complaints against bishops. The system, which would include a toll-free number and an online component, is supposed to be in place no later than May 31, 2020.

Among other actions, the bishops approved a plan to implement Pope Francis's norms issued May 9 to help the Church safeguard its members from abuse and hold its leaders accountable. They also approved a document including a promise to hold themselves accountable to the commitments of their “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” including a zero-tolerance policy for abuse.

Meanwhile, the delegates who attended the Southern Baptist church's annual meeting approved an amendment to the convention's constitution to allow their churches to be disaffiliated if they cover up or mishandle sexual abuse.

In February, an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News uncovered the scope of the Baptist sex abuse crisis. The newspapers published a database of more than 200 Southern Baptist pastors, church leaders, employees and volunteers who pleaded guilty or were convicted of sex crimes.

The series, “Abuse of Faith,” sparked a national outcry and prompted more than 350 readers to contact the newspapers to offer tips or share their own stories of abuse. The scandal has undermined some trust and confidence in church leaders. A recent report from the Southern Baptists' research organization indicates that about one in three church members believe there are more revelations of clergy sex abuse to come.

Against that backdrop, the Southern Baptist delegates, representing around 47,000 member churches, who attended the annual meeting in Alabama voted to establish a special committee to evaluate allegations of wrongdoing and to recommend action against member churches.

However, the amendment will not go into effect right away. Per the Southern Baptist Convention's constitution, the amendment will require a second two-thirds vote at next year's annual meeting, which is scheduled to be in Orlando, Florida.

“So now we have a clock ticking, and nothing is happening in terms of consequences for churches mishandling abuse in the next year,” said Cheryl Summers, a resident of St. Louis, who helped lead a protest rally outside the Southern Baptist annual meeting.

Summers, who said she left her Southern Baptist church four years ago amid concerns over how the convention handled issues of domestic and sexual abuse, told Catholic News Service that she was disappointed that church leaders did not take “dramatic, decisive action.”

“We will be in a holding pattern for at least another year,” Summers said.

Unlike their Catholic parish counterparts, local Southern Baptist churches are independent and ordain their own clergy. Compared to the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention is more akin to a loose federation of member churches and has little authority to discipline and instill uniform policies in the way that a Catholic bishop can do in his diocese.

“There is no line of authority from the Southern Baptist Convention's headquarters in Nashville (Tennessee) down to the local church,” said Summers, who also was part of the “For Such a Time as This” protest rally outside the 2018 Southern Baptist annual meeting in Dallas.

Summers said the protesters were demanding that the convention establish a database to document and track credibly accused and convicted sex abusers, as well as requiring that member clergy, church employees and volunteers undergo training on addressing sexual abuse claims. She said the Caring Well curriculum is “a positive step forward.”

Summers and the other protesters also said they believed that the Southern Baptist Convention's “low view of women” - the idea that the Bible places men in a position of authority over women - empowers abusers. Southern Baptist leaders countered that they take the dignity and safety of women seriously.

During the annual meeting, abuse survivor Stephanie Davis received a standing ovation onstage after a video presentation in which she recounted being sexually abused by a music minister when she was a teenager.

In the video, David urged her fellow Southern Baptists to stand with victims and hold sex abusers accountable. “We have to get this right,” she said.


Southern Baptist Church

SBC Sexual Abuse Survivors Protest During National Meeting

by Alison Lesley

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held its annual national meeting on Tuesday to speak about a tough topic amongst others. The main issue discussed; sex abuse by clergy and staff.

Current and former Southern Baptists, along with survivors and advocates from other denominations will be gathered at the rally called For Such a Time as This. The rally was held outside the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center on Tuesday evening. Protestors demanded that all pastors, volunteers, and staff attended mandatory sex-abuse prevention training and to start a clergy sex offender database. In addition, they want the denomination, which only allows male pastors to respect women.

The group displayed a large foam-board “millstone” that references Jesus's warnings about those who harm children. In Scripture, Jesus says child abusers should have a “large millstone hung around their neck” and drown in the ocean.

The imagery was used because it's harsh so that it sends a message to the Southern Baptists that the issue of sexual abuse is critical. Rev. Ashley Easter said, “Jesus uses strong words for those who harm children, and we believe the SBC needs a reminder of Jesus' strong words.”

The past year has had the Southern Baptist Convention dealing with the Me Too movement which has served to overthrow prominent leaders in the denomination as well as encourage a plethora of women to speak up and demand change. The previous year saw delegates pass resolutions denouncing all forms of abuse, “sexual purity” among pastors and affirming women's dignity.

Sex abuse was a high priority issue at the 2018 national meeting in Dallas an advisory group was formed by the then-newly elected SBC President Rev. J.D. Greear to come up with recommendations on how to face the problem



Cardinal George Pell: Prosecutors defend 'unimpeachable' verdict

Australian prosecutors have argued that Cardinal George Pell's conviction for child sexual abuse is "unimpeachable", on the final day of his appeal hearing.

The ex-Vatican treasurer was found guilty by a jury last year of abusing two boys in 1996 in a Melbourne church. He was later jailed for six years.

Pell, 77, is the most senior Catholic figure to be convicted of such crimes.

But he maintains his innocence and is seeking to overturn the jury's verdict, arguing it was "unreasonable".

The two-day hearing at Victoria's Court of Appeal ended on Thursday and the three judges reserved their decision, which will be published at an unspecified date.

The former Vatican treasurer was returned to prison to await the outcome.

What happened on Thursday?

Pell's lawyers detailed several arguments for why the abuse could not have occurred, but prosecutors have rejected those claims.

"When looking at the whole of the evidence, the integrity of the jury's verdicts is unimpeachable," they said in submissions to the appeal court.

His conviction has rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been among Pope Francis's closest advisers.

What was Pell convicted of?

Last year, the County Court of Victoria heard that Pell had abused two 13-year-old boys following a mass in 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne. He abused one of the boys again in 1997, the court was told.

A jury unanimously convicted him on one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.

The trial heard testimony from one of the victims. The other died of a drug overdose in 2014.

Pell chose not to give evidence during the trial.

What is the appeal?

Pell has contested the verdict on three grounds. The first - and most debated - asserts that the jury was "unreasonable" in their verdict, because they relied too heavily on the testimony of the surviving victim.

Pell's lawyer, Bret Walker SC, said that other witnesses' evidence and an alleged timeline showed that it would be "literally, logically impossible for the offending to have occurred".

The second aspect of the appeal asserts that the trial judge had wrongly prevented a defence animation from being played at the trial.

The video represents the locations of witnesses inside St Patrick's Cathedral. Pell's lawyers argue that he could not have committed abuse because it was impossible for him to be alone.

The third challenge contends that Pell was prevented from entering his plea before a jury - against court process.

Prosecutors rebutted each of those claims on Thursday.

They described the testimony of the surviving victim - who cannot be named - as "compelling", adding that he was a "witness of truth".

The appeal has been heard by three judges in the Court of Appeal - a division of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

The judges must also decide whether Pell can be granted leave to appeal at all - in other words, whether he is allowed to do so.

A successful appeal could result in a retrial or Pell being immediately released, legal experts say. That decision requires only two of the three judges to agree.

Any decision could be challenged further in the High Court of Australia - the nation's top court.

The Vatican has previously said that Pell has the right to "defend himself to the last degree". Pell's surviving victim has previously expressed concern that the verdict could be overturned.

"There is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal," he said in March.



Turkish diplomat describes physical and sexual abuse in detainment, Ankara dismisses as “baseless”

by Hollie McKay

A growing chorus of international bodies and human rights activists are calling on authorities to investigate allegations of sexual, physical and psychological torture of Turkish diplomats while in custody.

“On May 20, four plain-clothed police officers came to my home in order to detain me. No one at the police station mentioned what the accusation was against me, I was just told it was about FETO,” one Turkish diplomat, who requested not to be named for fear of retaliation against family members, told Fox News. “Later, I was taken by three officers and was put on a police coach to be transferred to Ankara, the capital. I was told there were so many accusations against me, only maybe would I see my child's wedding.”

Turkish state media reported that detention warrants have been issued for 249 foreign ministry personnel suspected of “tampering with the personnel recruitment exam to unfairly recruit and promote” members aligned with the Gulen movement, which Ankara characterizes as a terrorist organization (FETO).

It was determined, according to reports, that “some of the suspects had answered the essay sections in the exam in 2010 with the exact sentences” and that suspects were using the “same expressions” and displayed advanced knowledge of a foreign language in some parts and a primary school knowledge in others.


The diplomat alleged to Fox News that he was suddenly and strangely accused of cheating in ministry exams, along with the terrorism charges. He said that the exam papers, however, have been destroyed – making it impossible to self-acquit. But the mental preparation for the prison was only the beginning of the torment, the ousted official continued.

“After one midnight, police officers took me and my colleagues from the cell. Dragging us by our arms, we entered a dark corridor. We were handcuffed behind our backs and blindfolded with pieces of fabric. They covered our faces with a plastic bag so we couldn't see their faces,” he alleged. He claims they then proceeded to sexually assault them using truncheons, "all the while, they threatened and insulted us to force us into 'confessing'."

The diplomat-turned-detainee vowed that if they refused to make such an admission, they were threatened with rape.

“It was traumatic not only for me; but for my family. We are still under threat,” he lamented. “Some of those tortured are on the verge of losing their mental health. Some of those who have been conditionally released are under strict surveillance by the police and intelligence.”

Late last month, four other Turkish foreign ministry staff claimed that they too were arbitrarily detained and mistreated, according to the Ankara Lawyers' Bar Association.

A report released by the Association – with investigations jointly conducted by the Penal Institutions Board and the Human Rights Center on allegations of torture in the Financial Crimes Investigation Bureau of the Ankara Provincial Security Directorate and made public on May 26 – highlighted that five of the six detainees interviewed made accusations of torture, also involving such methods as “kneeling, crawled for a while, head hit” and their anal areas burned.

Furthermore this week, the Stockholm Center for Freedom and the International Association for Human Rights Advocacy in Geneva, in conjunction with Advocates of Silenced Turkey and Journalists and Writers Foundation, also called on the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) as well as the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court, to initiate an inquiry into Turkey as the organizations “are convinced there is reliable information containing well-founded indications of serious and systematic violations.”

Amnesty International too has corroborated reports, according to the Sunday Times, and called for the Turkish government to open an independent investigation.


Yet in a statement issued to Fox News, the Ankara Police Department staunchly denied the claims of abuse or maltreatment, insisting that “all procedures within the scope of the said investigation are carried out in accordance with the law.”

“Persons are able to consult their lawyers. There were 545 meetings between the suspects and 130 lawyers. There are official records of all meetings between the suspects and their lawyers. Furthermore, medical reports are issued for these persons every 24 hours. None of these reports suggest a deterioration of their health,” the statement read. “Sharings on social media made by FETO's social media accounts are, like the ones made before, a result of the uneasiness caused by the targeted operations against it. They are deliberate attempts of the terrorist organization to prevent its members from resorting to repentance and to stop disintegration (of the organization). These baseless allegations should be disregarded.”

Despite the mounting anecdotes of torture, Turkey – which long ago ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) – has mandated that it has a “zero tolerance” policy toward torture, an approach enforced since Erdogan took office in 2003.

“Turkey firmly upholds the principle of the rule of law,” a Foreign Ministry representative told Fox News. “Arrest and detention procedures are being conducted in accordance with the national legislation that is compatible with international human rights standards. Allegations that question our commitment to eliminate all acts of torture or inhuman treatment are groundless.”

Yet Oguzhan Albayak, a Turkish career diplomat who was dismissed from his post in Baku-Azerbaijan and later the Ministry – accused of Gulen membership – and has since started a non-profit Human Rights Defenders in Germany, contended that his former colleagues in recent weeks endured everything from sexual harassment, forced to undress, and threats of rape, to harsh baton beatings, reverse handcuffing and were knocked unconscious.

“They are accused of trying to infiltrate the State apparat on behalf of the ‘Gulen Movement,' which is accused of being behind the failed coup,” Albayak said. “But the timing is very curious.”

Some critics question whether deeper politics are at play.

“The detention and torture of former Turkish diplomats came almost three years after their purge in the wake of Turkey's failed coup attempt, but only a week before their former boss Ahmet Davutoglu's high-profile public event in Diyarbakir, where he had been expected to announce the launching of a new political party,” noted Aykan Erdemir, a former member of Turkish parliament and now Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The timing of detentions and the brutal treatment of purged diplomats indicate that the government's crackdown has less to do with irregularities in Turkey's foreign service recruitment process, and more to do with intimidating Davutoglu to discourage him from establishing a splinter party that could ultimately undermine Erdogan.”

Since a failed coup effort – which claimed the lives of 251 people – to overthrow the Erdogan government almost three years ago, Ankara has cracked down on any dissidence and those suspected of supporting the U.S.-based, exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has denied any involvement. Hundreds of thousands have lost their jobs in the military and civil service, and many have been issued long prison sentences.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2018 documented numerous cases of “torture and ill-treatment in police custody,” underscoring that there were “widespread reports of police beating detainees, subjecting them to prolonged stress positions and threats of rape, threats to lawyers, and interference with medical examinations.”

The 2019 report echoed that “continued allegations of torture, ill-treatment, and cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment in police custody and prison and the lack of any meaningful investigation into them remained a deep concern.”

This week the Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) published an open letter to the Turkish leadership, writing “with a sense of urgency” that Ankara “immediately take all necessary measures to ensure the safety and physical integrity of those still detained and to provide them with immediate independent medical care.”

The letter not only references the Ankara Bar Association findings, but of claims that between May 18 and May 21 at least 51 people, including three children, were detained in Halfeti during police raids between soldiers and the Kurdish separatist group PKK and were “pushed to the floor, handcuffed behind their backs, kicked, punched and hit in the butt with weapons” by officers.

But Ankara remains resolute.

“Turkey is party to the relevant UN and Council of Europe treaties that combat all forms of torture and ill-treatment. In accordance with these treaties, we continue to take effective legislative, administrative, judicial and other measures,” the spokesperson added. “The statute of limitations with regard to the offense of torture was fully abolished in 2013, thus enabling more effective investigation. These baseless allegations should, therefore, be disregarded.”

The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner did not respond to a request for comment.



Noa: The Dutch teenager who died from the impact of sexual abuse and assault

by Emily

Over the weekend, horrific false news about a teenage girl being "euthanised" due to mental illness was reported all around the world. The truth was almost as uncomfortable: a teenage girl dying by suicide from the impact of sexual abuse and assault. Emily Writes discusses the conversation we must have.

Content warning: This post discusses child sexual abuse. If you need to speak to somebody now, you can call Safe To Talk on 0800 044 334 for free, confidential support.

The stories everywhere were immediately click-worthy. I hate that straight away I was drawn in. Authorities had apparently granted a Dutch teenager her wish to be given assisted suicide. Legal under certain circumstances in the Netherlands, it seemed unlikely but possible. Very soon after, but probably too late by then, it was revealed that the initial stories were inaccurate. Noa Pothoven, 17, died after refusing to drink or eat.

Her death sparked a discussion about euthanasia and mental health. What is suicide? What is assisted suicide? Lost in the mix by many was what sparked her anorexia and her ultimately fatal mental illnesses.

Noa Pothoven was raped for the first time at age 11. And again by two men at age 14.

It's hard to get accurate statistics on sexual assault of children due to it being so under-reported. Any statistics we have are likely far less than the reality.

The World Health Organisation estimated in 2017 that up to one billion children aged two to 17 years-old have endured physical, emotional, or sexual violence in their short lives. Unicef estimates from 2014 revealed 120 million children were the victims of sexual violence – the highest number of victims in any age breakdown. In 2017, they reported that in 38 countries, at least 17 million adult women suffered through ongoing sexual abuse and violence during their childhood.

These children aren't just abused offline, according to data from the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF). Every seven minutes a web page shows images of children being sexually abused.

New Zealand has one of the worst records of child abuse in the developed world. According to Unicef every year Oranga Tamariki receives more than 150,000 reports of concern relating to children. On average, one child dies every five weeks as a result of violence in New Zealand. Children under the age of 18 make up 20percent of all violent deaths in New Zealand.

As many as one in three girls under 16 and one in six boys in New Zealand experience some form of sexual abuse.

Children often don't report sexual abuse directly, especially as it tends to be carried out by someone they trust – like a family member. It's important as adults that we learn how to identify and look out for signs of sexual abuse as often a child can't tell us.

It's important to remember there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to the identification of children or young people at risk. But if you have a child in your life whose behaviour has suddenly changed – maybe they've stopped sleeping, eating, or they're bed-wetting – or they seem to know more about sex than a child their age should, and they seem depressed or withdrawn or feel unwell (without signs of physical illness), start a conversation. If they're hurting themselves or others, or thinking about doing this, you can get assistance from Oranga Tamariki. Here are some other signs of possible abuse.

If you believe a child is in immediate danger, call the police on 111. If you're worried about a child and want to make a referral or report of concern, call Oranga Tamariki on freephone 0508 326 459.

There are also many sexual violence specialist support agencies across the country that you can contact if you or a child is in crisis, or even just to talk things through if you are unsure or concerned about someone you know. The new 24/7 national sexual violence helpline, Safe to Talk, is also a good place to seek help.

But that's after the fact. What can be done to prevent child sexual abuse? The Rape Prevention Education Trust has tips that might be helpful.

Actively be a role model to the children around you – don't make jokes about rape or sexual assault and intervene when you hear those comments being made. Children will look to you as an adult to see what is right and wrong. If they see you laughing about rape or assault, you're basically telling them they're not safe to talk to you. Learn more about being an active bystander here.

Don't deny the problem. There are so many myths surrounding sexual violence. People can't seem to help but deny the size of the issue – to confront it is to own it, and to feel compelled to do something about it. Being honest about it is an important first step. To stop child sex abuse we have to know about how big the problem is, where it's happening, and how we can stop it. Educate yourself and learn about consent, rape culture and sexual violence.

Model active consent in everything you do. Who gives a crap if your great aunt has a nervous breakdown over you not forcing your child to kiss her?! Ensuring your child knows they don't have to kiss or be kissed, touch or be touched – when they don't want to – is crucial when it comes to learning about consent. Teach your child about boundaries. As RPE says: Respecting boundaries helps people to feel safe and reinforces that people have the first and last say over what happens to their bodies.

Helping your child understand "My body my choice" or "My body my rules" and "No means no!" will help not just them, but other children around them. Just like water or road safety, you can teach your child about body safety. Listen to children when they say no and respect their no. Teach them the correct names for their genitals. Talk about OK and Not OK Touching. Teach your children some parts of their body are private. Talk about secrets – secrets can be happy, like a surprise party, or they can be yucky or bad. Make sure they know that they must tell you if a secret feels bad or yucky. It is rare for a child to make abuse claims, so take them seriously. TOAH-NNEST is a fantastic place to find resources about doing this.

Talk to your child's kindergarten or school and ask them what programmes they have in place to support children around sexual violence. Do they have consent programmes? Do they provide language to children to talk about their bodies or what's happening at home? Do they have a staff member who the children know is "safe" to speak to?

Finally, be prepared to step up for kids. Watch all children like they're your children. Be interested and involved in the lives of children who are in your life. Be prepared to do something to keep a child safe. People who sexually abuse children are likely to be people we know. It's a horrible reality people have to face. Keep an eye out for red flags, as suggested by sexual abuse prevention organisation Stop it Now: does this adult or older child insist on hugging, touching, kissing, tickling, wrestling with or holding a child even when the child does not want this physical contact or attention. Do they frequently makes sexual references or tells sexual or suggestive jokes with children present? Do they expose a child to adult sexual interactions without apparent concern? Do they have secret interactions with teens or children or spend excessive time emailing, text messaging or calling children or youth?

If someone seems "too good to be true," for example, they baby sit different children for free, take children on special outings alone or buy children gifts or gives them money for no apparent reason? That could be a red flag.

If your child is showing sexualised behaviour or you're afraid they might hurt other children, you can contact WellStop. WellStop has programmes for children aged five to 12, and young people aged 13 to 18 who are showing harmful sexual behaviours.

Surviving sexual assault takes everything, and sometimes even everything isn't enough. We need to talk about Noa Pothoven's life, not just her death. Sexual abuse took her life. We must do everything we can to save the lives of other children.

Where to get help dealing with sexual violence

Safe to Talk sexual harm helpline – 0800 044 334 or text 4334. Open 24/7


US Catholic Church

Bishops OK anti-abuse steps, but skeptics seek tougher moves


BALTIMORE (AP) — Under intense public pressure, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops approved new steps this week to deal more strongly with the clergy sex-abuse crisis. But activists and others say the moves leave the bishops in charge of policing themselves and potentially keep law enforcement at arm's length.

As their national meeting in Baltimore concluded Thursday, leaders of the U.S. bishops conference stopped short of mandating that lay experts such as lawyers and criminal justice professionals take part in investigating clergy accused of child molestation or other misconduct. They also did not specify a procedure for informing police of abuse allegations that come in over a newly proposed hotline.

"Even the bishops themselves recognize they have lost their credibility in monitoring this dreadful crisis," said Thomas Groome, a professor at Boston College's School of Theology. "Without strong oversight by competent lay people, it won't be seen as credible."

Groome said the bishops should have no hesitation in declaring that credible allegations should be reported to police.

"They're not dealing simply with a sin, they're dealing with a crime," he said. "They do not have the power to forgive crimes."

The Baltimore meeting followed a string of abuse-related developments that have presented the bishops and the 76-million-member U.S. church with unprecedented challenges. Many dioceses around the country have been targeted by prosecutors demanding secret files, and a number of high-ranking church officials have become entangled in cases of alleged abuse or cover-ups.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, the crisis has led about one-quarter of U.S. Catholics to reduce their attendance at Mass and their donations to the church. Even some bishops sense that many Catholics are distancing themselves from the church because of the furor.

"One of the terrible costs of the scandal is costing people their faith," said Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey. "So I think it's entirely right that we give priority to this."

Of the anti-abuse measures approved by the bishops during three days of deliberations, the most tangible was the planned creation of a national hotline — to be operated by a yet-to-be-chosen independent entity — to field allegations of abuse and cover-ups by bishops.

The allegations would be forwarded to a regional supervisory bishop, who would have the task of reporting to law enforcement and the Vatican and deciding if lay experts should investigate the complaint.

Another measure specifies that the bishops will now be governed by the same code of conduct that has applied to priests since 2002. It outlines a variety of procedures for combating child sexual abuse and says even a single act of abuse should lead to a priest's permanent removal from the ministry. Catholic leaders say the charter has helped greatly to reduce clergy sex abuse.

During Thursday's debate, Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, Missouri, urged that lay involvement in investigations be made mandatory, "to make darn sure we bishops do not harm the church."

The bishops did not go quite that far, instead stipulating that archbishops "should identify a qualified lay person to receive reports."

The auxiliary bishop of Detroit, Donald Hanchon, said the new measures are a step in the right direction.

"I feel like we accomplished something instead of just saying, 'We are sorry these things happened,'" he said. "People need more than that."

However, SNAP, a national advocacy group for victims of clergy abuse, expressed dismay that the bishops did not mandate lay involvement or spell out a policy for notifying law enforcement.

"Without these mandates, there is no guarantee that reports will be routed to police and investigations will be transparent and public," SNAP said. "Instead, all reports can remain secret and insulated within the church's internal systems."

SNAP also called on Catholic leaders to strengthen the network of lay review boards that help Catholic dioceses across the country investigate abuse cases. SNAP said these boards should be fully independent of diocesan control and include at least one abuse victim, as well as experts recommended by the attorney general's office in the diocese's state.

Tobin said some dioceses and archdioceses, including Newark, already have arrangements with local prosecutors that entail the reporting of any criminal activity.

"I'm confident that the idea of doing this in house is long gone," he said.

One of the highest-profile scandals of the past year involved former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, who was expelled from the priesthood for sexually abusing minors and seminarians. Last week The Associated Press reported that Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, who heads the bishops' conference and the Galveston-Houston Archdiocese, was accused by a Houston woman of mishandling her allegations of sexual and financial misconduct against his deputy.


United Kingdom

Ex-London lawyer who led global work with street kids convicted of sexual abuse

by Peter Dalglish

A former London lawyer who left the legal world more than 30 years ago to become an expert in international humanitarian work with street children, efforts that earned him the Order of Canada, has been convicted of sexually abusing kids in Nepal.

Reports out of Nepal say Peter Dalglish, the 61-year-old found of Street Kids International, was convicted Monday and could face as much as 10 years behind bars, according to Canadian Press.

Dalglish, who has worked with the United Nations on child poverty issues, was arrested at a home about 50 kilometres north of Kathmandu in April 2018. Two children aged 12 and 14 were also found in the home.

Dalglish, a graduate of California's Stanford University, has been working in Nepal for decades after being drawn to humanitarian work in 1984 during the Ethiopian famine. His journeys made him a leading expert on street kids, child labour and child soldiers — and a subject of admiration in his hometown, London.

In 2002, he became the United Nations adviser on child labour in Nepal while working for a non-government organization called NGO Terre des Hommes. He was also involved with programs to send millions of laptop computers to children in Third World countries.

In a 2007 interview with The Free Press, Dalglish, a guest speaker at a local charity event, said his message to young people was simply that “someone needs you.”

“That's a very powerful message for young people, that you are needed,” he said. “For these young people, particularly those who have dealt with adversity in their life, (aid work) is a very powerful experience.



(video on site)

Protesters gather across Japan after father escapes punishment for sexual abuse of daughter

If you or someone you know, believe that you've been sexually assaulted, raped or harassed, it's hard to know what to do. This video will take you through the next steps.

Cases of child sexual abuse are through the roof in Japan.

So too are cases of children being coerced into sending nude photographs of themselves to older men.

The numbers in both categories are staggering, but the sexualisation and exploitation of children and teens in Japan is nothing new. It's ingrained in popular culture.

In most Japanese cities, men wanting to access child pornography can find it easily. It only became a crime to possess it as recently as 2014.

But it's what's still legal that's most troubling. The BBC reported last year there are 300 cafes around the country where adult men can pay to spend time with underage girls.

“In some cafes, men can also pay for walking dates — time with the girls away from the cafe. What happens in that time is up to the girls and their clients,” the report reads.

Manga comics that feature sexualised imagery of young girls are still very much available too.

It's against this backdrop of the casual sexualisation of minors that a court in Okazaki, 178km from Kyoto, found a man not guilty of sexual assault in March despite admitting to having sex with his daughter.

“Despite recognising that the 19-year-old victim had sex with her father against her will in 2017 after having been sexually abused by him for years, the (court) acquitted the man, ruling that (his daughter) could have resisted if she had wanted,” a report in the Japan Times reads.

Consensual incest between adults is legal in Japan.

In another case in March, a court in Fukuoka acquitted a man of raping a woman after she passed out from drinking alcohol. The court found the man “misunderstood” the woman and thought she had given consent.

The cases became the catalyst for a series of protests that have since spread around the country.

Women and men have gathered in public spaces in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya holding signs reading “No Means No” and “MeToo”.

Japan's National Police Agency released a report last year highlighting a shocking rise in the number of child abuse cases.

The report revealed police investigated more than 3000 child pornography cases in 2018 — up 28.3 per cent from 2017.

Of those, 541 children were coerced into sending nude photographs of themselves to adults.

The record figures, which included hundreds of cases of child sexual abuse, led a UN panel to express concern over the “high level of violence, sexual abuse and exploitation of children” in Japan.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child asked the Shinzo Abe-led government to “prioritise the elimination of all forms of violence against children”.

Part of the problem is how deeply entrenched the sexualisation of children is. Japan tried without success to ban manga comics featuring sexually explicit cartoons of young girls, but publishers protested and got their way.

The UN's special envoy on child protection said in 2015 loopholes were allowing the problem to continue.

“When it comes to particular, extreme child pornographic content, manga should be banned,” Maud de Boer-Buquicchio said.

But manga translator Dan Kanemitsu hit back. He accused Ms de Boer-Buquicchio of “mixing reality with fiction”, The Guardian reports.

“There is no such thing as manga and anime child pornography,” he said.

“Child pornography entails the involvement of children, and we must confront it for that reason.

“Many male and female artists in Japan draw characters in an art style that looks childish to Western eyes. Therefore it is a rejection of an art style popular in Japan.”

But the groundswell against explicit content — and against the courts — suggests the culture in Japan might be changing.

Holding flowers at events around the country, women are pushing back.

Minami Ejiri, 28, was part of the Flower Demo demonstration in Nagoya this week.

She told the Japan Times the status quo was not good enough.

“Let's keep raising our voices against something irrational,” she said. “Although we are nobody, we are not alone.


Adult Survivors

‘We have to speak out … and be heard': Life after sexual abuse

After decades of denial and cover-up, adult survivors are coming forward, helped by radical new initiatives

by Yvonne Roberts

On 2 June, Noa Pothoven, 17, died at home in the Dutch city of Arnhem having refused all fluids and food. She had been sexually assaulted at the age of 11 and raped at 14, and suffered from anorexia and depression. She spoke of her “unbearable suffering” in the aftermath of the attacks – “I have not been alive for so long,” she wrote.

For survivors of childhood abuse, the potential long-term impact of their experiences is only beginning to be exposed; taboo, secrecy and shame still prevail. Yet, slowly, as inquiries are held and more cases come to court, greater numbers of adult survivors of childhood abuse are beginning to come forward. While some can cope well, for others lives and families are torn apart as the root causes remain hidden. Is society doing enough for adult survivors, who, too often, are overlooked, pathologised and criminalised?

Jimmy Savile, “eccentric and flamboyant”, garlanded with honours and awards, died in 2011 aged 84, never having paid for his crimes. A year after his death, he was revealed as a prolific and ruthless sexual predator throughout five decades. Concerns had been raised since the 1960s and suppressed. He had fame and power, so was free to abuse in plain sight.

Since then, a number of prolific offenders have appeared in court including Peter Ball, a bishop who was protected by the establishment, Barry Bennell, a football coach, and the pop singer Gary Glitter. In addition, groups of mainly Asian men, in cities including Rotherham, Nottingham and Oxford, have been given lengthy jail sentences for violently sexually exploiting vulnerable young girls, the victims treated by police and social workers as “child prostitutes”, their plight ignored.

In 2014 the government established the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) to examine how institutions, including hospitals, care homes and boarding schools, have handled their duty of care to protect children. The inquiry has launched 14 investigations and has set up the Truth Project, “I Will Be Heard”. So far, more than 3,000 survivors of abuse have related their experiences at the hands of trusted adults, family members and in institutions.

Four years ago in Leeds, Savile's birthplace, Tessa Denham, 58, a counsellor, coach and chief executive of the Women's Counselling and Therapy Service, organised a workshop. Sixty colleagues from healthcare, the police, GPs, voluntary organisations and the city council attended. “The decades of denial and cover-up were beginning to crack,” Denham says. “That made me think, as a city, ‘What should we do? What do we need to do?'

“Abuse has shaped me. It still affects my daily life,” she says. “I was abused by my grandfather and my stepfather. Yet for years I'd tell everyone that I hadn't been affected. It was only when I went for counselling in my 30s that I began to join up the dots of my own behaviour.

“I'm middle class, mouthy and I don't lack confidence. Imagine what it must be like for someone who has none of those resources. Some survivors cope, others experience addiction, unemployment, prison, chaotic, shattered families, and still the secret is kept. That's why we passionately believe it's time to make a difference.”

The difference is a potentially groundbreaking holistic city-wide project called Visible, launched in Leeds on 10 June after two years of plannning. The aim is to proactively support adult survivors and open up a national conversation about the extent of need and why long-term government funding is essential.

The ambition is that projects like Visible are replicated across the country.

“It was as if we all gave a collective sigh of relief,” says Sinéad Cregan, Leeds adult services commissioner and chair of Visible. “Phew! At last we're going to try and do something. More and more people at inquiries are talking for the first time. Yet, across the country, the response has not been good enough.”

What will Visible do in practice? Survivors say that many professionals don't recognise trauma, and they don't ask the right questions because they don't know how to handle the response. Visible hopes to conduct research into what works best, increase public understanding, and train a range of professionals including police, magistrates, employers, commissioners, GPs, teachers and social workers to ask the right questions so that a range of appropriate help is offered. “We want to act as a catalyst.” Denham says. “When money is tight, there are no quick fixes but the door has begun to open.”

“Phil”, 52, is on Visible's steering group. He waited 40 years before disclosing that as a boy he was abused by two men who threatened to harm his family if he told anyone. “It was when my son was the same age that I told my wife. I had a breakdown. I was worried the same thing would happen to him. I'd text him all the time.

“I waited 12 months before I got into the mental health system. I've self-harmed, I've tried to take my own life. I was interviewed by the police about Jimmy Savile because I worked with him as a hospital porter – and that's when it got worse. I see the devil with the abusers' face. I hear voices. In an ideal world, I'd like for people to speak out and be heard.”

In May, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse published a report that drew on a survey of 365 survivors. Long-term consequences of abuse may include physical ailments, changes in brain function and development, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and dissociative disorder, an involuntary flight from reality that may include significant memory loss, depression and suicidal thoughts.

In the survey, 90% said their intimate relationships were negatively affected, 89% said their mental health was negatively affected, 72% said that it had damaged their career, and 46% said it had a detrimental effect on their financial situation (because they often had to pay for therapeutic help they couldn't access otherwise). Only 16% said the NHS mental health services met their need. “I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the mental health system,” was one response.

“The spectre hanging over them infiltrates every aspect of life,” Sarah Champion, Labour MP and chair of the APPG said in the Commons. “A trigger can be anything – the same aftershave that their abuser was wearing or a feeling of being in an enclosed space. Unless we recognise that these people are victims of crime, they will not be able to lead their full lives and reach the potential that we all deserve to achieve.”

“Deflection, denial and disbelief” has too often greeted those who speak out about abuse. Yet its scale is clear. The number of recorded sexual offences against children under 16 in England and Wales more than doubled in the four years to 2017 from 24,085 to 53,496.

A 2015 survey of 400 adult survivors indicated that the abuse had begun, on average, at the age of seven and continued for long periods; 90% hadn't seen their abuser brought to justice. The average wait before survivors tried to access services had been 20 years, and not even then had individuals disclosed abuse. For one in five who disclosed at the time, the abuse continued on average for a further six years.

Last year NHS England announced improved provision for victims of sexual abuse. The five-year strategy has an investment of £4m a year until 2020-21. “It's welcome but it's a drop in the ocean,” says Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust, which represents 130 organisations. “In real terms, funding has dropped significantly in the last 10 years.”

She is also concerned that the specialist trauma-trained organisations in the voluntary sector, which survivors frequently say they prefer to statutory services, won't benefit from the funding controlled by GPs' clinical commissioning groups. “The CCGs often have a lack of understanding of what survivors need.”

“Adult survivors don't always present as the perfect victim,” explains Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac). “We all need to understand better that the question isn't, ‘what's wrong with you?' but ‘what happened to you?'”

Shaneen Mooney, 34, a housing officer, who runs her own essential oils company, Essential Flow, waited 16 years before disclosing. At the age of 14 she was groomed by a man in his 30s. “I thought it was romantic love. He ended the affair when I was 16. For years I didn't value myself. I drank, I took drugs, I was unfaithful. I had a breakdown and dropped out of university and gradually began to realise that what had happened to me wasn't right. It was rape.

“In 2014 I was given free counselling by a rape support charity. That's no longer available. Then I waited a year for NHS counselling, which was hard. Gradually, I realised that the silence, keeping all the stuff inside me, was more damaging.”

Now happily married, Mooney says counselling has been invaluable. “I'm in a much better place. Victims don't have to carry shame and believe there's something wrong with them. Healing and wellbeing are possible. That's why I share my truth in the hope that it will encourage others to break the taboo, speak out and get help. Life can change.”

In 2018, Napac, received 6,458 calls on its helpline but there were another 87,619 calls that couldn't be taken because of lack of resources.

In Leeds, will Visible unleash a demand that similarly can't be met? According to the IICSA, some 2 million people, are adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and 15% of girls and 5% of boys are predicted to experience sexual abuse before the age of 16. In Leeds those figures would translate to 50,000 adult survivors and more than 15,000 children and young people.

Visible was launched with a grant of £100,000 from Lloyds Bank Foundation. It has applied for further grants. Leeds city council faces a £100m funding gap by 2022. Will hopes be raised but not met?

“Health commissioners and government have to stump up the money,” Richard Barber of Leeds Survivor-Led Crisis Service says unequivocally. “Society has got its head stuck in the sand about the scale of child sexual abuse. As a result, survivors get demonised and traumatised over and over again.”

“Everybody knows somebody who is directly or indirectly affected,” points out Sharon Prince, consultant psychologist with Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a part of Visible. “We have to change the response. That can range from family and friends listening and validating to more formal interventions. The first steps are for people to trust enough so they can disclose and be believed.”

Visible promotes “trauma-informed” support for survivors. It is based on building trust, collaboration and a survivor exercising choice. “It's all about the quality of the relationship,” Prince says.

While funds for survivors are woefully inadequate, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has spent an extraordinary £96m since 2014. It has recommended that support for adult survivors requires “urgent” attention. Money is promised in the forthcoming spending review. In addition, the parliamentary group wants the Home Office to commission research into the hidden economic and social cost of child sexual abuse, collect data on what is spent on therapeutic care, and research what support works best.

Dr Carol-Ann Hooper, Visible's evaluator, says: “In the US, the term ‘parallel justice' has been coined to argue for reparation for victims to take its place alongside the prosecution of offenders to enable survivors to heal and rebuild their lives. There is also a significant income-based justice gap. Those who can afford to pay for therapeutic help have options, those who can't, may have none.”

“Helena”, 60, a former teacher, pays for trauma therapy. “Otherwise I'd have to wait several months and I can't.” As a child, she and her friend, Janet, played in the street. A teenage girl invited them into her home. “We'd dress up in her clothes and stilettos,” Helena says. Play turned to abuse and both children had a bottle inserted in their vaginas. “I felt I'd done wrong. I did tell my parents three years later. They said, ‘We can't do owt. It's water under the bridge. The abuse made me wary of young women, mistrust everybody. I still find it very difficult to hug people. I became anorexic. I wanted to be unseen. Occasionally I'd mention what happened and people would say, ‘women don't do that'.”

A few years ago, Helena went to an exhibition. “I've been lucky. There was an image called Release. I thought yes, you need to unburden, take away those heavy things on your shoulders. For years, I didn't like clothes or dressing up, I didn't like high heels. I never had friendships. But suddenly, I thought, yes, I can have friends. And I do. Abuse results in so many ripples over a lifetime. People don't think to ask, ‘what are those ripples really about?'”

Visible already has plans to expand its work to include sporting bodies, churches, mosques, major corporations, magistrates and prisons. Leeds city council will also look at its own large workforce to assess the needs of potentially several hundred survivors. “We are also keen to collaborate with anyone in the UK,” Denham says. “We cannot afford to slip back.”

I was isolated and petrified

“I was abused until I was 11 by someone outside the family. When it was happening, it was horrible but I didn't want to make a fuss” says Debbie, 43.

“By the time it stopped, I was isolated and petrified of everything. I'd hide in the cupboard if the phone rang. People would think I was rude. I just wanted to be invisible.

“I worked hard at university because I thought I was thick and horrible. I had a breakdown. I tried to commit suicide. I was in psychiatric hospital for four months. I became anorexic. At no point did anybody ask me why I hated myself. Why I was anorexic.”

At one point, Debbie weighed four stone and suffered multiple organ failure. “It took 10 years before I began psychotherapy and somebody finally asked me the right questions; otherwise my earlier medical records all say things like, ‘Deborah's had a lot of input with little progress'.

“I've been diagnosed with OCD, personality disorder, complex PTSD.”

Unusually, Debbie received 12 years of support on the NHS, but then it stopped. Now she pays privately for psychotherapy. “I know things cognitively but I have no feeling. I'm not in touch with things emotionally. I've no attachment to anyone or anything.

“Six years ago, my mum asked if anyone had done anything to me. I don't want my mum to know. I don't want her to work out who it is. I don't want him to say it didn't happen. I want to feel safe and not want to be dead. I want to feel.



Alabama orders 'chemical castration' of some child molesters

by Associated Press

After a four-year global manhunt, Australia's most evil predator, Peter Scully, was finally caught. 60 Minutes cameras captured the arrest.

Some Alabama sex offenders who abuse young children will have to undergo "chemical castration" while on parole, under a new law, but the requirement has prompted legal concerns and appears to be rarely used in some states that allow it.

The procedure uses medications that block testosterone production in order to decrease sex drive.

The Alabama law says sex offenders whose crimes involved children between ages seven and 13 must receive the medication before being released from prison on parole. Alabama doesn't allow parole for sex crimes involving children six and under.

After Gov Kay Ivey's office announced Monday she had signed the bill, some legal groups raised questions.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama, said there are constitutional concerns with forced medication.

Dillon Nettles, a policy analyst with the ACLU of Alabama, said the law harkens back to a "dark time" in history.

"It presents serious issues, involving involuntary medical treatment, informed consent, privacy and cruel and unusual punishment," Mr Nettles said.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep Steve Hurst of Munford, scoffs at that kind of talk.

"How in the world can it be any more cruel and inhumane than to molest a child? I want someone to answer that one for me, but they can't," Mr Hurst said.

Mr Hurst said he hopes the medication will protect children by stopping abusers from reoffending.

At least seven states have laws authorising chemical castration in some form. But its effectiveness can vary.

The hormonal treatment can be useful for a subgroup of offenders whose crimes are driven by sexual attraction to children and want to reduce those urges, said Dr Frederick Berlin, who treats patients with sexual disorders at Johns Hopkins Hospital and at an independent clinic.

However, he has concerns about a blanket criminal justice approach without evaluating the appropriateness in each case.

"Speaking now as a physician, I think it's absolutely inappropriate to use a medical treatment as a criminal sanction," Dr Berlin said.

He said it's not effective for people whose crimes were driven by drugs, mental illness or other issues.

Children's clothing is on the floor as members of the National Bureau of Investigation Anti-human Trafficking division gather evidence during the raid. (AP)

"These laws tend to go on the books because people understandably are frightened. They want to protect children which I hope every reasonable person wants to do," Dr Berlin said.

"At its worst, I think the motivation, if we are just going to say it crudely: 'We are just going to castrate the bastard'.

“Or at its best it's a misunderstanding, and lack of understanding when it would and when it wouldn't be medically appropriate."

The stereotypical child molester is male, but a fraction of sex offenders are women.

Dr Berlin said the situation is more complicated for women because of hormonal balance involved in the menstrual cycle and maintaining pregnancy, but treatment with a drug like Depo-Provera has been used to help some women gain better sexual self-control.

California was the first state to pass such a law in 1996. Ike Dodson, a spokesman with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said it's is rarely used there.

Two parolees are currently receiving treatment. Dodson said one of them is mandated to receive it under law, and the other requested it voluntarily.

Prison officials in Montana and Louisiana told The Associated Press last year that they're aware of only one case in each state in the last decade in which a judge ordered the treatment.

Texas even allows repeat sex offenders to opt for surgical castration. Texas and Florida did not have numbers immediately available on use.

Georgia had a chemical castration statute but repealed it. Oregon also had a pilot program chemical castration but it was repealed.

The Alabama law says a judge shall order the treatment as a condition of release and will require parolees to receive an initial dose of medication before leaving prison, and to receive additional doses after leaving.

A judge would decide when they could stop. They would be billed for the medication, although fees could be waived for those who couldn't afford it.

The law also says an Alabama Health Department employee must administer the medication after an inmate's release from prison.

Lawmakers say it's constitutional because it only applies when an inmate seeks release on parole. Inmates who opt to serve their entire sentence would not have to take the medication.



Child marriage in Canada means country's efforts to end it abroad are 'insincere': researcher

Former child bride writes book on her life; woman shares the story of being forced to get married at 16

by Jeremiah Rodriguez

The Canadian government's foreign policy includes efforts to end child marriage abroad but one researcher says it's “insincere” because thousands of legal child marriages have occurred here in Canada over the past two decades.

People need to re-think the idea that the practice only takes place in foreign countries, McGill University assistant professor Alissa Koski told during a phone interview.

According to her research -- which is currently pending final review – 3,382 marriage licenses involving minors between the ages of 16 and 18 were issued between 2000 and 2018. This was based on data from provinces' vital statistics offices, which issue marriage certificates.

Earlier this month, Koski presented her findings in Vancouver to the Canadian Population Society, which is a member of non-profit Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Koski discovered that Ontario issued the most licences for so-called child marriages, with 1,353. Alberta issued 791, Quebec had 590 and British Columbia had 429 such marriage licences.

But she calls these an “undercount” because it “doesn't include common-law marriages that involve minors or cases where Canadian children have been taken out of a country, married and returned.”

She said the vast majority of youth getting married (85 per cent) are young girls -- with them typically marrying at much younger ages than boys, and who go on to wed “substantially older” spouses.

“Child marriages have happened in every province and territory over the past 20 years,” Koski said. “It's not limited to any one part of the country.”

Koski, whose recent doctoral research focuses on child marriages in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States, is urging a conversation asking: “Why is this still enshrined in law?”

“Canadian law permits child marriage but nobody [is] talking about it as a domestic issue,” she said.


The United Nations -- and various Canada-approved UN-related human rights documents -- defines child marriage as any marriage which includes a person younger than 18.

Marriage laws vary among the provinces but the legal age is generally set at 18. But in 2015, the federal Civil Marriage Act was amended to permit the marriage of youth 16 or older, if they have their parents' consent or a court order.

Koski calls it a “strange exception” that provinces restrict minors from smoking, drinking and driving, but allow them to legally marry. asked the office of Women and Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef for her views on the law that allows the marriage of minors and whether she saw it as a sign of gender inequality, but all questions were deferred to Justice Canada.

In an email, Justice Canada spokesperson Ian McLeod only stated what the 2015 Civil Marriage Act amendment said and didn't address any of the child marriage statistics from Koski, or say whether the Canadian government intends on changing the law.

“In 2015, the Civil Marriage Act was amended to provide a national minimum age for marriage of 16. For marriages of minors between the age of 16 and the age of majority, the requirements for either parental consent, or the consent of the court (as is the case in Quebec) fall with the constitutional jurisdiction of the provinces and territories,” he wrote in an email to late Friday afternoon. “We would suggest that, if you have not already done so, you may wish to speak directly to the provinces and territories.”

Neither Monsef's office nor Justice Canada addressed critics who argue the law essentially legalizes child marriage in Canada.


Koski said studies in the U.S. show married girls are more likely to live in poverty later in life, experience mental health issues and substance abuse disorders.

“In many parts of the world, there are fewer opportunities for girls to attend school, or for girls to enter the workforce than for boys so they may be married at an earlier age than boys,” she said, adding it's not entirely clear what's driving the number of child marriages in Canada.

Despite the government stating that forcing a child into marriage is child abuse, Canada's acceptance of child marriages with parental consent irks Samra Zafar, who was married off when she was 16 years old and then moved to Canada to live with her older husband.

“We talk about child marriage like it's not happening at home but it is,” Zafar told in a phone interview. “And there's no focus on it [in Canada].”

She said that because Canada allows children to marry with parental consent, that essentially “results in the legalization of statutory rape.”

When Zafar was a teenager, she moved from her Pakistani family's home in the United Arab Emirates against her wishes, and began a new life with her then-husband in Mississauga, Ont.

For a decade, she said she endured years of abuse at his hands while she raised their two children. But over 10 years, she secretly gained an university education and eventually left the marriage.

Today, Zafar, now a motivational speaker and author, mentors current and former child brides from across the country and in the U.S.

Based on their collective experience, she said the Civil Marriage Act doesn't take into account the coercion from family members, nor the shame and fear of being kicked out of the family for refusing marriages.

“People think it's like a child is taken kicking and screaming, at gunpoint or whatever. It's not like that,” she said. “It's the cultural pressure. It's the conditioning at a very young age to believe it's your ultimate destiny in life as a girl.”

Zafar is disappointed there's not more concerted public effort to end the practice in Canada, like there is in the U.S. These groups include Girls Not Brides, which is working to end child marriage stateside. Around 20 state legislatures, including Ohio's, are likely to make reforms in the coming year.

She argued for the abolishment of the Canadian law but said supporters need to “tackle it province by province.”


It's estimated that, each year, 15 million girls around the world are married before the age of 18. And Canada regularly touts its feminist credentials particularly when it comes to abolishing child marriage abroad.

In 2015, Canada was one of 85 countries who sponsored a UN resolution to end child marriage in all countries. Canada's Feminist International Assistance Policy, which launched in 2017, provides foreign aid to end child marriage abroad.

And on Wednesday, Trudeau nominated the federal government's first ambassador for women, who would advise other departments, including Status of Women Canada.

But Koski said “there's a discrepancy there between Canada's international commitments and our domestic policy.” She added “we need to ask ourselves whether that domestic law is in line with our commitments to gender equality both domestically and internationally.”

“So collectively, that does paint a picture of the issue as something that occurs as something that occurs elsewhere,” Koski said. “I think it's insincere to be advocating for things elsewhere that we're not willing to put into practice at home.”

“I think a lot of media coverage of the issue … have almost obsessively focused on allegations of child marriage amongst religious minority communities,” said Koski, whose separate research focuses on media coverage of the issue.

Some of that news coverage recently has focused on the fundamentalist Jewish sect Lev Tahor in Quebec and Chatham, Ont. and the fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, B.C.

As for future research, Koski plans to mine demographic data from the 2016 census, which asks the marital status of residents 15 years or older, the number of people in in their households, if they were born in Canada and if they were married abroad.



Schoolgirls for sale: why Tokyo struggles to stop the ‘JK business'

The persistent practice of paying underage girls for sex-related services, known in Japan as the ‘JK' business, has seen charities step in where police have come up short

by Tash Reith-Banks

On a humid Wednesday night the streets of Kabukicho, Tokyo's most famous red light district, hum with people. Some are tourists, here to gawp and take selfies, but others are customers. Adverts for clubs flash and sing and girls dressed as maids hold signs offering deals for local bars.

In a grubby shopfront a perky cartoon featuring a cute Mr Men-style creature offers part-time work. The ad, which has an alarmingly catchy jingle, doesn't specify what the work is, but it doesn't need to: the answer is all around us on the brightly lit billboards advertising the charms of male and female bar hosts.

We almost allow men to say ‘yeah, I'm attracted to young children'

Tokyo is famous for its fairly wild red light scene. You can find anything from a handsome man to make you cry and wipe away your tears to a maid to pour your drinks and giggle at your jokes and an encounter in one of the notorious “soapland” brothels.

You can also pay to spend time with a schoolgirl. Services might include a chat over a cup of tea, a walk in the park or perhaps a photograph – with some places offering rather more intimate options.

Or at least, you can for now – unless the people inside the garish pink bus have their way.

Run by the charity Colabo since October 2018, the pink bus appears in strategically chosen spaces in the city once a week; tonight it is parked outside Shinjuku town hall. Volunteers hope to use it to provide a safe space for school-age girls at risk of being lured into the joshi kosei, or JK business, as the schoolgirl-themed services are known.

“JK business scouts tend to be men in their 20s and 30s,” says Yumeno Nito of Colabo. “They are very aware of trends and are good at knowing the girls' economic status by looking at their clothes and makeup.” Poverty and low self-esteem are often factors in the manipulation of young girls by scouts, Nito says.

What is Guardian Tokyo week?

The fetishisation of Japanese schoolgirls in Japanese culture has been linked by some academics to a 1985 song called Please Don't Take Off My School Uniform, released by the female idol group O-nyanko Club, and re-released by no less mainstream a group than AKB48, one of the highest-earning musical performers in Japan and whose single Teacher Teacher sold more than 3m copies in 2018.

The term “JK business” has become a catch-all for cafes, shops and online agencies which provide a range of “activities”, many of which are not overtly sexual. Young women in school uniforms can be offered for reflexology and massage treatments, photography sessions and “workshops” in which girls reveal glimpses of their underwear as they sit folding origami or creating jewellery.

But while many of these have a strict no-touch policy, a proportion do lead to physical encounters. And while non-physical encounters may make up the majority of reported cases of JK activity, the fact that sex does not take place does not mean no harm is done.

In 2016, Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, the UN special rapporteur on child sex trafficking and sexual abuse, raised serious concerns about Japan's JK and pornography industry. She highlighted the lack of up-to-date official data and called for a comprehensive strategy to tackle the root causes of exploitation, noting that other forms of popular Japanese entertainment, including “junior idol culture”, are worrying examples of children being treated as sexual commodities.

“We almost allow men to say: ‘Yeah, I'm attracted to young children, as young as 14, 15,'” says Shihoko Fujiwara, founder of Lighthouse, a charity working to end human trafficking in Japan. “Even on TV, comedians will say: ‘I like to date junior high school girls.' People make fun of those comments, but still they are made.”

Japan's anti-prostitution laws broadly prohibit the sale and purchase of sex, but there are significant loopholes, of which establishments such as soaplands take full advantage. Crucially, in the case of JK businesses, Japan has no specific anti-trafficking laws in place. Ordinarily, a child under 18 involved in sex work is automatically considered trafficked, with harsh penalties for those responsible.

Pornography laws relating to children are also limited – they do not, for example, cover manga, anime, or virtually created content, allowing games such as 2006's controversial (and now no longer available) RapeLay, in which the player stalks and attempts to rape a single mother and her two school-age daughters.

A society that commercialises and consumes underage women as a sexually high-value commodity has a problem

In 2017, with the Olympics approaching, the police cracked down on the rising number of JK businesses across Tokyo.

A new ordinance requires JK businesses to be registered with the police, and prohibits the employment of girls under the age of 18. JK businesses cannot be located within 200 metres of schools, nurseries, hospitals or other public buildings, and no one under 18 can distribute fliers for the businesses, or recruit other teenagers.

Inspector Hiroyuki Nakada, deputy manager of the Juvenile Support Division, says the police are confident that their strategy is working. But he says educating children on the dangers is also key: “It's not enough just to control.”

Nakada says that thanks to the new, tight regulations, just three shops were prosecuted and fined last year.

“Over the past two years, since the ordinance came into force, we haven't seen [underage] girls [in JK businessess]” says Nakada. “[Officers] have visited these shops, but they haven't seen girls. But we think maybe there's a loophole, maybe there are girls working, but they are probably adults who are wearing uniforms ... they call it JK business but they are probably pretending to be schoolchildren.”

Critics argue that business owners have found new ways to circumvent the law. The problem may now simply be less visible; more owners operate online, away from physical shops and cafes, and some may have simply opened new businesses under different guises.

Police officers verify the age of girls working at a dating service pairing up men with teenage schoolgirls in Tokyo's Akihabara district.

Police officers verify the age of girls working in Tokyo's Akihabara district.Photograph: Kyodo News/Kyodo News via Getty Images

“After the issue of JK business regulation in 2017 some shops are still operating but under a different name, such as ‘cosplay cafe',” says Yumeno Nito of Colabo. “JK business owners are cunning and systematic.

“They are also very good at social media so they put an advert on blogs or Twitter, Line where the girls will see them. The shop opens a Twitter account and they follow girls using it.”

Fujiwara agrees, and says she is concerned that, forced underground, the industry may become even more dangerous: “Some women's groups would even say JK businesses [were] protecting young women from being harmed because you provide space, and so if something wrong happened to the girl always the shop manager can intervene. But if a child is meeting a sex buyer in a hotel, who is going to protect them?”

It was the success of Please Don't Take off My School Uniform that some argue sparked the notorious 1990s trend for buru sera – teenage girls selling their unwashed uniforms, underwear and swimwear. From this sprang the practice of enjo kosai, or compensated dating, in which middle-aged men offered financial support to teenage girls in return for sexual relationships. This practice then became diversified and commodified into what is now know as JK business.

'There are almost no women in power': Tokyo's female workers demand change

Nito points out that the police emphasis on educating children does nothing to tackle the demand side of the JK business: “It is necessary to focus on offenders and not only on child victims. It is necessary to educate and regulate adults or offenders who buy girls a lot more than educating children.” With the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics due to happen in Tokyo in quick succession, both charities are concerned about the potential impact of thousands of curious tourists.

Another major issue is sex education in Tokyo's schools. “There's no sex education,” Fujiwara says baldly. “You can't mention ‘intercourse' or ‘sex', but they have to somehow teach about HIV and contraception – how do you teach that without saying ‘sex'? ”

Although the police might count it a victory that some JK businesses no longer employ those under 18, Nito argues that it does not touch the root of the problem. Even if the girls offering JK services are of legal age, it contributes to a dangerous and pervasive culture of the sexualisation of minors. After all, they are pretending to be underage schoolgirls, feeding an appetite for the illicit buying of pornography and making real schoolgirls more vulnerable.

“A society that commercialises and consumes underage women as a sexually high-value commodity has a problem,” says Nito. Until that problem is addressed, Colabo's pink bus looks set to remain a fixture under Tokyo's red lights.



Olympics bring human trafficking scrutiny to sport

As the next Olympic host, Japan has become the focus of a global campaign to tackle child prostitution and exploitation linked to sport, with activists working to shed light on the "hidden crimes" they say have a symbiotic relationship with mega-events.

Large-scale sporting events attract a huge influx of tourists who flock to host cities, and it is claimed that criminal organizations follow, looking to cash in through the exploitation of vulnerable children who are pushed into the commercial sex trade or by trafficking them into forced labor.

Despite its reputation for safety and a high standard of living, Japan is far from immune, says It's A Penalty, a Britain-based activist group.

"It does exist here, it is just that it is not talked about," said Sarah de Carvalho, founder and CEO of IAP while on a recent visit to Tokyo.

"If you educate people who are attending the event about the signs to look out for, and that's labor as well as sexual exploitation, it is happening everywhere. But unless we talk about it we think it is not happening."

Jamaica's sprint superstar Usain Bolt is among many sporting figures to feature in a campaign video, "It's A Penalty," produced by the group. In it, people are encouraged to report crimes and to "say something if you see something."

"Sport has the power to change the world, Tokyo 2020 will be a happy occasion but please be aware millions of children are trafficked and exploited around the world, offenders can be prosecuted either in-country or when they get back home. Your call can save lives," the athletes will recite in the video.

IAP is an organization that launches campaigns during major sporting events, using them as platforms to educate the general public about the risks faced by children while equipping people with mechanisms to identify crimes and report anything suspicious.

In doing so, it aims to widen the safety net provided by local communities, which IAP considers are the first line of defense.

"The reason we run it during major sporting events is...firstly, we know when there is an influx of hundreds of thousands of people that demand increases, but secondly because it is a global problem it provides a platform to get the message out all over the world," said de Carvalho.

According to the United Nations-backed International Labor Organization, there are 24.9 million people who are victims of forced labor, nearly one-fourth of whom are children.

De Carvalho said during her visit to Japan last month to meet 2020 organizers that crimes against children are a major issue for Japan, and that action must be taken.

IAP has so far facilitated the rescue of more than 16,800 victims by partnering with local police, airlines, sporting bodies and nongovernment organizations during sporting events including the 2014 soccer World Cup, 2016 Rio Olympics and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

IAP also works with the International Olympic Committee, which has pledged its support.

In the campaign around February's Super Bowl, American Football's biggest day each year, IAP, with the help of 200 or so volunteers, handed out leaflets and wristbands with a hotline number to about 300 Atlanta hotels and motels, the efforts leading to some 170 arrests by a Federal Bureau of Investigation task force, they claim.

Government statistics reveal a total of 46 human trafficking survivors were taken into protective custody in Japan in 2017, both Japanese and foreign nationals.

Of those rescued, 28 were Japanese, a then-record high, followed by eight Thai nationals and seven Filipinos. There was one victim each from Vietnam, Brazil and Mongolia.

But those figures may not give a true reflection of the extent of the problem.

In response, IAP and its local partners pulled together a list of big-name Japanese stars who were willing to be the faces of the 2020 campaign to promote child protection on the global stage.

In 2016, a campaign video featuring Bolt and other high-profile athletes was shown on international airlines, in hotels, and on giant screens at Rio Olympic venues.

Mie Kajikawa, head of IAP's strategic partner in Tokyo, Sport For Smile, said she would like to see the Tokyo Olympics prove sport has the power to change the world.

"We hope to use sports as an effective instrument to combat difficult social problems," Kajikawa said.

De Carvalho says when we shed light on the dark side of sporting events, it allows people to come face-to-face with societal problems, rather than turning a blind eye to events we are ignorant about or ignore.

In Japan, de Carvalho met with senior officials at Narita and Haneda airports, as well as university students and young leaders who had expressed a desire to initiate action to help end human trafficking and exploitation.

"Japan is a destination, and source and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and for children subjected to sex trafficking," de Carvalho said while pointing out the scale of the problem.

"There are 24.9 million people trapped in modern-day slavery and 5.5 million children are trafficked each year (around the world)."

"The problem is increasing because of the internet so people coming in from abroad for an event, sporting fans, they will be targeted.


Human Trafficking

Human trafficking victims depend on advocacy groups to bridge the gap to survival

by Andrew Keiper

Human trafficking is an issue so complex and wide-ranging that law enforcement alone isn't enough. The police can't be everywhere, and as a result, advocates have emerged in an effort to fill in the gaps.

Even government agencies as vast and well funded as the FBI come up short in their efforts to address every aspect of crime prevention and victim rehabilitation. Case in point: The vast network of advocacy groups relied upon by the FBI to help meet the hierarchy of needs for human trafficking survivors.

The relationship between law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups is a symbiotic one. The government can't provide housing, support groups or education services as effectively as advocacy groups can, and nonprofit organizations can't kick down doors in sting operations like they're law enforcement.

“I think that if you do this work for very long, as many of us have, you realize that no one agency can do it all, particularly with these kids, these victims, because their needs are so varied and complex,” Kathryn Turman, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's victim services division. “The NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) play a wonderful role because they can raise money, they can provide long term care

Turman was tapped to create the FBI's Victim Services Division in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In the nearly 18 years since, she's expanded the division to include about 300 victim specialists spread out across the country. Typically, she said, they work with victims through the duration of their cases. They're the first point of contact for victims of crimes – not the least of which are survivors of human trafficking.

When it comes to survivors of trafficking, Turman said her specialists work to answer the most immediate needs of recovered victims. Sometimes that means buying them clean clothes or replacing a medication.

“The victim specialists really have to work with their local partners, with NGOs, with local police, with child protective services, sometimes with the Juvenile and Family Services divisions,” she said. “Because it really does take more than just our victim specialists to be able to address the rather comprehensive needs of these kids; many of them may have no safe place or welcome place to go back to.”

"Right below my mirror, standing in a torrential downpour, shivering, was about a 15 or 16-year-old girl. I rolled down my window and I screamed out ‘What?'" says Gary Smith of Truckers Against Trafficking.

The problem has attracted swarms of advocates and activists dedicated to education, prevention and post-trafficking care for survivors.

Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) is an organization founded in 2009 by long-haul truckers to stop the proliferation of sex trafficking among their ranks. The organization hopes to stop trafficking by lessening the demand for trafficking among truckers.

I see myself as part of a mobile army, and we travel our nation's highways and byways and we work in conjunction with law enforcement,” Gary Smith, an ambassador with TAT said. “There's a lot more of us daily out on these roads than there is law enforcement.”

Smith, a bespectacled middle-aged man who drives trucks regionally in Ohio and the surrounding states, helps lead education events and speaks publically about TAT's efforts and his own experiences with trafficking.

“I made a mistake ten years ago and I failed to act,” Smith said, recounting a time as a new driver when a woman being trafficked at a truck stop propositioned him late at night. “… Right below my mirror, standing in a torrential downpour, shivering, was about a 15 or 16-year-old girl. I rolled down my window and I screamed out ‘What?'. She said, ‘Do you want some company?', and I screamed back at her, ‘I'm not lonely. Go away.'”

He said it's an experience that he won't soon forget, and the catalyst for his activism against human trafficking.

Theresa Flores is a sex trafficking survivor who founded the group Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.). Her organization functions in several states and puts on outreach programs during large events, like Super Bowls and political conferences, which often attract traffickers.

Additionally, S.O.A.P. partners “with local organizations to distribute millions of bars of soap wrapped with a red band that gives the National Human Trafficking Hotline number … and resources to high-risk motels,” according to the organization's website.

“The subproject is a part of many different coalitions and collaboratives,” Flores said. “We'll go into a city in a state that we've never been to, but we have to partner with others that are local. That's what we want to do because when we leave, we want them to continue on the efforts. It's not just a one-time shot.”

Another organizer who has devoted her professional life to fighting trafficking is Andrea Powell. She's been working with victims of trafficking since 2003, when she founded FAIR Girls, an international anti-trafficking organization. More recently, she started Karana Rising, a Washington D.C.-area nonprofit dedicated to helping survivors of trafficking heal and find meaningful education and employment.

“We focus on providing young people who were at risk or have experienced trafficking with job skills, life skills and a connection to the community to help them either overcome or stay safe from situations of trafficking,” Powell said of Karana Rising.

“They're not looking at trafficking as this isolated, horrible incident. It's just the next bad thing that's happened. It's like that bad icing on the bad cake," said Andrea Powell, founder of Karana Rising.

The problems associated with trafficking are myriad for survivors, she said. The vast majority of women she's worked with were sexually abused before being trafficked, adding to the trauma and stigma they're faced with when, and if, they escape the vicious cycle.

“They're not looking at trafficking as this isolated, horrible incident. It's just the next bad thing that's happened,” Powell said. “It's like that bad icing on the bad cake. So, when they're out of that situation, all those other root causes and traumas are still present and are now just compounded with the abuse, the potential STDs, unwanted pregnancies, stigma they face as survivors of sex trafficking.”

Powell said it's this confluence of abuses, issues and stigmas that she works to overcome with the survivors at Karana Rising.

“All of that combined means that when a young person is out there trying to get a job, trying to get by, those traumas come back and it makes it much harder to thrive,” she said. “Coupled with the fact that most of these young people come out and they have nowhere to live, they don't know who they can trust, and so traffickers prey upon that. That's why we need that social support at Karana Rising and other agencies to keep them safe.”

If you are being trafficked or suspect that someone you know is being trafficked contact The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-THE-LOST or CYBERTIPLINE.ORG.